New York @ Night: March 2013

From the March 2013 issue of The New York City Jazz Record:

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)

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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)

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