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Booker T. Jones, Abdullah Ibrahim, Neil Cowley, Nils Petter Molvaer, Arve Henriksen & Dave Douglas

Martin Longley By

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Brass Ecstasy allows just what its name promises: a complete tubular blowing orgy.
Booker T. Jones

Joe's Pub

June 10, 2009

Booker T. Jones, as in Booker T. & The MGs. The quite intimate Joe's Pub is sold out, not surprisingly. This Hammond B3 organ grinder is here to push his new solo disc, Potato Hole. The album features Memphis man Jones working with The Drive-By Truckers and Neil Young, exploring his rockier, bluesier potential. Jones certainly isn't favoring the slinky soul-cruising so beloved of the MGs. He cuts a sprightly, youthful figure, seated at his old wooden-paneled keyboard, Leslie speaker whirling at his side. Most of the set concentrates on the new self-penned material, but there are still some strategically-placed old classics included from the MGs repertoire. Not least the 1962 hit "Green Onions," which arrives surprisingly early in the running order. Jones also drops in "Hip Hug-Her" and "Time Is Tight." With these oldies, it's as if time has reversed by four or five decades, recalling the distinctive MGs sound.

There's a rugged vitality to the new rockier tunes, each of them bolting out to ride through their three or four minute struttings, dotted with keyboard and twin-guitar solos that make their point with a targeted purposefulness. Joined by his much younger band, Jones probably needs fresher blooded creatures to keep pace with his own chugging enthusiasm. Even though the numbers don't feature words, they often have a narrative content that Jones explains at the outset. "She Breaks" and "Potato Hole" are prime examples, while "Native New Yorker" is given a particularly hot spot. The encore is a clumping "Get Behind The Mule," the selection of this Tom Waits song underlining Booker T.'s usual good taste in cover material.

Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya

Jazz Standard

June 13, 2009

Earlier in the week, Abdullah Ibrahim gave three nights of solo piano recitals at the Jazz Standard club, to reflect the release of his similarly inclined Senzo album. This was followed by another three nights with his Ekaya ensemble, who are long-established but rarely found out on the road. At the second of these sessions, an aura of calm concentration pervades. Ibrahim can appear aloof from his audience, but this is probably just his inward-looking manner, as once the music's veil has lifted, he's beaming and projecting warmth to the fully-packed tables. He remains virtually silent for the duration, so this is not a performer who's going to appeal to folks that yearn for constant commentary, inclusiveness or even full-blown wisecracks.

The whole experience of Ibrahim's music is one of complete immersion into a spiritual realm of careful mood-painting. The horn section is specifically arrayed with the purpose of making luminous brush-strokes, purposefully building up layers of warm, enfolding sound. Their solos are ranged with equality, and each front liner is highly impressive, prompting virtually compulsory applause for each tightly focused statement. Tenor man Keith Loftis, altoist Cleave Guyton, trombonist Stafford Hunter and baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall are all suitably introverted, but also harbouring hidden furnaces, occasionally opening their white hot portals wider. Ibrahim probably spoke his piece on the piano earlier on in the week, as he feels more like the magisterial composer-figure here, his solos seeming to dissolve into the complete vista of each tune. It's the horn players that are hoisting the expressive load onto the front tables. This is music that has to be savored.

The Neil Cowley Trio

Joe's Pub

June 16, 2009

In June, a clutch of British acts beamed across the Atlantic under the banner of Made In The UK, and principally alighting on the Rochester Jazz Festival. This meant that New York became an unavoidable stop-off, so The Neil Cowley Trio turned up at Joe's Pub to play an early evening set. It seems that the captive Rochester audience was both massive and massively enthusiastic, but word of this English bunch hasn't yet spread too far around Manhattan, and their mission was to scale the upward gradient of a smallish crowd. Londoner Cowley's compositions are well-equipped for such a challenge, brimming as they are with pounding hooks, forceful forward thrust and a near-minimalist attention to repetition. The pianist also leads the threesome in a typically self-conscious, uncomfortably twitchy, absurdly English sense of humor. Its American equivalent is provided by The Bad Plus, which is convenient, as they're the main source of what could be called an influence on Cowley, with their charging-buffalo approach to melody, their snagging themes and their addition of rock or pop dynamics to the effete syncopations of jazz.

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