September 2006

AAJ Staff By

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To hear Ornette Coleman's "Race Face played in unison on banjo and cornet is a rare pleasure. But creativity on this level is to be expected at the Summergarden concert series, held in the sculpture garden at MoMA. Guitarist Brandon Ross brought this year's exhilarating season to a close (Aug. 13th) with his Blazing Beauty quartet, featuring Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass guitar, Graham Haynes on cornet and JT Lewis on drums. Playing new music as well as selections from Ross' 2005 album Costume, the band made full use of its varied timbres, with Ross dividing his time between electric and acoustic guitars and six-string banjo. "Future-folk music is his term for this family of sounds, at once pastoral, dissonant, intimate and subtly avant-garde. Cultivating an oasis amid the skyscrapers, Ross subdivided the group in a number of ways: He and Takeishi played an acoustic duo of exquisite minimalism; Lewis then joined for a tight trio piece. There was a marked preference for dreamy rubato, as on "Harmonic Convergence and "Ordinary Before You - both ideal vehicles for Haynes, whose poignant legato phrasing recalled Wadada Leo Smith. A pair of triple-meter pieces, "Sculpture and "Saturation , highlighted the breadth of Ross' electric concept, from searing distortion to clean, shimmering tones. On "Peace Flows he revealed an angelic singing voice, causing passersby to gather at the gate and peer inside. "And peace flows down, Ross intoned, prayerfully.

Tucked underneath La Lanterna café in the West Village is Bar Next Door, a dark, intimate spot with a low ceiling that belies a preference for budding musical giants. Peter Mazza, a guitarist, books the room and plays on Sundays. There's a vocal showcase on Mondays. Guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg is the king of Wednesdays. And tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm holds the Tuesday slot. Playing trio recently with bassist Clovis Nicolas and drummer Bill Campbell (Aug. 8th), Frahm gave every horn player in town a reason to lose sleep. Launching into a fast "On Green Dolphin Street without a preparatory word, he never played the melody, preferring to attack from every oblique angle. "Search Engine followed—a short original theme bracketed by supple free improvisation, laying bare the trio's core chemistry. Sonny Rollins' "Blue 7 , the essence of spartan, slow-paced blues, had Frahm spilling intricate phrases of utmost clarity, pushing the envelope here and there with well-placed overtones. "The Song Is You , a study in fast tempo at low volume, was also an opportunity for ingenious quotation (Gerry Mulligan's "Jeru ). After clearing the air with the ballad "For Heaven's Sake , the trio closed with Charlie Parker's "Moose the Mooche at daunting speed. Nothing revealed the sheer reach of Frahm's vocabulary quite like rhythm changes. The lines were crowded and relentless, but somehow he found a way to cite "America from West Side Story.

~ David R. Adler

While "The Other Side evening at Tonic (Aug. 2nd) organized by vocalist/pianist Judith Berkson had some slight social overtones, the enlightened crowd was not intimidated by the roster of local female talent - cellist Ha-Yang Kim solo and with percussionist Nathan Davis, pianist Angelica Sanchez' quintet, Berkson herself solo, another solo set with saxophonist Matana Roberts and the duo of guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone - each given a 35-minute time slot. With such dissimilar approaches, the audience certainly had no opportunity for glittering generalities, instead absorbing different takes on the established role of women improvisers with or without male counterparts. Minus a thematic thread other than the anatomical, the moods ranged from intellectual to baroque to romantic and though the listeners increased as the evening progressed, the punctual members of the audience were treated to the evening's most compelling performance right at the start. Kim's ten minutes of processed solo cello was a study in contrasts: earthy long-bowed minor chords against futuristic electronic staccato explosions or sparse pizzicato alternating with dense harmonics. What unity could be discerned might be described as texture as melodic propulsion. And while there were certainly some ear-splitting moments, the overall effect was one of austere beauty, whether it flowed mellifluously or apocalyptically.


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