With the albums Lay Up
and Bigmouth (both on Fresh Sound), bassist Chris Lightcap
has articulated a powerful two-tenor concept with the aid of Tony Malaby, Bill McHenry and drummer Gerald Cleaver. In recent months he's added pianist Craig Taborn to this volatile mix. At Cornelia Street Café (Jan. 6th), the group did its spacious funky thing, with Mark Turner taking McHenry's place. Lightcap called several tunes from his two discs, giving Taborn the chance to color music that was previously piano-less, including the upbeat "Neptune 66 , the African-inspired "Guinbri , the deceptively simple groover "Lay-Up , the non-bluesy "Blues for Carlos and the obscure Ornette Coleman piece "I Heard It on the Radio . Taborn's lines were brisk and detailed, his chording precise but never stifling. Just as impressive was his instinct for silence, which allowed the tenors to stretch. Aside from the opening "Port-Au-Prince , the first set was devoted to newer pieces like "Silvertone , with a rock-like 6/8 drawl; "Two Face , syncopated and swinging but with an increasingly abstract beat; and "Deluxe Version , a triple-meter affair informed by Cleaver's sticks-on-rims vivacity.
Malaby and Turner voiced Lightcap's heads in appealingly sour harmony. Solo-wise, Turner was more the gradualist, building rich and multilayered statements note by note. Malaby charged ahead and drew on harsher timbres, often coaxing a similar aggressiveness from Cleaver. Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak
project used to include guitarist Fareed Haque and tabla master Samir Chatterjee. The revived group, which now features Rez Abbasi on guitar and Dan Weiss (a brilliant trap-set drummer) on tabla, had its premiere at Joe's Pub (Jan. 12th). These three have made their marks on the New York scene, approaching jazz and South Asian music from different angles. As a unit they are formidable - as one would expect - although their relationship is new and in process. Mahanthappa's hard-as-steel alto saxophone tone and brisk line playing brought jazz vocabulary and Indian double-reed timbres into scintillating contact. Abbasi began and ended the set on a sitar guitar, displaying rhythmic command on blistering single-note flights and making use of the instrument's sympathetic strings. But for the most part, he played a Guild acoustic guitar with a rounder and softer sound, well suited to the lydian pastoralism of the traditional "Hymn to Ganesha . His splashes of Western harmony lent another dimension to the music, which was predominantly pentatonic and minor in mood.
The trio's full potential was clearest during "Adana . Beginning with a lyrical melody, Mahanthappa then steered the group through a series of rhythmic pivots, while Weiss, whose tabla study increasingly informs his jazz drumming, was poised atop a platform in Lotus position, tapping away with acuity and blinding speed.
~ David R. Adler
Despite a particularly raucous East Village Friday night crowd at Detour (Jan. 6th), the premier of the quartet of guitarist John Abercrombie (always nice to hear in small venues), saxophonist Adam Kolker, bassist John Hebert and drummer Bob Meyer
was a successful one. The set contained two Abercrombie originals, one each by Hebert and Kolker and an opening volley of "Green Chimneys by Monk. If we can assign a thread to the program after the fact, the quartet presented the material in somewhat stylistically chronological order, the Monk tune leading into an untitled waltz and then some advanced Kolker post-bop. The final tunes were the set's abstractions: Hebert's "Billy No Mates , an edgy contemporary piece set up by a melancholy slow eighth note melody and the very loose feel of Abercrombie's "Stop and Go . The instrumentation gave the evening a feel akin to Wayne Shorter's later Blue Note works, particularly Super Nova and especially on "Green Chimneys when Kolker played his only soprano sax of the evening. Apart from the wide open "Stop and Go (which closed with a gritty blues segment where Abercrombie turned into Eric Clapton), the tunes followed strict structures but became particularly inventive during the group improvs after the theme restatements. Rarely did the music become quiet and introspective but that was no surprise given the short attention span of the audience.
Another quartet that had its premier last month was that of bassist Ben Allison
at 55Bar (Jan. 16th). For the ensemble, he brought together the not-often used front line of guitar (Steve Cardenas) and trumpet (the under-noticed Ron Horton), drummer Mike Sarin joining him in the 'rhythm section'. Though the format might have been uncommon, it fit Allison's compositional ideas perfectly, the textures and tones of the guitar and trumpet able to vary widely and adapt themselves readily to the wide stylistic range inherent in Allison's writing. The material was some older tunes mixed with newer pieces, most likely to appear on the this quartet's upcoming album for Palmetto. "Tricky Dick was redolent of reggae while "Weazy was a cheerfully hokey modern rag. "Emergency , perhaps inspired by the album by Tony Williams' Lifetime, was a bruising '70s arena rock workout with clunking rhythms. This was followed up by the sole cover of the evening - the theme to Midnight Cowboy by John Barry, a loping Western ballad that included a lovely trumpet/guitar duet interlude. "Hey Man was inspired not only by Charlie Haden's West Coast greeting but also his signature motif of lilting melody over minimal quiet groove. The final selection was a new arrangement of "Blabbermouth (from Allison's 1998 album with his Medicine Wheel Band with Horton), which found the band moving from the cinematic intro to a funk segment into spacy dissonance.
~ Andrey Henkin
The E.J. Strickland
Project arrived at BAM Café (Jan. 7th) for an excellent set that balanced energy with control, intelligence with soul. Along with E.J. on drums, the Project featured his twin brother Marcus (tenor and soprano saxophones), Myron Walden (alto sax), Lage Lund (guitar) and Ugonna Okegwo (bass), while joining them on vocals was the young singer Charenee Wade. E.J.'s contemporary-flavored "Praise Song for Marcus inspired a soulful soprano solo from Marcus over the piece's ever-upward chord progression. On the group's cover of the Ellington-Strayhorn tune "Daydream , Wade introduced the packed audience to her powerful and beautiful voice, which was strong when plunging deep and smooth when reaching high. E.J. prefaced his composition "Lydian Fantasies by proposing that one's "compositional flaws - the tendency to depend on something too much - was a sign that the flaw was actually integral to one's voice. The piece's angular and quirky melody was fitting given its title, with E.J. at his most animated as he propelled Marcus' searching tenor solo. The night's second cover was Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky , where E.J. showed great sensitivity on the drums, picking up on the emotional crescendo of Walden's alto solo, spurring him on while anticipating (but not announcing) the solo's denouement, which gave way to a flirtatious exchange between Wade's vocals and Walden's alto.
Later in the month, in front of a cramped audience at 55Bar, guitarist Lage Lund
moved from background to foreground to front his own quartet, featuring Geoffrey Keezer on Fender Rhodes, Matt Clohesy on bass and Ari Hoenig on drums (Jan. 17th). Contrary to the ponderousness (albeit tongue-in-cheek) announced by a tune titled "Incredibly Profound Song , each member of the quartet seemed to be having fun with Lund's composition and its constantly changing chords and heavily accented off-beats. Lund's good dose of reverb and Keezer's quavering keyboard tones created a spacey feel at times, but the group always returned at a moment's notice to hit the accented kicks and Lund's solo progressed from hesitant, short phrases to long cascading lines. Thelonious Monk's "Eronel swung well but didn't take off until Hoenig's extended drum solo elicited laughs of astonishment from audience and band members alike.
Lund seemed most at home during an original ballad in 4/4, with a three-note theme sequenced upward and shimmering harmonies taken at measured pace. His solo relaxed into a series of assured and assertive statements, while also finding the most flowing groove of the set, too. The guitarist's original "Vonnegut closed the set, a two-part composition moving from anxious to serene and featuring a heated solo by Will Vinson sitting in on soprano sax.
~ Brian Lonergan Ravi Coltrane
got this year's IAJE Conference off to a strong start with a rousing concert (Jan. 11th). The saxophonist came out blowing hard on Ralph Alessi's "One Wheeler Will , wielding his tenor with characteristic uncompromising strength, driven by E. J. Strickland's powerful drumming. Luis Perdomo followed with a thoughtful piano solo that first contrasted and then reignited the group's energy level. The band segued seamlessly into the leader's "For Zoë , a modal piece reminiscent of John Coltrane's "Wise One , featuring the impeccable intonation of Drew Gress' arco bass and Strickland's malleted toms laying down a soft bottom, on top of which Coltrane and Perdomo played masterful solos.
Coltrane switched to soprano for his original "Coincide , which began as a duet with Strickland, who used his cowbell to set up the Latin groove. Perdomo joined in, beginning with Jarrett-ish introspection over Gress' prominent bass line before forging straight ahead. Coltrane dug in, after a Gress solo, weaving long intricate lines out of the pretty melody, displaying a bell-like tone on the straight horn. He switched back to tenor for Gress' "Away , snapping off a brisk ballad tempo that gradually built in intensity. Perdomo laid out for most of the saxophonist's intense solo, saving his energy for his own impressive outing, following which Coltrane introduced the trio to the appreciative crowd, before blowing a warm flowing out chorus.
Young brassmen Maurice Brown and Sean Jones
went toe-to-toe in an old fashioned after hours "Night of the Cookers session at Sweet Rhythm (Jan. 12th), that was an exciting testament to the enduring vitality of the hard bop idiom. Joining an allstar ensemble featuring Donald Harrison, Mulgrew Miller, Nat Reeves and Louis Hayes, with special guest Steve Nelson, the two trumpeters traded incendiary solos in an electrifying set, the likes of which has not been heard since the days when Art Blakey regularly held court in the room. Harrison stomped off "Confirmation to start the second show and after the altoist and Nelson set the blistering pace, Jones weighed in with a mature articulate solo, followed by Brown, who played with his typical exuberance. Throughout the number Miller, Reeves and Hayes relentlessly prodded the soloists to extreme heights.
After a short 'conference', Miller and Nelson played the opening call-and-response melody of "Moanin' and Harrison was off to the races again, with Hayes playing the classic Blakey shuffle rhythm. The horns riffed hotly behind Nelson's solo, before Jones stepped out front blowing sweet and low. Brown followed, screaming and growling on his horn. On the set's ballad, "Misty , he showed that he was also capable of tastefully restrained emotion. The set ended just after 3 am with an up-tempo rendition of "Oleo on which everyone burned through the changes on top of Hayes' "Blues March -ing rhythm.
~Russ Musto Recommended New Releases
· Omer Avital - Asking No Permission: The Smalls Years Vol. One (Smalls)
· Bill Frisell - Further East/Further West (billfrisell.com)
· Sam Rivers/Ben Street/Kresten Osgood - Violet Violets (Stunt)
· Gregory Tardy - The Truth (SteepleChase)
· Assif Tsahar/Cooper-Moore/Hamid Drake - Lost Brother (Hopscotch)
· Mary Lou Williams Collective - Zodiac Suite Revisited (Mary Records)
~David Adler, NY@Night Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com
· Omer Avital - Asking No Permission: The Smalls Years Vol. One (Smalls)