Solo, trio, orchestra

By JON GARELICK  |  July 5, 2006

The JCAs still challenge. Katz’s “Urtracaria as the Letter C: The Commissioning” is a tribute to one of his former colleagues, with a poem that Katz commissioned. As he explained, the poem was written by someone who didn’t know the dedicatee, so it ends up being a poem about writing about someone you don’t know. It was alternately declaimed and sung by Rebecca Shrimpton, who also engaged in some daring free-improv exchanges with Phil Scarff’s soprano sax. (The JCAs deserve credit for keeping Shrimpton on stage as another instrument, whether she has words or solos to sing or not.) But the piece is as knotty as the premise would suggest, with maybe one too many false endings.

The Anderson material, though, gave Shrimpton some beautiful melodies that comported with the text in a way that was straight out of Charlap’s bag — all without sacrificing spiky harmonies, varied orchestral color, or bruising solos. Trombonist David Harris’s “In Search” explored far and wide, but with grounding in a reggae rhythm. Zocher’s “Mother Chord” was about being unified despite one’s best efforts to go “out.” Although Ken Schaphorst apologized to the players for bringing more material to every rehearsal of his “Division Street,” the piece emerged succinct and swinging with classic impressionistic colorings that recalled Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer, and Gerry Mulligan. The two-hour show (including intermission) ended with Katz’s “Everybody Loves Ray Charles.” Rather than rearranging Ray, the piece was inspired by him — including a comic “What I Say” free-improv call-and-response between alto sax Jim Hobbs and the rest of the horns. (The JCA’s next show is at the Arsenal Center October 13.)

The Boston-based pianist Laszlo Gardony’s music is, like Charlap’s, as much about the song as the solo. At the Regattabar two weeks ago Wednesday, his long-time trio (with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel) began with the title cut from their new CD, Natural Instinct (Sunnyside). The focus here was on Gardony’s riffy tune and the Afro-Latin beat. Gardony knows how to play fast Bud Powell–like single-note runs — as he did with his encore of Oscar Hammerstein & Sigmund Romberg’s “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise” — but here and elsewhere he emphasized melodic variation, touch and tone, and rhythmic chording that kept the band, and the audience, moving all night.

COMPOSED: The Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra mixed the familiar with the out.
Sometimes that chording relied too much on blues-riffing arpeggios, but Gardony and his band know how to build a performance, and the momentum of the alternating 3/4 and 4/4 meter and his digging into those chords got the crowd cheering on the second tune, “Revolution.” When he writes a folk-pop tune like “Me and My Echo” it calls out for lyrics. For the original “Mockingbird,” he spun melody after melody out of his right hand while his left cycled gently through a Latin-flavored vamp.

The week had begun at the Regattabar on Tuesday, with guitarist Ralph Towner, playing his first solo tour of the States in memory, following the release of Time Line, his 20th release on the ECM label since 1972. An ingratiating performer, quick with the self-depreciating jokes, he sat alone on stage, switching between two plugged-in acoustic guitars, a six-string and a 12-string. His “If” reached back to English folk for its introduction but quickly moved up-tempo with a twangy thumb-picked bass vamp supporting clean, pinging, fast melodic runs. As he did all night, he broke up his textures — either with fast, strummed-chord melodies or sitar-like bent notes. He likes to play in many voices at once, much as a pianist would — dampened chordal figures answering melodic lines, pedal bass vamps against treble, creating the illusion of several instruments, a one-man band.

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