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Live From New York

Kamikaze Ground Crew, Chico Hamilton, David Ostwald, Avishai Cohen, James Chance and Leny Andrade

By Published: September 17, 2008
The tuba-harumphing bandleader David Ostwald's weekly early-evening engagement at Birdland often provides an opportunity for him to invite along a running parade of guest players, and so his Gully Low Jazz Band features a rotating roster. On this occasion, there's the substantial presence of veteran pianist Dick Hyman, who was gigging at Birdland on the very night that the club opened on its original premises, back in 1949. Also on hand is trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, clarinetist Mark Lopeman and drummer Joe Ascione, so this isn't the accustomed line-up, although the latter is a figure from the combo's past. Only trumpeter Jon- Erik Kellso is one of the Gully hardcore. Ostwald is devoted to the old Louis Armstrong repertoire, but he sometimes manages to find excuses to step slightly outside of this hallowed tome, as when Gordon sings a glorious “Blue Turning Grey Over You,” recalling Armstrong's Satch Plays Fats album, released in 1955 (reissued in 2008), and dedicated to the tunes of Fats Waller. Its producer, George Avakian, is actually in the house, sitting on the front row. He's a regular down at these Gully Low shows, and came out of retirement to produce their debut disc. Back to the inspirational Gordon again, who provides the session's finest solo, an exquisite double- muted wah-wah monologue. Hyman is no slouch either, but his ripplingly best moments come when the horns vacate the stage, leaving him with drums and tuba, or even just Ascione alone. As all except the vocals are unamplified, Hyman's battling to be heard when the band's trotting at full tilt. Even though Ostwald opens the piano lid early in the proceedings, Hyman's merging into the general rhythmic roll.

The Avishai Cohen Trio

The Blue Note

August 28, 2008

The Israeli bassist (and pianist) Avishai Cohen likes to play in New York on at least an annual basis, so this Blue Note residency is strategically placed to push the latest album, Gently Disturbed. He's brought out the stable formation found on the disc, with Shai Maestro at the piano, and Mark Guiliana drumming. Immediately, this trio will have to contest with the weariness brought on by the current over-abundance of piano trios. Right from the beginning, it's clear to see that the threesome will be perpetually side-stepping anything that might be expected from a complacent grouping. Invoking the name of e.s.t. is hard to avoid, as there's a similar shape-shifting dynamism to these original compositions, a constant interchange between the ostensible roles of rhythm, melody and unshackled soloing. It's Guiliana who'll be scattering clatters around his kit, whilst Cohen and Maestro are closely coupled, vamping out a pulsing formation with exact synchronisation. Guiliana is a future star of the sticks (well, he is already, but not yet widely heralded as such), performing with a whiplash ferocity that's clipped and compressed for heightened impact. He's all around the conventional beat-flow, even in jazz terms, swooping and darting dangerously, with a staccato attack. Guiliana succeeds in being a challenging free-former, as well as refusing to relinquish his swinging prowess. Cohen, meanwhile, is interested in the higher end of his instrument's range, its singing, pointillistic potentiality. His nimble digits will pick out highly elaborate melodies, part-soloing and partly creating unrepeating basslines. Like Guiliana, he's a high energy performer, slapping and rapping his bass-body, as if out of impatience and frustration with being limited to a single instrument. Maestro is almost the straight man to these two, his style open to a classicist dignity, with a predilection for repeating romantic figures. It's he who helps bring out the Esbjörn Svensson comparisons, but this is also due to the fast-changing contrasts in the responsibilities and prominences of each trio-member. Ultimately, it's a wordless vibration: for the whole duration, Cohen's trio are compelling, changeable and compulsive. The secret lies in their mood, their attitude and not least in their musical fluency. All noodling is banished. All auto-pilot motion is cancelled. There's a difference, and we only know it when it suddenly happens.

James Chance & The Contortions


August 30, 2008

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