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Live From New York

June 2008

By Published: June 7, 2008
George Lewis, Muhal Richard Abrams, Wadada Leo Smith at Community Church of New York

If anything came out of the panel discussion marking the release of George Lewis' book (A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, University of Chicago Press) at the Community Church of New York May 9th, it was that for more than 40 years the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians has preached the gospel of individualism. The panel, hosted by journalist Greg Tate, included Lewis, Amina Claudine Myers, Henry Threadgill, Wadada Leo Smith, Douglas Ewart, Iqua Colson and Matana Roberts and sought to define the AACM philosophy and its contributions to jazz and contemporary composition, but the proof was in the concert that followed the talk. Lewis played in a trio that included Smith and Muhal Richard Abrams (collective modesty aside, the spiritual father of the organization). It was one degree of separation from the Abrams/Lewis/Roscoe Mitchell trio that made the excellent record Streaming, although it was anything but a band with a sub sitting in. The doctrine of individualism ensures that the component parts don't dictate the whole. Abrams seemed the mentor, setting up situations in short piano bursts and then sitting back to let the horns deal. Lewis played horizontal, listening deeply and bridging Abrams and Smith, while Smith played vertical, moving above and below the other two, suggesting a duo plus one. It was the kind of matrix that requires more than shared history—it was born of communal practice.

Stephan Crump at KB Gallery

The immediate thing that's so remarkable about Stephan Crump's trio Rosetta is the distinctiveness of each of the voices. His upright bass and the hollow-body guitars of Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox intermingle tightly within his compositions without stepping on each other. At Washington Height's KB Gallery on May 1st, they played two sets—the first comprised of music from their excellent 2006 release Rosetta and the second featuring new pieces. The compositions from the album are deceptively slippery, with themes rarely appearing until the pieces have unfolded and then defiantly rising from the 16 strings in unison, reinforcing the articulated looseness of the previous passages. The bass often serves as the whole of the rhythm section, setting syncopated lines while leaving plenty of room for the crystalline guitar parts. Crump has a varied and unusual background, having played with Dave Liebman and Bobby Previte as well as Bruce Springsteen and Jorma Kaukonen, which might explain his varied approaches in composing. The pieces from the album, he said, were about grief and impermanence—and kudzu, a fast-growing weed that runs rampant in the South. The new pieces—with stronger, more prominent melody lines and structures—were largely written for or inspired by films and family members. The group is working on a new CD; assuming some of these pieces are slated for the sophomore, they're either still breaking them in or this marks a different approach for the band.

—Kurt Gottschalk

Mark Helias Duets at Barbes

It was a "Two Bass Hit" when Mark Helias met William Parker on May 7th for a duet set at Barbès. It'd been 30 years since they'd shared a stage, so there was much catching up to do and the two titans went at it with gusto, Helias hammering, slapping and popping the strings with his open hand, tapping the wood like a bongo player, exploiting a grab-bag of extended techniques and timbral trickery, while Parker bowed long tones, feeling his way for a story to tell, eventually breaking into vocalistic glissandos, wolf whistles and his trademark double-string stretches. After the initial bombast had settled, things started to gel when Parker locked onto a six-beat swing vamp and Helias bowed melodies, coloring his sound with upper partials from the overtone series, then bouncing a tattoo on the bridge with the hard side of his bow. The final piece centered around the resonant open G-strings, climaxing in 16-note tremolos, settling at last on a mutual "perfect" fifth. The second set, another duet, again featured Helias, now with alto saxophonist Tim Berne. The reedman, less a sound contortionist than a weaver of musical spider webs, spun out densely layered lines interspersed with gargled tones, split notes and altissimo squeaking. Helias for his part answered with clustered double-stops, held pitches and incisive pizzicato plucking, even a folksy hoedown strum. After the tempo hit full gallop, the music faded finally over Helias' insistent ostinato.

Hank Jones; Gerald Clayton at Harlem Stage

What generation gap? When living legend Hank Jones, who'll be 90 this July, met Gerald Clayton, just turned 22, the pianists' styles meshed like Swiss clockwork. The May 14th event, staged at the recently renovated Gatehouse in its distinctive hall, featuring a long low brick arch and bright, intimate acoustics, opened with Clayton in trio format. Displaying pristine technique, mercurial phrasing, chunky chords and creative textures, Clayton delivered with passion and authority, especially on a medley combining the second movement of Beethoven's "Pathétique" sonata with John Lewis' "Django." Jones, at the beginning of his own set, noted of the younger lion, "Jazz is in good hands." Jones' own playing, in contrast, was liquid delicacy; a true master of the trio format, he set each tune in an apt arrangement. His program ranged from the frenetic cascading chords of "Intimidation" to underplayed gems like Mary Lou Williams' "Lonely Moments" and Rodgers & Hart's "Thou Swell" to beautiful ballads such as JJ Johnson's "Lament" and "I Remember Clifford," the latter with Roy Hargrove on flugelhorn playing with charismatic vulnerability. Hargrove, featured throughout the evening, gave strong solos with unusual endings. The highest of many highlights came in the third section, when Clayton and Jones nestled their pianos nose-to-nose for some inspired duets. Both were obviously having a great time, their styles so in sync that it was often hard to tell who was playing what.

—Tom Greenland

Tomasz Stanko at MoMA

Jazz, as a primarily instrumental music, inherently has a cinematic quality, even when not matched up against film. When the two are combined though, it makes for a potent combination and an opportunity for jazz composers to think in grander terms. This is the focus of the recent exhibition Jazz Score at the Museum of Modern Art. The multi-month presentation highlights the convergence of jazz and film throughout the 20th century with a cornucopia of films with, you guessed it, jazz scores. One example is the work of Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda, who became famous writing for the movies of Roman Polanski in the '60s. Part of Komeda's circle at the time was trumpeter Tomasz Stanko who performed at the museum as part of the festivities in an evening fêting his old boss (May 19th). Stanko was there with his regular trio of young Poles but had a guest alongside him in the frontline, saxophonist Billy Harper. What might at first seem an odd pairing makes sense when one realizes that Stanko and Harper were once part of their respective countries' counterculture, are now respected elder statesmen and have luscious tones that still carry an assertive edge. The evening was a mix of music by Komeda and Stanko but present throughout was that cinematic quality, effected by verdant shifts in dynamics—solo trumpet to the quintet trilling in unison—and a narrative quality to the music, both internal to the individual pieces and to the set as a whole.

Jason Stein at Douglass Street Music Collective

The mythical phoenix supposedly ends its life in flames and then is reborn. A little dramatic yes, but a somewhat apt metaphor for bass clarinetist Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore concert on May 7th. The band was originally to play at Zebulon, but that club suffered a fire so Stein had to find another venue; that happened to be the Douglass Street Music Collective, born from what was previously the space inhabited by the Center for Improvisational Music. Stein's trio—with new member Jason Roebke on bass and drummer Mike Pride—were in the midst of a tour (which amazingly had another gig fall through due to fire issues) in preparation for a new album to be recorded in Chicago at its end. With this woodshedding purpose in mind, Stein and cohorts played four new tunes, rather than music from the recently released Clean Feed album A Calculus of Loss. And even though Roebke's replacing of cellist Kevin Davis made the trio rather more traditional, it highlighted the appealing contrasts inherent in Stein's aesthetic. His trio format—lead melodic instrument with rhythm—might be standard but is not usually led by a bass clarinet. The melodies could be considered spare yet opened up into some pretty convincing maelstroms. And the three players often began in very conventional roles but soon exceeded them, particularly Pride's quick abandonment of swing and Stein's range on his instrument, from moody to manic, spunky to sleazy.

—Andrey Henkin

Gato Barbieri at Blue Note

In Calle 54, Fernando Trueba's authoritative film documenting the history of Latin jazz, Gato Barbieri modestly asserts, "I was famous from the '70s until about 1982." Although the Argentinean tenor titan's notoriety has admittedly diminished some since the decade of celebrity he enjoyed beginning with the release of his soundtrack to Last Tango In Paris and culminating with a series of popular dance-oriented major label releases, he has still maintained a large enough dedicated following to sell out his three-day engagement at the Blue Note easily. Barbieri's playing has lost little of its passion and fire in the years since his glory days and his fans continue to respond to his music with similar enthusiasm. Greeted with a thunderous ovation as he approached the bandstand, the saxophonist began his second set opening night (May 16th) with a version of the bolero "Cuando Vuelva a Tu Lado" (better known by its English title "What A Difference A Day Makes"), displaying the dark distinctive tone that has ranked him among music's most sensuous instrumentalists. Accompanied by keyboardist Charles Blenzig, bassist Mario Rodriguez, Brazilian drum master Portinho and percussionist Jesus Quintero, Barbieri revisited his hugely popular songbook, alternating the fiery AfroCaribbean originals "Milongo Triste," "Fiesta" and "Viva Emiliano Zapata" with romantic readings of "Summertime," Carlos Santana's "Europa" and his own "She Is Michelle" and "It's Over."

Miles from India at Town Hall

When Miles Davis emblazoned the words "Directions In Music" across the album covers of his first electrified excursions, the East was decidedly the way he was looking towards for inspiration. In a May 9th Town Hall concert billed Miles From India, producer/conductor/arranger Bob Belden assembled an ensemble that united several Miles alumni with a troupe of Indian musicians to perform the music from the double CD of the same name. The first half of the concert featured intriguing versions of early acoustic Davis works—"So What," "Blue and Green" and "All Blues"—performed over an intoxicating blend of jazz and Indian rhythms laid down by bassist Ron Carter and drummer Lenny White and percussionists Badal Roy and Anantha Krishna, with pianist Vijay Iyer, carnatic violinist Kala Ramnath and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa shining in the solo spotlight with vocalist Shounak Abhisheki. It was during the second part of the show exploring electric Miles, however, that the organic confluence of East meets West reached its highest level, due in no small part to the presence of trumpeter Wallace Roney, who continues to build on the Davis legacy with a virtuosic command and a meticulous attentiveness to time and space. On pieces from Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way it was Roney who brought the spirit of Davis to life, blowing with cool intensity over the Indian rhythms and the sonic tapestries of keyboardist Adam Holzman and guitarist Pete Cosey.

—Russ Musto

Recommended New Listening:

* Ambrose Akinmusire—Prelude (Fresh Sound-New Talent)

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