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