Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFUNK Wet Robots

It’s nice to review a record when you’ve caught the band in action a time or two. Last January in New York, vocalist Fay Victor’s latest group fried some minds at the Winter Jazzfest stage with its memorable blend of abstraction, delicacy and impulse. While streaming Wet Robots these last few weeks, it was hard not to envision the quartet at work. Their music, which is built on the fanciful judiciousness of free improv and secured by the expertise of experience, can be both frantic and nuanced, and the way it milks the advantages of both on their debut is vivid, vivid, vivid.

Victor’s band-building skills helped the ensemble attain this achievement. SoundNoiseFUNK is wise balance of personalities, comprised of guitarist Joe Morris, saxophonist Sam Newsome and drummer Reggie Nicholson; along with the leader, each is insightful when it comes to addressing the rigors of free music. The result is a level of coherence that might turn the heads of those who’ve previously been doubtful of freedom’s attractions. Packing a wallop, Wet Robots is a program of thoughtful  particulars. Morris’ lines brocade the action, occasionally fulfilling a bassist’s role. Newsome’s intrepid nature is equaled by his savvy, generating a stream of bonding ploys. Nicholson’s use of chatter and pummel is shrewd – a forever buoyant spectrum of sound.

But it’s Victor’s acrobatics that mesmerize. Unabashed when it comes to sound creation, you can hear the passion in every syllable she utters, whether manic or modest. With echoes of Lauren Newton and Meredith Monk in the air, the singer builds a web of personalized pieces that boasts exuberance, with each warble, shriek and roar crafting a ferocious identity. Informed by blues and politics, their cagey deployment is downright entrancing, especially when bolstered by this kind of collective clout.

Buy It at BandCamp


DownBeat Digital


10 Great Steve Earle Quotes For the Rhythm & Roots Fest Show

I like to hear Steve Earle sing just fine, but I really like to hear him talk. The man behind “Guitar Town,” “Copperhead Road” and “Galway Girl” is headlining the three-day-long Rhythm & Roots Festival at Charlestown, RI’s Ninnigret Park on Friday night, and for the last few mornings I’ve been scrolling Earle interviews while riding the bus to work in Brooklyn. Pithy, witty, earnest, occasionally wise – the 63-year-old singer is a thoughtful gent whose on-stage exposition can be just as entertaining as his interview responses. Below you’ll find 10 quick bites that stuck with me this week.

Earle’s band the Dukes doesn’t pull any punches when they kick their country-rock into action; they knock you around a bit. Last year’s So You Wannabe an Outlaw has just as much snarl as his best work, and the Waylon and Willie covers mix well with the Earle originals. So save some energy for the Friday closer at Ninigret; it’s the 30th anniversary of Copperhead Road album and the Dukes have been roaring through its program. The Rhythm & Roots curators saved the best for last.


I’m a firm believer that rock & roll only becomes an art form because of the lyrics. If it hadn’t been for Bob Dylan wanting to be John Lennon and John Lennon wanting to be Bob Dylan, it wouldn’t have been cranked up to the level of literature that makes it OK for rock & roll to be taken seriously.  – Rolling Stone

I know one way [Willie Nelson] heard about me was his, like, grandniece heard him playing the version of ‘The Devil’s Right Hand’ by the Highwaymen when she about five or something. And he played the whole record for relatives some place and she said, ‘I don’t know. I like it better by the real guy.’ So, around then, Willie would occasionally refer to me as ‘the fucking real guy.’ – PopMatters

I like sitting where I want to in the movies, and when you go to the theater at the last minute you can get a really good seat if you’re looking for a single. If I go to a baseball game I can stay for the whole thing. Being single in New York City doesn’t suck. I’m lonely sometimes, but I’m on the road half the time and that’s pretty lonely anyway. – The Guardian

I couldn’t have made this record [‘So You Wannabe an Outlaw’] if I hadn’t have made all the records I made between ‘Guitar Town’ (Earle’s 1987 debut album) and this one. I joked when somebody earlier asked me what this record was before I actually made it and I said it might have been the record I might have made if (label executive) Jimmy Bowen hadn’t pissed me off after ‘Guitar Town.’ It was funny, but the deal is that all the stuff that I’ve done, I don’t have a single record that I’m not proud of or any musical wave that I’ve ever made that I regret. – KansasCity.com

I have the complete works of William Shakespeare on my phone but I also have all of the Harry Potter books. I think J.K. Rowling will be remembered. She is the (Charles) Dickens of our era. – Eldoradonews.com

I’m OK with “folk singer.” Rock ‘n’ roll is folk music, and so is hip-hop. When a couple of kids get a piece of digital gear they don’t really understand, and throw the fucking manual away and just start pushing buttons, that’s the same thing as an NYU student with a banjo in 1957. It’s just doing it yourself, making music for yourself. – Billboard

To tell you the truth, for my own output, what I’m interested in are old-fashioned musicals, where the play holds up and each and every one of the songs holds up on their own, when you take them out of their environment. It’s starting to happen again. “Dear Evan Hansen” is really good and that’s pretty inspiring. I loved “Hamilton,” which I saw three times, (it’s) everything that it’s cracked up to be. But it’s still an opera and not a book musical. I’m just fascinated with book musicals because it’s an American art form. We kind of invented it. – theplanetweekly

I’m still writing the political record, but I’m going to hold it and keep writing it because I want it to be exactly right, and not come out until late 2019/2020 so it bumps up right against the election cycle. – City Pages

I think “Blowing in the Wind,” is way up there [as far as political songs go]. It’s an overt anti-war statement right as we were getting into the Vietnam War. When we were just getting into it, some people were just figuring it out what Vietnam was.. The Peter, Paul and Mary version, which I thought was the coolest things because I love Peter, Paul and Mary records. They’re not watered down or anything, they’re just their versions of those songs and they prove that he was important, that he was important as a songwriter. His manager knew that and his manager knew that you have a copyright that’s why he was able to make a living even though he wasn’t selling that many records. – The Nation

The best stuff coming out of Nashville is all by women except for Chris Stapleton. He’s great. The guys just wanna sing about getting fucked up. They’re just doing hip-hop for people who are afraid of black people. I like the new Kendrick Lamar record, so I’ll just listen to that. – The Guardian

Full Rhythm & Roots Line-Up

Check Earle’s track on Marc Ribot’s upcoming Songs of Resistance 1942-2018


Shamie Royston Beautiful Liar (Sunnyside)

On the front cover of 2012’s ‘Portraits,’ Shamie Royston peers through a sheer curtain, as if watching an event from afar. Kinda makes sense. The skilled pianist is recognized as an educator as much as she is a bandleader. A Colorado native who enjoyed regional acclaim on the Denver scene before moving East as her opportunities (as well as those of her husband Rudy Royston) broadened, her name recognition isn’t commensurate with her broad range of skills. That might change. ‘Beautiful Liar”s liner photo finds her front and center, ready for her close-up, and the music itself parallels that stance. Mainstream post-bop with thoughtful interaction and a deep sense of poise, it swings hard and breathes easy.

An indication of her quintet’s confidence marks the aptly titled “Push.” The group’s volition is front and center, with the rhythm section igniting audacious solos from trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, and the pianist herself. Like the best moments by Wynton Marsalis’s early fivesome, it’s a parade of pithy broadcasts with a devotion to standard structural templates and consummate legibility – a fierce mix when done right. Similar aggression marks “Dissimulate,” except the groove on the latter boasts a more jovial vibe, with hints of horn polyphony frothing above a wisely punctuated bottom.

A yin/yang POV boosts the program’s breadth. Turns out Royston waxes soothing as convincingly as she throws punches.  There’s a spirited calm to the design of “Precious Lullaby,” a pastoral vibe to the cascading horn lines of ‘Uplifted Heart” and a balm to the band’s update of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day.” There’s a bit of church in her soul stance as well, and those bluesy intimations, along with a dash of simmering fervor, boosts her ballad game. Whether waxing gentle or stormy, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Royston shift gears with a supple coordination that gives the leader’s pieces the oomph they deserve to have a shot at becoming memorable.


Whitehead on Beautiful Liar

Happy Sun Ra Earth Arrival Day. Go see the Arkestra at Iridium on the 30th

It was a fun night in Newport’s Blue Pelican in ’86, and yes, June and the gents tore shit up that night. Piano was in tune, too!

The great one arrived in Alabama a century or so ago, and though he left the planet in ’93, his spectacular music is still getting mucho play from his feisty lieutenant, Marshall Allen, and the revolving door of musicians who populate the Arkestra on any given night. They know all about the idiosyncratic nature of swing and still have a grand time exploding standards, waxing theatrical, and proving camaraderie can carry the day.  They’re at Iridium on May 30.

Five Must-See Shows: 2018 Vision Festival

It’s Vision Fest time. You know the deal. A week-long throwdown that touts a vibe of committed inquiry in the name of free-wheelin’ improv, celebrating musicians who forego established rules whenever it seems wise, and forge a personalized trajectory at all costs. Its 2018 home is Roulette, a smart choice for congregating and a great room to see shows. Get your tickets NOW. There’s an abundance of action, so here are five key gigs to get you started.

Archie Shepp / Dave Burrell / William Parker / Hamid Drake

It’s living music of course, but for me a bit of nostalgia plays into the seeing these two veterans shoulder to shoulder again.  Pieces such as Lybia‘s title track and A Sea of Faces“Hipnosis” made me swoon when I was initially falling for jazz. Burrell, who receives a lifetime achievement nod by the fest this year, is a gloriously fluid player, but he has two or three drummers in his left hand when need be, and both of the above tracks from the ’70s remind how punchy and buoyant a performance can be when the pianist and saxophonist connect.


Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl

There’s no lack of buzz around this new outfit, which puts vocalist Amirtha Kidambi in the mix, singing lyrics penned by the leader. Tracks from their new double CD such as “Thunderhead” and “Drop the Need” remind listeners that Halvorson’s omni aesthetic is driven by an ever-morphing approach – she chases what she hears and she hears a lot. Rigor and grace mark the experimentation; poise and editing keeps abstraction on its best behavior. The addition of Ambrose Akinmusire’s poetic trumpet lines make the collective swirl that much richer, and warmer, too.  They’ve been gigging, so coherence ain’t gonna be a prob.


Nasheet Waits’ Equality

From Nothingness To Infinity still gets a fair amount of spin time at my place, but it’s onstage where these four freebop experts (Mark Helias, Darius Jones and Aruán Ortiz join the drummer this time ’round) are most engaging, because watching the reactions between them can be riveting. A gambit is made, a countermove suddenly appears. Accents beget mood shifts; declarations emerge and evaporate. And when the boss decides it’s time to swing a bit, the whole room turns sideways.


Gerald Cleaver / Chris Potter / Brandon Lopez/ David Virelles

This group has been figuring itself out for a few years now, but one trait has defined them from the get-go: fluid punch. Chris is a thriller, his horn lines teeming with an ardor and equilibrium that makes his wildest passages present themselves with a deep clarity.  And the way that drummer Cleaver connects the dots with pianist Virelles boasts the kind of pliability that takes nuggets like Monk’s “Work” to the kind of joyously eloquent spot you’re always looking for.


Jaimie Branch Fly or Die

Been driving in the car this week listening to a cassette of Kudu, Branch’s sprawling electronics/brass/percussion venture by the Anteloper duo (Little Women’s Jason Nazary is her partner), and even as the spacy extrapolations spill forward, I’m reminded that the most seductive aspect of the trumpeter’s 2017 bass/cello/drums opus was its sharp design sense. Regardless how extended a passage she navigates, she has an editor’s sense of when to move into the next chapter. Chad Taylor drives the action here, and there’s no lack of liftoff as cellist Lester St. Louis and bassist Anton Hatwich, bubble along.

Vision Fest goes through next Monday, and btw…I’d also keep a sharp eye on a world premiere by Matthew Shipp’s Acoustic Ensemble; the Akinmusire/Davis/Sorey trio; Mutations for Justice; Oliver Lake Big Band. Full schedule here.



Broken Shadows Salute Team Ornette at Jazz Standard

They know each other, so the chemistry is cool. They know the music, so the connection is deep. They’ve been cranking their inspired repertory program for a minute now, so all the tumblers are aligned. The last time I saw Broken Shadows (Dave King, Chris Speed, Reid Anderson, Tim Berne) addressing their book of pieces culled from lengthy visits to Ornetteworld (time well-spent on the Dewey tilt-a-whirl and long glides through Charlie’s tunnel of love), the music’s glee and mystery were delivered in equal doses. Let’s see…the heartbreak that OC wrote into their signature piece and the way the bloodcount buds twirled around each other while rendering it; the sustained buoyancy of the rhythm section and the way they conjured the act of floating (raise the bandstand, indeed) – lots of vivid images remain from a recent Brooklyn gig. Their two-night stand at the Jazz Standard will put their skills up front, but bring a larger lesson to the fore as well: building a book of these nuggets is an action of preservation and pride, a chance to tout the rigors of a wildly entertaining canon that could use a bit more sunlight than it usually gets, no matter how much lip service is given to the masters who birthed it. Special treat? The band’s jaunt through Julius Hemphill’s “Body,” from Flat-Out Jump Suite (Black Saint). Ornette’s Fort Worth homie is a Berne touchstone, and the easy-going squall of the quartet’s update reminds that the blues always has a physical side. Ear of the behearer, right?

Jazz Standard

116 E 27th Street

Shows at 7:30 + 9:30

(212) 576-2232



Jakob Bro Returnings (ECM)

The gentle thrill of a single note richly rendered has been key to Jakob Bro’s work for years now. The Danish guitarist appreciates clarity and its accompanying candor, and in keeping his music on the dreamy side, he clears a path toward the kind of interplay that sniffs around for the hidden advantages of consonance. This can be a risky business. His last two trio discs traded engagement and expression for prettiness and precision; the resultant fantasias, often bittersweet and occasionally forlorn, scanned as benign. This new quartet date improves on that. The 40-year-old leader fancies textures as well, and with the addition of Palle Mikkelborg’s trumpet and flugelhorn to his band, there’s a welcome new tension in play.

The veteran brass player boosts the emotional resonance of Bro’s pieces, providing crisp surges of energy to the music’s bedrock delicacy. Bro’s ballads have a folkish esprit – a trait that often causes his name to be mentioned alongside that of Bill Frisell, with whom he’s collaborated – and its ghostly essence has a tendency to dissipate quickly. Whether his instrument is muted or not, Mikkelborg’s piercing lyricism on “Lyskaster,” “Oktober” and “Youth” in particular, brings sustenance to the table. Flexing abstractions along the way, the music doesn’t abandon the dreamlike quality of Bro’s previous outings, but its foreground is a bit more fetching.

The rhythm section’s agility paves the way for all these graceful maneuvers. Drummer Jon Christensen and bassist Thomas Morgan stress pliability and detail, even when they’re at their stormiest on “Returnings.” Uniting to render Bro’s vision of ethereal elaboration, this particular foursome puts a little more clout in the mix.