Saturday, October 27, 2018

Concert review: Tiger Trio, NYC, 2018

Originally published in 
the NYC Jazz Record NY@Night column, Nov 2018

Oct. 8, 2018, Teatro Latea, Clemente Soto Velez Center, NYC

Performance review by John Pietaro

Tiger Trio, Teatro Latea, November 8, 2018 (photo by John Pietaro)

In this era of #MeToo and feminist fight-back, the obvious statement made by the banding of Myra Melford, piano, Nicole Mitchell, flutes, and Joelle Leandre, bass, may be one of gender alone. In this period of reactionary divisiveness, new music and jazz remain as male-dominated as ever, but these powerful soloists unified in the creation of something greater than the sum of themselves, cast a timeless lesson in equity, strength and art. Veterans all of the most expansive contemporary music, Melford, Leandre and Mitchell took the stage at Teatro Latea (10/8) without plans or outlines of what was to come, guided only by the highest level of performance practice and deepest, most communicative  listening. 

Refreshingly, there wasn’t any hogging of the spotlight or rushing toward a climax, but the Trio evoked enough energy, expression and force to justify the title and embark on jaw-dropping musical forays. Melford appeared at the top of her game this night. Perhaps hindered by the limitations of an upright piano, her technical prowess nonetheless shaped a spinning tapestry of sound. Mitchell’s flutes alternately draped gorgeous melodies over and cut searing lines into the atmosphere. And Leandre’s tireless pizzicato patterns, arco passages, vocalizations and humor brought it together. The Tiger Trio may be the counter to the ignorance, impatience and greed the nation’s daily fed. “We’re totally tuned in to each other”, Melford noted after the concert. But it was Mitchell’s comment that best describes what propels this vital music: “It’s a different kind of listening”.

Concert review: JOHN ZORN ANGELS QUARTET, Nov 2018

A slightly edited version of this review was published in 
the NYC Jazz Record NY@Night column, November 2018

Oct 7, 2017, Village Vanguard, New York NY

Performance review by John Pietaro

Village Vanguard steps (courtesy, NPR)

The Sunday afternoon sky burned bright over the West Village, but an informed portion of those on 7th Avenue South crowded readily into a certain darkened basement of note (10/7). The draw was the Angels Quartet and its masterful expansion of Zorn’s 2004 Masada Project, that already expansive fusion of Jewish musical traditions, free funk and new jazz. Throughout its compelling set, the Quartet’s interplay was marked with a celebratory, perhaps holiday, collegiality and laughter that belied the Vanguard’s noir-like d├ęcor. The downtown sound was alive, well and wielding klezmer-fueled collective improv, meter shifts, melodic minors, bouncing repetitions, hora accents and a bit of klangfarbenmelodie. Zorn’s artfully distressed alto wailed over the exquisite leads of guitarist Julian Lage who proved again why he’s first-call for so many of these gigs. Lage’s utter command of his ax and ability to tear into complex melodies as easily as reckless abandon is all the more admirable by his spy and surf guitar mastery. The rhythm section of fluid bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Kenny Wolleson was on fire throughout. Wolleson can do anything behind a kit and here rolled out the hippest bossa novas (with samba bottoms) and coolest free jazz. Like butter. 

For all the warmth onstage, Zorn’s circumspect approach was on high guard afterward when we hoped for a brief interview, rejected soundly and none too kindly. But the sun continued shining in spite of this and, climbing up the Vanguard’s historic steps, we still grooved on the leftover good vibes.

CD & Concert review: SOFT MACHINE, Nov 2018

Originally published in the NYC Jazz Record, NY@Night column, November 2018

SOFT MACHINE, Hidden Details (MoonJune, 2018) 
–record release concert, Oct 13, the Iridium, NYC

CD and concert review by John Pietaro

Soft Machine, the Iridium, Oct 13, 2018 (photo by J Pietaro)

In the wake of social change, counter-culture, mind expansion, Eastern religions, ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and ‘In a Silent Way’, there came a convergence of artful rock and forward-looking jazz. Amidst this, Soft Machine released its first recording. The band has since survived personnel shifts, members’ deaths, breakups, spin-offs and metamorphoses. As a golden anniversary celebration, John Etheridge (guitars), John Marshall (drums), Roy Babbington (bass) and Theo Travis (saxophones and keyboards) released ‘Hidden Details’, topping it off with a world tour.

Soft Machine has not played New York since 1974, so the return was highly anticipated by the cheering loyalists cramming the Iridium on October 13. The iconic band, unfortunately, was twice beleaguered by technical difficulties. The evening kicked off with “Hidden Details”, a gripping fusion number which saw veteran drummer Marshall initially fumbling some over thriving riffs, meter changes and rapid tempo. It all came together with a searing guitar solo but as Soft Machine began another piece, Etheridge’s effects rig cut out. He handled it well, joking with the sympathetic audience, “Right, stand down a second!”, but sometime later, the guitar again fell tacit. As he tried to anxiously fix the problem, the others ultimately left the stage during a torturous 20-minute procedure (it frankly seemed ridiculous that a temporary trio couldn’t have played, stretching out on the planned song to save the moment!).

The concert material combined new works, older repertoire and some pieces as reimagined on the new record. The melodic pairing of Etheridge’s wailing guitar and Travis’ tenor or soprano saxophones creates, both live and on record, a vital, classic sound sometimes reminiscent of Weather Report, Traffic and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. When the band launched into free segments, rocketing over uptempo swing, as guitar and saxophone locked horns, Soft Machine was clearly in its element. Marshall, a bit of British jazz royalty, has collaborated with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, John Surman, Eberhard Weber, Jack Bruce, Centipede and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, among many others. One of the killer-dillers at the Iridium erupted into a lengthy drum feature which drove the crowd to cheering hysterics, encompassing the best of post-bop while giving a nod to the big band drummers who inspired him.

‘Hidden Details’, in any case, is a highly memorable album. Pristinely recorded by Jon Hiseman, who passed away shortly before the release, it captures the best of that fore-mentioned musical convergence. Suffice to say, fans of both electric Miles and King Crimson will welcome this into their collections. Etheridge is a living master class in guitar virtuosity. His distorted sound shreds the jazz/rock boundary on “Hidden Details” and “One Glove”, while on ballads “The Man Who Waved at Trains” and “Heart Off Guard”, featuring Travis’ nimble flute and sinewy soprano respectively, the counterpoint is elegant. Listen for the band’s subtle interplay on “Ground Lift” and compelling free improvisation, “Flight of the Jett”. But Soft Machine is at its collective best on the late Mike Ratledge’s “Out Bloody Rageous”, a wondrous 15/8 which conjures the vibe of Chico Hamilton, bits of Trane and something very much other. It’s the latter, however, that best describes the mythic spectrum of Soft Machine’s first 50 years.

Hidden Details – John Etheridge (gtr), Theor Travis (sax, flute, keyboards), Roy Babbington (bs), John Marshall (dr), guest Nick Utteridge (wind chimes, track 13)
1.     Hidden Details
2.     The Man Who Waved at Trains
3.     Ground Lift
4.     Heart Off Guard
5.     Broken Hill
6.     Flight of the Jett
7.     One Glove
8.     Out Bloody Rageous (intro)
9.     Out Bloody Rageous (part 1)
10.  Drifting White
11.  Life on Brodges
12.  Fourteen Hour Dream
13.  Breathe

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Album liner notes: Jesse Dulman Quartet

Jesse Dulman Quartet 

Downtown Music Gallery, Oct 7, 2018

Album liner notes

Jesse Dulman Quartet, Downtown Music Gallery (photo by John Pietaro)

A certain pall, a lucid grayness, fell over Downtown Music Gallery on the occasion of October 7, 2018. Earlier in the week, word had spread of the tragic passing of Mike Panico, a comrade of the downtown sound and veritable brother to so many of its artists. Brief hours before, many in the room had been at Mike’s funeral, so his memory lingered viscerally amidst the racks and aisles at 13 Monroe Street. The Jesse Dulman Quartet, an aggregation boasting saxophonic monsters Ras Moshe Burnett and Dave Sewelson, along with rising young lion Leonid Galaginov on drums, was set to record a live album in this hallowed new music ground. New Dulman compositions and adaptations of older works were slated for this disc, but upon learning of the loss, the leader deemed the evening a tribute; in the hours leading up to the gig, Jesse conjured a series of themes most appropriate to both Panico’s memory and the kind of free improvisation he loved.

Fittingly, the concert opened with heartfelt words from Bruce Gallanter, the owner of Downtown Music Gallery, who referred to Panico as a best friend over many years. “I was having brunch with him just the other day”, he said tearfully, “I don’t know how this could have happened”. Gallanter listed Panico’s many credits and attributes, offering his legend to the moved crowd. And then brought on the Jesse Dulman Quartet. The four stood tacitly as the opening strains of “Serenity” were stated in solo by Dulman. It’s rare that an instrument like the tuba, Jesse’s ax of choice, can emote so gently, so mournfully, but in this work, it painted the aural portrait of a friend finally at rest. And just as soon as he sounded the call for lament, Dulman embarked on a battle cry as the theme varied into a throbbing rumble, a trumpeting of emotion.

Throughout the performance, each of the four artists on stage demonstrated vision and sound, alternately bringing melodic phrases to the fore and erupting into primal screams as the moment, and the music, deemed necessary. Dave Sewelson and his formidable length of bristly beard have been staples on this scene since 1977. The baritone saxophonist is a veteran of the Microscopic Septet, Mofungo, William Parker’s Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, and notable bands of Jemeel Moondoc, Sunny Murray, Billy Bang, Roy Campbell and a long list of others. In this band, his horn’s lower end serves as a proponent of Dulman’s own lines, creating biting cross-rhythms and gripping contrapuntal forays when not shrieking overdrive, bellowing sub-tones or simply taking flight in his inimitable fashion. In Dave’s hands, the bari is agile as a 90-pound barefoot dancer, even as it pummels the infernal range he revels in.

Likewise, Ras Moshe Burnett whose own astral leaps and bounds are consistently fluid and constantly creative. The native Brooklynite’s resume reads like a Downtown Who’s Who, his tenor and soprano saxophones a fixture on most every bandstand beneath 14th Street. Ras’ means of channeling forbears, particularly Coltrane among a phalanx of revolutionary forces, never compromises his unique voice, rapid-fire composing or probing musicality. In fact, the amalgam of political and artistic radicals informing Moshe are quite the singular combination. 
Young drummer Leonid Galaginov has been on the scene but several scant years, after relocating to New York from Estonia. However, he arrived brandishing both an inborn rhythmic gift and wise tutelage from an American jazz musicians in Eastern Europe. Perhaps his greatest asset—beyond the obvious impeccable technique, taste and swing--is his utter championing of dynamics, from a hushed whisper to an explosion.

And so, we arrive at the band leader, Jesse Dulman, who stands among the tuba players of the so-called avant garde. Wait, you’d thought this instrument had been replaced by the string bass in jazz long ago, didn’t you? But as the music grew freer in the 1960s, listeners recognized that in many ways it harkened back to the roots, collective improvisation. And with that, several prominent leaders began to look closer at some of the instruments that had fallen with the years, not the least of which was the tuba. It remains distinct but far from an anomaly. Jesse’s recording debut in 1999 brought him to the attention of Kalaprush Maurice McIntyre, another giant of the music whose demise came far too early. Jesse became a mainstay of his ensembles, traveling and recording with the saxophonist for powerful years. He also fronted his own bands in this period and worked with Anthony Braxton, among others. After a hiatus from the scene, with a careful return before moving markedly ahead with this new project, Jesse Dulman returns in a celebration of the life of a lost friend. In doing so, he also lauds the many lives of the music itself.
-john pietaro, 10/7/18

Album review: Gene Pritsker’s Sound Liberation, Let’s Save the World Suite

  Gene Pritsker’s Sound Liberation , Let’s Save the World Suite (Composers Concordance 2022) --originally published in The NYC Jazz Recor...