New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: guitar jazz

The Enigmatic, Dynamic, Hard-Hitting Desert Foxx Invades the West Village

Desert Foxx don’t seem to have anything to do with Nazi generals, and there’s nobody in the band named Rommel. If you have to squeeze the trio into a category, postrock would work. Film music, ambient soundscaping, jazz improvisation and deep noir also factor into bassist/bandleader Mike DeiCont’s compositions. Their intriguing new ep Kill Together is streaming at Bandcamp, and they have a gig on Oct 4 at 6 PM at Cornelia Street Cafe with special guest multi-reedman Levon Henry. It’s a great deal: cover is ten bucks and includes a drink!

The album is a darkly cinematic triptych. The first track, For Giants opens with a mysterious temple-gong ambience from drummer Alex Kirkpatrick that rises to a hailstorm of cymbals, then there’s a sudden explosion of guitar squall from Louis Cohen over a slow, bludgeoning beat: Brandon Seabrook in slow-mo and Mick Barr come to mind.

Bring Us Home begins just as slowly but at the other end of the telescope, deep-sky tremolo guitar and Kirkpatrick’s tinkling piano building a rich, ominously melancholy, Lynchian ambience – until Cohen hits his distortion pedal and the wrath kicks in again. From there they go back to closing time at Laura Palmer’s favorite Twin Peaks corner drugstore, then firebomb the joint.

The final cut is Where We Burn the Bodies, with its spare, slow, stately bass chords, distant guitar and drum flickers amid the smoke off the battlefield. If an album is supposed to leave you wanting more, this one earns a perfect score. Has any band this potentially explosive ever played the Cornelia? Doubtful. Go on the fourth, have a free drink and find out for yourself.

Darkness and Revelry in Equal Measure in Tomas Fujiwara’s Brilliant New Triple Double Album

Drummer Tomas Fujiwara’s music is all about creating a mood, and narratives, and destinations, and all the fun a band can have with interplay and conversations and occasional jousting on the way there. For all of those reasons, he’s one of the busiest guys in jazz. The musicianship on his new album Triple Double – soon to be streaming at Bandcamp – is as deep as his address book. Just the fact that he’s got two of the most ferocious guitarists on the planet, Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook sparring with each other makes this a must-own for fans of dark, gritty, occasionally hilarious music.

It’s pretty high concept: in addition to the guitars, there are two horns – Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and Ralph Alessi on trumpet – and two drummers, Gerald Cleaver holding down the second chair. It’s akin to a  more improvisational, less assaultive take on percussive British guitar band Action Beat, . In an interesting stroke of fate, Seabrook also put out a ferociously good new double-drum album, wryly titled Die Trommel Fatale, earlier this year. Fujiwara and the band are playing the album release show on Sept 22 at the Jazz Gallery, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $22.

The fun starts right ffom the first few bars of the squirrelly two-guitar conversation that opens the first track, Diving For Quarters. For the listener, it’s a challenge to figure out who’s who, especially as a long, rather grim crescendo slowly builds. Looming brass contrasts with a squall or two as Fujiwara swings with his work boots on, Alessi taking a long latin noir-infused solo up to a gleeful thunderstorm of drums and guitar swipes.

Likewise, Alessi chooses his moments in a long solo that bisects the leering storm and skronk of the two guitars and drumkits in Blueberry Eyes, Halvorson in the left channel, Seabrook in the right throwing blast after distorted blast at each other. Suddenly the sky clears and they’re following a circular, allusively New Orleans-tinged shuffle as Bynum comes to the front. Even as some sweet brass harmonies take over at the end, Halvorson can’t wait to let it trail out with a down-the-drain rattle.

A gloomy rainy-day ambience, astringent guitars over spare drums and cymbals, pervades Hurry Home, a psychedelic tone poem of sorts. Pocket Pass makes a flailing contrast, packed with blazing trumpet spirals, snarky kiss-off guitars, Halvorson’s bad cop against Seabrook’s deadpan good cop. All of a sudden it straightens out (as much as anything straightens out on this album) in a dark latin direction.

For Alan opens with a droll spoken-word sample of a ten-year-old Fujiwara in conversation with his mentor Alan Dawson, who encourages him to have a good time within the parameters. “If a cymbal falls in, if the pedal breaks, whatever.” This matter-of-factly rising Cleaver-Fujiwara duel stays on the rails even as flurries in each channel diverge: the chase is on! Eight-minute pieces for drums alone are rarely this entertaining.

An elegaic, mournful horn melody rises over the drums’ tumble and crush as Love and Protest coalesces, bolstered by Seabrook’s eerie, reverberating belltones and echo effects as the menacing cloud darkens. It’s finally punctured by Alessi, but even he’s eventually subsumed in the vortex. Halvorson artfully takes over the slasher role as the dirge returns.

Notwithstanding all the uneasy close harmonies, Decisive Shadow is awfully catchy, especially when the horns kick in, up to a trickily shifting, insistent vamp with a contrastingly ebullient Alessi solo. Halvorson’s shears and sputters signal the drums, and everybody else, to tunnel down into the darkness.

The group returns to the Hurry Home theme with gingerly tremoloing guitars amid the sleet of the percussion: it’s the album’s creepiest number. Sarcastic cornet opens Toasting the Mart, a twisted march, Halvfrson thinking about horror surf, the horns peeping in through respective windows. Seabrook flickers and then the whole thing dissolves in a toxic heap only to reemerge unexpectedly.

To Hours (a pun?) makes an apt concluding statement, from a loosely congealing free-improv interlude to an uneasily cantering vamp, Alessi battling the murky backdrop. This isn’t just one of the most gripping jazz albums of the year: it’s on the level of anything any of the cast here have released as leaders recently. One of the ten best, maybe five best albums of the year, to be more precise. Press play, hit repeat, you’ll get used to it.

The Mary Halvorson Octet at the Vanguard: This Month’s Can’t-Miss New York Jazz Show

Mary Halvorson’s first set of a weeklong stand with her octet last night at the Vanguard danced and pulsed with outside-the-box ideas and some of her signature, edgy humor. Yet this was far more of a dark, troubled, often mesmerizing performance: music to get lost in from one of the three best jazz guitarists in the world at the top of her game. She and the band will be at the Vanguard, with sets at 8:30 and 10:30 PM tonight, July 19 through the 23rd; cover is $30.

Halvorson’s not-so-secret weapon in this latest edition of the band is pedal steel player Susan Alcorn. Predictably, she adds pastoral color, notably with the lonesome whistle-stop riffs in the night’s opening couple of numbers. But Halvorson also employs the steel to beef up the harmonies, an analogue for high reeds or brass to make the unit sound much larger than it is. Credit Great Plains gothic songwriter Rose Thomas Bannister for bringing the two together: they first performed in Bannister’s Fort Greene living room.

And while she and Alcorn shadowed each other and blended what became eerie, Messsiaenic tonalities, most audibly with the astringent close harmonies of the opening number, this isn’t a vehicle for Halvorson’s fret-burning…or so it seems. This is about compositions…and quasi-controlled chaos. It’s hard to imagine a less trad band playing this hallowed space.

Although the night’s most chilling and memorable number was a world premiere, its brooding Gil Evans/Miles Davis lustre following a distantly furtive path upward and outward, buoyed by the four-horn frontline of trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, alto sax player Jon Irabagon, tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and trombonist Jacob Garchik. The premiere right after that had more of the bubbly, jagged syncopation of the earlier part of the set, but with a restless late 50s Mingus bustle.

Old West ghost-town motives mingled with chattering, racewalking horns as Halvorson icedpicked her way through with a biting mix of digital delay and what sounded like an envelope pedal. Yet her most memorable spots were the slow, dying-quasar oscillations of an intro midway through the set, awash in reverb…and the allusively gritty clusters of the night’s closing number, Fog Bank, where she finally rose out of a mist left to linger by Alcorn and Garchik.

Drummer Ches Smith has so many different rolls, he should open a bakery: he and Halvorson have a long association, and she let him have fun with his usual tropes on hardware and repurposed cymbals. Pairings were smartly chosen and vivid, between Smith and Finlayson, or Smith and Laubrock, or bassist Chris Lightcap cantering and straining at the bit to fire up the horns. All this and more are possible throughout the week, a stand with potential historic significance. You snooze, you lose.

Stephane Wrembel Releases a Lavish, Charecteristically Edgy New Romany Jazz Album at Drom Tonight

Guitarist Stephane Wrembel made a name for himself as a stormy, erudite interpreter of Django Reinhardt, but his own body of work encompasses far more than that, using Romany jazz as a stepping-off point for his own distinctive ventures into Middle Eastern sounds and psychedelic rock. His lavish, dynamically rich, often poignant new double cd The Django Experiment is streaming at youtube. Disc one is mostly an imaginative mix of Django classics; disc two is mostly originals, in more of a jazz vein than what audiences get at his ongoing, legendary most-every-Sunday night 9 PM-ish residency at Barbes. He’s playing the album release show tonight, June 10 at 8 PM at Drom; hopefully by now you have your $15 advance tickets because it’s an extra five at the door.

The first disc opens with Nuages, Wrembel’s elegantly spare, resonant lines over Thor Jensen’s spring-loaded rhythm guitar, Ari Folman-Cohen’s bass and Nick Anderson’s drums. Wrembel takes somewhat the opposite approach with his tremolo-picking on the waltz Gin-Gin, then he and Folman-Cohen have fun working the chromatic edges of Bouncin’ Around, a close cousin to Brother Can You Spare a Dime.

Nick Driscoll’s clarinet spirals around and intertwines artfully with Wrembel on the jaunty Dinette. By contrast, Wrembel and Jensen max out the modal melancholy in a majestically spacious take of Troublant Bolero, up to a characteristically careening crescendo. It makes a good segue with the first of Wrembel’s originals, Windmills, a brisk, deliciously broodng waltz.

The band goes back to the Django catalog for a bubbly, lickety-split take of Place de Broukere, followed by the bucolic desolation of Carnets de Route,Wrembel’s moodily magical mashup of Django and Pink Floyd. The up-down dynamics continue with the coyly strutting Djangology and then Wrembel’s plaintively mined take of Sasha Distel’s Ma Premiere Guitare. Disc one winds up with Wrembel’s wistful waltz Jacques Prevert followed by a roller-coaster ride through Django’s Minor Swing. the bandleader channeling Wes Montgomery up to a mightily plucked bass solo and finally a stampede out.

The second disc begins with the epically vamping Douce Ambience. It perfectly capsulizes the confluence of Middle Eastern modalities and Romany swing that Wrembel first began mining around ten years ago, the guitarist’s understated unease in contrast with Driscoll’s relentless centrifugal force on soprano sax, Anderson taking it out with a long hailstorm of a solo. Viper’s Dream is pretty close to the Django version, with a little wryly bouncing Tal Farlow thrown in.

A waltz by Bamboula Ferrret benefits from Wrembel’s judicious, occasionally tremolo-picked phrases mixed into an attack that’s equally precise and resonant: all those notes don’t just vanish into thin air. Boston, another waltz, begins wistfully, grows more elegaic and then Wrembel builds a long, growling upward drive. Then the band flips the script with the toe-tapping shuffle Double Scotch, Driscoll adding dixieland effervescence.

Reinhardt’s midtempo stroll Tears reveals itself here as the source of a Beatles hit that Big Lazy likes to take even deeper into the shadows. Nanoc, which is Wrembel’s Caravan, opens with a levantine slink and slithers further off the rails from there. Then he makes a surreal juxtaposition with Django’s Louis Jordan-influenced Heavy Artillery, which is anything but. After that, Minor Blues is middle ground, more or less, Wrembel adding an understated intensity, part Wes Montgomery, part psychedelic rock, with a long, practically frantic sprint out.

Interestingly, the album’s best track isn’t one of the barn-burners but Wrembel’s slow, hushed, allusively flamenco-ish Film Noir. Raising the ante again, Driscoll’s clarinet infuses Songe d’Automne with an indian summer breeze. The final cut is the enigmatically balmy ballad Anouman, ironically the closest thing to straight-up postbop here. Over and over, Wrembel reaffirms his status as paradigm-shifter and one of the world’s most engaging, original innovators in Romany guitar jazz.

Brandon Seabrook Will See You on the Dark Side of the Drum

Brandon Seabrook is one of New York’s great musical individualists. He made his name as a shredder – anybody who’s witnessed his neutron-beam attack on guitar or banjo can vouch for how accurately the bandname Seabrook Power Plant reflects his sound. Yet anyone who’s ever seen him play guitar in magically nuanced singer Eva Salina’s electric Balkan group knows how gorgeously lyrical and restrained his playing can be. Seabrook’s latest album, Die Trommel Fatale, is streaming at Bandcamp . As drummer Dave Treut, who’s played with Seabrook for longer than most anyone else, observed over drinks the other night at Barbes, it pretty well capsulizes Seabrook’s career so far.  He’s likely to become the loudest, most assaultive guitarist ever to play Joe’s Pub when he and the band show up for the album release show this June 8 at  9:30 PM. Cover is $15.

The premise of the album is what can happen when you anchor the music with two drummers, without cymbals. The result turns out to be less funereal than simply monstrous. Treut and Sam Ospovat rumble and crush behind those stripped-down kits, with Marika Hughes on cello, Eivind Opsvik on bass and Chuck Bettis doing the Odin deathmetal thing on the mic.

The album opens with Emotional Cleavage, which could be very sad or completely the opposite, depending on how you interpret the title. This one’s a mashup of free jazz, death metal and 70s King Crimson: squirrelly franticness side by side with lingering, Messianic unease. Clangorous Vistas begin with a wry car horn allusion, a high drone, then sudden insectile scampering into a dancing skronk that eventually catapults Seabrook into one of his usual feral, tremolo-picked assaults

Jungly electronics, eerily resonant jangle and warped, machinegunning squall alternate throughout Abccessed Pettifogger (gotta love those titles, huh?) Shamans Never R.S.V.P. is a real creeper, waves of stark strings underpinning Seabrook’s elegantly skeletal, upper-register stroll: it sounds like Hildegarde von Bingen on acid, and it’s one of the few places on the album where the percussion gets as ominous as the rest of the band. And then everybody goes skronking and squalling, with a tumbling duel between Treut and Ospovat. From there, the similarly shrieky Litany of Turncoats makes a good segue.

The Greatest Bile, a diptych, builds out of crackling, circling riffage to the most twisted march released this year, Seabrook radiating evil Keith Levene-esque overtones when he’s not torturing the strings with volley after volley of tremolo-picking. Opsvik’s calmly pulsing solo, and then Hughes’ far more grim one, reach down for something approaching a respite from the firestorm. The second part is just as dirty if a little less unhinged, like a drony Martin Bisi noisescape with the strings and drums hovering on the periphery. 

The sandy-paintbrush drum brushing of the atmospheric Rhizomatic comes as a welcome surprise, then the band goes back to Quickstep Grotesquerie (the next number, which would be an apt secondary album title). The final cut is a chaotic, cauldron sarcastically titled Beautiful Flowers. This isn’t exactly easy listening, but in its own extremely twisted way, it’s a party in a box. Lights out on the floor with headphones on! 

Eight-String Guitarist Charlie Hunter Brings His Irrepressibly Fun Band to the Rockwood

Guitarists who don’t waste notes are a rare breed. They’re even rarer in the world of jambands and summer tours, which is where Charlie Hunter made his mark. As you would expect from a guy who tacked on a couple of extra strings to bolster the low end of his six-string model, groove is his thing. In doing so, he invented his own style of music, equal parts jazz, reggae, funk and vintage soul. And he can be hilarious. His latest excellent, characteristically eclectic album Everybody Has a Plan Until They Get Punched is streaming at Spotify. Hunter and his fantastic quartet have a two-night stand coming up on March 8 and 9 at 8:30 PM at the third stage at the Rockwood; cover is $15. The last time this blog was in the house there, they weren’t enforcing that annoying drink minimum, a good thing since Hunter’s crowd is more likely to smoke than get wasted on the Rockwood’s expensive drinks.

The album opens with the title track, a slow, comfortable swing blues with a characteristically wry, bubbling Curtis Fowlkes trombone solo; then cornetist Kirk Knuffke signals that all may not be so cool after all. Drummer Bobby Previte’s emphatic, tersely swinging slow triplet groove anchors the second track, Looks Like Someone Got Ahead of Schedule on Their Medication, which opens with an amusingly woozy voicings from Fowlkes and Knuffke, then takes a detour to New Orleans before the meds kick in again.

Staccato horns add spice to Leave Him Lay, a mid-80s Grateful Dead style blues fueled by Previte’s swinging, almost disco drive and Hunter’s spiky, Bob Weir-ish chords. We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent is an uneasily swaying midtempo noir theme, like Big Lazy with horns and  a long, purposefully crescendoing blues solo from the bandleader. Then Hunter gets even more retro with Big Bill’s Blues, ostensibly a Big Bill Broonzy homage. beginning starkly and then shifting into jubilant Crescent City territory with some artful counterpoint from the horns.

The darkly simmering soul theme Latin for Travelers is a vehicle for a contrastingly bright solo from Knuffke and then Fowlkes, dipping down to just the horns and then back for extra dynamic punch. No Money No Honey is as hard as the funk gets here, although it’s more of a swing tune: everybody in the band, especially Previte, is having a ball with this one.

Who Put You Behind the Wheel opens as a spaciously tiptoeing, Asian-tinged excursion, then morphs into reggae, with a trick ending. The looseness and freeness of Wish I Was Already Paid and On My Way Home mask its relentlessly dark, distantly klezmer-tinged undercurrent . The album winds up with the jaunty, dixieland-ish second-line march The Guys Get Shirts. This works on every level, as first-rate jazz, blues and psychedelia.

Raptly Tuneful Middle Eastern-Flavored Pastorales From Surface to Air

It would have been fun to see Surface to Air at Barbes last night. The trio – guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, who rarely plays acoustic, alongside bassist Jonti Siman and tabla player Rohin Khemani – also doesn’t play out much either. Their sparse, warmly tuneful, hypnotically intriguing album is available as a name-your-price download from Bandcamp.

The opening track is aptly titled Simple: built on an elegantly catchy rainy-day minor-key theme played with meticulous touch by Goldberger, it centers around a kinetic tabla rhythm. Heysatan is even more spare, Goldberger’s gentle, purposeful, catchy tune again centered around the rhythm section’s steady anchor. Siman’s similarly easygoing bass intro is a clever fake: as the briskly saturnine, Palestinian-tinged theme unwinds, it sounds like an acoustic sketch for a David Lynch soundtrack set in the most war-torn territory in Gaza. Siman’s drone anchors a suspenseful interlude that Goldberger spins and spirals out of with hints of Django Reinhardt.

The slow, somber Odalisque is sort of a bolero counterpart to a Trio Joubran-style Middle Eastern dirge. Matanzas is Goldberger’s platform for using a catchy, melancholy flamenco-inflected theme to set up a swoopy, morose bass solo. With its steady sway, Arcana follows a steadily crescendoing folk noir tangent that brightens as it goes along.

The Sleep in Your Eyes opens with a dusky, sepulchral improvisation, builds to a spare, galloping pulse and then recedes back to spacious, pensive solo guitar. The final track is the ballad Waltz for Celia, the closest thing to postbop here, spiced with the occasional levantine or south Asian riff over rather ominous low-end percussion, with a gracefully uneasy bass solo.

Is this Middle Eastern music? Sure. Indian music? Rhythmically, yes. Jazz? Why not? Download this delicious disc and decide for yourself. Thanks to Barbes for booking this fantastic band, who otherwise would have flown under the radar here. Goldberger is in constant demand in New York as a sideman and plays with a ton of groups, notably violinist Dana Lyn’s psychedelic, ecologically themed Mother Octopus outfit.

Darkly Distinctive Guitarist Will Bernard Makes a Rare Appearance Beyond His Usual Turf

Guitarist Will Bernard is unique in the jazz world as someone with a serious postbop pedigree but also a dark side and a penchant for all sorts of interesting textures. The trouble with so many jazz guitarists who use a lot of effects is that they sound fusiony, i.e. like everybody in the band is on coke and soloing at the same time. Bernard’s music, by contrast, is very straightforward, tuneful and often cinematic: he’s easy to spot because nobody else really sounds like him. When he’s not on tour – he’s highly sought after as a sideman – his usual home in New York is Smalls. But sometimes some of these A-list jazz guys use small venues more or less as a rehearsal room, which probably explains how Bernard got booked into the small room at the Rockwood at 10 PM on Jan 2. It’s a great opportunity to hear one of the most distinctive talents in New York jazz guitar in an intimate setting with good sound.

Bernard’s latest album is the aptly titled Out and About, streaming at Posi-Tone Records. All but one of the tracks are originals and the band is fantastic. Drummer Allison Miller’s jaunty groove, a New Orleans shuffle beamed back to Africa, propels the wry wah-infused opening number, Happy Belated, John Ellis’ bright tenor sax contrasting with Ben Allison’s growly, sinuous bass. Bernard follows that with a wistful, Americana-tinged miniature, Not Too Fancy. Then the band go for offcenter harmonies and staggered rhythms with Next Guest, from some terse guitar-sax exchanges to Bernard tumbling alongside Miller’s steady crescendoing pulse, Allison weaving between the raindrops.

The heat in Habenera, the album’s best and most epic track, is the simmering kind, Brian Charette’s creepy funeral organ over a beat that almost imperceptibly shifts away from an uneasy tango toward roots reggae as Bernard growls and burns: it sounds like Beninghove’s Hangmen at their most jazz-oriented. Then the band moves to an altered swing shuffle with Redwood (Business Casual), the bandleader’s enigmatic lines and Charette’s scampering riffage adding a suspiciously sardonic edge against Ellis’ irrepressible good cheer and a classic, expertly extroverted Miller solo.

A doggedly insistent clave groove, a catchy Americana turnaround and moody guitar-organ chromatics mingle throughout the Lynchian Homeward Bound, another killer cut: Bernard’s flickering resonance gives the impression that he wouldn’t mind staying on the road instead. By contrast, Ellis’ misty sax and Miller’s gently strolling rhythm take Homebody into pleasantly grey-sky current-day pastoral jazz territory.

With its pensive sway and surreal guitar efx channeling distant deep-space disturbances, Suggested Reading is another number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Brian Beninghove catalog – dig that trick ending! Miller rides the traps and Charette bubbles throughout the toe-tapping Full Sweep, which looks back to classic Jim Hall/Jimmy Smith collaborations. A slow, spacious number, Pan Seared veers warpedly toward pastorale territory The album winds up with the title track, a bleak bolero-jazz piece once again anchored in the murky depths by Charette, an apt way to wind up this shadowy, distinctive gem of an album.

A Darkly Brilliant New Album and a Release Show Tomorrow Night at Smalls by Saul “Zeb” Rubin

When he’s not running a loft – where for a couple of years he backed just about every A-list jazz singer on this continent – this cat is the great unsung hero of jazz guitar in New York City. An economy of notes and laser-like purpose define Saul “Zeb” Rubin, sideman to the stars. While there’s no hip bebop voicing that’s off-limits in his book, where he excels with such consistency and understated power is when he goes deep into the dark, grittier side of his own picturesque, shadowy compositions, bristling with suspense and implied menace. In that sense, he’s the missing link between Gene Bertoncini and Bill Frisell. He gets props for writing charts and playing guitar in the Roy Hargrove Big Band, and he’s a regular Sonny Rollins sideman. But his best material ultimately might be his own. His new album, his third, is titled Zeb’s Place, a shout-out to the second-floor Chelsea studio space where he held court and brought in a parade of talented singers to rival the Vanguard. He’s playing the album release show tomorrow night, Nov 6 at 7:30 at Smalls with his “Zebtet” – trumpeter Josh Evans, alto saxophonist Lummie Spann, tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard, trombonist Frank Lacy, bassist Jonathan Michel and drummer Brandon Lewis.

It’s a mix of both originals and standards with pretty much the same band plus some special guests. Rubin distinguishes himself as a multi-instrumentalist, playing both electric bass, piano and keyboards on several of the numbers here. The bandstand-burner Android opens the album with a bright four-horn frontline, purposefully brief solos all around, Rubin’s own terse, boisterously witty cascades at the center. Those same horns give a lowlit lustre to the slowly swinging, funk-tinged Oh God Show Me the Way, Dillard’s enigmatically strolling lines building a lattice before Rubin himself delivers a pensive three-way conversation, on guitar, bass guitar and string synth.

The first of four standards here, Billy Reid’s The Gypsy is a rapturous duet with Hargrove, Rubin’s judiciously voicing his chords and the spaces around them in tandem with his longtime collaborator’s airy flugelhorn melody. Rubin opens the eerily cinematic diptych Mean Old Joe/Darkness on piano, building to a brooding crescendo spiced with Lewis’ spare cymbals; then the arrangement expands with moody, noir horns, up to a harrowing Evans trumpet cadenza. Dillard shifts to brighter terrain over angst-fueled flurries as the piano carries the theme to its darkly latin-tinged conclusion.

The group does Thomas Chapin’s Who? as a briskly resonant bossa, Dillard and Evans each following a a tenderly melismatic trajectory up to Rubin’s understatedly impactful, fluttering tremolo chords and hammer-on lines. Rubin’s own slinky stroll Cobi Narita gives tenorist Ned Goold a platform for spaciously lowdown prowling matched by the guitarist’s pensive, low-key chordal attack and shadowy solo.

Rubin goes to the well for a couple of standards, making an epically furtive, haunting bossa and then shadowy swing out of All or Nothing at All in a trio setting with Neal Caine on bass and Charles Goold on drums. Rubin’s starkly direct, solo take of Autumn in New York draws a straight line back to Joe Pass and Jim Hall, a rapt kaleidoscope of shifting harmonies. The final number is Rubin’s own coy Halal Falafel, a funny, surreal, hip-hop flavored tribute to New York Middle Eastern street food. There will no doubt be plenty of uneasy urban tableaux, purist sophistication and babaganoush-fueled wit onstage at Smalls tomorrow night.

A Walk in the Dark with Mary Halvorson

What’s the likelihood of getting to see guitarist Mary Halvorson trading riffs with pedal steel icon Susan Alcorn, building an alchemical stew from there? Along with a familiar and similarly-minded crew including erudite trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson; polymath trombonist Jacob Garchik; the even more devious Jon Irabagon on alto sax; tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and her irrepressible deadpan wit; groovemeister bassist John Hebert, and potentially self-combustible drummer Ches Smith? It’s happening tonight and tomorrow night, December 15-16 at 7:30 and 9:30 PM when Halvorson leads this killer octet at the Jazz Gallery. Cover is $22.

Who’s the best guitarist in jazz? Pretty much everybody would probably say Bill Frisell. But how about Halvorson? Within the past year or so, she’s released a drolly noisy, politically spot-on art-rock record with People as well as a methodically-paced, texturally snarling trio album by her Thumbscrew trio with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, al the while appearing on a slew of other artists’ records. To get an idea of what she’s likely to do with a larger crew alongside her, your best reference point is probably her moodily orchestrated 2013 septet masterpiece, Illusionary Sea (Spotify link).Halvorson’s latest album, Meltframe – streaming at Firehouse Records – is a solo release, a playlist of radically reinvented standards and covers by colleagues who inspire her, tracing something of a career arc for an artist who rather dauntingly hasn’t reached her peak yet.

What’s most striking here is how sad, desolate and often utterly Lynchian these songs are. Halvorson’s own material is hardly lighthearted, but her sardonic sense of humor so often shines through and shifts the dynamics completely. She doesn’t do that here: it’s a raptly bleak and occasionally harrowing late-night stroll, almost a challenge as if to say, you think you really know me? This is me with my glasses off. The material spans influences readily identifiable in Halvorson’s own compositions, including the AACM pantheon, similarly off-the-hinges guitarists past and present, the blurry borders of rock and jazz songcraft…and Ellington.

The album opens with a carefree but blazing fuzztone bolero-metal take of fellow six-stringer Oliver Nelson’s Cascades. Avant jazz singer Annette Peacock’s original recording of Blood is a lo-fi, careless mess of a vignette: Halvorson’s take is twice as long, segueing out and then back into the previous cut in a brooding flamenco vein, distortion off and the tremolo up to maintain the menace.

She shifts gears, sticking pretty close to the wistful pastoral shades of guitarist Noel Akchote’s Cheshire Hotel, but with a lingering, Lynchian unease that rises toward fullscale horror as it goes along. Ornette Coleman’s Sadness blends hints of the gloomy bridge midway through Iron Maiden’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner into its moody modalities, an apt setup for her lingering deep-space/deep-midnight interpretation of Duke Ellington’s Solitude.

Ida Lupino, a Carla Bley tune originally recorded by her husband Paul Bley, returns to a nebulous Spanish tinge amid the hazy, strummy variations on Sonic Youth-style open chords, Halvorson playing clean with just the hint of reverb. She keeps that setting as she spins, spirals and then lets her chords hang around McCoy Tyner’s Aisha, one of the more deviant interpretations here. Then she cuts loose with a brief blast of distortion and saunters off toward the deep end of the pitch-shifting pool.

Platform, a Chris Lightcap composition, gives Halvorson a stepping-off point for some gritty crunch and wryly Maidenesque grand guignol. When, by Fujiwara plays off a loop of enigmatically chromatic chords; it sounds like something a drummer might write on an unfamiliar instrument. The album closes with a pensively pitch-shifted, Dave Fiuczynski-esque cover of Roscoe Mitchell’s Leola. Guitar jazz doesn’t get any more individualistic or intense than this in 2015.