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Jazz Review
Artist: Grand Slam
Performance date: March 11, 2000
Publication: New York Times
Emphasis on the Romantic

Published: 03 - 11 - 2000 , Late Edition - Final , Section B , Column 5 , Page 12

NEW YORK TIMES

By BEN RATLIFF

Ad hoc side projects in jazz don't often deliver the goods. Insist as you must that the essence of the music lies in surprises and chance encounters, a group still has to know and direct itself toward its own musical system and pay attention to the matters directly at hand: instrumentation, arrangement, composition.

So how marvelous it is to hear a casual project that succeeds as thoroughly as the band Grand Slam did on Tuesday night at the Blue Note. The band is led by the guitarist Jim Hall and the saxophonist Joe Lovano, with a rhythm section of George Mraz on bass and Lewis Nash on drums, and it's not an occasion for jamming on standards or recycling tunes from albums. Grand Slam is a complete thought unto itself.

The band plays a sort of flyaway chamber jazz, a music of subtle dynamics that doesn't rule out locomotive energy. The frontline makes a perfect match of opposites: Mr. Hall's dry-toned guitar playing with its discrete, deliberate notes and sliding chords works like a bluesy telegraph signal, while Mr. Lovano's saxophone is a gust of momentum, a work of swing in progress.

Mr. Lovano's pieces were essentially romantic -- a ballad, a waltz, a calypso -- and he played all of them with a sense of unquenchable harmonic curiosity and smoky warmth.

It was the material by Mr. Hall, an impressive adventurer at 69, that flirted with exciting formal ideas. In his ''Slam'' and ''Feel Free,'' the band dedicated itself to the simple, bold arrangement: the former was riddled with stop-time sections, and in the latter solos came simultaneously in groups of two -- guitar with bass and saxophone with drums -- as other musicians fell quiet.

There's nothing complex or revolutionary about these structures; they just require more consideration than the conventional full rhythm section accompaniment.

In Lewis Nash's drum patterns there was such acute attention to timbre and a melodic grace that at times he sounded more as if he were playing through composed lines on a vibraphone than just providing a beat. This was music of such quiet articulation that the sound system threatened to flatten it. But the band overcame this potential problem with its own flow.

Grand Slam plays at the Blue Note, 131 West Third Street, Greenwich Village, through tomorrow.

 

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