DARK SKIES BRING BRIGHT JAZZ


On my way to NYC with this!
I think I saw Valdemort up there.

Dark skies preceded the heavy rains that came last Thursday, September 29, but by late day the storm front moved on and sunshine bathed Manhattan, gently pushing the city into dusk. It was to be a night of jazz gigs for me – a rarity these days – and it all began at La Poussin Rouge on Bleecker Street to attend a concert with saxophonist Marcus Strickland who was celebrating his new double CD, “Triumph Of The Heavy.” Loved D.J. Premiere on the turntables warming up the crowd beforehand, spinning Grover Washington’s original Kudu tracks from the 70’s, along with some  bass and drum grooves. The band hit the stage at 7:30 and here’s the thing: Marcus Strickland is so personable and unpretentious, and once he briefly thanks everyone for coming out, he lays out track after track of beautiful horn sounds. There’s a lot of Wayne Shorter in his sound and style of composing, but Strickland’s songs are infused with the classic soul and jazz of the 70’s as much as the Blue Note’s legacy of great saxophonists. The set was well paced, the band relaxed and was highlighted by a beautiful love song to his girlfriend, “Dawn” and the juiced version of “Mudbone,” a fun song based on the character Richard Pryor would perform in concert. The line up was great and the same as it is on the album: David Bryant on piano (new to me), brother E.J. Strickland on drums and the young Ben Williams, who just released his debut album and play the upright bass with the finesse of Ron Carter and the soul of Motown’s James Jamerson. Special guests included a female tap trio called The Tap Messengers who accompanied the band on a couple tunes, and alto-sax player Jaleel Shaw. Here’s a hard-to-see shot of the gig from my camera.


After this positive set ended, I skipped the after party (although I really wanted to meet and talk to Ben Williams) because I was headed over to the very tiny Bar 55 on Christopher Street for The John Escreet Project. By now, I’ll tell anyone that John’s one of my faves, a brilliant improviser and affecting performer. I rooted myself at the end of bar, right beside the bandstand. Well, not a stand exactly, but a small corner space about 8 x 8 feet that squeezed in John and his electric keyboard, drummer Jim Black, bassist Matt Brewer with Chris Potter on tenor and David Binney on alto saxophone. What a set! Tunes would often start by John extracting sounds from his keys, teasing out sequences that felt right even when it meant hammering at a dead key at the end of the board. He clued his band when he was ready and the group would whip up sturdy grooves, majestic horn passages and some of the most electrifying inventive drumming I’ve heard. Funny, Black didn’t bring any sticks to the gig and the set started once the staff had found him some but, man, can he play.

The crowd was interesting to me and had me wondering where they’d heard about this gig. An eclectic mix of all ages: hipsters, musicians, writers, students and tourists, some no doubt hearing John for the first time (a few of them, baffled by this band’s spirit, darted for the doors in between tunes.) I was happy to bump up against and meet Will Friedwald, one of my favorite writers and the author of the indispensable reference work, “A Biographical Guide To The Great Jazz and Pop Singers,” and did so because the club’s management packed us in like a Tokyo subway car which I found a little dismaying but once the music took off and John coaxed deliriously serpentine phrases from the keys and at lightening quick tempos, you could feel a communal vibe that we all loved what we were hearing. I was so miffed my phone died (Droid Incredible is not really) that I couldn’t snap a shot of the band because they were right there. So you have to settle from this staged shot of John from his newest CD, "Exception To The Rule" on the Criss Cross label:   

Promo shot of
John Escreet.
It makes me smile because Escreet is an unassuming fellow with a great smile and good nature, as likely to show up for a gig in a t-shirt, jeans and Adidas, a ubiquitous pair of headphones clamped around his neck. I can’t wait to see and hear where he goes in the years ahead. His terrific website: www.johnescreet.com

I once felt that if I could be alive at any other point in history, it would be the late 50’s and early 60’s in NYC, so I could have experienced Miles, Trane, Monk, Eric Dolphy and all those guys in small clubs and bars. I don’t feel that way anymore, but I got a sense this night that my experience at 55 Bar was probably what it was like.

BTW, walking back to my hotel I headed down Bleecker Street and there stood Ben Williams, hanging outside the club, so I took two minutes to shower him with compliments about his music and his debut album. His companion recognized my name, recalled my review about “State Of Art,” and she complimented me back. Nice! 

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JAZZ IN SPACE: DARK SKIES BRING BRIGHT JAZZ

Monday, October 3, 2011

DARK SKIES BRING BRIGHT JAZZ


On my way to NYC with this!
I think I saw Valdemort up there.

Dark skies preceded the heavy rains that came last Thursday, September 29, but by late day the storm front moved on and sunshine bathed Manhattan, gently pushing the city into dusk. It was to be a night of jazz gigs for me – a rarity these days – and it all began at La Poussin Rouge on Bleecker Street to attend a concert with saxophonist Marcus Strickland who was celebrating his new double CD, “Triumph Of The Heavy.” Loved D.J. Premiere on the turntables warming up the crowd beforehand, spinning Grover Washington’s original Kudu tracks from the 70’s, along with some  bass and drum grooves. The band hit the stage at 7:30 and here’s the thing: Marcus Strickland is so personable and unpretentious, and once he briefly thanks everyone for coming out, he lays out track after track of beautiful horn sounds. There’s a lot of Wayne Shorter in his sound and style of composing, but Strickland’s songs are infused with the classic soul and jazz of the 70’s as much as the Blue Note’s legacy of great saxophonists. The set was well paced, the band relaxed and was highlighted by a beautiful love song to his girlfriend, “Dawn” and the juiced version of “Mudbone,” a fun song based on the character Richard Pryor would perform in concert. The line up was great and the same as it is on the album: David Bryant on piano (new to me), brother E.J. Strickland on drums and the young Ben Williams, who just released his debut album and play the upright bass with the finesse of Ron Carter and the soul of Motown’s James Jamerson. Special guests included a female tap trio called The Tap Messengers who accompanied the band on a couple tunes, and alto-sax player Jaleel Shaw. Here’s a hard-to-see shot of the gig from my camera.


After this positive set ended, I skipped the after party (although I really wanted to meet and talk to Ben Williams) because I was headed over to the very tiny Bar 55 on Christopher Street for The John Escreet Project. By now, I’ll tell anyone that John’s one of my faves, a brilliant improviser and affecting performer. I rooted myself at the end of bar, right beside the bandstand. Well, not a stand exactly, but a small corner space about 8 x 8 feet that squeezed in John and his electric keyboard, drummer Jim Black, bassist Matt Brewer with Chris Potter on tenor and David Binney on alto saxophone. What a set! Tunes would often start by John extracting sounds from his keys, teasing out sequences that felt right even when it meant hammering at a dead key at the end of the board. He clued his band when he was ready and the group would whip up sturdy grooves, majestic horn passages and some of the most electrifying inventive drumming I’ve heard. Funny, Black didn’t bring any sticks to the gig and the set started once the staff had found him some but, man, can he play.

The crowd was interesting to me and had me wondering where they’d heard about this gig. An eclectic mix of all ages: hipsters, musicians, writers, students and tourists, some no doubt hearing John for the first time (a few of them, baffled by this band’s spirit, darted for the doors in between tunes.) I was happy to bump up against and meet Will Friedwald, one of my favorite writers and the author of the indispensable reference work, “A Biographical Guide To The Great Jazz and Pop Singers,” and did so because the club’s management packed us in like a Tokyo subway car which I found a little dismaying but once the music took off and John coaxed deliriously serpentine phrases from the keys and at lightening quick tempos, you could feel a communal vibe that we all loved what we were hearing. I was so miffed my phone died (Droid Incredible is not really) that I couldn’t snap a shot of the band because they were right there. So you have to settle from this staged shot of John from his newest CD, "Exception To The Rule" on the Criss Cross label:   

Promo shot of
John Escreet.
It makes me smile because Escreet is an unassuming fellow with a great smile and good nature, as likely to show up for a gig in a t-shirt, jeans and Adidas, a ubiquitous pair of headphones clamped around his neck. I can’t wait to see and hear where he goes in the years ahead. His terrific website: www.johnescreet.com

I once felt that if I could be alive at any other point in history, it would be the late 50’s and early 60’s in NYC, so I could have experienced Miles, Trane, Monk, Eric Dolphy and all those guys in small clubs and bars. I don’t feel that way anymore, but I got a sense this night that my experience at 55 Bar was probably what it was like.

BTW, walking back to my hotel I headed down Bleecker Street and there stood Ben Williams, hanging outside the club, so I took two minutes to shower him with compliments about his music and his debut album. His companion recognized my name, recalled my review about “State Of Art,” and she complimented me back. Nice! 

Labels: , , , ,

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