May 2009

AAJ Staff By

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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.

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