523

March 2003

David Adler By

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The orchestra
Before I present my NYC live jazz highlights for February 2003, a note to readers:

Thanks to a slew of overlapping professional and personal commitments, I’ll be shortening the column somewhat in the coming months. Rest assured, this will be temporary. NY@Night is not going away! I anticipate a return to normal sometime around summer of this year. Thanks for your understanding, and keep reading!


ScoLoHoFo — Or in four different syllables: How could they miss? All of them sounded reliably gargantuan, packing Iridium for a week. Holland stole Thursday’s first set with his solemn but chopsy intro to the Eastern-tinged 6/4 tune “The Winding Way.” His ballad “In Your Arms” and Foster’s up-tempo “Brandyn” featured Lovano on curved soprano.” Scofield burned, playing fluidly but taking risks on his somewhat “Doxy”-like “Oh I See,” which also afforded a contrasting view of Holland’s greatness. Supergroups may come and go, but this one packs a punch because its members have deep and substantial career ties. Sco, Holland, and Foster backed Joe Henderson on 1993’s So Near, So Far ; Holland played on Lovano’s From the Soul (1992) and the first volume of Trio Fascination (1998). Like yesterday I can recall Scofield and Foster, with Eddie Gomez, playing standards at Fat Tuesdays roughly 15 years ago.

Maria Schneider/Toshiko Akiyoshi — Two vividly contrasting big bands, paired for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s “As of Now” series at Alice Tully Hall. Schneider led off with her tried and true “Green Piece” and then premiered two magnificent new suites. The first, “Three Romances,” was inspired by Schneider’s love of ballet and featured Frank Kimbrough’s evocative piano, as well as an inspired “Pas De Deux” involving Ingrid Jensen and Charles Pillow. The second work came about after Schneider, inspired by a Paco De Lucia concert, went on a quest to soak up the rhythmic vocabulary of flamenco music. “Buleria, Solea, Rumba,” the resulting three-part suite, found Jeff Ballard and Tim Horner playing cajones (wood-box percussion instruments) and Donny McCaslin bringing down the house with a screaming tenor solo. The orchestra’s execution was impeccable, and Schneider’s enormously subtle shadings of tempo and volume demanded nothing less.

The highlight of Toshiko Akiyoshi’s set was a newly commissioned, three-part suite for jazz orchestra and taiko — a huge, thunderous drum that sits on a wood stand and is struck with two thick batons. Master taiko player Eitetsu Hayashi flew from Japan to participate in this visually arresting encounter. Dressed in ceremonial garb, he pounded the taiko with his back to the audience — and lo and behold, he swung, putting the mammoth instrument’s veritable rainbow of timbral colors on full display. Masakazu Yoshizawa from LA also came on board for this suite, playing the far smaller tsuzumi and kakko drums. Akiyoshi’s music was largely bop-inspired and included a fierce three-way sax battle between Dave Pietro, Jim Snidero, and Tom Christensen. Lew Tabackin’s tenor and flute were right on the mark, although he does tend to over-sell his playing, what with the foot-stomping and all.

Charles Lloyd — With his eyes concealed behind dark sunglasses, Lloyd brought a slow-burning intensity to the Blue Note stage, leading a quintet with Geri Allen, John Abercrombie, Bob Hurst, and Eric Harland. Highlights included the mournful ballad “Lady Day” and a charged reading of “Equinox” that gave way to an earthy, explosive “Go Down Moses.” Lloyd played tenor, alto flute, and what looked like a wooden soprano; his urgent but dulcet-toned phrases blended superbly with Allen’s thick, advanced harmonies and Abercrombie’s idiosyncratic, hard-edged timbres. Harland especially seemed to enjoy matching Abercrombie’s rhythmic adventurism lick for lick. Hurst swung hard and unexpectedly ventured into “Lonely Woman” during one solo, reminding me of Charlie Haden’s recent appearance on the very same stage. With his horn often cocked at a Lester-like angle, Lloyd has an odd but captivating stage presence; his eccentricity was greatly magnified on the one occasion when he paused to speak.

Either/Orchestra with John Tchicai — It had been nearly a decade since their last collaboration, but the Boston-based 10-piece and the expatriate tenor saxophonist joined forces once again at Tonic, in a playful, left-of-center romp through a handful of Tchicai’s compositions. Tchicai and bandleader Russ Gershon indulged in some two-tenor banter on the second-set opener, “Not So Black,” a piece that also involved a full-band poetry recitation. ( Moonstone Journey, Tchicai’s 1999 collaboration with the Danish septet OK Nok...Kongo, featured similar adventures in verse.) Drummer Harvey Wirght and percussionist Vicente Lebron were instrumental in bringing out the Afro-Latin flavor of Tchicai’s writing, not least of all the sprawling “Island Connection Suite.” Strong performances also from trombonist Joel Yennior, alto saxophonist Rick Stone, and pianist-Moog man Greg Burk. Exciting set, great vibes, even if certain passages teetered like a house of cards.

Mark Turner Trio — Back at the Village Vanguard, with neither Ethan Iverson nor Kurt Rosenwinkel by his side (although he’ll return to co-lead a quartet with Rosenwinkel March 4-9). The soft-spoken tenor saxophonist engaged in a seeking, spirited dialogue with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard. Much of the music was of a straight-eighth, funk-inflected character, its intricate architecture offset by the sparse instrumentation and loose, freely flowing groove. Rosenwinkel’s “Synthetics,” from The Enemies of Energy, was a high point. You can pick Turner out in a crowd immediately, and the trio format does much to accentuate his uniqueness. From the sound of things, his next recording ought to bear that out as well.

Peter Apfelbaum’s New York Hieroglyphics — A reconstituted version of the well-loved Bay Area ensemble, heard for two nights at the Jazz Gallery. Apfelbaum played tenor, melodica, piano, and percussion and led the 12-piece ensemble through a riotous and inspiring set. Five horns, two guitars, violin, electric bass and drums make for a thick stew of sound, and with soloists like Charles Burnham, Josh Roseman, and Peck Allmond, there isn’t a dull moment. Hieroglyphics is in some sense a vamp band, borrowing a page or two from Afrobeat. But with Apfelbaum’s complex part-writing and flair for tension and release, one should expect the unexpected. Just when you think the groove is getting worn out, it blasts off in a wholly new direction. No resisting those thunderous unison passages, or that crisp rhythm section interplay, or the mellow, charismatic presence of Apfelbaum himself.

Charlie Hunter Quintet — The band’s Thursday night residency at No Moore seems to prove that there’s a substantial audience for instrumental music these days. Fire safety codes had shut down the Tribeca bar’s two-floor space for a time, but people are flooding in once again. Hunter, stunningly adroit and inventive, continues to make his eight-string guitar sound a lot like a Hammond organ. His quintet served up sophisticated funk and featured John Ellis on tenor, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Sam Newsome on soprano, and Derrek Phillips on drums. Phillips is just as creative with these airtight grooves as he is with the far more convoluted music of Vijay Iyer and Liberty Ellman. Ellis, whose album Roots, Branches & Leaves still lingers in these ears, figures prominently as a soloist. Hunter has just hopped from Blue Note over to Ropeadope; Right Now Move, with Gregoire Maret in place of Newsome, is due out in late March.

Jemeel Moondoc’s Jus Grew Orchestra — Also in residence on Thursdays in February (at the Gallery), with Roy Campbell and Nathan Breedlove on trumpets, Zane Massey on tenor saxophone, Steve Swell on trombone, Bern Nix on guitar, John Voigt on bass, and Reggie Nicholson on drums. (Baritone saxophonist Michael Marcus was MIA on the band’s opening night.) When he’s not playing alto sax, the petite Moondoc is doing something similar to Butch Morris’s conduction, coaxing improv and guiding interaction among all assembled. There wasn’t a weak link among the many horns, although Massey, with his burly sound, stood out.

Ben Waltzer Trio — The pianist’s engagement at Cornelia Street Café featured Matt Penman on bass and Danny Freedman on drums (standing in for Lightcap and Cleaver, respectively). Ruminative and harmonically adept, Waltzer reached deep into the Bud Powell book and came up with the marvelous “Reets and I.” His 3/4 reading of “Skylark” involved some head-turning reharm on the bridge, and “I’m Through With Love” yielded similarly ripe fruits. After these and several absorbing originals, the trio wrapped up early to make way for the exterminator (!), but not before special guest Michael Kanan sat in and blew a few revelatory choruses on the blues.



Recommended Discs:
  • Deanna Witkowski, Wide Open Window (Khaeon)
  • Chris Lightcap, Bigmouth (Fresh Sound/New Talent)
  • Brad Shepik, Drip (Knitting Factory)
  • Jim McNeely Trio, In This Moment (Stunt)
  • Uri Caine, Concerto Koln: Diabelli Variations (Winter & Winter)
  • Irvin Mayfield/Gordon Parks, Half Past Autumn Suite (Basin Street)

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