Grandiose programming gambits surely have a grip on jazz record-making at this late date. But there’s no lack of admirable new titles that rely “merely” on the
thoughtful rendering of tunes – modest affairs that frame depth of interplay, melodic charisma and propulsive grace as key value points. Al Foster’s latest, one of a handful he’s made as a leader in a half-century-long career, is such a disc, a humble record of tasteful small moments.
The 76-year-old drummer is an esteemed master. He’s also a consummate sideman. From Sonny Rollins to Joe Henderson, Foster has rubbed shoulders with jazz
royalty. While these new tunes have blossomed from experiences with family and friends, the music’s pleasures avail themselves regardless of whether listeners know the characters being referenced – the only thesis in play is the acknowledgment of community.
Equally skilled at bittersweet sambas and animated blues, the quintet is an agile bunch. Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, saxophonist Dayna Stephens, pianist Adam Birnbaum and bassist Doug Weiss lean on each other, making the most of pithy solos, alert punctuation, and focused arrangements that serve a variety of moods. The shift of temperaments between “Simone’s Dance,” “Our Son” and “Aloysius” illustrates the breadth of music Foster has absorbed in his life. Ditto for the album’s bookends, nuggets by his former bosses Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. Both “Cantaloupe Island” and “Jean-Pierre” are fetching in their playful blend of acknowledgement and gratitude. Dispensing canny twists and turns as well as creating a cozy vibe, they unite the entire package.
Listening to Bloom reminds me of my first encounters with Ralph Peterson’s Triangular. Both records are drummer-led trio affairs, with an upcoming pianist busting moves that wax communal while stealing the show a bit. JazzTimes readers probably recall the pianist on Peterson’s 1989 jewel: Geri Allen. Carmen Staaf fans, a growth demographic, will be happy to learn that this engaging session is where their hero shines bright. Throughout a scad of breezy arrangements, Staaf continuously elevates the music while bolstering the offhand intricacies of her mates, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer/leader Jeff Williams.
One of freebop’s beauties is the way it can wiggle toward either side of its equation at a moment’s notice. Williams encourages his team to run with this notion, making agility job one here. Agility and momentum, I should say. The drummer has a way of spinning his phrases into a web of propulsion that delivers opportunities for Formanek and Staaf, whose lines splash and course like a valley stream overflowing from a winter snow melt. On “A Word Edgewise,” the trio heeds the theme while toying with its stretching points. The rhythm section is all about leeway, and Staaf dazzles by turning a series of discrete flurries into a keenly designed solo.
The pianist has earned props from her other drummer/boss (Allison Miller) for an unusually deep rhythmic aplomb, and indeed Bloom’s “She Can’t Be a Spy” finds ways to have Staaf deliver the thrust while Williams blows lyrical around the entire trap set. The hard groove of “Scattershot,” feisty floating of “Search Me,” and Monkish punctuation of “Short Tune” allow the threesome to milk these devilish switcheroos, revealing that Williams has built a truly crafty cohort to carry out his mission of nurturing spontaneity.
ANDREW CYRILLE – LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT HONOREE – TUESDAY, 6 PM
One of the beautiful parts about the annual Vision bash is its celebration of veteran improvisers. This time around it’s the always impressive drummer, who’s pushing 80 and sounding as poised and inventive as ever. Feel free to read a lifetime of excitement into that “as ever” phrase; Cyrille has exploded with Cecil, cooed with Walt Dickerson, romped with Carla Bley, and nudged David Ware into the spotlight. Along the way he’s proven to be one of the music’s most intrepid percussionists, widening the traditional spectrum by generating sound from his torso and tongue as offhandedly as he prompts crisp abstractions from his trap set. From his drum and bugle corps roots to his swing-slanted excursions, he remains fascinated by the pliability of organized beats. His evening is chock with adventurous partners. Duets with Peter Brötzmann, Milford Graves, Lisa Sokolov and Kidd Jordan; trio gambits with Wadada Leo Smith and Brandon Ross – it’s a shifting schedule that puts the maestro in several unique positions.
TOMAS FUJIWARA’S 7 POET’S TRIO – WEDNESDAY 7:30 PM
Haven’t seen the Brooklyn drummer’s newest ensemble yet, but the buzz that floated around after their Roulette hit last fall was sizable, and the notion of Tomeka Reid’s cello trading lines with Patricia Brennan’s vibraphone is fetching in itself. Fujiwara fans realize he takes composition as seriously as he does improv, so the ensemble’s approach may stroll between notes on the page and rambles juiced by rapport. A debut disc is said to be arriving in September on the Rogue Art label. (Image taken from Roulette Web site.)
GOD PARTICLE – THURSDAY 8 PM
Melvin Gibbs is one of those guys whose work demands to be followed – wherever it may lead. The electric bassist’s recent music with Harriet Tubman has been ferocious – brilliant in its vehemence and able to erase everything surrounding it. On paper, this acoustelectric octet looks to have a distinct ardor of its own. From James Brandon Lewis to Graham Haynes to Will Calhoun, the ingredients are in place to build the kind of subatomic “excitation” that will have you reeling for a week or two. Theoretical physicist and reed-playing laptop fiend Stephon Alexander seems to find stimuli in acceleration.
MARTY EHRLICH’S TRIO EXALTATION – FRIDAY 7:30 PM
Elation is central to the esteemed multi-reedist’s approach to stage work – he knows how to dispense fragments of pleasure while delivering waves of erudition. That usually makes an Ehrlich show a place where abstractions are accountable for their own agency and hooks enjoy the sunny side of the street. The temperaments of his bands vary – and of course that’s performance manna – but this outfit, with drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist John Hébert often goes long on decorum, regardless of the twists and turns the unfolding music serves up. Don’t miss their Clean Feed album, a sparkling program that promises a panoply of emotions, and then delivers, delivers, delivers.
MATTHEW SHIPP & WILLIAM PARKER – FRIDAY 8:30 PM
Lots of rapport between these two. Decades of friendship and collaboration have nurtured an enviable bond that usually reveals its fruits when the pair throws down. I’m recalling “Mr. Chromosome” from their DNA disc, and the way the pianist and bassist coordinated their moves to make the action both light on its feet and deeply rooted. Shipp is waxing particularly eloquent these days. Last time I saw him at this venue he was augmenting the ruminations of Evan Parker and Paul Lytton, and bringing mucho grace to the equation.
Also crucial: Kris Davis’ trio outing with Jeff Watts and William Parker on Friday, Darius Jones’ Quintet on Saturday, and David Virelles Mbókò on Saturday.
THE VISION FESTIVAL STARTS TONIGHT AND RUNS THROUGH JUNE 15 AT ROULETTE, 509 ATLANTIC AVE, BROOKLYN. (917) 267-0368 WWW.ROULETTE.ORG
Photo by Russell Fine
Patriarchy and nepotism being the well-established
evils they are, a band consisting solely of women,
playing tunes solely by women, in hopes – at least
according to its record label – of winning over women
listeners newly interested in jazz, is no doubt a blow
against the pernicious bias we’ve allowed to flourish
as generations of talent stood in the shadows – you
know, sexism and its fallout. It’s taken far too long
for women improvisers to enjoy the work opportunities
their male counterparts have been granted through the
last century. So, in the large, Lioness – a sextet
built on a female-first concept for a women-centric
performance series in New York – is unique. Not
groundbreaking, of course; we can all cite notable jazz
outfits that operate sans men. But valuable, and to a
But somewhere along the line Lioness made a choice to
keep their music so legible that it’s had a stifling
effect on the mystique that’s often a key ingredient of
potent improv. Across this just-fine
album of overtly swinging pieces is a kind of
breezy facility that’s a little too eager to please.
The participants – tenor saxophonist Alexa Tarantino,
alto saxophonist Jenny Hill, bari player Lauren Sevian,
guitarist Amanda Monaco, organist Akiko Tsuruga, and
drummer Allison Miller (most of them enjoying a tie to the
Posi-Tone label) – render the material with brio. Melba
Liston’s “You Don’t Say” should be proud of its
panache, and “Sunny Day Pal” has the dash needed for
its Caribbean bounce. However, both tracks color so
strictly within the lines they tilt towards being
elementary – the individual idiosyncrasies that often accrue into a band’s essence are watered down along the
way. When they roll through “Think,” Aretha Franklin’s
indictment of oppression, a mix of pith and politeness mutes its
The music improves when the arrangements improve. One
of the album’s highlights is “Ida Lupino,” where
Miller’s brushes goose the musings of Tarantino and
Monaco. Tsuruga ebbs and flows here, too, creating some
gorgeous swells that splash through Carla Bley’s
enigmatic theme. “Identity” also adds a needed air of
intricacy to the mix, its victory bolstered by the
impressive purr of Sevian’s horn as well as the hazy
blues mood the band consistently tweaks. Compared to
the decorum of “Mad Time” and its well-scrubbed cohorts
“Jelly” and “Funky Girl,” these tracks seem almost
subversive. Pride & Joy is a heartfelt romp that has
impulses to leave protocol behind, but doesn’t muster
the liftoff needed to truly break free. It’s just as
conventional as it is catchy, and for me it unearthed
an old quandary: is there a downside to a piece of art
being merely entertaining rather than deeply