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September 2004

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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.

Opening night of the highly anticipated 2-week long residency featuring the trio of Bill Frisell (guitar), Joe Lovano (tenor sax), and Paul Motian (drums) at the Village Vanguard (Aug. 24th) certainly lived up to its billing with two sold-out sets. The three rarely took unaccompanied solos and instead relied on their over twenty year long association in performing together as a unit, one much greater than the sum of its parts which is saying something! These three jazz veterans each have their own busy schedules as leaders of their own various groups as well as "sidemen" throughout the year, but thankfully they are able to set aside the time in settling into the Vanguard for an extended period of time, as they memorably did last year. Soloistically playing together, at any given moment a listener could focus on one of the three, as each in a sense complementary soloed amongst and, at the same time, revolved around the other two in intuitive improvisational fashion. Lovano's deep and breathy tenor was the bold stroke of the group while Frisell's more subtle string stylings and electric effects and Motian's ever-rhythmic coloring incessantly added texture to the ever-musical proceedings. One could listen to these three create on end for two straight weeks, and much of the crowd will undoubtedly be back for more before their residency comes to a close on the night of Sept. 5th.

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene


Though Matana Roberts was unavoidably delayed for the start of her evening at the Brecht Forum (Aug. 7th), the first set trio with Ras Moshe and Tomas Fujiwara was well worth the wait. Before the performance, the subject of the '60s Frank Wright/Noah Howard band came up with Moshe and the spirit of that legendary duo was channeled for two 15 minute improvisations. Roberts is one of the more compelling altoists playing today and she spurred Moshe into some of his most thoughtful, and even delicate, tenor playing, the first piece based in trills set against languorous long tones. As the energy rose, the saxophones became shriller and Fujiwara's drum fills became more insistent. Though fully improvised, the themes were cyclical and explored in lovely unison passages.

The only way to follow it up was to change tack completely, Roberts switching to clarinet and Moshe to flute. Whereas the first piece was earthy, the second smacked of contemporary classical music. By the time Roberts switched back to alto, there was an elfin quality to the music. Besides the laudable brevity of the two improvisations, the trio should be complimented for creating pieces with distinct forms and endings and keeping any forays into atonality as a natural result of the music's development.

A lesser pianist might have wilted under the boisterous crowd at the Kitano Hotel (August 27th). But Don Friedman was unflappable in a trio with bassist Martin Wind and drummer Drori Mondlak. Even when audience members asked him in between songs to play "Girl from Ipanema", mistaking the Kitano for a piano bar, Friedman continued doing what he has been doing marvellously since his career began: subtly subverting melodies, being progressive without being jarring and traditional without being staid. "35 W. 4th Street" is entitled in deference to his employment address at NYU. "Alone Together" and especially "My Favorite Things" were deftly interpreted, the Howard Dietz/Arthur Schwartz piece played at a more insistent pace than usual. Special mention should be made of Mondlak's exuberant timekeeping. The set closed with two gorgeous melodies: "Memories of Scottie", written by Friedman to memorialize his late friend Scott La Faro, featured some elegiac bowing by Wind; and Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You" which started out delicate but slowly swelled in intensity by the end. It is always special to hear Friedman play and be the focus of attention. His command can be overlooked when he plays with Clark Terry but leading a trio, under any conditions, he displays his mastery.

~ Andrey Henkin


Saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins delighted an overflow crowd at Damrosch Park (Aug. 10th) with a concert that, while not matching his historic 2002 performance, proved the tenor great still to be a formidable force. Opening with one of his patented motific compositions, Rollins blew an impressive ten minute solo over Bob Cranshaw's pulsing bass ostinato and then strutted the stage in his trademark sneakers, snapping his fingers while trombonist Clifton Anderson took his turn briefly, as drummer Steven Jordan and percussionist Kimati Dinizulu interacted rhythmically. Rollins and Anderson began "C.E.A." playing the melody in unison before the saxophonist took off on his own, engaging first Cranshaw and then Jordan and Dinizulu, as Anderson provided harmonic reinforcement playing long tones.

Rollins excelled on the Monkish dirge "Ethel Lou" and his classic calypso "Don't Stop The Carnival", on which he repeatedly plunged into the lower register of his horn to great effect. He played fluid boppish tenor on "They Say It's Wonderful", executing long inspired improvised passages that periodically returned to the melody, thrilling the audience to a yelling frenzy each time he paused for a breath. He then calmed the crowd with a customary obscure ballad and finished the evening with a short encore of "Tenor Madness" ending with a quote from the children's song "Dear, Dear What Could The Matter Be".

McCoy Tyner continued to reexamine his art in a historic Blue Note engagement featuring Savion Glover. Tyner's trio with George Mraz and Eric Gravatt opened the Thursday, August 19th second set with a relaxed rendition of his original "Home." A solo recital of his lyrical "You Taught My Heart To Sing" followed, with the pianist moving from straight ahead to stride to ballad phrasing to explore the piece's many moods. Introducing Glover as "a young man doing wonderful things furthering the art of tap," Tyner launched into a bluesy original he later introduced ironically as "Hip Toes." The dancer jumped right in, facing the pianist as he imitated his long winding lines and stomped out rhythmic counterpoint, then turning to Mraz to solo over his walking bass before engaging in a dynamic dancing-drumming duet with Gravatt. On Tyner's powerful "Manalyuca" the gyrating Glover demonstrated his knowledge of AfroCuban drumming, pounding out a clave over the pianist's powerful vamp, dancing relentlessly to Gravatt's shell-rapping rhythms, sweat pouring off his dreadlock and beard framed face. A reprise of "You Taught My Heart" ensued with Glover utilizing samba, swing and flamenco patterns, leading into a finale on which the dancer brought down the house scraping and dragging his feet as McCoy smiled and shook his head in amazement.

~ Russ Musto


Recommended New Releases:

– Geri Allen - The Life of a Song (Telarc)

– Jamie Baum - Moving Forward, Standing Still (OmniTone)

– John O'Gallagher - Rules of Invisibility Vol. 1 (CIMP)

– Jean-Michel Pilc - Follow Me (Dreyfus)

– Phil Ranelin - Inspiration (Wide Hive)

– Dave Schnitter - Sketch (Sunnyside)

~ David Adler (NY@Night Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com

– Dave Douglas/Louis Sclavis/Peggy Lee/Dylan Van Der Schyff - Bow River Falls (Premonition)

– Giacomo Gates - Centerpiece (Origin)

– Jerry Gonzalez - Y Los Pirates Del Flamenco (Sunnyside)

– John McNeil - Sleep Won't Come (OmniTone)

– Steve Swallow/Ohad Talmor Sextet - L'Histoire du Clochard (Palmetto)

– Michael Vatcher/Steuart Liebig/Vinny Golia - On the Cusp of Fire and Water (Red Toucan)

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene (Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York)

– Hakim Jami/James Blood Ulmer Revelation Ensemble - Revealing (Reparation)

– Mario Pavone - Boom (Playscape)

– The Trio (with Matthew Shipp) - The Trio Plays Ware (Splasc(H))

– Paul Dunmall Quartet - Love, Warmth, and Compassion (FMR)

– ROVA/Orkestrova (with Satoko Fujii) - An Alligator in Your Wallet (Ewe)

– Anthony Braxton Quartet - 23 Standards 2003 (Leo)

~ Bruce Gallanter (Proprietor, Downtown Music Gallery)


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