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Tag: Sharel Cassity

Lincoln Center’s 2018 Midsummer Night Swing Series Opens With Potent Relevance and Breathtaking Musicianship

At the risk of getting into serious trouble saying this, there hasn’t been such a stunning display of jazz talent on any New York stage this year as there was last night at the kickoff of Lincoln Center’s annual Midsummer Night Swing festival. The inspiration for the mighty big band, the Sisterhood of Swing, was the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first integrated, all-female swing group, who debuted eighty-one years ago. As bandleader, trumpeter and singer Bria Skonberg took care to remind the audience who packed Damrosch Park, those women risked their lives playing music together.

The members of this group weren’t risking their lives, but arguably the majority of them were out of their element. And few among this allstar cast play regularly with large ensembles, fewer still with a group the size of this one. The majority are bandleaders who play their own material rather than bouncy 1930s swing. Yet everybody seemed to be pretty much jumping out of their shoes to be involved in this project.

In two lengthy, hard-swinging sets that spanned from standards to cult favorites and an obscure gem or two, the fourteen-piece ensemble offered tantalizing glimpses of pretty much each member’s personality, yet in a completely different context considering where they’re usually found.

The audience responded most explosively to tenor saxophonist and singer Camille Thurman’s serpentine climb to the vocal stratosphere in one of the night’s few ballads, quite a contrast with her rapidfire scatting in a Benny Goodman diptych during the first set. Another big hit was tapdancer Michela Lerman’s nimble solo over Savannah Harris’ irrepressibly boisterous, tropically-tinged tom-tom syncopation, mirroring the drummer’s rambunctious drive in the second set’s opening number, Lady Be Good.

At the piano, Champian Fulton delivered purist, masterfully spacious, blues-drenched lines that fit the material perfectly, especially when the band threw her what could have been the night’s longest solo. In her first turn on the mic, she projected with a surprisingly steely intensity, then a second time around worked knowingly triumphant, bluesy, Dinah Washington-inspired melismas.

Lead trumpeter Jami Dauber joined with her brassy bandmate Linda Briceño and Skonberg as well in a wildly crescendoing, tightly spinning exchange in the wryly titled Battle of the Bugles, one of a handful of numbers from the catalog of Sweethearts of Swing creators Kat Sherrell and Natalie Wilson. Bassist Endea Owens benefited from excellent amplification, giving her a forceful presence. Chloe Feoranzo stood out most noticeably with her gritty baritone sax work; trombonist and singer Emily Asher also got time in the spotlight to channel some goodnaturedly wry humor. Lead alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin played punchy soul alongside her fellow reedwomen Thurman and Sharel Cassity.

On clarinet, Anat Cohen spun silky arpeggios on the less breathlessly pulsing numbers and delivered joyously dancing dixieland when the pace picked up, notably alongside violinist Regina Carter in A Woman’s Place Is in the Groove, a deliriously frantic obscurity by 1930s vioinist Ginger Smock. The two worked more calmly and majestically in a new instrumental arrangement of My Baby Just Cares for Me. The group closed with a joyously edgy take of the klezmer-tinged romp Doin’ the Uptown Lowdown, made famous by Mildred Bailey with the Tommy Dorsey band. The crowd didn’t want to let the band go after discovering this new sensation.

This year’s Midsummer Night Swing series continues through July 14 with a more eclectic series of dance bands than ever. Tomorrow at 7:30 PM it’s salsa pioneer and “El Rey de la Pachanga” Joe Quijano y Su Conjunto Cachana. It’ll cost you $17 to get out on the dance floor, something an awful lot of people last night were doing.

This Year’s Midsummer Night Swing Festival Kicks Off on a Powerfully Relevant Note

Midsummer Night Swing is a New York rite of passage. Everybody does it at one time or another. It’s hard to think of a more romantic date night. Every year starting at the end of June, Lincoln Center rolls out a real dancefloor at the southwestern corner of the campus in Damrosch Park, where an eclectic series of bands serenade the dancers with everything from 30s big band swing to 20s hot jazz, salsa dura, and this year, even classic honkytonk. Not everybody dances; lots of folks just come out for the music, or to watch the spectacle. By Manhattan jazz club standards, admission is a real bargain at $17, and there are deals if you go to multiple shows, as many people do.

This Tuesday, June 26 at 7:30 PM is kickoff night with a monster all-female band assembled by Lincoln Center specially for this occasion. They take their inspiration from the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first integrated, all-female swing group. Trumpeter Bria Skonberg leads this multi-generational mix of allstar and rising star talent, which features Regina Carter on violin, Anat Cohen on clarinet and Champian Fulton on piano with Lakecia Benjamin, Sharel Cassity, Chloe Feoranzo, and Camille Thurman on saxes; Emily Asher on trombone; Linda Briceño and Jami Dauber also on trumpets; Endea Owens on bass and Savannah Harris on drums.

If you’re going there to listen, who among these artists should you single out? Pretty much all have them have gotten some ink here at one point or another. One of the most obvious choices is Anat Cohen, who turned in what was arguably the most riveting performance at last year’s Charlie Parker Festival with her epic, often hauntingly mysterious, klezmer-influenced tentet, testifying to her prowess in a big band setting.

On one hand, her latest album, Live in Healdsburg – streaming at Spotify and recorded in California a couple of years ago – is 180 degrees from that, a duo performance with the similarly lyrical Fred Hersch on piano. Yet in its own way, it’s just as lavish, an expansive, warmly conversational, vivid and unselfconsciously joyous collaboration.

Hersch opens the night’s first track, the aptly titled A Lark, with impressionistic, Debussy-esque belltones before Cohen gently dances in and then all of a sudden it’s a surreal update on ragtime. The push-pull between Cohen’s voice of reason and Hersch’s trickster is irresistibly fun, especially when the two switch roles and Cohen goes spiraling. Neither have ever glistened more than they do here.

Another Hersch number, Child’s Song is both more spaciously tender and tropical, giving Cohen a launching pad for her terse, crystalline, often balletesque lines, especially when Hersch mutes his insistent, pointillistic approach. Hersch begins the first Cohen tune here, The Purple Piece with a brooding austerity: it’s as far from over-the-top as you can get. Cohen maintains the bluesy bittersweetness with her aching melismas over an understated waltz rhythm, Hersch grounding it with his expressive neoromantic chords and occasional, more incisive shifts.

As they do with many of the songs here, they build from opacity to an understated swing and then playful, experimentation in a pretty radical remake of Isfahan. Then in in the last of the Hersch pieces, Lee’s Dream, they jump out of their shoes gracefully over a precise, distantly stride-influenced piano drive that bookends a flutteringly disorienting interlude.

From Hersch’s phantasmagorical intro to Cohen’s similarly canivalesque shifts between wistful blues and eerie microtones, the album’s most lavish number could be characterized as a haunting improvisation loosely based on Jimmy Rowles’ The Peacocks. Their approach to Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz is similar if somewhat more flitting. They encore with a similarly individualistic version of Mood Indigo, Cohen’s low, meticulously somber approach lightened somewhat by Hersch’s spare, steady, glimmering architecture. There could be plenty of moments like this from a completely different crew on Tuesday night in the park.

The South American Music Festival Winds Up Booking Agent Weekend on a High Note

For ambitious concertgoers with the stamina to stand for hours through band after band, the dozens of shows programmed around the annual January booking agents’ convention can be a real bargain. Aside from the handful of free concerts, Monday’s South American Music Festival showcase at Drom was among this year’s best, starting out a raptly low-key note and quickly growing into a big fiesta.

You might not expect a percussion-and-vocal duo to play lullabies, but that’s essentially what singer Sofía Tosello and innovative percussionist Franco Pinna’s hypnotic new folk-trance duo Chuño did to get the night started. In addition to his usual battery of south-of-the-border objects, Pinna played his new invention, the arpa legüera, a sort of cross between a hammered dulcimer and an Argentine harp. The sound was closer to the former than the latter, adding mutedly twinkling ambience under Tesello’s dynamically-charged vocals as she ranged from gentle and unadorned to more dramatic intensity where she aired out the lower-register power that distinguishes her work in latin jazz and tango. Guitarist Juancho Herrera – who is a real beast, and was vastly underutilized here – delivered a single, tantalizingly uneasy, punchy original number out in front of the band. Likewise, genre-defying singer Sofia Rei led the group through a coyly chirpy, polyrhythmic mashup of subequatorial jazz and John Zorn-ish indie classical, drawing on her background as a member of Zorn’s all-female a-capella quartet Mycale.

Electroacoustic avant garde singer Ximena was next on the bill, followed by irrepressible percussionist Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of the Spirits. For those unfamiliar with the latter’s celebratory sound, the blog most recently caught his act at last year’s Bang on a Can Marathon, leading a smaller group. What’s cool about these multi-act bills is that if there’s a lull in the action, or a band you’ve already checked off your bucket list, you can always go run errands. Who says multitasking is only something you do online? When you run a busy blog, sometimes that’s your only option.

Hints of an iconic art-rock epic wafted from guitarist José Luis Pardo’s loop pedal as his three-piece tropical psychedelic supergroup Los Crema Paraiso – with five-string bassist Bam Bam Rodriguez and Neil Ochoa, late of Chicha Libre, on drums – took the stage. This blog caught them most recently at Barbes, where they went on half an hour late since Pardo was busy loading that pedal with some of the overdubs from Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Part 1 – and then they played the whole thing, pretty much note for note. Getting to hear that this past August from the best spot in the house – the next-to-last seat at the bar, right under the air conditioning duct – was an awful lot of fun. Were they going to do that again here? Well, sort of. Rather than recreate an art-rock classic, Pardo stuck to playing the melody lines, using his wah to max out the psychedelic factor, Ochoa propelling the music with a lighter, more incisive touch than Nick Mason’s thud on the original. And they did cut it a little short.

From there, they picked up the pace, playing along to snippets of Venezuelan films from the past several decades, bringing a new dimension to several numbers from the band’s latest album De Pelicula and Pardo’s ongoing project of writing new theme music for his favorite old movies. Pardo blazed through furious volleys of crime-theme tremolo-picking juxtaposed with lingering, summery washes as the rhythm section took a comfortable Pacific coastal route. From there they mashed up galloping Pink Floyd psychedelia with bouncy Mexican themes, blistering 70s art-rock with Venezuelan stoner-folk riffage and balmy motorik interludes. You wouldn’t probably consider anything motorik to be the least bit balmy, but this band made it happen. And it’s a miracle that Pardo didn’t break any strings: the guy really punishes them, and on the coldest night of the year so far, he was drenched in sweat.

The Gregorio Uribe Big Band closed the evening with their high-voltage, original blend of just about every large-ensemble sound in the Western Hemisphere. Uribe distinguishes himself as a rare accordionist-bandleader and composer of intricately fascinating big band jazz equally informed by salsa, various latin folk styles and swing. In a way he’s sort of the Carl Nielsen of tropical music – and a hell of a crooner as well. The dancefloor filled in a second as he led the big sixteen-piece vehicle into a slinky cumbia, which they scampered out of at doublespeed. Unsurprisingly, the band’s biggest hit of the evening was another cumbia, Uribe really getting the dancers twirling when he hit an oldschool two-chord vamp on his accordion. Otherwise, he sent a lickety-split, punchy shout-out to his native Colombia as the band swelled and blazed behind him, then swirled and dipped through a couple of fiery salsa dance numbers.

It was a lot of fun to watch alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity think on her feet, judiciously weaving a lattice of post-Coltrane riffage out of a simple Afro-Cuban theme. Likewise, baritone saxophonist Roberto Bustamante contributed a couple of smoldering solos, as did trombonist Matt McDonald and trumpeter Sam Hoyt, among other group members. The audience screamed for an otra after the group had swung through a lively Caribbean cha-cha and band intros were done, and Uribe rewarded them with a final cumbia harking back to the glory days when Bogota bandleaders like Lucho Bermudez took coastal gangster rhythms and bulked them up for cosmopolitan dancefloor crowds. Uribe’s big band return to their regular home turf, Zinc Bar, at 9 PM on February 5.

The Gregorio Uribe Big Band Air Out Their Mighty, Slinky Cumbia Sounds at Two Shows This Coming Week

The Gregorio Uribe Big Band are one of those groups whose music is so fun that it transcends category. Is it cumbia? Big band jazz? Salsa? It’s a little of all that, and although it’s a sound that draws on a lot of traditions from south of the border, it’s something that probably only could have happened in New York. For more than three years, the mighty sixteen-piece ensemble has held a monthly residency at Zinc Bar. They’ve also got two enticing upcoming shows: one at Winter Jazzfest, on their regular home turf at twenty minutes before midnight on Friday, January 15 (you’ll need a festival pass for that), and also at about 10:30 PM on January 18 as part of this year’s South American Music Festival at Drom. That lineup, in particular, is pretty amazing, starting at 7:30 PM with magically eclectic singer (and member of Sara Serpa’s dreamy Mycale project) Sofía Rei, slashingly eclectic Pan-American guitarist Juancho Herrera and band, singer Sofía Tosello & innovative percussionist Franco Pinna’s hypnotic new folk-trance duo Chuño, then Uribe, then the psychedelic, surfy, vallenato-influenced art-rock groovemeisters Los Crema Paraiso and extrovert percussionist Cyro Baptista’s group at the top of the bill sometime in the wee hours. Advance tix are $20.

Frontman Uribe leads the group from behind his accordion, and sings – it’s hard to think of another large ensemble in New York fronted by an accordionist. Those textures add both playfulness and plaintiveness to Uribe’s vibrant, machinegunning charts. The group’s debut album, Cumbia Universal – streaming at Sondcloud – opens with Yo Vengo (Here I Come), with its mighty polyrhythmic pulse between trombones and trumpets, all sorts of neat counterpoint, and Uribe’s accordion teasing the brass to come back at him. They take it doublespeed at the end.  ¿Qué Vamos a Hacer Con Este Amor? (What Are We Going to Do with This Love?) is a funny salsa-jazz number spiced with dancing exchanges of horn voicings, a duet between Uribe and chanteuse Solange Pratt. She has lot of fun teasing him in his role as a chill pro, trying to resist her temptations.

El Avispao (The Cheater) isn’t about infidelity – it’s a bouncily sarcastic commentary on the corruption that plagues Latin America, with a sardonic tv-announcer cameo and faux fanfares from the brass. The intro to Goza Cada Dia (Enjoy Yourself) has one of the most gorgeous horn charts in years, expanding into individual voices as it goes along: there are echoes of Memphis soul, Afro-Cuban jazz and classic 70s roots reggae, but ultimately this is Uribe’s triumph. Ruben Blades duets with the bandleader on the album’s title track, a jubilant mashup of Caribbean and Pacific coastal cumbia, with a dixieland-tinged solo from Linus Wynsch’s clarinet and a more wryly gruff one from baritone saxophonist Carl Maraghi.

¿Por Qué Se Ira Mi Niño? portrays the anguish of losing a child – Uribe’s native Colombia has a higher infant mortality rate than this country, perhaps three times worse. Matt McDonald’s brooding trombone underscores the sadness of the vocals on the intro, then the band takes it toward salsa noir territory. The soca-flavored Caribe Contigo offers upbeat contrast, anchored by stormy brass and capped off with sailing clarinet. Welcome to La Capital, a bustling Bogota street scene, brings to mind the psychedelic lowrider soul of early 70s War, Ignacio Hernandez’ guitar sparkling amid the endless handoffs among the horns.

The cumbia cover of the Beatles’ Come Together is just plain hilarious – and the way the original vocal line gets shifted to the brass isn’t even the funniest part. The album winds up with the unexpectedly bristling, hi-de-ho noir cumbia jazz of  Ya Comenzó La Fiesta (The Party Starts Here). Crank this in your earphones as you try to multitask, but expect people to be looking at you because you won’t be able to sit still.