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May 2008


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Lock 10 at Joe's Pub

Kathy Hendrickson's play Lock 10 is the story of a white guitarist in the 1930s seeking to leave the family business to go on tour with an integrated band. Staged as a period radio play, with actors playing actors voicing roles, it makes for an odd telling. The actors aren't tethered to microphones as they would be in an actual radio production, but they don't quite inhabit their meta-roles either. Strange as well was the score, performed alongside the actors by Ken Vandermark, Christof Kurzmann and Tortoise drummer John Herndon at Joe's Pub (Apr. 7th). The band was unabashedly anachronistic, playing loose, modern sounds while the actors name-checked Ellington, Beiderbecke and Robert Johnson.

While at times the juxtapositions were distracting, some worked to great dramatic effect: When a black actor pantomimed a life-affirming guitar solo in slow motion for the amazed white characters, Kurzmann played a naked, warbling drone on laptop; it wasn't the sound of the guitar but of racist assumptions being challenged, then holding ground. Later, as the characters proceeded to get drunk in the nightclub, Kurzmann and Herndon filled their party with a malleable tension, punctuated by Vandermark's wailing tenor. If a little uneven, it was still a bold mixing of music and theater and may mark a new partnership for the tireless Vandermark: The trio played The Stone the prior week, and Vandermark and Kurzmann have plans to work together again later in the year.

Tristan Perich at Issue Project Room

Tristan Perich's compositions are a challenge to the usual conceptions of electroacoustic music and even to the qualities of electronic music. His concert at Issue Project Room April 3rd was set in the midst of sound and visual art installations and the pieces were separated by long breaks, encouraging listeners to experience the interactive works that were on display.

Perich's oeuvre combines low-fidelity electronic tones with live instruments scored in tight counterpoint. He presented a piece scored for two percussionists playing small cymbals, one for two baritone sax and two bass clarinets and a final piece he played on piano and electric keyboard. All three worked against constellations of simple tones, delivered in what Perich calls "1 bit" technology, with overlapping sound sources creating a trompe l'oreille of shifting, Reich-ian patterns. In "Telescope," the four horns entered against an electronic drone, playing slippery harmonies before dropping out, revealing a similar harmonic structure in the electronic track that couldn't be discerned below the acoustic instruments. His solo piece used long silences and low, grating keyboard drones which resonated nicely from the upright piano the keyboard sat upon. It built to a repeated three-note keyboard riff and high-pitched interruptions while piano chords strained to be heard. Perich played it like a madman, drawing approving smiles and impatient ear- pluggings from the audience before the piece broke apart into a frantic, midrange cluster.

—Kurt Gottschalk

Baby Loves Jazz at Brooklyn Masonic Temple

Brooklyn's Masonic Temple was crammed with bouncy youngsters and their parents when the Baby Loves Jazz Band came to play April 7th. Comprised of Babi Floyd and Sharon Jones (vocals), Steven Bernstein (slide trumpet), John Ellis (tenor), Matt Jones (bass) and Ben Perowsky (drums), BLJB revisited tunes from their eponymous album, including the sing-along kinder classics "If You're Happy and You Know It," "The ABC Song" and "The Wheels on the Bus (Go 'Round and 'Round)." It was a little like a live version of Sesame Street, where kids learn through active participation: "Old MacDonald"—who, in this version, had a band, not a farm—showcased each instrument in turn; another number used Ray Charles' "Busted" lick as a platform for teaching simple arithmetic; "Ten Little Monkeys" was a countdown (children were asked to name the number of notes Ellis played on his tenor); two songs praised the colors green and purple respectively and "Go Baby Go" was an eight-to-the- bar rocker variant of "The Hokey Pokey," calling for assorted acts of bodily commitment. Floyd, Jones and Bernstein were effective cheerleaders, engaging their present and future fans in hepcat hijinx and spontaneous tomfoolery.

Underpinning it all were the hip-wiggling beats rooted in New Orleans rhythm and blues, second-line funk and jump swing. The Sunday afternoon romp was a reminder to the young and young-at-heart alike that jazz began as dance music, something to have fun to.

International Women in Jazz Festival at Saint Peter's

The International Women in Jazz held their second annual jazz festival April 4th-6th at Saint Peter's Church, presenting concerts, workshops, jam sessions, exhibits, panels and a Jazz Mass on the final Sunday. This year's honorees/performers included three living legends: Carline Ray, Marian McPartland and Sarah McLawler.

Friday night began with a convivial reception and Jazzberry Jam, featuring young lioness Lakecia Benjamin (alto) and her older "sisters." Dona Carter's trio played a short swinging set capped by a jam session with many IWJ staff taking part, including strong performances from Antoinette Montague and Arlee Leonard (vocals) and Dotti Anita Taylor (flute).

Saturday included a panel with Ray and McLawler reminiscing about playing with Duke Ellington and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm and relating personal anecdotes about Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. The evening concert began with vocalist Mary Foster Conklin, followed by a special treat: Ms. Ray performing with her daughter, Catherine Russell, in a set that included spirituals, three-part vocal arrangements of early girl-group "jive," solos and duets. It was especially moving to see 82-year-old Ray haul her standup bass onstage and accompany Russell and her soulful rendition of "Come Sunday" made the moment. Percussionist Mayra Casales' band closed the evening with Latin jazz served muy caliente. And yes- -I almost forgot—the men played pretty well too.

—Tom Greenland

Jimmy Heath at Iridium

Jimmy Heath has been leading big bands off and on since his 1960 album Really Big!. But the band has not had an opportunity to have an extended run in the city for several years, making the engagement at Iridium last month particularly special. For the second set of the opening night (April 3rd), Heath seemed in high spirits, directing the band as much with his hips as with his hands.

Those coming to see Heath the instrumentalist quickly realized that the 16-piece ensemble was more a vehicle for Heath the composer and arranger...no bad thing. He did have a couple of features for tenor, which looked and almost sounded like baritone against his small frame, but mostly was content to revel in the fine work of his experienced section players, a mix of young and old that had Antonio Hart rubbing elbows with Charles Davis.

With most of the tunes, Heath introduced them by way of anecdote: "Gemini" successfully (and lucratively for Heath) recorded by Cannonball Adderley; Heath's "Project S," done by Herbie Mann in the 1960s and the set closer Kenny Dorham's "Una Mas," described as "bebop, where I came from."

Hearing Heath talk about history makes one realize just how much of it he has seen and been a part. The perspective is what makes his band seem to surpass the decades: sharp like the 1940s, then rounded and slinky like the 1960s, moving into the 1970s with intricate voicings like a three-flute melody line yet always remaining timeless, very much a reflection of its leader.

Ted Curson at NYC Baha'I Center

The old adage in show business is leave the crowd wanting more. Trumpeter Ted Curson certainly did that at the New York City Baha'i Center (Apr. 15th) with a 40-minute first set. However, it was unclear exactly what the audience would want more of. For four tunes, Curson put on two parallel performances that either demonstrated breadth or a lack of focus. Curson, as was laid out in the concert's introduction, has a pedigree that goes back to work with Charles Mingus in the early '60s. But the intervening years have found him exploring subsequent realms of jazz. At the gig, Curson's septet demonstrated both sides of its leader.

When playing his original "Quicksand" (from his mighty co-led quartet with the late saxophonist Bill Barron) or a slinky version of Ellington-Mills-Tizol's "Caravan," Curson showed his high-stepping post-bop chops were still in fine form, whether on trumpet, flugelhorn or the bright tone of his pocket trumpet. But for the other two pieces—"Marjo," a piece written for his wife, and a standard blues in B flat—Curson put his horns down and played the crooner. While one cannot fault a man for singing a love song to his wife, perhaps singing through the flugelhorn he kept fingering would have been more appropriate. And his band—electric piano, guitar, harmonica (courtesy of guest Enrico Granafei), bass, drums and percussion—kept the proceedings squarely in the 1970s, an odd choice for someone who made his name a decade earlier.

—Andrey Henkin

Adam Rogers at Village Vanguard

Adam Rogers made an auspicious debut in his first appearance as a leader at the Village Vanguard, fronting a new quintet that performed his admittedly "difficult" original music with a subtle intensity that highlighted the guitarist's considerable skills as both a composer and improviser. From the very first note of the second set on AprIl 9th, the band—featuring tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and pianist Edward Simon with Scott Colley and Jeff "Tain" Watts on bass and drums—displayed an amazing confluence that belied the fact that this week was just the first time they had played together live as a unit.

The pairing of Rogers and Turner was particularly impressive, with the two executing labyrinthine unison lines with breathtaking precision that underscored their shared virtuosity. Simon and Colley worked similarly well together, shading melodic progressions with sophisticated harmonies in an ebb and flow that emphasized the narrative nature of the music. Watts, in typically effusive fashion, was a force unto himself, driving the band with an arsenal of polyrhythmic devices that offered constantly shifting contexts to the individual soloist's stories, particularly Rogers, who, whether playing delicately understated soundscapes or fastidiously articulated swing, maintained a constantly appealing lyricism. From the pretty "Amphora" opener to the intricate closing "Continuance," the entire group played with a taut looseness that was truly inspired.

Gerald Clayton at Dizzy's Club

The late-night sets at Dizzy's have become an increasingly popular forum for rising young jazz stars, many of who are just beginning to earn some notoriety as sidemen, to display their burgeoning talents as leaders before larger audiences—with many listeners, held over from the room's early shows or wandering in following concerts in one of Jazz at Lincoln Center's larger venues, filling the club. Such was the case with Gerald Clayton's Saturday night (April 11th) performance, capping off the young pianist's first weeklong New York engagement at the helm of his own trio.

In a packed house charged with energy, Clayton had the rare opportunity to display his vast talent before a crowd that was for the most part unaware of his outstanding performances as a leader at Jazz Gallery or his stellar work with Roy Hargrove and Roberta Gambarini. While he had already impressed many at Dizzy's earlier in the year while playing in the Clayton Brothers band co-led by his famous father and uncle, John and Jeff Clayton, the pianist's work with his own group, featuring the solid Joe Sanders on bass and an electrifying Justin Brown on drums, displayed a compositional sophistication that was not heretofore evident. In a superb set of mostly originals that revealed a deep grounding in European classical music, as well as the jazz and AfroCuban traditions, the young Clayton demonstrated a command of space and time that was remarkable for his youth.

—Russ Musto

Recommended New Listening:

* Jon Balke—Book of Velocities (ECM)

* Rob Brown Ensemble—Crown Trunk Root Funk (AUM Fidelity)

* John Ellis & Double-Wide—Dance Like There's No Tomorrow (Hyena)

* Fieldwork—Door (Pi Recordings)

* Shot x Shot—Let Nature Square (High Two)

* Will Vinson—Promises (19/8)

—David Adler [email protected] Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com

* JD Allen—I AM I AM (Sunnyside)

* Faruq Z. Bey—Journey into the Valley (with Northwoods Improvisers) (Entropy)

* Kris Davis—Rye Eclipse (Fresh Sound-New Talent)

* Russ Lossing/John Hebert—Line Up (hatOLOGY)

* Jessica Williams—Songs for a New Century (Origin)

* John Zorn's Bar Kokhba—Lucifer: Book of Angels, Vol. 10 (Masada Book Two) (Tzadik)

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

* Duke Ellington and His Orchestra—Live in Zurich, Switzerland 2.5.1950 (TCB)

* Ideal Bread—The Ideal Bread (KMB Jazz)

* Russ Lossing/John Hebert—Line Up (hatOLOGY)

* Eric McPherson—Continuum (Smalls)

* Pete Robbins—Do The Hate Laugh Shimmy (Fresh Sound-New Talent)

* Diana Wayburn—Ostinato And... (s/r)

—Andrey Henkin Editorial Director, AllAboutJazz-New York

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