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Listening Post: A New Jazz Trio on its Way to Hallwalls and an all-Ives disc from Seattle.

Jazz/New Music

Ches Smith with Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri, “The Bell” (ECM). One of the great jazz events of the past three decades in Buffalo was jazz saxophonist James Carter’s 1995 gig at the Calumet Cafe on Chippewa Street. Carter’s gig was such a hit that the club had to turn away a large spillover audience, all of whom were able to hear the great music anyway because Calumet owner Mark Goldman threw open the club’s doors and windows for everyone who wanted to hear on the street that summer night. Those who were there that wild and celebratory night would have trouble believing that the pianist for Carter’s incredible gig then was Craig Taborn, who is the coolly intellectual pianist on this melding of jazz and classical music in the characteristic ECM style. These three musicians will be coming to bring their music to Hallwalls on Feb. 19. Drummer Smith has said the original intention of coming together was a one-off live event of pure improvisational music by him, pianist Taborn and violist Mat Maneri. “The idea,” Smith said, “was to keep the writing as minimal as possible. I didn’t want it to get in the way of the improvising because the improvising was amazing.” He calls the result “Big Picture Music.” It’s certainly gripping to hear on record but I have a feeling that it’s second-by-second surprises will be more exciting heard live. Two and a half stars. (Jeff Simon)


Charles Ives, Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4. “The Unanswered Question” and “Central Park in the Dark” performed by the Seattle Symphony under conductor Ludovic Morlot (Seattle Symphony). So rich is the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s history of maverick experimentalism that the two most daunting works, by far, of Charles Ives – the Fourth Symphony and the Robert Browning Overture – had been performed by the BPO long before the orchestra got around to the more easily assimilable Ives works for the recent Ives celebration. Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the massive daunting Fourth Symphony and, of all people, Morton Gould conducted polytonal mass of ecstatic sound in the Browning Overture in 1984. Here, signifying a youngish conductor with a penchant for Tilson Thomas’ appetite for adventure, is a pristinely clear and fine recording of Ives’ Fourth Symphony. When it was first collated from Ives’ notes in 1965 and performed, so complex that three conductors were used. It’s amazing what time and musical ambition can accomplish and the French Morlot has done an altogether prodigious job with Ives’ huge, wildly complex score (requiring two pianos, an organ, musical chorus and orchestra sections operating independently). It is loaded with hymns, polyrhythms, polytonality and a visionary exuberance that lands on the ear just this side of chaos and mud. Performed well, it is one of the glories of American music – indeed American art in general – and Morlot and his Seattle Orchestra perform it well enough. No small feat that. Both “The Unanswered Question” and “Central Park in the Dark” benefit from Morlot’s crystal clarity even if they don’t have quite the transcendental summer night mysticism that others (Bernstein, Stokowwski) have achieved. Ives’ eminently approachable Third Symphony, subtitled “The Camp Meeting” is the perfect way to conclude the disc without scaring any small children, spraining any music ears or frightening the daylights out of the dowagers in the audience. Three and a half stars. (Jeff Simon)