Martial Solal starts a week of solo piano at the Village Vanguard tonight, and that’s a double eye-opener. It’s only the second time in its 72-year history that the club has featured a pianist playing solo. (The first, Fred Hersch, was in 2006.) More striking, it marks just the third time since 1963 that Martial Solal has played in New York City under any circumstances. The last time was four years ago at the Iridium, with his trio and saxophonist Lee Konitz, and it was a marvel, the fleetest and most lyrical I’d seen Konitz play in years. The time before that, just with his trio, was at the Vanguard—but the shows were in mid-September 2001, a couple weeks after the attacks of 9/11; few ventured into lower Manhattan for anything, much less to see an obscure French jazz pianist. Luckily, the sessions were recorded; Blue Note put out a CD of highlights called NY-1; finally, we could all hear the music behind the legend.
Martial Solal’s early set at the Village Vanguard tonight was as exuberant as expected. The ghost of Tatum was riding high, as the French pianist, celebrating his 80th birthday with only his third appearance in New York City in the past 44 years, mad-dashed through a dozen or so standards—including “Caravan,” “I Can’t Get Started,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” even “Body & Soul”—in ways that no one has ever heard them, carving up the scores like a Cubist (more Braque than Picasso, with shards of Duchamp tossed in for wit), stretching and squeezing bars, yet somehow sustaining the tempo and the melody with tenuous but seamless aplomb. His music might be a mere virtuosic lark, were it not for his harmonies—brooding, bristling, caramel-rich chords, clusters of them, alternately embellishing, paring down, or playing against the conventional changes.
I first heard Mary Halvorson about four years ago, when she played with Jason Moran and Ron Miles at the Jazz Standard in New York City. I didn’t fully understand what she was doing (I still don’t), but she seemed to be painting some new colors in jazz, or at least in jazz guitarthe ice-crystal intonation, the off-kilter harmonies, the quasi-chords that seemed to dart nowhere till the neon lit up the path in the night.
Drummer-composer Matt Wilson's new album, Gathering Call (on the Palmetto label), is a lot of fun, as several reviews have noted, but don't hold that against him. This is, as the late Lester Bowie called one of his own later albums, "serious fun."
Maude Maggart finishes out a six-week stay at the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room near Times Square this Saturday. She’s an appealing throwback, including in her repertoire; her best album, I think, is a collection of old Irving Berlin tunes. Her voice is sultry yet sweet, laced with vibrato, pure in tone, mischievous in intonation. Her current show, called “Speaking of Dreams,” which I saw last night, is ripe with naturally passionate slow ballads. Her few shifts uptempo (Sondheim’s “On the Steps of the Castle” and a Jobim tune with acid-trip Marshall Barer lyrics called “Lost in Wonderland”) made me wish she’d do more, but I’m not complaining. Her swoon through “Isn’t It Romantic” was bewitching. Even the show’s one cabaret clich—a medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Look to the Rainbow,” and “The Rainbow Connection”—came off as anything but; it was even stirring. Ms. Maggart looks five or so years younger than her 32 years, and she’s been singing in public for more than half of them. Cabaret clubs are not usually my scene, but I’ll go see her again happily.
I have a Slatecolumn today, an appreciation of Max Roach, who died last week at age 83. (Sometimes my editors let me break away from war and peace, though I have one of those columns today, too.) The headline writer has me calling Roach the “greatest drummer” in jazz. I think Billy Higgins was probably better, but I didn’t make a fuss. In any case, all great jazz drummers who came up after the mid-1940s, Higgins included, leaned or built on Max Roach’s innovations. Listen to the sound-clips that I link to in the column, and be sure to watch the YouTube clip toward the end. If you didn’t know before, you’ll see and hear what we’re all now missing.
It’s one of those lineups that almost promises too much: McCoy Tyner, the pianist from Coltrane’s “classic” early-‘60s quartet, leading his own quartet with Ravi Coltrane, John’s son, sitting in on tenor sax. And yet, at tonight’s first set, they pulled it off, which is to say, they seemed natural, the music was simply very good--better than that--and not some cockeyed freak show like, say, Paul McCartney teaming up with Sean Lennon. The band was playing in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room—a wonder of concert-hall architecture, at once spacious and intimate, with a grand view overlooking Central Park—and Tyner, now 70 and recently ailing, was in ultra-fine form. He banged out the set’s first notes, and there they were—those clanging block chords, forceful, percussive, the sustain-pedal meshing their overtones into a shimmering sonic bouquet. It sent shivers. Then entered Coltrane the younger, now 43 (he wasn’t quite two when John died of liver complications at the age of 40), sounding increasingly like his father—that plangent tone, the sinuous, fluent lines of sixteenth-notes, broken up by abrupt hesitations and jagged rhythms—but not as insistent, adopting more the tone of a balladeer. (Check out his new album, Blending Times, on Savoy Jazz, for a tasty sampling of what might be called intense lyricism.) Midway through the set, he and Tyner took a big risk—it literally took my breath—when they dashed into “Moment’s Notice,” John Coltrane’s uptempo anthem from his 1957 LP Blue Train, but Ravi navigated the brisk rapids with aplomb. (It may have helped that Tyner never played that song with Coltrane pere—the album was recorded a few years before he joined the group—so they were both, in a sense, interlopers. If they’d started wailing the first movement of A Love Supreme, well, that might have been too eerie.)
It's been a while since I've had a classic amplifier in my system, and McIntosh Laboratory's MC275 is as classic as they come. Introduced in 1961 as the "powerhouse" of that era's newfangled stereo tube amps (two 75W amplifiers in one chassis!), the MC275 retained its position as the amplifier to ownchallenged only, perhaps, by Marantz and a few othersuntil 1970, when it fell prey to the widespread wisdom that transistors were king and tubes were dead, and the model was discontinued. The MC275 briefly returned in 1993, in a limited "Commemorative" edition to honor the late Gordon Gow, longtime president and chief designer of McIntosh Labs. To everyone's surprise, that edition sold well, and McIntosh, gingerly at first, crept back into the tube business.
I caught Lee Konitz Thursday night at the Jazz Standard, the early set, playing with three fine musicians—Danilo Perez on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, Matt Wilson on drums—but they never settled into a cohesive quartet. Konitz has long been one of my favorite alto saxophone players. Last summer, after a concert at Zankel Hall, celebrating his 80th birthday, I wrote of his “signature airy tone, with its syncopated cadences and wry, insouciant swing,” and marveled at his sinuous way with a melodic line, “darting and weaving, choppy then breezy, sifting changes, shifting rhythms, and all so very cool.” But Konitz also has a tendency to doodle, and when he does, he needs a pianist (or guitarist) to lay down some block chords and reel him back in. Perez didn’t do that. He started noodling with him; the whole band laid back, the center did not hold, the train slid off the tracks, and a lazy chaos ensued. Konitz tried to impose some structure, segueing into “Embraceable You,” but Perez acted as if he didn’t know the song. Reid, the only band member who seemed to be listening, stopped playing a few times, for minutes on end, perhaps unsure of which wayward strand to latch onto. At one point, Konitz switched to “Thingin’,” his oft-played variation on “All the Things You Are,” which for some reason spurred Perez to lay down a Latin beat, which Wilson and Reid eagerly followed, but Konitz didn’t want to go there. This meandering went on for about 40 minutes before Konitz brought it to an awkward halt. For a finale, the band played “What’s New,” in the middle of which things finally came together, Perez launching into a lively solo, Reid plucking soulfully, Wilson recovering his sure footing, and Konitz blowing breezy uptempo.
Most jazz musicians who try to rock out come off lame. Most rock musicians who dig into jazz sound pathetic. Medeski Martin & Wood have long straddled both camps with authenticity. Or actually "fused" is the better word; in fact, they're among the very few rock-jazzers, another being Miles Davis at the top of that game, who turn "fusion" into a tasty term.
On their latest album, the trio are joined by guitarist John Scofield, not as a sideman (as MMW were on his A Go Go from 1998) but as a fully insinuated member of the band, which is thus called MSMW. The double-disc album's (appealingly insouciant) title is In Case the World Changes Its Mind (on the Indirecto label). It was recorded live at various spots on their 2006 tour. It's the best thing any of them have done, together or apart, in years.