New York @ Night: July 2010

In the July 2010 issue of All About Jazz-New York:

When Dave Douglas and Keystone played (Le) Poisson Rouge in the prime 8:20 p.m. slot of the Undead Jazzfest (June 12), DJ Olive was not there to provide his sonic trickery, which has done much to define the group since its 2005 inception. But Adam Benjamin’s heavily tweaked Fender Rhodes filled the gaps, bathing the music in atmospheric intrigue just as the stage lighting enveloped the band in a smoky blue haze. That’s not to say this was a mellow set: After the dreamlike rubato intro of the opening “Creature Theme,” bassist Brad Jones and drummer Gene Lake went to work, pushing Douglas and his tenor saxophone foil Marcus Strickland into heated exchanges on a halting but relentless groove. The “creature” in question was Frankenstein, and the music, from Keystone’s new release Spark of Being, was the fruit of Douglas’ recent Frankenstein-themed collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison. (Douglas’ Spark of Being soundtrack will join two stand-alone Keystone CDs, Expand and Burst, in a forthcoming boxed set.) Continuing with “The Tree Ring Circus,” Lake blazed a path in quick 15/8 time and stayed rigorously in tempo during his wailing solo spot. “Chroma” introduced quieter muted textures, although Lake added tension with a busy pattern that sounded something like a dumbek. “Split Personality,” the finale, morphed from a blaring bass-driven pulse to jazzy 12/8 as Strickland, quoting Coltrane’s “Africa,” unleashed a gutsy coup de grâce. (David R. Adler)

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Over the years Tony Malaby has led his share of diversified ensembles, but nothing quite like Novela, an unruly mass of eight horns, Fender Rhodes and drums. No need for a bassist, as Dan Peck’s tuba provided the lows and gave drummer Flin Vanhemmen a rhythmic anchor when Novela played its second-ever gig at Kenny’s Castaways, ringing in the 11 o’clock hour at the Undead Jazzfest (June 12). For repertoire, Malaby drew on assorted corners of his discography, including “Floating Head” and “Mother’s Love” from Tamardino, “Remolino” from Warblepeck and “Cosas” from Adobe. Kris Davis, an exceptional pianist and leader in her own right, arranged all this material and played Rhodes, leaning hard on dense chromatic chords but otherwise giving the horns their space. There was a kind of Braxtonian excess in the group’s heaving, ragingly dissonant but beautiful block-chord passages. One could call it a big band aesthetic even though the players stood arrayed in a single semi-circular arc. (My colleague Jim Macnie likened it to “The Maze,” a 1978 octet work by Roscoe Mitchell.) Above all, this was a forum for improvisation, and the bass clarinet double-solo by Oscar Noriega and Joachim Badenhorst was one strong example. In addition to trumpeter Kenny Warren, baritone saxist Andrew Hadro and trombonist Ben Gerstein, there was of course Malaby himself, pushing the envelope of timbre and melody on tenor and soprano saxes. The set’s most dramatic extended solo, however, came from altoist Michaël Attias, who brought the noisy room to a hush. (DA)

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