January 2010

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Michael Attias


Brooklyn, NY December 3, 2009

Michael 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.

Ben Williams

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

The Stone

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.

Elena Camerin

Italian Cultural Institute

New York City

December 2, 2009


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