Matthew Shipp Trio Shatters Nighttown

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.

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Pick of the Week: Matthew Shipp Trio (3/7)

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.

Pick of the Week: Oberlin Conservatory Faculty Jazz Septet (2/26)

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!

Chris Potter Quartet Sings Siren Song at Lakeland

Saxophonist Chris Potter and his quartet fulfilled every promise with their 100-minute set Saturday evening at the Lakeland Jazz Festival. While focusing on tunes from his January release The Sirens (ECM), Potter allowed more air to inhabit the pieces, as when launching “Penelope” and “The Sirens” alone on soprano sax and bass clarinet, respectively, working his way into the haunting melody of each as if raking the melodies together out of all the possibilities offered by sonic space. Many of the tunes fed quietly, organically into those that followed. But in between the demarcation points (however blurry they might be) swam a sea of mood and crescendo.

Even with his reputation for perfectly hewn lines and phrases, Potter’s tightly twined bop solo on Thelonious Monk’s “Four in One” was a wonder to behold. His bass clarinet on “The Sirens” was more forlorn than foreboding, as if sounding a eulogy for those drawn by the Sirens’ call—for all life that must crash inevitably into death. Bassist Larry Grenadier followed this with a dark but highly melodic bowed bass solo that drew out the piece’s Indian undertones and seemed, upon its finish, to suck the room of its air. It was also interesting to hear pianist David Virelles fully attack this music (he plays on Sirens, but Craig Taborn covers the main keyboard duties therein). Virelles employed more dissonant voicings than Taborn, in addition to some Cuban flare, most notably on “Five Points.” Drummer Eric Harland never took a solo during the set, but propelled the motion ever forward and added inventive rhythmic underpinnings, as when knocking a tambourine against the rim of his snare on “Sky.”

It was quite a set, and hopefully I can do it justice in my upcoming full review for All About Jazz. Additional photos are again available on the AAJ site.

Set list:
Wine Dark Sea (Chris Potter)
Wayfinder (Potter)
Penelope (Potter)
Five Points (Potter)
Four in One (Thelonious Monk)
The Sirens (Potter)
Sky (Potter)
Encore: Darn That Dream (Eddie DeLange/James Van Heusen)

Jamey Haddad All-Star Trio Sparks Lakeland Jazz Festival

A rollicking set last night from drummer Jamey Haddad’s All-Star Trio at the Lakeland Jazz Fest. The show capped a three-night tour of Northeast Ohio by the group that ran eastward from Oberlin to Nighttown to Lakeland. Haddad and pianist Leo Blanco have played together for years, but Blanco said he had never even met bassist Roberto Occhipinti until earlier in the week. It didn’t show. The trio, which focused on compositions by Blanco, danced as comfortable partners, weaving in and out of the shifting melodies and rhythms that cast the distinctive Latin glow of Blanco’s native Venezuela. It was nice to hear Haddad behind the kit, instead of working solely with hand drums and other percussion instruments, although he played these as well, including stints on the djembe, box drum, and a tambourine-like instrument he claims he never leaves home without.

You can view some more of my photos from the event at AllAboutJazz.com. My full review of the show, along with tonight’s performance by the Chris Potter Quartet, will appear at AAJ soon.

Set list:
Azul de manicuare (Leo Blanco)
So In Love (Cole Porter)
Perú landó (Blanco)
Poconos (Blanco)
Roots & Effect (Blanco)
Vals #5 (Blanco)
Brother Jack (Billy Drewes)
Africa Latina (Blanco)

Pick of the Week: Lakeland Jazz Festival (2/22 – 2/24), Featuring Chris Potter and Jamey Haddad

It’s time again for the Lakeland Jazz Festival, held at the Lakeland Community College in Kirtland. Now in its 41st year, this annual event usually features an internationally known jazz performer on Saturday night with local musicians filling out the rest of the weekend’s schedule. The festival also provides an opportunity for high school and junior high school students to learn more about the music and perform during the day on Friday and Saturday.

This year’s program is stellar. Saxophonist Chris Potter, who just released a fine, moody musical interpretation of The Odyssey called Sirens (ECM), brings the bulk of the group from that album with him when he performs on Saturday night at 8:00. Potter, 42, is widely regarded not only as one of the best sax players of his generation, but as one of the leading voices in jazz today. Sirens may find him stepping away from the electric music of his vaunted Underground group, but the edge and experimentation surely aren’t lost. Unfortunately, one of the album’s pianists, Craig Taborn, won’t be touring with Potter. But pianist David Virelles will be in Kirtland Saturday night, along with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland. The weather can often be dicey for this festival, but this is a show that simply shouldn’t be missed. As an added bonus, Potter will give a free clinic on Saturday afternoon from 4:30-5:30, as the headlining artist does each year. The clinic is open to the public and offers a chance to get a look inside the artist’s music and philosophy, and ask any questions you might have. It’s a neat feature of the festival.

Cleveland-based percussionist Jamey Haddad will perform Friday night at 8:00 with his All-Star Trio, consisting of himself, pianist Leo Blanco and bassist Roberto Occhipinti. Haddad, seemingly, has played with everyone, from Paul Simon to Yo Yo Ma to Nancy Wilson, et al., and can often be found lending his talents to a wide-array of Cleveland groups. He has invented and patented several percussion instruments and collected who knows how many others from around the globe—performances find him dipping into a bottomless truck of percussive possibilities. The setup for Friday appears to be a traditional piano trio on paper, but I’m anticipating ventures far beyond the standard jazz idiom.

If your thing is big bands, return to Lakeland on Sunday at 4:00 for the Big Band Matinee, featuring the Lakeland Civic Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of Dave Sterner, and the Cleveland State University Ensemble, under the direction of John Perrine. The high school band performances and adjudications run from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Friday and 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday.

Pick of the Week: Hot Club of Detroit (2/15 and 2/16)

The Django Reinhardt-inspired Hot Club of Detroit returns to town for a two-night stand this Friday and Saturday at what is apparently one of their favorite haunts, Nighttown (they named their second album after the place, after all). Their most recent record, Junction (Mack Avenue Records, 2012) continued the group’s evolution away from a strict adherence to the Django-styled Hot Club (if they could be said to have ever engaged in such orthodoxy). The addition of saxophonist Jon Irabagon, who also plays with the wild Mostly Other People Do the Killing outfit, might be most responsible for the current shift, supplying nice doses of avant-garde warbling over the driving acoustic guitars and droning accordion. French vocalist Cyrille Aimée, another Nighttown regular, also joined the band on three of the album’s tracks. But unfortunately, as she was just in town this past Saturday, I doubt she’ll be appearing with the band this time around (would’ve been nice to hear her and the band perform Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman,” with lyrics by Margo Guryan, as they do on Junction). Both shows start at 8:30 p.m. and admission is $20 (half off for students with ID).