Tag Archives: Jon Garelick

Into the mystic: Charles Lloyd Quartet at Sanders Theatre

Jason Moran, Eric Harland, Charles Lloyd, Reuben Rogers

Jason Moran, Eric Harland, Charles Lloyd, Reuben Rogers

“He knows peace who has forgotten desire,” Charles Lloyd intoned near the end of his 90-minute concert at Sanders Theatre Thursday night. It wasn’t bunk. Lloyd is the real deal. He lived for years in Big Sur and is deeply into meditation. Word has it that as a seeker he has taken long walks in the California desert.

He’s also an astonishing jazz musician, but maybe in his case the mystic and the jazz musician are inseparable. In this Celebrity Series concert, Lloyd demonstrated his total mastery of tenor saxophone, flute, and the Turkish end-blown pipe, the tárogáto.

He also showed himself a master of jazz form and, well, decorum. Now 75, tall, unstooped, wearing tinted glasses, and with fringes of white hair poking from beneath his skull cap, Lloyd entered with pianist Jason Moran and played two Billy Strayhorn standards, “Pretty Girl” and “Take the A Train.” He caressed  the melody of each, giving the tunes room to breath, at the same time flourishing his signature little arpeggiated runs between phrases. He’d end a phrase and just when you thought he’d expelled his last breath, a final, perfectly formed note would float from his horn and through the hall.

In fact, Sanders Theatre never sounded better. That’s because Lloyd and his young band – Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland – knew how to play it. Lloyd has a few albums with this band on ECM now, and also a new duo CD with Moran, Hagar’s Song (get it). The band played through originals and standards, including a mesmerizing workout for that táragáto – ostinato rhythm, Arabic scales, the dance-like sway of a tambourine shaken by Moran. “Monk’s Mood” was another standout.

But it was probably during the 20-minute encore that the event passed from concert into rite. Beginning with a minor-key flute melody, Lloyd soon pulled a piano bench next to Moran and joined him, fourhand, playing tremolo chords and intoning from the Bhagavad Gita. Rogers bowed a long drone, Harland beat time and groaned a complementary drone, throat-singing style. Lloyd tumbled out one verse after another, went back to the flute, and then the music found a backbeat and he was dancing. Moran took a roaring solo and the crowd roared back. Then Lloyd was playing tenor, the band quieted and the tune – and the evening – ended on a single chord.

Like no other: Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band

There isn’t anyone quite like Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band working in jazz these days. Unlike a lot of jazz bands, solos seem secondary to what they do. And no other band seems so willing to take their time. To let the intensity arise naturally from the development of a tune and performance.

At Scullers Wednesday night (the first of two sold-out sets), they began with a quiet, hymn-like theme played by pianist Jon Cowherd. Then alto sax Myron Walden and tenor Melvin Butler came in together with the second line. Blade began to shuffle on his drums, joined by bassist Christopher Thomas. Blade built to a big double-THWACK on his drums and someone yelled “All right!” The tune finished quietly, no solos.

The second tune, “Seasons of Changes” (the title of their 2008 Verve CD) also began at ballad tempo, and was longer – about 20 minutes. But it proceeded with the same patient deliberation – theme from bass clarinet and tenor, short drum interlude, then a shift up in tempo and the upward sweep of alto and tenor into a theme that had as much to do with country-folk as jazz. There was a good piano solo built with passages of block chords, then an interlude between Butler and Cowherd, Butler  repeating the theme and then slowly building an improvisation. Butler’s solo became agitated, and Blade picked up on his rhythmic figures, repeating them. Then Walden’s alto joined. When the climax came, it wasn’t necessarily about what Butler was doing in his solo, but what the band were doing together.

Tension built again through quietly played matching four-to-the-bar beats on the hi-hat, bowed bass, and chording piano under Walden’s escalating alto solo, which finally reached a Coltrane-like upward cry. And then it all came back down to just drum mallets, quiet cymbal hits, and a repetition of the opening theme with bass clarinet and tenor.

There were other felicities. Cowherd’s long pump-organ introduction to the folk standard “Shenandoah” while Thomas tapped quietly on the strings below his bridge (like an African kora). Or the call-and-response between bass clarinet and the unison of piano and pizzicato bass. Or Cowherd’s piano solo with bass and drums, which might have been the only real “jazz” solo of the night, with its intimations of walking-bass swing. Or the last two tunes, both blues. They were a Blade original and the gospel tune “Let Your Light Shine on Me” (in this case, Blade said afterwards, inspired by the Blind Willie Johnson version), where Butler took an extended tenor solo that had everything you’d want from the blues – a combination of relaxed, breath-like phrases and soulful expression. The audience screamed.

This is a band that enjoys their work. Even as Cowherd soloed, Walden and Butler stood together and conferred, then joined in. Fellowship indeed.

Fado is as fado does

 Ana MouraAna Moura

Ana Moura at Berklee Performance Center

Defining fado – the song style that emerged in Lisbon in the early 19th century – is as tricky as defining the blues (which is usually 12 bars, but can be 16 or 8, and is usually three chords, but can also be a one-chord drone). Fado is like that, too. It was once tied to strict poetic forms, but now it can encompass all manner of form and expression. Like blues, it can be happy or sad, fast or slow. In fact, it’s sometimes called “Portuguese blues.” And, like jazz, you sort of know what it is when you hear it. Also like jazz, you can define fado as what fado singers sing.

At Berklee on Saturday night, one of the best of the latter generation of fado singers, Ana Moura, all but conceded as much about the slipperiness of genre distinctions when she announced after a couple of songs that she’d be singing “traditional fado,” as well as fado from the north of Portugal, and “jazz.” By the last, she meant Joni Mitchell. Hey, fine by me: Joni played with Jaco and collaborated with Mingus, right?

The latest Moura album, Desfado (Decca) presents a kind of crossover. It’s produced by Mitchell’s former producer (and former husband) Larry Klein and includes her “A Case of You.” Herbie Hancock plays Fender Rhodes on one track. But the core fado sound is there: in Moura’s soulful contralto and in the central instrumentation of acoustic guitars and Portuguese guitar. The latter looks a little like a big, round-bodied mandolin, and it sounds like one too.

At Berklee, Moura’s band included keyboards (piano or organ) and drums, but the instrumental sound was defined by that Portuguese guitar, acoustic guitar, and acoustic bass guitar. The music was least compelling on a couple of occasions when it sounded like no more than middle-of-the-road folk-pop sung in Portuguese. But the basic fado sound was revealed when the keyboardist and drummer left the stage and Moura sang over gentle folkloric dance rhythms to the sound of those strings. Key here were the obligatos of Portuguese guitar player Angelo Freire, who unleashed one virtuoso flourish after another. On faster phrases, his shimmering terminal vibrato gave him a touch of Django Reinhardt’s gypsy jazz.

There was maybe bit of gypsy in Moura’s presentation too.  Wearing a long off-the-shoulder black gown, she moved slowly, extended her arms and long-fingered hands, turning her palm in or out to underline a dramatic point. Sometimes she gestured with the fringes of her (traditional) black shawl clutched in her fingers. During one of othe numbers with the trio, she walked slowly over to Freire with her hand held out and then, with each verse, made a small quarter turn toward the audience until she was facing us again. She knew how to profile, how to use her long mane of unevenly cut raven hair for dramatic effect, how to shift her shoulder subtly on a two-beat. And all along, that deep contralto, sometimes husky, poured out of her, sometimes widening with a bit of vibrato. She provoked shouts from the audience, especially on the more traditional numbers.

Mid-show, there was one extended instrumental number, there were fast and slow waltzes, one that approached polka rhythm, and sometimes keyboardist João Gomes suggested an accordion (more gypsy). There were songs about love triangles and one from the new album, “Thank You,” by songwriter David Poe, that she sang in English, but still sounded fado (“Thank you for telling lies/thank you for making me cry”). And there was Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” Which is maybe jazz, maybe folk, but for Moura clearly fado.

Bolt and Klang deliver the post-Phoenix balm

Klang

Klang

Okay, so I didn’t take great notes – actually, no notes – last Thursday night at the Lily Pad, where both local guys Bolt and Chicago guys Klang (the best name-double bill in memory) were holding forth. Yes, I was lax, but I had a good excuse: the main venue for my writing, and my full-time employer for the past 22+ years, the Phoenix, a/k/a  the Boston Phoenix, had ceased publication that very day. I wasn’t even sure I should go to the show. But it turned out to be just what I needed.

Bolt and Klang have different but complementary purposes. Bolt is a quartet who play spontaneously improvised music – no pre-planned tunes or charts, perhaps just an indication of who should start the tune. Klang plays the compositions of its leader, clarinettest James Falzone. There’s a lot that’s free about Klang, but the starting and ending points are always whatever Falzone has previously committed to paper. They played with charts on music stands.

James Falzone of Klang

James Falzone of Klang

Bolt opened, and from the first notes they impressed me with their ability to compose spontaneously. This was not a free-jazz freakout. Guitarist Eric Hofbauer plays thorny lines but the amplification on this big hollow-bodied electric is understated. In fact, in a couple of recent performances in other contexts, I thought Hofbauer had been playing too softly. But the tiny Lily Pad was perfect for this band’s intense intimate sound. Cellist Junko Fujiwara astutely alternated between bowing and pizzicato, Jorrit Dijkstra switched off between alto saxophone and Lyricon, and drummer Eric Rosenthal quietly established loose grooves and otherwise focused on the details of his brush work, the “tock!” of a stick against rim.

But it was the internal ensemble integrity of this band that was mesmerizing. If Fujiwara’s cello lines were NOT written, it has hard to tell. Each phrase had a compositional logic, and she seemed to spontaneously absorb and reflect everything else that was going on in the band as it happened. The first piece was the longest at about 20 minutes (I’m writing from memory two days after the fact), but no piece was longer than it needed to be. The blending of timbres, the development of subtle rhythmic devices (even swing!) cohered beautifully. (Dijkstra’s occasional lower-register electronic tuba-like rhythmic accents on the Lyricon were a tonic.) And, somehow, the band knew how to end a piece. (Dijkstra told me afterward that one thing the band has worked on is endings – knowing how or when to finish – since, he suggested, the problem with so much jazz, free or not, is its verbosity.) It was a sublime set.

Note: Hofbauer has recently released American Grace, the final installment of his solo-guitar “American” trilogy.

Klang was a different story.  Falzone recently released the band’s Brooklyn Lines. . . Chicago Spaces (on his own Allos Documents label), and their set comprised music exclusively from that album. I was disappointed that, due to a illness, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz was unable to make the trip. The dry attack of his vibes not only complements Falzone’s clarinet beautifully (and also suggests a historical link: Lionel Hampton and Benny Goodman) but also gives just that hairsbreadth of chordal depth to this spare, swinging, contrapuntal music.

Nonetheless, trombonist Jeb Bishop was a good match for Falzone on the front line, accompanying incisively as well as taking several swinging solos (suggestions of Jimmy Knepper in his range and coloring). Falzone’s control and beautiful tone were on full display, whether his was taking off into a lickety split run, diving into the instrument’s deep, woody lower register, or shrieking pointedly. With Mike Daisey (Ken Vandermark Group) on drums, and bassist Jason Roebke, this band dug in hard, and offered tunes that had bebopping verse-chorus concision but also delved into the free harmonies and rhythms as well as the sonic extremes of the avant-garde.

The two quartets (minus Rosenthal) joined forces to end the night with another short, miraculously coherent spontaneous improvisation. A great two hours of music even if you haven’t just lost your job.

“Rebirth of Third Stream” at NEC

GSchuller_batonBW_main
PRESCIENT Was Gunther Schuller the father of indie rock?

A definition of the term Third Stream probably comes best by way of illustration: a teacher known for his jazz and klezmer background coaching a progressive bluegrass band by telling them to listen to a late-Beethoven string quartet.

At least, that’s what Third Stream looks like today at the New England Conservatory, where Gunther Schuller created a department of that name 40 years ago. When Schuller coined the term, he was talking about “the offspring of the marriage of two mainstreams: classical and jazz.” These days, what was the Third Stream department is called Contemporary Improvisation, and its students can include players with a broad variety of backgrounds. So, yes, a bluegrass singer studying jazz techniques as well as 16th-century counterpoint.

On November 29, the NEC celebrates the tradition with a concert titled “The Rebirth of Third Stream,” which includes pieces with Third Stream implications, from the past to the present: George Russell’s epochal “All About Rosie,” as well as Ellington’s “A Tone Parallel to Harlem,” Gil Evans’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Arab Dance,” pieces by Leonard Bernstein, Charles Mingus, and Steve Lacy, and an arrangement of Ran Blake’s “Horace Is Blue,” with the composer at the piano. (Blake was also the first chairman of the Third Stream department.)

The boundaries between jazz and classical are much more fluid now than they were 40 years ago. NEC’s Ken Schaphorst, who is organizing the concert and will lead the NEC Jazz Orchestra, says, “I think that Gunther’s vision of Third Stream has become the reality, to the degree that the discipline jazz musicians learn today, when they go to, say, the Conservatory, is actually much closer to the discipline that classical musicians learned when Gunther was coming up, and I would say classical musicians are much more interested in improvising.”

Of course, genre classification is a dicey business — no one wants to be pigeonholed, least of all creative musicians. Bernstein, for instance, clearly made use of jazz and popular music in his “classical” pieces, when he wasn’t writing popular musical theater like West Side Story. The Bernstein piece on the “Rebirth” bill is Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, which, Schaphorst notes, includes the tempo marking “fast and exact.” “It’s a little jazzy,” says Schaphorst, “but it’s more Stravinsky than Count Basie.”

As for Ellington’s “A Tone Parallel to Harlem,” Schaphorst says, “Even though it’s formally one of the most complex things Ellington ever wrote — and actually one of the most successful in terms of his longer pieces — it’s jazz. Now, what makes it jazz — that’s really hard to say. There’s almost no real improvisation — everything is written out. In this case, I think it’s more about swinging and playing with a personal voice than it is about taking a solo in the usual sense. . . . It’s really complicated to say what separates jazz from classical music. All the music we’re playing [in the concert] is deliberately in the cracks.”

For Schaphorst, distinguishing between jazz and classical is more a matter of musical training and repertoire than it is about musical content. “More and more [classical] orchestras play Ellington. And I think that’s great. And yet, having a big band play the piece when the players in the big band are trained in the jazz repertoire. . . they know what swing is, they’ve played that music. It has a very different meaning.”

Read more: http://thephoenix.com/boston/music/147851-rebirth-of-third-stream-at-nec-playing-in-the-c/#ixzz2CmcvUO3L