October 2003


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The Intercontinentals create sounds so intimate that one is almost reluctant to applaud when they
Circumstances conspired to keep me away from the month-long 50th birthday celebration of September’s AAJ-NY cover icon, John Zorn, at Tonic. I was counting on catching Derek Bailey’s performance with Zorn and Ikue Mori toward the end of the month, only to find out that Bailey, afflicted with bronchitis, bailed. All the same, happy birthday, Mr. Zorn. Until next time.

Tin Hat Trio — In a unique occurrence at Merkin Hall, the THT took part in an installment of “New Sounds Live,” hosted by WNYC-FM’s John Schaefer. The Merkin stage was set up not only for live performance, but also live radio broadcast and person-to-person interviews. Across from Schaefer were three chairs and three mics, awaiting the presence of multi-keyboardist Rob Burger, guitarist Mark Orton and violinist Carla Kihlstedt. The evening was organized around a “separate and together” theme, wherein each Tin Hatter would present their own mini-set (and interview) during the first half, and the full THT would finally assemble in the second half.

This worked out quite well. Burger presented music from his klezmerish Lost Photograph album on Tzadik, with Chris Speed on clarinet, Trevor Dunn on bass and Kenny Wolleson on drums. Then Orton sat tight in his interview chair while Burger (on pump organ), Speed and bass clarinetist Oscar Noriega performed his piece “The Land of Dark,” a brief but dense chamber work inspired by the Scandinavian winter. This segued smoothly into another Orton piece, “Elegy for Margaret,” a sparse, haunting feature for Kihlstedt’s solo violin. Kihlstedt then sat down for her interview and brought on cellist Marika Hughes and drummer Shahzad Ismaily — the configuration heard on her Tzadik release 2 Foot Yard. What followed were delightfully off-the-wall, art-punkish songs featuring Kihlstedt’s voice as well as violin. “Like watching someone do magic tricks” is how one friend described it.

It was remarkable to hear these three musical intelligences merge in the second half, when the Tin Hat Trio took to a far less cluttered stage and worked their magic. Orton summoned an enormous amount of sound from his old, little acoustic guitar and seemed to provide most of the glue here. His dobro playing, too, was gripping and expansive, particularly on the unforgettable “Bill,” dedicated to the godfather of this school of countrified, intercontinental chamber jazz, Mr. Frisell.

Bill Frisell — Appearing before a capacity crowd at Zankel Hall (Carnegie Hall’s new multi-genre alt-music space), Frisell and his six-piece Intercontinentals band gave what felt very much like a living room concert. With Christos Govetas on oud and bouzouki, Greg Leisz on pedal steel, Vinicius Cantuaria on guitar/percussion/vocals, Sidiki Camara on Malian percussion, Jenny Scheinman on violin and Frisell on guitar, the Intercontinentals certainly live up to their name. But despite its new World Music thrust, this ensemble is just as unmistakably Frisellian as any he’s ever put together. Essentially a string band with percussion, the IC’s are able to conjure humor and pathos in the same tune, carry on complex dialogue over a simple, infectious groove, and create sounds so intimate that one is almost reluctant to applaud when they’re through. And you’ll never hear anyone get a warmer, mellower sound from a yellow Telecaster.

Charles Tolliver Big Band — A frenetic blast from the hard bop past. Tolliver, sounding brilliant on trumpet, conducted this big band with energy and pinpoint resolve, putting a new coat of paint on music from two Strata-East albums dating back to the 70s: Music, Inc. & Big Band and Impact. This was an evening of long tunes (typically three per set) and long solos, but with people like Craig Handy and Gary Thomas on tenors, Gary Bartz and Jesse Davis on altos, and Howard Johnson on baritone and numerous doubles, you’d better believe there wasn’t a dull moment.

The trombonists were Jason Jackson, Clark Gayton, Jack Jeffers and Aaron Johnson; trumpets were Frank Green, David Guy, David Weiss and Keyon Harrold. (Hats off to David Weiss for planting the idea for this project in Tolliver’s head.) Tolliver’s longtime Music, Inc. colleague Stanley Cowell played piano, Ugonna Okegwo played bass, and Billy Drummond held probably the most important chair of all, powering every tight, Tyner-influenced groove with a jaw-dropping intensity. James Spaulding was billed but had to back out, leaving Howard Johnson and Jack Jeffers as the only two who had actually played on the original 70s sessions.

Guillermo Klein — For the first time in three years, the Argentinian composer/bandleader and his little big band, Los Guachos, resurfaced in New York (specifically, the Jazz Gallery). This organization remains a who’s-who of area players. The horns were Chris Cheek, Miguel Zenon, Bill McHenry, Diego Urcola, Taylor Haskins and Sandro Tomasi. The rhythm component consisted of Ben Monder on guitar, Fernando Huergo on electric bass, Jeff Ballad on drums and Richard Nant on percussion (and trumpet). Klein played piano and conducted; Luciana Souza contributed vocals on a few numbers. Quite in contrast to Tolliver, Klein weaves an ensemble fabric through and through and doesn’t go in for long, showstopping solos — although McHenry, Monder and Haskins did get in some nice licks. Klein’s deeply ambiguous harmonies and intricate rhythmic structures can seem impenetrable at times, but the net effect is warm and inviting, even spellbinding (as was the case with an upbeat composition by Jeff Ballard).

Miguel Zenon — The Jazz Gallery gave this firebreathing young altoist the honor of a month of Thursdays, and the results were tremendous. Zenon seized the opportunity to showcase two different quartets, the second of which was his new Rhythm Collective, featuring Hans Glawischnig on electric bass, Henry Cole on drums, and Pernell Saturnino on percussion. In the last 18 months or so Zenon’s compositional voice has taken on a daring, enormously sophisticated quality. This chordless ensemble was especially strong: drums and percussion cooked up a relentless rhythmic boil while Glawischnig functioned as a one-man orchestra, using an octave pedal to beef up his presence at just the right moments. Zenon displayed a growing mastery of his horn and navigated his own complex tunes with aplomb. But this was no mere technical display; there was inner meaning in every transition, every blindingly fast unison line, and Zenon always managed to make it clear.

Zenon’s quartet with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Glawischnig (on acoustic this time) and drummer Antonio Sanchez made a very different noise, one marked by a broader harmonic palette but just as much rhythmic badassery. Once again, Zenon’s command of extended, through-composed forms and sweeping narrative gestures — not to mention his relentlessly passionate alto playing — kept the audience enthralled from start to finish. Much of this music will be heard on Zenon’s Marsalis Music debut, Ceremonial, due out in early 2004. When you see it, grab it.

Art Davis/Billy Bang, Art Davis/Odean Pope — A very special Sunday and Monday night at the Jazz Gallery and Cornelia Street Café, respectively. Dr. Davis is a veteran bassist who has graced recordings and bandstands led by Coltrane, Hubbard and many more (McCoy Tyner’s 1962 trio classic Inception is an important resume item). In recent years Davis has eschewed the limelight and devoted himself to jazz education. This was his first-ever duo performance with violinist Billy Bang, and it showed in a number of shaky transitions and miscues. But there was gravitas in Davis’s unamplified sound, a poignancy in his touch, and often a glimmer of transcendence in his rapport with the violin. At one point Bang unplugged his axe and attempted to go acoustic as well, but after one tune he reconsidered. Highlights included Bang’s “Moments for the KIAMIA” (from Vietnam: The Aftermath), Davis’s calypso-inflected “Everybody’s Doing It,” and a slow, in-tempo reading of Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament.”

The following night at Cornelia Street, Davis appeared in a duo setting with tenor saxophonist Odean Pope. The first set opened with Pope’s angular blues “Knot It Off” (from a 1996 Enja date, aptly titled Ninety-Six). “Everybody’s Doing It” resurfaced from the night before, sounding tighter but a bit less playful. The duo went out swinging with “Suite for Two,” based loosely on rhythm changes. Pope brandished a gritty tone and made extensive use of his highly developed circular breathing. If you prefer the tenor sax to the violin (and let’s face it, most of us do), this was the gig to see, although both nights had their rewards.

Kenny Garrett/Pharoah Sanders — This Blue Note engagement was the talk of the jazz town for a week. The two saxophonists raised the roof with the help of Carlos McKinney on piano, Robert Hurst on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. It’s hard to imagine a sound more intense than Sanders blowing with gale force, buffeted by Watts’s non-stop, triple-tom assault. The first tune, an up-tempo burner, stretched to nearly 15 minutes and provided more than a set’s worth of energy and information. But the band played on, and grew — trombonist Steve Turre and trumpeter Wallace Roney sat in for the remainder, including a blazing “Giant Steps” and Garrett’s funky, lyrical “Sing a Song of Song” (from 1997’s Songbook). Garrett got the crowd to sing the melody on the latter; Sanders, for his part, opted to sing it directly into the bell of his horn.

Marvin Stamm — Appearing at Birdland, the Westchester-based trumpeter and Kenton/Thad&Mel alumnus sounded radiant in the company of pianist Bill Mays, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Ed Soph. After two loosely swinging, highly interactive workouts (Thad’s “Mean What You Say” and Reid’s up samba “When She Smiles Upon Your Face”), John Abercrombie joined the group as a special guest. How curious to hear this guitar modernist on Bill May’s brisk arrangement of Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band.” Abercrombie took the spotlight for a few minutes with “A Nice Idea,” the leadoff track from his 2002 ECM effort Cat ’n’ Mouse , and played beautifully on Mays’s folkish 5/4 piece “In Her Arms” (from the pianist’s latest Palmetto release, Going Home ). It was clear throughout the set that Stamm and Mays share an especially strong musical bond, and this made their exquisite duo rendition of Kenny Wheeler’s “Widow in the Window” all the more gratifying. Stamm stuck to fluegelhorn for the second half of the set; Mays cast a spell with his harmonic imagination and sheer stage presence; Rufus Reid had a ball, not to mention a great big sound; and Ed Soph revealed a deliciously angular rhythmic concept that nudged every tune just slightly left of center.

James Emery — Our own Laurence Donohue-Greene brought Mr. Emery to the lovely Hudson View Gardens apartment complex in Washington Heights for a magnificent solo concert. Playing his custom D’Aquisto through a pair of Tannoy speakers and a Mackie mixing console, Emery enthralled a small but entirely receptive audience with readings of Monk (“Played Twice,” “Criss Cross,” “Monk’s Mood”), Coltrane (“26-2”), and Ravel (“Forlane” from Le Tombeau de Couperin). He also offered a selection of originals including “Falling River Time,” “Poetry in Stillness,” “Arc into Distant Night” and “The Pursuit of Happiness,” along with a fabulous “Lush Life.” Emery’s agility and technical prowess are astounding, but it all adds up to more than just chops. What Emery has is a unique improvisational vocabulary. His open-string moves and his feats of finger independence aren’t just for show; they always bring about some uncanny and original musical effect.

Olu Dara — The eclectic Dara and his four-piece backing band (guitar, bass, drums, percussion) energized a small but enthusiastic audience at Makor. In addition to playing pocket trumpet, blues harp and a bit of guitar, Dara sang in a laid-back, half-spoken drawl and often gravitated toward a kind of free-associative storytelling, sounding almost like an apolitical Gil Scott-Heron. On the menu was a mélange of funk, delta blues, and lively Afro-pop. (The only problem was the harsh, brittle, painfully loud tone of Kwatei Jones-Quartey’s guitar during solos.) With his cap cocked to the side, Dara comes across as a sharp-tongued wisecracker; during this set he questioned the manhood of the bartender and an audience member unwise enough to yell out a remark between songs. If Dara hasn’t provoked fistfights on the road, I’d be very surprised.

Chris Potter — New band, new music at the 55 Bar, with Craig Taborn on Rhodes, Adam Rogers on guitar and Nate Smith on drums. Potter’s music thrived in this fairly grungy, lo-fi setting, with the Rhodes/guitar blend providing rough edges and Smith laying down plenty of groove in the absence of bass. Potter seemed to surpass all conceivable limitations on the tenor, especially during one stunning unaccompanied passage, a transitional passage between tunes.

Tony Malaby — This year we’ve been blessed with a number of excellent Malaby appearances on record, including his wife Angelica Sanchez’s Mirror Me (OmniTone) and Mark Helias’s new Open Loose disc, Verbs of Will (Radio Legs). Now we have Apparitions (Songlines), the eagerly awaited debut of Malaby’s two-drummer band. At the 55 Bar, just a couple of nights after Potter, this equally gifted but more free-leaning tenorist showcased music from the new album. Unfortunately, Michael Sarin was out with the flu, so Malaby and bassist Drew Gress had only Tom Rainey to contend with. But Rainey, as you probably know, plays a lot of drums, so the music didn’t suffer one bit.

Recommended Discs:
  • Bob Brookmeyer & Kenny Wheeler, Island (Artists House)
  • Laurent Coq, Like a Tree in the City (Sunnyside)
  • Mike Holober, Canyon (Sons of Sound)
  • Rick McLaughlin, Study of Light (Accurate)
  • Jean-Michel Pilc, Cardinal Points (Dreyfus)
  • Angelica Sanchez, Mirror Me (OmniTone)

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