A band of bandleaders, Kamikaze Ground Crew has difficulty getting everyone in the right place at the right time, yet the allstars converged at The Cutting Room (May 13th) for an informal release bash for Postcards from the Highwire, their fifth CD. Co-led by Gina Leishman and Doug Wieselman, with more-than-able-bodied assistance from Peter Apfelbaum, Steven Bernstein, Art Baron, Marcus Rojas and Kenny Wollesen - all musical characters in their own right - the evening was an arranger's showcase, replete with fine charts utilizing a horn-ucopia of textures and timbres. Leishman's three habaneras served as pre-, inter- and postludes and her "Love-Go-Round was a multi-layered pastiche of ambivalent Americana; Wieselman's evocative "Travels-Windows-Canvas interlaced short motifs to pointillistic and postmodern effect; and Bernstein penned a gospel-meets-New Orleans retake on Sly Stone's "Everybody is a Star . The solos, though short, exposed the extroverted individuality of the Crew: Rojas' talking tuba, Apfelbaum's casual complexity, Baron's growling bebop, Bernstein's tailgate trumpet and Wieselman's bluesy filigree. Originally formed as a pit band for the Flying Karamazov Brothers' Broadway show, KGC speaks everything from gutbucket funk, whorehouse ragtime, early Ellingtonian junglese, reggae and psychedelia, all with the loose precision and easy fluency of a veteran pit band. Check your charts for the next convergence.
~ Tom Greenland
Michael Blake & Marcus Rojas at Red Hook Public Library
One of the more surreal places to see a jazz performance has got to be the Red Hook Public Library. But it was indeed there, intriguingly under a sign announcing "Fiction , that saxophonist Michael Blake and tubaist Marcus Rojas performed a brief early evening set (May 15th). The audience was sparse and was mostly made up of kids doing their homework. This was fitting as Blake and Rojas were engaged in their own brand of research; after this gig, they would leave Red Hook in a cab to make an 8:30 pm set under Blake's leadership at Cornelia Street Café. Perhaps there they would play the more 'progressive' music for which they are known, but at this municipal setting, a more customary approach was displayed on Sonny Rollins' "Oleo , Blake's slow blues lament "Mr. John , Ellington's "Wig Wise and Billy Preston's "Nothing From Nothing . But if the material was more traditional, it did not preclude moments of modernity, particularly from Rojas' vox humana-like tuba. The contrast against Blake's tart, almost raspy tenor, especially on traded fours, was delicious like sweet and sour chicken. The informal environment was also conducive to moments of appropriate education, like when Rojas fulfilled a request for a circular breathing demonstration. This led into an improvised loping light '70s funk whose simple form moved smoothly into a moody blues and then a deconstruction of the Beatles "With a Little Help from My Friends .
Sam Bardfeld Stuff Smith Project at Barbes
Though violinist Sam Bardfeld might be known for his work with more outlandish ensembles, his Stuff Smith project, playing semi-regularly at Barbès, is closer in Americana spirit to his recent participation in Bruce Springsteen's band. At the Brooklyn haunt, (May 10th), Bardfeld and Co. - trombonist/vocalist Curtis Fowlkes, bassist Chris Lightcap and pianist Anthony Coleman - drew a refreshingly eclectic, at least age-wise, crowd for an evening of lovingly reimagined repertory music. Apart from Bardfeld, Fowlkes' early 20th century swing and Coleman's love of players like Jelly Roll Morton make for a band of sincere interpreters, if tongue-in-cheek ones. Bardfeld took every opportunity to educate the audience about Smith's life and times, couching some serious musicology in humorous terms, The combination of lecture and example showed how Smith's legacy can be traced all the way into modern violin practitioners like Bardfeld and how in jazz, strong earthy melodies still have an important place and as more than just nostalgia. There was virtuosity, sensitive interplay, toe-tapping abstraction and an appealing gruffness a-plenty on such numbers as "Skip It , "Where's the Man with the Jive? and even an Onyx Club Boys reworking of "Airmail Special entitled "Test Pilots . Bardfeld told a story about how Smith had varied critical responses, both as high art and low but such superficial distinctions meant little during this affable exploration.
~ Andrey Henkin
Anat Cohen at Jazz Standard