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Live From New York

February 2003

By Published: February 1, 2003
Celebrating the release of their new disc Walking the Line (Fresh Sound), the New Jazz Composers Octet rolled into Joe’s Pub and sounded tremendous. Since the group’s auspicious 1999 debut, First Steps Into Reality, David Weiss’s leadership has remained constant but the band’s lineup has fluctuated. At the Pub we heard Weiss on trumpet, Steve Davis on trombone, Myron Walden on alto, Jimmy Greene on tenor and soprano, and Gary Smulyan on baritone. In the rhythm section were pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Dwayne Burno, and drummer E.J. Strickland. The set began with a fiery arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Inner Space” — perhaps not what you’d expect from a composers band, but the NJCO mandate does include a select few covers, and this one was killing, with five horns in place of Chick’s original two. Burno and Strickland proved a monstrous pairing throughout; the prominent soloists were Walden, Greene, and Xavier Davis. The gifted pianist contributed two biblically themed works, “David & Goliath” and “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,” both from an as-yet-unrecorded suite. “Turning Gate” and “Walking the Line” rounded out an ambitious and fiercely swinging set.

Iridium played host to a January guitar summit — a double bill featuring the Pat Martino Quartet and a Great Guitars trio with Howard Alden, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Frank Vignola (the 70s incarnation included Kessel, Byrd, and Ellis). The trio went first, swinging and lushly harmonizing their way through standards like “Indiana,” “Girl Talk,” and “Triste.” The dynamic level often hovered around pianissimo, allowing the gorgeous tones of the instruments to be fully appreciated. All three brandished custom Benedettos; both Alden and Bucky played seven-strings through small amps, while Vignola played acoustically, with only a mic picking up his blazing, rhythmically taut fretwork. Bucky’s propulsive chord solos and warm triple-octave phrases balanced Alden’s more treble-heavy line playing. Vignola, sounding remarkably close to Django, brought down the house with his athletic solo on “Lester Leaps In.” Then Martino took the stage with pianist Jim Ridl, bassist Steve Varner, and drummer Ari Hoenig. With his huge, bass-rich, reverby tone and iron-hard attack, Martino couldn’t have sounded more different — i.e., less acoustic — than what had come before. He swung like crazy, with heaps of help from Hoenig, the band’s greatest asset. But a muddy mix and an oversupply of pet phrases diminished the set’s impact.

Recommended Discs:
  • Fred Hersch, Live at the Village Vanguard (Palmetto)
  • Dahl/Andersen/Heral, The Sign (Stunt)
  • Omar Sosa, Ayaguna (Ota)
  • OAM Trio, Flow (Fresh Sound/New Talent)
  • Happy Apple, Youth Oriented (Sunnyside)
  • Jim Cifelli New York Nonet, Tunnel Vision (Short Notice)

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