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Brooklyn Jazz Underground: Revolution on the F Train

J Hunter By

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Some of 2009's jazz is being made far from Manhattan Island, home to a number of the genre's biggest labels. However, the revolution is also happening on the other side of the East River, where the artist collective Brooklyn Jazz Underground is making its own breaks and its own discs. BJU just released their second brace of CDs, and there's no sophomore slump to be heard anywhere.

Arthur Kell Quartet
Victoria (Live in Germany)
Brooklyn Jazz Underground

Where else but jazz would you find music inspired by a set of Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstones built in 1890? That's the genesis of "Victoria and her Sisters," the first cut on this intriguing set recorded live for broadcast in Karlsruhe and Koln, Germany, in May 2008. There's a story behind almost all of bassist Arthur Kell's compositions: "Suomo Sanni" is a third-generation take on verse by the Finnish poet Eino Leino, while the charging closer "Dada" is an ode to a charitable monk who saved the band from missing its gig in Madrid. ("Names and Spaces" can be excused for having no story, as it is improvised on the spot.) There are some exquisite solo moments on Victoria: Brad Shepik's guitar solo on "There You Go" is out to rock the soul, not the head; altoist Loren Stillman shows exemplary control on the serpentine "Draco"; and Kell's bass rings like a bell on the elegant title track. But the music's lyrical bent and the quartet's collective talent for nuance is what brings this disc home. No player is bigger than the group—or the story at hand—throughout the date, and the sense that these are stories never wanes. Victoria is groupthink used for good, and the results are very, very good.

Guilherme Monteiro
Brooklyn Jazz Underground

This Brazilian guitar virtuoso can now add "leader" to his resume with Air, a release of wondrous intimacy and infinite color. Guilherme Monteiro, a native of Rio de Janeiro, is just as comfortable playing acoustic as he is playing electric, and comfort is what it's all about: each track has a sense of peace that is both relaxing and enticing. Monteiro literally spells this out with the title of his samba-based opening track. Works like "Retrato de um Forro" (featuring a marvelous vocal by Lila Downs and "Caraiva" have the feel of tenor saxophonist Stan Getz's collaborations with Joao Gilberto, even though Jerome Sabagh's tenor lacks the broadness of Getz. But then Monteiro and his ace quartet pull out a modern jazz attitude for the grooving title track, which sounds like the precocious great-grandchild of pianist Horace Silver's "Que Pasa?" Sabagh's devilish counter on the title track is only one of his many excellent contributions; Ben Street's solo on "Longing For The Future" sounds like Jaco Pastorius playing acoustic; and drummer Jochen Ruckert provides the same sterling service he recently brought to Yotam Silberstein's Hometown (Positone, 2009). Along with playing a multitude of percussion instruments on the date, Gilmar Gomes also adds expressive vocals to his own composition "Joel." Unlike many first-time-leader discs, Air goes for the heart rather than the throat, and that was an excellent choice.

Daniel Kelly
Brooklyn Jazz Underground

Both pianist Daniel Kelly and drummer Jordan Perlson played on Joel Harrison's outrageous neo-fusion rave-up Urban Myths (HighNote, 2009), so the dark electric power of the opening "Moroccan Nutchuck" comes as no surprise. Kelly commutes between piano and Fender Rhodes to keep the piece exciting and colorful. But after that, the Rhodes makes only two more appearances—on the crushing rocker "Doppelganger" and the slam-bang closer "Canary Effect." Kelly keeps it acoustic everywhere else, though he's never far from his power center on this always surprising collection of originals. His lines are almost classical on "Obfyor," completely in contrast with Perlson and bassist Chris Tarry's wild background work; Tarry does add to the classical feel with some long, slow bowing towards the end of the track. The driving title track has elements of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays' extracurricular (i.e. non-Pat Metheny Group) collaborations, and both this track and "Anima/Animus" have a little Latin spice in their respective recipes. "July 25th" and "Song For Katherine" are both love songs, though while "July" takes a fairly traditional road, "Katherine is more of a grand day out off-road, with the sunroof open and the passion rising. Kelly isn't content with following one point on the compass—his music goes in whatever direction his muse takes him, and every trip is quite eventful and eminently worthwhile.

Tracks and Personnel

Victoria (Live in Germany)

Tracks: Victoria and her Sisters; Suomo Sammi; Papa Abba; Names and Spaces; There You Go; Dada.

Personnel: Loren Stillman: alto sax; Brad Shepik: guitar; Arthur Kell: bass; Joe Smith: drums.


Tracks: Peace; Retrato de um Forro; Cruzada; Longing for the Future; Caraiva; Joel; View from the Top of a Mountain; Air; Vento Sul; Todo o Amor do Mundo.

Personnel: Guilherme Monteiro: acoustic and electric guitars; Ben Street: acoustic bass; Jochen Ruckert: drums; Jerome Sabagh: tenor sax; Jorge Continento: pifano (2), alto flute; Gilmar Gomes: congas (2, 8), udu (2), bellshaker (6), vocals (6); Yayo Serka: cajon (2, 6), udu (2); Alan Hampton: acoustic bass (2); Lila Downs: vocals (2); Chiara Civello: vocals (7).


Tracks: Moroccan Nutchuck; Obfyor; Transience; Emerge; Anima/Animus; Doppelganger; Michelangelo's Uncarved Block; July 25th; Song for Katherine; Canary Effect.

Personnel: Daniel Kelly: piano, Fender Rhodes; Chris Tarry: bass; Jordan Perlson: drums.


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