New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Glenn Zaleski

Vivid, Picturesque, Purposeful Violin Jazz From Tomoko Omura

Tomoko Omura is one of the most distinctive and purposeful violinists in jazz. Her album Branches Vol. 1 is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s refreshingly uncluttered, tuneful and picturesque, especially when it comes to the nocturnes.

She opens it with a radical reinvention of Moonlight in Vermont. Just as soon as Omura’s theme threatens to rise to total self-combustion, she and the band bring it down to elegant, purposeful, optimistic lyricism. Pianist Glenn Zaleski takes a masterfully light-fingered solo to a similarly triumphant crescendo followed by spare, soaring riffs by the bandleader over a loopy pulse. Late 70s Jean-Luc Ponty comes to mind, but with a more organic backdrop.

Three Magic Charms is aptly titled, Zaleski’s starry lines mingling with sailing violin, guitarist Jeff Miles’ fanged swells and accents adding a menacing edge over bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Jay Sawyer’s dubwise pulse. As it grows funkier, Sawyer’s subtle carnivalesque touches lure his bandmates into similar shenanigans.

Zaleski’s sternly low, modal chords anchor The Revenge of the Rabbit as Omura slides and soars while the drums scramble and cluster. Again, the rhythm takes on a funkier bounce for Zaleski’s scampering solo before he moves back down, Omura’s woozy, processed, atmospheric lines taking over. In this case, living well seems to be the best revenge a critter could want

Zaleski glimmers amid drifting atmospherics as Return to the Moon gets underway, Omura’s koto-like flickers kicking off a slow, richly suspenseful, anthemic sway: this mission turns out to be a smashing success. Both the space-jazz of Bryan and the Aardvarks and the driftiest Pink Floyd soundscapes are good points of comparison.

Omura winds up the record with Konomichi, a lively, leaping tune with Zaleski on electric and acoustic piano and a fleetingly stinging bass/violin break. Good news: Omura has an excellent, eclectic follow-up volume just out as well

A Picturesque, Poignant New Volume From Jazz Violinist Tomoko Omura

This blog called violinist Tomoko Omura‘s 2020 album Branches “refreshingly uncluttered, tuneful and picturesque, especially when it comes to the nocturnes.” On her newly released second volume – streaming at Bandcamp – she takes both that saturnine ambience and picturesque sensibility to the next level. The band includes pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Pablo Menares, drummer Jay Sawyer and guitarist Jeff Miles. These songs burst with purposeful tunes, ideas and thoughtful solos.

They open with To a Firefly, Omura adding elegant vocal harmonies over a sober, slowly shuffling groove spiced with eerily flickering piano, ominously lingering guitar chords, lilting triplets from the bass, alternately sailing melody and apprehensive harmonics from the violin. The trick ending will take you completely by surprise.

Melancholy of a Crane is a spare, moodily balletesque jazz waltz, Zaleski’s enigmatically resonant chords behind Omura’s slowly unwinding, sustained tones. Little by little, his brightly incisive solo pushes the clouds away for a bit before the bandleader’s spare, subtly chromatic solo brings the unsettled atmosphere back.

To Ryan Se begins as a bracing, trickily rhythmic Balkan dance number and picks up with a racewalking swing. Omura chooses her spots in a biting, energetic, methodically crescendoing solo, Zaleski’s romping lines once again bringing up the lights, Miles shredding a path for a tantalizingly sizzling coda.

A murky bit of a tone poem, a lively series of solo arpeggios and then Zaleski’s somber, funereal chords take centerstage as Bow’s Dance slowly unwinds, Omura again steady and apprehensive overhead: damn, this is an album for our time! But the light-fingered stampede out is a hoot.

Tomie’s Blues is actually a steady, gorgeously lyrical ballad, Menares taking a warmly dancing, mutedly incisive solo over Zaleski’s spare gleam and Sawyer’s whispery brushwork. They wind up the record with the Urashima Suite, unwinding from a tight, spiraling, Terry Riley-ish piano riff to a gracefully bounding, shimmering Zaleski solo, a jagged violin/guitar break, a subtly conversational series of violin and piano variations capped off by a lush Omura solo, and some deliciously unhinged bluesmetal from Miles. Don’t be surprised to see this album on a lot of best-of-2021 lists assuming that those who put them together haven’t collectively taken the needle of death.

Lucas Pino’s No No Nonet Is a Hit

Alto saxophonist Lucas Pino is a highly sought-after commodity in the New York scene, but he’s also a formidable composer. He and his coyly named No No Nonet have honed their sound with a regular residency at Smalls for more than a couple of years. Their latest album, That’s a Computer is streaming at Spotify – is a classic example of a band with smart charts which make them sound larger than they really are (although nine players are a handful, especially if you have to round them up for gigs}. They’re playing the album release show tomorrow night, Nov 19 at 7:30 PM at Smalls; cover is $20.

The album opens auspiciously with Antiquity, a brooding, rather bitter jazz waltz over edgy changes that remind of Frank Foster or Chris Jentsch at his most intense. Rafal Sarnecki’s guitar lingers; burnished horns rise and fall, Pino pirouetting elegantly rather than going for the jugular, especially after the lithe interlude midway through.

Horse of a Different Color is a big, bustling swing shuffle driven by Glenn Zaleski’s piano over Desmond White’s brisk bass and Jimmy Macbride’s drums. The interweave between reeds and brass – alto saxophonist Alex LoRe and baritone saxophonist Andrew Gutauskas with trumpeter Mat Jodrell and trombonist Nick Finzer – is especially tasty, as is Pino’s wafting runs punctuated by the piano and then the rest of the horns as Macbfride works a wry offbeat shuffle groove.

The lustrous ballad Film at 11 opens with rainy-day splashes of guitar and a slow brushy beat behind the horns’ glistening, sustained harmonies, Zaleski in spacious wee-hours mode. Pino’s mistiness matches the ambience; the slow, minimalist horn harmonies as it winds out add indie classical astringency.

Look Into My Eyes comes across as sort of a mashup of the album’s first and third tracks: darkly catchy hooks within a lush postbop framework, Pino again taking his time reaching takeoff velocity. The circling flock of counterpoint kicking off Finzer’s trombone solo is one of the album’s high points.

The album’s most majestically towering number is Frustrations, guest Camila Meza’s wistfully tender vocalese juxtaposed with bittersweet horns, the rhythm section giving everybody a wide, spacious berth. Gutauskas’ bass clarinet solo methodically parses the enigmatic atmosphere.

A bright, incisive clave tune, Sueno de Gatos has Afro-Cuban flair, and an almost conspiratorial camaraderie between Meza’s voice and the pulsing brass, the bandleader adding bluesy purism up to an unexpected, massed-staccato minimalist interlude. The album’s final cut is a jubilantly strutting vignette, Baseball Simiulator 1.000 (if you follow the sport, you know that a 1.000 average means a hit every time up).

Apropos of that baseball reference – there’s considerable irony that a band named after a certain 1920s Broadway musical would be released in a year when the Boston Red Sox won their fourth world championship in the past fifteen years. The producer of that musical, Harry Frazee also owned the Sox – and sold off all their star players in order to finance it. The Yankees took on almost every single one of those contracts. Babe Ruth and the rest of what was once the Sox put on pinstripes and became baseball’s first and arguably greatest dynasty. The Bostonians, their talent depleted, plummeted to last place: it would take them more than a decade to return to respectability.

Annie Chen Brings Her Fearlessly Eclectic, Soulful, Smart New Jazz Compositions to Midtown

Annie Chen sings with a resolute, purposeful alto voice, often with a sense of suspense. But her greatest strength right now, as she becomes more comfortable with her adopted English language, is as a composer. Singer/composers in jazz are rare; those as ambitious, and fearless, and have as much of a gift for melody as Chen are rarer still. She has no issues with leapfrogging from one influence to another, whether that’s vintage soul, the folk and classical music of her native China, purposeful American postbop or more epic larger-ensemble sounds with intricate and unpredictable charts. There’s a sense of the surreal, even a dream state, that permeates much of what she writes, and it draws the listener in. She’s got an auspicious gig coming up on July 10 at 7 PM at Club Bonafide, leading a septet with Glenn Zaleski on piano, Alex Lore on saxophone and flute, David Smith on trumpet, Marius Duboule on guitar, Desmond White on bass and Jerad Lippi on drums, with special guest violinist Tomoko Omura, who’s collaborated vividly with Chen in the past. Cover is $10.

In the time since Chen’s 2014 sextet album Pisces the Dreamer, she’s grown considerably as both as a singer and as a writer. While it’s worth a spin if imaginative postbop arrangements and tunesemithing are concerned, Chen’s most intriguing material right now is recent, and it’s up at her audio and video pages. Check out her septet gig at Flushing Town Hall earlier this year. There’s Orange Tears Lullaby, with its suspenseful pizzicato violin intro into to a lush, vampy verse and eventually a balmy, crescendoing coda over a determined triplet groove. Mr. Wind-Up Bird, Strange Yearning mashes up an Asian folk-tinged theme over a balletesque pulse as Chen scats the blues, alto saxophonis Alex LoRe spiraling optimistically over Jarrett Cherner’s incisive, low-key piano.

Leaving Sonnet is more enigmatic, moody and introspective but with a solid groove as well, trumpeter David Smith slowly and methodically following Chen’s countours as the theme grows more energetic and optimistic, a door closing while another one opens. She also covers Nirvana and a Mongolian folk tune that she turns into a bittersweet tone poem.

And if you have the time, contrast the gritty 2014 Shapeshifter Lab take of another, older original, the latin soul-inspired Things I Know with the much more confident and dynamic version she and the group delivered onstage in Queens earlier this year. Since her arrival from Beijing, Chen has really grabbed the tiger by the tail and hasn’t looked back. Let’s hope she sticks around.