New York at Night

From the April 2014 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.

Photo: John Rogers

Photo: John Rogers

The clarinet looms large in Chris Speed’s work, though he spent the first two nights of his residency at the Stone solely on tenor saxophone. In the last of four trio sets with bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Dave King (Mar. 12), Speed focused mainly on music from his new Skirl release Really OK, sitting in a low chair with the bell of the horn far away from the mic. “It’s nice to play some swing music here at the Stone,” he said after a loping, slower-than-usual reading of John Coltrane’s “26-2” came to a close. “All of Me,” the similarly relaxed and swinging finale, was also something you wouldn’t expect under this downtown roof. But the opener, a brief and agitated take on Albert Ayler’s “Spirits,” fit like a glove. Regardless of source material, the trio brought to bear a unified aesthetic, rooted in Speed’s dark tenor sound and exploratory phrasing. There were two originals from the album played back to back: first the slowly churning 5/4 vehicle “Takedown” and then the brighter “Argento,” prefaced by King’s incendiary intro on drums. “Transporter,” set up by Tordini with resonant double-stops, harmonics and other textures, came from the book of a different project: Speed’s yeah NO, a quartet slated for the following night. Some six more lineups would play before Speed’s residency ran its course, so the Really OK trio seemed a fine way to limber up. Its loose and effortless interaction, broad dynamic contrasts and controlled wild streak played to Speed’s strengths and got at something vital about his artistry. (David R. Adler)


Noah Baerman “Know Thy Self” Jazz Suite.Relationships run deep in pianist Noah Baerman’s Jazz Samaritan Alliance, even if the sextet’s Jazz Gallery engagement (Mar. 13) was the first live gig of its existence. Celebrating the release of Ripples (Lemel), Baerman opened with the expansive “Motherless” — based on the spiritual “Motherless Child” — and called upon the prodigious talents of vibraphonist Chris Dingman, alto saxophonist Kris Allen, tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, bassist Henry Lugo and drummer Johnathan Blake. There were rubato passages, unaccompanied spots and tight restatements of the theme, animated by a strutting feel and horn harmonies that recalled classic Blue Note. Baerman’s “Peeling the Onion” was funkier, moderately paced, full of rhythmic intricacy and harmonic ambiguity. Guest flutist Erica von Kleist brought an emotional connection to the 3/4 ballad “The Healer,” forming a mini horn section with Allen and Escoffery and venturing her own solo just before Baerman’s. Two vignettes, “Ripple: Persistence” and “Ripple: Brotherhood,” featured modified lineups. The first was a boppish quartet feature for the virtuosic Allen while the second took an atmospheric turn, with Escoffery’s soprano sax guiding (and Allen sitting out). “Zaneta,” from Dingman’s album Waking Dreams, closed the first set in a decisively swinging mood, with Escoffery blowing fiercely once again. As intent as Baerman was on sharing the spotlight, he did plenty to light up the music with his lyricism, drive and confident touch at the keys.(DA)

From the January 2014 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.

GeorgeColeman3When the George Coleman New Octet began its second set at Jazz Standard (Dec. 11), one band member wasn’t easily visible: George Coleman. The veteran tenor saxophonist began his solo on “Waltzing Westward” and revealed his position, seated in a chair on the floor just off the bandstand. Though he played a diminished role next to five other horns — as well as eminent pianist Harold Mabern — Coleman still put himself forward as a player and conductor. His feature on “Body and Soul” was illuminating, though fellow tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander took the melody out and claimed some cadenza space of his own. Despite a flubbed transition or two, the band was impressive in its handling of big and broad harmonies, polished soli sections and genuinely surprising tempo changes. With Gary Smulyan on baritone saxophone, Alexander McCabe on alto, Adam Brenner on tenor and Bill Mobley on trumpet, the band didn’t lack for surefooted soloists, though it was hard to equal Mabern, whose driving attack and harmonic intelligence was a master class in itself. In the rhythm section were bassist Leon Dorsey and drummer George Coleman, Jr. — the younger Coleman not only swinging but sharing on-mic duties with his father, verbally setting up Ned Otter’s “Nothing But the Blues, Part 1.” This midtempo charger, with chromatic substitutions on the blues form, paired with Frank Foster’s “Square Knights of the Round Table” (another modern blues) to close the night with the band at its peak.           (David R. Adler)


mmotel_m2It was right of guitarist Matthew Stevens to utter profanity when describing the cold snowy weather just outside ShapeShifter Lab (Dec. 8). But without further ado the Toronto native got to work, kicking off a strong quintet set with pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Vicente Archer, drummer Eric Doob and percussionist Paolo Stagnaro. Stevens is quite capable of rocking out and lending an electric charge to the music of Christian Scott, Ben Williams, Erimaj, Next Collective and others. But his tone at ShapeShifter was clean and straightforward, from the opening “Processional” with its busy melodic line to the closing “Ashes,” which omitted Clayton and featured the drums-percussion unit more overtly. Stagnaro was not there simply for added color: his rhythmic assertions and subtle textures meshed with Doob’s precise, funky traps to define the music from the ground up. Clayton, too, was vibrant and essential, doubling on Rhodes and combining acoustic and electric at the same time on “Sunday,” a dreamy David Bowie cover. Some of the intricacy in Stevens’ sound and phrasing got obscured in the mix, though overall the instruments were clear and balanced. The guitar solos blazed, but despite the blizzard of notes one could sense how Stevens edits himself and listens deeply to the band. On “Grown-Ups” he followed Clayton’s rousing acoustic turn with a statement of utmost fluidity and taste. The music had its busy and aggressive side but also an atmosphere of melodic calm, of breath and space. (DA)

From the December 2013 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.

When cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and his sextet finished their first set at the Jazz Gallery (November 9th), someone from the venue reached up to put a delicate framed photograph on the wall. “Did we knock that down?” Bynum joked, but the thought was plausible: his band rose to room-shaking levels, particularly during the feral alto saxophone solos of Jim Hobbs. In some of the written passages, however, Hobbs brought a flute-like sensitivity, meshing with Bynum and tuba/bass trombonist Bill Lowe in moments full of warmth and subtle color. (The horn players all wore fedoras, which was part of the vibe.) The work, “Navigation (Possibility Abstract XVII),” lasted the full set and would change significantly in the next set (“Possibility Abstract XVIII,” Bynum explained). This is the method of Navigation (Firehouse 12), the sextet’s new release, which spans two CDs and two LPs yet includes just one piece, played four times. Each reading has common elements but a radically different outcome. A band needs a strong identity to pull this off, but with guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Tomas Fujiwara completing the lineup, strength was no issue. The Halvorson-Lowe pairing was rich — Bynum was smart to have them play unison lines, fresh and unexpected. Fujiwara balanced complete freedom with undulating groove and never overpowered the room. Filiano offered not just low-end foundation but a contrapuntal voice, introducing new sounds throughout the journey. (David R. Adler)


Since the inception of Brian Blade’s Fellowship Band, pianist and cofounder Jon Cowherd has forged a distinctive sound as one of its principal composers. With Mercy (ArtistShare), Cowherd’s debut as a leader, he gives that poignant, reflective sound an even fuller spotlight. More than ever, he also shows his range and hard-swinging fervor as a pianist, as was evident at Dizzy’s Club (November 11th), where he took the stage with guitarist Mike Moreno, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Rudy Royston. The quartet played with such fire and polish that one didn’t miss the bigger names on the album itself (Bill Frisell, John Patitucci, Brian Blade). The compositions were elaborate and beautifully conceived, beginning with the uptempo “The Columns” and moving right into the sweeping three-part “Mercy Suite.” The tension-filled “Newsong” began as a Royston feature but also gave Moreno and the leader room to stretch. Cowherd ended with a nod to his New Orleans past (he’s a Kentucky-born Loyola alum), offering the gospel-tinged “Poor Folks,” an Allen Toussaint number from 1971. This was the quartet at its rockingest — one riff sort of brought to mind Deep Purple. But just before that, “Surrender’s Song” highlighted Cowherd’s harmonic approach at its most moving and poetic. He and Moreno voiced the slow rubato theme in flowing unison, evoking a lonely mood that contrasted with the set’s more aggressive New York moments. Hopefully it’s all a sign of more Cowherd-led projects in years to come. (DA)

From the November 2013 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.

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 “Ängsudden Abstracts” 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)

From the September 2013 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.

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)

From the August 2013 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.

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)

From the July 2013 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.

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)

From the June 2013 issue of The New York City Jazz Record:

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)

From the May 2013 issue of The New York City Jazz Record:

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)

From the April 2013 issue of The New York City Jazz Record:

It’s clear right away that pianist Fred Hersch’s “My Coma Dreams” is not a typical concert experience. Hersch premiered the “jazz theater” piece in New Jersey in 2011; the new production at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre (March 2) was altered but substantially similar. Narrator-vocalist Michael Winther portrayed both Hersch and his partner, Scott Morgan, describing the composer’s near-death experience from complications of AIDS. When he sang, Winther brought us inside the dream world that Hersch inhabited while unconscious for six weeks. Hersch played with a calm and luminous authority, fronting a midsized ensemble of reeds, brass, strings and rhythm conducted by Gregg Kallor (with standout solos from tenorist Adam Kolker, altoist Bruce Williamson and trumpeter Ralph Alessi). The music floated largely free of genre, although bassist John Hébert and drummer John Hollenbeck ensured that it swung when needed on episodes such as “Dream of Monk” and “Jazz Diner.” Winther was drowned out a couple of times by the band — something that didn’t happen at the premiere — but otherwise the sound was pristine. Hersch’s solitary piano on “The Boy” and Joyce Hammann’s viola feature on “Brussels” were simply stunning. In detailing a medical trauma, the show arrived at moving insights on life, love and the human condition. One haunting line in “The Knitters” took on multiple meanings as it was repeated: “We end as we begin.” (David R. Adler)


From the loopy, elliptical way that drummer Billy Hart addressed the second-set crowd at Dizzy’s (March 14), it was easy to see how at home he feels with the members of his working quartet — tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Ben Street. Continuing in the exploratory vein of All Our Reasons, the band’s extraordinary 2012 debut for ECM, Hart shifted his focus to new music — some of which could appear on a follow-up for ECM in the works. “Yard,” based on the Charlie Parker blues “Cheryl,” was wide open harmonically (after his venturesome turn, Iverson got off the bench and let Turner solo without chords). Hart’s “Amethyst,” radically reworked from its early ’90s origins, grew from slow atmospheric rubato to raging dissonance, at last falling into tempo for an elegant written theme and finish. “Motional,” another earlier Hart composition, took on an easygoing Caribbean lilt, while Iverson’s “Neon,” from the 2006 HighNote release Quartet, closed the set in a 12/8 feel full of urgency and tension. Turner and Iverson showed a fearsome rapport on the pianist’s “Big Trees,” trading full choruses on rhythm changes, mostly without bass. Turner’s contribution, the lyrical midtempo swinger “Sonnet for Stevie” — “dig that,” remarked Hart when he said the title — highlighted the leader’s ability to reorient the conversation with a perfectly placed accent, a drop in ride cymbal volume, just the right thing in the moment. The time ebbed and flowed but never wavered. (DA)

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