Le Poisson Rouge
New York City August 4, 2009
The chameleon-like but ever electric Nels Cline seemed at first to be an unusual partner for violinist Jenny Scheinman, but if anything the guitarist knows how to make things work and he pushed the quartet (with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Jim Black) even higher in a set that lasted well over an hour at Le Poisson Rouge Aug. 4th. They spent much of the first part of the set trading spartan, lilting melodies, Cline contributing ethereal, elegant backing, the band unhurried and seeming happy to support Scheinman's long phrases, punctuated occasionally by surprising bowed vibratos (one of the strongest tricks she has up her sleeve). She writes long lines with fast backbeats, creating a tension that must be resolved in the solos. The compositions were open enough to allow Cline the changeling room to move, to fit bits of noise, quick loops and subtle attacks into the mix. And if Cline's stock-in-trade is the various linguistics of the electric guitar, Scheinman's is the vocabularies of the acoustic violin, from lyrical lines to moments of soft swing, bursts of gypsy song and momentary hoedown. She and Cline are both adept at smooth yet sudden about-faces but the pacesetter was Black, who seems able to shift mood without changing tack, dialing up the energy without pushing tempo. By midpoint they'd built enough tension between vigor and restraint to allow them to erupt into an unexpected near-surf tune, which carried them through to a surprisingly rocky close.
New York City
August 2, 2009
New York City
August 14, 2009
Brad Mehldau joined Smoke regulars Eric Alexander, Peter Washington and Joe Farnsworth for a weekend of untailored blowing. More known for leading trios, the quartet setting gave Mehldau fans a chance to see him in action with Alexander's robust tenor to the fore and Farnsworth's extroverted percussion aft. Friday's (Aug. 14th) late set opened with "The Night Has 1000 Eyes," performed in typical Latin/Swing/Latin format, with long solos all around: Alexander hard boppish and dense, Mehldau lighter, leavening his lines with pixels of space, and Farnsworth working out ideas on hi and low toms. "Blue Monk" followed, the tenor gruff, Stanley Turrentine-ish, while Mehldau sounded as if he was channeling Monk's muse, working fragments of the melody, developing each phrase with disciplined but quirky 'logic.' Alexander gave a sensitive, soft-edged reading of the ballad "Estate," followed by Mehldau's most intimate statement of the evening, again starting with a melodic shard, floating it, swelling emphatically and gently landing, all within a short stretch of keyboard and a shorter stretch of time. Following an interactive closing vamp, the combo kicked into an up-tempo "Love for Sale," played in 6/8 meter over the A sections to give it a novel twist. Alexander pulled off a bravura unaccompanied solo, hammering down his lines, then Mehldau, scrambling agilely with Farnsworth hot on his heels, segueing at last into Gillespie's "Ow!" for a chaser.
School for Improvised Music Faculty Concert
New York City
August 5, 2009
A different kind of summer school was in session Aug. 5th at Jazz Gallery when the School for Improvised Music held a faculty concert led by Ralph Alessi (trumpet), with Ravi Coltrane (tenor), Andy Milne (piano), Drew Gress (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). The first set started placidly, the solos lucid and cool, loosening up on the outro blowing of Gress' "Dark Horse" and growing even more animated on Alessi's "Who Wants Ice Cream?," with fleet finger-work from Milne, torrential tom-toming from Cleaver, an episodic trumpet solo and pointillist sound-painting at the close. "Sir, You'll Have to Remove That," another Alessi original, began with long held notes, strong trumpet and tenor solos, followed by a tandem blowing section. "Welcome to the Séance" was punchy and propulsive, with a fine piano solo delivered with slapdash precision. On the second set the combo took its time, stretching out, letting their musical thoughts wonder and wander. Alessi especially took full advantage of the after-hours pace, telling long-winded but well crafted shaggy-dog stories on "Tractor Pull" and a de(ar)ranged version of "Con Alma," sliding between notes like a trombone on the latter then sharing a delightful unaccompanied duet with Coltrane. Milne's aptly titled "Headache in Residence" began with a relentlessly reiterated note to set the mood, slowly thickening, leading to Cleaver's "Going Home," featuring the composer's delicate sticking and a long-cycling coda.
August 9, 2009
For some groups, going from the Newport Jazz Festival to Brooklyn's Union Hall would be anti-climactic, but not so for the Vandermark 5. The group likes the intimate Park Slope venue very much and a packed house on Aug. 9th, one day after V5 performed up in Rhode Island, demonstrated the feeling was mutual. With cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm now a veteran in the lineup, the group's dynamic is compellingly multi-layered. He can act as a noise-influenced part of the frontline or form a bowed undercurrent with bassist Kent Kessler. Ken Vandermark, who played only tenor, apart from a brief clarinet foray, is an honorary member of European improvising saxophone pantheon while Dave Rempis (alto and tenor only) blows through the same mouthpiece as other Chicagoan saxists like Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, Von Freeman, Fred Anderson and Walter Parazaider. Churning beneath it all is Tim Daisy, a jazz drummer that would give most rockers inferiority complexes. For their first set, the band played, as is their wont with a prolific composer like Vandermark at the helm, mostly new pieces, with the exception of "Some Not All," dedicated to clarinetist Ab Baars but not featuring that instrument, and "Friction." The music, from the forthcoming Annular Gift on Not Two, was full of ropy shifts and the delicious variances in texture between the two horns: chunky unison lines, counterpointings and good natured Windy City squalls.
New York City
August 5, 2009
Trumpeter Amir ElSaffarhas shown remarkable facility in mixing two musical worldsjazz and traditional Middle Eastern formsinto a personal and multi-layered aesthetic. For a commission from the city of Chicago and receiving its New York City debut at Lincoln Center Out of Doors (Aug. 5th), ElSaffar expanded his Two Rivers Ensemble into a 17-piece band. ElSaffar's two facets were visibly split on stageoud, buzuq, jowza and nay on one side and jazz players like JD Parran (reeds), Jerome Harris (guitar), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes) and Sam Newsome (soprano sax) on the other. In the center was the rhythm section of Carlo DeRosa and Eric McPherson, who had perhaps the most difficult job, navigating and shifting between the various complex pulses. ElSaffar also sang and played santour, a hammered dulcimer, and invited another vocalist, Gaida, to sing two of the four numbers, though she functioned more as another instrumentalist. With all the varied instruments, the most compelling part of the concert was the combination of textures in group passages rather than any particular solo exposition, except for maybe those of the leader, Harris, DeRosa and Tareq Abboushi (buzuq). But sadly, many of those textures were lost in the atrocious sound mix, which made the more delicate instrumentsVijay Iyer's piano for examplebarely audible. Mics were sometimes even only turned on mid-solo and the entire effect was far less two rivers than one giant swamp.
New York City
August 4, 2009
Undoubtedly one of the most important musicians to emerge out of the '60s hard bop movement, pianist Cedar Walton remains one of the most vital artists in jazz today. Walton invests each performance with a sense of urgency that is rare for a player of his years in a genre too often marred by predictability. A compelling composer and improviser, he draws from his voluminous repertoire of originals, standards and jazz classics to fashion inspired sets that are filled with revelations, a consequence of a conscious effort to push his abilities continually to the highest levels of creativity. On opening night (Aug. 4th) of the second week of his stint at Dizzy's Club, he led his quartet, with saxophonist Vincent Herring augmenting the hard swinging trio of bassist David Williams and drummer Joe Farnsworth that played the previous week, through an exuberant final set that included his own fine compositions"Newest Blues," "Martha's Pride" and "In The Kitchen"along with Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower" and Sonny Rollins' "No Mo.'" Herring, who has developed an equally potent voice on tenor to complement his alto, is an excellent foil for the leader, whose fine-tuned sense of shifting dynamics is vital to the structural integrity of not only each song, but to every set as a whole. Shifting tempos, volume and moods seamlessly, each piece was awe-inspiring as focus moved from one soloist to the next, each player supporting his colleagues with unbridled passion and sensitivity.
New York City
August 13, 2009
Standing stage right at the front edge of the Village Vanguard bandstand, where the club's piano usually sits, JD Allen launched right into the original "Id" to open his second set Thursday night (Aug. 13th), his tenor sax filling the subterranean chamber with a classic sound that benefited from the absence of the keyboard's chordal accompaniment. Allen possesses a full virile tone on his instrumentrecalling at times both Sonny Rollins and John Coltraneand, leading his regular working trio with Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums, he proved himself to be both an original and most imaginative player. During an hour-long, virtually uninterrupted performance, he wove myriad melodiesmostly of his own creationinto an intricate musical collage of terse variations on themes that scrupulously steered clear of clichéd chord progressions, favoring motific improvisations that would not suffer from the lack of a broader harmonic underpinning. August and Royston also took full advantage of the sonic space resulting from the group's spare instrumentation, the former plucking, bowing and strumming his bass as the latter switched from sticks to brushes to mallets to vary both their solos and accompaniment. This created a flowing mottled atmosphere through which Allen traversed freely in a tour de force exhibition of tension and release, finally settling into the familiar ballad "Where Are You" before returning to the opening "Id" and then ending with a soulful blues.
Recommended New Listening:
* Laurent CoqEight Fragments of Summer (88 Trees)
* Crimetime OrchestraAtomic Symphony (Jazzaway)
* HerculaneumHerculaneum III (Clean Feed)
* Fred HerschPlays Jobim (Sunnyside)
* Louis SclavisLost on the Way (ECM)
* Anthony Wilson TrioJack of Hearts (Groove Note)
David Adler NY@Night Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com
* Cyro Baptista's Banquet of the SpiritsInfinito (Tzadik)
* Ryan BlotnickEverything Forgets (Songlines)
* Roberta GambariniSo In Love (Groovin' High-Emarcy)
* Jean Martin/Justin HaynesFreedman (Barnyard)
* The Universal Quartet (with Yusef Lateef)Eponymous (Blackout Music)
* Fay Victor EnsembleThe Freesong Suite (Greene Ave. Music)
Laurence Donohue-Greene Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York
* Gato LocoCocoNino (s/r)
* KLANGTea Music (Allos Documents)
* OFFONOFFSlap and Tickle (Smalltown Superjazzz)
* Perry Robinson/Burton GreeneTwo Voices in the Desert (Tzadik)
* Trespass Trio..."was there to illuminate the night sky..." (Clean Feed)
* Miroslav VitousRemembering Weather Report (ECM)
Andrey Henkin Editorial Director, AllAboutJazz-New York