“ Winds were gusting up to 60 miles per hour during the Dave Holland Quintet ”
Quote of the month: “Beauty without reasons, and without the anxiety over the lack of reasons: that may be what life was like before we started making it up. Sometimes, when I look at [Merce] Cunningham’s stage, I think I’m seeing the world on the seventh day, with everything new and just itself — before the snake, and the tears, and the explanations.” — Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, Nov. 3, 2003
It might be that Pat Metheny’s most enduring historical contribution is on the acoustic guitar. In fact, One Quiet Night, his 2003 solo baritone guitar release, may be remembered as one of the most important statements of his career. Quite early on, Metheny displayed a genius for bringing jazz complexity to the specific vernacular of folk guitar. His new baritone guitar music, which he showcased for the first half-hour of his Beacon Theater concert, reveals just how far and how well his acoustic concept has traveled. The instrument sounded magnificent; its bass strings caused the entire auditorium to resonate. His gift was most apparent on the Norah Jones (Jesse Harris) cover “Don’t Know Why,” to which he added dense chromatic motion and close voicings, finally modulating from C to A major. Two bars of harmonic stasis in the bridge seemed to give Metheny pause on the recording; in the live setting he filled in these bars expertly, with compact walking chords down the neck. Switching to nylon-string, Metheny then offered a medley of past goodies such as “Minuano,” “September Fifteenth,” “Midwestern Night’s Dream,” and even the David Bowie collaboration “This Is Not America.” A brief “Into the Dream” on Pikasso 42-string guitar served as the gateway to the trio portion of the evening.
The segue was beautifully done: a final glissando and suddenly Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez were playing the opening riff of “So May It Secretly Begin.” The set went on to include “What Do You Want,” “Soul Cowboy,” and the obligatory “Question and Answer,” but also a batch of promising new tunes with only numbers for titles. Two were fast and convoluted, one was a straight-eighth piece in 3/4, another featured electric sitar and arco bass in a slow, hypnotic dialogue, and yet another featured the baritone guitar in a trio setting. “Lone Jack” and a very surprising rendition of Ornette Coleman’s “Broadway Blues,” with Metheny back on nylon-string guitar, closed out the set.
Winds were gusting up to 60 miles per hour during the Dave Holland Quintet’s November run at Birdland. It couldn’t have been a coincidence. Crowds lined up outside in the unseasonable cold, and their patience was richly rewarded. Steve Nelson was abstract yet firm on vibes and marimba, his back to the band while taming the latter. Trombonist (and de facto concertmaster) Robin Eubanks and saxophonist Chris Potter played one epic solo after another, and drummer Nate Smith did a fine job in the chair formerly held by Billy Kilson. Holland’s meditative yet turbulent solo intros are always a high point in any DHQ set; this time they served as setups for “Points of View” and “Free for All.” Potter’s “Lost and Found,” one of the finest items in the entire DHQ book, was followed by a new, multi-part ballad by Steve Nelson called “He Who Loves Silence.”
Tisziji Muñoz’s music has been described as Santana meets late Coltrane, and that seems about right. With his hair in a top knot and his Mesa/Boogie combo set to perma-fuzz, Muñoz played deep rubato reveries for two nights at the Iridium with Ravi Coltrane on tenor, Paul Shaffer (of Letterman fame) on piano, Don Pate and John Lockwood on basses, and Bob Moses on drums. Muñoz and Moses share a strong musical and spiritual bond, and it spoke clearly through the music. Shaffer, who was mentored by Muñoz back in the day, seemed comfortable in the out-jazz zone but was too low in the mix. The set was tempestuous yet quite melodic; Jobim’s “Dindi,” filtered through a psychedelic lens, was the main highlight.
Later the same week, Bill Bruford pulled into Iridium for four nights with a new incarnation of Earthworks. The prog-rock superstar drummer let it be known that pianist Henry Hey and bassist Mike Pope were the first Americans ever to play in the group. Not only that, these two had made the acquaintance of the famous bandleader only 36 hours prior to the first hit. Tim Garland, who has held the reeds chair for roughly two years, seemed to play a significant role in keeping this high-powered train on the tracks. Bruford has a great time playing and writing acoustic jazz, and this new lineup attacked the music with full force, effortlessly balancing improvisational fire and jaw-dropping ensemble precision. As a jazz drummer, Bruford could not be more of an original, with his snare sound tightly choked and his toms arranged flat and parallel to the floor. His rock-influenced approach to odd-metered grooves is consistently thrilling; the geekily inclined may detect traces of King Crimson, although the Earthworks aesthetic is more spacious and less mathematical.
It must have taken some doing to squeeze Michael Brecker’s “Quindectet” onto the Iridium stage, but the group didn’t sound constrained at all. Gil Goldstein conducted the large ensemble and played a snarling, intricate Rhodes piano — not to mention a bit of accordion. Daniel Sadownick weighed in with a spry percussion prelude on “Timbuktu.” Guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Antonio Sanchez were formidable in both solo and support roles. The reeds were Roger Rosenberg on baritone sax and bass clarinet, Bob Sheppard on flute and tenor sax and Dan Willis on oboe and English horn. The brass section boasted Robin Eubanks on trombone, Alex Sipiagin on trumpet and Peter Gordon on French horn. Mark Feldman and Erik Friedlander were missing from the string section, but Meg Okura (violin) and David Egger (cello) ably filled their shoes. Joyce Hammann and Lois Martin played violin and viola, respectively. Brecker sounded titanic in this relatively small room. A newly orchestrated rendition of “Syzygy” (from Brecker’s 1987 debut as a leader) came as a bracing surprise.
Yet again at Iridium, violinist Mark O’Connor, in an orgy of pan-stylistic virtuosity, appeared in several different group contexts to celebrate the release of his Thirty-Year Retrospective collection on the Omac label. The anchor for the week was the Hot Swing Trio with guitarist Frank Vignola and bassist Jon Burr. Stunningly tight, the group valiantly hoisted the flag of acoustic string-band swing with numbers like “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Fascinating Rhythm,” sounding a good deal more raw and organic than they do on their Columbia release, In Full Swing. Charts and music stands proved necessary for O’Connor’s “Anniversary,” a dense piece of writing and one of the show’s darker, less accessible moments. Then Vignola and Burr took a breather while violist Carol Cook and cellist Natalie Haas took the stage to play several of O’Connor’s ambitious chamber-grass pieces, including “Appalachian Waltz” and the “Olympic Reel Medley.” These magnificent players brought the global reach of fiddle music into full relief. Vignola and Burr returned to close the set with Burr’s “Lament” and the evergreen “Limehouse Blues.” Later in the week the monster musicians from the Thirty-Year Retrospective set — guitarist Bryan Sutton, mandolinist Chris Thile and bassist Byron House — graced the Iridium stage as well. Judging from the crisp, lyrical, technically dazzling sound of the album, the show must have been a blast.
For the first time, Merkin Hall’s Zoom: Composers Close Up series featured jazz rather than contemporary classical musicians. The series pairs two contrasting artists, both of whom offer live sets as well live interviews. Leading off this installment was pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and her Abaton trio with violinist Mark Feldman and cellist Erik Friedlander (Brecker’s absentees). The line between jazz and classical is quite blurred in Courvoisier’s music — a dark, contemplative mass of sounds, heavy on prepared piano textures and stark, dissonant harmonies. The trio moved seamlessly between written and freely improvised passages; the writing was demanding, the execution flawless. The strings sounded marvelous in this thoroughly acoustic setting. Alas, Courvoisier seemed in no mood for her interview with Larry Blumenfeld after the set. Audience members shifted nervously in their seats during the awkward exchange. Blumenfeld, barely recovered from a bad cold, got through it somehow. He fared much better talking with Matthew Shipp after the intermission, and the pianist, joined by William Parker on bass and Mat Maneri on viola, closed out the evening with an entirely different species of string trio music — grittier, freer, flowing from the “energy music” tradition rather than the European concert tradition.
During a disarmingly funny audience greeting at Sweet Rhythm, pianist/keyboardist Michael Wolff revealed that he had played the very first gig at Sweet Basil in 1975. Not bad, he joked — landing his second gig in the same room after nearly 30 years. James Browne, the club’s proprietor and not someone known for his ever-present smile, was cracking up in the back of the room. The music was serious, however. Wolff and his Impure Thoughts ensemble pumped up this dinner crowd with hard-edged, vamp-based, multiculti improv. Bassist John B. Williams, drummer Victor Jones and tabla master Badal Roy joined the virtuosic Wolff, who switched between acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes. Percussionist Mino Cinelu and trumpeter Eddie Henderson were on hand for sterling guest appearances. (Later in the month, Wolff played Joe’s Pub as part of the electric Miles reunion band Children on the Corner.)
Your New York@Night columnist will be on “wedding leave” for the months of December and January. Another correspondent will be filling in for the January and February columns. I’ll be back once I’ve had a chance to recuperate and begin life in my new identity as a husband (!). See you soon.
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