Listening to the advance of the Vijay Iyer Sextet’s Far From Over (ECM) on the office stereo is one thing. The music is vivid, mysterious, roomy and imposing. Watching the pianist’s new group render the same music on stage via live stream from the Ojai Festival in early June using the family’s big-ass TV screen with audio pumping through an “entertainment” system is another. The action was kinetic, serrated, jostling, ecstatic, rife with creative friction and brimming with intent – volition has never been lacking in the pianist’s work. Meaning, catching this outfit in performance is a must. The alliance between horn players Steve Lehman, Mark Shim and Graham Haynes is fierce; seems like the leader’s arrangements script them discrete blasts of energy as often as they sketch out overt lines of melody. And the saxophonists’ solos are flat out fierce. Riding the industrious maneuvers of an established rhythm section like drummer Tyshawn Sorey, bassist Stephan Crump and Iyer himself, the three horns feel like they’re in a constant state of lift-off. Far From Over’s music gives itself some breathing room; “Wake” is a meditative mist. But the program puts its yen for propulsion up front. From the title track to “Into Action” to “Good On The Ground,” there are plenty of punches being thrown. The leader’s percussive approach to the piano, Sorey’s boom-bap punctuations – it’s a physical situation that you pretty much need to see to get the full hit. Meaning catch you at the Quad Stage at 12:40.
Newport Jazz Festival 2017 Schedule / Aug 4 – 6
There’s a pronounced yen for yesteryear in the esteemed sextet’s hard bop lingo, but the vigor of their attack mutes any mustiness. Indeed, the band’s genuflections to late ’50s Blue Note and Prestige joints teem with pithy solos and group precision. Last year’s The Third Decade (Smoke Sessions) finds them in a place of power. Eric Alexander’s animated sax flurries and David Hazeltine’s sage piano forays are tough and lyrical (don’t miss “Frenzy”), and the rhythm section of drummer Joe Farnsworth and bassist John Webber echoes the Jazz Messengers credo: balance passion with poise. To some degree the NYC outfit are keepers of the flame; the deets of this half-century-old vernacular aren’t as prominent as they used to be. So, on seductive piece like “Buddy’s,” the bluesy punch of trombonist Steve Davis and the fierce cackles of trumpeter Jim Rotondi are bolstering one of the most entertaining approaches to swing that jazz ever concocted. They hit the Quad Stage on Friday.
Newport Jazz Festival 2017 Schedule / Aug 4 – 6
It’s a peculiar percolation served up by the wily composer’s mid-sized ensemble. From cello to tuba to guitar, every instrument seems to be playing a percussionist’s role – including the 73-year-old Threadgill. His judicious sax pecking and flute blasts may suggest melody, but they also pepper the action with a lithe forward motion that invariably gooses an oddly fetching groove. Bluster is banished on many of Zooid’s performances, and most of their latest album, the Pulitizer Prize-winning In For a Penny, In For a Pound (Pi Recordings) lets a measured approach signify the music’s sense of intricacy and, ultimately, wisdom. Call it a five-level chess game where the pieces are always in play. The band occasionally rises the roof, and the solos bolster the action, but it’s the crazed propulsion that will be bouncing around your head after the dust has settled on Saturday afternoon at their Newport debut.
Newport Jazz Festival 2017
Absurdity marks Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, a cornerstone title by the surrealist master from ’62, so there’s usually a chuckle of three as the film unpacks its mysterious tale. But I don’t ever remember the viewing process being as engaging – or maybe as flat-out charming – as it was with Gary Lucas’ real-time score bolstering Buñuel’s send-up of a passive bourgeoisie on Friday at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn. The guitarist improvised on a series of sketches that gave a buoyancy to the on-screen confinement of guests at an upper-crust dinner party trapped in a sitting room post-feast. They’re able to physically move – and certainly bemoan their fate with a bevy of existential quips – but psychologically unable to make the leap back to their daily lives. Despite Buñuel’s wit, it can get a tad claustrophobic.
That’s where Lucas’ music assists. With his finger-picking on acoustic and electric instruments setting up an external rhythm, and the echo effects of his strings enhancing the narrative’s eerier aspects, the guitarist ups the ante on the director’s art. Lucas has been refining his approach to film accompaniment for decades – don’t miss his pas de deux with The Golem it the opportunity arises – and the nuanced way he wiggles his strings into the on-screen emotions is pretty damn impressive. He stands outside the piece as an observer, formally commenting on the action, but the real trick is how well the music is embedded into the scenes. By the time the group’s desperation reaches its provocative peak, it feels like Lucas’ insights have helped them turn the key. This was the US premiere (Cuban fans heard it in 2011); fingers crossed that there are many more performances.
PLUS: Don’t miss GL’s new CD of music from Max Fleischer toons
Posted in film, jazz, music
Don’t be scratching your head with this new electric album – Julian Lage flagged his scope for us from the get-go. When the guitarist’s debut arrived in 2009, it contained lighthearted spins on jazz nuggets like “All Blues” as well as plucky exchanges with newgrass banjo ace Bela Fleck. Some pieces used trad swing and blues grammar; a few blended saxophone and cello while prancing like a miniature version of the Paul Winter Consort; several opted for a folksy spin on Americana, pasteled and pulse-driven. Then 21, with a Gary Burton seal of approval on his forehead, Lage was rightly pegged a key new voice in the ever-expanding jazz firmament. Since, he’s recorded with pianist Fred Hersch and guitarist Nels Cline, two cagey sensei who know as much about left-of-center antics as they do mainstream beauty. Last year he made a bluegrass record with one of the Punch Brothers and dropped a solo acoustic date that was divorced from jazz orthodoxy, feeling more like an unholy mix of Russ Barenberg, Tony Rice and John Miller. The finesse he’s brought to the unplugged realm is deep. So now that he has amped up on this new trio disc – his first playing electric guitar exclusively – you can’t act surprised. Dude wants to go everywhere.
Arclight finds Lage grabbing bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen (players who have worked at the sides of Jim Hall and Bill Frisell, respectively – two of the Lage’s string heroes) and putting a bit more oomph behind the kind of insta-catchy melodies that are proving essential to his signature sound. It takes a sec to grok some of the gambits that drive the action on this pithy little instrumental album – even longtime Lage lovers might find the sonic leap a bit jarring at first – but what’s quickly identifiable is the dedication to breezy moods, bittersweet themes and pop clarity – even when things get purposefully jumbled or spacey. The longest track here is 4:02. Producer Jesse Harris, he of the celebrated Brooklyn squad that refined the folk-jazz nexus for which Norah Jones became a poster girl back in the start of the millennium, keeps everything moving nicely. From the driving romp through “Persian Rug” (don’t miss the R Crumb version) to the crispy groove of WC Handy’s “Harlem Blues,” there’s a spry vibe to this program.
Touch is everything in Lage’s acoustic playing. The solo shows I’ve caught have been remarkable due to his skill at feathering into a lick and applying a convincing emotional weight to a phrase. That particular pleasure gets lost a bit in these more aggressive statements, but it makes sense that listeners would have to recalibrate their ears when approaching this kind of shift. Lage doesn’t skimp on dynamics, however; “Nocturne” waxes wistful before it gets raucous for a chorus, and “Supera” swerves all over the place while marking its territory. Things morph from track to track as well. “Stop Go Start” could be a Sun Ra outtake featuring Larry Coryell, “Prospero” revels in its own pummeling volition and “I’ll Be Seeing You,” the only overt standard on the album, is played in a customary jazz trio manner, with interplay being high on the to-do list.
Lage isn’t the first guitarist to conflate twang, groove, swing and other roots musics. Jim Campilongo (another Harris cohort) has been on the case for years, and his work isn’t to be missed. And of course Frisell’s breadth of interest has led him in similar directions. But there’s something enticing in the way this trio operates, pushing towards a spot that bands like John Scofield’s Bar Talk trio reached during their zenith – there’s a guy up front talking, but those around him have plenty to say. Lage has confessed his love for the Fender Telecaster that distinguishes Arclight, and he certainly steps out to milk it for all the variety he can. When the chipper strumming of “Presley” swiftly glides into a flourish of upper register barn burning, it’s pretty obvious this virtuoso has entered a fruitful new part of his trek.
A jazz festival doesn’t celebrate its twentieth anniversary without a vital aesthetic that perpetually dazzles its audience. Cheers to the VISION Festival, which reaches the big 2-0 this year by staying the course — its week-long program highlights the musicians who helped fuel the event during its first two decades, improvisers who forgo established rules whenever it seems wise and forge a personalized trajectory. From Amina Myers/Henry Grimes to Marilyn Crispell/Gerry Hemingway, an array of duos seems fetching this year. Saxophonists are a mainstay as well. The gnarled verities of Joe McPhee, the fierce arias of David Murray, the lyrical roar of Tony Malaby — each, repping a lineage that reaches from (participants) Marshall Allen to Ingrid Laubrock, holds forth at Washington Square’s Judson Church. With dance and poetry weaving between the instrumental shows, Vision’s multidiscipline interests are sated as well. And if you need two words to put your butt in a seat, here they are. Roscoe. Mitchell.
WATCH THE LIVE STREAM HERE
VISION FEST 2015
Jazz is all about imagination, so the when fierce percussionist Pride morphs the speed blast of MDC (Millions of Dead Cops) into jaunty swing and graceful forward motion, there’s plenty of resourcefulness in the air. Pride has previously sat in the hardcore heroes’ drummer’s chair, and improv-wise he’s expert at the dynamics of calibrated assault. With pianist Jaime Saft and bassist Brad Jones on the case in I Hate Work, spewed broadsides like “Corporate Deathburger” (SoundCloud below) and “Business On Parade” are not only refracted, they’re reborn.
Sound It Out Series – Greenwich House