After three years (on and off) of obscure gigs in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Big Band (BBB), co-led by alto saxophonist Craig Bailey and tenor man Tim Armacost, had its long-awaited Manhattan debut at Sweet Rhythm (Aug. 2nd). The band struck a balance between tight and loose, beginning with an off-the-cuff "Take the Coltrane" and ending with Bailey's greasy "My Blues" (complete with a bracing scat chorus from trumpeter Larry Gillespie). In the BBB's ranks are fine players who should be better known: Bailey and Mark Gross on altos; Armacost and Keith Loftis on tenors; Charlie Evans on baritone; Jason Jackson, Dion Tucker, Tim Albright and Johannes Pfannkuch on bones; Gillespie, Jamal Monteilh, James Zollar and Matt Shulman on trumpets; Kelvin Shollar on piano; Phil Palombi on bass and Lieven Venken on drums. Armacost stepped up for a feature (and a sharp-witted cadenza) on his ballad "Animated", which was followed by Jason Jackson's bright "Brazilian Bop", then an Al Cohn arrangement of "You Don't Know What Love Is" featuring Gillespie on flugelhorn and finally the up-tempo "40-Pound Limit", a showcase for Bailey and Gross' dueling altos. Merging a seamless ensemble attack with the flexibility of a combo, the BBB can compete with any of its peers on Manhattan isle.
After years of holding down the low end for Branford Marsalis, Ralph Peterson and others, bassist Eric Revis has debuted as a leader with Tales of the Stuttering Mime (11:11 Records). He brought his group to Sweet Rhythm for a CD release gig (August 12), during which Branford sat in (first set only). Alas, didn't see it, but the second set began with a crushing bass prelude full of P-Funk references that set the eclectic tone for the evening. Up in front were J.D. Allen on tenor, Duane Eubanks on trumpet and Yosvany Terry on alto. On piano was Orrin Evans, on guitar Oz Noy and on drums Jeff "Tain" Watts. Eubanks's solo on the Mingus-esque opener dislocated more than a few jaws. Orrin Evans took the floor for a revelatory trio reading of "Lulu's Back In Town," beginning in tempo but then leaving it far, far behind. Ricky Gordon joined for the remaining two, brilliantly laying bare the hip-hop ramifications of the washboard. Gregoire Maret brought his stunning harmonica chops to the third tune, and Oz Noy made a case for himself as the most harmonically savvy slide guitarist in town (perhaps any town). The hard-rocking finale, "11:11," had Watts soloing over a doubled bass line and practically laying waste to the bandstand. It was one of those gigs.
~ David Adler
Closing in on their 20th Anniversary (in '06), the Boston-based Either Orchestra not only continues to impress but evolve. Performing an extended set at Satalla (Aug. 13th), they played music from their recording of Ethiopian-tinged jazz to be released next year (Live at Addis Ababa). Though the group has had some major personnel changes, their fearless leader Russ Gershon still runs a tight ship and his six-horn frontline is the group's greatest strength. With three brass (two trumpets and trombone) and three reeds (baritone, tenor/soprano, alto - with the doubling of one or two flutes), they perform comfortably as a single instrument over rhythm, giving the tentet the power of a big band while maintaining a smaller ensemble vibe.
Though the house mix started out off-kilter, with piano and bass far in front, it was soon fixed (that, or fixed itself) by the second tune - "Amlak Aleet Aleet" - which featured a band-full of small percussion (sticks, shakers, tambourines, cowbells) in addition to conguero Vicente Lebron and drummer Ismail Lawal. The tidal undercurrent of relentless rhythm pushed along a cascading solo by lone charter member Tom Halter (trumpet). The tight strong heads from the horn section were coordinated and layered, and provided the needed adjustment throughout the rest of their very enjoyable set.