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Live Reviews

NYC Jazz Holiday on a Budget

By Published: August 7, 2006

With $62.00 spent and four days of the best jazz the city has to offer, I even had enough money left for the bus back to Philly.

The NYC jazz landscape is expansive in both scope and talent. It can at the same time be daunting and expensive to the person trying to naively experience it. Recently, I had a five day jazz holiday in the Big Apple and decided to see if I could hit four shows that would somehow capture a significant overview of the types of venues, music and talent that is NYC Jazz. I also made the stipulation that all four shows in admissions, covers and minimums could not total over $75.00. Taken together, a basically impossible undertaking, but I knew I would have fun trying to accomplish it.
My initial task was to come up with four categories that would reflect the breadth of the music and venues that would be at my disposal. The following are quite arbitrary but as you will see did me in good stead. Part of any NYC jazz experience should be a visit to an intimate jazz supper club where the best jazzers are in the pocket and play it the way it was meant to be played. Another thrill is partaking in an up and comer who may not be very well known outside of NYC but is doing something new and different. This allows you to say you were there from the beginning. My third category was to find a musician who is at or near the top of the current heap on his instrument and finally, I wanted a representative of NYC's "downtown scene. To get started, I of course perused my copy of AllAboutJazz-NY to see how I could fill out my categories and stay within my budget.

Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble
Makor Cafe
July 26, 2006
$12.00

My first night, Meg Okura's Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble were playing at Makor and they seemed perfectly suited to fit my "up and comer criteria. The $12.00 admission also didn't put too much of a dent in my budget. Located on the Upper West Side, Makor is a great place to see new music and they schedule some of the best world jazz in a great setting with a fine dinner menu. Upon arrival, the heavy presence of musicians in the audience, made me realize that this was going to be a fine evening. Violinist Meg Okura is a magician on her fiddle and she magically intertwines, both musically and compositionally, Eastern and Western music in an elegant yet powerful format. Their debut, Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble, is a wonderful blend of new and old that is an elegant musical statement. Joining Meg this evening was Jun Kubo on flute, cellist Jennifer Vincent, pianist Megumi Yonezawa and percussionist Shane Shanahan.
The beginning piece, "Viola de Samba , immediately showcased Vincent's ability to use her cello in the traditional role of double bass, adding a gorgeous delicate line to the music throughout the evening. Pan Asian has a sound like no other and the presence of Shanahan's Afro-Latin percussion gave this music more of a Latin feel than is present on the CD. A testimony to the compositional strength of these pieces, the music was able to easily adapt to his complex rhythms. The samba feel was strikingly portrayed by a light graceful flute solo and Okura's crying violin. A slow and peaceful piano/violin duet began "Peace in My Heart that then segued into a lovely trio of piano, percussion and cello. A special treat was the arrival of soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome who guested on several of the next pieces. Newsome, one of the best musicians in NYC, added a modern jazz feel to the frenetic "Dance at the Palace . Kubo's flute gracefully augmented the catchy line stated by Okura, who then ripped off one of her trademark fiery solos, only to be matched by Newsome's horn against a cello backdrop, before the piece came to a thrilling conclusion. "Afrasia melded both cultures in perfect synchrony, due in major part to Kubo's traditional wood flute merging with violin and sax, for a marvelous sound palette. Okura demonstrated her budding mastery of the erhu, the two stringed Chinese violin, and her beautiful solo amazed with its jazz overtones given the instrument's small octave and a half range. Closing with the dazzling textures of "Dream Dancer , Yonezawa used her piano to change tempos and move from chamber to jazz and back to chamber until cello, violin and flute merged the two musics together in an uplifting finale.

Wycliffe Gordon Quartet
Rubin Museum of Art
July 28, 2006
$15.00

With the unique sounds of the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble still in my head, I decided to head to the Rubin Museum of Art to catch trombonist extraordinaire, Wycliffe Gordon. The Rubin is one of NYC's newest museums and is dedicated to presenting the art of the Himalayas and its surrounding areas. With its liberal use of exotic woods and outstanding exhibits of tapestries and statuary, it is a jewel located at 150 West 17th Street. It also possesses, on its lower level, one of the best sounding venues for jazz in the city. Their series, Harlem in the Himalayas, in partnership with the Jazz museum of Harlem, with an advanced price of $15.00 includes free admission to the museum after the show.Gordon is able to use his t-bone to full effect and can make it growl, croon and wah-wah highlighting its uncanny ability to mimic human speech. In addition to Gordon's extraordinary musicianship, his quartet featured the combined blinding speed and precision of young pianist Dan Nimmer and a superb rhythm section of bassist Thaddeus Expose and drummer Marion Felder.
While Gordon's horn was full of surprises, two guests made the night have that extra special quality. The sold out crowd, was also treated to the expressive playing of pianist and frequent Gordon cohort, Eric Reed. Ascending from his seat in the audience, Reed joined Gordon onstage to begin the evening with a stirring version of "The Lord's Prayer . Another Gordon compadre is multi-reedist Victor Goines who joined the quartet for the majority of the program. Gordon, performing on digireedoo, expertly revealed the multitonal capabilities of this instrument and his mastery of circular breathing in the intro to "Night Song . This transitioned into a tenor solo that allowed the full band to come out swinging. This full speed ahead approach continued into a hard bop burner that featured incredible t-bone work and blazing piano. Everyone caught their breath and became spellbound by a touching presentation of Hoagy Carmichael's ballad "Nearness of You . Goines evinced an exquisitely rich tone on clarinet turning the standard into one of the evening's many memorable moments.

Gordon and Goines next teamed up on Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning and Gordon left no doubts as to his t-bone mastery as he ranged far and wide on his instrument while engageing in delightful conversation with Goines. Eric Reed again made an appearance as Gordon put down his horn and delighted the audience with a scat filled post break "There's Rhythm on My Mind . The vocal abilities of the t-bone were highlighted on the ballad "I Can't Get Started before a distinctive version of Ellington's "Caravan", complete with digireedoo intro, brought the evening to a close.

Steve Nelson/Mulgrew Miller Quartet
Smoke
July 29, 2006
$35.00

I next set my sights on selecting my NYC supper club experience. I knew from the outset that this was going to be costly but I was hoping to find a show that was within my budget and that would meet my expectations. I headed to Smoke on Broadway at 106th St. as soon as I saw that pianist Mulgrew Miller was there with his trio in a special performance co led by the great vibraphonist Steve Nelson.

Miller is one of the premiere jazz pianists of the last three decades. He has a post-bop style that isn't too harsh with an emphasis on melody. Nelson is one of the finest working vibists of the last two decades and his interplay with Miller was sure to be a winner. Smoke with its fine menu and small setting is the perfect place to hear jazz in that classic club atmosphere. The evening's cover of $25.00 and $10.00 drink minimum would cut into my budget but for the roster and atmosphere I was still better off than in the pricier places in Midtown. Two surprises when I entered Smoke made me know that this was the right choice. Firstly, one of my favorite bassists, Ray "Bulldog Drummond who has lent his silky bass lines to a who's who of jazz, including legends like Art Farmer and Stan Getz, was a last minute addition to the quartet. If that wasn't enough, as I saddled up to the bar, who did I sit next to but audience member pianist Eric Reed. No, I wasn't following him. He just seems to know where the best sessions in town are going to happen.

Drummer Carl Allen, another leader in his own right, rounded out the rhythm section that began the evening with some smooth navigation through somewhat rocky musical terrain. Then as if Drummond saw the way, a simple knock on his bass coalesced the sound and things took off. The songs came together and you lost yourself in the interchange among these great musicians. A chordal strike on the vibes and the quartet was off in another direction, playing off one another and allowing each to alternately lead and follow. Miller found a slow meandering path and the tempo changed while all picked up on his groove. Lightning fast vibe runs blended into a ballad, all the time Drummond keeping an ever steady pace. Miller is such a brilliant melodicist and was so in tune that he and Nelson could engage in quixotic musical interplay that evoked awe and at times laughter from the patrons. Just as quickly a breezy Latin tinged piece was followed by a wonderful vibes blues, that included an impressive bass solo, and the set was over. This quartet in this atmosphere had made time and space irrelevant.

Marty Ehrlich Sextet
Museum of Modern Art's Sculpture Garden
July 30, 2006
FREE

My final night, as luck would have it, was a Sunday that featured free jazz in the Museum of Modern Art's Sculpture Garden. Entitled Summergarden 2006, the series alternates classical with jazz every Sunday, this evening's performer was downtown's reedist extraordinaire, Marty Ehrlich. The price was certainly right and it completed my fourth category with money to spare. Ehrlich's latest release, News on the Rail, was to be the featured music performed by his sextet that includes Ehrlich on alto sax and clarinet, James Zollar on trumpet, Howard Johnson on baritone and tuba, James Weidman on piano and melodica and another dream rhythm section of bassist Ben Allison and drummer Allison Miller. The doors open for the concert at 7.00 and it fills up quickly so arriving at 6.30 is advised to guarantee a good spot.

"Enough Enough began the evening as Allison and Miller set up a broad rhythmscape for Ehrlich's alto solo and Weidman's flowing piano lines. Ehrlich is a perfect introduction to the Downtown scene as his music is highly accessible while maintaining complexity and surprising turns. For example, the title cut from the CD had a front line of tuba, melodica, and clarinet but the audience, many of which who were being exposed to Ehrlich's music for the first time, seemed able to relate to the tune's freer sections. Unison hand clapping began "Dance No. 2 before piano, drum and bass joined in and tuba, ctrumpet and alto took over the lead. The rhythm combination of Allison and Miller gelled surprisingly well, given that it was the bassists first time playing this music. Allison's phrasing was impeccable in both purpose and direction and Miller used her entire set to become an equal partner in the proceedings.

A paean to the late alto/baritone saxophonist Sam Furnace, "Keeper of the Flame , featured each of his instruments touchingly paying him tribute before the band swung out with the complex rhythms, fast clarinet runs and soulful trumpet solo of "Seeker's Delight . A world premiere of a piece written especially for this performance, used a Coltranesque beginning to plead for harmony with "Blues for Peace . Both "Malinke's Dance and "Here You Say capped off the evening in funky style. Miller displayed her awesome drumming chops on the former and the latter could best be described as a healthy dose of "fugal funk .

With $62.00 spent and four days of the best jazz the city has to offer, I even had enough money left for the bus back to Philly. Only in NYC!!

Visit Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble on the web.

Visit Wycliffe Gordon on the web.

Visit Mulgrew Miller on the web.

Visit Marty Ehrlich on the web.



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