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Music Diary: Women of the World

Women of the World

Women of the World

The 10-member Women of the World entered the Regattabar Thursday night as a processional, intoning “Om,” matching the pitch drawn from a temple bowl with a wooden pestle by one of their four lead singers. Taking their place in a line facing the audience, the group continued to sing “Om mani padme hum.” Then the band’s instrumentalists took their place and the vocalists took turns on the second tune, one of whose lines was “I am the Light.”

At this point, you’d be excused if you reached for your adult beverage, but this after all was United Nations Day and the group’s show was in part an event for the United Nations Association of Greater Boston. There was a full house.

And there was no arguing with the ensemble’s impeccable musicianship — their tricky arrangements for those four voices, the perfectly executed harmonies, the engaging minimal bits of choreography (a group arm wave or side-step), the singers’ individual charisma. The group was brought together by Berklee alumnus Ayumi Ueda in 2008 to represent international culture and “create music for peace.” At the Regattabar, the women were dressed elegantly to their own taste or nationality (Annette Philip wore a lovely sari), and the music as well ranged in style and format. They sang a cappella and with their backup players. They sang a Japanese folk song followed by an Italian folk song. They sang in Turkish (with approval from Turkish audience members). Violinist Sue Buzzard played a Celtic fiddle tune. They ended with a Miriam Makeba song. There were a couple of sing-alongs with the audience. So yes, you could be cynical for a while. But when the group asked a schoolgirl to come up and read her own tribute to Malala Yousafzai, resistance was futile.

Satoko Fujii and Kaze at the Lily Pad

Kaze: Natsuki Tamura, Peter Orins, Christian Pruvost, and Satoko Fujii. Photo by Alexander Norclain.

Kaze: Natsuki Tamura, Peter Orins, Christian Pruvost, and Satoko Fujii. Photo by Alexandre Noclain.

Thanks to a discrepancy between the listing in my own Boston Globe piece (correct) a couple of weeks ago and the listing at the Lily Pad Web site (incorrect), I arrived late for the set by the Japanese-French quartet Kaze. Too bad for me, but there’s something to be said for arriving to a performance in media res. In this case, in front of a crowd of 25 or so (the Lily Pad doesn’t hold much more than that), the band was creating near-silence.  Trumpeters Natsuki Tamura and Christian Pruvost stood with their instruments at their lips, yet nothing could be heard but the quiet swoosh of blown air. Pianist Satoko Fujii was standing at the keyboard, bent over, her arms extended into the instrument’s strings. One began to hear a soft rubbing sound, then the scrape of drummer Peter Orins’s stick against cymbals. “Wooosh!” went that eerie, airy sound, louder and then quieter as Pruvost,lips pressed to mouthpiece, pivoted his horn from side to side. Fujii plucked some spare harp notes on her strings, and after five minutes or so the trumpeters began to blow fully sounded notes. Then Taumra and Pruvost fell into a sweet, mysterious unison melody of long tones, Fujii accompanying them with spare chords. The flow of the trumpet line slowly fractured, the rhythmic rattles on the drums increased, and we moved out of the quiet world of Morton Feldman minimalism and into a full candence and a stop. Pruvost broke for an a cappella solo — a short, repeated arpeggiated phrase, accelerating and declerrating, ending with a long held tone and a wide, soft vibrato.  He played a bluesy phrase before Tamura joined him with soft flutters and Pruvost answered with some hard riffs. There was a break for a drum solo, Orins now leaving his rattles and scrapes behind for additive phrases with snare, sticks on rims, and resonant tom-tom, playing a kind of call-and-response with his bass drum — 1,2! 1,2,3! 1,2,3,4! 1,2,3,4,5! Fujii came in with some sweeping chromatic phrases and then the band found a kind of unison theme and hard 4/4, but not swinging. The long unison trumpet line came back, and the band stopped cold. It had been about 25 minutes since I’d entered the club.

Kaze (pronounced Kah-ZEH, meaning “wind”) takes jazz abstraction to a sublime limit. And it does sound like the process of abstract painting — everything is about balance, the relationship of mark to ground, the shape of lines, with vague reference to a tonal center of fixed time-keeping. The band favors what the Art Ensemble of Chicago used to call “little instruments” — bird calls and rattles, toy noisemakers, temple bells and zen bowls. At one point, Pruvost created a squealing effect by blowing through a black rubber balloon into his mouthpiece, the distended bladder suggesting that he might be about to create a balloon animal. But from this beautifully calibrated randomness will emerge one of those austere unison trumpet lines or a grand, pummeling piano rhapsody. There is suspense, virtuosity, mystery, calm. When Fujii introduced what she said would be the last tune, some in the audience responded with a disappointed sigh. “Don’t worry,” said Fujii, “it’s long!” In fact, only about 10 minutes or so. But longer would have been fine.

All the pieces played at the show are on the band’s new CD, Tornado, on Circum-Libra Records.

Tiger Lillies get tunefully macabre at Oberon

The full review ran in the July 17 Boston Globe.

CAMBRIDGE — We’re all used to post-punk Brechtian cabaret by now (thanks, Amanda Palmer and Dresden Dolls!), but the Tiger Lillies, who played Oberon on Monday night, are another matter. This trio, formed in London in 1989, have been performing their songs and theatrical works over the course of more than 30 albums and in shows at clubs, theaters, and, in one instance, an abandoned prison. They’ve written song cycles based on “Hamlet,” “Woyzeck,” stories by Edward Gorey, and their own macabre tales, replete with pimps, prostitutes, murder, mayhem, and ghosts.

The focus of these events is singer-songwriter Martyn Jacques, who performs, outfitted in bowler derby, his face swathed in grease paint. Singing alternately in a high countertenor or a deep Tom Waits growl, he’s a combination of Mack the Knife and a Pagliacci from hell….

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Chucho Valdés stretches musical borders on ‘Border-Free’

The full review ran on July 8 in the Boston Globe.

Chucho Valdés, now 71, is one of pillars of the Cuban jazz-piano tradition. Founder of the seminal Afro-Cuban band Irakere in 1972, he’s made that group’s fusion of multiple genres his mission ever since. On the new “Border-Free,” his mastery as composer and player is on full display: an encyclopedic vocabulary of Afro-Cuban rhythms and an expansive palette that includes all manner of modern jazz as well as traditional classical repertoire….

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Agachiko, ‘Yes!’

The full review ran on June 27 in the Boston Globe.

Local audiences know Gabrielle Agachiko from her charismatic, searing live performances — going back to Boston Rock Opera’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” (the title role!) and rock band the Atom Said, and, more recently, this septet, comprising a handful of ringers from the local jazz scene. It began as a Nina Simone tribute (the heart-stopping “Four Women” is included here), but soon expanded to a variety of blues, jazz, pop, and Agachiko originals. What’s exciting about this project is not just Agachiko’s vocal performances (powered by a clear, powerful instrument, knife-sharp diction, and a touch of warm vibrato), but the fully realized conception….

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Ravi Coltrane’s band goes with the flow

(The full review ran in the Boston Globe on June 23)

The 47-year-old saxophonist Ravi Coltrane (yes, son of jazz legend John) is a wonderful player, but for the first couple of tunes in the first of two sets at Scullers on Thursday night, it wasn’t his horn that held the room so much as his music — the combined effort of his band. Coltrane has been changing up his live show regularly since disbanding his longstanding quintet following the release of last year’s “Spirit Fiction” (Blue Note). At Scullers he brought in guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist Dezron Douglas, and the all-important Ralph Peterson on drums. It was the way these players locked into the tunes and one another that ultimately made for a ferocious juggernaut….

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