On Sep. 15th, French cellist Vincent Courtois, Swiss pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and Baltimore-born tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin met at Roulette, in essence to prepare for their long-awaited debut album, to be made shortly after this concert. Together since 2002, the leaderless group performed a trio of distinct, extended, untitled improvs, each lasting over 20 minutes, 'spoken' in an extraordinarily telepathic singular voice. Each musician unfolded a colorful palette of sound and texture without lopsided self-indulgent soloing, a set devoid of ego and full of captivating twists and turns. Courtois, the trio's linchpin effectively situated between bandmates, frequently paired off into duos. He summoned a timbre in his arco playing that absorbed Eskelin's breath-heavy circular blowing; the cellist's rapid yet sensitive occasional pedal-induced playing additionally created a reverberating soft-toned effect without producing an extraneous fourth voice, again mysteriously melding with Eskelin's horn lines. Courtois similarly complemented Courvoisier with a piano-like pizzicato approach that highlighted their shared classical background. The latter's prepared piano sections and improvisations within the piano brought the two string instruments even closer, as did Courtois' percussive bouncing and seesawing bow technique (on one occasion with two crisscrossed bows). Music can be magic and one listen to this group quickly reveals why.
Jeremy Steig at Cornelia Street Café
The same night, veteran flautist Jeremy Steig and his trio with Cameron Brown (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) held court at Cornelia Street Café, as Steig does every other month. Though jazz flute has grown in practitioner population, most still utilize the instrument as a double. The only doubling Steig did was from one flute to the next, from Sankyo flute to a Kotato bass flute as on his quite open rendition of "So What , its extended free atonal introduction lasting several minutes before the familiar bass line and steady time kicked in care of Brown's fluid, ever-melodic playing. From the "Black Orpheus theme to the "Love Theme From Spartacus , Steig put on a clinic of the instrument's limitless possibilities and nuances. His masterful techniques of overblowing, singing and humming multi-phonics as well as key clicks, percussive effects and noteless breaths of air not only encapsulated the instrument's well-documented history in jazz (Jerome Richardson and Frank Wess to Yusef Lateef, Charles Lloyd, Eric Dolphy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk), but clearly stated his own case as an original contributor to this impressive line, of which he has been a part since 1963. An emotional player, Steig's rendition of "Straight, No Chaser turned Hendrix-like when he swung the bottom end of his flute, knocking over and smashing the glass on top of the stool in front of him. Why not? he actually played with Jimi once upon a time.
~ Laurence Donohue-Greene
Frank Wess at Smalls
Descending into Smalls on a crowded Saturday night (Sep. 15th) and seeing, hung behind the bandstand, the large photo of young Louis Armstrong all duded up in jaunty golf cap, tweeds, knee-length breeches and gartered argyle socks, one is immediately swept up in the spirit of things, especially when the occasion is a meeting of veteran jazzmen Frank Wess (tenor sax and flute) and Jimmy Cobb (drums) with up-and-comers Ilya Lushtak (guitar) and Tal Ronen (bass). For two swinging sets, the combo kept the audience's heads bobbing and feet tapping to choice standards such as "Nancy (With the Laughing Face) , "When Lights Are Low , two lesser played Billy Strayhorn chestnuts "Snibor and "Raincheck and Wess' own "Backfire , a 'rhythm changes' workout. Although Wess spent most of the evening on tenor, spinning out fiery improvisations with unflustered cool, building dramatic arcs with unassuming panache, he brought out his flute for a bossa nova rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow , treating fans to a tasteful and well-constructed solo. Cobb was masterly throughout, creating forward momentum with unhurried authority, anticipating Lushtak's boisterous 'call-outs' with uncanny intuition. The guitarist brimmed with ideas and enthusiasm and proved an empathetic accompanist on the ballads; Ronen displayed a solid melodic streak in his frequent solos. When all was over, 'Pops' Armstrong seemed pleased, his photogenic smile never fading.
Dave Binney at 55Bar
Sunday night, Sep. 9th, was the tail-end of a mini- residency held at 55Bar by alto saxophonist Dave Binney's sometime group of Adam Rogers (guitar), Craig Taborn (keyboard), Scott Colley (bass) and Brian Blade (drums), with special assistance from Chris Potter (tenor sax). That's a lot of first-rate chefs in one kitchen at the same time, but the broth never spoiled, partly because, over the course of an hour-and-a-half-long set of only four tunes, each member was given ample space to stretch out and express himself. Colley had first shot on "Fall to Rise with a slow-building solo of varied rhythms and again in the last piece. Rogers too was featured on these tunes; at several points, everyone else dropped out, the house air conditioning was temporarily shut off and things got pin-drop quiet. Taborn was relatively subdued on this particular outing, but his constantly changing textures and harmonic backdrops proved a key ingredient in the collective stew. Hornmen Binney and Potter each took dynamic solos, the former over a 6/8 rhythm, slowly transposing motifs towards either end of his horn and later on "Edinburgh , avoiding the 'obvious' climax for an unusual alternative. Potter generated thoughtful lines over a seven-beat section in "Fall and preached an extended sermon of intelligent emotion on "Example . Blade, characteristically eschewing the role of mere 'timekeeper', played on, over and even across the beat with elasticity and invention.
~ Tom Greenland
Globe Unity Orchestra at Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center
If more people had known about it sooner, this show would have been the most anticipated gig of the year, if not the last five. As part of Columbia University's Festival of Global Jazz, a fervent crowd trekked up to Washington Heights' Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center Sep. 20th for the first NYC appearance of the mighty Globe Unity Orchestra (GUO) since 1983. The brainchild of pianist Alex von Schlippenbach, the GUO has been in irregular existence since 1966 incorporating Europe and America's finest improvisers into its heady squall. Schlippenbach was there of course as were original members Gerd Dudek and Manfred Schoof with longtime member Evan Parker filling out the hornline. The other members, some even playing with the group for the first time, represented many roots and branches of the free jazz tree that was planted by Schlippenbach over 40 years ago: Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Axel Dörner, Daniele D'Agaro, Jeb Bishop, Nils Wogram, Paul Lytton and Paal Nilssen-Love. While free jazz has been in existence since the '50s in some form, it has been distilled into its purest and most intense form through the efforts of the GUO, an amazing experience on record but exponentially more powerful in person. No desire to look at one's watch, the 65-minute set was filled with too many amazing moments to absorb, much less list. You can stop listening to music after something like this.
Joëlle Léandre at at Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center
And if that set wasn't enough, the evening began with another remarkably unique performance: bassist Joëlle Léandre's Satiemental Journeys Octet. And where the GUO was a maelstrom, this group was a summer shower, Léandre's chamber-like vignettes interspersed with moments of perky atonality. Inspired by Léandre's countryman, pre-avant-garde composer Erik Satie, the music, written in 1998, stayed mostly in the delicate, subgroupings making up much of the momentum. The musicians Cécile Daroux, François Houle, Guy Bettini, Melvyn Poore, Michael Berger, Mary Oliver and Hannes Clauss often splintered off into interesting textural combinations; flute and violin, or clarinet and trumpet or even solo tuba supported by drums advanced Léandre's melodic ideas and then stopped suddenly.
Though a suite of compositions, there was a deliberate lack of continuity, at least from piece to piece. Taken together, a certain aesthetic was built that, though European in conception and execution, was a far cry from the rich bubbling of the GUO improvisation that followed. If one were to invoke a culinary metaphor, Léandre's set was the light yet complex consommé that precedes a hearty steak béarnaise. The music occasionally involved recitations by Léandre, spoken dramatically in French, that were more decorative that illuminating. Throughout there was a certain whimsy that made the 50-minute performance a perfect opening course.
~ Andrey Henkin
Sonny Rollins at Carnegie Hall
Sonny Rollins returned to Carnegie Hall (Sep. 17th) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his debut there, in the most highly anticipated jazz event of the new millennium. Rollins performed the first half of the evening in the pianoless trio format that he began experimenting with over a half century ago. Joined by Christian McBride (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums), the saxophonist recreated the set he played the first time he appeared in the hall. Opening with his "Sonnymoon For Two , Rollins plunged into his solo with long lines of melodic improvisation in his signature growling sound, still as distinctive as it is strong, while McBride held down the middle and Haynes pushed and prodded with his dancing rhythms. On "Some Enchanted Evening he played with a spaciousness that allowed his every note to fill the hall and then thrilled the crowd with a rendition of "Mack The Knife that included saxophone/drum exchanges with the incredible Haynes. On the second half of the show Rollins' working group with Clifton Anderson, Bobby Broom, Bob Cranshaw, Steve Jordan and Kimati Dinizulu took the stage. The unit played with a tight synergy that had the tenorist marching around the bandstand, entering into musical conversations with each of the players, all of whom were featured on three originals. Rollins finished with "Don't Stop The Carnival , ending the song with a long, held note that had the whole house up with a standing ovation before it was over.
Cindy Blackman at Dizzy's Club
The Cindy Blackman Project at Dizzy's Club (Sep. 5th) marked the tenth anniversary of the death of Tony Williams, playing the powerful high-energy music of the drummer's early jazz-rock fusion group Lifetime. Blackman, who was joined by tenor man JD Allen and guitarist Fionn Ã" Lochlainn with Carlton Holmes on piano and keyboards and George Mitchell on electric and acoustic basses, led her group throughout the opening week of the room's Women In Jazz Festival, smashing every stereotype about the manner in which female players should perform with her indomitable drumming. From the start of the funky opening number, "The One , the drummer played with a relentless swirling energetic swing that clearly paid tribute to Williams while showing that she was her own woman, with a personal style deeply rooted in the jazz tradition. On "Curiosity she played with a continuous melodious musicality, filling in the spacious atmosphere surrounding Allen's dark legato tenor and Holmes' ethereal keyboards with rhythmic phrases that told intriguing little stories. Her authoritative solo on "# 1 , full of Africanisms, had the entire audience mesmerized as she demonstrated her virtuosic command of the drum kit. Blackman's playing breathed with fire, maintaining the music's energy when Holmes and Mitchell switched to their acoustic axes on the straight-ahead "Insight and then took off like a rocket to end the set with "Vuelta Abajo .
~ Russ Musto
Recommended New Listening:
· The Claudia Quintet For (Cuneiform)
· Erik Deutsch Fingerprint (Sterling Circle)
· Amir ElSaffar Two Rivers (Pi)
· Bill McHenry Roses (Sunnyside)
· Sacks/Opsvik/Maneri/Motian Two Miles a Day (Loyal Label/Yeah Yeah)
· Maria Schneider Sky Blue (ArtistShare)
-David Adler NY@Night Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com
· Muhal Richard Abrams Vision Towards Essence (Pi)
· Marco Benevento Live at Tonic (Ropeadope)
· Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio Paa-Da-Pap (TUM)
· Champian Fulton/David Berger & The Sultans of Swing Champian (Such Sweet Thunder)
· Kaori Osawa Aluminum (Leo)
· Aki Takase/Silke Eberhard Ornette Coleman Anthology (Intakt)
-Laurence Donohue-Greene Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York
· Adam Lane Buffalo (Cadence Jazz)
· Chicago Tentet American Landscapes 1 & 2 (Okkadisk)
· Sonore Only The Devil Has No Dreams (Jazzwerkstatt)
· Steve Swell's Fire Into Music Swimming in a Galaxy of Goodwill and Sorrow (Rogue Art)
· François Houle/Evan Parker/Benoît Delbecq La Lumière de Pierres (Psi)
· Various Artists The Harlem Experiment (Ropeadope)
-Andrey Henkin Editorial Director, AllAboutJazz-New York