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No New Abnormal

Tag: third stream

Haunting, Purposeful, Hypnotic New Trio Album From Pianist Dahveed Behroozi

Pianist Davheed Behroozi‘s new album Echos – streaming at Sunnyside Records – is a magically immersive, often haunting, stunningly improvisational suite of sorts. Behroozi likes to cast a stone and then minimalistically parse the ripples, joined by a sympatico rhythm section of bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Billy Mintz. Interestingly, it’s Morgan – who’s done similarly brilliant work with Bill Frisell, especially – who pierces this nocturnal veil more often than not. Mintz flashes his plates for drizzle and snowstorm ambience more than he drives the music forward: rhythms here are tidal rather than torrential.

The trio open with Imagery, a broodingly drifting, subtly polyrhythmic, frequently rubato tone poem that draws obvious comparisons to Keith Jarrett and never strays far from a central mode. Yet the shifts in timbre, dynamics and the trio’s elastic use of space are stunning, all the more so for being so minute. The moment where Morgan steps back to get a Weegee angle on this shadowy tableau about midway through will take your breath away.

Track two, Chimes comes across as a more dizzyingly rhythmic variation on the same theme, like a waterwheel on an off-center axle, a perpetual-motion machine wavering but ultimately unstoppable. The band revisit the theme toward the end of the record with a more stern, lingering approach.

Gilroy (the California municipality which produces a major percentage of the world’s garlic, in case you weren’t aware) seems like an absolutely haunted place, if the album’s third track is to be taken at face value. Again, the triangulation between the trio’s minimalistic, emphatic rhythmic gestures is staggered just enough to raise the suspense factor. Behroozi brings up the lights a little with a bit of a churning drive and a few wry glissandos as Mintz mists the windows with his cymbals.

Mintz’s cymbal bell hits add coy mystique as Behroozi ventures little by little from a circling pattern in Alliteration: you could call it Tiny Steps. Then with Sendoff he completely fips the script, building a murkily raging stormscape, torrents from Morgan and Mintz finally breaking the stygian levee.

Royal Star is the album’s most unselfconsciously gorgeous, mysterious number, Dark Side-era Pink Floyd done in 12/8 over Mintz’s steady brushwork, Morgan’s terse upward flickers in subtle contrast with the bandleader’s saturnine resonance.

Behroozi’s much more trad, bluesy-infused rivulets in Tricks come as a real shock: maybe this unexpectedly upbeat quasi-ballad is a pressure valve for all the meticulous focus of what’s been played up to here. The trio bring the record full circle with TDB (that’s their initials). a calmly minimalistic, benedictory coda. Play this with the lights out but not if you’re trying to drift off to sleep. And let’s hope it won’t be so long between albums for Behroozi next time out.

Revisiting a Stunningly Orchestrated Piano Jazz Masterpiece

On one hand, the lockdown has been a nightmare on pretty much every level. On the other, sudden time away from work opened up a window for some serious spring cleaning. Beyond the chance to wipe the extraneous stuff off the hard drive, these past months have been an opportunity to spend quality time with some great albums which had been sitting around for a long time, sometimes years, and had always been on the bubble. Yet they never ended up making the front page here until now. This is one of them.

Pianist Danny Green‘s 2018 album One Day It Will – streaming at Spotify  – is one of the most unselfconsciously gorgeous releases in recent memory. The obvious comparison is the classic 1966 Bill Evans Trio with Symphony Orchestra record, although Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage Suite and Matt Ulery‘s recent work are also points of reference. Green really likes the high midrange: his soaring melodies have a rare glisten and gleam.

Jazz with a string section goes all the way back to Charlie Parker, but this is a landmark of the style. Here the pianist is joined by bassist Justin Grinnell and drummer Julien Cantelm from his long-running trio, plus a string quartet comprising San Diego Symphony violinists Kate Hatmaker and Igor Pandurski, violist Travis Maril and cellist Erica Erenyi. If breathtaking lushness is your thing, this is your holy grail.

The group open with the bright, chiming, anthemically Brubeckian Time Lapse to Fall, the strings leaping in swells and counterpoint. As the Parrot Flies has a dancing, tropical quality: it could be vintage Donald Fagen at his most elegant and erudite, at least until the tumbling, eerily modal bridge.

The album’s title track is a striking, achingly bittersweet ballad: one of the coolest things about this album is how the strings, or a violin, or the cello carry the melody as often as the piano does. In this case, it’s Grinnell’s muscular solo that signals a shift toward sunnier exchanges between Green and the strings.

View From the Sky, with its dancing ebullience and lyrical upper-register piano, makes a good segue. From the shimmering strings of the intro to its catchy, gospel-flavored dynamic shifts, Lemon Avenue is the album’s most expansive track. November Reveries, a fondly brisk ballad without words, has Grinnell adding gravitas over Cantelm’s flurries until the strings come sweeping back.

Green’s wistfully vamping variations in Sifting Through the Silence might be the most vivid distillation of where he’s going with all this. The saturnine, brooding October Ballad, a jazz waltz, is the album’s most darkly stunning track, with a stark, tantalizingly brief cello solo toward the end.

The memorably rippling Snowy Day in Boston evokes a steady trail of chilly South Station T riders looking forward to cozy Somerville apartments more than it does, say, dodging snowplows on Mass Ave. The album winds up with the imaginatively blustery orchestrated blues Down and Out.

A Saturnine Album From One of the Most Distinctive Pianists in the History of Jazz…and Everything Else

Carla Bley hardly needs a shout from this blog; she’s been one of the most instantly recognizable pianists of the past half-century and more. And she’s no less vital now. Her latest trio album Life Goes On – the third in a series – is streaming at Spotify. It comprises three suites: two triptychs and one in four parts. In keeping with Bley’s increasingly finely honed melodicism of recent years, if you’re looking for epic sweep and deviously manic improvisation, you should start with her 1970 magnum opus Escalator Over the Hill.

This album’s title suite begins with a terse, slowly swinging minor-key blues where Bley eventually leaves the terse lows where she’s been hanging out and drops out altogether as saxophonist Andy Sheppard solos hazily but lyrically over bassist Steve Swallow’s similarly low-key prowl. The second part is more saturnine, Swallow tiptoeing over her regal, spacious chords which eventually extend into more wary, bracing territory. The trio pick up the pace in the more cosmopolitanly swinging, subtly carnivalesque, Monkish third section and close with a similar, moodily syncopated stroll, Swallow contributing pointillistic melody overhead, Sheppard floating more lightheartedly.

The first of the triptychs is the gorgeously haunting Beautiful Telephones, beginning with brooding, grimly incisive, modal piano and bass, picking up somewhat as Sheppard shoots for bringing an irrepressible cheer to the persistently troubled sway. They wind it up with a more enigmatic but ultimately macabre stroll anchored by Swallow’s fat low end.

The closing partita, Copycat begins as a rather stern, boleroesque march, Swallow again working incisively in the highs over Bley’s moody chords. It becomes more of a Monk homage as the trio work a series of knowing exchanges, Sheppard’s flute-like leaps contrasting with Swallow’s steady, chugging pulse and the bandleader’s increasingly tropical phrasing. What will this icon come up with next?

Irrepressibly Playful, Intuitive, Funny Reinventions of Debussy Classics

Jazz artists have been having fun with classical themes since before jazz existed, per se: Scott Joplin sat down with a Schubert score one day and said to himself, “I’m better than this dude.” The new album Impressions of Debussy, by pianists Lori Sims and Jeremy Siskind along with arranger and soprano saxophonist Andrew Rathbun – streaming at Spotify – follows in that irrepressible tradition. It’s a concept record. First, Sims will play a solo Debussy piece, with thoughtful expressiveness and often surprising dynamics. Then Siskind and Rathbun follow with a new chart which is often considerably more improvisational but sometimes not, as Rathbun carries the melody line very straightforwardly some of the time. It’s a win-win situation: Debussy’s gamelan-influenced compositions vamp a lot and make good lauching pads, and this crew have an infectious affinity for the material.

Les Sons et les Parfums (for consistency’s sake, English title case is being used here) sets the stage. Rathbun plays the second part over Siskind’s puckish, ragtime-inflected staccato, evincing hints of flamenco until the two strut playfully off the page.

Likewise, Sims spaciously builds La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin up to a rapture – and then you realize that, hey, that’s Pictures at an Exhibition! The duo section follows a more immediately triumphant tangent: in this version, Debussy gets the girl.

Minstrels gets a jaunty, emphatic interpretation from Sims and a hilarious conversation from the other two players: that little medley of other famous tunes is priceless. Sims really brings out the underlying morbidity in Feuilles Mortes (better known to some as Autumn Leaves), while her comrades kick those piles around a little before realizing the gravity of the matter.

The three go deeper into less iconic material as the album goes on. Le Vent dans la Plaine gets an unexpectedly steady, straightforward attack from Sims followed by a duo version that’s actually more of a piano gamelan piece, and more airy than stormy, with some of Rathbun’s most acerbic playing here.

Sims’ muted, careful steps through the snow in Des Pas Sur la Neige create a magically nocturnal ambience; Rathbun’s expertly arpeggiated paraphrases introduce a more understatedly determined approach from piano and sax.

Sims’ take of La Puerta del Vino comes across as a nocturne with echoes of Satie along with the flamenco. Siskind and Rathbun, on the other hand, bring the Spanish tinge front and center: this is a party.

The two versions of Canope are a carefully articulted, enigmatically shimmery one from Sims and then a tongue-in-cheek, tropical reinvention by Siskind and Rathbun. The three close the record with Danseuses des Delphes, more of a Chopin prelude when played solo here, Rathbun’s version making lively ragtime out of it.

Matt Ulery Puts Out One of the Most Kinetically Gorgeous Albums of the Past Several Months

Bassist Matt Ulery is this era’s great Romantic. Nobody writes more lyrical songs without words than this guy. Blending classical elegance and art-rock intensity with jazz improvisation, his music has a consistently vivid, epically cinematic quality. His latest album, Delicate Charms is streaming at Bandcamp; just so you know, it’s not delicate at all.

Pianist Rob Clearfield gets most of the choicest, most poignant moments here, although everybody else in the band – alto saxophonist Greg Ward, violinist Zach Brock and drummer Quin Kirchner – get plenty of chances to make a mark as well. The harmonies between sax and violin sound much more orchestral than you could possibly get from just two instruments, and Kirchner nails the lush ambience with an impressive understatement, saving his tumbles and cymbal spashes for the most dramatic moments.

The opening number, Coping is a theme and variations, Clearfield’s plaintive lines giving way to achingly gorgeous sax/violin harmonies and eventually a steady, cantering drive to a decisive triplet groove through a real struggle of a coda on the wings of Brock’s dancing solo. It’s a mighty payoff.

The Effortless Enchantment has distant latin inflections and a wistful, hopeful theme set to a balletesque pulse, with a similarly hopeful upward trajectory, Clearfield’s insistence and defiant flourishes at the center.

Mellisonant has a slow, saturnine, syncopated sway lit up by Brock’s acerbic, leaping lines and Ward’s guarded optimism. A practically accusatory, lush crescendo, a wary litheness and a ferocious forest fire of a coda ensue before the band bring the song full circle.

The Air We Breathe, a restless, stormy jazz waltz, ironically has one of Clearfield’s most concise, emphatic solos and similarly vigorous work from Ward. At eight and a half minutes, Taciturn is anything but, and has the album’s most lightheartedly leaping moments before the piano and drums come crashing in.

October, with its brisk, pensive, uneasy stroll and bittersweetly rippling piano, could be the high point of the record. As usual, the bandleader’s inobtrusive drive and use of implied melody are a clinic in smart, interesting bass.

The group close the album with Nerve, glittering with echo phrases, glisteningly circular piano and finally a bittersweet bass solo (when’s the last time you heard one of those) from Ulery. Good luck multitasking to this; you might as well give up now and settle in for the ride.

A Darkly Playful, Timely Jazz Reinvention of a Brooding Schubert Suite

One of the most surrealistically enjoyable releases of recent months is a highly improvised instrumental version of Schubert’s Winterreise, an allusively political protest suite disguised as a collection of lovelorn ballads. Artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra and Phil Kline have drawn inspiration from the composer’s brooding early Romanticism, but it’s hard to remember if there’s ever been a jazz interpretation of the whole thing. The collective Madre Vaca are responsible for this crazy stunt, streaming at Bandcamp. The group’s drummer, Benjamin Shorstein gets credit for this fearless, inspired, latin-tinged arrangement.

The opening number, Goodnight, is a marching blend of Cab Calloway hi-de-ho, the Beatles’ For the Benefit of Mr. Kite, and a little of the original courtesy of Jonah Pierre’s piano.

Likewise, the group play up the phantasmagoria in a strutting, waltzing take of The Weathervane, then they loosen, with the horns – Juan Rollan’s sax, Steve Strawley’s trumpet and Lance Reed’s trombone – getting nebulous until the rest of the band pull them back on track.

Shorstein and bassist Mike Perez rise from a klezmer-tinged shuffle as Frozen grows from an ambered gravitas to a postbop jazz crush with high-voltage solos from sax and piano. They reinvent Loneliness as a moodily energetic bossa, guitarist Jarrett Carter’s sage, spacious solo at the center.

Pierre and Carter converse broodingly in The Grey Head, with a chromatically-charged bristle and a more muted tropical tinge. Percussionist Milan Algood fuels the qawwali-ish groove of The Crow: once again, there are hints of klezmer, hard-charging sax and McCoy Tyner-inspired piano, and bubbly guitar solos.

The group make Monk-ish clave jazz out of Last Hope; even with the new syncopation, the underlying angst cuts through, especially when the carnivalesque atmosphere grows insistent. The version of The Stormy Morning here is a cha-cha, Reed’s chuffing trombone setting up a big coda from Strawley. Pierre’s Schubertian salsa piano is one of the funniest moments on the album.

Pierre and an uncredited vocalist do a serviceable, straight-up classical take of The Sun Dogs and close with a deviously Balkan-inflected take of The Hurdy Gurdy Man, Schubert’s disconsolate portrait of the suite’s protagonist all alone on the ice with only a homeless drunk for company.

The Winterreise has special relevance for our time as well. It wasn’t written under a lockdown, but during a serious crackdown on civil liberties under another repressive regime. Schubert changed the order of the Wilhelm Muller poems he used as text in order to fool the censors.

Pianist Carolina Calvache Takes Her Lyrical, Individualistic Style to New Depths

It’s always validating to see an artist follow his or her muse and take their art to the next level. Pianist Carolina Calvache‘s 2014 debut album Sotareño was an ambitious mix of classically-inspired lyricism, postbop jazz and rhythms from her native Colombia. But Calvache is also a songwriter. On her new album Vida Profunda – streaming at Bandcamp -, she backs a murderer’s row of vocal talent in a collection of originals plus new settings of poems from across the ages. Calvache’s style is distinctly her own: 19th century art-song, classical music, jazz and diverse sounds from south of the border all figure in. Most of the lyrics on the album are in Spanish.

Marta Gomez sings the album’s title track, an anthemic neoromantic art-song awash in lush strings, with an understated intensity. Based on a poem by Porfirio Barba Jacob, it’s an uneasy coming to terms with extremes, emotional or otherwise. As Calvache sees it, an unfelt life is not worth living.

Sofia Ribeiro takes over the mic for El Pájaro Yo (The Bird Is Me), a darkly lilting setting of the famous Pablo Neruda poem. Hadar Noiberg’s flute soaring as fearlessly as the lyric. Ruben Blades delivers Te Conocí de Nuevo (I Met You Again), a reunited-for-good ballad, with hope and tenderness over Calvache’s bright, emphatic melody.

Claudia Acuña gives an aching, imploring angst to Sin un Despido (unpoetic translation: We Never Got to Say Goodbye), a glistening, symphonic requiem for the 2015 LaMia Flight 2933 crash whose victims included the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoens. Sara Serpa provides her signature, crystalline vocalese gravitas to Hope, a optimistically clustering number propelled by Jonathan Blake’s drums, Samuel Torres’ djembe and Peter Slavov’s bass, Calvache introducing it with a reference to Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Aubrey Johnson brings a bracing, unsettled energy to Childhood Retreat, a poignant setting of a Robert Duncan poem capped off by Michael Rodriguez’s soaring trumpet. Haydee Milanes offers warm and reflection in the Horace Silver-inspired Stella, a tribute to Calvache’s mom, with the composer on twinkling Rhodes and then incisive acoustic piano as harmonica player Gregoire Maret spirals overhead.

Serpa takes over on vocals again for the album’s most stunning song, The Trail, based on the Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow. Calvache ripples and cascades over sweeping string orchestration: at a time when the lockdowners are insisting on increasingly sinister levels of surveillance, this song couldn’t be more timely.

Lara Bello lends a warmly reflective tone to No Te Vi Crecer (I Didn’t See You Grow Up) over Calvache’s glistening lines: as lullabies go, this is a particularly enegetic one. The album’s only dud is a pop song that smacks of label mismanagement and doesn’t take advantage of Calvache’s many talents. This is a quiet triumph of outside-the-box playing from a rotating cast that also includes drummer Keita Ogawa; bassists Petros Klampanis and Ricky Rodriguez; violinists Tomoko Omura, Leonor Falcon, Ben Russell, Annaliesa Place and Adda Kridler; violists Allysin Clare and Jocelin Pan; cellists Brian Sanders and Diego Garcia; oboist Katie Scheele; trombonist Achilles Liarmakopoulous and bass clarinetist Paul Won Jin Cho.

Remembering Lee Konitz With One of His More Memorable Adventures

Live long enough and everybody wants to work with you. We lost Lee Konitz last month. His collaboration with pianist Dan Tepfer, and their final duo album were well received, but among recent releases the saxophonist appeared on, one of the most vivid and fascinating is the concert recording of Guenter Buhles‘ Prisma, a concerto for alto sax and orchestra, streaming at Bandcamp.

Nobody ever meant to release this 2000 live performance with the Brandenburg State Orchestra, under the baton of Christoph Campestrini. But there was a high-quality digital field recording available, which has been tweaked and sounds fantastic. Buhles had humbly offered to arrange some standards for Konitz for orchestra and soloist, but Konitz insisted on an original work. That was a no-brainer!

There are many moments where sax and orchestra respond to each other, particularly in the spirited third movement, ostensibly a scherzo, although that movement’s much more pensive than such things tends to be. The concerto’s opening allegro begins with catchy, incisive upward phrases from the orchestra, quickly ceding the way to Konitz’s measured, steady phrasing: it’s uncanny how much he sounds like Paul Desmond here. There’s clever echoing between sax and orchestra, some luscious organ-like sustained swells and a purposeful, low-key solo over pillowy strings They end with a couple of ominous clangs from the bells.

The second movement is a pensive neoromantic theme, Konitz entering on a surprise note. Fluttery strings contrast with Frank Wunsch’s minimalist piano, the saxophonist remaining in low-key, lyrical mode through a shift toward a moody pulse and a momentary exchange between sax and violin.

Stillness and animation contrast in the scherzo, yet Konitz is at his balmiest here. A wary, brisk sax-and-piano duet opens the concluding allegro movement, a neat way to tie up the suspensefully insistent melody. The ensemble wind it out with an uneasy haze.

There were three other numbers on the bill. Konitz introduces Thingin, solo, with a steady series of blues allusions that Wunsch follows more uneasily: that dialectic permeates their duet afterward. Konitz goes to his low register  for the duo’s more relaxed take of Joana’s Waltz. There’s also a relatively slow version of Body and Soul where Konitz finally throws caution to the wind – and Wunsch is right on it. A typical adventure for this rugged individualist.

A Starkly Relevant New Album and a Governors Island Show by the Very Serious Sirius Quartet

The album cover illustration for the Sirius Quartet‘s latest release, New World – streaming at Spotify – has the Statue of Liberty front and center, against a backdrop that could be a sunset with stormclouds overhead…or smoke from a conflagration. She’s wearing a veil. The record’s centerpiece, New World, Nov. 9, 2016 won the Grand Prize in the the New York Philharmonic’s New World Initiative composition competition a couple of years ago. The message could not be more clear. It’s no wonder why the group are so troubled by the events since then: both of their violinists are immigrants.

They’re playing a free concert featuring their own materal plus original arrangements of Radiohead and the Beatles this Sept 7 at the park in the middle of Governors Island, with sets at 1 and 3 PM. You can catch the ferry from either the old Staten Island Ferry terminal at the Battery – to the east of the new one – or from the Brooklyn landing where Bergen Street meets the river.

Violinist Fung Chern Hwei’s Beside the Point opens the album. In between a wistful, trip hop-flavored theme, the group chop their way through a staccato thicket capped off by a big cadenza where the violin finally breaks free, in a depiction of the struggle against discrimination.

Currents, a tone poem by cellist Jeremy Harman has stark, resonant echoes of Irish music and the blues: it could be a shout out to two communities who’ve had to battle bigotry here. The epic title track sarcastically juxtaposes contrasting references to Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Shostakovich’s harrowing String Quartet No. 8: look how far we haven’t come, violinist/composer Gregor Huebner seems to say.

Still, another Huebner composition, is based on Strange Fruit, the grisly chronicle of a lynching and a big Billie Holiday hit. Ron Lawrence’s viola chops at the air along with the cello over an uneasily crescendoing violin haze, the group coalescing somberly up to a horrified, insistent coda. Their version of Eleanor Rigby has a bittersweet, baroque introductory paraphrase and some bluesy soloing, finally hitting the original melody over a propulsive, funky beat. As covers of the song go, it’s one of the few actually listenable ones.

The album’s second epic, More Than We Are rises slowly through allusions to Indian music to a persistently wary, chromatic pulse fueled by Harman’s bassline: you could call parts of it Messiaenic cello metal. To a New Day is even more somber, flickering pizzicato passages alternating with a brooding sway grounded by a hypnotically precise, stabbing rhythm.

The Chinese-inflected 30th Night has a dramatic vocal interlude amid quavering cadenzas as well as phrasing that mimics the warpy tones of a pipa. The album’s second cover, Radiohead’s Knives Out is louder and more jagged than Sybarite5‘s lush take on the Thom Yorke catalog. The group return to the neo-baroque with the album’s rather sentimental closing cut, simply titled Cavatina. Contemporary classical protest music doesn’t get more interesting or hauntingly diverse than this.

Contrasting Styles at an Intriguing Prospect Lefferts Gardens Jazz Twinbill This Week

There’s an especially intriguing jazz twinbill this August 15 starting at around 8 at the Owl. Multi-reedman Mike McGinnis – who excels at both pastoral jazz and large-ensemble pieces – leads a quartet with the perennially tuneful Jacob Sacks on piano. They’re followed by alto player Jonathon Crompton – whose methodically drifting compositions blur the line between indie classical and free improvisation – doing the album release show for his new one, Intuit with Ingrid Laubrock, Patrick Booth and Patrick Breiner on tenor sax, plus bassist Adam Hopkins and drummer Kate Gentile.

On this album – streaming at Bandcamp – Crompton and the group focus closely on echo effects and shadowing. Tempos, when they coalesce, are on the slow side: there’s a very baroque feel to much of this. They open with the title track, which is trippy to the extreme. A three-way conversation in birdsong-like figures develops into a shadow of a boisterous New Orleans march, shifting in and out (mostly out) of focus, sustain punctuated by squonk. From there, the group provide a hazy, flickering backdrop for Crompton’s forlorn, Mike Maneri-style microtonal wisps and cries before everyone joins in a surrealistic exchange of echoes. A backward masking pedal seems to be involved.

Courage, the pensive, drummerless fugue after that, is closer to indie classical than jazz. Breiner’s enigmatically balletesque bass clarinet and Hopkins’ peppy bass join in a duet to open Apathy; then the band come in and sway sardonically through a hangdog theme and squirrelly variations. In Dreaming, the group come together out of a quasi-classical hint of a round into a jaunty strut that the bandleader pokes at, but can’t quite derail.

The gently triangulated fugue Primacy of Gesture and Catherine (for Cathlene) make an increasingly lively diptych, increasingly cartoonish humor pushing the tightlipped, Bach-like riffs out of the picture. Crompton’s Suite in A Major first traces the deconstruction of a carefree second-line tune, everybody taking turns holding the center and then breaking free. The second part, with its brooding, muted, plaintively funereal harmonies, is the high point of the album. The concluding number, December makes a return to the neo-baroque: it’s deceptively simple, thoughtfully executed and speaks well to Crompton’s uncluttered, moody sensibility,