Songs for Barbès

Here’s something fun: New York City venue Barbès posted a month’s worth of video performances from musicians, little love notes to celebrate the bar’s 18th birthday (on May 1, 2020) and maybe draw a little attention to the Barbès fundraiser.

A jewel of Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, Barbès hosts a lot of music that would land in the “world” category. Eastern European or Latin American or African, traditional or modern, folky or jazzy or even classical — every permutation seems to come up. They also host frequent shows out of New York’s avant-jazz scene, which is how I got introduced. The bar is a tight squeeze on a crowded Saturday night, but it’s a cozy, welcoming spot, and for my friends who lived in that neighborhood for a few years, it was an anchor.

The homemade videos are all sheltered-in-place and often charming, sometimes including spoken well-wishes to Barbès. Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey (who I believe are married) stitched together two improvisations for their four-minute tribute.

Jenny Scheinman, who was part of the early-’00s Bay Area scene, plays a friendly “Little Calypso” on violin. It still amazes me how much sound a violin can produce with so little actual motion.

The New Mellow Edwards, a quartet led by trombonist Curtis Hasselbring, recorded separately to produce their piece. Watch bassist Trevor Dunn — the look he gives to camera at the end is perfect.

Ben Monder contributes “Never Let Me Go.” The first comment on the YouTube page refers to Monder’s “impossible” playing, which to me is the perfect word. I’m impressed with the harmonic vocabulary of jazz guitarists in particular, but Monder is other-dimension-ly — I’m thinking especially of the gorgeous, baffling, dense chording on parts of his 1998 trio album Flux (with Drew Gress on bass on Jim Black on drums).

Finally, the ensemble called Anbessa Orchestra made a slickly edited video of their song “Lions.”

And so on. There are a few dozen videos stacked up on Barbès’ YouTube site, and they went along with a GoFundMe campaign that was successful but could still use a little more love.

Cline 4

Nels Cline 4Currents, Constellations (Blue Note, 2018)

NelsCline4_CurrentsConstellations_cover-1520399761-640x640Guitarist Nels Cline has an earlier Blue Note release, Lovers, but Currents, Constellations feels like his first “official” Blue Note record. Maybe it’s because Lovers was such a specific project — mostly covers, many from the outer radii of jazz (Annette Peacock, Jimmy Giuffre) and at least one from another orbit entirely (Sonic Youth). Maybe it’s just the album artwork, which reminds me of Bobby Hutcherson’s final album, Enjoy the View.

Or maybe it’s because this is a working band, a quartet performing Cline originals. It’s also got a jazz feel — which has always been part of Cline’s playbook but usually gets alternated with other musical influences, as on the Nels Cline Singers albums.

That’s not to say Cline has gone traditional. His jazz comes with a spiky touch — glittering gems with pointy edges. Take “Imperfect 10,” the preview single that was available a few weeks ago. It’s relatable despite the time signature, and you can tell they had fun playing it — a good track to make a video out of.

 
The quartet pairs Cline with guitarist Julian Lage and a sharp rhythm section of Scott Colley (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). The music includes nice flurries of adept guitar fretwork, but it isn’t a “guitar hero” album. Everything is done in service to the overall mood, which is often swingy and driven.

“Furtive” opens the album with a sprint, a rapid-fire Colley background as Rainey sets a snappy mood and both guitarists dive quickly into improvising mode. “Amenette” opens with a burst of ’60s-style progressive jazz that leads into some cool-handed soloing with a wide-open feel but still one foot in the jazz realm.

“Swing Ghost ’59” touches on western-style swing, a nod even further back than you’d expect but an understandable move given Cline’s broad palette. It breaks down into a darting group improv — so, the song starts with one of the album’s most “inside” moods and hits on its most “outside” moments.

“As Close As That” is a slow one, not quite a ballad. Its creeping 6/8 melody sprinkles moments of darkness but leads to a charming ascending-chord sequence. “River Mouth” starts out placid and pleasing, then leads into a springy and airy mood. For the jazz fan that has trouble with Cline’s pointy edges, this track would be a good place to start.

Phillip Greenlief in NYC

If you’re reading this and you’re in New York or Philadelphia, take note. Phillip Greenlief is coming to your town.

(If you’re in the Bay Area and you’re reading this — you can see Greenlief and The Lost Trio every Monday night, free, at Kingman’s Ivy Room, in Albany right near Berkeley. Except the next couple of Mondays because, hey guess what, he’s coming to New York and Philadephia.)

A highlight of the east-coast swing will be Greenlief playing with bassist Trevor Dunn. Think of it as a 14-years-later celebration of the duet album they put out on Greenlief’s Evander Music label, back when Dunn lived in the Bay Area. Actually, their promo slogan for the upcoming shows is “17 years in the making,” so they’re counting back even further.

The itinerary:

* Oct. 31 at Downtown Music Gallery. With Tim Perkis. Um, yeah, you already missed this one.  There’s a reason I don’t bill this site as a news site.

* Nov. 2 — at Konceptions at Korzo with an NYC trio: Angelica Sanchez (piano), Trevor Dunn (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums). 667 5th Ave. (btw 19th and 20th), Brooklyn.

* Nov. 3 — at Barbes, duo with Trevor Dunn.  376 9th St. at 6th, Park Slope, Brooklyn.

* Nov. 4 — in Philadelphia: Duo with Trevor Dunn. Also appearing: The Zs (2 guitars, percussion, sax).  Presented by Ars Nova Workshop at Kung Fu Necktie, 1248 North Front St.

* Nov. 5 — at 295 Douglass, Brooklyn, with Jen Baker (trombone) and Matt Ostrowski (electronics). More about Baker’s solo album here.

* Nov. 6 — at iBeam. Trio with Angelica Sanchez (piano) and Tom Rainey (drums). What a cool way to end the tour. 168 7th St., Brooklyn.

You can see it all at the Transbay Calendar — scroll down to “Events Outside the Bay Area.”

Tom Rainey Takes the Lead

Tom Rainey TrioPool School (Clean Feed, 2010)

For the amount of work Tom Rainey has done, the sheer number of big-name players he’s backed up — Tim Berne and Tony Malaby, yes, but also more mainstream work with Fred Hirsch (a 1992 standards LP) or Mark Feldman (on an ECM-recorded, non-Zorn like date) — it’s nice to see him listed as the leader on a CD.

Not that it has to be that way, but when someone’s put together a solid body of work, it’s good to have a CD with their own name as a landmark, something you can point to in appreciation of what they’ve done.  The trio isn’t a vehicle for Rainey compositions, though; it’s an all-improv session with two strong musical personalities: saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and guitarist Mary Halvorson.

The session stands out for its quirky personality. There’s an edgy, sour-toned aesthetic that Halvorson brings to the group and that Laubrock and Rainey successfully play off of.  It does not have the feel of improvised jazz — that is, the shapes, motifs, and drum patterns you’d associate with free jazz. But the sound is also distinct from many other free improv recordings; it flourishes with strange, dissonant non-jazz chords and a sense of melody gone askew.

Laubrock and Halvorson are willing to follow each other off the rails. That makes for a rougher-edged session than Sleepthief, the trio album with Labrock, Rainey, and pianist Liam Noble. Sleepthief was plenty adventurous — check the piano sweeps and skronky abandon in “Environmental Stud” — but its milieu was mostly crystalline piano against colorful sax lines. Pool School explores a wider scope of sound — and yet, since the tracks are all less that six minutes, there’s a compactness to each little journey.

“Three Bag Mary” is a good place to start. It opens with a blossoming, florid ugliness: simple guitar notes greeted by a rambling catcall of sax and some tough-edged snare thumps. It’s like a calculated ugliness, not just white-noise screeching. But then all three players stop momentarily, and the guitar and sax shift into a kinder, slightly more elegant playing — while Rainey sticks to his guns, returning to a bumpy, irregular sense of rhythm. These kinds of sudden shifts appear on a few of the tracks; the group veers and careens well as a unit.

“Home Opener” is a more varied stroll through multiple styles.  After a few minutes of easygoing playing, the band hits a pause, with Rainey thumping out some slow, irregular beats.  Then Laubrock latches onto a quick sax riff and Halvorson follows in suit by switching on the rock-guitar distortion, for a brief moment of noisy skronk.

“Coney” opens with a jagged tumbling, with Rainey playing softly thudding toms like a body falling down an infinite flight of stairs. It’s a subtly standout moment for him, crafting the mood of the piece without taking over the foreground. Laubrock and Halvorson follow with appropriately scattershot playing, and it all accelerates into a crash, leading to a peaceful, slower segment.

I liked the flow of “More Mesa,” one of the calmer tracks. It’s got a quiet start, with cymbal splashes, buzzy sax, and tense, fluttering guitar chords — active elements, but a setting where the group is in no particular hurry. It’s as if they’ve found a point of focus and want to explore it for a few uninterrupted minutes. The track picks up momentum as it goes but stays in a mellow, thoughtful vein. Not everything has to be a skronkfest.

The trio did a live set at WFMU that can be heard on the Free Music Archive — check it out via this Lovegloom blog entry.

Uptown

Aram Shelton, in quartet @ The Uptown

Last week, I finally made it to one of The Uptown‘s avant-garde Tuesdays. Took long enough. For several months now, the club — normally a rock venue, and one with a nicely renovated bar at that — has handed the keys over to the improv crowd for an evening of no-cover music.

It’s great when clubs do that. The Uptown is particularly well suited for it, because the regulars who do trickle in on these otherwise slow nights don’t have to watch the music. There’s a long wall separating the stage and performace space from the bar. The sound goes around the wall easily, so the bar patrons and the musicians are probably distracting each other the whole time — but as bar gigs go, it’s not bad at all.

(Flashback: This space used to be called the Black Box, and the bar half was an art gallery. Moe! Staiano’s Moe!kestra did a gig here where two orchestras were set up in each half, with Moe! sprinting back and forth to conduct each group. I wasn’t there, but the results were recorded for the album, 2 Rooms Of Uranium In 83 Markers: Conducted Improvisations Vol. II.)

I hope they keep this up. Don’t know what the bill is for September yet. (These shows tend to get posted to the Uptown’s calendar only a week or two ahead of time).

Anyway, a summary of what I managed to see:

Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey — A sax/drums duet from NYC who had crossed this way a few months ago on tour. This time, they were on vacation and just taking the opportunity for a quick gig. They did two mid-sized improvisations, probably 10 minutes each, showing off a good rapport and a nice variety of styles. I’m familiar with Rainey through his work with… well, everybody, especially Tim Berne, so it was great to get a chance to chat with him for a minute or two.

From left: Perkis, Greenlief, StinsonTim Perkis, Phillip Greenlief, G.E. Stinson — An interesting middle piece with the lights down, and abstract video projected onto a screen. After a while, you could tell the video consisted mostly of outdoor shots of streets and lonely buildings, distorted beyond recognition. The music shifted from ominous droning sounds to occasional slashes of noise, particularly from Stinson (guitar). Greenlief’s sax often stuck to subtle tones and bleats, blending into the mix of electronics (Perkis) and guitar effects.

Aram Shelton Quartet (pictured up top) — Back to more acoustic-minded improvising, although the quartet included Perkis for some more electronics fun. The quartet, rounded out by Damon Smith (bass) and Jordan Glenn (drums), played a few good improvisations. Nice stuff, and a good contrast to Shelton’s jazzier work with Dragons 1976 and the Ton Trio (as noted here).

A World Tour at Home

Brad Shepik — Human Activity Suite (Songlines, 2009)

shepikHuman Activity Suite doesn’t turn out to be as “world-music” sounding as I expected, and that’s not a bad thing. The project, with seven of its ten songs linked to the continents, is more subtle than that. Brad Shepik presents contemporary, guitar-led jazz — it’s got surface similarities to Pat Metheny in places — that tours the globe to gather nudges and inspirations, not to rehash musical stereotypes.

Sometimes the ties are more obvious, as in the Latin jazz vibe and accordion solo on “Lima.” (Bandoneon is part of some South African country’s music, isn’t it? Am I stretching here?)

Sometimes it’s more subtle. “Blue Marble,” the African piece, borrows its rhythm and light guitar sound from African music, certainly, but it’s woven into a modern-jazz context, swimming in atmosphere; the tribal rhythm spun here conjures something more like a Native American resonance to my ears. It’s one of the Metheny-like pieces, and I should mention that I mean that in a positive way. “Waves,” the Asia-inspired track, uses the accordion in a dancing melody that seems to borrow from Indian or Persian rhythms — again, a nice mix of ideas without going for a direct and obvious Asian sound.

Even Antarctica gets a nod with “Stir,” a track that’s appropriately slow and has a steely touch, but isn’t at all icy. In fact, the melody’s quite warm.

The band is top-notch, by the way. The moods are set in part by having only one horn present (Ralph Alessi‘s trumpet), and the rhythm section of Tom Rainey (drums) and Drew Gress (bass) bring heavy New York experience from contexts such as Tim Berne‘s Paraphrase. Gary Versace handles keyboards and accordion.

As you’d probably guess, the album has roots in the global warming crisis. Shepik’s answer is an ambitious suite of songs that paint grand landscapes in a light more hopeful than dire. The polished sound gets close to being comfort-jazz in spots, but I admire the way Shepik turned this album into a big-thinking project, and I think he pulled it off well.