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December 2006

AAJ Staff By

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Matthew Shipp at The Kitchen

Sun Ra famously held that "space is the place and Matthew Shipp ran with the idea at The Kitchen (Nov. 11th), where he premiered a work called "Sacred Geometry."

Inspired by the idea of an alien creating crop circles, the hour-long piece featured Shipp on piano with Mat Maneri on viola, Okkyung Lee on cello and Michael Bisio on double bass. It was remarkably well-conceived and performed, with the setting—a small black-box theater with superb acoustics located in the furthest reaches of Chelsea— perfectly suiting the mood and makeup of the ensemble. The piece moved through a sequence of fleeting and fragmentary yet tightly-orchestrated themes, strung together by episodes of dynamic and varied improvisation. The transitions were stark, challenging and seamlessly executed.

Shipp paired off the players in unpredictable ways, giving each an unaccompanied turn. In one exchange, Maneri left his seat and walked to the piano, playing slippery lines over a series of chord clusters that Shipp allowed to ring and decay. In another, Maneri and Lee looped a fast unison figure for two hypnotic minutes and then, with no visible cue, stopped together on a dime.

The harmonic language was ceaselessly dark and complex, the textures alternately coarse and mellifluous. Shipp moved from lingering blue tone colors to free flows of energy, his fingers slipping off the keys as though someone were pulling backwards at his elbows.

Julius Hemphill at Miller Theater

The Julius Hemphill Composer Portraits concert at Miller Theatre (Nov. 9) involved an array of vivid contrasts, aptly representing the late Hemphill's enduring vision and omnivorous tastes.

Steered along by the veteran reedist Marty Ehrlich (who was a member of Hemphill's '90s sextet and continues as its musical director), the evening included nine pieces for saxophone sextet, featuring Ehrlich mainly on soprano, Matana Roberts and Andy Laster on altos (Roberts doubled beautifully on clarinet), JD Parran and Andrew White on tenors and Alex Harding on rip-roaring baritone.

Hemphill's chamber music, ably executed by the ETHEL string quartet and virtuoso pianist Ursula Oppens, formed the second aesthetic leg of the program. The third leg, replicating the instrumentation from Hemphill's influential 1972 album Dogon A.D., found Ehrlich on winds, Baikida Carroll (from the original recording) on trumpet, Erik Friedlander on amplified cello and Pheeroan akLaff on drums.

This was a feast, a bold mix of European and African-American sound worlds. With Oppens, ETHEL worked the dense fabric of "One Atmosphere and returned to play a Hemphill-orchestrated Mingus mélange.

The quartet excelled with "The Painter," blending flute, muted trumpet and brushes, after which the sextet, wrapping up with "The Hard Blues," commenced to parade around the hall, entire cast in tow.

~ David R. Adler

George Lewis at The Stone

With each passing season in 2006, veteran improviser George Lewis proved once and again that, after years of solipsistic, academic exercises, he is now prepared to make engaging, fascinating music with his laptop, setting aside the hypothesizing of a decade or so of his Voyager experiments. In quartet with Ikue Mori, Miya Masaoka and Marina Rosenfeld at The Stone on Nov. 7th, he configured the pieces, then became witness to their deconstruction in an improvised performance that was fluid, evocative and at times downright musical.

Turntablist Rosenfeld and electronicist Mori were essentially percussion players, the former fascinated with the pops that reside between the grooves and the latter working with drum machine patches on her laptop, so Lewis' trombone and Masaoka's koto were the only accoustic—or chromatic, even—instruments. Still, it was a good 20 minutes before either of them used their instruments as more than sound triggers, though even from their laptops, Lewis and Masaoka were often able to elicit harmonic sounds.

A second piece was started by Mori and Rosenfeld, more musically this time, perhaps in sympathy with the instrumentalistic climax of the previous improvisation. Rosenfeld worked and reworked a tiny section of a record, more than a skip but not enough to speak its name.

Lewis is a remarkable trombonist, making it all the more surprising to see him use it so sparingly. But in the end, his approach was not a detriment, and he clearly enjoyed himself. In fact, after the lights were up and the audience chattering, it was he who called for the encore.

Bob Dylan at Avery Fisher Hall

Bob Dylan is everywhere suddenly. Besides a new album and tour, he's the subject of an exhibit at The Morgan Library and a mercifully-closing Broadway production. And on Nov. 9th at Avery Fisher Hall, he was given full-tribute treatment in a benefit organized by Knitting Factory founder Michael Dorf, board member for Music for Youth (a charity providing instruments to young people in low-income areas).

In the midst of the names-to-be-expected—Patti Smith, Al Kooper, Ramblin' Jack Elliot—and a mess of pop singers, there were a few surprises. Jamie Saft, who recently released a disc of Dylan songs on Tzadik, played a great take on "Ballad of a Thin Man, with bassist Greg Cohen and Dan Rieser (subbing for Ben Perowsky) on drums. On the album, Mike Patton gives a sneering, creepy turn to the lyrics, but at Lincoln Center they performed the piece as an instrumental, with Saft playing big, blocky chords for the only non-vocal take of the night.

Medeski, Martin and Wood served as support for bassist Chris' brother Oliver Wood (The Wood Brothers also have a recent disc on Blue Note) on a tight, back-porch rendition of "Buckets of Rain," and New Orleans native Allen Toussaint took a turn at the piano for "Mama You've Been On My Mind."

But it was hiphop crew The Roots who got the biggest reception and showed the most imaginative flare with a round of surprises in their "Masters of War." Dylan, even in absentia, showed himself to be as timely as ever.

~ Kurt Gottschalk

The Sounds of South Africa, New York City Center

At NY City Center on Nov. 16th, National Geographic Traveler presented a concert entitled The Sounds of South Africa. As with any country, such a concept will lead to a very broad range of performers. In the case of this evening, the country once ravaged by Apartheid but now a "model" of democracy on the continent was represented by pop chanteuse Khanyo, backed by the Soweto String Quartet, pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, and trumpeter Hugh Masakela's All-Stars.

While Khanyo and Masakela were expectedly jubilant and upbeat, Ibrahim, once known as Dollar Brand, gave a half-hour recital redolent of the dignity and reflection of the South African people. Following the model he has used over the last few years, Ibrahim's set was a seamless medley of many of his themes. But rather than presenting them as discrete pieces, he wove them together into an opaque tapestry, spending a few moments on a melody, moving away into rumbling improvisation, revisiting it, moving away once more into other tunes, which were themselves revisited.

Throughout, Ibrahim's steady left hand laid down simple yet enthralling airs, embellished by surprisingly florid right-hand runs that at times veered into atonality. Ibrahim leading a trio is a marvelous thing in itself, but his playing unaccompanied is remarkably lovely and stirring, perhaps too emotive for an audience wanting to dance, but just enough for those who wished to be transported.

Andrew Hill at Merkin Hall

Merkin Hall's Reissue: Classic Recordings Live series is, in and of itself, a good idea. Jazz is a music of albums which define genres, eras, careers. For its second installment (Nov. 14th), the concept was tweaked slightly; rather than a modern performer interpreting a hallowed disc by a dead legend, pianist Andrew Hill, very much alive though visibly ailing, presented music from the 2003 Blue Note release Passing Ships, a "found" session from 1969.

On hand was only one original participant besides Hill: Howard Johnson on bass clarinet and tuba (though at least four others are still living). The group—John Hebert (bass), Eric McPherson (drums), Mark Taylor (French horn), Ron Horton and Keyon Harrold (trumpets), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), Johnson and JD Parran (reeds/winds)—acquitted itself well on four tunes from the album: "Noon Tide," "Passing Ships," "Plantation Bag and "Sideways."

Hill had to rewrite the music from the album for the performance (its first ever live playing) and the younger players in the band had heavy shoes to fill, particularly Parran in the Joe Farrell role (who pretty much made the original). But on the new tune "On Step...," whatever hesitation there was with the older material disappeared and the modern Hill shined.

For all the hype surrounding the release of the album and now this recital, the evening's most riveting moments came with Hill leading his trio and during a brief solo encore. He defines the forward-looking musician.

~ Andrey Henkin

Eddie Palmieri at The Hostos Center

Eddie Palmieri, the Sun of Latin Music and a son of the Bronx, returned to the borough for a concert at the Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture with his Latin Jazz Octet (Nov. 11th). The band, featuring Brian Lynch on trumpet, Craig Handy on tenor, Conrad Herwig on trombone and Luques Curtis on bass, with percussionists José Claussell, Johnny Rivero and Orlando Vega, began their set with Palmieri's hot arrangement of "In Walked Bud," playing the Monk melody over the driving Afro-Cuban rhythms set by Claussell's timbales and Vega's cowbell.

Handy had the first solo, taking the music a bit outside, followed by the powerfully rhythmic Lynch and fleet Herwig, before Palmieri let loose with a bluesy two-handed solo replete with countermelodies and chordal clusters.

The rest of the evening was devoted to the pianist's own compositions, beginning with a solo rendition of his beautiful "Slow Visor," leading into the band's funky outing on "Don't Stop The Train, which included a soaring Lynch solo that had the legendary Cuban trumpeter Chocolate nodding approval from his front row seat.

Palmieri's "Bolero Dos featured the horns and his rhapsodic piano with Vega's bongo in a more relaxed setting before things heated up again with versions of "Picarillo and "Palmas that had the horns and percussion burning up the stage with plenty of help from the incendiary pianist. The set ended with a comparsa encore—a showcase for Rivero's congas that had audience members dancing in the aisles.

Marilyn at Roth's Steakhouse

The singer Marilyn brought her show uptown to Roth's Steakhouse on the Upper West Side for a night of swinging standards (Nov. 11th). Accompanied by the superb downtown trio of guitarist Saul Rubin, bassist Pat O'Leary and drummer Frank Levatino, the vivacious vocalist began her second set of the evening with a strong straight-ahead reading of "You Do Something To Me," on which the group was joined by the fine Canadian alto saxophonist Josh Benko blowing boppishly over the changes.

The band continued with a Latinish arrangement of "Love For Sale," Marilyn daringly dancing around the well known words with wit and wisdom and Rubin soloing with thick, rhythmically- pronounced chords that revealed him to be one of the finest guitarists on the scene today. On "Detour Ahead the singer worked the lyric with a sense of aching wonderment that had the crowd in rapt attention, while on "I Wish I Knew she sang with the gritty confidence of a seasoned storyteller, this time leaving the audience roaring with approval.

Rubin opened "Never Let Me Go with a stirring chorus over Leary's plush bass and Levatino's whisking brushes before Marilyn delivered the lyric in a smoky midrange that contrasted with the ensuing bright guitar solo. The set concluded with an exciting rendition of "Old Devil Moon," Marilyn singing with contagious abandon and sharing the honors with her band, each member soloing with a keen attentiveness seldom seen on a singer's stage.

~ Russ Musto

Recommended New Listening:

· Hank Jones/Christian McBride/Jimmy Cobb—West of 5th (Chesky)

· Rob Reddy's Gift Horse—A Hundred Jumping Devils (Reddy Music)

· Wadada Leo Smith/Adam Rudolph—Compassion (Meta)

· Dan Weiss Trio—Now Yes When (Tone of a Pitch)

· Wilkerson/Mitchell/Bankhead/Ra—Frequency (Thrill Jockey)

· Anthony Wilson Nonet—Power of Nine (Groove Note)

~ David Adler, [email protected] Columnist

· Dave Burrell—Momentum (High Two)

· Mark Helias' Open Loose—Atomic Clock(Radio Legs Music)

· Michael Herring's Vertigo—Coniferous Revenge (feat. David Binney) (s/r)

· Karin Krog/Steve Kuhn—Together Again (Grappa)

· Frank Rosolino—The Last Recording (Sea Breeze)

· Alexander von Schlippenbach—Twelve Tone Tales, Vol.I & II (piano solo) (Intakt)

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene, Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York

· Rez Abbasi—Bazaar (Zoho)

· Dave Burrell—Momentum (High Two)

· Uri Caine/John Zorn: Moloch: Book of Angels, Volume 6 (Tzadik)

· Paul Dunmall/Peter Brandt/Tony Marsh—Deep Well (FMR)

· FME—Montage (Okka Disk)

· Dan Weiss Trio—Now Yes When (Tone of a Pitch)

~ Bruce Gallanter, Proprietor, Downtown Music Gallery

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