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June 2009

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Brad Mehldau

Village Vanguard

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 communication—following 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.



Ray Drummond

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

Rubin Museum

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 that—the inspiration isn't always evident in the music—but 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.

Joe McPhee

Joe McPhee

The Local 269

New York, NY

May 4, 2009


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