Sunday, September 22, 2013

NYC September 2013

I'm slowly catching up on things. I spent the first week of September in New York City - it had been awhile since I was last in town (Easter I think). It's well after the fact and a bit light on details but here's a run down on the weeks happenings.

Grakowski & Heberer 
First stop was the  Downtown Music Gallery. I try and make it there each time I'm in town, though this was my first time at one of the in-store concerts they host on Sunday evenings - nice vibe and plenty of CD browsing (and some buying) before the show. Performing in store was the duo of Frank Gratkowski (alto sax) & Thomas Heberer (cornet/trumpet). I really enjoyed this yet. Great to be up close to the music in a (very) small space. The pair played a set of improvised duos. I found out that these two have a playing history going back to their teens - and it showed with plenty of common ground shared. I must remember to check if they have recorded together (I forgot to ask them!). Picked up a copy of Frank's latest album "All At Once" - just released on Relative Pitch Records. I've only had time to give it one spin - a saxophone trio disc with Phillip Greenlief & Jon Raskin - but I've liked what I've heard so far. I joined the duo and some friends for dinner in Chinatown.

After dinner we walked up to Nublu for Frank's second gig of the night. Got to have a good chat with him about projects he has under way including the few weeks he had just spent at CNMAT (Center for New Music & Audio Technologies). He's been working on his project "Artikulationen E" solo alto sax with live electronics and 8-point surround sound. In fact Frank has built his own wireless electronics controller that attaches to his alto (see pic). For the 2nd gig Frank was part of percussionist Joe Hertenstein's "Future Drone"with Anthony Coleman (fender rhodes) Ken Filiano (b). This is a gig that I would have dug a lot more had it not been so loud. The main culprit was the rhodes - and it brought the rest of the group with it. When the volume was lower I could hear everyone and there was plenty of interesting music happening. But too often the volume took away the enjoyment.

Tender Trap Jam Session
Monday night I joined friends at the Tender Trap jam session in Brooklyn. They're had a regular set followed by a jam session there for some time now. It's a sweet scene - friendly and welcoming. Last time I was in town I wasn't able to play due the problems with my hand/arm so it was nice to get a few tunes in. The only jam session I've attended with four violinists! Take your horn down if you are in the neighborhood or just take your ears and have a beer.

Tuesday morning I joined Will and Carol at B&H to check out some microphones. What a crazy place - I still can't get over that I'd never heard of them. Following that it was off to Carol's for a duo session of standards and free improvisations. It seemed an age since we and played together but things came into place nicely. The free stretches seemed to move into some new places. I must remember to bring my recorder next time I'm in town.
After the session we headed downtown to hear our friend Nick playing a pre-show duo gig at the Signature Theatre. The acoustic was very live (a large space with plenty of concert and wood). Nick's alto sound filled the space and he was barley breathing into the horn. Very relaxed, melodic playing.

Zach Brock Quartet - 55 Bar
I spent Wednesday afternoon out in Newark meeting some of my classmates and sat in on the first of the Duke Ellington classes. I'm sure I'll blog a bit about school in the future.
That evening it was off to Greenwich Village and the 55 Bar for the Zach Brock (violin) Matt Penman (b) John Beasley (fender rhodes) and Obed Calvaire (d). Two sets of mostly Brock originals - plus one from Beasley, Herbie Hancock's "Eye of the Hurricane" and a ballad "You've Changed" (I think). The quartet was tight and bass & drum combo were particularly locked in. Nice catching up with Matt - hadn't seen him since he played in Chicago with the SFJAZZ Collective.

Kept things fairly mellow on Thursday. In the morning I caught up with Richard, a sax playing friend from New Zealand who has just moved to NYC to study towards his Masters Degree. Then it was off out to Brooklyn for a hang, session and lunch with Nick. Hanging and playing with Nick always provide plenty of surprises and laughs. Spent the night with my wonderful hosts - Will & Jennie - dinner and drinks. All in all a fun week - plenty of music and friends - and that's a good thing indeed.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chicago Jazz Festival 2013: Saturday

Saturday followed a similar pattern as Friday - check out a couple of gigs in the marquee's before the evening concerts on the main stage.

Gregory Porter
The Nick Mazzarella Trio started off my day. Mazzarella's burning alto was teamed with his regular rhythm section paring of Anton Hatwich (b) Frank Rosaly (d). They jumped straight into a high energy set of originals from the leader. A ballad made a welcome appearance about four tunes in, providing some contrast to the searing bite I have come to expect from Mazarella. I wasn't digging the live sound today - loud, boxy and metallic. It may not have been helped by the fairly empty tent . The crowd was down on the day before - not helped by the weather (it had been raining all day and started pouring not long before the set started). Mazarella's tone in particular suffered - while it is edgy and biting, I found the P.A sound made it one dimensionally bright. I felt for the trio as it really didn't do their sound any justice.

I left the set slightly early so as not to miss the start the Hamid Drake Quartet with Kidd Jordan (ts) Cooper-Moore (p) and William Parker (b) over in the southern tent. Murphy's law..... they started late! It was amateur hour during the set up. With a large crowd waiting the band made efforts to set up and sound check as music pumped through the P.A. No surprises then that when the music got underway the mix was terrible. In general it was a loud, wash of sound - no clarity at all. Parker's bass sounded like I giant amplified rubber band and the piano was obnoxiously bright and way too high in the mix. After a long free improvisation, they finally worked out that the bass was humming. I changed seats, then moved to the back of the tent. No improvement. I left. This must have been close to the worst live sound I have heard. Very disappointing. 
Rudresh Mahanthappa's "GAMAK"
The evening of concerts on the main stage started off with vocalist Gregory Porter (v) and his band of Chip Crawford (p) Aaron James (b) Yosuke Satoh (as) Emanuel Howard (d). I arrived during the set and could hear the crowd applauding well before I could see them. The rain during the day had cleared and a large audience had turned out - in the seated area and on the lawn. Lucky for me there were a couple of  empty seats down at the front of stage so I set up camp there for the night. It was a nice group and I can see why Porter gets plenty of attention and the crowd were really into it. The band backed him up well - bass and drums were a good pairing and the some nice comping from the piano. The odd one out, for me, was the alto to Satoh - his tone and phrasing seemed to be coming more from a "smooth jazz" type thing. While he played well and offered contrast to Porter's vocals I felt someone more in classic "Chicago-tenor" mold would have rounded the group out more seamlessly. 

Saturday Night's audience
Second up on the main stage was Rudresh Mahanthappa's "GAMAK" with David Fiuczynski (g) Francois Moutin (b) Dan Weiss (d). Mahanthappa's seamless blend of jazz-isms & Karnatic-isms (!), Moutin holding down rock solid bass, Fiuczynski's rock sensibilities, and rhythm mastery from Weiss combined for set of driving, high energy music (Off-kilter Indian-jazz-rock was written in my notebook). Lots of chops on display - both sax and guitar are lighting quick - but the music was interesting. If you are after something different, the group released an album at the start of the year. Weiss's drumming was the stand out to me. I've heard a few recordings he's been on but I believe this was the 1st time I'd heard him live (I'd need to double check my notebooks.... I may have heard him with David Binney). Music just seemed to be flowing out of him with minimal effort - wonderful. 
Rounding out the night was the Jason Moran: Fats Waller Dance Party. Moran (p/fender rhodes)  along with Earl Travis (b) Joshua Roseman (trb) Leron Thomas (trpt) Charles Haynes (d) Lisa E. Harris (vocal) Martin Sewell (g) and members of the Organic Magnetics dance company put a modern spin on classic tunes by Waller. This was really well put together but not my thing at all - at least not on that night... perhaps my mind was on the early start on Sunday morning to head to NYC? I renewed my membership with the Jazz Institute of Chicago and took my opportunity to get a head start on the exiting crowd.

Some final thoughts......Though this particular post has bit of a negative feel, I did enjoy the first three days of the festival. I would have been at the fourth had I not been NYC bound. The festival does a nice job mixing up the program. It seems like there is something for everyone - mainstream, up and comers, veterans, local artists, traditional groups, freer music, school bands - a nice cross-section of the jazz spectrum. The weather was the biggest hassle - hot, humid and sticky one day, thunder storm the next - but people still turned out. You can't beat the price - free admission! Combine that with the Millennium Park location (in the heart of downtown Chicago) and I'm sure it brings in a lot of listeners that wouldn't normally go to such gigs. Lets hope there is a flow on effect for the live scene. The volunteers I dealt with were great too.
The Main Stage - Saturday Night

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Chicago Jazz Festival 2013: Friday

Friday after was spent checking out some of the gigs in the marquee's in Millennium Park before the evening concerts on the main stage.

Mike Smith (as) Quartet with Jordan Baskin (p ) Jeff Hamann (b) & Brian Ritter (d). Straight-ahead blowing on standard tunes - That is Smith's thing. Not (m)any surprises here. The main reason I got along was to check out the Powell Silver Eagle saxophone in action!

Drummers Hamid Drake & Michael Zerang with the Tsukasa Taiko Youth Unit.
This was something completely different. As the Japanese Drum Ensemble played through it's routine Drake and Zerang, set up on either side, improvised along with them. I thought it came together quite nicely. Hamid Drake was the festival's Artist In Residence and it was great to see him working with kids - with added bonus points for not going down the "high school big band with featured soloist" route. While we're on the subject, there was a stage dedicated to school bands - unfortunately every time I stopped by it was been sets!

The evening concert on the main stage was delayed by about 40mins due to a big storm. Thunder, lightning, and rain…. apparently - we were evacuated to a tunnel under the park so I couldn't see any of it. Anyway, they got the concert going as soon as they could.

First up was Geof Bradfield's "Melba!" - a large ensemble suite dedicated to Melba Liston. 
Bradfield (ts/ss/b.clar) Ryan Cohen (p ) Victor Garcia (trpt/perc) Joel Adams (try) Mike Allemana (g) Clark Sommers (b) George Fludas (d).  Randy Weston joined the group for his composition "Africa Sunrise" (as there was a clap of thunder). I had a hard time getting into this gig. All very professional, nice and clean, but something was missing. One of those gigs where it seems no one makes a mistake - perhaps the focus on composition tempered the spontaneity.

The second show of the night was something I was quite keen to hear. I had read that this work (here's a  link to a page on the work) had been highly praised but hadn't managed to give it a listen yet. Wadada Leo Smith's "Ten Freedom Summers"
Joining Wadada Leo Smith (trpt/conductor) were his Golden Quartet (Anthony Davis p, John Lindberg b, Pheeroan akLaff  d) the string ensemble Pacific Red Coral  (Shalini Vijayan & Mona Tian violins, Andrew McIntosh viola, Ashley Waters cello, Alison Bjorkedal harp) and video artist Jesse Gilbert. 
Here are some translations from my note book scribbles (very messy!)
- Didn't over-write / over-use the strings. Enjoyed what he wrote for them
- Shared the music around the ensemble
- Trumpet sounded great
- At times the rhythm section and string group operated separately… it seemed about 20mins before the entire group were playing together.
- Video artist made a nice contribution…mostly video of the band with abstract lines moving over the top, or just the lines on their own.

Following the concert Wadada Leo Smith as presented with "Trumpeter of the Year" & "Musician of the Year" awards from the Jazz Journalists Association.

It was a powerful concert and perhaps the programmers got things a little muddled when assigning time-slots, as the set following paled in comparison.  A shame really, as this was another group I was keen to hear - Charles Lloyd & Friends feat. Bill Frisell
Alongside Charles Lloyd's tenor sax and alto flute and the guitar of Bill Frisell were Reuben Rogers (b) and Eric Harland (d). Pianist Jason Moran (p ) guested on the first two tunes. This set seemed to take a long time to get off the ground. It felt like they were just hitting their stride as the set was coming to an end. Jazz can do that to you sometimes!

Chicago Jazz Festival 2013: Thursday

First up - apologies for being slack with the updates. Now I'm playing catch up.
Chicago Jazz Festival: August 29 - September 1st
I could only get along to the first three days as I was in NYC from September 1st. Here's a brief rundown of some of what I heard. Hopefully I can remember the ins and outs of it all - sometimes my notebook is a little vague. 

Thursday: Chicago Cultural Center
Arrived during the set by Fat Babies - a retro Chicago-style group playing traditional jazz from the 1920's & 30's - Beau Sample (b) Alex Hall (d) Jake Sanders (banjo) Paul Asaro (p) Dave Bock (tb) John Otto (alto sax/clar) Andy Schumm (cornet) & John Doyle (tenor sax). The over-flowing crowd had me listening from the staircase… an obstructed view but the band we sounding good.
Then headed upstairs for Randy Weston's solo piano set. I can't say I'm a huge fan of Weston's (though I have barely scratched the surface of his music). Not much written in my notebook here. The set had it's moments, he played well but I left feeling a bit like "Ok, I've seen Randy Weston…. next."

The evening concert in Millennium Park was Jack DeJohnette's Special Legends Edition Chicago. A title like that needs some weight behind it….and there was - joining DeJohnette (drums) were Muhal Richard Abrams (piano) Larry Gray (bass/cello) Roscoe Mitchell (alto/soprano/sopranino saxes, recorder and flute) and Henry Threadgill (alto sax/bass flute). 
I often feel wary of the "all-star" groups thrown together for festivals this set did not disappoint. Playing original works by Abrams, Mitchell, DeJohnette and Threadgill and a free improvisation (I think) for the encore, it was a very cohesive set of uncompromising music. Wonderful to hear these guys till going strong and taking the music places. A great opening night for the main stage in front of a sizable crowd (I was down the front was it was a bit hard to judge numbers on the lawn).