December 2007

AAJ Staff By

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Irene Schweizer at Roulette

Irene Schweizer has, most deservedly, attained the status of careerist in the last few years. While she's long been recognized by those in the know as a great pianist, she's now being lauded for setting the sort of path that makes a statement in jazz. Intakt - one of the most reliably strong labels around - was founded some 20 years ago to document her work and included her in its Portrait retrospective series in 2005 (an essential CD for anyone interested in how the modern can remain rooted in tradition). Last year, a documentary film told the story of her career, reaching back to an appearance in a 1960 talent show. And on Nov. 12th, she made a rare appearance in New York, as a part of Roulette's expanded and increasingly impressive series. She opened her brief, satisfying solo set with simultaneous notes at opposite ends of the keyboard and proceeded to roll, cascade and even boogie a bit across the octaves between, crafting a medley of miniatures with harmonious sensibility and quick turns like some fractured ragtime. Schweizer can end a 10-minute, free-wheeling improvisation with a statement of a note or two so definitive that a moment of appreciative laughter precedes the applause, not a Jaki Byard punchline but a sweetly simple, familiar anecdote. She did move inside the case to play percussively and she did slam the keyboard lid emphatically mid-piece, but those were momentary diversions; the "Oska T Monk encore summed up her spirit of making the past her own.

Matana Roberts and Wadada Leo Smith at Community Church of New York

The final concert of the New York Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians' fall season Nov. 16th was a perfect double, a smart pairing of two Chicago transplants, a decidedly worthy younger player and an older master. Altoist Matana Roberts opened the night with a suite that bore such titles as "Peace , "Will and "Desire , common enough subject matter in the jazz world but Roberts has the intelligence and conviction to deliver on such lofty themes and even to evoke Coltrane (without mimicry) in the opening. With themes shifting, sometimes quickly, between ballad, ragged funk and scattered angular out-ness played by Roberts, Shoko Nagai (piano) and Hill Greene (bass), the piece rested largely on the solid drumming of Roberts' longtime band mate Chad Taylor, who delivered a synthesia-inducing solo.

Wadada Leo Smith's set was also a single, multi-part work for his trumpet with drummer Martin Obeng and pianist and AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams, filling in for ailing pipa player Min Xiao- Fen. The piece began with a bold, repeated, three-note proclamation that opened up to variations on a fanfare, an emphatic round-robin. Titled "Mbira , the music could have been played by the thumb piano it was named for, but not with the pounding attack the trio gave it. Abrams' playing was urgent, yet fragile, ornamenting music that represented the best in Smith's compositions: delicate, deceptively simple and building into unexpected complexities.

~ Kurt Gottschalk

Gibson/Baldwin Jazz Festival at Whole Foods Market

The first annual Gibson/Baldwin Jazz Festival organized by Yashmin Charnet-Abler took place on Nov. 3rd-4th in the unusual but ultimately jazz- friendly environment of Whole Foods Market, overlooking the intersection of Houston Street and Second Avenue through a panoramic picture window. Allen Farnham's piano trio served up a fired-up soufflé of standards, including "Witchhunt , "Bolivia , "Kids Are Pretty People , "Tangerine , "Tin Tin Deo , "El Gaucho and an atmospheric original, "Days Gone By . The group vibe was as comfortable as old clothes; they probably could have played all day with no loss of luster. Sunday's festivities began with Ted Curson's Spirit of Life Ensemble (with altoist Bradford Hayes and trombonist Bob Ferrel in the frontline) with the Gentle Giant himself, Yusef Lateef, guesting on flutes. Five days short of his 87th birthday, Lateef was no slouch on the couch, playing with sweet, quavering tones that seemed to pose questions, even as they suggested answers; the crowd grew noticeably quiet in places, audibly touched by the healing spirit of this living legend. Curson and crew were full of spunk and spitfire, jamming over well- oiled classics with sophisticated abandon: Curson sang, scatted and articulated his ideas in a trumpet-ly fashion; Hayes interpolated humorous quotes ("Santa Claus is Coming to Town , "It Don't Mean a Thing , etc.) and Ferrel spun out mini-narratives in velvet legatos.


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