Despite the few glitches (or miscalculations), the musical sequences were exquisitely timed, shifting subtly with the dramatic beats on the screen, stopping cold at blackouts. When Nazerman berated a mentally ill regular "customer" (Juano Hernández), Aaron Gelb's high, fanciful bass clarinet notes floated out of the man's mouth. Anthony Coleman played a tinkling "prepared" piano solo of Yiddish songwriter Mordechai Gebirtig's ghetto song "S'Brent" ("It's Burning") to the complaints of a bedridden old man. And various ensembles offered variations on Nazerman's remembered scene — a pastoral with his family on the day the Nazis arrive. Versions of post-bop composer Herbie Nichols's "House Party Starting" recurred — as sextet, with forthright wordless vocals by Sara Jarosz, and in a second-act duet between flutist Amir Milstein and percussionist Jerry Leake.
The strength of these pieces in concert was indicative of rigorous preparation. Violinists Sandy Cameron and Wayne Shen with pianist Amie Chen played the pastoral-memory scene (as "Memories Under the Trees") with a mixture of lyricism and impressionistic harmonies — was it Debussy? Ravel? (It was, in fact, Shen told me in an e-mail, a mostly improvised piece based on the Jones score, with allusions to Bach and the Berg violin concerto.) But this was not pastiche — Chen's closing solo, with its swooping lines and dramatic dynamic shifts, was the bravura finale to an integrated whole. A vocal/trombone duet not listed in the program was drawn from Shostakovich.
Given all the superlative performances — the long list of standouts included James Merenda's alto-sax solo, Hankus Netsky's NEC Jewish Music Ensemble, Eleni Odoni singing Haitian composer Frantz Casseus's "Merci bon Dieu" — it hardly mattered that Blake himself did not perform. He, director Aaron Hartley, and the NEC crew gave us the sort of one-of-a-kind experience that few arts organizations outside of a school have the resources to pull off. As a free concert, no less. Yes, the show was exasperating at times, but also indelible. I'd look forward to a CD.
Argentine singer/composer Sofia Rei Koutsovitis is part of a long line of South and Central American musicians who have enriched the Boston music scene with a pan-American style that fuses varied folkloric traditions with American jazz. Koutsovitis was at the Regattabar on November 10 — visiting from New York, where she's lived since 2005, after getting a master's at NEC — celebrating the release of Sube Azul (World Village/Harmonia Mundi).
This is a more focused disc than her impressive, broad-ranging debut, 2006's self-released Ojala, with its extended arrangements. Here she mostly sticks with folk-song forms and dance rhythms in a relatively spare setting, but with plenty of room for solo improvisation and the occasional cello, saxophone, or trombone. But her voice — dark, athletic, with a mournful catch — is the center of attention. At the Regattabar, her band sported an all-star cast of Boston–New York players: pianist Leo Genovese, bassist Jorge Roeder (a key partner in producing the new album), percussionists Jorge Pérez-Albela and Tupac Mantilla, and guitarist Eric Kurimski.