New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: jenny hill sax

Edgy Focus and Tunefulness From All-Female Jazz Supergroup Lioness

Lioness are the perpetually swinging Posi-Tone Records‘ all-female supergroup. It’s unusual for any of the few remaining record labels, such as they exist at all in 2019, to be championing women, let alone women in jazz. But Posi-Tone has an enviable track record of doing just that, including a bunch of recordings by Alexa Tarantino, Amanda Monaco, Lauren Sevian – all three of them members of Lioness – and several others. The sextet got their start during a Flushing Town Hall residency by Monaco; their debut album Pride and Joy is streaming at their music page. The rest of the group includes tenor saxophonist Jenny Hill, organist Akiko Tsuruga and the increasingly ubiquitous Allison Miller on drums.

Sevian, Tarantino and Jenny Hill team up for some jaunty go-go blues in the album’s catchy opening number, Mad Time, by Miller. Hill’s composition Sunny Day Pal is a balmy cha-cha, its summery sonics enhanced by the organ in tandem with Monaco’s lingering, purposeful guitar. Jelly, written by Monaco and her sister, has Miller swinging leisurely behind its tight stroll and warmly bluesy horns, a neat trick.

Down For the Count. a Sevian tune, is full of surprise tempo and thematic shifts, the composer’s baritone sax bobbing and weaving and then handing off to Tarantino’s blithe alto. The covers here are all written by women as well. Melba Liston’s punchy You Don’t Say, from 1958 is reharmonized for three saxes instead of the original trombones, a carefree shuffle with solos all around. The group’s take of Aretha’s Think is even shorter than the original and makes you think about what it actually is before the group hit the chorus head-on. Ida Lupino, by Carla Bley, has a delectably allusive, sparse interweave of voices over Miller’s steady beat.

The simmering take of Meilana Gillard’s Ethiopian-tinged Identity is the strongest of the covers, a long launching pad for Sevian to take flight. Monaco clusters and spirals around the wistful Mocha Spice, by one of the alltime great postbop guitarists, the late Emily Remler. Tarantino’s briskly shuffling Hurry Up and Wait is the album’s high point, Sevian grittily unveiling the song’s bluesy architecture.

Hill glistens and flutters as Sweety, a syncopated soul number by Monaco, gets underway. Tsuruga is represented here by the album’s final and most epic cut, Funky Girl, a sly Jimmy Smith-style swing tune with more blustery horns than he typically worked with on an album date, along with a gritty Monaco solo. It’s a clinic in tight, thoughtful playing; no wasted notes, something as rare in jazz as all-female supergroups.

Lioness are at 55 Bar tomorrow night, July 27 starting at 6 PM.

The All-Female NYChillharmonic Raises the Bar For Epic Big Band Grandeur

Finding twenty-two musicians capable of doing justice to singer/keyboardist Sara McDonald’s kinetic, stormy, intricately epic compositions is an achievement all by itself. Finding a night when they’re all available for a show in Gowanus raises that challenge exponentially. Now imagine leading that band on a broken foot.

That’s what McDonald had to contend with fronting her ensemble the NYChillharmonic back in May at Littlefield. Visibly in pain and steaming that she had to be helped onstage, she rallied and transcended the situation, singing with greater purr and wail than ever as the music rose and fell and turned kaleidoscopically behind her. Adrenaline can do that to you. She’s presumably in better shape now, and will be leading the group at Brooklyn’s best-sounding venue, National Sawdust, on Aug 2 at 7 PM. Advance tix are $20.

Unlike typical big band jazz, this unit is not a vehicle for long solos. Throughout the night, those moments tended to be cameos, an instrumentalist backed by just the rhythm section – Madgalena Abrego’s incisive guitar, Danae Greenfield’s spare piano, Adi Meyerson’s spring-loaded bass and Mareike Weining’s tersely inventive drumming. While much of the rhythm followed a slinky, swaying 4/4, sudden flares would erupt when least expected, sending the tempo and often the melody every which way. Occasionally these would take the form of clever, false endings McDonald loves so much.

The Radiohead influence that was so pervasive in McDonald’s earlier work is still there, intricately voiced, looping phrases and permutations filtering through every section of the orchestra. Yet throughout the set, from the tight sunburst pulses of Surface Tension through the mighty, cinematic closing number, Easy Comes the Ghost, the harmonies remained vastly more translucent than opaque. McDonald reached back for extra power in the gusting, crescendoing Blumen, in contrast with the smoldering lustre that peppered To Covet a Quiet Mind. With jazz inventiveness and spontaneity but also rock drive and raw power, McDonald’s music is its own genre.

McDonald didn’t address the issue that this was an all-female edition of the band until late in the set. “They’re great musicians,” she said, nonchalant and succinct, and left it at that. The lineup was a mix of established artists – notably Jenny Hill on tenor sax, Rachel Therrien on trumpet and Kaila Vandever on trombone – and rising star talent. The rest of the group, clearly amped to be playing this material, included Alden Hellmuth and Erena Terakubo  on alto sax, Emily Pecoraro on tenor and Mercedes Beckman on baritone with Leah Garber, Rebecca Steinberg and Kathleen Doran on trumpets; Nicole Connelly and Erin Reifler on trombones; Gina Benalcazar on bass trombone; and a string quartet comprising violinists Audrey Hayes and Kiho Yutaka, violist Dora Kim and cellist Jillian Blythe.

And a big shout-out to the sound guy. The latest Littlefield space is nothing like the old one: it’s a barewalled rock club, about the same size as the Footlight. Miking so many instruments with highs bouncing all over the place was a daunting task to say the least. That the guy managed to give the group as much clarity as he did was impressive all by itself, let alone without all sorts of nasty feedback. In the pristine sonics at National Sawdust next Thursday that won’t be an issue.

A Menacing Masterpiece and an Annual Halloween Celebration from Pam Fleming’s Dead Zombie Band

Trumpeter Pam Fleming‘s Dead Zombie Band are the inventors and possible sole practitioners of a relatively new and incredibly fun style of music: Halloween jazz. Fleming, who’s played with everybody from Natalie Merchant to roots reggae legend Burning Spear, brings her signature eclecticism to the band’s album Rise and Dance, streaming at cdbaby. Leading an all-star cast of New York talent, she’s playing the band’s annual Fort Greene Halloween dance party starting at around 6 PM this Saturday on Waverly Avenue between between Willoughby and DeKalb Avenues. Take the C train to Clinton-Washington.

The band slowly rises, as if from the grave, as the album gets underway, Fleming’s somber trumpet leading the funeral procession. And then they’re off on a wry reggae pulse, Tine Kindemann’s singing saw flickering in the background. Fleming’s fiendishly fun vocals are the icing on this orange-and-black cake. Fleming’s trumpet, Karen Waltuch’s viola, Jenny Hill’s tenor sax and Buford O’Sullivan’s trombone all have chromatically delicious fun. It’s a lot more Black Ark noir than it is Scooby Doo.

Zombie Drag is a slow, muted, misterioso carnival theme: the way Fleming slowly marches the horn chart out of the mist, then back and forth, is Gil Evans-class inventive. Pianist Rachelle Garniez goes for icy Ran Blake noir on The Bell behind Fleming’s whispery, ghoulish recitation. Then Garniez – who’s also playing Barbes at 8 on Nov 5 – takes over on the similarly crepuscular Two Lovers and winds it up with a gorgously ghostly improvisation that dies on the vine far to soon.

The narrative gets very, very ghostly for a bit, Fleming’s ominous intonement backed by Ursel Schlicht brushing the piano strings, a “cackle cocktail party” and then the band goes up into Satan Is Waitin’, a mashup of saloon blues, Danny Elfman soundttrack shenanigans, jajouka (dig Jessica Lurie’s alto sax solo!), Jimmy Smith (that’s Adam Klipple on organ) and oldschool soul. After that, there’s some storytelling – imagine a Dr. Seuss Halloween tale set to Hollywood Hills noir boudoir soul.

Klipple’s droll roller-rink organ anchors some pretty joyous solos from tenor saxophonist Lily White, Hill (on baritone now), and Martha Hyde on alto throughout the reggae-soul number Rise and Dance – hey, if you were a zombie, you’d be pretty psyched to be getting out of the cold ground at last. Forget anything you’ve heard before: this is the real Monster Mash.