March 2010

AAJ Staff By

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Gerald Clayton

Village Vanguard

New York, NY February 11, 2010

To start, pianist Gerald Clayton ought to have won that Grammy for his solo on "All of You," from his debut Two-Shade, a burning 2009 trio album that was picked up by Emarcy (from ArtistShare) for wider release in 2010. Along with the Grammy nomination, Clayton also had the honor of a weeklong stint at the Village Vanguard in early February. As he, bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown got further into their first Thursday set (Feb. 11th), something seemed a little off—the piano sound lacked presence and definition and the whip-cracking rapport of Two-Shade proved just out of reach. A slightly adjusted mix could have made all the difference. Still, there were bristling moments and the trio's command of the material, from the opening vamp-blues "No Manual" to the Duke Pearson ballad "You Know I Care" to the flowing 3/4 pulse of Sanders' composition "A Joy and Sorrow," was never in question. Brown overplayed the room in his more excitable moments, further unbalancing the mix, although his intricate brushwork and sense of space brought a gleam to the R&B-tinged Clayton original "Two Heads One Pillow" and Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma." The latter, a solo piano track on Two-Shade, gained a new assurance in the trio setting. Clayton dug in with old-school, richly voiced block chords and threw in an ingenious wrinkle—a dreamy 12/8 vamp beginning just before the end of the bridge that seemed to liberate the band and show off its every strength.

Vijay Iyer & Mike Ladd

The Gate House

New York City

February 10, 2010

Following the success of In What Language? and Still Life with Commentator, pianist Vijay Iyer and poet Mike Ladd are developing another topical multimedia show with the provisional title "Holding It Down." Their theme this time: the war-haunted dreams of US military combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. A work-in-progress performance at the HarlemStage Gatehouse (Feb. 10th) found Iyer and Ladd in a new partnership with Iraq veteran Maurice Decaul, whose dream-based poetry formed a major part of the song cycle. Decaul is not a natural performer; he seemed rather out of place next to the stylish powerhouse vocalists Guillermo Brown, Pamela Z and Ladd himself. But airing his psychic wounds in this public way took tremendous courage. What Decaul, Iyer and Ladd are doing is a kind of public service, a "call for submissions" from other veterans (vetsdreams.blogspot.com) and an assessment of war's toll on the American body politic. Steering clear of ideological harangue, the piece encouraged a sense of shared humanity as much as it highlighted the rocking, asymmetric beats of drummer Kassa Overall, the atmospheric yet hearty guitar of Liberty Ellman and the resonant attack of cellist Okkyung Lee. Iyer's rumbling, trilling piano figures and doleful cadences—a recurring hallmark of these Ladd coproductions—gave way in places to laptop-generated swirls and fragmentary sound fields, all just a hint of where the project will ultimately go.

—David R. Adler

Henry Threadgill

Jazz Gallery

New York, NY

February 11, 2010

Henry Threadgill's Zooid has been a long time coming. Unfairly perhaps but unavoidably compared against the leader's four previous bands, Zooid had been extant for close to a decade without quite gelling. But with last year's This Brings Us To: Volume 1 (Pi Recordings), the band boiled down to a tight quintet and it was that group (with part-time added cello) that played three nights at the Jazz Gallery. On the opening night, Thursday Feb. 11th, they played syncopation and counterpoint, themes and variations, like wave-particle duality: just who was keeping time or who was playing the head somehow seemed to depend on where you looked. There was nobody at center, nothing set forth that needed resolution. It was a remarkable display of points on a curve, as if they were all playing the same piece, but didn't need to start at the same place. Key to their new hurdle is no doubt the presence of bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi, who as a member of Threadgill's last band clearly understands the composer's intricate systems. On Feb. 13th, they became less esoteric and more of a crowd-pleaser for the SRO house. Themes were pushed out front and solos flew higher, especially Threadgill's own alto sax and bass flute. And if Saturday night's performance saw them as more of a party band, it was with good reason. After the last song, the band broke into an easy-going version of "Happy Birthday" as a cake was brought up to mark the leader's 66th year.

Barre Phillips

Downtown Music Gallery

New York City

February 12, 2010

The masterful bassist Barre Phillips came to town to pay musical respects at Joe Maneri's memorial and took the occasion not only to film some scenes of outdoor playing for an ongoing video project but to play an early evening solo set at Downtown Music Gallery on Feb. 12th. He spent the opening 15 minutes with poet Steve Dalachinsky, focused intensely on him and responding with quick precision to the words and cadence of the recitation. He then carried on for a remarkable unaccompanied set full of liquid deliberateness and shifting meditations. He moved from low, bowed tones to harmonic chirps to quick three-note phrases to tenor wails with alarming elasticity and with deep attentiveness. Once Dalachinsky had stepped out, he focused his gaze disarmingly on the audience, watching them at least as intensely (probably moreso) as they were him while beating quick rhythms with his fingertips, along the soundboard and strings, then up the neck, arriving at the headstock to conclude the piece. The next improvisation was played arco and here he looked at the floor as improvisers do, but we might pretend he was looking at his bass viol adoringly or indeed that he knew it so well he had closed his eyes and was simply feeling its weight against his belly, its neck under his fingers while engaging in a profound examination of the act of counting to four, performed with the bow reversed and more fingertips. A brief final piece provided a lovely, plucked and repeated coda.

—Kurt Gottschalk

Noah Preminger

Hawaiian Tropic Zone

New York, NY

February 4, 2010

New York City, as the now-disputed jazz capital of the world, has all manner of jazz venues, from grandiose halls to once-smoky clubs all the way to street corners. But what distinguishes the Overpriced Apple from all other metropolises is that even the odder venues are still manned by world-class players. Hawaiian Tropic Zone, a Times Square restaurant that laudably has started regular jazz programming despite many distractions (flatscreen televisions, tourists, beautiful waitresses), on Feb. 4th was a case in point. A regrettably small audience was treated to an excellent quartet of musicians just as likely to be featured at one of the bigger, more traditional jazz supper clubs. It was led by tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, a player making his reputation in a number of progressive bands, ably abetted by Portuguese guitarist Andre Matos (recent New England Conservatory graduate) and the grizzled rhythm section of bassist Sean Conly and drummer Rob Garcia. And besides the strong, expansive playing, the set featured one of the more diverse setlists in this reviewer's recent memory: the Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart 1936 obscurity "There's a Small Hotel"; "Promises Kept" from Sonny Sharrock's 1991 album Ask the Ages; Yip Harburg-Arthur Schwartz' "Then I'll Be Tired of You"; Warne Marsh's "Background Music"; the Frank Sinatra-sung hit "All or Nothing at All" and the closer of "Milestones." The waitresses seemed to enjoy it thoroughly.

Jill McManus


New York City

February 4, 2010

Almost 35 years ago, pianist Jill McManus recorded a duet album with bassist Richard Davis (As One, Muse) live at a Lower East Side club called The Fugue. The disc was an intimate affair, the material mostly standards played to an attentive audience. On Feb. 4th, McManus was found in a somewhat similar setting, playing comparable tunes in partnership with another bassist, Paul Gill, at Sofia's in Times Square. The difference in eras and locales notwithstanding, McManus retained the deft, almost sprightly touch on the keyboard she demonstrated all those decades ago. And she needed every bit of it, as at the beginning of her 45-minute first 'set,' she was battling the cellphone conversation of an overdone Michigan tourist and a loud chat between Russian mobsters. New York City is full of gigs like this, ones where a pair of musicians in a corner of a loud room can easily be overlooked. So it was to McManus' credit and ability that she made the music transcend the terrible notion of 'cocktail piano,' inserting interesting chord voicings and appealing harmonies in tandem with Gill's stalwart playing. This is a semi-regular gig for McManus and there were some people scattered around the bar specifically to listen but she had to fill the large space, choosing to do so by playing denser chordal solos rather than single-notes lines that might have been swallowed up. Gill's solos, pithy statements all, were difficult to hear until he switched to the bow and the mobsters paid their check.

—Andrey Henkin

Jimmy Heath

Blue Note

New York City

February 3rd, 2010

Celebrating the recent publication of his long awaited autobiography, I Walked With Giants, Jimmy Heath returned to the roots he recounts so well in the book, leading a hard-swinging big band. Fronting an allstar aggregation of 16 of New York's finest players at the Blue Note, the master saxophonist played a second-night second set (Feb. 3rd) that highlighted his considerable abilities as a conductor and composer, as well as an instrumentalist. Kicking the show off with his "Trane Connection," a dedication to John Coltrane, who spent a formative period in the sax section of the leader's first Philadelphia big band, Heath was unabashed in displaying his delight as he indulged in the infrequent opportunity to direct the ensemble (powered by the rhythm section of his regular pianist and bassist—Jeb Patton and David Wong—and the irrepressible Lewis Nash on drums) through rarely heard arrangements. Bouncing around the stage with youthful exuberance that belied his age, the 83-year-old saxophonist threw his whole body into his conducting, pointing emphatically to the individual soloists (including trumpeter Roy Hargrove and alto saxophonist Antonio Hart) to take their turns, waving his hands at the various horn sections as he regulated their dynamics and prodded them to riff with swinging intensity. Turning to the audience for his own solos, the tone emanating from his horn, unduly large in comparison to his small frame, filled the house with the sound of joy.

Butch Morris

The Stone & Nublu

New York City

February 1, 2010


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