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Read the latest edition of Hot House Magazine! View and download here in Acrobat: August 2014
Winning Spins by George Kanzler
Two trumpeters who have been important participants in the New York jazz scene for three-plus and two-plus decades, respectively, are featured in this month’s Winning Spins. Eddie Allen hit the Big Apple via the jazz program at William Paterson University in the late 1970s and, besides leading his own small and large bands, has been part of ensembles as diverse as Mongo Santamaria’s, Muhal Richard Abrams’ and Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy. Alex Sipiagin is one of a cohort of talented Russian jazz players on the scene; he came here in the early 1990s with bassist Boris Kozlov. Both are long-time members of the Mingus Big Band and, along with three others bandmates, constitute the cooperative quintet Opus 5.
Progression, Opus 5 (Criss Cross). Like Eddie Allen, the members of Opus 5 are more ambitious and adventurous than to produce tracks following a basic head-solos-head formula and, even more than Allen, they favor odd time signatures. Trumpeter Sipiagin, tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, bassist Kozlov, pianist David Kikoski and drummer Donald Edwards were not only well acquainted with one another from the Mingus Big Band, but had also been on an Opus 5 tour of Europe before going into the studio to record Progression, the band’s third album. That familiarity makes even the most intricate and acrobatic ensemble feats come off with aplomb, as on Kozlov’s “Walk A Waltz” which, strangely, has no 3/4 time but where the jigsaw puzzle-like theme juxtaposes meters of 5 and 7 and each solo is taken in a different time: Kikoski’s Fender Rhodes solo in 7/4; Sipiagin’s trumpet in a faster than “Take Five” 5/4 and Blake’s in 4/4 swing.
Sipiagin splits between trumpet and flugelhorn, playing both with clean élan and a frisson on uptempos and deft lyricism on slower ones. On his own “Climbing,” he adds to the swirling polyphonal lines in 7/4 time by dubbing Harmon-muted trumpet along with his flugelhorn. Kikoski also adds tonal colors by switching between acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes. The band’s inventive approach culminates in Edwards’ waltz ballad for his mother, “Geraldine,” as two themes emerge from flugelhorn and tenor sax, solos are cast in 11 bar segments and just when the horns seem to take it out, Kikoski’s piano adds a long, lyrical solo as coda.
Alex Sipiagin leads a quintet that duplicates the personnel of Opus 5 at Smalls August 13-14.
“PJ Rasmussen interviews Bucky Pizzarelli as part of his Boardwalk Jazz concert series. For 17 weeks, PJ brings jazz legends, Grammy winners, and rising talent to the Jersey Shore. See more videos and upcoming scheduleat www.boardwalk-jazz.com.”
Craig Handy: Second Line Smith
By Seton Hawkins
Imagine an artist with a performance résumé that includes stints with Art Blakey, Wynton Marsalis, Roy Haynes, Abdullah Ibrahim, Betty Carter, Elvin Jones, Joe Henderson, Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Mingus Big Band and whose saxophone playing was broadcast into millions of homes each night via the Cosby Show, yet is still criminally underrated. In the extraordinary saxophonist Craig Handy, you have just that artist.
If there is justice in the universe, this will change following the release of his fifth album as a bandleader: Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith. This remarkable project effortlessly fuses the grooving organ work pioneered by Jimmy Smith with New Orleans second line rhythms and unites Handy’s ensemble with guest appearances by Dee Dee Bridgewater, Wynton Marsalis and others.
The origins of this infectiously danceable ensemble lay in Hudson County NJ. “The core of the group was myself along with Kyle Koehler and Matt Chertkoff, both of whom lived near my neighborhood at the time,” Handy explains. “Previously, I hadn’t played much in an organ band. I did work with Dr. Lonnie Smith, but I never worked with Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff or Larry Young. When you don’t really get to do something, later in life you want to go back and try it out. So I decided I was going to start my own organ band.”
The ensemble began gigging locally in New Jersey, while also taking some Manhattan-based dates. Handy brought in Steve Williams as the drummer and slowly the band started to develop a strong sound and rapport. It also hit an artistic plateau. “We got to a point where we had this smoking chitlin’ circuit-style organ group,” Handy recalls. “And after one of our best gigs, we realized that in playing Jimmy Smith’s or Larry Young’s songs, we were never going to be able to play that music any better than those guys did. I’m not Stanley Turrentine, Matt’s not Wes Montgomery, Kyle’s not Jimmy Smith. We are who we are, and we had to figure out a different route.”
With that, Handy set to work re-imagining the music and finding a new path. While listening to the original recordings of the masters, Handy noticed a strong rhythmic resonance between the work of Jimmy Smith and the rhythms of New Orleans. “I started listening to Smith’s hits, namely The Cat and High Heel Sneakers, to see what made them so popular,” Handy notes. “It finally hit me like a sledgehammer: it was the drum rhythms which were basically modified Second Line street beats. And I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a record with this band using modified New Orleans street rhythms.”
Taking his band into the studio, Handy also enlisted the talents of a trio of incredible drummers—Herlin Riley, Jason Marsalis and Ali Jackson—to help drive the unique rhythmic engine he was aiming for. The results are palpable: Smith’s classic “High Heel Sneakers” gets a New Orleans-drenched makeover, while Wes Montgomery’s “Road Song” takes on a new vigor, aided by Clark Gayton’s pumping sousaphone work. Additionally, some of Handy’s former colleagues and collaborators—Dee Dee Bridgewater and Wynton Marsalis—join in as special guests.
The effort has paid off: Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith marks one of the most exciting new releases from the re-launched OKeh Records and the crowd response to the band’s live gigs has proven equally heartening. “Every time we perform we get the same response: people love the music and the band because there’s something for everybody,” Handy says. “We’re a dance band masquerading as a jazz quintet, or perhaps vice versa, depending on how you want to look at it. People who like a beat and want to shake their tail feathers can do that, while people who like the classic records have something to enjoy, because we’re not abandoning straight-ahead jazz either. I don’t want to say it’s crossover, but there’s an element in this music for everybody, even for people who don’t know anything about jazz.”
When Handy brings the band and its exuberant new sound to the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, he is clear on his goal: “It’s going to be a party! We want people to dance, even on stage if they’re feeling it. The only requirement we have is that people have a good time.”
Craig Handy with organist Kyle Koehler, guitarist Matt Chertkoff, Clark Gayton on sousaphone and Jerome Jennings on drums will appear at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival on August 24 at Tompkins Square Park.