Fresh in the glow of its 50th anniversary celebration, kicked off by a party a few nights earlier and extending through the end of the month, Nighttown put its eclecticism fully on display February 10, presenting powerful Scandinavian free-jazz group Atomic. The Nighttown faithful are, by and large, a straight-ahead crowd (two Manhattan Transfer shows set for Friday, February 13, sold out well in advance, for example), so it’s good to see the folks there are still willing to push the envelope—it is, in fact, part on the club’s vitality. Atomic, in just their second visit to Cleveland—the first a 2004 go at the Beachland Ballroom—made that vitality palpable, exploding with an orchestrated chaos that the 30 or so in attendance will likely not soon forget.
After spending the past 50-plus years mining the traditional music of what Greil Marcus has termed “old, weird America,” and expanding it into the contemporary worlds of folk, rock, country, gospel and other singular hybrids thereof, on Shadows in the Night Bob Dylan gives us his take on the Great American Songbook. Thankfully, Dylan doesn’t jettison the weirdness for the trip, choosing (unlike so many other rock and pop stars) to interpret these standards in his own idiom; choosing, that is, not to prop himself in front of some large orchestra with knockoff, ’50s-sounding charts, but to record the songs live with his five-piece touring band. The result is a wee-hours drift through the American psyche, one that is by turns eerie, achingly sad and warmly nostalgic, as Dylan pines for lost love, lost selves, waning life and the sentimental virtue of enduring.
Nighttown features pianist Helen Sung twice this week: Tuesday with her quartet and Wednesday backing singer (and Cleveland native) Vanessa Rubin. Sung’s quartet, playing in support of her latest release, Anthem for A New Day, features John Ellis on sax, Hamilton Price on bass and Jamire Williams on drums. The interplay between the classically trained yet exuberant Sung and the groovy, funky Ellis should be particularly fun, and that prospect alone is enough to recommend this show. Rubin, with her recent (at least part-time) relocation to Cleveland, has been performing fairly frequently in town of late (something all jazz fans here should be happy about). If you haven’t had a chance to check her out, this set Wednesday, with the world-class, expressive backing of Sung and local bassist Peter Dominguez (plus a drummer TBA) may be your best opportunity yet.
Cold (i.e., normal) temps are coming back to Cleveland this week, but fear not, Nighttown is staging a two-night stand by native son Joe Lovano that should more than warm the jazz cockles. Lovano is playing two shows (8 p.m. & 10 p.m.) Thursday and Friday with longtime cohort Kenny Werner on piano. The duo played a set during Lovano’s six-day residency at The Stone in New York in December. But the Nighttown gigs should be an interesting departure for those who have been listening only to the saxophonist’s recent recorded output. Early 2013 brought the excellent Cross Culture from Lovan’s Us Five band, a group notable for, among other things, its dual-drummer format. A few months back Lovano was featured on the Wild Beauty release from the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. What I’m getting at is that Lovano of late has largely been focused on expanding textures and layers, not stripping them away (again, at least on his recordings). Thursday and Friday we’ll get him wide open, in free conversation with an old friend who just so happens to be a master jazz musician himself. I’m guessing it’ll be worth leaning in for a listen.
Nighttown has a slew of guitarists booked to perform in the coming days, and, as a fellow owner of guitars, I thought I might write a few words about these guys. The Julian Lage/Chris Eldridge show on Monday, Aug. 19, is the one I’m really looking forward to. But good six-string things abound leading up to—and following—that gig.
Vital Information guitarist Jimmy Valentino is in action tonight alongside the leader of that band, drummer Steve Smith, and Columbus-based organist Tony Monaco. Should be plenty of heated musical exchanges in classic jazz organ trio style. It’s harder to gauge what will unfold on Friday, Aug. 23, when Monaco returns with guitarist Fareed Haque and drummer Joel Spencer. Steeped in the language of classical and jazz guitar, Haque has played with the likes of Paquito D’Rivera, Sting, David Sanborn and Joe Zawinul, as well as his own groups Garaj Mahal and Flat Earth Ensemble, and was voted “Best World Guitarist” by Guitar Player Magazine in 2009. Will be fascinating to hear how his eclectic voice fits into the organ trio format.
Next up this week is young (still in high school, I believe) Cleveland guitarist Lucas Kadish, playing alongside trumpeter Kamal Abdul-Alim, who will be returning to his native Cleveland for a gig on Thursday. Kadish, a student of Dan Wilson, has garnered notice by a number of musicians with local roots, including trumpeter Dominick Farinacci, who featured the guitarist on the final number of his set at this year’s Tri-C JazzFest. The group on Thursday will be rounded out by two more Clevelanders, bassist Kevin Muhammad and drummer and Cleveland State prof Bill Ransom.
Friday brings the New West Guitar Group to town. Originally configured as a quartet, made up of guitarists studying at USC in the early 2000s, the group has since released four albums (with a fifth set for release in September) and downsized into a trio. John Storie and Perry Smith remain from the original group, joined now by Jeff Stein, a younger USC grad. Their music can trend a bit too smooth and poppish for my tastes, but other times they fashion intense steel-string interplay. I’d imagine more of that pours out in live performance.
Cleveland native Rick Stone returns on Sunday for his annual Nighttown gig, playing with locals Ashley Summers on bass and Ron Godale on drums. Based in NYC, Stone favors a straight-ahead approach often compared to that of perhaps Cleveland’s greatest guitar product, Jim Hall. Stone’s voicings and tone are darker than Hall’s, however, and he’s been steadily carving out his own space since the mid ’80s—a cement-jungle terrain that both shreds and inflates the heart. If you like gripping, no-nonsense jazz, this is the gig for you.
Julian Lage, certified young phenom, known for his work with Gary Burton and, more recently, as a leader in his own right, and Chris Eldridge, founding member of bluegrass super group Punch Brothers and an Oberlin grad, take the Nighttown stage next Monday for what has all the promise of being the highlight of Cleveland’s summer music calendar. Expect endless ideas of musical improvisation to blossom as the duo crosses, creates and dismantles genres.
Pianist Vijay Iyer and his trio play the Dionysus Club on the campus of Oberlin College Thursday at 10 p.m. This is one of the strongest units performing in jazz today. They got my vote for 2012 Group of the Year in various polls, and their fourth album, Accelerando (ACT), with its charging mix of melody and jagged rhythms, was easily one of last year’s best records. Tickets to the show are $15.
The Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Sextet, formed in 2005 by trumpeter Alegría and drummer Hugo Alcázar, makes its Cleveland debut on Tuesday, March 19 at Nighttown. While the band’s music incorporates the expected Latin and African rhythms, there’s also a lush, orchestrated feel to much of what they do, a quality found most readily in its leader’s sailing trumpet passages. Show starts at 7 p.m. $20.
Invigorating set last night from the Matthew Shipp Trio at Nighttown. Playing in a dimly lit room (as the musicians desired, I’m suspecting, with Shipp himself nearly lost in the shadows and the three musicians rarely bothering to open their eyes) to about 20 to 25 people (come on, Cleveland!) the group clamored nonstop for 90 minutes, featuring tunes from last year’s Elastic Aspects thread organically into a continuous musical string. Shipp, his swiveling torso tossing hands onto the keys to rake out feverish sounds—tough, twirling melodies to crashing, dissonant bomb blasts, seemed wholly one with the music throughout. His chin remained bowed to chest during much of his playing, and when bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey each took an extended solo (Bisio’s stretching 10-15 wild, forceful minutes, with bowed passages bookending a plucked core) Shipp draped himself over the piano, head buried between outstretched arms, as if needing to recuperate or, simply, to maintain an unhindered focus on the music. Similarly, Dickey cradled his forehead in left hand through much of Bisio’s solo, signaling that there might be something painful in producing this music—a serious commitment that expended both physical and mental faculties. For the listener, however (or, at least, for this listener), the sounds were energizing, restorative in being dug from the stuff of life and tossed out, with precision, yes, but with no cotton padding to soften the blow—joy, sorrow, violence, dance unfiltered.
Avant-garde pianist Matthew Shipp makes a stop with his trio at Nighttown on Thursday. It’s been a long time coming. I’m not sure he’s ever come closer than Erie, Pa., which, incidentally, he’ll play again on Wednesday night, part of a five-day sweep around Lake Erie that will also take him to Toledo, Detroit and Toronto.
That he’s touring in support of a Greatest Hits (Thirsty Ear) album should tell you something about the 52-year-old pianist who’s revered by fans on the fringe, well-known and highly regarded within the jazz world, but surely hasn’t tasted any Casey Kasem-bestowed success. I’m not sure what it should tell you—is he being ironical, cynical, comical, delusional? Actually, he has indicated that he’s just being practical—releasing a “compendium” of material to give those new to his music a good place to start.
Whatever the reason, if there were any justice in the world (or at least in the world of the arts) Matthew Shipp truly would be a hit maker. His music is adventurous, jarring, energetic, riveting. It can turn dark, run through affecting, perhaps despondent, passages, then explode in a fit of cathartic clamoring. There is nothing of sentimentality or fluff in Shipp’s music. For lack of a better word, it’s intense. And always eminently and truthfully human, which, sadly, isn’t something you can say too often about a good deal of the art that floats around and gets puffed up.
Shipp will be joined by bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey, who played with the pianist on last year’s Elastic Aspects (Thirsty Ear), easily one of the best records of 2012. Show starts at 8 p.m. and cost is $20. I advise all Cleveland humans to be in attendance.
Oberlin Conservatory Faculty Jazz Septet will perform a free concert at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Finney Chapel on the Oberlin campus. The Oberlin calendar lists the following performers for the evening (who would seem to comprise a nonet, but my math can’t always be trusted):
Gary Bartz, saxophone
Sean Jones, trumpet
Jay Ashby, trombone
Robin Eubanks, trombone
Bobby Ferrazza, guitar
Dan Wall, piano
Peter Dominguez, bass
Billy Hart, drums
Paul Samuels, drums
Whatever their number, they apparently will be playing original compositions.
For those who don’t want to make the trek out to Oberlin (guess I’m betraying an East Side-centric view here) due to weather, time or fuel concerns, general laziness or a touch of anthrojazzmeloclaustrophobia (the not altogether unfounded fear of finding oneself in an enclosed space with other jazz fans), you can watch a live broadcast of the event on the Oberlin website. Not sure how often Oberlin provides such broadcasts, but it’s a nice feature!