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Mara Rosenbloom’s Flyways at Mercyhurst University

For years I’ve been jealous of accounts by new York music fans of buzzing from one venue to another, taking in multiple noteworthy performances in the same evening. It’s a little harder to do in flyover country, but not impossible, as Sunday proved.

First up was an afternoon performance by pianist Mara Rosenbloom’s Flyways in Mercyhurst University’s Walker Recital Hall. This band’s signature project has been a setting of the second of Adrienne Rich’s 21 Love Poems, and this 40-minute work comprised the band’s first set. A dreamy evocation of awakening to a lover, the poem is part of a cycle that limns the exertions of a relationship that is not supported by the community.

Flyways, Mara Rosembloom, Sean COnly, Anaïs MavielThat struggle was not audible in the drowsy, pensive washes of Debussy-ian piano that opened the work, nor in vocalist Anaïs Maviel‘s pure, rapt soprano. Maviel unfurled ribbons of sound to open the work, but mallets on her muted drum brought a distant thunderstorm to the bedroom window of the two lovers. Gathering darkness swirled around Rosenbloom’s piano and gathered into a whirling, ostinato figure on the line “I’ve been writing for days.” Accompanied by taps on a singing bowl inverted on Maviel’s drum, the passage vividly described another sort of exertion: the agony of creation.

I’m hardly objective, but the alternating mania and doubt attending to the creative process, seemed to be the point of the poem, and it brought forth Rosenbloom’s most evocative music. The work, which has been recorded for imminent release by Fresh Sound/New Talent, alternated short paragraphs of written music that leapt into improvisation. Moods alternated, too, and as the poem’s thoughts returned to the lover, the clouds cleared and the music, commented on by Sean Conly‘s gentle and supportive bass commentary, dissolved into a reverie, with quiet humming by Maviel.

The final line, “To move openly is not simple,” might have been a statement of intent for Flyways’ music, which was almost shockingly open and intimate. Though the sound was far from jazz, the extraordinary level of communal listening and intuitive response brought the audience to the edge of the  lovers’ bed.

This is bravely uncompromising music, not the kind of stuff we get to hear in Erie, Pennsylvania. It’s also not the sort of mainstream fare that JazzErie usually presents. With perhaps 25 people in the audience, it’s not likely to be heard again, but if a service organization such as JazzErie won’t take this sort of chance, who will? To move openly is not simple.

Anaïs MavielThere was a second set, and it opened with what Rosenbloom described as a premiere of new music the band is working on.  It was a blues-soaked, ostinato-driven piece that blazed as much as the first set shimmered.  Again, the text was by Rich, the third poem from her “Origins and History of Consciousness.” Another interrogation of relationships, this time, a furtive one, the poem gave Maviel a chance to soar with improvisations in her highest register. Conly, subbing for Flyways’ regular bassist, Rahsaan Carter,  plucked strong, woody notes in the intensely rhythmic piece, while the leader’s piano turned out churning rhythmic figures alternating with rhapsodic interludes that invoked the way her teachers, Cooper-Moore and Connie Crothers are alternately rooted in the earth and dreamily evocative.

There was more, but I couldn’t stay to hear it.  I had another concert to make that night, and it was more than a subway ride away.

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CD review: Surefire Sweat

Surefire Sweat







“It’s the humidity,” pianist David Torkanowsky told Larry Blumenfeld in an article in Chamber Music Magazine to explain a factor that contributes to the singular sound of New Orleans music.

Toronto, too, is a waterfront town, though less perilously so than the Crescent City, and it can get plenty humid in the summer. Keeping that summer perspiration working might have been the goal of Toronto drummer Larry Graves who assembled Surefire Sweat as his first band as a leader.

Of course, rhythm leads and every member of the eight-member band pitches in. That’s made explicit from the opening “Threshold,” which bounces along on an Afrobeat groove, and the call and response of “Number Nine.”

With its meaty, unison horn riffs anchored by baritone, this project might read as a Canadian Antibalas. That’s an intriguing proposition given how many members of the African diaspora settled in Toronto. And the best cuts on the 44-minute CD share the lift and flow of the New York band (though not the signature sound, close and, well, humid, of Brooklyn’s Daptone Studios).

Graves tries on the sly fun of John Scofield’s “Hand Jive” band on the concluding “Scoffle Strut.” Graves doesn’t quite have the knack of sustaining tension in a laconic beat as Bill Stewart did on that 1994 session. I guess, you have to move pretty briskly to break a sweat in Toronto. “Sunshine Interference,” does just that riding a New Orleans parade groove in five.

It’s fun record, in a wholesome, earnest sort of way. By the way, do Canadians sweat?

Surefire Sweat: Surefire Sweat

Larry Graves – drums, percussion, vocals
Rob Neal Christian – flute
Elena Kapeleris – tenor, vocals
Paul Metcalfe – baritone
Brad Eaton – trumpet
Paul MacDougall – guitar, vocals
Liam Smith – bass, rhodes, vocals
Dave Chan – percussion, Hammond organ, vocals

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