Monthly Archives: July 2010

Hermeto Pascoal’s Música Universal

I am very excited to have been given the opportunity to write the cover story for the current edition of All About Jazz-New York on Hermeto Pascoal. The paper hits the streets tomorrow! The edition is already on the AAJ-NY website, so I thought I would post the link here, in case you can’t pick up a hard copy.  I will post the unedited and uncut version here very soon, but in the mean time, check it out here.

Meet Me at Jalopy

I’m as surprised as many of my friends are that I’ve been haunting the Jalopy Theater in Red Hook over the past couple months. I first heard of the place through my friend Leslie Henkel, whose boyfriend Don was recording a coterie of the neo-folk and pre-prewar pickers who take the stage each Wednesday for the popular Roots & Ruckus series, and my first inclination was to decline. It just wasn’t my thing.

They, along with my friend Glenn Robinson, persisted and I eventually made it to the theater/music school on a Wednesday night last spring. I can’t recall the exact lineup, but the performers were gloriously diverse, approaching old time music from every conceivable direction.  Blues picker Hubby Jenkins drew me in with dulcet guitar tones and honeyed vocals, but it was his preternatural, laconic delivery that made me a true believer. This wasn’t hipster posturing or studied naivete. Though the talent can be mixed, the best performers, like Jenkins, and Jalopy regulars Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton and Craig Judelman, transcend their archaic material by connecting with the audience on a purely performative level.  “I don’t care too much for thinking about the past,” remarked multi-instrumentalist Frank Fairfield in a feature in LA Weekly last fall. “The truth is just another story. You can remember it any way you want; it’s never gonna’ be the same twice.” And it never is at Jalopy, despite the fact that Fairfield and Paxton — who performed together there last Tuesday — play, dress, act, and speak like apparitions from a nearly-forgotten past.

Multi-instrumentalist and singer Salvatore Geloso — a Jalopy regular when he’s not riding the rails or hitchhiking to the west coast — sees the old-time tradition in more post-modern light. “I never want to stop ascending the staircase,” he remarked, explaining the origin of his band’s name, “Up Up We Go!”. “I want to draw from the well of previous things that have died and decomposed, and still go back and fill our cups up, rekindling the old because it resonates with so many people, but my goal is to keep going different places with the style.” Somewhere in the course of my interview with Geloso, his bandmate Eli Dworkin and their friends — who were all busy decorating paper cd sleeves for Up Up We Go!’s self-produced debut — the term gypsy punk emerged to describe the restless, gutteral, but decidedly melodic and lilting music on their eponymous record. The term is probably as close as you’ll get to pigeonholing Geloso’s slippery music, which combines elements of punk, funk, noise, eastern European folk music, caberet, and opera into a deeply unconventional whole.

In the coming month, I hope to transcribe the interviews I have done with Jalopy musicians and share them here. I will also be profiling some of the great musicians I have met there over the course of the last six months, so keep checking back.

July 24th Listings

Saturday – Frequent duo partners Pianist Connie Crothers and bassist Michael Bisio decided to record one of their frequent sessions at Crothers’ Williamsburg loft last year. The results were magical, and released this year on the Mutable Music label. They will revisit the format at The Stone tonight, in what promises to be a riveting reunion.

Sunday – Saxophonist Michael Blake will debut some new music at the 55 Bar with his new quartet, a group that includes pianist Landon Knoblock, bassist Michael Bates, and drummer Greg Ritchie.

Monday – If you can’t beat the heat, at least hear some beautiful music. The elegant and incisive pianist Armen Donelian will take the stage in Bryant Park at 12:30 PM for a free concert.

Tuesday – While I have never hear the band This Sporting Life, the inclusion of the multireedist Josh Sinton and Myk Freedman — who played lapsteel beautifully when I went to school with him; you’ve got to love him just for that, right? — makes this an easy pick. The show is at Douglass Street Music Collective in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, so go out and hear some new music at a venue that deserves, and needs, your support. I’ll see you there.

Wednesday – Two women — guitarist Mary Halvorson and multi-instrumentalist Ikue Mori — who are continually redefining and reinvigorating improvisation play back to back at the Whitney Museum. Halvorson is the relative newcomer, but has been a force on the NYC creative music scene for the last 5 years. Mori has been a fixture since the late 1970’s when she emerged with the likes of the seminal downtown group DNA; today, she applies her considerable skills to laptop loops and electronic drones. Catch Halvorson at 1 PM followed by Mori at 4.

Thursday – Pianist Joanne Brackeen is a specialist when it comes to thorny rhythms and group interplay, but she is also a skilled ballad interpreter. Catch her compelling post-bop quartet — featuring bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Johnathan Blake — at the Jazz Standard tonight.

Friday – John Zorn hosts an improv night at The Stone featuring virbraphonist and pianist Karl Berger, multireedist Scott Robinson, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, multi-instrumentalist Ikue Mori, drummer Greg Cohen and other guests. Not to be missed.

July 17th Listings

Saturday – Hip hop and spoken-word artist TK Wonder will perform at Central Park Summerstage with a band featuring drummer Ben Perowsky’s Moodswing orchestra and saxophonist Michael Blake. The show starts at around 1pm.

Sunday – For decades, Trio 3 — comprised of alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, bassist Reggie Workman, and drummer Andrew Cyrille — has proven that an avant-garde all-star group can be more than the sum of its considerable parts.Tonight, the bassist Mark Helias will sub for Workman, at 8pm at the Museum of Modern Art in midtown.

Monday – Drummer Scott Neumann bring his Trio Sante — featuring saxophonist Michael Blake — a master of the trio setting — and the propulsive Mark Heliasto Small’s in the west village.

Tuesday – The Brooklyn-based bluegrass group, The Dustbusters, take the stage at The Jalopy Theater in Red Hook for their only performance in NYC this summer. If you haven’t been to Jalopy, this is the perfect opportunity to hear the new generation of pickers and singers that have made Brooklyn home in the past few years. In addition to fiddler Craig Judleman and multi-instrumentalist Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton — two Brooklyn-based phenoms — the group will also be joined by Frank Fairfield, a twenty-something bluegrass wonder from Los Angeles.

Wednesday – I’ve listed The Jalopy Theater’s weekly Roots & Ruckus series before, but it deserves another shout-out this week, for the inclusion of multi-instrumentalist and singer Salvatore Geloso, whose bracing falsetto and lyrical double entendres defy categorization. Rumor has it that Geloso is skipping town for the west coast by August, so catch him here, while you can.

Thursday – It’s safe to say  that the komungo, a zither-like instrument from Korea, hasn’t yet found it’s place in the jazz pantheon, but Jin Hi Kim has made significant inroads in introducing the evocative instrument to American audiences in the last decade  with the likes of Billy Bang and William Parker. Tonight, she will join drummer Gerry Hemingway for a duo performace at The Stone.

Friday – An undisputed master of prepared piano — an endless variety of techniques for manipulating the piano’s stings to produce otherworldy sounds — Denman Maroney will perform in a duo with French cellist and composer Emmanuel Cremer at I-Beam in Brooklyn.

July 10th Listings

Saturday – The first-annual Albert Ayler Festival is taking over a park on Roosevelt Island from 2-10pm today. Featuring the likes of Marshall Allen, Gunter Hampel, Charles Gayle, William Hooker and Sabir Mateen, the rain-or-shine tribute festival seems poised to become one the most important avant-garde jazz events of the year.

Sunday – Multi-reedist Andy Laster brings his Sounds Of Cairo band to Barbes in Park Slope, Brooklyn. With Sounds Of Cairo, the free-minded Laster has focused on the 1920’s Cairo cafe scene for compositional inspiration. He’ll be joined by Curtis Hasselbring on trombone, Erik Friedlander on cello and Kermit Driscoll on bass.

If you’re in the city, legendary multi-instrumentalist, AACM founding member, and member of the revolutionary Art Ensemble of Chicago, Joseph Jarman will join guitarist — and the bandleader for this gig — John Ehlis and pianist John Smart at the 5C Cultural Center on the Lower East Side.

Monday – Well into his ninth decade, saxophonist Marshall Allen continues to tour the world to spread the interstellar gospel of his longtime employer, the pianist Sun Ra. Allan will be at Alice Tully Hall tonight, leading the Sun Ra Horns.

Also, if you can stand the less-than-ideal setting of an Irish bar on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, head to Spike Hill for a night of music from some up-and-coming Brooklyn improvisers. Guitarist, composer Bruce Holmberg leads off, followed by pianst Landon Knoblock’s Realistic Band — featuring saxophonists Oscar Noriega and Noah Preminger — and the Matt Snow Group.

Tuesday – Jenny Sheinman brings a welcome modernist flair to the violin in the groups of Bill Frisell and bassist Ben Allison. Recently, she has toured and recorded as a leader with compelling results. Her quartet, with guitarist Nels Cline, bassist Todd Sickafoose and drummer Jim Black, begin a three-night run at the Village Vanguard.

Wednesday – Innovative saxophonists Jane Ira Bloom and Matana Roberts lead a sextet called s/p(l)ace with the sympathetic, but dynamic backing by Dave Taylor, Jin Hi Kim, Mark Helias, and Gerry Hemingway.

Thursday – Creative Music Studio cofounders and husband and wife team Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso are curating at The Stone this month. Tonight, Berger’s serene, but searching vibes and piano will be supported by long-time musical partners, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Barry Altschul.

Friday – If you ever had the chance to be two places at once, tonight would be the night. At 8pm, saxophonist Ellery Eskelin plays duo with long-time compatriot Gerry Hemingway. At the same time, across the East River, the brilliant British saxophonist John Butcher begins a solo set at Issue Project Room.

Connie Crothers Speaks

Going through an old notepad today, I found some great quotes from pianist Connie Crothers that I had scribbled down during her Harlem Speaks interview with journalist Ted Pankin at The Jazz Museum in Harlem last January. I didn’t know a whole lot about Crothers before this, but after the exhaustive two-hour conversation and Q&A session with the knowledgeable audience, I felt like I had known her and her boundless music for years. The Jazz Museum in Harlem is a national treasure and the bi-weekly, free Harlem Speaks series is adding immeasurably to the oral history of jazz.

On jazz inflection: “Every note is unique. Each is an individual being.”

“This music has no boundaries. It is alive for all time. It’s the expression of unbounded human life.”

Paraphrasing her mentor Lennie Tristano’s philosophy: “Jazz is not a style. It’s a feeling.”

“This music is sociable. When we play together, we talk.”

“I don’t separate the physical from the feeling.”

“Our music in not shutting down! In fact, it’s expanding.”

“I predict a jazz renaissance.”

On improvisation: “Rather than stretching out from the changes, you stretch out from the melody.”

And, my favorite: “I see jazz as the immune system of humanity.”

Meshuggah For Uri Caine

I know I can speak for a large number of jazz lovers of my generation — 20-somethings — when I say how hard it was to find my way to the music. Growing up in small-town New Jersey, I felt a long way from the the diverse music scenes of New York City and Philadelphia;  jazz barely existed to me. Aside from the loping piano fills on Mister Rogers and Charlie Brown specials around the holidays, I don’t recall ever hearing jazz until well after my 10th birthday. My parents were dyed-in-the-wool rock and folk fans, so my childhood playlist largely shuffled between Neil Young, Springsteen, Tom Waits and Lucinda Williams, which isn’t bad, but definitely doesn’t prepare one for the melodic and rhythmic tumult of the Coltrane Quartet. In junior high, I developed a taste for retro television, and, consequently, the jazz-inspired soundtracks of shows like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners and — shudder — CHIPS. Word got around, and before long, jazz albums started showing up under the tree at Christmas and among birthday presents.

Here’s the rub: I didn’t like them. There were exceptions, of course, but for the most part, the intricate melodies, unfamiliar harmonies and swing time left me disoriented and yearning for a steady rock beat. I knew there was something that I loved in the jazz sound, but sublime albums like Duke Ellington & John Coltrane and The Complete Savoy & Dial Recordings of Charlie Parker left me flummoxed. It felt like trying to navigate a foreign country without a grasp of the language.

Enter The Philadelphia Experiment.

Granted, I had come to appreciate jazz to a much deeper degree by the summer of 2002 when I bought the freshly-minted Ropadope recording, but the trio session, featuring Uri Caine on keys along with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Ahmir Thompson (aka ?uestlove),  was a revelation. It, along with a number of other albums including saxophonist Joshua Redman’s Freedom In The Groove, Mingus’ Ah Um and a compilation of Djano Reinhardt classics, was my bridge to the jazz world. All the elements of jazz that I loved were there in a sufficient quantity to hook me, and from there it was just a matter of connecting the dots. Mingus’ Ellingtonian influence lead me to the Duke himself, which led me to Paul Gonsalves’ breathy tenor, and to his influences, like Coleman Hawkins, who is simply magnificent on the Django recordings that I wore out listening to. My interest in Joshua Redman opened the door to a host of contemporary jazz musicians, among them Kenny Garrett, Branford Marsalis, Jeff Ballard, Kenny Kirkland, Aaron Goldberg, Greg Osby and countless others, and led me up the family tree to Joshua’s father, the magnificent and still-underappreciated Dewey Redman.

The Philadelphia Experiment was unique in that it redirected my quest into Future Jazz territory (to lift a phrase from the great jazz chronicler Howard Mandel) as well as into the past in nearly equal measure. Billed as a summit meeting of sorts, bringing together artists of a classical (Caine), jazz (McBride) and hip hop (?uestlove) persuasion, The Philadelphia Experiment is a jazz album in the purest sense. A shared love of jazz is apparent from the first whispy notes of the title track that hang in the air like reefer smoke, before diving headlong into a sumptuous groove, and pervades the entire session. How else could three musicians playing together for the first time cohere so effortlessly over material ranging from free improvisation to Parliament grooves and Sun Ra to Elton John?

The pairing of Fender Rhodes and electric bass throughout the album lends a distinct retro vibe, but the shape-shifting, postmodern ethic shared by the musicians, especially Caine, blew the lid off of my expectations of what a jazz album should be. It had me hearing jazz in everything, from a police siren to a Nirvana track and, of course, the campy television themes that I still enjoyed. This of course had been going on in jazz since the late 1960’s – around the same time that historians of the Ken Burns’ school declared jazz dead – but it was all new to me. It was my entre  into the gloriously fragmented modern jazz scene and gave me a taste of the startling diversity of styles and techniques that I would encounter when I first arrived in New York City in 2003.

It’s been nearly seven years now, but this all came rushing back to me late last month at The Stone. Uri Caine, bassist John Hebert and drummer Ben Perowsky sauntered in to the stuffy, packed room, and without a word, launched into a blistering improvisation. Caine’s classical technique and virtuosity was immediately striking, but he quickly subverted them by collapsing his hand in mid-phrase into a fist and pounding out thunderous bass clusters, then slamming his entire forearm across the keys. It’s a jarring technique, but is devilishly effective at deconstructing technique for the performer and breaking down expectations for the audience. This was lost on me when I saw Caine about four years ago with Perowsky and bassist James Genus at The Village Vanguard. I had come expecting the easy groove of The Philadelphia Experiment, and was confronted with a set of knotty, heavily improvised originals. I still enjoyed the show, but it was definitely over my head, like a lot of improvised music in those days.

I’m tempted to insert a clichéd moral here, but I won’t. I need to give my reader more credit then I would give myself. I’m embarrassed that it took me years to hear the humor and humanity that drew me to Uri Caine’s work on The Philadelphia Experiment in the more avant garde setting of his trio, but I’m relieved that it happened. Jazz appreciation – to my mind – has always been about making the connection betweens styles and players, and sometimes even the connections within the diverse work of one artist. This usually happens in fits and starts, but occasionally washes over you in a wave of insight. For me, these hallelujah moments almost always take place during a live performance, and from my perch behind Caine’s left shoulder at The Stone I felt it from the moment of the opening notes.

Caine has this uncanny ability to imbue the most fragmented line with a bluesy, swinging edge, as well as a technique of following up a dense, inscrutable phrase with a crystalline line – like something Chick Corea would play. I’m not sure that I have ever heard it honed to the level that Caine has achieved, and I’m sure I have never seen the technique used as effectively as the pianist did with Hebert and Perowsky at The Stone. The two improvisations that opened the set had an episodic quality and a sort of hurtling momentum – even during rubato passages – that had me — and others, I noticed — leaning forward in my chair. The second improvisation followed a spiraling trajectory for seven minutes, into a free-associative bass solo and brooding piano accompaniment – I actually scribbled “primordial” in my notebook for lack of a better word for the burbling, treble piano part – and just as I was beginning to wonder where we were headed, Caine launched into the intro to Irving Berlin’s “Cheek To Cheek.”

The theme underwent countless permutations over the course of seven minutes as the band bounced phrases off of one another, and set the tone for the rest of the set. The perfectly named “I’m Meshuggah For My Suggah And My Suggah’s Meshuggah For Me” followed “Cheek To Cheek,” and revolved around a repeated contemporary classical-sounding phrase and quickly built to a feeling of unrelenting momentum. Caine’s piano led the entire performance, employing tone rows, runs, clusters and carefully timed boogie-woogie snippets against the backdrop of pounded bass and drums. The blues-drenched melody of “Smelly” lent a brief emotional respite before the trio was once again in the thick of rousing, extemporaneous improvisation. All the Caineisms were on display throughout the twenty-minute performance – counterpoint, R&B phrases, quotes, and inexhaustible swing — and I’m happy to report that whole thing left me feeling, well, meshuggah, in the best sense of the word.

July 3rd Listings

Saturday – Three consummate multi-instrumentalists — Scott Robinson, JD Parran and Vinny Golia — share the spotlight at The Stone. At 8, the trio will take part in what might very well be a first of its kind: each will perform on bass saxophone, the massive, largely obsolete instrument. At 10, the woodwind trio returns with a set of clarinet music. They will be backed during both sets by bassist Julian Thayler and drummer Warren Smith.

Sunday – If your not watching fireworks over the Hudson, head over to The Stone at 8 for Russian pianist Vladimir Tarasov along with violinist Jason Kao Hwang and bassist Mark Dresser. At 10, Dresser will be joined by equally accomplished improvisors, drummer Gerry Hemingway and saxophonist Earl Howard.

Monday – On its website, the downtown bar The Local 269 , proclaims itself “the last bastion of great music in NYC.” Tongue and cheek aside, on a steamy night in early July, the statement just might ring true. The day after the 4th is traditionally dead in NYC, and this year is no exception. Luckily, 269 has booked a multigenerational lineup of downtown stalwarts, among them Ken Filiano, Vinny Golia, Michael TA Thompson, Darius Jones, and Tom Blancarte.

Tuesday – Multi-instrumentalist and general visionary Gunter Hampel makes a rare solo appearance at Rose Live Music, in Williamsburg. At first glance, Rose seems indistinguishable from the countless bars clustered under the BQE, but the intimate venue has developed a reputation in the last five years for presenting a diverse array of left-of-center talent. This is a must-see, in my opinion.

Wednesday – Another stellar line-up at The Stone. At 8, multi-instrumentalist, composer, Andrea Parkins performs solo, and at 10, bassist Mario Pavone leads a powerhouse trio featuring tenorist Tony Malaby and drummer Tyshawn Sorey.

Thursday – I swear, there are other venues in New York besides The Stone, but this had to be my pick. Pianist, vibraphonist, composer Karl Berger makes an infrequent trip to the city from his long-time home-base of Woodstock, New York for two sets. At 8, he’ll join flutist Sylvain Leroux, and at 10, he will be the featured guest in multi-instrumentalist Bohdan Hilash’s sextet.