Album Review/Live Review: Steve Hudson Chamber Ensemble Debut: Galactic Diamonds (2010.12.06)

This debut album by Steve Hudson (piano) and Jody Redhage (cello), Zack Brock (violin), and Martin Urbach (percussion) will tickle the fancy and delight. It’s not the jazz I’m used to listening to [see Tomasz Stanko Quartet] but it’s an imaginative and joyful romp through a lovely mélange of instrumentation. Catch them on their next trip to Baltimore when you can hear them live. These Brooklyn-dwellers would, I think, eagerly pop in at Metro Gallery for a gig, as well as return to the fantastic An Die Musik.

While I see this album as being the pale-moon reflection of the splendid sun of  their performance in An Die Musik’s premiere acoustic wonder-room, I do think it’s a worthy one to add to your collection. Even the musicians were excited by the possibilities that An Die Musik offered to their sound – that’s why they’ll come back.

This is venturesome yet affable jazz at its best: A little blue-glass, a little rock and roll, a little scat, a turn at tango. How does Galactic Diamonds offer such a genre-blending sound? Try the diversity of the players.

Consider Zack’s quote from a Strings mag interview: “I never drink wine before I play. But a sip of whiskey works. It’s the Kentucky in me.” I tell you he poured out this “Kentucky” from himself on Wanderin’ – you’d swear you were on a front porch drinking bourbon nice and slow and neat.

Zack Brock, hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “the great bright hope for jazz violin” does deliver. He and Jody have splendid onstage chemistry you demand of the best in trio musicians. And they add another element sometimes missing: sheer joy.

Then you have percussionist Martin Urbach who does most of his wonders on the cajón. That’s a box drum like you see in Flamenco and South American music. No surprise here, Mr. Urbach is tapping his Peruvian roots. He also isn’t above playing a stainless steel Nalgene bottle with water in it. This is in the same piece where Steve Hudson ditches piano for the charm of the melodica. No, despite his apologies to the contrary, he does not lose “cool points” with this reviewer for trotting out the blow-organ.

We’ve already touched on some of Jody Redhage’s strong points here. She’s glorious and giddy here. She’s spot-on responsive to all the ensemble’s playing.  She’s better than when we heard her last year. Her vocals have grown stronger, deepening with added control and better projection. Since you missed her with Steve Hudson, don’t miss her Fire in July tour: June 26 at An Die Musik.

Above all, Steve Hudson’s piano playing makes you think he’s “keeping it simple” while offering a treat of rhythmic tensions and light melodies. Think effervescent, lively music that brightens the day. This album can be like a whippet in your stable: a fast-paced pick-me-up.

Regarding the track “PG” you’ll wish you could see the movie that would use it as an opening scene’s soundtrack. My favorite tracks are “Mingus Moon” and “Tune With Tango.”

“Tune for Tango” is also one of their live performance winners where it shines with a real snap: Caterwauling-turns-sensuous strings, handslaps, cheekslaps even castanets. Urbach even slams the whole cajón on the floor for extra punctuation.

These skilled players are the opposite of pretension. After the show, we knocked back a beer and talked Skid Row and Butthole Surfers. Capital folk. Let’s welcome them back soon.

If you like: Time for Three, you’ll like Steve Hudson Chamber Ensemble.

Where/when to listen: Play Galactic Diamonds during a long leisurely brunch on a Sunday morning. This festival atmosphere is best for daytime. Try it on a car trip in the country. Or play it on a late afternoon when you’re in need of a smile.

How to buy: go to http://wwww.cdbaby.com/cd/shce

[Author’s note: Don’t forget Jody Redhage and Fire in July play An Die Musik on June 26. Two sets: 8 pm and 9:30 pm.]

Label: Groovaholic Music

Releaste date: Jun 11 2010

Track list:

  1. Tune with Tango
  2. Keep It Simple
  3. Speak Out
  4. Song For John Lennon
  5. PG
  6. Galactic Diamonds
  7. Para
  8. Moving On
  9. Funky Hobbit
  10. Wanderin’
  11. Mingus Moon

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3 Responses to “Album Review/Live Review: Steve Hudson Chamber Ensemble Debut: Galactic Diamonds (2010.12.06)”

  1. jim pettit says:

    Last night’s concert at An die musik is memorable on several levels. First, the musicians and their music. Second, the disappointingly small audience. Third, the wonderful conversation with my seat companion and, later, with the musicians themselves.

    The musicians are, without doubt, first rate. It naturally follows that their music would be first rate. That does not always happen in spite of reasonable expectations. But it was every bit as good as I had been led to believe. Nonetheless, I want to discuss with you – when you have some time – some impressions I have about the music. At times I could not help but separate the vocal from the instrumental. This is not an easy thing for much of Jody’s work because there is often a melding of the two in such a way that they do seem inseparable. But as the performance progressed I experienced a yearning for more of the instrumental side of what she and her companions do. I wanted to hear more of the cello with all the complicated voicings of which it is capable. More sparsely used, the vocals would have most likely appealed to me more. Don’t misunderstand. I did enjoy the vocal elements. Jody is an amazing talent and I don’t wish to take anything away from her. Nonetheless, her cello moved me much more than the words she sang, even considering the meaning of those words in some cases.

    The sparse crowd did not seem to bother the musicians but it bothers me tremendously every time I experience exceptional music and very few ears are there to hear it. Baltimore has a somewhat complicated relationship with music. This town is or has been home to many extraordinary musicians whose music represents a variety of musical traditions. Yet the audiences for the kinds of music that appeal to me (and to you as well, I take it) remain thin despite the quality of the artistry presented. I’ve never really understood that and I wish there were a way to remedy the situation.

    The musicians, Jody, Alan and Tim, were completely at ease with those of us who stayed afterward to talk. I found common ground with Tim regarding a musician cousin of mine in New York and I would like very much to draw Alan into a group of us who meet Wednesday evenings to play straight ahead jazz (CDs, sometimes vinyl). Jody is a dynamo, full of energy and clearly creative in her music. I look forward to their next performance.

    My seat ‘companion’ proved to be delightful. Broadly intelligent and well spoken with a smile that seems to come so easily. Self-assured and confident in her knowledge of the music and her writing, she clearly made the evening memorable for more than just the music. I can’t help but want to continue with where we left off and I would like very much to hear her impressions of last night’s concert.

  2. Mark Jay Cubs says:

    Jim’s got a crush!

  3. DU132 says:

    Sam Buker’s review is spot on for both the concert at An Die Musik and the CD.
    I agree with all of the content and the tone of the writing. The nuanced description of the musicians’ playing,
    Their interaction, the descriptions of the pieces captured exactly what I experienced and felt.
    The description of Steve’s playing describes my experience. His playing style is relaxed and easy. It was not until the third piece that I stopped and paid specific attention to his playing which had been smoothly, easily, winding through the music. It was only then that I realized his playing was great.

    In this performance, I was also struck by the generosity of the players with each other. They supported and highlighted each others playing with their playing. They did this extremely well together and perhaps that is why the live performance out shines the CD. But, I like the CD.
    For a while I wondered why, the CD didn’t quite measure up to the live performance. These are the same musicians and from the recording it is obvious they are very talented and know their instruments; I also assumed that with the recording they could have many takes and select the one that turned out best.
    But then on a third listening of the CD a couple pieces, especially “Para” and “Song for John Lennon” seem to hint to me that on the CD they had not “jelled” as well as they are now.
    (Pardon my diction, I’m not musically trained).

    I hope I don’t offend anyone one with this: To me on the CD, “Para” didn’t seem ready, to me it seemed that either a little more playing with the arrangement or if the musicians worked with it more it would have been better,
    And the “Song for John Lennon” seemed incomplete. I felt I wanted to hear more. Realizing that I felt that the piece was cut short and the analog to the tragedy of Lennon’s murder was unsettling for a moment. The song felt like a promise unkept, beautiful in parts but not fulfilled,
    I can’t name favorite pieces from the CD. I like all of the pieces with the reservations of these two.

    At the concert I got Martin Urbach’s “Free Will” CD. Listen to this CD. He can be proud of this work. The composition and the playing are great. I post more later.

    Some of my impressions of some of the pieces of Steve Hudson Chamber Ensemble’s “Galactic Diamonds” CD:

    1 tune with tango – sweeping and lively, pleasing and light -charming rhythmic
    2 keep it simple – relaxing and melodic – well tempered, a delight, parting of the clouds and a cool breeze.
    The interplay of instruments to relax and interest. Why is this so relaxing… complete

    3 – speak out – weightier intent, now they are warmed up, sit up and listen..complete
    4- song for john lennon – promise unkept- beautiful in parts and in general but not all the way developed, sadness, want more. Waiting for it to develop completely.
    Tone also sad. unnerving in an inexplicable way, melancholy or regret

    5 – pg – jody’s vocal instrument, cello, piano, violin, then percussion piano violin interplay and counterpoint of these instruments, great
    6- galactic diamonds – band showed up to play and jody voice .. wonderful
    7-para – no end ? a partial piece
    8- moving on –
    9-funky habit – funky , wail on it
    10-wanderin’ –
    11-mingus moon – really really good

    Okay first, these are very talented musicians who can play.

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