Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fred Ho (1957-2014)

Hard to believe that saxophonist/composer/arranger/activist Fred Ho is gone  He passed on April 12, his 8-year battle with cancer come to its inevitable conclusion.  Born in California, 6-year old Fred Wei-han Houn moved with his family to the East Coast when his father was appointed to the faculty of the University of Massachusetts/Amherst.  Ho first picked up the baritone saxophone (his reed instrument of choice - he also played native Japanese reeds, percussion and more) at the age of 14, the same year he read "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" and both events set the stage for his musical life.

Not one to shy away from the spotlight nor run from an ideological fight, he enlisted in the Marines and, upon his discharge, attended Harvard University.  He moved to New York City in the early 1980s, formed the Afro Asian Music Ensemble (one of many large ensembles that he would go on to lead which included the Green Monster Big Band, the Monkey Orchestra and the Saxophone Liberation Front.)  He also appeared in the Julius Hemphill Sextet, the Charli Persip Superband, the Gil Evans Orchestra and Archie Shepp's Attica Blues Big Band.  He had a "huge sound" yet could whisper and purr when he so desired.

Much of the material he composed for his various projects did not shy away from his left-leaning politics.  And, he could really lay the sarcasm on thick but always with music that had great power.  Ho composed operas and suites that dealt with women's issues, Chinese folklore, Black power, Muhammad Ali and martial arts.  He also wrote several books (especially about his battle with cool-rectal cancer) and was an active blogger.  Fred Ho is the subject of an upcoming bio-pic "Diary of a Dragon: The (R)Evolution of Fred Ho" (check out the trailer at www.youtube.com/watch?v=NC_tW6MPSHk).

During his busy life, Fred Ho worked to change and to free people's minds. He fought conformity, mediocrity, capitalism as well as racial and gender inequality.  He fought to his last breath, never gave up hope and never gave in to depression.  He stands out as a musician, as a social activist and as a human being.  Bless him, he could certainly play the baritone saxophone  His spirit lives on to spur others into action to make this often uncaring world a better place for all people. To find out more, go to www.bigredmediainc.com/

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Week With Much to Choose From

The Uncertainty Music Series presents a double bill this Tuesday (April 21) at 7:30 p.m. in the performance space of Never Ending Books, 810 State Street in New Haven. The opening act is the duo of Chris Cretella (guitar) and Adam Matlock (accordion) to be followed by the solo saxophone improvisations of Keir Neuringer (pictured left). Neuringer lives in Philadelphia but plays in venues around the world.  His most current album, "Ceremonies Out of the Air" (New Atlantis), is a 79-minute document of a single performance.  He employs techniques developed by artists such as Anthony Braxton and Rashaan Roland Kirk.

For more information, go to uncertaintymusic.com.

It's Wesleyan Jazz Weekend with 2 concerts in 2 nights in Crowell Concert Hall - the fun starts at 8 p.m. on Friday with 2 student ensembles.  Opening the show will be the University Jazz Ensemble conducted by Noah Baerman. Following that performance will be the University Jazz Orchestra directed by Adjunct Professor of Music Jay Hoggard (pictured left.)   Expect a program filled with new arrangements of jazz classics and several surprises.  For more information, go to www.wesleyan.edu.  This show is free and open to the public.

Saturday night, Wesleyan welcomes the Oliver Lake Big Band for an 8 p.m. in Crowell Hall. The 71-year old Lake has been a presence on the creative music scene since joining the St. Louis-based Black Artist Group (BAG) in the 1960s.  He moved to New York City in the mid-1970s, created the World Saxophone Quartet with Julius Hemphill in 1977 (the grow remains active today), all the while continuing a solo career.  He began his own label, Passin' Thru, in 1988 and has released numerous albums with ensembles small and large (including a recording with Professor Hoggard).  In May of 2013, his label issued "Wheels", his second recording with his 17-member ensemble (the first CD, "Cloth", was issued in January of 2003.) The music is raucous, forceful, with a generous helping of blues and swing as well as a touch of the "free jazz" that Lake has played throughout his career.

For tickets, call 860-685-3355.  To find out more about Mr. Lake's fascinating career, go to www.oliverlake.net.

'Tis a busy weekend at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme and the music definitely has a Connecticut connection.  On Friday night, flutist/composer Ali Ryerson (pictured left) will fill the club with music featuring her splendid Quintet.  Playing alongside her will be Mark Egan (electric bass), Pete Levin (keyboards),  Karl Latham (drums), and Mike DiMicco (guitar).  Her repertoire blends jazz classics with originals and she's quite the dynamic musician plus this is one terrific band. Her most recent CD, "Game Changer: The Ali Ryerson Jazz Flute Big Band" (Capri Records), is a fascinating recording in that all the parts, with the exception of the rhythm section, are played by flutists. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the first set commences at 8:30.

The following night, The Side Door welcomes the Curtis Brothers come to Old Lyme, an exciting quartet led by Luques (bass) and Zaccai (piano), with its blend of Afro-Caribbean music and jazz.  Born in Hartford, both studied at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Performing Arts and The Artist Collective and then went on to the Berklee School in Boston.  Their ensemble is completed by drummer (and Hartford native) Richie Barshay and percussionist Reinaldo De Jesus.  Rest assured, the performance space will be filled with poly-rhythmical delights as well as heart-felt ballads.

For ticket information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886.

Back to Friday night and off to Firehouse 12 in New Haven where the great drummer (and now composer) Rudy Royston brings his 303 ensemble to the Elm City performance space. Royston, who grew up in the Denver, Colorado area (whose area code supplied the name for the band), has become one of the busiest drummers on the modern scene.  He works with Dave Douglas, with trumpeter Ron Miles, Bill Frisell, saxophonist JD Allen and so many more.  This splendid quintet - guitarist Nir Felder, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis and bassist Yasushi Nakamura - plays with fire and delicacy, shown to great display on its self-titled Greenleaf Records release of earlier this year (the CD also features bassist Linda Oh whose quartet Royston plays in.)  The room is going to rock!  For more information, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.

On Saturday night, The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, brings back guitarist/oudist Jussi Reijonen and his Un quartet.  Their first appearance in the performance space last fall was a great success. As a young boy, the Finnish born Reijonen traveled throughout the Middle East and Eastern Africa, areas whose music made a large impression on his development. His debut CD, "Un", ranges from fiery original works to an intelligent reworking of John Coltrane's "Naima."  The core band on the recording - Bruno Raberg (bass), Turkish-born Utar Artun (piano) and Palestinian-born Tareq Rantisi (percussion) - return with Reijonen and they are a mighty impressive ensemble.  For more information and reservations, go to www.buttonwood.org.  To learn more about the guitarist, go to jussireijonen.com.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Showers of New Music (Part 1)

It's tough not to be seduced by the music on "Gathering Light" (Motema Music), the 3rd release from clarinetist/saxophonist Oran Etkin. Etkin, born in Israel and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, grew up listening to all kinds of music but it was Louis Armstrong that first really captured his imagination. Not only was he entranced by the sound of Armstrong's trumpet and voice but he also noticed the joy in the performances.

Etkin studied various instruments before settling on clarinet and also fell head-long into an infatuation with West African music, a tradition not known for its use of reeds.  Yet, as he has demonstrated on his previous Motema release, "Kelenia", Etkin's approach fuses different traditions without watering down the content. The new CD features the rhythm section of bassist Ben Allison (who shares Etkin's fascination with West African music) and drummer Nasheet Waits (who can and does play anything) plus, on 6 of the 12 tracks, Lionel Loueke (guitar, vocals) and Curtis Fowlkes (trombone).   The music ranges from the playful "Gambang Suling" (that opens the program) to deep ballads (such as "Shirim Ad Kan" by Israeli composer Nachum Heiman) to the fiery ("Gratitude") to the sublime ("When It's Sleepy Time Down South", a tribute to Mr. Armstrong). The interplay of trombone, guitar and clarinet with Waits' New Orleans-flavored drumming on "Guangzhou Taxi" is just delightful, supported by the solid bass work of Allison.  "All I Really Want To Do Is Dance" is a wonderful duet for bass and clarinet - they jockey for position, they chase each other around and finally join in the deep groove.  The Trio moves slyly through a bluesy reading of the Klezmer classic "Der Gasn Nign (Street Song)", getting so quiet at times that it seems as they're floating.

"Gathering Light" is contemporary music that celebrates the past, present and future, crossing barriers that divide governments but not people.  Oran Etkin has travelled the world and understands the importance of musical dialogues - you can hear that understanding translated into sound on this most delightful release. For more information, go to www.oranetkin.com.

Riverside is the name of the group created by trumpeter Dave Douglas and reed player Chet Doxas to celebrate their shared appreciation of the music of Jimmy Giuffre (1921-2008).  They met at the Banff Centre several years ago where Doxas approached Douglas with the idea of combining their various approaches to Giuffre's music into a quartet setting.  Adding the veteran bassist Steve Swallow (who worked with Giuffre in his "free jazz" trio with pianist Paul Bley in the early 1960's) and drummer Jim Doxas (the saxophonist's brother), the group pays tribute to the various small-group styles that Jimmy Giuffre investigated from the mid-1950s through the rest of his career.  Only 2 of the 11 tracks come his songbook, the folkish "The Train and The River" (here given quite an uptempo ride) and the Jimmy Mundy/Johnny Mercer/Trummy Young tune "Travelin' Light" (a bluesy ballad recorded in 1957 by Giuffre with guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Jim Atlas and again in 1958 with Hall plus trombonist Bob Brookmeyer).

5 of the songs come from the prolific Douglas, including the hard-edged "Handwritten Letter" that features Jim Doxas and Swallow combining to truly light the fire under the front line plus the sweet ballad "Front Yard" that has a fine clarinet solo and creative work from the rhythm section.  The latter track gives way to "Backyard", that has playful tempo changes and smart interactions of trumpet and tenor saxophone.

Doxas' 4 pieces commence with the 2-part "Old Church, New Paint" - the "intro" section is really a lovely bass solo from Swallow.  His muted electric tone has the feel of a blues guitar, its sweet gospel  melody leading the way into the song.  The tenor sax takes the melody line, delivering the soulful lines in a breathy tone.  Douglas enters on the second verse, his counterpoint and harmony adding depth and spirit to the song.  On the saxophonist's "Big Shorty", the quartet jumps right into the swing groove.  Douglas rips into his solo, flying high atop the interactive drumming which continues right through the rambunctious tenor spot.  All the while, Swallow is foundation as well as providing counterpoint.

The program closes with the longest track, "Sing on the Mountain/Northern Miner", a nearly 12-minute opus that builds slowly from its hushed trumpet and tenor sax opening into a spotlight for Douglas - he takes his time, exploring the various angles of the melody, rising to his climax then slowly down into tenor solo.  Doxas take a similar path but moves quickly into an intense interaction with the rhythm section.  When Douglas re-enters, he plays quiet counterpoint then joins the tenor for the new melody that closes the track on the second melody, softly yet with an intensity to its lightness of being.

If you have never explored the oeuvre of Chet Doxas, he has released 4 CDs as a leader plus has appeared on recordings with the Christine Jensen Orchestra, vocalist Karen Robinson, and the Sam Roberts Band. (To learn more about brother Jim's career, click here.) Anybody who follows modern music knows Dave Douglas and Steve Swallow.  Riverside brings together 3 generations of musicians, all of whom love a challenge, who respect music and understand that we can appreciate the music of the past, learn from it and create new paths in the infinite universe.  For more information, go to www.greenleafmusic.com and chetdoxas.com.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Live In CT This Week (4/18 + 19)

Busy week in the Basketball capital of the United States but it's "live" music that should pique our interest.  The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme welcomes pianist Benny Green and his Trio on Friday (4/18).  Green, born in New York City but raised in Berkeley, CA, has been studying and playing since he was 7 years old.  His father, a jazz saxophonist, had a large record collection and young Benny took it upon himself to figure out what was going on in the songs of Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker.

Over the course of his career, he was worked and recorded with Betty Carter, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and so many others.  He has recorded 15 CDs as a leader, the leanest being 2013's Sunnyside release, "Magic Beans."

For his debut at The Side Door, Benny Green bring his fine rhythm section of David Wong (bass) and Rodney Green (drums).  Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the first set commences at 8:30.  Call 860-434-0886 for more information.

photo courtesy Joe L. Knaepen
Firehouse 12 in New Haven continues its Spring 2014 Concerts Series on Friday with a return visit from Loren Stillman & Bad Touch (the quartet first appeared in the Elm City in October of 2008.)  Saxophonist/composer Stillman, a native of London, England, has been part of the creative music scene since the mid-1990s, working with artists such as John Abercrombie, pianist Andy Milne, vibraphonist Chris Dingman, and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

Bad Touch features the same lineup as on the earlier gig and that is Nate Radley (guitar), Ted Poor (drums) and Gary Versace (Hammond organ) - they have a brand new CD titled "Going Public" (Fresh Sounds New Talent) and it's a fine musical experience, ripe with melodies and creative interactions. For tickets, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.  To learn more about Loren Stillman & Bad Touch, go to lorenstillman.com.

The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, welcomes pianist/vocalist Warren Byrd this Friday evening at 8 p.m.  Byrd, a Hartford native who has been active on the CT and world scenes for several decades, is, perhaps, best known for his co-leadership and work with The Afro-Semitic Experience.  His Middletown appearance is a solo gig in which one will have the opportunity to revel in his gospel-tinged soulful piano work plus hear some of the new poetry Byrd has been working on.  He's got an imposing stage presence, a great touch and good sense of humor.  For more information, go to www.facebook.com/events/715983908463600/ - for reservations, go to www.buttonwood.org.

copyright Albert Brooks

Back to The Side Door on Saturday for an appearance by the Marcus Strickland Quartet.  The fine foursome - Strickland (saxophones), his twin brother E.J. (drums), David Bryant (piano) and Ben Williams (bass) - has been an ensemble for more than 5 years and it shows in their smart interaction, in how they not only push each other but also in how they listen to what the other is playing.  The music they create encompasses myriad genres, is quite exciting and can also be emotionally satisfying.

As usual, the doors open at 7:30 p.m. with the music starting at 8:30.  For more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com.  To learn more about Marcus Strickland, his band and their music, go to marcusstrickland.com.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Marvelous Musical Worlds

There is music for every mood, from the depths of depression to the heights of exhilaration. Morning music, beach music, bedtime music, music for love, for loving, for holding a newborn or putting a 2-year old to bed.

A Jazz Orchestra has the ability, under the proper creative hand, to create myriad worlds and satisfy many moods.  Christine Jensen, a native of Sechelt, British Columbia, raised in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island B.C, moved to Montreal, Quebec, to study at McGill where she earned both her undergraduate (1994) and graduate degrees (2006), working in groups as a saxophonist (alto, soprano) with her sister Ingrid (trumpet), pianist Geoffrey Keezer, saxophonist Donny McCaslin and others.  As a leader, she released 3 smaller group recordings as well as co-leading Nordic Connect, a quintet with Swedish pianist Lena Olin.

In 2010, she released her first CD with the 18 member Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra.  "Treelines" (Justin Time) is a tribute to her native land and the forests. The music displays the influences of Bob Brookmeyer, Gil Evans and, certainly, Maria Schneider (with whom she shares a trumpeter.)  Like the late Brookmeyer and Ms. Schneider, Ms. Jensen's compositions are not simply vehicles for long solos but stories with intricate arrangements, with solos that come logically or organically from the melodic strains in the works. She most certainly writes for the musicians in her band (most, if not all, Canadian citizens), creating pieces for their individual voices.  But, it's the great writing for the sections that often catch your ear on first listen.

Now, there is "Habitat" (Justin Time) which, like its predecessor, has won the Canadian JUNO Award for "Best Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year" (the CD was released in her native land in October of 2013). If you enjoy Big Band music, there is much here to merit your full attention.  Again, like Ms. Schneider, Christine Jensen writes pieces based on personal experiences.  The opening track, "Treelines", is a work commissioned for the University of Nebraska/Lincoln jazz orchestra with the condition the work carry the title of her previous CD.  "Tumbledown" was inspired by trips to Haiti before the devastating earthquake (the main theme composed in reaction to the event) whereas "Blue Yonder" features an Afro-Peruvian rhythm she discovered while on tour in South America.  The stately brass and reeds fanfare that opens the piece has an Aaron Copland feel but, once the rhythm section, the "feel" changes and the music charges forward.

The longest track, "Nishiyuu", is a musical tribute to the 6 Cree youth who walked 1500 kilometers from their home on Hudson Bay in northern Quebec to the Canadian capital, Ottawa (read about the journey here). The composition features the Orchestra in the role of the youth and tenor Chet Doxas as their guide. Even if you not know the story, this is powerful music, intense without being loud, never strident but also not soft or unfocused.  Doxas, whose next venture is a Greenleaf release with Dave Douglas, Steve Swallow and his drummer brother Jim, a tribute to Jimmy Giuffre, does a stellar  job, one of the finest tenor solos of the past few years.

Sister Ingrid, who appears on 4 of the 6 cuts, gets the lead on 2 including the afore-mentioned "Treelines" and on the closing track, "Sweet Adelphi."  Her fiery spotlight on the latter track comes after the expansive soprano sax solo performed by Christine.  The focus is on the different sections for several minutes before the lovely soprano/trumpet interaction that carries the piece and the CD to its close.

One of the more impressive aspects of "Habitat" is the music does not sound studied, stilted or overly derivative.   Instead, Christine Jensen has composed, orchestrated and coordinated a recording whose music moves inside on the first listen, going deeper into your heart and mind the more you listen.  For more information (and the entire cast of characters), go to www.christinejensenmusic.com.

Hard to believe it's been nearly 3 years since guitarist/ composer/ vocalist Joshua Stamper issued "Interstitials", a splendid recording filled with memorable songs and fascinating arrangements for guitars, reeds and low brass.  He's back with "the skin, the sea, the sound" (Good Behavior), employing the 2 reed players (Mike Cemprola and Jon Rees) and the low brass man (Paul Arbogast); this time around, he's added drummer Thomas Bendel, the electronics of Emil Nikolaisen, and the voice of Ruth Naomi Floyd (on one track). Stamper's music still sounds influenced by Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding of XTC as well as Robert Wyatt; yet I remain so impressed by his use of the reeds and brass. At times, his lyrics sound like e.e. cummings. For example, "Peel Past The Starry Scrim" is a combination of natural, religious and and surrealistic images in the words (see below).  Add the electronic noise that leads to the airy flutes, the chiming guitars, the soft overdubbed vocals, the low brass and the military-like drumming and you have music that transforms your day.  The bass trombone shadowing the vocal lines on "etching sticks click ice brick thick" (say that quickly 5 times) should make you smile and there's a hint of Charles Ives in the flute support.  As the song moves away from the vocals, the intensity picks up as the saxophone, clarinet and trombone dance around each other, sometimes in unison or harmony.  It's this wondrous polyphony that borders on "dixieland folk" music. There is a hint of Nino Rota (who scored the films of Federico Fellini) in the circus music opening of "A Better TelescopE" but the music soon goes in several new directions. A simple guitar melody opens the album's longest track (9:17) "I'd Like To Be Like You" - that's the opening line of the vocal which soon introduces the reeds and brass playing counterpoint.  An alto saxophone moves out of the ensemble to push the piece forward with brass moving beneath; suddenly, a soprano saxophone rises above everyone before the vocalist returns repeating the title as the piece comes to an abrupt end.   The program closes with "The Silent Beach, the Bowl of Stars", an instrumental with the reeds rising up through the hazy guitar sounds.

The music Joshua Stamper creates moves in its own world, one which has myriad influences yet sounds quite original.  "the skin, the sea, the sound" is a wonderful aural environment where one can lose him-or-herself and do so with pleasure. Don't waste your time putting a label on this album - really, just let yourself move into the songs and simply be.  For more information and purchase options, go to   joshuastamper.bandcamp.com.

Peel past the starry scrim to find 
Peel past the starry scrim to find, to find me 

Dig down, a righter rain will fall 

inside me 

Reach round the drowsy din and cut a key 

Please find me, unwind me 

Peel past the starry scrim to find 
Peel past the starry scrim to find, to find me, to find me. 

Under the skin, the sea, the sound 
O Lover of Beasts, O Star from the East, 
Will all things soon be found?

(Lyrics courtesy of Joshua Stamper)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Positively Posi-Tone (Part 2)

Bassist Peter Brendler, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, graduated from the Berklee School of Music and then went on to the Master's Program at the Manhattan School of Music. He's worked with pianist Frank Kimbrough, drummer Barry Altshul, and saxophonist Jon Irabagon (who recorded his "Foxy" CD with Altshul and Brendler) and his debut as a co-leader was a 2013 date with guitarist John Abercrombie.

"Outside The Line" is the first CD under his name only and is a "smoker" from the get-go.  Featuring Rich Perry (tenor saxophone), Peter Evans (trumpet, piccolo trumpet) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums), the quartet rambles, rumbles, "splats", sputters, wails, struts and strolls through a 12-song program that features 9 originals and 3 inspired covers.

On the "covers" side, the program starts with the band speeding through Chet Baker's "Freeway", a hard-bop romp that features Sperrazza's "dazzle-dazzle" brushwork, Evans' inspired piccolo trumpet work and Perry's bluesy sax work.  There's a funky recreation of Lou Reed's "Walk On the Wild Side", complete with Perry and Evans taking the part of the "doot-da-doot-da-doot" chorus. Sperrazza's inspired brush work and the leader's full-toned bass notes give the soloists plenty of support.  The final cover is an inspired reading of Ornette Coleman's "Una Muy Bonita" which opens with a fine bass solo that slowly eases into the recognizable melody (the foursome does an excellent job of shifting the tempo throughout).

Several of Brendler's originals hew close to the Coleman Atlantic Records Quartet sound, such as the hard-driving "Lawn Darts" (it's a treat listening to how the bass and drums work together and independently to move this music forward).  In another direction, "Pharmacology" is a bopping blues track with a melody line that could have been played by the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet.  Evans and Sperrazza goose each other along during the trumpet solo and then the drummer trades "4's" with the bassist. There's a noisy quality to the rapid give-and-take of Perry and Evans on "Openhanded" while "The Darkness" mines the blues in the musicians' veins.  The trumpet solo pushes against the medium-tempo stroll the bass create while the tenor saxophone joins in on the stroll.  The drone created by the bowed bass, trumpet and saxophone to one "Indelible Mark" induces shivers but also displays Brendler's splendid technique. He's the "lead" voice for the opening 1/3rd of the track.  Evans and Perry, though they come from different musical genres (the saxophonist has worked with the Maria Schneider Orchestra while the trumpeter is a mainstay in Mostly Other People Do The Killing), work extremely well together. The CD closes with "The Golden Ring", a series of ferocious interactions among the quartet. Sperrazza's drumming is inspired throughout, he and Brendler often function like lead instruments with their own thematic material.

One could call "Outside The Line" "free jazz" but the music is so much more.  The musicians provoke, challenge and complement each other, giving the listener much to chew on.  Peter Brendler has created quite the gem of a CD - I'd put his release right alongside Eric Revis's smashing new CD "In Memory of Things Yet Seen" as 2 of the best recordings by a bassist of the past several years.  To find out more, go to www.peterbrendler.com.

Drummer Steve Fidyk, the son of a drummer, is, perhaps, best known for his work with big bands (although he has also recorded contemporary Jewish music with Robyn Helzner and played with numerous Symphony orchestras). Meeting drummer/educator Joe Morello (Dave Brubeck Quartet) changed Fidyk's life as his mentor helped not only how to play but also how to be a better teacher.

"Heads Up!" is his debut as a leader and it's a solid effort. Engineer Michael Marciano (of Systems Two in Brooklyn, NY) does a great job of capturing Fidyk's excellent brush work.  The quintet for this date features Terell Stafford (trumpet, flugelhorn) Tim Warfield (tenor sax) and rhythm section from the Armed Services, bassist Regan Brough (from the U.S. Army Blues) and guitarist Shawn Purcell (the United States Naval Academy Band).  The 9 cuts include original songs by the leader, such as the energetic opening track "Untimely", the extremely funky "The Flip Flopper" and the sweet ballad feature for Stafford's flugelhorn "T.T.J".  Purcell is an excellent foil for the front line, never intrusive, always supportive.  His work is often subtle, playing quiet chordal patterns behind the soloists; yet, he can cut loose as well, shredding his way through "The Flip Flopper." His piece for trio, "Might This Be-Bop", features strong solos from him, bassist Brough and Fidyk.   Stafford is such a great player, whether soaring over the changes as he does on Fidyk's "The Bender" or playing muted and mellow on the rearrangement of Jules Styne's "Make Someone Happy."  He returns to flugelhorn on the slow take on Johnny Nash's reggae hit "I Can See Clearly Now", helping to create a big city, late night vibe.  Warfield's bluesy tenor is heard to great effect on several tracks, including Hank Mobley-like turns on Purcell's "Last Nerve" and the hard bop cum disco take on Cole Porter's "Love For Sale."

Steve Fidyk sounds like he's having a great time on "Heads Up!"  He keeps the tunes motoring along without intruding while pushing the soloists to greater heights on several occasions.  Posi-Tone Records, like Criss Cross Records, is a label that is often billed as a home for mainstream jazz. In actuality, both labels and their respective producers (Marc Free and Gerry Teekens), like to mix things up.  Yet, "Heads Up!" (which features Criss Cross artist Tim Warfield - he has 7 releases on the Netherlands-based label) is "straight-ahead" and gloriously so.  For more information, go to www.stevefidyk.com.

For his 5th Posi-Tone release, tenor saxophonist Doug Webb has organized a new group of East Coast musicians (3 of his previous 4 previous CDs featured the rhythm section of drummer Gerry Gibbs and bassist Stanley Clarke) - recorded in February 2013, "Another Scene" features the late bassist Dwayne Burno (who passed in late December of last year), pianist Peter Zak and the most impressive Rudy Royston (drums).  The change of scenery has energized Webb who picks up on the power of Royston's drumming and Burno's muscular bass lines and delivers a strong performance.  That's not to say this is all fire and no sweetness. There are several fine ballads including Dave Brubeck's "Southern Scene", Vernon Duke's "What Is There to Say" and Benny Carter's "Only Trust Your Heart" (a duo for saxophone and piano).

However, chances are good you'll remember the fiery saxophone and drums exchange that makes up "Rhythm With Rudy" and the hard-driving opening 2 tracks, "Mr. Milo" and "One for Art" (dedicated to Webb's former bassist, the late Dr. Art Davis).   "Another Step" is Webb's take on John Coltrane's "Giant Steps", with the saxophonist lying over the powerful piano chords and hard-charging rhythm section. Later in the program, Webb's "Verdi Variations" also has a Coltrane feel in the piano chords, the rubato work of Burno and Royston plus the feverish tenor of the leader. In a clever programming turn, the following track is Thad Jones' "Bird Song"  which features a sweet solo from the leader and a rocking bass statement from Burno.

"Another Scene" is, in my opinion, most complete recording I have heard from Doug Webb. His earlier CDs all had their moments but this one has many more.  Could be the great rhythm section, could be that Webb liked the change of scene, could just be his continuing maturity as a performer.  Whatever was in the air on the February day worked its magic on this session.  For more information, go to www.dougwebb.us.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Flurry of Recommendations (Part 2)

"Fourteen" (Pi Recordings) is the fifth CD that Dan Weiss (drums, percussion, compositions) has issued  and the first with more than 3 musicians; in fact, the title refers to the number of participants.  His Trio partners, pianist Jacob Sacks and bassist Thomas Morgan, are here as is his duo partner, guitarist Miles Okazaki.  Joining them are Matt Mitchell (glockenspiel, organ, piano, clapping), David Binney (alto saxophone), Ohad Talmor (tenor sax), Jacob Garchik (trombone, tuba), Ben Gerstein (trombone), Katie Andrews (harp), Stephen Cellucci (percussion, clapping) and the vocal trio of Lana Cenčić, Judith Berkson and Maria Neckam.  The music is divided into 7 "Parts" with moments that sound like "progressive rock" from the 1970s, sections that reflect Weiss's lifelong interest in Indian drumming, limpid vocals that recall Steve Reich, quiet passages of acoustic guitar with glockenspiel ("Part Two") or tuba with trombone ("Part Five"), majestic piano melodies over a forceful rhythm section ("Part Six"), and long tones that juxtapose voice, piano and trombone ("Part 7"). 

The best way to experience "Fourteen" is to start at the beginning and listen to the end (just under 38 minutes).  Some of the moments are soft and lovely, others hard and stark but the overall experience is cathartic, a cleansing of the mind and, even, a sense of rebirth.  In so many ways, "Fourteen" is a reflection on living in unsettled times.  Dan Weiss has created a master work, one that reverberates long after the last quiet notes fade.  For more information, go to danweiss.net or pirecordings.com.  

Pianist/composer Leslie Pintchik writes music that asks the listener to relax, block out the everyday world and our performances will entertain without ever speaking down to you. "In the Nature of Things" (Pintch Hard Records) is her 4th recording as a leader and it's quite a treat. First of all, Ms. Pintchik has a dynamite rhythm section, with long-time associates Scott Hardy (bass, horn arrangements) and Satoshi Takeishi (percussion) plus Michael Sarin (drums).  Saxophonist Steve Wilson (soprano, alto), who appeared on the pianist's second album is back, joined here on the front line by Ron Horton (trumpet, flugelhorn) - they appear on 6 of the 9 tracks.

There's an airy quality to the majority of the tracks, a spaciousness that suggests contemplation yet also an intensity created by the joyful interaction of the musicians.  On first listen, the standout track is "I'd Turn Back If I Were You", with its Crescent City groove and splendid piano work (there are seriously low notes at the end of each chorus).  Wilson and Horton get in the groove, adding colorful splotches atop Sarin's dancing drums.  After several listens, one's attention is arrested by the truly delightful quartet reading of Lerner & Loewe's "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face".  Takeishi and Sarin mesh well, the quiet hand percussion (bells and blocks) alongside the splendid brush and cymbals supporting the pianist.  Hardy, who first worked with Ms. Pintchik as a guitarist, is quite the melodic bass, his full tones filling the spaces beneath the gentle piano chords.

Wilson and Horton share the theme section of the Brazilian-infuenced "Luscious" - after a fine piano solo, the saxophonist plays a lively solo on soprano.  Horton takes a spirited solo on "Sparkle" followed by Wilson, this time flying above the rhythm section on alto.  Several of the tracks use the reeds and brass as either counterpoint or for adding extra shading in the background.

Do make sure to pay attention to the pianist, especially her fine solos.  Ms. Pintchik may not be a flashy soloist but she can certainly swing (the live version of "There You Go" that closes the disk is ample evidence of her ability.) She is also exceptionally melodic, not unlike Dr. Denny Zeitlin. Listen to how she sets the table for Horton and Wilson on "Ripe", giving them the first 2 solos before stepping into her own fine statement.

In the liner notes, Leslie Pintchik acknowledges the influence of Herbie Hancock's 1968 Blue Note recording "Speak Like a Child", not so much in the instrumentation as in the approach to the material, the prominent role of the rhythm section (Ron Carter and Micky Roker with Hancock) and her solos, which often stay in the middle of the keyboard.  "In The Nature of Things" is inspiring and comforting music, well worth exploring time and again.  For more information, go to www.lesliepintchik.com.