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March 2005

AAJ Staff By

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Boston tenor titan Jerry Bergonzi drew a standing-room-only crowd to Smith's (Feb. 4th), one of New York's newer jazz rooms. This unit, with bassist Bruce Gertz and drummer Bob Kaufman, known as "KGB", recently made two beautiful discs, The Line Between and Dreaming Out Loud. At Smith's the trio was joined by pianist Gabriel Guerrero, from the New England Conservatory by way of Colombia. An intelligent player with a penchant for octaves, Guerrero cooks on a low flame and sometimes lets the flame go out - a danger in a room as big as Smith's, where quiet sound can get lost. Bergonzi, however, demanded attention from first note to last. His huge tone and focused attack brought to mind Trane, Sonny and Wayne. Gertz' effortless unisons on the opening waltz, a reworking of "How Deep Is the Ocean", inspired early confidence. Bergonzi's "Table Steaks" (or "Stakes"?) was based on "Stablemates" and had a subtle "Good Bait" reference in the melody. Gertz began the solo rotation; Bergonzi's turn was full of clever rhythmic punctuation and smooth double-timing. "Big Foot", a 5/4 hybrid of "Satellite" and "Giant Steps", showed Bergonzi's ability to build melodies over dense changes and many bar lines.

Trio Del Sol's self-titled disc (on the Twinz label) was hot off the presses when the group played the Jazz Standard (Feb. 1st). Pianist Misha Piatigorsky (nephew of the late master cellist Gregor Piatigorsky), guitarist Freddie Bryant and multi-percussionist Gilad (now on the road with Regina Carter) played to a full house. Their passion for the material was contagious, from the first notes of Bryant's "Heaven", probably the "jazziest" piece in the group's multicultural book. Piatigorsky's ambitious three-part "Suite del Sol" followed, anchored by Bryant's flamencoish nylon-string work and Gilad's cajon and frame-drum mastery. Bryant switched to 12-string guitar and Gilad to dumbek, for "Drum On, Drum On", an Eastern-inspired piece in seven with a stirring piano solo and a beautifully orchestrated exit. Gilad, in a moving gesture, sat motionless for his own "Silver Eyes", a delicate quasi-rubato tribute to his daughter. Finally, back to 12-string (Bryant might just be a pioneer on the instrument) for the closing "Freddie in the Jungle", a bluesy-funk number from the pianist's pen. Trio Del Sol's ambitious world-chamber-jazz has something in common with other guitar-oriented groups like Trio Mundo and Trio Da Paz, but look to the CD (particularly Bryant's "Beginner's Mind") for evidence of their personal take on harmony and form.

~ David Adler


No one was as busy as Butch Morris for Black History Month. His "Black February" featured different improvisational ensembles every day, from Nublu, Bowery Poetry Club and Knitting Factory, to Zebulon, Medicine Show Theater, Issue Project Room and the Belt Theatre. His music was also played by the great young tenor saxophonist JD Allen every Saturday night at Louis 649, the hopping Alphabet City bar. It's easy to forget that Morris' music helped provide the foundation for David Murray's groundbreaking mid '70s "free-bop" work as both composer and trumpeter/cornetist; Morris' musical conductions of the last 20 years have now come to encompass music that is not only spontaneous but truly boundless: "A vista with no horizon!" in his words. Allen's trio, with Joe Lepore (bass) and Jeremy Clemons (drums), quickly reminded listeners (Feb. 19th) of Morris' decidedly "jazz" roots, swinging in the tradition of a Sonny Rollins trio with an Ornette-ish swing anchored by Lepore's Jimmy Garrison-like pulse under Allen's weaving lines. Like one of his bosses in Morris, Allen is melodically-minded. His mature and inventive improvisations on mostly up-tempo numbers that night dissected and expanded upon themes in an ever-continuous cycle of discovery that only half the raucous crowd truly appreciated. A player that deserves more attention, in time crowds will hush to realize what they've been missing.

Gerry Hemingway's piano-less quartet - which he joked will hopefully be playing more than every four years in New York now with his permanent New School faculty position (having taken the place of recently departed Mark Dresser) - is a cohesive foursome possessing endless music connections amongst themselves, from the Bass Drum Bone trio of Mark Helias (bass), Hemingway (drums) and Ray Anderson (trombone), to Open Loose which originally featured Ellery Eskelin (tenor sax) and Helias. Augmented by guitarist Ben Greenberg (a student in Hemingway's "Sound in Time" course), the ensemble moved from unique quintet sounds to unaccompanied solos, duos and the Bass Drum Bone trio with musical and ingenious ease during New School's "Jazz Presents" concert series Spring season opener.

Hemingway, a drummer with an at-time rock sensibility, not only succeeds but thrives in a "jazz" context. Likewise, with his sound alchemist sensibility, he has an extraordinary sensitivity to, quite literally, sound in time, through subtleties, vibrations, variations, colors and musical textures. Hemingway's "Slamadam" opened the first set (Feb. 24th) with its raucous beat and simultaneous solos that crisscrossed a linking thread between the ever-creative fivesome. "The Current Underneath" was an exquisite feature for the leader's experimental brushwork, Eskelin's characteristic deep-toned breathy tenor and Anderson - one of the most technically and soulfully expressive of trombonists with an awe-inspiring fluid circular breathing technique. (His and Eskelin's harmonies border on the musical camaraderie shared by Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd). Greenberg - the only non-acoustic member - contributed sporadic yet convincingly intuitive single notes, resonating in and reacting to the nooks and crannies offered. The Super Nova-ish "In the Distance" had Helias holding down a steady yet evolving bass line centering the ensemble's effects and embellishments (I was almost anticipating a Maria Booker cry). In "Rallier", Greenberg continued to display an expertly unorthodox style like Sonny Sharrock, even John McLaughlin (speaking of Super Nova) and Derek Bailey.

Soon to be released on the drummer's forthcoming The Whimbler (Clean Feed), the selections (all Hemingway originals) covered the gamut of emotion and tempos. "Sound in Time" deals with the integration of extended techniques, rhythmic concepts, experimental composition and creative improvisation. Hemingway sets by example.

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene

When trumpeter Ted Daniel convened his International Brass and Membrane Corporation at the Vision Club series (Feb. 12th), the veteran dedicated his set to the memory of the departed Ossie Davis. He then proceeded, with the help of a quartet of violin, tuba and drums, to present a forceful, imaginative and, most importantly, cohesive musical statement. The instrumentation thus combined was unusual - Daniel also added flugelhorn, French riding horn and Moroccan bugle - but ultimately was a wonderful mélange of textures. Tuba player Jose Davila (subbing for Joe Daley) flitted easily between bass accompaniment and harmonic counterpoint through deft use of tone lengths. Violinist Charles Burnham, more Stephane Grappelli than Leroy Jenkins, used a wah-wah pedal to good effect and comped like a piano with chords and ostinatos. Drummer Newman Taylor Baker tastefully chose what approach, be it funky or choral, fit the music. The tunes, all originals by Daniel, were played as a medley, connected by solos or duos (of which there were several fascinating pairings). Greasy blues, chamber music, gospel yearnings and funk grooves all made appearances, the musicians rapt with attention. However, Daniel stood out, not just by his clear ringing tone - classical and elegant or snarling and filthy - but also for his strong leadership of this project.

The theme of Merkin Hall's Monday Nights No Minimum series has become clear: piano duets between "mentors"? and "students"?, usually who have maintained very similar styles. The inaugural concert of the series (Andrew Hill and Jason Moran) blew most minds but may have been too much. Subsequent entries have been less conceptual, more rollicking. The most recent performance, Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller, was the most successful bridge across the cerebral and emotional gap. Barron has come into his own over the last few years as the preeminent thinking straight ahead pianist. Close on his heels is the younger Miller. Both favor rich, thick melodies and vibrant chord voicings and together they are a whirlwind. The material, as has been the case with the other shows in this series, was mainly standards: "Parisian Thoroughfare"?, "Embraceable You"?, "Stablemates"?, and "Blue Monk"?. This let the duo really explore these old favorites, filling in each other's spaces and even good naturedly stepping on each other's toes a bit. If there could be a cutting contest on the keys, this may have been it. When each played solo (Miller on his original "Where or When"? and Barron on his favored cover "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most"?), the pace was more relaxed, the feeling more involved. Back together, they breathed new life into a venerable instrument.

~ Andrey Henkin


Charles Tolliver brought his 17-man big band to Jazz Standard for a four night stand. Kicking off the first set (Feb. 17th) with his "In The Trenches", the trumpeter blew a solo cadenza and then conducted his allstar aggregation through the powerful arrangement. Alto saxophonist James Spaulding had the first solo, a scorching extended outing, followed by the always-exciting John Hicks at the piano. The battling trumpet section of Leron Thomas, David Weiss, Winston Byrd and Chris Albert had at it next, in a blazing call and response section, followed by Ralph Peterson's exuberant drum interlude. Spaulding switched to piccolo for the cacophonous out-of-tempo overture of "On The Nile", which featured tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, trombonist Jason Jackson and Hicks and Tolliver.

The mood calmed for a lush orchestration of "Truth", showcasing bassist Cecil McBee's warm sound along with Tolliver. Spaulding, Bill Saxton and Craig Handy played flutes, blending beautifully with muted trumpets on the leader's grooving "Chedlike". The set concluded with a tour de force AfroCuban arrangement of "Suspicion" that opened with a compelling bass recital by McBee. Ralph Peterson's clave rhythm drove the band, anchored by Howard Johnson's baritone sax and the trombone section of Aaron Johnson, Barry Cooper, Jason Jackson and Clark Gayton, in the feature for Bill Saxton's deep dark tenor.

Sonny Fortune brought a new quartet into Sweet Rhythm to close out February in his regular Village venue. Joined by the young Philadelphia pianist Fareed Barron, bassist Chip Jackson and drummer Steve Johns, Fortune started off Friday night's second set on soprano saxophone with a searing version of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints", exploring the full range of the straight horn, his full bodied bottom register sounding particularly imposing. The saxophonist then picked up a cowbell and spurred Barron through an exciting solo that was replete with Tynerish flourishes. Jackson followed with a statement that demonstrated his under recognized virtuosity and Johns finished the solo cycle with an impressive percussive display before the group tastefully faded the hypnotic melody.

The set continued seamlessly with "Waynish", an original by the leader dedicated to Shorter, featuring his own distinctive relentlessly emotive alto saxophone. Barron delivered a rhythmically inspired two-handed recital and Jackson took another articulate solo before Johns traded eights with the altoist. Fortune featured his flute on "Mind Games" a pretty original song well suited for his appealing tone. The flautist blew increasingly long legato lines on the melody accompanied elegantly by the trio. He remained on flute for the finale, a tour de force rendition of his classic composition "Awakening", on which he demonstrated his unparalleled technique on the instrument, circular breathing through an unremitting five minute solo that had the audience rapt in excited amazement.

~ Russ Musto


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