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.


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