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Live From New York: Sabir Khan, Steve Smith, Billy Childs, Pamelia Stickney & Sam Amidon

Martin Longley By

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Sabir Khan & Aditya Kalyanpur
The Rubin Museum Of Art
March 23, 2018

The Rubin Museum now seems to have eased off on its penchant for strictly all-acoustic performances, with microphones in place for this recital by the Indian sarangi player Sabir Khan, returning a long time after his 2006 visit. The sarangi is a smallish box-shaped string instrument, looking like a complicated violin, but sounding more like a cello. It has similar qualities to the various types of Arabic rebab, but with many more sympathetic strings (metal), beyond its three prime strings (gut). It's played with a bow, and with hard nails applying pressure to the strings, rather than soft fingertips.

Khan was joined by Aditya Kalyanpur (tabla) and Falu (tanpura), as well as providing his own electronic drone. Khan sometimes tapped the strings with the flat palm of his hand, but he mainly bowed with a deep, granular flourish, opening up the set alone, with an extended alap introduction. Kalyanpur's tabla entered, and a slow flow commenced, with extended notes, or swift flashes of detailed running, drawing out the eventual heated climax, which arrived with lightning flurries, and smeared tabla skin-wobbles, slippery in nature. Khan had acknowledged Falu as a fabulous singer on the New York scene, but then he proceeded with a Rajasthani folk song, providing vocals himself, not offering the microphone to her, which was a small disappointment to conclude an exceptionally atmospheric and expressive gig.

The Steve Smith Organ Trio
Birdland
March 23, 2018

Later the same evening, just a short amble uptown, drummer Steve Smith led his Organ Trio, which is dedicated to the upheaval of 1960s jazz groove. Smith himself has devoted considerable time to the study of Indian classical music, and is dedicated to that craft as a significant influence on his jazz and rock stylings. The Groove: Blue repertoire was delivered together with Tony Monaco (Hammond organ) and Vinny Valentino (guitar).

The late set at Birdland was well-populated, with energy-sizzle left over from the earlier show. These three players were laughing and grooving straight off, the spirited audience locked into the experience immediately, firmly aligned with these swirling cruisers. Monaco enjoyed the sustained tone of his instrument, relishing its tidal rush, as he upped the volume curve. Around 15 minutes in, with "Indonesian Nights" underway, Valentino was vocalising along with his guitar solo (no mean feat to perform such an act with 'good taste'), whilst Monaco and Smith led the crowd along with swift handclaps. This trio overflows with retro funksomeness, a pact that began when the bandleader and Valentino met Monaco at a heated Jakarta all-night jam session, whilst appearing at the Java Jazz Festival in 2011.

Most of the set's repertoire was taken from their 2015 album, although opening with "Vinny's Blues." Following "Bugalu," they veered into "The Brush Off," which unsurprisingly featured Smith on the lighter sticks. A sophisticated slinker, it provided some respite before the trio hurtled into "Caravan," skipping and prancing, as Monaco churned out an enlarged solo, pumping right at the heart. Smith provided an equally monstrous drum solo, now brandishing sticks for a full assault of complex patterns. For "It's Only A Paper Moon," Smith invited Swaminathan Selvaganesh to sing, and play the kanjira (a south Indian frame drum), with the Chennai native alternating konnakol (Carnatic classical music percussion-talk) phrases with Smith, at bewildering velocity. In the evening's final drum solo, Smith suddenly whipped out a pair of glow-sticks, as the stage lighting was killed. These groovemeisters know all about entertainment, but Smith favours an intricate and substantial incarnation of the groove, promoting a complex manifestation of earthy head-nodding.

The Billy Childs Quartet
Jazz Standard
March 25, 2018

Los Angeles pianist Billy Childs chooses his sidemen well, but perhaps too well, if he was in danger of being a player with an ego enlargement. This quartet's team of Ari Hoenig (drums), Hans Glawischnig (bass) and Dayna Stephens (saxophones) all tend towards an energised, extroverted expression of their considerable powers, so perhaps Childs can be content as an august leader- composer figure, rather than feeling the need to compete with his own supercharged employees.

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