Brooklyn Sound

BROOKLYN SOUND

22nd Street, between 4th and 5th
Brooklyn, NY
10/23/2010
Anchor Steam

The last time I visited Brooklyn was in April, my brother lived on Classon Avenue, and we got together with the folks for a nice weekend, but that’s a different story. A shady trend was growing in his area (sky-boxes and stained brownstone buildings), and he took the move as a blessing.

Now, on the corner of 22nd street, between 4th and 5th, my brother adjusts to a life with his girlfriend. She’s a great girl, and they go well together. They love all the same things, and they even apply to the same jobs. There was nothing out-of-place in this scene, nothing except for maybe the scene itself.

“The house used to be all red, like these stairs,” my brother pointed out as we walked towards it. I was surprised not to walk up the stairs, but instead beside them to the garden-level entrance left of the house. A cozy barbecue patio looked at us as we stepped down into the apartment. It was a unique world underneath a gay couple’s paradise. The bathroom looked to be carved out of a cave, and the radiator (after an interesting story of breaking down and leaking) had a burly towel covering it.

There should be no expectations of greatness, I thought, other than the greatness you make for yourself.

My bed was the floor where the coffee table rests. There was no rug, but they prepared for me a sleeping bag and several warm blankets. I slept like a baby that first night, but not before checking out an art gallery (Under Minerva) we passed by earlier on a walk around the block. There was a painting in the front of a DJ in layers of orange and blue, playing records and mixing it up at a club of diverse colors in the background. The basic colors of the DJ washed over the pretty lights, and it truly stood out from afar.

Over ATM slips and Grizzly Bear, I was enjoying the taste of sugar on my tongue, making a list of songs I had recommended to my brother. It was appreciated over drinks and jazz in south Brooklyn on Saturday, with him and his girlfriend and two of her friends from Pratt. For moments during the show, I saw a notebook passed between the two of them, collaborating in silence while the rest of us watched and listened.

I sat behind the piano player, and on occasion he would look back at me with an odd smile. I didn’t know what to think, and continued drinking my double of Scotch, next to the Cosmopolitan and Brooklyn Lager, Mai Tai and Gin & Tonic.

The show was good. The quartet of drums, piano, bass and trumpet were like four young wolves on the street. For an amateur show, the buzz of the evening revolved around the trumpet player, an awkward sixteen year old with short black curls and bifocals.

There was a saxophonist; his instrument rested casually to my right for a long time. His wine glass was on the table we took when we first arrived, before he came over and took it away himself. He did not play with the group until much later in the set, and his cameo appearance upped the quality dramatically. The trumpet and saxophone ran together, picking up on each other’s vibe as if they knew what the score was.

And then there was that pianist. I don’t know what I did to provoke him, but he was enthusiastic, keeping the melody and giving it his all. There were times when he stood up to bang down on the piano, as if he really needed to let it out that way. Perhaps he just didn’t give a damn.

When the show was over we walked up 5th Avenue and landed at a bar called Commonwealth. It had a nice outdoor patio, with bench-tables and umbrellas. I remember red tables; a tall boy of Anchor Steam beer; the bottle so cold it had icy condensation on it. We were talking about the music and the people at the show. Art-speak and journeys and briefs on photography and music and television were shared over nightcaps, and quip upon quip upon quip… I told them about Boston, and they told me about New York.

My brother mentioned taking shots in the subway tunnels. The empty tunnels of Brooklyn are vast and incredibly dangerous to explore on your own. There is something alluring about the darkness within, and it has my brother’s lens fixed. He tried to explain it to me, but I was too concerned about his safety to go on with it.

It’s just like a butterfly and its fleeting moment in the sky.

We walked up 5th Avenue, passing the famous pizza shop Adam Sandler ate at in “Big Daddy”. I stopped at the all-night bakery ran by some lovely Hispanic ladies who enjoyed my company at 3am, in such a state, ordering cannolis and donuts and cookies and such. We laughed and smiled together for those five minutes before taking it all back home.

I slept on the floor that night, on top of a sleeping bag underneath four warm blankets.

Sunday felt like waking up without a care in the world. In a good way, I felt free to do anything. I had but the clothes on my back. One of them was my Plaid Weekender jacket, and it kept me warm during the walk down to Bagel World, a bagel shop my brother swears by. I went by myself this time to enjoy south Brooklyn’s sights and smells. I bought one of my all-famous egg and pastrami bagel sandwiches in addition to garlic bagels and cream cheese. There was a produce stand across the street, so I waited in line to buy two Macoun apples and a pint of fresh apple cider.

We spoke about music when I got back. The third roommate, PK, was making egg-shaped plaster molds on the kitchen table that looked surprisingly like mini-cities. “Don’t burn me out of your picture,” he said as I got ready for my train home. I think he made his point.

AHMAD JAMAL @ Regattabar

Ahmad Jamal @ Regattabar
Cambridge, MA
11/20/2010
Sam Adams Lager

His entrance was noble; the last one to show up, sitting down while everyone was clapping, and jumping right into something groovy. The band was on queue and picked up right when he did. The tempo was fast at times, and made me think of the fast city streets.

There were moments of release that charged the audience and got us moving in our seats. At other times, things were slower, orchestrated to perfection. There were great solos from all the players, full of improvisation and personality. Manolo Badrena was a creative delight on the percussions. Idris Muhammad was sharp and strong on drums, and James Cammack kept the rhythm and foundation on standing bass.

Ahmad Jamal took the melody and harmony to incredible levels. It was my first impression of him as a musician, and I had no idea he was a major influence on jazz in the 1950s and 1960s. Elements of swing swept the beat from song to song, not wasting a second too long for applause and cheer. My leg kept tapping to the beat underneath the cocktail table, almost spilling my Sam Adams Lager.

I bought his most recent album after the show, and I noticed he was signing autographs after the show. I was the last in line to see him. I told him it was the first time I ever heard his music, and this show made me a fan. He was pleased to hear it, signed the album cover I handed to him, and wished me well as I left. I left him there, knowing he would sit there silently before returning to the stage for a second show. He’s still got it.

Sophisticated Lady

A way about you makes me move;
Bring my arm around you –
Pull me close – my sophisticated lady,
Let me make your dreams come true.

You’re my cute and classy lady;
It’s you the world is trying to meet.
Let’s walk in parks while birds are singing
A song for you that can’t be beat.

Oh, my heart swells and exhales love
At the mere site of you –
Your smile – my sophisticated lady;
Let me make your dreams come true.

1.3.2010

**Listening to Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”**

Travel Notes – Mark Murphy @ the Iridium Jazz Club

Friday, November 27th, 2009
10:40pm
Iridium Jazz Club
51st and Broadway, New York City

Double of Bourbon, a Pen and a Notepad

Final show of Mark Murphy and his band at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City. They open with a natural sound that almost sounds like Paul Simon. Murphy is not on stage. There are two percussionists, one lead guitarist, and one bassist. It vibe feels very good on stage. I like the lead guitarist’s guitar, an acoustic-electric from Yamaha. The exotic percussionist has extremely long hair. He is Israeli, and his name escapes me. He plays the bongos and other natural percussion instruments that casually hang around him like his hair around his eyes. He is playing the triangle now in accompaniment with the drummer, Joel Rosenblatt.

The bassist solos with style; I almost forgot what instrument he was playing.

The first track embodies so much life and groove. I am glad that I decided to attend this show on a whim like this.

“When people say ‘Yeah!’ I don’t know what they mean.”The famous opening words of ” target=”_blank”>Mark Murphy as he walks into the scene. He is assisted on stage by his friend and lead guitarist. He was born in 1934. That would make him damn hear 75 right now. He walked on stage with a cane in hand, a yellow-green-black beanie on, and a thin and grey goatee and beard. His opening words did not lead me to believe he was the vocalist.

They jump right into the music of a generation more known by my parents’ generation: upbeat melody with light Cuban flares, hot potato jazz solos and looks from one another in understanding. Murphy sings alongside a talented quarter. There is such a candid jam quality to the music, and it’s only track two.

NIGHT AND DAY!

He sings at the top of his lungs, and the band finds union in their project, energetic with swing. We’re all clapping as hard as we can.

This is a unique kind of jazz. Old talent meets new, and the blend brings a balance not seen by many modern jazz musicians. There is one legend among young and aspiring talent. Who is the real gem in this mish-mash of artists? The guitar wins my favor; his speed is trumped by his name… Vinny Valentino. I imagine he was raised on this kind of music. Murphy comes from a generation before him, and embodies the lyricism of “hip” jazz from the 1950s and 1960s. They make it work, playing classics I never knew. Murphy’s voice is soothing, and this number they play now is slow and ambient, blends  of old and new. I imagine that over forty-odd years, he’s allowed some drastic changes to his traditional swing. If I were to listen to the track I hear now for an hour (I would allow it), I would eventually fall into a drunken stupor and dream sweet dreams.

They pick up the pace four or five tracks in. This number is very lively, and it is definitely more modern than the others. Fast, noticeably fast. I rock in my seat and clap my hands to the individual solos interlaced in the upbeat.

I get the feeling that Murphy has a lot of fun introducing his players.

CUBA!” and the Cuban bassist, Armando Gola, plays his rocket solos. “Angel Eyes” are the words of choice coming from Murphy’s lips.

This is a song where they found their element, fusion and flow coming together, and Murphy gets up to receive the crowd. He needs his cane to walk, and his comrades on stage receive him and praise him. What an entertainer.

The show is over after an hour and a half set that seemed to fly by. I wasn’t finished with my well-poured double of bourbon yet. Murphy is walking into the crowd now, and shakes the hands of his valued audience and fans. He is getting old for night shows, and the band too restless. How many do they have left together? What kind of relationship do they have? When he first started singing on stage his voice was not smooth, and the band smiled and laughed casually as he collected himself on stage, and got into the groove.

They all gave me one hell of a show tonight; an experience I would otherwise forget if it weren’t for my notes. Thank God for Jazz.

I feel like the show shouldn’t be over.

I feel like the good times have just begun.