Newport Jazz Fest 2017 – Uri Caine

Freebop stalwarts – dudes who helped fashion the lingo from the jump – are some of my biggest heroes. Pianist Caine turned 61 this year, and he couldn’t sound any more authoritative than he does right now. He’s been honing his ideas about blending out and in for so long that they seem to be the most natural notions around. Deep swing here, hard splash there, and everywhere a sense of balance that bolsters the profound volition driving the music. He’s often changing rhythm sections, but the squad that rounds out the pianist’s Calibrated Thickness album – bassist Mark Helias and drummer Clarence Penn – are locked in tight and fashion a true group sound.  Check “Night Wrestler.” The trio works its way towards a choppy groove but still manages to keep the idea of grace right up front. The pianist grew up in the City of Brotherly Love, so his Fort Adams work with The Philadelphia Experiment (with homies Christian McBride and QuestLove along with guest turntablist DJ Logic) makes mucho sense. Their plugged-in approach uses funk as a lynch pin for daring improv, moody ambiance, and supple grooves. Just spent the morning with their 2001 joint, and it’s just as kinetic and kool as ever. Kinda klassic, even. Live, with all the syncopation and sweat uniting, this ish is fiyah.

Newport Jazz Festival 2017 Schedule  / Aug 4 – 6

Newport Jazz Fest 2017 – Marilyn Crispell


The pianist’s somewhat recent duet records with drummer Gerry Hemingway on the Intakt label remind just how formidable and thorny her excursions can be, but as the years pass, it’s a blend of grace and eloquence that makes Crispell’s work more and more attractive. Dynamics are her forte; she’s able to seduce by having the instrument’s full spectrum of sound land in your lap. By tapping the brakes on her frenetics of late, she’s made her poetic side that much more obvious. 2013’s Azure (ECM), with bassist Gary Peacock, had a broader emotional breadth, and a slightly sentimental feel. The 70-year-old master’s solo show in Fort Adams’ cozy Storyville room will be a portrait of intimacy. Working alone is a performance context that suits her. The 17 melodic fragments on her Vignettes (ECM) recital from a decade ago salute the power of pith, each richly rendered piece offering enough emotion to make it seem like an expedition. Hope she lands on Coltrane for a moment or two.

Newport Jazz Festival 2017 Schedule  / Aug 4 – 6

Newport Jazz Fest 2017 – One For All

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

Newport Jazz Fest 2017 – Henry Threadgill’s Zooid

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


Ben Allison & Think Free @ Jazz Standard 20-23

Ben Allison’s bands are built on the thrills of interplay, but a fetching simplicity has marked the bassist-composer’s music ever since he dropped his Seven Arrows debut in the mid-Nineties. Umpteen albums later, that mix of pop pith and jazz extrapolation gooses the action on Layers of the City, a new quintet date that’s emblematic of Allison’s p.o.v. The intricacy in play is delivered with a fully focused ease; whether it’s a swampy groove supporting a gurgling trumpet drone or an inventive and poised refraction of John McLaughlin’s “Follow Your Heart,” dude’s stuff flows in a kaleidoscopic way. Bet the tension sounds a bit like release at this four-night stand.

Village Voice

William Parker Meditation / Resurrection (AUM Fidelity)

Whenever I see William Parker in action, I’m reminded of the first time I watched him play, at New York’s Sweet Basil as part of Cecil Taylor’s band in the early ‘80s. Thirty-five years later, he’s an icon of the NYC experimental-improv scene, a keenly physical jazz bassist who can make a fierce thump come from his instrument whenever need be. The same fervor the 65-year-old used to parallel the density of Taylor’s attack so long ago remains a key element of his current art.

Parker works in numerous groups. At the start of the summer he thrilled with Farmers By Nature at NYC’s Vision Festival, and the same volition that marked his earliest work was actively resonating from his corner of the bandstand. Of course, Parker’s just as adept at lithe rumination and tactful agility as he is at thickening any given ensemble passage. If you want to learn more about how he pulls it all off, his new double album Meditation / Resurrection finds him helming a pair of bands and deploying a wealth of gambits. For a few reasons – the legibility of the tunes, say, or the eloquence of he and his confreres – this is one of his most entertaining discs.

The joyous freebop of “Criminals In the White House” is driven by the honking and swinging of a foursome that’s bent on making a statement. The first disc’s music is created by the William Parker Quartet, and from his longtime mate Rob Brown on alto to his new associate Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson on trumpet, the chemistry at hand is fetching. The two front-line players flipping back and forth conjures memories of the exuberance that fueled early Black Saint albums like Frank Lowe’s Exotic Heartbreak and Julius Hemphill’s Flat-Out Jump Suite.

Parker’s flexibility is remarkable. “Handsome Lake” is wiry and off-hand; the bassist says the tune arrived as a “full thought,” and was written in five minutes. Compared to the decidedly more elaborate pieces on 2015’s For Those Who Are, Still, it borders on elementary. Like “Rodney’s Resurrection,” it virtually prances as it dispenses its info. A twirl of brass and reeds, some fluid rustles from the rhythm section (Hamid Drake, who the leader calls the band’s “connecting force,” is the drummer on both discs) – the exchanges are mercurial and engrossing, especially when everything gets sparse and Parker trades his bass for a tarota, a double-reed folk instrument from Spain, on “Horace Silver Part 2.”

Parker’s group on the second disc is called In Order To Survive. It’s the trio referenced above with Cooper-Moore on piano rather than Nelson on horn. Here the music gets a bit more gnarly, but in some ways its effervescence increases as well. The pianist provides sprawls of notes on “Some Lake Oliver,” and Brown’s articulation leans toward the Jimmy Lyons realm: a torrent of abstraction that manages to be earthy, precise, and engaging.

Romanticism sometimes takes on an odd character in Parker’s work, and his use of a bow occasionally signals that his dramatic side is being called into action. On “Sunrise in East Harlem,” he spends the first few minutes waxing sentimental with his bow as the group lightly pores over a pulse that gives everyone some solo time. It’s sparse, effective, and perhaps a smidge formulaic. But by the time it concludes, there’s a feeling of catharsis in the air, as if the particulars of a genuine event have marshaled themselves towards some kind of transitional experience.

Ultimately, Meditation/Resurrection illuminates Parker’s personality. This is very candid music made from an activist’s mindset. But anyone stymied by the meaning of these collaborative efforts can have their curiosity easily sated. One of the most illustrative parts of the package are these six sentences from Parker’s notes. “Listen to the music; if you have any questions call me, write me, I will tell what it is. What do you think it is? Do you like it? Hate it? Love it? Let’s Talk.”

William Parker’s In Order To Survive plays Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn, Thursday July 13 – Friday, July 14

TONE Audio

Matt Wilson’s Honey and Salt (Palmetto)

You kinda knew Matt Wilson was headed somewhere valuable when his first album dropped a snatch of stoic philosophy from Carl Sandburg and got Dewey Redman to play “Sweet Betsy From Pike” (which was part of The American Songbag anthology Sandburg published in 1927). The bandleader has inventive ideas about the way the arts can intermingle. Spoken word and song have flecked his largely instrumental work ever since, and he’s actively harked to his Midwestern roots.

Wilson’s Honey and Salt group deals exclusively with Sandburg’s verse, and this new disc not only reminds how whimsical a poet the master truly was, but how how gifted the drummer is at arrangements and presentations. The program shifts and shifts, but each turn introduces a genuinely discrete approach to the verse at hand. Christian McBride intones the social strata thesis “Anywhere and Everywhere People” while Ron Miles and Jeff Lederer fly expressively around him. Dawn Thompson coos a campfire lament that manages to synopsize heartbreak with the line “love is a fool star” while bringing some twang to the party.

The core ensemble (bassist Martin Wind rounds out the quintet) is versatile enough to cover this willful variety. As Jack Black echoes Ken Nordine on “Snatch of Sliphorn Jazz,” Lederer and Wilson freebop their retorts. When Bill Frisell demurely asserts Sandburg’s thoughts on “Paper 2,” the group rolls through some bawdy swing. Rufus Reid’s gritty basso enhances the noir vibe of “Trafficker.” Carla Bley’s hush on “To Know Silence Perfectly” contrasts with a bittersweet chamber music miniature. Ultimately, the voices themselves feel like instruments.

A tip: don’t doubt that Midwestern affinity between honoree and honorer. Wilson’s Illinois home town abuts the poet’s birthplace, and when the drummer eerily mallets his toms as Sandburg’s recorded voice repeats the lines of “Fog,” the performance cuts to the essence of this irresistible record: the connections are deep.