Archive for the ‘Show reviews’ Category

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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‘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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A Weekend with Vijay

Last weekend I saw one of my favorites, pianist Vijay Iyer, in two different settings. First, on Saturday in an electrified set with legendary pianist Geri Allen and trumpeter Graham Haynes at the Stone and then on Sunday a free show at the MoMA with his regular trio showcasing a new suite of music. I’ve spoken about Vijay Iyer, particularly the trio with Stephan Crump and Marcus Gilmore, before, usually in a highly laudatory fashion. I think these shows deserve  a bit of attention as well, particularly the first one, because they hint at what future Vijay output may look like. All in all, I’d say prospects look good.

The first show took place under Geri Allen’s curatorship at the The Stone. The stone is a fascinating experiment in live music created by John Zorn, one of the most dynamic figures in music that I can think of. Zorn is something of a lunatic genius whose musical output is staggering. Every genre from avant garde, free jazz of both the melodic and honking and screeching varieties, electronic music and modern classical to surf rock and exotica has seen Zorn’s touch at some point in his career. As you might imagine, not all of those genres are particularly lucrative and Zorn travels in circles of musicians and artists that can’t always find accepting spaces to perform. Enter the Stone. A totally non-profit space in Alphabet City, The Stone is dedicated to experimental music and is musician focused. The music charges, light though they are, go entirely to the musicians themselves. The club is supported entirely through donations and monthly ‘Improv Nights’ lead by Zorn himself, which basically amount to rent parties. There is no food or drink, just music.

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Spark: Soulive and Karl Denson

Krasno, Denson, Neal Evans

A bit of a change of pace this time. Friday night I saw the spectacular funk collective Soulive with featured guest/collaborator wind player extroardinaire Karl Denson. They played in honor of their recent release, ‘Spark‘, which in turn is in honor of guitarist Melvin Sparks, who apparently had a hand in creating acid jazz. They had it at a new venue for me, the City Winery, which makes this first time I’ve seen Soulive in a venue where most everyone was seated and not up and dancing. Which may actually be a good thing. Last time I saw them, I didn’t stretch properly ahead of time and pulled something awful in my back from all the grooving I did. I have a gallery of pictures, at least those that came out, here. Quick notes on the show after the break.

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Show review double (triple) header: Chris Potter and Chucho Valdes

On both Thursday and Friday I got a chance to see some pretty good shows. On Thursday, the Chris Potter Quartet with Marcus Gilmore on drums, Joe Martin on bass and David Virelles on piano at the Vanguard (my second home apparently) and on Friday Chucho Valdes and the Afro-Cuban Messengers with the Alfredo Rodriguez trio as an opening act. Both had some great moments. Chris First

Chris Potter is one of the more impressive saxophonists you can see live nowadays. The quartet pretty much delivered exactly what I was expecting it to. With the exception of one standard, ‘Stardust’, all new tunes, most of which were not even titled yet. Chris’ compositions always have a great feel; he’s so comfortable rhythmically, he can do all sorts of really interesting stuff and make it feel so natural. He can imbue a song in 13/4 with a groove. Neither Joe Martin on the bass nor Marcus Gilmore on the drums got enough time to really stretch out. Martin only took one solo, on ‘Stardust’, and it was killer. Gilmore, who also only took one ‘solo’ (although he had a relatively forward presence in the sound of the band) turned out to be a real highlight. He has such a lyrical feel for the drums. If Jeff Ballard with Brad Mehldau was a case where a drum solo was technically impressive but difficult to sit through, Gilmore’s solo was deceptively simple sounding but eminently enjoyable to hear, like he was composing a piece rather than just showing off his chops (which he has in spades as well).

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Reverie: Tom Harrell Chamber Ensemble at the Jazz Standard

Tom Harrell conducting the Chamber Ensemble. Photo credit: William Stone

I am usually pretty skeptical of ‘with strings’ type acts. Obviously the model is Charlie Parker’s “With Strings” album, an album I have always strongly disliked. I don’t think Bird really needed the saccharine, overly lush arrangements behind him. Really, my problem isn’t with the strings, but how they’re used. On “With Strings”, the strings are a bit of tacked on arrangement that don’t really interact with the music meaningfully. On, say, Michael Brecker’s “Wide Angles”, however, I think the strings are used really well. The strings are an integral part of the band, filling out the rhythm section in the absence of a piano. Chris Potter’s “Song For Anyone” works the same way. And what’s really great is that the strings actually take solos there! Marc Feldman is a supremely talented violinist; I love his work on both Potter and Brecker’s albums as well as in John Zorn’s Bar Kokhba band and on in his own. I have a special appreciation for Tom Harrell. In particular, I have found the last three quintet albums (with Wayne Escoffery on saxophone, Danny Grissett on piano and Rhodes, Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Jonathan Blake on drums) consistently satisfying. Last night at the Jazz Standard, this quintet was expanded into the Tom Harrell Chamber Ensemble with violin, cello and flute, and despite my misgivings about such groups in general, I decided to not pass up an opportunity to see Tom live. Happily, while I may actually have preferred to see him with just the quintet, it was a great show. More after the break. Read more…

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