Simon Lott’s Things @ Snug Harbor

I had the pleasure of hearing Simon Lott’s Things last Friday night at Snug Harbor. These weekend free midnight shows at Snug are turning out to be very cool. Simon and the guys really stretched out…much farther out than one usually hears at Snug Harbor, and there were still people there listening. Tally one for open-eared fans of good music.

The band was Simon Lott on drums, Tony Barba on tenor sax, Will Thompson on piano and Rhodes, and my fellow Lucky 7s member Matthew Golombisky on bass and likeable noise. People had sheet music on stage, so I am sure there were compositions, but most of what I heard sounded improvised. The music was heavy on texture and groove, sometimes simultaneously. This was the first performance by this particular combination of players, but the energy and communication could lead you to believe otherwise.

Keep your ears open for these guys, collectively and individually. They are making good music.

Kurt Elling @ Green Mill

I caught one set of Kurt Elling at The Green Mill last night. It was fun. The Green Mill is an interesting hang. It’s decorated in classic Chicago gangster. The sound is excellent, at least where I was, which was fairly near the stage. The whole experience was also fairly reasonably priced. The cover charge, two Bell’s Ambers and tip was less than $20.

The set opened with a couple of Laurence Hobgood compositions by the trio. The tunes were interesting and the thorough arrangements were well performed. Often the instrumental tunes that precede the featured singers appearance can be simple time killers, but these were quite rewarding.

Elling is known (in my mind at least) for his work channeling saxophonists, and adding often fascinating, and sometimes unintelligible, words to their recorded improvisations. Last night, in the first set alone, we got classic Elling treatments of music from John Coltrane, Grover Washington, Jr., and Chicago legend Von Freeman.

Elling has a sense for show like most singers, but he deftly balances that with an equal modern jazz aesthetic. I’m not often taken with jazz vocalists, especially the ones that are really show tune singers with jazz musicians accompanying them. Elling however can really make his voice become a part of the band, and the jazz spirit it creates. I am glad I caught a set worth of his music on my night off in Chicago.

Damon Short @ Hungry Brain

I often think about trying to be a patient improvser. Tonight I was reminded to be a patient listener as well.

I heard the Damon Short Quintet with Ryan Shultz, Larry Kohut,
Chuck Burdelik, & Mitch Paliga at the Hungry Brain in Chicago. They played composition by leader/drummer Damon Short. The one that moved me the most was an epic piece called Culture Shock, that was written after Hurricane Katrina. Damon lived in New Orleans in the 80’s, and that experience was audible in the music.

Ryan Shultz plays bass trumpet in the band, and his performance was outstanding. He gets a great sound out of a very uncommon instrument. Also notable was the contribution of bassist Larry Kohut.

There is a great little scene happening on Sundays there at the Brain. The show tonight was well attended and the crowd was very attentive. Be sure to check it out if you are in Chicago (especially if it is next Sunday 3/5/06, because I will be there with the Lucky 7s.)

Married Couple Looks Like A Pie To Me

Any band that would call their album Looks Like A Pie To Me is all right in my book. Married Couple make great music as well. The San Francisco based quartet have eclectic influences that appear in both subtle and blatant guises. The trombone, tenor sax, acoustic bass, and drums instrumentation lends itself well to the freer side of jazz, which is where most of this music begins. There is some pretty overt grooving on the CD as well, and the starkness of the quartet setting is filled out by a wonderful ensemble concept that Married Couple maintains in both composed and improvised sections of the music.

It is obvious that improvisation is the focus of the music, but the compositions integrate seamlessly into the improvisations, and the improvisations are so coherent, that it can be difficult to tell the two apart. The music searches and stretches, but never really becomes noisy. It is easy to listen to, especially since every track is under 7 minutes. Some of my favorite moments include “Fold You Under” which features collective blowing from the horns with a nice relaxed yet crisp groove. “The Field” is interesting in that there are about three minutes of introspective and sparse improvisations before the melody (which is quite catchy) comes in to end the track. This is definitely music that deserves to be heard by a wider audience.

The band’s website seems to be dead, but you can hear clips and buy the CD at CD Baby.

3 Now (4)5 @ dba 1/02/06

There is a real joy and beauty in hearing wonderful improvisers, that know and appreciate each other, interact in an almost instinctive way. That is what I was treated to last night at dba in New Orleans, by 3 Now 5. The group is usually called 3 Now 4, but the added bonus of Scott Bourgeois’ presence made the band 3 Now 5 last night.

James Singleton (bass), Dave Easley (pedal steel guitar), Johnny Vidacovich (drums), Tim Green (tenor sax), and Scott Bourgeois (alto sax) ventured through the standard 3 Now 4 fare of Singleton compositions and improvised connective material. The music flowed continually, with new songs entering and exiting, some more subtlely than others. The band would shift and turn in perfect harmony. The communication seemed easy and natural between the musicians. Scott and Tim had a wonderfully complimentary flow happening between them, and Easley provided the masterful bed of colors and textures that is his trademark. Johnny V provided the propulsion and fire that we have come to expect from him, and James drove with his bass from his place in the middle of the stage. James has continued to develop his use of effects and loops to great musical success. Last night his electronics always seemed to serve the music in an organic way.

It is still a surreal experience to drive through the streets of New Orleans, but it was emotionally and spiritually fulfilling to hear 3 Now 5 last night.

Territory Band 4 – Company Switch

Dealing with free improvisation in the context of a large ensemble has always been a challenge. Sometimes a larger group just means more and louder noise. Other times, it can mean more arranged material and a lesser feeling of freedom. On Company Switch, Territory Band – 4 does a good job of balancing those extremes, and creating interesting and challenging music.

There are times when the music really swings in a spirited manner similar to the great Coltrane quartet. The rambunctious blowing one can expect from most Ken Vandermark projects is also present. The noisy elements of this CD receive great contributions from the guitar and electronics. The approach to the acoustic parts of the music is so, well acoustic, that the electronic entrances can be jarring. I am fairly confident that this is the intended effect. I don’t really like the way the acoustic instruments and the electric ones are mixed, but that is more likely a function of personal taste than bad production practices.

The album is made up of 2 CDs with three tracks each. The third track on the first disc is entitled “Franja.” This cut alone is worth the price of admission. It manages to effectively touch all of the bands varied musical bases in just under 21 minutes, and the music that happens during Fredrik Ljungkvist’s tenor sax solo is astounding.

This isn’t music that works in the background as you go about your daily business. The dynamic range is wide and the subtleties are an integral part of the musical experience. As with most music that stretches, Company Switch rewards the attentive listener.

This Cd is on the Okka Disk label.

Rob Wagner trio with Hamid Drake and Nobu Ozaki

I heard some great music tonight. Before the hurricane, Rob Wagner played Monday nights at dba steadily for a couple of years at least. He was back tonight, with Nobu Ozaki on bass, and Hamid Drake on drums. They are all in town to record Rob’s next CD.

Rob Wagner Trio 2

The music was great. These particular guys have not played together a great deal, so each member of the group was extra attentive, and the focus payed off. The music was nimble and lively with a buoyant spirit about it. The musicians interacted gracefully, but were not hesitant to follow the music to its boisterous heights.

They go into the studio this week. I look forward to hearing the results.

Deborah Weisz – Grace (for Will)

Grace (for Will) by Deborah Weisz is a rewarding CD of mostly original music. “Touch” by Jim McNeely, and the standard “Body and Soul” are the only compositions on the recording that aren’t by Weisz or one of her bandmates. The stylistic range is from the fairly free to the swinging straight ahead. “Pablo’s Crib” by saxophonist Andrew Sterman is particularly catchy.

Weisz’s trombone playing is superb. Her sound is rich and full, and her time feel is fluid and swinging. Andrew Sterman’s saxophone stands out in a positive way, especially when the band reaches to those farther out spaces. The presence of Olivier Ker Ourio’s chromatic harmonica on 5 tracks adds and interesting sonic color and a fresh new voice.

I bought this disc somewhat out of curiosity, because I was not very familiar with Weisz’s music. It has stayed in my personal rotation since it arrived. Grace (for Will) is available from Cadence and CD Baby.