From piano rags fractured by the reed ‘n rhythm trio Air to the swag-centic groove of the mammoth Society Situation Band, Henry Threadgill’s catholic interests have always led his ensembles to a spot where a mother lode was waiting to be mined. Now 70, the revered composer-bandleader has consistently recast his music during the last four decades, with each discrete outfit still forwarding that signature sound – let’s call it a mix of buoyant jubilation and eerie drama. Those who missed aggregates such as his seven piece Sextett or the groups mentioned above can step into a time portal at the Harlem Stage’s Very Very Threadgill Festival, which finds its hero bringing each of them (and more) back to life for a weekend romp. To a one, they’ve helped define various epochs of New York jazz, especially the esteemed porto-orchestra that cut the 1993 masterpiece Too Much Sugar For a Dime. Gray haired sentimentalists will freak to see these configurations again, and newbies will be in awe of the explosive variety one man’s mind can conjure.
Harlem Stage, 150 Covenant Ave, New York. Sept 27 + 28,
(212) 281-9240 ext. 19 or 20
One of improvisation’s most dazzling minds, the saxophonist continues to till new soil with his latest album – the fetching interplay on Functional Arrythmias (Pi) is inspired by the the sparks that fly through the human body’s circulatory, nervous, respiratory systems. The intuitive counterpoint, the sharp turns, and the deep trust of the group’s collabo vibe mark it as yet another unique turn in a fascinating career. The fact that he won recently won a MacArthur Fellowship (genius grant) makes perfect sense.
We’ll talk about individuality and its value in a sec, but know this up front: the esteemed tenor saxophonist has been a fetching player for a couple decades now, able to engage even casual jazz listeners with billowing horn lines that swoop and swirl to their own inner rhythms. Currently pushing 50, he’s entered yet another growth zone these days – on Stefano Bollani’s Joy In Spite of Everything he adds an attractive dollop of whimsy to his often dark-hued inventions. And the lyricism that marks his work on the new Lathe Of Heaven (ECM) – the first album under his own name since 2001 – seems even more profound than previous. It has no guitar or piano, so chordal direction becomes moot, making the band’s interaction wonderfully fluid. As Turner and trumpeter Avishai Cohen careen around each other, there’s plenty of elbow room available – negative space helps contour this album’s demeanor. And offset the tenets of that individuality mentioned above. Turner will never be confused with any other reed player operating today. There’s a serenity to his lines, even when they’re tilting towards explosive territories or being pressured by the rhythm section of bassist Joe Martin and drummer Marcus Gilmore. This week’s stint at the Jazz Standard will have lots of people talking.
He’s brought his famous lilt to tunes by AP Carter, Stephen Foster, Bob Dylan and John Lennon, but there’s something truly enticing about Frisell burrowing into a program entitled “This Land: Woody Guthrie’s Better World.” Both icon and interpreter can be folksy or fierce, and that kind of pliability becomes magical when the guitarist has his imaginative quintet with him. From “Do Re Mi” to “Pastures of Plenty” they’ll follow the thread wherever it leads, and don’t be shocked if it takes you an unexpected spot or two down the road from Guthrieville – Frisell says he hears the bard’s spirit of plain-spoken protest in Sonny Rollins’ Freedom Suite.
Sept 19 – 20. 7pm & 9:30pm in The Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall $75 – $55
Stefano Bollani has truly wooed me in the last few years. The Italian pianist’s work with Enrico Rava boasts a muted radiance that brings a gleam of joy to the trumpeter’s dark-hued work. Listen to how he energizes even the most ghostly passages of Rava’s remarkable New York Days. And last year’s encounter with Brazilian mandolim virtuoso Hamilton de Holanda is filled with the kind of quick-witted interplay that impresses anyone who demands music both animated and accessible. I caught the pair at the Newport Jazz Festival in early August, and they had a crowd – who I’m betting hadn’t previously heard their music – utterly enthralled.
This new quintet album, one of the most seductive jazz records of the year, seals the deal in regards to Bollani’s charm. The pianist pinballs off his rhythm section on the flurry of lines that make up the title track. Genial agitation is something he’s expert at, but the fluid touch that’s at his command often brings a Bud Powell elegance to the fore when he shifts into high gear. The quintet he’s assembled here is remarkably pliable. Guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Mark Turner share the front line and bassist Jesper Bodilsen and drummer Morten Lund charge everything they touch. The boss is the pivot man, granting himself a fair amount of solos while feeding the fire when others are having their say. His comping work is as inspired as his feature excursions. I reference Powell on purpose; Bollani brings a jaunty drive to the table on “No Pope No Party,” a post-bop romp that could be a one-shot convincer for the group’s awesome esprit.
Whimsy bubbles up in various spots. “Alobar e Kundra” sounds like it’s stitched together with moonlight, the pianist and his rhythm section following impulse after impulse while chasing gossamer. In Italy he is a recognized author of children’s books, and lacks not when it comes to wit. There’s a gamesman slant to his playing, too. The duo exchange with Frisell on “Teddy,” a two-man reverie that parallels last year’s Fred Hersch/Julian Lage meeting for poise and playfulness, makes counterpoint seem to be the most essential element of improvisation. You can almost see the grins on their faces.
All this talk about elation somewhat belies the command this unit has over autumn moods. “Vale” sits in the middle of this fetching program, providing an eerie stroll that gives Turner ample time to plot a luminous course while the quintet, especially the leader, sets a pensive mood. “Ismene” is somewhat similar – call it a tone poem of deep evanescence – but here Frisell’s dewy lines help the aura unfold. Like the opening calypso, “Easy Healing,” it resounds of character, distinct even as it uses a cloak of amorphousness to help establish its lighthearted essence. That’s not easy to do, and as the music drives the group (especially Turner) to sound unusually inviting, the heart of Bollani’s art emerges. He’s all about drawing you in.
I’ve always loved the finesse that shapes Omer Avital’s music. Yep, the bassist is an overtly physical player, often impelled to give his strings a good whack in order to express himself (because of such ardor the liner notes to this new album reference him as an “Israeli Mingus”). But Avital’s always been judicious about dispensing aggression, and as the years have gone by – the 42-year-old’s *Think With Your Heart* debut dropped in 2001 – he’s refined the attack that earned him part of his early acclaim. He’s still committed to the whomp in his music, but these days it’s measured out in very wise ways.
That is to say: New Song feels like a balancing act of sorts. While the insistence that helped craft the bassist’s identity as a bandleader and composer is obvious, a contoured approach is in play. There’s a maturity to these pieces, and their mildly wistful air enhances that vibe. It’s as if he’s trading eruption for beauty – each of the 11 tracks glow with a sense of ease and authority that make them seem a tad more eloquent than their predecessors. Could be because Avital has surrounded himself with pals. Saxophonist Joel Frahm and drummer Danny Freedman both played on the debut mentioned above, and along with trumpeter Avishai Cohen and pianist Yonathan Avishai their camaraderie is a nurturing agent. This is a squad that always works as one.
Tempo-wise, there’s nothing too agitated or rushed. Melody-wise, the tunes hark to the folk music of Avital’s Yemenite and Moroccan roots. The repeated motifs of Arab music ignite its rhythmic thrust, and from “Maroc” to “New Middle East” there’s a locomotive power that moves everything forward. The band opens the door for the blues when applicable, and that’s often enough to make the program earthy. Whether it’s a fanfare for daybreak (“Sabah El-Kheir”) or a jaunt through history (“Bedouin Roots”) the music is fused with cultural signifiers. By the time the opening of “Yemen Suite” starts to bubble up its theme towards the end of the disc, there’s plenty passion on the table. The best part is the band dispenses it in a clear, convincing manner.
A percussionist who creates music with the architectural sense of a designer, Smith is usually in the process of fulfilling on elaborate notions. History implies that this trio with violinist Mat Maneri and keyboardist Craig Taborn would be expert at aggressive textural fantasias with more than a smidge of drama – each participant knows exactly how to establish and explode any and all provocative gambits.
Greenwich House Music School
46 Barrow St. New York, NY
8 pm. $15