Archive for May, 2010

Jazz Espiritu

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

This little big band featuring bassist Raschim Ausar Sahu and drummer George Gray is indeed a very spirited ensemble. The music, written by bassist Raschim, rings true to the name of the group and the music presented at Sistas’ Place. It is a Music of the Spirit! The other musicians in this ensemble Anthony Ware and Yosuke Sato on woodwinds and Andre Murcheson on trombone, were largely new names to me although I was familiar with the work of French hornist Mark Taylor and pianist Benito Gonzalez.

The two sets performed on May Day, May 1, 2010, were extraordinary examples of good writing, good arranging and really good improvising. Raschim Ausar Sahu is a really gifted composer and bassist. I’m told he has at least 400 compositions to his credit yet this is the first time he has had an opportunity to unveil them at Sistas’ Place. In fact, this group was the first in a special series we are promoting at Sistas’ Place, which will end on June 5th, in which we give an opportunity of presentation to groups that have never been to our venue before.

In this group each musician who played a solo, performed with passion and fervor and improvised extremely well on their featured songs. It was immediately understandable why Raschim Ausar Sahu and George Gray were listed as co-leaders of this group. Raschim is easy because he is the composer but he also positions himself at the center of the stage, like another great bassist/composer/bandleader Charles Mingus, who led workshop/ensembles for many years. Raschim’s sound like George Gray’s rhythms are at the center of this group. George Gray is such a master percussionist that he makes the complex rhythms he produced seem effortless. The other member of this rhythm trio is Neil Clarke, whose previous engagement kept him from making the first set. The interaction between Neil Clarke and George Gray was so astounding that you really had to be there to understand its profundity. They played together so that one could not even hear when one instrument ended and the other one began. The seamlessness of their musical statement was a model of compliment. Their dynamic level went from a whisper to a roar without losing any momentum.

Of special note as far as the other players were concerned was Benito Gonzalez, who played the piano like a man possessed each time he got an opportunity. I got to hear him the following week with saxophonist Azar Lawrence at the Lost Jazz Shrines Concert at the Tribeca Performing Arts Theater, on May 7th. I came away from that concert knowing that he Benito Gonzalez was definitely “a take no prisoner” kind of soloist. Everytime he played it was amazing!

Mark Taylor was also familiar to me. He had performed at Sistas’ Place before with the Ebony Brass group led by Alfred Patterson. Mark also plays Mellophone and he has got to be one of the handful of people on the planet who plays that instrument outside of the drum and bugle corps. His solos were always tasteful and he always left the listener wanting more. Jazz Espiritu is a really dynamic ensemble that really deserves to be heard from.

Billy Bang’s Quintet

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Billy Bang’s Quintet, April 24@Sistas’ Place
Billy Bang’s return to the stage with his group was a much anticipated moment. Having spent a year going through tests and analysis of his physical condition, Billy Bang was ready to try a spiritual solution: playing his violin! Everyone in the room, for both overflowing sets would have had to testify that Billy Bang was back and indeed he came to play and was in great form. The band that he put together was there to support him in a glorious way contributing the kind of individual approaches to their instruments that makes the music possible.

Ted Daniel, in fact, started out the first set by walking through the room with a ceremonial trumpet, setting up everyone for the first song, an original Bang composition, “Yo, Ho Chi Mihn is in the House.” Billy then played his characteristic rhythmic pizzicato to set up an Asian come African vibration. Hill Greene accompanied him with a strong bass line that further anchored the song at the right port. The other musicians entered the song in dramatic fashion, Andrew Bemkey’s piano next, followed by Newman Taylor Baker’s drum. As the mysterious drama unfolded Billy Bang began playing the melody from his very important recording Vietnam Reflections. Ted Daniel re-entered and played a harmony part on muted trumpet. With Newman Taylor Baker steadily cooking underneath, the audience could clearly feel the dramatic buildup. Andrew Bemkey took the first solo and played cascades of sound in the funky Asian/African groove of the song that went right to the heart of the melody. Ted Daniel then took the stage with bright brassy statements full of lip slurs and wonderful tones. Billy then took the stage and the excitement in the room could be felt. Did this great violinist still have the ability to dazzle as his has done for so many years? After a few seconds there was no doubt that he had not lost anything and probably gained some more depth to his playing. The amazing technique that he had developed over the years allowing him to execute extremely complex passages with seemingly effortless ability, was still there.

Throughout the night Billy Bang played in that “take no prisoner’ style of an artist who goes for the jugular each time he stands up to play. Every member of the band was also in top shape. Ted Daniel’s playing throughout the night was melodic and precise. Andrew Bemkey was a marvel. Hill Greene got the audience to holler with all the bass he played. Newman Taylor Baker, whether he played the drums or the spoons as he did in one number.

Doug Carn Legacy Band featuring Kathryn Farmer‏ by Ahmed Abdullah and Monique Ngozi Nri

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Saturday, April 17th was a memorable day at Sistas’ Place for several reasons. First, it was the re-emergence of Doug Carn in Brooklyn , right down the street from the East where Mr. Carn along with Jean Carn created such important music in the 1970s. Secondly, it was the birthday of Kathryn Farmer, the singer who had learned all Doug Carn’s lyrics and was a major influence according to Mr. Carn, in his deciding to revisit the classic material that he and Jean Carn did together back in the day. Thirdly, it was the 18th wedding anniversary of Ahmed Abdullah and Monique Ngozi Nri. Finally we were in the third week of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival at Sistas’ Place and the house was full!

The band that Doug Carn chose has apparently been one he has been working with for the last year, since he embarked on this endeavor to reconstruct those powerful lyrics and music of his Seventies fame. Duane Eubanks, a very precise trumpeter was chosen along with Stacy Dilliard on tenor saxophone. Stacy has been to Sistas’ Place before playing with trumpeter Robert Rutledge. The bass player Rashaan Carter could not make it back because of the volcanic ash in Iceland that prevented any European flights from leaving or landing. His brother, however, Russell Carter did play. After the gig, I remembered that last year I worked in Billy Bang’s band with Russell playing drums and now here he was with another living legend in the person of Doug Carn. Kathyrn Farmer is the vocalist and her voice in the Doug Carn compositional mix is a special one. While it is impossible not be reminded of Jean Carn in this context, Kathryn Farmer does bring a very special interpretation to the lyrics. She studied this music!.

The leader, the maestro, Doug Carn did something very different for Sistas’ Place, he played both the Roland electric piano and the Hamilton Baldwin acoustic piano and oftentimes at the same time. He really did play the pianos like he owned them. They did Bobby Hutcherson’s Little Bs Poem, in a very dramatic way that allowed one to see the importance of the need for continuity in this music. When they got to the hit song of the seventies, Revelation, the house composed of many people who probably heard Doug and Jean Carn do this live many times, erupted in a collective sigh.

The wordy lyrics which according to the composer came out of three day fast were sung flawlessly by Kathryn Farmer. Stacy Dilliard played a really emotive and at the same time muscular tenor saxophone solo. Duane Eubanks’ solo was a joy of passion. He is a gifted improviser with a measured yet passionate approach to the craft. Listening to these two young musicians, I was reminded that back when this recording came out on vinyl, it was Rene McLean and Olu Dara who were the musicians on record and this music was so much a soundtrack of the seventies in the circles where people had some consciousness. This was totally confirmed when the band launched into Beautiful People Rise. These were the songs that had Blacks folks dancing in the street with the understanding of the need for Self-Determination. Stacy Dilliard began to speak in tongues during his solo on this song.

 

Once Kathyrn Farmer was on the bandstand she acted as MC, calling out the names of the musicians during the solos so that people could be aware of who was actually playing. Doug Carn changed the pace and introduced the Horace Silver ballad known as Peace. What an appropriate song for today’s world. Infant Eyes – a Wayne Shroter compostion  followed. Carn talked about the timelessness of the music and the legacy of African music as well as the importance of lyrics to convey the truth and meaning of a song.

It was once again a wonderful Sistas Place night with another new audience. Stanley Banks, bassist with George Benson was in the house to promote the CBJC Jazz Festival.