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Live From New York

March 2007

By Published: March 7, 2007
Rova Saxophone Quartet at Cue Art Foundation

The inventive fusion of free jazz and 20th Century modern classical new music has been the way of the Rova Saxophone Quartet for exactly 30 years. This anniversary was celebrated February 9th at the Cue Art Foundation, whose at the time bare-walled gallery space hosted the California Bay Area group. From right to left, Larry Ochs (tenor, sopranino), Steve Adams (alto), Jon Raskin (baritone, alto) and Bruce Ackley (tenor, soprano) performed six varied selections. "Point to Line to Plane to Sound (inspired by abstract artist Vassily Kandinsky), "Sqat Rave Rot Ax (a band anagram) and "Glass Head Concretion all used the instrumentation of soprano, baritone, alto and tenor. On the former two numbers, Ochs' tenor was the main protagonist against the three-horn harmonic interplay. When two middle altos were flanked on each side by tenors ("Jukebox Niggum and the concert closer "Jukebox Afro Balkan ) the dynamics became more focused. Becoming less about four separate horns than about their blended sound, the result was a new breed of reed. Empathetic waves of volume and sounds flowed momentously through the suite-like soundscapes of each composition. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the performance was how the subtleties of silence were collectively communicated even as the horns were playing, the adventurous sound sculptors proving that silence, after all, is as much sound as not.

Stefano Bollani at Columbia University Italian Academy

Pianist Stefano Bollani's affiliation with Italian countryman trumpeter Enrico Rava has lasted a decade and produced nearly a dozen CDs. But with his new Piano Solo (ECM), Bollani continues to set himself apart as a player whose "expect the unexpected motto was on full display February 6th at Columbia University's Italian Academy for a lengthy though never dull solo set. His concert—as on his CD—quietly opened with "Antonia," moving beyond the recorded version by segueing into "Body and Soul." This standard featured a Bollani hallmark—an active, strong left hand which intentionally drags the tempo, intensifying the rhythm under his right hand's melodic lines, making for a very personal delivery of anything he puts his mind to. Also from the new release: the reflective original "Promenade ; the South American "A Media Luz," transformed into a multi- movement piece with Bollani experimenting percussively on the piano's strings; Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag," the ragtime tradition updated without becoming blasphemous; and the standard show tune "On The Street Where You Live," whose resemblance to "I Could Write A Book demonstrated Bollani's Rollins-like knack for finding a common thread between different melodies. For encores, Bollani calls for requests and strings them together: "Black Coffee," "Blackbird," "'Round Midnight and seven others utilized "Rhapsody in Blue as a thread that kept what would otherwise be a novelty medley flowing.

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene

Henry Kaiser at Columbia University and Downtown Music Gallery

Henry Kaiser is well known as a versatile guitarist who has worked with an array of musicians including Derek Bailey, Fred Frith and Wadada Leo Smith. But he's also a research diver and filmmaker and on February 12th at The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Kaiser got the rare opportunity to combine his various occupations. As part of the university's Undergraduate Scholars Program, Kaiser was invited to speak about his trips to the South Pole with the US Antarctic Program and brought along a guitar, amp, laptop, photos and video (including footage from an upcoming collaboration with legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog). He played bright ringing lines and distorted leads over looped backgrounds while projecting the underwater polar footage, narrating and taking questions. As the icy water gave way to a surprisingly lush ocean-bottom meadow, he played sprightly triplets, showing a perspective on an isolated part of the world that few would have without having been there.

The previous night, Kaiser presented another free show (in a week that also saw him doing two nights at The Stone). At Downtown Music Gallery, Kaiser played surprisingly soft and subtle duets with violinist Jenny Scheinman. Though both have San Francisco roots, it was the first time they'd performed together, and after an initial feeling out of terrain, they began pushing, building off the drones and improvised themes they found across their ten strings.

Alvin Curran/Bob Gluck at Judson Memorial Church

Composer Alvin Curran introduced the shofar as a "low tech instrument and his laptop as "presumably high tech at the beginning of his and Bob Gluck's "The Electronic Shofar on February 3rd at Judson Church. That established the evening's agenda—a concert sponsored by the Electronic Music Foundation to explore new uses of the traditional Jewish horn. Over the course of three solos and a duet, the composers did what they could with the instrument, which has a range of four or five notes, like a pair of tone shepherds. The pieces developed into a kind of musical game: intone and rest, triggering different sorts of filters or prerecorded sounds. If the point was to explore the possibilities of electronics with the shofar, the discovery may have been that those possibilities are few. The strongest piece of the night was Gluck's "Electric Brew/Shofarrr," an improvisation built around two themes from Miles Davis' Bitches Brew with prerecorded double-bass phrases. That piece built nicely from its disparate elements and benefited from the simple variety of sound sources. The others grew repetitive, making one wish the program had paired the electronic shofar with a MIDI bugle or a virtual dungchen. Oddly enough, the concert might have come off better as a suite rather than individual pieces. The slow, meditative pieces didn't benefit from breaks for applause, even if they did manage to fill the resonant room. The concert was the first in EMF's Lab Series, designed to explore the roles of technology in music.

~ Kurt Gottschalk

Atomic at Nublu

The process by which an atomic bomb functions is called fission: energy released when the nucleus of an atom is split into two or more smaller nuclei. The same process is at work with the Norwegian/Swedish collective group Atomic. On a frigid night easily imaginable in either Nordic country, the group began a short US tour at the clandestine club Nublu (February 6th). For those who know the rhythm section of bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen (of The Thing and The Scorch Trio most notably), the almost hard-bop heads written by the rest of the quintet—reedplayer Fredrik Ljungkvist, trumpeter Magnus Broo and Fender Rhodes player Håvard Wiik—may have been surprising. But the strident improvisations born from them revealed the compelling juxtapositions that fuel the group: loud and soft; traditional and outside; beautiful melodies with avant rhythmic propulsion; screeching horns over languorous beats. It is their pliability that lends the tunes, taken from the newest album Happy New Ears! (Jazzland), a certain Dolphy-esque quality of mixing the cerebral and the romantic often found in European jazz. And while Atomic had its moments that were decidedly nuclear, they were presented with a precision vital for maintaining a controlled yet dynamic reaction. The set was performed with projected DVDs of the first Miles electric small groups as backing, an innovative convergence that was deliciously appropriate.

John Tchicai at Birdland

It was somewhat odd to see saxophonist John Tchicai appearing in an extended engagement at Birdland last month, on the same New York trip that also found him at less ritzy but more expected venues like The Stone, Jimmy's and Barbès. This is not to say, though, that he doesn't deserve some ritz. In a career that extends all the way back to 1962, sometimes seeing Tchicai in ramshackle venues has been disconcerting, given his reputation as one of the old guard of the New Thing. But just because Tchicai was to be found at one of New York's bigger jazz clubs doesn't mean that this unorthodox player was going to be anything but himself. Indeed, Birdland on a Thursday night (February 8th) doesn't often feature avant spoken word musings by its headliners or post-bop forms that were quite this open. In a group that featured his tenor (the bass clarinet stayed on the floor), the multiple saxophones of the younger but no less iconoclastic Charlie Kohlhase and guitarist Garrison Fewell, the rhythm section of bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart seemed to be the only nod towards the establishment. But both of these players have long histories of modernism and helped push the collective envelope. The proceedings rarely broached the strident topics upon which Tchicai usually discourses; If a term had to be used to bring in people passing by from the Port Authority, it would be world bop, heavy on rhythms with melodies that looked back to music from a time long before Tchicai's '60s baptism.

~ Andrey Henkin

Chris Potter at Village Vanguard

The Village Vanguard played host to Chris Potter's Underground for a live record date by the unusual unit with Craig Taborn at the Fender Rhodes piano, Adam Rogers playing guitars and Nate Smith on drums (February 15th). Opening with an untitled original, Potter played a deliberately-stated melodic line over Rogers' slow building ostinato, Taborn's spacey sustained chords and Smith's funky martial beat, his tone rising from a low dark bottom to a hoarse cry, then segueing into a fast swinging section that gave way to a cleanly articulated guitar solo with some nasty climaxes. The programmatic piece "Viva Las Vilnius began with unaccompanied tenor, the horn's percussive pads providing a rhythmic impetus to the melody. This moved from a mysterious mood into a joyous atmosphere that had Potter wailing after a sax/drum interlude on which Smith elicited hand-played exoticism. Rogers played attractive open guitar chords to start the song announced as "Pop Tune #2," Potter blowing bittersweet tenor and Taborn contributing a thoughtful piano interlude leading to a celebratory culmination by the whole band. Smith was featured on the next piece in a fiery tenor/drum duo with the leader. Potter then switched to bass clarinet, playing a beautifully lyrical rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Ladies of the Canyon and staying with it for the introduction to the traditional African folk song "Togo," before returning to tenor, driving the group to an exciting finish.

Lee Konitz at Jazz Gallery

Lee Konitz and his quartet, featuring Todd Neufeld on guitar with Jeremy Stratton's bass and George Schuller's drums, gave a superb performance at the Jazz Gallery (February 2nd), during which the august alto saxophonist again proved himself to be one of the most inspired improvisors in music today. Konitz kicked off his second show with an original based on the changes of "All The Things You Are that he called "Thingin'." After a relaxed reading of the ingeniously constructed melody, the altoist soloed with subtle variations on the theme, beginning in the lower reaches of his horn, revealing a somewhat thickened tone, before settling into the middle upper register, where his signature singing sound slowly unraveled the mysteries of the song's familiar chords. Neufeld played a warm and spacious solo, followed by the lyrical Stratton, with the leader almost whispering rhythmic punctuations behind the bassist and during Schuller's ensuing brush feature. A pretty guitar prelude set up "How About You before Konitz took charge with a brief examination of the melody that preceded his improvised section, which was as soulful as it was analytical. Stratton's solo bass introduced "My Old Flame before the rhythm section stated the torchy melody without the leader, who played with a moving bluesy poignancy when he eventually joined. A very swinging "The Way You Look Tonight," with Konitz displaying his supreme lyricism, ended the most gratifying set.

~ Russ Musto

Recommended New Listening:

· Don Aliquo—Jazz Folk (Young Warrior Records)

· Richie Barshay Project—Homework (Ayva Music)

· Steve Kuhn—Live at Birdland (Blue Note)

· Wolfgang Muthspiel & Brian Blade— Friendly Travelers (Material)

· Dave Stryker & Steve Slagle— Latest Outlook (Zoho)

· Gebhard Ullmann/Chris Dahlgren/Art Lande—Die Blaue Nixe (Between the Lines-Challenge)

-David Adler NY@Night Columnist,

· Omer Avital Group—Room To Grow (Smalls)

· Richie Barshay Project—Homework (Ayva Music)

· Anat Cohen/Anzic Orchestra—Noir (Anzic)

· Jack Cortner New York Big Band—Fast Track (feat. Marvin Stamm) (Jazzed Media)

· Giorgio Gaslini—L'Integrale Antologia Cronologica CD no. 6 : 1969-70 (Grido/Newport in Milan/ Africa) (Durium/Off-Soul Note)

· Jesper Lovdal/Mark Solborg/Anders Provis—Ventilator (Ilk Music)

-Laurence Donohue-Greene Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York

· Atomic—Happy New Ears! (Jazzland)

· Stefano Bollani—Piano Solo (ECM)

· John Carter/Bobby Bradford Quartet—Seeking (hatOLOGY)

· Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton—Zafiro (Maya)

· Enrico Rava—JazzItaliano Live 2006 (L'Espresso)

· Irene Schweizer/Fred Anderson/Hamid Drake—Live Willisau & Taktlos (Intakt)

-Andrey Henkin Editorial Director, AllAboutJazz-New York

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