To hear Ornette Coleman's "Race Face played in unison on banjo and cornet is a rare pleasure. But creativity on this level is to be expected at the Summergarden concert series, held in the sculpture garden at MoMA. Guitarist Brandon Ross brought this year's exhilarating season to a close (Aug. 13th) with his Blazing Beauty quartet, featuring Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass guitar, Graham Haynes on cornet and JT Lewis on drums. Playing new music as well as selections from Ross' 2005 album Costume, the band made full use of its varied timbres, with Ross dividing his time between electric and acoustic guitars and six-string banjo. "Future-folk music is his term for this family of sounds, at once pastoral, dissonant, intimate and subtly avant-garde. Cultivating an oasis amid the skyscrapers, Ross subdivided the group in a number of ways: He and Takeishi played an acoustic duo of exquisite minimalism; Lewis then joined for a tight trio piece. There was a marked preference for dreamy rubato, as on "Harmonic Convergence and "Ordinary Before You - both ideal vehicles for Haynes, whose poignant legato phrasing recalled Wadada Leo Smith. A pair of triple-meter pieces, "Sculpture and "Saturation , highlighted the breadth of Ross' electric concept, from searing distortion to clean, shimmering tones. On "Peace Flows he revealed an angelic singing voice, causing passersby to gather at the gate and peer inside. "And peace flows down, Ross intoned, prayerfully.
Tucked underneath La Lanterna café in the West Village is Bar Next Door, a dark, intimate spot with a low ceiling that belies a preference for budding musical giants. Peter Mazza, a guitarist, books the room and plays on Sundays. There's a vocal showcase on Mondays. Guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg is the king of Wednesdays. And tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm holds the Tuesday slot. Playing trio recently with bassist Clovis Nicolas and drummer Bill Campbell (Aug. 8th), Frahm gave every horn player in town a reason to lose sleep. Launching into a fast "On Green Dolphin Street without a preparatory word, he never played the melody, preferring to attack from every oblique angle. "Search Engine followeda short original theme bracketed by supple free improvisation, laying bare the trio's core chemistry. Sonny Rollins' "Blue 7 , the essence of spartan, slow-paced blues, had Frahm spilling intricate phrases of utmost clarity, pushing the envelope here and there with well-placed overtones. "The Song Is You , a study in fast tempo at low volume, was also an opportunity for ingenious quotation (Gerry Mulligan's "Jeru ). After clearing the air with the ballad "For Heaven's Sake , the trio closed with Charlie Parker's "Moose the Mooche at daunting speed. Nothing revealed the sheer reach of Frahm's vocabulary quite like rhythm changes. The lines were crowded and relentless, but somehow he found a way to cite "America from West Side Story.
~ David R. Adler
While "The Other Side evening at Tonic (Aug. 2nd) organized by vocalist/pianist Judith Berkson had some slight social overtones, the enlightened crowd was not intimidated by the roster of local female talent - cellist Ha-Yang Kim solo and with percussionist Nathan Davis, pianist Angelica Sanchez' quintet, Berkson herself solo, another solo set with saxophonist Matana Roberts and the duo of guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone - each given a 35-minute time slot. With such dissimilar approaches, the audience certainly had no opportunity for glittering generalities, instead absorbing different takes on the established role of women improvisers with or without male counterparts. Minus a thematic thread other than the anatomical, the moods ranged from intellectual to baroque to romantic and though the listeners increased as the evening progressed, the punctual members of the audience were treated to the evening's most compelling performance right at the start. Kim's ten minutes of processed solo cello was a study in contrasts: earthy long-bowed minor chords against futuristic electronic staccato explosions or sparse pizzicato alternating with dense harmonics. What unity could be discerned might be described as texture as melodic propulsion. And while there were certainly some ear-splitting moments, the overall effect was one of austere beauty, whether it flowed mellifluously or apocalyptically.
One of the drawbacks of jazz presented outdoors is that it can often highlight an inherent thinness; Only rarely can a group transcend the tight confines of a club. The music of Todd Sickafoose's Blood Orange Aquatic Orchestra, whether by design or through happy convergence, more than expanded to fill the drained pool of Brooklyn's McCarren Park. Part of the SummerScreen series (a performance preceding a film screening), the Aug. 1st concert was presented in conjunction with the Wilson Bros. Bottle Rocket. While the bassist's compositionsplayed by an ensemble consisting of the double guitars of Adam Levy and Mike Gamble, guest violinist Bora Yoon, drummer Ches Smith, Allison Miller solely on percussion and a horn line of trumpet (Russ Johnson) and trombone (Josh Roseman)had little to do with the inane comedic film, it was cinematic in scope, one of the reasons it flowed so well across the open area and sparse crowd braving the sweltering heat. Much of Sickafoose's composing was anchored by his heavy pulse, allowing open preludes to grow organically and move in directions as disparate as progressive rock, dirty blues, modern calypso, reggae or something Carlos Santana might have recorded for ECM in 1973. The ECM comparison is an apt one, if only for a certain shared amorphousness. But the ensemble's performance was not cold or cerebral, rather it had an appealing warmth independent of the summer weather.
~ Andrey Henkin
The beginning of August brought 100-degree highs to the city and the Low Brass Festival, spotlighting tubaists and trombonists as bandleaders, to Cornelia Street Café. The festival kicked off (Aug. 1) with two very fun sets by tubaist Marcus Rojas' quintet, which included Oscar Noriega on alto sax and clarinets, Michael Blake on tenor and soprano sax, Dave Phelps on guitar and Dan Weiss on drums. Rojas thinks playfully, laughing between phrases of beat box-like vocals performed into his tuba's mouthpiece. The first number built slowly, sounding like an elegy before it picked up in tempo and mood and revealed itself to be "With A Little Help from My Friends , with Rojas' tuba lines making staccato jumps and the horns driving home the substantially reharmonized chorus. Rojas made his tuba sound like a didgeridoo on his fantastic original composition "Rags to Britches , which likewise featured strange, complex and riveting harmonies and a klezmer flavor created by the accelerating tempo and Noriega's clarinet work. The covers continued with Jimi Hendrix' "Manic Depression , with heavy backbeats from Weiss and reverb, distortion and wah-wah pedal work from Phelps. The guitarist then lent his vocals to Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry , as Rojas laid down the bass line and the other horns tossed out phrases between the lyrics. The shorter second set's highlight was a wild, hard-swinging and polytonal "Dream A Little Dream Of Me .
The young Russian guitarist Ilya Lushtak recently launched his own record label, called Lineage, with the aim of celebrating and further documenting living jazz legends and has been hosting a related series of shows at Smalls. Lushtak's fellow Russian Dmitry Baevsky is a phenomenal young alto saxophonist and though it would certainly be premature to call him a legend, he does appear alongside Jimmy Cobb and Cedar Walton on a Lineage CD due out in September. On Aug. 16, Lushtak offered the Smalls spotlight to Baevsky and the two were backed by a rhythm section of Steve Ash on piano, Neal Miner on bass and Tom Melito on drums. Those three have played together but the quintet seemed like it might have been hastily assembled and the five used a 12-bar blues in B-flat to warm up. Baevsky started off slowly and simply but soon was executing darting lines with precision. His playing was exciting and captivating: strong and fast, he followed long head-to-toe runs with impulsive, heated jabs, patiently carrying a melodic sequence to its logical end and, reminiscent of a favorite Paul Desmond device, mimicing statements from the lower register of the horn in the higher register and vice versa. Pianist Ash delivered his finest solo on "Stars Fell on Alabama , sprinkling long and fluid lines high up the keyboard with a great touch, while Lushtak seemed at ease on the breakneck bop numbers, such as the closing "Tea for Two . "Kasbah , from Baevsky's upcoming CD, was an attractive original.
~ Brian Lonergan
Saxophonist Miguel Zenon debuted his new Rhythm Collective band at the Jazz Gallery last month (Aug. 4th), featuring the congas and percussion of Renaldo de Jesus and Tony Escapa's drums with Aldemar Valentin on six-string electric bass. The evening's second set started off with the leader's composition "Words of Power , a tour-de-force alto outing that began with a measured, almost mathematical melody that moved from its deceptively simple lyricism to a burning intensity into a relaxed swing. Zenon wove his lines through a labyrinth of shifting rhythms, smoothly segueing into a second original, "Hypnotize , that opened dramatically with his impassioned sax crying over impressionistic percussion, resolving into a folkish song form that alternated Spanish and Tranish modes over Valentin's funky bass guitar and Escapa's cowbell. An unaccompanied sax prelude opened "The Chain , a bright melody built around a rhythmic bass line doubled on sax and momentarily transformed into a ballad before a powerful segment that hearkened to the '60s avant-garde. "Meditations In Rhythm followed, a marked contrast on which Zenon blew softly and slowly, emphasizing the purity of his sound and patience as a soloist. The group ended the set with a stammering deconstructionist interpretation of "Oye Como Va that had Zenon and Valentin exchanging clipped statements with de Jesus and Escapa.
Bebop master James Moody showed no signs of slowing down at 81, turning in a typically impressive set at Iridium (Aug. 13th). Accompanied by his longstanding rhythm section of pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Adam Nussbaum, Moody opened his final show of the week with an up-tempo rendition of Dizzy Gillespie's "Woody 'n You , slightly embellishing the classic melody with a multihued sound that was practically polyphonous in its rich tonality - blowing chorus after chorus that demonstrated a seemingly limitless storehouse of ideas. Rosnes' powerful improvisation followed, Nussbaum picking up her final phrase to begin his melodic solo. Moody played an a cappella intro and the head to "Anthropology and then let the trio have at it with Coolman up first, followed by a bluesy Rosnes, before returning for a harmonically sophisticated solo and some fours with Nussbaum. The jovial saxophonist joked with the audience before delivering a stunning interpretation of "Body and Soul , replete with ingenious chord substitutions that reinvented the standard. He then engaged in a bit more shtick preceding a tongue-in-cheek version of "Moody's Mood For Love that ended with a sardonic rap built on soap opera titles. Moody swung breezily on Rosnes' classically tinged arrangement of "Con Alma and switched to flute for a brief "Confirmation before ending the set with the band's theme - Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas .
~ Russ Musto
Recommended New Listening:
· Tom Beckham - Center Songs (Apria)
· Marc Cary - Focus (Motéma)
· The Diplomats - We Are Not Obstinate Islands (Clean Feed)
· Lee Konitz - New Nonet (OmniTone)
· Francisco Mela - Melao (Ayva Music)
· Walter Smith III - Casually Introducing (Fresh Sound-New Talent)
~ David Adler, NY@Night Columnist
· Billy Hart - Quartet (HighNote)
· Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra - New Magical Kingdom (Clean Feed)
· Robin McKelle - Introducing (Cheap Lullabye)
· Misja Fitzgerald Michel - Encounter (No Format-Sunnyside)
· Simon Nabatov/Tom Rainey - Steady Now (Leo)
· Trygve Seim - The Source (ECM)
~ Laurence Donohue-Greene, Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York
· Bridge 61 - Journal (Atavistic)
· Misha Mengelberg/ICP Orchestra - Afijn [DVD] (ICP)
· Nicole Mitchell/Ed Wilkerson/Harrison Bankhead - Frequency (Thrill Jockey)
· Michael Musillami - Fragile Forms (Playscape)
· Nucleus - Hemispheres: Live 1970/71 (HUX)
· Soft Bounds - Live at Le Triton (Le Triton)
~ Bruce Gallanter, Proprietor, Downtown Music Gallery