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August 2005

AAJ Staff By

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In a glass-enclosed second-floor atrium at Scandinavia House (Jul. 6th), bassist Eivind Opsvik did his best to rise above loud conversations fueled by flowing drinks. The bandmates - Tony Malaby on tenor, Jacob Sacks on keyboard and Gerald Cleaver on drums - have played on one or both of Opsvik's superior Fresh Sound-New Talent discs, Overseas and Overseas II. So the lines of communication were open and buzzing and a core group of attentive listeners reaped the benefits. Sacks' faux-Rhodes sound did not limit him, although he could only hint at the multilayered keyboard textures favored by Opsvik in the studio. But at one highly abstract moment he managed to approximate a celeste, creating tangles of harmony with crossed hands. Cleaver found malleability in some of Opsvik's easygoing straight-eighth tempos, reaching grand and spontaneous heights behind Malaby's solo on the opening "Prelude . Opsvik followed an untitled ballad with a sturdy bass intro to "Kraftpakke , a dense free-funk episode that segued into the off-kilter rubato piece "Ah! Aground Again . With "Still the Tiger Town and "Italian Movie Theme , one could take the full measure of Opsvik's lyrical sense, his taste for unpredictable endings and his band's ability to weave complex counterpoint on the fly.

Bud Shank, the underappreciated alto sax veteran, projected a kind, humble presence at Iridium (Jul. 7th) with the Bill Mays Trio (Mays on piano, Martin Wind on bass, Tim Horner on drums). Bebop being Shank's native tongue, he launched into "Bouncing With Bud to begin the first set of his three-night run. (The same tune leads off Bouncing With Bud and Phil, the new Capri release featuring Shank with Phil Woods.) Shank's tone was bright yet warm and his pitch veered provocatively sharp on sustained notes. Mays' solos were more rhythmically in-the-pocket and harmonically on the edge, yet never less than surefooted. The set was organized along fairly predictable lines, but the electricity was on. "Gemma's Eyes , a lyrical waltz by Mays, preceded a medium-up "The Touch of Your Lips and a Shank-penned tribute to the late Artie Shaw titled "Starduster . Shank credited Shaw as a life-changing inspiration back in the '30s, but on "Laura , played with a light swing bounce, the altoist's debt to Charlie Parker couldn't have been clearer. Wind's witty bass solo had Mays and Shank exchanging knowing grins. Another Shank original, "Carousels , closed the set in an upbeat samba feel; Mays and Wind united for a poignant though fleeting duo passage.

~ David Adler

In celebration of his 25th birthday, the young but mature and much-in-demand drummer Tyshawn Sorey was booked at various NYC venues throughout July. Performing with numerous projects including his newly formed and impressive Obliquity at Zebulon, The Stone and CB's Lounge series, the group's enthusiastically received official "maiden voyage was at Barbès (Jul. 6th). The leader's multi-rhythmic playfulness swirled circular patterns on sticks and mallets around his quartet of Loren Stillman (alto), Carlo De Rosa (bass) and Russ Lossing (Roland piano). The collective reveled in an organic momentum, instinctively focusing on the interaction of all possible instrumental combinations with Sorey and De Rosa in particular moving as one on top of each tune's various meters with intuitive frequency.

Quickly having become a proven composer in addition to his work behind the kit (and piano), Sorey has undoubtedly become one of the new generation's brightest lights. Monk's "Bemsha Swing , the only non-Sorey composition performed during the course of the single set, incorporated intriguing "In A Silent Way ringing notes and backing chords courtesy of Lossing who uniquely fit the meditative patterns into the context of the rendition (the group's as-successful performance at The Stone later in the month offered a totally different dynamic with Lossing playing the club's grand piano and the addition of guitarist Ryan Clackner).

The last night of June was the first in a special 3-night engagement by Toshiko Akiyoshi. Not leading her big band - a three decade-old commitment put aside - she instead focused on her own playing as one of today's great Bud Powell-mentored practitioners. Returning to her first love, she comfortably sat at the Bösendorfer grand at Birdland with a sense of pride, having the spacious bandstand to herself and two accompanists (bassist Paul Gill and drummer Mark Taylor) rather than having to share it with the orchestra with which she was a club resident. The momentous false endings on her opening five-decade old original "Elegy set the tone, though one need listen no further than her rendition of Powell's ever-challenging "Tempus Fugit - the jazz equivalent of Paganini's caprices for violin; Akiyoshi's chops haven't atrophied in the slightest. Flying through the ultra-fast tempo gracefully yet aggressively, the pianist noticeably kicked her feet up on several occasions. Her complex rendition of Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady layered melodic variations of the familiar theme, while her version of Oscar Pettiford's "Swingin' Till the Girls Come Home was patiently executed, transforming the typically up-tempo tune into a comfortably executed 12-bar blues ballad. A memorable occasion, Akiyoshi additionally gave anecdotes between each piece performed.

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene

Fusion may be the most maligned music to ever come out of the jazz tradition but that does not preclude it from being significant enough to be canonized. For three days at The Cutting Room in mid July, the Mahavishnu Project (MP) paid homage to what was arguably the most influential band to come out of Miles' electric projects. And what better endorsement of what the MP does than the attendance during the festival of John McLaughlin, Jan Hammer and Rick Laird. Each night was thematic, with the first being an all request show (via email), the second all acoustic and the third comprised mostly of the complete Inner Mounting Flame album. The opening night (Jul. 13th, with McLaughlin sitting up close with a huge grin throughout) was drummer and leader Gregg Bendian's birthday and featured material from the first three albums, particularly Birds of Fire. Of particular note were a wonderfully sinuous version of the intricate "Trilogy and an extended medley of "Open Country Joy and "Noonward Race . What was so special about the original Mahavishnu Orchestra was the fire that McLaughlin brought in spirit and composing. Bendian's almost lifelong enthusiasm for this music is a good substitute and he is an accomplished enough drummer to double those complex melodic lines just like Billy Cobham used to do.

The stage at the Knitting Factory could barely contain the panoply of percussion instruments wielded at the Cyro Baptista Beat the Donkey show last month (Jul. 16th). And when the tap-dancing, percussive table tennis and full drum line was added, the music overflowed into the audience. Currently a nonet with Brazilian drummer Baptista at the helm, they take elements of things done previously by the Sun Ra Arkestra, late '60s Santana, the Willem Breuker Kollektief, Tito Puente, Babatunde Olatunji's Drums of Passion, your local high school marching band and the Big Apple Circus and blend them seamlessly as performance art for marvelously visceral music. Sure it's shticky at points and some might shy away from its choreographed nature but the beats are infectious and the humor and passion genuine. Cyro Baptista, a drummer of the same ilk (both as a talent and as an entertainer) as Han Bennink, keeps everything moving according to some bizarre plan one performance cannot begin to elucidate. What is indisputable is that this band, debuted on the same stage a few years back, is utterly unique and needs to be seen live. With so many percussive traditions evident throughout the 90 minutes, Beat the Donkey is maybe a stew, a goulash, a gumbo, paella or a stir-fry but it sure is delicious!

~ Andrey Henkin

Jazz at Lincoln Center's July "Latin In Manhattan mini-festival opened up with a weeklong tribute to Tito Puente by the Hilton Ruiz Latin Jazz Ensemble featuring conguero Chembo Corniel, bassist Leon Dorsey, drummer Sylvia Cuenca and the distinctive horn section of trumpeter Lew Soloff, altoist "Sweet Sue Terry and tenor saxophonist/flutist Lew Tabackin. The group began the week's final set on Sunday, July 17th with the powerfully melodic "New Arrival , a composition by the leader dating back to his '70s debut album. The horns wailed over the smoking rhythm section, soloing with inspired abandon, with Terry in particular impressing her veteran colleagues. Ruiz' solo was a model of measured construction, beginning tranquilly and gradually building in intensity until the pianist's incredible virtuosity had the audience screaming in amazement before the horns returned to the melody to introduce a Chembo conga solo that ended the piece. Terry was featured on a bluesy original that began with her recitation "Red Haired Kid and included a lengthy acappella passage showcasing her formidable technique. Tabackin stepped into the spotlight for an impassioned reading of "You Don't Know What Love Is , strutting from one end of the stage to the other, from playing for the bar to finishing at Ruiz' side near the piano. The set concluded with the full ensemble returning for the soulful Ruiz original, "Sweet Cherry Pie .

The versatile percussionist Steve Kroon returned to Sweet Rhythm July 14th-15th with his sextet, featuring tenor saxophonist/flutist Craig Rivers, vibraphonist James Ship, pianist Robert Rodriguez, bass guitarist Ron Monroe and drummer Adam Weber, for some satisfying Latin jazz. The band began their final set Friday with "Spring , a luminous song from Spanish Harlem Orchestra leader Oscar Hernandez that showcased Rivers' flute and Ship's vibes propelled by Kroon's congas. The group opened "Sugar by clapping out Brazilian rhythms with their hands before picking up tambourines, bells and shakers on a prelude that led into the funky George Duke samba that featured Rivers' tenor and the leader on an arsenal of percussion instruments. Kroon dedicated his "For The Ancestors to the recently departed Luther Vandross - with whom the percussionist performed for many years - beginning the piece with a dramatic bass-percussion duo that featured the leader's cajon and ending with a powerful conga solo delivered over Rodriguez' vamping piano. All the band's members shined on Bobby Francheshini's "Belly Button , an enjoyable piece from the Senor Kroon CD with a pretty melody delivered by Rivers on tenor. The set ended with a new Kroon tune, "Bobo's Blues , a straight ahead Latin jazz outing on rhythm changes dedicated to the great Willie Bobo. - Russ Musto

Recommended New Releases:

· Benoit Delbecq - Phonetics (Songlines)

· Fieldwork - Simulated Progress (Pi)

· Roger Kellaway Trio - Remembering Bobby Darin (IPO)

· John Lindberg - Winter Birds (Between The Lines/Double Moon)

· MeShell Ndegeocello - Dance of the Infidel (Shanachie)

· John Tchicai et al. - Big Chief Dreaming (Soul Note)

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

· Dizzy Gillespie/Charlie Parker - Town Hall, NYC June 22, 1945 (Uptown)

· Hot Club of San Francisco - Postcards from Gypsyland (Lost Wax)

· Ramon Lopez/Flowers Trio - Flowers of Peace (Leo)

· Bobby Matos - Acknowledgement (Lifeforce Jazz)

· Bucky Pizzarelli/Frank Vignola - Moonglow (Hyena)

· Sonny Simmons - The Traveller (Jazzaway)

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

· Billy Bang - Vietnam Reflections (Justin Time)

· Curtis Clark - Dreams Deferred (Nimbus)

· John Lindberg - Winter Birds (Between The Lines/Double Moon)

· Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble - Hope, Future, & Destiny (Dreamtime)

· Roscoe Mitchell - Turn (Rogue Art)

· Wadada Leo Smith/Walter Quintus/Katya Quintus/Miroslav Tadic/Mark Nauseef - Snakish (Leo)

~ Bruce Gallanter (Proprietor, Downtown Music Gallery)

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