Who said stride piano is a lost art form? Far from it: five men-with-left-hands-like-God were out in full shout on Jan. 5th for the 92nd St. Y's International Stride Summit, part of Dick Hyman's perennial jazz piano series featuring in addition to the leader's considerable talents Chris Hopkins and Bernd Lhotzky (both from Germany), Louis Mazetier (from France) and Rossano Sportiello (from Italy). Hyman acted as emcee, introducing each player and piece with historical anecdotes and humorous asides. More than a series of soloists, the performers were in fact a "conclave (as Hyman so aptly put it) a close knit group of mutual fans who took obvious pleasure in each other's keyboard gymnastics. Hyman was the consummate craftsman, hammering out well-sculpted phrases; Lhotzky exhibited flawless technique and driving time; Hopkins created fluid ornamentations with a delicate touch and relaxed flow; Sportiello was a phenomenon, spinning out fast, intricate lines with incredible swing, all the while with a copious grin covering his face and Mazetier came on like a juggernaut, generating relentless momentum with his no-holds-barred attack. The best moments came from group interactions, whether it was a temporarily sidelined performer chuckling at his colleague's musical exploits or during the numerous duets (and even a five-way, round-robin finale), when the maestros challenged each other and themselves to ever greater heights of expression and swing.
~ Tom Greenland
Anthony Coleman at Brecht Forum
Though known more for its support of the free improvised side of jazz, since being the beneficiary of a New York State Music Fund "Payola grant, the Brecht Forum's Neues Kabarett series has become a force in the commissioning world. One recipient of this recent largesse was pianist Anthony Coleman, who presented an evening of new works Jan. 12th, including one written specifically for the organization. Coleman only played alongside trumpeter Gareth Flowers, trombonist Chris McIntyre, cellist Alex Waterman and violinist Cornelius Dufallo on the seven-minute "Seven at the Golden Shovel a ridged and speckled piece where Flowers' trumpet seemed in opposition amidst the protestations of the other instruments. Waterman appeared at the beginning of the concert in duo with violinist Jennifer Choi for Coleman's six-minute "The Other of Language , whose argumentative cadences seemed earthy and mischievous. Joined by Dufallo and Stephanie Griffin on viola, they both participated in "Artifacts for String Quartet , at 16 minutes the meat of the show. This was the specifically-commissioned work and had at its core a dark dense drone. Through its three movements, played without pause, distinct personalities arose that still seemed connected like cousins at a family reunion. Not exactly pretty, not exactly atonal, Coleman later remarked during question time that while writing the piece in Belize, he kept hearing howler monkeys.
Ayelet Gottlieb; Cyro Baptista at Drom
The showcase format of many concerts presented during the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) conference can be trying for those interested in listening, not booking. But at Drom, a new venue in the all-of-a-sudden resurgent East Village, current and future interests were both well served. A double bill was presented featuring what from a distance would be oversimplified into the world music category but in fact was a good demonstration of the international reach of jazz. Vocalist Ayelet Rose Gottlieb performed her Mayim Rabim project, a lush combination of Israeli folk music and jazz sensibilities, as seen through the biblical Song of Songs. Ably supported by three additional vocalists (including her brother), what stood out was the multigenre drumming of Ronen Itzhik and the soaring clarinet work of Michael Winograd. A hard act to follow but up to the task was Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista with his raucous Beat the Donkey. Baptista's group, around for over a decade and giving its first show with a new trap drummer and last with one longtime member soon off to medical school, is a life-changing experience. Not just percussion folks in the group also play keys, guitar, sing and even tap dance Donkey is more of a three-ring circus, hardware store and tapas bar all squished together onto one stage. Guest tapper Max Pollak also contributed to a band that easily recalls the absolutely expert humor and musicianship of Frank Zappa.
~ Andrey Henkin