I know I’ve written about jazz before, (https://sometimeinlongislandcity.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/jazz-in-small-spaces/) but I still feel new to it. LIC is blessed with resident musicians, and some who have the misfortune to live elsewhere and come into town to play. I’ve written before about the venues Domaine wine Bar (http://domainewinebar.com/) which I consider to be my university of jazz and wine; and the LIC Bar (licbar.com), to which I must add Manducatis Rustica (www.manducatisrustica.com), a restaurant I have yet to visit but which hosted the LIC Jazz Alliance (http://www.licja.org/) jam session on Saturday Feb 25th. LICJA also have jam sessions at the Domaine every Monday night. You can’t frequent jazz bars for long and remain a jazz virgin!
LIC Bar hosted a jazz evening last Monday, featuring Emily Wolf, (http://www.emilywolfjazz.com) Kat Calvosa (http://www.katcalvosa.com) and The Black Butterflies (www.theblackbutterflies.com) . This was a good, if challenging, mix. I’ve heard Emily before (see Jazz in Small Spaces). She’s an Englishwoman with an American jazz singer for a father and as such her singing comes from a strong tradition of jazz singers whom she will have heard, either live or in recordings. She told us that hearing recordings of Nancy Wilson was a major influence on her embarking on a career as a jazz musician. I like her mix of music, her own material and standards. he standards give us common points of reference and give Emily opportunites to shine through her own arrangements. She varies her performance style in a way that is entertaining but not over the top – suiting the LIC’s intimate atmosphere. She uses scat improvisation very effectively, the voice-as-instrument technique that, I understand, originated with Louis Armstrong. (If you haven’t been, DO go to his house in Corona, Queens, which is now a museum and is just as it was when he lived there, with evocative recordings of him talking – as if he was still there http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/)
Emily Wolf with bass player Danny Weller
A new member of Emily’s band for the night was Leah Gough-Cooper, a graduate of both the New Engkand Conservatory and Berklee College of Music, but originating from the South Eastern part of Scotland. Leah looks younger but plays older than her years. I was very impressed by her easy fluid style, her sense of movement in the music and her great tone. Unlike some sax players, who move around the room a lot, “performing”, Leah just stood there letting the music speak and move for itself. I really want to hear her again, and will have the chance at LIC Bar on March 12th, when she plays with “Human Equivalent” at 9pm.
Emily’s band also included Jason Yeager on keyboard and Matt Rousseau on drums, a fine combination of players that Emily has created!
Emily’s band also included Jason Yeager on keyboard and Matt Rousseau on drums, a fine combination of players that Emily has created!
Emily Wolf and her quartet
I hadn’t heard Kat Calvosa before. Like Emily she presented a mix of compositions and arrangements, including two compositions from her guitarist, Perry Smith. I enjoyed the differences and similarities between her and Emily. I especially enjoyed Kat’s arrangement of one of the greatest, and probably most arranged standards, Nat King Cole’s “A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square”, with the guitar offering chord changes that reminded me of Jimi Hendrix at his most lyrical. Kat has a relaxed confident singing style, once again very suited to a bar/club environment. There was nice interplay between her and the musicians in the band (which also included Ross Pederson on drums and Sam Minaie on bass) and, like Emily, she connected well with the audience.
Kat Calvosa and band at LIC Bar
The third band of the night was a 6 piece group led by Argentinian Mercedes Figueras: “The Black Butterflies”. This was quite different music. I was having an alcohol-free night at the LIC Bar (great fruit cocktails, though from Stephanie behind the bar) and felt that maybe I was missing something when listening to this band’s material. I should have been “on” something to appreciate the trance-like tracks they presented, maybe I needed to listen more intently than I did last thing in the evening. At first I was intrigued: an interesting introduction to the first track played by Tony Larokko on a tiny 5 (?) note zylophone and the smallest balafon (an African zylophone which uses gourds to develop it’s tone) I have ever seen – pentatonic note patterns which the band expanded in a style which said to me “this is going to be music which brings in a great range of musical traditions”. This was an entertaining band to watch as well, especially conga player Bopa “King” Carre and Larokko’s variety of instruments. However, I found that I pulled back from the seemingly random improvisations for which maybe I was not prepared, or “in the mood”. I think this is another kind of jazz that I need to understand more. Check them out for yourself on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj9zw5id4UQ . It’s not that I have closed ears (or I think not, having hosted a World Music Radio show for 8 years), and I’m fine with long raga’s, 5 hour operas, Gamelan concerts or wide extemporisations on the Kora. I need to hear them again.
Mercedes Figueras and Nick Gianni
Virgin Jazz reviews
I’m going to spend a little time now reviewing some CDs, but first an apologia that you can skip if you like.
“What’s this guy doing reviewing Jazz? He doesn’t know his Ornette from his Maynard?” Well that’s true. Since coming to Long Island City I’ve had opportunities to meet, and hear some people who I consider to be really talented and who describe themselves as playing Jazz. Many have been to Jazz school, some more recently than others; some actually teach at Jazz schools, so I guess what they play IS jazz.
I had little exposure to Jazz when growing up, even though my father and his brother were musicians (military band). We didn’t get a proper (i.e. 45 and 33 rpm) record player until I was a teenager, but always had a piano in the house around whcih people would gather at parties and sing everything from “Velia” to (my mother’s party piece) “Stormy Weather”. The latter was probably my only exposure to anything that might be called jazz. British TV and radio didn’t offer much except what in the UK is called “Trad” jazz, played by people like Acker Bilk dressed up in bowler hats and striped waistcoats, with banjos and smiling faces. As a teeneger I became deeply involved in the Blues. This was the time of the British Blues boom. I gave up my piano lessons (I always wanted to change the rhythms of the pieces to something more funky) and took up guitar, queueing for hours to hear Hendrix at the Marquee, Clapton at the club down the road and Peter Green with the only real Fleetwood Mac. Occasionally I might hear some jazz/blues by people like Manfred Mann (especially in their latter “Chapter Three” incarnations) and did actually go to hear people like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, John Dankworth and Cleo Laine on their university circuits. I enjoyed their music but didn’t really understand jazz. As a guitarist I was one of those people who can’t really remember swathes of chords, who prefers to make them up without knowing what they’re called. I’d watch jazz guitarists playing one chord per note, moving up and down the fingerboard and stretching out the fingers in what seemed superhuman chord shapes. “much too hard”, said I, never having had a guitar lesson until middle age.
Over the years I have heard some great jazz artists: Sarah Vaughan, Ornette Coleman (three basses in that band!), Stefan Grappelli as well as other combos that I have come across be accident, and I bought some records and CDs – Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Django Rheinhardt, Duke Ellington etc. Nothing that stretched me, but which I enjoyed and appreciated as very different music than the blues I had grown up with; music that I increasingly recognised as being as complex and skill-requiring as the classical music that is my frequent companion (now don’t get me talking about that!).
So here I end up in Long Island City with two venues that regularly feature jazz (LIC Bar and the Domaine wine bar) and I go along and find that I am starting to really get into this music, not everything mind; but it’s not just the music but also the people, the players whom I photograph and talk to. Some even live down the road! I’ve even been to a jazz club (Jazz Standard’s Mingus Dynasty) in Manhattan and heard music that knocked my socks off (where on earth does than phrase come from?), I end up listening to jazzers live and bringing their CDs home, three of which will be the subject of this blog post.
Two of the people that I have seen most around here are Sam Trapchak (bass) and Christian Coleman (drums). I suppose if anyone has turned me onto local jazz it’s these two. There is something about this combination that allows me to get inside the music and appreciate where it’s going. Not technically, but intuitively and emotionally. I’ve heard these two in combination with a range of other players – Broc Hempel – (what a skilled keyboard man he is), Greg Ward (man he’s so talented, his sax will take him to the top one day), local sax player Martin Kelley (a skilled musician and teacher), Anthony Cekay and many talented others!
Both Sam and Christian have CD’s out at the moment, featuring them playing with other musicians and not each other. I’ve also come home with an album from Tammy Scheffer, a singer of great accuracy and flexibility. Whether I’m considered credible enough to review these I will leave to you, the Blogabond (I asked some friends for words to describe you, and that was one suggestion – the other was “Bloggard” but I think that probably better describes me).
I’ve talked about Tammy Scheffer before (see my “Jazz in small spaces” blog post) and you’ll know how I was impressed by her singing and musicianship in live performance. Tammy hails from Belgium via Israel and is a graduate of the New England Conservatory. Her debut CD “Wake up Fall Asleep” features 9 of her original compositions and arrangements for sextet which consists of Andrew Urbina– alto sax, Steve Pardo– tenor sax,Chris Ziemba– piano, Brad Barrett– bass and Ronen Itzik– drums.
Tammy’s style, which involves much wordless singing reminds me of medieval and renaissance music where the singers’ vocal abilities are used to not just express lyrics but also to express the music through variation of sound and rhythm. Music before the 18th century was often meant as a basis for improvisation by singers and instrumentalists, who developed their music skills in learning contexts where this was expected, much like jazz is today and in folk music traditions around the world. Good examples of this can be heard in recordings by that pioneer of the early music revival, David Munrow (who blew his recorders, crumhorns and cornamuses like a jazzman) and the group L’ Arpeggiatta, appearing at Carnegie Hall in March. I’m also reminded of the vocal interpretations of classical music (especially Bach) presented by the “Swingle Singers” in the 60s and 70s. It would be great to discover whether Jazz schools might also offer studies which place the jazz improvisational tradition with the contexts of both World and European “art” music.
Tammy’s voice is the lead instrument of her sextet; sometimes she’ll use it to sing words but mostly it’s wordless vocalisations of intricate runs, arpeggios and decorations around the melodies, some of which appear to derive from her Hebrew/Israeli heritage (one song , “Home is where my laptop is” includes a quote from “Nama Yafo”). I’m not sure Tammy’s singing is technically “scat”, which I understand to mean improvised wordless singing. I think that Tammy’s music is a mix of improvisation and music that she has written specifically to sing without words.
In “Kum, Shan” (“Wake up, Fall Asleep” Tammy sings Hebrew words which she uses to form the base of her voice-as-instrument extensions of the melodies. A slow hauntingly beautiful melody moves into some more highly charged sax playing before easing off with Tammy’s voice, like a bird flying into the mists. You can see a video of her performing this at the Shrine NYC on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_lbf7GPiUc
I particularly enjoyed “Hakol Yihiye Beseder (Everything’s going to be just fine)”, which starts off with some nice piano from Chris Ziemba before Tammy comes in with some very easy-feeling vocalising, the rest of the band sitting gently in the background. Yes, you really do feel as if everything’s going to be just fine. A good track to end the album.
This is an album which grows well on repeated hearing. I now prefer to listen to one track at a time, with space between to digest and feel that sense of peace which arises well from Tammy’s singing and the band’s playing. You can download or buy the CD from http://www.tammyscheffer.com/ .
The album “Lollipopocalypse” (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/samtrapchak), from Sam Trapchak‘s “Put Together Funny” contains the one piece that opened my eyes to jazz here in LIC, Sam’s composition “Precious View”. I first heard this played by the Trapchak, (Broc) Hempel, (Christian) Coleman Trio at the Domaine Wine Bar on one of my first visits there. The band on the album here consists of Sam Trapchak on bass, Greg Ward on alto sax, guitarist Tom Chang, and Arthur Vint on drums, so we get a different arrangement, with sax rather than Hempel’s keyboard. I love this piece’s early unsettling meandering around rhythm and time signatures with a catchy riff which is picked up on soloing bass and then smoothing out into more regular melodic solo, (on the album here from Greg Ward’s meticulous soulful alto, riding over the continuingly unsettled rhythm section ). It made so much sense to my untutored ears, I don’t know why, technically, but it did make sense and it is oddly moving.
Precious View doesn’t showpiece the guitar playing of Tom Chang. His musical background apparently includes heavy rock and sometimes you can hear this in solos that take me back to 60’s and 70’s rock/jazz (Zappa especially, but also oddly the Paul Butterfield band’s “East West” experiment; long tracks with “oriental” improvisations). I particularly liked Chang’s composition “On the Cusp of Cancer”; a driving track which allows guitar and sax to snake around and blow the dust from the lightshades.
Five of the seven tracks on Lollipocalypse written by Sam Trapchak and the other two (On the Cusp of Cancer and Tongue and Groove) by Tom Chang. The title track “Lollipocalypse” is a game of two halves, just when you think you are swinging along with nice soaring sax adventures in comes Chang’s screeching chords and jagged edges to push you to the edge of your bar stool and threaten your ability to remain sane, and upright.
This is an album which entertains; it’s interesting, occasionally exhausting and sometimes moving. It stands repeated hearing, not because the tracks are easy listening but because you’ll hear something new every time, such is the variety in the writing and the virtuousity of the players.
The Christian Coleman‘s Trio’s “Pigments” album features Christian on drums, Gavin Ahearn on piano, and Matt Gruebner on bass, with Australian Dale Barlow guesting on Tenor sax. (It’s coming soon to iTunes and cdbaby, in the meantime check out some earlier recordings on http://www.myspace.com/christiancolemandrums, which include Ahearn, together with Chris Riggenbach bass and Mike Dopazo on sax). Three of the four players (Coleman (7 tracks), Ahearn (2) and Gruebner (1) take writing credits in what is, to my ears, more of a mainstream album than Lollipocalypse. It’s Coleman’s drums and Ahearn’s piano that are the stars on this album. Just listen to Coleman’s intricate patterns that dance around the melodies, enhancing the other’s playing – the soloist at the back, a jester and magician painting the stars in the sky and weaving fine webs of percussive lacework around tunes for which he has taken such an important role as writer and leader.
My impressions on having heard this album all the way through on a few occasions is that I occasionally wanted the band to let go a bit more. I liked it better late at night at home, when I don’t need music to lift my energy levels. The second track, “5th Street Stoop”, starts to swing part way through, and then falls back to a lazy style which suits the music.
I particularly liked the piano playing of Gavin Ahearn – fluid and sharply articulated. His composition “If you were then” is one of my favourite tracks on the album, based around a memorable melody fragment that consists of almost chiming chords. His other composition “Zelenec” is also enjoyable. bass player Matt Gruebner’s single contribution to the writing credits here, “Sere“, is an enjoyable piece that starts with Coleman’s brushes sounding like artful sandpaper on a sailor’s 5 day beard. The a single line piano enters with melody decorated nicely with Gruebner’s bass line and more from Coleman’s exquisite technique.
In fact I have begun listening to this album wondering if I can discern a difference in the way that a drummer writes in comparison to a pianist and a bass player, after all the music of the classical composer Berlioz (a violinist, not a keyboard player but a genius in orchestration) is noticably different to his contemporaries, who would have often written using a piano. Do percussionists think more in rhythms and sound colours; do single line instrumentalists think more in single melodic lines whilst chordal players use harmonies and polyphonic ideas more? This would take further listening and is an example of how my introductions to jazz at the Domaine Bar University of jazz and wine are leading me in interesting directions.
Dale Barlow plays on six of the ten tracks. I thought his tenor playing was well articulated and artful. I found, though, that I wanted to hear more adventure from him. It’s as if, when playing this music, he had to play obediently. Maybe this is something about recording jazz, a music which is part improvisational and part written; so when you are laying down a track do you hold back in a way that you wouldn’t in a live performance?
Lastly hats off to Christian Coleman for an interesting album with great playing that deserves concentrated listening; yet it also stands in the background at dinner party or social gathering where people want to talk with a smooth jazz background.
Well, congratulations on getting this far down what has been a long blog post. PLEASE comment – I’d love some feedback.