It's hard to know what music would befit the writings of the great 20th Century novelist Italo Calvino. Italian folk music for his folk stories to be sure, but does his science fiction demand theremin? To remain true to his spirit requires exploring until exhaustion all possibilities. In that regard, a jazz bandsuch as the quintet vocalist Elena Camerin presented at the Italian Cultural Institute Dec. 2ndmight best be able to traverse the endless possible worlds of Calvino's prose. With dramatic readings by Silvia Giampaola against electric guitar swells and horns swaying from bop to Brasilia, countered by Camerin's musical delivery (sometimes with electronic augmentation), they cast an enjoyable but narrow soundtrack. The spoken passages were interspersed with Camerin's Calvino-inspired songs, saxophonist Nicola Fazzini's upbeat originals and even an arrangement of Monteverdi by trumpeter Ron Horton. Jazzy takes on the comedies The Cloven Viscount and The Baron in the Trees worked well enough, but when they got to the romantic metaphysics of Cosmicomics, their bouncing, sometimes cartoonish flights made more sense. By the final section of the 75-minute program, the musicians were clearly primed and soloing and interplay grew richer. A little drama would have bolstered their take on Six Memos for the Next Millennium, one of Calvino's final and most serious works. To play off the greatest of his imaginings, the different cities by the end had grown all too visible.
Charisma! The Music of Lee Morgan
New York, NY
December 10, 2009
For first set of the first night of "Charisma! The Music of Lee Morgan," there were two subs in the band. Trumpeter Charles Tolliver, who played alongside Morgan with Jackie McLean in 1965, was not present, replaced ably by Jeremy Pelt. And instead of drummer Billy Hart was Victor Lewis. But the band still had two of the best saxists of the past half-century in Billy Harper (a Morgan collaborator in 1971-72) and Bennie Maupin (check him out with Morgan from the 1970 Lighthouse sets). As a result, the bandfilled out by organizer David Weiss (trumpet), Geri Allen (piano) and Dwayne Burno (bass)devoted only three of five tunes to Morgan, opening instead with Harper's fiery "Capra Black" and Maupin's sublime "Neophilia," taken at a slower pace than usual and featuring a wondrous bass clarinet-piano duet intro. Of the Morgan material, the late trumpeter only wrote "Ceora," taken in a breezy manner until Harper's solo turn. Bassist Jymie Merritt, who anchored Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers when Morgan was a member from 1958-61, penned "Nommo," played at those aforementioned Lighthouse sessions. The tune's post-bop vibe was excellent fodder for the band, especially Harper again, whose solos have a quality akin to subtly spiced food, getting hotter and hotter as they go. The closing "The Chief," by pianist Harold Mabern (a rejected tune from 1967's The Sixth Sense), was notable for tandem tenor soloing and a long, propulsive Lewis solo.
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
New York City
December 1, 2009
Hypnotic, defined as "inducing sleep," is definitely not apropos when discussing the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (HBE). The band, eight brothers sired by Sun Ra/AACM alumnus Phil Cohran, are anything but soporific. A reasonably well-attended 11 pm set at BB King's Blues Bar (Dec. 1st) displayed a band making sense of a number of brass band traditions, from martial discipline to Tower of Power funkiness to Balkan exuberance. Last year, the band released a solid debut effort but in concert, different facets come to the fore, most notably an emphasis on hiphop, both through MC interludes by various members and the unwavering breakbeats played by the band's non-brother drummer. Mostly the tunes were short, which disguised what, in longer versions, might come off as repetitive. The HBE writes all its own music, drawing from sources as diverse as the aforementioned Sun Ra to Creed Taylor at his most deliberate. And with drums and sousaphone (!) lined up in the center with four trumpets on one side and trombones and euphonium on the other, it is visually clear that the rhythm is ultimately the thing. While none of the brothers can be considered top-flight instrumentalists on their own, the ensemble is designed to be approached and appreciated as a unit. This reviewer would have welcomed a little less rapping and bit more improvisational acumen but one suspects that kind of jazz snobbery is exactly what the HBE is committed to exceeding.
Branford Marsalis's Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
New York City
December 1, 2009