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Category: What I heard

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The news is almost too dire to contemplate. Clubs and bars closing. Venues shuttering. The nation’s largest performing arts organization, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, is laying-off its union workers. On the jazz side of things where almost everyone is a freelancer without the protection of a contract, things are even more dire. Could the news get any worse?

Yet even at this darkest hour, it seems there is a possibility of hope.

Bandcamp, a digital music sales and streaming platform, announced that tomorrow, March 20, it will forgo collecting its share of revenue, typically 15 percent, from sales on the site. This is a laudable gesture, and a necessary one considering that most jazz artists have few other sources of revenue at the moment (don’t get me started about streaming, which pays even top-charting pop artists fractions of pennies per stream).

So now–or from 12 a.m. PDT tonight to 12 a.m. PDT tomorrow–load up on the notable releases below and whatever else you might want. You’ll be the artists a great service and stocking up on great music for those long hours at home.

  • Tyshawn Sorey: Unfiltered  A majestic new CD that’s only available on Bandcamp and, at $15 for 125 minutes of incandescent music, might be your entertainment bargain of the season. Watch for my review on Friday.
  • Chris Dingman: Embrace A record with a back story that’s almost as compelling as the music
  • The Necks: Three  A hypnotically engrossing new outing from the venerable Australian sound wizards
  • Jeff Parker: Suite for Max Brown Chicago’s old pro guitarist for all seasons catches the fresh vibe of his International Anthem labelmates

And if you find music that you want to talk about, the comments are open below.

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Reviewing La Tanya Hall and the Unison Trio at Bop Stop, 12-20-2019

There’s a moment in every great jazz set where everything falls together, magically, like a platonic ideal of a Tetris game, and the music becomes effortlessly self-generating. That moment came at the midpoint of “Pensativa,” during the first set by vocalist La Tanya Hall and the Unison Trio last night at Cleveland’s Bop Stop.

It’s not like you couldn’t hear it coming (and it wasn’t the high point of the show, but more about that in a moment). Pianist Andy Milne’s solo was sparkling and full of piquant harmonic asides, but when bassist John Hébert walked four and drummer Clarence Penn shifted from an airy but emphatic “Poinciana” beat into classic tipping rhythm, well, the band levitated.

You wouldn’t expect much less with musicians of that reputation and caliber. Hall might not be as well known, but she should be. With poised assurance, she delivered ten songs, nine of them from her excellent new CD, “Say Yes” and a ringer, a lovely, imaginative arrangement of the ancient Christmas carol “We Three Kings.”

There was one standard, “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” and it was delivered as an encore with hushed concentration. Most of the selections came from jazz, a pair of Monk tunes, “Pannonica” and a sassy “Well You Needn’t” that was enlivened by Penn’s NOLA second-line beat. Hall also seduced the audience with a playful “Jitterbug Waltz” where she and Milne, her husband, played will-they-or-won’t-they with the beat during an extended tag on the words “come on.” And that’s just what it was: a come-on, and a delightful one.

But among Waller, Monk, Clare Fischer, Benny Golson and other luminaries, composer’s pride of place went to Joni Mitchell, whose “The Fiddle and the Drum” received a cinematic reading of quietly devastating power. Milne, who presumably did the arrangement, opened by “bowing” a single piano string while Hébert added spooky arco shudders. Penn’s muffled snare tattoos sounded from the eerie quiet of a battlefield at night. Hall intoned Mitchell’s questioning lyrics with an earnestness touched by sadness and launched a phantasmagoric, PTSD flashback of a piano solo by Milne on the words “and so once again” that only returned to the harmony, like a wounded soldier to consciousness, on the final line.

This was music made by and for adults, unafraid of mastery and aware of its own integrity. It was everyone’s idea of what a jazz vocal performance should be, and it was so much more. Hall teaches at nearby Oberlin and should return just as soon as she and the trio can get some new material together. Rumor has it that the trio without Hall will return to support a spring release of a new record on Sunnyside. Like last evening’s show, it promises musicmaking on an Olympian level.

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Mara Rosenbloom’s Flyways at Mercyhurst University

For years I’ve been jealous of accounts by new York music fans of buzzing from one venue to another, taking in multiple noteworthy performances in the same evening. It’s a little harder to do in flyover country, but not impossible, as Sunday proved.

First up was an afternoon performance by pianist Mara Rosenbloom’s Flyways in Mercyhurst University’s Walker Recital Hall. This band’s signature project has been a setting of the second of Adrienne Rich’s 21 Love Poems, and this 40-minute work comprised the band’s first set. A dreamy evocation of awakening to a lover, the poem is part of a cycle that limns the exertions of a relationship that is not supported by the community.

Flyways, Mara Rosembloom, Sean COnly, Anaïs MavielThat struggle was not audible in the drowsy, pensive washes of Debussy-ian piano that opened the work, nor in vocalist Anaïs Maviel‘s pure, rapt soprano. Maviel unfurled ribbons of sound to open the work, but mallets on her muted drum brought a distant thunderstorm to the bedroom window of the two lovers. Gathering darkness swirled around Rosenbloom’s piano and gathered into a whirling, ostinato figure on the line “I’ve been writing for days.” Accompanied by taps on a singing bowl inverted on Maviel’s drum, the passage vividly described another sort of exertion: the agony of creation.

I’m hardly objective, but the alternating mania and doubt attending to the creative process, seemed to be the point of the poem, and it brought forth Rosenbloom’s most evocative music. The work, which has been recorded for imminent release by Fresh Sound/New Talent, alternated short paragraphs of written music that leapt into improvisation. Moods alternated, too, and as the poem’s thoughts returned to the lover, the clouds cleared and the music, commented on by Sean Conly‘s gentle and supportive bass commentary, dissolved into a reverie, with quiet humming by Maviel.

The final line, “To move openly is not simple,” might have been a statement of intent for Flyways’ music, which was almost shockingly open and intimate. Though the sound was far from jazz, the extraordinary level of communal listening and intuitive response brought the audience to the edge of the  lovers’ bed.

This is bravely uncompromising music, not the kind of stuff we get to hear in Erie, Pennsylvania. It’s also not the sort of mainstream fare that JazzErie usually presents. With perhaps 25 people in the audience, it’s not likely to be heard again, but if a service organization such as JazzErie won’t take this sort of chance, who will? To move openly is not simple.

Anaïs MavielThere was a second set, and it opened with what Rosenbloom described as a premiere of new music the band is working on.  It was a blues-soaked, ostinato-driven piece that blazed as much as the first set shimmered.  Again, the text was by Rich, the third poem from her “Origins and History of Consciousness.” Another interrogation of relationships, this time, a furtive one, the poem gave Maviel a chance to soar with improvisations in her highest register. Conly, subbing for Flyways’ regular bassist, Rahsaan Carter,  plucked strong, woody notes in the intensely rhythmic piece, while the leader’s piano turned out churning rhythmic figures alternating with rhapsodic interludes that invoked the way her teachers, Cooper-Moore and Connie Crothers are alternately rooted in the earth and dreamily evocative.

There was more, but I couldn’t stay to hear it.  I had another concert to make that night, and it was more than a subway ride away.

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