While the voraciously eclectic and boundlessly energetic jazz pianist/composer Alon Nechushtan boldly bends and blends all genres with his steely-fingered technique, flooding the keyboard with shimmering notes and angular ideas held together with an overarching, complex architecture, his music is accessible, even delightful.
Yes, it’s challenging and perpetually quests for new expression. Yet it’s as vital as dance, as much fun as folk. Refreshingly, it’s also fluent and un-afflicted with pompous, academic rigor mortis posing as profundity. It thrives on invention, not pretension. And it can also crackle with an engaging sense of humor with its witty, Monkish, puckish rhythmic variety, use of dissonance, momentum, and a sense of play that engages listeners in the pianist’s musical journeys.
A globe-trotting native of Tel Aviv, the New York-based Nechushtan displays his bright, cosmopolitan style -- one that embraces everything from klezmer to classical, and mainstream to avant-garde -- as he leads his trio on Sunday, January 17, at 3:00 pm at the Hartford Public Library’s free Baby Grand Jazz series.
Nechushtan thrives on mercurial interplay with colleagues. He'll be joined by double bassist Lars Ekman and drummer Colin Stranahan.
Since moving to New York about ten years ago after studying at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Nechushtan has made his mark as a sideman with premier progressive musicians, and recorded acclaimed releases on his own, albums that document his all-embracing, yet highly distinctive style. Among these are his 2014 release, Venture Bound, on the German label, Enja.
Nechushtan's co-travelers on that adventurous exploration are saxophonists Donny McCaslin and John Ellis, bassist Chris Lightcap, and drummer Adam Cruz. It showcases nine original compositions well-stocked with nourishing substance seasoned with a suite-like flavor.
Music and instruments were at the center of Nechushtan’s life right from the beginning. His mother was a music teacher. His uncle taught violin. In high school, he got hooked on progressive rock bands like Genesis and Pink Floyd. While stationed in Jerusalem during his military service, he studied classical music, including composition.
In a life-shaping turning point, Nechushtan decided to study jazz in America, enrolling at the New England Conservatory of Music. He studied contemporary improvisation with the great American composer and musician Gunther Schuller. There, he was exposed to a wide variety of influential performers and thinkers, including pianists Ran Blake, Paul Bley, Danilo Perez, and Fred Hersch, as well as Hankus Netsky.
Instead of going back home to Israel after his studies, Nechushtan hung out in Boston, playing there and periodically in New York City before taking yet another giant step and moving to Manhattan, the jazz capital of the world. Since then, he’s performed with an array of jazz shakers-and-doers, including William Parker, Dave Liebman, Bob Moses, and Andrew Cyrille.
Nechushtan has played around the world, from the Far East to Brazil, and of course Israel, and at many prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Blue Note. His bulging resume gives a hint of his versatility with credits ranging from the Yokohama Rejoicing Sounds festival in Japan, where his contemporary orchestral compositions were presented, to the Tel Aviv New Music Biannale, where his compositions for large ensemble were featured.
On the following Sunday, January 24, the library series, continuing with an international theme, presents the rising, young, Japanese-born pianist Ayako Higuchi. Ayako, who has performed at The Apollo Theater and Carnegie Hall, will be joined by violinist Pei-Chin Faison. Information: hplct.org.
Monheit Approaches Infinity
Jane Monheit, the celebrated jazz, cabaret and pop diva, returns for an encore performance on Friday, January 15, at 8:00 pm at Hartford’s Infinity Hall at 32 Front Street. Along with material from her acclaimed albums, she’ll celebrate the music of Ella Fitzgerald, one of her early idols.
Since first springing to prominence in 1998 as a finalist in the Thelonious Monk Institute’s vocal competition, she has matured as a skilled interpreter of songs, moving beyond worrying about constantly having to prove her jazz savvy every single time she took the stage, feeling compelled to win the Olympic Gold Medal for super chops each time she ran the changes to every song she sang.
Along with a naturally beautiful voice and ability to get inside the essence of a song—the ultimate sign of artistic maturity—Monheit’s signature approach also basks in a varied repertoire. That and her skill at dramatizing lyrics have been her passport into the elite cabaret scene whose more stage-like world is often closed to jazz singers who might lack an actor’s range and the natural knack for connecting with more theater-oriented audiences.
Rather than sticking safely with a handful of familiar, favorite songs, she chooses variety and fresh projects as the spice of her artistic life. On her Grammy nominated, ninth studio album, The Heart of the Matter, for example, she puts her personal imprint on an array of songs composed by, among others, Lennon and McCartney, Randy Newman and Brazilian master Ivan Lins, including even a unique take on Joe Raposo’s “Sesame Street” classic, “Sing.”
As she has famously stated in a personal declaration of independence, “It’s time to just be me, with complete and utter freedom.” Tickets: $45.00 - $65.00. Information: (866) 666-6306.
Chat Noir’s Jazzy Joie de Vivre
Evoking the hedonistic gypsy jazz delights of the legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt, Chat Noir, a Berlin-based quartet of dynamic, young retro masters, spreads its vintage joie de vivre on Friday, January 15, at 8:00 pm at Middletown’s Buttonwood Tree at 605 Main Street.
Putting its celebratory stamp on its varied repertoire, Chat Noir (Black Cat) not only revitalizes classics from the 1920s and '30s, but also digs into traditional songs from Italian and French traditions, all re-arranged and resurrected in a rocking swing style.
The fiery foursome features: Giovanni Perin, vibraphone; Amadeus Chiodi, soprano sax; Froncois Giroux, guitar; and Christian Fischer, double bass. Admission: $12.00. Information: (860) 347-4957.
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