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Archive for August, 2012

Enfants Terribles at the Blue Note

Lee Konitz with Enfants Terribles

Lee Konitz with Enfants Terribles

Last year a leaderless meeting of the minds type pick up band convened at the Blue Note under the name ‘Enfants Terribles’. This last week, Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Gary Peacock and Joey Baron were back at the Blue Note, perhaps in anticipation of an upcoming album release. The album, recorded during last year’s stint is due out in late September but was available for sale at the shows, so this will serve as a sort of sneak peek of that as well.

The band first came together with basically no prior discussion or practice, they simply showed up at the soundcheck for their first gig and started to play. Playing only standards, they could simply start things up and see where they go. As a result the band feels like a pick up band at a jam session, loose in feel, loose in organization and with no set list. But, this is the pick-up band of the century at the jam session of the masters and rather than sounding ill-prepared they sounded loose, natural and confident as only comes with age. (Between Konitz and Peacock alone there’s already more than a century of experience at the highest levels in the band.) Again playing only standards, Lee announced that at the second set they would “play all the same songs, but with different solos”, they ambled through the classics with a grace and sense of swing only rarely witnessed.

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Mojo’s Return: E.J Strickland quintet and Smalls

Marcus Strickland and Jaleel Shaw

Marcus Strickland and Jaleel Shaw, the frontline of the E.J Strickland Quintet at Smalls jazz club.

Last night saw us traveling to one of the last true jazz clubs, Smalls. Other venues may showcase jazz playing musicians, but I am wary to actually call them ‘jazz clubs’. The modern Birdland, which is spacious, comfortable even, and glitzy looking is more like a restaurant-bar that happens to feature jazz. The Jazz Standard is an appendage to the barbecue place Blue Smoke, and while the spectacular BBQ is certainly an incentive to go, comforts like food (or space) distract from the music. Smalls, on the other hand, has no pretensions to being anything it isn’t. It’s all about the music, everything else be damned. That includes not only such unnecessaries as glitz and food but also comfort and visibility. While I may not have been comfortable squeezed in next to a random stranger, and while I may not have been able to see the drummer-leader E.J Strickland through the frontline, my experience was wholly positive. The place exudes attitude and the music was excellent. Somehow I managed to never go to Smalls until very recently, a wonder given how great the calendar looks, and this was only my second time at the club. A great time it was though.

As I just now alluded, providing the excellent music was E.J Strickland leading a quintet made up of his brother Marcus on tenor and soprano saxophones, Jaleel Shaw on alto saxophone, Luis Perdomo on piano and Linda Oh on bass. Seated in the second row, I could see neither E.J nor Linda Oh on a regular basis, but I was in prime position to take it all in.

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Categories: Show reviews Tags: ,

Weekly round up: Jarrett and Marsalis

Keith Jarrett's 'Sleeper'Yesterday saw two relatively high profile releases. First a two disc archival release of a Keith Jarrett concert in Japan from 1979. Sleeper showcases Jarrett with Jan Garbarek on saxophones, Palle Danielsson on bass and Jon Christensen on drums, his ‘European Quartet’ (to distinguish it from Jarrett’s other 70’s quartet, his ‘American Quartet’ with Dewey Redman on saxophone, Charlie Haden on bass and Paul Motian). Jarrett’s recent career has been filled with albums I find sort of disappointing (either tending towards aimless abstraction as many recent solo piano performances have been or rendered practically unlistenable by his loud, frequent, and very well miked vocalizations), but this is the most enjoyable Jarrett release in recent memory. Perhaps the most enjoyable since the days of the two great quartets themselves. This is a band captured in its prime, both exciting and, luckily, not so dense as to be unaccessible.

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Nostalgia and progression: Ravi Coltrane and John Abercrombie

Ravi Coltrane's new 'Spirit Fiction'What it must be like for Ravi Coltrane as a saxophone player. An easy refrain I’ve been known to fall back on when describing albums that were good but not truly exceptional is “It wasn’t quite ‘A Love Supreme’, but…” I can imagine a phrase like that must have added weight for the son of John Coltrane, who, even more than all saxophonists, probably lives under the shadow of his father. John Coltrane’s is a particularly difficult legacy to live up to because he is remembered not merely as a truly talented player but as an innovator who changed the the way that people approach music forever. It is this particularly challenging legacy, that of musical innovator, that Ravi has chosen to try and live up to, and up to now, he has been fairly successful at it. He has established himself as a very capable member of the current generation of tenor saxophonists, at home both in his own material and in reinterpreting the classics (including a fascinating, odd meter take on his father’s 26-2). A few weeks ago he came out with a new album, ‘Spirit Fiction‘, which seeks to continue the process of innovation.

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‘On Sacred Ground’: The Bad Plus do the ‘Rite of Spring’

The Bad Plus during 'On Sacred Ground'This must be the week of great free music. First Vijay on sunday, then Christian aTunde Adjuah on Tuesday and then last night the Bad Plus performed a free show as part of Lincoln Center’s fabulous ‘Lincoln Center Out of Doors‘ series. The centerpiece of the Bad Plus performance was their ambitious take on Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’, which they title “On Sacred Ground”. This was a piece commissioned by Duke University and until now never played before in New York. I think it goes without saying that it was a fascinating show. Apparently, many people agreed with me. The Damrosch Park Bandshell was packed, with maybe 2000 people sitting and more standing in the back.

Opening up the festivities was the American debut of the German Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble. Their music read something like a modernist classical composer’s take on club electronic dance music. It was beat heavy with a drummer and a handful of percussionists going steady and with Moog synthesized bass sounds rounding out the incessant bottom end. At center in each piece was the piano, generally playing a repeated pattern or groove. Over that were clever, sparse touches of string, brass and harp. As an aesthetic choice and experiment in genre melding it was fascinating, if not necessarily the sort of music I would choose to listen to every day. A few photos of their setup (as well as the photo gallery for the Bad Plus) can be found here. More on the Bad Plus after the break.

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Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

Tuesday saw the release of one of my absolute most anticipated albums so far this year: trumpet player Christian Scott’s new album, Christian aTunde Adjuah. The album seeks to continue the growth and maturity on display in 2010’s spectacular Yesterday You Said Tomorrow. I’ve been listening to Christian for years now and with each album my enthusiasm has grown. His 2006 major label debut, “Rewind That”, presaged great things to come. It bore the marks of a debut effort and lacked a clear sense of purpose but it introduced us to a group of musicians who were clearly ready to push boundaries and work towards something new and unique. 2007’s “Anthem” was were things started to  gel, the band clicked and the result was an album that knew what it wanted to do. “Yesterday You Said Tomorrow”, however, blew it away. Only rarely do we get albums that exhibit not only so much musicianship, but such raw, affecting passion. Basically every track on that album grabbed you; you could love it, you could hate it, but you couldn’t ignore it. “Yesterday You Said Tomorrow” quickly became one of my all time favorite albums, on the top 25 list next to the Coltrane and Shorter albums. Christian has adopted a new name, but the music hasn’t  lost even one iota of power. “Christian aTunde Adjuah” continues what “Yesterday You Said Tomorrow” left off, but over two discs this time. I suppose that means it may be twice as good.

To celebrate the album’s release, Christian spent some time in the Apple store in Soho, first in conversation with jazz commentator Ashley Kahn and then with  a performance, both to be released as a podcast on iTunes for free. It was great to hear Christian talk about his growth as a musician, the development of his sound and this album more specifically, and, as it turns out, he is clearly an intelligent commentator on both music and social issues. The performance was also highly enjoyable; they are an energetic band, doubly engaging seen live.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah in conversation with Ashley Kahn

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah in conversation with Ashley Kahn

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Categories: New albums Tags: