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Joe Major

The Madison Theater
Albany, NY
April 9, 2016

by Joe Major

The Colette Michaan Quartet graced the second leg of the Madison Jazz Series with a swirling, revelatory performance culled from the realms of folklore, festival, street, and deep wells of universal spirituality. The generosity of spirit and joyful camaraderie within this band was lavishly contagious. Michaan repeatedly alluded to her mission to mine wisdom and peace from music, and that was manifested in prayerful meditations as well as volcanic torso-shakers.

Michaan, on flute, was joined by Rey David Alejandre on trombone, Jorge Bringas on bass, Manuel Alejandro Carro on percussion, and Gabriel Chakarji on keyboard. Their amalgam of Latin, Afro Cuban and Indian influences made for a vibrant original gumbo.

On many of the son numbers Michaan’s flute dabbed with the beneficent authority of a pointillist painter. A dab here, a dab there, coalesced into insistent statements that rode above the rhythm. Her flute served to lasso runaway congas and wayward piano lines, and corral them. There was mandate in her voicing. Whether in her whistling registers, breathy modes, or pugnacious pokes, a plain-spokenness summoned our attention. A story sprouted. A continent away she was a time-tripper, regaling us with a history of treks to India, playing in combos with cumbersome tanpuras. On those same pilgrimages today, the tanpura has been replaced by ubiquitous electronic drone boxes. Oh, and she just happen to have one handy. Nice segue.

Alejandre’s trombone was a ready respondent. He blared anthem-like, he narrated with calm clarity, and he slurred with pungent attitude. During one ballad movement, the bell end of his instrument literally swallowed the stand-up mic, just for emphasis. There’s no more old-movie “sound of the city” bustle sensation than a percolating trombone, and when blended with flute and piano it became a pulsating metropolis.

Chakarji, too, was adept at the hard-comping passages and the wistful meanderings. When the band would suddenly drop out, he constructed his solos with a late-on-the-beat, steadily gathering, American jazz lingo. The “effects” of his keyboard often allowed him to be a cutting-edge guitar, then a sitar, then Herbie Hancock circa “Rockit.” His able handling of the reins, in varied contexts, steered the ensemble through a lot of intriguing territory.

Jorge Bringas’ electric bass was the perfect storm of volume, tone and sheer pop! His thick slow lines were resonant to a point where they seemed magnetic, absorbing fainter front-line melodies like a black hole. His staccato plucking, on the other hand, repelled weaker ambient support, and fought its way to the fore.

Manuel Alejandro Carro impressed with his irrepressible presence. I can still feel it. After an evening-long regimen establishing atmospheric backdrops, and several stints in the solo rotations, it was ultimately time to “give the drummer some!” And he took it all. In finale, Carro went into extraordinary, hunkered-up (not down), hyper-conga, spasmodic, oxygen debt, go-to-the-whip-hand, frenzy; never losing the declared thesis that he blasted off with originally. Indelible!

Colette Michaan was effusive in her thanks to the audience for coming out to support, not only her band, but live music in general. She considers her lyrical excursion to be proffered as a change agent for higher consciousness. By programming Michaan’s stripe of pan-cultural jazz, the Madison Series has enabled its audience to receive that gift on an equal plane.

Joe Major is an inveterate jazz pilgrim for whom the holy grail is always the evocative communion of impression meeting expression. Living over the border in Williamstown, MA, for thirty-plus years, he’s been the grateful beneficiary of countless Williams College performances that have arranged themselves on his ever shifting life list.