Leroy Jenkins Memorial at Brooklyn Public Library
Although he was seen primarily in the jazz world and his Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians connection during his lifetime, Leroy Jenkins showed on his last few recordings an interest in composing for chamber ensembles. That work filled the first half of a memorial concert Feb. 9th at the Brooklyn Public Library, sponsored by the American Composer's Orchestra, The Brecht Forum's Neues Kabarett and Meet the Composer. A trio for voice, flute and viola and two pieces for string quartet (one adding a double bass to the Flux Quartet's lineup) nicely showed the aspect of Jenkins' work less likely to be remembered. The second half featured recitals by friends sharing the Chicago connection. Myra Melford (Jenkins' collaborator in the great trio Equal Interest) presented her composition "Spindrift for Leroy Jenkins," previously heard at the Vision Festival shortly after Jenkins' February 2007 death. Stripped down to a trio (with guitarist Brandon Ross and bassist Stomu Takeishi) for this performance, the piece (which incorporates themes and improvisational structures by Jenkins) was quiet and sublime. Where "Spindrift" was soft, Wadada Leo Smithwho played with Jenkins in the Creative Construction Company in the '70sand his quintet Seven pit slow, elegiac lines against quick rolls, creating, releasing and rebuilding tensions. "Whoever comes on the planet and makes a mark, whether it is in the sand or in the air," Smith said at the end, "it remains."
Thomas Chapin Memorial at Saint Peter's/Bowery Poetry Club
During his lifetime, saxophonist Thomas Chapin was regarded as a bridge between the uptown and downtown scenes, being a fixture in both Lionel Hampton's big band and the Knitting Factory's Houston Street stage. Ten years after his death, he was remembered at two concerts by many of the musicians with whom he worked. At Saint Peter's Church on Feb. 13th and at the Bowery Poetry Club on the 15th, Steve Dalachinsky, Paul Jeffrey, Mario Pavone, Michael Sarin and Walter Thompsonalong with WKCR DJ Charles Blass, Downtown Music Gallery proprietor Bruce Gallanter and Chapin's wife, Terri Castillo-Chapinplayed Chapin's music, read his poetry, showed films and told stories. Significantly, words from the stage were as much about world peace and ecological concerns as Chapin himself. At Bowery, Jeffrey and Thompson tag-team conducted the New Thomas Chapin Orchestra in arrangements of his compositions. But the happiest surprise of the night was hearing Sarin (who with Pavone made up Chapin's strongest band) play the tunes again; his tight syncopations and sharp snare snaps were a spur in the side of Pavone's quintet. The strongest set of the night was by Michael Musillami's trio, a delicate intermingling of strings by the guitarist and bassist Joe Fonda. Chapin's teacher James Spaulding drew vast lines between Martin Luther King, Barack Obama and Kahlil Gibran, suggesting the spirit which, at least for the assembled, Chapin represented.
Vanguard Jazz Orchestra at Village Vanguard
Forty-one years after their auspicious opening night at the Village Vanguard, the artists-formerly-known-as-the-Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band, now known simply as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, extended their regular Monday night gig into a week-long residency, culminating in a live recording. Tuesday Feb. 5th was dedicated to Mr. Jones, whose timeless compositions brought big band arrangements to new heights of complexity and innovation without sacrificing the backbone of swing. There was a sense of history in the air, in part because Hank Jones, Thad's brother and the original pianist for the band, came out to listen. Director/trombonist John Mosca, a veteran of the group for 30-some years, introduced the tunes, which ranged from early pieces such as "Easy Living" (labeled "#1" in the famous book) and "Little Pixie" (a rhythm-changes romp dating back to that very first gig) to classics like "Kids Are Pretty People," "The Waltz You Swang for Me" and "The Interloper," as well as denser, more ambitious charts such as "Say It Softly," written while Jones was living in Denmark. Bassist Dennis Irwin was absent due to ill health and several other chairs were subbed out, but the band never sounded better: punchy tutti sections laced with those 'illegal' Thad Jones voicings and long serpentine soli that unwound effortlessly, as if improvised, made for a satisfying mix of big band bravado and small group subtlety. Hank Jones must have liked it toohe stayed for both sets.
FLY at Jazz Gallery