Thursday, March 23, 2023

Spring-ing Forward with Music


Violinist, composer, arranger, and educator Sam Bardfeld, a native of New York City, is comfortable in many different settings. He can play "free jazz", country music, folk, blues, swing jazz, Latin, and more.  He's worked with The Jazz Passengers, with Anthony Braxton's Trillium Orchestra, Vince Giordano's Nighthawks, Steven Bernstein's Millennium Orchestra, and Bruce Springsteen (and so many more).  His first album as a leader, "Taxidermy", came out in 1999 on CIMP Records; since then, his albums have appeared on Fresh Sounds New Talent (2004) and BJU Records (2017).  

Now, BJU has issued "Refuge". The album finds the leader in a musical conversation with pianist Jacob Sacks and drummer Michael Sarin (who's now appeared on three of his four releases). The seven-song program features five originals plus one each from Andrew Hill (the title track) and Mr. Springsteen ("Atlantic City").  The music is, at turns, playful, swinging, jazzy, noisy, rhythmic, lyrical and, believe me, never overstays its welcome. Whether it's the funky dancing drums underneath the violin solo on "On the Seat of Which" or Sacks' Monk-like piano on the opening "It Might Not Work" or the bluesy cake-walk strut of "Kick Me", this trio keeps the listener tapping toes, snapping fingers, and being by surprised by what's next.  The trio shines on "Atlantic City" (listen below) giving it the sonic of a Tom Waits ballad––yet one can not miss the heartbreak and emotion in the violin lines. The wistful piano lines and the soft brush work (although note the depth of the bass drum) beneath the soaring violin solo helps to soften the tension.

The album closes with a rousing version of the classic Andrew Hill tune (from his brilliant 1964 Blue Note Lp "Point of Departure"––the trio version here is slower and one hear the influence of Julius Hemphill's "The Hard Blues" on the arrangement. Sack's far-ranging solo stands out as does Sarin's hard-edged drum work. Near the end of the piece, Bardfeld quotes from a classic Paul Simon tune right after he imitates a police car siren.  It's delightfully off-putting, funny, and poignant at the same time.

"Refuge" is an album to get lost in with songs that speak to the listener in many different ways.  The musicianship of Sam Bardfeld, Jacob Sacks, and Michael Sarin is quite impressive plus the emotion they pour into these songs makes the program stand out. While the violinist is a very busy sideman, one hopes to see this Sam Bardfeld Trio bring this program into a concert space!

For more information, go to  To purchase the new album, go to  

Hear "Atlantic City":

Drummer and composer Sanah Kadoura, born in the country of Lebanon and raised in Canada, has impressed many fellow musicians and listeners over the course of her young career. Since moving to New York City in the mid-2010s, she's played with pianist Kirk Lightsey, guitarist Ed Cherry, vibraphonist Joe Locke, trumpeter/pianist Nicholas Payton, the late Roy Hargrove, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, and so many others.  She's a member of the Canadian-based collective Ostara Project, whose 2022 debut album stood out for its creativity and musicianship, and self-released her first solo album "Hawk Eyes" in 2018 which featured, among others, guitarist Mark Whitfield and bassist James Genus.  Ms. Kadoura writes her own music, produces her sessions, and is poised to become an important musical voice over the coming decades. 

"Duality" (self-released) is Ms. Kadoura's new album and it's a winner from the opening note.  Her running mates include Stacy Dillard (soprano saxophone), Virginia MacDonald (clarinet), Rachel Therrien (flugelhorn, trumpet), Michael King (acoustic piano, Rhodes, organ), Jonathan Michel (acoustic and electric basses), and vocalist Joanna Majoko plus Parham Haghighi (vocals on three tracks) and Flavio Silva (electric guitar on one cut). One of the more fascinating is how often Ms. Kadoura uses two or more "voices" to express the song's thematic material––take "The Seer, The Soarer" (listen below) and how the soprano sax, clarinet, and flugelhorn state the theme and how the solos build off Michel's funky electric bass. On the title track, notice how the different instruments move around each after Dillard states the theme. Haghighi's vocal adds a Middle-Eastern touch before the soprano sax and clarinet solo together in conversation. Then, Ms. Majoko joins Haghighi for a repetition of the theme.  These textures are in contrast to each but not in conflict. The arranger is looking for textural diversity in her music.

Photo: Tieran Green
Later in the program, "Zaytoon" mines Ms. Kadoura's country of origin for a playful, dancing, intriguing, tune.  The rhythm section dances below the different soloists with Dillard's soprano sax and Ms. Therrien's flugelhorn building their solos off the traditional-sounding melody. The piece closes with Haghighi chanting the melody as Ms. Majoko and the soprano "scat" behind him.  

The album closes with "Rise", a contemporary r'n'b piece featuring Ms. Majoko's melismatic vocal (check out her vocal chorus overdubs) over a rock-solid drum and Michel's burbling bass lines plus the colors of the Rhodes.  Again, Stacy Dillard's soprano saxophone serves as a delightful counterpoint to the vocal.  at about 3/4s of the way through the tune, the band breaks into a section that sounds more like progressive rock; this features voices coming at the listener from all sides over the throbbing. It makes for a surprising ending to a consistently creative adventure.

"Duality" is filled with good, solid, well-played music, planned out enough to make each song stand on its own yet open enough to allow for impressive solo work by a top-notch ensemble.  One has to believe that Sanah Kadoura knows what she wants, what she can do, and, sooner than later, that the sky may be her only limit! Give a listen, a close listen!

For more information, go to  To hear more and purchase the album, go to

Hear "The Seer, The Soarer":

Monday, March 6, 2023

Wayne Shorter Gave Us Lives


Photo: Robert Ashcroft

Wayne Shorter
(1933-2023) has been a musical presence in Creative Black Music since the late 1950s. Starting out his professional career with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson and then moving to Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers where he helped to shape the sound of Hard-Bop for five years before moving on to the Miles Davis Quintet for the balance of the 1960s and into the early days of 1970.  He and keyboard master Joe Zawinul formed Weather Report in 1970 initially as an avant-garde creative ensemble before turning to more earthly rhythms to become one of the more popular jazz-fusion ensembles in the mid-70s through the mid-1980s.  Shorter had started his solo recording career in 1960 with Vee-Jay Records before moving to Blue Note Records in 1964 and recorded over 10 albums that showed his growth as a composer, tenor and soprano saxophonist, and a leader.  

Photo: Christophe Simon
He moved to CBS/Sony as a member of Weather Report and, in 1975, as a leader with his stunning "Native Dancer", a collection of songs influenced by Brazilian music that featured, among others, Milton Nascimento and Herbie Hancock.  During the 70s and 80s (and beyond), he would add his saxophone to songs on albums created by Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Carlos Santana,  and Don Henley (among others). After leaving Weather Report in 1985, the saxophonist released three fusion albums for CBS between 1985-1988 but it was not until signing with Verve Records in 1994 and releasing the ambitious "High Life" that Shorter's career began the renaissance that would last for the rest of his creative life. 

In 2000, Mr. Shorter organized what turned out to his final, and arguably his best, working ensemble.  Danilo Perez (piano), John Patitucci (bass), and Brian Blade (drums) became an extension of the saxophonist's imagination and so in tune with his constant desire to be exploring that the group never rehearsed––they would get on stage and hit.  Over the years, the group would be augmented by orchestras and chamber ensembles, becoming the proving ground that would help lay the groundwork for "Iphigenia", the opera Mr. Shorter created with librettist esperanza spalding, set designer Frank Gehry (and the Quartet) that had its first full production (with the librettist in the lead role) in Boston, MA, in late 2021.  Considered (at that time) as a "work-in-progress"), the show went on to play in Washington, DC, Berkeley, CA, and Los Angeles, CA, working out many of the issues that beset the earliest productions.  
Though the physical presence that was Wayne Shorter has departed, those of us who loved his musical and artistic adventures have much to buoy our spirits, what with seven decades of compositions, recordings, and videos. We can still carry on our conversation with the questions his music posed. That need not be an internal dialogue as we have the possibility to teach other people about this most fascinating person.  

Watch the Quartet in action:

Friday, March 3, 2023

"....Soul Grown Deep Like The River"


Dr. Anthony Branker is quite an accomplished person with a list of achievements that would fill this page. I spoke to him in 2017 at the time Origin Records released "Beauty Within", his seventh album of original compositions (and six issued by the Seattle, WA-based label). At that time, he had recently stepped down as the head (and founder) of the Jazz Studies Program at Princeton––he currently is Adjunct Professor at the Mason Gross School of Music at Rutgers University. I am impressed by his ability to tell stories, truths about issues such as racism, equality, spirituality, and more, writing music that sounds familiar yet can be challenging, swings yet sings. The son of Caribbean immigrants, Dr. Branker once played his music (he was a trumpet player) in venues around the world. Dr. Branker has also conducted ensembles for Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis as well as orchestras in Israel, Germany, Japan, Estonia, and in the United States. 

His eighth album, "What Place Can Be For Us: A Suite In 10 Movements" (Origin), is the second recording with his Imagine ensemble, an octet built around guitarist Pete McCann, pianist Fabian Almazan, and bassist Linda May Han Oh plus Walter Smith III (tenor saxophone), Remy Le Boeuf (alto and soprano saxophones), Philip Dizack (trumpet, flugelhorn), Donald Edwards (drums), and on two tracks, Alison Crockett (vocal and spoken word). As you should be able to tell by the title, the themes of this new collection are inclusion, immigration, belonging, citizenship, and the never-ending racism that permeates the United States.  Ms. Crockett is featured on the opening track, "The Door of No Return", an episodic that blends the squalling guitar of Pete McCann, the telegraph notes from the piano, and the words of poet Beatriz Esmer. There is a powerful solo from Smith III as well as well as brilliant background arrangements.  The words hearken back to The Middle Passage (many more Black Africans were enslaved in Brazil than anywhere else on the American continent).  

Ms. Crockett returns for "I, Too, Sing America" from Langston Hughes 1926 collection "The Weary Blues".  It's a powerful work with fine piano work and a commanding solo from Smith III yet be sure to listen to how the alto sax and trumpet play a drone beneath the tenor sax and the heartfelt vocal. 

Elsewhere, there's the nervous energy of McCann's guitar solo and the wistful alto sax solo from Le Boeuf on "Indivisible", the melancholy reminiscence of "Sundown Town" with far-ranging solos from Almazan and Dizack, and the "prog-rock meets hard bop" riff on "Sanctuary City" and the crackling guitar of McCann and keening tenor sax.   

It's hard not to think of boats filled with refugees on "We Went Where Wind Took Us" but the music has more of a hopeful feel as well as fine solos from Ms. Oh and Almazan.  After a lovely solo piano introduction, "The Trail of Tears to Standing Rock" reminds us all of how the Andrew Jackson Presidency pushed Native Americans onto lands where their crops could not grow; not that succeeding US Presidents made the situation any better, creating reservations that keep them held down. Now when they fight the oil pipeline that will split their land up and subsequently cut them off from or contaminate their water supply, their protests still fall on deaf ears.  

As you should be able to tell, Dr. Anthony Branker does not shy away from controversy; instead he channels his concerns, beliefs, and his fears into music that often vibrates with urgency, compassion, commitment, and impressive musicianship.   Don't you shy away from  "What Place Can Be For Us: A Suite In 10 Movements"––instead, embrace its activism, its message, and its power.

For more information, go to  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to

Here's the ensemble playing and presenting the words of poet Langston Hughes on "I, Too, Sing America":

Vocalist and educator Christine Correa came to the United States from her native Bombay, India, in 1979––she came to attend the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, which is where she met two people who became very important in her life, pianist Ran Blake and pianist Frank Carlberg who is a frequent collaborator as well as her husband.  Ms. Correa is currently on the faculties of Columbia University’s Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program, Teacher’s College at Columbia University and the New School as well as the Director of the Maine Jazz Camp. She's recorded five duo albums with Ran Blake, 10 albums (in groups of various sizes) with Mr. Carlberg, and, at least, a half-dozen with other artists but never an album under own name.

Until now.  "Just You Stand and Listen With Me" (Sunnyside Records) is a tribute to two recordings drummer Max Roach recorded with his then-wife, the vocalist Abbey Lincoln, 1961's "We Insist! Freedom Now Suite" (Candid Records) and "Percussion Bitter Suite" (Impulse! Records).  For her album, Ms. Correa utilizes the musical voices of Sam Newsome (soprano saxophone), Andrew Boudreau (piano), Kim Cass (bass), and Michael Sarin (drums).  The 11-song program opens with the opening cut from "We Insist!", "Driva' Man", a fiery slave song with lyrics by Oscar Brown, Jr.  Ms. Correa's vocal is underpinned by the strolling rhythm section bolstered by the angular piano chords. Newsome's soprano solo is soaring and free-wheeling while Sarin's narrative drums over the walking bass also stands out.

Brown, Jr. adapts Paul Lawrence Dunbar's poem "When Malindy Sings"––the poet wrote his piece in "original" dialect but this adaptation is no "Uncle Remus". The music really swings with kudos to Boudreau for a fine solo.  Ms. Lincoln wrote the words for "Mendacity"; her lyrics could have been written today. Here's an example; "The campaign trail winds on and on/In towns from coast to coast/The winner ain't the one who's straight/But he who lies the most." Sarin's drums are quite expressive while Newsome again serves as response to Ms. Correa's call. Listen below!

There's so much to take on this brilliant album. Ms. Correa's duet with drummer Sarin in the first 90 seconds of "All Africa" is a stunning introduction to the body of the song in which the vocals name various tribes of the African Continent. The soprano sax solo over the drums is powerful, very moving and expressive. The wordless vocals on "Tears for Johannesburg" speaks to the treatment of the oppressed black citizens under South Africa's apartheid regimes. The ensemble moves in and out of time throughout plus there are excellent solos from Newsome and bassist Cass.

The album closes with Brown, Jr./Roach's "Freedom Day", a piece that is, at times, frolicsome, free, impulsive, pulsing with urgency, and in the end, questioning if we are really "free" (certainly the Black population of the United States has rarely been truly free to be).   

From start to finish, "Just You Stand and Listen With Me" is quite powerful.  Christine Correa not only celebrates the amazing and controversial music of Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and Oscar Brown, Jr. but also asks questions about whether her adopted country–the United States–can ever truly be the place where "All Men (and Women) Are Created Equal".  

For more information, go to To hear more and to purchase the album, go to

Hear Ms. Correa singing Abbey Lincoln's words on "Mendacity":

Monday, February 27, 2023

These Sounds & Those Words


Argentinean-born pianist and composer Emilio Teubal creates music that shines with lyrical beauty, sparkling solos and interplay plus rhythms that make you dance and sway. His 2013 BJU release, "Musica Para un Dragon Dormido", is one of my all-time favorite albums. Teubal has been busy since moving to the United States over two decades. He writes constantly and has worked with artists such as bassist Pedro Giraudo, cellist Erik Friedlander, and various tango organizations and groups in the New York City area.  Currently, he leads a trio with bassist Pedro Lanouguere and drummer Chris Michael.

Those two musicians are the foundation of his new recording "Futuro" (Not Yet Records).  Recorded in several sessions in December 2021 and May 2022 (drummer Michael has been dealing with long COVID so Brian Shankar Adler appears on five of the 10 tracks, all recorded at the later sessions).  Joining the trio on three tracks is Sam Sadigursky (clarinet) and Fede Diaz (guitar) while vibraphonist Chris Dingman adds his sound to three other cuts.  From the opening measure of the opening cut (the title track), the listener is transported to sunnier climes.  The dancing clarinet and percussive guitar wrap around the warming piano figures. Bassist Lanouguere, who leads a quintet that Teubal is part of, is a rich melodic player with a full tone on both acoustic and electric; he also contributes fine bow work (he and the pianist play the opening melody of "Children of MMXX"––he then solos sans bow and is quite impressive there as well.

Photo: Sergio R. Reyes
Of the three tracks Dingman appears on, "Remolinos" stands out for its hypnotic piano figures and circular melody. There is a Steve Reich in the piano lines that is repeated by the vibes and the electric bass throughout. It certainly feels like all four musicians are percussionists and melody makers at the same time.  The vibraphonist also appears on the handsome take of Sir Paul McCartney's "Blackbird".  While the piece is the shortest track in the program (2:35), the arrangement allows everyone to shine and the melody to stand out.  

Photo: Sergio R. Reyes
The blend of the acoustic guitar and clarinet on "Los que Fluyen" hints at tango as well as Brazilian folk forms––Teubal's solo rises out of the main theme, dancing atop the guitar and electric bass then steps aside for Sadigursky to create a masterful, emotional, solo.  The quintet imbues "Tokyo Trenque" with such a gentle quality, caressing the melody while Adler's hand percussion clicks underneath.  The music picks up with intensity during Lanouguere's acoustic bass solo from which Teubal moves farther away without going "free" but much more impressionistic. The clarinet solo seems to move the rest of the band back to melody; after a quick climax, the music gently sighs to a close.

The album closes with "Los Ultimos Seran Los Primeros"  ("The last will be the first"), a wistful Trio piece dedicated to the pianist's father who passed in 2021.  The insistent quality in the piano solo allows the listener to hear touches of Keith Jarrett in the delightful two-hand work of Teubal.  As you listen to this track (and others), one can really tell that these musicians are in tune with each and with the material.  "Futuro" stands out as a work that celebrates life and melodic adventure without sacrificing the rhythms that have sparked the curiosity of Emilio Teubal since he was a boy.  Listen to "Rio" below––it's indicative of how the music incorporates its many influences to create sounds that please, hug, and brings joy!

For more information, go to  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to

Join the group on its journey to "Rio"

Photo: Jimmy Katz
What do you get when mix drummer Matt Wilson, bassist Mimi Jones, and saxophonist Jeff Lederer, give them two nights at the end of February 2020 in the newly reopened Cafe Bohemia in New York City, and let them loose.  It's the Leap Day Trio and now you can hear the results on "Leap Day Trio: Live at The Cafe Bohemia" (Giant Steps Arts). The music on the recording is spirited, lively, at times thoughtful, and very human. Messrs. Wilson and Lederer have been friends and musical partners on and off for three decades; adding Ms. Jones to their special mix neither tempers nor hinders their musical fun. Instead, she's a solid foundational player and a melodic soloist (check her out on "The Dream Weaver" and "Leap of Faith").

The nine song, 68 minute program, opens with Wilson's "Dewey Spirit", (listen below) a tune the drummer dedicates to one of his earliest mentors and employers, tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman. Commencing with percussion and Lederer's spiky tenor sax sounds, the piece opens in rubato with Ms. Jones dancing underneath the melody line.  When the main theme kicks in, one hears a running bass line, swinging drums, and the saxophonist flying all around his horn.  Everyone solos, the energy is contagious, and the crowd enjoys it all.

Two of the next three tracks are ballads ("Leap of Faith" and "Ghost Town") but the track in between ("The Dream Weaver") rumbles along atop the pulsing bass and percussion.  "Ghost Town" is a fascinating journey through the musical terrains of blues, post-bop, and during the bass solo, the feel of Native American music. Lederer lets loose on the opening of "Strival For Survival"––that sets the tempo for the rhythm section and they rocket forward. When the tempo slows down for Ms. Jones fine solo, listen for Wilson's delightful work on the cymbals.

Photo: Jimmy Katz
The program closes with the spirited "For Friends"––again, Lederer leads off the piece with a solo introduction but one can hear from his exciting forward lean, the music is going to be fiery.  Even when the gentlemen step aside for Ms. Jones spirited solo, the music has great drive.  

One hopes that the Leap Day Trio doesn't only convene every four years. In the meantime, celebrate the group's music on "Live at The Cafe Bohemia".  

Hear Matt Wilson's musical tribute to Dewey Redman:

Trumpter, composer, mentor, and author Jeremy Pelt has just issued Volume III of "Griot: Celebrating the Lives of Jazz's Great Storytellers".  15 more interviews with artists whose ages range from 89 (Wayne Shorter) to 28 (Elena Pinderhughes) sharing insights into their musical and spiritual upbringing, how they each developed a singular voice, and the changes they have seen in this art form created by black musicians at the start of the 20th Century.  These are stories of resilience in the face of the racism that has never truly been eradicated in this country and in places around the world. Many of the artists speak of how the changes that other musical forms (styles) have brought to the music keeps it alive in the face of listeners and label owners apathy.  But you also read of how musicians have been mentored by their musical elders, about the rigors of the road, and the cost, mental and physical, of a musician's calling.  Still, there are joys galore in their retelling stories of their formative days and nights on and off the bandstand.  

Photo: Ra-Re Valverde
I have written before how "Griot" will remind older Black Music fans of "Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews", the 1977 classic interviews drummer Art Taylor compiled that featured 29 of the greats who helped push the music forward in the middle decades of the 20th Century.  Jeremy Pelt has given us the 21st equivalent of Mr. Taylor's book and, hopefully, he will continue to converse with his elders, contemporaries, and young people for years to come!

For more information and to order any one or all three volumes of "Griot", go to

Monday, February 20, 2023

Musical Treats for February

 What a joy to be surrounded with such great music––here are two of the more delightful releases of 2023! 

Photo: Erika Kapin
Australian-born vocalist Jo Lawry may be best known for working with Sting, Paul Simon, Fred Hersch, and Peter Gabriel but she's been recording her own albums for the past 15 years.  She spent nearly two decades living, working, and teaching in New York City (her teaching appointments were at the Manhattan School of Music and at the Boston-based New England Conservatory).  Ms. Lawry, who is married to saxophonist Will Vinson, moved back to Australia  in 2021 to lead the Equity in Jazz program at Sydney Conservatorium of Music, a program designed to encourage and support women and gender diverse musicians into a career in jazz through dedicated leadership, music development and mentorship.   She's released three albums as a leader with the most recent being 2018's "The Bathtub and The Sea." 

For her latest venture, "Acrobats" (Whirlwind Recordings), Ms. Lawry joins forces with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Allison Miller to create a fascinating program that ranges from standards to two special pieces either written by an Australian composer (the title track comes from the pen of Gian Slater) or made a big hit on the Aussie scene (John Farnham's anthemic "You're the Voice").  Don't be put off by the spare instrumentation as the music is so intimate, delightful, emotional and adventurous that the 43-minute goes by way too quickly.  When you listen to this music, you'll hear how melodic all three artists.  Both Ms. Han Oh and Ms. Miller certainly know how to swing; right from the voice/bass opening moments of the opening track, Frank Loesser's "Traveling Light" (from "Guys and Dolls", one hears the delightful give-and-take of Ms. Lawry with the rhythm section.

Photo: Erika Kapin
The title track (listen below) illustrates Ms. Miller's splendid hand drumming as well as why Ms. Han Oh is a first-call bassist as she supplies both counterpoint and rhythmic support.  Dig the delightful the voice/drums duo on Cole Porter's "You're The Top"; taken at a breakneck pace, the vocalist dances atop the rapid-fire brush work.  Later in the program, Ms. Han Oh and Ms. Lawry take a delightful stroll through Al Hoffman and Dick Manning's "Takes Two to Tango" (first made famous in 1952 in separate versions by Pearl Bailey and Louis Armstrong).  This version is slower and slinkier than the two versions from seven decades ago yet retains the humor and sassiness that the lyrics embody.

There is nary a weak track on "Acrobats".  While her previous album tilted towards folk and pop, it's really great to hear Jo Lawry as a jazz singer (her scat feature on Lennie Tristano's "317 East 32nd Street" is a treat as is the sparkling bass solo).  Adding Linda May Han Oh and Allison Miller to this project is a stroke of genius––you'll not hear a better trio album this year!!

Let's hear the album's title track:

For his third album on Edition Records, tenor saxophonist Chris Potter recorded several nights of his February 2022 gig at the legendary Village Vanguard.  Six songs from the multi-night engagement make up the program for "Got The Keys to the Kingdom: Live at The Village Vanguard." For the gig, Potter put together an ensemble featuring Craig Taborn (piano), Scott Colley (bass), and Marcus Gilmore (drums).  The set is bookended by two long blues/gospel tunes with the first being Mississippi Fred McDowell's "You Gotta Move."  The leader goes it along for the first 30 seconds then introduces the blues groove that the rest of the ensemble picks up on.  They run the first three verses with Potter adding more energy each time until they break into a short bridge and the saxophone solo commences.  It's a tour-de-force, filled with ideas and turns-of-phrases, reminiscent of a Sonny Rollins-like playfulness. Taborn is next and he digs into the song's blues groove.  After a quick return to the theme, Gilmore gets the spotlight and, with the help of Colley's short background figure, kicks the heck out of his drums.

Besides the blues, there are two tracks with Brazilian roots, the handsome folk tune "Nazani Na" (transcribed by Heitor Villa-Lobos and Edgar Roquette-Pinto from an Amazonian Indian folk tune) and "Olha Maria", composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Chico Buarque, and Vinicius De Moraes).  The latter piece opens as a nearly-three minute conversation for Potter and Colley before the pianist and drummer enter.  There is also a lovely take on Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count", a piece he composed in the hospital awaiting treatment for esophageal cancer that would claim his life several months later. When recorded by the Ellington Orchestra, the solo on the piece was poignantly played by Johnny Hodges. Here, the quartet not only interprets the distress of the composer's condition but his fight as well.  It's quite a beautiful piece.  That's followed by Charlie Parker's "Klactoveedsestene", a jaunty dance for all involved.  

The album closes with the title track, a gospel tune first recorded by Washington Phillips in 1929.  Again, I hear the influence of Sonny Rollins in the rollicking rhythms, the playful interactions of the group, and Potter's powerful solo.  Gilmore and Colley push him hard while Taborn feeds him aggressive chords.  The pianist gets the next solo, dancing, strutting, bouncing, feeding off the lively bass and drums. A return to the opening theme then Gilmore begins his magnificent 3:30 solo that reaches its climax with the audience roaring its approval. The entire quartet takes the piece out on that high-energy level.  

"Got The Keys to the Kingdom" is a delight from start to finish. If you love high-energy creative, the album has numerous examples. If you need a heartfelt ballad that explores many emotions, that's here as well. Rhythmic adventures? Yes! Great solos? Yes!  Chris Potter and his excellent ensemble shine throughout–don't miss this splendid live album! 

Here's Chris and the band on Charlie Parker's "Klactoveedsedstene":

Monday, February 13, 2023

Burt Bacharach (1928-2023)

Photo: Getty Images
Composer and arranger Burt Bacharach passed away last Wednesday at the age of 94.  Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Bacharach was entranced by the sounds of jazz in his hometown (County Basie!) despite the fact his mother made him study classical music. He did his undergraduate work (in music) at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, then went to the Mannes School of Music in New York City, and the Music Academy of the West in California. After a stint in the US Armed Forces, Bacharach worked as a pianist and arranger with singers such as Vic Damone, Polly Bergen, Steve Lawrence, and even several stints playing the Catskills in New York State. In 1956, Bacharach began working with actress and singer Marlene Dietrich, touring Europe and the Middle East on numerous occasions. Their musical relationship lasted into the the early years of the next decade.

At the same time, the pianist was also working as a songwriter in the mid-century "Tin Pan Alley" that was the famous Brill Building.  There, he collaborated with lyricists Bob Hilliard ("Any Day Now", "Tower of Strength") and Mack David ("Baby, It's You") but when he teamed up with David's younger brother Hal in 1963, they created a body over the next decade with artists such as Gene Pitney, Jerry Butler, Lou Johnson, the Fifth Dimension, the Carpenters, Tom Jones, Herb Alpert, and, of course, Dionne Warwick. Their work with Ms. Warwick, a brilliant vocalist with a wonderful range, has stood the test of time.  Their musical relationship slowed to a halt by 1973 – all three went on to do impressive work yet never hit the heights of the mid-to-late 60s.

My introduction to the music of Burt Bacharach started in the early 1960s as I would use my allowance to scour the bargain bins of 45 rpm "singles" at the local Woolworth's 5 & Dime store. Prices ranged from 10 to 25 cents and I would try my chances.  I had already heard Gene McDaniel's "Tower of Strength" (listen below) and had bought a few records on the Wand label, seeing Bacharach's name on some as composer and arranger.  Whether the songs were hits or not, the music was always interesting. Bacharach had an affinity for Black vocalists, working with Tommy Hunt, Lou Johnson, and Brook Benton. Looking back and listening to this music, it sounds so "grown-up" for its time, not really (in many cases) rhythm 'n' blues or rock or even "pop" but incredibly well-crafted works of art sung by singers who had previously been "pigeon-holed" by producers into settings that did not show the range of their voices or emotions. Yes, some of Burt Bacharach pieces could be saccharine (luscious swelling strings, dramatic pauses) but the best of them transcended any genre.  

Burt Bacharach would go on to write scores for films and writing hit songs with his third wife, Carole Bayer Sager, but when he teamed up with Elvis Costello in 1998 to create "Painted From Memory", their work together stands alongside the composer's best work.  He never stopped writing and collaborating, even was nominated for a GRAMMY in 2020 for his work with lyricist and instrumentalist Daniel Tashian (pictured above).  

Yes, some of the songs can be sappy ("Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head") or sexist ("Wives and Lovers" being the worst offender) but never offensive.  His best work stands the test of the time and had been interpreted by singers all around the world.  

Listen to these Bacharach classics:

"Trains and Boats and Planes":

and, of course, Ms. Warwick:

And two from Elvis Costello and Mr. Bacharach:

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Jeff Beck Guitar

Photo: Getty Images
 Growing in the 1960s, the "British Invasion" captured my mind and my ears. First, there was The Beatles, then The Rolling Stones, The Who, and on.  Every week, it seemed there was another group from England playing music inspired by American musicians who has been bypassed or pigeon-holed by radio programmers into regional boxes that were hard to break out of.  In June of 1965, The Yardbirds hit Top 40 with "For Your Love"–the British quintet were a blues-rock band known for its excellent support of American bluesman and featuring guitarist Eric Clapton.  But, the group's turn towards "pop-rock" pushed Clapton to depart and join John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers; the group asked session musician Jimmy Page who, in turn, recommended Jeff Beck and, thus, a career was born.

While The Yardbirds pursued Top 40 audiences with their 45rpm "pop" tunes, their albums featured a lot of blues-inspired material some of which leaked onto the radio. The group's raucous rendition of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man" gave listeners a hint of Beck's prowess but he lasted less than two years in the group, replaced by Page. After an uninspired pair of recordings, including "Hi Ho Silver Linings" (which included a rare Beck vocal), he formed his own group with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on bass.  The group released several albums of blues-soaked material but broke up after several years.

After Beck disbanded his "heavy metal" Beck/Bogert/Appice" (the bassist and drummer from the US band Cactus), he contacted producer George Martin to produce his new instrumental album.  Released in 1975, "Blow by Blow" was a huge success thanks to excellent material, especially the two Stevie Wonder songs, the super funky "Thelonious" and the beautiful "'Cause We've Ended as Lovcrs".  Beck's guitar playing on the latter track is emotionally rich and truly proved he was more than a technical whiz.  A year later, Martin and Beck collaborated on "Wired" which included a number of cuts recorded with keyboardist Jan Hammer who helped to push the guitarist to play with even more abandon. The album includes a stunning take of Charles Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat". 

The guitarist recorded several albums with Hammer, toured with Hammer's band, and continued to record albums when the inspiration hit. When he wasn't guesting on recordings or doing the occasional tour, Beck would spend the time in his garage rebuilding cars.  He had said on numerous occasions that he had no need to always be in the public eye. Still, his albums continued to sell and he would win GRAMMYs in 2011 for "Best Rock Instrumental Performance" (for "Hammerhead" from the album "Emotion & Commotion") and for his rendition of Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" ("Best Pop Instrumental Performance"  from the same album). 

One of the joys of listening to Jeff Beck is he could make the oddest sounds and make them fit into the context of any song. Like Buddy Guy, another guitarist who pushes the envelope, Mr. Beck could make one grimace, laugh out loud, and really smile.  He will be missed but we were so lucky to have him here!!

Here's a live take of "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat":

Here he is shredding "What Mama Said" with guitarist Jennifer Batten:

Back to 1984 and Beck's reunion with Rod Stewart for Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready":