Sonny Rollins has a long tradition with New York's outdoorsfrom the famed Williamsburg Bridge woodshedding 49 years ago to his pretty much annual summer concerts of recent years. Rollins has so much music under his belt that he can take the music in most any direction on any given night. Playing a benefit at (and for) Central Park's Summerstage Aug. 6th, just shy of his 78th birthday, the saxophonist displayed both showmanship and finesse and his quintet was there to let him shine. They opened with the light, Latin-tinged "Nice Lady," congas, guitar and muted trombone setting an easy backing for Rollins' solid soloing. That was the mission for the nightRollins pacing, marching, even pirouetting around the stage, his horn soaring while the band served as jetty to still the waves. He didn't say a word to the near-capacity audience until well past the 40-minute mark, when he called "St. Thomas": "I haven't played it in 150 years." They touched on Irving Berlin, Noel Coward and Duke Ellington, the band always solidly anchored by Bob Cranshaw's electric bass and lightly wrapped around the tunes. Guitarist Bobby Broom provided sweet melodic foils as Rollins confidently went wherever he pleased, reducing themes at times to a few well-placed, articulated notes, then delivering them again in double time. The park was theirs, even the people sitting on the lawn outside Rumsey Playfield were in rapt attention.
Susie Ibarra is unusual in the new music world in which she's moved in recent years. She writes delicate, beautiful music, but still represents her years playing hard jazz with David S. Ware and William Parker in her extended use of her drum set and even in the presence of a kit in a chamber setting. On Aug. 10th she presented a new suite for violin, harp, piano and her own percussion at the Museum of Modern Art (scheduled for the museum's Summergarden, it was moved inside by threat of rain). She is still, even in such a setting, first and foremost a drummer, using soft mallets on cymbals, playing repeated motifs, accenting against the wooden rims of her kit with the other end of her sticks, alternating light figures against heavy rolls. But as opposed to employing such tactics in sax-dominated free jazz, here she lightly circled within repeating harp figures played by Bridget Kibbey, inventive piano interpretations by Kathleen SupovÃ© and Jennifer Choi's beautiful violin playing. The new piece, "Summer Fantasy and Folklore," was structured around Ibarra's numbered cues, given by hand gesture to individual players from behind her kit until enough momentum was established for her to let it roll and connect the pieces with her own playing. The rest of the program was filled with a piano solo and violin/piano/drum trios from Ibarra's recent recordings. The road from free jazz to open composition has been a long one for Ibarra, but at MoMA she demonstrated an arrival.
Joel Dorn Tribute
Joel Dorn may be unfamiliar to many jazz people because he made his musical mark behind the scenes, primarily as a producer for Atlantic Records. Witness, then, the allstar lineup that came to p(l)ay him posthumous tribute at Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park Aug. 13th: Roberta Flack, Mose Allison, Jane Monheit, Hugh Masekela, Janice Segal (of Manhattan Transfer), The Persuasions, Dr. John, Cornell Dupree and Les McCann. Dubbed "Keep a Light in the Window" (Dorn's signature codicil), the event was a heart- and soulful celebration of the man who had been a close musical "pardner" to McCann, David "Fathead" Newman, Yusef Lateef and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Showcase numbers included Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Allison's "I Feel So Good," Monheit's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and Segal's "I'll Be Seeing You" (both duets with guitarist Frank Vignola), Masekela's unaccompanied cameo, The Persuasion's a cappella "Ten Commandments of Love," Dr. John's "April Showers" followed by a blues duet with Dupree and McCann's "Compared to What." There were surprise gems as well: vocalist Leslie Mendelson's pared-down and sensual "Be My Baby," Black Heat's '70s funk sendup "No Time to Burn," Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's cover of "The Black and Crazy Blues"and a slice of surreality when studio legend Wardell Quezergue rose from his wheelchair to mime-conduct to a recording of Aaron Neville's "Mona Lisa."
Return for Forever
How often do you see laser lights, dry ice and hollering fans pressing the stage at a concert of improvised instrumental music? At 8 pm, 8/8/08, the final night of their 54-show reunion tour, Return to Forever rocked Washington Heights' majestic United Palace Theater to its joists. Those who waited 25 years for Chick Corea, Al DiMeola, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White to reconvene were not disappointed, as the band was in top form and all smiles. From the opening notes of "Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy" to the last chord of "Spain" RTF delivered the goods. The first set was loud and electric, showcasing Corea's ingenious compositions and inventive soloing, DiMeola's hyper-speed triple- and quadruple-time picking, Clarke's precision plucking and White's drop-the-bombastic onslaught. The second set, all acoustic, featured extended solo excursions from each member. Interplay among the group was empathetic and cohesive: Clarke and Corea were acutely simpatico, while DiMeola and Corea engaged each other in jaw-dropping 'jousts.' The band turned it up yet another notch for the encore, an ultra-shredding "The Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant" segueing into "Dayride," concluding with a sing-along version of "Spain" in which Corea challenged the audience to echo his playful phrases. More than an Olympian note-fest, the show reestablished RTF's contribution, an original fusion rooted in the intellectual vigor and wide-open-ended creativity of jazz.
Leave it to jazz musicians to want to work on their birthdays. The celebrator in this case was multi- saxophonist Michael Attias, who turned 40 Aug. 4th at Brooklyn's Zebulon. Not only was Attias hosting two bands of his own, he also played in the early evening set of the Positive Catastrophe large ensemble. For the first set of the birthday party, dubbed the Double Double Bass & Horn Band, Attias mashed together players from some of his long- standing groups: tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby (Twines of Colesion, Michael Attias Quartet), bassists John Hebert (Renku) and Sean Conley (TOC, MAQ) and drummer Nasheet Waits (MAQ). And though one would expect Attias to have his cake and eat it too, the focus of the performance was less about the new quatrogenarian and more about the band's concept, one which added heft to the leader's normally more cerebrally sparse compositions. With two basses, the low end became less of a pulse and more of an atmosphere, leaving much of the music's architecture to Waits. The arrangements opportuned contrasting textural momentsbowed or plucked bass duets, tenor or alto over the vastly different styles of Hebert or Conly, all five members playing to create an out-of-phase trioand even extended the doubling notion to a piece that added twin vocalists. Delicious layering was the theme of the set, no more so than with the birthday cake with 40 candles presented to Attias at its conclusion.
Cyro Baptista's Beat the Donkey
You always get a sense when watching Cyro Baptista's Beat the Donkey ensemble perform inside that they are being constrained by the space. With eight members and 10 times that number of instruments, Beat the Donkey seems to crave the great outdoors. They were given the opportunity as part of Lincoln Center's Out-of-Doors series Aug. 9th, in a double bill with the 'traditional' Korean percussion group Dulsori. So the world music theme had been set but Baptista and Company never really fit under that umbrella, if only for not taking themselves too seriously. All the shtick was therefunny costumes, PVC pipe organs played with flipflops, guitar both real and air, Led Zeppelin covers, songs about quitting smoking, dueling tap dancersbut oddly it seemed to dissipate through Damrosch Park rather than gain momentum. Partially at fault was absolutely horrendous sound that left several instruments inaudible, thinning out the group's impact. By the time the audio had settled down much of the crowd had left, not really understanding the band's concept. Those that stayed saw two guestsclarinetist Anat Cohen and trombonist Carlos Darcijoin for some hijinks but not really add anything substantial. A second set of invitees, Scott Kettner's Nation Beat (another drum, vocals and violin), fit better and Baptista, who doesn't usually wear his Brazilian heritage on his sleeve, reveled in the resultant AfroCuban extravaganza.
The Rubin Museum's "Harlem in the Himalayas" Friday night concert series, produced in association with The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, offers listeners the extremely rare opportunity to hear music in a totally acoustic setting. The absence of microphones, amplifiers and monitors in the state-of-the-art auditorium configured as an intimate nightclub was particularly rewarding during the performance of the Steve Wilson Quartet (Aug 1st). Wilson, a triple threat on alto and soprano saxophones and flute, possesses a beautiful full tone on each of his instruments and the lack of amplification enhanced, rather than diminished, their presence in the room. Accompanied by the consummately skilled rhythm section of pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Ed Howard and drummer Rodney Green, Wilson wove his sound through the music in a manner that was spellbinding in its nuance and attentiveness to dynamics. Playing predominantly alto on his first set the saxophonist showed himself to be equally excellent as both an original composer and inventive interpreter of the jazz repertory, alternating his own pieces "The Epicurean," "Grace" and "Tortola" with Strayhorn's "Isfahan" and Gillespie's "Woody 'n You." On the second set, which began with Chick Corea's "You're Everything," Wilson paid homage to the museum's regional artistic focus, stretching out intensely on soprano for Coltrane's "India," before hardbopping out with his own "Blues For Marcus."
Although the group's appearance was advertised as "TS Monk On Monk," the second set by TS Monk at Iridium on Aug 2nd might have just as aptly been billed "Monk Meets The Messengers," as the sound and spirit of the music more closely resembled that of Art Blakey than the headliner's famous pianist parent. Fronting a burning sextet, the drummer/leader, who first came on the scene as a member of his father's quartet, set out on the trail blazed by Blakey with a group that featured the fiery three-horn frontline of extraordinary young trumpeter James Gibbs III and veteran saxophonists Bobby Porcelli and Patience Higgins, on alto and tenor, respectively, along with pianist Richard Johnson and bassist Eric Privert. Opening with "Marvelous Marvin," a Messenger-ish anthem by trumpeter Marty Sheller with a vamping montuno and drum interlude reflecting the composer's Latin jazz pedigree, the group followed the time-tested Blakey formula of extended improvisations on melodically engaging material with riffing horn backgrounds spurring the soloists on to dramatic heights. Hard-swinging arrangements by the band's former music director Don Sickler of "'Round Midnight" (the evening's only Monk piece), Clifford Jordan's "Highest Mountain" and the recently departed Ronnie Mathews' "Jean Marie" were balanced with smooth ballad readings of "Body and Soul" and JJ Johnson's "Lament" to fill out the very satisfying show.
Recommended New Listening:
* BrinskA Hamster Speaks (Nowt)