The Lower East Side's Issue Project Room hosted Elliott Sharp
's premier solo acoustic guitar performance project of Thelonious Monk compositions on Dec. 10th. One of few guitar players devoted to helping free the instrument from respective genre-related gimmicks and listener expectations, Sharp slyly presented Monk themes by either taking the liberty to venture from any semblance of the original or by frequently returning to Monk's musical and compositional stamps. Even Sharp's complex and usually inaccessible eccentricities were reeled in by Monk's immediately recognizable tunes long enough to give listeners something to grasp onto, using the themes either as a foundation in "Bemsha Swing", or springboard as in "Epistrophy". The familiar theme of the former was given a bluesy acoustic finger-picked treatment utilizing Sharp's characteristic experimentalist touch. Sharp's unorthodox two-handed techniques through "Epistrophy" transformed the guitar into a percussive instrument, while the extended Monk medley ("Round Midnight"-"Misterioso"-"Nutty"-"Well, You Needn't") featured introductory bent string single-notes resulting in twisted reverberations. The patiently executed opening summoned firefly-like sparks and resonated with mood-inducing overtones from Sharp's strings courtesy of his EBow oscillator gadget. Sharp proves that Monk was one of jazz' greatest experimentalists and that his work continues to spur on unique interpretations, and not only by pianists.
Pianist Cyrus Chestnut
's trio of Michael Hawkins (bass) and Neal Smith (drums) played to two week's-worth of sold-out crowds at the new Dizzy's Club to wind down the end of one year and the beginning of the next, the latter of the two featuring legendary alto player Frank Morgan and trumpeter Marcus Printup. On Dec.29th, the trio opened the first set (sans horns) with a blistering display of virtuosity through the standard, "East of the Sun" and a ballad drenched in blues, particularly from the leader who revealed a perhaps not-so obvious influence in Bud Powell, while the trio performed as a single moving unit, doing away with solos, each member helping to push the music forward without drawing too much attention to themselves. Hawkins and Smith showed enough creativity not to have to resort to being mere backdrops to the leader (the billing should certainly have had their names listed but was instead the "Cyrus Chestnut Trio" strangely).
Smith - who recently and simultaneously released his first 2 CDs as leader - particularly shined on "Lighthearted Intelligence", taking an unaccompanied drum solo that showed an energetic drive and colorful pallet of sounds and rhythms, both on brushes and sticks. After the fourth number, a piano solo feature, Morgan and Printup arrived onstage, creating a swinging quintet in the vein of the club's namesake and the many historic trumpet/alto pairings both Dizzy and Morgan have participated. Morgan, a "storyteller" (in Cyrus' words), delivered a timeless tone on alto, taking one's ears back to the roots of bebop and cool. Along with Chestnut, he sang the blues via his horn on "Prelude to a Kiss", an extraordinary and emotional performance. You knew you were witnessing one of the horn's true living greats with but the first note he carefully blew with intentional fragility and breath. The quintet ended the evening with a rendition of the classic "Lover" which began as a Hawkins-Morgan duo before morphing into a piano-less quintet, then a trumpet quartet (sans Morgan), providing for a multi-textural interpretation and performance soaked in spontaneity, true to the art form - not to mention the spirit - of jazz.
~ Laurence Donohue-Greene
Though the draw of a piano trio is most usually the ivory-tickler, the success of the group is dependent on the rhythm section. For years, McCoy Tyner had a trio with two younger players whose best characteristic was their deference to Tyner, leading to tepid music. Tyner then replaced them with George Mraz and Al Foster and regained a large measure of his bombast. At the Blue Note Dec 12th, another change was afoot - Tyner in tow with two legendary fusioneers, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Billy Cobham. I went for the novelty but most of the exuberant crowd came more for Mahavishnu and Return to Forever memories than to hear Coltrane's longtime pianist. The results were mixed. Given the fusion model of everything played loud and fast, all the subtleties of Tyner's playing were stripped away in favor of one long crescendo. While there is no disputing the musical ability of the three, particularly Clarke solely and uncommonly on upright, the group rarely came together. The one time they did, after a remarkable bass and drum intro, the music was superb and energetic. The Tyner pieces which dominated the set were not written for this muscular a rhythm section and the pianist's normally heavy chord voicing seemed clunky rather than dense. When, towards the end of the set, Tyner played a solo piece, the audience had an opportunity to hear a more restrained and inventive Tyner but chances are that is not what they came for.
~ Andrey Henkin
John Hicks brought a superb trio into Sweet Rhythm Dec. 2nd to thrill audiences with some stirring and exciting piano music. Joined by bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Victor Lewis, Hicks stretched out masterfully in the emotionally charged style that belongs to him alone. Inspired by the presence of Kenny Barron in the audience, he kicked off the final set Friday night with a powerful rendition of "Sunshower". Starting off softly, he quickly dug into the familiar chord changes for one of his multiclimatic solos, his bandmates intuiting his every move. Lundy followed with an impressive bowed solo, the leader comping sensitively and Lewis playing dynamically with brushes. The band swung straight ahead on an up-tempo version of "Beautiful Friendship" that featured the drummer in a series of exhilarating eight bar exchanges. The room quieted to a hush for the ballad "Easy To Remember", which featured Hicks' introspective lyricism at its best, as well as more fine bowing and brushwork from Lundy and Lewis respectively. The trio finished with a burning hard bopping performance of the Miles Davis theme "Go-Go" that literally had people stomping their feet and screaming. Hicks satisfied the audience's unyielding demands for an encore with a solo recital of Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom".