The Portuguese guitarist Luis Lopes has tricks up his sleeve. As evidenced on his new Clean Feed CD What is When, he is an adept player of noise and feedback (as opposed to simply a maker, Lopes is the rare guitarist who can use it quite tastefully). But such is not the stuff of his Humanization 4tet. On their self-titled CD from last year and appearing at Downtown Music Gallery on Jun. 8th (the last stop on an America tour that took them along the Eastern Seaboard and down to the rhythm section's Texan homeland), Lopes takes a cleaner, more melodic approach. The group seems to play Lopes' compositions inside-out, beginning in a freer vein, moving slowly until Lopes or saxophonist Rodrigo Amado (or sometimes both players in tandem) rise slowly, unexpectedly, to state a theme. The restraint shown on the melody instruments is also surprising given the powerful backline (bassist Aaron and drummer Stefan Gonzalez, sons and regular bandmates of incendiary trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez). Amado is fully capable of gritty tenor playing and Lopes' battery of effect pedals gave him the foundation to break free of the bright, clean tone of his hollowbody, but their measured approach was subtly rewarding. It wasn't until two final group improvisations, during which Daniel Carter joined them on trumpet and alto saxophone, that they traipsed rockier terrain, Lopes pushing his axe in more directions. But even his string scrapings proved to be thoughtful and musical.
New York, NY
June 12, 2009
Composer/guitarist/illustrator Miles Okazaki brought his group to Jazz Gallery on Jun. 12th-13th to premiere Generations, his second album as a leader. Saturday's early set reenacted the album in its entirety, performed live just as it was recorded: in order, in one continuous take. The first-rate band included alto saxophonists Miguel Zenón, Christof Knoche and David Binney, vocalist Jen Shyu, bassist Hans Glawischnig (covering for Jon Flaugher) and drummer Dan Weiss. Beginning with the accelerating pulses of "Overture," answered a full hour later by the slowly decelerating "Moon," Okazaki's music continually engaged the audience's perceptions of time and tonality by chain-linking remotely related chords in quick succession and superimposing beat groupings and accent patterns to create compound shapes and phrases. In spite of this density, the music evolved organically, inevitably, helped in large part by fine soloing all around. Okazaki, playing at a low volume with a light touch, was subtle yet assertive, his comping tastefully apropos. Zenón was relentlessly intense, sounding both lyrical and aggressive on "Waves" and "Generations". Shyu's voice added warmth to the blend, easily matching the horns over the tricky, unpredictable compositions. Binney, Knoche and Glawischnig all had fine moments as well, but the MVP award properly belongs to Weiss, whose irrepressible beat and mercurial creativity provided both the spark and the glue.
New York, NU
June 10, 2009
South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, the artist-formerly-known-as-Dollar Brand, was at Jazz Standard for a week-long residencythree nights solo followed by three with his group Ekaya. Wednesday's (Jun. 10th) early set was subdued and intimate, a non-stop, stream-of-conscious musical meditation that, like Duke Ellington's suites, coursed through a series of impressionistic vignettes, each with its own color scheme, gently flowing from one hue to the next. With no band behind him, Ibrahim was free to follow the dictates of his imagination, drawing on songs and musical textures he has played over the years, ideas that by now have become second nature. His style, encompassing Cape Town grooves, gospel hymns, Ellington-Strayhorn compositions, the melodic contours of swing and bop, as well the angularity of Thelonious Monk, is nevertheless uniquely his own, shaded with delicate dissonances and, at its core, infused with a folksy earthiness and directness of delivery that is never overshadowed by intellectual complexity. Ibrahim's rhythms, relaxed in the manner of swing, hewed closer to the lilt of township jive than to jazz; his improvisations, typically anchored to a mode or key area, gently resisted tonality with subtle chromaticism or stark melodic leaps. Approaching target tones from below, he often delayed their resolution for dramatic effect. As the spell of the music deepened, Ibrahim rocked back and forth on his stool, an enchanter enchanted.
New York City
June 5, 2009