New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: jazz

Tuneful, Purposeful, Unorthodox Jukebox Jazz From Cellist Christopher Hoffman

Christopher Hoffman‘s new Asp Nimbus – streaming at Bandcamp – might well be the first-ever jazz quartet album to feature a lineup of cello, vibraphone, bass and drums. That’s typical of Hoffman, who continues to push the envelope for what an improvising cellist can do. Interestingly, this is an album of jukebox jazz. Most everything here is under the four minute mark, and highly composed, as traditional as this dedicated nontraditionalist will probably ever get. This texturally enticing and often unselfconsciously beautiful album is one of the best of 2021 so far.

The opening number, Discretionary dances in on drummer Craig Weinrib’s fluttery beat and bassist Rashaan Carter’s elastic pulse, the bandleader entering with a bluesy, martially-tinged, thoughtfully spacious solo, then handing off to vibraphonist Bryan Carrott’s soaring, clustering lines.

Dylan George, a dedication to the bandleader’s late brother, is an energetic, ebullient theme spiced with guest David Virelles’ steady, enigmatic piano, Hoffman again choosing his spots, Carrott leading the band down to hazy unease and then back toward a funky sway before a macabre, tinkling outro. Clearly, we lost a forceful presence way too soon.

The album’s title track has moments of ridiculous levity over a lithe quasi-shuffle fueled by a twin bassline: Hoffman’s solo is more tongue-in-cheek. With its brooding klezmer inflections over a contrastingly nimble pulse, Angles of Influence is just plain gorgeous; Carter’s clustering solo raises the temperature several degrees.

The album’s fifth track, Orb, comes across as an interlude from something more expansive, centered around Carrott’s bittersweet gleam as the rhythm section fidgets. Set to a spring-loaded, slow stroll, Non-Submersible seems to allude to both a famous ballad and the Cure, Hoffman slyly shadowing Carter’s scrambling solo, Carrott pushing even further into anthemic territory.

For You comes across as a stormy latin ballad, from a distance, a catchy, acerbic theme that Carrott edges toward balmier territory until the bandleader pulls it back, almost exasperatedly. A slinky implied clave contrasts with the rustling of the strings in the album’s closing number, The Heights of Spectacle, Hoffman tightly unwinding a mutedly plucky solo: sarcasm could be running high here. You’ll be humming this one afterward.

The Berlin Mallet Group Ring In a Unique, Imaginative, Colorful Debut Album

One of the most imaginative and unique albums to reach the front page here in recent months is the Berlin Mallet Group‘s debut album Sogni D’oro, streaming at Spotify. It rings, and pings, and whirs, and whooshes and bubbles in ways few other groups ever have, no surprise considering the instrumentation. Bandleaders David Friedman and Taiko Saito play vibraphone and marimba, respectively, along with Julius Heise and Hauke Renken, who alternate between those two instruments, and Raphael Meinhart, who sticks with the marimba here. The world is full of percussion ensembles and vibraphone jazz groups, but this crew sound like no other band in the world, part precise orchestra, part outside-the-box jazz ensemble. This is very lively, colorful music.

The opening number, Friedman’s Penta e Uno, is a mini-suite full of playful twists and turns, from a rapturous, minimalist ballad, to tantalizingly brief, bouncy swing and bossa themes and fleeting moments of Lynchian suspense. What’s most fascinating about it is the group’s meticulously orchestral intertwine. There’s a thicket of tremolo and ripples, but also a steady bassline, and circling low midrange.

The second number, by Saito, is Komodo No Kodomo, a vampy, distantly Asian, cleverly polyrhythmic web anchoring a series of terse vibraphone solos that finally mingle down into hypnotic rivulets. The group reinvent Kenny Wheeler’s Sea Lady as an epic bell choir: Saito’s evocative arrangement gets the group bowing oceanic ambience, right down to coy shorebirds and waves leisurely washing onshore. From there they take turns drifting and ringing out a summery tropical tableau.

Carousel, another Friedman tune, shifts from warmly hypnotic to emphatically assertive, with both motorik and west African balafon flavors and catchy solos from the vibes. The group dedicate this album to the late composer and percussionist Rupert Stamm and follow with two of his compositions. Friedman’s spare phrases resonate broodingly over suspenseful marimbas as Xylon 1 gets underway, the group maintaining a tight but mysterious pulse as a more tropical rhythm picks up. Xylon 4 is the album’s most anthemic track, with some breathtaking interplay in the highs as it peaks out.

Friedman’s title track shifts between summery atmosphere, a puffing pulse and a casual, shuffling bounce, with lushly expanding textures as it goes on. Scharfenberg, a fond ballad by Heise, concludes the album, the ensemble’s keening, pinging layers rising to a cheery series of waves that underscore the song’s sly resemblance to an old Elvis hit.

Violinist Sana Nagano Releases a Pyrotechnic, Savagely Relevant New Album

Violinist Sana Nagano’s new album Smashing Humans – streaming at Bandcamp – is a feral, grimly picturesque suite inspired by Michael Ende’s 1973 dystopic sci-fi novel, Momo. Nagano’s narrative mashup is an incredibly timely parable. As she explains, “The Orange Monster and the Humans in Grey are taking over the Paradise Planet where Smashing Humans and Bunnies, Poops and Polyrhythmic Santa Clauses co-exist in a euphoric way.” This will resonate with fans of doom metal and the darkest side of art-rock as well as the jazz crowd.

The ringleader of this evil enterprise is the Orange Monster, a Bill Gates type who grew up in the wrong place at the wrong time. “His apple parents named him Orange for obvious reasons and told him he is ugly and they wished he was an apple. At school he was bullied for being the only orange in the entire planet. The universal criminal organization Timesaving Bank scouted him for his skillful negativity, which led him to sell his soul to the shadow side in return for a sense of belonging.”

Nagano gives him a whole track to himself toward the end of the record. She opens with a battle theme, Strings & Figures. The group – also including Peter Apfelbaum on sax, Keisuke Matsuno on guitar, Ken Filiano on bass and Joe Hertenstein on drums – march in cynical lockstep up to a searing, sirening guitar/sax/violin conflagration, Filiano maintaining a deadpan cartoon bounce. From there they coalesce with a jagged, vintage 70s King Crimson intensity. It’s amazing how tight this band remain despite the polyrhythmic complexity and relentlessly searing attack of so much of this music.

Track two, Loud Dinner Wanted pictures the Orange Monster about to enjoy his prey as an aspic. Insistent, hammering riffs and eerily dancing tritones give way to a horror interlude anchored by Filiano’s booming chords and Hertenstein’s minimalist stomp while the rest of the crew shrieks and struggles. Nagano glides uneasily as the dancing pulse returns; Apfelbaum flutters as Matsuno bends, clanks and wails.

Nagano loops a creepy chromatic riff while the rest of the band throw off dissociative shards and flickers to begin Dark Waw, a mini-suite depicting a shadow universe. Peevishly persistent skronk fades down into haggardly divergent, trilling voices and then some creepy math-metal.

Nagano and Apfelbaum introduce the Humans in Grey with a menacingly simple insectile theme: these cold figures immediately join in a macabre march. As a parable of consumerism – or as just an evil, loopy, noisy theme – it packs a wallop. The rhythm drops out; the group shiver around in an increasingly poltergeist-like atmosphere, Nagano leading them back up into an increasingly bellicose vortex.

She reflects on the concept of a shadow self in The Other Seven, the rhythm growing more lithe and then ceding to deep-space menace, Matsuno’s death star twinkling and then resonating morosely in the distance. Hertenstein’s terse, playful solo introduces Chance Music, which grows to a pulsing Butch Morris/AACM type massed theme. This is a pivotal moment in the narrative, so no spoilers.

The Orange Monster portrait is titled Heavenly Evil Devil. It seems he learns to jump through increasingly complicated, distantly Balkan-flavored hoops, but, be careful when you fight with monsters, etc. It would be a spoiler to give away the ending, which is fantastic: let’s just say that this might be the best album of 2021.

Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura Keep Hope Alive With a Visionary, Otherworldly Album

What do musicians do when their careers, and their sources of income, have been stolen from them by the lockdowners? Pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura came to the point where the only option was to turn their Tokyo home into a recording studio..and started putting out one amazing album after another. Their latest, Keshin, is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a gorgeous and erudite record, packed with humor and horror, and a resolute determination. It’s transcendent in the purest sense: this is clearly what these two road warriors are doing to stay sane. Fujii and Tamura most likely do not see themselves as heroes, but there’s genuine heroism in their music: running the gamut of possible emotional reactions, they offer incredibly inspiring perseverance and hope at this pivotal moment in history.

They might also be doing this because they sense that the forces of sanity and compassion are going to win this battle. As the ugly statistics continue to pour in from Europe – thousands dead, hundreds of thousands maimed – the needle of death is dead in the water. Someday soon, we’ll be able to listen to this album both as portent and celebration, as dark as it may sound now.

The first track, Busy Day, starts out ridiculously funny: it’s not fair to give the joke away. The bustle from there never stops: very precise, very tongue-in-cheek harmonies, Fujii getting sick of the whole thing and thinking again and again of smashing it to bits, Tamura delivering a handful of withering, machinegunning, goosebump-inducing solos. He’s the Japanese Peter Evans…or, Peter Evans is the American Natsuki Tamura.

Track two, Donten has Tamura playing variations on a catchy, easygoing theme as Fujii lingers in the ominous lows and eventually cedes centerstage completely. She returns with spare, guarded minimalism as Tamura refuses to relent, then goes deep into the cave, as she’s been doing lately, cascading and quietly lamenting: when is this madness going to end? The shivering low-high contrasts afterward are as haunting as anything released this year.

Fujii opens Dreamer as a solo, icily Messiaenic lockstep pavane: subtext, anybody? Tanura’s shininess overhead dovetails perfectly. Three Scenes is surreal to the extreme: Tamura begins with rubbery bubble-rubbing squeaks against Fujii’s chilly, emphatic chords and then reaches for the sky as she parses creepy chromatics and an offhandedly hellish bell choir. The reprise of the sotto-voce stroll from the previous number isn’t lost here, although it seems like more of a real victory this time.

The two maintain the horrorstricken/calmly indomitable dichotomy in the album’s title track: it’s the great lost next-to-last segment from the Quartet For the End of Time, at least until Fujii gets all the nervous tension out of her system and brings back the carillonesque solemnity.

The dichotomy between intense piano agitation and determined, optimistic trumpet is less severe, more minimalistically auspicous in the next-to-last number, Drop, although Tamura’s signal for a flamencoish theme soon reaches incendiary heights. Husband and wife close yet another brilliant album with Sparrow Dance, a shadow version of the playful opening track: trouble is still afoot in this twisted space, and it can strike anywhere, particularly as Fujii develops a macabre vortex. She has two other albums out recently which are contenders for best record of 2021 and this makes three.

An Auspicious Live Improvisational Series in Prospect Park

As musicians are busting out all over the place to play, there’s an intriguing new series of early Tuesday night shows in Prospect Park, close to the 11th St. entrance at the top of the slope. The theme is conversational improvisation. This isn’t free jazz for people who like awkward bursts of spastic noise: this is for people who want to see tunes being pulled out of thin air. On April 14 at 5:30, the series features the cross-generational trio Becoming and Return with veteran Daniel Carter, most likely on sax, trumpet and maybe clarinet too, with Roshni Samlal on tabla and Dan Kurfirst on drums. It’s a good lineup because Samlal is just as much about subtlety as she is about fire, and Kurfirst is a colorist with a mystical, Middle Eastern side. There may be a point where the whole band turns into a quietly shamanic drum circle.

Carter has appeared on a million albums over the years. The most recent one, it seems (although you never know) is Telepathic Mysteries Vol. 1, by the aptly named Telepathic Band, streaming at Bandcamp. This group is similarly cross-generational, with Patrick Holmes on clarinet, Matthew Putman on piano and electric piano, Hilliard Greene on bass and Federico Ughi on drums. The level of interplay and calm imagination here is stunning, the group slowly conjuring a vast panorama of tunes.

They open the record with Nun Zero, a steady, swinging ballad that begins springing leaks and then the center gives way. The effect is irresistibly funny, too good to give away. The rhythm drops out for brooding piano and a pensive twin-clarinet interlude before an impatient pulse returns. There are swirls and ripples and a quasi-qawwali groove with spacy keys as Carter gently holds fort. Holmes’ clarinet returns to shadow Carter’s sax, then heads skyward, falling away for waves from the drums washing the shore. The creepy, tinkly, echoey electric piano makes a comeback, Carter a morose microtonal ghost in the background, until a long, bell-like, minimalistically insistent interlude with a relentless chill, Carter switching to trumpet. They take it out with calm echoes and flutters. Wow!

Track two, SignGhost Theatre, opens with what sounds like a lustrous allusion to Mood Indigo. Holmes leading the way, Carter’s trumpet shadowing him, the harmonies follow a lingering, rubato descent: that slow clarinet glissando over Ughi’s cautious tumbles will take your breath away.

Greene’s sly bends contrast with Putnam’s glittery piano and soaring clarinet in the barely two-minute While You Snap. The band go back to epic mode for S-Cape Cinemagic, opening with desolate twin clarinets over Ughi’s misterioso toms and Greene’s spare, solemn bass. Putnam’s steady, echoey Rhodes enhances the mystical, kaleidoscopic ambience, Holmes fueling a big rise to a steady, enveloping sway. The way Greene brings back the rhythm is just plain hilarious.

They close on a more hypnotic note with Lore Levels, clarinets wafting with the keys, bass and toms looming quietly in the distance. Putnam’s piano springs into action as Holmes leaps around, Carter’s trumpet signaling a clustering forward drive that goes out in a shimmering sunset. Who needs compositions when you have a crew who can improvise like this?

Jimmy Katz’s Heroic Efforts Bring Live Jazz Back to Central Park This Month

After a year of pure hell, it is such a pleasure to be able to spread the word about concerts the general public can attend without fear of getting arrested. While at this moment it doesn’t appear that indoor shows in New York will be allowed to resume in any normal sense until Andrew Cuomo is either impeached or otherwise removed from power, good things are happening all over the place and one of those places is Central Park.

In order to help imperiled jazz musicians who’d been unable to make money on tour, photographer Jimmy Katz and his nonprofit Giant Step Arts launched a series of free weekend concerts in the park last fall in honor of fallen civil rights leader and Georgia congressman John Lewis.

Fast forward to 2021: free states from Florida to the Dakotas are experiencing an economic boom, without the mounds of dead bodies that the fearmongers at CNN and NPR shrieked would result, but New York has still not rejoined the free world. So Katz has resumed booking weekends at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, partnering with Jazz Generation’s Keyed Up program this time around. The twinbill this Saturday, April 10 is a real change of pace. At noon, alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan leads a trio with bassist Phil Norris and drummer Robert Lotreck. Then at 1:30 everybody gets really free with bassist William Parker, who leads a trio with Cooper-Moore – presumably on keys – and Hamid Drake on percussion. The former Seneca Village site is on the west side between about 82nd and 89th Streets; enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up!

There’s a new Parker bio out, which doesn’t actually say much about his music beyond the discography at the end – which stretches for more than a dozen pages. That’s because Parker is sought out as the go-to guy on the bass for free improvisation: he literally doesn’t play anything the same way twice. The most recent addition to that whopping discography is the Dopolarians‘ mighty, symphonic new album The Bond – streaming at Bandcamp – a sextet session featuring Kelley Hurt on vocals, Christopher Parker on piano, Chad Fowler on alto sax, Marc Franklin on trumpet and Brian Blade on drums.

There are three sprawling tracks on the album: the longest is about half an hour and the shortest is around ten minutes long. That’s a good indication of the esthetic if not the sound of this Saturday’s show. The group open with the title track, insistently lingering piano chords anchoring warmly floating lines from the horns as the bass moves tersely around a pedal note. The music rises with a gospel-tinged jubilation to an AACM-like wall of sound as Fowler squalls, Franklin exercising his stairstepping power in tandem with the piano. Then everybody backs away for Hurt to join with her enveloping, dynamically electric vocalese.

From there subgroups engage the rest of the crew. Chris Parker’s McCoy Tyner-esque, drivingly rhythmic interlude over Blade’s hammering toms; William Parker’s coy echoes of that over spare, moody piano; Hurt’s haunting quasi-operatics over similarly eerie, Messiaenic piano, with the bass calm at the center. The stroll that results is genuinely funny, getting funnier and looser as it goes along. regal trumpet and piano trying to pull everybody back on the rails with mixed results. Moments like this are what fans of free improvisation live for.

Track two, The Emergence, is the whopper. Crazed flurries quickly recede for Chris Parker’s moody, minimalist modal chords as individual voices filter in and out overhead, William Parker adding carbonation and spice this time while Hurt and the horns linger. There’s a momentary dip to pensive vocals, bass and piano; desolate noir from sax and bass with a shivery crescendo; and resolute, anthemic yet restless and enigmatic themes from Chris Parker. The blues slowly makes its way in from the shadows via a darkly acerbic piano theme and variations. William Parker conjures up a bristling, chromatic oldtime gospel tune with his bow; the band eventually find their dancing shoes.

They close with The Release, its shifting overlays of brooding piano, airy sax and calm, resonant trumpet giving way to a careeningly summery oldschool soul vamp. Fowler and Franklin pair off as bad cop and good cop, the music crystallizing around a triumphant trumpet solo. There’s obviously a lot more than this going on: dive in and get lost. You can do that this weekend in Central Park too.

A Mesmerizing, Paradigm-Shifting, Intimate New Album From Hafez Modirzadeh

Hafez Modirzadeh’s 2012 album Post-Chromodal Out! isn’t just one of the greatest jazz albums ever made: it’s one of the most paradigm-shifting albums ever made in any style of music. After decades of blending classical Persian modes with jazz, the tenor saxophonist employed several microtonal piano tunings for a session packed with riveting, otherworldly sounds. It’s probably the best album Vijay Iyer ever played on. It’s the dream record Erik Satie never wrote, that Thelonious Monk and Abdolhasan Saba never got to make. It also sounds like absolutely nothing else ever recorded…except for this.

With his latest release, Facets – streaming at Bandcamp – Modirzadeh switches out the pyrotechnics for a mesmerizing, intimate series of duets and solo pieces. He chose three completely different pianists as partners: Craig Taborn, Kris Davis and Tyshawn Sorey. The first comes out of the Knitting Factory school of the late 80s, the second is known for her lyricism but also has recently branched out into both more electronic and avant garde sounds. In the jazz world, Sorey has built a strong career as a drummer, but in the last few years he’s turned to solid, purposeful new classical composition.

Here, Modirzadeh employs a piano tuning where eight of the keys in the scale are retuned microtonally. Most of these pieces are on the short side; several of them are miniatures. While he gave each pianist a score prior prior to the recording sessions, none of them had played the music in this tuning before. The overtones are to die for: there’s as much sound in between the notes as there is when the hammers hit the strings. Davis is the most expansive pianist here, relishing the opportunity to discover new harmonic universes. True to form, Sorey is all about atmosphere and focus. Taborn, who opens and closes the album solo, is clearly learning on the job and takes his time, ceding centerstage to the ringleader here for some of his most invocative passages.

The first pianist Modirzadeh engages with is Sorey, for a blend of gentle, soulful, rhythmic sax over a solemn, lingering minimalism with just a few hints of microtonality. It fits his style perfectly.

The first duet with Davis, on the same composition, comes across as a more picturesque dawn tableau, Modirzadeh wafting and in one place sounding what could be a muezzin’s call as the pianist calmly but playfully works rising righthand against a still, low resonant figure. Their miniature after that is more concise and over too soon, although that could be said for everything on the album: who would ever want such rapturous music to end? Time stands still when you hear this.

Her methodical gestures, thoughtful syncopation and symphonically vast dynamic shifts on the album’s ninth track, a solo piece, are as otherworldly as they are fun: good luck trying not to crack a smile when she hits that ridiculous dance theme. And she finds regal solemnity but also moments of puckish mirth in a solo piece later on.

She also gets to take Monk through a funhouse mirror, with a coy restraint, in Modirzadeh’s minimalist microtonal mashup of Pannonica and Ask Me Now. The saxophonist does each as a duet with Taborn, the former a cautious hint of a stroll, the latter with spare yet inviting and increasingly surreal wee-hours ambience

With Sorey, Modirzadeh develops a warm, increasingly hypnotic nocturne; playfully expands and contracts around a clustering, jumping riff; and ushers in the album’s most mystical nocturne. The contrast between low crush and high belltones in Sorey’s first solo improvisation is spine-tingling. Later, he parses a Satie-esque fugue.

To compare this album to anything else released this year is unfair: jazz is more microtonal than most people realize, but Modirzadeh is still galaxies ahead of anybody else. That being said, it would take Ellington and Mohammed Abdel Wahab coming back from the dead to knock this one off the top of the best jazz albums of 2021 list.

Lauren White Reinvents Mose Allison and More on Her New Album

It takes a lot of nerve to name your album after an iconic Mose Allison song. It takes even more to make Ever Since the World Ended the centerpiece. Maybe it’s easier for a woman – and it underscores singer Lauren White’s good taste. She reinvents it with a tongue-in-cheek, funky sway, and some unexpected grit on the record – streaming at Spotify – with her quartet of pianist Quinn Johnson, bassist Trey Henry and drummer Ray Brinker.

The point of Allison’s characteristically aphoristic, wickedly cynical lyric is that considering how messed up everything has become, maybe the apocalypse isn’t such a bad thing after all. Guest Dolores Scozzesi takes the second verse and adds some sass about how there’s no more Bible Belt. Beyond the Clash, not many people have covered Mose Allison. But this isn’t just a breath of fresh air, it’s uncannily apropos to the horrors the world has suffered since the lockdown began.

To what degree does the rest of the album reflect alienation and despair? It doesn’t. White follows Johnson’s tricky changes with a jaunty ebullience in their version of If You Never Fall in Love with Me; the spiraling piano solo matches that optimism. She reinvents Just the Two of Us – the Grover Washington Jr. lite FM hit – as a subtly tropical-tinged, organic bounce and cuts it off right about where that long (some would say interminable) sax solo would start.

Likewise, White’s version of Alone Together has a spring-loaded bounce once the rhythm really kicks in, Johnson coyly accenting the lyrics. Her crisp, uncluttered delivery matches the spare bossa pulse of Remembering the Rain.

White opts for cheer over bluesiness in Some of That Sunshine, Henry contributing a slinky solo and a good joke at the end. The joke in Take Love Easy is the rhythmic complexity, but White doesn’t let it phase her. The album’s final ballad is Shattered (not the Stones classic) Johnson’s glittering accents and cascades and Brinker’s cymbal mist behind the bandleader’s wounded but resolute presence.

Not only is this an imaginative album, it’s a brave one. White splits her time between California and New York, neither of which is a free state. Still, she and the band nonetheless managed to find a studio where they could work and record this despite totalitarian lockdown restrictions.

Everybody’s Jumping Out of Their Shoes to Play Central Park

What a pleasure it was to walk down the hill to the Central Park mall on Sunday afternoon without being assaulted by the tedious, computerized whoomp-whoomp that all the druggies would be dancing to in years past. Instead, the sounds were organic. A guy with an acoustic guitar. A bunch of southern kids having a picnic and listening to twangy Nashville pop on a big boombox. Ralph Williams, tall and resolute, running sinuous riffs solo on tenor sax as he’s been doing since forever at the far end of the benches by the bandshell. The Dark Sky Hustlers playing expertly slinky, vampy funk instrumentals in the middle of the mall.

And at the south end, four of the foremost musicians in jazz, busking.

OK, this wasn’t your typical busker gig. Photographer Jimmy Katz and his nonprofit Giant Step Arts began booking top-tier jazz talent there on the weekends last fall, as a way to help keep New York musicians solvent in the time since Andrew Cuomo criminalized live music venues. Katz is keeping the series going this year, working with drummer Nasheet Waits on the booking side and Jazz Generation’s Keyed Up program for sponsorship. Sunday’s allstar lineup was the kind that people pay a hundred dollars a ticket for at swanky festivals: Wayne Escoffery on tenor sax, Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Dezron Douglas on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums. At the peak of the quartet’s first set, there might have been forty people scattered around the area. Where was everybody else? In the middle of the mall, watching the Dark Sky Hustlers. More about that later.

But even with the sonic competition from the Hustlers’ loud guitar amp, this was the place to be for a set of classics. The four players took a winding staircase up into Sonny Rollins’ East Broadway Rundown, Escoffery’s flurrying solo contrasting with Pelt’s spacious, allusively modal approach. The way Pelt shadowed Escoffery at halfspeed or thereabouts, as they wound it down to a brief drum solo, was the kind of sage, perfectly executed moment so many jazz fans have had to turn to albums and youtube clips to find over the past year.

The rest of the set underscored the group’s combined erudition, each a bandleader in his own right. By the time they’d made it halfway through a roughly ten-minute, hard-swinging, anthemically bluesy take of Joe Henderson’s Punjab, Blake was already getting hot, throwing elbows and jabbing when least expected. Kenny Dorham’s Short Story was more of a short novel, from a snazzy latin intro to swinging sizzle from Escoffery and Pelt and a rat-a-tat coda from Blake that he could have kept going for twice as long and everybody still would have wanted more. They closed with a ballad, If Ever I Would Leave You, the drummer immediately cracking the whip when it was apparent that the Strat across the way was drowning out the horns. When Douglas went to take a spare, plaintive solo, the guitar went silent: pure serendipity.

After the set was over, the Dark Sky Hustlers were still going, and it turned out that they were good at what they were doing: loopmusic, essentially. The Strat player has a deep bag of Memphis and New Orleans licks, and used them voluminously over one slowly undulating two-chord vamp after another, stashed away in his loop pedal.

Therein lies the joy and also the hazard of playing public spaces. The elephant in the room, of course, is Cuomo: if clubs were open at capacity, all of these musicians could continue their careers without jousting for sonic space. What’s most ironic here is that had the Dark Sky Hustlers known who was playing just a few hundred feet away, they might have joined the crowd. They’re a funk band; Johnathan Blake plays in Dr. Lonnie Smith‘s group. And there’s nobody funkier than him.

This spring’s lineup of jazz talent in the park is just as off the hook as this group. This coming Saturday, April 10 there’s a twinbill starting at noon with alto saxophonist  Sarah Hanahan leading a trio with bassist Phil Norris and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30 by iconic free jazz bassist William Parker‘s Trio with Cooper-Moore plus Hamid Drake on percussion at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park – enter at 82nd St. on the west side. Hanahan and her trio return on Sunday the 11th at the same time, followed at 1:30 by intense tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leading hers with Pablo Menares on bass and Kush Abadey on drums. It’s not likely that there will be any funk bands to compete with up there.

A New Take on a Gospel Jazz Classic

Singer Trineice Robinson‘s new single Come Sunday, a rapt, absolutely mystical take of the Duke Ellington classic, is just out and streaming at Spotify. Pianist Cyrus Chestnut keeps the ambience intimate as Robinson really airs out her low register: does this woman have power, or what? Gospel choirs around the world will be lining up for her services when they hear this. A full-length album  is due out this August.