Building an evening around Kevin Shea is a bit like staking a tent pole in a rockslide. He has a way of keeping time while playing seemingly unconnected fills and a stage persona that makes Han Bennink look like Bud Abbott. But he was the common denominator at Barb's Mar. 12th, when People, his duo with Mary Halvorson, played before Moppa Elliott's Mostly Other People Do The Killing. The latter was a last-minute fill-in for Peter Evans' quartet and the interplay within the groups proved the value of community: Shea is also in Evans' quartet and Evans in Elliott's, so the substitution was a natural. Although Elliot's band has its avant breakdowns down pat and plays hard bop with ease, what makes them rise above retro is their enthusiasm, as evidenced by the 20+ minute version of "A Night in Tunisia" that closed both their excellent CD Shamokin!!! and their Barbes set; or by a fiery solo Evans forced through a mute, rising above the rhythm section without managing to break their volume; or by Elliott's ascending hammered bass solo, retaining a walking line with his left hand while carrying Eddie Van Halen trills with his right until he ran out of fingerboard; not to mention Shea's quite literally deconstructed drum solo. As a duo, People manage to sound like three disparate parts: folk singing, abrasively angular guitar and Keith Moon-nervous-tic drumming. The addition of a bassist gave them a bit too much center, but there's still nothing quite like them.
Uchihashi Kazuhisa at Roulette
It's hard to predict which direction the rare New York appearance by Japanese guitarist Uchihashi Kazuhisa might go. His earliest recordings with Altered States varied from abstract improv to high-speed prog and as a member of the groundbreaking Ground Zero he went from standards to noise. More recently he's shown himself to be a talented, straight-up jazz guitarist. But at Roulette Mar. 8th, he pursued a unique combination of finger-picking and heavy processing. Harmonized drones melded with sudden pitch-shifts like an in-your-face video game. A single chord emulated full George Martin orchestration at one moment and deft fingerwork evoked Conlon Nancarrow on a tack piano the next. The evening was also a rare opportunity to hear the daxophonean instrument that uses a bow against thin planks of shaped wood invented by Hans Reichel. For the second set, vocalist Shelley Hirsch joined Uchihashi. The two recorded an album, Flect, in 2000, but hadn't played together since. It was with Hirsch that his jazzy stylings came to the fore, playing mid-tempo walks and boogies (and still managing to sneak in some metal-edged prog licks) as Hirsch extemporized on the Bible, coins and other currency. While their history together is limited, they fell in with each other easily, Hirsch following Uchihashi's melodic cues and he matching her vocal textures. They ultimately found their way to an off-the-cuff rendition of "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," a somehow fitting finale.
SFJazz Collective at Zankel Hall
You've heard the old saw about too many chefs? On Mar. 5th at Zankel Hall the SF Jazz Collective proved the reversethat overcrowding a stage with strong improvisatory personalities can lead to even more extraordinary results. The Collective, now in its fifth season, currently features Joe Lovano (tenor sax), Dave Douglas (trumpet), Miguel Zenon (alto sax), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Stefon Harris (vibraphone), Renee Rosnes (piano), Matt Penman (bass) and Eric Harland (drums), a formidable constellation of jazz stars. The program, dedicated to Wayne Shorter, mixed arrangements of his tunes with original compositions. The covers included Rosnes' setting of "Footprints" in a major key with a feel-good vamp; her gorgeous reading of "Diana"; Harland's fleet treatment of "Yes and No," inspiring sterling mallet work from Harris; Lovano's inventive interpretation of "Infant Eyes" and Penman's arrangement of "El Gaucho" with Douglas in a Freddie Hubbard mindset, firing off salvos of short sharp phrases to rally the band. Choice originals included Harris' soulful waltz "The Road to Dharma," an effective vehicle for Zenon's motific lyricism and the altoist's own "Frontline," which featured vibrant tandem soloing, first from tenor and alto, then trombone and trumpet, climaxing finally in a free-blowing four-for-all. Far from spoiling the broth, the sound of these master chefs all cooking at once was a feast for the ears.
Howard Alden and Gene Bertoncini at Bargemusic
Moored to the end of Fulton Landing, just beside the Brooklyn Bridge, is a double-decker barge, an ideal place, as it turns out, for an intimate evening of jazz. As part of the ongoing Bargemusic series, veteran guitarists Howard Alden and Gene Bertoncini sat down on Mar. 13th for two duet sets. It was an apposite pairingAlden, favoring a dark chiseled tone, made his seven-string electric sound like a piano through the use of walking bass lines, moving inner harmonies and close-voiced chords, while Bertoncini played fingerstyle, achieving a softer, subtler timbre on his nylon-string. Each set included an eclectic selection of standards: "Gone with the Wind," "Alone Together," "I Remember You," "I'll Be Seeing You" and "The Shadow of Your Smile" from the Tin Pan Alley songbook; "Lil' Darlin,'" Horace Silver's "Strollin'" and a medley of Duke Ellington tunes from the jazz canon; bossa novas by Antonio Carlos Jobim; short excerpts from the western classical repertoire, used as intros; Mickey Leonard's "Why Did I Choose You?" and "I'm All Smiles" and several instrumentals by seven-string guitar wizard George van Eps. The mood was relaxed, both guitarists clearly enjoying and impressed by each other's playing, each willing to stretch out a little to see what might happen. And every few minutes the green pilot light of a tug would float by, or a surge of water would gently rock the barge, complementing the ambiance created by these fine guitarists.
Amir ElSaffar at Drom
In what might have been the only place in town not festooned with shamrocks, another cultural celebration was taking place on St. Patrick's Day at Drom, in this case the Iraqi heritage of trumpeter, santur player and vocalist Amir ElSaffar. He was presenting his Two Rivers project, a reference to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which run through his father's country but also obliquely denoting the double streams of jazz and traditional music which make up the sum of ElSaffar's experience. The group on display was a sextet, which actually created three distinct tributaries: ElSaffar and altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa's ethnically-informed horns; the untraditional tradition of Tareq Abboushi (buzuq) and Zaafer Tawil (oud, violin, percussion) and the modern jazz rhythms of bassist Carlo DeRosa and drummer Nasheet Waits. Beginning the concert singing and playing santur (a cousin to the hammered dulcimer) for the brief "Menba,'" the beginning of the "Two Rivers Suite," the gaze was eastwards. For the remainder of the 50-minute set, ElSaffar was on trumpet and the tone shifted to a distinctly New York vibe that Drom, a new 'world music' venue in the East Village, has been promoting. With ElSaffar spinning off muezzin-like leads, the following three pieces each expanded to over 10 minutes, with numerous textural opportunitiesviolin and alto, trumpet and oudand all players using the complex melodies as opportunities for inspired playing.
Yaron Herman at Jazz Standard
What a difference a bass makes. For the CD release show of pianist Yaron Herman's A Time for Everything at Jazz Standard (Mar. 10th), album bassist Matt Brewer was unable to attend. Subbing was Thomas Morgan and, for those who undervalue the upright, the entire tenor of the music changed. Herman is one of the many inspired Israeli musicians turning New York into Nazareth these days and his playing belies an affinity for classical music. The evening's early set veered away from the brashness of the disc with its cheeky yet not flippant covers of Bjork, Britney Spears and Stingresiding more in the reflective, as set out with Herman's delicate solo intro to "Stompin." "Neshima," a beautiful Herman ballad, found Morgan and album drummer Gerald Cleaver sounding almost tentative, more emotive than emotional. The trio did make a bold assault with the 17-minute "Army of Me" by Bjork (who seems to be replacing Radiohead as the source for jazz covers), where Herman generated some compelling ostinatic energy and demonstrated the stamina of a classical player and some literal heavy-handedness. But even this song began quietly and slowly, almost imploring the audience to lean in closer. "Layla Layla," a collaboration between two famed Israelis, poet Natan Alterman and composer Mordechai Zeira, closed the short set, beginning with another solo Herman intro, then featuring delicate playing by the trio and what sounded like a nod to "My Favorite Things."
Dennis Irwin Tribute at Allen Room
A torn single sheet of paper, hastily inserted into the playbill for Jazz at Lincoln Center's Playing Our Parts concert at the Allen Room (Mar. 10th), announced Dennis Irwin November 28, 1951March 10, 2008, thus breaking the saddening news to the room full of devoted jazz fans, who had come to the star-studded benefit to demonstrate their support for the beloved bassist, of his passing just hours earliercasting an air of poignancy over the evening's music. The third in a series of events devoted to raising funds for Irwin's medical expensesthe first at Smalls, the second at the Village Vanguardthe concert was organized by saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist John Scofield, two of Irwin's dearest friends, in whose bands the bassist regularly performed. Lovano's nonet opened the show with a stirring version of Tadd Dameron's "Whatever Possessed Me," setting the tone for a night during which a host of Irwin's closest colleagues struggled with their visible sorrow to soldier on and make moving music celebrating the life of their fallen comrade. The sheer breadth of the program, which also included performances by Tony Bennett, Bill Charlap, Mose Allison, Bill Frisell, Dom Salvador and Scofield, was a telling testament to Irwin's versatile talent. Dave Berger's Sultans of Swing plus guests Jon Hendricks and Wynton Marsalis closed the show, with Irwin's life companion Aria Hendricks joining them for a grief stricken "The Very Thought of You" that left much of the audience in tears.
Jazz legend Jimmy Cobb, at the age of 79, is one of the few remaining players from the genre's golden age who is still performing at full capacity today; the last gilded link to the bands of Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery, with whom he made music history. Best known for his superb work through the years as a sideman with a host of master instrumentalists and vocalists, including both Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, for the past decade the drummer has also earned a formidable reputation as the leader of his own hard swinging group, the aptly named Cobb's Mob. The band's performance at Smoke (Mar. 15th) had the uptown bastion of bebop mobbed itself, with throngs of eager fans spilled out on to Broadway, waiting anxiously to gain entrance to the crowded club and a chance to hear the iconic drummer leading a first-rate quartet that featured pianist Richard Wyands, guitarist Peter Bernstein and bassist John Webber. Beginning the night's third set with an appropriately chosen up-tempo "This Could Be the Start of Something Big," it was immediately evident that the years had only enhanced the leader's considerable abilities behind the kit. Always lauded for his crisp rhythmic attack, Cobb's dexterous drumming also displayed a marvelous elasticity as he prodded and complemented the other players. On his own solos he played with a forthright vigor that filled the room with energy. Recorded for future release, no doubt the disc will be called Smoking at Smoke.
Recommended New Listening:
* Charles LloydRabo De Nube (ECM)