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Category: jazz

Darkness, Light and in Between 10/25/21

Been awhile since the last playlist on this page. Some iutrigningly dark stuff, in keeping with this month’s Halloween esthetic; some lighter stuff to vary the mood. Each song title is a streaming link. Charming Disaster, Coloratura and Marianne Dissard are guaranteed ad-free; the rest are at youtube so you might want to mute your sound before clicking in order to avoid the ads.

Charming Disaster‘s Ourobouros is arguably the noir rock superduo’s hardest-rocking song. A phoenix in the making, or just a pile of bones? “Is this annihilation or metamorphosis?”

Lola Kirke‘s Monster is a pensive, slowly swaying, moody janglerocker with slide guitar.

Colatura‘s The Met is bright, shiny stuff. Imagine walking alone through the Metropolitan Museum of Art when it wasn’t an apartheid place. Then imagine if Happy Mondays hadn’t been addled by all those powder drugs and had a woman out front

Frankie & the Witch FingersMepem is a heavy, dark psychedelic soul jam with wah guitar and organ. Like Nektar covering War, with a surprise ending

Bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck and guitarist Nels Cline cover Lullaby, by iconic 90s/zeros rock band Low, in eight-plus minutes of sonic magic. Cline plays very subtle, somber variations on a low-register riff as Schoenbeck looms in ominously and then reaches for angst. The mix of clangy chords and plaintive, spare leads from the bassoon is tasty to the extreme

And Marianne Dissard‘s ongoing series of interesting covers – the goal being her first-ever covers record – continues with a bittersweet duet cover of Townes Van Zandt’s ahead-of-its-time 1972 ballad If I Needed You with multi-instrumentalist Raphael Mann

Another Edgy, Highly Improvised Masterpiece From Gordon Grdina

Gordon Grdina is the rare jazz guitarist who plays a lot of notes, yet manages to find a way not to waste them. His music has always been more about mood and narrative than merely a display of gritty chops on guitar and oud, both of which are scary-good. Since the late teens, he’s been on a wild creative tear, which does not seem to have been adversely affected by the lockdown. He got a solo album out of it, and now also has a richly textured, edgily conversational new quartet record, Klotski, just out and streaming at Bandcamp.

Grdina calls the band Square Peg. Violist Mat Maneri and bassist Shahzad Ismaily play with their typical purpose, choosing their spots. Christian Lillinger is just as much colorist as timekeeper behind the drum kit. The album is a highly improvisational uninterrupted suite of variations on cell-based melodies. The camaraderie is high spirited, matched by a meticulous focus: jazz improvisation is seldom this outright tuneful.

Resolutely unresolved viola wafts around over Lillinger’s rustles on his hardware to introduce the album’s opening number, Impending Discomfort. Then Grdina’s guitar angles in, sparely. Maneri wryly responds in kind to Grdina’s slide licks; a steady, brisk stroll develops, Ismaily playing suspenseful, terse polyrhythms. The fireplace tableau that results pits Maneri’s yellow flames over Grdina’s deep-ember sputter.

Grdina calls the next part Escherian, Maneri in contrast to Lillinger’s black reflecting pool, Grdina running loops beneath Ismaily’s smoky ambience. The Halloweenish drollery the quartet link arms and eventually stroll into is irresistibly funny, especially when you hear where they go with it. A little obvious, maybe, but the fun these guys are having is visceral.

Maneri and Grdina have additional fun exchanging volume knob-style washes over Lillinger’s flutters and Ismaily’s wise, steady, sparse pulse in Bacchic Barge, before the bandleader takes centerstage with a solo that’s more Juno on the prowl than Bacchus falling off the boat. His matter-of-fact contentedness as he switches to oud contrasts with the unexpected wrath Maneri and Ismaily pull from the shadows.

Pitchblende bass, bucolic viola, scrambling oud and rises and falls from the drums permeate Sulfur City, up to a snarling march that Ismaily eventually colors with blippy, harmonium-like synth, finally luring Grdina into the brambles.

The quartet work sagaciously expansive chords out of a simple, well-used blues riff as they move methodically through Kaleidoscope, Maneri’s giddyup phrases and shivery harmonics balanced by a contiguous attack that his bandmates rise and pull away from. A bit of a sepulchral surprise sets up the lively, bubbling segue into Microbian Theory, once again developing out of a familiar minor-key blues lick. The descent into plaintive washes afterward might be the album’s most offhandedly gripping interlude.

Murk and vampy acidity interchange in Sore Spot, a catchy, tolling metal anthem in spiky disguise. Lillinger fuels the suite’s coda, Joy Ride, with a tricky quasi-Balkan circle dance groove, Ismaily’s hypnotic riffage anchoring the bandleader’s increasingly volatile, blues-infused meteor shower. It ends unresolved.

Sarah McQuaid’s Starkly Lyrical New Live Album Captures a Dark Zeitgeist

Songwriter Sarah McQuaid was into the early part of a marathon 2020 tour when live music was criminalized throughout most of the world. Since she’d planned on making a live album while on the road, she made one closer to home, solo acoustic in the charming, medieval Cornwall church where she sings in a choir. The result is the vinyl record The St Buryan Sessions, streaming at Bandcamp. McQuaid has made a lot of good, darkly pensive albums over the years and this might be the best of them all, a quasi greatest hits collection that promises to have lasting historical resonance, capturing the zeitgeist of a moment that the world would rather never revisit.

Even the guarded, seductive optimism of What Are We Going to Do, in the stark solo electric version here, is far more muted than the original. The record is notable right off the bat for having the only recording of McQuaid singing Sweetness and Pain – a troubled but ultimately hopeful, plainchant-inspired mini-suite – as a contiguous whole. She does that a-cappella, taking advantage of the church’s rich natural reverb and what could be more than a two-second decay.

That reverb also enhances both McQuaid’s guitar and piano work. There’s a similarly resolute sense of hope through dark times in the second song, The Sun Goes On Rising. McQuaid’s voice is strong anyway, and here she reaches back for power to match the anxiousness and uncertainty.

If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous – what a song title for the fall of 2021, right? – brings to mind Richard Thompson‘s solo acoustic work, McQuaid starkly fingerpicking an enigmatic blues behind her loaded imagery. For the record, the vocal harmonies are live loops.

She switches to piano for The Silence Above Us, a brooding, slow, nocturnal waltz which seems practically prophetic, considering the events of 2020. One Sparrow Down is an understatedly grim little swing tune about a cat-and-bird game, McQuaid backing herself with just a kickdrum.

The sparkling open-tuned guitar melody of Charlie’s Gone Home, one of McQuaid’s earliest songs, contrasts with the elegaic narrative. The rainy-day jazz guitar backdrop dovetails more closely with the volcanic portents of Yellowstone, McQuaid capping it off with a slashing flourish.

Time to Love is the sparest, most hypnotic number here and makes a good segue with her similarly sparse cover of Autumn Leaves where she really airs out her upper register. Live vocal loops enhance the somber reflections on mass mortality that pervade In Derby Cathedral: yesterday the church crypt, tomorrow the world.

McQuaid loves open tunings, best exemplified by her eerily echoing, chiming, increasingly macabre phrasing over an ominously swooping bassline in the instrumental The Day of Wrath, That Day. She keeps the subdued atmosphere going in, the pall lifting a little in The Tug of the Moon.

She returns to piano, adding gravitas to Michael Chapman’s Rabbit Hills, pulling it closer toward pastoral Pink Floyd territory. The closing number, Last Song is a requiem for McQuaid’s mom – a musician herself – and a reflection on the enduring strength of intergenerational traditions.

The Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet Bring Their Irrepressibly Entertaining Sound to the South Slope

More than anything, the Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet swing. Most sax quartets work in the rarefied and all too frequently abstruse world of contemporary classical music. The Broken Reeds are one of the world’s funniest jazz bands, and the absence of bass and drums doesn’t keep them from bringing the party. Their most recent album, Those Who Were – a 2019 release streaming at their music page – may reference a lot of artists who’ve left us, but alto sax player and bandleader Charley Gerard’s compositions are as irrepressibly upbeat and entertaining as always. The group are bringing their bright, erudite, often comedic, catchy tunes to an outdoor show with special guest singer Tammy Scheffer on Oct 22 at 6:30 PM at Open Source Gallery, 306 17th St south of 6th Ave in South Park Slope. Take the R to Prospect Ave.

The album’s opening number, Something to Remember You By is somewhere between a stroll and a march, with rightly lustrous four-part harmonies, understated dixieland counterpoint and walking bass from baritone saxophonist Dimitri Moderbacher

Gerard leads a series of flutters punctuated by moments of warm resonance built around a catchy, cheery theme in A Long Life: the point seems that if you stick around long enough, you’ll be happy too. Soprano saxophonist Jenny Hill’s tantalizingly brief solo adds unexpected gravitas. She Was Connected to the Earth has more of a dixieland-style intertwine between the horns, while Don’t Forget the Cork Grease has a tightly pulsing hot 20s exuberance, once again capped off by Hill’s quicksilver legato.

A Lot of Living in a Short Amount of Time is an edgy, increasingly wild, Ellingtonian minor-key jump blues with some incisively conversational moments between Hill and tenor saxophonist Justin Flynn. Call Me Jimmy, dedicated to Gerard’s teacher and big inspiration Jimmy Giuffre, is an aptly eclectic mini-suite built around a sternly strolling, 19th century gospel-infused blues: a brilliant guy, but not a particular warm, fuzzy character, if this is any indication

The sixth track is Who Was Father Mckenzie? – gotta love these titles, huh? – and as Gerard sees him, he has a secret latin side. With its sly cha-cha riffage and Gerard reaching for the rafters, the song has absolutely nothing to do with the Beatles.

The group go back to biting minor-key blues in the steady, strutting bursts of Do You Want to Be Ruth. Hmmm…which one could this be? Ruth Brown, maybe? Hill’s solo about three quarters of the way in is one of the album’s most unselfconsciously breathtaking moments.

Gerard airs out his latin side again in Adios A Cuba, a slinky nocturne and one of only two tracks on the album with bass and drums. Goodbye Don, a fond remembrance of a former drummer, shifts from matter-of-fact lustre to a pulse that’s just short of frantic, Gerard’s high-voltage solo saluting a guy who obviously had no shortage of energy.

The group finally reach Keystone Kops scamper, intertwined within a surprisingly shamanic Afro-Cuban groove, in Father Mckenzie’s Cuban Catastrophe, only to end it on a simmering, serious note. They close the record with Ugly Duck Strut, dark and tan Ellingtonian blues filtered through jauntily shifting rhythms. If you were lucky enough to catch Quatre Vingt Neuf onstage in the months before the lockdown when Wade Ripka was frantically writing charts to Leroy Shield’s Little Rascals themes, you’ll love this crew.

Lurid, Lowlit, Slyly Reinvented Lounge Sounds From the Tiki Collective

Why did David Lynch take the title of his iconic second film from a lounge song? Because lounge jazz is creepy, and seedy, and phantasmagorical. Not everything on the Tiki Collective’s 2018 debut album Muse – streaming at Spotify – is creepy. In fact, some of the Toronto crew’s reinventions of pop hits are funny as hell, in a sarcastic Richard Cheese vein. But there’s sinister stuff here that’s perfect for any Halloween party playlist you have planned for this year.

The group chose a different vocalist for each song. There are subtle, ominous touches – a reverb guitar riff from Eric St-Lauren, a ripple of Michael Davidson’s vibraphone – in I’ve Never Left Your Arms, sung by Genevieve Marentette. With its moody klezmer overtones, It’s a good choice to open the record.

Did you know that Harlem Nocturne and Mood Indigo had words? Joanna Majoko and Tyra Juta do, and they sing them. Neither version is up to Ellington level…or the Ventures for that matter. The first of the really funny numbers is the Fleetwood Mac hit Hypnotized, reinvented as a deadpan, brooding soul song with Heather Luckhart and the Willows out front.

The Willows return with Melissa Lauren for a Sade-ized version of Don’t Fear the Reaper, which is also funny, though not quite as ridiculously surreal as Bobtown’s bluegrass cover. Speaking of Sade, guest singer Paget reaches for dreamy ambience in a slow, trip-hop influenced take of The Sweetest Taboo: the original vocalist would do just as well with these guys behind her.

The reliably excellent Lily Frost’s airy delivery matches the band’s spare Asian inflections in Mountain High, Valley Low. Irene Torres sings a muted, remarkable southwestern gothic remake of the old cheeseball mambo Quizas Quizas Quizas. Likewise, Chelsea Bridge gets the album’s most menacingly lingering intro before singer Mingjia Chen’s vocalese takes over.

There are two originals on the album. Avery Raquel sings the fluttering, bossa-tinged Dreaming, while Denielle Bassels closes the record with The Wanderer, a Ricky Nelson-style pop song. Also included are pretty straight-up covers of All Too Soon and I’ll Be Seeing You, sung by Jocelyn Barth and Jessica LaLonde, respectively.

A Restriction-Free Show From One Of New York’s Most Interesting, Individualistic Jazz Reedmen

Until last year’s lockdown, multi-reedman Mike McGinnis was a ubiquitous presence in the New York jazz scene. He’s an eclectic, erudite composer and arranger, as adept on the sax as the clarinet, equally informed by Americana and music from across the European continent. With his lush nine-piece Road Trip Band, he rescued Bill Smith’s picturesque 1956 Concerto for Clarinet from third-stream jazz obscurity. But as serious and straightforward as much of his own work is, he also has a great sense of humor. It’s anybody’s guess who he’s playing with at his gig at 2 PM at Parkside Plaza in Prospect Lefferts Gardens on Oct 17, but it’s bound to be entertaining, especially as there are also dance performances on the bill. The space is at the corner of Parkside and Ocean Avenue, close to the Q stop at Parkside Ave.

One particularly colorful project McGinnis has been involved with for over a decade is the Four Bags. He plays clarinet and bass clarinet in the band alongside trombonist Brian Drye, guitarist Sean Moran and another trombonist, Jacob Garchik, who plays accordion. Their most recent release, Waltz, came out in 2017 and is still up at Bandcamp. The connecting thread is a frequent but hardly omnipresent time signature: they should have called the album The Three-Four Bags.

To set the stage, they put a coy dixieland spin on what could be a Mexican folk tune, El Caballo Bayo, then go fullscale cartoon on you. It’s obvious, but impossible not to laugh.

The joke in the second track, Runaway Waltz is polyrhythms – those, and a baroquely comedic sensibility. Waltz of the Jacobs is a brassy, Belgian-tinged musette, the four taking a couple of increasingly cartoonish detours before Drye and Garchik engage in some calmer, completely deadpan clowning around.

Invisible Waltz is not a John Cage cover but one of the deliciously slow, airy, sinister tunes the group like to throw at you once in awhile. The group go back to jaunty latin sounds with Puerta Del Principe, which also has droll hints at flamenco, unexpectedly stormy gusts and a head-scratchingly exuberant McGinnis clarinet solo.

Vaults Dumb ‘Ore bears a suspicious resemblance to a famously venomous Randy Newman song that Nina Simone covered. The band switch her out for a brooding, bolero-tinged interplay between accordion and guitar, then Drye adds a surprisingly somber extra layer before Moran takes it into increasingly fanged psychedelia. Finally, the jokes kick in, one poker-faced quote after another.

G is for Geezus is a buffoonish New Orleans theme. There are also bits and pieces of variations on Les Valse Des As, the wryly nocturnal closing cut, scattered throughout the album. Fans of funny jazz acts like the Microscopic Septet and Mostly Other People Do the Killing will enjoy this goofy but very seriously assembled stuff.

The Irrepressible Champian Fulton Brings Her Dad Onboard For a Charming, Conversational Album

When the 2020 global coup d’etat crushed the performing arts in New York, Champian Fulton took to social media to keep her fan base satisfied. The woman who is arguably the best piano-playing singer and best singing pianist in jazz has featured her dad, flugelhornist and trumpeter Stephen Fulton on many albums in her discography. But her new one Live From Lockdown – streaming at Spotify – is their first full-length duo release, the culmination of a long series of online performances together.

This is actually a live-in-the-studio project, fearlessly recorded in Queens just over a year ago. Champian Fulton is one of the great wits in jazz, and hearing more of her father than ever here, it’s obvious where that sense of humor comes from. Together the two breathe new life and hope into a collection of familiar standards along with a couple of welcome originals.

The younger Fulton takes a colorful, sometimes misty, sometimes wry, sometimes joyous line by line approach on the mic and a steady, precise stroll on the piano on the album’s opening cut, I Hadn’t Anyone Till You. Daughter responds to dad’s goofy cluster with an ever better one of her own; likewise, his gruff curlicues and her playful, romping phrases in Satin Doll. It’s great to hear her really air out her keyboard chops here: one of her best records (and a big favorite of this blog) remains her 2016 all-instrumental album, Speechless.

Flugelhorn takes centerstage in an insightfully moody version of You’ve Changed, with a surprisingly airy vocal. Champian restrains herself mostly to a walking lefthand while Stephen picks his spots in Blow Top Blues, a goofy tune by the late jazz critic Leonard Feather. Then the two take a restrained midnight walk through an instrumental take of Moonglow, a lyrical trumpet feature with an irresistible piano solo that rises from a devious twinkle to jubilation.

There’s breathtaking, spiraling righthand piano in What Is This Thing Called Love and meticulously modulated Dinah Washington-esque vocals in What Will I Tell My Heart. The duo stride resolutely through Look for the Silver Lining, the 1919 Jerome Kern ragtime tune, then imbue I Had the Craziest Dream with a bluesy gravitas.

Pass the Hat, a co-write by the Fultons, is a brisk, straight-up blues and a launching pad for good-natured humor and sparkle on the keys. The hundred-year-old children’s song I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles is just plain ridiculous, balanced by Champian’s original, Midnight Stroll, more of a sly prowl with carefree flugelhorn overhead. It’s an aptly optimistic way to end this entertaining, familial project.

Entertaining, Mesmerizing Solo Soprano Sax? Check Out Sam Newsome on the 9th

It’s hard to imagine anything more difficult than playing a solo show on a chordless instrument. Sure, there are buskers…but it’s rare to see someone sticking around to watch an entire solo “set.”. On the other hand, the prospect of watching soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome play a solo show is enticing to the extreme. He has three solo live albums out and all of them are worth hearing. And if his East Village duo show with guitarist Elliott Sharp last weekend is any indication, his upcoming gig on Oct 9 at 2 PM at the Urban Meadow park at the corner of President and Van Brunt in Red Hook is going to be off the hook.

You could take the B61 bus and get out just down the block from the Jalopy, but it might be even faster to take the F to Carroll, exit at the front of the downtown train, take First Place straight to the pedestrian bridge over the BQE, then make a U-turn at the base of the bridge, go another block on Summit and then hang a left on Columbia. That’s about ten minutes from the subway.

It’s funny how, ten years ago, Newsome was regarded as the rising star for straight-ahead postbop jazz on the soprano. Then all of a sudden he started turning up at places like the late, great Spectrum and took a deep plunge into the avant garde. It was then that his mind-blowing extended technique really came to the surface. For example, at the East Village gig, he got his horn to resonate with a low digeridoo buzz, or a keening wail like an Indian shennai or a Bulgarian zurla, shedding otherworldly overtones and duotones. And while Sharp was playing through his usual arsenal of effects, Newsome was completely unamplified. What had he done to his reeds, or his valves, or both? Who knows – but it was raw magic.

There were all kinds of irresistibly amusing moments, when Newsome would pick up a rack of wind chimes, or two, slinging them over the body of the horn as he blew looming duotones for background. Then there was the point where Sharp, who’d been tapping out tensely frenetic sequences, fired off a phrase of about twenty notes. Newsome paused and played the whole paragraph back to him, and suddenly the dialogue shifted from jaunty banter to a serious joust. Musicians engaging each other with short. singalong riffs is the oldest cliche in the book, but this seemed to be a philosophical discussion between two sages. What they were philosophizing about wasn’t entirely clear, but it was deep.

Meanwhile, Sharp maintained his edge throughout about fifty minutes of close interplay, whether opaquely ambient, squirrelly, skronky, or lingering in a couple of brief, overcast A minor interludes. Newsome got plaintive in response to the first one, then expansive on the second, drawing out similarly thoughtful flurries from the guitarist. There were plenty of other points in the improvisation that were funny, and formidable, and fleeting; you can expect the same at the Red Hook show.

Picturesque Songs Without Words From Trumpeter Rachel Therrien

Trumpeter Rachel Therrien‘s latest album Vena – streaming at Bandcamp – is a breath of fresh air, a colorfully eclectic collection of terse, vivid compositions. If you like your jukebox jazz on the thoughtful, picturesque side, with a sense of humor, Therrien’s songs without words are for you.

V For Vena makes a warmly vampy, modally tinged first number, with a tasty, cascading, bluesy Daniel Gassin piano solo, Therrien choosing her spots to tuck and roll. She and the band – which also includes Dario Guibert on bass and Mareike Wiening on drums – shift between crystalline lyricism and encroaching phantasmagoria in Parity, a jazz waltz, Guibert’s calm triplets holding the center as Wiening’s circling riffs peak out. They stick with waltz time and phantasmagoria in Pigalle, but with a wryly dancing, vaudevillian touch instead.

75 Pages of Happiness is the album’s first ballad. That’s how somebody must feel after spending a leisurely evening at home reading New York Music Daily, right? Unless your record got snubbed here, ha! In all seriousness, the song’s spacious, resonant piano is matched by Therrien’s low-key midrange melody; it ends unresolved. In Assata, the quartet shift between allusions to soukous, jaunty swing and insistent riffage, with more spiraling, bluesy piano.

Therrien joins saxophonist Irving Acao for lilting harmonies over a nimble, funk-tinged groove and Gassin’s circling, wary piano chords in Bilka’s Story, with a a majestic crescendo: lots going on in this tale. Her persistence contrasts with the increasingly agitated individual voices behind her throughout Emilio, followed by Women, a droll, chattering miniature.

Synchronicity isn’t the big faux-African hit by the Police but a lively, punchy, syncopated original. The group go back to ballad territory with This Isn’t Love, Gassin’s balmy, purposefully darkening solo handing off to the bandleader, who takes it in a more forlorn direction. Then they pick up the pace with the lickety-split swing tune Just Playing, the album’s most trad postbop moment.

Bleu Tortue opens with Wiening supplying a mutedly shamanic beat as a springboard for Therrien’s brightly spare riffage. Migration is a final, energetically wistful waltz: something is being left behind, then an insistent expectancy takes centerstage. they close with a brief, playful New Orleans shuffle, Folks Tune. This is jazz for people who prefer entertainment and good stories over ostentatious solos and sourpuss snobbery.

Sizzling Noir Swing in the Black Hills on the First of the Month

Back in 2018, Minneapolis band Miss Myra & the Moonshiners put out one of the most darkly electrifying oldtime swing albums of the century. The band’s lineup has shifted a bit since then, but they’re still ripping up stages across the northern United States. That record, Sunday Sinning, is still streaming at their music page, and the band have a gig on Oct 1 at 7 PM at the Monument, 444 Mt Rushmore Rd. in Rapid City, South Dakota. Cover is $27.50, but students get in for ten bucks less.

If the creepy, hi-de-ho side of swing is your thing, don’t blink on this record like this blog did the first time around. The group have the chutzpah to start it with their own theme song, Miss Myra leading the sinister romp with her voice and Django-inspired, briskly percussive guitar attack, lead guitarist Zane Fitzgerald Palmer and clarinetist Sam Skavnak spicing the the doomy ambience from trumpeter Bobby J Marks and trombonist Nathan Berry. Tuba player Isaac Heath provides a fat pulse with nimble color from drummer Angie Frisk.

They play Sheik of Araby with a hint of noir bolero on the intro, then they go scrambling with a hearty jump blues-style call-and-response between Myra and the guys. The Kaiser, an ominously steady klezmer swing tune, has bowed bass and a sinister bass clarinet solo from Skavnak before Palmer goes spiraling up into the clouds.

Likewise, Miss Myra’s creepy downward chromatics in Egyptian Ella, Skavnak’s clarinet front and center. Everybody Loves My Baby is brassier – five songs in, and we’re still in a minor key. Sunday Sinning (Palmer’s Bar) features a sizzling tradeoff from the clarinet to Palmer’s guitar solo. They close the record with the stomping, brisk Red Hot & Blue Rhythm – the only major-key song on the record – the ending screams out for audience participation. South Dakotans are obviously in for a treat on the first of the month.