May 2009


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Visually, the [Tony Malaby] quartet seemed like a plane: Malaby in the cockpit, Rainey the crucial tailfin, the two bassists coasting through the air currents.
—Andrey Henkin
Jamie Baum & Tomasz Stanko

Jamie Baum Septet and Tomasz Stanko Quartet

Merkin Hall

New York City April 4, 2009

It was a pretty sure bet that "Juxtapositions In Jazz," a Merkin Concert Hall double bill featuring the Jamie Baum Septet and Tomasz Stanko Quartet (Apr. 4th), would live up to its name and offer vividly contrasting takes on the art of bandleading. Baum's contribution, centered on her four-part "Ives Suite," was evocative and color-rich, with French horn, bass clarinet and alto flute thickening the textures and framing fine solos by the leader on flutes, Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Douglas Yates (alto sax) and Luis Perdomo, the septet's newest member, on piano and Rhodes. This was music with ample exploratory space but a high degree of intricacy. It was trumpeter Stanko, however, who brought listeners to the summit of the mountain, performing not with his Polish quartet, but instead, for the first time, a band of New York heavies: pianist Craig Taborn, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Jim Black. Listed in the program as "The Music from Amsterdam Avenue," a three-part sequence, the set progressed through varied Stanko repertoire in the manner of an interconnected dream. Stanko's sound was appealingly weathered, his phrasing economical, his interplay with the band marked by a freshness and spontaneity that his recent ECM albums haven't quite captured. Hard swing, primal abstraction and darkly hued balladry all came into play, girded by Taborn's virtuosic attack, Black's impulsive percussion and Morgan's ultra-deliberate note placement, which made the music seem to float on air.

Infrequent Seams

Infrequent Seams

Le Grand Dakar


April 2, 2009

Infrequent Seams, the progressive jazz series at Brooklyn's Le Grand Dakar restaurant, isn't all that infrequent—every other Thursday it provides a much-needed forum for varied small groups to explore while listeners down forkfuls of chicken yassa, thieboudienne and other delectable West African cuisine. (Dakar is home to a Tuesday night jazz series as well.) When alto saxophonist and co-curator Pete Robbins joined trumpeter Nate Wooley, cellist Daniel Levin and drummer Jeff Davis (April 2nd), the agenda was to have no agenda. The band played four free improvisations in roughly 45 minutes, beginning with scattered staccato horn motifs, busy pizzicato cello and a forceful yet contained attack on brushes. Wooley shifted the mood with loud, sustained multiphonic tones, setting up a visceral trio passage with cello and drums, choosing from an array of mutes at his feet throughout the set. The acoustics were raw, but sonic subtleties won out, especially with the third piece, pointedly slow and melodic in response to a question posed by a dinner guest with a young child: "Do you guys know any lullabies?" Sometimes even a small audience can exert a strong creative pull. Whipping up something they called "Lullaby for Jack," the quartet eased into legato horn harmonies with lyrical arco cello and coloristic cymbals. Davis, with mallets, provided just a hint of a beat as the piece crescendoed, then came to a slurry, woozy finish—a calm before the brief but hard-hitting finale.

—David R. Adler

Walter Thompson & Anthony Braxton

Walter Thompson and Anthony Braxton

Irondale Center


April 16, 2009

Complex structures for improvisation—Walter Thompson's "soundpainting" or Anthony Braxton's interlocking, open-form compositions—benefit from, and nearly require, working ensembles to be realized. Unfortunately, hustle-bustle New York has never been strong on standing groups, but Thompson has steadfastly worked to hold together groups that know his language of visual cues. It was geometrically all the more exciting, then, to see (and hear) his orchestra led not just by himself but in tandem with Braxton on April 16th, the first of a three-day stint at the Irondale Center. The dual conduction was fascinating to behold. Braxton and Thompson split and subdivided the ensemble with restraint and full awareness of what the other was doing. They criss-crossed their leads, building themes, accents and counterpoints with a deep knowledge of spontaneous construction. Braxton at times joined the group, waiting patiently and poised for his cue and while its always a pleasure to hear him play, the strongest sections were in the oligarchy of maestros. The 16-piece group worked mostly with Thompson's systems, but Braxton introduced some pieces as well. And the restraint both showed not only gave them each room to move, but saved them from cacophony. The old church auditorium that Irondale has inhabited for the last six months has its visual charm, but could quickly have turned to sonic slush. In wise hands, however, the evening was several kinds of achievement.

Anthony Coleman & Marco Cappelli

Anthony Coleman & Marco Cappelli

The Stone

New York City

April 8, 2009

Anthony Coleman was one of the group of musicians Italian guitarist Marco Cappelli commissioned to compose for his Extreme Guitar Project in 2002. The pieces he received were fittingly unusual for his instrument—an amplified classical guitar outfitted with eight sympathetic strings. Since that time, Cappelli has moved to New York and works often with his composers. But on April 8th at The Stone, Cappelli and Coleman to a degree reversed roles. It was the pianist who was using the preparations while Cappelli played a regular nylon-string guitar into a single microphone. Coleman was restless in arranging his objects, using erasers, tape and a brandy snifter against the strings. He at times left Cappelli to fend nakedly for himself, but when he found arrangements that contented him, he created unusually effective themes: jagged rags and rattling etudes. Coleman's encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and piano music makes hearing him using preparations (relatively uncommon for him) a treat. The alterations are just filters in his hands, they veil his playing without redefining the instrument. Cappelli proved adept at the two nylon-string traditions—Spanish and classical—and showed his independent study as well. His ably finger-picked patterns, massive strums and taut repetitions worked off an unpredictable sense for playing with, against and in isolation from the piano. Each played solo as well, but in duo they showed a sort of crotchety camaraderie. (KG)

—Kurt Gottschalk

Johnny Engle & Hakon Kornstad

Ingebrigt Håker Flaten & Håkon Kornstad



April 10, 2009

It was fitting that the US debut of bassist Johnny Engle and saxophonist Hakon Kornstad's exquisite Elise project—Flaten's arrangements of traditional Norwegian hymns sung by his grandmother—took place on Good Friday (April 10th). The setting, Williamsburg's Monkeytown, at first might have seemed less than devout but became its own little cathedral under the influence of the visiting Scandinavians. Facing each other, Flaten and Kornstad (tenor sax and fluteonette), gave more of a recital than a performance, the dynamics and textures demanding absolute silence. Monkeytown's layout has the performers in the center of the high-ceilinged room, playing inside four video screens. The visuals were provided by Norwegian artist Marius Watz and either bathed the duo in bright geometric light or consumed them in total darkness, only the glow from two candles illuminating them. This effect heightened the mysterious qualities of the music, beautiful melodies sparsely undertaken, Flaten avoiding the more boisterous adornment for which he is better known. Kornstad, who has previously engaged in elegant duo explorations with pianist Håvard Wiik, was an ideal partner, aesthetically as well as culturally. Elise was one of the most sublime albums of 2008 and lost little of its impact live. The only wish would be for a performance in an actual house of worship or perhaps the open air, allowing the spacious music room to expand further.

Tony Malaby

Tony Malaby

Cornelia Street Cafe

New York City

April 12, 2009

The heart and pulse are often used as musical symbols for beat and rhythm. Make then what you will of saxophonist Tony Malaby's Exploding Heart with William Parker and Nasheet Waits. His Double Heart Band, a conceptual variation of that group as well as his recent Cello Trio, performed a remarkable set at Cornelia Street Café Apr. 12th. That it was Easter Sunday may have subconsciously contributed to the solemnity of some of the music but more likely it was Malaby laying back, reveling in the double double basses of Norwegians Eivind Opsvik and Johnny Engle, two sides of the same kroner. When Malaby plays a set (solely on tenor in this case) with his eyes mostly shut, listeners should know they are seeing him at his most focused. That was the case during the first set as he either floated nebulously over the dense weave of the two uprights, communed with one or the other or just stood motionless, smiling at the thrum. Drummer Tom Rainey laid his rhythms adroitly between Flaten and Opsvik, punctuating Malaby's lines. Visually, the quartet seemed like a plane: Malaby in the cockpit, Rainey the crucial tailfin, the two bassists coasting through the air currents. The material was taken from the albums featuring Exploding Heart (Flaten subbed for Parker on a tour) and Cello Trio as well as four new pieces. Apart from the opener, the rest of the 65-minute set was played as a delicious medley, Malaby more interesting in braising than flambéing.

—Andrey Henkin

Joe Lovano & Hank Jones

Joe Lovano & Hank Jones


New York City

April 8th, 2009

The union of saxophonist Joe Lovano and pianist Hank Jones has yielded three of the past decade's finest recordings: the pair of quartet outings, Joyous Encounter and I'm All For You, plus their marvelous duo excursion Kids: Duets Live at Dizzy's Club. The former two's foursome was reunited for a weeklong engagement at Birdland last month, bringing the music to life with the kind of spontaneous creativity that can only be inspired by the empathetic interaction of truly great artists with an enthusiastic sympathetic audience, both of which were evident in abundance. On just the band's second night together (April 8th) the group played with an uncanny cohesiveness that generally takes weeks, if not years, to develop. Beginning with Thad Jones' "Kids Are Pretty People," taken at an easy grooving medium tempo, Lovano and Jones each demonstrated their own strongly individualistic but ultimately compatible personal styles—the former evincing a soft warm multihued tone, while the latter accompanied him with a hint of striding piano in his inimitable swing-to-bop manner. With George Mraz' solid virtuosic bass holding down the time and Paul Motian's unorthodox drumming moving the music in interesting, often unexpected, directions, they forged ahead, interpreting jazz classics like Monk's "Four In One" and "Rhythm-A-Ning" and standards such as "Stella By Starlight" and "Body And Soul" with never the slightest hint of the commonplace. —Russ Musto

Ted Nash

Ted Nash

Jazz Standard

New York City

April 1, 2009

Multi-instrumentalist Ted Nash, best known for his classic work in the sax section of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, displayed a more idiosyncratic bent leading his band Odeon at Jazz Standard. The unusual group (humorously described by its leader as an amalgamation of "all the instruments that I hate"), featuring Nathalie Bonin on violin, Bill Schimmel on accordion, Clark Gayton on tuba and trombone and Tim Horner on drums and percussion, with Nash tripling on tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet, played a satisfying set (Apr 1st) that traversed the history of jazz from New Orleans to now. Opening with "Walk This Way," an original with a rollicking Crescent City rhythm held down by Gayton's fluidly blown beat, the curious grouping mixed and matched their distinctive sounds in kaleidoscopic fashion. Nash's "Tango Sierra" found him on bass clarinet with Gayton out front on trombone introducing the Iberian melody that served as a feature for Bonin's brooding gypsy violin and Schimmel's poignant accordion before the composer climaxed the piece with a soulful Eastern-tinged clarinet solo. The group's arrangements of such bebop classics as Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night In Tunisia" and Thelonious Monk's "Four In One," which flanked a reading of the seldom played allegro movement of "Concierto de Aranjuez," breathed new life into the two warhorses, before they brought things back to New Orleans with Nash's "Sidewalk Meeting."

—Russ Musto

Recommended New Listening:

* Diego Barber—Calima (Sunnyside)

* Nathan Eklund—Trip to the Casbah (Jazz Excursion)

* Julian Lage—Sounding Point (Decca/Emarcy)

* Joe Lovano's US Five—Folk Art (Blue Note)

* Akiko Pavolka & House of Illusion—Trust Aqua (Tone of a Pitch)

* Corey Wilkes & Abstrakt Pulse—Cries From Tha Ghetto (Pi) —David Adler [email protected] Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com

* Fly—Sky & Country (ECM)

* Indigo Trio (Nicole Mitchell/Harrison Bankhead/Hamid Drake)—Anaya (Rogue Art)

* Joe McPhee—Angels, Devils & Haints (CjR)

* Charnett Moffett—The Art of Improvisation (Motéma Music)

* Eric Revis—Laughter's Necklace of Tears (11:11)

* Lucky Thompson—New York City (1964-65) (Uptown)

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

* Beaty Brothers Band—B3 (s/r)

* Agustí Fernández—un llamp que no s'acaba mai (psi)

* Grix (Floros Floridis/Antonis Anissegos/Yorgos Dimitriadis)—Sweet, Sour, Sharp & Soft (Jazzwerkstatt)

* Gutbucket—A Modest Proposal (Cuneiform)

* Splinters—Split the Difference (Reel Recordings)

* Steve Swell's Magical Listening Hour—Live @ The South Street Seaport (Cadence Jazz)

—Andrey Henkin Editorial Director, AllAboutJazz-New York

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