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.


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