Established jazz clubs such as Dizzy’s very seldom venture past the traditional gates of jazz. However, last week Dizzy’s took an adventurous leap by presenting the ever inventive Brazilian percussionist, Cyro Baptista, who for his two-night engagement led two bands, Vira Loucos (the title of his first album as a leader) and Banquet of the Spirits (another album title).
This performance was Baptista’s debut at Dizzy’s, and both nights were sold out. He plays world music, which is misunderstood my many. Simply, it is a colorful mosaic of the world’s music. Baptista’s collage is bright and imaginative, covering the gamut from Brazilian rhythms to a Spanish polka and jazz trances.
He is one of the most exciting percussionists in music, never boring, always on the edge. He creates many of the percussive instruments he plays, so it’s not just his music, but the surprise inventive instruments he has created since his last outing.
The group played a jazz infected Don Cherry (the trumpeter known for his world fusion and jazz interpretations) tune. You can feel the jazz connection in his music, but the ensemble’s accordion introduces a totally different sound and concept to the music. Some patrons were inspired to dance on Baptista’s “Ode to Obama.” “I like Obama and unfortunately he will be leaving soon, so this is for him,” said Baptista.
Because he couldn’t stop smoking, he wrote a song to inspire him entitled, “Stop smoking so I can kiss you with my ashtray mouth.” He laughs and says, “I just want to have fun.”
Baptista is a very busy percussionist on stage, making interesting sounds or quickly holding down a rhythmic beat on his congas or tambourine. It is almost similar to a small carnival performance but much more swinging. His band of like minds included pianist Brian Marsella, bassist Shanir Blumenkranz, guitarist John Lee, accordionist Felipe Hostins and drummer Gil Oliveira.
After Baptista’s engagement, the innovative bassist, composer and poet William Parker made his debut two-night stint at Dizzy’s, also selling out his two nights. Why hasn’t such an accomplished bassist made this scene before is tied to the fundamental tradition that keeps such musicians out of the mainstream traffic of uptown standard jazz clubs.
Oddly enough both of these gentlemen have earned international reputations on the jazz scene, with a committed cult following in this eclectic city, which speaks to why their engagements were sold out.
Parker, along with his competent non-conformist ensemble, Cosmic Mountain Octet, and the second night, with the In Order to Survive-Extended Breath Ensemble, demonstrated that classifications are made to be shattered.
The “Middle Section of #7: A Survival Tune” had that big-band blast. At moments you didn’t know if you were in a holy roller church or an old ring-house prayer meeting. The renowned Kidd Jordan’s tenor saxophone was on a rampage through blues measures. “Morning in East Harlem” encompassed a piano romp and harmonic horns following a trombone lead. “We have multiple ways to heal you with our music,” noted Parker.
The first tune of the second set lasted for the duration of that set, which was an exhilarating journey that included a music spectrum extending beyond that four-letter word jazz. Regardless of the mood or where the rhythms flowed, Parker was in the mix, up, down and around, playing with liberated intuitiveness.
The second night featured pianist Cooper Moore on banjo, which added another dimension to the ensemble. It wasn’t a gig. It was a rousing sermon, with deacons of the music playing in the far out merged with hot Latin beats and improvisational movements.
Parker has been a part of the free association movement (also called avant garde and free jazz) since the 1970s.The rib is if you want to hear avant garde travel to the Lower Eastside and for straight ahead it’s the west Village and uptown.
However, Williams’ recent performances at Dizzy’s substantiates that jazz heads of various depths can coexist uptown when the music is moving. Forget the categories that are just a separatist myth rendered by the jazz police.
Watching Dizzy’s patrons dance to Parker’s music proves that as Duke projected, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” Obviously his audiences were swayed by his swing. During the days of bebop Dizzy Gillespie became upset when many of his college dates were being cancelled. The reason he learned, was “Kids can’t dance to it, it’s too fast.” Dizzy’s response was “Damn, I don’t understand, because I can dance my ass off to it.”
This point is constantly made about avant garde music. It lacks a rhythmic flow and it doesn’t swing. “Most people don’t listen to the music,” said Williams. “They just put it all together. But as long as you have rhythm, there’s pulse and feeling and the dancing at Dizzy’s proves that point.”
Yes, like any genre, avant garde can be tough. The fiery notes are rough lovers. They kiss you hard but never leave marks, only inspired inspirations.
Parker’s ensemble that kept the audiences on edge for two nights, including Beyonce’s sister Salange Knowles, consisted of pianists Dave Burell and Cooper Moore (also on banjo), saxophonists Daniel Carter (alto), Rob Brown, Kidd Jordan, Mixashawn and Abraham Meenen and drummer Hamid Drake.
In the past few years, the New York jazz scene has been graced with some exceptional young Cuban pianists such as Axel Tosca. The young pianist/keyboardist and composer came to America already known for his jazz and fusion crossover.
Recently he played tunes from his new self-titled CD (Alfie Records) at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust. His ensemble included percussionist Paulo Stagnaro, bassist Joshua Crumbley, on kanum Tamer Pinarbasi, the young trumpeter Kali Rodriguez (also from Cuba and making a name), alto saxophonist/soprano Godwin Louis, on vibes Nakar Warren and the drummer for all seasons Jeff “Tain” Watts.
The guest vocalist was Xiomara Laugart (his mom), who is the queen of song in Cuba and has blossomed in New York. She was joined by vocalists Lauren Desberg and Gerardo Contino. He opened with one of his original tunes on the CD entitled “Accent,” which refers to his strong Cuban accent. The serious groove jumps off with trumpet and alto saxophone leading as Axel leans in and they up the ante into a heavy Cuban swing, with the combustion of congas and drums. Picture Eddie and Charlie Palmieri at the Palladium doing musical damage.
The tune “Africa” was a sleeping ballad that grew into highfaluting melodies with dancing African rhythms steeped in fusion keyboards. Laugart is young pianist and composer who is becoming more talented with each performance. He plays fusion, jazz and African rhythms, always with the cultural tradition of his Cuban roots deeply implanted.