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May 2006

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Fresh from the Skirl records launch, guitarist Hilmar Jensson brought Tyft to Brooklyn's Tea Lounge for two spirited sets (Apr. 12th). The intertwined history of the trio - including saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo and drummer Jim Black - has instilled the familiarity and confidence essential for the music's success. Characterized by intricately crafted unisons (often in odd times) tempered with long passages of open improvisation, Jensson's music requires discipline and abandon. A guttural guitar and off-beat groove opened "Shooshabuster and D'Angelo's linear phrase soon merged with the guitar for a taut line. He spun off, spewing torrents of notes, his body rocking and contorting like a spastic faith-healer expelling a demon through his horn. Typically intense, D'Angelo added textural nuance and lyricism with bass clarinet on the charming lilt of "Valla . Jensson's improv tended toward angularity with thorny rhythmic flights. Conversely, during atmospheric segues he used extended techniques: tapping the pick-ups, scraping the neck, manipulating pedals and bowing strings. D'Angelo and Black's dueling laptops added to these freer portions. But it was deftly navigating the odd meters where Black shined, making the difficult feel natural. Left alone on D'Angelo's "Meg Nem Sa , he continued to imply the melody's stuttering motion while soloing around the kit. His partners rejoined for a brutal deconstruction of the tune, before slowly building to a rousing conclusion.

The red tin ceilings and coziness of Barbès were ideal for the throwback instrumentation and fin-de-siecle inspired music of The Beat Circus (Apr. 14th). The narrative songs evoked cabarets, Wild West saloons, circus sideshows and Old World gypsies. But the prodigious musicianship and stylistic miscegenation was all modern; the results, refreshingly entertaining. The charismatic Brian Carpenter led, his slide trumpet and effusive onstage direction suggesting Steven Bernstein, while his carny barks and bullhorn singing hinted at Tom Waits. Brandon Seabrook's banjo lent an old timey sound, though his aggressive attack and rhythmically inverted solos were not typical pickin'. Likewise, the rich accordion harmonies were nostalgic, but Alec K Redfearn extended its range with a distortion-laden feature on "Contortionist Tango , drummer Matt McLaren adding percussive colors on the tune while breezily swaying between the mutant waltz and frenetic tango in "Josephine . Ron Caswell anchored with tasty tuba bass lines and added comic relief with musical quotes and vocalizing on "The Rough Riders . The tune received a Spanish tinge from trumpet and the violin of Kathe Hostetter. She spun spirited gypsy runs on "Bloody Boy , elegantly blending with Briggan Krauss' alto sax for its rapid staccato. A buzzing, reedy solo by Krauss built from the long, mournful melody of "Delirium Tremens , adding textured nuance befitting the cinematic composition.

~ Sean Fitzell


One of the small amenities valued by slaves of New York is the ability to walk to work. Drummer William Hooker and ten other Hell's Kitchen residents did just that during the Rhythm in the Kitchen festival at the Metro Baptist Church on West 40th Street (Mar. 30th-Apr. 1st). Hooker is the moving force behind a new organization called the Hell's Kitchen Cultural Center and presented his band The Gift on the last night of the festival. With violinist Jason Kao Hwang and Roy Campbell on brass and flute, The Gift is Hooker's strongest group since his quartet with Mark Hennan. They played a stirring and, by Hooker's standards, rather subdued set in the vaulted chapel. Other neighborhood bandleaders included Francois Grillot, Elise Wood, Ellery Eskelin, Jack Walrath, Brian Smith, Tom Hamilton, Sonny Simmons and Scott Wilson, while percussionist Sean Meehan and pianist Neal Kirkwood (also denizens of the Kitchen) performed striking solo sets. It was a charming, almost quaint festival, with scores of thank-yous and professions of neighborhood pride. Highlights included Eskelin's far-flying duo with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and a confident pairing of Walrath with bassist Boris Kozlov, but the stunner was Meehan's meditation on snare drum and cymbals, which left an unprepared audience rapt, or at least too curious to move a muscle. The organizers promise to carry on, bringing regular events to the neighborhood that was once the center of New York's jazz scene.

There was a time when we could take David Murray for granted, when weeklong stints were guaranteed at least once or twice a year. Since he moved to Paris, his appearances in New York have been rare and often with large-scale touring projects. But the old, casual Murray was on display for a week at the Blue Note at the beginning of April. With pianist Lafayette Gilchrist, drummer Pheeroan akLaff and bassist Jaribu Shahid, the group played a piece dedicated to Curtis Mayfield, took on a tune from Murray's Cuban project, tore out an anti-GOP blues with ease and added trumpeter Omar Kabir for a beautiful reading of "Satin Doll on Apr. 5th. It was great to see Murray play a club gig again, but whatever the context, he is a master. Every note was played with purpose, so much so that akLaff automatically kicked it up a gear whenever the frontman returned to the mic. Murray shared the bill with Odean Pope, whose nine-piece saxophone choir and rhythm section swelled with his smart arrangements. "Epitome attacked with a mighty chart that left several people in the audience gasping for breath. Coltrane's "Central Park West featured a crafty call-and-response between Louis Taylor's alto and the rest of the horns. Pope spoke to the audience about his work and "this music we play , which is certainly borne of jazz but, like Murray's World Saxophone Quartet, relies on R&B mixed with polished scores suppported by the strengths of its players.

~ Kurt Gottschalk


Trombonist Grachan Moncur III's comeback to regular performance over the last five years has been both intermittent and inconsistent. Given his reputation, some of his appearances have been frankly underwhelming. Not the case at Iridium last month (Apr. 9th). Moncur made the wise decision to surround himself with dynamic players so that all the energy did not have to flow directly from him. Joining Moncur's regular band of Noriko Kano (keys), Calvin Hill (bass) and Richard Pearson (drums) was the vibrant trio of Billy Harper (tenor), Michael Blake (alto) and John Hicks (piano). The textures of the heads were similar to Moncur's landmark album Evolution, with tenor subbing for trumpet. Harper's presence was strongly felt throughout the performance, the underappreciated player taking the evening's longest solos and spurring on the rest of the band with his infectious spirit. Blake's alto was tentative in spots but was a mellow contrast to Harper. Moncur though delighted with fully formed and executed statements, seemingly focused on his playing and not the mouth problems that have plagued him before. Also remarkable were the funk backbeats that Pearson laid down to "Blue Rondo (dedicated to the late Jackie McLean) and "Hipnosis , completely changing the feel of each. Hicks and Kano also flowed well together, the former sticking to chunky chords and the latter using a marimba sound on her keyboard and generally playing that role.

Certain instrumentation usually implies a particular sound that a band will have. When Rob Garcia convened his group at Detour (Apr. 11th), he and bassist Stephan Crump were 'supporting' the front line of Michel Gentile (flute), Shane Endsley (trumpet) and Sebastien Noelle (guitar). The choice of those three instruments made for a light airy feel but one not lacking in rhythm, no surprise for a drummer-led band. But what was surprising was that Garcia's tunes were not clunky vamps but perky melodies where the drums served to punctuate rather than pound. Solely for the presence of the flute and the energy that cut through the raucous crowd, at times the band's sound was reminiscent of Charles Lloyd's '60s quartet appearing at the Fillmore. The evening was a showcase of Garcia originals: "Marbles , with a quirky motif played like a baton relay between flute, trumpet and guitar; "Tall Grass , a ballad that featured a lovely arpeggiated solo by Noelle; "Prairie Dance , a wonderful Americana number where Gentile's flute sounded like a Revolutionary fife; and "Rubber Plant , a fast driving swinger whose middle section had a fusion foundation that allowed the quintet members to show their chops. The one cover was appropriate in terms of compositional style, Wayne Shorter's Art Blakey-era "United . For this number, the second piece of the second set, the group moved away from tradition by having no distinct solos or comping, creating a freely shifting dynamic.

~ Andrey Henkin


Highlights in Jazz presented the "Ultimate Jam Session (Apr. 9th) at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, with an all-star lineup featuring saxophonists David "Fathead Newman and Ernie Watts, trumpeter Lew Soloff and trombonist Steve Turre. The superb rhythm section of Mulgrew Miller, Ray Drummond and Jimmy Cobb started off "Billie's Bounce , after which the four horns entered bopping. Newman, Soloff, Watts, Turre and Miller each soloed, their colleagues spurring them on with melodic riffs. The band traded eights with Cobb and then Drummond took a turn, before the frontline returned to play the head. Newman was featured on flute for his bluesy "Cousin Esau and Turre was spotlighted on his soulful "Brother Ray's Collard Greens , after which he presented the Al Grey Award to trombonist Roland Barber, who played a plunger muted "My Romance . The entire cast returned to play "Night In Tunisia , a dedication to the late Ray Barretto. The second half of the concert began with Watts (who is seldom heard on this coast) and Soloff featured on the tenorist's lovely jazz waltz dedicated to Bill Evans and Wayne Shorter, "The Poet . The quintet continued with the Thad Jones blues "Mean What You Say , the two horns alternating on the melody and then soloing with virtuosic abandon. Miller and Drummond were featured next in a swinging duo rendition of "Sweet and Lovely . A sizzling hot version of "Manteca concluded the concert.

Saxophonist Marcus Strickland took a break from his busy schedule as a sideman with Roy Haynes and Jeff "Tain Watts to bring his new electric quartet, Twi-life, into the Zinc Bar (Apr. 12th) for an evening of energetic contemporary music. The young group, featuring new guitar star Lage Lund, with Brad Jones on 6 string electric bass and the leader's twin brother E.J. on drums, began their second set with the leader's "Majesty , a rhythmic outing that showed off the band's cohesive sound. The composer's thick dark tenor opened the piece with a short unaccompanied introduction before being joined by his colleagues. Lund's open approach, alternating crisp single notes with sustained chords, liberated the tenor to soar above the band, unfettered by conventional chord changes - Jones' deep bottom blending beautifully with the guitar as the drums danced freely around.

A second original, "Ethiopia , with its mazelike melody and shifting angular rhythms had tenor and guitar soloing intensely over bass and drums. Brother E.J.'s "In Faith , a Middle Easternish melodic line with alternating ominous and optimistic moods inspired Marcus' tenor into shrieking with commanding modality. The saxophonist's "Nottage Cottage , a funky dedication to a "soulful uncle had audience members dancing in their seats to the gritty sound of his horn. The electrifying group ended the night with each member soloing during a powerful performance of Wayne Shorter's "Prince of Darkness .

~ Russ Musto


Recommended New Listening:

· Harry Allen/Joe Cohn - Hey, Look Me Over (Arbors)

· Ben Allison - Cowboy Justice (Palmetto)

· Ian Carey - Sink/Swim (Kabocha)

· Monder/Gestrin/van der Schyff - The Distance (Songlines)

· Dafnis Prieto - Absolute Quintet (ZOHO)

· Vanguard Jazz Orchestra - Up from the Skies (Planet Arts)

~ David Adler, NY@Night Columnist

· Joseph Holbrooke Trio (Derek Bailey/Gavin Bryars/Tony Oxley) - The Moat Recordings (Tzadik)

· Peter Madsen - Prevue of Tomorrow (Playscape)

· Bennie Maupin Ensemble - Penumbra (Cryptogramophone)

· Odean Pope Sax Choir - Locked & Loaded: Live at the Blue Note (Half Note)

· Randy Sandke/Metatonal Big Band - The Subway Ballet (Evening Star)

· Shot x Shot (Capecchi/Engle/Rogers/Scofield) (High Two)

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

· Amalgam - Plays Blackwell & Higgins (FMR)

· Fred Anderson/Hamid Drake/Harrison Bankhead - Timeless: Live at the Velvet Lounge (Delmark)

· Anthony Braxton/Fred Frith - Duo (Victoriaville) 2005 (Victo)

· Dave Douglas - Meaning and Mystery (Greenleaf)

· Paul Rogers/Paul Dunmall/Tony Bianco - Cosmic Craftsmen (FMR)

· Vandermark 5 - Free Jazz Classics Vols. 3 & 4 (Atavistic)

~ Bruce Gallanter, Proprietor, Downtown Music Gallery

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