New York City May 6, 2009
When Brad Mehldau
acknowledged the presence of Hank Jones
in the audience at the Village Vanguard (May 6th), he recalled being 16 and hearing Jones at Bradley's, an experience that helped set Mehldau on his current path. Although steeped in the intimate jazz tradition that Bradley's epitomized, Mehldau and his trio partners (bassist FLY
, drummer Jeff Ballard
) tend to look well beyond the jazz canon for song choices. So they began with "Got Me Wrong" by '90s grunge-rockers Alice in Chains, with the original pounding 4/4 reworked as a steady-boiling groove in seven. Mehldau flecked his lines with dissonance and a blues edge, sneaking in virtuosic runs but otherwise sticking to the patient lyricism that characterizes much of his recent work. The bright "Aqua Man" found Grenadier floating between a two-feel and walking swing, a tension that prompted energetic responses from Ballard. Thelonious Monk's "Work" slowed the tempo again and opened space for refined communicationfollowing Grenadier's leadoff solo, Mehldau and Ballard fell into rhythmic displacements in a bristling call-and-response. Denzil Best's up-tempo "Move" appeared in disguised form, with an altered melody, but Mehldau soared the highest with a dark rubato fantasia inspired by the film Easy Rider. Boldly, he finished with a ballad, "Isn't This a Lovely Day," capped by a long cadenza with dense, headspinning tremolo patterns that gave way, at last, to a simple final chord.
Lost Jazz Shrines at Tribeca Performing Arts Center
New York, NY
May 8, 2009
This year the Lost Jazz Shrines series honored Bradley's, the sorely missed pub and "communication headquarters" on University Place, known for much of its history as a venue for piano-bass duos. Reminiscing about Bradley's comes easy to bassist and former regular Ray Drummond, who headlined the first of three tribute concerts at Tribeca Performing Arts Center (May 8th). In a preconcert talk with Ted Panken and Willard Jenkins, he said the approach would be the same as in old Bradley's days: no rehearsal, no set list. Three pianists would share the stage with "Bulldog" Drummond, beginning with Renee Rosnes, whose fire and proficiency on "Everything I Love," "Yesterdays," "Chelsea Bridge" and "Pas de Trois" set the bar high. Bill Mays, a friend of Drummond's for some 45 years, brought caprice and jaw-dropping execution to "Alone Together," "Laura," "Emily," Monk's "Eronel" and the Tommy Flanagan blues "Freight Train". Finally, the great Barry Harris took Drummond on a ride through Monk's "Ruby My Dear," "Epistrophy," "Light Blue," "Off Minor" and "Pannonica" before winding down with "Willow Weep for Me" and "Paradise," his funny vocalese encore based on "Embraceable You". Harris didn't have the raw chops of the younger pianists on the bill, but his harmonic and rhythmic authority held listeners in awe. Playing "Tea for Two" with Bud Powell's chromatic changes, he and Drummond fell into a tempo that was blistering and all but infallible.
David R. Adler
Billy Bang & William Parker
New York, NY
May 8, 2009
The "Harlem in the Himalayas" series at the Rubin Museum, co-sponsored with the Jazz Museum in Harlem, begins with an unusual premise. Musicians are invited to visit the museum and select a piece from its collection of Himalayan art to serve as inspiration for their concert. The piece is projected behind them during the performance and in principle the music is composed or conceived with the work in mind. It doesn't always pan out like thatthe inspiration isn't always evident in the musicbut on May 8th violinist Billy Bang and bassist William Parker seemed to take the premise very much to heart. Bang chose a tapestry depicting the "Master of Healing" and introduced the piece alluding to his own health concerns. The long first piece (fittingly titled "Medicine Buddha") had a strongly devotional feel, beginning with a prolonged bass drone with overtones, Bang humming quietly and bowing a soft, two-note figure over the top. After a magnificent, prolonged bass solo, Bang returned brighter than before, playing his familiar, boppishly glimmering glissandi. Parker followed and the two easily moved from atempo to upbeat. The second half of the set included shorter pieces played on shakuhachi, kora and mbira before returning to the string duo for a dedication to violinist Leroy Jenkins and then "Buddha's Joy," another new piece that seemed to show the restorative powers had taken effect. The set had an appropriately ceremonial feel, but by the end soared ebulliently.
The Local 269
New York, NY
May 4, 2009
The art of conduction has taken several forms, but usually tends to follow the model of Butch Morris, using hand cues to shape the piece. At The Local 269 on May 4th, Joe McPhee took the role more of realtime arranger. He opened the night with a great solo set on alto saxophone and alto clarinet (two unusual instruments for him), playing mostly mournful ballads and even sub-ballads, plus a fantastically realized sax-key percussion piece. He then summoned a nonet of improvisers to do a piece based on the obscure Ornette Coleman live album Forms and Sounds. The night marked the 30th anniversary of the recording of the album (McPhee had been in the audience) and was built around the leader's unaccompanied trumpet solos alternating with group improvisations; McPhee's restructuring set vocalist Mossa Bildner as the central figure with duos and trios crafted out of the larger ensemble, pairing violinist Jason Hwang and saxophonist Zak Sherzad or emphasizing the lower register with Tom Zlabinger's bass and Jesse Dulman's tuba. But the players, who closely adhered to the plaintive mood Bildner set, determined the music itself. Hwang was especially impressive at the transliteration, recalling the shifting intervals in Bildner's spontaneous song and replanting them later. Although McPhee abandoned the conductor's stand after the first long piece, picking up his sax to join the group, it was interesting to watch the consummate improviser conceptualizing.
New York, NY
May 9, 2009
Back in the mid '80s, Webster Hall was known as The Ritz and presented legendary metal and punk bands. Though it has since become a dance club, some of that early spirit was on display for the US debut of OffOnOff (May 9th at the downstairs studio), the trio of guitarist Terrie Ex (Holland), bassist Massimo Pupillo (Italy) and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (Norway). Given the backgrounds of the participantswho met in the larger group Original Silencethe 45 minutes of free improvisation reflected three distinct traditions: punk intensity, noise aesthetic and jazz sensibility. OffOnOff may seem at first a product of chaos but there is precision to Ex's variations without a theme, Pupillo's dense strafing and Nilssen-Love's frenetic bashing. In fact, all the ferocity that the latter implies with groups like The Thing is fully realized with OffOnOff, the drummer having no need to restrain himself. And despite the volume, there were moments of actual motific and thematic development and an almost traditional hierarchy. This is a band that exudes full confidence in its concept and execution, made all the more impressive given that the three had all flown in from different countries that day to begin a tour. But perhaps the best part of the concert was that, since the stage was near the bathrooms and coatcheck, patrons of the upstairs club, dressed in weekend finery and smelling of perfume and cologne, would drift into the room and look aghast at the proceedings.
May 10, 2009
Downtown stalwarts Steven Bernstein and David Tronzo were scheduled to play an intimate quartet gig at that new downtown, aka Brooklyn. Bernstein was called away so the set at Park Slope's Bar 4 (May 10th) became a rare chance to see the guitarist 'leading' a traditional trio, with bassist Garth Stevenson and drummer Ziv Ravitz, booked by the rhythm section. Tronzo is the rare musician who, while being completely magnanimous with space and control, still dominates any situation in which he participates. This was the case in the first 15-minute improvisation, a blues-without-the-bravado, where Tronzo played the younger musicians like another instrument. The next piece, expansive at over 26 minutes, demonstrated how Tronzo uses his preparations and odd slides for specific musical purpose, never for novelty. The early slower pace sounded almost majestic but moved into more earthy ruminations and then back to the piece's initial ethereal milieu. Mention should be made of Stevenson's electronics, which integrated well as a gauzy layer. And Ravitz, who knew Tronzo from Boston's Berklee School of Music and has played with another wonderful improviser in Lee Konitz, was impressive throughout, whether it be as a straight accompanist with sticks, a textural foil with mallets or an atmospheric component using only his hands. The set's last two pieces, as the trio became really comfortable, were the most groove-oriented, Tronzo rewriting the book on guitar goddery.
Freddie Hubbard Memorial
New York City
May 4, 2009
The New York City jazz community poured into the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to pay a final tribute to the great Freddie Hubbard (May 4th) in a program that showcased the late jazz man's enduring legacy as a composer. Opening with a brass quintet featuring Eddie Henderson out front on Hubbard's mournful "Lament For Booker," a long line of trumpeters took to the stage to play their departed comrade's music. Henderson and David Weiss joined forces for the powerful civil rights anthem "The Core" with Billy Harper, Antonio Hart, George Cables, Dwayne Burno and EJ Strickland and Roy Hargrove offered a warm reading of the classic "Up Jumped Spring" with Cedar Walton, Javon Jackson, Buster Williams, Al Foster and guest James Spaulding on flute. Charles Tolliver led a quintet with Gary Bartz, Cables, Christian McBride and Carl Allen through Hubbard's "Arietis," while Jimmy Owens shined on "Little Sunflower" with Howard Johnson, Spaulding, Russell Malone, Xavier Davis, Burno, Joe Chambers and surprise vocalist TC III. Speakers Ray Appleton and Larry Ridley reminisced on Hubbard's early days in Indianapolis and his ascendancy in New York; Stanley Crouch spoke of his "strength, courage, power, sensitivity and endurance." Wallace Roney burned on "One Of A Kind" and David Weiss fronted his New Composers Octet plus Spaulding on "Blue Spirits" before Randy Brecker, Brian Lynch and Joe Lovano closed with the fiery "Birdlike".
New York City
May 13, 2009
In a career spanning over seven decades, saxophonist-flutist Frank Wess has pretty much done it all, but like many of the artists of his era, it is the swinging sound of a big band that remains dear to him. At Dizzy's Club (May 13th) the Count Basie veteran, dubbed "Magic" by that band's guitarist Freddie Green, cast a spell over an appreciative hand-clapping and foot- tapping audience, fronting a nine piece group that managed to conjure up the sounds of a full big band thanks to the wonderful arrangements of the leader and some of his fabulous sidemen. Opening with an exhilarating up-tempo swing-to-bop reading of Burton Lane's "Come Back To Me," Wess had the three reed-three brass-three rhythm configuration speeding along like a well-oiled machine. Pianist Michael Weiss, bassist Peter Washington and effusive drummer Winard Harper laid down the flagwaving rhythms on top of which Wess, with fellow saxists Ted Nash and Scott Robinson, trombonist Luis Bonilla and trumpeters Greg Gisbert and Frank Greene, blew a superbly blended ensemble sound. On "Sweet and Lovely," the boss (along with Nash and Robinson) demonstrated his mastery of the flute, the instrument he practically singlehandedly popularized in jazz. Originals "You Made A Good Move" and "All Riled Up" were perfect distillations of the essence of swing and the bossa "Night Flight" a model of beauty. Closing with "Make My Blues Turn Green" Wess proved good music never goes out of style.
Recommended New Listening:
* Jack DeJohnette/John Patitucci/Danilo PerezMusic We Are (Golden Beams Prod.)
* Paul GiallorenzoGet In to Go Out (482 Music)
* Michael Musillami Trio + 3From Seeds (Playscape)
* The Naked FutureGigantomachia (ESP-Disk)
* Jeremy UddenPlainville (Fresh Sound-New Talent)
* WHO Trio (Wintsch/Hemingway/Oester)Less Is More (Clean Feed)
David Adler [email protected] Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com
* Jerry Bergonzi/Dick OattsSaxology
* Agustí FernándezUn Llamp Que No S'Acaba Mai
* Gunter HampelLifer (Solo Concert New York)
* The Oster-Welker Jazz Alliance Shining Hour
* Wadada Leo Smith/Jack DeJohnetteAmerica
* Charles TylerSaga of the Outlaws
Laurence Donohue-Greene Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz
* Marco BeneventoMe Not Me
(Royal Potato Family Records)
* Dave Douglas & Brass EcstacySpirit Moves
* Peter EvansNature/Culture
* Satoko Fujii/Myra MelfordUnder the Water
* Sex Mob Meets MedeskiLive in Willisau 2006
* The Tiptons Sax QuartetLaws of Motion
Andrey Henkin Editorial Director, AllAboutJazz