Monthly Archives: May 2010

May 28th Listings

Friday – I haven’t made it to Brooklyn Rod & Gun Club in Williamsburg, or heard The Bill Murray Experience in person yet, but the inclusion of Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton in the wryly named quartet makes this an easy pic. The 21-year-old Los Angeles born phenom plays banjo, guitar, harmonica and piano with masterful precision and humor, and dresses in the style of a Mississippi bluesman of the 1920’s. Come early for the BBQ and fish fry of the day’s catch from the East River courtesy of the North Brooklyn Boat club, seriously.

Also, Faruq Z. Bey, a stalwart of the Detroit avant-garde scene, anchors the Northwood Improvisers ensemble with a soulful tone and free-minded techniques. The improvisers make a rare NYC appearance at Issue Project Room in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn.

Saturday – The phenomenally talented and perennially overlooked pianist, saxophonist, drummer, composer Peter Apfelbaum brings his ebullient ensemble The New York Hieroglyphics to the Jazz Gallery.

Sunday – A half-century of near-continual touring and recording have done little to dampen the melodic sparkle of Ahmad Jamal’s crystalline piano lines. He’ll finish his three-night run at The Blue Note tonight.

Monday – Spend Memorial Day on the sunny banks of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn sampling the best in NYC street food. The Gowanus Food Truck Festival is an annual favorite for gourmands and casual tasters, and is a great representation of NYC’s continually evolving street food culture.

When you’ve had your fill of shawarma and gelato, head across the East River to the second annual John Coltrane Interstellar Space Tribute at The Local 269 in lower Manhattan. Recreating the format of Coltrane’s inimitable late masterpiece, a series of saxophone/drum duets by modern masters will summon the spirit of Coltrane and the late, great Rashid Ali.

Tuesday – The versatile and endlessly inventive guitarist Steve Cardenas brings his trio with bassist Ben Allison and Rudy Royston to The Jazz Standard.

Wednesday – Head on over to Jalopy on the border of Carroll Gardens and Red Hook in Brooklyn for their weekly Roots and Ruckus session. The music can be spotty, but lovers of blue grass and old-timey ballads will seldom be disappointed.

Thursday – Innovative trombonist Craig Harris sits down with Loren Schoenberg for lengthy conversation in the latest edition of Harlem Speaks at the Jazz Museum in Harlem. This series is always interesting, and the audience is usually informed and insightful as well. The Jazz Museum in Harlem is a gem; visit it whenever you get a chance.

Eskelin, Versace and Sorey in Times Square

IN a set of freewheeling improvisations and gutsy renditions of standards, Ellery Eskelin, Gary Versace, and Tyshawn Sorey cohered effortlessly at the Limerick Bar at Rosie O’Grady’s in Times Square on Monday. I’m tempted to call it the Ellery Eskelin trio, as his emotive tenor largely led the proceedings, but the music felt collective in the best sense of the word. Playing for a crowd that seemed an even mix of musicians, fans and lucky tourists, the free-minded unit balanced tradition and spontaneousness in a way that typifies great jazz, clashing only with bar’s wood-panelled walls and generally stuffy decor.

After an introduction by Roberto Romeo — owner of Roberto’s Woodwinds upstairs from O’Grady’s, and the sponsor of this promising concert series — Eskelin launched into a seemingly abstract exposition. It was a technique he would repeat throughout the set; in each case, Eskelin’s honking, wailing and slippery phrases served as an idiosyncratic introduction to a standard. It took about a minute for Jerome Kern’s Yesterdays to emerge from Eskelin’s discursive introduction, and his trio was quick to respond. Drummer Tyshawn Sorey cannily maintained the hushed, but focused mood with mallets on toms, and quickly turned the stick to added a wash of cymbal sound as Eskelin expounded on a condensed version of the theme.

Gary Versace’s Korg keyboard quickly established an insistent ostinato that hinted at changes, before falling into what can only be described as a syncopated drone. Versace’s lilting bass tones provided the perfect counterpoint to the rumbling exchange between Eskelin and Sorey, quickly bringing the whole pot to a boil. Like every selection during the set, the trio favored an episodic approach to Yesterdays. Furious improvisation gave way to completely abstract chords from Versace that seemed to open the sky for Eskelin’s meaty upper register, before the telepathic trio swung like hell through inspired solos from the leader, Versace and Sorey.

Throughout the set, the trio seamlessly blended old and new in ways that elicited telling reactions from the diverse audience. Saxophonist Michael Attias bobbed his head to jagged cross rhythms from his seat at the front of the audience, following and delighting in the trio’s masterful deconstruction of Monk’s Off Minor. The nine-minute take began with an exchange between Eskelin and an efforvescent Sorey, that featured a relatively straightforward reading of the melody over a seismically shifting drum beat. It’s almost criminal that this was my first time seeing Sorey in person — as he is ubiquitous in the scene that I have covered for five years now! — and he didn’t disappoint. Throughout the set, Sorey’s drumming evoked countless styles while always swinging. His dialogue with Eskelin on Off Minor was a highlight, stretching the beat one moment, only to mark the top of the chorus with downbeat crashes that summoned Dave Grohl, or John Bonham. His endlessly inventive phrases, and postmodern sensibility meshed perfectly with Eskelin and Versace, and one can only hope that this trio sticks together and records!

After rousing applause and a re-introdution of the band, Eskelin entered with another condensed solo, this time on the melody to Lover Come Back To Me. I’m not sure if it was the material or the Stan Getz record that played before the set began, but the saxophonist seemed to channel the elders in a way that I haven’t heard him do before in concert. The results were thrilling. Sighs and smiles greeted the breezy, masterful introduction to Lover, and developed into groans of pleasure when Sorey entered with an impossibly swinging brush beat. The exchange immediately conjured classic pairings — Getz and Haynes, Rollins and Philly Joe — and was heightened by Versace’s buoyant bass line. A perfect ending to a fantastic set, and a reaffirmation that swing and experimental jazz need not be mutually exclusive.

If you’re in Time Square this Monday, the 24th, check out The Princeton Jazz Quartet at 8pm, followed by Steve Wilson’s quartet at 10pm @ Rosy O’Grady’s Bar 149 West 46th Street (Between Broadway and Sixth Avenue). The cover is $20, but that includes both sets AND a drink. You can’t beat that these days, and you’ll be supporting the admirable goal of bringing jazz back to an area that has become a desert of commercialism and failed bombing attempts.

Tune Out?

It may seem like a strange title for a music blog, but I think it really captures what I’m going for here. Tune out: labels, genre, hype, money, preconceptions and Opt in: to interesting people, fresh sounds and compelling stories. As a journalist, I have covered a wide array of topics within the the NYC jazz community, but I am itching to break out. Don’t get me wrong, jazz in New York is an endlessly fascinating topic, one that I could cover for the rest of my life without ever coming up dry, but I want an outlet to cover anything I find compelling. tuneOUToptIN will focus on, but not be limited to, the coverage of music. I reserve the right to indulge in the occasional political screed, while exploring environmental, cultural, and culinary topics in the pursuit of the gem-like flame — to steal a favorite phrase from Walter Pater — that lies at the heart of all creative endeavors.

Everywhere I turn, it seems, I run into people that amaze me. I came to New York City in 2003 in search of these people, and found them in places I never intended. Foremost among them is my incredible partner Loretta Clayton, who opened up a world of beauty to me in the form of literature and ideas, before finally agreeing to go on a date with me. We’ve been together for almost three years now, and I am a better person for every second we’ve been together. At The New School, I was lucky to study with some of my favorite musicians — Michael Blake, Frank Kimbrough, Gerry Hemingway, Dave Glasser, among many others — and the great music writer Howard Mandel who edited my work, and introduced me to an incredible array of music.

In 2005, I began working for Hawthorne Valley Farm, at the Union Square Greenmarket. There I met people who were passionate about food, culture and the arts, and who turned me on to many of the ideas that now figure prominently into my life. My farmer’s market friends introduced me to the wonders of fermentation, biodynamic farming, homebrewing; they lent me books that changed my life, and radically altered my views on food, a subject I had never given much thought to. Food politics — for lack of a better term — along with agricultural and environmental issues will be recurring topics on this blog, and I hope to feature some of the people who have inspired me over the years.

In his beautiful book Becoming Native To This Place (The University Press of Kentucky, 1994), Wes Jackson wryly criticizes American universities for offering “upward mobility majors,” and suggests a “homecoming major” as a way to counterbalance the trend. “Little attention is paid to educating the young to return home, or to go some other place, and dig in,” he opines. While I’m sure it’s not what Jackson had in mind, I relate to this idea. For me, it took the first formative years in New York, and the incredible people I met, to allow me look at my hometown of Medford, NJ, and the broader world with a fresh perspective. I appreciate my hometown in a new and, I think, deeper way. I’m interested in its history in a way I wasn’t when all I wanted to do was leave for New York, and I have met fascinating people who were there all along, like my good friend Al Celenza. The same perspective has allowed me to look at the broader country and world and know that there is so much out there: so many stories, perspectives and surprises. I’m not sure I can dig in the way Wes Jackson suggests, but I’d like to experience places, people, and music in a way that is deeply committed, and hopefully unconventional.

Tune out, opt in. I think that pretty well sums it up.

Thanks for reading.