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October 2007

AAJ Staff By

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Courtois, Eskelin and Courvoisier at Roulette

On Sep. 15th, French cellist Vincent Courtois, Swiss pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and Baltimore-born tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin met at Roulette, in essence to prepare for their long-awaited debut album, to be made shortly after this concert. Together since 2002, the leaderless group performed a trio of distinct, extended, untitled improvs, each lasting over 20 minutes, 'spoken' in an extraordinarily telepathic singular voice. Each musician unfolded a colorful palette of sound and texture without lopsided self-indulgent soloing, a set devoid of ego and full of captivating twists and turns. Courtois, the trio's linchpin effectively situated between bandmates, frequently paired off into duos. He summoned a timbre in his arco playing that absorbed Eskelin's breath-heavy circular blowing; the cellist's rapid yet sensitive occasional pedal-induced playing additionally created a reverberating soft-toned effect without producing an extraneous fourth voice, again mysteriously melding with Eskelin's horn lines. Courtois similarly complemented Courvoisier with a piano-like pizzicato approach that highlighted their shared classical background. The latter's prepared piano sections and improvisations within the piano brought the two string instruments even closer, as did Courtois' percussive bouncing and seesawing bow technique (on one occasion with two crisscrossed bows). Music can be magic and one listen to this group quickly reveals why.

Jeremy Steig at Cornelia Street Café

The same night, veteran flautist Jeremy Steig and his trio with Cameron Brown (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) held court at Cornelia Street Café, as Steig does every other month. Though jazz flute has grown in practitioner population, most still utilize the instrument as a double. The only doubling Steig did was from one flute to the next, from Sankyo flute to a Kotato bass flute as on his quite open rendition of "So What , its extended free atonal introduction lasting several minutes before the familiar bass line and steady time kicked in care of Brown's fluid, ever-melodic playing. From the "Black Orpheus theme to the "Love Theme From Spartacus , Steig put on a clinic of the instrument's limitless possibilities and nuances. His masterful techniques of overblowing, singing and humming multi-phonics as well as key clicks, percussive effects and noteless breaths of air not only encapsulated the instrument's well-documented history in jazz (Jerome Richardson and Frank Wess to Yusef Lateef, Charles Lloyd, Eric Dolphy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk), but clearly stated his own case as an original contributor to this impressive line, of which he has been a part since 1963. An emotional player, Steig's rendition of "Straight, No Chaser turned Hendrix-like when he swung the bottom end of his flute, knocking over and smashing the glass on top of the stool in front of him. Why not? — he actually played with Jimi once upon a time.

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene

Frank Wess at Smalls

Descending into Smalls on a crowded Saturday night (Sep. 15th) and seeing, hung behind the bandstand, the large photo of young Louis Armstrong all duded up in jaunty golf cap, tweeds, knee-length breeches and gartered argyle socks, one is immediately swept up in the spirit of things, especially when the occasion is a meeting of veteran jazzmen Frank Wess (tenor sax and flute) and Jimmy Cobb (drums) with up-and-comers Ilya Lushtak (guitar) and Tal Ronen (bass). For two swinging sets, the combo kept the audience's heads bobbing and feet tapping to choice standards such as "Nancy (With the Laughing Face) , "When Lights Are Low , two lesser played Billy Strayhorn chestnuts "Snibor and "Raincheck and Wess' own "Backfire , a 'rhythm changes' workout. Although Wess spent most of the evening on tenor, spinning out fiery improvisations with unflustered cool, building dramatic arcs with unassuming panache, he brought out his flute for a bossa nova rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow , treating fans to a tasteful and well-constructed solo. Cobb was masterly throughout, creating forward momentum with unhurried authority, anticipating Lushtak's boisterous 'call-outs' with uncanny intuition. The guitarist brimmed with ideas and enthusiasm and proved an empathetic accompanist on the ballads; Ronen displayed a solid melodic streak in his frequent solos. When all was over, 'Pops' Armstrong seemed pleased, his photogenic smile never fading.


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