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November 2008


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Myra Melford; Henry Threadgill

The Interpretations series, which long has been responsible for some of the most consistently adventurous programming in the city, marked its 20th anniversary at Roulette on Oct. 2nd with a double bill of Myra Melford and Henry Threadgill, each presenting newly commissioned works. Melford's "Happy Whistlings" was an exciting suite based on the writings of Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano. With a strong new band comprised of three of New York's most talented young players—Harris Eisenstadt, Mary Halvorson and Matana Roberts—she worked through a series of pieces that seemed to morph seamlessly every couple minutes. Threadgill's longstanding Zooid (Stomu Takeishi, Liberty Ellman, Jose Davila and Elliot Kavee) played two new pieces that held few surprises. But "Fate Cues," a new piece for Zooid with the Talujon percussion quartet, worked in complex polyrhythms with the ensemble repeatedly broken into smaller groupings, only coming together in the final minutes for a striking resolve. Holding it all together, of course, was the leader's laser-like sax playing, the animating force of his projects for some 35 years. Between the Zooid and full group sets, Talujon performed the first movement of Steve Reich's Drumming, a brilliant bit of programming that situated Threadgill's experiments between the jazz and new music traditions—which is arguably where Interpretations has been carving its ground for the last two decades.

Jim Staley/Joe McPhee

Sculptor Alain Kirili's Tribeca loft has become a warm, if occasional, home for free improv and a schedule revision collapsed two solo gigs into an unexpected duet there on Oct. 7th to brilliant results. The first meeting of trombonist Jim Staley and brass and reed player Joe McPhee came off superbly before a small invited audience and a French television crew. McPhee surprisingly arrived without a sax, bringing his pocket trumpet, the rarely seen alto clarinet and—even more surprisingly—a valve trombone. They started quickly and quietly, not necessarily playing together but playing with conviction, McPhee creating a percussive breath track through trumpet while Staley deftly worked his mutes (does he play trombone with mutes or mutes with trombone?). But when McPhee picked up his trombone for the second piece, Staley dispensed of the mutes for a surprising duet, both horns occupying the same space with ease. In a word, the two were gentlemanly, complimenting and complementing. Whatever instrument is in his hands, McPhee is a fount of phraseology and on the new trombone his soft tone was almost like a French horn. Where he articulates, Staley is more slippery, as if it's not just his horn but his thoughts that slide; the variety of ideas he can articulate in a few minutes time is dizzying. They only fell together in any obvious way on the final piece, steadying against each other, varying and regrouping and then ending with the single loudest double note of the evening.

—Kurt Gottschalk

NEA Jazz Masters Concert

History was "in the house" Oct. 17th, when the 28th NEA Jazz Masters ceremony was held at Rose Hall. Well attended by alumni from previous years as well as prominent members of the press and recording industry, the room was imbued with a tangible aura of reverence for jazz' heroes. This year's inductees—George Benson, Jimmy Cobb, Lee Konitz, Toots Thielemans, Rudy Van Gelder and Snooky Young—were all on hand. Each award was preceded by a documentary video and introductory speech by a close colleague from the Jazz Masters roster; the presenters' anecdotes, humorous and heartfelt, added a personal touch to the formalities. And of course there was music: the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, a paragon of technical precision and stylistic nuance, kicked things off with a rousing version of "Un Poco Loco"; Benson fronted the group on "Stella By Starlight," dashing off bluesy runs and fleet flourishes that showed he hasn't lost his touch; Cobb sat on the drummer's throne for "Can You Read My Mind"; Thielemans rendered "What a Wonderful World" with an expressive body-English that brought the crowd to its feet and Konitz, after a humorously haphazard countoff of "Body and Soul," delivered one of the evening's most tasteful performances. The JALC Orchestra capped it off with a lush "Stolen Moments," a molasses-slow "Lil Darlin'" and a swinging "Splanky" (featuring a cameo by conguero Candido Camero), with fine soloing throughout.

A Power Stronger Than Itself

On Oct. 11th, a double-header of experimental music at The Kitchen—the Wet Ink Ensemble, followed by Ritual and Rebellion—concluded A Power Stronger Than Itself, a two-day celebration of Chicago's AACM. Primarily comprised of alumni from Columbia University's music program, Wet Ink combined classical instrumentation and compositional techniques with aleatoric and improvisative elements. Following two short chamber suites for trio and quartet, the final piece, trombonist George Lewis' "Hello Mary Lou," featured a large ensemble of low brass and woodwinds, strings, a video presentation and live sound editing. The results were mixed (literally and figuratively), as the electronic 'enhancements' tended to overpower the intimacy and immediacy of the acoustic instruments. Ritual and Rebellion, a powerhouse combo made up of co-leaders Matana Roberts (alto sax) and Nicole Mitchell (flutes), Craig Taborn (piano) and Chad Taylor (drums), merged four charismatic 'cooks' in one Kitchen, each adding a pinch (or punch) of their individual sauce and seasonings to the collective brew. In this case, the mixing matched. Taylor's percussion and Taborn's piano, at times vigorous, at others understated and spare, exploited a wide dynamic range, while Roberts and Mitchell's unique styles blended together well. "Ritual and Rebellion," the closer, featured a vocal canon, forceful soloing and ecstatic tone painting.

—Tom Greenland

Evan Parker/Ned Rothenberg

Three days to the two-year anniversary of a monumental duo performance at Roulette, Evan Parker and Ned Rothenberg reprised the collaboration at Issue Project Room (Oct. 13th). An old wives' tale states that lightning never strikes the same place twice; that is demonstrably untrue, as is the notion that Parker (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Rothenberg (alto sax, straight and bass clarinets) could not match or even exceed their earlier performance, documented on Rothenberg's Animul label as Live at Roulette. Most probably the two were not even thinking about it so neither will we except to make some small comparisons: both were done in two sets though the recent gig was over 20 minutes longer and each had instrumental combinations the other did not, most notably solo pieces on clarinet and soprano sax at Issue Project Room. Parker and Rothenberg's alliance, in place since 1997's Monkey Puzzle (Leo), is heavily dependent on masterful use of circular breathing, but applied judiciously and spontaneously. With it, they can recreate the sounds of a woodland temple, electronic signals jumping across a motherboard or even the score to an alien visitation. By also playing solo—Rothenberg in the first set and Parker in the second—they made their duets even more impressive, demonstrating how individual density was adapted and employed in the pursuit of meaningful dialogue, an overused term but a very apt one when describing their shared dynamic.

Monk Piano Marathon

In 2017, Thelonious Monk would have been 100 years old. One can only imagine the Centennial celebrations that October but leading up to them is the Monk Piano Marathon at the Winter Garden, held annually on the pianist's birthday (Oct. 10th). The format is a group (a thunder? a pounding?) of pianists each given 15 minutes to fete Monk in whatever manner they deem fit. Most play his tunes—and thus you get multiple versions of "In Walked Bud" and "Well You Needn't"—but some choose to present originals or music that influenced him. This year's crop included two of his colleagues in Randy Weston and Junior Mance, with 16 other tinklers, ranging in style from Frank Kimbrough and Helen Sung to Geri Allen and Mulgrew Miller to Edsel Gomez and Chuchito Valdes. But Monk's influence on modern piano playing is so pervasive, his shadow, even 26 years after his death and almost 40 years after his last recordings, looms so large that the marathon's organizers could really have picked any pianists playing today to demonstrate his authority. Given the environment, with jazz aficionados mingling with rattled financiers and wayward tourists, there wasn't much offered in the way of contextual information like songs played nor did the program even have a biography included of Monk. But it was Randy Weston's Monk medley, played with his usual aplomb and bombast, and containing a "Happy Birthday" quote, that was the day's best birthday present.

—Andrey Henkin

Jason Moran

In a daringly innovative take on the jazz repertory concept, Jason Moran presented a multimedia program at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse (Oct. 2nd) in which the inventive young pianist revisited music from Thelonious Monk's celebrated 1959 Town Hall concert. Billed alternately as "Moran on Monk" and "In My Mind," the evening featured an opening discussion with trombonist/educator George Lewis, visual artist Glenn Ligon (whose works were projected behind the band during the concert) and then Moran, who explained his creative process in putting together the multifaceted concert. Abandoning the often fruitless process of entirely faithful reproduction, Moran and his band, featuring his regular trio with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, augmented by the trumpet of Ralph Alessi and alto sax of Logan Richardson, offered their own take on the music, modulating between reportorial recreation and 21st Century revitalization. Video excerpts by David Demplewolf surveying the plantation land of Monk's slave grandparents were mixed with views of New York past and present and photos from the Town Hall concert. The recorded sound of Monk playing, discussing arrangements and tap dancing were interpolated with the group's playing, which began with Moran's interpretation of "Thelonious" while wearing headphones listening to Monk and continued with new arrangements of the music heard at Town Hall nearly 50 years ago.

Jazz for Obama | Full Coverage

More than two dozen of the greatest artists of the day joined forces in a Jazz For Obama fundraising concert at the 92nd Street Y (Oct. 1st) that will surely go down in the annals of jazz as one of the greatest events in the history of the music. Players and singers, young and old, male and female, black and white, came together to make music, often with a message, played with a sense of urgency and fervor befitting the evening's political purpose. The sounds began with Roy Haynes leading a fiery all-star quintet featuring Roy Hargrove, Joe Lovano, Christian McBride and pianist Aaron Goldberg (the benefit's producer) in a powerful reading of McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance," setting the tone for what would be no ordinary night. Emceed by vocalist Kurt Elling, the well-paced program delivered climax after climax for a crowd of 750 vocally appreciative listeners who contributed over $60,000 to the cause. High points included a blistering version of Monk's "I Mean You" by vibraphonist Stefon Harris' quartet with Goldberg, Derrick Hodge and Jeff "Tain" Watts, a dynamic duet on "Alone Together" by Hank Jones with Lovano and a beautiful "Besame Mucho" by Brad Mehldau. Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roberta Gambarini and Elling testified to the healthy state of vocal jazz in individual performances and on a grand finale of "Straight No Chaser" that brought Stanley Jordan and Mehldau out from backstage and Steve Turre from the audience to bring the enthusiastic house down.

—Russ Musto

Recommended New Listening:

  • Adam Birnbaum—Travels (Smalls)
  • Bill Cantrall—Axiom (Upswing)
  • Todd Coolman—Perfect Strangers (ArtistShare)
  • Rob Mosher's Storytime—The Tortoise (Old Mill)
  • Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two—Live at the Village Vanguard Vol. II (Winter & Winter)
  • Bebo Valdes Javier Colina—Live at the Village Vanguard (Calle 54)
  • The Antripodean Collective—Funcall (Extreme)
  • Blue Notes—The Ogun Collection (Ogun)
  • John Escreet—Consequences (Positone)
  • Andrew Hill/Chico Hamilton—Dreams Come True (Joyous Shout!)
  • Rebecca Kilgore/Dave Frishberg—Why Fight The Feeling?: Songs by Frank Loesser (Arbors)
  • John Santos Quintet—Perspectiva Fragmentada (Machete)
  • Tine Asmundsen/Richard Davis/Vidar Johansen/Robert Shy—Madison (Hazel Jazz)
  • Atomic School Days—Distil (Okkadisk)
  • Circulasione Totale Orchestra—Open Port (Circulasione Totale)
  • Mats Gustafsson—The Vilnius Explosion (NoBusiness)
  • Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky/Michael Griener—The Salmon (Intakt)
  • Simulacra—Eponymous (Evander)

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