Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, Jazz & Poetry: Catching Up to The Future

I would venture a guess that most people who read this blog know who Charlie Parker is and there is very little I can add to his legend.   Here's the short bio. The alto saxophonist, who was born in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1920, is universally recognized as one of the originators of be-bop (along with Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, and Bud Powell). Right after World War II came to a close, Parker made a series of recordings that many believe are the Holy Grail of jazz. But he had albatross around his neck - his addiction to heroin not only ruined the lives of many of the musicians who idolized him but also Parker's ability to perform, record, and tour.  But his music lives on: nearly 65 years after his death at the age of 34, his endlessly inventive solos still inspire musicians around the world.

Yusuf Komunyakaa, born in Bogalusa, LA, in 1947, is one of the premier poets of the United States with a career that spans over 46 years.  He did not start writing and punishing poetry until the early 1970s. Many of his poems, especially the early ones, were influenced by his experiences in Vietnam where he worked as a correspondent and editor during the height of the conflict.  Among his collections, you will also find poems about jazz and blues. In addition, he co-edited (along with Sacha Feinstein) the two volumes of "The Jazz Poetry Anthology" published in the 1990s by Indiana University Press.

Wesleyan University Press/HFS
In 2013, Wesleyan University Press published Komunyakaa's "Testimony: A Tribute to Charlie Parker (with New and Selected Poems)", a book that also comes with an audio recording of a 2002 concert originally broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). ABC had commissioned the work in the mid-1990s: the 14-part libretto first appeared in Komunyakaa's 1998 collection "Thieves of Paradise" (Wesleyan University Press). In September of 1997, the poet had recorded with saxophonist John Tchihai in a septet that also featured bassist Fred Hopkins (from trio Air) and guitarist Jeff Parker (his website is the only place to get the CD as there is no digital release) - a number of the poems Komunyakaa contributed to that project, titled "Love Notes From The Madhouse" (8th Harmonic Breakdown), appear in the book.

ABC also commissioned saxophonist, composer, and arranger Sandy Evans (pictured below) to create the music for the broadcast. Ms. Evans, who has worked with numerous Australian ensembles including being the co-leader of Clarion 
Fracture Zone (see hear), the Australian Art Orchestra, and 10-Part Invention, assembled a program that not only included bebop but also blues, classical music, modern jazz, and much more.  The two-minute "Overture" includes snippets of "Moose The Mooche", "Relaxin' At Camarillo", "Dewey Square", and "52nd Street Theme" (all Charle Parker tunes save for the last one listed which is by Thelonious Monk).  The 96-minute concert also includes Parker's "Koko" and Irving Berlin's "If I Had You".  Among the musicians are pianist Alistair Spence, bassist Lloyd Swanton (The Necks), trumpeter Warwick Alder, trombonist James Greening, and the great alto saxophonist Bernie McGann (1937-2013) plus spoken word artist Michael Edward-Stevens (an actor from New York City who makes his home in Australia) and a slew of vocalists including, on one track, Kurt Elling.

The only way one gets to hear this fascinating project is to buy "Testimony" as the two-cd set was here released on its own.  It's truly worth the experience.  The poems stand on their own and "Testimony" (the poem) can certainly read without the music. But to hear how Ms. Evans integrates the poetry into the music is really a treat. The package is available from all booksellers, from online retailers, and from HFS Books - the link is below.


To find out more about Yusef Komunyakaa, go to www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/yusef-komunyakaa.

For more information about Sandy Evans and her latest projects, go to sandyevans.com.au.

For more information about the book, go to testimony.site.wesleyan.edu.

My thanks to Suzanna TamminenDirector and Editor-in-Chief at Wesleyan University Press, for her kindness and generosity.  

Saturday, April 13, 2019

"Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future" - Today

Many say that all music is political but some is both political and personal.  The Art Ensemble of Chicago started as the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble in Chicago, an offshoot of the work the saxophonist and composer was doing with the AACM (the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians).  Mitchell first recorded with future AEC members trumpeter Lester Bowie,  and bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut for Delmark Records in 1966 - the album, "Sound", also featured saxophonist Maurice McIntyre, trombonist and cellist Lester Lashley, and percussionist Alvin Fielder.  Saxophonist Joseph Jarman, who had first met Mitchell in 1961, played with him in Muhal Richard Abrams Experimental Band and recorded with Bowie, Favors Maghostut, and Mitchell on the trumpeter's 1967 Nessa release "Numbers 1 & 2" and at the same time, with Mitchell's Art Ensemble on the group's "Congliptious" (Nessa) Lp.

In 1969, Jarman was invited to join the quartet and the group became the Art Ensemble of Chicago - they then moved to Paris, France, where the AEC played numerous and began working for several different labels. They built a cult following but soon felt the urge to come back home in 1971. Over the next eight years, the quintet toured throughout the United States, recording albums for Atlantic Records, Delmark, and started their own label, AECO Records, in 1975.

ECM Records
In 1978, the AEC signed with ECM Records which helped to bring the ensemble a worldwide audience. "Nice Guys" (the cover photo is on the left) showed them at their "experimental" best, going "free shouting matches to swing to blues to whatever they felt would get their message across.  That message - "Great Black Music - From the Ancient to the Future" - is the best way to describe the sounds the five musicians created.

The best way to understand this music was to see and hear the AEC in person. The experience was always more than just five guys playing music. Instead, the stage was often packed with instruments, from small wooden flutes to bass saxophones, from bells to tympani drums to a full drum set.  Several members of the band would paint there faces and wear bright African clothing while Bowie often appeared in the white jacket of a doctor. And, as is often the case with improvised music, the quality varied from show to show, set to set.  I saw them at the Public Theater in New York City headlining a double-bill with pianist Don Pullen. Both acts were astounding. The Art Ensemble played for 75 minutes without a break: it felt like 15 minutes.  Not surprisingly, at least 1/3rds of the group's albums were recorded in person.

Time marches on. Lester Bowie died in 1999, Malachi Favors Maghostut passed in 2004, and Joseph Jarman earlier this year. Famadou Don Moye now lives in Marseilles, France, and Roscoe Mitchell recently retired after serving 12 years on the Music Faculty of Mills College in Oakland, California.  When the Art Ensemble recorded its new Pi Recordings "We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration" in October of 2018, Mr. Jarman did not join original members Messrs. Mitchell and Moye: instead, the 2-CD set, one recorded in the studio, the other at Edgefest in Ann Arbor, Michigan, features the talents of 18 musicians.  Among those musicians are Tomeka Reid (cello), Nicole Mitchell (no relation - plays flutes), and trumpeters Hugh Ragin and Fred Berry.  Besides Mr. Moye, there are three other percussionists, a poet (Camae Ayewa aka Moor Mother), opera singer Rodolfo Cordova-Lebron, three bassists (Silvia Bolognesi, Jaribu Shahid, and Junius Paul), and more.

The studio sessions include music from Mr. Mitchell's opera "Bamboo Terrace", several percussion-based works, pieces with "slam" poetry, the use of various electronic instruments, plus a number of older works including a short version of Mr. Bowie's "Villa Tiamo" (from the ensemble's 1998 "Coming Home Jamaica" album).  Several pieces can be heard on the live disk, recorded the same evening (10/20/18) as the final studio session.  One hears classical music, long "jams", passages of incredible musicianship, swing, hard-bop, funk, Afro-funk solos, duos, trios, but no vocals.  Disk two contains a 19+ minute rendition of Favors Maghostut's "Tutankhamun" which the original members (minus Moye) of the AEC first recorded in France in 1969.  The percussion section includes Enoch Williamson who recorded with Famadou Don Moye in 1996 and, along with fellow percussionist Titos Sompa, create a five minute celebration titled "Saturday Morning" the pounding percussion sets quite a table for Mitchell's wailing sopranino sax.

50 years!! What an accomplishment for The Art Ensemble of Chicago, a group that never, ever, rested on its laurels but keeps on searching.  With the injection of younger members (Roscoe Mitchell is 78, Famadou Don Moye is 72) like Nicole Mitchell and Tomeka Reid, Junius Paul and Silvia Bolognesi, the experimentation and exploration is sure to continue for many more decades.  For today, "We Are On The Edge" is quite a fascinating program and well worth your time!

For more information, go to www.akamu.net/aeoc.htm.

Here's the studio version of "Mama Koko":


Roscoe Mitchell – sopranino, soprano and alto saxophones 
Famoudou Don Moye – drums, congas, djembe, dundun, gongs, Congo bells, bendir, triangles, Thai bells, shakers 
Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa) – voice, poetry (Disc One #3, 4, 10) 
Rodolfo Cordova-Lebron – voice (Disc One #1, 6, 9) 
Hugh Ragin – trumpets, flugelhorn, Thai bells 
Fred Berry – trumpet, flugelhorn 
Nicole Mitchell – piccolo, flute, bass flute 
Christina Wheeler – voice, Array mbira, autoharp, Q-Chord, Moog Theremini, sampler, electronics 
Jean Cook – violin 
Edward Yoon Kwon – viola 
Tomeka Reid – cello 
Silvia Bolognesi – bass 
Jaribu Shahid – bass, tuned brass bowls 
Junius Paul – bass 
Dudù Kouaté – djembe, tama/talking drum, calabashes, kanjira, whistles, chimes, bells and small percussions (Disc One only) 
Enoch Williamson – bongos, congas, djembe, kenkeni, okonkolo, Congo bells, chekeré, shakers, tama/talking drum 
Titos Sompa – vocals, congas, mbira, Congo bells, cuica, shakers 
Stephen Rush – conductor

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Masters at Play

Most music aficionados are aware of multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson from his long tenure with the Maria Schneider Orchestra. He's a whiz on just about every saxophone that exists including baritone, C-Melody, contrabass sax, and tenor.  He also plays clarinet, trumpet, bass marimba, and is a master of the theremin and other electronic devices.  His label, ScienSonic Recordings, features a number of albums including a tribute to Sun Ra (with Marshall Allen), duos with Roscoe Mitchell and Frank Kimbrough, and a trio date with reed masters J.D. Parran and Vinny Golia.  Robinson has recorded with numerous artists and ensembles ranging from John Pizzarelli to the Bob Mintzer Big Band to Paquito D'Rivera to Bob Brookmeyer to Joe Lovano and David Bowie (plus many, many more).

His latest project for Arbors Jazz, "Tenormore", announces its theme in the album title. Robinson plays tenor saxophone and only tenor saxophone on all 10 tracks. Joining him is Helen Sung (piano, Hammond B-3 on two tracks), Dennis Mackrel (drums), and Martin Wind (string bass, acoustic bass guitar) plus the leader's wife Sharon plays flute on one song. The program, a mix of standards and originals, opens with an unaccompanied reading of The Beatles' "And I Love Her" - the saxophonist plays the four-note introduction way up in the tenor's higher range, sounding very music like a clarion call or even a wake-up call.  He caresses the melody save for one dizzying run that goes "out."

Photo: Bud Glick
That tunes leads into "Tenor Eleven" which is, no surprise, an 11-bar blues.  It's a "blowing" piece with Mackrel and Wind strutting right along and Ms. Sung providing a cushion for the tenor solo.  Later in the program, the quartet dances its way through "Tenor Twelve", a piece that the leader first recorded in 1988.  Also an uptempo blues, Ms. Sung plays a standout solo as does Robinson and Wind. Mackrel keeps the music percolating plus engages in a delightful give-and-take with the saxophonist near the close of the song. There's a lot of energy in the studio and it's a pleasure to eavesdrop on the proceedings.

There's a hint of the breathiness of Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins on several of the ballads. "Put on a Happy Face", usually a sprightly tune, is slowed way down. That's just fine as both Robinson and Ms. Sung explore various emotions in their respective solos, the former sounding a more introspective while the latter seems to dance over the soft but steady rhythm section.  While "The Good Life" opens with several minutes of "free" improvisation, Robinson draws the band into the melody with a long note.  Note how Wind's sweet tone and Mackrel's fine brush work really create a lighter feel.  Ms. Sung's gospel Hammond B-3 sound is the perfect opening for the bassist's piece "Rainy River."  Based on a chapter from author Tim O'Brien's short collection "The Things They Carried" (stories from the Vietnam War), Robinson plays the melody then turns the piece over to the composer and the organist.  Even if you don't know the stories, this is a powerful performance that speaks to what matters in our lives.

The leader's wife Sharon appears on "The Weaver", an original based a haiku composed by Robinson's father for his son's wedding. One hears Ms. Robinson's flute in the theme section and again at the close. In between, the piece has the feel of mid-70s McCoy Tyner composition only not as insistent.  The blend of tenor and flute is quite lovely.

The program closes with a funky reading of Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You" and the title track.  "Nearness" is propelled by Mackrel's "Pretty" Purdie drumming, Wind's dancing lines, and Ms. Sung's sweet Hammond organ playing.  "Tenormore" is a fascinating puzzle, with its stop-and-start opening - here again Mackrel is the linchpin. He pushes the piece forward, plays several short interludes, engages in a rousing dialogue with Robinson, dances around his cymbals as Ms. Sung explores the many possibilities that the piece provides. Her solo is quite expansive as well as impressive.  The angular closing section, with Robinson's eerie tenor sounds, is serious fun.

This is fun and serious and quite musical.  Listen to this music with an open mind as the program is challenging, sweet, exciting, introspective, witty, and filled with great musicianship.  Scott Robinson is a treasure!

Here's a generous taste:

Guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan played a series of shows at New York City's Village Vanguard in March of 2016.  From those dates, ECM Records released "Small Town" in the Spring of 2017.  It's Spring once more and now the label presents more music from that date. "Epistrophy" is a delight-filled collection of songs, a program of standards, pop tunes, folk songs, two Thelonious Monk pieces (the title tracks and "Pannonica"), and a James Bond movie theme (John Barry's "You Only Live Twice"). And, because both musicians love melody and love to improvise, the performances are never lackluster but enjoyable from beginning to end.

The two Monk tunes come back-to-back right after a lovely reading of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life."  That tune features splendid counterpoint from Morgan, something he is quite adept at.  The bassist also knows how to "swing" a piece as he demonstrates during Frisell's solo on the title track. "Pannonica" is quite a jaunty piece - as one gets older, it's amazing how Monk had one foot in the blues (so apparent on the "sweet" melody) and the other in jazz.

Frisell, who has embraced "Americana" since the 1990s, has also reached back to his formative years over the past decade.  Here, he blends the country standard "Wildwood Flowers" (which also appeared on the earlier album) with "Save the Last Dance For Me" (composed by "Doc" Pomus and Mort Shuman for The Drifters). And, it works. The combination works because both songs have some memorable melodies.  Later in the program, the duo creates a slow meditation on "Red River Valley" that opens up into the melody and begins to swing.

The album closes with "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning", a lovely ballad that is the perfect ending to an enjoyable musical experience. By this point in his career, one seems to know what to expect from Bill Frisell. Yet, this meeting with Thomas Morgan, who has worked with the guitarist on several recordings and tours, has so many emotional and musical highs, it's well worth taking the time to bathe in these sounds.

Here's the title track recorded live at Paste Studios in NYC:

Friday, April 5, 2019

Johnathan Blake + Chris Potter Reach For The Heights

Photo: Jimmy & Dena Katz
Drummer and composer Johnathan Blake, son of the late violinist John Blake, Jr. (1947-2014), has been a professional musician for over two decades. He has toured with the Tom Harrell Quintet, the Mingus Big Band, and the Kenny Barron Trio - Blake's discography also includes two albums as a leader (Sunnyside and Criss Cross Jazz) and many, many, more (including CDs by Russell Malone, The Black Art Jazz Collective, Omar Vital, and David Berkman).

Giant Step Arts
His third album, a two CD set, is a live date recorded over two nights at The Jazz Gallery in January of 2018 for Jimmy & Dena Katz's Giant Step Arts label.  Dubbed "Trion", the word comes from the study of physics and is defined as "a singlet state from from three atoms of different colors."  In the case of this recording, the three "atoms" are Blake, Chris Potter (tenor saxophone), and Linda May Han Oh (bass).  The drummer has worked with both musicians on numerous occasions and you can hear that in their interactions, their mutual trust, and willingness to put all of themselves into this project.  Both discs open with drum solos - Blake is setting the tone, letting one know these songs are built from the rhythm up.  The next track, "Synchronicity 1" (yes, the Sting tune) opens with an unaccompanied tenor sax solo: once Ms. Oh and Blake enter, the song is taken for quite a ride.  Pay attention to the melodies and rhythm coming from the bass and the drummer's fiery barrage, all of which push Potter to an intense solo.  The bassist plays a hardy solo over insistent drums and, then, then the sax "trades 4s" with Blake.  The next three tracks come from bassists - Ms. Oh's "Trope (Linda Intro)" and "Trope", plus "One For Honor" from the pen of Charles Fambrough which the bassist recorded in 1991 with a band that included Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Kenny Kirkland, and Jeff "Tain" Watts.  Blake, Ms. Oh, and Potter play the piece with tremendous energy with the saxophonist delivering a solo with the thunder of John Coltrane. Blake's "No Bebop Daddy" closes disk one. It's quite a melodic journey for the bassist and saxophonist while the drummer dances below them.

Photo: Jimmy Katz
After the delightful drum statement "Bedrum" opens disk two, the trio takes a wild ride through Potter's "Good Hope."  When this piece gets going, with the pounding drums, the rhythmic sax line, and Ms. Oh's solid bass, it's hard to sit still. There's definitely an African feel to this song and Blake takes advantage, telling his own story as he travels around his kit. Potter digs in on Charlie Parker's "Relaxing at the Camarillo", sounding more like Sonny Rollins and certainly not in a "relaxed" mode.  The bass and drums swing the daylights out of this track. The piece, actually the band's encore, was unplanned.  The drummer pays tribute to his father with "Blue Heart", a previously unrecorded from the elder Blake. The trio makes sure to pay attention to the melody, building both the tenor and bass solos from the handsome tune.  Disk two closes with the leader's "West Berkley St.", a real treat with its soulful melody (sounds like a melding of Smoky Robinson's easy style and Felix Cavaliere's "Groovin'"), is a showcase for Potter's tasty tenor (dig his quotes from other tunes).

Listening to "Trion" is like sitting in the front row of The Jazz Gallery. The excellent sound quality and these superb performances reminds one of the power of creative music and improvisation, especially in a live session.  Johnathan Blake, Chris Potter, and Linda May Han Oh play with fire and delight.  And, this set is all about playing (in all the positive senses of the word).  Johnathan Blake continues to grow as a musician, composer, leader, and human being.  Play it loud and enjoy!

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

Here's the Sting tune (arrangement by Chris Potter):

After three albums on ECM, Chris Potter moves to Edition Records for his latest album.  The title "Circuits" is your first hint that this will be a much different aural experience.  Look at the credits and you'l see that besides tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinets, and flutes, Potter also contributes keyboards, sampler, guitar, and piano.  He's joined by James Francies on piano, organ, and synth, Linley Marthe (electric bass on four tracks), and drummer Eric Harland. The drummer, a native of the Houston, Texas, music scene as is the 24-year old Francies, really is the heartbeat of this music. Combined with Potter's melodies and the various keyboards, this is one of the better "fusion" albums I've heard in a while.

With the addition of Marthe (who played with Joe Zawinul in his later years), this music hearkens back to the Austrian-born keyboard master's music as well as Wayne Shorter's fusion albums from the 1990. Potter's music actually has a deeper groove.  Listen to "The Nerve", dig the Middle-Eastern feel, especially at the opening with the overdubbed flutes but don't ignore the elastic electric bass lines and Francies's delightful piano solo.  There's a hint of Jimmy Guiffre in the unaccompanied bass clarinet opening of "Kuotomé" and a delightful sensuality in Marthe's bass lines and percussion.  Again, the leader overdubs flutes to flesh out the melody lines.  The bassist also appears on the title track, a piece that roars out of the speakers and surges forward on a rhythmic melody line (note the bass clarinet holding down the bass line as Marthe dances along with the keyboard).  Potter and Harland engage in a delightful give-and-take during the leader's solo.  After those two raise the temperature, the drummer and Francies spar and party as the latter unleashes an excellent synth solo.

Photo: Dave Stapleton
Potter moves to soprano saxophone for "Queens of Brooklyn", a lovely ballad where the leader's bass clarinet plays the counterpoint.  The melody then is taken up by multiple flutes (note the dynamic cymbal playing) before the soprano retakes the lead.  But, this group seems to be "built for speed" as the next tune, "Exclamation", illustrates.  Here, the saxophones and layered synths play a rapid-fire melody a la Charlie Parker while Marthe and Harland parry beneath.  For the tenor solo, the rhythm section - minus Francies - go all out, creating an intensity that is breath-taking and gooses Potter higher and higher.  The electric piano enters adding more fire to this inferno, leading to an amazing synth solo. The buildup to the finish just might shatter glass.

Photo: Dave Stapleton
The album closes with "Pressed For Time": just listen to the incredible pace that Harland sets - nothing fancy, mind you, just a beat that is so irresistible you can't get enough. Again, the drummer's intensity give the leader the power to unleash a solo that dives and roars, wailing away but never losing control.  Francies's solo gives Harland license to go in several different directions, playing with the beat and how he accents them.  Have to say, I was laughing at the sheer audacity of how far the trio is able to take this music. And, when it's over, you want more. While the music is not "free", the joy of this sound, this band, is freeing. Freeing for the musicians and for the attentive audience.

"Circuits" is a treat for those who love music with muscle, an intelligently arranged and orchestrated program that succeeds because the solos and the interactions keep the listener at the edge of his/her seat.  The album is an impressive showcase for Chris Potter: his decision to include Eric Harland, James Francies, and Linley Marthe proves he's always moving forward, not one to settle into a genre or a groove.  We are the lucky ones - we get to enjoy the fruits of his ideas and their labors.

For more information, go to editionrecords.com/releases/chris-potter-circuits/.

Here's "Hold It" - hold on!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Hands, Hearts & Souls

Percussionist and educator Alejandro Coello, a native of Léon, Spain, has made quite a mark on the European music scene. By the age of 23, he was on the faculty of the University Franz Liszt in Weimar, Germany as well as performing in concert halls with classical, electronic, and jazz ensembles.  In 2017, he played with guitarist Diego Barber, drummer Eric Harland, and bassist Ben Williams on the guitarist's Sunnyside release, "One Minute Later", a splendid collection of songs influenced by the writing of Federico Garcia Lorca. Coello has also recorded with classical guitarist Ricardo Gallen as part of the Ensemble Iberoamericano.

Coello's debut as a leader, "Percussion Theory" (Sunnyside Records), finds him in the company of drummer Simon Phillips (on three tracks), classical artist Xavier Casal (alto saxophone, baritone saxophone - three tracks), and guitarist Barber (one track.  Art Government Percussions, a nine-member ensemble that Coello created with professionals and his own students, appears on four tracks.  The music is flat-out fascinating, quite melodic and adventurous, and such a intelligent of sounds.  The leader wrote all the material save for the album closer "Kilian's Mountain", which Barber composed and first recorded on his "Tales" sessions with pianist Craig Taborn (2014 release on Sunnyside).

And what an eclectic program this is.  Check out the sample below.  "9th Street Espresso" is a playful dance, filled with mallet instruments, Casal's airy alto sax, Coello's percussive piano, and Phillip's rock-solid drumming.  Following is the more introspective "Xochitl": this time the alto sax, vibraphones, and marimbas are supported by the leader's percussive piano. The piece is episodic with an expanding melody and light sounds from the alto sax yet, in the middle of the song, notice the bells chiming in the background like church in the distance on a clear Sunday morning.  "Denial State (Music for a Short Film)" is a soundtrack Coello composed and re-recorded for this album. Casal's alto sax leads the way over the vibes and marimba plus Coello's occasional "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"-like piano figure.  The music opens up in the middle with the percussion floating on the edges of the sound spectrum and the more powerful alto sax. Barber joins Coello on "Malpaises", the percussive and rhythmic guitar figure in a conversation with the leader's marimba.  The nylon string guitar and the wooden marimba combine to create a lovely sound sculpture.

"Percussion Theory" is quite the aural journey.  At times, there are hints of Oregon, of Steve Reich,   electronica, Brazilian rhythms, and so much more.  Alejandro Coello, a mature musician and composer at 27, is opening doors into a sound world that seemingly has no barriers.  Where he goes should be a continual journey of discovery!

For more information and education, go to alejandrocoello.com.


Vocalist and composer Ashley Daneman first came to my attention with the release of 2015's "Beauty Indestructible." What stood out on initial listenings, and still does, is the 'presence"of her voice in every song and how it feels singing to you and you alone.  Growing up listening to both Ella Fitzgerald and Joni Mitchell, Ms. Daneman developed a supple voice. She knows how to use repetition in her lyrics and vocal rhythms to get her point across without being overbearing.

Her new album "People Are Fragile" (Flood Music) features a dynamite group of musicians, many of whom ply their trade in Chicago.  The drum duties are split between Quinlan Kirchner and Makaya McCraven while Rob Clearfield (piano, Wurlitzer, organ) and Andrew Vogt (electric bass) appear on all but two tracks. Pianist Rufus Ferguson appears on the two Gospel traditionals, "Sometimes I Fell Like a Motherless Child" and "Deep River"  - both are quite moving performances, especially the latter track with the vocalist's multi-overdub choir in full voices.   Matt Gold adds guitar or pedal steel to five tracks while percussionist Kevin Bujo Jones joins the band on DuBose Heyward/George Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now."

What was attractive about her previous recording - her voice, songs, and musicality - are stronger here, especially her vocals.  In the promotional material, Ms. Daneman cites the influences of Joni Mitchell and Laura Mvula:  that is most obvious in how the vocals are stacked, the melody lines, and her voice "moves on tracks such as the opener "I Alone Love the Unseen in You", "Pictures in the Atmosphere", "The Feeling of Heavy", and "When You Break."  On that last track, it's also the openness of the music, the combination of keyboard, pedal steel, and the elastic bass lines. Like Ms. Mitchell, these songs and the voice sound as if they were written for the individual listener, as if the composer was looking into your heart, your mind, your life.  And you hear the afore-mentioned Laura Mvula in the delivery of different lines on various tracks. Plus, there are also traces of Lizz Wright in the ways Ms. Daneman sings about spirituality.

The simple joys, the religiosity, and the appreciation of creativity that made "Beauty Indestructible" so enjoyable, are expanded upon here. There's the "Johnny Cash" rhythm on the Gospel-inflected "Shake It All Down" (great brush work from Kirchner as well as Gold's exciting guitar). That song is placed before the "sturm und drang" of "Daddy's Gonna Die Soon", a short (1:39) and angry scree which leads into the soulful prayer "Deep River."  By the time you reach the final track "Recall", you will be moved by the love, by the mystery of the composer's experiences, whether it be childbirth, her life as a professional musician, her deep belief, and her observations of what looks like a world gone mad.

"People Are Fragile" is a true observation of our modern "lives". One can easily be broken by tragedy, by inequality, racism, sexism, rage, and, more and more, indifference.  But Ashley Daneman offers the listener solace, a respite from madness (save for the anger that permeates "Daddy's Gonna Die Soon" which, I'm sure, must have been cathartic for the performer), and the knowledge that one is not really alone in this world (unless you so choose).  Listen to this songs, be open to the messages, and enjoy the voices and wonderful musicians.

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

Pianist, composer, and educator David Berkman is a fascinating person and musician. He has traveled the world, playing and teaching, while also supporting and/or recording with artists such as bassist Cecil McBee, trumpeter Tom Harrell, and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra - his list of sideman gigs could fill several pages.  he is a charter member of the New York Standards Quartet (NYSQ) with recordings on Whirlwind Recordings and Challenge Records.  For the past two decades, Berkman has led recording sessions, mostly for Palmetto Records plus a self-released solo piano album and a live Quartet session on SmallsLIVE.

Besides the NYSQ, Berkman also leads a trio and a sextet.  The latter is actually composed of two trios:  the rhythm section of Berkman (piano), Chris Lightcap (bass), and Kenneth Salters (drums) and the three-person reed section of Dayna Stephens (tenor saxophone, EWI), Billy Drewes (alto sax, clarinet), and Adam Kolker (soprano sax, bass clarinet).  The sextet's 2015 debut album featured the same reed section plus Brian Blade (drums) and Linda May Han Oh (bass).

"Six of One" is the group's second recording for Palmetto Records and adds percussionist Rogerio Boccato plus tenor saxophonist (and NYSQ member) Tim Armacost. The 10-song program features all Berkman originals, only one previously recorded tune ("Blue Poles" from 2000's "Communication Theory").  From the opening moments of "Blowing Smoke", the band is fully involved.  The majority of the songs have well-developed melodies which gives the soloists a lot to work with. Lightcap and Salters really makes the music swing.  The following cut, "Cynical Episode" (yes, a political statement) is driven by Kolker's bass clarinet and Salters's exciting drum work. Stephens steps on EWI before turning over the spotlight to Berkman who really gets pushed forward by the drums (also, dig the double bass lines from Lightcap and the EWI plus Bocatto's solo right at the close of the piece).

The delightful "Billy" was composed for Mr. Drewes and he gets to play the melody as well as the first solo.  The alto saxophonist gets to dance over the rhythm section before yielding to the composer for his piano spot and Stephens on tenor sax. Kolker (soprano), Drewes (alto sax), and Armacost (tenor sax) each get the spotlight on the appropriately titled "Kickstopper" - listen as well to how the rhythm section swings the devil out of this tune. The next two tracks, "Shitamacri" and "Restoration", have a Japanese connection with both songs inspired by areas of Tokyo (where the pianist goes just about every summer). The former track blends the two clarinets with Stephens's tenor juxtaposing quiet sections with more driving sounds.  The latter opens with solo piano (quite bluesy actually with a hint of Billy Joel): Kolker (soprano) and Stephens sharing the melody line and having a "conversation" as they solo togeth

Since his 1998 debut ("Handmade"), David Berkman has shown a knack for writing excellent ballads.  On this album, it's "Sincerely." Armacost and Drewes (alto) share the solo spotlight also playing the lovely countermelody at the close of the piece.

If you are a fan of intelligent, well-played, and smartly-arranged music, "Six of One" is definitely one for you. David Berkman is not only a fine composer but also an excellent pianist.  Enjoy!

Here's the opening track:

Monday, April 1, 2019

Wadada Leo Smith CREATE 2019

In the 1970s, Wadada Leo Smith wrote music and books while devising a theory of composition and performance that is, to this day, the backbone of the music he creates and champions. Over the past 50 years, he has played alongside members of the AACM, he has traveled the world, celebrated the lives and works of Miles Davis, Rosa Parks, the National/Natural Parks of the United States, reminding listeners of the racism that he first saw in his native Mississippi that still permeates our country, and doing so with his music and the clarion-call of his trumpet.

This coming weekend, Wadada Leo Smith returns to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, CT, to present the Third Annual CREATE Festival , a gathering that will delve deeply into his multi-faceted and unclassifiable music featuring brilliant works for a diverse roster of musicians and ensembles. Taking place Saturday, April 6 and Sunday, April 7, 2019, the festival will include performances by four of Wadada’s own wide-ranging groups as well as unique collaborations and solo performances, alongside an exhibit of Smith’s Ankhrasmation Symbolic Language Art-Scores.  Performances take place at 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; a lunch dialogue with Wadada and Professor Nina Sun Eidsheim will take place on Sunday at 1 p.m. 

The third incarnation opens with a quartet led by guitarist Lamar Smith (the trumpeter's grandson) featuring electronic artist Hardedge, bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer Pheeroan akLaff.  Saturday’s program continues with "The First Light Gold / The Second Light Blue", a piece from "Rosa Parks: Pure Loveperformed by solo violinist Mona Tian. From Smith’s latest work to one of his earliest, the composer will take the stage with his quartet NDA to reprise the music from 1979’s "Divine Love", in honor of the 50th anniversary of the ECM record label, which released the album. The quartet will feature vibraphonist Bobby Naughton and multi-reedist Dwight Andrews, both of whom played on the original recording, with longtime collaborator John Lindberg standing in for the late bassist Charlie Haden.The opening evening will conclude with a summit meeting between two explosive trios: Smith’s Najwa, which teams Wadada with Lamar Smith as well as bass icon Bill Laswell, and Harriet Tubman, (pictured above) the audacious avant-funk-jazz-rock trio of bassist Melvin Gibbs, guitarist Brandon Ross, and drummer JT Lewis. The double trio will premiere two pieces from a new suite exploring the concepts of quantum physics and parallel universes, with music transitioning between multiple ensembles as if shifting between alternate dimensions.

Sunday’s line-up begins with "Sweet Bay Magnolia with Berry Clusters", a striking piece Smith composed for the virtuosic cellist Ashley Walters (pictured left), which she’ll perform in a duo with the Japanese Butoh dancer Oguri. The dancer will then be joined by Wadada and pipa master/vocalist Min Xiao-Fen to essay Smith’s "Lake Biwa; A Full Moon Pure Water Gold", a reimagined version of the title track from Smith’s 2004 release for John Zorn’s Tzadik label. 

The weekend will culminate with a performance by Smith’s long-running Golden Quintet (pictured below), in which the trumpeter is joined by pianist Erika Dohi, cellist Walters, bassist Lindberg, and drummer  akLaff. They'll perform two compositions inspired by iconic figures related to the Civil Rights movement, both composed but not recorded for an upcoming ECM recording that reflects on the idea of tolerance through iconic figures and moments in political, social and musical history. With "JFK in Dallas: Parkland: 11.22.1963", Smith reflects on the assassination of President Kennedy, while "Miriam Makeba: A Magnificent Voice: The Empress of Peace: 1932-2008celebrates the life of the revered South African singer and activist known as “Mama Africa.”

Tickets are $30 for each of the concerts; $55 for both.  The lunch and dialogue is $30 per person, $50 for couples, with limited seating. For information, please call 203-785-0468 or go to http://firehouse12.com/performance-calendar/2019/2/7/wadada-leo-smiths-create-festival-2019.

Take a look at the full schedule - this is yet another impressive two days of music.

     Saturday April 6th, 7 pm
Lamar Smith’s Band:
Lamar Smith - guitar
Melvin Gibbs – electric bass
Pheeroan akLaff - drums
Hardedge - electronics

"Blue Meditations"

Mona Tian violin

"The First Light Gold
/The Second Light Blue from Rosa Parks: Pure Love"

Wadada Leo Smith’s NDA:
Wadada Leo Smith - trumpet
Bobby Naughton - vibraphone
Dwight Andrews – bass clarinet, flute
John Lindberg - bass

 with soundtrack "Divine Love"

"Spirituals: The Language of Love"

Wadada Leo Smith’s Najwa and Harriet Tubman: 
Wadada Leo Smith - trumpet 
Brandon Ross - guitar
Lamar Smith - guitar 
Melvin Gibbs – electric bass 
Bill Laswell – electric bass
JT Lewis - drums

"Spiritual Horizons"
"Lake Tanganyika Nur-Water"

 Sunday, April 7th

Exhibit of Ankhrasmation Symbolic Language Art-Scores
1:00pm - 3:00pm

Creative Dialogue
Nina Sun Eidsheim and Wadada Leo Smith on the Ankhrasmation Symbolic Language Art-Scores

Lunch, Coffee and Tea with Wadada Leo Smith and Artists

Concert, 7:00pm:
Ashley Walters – cello
Oguri – butoh dance

"Sweet Bay Magnolia with Berry Clusters"

Min Xiao-Fen – pipa
Wadada Leo Smith – trumpet
Oguri – butoh dance

"Lake Biwa a Full Moon Pure Water Gold"
Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quintet:
Wadada Leo Smith - trumpet 
Erika Dohi - piano 
Ashley Walters - cello 
John Lindberg - bass 
Pheeroan akLaff - drums

"JFK in Dallas: Parkland: 11.22.1963"
"Mariam Makeba: A Magnificent Voice: The Empress of Peace: 1932-2008"

CREATE Festival is made possible with generous support from the Doris Duke Foundation in partnership with Creative Capital. Smith received a Doris Duke Artist Award in 2016.
Here are several examples of Wadada Leo Smith's music:
This is from Smith's 2017 release "Najwa" (TUM Records) 

And this from 1979's "Divine Love" (ECM Records)

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Large Ensemble (April 2019)

Trumpeter, composer, arranger, and educator Paul Dietrich splits his time between Chicago, IL, and Madison, Wisconsin, where he has been playing as well as directing the Madison East High School Jazz Orchestra.  As a leader, he has issued two Quintet disks: if you have access to that music, you can hear the roots of his third album "Forward" (self-released).  Credited to the 19-piece Paul Dietrich Jazz Orchestra featuring Clarence Penn, the music is a splendid band of strong melodies, lovely harmonies, excellent solos, and intelligent arrangements.  The Orchestra (see personnel below) is composed of musicians from both Chicago and Madison (the leader has groups in both cities), some of whom are among the most in-demand players in the Midwest. Dietrich reached out to New York City-based Clarence Penn to round out the rhythm section for several reasons, not the least of which is the drummer's work with the Maria Schneider Orchestra.

You can hear Ms. Schneider's influence on the compositions and in the way the arranger paints the arrangements around the solos.  Only three of the eight tunes have more than one soloist - each of those cuts has two.  And there are several stunning spotlights.  Trumpeter Russ Johnson is featured on the album opener "Rush" and on "Forward: I. Perennial" : it's such a treat to hear him rise above the sections and Megan Moran's wordless vocals.  Alto saxophonist Greg Ward, who seems to be on every album out of Chicago, is featured on two stunning ballads. He leads the orchestra in on "Settle" before stepping out for a beautiful and richly emotional solo.  Ward's other spot is on "Forward: II. Snow", a piece that is so evocative of standing at a window on a cold winter night watching the snow settle on the neighborhood. The alto saxophonist plays gently in the alto's higher ranges. Pay attention to the incredible percussion and Carl Kennedy's gentle piano backing.

Tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi (Twin Talk) stands out on the lovely "Chorale" whose opening saxophone chorale is reminiscent of Ms. Schneider's "Sky Blue." Different voices within the ensemble play the song's main theme through the opening two and-a-half minutes. Laurenzi begins with just Penn, guitarist Matt Gold, Kennedy, and bassist John Christensen in support.  As he tells his "story", the brass and reeds begin to filter in the background playing long chords which leads back to the opening theme. The other feature for the tenor saxophonist is the up-tempo "Forward: III. Roads" - the piece opens on a Burt Bacharach-style rhythm and Laurenzi does not step out until halfway through the piece.  Again, it's a spare piano-guitar-bass-drums backing underneath Laurenzi's spiraling lines. It's just those five musicians for the first two minutes but soon the brass, reeds, and voice begin to make their presence felt.

If you are an aficionado of modern big band/large ensemble music, go find "Forward."  Chances are good that you do not know the name or the music of Paul Dietrich but this album will make you smile, perhaps remember days of walking through fields or through the wooded areas with the sun ship through colorful leaves.  The leader/composer plays on only one track - the beautiful "Forward: IV. Green Fields", playing a solo that is filled with heart and emotion.  His brilliant use of Megan Moran's voice as part of the ensemble adds an ethereal feel throughout the program (she appears on all but one song) is an inspired touch.  Find a comfortable chair put this music on your player, relax in the glorious sounds, and allow your emotions to range free.   This album has been become a constant in my large rotation of weekly CDs and I have no reason to replace it as I hear something different each time through.

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


Paul Dietrich - trumpet and compositions 

Corbin Andrick - alto saxophone, clarinet, flute, soprano saxophone 
Greg Ward - alto saxophone 
Tony Barba - tenor saxophone 
Dustin Laurenzi - tenor saxophone 
Mark Hiebert - baritone saxophone, bass clarinet 

Andy Baker - trombone 
Jamie Kember - trombone 
Kurt Dietrich - trombone 
Tom Matta - bass trombone 

Chuck Parrish - trumpet 
Russ Johnson - trumpet 
Jessica Jensen - trumpet 
David Cooper - trumpet 

Megan Moran - voice 
Matt Gold - guitar 
Carl Kennedy - piano 
John Christensen - bass 
Clarence Penn - drums 

Here's a track from the four-part "Suite" that closes the album (soloist is tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi):

It's rare you find a Canadian jazz musician who is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada - actually, it's rare that I receive a recording from one. Saxophonist, composer, and arranger Jim Brenan was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, studied jazz as an undergraduate at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scoti, then on to Rutgers (the State University of New Jersey) where he studied with Ralph Bowen and earned a Masters in Jazz Studies. During his time of study, he played with Kenny Barron, Kenny Wheeler,and Randy Brecker. After graduation, Brenan played lead tenor in Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau Band.  Before returning to his native Canada, he taught at the University of Aukland in New Zealand.  Since 2004, he's been the Chair of the Theater, Speech, and Music Performance at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

His third album as a leader, "50/50" (Death Defying Records), is credited to the Jim Brenan 11 featuring Chris Andrews (Fender Rhodes, clavinet). The undectet for this album is actually a duodectet (see Personnel below) and is composed of four reeds, two  trombones (including the leader's brother Craig), two trumpets, and four person rhythm section.  Much of the program is quite funky and soulful thanks to the powerful drumming of Jamie Cooper, the electric bass of Rubim De Toledo, and Andrews's electric keyboards.  Songs such as the title track and the closer, "Ozark Mountain Cougar Fightin'" absolutely kick butt, the former featuring Andrews on a lengthy solo and the latter a saxophone dialogue between the leader's tenor sax and the alto of Sean Craig or Mike Gardner.

In many ways, Brenan's music and arrangements take the cues from the fusion music of the 1970s and 80s. There's more than a hint of Weather Reprt's "Sweetnighter" in the beats that permeate "Empress." "Hiding Place", a ballad that may remind some of Earth, Wind, and Fire, has quite the r'nb feel - dig the way the baritone sax joins the bassist as the two musicians hold down the bottom.   "Fant-O-Max" also has the feel of a Joe Zawinul. After the tension of the opening interaction of the reeds and brass against the drums, Brenan's soprano solo rises up and over the Cooper's driving beat. The Rhodes solo dances between the stereo channels and atop the powerful rhythms.

"Colossal Suite" is an episodic adventure as well as the longest track on the program  (11:14). After the trombone leads the piece in, the song has a thudding rhythmic drive a la heavy metal rock (De Toledo's bass creates the thud while Cooper's drums dance excitedly).  The next chapter of the "...Suite" is introduced by rollicking riff played by the ensemble before an uncredited alto sax solo. The rhythm section takes the piece with Andrews's "space" Rhodes joining the powerful bass-and-drums towards the finish line.

Jim Brenan learned several lessons from his mentors.  His time with Maynard Ferguson taught him how to rev up and audience and playing alongside Randy Brecker showed his that jazz can be funky and funk can be jazzy.  "50/50" is an album to be played loud so that the power generated from musicians can get you moving.  Solid solos, smart arrangements, and an excellent drummer (Jamie Cooper's tenure with the 35-member Royal Canadian Artillery Band certainly taught him how to be heard in a large ensemble) all coalesce to make the Jim Brenan 11 an enjoyable listening experience.

For more information about Jim Brenan, go to www.deathdefyingrecords.com/jim-brenan.

Here's the opening track:

Jim Brenan 11 - Tiger's Milk from jim brenan on Vimeo.


Jim Brenan: saxophones/clarinets
Sean Craig: alto saxophone
Mike Gardner: alto saxophone
Sarah Matheson-Nadeau: baritone saxophone/flute
Craig Brenan: trombone
Carsten Rubeling: trombone
Jim Murray: trumpet
Sergio Rodriguez: trumpet
Chris Andrew: Rhodes/clavinet
Rubim De Toledo: bass
Jamie Cooper: drums
Raul Tabera: percussion