Review: Stanley Cowell, in a Rare Performance at the Village Vanguard

Review: Stanley Cowell, in a Rare Performance at the Village Vanguard

Review: Stanley Cowell, in a Rare Performance at the Village Vanguard

By BEN RATLIFF
JUNE 18, 2015

A standard description of a jazz performance begins with a couple of isolated moments or events. Somebody played something, it had meaning or an impact, time stopped, the audience smiled. The pianist Stanley Cowell is leading a band at the Village Vanguard for the first time this week, and describing his early set there on Wednesday in those terms is no problem.

One: Mr. Cowell played a radically slowed-down version of the bebop tune “Anthropology,” transforming a song of condensed velocity from 1945 into a floating ballad with no particular time stamp. Two: He improvised on the club’s acoustic piano through a digital sound-design program called Kyma, which altered the attack, pitch and texture of the piano notes, echoing them or scrambling their meaning and making them sound like gravel or ice or bells. He turned the effect on and off several times by means of a microphone leading to a laptop, and he used it sparingly. Those stretches were weird but confident; he incorporated the sounds into the straightforward swing of his quartet, with the alto saxophonist Bruce Williams, the bassist Jay Anderson and the drummer Billy Drummond.

So, Mr. Cowell can create impressive momentary events, but what’s best about him is his broad frame of reference and the general synthesis he is proposing.

 

He played a number of other songs, too, including his own “Equipoise” and a samba-swing version of Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House.” But I recall a version of “Anthropology” and some use of digital sound processing from a set he played 18 years ago at Sweet Basil, which was the last time Mr. Cowell, now 74, led a band for a week at a jazz club in New York. Those experiments didn’t sound trendy for that time in jazz, nor do they now for this one. They have longer range.

Mr. Cowell emerged in the late 1960s, playing with Max Roach, Charles Tolliver and others, when jazz was starting to be widely understood as a long historical continuity, a music both of reinvention and repertory. On his own he created a lot of original, independent-minded work, comfortable with jazz tradition and common practice but not beholden to it. In the 1990s he began recording less, and performing much less. For 33 years he was a tenured professor at Rutgers and other universities; for about 10 of those years, during the aughts, he didn’t make records at all.

But recently he has stepped back from teaching, which seems to be freeing him up for other things again. He has made a few albums over the past five years and has a striking new one, “Juneteenth” (Vision Fugitive), a solo-piano reduction of music that was originally written for concert band, choir and electronics and is associated with African-American freedom movements. And his Vanguard performance seemed like an index of what we’ve been missing. He played postbop originals and blues language and jarring electro-acoustic music; he articulated Art Tatum-like flourishes and runs as a matter of course, no matter the context; and he ended his set with a song played on African thumb-piano.

Mr. Cowell is a bit unclassifiable, and jazz has a lot of use for his curiosity and challenge and friction, as well as his virtuosity. If this is the start of a new phase — if he begins performing more and integrating himself into the wider public world of jazz and improvised music — it could be interesting.

A Look at the Festival Season Ahead

A Look at the Festival Season Ahead

A Look at the Festival Season Ahead

By Adam Smith 
05/14/15 
Yesterday the Telluride Blues & Brews festival finally let go of their highly anticipated 2015 lineup, finalizing the full Telluride festival lineup schedule for the now four major live music events of the season. Bringing together rock royalty like ZZ Top, Gregg Allman, John Hiatt, along with buzzing acts The Revivalists, The London Souls, The Bright Light Social Hour, and Monophonics featuring Ben l’Oncle Soul offers a chronologically enticing spectrum of talent to the event’s 22 year legacy. Standout headliner Sharon Jones & Dap-Kings also adds a hip, soulful element in addition to badass rock ‘n’ roll purists Blackberry Smoke, gospel heroes The Blind Boys of Alabama, and rising indie roots darlings The Apache Relay sitting along festival staples Anders Osborne, Tab Benoit, and Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes. Always a favorable mix of iconic stars, the bands of tomorrow, and a ton of incredible craft beer, Telluride Blues & Brews notches yet another statement lineup to get you stoked for the Summer.

Telluride Bluegrass Festival will mark year 42 with a return of their most beloved acts including the Punch Brothers, Leftover Salmon, Sam Bush Band, and The Telluride House Band featuring Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer, Bryan Sutton, and Stuart Duncan, but also throws a curious curve ball with Grammy nominated pop songstress Janelle Monae in the mix with Australian roots rockers the John Butler Trio. Perhaps the most appealing of the list will be married couple Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White teaming up with Ry Cooder for a trio centered around performing classic country, blues, gospel and of course bluegrass music. Newcomers in the form of British folk band Lau and Nashville duo Johnnyswim are sleeper sets to look out for as well.

The youngest of the four, The Ride Festival have officially changed gears and abandoned its original intention to be an alternative rock beacon in Telluride, hosting acts like David Byrne & St. Vincent, Cake, and Big Head Todd and the Monsters, in favor of returning southern rock jam band Widespread Panic for the first time since 2003, and also borrowing Telluride Blues & Brews repeat performers Gov’t Mule and The North Mississippi Allstars to round out their headliners. The Ride will also welcome Grammy winner Jonny Lang, and rock ’n’ roll supergroup Trigger Hippy featuring Joan Osborne, Jackie Greene and Steve Gorman of The Black Crowes, Tom Bukovac, and Nick Gorvik. Moon Taxi is also a rising indie rock ensemble with serious talent to take note of in July.

One year away from its 40th anniversary the Telluride Jazz Festival enlists a traditional cast of accomplished jazz artists in Ernie Watts, Bill Frisell Trio, and Joey DeFrancesco Trio to balance out the arrival of legendary funk saxophonist Maceo Parker of the James Brown band and Parliament Funkadelic, New Orleans supergroup The M&Ms featuring Papa Mali, John Medeski, Rob Mercurio, and Stanton Moore, and Telluride favorites The Soul Rebels brass band. Local love comes in the form of Denver’s funk powerhouse Euforquestra featuring Kim Dawson, and genre diversity is personified with steel drum-lead jazz trio Jonathan Scales Fourchestra and New Orleans zydeco standouts Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys. Don’t miss guitarist Eddie Roberts of the New Mastersounds bringing his new side project Eddie Roberts’ West Coast Sounds featuring Trey Anastasio Band trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick. That is sure to be one of the sets of the Summer.

Compiling the list of performers coming to Telluride this Summer for festival season earns us the continuous title of most spoiled small town in the country. Pack up the skis and bust out the tarps as we embark on yet another sonic journey unlike any other.

Glasgow Jazz Festival 2015 programme is announced

Glasgow Jazz Festival 2015 programme is announced

Glasgow Jazz Festival 2015 programme is announced

Jazz, soul, funk, blues, world rhythms and reggae in a typically eclectic programme

By Alex Johnston
May 5, 2015

The Glasgow Jazz Festival has announced its 2015 lineup and in keeping with a festival that in previous years has hosted such diverse artists as Dionne Warwick and David Liebman, it's another trip around the genres, from soul legend Gladys Knight and big band swing from Frank Sinatra Jr through to the free improvisation of the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra.

The eclecticism isn't confined to the programming: the festival sees the Scottish debut of NeTTwork Trio, featuring three jazz musicians from very different backgrounds. Jeff 'Tain' Watts is the long-standing drummer for Wynton Marsalis; guitarist Stanley Jordan has been keeping a low-ish profile since his technically dazzling late 80s debut; the youngest member, bassist Charnett Moffett, has played with more or less everyone from Sonny Sharrock to Dianne Reeves, and together the trio have been sharing stages in the US with the likes of Pharoah Sanders.

There's Brazilian bossa nova legend Marcos Valle; a solo set from acclaimed English-Bengali pianist Zoe Rahman; and Paul Towndrow and Ray Quigley's With Strings project, paying tribute to Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown's legendary string-accompanied albums. Jazz dynasties are represented by DJ and keyboardist Taylor McFerrin – yes, Bobby is his dad – appearing with rising young drummer Marcus Gilmore, whose grandfather is the great Roy Haynes, although he himself has a regular gig with Vijay Iyer.

As well as this, there's a DJ set from GJF favourite Rebecca Vasmant; Eddi Reader offering a fresh take on Scottish music in Alba: Songs of Scotland with the mighty Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: impressive young Shetland-born, London-based alto player Rachael Cohen and her band; trad jazz from the Nova Scotia Jazz Band, and free improvisation from the GIO with its good friend and a true giant of improvisation, Evan Parker.

There's much more besides, including a lecture from Glasgow University's Graeme Wilson on how improvising is good for body and mind, plus the all-important late night jam sessions at the Rio Club. But we can't resist mentioning one more world-famous act: The Family Stone features original members Jerry Martini (sax), Cynthia Robinson (trumpet) and Gregg Errico (drums), plus Cynthia's own daughter Phunne Stone on various instruments and vocals.

The Glasgow Jazz Festival is at various venues, Glasgow from Wed 24–Sun 28 Jun.

Steve Lehman torna al Torrione

Steve Lehman torna al Torrione

Steve Lehman torna al Torrione

Il trio capitanato dall'audace sassofonista ritorna al Jazz Club dopo due anni

Sabato 18 aprile alle 21.30, per l’ultimo appuntamento firmato Crossroads & Ferrara in Jazz 2015, il Torrione ospita le audaci traiettorie sonore dello Steve Lehman Trio.

Circa un paio di anni fa, il giovane sassofonista newyorchese aveva presentato al pubblico del Jazz Club Ferrara, “Dialectic Fluerescent” (Pi Records, 2012), inebriando la sala con il magma sonoro proiettato verso il futuro che contraddistingue il suo brillante pensiero musicale, peraltro già riconosciuto dal New York Times, che nel 2009 scelse il suo Travail, Transformation & Flow come miglior disco dell’anno.

Lehman torna quindi a Ferrara con una formazione che vede Chris Tordini al contrabbasso e Cody Brown alla batteria, fresco del successo di “Mise en Abîme” (Pi Records, 2014), disco realizzato per un organico più ampio che lo ha catapultato in vetta alle classifiche del più recente refendum Top Jazz come miglior musicista dell’anno, per la migliore formazione e il migliore disco.

Definito da The Guardian come “uno dei protagonisti dell’innovazione jazzistica del ventunesimo secolo”, Steve Lehman (New York, 1978), dopo essersi diplomato presso la Wesleyan University sotto la guida di docenti quali Antony Braxton e Jacky McLean, ha conseguito il dottorato in composizione presso la Columbia University.

Alto sassofonista, compositore e didatta, Lehman si è esibito e ha realizzato registrazioni con artisti del calibro dello stesso Braxton, Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer, Dave Douglas e Oliver Lake, solo per citarne alcuni. Molte delle sue composizioni per piccoli e grandi ensembles sono state eseguite dall’International Contemporary Ensemble e dalla Kammerensemble Neue Musik di Berlino.

Mussing Up a White-Linen-Tablecloth Vibe With Jazz Provocation

Mussing Up a White-Linen-Tablecloth Vibe With Jazz Provocation

Mussing Up a White-Linen-Tablecloth Vibe With Jazz Provocation

Jeff (Tain) Watts’s Quartet Opens Series at Minton’s

By NATE CHINEn
APRIL 13, 2014
The standout tune in the early set at Minton’s in Harlem on Wednesday night was a new one, “Brainlifter,” composed by the drummer Jeff (Tain) Watts and briskly demolished by his four-piece band. Built over a gear-shifting groove, it was a maze full of trapdoors through which Mr. Watts and his crew barreled with aplomb. Only during a forcefully swinging tenor-saxophone solo by Troy Roberts did the action on the bandstand begin to feel like a developing story rather than an unassailably sturdy truth.

That sharp, provocative moment seemed strangely out of tune with Minton’s, which in its current incarnation is an upscale supper club, plush and inviting but also girded with a self-conscious, white-linen formality. (Jackets are required for men.) The club owner is Richard D. Parsons, a former Citigroup chairman; its restaurateur is Alexander Smalls, an ambassador for what he calls Southern revival cooking. The atmosphere suggests a highbrow departure, or maybe just a stylish upgrade, from the club’s storied origins as Minton’s Playhouse, which in the early 1940s was a hub and crucible for the modern jazz style that would be codified as bebop.

Since opening last fall, the new Minton’s has featured hands-on music supervision by Danny Mixon, a veteran pianist and lifelong Harlem resident. The Jeff (Tain) Watts 4 was on hand to break in a Wednesday-night series, Minton’s Redux, presented by the club in collaboration with the Revive Music Group. (The same partnership has also produced a companion series, Harlem After Dark, with a different lineup in a later shift.)

Mr. Watts brought his usual no-nonsense authority to the table, working with Mr. Roberts and an excellent Cuban rhythm team consisting of the pianist Manuel Valera and the bassist Yunior Terry. Rhythmic modulation was a satisfying hallmark of the set, finding a home not only in the constitutionally tricky Thelonious Monk theme “Brilliant Corners” but also in Mr. Watts’s arrangement of a song by Björk, “107 Steps.” An original tune, “Of August Moon,” wafted by in a waltzlike 5/4 meter, only to break into a tumbling Afro-Cuban vamp, and a feverishly brawny drum solo.

Mr. Roberts, who originally hails from Perth, Australia, was an especially commanding soloist throughout the set, though there were stretches — notably on “Brilliant Corners” — when his tone and phrasing evoked Branford Marsalis. (It’s possible that Mr. Watts, a former member of Mr. Marsalis’s quartet, exercised selection bias in putting together his personnel.) Mr. Valera worked just as hard, projecting subtle poise as well as power, and locking with both Mr. Watts and Mr. Terry.

The set’s only ballad, “Revery,” was nearly drowned out by a din of conversation, carried across the narrow room from the bar. What fared better under those conditions was the closer, a straightforward take on Charlie Parker’s “Cool Blues” that morphed, during the coda, into a head-bobbing hip-hop groove. In no way was this an artistic stretch. But it fit.