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Tag: Jim Whitney bass

An Expertly Playful, Psychedelic New Album and Yet Another Barbes Show by Bluegrass Master Andy Statman

The other night at Barbes, there was a bluegrass band playing in the back. It was one of those immutably grim, raw, late winter evenings this city has had to deal with lately. Nobody, not even birds or cats, hates rain more than people in the venue business since nobody comes out. This particular moment was the kind where you plug in your phone charger, have a swift one, reconnect with the outside world, then head off to deal with what everyone’s throwing at you.

It would have been more fun to stick around tor the bluegrass band, because they were good. Gene Yellin, leader of the Night Kitchen, was playing guitar, and way over in the corner on the mandolin, expertly picking out a spiky lattice of notes, was Andy Statman. He’d just played a sold-out show at Carnegie Hall – and here he was, chilling with his friends at Barbes, not seeming to care if anyone other than his bandmates had decided to brave the storm.

Statman has been a pillar of the Barbes scene since the very beginning: if memory serves right, his monthly Wednesday night 8 PM residency there is in its sixteenth year now. And he’s the rare musician who’s iconic in two completely different styles: he’s also a virtuoso klezmer clarinetist.

Statman’s next Barbes gig is April 3 at 8 PM. He also has a new album, Monroe Bus – streaming at Spotify – on which he plays mostly mandolin. Although the record is a shout out to his and every other bluegrass musician’s big influence, Bill Monroe, it’s a mix of traditionally-inspired material and acoustic psychedelia. Alongside the rhythm section in his regular trio – bassist Jim Whitney and drummer Larry Eagle – Statman is bolstered by Michael Cleveland on fiddle and Glenn Patscha on piano and organ.

A picture in the cd booklet speaks for itself. It shows Monroe making his way to the stage at a performance in Fincastle, Virginia in 1966. In the background is a sixteen-year-old Andy Statman. Each looks very focused on his individual business; neither seems aware of the other. At this point in time, Statman has been playing even longer than Monroe, the “father of bluegrass,” had then. And it shows: his mandolin style has a rare elegance. His chords and his phrasing often have a deep blues influence, and he gets a full range out of the instrument rather than just picking it lickety-split like so many other bluegrass hotshots do.

Cleveland takes the first, dancing lead as the title track sways along over Statman’s unpredictable changes, the bandleader taking a characteristically edgy, bluesy solo. Reminiscence has some of Statman’s most gorgeous voicings here, although the organ threatens to subsume them. Ice Cream on the  Moon is a surreal mashup of Charlie Parker, Romany jazz and bluegrass, with a big breakdown at the end, while Ain’t no Place for a Girl Like You is all over the map, a Leftover Salmon-class blend of gospel, oldschool soul and jamgrass.

There’s a languid southern soul influence in Reflections, driven by Whitney’s bass; then Eagle introduces a clave! Old East River Road has an enigmatic, uneasy haze, then the band take the trippiness several notches higher with the bitingly klezmer-flavored, offhandedly creepy Brooklyn Hop.

The sad, nostalgic Lakewood Waltz has a late 19th century feel, Mark Berney’s cornet looming in the background. Statman’s rapidfire phrasing is on dazzling display in the Statman Romp – again, with distant klezmer tinges – and also in Mockingbird, a brisk shuffle tune.

Stark harmonies from Cleveland and Whitney anchor Brorby’s Blues as Statman rustles and trills overhead. Raw Ride is the album’s most deviously funny track: there’s a little Rawhide and a whole lot of Bob Wills in its briskly shuffling swing. The last track, Burger and Fries is a summery, gospel-fueled midtempo cookout of a tune. It’s hard to think of anyone taking bluegrass further outside the box, and having as much fun with it, as Statman does here.

Popular Bassist Jim Whitney Steps Out with Two Bands and a New Album

Jim Whitney is one of the most in-demand bassists in both jazz and klezmer music – he’s Andy Statman’s righthand man on the low strings. Since he has so many sideman gigs, he doesn’t get a lot of chances to play his own material. Which is too bad, because he should be better known for his compositions than he is. It was good to see him leading an augmented quartet (there were special guests) through his sometimes enigmatic, often subtly witty originals at his first show of the year back in January at Barbes. He’s also got an album release show tonight, May 16 at 7 PM at 55 Bar, leading the quartet from his forthcoming release, Dodecahedron: Eric Halvorson on drums, Nate Radley on guitar and Bennett Paster on keyboards. Then he’s back at Barbes on May 22, also at 7 PM, with the core of that January band: guitarist Sean Moran, drummer Diego Voglino and flutist Michel Gentile.

The title of the new album – meaning a twelve-sided geometric figure – refers to the number of tunes on the album as well as Whitney’s frequent use of the twelve-tone system. As you might expect from a bassist, he introduces the opening track, Low Voltage, with an spaciously snappy, emphatic solo; Paster’s joke before Radley’s regal entrance is obvious but irresistible.

Kinsman Ridge maintains that darkly majestic atmosphere, Paster’s piano lightening as Halvorson develops a funky slink, Radley’s gravitas contrasting with the pianist as he shifts to twinkly Rhodes. The disorienting stagger of Rudy Blue matches Whitney’s refusenik changes, resisting resolution as Radley lingers and bends, menacingly, echoed from a distance by Whitney’s lurching solo.

Nap Time – a brave title for a jazz number, huh? – has 70s Morricone crime-jazz echoes and a sardonically spring-loaded groove, Radley’s incisions and Paster’s bubbles bobbing up over the bandleader’s lowdown slink. A gentle sense of wonder pervades Solar Shower’s echoey ambience, Whitney bowing a coyly familiar tune, the band going out in a big starry cascade.

Are You Kidding Me?! is aptly jagged and perplexed, its funky syncopation eventually coalescing around a catchy, time-warping reggae bass riff as Halvorson stirs up the dust. The even funkier Green Machine has gritty, catchy riffage from Radley, Whitney bowing wry gospel-blues

Feel The Heat, 2000 Feet is a diptych, an uneasily amorphous bass/guitar intro giving way to a slow rainy-day tableau. The band get funky again with Blockheads, Whitney’s gruff solo setting the stage for Radley to take it in a more celebratory direction

After Kodiak Zodiac, a Radley vehicle, Whitney nicks a famous Henry Mancini number for Cat Scat Blues, which they take far beyond any cartoon comparisons. The album comes full circle with Whitney getting playful by himself, with Midnight Tea.

Guitarist Chris Jentsch Air Out His Latest Vivid, Cinematic, Politically Relevant Suite

Where so many jazz musicians write riffs and then jam them out, guitarist Chris Jentsch writes lavish suites – which he then plays with remarkable terseness and attention to detail. His narratives are vivid and often very funny. His latest, Topics in American History, couldn’t be more relevant. Leading his sardonically titled No Net in what was the final live performance of those songs last week at Greenwich House Music School, Jentsch played with his usual purposefulness. restraint and sense of the musical mot juste, joined by an all-star cast including Mike McGinnis on clarinet and bass clarinet, David Smith on trumpet, Brian Drye on trombone, Michel Gentle on flutes, Jacob Sacks on piano, Jim Whitney on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums.

Last-minute substitution Jon Irabagon did a heroic job reading his parts, as Jentsch acknowledged, adding both volleys of postbop purism on tenor sax along with wry, microtonally-tinged humor that dovetailed with the bandleader’s own sensibility.

The centerpiece of the show was Dominos, a forebodingly expanding tableau that brought to mind Darcy James Argue in particularly sinister mode. A sotto-voce, latin-tinged, quasi-Lynchian spy theme that explores Cold War-era paranoia, its high point was a distantly grim, hazily sunbaked Jentsch solo midway through.

The evening’s coda, Meeting at Surratt’s, was arguably even better. The band built hushedly marching, conspiratorial ambience around a wistfully folksy Ashokan Farewell-ish theme to commemorate Mary Surratt, the first woman in US history executed for a Federal crime. The proprietor of the Washington, DC boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators hatched the plot for the Lincoln assassination, she may well have been innocent. Ineluctably and somberly, the band made their way through its mighty, cinematic sweep, from southern gothic to Morricone-esque insistence, down to a single macabre swoop from Jentsch’s guitar, a body falling from the gallows.

The rest of the set was just as diverse and no less gripping. Tempest-Tost, inspired by an inscription on the Statue of Liberty, followed the steady if turbulent path of Ellis Island immigrants, Jentsch’s low, looming solo front and center. Smith and Drye’s irresistibly cartoonish dueling personalities brought jaunty banter to the New Orleans-tinged Lincoln-Douglass Debates. The uneasily expanding vistas of Manifest Destiny – with incisive solos from Whitney, McGinnis and Irabagon, the latter on soprano – grew more satirical in Suburban Diaspora, its vintage soul roots subsumed by blustery faux-optimism. And the night’s opening number, 1491, bookended a jaunty tropical-tinged shuffle with wryly jungly atmospherics – clearly, the continent was in a lot better shape that year than the next, when the slaver Columbus arrived.

A Long-Awaited, Auspiciously Intense, Stripped-Down New Album from Guitarist Chris Jentsch

In keeping with the current paradigm, composer/guitarist Chris Jentsch writes a lot more than he records. But damn, when he records, he makes it count. It’s been eight years since Jentsch’s lavish, epic previous large-ensemble album The Cycles Suite. The one before that, The Brooklyn Suite, is his classic. His debut, The Miami Suite was a blast of sunshine with a hard-to-believe-we’re-all-here-but-let’s-do-it vibe. His latest album, Fractured Pop – streaming at youtube – is a departure, a quartet effort also available in a lush DVD package including “alternate takes, slide show music videos, a high-resolution FLAC file of the audio CD, PDF lead sheets of the tunes, and four of the composer’s own remix/mash ups,” as the packaging explains. Jentsch and his quartet are at I-Beam tonight, June 9 at 8:30 PM; cover is $15.

Jentsch sometimes evokes the angst and resonance of David Gilmour, the fluidity of Pat Metheny or the bucolic side of Bill Frisell, but ultimately he’s  his own animal. As a big band jazz composer, Jentsch has a welcome gravitas, but also a dry and sometimes droll sense of humor. The new album, a mix of new, stripped-down arrangements of Jentsch’s big band arrangements, has both. The quartet opens with the  title track, a rock anthem of sorts reimagined with in 7/8 time with Matt Renzi’s microtonally-tinged, Joe Maneri-ish sax over the swaying rhythm section of bassist Jim Whitney and drummer John Mettam. Radio Silence takes Abbey Road Beatles to new heights of poignancy and grandeur: Jentsch intermingles Renzi’s sax and his own chordal attack for an effect that evokes a much larger unit.

Likewise, the harmonies between Jentsch’s lingering chords and Renzi’s smoky sax in the strolling Are You Bye; Whitney adds a slinky, spot-on solo that Jentsch catapult out of, into the clouds and then to a wryly gospel-tinged variation on the main theme.  The almost ten-minute take of the haunting, iconic Outside Line, the first of the Brooklyn Suite numbers here, switches out the orchestra for Jentsch’s resonant, sometimes burning chords, Whitney’s growly,, gritty solo, Renzi channeling every ounce of danger and energy . For those who know the original, it’s a revelation, sort of the musical counterpart to a sketch for a JMW Turner battle tableau.

Renzi’s bass flute over Jentsch’s careful, bittersweetly judicoiuus chords imbue the jazz waltz Old Folks Song (from the Cycles Suite) with a more distantly haunting intensity, the bandleader’s enigmatic solo raising the angst factor by a factor of ten, up to the elegaic chromatics that wind it out.

Route 666 – a title that surprisingly hasn’t been taken as much as it could be – works sax/guitar tradeoffs along with Jentsch’s sunbaked, lingering lines over a jaunty 10/4 strut up to a big, emphatic, anthemic drive. Meeting At Surratt’s follows a gorgeous, almost conspiratorial pastoral jazz groove into the reggae that Jentsch has embraced in his most psychedelic moments, Renzi switching to bluesy cello.

Imagining the Mirror, a suspenseful track from early in the Brooklyn Suite, opens as a joyously focused take on bucolic Led Zep, then Renzi’s sax takes it back to Brooklyn and Jentsch’s eerily reverberating, sparely exploratory lines. Cycle of Life, another Cycles Suite track, has a squirrelly intro, Jentsch’s spare phrases intertwining with Renzi’s sax and bass clarinet multitracks and the rhythm section’s tropical, insectile ambience, an allusively grim study in echo effects building to a steady, syncopated stroll with artful guitar/clarinet exchanges.

The album winds up with Follow That Cab, a brisk, purposeful, rather blustery segment from the Brooklyn Suite,  reinvented here as stripped-down, bustling urban postbop, engaging Mettam’s drums far more, Renzi once again slipping into microtonal unease.

Brilliant, Sometimes Haunting Lapsteel Player Brings His Genre-Smashing Instrumentals to Freddy’s

To New York audiences, lapsteel virtuoso Raphael McGregor might be best known as a key ingredient in Brain Cloud, Dennis Lichtman’s western swing band. Before that, McGregor served as the source of the vintage country flavor in Nation Beat‘s driving mashup of Brazilian maracatu and Americana sounds. But he’s also a first-rate, eclectic composer and bandleader in his own right. In addiiton to his more-or-less weekly Monday 7 PM Barbes residency with Brain Cloud, he has a monthly residency at Freddy’s, where he’ll be on Nov 20 at 8 PM.

His most recent show at Barbes leading a band was a quartet gig with with Larry Eagle on drums, Jim Whitney on bass and Rob Hecht on violin. They opened with a moody oldschool noir soul vamp and quickly built it into a brooding rainy-day theme over Eagle’s tense shuffle beat. Hecht took his time and then went spiraling and sailing upwards. Why is it that blues riffs inevitably sound so cool when played by strings? McGregor had a hard act to follow so he walked the line between Lynchian atmosphere and an express-track scurry, then handed off to Whitney who picked up his bow and took the song all the way into the shadows.

McGregor began the night’s second number with a mournful solo lapsteel intro that moved slowly toward C&W and then shifted uneasily into moody swing. It was like a more animated take on the Friends of Dean Martinez doing oldtime string band music. After that, they put a swinging southwestern gothic spin on a Django Reinhardt tune.

They also did a couple of straight-up western swing numbers, a brisk trainwhistle romp and a fetching version of Waltz Across Texas With You: much as they were a lot of fun, McGregor was pleasantly surprised to find that the crowd was more interested in hearing his originals. They opened their second set with a piece that began as an Indian-inflected one-chord jam that morphed into a bluesy duel between violin and bass, followed by a Frisellian pastoral interlude and then back to trip-hop Indian funk – all that in under ten minutes. All this is just a small sampling of what McGregor could pull off at Freddy’s.

Andy Statman’s Superstring Theory – A Wild Americana Summit

Meet the latest newgrass supergroup. This is what happens when you put Andy Statman, Michael Cleveland and Tim O’Brien together in the same room – good grief! Much of this album, Superstring Theory, with Statman as bandleader, is flat-out gorgeous, cutting-edge Americana. Jim Whitney, Statman’s longtime four-string guy holds down the low end with Larry Eagle on drums on a mix of Statman originals plus vocal takes of the droll folk tune Green Green Rocky Road and Richie Valens’ proto-Ramones hit Come On Let’s Go. Statman’s signature sense of humor pervades pretty much everything here when he and the rest of the band aren’t burning down the barn. The instrumentation may be mostly acoustic, but this is not a quiet album.

There are more unexpected treats here than you can shake a stick at. On the opening track, Little Addy, it’s not Statman’s mandolin but Cleveland’s fiddle that ends up taking the dancing tune into funky, practically avant-garde territory.  Statman saves his first series of crazed spirals for Mando at the Flambo after O’Brien’s guitar introduces it as a boogie blues. Careful dynamic shifts move up and down throughout the pretty, midtempo blue-sky ballad For Barbara, followed by The French Press, where O’Brien offers hints of flamenco as Statman blows the roof off with his Djangoesque sprints.

Herman Howe’s Bayou, an exuberant fiddle-driven cajun country waltz, is flat-out gorgeous; O’Brien’s low-register hammer-ons fueling one of the album’s most exquisite interludes. Then they launch into Surfin Slivovitz: Eagle gets the surf beat down cold, Whitney plays genre-perfect broken chords, O’Brien’s electric guitar adds some understatedly moody twang, and Cleveland turns out to be as good a surf player as he is at everything else. Statman, as usual, is the wild card. This song should be a standard.

Waltz for Ari is unexpectedly sad and resigned, all the more so through Statman’s almost tenative picking as it fades down morosely. Then they pick up the pace again with Pale Ale Hop, alternating between a jaunty waltz and a funky Tex-Mex theme. House of the Screaming Babies brings back a wry, bluesy interplay; Statman wails on clarinet on the album’s longest and final track, Brooklyn London Rome. which begins as an oompah waltz, then smooths out with more of a country (or Brooklyn, if you will) flavor, then without warning segues into a smoldering klezmer dance that gives the bandleader a chance to flex his chops. Statman’s next NYC gig is on December 3 at 53 Charles St. just west of Hudson in the west village.