Their name might imply an approach fraught with sonic extremity of a Zornian nature, but the reality of Kamikaze Ground Crew is more cultured, in the manner of stepping a few feet to the perimeter, and self- consciously gazing at the chosen repertoire. They're playing outside in MoMA's sculpture garden, as part of the Dalí Imagined Musical Landscapes season. This, in turn, is linked to the current Dalí pictorial exhibition that's concentrating on that dandy debunker's connections to the cinematic image. In the end, the Kamikazes are probably playing their usual set list, but a variegated selection of composers that are often Salvador's contemporaries (and in many cases, inspirations) is some justification of their presence on the surrealistic date sheet. Veering from Satie to Stravinsky to Stockhausen to Stone (as in Sly), all of the pieces are filtered through a street band construction that is perched midway between polite military parade and lusty New Orleans ramble. Occupying the latter wing is trumpeter Steven Bernstein, sporting bright blue checked garb (with purple shoes) that would devastate the golf course, and blowing slide-horn to match, slurring and squealing, then leading a standing-up climax that finishes the first set. His fellow blowers include Peter Apfelbaum (tenor saxophone), Art Baron (trombone), Marcus Rojas (tuba) and co-leaders Doug Wieselman and Gina Leishman (all manner of reeds). Percussionist Kenny Wollesen is just as impressive visually as sonically (his kit augmented by an exotic hanging-frame), imparting much of the combo's anarchic sense, along with Bernstein. The early evening session becomes an expedition into environmental sonics, with sounds that are often quietly undemonstrative vying with traffic and helicopter ambients, not to mention the distant susurrus of human conversation, issuing from the three-quarters of the crowd who are spread out further from the stage-end of the garden. This is no bad thing, in a way, as the Kamikaze music interlaces softly with its surroundings, in keeping with Satie and Stockhausen's spirits. At closer quarters, from amongst the trees, this also includes delicate birdsong.
Chico Hamilton & Euphoria
August 26, 2008
Even in his early years, the great Los Angeles drummer Chico Hamilton's career summation was as complete as most players could ever expect, as he worked with Lionel Hampton, Lester Young, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Gerry Mulligan. Arguably even greater things began to happen once Hamilton started operating his own band, a key characteristic being an ability and an urge to keep his compositions moving, to change their sound in keeping with the times, in a post-Milesian manner. Right now, he's been feeling ill, and has two of his doctors on hand in the audience for this one-nighter at Dizzy's. They're here to see if he was worth preserving, Chico quips. The repertoire has several repetitions in the two sets, and Hamilton's stage patter is almost exactly the same, but the Euphoria sextet do manage to tip in a few new numbers during the second half of the evening, and it's instructive to hear variations on the same material. The leader is looking noticeably slighter, and quite frail, but his eyes still gleam with mischief and his sticks are perfectly under his command, even though he might now be playing in a more restrained manner when compared with only a few years back. This is a fitting approach to the demands of his music, as the Euphoria aura is not really akin to its namesake, but instead dedicated to the beauty of tonal colouration. Everything about this band revolves around lush sonic painting, with the young hornmen Evan Schwam and Eddie Barbash blowing alto and tenor saxophones with harmonious attention to precise enunciation. They're required to twin their sopranos, and even more symbiotically, their flutes, thus varying the dappling hues of the music. Percussionist Jeremy Carlstedt is also a youngster, pattering with great subtlety beside Hamilton's brushes. The rhythms are frequently weighed towards the Latin side, though still existing as part of a mainline jazz language. All of the players (guitarist Cary Denigris and bassman Paul Ramsey are the older members) huddle closely around the leader's drumkit, as if to provide warmth, their ears finely attuned to the shimmering needs of the compositions. Hamilton isn't crashing around the kit, but his force is strong in its containment, as he clacks subtle rimshots or booms with furred sticks. The Euphoria sound has calmed down compared to its almost Prime Time attack at the beginning of this decade, but there's still the feeling that Hamilton is at the vanguard rather than coasting on the reputation of his work from fifty years ago.
David Ostwald's Gully Low Jazz Band & Dick Hyman
August 27, 2008
The tuba-harumphing bandleader David Ostwald's weekly early-evening engagement at Birdland often provides an opportunity for him to invite along a running parade of guest players, and so his Gully Low Jazz Band features a rotating roster. On this occasion, there's the substantial presence of veteran pianist Dick Hyman, who was gigging at Birdland on the very night that the club opened on its original premises, back in 1949. Also on hand is trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, clarinetist Mark Lopeman and drummer Joe Ascione, so this isn't the accustomed line-up, although the latter is a figure from the combo's past. Only trumpeter Jon- Erik Kellso is one of the Gully hardcore. Ostwald is devoted to the old Louis Armstrong repertoire, but he sometimes manages to find excuses to step slightly outside of this hallowed tome, as when Gordon sings a glorious “Blue Turning Grey Over You,” recalling Armstrong's Satch Plays Fats album, released in 1955 (reissued in 2008), and dedicated to the tunes of Fats Waller. Its producer, George Avakian, is actually in the house, sitting on the front row. He's a regular down at these Gully Low shows, and came out of retirement to produce their debut disc. Back to the inspirational Gordon again, who provides the session's finest solo, an exquisite double- muted wah-wah monologue. Hyman is no slouch either, but his ripplingly best moments come when the horns vacate the stage, leaving him with drums and tuba, or even just Ascione alone. As all except the vocals are unamplified, Hyman's battling to be heard when the band's trotting at full tilt. Even though Ostwald opens the piano lid early in the proceedings, Hyman's merging into the general rhythmic roll.
The Avishai Cohen Trio
The Blue Note
August 28, 2008
The Israeli bassist (and pianist) Avishai Cohen likes to play in New York on at least an annual basis, so this Blue Note residency is strategically placed to push the latest album, Gently Disturbed. He's brought out the stable formation found on the disc, with Shai Maestro at the piano, and Mark Guiliana drumming. Immediately, this trio will have to contest with the weariness brought on by the current over-abundance of piano trios. Right from the beginning, it's clear to see that the threesome will be perpetually side-stepping anything that might be expected from a complacent grouping. Invoking the name of e.s.t. is hard to avoid, as there's a similar shape-shifting dynamism to these original compositions, a constant interchange between the ostensible roles of rhythm, melody and unshackled soloing. It's Guiliana who'll be scattering clatters around his kit, whilst Cohen and Maestro are closely coupled, vamping out a pulsing formation with exact synchronisation. Guiliana is a future star of the sticks (well, he is already, but not yet widely heralded as such), performing with a whiplash ferocity that's clipped and compressed for heightened impact. He's all around the conventional beat-flow, even in jazz terms, swooping and darting dangerously, with a staccato attack. Guiliana succeeds in being a challenging free-former, as well as refusing to relinquish his swinging prowess. Cohen, meanwhile, is interested in the higher end of his instrument's range, its singing, pointillistic potentiality. His nimble digits will pick out highly elaborate melodies, part-soloing and partly creating unrepeating basslines. Like Guiliana, he's a high energy performer, slapping and rapping his bass-body, as if out of impatience and frustration with being limited to a single instrument. Maestro is almost the straight man to these two, his style open to a classicist dignity, with a predilection for repeating romantic figures. It's he who helps bring out the Esbjörn Svensson comparisons, but this is also due to the fast-changing contrasts in the responsibilities and prominences of each trio-member. Ultimately, it's a wordless vibration: for the whole duration, Cohen's trio are compelling, changeable and compulsive. The secret lies in their mood, their attitude and not least in their musical fluency. All noodling is banished. All auto-pilot motion is cancelled. There's a difference, and we only know it when it suddenly happens.
James Chance & The Contortions
August 30, 2008
The contemporary art centre PS1, in Queens, has been running its Saturday afternoon Warm Up sessions for a decade now, sucking music freaks inside its portals, who'll maybe find some time to scoot around the gallery exhibitions and installations, besides tuning into an ultra-varied courtyard menu of alternative rock, jazz and electronic sounds. This is the summer's penultimate party, and party is a suitable word, when the pulsing crowd has ample time to settle into the wide-ranging display of twitchy beats, quaffing an imaginative selection of specialist beers, finding shade underneath the swooping 'farm,' a large collection of suspended earth-filled buckets, growing produce up towards the heavens in an ascending pathway. There's even a shaded paddling pool, for children and ravers alike. The afternoon begins with ex-Swans drummer Jonathan Kane's February (avant rockabilly) and ends with Spectral Sound DJs Matthew Dear and Ryan Elliott (minimal house), but dominating the prime midway slot are James Chance & The Contortions, those champions of the New York No Wave scene of the late 1970s and early '80s. The line-up seems to be in place from the classic old days, featuring Jody Harris and Pat Place (guitars), Don Christensen (drums) and Robert Aaron (saxophones/keyboards, just like Chance himself). The leader might be older, and less prone to skirmishes with the crowd (on how many occasions did he really punch out members of the audience? Have one or two bouts of fisticuffs mushroomed into legend?), but he's still wired up musically, yelping and grunting in a manic post-James Brown gush, issuing a blurting stutter on saxophone, and strafing out cheap organ frills (and thrills), as Aaron covers him on whichever instrument he's not presently playing. The Contortion sound remains completely current, a savage dismemberment of groove principles that actually ends up intensifying the funk with jagged jump-cuts and ingrown bass/drum relationships. Over the course of an hour, Chance starts out with a moderate amount of jerking, upping the desperate vibrations until by the second half he's twitching spasmodically to a slipped beat that's the ultimate in sophisticated getting- down, a drenched porno spasm of cold sweatin' pose.
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