Daily Archives: April 19, 2008

RANDY SANDKE, DOWNTOWN

This notice should be all anyone needs, but if you don’t know about Randy’s many deep talents, here’s a quick primer.  He’s one of those rare musicians who moves easily from Bix Beiderbecke to free-thinking modern classical composing and playing without strain or artificiality.  His CDs on the Evening Star label, including THE SUBWAY BALLET, THE MYSTIC TRUMPETER, and one pairing him with an ensemble of ancient viols and Bill Charlap (!) testify to his boundless creativity and ability to create beauty that always surprises.


Friday, April 25, 2008

HARLEM IN THE HIMALAYAS
Performer: Randy Sandke, Trumpet
7:00 pm | Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th Street
Box Office: 212.620.5000 ext. 344
$18 in advance | $20 at door

JUDY CARMICHAEL STRIDES AWAY

The Beloved and I went to Olga Bloom’s “Bargemusic” last Thursday to hear the ebullient stride pianist Judy Carmichael and her trio — with sterling fellows Jon-Erik Kellso and Chris Flory — and the barge wasn’t the only thing a-rockin’. I’ll be writing up that concert for Jazz Improv (www.jazzimprov.com), but take that opening sentence as a preview.

Judy’s new CD, SOUTHERN SWING, just out, pairs her with two like-minded Australian stars, cornetist Stephen Grant and guitarist John Scurry, at the 2007 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz. It presents her set at the festival as it occurred, and the results are cheering. Judy offers a bouncy, streamlined version of many of Fats Waller’s most famous pianistic motifs. Her rhythm is energetic, her pleasure in what she is doing comes through wholly. Catch her bell-like solo passages late in “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” quite moving in their patient simplicity, her willingness to let the piano ring out. Some of Judy’s pleasure, however, comes through in her chatty banter between numbers: the band is so rewarding that I would have traded much of the banter for one or two more songs.

I knew Stephen Grant and John Scurry from hearing them on the CDs recorded live at cornetist Bob Barnard’s annual jazz parties. Scurry I was accustomed to as a limber single-string soloist and rhythm player: here, he offers acoustic chordal solos, heartening suggestions of players like Bernard Addison and Carmen Mastren. Grant is even more astonishing: he appears at the Barnard parties as a pianist — one so splendid that I found myself listening to ensemble passages to hear his uplifting Jess Stacy – Teddy Wilson lines. Here — damn him for being so excessively talented — he shows off his heartfelt, loose-limbed cornet playing. It sounds simple, but every note is perfectly placed, his tone is quietly burnished. Like Scurry, he’s absorbed the great players but isn’t imitating them: a listener catches an annunciatory Joe Thomas arpeggio or a Buck Clayton epigram, but it’s all Grant.  (I also learned that Grant’s talents extend beyond straight-ahead jazz, and that he has recorded on accordion and saxophone.  Highly envy-provoking, I must say.)

The trio creates some very pleasing moments of improvised synergy — the riffs that close the Wilson-Holiday inspired “If Dreams Come True,” the pretty Grant-Scurry duet on “Crazy He Calls Me,” and the mournful yet swinging “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” suggesting a Basie small group after hours, taking its time.

Visit www.judycarmichael.com to purchase this and other CDs, to see Judy with an alligator on her lap, as well as a ckip of her sextet (featuring Kellso and Michael Hashim) on Brazillian television. For CDs recorded at Bob Barnard’s Jazz Parties from 1999 on, don’t miss www.rockyotway.com.

MODERN MASTERS: SACHA PERRY, GRANT STEWART

Since many of the jazz musicians I revere are now dead, my musical immersions have a touch of necrology: this, I say, to someone, is the last recording ever made by Kid Lemon’s Happy Pals before the fatal club fire. Art blends with mourning and mortality — we can never hear Charlie Christian alive again! — to intensify the beauty of the music and our feeling of loss.

So it is both a pleasure and our responsibility to praise the living while they are still with us. The living, in this case, are pianist Sacha Perry and tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart, both often found playing at the darkly congenial Greenwich Village jazz club Smalls.

But my subject is two performances, found on separate CDs, less than fifteen minutes of music of a rare intensity: Perry’s trio exploration of the Depression lament, “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime”?” and Stewart’s “You’re My Thrill.”

Perry’s trio session (where he is joined by bassist Ari Roland and drummer Phil Stewart) came out on Not Brand X (Smalls Records srcd-0022). Perry has composed and recorded many originals, but this CD is devoted to standards by Porter, Rodgers, Gershwin. But these aren’t the same old jazz tunes-to-blow-on, nor are they treated in formulaic ways. “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” was a song rooted in a deep social awareness — Yip Harburg’s lyrics spring from the pageant of World War One veterans who were destitute in the early Thirties — and Jay Gorney’s strong melody verges on the operatic, as in Bing Crosby’s contemporaneous version, powerful and sad.

Perry takes this song at a properly elegiac tempo, reharmonizing its simple chords into granitic blocks, dense, weighty, and mournful. It becomes both dirge and angry protest: how could you have abandoned us? There are hints of Herbie Nichols, but Perry is blazing new trails, creating an intensely moving performance, serious, nearly grief-stricken.

Dark beauty of another kind comes through from the first notes of Grant Stewart’s “You’re My Thrill,” from his new CD, Young At Heart (Sharp Nine 1041), where he is joined by Tardo Hammer, Peter Washington, and Joe Farnsworth. Most listeners associate this song with Billie Holiday’s late-Forties Decca recording (I was astonished to learn that the song was written in 1933, also by Jay Gorney — are we on the verge of a Gorney renaissance? It wouldn’t be a bad idea: Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, and Ruby Braff did great things with another Gorney song with a political edge, “It’s The Same Old South.”)

I heard this performance — without knowing the players — coming through my car radio while I was on my way to work — courtesy of WKCR’s longtime Tuesday “Daybreak Express” man, Sid Gribetz, the latter-day Symphony Sid. It held me spellbound, or as spellbound as I could be without driving off the road. Stewart takes the song at a steady slow pace, from his rubato duet with pianist Hammer, creating something that is half paean, half prayer. His tone is mahogany and port wine; his timbre is deep-hued fabric, passionate and rich. And he refuses to rush: he lingers over his notes — in a way that suggests a combination of Ben Webster and Pablo Casals.

Both of these performances are music to marvel at, music to savor. Bless Perry and Stewart: may they continue to create masterpieces that can stop listeners in their tracks in astonished surprise and joy.

As an aside: Grant’s CD has the additional boon of fine straightforward notes by writer Marc Myers. If you haven’t visited his blog, JazzWax, where he writes about a jazz record –78 to CD — every blessed day, you have missed out on a real pleasure. He’s also interviewed many of the great masters (Sonny Rollins, Ron Carter!) in addition.

JAZZ SCORE: MUSEUM OF MODERN ART FILMS (April 17 – September 15, 2008)

Jazz and film seem to be meant for each other, if only because musicians are such unaffected dramatic creatures when playing or singing. The two art forms first met in the late Twenties where, when the script had characters go into a nightclub, a hot band was playing, as part of the nocturnal anything-goes ambiance. Later, jazz fanciers peered with religious devotion at the uncredited band, visible only for seconds at a time. Was that trumpet player Freddie Jenkins ( a sublime possibility) or just an actor miming to a pre-recorded soundtrack? There were also the Star Turns — Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, in their paper-thin biography, The Fabulous Dorseys, go “uptown” to a club where Art Tatum is playing, and, out of nowhere, Charlie Barnet and other big-name bandleaders materialize to join Art on a blues. Silly stuff, but it adds a precious few minutes to our visual memories of Tatum, caught in a dimension beyond pure sound.

A full understanding of what jazz could bring to films that had nothing to do with nightlife or musicians had to wait some decades, but this rewarding marriage of art forms has been alive and well for more than fifty years now. The Museum of Modern Art is hosting a lengthy exhibition of these films — among them, some particularly satisfying and well-known examples of the genre: Mickey One, dir. Arthur Penn, music by Eddie Sauter and Stan Getz; Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows), dir. Louis Malle, music by Miles Davis; Paris Blues, dir. Martin Ritt, featuring Duke and Louis; Anatomy of A Murder, dir Preminger, feat. Duke; Odds Against Tomorrow, dir. Robert Wise, music by John Lewis, performed by the MJQ and Bill Evans; I Want To Live!, dir. Wise, music by Johnny Mandel . . . as well as rarer Japanese films, Robert Frank’s OK End Here, a short film with music by Ornette Coleman, and films with music by Blakey, Roach, Benny Carter, David Amram, Mal Waldron, Teo MaceroHerbie Hancock, Lalo Schifrin, and more.

Visit http://www/moma.org/exhibitions/exhibitions.php?id=8162 for a full schedule of screenings and ticket information. If you’ve never been there for just this purpose, MOMA is a wonderful place to see films, and your admission ticket to the museum buys you a seat. So you can have your fill of a multiplicity of modern arts. (The Beloved and I spent a happy afternoon there, some months ago, watching the only film footage — silent, alas! — of Bert Williams.)