This gig was set to be an example of complete polar opposites, from the bands of two veteran saxophonists. The Brooklynite soprano (and sopranino) player Joe Giardullo was leading a chamber septet, performing a selection of works that he terms 'G-2,' the 'g' being short for Gravity. Here, it was his "Triangle/Circle/Square" sequence, a suite that inhabits the rarefied sound vocabulary of modern classical composition. Giardullo's music sounds like the product of a too-tidy mind. The opening piece is a string quartet statement, full of dissonant sweeps and flurries. Then, Giardullo hoods his soprano bell over the microphone, investigating close-up interior sounds of breath emission, partnered by drummer Harvey Sorgen's cymbal shimmers. Next up, it's a piano solo, courtesy of Chris Chalfant, and finally, another string quartet section. It's highly frustrating that Giardullo separates out the colors of his palette in such a manner, diligently examining their individual qualities, but failing to combine them in a convincing group communication. Why bother assembling a band if they're not going to play together? Why be so boringly logical? It's not that some of the sounds weren't palatable, but Giardullo's music was anything but dynamic, spontaneous or organic.
If these qualities were desired, they arrived in a copious rush during the evening's second half: a full onslaught by the inspirational Oliver Lake Big Band. Yes, saxophonist Lake is diligent, organised and logical, but he also possesses many more qualities besides, mostly of a spontaneously swinging nature, whether emerging from the zones of free abstraction or out of the stomping blues. Lake is totally in command of his forces, but he's always prompting outbreaks of spontaneous invention. It's as if he's saying 'go to it: do what you do best,' and of course, his ranks invariably oblige. Even if Lake's sudden promptings are pre-meditated, they don't look that way: they appear wildly of-the-moment, sudden spurrings into stab-blasts, or riffed underlinings, or textured swellings. Baritone saxophonist Alex Harding delivers a particularly ripping solo, but Lake himself is no slouch, using the big band as a linear backdrop while he embarks on a strategically extreme yowling passage, uninhibited yet operating within fine strictures. When the trombones open the set with a sequence of individual fanfares, their contributions are garrulous, varied and enjoyably loose, before coagulating into a swinging spread. The limber rhythm trio, over in the far corner, rolls away underneath the mayhem. Lake operates within such a grooving universe, but his time is always open to flights of free freaking, controlled and unshackled at once. He has it all...
The Jimmy Heath Big Band
April 5, 2008
Not surprisingly, tenor man Jimmy Heath leads a big band that's more firmly grounded in the crossing over of swing and bebop traditions. Even though he's not necessarily most-known as a big band leader, more as a Heath Brother, Jimmy was already heading up just such an aggregation way back in the late 1940s. Nowadays, instead of relaxing into a figurehead position, he opts to take frequent solos, which are invariably supple, well-toasted and display a good deal of bite. The first set at Iridium suffered from a completely sold out house being somewhat unsettled in their scramble for food and beverages, and one corner's long table was set on a mission to chatter, not only during the quiet stretches, but over the bandleader's tale-telling rambles in-between each number. Towards the end, the band picked up its pace, and the audience submitted into paying full attention. The second set was more relaxed, from an audience perspective, but not within Heath's blowing ranks. Here, the solos took on an increasingly heated nature, with Jimmy directing the band with visible relish. Seemingly every one of Heath's compositions has a background story, whether involving amusing anecdotes about his time with Dizzy Gillespie, his continuing marital success (during which an audience member shouts out that his "Project S" stands for Sex), or Heath's dedication to fellow saxophonist Antonio Hart.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.