Miguel Zenón & The Rhythm Collective Oye!!! Live in Puerto Rico (Miel)
By David R. Adler
For years alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón has made quartet albums with the brilliant pianist Luis Perdomo as a central focus. Zenón’s music, therefore, has always been thick with harmony. But intermittently for several years, Zenón has explored another sound with his Rhythm Collective, a piano-less quartet with electric bassist Aldemar Valentin, drummer Tony Escapa and percussionist Reynaldo De Jesús. Oye!!! captures them in their native Puerto Rico in 2011, at a now-defunct space called El Taller Cé.
There’s an intimate club vibe to the recording, with charged-up applause and band member introductions — in Spanish, over a fast groove — at the start and finish of the program. The disc preserves the acoustic imperfections of the site and still manages a high sound quality. Valentin’s bass sounds a tad far away, and yet he’s a monster on every track, playing liquid solo lines and highly inventive double-stop work, hugging every turn in the music. Escapa and De Jesús, too, are unstoppable. The subtle textural differences in their setups come across beautifully on disc.
Zenón has worked hard to bring jazz and Puerto Rican folkloric idioms into contact. The Rhythm Collective, which toured six African countries with help from the State Department in 2003, has a different but related take on global cross-pollination. “JOS Nigeria,” a Zenón original with a bouncy optimistic feel, has an explicitly African connection. Tito Puente’s classic “Oye Como Va” gets stretched and pulled apart, at one point inspiring Zenón to quote Wayne Shorter’s “Juju.” Silvio Rodriguez’s “El Necio” is more closely faithful, though it still sparks furious off-the-page improvisation.
The band plays with gut-level energy but nails every note, every displaced accent. In the precise staccato hits of “Hypnotized” (slower and partly rubato, inspired by Paul Motian), or the crisply articulated bass pattern of the fast burner “Double Edge,” Zenón advances his own adaptations of traditional rhythmic forms, again proving himself one of the most distinctive artists on the scene.
When trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and pianist Angelica Sanchez played duo at Greenwich House Music School (April 6), there were zones of deep concentration and silence, but also an outburst or two from car horns on the small West Village street just outside. Smith’s horn, too, shattered the calm, but with high musical intent and creative control. Three of the six untitled improvisations began with Smith solo, commanding the room with triple-fortissimo shouts, relaxed and poetic legato lines, coarse multiphonic timbres, breath tones and fast blurry runs. Receiving all this inspiration from a few feet away, Sanchez showed a great virtuosic reach, favoring a dark language with 20th-century echoes. At one point she strove to drown out the car horns with a dissonant crescendo, but in quieter moments one could hear her voice, singing the notes and melodies as they emerged. Her sparse rubato passages and harp-like string strumming had a way of bringing out Smith’s lyricism and introspection. “More,” called out one listener after the fifth piece, but Smith grinned and turned the request around: “How much more?” Then began the stormy encore, with rumbling rhythms and patterns and a huge, long-decaying bass note from the piano as its final gesture. The rich harmonic bed of this collaboration sets it apart from Smith’s other recent duos with Louis Moholo-Moholo, Anthony Braxton, Adam Rudolph, Jack DeJohnette and others. There will in fact be more: Smith and Sanchez entered the studio the next day to record. (David R. Adler)
With the band name Voyager emblazoned on his bass drum head, drummer Eric Harland appeared at Jazz Standard (April 13) and played five powerful extended numbers straight through. In this second of three sets, the leader spoke only at the end to introduce his colleagues: tenorist Walter Smith III, guitarist Julian Lage, pianist Taylor Eigsti and bassist Harish Raghavan. Each of these mammoth musicians could have played a full solo set and left the crowd happy, but what they did was a sequence of unaccompanied virtuoso spots to introduce or transition the tunes — “Intermezzos,” as Harland termed them on his 2011 debut Voyager: Live By Night (Sunnyside). Following a bright and challenging opener with the provisional title “New Song,” Lage brought a ragged experimentalism and strategic effects-pedal tweaking to his intro on “Voyager.” Raghavan was nimble and deeply expressive as he segued into the lyrical waltz ballad “Trust the Light.” Eigsti destroyed at the piano but also brought a cool and glowing harmony to the band, taking the spotlight right before the irresistibly soulful “Eclipse.” Smith battled a little harder to be heard, but he shred the music to pieces consistently. Harland’s show-stopping solo before “Play With Me,” the catchy groove-based finale, might have topped the energy of all previous intermezzos combined. But Harland doesn’t seek to dominate: he picks players who can do what he does, transforming the moment in their own highly personal way. (DA)
This Sunday at 11:30am, at B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side, I’ll be talking with bassist Daniel Ori and guitarist Dan Nadel about Israeli jazz, New York jazz, international jazz, hybrid jazz and not-jazz, and whatever else crosses our minds. Looking forward to it. They’ll each perform afterwards. The event is sponsored by Congregation Romemu in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut, but of course I’ll be adding plugs for Jazz Appreciation Month, International Jazz Day (April 30) and the #JazzApril campaign.
Bassist Eric Revis, with his immense tone and supple sense of swing, has helped define the sound of the Branford Marsalis Quartet for over 15 years. As a leader he’s taken an eclectic approach, starting from acoustic jazz but adding electric guitar, strings and other textures. In recent years he has embraced a freer concept, working with the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Avram Fefer and Michael Marcus. Parallax, with Ken Vandermark on tenor and clarinet, Jason Moran on piano and Nasheet Waits on drums, leans strongly in that direction as well. (It’s pertinent that Revis, Waits and Parallax co-producer Orrin Evans are the core of the free-leaning ensemble Tar Baby.)
Revis features himself on three solo bass tracks: the opening “Prelusion,” with frenetic bowing; “Percival,” a tight pizzicato miniature (the title is Cecil Taylor’s middle name); and “Parallax,” the finale, rich in somber overtones and washes of sound. But the main focus is the band, switching up from red-blooded ferocity (“Hyperthral,” Vandermark’s “Split”) to a subtler chamber-like aesthetic (“MXR,” “Celestial Hobo”).
As much as Parallax is “free,” it’s also strongly compositional: Revis’ “Edgar,” a nod to fellow bassist Edgar Meyer, stands out for its repeating double-stop arco pattern and contrapuntal piano-clarinet theme emerging from chaos. “Dark Net,” an ensemble theme of daunting complexity — and no solos at all — is by altoist and Clean Feed labelmate Michaël Attias (a fine move to highlight work by an underrated composer and peer).
Many don’t realize, but avant-garde jazz operates from a position of deepest respect for the tradition. For Revis, and certainly for Moran in his own work, the enthusiasm stretches back well before bebop. Their reading of Fats Waller’s “I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” begins with the melody almost exactly as written, but against a backdrop of wild sonic abstraction. Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues” acquires a slow, booming beat true to Morton’s own accurate description of the song: “Smutty.”
It’s clear right away that pianist Fred Hersch’s “My Coma Dreams” is not a typical concert experience. Hersch premiered the “jazz theater” piece in New Jersey in 2011; the new production at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre (March 2) was altered but substantially similar. Narrator-vocalist Michael Winther portrayed both Hersch and his partner, Scott Morgan, describing the composer’s near-death experience from complications of AIDS. When he sang, Winther brought us inside the dream world that Hersch inhabited while unconscious for six weeks. Hersch played with a calm and luminous authority, fronting a midsized ensemble of reeds, brass, strings and rhythm conducted by Gregg Kallor (with standout solos from tenorist Adam Kolker, altoist Bruce Williamson and trumpeter Ralph Alessi). The music floated largely free of genre, although bassist John Hébert and drummer John Hollenbeck ensured that it swung when needed on episodes such as “Dream of Monk” and “Jazz Diner.” Winther was drowned out a couple of times by the band — something that didn’t happen at the premiere — but otherwise the sound was pristine. Hersch’s solitary piano on “The Boy” and Joyce Hammann’s viola feature on “Brussels” were simply stunning. In detailing a medical trauma, the show arrived at moving insights on life, love and the human condition. One haunting line in “The Knitters” took on multiple meanings as it was repeated: “We end as we begin.” (David R. Adler)
From the loopy, elliptical way that drummer Billy Hart addressed the second-set crowd at Dizzy’s (March 14), it was easy to see how at home he feels with the members of his working quartet — tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Ben Street. Continuing in the exploratory vein of All Our Reasons, the band’s extraordinary 2012 debut for ECM, Hart shifted his focus to new music — some of which could appear on a follow-up for ECM in the works. “Yard,” based on the Charlie Parker blues “Cheryl,” was wide open harmonically (after his venturesome turn, Iverson got off the bench and let Turner solo without chords). Hart’s “Amethyst,” radically reworked from its early ’90s origins, grew from slow atmospheric rubato to raging dissonance, at last falling into tempo for an elegant written theme and finish. “Motional,” another earlier Hart composition, took on an easygoing Caribbean lilt, while Iverson’s “Neon,” from the 2006 HighNote release Quartet, closed the set in a 12/8 feel full of urgency and tension. Turner and Iverson showed a fearsome rapport on the pianist’s “Big Trees,” trading full choruses on rhythm changes, mostly without bass. Turner’s contribution, the lyrical midtempo swinger “Sonnet for Stevie” — “dig that,” remarked Hart when he said the title — highlighted the leader’s ability to reorient the conversation with a perfectly placed accent, a drop in ride cymbal volume, just the right thing in the moment. The time ebbed and flowed but never wavered. (DA)
Antonio Sanchez New Life (CAM Jazz) By David R. Adler
Antonio Sanchez, Pat Metheny’s drummer of choice, is steadily building his presence as a leader, and up to now he’s made clear his taste for two-saxophone lineups with no chordal instrument. His 2007 debut Migration featured tenors Chris Potter and David Sanchez (with guests Metheny and Chick Corea); his two-disc follow-up Live In New York (2010) paired Sanchez with altoist Miguel Zenón. On New Life, the roster shifts to Donny McCaslin on tenor and David Binney on alto. All of the above are formidable leaders in their own right.
Part of what makes New Life new is the inclusion of a pianist, the budding master John Escreet, who plays on all eight tracks of an all-original program. The harmony flows and shifts and expands, whether it’s the pastoral waltz feel of “Nighttime Story” (with a deft McCaslin quote of “Blues on the Corner”), the churning 7/4 minor-modal flavor of the opening “Uprisings and Revolutions,” or the more elusive Rhodes sonority of “Minotauro” and “The Real McDaddy.” Singing melodies, big statements, deceptive endings, an urge toward more development and variation: this is Sanchez’s writing voice, buoyed in every way by his approach as a drummer, complex and yet flawlessly in-the-pocket.
“Medusa” and “Family Ties” stand out as widely contrasting and beautifully played. “Air,” a dark and mystical ballad with soprano sax (though no soprano credit appears on the sleeve), is one of Escreet’s key moments — not just his rubato introduction but his dramatic impact with the sparest and most ambiguous whole-note chords.
Sanchez is after something altogether different with the title track, “New Life,” a 14-minute opus with marked emphasis on the layered wordless vocals of Thana Alexa (Sanchez’s fiancée). Sanchez’s experience in the Pat Metheny Group, widely known for its wordless vocal textures and soaring sonic expanses, has to be relevant here, but Sanchez is fresh and not imitative in his approach. Even if the result has its indulgent side, it still showcases the band’s emotional power and unified purpose.
It can’t be easy to say the words “2013 could be my last year.” But that’s what the audience heard when Fred Ho’s Green Monster Big Band performed at Ginny’s Supper Club in Harlem (Feb. 9). Ho seemed in good spirits and conducted the band with vigor, but he played no baritone sax (a role given to Ben Barson, the club’s co-manager). The early set erupted from the start with Ho’s first big band piece, “Liberation Genesis” (1975), which took on new meaning in light of the composer’s cancer fight. Keyboardist Art Hirahara, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer-percussionist Royal Hartigan laid the foundation for an edifice of reeds and brass, including the paired altos of Bobby Zankel and Marty Ehrlich and the bass trombones of Earl McIntyre and Dave Taylor. The band was obstreperous yet tightly coordinated, marrying modernist harmony and raw groove, breaking away on occasion to free-improvising duos (one of them led off the Ellington ballad “In a Sentimental Mood”). Ho took a moment before “Iron Man Meets the Black Dog Meets Dave Taylor” to recount how he met the remarkable Taylor, during his days as a sub with the Gil Evans Orchestra. Aspects of Gil’s approach, Ho explained, have decisively impacted his own. “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like an Afro-Asian Bumblebee,” a movement from Sweet Science Suite, found Ho speaking about future plans in spite of his illness: the “music and martial arts extravaganza,” as he described it, will be staged at BAM in the fall of this year. (David R. Adler)
By tradition, the winner of the annual Thelonious Monk Competition is the first to play in the Tribeca Performing Arts Center’s annual Monk in Motion series. Jamison Ross, the 2012 victor, obliged with a strong showcase of his Joy Ride sextet (Feb. 2), paving the way for runners-up Colin Stranahan (Feb. 16) and Justin Brown (March 2). Ross’s swing feel was spry and deeply interactive; his take on the postbop language of Harold Mabern, Cedar Walton and Joe Henderson was without flaw. But this Florida native and current New Orleanian had a swampier rhythmic element, a deep affinity for the blues, at the heart of his sound. He opened the first set with the funky “It Ain’t My Fault,” by legendary New Orleans drummer Smokey Johnson, and closed with a stirring vocal rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Deep Down in Florida.” The funk surfaced in a different way on “Sandy Red” (Ross’ variation on “Cantaloupe Island”), a feature for fired-up percussionist Nate Werth. Trumpeter Alphonso Horne and tenorist Troy Roberts were consistently solid in the front line, although the most interesting moment was the slow trio reading of “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” featuring just Ross, pianist Chris Pattishall and bassist Corcoran Holt. One could call it an anti-orchestration, sparse as can be, with Ross’ delicate breaks on brushes replacing parts of the main melody. It was clear enough what wowed the competition judges: Ross knows the jazz tradition cold and uses what he loves from every time period, every genre, to bring his own voice into focus. (DA)