Live Jazz: Three August Standouts, From Gilad Hekselman to Rebolú

Welcome to “The Month in Live Jazz,” a column highlighting three standout performances from the past month on stages across New York City.

Gilad Hekselman’s gHex Trio

SMALLS Aug. 20

Gilad Hekselman is a guitarist whose star is on the rise for the right reasons. He’s the kind of player who doesn’t miss notes, yet he cuts and pries at his momentum, too. Amid all his mastery, he makes the guitar feel like what it is: a block of wood and sparks, unwieldy, a big and ancient tool.

For two nights at Smalls in August, the 35-year-old played music from a new album, “Ask for Chaos,” with the drummer Jonathan Pinson and the bassist Rick Rosato. That band, which he’s calling the gHex Trio, plays on half the album; the rest features a more electrified trio (with Aaron Parks on keyboards and Kush Abadey on drums and drum pads). It’s a strong effort over all, with Mr. Hekselman sounding like he knows who he is: a romantic with restraint, a contemporary improviser who’s smart enough not to let himself get too comfortable in a frictionless, 21st-century jazz groove.

The trio closed the early set the first night with “Do Re Mi Fa Sol,” Mr. Hekselman whistling the tune’s lullaby melody as he strummed a warbling, two-chord progression. On his solo, he drew hollers from the crowd as he yanked out a few achy blues licks — the first of the night — bending his notes downward and adding a froth of distortion. The set had gone in a lot of directions, and he was bringing it home with simplicity and force.

The pianist Ran Blake began his second set at Kitano playing a simple ribbon of melody with loneliness at its heart, each note ringing for long enough to sound almost hollowed out. You might have wondered if he wasn’t quoting — faintly, eerily — from Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed.” Then Mr. Blake, 83, wearing sunglasses on an unlit stage, shot a few cold and corrosive chords across the keyboard’s upper register before coming back to that lulling phrase one more time.

This is not how Stevie Wonder’s song works, or most traditional songs, for that matter. But as a solo pianist Mr. Blake likes to move slowly and darkly through his music, sounding both implacable and open to anything. Every once in a while he’ll suddenly dart off somewhere quickly, as if he’s just discovered electricity. He doesn’t let melodies keep their typical shapes; he plays them like a thread dropped onto the surface of water: They float and curl and drift on.

I’m not so sure he was referencing “Overjoyed” at all, honestly. And I’m only 80 percent certain the next piece he played was “Laura,” the wraithlike ballad that he first covered with the vocalist Jeanne Lee, on their classic album “The Newest Sound Around,” from 1962.

Mr. Blake has made some of his most affecting music with singers, especially over the past decade, and even his touch on the piano suggests an affinity for the human voice. Much of his set at Kitano was dominated by a tribute to the famed vocalist Abbey Lincoln. He spoke briefly to the audience about the time he’d heard her play the Jazz Gallery in 1960, then he offered a version of “Freedom Day,” from the “Freedom Now Suite,” making the tune’s minor harmonies sound even sharper and more sour than usual. After a turbid reading of Ms. Lincoln’s “Throw It Away,” he let the melody die out in the middle, at the moment when the lyrics would be, “And keep your hand wide open/Let the sun shine through.”

Ran Blake’s most recent album is “Town and Country,” recorded with the vocalist Dominique Eade. It was released on Sunnyside Records in 2017.

Rebolú

TERRAZA 7 Aug. 25

The life of Rebolú — an ebullient band that makes Colombian cumbia music — is tied up with the story of Terraza 7. The group has played once a month at this enchanting club in Jackson Heights, Queens, for about 10 years.

Located in one of the United States’ most diverse neighborhoods, Terraza is a little room that presents mostly Latin American music to audiences of varied ethnicities and generations. It’s been around since 2002, and has so far hung on even as its landlord tries to raze the building. Performances at Terraza take place on a balcony stage that hangs above the bar; paying listeners can sit on risers up there. On the ground level, the center of the room doubles as a dance floor.

On this late August night, Rebolú had come to the middle of its second set before the dancing began in earnest. But the energy had hardly been slack before then: The bandleader Ronald Polo sang clearly and forcefully, playing hand percussion and egging on his nine bandmates as they clopped through his original compositions and arrangements of traditional songs. At various points he shouldered up to the mic with the gaita, a Colombian wood flute.

On “La Escuelita” Mr. Polo played in sturdy, vertical patterns, outlining the song’s alternating chords while a handful of percussionists played behind him. It was a reminder that virtually every country in the African diaspora has some kind of flute-and-drum tradition, and that this music is usually raw and exhilarating.

The song that got the crowd on its feet, well after midnight, was “La Maestranza,” originally by Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, a group of traditional gaita and drum players from Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The up-tempo tune bears distinct hints of calypso, and soon moving bodies filled every inch of available space on the balcony, as well as below. The next piece was “Colombia Tierra Querida,” a patriotic anthem that got the diverse crowd singing in unison, belting the lyrics just as enthusiastically as they’d been dancing.

Rebolú released its latest album, “Next Stop,” in 2015.

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