Live Big Bands From New York: Charles Tolliver, Darcy James Argue & Charli Persip


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The Charles Tolliver Big Band
October 18, 2009

Trumpeter Charles Tolliver likes to keep his big band well-drilled. His arrangements are concerned with a cutting, eagle-swoop precision, built up from portable clusters that can be detonated at any time. He enjoys settling into a sleek groove, but will suddenly find the urge for a punctuating jab, unexpectedly engaging his ranks with a blurring swipe of the hand.

This final set of the ensemble's Iridium residency found the band in an anything but relaxed mode. Tolliver is constantly wired. We'd expect tenor man Billy Harper to be paramount amongst the saxophone soloists (and so he was), but the much less-familiar Bruce Williams also set some early alto sparks flying. The band also boasted David Weiss in the trumpet section, and Ralph Peterson on the drums, even though the latter was only billed for the middle two nights.

The saxophone section is particularly strong, ranging though their complete soloing prowess during the set, even though the baritone of Patience Higgins only made a single flourish. Tolliver himself soloed with regularity, although he was sometimes much too high in the sound balance, giving him an unnatural stridency.

Most of the tunes were Tolliver's own, and the set climaxed with Emperor March (Half Note Records, 2009), the title track of his recent live album. This is very much a big band for hardcore followers of the form.

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society

The Bell House

October 19, 2009

The classic big band template usually includes an electric guitar that still reflects the instrument's role in pre-amplification days: a sometimes barely-audible rhythm-filler. This is anything but the case in Darcy James Argue's Secret Society.

Instead, Sebastian Noelle's guitar is a featured structural activator, riffing upfront, and clearly delineating the leader's obvious rock'n'roll influences. This is not to say that the Secret Society do anything but inhale deeply of jazz music's glorious past. Just not exclusively so. Much of its membership is drawn from rising names on the New York scene, often band leaders themselves: saxophonists Erica von Kleist and Josh Sinton, trombonist Ryan Keberle, trumpeters Seneca Black and Ingrid Jensen, the latter of whom we can say has already safely risen.

The Canadian-New Yorker Argue's pieces vibrate in a hinterland between free extremity and charging swing, cleverly alienating neither of his prospective jazz camps, and even inviting some folks in from the rock zone. This is a more likely state of affairs at The Bell House, in Brooklyn's desolate industrial hinterland of the Gowanus Canal, which books rock acts on most of its nights. This invitingly large (darkness and woodiness lend warmth to a big room) venue has now become a regular haunt for the Search & Restore promoters, always believers in a healthy amount of cross-genre pollution.

Charli Persip & Supersound


October 20, 2009

Eighty-year-old New Jersey drummer Charlie Persip's Supersound is probably the least adventurous of these three combos, but only slightly less exciting in their pursuit of the expanded groove. They launched the evening with Joe Henderson's "Punjab," which set a hurtling precedent. Persip himself is a more abstract presence, giving the impression that he's in constant soloing motion.

There's a tuba in the house, and Mike Guilford is possibly responsible for the electro-tweakings that don't have an immediately identifiable source. The triumph of the set was how Persip cut back from funkiness, full of heated solos from the saxophone ranks, and introduced his singers, who proceeded to impose completely different auras.

Trombonist Eric Hoffman downed his instrument and breezed along with a Broadway cast exuberance and theatricality (well we were on Broadway itself, after all). The other singer, Chelsea Crowe, springs more from the mainline jazz tradition, and succeeded in dissecting Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" with carefully enunciated phrases, paring the song's lines down to a ghostly minimalism. Then she wafted offstage before the entire band weighed in with a sweeping expansion of the melody. These two vocal escapades were quite out of keeping with the general momentum, but this resulted in all sides benefiting from the contrasts.

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