Posted in Album Reviews, Jazz Standard, tagged avant-garde, Book of Mae'bul, Chad Taylor, Ches Smith, Darius, Darius Jones, experimental, free jazz, Jazz Standard, Jones, Man''sh Boy, Matt Mitchell, Quartet, Trevor Dunn on April 26, 2012 |
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It’s guaranteed to happen at least once during a Darius Jones performance: the moment you think, “What’s going on?”, the moment you think, “Yes, I get it!”, and the moment you think, “Now what’s going on?” But this elusive motive is what makes the Darius Jones mystique so engrossing. On Book of Mae’bul (Another Kind of Sunrise) – the final piece of Jones’ Man’ish Boy trilogy – the alto saxist unites with bassist Trevor Dunn, pianist Matt Mitchell, and drummer Ches Smith (Chad Taylor played live) to spearhead a new brand of otherworldly momentum.
Darius Jones channels intense passion through the alto sax.
Photo credits: mandatoryattendance.wordpress.com
“My Baby” epitomizes the quartet’s avant-crescendo arc, first unraveling as a lullaby of coaxing slurs and stirs. But twenty-two seconds in, Jones raises hairs with a jarring expulsion in the deepest registers, conjuring the hardiness of a tenor and the bellow of a baritone sax. His pitchy uprisings, controlled yet anarchic around the edges, coax in their own dark way. Mitchell, Dunn and Smith extend Jones’ precedent with voices of their own, spiraling into a distressed and chaotic vortex. The restless climate eases to a sultrier vibe on “You Have Me Seeing Red”, though still grounded in uncanny spirit.
What is most captivating about this quartet, however, lies on the subtler side of the spectrum – in the moments that don’t always come alive on the tangible disc. Cheek-to-cheek with his bass, Dunn seized the air at the Jazz Standard, his penetrating plucks recalling Jones’ sound in organic form. While Mitchell stripped his gregarious style down to rawer parts, Taylor picked up the florid pace in cinematic cymbal swoops.
But when Jones interjected, caught in a body-rippling, closed-eye trance – Dunn, Taylor, and Mitchell equally as immersed – his mystique gave way to a resonant truth: that this group doesn’t simply revel in dissonance or blind ferocity. These four musicians live and breathe each soaring pitch and breathy dip, far exceeding the bounds of experimentalism. Their soulful innovation is a universal language that transcends understanding.
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Posted in Album Reviews, Jazz Standard, tagged Billy Kilson, Carla Cook, funk, James Genus, jazz, Jazz Standard, Patrice Rushen, saxophone, soul, Soulful Song, Steve Wilson, Steve Wilson Super Band on April 23, 2012 |
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Steve Wilson underwent a grand metamorphosis.
Photo courtesy of jazzstandard.net.
How much has changed since Steve Wilson released Soulful Song nine years ago? If his residency with guest Carla Cook at the Jazz Standard was any indication, his fondness for vocal accompaniment is alive and well – but as a player and composer, Wilson grooves with a humbler impetus than the funk of years past. Dubbed the Steve Wilson Super Band, the saxist’s latest configuration is super by all means, featuring contrabassist James Genus of Saturday Night Live fame, Grammy-winning drummer Billy Kilson, and pianist Patrice Rushen, the Grammy Awards’ first female musical director.
Nearly a decade has passed since this record, but Wilson still has that soul.
Wilson’s marathon soprano sax solo on Monk’s “Bright Mississippi” offered his star-studded band the perfect grounds upon which to extrapolate. While Wilson paused to take a breath, Genus took flight, releasing from his cavernous instrument a thick and muscular rhythm. Rushen steered toward a thoughtful vibe, streaming through the melody as cleanly as water. Kilson’s aural fireworks set a powerful counterpoint to her clement style, morphing from a few tentative cymbal taps to a boisterous affair of clangs and thwacks.
The athletic drummer wasn’t all pyrotechnics, providing a light swishing momentum on Wilson’s “Be One”. Wilson eased into the growlingly candlelit ambience too, picking up a fuller-bodied alto sax while Genus coaxed the gentler side of his contrabass. Rushen emerged as queen of the flourishes, punctuating the mood with expressive morsels of piano. And though Carla Cook was scheduled to appear on two nights of the band’s four-day stay, Wilson paid the vocalist homage in her absence, melting in and out of brassy sashays in his own good time.
Kilson channels the power of one-thousand thunderstorms into a humble drum set.
Photo courtesy of Tony Swartz.
The band paid real homage to the days of yonder on Miles Davis’ “Directions”, rekindling their old spark in a slew of sax bursts, keyboard synths, and blasts of contrabass. And it was in this piece that Kilson launched into the most controversial solo of the night. Equal parts bombastic, chaotic, and soul-driven, his unaccompanied affair diverged the audience into two streams: the chair-shaking clappers, and their silent, borderline-offended counterparts. Perhaps understandably so – his explosive intensity is not made to lull the ears at first listen. But the truth remains that on this jam, Kilson was the flame behind the band’s fire, flaring, crashing, and burning with unapologetic fervor.
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Posted in Album Reviews, Jazz Standard, tagged Anat Cohen, Gary Wang, Jamie Reynolds, jazz, Jazz Standard, Melissa, Melissa Stylianou, Paul Simon, Pete McCann, Peter Shipp, Silent Movie, Stylianou, vocalist on April 3, 2012 |
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Mix two parts jazz, one part folk, and a heaping spoonful of elegant soul, and the product is vocalist Melissa Stylianou’s newest release Silent Movie. Whether played on a stereo or brought to life at the Jazz Standard, Stylianou’s sound glides, swirls, and pensively tilt-a-whirls into her band’s intricate momentum, until both vocals and instrumentals unite in ear-hugging harmony. That harmony spans a spectrum of moods over the album’s journey, resonating with graceful tenderness every step of the way.
It’s only fitting that the first step on Silent Movie’s path is carved by the king of silent films himself – Charlie Chaplin. Stylianou captures the Chaplin classic “Smile” through a wistful lens, ribboning though Rodney Green’s misty drums (drummer Mark Ferber played in concert) and Gary Wang’s heavy-hearted bass. This melancholy turned haunting on stage as Stylianou pitched lower while percussionist James Shipp climbed higher, piercing the air with vibraphone spears and eerie chimes.
“Silent Movie” wears a similar shroud of clouded reflection around its shoulders, though lilted toward the sweeter side of bittersweetness by Pete McCann’s warm guitar. Stylianou’s darker-edged vocals also veer toward rosy horizons, coasting alongside Jamie Reynolds’ nostalgic piano. The innate dynamic between the two is no surprise; the wife-husband pair wrote the piece together as a means of marital catharsis. Stylianou notes: “We were both going through therapy at the time […] It was difficult but fruitful. Writing that song paved the way ahead for us, musically and as a couple.”
Stylianou’s take on Paul Simon’s “Hearts and Bones” reveals the folky side of her vocal repertoire. The band, too, spins its silky jazz ambience into an earthy medley of beats and sounds. The rustic switch doesn’t fully come across on the recorded track, but in person, it was unmistakable. Ferber switched from drumsticks to bare hands, echoing a tribal feel accented by Shipp’s triangle and Wang’s quietly groundbreaking bass. Anat Cohen emerged as brassy innovator, rising to her feet to belt out unbridled soprano sax slur after the other.
Melissa Stylianou, however, was the pioneering force behind the evening and the album, her voice flowing and retreating like humble thunder. In “Hearts and Bones” and beyond, Stylianou illustrates scenes of love, loss, heartache, and hope in a chic modern light that shines long after Silent Movie is through.
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Posted in Jazz Standard, tagged Dr. Lonnie Smith, funk, Hammond B-3, Jamaire Williams, jazz, Jazz Standard, Jonathan Kreisberg, Lonnie, organ, organ trio, Smith, soul on January 15, 2012 |
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Dr. Lonnie Smith at the Jazz Standard, circa 2010.
Photo Credit: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
On one of the most bone-chilling winter nights of the year, Dr. Lonnie Smith’s organ spirit reached exhilarating heights in trio with guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jamaire Williams. Though this arrangement lies on the intimate end of Smith’s quintet and nonet spectrum, the band enveloped the Jazz Standard as would a full-sized orchestra. Stirred about by a gently permeating stream of chords off Kreisberg’s guitar, the set began its ascent toward whole-body catharsis with the tune “River Walk”.
The evening eased in with a reflective vibe in the hands of Smith’s bass-like organ hum and Williams’ tenderly rhythmic drums. The mellow piece, featured on Smith’s 1991 release The Turbanator, took an explosive turn a few minutes in, clearing the aural sinuses with an acidic yet soulful flavor. Heads began bobbing across the audience at first listen of Smith’s signature trail-blazing tang. The organist riffed, cascaded, and pounded on his Hammond B3 with blissful abandon, spearheading into assertive zest alongside Kreisberg’s jolting crescendos and Williams’ creative dynamism.
The trio grasped their flaming momentum by the reigns in a rock-jazz fusion jam taken from Spiral, their latest release. A drum-organ storm bubbled and broke the anthem into heavily rhythmic discord, zapped by blurts of guitar. The edgy turmoil abruptly whittled down to light acoustic for a few moments, steeping deeply in Kreisberg’s earthy chord bits and streaming riffs. And just as abruptly, his riffs morphed to fiery grenades, providing a virtuosic battlefield upon which Smith’s piercing, violin-like organ tousled into Williams’ intensely rocking beats. The resulting sound embodied explosive convolution to anarchic appeal, dancing upon the verge of spilling over.
The organ master has arrived!
Photo credits: ipress.hr
Though the trio undoubtedly masters bold fanfare, its way with heart-touching composition is most gripping of all. “Pilgrimage”, a tune featured on Smith’s 2009 album Rise Up, carried the set to a bittersweet close, at the crossroads of serene romanticism and fierce melancholy. Kreisberg filled the shoes of alto saxist Donald Harrison (who appeared on the original recording), and soon twisted those shoes into a musical sculpture of his own. His tender tone set forth a gently captivating melody laced with enveloping aural warmth. Smith’s sparse vocals were the true clincher, however, mingling with his raspy organ as though the very same instrument.
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Posted in Jazz Standard, tagged Abbasi, Dan Weiss, George Gershwin, Invocation, jazz, Jazz Standard, Johannes Weidenmueller, Onus On Us, Rez, Rez Abbasi, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Sonu Sonu, Vijay Iyer on December 3, 2011 |
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Rez Abbasi, a guitarist with flair.
Photo credits: Jazz Music Archive
“I’m having a brain…you know,” sighed guitarist Rez Abbasi, out of breath and close to speechless after a full-throttle rendition of “Onus on Us”. After such a wildly evolving piece, a bit of brain freeze is understandable – perhaps even inevitable. Under the band name Invocation, Abbasi’s five-member powerhouse took the Jazz Standard by a storm in a CD release concert for the new album Sonu Sonu, echoing a soul-drenched heartiness truly akin to invocative prayer.An ingeniously uncanny duet of sorts opened the evening on “Thanks for Giving”. Rudresh Mahanthappa’s signature sax slurs swelled into nearly pitch-perfect harmony with Abbasi’s eclectic and fluid guitar riffs, both musicians rising and dipping in tandem with tense melodicism. Though this pairing soon whittled down to subtly agitated momentum, the most captivating aural duel arose from two unlikely battlers: the piano and the drums, courtesy of Vijay Iyer and Dan Weiss. The latter’s rolling rhythms brewed the tune forward with a charming blatant quality, led by a rippling snare drum, then outright bangs – until settling upon assertive drumstick on drumstick beats. Iyer broke into Weiss’ acerbic bubble with warm classicism, bringing forward a lightly authoritative tone to flip the aggressive band dynamic upside down. This convoluted dichotomy danced upon the divide between intriguing discord and jarring discombobulation, setting the scene for all pieces to come.
Belting it out at the Jazz Standard.
Photo captions: voanews.com
“Onus on Us” leaned toward an appealing avant-garde disjointedness, though infused with graceful breaks into harmony to quell the impact. Mahanthappa brought a trumpet-like, blaring brassy propulsion to his sax, meanwhile bassist Johannes Weidenmueller set forth a gently audible bounciness, rooted in classic jazz. Abbasi’s guitar assumed the smooth-mannered fluency of a crooning vocalist, tousling through the higher pitches. And further piling onto the tune’s expanding textural repertoire was a rock-inspired Weiss, gloriously playing with a drumstick held in his mouth – and, eventually, with only his hands. The sum of these hotly opposing instrumental parts dissolved into a surprising anticlimactic tenderness. Iyer and Weidenmueller rose from the grandiose midst in a soft but willful duet, rolled forward by pondering piano tones and halted by commanding plucks of rich bass.
Though the band showed impeccable balance amid many near-dives into rhythmic and textural overload, “Nusrat” did slip over the discordant edge. Abbasi’s calmly meandering solo opened the tune with Hindi undertones and electric coolness, uniting his Middle Eastern and eclectic contemporary jazz inspirations with an effortless appeal. But as soon as Weiss and Mahanthappa delved in, a lack of distinctive rhythmic progression steadily swirled the piece into a muddle of unrest. The drummer’s forward momentum took a caustic leap into intrepid cymbal slams, pungently interjected by marathon blurts of saxophone, courtesy of Mahanthappa’s virtuosic lungs. Iyer, Weidenmueller, and even Abbasi were drowned out by the argumentative uprising. Some ground did eventually settle beneath the tune’s restless feet, however, in the form of Iyer’s crystal-clear, timeless brilliance. Alongside a cruising cymbal array from a toned-down Weiss, his cerebral piano infused the piece with a refreshing, catchy groove, conjuring the conversational ease of George Gershwin.
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Posted in Jazz Standard, tagged Dr. Lonnie Smith, funk, Hammond B-3, jazz, Jazz Standard, Jonathan Kreisberg, Keyon Harrold, Logan Richardson, Max Seigel, nonet, organ, soul, Too Damn Hot on August 6, 2011 |
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Dr. Lonnie Smith, in all of his glory.
Photo credits: hammond-organ.com
The nearly four decade career of pioneering organist Dr. Lonnie Smith has branched to the tune of a newly formed nonet, featuring a mix of both well established and quickly rising jazz talents. The “little big band” barely made it onto the Jazz Standard’s sizeable stage, prompting several brass and percussion members to park themselves at a nose’s length of front-seated folks—perhaps a slight foreshadowing to the band’s explosive sound to come. Dr. Lonnie’s collaborators took a backseat during the concert’s first few minutes, giving him the clear to go to town on his Hammond B-3 organ. Maintaining his signature sage-like presence, he blared chunky chord after the other on a sixties-era composition, quickly rising to electric astringency.
Live at the Jazz Standard!
Photo credits: zooomr.com
The nonet missed the “organ band” title by a long shot despite Dr. Lonnie’s initial command, fully blossoming over to a conglomerated sound early in the set. Dr. Lonnie ebbed and flowed his funky twangs with harmonious tact, intertwining with a succession of solos ranging from classic and aged to uncannily experimental. Trumpeter Keyon Harrold pioneered both worlds in an extended brass tangent, vigorously propelled by circular breathing, reaching extents of piercing acerbity and lush warmth. Logan Richardson on tenor sax countered with a more measured approach leaning on the side of buttery, brewing smoothness.
Song choice progressed in an increasingly charged direction, delving from the playfully romantic, acid jazz feel of “Too Damn Hot” into darker material. An instrumentally complex political tune bore much of the concert’s dark weight. John Ellis traded his tenor sax for bass clarinet in an ominous solo, further made eerie by Jamire Williams’ military march drum reps. Dr. Lonnie didn’t completely abandon his vivacious tang, closing the tune with a gentler funk guided along by guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg’s steamy, thread-thin strums.
A Middle Eastern-tinged number returned the band slightly back to its original looseness. Tubist Max Seigel blurted out some low notes to settle in the back ear, excellently accenting the band’s rich brass-percussion unison. Echoing both homey soul and mystic spirituality, the piece was an appropriately simmering clincher to a set driven by dynamic sound.
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