To hear Fred Anderson without a drummer behind him is at least a little like hearing a different horn player altogether. He did it at the 2003 Vision Festival in a duo with bassist Harrison Bankhead (documented on CD by Ayler Records) and did it again Dec. 7th with William Parker at The Living Theatre, in another Vision concert. Anderson is a player deeply into his own approach, yet he's extremely responsive to his environs - in these cases, more subdued duo sessions. He doesn't fill up the additional space but leaves it open. In their first duet concert, Anderson and Parker played a geometry of notes, quick bass riffs repeated once, followed by a quick jaunt to a new riff, repeated and discarded, with the sax both free and serving as anchor, mooring them to limitless possibilities. By the time they fell into a unison four-count and ended the 20-minute piece, the sheer amount of information imparted could have filled a night. The second piece - a good 40 minutes - hit a surprising synchronicity, something that wouldn't have happened in a trio, as if the rules of the game were that each note would quickly follow the player's own or the other's previous utterance. They hit a sort of bifurcated bop, eliciting a devilish laugh from Anderson. Then they started playing with the tempo, answering each other largo or adagio. In their brief encore, Parker picked up Anderson's laugh, repeating it like the musical phrases they'd swapped for the previous hour, making it into a simpatico vocal coda.
Craig Harris at The Apollo
Craig Harris took as his inspiration for God's Trombones, the remarkable song cycle he presented Dec. 14th at the Apollo Theater, the musical works of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. With Hughes contemporary James Weldon Johnson's sermon-based poetry as a libretto, Harris crafted a two-hour work that was nothing less than spectacular with a top-rate band featuring Curtis Fowlkes, Alfred Patterson and Gary Valente (along with himself) on trombones, Joe Daley on euphonium and Bob Stewart on tuba, with keyboardist Adam Klipple and drummer Tony Lewis. The pieces were delivered in song and choreographed spoken parts by four vocalists and were (unsurprisingly) trenched in the Biblical - God and Satan, Adam and Eve and Noah all made appearances and Harris cast himself in the role of a rapping Moses. But most of the music came from the New Orleans brass band tradition with some gospel and light R&B numbers filling it out. The band was strong all around, but it was Valente who got the biggest spotlight (next to Moses), playing a show- stopping solo in one of the handful of instrumental pieces. It was the singers, however, who owned the show: Kevin Anthony, Gina Breedlove, Caroline Hawthorne and William "Byrd Wilkins were stellar in a work that showed Harris to be an inventive arranger and composer. The evening closed with the ensemble breaking down, ultimately leaving the ever-remarkable Stewart to close the show alone.
~ Kurt Gottschalk
Karl Berger at Symphony Space
Pianist/vibraphonist/new music composer Karl Berger, founder of Woodstock's Creative Music Studio, doesn't come downstate all that often, so it's a must-see when he does. On Dec. 7th, Berger teamed up with Parisian accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier, vocalist Ingrid Sertso (a co-founder of CMS), bassist John Lindberg and cellist Tomas Ulrich at Symphony Space to explore five movements from his "No Man Is An Island suite, a selection of his "Miniatures and an impromptu interpretation of Sertso's poem/ composition "Birds Fly . A gathering of strong personalities, the date exemplified many cooks cooking well together, blending their individual flavors and ideas to enhance the group gumbo. The synergy was especially evident during the miniatures "Nameless Child and "Transit and in many serendipitous moments when the improvisers seemed telepathic, anticipating each other's slightest musical whims on the turn of a dime. Each voice had character: Berger was a consummate accompanist, a font of ever-changing rhythms, densities and timbres; Matinier spliced flowing pentatonics and whispered drones into the overall texture; Ulrich led the Sturm und Drang movement, expressing himself with stormy urgency; Sertso's poetry and scatting - now whispered, now popped in subtle plosives and slurped fricatives - was unto itself; and Lindberg gave new meaning to 'hands-on' with tapped, hammered and strummed soloing.
On Dec. 13th, the Microscopic Septet made its only 2007 Manhattan appearance at Sweet Rhythm. The brass-less little-big band - featuring a frontline of Phillip Johnston, Don Davis, Michael Hashim and Dave Sewelson (on soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, respectively), with Joel Forrester (piano), David Hofstra (bass) and Richard Dworkin (drums) comprising the rhythm section - played in a simultaneously retro and 'progro' bag. Culling material from four albums, the arrangements (courtesy of Forrester and Sewelson) were strong-themed pastiches with catchy melodies and superb part-writing (as on "Money , "Lt. Cassawary , "Rock Me to Sleep and "The Big Squeeze , to name just a few). The gig also showcased the traditionally-rooted yet eccentrically-eclectic solo styles of the hornmen. Among the highlights: the mercurial mood shifts of "A Strange Thought Entered My Mind ; the disjunctive lines and tonal poetry of the Strayhorn-esque "Lies ; Sewelson's amazing feature on "Money, Money, Money , employing an uncanny mix of tonal manipulations - altissimo bird-calls, croaking undertones and vocalistic multiphonics - all of them musical; Davis' soulful swinging on "Disconcerto For Donnie ; Hashim's lush Johnny Hodges vibrato on "Take the Z Train ; and Forrester's flamboyant showmanship and just-right piano punctuations. Above all, it was fun; people danced and Cho, the veteran barkeep, could barely contain his glee.
~ Tom Greenland
The New New Winds at Old American Can Factory
On a bitterly cold evening, made worse by a stiff breeze blowing off the Gowanus Canal, The New New Winds gave an equally glacial performance Dec. 8th at the Old American Can Factory, temporary home of Issue Project Room. The first New referred to trumpeter Peter Evans, joining flutist Robert Dick and reedman Ned Rothenberg as a replacement for longtime member JD Parran. Perhaps it was the temperature or the perceived impenetrability of the instrumentation - flutes ranging from piccolo to bass; trumpet and pocket trumpet with a variety of mutes; and alto, clarinet, bass clarinet and bamboo flute - but sparsely attended shows like this will not keep this building from becoming luxury condominiums. Those that did brave the elements were treated to a single hour-long improvisation that mixed long segments of dense textural exploration with moments of classical melodicism. Some of the frequencies generated by the trio were so piercing, particularly through microphones in the live room, that The New New Winds could have spearheaded a new musical genre: torture chamber music. This was extremely detail- oriented sound, from the ethereal breathing effects of Evans to the audible key-clicking of Dick's flutes. The name of the band refers to the primal act of breathing necessary for life and often went even further back in time with flashes that sounded like the primeval baying of dinosaurs; the more 'musical' moments thus stuck out for their contrast.
Jim Hall at Village Vanguard
Even a week into his 77th year, guitarist Jim Hall still has the capacity to surprise and delight. Performing his usual post-birthday December residency at Village Vanguard, Hall brought in the wonderful rhythm section of bassist Scott Colley and drummer Lewis Nash, key components of Hall's 2004 Magic Meeting disc. Though drummer Paul Motian may perform there more, Hall is the king of the Vanguard, walking over from his West Village apartment yet playing with an ease and warmth as if he never left his living room. On the Thursday late set (Dec. 13th), Hall seemed particularly frisky, opening the proceedings with a version of Oscar Pettiford's "Laverne Walk that proved he is still more modern than many of the guitarists who followed his sizeable legacy. Colley and Nash clearly understood this was not any simple rhythm section gig and played accordingly, the former in particular shining on his many features. The guitarist and bassist revisited "Dream Steps from the Jim Hall & Basses album after a "Skylark replete with ringing notes that transformed the Vanguard temporarily into a woodsy glen. Colley contributed "Eccentric Circles to the evening, an up-tempo opportunity for Hall's probing intellect. For his wife, Hall lovingly played "All the Things You Are , often unaccompanied. A delicate reading of "In a Sentimental Mood - the whole crowd was in one at this point - preceded a syncopated run through of "Bag's Groove , dripping with beautiful logic.
~ Andrey Henkin
Ambrose Akinmusire at Tribeca Performing Arts Center
Ambrose Akinmusire, winner of the 2007 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition, led an impressive young ensemble at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center (Dec. 10th) as part of its annual Jazz In Progress/Monk In Motion - The Next Face Of Jazz series. Beginning the concert with a solo trumpet prelude to his original composition "Dreams of the Manbhaniese , he immediately distinguished himself as an uncommonly restrained horn player with a distinctive tone and a personal writing style that made excellent use of the individual and collective voices of his colleagues - tenor man Walter Smith III, vibraphonist Chris Dingman and a rhythm section of Aaron Parks, Joe Sanders and Justin Brown. The trumpeter's composing proved to be as noteworthy as his playing, with each of the two other originals - "Aroca and "Ruby - that followed flowing harmoniously into each other as episodic components of a spellbinding set that took on a narrative quality. An unselfish leader, Akinmusire shared the spotlight with the other members of the sextet during the second part of the concert which began with two more original compositions, the trilling "Humsong , which featured Smith and Dingman, and the powerful "Mistag (an acronym for My Inappropriate Soundtrack To A Genocide, inspired by the film Hotel Rwanda) that showcased Brown's AfroCuban martial rhythms. The set concluded with Dingman's romantic "Rapture and Parks' ominous "The Warrior .
Insight at Rockwood Music Hall
The fiery Latin Jazz septet Insight made a rare New York appearance at the Loisaida's Rockwood Music Hall (Dec. 1st) to play music from their critically acclaimed new CD A Genesis. Co-led by Zaccai and Luques Curtis, on piano and bass respectively, the group exhibited one of the most exciting sounds on the scene today, distinguished by tightly-played serpentine arrangements that melded memorable melodies, sophisticated harmonies and a dazzling array of AfroCarribean rhythms. Opening with a new piece, "Justice began with a warm solo bass recital which gradually built in intensity as the piano introduced a pretty optimistic melody and the percussive interplay of drummer John Davis and conguero Reinaldo De Jesus set down the incendiary rhythm. By the time the riffing horn section of trumpeter Philip Bizack, altoist Chris Allen and tenor saxophonist Frank Kozyra joined in, the house was ablaze with excitement. Four songs from the group's album clearly displayed the distinguished composing and arranging abilities of Zaccai, particularly the beautifully sanguine "Necessity and the dramatic "Story In Three . An original arrangement of "The Panamanian Murga and the dedication "Hilton's Rumba demonstrated the pianist's inventive use of traditional rhythms, allowing the group's stellar soloists to show off their impressive chops. On the final number, "Descarga , several players from the audience joined in for an electrifying finish.
~ Russ Musto
Recommended New Listening:
· Andy Bey Ain't Necessarily So (12th Street)
· Chris Gestrin After the City Has Gone: Quiet (Songlines)
· Frank Kimbrough Air (Palmetto)
· Moutin Reunion Quartet Sharp Turns (Nocturne)
· Tyshawn Sorey That/Not (Firehouse 12)
· Daniel Yvinec The Lost Crooners (BEE Jazz)
· Henning Sieverts Symmetry (Pirouet)
-David Adler NY@Night Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com
· Andrea Keller Footprints: The Wayne Shorter Project (Australian Broadcasting Co.)
· Frank Kimbrough Air (Palmetto)
· Tony Malaby/William Parker/Nasheet Waits Tamarindo (Clean Feed)
· Stephen Riley Once Upon A Dream (Steeplechase)
· Alexander von Schlippenbach/Globe Unity Orchestra Globe Unity - 40 Years (Intakt)
· Willie Williams Comet Ride (Miles High Prod.)
· Howard Wiley The Angola Project (s/r)
-Laurence Donohue-Greene Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York
· Edmund Welles Tooth & Claw (s/r)
· Agusti Fernández/Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton Topos (Maya Recordings)
· Matana Roberts The Chicago Project (Central Control)
· Adam Rudolph's Moving Picture Dream Garden (Justin Time)
· The Schizo Quartet (Jon Corbett/Nick Stephens) Don't Answer It (Loose Torque)
· Alexander von Schlippenbach/Globe Unity Orchestra Globe Unity - 40 Years (Intakt)
-Andrey Henkin Editorial Director, AllAboutJazz-New York