All About Jazz-New York


This review appears in the February 2011 issue of All About Jazz-New York.

[Note: As of the March 2011 issue, AAJ-NY will be known as The New York City Jazz Record. Details here.]

Shauli Einav, Opus One (Plus Loin)
By David R. Adler

It’s clear that Israeli-born saxophonist Shauli Einav is capable of “blowing his face off,” as pianist and friend Jeremy Siskind writes in the liner notes to Einav’s Opus One. But this album has a personal flavor that a mere chops showcase wouldn’t have offered.

The musical choices are sound from the start: Andy Hunter’s trombone gives Einav a frontline sound evocative of the J.J. Johnson-Sonny Stitt partnership of 1949, or to be more current, the Dave Holland Quintet with Chris Potter and Robin Eubanks. But there’s no imitation here. On the lovely but devilishly difficult waltz “Shavuot,” or the two short drumless sketches “Interlude” and “Coda,” there’s a rich contrapuntal sonority that’s hard to resist. Shai Maestro’s piano, too, lends Opus One its own harmonic stamp (his synth solo on the leadoff track arrives as a nice jolt). Bassist Joseph Lepore and drummer Johnathan Blake keep the music grounded in a visceral brand of swing, even when Einav is at his most heady and intricate.

Einav’s press materials bill Opus One as his debut disc, although there’s a 2008 effort called Home Seek to be found at CD Baby. Whatever the case, Opus One is arguably Einav’s first mature statement, blending modernist jazz with influences from his home country as typified by the hip 7/8 treatment of “Hayu Leilot” (“Those Were the Nights”), an Israeli standard.

Aside from this, the program is original, and Einav spends the first half of it on tenor sax before switching to soprano, staying a bit back (perhaps too much so) in the mix. His writing is fresh but rooted in precedents: a bit of “Dolphin Dance” harmony in “Jerusalem Theme,” hints of Wayne Shorter’s dark translucency in “Naama,” a cooking hardbop vibe spiked with rhythmic surprises in “The Damelin.”

An Eastman graduate, Einav is hardly the first in a new Israeli jazz wave that his late mentor Arnie Lawrence did so much to inspire. But with his expressive horn, imaginative pen and confident bandleading, Einav is already setting himself apart.

This review appears in the February 2011 issue of All About Jazz-New York.

Scott Colley, Empire (CAM Jazz)
By David R. Adler

The title Empire could lead one to think that bassist Scott Colley’s seventh album is an artistic comment on foreign policy. In fact, Empire is a now-vanished town in Kansas where Colley’s great-great-grandfather, Joseph J. Colby, settled in the early 1870s. The town, bypassed by an important new railroad, was abandoned by 1880 and is now “nothing more than crop fields and grass,” according to Amy Bickel, who wrote about Colley and Empire for the Kansas periodical The Hutchinson News.

On some level, then, Empire is an Americana project, and guitarist Bill Frisell proves the ideal partner. (He’s also sideman to Kermit Driscoll, another bassist-bandleader, on Driscoll’s new album Reveille.) Of course, the Frisell sound is identifiable right away — chiming harmonics, bent but lustrous chords and subtle electronic tweaks evoking wide and eerie landscapes — and yet Colley’s writing retains its own strong character. It helps that Colley shuffles his personnel, adding or omitting Frisell, trumpeter Ralph Alessi and pianist Craig Taborn along the way to enhance the session’s variety.

Colley’s most hard-nosed writing comes on the first two tracks, “January” and “The Gettin Place,” where he deploys Frisell and Alessi at bold, jutting angles and sets up the tightest asymmetric grooves. Taborn doesn’t appear until the fourth track, “5:30 am,” his singing lyricism set against the churning, elastic rhythm of drummer Brian Blade. Taborn remains for “Speculation,” a piano trio piece with something of a floating, Tony Williams-Wayne Shorter vibe. It’s rich to hear Frisell and Taborn, on separate tracks, dealing with Colley’s harmonic concepts in analogous ways.

Frisell returns for a duo with Colley, “Tomorrowland,” a dissonant sketch that brilliantly captures the mood of the album cover (an ancient photo of Colby and family outside their Empire, Kansas home). Later, “Gut” finds Alessi in another duo with the leader. Then the full band convenes, for the first and only time, on the slow-swinging “Five-Two.” Frisell, Taborn and Alessi take it out as a trio on “Five-Two.2,” which functions as a spooky coda.

Colley’s own bass role is assertive: He’s a melodic ensemble voice and a frequent soloist. But it’s his instincts about pacing and dynamics that make Empire worth exploring in depth.

From the February 2011 issue of All About Jazz-New York:

Sullivan Hall was one of five venues to host Winter Jazzfest 2011, but the bookings in that room, handled by the presenting organization Revive Da Live, skewed decidedly toward a jazz/hip-hop hybrid aesthetic. That certainly didn’t mean swing was unwelcome. So on the festival’s second night (Jan. 8th), Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band swung, and without apology, offering a sound that was vehement, buoyant and transporting. Evans led from the piano but left much of the cueing to trombone veteran Frank Lacy, who bobbed and swayed to the music and palpably increased the exhilaration in the room. Bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Donald Edwards also didn’t relent. This new Philadelphia-born unit knew exactly how to tailor a short festival set — they played only three of Evans’ tunes but drove them home with urgency and heart. First came “Captain Black,” a midtempo swinger arranged by altoist Todd Bashore. Next was the furiously churning modal waltz “The Sluice,” arranged by Lacy. And last came the slow syncopated 4/4 of “Easy Now,” which Evans dedicated to recently departed Philly greats including Trudy Pitts, Sid Simmons and Charles Fambrough. As baritone saxophonist Mark Allen scaled the heights in a withering solo, the rest of the band — Chelsea Baratz and Victor North on reeds, Duane Eubanks on trumpet, Brent White on trombone, plenty more — began a melodious chant (“ea … sy … now…”) and kindled a fleeting connection with the sacred. (David R. Adler)

~

The atmosphere at Winter Jazzfest is thoroughly come-and-go, friendly to immersive listening but also to skimming the surfaces of the countless bands on display. So one had to hand it to the James Carney Group, which played Kenny’s Castaways on night two (Jan. 8th) and held the close attention of a good-sized crowd throughout a challenging, dynamically varied set. The band was a brass-centric, slightly smaller version of the one Carney employed on his Songlines releases Green-Wood (2007) and Ways and Means (2009). Carney’s saxophone regulars (Tony Malaby, Peter Epstein) were absent, but trombonist Josh Roseman, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Mark Ferber filled the small bandstand and wended their way through Carney’s compositions “Grassy Shoal Hoedown,” “In Lieu of Crossroads” and “The Poetry Wall,” balancing stormy and angular groove-making and quasi-minimalist abstraction. The house Fender Rhodes, as Ben Ratliff noted in the Times, gave the bands appearing at Kenny’s a too-similar sound, although the fact that Rhodes is an integral part of Carney’s canvas gave him a distinct advantage. He sounded at home, offering dense but non-claustrophobic harmony, prodding the soloists into open-ended exchanges and generous moments in the spotlight. There was a noticeable extra jolt whenever Alessi started to blow — an intensity and clarity of purpose that made all the casual listeners look up and get serious. (DA)

My monthly list of recommended CDs, as published in All About Jazz-New York, February 2011:

Jane Ira Bloom, Wingwalker (Outline)

Joel Harrison, String Choir (Sunnyside)

Jonathan Kreisberg, Shadowless (New For Now)

Frank Portolese, Plectrum Jazz Guitar Solos (ind.)

Noah Preminger, Before the Rain (Palmetto)

Ben Wolfe Quintet, Live at Smalls (Smalls Live)

My monthly list of recommended CDs, as published in All About Jazz-New York, January 2011:

Helio Alves, Música (Jazz Legacy)

Dan Block Plays the Music of Duke Ellington: From His World to Mine (Miles High)

Clayton Brothers, The New Song and Dance (ArtistShare)

Gerald Cleaver, Be It As I See It (Fresh Sound)

Scott Feiner & Pandeiro Jazz, Accents (Zoho)

Eddie Henderson, For All We Know (Furthermore)

From the January 2011 issue of All About Jazz-New York:

Having won the 2010 Thelonious Monk Competition, vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant was first to appear in the Tribeca Performing Arts Center’s annual “Monk In Motion” finalists’ showcase (Dec. 4). The Miami-born, French-American Salvant has a thing for choice old repertoire — the Bessie Smith vehicles “You’ve Got to Give Me Some” and “Take It Right Back,” Valaida Snow’s minor-key burner “You Bring Out the Savage in Me” — and she’s capable of rendering these in a vintage ’30s style. But set against pianist Dan Nimmer’s tight Red Garland-esque solos and the boppish groove of bassist John Webber and drummer Pete Van Nostrand, Salvant’s singing took on a modern glow. Her banter was minimal and stiff — give her some years and her stage presence will improve. But the singing was playful and charismatic on “Love for Sale,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” “Laugh Clown Laugh” and a number of more obscure items, such as Benny Carter’s ballad “Love, You’re Not the One for Me.” Her pitch was unerring in all registers, and her clever dynamics — from frail pianissimos to exaggerated fortes on smartly chosen vowels — had the effect of drawing listeners into every lyric. In a nod to the great James Moody, she closed with a soulful “Moody’s Mood for Love,” exuding a personal connection to the material and to the history of jazz itself. Moody was badly ailing that very moment, and he passed less than a week later. (David R. Adler)

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There are just a few pianists with the stature, and sheer musical resources, to carry off a full week of solo piano at the Village Vanguard. Fred Hersch is one of them, and he set the precedent in 2006. Martial Solal and Cecil Taylor have followed suit with weeklong solo showcases of their own. By the time Hersch played the final set of his triumphant return engagement (Dec. 5), he was extremely limber and fully at ease, summoning a huge yet rounded and intimate sound from the grand piano dominating the stage. “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” was his opener, a radiant ballad framed by unsettled left-hand tremolos at the beginning and end of the take. Rarely a flashy player, Hersch tends to keep his considerable chops in reserve to suit the music. But here, after 11 previous sets, he was flying. His articulation on the dark but fast 6/4 of “Echoes” was hair-raising. His midtempo swing on “Lee’s Dream” (based on “You Stepped Out of a Dream”) was bristling and full of surprise. His lyricism on “Doce de Coco” was without peer. His encore, “Doxy” by Sonny Rollins, followed a route similar to “You’re My Everything” from Hersch’s latest trio album Whirl — all improvisation until the very last round, when the melody finally emerged. Thelonious Monk’s “Work” also found Hersch deep in swing and discovery, landing like a gymnast after a set of risky moves. If this was work, he wasn’t letting it show. A live recording is due from Palmetto in March 2011. (DA)

My monthly list of recommended CDs, as published in All About Jazz-New York, December 2010:

Luis Bonilla, Twilight (Planet Arts)

Avishai Cohen, Introducing Triveni (Anzic)

Patrick Cornelius, Fierce (Whirlwind)

Benoît Delbecq, Circles and Calligrams (Songlines)

Herculaneum, Olives and Orchids (EF)

SFJazz Collective, Live 2010: The Works of Horace Silver (SFJazz)

This review appears in the November 2010 issue of All About Jazz-New York.


Louis Sclavis/Craig Taborn/Tom Rainey
Eldorado Trio (Clean Feed)

By David R. Adler

Is it possible for a jazz label to release too much good music? If so, Clean Feed has a wonderful problem on its hands. One can barely keep up with the flood of Clean Feed discs by such artists as Kirk Knuffke, Ivo Perelman, Kris Davis, John Hébert, Bernardo Sassetti, Nobuyasu Furuya, Julian Argüelles and Tom Rainey — and that’s just to list some of the recent trio sessions.

With Eldorado Trio, we get an intriguing companion to Rainey’s Pool School, his recording debut as a leader. While the latter featured Rainey in a studio encounter with guitarist Mary Halvorson and tenorist Ingrid Laubrock, Eldorado Trio features the drummer in a co-led concert setting with pianist Craig Taborn and multireedist Louis Sclavis. The sonorities are dark and expansive, although “Up Down Up” and “Possibilities” introduce crisp, almost swinging tempos, and “Let It Drop” opens the set with quick and frenetic staccato interplay. Sclavis limits himself to bass clarinet and soprano saxophone; only on “Lucioles” does he play both, switching to the lower horn for the final snaking legato unison with Taborn. All the pieces are Sclavis originals except for three — “To Steve Lacy,” “Summer Worlds,” the closing “Eldorado” — which are credited to the full trio.

“La Visite,” the longest, slowest and most brooding piece in the set, stands as a kind of anomaly. Its harmony is unambiguous (A minor moving to E minor); Sclavis and Taborn blend beautifully on the mournful theme and Sclavis soon builds to a torrential, almost Coltrane-esque bass clarinet flight. “Lucioles,” far more abstract harmonically, finds Sclavis (on soprano) and Taborn urging each other on during the improv, while Rainey, in the eye of the storm, remains unperturbed. The trio chemistry is distinctive, the music more melodic than Taborn and Rainey’s work with Tim Berne in Hard Cell. There’s free-jazz fire at its heart, but also an elusive element of folk lyricism.

The following review appears in the November 2010 issue of All About Jazz-New York.

Odean Pope
Fresh Breeze (CIMP)
Odean’s List (In+Out)
Catalyst: The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1 & 2 (Porter)

By David R. Adler

Tenor saxophonist Odean Pope is a Philadelphia institution: a practice buddy of Coltrane’s in his youth, a sideman with Max Roach for 22 years, now a mentor to Philly’s up-and-comers and leader of a nine-horn saxophone choir, along with various small groups. Thanks to a steady flow of recent releases, we’re able to assess not only Pope’s busy present career, but also areas of his overlooked past.

On Fresh Breeze, a new quartet session for CIMP, Pope joins a crop of fellow Philadelphians: altoist Bobby Zankel, a local elder statesman in his own right; bassist Lee Smith, a versatile jazzer and former R&B session hand who happens to be Christian McBride’s father; and drummer Craig McIver, a supple hard-hitter who plays in Zankel’s progressive big band the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound.

It’s a hot, tumultuous ride, although Fresh Breeze sounds something like a good barroom recording — often a pitfall of CIMP’s spartan studio methods. The mix is all drums and too little bass, although we do hear Smith stretch a bit on the ballad “Morning Mist.” Pope and Zankel make an inspired pair, echoing Dewey Redman and Ornette Coleman on the open swing of the title cut, or perhaps Coltrane and Dolphy on the charged “Off If Not.” The uncommon rhythmic feels of “956” and the closing “Trilogy,” however, make this more than a freebop blowing session.

After Fresh Breeze, the improved audio of Odean’s List comes as a jolt. Here Lee Smith cuts right through and locks in with drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts on the vibrant opening sketch “Minor Infractions” and the uptempo “To the Roach.” Smith also takes the floor with a bass intro feature on “Phrygian Love Theme.” The octet setting (five horns and rhythm section) is reminiscent of Pope’s saxophone choir, although the brash trumpets of David Weiss and Terell Stafford push Odean’s List more in the direction of a little big band.

Again, hard-driving modern swing predominates; the album shares something in spirit with Warriors by The Cookers, another David Weiss-related project. But the Loesser/McHugh ballad “Say It Over and Over Again,” a 10-minute duet for tenor and bass, brings the temperature down a notch (and contrasts nicely with Azar Lawrence’s quartet version on Mystic Journey). The liner notes are by Archie Shepp, who engagingly brings us back to Philadelphia in the mid-1950s, when Pope was cutting his teeth and playing sessions with Reggie Workman, Lee Morgan and Hassan Ibn Ali, among others.

Jumping ahead to the early ’70s with Catalyst: The Complete Recordings, we hear an altogether different side of Pope. Playing tenor, flute, alto flute and even oboe, Pope sported the de rigueur afro of the day and worked in an exploratory electric vein with Eddie Green on Rhodes, Tyrone Brown on bass and Sherman Ferguson on drums. Catalyst’s many guests included Alphonso Johnson, Anthony Jackson and Billy Hart.

The band’s four Muse albums (Catalyst, Perception, Unity, A Tear and a Smile), recorded between 1972 and 1974, were first reissued in 1999 by the 32 Groove label, overseen by Mocean Worker (DJ Adam Dorn, son of Joel Dorn). Dorn put the matter of the group’s obscurity front and center by giving his two-disc package the title Catalyst: The Funkiest Band You Never Heard.

Indeed, Catalyst should be more widely known. Some of its work stacks up well next to Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi output. Even the fluffier tracks have the virtue of underscoring profound links between electric jazz and the Philadelphia soul sound that was then in full bloom.

The Florida-based Porter label, to its credit, has reissued the Catalyst inventory once again, but the harder-to-find 32 Groove package is still the one to get. It includes interviews with band members, original liner notes by Gary Giddins and other features. The Porter discs are far less informative; for one thing, they neglect to include recording dates.

What all of this material shows is that Odean Pope, with his bold, searching tenor sound, has always remained himself, regardless of time period or prevailing fashion.

In the November 2010 issue of All About Jazz-New York:

Facing one another on imposing Steinway grand pianos at the Miller Theatre (Oct. 9), Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn met for an evening billed as “Radically Unfinished: Works for Solo and Duo Piano.” The encounter flowed logically from their work together in Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory (they both appear on Far Side, Mitchell’s latest for ECM). But the fact that Iyer’s latest release, Solo, will soon be followed by Taborn’s solo piano debut for ECM made this summit all the more timely and evocative. The atmosphere of high seriousness was hard to miss: Neither player spoke a single word to the audience, and the program notes, rendered by the artists in quasi-academic prose, explained the “process-driven aesthetic” of the music. Yet through their pianos as well as their unpredictable stagecraft, Iyer and Taborn told an inviting story, in dovetailing languages of harsh dissonance, broad sustaining resonance and decay, looping rhythms and dynamic contrasts. Taborn was the more physical performer, his upper-body movements accruing into a kind of funk-informed ballet. In the midst of the third duo number, Iyer nonchalantly left the stage, allowing Taborn to finish the show’s first half. Reversing this, Iyer began the second half alone, and Taborn entered from the wings during Iyer’s second solo piece. Promptly, Taborn began to change the angles and emphases of Iyer’s work in progress, and one got an odd feeling: that in some sense, he’d been there all along. (David R. Adler)

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It takes confidence for a Boston-based tenor saxophonist to crack wise about the Yankees during a gig at the Kitano Hotel (Oct. 15). But if you’re Jerry Bergonzi, and you’re settling in for two nights with pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Dave Santoro and drummer Devin Drobka, a little swagger is justified. Bergonzi is among a class of modern horn players who tend to escape critical notice despite their prodigious gifts – a fact that seemed all the more salient during the burning midtempo opener, “Mr. MB” (a tribute to the far more celebrated Michael Brecker). “Obama,” another dedication, slowed the tempo a bit, but the tune’s “Afternoon in Paris” chord changes sustained a bright mood. “Casadiche” had a tricky structure, beginning as a ballad but shifting subtly to swing and back again during the solos, in a manner slightly reminiscent of Monk’s “Brilliant Corners.” Bergonzi and Barth took hard-swinging turns on “Awake” (based on “Moment’s Notice” changes), then pared down to a duo for “Crossing the Naeff” — a dark, contemplative piece with echoes of Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach. Then a nice surprise: drummer and friend Adam Nussbaum sat in on the closing “Table Stakes” (a “Stablemates” spinoff), immediately bringing a jam-session vibe to the room. Nussbaum hit hard but tossed in the sly, suggestive asides of a true veteran. Bergonzi, wanting to reciprocate this energy, turned from the audience and played his solo squarely in Nussbaum’s direction. (DA)

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