Twice Through the Wall, the second offering from altoist Curtis Macdonald, is an EP with a running time of just 20 minutes. Far from hurrying through it, Macdonald paces himself, devoting the first two minutes of the opening “Social Inheritance” to a drum solo intro from Adam Jackson. Ensemble-wise, the language picks up right where Community Immunity, the leader’s excellent 2011 debut, left off. Most of the same players are heard, although Jackson, taking the place of Greg Ritchie, is easily a standout on the opener and the two remaining pieces.
On the closing “Physical Memory” is it pianist David Virelles who provides a minute-long solo intro. Working with meditative and spiraling cross-rhythms, Virelles sets up a groove ever more fractured and tumultuous once Jackson and bassist Chris Tordini join in. There’s a gut-level energy, on this as well as “Social Inheritance,” that defines Macdonald’s rhythm section, Virelles very much included.
Macdonald and tenor saxophonist Jeremy Viner pair nicely throughout, getting their horns around intricate unison melodies and presenting widely contrasting solo voices. Macdonald tends to be lighter, more vulnerable, reaching high enough in the alto’s range to sound like a soprano on “Comic Fortress,” the middle selection. Viner is grittier, more immersed in the Coltrane/Liebman/Lovano side of things. His eruptive solo toward the end of “Physical Memory” is what brings the piece to peak intensity.
Jackson lends a strong Caribbean flavor to “Comic Fortress” with every subtle drum-head inflection and polyrhythmic aside, transforming a trio feature for Macdonald’s alto sax into a compelling full-band statement. With no chordal backing Macdonald is set free. But rather than stretching wildly, he focuses on the lyrical composition at hand and the astute trio conversation it prompts, right up to the hip ascending alto/bass figure that ends it.
Having endured as a working band for nearly a decade and a half, The Bad Plus doesn’t lack for material. The first Sunday set at the Village Vanguard (Jan. 6) featured pieces from the trio’s latest Made Possible but also others stretching back to Give (2004) and Suspicious Activity? (2005). It’s a repertoire of great distinction, and all of it in this set was original, with each of the bandmates (pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, drummer Dave King) contributing tunes. No deconstructed rock-pop-disco-electronica covers for now — but note that originals have made up the bulk of the band’s work from the start. Iverson’s “Mint” led it off, stormy and rubato, pushing toward chaos and yet unmistakably precise. King’s “Wolf Out” followed with insistent polyrhythm and faster, higher precision — a strong example of the band’s willingness to foreground composition entirely, leaving improv temporarily to the side. Yet there were solos as well, and powerful ones: King’s commanding statements toward the end of Anderson’s “You Are” and Iverson’s “Reelect That” brought the energy in the house to a high. The playing was extraordinary, the musical language inimitable: melodically pure and pop-like, “swinging” in the broad sense, at times as dense and intricate as the most modern chamber group. Anderson took to the role of banterer between tunes, winding the audience up in deadpan fashion with tales of body sprays, science fair volcanoes and a tabla-playing E.T. (David R. Adler)
Pianist Gerald Clayton told his audience at Smalls (Jan. 9) that he had to “work up the courage” to call tenor saxophonist Mark Turner when putting together the band. It was Clayton’s first gig there in some time, and the quartet, with Turner, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Obed Calvaire, offered something different from Clayton’s celebrated working trio. They started simply, with the midtempo Charlie Parker blues “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” serving as a launch pad into space. No matter how far they stretched, however, they swung, and Brewer maybe most of all: his solos held the room rapt with their rhythmic authority, lithe technique and pure soul, especially on “Under Mad Hatter Medicinal Group On,” Clayton’s homage to Billy Strayhorn’s “U.M.M.G.” Calvaire brought something indispensable to Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma,” maintaining a tight, staccato triplet feel and using every percussive detail of the drum kit. With “Vibe Quota,” the set ended in a quieter way: first came the bass/tenor unison theme in a low register, then contemplative tenor and piano solos, then a brighter vamp with a smoking drum sendoff from Calvaire. Turner seemed the most cerebral and restrained of the group, but the fact that he projected plenty of sound, with no mic, in front of a rhythm section as driving as this was remarkable. His compositional voice was also in the mix: the second set opened with an intriguing, uncommonly slow interpretation of “Myron’s World.” (DA)
As a student of Lennie Tristano and a noted colleague of Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, tenor saxophonist Ted Brown provides a living link to the Tristano school — an intriguing area in jazz history, somewhere in the interstices between bop and “cool.” Brown turned 85 the day before his gig at the Drawing Room (Dec. 2), so he arrived ready to celebrate in his calm and imperturbable way. His co-leader for the first set was Brad Linde, a young DC-based tenorist and Brown disciple, who played with distinction on Brown’s “Smog Eyes” and Tristano’s “317 East 32nd Street,” not to mention the standards “Broadway” and “My Melancholy Baby.” Pianist Michael Kanan, who runs the Drawing Room as a rehearsal space and concert venue, joined the band and juiced up the harmony, adding his own inventive spark. After a break, attention turned to Brown with cornetist Kirk Knuffke, bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Matt Wilson. Harmony was king in this quartet, even with no piano: Knuffke and Brown snaked their way through the changes of “Featherbed” (based on “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”) and applied the Tristano logic in minor keys (“Jazz of Two Cities”) and waltz time (“Dig-It”), all from their new SteepleChase disc Pound Cake. Knuffke had a way of dancing into his melodies, as if striving to embody each phrase physically. Brown played his trickiest heads without a flaw, and his solos, while not as agile as way back in the day, were stamped with pure individuality. (David R. Adler)
Though it entailed gathering musicians from various parts of the globe, Canadian clarinet master François Houle did the right thing by playing ShapeShifter Lab (Dec. 2) with the exact lineup from his brilliant Songlines release Genera. The frontline of Houle, trombonist Samuel Blaser and cornetist/flugelhornist Taylor Ho Bynum allowed for endless color mutations and finely rendered written parts. Benoît Delbecq kept a fairly low profile on piano and prepared piano, but he endowed the music with a wealth of harmonic and percussive twists. Bassist Michael Bates and drummer Harris Eisenstadt pointed the way from the airiest rubato abstraction to driving, meticulously placed rhythms. The set began slow, with the dark lyricism of “Le concombre de Chicoutimi,” but Houle was thinking in terms of a long medley: Bates soon segued to the uptempo line of “Essay No. 7,” then joined Eisenstadt for a bass/drums interlude that brought the band into the emphatic, slow-grooving “Guanara.” Houle was blowing two clarinets at once by the time the medley was finished. On the swing-based “Albatros” he played through half a clarinet, connecting his mouthpiece directly to the lower joint. That is the essence of Houle’s approach: wildly unstable, expressionistic elements vie with straightforward and undeniable virtuosity. The dueling plunger shouts of Bynum and Blaser on “Mu-Turn Revisited” offered another vivid example. (DA)
Trios loom large in drummer Dave King’s career: consider two of his best-known musical endeavors, the Bad Plus and Happy Apple. The piano, too, is central to King’s identity as a player and composer, and it’s not just his hookup with the Bad Plus’s Ethan Iverson that bears this out. Indelicate (2010), King’s debut under his own name, revealed the drummer to be a pianist himself, and the resulting overdubbed piano-drum pieces were fresh and unexpected. King also played some piano on his 2011 quintet follow-up Good Old Light by the Dave King Trucking Company.
There’s one other obscure piano item in King’s oeuvre, a 2005 Fresh Sound trio date under pianist Bill Carrothers’ name called Shine Ball, with Gordon Johnson on bass. Wholly improvised, the session catches King and Carrothers in moments of volatility and moody reflection. On I’ve Been Ringing You, they reunite (with Billy Peterson on bass) to play repertoire of a very different kind, along the lines of “So In Love,” “If I Should Lose You,” “People Will Say We’re In Love” and “This Nearly Was Mine.” Carrothers makes the melodies sing out, pure and distinct, but somehow transforms each song into a ghostly unresolved riddle.
The opener is Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye,” a dark ballad, stretched by King’s trio into a slow and hazy rubato meditation. The transition to Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” is natural — open and spacious to start, more aggressive as it develops. “I’ve Been Ringing You,” the closing track, is an original trio improvisation marked by Carrothers’ steady block chords, King’s slow brush patterns, and Peterson’s perfectly timed ascending notes in response.
King’s subtle shifts of timbre and momentum are all the more engrossing for being so beautifully captured (the album was recorded at “a little church in Minnesota,” per the album credits). We can hear the leader shift in his seat, flick on his snares, swipe his hands or other objects across the skins and create worlds of intimate detail. The big piano sound brings every lingering nuance of Carrothers’ harmonies into striking relief.
Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt’s quintet, arguably one of the strongest working bands in jazz, has held together long enough to record four albums: November, Men of Honor, The Talented Mr. Pelt and this year’s Soul. There were new faces onstage, however, when Pelt arrived for a special birthday engagement at Smoke (November 11). Pianist Danny Grissett and bassist Dwayne Burno remained in place, bringing characteristic depth and poise to Pelt’s original material. On tenor sax, in JD Allen’s stead, was the inspired Roxy Coss, whose slow-burning and methodical approach paired well with Pelt’s more incendiary solos. Jonathan Barber, occupying Gerald Cleaver’s spot on drums, swung without inhibition and did much to enhance the music’s wide dynamic range. Having begun the second set with the intricate “Dreamcatcher,” Pelt transitioned immediately to Myron Walden’s slow and dreamlike “Pulse,” which elicited bluesy, carefully placed phrases from the leader at maximum volume — as if he were shouting to the streets just outside. On “Second Love,” the most straightforwardly lyrical piece, Pelt was subdued yet just as pointedly expressive. He put Barber in the spotlight after a full rotation of solos on the animated “Milo Hayward,” and closed with “What’s Wrong Is Right,” a forceful midtempo blues with no chordal backing (Grissett soloed with only his right hand). The pacing of the set was superb — Pelt knew exactly what he wanted, and his band was right there to do it. (David R. Adler)
Dormant for years, the Jazz Composers Collective reunited for a festival at Jazz Standard and closed out the week with the remarkable Herbie Nichols Project (November 11). This sextet’s sole purpose is to showcase the lost music of pianist/composer Nichols, one of jazz’s unheralded geniuses. To that end, pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Ben Allison and cohorts opened with “Wildflower,” encored with “Spinning Song” and got loose mid-set over the blazing tempo of “Crisp Day/Blue Chopsticks” — all from the band’s 1996 debut Love Is Proximity. Since then, however, there’s been a startling development: an old trunk containing manuscripts for over 160 Nichols compositions, long rumored lost in a flood, was recently located. The pieces range from the late ’50s to the early ’60s (Nichols died in 1963). “Tell the Birds I Said Hello,” the second tune of the set, was from this lost batch, and it found Michael Blake pondering a simple lyrical melody on soprano sax before yielding to solos from Kimbrough and trumpeter Ron Horton. “Games and Codes,” with Blake and Ted Nash on tenors, was a doleful ballad with laid-back swing passages and tight orchestration. “Blues No. 1” also featured dual tenors up front and a go-for-broke bass solo from Allison as the main focus. “Van Allen Belt,” a showstopper, inspired a fierce outpouring from Nash on alto. While Nichols’ tunes were nothing short of a revelation, the band’s interpretive prowess at every step was equally a thing of beauty. (DA)
An announcer at Town Hall (Oct. 12) erred when he introduced the night’s marquee act as the Pat Metheny Group. It was in fact the Pat Metheny Unity Band, with Chris Potter on reeds, Ben Williams on upright bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums. Winding down a worldwide tour, the band dug into material from its eponymous Nonesuch CD but also explored a range of the master guitarist’s older repertoire. Potter’s bass clarinet on the opening “Come and See” was right away a departure — a tone color not found in Metheny’s previous work. There were moments, such as the vivacious coda of “New Year,” the flowing rubato portions of “This Belongs To You,” or the slightly sour harmony of “Interval Waltz,” that pointed to subtle compositional triumphs. Crowd energy surged when Metheny detoured into “James,” an older concert staple, and “Two Folk Songs,” a rare gem from the 80/81 album with Potter in Michael Brecker’s unforgettable role, blowing brutally dissonant tenor sax lines over a simple strumming progression. “Signals,” which found the band creating in tandem with Metheny’s “orchestrion” — a jaw-dropping array of mechanized instruments — was climactic in its way. But the machines were put to even more inspired use in the early ’80s classic “Are You Going With Me,” the first of three encores. Airy textures and beats, meshing with Potter’s gorgeous alto flute (in place of Lyle Mays’ synths), brought the night to another level. (David R. Adler)
After a warm spell of several days, the temperature was dropping just outside Bar on Fifth, on the ground floor of the Setai Hotel (Oct. 6). Pianist Pete Malinverni captured the moment with Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York,” easing into a ballad feel with his partners for the night: tenor saxophonist Attilio Troiano, bassist Giuseppe Venezia and drummer Carmen Intorre. Part of the annual Italian Jazz Days series, the gig was Malinverni’s first encounter with these sidemen. The tunes they chose were common standards, sensible hotel bar fare, enlivened by a flexible and alert sense of swing. Malinverni and the rhythm section broke the ice as a trio, opening the first set with “There Will Never Be Another You.” Troiano came on board for “There Is No Greater Love” in a similar midtempo vein. The robust, vibrato-rich sound of his tenor hinted at a Coleman Hawkins influence; it became much clearer when the group offered “Body and Soul,” famously Hawkins’ signature number. Venezia soloed with tenacity throughout the evening, and Intorre’s trading choruses were tight and spirited, not least on an uptempo reading of Cole Porter’s “I Love You.” Malinverni brought a boppish vocabulary and a restrained old-school touch to the music, opting for a faster-than-usual tempo on “Like Someone In Love” but a very slow one on “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” His bandmates took these twists in stride and put forward a sound impeccably steeped in the tradition. (DA)