This year marks the 20th anniversary of the New School's innovative jazz program, which boasts alumni on the order of Brad Mehldau, Larry Goldings and Robert Glasper. To kick off the new academic season, guitarist Rory Stuart held a faculty concert in the school's intimate performance space (Sep. 5th), recruiting tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, pianist Francesca Tanksley, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Ari Hoenig for the task. As Stuart observed in an aside, Tanksley has played in Harper's group for the past 23 years, so the interaction between them had a particular elegance, not to mention vehemence. Stuart is the furthest thing from a 'lick' player; his patient, clean and melodic phrasing follows the logic of the tune at hand. His mid-tempo 7/4 original "Ozymandias opened the show with something of an Elvin Jones-ish flavor. Next was Harper's "Croquet Ballet , a hard bop vehicle in 3/4, followed by Tanksley's "Journey Without Distance , its exotic modal textures soaring over a slow-crawling bass line. Workman introduced his own "Variation of III with a heated arco attack, setting the mood for the freest piece of the gig. Then Stuart called two more originals to close the evening: "The Forest , a Brazilian number of unusual, modern design that provoked some playful strumming by Workman; and "Reflections , based on the minimal chords of Coltrane's "Impressions , a feature for the tirelessly creative Hoenig behind the kit.
Even in the unpredictable cauldron of New York, one doesn't expect to hear a jazz set encompassing music from Tadd Dameron to Albert Ayler. But it happened during Dave Liebman's 60th birthday celebration at Birdland. The four-night run showcased the saxophonist with his working quartet and big band, as well as an all-star reunion with Randy Brecker and others. On the first night (Sep. 13th), however, Liebman paired with fellow tenorist Ellery Eskelin, bassist Tony Marino and drummer Jim Black to play music from 2005's Different But the Same (hatOLOGY). Sticking to tenor exclusively (rather than soprano), Liebman began "Tie Those Laces with a forceful unaccompanied statement. The band joined with a theme that set the tone for the night - offhanded precision, tension-filled interplay, rich dynamics, contrapuntal tenor lines and a wide spectrum of color from Black's drums and percussion. The group's three-headed arrangement of "What Is This Thing/Hot House/Subconscious-Lee occasioned some ferocious swinging. "It's a Samba , which Eskelin has recorded with Black and Andrea Parkins, was Black's moment - a mini-symphony involving a violin bow, a metal bowl and various other implements. Eskelin and Liebman traded inspired statements on the Wayne Shorter ballad "Vonetta , then closed the set with Ayler's "Ghosts , pooling their resources in a climb toward ecstasy.
~ David R. Adler
In the early '70s, drummer Horacee Arnold recorded two sublime albums of fusion easily the equal of anything released by his more renowned rhythmic brethren. He also played with Chick Corea during the pianist's brief flirtation with free improvisation and was part of Billy Harper's late '70s group. In the intervening years however, Arnold devoted much of his energy towards academic settings. But it was with great aplomb that he performed a set as part of the AACM season (Sep. 15th), his first in New York for 30 years. Arnold presented a program of three originals (including "Banyan Dance from his 1973 album Tribe) with a quartet of Marcus Strickland (sax), last-minute sub George Colligan (piano) and peer Buster Williams (bass). Arnold's playing was in no way tentative, replete with the precision one would expect from an educator and with a deliciously focused hyperactivity. He ably transferred the energy of the electric settings for which he was known into an acoustic one, due in no small part to melodic fortitude of his bandmates, especially Williams. His compositions are multifaceted, with rich coloration and a beauty reminiscent of Wayne Shorter. As part of a double bill (with drummer Thurman Barker's group), Arnold only played for 45 minutes but that allowed for thorough exposition of his cerebral themes. A perfectly conceived and executed set, Arnold is working on a new album and promises that more shows like this one are coming.
In the Jewish faith, the number four signifies the quaternity as found in the universe, the four corners of the world and is the symbol of divine revelation. So it was apt that the maverick of Jewish composing, John Zorn, opened the second annual New York Jewish Music and Heritage Festival (alternately known as the Oy!Hoo Festival) with four groups interpreting his Masada songbook. To take the numerological theme further, each group - Masada String Orchestra, Acoustic Masada, Masada String Trio and Electric Masada - embody a different aspect of Jewish identity: holiness, spirit, introspection and exploration respectively but each also embraces all those qualities. Last year's opening concert was a more obvious study of Jewish character which seemed forced and was underattended. This year, the 92nd Street Y (Sep. 10th) was packed almost to capacity with a diverse crowd of many ages not often seen at the Upper East Side venue. The Festival is scheduled around the Jewish High Holidays and the Masada String Orchestra began the evening with a rendition of Zorn's "Kol Nidre , an allusion to the holiest of Jewish melodies, played at the beginning of Yom Kippur. The evening moved from there to Acoustic Masada's ruach (spirit) to the string trio's hadar (beauty) and ended with Electric Masada's teuza (boldness). At the center was Zorn's frenzied conducting, whether standing, sitting or while bleatingly rejoicing on alto, and marvelous compositions, a mitzvah for the season.
~ Andrey Henkin
One of New York's newest jazz venues is The Metropolitan Room on West 22nd Street, former home of the Gotham Comedy Club. With its covers, expensive minimums and polished décor, the Metropolitan Room seems to be marketing itself as a high-end jazz destination rather than a cozy haunt for casual listeners, but there is an upside. The booking of top-notch artists like the formidable drummer Jeff "Tain Watts, along with the fact that his quartet was free to stretch out its 10:30 set for nearly two hours (Sep. 7th), makes the club a decent option when looking for jazz in the Flatiron/Chelsea neighborhood. Watts' quartet featured longtime accomplice Marcus Strickland on tenor and soprano saxophones, Eric Revis on bass and young Lawrence Fields, on loan from the Berklee music school, on piano. They opened the set with Watts' arrangement of Björk's "107 Steps , which features relentless hooks and which Watts drove home to a thundering conclusion. His composition "Blues for Curtis (Mayfield) alternated between 4 and 6 time, with Strickland especially liking the latter, spinning out long sequences of phrases. "Stevie in Rio was another beautiful Watts composition and showed his gift for melody, while Fields had a great touch with complex harmonies. On his minutes-long solo that concluded the epic "Blakzilla , Watts transcended any sense of being a percussionist and was both wild-eyed shaman and crushing force of nature.
The billing of "3Cohens at Makor (Sep. 7th) was misleading in the best possible way. The three Israeli siblings, Anat (tenor sax, clarinet) Avishai (trumpet) and Yuval (soprano sax), all fantastic instrumentalists in their own right, were backed by an all-star rhythm section of Aaron Goldberg (piano), Omer Avital (bass) and Jonathan Blake (drums). Each trio alone would have been worth the price of admission and together the sextet was one of the most exhilarating ensembles heard this year. The group plays precious few gigs (Yuval was on a short visit to New York) and at Makor they were giving a workout to tunes they'd just recorded in the studio over the preceding days. One of those fine compositions was Avishai's "Lies and Gossip , a minor key ballad in 6/8. Their sibling familiarity showed when Anat's tenor solo ended in a fluttering trill that Yuval took as a launching pad for his own improvisation. Avital's bass solo was impeccably constructed, moving from 8th notes to running 16ths to triplets before the return of the tune's theme - a series of descending sighs that crescendoed into plaintive cries. During an exuberant mariachi- flavored composition, Goldberg built a long, dancing solo. The three horns, sans rhythm section, played a jaunty "It Could Happen to You , showing a keen sense of form throughout their continuous three-part improv. On Yuval's burning "Freedom , Avital and Blake guided almost imperceptible modulations through funk, swing, ballad and back to hot bop.
~ Brian Lonergan
Wallace Roney closed this summer's Jammin' On The Hudson series with a Labor Day sunset concert at Harlem's Riverbank State Park (Sep. 4th). The trumpeter's sextet, featuring his brother Antoine on saxophones, Onaje Allen Gumbs on electric piano, Clarence Seay on bass, Eric Allen on drums and DJ Val on turntables and samples, played a set of daring eclectic music. The show kicked off with a funky "In Real Time , cowritten by the leader with his wife Geri Allen, featuring his piercing trademark sound and his brother's deep dark tenor blowing over the vamping rhythm section, with Val interjecting an occasional sample exhorting "here we go . "Shadow Play opened explosively with Allen's 'African' drumming and Val's wild scratching setting up the horns' rhythmic exchanges and Gumbs' bluesy solo. The brooding "Let's Stay Together , showcasing the intrepid trumpeter's bold harmonies and his brother's sweet and sour soprano followed. A tenor-drum duo began "Then and Now , leading into a series of trumpet-traps exchanges, a hard swinging open horn solo and a straight ahead tenor outing that moved into a drum solo and a reprise of the opening duet. Gumbs airily commenced "Prototype with Val dropping a female vocal sample intoning "There is a Black Messiah on top of his delicate piano before Roney's tender, moody trumpet took over, mining the song's emotional depths. The band ended the show wailing on the leader's "Northern Lights .
The Milt Jackson Tribute Band featuring vibraphonist Joe Locke, with Jackson's last rhythm section of pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Mickey Roker, delivered a hard swinging set of songs associated with the late great mallet master at The Kitano (Sep. 4th). The group opened the second set playing Jackson's "The Prophet Speaks with Locke lyrically swinging the up-tempo number with strong support from the tight trio as he soloed. LeDonne followed, bopping in with some Monkish chords prodded by Roker's smoking stick work. A short bass interlude introduced a drum break before the band took things out. The quartet next presented a relaxed reading of Ray Brown's arrangement of "The Look of Love with LeDonne and Locke interacting on the well known melody. Locke joked with the crowd as he introduced his soulful tribute to Roker, "Big Town . Cranshaw and Roker opened up a smoking rendition of Jackson's "Namesake , after which a short conference led to "Stairway to the Stars as the set's ballad feature. The show's requisite blues, "Used To Be Jackson , set a straight-ahead finger snapping groove that smoothly segued into John Clayton's slow and dirty "Serious Grease', which was rendered with ironic humor. Locke introduced David Watson, who sang his newly crafted lyric to "Big Town , recalling New York's role in the early glory days of bebop. The quartet closed the set appropriately with a burning rendition of Jackson's "Bags Groove .
~ Russ Musto
Recommended New Listening:
· David Binney - Out of Airplanes (Mythology)
· Nels Cline - New Monastery (Cryptogramophone)
· John Hollenbeck - Joys & Desires (Intuition)
· Keith Jarrett - The Carnegie Hall Concert (ECM)
· Rudresh Mahanthappa - Codebook (Pi Recordings)
· Florian Weber/Jeff Denson/Ziv Ravitz - Minsarah (Enja-Justin Time)
~ David Adler, NY@Night Columnist
· Andy Biskin - Early American: The Melodies of Stephen Foster (Strudelmedia)
· Ornette Coleman - Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
· Ergo - Quality Anatomechancial Music (Actuator)
· Charles Mingus - Music Written for Monterey 1965 Not Heard: At UCLA 1965 (Sue Mingus Music-Sunnyside)
· Irene Schweizer - First Choice (Piano Solo KKL Luzern) (Intakt)
· Bertram Turetzky - Tributes (Nine Winds)
~ Laurence Donohue-Greene, Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York
· Nels Cline - New Monastery (Cryptogramophone)
· Ornette Coleman - Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
· Elton Dean/Hugh Hopper Quartet - Soft Bounds Live (Le Triton)
· Stephen Gauci Trio - We're Comin' Just One Time (Cadence Jazz)
· Myra Melford Be Bread - The image of Your Body (Cryptogramophone)
· Ken Vandermark/Territory Band-5 - New Horse for the White House (Okkadisk)
~ Bruce Gallanter, Proprietor, Downtown Music Gallery