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Tag: anwar marshall

A Slightly More Subtle But Hardly Subdued Album From the Explosive Captain Black Big Band

Of all the projects that pianist Orrin Evans has his fingers in, his Captain Black Big Band are arguably the most exciting. They’re definitely the loudest. It’s amazing how Evans manages to find the time for them, considering that he leads smaller groups, everybody wants to play with him, and until the lockdown he had the closest thing in the jazz world to a serious money gig, taking over the piano chair in a certain popular trio and then elevating them above…where they were before.

Auspiciously, the Captain Black Big Band have a new album, The Intangible Between streaming at Spotify. The difference this time is that they aren’t quite as much of a careening beast as they’ve been in the past. Part of that’s due to the bandleader writing most of the charts, selecting very specific groups from a vast talent base to play the songs, and in general, varying the size of the orchestation more.

The album’s first track, Proclaim Liberty, opens with brassy optimism, then after a rippling bit of suspense, the band hit an anthemic drive. The tumbling pairings of piano and drums are as avant-garde as anything Evans has ever done, the solos from trumpet and sax as adrenalizing as ever.

His wide-angle swing arrangement of This Little Light of Mine rises with the horns out of a carefree piano-trio intro that offers a nod to Coltrane and telegraphs that there’s going to be plenty of room for spontaneity, notably a fiery sax-drums duel and some savagery from the bandleader himself.

The tenderness of Sean Jones’ flugelhorn throughout an understatedly majestic Todd Bashore arrangement of A Time For Love contrasts with an underlying tension, which evaporates when the rest of the horns float in. Evans dividing his hands between piano and Rhodes is an unexpected textural touch.

With its New Orleans ebullience and bright hooks, That Too comes across as a slightly stripped-down take on the completely unleashed sound the band made a name for themselves with, trombone and then soprano sax bringing in the storm.

Their loose-limbed, Sun Ra-ish take of Thelonious Monk’s Off Minor features a rhythm section bustling with four (!!!!) bassists and two drummers behind shreddy trumpet, spacy Rhodes and a rise to plenty of the group’s signature, barely controlled mass chaos.

Evans’ beefy yet spacious chart for Roy Hargrove’s Into Dawn gets lit up by spiraling alto sax, trumpet that delivers both sage blues and wild doublestops, and some serious crush from the piano. The album’s biggest epic is Evans’ arrangement of Andrew Hill’s Tough Love. In practically sixteen minutes, the group shift through fluttery stereo pairings of basses and piano, gritty dueling saxes, uneasily shifting sheets of sound, the whole ensemble helping Evans deliver an astute, politically insightful lyric by his brother, author and hip-hop artist Son of Black.

They wind up the record with I’m So Glad I Got To Know You, Evans’ elegy for his drummer friend Lawrence Leathers building from spare, stricken solo piano, to hints of calypso and a fond gospel sendoff. This is a mighty entertaining and rewardingly eclectic effort from a group also including but hardly limited to drummers Anwar Marshall and Mark Whitfield Jr., saxophonists Immanuel Wilkins, Troy Roberts and Caleb Wheeler Curtis, bassist Luques Curtis, trombonist David Gibson and bassist Eric Revis.

A Hard-Swinging, Seriously Woke New Album amd a Jazz Standard Release Show by Trumpeter Josh Lawrence

It takes guts to open your new album with a joyous, lyrical jazz waltz, but that’s what trumpeter Josh Lawrence does on his latest release Triptych, streaming at Posi-Tone Records. He’s playing the album release show on March 13 at the Jazz Standard with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $30.

The record’s title reflects its three suites. The first one, a threesome of love songs, is interspersed among the other tracks. The second, Lost Works, draws on the Nazis’ confiscation and eventual destruction of three priceless Kandinsky paintings during World War II, a parable for late Trump-era fascism. The third, simply titled Earth Wind Fire, takes inspiration from the mighty funk legends along with Miles Davis, Terence Blanchard and Ahmad Jamal.

The three numbers in Lost Works are untitled. Composition #1 is a big, lickety-split swing tune with bright, ebullient trumpet from Lawrence in tandem with alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis. Pianist Zaccai Curtis (no relation) hits hard and incisively alongside his bassist brother Luques Curtis and drummer Anwar Marshall, who caps it off with a colorfully tumbling solo.

Composition #2 is a gorgeously nocturnal Twin Peaks jazz ballad with lustrous horns, twistedly glimmering lounge piano and a rather furtive bass solo, echoing  Miles as much as Pharaoh Sanders. Lawrence reaches a conclusion by mashing up the drive of the opening segment with the unease of the second.

Part two of the love trilogy, Sugar Hill Stroll opens with a cheery trumpet-bass duet, then the rhythm section kick in and build a jubilant Louis Armstrong flair. The mini-suite winds up toward the end of the record with the slow samba tune Sunset in Santa Barbara, a welcome if considerably more balmy return to David Lynch soundtrack ambience with enigmatic piano glitter and some tasty, spare muted work from the bandleader.

Earth Wind Fire slowly comes together on the ground as a polythythmic, tribal tableau, piano pulling the band from their separate corners, Marshall’s clave a frequent but not omnipresent grounding influence. From there they breeze into a deliciously shimmery, syncopated soul vamp, sparsely shiny piano anchoring similarly spacious solos from the horns. The suite achieves total combustion in the final movement with forceful, McCoy Tyner-tinged piano (RIP, damn) and tightly clustering horns over Marshall’s artfully shapeshifting drive. Lawrence closes the album with the EWF classic That’s the Way of the World – yow! Jazz versions of 70s radio pop hits are usually a recipe for disaster, but the band get plenty of help courtesy of guest Brian Charette’s churchy organ, working a low-key arrangement that sticks pretty close to the original.

Misha Piatigorsky’s Unpredictably Fun Sketchy Orkestra Entertains the Crowd in the West Village

This past evening at the Poisson Rouge, pianist Misha Piatigorsky led his twelve-piece Sketchy Orkestra through a long, heavily front-loaded set that was as eclectic as it was entertaining. Piatigorsky is a rugged individualist who’s invented his own style of music: part art-rock, part chamber jazz, part neoromanticism and part soul music. It can be part other things too, but we’ll get to that. His lushly dynamic Sketchy Orkestra is sort of a NYChillharmonic Junior, although Piatigorsky’s group is smaller and also plays imaginatively rearranged covers in addition to originals. With his gruff, sardonic lounge lizard persona and irrepressibly ebullient sense of humor, he impressed the most with the earliest material in the set.

He opened the best song of the night, an original, solo on piano, with a creepy, modal, suspenseful intro straight out of Rachmaninoff. Then a fiery violin cadenza kicked off a blissfully edgy, dancing Sephardic melody over which soul belter Emily Braden eventually sang. They brought it full circle at the end.

Another high point was a hushed, pointillistically tiptoeing, vintage 60s noir soul ballad held aloft by the nine-piece string section. Piatigorsky can be subtle, but onstage, he’s a showman, dueling with his bandmates, shifting meters and tempos on a dime in tandem with ace drummer Anwar Marshall (who also knows a thing or two about propelling large ensembles). Piatigorsky traded riffs with bassist Noah Jackson and then later the violin section during a closing crescendo: nobody missed a beat.

A couple of times during a lustrously reinvented art-rock instrumental version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, he switched up the tempo and took a couple of jagged, two-fisted solos that careened into Euro-jazz territory. Piatigorsky’s playing sometimes brings to mind Dave Brubeck, at other times Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker – especially in the night’s most gospel-tinged moments – and another 60s guy, Reginald Dwight, who almost took Brooker’s place in that band. But ultimately, Piatigorsky is his own animal.

A tongue-in-cheek, funky cover of Strawberry Fields Forever took similar detours into jazz territory without losing sight of the song’s surrealistic charm. “I’m glad I wrote that one,” Piatigorsky deadpanned afterward. “They named a park after it.”

“This next one is by a fellow Jew, a member of the tribe. He loved his women. He loved his drugs.” Piatigorsky paused. “I’m not talking about myself. I’m talking about the great Leonard Cohen.” And followed with the most epic version of Hallelujah that anyone ever could have attempted. The strings opened it, a wounded pavane of sorts; from there, the pianist made a mashup of gospel, art-rock and finally vintage Ashford and Simpson soul out of it. Yeah, the song should be retired and was pretty much ruined for good when Jeff Buckley did that florid cover. If only Piatigorsky could have beaten him to it.

There was other material on the bill. Oy, was there ever. Looking back, at least the rapper in the Wu-Tang shirt was good. To anyone who ever plays any of the Bleecker Street bars (and yeah, the Poisson Rouge is one of them, if a more pretentious and expensive one): these rubes from Jersey can’t tell Beethoven from Beyonce. They don’t even listen to music: they watch tv. The internet? What’s that? They’re only here because their parents came here back in the 60s and they think that being in “The City” suddenly makes them cool. They’ll applaud anything you give them. There’s no need to dumb down your set because these people can’t tell whether they’re being patronized, or actually being exposed to something worth hearing. Either way, they’ll be bragging to their friends back in Fort Lee about it.

Oh yeah – if you’re wondering who the hell Reginald Dwight is, he could have been in one of the alltime great art-rock bands, but instead he went solo and started calling himself Elton John. Whatever you think of his schlocky tunesmithing, he’s a kick-ass pianist.

Purist Guitarist Ed Cherry Brings His Soulful Organ Trio to Smalls

Guitarist Ed Cherry’s new album Soul Tree is both trad and unorthodox. When’s the last time you heard of a guitarist leading a B3 organ jazz trio? Usually it’s the organist – Jimmy Smith set the precedent with Jim Hall on guitar, right? But Cherry’s done this before, and his elegant, no-nonsense, chordal-and-blues approach works especially well in this configuration. As usual, he plays with a clean, purist 60s tone with a generous amount of reverb, looking back to Wes Montgomery more on this album than he has in the recent past. He’s playing the release show with his trio – Kyle Koehler on the organ and the Captain Black Big Band’s Anwar Marshall on drums – at Smalls on March 30 at 10 PM. Cover is $20 and includes a drink. With its dusky ambience, Smalls is a good place to see organ jazz, and the sound there is a lot better than it would have been at the gutbucket venues that were home to this stuff a half-century ago.

The album opens on a wry note with a cover of Kool & the Gang’s Let The Music Take Your Mind, reinvented as a swinging New Orleans second line-tinged groove. Aside from the originals here, the other tracks are often hardly what you would expect from an an organ trio. The three do Jimmy Heath’s A New Blue with a spacious midtempo swing: Marshall benefits from an imaginative and similarly vast production which pans cymbals right and left, maxing out the room’s natural reverb along with his vividly misty attack. The first of the Cherry originals, Rachel’s Step, is a latin-inflected shuffle that hits a peak with the guitarist’s jaunty cha-cha of a solo midway through.

The trio do Mal Waldron’s. Soul Eyes as a clave ballad; Cherry’s almost impeceptible drive upwards to a delicious and all-too-brief series of jabs draws on a background that goes back decades, with Dizzy Gillespie and other major figures. Freddie Hubbard’s Little Sunflower vamps along on carefree soul-jazz groove, Cherry building a Wes vibe with his octaves. The other Cherry original here, Little Girl Big Girl works similar territory over laid-back swing, giving Koehler a chance to cut loose.

Marshall builds the Trane classic Central Park West with a nimbly tumbling attack as Cherry bobs and weaves gradefull,, Koehler maintaining a low-key bluesiness as he does throughout the album. Harold Land’s Ode to Angela blends Marshall’s masterful, whispery clave with Cherry’s lingering, summery lines; Koehler’s lyrical solo might be the best one on the whole album. The classic Dave Brubeck ballad In Your Own Sweet Way gets the most hubristic treatment here: it’s barely recognizable. The album winds up with Horace Silver’s Peace, another showcase for Marshall’s meticulous brushwork and the band’s friendly chemistry. Most B3 groove albums are party records; counterintuitively, this one is more spare and reflective. Big up to Cherry for taking the style to a new place. Posi-Tone, home to more good postbop than any other record label still extant, gets credit for putting this one out. It hasn’t officially hit yet, but there’s a track up at their Soundcloud page.

Mighty Majestic Brilliance from Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band

Big band jazz is not the most lucrative style of music: after paying twenty guys for the gig, you’re lucky if there’s anything left over for you. But some of the most exciting composers in jazz persist in writing and recording large-ensemble pieces. Darcy James Argue is probably the most cutting-edge. Of all the purist, oldschool, blues-based big bands playing original material, pianist Orrin Evans‘ Captain Black Big Band is without a doubt the most powerful and entertaining. For those who don’t know his music, Evans is a vigorously cerebral tunesmith and one of this era’s most distinctive pianists: think of a young Kenny Barron with more stylistically diverse influences and you’re on the right track. Evans’ initial recording with this band was a roller-coaster ride through lively and often explosive, majestically blues-infused tunes. His new one, Mother’s Touch, is arguably even better, and has a broader emotional scope. Evans and this mighty crew play the album release show at Smoke jazz club uptown (Broadway between 105th and 106th) with sets at 7 and 9 PM on April 28. Get there early if you’re going (a seat a the bar is your best bet) because this will probably sell out.

The album’s slow, torchy first track, In My Soul, is amazing. It’s the most lavishly orchestrated oldschool soul song without words you’ll ever hear. Evans’ gentle, gospel-infused piano, Marcus Strickland’s searching tenor sax solo, and an artfully arranged conversation between groups of horns lead up to a joyously brass-fueled peak. By contrast, Explain It to Me is an enigmatic, pinpoint, Monk-ish latin groove, guest drummer Ralph Peterson doing a good impersonation of a salsa rhythm section on his big kit.

The album’s title track is a relatively brief two-parter: it’s basically an intro, guest pianist Zaccai Curtis spiraling around majestically on the first and then leapfrogging on the second over a dense wall of sound and Anwar Marshall’s tumbling drums.The best song on the album – and maybe the best single song that’s come over the transom here this year – is Dita. Throughout its long, impressionistic crescendos, elegant solo voices peeking in through the Gil Evans-like lustre and gracefully acrobatic outro, the pianist has a great time alluding to both the rhythm and the blues.

Tickle, written by Donald Edwards, works variations on a series of big, whirling riffs echoed by Stacy Dillard’s clustering tenor solo and then some wryly energetic call-and-response among the orchestra. An Eric Revis song, Maestra builds off a trickily rhythmic, circular riff underpinning a casually funky groove and a tersely jaunty Fabio Morgera trumpet solo. The band has a blast with the droll, bubbly bursts of Wayne Shorter’s Water Babies, a long trumpet solo giving voice to the most boisterous of the toddlers in the pool. The album ends with the epic Prayer for Columbine, an unexpectedly optimistic, cinematic theme grounded in unease – it has the feel of a longscale Quincy Jones soundtrack piece from the mid 60s. Pensive trombone over a similarly brooding vamp eventually gives way to a massive funk groove with a long, vividly animated conversation between aggravated baritone sax and a cooler-headed counterpart on tenor. It’s not always clear just who is soloing, but the whole thing is a sweeping, passionate performance from a big crew which also includes trumpeters Tanya Darby, Duane Eubanks, Tatum Greenblatt and Brian Kilpatrick; saxophonists Mark Allen, Doug Dehays, Stacy Dillard, Tim Green and Victor North, trombonists Dave Gibson, Conrad Herwig, Stafford Hunter, Andy Hunter and Brent White, with Luques Curtis on bass.