|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.
The Numinosum Blog
This past week I actually had some free time (which has been rare as of late) so I got out of the house and went into the musical world of NYC to hear and see some performances.
First, this past Wednesday night (June 17) I saw the Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra at the Brooklyn Lyceum. Asuka formerly co-lead a big band with bassist-composer (and sometimes Numinous member) Noriko Ueda and this gig was the debut of a group under her own name. The ensemble featured many veterans of New York's big band and small group jazz scene such as Jon Gordon (Maria Schneider, Vanguard Orchestra), Scott Wendholt (Carnegie Hall big band, Bob Mintzer, Vanguard), JC Sanford (Sound Assembly, John Hollenbeck, BMI Jazz Orchestra). After hearing the eleven compositions from Asuka on Wednesday, I'm starting to get a sense of what makes up her musical DNA: flowing and delineated melodic figures and motifs, a warm harmonic palette, an orchestral sweep with sometimes extended formal excursions, and generally a tonal framework of 'light' or consonance (although this can be spiked with subtle dissonances). During the break between sets, I heard one musician say that Asuka's music has a "Kenny Wheeler-ness" to it and I would agree that there are times one is reminded of his melancholy and lovely music (not to mention Maria Schneider's music- alas what modern big band composer doesn't owe at least a small debut to her influence) but Asuka's own distinct voice and style came through clearly in: Re: I'll Remember You, featuring Jason Rigby on tenor sax, had a slow, slithery groove and an organic build-up; Hermine's Song which had wonderful moments of orchestral color, with Ryan Keberle's intense trombone solo over a more modal background; Island in the Stream with the weaving keyboard figures and 70's Miles Davis vibe; and the somberly beautiful Dark Paintings, one part of a forthcoming suite inspired by painter Mark Rothko featuring JC Sanford's questioning trombone solo. I'm looking forward to hearing more from Asuka and her band in the future.
On Thursday June 18th I had two engagements to attend. First, I went to Greenwich Village to the Hebrew Union College to see a screening of the film, A Year with Take Dance by Damian Eckstein. The film, a winner of the Best Dance Documentary at the 2009 New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, follows choreographer Takehiro Ueyama and his company through a complete year's worth of events from performances atPS/21 in Chatham, New York, Central Park's Summerstage, and Columbia University's Miller Theatre to the many rehearsals and parties post and between performances.Také, a former dancer with Paul Taylor, began his own company about four years ago and seeing the full scope and development of Také's work since being on his own was quite interesting and impressive. With an opening shot of different dancers' feet, the film went on in basically a one-camera, gorilla style to explore how a "pick-up company" like Také's struggles to put together a season of inspired and dynamic dancing in New York City. The ample clips and excerpts from various performances of Také's such as One, set to the music of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, Linked, danced to the song The First Circle by Pat Metheny (one of my personal favorites of Také's), or Love Stories, with music by Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova, Sigeru Umebayashi, and Yann Tiersen and inspired by René Magritte's mysterious painting The Lovers detailed the incredible virtuosity of Také's vision. I'm hoping the film will expose that vision to more and more people.
After the screening of the documentary I headed a few blocks west to the Cornelia Street Cafe where friend Brenda Earle was performing. Brenda is one of the pianists on my Vipassana CD and is a "four position" player: pianist, singer, composer, and arranger. This concert was a celebration of her new CD release, Songs for a New Day. Now, I am no fan of much of what passes today as jazz singing. I'm more engaged by vocalists who are musicians (someone like Kate McGarry), who take chances with repertoire, who can sing but more importantly know when NOT to sing- in short, I'm not really interested in so-called "jazz singers" (I guess a good analogy would be in films- the difference between an actor (i.e. Cate Blanchett, Laura Linney) and a star or celebrity (Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton)). So I was excited to hear Brenda because she certainly fits the bill of musician. Being an attractive blonde, a casual comparison calls to mind Diana Krall (Mrs. Elvis Costello or is he Mr. Diana Krall?) however I find that Brenda's piano playing is more assertive and demonstrative, and while her voice doesn't have the single-malt whisky silkiness of Diana Krall's, it is an equally tasty and fine California (or Canadian) Pinot Noir. One thing immediately noticeable at the concert was, while there was definite professionalism, there was also a sense of fun and joy often missing in many jazz performances. Not only is Brenda quite quick-witted and shares funny asides between songs, but it is readily apparent that her band (Jesse Lewis - guitar, Ike Sturm - bass, Jared Schonig - drums, and special guest cellist (and Numinous member) Lauren Riley-Rigby) enjoy playing with her. The personal and musical rapport was evident throughout the show, especially on some of my favorites of the night: her spirited cover of Marc Anthony's Valió la Pena (sung in Spanish, thanks to coaching, as Brenda tells it, from her Puerto Rican neighbor); Happening her "hit song, even if no one else calls it that" with its joyous tone and savory guitar solo from Jesse Lewis; the summer night ballad In Love; and "T.V. theme-ish" Song for a New Day. Overall, Brenda's songs often provoke delicate thoughts with repeated themes of longing, doubt, and desire ("does he wonder? does he worry? does he see right through you?", "she brushes past him at the end of a long day", "I can't believe this is happening to me", "the night has cast a magic spell") but also of hope, with their stories of human connections we all crave.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 6:54 AM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.