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Live From New York

Oliver Lake Big Band, Jimmy Heath Big Band, Lee Konitz, Lock 10, Jason Miles & DJ Logic, Dave Douglas & Keystone...

By Published: May 3, 2008
The Oliver Lake Big Band/Joe Giardullo


April 3, 2008

This gig was set to be an example of complete polar opposites, from the bands of two veteran saxophonists. The Brooklynite soprano (and sopranino) player Joe Giardullo was leading a chamber septet, performing a selection of works that he terms 'G-2,' the 'g' being short for Gravity. Here, it was his "Triangle/Circle/Square" sequence, a suite that inhabits the rarefied sound vocabulary of modern classical composition. Giardullo's music sounds like the product of a too-tidy mind. The opening piece is a string quartet statement, full of dissonant sweeps and flurries. Then, Giardullo hoods his soprano bell over the microphone, investigating close-up interior sounds of breath emission, partnered by drummer Harvey Sorgen's cymbal shimmers. Next up, it's a piano solo, courtesy of Chris Chalfant, and finally, another string quartet section. It's highly frustrating that Giardullo separates out the colors of his palette in such a manner, diligently examining their individual qualities, but failing to combine them in a convincing group communication. Why bother assembling a band if they're not going to play together? Why be so boringly logical? It's not that some of the sounds weren't palatable, but Giardullo's music was anything but dynamic, spontaneous or organic.

If these qualities were desired, they arrived in a copious rush during the evening's second half: a full onslaught by the inspirational Oliver Lake Big Band. Yes, saxophonist Lake is diligent, organised and logical, but he also possesses many more qualities besides, mostly of a spontaneously swinging nature, whether emerging from the zones of free abstraction or out of the stomping blues. Lake is totally in command of his forces, but he's always prompting outbreaks of spontaneous invention. It's as if he's saying 'go to it: do what you do best,' and of course, his ranks invariably oblige. Even if Lake's sudden promptings are pre-meditated, they don't look that way: they appear wildly of-the-moment, sudden spurrings into stab-blasts, or riffed underlinings, or textured swellings. Baritone saxophonist Alex Harding delivers a particularly ripping solo, but Lake himself is no slouch, using the big band as a linear backdrop while he embarks on a strategically extreme yowling passage, uninhibited yet operating within fine strictures. When the trombones open the set with a sequence of individual fanfares, their contributions are garrulous, varied and enjoyably loose, before coagulating into a swinging spread. The limber rhythm trio, over in the far corner, rolls away underneath the mayhem. Lake operates within such a grooving universe, but his time is always open to flights of free freaking, controlled and unshackled at once. He has it all...

The Jimmy Heath Big Band


April 5, 2008

Not surprisingly, tenor man Jimmy Heath leads a big band that's more firmly grounded in the crossing over of swing and bebop traditions. Even though he's not necessarily most-known as a big band leader, more as a Heath Brother, Jimmy was already heading up just such an aggregation way back in the late 1940s. Nowadays, instead of relaxing into a figurehead position, he opts to take frequent solos, which are invariably supple, well-toasted and display a good deal of bite. The first set at Iridium suffered from a completely sold out house being somewhat unsettled in their scramble for food and beverages, and one corner's long table was set on a mission to chatter, not only during the quiet stretches, but over the bandleader's tale-telling rambles in-between each number. Towards the end, the band picked up its pace, and the audience submitted into paying full attention. The second set was more relaxed, from an audience perspective, but not within Heath's blowing ranks. Here, the solos took on an increasingly heated nature, with Jimmy directing the band with visible relish. Seemingly every one of Heath's compositions has a background story, whether involving amusing anecdotes about his time with Dizzy Gillespie, his continuing marital success (during which an audience member shouts out that his "Project S" stands for Sex), or Heath's dedication to fellow saxophonist Antonio Hart.

The Lee Konitz Quartet

Jazz Standard

April 6, 2008

This was billed as The Lee Konitz Trio, with a guesting Danilo Perez on piano, but by the end of their extremely crowded six night residency at Jazz Standard, they were emphatically a quartet. Standards might be the starting point for their improvisations, but the band's extended dissections tended to take on a completely unique existence as each member mulled over the material, smearing the line between theme and solo to the point where the usual post-solo applause was confused and hesitant. Bassist Rufus Reid looked like he'd finished, but then continued further, as Konitz snaked inside his partner's solo. Perez wasn't afraid to dominate during his own stretches, but Konitz would be languishing on his stool, decorating with his own curlicues. Meanwhile, drummer Matt Wilson was deliberately dropping jarringly loud bombs, but only at certain junctures, where Konitz would grasp this dynamic switch of emphasis, and make a fresh turn. The luscious Konitz tone is aided by a napkin, folded into his bell, and the Standard's responsive sound system makes him appear to be playing near-acoustically. Even at the age of eighty, Konitz sounds like he's entering his prime. This is a band of extreme sensitivity, who are playing vintage jazz in a way which sounds completely fresh. They're listening to each other on a very deep level.

Lock 10 with The Ken Vandermark Trio

Joe's Pub

April 7, 2008

Not only does Joe's Pub present music from a multitude of genres, but it's also an occasional host of completely different art-forms. Thus, Lock 10 is a dramatic piece, presented by the New York-based Exhibit A Performance Group, with a live musical score courtesy of The Ken Vandermark Trio. Folks in the audience arrived from across both borders. Some were theatrically inclined, not knowing what a ruckus the Chicagoan reedsman Vandermark might kick up; others were dragged in by the jazz vortex, myself having missed this very trio at The Stone, a few nights earlier. Fortunately, both camps must surely have departed with a pleasured smile, the kind that can only exist when the needs of innovation and nostalgia are simultaneously satisfied. The piece, written by Exhibit A's co-founder Kathy Hendrickson, is an evocation of a 1930s radio drama, with its cast crowded onto a relatively small stage, scripts in hand, microphones strategically dangled. This is an intriguing device: the players are directing their efforts towards the audio realms, but the audience is also given a highly theatrical visual element that exaggerates the narrative's unreal shaping of archetypes. The content of the dialogue is old-fashioned, yet the staging is a mixture of experimental and traditional, as if in the midst of a workshop exercise. The characters hang between the conventional life of a family fishing business and the after-hours existence of jazz bars, with the central storyline concerning the conflict between these two sides, the spiritual lure of music doing battle with the responsibilities of inherited work. The action has the displaced sense of artificiality that comes with the work of Harold Pinter and David Mamet, but the content could indeed have arrived directly from a 1930s radio drama.

Vandermark's music is carefully placed in the background for most of the duration, subtly shading the action, and only exploding into free-form screaming at one midway point. Such restraint makes this outburst all the more shocking. Drummer John Herndon (from post-rockers Tortoise) spends most of his time barely brushing his kit, but the German laptopper Christof Kurzmann makes a constant contribution to the atmosphere with his subliminal hums and drones setting up an exceedingly sinister vibration, particularly when aligned with the cast's penchant for starkly frozen tableaux. And when the trio do break out into their brief bout of jazz thundering, Kurzmann's harsh electronic screech is gloriously melded with Vandermark's rutting honk.

Jason Miles & DJ Logic's Global Noize

Highline Ballroom

April 7, 2008

The concept of this collaborative band is much greater than its reality. Keyboardist Miles and turntablist Logic have certainly pulled together an impressive cast for their Global Noize project, including Bernie Worrell and Meshell Ndegeocello, but the composite groove ends up being a pallid funkoid world music fusion that lacks the advantages of its many sources. It's only when trumpeter Christian Scott steps forward to dominate that some kind of energy ignites, as he seems to catch hold of his bandmates, lifting them up to a smoking expression. Then, saxophonist Jeff Coffin capitalises on this vibration, making his own searing solo statement. It's often the case that when a combo's merely coasting, it can take an individual flashpoint contribution to gather them up for the next plane. This was briefly the case here, as even when the ex- Funkadelic keyboardist Worrell was taking his circus organ turn, it was entertaining but not really gripping. The presence of two exotically gyrating dancers from the Far Eastern traditions (Azhia and Dellaneria proffering a Thai-Indonesian fusion?), an Indian-styled singer called Falu and a Moroccan oud player couldn't steer clear of a tendency towards drudge-funk new age soup-stirring, rather than creating a thoughtful melange of hardcore sources.

Dave Douglas & Keystone

Jazz Standard

April 10, 2008

To celebrate the release of Keystone's second album, Moonshine, trumpeter and keen composer Dave Douglas was in residence at the Jazz Standard hosting a four night stint, with every set going up online the next morning, on his Greenleaf Music website. The band name is derived from the old movie production company responsible for Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's silent comedies, and the Douglas mission is to capture the sonic qualities he hears in his head whilst viewing these flickering old madcap romps. For this first night (and onwards), the playmates for this exercise are DJ Olive, at the turntables and laptop, Adam Benjamin, hyperactive on a heavily-effected Fender Rhodes, and the funking brotherhood of bassist Brad Jones and drummer Gene Lake. The front line of Douglas and tenor man Marcus Strickland come over as an old-time hard bop vanguard, albeit quirking and twitching sideways to the composer's involved themes. The beatnik spirit is there, though. With electronics, funk and bebop elements all colliding with great panache, this music certainly doesn't operate with a complete set of 1920s tools. Instead, it's a Keystone alloy all of its own, sounding simultaneously retro and futurist.

Douglas is always a precise technician, but he also blows from the bowels, filling his solos with heated emotional content. Strickland is equally impressive, luxuriating in an invitingly organic tone, a warm embrace, given at a racing speed. Lake and Jones are a taut rubber embodiment, particularly the latter, who's using a baby upright that sounds half-electric. All the better to slink out his agile basslines. It's sometimes difficult to separate Benjamin and Olive, as they're both altering their output with heavy laptop or pedal effects. Benjamin heads out to a ring modulated Stockhausen orbit, whilst Olive favours slow scratching of unlikely talking or naturalist vinyl, at his most effective when the others hold their tongues and allow him some sonic space. Not much of this sounds like clowning music, besides "Circus Peanuts" in the first set, but this doesn't prevent the audience from having a serious head-nodding time.

Carla Bley/Steve Swallow/Andy Sheppard


April 10, 2008

This was so intimate, it felt like a recital in Carla Bley's parlour. The 11 pm set, on a Thursday night. A hushed gathering of appreciators gathered around the piano. Steve Swallow's there, playing bass, but always wishing more and more that he's a guitarist, so sweet'n'trebly are his singing lines. Over from England is tenor man Andy Sheppard, purring and softly enfolding, laying on the urbane host qualities. There's something amusing about the formal way each band member will take turns introducing the tunes, invariably with some witty turn of phrase. Particularly Bley. This is the Songs With Legs trio, but also quite close to the recent Lost Chords combination, minus a sticksman. They're here to play very quiet music, and Bley is intently following her scores, usually spread out across the entire keyboard length. There's a trip back to some of her earliest pieces, with "Doctor" and "Donkey" spliced to "Wrong Key Donkey." It's sensible music, but there always seems to be a smile hidden behind a politely positioned hand. All decorations are trimmed away, apart from those provided by the players when each merges into what could possibly be termed "a solo." Some of the pieces even exist as big band arrangements, but are here denuded, right down to their pure essence. It's a very strong statement of what Bley can achieve as a composer—a chamber concert in the very old fashioned sense.

Mark Helias & Open Loose

The Cornelia Street Cafe

April 12, 2008

New York tenor man Tony Malaby is ridiculously ubiquitous, whether as bandleader or sideman. Here he is again, in the Helias unit Open Loose, with drummer Nasheet Waits filling in for an indisposed Tom Rainey. That makes it almost the line-up of Malaby's own trio, as heard on his recent Tamarindo album. His enormous tone is to the fore, with another exceedingly intimate gig, down at the stage end of the Cornelia Street Caf's tunnel-like basement. Malaby questions every fine granule of the moment's melody, whether chosen or impulsive. He's not hearing the usual forebears: it's more like he's in tune with Coleman Hawkins, as if that oldster had descended into a free jazz volcano. Waits isn't as detailed as Rainey, but this moves the trio into a different area, perhaps more powerful in a driving, linear direction. Helias is a master of bass song, whether bowing or plucking. He'll often jump from one technique to the other in the space of a single phrase. Together, they're intuitive masters, throttling off with sensitivity, and playing quietly with a bullish firmness.



April 15, 2008

Here's another one of those Birdland mini-festivals, although in reality it's more like a regular gig, with flashy terminology. The BossaBrasil set begins with solo piano from Cesar Camargo Mariano, then bassist Sergio Brandau and drummer Jurim Moreira take to the stage, the trio setting up a supple interplay of chamber-beach brightness, as bossa nova meets classical poise, the players maintaining a constant subtlety in their slick statements. Emphasising the key period of the 1960s, when tenor man Stan Getz helped export the music to the outside world, Harry Allen is guesting for the week, bobbing beside the trio with his velvet- voiced embellishments, peaking on a wordless "She's A Carioca" (a Tom Jobim classic).

Then, the show's star ambles onstage, perching on his central stool. Singer-guitarist Joao Bosco is one of Brazil's most revered artists, a native of the Minas Gerais state, who moved to Rio in 1973 and participated on key recordings with singer Elis Regina. There's a complex relationship between his elaborate guitar stylings and even more elaborate vocal acrobatics. The Portuguese language lends itself completely to Bosco's high-speed avalanche of phrases, percussively enunciated. He comes across as a hearty fellow, an embracer of life. Here, Allen is still onstage, and doing a tasteful amount of slippery insertions, managing to find inroads between Bosco's scattershot lines. Tasteful is the operative word. This is only one facet of Brazilian music, at its most mellow, but where jazz meets bossa, this is what's expected, and Bosco provides the unpredictable element, breaking up the breezy flow with humour and nimble dash.

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