(GrainBin Music, CD)
Central Vermont's "chamber jazz" group, Magic City, don't play many gigs. When they do grace the stage, however, the results are spellbinding. Their latest offering, Alive at Nectar's, was recorded at that venue last summer. Each of the disc's nine cuts demonstrates the band's remarkable musical interplay and enchanting dynamic.
Magic City is the brainchild of guitarist/composer Michael Chorney and dusky-voiced chanteuse Miriam Bernardo. Fleshed out by drummer Geza Carr, bassist Robinson Morse, trombonist Andrew Moroz and viola player Caleb Elder, the sextet waltzes through harmonically rich material, from Sun Ra to Duke Ellington, with relaxed precision.
On opener "Satellites Are Spinning," Bernardo coos Ra's metaphysical lyrics like an interstellar flight attendant prepping the audience for takeoff. "Odwalla," a composition by Roscoe Mitchell, features an interlocking guitar and bass figure that come together in a musical latticework upon which Elder scrawls an elegantly frenetic viola solo.
"I'll Wait for You" is one of the album's several highlights. Bernardo's melody drifts lazily over Moroz's muted trombone, as Carr's gentle percussion deftly frames each musical movement. The result is like a childhood fever dream, or at least a pleasant head rush.
Chorney's playing is gracious and inventive throughout, providing powerful harmonic and rhythmic counterpoints. "Carlotta's Gallop/Cimitaro" by Nino Rota allows the guitarist to indulge his Western-noir fantasies: the first half is an up-tempo shuffle, the second a carnal ballad that could be the background music for an underwater striptease.
"Love in Outer Space," another Sun Ra tune, sounds better here than on the band's debut The June Book. I suspect Bernardo has developed a greater rapport with its transcendental lyric; she certainly sounds like she's picking up good vibrations.
The band turns in a fabulous version of "Alla Uya," a tune by African guitar master Ali Farka Toure. Here, Chorney's unconventional guitar sound is used to its greatest effect, with gamelan-like tones ringing in cyclic repetition. The song is voluptuous voodoo, augmented by Carr's delicate tom work and Morse's buoyant bass figure.
Alive at Nectar's is both an extension of and an improvement upon Chorney and Bernardo's original vision for the group. I can't wait to hear where they go from here.