June 2005

AAJ Staff By

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Randy Weston launched Year Two of the Lost Jazz Shrines series, this year a tribute to the Village Gate, at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center (May 6th). He began with an unaccompanied Ellington mélange, summoning luxurious tones from the grand piano. Weston's Duke is always refreshing: "C Jam Blues was dark and brooding; "Mood Indigo was restive; "Take the 'A' Train was florid. After a brief spin through his famous "Hi-Fly , Weston brought percussionist Neal Clarke to the stage and asked him, "Why do you play the way you play? Clarke gave a focused, spiritual reply and proceeded to play "Ifran with Weston as a duet. Then Weston asked the same question of Alex Blake, easily one of jazz' most original upright bassists. Following Blake's sizzling duo feature, the trio came together for several numbers, including "African Sunrise and "The Color Blue . Verbally and instrumentally, this concert brought into sharp relief the grand, global scope of Weston's influences, from Chano Pozo and Dizzy to the Gnawa culture of Morocco. There is no mistaking the centrality of percussion in this music. But in a sense, Clarke is not the trio's only percussionist: Weston and Blake, too, have spent years translating a universe of rhythmic principles to their respective axes.

Marking 40 years in music, bassist/composer Mario Pavone brought his Nu Trio/Sextet to the 55Bar (May 4th), one of several local stops on his anniversary tour (the Stone, CB's Lounge and Barbés were the others). Alongside Peter Madsen on Rhodes and Michael Sarin on drums, Pavone sprung from the gate with "East Arc , eye-poppingly intricate and dangerously fast. Once the smoke cleared, trio became sextet as Charles Burnham (violin), Howard Johnson (baritone sax/tuba) and Steven Bernstein (slide and standard trumpet) took their places. Bernstein arranged this new batch of Pavone originals, so it was he who cued and conducted the group throughout the set. (A recording was planned for the very next day.) The music was thick with dissonant three-part writing and the quirky instrumentation made it sing even at its strangest. Pavone's music is without prescribed chords, but its rhythmic and formal design is very precise · and Madsen, among all the soloists, has a way of opening it up, scattering harmonic sparks in all directions. Sarin, for his part, danced around the repeating dotted riff of "Zines , in a greasy medium-slow swing; Bernstein shouted to the heavens on the work-song-like outro of "Xapo ; and Burnham had his most memorable say on the grooving "Deez .

~ David Adler

Ever since Vision Festival founder Patricia Nicholson-Parker thankfully decided last year to make the annual celebration weekly, the Saturday Club series has helped make the Lower East Side a hub for improvisational music: Tonic's around the corner, The Stone a few blocks up and CB's Lounge a few blocks west. Last month (May 14th) the one-time Atlanta, now Brooklyn-based Gold Sparkle Trio (altoist/ clarinetist Charles Waters, bassist Adam Roberts, drummer Andrew Barker) filled the Vision's new home with breathtaking improvisational interplay. A road cooperative for over a half dozen years, Gold Sparkle's successful tight-rope talents at meshing composition and improvisation became immediately evident with the threesome rolling and tumbling upwards in sync, no small debt to the ever-agile Barker. His percussive, multi-textural rhythmic sense explores yet swings without ever becoming redundant. Intuitively playing off one another, at least one providing some sense of foundation in avoiding a total free-for-all, accessibility is the free-form group's most admirable trait. William Parker's ballad "Silence (Waters blowing a warm versus reedy high-pitched clarinet) was sensitively played and placed between two energetic improv romps.

The culmination of the energy, effort and music from the Vision Club has successfully paid off, leading us patiently to the inevitable: this month's Vision Festival. And you didn't have to wait a year!

The historic M'Boom concert at Merkin Hall (May 24th) brought forth sounds of mediocre goodness as well as eternal greatness. Billed as "Members of M'Boom (founder and creator Max Roach, in assisted living conditions in Brooklyn and no longer playing drums, unfortunately could not even be an honorary audience "member ), the evening was split and shared with M'Boom's modern classical all percussion alter-ego, the So Percussion quartet which played four pieces as an opening act. The first set's end and second set's beginning were commissioned pieces composed by Muhal Richard Abrams - in attendance - and Anthony Davis (both with extensive background in writing for multiple percussion), uniting So Percussion with half of the eight member M'Boom (veteran Warren Smith, Eli Fountain and two of the youngest members Stefon Harris and Craig McIver). More works in progress showing the potential of its fusion, it was not up until a quarter through the second set that the true musical magic occurred which most in attendance had patiently waited. The full M'Boom octet moved as one, rotating instruments, veteran charter members Joe Chambers and Warren Smith leading the charge with the Latin side anchored by Steve Berrios and Ray Mantilla (the eighth member being Nasheet Waits, son of the legendary one-time M'Boom member Freddie). Chambers' "Gazelle · with the composer primarily playing vibraphone as well as drum kit - was in essence the beginning of the night's historic undertone. However, it was their rendition of Monk's "Epistrophy , featuring Smith's astounding timpani work and soloing surrounded by the vibes of Chambers and marimba playing of Harris, which truly captured the essence of M'Boom and a strong desire to hear more by the end of the following two numbers: Tony Lewis' "Comeback and Omar Clay's "Rumble in the Jungle .

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene

To see the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet is to catch glimpses of the international monkey business once practiced by the Globe Unity Orchestra. The band is made up primarily of Chicagoans and now Scandinavians; an interesting dynamic since Chicago and Scandinavia have always lost out to New York and Germany respectively. Fascinating then to have the German Brötzmann bring them to New York's Tonic (May 18th). Apart from bass and cello, the proceedings were unamplified, allowing for a wonderfully natural sense of dynamics. Oddly the strength of the Tentet comes not during full group segments but when smaller outcroppings highlight different members and what they bring to the larger amalgam. The one long improvised piece had such delicious segments as Ken Vandermark and Brötzmann blowing sax lines of different notes but equal length; the two-drum attack of Paal Nilssen-Love and Michael Zerang in an exchange of brushes and bamboo sticks; Mats Gustafsson playing a 1920's slide saxophone during the final climax; and Brötzmann and Joe McPhee closing the proceedings out in a composed dirge for tenor and soprano saxophones. In the center of the maelstrom was the unflappable tuba of Per-Åke Holmlander, the solid tree buffeted by storms. Unfortunately, the occasional docile moment was thoroughly disrupted by a pounding techno beat from the club's basement, startling audience and band alike.

Seeing pianist Andrew Hill and trumpeter Charles Tolliver separately is rare enough. The two together, first heard to great effect on Hill's Dances with Death (1968), is a particularly special treat. At Birdland (May 21st), Hill and Tolliver, augmented to a quintet with saxophonist Greg Tardy and the percolating rhythm section of John Hebert and Eric McPherson, performed a set that could have been session committed to Blue Note Records in 1965. To interpret this as nostalgia is an injustice; Hill was 40 years ahead of his time back then! The opening "11/8" was a tropical fanfare that belied Hill's Caribbean roots, though the tune was spacious and Hill's comping subverted the texture pretty quickly. Hebert stole the set here with a conceptual giant of a bass solo. "By Round" was notable for having the trumpet and tenor trading leads as the initial solo section. "Round Midnight" was interpreted far differently than usual; not morose and final, with no lush chord voicings and funereal beats, implying that much happens after 12 am. "Malachi", a slow legato melody, was full of bittersweet piano, arco and cymbals. The set closed with "Nicodemus" (from 1990's But Not Farewell) and was another typical Hill melody, meaning it was as far from typical as jazz can get.

~ Andrey Henkin

Billy Bang took his Aftermath Band into the Jazz Standard for two nights to make moving music inspired by his experiences in Vietnam. Starting the second set (May 10th) playing "Trong Com (Rice Drum) , a lighthearted harvest song from the north of Hanoi, with fellow war veteran Ron Brown on percussion and Vietnamese nationals, Co Boi Nguyen and Nhan Thanh Ngo on vocals and dan tranh (a finger plucked Asian dulcimer), Bang made clear his vision of creating contemporary harmony out of contrasting musical traditions. Augmenting the group with trumpeter Ted Daniel, alto saxophonist James Spaulding and the powerful rhythm section of pianist John Hicks, bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Michael Carvin, the violinist enlisted the aid of Butch Morris, who utilized elements of his innovative conduction process to direct the attentive nine-piece ensemble through the leader's "Reconciliation 1 . Morris dramatically deconstructed the piece beginning with voice, dan tranh, bowed violin and bass, then gradually adding horns, piano and drums, to bring it all together in a manner that was as unpredictable as war itself. Following the conductor's departure the nonet swung in a more traditional, but no less creative manner on "Reconcialiation 2 , with a bluesy Daniel and searing Spaulding setting the stage for a climactic Bang solo and an emotional conclusion.

The legendary Dr. John played a rare two-week solo engagement at Le Jazz Au Bar from May 17th to May 29th, feting audiences with his eclectic mix of boogie-woogie, stride, blues and New Orleans R & B. Seated center stage, beneath a crystal chandelier, in front of the velvet drapes and gilded mirrors of the toney intimate basement club, one could imagine the good Doctor entertaining in a Storyville bordello, as he played piano, sang songs and told stories in his familiar gravelly growl. Starting off the last night's last set with "I'm A Hen Laying Rooster by "Cousin Joe from New Orleans , he set the tone for an evening of good ol' time music. He began the next song with a tango introduction before sliding into a bluesy groove, singing about "a coal black woman and referring to himself as "Dr. John, 'The Night Tripper', with a sack full of gris-gris , elating the knowing crowd. The pianist next paid tribute to the late Ray Charles with "Hallelujah, I Love Her So and followed with a rocking boogie-woogie version of Roosevelt Sykes' "The Honey Dripper , before going into a rambling medley of songs written with Doc Pomus, including "The Night Is A Hunter , "In The Name Of You and "I'm Qualified . He ended the set with a plaintive gospel rendition of "When The Saints Go Marchin' In and a striding "Glory, Glory Hallelujah and then obliged the cheering crowd with an encore of "Gonna Mess Around .

~ Russ Musto

Recommended New Releases

· Terence Blanchard - Flow (Blue Note)

· Tom Christensen - New York School (Playscape)

· Drew Gress - 7 Black Butterflies (Premonition)

· Sam Rivers - Purple Violets (Stunt)

· Doug Wamble - Bluestate (Marsalis Music)

· Kenny Wheeler - What Now? (Cam Jazz)

~ David Adler, NY@Night Columnist

· Ron Blake - Sonic Tonic (Mack Avenue)

· Dena DeRose - A Walk in the Park (MAXJAZZ)

· Drew Gress - 7 Black Butterflies (Premonition)


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