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.
One of bassist Ben Allison’s recent obsessions is the music of Jim Hall, which he’s explored live with the gifted Steve Cardenas on guitar. In a four-night run at Dizzy’s, Allison maintained a focus on Hall at least in part while changing up the personnel. Saxophonist Ted Nash and drummer Matt Wilson, longtime Allison cohorts, joined guitarist Peter Bernstein in a versatile lineup that devoted its second Thursday set (July 11th) to tunes by Hall, Thelonious Monk, the late Jimmy Giuffre and Allison himself. Bernstein has few rivals in terms of tone, expression and harmonic insight in the straightahead arena. His experiences with Jimmy Cobb, Lou Donaldson and other masters haven’t entailed much close contact with Allison, whose projects tend to fall more outside the box. But the two are longtime New York residents in their mid-40s with compatible outlooks, and their vibe felt natural. The band sound was sparse and airy, equally suited to the folky aesthetic of Giuffre’s “The Train and the River” and Monk’s perennial “Criss Cross.” Allison’s “Weazy,” a slower ambling waltz, found Nash and Bernstein voicing harmonies once played by Michael Blake on two saxophones at once (on Allison’s 2001 Palmetto disc Riding the Nuclear Tiger). Jim Hall’s “Bimini” and “Waltz New,” the latter a challenging line on the changes to “Someday My Prince Will Come,” brought the intensity up a notch, but Allison’s “Green Al” closed in a mellower soul mood, putting Bernstein’s bluesy vocabulary to inspired use. (David R. Adler)
A native of Michigan now based in Rome, pianist Greg Burk remains underappreciated and doesn’t surface all that often in New York. But at Measure (formerly Bar on Fifth) he had the good fortune of a weeklong Manhattan gig, rotating solo piano, trios and quartets on different nights — a plan that seemed to mirror the variety of his superb recorded output. His first trio set on Monday (July 8th) began at a medium tempo with the bop-oriented head “Blues in O,” which gave bassist Joseph Lepore and drummer Harvey Wirht some time to find the right pocket in a rather noisy room. (It’s a hotel lounge with the band relegated to the far corner.) Continuing with the harmonically involved “Calypsus” and the fast chromatic free-bop environment of “BC,” Burk drove the trio toward creative peaks and shared solo space generously. The one standard was “Take the ‘A’ Train” at a spikey and loose waltz tempo, an apt showcase for the understated Wirht during the trading choruses. “Song for IAIA,” which led off Burk’s 2011 trio recording The Path Here (482 Music), started with a quasi-boogie-woogie figure in the left hand and generated a back-and-forth between sweetly soaring melodies and static groove sections. The gospel-funk finale “One Day” carried a hint of Horace Silver and typified the trio’s mix of casual old-school feel and tight execution. Later in the month Lepore would return to the club with his own band, featuring saxophonist Joel Frahm, pianist Luis Perdomo and drummer Francisco Mela. (DA)
In the best sense of the term, vocalist Gregory Porter is a crowd-pleaser. His performance at SubCulture (June 10th) was like a neighborhood event, brimming with audience goodwill and easy banter, the mood no doubt enhanced by Porter’s recent signing to Blue Note. There were songs, or “new friends” as Porter called them, from the singer’s Blue Note debut Liquid Spirit, forthcoming in September. But Porter also lavished attention on “old friends,” or songs from his two Motéma releases, Water and Be Good. Porter’s original writing is soul-drenched, even pop-like in its airtight pacing and accessibility. “On My Way to Harlem,” with its double-time Motownish feel, and “Painted on Canvas,” the gently soaring opener, are songs one can fall in love with repeatedly. The lyrics are unexpected, the solo spots concise but weighty enough to prod altoist Yosuke Sato, tenorist Tivon Pennicott and trumpeter Curtis Taylor to virtuosic flights and fiery exchanges. All the elements are in place: Porter’s unerring pitch and dynamic control; the simpatico feel and solid tempos of bassist Aaron James and drummer Emanuel Harrold; the top-tier accompanist and soloing chops of music director Chip Crawford. The “new friends” at SubCulture were a promising bunch: “No Love Dying,” slower but dramatic, came before the driving, handclapping gospel of “Liquid Spirit,” the stark piano-vocal duo “Wolfcry” and later the Curtis Mayfield-like “Musical Genocide,” a title that might spark some comment when the album drops. (David R. Adler)
For the first time since 1994, the original members of Lost Tribe gathered to play. It was the third event in a Reunion Series at ShapeShifter Lab (June 7th) — previous nights have featured the outstanding Spanish Fly and much-admired bands led by Ben Perowsky, Chris Speed and David Tronzo. Of Lost Tribe’s two sets, the first was thunderous and tight, opening with the ominous descending chords and conquering beat of “Dick Tracy” — one of four tunes by the group’s alto saxophonist, David Binney. Guitarists Adam Rogers and David Gilmore, on dueling Stratocasters, brought shimmering clarity and roaring overdrive to this funky but harmonically involved music, eschewing the more dated sonic elements of the band’s early ’90s recordings. (Gilmore played a Gibson 335 on the Rogers-penned “Rhinoceros.”) Perowsky, on drums, had unabashed fun with the metal/hardcore assault of “T.A. the W.” and the fluid contrapuntal design of “Mofungo” — a tune that may have presaged some of Chris Potter’s writing for Underground (also featuring Rogers). Fima Ephron’s electric bass intro on “Room of Life” added yet another dimension, a slower and more introspective feel. It’s not wrong to call Lost Tribe a fusion band, but there was always something else afoot, a quality of compositional craft and expression that couldn’t be reduced to that much-maligned f-word. Today their leaner, more evolved sound speaks well of the growth they’ve all experienced since the band broke up. (DA)
It’s odd for a solo acoustic guitar album to be more varied, harmonically and sonically, than a lot of full-band efforts, but such is true of Ryan Blotnick’s Solo, Volume I. The Maine native plays an old Martin with a pure and gorgeous tone. He opens with an unadorned “Monk’s Mood,” getting deep into the forbidding counterpoint while letting the instrument sing in a straightforward way. There’s an affinity with John McLaughlin’s treatment of Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” from My Goals Beyond.
But with “Dreams of Chloe” and the other originals that follow, Blotnick uses mainly the same Martin guitar — amplified at times — to introduce other sounds and ethereal illusions. His subtle warbling echo on “Hymn for Steph,” “Michelle Says” and elsewhere create an effect of sustained melodies, even additional instruments where there are none. There’s an impressive sound-design aspect to the recording, as stripped down as it is.
“The Ballad of Josh Barton” and the capricious, lyrical “Salt Waltz” bring it back to pure acoustic, with clear tempos and folk/rock elements that show Blotnick to be a gifted composer. “Lenny’s Ghost,” most likely named for Lenny Breau, stands out at eight and a half minutes as the epic journey of the set, with various sections tied together by a recurring, ancient-sounding theme in ¾ time.
In just 34 minutes, Blotnick alights on a surprising number of aesthetic frameworks, from distorted haze to crisp arpeggiation, from rubato dream states to country-ish feels and strong melodies. Evocative and restrained, the album widens our conception of what a solo piece can be.
For the second year the Undead Music Festival kicked off with a night of Improvised Round-Robin Duets, but the lineup at Brooklyn Masonic Temple (May 1st) couldn’t have been more of a departure. Simply put, this wasn’t strictly a jazz event. Jazz players did take part, however, and what they’d do with colleagues from vastly different musical worlds was anyone’s guess. There were tech problems — the event could be renamed Soundman’s Nightmare — and some matchups were uncomfortable to watch. Trumpeter Roy Hargrove did well in the groove-based environment of drummer and soundscaper Martin Dosh, but then struggled to make sense of James Chance’s piano and nearly left the stage twice. Going from that to the vocal yowling and guitar feedback of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, with Chance on alto sax, was less than ideal. But other encounters worked: alto saxophonist Matana Roberts with superstar drummer ?uestlove was a pleasure, and so were the hand-in-glove pairings of pianist Robert Glasper with Vijay Iyer and DJ Spinna, in that order. Julia Holter’s simple keyboard motives and inscrutable, softly sung lyrics played off the cagey electric bass of Thundercat (Stephen Bruner) to cast one of the night’s more memorable spells. Jazz came out strong at the end: Don Byron said his piece on tenor with violinist (and brilliant whistler) Andrew Bird, then yielded to fellow tenor Joe Lovano, who closed with a biting five-minute soliloquy that seemed to say, “Here’s how it’s done.” (David R. Adler)
Following three nights with his bracing Snakeoil quartet and a night with Dilated Pupils (featuring David Torn), alto saxophonist Tim Berne continued his residency at The Stone with fearsome sounds from a unit he’s calling the Tim Berne 7 (May 11th). The members of Snakeoil — pianist Matt Mitchell, clarinetist Oscar Noriega, drummer Ches Smith — were all on hand as the first set started, but Smith played vibraphone, conga, gongs, cowbells and tambourine instead of drums (the remarkable Dan Weiss took charge of the kit). Guitarist Ryan Ferreira played atmospheric chordal washes and slightly overdriven lines but got a bit obscured in the tumult. (The next night he joined Berne in the more exposed quartet setting of Decay.) Bassist and longtime Berne associate Michael Formanek was in total command of the dense written material, and there was a lot: first “Lamé No. 3,” then “Lamé No. 4” and finally the suite “Forever Hammered,” a series of tightly executed themes, solo spotlights and seamless transitions that grew over the course of 30 minutes or more. The group approached Berne’s long, spooling unison lines and counterpoint with furious intent, heightening the music’s dissonant barbed-wire quality. Smith’s locked-in percussion and Weiss’s elliptical drumming provided rhythmic flux and raw power, urging the band to let loose. Berne and the ensemble roared, but when Smith’s vibes and Noriega’s bass clarinet worked in tandem, the band took on a warmer chamber-like identity. (DA)