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Live From New York

December 2008

By Published: December 6, 2008
Nov. 8th marked the midpoint of the three-day, ninth annual Django Reinhardt New York Festival at Birdland. The spirit of the Belgian gypsy guitarist was alive and well, incarnate in the fine guitar playing of Samson Schmitt, Kruno Spisic, Evan Perri and Schmitt's younger brother Jean Baptiste (aka Bronson), backed by the propulsive bass of Brian Torff, with additional support from accordionist Ludovic Beier, violinist Timbo Mehrstein and tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm. The Hot Club of Detroit kicked off the late set with a swinging rendition of "Belleville," featuring leader Perri's tensile lines, Julien Labro's button accordion and Carl Cafagna's exciting soprano sax. The Hot Club's closer, "Blues Up and Down," contained a ferocious but friendly tenor battle between Cafagna and guesting Joel Frahm that had the audience laughing out loud. The second half was dominated by the dazzling (if somewhat over-amplified) elder Schmitt. His long-winded, chop-laden solo over "Night and Day" was relentless; elsewhere he comped in an aggressive, Django-esque style, but was at his peak over the sped-up outro of "Oh, Lady Be Good". Spisic sang "Ako Me Ne Volis" in a romantic baritone, played tremolo-driven solos on "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "Oh, Lady Be Good" and matched Samson Schmitt note for note on a faithful rendition of Reinhardt's recorded version of "Dark Eyes". Beier proved an apt foil to the guitars' thunder, a marvel of taste and technique.

—Tom Greenland

Robert Dick

50 Years of Flute! was the charming title of Robert Dick's Nov. 6th appearance at Carnegie Hall's intimate small room Weill Hall. And it was not hyperbole; Dick, one of the flute's most compelling innovators and charming emissaries, was celebrating 50 years (and two days) since he took his first breaths on a flute at eight years old. In the subsequent five decades, he has drastically expanded the sounds the flute—whether it be a concert flute or the massive contrabass edition—can make and the roles in which it can be found. Many of those innovations were on display at the concert, five unaccompanied works, including a world premiere, and a duet suite with pianist/partner Ursel Schlicht. From the onset of "Flames Must Not Encircle Sides" (1980), Dick demonstrated that his extended techniques—circular breathing, multiphonics, percussive effects—were not merely for virtuosic show but instead serve the melodic arc of his composing. Polyphony played a central role in "Piece in Gamelan Style" (1978) and Dick's flute with glissando headjoint, described in terms of a guitar's whammy bar, made "Sliding Life Blues" (2001) a possibility. A new work, "Air is the Heaviest Metal," continued Dick's explorations into music not commonly found for the instrument, in this case the work of Metallica (with subtle nods to Jethro Tull). The closing "Life Concert" (1997) with Schlicht placed Dick in a more traditional role, one he was happy to subvert at first chance.

Anat Fort

The final segment of pianist Anat Fort's Nov. 14th Rubin Museum concert was inspired by Milarepa, the 11th-12th century Tibetan yogi who supposedly composed 1,000 songs. Stimulated by this prolificacy, Fort wrote not one, but three pieces, which she played in trio with longtime bassist Gary Wang and drummer Paul Motian. Milarepa might have prompted the specific suite, but it was jazz yogi Motian that propelled the set. The drummer figured prominently on Fort's ECM debut A Long Story and much of the evening's 75 minutes was drawn from that album, such as the limpidly gorgeous "Morning: Good," the rambunctious "Not a Perfect Storm" and the crisp Golan Heights wine of "Just Now". But given Motian's schedule and distaste for travel, the pair have had little chance to play together since the recording. The results, rather than being bogged down with rust, benefited from the layoff. Motian is probably the most instinctive drummer in jazz and his rhythms functioned as a second melodic line to Fort's, creating an interesting dilemma for Wang—who to follow? He chose to inhabit the spaces both left behind and the music opened up into long, exploratory versions that seemed more like spontaneous composition than soloing over forms. Even an older piece like "Fire Drill Blues," which initially sounded out of place, blossomed in its exposition. The room's excellent acoustics only emphasized the non-hierarchical, three-dimensional nature of the group.

—Andrey Henkin

Jenny Scheinman

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