October 2009

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Gordon Grdina

Bar 4

Brooklyn, NY September 7, 2009

There were other things in the music Gordon Grdina played at Bar 4, bits of McLaughlin, Santana, Sharrock, but for the first few minutes of his trio's Sep. 7th set it was hard to hear anything other than how together they were. From the first moment, it was nearly startling. No meandering opening, no wandering spirits, they were taut as a snare drum. The Vancouver-based guitarist has an unusual willingness to work both in and out of mainstream sounds and employ groove and Arabic styles seemingly without conceit, capitalizing on the distinctive sound of his distorted hollowbody guitar, made to hit all the harder with the push of Mark Helias playing, surprisingly, electric bass. Grdina was more proficient on guitar than when he switched to oud, but it was then that his ideas seemed more realized. Helias slid easily between echoing and doubling Grdina's zigzags and then comfortably vamping over the chock-full-of-notes scores, which were propped on a stand before him. That he was reading from charts gave the music an interesting dynamic it might not have had otherwise. He ably mirrored, complemented, split and quartered the phrases, often seeming like he and Grdina were each playing half a solo (which is to say, presumably, they were both simply playing the pieces). Drummer Kenton Loewen, meanwhile, regulated strict, if shifting time, throughout. Grdina demonstrated that there's much going on up north deserving of greater attention on this side of the border.

Rashied Ali Tribute

Le Poisson Rouge

New York City

September 5, 2009

"Rashied was immensely important to me as a drummer," Gregg Bendian said from the Le Poisson Rouge stage, opening his Sep. 5th memorial concert for the master drummer who died Aug. 12th. "When I first fell in love with the new jazz in high school, the drummers for me were Andrew Cyrille, Steve McCall and Rashied Ali." The set began with Bendian and saxophonist Jon Irabagon in duo on Coltrane's "Jupiter." As much as the album is referenced, it was remarkable to hear an Interstellar Space tune played so purely. With the unusual choice of playing alto, Irabagon squeezed high registers out of the piece and Bendian fully embraced the weighty rolls heard on the album for which Ali will probably best be remembered. With violinist ZachBrock and bassist Peter Brendler on stage, they weren't able to emulate Coltrane's sound as closely, so it wasn't the voicings but the ebbs and flows they played. Brock was instrumentally the odd man out, making it easier for him to push toward virgin soil. At times he found his footing doubling or echoing Irabagon, but when space allowed he nicely melded bowed and staccato notes into heavily amplified phrases. The rest of the show followed the Coltrane focus, with a beautiful take on "Love" and an abbreviated but explosive "Peace on Earth/Leo." When they finally got into Pharoah Sanders territory, their interpretations came most alive. Certainly Brock wasn't lost before, but with the Morse code yelps of Sanders to emulate, he was finally a tight fit.

—Kurt Gottschalk

Gonzalo Rubalcaba


New York City

September 11, 2009

Piano phenom Gonzalo Rubalcaba brought his quintet (sans Yosvany Terry) to Birdland, featuring music from Avatar (Blue Note), his first small-group outing in some years. On the seventh anniversary of 9/11, the combo, with Michael Rodriguez (trumpet), Will Vinson (alto sax), Matt Brewer (bass) and Marcus Gilmore (drums) stormed the stage with a Blakey-esque "Looking in Retrospective," a solo piano rumination introducing tight-laced two-horn lines with bits of free blowing, then a series of short, round-robin solos on piano, trumpet and alto, concluding with precise section work and pointillist horn interplay. In half a beat, the band was into "Hip Side" (the second of three Terry tunes), a boogaloo with a run-on clavé played in-the-pocket by Gilmore. Rubalcaba combined rhythm-and-blues chords with complex accent patterns and burning-fast runs, followed by a fiery trade-off between horns, Vinson's incessant sequences balanced by Rodriguez' slow simmer. Horace Silver's "Peace" was the eye between storms, Brewer's delicate soliloquy leading to an extended piano meditation that hushed the house. "This Is It," an 11-beat, future-funk-fest had fine solos, especially from Rubalcaba, who kept upping the ante with each chorus from Gilmore, making the M-Base rhythm groove like Motown. On "Infantil," the pianist's fingers danced off the keys and Vinson caught fire, climaxing in an ensemble figure like the soundtrack to a movie chase scene.

Connection Works Benefit


New York City

September 8, 2009

Smalls hosted a benefit (Sep. 8th) for Brooklyn-based Connection Works, a non-profit headed by Rob Garcia (drums) and Michel Gentile (flute). Joining them were Scott Lee (bass), Dan Tepfer (piano) and guest of honor Joe Lovano (tenor). The reedman kicked it off with a free-floating preamble with hints of boogie and bop, building to a bluesy vamp. Gentile's stuttered start caught air midway, aided by Garcia's punchy support, followed by Lovano, who mixed out-of-time with double-time, logic with lyricism, leading to Tepfer's unusual chords and over-the-bar phrases. Lovano's big brown sound, edgy but warm, filled the room on Scott's "The Lope," his solo matching intelligence with heart, closing with a tasteful cadenza that inspired equal efforts from flute, bass and piano. Garcia's "Perennial," initially a flute/drum duet, featured a rhapsodic Tepfer: building slowly, leaving space, delaying resolutions, he eventually came on with a vengeance. "I Waited for You" spotlighted Lovano, who gave the audience a lesson in balladry, milking each phrase with gently forceful breaths, exploring every nuance, leaving no tone unturned while Tepfer's understated accompaniment was just-right. Gentile's "Vulnerable" contained fugue-like dual-blowing passages where flute and tenor overlapped freely and the set closed with Lovano's angular "Modern Man," with chatty interplay from Garcia, a succinct but strong entrée from tenor and a dissonantly melodic piano solo.

—Tom Greenland

Michael Dessen


Brooklyn, NY

September 9, 2009

Trombonist Michael Dessen's 2008 album for Clean Feed, Between Shadow and Space, was one of the finer entries in the label's catalogue last year. Dessen is part of a burgeoning lineage of progressives on his instrument, appreciative of its inherent textural capabilities as much as its fortitude. In one of his occasional forays from the West Coast, Dessen presented some material from the album, as well as new pieces, at Barbès Sep. 9th with one-third of the original trio: bassist Chris Tordini. Album drummer Tyshawn Sorey, having begun graduate studies up north, was unavailable so Dessen called upon one of the city's finest players in Dan Weiss to enhance the complex music. And given that Weiss was reading it down and having to interpret it in open, medley format, the small but appreciative crowd could say he acquitted himself quite well. At the Park Slope club, there's not too much room for the musicians to situate themselves and, in this case, the three were set up in a single line across the 'stage.' Perhaps this was strictly a logistical choice but it gave listeners a visual, as well as aural, opportunity to grasp how equitable Dessen is as a bandleader. He wasn't playing straight heads with a rhythm section; in fact, the music would have been hollow without Tordini's rich counterpoint or especially Weiss' detail-oriented drumming. So the music was not quite linear, not quite hanging out in the ether, existing, as Dessen would say, between shadow and space.


Cornelia Street Cafe

New York City

September 5th, 2009

Ever notice how, after a while, married couples start to look alike? Maybe this truism can be applied to musicians who play together for a long time. By now, saxophonist Ohad Talmor has certainly adopted certain traits of mentor/collaborator Lee Konitz, a certain dry understatedness to his playing, even on a different horn. His sparse lines are never overblown and demand rapt attention. This phenomenon was on display at Cornelia Street Café Sep. 5th, at an unsuccessful CD release party for a new disc with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum. Unsuccessful only because the discs themselves weren't ready, the gig became a warmup for a European tour by the trio this month. Konitz played with both Swallow and Nussbaum separately but the true shared element between the three players was a deliberate quietude, both in music and speaking voices when announcing tunes to the packed Labor Day weekend audience. All three musicians contributed compositions to the just-under-an-hour set, the prevailing aesthetic best described as West Coast free. There was no burning here, just a rich smoldering of a romantic candlelit dinner. Only on the final Nussbaum-penned tune, a slow blues with unaccompanied bass and sax intros, was a little kerosene thrown onto the flame. Which is not to say that the preceding proceedings were staid or polite; anyone who plays with Konitz always has a little mischief in them.

—Andrey Henkin

Overtone Quartet

Blue Note

New York City

September 10, 2009

Commercially-organized allstar assemblages often fail to live up to the collective promise of their members, whether for lack of individual chemistry, shared experience or a common musical philosophy. Not so in the case of the Overtone Quartet, the group comprised of bassist Dave Holland, saxophonist Chris Potter, pianist Jason Moran and drummer Eric Harland. The band, which succeeds 2007's Monterey Quartet, with Moran replacing Gonzalo Rubalcaba at the piano, is a cohesive collective that allows each member his own personal style as part of a distinctive unit with a unique sound. Holland is the heartbeat of the music and, by virtue of his seniority, the unnamed leader of the foursome—announcing the set and commanding the unbridled respect of his younger colleagues. But by virtue of the pared-down size of the group (smaller than any of the recent units led by the bassist), he is able to demonstrate the more freewheeling side of his musicianship. The result is the kind of exciting music where each soloist is able to express himself freely with the confidence that his bandmates will lend both support and momentum. The Thursday night (Sep. 10th) set, while drawn largely from the Monterey band's repertoire, took on a different mood due to Moran's spare idiosyncratic accompaniment that locked perfectly with Harland's swirling rhythms and Holland's solid, ever engaging basslines, on top of which Potter purred and roared, exploring the full range of his horns.

Steve Turre


New York City

September 8, 2009

The sight of a dozen dashiki-clad men surrounded by a battery of instruments crowding the bandstand of Iridium signaled the onset of an evening of music (Sep. 8th) that was to be anything but the usual club fare. Steve Turre at center stage, his trombone standing at his side and a table overflowing with a multitude of conch shells before him, cut an authoritative figure, fitting for the powerful music he makes with his Shell Choir. Since his earliest days of playing the oceanic horn with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Turre has developed an unparalleled mastery of the curious instrument, giving his groups a unique and organic sound of a transcendent quality. Bolstered by the potent AfroCuban rhythm section of bassist Andy Gonzalez, drummer Ignacio Berroa, percussionists Pedro Martinez and Alioune Faye and pianist Benito Gonzalez, the band—with trumpeter Eddie Allen along with a quartet of trombonists doubling on shells and Ron Blake on saxophones—conjured up a rainbow of colors, beginning with the impressionistic prelude to the leader's opener, "The Emperor," a song with a spiritual quality hearkening back to the trombonist's days with Woody Shaw. Switching between trombone and shells Turre demonstrated an imposing virtuosity. Even the more traditional bebop- and blues-based pieces that followed his arrangements utilized the shell ensemble to give the music an exotic flavor that came to a head on "Macho," the cooking Latin jazz closer.

—Russ Musto

Recommended New Listening:

Brad Dutz Quartet—Whimsical Excursion Boats (s/r)

Gordon Grdina's East Van Strings—The Breathing of Statues Songlines)

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble—Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside)

Joe Martin—Not By Chance (Anzic)

Linda Oh Trio—Entry (s/r)

Tyshawn Sorey—Koan (482 Music)

—David Adler [email protected] Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com

Duck Baker—Everything That Rises Must Converge (Free Jazz Guitar Solos) (Mighty Quinn)

Darius Jones Trio—Man'ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing) (AUM Fidelity)

Babatunde Lea—Umbo Weti (A Tribute to Leon Thomas) (Motema Music)

Julie O'Hara Sextet—Use the Force (New Market Music)

Linda Oh Trio—Entry (s/r)

John Surman—Brewster's Rooster (ECM)

—Laurence Donohue-Greene Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York

Graham Collier—Directing 14 Jackson Pollacks (s/r)

Simon Fisk Trio—Unless (Plunge)

Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky/Andrei Kondakov/Vladimir Volkov—In Search Of A Standard (Leo)

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble—Eponymous (Honest Jon's Records)

Zbigniew Namyslowski—Nice & Easy (ITM)

Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core—Stone Shift (Rogue Art)

—Andrey Henkin Editorial Director, AllAboutJazz-New York

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