Steve Coleman and Five Elements Village Vanguard May 16-21

It’s a pressure cooker type of deal. Steve Coleman’s Five Elements outfit simmers and bubbles and boils until the lid blows off and the steam screams out. Thanks to the intricate interplay – which has been the DNA of the saxophonist/conceptualist’s stuff since he set up his lab in the heady Fort Greene ‘80s –  watching the process can be mind-boggling: body music posing as a chess match. Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, guitarist Miles Okazaki, bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman comprise the quintet, and their agility is unparalleled. I have an explosive concert hall set from last summer’s Montreal Jazz Fest forever etched in my mind, and when they set up shop in a cozy room like the Vanguard, every micro maneuver boasts an even greater impact. Don’t take your eyes off that rhythm section.

Village Vanguard

Coleman’s Natal Eclipse band drops Morphogenesis (Pi Recordings) on June 23

Miles Okazaki

Jonathan Finlayson

Exit Music (For A Pianist)

Tick-tick-tick…the clock is winding down for fans of The Bad Plus – or more specifically, fans of the wily jazz trio’s original line-up. The band, which earned plenty of critical kudos through its inventive updates of pop tunes such as “Heart of Glass” and “Iron Man,” has announced that founding member Ethan Iverson is splitting. The pianist’s resourceful lines were crucial to defining TBP’s oft dramatic, occasionally explosive sound, so a sea change is pending as Orrin Evans, another superb improviser, waits to take over the piano chair at the start of 2018. The group (with bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King) has only two NYC runs slated before they end this year with a Village Vanguard bash, so if you’re an Iverson zealot (and there are many), one of this week’s Jazz Standard shows are on your must-see list. Special request: Cheney Piñata.”

The Bad Plus plays the Jazz Standard through May 14

Village Voice

George Garzone at Cornelia Street Cafe

It’s a long walk between skronk and smooch, but versatility goes wherever George Garzone goes, and for decades the Beantown saxophonist has reiterated just how broad a language jazz can be. With his iconic trio The Fringe he moves from molten roar to feathered abstraction. When he turns to the indefatigable bop lingo, eloquence goes head to head with intricacy. At 66, the cagey horn player and beloved educator doesn’t make it down Route 95 as often as some NYC jazz fans would like. So this two-night stint by his Boston Collective is a mini event that’s sure to shoot sparks in myriad directions. Phil Grenadier’s trumpet shares the front line, and the rhythm section of bassist John Lockwood and drummer Luther Gray is dedicated to the art of pliability.

May 5-6

Cornelia Street Cafe

Village Voice



John Scofield Retrospective at Lincoln Center

There’s a lot of zig-zag in John Scofield’s career. The revered jazz guitarist started in the ‘70s with intricate nu-bop for trio (Steve Swallow and Adam Nussbaum, y’all), and by the turn of the century was bear-hugged by the jam band crowd for the wily lines he threaded through deep grooves. A catholic perspective to say the least. Which is why Jazz at Lincoln Center’s yin-yang shows, ‘Retrospective: Quiet and Loud Jazz’ make sense. In ’87 Scofield led a beast of a quartet on his ‘Blue Matter’ album – aggression was front and center; waxing fierce was a mandate. A decade later he put on his Gil Evans pajamas and gave us ‘Quiet,’ a genteel reverie for a mid-sized brass and woodwinds ensemble that remains rewardingly lustrous to this day. Both get a buff job when the 65-year-old bandleader reinvestigates their opposing moods with discrete squads who know the deets of each aesthetic. Secret weapon: Joe Lovano.

May 5-6

Village Voice

The Jazz Passengers Still Life With Trouble

Boom! To celebrate the camaraderie they’ve developed in past 30 years, the Jazz Passengers start this new record by crashing out of the gate with a wallop of horns riding a big splash of rhythm. Yep, its members are getting on in years, but there’s no question that vigor remains one of the celebrated NYC outfit’s most valuable assets. With echoes of Mingus’ soulful uproar in the air, the wily septet kicks off Still Life with Trouble with a rowdy dose of trouble and not a hint of still life. “Paris” may feature sinewy solos by violinist Sam Bardfeld, reed player Roy Nathanson, and vibraphonist Bill Ware, but when it ends, it’s the punch behind the swag that’s most memorable. You can almost hear it cackling as it strolls away, confident you’ve been impressed.

Keeping things lively hasn’t been a problem for this band. With co-captains Nathanson and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes brainstorming a wealth of contextual schemes through the decades, the Passengers been an idea machine. Their origin story dates back the downtown scene of the ‘80s, a milieu that prided itself on catholic interests. How catholic? Fowlkes and Nathanson bumped into each other playing “Beat It” for dancing elephants while making ends meet as members of the Big Apple Circus band. A bit of that absurdity has framed a chunk of what has unfolded since. Whimsy has long been key to the Passengers’ aesthetic; they’re one of the most entertaining groups around.

That means regardless of how boisterous the interplay gets, there’s often a simplicity in the air. On Still Life, groove gets its moment in the sun. Bassist Brad Jones’ “Gleis, Spoor, Binario,” finds an itchy melody on top, but some kind of sideways rumba on the bottom. The Passengers have two drummers this time out, newcomer Ben Perowsky joining founding member EJ Rodriguez. This also adds to the oomph. With Ware’s vibes enhancing the percussion exchanges, there’s plenty of lift-off. The blare of the trombone, the wail of Nathanson’s alto sax, the itchy action of Bardfeld’s lines – polyphony has its pleasures, and by giving everyone a voice, it brokers an invitation that’s hard to resist.

The band’s skills at distillation are on display in “Everyone’s a Jew,” a ditty that manages to reach from klezmer to Ornette. A flourish of sax squall that recalls John Zorn’s Masada motifs finds a way to shift gears into a limber spot for a solo or two, and as Nathanson nods to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the group also offers a hat-tip to North Africa. Also impressive: the hard-swinging downshift made from the gnarled bari eruptions to the fleet vibes explosion in “Trouble.” For a band that gets together somewhat intermittently, they sure sound super tight.

Part of that whimsy plays out in the vocal department. Four out of nine tracks feature singing of some sort, and though no member could pay the rent on their voice work alone, each manages to communicate the sentiment at hand. “Wake Up, Again!” is a protest/lament with the refrain of “can’t afford to live/can’t afford to die” buffering Fowlkes’ ghostly falsetto (don’t miss the fun YouTube video for this one). On “Everybody Plays The Fool” (yes, the ’73 nugget by The Main Ingredient), a sense of boho cool ignites some R&B philosophy. But it’s the touching tone of “Friends,” where each member grabs a couplet, that’s most charming. It was six years ago when they last actively celebrated their relationship by touring behind an album that placed Peaches & Herb’s “Reunited” at its center. The fruits of their fraternity were evident then, and they’re even more conspicuous here. Fowlkes has long said that they’re “jazz passengers” because the music always takes them somewhere. Spending time with Still Life With Trouble is like sharing a bouncy cab ride with the coolest guys in town.

TONE Audio

Brooklyn Folk Festival This Weekend

Call it a spectrum of sound: When St. Ann’s Church gets buzzin’ and there’s a Ukrainian vocal outfit harmonizing onstage while a barrelhouse pianist pounds out the blues down the hall and a troupe of Native American dancers preps its updates of Mohawk and Hopi traditions in the wings, you quickly realize that scope is everything at the Brooklyn Folk Festival. This weekend’s gathering is the annual event’s ninth go-round, and the breadth of offerings continues to dazzle. Still-frisky vets, such as Jim Kweskin, Peter Stampfel, and John Cohen, mess with the music’s orthodoxies even as they genuflect to them. Celebrations of Clarence Ashley’s string magic, revivals of western swing, and jug band hijinks nudge historical notions into the present tense. And of course, a female accordion orchestra shares the bill with an “anti-consumerist gospel choir” and the politics of the Last Poets. In between there’s a workshop to help hone your protest-song skills, too. With 45 pissing all over our pluralism, you’ll need it.

Brooklyn Folk Fest


Village Voice 

Kevin Eubanks East West Time Line (Mack Ave)

Purposely or not, a good deal of Kevin Eubanks’ post-Tonight Show work seems to stress the breadth of his varied interests. Zen Food and The Messenger allude to fusion, funk, rock, and jazz, but rather than sketching a hazy portrait, their shifting landscapes remain legible. East West Time Line leans towards trad jazz – meaning overt swing is usually somewhere in the mix – but it too reps diversity. The 59-year-old guitarist leads a pair of discrete bands that hark to the two aesthetic worlds that have shaped his career: New York and L.A.

Talent is teeming in both units. The East Coast outfit boasts Dave Holland, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Nicholas Payton and Orrin Evans – a formidable squad that impresses even when the set of five Eubanks originals steps into the quicksand of preciousness on “Watercolors,” or rubs up against schmaltz in “Poet.” Like many improvisers, the leader is a better instrumentalist than composer; he and his cohort shine on the hard-driving “Time Line,” and create an intriguingly amorphous mood with “Something About Nothing.”

From Chick Corea to Ray Bryant, the Cali contingent has the advantage of interpreting jewels written by others – familiarity is on their side. Saxophonist Bill Pierce, bassist Rene Camacho, drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, and percussionist Mino Cinelu are a groove ensemble of sorts. An inspired syncopation drives a funky “Take The Coltrane,” and the arrangement is perfectly designed for the snaky melody. The under-heralded Pierce is imposing here, but the brightest spotlight is on Eubanks, of course. Guitar fiends will swoon for the agility and authority their hero dispenses throughout. Even in its lighter moments, East West Time Line is pretty heavy.