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April 2003


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Hearing Rosenwinkel is like navigating through a thick fog in a small boat, never knowing what lies ahead until it
Dave Douglas’s 40th Birthday Celebration — A special week-long event at the Jazz Standard, featuring just about every formation the trumpeter/composer has documented over the last decade.

The week opened with a Tiny Bell Trio/Four In One double bill. Guitarist Brad Shepik and drummer Jim Black joined Douglas for a riotous set that went back to “Red Emma” from the group’s 1994 debut album. Black was astonishing, blending precision and garage-like power in an anything-can-happen blur. Then Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink, who had led their ICP Orchestra at Tonic just the night before, joined Douglas and bassist Brad Jones for a set consisting mainly of Monk tunes. Bennink, as always, was an experience. While trading fours during “Epistrophy” he plainly announced, “I would like to go out of rhythm now.” Jones made a bemused, “be-my-guest” gesture, and Bennink went off on a tear with nothing but a snare drum and brushes. (The ICP show also focused on Monk; Bennink, with drumstick-in-cheek, dominated that evening too.)

Douglas’s “Charms of the Night Sky” opened Thursday’s second set with marvelous, haunting readings of “A Thousand Evenings” and Herbie Hancock’s “Little One.” After these and a few other numbers, Douglas, violinist Mark Feldman, accordionist Evan Harlan (subbing for Guy Klucevsek), and bassist Greg Cohen were joined by tenorist/clarinetist Greg Tardy and drummer Susie Ibarra for selections from the El Trilogy record. These pieces, commissioned for performances by the Trisha Brown Dance Company, ranged widely — from swing to free to cinematic, Frisell-like road music.

Bobby Hutcherson Quartet with James Spaulding — A hot, standards-focused evening at Iridium with Renee Rosnes, Wallace Roney, Dwayne Burno, Carl Allen, and the two Blue Note stablemates of yore. Hutcherson and Spaulding are as crisp and compelling as ever. Highlights included “Old Devil Moon,” “Little B’s Poem,” “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” and “Take the Coltrane.”

Louis Sclavis — The French clarinetist and composer rarely performs in the States. But March saw the U.S. premiere of his score to the 1930 silent film Dans La Nuit, as well as a quintet performance at Tonic the following night. Both gigs featured Sclavis with violinist Dominique Pifarély, cellist Vincent Courtois, percussionist François Merville, and accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier. (At Tonic the quintet performed music from Sclavis’ 2001 ECM release L'affrontement des prétendants.) The film, screened at Gould Hall in the French Institute Alliance Française, is a story of newlywed bliss shattered by a disfiguring mining accident. Sclavis’s chamber group, expertly miked and mixed, enhanced the portentous themes and climactic moments and presented a feast of textures. The dense, unaccompanied improvisations by Pifarély and Matinier, and the sly marimba figures from Merville, almost made it hard to focus on the film at times.

Frank Kimbrough Trio and Quintet — Heard during the third annual Jazz Composers Collective festival, another week-long event in March at the Jazz Standard. With Ben Allison and Matt Wilson, Kimbrough roamed through his distinctive rubato moods and edgy swing-funk creations like “Lulla-blue-by” (“sounding less and less like a lullaby every time,” noted the pianist). The quintet, featuring Allison, drummer Michael Sarin, Dave Ballou on trumpet and fluegel, and Scott Robinson on reeds, explored some of the music from Kimbrough’s Noumena project on Soul Note, including “Air” and “The Spins.” A slow, Giuffre-dedicated blues, “For Jimmy G” (with shadings of “Blue Monk”), closed the set. Robinson, gloriously pained and dissonant on tenor, managed to incorporate both the smallest and largest horns — the octavon (?) and the bass sax — in a single set.

Matt Wilson Quartet — The press advance for his new Palmetto release, Humidity, included a branded Matt Wilson ice scraper. (A targeted mailing to New Yorkers digging out from the rough winter?) There was no shortage of this sort of Wilsonian hilarity during the drummer’s three-night Jazz Standard run. Together with Andrew D’Angelo on alto and bass clarinet, Jeff Lederer on tenor and clarinet, and Yosuke Inoue on acoustic and electric bass, Wilson displayed highly refined musicianship even as he broke every rule in the book.

Sunday’s second set opened and closed with “Free Willy” and “Shustabuster” respectively, both up-tempo free-bop items by D’Angelo. Wilson reached back to the Arts and Crafts album for the warped yet elegiac “Lester,” but mostly stuck to music from the new record: the frenetic, Eastern-tinged “Raga,” Lederer’s derangement of “Don’t Blame Me,” the ballad “Beginning of a Memory,” and the title track — a free-for-all involving three special guests from the album, as well as tenor monster and ex-MWQ member Joel Frahm. While a simple beatbox loop played over the speakers, Wilson introduced “Humidity” as a specimen of “jazztronica.” Then came the zinger: “Sounds like something you go to the chiropractor for.”

Kurt Rosenwinkel Quartet — Contrary to my statement in the March column, Rosenwinkel appeared at the Village Vanguard not with Mark Turner, but rather with his regular trio mates: pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Ben Street, drummer Jeff Ballard. This was the first time I had heard Iverson away from The Bad Plus in a while, and he was astounding — playing blistering lines and extraordinarily perceptive chordal passages, balancing Rosenwinkel’s ethereal, echo-drenched sound with a solidly grounded acoustic timbre.

As for the guitarist, he has arrived at the most original sonic and harmonic concept of his generation. His playing becomes ever more expressive, his writing ever more probing and evocative. Highlights included “Our Secret World” and “Gesture,” as well as older pieces like “Cubism” and “Synthetics.” (Interestingly, Turner had a go at “Synthetics” during last month’s Vanguard run with Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier.) Hearing Rosenwinkel is like navigating through a thick fog in a small boat, never knowing what lies ahead until it’s upon you. This is no less true during his interpretations of Bill Evans’s “Turn Out the Stars” and Cole Porter’s “Get Out of Town.”

Ben Perowsky Trio — I like a Hebrew tune, how about you? On his new Tzadik release Camp Songs, drummer Ben Perowsky reaches back into his past and recovers melodies learned at Jewish summer camp in upstate New York. Joining him in this endeavor are pianist Uri Caine and bassist Drew Gress. This is in fact Caine’s trio, appearing under Perowsky’s leadership; the same lineup was on hand for an inspired set at Tonic. If you’re one of the tribe you’ll probably recognize hymns like “Adon Olam,” “Yigdal,” and “Aleinu,” even in these heady post-bop and even gospel-tinged guises. Although Caine was in exceptional form, the sound at Tonic was a bit clanky — perhaps a result of all that extra floor space since the renovation.

Michael McGinnis — He’s the “M” in RKM Music , the new label co-founded by Ravi Coltrane. Playing soprano sax exclusively, McGinnis appeared at Cornelia Street Café with his quintet Between Green, the same folks who play on his nifty CD Tangents (trumpeter Shane Endsley, pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Dave Ambrosio, drummer Mark Dodge). McGinnis’s tunes are of labyrinthine complexity, with strong and uplifting melodies and heaps of fun, positive energy issuing from the bandstand. Endsley and the leader play a fair amount of unison passages together, giving the music a classic post-bop color at times (usually when one least expects it).

Before McGinnis took the stage, altoist Michael Attias and Flugumbo turned in a strong set with Reut Regez on trombone and bass trumpet, Eric Revis on bass, and Igal Foni on drums. (Apparently the Café is beginning to shoehorn two bands into a single 9-11:30 slot — not a happy development.) This music was a bit more raw and free, with Revis and Foni lighting the way. Both Attias and Regez blew with great authority and passion. One rarely gets to hear a bass trumpeter (much less a female one). Chicagoan Ryan Shultz played the bulbous horn on Rudresh Mahanthappa’s debut CD, Yatra.

Recommended Discs:
  • Ron Miles, Laughing Barrel (Sterling Circle)
  • Jamie Begian Big Band, Trance (Ind.)
  • The Drummonds, Pas de Trois (True Life)
  • Edward Simon, The Process (Criss Cross)
  • Jessica Williams, All Alone (MaxJazz)
  • Triology & Wolfgang Muthspiel, That’s All Daisy Needs (Material)

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