Jessica Lurie Ensemble: Live at Bruno

Mark Sabbatini By

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When I argue there's enough quality jazz that's free and legal on the Internet to last any reasonable listener a lifetime, this is what I'm talking about.

Seattle native Jessica Lurie does more than deliver an outstanding 2.2-hour sax and vocal showcase of modern jazz in this February 18, 2005 performance in San Francisco. Some minimal Web browsing leads to more than 20 other full-length concerts of hers, including at least a couple hosted by a site (www.silverwrapper.com) that, as it turns out, has more than 100 gigs from top-notch modern acts like Soulive and Charlie Hunter. It's one of those occasional, but consistent, discoveries almost too great to comprehend clearly.

Focusing on Lurie's night in San Francisco, on the other hand, is a first-rate audio Kodak Moment.

Lurie's saxophones blend neo-bop, funk, World, acid and other contemporary stylings in a rugged modern tone akin to Michael Brecker and Kenny Garrett. She crosses into well-executed freeform much of the time, with the 14-minute "Baba Yaga being an ideal and playful example. I'm not sure, but there may be some other-worldly accordion work going on as well - if so, it's as revolutionary as use of the instrument as Bela Fleck's banjo or Vinny Golia's Tubax. Lurie's also equally capable of intelligent ballad phasing, heard on songs like "70 Percent Bittersweet.

The supporting cast is first-rate, including a steady stream of attention-getting passages and solos from drummer Scott Amendola that stomp almost exclusively across up-tempo modernistic territory. But he doesn't rely on a single style, rolling with fury on "Baba Yaga and delivering a bass-dominated march on "Calder's Circus.

On the handful of songs where Lurie sings the music can cross the jazz fence, with her husky and scat- heavy tone fronting alternative folk/rock compositions. A potential frame of reference for how she treats material can be heard on "Sally's Song, for those familiar with the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas. She takes a sad ballad that's already slightly atonal, twists it some more and sets it to a low-key funk with touches of Latin and African beats setting the pace (Amendola gets vicious in the latter styling). I'm a huge fan of the movie and soundtrack, and normally might consider such liberties a near sacrilege, but it comes off so well it's impossible to bear a grudge.

As an audio recording, it isn't perfectly. Track listings include a few oddities such as "dead air and "tuning, and there's more "etc. listings accompanying things like song introductions than I've ever seen on an album. The volume during interludes is considerably below the music and likely to be missed by those keeping things at a reasonable volume. But for those favoring live recordings it adds an intimacy often missing on other live albums where such material is eliminated to make a more "professional album.

My memories of Internet audio experiences often get pushed into the background due to a consistent stream of new and noteworthy material, but this isn't just one of the better online gigs I've heard this year - it's one of the best from any source, period. It's safe to assume Lurie and Silver Wrapper (the subject of a separate review) are near-certain contenders for the inevitable "best-of online list when a lot of other downloads are forgotten 10 months from now.

The concert is at the Internet Archive. The 31 songs total 186MB in size in variable-rate MP3 format, the best size/quality option for general listeners.

Track listing: For a Thousand Kisses; Thank you, introductions, etc.; Romanian Hora; Ha-Ha; Song intro, etc.; Blackwell; Introduction, etc.; I'm So Tired; Tuning, etc.; Sally's Song; Song intro > Baba Yaga; Thank you, introductions, etc; Banter, song intro, etc.; 70 percent Bittersweet; Song intro, etc.; The Grinch; Thank you, dead air etc.; Mexico; Dead air, banter, etc.; Waiting For Julie Song (improv); Song intro, etc.; The Detective Song (another improv); Noodling, banter, etc.; Up From the Bottom of the Well; Song intro; Calder's Circus; Introduction, etc.; Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby; Song intro, etc.; Zipa!; Introductions, etc.

Personnel: Jessica Lurie, vocals, sax, flute; Devin Hoff, bass; Scott Amendola, drums. Keyboard and accordion players are unknown as of this writing and will be posted when available.

Visit Jessica Lurie on the web.


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