March 2010

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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


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