Thursday, June 30, 2016

René Marie in Red

René Marie has a voice, an approach, an artistry, a fearlessness, that is so appealing - no cookie-cutter she.  A latecomer to the music industry (her debut album was issued in 1999 when she was 44), René Marie has more than made up for lost time.  "Sound of Red" is her 11th CD (her second for Motema Music), her first album of original songs since 2011's self-released "Black Lace Freudian Slip" (10 of 13 originals), and a continuation of her approach to telling honest stories.

This is certainly music that has been "lived in", played by her regular trio constituting of bassist Elias Bailey, drummer/co-producer Quentin E. Baxter, and her "new" pianist John Chin.  If you listen to the splendid interactions throughout, one can tell many of these songs were "worked out" on stage. "Lost" is the longest track (10:36) but moves organically from vocal to solos to "trading 4s" and has such a vitality you forget that the lyrics tell of woman tired of being used but cannot change. Each member of the group is important to the story, from the sparkling drums to the piano's rippling phrases to the bass solo that brings everyone does to earth and back to the blues.  Yet the music can't help but pick up and go back into a romp.

John Abbott photo
"Sweet songs" intermingle with pointed messages.  There's the delightful sway of "Colorado River Song" (replete with a handsome solo whistled by the vocalist) followed by "This is (Not) A Protest Song", a story about the "invisible" people in out society.  From the homeless artist to the aggressive woman with dementia to a battered woman with two children, René Marie sings that these people could be us "but for a couple twists of fate." In the background is a chorus of "gospel" voices, all supplied by Shayna Steele, and the quiet acoustic strumming of guitarist Thad DeBrock.  One of the prettier ballads is "Go Home", the story of a woman who tells her "lover" to get out of her bed and return to the person who loves him, the mother of his children - it's not that she wants him to leave but he needs to go.  With just Chin's expressive piano supporting her heartfelt vocal, this song touches one's heart.
Etienne Charles adds his trumpet and arranges the small horn section of trombonist Michael Dease and tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera to the sultry and spunky "If You Were Mine" (which one might view as the precursor to "Go Home"). Mr. Charles and company are also featured on the romping "Joy of Jazz" which tells the story how jazz developed in South Africa, a real dancing track, Chin's piano scampering atop the hot rhythm section with the horns adding support.  Romero Lubambo's acoustic guitar leads the way into "Certaldo", a love story set in Tuscany but with a Brazilian influence.  The title song features the soulful alto saxophone of Sherman Irby, digging into the funky sway of the rhythm section and making sure you understand the "Sound of Red" is rooted in the blues.

René Marie closes this recording, arguably her finest, with "Blessings", a musical benediction for the world, filled with joyous wishes for a peaceful life.  Baxter's martial drumming is reminiscent of John Robinson's snare work on Steve Winwood's "Back In the High Life Again" in the way the drums support and color the narrative, making sure we pay attention to the singer's message.  Do pay attention to "Sound of Red" because your life will be richer and brighter for the experience.

For more information, go to

Here's René Marie with the band plus Sherman Irby on the title track:

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Vacation Listening When Everyone's Asleep

NPR does its best to keep jazz in the public's eyes and ears between "Jazz Night In America", Marian McPartland's "Piano Jazz", (now hosted by Jon Weber) and "A Blog Supreme."

On occasion, you can see and hear jazz on the "Tiny Desk Concert" series.  Among the artists who have recently played in the space behind Bob Boilen's desk (he being the creator and host of NPR's "All Songs Considered") have been Gary Burton & Chick Corea, Christian Scott, and Terence Blanchard.  This week, the series debuted a 17-minute, three song set from the duo of Charles Lloyd (tenor saxophone) and Jason Moran (piano).

Go ahead and listen as the two move through these selections with grace, poise, experimentation, and joy.

Here's the link:

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Pause that Could Refresh - A Brief Respite

Off we go to the Windy City to visit family, to welcome our new granddaughter, to play with our 4-year old grandson, to hug our daughter and son-in-law, and, hopefully, to catch some live music. I'll post a review or 2 along the way but regular verbal outbursts will be at a minimum.

In the meantime, check out the Hartford Jazz Society calendar - - or Jazz Haven (in the New Haven area - - and, of course, The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme -


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Large Ensembles June '16 Edition

Alto saxophonist, composer and arranger Greg Ward, perhaps best known for his work with drummer Mike Reed's People, Places & Things band, has created a soundtrack for a new dance piece choreographed by Onye Ozuzu. The two artists, both based in Chicago, were invited to create a new, inter-disciplinary, work for the 2015 "Made In Chicago: World Class Jazz" series held in Millennium Park.  Role Schmidt, executive director of the Chicago performing arts center Link’s Hall, had heard "The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady", the 1963 classic from Charles Mingus, and thought the 39-minute piece would be perfect for a new adaptation  Once Ward heard the Mingus music, he felt that a new work created on the various musical concepts Mingus used would be better for his vision.  Although the earlier work features an 11-member ensemble, Ward wrote his music for 10 instruments.  Nevertheless, both pieces are written for dance (although the older work was not created for a specific dance troupe) and need the wider palette of sound.

Chicago Reader
The new work, titled "Touch My Beloved's Thoughts" (Greenleaf Music, is credited to Greg Ward & 10 Tongues. He's assembled a talented ensemble that features Tim Haldeman (tenor saxophone), Keefe Jackson (tenor and baritone saxes), Ben LaMar Gay (cornet), Russ Johnson (trumpet), Norman Palm (trombone), Christopher Davis (bass trombone) plus the rhythm section of Dennis Luxion (piano), Jason Roebke (bass) and Marcus Evans (drums). Both the choreographer and the composer are influenced by Mingus's choice of source material, his use of blues, folk music and world music (today, we might dub this music "Americana") and his fearless nature. "Black Saint..." shows the influence that Charlie Parker, Max Roach, and Dizzy Gillespie had on Mingus's composing (he admits so much in his copious liner notes) but one must also note the effect that Duke Ellington had on the bassist.

One should listen to "Touch My Beloved's Thoughts" all the way through each time.  One can marvel at the arrangements, how the composer/arranger shares the melody among the participants, how the solos naturally rise out of the music, how each musician's voice counts, and how the ensemble gels in front of a live audience (the music was recorded at Constellation in Chicago). You do not need to see the dancers to enjoy the way the songs connect.  Ward's alto soars on the opening cut, "Daybreak", yet he makes sure to step back to the ensemble so that the phrase that the reeds and brass play can lead in to "Singular Serenade", a handsome piano spotlight for Luxion (whose career includes recording and tours with trumpeter Chet Baker.) The pianist is also featured on the next track, "The Menacing Lean", an up-tempo bolero where he not only solos but has several interactions with the brass.
The blues is so very important to the music. Tracks such as "With All Your Sorrow, Sing a Song of Jubilance", with its heartfelt bass trombone solo from Davis (he carries the melody as well), the sweeping sectional work, powerful piano fills, and the gentle touch of the bass and drums. Ben LaMar Gay's muted cornet solo on "Dialogue of the Black Saint", which comes after Roebke's powerful bass solo and the heated opening theme, is wonderfully impressionistic; you can almost see the dancers bending and moving with his exciting work.

The program moves in many directions all the way, building to the powerful final track, "Gather Round, the Revolution Is At Hand" with its martial drumming, bouncy bass line, and excellent solos from Russ Johnson as well as Ward. The leader traverses over fascinating territory while also sharing variations of the melody with the piano and the other reeds plus the counterpoint of the brass and the powerful drumming of Evans (a longtime member of flutist Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble). It's a stunning close to a splendid work of art.

Though this is only his third album as a leader and first with a large ensemble, Greg Ward shows a distinctive voice as a composer (also, he has written for dance troupes before). Yes, there's a Mingus connection to "Touch My Beloved's Thoughts" but, because Ward utilizes some similar approaches, this piece does not feel overly derivative. In fact, this music sounds quite fresh.

For more information, go to

Take a look:

Excerpts from Touch My Beloved's Heart from BraveSoul on Vimeo.

Scott Reeves, composer, arranger, flugelhorn and trombone player, is a Professor of Music on the faculty of the City College of New York. He's also worked with the big bands of Dave Liebman, Chico O'Farrill, Oliver Lake, and Bill Mobley. He has released four albums as a leader, all with ensembles of seven or less.  "Portraits and Places" (Origin Records) is how fifth recording and serves as an introduction to the Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra, a 17-piece ensemble with five reeds, five trumpets or flugelhorns (Reeves plays alto flugelhorn), four trombones, plus piano, bass, and drums. Reeves wrote the bulk of the material in his time with the BMI Jazz Composer's Workshop, working with such fine arrangers as Manny Albam, Mike Abene, Jim McNeeley, and Mike Holober.

In the liner notes to the new album, Reeves gives thanks to most of the people listed above plus Duke Ellington, Kenny Werner, Bob Brookmeyer, David Baker, Gil Evans, and Thad Jones.  When you listen to this 8-song program, you'll hear many of this influences, especially Thad Jones. His 50-year old (and going strong today as The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra) ensemble that he started with drummer Mel Lewis was a proving ground for McNeely and Werner as well as a return to form for Brookmeyer.  In his music, Reeves has fun with the various sections of his Orchestra, writing melodies that often leap from one to another.  You'll hear that on "3 'n' 2", a barn-burner that serves as a showcase for the strong tenor sax work of Tim Armacost and the bright tone of Bill Mobley's trumpet.  But listen to the powerful drumming of Andy Watson (Jim Hall, Toshiko Akiyoshi), the chordal contributions of pianist Jim Ridl, and the foundational bass work of Todd Coolman.  The blues is a big part of this music.  The album opens with "The Soulful Mr. Williams" (composed of the late pianist James Williams), a medium-tempo stroll with references to "A Love Supreme" from the leader on his alto flugelhorn solo and in the chordal structure. Yet, listen to how sections call-and-response before Ridl's dancing piano solo.  The blues is also the powerful force behind the final track, the aptly-titled "Last Call."  Here, the solos go to the low tones of bass trombonist Max Seigel (Roy Hargrove Big Band, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra) and baritone saxophonist Terry Goss (NY Jazz 9) plus the plunger talents of trumpeter Seneca Black (LCJO).
The centerpiece of the recording is the three-part "L & T Suite."  Dedicated to Reeves' wife Janet (a pianist), the leader weaves in thematic quotes from different composers, three of whom, Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland and Bela Bartok, whose work was written for a ballet - the fourth influence is Leonard Bernstein whose thematic material is from his "Symphony no. 2." Each section does have great "movement", with "Wants to Dance" moving on the strength of Watson and featuring a stunning solo from alto saxophonist Steve Wilson. "#2" or "A Trombonist's Tale" is slower, has a gentle sway heard in the sectional work as well a delightful solo from Matt McDonald (trombone, of course). The final "movement" - "Hip Kitty" - belongs to the romping reeds, powerful brass, and the bluesy piano of Ridl.

Vocalist Sara Serpa appears on two tracks, the thoughtful yet uptempo "Osaka June" with fine solos from Wilson (soprano sax) and Ridl in the midst of glorious section writing.  Ms. Serpa's reedy voice is paired with the brass and it's a pleasing juxtaposition. She does get minute or so in front of the band but soon steps aside for the solos. Her soft voice stands on the pleasing arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Aquas de Marco", singing unison with the flutes and, after the fine piano solo, is shadowed by the clarinets, returning near the end to help those flutes take the piece out.

"Portraits and Places" not only does the legacy of Thad Jones justice but continues to build upon it. If anything, the original compositions and arrangements of Scott Reeves have more structure, more of a role in the themes of the compositions, and, at many times during the album, a playful sweep and  a joy about them.  Open the windows and let this music fly.

For more information, go to

Here's a pictoral look at and a listen to a piece from the album's recording session:

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Guitar Adventures (Pt 2)

Sebastian Noelle, German-born guitarist and composer, is probably best known as a large ensemble guitarist. He's a member of Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, the Chris Potter Big Band, Joe Phillips Numinous, the New York Soundpainting Orchestra, and Jeff Fairbank's Project Hansori, and others.  He has also worked in smaller groups and his first two CDs for Fresh Sound New Talent as a leader featured quintets.

"Shelter" is his third CD for the label (fourth overall) and it, too, features five musicians. Joining the guitarist on this 10-track program of originals are Marc Mommaas (tenor saxophone) and Matt Mitchell (piano) plus the superb rhythm section of Matt Clohesy (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums). Listening through several times, the work of the rhythm section and how the piano, bass, and drums create sparks on just about every cut stands out.  Noelle's compositions and arrangements are smart, the melodies offer the rhythm section choices.  Listen to how Weiss constantly changes his accents and snare drum on the medium tempo ballad, "Another Spring" and how Mitchell and Clohesy frame the melody of "Day Off."  The rhythm section gives Mommaas such a sweet cushion on that latter track, enough so his solo feels effortless.  There is a deliberate quality during the introduction to "Mirror Lake"; then the piece goes in several different directions with a fascinating fragmented melody before a splendid solo from Mitchell (he dazzles in several solos on the album). Noelle's folk-like introduction to "Home In a Strange Land" includes Clohesy on the melody over the circular piano lines. Soon, Mommaas takes the melody, sharing the second half with the bass. Everyone but Weiss gets in on delivering the theme yet he's quite active under the tenor and guitar interaction.

The influence of Indian music is evident on "Ahir Bhairav." - Based on a classic Indian modal form, the piece gets its power and movement from the circular melody lines and Weiss's tremendous drum presence.  Most listeners know of his vast knowledge of tabla drums and Indian rhythms; on this track, he uses his trap set to lay the melody line, bouncing around beneath the powerful guitar solo while Clohesy stays tethered to the song's thematic material.  It's just so amazing to hear how the entire band states the rapid-fire melody before and after the impressionistic tenor sax solo.

"Shelter" is such a full band project. Sebastian Noelle has created music that involves his entire group and the listener.  His handsome melodies and intelligent arrangements plus the fine work of his Quintet allows the listener to "get lost" in the music, to savor the delightful rhythms and the interactions within each piece, and, ultimately, to enjoy the results.

For more information, go to

Here's a short video about the album:

Guitarist and composer David Gilmore, a native of Cambridge, MA, is in the midst of a very busy career.  His guitar playing has graced albums by Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Cassandra Wilson, Steve Coleman, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and many others as well as touring with the likes of Mavis Staples, Me'Shell N'degocello, Isaac Hayes, and Melissa Etheridge.

"Energies of Change" is not only the name of the guitarist's latest CD (released on Evolutionary Music) but also the name of the Quintet playing the music.  Recorded in December of 2010 (with additional work in November 2012), the nine originals feature the guitarist with Marcus Strickland (soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet), Luis Perdomo (piano), Ben Williams (bass) and Antonio Sanchez (drums). This is a band of great soloists and leaders and they give Gilmore so many sonic possibilities.  The music can soar as it does on the fiery "Rajas Guna" with its Mahavishnu-like melody line. Strickland (on tenor) and Gilmore take advantage on the tremendous work of Perdomo, Williams, and, especially Sanchez who continually pours percussive gasoline on the musical fire. "Over Shadow Hill Way" reads like a Wayne Shorter title and even sounds like it could have come off of the great saxophonist's 1995  "High Life" album. The percussive attack of both Strickland (soprano) and Gilmore is fueled by Sanchez's inventive give-and-take while Perdomo responds with lines that ripple across the keyboard.  The drummer teams with guest Kofo Wanda (talking drum) on "Dance of Duality" to create a sensuous rhythm, aided pleasingly by Williams pulsing bass lines.  The blend of soprano sax and guitar,the percussive counterpoint of Perdomo's piano plus the percussion interaction makes this track a joyous romp.

The fluidity of the piano and guitar on the opening of "Awakening" leads the listener into what sounds like a typical world. But, surprise, there's a "straight-ahead swing" section for Gilmore, Williams, and Perdomo craft fine solos.  There is more of a gentle swing on "Sacred Pause"; after the soprano and guitar state the melody, Strickland creates a solo that flies above the rhythm section setting the stage for Perdomo's dancing solo.  Sanchez's cymbal work, the counterpoint of the bass, and Gilmore's easy chords keep the attention on the solos. The leader gets his turn as well, creating a furious dialogue with the drummer that shakes up the song but does not knock it off its moorings.  The CD ends on a fine and funky note, with the clicking guitar and rattling drums leading the tenor saxophone and piano in to "Trick Of I." Gilmore's solo is a highlight, moving from rapid-fire single-note lines to a chordal conclusion (they reappear again during the fadeout) that leads into Strickland's rapid-fire lines.

Give this album some time to sink into your mind.  Listen to how well-balanced the songs are, how David Gilmore arranges each piece so that every member of the quintet plays up to his full potential, and how Antonio Sanchez gives each track such life from his drum seat. If you enjoy guitarists like Kurt Rosenwinkel and Brad Shepik, "Energies of Change" should make you very happy.

For more information, go to

Here's a video of the band from 2013 with Rudy Royston in the driver's seat:

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Summer's Here, So's Live Music!

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme presents vocalist and composer Tessa Souter in an intimate trio session this Friday (6/25) at 8:30 p.m.Ms. Souter, born in London, England now based in New York City, first came to critical notice in 2004. After several years working as a journalist, she started to study with vocalist Mark Murphy and has recorded 4 albums with her most recent being 2012's "Beyond the Blue", produced by the Japan-based Venus Records and released in the United States by Motéma.  That album combines Ms. Souter's lyrics with classical works by the likes of Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven, Ravel, and others.

photo by Janis Wilkins
She's a marvelously articulate singer, caressing ballads without making them treacly.  Her material comes from many different sources; besides her own material, her repertoire includes works by Cream, Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, Van Morisson, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. For this concert, she'll be accompanied by guitarist David Gilmore and bassist Boris Kozlov (best known for his work in the Mingus Big Band.) Much of the material in Old Lyme will come from Ms. Souter's upcoming album.

The doors open at 7:30 p.m. For more information, go to or call 860-434-0868.  To learn more about the vocalist, go to

Here's a piece from 2012, live at The Blue Note:

On Saturday night, Jan & Ken welcome the Vincent Herring Quartet to The Side Door.  Herring, an alto saxophonist who's been on the "scene" for over three decades, first worked with cornettist Nat Adderley, brother of Cannonball (Herring is now a member of the Cannonball Adderley Legacy band).  He went on to work with Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis, the Mingus Big Band and many others.  He's been on dozens of recordings while issuing 19 of his own.

Joining him in Old Lyme is his regular Quartet which includes Mike LeDonne (piano), David Williams (bass), and Carl Allen (drums and then some).  They'll play some serious hard-bop plus a number of fine ballads.  The Vincent Herring Quartet takes the stage at 8:30 p.m.  For more information, call 860-434-0886.

Here's a piece from his 2013 Smoke Sessions Record release "The Uptown Shuffle:"

On Friday, The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, presents Medusa, a quartet from Hartford that features tap dancer Corey Hutchins, drummer Jocelyn Pleasant, pianist Orice Jenkins, and bassist Matt Dwonszyk.  The dancer and the drummer met at the Artists Collective in Hartford, formed a group to play mostly standards and great r'b' tunes.  Once they added Jenkins and Dwonszyk, they really took off, playing gigs throughout Connecticut and also throwing in some original material. Tap and Black American music has a history that goes back to the mid-19th Century, really growing in popularity from the 1920s through World War II (and beyond - witness Savion Glover).

Medusa will play from 8 - 10 p.m. with a short break. For more information, go to

Here's a video of Mr. Hutchins and the band in action from 2014:

On Saturday, bassist Dwonszyk heads to Integrity 'n' Music, 506 Silas Deane Highway in Wethersfield, to play alongside tenor saxophonist Bennie Wallace and drummer Carmen Intorre.  Wallace, a native of Chattanooga, TN, moved to New York City in the mid-1970s, formed a group with bassist Eddie Gomez (Bill Evans Trio) and drummer Eddie Moore, releasing his debut Lp in 1977, "The Fourteen Bar Blues."  Over the decades, he's recorded with pianist Tommy Flanagan, Dr. John, Kenny Barron, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Oliver Lake plus he created or creating the orchestrations for movie soundtracks such "Bull Durham" and "White Men Can't Jump."  He has always had a "big" sound, with a tone more akin to Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster than John Coltrane (although Wallace has often shown a "wilder" side in his playing).

Wallace is now living in Greenwich, CT, where he is the artistic director of Back Country Jazz, a program he created in 2007 to help stem the loss of music and arts programs in the public schools. He brings top-notch artists to work with the children and created several ensembles featuring the students.

Integrity 'n' Music is located in the rear of the building at 506 Silas Deane Highway.  The concert, which starts at 2 p.m., is free and open to the public.  For more information, call Ed K at 860-563-4005.

In the meantime, here's a "field recording" of Bennie Wallace from 2010:
The young tenor saxophonist from the Hartford area, Mike Casey, is beginning to spread his musical wings. Casey, a graduate of the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the University of Hartford, has been writing a slew of new songs and has developed quite a Trio with bassist Alex Tremblay and drummer Mike Scott.  The ensemble has gelled nicely over the past 12 months and you can hear for yourself on Saturday evening when the Mike Casey Trio at the Passages Gallery, 509 Farmington Avenue in Hartford.

For more information, call the Gallery at 860-523-3232 or send an email to   To learn more about Mike Casey, go to

Here's the Trio live (with drummer Corey Garcia) from a December 2015 gig at Yale:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Guitar Adventures (Pt 1)

From the outset, the new album from guitarist and composer Rez Abbasi & Junction is a barn-burner.  "Behind the Vibration" (Cuneiform Records) is an electric ensemble in so many ways.  Joining Abbasi is Mark Shim (tenor saxophone, MIDI Wind Controller), Ben Stivers (keyboards, organ, Fender Rhodes), and Kenny Grohowski (drums) - this music has the passion of the guitarist's other bands, from the RA Acoustic Quartet to his Invocation Sextet with Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Dan Weiss and others. Abbasi plays expansive solos throughout, riffing like a saxophonist or shredding over the impressive drive of Grohowski (his work underneath solos has such a relentless feel) yet he leaves room for Shim's powerful tenor sax and Stivers' battery of keyboards (especially his excellent use of the organ).

Photo by John Rogers
Pieces such as "Inner Context" and "And I You" show the range of the quartet. The former opens with guitar and organ playing the two-part melody slowing building until the drums enter, then the tenor sax. Shim joins Abbasi in the melody while Stivers, on organ, plays counterpoint.  They ease into the solos section with Abbasi playing in a restrained yet intense fashion before Stivers (on B-3 organ) plays a strong solo over his bass lines, the rhythm guitar, and the ever-intensifying drums. Shim gets the "out chorus" (the piece fades out on his spot), the most powerful of the solos.  "And I You" features a droning organ, quiet sax, and, under the surface, quiet brush work.  The guitarist gets the opening melody while the long middle section is organ chords over the drums.  But, the piece ends with the melody, filled out by the tenor saxophone playing in unison (with a touch of harmony) landing on a quiet guitar chord.

John Rogers photo
There are moments when this music is reminiscent of Chick Corea's electric Return to Forever (but, happily, without the occasional bombast).  The Fender Rhodes, the Wind Controller, and effects-laden guitar on "Self-Brewing" are pushed forward by Grohowski's active drums - his powerful work often sounds like Billy Cobham's work with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Listen to how he responds to Abbasi and Shim as they solo on "Groundswell" and they to him.  He and Shim (on Wind Controller) spar throughout the latter's solo on "New Ritual", then he challenges Stivers as the organist slams into his solo.   The drummer lays back as Abbasi brings the intensity level down at the onset of his solo but the two, pushed by the organ and Wind Controller, are soon picking up the pace.

To my ears, "Behind the Vibration" is warm weather music (although the fiery pieces can certainly heat up a cold winter's night).  The dynamic range of Rez Abbasi & Junction is quite impressive; for such electric music, there are a good number of times when the band deals with the interaction of space and silence.  Best of all, there are well-developed melodies for the band members to build solos  and for the interactions that are at the heart of this music.  Rez Abbasi rarely, if ever, sits still and is always worth listening to.

For more information, go to

Here's the Quartet in the studio:

Thumbscrew, the trio of guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, first worked together in 2011 when the bassist subbed in cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum's Sextet.  They hit it off from the beginning, first recording as a cooperative trio in 2013; both Ms. Halvorson and Mr. Fujiwara are now member of Mr. Formanek's Ensemble Kolossus (the 18-piece ensemble's new ECM recording is quite impressive).

The Trio's second CD, "Convallaria" (Cuneiform Records), is the result of a two week residency at City of Asylum, an impressive arts community in Pittsburgh, PA. For three such busy musicians - each leading his or her own ensembles - to have the opportunity to work, compose, improvise, and play together was crucial. In the words of Ms. Halvorson, "It really helped us to take the band to the next level."

The beneficial time spent together is in full evidence on this often-breath-taking collection of songs. With 11 tracks and a generous 73+ minutes of music, the album is impressive in its scope, its variety of sounds and rhythms as well as the intuitive interactions.  For the most part, the trio keeps melody front-and-center - the album opener, "Cleome", which like the title of the session is named for a flower (cleome is best recognized as "spider flower" while convallaria is "lily of the valley"), builds off the power of Fujiwara's conversational drumming, Formanek's thick bass lines, and Ms. Halvorson heady combination of chords and single-note runs.  The guitar solo buzzes as the drummer roils right alongside.  "Convallaria" has quite the bounce in its step with both Ms. Halvorson and the bassist working off Fujiwara's rock-solid drive (he does have fun varying the tempo at times).   

Those of you who know these three musicians as being involved with "free" music may be surprised how music of this music has steady rhythms.  The songs don't swing per se but there are several tracks that absolutely rock out. "Barn Fire Slum Brew" opens with a funky stop-and-start before Formanek and Fujiwara propel the piece forward.  After a subdued opening with the bass and guitar playing a handsome melody (excellent counterpoint from the bass), the trio moves "The Calendar and the Weathervane" in a "metal" direction with a hardy fuzzed-out solo from Ms. Halvorson.  She and the rhythm section stop abruptly and, after a short silence, return to the peaceful tone of the opening section.  The program closes with a medium-tempo ballad, "Inevitable", that includes a guitar solo which moves in and out of "bent" notes and chords while the bass lines move in and around the solo.  Fujiwara illustrates how best to employ brushes with both forcefulness and gentleness.

Thumbscrew makes thoughtful music, songs and sounds that both challenges the listener and rewards him or her.  It is easy to discern the comfort level that Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek, and Tomas Fujiwara have each other, that they can be "themselves" in a cooperative trio while creating a "group" sound.  "Convallaria" is engrossing music that bears repeated listening.

For more information, go to

Here's a live version of the opening track: