August 2004

AAJ Staff By

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Tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery rushed in from an outerborough gig to lead his quintet in a CD release event at Smoke (July 8th), and had to contend with the hassle of a self-serve sound system. As a result, the first of three sets was not what it might have been, but players like trumpeter Eddie Henderson, pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Ralph Peterson can overcome just about any adverse circumstance. In fact, Escoffery and Henderson have the kind of lungs that render microphones unnecessary. (And with Peterson at the drums, that's saying something.)

Escoffery's new Nagel-Heyer release, Intuition , follows up 2001's Times Change and features Jeremy Pelt and Gerald Cannon, rather than Henderson and Glawischnig. The first Smoke set began with the title track, an advanced up-tempo blues, and continued with the modal, Rhodes-infused piece "Enduring Freedom". Escoffery then probed the darker corners of early '60s Blue Note with Wayne Shorter's "Dance Cadaverous" and Joe Henderson's "Punjab", before closing with the album's final number, the fast and high-spirited "Is This?". A tough-minded yet elegant player, Escoffery held up quite well next to the masterly Henderson, whose solos brimmed with invention. Peterson's ceaseless rhythmic boil all but ensured excitement; there was one exploding snare drum figure that had Escoffery looking literally stunned.

One can rightly complain about the Knitting Factory turning its back on jazz, but credit is due the club for hosting the New York debut of Jaga Jazzist (July 6), a cathartic, psychedelic 10-piece combo from Norway that records for the UK-based Ninja Tune label. Fronted (more or less) by the smiling, athletic drummer Martin Horntveth, the young and motley tribe crammed onto the Knit's main stage and played a smart, delirious mix of jazz, prog-rock and drum-n-bass. Apart from programmed beats here and there, everything was absolutely live. The arrangements were dizzyingly intricate, the grooves tight but spacious, the harmonies beautiful and bizarre. There were three guitarists, one also playing reeds, another vibraphone. The backline consisted of flute, trumpet, trombone and tuba. The trumpeter, Mathias Eick, also played a sturdy upright bass. The electric bassist, Even Ormestad, often plunked out low-end figures on a mini-keyboard. The keyboardist, Andreas Schei, was a textural wizard (and looked like Ashton Kutcher to boot).

Taking notes at this show felt hopelessly square, but one had to scribble a word or two about a stunning passage involving arco bass, slide guitar and low brass, and another involving five horns, vibes and keyboards, and another involving nothing but the angelic wordless vocals of all 10 members.

~ David Adler

I draw a blank when asked, "Well, who or what does he sound like?" With an inimitable deep enunciation, vocal range and projection, paced approach and unique seductive interpretational gift (usually Blues and Soul-drenched), Andy Bey is as individual a vocalist as they come. Every tremolo-filled syllable and hypnotically emphasized breath sweetly echoed through Sweet Rhythm last month (July 20th) - part of the club's Tuesday vocal series presented by singer (and AAJ-NY columnist) Tessa Souter. Intimately performing in the barest of surroundings, Bey accompanied himself at the piano for the first two numbers, "It's Only a Paper Moon" and "Brother Can You Spare a Dime", then spent a significant portion of his first set by nylon-string guitarist Paul Meyer's side, away from his notes and lyrics at the piano. Ironically, too, because "Midnight Sun" might have required at least a quick reference to sheet music with its beautiful imagery via Johnny Mercer's complex lyrics. But Bey comfortably closed his eyes and even added an effective Tuvan throat singing coda (as he did on "Lazy Afternoon")! Charlie Parker's "Cheryl" was a soaring scat improvisation incorporating quotes from "Mean to Me", "Surrey with a Fringe on Top" and "In the Evening", showing that the mid-60 year old is in top form with an instantly recognizable instrument all his own.

After 20 years, pianist Dick Hyman is stepping down as the Artistic Director for the Jazz in July series at the 92nd Street Y. So from July 19th-29th, he invited a superior cast of supporting musicians to help make his final year a memorable one, for him and for the near - if not - sold-out houses each night. The overall succinctness of the performances and especially soloists each night proved that indeed less is more, though several of the themed nights featured more than memorable first sets disjointedly connected to unexceptional second halves, e.g. "Blues After Dark" (7/21) and "If Bix Played Gershwin and Bessie Sang Berlin" (7/27). Highlights, and there were many, included The 60-some year old vocalist Carrie Smith (whose Bessie Smith was much more convincing than the more Broadway-leaning Carol Woods who sang on the above mentioned "...Bessie Sang Berlin" night); the circular breathing trumpet phenom Byron Stripling; versatile multi-reedman Scott Robinson - the "star" of the Benny Carter tribute night, "Saxophone City" (7/22) - on the cumbersome contra-bass sax as well as the light and sweet and not oft heard C-melody sax; an extended big band arrangement of Satchmo's "West End Blues" which utilized the actual recording before Hyman and co. seamlessly added a few minutes to the classic's ending (though it was a bit like adding onto a Van Gogh); Hyman's unaccompanied Bix-composed "In a Mist" which incorporated Gerswhin repertoire into a fascinating and entertaining new composition unto itself; the stride piano orgy in tribute to Fats Waller's centennial which featured stride kings Mike Lipskin, Hyman, Louis Mazetier, and Bernd Lhotsky, as well as guitarist/vocalist Marty Grosz whose Fats-inspired/Slim Gaillard-drenched lyrics made closing night especially grand, though emotionally bittersweet with Hyman handing over the baton to his successor - pianist Bill Charlap.

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene

Though trombonist Grachan Moncur's recent appearance with Jackie McLean may have been historic, it was hardly memorable. However, Moncur was involved with so many of the small group advancements in jazz in the '60s that the opportunity to hear him lead his own group at the Jazz Standard (July 8th) was irresistible. Moncur's stamina and force have undeniably decreased but the ideas are still there and moments of the set showcased his unique, more-subtle-than-ever approach to the trombone. And given that the band, pianist Noriko Kamo, guitarist Satoshi Inoue (who sounded like Grant Green from Lee Morgan's Search for the New Land), bassist Calvin Hill and drummer Ritchie Pearson, only had one rehearsal, they sounded remarkably tight. Moncur played minimally on the heads of the set's three numbers, Shorter's "Footprints", Monk's "Blue Monk" and his own "Frankenstein", instead conserving his energy for long solos. It was a rare treat to hear one of Blue Note's avant-garde '60s anthems played by its composer for the second time this year (the first with McLean and Bobby Hutcherson). While he would certainly benefit from directing the bell into the mic, he still played well enough to elicit enthusiastic approval, the energy level of the audience and his group seemingly inspiring the elder trombonist.

~ Andrey Henkin

Mulgrew Miller brought his superb trio into the Village Vanguard last month for a week of swinging straight ahead jazz. On Sunday (July 11th), the pianist kicked things off with an attractive arrangement of "If I Should Lose You", accompanied by Kariem Riggins on drums and Reuben Rogers, filling in for Derrick Hodge, on bass. The pianist followed with his own leisurely paced "When I Get There", a bluesy gospel tinged piece built on Monkish harmonies. The trio bopped hard on Duke Jordan's classic "Jordu", with Riggins trading fours and eights with the leader. Miller's ballad feature, "My Foolish Heart", displayed the pianist's expansive tone in an insightful interpretation that quoted freely from "I'm A Fool To Want You" and "My Romance". The band cranked things up for Victor Feldman's Miles Davis-famed "Joshua" with Miller vamping a phrase from Cedar Walton's "Bolivia" as Riggins climactically concluded the performance with an exciting drum solo. In a Sunday night Vanguard tradition Miller then invited several of his colleagues from the audience to join him on stage. With Duane Eubanks, trumpeter from Miller's Wingspan ensemble, stepping out front and veterans Ray Drummond and Kenny Washington on bass and drums, the spontaneously assembled quartet thrilled the crowd with an energized rendition of "You, The Night and The Music".

The Village Vanguard closed out July with a weeklong engagement by Ben Riley's Monk Legacy Septet. The band, featuring guitarist Freddie Bryant, bassist Essiet Okon Essiet, trumpeter Don Sickler, and a saxophone section of Bruce Williams (alto), Wayne Escoffery (tenor) and Jay Branford (baritone), was in full swing Wednesday July 26, negotiating Sickler's unrestrained arrangements, driven by Riley's rhythmic exhortations, with skillful abandon. Beginning with Shuffle Boil, Sickler employed an engaging formula, dividing Monk's multifaceted melodies into a succession of short phrases played by different players, often with horns or guitar riffing alternating staccato and legato backgrounds and Riley interjecting drum interludes that mimicked Monk's dancing rhythms. The method worked particularly well on Straight No Chaser, which began dramatically with a cappela horns and culminated with an extended drum solo.

Williams and Branford were featured on the melancholy ballad "Ask Me Now" and Escoffery swung mightily on "Nutty", as did Sickler, whose arranging skills shined brightly on the Latinish "Bye-Ya" and contrapuntal "Boo Boo's Birthday". Bryant's guitar joyfully imitated Monk's dissonant piano chords and idiosyncratic rhythmic runs over Essiet's stalwart walking bass on "We See". The climactic performance of "Green Chimney" incited an impromptu clapping accompaniment from the audience, which cheered loudly as the players were introduced during the playing of the break tune, "Epistrophy".

~ Russ Musto

Recommended Listening:

– Rabih Abou-Khalil - Morton's Foot (Enja-Justin Time)

– The Nels Cline Singers - The Giant Pin (Cryptogramophone)

– Steve Hancoff - The Single Petal of a Rose (Out of Time)

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

– Maria Schneider - Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare)

– Bobby Watson - Horizon Reassembled (Palmetto)

~David Adler ([email protected] Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com)

– Jeff Johnson - Near Earth (Origin)

– Jessica Jones - Nod (with Connie Crothers & Joseph Jarman) (New Artists)

– Francois Carrier - Travelling Lights (Justin Time)

– Von Freeman - The Great Divide (Premonition)

– João Gilberto - In Tokyo (Verve)

– Allison Miller - 5am Stroll (Foxhaven)

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

– Tim Berne's Big Satan - Souls Saved Hear (Thirsty Ear)

– Dreamtime (with Nick Evans & Keith Tippett) - Cathanger '86 (Hux)

– Satoko Fujii/Mark Dresser/Jim Black - Illusion Suite (Libra)

– Dennis Gonzalez Inspiration Band (with Henry Grimes) - Nile River Suite (Daagnim)

– Andrew Hill - The Day the World Stood Still (Stunt)

– Steve Lehman Quintet - Artificial Light (Fresh Sound-New Talent)

~ Bruce Gallanter (Proprietor, Downtown Music Gallery)

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