McCoy Tyner, Dead Cat Bounce, panel discussion
January 1, 1970McCoy Tyner was covered twice this week, with a Thursday Calendar preview of his quartet's Thursday-through-Sunday stay at the Real Deal Jazz Club & Café, followed by a Saturday review of Thursday's opening show. In between came a profile of the locally based Dead Cat Bounce, a sextet of four saxophones, bass, and drums that calls to mind people like Charles Mingus and the World Saxophone Quartet.
There was also an account of the recent panel discussion of "The Past, Present and Future of Jazz in Boston," which managed to slightly misquote yours truly twice. I actually said Boston and Chicago were neck and neck in the race to be jazz's second city (after New York). I thought maybe I'd mispoken on this, but a musician who was in the audience confirmed to me this past week that he'd heard me concede the No. 1 spot to New York as I'd intended. (Said musician added that his personal opinion was "the hell with New York.")
I'd also made a point of noting that Ben Ratliff writes many excellent reviews of jazz concerts and CDs in the New York Times; what the Times doesn't do much of anymore is run profiles of jazz artists in the Sunday arts section. I wondered whether this was because of a new editor, a woman in her late twenties, being appointed to oversee the Times arts section at around the same time the Times cut back on its Sunday jazz profiles. (There is certainly no shortage of profiles of pop artists geared to a young crowd since she took over, but I wonder whether Times subscribers are really so much more into hip hop and rap than they are into jazz.)
In any case, the Allston-Bright TAB's account of the panel discussion — and a photo of me classily gulping water from a Poland Springs bottle between Donal Fox and Steve Charbonneau — can be found here: http://www2.townonline.com/allston/artsLifestyle/view.bg?articleid=144551
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Playing fast and loose, Tyner is sublime
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | December 18, 2004
CAMBRIDGE — Alto saxophonist Gary Bartz spent a fair amount of Thursday night's opening set by the McCoy Tyner Quartet with his eyes shut and a beatific smile on his face as he listened to the legendary pianist's solos.
Tyner had that blissful effect on a lot of people at the Real Deal Jazz Club & Cafe. Playing with his band, he was elegant, but on his own, he approached the sublime.
The quartet had a makeshift feel to it, with Tyner seeming to make up the set list on the fly. Not that it mattered with pros of this caliber. The group started off with Bartz, Tyner, bassist Charnett Moffett, and drummer Eric Gravatt (filling in for the advertised Eric Harland) soloing on a relatively uptempo number, followed by a slower piece that featured Tyner, Bartz, and Moffett.
Those two pieces had a kind of perfunctory excellence to them. But on the next tune, on which Tyner played unaccompanied, things began edging toward transcendence. There's probably no pianist alive who can approximate Art Tatum as closely as Tyner can, and on this song he did so with his flurries of notes, yet he remained unmistakably himself as he played fast and loose with the melody.
Next up was "Blues on the Corner," from Tyner's classic 1967 album "The Real McCoy." Bartz spun the familiar melody inside out and took a long solo that left him breathless, Moffett and Gravatt took turns alternating brief solos, and after Tyner had his say, he and Bartz traded solos back and forth until Bartz restated the theme.
The group followed that with the Spanish-flavored "Angelina" from Tyner's CD "Illuminations," which was recently nominated for a Grammy. Bartz sounded more abstract here with another well-developed solo, and Moffett stirred up some excitement with a particularly energetic accompaniment and by thumping his bass strings hard with his thumb to give his own solo a down-home funkiness.
Tyner paused here to announce the next tune: John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice." Here again the band dropped out for a stretch so Tyner could get Tatum-esque by himself, and Bartz's solo, when it came, was especially burning and had a cerebral quality to it reminiscent of Sonny Rollins.
Gravatt closed out the set in good form with his lone full-fledged solo, and then the band came back out for an encore featuring Bartz on his curved soprano. By then, there were smiles all around.
McCoy Tyner Quartet
At: Real Deal Jazz Club & Cafe, Thursday, first set (repeats tonight, tomorrow)
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
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Steckler gives Dead Cat Bounce a lively, raucous resonance
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | December 17, 2004
Dead Cat Bounce will be premiering a 10-song suite at Zeitgeist Gallery tomorrow night, but there's no guarantee the new work will have a name yet.
"Right now I've just been calling them 'number one' and 'number two,' that kind of thing," says band leader Matt Steckler. "But I wanted to pick first an overall title for the entire 10 pieces as a whole, and I just haven't found that one name that gives it a resonance yet."
Resonance, clearly, is something Steckler likes in his song titles. And in his band's name as well.
This rip-roaring aggregation of four saxophones, bass, and drums could obviously have gone the conventional jazz route and called itself something as straightforward as the Matt Steckler Sextet. Instead, Steckler went for something worthier of a smart-alecky rock band, plucking a Wall Street expression meaning a short, misleading uptick in the stock market following a nasty plunge. (Antipathy toward felines had nothing to do with it; Steckler and his longtime girlfriend live with two of them, named Talmot and Mingus.)
"It had that kind of tongue-in-cheek resonance that I like," says Steckler. "And some people say it's also like a reincarnation of old jazz cats gone nutty kind of thing, sort of a phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes imagery. So I was going for that, too."
The group's highly impressive 2004 CD, "Home Speaks to the Wandering," is rife with resonant titles as well: "I Once Was Vaccinated With a Phonograph Needle" and "Department of Homeland Strategery," to name two. Then there's the locally linked "Myopia Hunt Club," whose moniker is borrowed from the country club of that name on the North Shore.
"I saw a sign for that place as I was driving one day," recalls Steckler, 30, who lived in Salem for four years after earning his master's at New England Conservatory, "and it just kind of stuck. I liked the irony of it, people not being able to see very well out hunting."
It isn't merely the fanciful song titles that have caught people's attention, however. Steckler has blended such early influences as Charles Mingus and the World Saxophone Quartet into a sound that is very much his own, one that has gotten the band voted top local jazz act by Boston Phoenix readers three of the past four years. (Steckler is the only Cat to have relocated to New York, having done so last year.)
The Mingus influence is especially evident. Steckler's music — he has composed nearly all the band's work so far — has a controlled raucousness reminiscent of Mingus, and the hollering he does to spur the frenzy toward the end of "Hepcat Revival" on the recent CD sounds as if he's channeling Mingus's spirit. Mingus also had a playful streak when it came to naming compositions.
Mingus was one of many musicians whose work Steckler became acquainted with by sifting through his father's record collection while growing up in Schenectady, N.Y. But two other influences came along during his undergraduate years at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Both Anthony Braxton (whom Steckler studied with at Wesleyan) and the late Thomas Chapin (whom Steckler studied with privately in New York), like Mingus, placed a heavier emphasis on their work as composers than as instrumentalists.
"I always want to be respected as a player," says Steckler, who plays various saxophones and flute, "but Thomas Chapin taught me something early on that stuck with me: Good players are a dime a dozen, and what really makes you distinguished is the originality of the music that you come up with. And to really just stick to your voice and not worry so much about what people think."
It was Steckler's composing that prompted Charlie Kohlhase to join Dead Cat Bounce several years ago. "It's hard to play," says the veteran saxophonist of
Steckler's music. "There are a lot of people who write stuff that's difficult to play, but most can't write stuff that you can actually remember the melody after you've heard it."
The new stuff being unveiled at Zeitgeist tomorrow may not have a name yet, but Steckler is willing to offer a hint of what's in store for people.
"Compared to what I've done before with the group," he says, "some of it might be a little bit more in the abstract direction. I mean, some of it comes off as really jamming, and there'll be great opportunities for improvisation. But some of it almost has a classicalness to it — stately and refined, but also 20th-century tonalities. For the first time, I'm getting some things that are almost like European in there."
Dead Cat Bounce isn't the only group of young jazz musicians unveiling new work at Zeitgeist this weekend. On Sunday evening, starting at 9:30, the Boston Jazz Composers Collective will stage a double bill of original jazz and improvised music. Leading off will be Gabriel Birnbaum's ''Departures," a song cycle of chamber jazz inspired by the experiences of traveling. Performing it will be a quartet made up of Birnbaum on tenor and soprano sax, Danny Mekonnen on tenor sax, Jeremy Vovcsko on alto sax, and Andrew Fenlon on guitar. Up next will be the Big Heidelberg, a quartet of musicians from Newton and Brookline assembled to explore music inspired by the downtown New York jazz scene. The group includes Birnbaum again on tenor and soprano sax, Ben Stepner on piano and keyboards, Dan Karp on electric and acoustic bass, and Noah Rubin on drums.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
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Thurs 12-16 (Calendar)
The McCoy Tyner Quartet with Gary Bartz
Real Deal Jazz Club & Café, Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center, 41 Second St., Cambridge. 617-876-7777. 7:30 & 10 p.m. $32. Also Fri.-Sun. $12-$36.
McCoy Tyner has been a major figure in jazz for four decades, first as a member of John Coltrane's great quartet (rounded out by bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones) and later as the leader of his own groups. His distinctive piano sound - deep, thunderous chords from the left hand punctuating machine-gun-rapid runs from the right - doesn't change much from project to project. Instead, he relies on shifting personnel and instrumentation to keep his group sounding fresh. On his two most recent passes through Cambridge, Tyner was joined by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker. This time around his featured soloist will be Gary Bartz, an underrated alto and soprano saxophonist whose distinguished sideman work with the likes of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Max Roach, Miles Davis, and Tyner dates back to the late '60s and early '70s. Bartz has gone on to lead numerous projects of his own since then, but he also reunited with Tyner for the pianist's excellent 2004 CD "Illuminations." Joining them at the Real Deal tonight through Sunday will be bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Eric Harland.