Martin Longley’s New York Sounds

 From tantric Buddhist interpretation to disco-funk humping, Martin Longley gets down in NYC clubland. And, er, a museum of Himalayan art.


Lucian Ban and Mat Maneri Photo Credit: Michael Palma

Lucian Ban and Mat Maneri Photo Credit: Michael Palma

Lucian Ban & Mat Maneri
The Rubin Museum Of Art
June 7, 2013

This was the first in a three-part series where the Rubin’s acoustic-only theatre was taken over by artists from the ECM label, all of them celebrating the release of new albums. It was an ideal situation for Lucian Ban (piano) and Mat Maneri (viola) to commune in intimate no-microphone fashion with the museum’s always-attentive Friday night audience. The candles were on the tables, the lighting was suitably dimmed. The Transylvanian Concert disc (ECM, 2013) was recorded live in Ban’s homeland, something that the pianist would never have dreamt of as a future possibility. Most of the pieces played were written by Ban, but Maneri introduced “Phantasm”, penned by his old bandleader Paul Motian. The duo’s vocabulary was all-encompassing, ranging from jaunty gypsy flourishes to almost static suspensions of tonally melancholic sweetness. Maneri offered a bluesy drag, slicing the hair of his bow into stray strands, Ban pranced vigorously across the keys, as the pair moved towards an intense rolling gait. The emanations were equal parts jazz, classical and folk, but the style was their own. As is customary with these Harlem In The Himalayas gigs, the artists were invited to choose an inspiring piece of work from the museum’s stash. In keeping with the pair’s penchant for roiling darkness they selected “Palden Lhamo”, the principle protectress of Tantric Buddhism, black-skinned, with one face and four hands, riding a mule through an ocean of blood, surrounded by flame-colis, smoke-curls and a wrathful retinue. Ban and Maneri’s response to this 19th Century work was suitably sombre and sonorous.

Enrico Rava’s Tribe
June 8, 2013

The following night, ECM was in the house once again, recording the veteran Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava’s two nights of Birdland sets for a presumed forthcoming album from his Tribe quintet. It was also part of a full week of Italian jazz, sponsored by the Umbria Jazz Festival and the Italian Ministry Of Foreign Affairs. The late set on Saturday drew in a close gathering of punters, their lively nature not interfering with concentration required for an unbroken flow of controlled composition. Rava has increased the billing prominence of stripling sideman Gianluca Petrella, and rightfully so, as this front line has been growing in simmering power over the last few years. Even though this set was artfully delivered, there were few instances of an emotive force taking control, the quintet producing a slick, coasting, assured sound, but failing to burn with unpredictability. It was almost as though they were too rehearsed, too intent on producing a flawless recorded artifact. Your reviewer last witnessed Tribe at the 2012 Rendez-vous de l’Erdre festival in Nantes, where they were aflame with a magnificent energy. Consequently, this rather more confined and controlled set suffered by comparison. Nevertheless, the Rava-Petrella rapport was still in place, but was operating on a more cautious level. Hopefully the other three sets produced more stirring results, or maybe the documented evidence of this particular performance will sound finer when removed from its of-the-moment live experience.

Rock Candy Funk Party
June 9, 2013

Only in May, blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa was filling the Beacon Theatre on Broadway. The next month he was subversively appearing in the small-ish Iridium club, also on that selfsame thoroughfare . The subversion came in the form of an energising disco-jazz-funk-rock fusion, injected with only trace elements of the blues. Perhaps not the kind of music that many of Bonamassa’s mainline followers would appreciate, but there were sufficient open-eared souls around to make these three intimate nights a very hot ticket indeed. So the f-word has been invoked, but this was the more than acceptable face of fusion, a rugged, pumping, bristling conjunction of variegated limber forms into a unique band language. Stoking was the operative word. The band has actually been assembled by drummer Tal Bergman (who boasted the biggest kit in the city that nite), the rest of the line-up being Ron DeJesus (duelling lead guitar), Mike Merritt (bass), Renato Neto (retro-chameleon keyboards) and Daniel Sadownick (ubiquitous Latin percussionist). Bonamassa took around two-thirds of the guitar solos (or were his just longer?), but much of the excitement came from the jousting between him and DeJesus, their styles differing but complementary. Bonamassa distressed by ragged overloading, DeJesus more slippery in his steely licking. There were even snatches of Miles Davis and Duke Ellington in the midst of all the funking. The set approached 90 minutes of non-stop grooving, as slick as a session band, but as loosely swaggering as a bunch of old comrades.

The Michael Hashim Trio
June 11, 2013

Even though saxophonist Michael Hashim turns up with moderate regularity in larger ensembles, he doesn’t seem to play many dates as a leader in NYC. This gig at Smalls was particularly attractive, as Hashim was fronting a drumerless trio, allowing maximum space for his alto and soprano weavings. One of the famed Greenwich Village basement club’s owners, Spike Wilner, happened to be sitting at the piano, with veteran bassist Murray Wall completing this sensitive grouping. The approach was decidedly mainstream, but Hashim is one of those wily souls who always maintains freshness by picking out some unlikely tunes from the lesser-thumbed pages of the songbook. Hashim kept the joviality buoyant by spouting anecdotes or observations about the material, while Wilner also contributed to the informal onstage dialogue. There was Jobim’s “Useless Landscape”, Duke’s “Moon Mist”, Strayhorn’s “My Little Brown Book” and Monk’s “Ugly Beauty”, the latter with laughing alto and a deft flipping rotation of Hashim’s hat. The rarely heard old chestnut “There’s A Lull In My Life” was followed by an impromptu thematic creation, “High In The Basement”, taken at a bracing trot. On the more populist front, “Jitterbug Waltz” rightfully burned the torch for the sometimes forgotten Fats Waller, an opportunity for Hashim to deliver quicksilver runs, with smeared streaks and a distinct fluttering vibrato. Okay, so the routine rotation of solos from saxophone to piano to bass was hard to avoid, but in the hands of this trio that hoary old practice became magical rather than mundane. The threesome played a substantial first set, then a more curtailed second, and there were no complaints from the cheery crowd if the ‘official’ set-times weren’t observed.