January 2007

AAJ Staff By

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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.


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