Sheryl Bailey Quartet at Fat Cat, February 2, 2018

I had the good fortune to catch the second set of the Sheryl Bailey Quartet’s February 2 performance at Fat Cat, in the West Village. In the same large NYC basement as dozens of people playing pool, ping-pong, Scrabble, table bocce, foozeball, and who-knows-what-else, guitarist-composer-leader Bailey guided pianist Jim Ridl, bassist Andy McKee, and drummer Sylvia Cuenca through a five-tune set of her originals.

Throughout the set, the band played with a clear, unexaggerated, almost-light-definitely-not-heavy attack. At no point do I recall them rising to a bashing, thunderous level. While their set was certainly not meditative, can-hear-a-pin-drop-in-space quiet, just as much it wasn’t a self-consciously loud set. They infused the set with energy, but without spending much time at the extremes. In this ensemble, that tendency, shared among all, did not result in anything that could be mistaken for middle-of-the-road background filler. I understood the avoidance of volume extremes as saying to those in the distraction-filled environment who chose to put the music first, “Stay focused! Listen The interesting stuff isn’t only at the extremes.”

Sheryl Bailey performing at the 55 Bar, Summer 2016

The set consisted, in order, of “An Unexpected Turn,” “Lazy Dazy,” “What She Said,” “Last Night,” and “Starbrite.” Bailey gave each number a brief introduction. Most memorable were her intros to “An Unexpected Turn” and “Lazy Dazy.” The former, she related, was inspired by unpredictable and creatively satisfying run-ins with NYC jazz cats, including her quartet bandmates. “Lazy Dazy,” Bailey said, came to her in the aftermath of a rare day off—something, as a self-described “type-A” personality who needs to “get shit done,” with which she’s not entirely comfortable. The tune, which is as yet not to be found on any of her albums, does conjure some discomfort; its A and B sections have a playful, but somewhat awkward relationship. It’s not difficult for me to imagine Bailey as constantly busy, not only from her involvement in numerous projects, but from my observation that every time I’ve been to one of her gigs as the leader, she has performed a new composition. I’ve come to expect and look forward to hearing her new and unrecorded tunes at her gigs. 

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Review: Steven Wilson – To the Bone

Although parts of his new album recall his work with his earlier project, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson’s To the Bone is not a simple throwback to an earlier stage of his career. To my ear, it sounds like the Porcupine Tree guy and progressive solo artist jettisoning the metal riffs and keeping the song lengths (more or less) under control, while holding onto his earlier project’s melodic hooks, broad dynamics, and sprawling atmospheres. Wilson’s dialing back of his earlier metal and prog leanings casts his melodies on To the Bone in a direct light and allows his earthy, Gilmour-influenced guitar style and pop instincts to leaven the progressive depth of his songs. It’s ironic that Wilson’s music seems most welcoming of human contact when he is making more of it himself. On To the Bone, when Wilson features another musician—specifically vocalist Ninet Tayeb, who takes lead vocal turns on three tracks, most spectacularly on “Pariah”—the contribution really packs dramatic impact.     

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Humanity Quartet, with guitarist Peter Bernstein, @ Smalls, 8/19/17

Humanity Quartet played a late set full of original compositions, flowing improvisation, structural surprises, and humor to a packed house at Smalls, in New York City’s West Village, in what was actually the earliest hour of August 20. The group consists of esteemed New York City jazz veterans drummer Leon Parker, bassist Sean Smith, tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, and guitarist Peter Bernstein.

They didn’t explain their name, and I have no official word on this, but it seems to me that the name of the group could be a reference to the subtle, hard-to-notice variations in human interaction that are always happening yet never undermine communication, and without which we’d just be complicated machines. Maybe I’m stretching in my interpretation, but most, if not all, of the tunes in their set of six contained a twist on jazz bandstand conventions. 

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The “oldest song in the world” was (probably) played with a pick!

On my way to Central Park one recent afternoon, I couldn’t resist investigating this sign:

“What’s the oldest song in the world?” is not a question I’ve ever asked. Given that audio recording didn’t exist until Edison’s phonograph in 1877 and we know of songs from long before that time, the question aims at the oldest known notated song. Through the end of August 2017, New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World hosts an exhibit that includes  a reproduction the ancient tablet on which the oldest known song is notated (pictured below-not very exciting), along with a video installation that shows some contemporary renditions of the tune. (See the links below for audio.)

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Preview Review — Queens of the Stone Age “Villains”

Queens of the Stone Age is about to release their first new album since 2013. Villains is due on August 25, 2017. Early press describes the Mark Ronson-produced album as danceable. Two tracks—“The Way You Used to Do” and “The Evil Has Landed”—are already available.  “Danceable” need not connote “full of funky clichés”: anything but, in this case. You can certainly dance to these tunes, but you should probably be the type that likes dancing to something sinister. If you’re also a rock guitar nerd, you’ll want to check to the intricate-but-never-fussy guitar arrangements.

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New Mike Stern album due September 7, 2017!

A new Mike Stern album will arrive on September 7, 2107. Titled “Trip,” it’s Stern’s first since a serious fall landed the esteemed jazz guitarist on the disabled list. Back on his feet now for a while, Stern offers “Whatchacallit” to prime his listeners for the new collection.