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Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in June

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PRISM Quartet | photo by Jon Rohrer

While it’s certainly not a new trend, it was particularly evident seeing May’s musical offerings in Philly that the lines between what’s considered jazz and classical or new music have never been blurrier. The highlight of last month’s calendar was Bowerbird’s landmark Julius Eastman retrospective; a last-minute program change on the final night led to the reprise of Eastman’s “Thruway” in a version that sounded radically different from its earlier performance and thus revealing the amount of spontaneity and chance in the piece. More explicitly, the first iteration followed Eastman’s instruction that a jazz band play from offstage, leading to scraps of Monk seeping into the music’s quieter portions like a neighbor’s stereo through an open window. Then there was the two-night Ars Nova run that featured Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley playing a long-form piece inspired by John Cage, followed by John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet playing short compositions that were often complexly through-composed.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Cub Sport / Communion Philly at Underground Arts, Mobb Deep at TLA, Prism Quartet at World Cafe Live and more

CubSportAustrailian indie-pop outfit Cub Sport will play this month’s Communion Club Night at Underground Arts for their very first show in Philadelphia. This tour is the first US/Canada run for the band who self-released their Paradise EP last year. Their sound is super energetic and poppy at times (see “Paradise”) and more mellow and subdued at others (see “Shuffle”) but it’s all done in a dewy dream pop context that’s pretty hard to resist at both ends of the spectrum. Watch “Paradise” below and get tickets here.

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PRISM Quartet celebrates three decades of adventurous sax music with Heritage/Evolution at World Cafe Live

PRISM Quartet | photo by Jacqueline Hanna
PRISM Quartet | photo by Jacqueline Hanna

At the time that a group of students at the University of Michigan joined forces to form the PRISM Quartet in 1984, the saxophone repertoire was largely limited to mid-20th century French conservatory music. Following one concert featuring a program of that material, composer William Albright approached the group and offered up a piece of advice.

“You guys sound great,” tenor saxophonist Matt Levy recalls Albright saying, “but stop playing that French shit.”

Over the course of the ensuing three decades, PRISM has played an instrumental role in ensuring that future sax quartets aren’t limited to that French shit. The adventurous ensemble has commissioned numerous works by renowned composers who have explored the full range of the instrument’s potential. To celebrate their thirtieth anniversary, the PRISM Quartet will embark on a series called “Heritage/Evolution,” offering new compositions written for the group by several of modern jazz’s most inventive voices. The series kicks off Friday night at World Café Live with pieces by eclectic altoists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman.

“It seems like yesterday we were students at the University of Michigan, playing at restaurants and shopping malls,” says Levy, the sole remaining founding member of the group. “Things progressed so quickly, but looking back I think our most proud accomplishment has been creating a repertoire for our medium where there wasn’t a lot to start with just by virtue of the instrument’s age.”

The current line-up – Levy on tenor, Timothy McAllister on soprano, Taimur Sullivan on baritone, and Zachary Shemon on alto – has been together since 2007, when Shemon replaced co-founder Mike Whitcombe. In addition to creating an impressive body of work for four saxophones, PRISM has also sought to place their sound in a stunning variety of unusual contexts, working with traditional Chinese instruments, percussion ensembles, or electronic musicians.

“Heritage/Evolution” was born of Levy’s own interest in combining jazz and classical vocabularies. Continue reading →