Don’t get put off by the self-conscious “weirdness” of Brooklyn art-pop sextet Cloud Becomes Your Hand. Their live sets boast oddball outfits, spasmodic choreography, and craft-fair accoutrements – hell, their name was inspired by a hand puppet that frontman Stephe Cooper employed in another (presumably even quirkier) band. But look past the arch theatrics and the band’s delightfully off-kilter songs inhabit the same catchily cerebral terrain as earlier bands that weren’t afraid to bubble-wrap their complexity inside kiddie show trappings – names like DEVO and the Residents come easily to mind.
In the timeline of rock history, the Ramones are typically hailed for their stripped-down, back to basics sound, a necessarily primal scaling back from the excesses of prog and fusion. But when an unsuspecting Rhys Chatham walked into CBGB for the first time in May 1976, he was coming to the nascent punk scene from the opposite direction – the even more extreme austerity of minimalism – so he had a very different reaction to the Queens foursome.
Yes, the president’s recent visit to Havana portends new opportunities for the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. But don’t jump the gun just yet and assume that historic rapprochement has trickled down to affect artists like Jane Bunnett, who has spent the last 30 years traveling from Canada to Cuba and attempting to bring the resultant cross-cultural musical collaborations into the States.
“If one more person comes up to me and says, ‘It must be easier now that Obama went to Cuba…’” Bunnett trailed off, but the frustration in her voice revealed the challenges that the saxophonist/flautist continues to face in crossing our northern border with her Cuban collaborators. When we spoke last Thursday morning, Bunnett was scheduled to head into the studio that afternoon to start recording the second album by her all-female ensemble Maqueque, in which she’s joined by seven young women (all still in their early 20s) that Bunnett and husband/trumpeter Larry Cramer discovered during their travels to the island.
Instead, she found herself scrambling to deal with a series of visa-related catch-22s related to their impending return to the U.S., which will (if all goes well) bring them to the Painted Bride on Friday. She discussed the headaches she was facing with the air of someone who’s no less annoyed by the hurdles she had to conquer just because she was used to them, but confident that they would once again be overcome in time to take the stage.
The idea of Don Cheadle playing Miles Davis has been floating around for at least a decade, ever since the legendary trumpeter’s son, Erin Davis, and nephew, Vince Wilburn Jr., proposed the idea while inducting Davis into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. The notion finally came to big-screen fruition this year as Miles Ahead, in a form different than anyone might have expected (it opens at the Ritz Five on tonight).
Doubling as director, Cheadle deviated from the standard biopic format to create a heist-movie fantasia with Miles at its center,aiming for the spirit rather than the factual reality of its subject. I wondered how the film might look to someone directly influenced by Miles’ music, so I invited trumpeter Josh Lawrence, co-founder of the Fresh Cut Orchestra and host of the Thursday night jazz series at Jose Garces’ Volver Restaurant, to attend a screening with me and discuss the film afterward. Continue reading →
Upward, the new duo album by 12-string guitarist Ross Hammond and tabla player Sameer Gupta, isn’t a coming together so much as a circling back. The two men both grew up in California, where their first collaboration was in their mid-90s college years when they were part of what Hammond describes as “a very electric, groovy jazz group.”
At the time, Hammond was focused on electric guitar and Gupta was solely a drum kit player. It was only in the intervening years, after Gupta relocated to Brooklyn, that both embarked on separate but parallel paths to discover their roots. For Hammond, that meant the country blues and Appalachian folk music of his native Kentucky; for Gupta, it entailed a look even further back into his heritage with an immersion into North Indian classical music and the tabla.
Lean and intimate yet affording a vast palette of possibilities, the piano trio has proved to be one of the most resilient and malleable units in modern music. From the elegant finesse of Bill Evans to the skewed-angle eccentricities of Thelonious Monk, down to modern innovators like Vijay Iyer’s rhythmic expansiveness and The Bad Plus’ droll provocations, the deceptively simple set-up of piano, bass and drums provides seemingly endless opportunities for exploration.
Over the last three decades, The Necks have taken full advantage of those opportunities. The Australian trio – pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer Tony Buck – don’t just go deep; they’re sonic spelunkers, venturing into darker, more mysterious corners and finding unexpected treasures typically hidden from the light. They craft massive structures from tiny moments, typically taking the form of single, hour-long pieces that are allowed to grow and evolve at a relatively glacial pace.
The SoCal quintet Kneebody and the stable of eclectic artists on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label have both been rethinking the meaning of “jazz,” albeit from opposite ends of the musical spectrum. Kneebody – keyboardist Adam Benjamin, trumpeter Shane Endsley, bassist Kaveh Rastegar, saxophonist Ben Wendel and drummer Nate Wood – steer a recognizable jazz quintet line-up into unexpected waters, detouring through electronica, indie rock, hip-hop and new music en route to an of-the-moment sonic palette. Spearheaded by his own uncategorizable mash-ups, meanwhile, Lotus has made Brainfeeder a home for artists who use genre as an element, not an end.
The title of “Celebrate the Great Women of Blues & Jazz,” the tribute show that arrives at the Annenberg Center on Saturday night, is meant to evoke the legendary names of the past. The women whose music is represented in the show include Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Koko Taylor – icons all, and irrefutably ground-breaking voices who helped to shape modern American music.
Prior to embarking on his first trip to Africa in June 2014, Cyrus Chestnut was warned repeatedly to be cautious when sampling the local cuisine. “Everyone was telling me to watch the food or you’ll get sick,” the Baltimore-based pianist recalls. “And I did get sick – off of fettucine alfredo.”
The indigenous dishes that Chestnut ended up braving were more agreeable, as it turned out. “I was at the hotel and was invited to eat the national dish of Senegal. I was thinking I’d see something exotic, but it ended up looking like something that my grandmother and my mother prepared for me. It was a bed of rice with a sauce or gravy, a piece of meat and vegetables. I was like, ‘Ok, I’ve seen this before.’”
Chestnut’s dining experiences provide a microcosm of his entire trip, which took him to two cities in Senegal, where he played at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar and at the Saint-Louis Jazz Festival. Based on the warnings he received before visiting the continent, Chestnut could be forgiven for sticking close to his hotel whenever he wasn’t onstage. But being naturally curious and adventurous – and based on previous travels in other tumultuous areas like Honduras and Nicaragua – he opted to interact with the local community rather than take the sheltered tourist route.
“I was told a lot of things about what to expect from Africa,” he recalls. “’You’ve got to watch where you go, things are really different there, you have to be so careful.’ Based on everything that I was told, I would have approached the continent in complete fear. But I made a decision to just to be an open sponge and take everything in as I see it. I was able to make a lot of connections all the way around the culture, the food, everything. It was a really amazing experience for me.”
That single trip has provided ongoing inspiration for Chestnut, who will bring his African Reflections project to Montgomery County Community College on Saturday. Continue reading →
With more than 30 albums to his name as a leader or co-leader, it’s safe to say that Dave Stryker is comfortable in a wide variety of musical settings. But his most natural environment seems to be the pairing of his guitar with saxophone. He first came to most listeners’ attention through his tenure in late tenor giant Stanley Turrentine’s band, an experience Stryker revisited on last year’s Messin’with Mister T. His latest release is Routes, his fifth with the Stryker/Slagle Band, in which he shares the frontline with alto saxophonist Steve Slagle.
Stryker’s show at Chris’ Jazz Café on Saturday night will be particularly special. For this occasion, he’ll welcome tenor saxophonist Chris Potter as part of his organ quartet with rising star organist Jared Gold and veteran Philly drummer Byron Landham. Continue reading →