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


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