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October 2009

AAJ Staff By

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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


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