Moscow on the West Side: Going from Cold War to hot jazz


Been catching the weekly episodes of Moscow’s swingcentric Jazzophrenia? Me neither: Time Warner hasn’t made many deals with the artier elements of Russian TV. Those familiar with the global improv scene would likely recognize the host, however. Saxophonist Igor Butman helms the presentation; a bon vivant with enough cultural juice to be deemed “the Wynton Marsalis of Russia,” he leads a quartet and big band, is an owner of Moscow’s hippest jazz club, and broadcasts the art of swing to interested parties from the Urals to the Ukraine. And though he’s spent time in the States—after befriending Gary Burton and Chick Corea at a mid-’80s St. Petersburg jam session, he studied at Boston’s Berklee School of Music, played some Brighton Beach restaurant gigs, and made pals with a scad of New York players before heading back home to practice, practice, practice—his visits have been few. Butman’s large ensemble did share the stage with Marsalis’s Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in a battle of the bands last fall, but there are only four American stops on this current U.S. jaunt. His return to midtown has the resonance of an event.

Billy Pierce was one of Butman’s mentors in Boston, and the combination of good teachers and steady gigging has made the saxophonist a convincer. The title cut from his Prophecy disc finds him guiding the other members of his quartet—pianist Anton Baronin, bassist Vitaly Solomonov, and drummer Edward Zizak—through a well-designed ballad that puts a sharp edge on a Pres-centric sound that’s both plush and persuasive. This is an ongoing ensemble, and the chemistry is obvious. Though the musicians like to tear it up on cookers such as “The Magic Triangle,” their reflective stuff—their strong suit, say some—has plenty of oomph. Looking like a cross between Nathan Lane and The Office‘s Ricky Gervais, the genial blond boss knows how to be an enter-tainer—don’t be surprised if you fall under his spell.

Igor Butman, March 3-6, Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, 212.581.3080


March 6

55 Bar, 55 Christopher Street, 212.929.9883

Some jazz vocalists strive for a sophistication that supports their material’s arty exclusivity. McGarry, who’s released a head-turning disc entitled Show Me, is much more homespun, and her rather out-of-step character provides lots of singularity. She sports a dungaree jacket, not a cocktail dress, on the album cover, and the music is just as unaffected—even when the arrangements are somewhat elaborate. Credit the singer’s voice, a grainy whisper that conjures Rickie Lee Jones more often than it does Sarah Vaughan. She should be captivating in this cozy pub.


March 26-28

Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street, 212.576.2232

Reed magician Ehrlich is not only a multi-instrumentalist, he’s a multi-bandstrumentalist. The first two nights of this stint find the saxophonist introducing his New Trio (with cellist Erik Friedlander and drummer Allison Miller), dueting with pianist-harmonium player Myra Melford, and working his piano quartet with James Weidman, Billy Drummond, and Mike Formanek. The final evening brings the biggest treat. The reeds-only Julius Hemphill Sextet will make a rare appearance playing the late composer’s bluesy, beguiling, and beautiful charts under Ehrlich’s direction.


April 9, 16, 23, and 30

Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street, 212.539.8500

One key foreigner making the scene this spring is Pablo Neruda. Brazilian native Souza has a pending disc that blends the Chilean master’s verse with her own music, and it’s proper to be psyched: A couple of years ago, Souza proved her skills at adapting poetry with a nod to Elizabeth Bishop. Highlighting her intrepid nature, the Neruda program is done in duet with pianist Edward Simon, who’s accompanied the singer enough to know her characteristic twists. Her agility has been applauded in several quarters, but it’s the depth of her emotion that ultimately sells her jazz tunes and art songs. Working Neruda’s imagery into the mix can only enhance that.


April 13-18

Jazz Standard 116 East 27th Street, 212.576.2232

Moving into its 12th year, the JCC is our definitive musician-run jazz org. Its members flesh out each other’s ideas, sharing time on both the brainstorming and bandstanding fronts. Its Fourth Annual Fest is a six-night bash at which they share the stage and feed each other’s fire. The instrumentation of Ted Nash’s Odeon is symbolic of its music’s scope: trombone, violin and accordion join the leader’s reeds. The forthcoming Subtextures should explain how trumpeter Ron Horton has turned freebop into one of jazz’s most lithe lingoes. Saxophonist Michael Blake leads a long-standing trio and a new quintet; both will illustrate just how keenly he’s integrated North African melodies into his work. Pianist Frank Kimbrough’s gorgeous pieces can be kaleidoscopic and alluring; his Lullabluebye hits in April. Bassist Ben Allison’s Peace Pipe ensemble knows about our “far and away” concept; it’s not every jazz ensemble that’s built around an African kora. Mali native Balla Tounkara handles the string instrument, and Allison composes tunes that put its earthy glimmer front and center. Somewhere in between all the self-composed tunes, the JCC manages to interpret the suave blues bop of overlooked hero Lucky Thompson.


April 15

Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street, 212.539.8500

The Diaspora grows and grows and grows, and in theory the Cuban pianist’s omni-Caribbean, pan-African tack bites off more than it can chew. But in practice, on 2002’s gorgeous Sentir and the recent Pictures of a Soul, it does the deed. Echoes of Moroccan prayer and hip-hop battle raps float up through the forward motion pulses that everyone on my block would probably hear as swing. And because Sosa’s music usually boasts as many passages of keyboard reflection as it does percussion intricacy, there’s a perfect calm brewing in the middle of this truly cosmopolitan music.


April 15-17

Jazz Gallery, 290 Hudson Street, 212.242.1063

Some saxophonists have a natural vehemence that occasionally pulls your concentration away from the actual trajectory of their solos. You can hear it in a host of musicians, from Sonny Rollins to Kenny Garrett. The Puerto Rican alto player is one such player; his new Ceremonial is built around a fluid sense of swing, but it bristles with earnestness. That ardor seems to multiply when you’re sitting in front of him in a small club. His night at the Gallery should be an ear-opener.


May 26-31

Various venues, 646.331.1032

Center at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, Mulberry Street and Prince Street

Up and running for almost a decade now, this annual gathering of musicians, dancers, and poets has become the flagship affair for New York’s left-leaning improvisers. If you’re well-versed in spontaneous combustion and fluent in loftspeak, it’s likely you’re on the bill. One hundred fifty artists participate in the fest during its six days, and this year’s master stroke is the reuniting of the Revolutionary Ensemble, with violinist Leroy Jenkins, bassist Sirone, and percussionist Jerome Cooper. Also booked are Kidd Jordan, James Blood Ulmer, Joe McPhee, Barre Philips, and Khan Jamal.