Irene Schweizer has, most deservedly, attained the status of careerist in the last few years. While she's long been recognized by those in the know as a great pianist, she's now being lauded for setting the sort of path that makes a statement in jazz. Intakt - one of the most reliably strong labels around - was founded some 20 years ago to document her work and included her in its Portrait retrospective series in 2005 (an essential CD for anyone interested in how the modern can remain rooted in tradition). Last year, a documentary film told the story of her career, reaching back to an appearance in a 1960 talent show. And on Nov. 12th, she made a rare appearance in New York, as a part of Roulette's expanded and increasingly impressive series. She opened her brief, satisfying solo set with simultaneous notes at opposite ends of the keyboard and proceeded to roll, cascade and even boogie a bit across the octaves between, crafting a medley of miniatures with harmonious sensibility and quick turns like some fractured ragtime. Schweizer can end a 10-minute, free-wheeling improvisation with a statement of a note or two so definitive that a moment of appreciative laughter precedes the applause, not a Jaki Byard punchline but a sweetly simple, familiar anecdote. She did move inside the case to play percussively and she did slam the keyboard lid emphatically mid-piece, but those were momentary diversions; the "Oska T Monk encore summed up her spirit of making the past her own.
Matana Roberts and Wadada Leo Smith at Community Church of New York
The final concert of the New York Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians' fall season Nov. 16th was a perfect double, a smart pairing of two Chicago transplants, a decidedly worthy younger player and an older master. Altoist Matana Roberts opened the night with a suite that bore such titles as "Peace , "Will and "Desire , common enough subject matter in the jazz world but Roberts has the intelligence and conviction to deliver on such lofty themes and even to evoke Coltrane (without mimicry) in the opening. With themes shifting, sometimes quickly, between ballad, ragged funk and scattered angular out-ness played by Roberts, Shoko Nagai (piano) and Hill Greene (bass), the piece rested largely on the solid drumming of Roberts' longtime band mate Chad Taylor, who delivered a synthesia-inducing solo.
Wadada Leo Smith's set was also a single, multi-part work for his trumpet with drummer Martin Obeng and pianist and AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams, filling in for ailing pipa player Min Xiao- Fen. The piece began with a bold, repeated, three-note proclamation that opened up to variations on a fanfare, an emphatic round-robin. Titled "Mbira , the music could have been played by the thumb piano it was named for, but not with the pounding attack the trio gave it. Abrams' playing was urgent, yet fragile, ornamenting music that represented the best in Smith's compositions: delicate, deceptively simple and building into unexpected complexities.
~ Kurt Gottschalk
Gibson/Baldwin Jazz Festival at Whole Foods Market
The first annual Gibson/Baldwin Jazz Festival organized by Yashmin Charnet-Abler took place on Nov. 3rd-4th in the unusual but ultimately jazz- friendly environment of Whole Foods Market, overlooking the intersection of Houston Street and Second Avenue through a panoramic picture window. Allen Farnham's piano trio served up a fired-up soufflé of standards, including "Witchhunt , "Bolivia , "Kids Are Pretty People , "Tangerine , "Tin Tin Deo , "El Gaucho and an atmospheric original, "Days Gone By . The group vibe was as comfortable as old clothes; they probably could have played all day with no loss of luster. Sunday's festivities began with Ted Curson's Spirit of Life Ensemble (with altoist Bradford Hayes and trombonist Bob Ferrel in the frontline) with the Gentle Giant himself, Yusef Lateef, guesting on flutes. Five days short of his 87th birthday, Lateef was no slouch on the couch, playing with sweet, quavering tones that seemed to pose questions, even as they suggested answers; the crowd grew noticeably quiet in places, audibly touched by the healing spirit of this living legend. Curson and crew were full of spunk and spitfire, jamming over well- oiled classics with sophisticated abandon: Curson sang, scatted and articulated his ideas in a trumpet-ly fashion; Hayes interpolated humorous quotes ("Santa Claus is Coming to Town , "It Don't Mean a Thing , etc.) and Ferrel spun out mini-narratives in velvet legatos.
Joanne Brackeen; Benjamin Taubkin at Klavierhaus
Klavierhaus, situated in the heart of midtown's Piano Row, has hosted a memorable Friday series of salon concerts featuring a variety of eclectically-minded keyboardists. Interestingly, something mysterious seems to happen when these artists spread their fingers across a magnificent Fazioli grand piano, a temperamental mistress that gives as good as she gets. Joanne Brackeen tried her hands on one Nov. 9th, playing a mixture of standards ("How Deep Is the Ocean? "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered , "Alone Together ) and originals ("Picasso , "5th Avenue Flat and "Haiti-B ) in an impressive outing of imaginative improvisations. Seemingly captivated by the boisterous and brassy bass register of the haus Fazioli, Brackeen applied her spidery fingers with fearsome bravado, 'strumming' flamboyant rasqueados on the flamenco-esque "Picasso and pounding out electric figures in "5th Avenue Flat . "This piano is a lot of fun to play, she remarked at one point. The second set was of another ilk altogether, with Brazilian pianist Benjamin Taubkin embodying a yin to Brackeen's yang, playing in a tender, understated style that spoke from the heart. "Vibraçoes was gracefully ecstatic; Jobim Morro Nao's "Mojo Tem Vez , a lyric, gentle samba, was light but rich; "Sabia Voou evoked the attentive birds outside of Taubkin's window in São Paulo; and "Consolaçao went so deeply into the zone that I forgot I was supposed to be paying attention.
~ Tom Greenland
Mario Pavone at Jimmy's
What better way to celebrate one's 67th birthday than by inviting some friends to do what you have been doing so well for the past 40 years? Bassist Mario Pavone, certainly a spry and effusive 67, and a quartet with saxophonists Tony Malaby and Marty Ehrlich, nimbly supported by drummer Gerald Cleaver, performed an expansive set at Jimmy's (Nov. 11th) as part of Ehrlich's curatorial month at the downstairs- through the bar-behind a curtain club in the East Village. Pavone's composing, in Mingus-ian style, put his dense pulse at the forefront, drums skittering around and breaking the beat while sax (tenor and alto, with the occasional soprano or clarinet from Ehrlich) played what were almost traditional post-bop heads, albeit ones that then led into some decidedly New Thing shrieks and wails. Malaby was deliciously raspy the whole night, a hissing serpent if you will, while Ehrlich was more of the snake charmer. Pavone as a composer subverts forms just enough to contradict expectations; melodies sometimes came in the middle of a piece after open introductions, horn lines were designed to run perpendicular to the spongy rhythms and often what began as a ballad, though an abstract one, developed over time (all the pieces were over 10 minutes) into something far more incendiary. This group, a mixture of personnel from Pavone's consistently fine Playscape albums of the last decade, was a very fine birthday present indeed.
John Abercrombie at Jazz Standard
It usually takes a new group a little while to get going but for John Abercrombie's trio with organist Gary Versace and drummer Adam Nussbaum, it only took the first song of the first set of the first night at Jazz Standard (Nov. 15th) to open up. Of course it helps that Abercrombie's start was with Johnny "Hammond Smith and that he has revisited organ-based groups throughout his career. Versace is quite far from the bombastic DeFrancesco School so the tone of the evening was more on the exploratory side, closer to Abercrombie's 1974 Timeless album with Jan Hammer and Jack DeJohnette. The trio dissected some standards and not-so-standards: Versace's organ buffed the edge of Abercrombie's lines on Cole Porter's "Everything I Love ; the guitarist's bluesier side made an appearance on Johnny Carisi's "Israel ; and Ornette Coleman's "Round Trip featured an extended drum-guitar duet intro. The set also featured two Abercrombie originals, "Spring Song and "Wishing Bell , which were originally done in sextet and quartet formats respectively. Pared down to three players, Versace's airy playing floated nicely over Nussbaum's varying rhythms, Abercrombie seeming to avoid the wide intervallic jumps that make his music often sound very cerebral, preferring instead to enter into patient dialogues with the organ. It was also on "Wishing Bell that Abercrombie, more the ham every year, inserted an eight-note Christmas theme as an early holiday gift to the audience.
~ Andrey Henkin
Sheila Jordan/Roswell Rudd Birthday Celebrations at Iridium
Birthday-celebrating septuagenarians Sheila Jordan and Roswell Rudd fêted each other with two nights of joyous jazz at Iridium Nov. 17th-18th. The first night's second set began with Rudd blowing a boisterous introduction to his "Suh Blah Buh Sibi (a song he recorded with Jordan 33 years ago), accompanied by the superb trio of pianist Lafayette Harris, bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Barry Altschul. Jordan then joined in, prefacing her vocal with an account of how Rudd wrote the song while driving a cab, as the composer waved his trombone back and forth, imitating the faulty windshield wiper that inspired the rhythmic melody. A natural storyteller, the singer introduced her version of "Autumn In New York with a tale of Charlie Parker walking down 52nd Street and then ended the piece by aptly quoting Jon Hendricks' hip lyric to George Russell's "New York, New York . Jordan and Rudd had a ball on their version of "Whatever Turns You , with the former scatting wildly while the latter played raucous tailgate trombone. Duo interludes, first by Rudd and Harris on a "Night In Tunisia -inspired tune (with words of warning concerning the earth's ecology) and then by Jordan and Brown, performing a Miles tribute of "Blue Skies , "All Blues and "Freddie Freeloader , calmed the atmosphere momentarily, but Jordan livened things up again with a hilarious version of Sonny Rollins' "Pent-Up House and then ended with the blues and a Happy Birthday coda.
Sam Rivers at Miller Theater
The 84-year-old Sam Rivers celebrated his illustrious career in a concert at the Marian Anderson Theater at Harlem Stage (Nov. 10th) billed as "Sam Rivers and his Orchestra: Music Visionary in Three Parts . The evening began with an onstage interview with Rivers, during which he recounted his long life in music. Afterwards the saxophonist was joined by bassist Doug Mathews and drummer Rion Smith for a trio performance that highlighted the high-octane octogenarian's prowess as a spontaneous improviser. The tenorist followed with his beautiful ballad "Nightfall . Rivers then began bringing out individual members of his orchestra in odd configurations that blended his improvisational and compositional personalities: first a horn quartet with him on tenor, next with a flute quintet and then finally with a small ensemble featuring his soulful soprano sax. The music moved smoothly through a kaleidoscope of moods - from cathartic cacophony to blissful serenity to wailing swing - that reflected the multifaceted personality of the man himself. The latest edition of the Rivbea Orchestra, the 16-piece big band Rivers has managed to maintain for four decades to perform his more than 400 compositions, filled the final segment of the concert. The opening "Revival hearkened back to Rivers' gospel and blues roots while "Quagmire was a challenging oddly-constructed piece with an ominous mood. The concert ended on a happy note with Rivers on flute for his pretty "Willow .
~ Russ Musto
Recommended New Listening:
· Harry Allen Hits By Brits (Twinz-Challenge)
· Martin Bejerano Evolution/Revolution (Reservoir)
· Michael Blake Sextet Amor de Cosmos (Songlines)
· Peter Evans The Peter Evans Quartet (Firehouse 12)
· His Name Is Alive Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute to Marion Brown (High Two)
· Henning Sieverts Symmetry (Pirouet) -David Adler NY@Night Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com
· Dena DeRose Live at Jazz Standard, Vol. One (MAXJAZZ)
· Dominic Duval Songs for Krakow (Not Two)
· His Name Is Alive Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute to Marion Brown (High Two)
· Steve Rust Soundpainting Sextet (with Walter Thompson) (Dane)
· Arturo Stable Notes on Canvas (Origen)
· Howard Wiley The Angola Project (s/r) -Laurence Donohue-Greene Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York
· Carla Bley The Lost Chords find Paolo Fresu (ECM)
· Francois Carrier/Michel Lambert Kathmandu (FMR)
· Kaufmann/Gratkowski/De Joode Palaë (Leo)
· Andrew Robson/Paul Cutlan Simpatico (Lamplight)
· Evan Parker/Ned Rothenberg Live At Roulette (Animul)
· Territory Band with Fred Anderson Collide (Okkadisk)
-Andrey Henkin Editorial Director, AllAboutJazz-New York