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Live From New York

November 2007

By Published: November 4, 2007
Hamiet Bluiett at Sistas' Place

Hamiet Bluiett, the boss baritone of his generation, is a St. Louis resident and an all too infrequent visitor to New York, so it was a special treat to hear him in the intimate setting of Sistas' Place in Brooklyn's Stuyvesant Heights (Oct. 6th). Accompanied by bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Greg Bandy, Bluiett opened with his own "Song for Camille , instantly filling the room with the robust and romantic vibrato of his big horn, playing piercing altissimos in one phrase and whisper-quiet lows the next, the latter so soft that the audience's murmured "hmms and "aahs were easily audible. What started as an ongoing 'conversation' between musicians (Lundy and Bluiett have played together for 27 years) became a group event: Judy Bady scatted over "Footprints , trumpeter and club curator Ahmed Abdullah jumped in on "Africa/Island Song with a sudden burst of sound from the rear of the room and between sets Louis Reyes Rivera read his poem (composed during the first set) titled "Blew-it: Back to the Church . Bluiett paused briefly in the middle of the first set to discuss culture, folk philosophy and "spirit music , following up with "Doll Baby in a gospel 12/8 meter, delivered with spine-sizzling conviction. That night, Bluiett retuned the universe to the key of Bb, improvising to the changes of everyday life, taking us back to where the music began or, as Rivera put it, "to a place called home, where an African rhythm resides.

~ Tom Greenland

Steve Swell at Spike Hill

It may not last much longer, but for a few months, the Williamsburg bar Spike Hill and drummer Harris Eisenstadt, curator of Creative Music Tuesdays there, have presented music almost too hip for the B61 crowd. One such Tuesday (Oct. 16th) found trombonist Steve Swell leading his giddily-named Slammin' the Infinite for an expansive 40-minute set. Swell's melodic foil Sabir Mateen was there with his panoply of horns — one sometimes wishes he would spend an entire evening on flute or clarinet — as was the group's close-eyed glue, bassist Matt Heyner. Subbing domestically for drummer Klaus Kugel was Michael Wimberley and guest guitarist Juan Quinonez ran the gamut from Sonny Sharrock to Derek Bailey. The set refreshingly began in territories most often found midway, Mateen's flute cascading over Swell's trenchant textures, Heyner's arco and Quinonez' chord voicings adding appealing warmth. The louder things got, the more Slammin' went on but it was the quieter moments that really considered the infinite, especially a brief moment of trombone and clarinet that could appropriate the term Free Dixie. The more reflective sections also served as a lid on the boiling Mateen, who is red-bell-pepper-like in his ability to dominate a stew. Slammin' the Infinite typifies that certain brand of New York free improv that sounds like people pushing for space on a crowded subway car but it was Heyner's stabilizing grooves that made for a smooth ride after all.

Johnathan Blake at Louis 649

The first thing that one notices about drummer Johnathan Blake is the setup of his kit; all the drum heads and cymbals are set parallel to the floor within a plane only a few inches high. This tight arrangement allows Blake economy of movement and he saves any energy spent flailing for remarkably keen melodic swing. The young drummer was making a rare appearance as a leader at Louis 649 (Oct. 16th), in a show that exemplifies the spirit of NY@Night. Known mostly as a sideman (Mingus Big Band), Blake had stepped out for the evening leading a trio with some other fresh supporting players — saxophonist Marcus Strickland (Roy Haynes, Dave Douglas, Jeff "Tain Watts) and bassist Tassili Bond (Russell Malone). They were remembering, as part of unofficial month-long festivities, the 90th birthday of Thelonious Monk, not five blocks from where the pianist had his monumental seven-month 1957 residency at The Five Spot. Their all-acoustic settings of "Played Twice , "Light Blue and a closing "Green Chimneys placed the responsibility for interpreting Monk's plucky rhythms squarely on Blake's shoulders, a task he enjoyed particularly on a breakbeat version of "Green Chimneys that recast Monk for Stax Records. Strickland displayed lessons learned from Haynes in his sax/drum dialogues with Blake on Wayne Shorter's "Edda but it was another Shorter tune, "Angola , that was the burner of the set, Blake punctuating like a mad English teacher.

~ Andrey Henkin



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