Guitarist Nate Radley doesn’t have the wide recognition of some of his six-string peers, though he’s one of the tastiest and most consistent players on the scene. He’s done enviable sideman work with Alan Ferber, Loren Stillman, Marc Mommaas, Andrew Rathbun and others. He debuted in 2012 with The Big Eyes (Fresh Sound New Talent), using a lineup of guitar, alto sax and (sometimes) Fender Rhodes with rhythm section. On the new Carillon he omits keyboard but keeps the guitar/reed front line, using tenor saxophonist Chris Cheek alongside Matt Clohesy on bass and Ted Poor on drums.
Radley isn’t after wild and extravagant soundscapes in the studio. He plays semi-hollowbody guitar, straightforwardly and beautifully, with a round but slightly steely tone and just a bit of reverb. He has a buoyant rhythmic feel, a cohesive hookup with Cheek and a fluid harmonic approach that lets him fill plenty of space when the horn lays out.
Radley’s writing has a lushness and intricacy, a way with pacing and contrast, from the bright feel and contrapuntal invention of the opening “Carillon” to the mellower glide of “Positive Train,” the finale. There’s something logical and satisfying in the transition from “Whiteout,” an evocative waltz for solo guitar, to “Fadeout,” with its slow rock feel and majestic minor-modal tonality.
These are eclectic players who are nonetheless rooted in jazz — something Radley stresses with his inclusion of Thelonious Monk’s “Hornin’ In,” Cole Porter’s “All Through the Night” and the Charlie Parker-associated ballad “Laura,” by David Raksin. (There were no standards on Radley’s debut.) In a word, the quartet can swing. Radley has a rich and well-developed take on Monk’s aesthetic. He reads the Porter tune in a staggered uptempo swing feel and cleverly opts to have Poor solo first. But the dark original ballad “Some More” works just as well as a jazz showcase. The ending, an E-flat minor chord held and elaborated for a quietly stunning 20 seconds, is probably the session’s single finest moment.
Recorded live at Cornelia Street Café in February 2013, Arc Trio finds veteran bassist Mario Pavone in turbulent waters with Craig Taborn on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums. These aren’t some random sidemen: Taborn and Cleaver share a bond going back to the Detroit scene of the late ’80s. The freedom and focus they bring to these eight Pavone originals is often astounding.
As it happens, Arc Trio comes just five months after Taborn’s trio debut for ECM, Chants, also featuring Cleaver (with bassist Thomas Morgan). While Chants richly deserves the accolades it has received, Pavone’s outing is just as vital and shouldn’t slip past the radar. It’s fueled by a similar simpatico, though with a grittier aesthetic and compositional logic. Chants boasts that exalted, polished ECM sound; Arc Trio captures a night in a club with a piano that Taborn wouldn’t likely choose otherwise, but bends to his will nonetheless.
In his liner notes, Pavone gets specific about his obsessions and models: Paul Bley’s The Floater, Andrew Hill’s Smokestack, Steve Kuhn’s Three Waves and Keith Jarrett’s Life Between the Exit Signs, along with certain works by Dick Twardzik and Muhal Richard Abrams. One way or another, the rhythmic thrust and texture of all this music gets filtered into Arc Trio, beginning with the frenetic double-stop bass riff and dense piano theme of “Andrew” (first heard on the 2008 quintet release Ancestors, featuring Cleaver).
Pavone’s writing is often spare and concise, with tightly played heads but also room for open blowing over solid tempos. While there aren’t many prescribed chords, the pieces have distinct tonal personalities conjured by the brilliance of the players involved. “Eyto,” “Hotep” and the closing “Dialect” have a jumpy, unpredictable flow while “Poles” and “Alban Berg” usher in a slower swing vibe. Taborn is explosive and virtuosic on “Not Five Kimono” and “Box in Orange,” both also found on previous Pavone outings but given new life. Cleaver is dynamic and funky throughout, though sonically it is Pavone’s snappy bass that gets captured the best.
Celebrating the release of Ängsudden Song Cycle (482 Music) at Roulette (October 13), multi-reedist Mike McGinnis could barely be seen during the concert’s first half. He was up in the balcony playing “ÄngsuddenAbstracts” for solo soprano saxophone while dancer Davalois Fearon performed onstage below. In a way, McGinnis danced as well: the intense reverberant sound of his horn changed as he paced the floor, moving closer and farther, setting the scene for the octet showcase of the second half. The stage was strewn with dry leaves and branches — an autumnal flourish, perhaps a nod to the Swedish locale of Ängsudden, the subject of a series of paintings and poems by McGinnis’ collaborator MuKha. Her projections appeared onscreen above the band; her stark black-and-white tapestries hung down from balcony; her words were sung with warmth and precision by vocalist Kyoko Kitamura. There’s no shortage of “chamber jazz” today, but McGinnis brought forth an ensemble sound all his own, playing clarinet and bass clarinet and blending beautifully with Sarah Schoenbeck’s bassoon, the pinpoint vibraphone of drummer Harris Eisenstadt, the pliant viola of Jason Kao Hwang and the deep-toned bass of Dan Fabricatore. Sean Moran’s nylon-string guitar and Khabu Doug Young’s cavaquinho were paired brilliantly, not least on “You Are Morning,” a ray of Brazilian-tinged sunshine and pure melodic inspiration that ought to be remembered many years from now. (David R. Adler)
If one thing came across during tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby’s first set at Cornelia Street Café (October 5), it was experience. Pianist Russ Lossing, bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Tom Rainey, Rigby’s quartet mates, played with a lucidity that comes from years and years on the bandstand. Rigby, pushing 40, is a bit younger but just as seasoned and assured in his approach. “Noire,” the first piece, began with a lustrous and complex rubato melody and evolved over many minutes, returning to a cued unison figure to keep the exploration grounded. Without pause the band moved into Thelonious Monk’s “Bye-Ya,” embracing a more straightahead vibe with a round of burning solos and trading, still just as adventurous. “New Tune,” by drummer George Schuller, brought back a lyrical rubato feel and allowed for inspired duo exchanges — first between tenor and drums, then tenor and bass. Brown’s powerful solo courted silence and stillness, but Lossing’s entrance, informed by a deep and fluid swing even at a free tempo, sent the music spinning again. In a dreamy and abstract way, the pianist segued into his own “Brain Wave,” the finale, marked by a bass-driven vamp that propelled the tune straight through to Rainey’s climactic drum feature. At the music’s most intense peaks, Rigby maintained a velvety warmth and restraint. His is not a language of high-register wails; there’s a sense of calm within the storm, captured so well on his titles Translucent Space and The Sage, that makes his music unique and endlessly inviting. (DA)
Michel Gentile/Daniel Kelly/Rob Garcia WORKS (Connection Works)
By David R. Adler
Flutist Michel Gentile, pianist Daniel Kelly and drummer Rob Garcia aren’t just trio mates: they’re business partners, overseeing the nonprofit Connection Works as it programs concerts, workshops and educational events in Brooklyn. WORKS, their co-led trio, is a house band of sorts, collaborating regularly with high-profile guest artists (e.g., Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, John Hollenbeck) in the Brooklyn Jazz Wide Open series.
WORKS has also developed its own repertoire over the years, highlighting the compositional gifts of its members. The debut CD WORKS gathers these original pieces and shines some overdue light on Gentile, Kelly and Garcia as players and co-thinkers. Their union of flute, piano and drums is a wonderful thing: softly textured, harmonically expansive, percussively engaged and intense, all in the right proportion.
Kelly is the band’s de facto bassist, taking charge of the energized low-end lines in Garcia’s “Island” and “Will” and Kelly’s own “Emanglons,” among others. But Kelly is also prominent as a melody voice, doubling many flute parts while keeping chordal ideas flowing. Of anybody in WORKS it seems Kelly’s job is the hardest, though he doesn’t let it show.
The trio members each play a brief “Soliloquy” — just one of the ways they show their subtlety as individuals. Together they handle the challenges strewn throughout Kelly’s galloping “Hundertwasser,” with a 6/8 theme that shifts ingeniously to 5/8 when the melody returns midway through. Gentile’s “Voir Dire,” in contrast, opens with a fast quasi-serialist motive and later breaks away to free improvisation. There’s a quieter side too, in the romantic chanson vibe of Gentile’s out-of-tempo “C’est Bien Ça” and the dark ambiguity of Kelly’s “Chorale.”
The category stumpers are Garcia’s “Spring Comes ’Round” and the closing track, Gentile’s “Commodius Vicus.” The former is angular and jazzy, free of tempo, but detouring into chamber-like passages and ending on an ominous straight-eighth vamp. The latter generates maddening spirals of counterpoint — melodic and rhythmic — between flute and piano, framed by Garcia’s hip and understated groove accents. There isn’t a stronger example of the trio’s uniqueness and ability.
When the collaborative quartet Ideal Bread played Ibeam (Aug. 12th) the clock was running on a Kickstarter appeal for Beating the Teens, the band’s third album devoted to the music of Steve Lacy. Beating the Teens is a twist on Scratching the Seventies (Saravah), the landmark Lacy collection, which Ideal Bread hopes to revisit and transform in its entirety. Baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton, the group’s appointed talker, introduced Kirk Knuffke on cornet, Adam Hopkins on bass (taking over for Reuben Radding) and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, all of whom made a strong case for the album in the works. They led off with the slow splintered theme of “The Wane” and followed it with “Scraps,” a brighter piece, all meticulous harmonized hits and odd drum patterns. “Dreams,” built around sensitive duet exchanges for cornet and drums, led right into “Cryptosphere,” an almost John Cagean affair: Sinton scraped at the floor with a kitchen utensil, Hopkins dropped a hardcover book several times, Fujiwara lifted up his floor tom and struck a cymbal with it — all while an Ideal Bread recording played in the background. As Sinton explained, Lacy dedicated these pieces to figures as diverse as Kid Ory and Frederic Rzewski, and the reference points all seemed to make sense. The first set closed with another medley: “Ladies,” which pitted an agitated rhythm section against the more relaxed legato horns; then into “Blinks,” with an all-out solo by Fujiwara, who put a New Orleans spin on Lacy’s ingenious quasi-Monkish line. (David R. Adler)
At first glance bassist Pedro Giraudo’s Expansions Big Band looked like a standard jazz lineup: five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets and rhythm section with piano. But the first set at Birdland (Aug. 11th) quickly revealed the skills of Paulo Stagnaro on cajón and percussion, often obscured from view by Giraudo’s upright bass. Seated between drummer Franco Pinna and pianist Jess Jurkovic, Stagnaro brought the leader’s wide-ranging South American influences into vibrant relief, boosting the rhythmic dynamism and sonic power of the music. “Moñeca,” in driving 5/4, featured Giraudo on electric bass and trombonist Ryan Keberle and Pinna as soloists. Another electric bass vehicle, “Duende del Maté” from Giraudo’s 2011 release Córdoba (Zoho), beckoned with furious beats and handclaps, intricate section writing and solos by Miki Hirose on trumpet and Sam Sadigursky on tenor sax. Two pieces, “La Viudita” and “Desconsuelo,” dated back to 2005 but sounded fresh as larger scores (Expansions has two more trumpets and trombones than the Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra). Alto saxophonist Will Vinson, a prominent voice throughout, soared on the main theme and ripped up the solo section of “La Ley Primera,” rooted in the zamba ballad form of Giraudo’s native Argentina. The most striking solo entrance came late in the set: trombonist Mike Fahie, on “Desconsuelo,” burned with confidence while staring ahead, a little stunned, as though looking right back at himself. (DA)
Ethan Iverson/Lee Konitz/Larry Grenadier/Jorge Rossy Costumes Are Mandatory
By David R. Adler
The smartest thing a younger jazz player can do is to seek wisdom from established masters of the music. Pianist Ethan Iverson has done this again and again, gigging with the likes of Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Albert “Tootie” Heath and Billy Hart. On Costumes Are Mandatory he joins alto saxophone great Lee Konitz in a session full of idiosyncrasy and varied repertoire, from “What’s New” to “Try a Little Tenderness” to “317 East 32nd Street,” the Lennie Tristano classic (miscredited to Konitz on the back sleeve, though not in Iverson’s liner notes).
Bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy, who worked together for years in Brad Mehldau’s trio, provide just the right feel — relaxed but deeply swinging. If anything Grenadier is more the timekeeper, while Rossy blurs and deepens the textures. Grenadier’s bowing on the abstract piano-bass duet “Mr. Bumi” (named for pianist Masabumi Kikuchi) is especially strong.
The spirit of Tristano, Konitz’s old teacher, hovers over the set. Iverson alludes to some of Tristano’s distinctive practices: using a metronome on the piano-drum duet “Bats,” overdubbing or tweaking the piano sounds on “It’s You (Tempo Complex)” and “My New Lovers All Seem So Tame” (the latter a short prelude to “My Old Flame,” on which Konitz scat-sings). The turbulent piano trio showcase “A Distant Bell” — based on “I Remember You” — also builds on Tristano’s (and Konitz’s) discipline of using standards as groundwork for new inventions.
Konitz remains warm and inescapably melodic on the horn, though he bows out on a number of tracks. He sails smoothly on “Blueberry Ice Cream,” Iverson’s hip midtempo blues in A, played in two takes that start and close the album. His duet with Grenadier on “Body and Soul” stands out as well — hard to believe Coleman Hawkins recorded his historic version two days before Konitz’s 12th birthday. There’s a logic and unhurried pace to Konitz’s phrases and the band’s outlook as a whole, a sense of old musical values underneath a commitment to the experimental.
At long last, bassist Christian McBride has weighed in with a straight-down-the-line piano trio session. Yet Out Here throws much of the spotlight onto a different Christian — young pianist Christian Sands, who handles with aplomb the great responsibility he’s given. It’s a fine McBride album, but even more satisfying as a showcase of Sands’ talents. Drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. brings a drive and fluidity to Out Here that’s just as crucial. (It’s worth noting that Owens recruited Sands and McBride for Unanimous, his 2012 debut on Criss Cross.)
This trio has the chops to play anything, and yet Out Here isn’t a showy, technical, “music school”-type record. It could be called commercial in an old sense: melodic, bluesy, rhythmically direct and in-the-pocket instead of elliptical. The one track that reaches into modern modal territory is “My Favorite Things,” over nine minutes long, significantly reharmonized and put into 5/4 time. But Oscar Peterson’s uptempo “Hallelujah Time,” Billy Taylor’s “Easy Walker” and the opening E-flat blues “Ham Hocks and Cabbage” bring out the trio’s core identity as a swinging, grooving beast with a fairly straightforward appeal.
There are nice repertoire twists: a new version of “I Guess I’ll Have to Forget,” originally from McBride’s 2000 Verve release SciFi; a straight ballad take on “I Have Dreamed” (from The King and I) with exceptional legato bowing from the leader; and readings of the bread-and-butter standards “East of the Sun” and “Cherokee” that play to the trio’s strengths ingeniously. “Who’s Making Love,” a tribute to Stax legend Johnnie Taylor — with a “shake ya boo-tay” coda no less — closes with a potent reminder of McBride’s soul roots. It’s a leap between genres, but given the groove-heavy quality it shares with the rest of the date, no leap at all.