Dan Weiss at The Stone at the New School, 1/6/18 (by Noah Berman)

PERSONNEL: Dan Weiss (drums, compositions), Craig Taborn (synthesizer, electric piano, piano, electronics), Matt Mitchell (synthesizer, piano, electronics), Trevor Dunn (electric bass), Ben Monder (electric guitar)

SET LIST: Annica, Depredation, A Puncher’s Chance, Ennio and Angelo, Cry Box, The memory of my memory, Veiled, Episode 8 (all by Weiss)

HIGHLIGHTS: Trevor Dunn’s unaccompanied solo on “Cry Box.” While strumming endless consecutive eighth-notes, he expressed three key elements of the music: drone, melody, and a physical approach to rhythm.

Starebaby, Dan Weiss’s new heavy metal-inspired quintet, extends the tradition of aggressive jazz-rock groups like The Tony Williams Lifetime, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Naked City. Ben Monder, Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell all share Weiss’s interest in metal, and Trevor Dunn’s work with Mr. Bungle makes him an influential metal musician in his own right. A certain kind of cinematic ethos was also in play: “Ennio and Angelo” refers to Ennio Morricone and Angelo Badalamenti and “Episode 8” was a response to Twin Peaks.

The vamp that bookended the set served as a microcosm. Taborn and Dunn supplied an droning ostinato in 11/8, while Mitchell and Monder played a long, atonal melody. While these were straightforward on their own, together, the two parts created a complex composite rhythm. Formally, Weiss’s compositions featured multiple contrasting movements, allowing for a series of metallic styles as well as detours into free jazz and ambience. In addition to solos over vamp-based sections, every member of the band was featured in at least one unaccompanied solo, that could function as an introduction or a segue between sections or compositions. A sense of teamwork was on display as band members traded functions within the music, with no one voice dominating.

Sonically, the guitar section provided the extended low range and distorted tones typical of metal. Over this foundation, Taborn and Mitchell used a range of keyboard sounds and textures to fulfill their various tasks. At times these sounds enhanced the guitar section, adding low end or evoking additional distorted guitars. Alternately, they could compliment the guitars by using a string patch or an aggressive, buzzy lead sound. Perhaps best of all, they could use their synthesizers and electronics as sound generators, creating all sorts of buzzing and swooping electronic mayhem that created an atmosphere and context for the written material.

— by Noah Berman

b there or b square 1/8/18

MONDAY JAN. 8

Arthur’s Tavern Grove Street Stompers feat. Joe Licari ▲ Amadou Gaye, A Royal Crime
Bar Next Door Cole Davis Trio w. Jan Knutson, Gareth Fowler ▲ Carlota Gurascier w. Joe Cohn + Zaid Nasser
Birdland Gabrielle Stravelli & Billy Stritch “Down for Double” ▲ Jim Caruso’s Cast Party
Blue Note McCoy Tyner w. Special Guests
Cleopatra’s Needle Nathan Brown Duo ▲ Jam Session/Open Mic
The Clemente (presented by Arts for Art) Yoshiko Chuma, Megumi Eda, Jason Kao Hwang ▲Nicole Peyrafitte/ Michael Bisio ▲Juan Pablo Carletti Xul Trio w.  Jon Irabagon, William Parker ▲Jeb Bishop Quartet w. Yoni Kretzmer, Damon Smith, Tom Rainey
Club Bonafide Michael Sarian & the Big Chabones
Cornelia St. Cafe Michael Blanco Quartet w. Rich Perry, Aaron Goldberg, Clarence Penn
Dizzy’s Latvian Radio Big Band
Fat Cat Osso String Quartet ▲ Ned Goold Quartet ▲ Billy Kaye
Jazz Standard Mingus Big Band
The Kitano Jam Session w. Iris Ornig
Luca’s Jazz Corner Roger Lent Solo
Mezzrow Peter Bernstein w. Lage Lund ▲ Afterhours w. Pasquale Grasso
Rue B Carlos Homs Trio
The Shrine Kristian Veech ▲ No Any Walls ▲ The Ringos ▲ The Trichomes ▲ DJ Natt
Silvana Kevin Ray Brost
Smalls Ari Hoenig Trio w. Johannes Wiedenmueller, Shai Maestro ▲ Jonathan Barber Group
Smoke Vincent Herring Quartet & The New Jam Session
55 Bar Mike Stern Trio w. Edmond Gilmore, Richie Morales
Village Vanguard Vanguard Orchestra

brooklyn

Barbès Brain Cloud ▲ Los Cumpleanos
Bar Lunático Mike Moreno Quartet w. James Francies, Burniss Earl Travis, Marcus Gilmore
Three’s Brewing Dean Machine ▲ Frank Locrasto ▲ Wood River ▲ Shwilson

TUESDAY JAN. 9

see rest of the week…

Theo Bleckmann at 55 Bar, 1/2/18 (by Caroline Davis)

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PERSONNEL: Theo Bleckmann (voice/effects), Ben Monder (guitar/effects), Statoshi Takeishi (drums/percussion)

SET 1: Zazen on Ching-T’ing Mountain (Ben Monder), collective improvisation

SET 2: Collective improvisation, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (Lennon/McCartney), I Fall in Love too Easily (Styne/Cahn)

HIGHLIGHTS: Takeshi’s moment of glory, when he was so in it that his gong flew off the stand inches away from crashing into Monder’s pedals.

I’ve been quite taken with the Bleckmann/Monder pairing for years now, starting with a mesmerizing set of clips I saw on YouTube from a performance at the re:think Jazz Festival in Brescia, Italy from 2009. Their musical relationship is mostly meditative but an edgy fierceness might pounce at any moment. Adding Takeishi to the mix added a good set of frequencies to compliment the already dense collection of effects and loops.

Most of the two sets seemed collectively improvised. Perhaps they had explored some of these themes before, but they weren’t consulting much written music. Bleckmann made use of three effects pedals for his voice (the two that I recognized were the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man and 45000 4-Track Looper), and also had a cassette player for some samples and a couple percussion instruments. He gurgled, overtoned, tongue rolled, ffts-ed, hmm-ed, ho-ed, belted, and beautified – every time I see him live, he’s doing something different.

Monder, of course, had about 7 effects pedals daisy-chained, creating his unique sound. (#benmonderforpresident.) Takeishi played a frame drum (acting as a bass drum) with his right hand. On the bottom was a fan drum called the uchiwa daiko (from Japan). He also had a snare drum, low tom, a crash and smaller 6’ cymbal, a gong and some bells. This show was all about the textures in a small space, although at times the sounds transformed the room into something bigger..

Before I knew the title of the first piece, I felt like I was standing on the peak of a mountain. Turns out that “Zazen on Ching-T’ing Mountain” is a reaction to a Li Po poem, in which last stanza reads, “We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.” I’m not really a fan of direct musical metaphors like this, but they really took me to that mountain.

by Caroline Davis

John Zorn Presents: The Stone Commissioning Series: Vicky Chow featuring Shanir Blumenkranz and Tyshawn Sorey at National Sawdust 12/27/17 (by Sean Gough)

PERSONNEL: Vicky Chow (piano), Shanir Blumenkranz (bass), Tyshawn Sorey (drums)

SET: Trilogy: I. Tender buttons-II. Nightwood-III. Epode, L’ Antitête, Scaramouche (all by John  Zorn)

PERSONNEL: Sae Hashimoto (vibraphone), Blumenkranz, Sorey

SET: The Exterminating Angel (Zorn)

PERSONNEL: Stephen Gosling (piano), Blumenkranz, Sorey

SET: Illuminations (Zorn)

HIGHLIGHTS: An enthusiastic crowd filled the seats for 2017’s final event in The Stone Commissioning Series, which features a world premiere by a current composer/performer each month.

The Sawdust’s website described this program as “classically written piano notation in trio with an improvised rhythm section.” How either Zorn or the players achieved this remains unclear. Blumenkrantz and Sorey had sheets in front of them that they turned occasionally. Chow used an iPad with a pedal switch for frequent page turns during improbable passages. More impressive than the page turns were the hairpin turns: dynamically, pianistically, collectively, as the players without apparent difficulty revealed the fierce extremes and on-a-dime contrasts of the music.

Granted, the notation allowed some of these coordinated shifts. But the synchronicity of the shifts also hid the fact of the notation. It’s a compliment to everyone to say that the music did not sound like “classically written piano notation in trio with an improvised rhythm section.” It sounded unified and spontaneous. And lest anyone assume that “fierce” means unremittingly “out,” several of the pieces contained sections worthy both of Debussy and Pat Metheny. There were even some brief sections of genuine swinging.

Zorn chose to follow the three pieces with Chow, including the world premiere of “L’ Antitête,” with the American premiere of “The Exterminating Angel” — “not that bullshit up at the Met,” Zorn joked. Featuring Sae Hashimoto on vibraphone, the staggered emphatic hits at the outset made way to a recurring motif/melodic shape on the vibes surrounded by the bass and drums. In terms of execution, these parts were more fathomable than the first three pieces on the program. Hashimoto conjured an arresting range of sounds, including bowing, distortion, and plain lushness. Blumenkranz also played a masterful, eerie solo.

The final piece on the program, “Iluminations” (based on a prose poem by Rimbaud) brought up pianist Stephen Gosling, cited by Zorn as “the initiator of this” experiment in notation/improvisation. Although this piece sounded the most written-out of any, it also contained some of the most startling resounding sonorities, made possible by Sorey’s pitch-perfect stirrings.

The music retained an essential playfulness, lacking telegraphed attempts at profound statements. This may have owed something to the specific, primarily literary inspirations for the pieces? At any rate, credit to Blumenkranz and Sorey, whose contributions throughout were both virtuosic and elegant.

— by Sean Gough

Eric Revis Quintet at Jazz Gallery 12/20/17 (by Caroline Davis)

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PERSONNEL: Darius Jones (alto saxophone), Bill McHenry (tenor saxophone), Kris Davis (piano), Gerald Cleaver (drums)

SET LIST: ProByte, May 30th, Dance of the Evil Toys, House of Leaves, JRMJ, BPH (all by Eric Revis)

HIGHLIGHTS: Can we talk about Bill McHenry’s embouchure flexibility? He played a solo on a tune where he was pitch-bending, and I just lost it.

Every once in a while, there are those shows that make you feel like you want to jump out of an airplane and start a new life in the clouds. This was exactly that. Raw euphoria. I’m glad I was able to catch Revis, as it’s harder these days since his move out west.

Aside from mentioning his perplexity about being called a “mid-career” musician whilst being on recent “rising-star” lists, Revis didn’t say anything on stage: exactly what was necessary. The show was made possible by a generous grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which allowed him to compose music in the isolated Breuer/Rockefeller House at Pocantico in Mount Pleasant, NY. (The music didn’t seem to reflect its birthplace in any obvious way.)

The focus was more on the flow between the pieces rather than their individual identities. One sounded a bit like it was inspired by a motet or period piece, but it quickly gave way to some pointed saxophone bursts. Kris Davis is a force – from prepared piano to up-tempo swing, she nailed it. Bill and Darius complement each other in their clarity, and they aren’t afraid of repetition, especially as a way to hand freedom over to the rhythm section. Repetition, brevity, stark textural contrasts – they were all here tonight.

Revis’s compositions frequently offered repetitive figures in the bass voice with angular melodies overtop, usually framed by contrasting melodic or textural sections. However, each piece was guided more by the musicians rather than the written music. There was no fear of developing their improvised ideas. In the end, it wasn’t even about the solos, but the way the band interacted inside of the solos.

One cool moment was this: later in the set, Revis was trying to motion in Cleaver’s general direction to cue a new section, but he stuck with the groove he was playing in a fast 5, which actually felt okay over the new ideas (clearly in a different meter). Sometimes what we plan as bandleaders doesn’t end up working in the moment, and it’s inspiring to see. It helps remind us that we are merely vehicles of the music.

— by Caroline Davis

Carmen Staaf at Cornelia Street Café 12/13/17 (by Chris Eaves-Kohlbrenner)

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PERSONNEL: Carmen Staaf (piano), Nicole Zuraitis (voice), Dave Ballou (trumpet, flugelhorn), Kris Allen (alto sax), Jon Michel (bass), George Schuller (drums)

SET LIST: Daydream (Strayhorn/Ellington/Latouche), New April (Staaf), In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning (Hilliard/Mann), Misterioso (Monk), The Song Is You (Hammerstein/Kern)

HIGHLIGHTS: The ensemble exhibited Staaf’s compositional creativity through its performance of new originals and interpretations of old standards, culminating in an energetic take on Monk’s “Misterioso.”

With this performance, Carmen Staaf and her band released their “Day Dream” album. The release walked us through several standards and original compositions, all of which originated during the band’s time teaching together at Litchfield Jazz Camp.

The gig began with the classic Ellingtonia of “Day Dream,” where Zuraitis was in the realm of Ella Fitzgerald. Ballou’s expansive trumpet solo featured compact tones at both ends of the register, emphasized through subtle piano comping. Staaf’s “New April” offered Latin rhythms that were further emphasized by guest percussionist Rogerio Boccato on shaker and pandeiro. The piano vamp carried traces of a less aggressive Michel Camino.

Staaf’s arrangement of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” was an upbeat exercise in melodies and countermelodies, passing a melody in minor key from horn and sax to piano to bass and so on. The result is less melancholy than the original, although the affect is still pensive, especially from Zuraitis.

In “Misterioso,” Staaf’s clusters of dissonant chords echoed Monk, as did the use of space in the trumpet and alto solos. The blues-infused bass licks did justice to this tune. Staaf was right in telling us, “It’s not a concert without a blues.”

The band closed the set strong with an upbeat and energetic rendition of “The Song Is You,” complete with humorous flourishes and a driving tempo.

— by Chris Eaves-Kohlbrenner

Kenny Barron Trio at the Village Vanguard 12/20/17 (by Caroline Davis)

 

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PERSONNEL: Kenny Barron (piano), Kiyoshi Kitagawa (bass) Johnathan Blake (drums)

SET LIST: [last three songs in the set] Softly as in a Morning Sunrise (Romberg/Hammerstein), How Deep is the Ocean (Irving Berlin), Well You Needn’t (Thelonious Monk)

HIGHLIGHTS: The coda explorations on every tune, where the endings melted into new harmonic territory for just a glimpse of time.

We still have the opportunity to see the true legends of jazz keep reaching for new territory on old tunes.

I walked in during Kenny Barron’s last chorus on “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” which led into open bass and drum solos, each about 5 minutes. Some true explorations – Kitagawa played some captivating melodic material outside of the changes and accompanied himself with some dense chords. In one of my favorite moments, Blake sandwiched a blustery solo between cymbal-sound-wave explorations, cupping his hands over them to create a new effect. The short vamp of Abmaj7 to Dbmaj7 at the end might be something I’ll steal myself…

Barron started his solo “How Deep is the Ocean” in joyous fashion. On the 2nd ending he highlighted the melody by placing triads of Dbmaj-Gbmaj-Bmaj-Emaj over the expected Gm7-C7-Fm7-Bb7.  Barron and Blake often hit exact ends of phrases together, swinging hard but without being aggressive. Barron likes to pull the time back and Blake follows him without compromising the tempo. A hint of a waltz brought them into a coda with some unique changes to end.

“Well You Needn’t” started as a fast, creative escape with no bass. In certain glimpses, Barron would use out-of-time melodies to take the trio to another place. These moments were my joy, and their exits usually landed on their feet. Blake’s solo closed out the tune, with snare rolls that swarmed the whole kit.

I spoke briefly with Barron after the set. He seemed like he might’ve had a cold, but I wanted to pass along a “hello” from a mutual friend – Peter Ind – of whom he immediately spoke so dearly about.

My knowledge of Kenny Barron holds its roots in his solo recordings, but also in those with Sphere, Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, Yusef Lateef, and James Moody. I’ve barely scratched the surface of his oeuvre, which spans hundreds of recordings, so it was a gift to hear this trio stretch out in a live setting for the first time.

— by Caroline Davis

b there or b square 1/1/18

MONDAY JAN. 1

Arthur’s Tavern Grove Street Stompers feat. Joe Licari
Bar Next Door Christine Tobin Vocals w. Phil Robson, Peter Brendler
Birdland Swingin’ Wonderland JAZZ Orchestra ▲ John Colianni Big Band
Blue Note Chris Botti w. Lee Pearson, Reggie Hamilton, Leonardo Amuedo, Geoffrey Keezer, Rachel Eckroth, Sy Smith, Caroline Campbell
Fat Cat Harold O’Neal▲Quintero’s Salsa Project ▲ Billy Kaye
Iridium Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown
Jazz Standard Mingus Big Band
Mezzrow Peter Bernstein w. Spike Wilner, Neal Miner▲ Pasquale Grasso w. Ari Roland, Phil Stewart
Smalls Ari Hoening w. Tivon Pennicott, Johannes Wiedenmueller ▲ Jam Session w. Adi Meyerson, Mike King, Joel Frahm
Smoke Harold Mabern w. Eric Alexander, Steve Turre, John Webber, Joe Farnsworth
The Stone Chris Speed w. Chris Tordini, Dave King
55 Bar Brian Mitchell w. Craig Dreyer, Andy Hess, “Catfish” Elias
Village Vanguard Vanguard Orchestra

brooklyn

Barbès Brain Cloud ▲ Dilemastronauta y los Sabrosos Cósmicos

see rest of the week…

Alex LoRe Quartet at Cornelia St. Cafe 12/21/17 (by Kazemde George)

PERSONNEL: Alex Lore (alto), Glenn Zaleski (piano), Desmond White (bass), Allan Mednard (drums)

SET LIST: Southbound, Orachle, Miniatures 1, Miniatures 2, And Mending, Figs For Birds (all by LoRe)

HIGHLIGHTS: The slow build of “And Mending” was highly satisfying and offered a natural contrast within the set.

Alex LoRe paints a coherent musical picture for the audience. While the music at times can seem open-ended, abstract, and idiosyncratic, the compositions and players also brought an approach that was decidedly grounded and congruous, with specific motifs, and familiar grooves.

Despite the presence of Glenn Zaleski, the sound was often reminiscent of Fly. Sparse chords and piano-sax or piano-bass unisons allowed the band to maintain this piano-less trio sound. Allan Mednard provided a bouncy and propellant straight-eighth feel, seamlessly fitting all of LoRe’s deceptive hits and melodic gestures into a solid rhythmic framework.  White locked in and outlined the movements of the uncommon forms.

Zaleski had the challenge of harmonically contextualizing demanding bass-lines and dissonant melodies. He dealt with that easily enough, but there also were several exciting moments when he seemed to completely re-imagine the song during his solo.

LoRe has a clear and unwavering tone, pointed and delicate, always in tune. He clearly is attempting to expand his melodic language beyond the well-established tenents of bebop in both his writing and playing.

Overall, the band was tight. They nailed LoRe’s most involved composition and  demonstrated a high level of skill both in mature improvisation and interaction.

— by Kazemde George

Jochen Rueckert Quartet at Smalls 12/13 +12/14/17 (by Jeff McGregor)

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PERSONNEL: Jochen Rueckert (drums), Mark Turner (tenor), Mike Moreno (guitar), Joe Martin (bass)

SET LIST 1:  Yellow Bottoms, 5-Hydroxytryptamine, Stretch Mark, The Alarmists, Alloplasty, Eggshells (all by Rueckert)

SET LIST 2: Purring Excellence, The Cook Straight, Charm Offensive, Bess, Eunice Park, The Itch (all by Rueckert)

SET LIST 3: Yellow Bottoms, 5-Hydroxytryptamine, Stretch Mark, Bess, Alloplasty, Eggshells (all by Rueckert)

SET LIST 4: Purring Excellence, The Cook Straight, Charm Offensive, The Alarmists, Eunice Park, The Itch (all by Rueckert)

HIGHLIGHTS: Even though they played the same music in almost the same order, each night sounded and felt very different. This was a compelling illustration of the quartet’s flexibility and spontaneity.

Jochen Rueckert’s quartet has been an excellent vehicle to showcase his impeccable drumming and unique compositional voice. Last year, he released the group’s third album, Charm Offensive, which featured the formidable frontline of saxophonist Mark Turner and guitarist Mike Moreno. This same frontline, along with bassist Joe Martin, joined Rueckert for these two nights at Smalls.

The quartet’s performance followed a short European tour where they had to contend with a variety of travel delays. Arriving back in New York a day late, the group had little time to rest before returning to the stage. Nevertheless, they showed no signs of fatigue. Both nights the group played masterfully, performing Rueckert’s compositions with authority and refinement. One of the most striking features of the performance was the warmth and unity of the group’s interaction. Rueckert and Martin are precise and virtuosic instrumentalists with an understated approach to accompaniment. This was perfectly suited to Moreno and Turner who improvise with exceptional control and poise.

Both nights were excellent, but the band found another level in the last set of the second night. Through burning tempos, Moreno and Turner took long and powerful solos and with each tune the group’s energy amplified. With musicians of this caliber, displays of virtuosity are not uncommon, but they are also not inevitable. The fireworks in the last set felt like something that developed organically over the two nights. It was not part of an agenda to dazzle the audience, and that is what made is so satisfying.

— By Jeff McGregor

Ned Rothenberg and Marc Ribot at The Stone 12/6/17 (by Noah Berman)

 

PERSONNEL: Ned Rothenberg (A Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Alto Saxophone), Marc Ribot (Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar)

SET LIST: Improvisations #1-5 (Rothenberg/Ribot)

HIGHLIGHTS: In the midst of a particularly dense flurry of notes, Ribot went back to Bach with a quote from Bourrée in E minor.

For the second night of his week-long residency at The Stone, Ned Rothenberg was joined by Marc Ribot for five improvised duets. Rothenberg’s approach is informed in part by Eric Dolphy and Jimmy Giuffre, woodwind specialists who synthesized free jazz and 20th-century classical music in the early 1960s. His choice of the bass clarinet and A clarinet for this set was a nod to Dolphy and Giuffre, respectively. Ribot is a musical omnivore who filters his diverse interests through a playing style influenced by Jimi Hendrix (electric blues guitar and use of electronics) and Derek Bailey (non-idiomatic improvisation that emphasizes idiomatic aspects of the guitar itself).

Beginning with the A clarinet and acoustic guitar, Rothenberg and Ribot chose a different pair of instruments for each of the first four improvisations. They have each integrated a personal vocabulary of extended techniques into their playing, allowing for a variety of timbral and expressive possibilities. For Rothenberg, these largely had to do with manipulation of overtone/harmonic content over time, sometimes creating multiple discernible pitches, and percussive slap-tonguing effects. Ribot created squeaky sounds from the body of his acoustic guitar, and used EBow, slide, and a volume pedal in various combinations to increase the sonic potential of his electric. Musically, any technique or reference was in play. Diatonic and blues tonalities, pulse and repetition were contrasted with atonality/noise, rubato and development. Ribot’s direct quote of J.S. Bach was an especially clear demonstration of postmodernism in a freely improvised context. While orchestration, timbre, and musical devices created sonic variety throughout the set, these four improvisations were formally consistent, juxtaposing several contrasting movements, each exploring a few of these sounds and ideas.

The fifth improvisation elegantly tied the entire set together by turning this strategy on its head. Instead of pursuing another unexplored instrumental pair, the duo returned to the A clarinet and acoustic guitar. Ribot offered a twist on his opening musical gesture, a patiently repeating dissonant guitar chord, with a similarly insistent sonority, in this case derived from E minor. With these elements back in play, the set closed with an extended meditation on a single idea in the form of a tonal, rubato ballad.

— by Noah Berman

Ari Hoenig Trio at Smalls 12/12/17 (by Jeff McGregor)

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PERSONNEL: Ari Hoenig (drums), Nitai Hershkovits (piano), Matt Penman (bass)

SET LIST 1: Connor’s Daze (Hoenig), Anymore (Hoenig), Prelude to a Kiss (Ellington), Alana (Hoenig), All the Things You Are (Kern), Someday My Prince Will Come (Churchill)

SET LIST 2: The Painter, Connor’s Daze, I’ll Think About It, For Tracy, Arrows and Loops (all by Hoenig)

HIGHLIGHTS: The three standards that closed the first set stood out for the creativity of the arrangements and the group’s almost telepathic interaction.

Since 2005, Ari Hoenig has had a Monday night residency at Smalls Jazz Club. He has used this spot for a variety of ensembles ranging from duos up to nonets. While it is common for the personnel to rotate, he draws from a relatively small circle of musicians that know his often challenging music well. This Monday he was joined by pianist Nitai Hershkovits and bassist Matt Penman. Hershkovits plays with a beautiful touch and freely draws from a range of influences. This was beautifully complimented by Penman’s accompaniment, which was clear and supportive, but never predictable.

Regular gigs give musicians the opportunity to develop and refine a repertoire, but Hoenig’s groups seem to go a step further. His ensembles have developed a captivating approach to improvisation that reflects Hoenig’s very personal and genuinely innovative approach to jazz. This night’s performance was no exception, illustrating the kind of virtuosity and improvisational daring that have become the hallmarks of his music.

Hoenig’s compositions and arrangements often take a short motif from the melody and use it as a recurring figure in the solos. This is a crucial ingredient to his music and was illustrated throughout the night. These figures function as a kind of musical anchor point, providing moments of stability for musicians and audience alike. Hoenig explained saying,

Those types of figures are not just part of my writing, but they are also a big part of how I think about music. I’ll find parts of the melody that stand out to me and I’ll do things to accentuate them. When we improvise, the improvisation will often lead into those parts of the melody. It is a way that things can come together.

As a result, the intricacy of the music is always grounded in something clear and accessible. Hoenig’s music is at times complex, but never at the expense of melody, swing, or his audience.

— by Jeff McGregor

Yosvany Terry Quartet at ShapeShifter Lab 12/12/17 (by Dan Lehner)

PERSONNEL: Yosvany Terry (alto sax, soprano sax, chekeré), Manuel Valera (piano), Daryl Johns (bass), Marcus Gilmore (drums)

SET LIST: Ancestral Memory, Mid Day, Subversive, Hymn, Rampa Abajo (all by Terry)

HIGHLIGHTS: Terry’s incredible skill on chekeré indicated the depth of his knowledge of Afro-Cubano music, and used it as a jumping point for further explorations of the idiom.

Yosvany Terry, like his peers Arturo O’Farrill and Elio Villafranca, is a studied incorporator of folkloric musics into his own conception of Afro-Latin jazz. However, similar to the bata drum cycles he’s so well-versed in, his quartet performance took its time getting there. The set at Shapeshifter Lab was mostly involved, effervescent post-bop, gradually working in grooves by way of bass line hooks and rhythmic excitement.

As an alto saxophonist leading groove-heavy music, Terry has some similarities to his peers, recalling Miguel Zenon’s wide range and Steve Lehman’s skittered, rhythmically-free upper structures. However, Terry’s sound is weightier and imbued with a vocalistic sense that’s bluesy without sacrificing modernity. His soprano playing has similar depth, reaching both Coltranesque fever pitches and the flowery, songbook poeticisms (not to mention the tinges of NOLA’s various Caribbean disporas) of Sidney Bechet.

There was a similar frenetic energy and alternating gentleness found in pianist Manuel Valera. Valera sat in Terry’s compositions beautifully with supportive montunos and tippin’, bluesy block chords, but his ace cards were a series of time-defiant right hand runs in increasingly higher registers (a technique employed with similar deft by pianist Theo Hill).

Marcus Gilmore’s ride cymbal and intermittent tom strokes would still keep a potent swing even as he would stop, start and jumble the rhythm, the kind of sound that’s both aerated and authoritative.

The quartet’s performance was part of The Jazz Gallery’s “Mentorship Series” and Terry’s mentee, the 21 year old bassist Daryl Johns, was given time to shine on his beautiful rubato solo on Terry’s Martinique-inspired ballad “Hymn.” Johns’s resonant, woody sound recalled Charlie Haden in his sloping, affable interpolation of the melody of the tune, framed with functional root notes.

Wisely saved for the end, Terry used his world-class chekeré playing (inspired by the rhythm and chants of the transcontinental abakuá culture) as an intro to “Rompa Abajo”, a blithe but intense Afro-Cuban tune in 13/8, switching to 4/4 to lead the audience in a spirited clave rhythm clap-a-long.

— by Dan Lehner

 

Kenny Barron Trio at the Village Vanguard 12/21/17 (by Keith Szczepanski)

PERSONNEL: Kenny Barron (piano) Kiyoshi Kitagawa (bass) Jonathan Blake (drums)

SET LIST: Embraceable You (Gershwin), New York Attitude (Barron), The Very Thought of You (Noble), What is This Thing Called Love (Porter), Cook’s Bay (Barron)

HIGHLIGHTS: Barron’s lyrical performance on “The Very Thought of You,” a song he added to his book after being inspired by a Hank Jones; Kitagawa’s unaccompanied solo on “New York Attitude.”

The well-paced first set provided space for each member of the trio to show their mastery. Despite fighting a cold, Mr. Barron’s performance was an impressive and educational display of the expertise he has developed over his well-storied career (he asked the audience if folks in warm weather get colds while unwrapping a cough drop between “The Very Thought of You” and “What is This Thing Called Love”). His melodic style was immediately at the front and center of the trio’s performance through his unaccompanied introduction to “Embraceable You” and continued through the set closing “Cook’s Bay.”

For all of Blake’s technical mastery, he never sacrificed swing for showmanship. While trading, exchanges flowed naturally between the piano and the drums, with Barron and Blake picking up on and continuing the other’s rhythmic ideas. Blake’s extended solo on “What is This Thing Called Love” began with the continuation of the mambo-influenced rhythm and developed into a sixteenth note ostinato that stretched across drums and cymbals, never losing the underlying groove over his several choruses.

While the recent release Book of Intuition is a fine album, this trio is at its best when heard live.

— by Keith Szczepanski

Jerome Sabbagh/Greg Tuohey Group at Smalls 12/6/17 (by EB Silverman)

 

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PERSONNEL: Jerome Sabbagh (Tenor)  Greg Tuohey (Guitar) Orlando Le Fleming (Bass), Johnathan Blake (Drums)

SET LIST: Cotton (Sabbagh), Willamina (Tuohey), Ghostly (Tuohey), Heart (Sabbagh), Untitled Ballad (Tuohey), Orchard (Sabbagh)

HIGHLIGHTS: This relatively new group made a splash on a Wednesday night hit at Smalls. Together, Tuohey and Sabbagh’s compositions contain a few well-blended styles which captured the audience’s ears.

The 2nd set on a blustery Wednesday evening at Smalls began with a soft-spoken tone poem. Sabbagh’s “Cotton” featured a solemn tenor melody over a muted, haunting rhythm section. As soon as the song began to gain steam, the band took its foot off the gas and cadenced to finish a short, mature introduction to the band. The next two compositions featured contrasting compositional styles by Greg Tuohey. “Willamina,” a medium, bluesy-rock groove, and catchy 4 chord progression; while “Ghostly” offered a slow-swinger with denser harmony and a melody played in unison between the front men (Tuohey filled out the harmony underneath). “Heart” is another enthusiastic Sabbagh waltz like “Numero 6” off of Flipside (1998). The band also got into some interesting subdivisions and different phrasing lengths over both 3/4 time and 4 (and 8) bar statements.

Tuohey’s “Untitled Ballad” challenged the front line to phrase and blend an active line over a slower beat, leading to a powerful payoff when the tenor’s warm sound ascended in contrast with the guitar’s descending chords. “Orchard” began duo, the two co-leaders playing a refrain that cue’d the rhythm section into a driving, straight-8th beat. As the song progressed, Blake began reaching for new ideas behind the soloists, swelling towards an extended drum solo over a vamp before cueing the band towards the final notes, igniting the audience in (loud!) applause. I was impressed how keenly the composers/leaders of the band cultivated a modern sound through original composition while harnessing different musical influences. From a brisk waltz to funky, almost-folk grooves, this is a slick band with experienced songwriters and gatherers of a fresh sound.

— by EB Silverman

The Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra at Sir D’s Lounge 12/11/17 (by Brian Krock)

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PERSONNEL: Steve Wilson, Jay Brandford, Rob Middleton, Adam Kolker, Terry Goss
(saxophones) Seneca Black, Nathan Eklund, Dave Smith, Andy Gravish (trumpets)
Tim Sessions, Matt McDonald, Matt Haviland, Max Seigel (trombones) Roberta Piket
(piano) Todd Coolman (bass) Andy Watson (drum set) Scott Reeves (conductor, 
alto trombone)

SET LIST: Aquas De Marcos (Jobim), Knepper, All or Nothing at All (Altman,
Lawrence), Incandesence, Soulful Mr. Williams, 3 n’ 2, Speak Low (Weill), Last Call, 
Ju Ju (Shorter), Without a Trace, Something for Thad (all composition by Reeves
 except where indicated)

HIGHLIGHTS: Reeves’s original composition “Last Call” was a surprising, raucous feature for the lowest instruments in the band and a vehicle for Seneca Black’s
playful plunger-muted trumpet.

Trombonist and composer Scott Reeves has been quietly advocating for live big 
band music in New York City for years now. As curator for the invaluable Monday
 night big band series at Sir D’s Lounge, he provides an amicable venue for 
burgeoning composers to present their music. As a faculty member of the City 
College of New York, he has educated and inspired a young crowd of enthusiastic jazz musicians. And as bandleader of the Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra, he manages to
 regularly corral a group of the city’s most flexible musicians for concerts and
 recordings.

Monday night’s concert began with a clever arrangement of a less-common Antonio
Carlos Jobim tune, “Aquas De Marcos,” featuring flutes and clarinets in the woodwind section. Alto saxophonist Jay Brandford’s understated, melodic solo reminded me why he has been a top-call big band saxophonist for decades. The following hard-bop swinger,
“Knepper,” set the tone for the rest of the night. Reeves and crew dispense with
complexity in favor of subtle charts that groove, allowing for relaxed and engaged
interaction amongst the ensemble.

These jazz veterans don’t shy away from odd time signatures, though. Reeves’s
 original composition “Incandescence,” full of complex, Liebman-esque harmony
 over a slow 5/4 groove, proved a wonderful vehicle to showcase Steve Wilson’s
 soprano saxophone. Wilson leads the pack of woodwind doublers in New York,
 playing with Maria Schneider, Christian McBride, and Chick Corea, to name only a few of his long list of employers. It says a lot that first-call musicians like him are
 willing to do a late-night gig for tips and drinks just to get to play Reeves’ music.

The evening culminated in an unusual arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s “Ju Ju.”
 Reeves’ arranging student at City College, John Pattitucci, provided him with the
 current lead-sheet that Wayne’s quartet plays in the modern era. Reeves based his
 arrangement on this newer, more daring version, giving tenor saxophonist Rob
 Middleton ample material to flex his modern jazz muscles.

— by Brian Krock

Adam O’Farrill’s Stranger Days 12/14/17 at The Jazz Gallery (by Kevin Sun)

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PERSONNEL: Adam O’Farrill (trumpet), Chad Lefkowitz-Brown (tenor saxophone), Walter Stinson (bass), Zack O’Farrill (drums)

SET LIST: Stakra (Ryuchi Sakamoto), Inner War (Adam O’Farrill), Ducks (O’Farrill), El Maquech (Mexican traditional song), Sunset (Kenny Dorham), Greed (O’Farrill), Steel Ghost (O’Farrill)

HIGHLIGHTS: The band modulated seamlessly between loose and tight song after song and within songs: hypermodern, semi-illuminated rhythmic forms with skeletal harmonies that morphed into freewheeling swing and back again.

Trumpeter Adam O’Farrill’s Stranger Days, his chordless quartet and chosen compositional vehicle of the past few years, has developed an ensemble sound where maintaining restraint and control through formally treacherous terrain is a recurring dramatic conceit. The band makes difficult music sound easy.

Stranger Days conceals the seams of its original music by selectively withholding information such as notes in a chord or subdivisions within a rhythmic frame, and the overall effect is to maximize both mystery and tension. Trumpeter O’Farrill and his front-line partner, saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, are as comfortable holding down incantatory, repeated figures as they are playing heroic solos; fortunately, O’Farrill errs on the side of restraint, opting to share the spotlight with bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Zack O’Farrill, a rhythm duo whose collective knowledge of musical traditions—including mainstream jazz, Afro-Cuban music, and various streams of Black American music—allows them to shapeshift at will between disparate (or not so disparate) feels.

On “Inner War,” composed by the leader during a period spent working on a farm in Maine in summer 2017, Stinson alternated between explosive, improvised arco passages behind the horns—a blurred, fast-moving wall of sound—and a grooving, repeated bass line. On “Ducks,” a creeping 15-beat composition whose ingenious bass figure suggests both duple and triple meter depending on the drum phrasing, the horns conjured tense, fluttering textures hovering in the ensemble’s mid-ground (O’Farrill even used a Harmon mute as a plunger, creating a novel metallic sound, like raindrops on a tin roof).

The futuristic sophistication of O’Farrill’s original material calls to mind the work of recent innovators like Steve Lehman and Rudresh Mahanthappa, but the band shined equally on arrangements of traditional music from Veracruz and compositions by Ryuchi Sakamato and Kenny Dorham. On “El Maquech,” O’Farrill and Lefkowitz-Brown took their most discursive, unpredictable solos; at one point, a hushed double-tongued passage during the trumpet solo erupted into an extended burnout-like episode, with drummer O’Farrill goading Stinson on with a series of rhythmic gambits that led the bassist to adopt a three-repeated-notes-to-a-bar pattern—an unexpected echo of Walter Page recast in a late 2017 improvised music context. Despite the popularity of the chordless quartet context in recent years, Stranger Days stands out as one of the most compelling explorations of the format, balancing the ensemble essentials of looseness and tightness through carefully designed compositions and the complementary personalities of its band members.

— by Kevin Sun

Grassroots Jazz Effort at Grassroots Tavern 12/10/2017 (by Nathan Bellott)

PERSONNEL: Adam Kolker (tenor) Jerome Sabbagh (tenor) Jeremy Stratton (bass)
George Schuller (drums)

SET LIST: Ah-Leu-Cha, When Lights Are Low, Stablemates, Hackensack, Airegin, We See, Milestones (John Lewis)

HIGHLIGHTS: News broke recently that after 42 years this classic dive would close its doors for good on New Year’s Eve, giving this longstanding Sunday night gig new meaning. This is the regular configuration of the ensemble and they played with an inspired abandon.

___

I’ve attended this gig many times over the 5 or so years I’ve lived in the city. Attracted by the music and charmed by the scene, it is one of my favorite haunts. This evening had a vibe in the air: full of regulars, old drunks, East Village yuppies, and the legion of loyal musicians that come out every Sunday. The band began with a burning rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Ah-Leu-Cha” (Sabbagh as Bird, Kolker as Miles). They have the free-wheeling energy and surprise of Bebop paired with the chordless aesthetic: it provides an open palette within a defined space.

Kolker and Sabbagh are great foils. Kolker possesses the dark, dry, resistant sound that echoes Coltrane as well as Charlie Rouse, which may explain the group’s fondness for Thelonious Monk. Sabbagh buoyant sound and rhythmic concept remind me of Lester Young and Sonny Rollins. The two tenors’ tones were on display in a walking ballad rendition of Benny Carter’s “When Lights Are Low.” They gave the tune the proper treatment, playing the wonderful bridge that Miles thought not to include on “Blue Haze” or “Cookin’.” Bassist Jeremy Stratton played a rare solo on this number. Rare because it’s hard to hear his unamplified bass in a dive, but those who know quiet down when the horns cut out.

Then a slew Grassroots favorites: “Stablemates,” “Hackensack,” “Airegin,” “We See,” and finally “Milestones.” Monk weighs heavily on this group which works well without a pianist. George Schuller adds a great touch, I appreciate how he ends many of his phrases on or after beat one. It’s the mark of an elder statesman. The en vogue style in jazz amongst younger drummers is to end phrases/sections on the upbeat of 4, a simple gratification stolen from the more complex rhythmic cadences of drummers like Tony Williams, Jeff Tain Watts, and Bill Stewart. The veteran Schuller does nothing of the sort, his groovy beat propels the band forward. “Milestones” also served as a vehicle for sitters-in, including Noah Gershwin on guitar and Aaron Seeber on drums, both are younger additions to the NYC jazz scene.

By the time this is published, Grassroots Tavern will be no more. Perhaps the band will keep their formerly eponymous name, which would then give a literal meaning to the concept of a “grassroot effort.” We can only hope that The Grassroots Jazz Effort will find a home elsewhere, though nothing could replace the low-level dwelling on St. Marks, where bartenders regularly ignored me for years, accused me of interrupting their conversations with regulars or said they were too busy to serve me. Regular gigs and dive bars in NYC are becoming a thing of the past. With the exception of Dave Binney’s every-other Tuesday marathon at the 55 Bar, I’m at a loss. The music always finds a way to survive and I’m confident this band hasn’t yet said everything they have to say.

— by Nathan Bellott