Reviews by J Hunter
Now that we’ve all survived Thanksgiving Food Coma and Black Friday zombie shoppers, here are some suggestions for your holiday gift search. (And remember: Think Global, but please Shop Local!)
The Noguchi Sessions
Why would Arturo O’Farrill – who made his name in jazz primarily through big bands – do a solo-piano date? The long answer involves O’Farrill’s affinity for Isamu Noguchi, the Japanese/American artist who built a museum in Long Island City so his wide range of works and styles could be viewed properly. The short answer? Arturo O’Farrill doesn’t play it safe, and (like Noguchi) refuses to be limited by other people’s definitions. Sessions is a series of musical portraits, all of them drenched in color and passion and recorded on one afternoon in the Noguchi Museum. Some are originals inspired by O’Farrill’s own life and views, like the romantic celebration “Mi Vida,” the reflective “In Whom” (written for O’Farrill’s son Zachary, a musician now coming into his own) and “The Delusion of the Greedy,” a volatile diatribe inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement; some are massive expansions of jazz, Latin and Americana standards ranging from Randy Weston’s “Little Niles” and Pedro Flores’ “Obsesión” to Stephen Foster’s “O Susanna.” By the time O’Farrill tiptoes through Charles Mingus’ “Jelly Roll,” you are as drained as O’Farrill must have been at the end of the four-hour session. But then, walking through the mind’s eye of an artist is not for the timid. So: You up for a walk?
Don’t let the Roman numerals fool you: Triveni II is not, specifically, a sequel. It seems that the 2009 sessions that gave us Avishai Cohen’s divine disc Introducing Triveni produced enough music for two whole releases. As such, the cataclysmic trumpeter’s latest offering is (thankfully) closer to “Kill Bill” than it is to “Die Hard with a Vengeance.” Like Donny McCaslin’s sax-trio date Recommended Tools, Cohen is out on the wire without a net, supported only by rhythm devils Omer Avitel and Nasheet Waits. Cohen is as fearless as his reed-wizard sister Anat, and it takes a fearless person to jump on Ornette Coleman’s “Music News” or Charles Mingus’ “Portrait” and wrestle that sucker to the ground. The latter tune is tailor-made for Avitel (who plays bass in Anat’s quartet), as is Avishai’s blues-soaked take on the classic “Willow Weep for Me.” Although Waits paints with swirling brushes on the reflective original “November 30th” and the alternate take of Don Cherry’s “Art Deco,” the powerful drummer happily flexes his muscles on Cohen’s playful bopper “BR Story” and the band’s bust-out reboot of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody ‘n’ You.” And I’m sorry, but you have to love a disc where one Ornette tune isn’t enough! “Follow the Sound” should be Triveni’s theme song, because after two straight releases that take no prisoners, I’m ready to to follow them anywhere.
HOT CLUB OF DETROIT
This year, two groups dedicated to the spirit of the Quintette du Hot Club de France both decided to tweak things a little. But while Hot Club of San Francisco ended their fine-tuning with the addition of enchanting guitarist/vocalist Isabella Fontaine, Hot Club of Detroit’s Junction takes things a few notches further. The opener “Goodbye, Mr. Anderson” is right up your Paris alleyway, and Cyrille Aimee’s lilting vocals on Angel Cabral’s “Le Foule” and HCD accordionist Julien Labro’s original “Django Mort” are totally in line with the band’s regular sound. But Evan Perri’s “Song for Gabriel” is inspired by rock icon Peter Gabriel, and sounds like an outtake from the Dave Matthews Band; the disc also dips into the Phish songbook with an Is-Paris-Bluegrass take on Trey Anastasio’s “Rift.” Labro’s “Chutzpah” starts with chaotic free jazz that has Labro’s accordion dueling with MOPDTK reed assassin Jon Irabegon, who penned “Mr. Anderson” and spends much of Junction showing he can do a lot more than kick ass and shift paradigms: Irabegon may go buck wild on “Chutzpah” and Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman,” but his tenor work on Django Reinhardt’s “Messe Gitane” stays right between the lines, and his sopranino sax is utterly reverent on Labro’s “Goodbye, Mr. Shearing.” There’s plenty of great stuff on Junction for HCD’s core supporters, but it’s when the band steps outside the box where this release gets really brave, and really good.
Sojourner Truth – “…ain’t I a Woman?”
In this age of racial profiling and “binders full of women,” bassist Avery Sharpe thinks it’s even more important for young people to know that this struggle is, sadly, nothing new. What better source for inspiration than Sojourner Truth, the African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist who is the focal point for Sharpe’s greatest outing as a leader. Fronting a flame-throwing quintet featuring famed multi-instrumentalist Craig Handy, the rage and spirit of the escaped slave Isabella (later to re-name herself Sojourner Truth) comes through loud and clear on the opener “Isabella’s Awakening.” The traditional work song “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” gets an epic re-work both musically and lyrically, thanks to the righteous vocals of Jeri Brown. Brown makes history live on the title track with her recitation of Truth’s speech to the Ohio Women’s Convention in 1851 (That’s right, kids! That’s how long this battle’s been going on!); the pain that coursed through Truth’s legal battle to re-claim her child from slavery drives “Son of Mine,” while Duane Eubanks’ blistering trumpet adds to the cacophony Sharpe uses to create “NYC 1800s.” Sharpe’s bass work rivals anything he’s ever done with McCoy Tyner, and Onaje Allan Gumbs’ steel-strong piano evokes Sharpe’s longtime leader more than once. Some people don’t like politics in their music, but for those who see the value (and the need), Sojourner Truth – “…ain’t I a Woman?” more than makes the grade.
Live at the Royal Room
(Royal Potato Family)
My introduction to the mad world of Skerik happened when drummer Bobby Previte brought Coalition of the Willing – also featuring guitarist/then-NOLA transplant Charlie Hunter – to Red Square in 2006. Like Jon Irabegon, Skerik uses reed instruments to discover sounds not normally found in nature. But he’s also got a serious Maceo Parker streak in him, and Live at the Royal Room shows that side of Seattle’s one-name wildman in all its glory. Skerik takes his inspiration for Bandalabra from Fela Kuti and Steve Reich – and yes, one of these things is NOT like the other – and you can hear both influences in the fifteen-minutes-plus opening salvo “Freeborn.” Overall, though, this quartet sounds like a direct descendant of Chris Potter Underground, where titanic improvisation is just as important as getting the crowd up and dancing. Skerik channels Maceo through his bari-sax on the vicious groover “Beast Crusher,” while the Fela side of the equation takes the wheel on the World-wide “Simulacrum”: Drummer Dvonne Lewis and bassist Evan Flory Barnes lays down a stunning African floor for Skerik and guitarist Andy Coe to dance on. I know jazz is “supposed to be” an intellectual experience, but Live at the Royal Room gives further validation to one of my best friends’ favorite musical theories: Sometimes, it’s just about shaking your ass.