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March 2009

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Helen Sung and Ron Carter

Helen Sung and Ron Carter

Rubin Museum

New York City February 6, 2009

To hear pianist Helen Sung and bassist Ron Carter in a duo setting at the Rubin Museum (Feb. 6th), in a small theater with no amplification, will surely rank as one of this year's highlights. Carter is of course a legend (it so happened that Dan Ouellette's new Carter biography, Finding the Right Notes, came hot off the presses in time for the event). And while Sung may be Carter's gifted former student, here the two met as equals and swung the room, anchored in a spirit of play and risk. The popping, drum-like roundness of Carter's every note enabled them to deal with the hazardous rhythmic demands of Sung's "The Waiting Game" and "Hope Springs Eternal" and Carter's famous "RJ," although with his diving glissandos and virtuosic asides, Carter did far more than keep time. The set began with Monk's "Eronel" arranged as a flowing waltz, ended with a brisk, multi-key "In Walked Bud" and also included the Carter gems "Opus 1.5" and "First Trip". But the centerpiece was a new suite by Sung, inspired by female deities from the Rubin's collection of Himalayan art. Pictures of flame-encircled goddesses shone on a screen overhead as the duo progressed from abstraction ("Joyful Noise") to intricate swing ("The Professor"), from minor-key lyricism ("Clarity") to a blistering conclusion ("Meeting of the Minds"). Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom" served as a coda, echoing the projected image of a serene figure in bronze—seated, naturally, in lotus position.

Steve Coleman and Five Elements

Steve Coleman and Five Elements

Belarusian Church

New York City

February 7, 2009

Thanks to the monthly Brooklyn Music Wide Open series, engrossing things are happening at the modest Belarusian Church on Atlantic Avenue. In the latest installment (Feb. 7th), Steve Coleman and Five Elements appeared in an unusual setting without bass or drums. One could have called it the Five Elements choir, with Coleman (alto sax), Jen Shyu (vocals), Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Tim Albright (trombone) and guitarist Miles Okazaki. Spiraling polyphonic dialogues took up the first half-hour, a language of free play broken up by Coleman's stark unaccompanied solos and held together with precise rhythmic incantations. All at once, on Coleman's imperceptible cue, the full band would launch into unison passages of great intricacy and speed and this in a situation without a clearly-marked beat. The poise of the performers—particularly Shyu, who matched the horns note for impossible note—was breathtaking. Albright and Coleman ventured a few vocal moments of their own, as the second and third pieces traveled to tonal areas that were more distinct. Earlier that night, the Connection Works Ensemble (drummer Rob Garcia, flutist Michel Gentile, pianist Daniel Kelly) played invigorating music by guests Bill McHenry (tenor sax) and Chris Lightcap (bass). The latter's "Ting" and "Blues for Carlos" had a driving quasi-African pulse while McHenry's untitled works teased the brain with shrewd counterpoint, one example involving no improv at all.

—David R. Adler

Guiseppi Logan

Guiseppi Logan

Bowery Poetry Club

New York City

February 17, 2009

After the surprise reemergence of Henry Grimes in 2003, jazz listeners with ears keyed to the '60s New Thing ought be prepared for anything. But few might have guessed that Giuseppi Logan would be returning to the stage. The saxophonist recorded for ESP-Disk in the day and, following a low-key appearance with Steve Swell at Roulette in August, made his return as a frontman Feb. 17th at the Bowery Poetry Club. Opening the night was Gunter Hampel, whose simultaneous bass clarinet and vibraphone playing wasn't just a parlor trick but him playing solo while thoughtfully accompanying himself for a beautifully fluid set. Logan appeared hesitant as he took the stage with bassist Francois Grillot, drummer Warren Smith and Matt Lavelle, who organized the event and kept a watchful eye over Logan throughout. The reedmen played a slow and easy leapfrog, alternating short solos and switching instruments incessantly, Logan on alto sax, Lavelle on flugelhorn and both on bass clarinet. Logan's tone, especially on the saxophone, was wonderfully warm, even if the initial tentativeness never entirely went away. Grillot and Smith proved to be a wisely sensitive rhythm section, keeping steady time most of the night and supporting, not drowning, the guest of honor at all times. Logan's one unaccompanied solo perhaps didn't show complete resolution, but it did show a voice that, it is to be hoped, will be heard much more in the coming years.

On Ka'a Davis

On Ka'a Davis

Yippie Cafe

New York City

February 2, 2009

On Ka'a Davis has a background ranging from performing classical guitar as a teen to playing with Sun Ra, Don Ayler, and Charles "Bobo" Shaw. In a rare appearance at Yippie Cafe Feb. 2nd as part of the RUCMA series, he presented a strange mix of out jazz, R&B and experimental electronics. Opening solo, he played a surprising interference funk on keyboard: deep, quiet bass tones beneath popping, noisy riffs, suddenly switching it to bombastic church organ overlaid with a blistering but quiet guitar solo. The extreme differences in volume may not have been intentional, but it was oddly effective, creating a feeling like sounds coming from opposite buildings on a city street. He ventured a Hendrix-styled ballad where concept began to overshadow execution. Cuing Takuma Kaz to the stage, he then played slow space jams alongside the blips and squeals of Takuma's electronics, like the next block on that same empty street. Pieces came closer to gelling as he brought up the rest of his band, hovering in stasis and falling akimbo again. Saxophonist Mikhail Prester, not short on Coltrane licks, was often the odd man out as the only melody against a jungle gym of rhythms driven by drummer David Pleasant, sometimes sporting an M-Base Collective vibe. It was an odd amalgamation, yet somehow felt preconceived, the sort of thing one more often hears on record than in a cafe, which it may in part have been. Davis is set to release an album on LiveWired in the spring.

—Kurt Gottschalk

The Dreamers

The Dreamers

Abrons Arts Center

New York City

February 6, 2009

John Zorn as a composer is remarkably eclectic, drawing together wide-ranging influences into very deliberate music. Some of his projects, like The Dreamers for example, are almost Quentin Tarantino-like, but Zorn is more accomplished, creating work that is meaningful as far greater than a stylized pastiche. Zorn left his alto sax at home, conducting from a chair, for the debut of the group at Abrons Arts Center (Feb. 6th), part of a two-day set of premieres (the Masada Sextet played the night before). The first set was all new music for the group—Marc Ribot, Jamie Saft, Kenny Wollesen, Trevor Dunn, Joey Baron and Cyro Baptista—a dreamy '70s soundscape that mixed Swamp Rock with Santana-esque Latin fusion and slack-key musings. Saft's organ or Rhodes set the aural tenor of the music while Wollesen's vibes were a gauzy layer over the fairly straightforward rhythms. This gave most of the solo spotlight to Ribot, whose period leads received the biggest cheers. The feeling was loose, Zorn even restarting two of the pieces, and the group forewent a set break due to thunderous applause to play a handful of pieces from their eponymous 2008 debut, closing with another monstrous Ribot solo. Though the music was typically complex, The Dreamers effectively captured a sort of jamband aesthetic: a healthy mix of styles and approaches by a group of musicians who do similar things on their own but do them even better together.

Piano + 1

Piano + 1

Douglass Street Music Collective

Park Slope, Brooklyn

February 12, 2009

The title of the Feb. 12th performance at Douglass Street Music Collective was simply "Piano +1". But three disparate duo sets demonstrated how differently this basic concept could be applied. The evening began with pianist Jesse Stacken and trumpeter Kirk Knuffke playing sparse takes on two famous modernists, Charles Mingus and Lennie Tristano. Their interpretations of the former were more reverent while the latter's music was used for more open reading. But regardless of the material, Stacken's open piano fit nicely with Knuffke's arid trumpet. Pianist Randy Ingram and reedman Josh Sinton followed with music by themselves, Steve Lacy, Ornette Coleman and two free improvisations. When Sinton was on baritone saxophone, he tended to overpower Ingram's gracious playing, creating unevenness; moving to bass clarinet, the mix was more equal and the dialogue more stimulating, particularly on the penultimate spontaneous composition. The final duo was a chance to see pianist Ethan Iverson (of The Bad Plus fame) and tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry in intimate environs away from the Village Vanguard. Unlike the two preceding sets, the pair played only expansive versions of originals. Iverson wore a suit and tie while McHenry seemed decked out for the farm but their music was neither formal nor rural, instead modern in the best sense of the word. Iverson dominated the lower register while McHenry spewed out rich melodic ostinatos, both leading and following.

—Andrey Henkin

Eddie Palmieri

Eddie Palmieri La Perfecta II

Rose Hall

New York City

February 6-7, 2009

It's a five-minute walk from 53rd and Broadway, site of the legendary Palladium Ballroom, to Columbus Circle, where Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall is now situated, but it's been a long journey from the popularity of the dance floor to the respectability of the concert hall for Eddie Palmieri. Latin music's premier pianist, who revolutionized AfroCuban music with his band La Perfecta, reconstituted the iconic conjunto, which made famous the Nuyorican sound that would become known as salsa, for two exciting evenings. Opening night (Feb. 6th) the group, featuring a frontline of trumpeter Brian Lynch, flutist Karen Joseph and trombonists Jimmy Bosch and Joe Fiedler offered incendiary recreations of its repertory from the early '60s, with sonero Herman Olivera delivering powerful vocals in the tradition of Ismael Quintana, who first popularized the band's many hits. With Palmieri's distinctive dissonant clustered chords, aided by tres guitarist Nelson Gonzalez, flying passionately over the percussion section of Jose Clausell, Little Johnny Rivero and Orlando Vega, anchored by bassist Luques Curtis, La Perfecta II proved that its music could be as satisfying to a discerning listening audience as it was to the world's greatest dancers. The packed house responded with joyous recognition to the classic material that featured familiar mambos, guarachas, cha-cha's and rumbas, including "Muñeca," "Café," "Ritmo Caliente" and the fiery closer "Azucar Pa' Ti."

The Connection

The Connection

The Living Theatre

New York City

February 3, 2009

Not long ago, the gentrified Loisaida neighborhood now home to The Living Theatre was populated by a generation of heroin-addicted jazz musicians that inspired Jack Gelber's Obie-Award winning play The Connection. The piece, which spied upon a quartet of jazzmen and a group of junkie hangers-on waiting for their supplier to show up, featured the original music of the Freddie Redd Quartet with Jackie McLean in its initial production (and subsequent film adaptation) and would later serve as a forum for many other players who were prevented by drug busts from obtaining the cabaret card that was then required to perform in venues where liquor was served. For the play's 50th anniversary, altoist Rene McLean revived the hornman role first played by his father, performing with his group of pianist Alan J. Palmer, bassist Andy McCloud and drummer Emanuel Harrold. As in previous editions, the band performed "original music in the tradition of Charlie Parker" (posters of whom decorated the walls of the loft in which the action transpires), rather than revive the popular Blue Note soundtrack of Redd's. McLean's set (Feb. 3rd) swung contemporaneously, beginning appropriately with his father's classics "Bird Lives" and "Little Melonae" and following with "'Round Midnight," "What's New" and his own compositions "J Mac's Dynasty" and "Down In The Bottom," adding realism to the show that sadly was not always equaled by the actors' performances.

—Russ Musto

Recommended New Listening:

* Nels Cline—Coward (Cryptogramophone)

* Charles Evans—The King of All Instruments (Hot Cup)

* Tom Harrell—Prana Dance (HighNote)

* Jeremy Manasia—After Dark (Posi-Tone)

* Jason Rigby—The Sage (Fresh Sound-New Talent)

* David S. Ware—Shakti (AUM Fidelity)

—David Adler NY@Night Columnist,

* Borah Bergman—Luminescence (Tzadik)

* Teddy Charles—Dances with Bulls (Smalls)

* Gunter Hampel—Vibes Vibes (Vibrafon Solos 2008) (Birth)

* Abdullah Ibrahim—Senzo (Solo Piano) (Sunnyside)

* Lisa Sokolov—A Quiet Thing (Laughinghorse)

* Jeff "Tain" Watts—Watts (Dark Key Music)

—Laurence Donohue-Greene Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York

* Daniele Cavallanti & Tiziano Tononi—Rings of Fire (feat. Jenny Scheinman) (Long Song)

* Abdullah Ibrahim—Senzo (Solo Piano) (Sunnyside)

* Joëlle Léandre/Quentin Sirjacq—Out of Nowhere (Actuelle)

* Mark O'Leary/Ståle Storløkken/Stein Inge Braekhus—St Finn Barre's (Leo)

* Jim Rotondi—Blues for Brother Ray (Posi-Tone)

* Aki Takase—Aki and The Good Old Boys live at Willisau Jazz Festival (Jazzwerkstatt)

—Andrey Henkin Editorial Director, AllAboutJazz-New York


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