Brooklyn, NY December 3, 2009Michael Attias
is known for his work on alto and baritone saxophones, but on the new Clean Feed disc Renku In Coimbra
he plays only alto. This was his game plan too at Barbes (Dec. 3rd), where he gathered together his Renku trio with bassist John Hébert
and drummer Satoshi Takeishi
. The music of Attias' alto sax heroes bookended the set, starting with Jimmy Lyons' "Sorry" and ending with Lee Konitz' "Thingin,'" both of which appear on the new CD. Of course these tunes took on the spiky, free-flowing coloration that Attias and his partners have developed so beautifully, a language of sparsely orchestrated yet precise themes, open harmony and intuitive transitions. Without a pause, "Sorry" gave way to Hebert's slowly pulsing "Wels" and Attias' three-part "Bad Lucid," broken up by virtuosic unaccompanied bass and a drum break that found Takeishi assaulting his snare from underneath. The bass-drum interplay crackled on Hébert's "Fez," with Takeishi hand-drumming at first, then moving on to more aggressive accents. Attias shifted the mood with a lyrical intro to his balladic "Lisbon," inviting a fluent overlapping texture of arco, brushes and cymbal washes from the band. With the jazzier bounce of Attias' "Spun Tree," the leader forcefully took charge, navigating a tricky form with fire and poise. He drew improvisational focus from the simple melody of "Thingin'" before closing with "Renku," the trio's theme song, full of drive and contrapuntal detail.
Tribeca Performing Arts Center
New York City
December 5, 2009
It's become tradition at Tribeca Performing Arts Center to present each year's finalists in the Thelonious Monk Competition. Seeing as the 2009 title went to bassist Ben Williams, it was he who kicked off the "Monk In Motion" series (Dec. 5th), leading a quintet called Sound Effect. From the opening vamp of Woody Shaw's "Moontrane," Williams favored a sound steeped in funk, reflecting his membership in Stefon Harris' Blackout and his roots in the go-go sound of his native Washington, DC. Drummer Obed Calvaire relished the stuff, moving effortlessly from deep soul to deep swing. Pianist Aaron Goldberg supplied scads of harmonic information and loosed an especially brutal, poetically structured solo on Williams' bossa-derived "November." The melodies got their strength from alto/soprano saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and guitarist Matt Stevens, who brought tight unisons and singing harmonies into relief on "The Dawn of a New Day" (based on a "Poinciana" beat) and Wayne Shorter's "Deluge," played with a satisfying faithfulness to the 1964 original. Williams, a fast-thinking and melodic soloist, featured himself on these and the closing James Brown homage "Mr. Dynamite," switching to his bow for tartly bluesy phrases on the latter. Alas, Buster Williams' "Christina" was cluttered and overdone, with no piano solo where it could have helped. But the minor-key waltz arrangement of Michael Jackson's "Little Susie" caught fire.
David R. Adler
Seabrook Power Plant
New York, NY
December 10, 2009
There's any number of things the adrenalized music Brandon Seabrook writes for his Seabrook Power Plant might be likened to: The Meat Puppets or Primus, Merle Haggard or Eugene Chadbourne, King Crimson or Phish, but such allusions are the marks of lazy writing. And they're all wrong anyway. He played the first three or five (or was it just one?) of the breakneck songs opening his Dec. 10th set at The Stone on a tenor banjo (the four-string variety) run sparingly through effect pedals via microphone. He was deftly backed by upright bassist Tom Blancarte, who can (as in his work with Peter Evans) kick up a storm, but here stuck to solid support. Which does little to impart how loud it was so add to the picture Brandon's brother Jared and some double-kick pedals leading to a single bass drum and switch the leader to a knock-off Telecaster and all may be revealed as the Sabbath, Black. That is not lazy writing, that is simply bowing at the altar. They played mostly from their self-titled album released earlier this year, but seemed to add more of a punch to it live, achieving a commendable balance between combustion and control. Maybe it's because the stringplayer Seabrook's fast lines aren't simple arpeggios that get them booked at 'Downtown' venues and written up in 'jazz' magazines. Or maybe it's because of the company they keep other nights of the week or simply the fact that they don't have a weasel castrati vocalist, but whatever this is they're up to, these guys complex shred.
Italian Cultural Institute
New York City
December 2, 2009
It's hard to know what music would befit the writings of the great 20th Century novelist Italo Calvino. Italian folk music for his folk stories to be sure, but does his science fiction demand theremin? To remain true to his spirit requires exploring until exhaustion all possibilities. In that regard, a jazz bandsuch as the quintet vocalist Elena Camerin presented at the Italian Cultural Institute Dec. 2ndmight best be able to traverse the endless possible worlds of Calvino's prose. With dramatic readings by Silvia Giampaola against electric guitar swells and horns swaying from bop to Brasilia, countered by Camerin's musical delivery (sometimes with electronic augmentation), they cast an enjoyable but narrow soundtrack. The spoken passages were interspersed with Camerin's Calvino-inspired songs, saxophonist Nicola Fazzini's upbeat originals and even an arrangement of Monteverdi by trumpeter Ron Horton. Jazzy takes on the comedies The Cloven Viscount and The Baron in the Trees worked well enough, but when they got to the romantic metaphysics of Cosmicomics, their bouncing, sometimes cartoonish flights made more sense. By the final section of the 75-minute program, the musicians were clearly primed and soloing and interplay grew richer. A little drama would have bolstered their take on Six Memos for the Next Millennium, one of Calvino's final and most serious works. To play off the greatest of his imaginings, the different cities by the end had grown all too visible.
Charisma! The Music of Lee Morgan
New York, NY
December 10, 2009
For first set of the first night of "Charisma! The Music of Lee Morgan," there were two subs in the band. Trumpeter Charles Tolliver, who played alongside Morgan with Jackie McLean in 1965, was not present, replaced ably by Jeremy Pelt. And instead of drummer Billy Hart was Victor Lewis. But the band still had two of the best saxists of the past half-century in Billy Harper (a Morgan collaborator in 1971-72) and Bennie Maupin (check him out with Morgan from the 1970 Lighthouse sets). As a result, the bandfilled out by organizer David Weiss (trumpet), Geri Allen (piano) and Dwayne Burno (bass)devoted only three of five tunes to Morgan, opening instead with Harper's fiery "Capra Black" and Maupin's sublime "Neophilia," taken at a slower pace than usual and featuring a wondrous bass clarinet-piano duet intro. Of the Morgan material, the late trumpeter only wrote "Ceora," taken in a breezy manner until Harper's solo turn. Bassist Jymie Merritt, who anchored Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers when Morgan was a member from 1958-61, penned "Nommo," played at those aforementioned Lighthouse sessions. The tune's post-bop vibe was excellent fodder for the band, especially Harper again, whose solos have a quality akin to subtly spiced food, getting hotter and hotter as they go. The closing "The Chief," by pianist Harold Mabern (a rejected tune from 1967's The Sixth Sense), was notable for tandem tenor soloing and a long, propulsive Lewis solo.
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
New York City
December 1, 2009
Hypnotic, defined as "inducing sleep," is definitely not apropos when discussing the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (HBE). The band, eight brothers sired by Sun Ra/AACM alumnus Phil Cohran, are anything but soporific. A reasonably well-attended 11 pm set at BB King's Blues Bar (Dec. 1st) displayed a band making sense of a number of brass band traditions, from martial discipline to Tower of Power funkiness to Balkan exuberance. Last year, the band released a solid debut effort but in concert, different facets come to the fore, most notably an emphasis on hiphop, both through MC interludes by various members and the unwavering breakbeats played by the band's non-brother drummer. Mostly the tunes were short, which disguised what, in longer versions, might come off as repetitive. The HBE writes all its own music, drawing from sources as diverse as the aforementioned Sun Ra to Creed Taylor at his most deliberate. And with drums and sousaphone (!) lined up in the center with four trumpets on one side and trombones and euphonium on the other, it is visually clear that the rhythm is ultimately the thing. While none of the brothers can be considered top-flight instrumentalists on their own, the ensemble is designed to be approached and appreciated as a unit. This reviewer would have welcomed a little less rapping and bit more improvisational acumen but one suspects that kind of jazz snobbery is exactly what the HBE is committed to exceeding.
Branford Marsalis's Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
New York City
December 1, 2009
Branford Marsalis strode confidently onto the stage of Juilliard's Paul Hall laden with three saxophones, his customary tenor and soprano plus the alto that has been seldomly seen since his early days with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. The third horn was a sure sign of the saxophonist's commitment to ensure the success of the program exploring his self-confessed "difficult" music, which he was to perform with the school's two jazz ensembles (Dec. 1st). The absence of music stands on the stage was a similarly strong indication of the students' many hours of labor in memorizing his thorny songbook. Opening with the serpentine "Jabberwocky," the young octet proved itself capable of the daunting task, navigating the racing boppish chart skillfully. On the arrangement of the Billie Holiday-associated "Gloomy Sunday" that followed, the musicians proved themselves to be equally capable of playing the ballad tempo that is often most difficult for younger artists. Pianist Kris Bowers distinguished himself as an arranger on the Marsalis soprano feature "Lykeif" and as a player on "Bullworth," where baritonist Tony Lustig also shined. The second half of the evening benefited greatly from the swinging drumming of Bryan Carter on a set that alternated Marsalis and Monk pieces, starting with the former on tenor for his "Spartacus," switching to alto on "Off Minor," then soprano for "Cassandra." After "52nd Street Theme" the show ended with a rousing "In The Crease."
New York City
December 3, 2009