Miguel Zenón & The Rhythm Collective Oye!!! Live in Puerto Rico (Miel)
By David R. Adler
For years alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón has made quartet albums with the brilliant pianist Luis Perdomo as a central focus. Zenón’s music, therefore, has always been thick with harmony. But intermittently for several years, Zenón has explored another sound with his Rhythm Collective, a piano-less quartet with electric bassist Aldemar Valentin, drummer Tony Escapa and percussionist Reynaldo De Jesús. Oye!!! captures them in their native Puerto Rico in 2011, at a now-defunct space called El Taller Cé.
There’s an intimate club vibe to the recording, with charged-up applause and band member introductions — in Spanish, over a fast groove — at the start and finish of the program. The disc preserves the acoustic imperfections of the site and still manages a high sound quality. Valentin’s bass sounds a tad far away, and yet he’s a monster on every track, playing liquid solo lines and highly inventive double-stop work, hugging every turn in the music. Escapa and De Jesús, too, are unstoppable. The subtle textural differences in their setups come across beautifully on disc.
Zenón has worked hard to bring jazz and Puerto Rican folkloric idioms into contact. The Rhythm Collective, which toured six African countries with help from the State Department in 2003, has a different but related take on global cross-pollination. “JOS Nigeria,” a Zenón original with a bouncy optimistic feel, has an explicitly African connection. Tito Puente’s classic “Oye Como Va” gets stretched and pulled apart, at one point inspiring Zenón to quote Wayne Shorter’s “Juju.” Silvio Rodriguez’s “El Necio” is more closely faithful, though it still sparks furious off-the-page improvisation.
The band plays with gut-level energy but nails every note, every displaced accent. In the precise staccato hits of “Hypnotized” (slower and partly rubato, inspired by Paul Motian), or the crisply articulated bass pattern of the fast burner “Double Edge,” Zenón advances his own adaptations of traditional rhythmic forms, again proving himself one of the most distinctive artists on the scene.
When trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and pianist Angelica Sanchez played duo at Greenwich House Music School (April 6), there were zones of deep concentration and silence, but also an outburst or two from car horns on the small West Village street just outside. Smith’s horn, too, shattered the calm, but with high musical intent and creative control. Three of the six untitled improvisations began with Smith solo, commanding the room with triple-fortissimo shouts, relaxed and poetic legato lines, coarse multiphonic timbres, breath tones and fast blurry runs. Receiving all this inspiration from a few feet away, Sanchez showed a great virtuosic reach, favoring a dark language with 20th-century echoes. At one point she strove to drown out the car horns with a dissonant crescendo, but in quieter moments one could hear her voice, singing the notes and melodies as they emerged. Her sparse rubato passages and harp-like string strumming had a way of bringing out Smith’s lyricism and introspection. “More,” called out one listener after the fifth piece, but Smith grinned and turned the request around: “How much more?” Then began the stormy encore, with rumbling rhythms and patterns and a huge, long-decaying bass note from the piano as its final gesture. The rich harmonic bed of this collaboration sets it apart from Smith’s other recent duos with Louis Moholo-Moholo, Anthony Braxton, Adam Rudolph, Jack DeJohnette and others. There will in fact be more: Smith and Sanchez entered the studio the next day to record. (David R. Adler)
With the band name Voyager emblazoned on his bass drum head, drummer Eric Harland appeared at Jazz Standard (April 13) and played five powerful extended numbers straight through. In this second of three sets, the leader spoke only at the end to introduce his colleagues: tenorist Walter Smith III, guitarist Julian Lage, pianist Taylor Eigsti and bassist Harish Raghavan. Each of these mammoth musicians could have played a full solo set and left the crowd happy, but what they did was a sequence of unaccompanied virtuoso spots to introduce or transition the tunes — “Intermezzos,” as Harland termed them on his 2011 debut Voyager: Live By Night (Sunnyside). Following a bright and challenging opener with the provisional title “New Song,” Lage brought a ragged experimentalism and strategic effects-pedal tweaking to his intro on “Voyager.” Raghavan was nimble and deeply expressive as he segued into the lyrical waltz ballad “Trust the Light.” Eigsti destroyed at the piano but also brought a cool and glowing harmony to the band, taking the spotlight right before the irresistibly soulful “Eclipse.” Smith battled a little harder to be heard, but he shred the music to pieces consistently. Harland’s show-stopping solo before “Play With Me,” the catchy groove-based finale, might have topped the energy of all previous intermezzos combined. But Harland doesn’t seek to dominate: he picks players who can do what he does, transforming the moment in their own highly personal way. (DA)
Bassist Eric Revis, with his immense tone and supple sense of swing, has helped define the sound of the Branford Marsalis Quartet for over 15 years. As a leader he’s taken an eclectic approach, starting from acoustic jazz but adding electric guitar, strings and other textures. In recent years he has embraced a freer concept, working with the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Avram Fefer and Michael Marcus. Parallax, with Ken Vandermark on tenor and clarinet, Jason Moran on piano and Nasheet Waits on drums, leans strongly in that direction as well. (It’s pertinent that Revis, Waits and Parallax co-producer Orrin Evans are the core of the free-leaning ensemble Tar Baby.)
Revis features himself on three solo bass tracks: the opening “Prelusion,” with frenetic bowing; “Percival,” a tight pizzicato miniature (the title is Cecil Taylor’s middle name); and “Parallax,” the finale, rich in somber overtones and washes of sound. But the main focus is the band, switching up from red-blooded ferocity (“Hyperthral,” Vandermark’s “Split”) to a subtler chamber-like aesthetic (“MXR,” “Celestial Hobo”).
As much as Parallax is “free,” it’s also strongly compositional: Revis’ “Edgar,” a nod to fellow bassist Edgar Meyer, stands out for its repeating double-stop arco pattern and contrapuntal piano-clarinet theme emerging from chaos. “Dark Net,” an ensemble theme of daunting complexity — and no solos at all — is by altoist and Clean Feed labelmate Michaël Attias (a fine move to highlight work by an underrated composer and peer).
Many don’t realize, but avant-garde jazz operates from a position of deepest respect for the tradition. For Revis, and certainly for Moran in his own work, the enthusiasm stretches back well before bebop. Their reading of Fats Waller’s “I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” begins with the melody almost exactly as written, but against a backdrop of wild sonic abstraction. Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues” acquires a slow, booming beat true to Morton’s own accurate description of the song: “Smutty.”
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)