Jazz Notes Intel: Eclectic French Violinist Scott Tixier Soars; Pianist George Burton Explores Complexity at Dizzy’s; and Three Dot Lounge . . .
By Dan Ouellette, Senior Editor ZEALnyc, February 22, 2018 (No. 1)
In a Saturday early-afternoon conversation, Scott Tixier stresses that he’s beyond busy. “I get distracted easily,” said the rising-star France-born, Brooklyn-based jazz violinist and composer when asked if he were ramping up for a new recording to follow up his 2016 vibrant and high-flying Cosmic Adventure on Sunnyside Records. “Ever since I was really young, I’ve been pushing my dream to be a great jazz improviser, but sometimes things get in the way.”
Indeed, trivial things like performing last year on the Stephen Colbert Late Show with ex-Pink Floyd Rogers Waters for his first new album in 24 years, Is This the Life We Really Want? Then last month Tixier was a part of the Madison Square Garden mega-show honoring Elton John. In an hour he is heading to Chelsea to do a recording session with Paul Schaefer, David Letterman’s former bandleader/pianist, and then preparing to hit the road with chamber music composer Daniel J. Bowen for a five-city tour in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Fresh off the road, Tixier will have only a few days to prepare for his February 26 date at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola with his quartet—pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Luques Curtis, drummer Allan Mednard—and six strings players. It’s his adventurous 32nd birthday celebration. On and off for the past four months, the classically trained-with-a-jazz-minor violinist been gearing up for this show although at the same time he’s been working on new classical music for a 44-piece orchestra and a string quartet. “But I can’t get that played,” he said. “So I’m focusing on writing music for improvisation. I’m musically creating whatever I want.”
Given that he’s got an expanded band, Tixier has been rearranging songs from his last album as well as working on new music that gives voice to the team of classical string players he’s enlisted—violinists Kiku Enomoto, Molly Fletcher and Maggie Gould; violaists Kenny Wang and Chiara Fasi; and cellist Susan Mandel. “With ten players on stage,” he said, “this show will be very different. It won’t be like my albums at all.”
Even though today he has a lengthy resume of impressive sideman gigs ranging from movie stars to pop idols and jazz noteworthies, life was a challenge when the 20-year-old Tixier moved to New York. He wanted to jump into the jazz fray, but oftentimes had to settle for gigs looking for a violin player to play classical or Irish or bluegrass. Still, he began to connect with improvisers. Violin isn’t a common instrument in the genre—elder statesman Jean-Luc Ponty and today’s maestro Regina Carter come to mind as those who have overcome the odds—so he stretched out playing gigs with a variety of people. “I had a church gig that didn’t pay, but I got to know some people, including this guitarist Jerome Mitchell,” he said. “He liked my thing.” They traveled together with the church to the 2009 ceremony in D.C. at the Capitol building where Michelle Obama and others celebrated the unveiling of a bronze bust of Sojourner Truth.
Five years later Jerome’s cousin, music contractor/keyboardist Lamar Mitchell, unexpectedly gave Tixier a call looking for someone who could read music and improvise for a gig at Madison Square Garden. The star? Stevie Wonder who was on his Songs in the Key of Life tour. “Stevie was around at rehearsal and told me that I was going to improvise on a tune that night,” Tixier said. “He didn’t tell me what song, so I was stressed. It turned out to be ‘Knocks Me Off My Feet’ which is in the worst key for me: C# minor. But I just did it and felt totally free.” He continued touring with Wonder for several dates in 2014 and 2015.
As for that next album, Tixier said that he’d like to switch gears from being on the premiere Sunnyside Records indie to going for the big time: Blue Note Records. “Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of being on Blue Note,” he said, while acknowledging that it’s probably a pipe dream in this environment of diminishing returns for labels. “The jazz violin is underrated on the scene. I could always record the album by myself, but I’m not a kid anymore. I feel like the clock is ticking. I’ve got meaningful things to do before I die. I don’t want to waste any time.”
SCENE OF THE UNHEARD: GEORGE BURTON
With piano finesse, rollick, impressionism, power and risk taking, George Burton made his rousing Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola debut on Wednesday, February 21, leading his quintet that featured in starring roles as improvisers, trumpeter Jason Palmer and tenor and soprano saxophonist Tim Warfield, the latter of whom blew with a fierce, lyrical brio throughout. The group played four extended tunes from Burton’s most recent album, The Truth of What I Am—The Narcissist, with the leader switching the tempos with ease and dropping in dissonant notes in chordal showers. There was a stout ebullience in the performance as well as pastoral pockets of solo piano. At times the dreadlocked Burton—dressed all in black and with sockless SeaVees high tops (which he endorses) dancing the rhythms underneath the bench—slowed to a crawl of one note at a time before beginning the slow climb back to the groove, which led to the dynamics of alt-swing. Jokingly saying “I am a little crazy” between two songs toward the end of the set—he added that he was going to tell jokes but decided against it—Burton let the music do the talking, taking delicious melodies for long rides. Talking backstage after the first set, he joked that sticking around for the second set would be worth the wait. “What we just did, that was the rookie set,” he said. In my mind, what they played in the first set made them ready for the big leagues.
THREE DOT LOUNGE . . .
Founded in 1984 by Steve Feigenbaum to burst jazz boundaries with a rock-to-avant sensibility, Cuneiform Records sadly announced in February that it was forced to a state of hiatus, due to what the outgoing publicist Joyce Feigenbaum wrote: “Together we watched as digital theft and, more recently, streaming eroded the music industry’s financial bedrock: the sale of recorded music in all formats”… One of Cuneiform’s best final releases, The Adventures of Zodd Zundgen, courtesy of the raucous and rascally Ed Palmero Big Band which in addition to its heralded re-envisioning of Frank Zappa music also celebrates the lyrical songs of pop wiz Todd Rundgren…Bobby Previte is a genius drummer and idiosyncratic composer, fully present on his latest all-star-band outing Rhapsody: Terminals Part II: In Transit (RareNoiseRecords), a song cycle on transit and migration… Previte release party takes place March 2 at Roulette in Brooklyn … Hands down, this year’s best new recording so far: D’Agala (Intakt Recordings) by brilliant, playful, contemplative, jagged-edged pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and her trio of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Kenny Wollesen …Not your stereotypical jazz piano trio for sure….Multiple spins here.
Cover: Scott Tixier; courtesy of artist.