Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Giacomo Gates Trio at the Kitano January 18, 2011

Luminosity (CD/DVD) On a cold Wednesday night in New York City I ventured into the mecca of jazz to have dinner with a friend in from Atlanta. Trying to kill two birds with one stone I convinced him to join me after dinner and make our way to the Kitano hotel where the jazz singer Giacomo Gates and his trio were performing. Weekday treks into the city are not regular events for me as my day job has me up at the crack of dawn, but when I make the effort I am usually pleasantly rewarded. So was the case on this evening.

I confess to being a fan of Mr. Gates, who I have seen before and who sings and talks in a warm baritone that belies a genuine hipster sensibility. There is no affectation here, he is the real deal. With his craggy looks and his command of the hipster vernacular, he is the consummate entertainer. He is a singer who has studied the quirky side of the American songbook. He has an astounding command of his voice and is a storyteller par excellence who can enthrall his audience.

The Kitano is a first rate hotel on Park Ave at 38th Street and they have been featuring top notch jazz shows in their lounge for some time now. A short few steps up from the elegant lobby, the comfortable lounge seats about thirty  with a large bar area. It offers as intimate and comfortable a setting as any jazz venue in New York.

On this night Mr. Gates was joined by the pianist John DiMartino and the bassist Neal Miner. Both  musicians have extensive experience backing vocalists. Mr. Di Martino has worked with the late Billy Eckstine, Freddy Cole and Diane Schuur and Mr. Minor with Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross and Jane Monheit. Needless to say they worked superbly with Mr. Gates.

Mr. Di Martino and Mr. Miner started the set off with the standard "Yesterdays" where Mr. Di Martino's superb touch and inventive creativity started the evening on a immediate high note. The duo demonstrated a fluidity and grace that was masterful.

Mr. Gates started his set with Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson's  composition "Four",. where the singer's breathy delivery was complimented by his deft use of modulating his sound by varying the positioning of his microphone. Mr. DiMartino is a particularly complimentary accompanist who seems to have a sixth sense of what to play and when to play it.

CenterpieceMiles Davis' modal masterpiece "Milestones" is a Gates staple that the singer has written lyrics for and which showcases his formidable vocal fluidity . Mr. DiMartino is well versed with the jazz tradition and his playing echoed some sounds from Gil Evans at times. Mr. Gates and Mr. DiMartino's rapport on this number was especially in sync.

On "Lady Be Good" Mr. Gates mimics both a walking bass (which at first somewhat confounded Mr. Miner) and vocalizes a quick paced improvisation that he  transposed, note for note, from a Charlie Parker solo. Mr. Gates is at his best as a storyteller, like on his wonderfully jocular take on Bobby Troup's "I'm a Hungry Man", where he has the audience wrapped around his finger as he tells of the gastronomical adventures of the song's protagonist. He was also engaging on the raucous Oscar Brown Jr. tune "Hazel's Hips".

Mr. Gates has recently been in the studio on a project that involves the music of Gil Scott Heron. On this night he gave us a taste of what to expect when he did a masterful version of the poet/singer's song
"Show Business" . Mr. Gates doesn't try to imitate Mr. Heron but sings it with his own sense of grit and savvy. It was good to hear someone bravely tackle Mr. Heron's music which deserves wider recognition.

Mr. Gates and his trio ended the set with the Charlie Parker tune "Buzzin'" where Gates can scat with the best of them and the Gershwin classic "Summertime", both done in Mr. Gates inimitable style, ending a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Mr. Gates is a class act not to be missed. My friend from Atlanta, who is not particularly a jazz fan, was a convert to Mr. Gates and his music by the end of the evening. I found myself happily discovering the Kitano as yet another fine venue for top notch jazz in New York City.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Group BANN "As You Like" Modern Jazz at it's Best

Review of BANN’s   “As You Like”
Jazz Eyes Records 010
Recorded by Jay Anderson Mountain Rest Studio New Paltz, N.Y.

"As You Like"
Rarely do I hear an album, this early in the year, that makes me want to declare it a possible candidate for one of the year’s best. It is simply too early to make that kind of statement, but the new BANN release “As You Like” may very well deserve this accolade.

BANN is an acronym for the first letters of the last names of the group’s players. Seamus Blake on tenor saxophone, Jay Anderson on double bass
(and incidentally the recording engineer on this date);  Oz Noy on electric guitar and Adam Nussbaum on drums. The rhythm section of Anderson and Nussbaum is a powerful team that together set the firm foundation for the explorations of the talented Blake and the quizzical Noy.

On the opening track, the group reconstruct the well-worn Jerome Kern tune “All the Things You Are” creating a modern sound, bringing it into the 21st century. Blake’s powerful tenor plays ala Joe Henderson as Nussbaum and Anderson swing beneath. When Noy takes his fusionesque solo, resplendent with marvelously creative electronic effects. the dynamic rhythm section appropriately compliment his styling without missing a beat.

Monk’s music is especially good fodder for these guys as they tackle his “Played Twice”. There is a marvelous chemistry at work here that is quite wonderful to behold.  It is obvious that these guys all know and have studied the tradition. Blake and Noy are particularly well suited to play together, meshing their sounds on the head beautifully. When they solo, Blake’s tenor is strong, confident and biting. Noy has absorbed some of the best characteristics of Scofield’s funk, Frisell twang and combined them with Jeff Beck's blues sensibilities. Anderson’s bass lines are probing, exploratory and help push Noy along. Nussbaum finishes the piece with a stuttering Monk-like drum solo. This is a tour de force precisely because they all play so well together.

For those of us who grew up singing to Crosby, Stills & Nash, the inclusion of David Crosby’s touching “Guinivere” is a welcome surprise. Here Seamus Blake’s sensitive tenor work is simply beautiful. He articulates in a tender way that emits desire and yearning. Guitarist Noy adds his own delicate electronic effects that are superbly subtle. Nussbaum delicately brushes his cymbals in a cascade of  shimmers.

On “Days of Old” Anderson’s warm solo bass starts the song before Blake and Noy join in one of the more mellow songs on the album. Noy strums melodiously as Blake takes on a bluesy tone ending the song with a particularly poignant way.

“As You Like” is a funky tune with a repeating three note bass line and some guitar chords that simply feels good.  Blake takes the first solo, playing in melodious flow of inventive ideas. His playing, while not incendiary, is impassioned, thoughtful and evocative. When it is Noy’s turn his solo is bursting with ideas, quirky stylistic choices and an attack that blurs the boundaries between jazz and rock.

On Anderson’s “ At Sundown” we hear the Frisellian side of Noy. This decidedly western flavored tune is played brilliantly by the entire ensemble with Blake and Noy dueting in perfect sync on the theme. Noy executes a series of slides and tremolos that are extremely creative. Nussbaum keeps that back in the saddle beat as Noy meanders is a most twangy way, at times sounding like slide guitar wizard David Tronzo. Anderson plucks his way around his melody and the tune fades away like the sun dipping into the desert sand.

Oz Noy’s wonderfully infectious “ Minor Shuffle” is a playful romp that has Blake and Noy trading melody lines. Noy is joyfully unpredictable when he solos here without straying too far form his melody. He is a formidable player that has strangely not yet reached the prominence of some of his contemporaries. If his work on this album is any indication, his star is inevitably on the rise.

Joe Henderson’s “Isotope”  is a complex, jagged melody line that the group executes brilliantly. Blake’s sound is reminiscent of Joe’s. He has a deep resonant tone and he intonates clearly.  I first heard Seamus Blake on his 
Live In Italy“Live in Italy” album recorded in 2007. I heard something there and I continue to find his playing compelling. He has a fine command of his instrument and he plays with an emotional appeal that makes you want to hear more.

Jay Anderson and Adam Nussbaum are consummate professionals and first call musicians. They are the glue that holds this band together.  BANN is a powerful and effective communicator of a modern and exciting form of jazz that is entertaining, fresh, approachable and creative. I hope they stay together long enough to create some more great music.

Musicians: Seamus Blake, tenor sax; Jay Anderson double bass; Oz Noy, guitar and effects; Adam Nussbaum, drums

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Thoughtful Tenor Emerges : Noah Preminger's "Before the Rain"

Before the Rain 
Review of Noah Preminger’s 
Palmetto Records
Recorded by Matt Balitsaris : Maggie’s Farm, Buck's County , PA  2010

On his sophomore release,
“Before the Rain”, the young tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger has taken a decidedly languorous approach, using an interesting  array of unusual songs to make his latest musical statement. 

Starting with a broodingly moody version of the Rodgers and Hart ballad “Where or When”, Preminger sparingly chooses his notes, using a husky sound that breathes aching emotion into the song
AirHe next tackles Frank Kimbrough’s quirky, Monk-like “Quickening” , a wonderful song which I first heard on the pianist’s fine solo album “Air” from 2007. Preminger is wise enough to again play sparingly, concentrating on his tonality , relying instead on the fine ensemble playing of his fellow band mates, with special attention to the colorful interplay between Matt  Wilson on drums and John Herbert’s fine pizzicato bass. Kimbrough is of course completely at home on this song during his wandering piano solo, but he too is complimented nicely by Wilson’s meanderings.

On title track “ Before the Rain”, John Herbert treats us to some hauntingly beautiful bass lines. Matt Wilson’s deft use of traps and Frank Kimbrough’s sensitive comping creates the perfect atmosphere for Preminger’s restrained tenor solo on this pensive piece. Kimbrough’s piano solo is delicate and sensitive. 

What comes across most loud and clear on this album is this young musician’s sensitivity and humility. He allows his fellow musicians’ the space to create a sense of dynamism within his music. “Abreaction” is a perfect case in point.

Perhaps Preminger’s most compelling performance on the album is his low-keyed, confident play on  
“Until the Real Thing Comes Along”, which
he plays like a journeyman who has deconstructed and reconstructed this tune a hundred times on various road trips. Languishing on notes, he knows how to get the most out of very little.

Matt Wilson seems in his element with the Ornette Coleman tune 
“Toy Dance”. Preminger has absorbed the history and takes his own approach to this free spirited music.

“November” is another Kimbrough tune and well suited to Preminger’s pensively exploratory approach. The economy of his style is a rare characteristic for such a young player and certainly demonstrates a quiet confidence in his own ability to communicate without fanfare. Here less equates to more, and Wilson, Herbert and Kimbrough are the perfect foils to his brooding play. They fill the voids brilliantly without ever stealing the limelight. Herbert’s fluttering bow work at the end makes the point perfectly.

The final tune is Preminger’s “Jamie” another slow tempo ballad that he plays with an almost pained tone.

The effort to concentrate on ballads is laudable, although at times the brooding nature of the play can seem borderline self-indulgent, but Preminger is a fine young player who has challenged himself and has generally succeeded with this effort. It will be rewarding to watch him grow.The interplay between him and his intuitive rhythm section is exceptional and well worth the price of admission.

Musicians: Noah Preminger, tenor sax; Frank Kimbrough, piano; John Herbert, bass; Matt Wilson, drums