From the January 2014 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.
When the George Coleman New Octet began its second set at Jazz Standard (Dec. 11), one band member wasn’t easily visible: George Coleman. The veteran tenor saxophonist began his solo on “Waltzing Westward” and revealed his position, seated in a chair on the floor just off the bandstand. Though he played a diminished role next to five other horns — as well as eminent pianist Harold Mabern — Coleman still put himself forward as a player and conductor. His feature on “Body and Soul” was illuminating, though fellow tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander took the melody out and claimed some cadenza space of his own. Despite a flubbed transition or two, the band was impressive in its handling of big and broad harmonies, polished soli sections and genuinely surprising tempo changes. With Gary Smulyan on baritone saxophone, Alexander McCabe on alto, Adam Brenner on tenor and Bill Mobley on trumpet, the band didn’t lack for surefooted soloists, though it was hard to equal Mabern, whose driving attack and harmonic intelligence was a master class in itself. In the rhythm section were bassist Leon Dorsey and drummer George Coleman, Jr. — the younger Coleman not only swinging but sharing on-mic duties with his father, verbally setting up Ned Otter’s “Nothing But the Blues, Part 1.” This midtempo charger, with chromatic substitutions on the blues form, paired with Frank Foster’s “Square Knights of the Round Table” (another modern blues) to close the night with the band at its peak. (David R. Adler)
It was right of guitarist Matthew Stevens to utter profanity when describing the cold snowy weather just outside ShapeShifter Lab (Dec. 8). But without further ado the Toronto native got to work, kicking off a strong quintet set with pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Vicente Archer, drummer Eric Doob and percussionist Paolo Stagnaro. Stevens is quite capable of rocking out and lending an electric charge to the music of Christian Scott, Ben Williams, Erimaj, Next Collective and others. But his tone at ShapeShifter was clean and straightforward, from the opening “Processional” with its busy melodic line to the closing “Ashes,” which omitted Clayton and featured the drums-percussion unit more overtly. Stagnaro was not there simply for added color: his rhythmic assertions and subtle textures meshed with Doob’s precise, funky traps to define the music from the ground up. Clayton, too, was vibrant and essential, doubling on Rhodes and combining acoustic and electric at the same time on “Sunday,” a dreamy David Bowie cover. Some of the intricacy in Stevens’ sound and phrasing got obscured in the mix, though overall the instruments were clear and balanced. The guitar solos blazed, but despite the blizzard of notes one could sense how Stevens edits himself and listens deeply to the band. On “Grown-Ups” he followed Clayton’s rousing acoustic turn with a statement of utmost fluidity and taste. The music had its busy and aggressive side but also an atmosphere of melodic calm, of breath and space. (DA)