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Live Reviews

NYC Jazz Holiday on a Budget

By Published: August 7, 2006
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

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

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.

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