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Darius Jones, Mara Rosenbloom, Christian McBride, Tom Harrell & Leon Parker

Martin Longley By

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The Darius Jones Quintet/The Mara Rosenbloom Trio
Ibeam
June 13, 2016

This appealing double bill made a Monday night visit to Ibeam a certainty, even if only for a select-sized audience. This musician-orientated room in the Gowanus part of Brooklyn is completely dedicated to the activity of performance, without a bar, or snack hatch, reminiscent of The Stone in Manhattan. The stage, or rather, the far floor-corner, is surrounded with acoustic baffles that add to the excellence of this haunt, which is a converted factory space, with suitably sturdy iron door.

The Mara Rosenbloom Trio opened, with the pianist leader joined by Adam Lane (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums). Her particular approach could be defined as free blues, matching open improvisation with a rootsy series of chords, sometimes even drifting into gospel waters. Her determinist riffing piled up the visceral thrills, gradually developing a running logic, but still open to arrhythmia and open patches of pause. Her jangly looseness would always land on a sharp point of emphasis, no matter how wayward the course was becoming, resolution was always attained. Lane's singing bass and Taylor's pattering drums even made a suggestion of South African township music, another gospel variant. Rosenbloom inhabited the outer regions, but her adventures were grounded in instinctively pleasing rifflets, hints of traditional music unbound.

Alto saxophonist Darius Jones operated within a 'traditional' jazz improvisation frame, if his quintet's sonic extremities could ever be deemed 'traditional.' The works presented were penned by Jones himself, but sounded so spontaneous in their expression that surely the composer allows much free rein for his conduits. These vessels were Ben Gerstein (trombone), Jason Stein (bass clarinet), Michael Bisio (bass) and Jason Nazary (drums). The pace was extremely sluggish at first, making a very deliberate progress, all three horns strongly sustained in tandem, with a clarion call simultaneity. Stein took a blurting gobble of a solo: hoarse, charged, yelping, squealing and growling. This was followed by a spectacular 'drain-cleaning' solo by Gerstein, perversely vibrating with his trademark inserted device, which sounds like a reed, or even a leaf, buzzing with an unholy power. Then it was the leader's turn, squalling at treble topmost, developing an Albert Ayler styled chanting repeat. There were only two pieces, but it wasn't quite clear where the divide lay, and not so necessary anyway, given the heightened personalities of these artists.

Christian McBride's New Jawn
Blue Note
June 14, 2016

Bassman Christian McBride's New Jawn quartet makes reference to a Philadelphia slang term that appears to have an infinite number of interchangeable meanings. This is a new-ish, and sporadically appearing horn-led team, without a piano, which immediately makes for a harder, pushier post-bop sound. This crew slams hard, racing through their repertoire with a clambering eagerness to whip out the next solo display. This second set on the first night of their six-day Blue Note residency already found them in superb shape.

Opening with Thelonious Monk's "Raise Four," trumpeter Josh Evans jumped straight in with a flaring blaring, trumpet solo, repeatedly pausing before letting fly a fiery blast. Marcus Strickland's following tenor solo was calmer and cooler, a winning strategy when chasing a particularly extroverted statement. Nasheet Waits kept his drums rolling and detonating, as Strickland streaked in the blues, slowly heating up. McBride sent things suddenly softer with his own solo, littered with drum punctuations. Soon, he was left completely alone, making micro-slides along his strings, thrumming gently, capable of some of the most subtly detailed bass dexterity we're ever likely to witness. McBride's gestures are grander than those of mere mortals!

The second number was Larry Young's rarely aired "Obsequious," the be-bop granite continuing its slippery-skating progress, with tenor, bass and drums at full tilt. Then, the Jawn switched shape to a trumpet- led trio, slowing, amassing spaciousness, but this horn also became enraged before too long, as Waits hit out with an extremely powerful drum solo. Evans himself provided the next tune, a ballad, simply titled "Ernie Washington," closely chased by the livelier "Arboretum," penned by Tony Williams. Strickland picked up his soprano, and Evans was developing a penchant for inserting the microphone in his bell.

McBride had spotted the entrance of singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, fresh from her being awarded NEA Jazz Master status. Without much encouragement, she took to the stage, and after several minutes of prolonged hugging and kissing, she performed a magical vocal version of "All Blues," introducing some lowdown scatting, Strickland delivering a smeary, sleazy solo. It was one of those great semi-spontaneous NYC club meetings, a result of not-so-chance convergence. Bridgewater slid into the position of being an old band-mate, with very little effort, and much empathy. This magnificent set concluded with "The Good Life," by Ornette Coleman, which was only 1 min, 33 secs long in its original 1972 form. Once again, the Jawn followed a less likely path for this superbly selected songbook, funkified and elastic in its off-kilter interpretation.

The Tom Harrell Quintet
Dizzy's Club
June 16, 2016

This was the first set of the first night of four, a residency to celebrate trumpeter Tom Harrell's 70th birthday. In fact, the 16th was literally his birth date. He chose flugelhorn at first, the front line shared with saxophonist Wayne Escoffery. It took three numbers for the latter to start injecting the funk, awakening the set, with the leader, by now on trumpet, responding in kind. Johnathan Blake delivered some punctuating accents, ringing around his low-slung cymbals, his beats often arriving more from funk and rock than jazz, but working in a cross- hatched way, against the post-bop horn action. In the space of two tunes, the quintet excelled with two extremes, tiptoeing and striding in turn, before Escoffery once again flew off the handle. The ultimate result was a blend of old school jazz with a bright form of funkiness.

Leon Parker
Mezzrow
June 22, 2016

Following a lengthy 'disappearance,' the drummer Leon Parker has been sneaking back into New York clubland, at first with a few Smalls gigs, and now with this Mezzrow set, breaking that pianocentric listening room's rules by bringing out a quartet. This was, co-owner Spike Wilner thinks, the first time that the player-count had exceeded three, and usually the club features duos. This Parker band configuration was making its debut, although all four members have long playing histories with each other, in various permutations. With Gregoire Maret playing harmonica, volume was still maintained at chamber level, the other stealthy players being Kevin Hays (piano) and Sean Smith (bass). The latter provided the opening tune, "Hey Now," followed by "Please Remember Me," "End Of The Line" and "Gratitude In The Minor." This last was a sensitive ballad, slow and suspended in time, followed by a funkier, skipping examination of "Scrapple From The Apple," with enough differences to arguably gain a writing credit for Hays, re-christened "Unscrappled." Even so, it sounded pretty close to its source, but then Charlie Parker himself was an expert in variation and appropriation.

Maret drew the most applause for his solos, on a persistent basis, and by the time the second set began, their interactions were becoming further refined, to the point of being exquisite. Maret fed in the maximum quota of bleeding and bending harp-notes, then ducked out to leave a trio, eventually returning to blow directly in Parker's face, prompting a dialogue, or even a duel. This led to an extraordinary moment where Parker left his kit and strode forward, playing his chest with his palms, and scatting. Not the usual action to be found down the studied steps of Mezzrow, but piano listening room conventions are surely open to some disobedience when Parker's coming out of hiding.

Photo Credit: Dave Caputo
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