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 ElSaffar has 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