Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Such Delight in Duos

What do you get when you pair a clarinetist whose ability to play so many different types of music with a master pianist and composer who is always "thinking" forward without ignoring his roots?  Judging by the opening track of "Anat Cohen & Fred Hersch" Live in Healdsburg" (Anzic Records), you get "A Lark." "A lark" is defined as "something done for fun, especially something mischievous or daring; an amusing adventure or escapade" (Oxford English "Living" Dictionary). This album, a recording from the June 2016 Healdsburg (CA) Jazz Festival, certainly has its moments of mischief but, overall, this is "serious fun" music at its best.  

Oregon Music News
The program opens with two Hersch, the aforementioned "A Lark" and one of the pianist's more adventurous composition "Child's Song."  The latter tune moves from its richly melodic opening into a gentle rolling melody. After the duo plays the melody, the pieces moves into a rubato section for Ms. Cohen's delightfully ascending solo before the duo takes the piece a bit "out" - here, it reminds this listener of Jimmy Giuffre's early 1960s work with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow.  And it's a treat to hear how they bring the song back to the theme.

Ms. Cohen's composition "The Purple Piece" (first recorded in 2007 with her Quartet on the "Poetica" album) follows. Slower than the earlier version, it goes in several directions and moods, starting out somber then becoming more open and playful during the clarinet solo. Pay attention to how Hersch accompanies the solo and just how closely he's paying attention to his musical partner. The pianist's solo is a pleasing two-handed journey that is also emotionally rich.

The album also includes a number of recognizable standards ("Jitterbug Waltz", "The Peacocks", "Isfahan", and "Mood Indigo") but, surprisingly for a Fred Hersch album, no Thelonious Monk. Nevertheless, the listener should enjoy how the duo approaches the classic jazz tunes.  Jimmy Rowles oft-recorded "The Peacocks" is a fascinating 10:25 journey with Ms. Cohen, at first, caressing the melody, giving the song a bluesy feel. Hersch's solo is breath-taking, also referencing the blues yet with such dynamic and melodic variation.  When the clarinetist returns, the duo slows down the piece, making the music shimmer and the listener hang on every note.

For the encore, the duo take a slow stroll through the elegant Ellington composition "Mood Indigo". There are moments here (and elsewhere) where this listener as is the pianist is creating a very fancy "rent party." Ms. Cohen enjoys the challenge, dancing with her partner on "Jitterbug Waltz" and Hersch's "Lee's Dream" where she is darting in and out of his solo with quiet flurries of short phrases.  "Live in Healdsburg" is a gift from two distinctive musician, Anat Cohen and Fred Hersch, both of whom play with such joy and "daring", on "a lark" when they hit the stage to make the listeners smile.

For more information, go to www.anatcohen.com or fredhersch.com.

Give a listen:

Vocalist Kavita Shah first came to critical attention with her fascinating 2014 album "Visions" (Inner Circle Music), an adventurous collection of songs co-produced by guitarist Lionel Loueke (my review here). Bassist François Moutin has been playing since he was five years old, first on guitar and piano, then moving to the bass in his teens.  After earning a doctorate in physics, he became a professional musician.  Before coming to the United States in 1997, he had worked with artists such as pianists Martial Solal and Jean-Michel Pilc. Since settling in the New World, Moutin has never lacked for steady work, playing alongside Billy Hart, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Vijay Iyer, Oliver Lake, and Dave Liebman (among many others).

Photo: Jacob Blickenstaff
When the bassist approached Ms. Shah to create this duo (he had first met her when she subbed in trumpeter Amir elSaffar's ensemble), the vocalist felt it was the right time.  She has studied music from around the world and has worked with numerous artists. Born in New York City, she studied with Theo Bleckmann, Jim McNeely, and Peter Eldridge.  A chance meeting (on the subway, no less) with Sheila Jordan turned the young Ms. Shah towards the idea of being a jazz singer.

Mr. Moutin and Ms. Shah have created and released "Interplay" (Dot Time Records), an album of duos and trios (Ms. Jordan and pianist Solal are each featured with bass and vocalist on two tracks).  From the outset, one can immediately hear that Ms. Shah's voice has matured, that she is willing and able to take chances. The program opens with just voice on the standard "You Go To My Head" (first recorded as a vocal by Billie Holiday in 1938). When the bass enters, one hears a musician who has mastered his instrument.  Moutin is melodic, percussive, plays counterpoint and solos with ease as well as inventiveness.  Because is Ms. Shah is so comfortable in this setting, the bassist is free to be creative and not just hold the bottom.  The following track is an terrific romp through "La Vie En Rose" with the vocalist singing a part for tabla while the bassist pounds on his instrument. They perform the melody together with Moutin creating quite the call-and-response (with himself).

Ms. Jordan is heard on "Falling In Love (With Love)" but not until Ms. Shah dances through the melody (you can really hear the "smile" in her voice) - when Ms. Jordan enters, she sings a counterpoint to the original melody.  The two voices swap "wordless 4's) before one hears the original melody, and as a coda, the two vocalists take the piece out.  For the track of the album, the trio of voices and bass create a lovely version of Horace Silver's "Peace".   The blend is so handsome, especially because of the wonderful bass work. Ms. Jordan, who was one of the first to record with just bass accompaniment, is in fine voice (still inventive as she approaches 90!) and has taught Ms Shah (through example and friendship) how to tell a story as well as be part of an ensemble.

Monsieur Solal, who turned 90 in Augusr 2017, was one of bassist Moutin's first employers. Here, he joins the duo for a "free-leaning" exploration of his piece "Coming Yesterday" (which he recorded with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian in 1998). The musicians give the vocalist plenty of room but also follow her through the melody as the song moves forward. The pianist is also featured on "Aigue-Marine" (green-blue), an original he first recorded in 1962 and to which Ms. Shah composed the lyrics. The music has the feel of Bill Evans, the melody opening to playful solos (it's fun to hear the piano and bass scurry around).

There's much to enjoy here.  François Moutin is quite the musician, such a melodic and inventive bassist. Kavita Shah is also quite a musician, with a mature voice that holds your attention and seemingly no fear. One can't help but hear how the duo has built up trust in each other.  There are surprises throughout "Interplay" but the focus is on creativity and excellent musicianship.  Get this, sit down, then let the sounds into your heart and mind.

For more information. go to www.kavitashah.com or www.moutin.com/Francois.html.

Here's one of the pieces with Martial Solal:

Monday, March 12, 2018

Speaking To Us From the Present & The Past

Pianist and composer Emilio Teubal, the son of Argentinean parents who were in exile in Spain at the time of his birth ands returned to Buenos Aires when he was eight years old, first came to my attention with his fine 2013 BJU album, "Musica Para un Dragon Dormido."  His new recording, "Memorias de Otro Tiempo" (Music of Another Time), finds him in a trio setting with acoustic guitarist Federico Diaz and clarinetist Ivan Barenboim as well as on a new label, Not Yet Records.  I wrote of the earlier album "Teubal has woven threads of numerous musical styles into his compositions without losing touch with his "roots." The same is true here but the smaller ensemble allows the listener to hear his impressive work at the keyboard where he supplies melodies, harmonies, and, often, the rhythmic flow.

The forward motion of pieces such as the title track, "La Inquieta", "Playing", and "El Orzuelo" will remind listeners of Astor Piazzolla and Guillermo Klein yet Teubal is no mimic. Guitarist Diaz is quite percussive on "El Orzuelo" with his powerful strumming in the opening section and his pounding on the body of his instrument during the powerful piano and clarinet interaction. He takes a similar approach on the opening of "La Inquieta" before he joins the piano and clarinet in the escalating melody lines (Teubal's left hand builds an excellent foundation for the melody and the interactions).  The trio chases after each other in the delightful romp  of the solo section.  It's joyous, impressive, and certainly breathtaking music. The previous track, "Playing", is a delight-filled solo piano  piece that one might expect at the close of the program.  Here, it's in the middle of the album, literally pulling the listener into the songs that follow. 

The ballads are equally as breathtaking but for other reasons. "April 7th" opens with bass clarinet, soft guitar, and slowly unwinding piano melody. As the intensity builds, so does the emotion.  The piano gives way to a plaintiff clarinet melody with smart counterpoint from the guitar.  There is a melancholy sadness to "En la Dia de los Muertos (An American Tragedy)", not surprising since the pianist composed the piece on the November 2016 night of the US Election Day.  With that amount of gravitas, one is temper to read many things into the music. Put that out of your mind and let the music flow into your ears and get wrapped up in the excellent interaction of the trio.

Memorias de Otro Tiempo" is truly lovely music Well-played, intelligently composed and arranged music that plays to the strengths of the trio.  On this, his fourth album as a leader, Emilio Teubal not only displays his great talent but also a emotional depth that makes this music personal and universal.  Listener, sit back and let the music wash over in and take over your mind.  Don't worry about labels such as "Chamber jazz" or "South American folk music", just listen.

For more information, go to www.emilioteubal.com.

Look and listen to the trio:

Drummer and composer Jeff Williams is, perhaps, best known for his work with Stan Getz and with Dave Liebman and Richie Bierach in Lookout Farm. He's played with many great artists but did not record as a leader until the 1990s when he released two small group albums on SteepleChase Records and Willful Music (his own label). Whirlwind Recordings has issued four albums since 2011, the latest being a live date from June 2017. "Lifelike" features a group that expands on the 2016 quintet that recorded his previous album "Outlier"; pianist Kit Downes, bassist Sam Lasserson, and tenor saxophonist Josh Arcoleo return and are joined by alto saxophonist John O'Gallagher (who appeared on Williams's first two Whirlwind albums) and special guest, trumpeter Gonçalo Marquez.

photo by John Rogers
The sextet rambles, rumbles, and rocks through seven Williams originals, several from earlier albums.  There is plenty of fire in the performances, from the powerful drive of "The Interloper" to the relentless tension of "Dream Visitor" to the hard-edged "Double Life."  Yet, it's hard not to be seduced by the subtle tempo changes and searching quality of "Under The Radar". Marquez's solo on the tune belies the fact that this is the first time he played with this time yet he connects with the rhythm section for a powerful solo.  Lasserson's melodic bass solo at the opening of "Lament" sets the tone for the lovely ballad. With O'Gallagher's lovely alto sax on the melody, the piece rises gently on Williams's skittering brush work and Downes's excellent piano solo. There are moments on this album when one is reminded of Keith Jarrett's work with his American Quartet (Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian).  This is one and so is the the exploratory "Canção do Amolodar" where the trumpet and saxophones ride atop a powerful wave of percussion, piano, and throbbing bass.

photo: Danielle White
Thanks to the excellent sound quality, one feels as if he is in the audience of London's Vortex Jazz, right in the middle of the action.  Jeff Williams is one of those leaders who also is in the middle of the action without hogging the spotlight.  Tenor player Josh Arcoleo continues to mature and blends well with O"Gallagher's alto.  Downes stands out for his melodic and adventurous playing while Lasserson is solid and strong.  Marquez is a new name, a graduate of Berklee College who also blends well in the front line plus creates several exciting solos.  All told, "Lifelike" is full of life, an hour of progressive music not beholding to any genre other than than six musicians fully involved in playing in the moment.

For more information, go to www.willfulmusic.com.

Here's the band on the night of the recording:

Walter Smith III is one of the cadre of musicians who hail from Houston, Texas, who are important members of the contemporary music scene (a group that includes pianists Jason Moran and Robert Glasper, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Eric Harland). Both McBride and Harland are present on Smith's new album "Twio" (Whirlwind Recordings) with the bassist billed as a special guest (he's on four of the nine cuts).  Harish Raghavan also plays bass on four tracks: he's toured and recorded with Smith3 for several years when he's not touring with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire.

Fellow tenor player Joshua Redman joins the ensemble for two tracks, the easy going "On The Trail" and the rollicking "Contrafact."  The latter track open with the two tenors going full out on the melody line sans rhythm section.  When Harland and McBride, the tenors rip through the melody before both soloing with abandon (not hard when the rhythm section is playing up a storm behind you).  The Ferde Grofé tune, from his 1931 "Grand Canyon Suite", swings delightfully with solos that bow in the direction of Sonny Rollins without imitating his free-flowing style. Redman and Smith3 sound as if they are having the best of times and that joy permeates the performances. This is not a cutting section but truly a collaborative effort.

Smith3 and Raghavan are part of Harland's Voyager ensemble also it's easy to hear his comfortable they are with each other.  Listen to how they dive into Wayne Shorter's "Adam Apple", not only making sure one hears the melody but also with solos that are inspired and powerful.  They swing the daylights out of Jerome Kern's "Nobody Else But Me" and take an adventurous stroll through Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now."  When Harland and Raghavan drop into the rhythm for the first part of the tenor solo, the listener feels like settling in.  The fun here is that the tempo changes, gets friskier, then calms down, heats up again.  Dig the delightful sax cadenza right near the end.

There are also a pair of impressive duo tracks.  Harland and Smith3 give a sweet reading to "We'll Be Together Again", taking their time to make sure you hear the melody. The tenor solo is drenched in the blues and rarely strays from the melody.  Harland stays close to the beat but still manages to prod the tenor forward. McBride joins Smith3 for a sweet traipse through Gigi Gryce's "Social Call" - it's fun to hear how the two interact, sometimes hewing close to the melody, other times dancing around each other with glee.

"Twio" stands out for many reasons, not the least of which is how much fun the musicians are having in the studio. Walter Smith III displays a "clean and clear" sound with little vibrato and his solos steer clear of cliches.  With "Contrafact" the only original tune, the musicians make these standards anything but "standard." What a treat from start to finish!

For more information, go to www.waltersmith3.com.

Here's Smith3, Redman, McBride, and Harland:

Chances are good if you have been listening to jazz and creative music for the past four decades, you have run across the drummer Adam Nussbaum.  He has worked extensively with saxophonist Dave Liebman, the late guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Steve Swallow, saxophonists Jerry Bergonzi and the late Michael Brecker, composer-arranger George Gruntz, even the Allman Brothers Band, and many more. Nussbaum is one of those musicians who makes everyone him sound better because they never have to worry about the beat disappearing. Plus, he is one of the finest cymbal players extant

Now, at the age of 62, Nussbaum's first project to bear his name is "The Lead Belly Project" (Sunnyside Records). The album features saxophonist Ohad Talmor plus guitarists Steve Cardenas and Nate Radley.  On first listen, one will be reminded of the Paul Motian - Joe Lovano - Bill Frisell trio or Frisell's Americana albums but a deeper examination will lead you to hear the program as delightful blend of blues, country, folk, and early jazz.  Without a bassist, the music depends on the essential drumming of the leader (his brush work throughout is quite delightful).  It's also fun to hear how the guitarists complement each other, especially on pieces such as "Bring Me a Little Water, Sylvie", "Green Corn", and the rollicking, rocking "Black Betty."  Both Cardenas and Radley crackle on that last track mentioned, soloing at the same time as Nussbaum stokes the fire.  Listen to how they support Talmor's sweet tenor sax solo on "Bottle Up and Go", creating a country-blues shuffle along with the drummer that is delightfully seductive.

The Israeli-born Talmor, who did not grow up with this music, adds a great deal to these songs.  He never wastes a note, displays a bluesy side one may have never heard in his playing, and makes sure you hear the melody line. His is the first voice you hear on the album, introducing the melody of "Old Riley" before the guitar and drums enter.  The quartet plays the piece in rubato for the first 90 seconds before Nussbaum plays the scrappy rhythm and the band takes off.  On "Insight, Enlight" (one of the two Nussbaum originals), Talmor sounds as if he's playing a lullaby for his children. His mellow sound wraps around the two guitars on "Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night)", remaining calm as Nussbaum ratchets up the intensity.  The ending is really quite enchanting.

The music of Huddie Ledbetter, a.k.a Lead Belly, has touched American music fans for nearly100 years. He sang his way out prison twice, was brought to New York City by folklorist John Lomax, performed throughout the 1940s but succumbed to ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) in 1949.  A few months after his passing, the folk group The Weavers sold two million copies of "Goodnight Irene"; sadly that success would have pulled him out of poverty but he did not live to see it.  That song closes "The Lead Belly Project" and, save for the short drum introduction, stays close to the melody line. The solos that follow use the melody line as their North Star (even the leader plays the melody about a minute before the end of the track.

Adam Nussbaum may have waited a long time to release his debut album but he has been an active and influential member of the creative music scene for a long time.  "The Lead Belly Project" plays tribute to a giant of American music and proves how his music is integral to the development of popular music.  This album won't challenge the listener but will certainly soothe, amuse, and entertain anyone who gives it a spin.

For more information, go to Adam Nussbaum's website at mark4.ram.tripod.com/NussbaumWeb/.

Here's the band live:

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Masters At Play & Eight Makes Great (Music)

Perfect listening for a snowy March day in central Connecticut,
"Live at U of T" (UofT Jazz) is the second CD led by the saxophone duo of Dave Liebman (soprano, tenor, flute) and Mike Murley (tenor, soprano). The former has been on the faculty at the University of Toronto as a visiting artist/adjunct Professor since 2013 while the latter has been teaching there since 2011.  Joining them is bassist Jim Vivian (who has worked with both leaders in the past, especially with Murley for over three decades) and the veteran drummer Terry Clarke (John Handy, the Fifth Dimension, Rob McConnell Boss Brass).  The quartet sounds loose and limber, each musician playing with great fire and joy.
The program includes four compositions by Liebman, two by Murley, one by Vivian, Joe Lovano's "Blackwell's Message", and a smashing cover of Ziggy Elman's "And the Angels Sing" (which was first recorded by its composer as a Klezmer-style tune in the mid-1930s before he adapted it for the Benny Goodman Big Band and Johnny Mercer added lyrics).  The quartet swings the heck of the Elman, with the two tenors trading leads and and then "trading 4's".  The rhythm section really pushes the proceedings, something they do throughout the album.

Among the highlights is "Small One", a ballad/waltz composed by Liebman where both he and Murley play soprano sax.  Both create excellent solos over the easy-going rhythm section. Listen to how they intertwine the melody and harmony of the theme section.  The two sopranos play sans rhythm section on Liebman's "Missing Persons", a piece that has the feel of a modern classical composition (yet the timbre of the sopranos and direction of the music reminds this listener of the song "Fertility" from the "Buster Bee" album on Sackville by Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake.)  There's a sense of the mysterious in Murley's "Open Spaces", starting with the flute sounds of Liebman.  When the tenor saxophones enter, one hears the influence of John Coltrane.

"Blackwell's Message", a piece that Joe Lovano wrote in tribute to drummer Ed Blackwell, opens with a delightful drum solo by Clarke. He then falls into a New Orleans "strut" over which the soprano and tenor saxes play the plaintive melody.  Dig how Vivian creates a drone then plays in and round the pedal point.  Both Liebman and Murley create powerful solos with the drummer pushing them forward with such glee.

"Live at U of T" is a treat for those listeners who like to listen "deeply" to music.  The Liebman/Murley Quartet plays with fire, grace, intelligence, a sense of the past and present of music, and with great joy.   You should listen.

For more information, go to mikemurley.com/2017/11/new-liebmanmurley-recording-now-available-on-itunes/.

Here's the Elman/Mercer tune:

Mike Murley and Terry Clarke show up again as members of the Dave Young/Terry Promane Octet, the ensemble that has just issued "Octet: Vol. 2" on Modica Music.  Bassist Young is a veteran of the Toronto music scene, having worked in the early 1960s with guitarist Lenny Breau plus a 35 year association with pianist Oscar Peterson.  Trombonist Promane has played and taught in the Toronto scene as well (not as long as his partner), playing in pit bands for touring Broadway shows as well as with artists such as the late Kenny Wheeler, Rob McConnell, Mike Murley's Septet, and so many others. He's been on the faculty of the University of Toronto where he leads the Jazz 12Tet.  For this album, he's joined in the brass section with Kevin Turcotte (trumpet and flugelhorn) while tenor saxophonist Murley is surrounded by Vern Dorge (alto sax) and Perry White (baritone sax). Young and Clarke are the foundation of the Octet along with pianist Dave Restive.

Like "Vol. 1" (which was issued in late 2012), the new album features music from Charles Mingus ("Duke Ellington's Sound of Love") and Dizzy Gillespie ("Bebop") but there is only one original and that's Murley's "Can't You See" (the earlier album contained three tunes from Promane). This time around, the band plays music from Rodgers & Hammerstein II (the opening "O What a Beautiful Morning"), Cedar Walton (the closer "Hindsight"), Duke Pearson ("Jeannine"), Alec Wilder & Morty Palitz ("Moon and Sand"),  Jimmy McHugh & Dorothy Fields ("I Can't Give You Anything But Love"), Michel Legrand ("You Must Believe In Spring"), and Jimmy Frigo, Herb Ellis, and Lou Carter ("Detour Ahead").

With the leaders contributing four arrangements apiece, the music shows vitality, wit, and intelligence throughout. Those listeners who like swing will enjoy the rollicking "Bebop" (with a super solo from Turcotte) and the driving "Can't You See" (with its melodic bass solo and mellow trombone spotlight). Turcotte also romps through "Jeannine" as does White.

For this listener, it's the ballads that shine.  Young's arrangement of fellow bassist Mingus's "Duke Ellington's Sounds..." celebrates the song's handsome melody while featuring a heartfelt alto sax solo from Dorge.  Murley's tenor leads the way into and throughout most of "Detour Ahead" with the only other solo courtesy of the bassist.  Restivo dances through "You Must Believe In Spring" (a more uptempo take than usual) and "Hindsight", two medium tempo delights.

"Octet: Vol. 2" is good listening music.  The Dave Young/ Terry Promane Octet moves easily through this music, never taking anything for granted. This could easily be background music but the fine arrangements and strong solos holds one's attention throughout.

For more information, go to thejazzbox.ca/dave-young-terry-promane-octet/.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Sounds of America's Past, Present, & Future

Owen Broder, saxophonist, clarinetist, flutist, and composer, has just released his first album as a solo artist.  "Heritage: The American Roots Project" (artistShare) is a fascinating and rewarding combination of different tunes from traditional American forms such as bluegrass, spirituals, early blues, and more with improvised music. Broder has assembled quite the octet of musicians; besides his woodwinds, there's the expressive violin of Sara Caswell, the formidable brass of Scott Wendholt (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Nick Finzer (trombone) as well as the rhythm section of James Shipp (vibraphone, percussion), pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Jay Anderson, and drummer Matt Wilson. Several tracks features the voices of Kate McGarry, Wendy Gilles, and Vuyo Sotashe. Composers include the leader, Miho Hazama, Ryan Truesdell (also the producer), and Aphonso Horne. Each composer supplied arrangements for their works while Ms. Hazama and Truesdell each arranged a traditional piece as did Jim McNeely and Bill Holman.

photo by Sasha Israel
The program is a treat from beginning to end.  Opening with Broder's "Goin' Up Home" with it's haunting melody that suggests a blend of bluegrass and an Appalachian folk song, the piece begins with, of all things, vibraphone before the violin and trombone introduce the melody.  The band enters and the melody is repeated yet listen to the hypnotic background created by the piano and vibes.  Shipp steps out for the first solo over a fiery hard-bop rhythm while the other instruments add harmonies and short counter-melodies.  Finzer solos over the droning violin with the vibes snd piano now adding counterpoint.  Holman's "Jambalaya" is a delight-filled deconstruction and reconstruction of the song that was a big hit for Hank Williams (who took credit for the song that was co-written with pianist Moon Mullican - the pianist had based his song on another piece which contained melodic elements of a 1937 song titled "Alons Kooche Kooche" composed by Julius "Papa Cairo" Lamperez. Click on this link to find out more). This rendition swings with a "cool" feel, featuring fine solos from Ms. Caswell and Wendholt.

Ms. McGarry and Ms. Gilles share the lead vocals on "Wayfaring Stranger" (arranged by Truesdell.  The opening is quite dramatic, the piano and bass leading the songs in while the bass clarinet moans quietly below.  The vocal harmonies  are lovely, with Ms. Gilles moving in and around the lead, at times singing in unison or either above and below Ms. McGarry's melody line.  The song also features a long, melodic, bass solo from Anderson.  Vuyo Sotashe takes the lead on Horne's "The People Could Fly": the melody is based on a line the composer heard from a storyteller, the rhythms delightfully South African, and the story an African American folktale. It's a rollicking good time.  The assembled voices (wordless) support the opening melody on the final track "A Wiser Man Than Me."  Broder's expressive baritone sax leads the way through this New Orleans-inspired gospel tune, a sweet coda to a fine program.  And don't those unaccompanied voices sound sweet closing out the piece.

"Heritage" the American Roots Project" comes at a time when young people's belief in the "American Experiment" is at its lowest ebb in years. This music serves as a reminder that we are truly a nation of immigrants, that artists and musicians are inspired by the various cultures encountered in their daily and working life, and that imagination and improvisation can help open eyes to new possibilities.

To learn more, go to www.americanrootsproject.com.

Here's the opening track:

Owen Broder is also a member of the quintet Cowboys And Frenchmen whose second album, "Bluer Than You Think" (Outside In Music) was issued in October 2017.  Broder plays alto and baritone saxophones and is joined in the front line by fellow alto saxophonist Ethan Helm (who doubles on soprano sax). They each contribute three of the seven tunes with one from friend, trombonist, and conceptual artist Chris Misch-Bloxdorf (whose work you can find under the nom-de-plume Artie do Good). The rhythm section includes pianist Chris Ziemba, bassist Ethan O'Reilly, and drummer Matt Honor. The band came together in 2014, taking its name from a short film by David Lynch ("Twin Peaks"), with the intent to blend "traditional American folk and pop music with elements of contemporary R&B and modern jazz"  (www.cowboysandfrenchmen.com). 

The music does defy expectations.  There's the tension-filled "Beasts" (with a Steve Reich-like rhythm and the feel of a piece by the Claudia Quintet), the funky, swaggering, "Companion Plan" (listen to how the bass, piano, and drums create an atmosphere that may remind some of Steely Dan, and "Wayfarer", the quintet take on "Wayfaring Stranger" (the baritone sax taking the lead here before it joins the alto sax for a hypnotic melody).  Ziemba's piano solo on the last track has elements of Jewish liturgical music as his lines sway and slither over the over the bass and drums.

"Clear Head", the song written by Misch-Bloxdorf, opens with the soprano and alto saxes playing a pleasing melody with support from drummer Honor. Then it drops into a rapid-fire beat, falling back to half-time and then rubato. There are several tempo variations as the soprano sax delivers a rousing solo.  Helm's ballad "Lilies Beneath a Bridge" has a handsome melody played by the alto saxes that are just slightly off-kilter creating a doppler effect.  Ziemba's sweet yet bittersweet piano solo is a highlight but so pay attention to the rhythm section supports and prods him forward.  

"Bluer Than You Think" is one of the more playful, diverse, surprising, and pleasing albums of the past year.  Tradition takes a back seat to invention and experimentation while most of the pieces have intelligent and lovely melodies.  Several of the tracks show the influence of The Bad Plus (especially the powerful "C&F Jam", though the piano solo has a lot of Keith Jarrett as well). All told, Cowboys And Frenchmen deserve your attention with its challenging and rewarding music. Here's a track to whet your appetite:

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Two Masters at Play, One Trio Exploring

Recorded at the 2016 Jazz & Wine Festival Bordeaux, "Masters of Bordeaux" (Sunnyside Records) finds pianist Martial Solal in a set of duo conversations with saxophonist (soprano and tenor) Dave Liebman. The two did not play together until the tour that accompanied the appearance at this Festival but they sound like old friends as they move through the program, six recognizable standards that the duo make sound fresh.  Solal, 19 days short of his 89th birthday, and Liebman, one month shy of his 70th, do what one hopes masters will do; that is, the music they create keeps the listener glued to his/her seat wondering where the pieces will go next.

photo by Jean-Baptiste Millot
Opening with "All The Things You Are", the duo, with Liebman on expressive soprano sax, dance their way through the Jerome Kern/ Oscar Hammerstein II classic. Liebman switches to tenor for their exploration of Cole Porter's "Night and Day" yet, after his excellent solo, Solal's far-ranging solo stands out for its inventive is of melody and shifting rhythms.  Back to soprano for Miles Davis's "Solar", the duo dance through the melody while the solos will make smile, even gasp at times, at the melodic and harmonic leaps both musicians take.

Honestly, there's not a weak moment on this recording. Both Martial Solal and Dave Liebman are on top of their game, taking chances because of their mutual trust and love for improvisation yet never ignoring the songs.  "Masters of Bordeaux" is an apt title for these two musicians are truly masters of music and, in the parlance of the best red wines from the region in which this concert took place , are "Premier Cru Classe."

For more information, go to www.sunnysiderecords.com/release_detail.php?releaseID=896.

Give a listen to one of the fine collaborations:

Kevin Sun may be recognizable from his work with the quartets Great on Paper (cd review here) or Earprint (reviewed here) or his byline as a transcriber of several of Ethan Iverson's interviews. The Harvard/New England Conservatory graduate (he was the first to complete the schools' combined 5-year degree program) studied composition with Miguel Zenón and John Hollenbeck and has written on his blog ("A Horizontal Search")  an understanding of both the history and forward motion in jazz. "Trio | Kevin Sun" (Endectomorph Music) is his debut recording as a leader. Like the best saxophone trio recordings (Sonny Rollins's "Way Out West" and "Freedom Suite", Joe Henderson's "The State of the Tenor Vols. 1 & 2", Bernie McGann's "Bundeena"), this music works because it is a collaboration of Sun (tenor saxophone, c-melody saxophone, clarinet) with the impressive rhythm section of bassist Walter Stinson (Adam O'Farrill Quartet) and drummer Matt Honor (Cowboys & Frenchmen, Cat Toren).

photo by Jessica Carlton-Thomas
"Trio" contains a lot of music (72 minutes), is composed of most original works (11 Sun tunes, one standard, and two group pieces), and goes in myriad directions.  Opening with "Tranaccidentation", one immediately hears how the three musicians listen closely to each other, how Sun does not force the action and has a subtle, softer,  tone on tenor sax.  In fact, it's Stinson and Honor who push the piece forward in the manner of bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall of Trio Air.  Sun moves to clarinet on the next track "Loading Screen", the angular melody paired with the clanging percussion and bass counterpoint.  The C-melody saxophone shows up twice, first in the mysterious group piece "One Never Knows Now" (Stinson's impressive bowing underpinning the improvisations) and then on the standard "All of Me" - Sun's softer approach on the saxophone leans more towards Lester Young yet the brisk tempo and his delightful solo has a good dollop of Sonny Rollins in it.

photo by Jessica Carlton-Thomas
Several pieces contain great power. "Announcements" is a frisky romp that drives for the entire 2:13 while "Misanthrope" has a "heavy metal" feel at the open, Nirvana-like with bleating saxophone and crushing drums.  "Air Purifier", at nearly 12 minutes, is the longest track and goes through a number of changes in tempo and dynamics, with Sun moving from clarinet to tenor after the opening section.  There's a powerful bass and drum conversation before the piece slows again; Sun goes back to clarinet, plays a somber melody, and the bassist takes the lead. The somber tone lasts through the close of the piece.

There is so much to explore on "Trio | Kevin Sun" and I know hard it can be sitting through a long program.  But this music is worth the time and effort.  The compositions are adventurous, the skill, effort, and ideas of the musicians stand out, and one wishes to be in the audience when they explore these pieces.  Go to thekevinsun.com/p/upcoming.html to find out when this Trio is playing near you - this is "alive" music and should be seen and heard.

Here's a taste of the Trio:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Shakers n' Bakers & Albert Ayler's Revival Meeting

It's Valentine's Day 2018 and it seems obvious we could all use a "whole lotta love" (no Led Zep today though, thank you) and a revival of our spirits. To that end, tenor and soprano saxophonist Jeff Lederer has come to our rescue.  His Shakers n' Bakers crew has a new album.  "Heart Love: Shakers n' Bakers Play the Songs of Albert Ayler and Mary Maria Parks (little (i) music) revisits and updates three tracks from Ayler's controversial 1968 "New Grass" (critics thought the funky sounds beneath Ayler's talent) and three from 1969's "Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe". Lederer has been one of the late Ayler (he died just a year after the "...Healing Force...." Lp was released) and has recorded several albums based on material from throughout the saxophonist's career.

The ensemble includes Jamie Saft (piano, organ, Baldwin electric harpsichord), Chris Lightcap (bass), Allison Miller (drums), Mary LaRose and Miles Griffith (vocals) plus Steven Bernstein (trumpet, slide trumpet), Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Joe Fielder (trombone) and Lisa Parrott (baritone saxophone). Special guest Matt Wilson plays drums on two tracks a quintet of background vocalists known as the "Heart Love Singers" are featured on a number of tracks. They include Amy Cervini, Melissa Stylianou, Toni Seawright, Chelsea McLauren, and Ms. LaRose.

The album hits the streets on February 28 but the digital version can be purchased starting today by going to shakersnbakers.bandcamp.com/releases.

Listen to the track below and you'll get a good idea just how funky and far afield Shakers n' Bakers can go.  The band plays with great fire, the vocalists are perfectly matched (sweet and sassy, smooth and gruff), and Jeff Lederer plays with the fire that his fans and audiences have come to expect.

A review will post in a week or so but, for now, if this music fascinates you, give it a listen. Make sure to play it loud: it will do your heart good!

For more information, go to www.littleimusic.com.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Wes Flies!

In his lifetime (1923-68), Wes Montgomery only made one trip to Europe as a professional musician (and none as a tourist). That makes great sense - he hated to fly! In 1965, he crossed the ocean via plane but crossed the European continent by train.  The year before, he had moved to Verve Records and started to get popular acclaim. In 1967, he made the move to A&M/CTI Records and began a short but profitable career working with producer Creed Taylor and arranger Don Sebesky (with whom he had worked at Verve).

Resonance Records has just released "Wes Montgomery In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording", a 2-CD set from his March 27, 1965 concert that has been one of the most popular jazz bootlegs of all time.  Reissue producer Zev Feldman was able to secure the master recording from the National Audiovisual Institute of France, the overseer of the Office of French Radio and Television (ORTF): working with Resonance label owner and sound wizard George Klabin and master technician Fran Gala, the album is finally official.

For the tour, Montgomery assembled a rhythm section that features pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Arthur Harper, and drummer Jimmy Lovelace.  Of the 10 tracks, only one is less than seven minutes and several stretch beyond 12.  Montgomery is in top form throughout the album.  If there is one track that defines the album, it's the highly rousing rendition of John Coltrane's "Impressions."  The guitar solo ranges from rippling single-note runs to his amazing "octaves" riffs and the jazzy block chords., all played as the rhythm section keeps up a torrid pace. Later on Disc one, the quartet plays Montgomery's "Jingles", another longer piece with great power and a stunning guitar solo.  Mabern, 29 at the time, is inspired by the guitarist and delivers a powerful solo that swings with glee. The slower tracks on the first disk include a Latin-tinged reading of "Here's That Rainy Day" but the keeper is the truly lovely reading of "The Girl Next Door" (composed by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane as "The Boy Next Door").

Jean-Pierre Lelour
Disk two opens with "To Wane", a Mabern composition that matches the power and energy of "Impressions."  Special guest tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin joins the band for the next three selections.  Now a quintet, they start with a famous Montgomery piece "Full House", a tune and album the guitarist and saxophonist recorded in 1962.  Griffin's bluesy style fits well in this music. The ex-patriate saxophonist, who had moved to France in 1963, and Montgomery have great fun playing over the active rhythm section. A short piano solo opens "'Round Midnight" (very hip audience in attendance - they applaud the melody) before Montgomery leads in the theme and takes the first solo.  When Griffin enters he plays one line then sings a short reply and gets a big laugh from the band.  The solo that follows is actually quite serious and ranges far afield. Griffin has a great time on Dizzy Gillespie's "Blues and Boogie" - he enters quietly after Montgomery's romping solo but soon digs in and creates a rollicking statement, complete with quotes from several children's songs and more.  The rhythm section has a great time as well. When they drop out, Griffin goes it alone for over two minutes, riffing on a theme with great power and joy.

"Wes Montgomery In Paris", a bootleg no more, is 105 minutes of impressive musicianship, bluesy twists and turns, and melodic adventures.  The rhythm section gives the leader great support throughout and the addition of Johnny Griffin is a real treat.  The sound is quite good save for a bit of a drop off when Harold Mabern moves into the higher registers of the piano (his "comping" is quite audible).  The sound of the bass and drums is excellent throughout while the guitar  dominates without being harsh or annoying.  All in all, a treat for guitar fans and, especially, for people who like the jazzy side of Mr. Montgomery.

For more information, go to www.resonancerecords.org/release.php?cat=HLP-9032.