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Tag: Rachel Therrien

Picturesque Songs Without Words From Trumpeter Rachel Therrien

Trumpeter Rachel Therrien‘s latest album Vena – streaming at Bandcamp – is a breath of fresh air, a colorfully eclectic collection of terse, vivid compositions. If you like your jukebox jazz on the thoughtful, picturesque side, with a sense of humor, Therrien’s songs without words are for you.

V For Vena makes a warmly vampy, modally tinged first number, with a tasty, cascading, bluesy Daniel Gassin piano solo, Therrien choosing her spots to tuck and roll. She and the band – which also includes Dario Guibert on bass and Mareike Wiening on drums – shift between crystalline lyricism and encroaching phantasmagoria in Parity, a jazz waltz, Guibert’s calm triplets holding the center as Wiening’s circling riffs peak out. They stick with waltz time and phantasmagoria in Pigalle, but with a wryly dancing, vaudevillian touch instead.

75 Pages of Happiness is the album’s first ballad. That’s how somebody must feel after spending a leisurely evening at home reading New York Music Daily, right? Unless your record got snubbed here, ha! In all seriousness, the song’s spacious, resonant piano is matched by Therrien’s low-key midrange melody; it ends unresolved. In Assata, the quartet shift between allusions to soukous, jaunty swing and insistent riffage, with more spiraling, bluesy piano.

Therrien joins saxophonist Irving Acao for lilting harmonies over a nimble, funk-tinged groove and Gassin’s circling, wary piano chords in Bilka’s Story, with a a majestic crescendo: lots going on in this tale. Her persistence contrasts with the increasingly agitated individual voices behind her throughout Emilio, followed by Women, a droll, chattering miniature.

Synchronicity isn’t the big faux-African hit by the Police but a lively, punchy, syncopated original. The group go back to ballad territory with This Isn’t Love, Gassin’s balmy, purposefully darkening solo handing off to the bandleader, who takes it in a more forlorn direction. Then they pick up the pace with the lickety-split swing tune Just Playing, the album’s most trad postbop moment.

Bleu Tortue opens with Wiening supplying a mutedly shamanic beat as a springboard for Therrien’s brightly spare riffage. Migration is a final, energetically wistful waltz: something is being left behind, then an insistent expectancy takes centerstage. they close with a brief, playful New Orleans shuffle, Folks Tune. This is jazz for people who prefer entertainment and good stories over ostentatious solos and sourpuss snobbery.

One of the World’s Mightiest Latin Jazz Orchestras Gets Back to Business at Birdland

When a bunch of oligarchs and their puppets in politics tried to take over the world in 2020, musicians were left out in the cold. In the liner notes to his new album Virtual Birdland, pianist Arturo O’Farrill, longtime leader of the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra takes care to mention how people who play music for a living are no less essential than any other workers. Empowered by that knowledge, he kept the band going through a long series of webcasts, possibly the most labor-intensive of all the innumerable online collaborations of the past sixteen months or so. The great news is that the big band’s home base, Birdland, is open again, and the group have resumed the Sunday night residency they were banished from in March of last year. Showtime these days is 7 PM. If you feel like celebrating, it couldn’t hurt to reserve a spot now since these shows are very likely to sell out. Cover is $20; your best deal is a seat at the bar.

Considering that individual parts on the record – streaming at Spotify – were recorded remotely in innumerable different sonic environments, the fact that it sounds as contiguous as it does reflects the herculean work of the engineers involved.

Big trombone fanfares interweave with lushly swirling reeds over a bubbling Punjabi-inflected groove in the cuisine-inspired opening number, Gulab Jamon. O’Farrill takes a cascading, brightly neoromantic solo with Bam Bam Rodriguez’s bass growling minimalistically behind him while the rhythm straightens into an emphatic clave. Tenor saxophonist Jasper Dutz summons a return to a web of triumphant counterpoint and a devious false ending.

Guest Malika Zarra sings her composition Pouvoir, a slinky, brassy Moroccan-flavored tune with solos from trombonist Mariel Bildstein and conguero Keisel Jimenez. This band have always slayed with Arabic and Jewish themes, underscored by their version of trombonist Rafi Malkiel’s brooding Desert, its uneasily undulating chromatics giving way to a serpentine solo by the composer and then a muted, soulful one from lead trumpeter Seneca Black.

With its nocturnal, Dizzy Gillespie-style suspense and bluster, Larry Willis’ Nightfall makes a great segue, trumpeter Rachel Therrien and tenor saxophonist Ivan Renta cutting loose hauntingly between the orchestra’s chromatic gusts. The bandleader spirals elegantly; Jimenez goes deep down the well as the storm hovers.

Guest guitarist Ghazi Faisal Al-Mulaifi sings his methodical, bittersweet ballad Ana Mashoof, adding a starry solo in tandem with O’Farrill before Alejandro Aviles spins in on soprano sax. Alto saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera soars and weaves through a tightly turbulent take of his Samba For Carmen, echoed by O’Farrill’s trumpeter son Adam.

Alafia, by Letieres Leite – the Brazilian Arturo O’Farrill – gets a jubilant, percussion-fueled workout, part elegantly orchestral candomble theme, part feral frevo brass-band romp with a tantalizingly brief, smoky Larry Bustamante baritone sax solo.

O’Farrill first performed Rafael Solano’s En La Oscuridad with his big band legend father Chico O’Farrill alongside the great tenor saxophonist Mario Rivera, so playing this suave, balmy ballad again with Renta, a Rivera protege, brings the song full circle.

They close the album with a couple of salutes to transgression, something the world is rising to embrace like never before. The epic take of Papo Vazquez’s relentlessly anthemic Cimarron first features calm triumph from trombonist Abdulrahman Amer, Aviles turning up the heat on alto, then percussionist Carly Maldonado fueling a charge out. The final number is a towering, cinematic take of Tito Puente’s Para Los Rumberos: Renta, Malkiel, Maldonado, Jimenez and drummer Vince Cherico all get to cut loose. How beautiful it is that we can hear musicians of this caliber take material like this to the next level onstage again.

And if you’re around the East Village on the 29th, O’Farrill is leading a much smaller group at St. Marks Park at 2nd Ave. and 10th St. at half past noon.

Top Tier Talent Celebrate Women in Jazz Out Back of Lincoln Center

This July 3 at 7:30 PM, for the second year in a row, there’s a celebration of women in jazz at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing series in Damrosch Park. The lineup last year was kiler and so is this year’s slightly smaller crew. The Sisterhood of Swing Seven get their name from the pioneering all-female swing group from the 1930s. Singer Catherine Russell fronts this year’s allstar septet, with Camille Thurman on tenor sax; Emily Asher on trombone; Endea Owens on bass; Shirazette Tinnin on drums; Champian Fulton on piano and Molly Ryan on guitar. It’s free to get into the park, $18 in advance for the dancefloor

Last year’s lineup had some association with this era’s foremost all-female big band, the Diva Jazz Orchestra, whose brilliantly melodic 25th Anniversary Project album is streaming at their music page. The orchestrations are as majestic as the bandname: A handful of the tunes are pretty straight-up swing, although most of the record is considerably more ambitious. The lineup includes Erica von Kleist and Janelle Reichman on tenor sax; Mercedes Beckman and Alexa Tarantino on alto; Leigh Pilzer on baritone sax and bass clarinet; Rachel Therrien, Barbara Laronga, Jami Dauber and Liesl Whitaker on trumpets; Leslie Havens on bass trombone; Sara Jacovino and Jennifer Krupa on trombones; Tomoko Ohno on piano; Noriko Ueda on bass and bandleader Sherrie Maricle on drums.

The first track, East Coast Andy is brassy and bluesy, with some coy pairings on the low end and a long solo from Pilzer’s baritone. Middleground follows an upward trajectory from a strikingly brooding, subtly polyrhythmic first section, to a precise but unsettled Ohno piano solo and then Reichman’s clarinet carrying a much brighter theme skyward.

Seesaw, a latin-tinged jazz waltz, has devious ornamentation, built around Tarantino’s crystalline, perfectly modulated soprano sax. Jami’s Tune is a blazing, catchy hot 20s-style theme with a jaunty two-trumpet conversation. Mighty, sustained brass phrases interchange over Maricle’s low-key, syncopated clave in Square One, trumpet and alto sax trading off at midpoint.

Beyond the allusive modal vamp at the center, Darkness of the Matter at first doesn’t hint it’s going in that direction, but after a bubbling trombone feature, Reichman’s tenor sax brings in the clouds with some bracing echo effects. Dancing clarinet and piano introduce the quasi-Brazilian bluster of La Americana, a launching pad for a cheery clarinet solo from Reichman.

A Quarter Past the Last Minute has a hi-de-ho swing flair, with a muted trumpet solo like blues from the hall of the mountain king ,plus some ridiculously funny trombone moments. Forever in My Heart is the album’s lone ballad and most lustrously lingering cut, with lyrical trumpet, whispery bass and glimmering piano solos. The final number is the briskly charging, dixieland-flavored The Rhythm Changes.

This group have come a long way since the evening in the fall of 1999 when a future blog owner saw all eighteen members of the orchestra line up in three tiers, packed in as close as a band can be, on the little stage of a long-gone East Village boite, the C-Note. Space may have been tight that night, but so were the Diva Jazz Orchestra. Plus ça change…

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.

Looking Back and Forward to Some of the Most Electrifying Large Ensemble Shows in NYC

There are very few eighteen-piece groups in the world, let alone New York,  led by women. Even fewer of those bandleaders are singers. Here in Manhattan we have Brianna Thomas and Marianne Solivan, who have assembled their own big bands to back them from time to time. But they play mostly standards. Sara McDonald, who fronts the NYChillharmonic, writes some of the world’s catchiest yet most unpredictable music for large ensemble. Watching their show at Joe’s Pub back in May was akin to seeing a young Maria Schneider emerge from Gil Evans’ towering influence twenty years ago – not because McDonald’s music sounds anything like Schneider’s, but because it’s so distinctive and irresistibly fun. And the scariest thing of all is that McDonald still growing as a composer.

Over the last couple of years, she’s invented her own genre, and concretized it with equal amounts depth and surprise. The occasional lapse toward the corporate urban pop she may have been immersed in as a child is gone, replaced by a lavish sound with equal parts puckishness and gravitas. Radiohead is the obvious influence, but McDonald switches out icy techiness and relentless cynicism for a far more dynamic range of textures. Keeping a big band together that plays steadily for a month or two and then goes on hiatus as the band members do their own thing is a herculean task, especially as far as tightness is concerned, but this time out she’d whipped them into shape to nail the split-second changes – and there were a lot of them.

A NYChillharmonic show is best experienced as a whole. Ideas leap out, only to be subsumed in a distant supernova of brass, or a starry trail from the strings, or a calming, beachy wash from the reeds. Then that riff, in any number of clever disguises, will pop out later. McDonald works from the same playbook the best classical and film composers use, beginning with a simple singalong hook, embellishing it and then taking it to all sorts of interesting places. McDonald’s are more interesting than most. The lucky crew who got to go there this time out comprised Albert Baliwas, Brian Plautz, David Engelhard, Dean Buck and Eitan Gofman on saxes; trombonists Karl Lyden, Seth Weaver, Nathan Wood and Dillon Garret; trumpeters Rachel Therrien, Michael Sarian, Caleb McMahon and Chris Lucca; pianist Eitan Kenner, bassist Mike DeiCont, guitarist Steven Rogers and drummer Pat Agresta, plus a string quartet of Kiho Yutaka, Audrey Hayes, Jenna Sobolewski and Susan Mandel

Throughout the set, she and the group employed just as many subtle shifts as striking ones. Odd meters would filter to the bottom and then straighten out as the whole ensemble would enter over a pulsing quasi-canon from the brass or moodily loopy electric piano. More dramatically, the orchestra would drop down to just McDonald and the rhythm section, then leap back in at the end of a bar or when a chorus kicked in, such as there are choruses in her music – recurrent themes are everywhere, but never where you expect them.

On the mic, McDonald – who’s also grown immensely as a singer over the last several months – would vary her delivery depending on the song’s content, whether slyly coy, or uneasily insistent, or with one fullscale wail late in the set to illustrate some kind of apocalypse or at least a dramatic end to something good. Lately she’s been lending her voice to the even more enigmatically improvisational rock band Loosie. And she’s also been known to sing with the much crazier, high-voltage Jazzrausch Bigand, who are making their Lincoln Center debut this August 31 at 7:30 PM at the atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. If you’re going, get there on time because it could get pretty wild.