Monday, May 14, 2012

Across the Spectrums Live & Recorded

Friday May 18th marks the 9th appearance of guitarist Mary Halvorson at Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven (only the 2nd as a leader - her quintet first appeared here in December of 2009.) She returns as one of the bigger attractions in creative music, known for her work with various ensembles led by  Professor Anthony Braxton as well as with Jessica Pavone, Taylor Ho Bynum, Myra Melford, Matana Roberts and others.

Her Quintet - Jon Irabagon (alto saxophone), Jonathan Findlayson (trumpet), Stephan Crump (bass, subbing for John Hébert) and Ches Smith (drums) - is adept at negotiating the various twists-and-turns that Ms. Halvorson creates for them.  Hers is music that shouts, screams, whispers, rocks, caresses, frolics and goes in unexpected directions, often within the song.  This New Haven gig celebrates the release of "Bending Bridges" (Firehouse 12 Records), an exciting recording that jumps out at the listener from the opening moments.  "Sinks When She Rounds The Bend (No. 22)" has a theme with melody lines for the trumpet and saxophone with a guitar counterpoint.  Smith's conversational drums offer a 3rd counterpoint as the piece builds, erupting after the bass solo with distorted guitar driving up the intensity level.  There is a "pop" feel to the opening rhythms of "Hemorrhaging Smiles (No 25)"that quickly give way solo sections for the rollicking Irabagon, melodic Findlayson and, later in the song, a fine trio-logue between guitar, bass and drums.  One of the finer aspects of this music is how seamlessly any and all influences are woven into the fabric of the tunes. The trio track (no sax or trumpet)  "Deformed Weight of Hands (No. 28)" sounds like James "Blood" Ulmer blended with Henry Threadgill and a dab of Captain Beefheart thrown in.  This music may not "swing" in conventional but the forward motion is, at times, irresistible.  Tempos rarely stay constant through the songs; yet, when Smith and Hébert lock into a groove (like they do on "All the Clocks (No 29)", the music soars even more. Even the ballad "That Old Sound (No. 27)" (another trio track) has amazing tension and intensity.

As one can clearly hear on "Bending Bridges", Mary Halvorson's music continues to evolve, growing in unexpected and delightful directions, an aural delight for fans of adventurous jazz.  In person, the music is even more intense, more visceral, surprising and challenging.  The Quintet plays 2 sets at Firehouse - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for tickets, call 203-785-0468 or online at (where you can listen to excerpts from the CDs.)

Vibraphonist Joe Locke and pianist Geoffrey Keezer have worked together on a number of projects over the past decade, none more exciting than their quartet with bassist Mike Pope and drummer Terreon Gully.  "Signing" (Motema) is this band's 2nd CD;  powered by the mighty Gully and underpinned by Pope's burbling and thick-toned bass, the music soars and swoops, at times stopping to take its musical breath with melodic ballads such as their version of Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek." Keezer's piano work is full of melody, rhythmically sharp, with delightful solos and intelligent accompaniment.  Over the course of his career, Locke has played in many different settings, from duo with Frank Kimbrough to larger group settings.  He also writes fine melodies, creates smart arrangements and is a knock-out soloist.

Among the highlights is the fine re-arrangement of John Coltrane's "Naima".  Originally arranged for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, the voicings translate well to the quartet setting (Keezer's chordal work behind Locke is full and melodic while his solo is moves artfully between chords and single-note runs.)  A strong gospel/soul music influence can be detected on the lovely Locke composition "This Is Just to Say" - the rhythm section plays so calmly, Keezer's keys fill the background and Locke creates a lovely melody, then a fine solo.

On the uptempo pieces, the rhythms section is equally impressive. Gully gets into the groove on "Darth Alexis" opening up the possibilities for Pope to really create counterpoint beneath the soloists.  It's fun to hear the bassist and Keezer's left hand patrol the lower end.  On the title track, Keezer's ringing piano chords float atop and then alongside the bass lines. 

Most apparent from the opening moments through to the quiet finish, "Signing" is a group recording. Yes, the compositions and arrangements are top-notch but it's the interactions throughout that truly make this CD shine.  For more information, go to

Here we go, another recording of music by Thelonious Monk.  Yet, do not ignore "The Baddest Monk" (Savant Records), the latest release from pianist Eric Reed.  Yes, there are tunes here a true jazz fan has probably heard a hundred or more times; still, I would not hesitate to whole-heartedly recommend this gem of a CD. First of all, there's the rhythm section of Matt Clohesy (bass) and Henry Cole (drums) - they are not only supportive but fine soloists and really good listeners.  Second, the front line consists of Seamus Blake (tenor saxophone) and Etienne Charles (trumpet). The blend of Blake's sweet yet muscular tenor with Charles' crisp, clear tones is a treat on the tracks on they are appear.   Third, Eric Reed's arrangements and inspired piano playing is a delight throughout. There's more than a hint of New Orleans on several tracks, including the opening "Rhythm-A-Ning". The structure allows for short statements by Blake and Charles that cap off each verse of the piano solo. Reed's original "Monk Beurre Rouge" blends the Crescent City feel with lines from several Monk tunes for a sweet. slow, blues (fine solos from Clohesy and Blake).  Cole and Reed do a delicious dance on "Green Chimneys" with Clohesy moving in and around their conversations.  Those joyous interactions carry over to another trio hit, "Evidence", which swings with intensity with a fine Cole solo.

Right in the middle of the program, Reed and guest vocalist Jose James create a smoky version of "'Round Midnight." This version sounds influenced by Gershwin's "Summertime" but the interplay of James' voice with the piano is impressive and Reed's solo (without a steady rhythm hand until near the end) stands out.

None of these players treats this music as museum pieces.  In fact, in Eric Reed and company's hands, Thelonious Monk's compositions sound fresh and downright fun. For more information, go to   

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much Richard, from Joe Locke and I, for the very well conceived and written review!


    Tom Marcello
    Manager / Joe Locke