~ 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