Posts Tagged ‘Albert Brooks’

LIVE: Michael Benedict & Bopitude Featuring Sharel Cassity @ the Daily Grind, 7/25/14

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Bopitude-with-Sharel-Cassity

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Albert Brooks

I have a problem, which I share with many of my friends in the jazz world: I worry about young musicians that catch my eye. Having continued success in this genre is about as easy as walking a tightrope over a swimming pool filled with piranha (while you’re on fire), so when one of them disappears from my line of sight for an extended period, it’s hard not to think, “Well, the Bear got another one!” Happily, any fears I’ve had about altoist Sharel Cassity were squashed when she appeared with Greater Nippertown’s Sultans of Bop, Michael Benedict & Bopitude.

You may remember Cassity from her searing opening Sunday set at Jazz @ the Lake in 2010. She had recently released her debut recording Relentless, and some truly nasty musicians (including trombonist Michael Dease, who’s become a mini-industry all his own since then) helped Cassity blow away the crowd. But then – aside from a couple of guest shots on other people’s recordings – I lost sight of her. I shouldn’t have worried, though; nobody this good and this dedicated simply disappears. In addition to playing with the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars and the all-female big band Diva, Cassity just released a set of standards called Manhattan Romance on the Japanese label Venus. While standards may not be Cassity’s primary focus – she’s an accomplished composer, with more new stuff waiting to be recorded – her latest recording made her a perfect fit for Bopitude’s unerring musical direction.

What’s more, Cassity’s appearance was more evidence of Benedict’s dedication to expanding the sound of his pet project: Just as bari-sax legend Gary Smulyan gave Bopitude undeniable resonance, Cassity’s alto brought a wonderfully different harmonic (and not a little sass) to the band’s killer front line as the group launched into the opener, “Monk’s Dream.” Cassity caught the opening solo, which went leaping and bounding around Troy’s Daily Grind. (Benedict grabbed the opportunity to play the unconventional space when the show’s original venue, Proctors, fell through.) Cassity gave a quick nod to Monk’s atonality before taking full, undeniable ownership of the house; she had range, chops and some fiendish ideas, and both tenorman Brian Patneaude and trumpeter Chris Pasin had to pump it up to keep up with her.

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LIVE: The Kurt Rosenwinkel New Quartet @ Skidmore’s Zankel Music Center, 4/11/14

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
Kurt Rosenwinkel, Orlando LeFleming and Kendrick Scott

Kurt Rosenwinkel, Orlando LeFleming and Kendrick Scott

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Albert Brooks, Andrzej Pilarczyk

“Welcome to Winterfest, 2014,” Kurt Rosenwinkel said drily to the almost-full house at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center in Saratoga Springs. It seems that the guitarist and his epic quartet – pianist Aaron Parks, drummer Kendrick Scott and bassist Orlando LeFleming – got stranded in a flash flood and caught in a blizzard after arriving in the area the previous day. Their surprise is quite understandable: It’s true Rosenwinkel has played in this area before while Parks and Scott have visited Saratoga Springs multiple times; however, those trips mostly happened during the summer, not during a spring season that’s doing its best to disprove the assertion that climate change is only a myth.

When the quartet took the stage, it wasn’t as cold as it had been the previous day, but it was definitely coat-and-sweater weather. Happily, the Zankel warmed up almost immediately as Scott led the charge into the grooving opener “Our Secret World.” This piece was older than most of the set, which came almost exclusively from Rosenwinkel’s 2012 release Star of Jupiter. But even though the soundman was obviously scrambling to find the proper mix for this group, Rosenwinkel was already swinging for the fences as he stood at center stage and struck “The Pose” (right foot forward, knee slightly bent, eyes down at his axe) and filled the house with a tough, hollow-body sound that could have melted a foot of snow.

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LIVE: Regina Carter @ The Egg, 3/29/14

Thursday, April 24th, 2014
Regina Carter

Regina Carter

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Albert Brooks and Andrzej Pilarczyk

If you’re lucky, you learn something new every day. For instance, during a break in Regina Carter’s appearance at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre, I learned that Carter’s exploration of her family heritage had included getting her DNA tested. The test results showed the Detroit native was 77 percent West African and 13 percent Finnish. “That tells you a lot about my family,” Carter laughed.

Even without the scientific angle, we’ve been able to walk with Carter through her family’s past for a few years now: Her 2006 release I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey was a tribute to her late mother and the songs of her era, while 2010’s Reverse Thread delved deeply into African folk music. Carter’s latest release Southern Comfort shows how the music on Reverse Thread came to America and was absorbed into Appalachia and – eventually – her grandmother’s home in Alabama. As interesting as that sounds, there were some doubts this project could top the thrilling sounds that came out of Thread. By the time Carter and her quintet were finished, those doubts were adamantly crushed.

As the lights went down and Egg impresario Peter Lesser left the stage, a scratchy recording of an old-time gospel singer started playing over the sound system. This was one of many field recordings from (among other places) the Lomax Family Collections that inspired Carter through this project’s development. As the singer faded out, guitarist Marvin Sewell and bassist Chris Lightcap eased into a warm meditation; Carter stepped onstage after the tone had been established and began bowing over their chording. Sewell and accordionist Will Holshauer went into a subtle vamp, and the band dove into Stefon Harris’ swirling arrangement of “Death Have Mercy/Breakaway.”

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LIVE: Van Dyck All-Stars’ Saxophone Summit @ the Van Dyck, 4/19/13

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Van Dyck All-Stars’ Saxophone Summit @ the Van Dyck, 4/19/13

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Albert Brooks
A JazzApril story

“It’s great to see a room packed for jazz in Schenectady,” tenorman Brian Patneaude told the folks at the Van Dyck’s full-to-bursting concert space. I have to agree, but I’d like to amend that statement: It was great to see a room packed for LOCAL jazz in Schenectady! After all, most of these guys do get around the area, and three-quarters of the All-Stars’ front line play this same space every month when Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble does its first-Tuesday residency thing. I’m sure a lot of it had to do with the respective fan bases the players have generated over the years. The thing is, though, the fan base for one band member included everybody else on the bandstand.

That man would be Leo Russo, who’s been playing sax in Greater Nippertown longer than I’ve lived here, and I’m working on my third decade. Not only is Russo living proof of the deep roots jazz has in these parts, but he’s also gifted us with a sapling that’s growing into a mighty oak himself – multi-instrumentalist Lee Russo, who (like Patneaude and altoist Keith Pray, the fourth member of the All-Stars’ kickass front line) I would be happy to watch play the phone book. Lee played baritone sax as well as tenor on this evening, adding another axe to his already sizeable arsenal; I’m convinced he’s going to be our Joe Lovano, mastering a myriad number of reed instruments most people never heard of. I’d only seen the elder Russo play twice before: Once with a pickup band at an Albany Musicians Union JAM celebration, and once with pianist Yuko Kishimoto at Athens Cultural Center. To see him with this group was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I was on it like a duck on a June bug.

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LIVE: 90 Miles @ College of St. Rose’s Massry Center, 4/18/13

Monday, April 22nd, 2013
90 Miles @ The Massry Center (photo by Albert Brooks)

90 Miles

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Albert Brooks
A JazzApril story

“It’s always a good sign when a jazz band tunes up,” vibes master Stefon Harris playfully told us as Ricardo Rodriguez tried to get his bass to behave. It’s also a good sign because the musicians involved have bought into the concept they’re about to hit you with. And while tenorman David Sanchez was the catalyst that created both 90 Miles and the documentary that chronicled the band’s first iteration’s visit to Cuba, all three “co-leaders” that currently front this immensely powerful septet have complete and total buy-in.

Harold Lopez-Nussa’s torrid opener “E’cha” is Afro-Cuban goodness that comes right down the middle, and the band tore into it like a lion tucks into his evening gazelle. Harris’ vibes faced the full house at Massry, but he played marimba on the opening chorus before pianist Edward Simon dropped the first solo of the night. Simon – a band leader in his own right, whose new Sunnyside disc Live at the Jazz Standard will be required listening – wasn’t on his game when he and Harris helped SFJAZZ Collective salute Stevie Wonder at The Egg last year. On this night, though, Simon’s rising and falling solo was marvelously elaborate while maintaining the percussive element this music needs.

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LIVE: Al Di Meola & Gonzalo Rubalcaba @ The Egg, 4/7/13

Monday, April 15th, 2013
Al Di Meola

Al Di Meola

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Albert Brooks
A JazzApril story

There was only one real revelation to come from Al Di Meola and Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s duet show at The Egg: Until that night, Di Meola had never known why Greater Nippertown’s most recognizable concert venue was called “The Egg”! It’s not like Di Meola hadn’t played here before, but apparently the iconic guitarist had been asleep when the tour bus for World Sinfonia or Rite of Strings rolled up the North Arterial. Now that mystery had been cleared up, Di Meola and Rubalcaba got down to giving us exactly what we expected – sheer, unadulterated genius.

While this pair has never recorded as a unit, Rubalcaba guested on two Di Meola discs (2002’s Flesh on Flesh and 2011’s Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody), and Di Meola has been a fan of the Cuban keyboard wizard since he first heard Rubalcaba on a fusion date over 25 years ago. Maybe they haven’t logged a ton of playing time together, but you’d never know it by listening to their intricate interplay on the opener “Siberiana.” Rubalcaba worked a vamp as Di Meola’s fingers flew up the fret board at warp speed, finding a figure of their own to work as Rubalcaba seamlessly took the solo spot. If there were transitional points worked into the sheet music both players feverishly studied, those points were not discernable as the duo displayed an adamantine chemistry.

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LIVE: Dirty Dozen Brass Band @ College of St. Rose’s Massry Center, 2/9/13

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Dirty Dozen Brass Band @ College of St. Rose's Massry Center, 2/9/13 (photo by Albert Brooks)

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Albert Brooks

When you see a New Orleans institution like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, you expect to get a real sense of the Big Easy – no more so than on Mardi Gras Weekend, and regardless of whether there are cars outside the theater that are buried in snow. “You know we’re not used to this,” leader Gregory Davis laughed as the band settled themselves onstage. Tenorman Kevin Harris stood next to him, wearing a large grey-and-black sweater and a scarf that was definitely not for show, while bari-sax player Roger Lewis sported a black Jerry Garcia Band t-shirt over another black, long-sleeved t-shirt. In short, Dirty Dozen was definitely out of its climatic element.

Nonetheless, with a little help from the audience (who would be called on to participate multiple times over the next 60 minutes), the band snuck into a delicious take on the Meters’ “Fiyo on the Bayou.” While Harris did blow up real good towards the end of the tune, solo licks were actually secondary. The same can be said for Davis’ vocals: As a singer, Davis is a terrific pocket trumpet player, and that didn’t matter one whit. As with most music straight outta NOLA, it’s the groove that’s the thing, and the groove was utterly bodacious as the rest of Dirty Dozen’s front line buoyed Harris’ rising attack.

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LIVE: Joe Lovano’s Us Five @ The Egg, 1/20/13

Friday, January 25th, 2013
Joe Lovano

Joe Lovano

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Albert Brooks

I have a pretty simple job description: Go to something, watch it, and then tell you about it in a way that gives you a good snapshot of what I saw. I do this about 30-40 times a year, so I’d like to think I’m pretty accomplished at it. And yet, there I was in the center aisle of the Swyer Theatre, people streaming past me after Joe Lovano/Us Five had blown the place up real good, and thinking, “What the hell am I going to say? I mean, besides ‘HOLY SHIT! THAT WAS AWESOME!’”

Us Five, Joe Lovano’s most devilish project yet, is unlike any other animal in the zoo. First, it’s got two drummers – not unheard of in the rock world, but if there are two percussionists onstage in jazz, one of them is usually playing some kind of hand drums. Also, no jazz group I can think of uses drums the way Us Five deploys them. Instead of the drummers driving the train and offering an occasional solo or counter, the relationship here is much more reciprocal: One drummer is either soloing or counter-soloing almost all the time; and Lovano and the other players spend a fair amount of time chasing the drums, not the other way around.

Most importantly, Us Five acts as a unit – more than any band on the menu, in jazz or otherwise. Oh, there were plenty of solo spots, including Lovano’s moment in the clear on tenor sax at the front of the opener “Us Five.” But the whole of Us Five is greater than the sum of its parts, regardless of how amazing those parts may be. Lovano may have played in an open area downstage from the rest of the group, but he was acting and reacting just as much as his partners. That’s more necessary than usual, because when it comes to changes in tune, tone or time, this band literally turns on a dime.

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