David Murray, Nicholas Payton, John Scofield, Mike Stern, John Abercrombie and Matthew Shipp
Rashied Ali at the Jazz Standard
Later that same evening, drummer Rashied Ali gave a storming set at Jazz Standard, leading a quintet that's devoted to original composition. "Judgement Day" provided the night's absolute peak, written by tenor man Lawrence Clark, and streaked with an oddly Scottish Highland lilt. This epic piece provided a chance for its composer, along with altoist Lakecia Benjamin to stream out solos that ascended to the very heavens, full of boundless invention and intense stamina. The bandleader himself borders on the modest, choosing not to display the extended abstraction of his time with John Coltrane. This quintet is more of a hard bop outfit, but strengthened by innovative tunes and a delivery that imbues the music with a continuous vibrancy.
Sam Rivers at the Marian Anderson Theatre
Even though it was announced very late, the Sam Rivers gig at the Marian Anderson Theatre in Harlem managed to draw a good crowd. The evening opened with an onstage interview, conducted by Professor Brent Hayes Edwards, whose seriousness was carefully dismantled by the wisecracking Rivers. This wry tone continued into the veteran saxophonist's first set, ostensibly a trio improvisation, but with this format derailed by the leader's spontaneous (and mischievous) urge to formulate unlikely permutations from within his Rivbea Orchestra. At this point, a set of severe technical problems were becoming apparent. In fact, the evening's seemingly inept sound engineers were hopelessly battling with a lead microphone that was repeatedly cutting out, at crucial soloing or speaking moments. This was extremely distracting throughout the first set. Also, this theater is a lofty space, so the music didn't require thick ladlings of artificial reverb, to the point of ridiculously swamping the music. The sound of the Rivbea Orchestra is rich and multi-layered, so an overabundance of reverberation just made the sound muddy and crowded. That said, the force of the big band performance easily surmounted these problems, with its complicated avant funk patterns setting off a sequence of incendiary solos, some of which were simply dazzling in their dexterous speed and energy.
Sheila Jordan and Roswell Rudd at the Iridium
Sharing the Most Mischievous Performer award with Rivers is singer Sheila Jordan, celebrating her birthday with trombonist Roswell Rudd (79 and 72 respectively). Both of them behave like teenagers, really, but not the sulky sort. The impish sort, instead. This is very refreshing, turning the second of their two nights at Iridium into a lively and extended party, full of vocal deconstructions of standard material, and trombone irreverence on the part of Rudd, who manages to invest New Orleans carnality with a free jazz engorgement. They were casual and profound, jokey and emotional, tight and succinct, all at the same time.
Maria Schneider Orchestra at the Jazz Standard
Still not without humor, but cloaked in a mysterious tastefulness, the Maria Schneider Orchestra packed out the Jazz Standard club, highlighting material from the recent Sky Blue album, but also delving back into older works. Her lush tonal blankets are directly descended from the music of Gil Evans, who was Schneider's composing and arranging mentor. Schneider has to be caught in the flesh to fully appreciate the communicativeness of both her conducting manner, and her close relationship with her players. Her sensitive hand gestures produce instantaneous results from the players, as each pristine layer brushes up against the next. She also has the courage to pace a set from slow to slow to slower, but eventually attaining a crescendo via a subtle upward gradient.
All-Star Holiday Sounds at Dizzy's Club and The Blue Note