New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: jazz

Rare Unreleased Psychedelic Funk and Jamband Sounds From a New York Gone Forever

It’s a sweltering night on New York’s Lower East Side in June of 1987: summer has gotten off to a scorching start. Inside CBGB, there’s a good crowd, and they’re in a dancing mood. High on the stage, drummer Bobby Previte lays down a colorful clave. Elliott Sharp and Dave Tronzo play skronky, smoky guitar funk. Bassist Dave Hofstra is too low in the mix, and bandleader Wayne Horvitz adds layers of woozy keyboard textures. It’s the missing link between Defunkt’s jagged dancefloor attack and sprawling mid-70s Can. About four and a half minutes in, the song ends cold.

That’s the opening number, This New Generation, on Horvitz’s fifteen-track initial release in a series of archival recordings, Live Forever Volume 1, The President NY Live in the 80s, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a party in a box. From the perspective of the Orwellian nightmare that 2022 has been so far in this city, what an incredible time and place that was. The door guy at CB’s never bothered to ask customers to show ID, never mind a vaxxport or a muzzle. And if vaxxports had existed in 1987, the crowd would have laughed him off and bumrushed the stage. For the young people of the Reagan era, everybody’s bullshit detector for authoritarianism was set to stun. How far we’ve fallen since then.

The rest of the album is a period piece. In his extensive liner notes, Horvitz avers to how messy and uneven some of it is, but there’s no question this band could jam their asses off. There are also a handful of rare studio recordings as well as a quartet of songs from the earliest incarnation of this snarkily named ensemble, The President of the United States of America, from a CB’s show five years earlier.

The next song is Bring Yr Camera. Tronzo slips and dives and tenor saxoponist Doug Wieselman soars over a gritty groove that could be a 1960s incarnation of the Crusaders. After that, These Hard Times foreshadows what Susie Ibarra would do with Filipino kulintang music, albeit with a harder edge.

There are two versions of Andre’s Mood here. The first is from that 1987 set, a tumbling, blippy, downtown New York take on what the Talking Heads were doing with Burning Down the House. The second is a more skittish, Afrobeat-flavored studio recording with Horvitz’s organ further to the front.

Likewise, there are two takes of Three Crows, a swaying, midtempo funk tune. The live version has a reggae bassline from Hofstra and a snazzy handoff from Wieselman to a jagged Sharp solo; the studio take is a little faster. The final song from the live set is Ride the Wide Streets, which veers further toward frantic punk-funk.

The rest of the studio material here is on the techy side, focusing on Horvitz’s incisively layered, punchy keyboard riffs. There’s Serious, which prefigures that expansive Afrobeat jams of bands like the Brighton Beat, and Science Diet (a reference to cat food), which is short and snarling.

The 1982 CBGB tracks are the most expansive and jam-oriented here. Despite a completely different lineup – Stew Cutler on guitar, Joe Gallant on bass and Dave Sewelson on alto sax – they’re testament to the consistency of Horvitz’s vision. The appropriately titled On and On is basically a reggae tune with a couple of big screaming peaks. Horvitz dedicates the more Booker T-flavored Flat on Yr Back to the sound guy – hmmmm!

Kevin Cosgrove is the guitarist on the two earliest live numbers. Of Thee I Sing is the most haphazard one here – hearing Sewelson’s sax through the board with all that reverb on it is a trip, as are Horvitz’s synth settings. The final number, Boy, is a surreal mashup of New Orleans second-line groove and abrasive no wave. All this is reason to look forward to what else Horvitz has lying around for the next installment.

Bob Marley Classics Stripped Down and Reinvented For Bass and Vocals

What better way to kick off the year than an epic collection of material by one of the greatest protest songwriters of all time? On their album 400 – streaming at SpotifyAcute Inflections reinvent Bob Marley songs via imaginative arrangements for bass and vocals. Singer Elasea Douglas brings a summery, resolute delivery and subtle jazz inflections to a diverse mix of classics and rare gems.

Likewise, bassist Sadiki Pierre uses Family Man Barrett’s melodic low end on the originals as a stepping-off point but doesn’t always play them note for note, adding emphatic flourishes and forward drive. If you love Marley’s music, the starkness of these songs drives home his defiant, impassioned lyrics while reminding how crucial Barrett’s low end was to his bandleader’s sound. Pierre also doesn’t play as far behind the beat as Barrett did, and his E string is always in tune. Seriously – listen to side one of Rastaman Vibration, for example, and you’ll notice that the low bass is almost as flat as it is fat.

The duo open the album with about a minute of 400 Years and revisit the theme throughout the record for a terse reminder of the music’s historical context. They set the stage for much of the rest of the songs with Stir It Up, the harmonies from the bass hovering above the vocal line. Pierre doesn’t wait til halfway through the first verse of Is This Love before he shifts from the original, Douglas offering cheery enticement overhead.

“Many more will have to suffer, many more will have to die,” she intones somberly in a syncopated, more-or-less straight-up 4/4 take of Natural Mystic. And the sheer desolation of a long, expansive remake of I Shot the Sheriff will give you chills.

The first of the rarities is All Day All Night, a good choice considering how interesting the bass riffage is. The other is High Tide or Low Tide, which the two take as far outside as any of the songs here

The rest of the album is a mix of party songs and freedom fighter anthems. Pierre has fun swinging Could You Be Loved harder than any other bassist ever has, then a little later completely flips the script in Waiting in Vain. And Jamming turns out to be better suited to brisk swing jazz than you would imagine.

Douglas changes up the rhythm to One Love – and in 2022, that line about “The hopeless sinner, who would hurt all mankind just to save his own,” seems absolutely prophetic. Pierre’s slinky intro to Douglas’ poignant take of Concrete Jungle is one of the album’s high points. And who would have thought that Redemption Song, the closest thing to a strummy American folk song Marley ever wrote, would work so evocatively as a stark gospel tune?

Douglas’ vocalese at the beginning of Slave Driver is more energetically impassioned. The two bounce through a jaunty, determined take of Get Up Stand Up and reinvent Exodus as a similarly upbeat, swaying, rootsy tune. This is just as much fun as Monty Alexander’s far more elaborate remakes of Marley classics.

Mafalda Minnozzi Reinvents Classic Italian Film Music on Her New Album

Singer Mafalda Minnozzi‘s career spans the worlds of jazz, tropicalia and Mediterranean balladry. Her new album Cinema City: Jazz Scenes From Italian Film – streaming at Bandcamp – is a perfect vehicle for her since the collection underscores the close affinity between Italian film music from the 50s onward, and bossa nova. With her expressive high soprano, Minnozzi brings a cinematic swath of emotions to life: she also has a puckish sense of humor. Although she sings most of these tracks in the original Italian, she also shows off a strong command of English.

Skip the opening number, a playful and coyly amusing take of La Dolce Vita ruined by a break for whistling. Track two, Loss of Love is an aptly muted, poignant, steady theme lowlit by Tiago Costa’s piano and Paul Ricci’s guitar over bassist Sidiel Vieira and drummer Ricardo Mosca’s slow, sotto-voce swing.

Minnozzi and the band bring a gentle, velvety approach to the tiptoeing bossa Metti una Cera a Cena. Special guest Dave Liebman’s soprano sax spirals joyously in Nino Rota’s Cinema Paradiso love theme over glittering piano clusters and a tight triplet groove.

Art Hirahara takes a rare turn on organ, flickering throughout a hazy, delicately swinging reinvention of the thinly veiled druggy cha-cha Amapola. The pensive, tango-inflected Amici Mei title theme is a feature for Graham Haynes, who takes an understatedly gritty turn on flugelhorn.

Hirahara returns for a bittersweetly shuffling take of Anonino Veneziano and then a more immersive, expansive version of Bruno Martino’s E La Chiamano Estate, a prime example of the Italian/Brazilian connection.

Luca Aquino guests on flugelhorn, intertwining with Ricci’s intricate picking in a raptly emotive performance of Nella Fantasia, which has special resonance for Minnozzi considering that it was her wedding song. Lingering guitar over flickering organ and a steady backbeat make Cappuntamento (from the film A Beiro do Caminho) one of the album’s most memorable moments.

She rescues Arrivederci Roma from Rat Pack cheesiness, imbuing it with gravitas but also defiant energy, grounded by trombonist Jorginho Neto. Se, from the Cinema Paradiso soundtrack, gets a spare, tender interpretation, followed by a soaring, organ-and-vocalese-fueled Deborah’s Theme. Minnozzi winds up the album with a final Cinema Paradiso number, Maturity, evoking a visceral sense of longing amid Costa’s turbulent phrasing. Count this as one of the most strikingly original releases of 2021.

Strong Tunesmithing and Inspired Playing on Drummer Mareike Wiening’s New Album

Mareike Wiening is the latest to validate the argument that good drummers always get the best bands because everybody wants to work with them. Wiening has an added advantage in that she writes bright, invitingly translucent material that makes a great springboard for improvisation. Her new album Future Memories – streaming at Spotify – is a strong, playfully rhythmic collection of tunes. The title reflects the composer’s resolute hope for a world where we’ve returned to normal, people can travel and freely associate, and she can pull her band together again.

She and the quintet – Rich Perry on tenor sax, Alex Goodman on guitar, Glenn Zaleski on piano and Johannes Felscher on bass – open with Northern Sail, inspired by the Norwegian coast where Wiening grew up. Goodman’s sharp incisions and Perry’s crystalline lines sail over Zaleski’s catchy, acerbically circling riffage. Out on the open water, the sense of adventure grows as the waves get choppier, Goodman and then Felscher bounding energetically as Wiening dips to a tiptoe pulse on her hardware.

She explores Spanish beats in El Escorial, Goodman riding her first tangent with an echoey flair, then Zaleski and Perry get into the gritty rhythm, building a distant nocturnal suspense as Wiening bounds and crashes, down to a lull where Felscher keeps the tricky dance going.

Zaleski and Goodman’s chiming ratchets introduce An Idea Is Unpredictable, Perry floating enigmatically before joining the lattice and then leading the band away as the sound expands. Zaleski adds amiable wee-hours saloon spirals; the concept seems to be that it’s not such a bad thing when entropy inevitably intrudes.

RiChanges begins as a hard-charging straight-ahead postbop swing tune in disguise, Perry’s steady eight notes pulling the bass and drums into the racewalk before Zaleski contributes a romping solo. Perry takes a sad solo to open the album’s title track over the band’s reflective resonance, then brightens the mood a little: this is what happens when musicians are deprived of their livelihood!

The album’s best track, The Other Soul gets a brooding, echoing intro from Goodman and Zaleski, Perry adding a moody solo over biting chordal work, Zaleski’s unsettled modalities rippling above the bandleader’s understated gravitas.

Goodman draws the band into Seesaw March with his catchy, optimistic riffs, then simmers and drives it as Wiening adds judicious background color, Zaleski fueling the triumphant upward drive. They close the record with Dance Into July, one of many prime examples where Wiening pairs sax and piano for vibraphone-like voicings. Zaleski gets to leap and ripple through the first solo, Goodman firing off unpredictable cascades of chords and flurries. We finally get a precise Wiening solo: if anything, it would be good to hear more of her. She’s the rare uncluttered drummer.

Vijay Iyer Pushes Some Hot Buttons on His Latest Album

“With this collection of uneasy pieces, composed over a span of twenty years, we pay tribute to both the loud and the soft, the quick flurry and the slow rise, the hurricane and its eye, the uprising and its steady dream of abolition,” Vijay Iyer explains in the liner notes to his latest album Uneasy, streaming at Spotify. The guy who’s arguably this era’s foremost jazz pianist doesn’t specify what needs to be abolished, but it’s a fair bet that like a growing majority of us, he sees a window of opportunity to put an end to a multitude of evils.

And those evils go back millennia. One relatively recent one is memorialized in the understated power and portents of the opening number, Children of Flint, where Iyer begins by setting playfully cascading figures within a much more somber context. Bassist Linda May Han Oh takes a dancing turn as the piano takes the melody to the glimmering upper registers, drummer Tyshawn Sorey moving from a lithe understatement to aggressively embracing the rhythm as Iyer romps over stern modalities. But pointillistic insistence soon enough evaporates into the gloom.

There’s a somber oldtime gospel melody lurking close to the surface in Combat Breathing, Iyer’s clenched-teeth opening scrambles over hard-hitting pedalpoint recalling McCoy Tyner. It takes a glissando and a random crash or two to momentarily throw off the shackles, but even as the music calms and then the dance begins, the claustrophobia remains. There’s an even more persistent, brooding modal sensibility in the methodically swaying Touba, a little later on.

There are two covers here. The offbeat syncopation of Night and Day is clever: it quickly becomes more of a vampy launching pad for Iyer’s emphatic chords and Oh’s contrastingly effervescent solo. The circularities of Drummer’s Song, by Geri Allen shift from twinkling to jaunty and then just short of a piledriver assault as Sorey prowls the perimeter, Oh again in the good-cop role. Iyer has seldom hit harder than he does throughout most of this album.

Augury, a grimly hammering solo Iyer tone poem of sorts, is the album’s creepiest track: if anything here was written after the lockdown, this has to be it. Rivulets flow from the highs over Iyer’s hard-hitting lefthand in Configurations, as Oh dances in between the hailstones, finally embracing the darkness.

Likewise, her tantalizingly furtive, tiptoeing solo after Iyer and Sorey set the stage with ominous modes and roundhouse cymbal crashes in the album’s title track, Iyer interrupting his bounding attack momentarily to let a devious, flickering poltergeist in. It doesn’t end as you might expect.

Sorey holds a casual, steady clave even while the beats stagger around him as Retrofit gathers steam, then it’s Oh’s turn to hold the center. Iyer’s disquietingly strobing riffage is catchy despite the lack of solid ground underneath. The trio close the album with the saturnine, distantly raga-flavored Entrustment, pulling away and then back toward a turbulent but guardedly hopeful center.

Iyer has made a lot of good records but this is one of his best, and darkest. And for those wondering why on earth this blog would wait until now to give it a spin, after pretty much everybody else has, the answer is simple. The year-end jazz polls are going up right now, and it would be pretty ignorant to leave this one off the best-of-2021 list!

An Electrifying Album by Two of the Most Distinctive Players in Jazz

Soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom is the rare improviser who can pull a complete song out of thin air. As one of the world’s most electrifying and distinctive drummers, Allison Miller always has a gig – even when live music is criminalized. Together the two conjure up one of the year’s most entertaining albums, Tues Days, streaming at Bandcamp. The sound is much fuller than you would expect from just two instruments. Hubristic as this is to say, the absence of a bass isn’t an issue (although this is a great album to play along to on just about any instrument). Most of these numbers are completely improvised, although Bloom brings along a handful of her compositions. It’s full of humor, and depth, and inspiring interplay.

Miller begins with romping rudiments, then some flurries and her signature color from every surface on the kit as Bloom plays a jaunty, bouncy theme followed by some wry quotes in the album’s title track. She launches into cheery latin phrasing as Miller ranges from New Orleans to Wipeout rumbles in the second number, Technicolor.

Bloom’s spacious, desolate phrasing over Miller’s understatedly funky drive in Rowing in the Dark is one of the album’s most gripping interludes. This Is It is Bloom at her playful, deviously entertaining best, choosing her spots and airing out her riffbag as Miller holds the center with an effortlessly churning drive.

The two play hide-and-seek in a Shinto temple in Five Bells, one of the funniest and most evocative tunes here. The most expansive, subtly conversational improvisation here, The Wild Frontier pairs Bloom’s airy, pensive sustain with Miller’s restless rustling. Miller’s bottomless toybox of textures finally lures Bloom spiraling out of the clouds.

Bloom wafts in with some of her most subtly vivid, wistful playing in Light Years Away, with a similar dynamic between the two musicians, although this time Miller is more minimalistically steady. A & J’s Test Kitchen – which is what this album is, essentially – is a more lively study in spacious sax versus busier drums. The ending is pricelessly funny.

There’s some Mexican jumping beans, some sagacious retro balladry and also a lot of carnaval in Crayola. The album’s final two tracks are Bloom compositions. Maybe ironically, On Seeing JP is where drums and sax diverge most widely, Bloom’s alternately spare and amiable splashes over Miller’s clever implied swing. The two close with Walk Alone, Bloom spare and guardedly hopeful while Miller whispers with her hardware and rims.

Yet Another Dynamic, Funky, Multistylistic Album From Protean Guitarist Will Bernard

Will Bernard is the rare musician who can write about what he does with as much articulacy as he plays. Now, that could be taken two ways, but Bernard is a guitar polymath who seems to have just as much fun in the worlds of straight-ahead jazz, Booker T style soul grooves, psychedelia, and slinky, funky organ lounge sounds. His latest album Ancient Grains – streaming at Posi-Tone Records – pushes the envelope as far as that last category is concerned. It was tempting just to plagiarize his descriptions of the tracks, but that would be cheating. This album is a party in a box. Here we go!

Bernard calls the opening number, Dry Land Tourist, a cruising song. That’s an interesting way to look at it. Unless you listen closely from the beginning, it’s hard to find the beat – although drummer Donald Edwards’ rhythm is rock-steady, it’s almost like everything is on the “one.” Bernard and organist Sam Yahel play sparely and incisively: this is dance music.

Bernard is very good with titles. To what extent does the album’s title track reflect the nutritional value of heirloom grains like, say, tef or hominy? It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this tightly swinging quasi-shuffle is soul food, although bacon and home fries come to mind more than yemesir wat. But maybe that’s just a cultural association, considering that this style that originated in the south and midwest.

The trio play Five Finger Discount – a triumphantly percolating salute to the joy of thievery – with a shuffling 5/4 beat. Then they hit a lithe, brisk pulse in Pleasure Seekers, a California Highway 1 tableau. The George Benson that Bernard alludes to here is the young, hungry, edgy version; Edwards mists up the car windows with his solo.

With the fond, gospel-tinged, panoramic ballad Stone Valley, Bernard sends a shout-out to his dad, who built the family home in what was then very rural California. The guitarist calls Trilobite a ” mood piece for a rainy carnival day.” which nails the contrast between the jaunty Brazilian beat and the moody, resonant changes.

The lone cover here is a Monk tune, Boo Boo’s Birthday, Bernard giving the melody line some extra bite, Yahel having fun shifting the rhythm over Edwards’ practically defiant forward drive. Likewise, there’s a hard swing to Mazurka Tree, distantly inspired by Chopin, whose Slavic dances Bernard would play on piano in his younger days.

Edwards gets to volley and chew the scenery in Temescal, a lickety-split salute to Bernard’s old Bay Area stomping ground. Ironically for a party album, the most gripping track is the gorgeously drifting Right As Rain, awash in cumulo-nimbus organ and Bernard’s spare, sitar-like slide guitar. The group close the record with Wake Up Call. “This song doesn’t sound difficult but it requires a certain alertness to play it,” Bernard confides. Actually…yeah, the syncopation in this part-boogaloo, part brooding reggae-inflected tune is tricky, but the trio keep the slinky groove rolling close to the ground.

A Magical Mystery Album From Jazz Legend Sheila Jordan

Crate diggers know that “previously unreleased” is usually code for “caveat emptor.” Most recordings from the radio-and-records era that ended up on the shelf instead of in the stores have been gathering dust for a good reason. Happily, Sheila Jordan‘s Comes Love: Lost Session 1960- streaming at Spotify – is not one of them.

On face value, the performances are solid, notwithstanding the demo-like brevity of a handful of tracks. The iconic singer sounds younger than she was at the time – she was already 31 when she put these songs in the can. The intrigue here is who was in the band: Jordan can’t recall! The pianist knows his or her blues, has a Romantic side and seems well-versed in working with singers. Bass tends to be low in the mix, and the drums are often barely present, which might account for why this never saw the light of day until now. Be that what it may, the digitization is excellent, leaving no doubt that the source is analog.

Although a lot of the songs here are standards, there’s some lesser-known material here as well. Jordan leads her mystery quartet in a stately, expressive, understatedly bittersweet take of James Shelton’s I’m the Girl, supremely confident in being a guy’s plan B. A tantalizing single verse and chorus of It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing is 180 degrees from that, a lickety-split vehicle for the hard-bop gymnastics and daunting range she’d show off on her 1963 bass-and-vocal debut, Portrait of Sheila with Steve Swallow.

She takes her time, empathetically, with a glittery Ballad of the Sad Young Men – there’s more Dinah Washington than Sarah Vaughan in her delivery. The same applies to her versions of Don’t Explain and Glad to Be Happy a little later on.

Jordan hangs coyly behind the beat in a brief, ripe. no-nonsense bluesy take of the klezmer-jazz standard Comes Love and reprises that approach in They Can’t Take That Away From Me, which if you listen closely could be a soundcheck. There’s more than a hint of the sassiness that she’d bring front and center throughout her career in a low-key, swinging Sleeping Bee and also a circumspect, saturnine piano-and-vocal interpretation of When the World Was Young.

Her approach to a tantalizing verse of I’ll Take Romance is more brassy, and less distinguished, even as the band scramble and hint at latin noir. The most fully realized of all the full-band songs here is These Foolish Things, Jordan rising to subtle angst as the group hint at a bouncy triumph before returning to wistful wee-hours gleam.

Surreal, Individualistic Music For Sitar and Bass From the Travis Duo

Just the idea of a bass-and-sitar duo is enticing. The two players in the Travis Duo. ubiquitous bassist Trevor Dunn and sitarist Jarvis Earnshaw, join with some first-class special guests who make colorful contributions to their utterly surreal new album Hypnagogia, streaming at Bandcamp. It seems completely improvised, it’s often invitingly enveloping and psychedelic to the nth degree.

Much of the music is akin to a palimpsest painted wet: the undercoats bleed through, sometimes when least expected. To open the album, Dunn’s wryly warping, bowed lines linger below the judicious, warmly spare sitar lines, then the bassist adds more emphatic layers and dissociative loops. The sparse/busy dichotomy is a recurrent trope throughout the album. Earnshaw’s big payoff – a false ending of sorts – is worth the wait.

Daniel Carter and Devin Brahja Waldman’s saxes waft in to introduce the second track, FAQ, then there’s a steel pan-like xylophone line, Earnshaw a distant gleam behind the gently percolating upper-register textures. Dunn punctures the bubbles and joins with guest drummer Niko Wood to introduce a pulse as the sitar grows more prominent, then recedes.

Orchid Hoodwink has Earnshaw’s stream-of-consciousness vocals over a mingled web of sitar, xylophone and metal percussion. Is there a sense of betrayal in Fair Weather Friend? It doesn’t seem so; the washes of bass beneath the resonance of the sitar and Earnshaw’s earnest tenor vocals give the song a warmly rustic feel.

Carter floats in on flute over the hypnotic, sustained textural contrasts of Hitherto. He brings an unhurried, exploratory vibe on sax over increasingly bracing chaos in Uncanny Valley…and then gets pulled into the vortex. Meanwhile, Dunn is having tongue-in-cheek fun at the bottom of a waterslide.

The closest thing to a raga here, and the most contiguous piece, is Folie a Deux, Dunn bowing astringent harmonics and then taking over a very minimalist tabla role as Earnshaw chooses his spots. It’s very Brooklyn Raga Massive, and quite beautiful. There’s also a bonus track, Lollop, which could be a Sanskrit pun. Xylophone and sitar ripple and ping, the horns hover and flutter while Dunn pulses tersely in the midrange. The keening overtones emanating from the bass strings as the group wind out slowly are the icing on this strange and beguiling sonic cake.

A Playful, Eclectic, Un-Cheesy Christmas Jazz Album From Singer Vienna Carroll

Singer Vienna Carroll is best known for bringing a fascinating level of historical insight to her songwriting and interpretations of black American folk music from across the decades and centuries. But she’s also an actress, and she has great comedic timing. She has a new Christmas album, Mary Had a Baby streaming at youtube.

The track that’s getting a lot of traction is Santa Baby, Carroll exchanging increasingly sly innuendo with percussionist Keith Johnston. The band – which also includes pianist Dan Furman and bassist Michael O’Brien – give the song a saloon jazz flair.

The group reinvent Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas Time Is Here as a jazz waltz, Carroll airing out the expressive side of her lower register. The album’s impassioned, resolute gospel title track is the closest thing to Carroll’s earlier work. And the third number, Alone in the World features a lush but restrained string section over lyrical piano: this song from the cult favorite 1962 cartoon Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol has unexpected angst for holiday album fare. Which is another reason why this tantalizingly short record transcends the limits of a genre that makes a lot of people wish December 26 would come a month earlier.