In addition to several CD release concert events - including guitarist Dom Minasi's Time Will Tell (CDM), an already highly regarded turnabout project of strings (cellist Tomas Ulrich and bassist Ken Filiano) and drums at Tonic, and bassist Cameron Brown's Hear and Now group (featuring the ever musical vocalist Sheila Jordan) which celebrated the official release of his first recording as a leader, Here and How! (Omnitone), at Cornelia Street Café - there seemed a trend of jazz out of the club and into larger performance spaces last month: trombonist Roswell Rudd's MALICool (with Malian kora player Mamadou Diabate) played to a near sold-out crowd at the spacious St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn; Tribeca Performing Arts Center hosted the 31st Anniversary of the "Highlights in Jazz" series featuring Clark Terry, Monty Alexander, Steve Turre, Don Friedman, and others; and Jazz at Lincoln Center showcased the music of Ornette Coleman with none other than Dewey Redman at Alice Tully Hall.
This trend included a no more-no less than pleasant performance at Zankel Hall by pianist Danilo Perez' trio (featuring bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz) - that is before soprano maestro Steve Lacy (looking and sounding as strong as ever) brought his straight sax center stage to perform duets with Perez for the second half of a concert that may just make many folks' "Best of 2004" lists come the end of this year (much like their celebrated duets at Sweet Rhythm did last year). Perez' improvisational and rhythmic strengths are ideally suited to Lacy, a duo that is not too far behind the pianist's most heralded work, from his Panamonk recording of '96 (to my ears still his best release as a leader) to his work with Wayne Shorter, in which his Panamanian roots and extraordinary talents are exploited within dissonant harmonies and usage of space. The duo performed an untitled piece by the pianist, and several Lacy originals including "The Hoot", "Flakes", "Love in Five", "Deadline", and "Esteem" (dedicated to Johnny Hodges) on which Lacy blew into the upper register of his instrument with such ease where others would have left listeners corking their ears.
As part of the World Music Institute's ongoing presentations of first-class "world music", pianist and composer Muhal Richard Abrams fit the bill perfectly. A pioneer and founding father of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), as well as one of America 's greatest composers, Abrams played two very distinct sets of music. The first was a dedicated improvisational trio (featuring violinist Mark Feldman and drummer/ percussionist Tani Tabbal), and the second with a septet that played his original compositions (trumpeter Eddie Allen, trombonist Alfred Patterson, saxophonist Aaron Stewart, bassist Brad Jones, drummer Reggie Nicholson, and drummer/ percussionist Warren Smith). For the first half, the glorious music of three, taken individually, collectively met on parallel planes. Abrams utilized colors in his own performance rather than so-called licks, at times deliberately focusing heavily within one chordal range of his instrument. His moods set the tone for Feldman's legato phrases and staccato play alike - the violinist displaying his versatility.
Feldman's final phrases softly put the improvisational journey of textures and tempos to bed magnificently. The compositional segment ("View, Light, View") paired down seven musicians into convenient duos and trios: from the tympani-trombone duo of Smith and Patterson (veteran player and the best trombonist you've never heard of, playing a unique double-bell hybrid of the brass instrument), to the trumpet-bass interplay of Allen and Jones (the former playing crystal clear blues-inflected notes that went from piercing to slurs of the Diz and Brownie variety), to the unique marimba-drums-bass trio of Smith, Nicholson, and Jones, which mutated into a saxophone trio (on tenor, Stewart stepped forward as Smith stepped back) and finally a piano trio with Abrams leading bass and drums; Abrams the player, composer, and leader was on full display. The evening ended with a fitting tribute by Abrams and Jones, "J.G." (originally for saxophonist Johnny Griffin), dedicated to the recently deceased bassist Malachi Favors, with whom Abrams recorded it in duo on his mid '70s release Sightsong (Black Saint). The Randy Weston/Rodney Kendrick duo-piano concert, as part of Merkin Concert Hall's ongoing "Monday Nites: No Minimum" series, featured mostly Weston compositions and his assured rhythmic foundation, with embellishment provided by Kendrick who was for the most part unobtrusive.