Sitting down to play duets with guitarist Lionel Loueke at Merkin Hall (Oct. 9th), pianist Robert Glasper confided that he was "casually scared . In truth, Loueke, his partner and soon-to-be Blue Note labelmate, has given performances more stunning than this one. But he and Glasper made their imaginative way through Loueke's "Benny's Tune , Glasper's "Chant and a jittery, playful take on Miles' "Solar . Between Glasper's inspired harmonic choices and Loueke's mix of pure and processed tones, it was a memorable encounter, leaning toward the loosely structured and impressionistic. In the second half, with bassist/songwriter Me'shell Ndegéocello, Glasper walked a straighter line through Herbie Hancock's "Tell Me a Bedtime Story and Stevie Wonder/Michael Jackson's "I Can't Help It . Ndegéocello kept solid, soulful time on Fender electric. Then came the jam session. Loueke reemerged; drummer Chris Dave played paper, pens and music stand on a trippy "Afro Blue ; the three principals continued with a beautiful, contemporary "Naima . Ndegéocello closed by singing a new original song, switching to acoustic guitar and then back to bass. Her lingua franca of jazz, hiphop and pop/R&B had a big impact on children of the '90s like Glasper, so the rapport at Merkin was vitalizing. Loueke added tasteful fills, like a West African Larry Carlton.
Amir ElSaffar, the Iraqi-American trumpeter, is perfectly suited for the annual Festival of New Trumpet (FONT) music. He is a virtuoso on the horn, but also an imaginative bandleader, expanding the vocabulary of the trumpet and at the same time the modern jazz ensemble. Accomplished in the jazz and Western classical fields, ElSaffar has also immersed himself in the Iraqi maqam. Much as Vijay Iyer has done with Carnatic music, ElSaffar is bringing the maqam - the urban classical music of Iraq - into contact with jazz. At Makor (Oct. 5th), during the second month of FONT, ElSaffar played an extended work called "Two Rivers , signifying the Tigris and Euphrates but also the commingling of musical worlds. He began the set on santoor, a type of hammered dulcimer. For a time the group seemed physically split between East and West - with ElSaffar, violinist/oudist/percussionist Zaafer Tawil and buzuq player/pianist Tareq Abboushi on the left and altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa, bassist Carlo DeRosa and drummer Nasheet Waits on the right. Gradually the boundaries blurred; ElSaffar migrated to a standard trumpet and a cornet with a slide, to enable microtones. The music ranged from mournful rubato song to raging New York-style improvisation. Waits took to the mix of rhythms with relish and skill. When ElSaffar returned to santoor, he began to vocalize in authentic maqam style, to haunting effect.
~ David R. Adler
On the eve of his 73rd birthday, New York veteran tone artist Phill Niblock had what could have been a party surrounded by his spiritual godchildren. The next night he had a proper party at Experimental Intermedia, his longtime home and performance loft on Centre Street. But on Oct. 1st, as a part of the second-to-last act on the last night of the Erstquake festival at Tonic, Niblock was among sonic family. It was one of the longest and richest of the 20 sets (although nothing like Niblock's 6-hour solstice shows) during the four-night festival, which was produced by the New York-area labels Erstwhile, Quakebasket and Little Enjoyer . Like a frog placed in a pot that can't sense the water getting hotter, his duo with Jason Lescalleet slowly grew to considerable volume (except perhaps to Niblock, who, by the end had his loops in place, his eyes meditatively closed and his hands over his ears). Lescalleet crawled around the stage strewn with several generations of gear while Niblock set up at a small, tidy table on the side of the stage, making for an interesting bit of generation bending. Niblock relied on a sleek set-up of CD player, mixing board and a couple of effects while Lescalleet physically manipulated vintage reel-to-reel players and low line plastic keyboards, twisting sounds out of equipment Niblock could have used in college. After an hour, they had created a trembling sentience, a thing with a life of its own that could not easily be stopped.
Human beatboxer Napoleon Maddox of the Cincinnati hip hop crew Iswhat?! is the latest ambassador in the jazz/electronica peace talks. While the only electronic device he generally uses is a microphone, his has lent his oral percussion to Hamid Drake, Joe Fonda and others and is notably a member of Roy Nathanson's Sotto Voce. The group's first album, released earlier this year, might well be the best of Nathanson's long career, which stretches back some 20 years to the beginnings of his Jazz Passengers. Nathanson's skill as an arranger has long been apparent. His talent for storytelling has been blossoming since 2000's Fire at Keaton's Bar and Grill. But his knack for vocal harmony arranging is something new and as evidenced Oct. 18th at Joe's Pub, his saxophone playing only gets stronger. It was the group's second appearance at the venue and unfortunately the hiphop touch was taken a little too seriously. The PA boomed, drowning out Nathanson's spoken word and Tim Kiah actually managed to break a string on his upright bass. Both blunders were readily fixed however and after a restart they sounded great - tight arrangements, nice soloing from Nathanson's longtime partner Curtis Fowlkes on trombone and, above all, a well-rehearsed performance, even by new violinist Jesse Mills. The good news is that an upcoming tour and a new song suggest that this might be an ongoing project and the best heard from Nathanson in years.
~ Kurt Gottschalk
In any groups which saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink played together, whether it be Machine Gun, the Globe Unity Orchestra or even in trio with Fred Van Hove, the two were usually the most aggressive element. So when Brötzmann and Bennink inaugurated the fall season of the Vision Club (Oct. 6th), it was a chance to see that aggression distilled. After last year's Still quite popular after all those years (Eremite), interest was renewed in a partnership begun in 1968 and remarkably fertile during the '70s but intermittent since then. In fact, this was their first NYC duo performance since 1975, a large reason why the small puppet theater of the Clemente Soto Velez Sea Theater could barely contain the throngs who came out.
Those that made it in for the first set were treated to crowd-pleasing dollops of vicious improvisation but also more tempered moments that were more redolent of a bluesy Southern delta than Northern Europe. Seeing the two perform without others highlights how different each one's brand of aggression can be. Bennink gyrates in heavy rhythm while Brötzmann's tortured peals become almost drone-like. When the shrieking subsided and the rhythms became looser, the communication was at its most multifaceted. Though a dialogue, it was disagreement, interruptions and tangents that made the music particularly human, almost vulnerable.
Anyone who has sat in traffic has experienced the phenomenon of different sets of turn signals moving in and out of synchronicity. Though this is a process born out of random convergence, it is an apt framework to discuss the duo concert of saxophonists Evan Parker and Ned Rothenberg at Roulette (Oct. 10th). In true egalitarian fashion, both players introduced motifs and spun lines that were absorbed and echoed by each other, action and reaction happening with such grace and ease as to become almost inextricable. The pair improvised five pieces and one encore, the aggregate music totalling exactly one hour. Due to this brevity, all the presented ideas were fully formed with no flat linking points and even the brief solo segments acted as vital connective tissue. Rothenberg (bass clarinet, clarinet, alto sax) and Parker (tenor and soprano saxophones) are expert circular breathers, resulting in some rather intense moments. But it was not just the many instruments, it was the various techniques applied to them - long tones, trills, slurs, percussive pops - that helped shape pieces of remarkable depth. When the duo played on similarly-toned instruments (clarinet and soprano for instance), the sounds moved from confluence to out-of-phase atonality. When the ranges were further apart, they masterfully filled each others spaces. Since so many improvised performances are too long and too ugly, a brief and beautiful one, full of intent listening, was one to savor.
~ Andrey Henkin
Eddie Henderson showed that he is among the most creative trumpeters in jazz today, turning in a typically impressive set at Smoke (Oct. 6th) with his excellent quartet. Bassist Ed Howard, soon to be joined by pianist Dave Kikoski and drummer Billy Drummond, played a short intro to Wayne Shorter's "Masqualero to open the second set, before Henderson entered dramatically with an atmospheric sound recalling his early days with Herbie Hancock, the band's energy level gradually rising to full throttle before resolving to Kikoski's romantic variations on the theme and a surprising finish. Henderson moved to flugelhorn for a beautiful reading of "The Summer Knows , his mellifluous sound contrasting nicely with Kikoski's dark harmonics and occasional dissonances. On "Little B's Poem the trumpeter's muted horn danced melodically around Bobby Hutcherson's bright waltzing line. Drummond opened up energetically behind Kikoski's imaginative solo and painted subtle textures under Howard before Henderson returned to take the melody out, his reverberating sound filling the room. The group returned to the Wayne Shorter songbook for a Latinish take on his "El Gaucho , Henderson playing with a ringing, rhythmic attack on flugelhorn and Kikoski demonstrating a two-fisted virtuosity at the piano as Howard and Drummond drove them powerfully. The set concluded with a moving reading of Henderson's mysterious-sounding "Dark Shadows .
Jazz at Lincoln Center's Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO) with Arturo O'Farrill celebrated the music of maestro Bebo Valdés with a spectacular concert at Rose Hall (Oct. 14th). The music began with Valdés alone at the piano playing a piece that demonstrated his deep roots in jazz, European classical and Cuban music, as well as his virtuosic two-handed technique. He was joined on the second number by bassist John Benitez, guitarist Edgardo Miranda, conguero Tony Rosa, timbalero Rickard Valdés and Mike Mossman, who played muted trumpet on a composition that moved from melodic romanticism to enlivened dance rhythms. The group was then augmented by ALJO members Bobby Porcelli on alto sax, Luis Bonilla on trombone, Vince Cherico on drums and Jimmy Delgado on bongos and bell for an old fashioned descarga (Cuban jam session) on selections from Valdés' El Solar de Bebo. O'Farrill spelled the master briefly on a Valdés composition dedicated to his wife, "Rosemarie , before the pianist returned to end the first half with the exciting "Baracutey . After intermission an augmented Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra took the stage and Valdés conducted the formidable ensemble through his "Suite Cubana , a magnificent work that moved through a variety of rhythms from mambo and son to guaracha and guajira. The concert ended with a standing ovation from the packed house, followed by an impromptu singing of "Happy Birthday for the beaming 88-year-old Valdés.
~ Russ Musto
Recommended New Listening:
· Gil Goldstein - Under Rousseau's Moon (Half Note)
· Mark Helias and Open Loose - Atomic Clock (Radio Legs)
Rhythm Abstraction: Azure is the first volume of new compositions created as a follow up to 2018’s
release Rhythm Kaleidoscope. As with that release, Brock Avery improvised drum and percussion
solos. Frank Macchia then composed music for woodwinds and orchestra to Brock’s creations. Azure
is the first of three extended play albums of 6-7 compositions which will be released starting in
January and followed up in April and July. In Azure we have a created a group of pieces that continue
our quest for honoring the art of improvisation with a “stream-of-consciousness” sense of
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