Frisell/Carter/Motian; Winter Jazzfest; Gato Barbieri/Poncho Sanchez; George Coleman; Monty Alexander; Lee Konitz
A double-header featuring two prime exponents of Latin Jazz is made all the more enticing by its setting at the Lehman Center in The Bronx. This is the borough where all the coolster salsa dudes gather, making for a very different vibrational proposition to that of a Manhattan appearance by these very artists. That said, the crowd still doesn't rise up from their seats for much dancing action. For most of the duration, this is music for internalised head gyrations. The Argentinian tenor man Gato Barbieri cuts a unique figure. His set is preceded by a very firm announcement threatening his immediate walk-off if anyone dares to ignite a camera flash. This is due to a medical condition. Barbieri has his signature hat and shades, and down below he's wearing loafers with red socks, topped by ballooning pantaloons that gather in to tightness at the ankles. It's certainly a distinctive look. From a distance, he doesn't look like a septuagenarian. Barbieri chews habitually between solos, and it's mostly solos that he delivers, his tone harsh and knotted, very close to a free jazz wail. This is held in a glove of jazz-funking smoothness by his band, building an unusual contrast between the two elements, from different stages of Barbieri's artistic evolution. Strong and distinctive though his sound is, it begins to make the tunes sound very similar as the lengthy set progresses. There's too little light and shade. The Poncho Sanchez combo is more conventional, teetering with equanimity between Cuban son, salsa stylings and Latin Jazz soloing. Conga-player Sanchez might look like a Cuban revolutionary, but he's from Mexican stock, moving from Texas to California whilst still a youth. Nevertheless, he sounds like a Havana denizen. Sanchez frequently allows his fellow band members to shine, almost to the point of needlessly cutting back on his own spotlight time. It's the final run of numbers where he stands up to sing that finally froth up the crowd, but this is down to a general climaxing of what turns out to be two substantial sets by a pair of divergently talented Latin greats.
The Coleman Family Legacy
January 20, 2009
Not Coleman Hawkins, not Ornette Coleman and not Steve Coleman. This is tenor man George Coleman and his Hammond organist wife Gloria, along with their son George Junior on the drums. The only non-family member onstage is guitarist Eric Johnson. Coleman is still best-known for his early-1960s stint with Miles Davis, whilst Gloria has opted for long years of recording inactivity, after she decided to prioritise her family's upbringing. From the opening rush of a rail-sparking "Take The 'A' Train," this foursome hardly pull back for any softness or balladry during the course of the next hour. Every solo comes swiftly and never sticks around, with all band members sensitively attuned to each other's contributions. Oh, if all family life could be this way! George Senior is smoothly forceful, dapper and light-footed, Gloria spills and scatters phrases whilst treading out a slinky bass line. She sings briefly, but most of the set is prime gospel-soul instrumental grooving, with every minute mattering. The only lack is that no-one talks to the audience much, until Gloria becomes more chatty towards the end. A few family anecdotes might have been amusing.
The Monty Alexander Trio
January 22, 2009
Later in his residency, Jamaican-American pianist Monty Alexander would be joined by an expanded Jazz & Roots ensemble, but the early part of the week offered a good opportunity to catch him in trio form, thereby concentrating on a jazzier aspect, with greater room for soloing. In the end, there are still an abundance of funk and reggae influences permeating his music, even in this stripped-down manifestation. Bassist Hassan Shakur and drummer Herlin Riley are masters of linear beats and tight vamps, tending to slide sideways from any jazz abstraction, locking into repeated figures. All three players are huddled closely together, listening to each other in an almost theatrical manner. They'll set up a closely nuzzled network of responsive moves, full of percussive raps and accents, whilst Alexander flows freely with his flamboyant but not over-frilled statements. There's a joyful expressiveness that can't be manufactured, and this late night set must surely have been one of the week's best.
The Lee Konitz Big Band
January 23, 2009