Charlie Hunter, Marc Ribot, Eddie Palmieri / Brian Lynch, Dafnis Prieto, Billy Martin, Randy Sandke, Billy Bang, Bennie Maupin and Arturo Sandoval

Martin Longley By

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Charlie Hunter/Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog

Sullivan Hall

April 17 & 23, 2008

Before beginning his solo career, Charlie Hunter used to play guitar for The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy, an early vehicle for Michael Franti's uncompromising rap outpourings. But Hunter's ultimate destiny was to re-invent himself as a jazz artist, neatly coinciding with the rise of the jam band phenomenon and signing up to Blue Note for most of the 1990s. A mere six strings were never sufficient for Charlie. From very early in his development he's always been magnetized by the bass-note potentialities of the guitar, first extending his reach to seven strings, then eight, and lately back down to seven. It's interesting that Hunter's trio also includes keyboardist Erik Deutsch, who mostly operates in the organ zone, as Hunter long appeared to be concerned with aping a Hammond sound, using a whirring Leslie speaker in conjunction with split-output bass-treble strings.

The trio is completed by drummer Tony Mason, and Hunter's current set is perched between taut funk grooves, caustic blues distortion and even a healthy degree of post-Wes Montgomery smoothness. He's keen to please many different camps, and a gig down at Sullivan Hall, in Greenwich Village, generally tends to lead towards a melting intensity. There's something about this joint (formerly The Lion's Den) that encourages abandon, and its whomping sound system is an important element, along with a regular audience that always prefers dancing to rigid contemplation. Hunter often enters into a private zone of concentration, grimacing threateningly as he pours out another extended solo, lending equal importance to detailed picking and funky chording, often simultaneously.

Demonstrating how far the electric guitar can be bent in the name of jazz, Marc Ribot continues his all- conquering mission of mayhem with Ceramic Dog, a three-piece combo who are very much angled towards the kiln-cratered face of rock. This is the band where Ribot reminds everyone that, besides being a highly sensitive acoustic picker, he's also capable of some of the most ragingly extreme electric onslaughts, splicing tight riffing constructions onto improvisatory freak-outs. Never has a seated axeman rocked so monstrously. Drummer Ches Smith throws himself into the fray with complete trance-like abandon, whilst bassist and Moogman Shahzad Ismaily gores out his brutalist subterranean frequencies. They even encore with "(Break On Through) To The Other Side," The Doors interpreted in a typically serrated Ceramic way. It's another searing night down at Sullivan Hall...

Eddie Palmieri/Brian Lynch Project


April 24, 2008

Dafnis Prieto/Billy Martin

Merkin Hall

April 28, 2008

In the space of a few days, Cuban drummer (and now long-serving New York resident) Dafnis Prieto displayed two very different facets of his playing. First off, he was stoking behind, and often in front of, pianist Eddie Palmieri and trumpeter Brian Lynch, during their Iridium residency, pushing the contents of recent album Simpatico. The joint bandleaders have been working together for around two decades, but this is apparently the first time that they've crafted a fully-integrated (and democratic) fusion of Palmieri's signature style with a more mainline jazz vocabulary. The pianist has most of his accustomed cerebro-salsa trappings held at bay for much of the set, but Prieto is here to enforce a rotary Latin intricacy whilst Lynch spouts out glimmering clouds of golden-dusted solo motes.

Days later, Prieto is providing half of a drumming double bill at Merkin Hall, with Billy Martin, who's normally found beside John Medeski and Chris Wood. In Prieto's own work, any stylistic divisions are even harder to disentangle, but why would the listener need to perform such a task anyway? Here, he's leading the Absolute Quintet, the expected relationship between the players slightly skewed due to the presence of Dana Leong, who hops between an unlikely twin-prong of cello and trombone, thereby tipping the entire balance of the band with each change. When brutalising his cello, Leong is part bassist, part guitar soloist, performing with a crazed intensity that does much to lift the energy levels of the whole quintet. He'll be forming a violent string section with violinist Ilmar Gavilan, but switching to trombone, he'll then make an alliance with saxophonist John Beaty. These new pieces are partly inspired by the string-based danzon style of Cuba. Prieto too is a blur of expressive detail, though the Merkin acoustics are not at their best when entertaining a raucous drum set, and the entire band's volume levels are boosted way too high for the size of the hall.

Following the intermission, Billy Martin turns out to be a real crowd-clearer, which is more of a statement on the crowd than his music, though admittedly this involved a deep plunge into entirely improvised abstraction. Even though consistently interesting, Martin's set's not without its problems. Chiefly, there's a sense of frustration with the too-tidily organised showcase slots allotted to the players, with Martin, DJ Olive, laptopper Ikue Mori and cellist Okkyung Lee suffering from solo-demonstration-of-wares- syndrome. With a double bill evening in store, and limited stage-time available, there's the sense that Martin's trying to cram in too much, particularly when there are live soundtrack sections on the way, prepared for the whole quartet. The quartet's official name is IOOi (Ikue, Okkyung, Olive and, er, illyB), and they were formed in 2005, for what they thought would be a one-off gig at The Stone, John Zorn's New York joint. Martin's own demonstration is just that: not so much an unfolding musical experience as a tour around his admittedly impressive percussion surround, with equal time allotted to all his oddments. If Martin was heard blindfolded, is it possible that his solo display would sound completely different? Is the listener response governed by being able to view him dabbling with each instrument in turn? When the movie shorts begin, the pieces are necessarily more tightly governed, synched up to either treacling abstraction or quick- changing carnival action. Ultimately, it felt like a long evening, and there were many audience casualties during its course.

The Randy Sandke Trio

The Rubin Museum Of Art

April 25, 2008

These regular Harlem In The Himalayas gigs are arranged by The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, hosted downtown in Chelsea's Rubin Museum Of Art, on its Friday "open nights." Chicagoan trumpeter Randy Sandke views this as an opportunity to dominate the evening with original compositions, rather than his usual bias towards standards. This must be because he's in a gallery instead of a club. Sandke's joined by a tender twosome of pianist Ted Rosenthal and basswoman Nicki Parrott, the latter also found downstairs at the Iridium every Monday night, receiving the dry-leering attentions of Les Paul, as straight-woman to his witticisms. Tonight, she's suffering too: singing a few songs without the aid of a microphone. At the Rubin, there's an uncompromising dedication to complete acoustic performance, which makes for an exciting change to the aural surroundings. Few venues offer a total clamp-down on amplification. Parrott copes admirably, hushing her playing partners into a deep sensitivity. Sandke's puffball tone is beautifully exposed, and even though he's no avant ripper, Randy is a mainstreamer who's open to what almost approaches the experimental, or at least the enquiring. This is a rare opportunity to hear him deliver a sideways-slanted set, away from the ballads and boppers, and pretty close to impressionistic abstraction.

Billy Bang

Creole Restaurant

April 26, 2008

Veteran violinist Billy Bang possesses endless energy reserves, always priming himself for the massive delivery that he bestows on each performance. For this intimately informal Harlem eatery date, he upends the emphasis somewhat, contrasting his recent run of Vietnam vet compositions with some runaway swinging standards, mostly from the Ellington songbook. So, the repertoire oscillates between goodtime gobble'n'quaff foot-tappers and spiky, confrontational extremities, with the assembled diners managing to shift quite adeptly from intensely silent concentration mode to loudly whooping and hollering encouragements. Bang laps all of this up, being the rare combination of showman and uncompromising avant gardist, effortlessly melding what ought not to be two incompatible approaches anyway, at least in an ideal restaurant. He loves to serenade the throng, giving a totally solo violin display, part oiled, part jagged, but always beautifully exposed. Mostly, though, the quartet is jumpin,' and it's a revelation to catch Bang at such close quarters, clearly thrilled with his dominance of the entire room..!

The Bennie Maupin Ensemble

Jazz Standard

April 27, 2008

Enjoying a recent playing renaissance, in terms of both reissues and fresh material, reedsman Bennie Maupin played two nights at the Jazz Standard club, as part of its Cryptogramophone Records season. The current Maupin approach is one of regally controlled organic textures, natural and resonant, with thoughtful solos reaching out from poised arrangements. The inclusion of a vocalist is often a sweetener, under such clubland circumstances, but besides pianist Michal Tokaj, the group's Polish contingent is completed by singer Hania Chowaniec-Rybka, who seems defiantly removed from mainstream entertainment values, and indeed jazz itself. Trained in opera, she nevertheless possesses a grainy, folkloric tone, offering a mordant meditation, improvising dark tones, as if emerging from the misty hinterland of our Polish preconceptions. She makes her two songs appear completely spontaneous, and indeed, her traditional lullaby is very different in each set's manifestation. Apart from that number, the repertoire isn't duplicated, and Maupin maintains an aura of magisterial control throughout, without relinquishing an inviting sense of warmth. There's a feeling that he's now, at last, entering another peak period in his lengthy, but interrupted, career.

Arturo Sandoval


April 27, 2008

What a contrast, later that same night! It's the final set in Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval's Birdland six- night residency, and his current band is still in thrall to the bombast of a barely Latinized beat. It's many years since I last caught him in action, and the old Cuban trappings have receded even further into the keyboard dominated funk miasma. Sandoval still tears out repeated high-note solos at an impressive rate, but his band struts on the clumsy side of the street, wrestling the ears to the ground with a heavy neck- lock. The leader seems curiously ungrateful, managing to insult the crowd by telling them that they're the closest to Deadsville that he's heard all week, and that next time he's gonna miss out the Sunday slot completely. Sandoval doesn't look like he's joking. He's breaking the prime rule of live performance: never dismiss an audience for being subdued. He should be flattered that they've come out to see him in the first place. This kind of displeased attitude (seemingly held by Sandoval) tends to leave a bitter aftertaste, catching in the craw...

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