January 2007


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Helen Sung at Fazioli Salon

Helen Sung's December 15 solo recital in the Fazioli Salon at Manhattan's famed piano showroom, Klavierhaus, was a picture of opulence. Surrounded by Steinways and Pleyels over a century old, the diminutive Sung took command of a new nine-foot Fazioli grand, closing out a season that boasted the likes of Bruce Barth and Weber Iago.

Having worked under such bandleaders as Clark Terry, Steve Turre and Lonnie Plaxico, Sung demonstrated that she knows how to hold an audience. She took full advantage of her instrument's sublime tonal properties, drawing on material from her two discs to date, Push and Helenistique. She also ventured a jazz adaptation of a suite by the 19th-century Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz, which will appear on a forthcoming CD.

Leading off with "The Song is You taken at a bracing up-tempo, Sung relied on the same impeccable time feel she displays when performing in a piano trio with drummer Lewis Nash. Her arrangements of "Old Devil Moon and Joe Henderson's "Black Narcissus were full of odd angles yet preserved the glow of the original melodies. Her tripartite homage to Thelonious Monk—"Introspection," "Ugly Beauty and a "Blue Monk encore— was just as strong. Reaching farther back in piano history, she riffed on James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout," but also included two originals (the lyrical waltz "Hope Springs Eternally and the up-tempo "Waiting Game ), not to mention a short, solemn Christmas medley.

Taylor Ho Bynum & John Hebert Groups at Rose Live Music

Co-curated by saxophonists Aaron Ali Sheikh and Jackson Moore, the New Languages concert series has found a hospitable home in Williamsburg at Rose Live Music. The fall 2006 season featured seven bandleaders in all, culminating on Dec. 16 in a venturesome double bill: the Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet and a John Hebert-led quartet called Byzantine Monkey, with Tony Malaby and Michael Attias on saxophones and Nasheet Waits on drums.

Bynum's group played three extended multi-part compositions. Opening the program, the leader, on cornet, guided his partners through a captivating flow of improvised and orchestrated episodes. The music was as offbeat as the instrumentation: Matt Bauder on reeds, Jessica Pavone on viola and electric bass, Mary Halvorson and Evan O'Reilly on guitars, Tomas Fujiwara on drums. Staggered beats, dense counterpoint, transitory duo sections, full-on free blowing and a gale-force unaccompanied cornet intro to "Woods —this was virtuosity on its own terms, soon to be documented on a disc called The Middle Picture.

Next, Hebert, heard to great effect in Andrew Hill's most recent music, led his band with just as much resolve, locking horns with the formidable Waits and pairing Malaby and Attias in resourceful ways. The soprano/baritone unisons of "Acrid Landscape were a highlight, but nothing could top Malaby's ferocious turn on "Grooving," a title which Waits' percussion work made stick.

~ David R. Adler

Steve Beresford at The Stone & Issue Project Room

One of the many remarkable things Bruce Lee Gallanter and Manny Maris of Downtown Music Gallery presented during their month curating The Stone was to bring the pianist Steve Beresford over from London for a beyond-rare Stateside appearance. Beresford is an unusual cat to say the least, a proper Blighty chap on the one hand, but with a CV that includes playing with proto-post-punk band The Slits and recording an album of Doris Day songs.

On this Dec. 5th program at The Stone, he presented pieces from his songbook Signals for Tea, a set of genteel, poignant, everyday lyrics by Andrew Brenner which Beresford scored and sang in a manner remininiscent of Cole Porter. The songs were recorded more than a decade ago by the same vocalist, backed by most of Masada (John Zorn, Dave Douglas, Greg Cohen and Kenny Wollesen sitting in on drums), but at The Stone the group was Steve Beresford and Ned Rothenberg on horns, Shanir Blumenkranz on bass and Harris Eisenstadt on drums. Beresford's spirit was infectious enough to get a group of improvisers not just backing the ditties, but putting life into them.

The next night, Beresford showed another side, playing at Issue Project Room with vocalist Shelley Hirsch, cassette-tape manipulator Aki Onda and Marc Ribot on nylon- string guitar. While all the experiments were executed with polish and flare, his duo with Ribot was ten minutes of perfection. Beresford has a wealth of style at his fingertips and plays with remarkable ease. Lucky for London, that.

Marc Ribot at Brecht Forum

Marc Ribot has long made an aesthetic of sloppiness. He can be a fantastically precise player—as with his recordings of the compositions of his teacher, Frantz Casseus. But more often, he aspires to ragged-edged entropy (he once did a concert called "New Works for Guitar on Old Guitars that Don't Work ). At the Brecht Forum on Dec. 1st, he presented "Exercises in Futility," a work in progress that uses his unhinged approach as an instructional method, forging his own Well-Tempered Klavier for guitar.

He opened the evening with a piece from John Zorn's Book of Heads, a set of compositions exploring unorthodox possibilities for solo guitar (which is more an antecedent for futility than Bach's instructional book) and played compositions by others (including Casseus and Albert Ayler), but his own pieces constituted the bulk of the program: the short pieces, all played on classical guitar, isolated the various techniques he's devised that have made him an instantly recognizable voice in groups led by Zorn, John Lurie and Tom Waits—strings abruptly plucked or lightly brushed, fast fretboard vibratos and faster slides up and down the strings.

He's a remarkable musician, as most anyone who has seen him recognizes. But what's not always grasped is that playing with off notes, half-muted strings and unusual voicings is a choice and a studied one. If he follows through to complete and even publish the exercises, at least it will be a choice other guitarists can follow, for better or worse.

~ Kurt Gottschalk

Paul Dunmall & Matthew Welch at Downtown Music Gallery

Downtown Music Gallery has been presenting free Sunday early evening concerts for the whole of their existence. But December found them curating the entire month's programming at The Stone so the in-store series was suspended until 2007. The one exception was part of the Paul Dunmall weekend.

After having played two nights in trio with bassist Paul Rogers and drummer Tony Levin, as a discrete group and with guests, Dunmall made the brief walk west to the store for what was billed as a bagpipe duo with Matthew Welch. Airline restrictions, however, forced Dunmall to leave his pipes overseas so what would have probably been the first ever improv- bagpipe duo recital sadly did not come to pass. Dunmall instead focused his energies on tenor sax and saxello while Welch remained on pipes, either whole or in pieces.

The range was expectedly shrill and the tone necessarily reedy at the outset, Dunmall introducing some interesting tongueing techniques, but the musical proceedings became more varied as Welch moved away from the pipes' traditional drone effect: employing at times video game music, at others a conversation between agitated poultry and at still others the sounds an old house makes on a blustery day.

Dunmall's own pipe experience no doubt triggered his restrained, almost reserved playing. And Welch displayed a fine command of hitherto-unknown, extended bagpipe techniques. Given the set's pleasing breadth, a bagpipe duet could wait.

Reggie Workman at Saint Peter's Church

In February, Reggie Workman will inaugurate his Sculptured Sounds Series. On Dec. 12th, the bassist gave a three-part preview concert in the sanctuary of Saint Peter's Church. In addition to Trio 3, his collaboration with Oliver Lake and Andrew Cyrille, and Billy Harper leading the New School Vocal Ensemble, Workman and Cyrille performed with Finnish saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen, who was making an extremely rare Stateside appearance (ostensibly 'in support' of their 2004 TUM album Reflections).

Perhaps it was the sacred setting, but the 40-minute set had an air of the holy about it, evinced particularly by Aaltonen's ethereal flute. Aaltonen brought three tunes to the gig: "Reflections," "My Heart Feels and the appropriately-titled "Hymn." The rest of the set was an original each by Cyrille and Workman: "The Navigator and "Variation of III respectively.

Aaltonen's compositions skirted an appealing line between the serene and the atonal, with an aggressive raspy tone on flute and a searing quality on tenor sax. "The Navigator opened with an appealing martial beat from its composer, acting in opposition to a tandem flute-bass melody. "Variation of III featured Workman on arco and Aaltonen on bluesy tenor and moved nebulously between swing and shrill.

Throughout the performance, Aaltonen, one of Scandinavia's finest saxists over the past 30 years, demonstrated a rare ability to play convincingly in both hushed tones and overdrive.

~ Andrey Henkin

Trio M at Cornelia Street Cafe

Trio M, the cooperative collaboration of pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson made remarkable multifaceted music for a full house at the Cornelia Street Café (Dec. 15th).

Wilson's "Naive Heart opened the set with a short burst of sound that gave way to a spacious energy generated by Dresser's bowed bass and the composer's brushes behind Melford's open harmonies, which moved from an Eastern mode to a bluesy tonality that seemed to obliquely reference Bobby Timmons' "Moanin' and Monk's "Green Chimneys before Dresser took off on a powerful solo excursion that alternated virtuoso arco and pizzicato passages.

Melford's melodic return to the Eastern mood, prodded by Wilson's crisp snare, rapidly accelerated to a breakneck tempo before the piece ended with a calm koto-like bass statement. "Be Melting Snow," by Melford, demonstrated the pianist's assimilation of the styles of Andrew Hill and Cecil Taylor into her own unique voice.

Dresser's "Parawaltz and "For Bradford showcased the bassist's broad compositional palette. The trio organically played off each other on the pair of pieces, moving from quirky Jarrett-ish bop lines to open airy soundscapes that built upon the subtle impressionism associated with Bill Evans and Paul Bley. The medley moved naturally into Melford's "Prologue," on which Wilson's kaleidoscopic drumming and Dresser's intensely focused bass created a sense of concurrent inward and outward musical motion.

Paul Carlon Octet at Fat Cat

The Paul Carlon Octet performed music from the saxophonist/composer's new CD, Other Tongues, at Fat Cat (Dec. 8th). The band, featuring trumpeter Dave Smith, trombonists Mike Fahie and Ryan Keberle, alto saxophonist Erica von Kleist and Carlon on tenor and flute with John Stenger (piano), Dave Ambrosio (bass) and William "Beaver Bausch (drums), blended Afro-Carribean and other world music rhythms with contemporary compositional techniques reminiscent of Ellington, Mingus and Gil Evans.

Beginning the evening with Carlon's bright dedication to Juan Pablo Torres, "Boogie Down Broder," the group was joined by vocalist Ileana Santamaria and tap innovator Max Pollak on "Rumbatapestry," a tour de force feature on which the rhythmatist augmented traditional rumba and tap dancing with body percussion, while Carlon played warm tenor and the singer intoned a Yoruban chant in an exposition that was visually and sonically compelling.

Santamaria was featured once again on Carlon's exotic ethereal arrangement of Strayhorn's "Smada." The band blew straight ahead on "Street Beat," a Basie-ish swinger that featured Carlon and von Kleist in a dueling tenor-alto dialogue. Carlon's "A Certain Slant of Light dramatically utilized sweetly dissonant chords reflecting a Mingus-ian mood.

The set concluded with Carlon's imaginative arrangement of Skip James' "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues," featuring his flute and tenor with Fahie and Keberle on plunger-muted trombones.

~ Russ Musto

Recommended New Listening:

· Omer Avital—The Ancient Art of Giving (Smalls)

· Brian Groder—Torque (with Sam Rivers Trio) (Latham)

· Nicolas Masson—Yellow (A Little Orange) (Fresh Sound-New Talent)

· Albrecht Maurer & Norbert Rodenkirchen—Hidden Fresco (NEMU)

· Miles Okazaki—Mirror (s/r)

· Ximo Tebar & Fourlights—Eclipse (Omix/Sunnyside)

~ David Adler, [email protected] Columnist

· Jacob Anderskov—Padansk (Ilk Music)

· Shelley Burgon/Trevor Dunn—Baltimore (Skirl)

· Kenny Davern—No One Else But Kenny (Sackville)

· Jimmy Heath Big Band—Turn Up the Heath (Planet Arts)

· Chris Washburne and the Syotos Band—Land Of Nod (Jazzheads)

· (Various)—How Low Can You Go?: Anthology of the String Bass (1925-41) (Dust-to-Digital)

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

· John Butcher/Paal Nilssen-Love—Concentric (Clean Feed)

· Brian Groder—Torque (with Sam Rivers Trio) (Latham)

· Industrial Jazz Group—Industrial Jazz A Go Go! (Evander Music)

· Iskra 1903—Chapter Two: 1981-3 (Emanem)

· Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton—Zafiro (Maya)

· Alex Von Schlippenbach Trio—Winterreise (Psi)

~ Andrey Henkin, Editorial Director, AllAboutJazz-New York

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