The Jazz Gallery's Composer Series: 2002
The Jazz Gallery is perched on the second floor of a three floor brick building that at one time held offices, and now sits anachronistic within a region of tucked away luxury lofts and popular nightclubs. The gallery itself is a long narrow room that focuses on to an improvised stage area where a baby grand piano, drum kit and a few amps sit. The walls are covered with the latest collection of music related art, this time it is scenes of Cuban musicians. The space is intimate and inviting yet serious in purpose. Jazz Gallery's proprietor Dale Fitzgerald states that purpose clearly to us as we await the beginning of the set. "There is place for jazz as a repertory art form, and it is not here." Tonight we are to hear jazz as a fresh, evolving, and daring art form. In Fitzgerald's words we are to hear jazz that no one has heard publicly before. Sitting behind Fitzgerald as he spoke are the young composers who are among a select few that are in the forefront of jazz today, twenty-nine year old pianist Jason Linder and twenty-eight year old drummer Dafnis Prieto, accompanied by three other young powerful musicians, trumpeter Avishai Cohen, saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum, and bassist Hans Glawischnig. I had missed the last two nights in which Jason Moran, Rudresh Manhanthappa and Vijay Iyer had set the tone and caliber of two excellent evenings. I sit curious to hear the continuation of what was already becoming an acclaimed music series.
Jason Lindner begins the set with one of his compositions, "Russian Dance". A strong rhythm player, Lindner immediately establishes a Slavic/gypsy beat which he accents with an eastern minor mode melody. Dafnis Prieto locks in impeccably and supports the motif Lindner has established through a layered set of polyrhythms that provide accented color. Trumpet player Avishai Cohen uses this rich background to stream a distant yet crisp and pulsing melody. Lindner carries his initial motif and then breaks it down to a minimalist counter point to add greater effect to Dafnis's drumming, and then ushers it up again with a thrust of brass. The dance is exotic and passionate. We are engaged from the onset and informed that it has many turns and steps, both delicate and forceful, of which we must be prepared for if we wish to keep up.
The dance theme is extended in Preito's piece "Trio Absolute" a work reflective of the rhythmic tradition of his homeland Cuba. "Cut the clave and see how it tastes", he comments in his notes. The song is powerful right from the get go, Lindner keeps up with heavy cords as Prieto leads the charge at a driving pace, sometimes staccato and then polyrhythmic again. He dons the drum set and flexes it, using it as if it is another layer of skin. This piece exists in a territory where 4/4 is un-welcomed, puro cubano. We tremble.
The next piece is another Prieto tune, "3 Poems/ 1 Song". Chilean-New Yorker singer Claudia Acuña is welcomed to the stage to sing. She warms the stage with a presence that is bright and sensual. When she sings it is fresh and flowing as she embraces the rhythm and tonality of the beat and melody. We hear the range of a rich voice that Acuña uses to lead the group through the dynamics of the song to reach a heightened plateau and vista. The piece is broken up into three sections as the title indicates. An introductory dark section, a middle-eastern interlude and a punto guajiro finale, a true musical and cultural synthesis. The arrangement works to blend the three disparate moods. The song embodies the cultural backgrounds of those playing, Israeli, Latino and New Yorker.
James Hurt / Dafnis Prieto: November 24th
I return the next evening for the closing performances of the Composer's Series. I am to hear more works of Dafnis Prieto, this time in a trio format with Luis Perdomo on piano and John Benitez on bass. Sharing the bill this evening is avant-garde composer and pianist James Hurt, who is to present us with his new works which he called "Audio Cinema".
James Hurt begins the set by quietly walking up to the piano and with no introduction embarks on what would be a soundscape of dramatic-noir themes. He creates an ambiance of sound that immediately evokes a cinematic feel. As if wandering through the forest in a David Lynch film or opening a forbidden door at the end of a dark hallway, Hurt's music is mysterious and suspenseful yet not corny. He tests us with a synthesizer, pushing our ears and sensibilities with a sound that is somewhat familiar of a starter Casio keyboard, and then after setting a presence of almost nostalgia and dreams, he returns to the baby grand and awakens us again to a new scene of characters and settings.
James Hurt plays two sets, his pieces ranging from titles such as its opener, "A.M. Whitecaps with Fog Lifting Slowly", and then "The Mirage of the Dueling Camels", darker themes later on with, "Devastation and Aftermath" and "Dark Hallway of a Condemned". He closes with "Hope's Despair". Such titles describe a range of imagery and emotion, two elements that emphasize Hurt as a musical cinematographer.
Prieto returns to the stage in a trio format, with bassist John Benitez and pianist Luis Perdomo. Prieto is to play three pieces of his compositions: "TW", a tribute to legend Tony Williams, an improv piece, and "Dafnis' Blues". The trio begins their set by way of Dafnis exploding on his kit, a flurry of sound and texture floods the room, followed shortly by the piano and bass which ground the piece in a segue that is reminiscent of shades of Charles Mingus's "Cumbia Jazz Fusion". Prieto and Perdomo conduct a dialogue between drums and piano each instrument commenting and interjecting upon each other.
The piece "TW" begins with an upfront beat and complex melody line that swings in sections as Prieto commands the ride and adds punctuating notes on the rims and blocks. Prieto is holding up to the dedication of this song and respects its namesake by establishing a challenging polyrhythmic sound that seems to pulse and glide. Benitez hangs quite easily as he lays a stolid thick bass line while Perdomo plays elegantly. The piece is all Prieto though, and for the second night in a row, I am blown away at how Prieto plays with such accuracy and rapidity, Tony Williams would be honored that this young man was playing for his memory.
Composers Dafnis Prieto, Jason Lindner, James Hurt, Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran and Rudresh Manhanthappa are among those vibrant forces that are setting the new standard for expression on the horizon of jazz. Keeping jazz current and healthy is an important responsibility. The Composer's Series at The Jazz Gallery's is affirmation that the art form is in good hands.
For a calendar of New York area events, visit Ben Pomeroy's website at GothamJazz.Com.