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June 2007


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Laura Andel at The Kitchen

Laura Andel works in mostly composed pieces for large ensembles and so the opportunities to hear her work are rare. But following notable recordings and performances of her SomnabUlisT and In::tension: over the last few years, her new Doble Mano for nonet was a major statement from the young composer. The piece for cornet, clarinet, viola, bandoneon, bass, keyboards and two percussionists received its premiere over performances at The Kitchen (May 11th- 12th) and demonstrated the light playfulness of Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota or her fellow Argentinian Astor Piazzolla (all adventurous composers regardless of their populist fields), but with the composer's own penchant for contrast and relayed statements. Rhythm and counter-rhythm crossed from instrument to instrument, section to section, with a magical business, like choreographed traffic patterns - the title of the 45-minute piece, in fact, refers to a two-way street or multiple directions. Andel made full use of her orchestra, often setting a low bass clarinet tone or high bandoneon cry alone in their respective registers or putting Taylor Ho Bynum's muted cornet against clanging finger cymbals. Carl Maguire was particularly inventive on Fender Rhodes and the vibraphone and various Gamelan percussion setups provided a wide array of shadings. When the full ensemble was engaged, the multiple counts and patterns loped like the inner workings of an overly complicated clock.

Muhal Richard Abrams at Community Church of New York

There's always been something mysterious, hard to pin down, about Muhal Richard Abrams' music. His compositions are at once beautiful and a bit unapproachable. And the two compositions he presented May 11th at the Community Church, as part of the AACM concert series, were no different; one piece each for duo and quartet, titled "CSP I and "CSP II as if they were begging, challenging, like so much of his music, to be unraveled. The first half - a duo with guitarist Brandon Ross - was built on Abrams' steadily increasing tempo and volume while Ross switched between acoustic and electric, playing sometimes prepared, sometimes percussive, sometimes distorted and sometimes plainly beautiful sections. Eventually Abrams slowed to the starting point, which would have seemed to suggest an ending, but stopped playing as Ross softly repeated a chord constructed of muted, harmonic and fretted strings then ended with a beautiful line, his most elegant playing of the piece. "CSP II was anything but a quartet version of the same piece. Abrams began similarly lightly, but saxophonist Aaron Stewart, bassist Brad Jones and drummer Tyshawn Sorey quickly broke in with melodic, bright, up-tempo playing, at which point Abrams quickly dropped out. They went through various trios and duos in a sort of exploratory hard bop mode. As ever, the two works were even mysterious in how they were mysterious and retained a beauty that is Abrams' own.

~ Kurt Gottschalk

Tom Harrell at Smoke

Kicking off the second evening of a double-header at Smoke (May 4th), trumpeter/flugelhornist Tom Harrell preferred to let his music sing for itself by launching into a freshly penned tune, "The Call , with little proviso or pomp, deftly negotiating the complex rhythmic structure of the piece with lyric dexterity. Joining Harrell were Wayne Escoffery (tenor sax) and Johnathan Blake (drums), both regular members of his quintet, as well as Anthony Wonsey (piano) and Greg Ryan (bass). On "How 'Bout This? , with an even-eighths fusion feel, Harrell kindled a slow-burning fire, switching to flugelhorn halfway through and concluding his solo with offhand conviction, only to be relieved by Escoffery's thick-toned tenor testifying in long, spun-out lines packed with imbedded subthemes and reiterated figures. Wonsey, meantime, floated over the time, exploiting both extremities of the keyboard. By "The Fountain , everyone was loose and limber; following a gracefully rendered piano intro, Harrell soloed with bittersweet poignancy, Escoffery reacting with a pensive start, then building to an assertive climax and Wonsey contrasted rubato moodiness with tight kicking shout figures. On "Delta of the Nile, a samba with a touch of Iberian harmony, the quintet hit its longest stride: Escoffery took tonal detours that landed back on track, Wonsey and Blake locked telepathically in a series of rolling accents and Harrell's phrases seemed to evolve organically, intuitively, inevitably.

Kamikaze Ground Crew at Cutting Room

A band of bandleaders, Kamikaze Ground Crew has difficulty getting everyone in the right place at the right time, yet the allstars converged at The Cutting Room (May 13th) for an informal release bash for Postcards from the Highwire, their fifth CD. Co-led by Gina Leishman and Doug Wieselman, with more-than-able-bodied assistance from Peter Apfelbaum, Steven Bernstein, Art Baron, Marcus Rojas and Kenny Wollesen - all musical characters in their own right - the evening was an arranger's showcase, replete with fine charts utilizing a horn-ucopia of textures and timbres. Leishman's three habaneras served as pre-, inter- and postludes and her "Love-Go-Round was a multi-layered pastiche of ambivalent Americana; Wieselman's evocative "Travels-Windows-Canvas interlaced short motifs to pointillistic and postmodern effect; and Bernstein penned a gospel-meets-New Orleans retake on Sly Stone's "Everybody is a Star . The solos, though short, exposed the extroverted individuality of the Crew: Rojas' talking tuba, Apfelbaum's casual complexity, Baron's growling bebop, Bernstein's tailgate trumpet and Wieselman's bluesy filigree. Originally formed as a pit band for the Flying Karamazov Brothers' Broadway show, KGC speaks everything from gutbucket funk, whorehouse ragtime, early Ellingtonian junglese, reggae and psychedelia, all with the loose precision and easy fluency of a veteran pit band. Check your charts for the next convergence.

~ Tom Greenland

Michael Blake & Marcus Rojas at Red Hook Public Library

One of the more surreal places to see a jazz performance has got to be the Red Hook Public Library. But it was indeed there, intriguingly under a sign announcing "Fiction , that saxophonist Michael Blake and tubaist Marcus Rojas performed a brief early evening set (May 15th). The audience was sparse and was mostly made up of kids doing their homework. This was fitting as Blake and Rojas were engaged in their own brand of research; after this gig, they would leave Red Hook in a cab to make an 8:30 pm set under Blake's leadership at Cornelia Street Café. Perhaps there they would play the more 'progressive' music for which they are known, but at this municipal setting, a more customary approach was displayed on Sonny Rollins' "Oleo , Blake's slow blues lament "Mr. John , Ellington's "Wig Wise and Billy Preston's "Nothing From Nothing . But if the material was more traditional, it did not preclude moments of modernity, particularly from Rojas' vox humana-like tuba. The contrast against Blake's tart, almost raspy tenor, especially on traded fours, was delicious like sweet and sour chicken. The informal environment was also conducive to moments of appropriate education, like when Rojas fulfilled a request for a circular breathing demonstration. This led into an improvised loping light '70s funk whose simple form moved smoothly into a moody blues and then a deconstruction of the Beatles "With a Little Help from My Friends .

Sam Bardfeld Stuff Smith Project at Barbes

Though violinist Sam Bardfeld might be known for his work with more outlandish ensembles, his Stuff Smith project, playing semi-regularly at Barbès, is closer in Americana spirit to his recent participation in Bruce Springsteen's band. At the Brooklyn haunt, (May 10th), Bardfeld and Co. - trombonist/vocalist Curtis Fowlkes, bassist Chris Lightcap and pianist Anthony Coleman - drew a refreshingly eclectic, at least age-wise, crowd for an evening of lovingly reimagined repertory music. Apart from Bardfeld, Fowlkes' early 20th century swing and Coleman's love of players like Jelly Roll Morton make for a band of sincere interpreters, if tongue-in-cheek ones. Bardfeld took every opportunity to educate the audience about Smith's life and times, couching some serious musicology in humorous terms, The combination of lecture and example showed how Smith's legacy can be traced all the way into modern violin practitioners like Bardfeld and how in jazz, strong earthy melodies still have an important place and as more than just nostalgia. There was virtuosity, sensitive interplay, toe-tapping abstraction and an appealing gruffness a-plenty on such numbers as "Skip It , "Where's the Man with the Jive? and even an Onyx Club Boys reworking of "Airmail Special entitled "Test Pilots . Bardfeld told a story about how Smith had varied critical responses, both as high art and low but such superficial distinctions meant little during this affable exploration.

~ Andrey Henkin

Anat Cohen at Jazz Standard

With two superb new Anzic CDs and successful evenings at Jazz Standard celebrating their release, Anat Cohen finally seems to be gaining some of the attention her talent so richly deserves. On the first night of the engagement (May 8th), the Israeli-born saxophonist/clarinetist was joined by her countryman Oded Lev-Ari, who conducted his remarkable original arrangements from Cohen's Noir disc. Fronting her Anzic Orchestra, an 18-piece ensemble that adds three cellos and percussion to the standard jazz orchestra instrumentation of reeds, brass and rhythm section, Cohen demonstrated her abilities on tenor and soprano saxophones, as well as clarinet, with a program that alternated straight-ahead jazz with the AfroCuban and Brazilian music she is increasingly known for playing. Sharing the solo spotlight with fellow reed players Billy Drewes, Ted Nash and Scott Robinson, trumpeter Avishai Cohen, guitarist Vic Juris and a swinging string section, Cohen stood out as a stunning improviser. On several numbers Duduka Da Fonseca sat in on drums and Brazilian percussion for some exciting rhythms. On the second evening (May 9th), Cohen played music from her Poetica album, showcasing her virtuoso clarinet. Leading a quartet with pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Omer Avital and drummer Daniel Freedman, that was later augmented with a string quartet, she made moving music with a mastery of her instrument that is virtually unmatched today.

Junior Mance at Sweet Rhythm

Junior Mance has been performing regularly in Village jazz clubs for nearly half a century, but with the closing of many of the area's piano bars, the periodic appearances by his trio at Sweet Rhythm has taken on a growing import, preserving a repertoire that is not often enough played today. A master musician with an understated virtuoso touch, Mance is a pianist whose personal style melds the influences of both Swing era and bebop pianists and his shows generally traverse the history of jazz. During a pair of Friday night sets (May 11th) he led his trio featuring bassist Rudy Tanaka and drummer Jackie Williams through a program that touched upon a wide range of the classic jazz piano repertory. The group swung mightily on the standard "Falling In Love With Love and Jimmie Lunceford's "For Dancers Only , before the pianist played a stirring solo rendition of Duke's "Single Petal Of A Rose , followed by a rousing trio performance of his soulful gospel-tinged original "Jubilation . Tanaka was featured to great effect on "Blue Monk , utilizing an unorthodox fingering style to coax rich chords from his bass. On "Take The A Train Williams took the spotlight with a solo on which he played his drums with sticks, mallets, his hands and a tambourine in a tour de force show of swing. The trio ended with a down home blues. The next set followed similarly, with Mance showing that "it ain't what you play, but the way that you play it that really counts.

~ Russ Musto

Recommended New Listening:

· Michael Brecker — Pilgrimage (Heads Up)

· Buffalo Age — Eponymous (Ilk Music)

· Joe Lovano & Hank Jones — Kids: Duets Live at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola (Blue Note)

· Mark Masters Ensemble — Wish Me Well: Reflections on Gary McFarland (Capri)

· Mike Moreno — Between the Lines (World Culture)

· Joshua Redman — Back East (Nonesuch)

-David Adler NY@Night Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com

· Rob Brown Trio — Sounds (Clean Feed)

· Jerry Granelli V16 — The Sonic Temple: Monday and Tuesday (Songlines)

· Bob Montgomery/Al Hermann Quintet — On The Brink (Summit)

· Joshua Redman — Back East (Nonesuch)

· Wadada Leo Smith/Günter Baby Sömmer — Wisdom in Time (Intakt)

· Frank Tiberi — 4 Brothers 7 (Jazzed Media)

-Laurence Donohue-Greene Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York

· Berlin Symphonie — MND 1968-72 (Olof Bright)

· Jerry Granelli V16 — The Sonic Temple: Monday and Tuesday (Songlines)

· The Leaders — Spirits Alike (Double Moon)

· Steve Marcus Project (Mighty Quinn)

· Ras Moshe — Transcendence (KMB Jazz)

· Spontaneous Music Ensemble — Frameworks (Emanem)

-Andrey Henkin Editorial Director, AllAboutJazz-New York



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