Thursday, October 10, 2019

October, a Month of Delights & Challenges

Photo: Peter Gannushkin
If you've spent any time paying attention to creative music in the 21st Century, you know that there are a group of pianists who are always pushing the envelope.  Artists such as Jason Moran, Myra Melford (who started out in the last decade of the previous century and has never stopped exploring), Craig Taborn, Aruan Ortiz, John Escreet, and Kris Davis.  Ms. Davis seemed to spring out of nowhere with her 2003 debut on Fresh Sound New Talent and over the course of 13 albums as a leader or co-leader, she has continually expanded her musical palette.  In 2016, Ms. Davis inaugurated her own label Pyroclastic Records with "Duopoly", a series of two duets each with eight artists.  "Octopus" followed in early 2018, also an album of duets only this time her dialogue was with fellow pianist Craig Taborn.  She also leads a trio with bassist William Parker and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts (dubbed January Painters), another trio (this one named Borderland Trio) with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Eric McPherson, plus she has a duo with saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock.  One would not go wrong calling Kris Davis a very busy musician.

Her latest recording, "Diatom Ribbons" (Pyroclastic), is a program of 10 compositions (eight by the pianist and one each by Michaël Attias and the late Julius Hemphill) played by various sized ensembles ranging from a duo to septet with several others in between.  The one constant partner throughout is drummer Terri Lyne Carrington appearing on every track with other participants including turntablist Val Jeanty (all but two tracks), acoustic snd electric bassist Trevor Dunn, vibraphonist Ches Smith, guitarist Nels Cline, saxophonists JD Allen (only on the first and last tracks) and Tony Malaby (on three tracks) plus two cuts with guitarist Marc Ribot.  Esperanza Spalding adds her voice to two tracks, Attias's "The Very Thing" and "Certain Cells".  Attias's song has a lilting melody that the drummer underpins with her expressive playing with Malaby's tenor pushing in the background and Jeanty's swooshes and splashes painting quite a backdrop. "...Cells" builds from Gwendolyn Brooks's powerful poem "To Prisoners" and is a tour-de-force for Ms. Carrington's robust drumming.

Photo: Peter Gannushkin
There are moments throughout the album that capture the mind. The voice of composer Olivier Messiaen moves and out of "Corn Crake" as Ms. Jeanty's electronics swirl beneath the rambling piano lines and the rock-steady drumming. Ribot's lines spew out with force on the rocking "Golgi Complex (The Sequel)" (dig how Ms. Carrington and bassist Dunn lock into the groove) then engages in a duel with Cline on the following track "Gogol Complex."  That track not only pits the guitarists against each other but pay attention to the power coming from the rhythm section and Ms. Davis's thunderous piano work.

Photo: Daniel Sheehan/Martin Sarrazac
The album closes with Hemphill's "Reflections" (first recorded in 1975 on his second album as a leader "Coon Bid'ness"), a multi-sectioned piece that opens in an introspective mode with the two saxophones playing in unison behind the dancing piano lines and the counterpoint of the drums.  Dunn's bowed acoustic bass moans quietly while also producing overtones as the saxophones begin to state the song's theme.  A bit past the halfway point, the drums and bass drop into a funky beat, the saxophonists repeat the melody, and a highly processed proper British voice talks about learning.  Both Allen and Malaby solo, dancing atop the beat and Ms. Davis's pounding piano chords, the voice jabbering in and out of the background.

One of the more delightful attractions of "Diatom Ribbons" is how Val Jeanty adds her distinctive turntable sounds to the mix.  How Kris Davis utilizes her talents makes the album all the more intriguing, an integral part of a program in which all parts are integral – there is no wasted space.  Ms. Davis first teamed up with Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding to play a series of concerts to honor the memory and work of Geri Allen. That connection pushed Ms. Davis to create this project, one that will greatly appeal to the curious mind. Dig in, pay close attention.

For more information, go to krisdavis.net.

Here's "The Very Thing":



Saxophonist Samuel Blais came to New York City in the early years of this decade to study with saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master David Liebman.  In 2012, Liebman helped the young man create a saxophone quartet in NYC that featured the two of them (on soprano and baritone saxophones) in a partnership with tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and alto saxophonist David Binney. They toured in Quebec that year playing compositions by all four members, the first time both Binney and McCaslin had written for this kind of ensemble. The ensemble got back together in May of 2015, entered Red Rock Studio in the Poconos Mountain in Pennsylvania and, over the course of two days, recorded the 10 tracks that make up "Four Visions" (Sunnyside Records)

Interestingly, the four musicians each only play one reed instrument throughout the program although all but Binney play different saxes.  That choice gives the music more of a classical feel.  The entire is composed of originals by the band members insulting three each by Blais and Binney plus two each by Liebman and McCaslin.  On initial listening, one hears the influence of the World Saxophone Quartet, especially the writing of Julius Hemphill.  Once you dig into each track, the composers individual voices come out.  Liebman's "A Moody Time" starts as a ballad with each voice stepping out of the ensemble for short, solo, lines.  Suddenly, the baritone sax falls into a groove and the soprano takes off. The tenor joins the bari while the soprano and alt take the melody and off the quartet goes.  Binney's "Dunes" opens with the fours saxes sounding like a church organ but soon the quartet is off on a sonic adventure filled with melodic excursions and lightning-fast tempo changes.  "Empty Sunbeams" hs a similar opening but falls into a groove, one tha bears the sound of WSQ.

YouTube
McCaslin contributes the handsome ballad "Buy a Mountain", a piece that hints at the blues, the phrases the members play when they step out echoing Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Hodges, Charlie Parker, Wayne Shorter, and others along the jazz continuum.  "Et Voit Le Jour" (translated as "and see the day"), composed by Blais, has room for a handsome baritone solo but be sure to listen to what the other three play behind him.  The support for the tenor solo is the same – make sure to listen to how clearly the band articulates the supporting lines.

Julius Keilwerth Saxophones
Liebman's "Inside Bach's Studio" is the longest track (15:53), through-composed yet leaves room for each saxophone to step out for solos.  Those "spotlights" are truly solo (sans accompaniment) and rubato yet fit perfectly into the expansive fabric of the composition.  There are several moments where one believes the piece is ending only to hear the quartet move into a new written section.

"Four Visions" is the work of four fertile minds brought together by Samuel Blais and Dave Liebman.  It's such a treat to hear both Donny McCaslin and David Binney in this setting, creating music that challenges them as much as the listeners.  What a treat1

For more information, go to sunnysidezone.com/album/four-visions where you listen to the opening track.

Here's the Quartet in concert playing an expanded version of the piece:



Photo: Harvey Tillis
Bassist, composer, orchestrator, and arranger Matt Ulery has been a busy member of the Chicago music scene since arriving two decades.  He studied at both Roosevelt University and Depaul University and played professionally with the likes of Patricia Barber, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and trumpeter Marcus Hill.  he first recorded as a leader in 2007 and, since then, has worked with numerous different-sized ensembles, from trios to quintets to nonets to a brass band and a jazz orchestra.  His compositions have been performed by groups as diverse as Eighth Blackbird, Axiom Brass, and the New Millennium Orchestra of Chicago.  In 2016, Ulery inaugurated his own label, Woolgathering Records, with red;eases by his Loom/Large ensemble, pianist Rob Clearfield, trumpeter Russ Johnson, and saxophonist Tim Haldemann.

Woolgathering Records
His new album, "Delicate Charms", features long-time associates Zach Brock (violin), Greg Ward (alto saxophone), Quin Kirchner (drums), pianist Clearfield, and the leader on bass and all compositions.  Ulery worked on the pieces for this lineup over the course of several years and the quintet went to Portugal in late 2018 where they received an ecstatic reaction from the audiences.  Immediately on arrival back in Chicago, the group entered the studio.  As to be expected, the music is beyond category but one can not miss the composer's love for melody, harmony, and counterpoint.  The rhythm section is a major component in the music as well, not just with its use of polyrhythms but their own medic additions.  What immediately stands out is the blend of the violin and alto sax – when Brock and Ward play together, the sound is so full and it's hard to tell them apart unless one is under headphones. Listen to the opening moments of the first track "Coping";  with Ulery and Brock bowing while Ward is playing, they sound like a string trio.  Then, the violinist takes the melody and Ward plays the counter-melody.  And, then they switch throughout the reading of the theme and verses.

Photo: Harvey Tillis
There are numerous delights on this hour-plus program.  Ward, who is my choice for 2019 MVP (most valuable player) shines on "Taciturn" – his wide-ranging solo pushes Brock who follows with his own sparkling performance. Meanwhile, the rhythm section is rocking beneath them. Clearfield's piano solo at the onset of "Nerve" (the final track) has a classical feel with overtones of Appalachian folk music. The melody that follows carries on that sound with a melody that pulls at the emotions Pay attention to Kirchner's active drumming as well as to how he puts the rhythm on simmer underneath Ulery's excellent solo. Notice the soulful alto solo where the phrases take flight, reaching towards the skies.

Every track on "Delicate Charms" is worth exploring in depth.  Over his career, Matt Ulery has created music that expands inside one's ears and mind, making the listener return to discover all that's in the music. With this album and July's release of "Wonderment" (a trio date with Brock and drummer Jon Deitmeyer), Matt Ulery has produced two of the best recordings of 2019!

To find out more, go to www.mattulery.com.

Check out Woolgathering Records (and the new album in particular) at www.mattulery.com/product/delicate-charms/

Photo: Jean-Marc Lubrano
The older I get, the more comfort I derive out of music that sounds like the musicians are having a great time playing.  Not sure how I can tell other than there are occasions of one band member extorting on the others but one feels the comfort these musicians have taking chances, interacting with one another, and the "dancing" quality that inhabits the music.  Drummer Ali Jackson (Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra), bassist Omer Avital (Third World Love), and pianist Aaron Goldberg (Joshua Redman Quartet) all are busy sidemen as well as leaders – they have known each other for over two decades and, early in the 2010s, decided to form a trio. They took the name Yes! Trio and released their debut album on Sunnyside Records in 2012.

Seven years later, Yes! returns with a new album on a new label (Jazz & People, based in France) but with a renewed spirit and a whole mess of joy.  "Groove du Jour" features 10 tracks with four composed by Avital, three by Jackson, one from Goldberg plus "Dr. Jackle" by Jackie McLean and the standard "I'll Be Seeing You."  That final track listed is an excellent a=example of the trio's delightful approach – after a quiet beginning, Jackson settles into a slow shuffle beat and the song is permeated by the blues. Listen to the delightful piano solo. The program ranges from the powerful "Escalier", a Jackson composition that opens with the power of a McCoy Tyner that settles into a swinging groove. Avital's "Muhammad's Market" hints at a Middle eastern groove while it rumble forward on the strength of the drums and bouncing bass lines.  Jackson's "Claqué" dances in on the funky drums, the high bass melody, and Goldberg's Thelonious Monk-like blues feel.

The album closes with Avital's "Bed-Stuy", yet another delightfully swinging song.  Each member the trio gets to "strut his stuff" yet no one steps on anyone's toes.  This music is so alive and lively you'll want to get into "Groove du Jour" many times.  This is soul-affirming music from Yes! Trio!

Here's the band playing the opening track live:

 

Just for fun, here's the second track on the CD:

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Sounds Familiar, Strange, Loud, & Quiet

Photo: NEA
I have known Taylor Ho Bynum since his student days at Wesleyan University. He earned both his BA (1998) and Master's Degree (2005) there, all the while playing with various members of the faculty including Bill Lowe and Anthony Braxton.  After graduation, he played with numerous musicians and group but especially with pianist-conceptualist Cecil Taylor, trumpeter-conceptualist Bill Dixon, and with numerous ensembles led by Professor Braxton.  In fact, Bynum was the Executive Director of Braxton's Tri-Centric Foundation from its founding in 2010 until 2018.  He currently is teaching at Dartmouth College and leading the jazz and creative music ensemble. Bynum is a founding partner of Firehouse 12 Records, one of several labels that issue his music.

His latest record, "The Ambiguity Manifesto", is his sixth for the label, each one featuring a different ensemble.  The new one features his 9-tette, composed of two brass, two reeds, two basses (one electric, the other acoustic), a cellist, drummer, and guitarist. All seven pieces are Bynum originals and, as usual, the music goes in many different directions, often in the same piece.  Those of you familiar with Bynum's recordings for Firehouse may be surprised by the James Brown-style drumming that opens the album – to these ears, it also sounds somewhat like Julius Hemphill's "Hard Blues."  The song, titled "neither when nor where" utilizes that funky beat to introduce the different instruments.  Tomeka Reid's cello lines shows the influence of Abdul Wadud and it's fun to hear Jim Hobbs' alto sax in counterpoint to  Ingrid Laubock's tenor sax.  In the bridge, Bill Lowe's trombone dances over the sympathetic reeds.  Tomas Fujiwara is rock steady behind the drum while the rest of the band frolic.

The material ranges from the free-wheeling "anter ally" to the circus-like noise of "enter (g)neither" which at 18+ minutes gives the different voices of the ensemble a chance to converse together. Mary Halvorson's guitar lines have quite a percussive feel and supported by Professor Lowe's tuba is quite playful. The section where the guitar interacts with Ken Filiano's acoustic bass and Stomu Takeishi's electric bass leads into a slow marching beat where the music feels like a slow merry-go-round – note the smooth sounds from the leader, a bluesy feel even.  A lot goes on and all of it is absorbing.

Photo: Peter Gannushkin
The last two tracks, "enter ally" and "unreal/real (for old music)", are "freer" in their structures yet there are still multiple conversations going on in each song.  The former gets a bit noisy in the middle especially when the effects-laden guitar rolls in with the droning tuba. Since the piece is continually evolving, one must listen several times to absorb the soundscapes created.  The final track opens with the leader's cornet sputtering and wheezing alongside the rippling soprano sax (Ms. Laubrock) with the bowed cello, chattering guitar , and thrumming acoustic bass leading in the trombone, drums and alto sax.  Listen closely for the clucking electric bass and alto sax and the tenor sax – in the wink of an eye, the music falls into a gentle martial beat while the other voices either create sonic effects or play melodies.  Hobbs alto sax leads the ensemble forward as Fujiwara creates a straight-forward rhythm.  Roll with it and you'll be surprised where the 9-tette takes you.

"The Ambiguity Manifesto" does not beat the listener over the head but does take one on quite a journey.  Taylor Ho Bynum seems to relish composing for a larger palette (his Firehouse 12 albums range from sextet to septet to octet to nonet to 15 members) – this album shows his continued growth as well as his need to be part of the band and not in front all the time.  There's no plans to tour the band as of its September 27th release date but the Sextet appears at Firehouse 12 on November 8, 2019.

For more information, go to taylorhobynum.com.

Here's the opening track:


Three of the four musicians pictured below – Mary Halvorson, Tomas Fujiwara, and Tomeka Reid – are on the album above plus are members of Ms. Reid's Quartet. They, along with bassist Jason Roebke, have just released a new album.

The Tomeka Reid Quartet recorded and released its eponymous debut album for Thirsty Ear in 2015.  Since then, Ms. Reid has relocated to Queens, New York, and has entrenched herself in the contemporary music scene. She plays with Anthony Braxton and Nicole Mitchell and was featured on the latest Art Ensemble of Chicago album. Ms. Reid also is part of Hear in Now, a string trio with violinist Mazz Swift and bassist Silvia Bolognesi not to forget her collaborations with Roscoe Mitchell.   Ms. Halvorson and Mr. Fujiwara works together in the trio Thumbscrew (with bassist Michael Formanek) as well as with Taylor Ho Bynum, Chris Speed, and Ben Goldberg.  Mr. Roebke is a fixture on the Chicago music scene – he studied with Roscoe Mitchell and plays in or leads numerous groups.

"Old New" (Cuneiform Records) is, if anything, even more exciting than the fascinating debut from four years ago.  What stands out (what doesn't?) is how many of these pieces – all composed by the leader – are so rhythmic.  The title track comes bursting out of the speakers with an urgency and pace sure to raise the temperature.  Reminiscent of of the opening track of saxophonist Julius Hemphill's 1977 Black Saint Lp "Raw Materials and Residuals" (with drummer Famadou Don Moye and cellist Abdul Wadud), Roebke and Fujiwara lock in and push the music forward.  Ms. Reid creates a powerful solo (with Ms. Halvorson adding playful counterpoint) and she wails away.  The melody line, which is repeated at the end of the piece, is a delightful blend of plucked notes and melodic, flowing, lines.

Photo: Jasmine Kwong
The energy continues to flow on the following track "Wabash Blues." Again it's Mr. Roebke's muscular bass and Mr. Fujiwara's powerful drumming that leads the way.  In fact, the drummer gets the spotlight right after Ms. Halvorson's solo, one that's filled with her trademark "bent notes" and rippling phrases.  "Niki's Bop" follows, ushered in by the dancing New Orleans-style drumming and contains a boppish melody line played unison by guitar and cello that will have bobbing your head.  They stretch the lines out for over a minute before Ms. Reid and Ms. Halvorson dance/solo together.  Dedicated to flutist Nicole Mitchell, the music make sone want to get up and dance.

Photo: Jasmine Kwong
The recording has so many moments that turn your head with their inventiveness and the Quartet's splendid interactions.  For instance, "Sadie" swings with glee with Ms. Reid playing pizzicato throughout – the "boppish" quality of the song brings to mind the groundbreaking cello work of Oscar Pettiford as well as the "baby bass" playing of Percy Heath and Ron Carter. Ms. Halvorson's raucous guitar playing gives the piece a more modern bent.  Listen to her "shred" on "Edelin", roaring above the solid rhythm section.  The cello solo has a power of its own, filling up the "bottom" of the sound with deep notes.

"Old New" closes with "RN",  a piece with a handsome melody yet there is a pleasing rhythm to push the music along.  Mr. Roebke actually solos before the band can introduce the melody;  before long, Ms. Reid's lovely flowing lines produce a magical solo as does Ms. Halvorson although she fills her solo with echoing phrases that feel like bubbles about to burst.  There's a "singing" quality to the track tha promises new directions for the future of the Tomeka Reid Quartet.  This program is a delight-filled group of performances that shine, swing, rock, sway, explode, and push their way into your ears and mind.  And, it's an excellent effort from start to finish – give a listen, give 10 listens!

For more information, go to www.tomekareid.net.

Here's the title track:



There is something about the music of Thelonious Monk that allows it to be very much his own yet totally open to interpretation by others.  Pianist Michael McNeill, who have been active inBuffalo, NY, but currently resides in Saluda, VA, is a member, composer, and arranger for several groups including the Buffalo Jazz Octet plus a trio with drummer Phil Haynes and bassist Ken Filiano. He's also a member of the cooperative trio with bassist Denny Ziemann and drummer John Bacon.  It is with that rhythm section that McNeill has recorded "Refractions" (Jazz Dimensions Records), a seven-song program comprised of Monk tunes, all of which are pretty well-known.

The trio approaches the music from numerous directions. Whereas the album opener, "Ugly Beauty", has an abstract impressionistic, rubato, opening, "Hackensack" swings delightfully from the opening note.  Once the former piece "opens up" into its rhythm, the music remains exploratory but retains the handsome melody, especially thanks to the fine piano solo.  The latter is the longest piece on the disc, replete with delightful interactions between the piano and drums plus a long, wonderfully melodic, solo from the bassist.  The trio takes "Light Blue" as a ballad with rich solos from McNeill and Ziemann – "Reflections" is taken even slower with the bass and piano caressing the melody, both musicians basing their solos off the opening verse.  "Let's Cool One" has that "sit back and relax" groove. McNeill creates a delightful, two-handed, solo filled with spirit while Bacon's spotlight is playfully minimalistic.

The last two tracks start with a solo piano reading of "Monk's Mood."  McNeill gives the handsome melody a Gershwin-like spin, accentuating the harmonic possibilities and leaving just the right amount of breathing room to let the notes ring n the listener's ears. After a short melodic bass intro, "Straight No Chaser" jumps into an energetic rhythm and swings forward on the power of the piano solo and Bacon's propulsive drums.  Pay attention to Ziemann's solo latter in the piece: he's plays both melodically and rhythmically, managing to steer clear of clichés throughout (plus his dialogues with Bacon really kicks nicely.

Though Thelonious Monk has gone nearly four decades (and had retired from playing 11 years before his passing), his music continues to reverberate loudly through contemporary music.  On "Refractions", the trio of John Bacon, Michael McNeill, and Danny Ziemann honor his legacy by not playing it safe, but playing with joy and with an exploratory spirit.

For more information, go to michaelgraymcneill.com.

Here's the "long" song:

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Folks Music (2019)

TuneTown, the trio composed of Kelly Jefferson (saxophones), Artie Roth (acoustic bass), and Ernesto Cervini (drums), first came together in 2016.  Each member of the trio is busy in their native Canada and in the lower 48 states. Readers of this blog know  Cervini as a tireless drummer and composer, leading or co-leading several groups (including Turbopop and Myriad 3).  Jefferson studied at McGill University in Montreal and earned his Masters Degree at the Manhattan School of Music.  He has played with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Maria Schneider, Kenny Werner, Brian Blade and a slew of others.  Roth also studied in the U.S. thanks to grants from the Canada Council and has been a busy sideman and leader for over two decades.  He's issued three albums since 2005 as the leader of the Artie Roth Quartet.

Not surprisingly, the band's debut album "Here To There" (Slammin' Media) features a wide spectrum of pieces, from originals to fascinating re-arrangements of Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" and Cole Porter's "All of You."  Roth's melodic bass leads the Ellington into a rubato landscapes of long tones from the tenor sax and colors splashing from the brushes and cymbals.  The conversation in the rhythm section continues as Jefferson plays the lovely melody.  The airiness of the music makes the music more plaintive.  Meanwhile, the Porter classic gets a straight-ahead, swinging, reading with more fine brushes work and handsome counterpoint from Roth.  Cervini tap-dancing drumming beneath the fine tenor solo imbues the music with a joyous feel. When the drummer switches to sticks, the music picks up steam with all three charging ahead.

There's plenty to like on the original pieces.  Pieces such as Cervini's "The Monks of Oka" can play within and without the "tradition" – the piece has a bop feel and a drive from the rhythm section that feels unstoppable.  There's a funky backbeat to "Split Infinity" and the interaction between Roth's throbbing, droning, bass lines and Jefferson's echo-heavy tenor sax has a mysterious feel, staying clear of cliché. Listen the playful stick work that permeates "The Mayor", a short ditty with rampaging percussion, the boisterous tenor, and melodic underpinnings from the bass that hearkens back to Trio Air and its "ragtime" deconstructions.

"Here to There" closes with the bassist's "A Transient Space" – it's a quiet ballad with numerous silences, Jefferson's soprano sax keening at times and sounding oboe-like at others, while Roth fills the bottom with melodic murmurs and Cervini's changes the rhythmic feel from time-to-time, dropping in-and-out of a flow.  A blues feel creeps in 2/3rds of the way through, the volume increases, and Jefferson begins wailing.  Yet, the music turns back towards the quiet side and easily comes to a close.

TuneTown has created a delightful debut recording, a 44-minute journey into the collective minds of Kelly Jefferson, Artie Roth, and Ernesto Cervini. Certainly sounds like they are having fun and there's a great possibility the avid listener will as well.

For more information, go to tunetownjazz.com.

Listen to the three musicians discuss their music:



Pianist and composer Florian Hoefner was born and raised in Germany where he first began his musical studies and career – not only did he study piano but also trumpet and accordion.  Upon his graduation from the University of Arts in Berlin, he received a Fulbright Scholarship which took to New York City to earn a Master of Music from the Manhattan School of Music where was a student of Jason Moran, Dave Liebman, and Garry Dial.  He recorded a  number of albums in Europe for ENJA Records and other labels as a member of the German quintet Subtone plus he co-led a session for Fresh Sound New Talent with Kurt Rosenwinkel.  He's issued four albums in the United States including three for Origin Records, two with a quartet and a lovely solo piano.  That album, "Coldwater Stories", was the first Hoefner recorded after moving to St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada.

He has pared his group to three musicians, a trio with bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser.  The Florian Hoefner Trio's debut album, "First Spring" (ALMA Records) is quite a blend of traditional songs associated with Hoefner's new home, three originals, two pieces composed or arranged by contemporary folksinger Sam Amidon, Byron Issac's "Calvary" (a piece discovered by the pianist when his quartet's bassist Sam Anning brought Levon Helm's "Dirt Farmer" on the road), and composer Luciano Berio's reimagining of an Armenian folk song "Loosin Yelav."  That final song listed is one of the lovelier works on the album – the melody unfolds slowly as the rhythm section proceeds (on tip-toes at times).  Bassist Downing creates a fine, melodic, solo statement before the pianist with an introspective spot of his own.

Photo: Bo Huang
The album opens with "Hound's Tune"; composed by legendary Newfoundland fiddler Rufus Guinchard (1889-1970), the piece opens with Downing's bowed bass playing the original melody and then moves into more "modern" territory thanks to he pianist's inventive arrangement.  "The Maid on The Shore", a Scottish ballad quite popular with the inhabitants of the Atlantic Canada region.  The song has quite a handsome melody which, in the hands of the trio, is opened up in the manner that John Coltrane approached "Greensleeves." There is tremendous energy and joy in the trio's interactions.

Photo: Bo Huang
Listen to how Downing and Hoefner play the melody and countermelody on "Calvary" – it's certainly melodic but just as funky.  the album is filled with examples of excellent ensemble interactions.  The title track, dedicated to the pianist's son and influenced by the work of the bassist Edgar Meyer, blurs the line between Americana and contemporary jazz as it's fills with various tempo changes and feels plus contains a smashing bass solo.  Amidon's "Short Life" has a plaintive expressed by Downing's bowed bass (he's also a fine cellist) and the powerful piano work of Hoefner.

Photo: Mike Meyer
The album closes with the trio's interpretation of Amidon's arrangement of the traditional "Rain and Snow."  The quiet opening has the feel of a snowstorm on a cold winter's night, the flakes blowing in the air (here represented by the pianist's rippling fills); soon, the music turns bluesy, the rhythm is funeral-march slow, and Hoefner's lines are filled with articulate single-note runs.  Nothing is rushed and the listener gets to soak in the sounds.

"First Spring" is a delight-filled album, a program that lets the light of a Newfoundland spring shine as opposed to the more scholarly "Coldwater Stories" from 2017.  Both are excellent albums. Kudos to Nick Fraser and Andrew Downing, two Canadian musicians who deserve more recognition south of the Canadian border.  Florian Hoefner has found a home in Newfoundland while its countryside and people have found a home in his creative soul.

For more information, go to www.florian-hoefner.com.

Here's the playful opening track:



Pianist and composer Jason Yeager released his first album "Ruminations" in 2011 on Greg Osby's Inner Circle Music. He's released three since them, one a duo with saxophonist Randall Despommier and another duo album with violinist Jason Anick. He's also recorded with Ran Blake and the Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra plus a number of others.  Yeager has performed with drummer Matt Wilson, vocalist Luciana Souza, and saxophonist George Garzone as well as many others.  He teaches on the faculty of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, even while living in New York City.  Currently, Yeager holds the piano chair in both Ms. Inserto's Orchestra and in La Banda Ramirez.


Album #5, "New Songs of Resistance", finds the pianist on Nick Finzer's Outside In Music and in a feisty mood.  Yeager has a created a program that meshes his original music with songs from the Chilean and Brazilian protests in the 1950s, 60s and 70s (known as the "New Song Movement" plus today, pieces by Violeta Parra (1917-67), Chico Buarque, Victor Jara (1932-1973), and the contemporary duo of Leôn Gieco and Luis Gurevich. The nucleus of the band posits the pianist with the rhythm section of Fernando Huergo (electric bass) and Mark Walker (drums, percussion) – selected tracks features Milena Casado (Spain – flugelhorn), Naseem Alatrash (Palestine – cello), Matthew Stubbs (California – bass clarinet, clarinet), Cosimo Boni  (Italy – trumpet) with vocalists Erini (Crete), Farayi Malek (Idaho), and Mirella Costa (Brazil).

The album opens with Ms. Parra's "Gracias a la Vida" ("Thanks to Life"), a lovely piece celebrating long life and the ability to see all facets. After Erini sings the opening verse over a slow reading pf the melody by the ensemble (plus flugelhorn, cello, and bass clarinet), the piece opens up to a faster Brazilian rhythm, another verse, then solos from Yeager, Casado, and Alatrash's cello counterpoint.  Erini also interprets Pablo Neruda lyrics (music by Jara and Patricio Castillo) on "Aqui Me Quedo" ("I'll Stay Here"), a piece dedicated to the Chilean workers who fought oppression in the 1970s with references to the colonialization of the country by Spain. Ms. Malek interprets the leader's lyrics on "In Search of Truth", a musical scree against those who do not believe in Civil Rights, human rights, climate change, a free press, or empathy. The music moves from a dark melody beneath the words and fast-paced instrumental passages. There's a powerful instrumental with wordless vocals moving alongside the piano while Huergo and Walker stoke the fire.

In addition to the various vocal tracks, there are three short solo piano "Interludes" – titled "Uncovering", "Resistance", and "Factitudes", Yeager's introspections range from contemplative to foreboding to quiet wonder.  One other short piece, "Protest", actually features sounds from a street protest march with the piano, bass, and drums creating a powerful rage beneath the protesters.  Ms. Malek's wordless vocals join Matt Stubb's clear clarinet tones to set the stage on Yeager's "Reckoning."  Everyone gets the opportunity to make statements, especially Walker with his powerful drum solo near the close of the tune.  The urgency of the bass and drums at the onset of "Mother Earth" along with Yeager's melodic piano brings Leonard Bernstein to mind. Adding the clarion-call trumpet of Boni to the mix gives thematic even more power. His solo, filled with fire and emotion, is a highlight.

"New Songs of Resistance" closes with a rousing reading of Buarque's 1970 anthem "Apesar e Você" ("In Spite of You"). The lyrics thumbs its nose at the authorities. Composed after the Brazilian writer returned from a short self-imposed exile to Italy (check out the video here), the song has an irrepressible bounce to it.  Ms. Costa makes the most of her sole appearance on the recording, clearly enunciating the Portuguese lyrics over the exciting rhythms.  Perhaps this joyous piece that closes the album is a sign that Jason Yeager feels hope even in the teeth of the political monsters spread around the world.  Listeners will enjoy the music, the voices, and the young soloists (many of whom are students at the Berklee College of Music where the pianist is on the faculty as are Fernando Huergo and Mark Walker).  Exciting music that speaks to the struggles of Latin America, the United States, and the world; listen closely and pay attention.

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

Here's the opening track:

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Music with Many Influences + 1000!


Photo: Desmond White
Alto saxophonist and composer Alex LoRe is an impressive young musician.  Moving to New York City after completing his undergrad studies at The New England Conservatory in Boston, MA., he did his grad work at the Manhattan School of Music. LoRe studied with and was tutored by saxophonists such as George Garzone, Lee Konitz, James Moody, and Steve Wilson plus has appeared on stage with the likes of Dave Liebman, pianists Aaron Parks and Dan Tepfer, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, and drummer Ari Hoenig.  He is a member of fellow reed player Lucas Pino's No Net Nonet and has recorded with the DanJam Orchestra and fellow saxophonist Paul Jones.  He's released two albums on Greg Osby's Inner Circle Music, the first (2014) a trio date and the second (2016) with a quartet that featured bassist Desmond White, pianist Glenn Zaleski, and drummer Colin Stranahan (who, like White, also appear on the earlier CD).  What impressed this listener about those albums was the amount of space in the music, the excellent melodies and arrangements as well as the interactions of the musicians involved.  Also, LoRe's influences come from myriad sources, classical to jazz and beyond.

"Karol" (Challenge Records) illustrates the influence of classical composers and performers with eight of the 12 compositions dedicated to classical composers.  They range from J.S. Bach to 16th Century Spanish composer Maddalena Casulana to Henry Cowell to Julius Eastman to Karol Symanowski.  His quartet (with drummer Allan Mednard replacing Stranahan) now has a name – Weirdear – and, even more than on his previous two albums, seem to be more involved in the creative process.  There is sensitivity, swing, and melody that moves in and out of many of these pieces including the opener "Skyward."  The song, not dedicated to any composer in particular, gives the entire band a chance to step out.  In this instance, it's Zaleski's handsome piano leading the way into the song then doubling the melody line with the alto saxophone.  White and Mednard are quite active in support of solos – it's as much fun to concentrate on their efforts as it is to listen to the pianist and alto saxophonist.

Photo: Desmond White
LoRe does an excellent job in their liner notes explaining the influence of each composer on the particular composition.  It's the use of rhythm and the complex harmonies of Igor Stravinsky's "Symphony for Wind Instruments" that inspired "Orahcle" while it was Charles Ives use of "Americana" melodies that sets the tone and direction of "Casey Jones".  But, notice the clear-as-a-bell tone of the alto saxophone, the dancing march-inspired rhythms from the drums and bass, and the strutting piano lines on the latter. The listener should be entranced by "Light" with its three chorales for soprano saxophone and piano.  This tribute to Johann Sebastian Bach leaves room for short improvised phrases by the saxophonist as well as freedom for the rhythm section throughout. "Eastman" is inspired by composer-pianist Julius Eastman (1940-1990) whose work was dubbed "post-minimalist" and really shook the contemporary classical music scene in New York in the late 1970s and early 80s.  Eastman was not afraid to speak of racial injustice and issues within the gay community.  LoRe treats his subject to a lovely melody, pushed forward by the fine brushwork of Mednard; he also adds the tenor saxophone of George Garzone. Their interactions are like a conversation in poetic verses, sometimes rhythmical, other times lyrical, all without tension or dispute.

The title track, dedicated to Polish composer Karol Symanowski (sp – the last name should contain a "z" – Szymanowski) who was born in 1887 and died in 1937.  His music changed a great deal over his composing career (approximately 23 years) ranging from pieces influenced by Wagner and the "Romantics" to creating his own "voice" with the use of "folklore" plus innovations in his compositional techniques that placed the composer in the "Modernist" camp. LoRe's piece is a distillation of those different voices with echoes of Stravinsky and Satie mixed with the approach of Jimmy Giuffre, especially at the period when that composer began to move from his "Americana" sound into a "freer" phase.  The quartet moves through various sections with ease and a sense of curiosity as well as with a forward motion created by the excellent playing of Mednard and White.

"Karol" also contains three "Miniatures", short compositions (between 2:25 and 2:36) in which melody and improvised are juxtaposed.  These cuts are exercises in economy and expansion, melodic structure and improvised rhythms, individual voices and collective sound.  In fact, the entire album is filled with examples of those exercises writ large; pieces that are organic and open to interpretation.  In a word, the playing is splendid.  Alex LoRe continues to create music that is involving as it is evolving, free of clutter and cliché, rich with possibilities.

For more information, go to alexlore.com.

Here's the opening track recorded live in December 2018 (two months after the recording session for the album):



Time has a way of erasing years even as it fills our memories.  It's been 20 years since pianist, composer, and arranger Guillermo Klein recorded the first album by his 11-piece ensemble Los Guachos.  Sunnyside Records released "Los Guachos II" ("I" was scrapped) in early 1999 – listeners were introduced to a sound that blended elements of the composer's Argentinean upbringing, his study of American jazz, and more.  Amazingly, the personnel (see below) has only changed slightly over the decades while the musical explorations continue to evolve and expand.

"Cristal" (Sunnyside) is the eighth Klein album to feature Los Guachos (the Orphans) continuing the composer's quest to meld his native country's older popular music and dance rhythms with a more modern approach.  On this recording, melody s just as important as rhythm. There are certainly of fine solos yet one should pay attention to the multitude of colors created by Klein's writing for the various sections. The program opens with an interpretation of "Melodia De Arrabal" – composed in 1932 by the extremely successful Argentinean duo of Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera, the song served as the title tune of a 1933 movie.  This modern take is actually a rearrangement of a rearrangement that Klein created for saxophonist Joshua Redman and the modern string quartet Brooklyn Rider.  The newer take accentuates the handsome melody line and also makes room for Jeff Ballard's brilliant drum work.  Take the time to listen to the blend of rhythm instruments, how the quiet guitar chords are echoed by the piano, and how the rhythms speed up and slow down as if elegant dancers were sliding across the floor in front of the ensemble.

Photo: Antonio Porcar Cano
"Burrito Volver" combines a rhythm from Klein's "Burrito Hill" (recorded with Los Guachos on the 2012 album "Carrera" with a reinterpretation of Gardel and Le Pera's "Volver", a tune that also shows up later in the album.  The first tune mentioned features a roaring solo from guitarist Ben Monder while the reeds and brass sway underneath.  The later take is more up-tempo with a dazzling interplay of the reeds and brass, excellent solos, and a powerful rhythm created by Ballard, percussionist Richard Nant, and electric bassist Fernando Huergo.  The three saxophonists – alto Miguel Zenón, tenor Bill McHenry, and baritone Chris Cheek (who is the album and group's MVP) – have wonderful interplay with the brass – trumpeters Taylor Haskins and Diego Urcola plus trombonist Sandro Tomasi.  Zenón takes the lead on "Quien Te Ve", first interpreting the handsome melody and then creating a far-ranging, emotionally rich solo.

"Cristal" closes with a new arrangement of Klein's "Flores" first recorded on 2005's "Una Nave." The composer's vocal is replaced first by the band working through the verses and then by Cheek's soaring soprano saxophone.  It's a dazzling, swirling, whirling, statement pushed forward by the powerful percussion and melodic bass.  The gentle ending of just guitar and quiet keyboard is a perfect way to let the listener relax and exhale.

Like the finest contemporary composers and arrangers, Guillermo Klein has slowly, steadily, built a repertoire that stands out for so many different reasons.  Los Guachos, formed in the wake of Klein's 17-member Big Van, is a splendid ensemble filled with great individual voices who mesh together making music that often soars while it moves the feet.

"Cristal" will be available on September 27, 2019 – in the meantime, here's a delicious taste:


Personnel:

Miguel Zenon - alto sax 
Bill McHenry - tenor sax 
Chris Cheek - soprano, tenor, baritone sax 
Diego Urcola - trumpet, flugelhorn 
Taylor Haskins - trumpet, flugelhorn 
Sandro Tomasi - trombone 
Ben Monder - guitar 
Guillermo Klein - piano, vocals, arrangements 
Fernando Huergo - electric bass 
Jeff Ballard - drums 
Richard Nant - percussion, trumpet


All compositions composed by Guillermo Klein except "Melodía de Arrabal" and "Volver" composed by Carlos Gardel & Alfredo Le Pera 

***********************************************

Step Tempest first posted in December 2009, a month after The Hartford Courant closed down the blogs (including mine) of numerous free-lancers.  Here we are, nearly 10 years later, and much has transpired but my love of, curiosity about, and desire to listen to music and write reviews remain unabated.  I have met, talked to, and heard many of the musicians I have written and continue to write about – their dedication to the music is, for a vast majority of them, remains powerful even as the music "business" continues to reinvent itself.  My productivity slowed a bit in 2010 when I began teaching as an adjunct Professor in the Seminar Series at Quinnipiac University; plus, I was able to develop several courses about the popular musics of the United States, working and learning with students about the origins of what we listen to today.

Above all, I still love this music, a love than continues to grow as the years keep passing by.  It's been over 50 years since I posted my first concert review for the UCONN Daily Campus – wow!  Seems like only a week ago.

Thank you so much for reading and for listening.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Blues + Beats + Bop (All Soul edition)

Some readers may remember that organist Chris Foreman and drummer Greg Rockingham were two-thirds of Deep Blue Trio – along with guitarist Bobby Broom, the Chicago-based ensemble recorded four albums, two on Delmark and two on Origin Records, from 2004 until 2011. Though the Trio in various iterations had been playing since 1992, they waited to record after a decade+ of gigs in the Midwest and beyond.  After the trio split, Foreman and Rockingham formed Soul Message Band with guitarist Lee Rothenberg and alto saxophonist Greg Ward.

"Soulful Days" marks the organist and drummer's return to Delmark Records as leaders. SMB's debut recording takes its name from Cal Massey's "These Are Soulful Days" – recorded in 1961 on the trumpeter-composer's one and only album as a leader, "Blues to Coltrane" but not released by Candid Records until 1987 (15 years after Massey's passing), this updated version slows the piece down to a bluesy shuffle featuring guest tenor saxophonist Geoff Bradfield (he's on three tracks), Rothenberg, and Foreman stepping out over the groove. And, it's quite soulful.  Ward contributes one of the two original pieces, the sprightly "Uncertainty".  Not at all like it's title, the piece dances forward on Rockingham's active (but not intrusive) drums and Foreman's delightful bass lines.  The guitarist composed "Sir Charles", the tune that opens the album; it's a tribute to both NBA star Charles Barkley and the great organist Charles Earland. The shuffle beat and easy interactions, delightful solos and the lack of ego, sets the tone for the album.  The band is telling the listener these "Soulful Days" are made for swinging, relaxing, and getting into the groove.

Every song is worth spending time with but here are two particular high spots.  Ward's singing alto and Foreman's gospel-infused organ lines open up the sweet Rodgers & Hart ballad "Little Girl Blue."
There are bluesy solos from Rothenberg, Foreman (it's the longest and most exciting one), and Ward (who plays such lilting phrases).  The quartet absolutely soars on Louis Bellson's "Easy Time" –it's another shuffle but, thanks to the interactions and fine solos from the guitarist, alto saxophonist, and organist plus the drummer's power rising from below, you will want to dance.

"These Soulful Days" lives up to its name. This music will wash away your troubles and sounds so good as it cleaned the soul!  Dance along with Soul Message Band as they put their spin on the organ-led band that has been a staple of soul-jazz for many, many decades.

For more information, go to www.soulmessageband.com. No videos or audio downloads but you can get a taste of the album by going to delmark.com/product/5030/.


Upon first listen, "Point Less" (Rugged Ram Records) struck me as an excellent debut by vocalist and composer Ola Onabulé. A little bit of research took me to his website whereupon I discovered the Nigerian-born, Great Britain resident, had released eight albums since his debut in 1995.  Therefore, this 2019 album is his ninth for the singer with the wonderful range; naturally a tenor, he can really sing quite high and surprisingly low (he has a three-and-ahalf octave range!). But, as appealingly the rhythms are in the majority of the 14-song, 77-minute program, listen to what he's singing about.  Themes of equality and inequality, promises made and broken, of violence perpetrated on people of all colors,  and how the lower class is held physically and fiscally move through all songs.  While the rhythms of "The Old Story" will remind many listeners of Santana's "Smooth", the theme of dominating the "other" reverberates in verses such as "I don't victim but why/Must I exist, just to tell a man/I must prepare him to die...."

"And Yet" opens with a splendid funky beat while Onabulé sings "Staring down a barrel again" then going on to "Don't blow Mister, Big Controller, do the rags bother/Maybe I could loose the hoodie for ya/...We all know you hold the rod of power."  All this to a rhythm that would not feel out of place on a Steely Dan album, especially "Aja" and beyond. On "Exit Wound", the singer exclaims "Don't send me all your thoughts and prayers/If they make it, they'll be no use here."  All this to a lively Latin-flavored beat provided by drummer Chris Nickolls, bassist Phil Mulford, percussionist Will Fry, pianist John Crawford, and guitarist Al Cherry. Nickolls plays on three on the tracks while Jack Pollitt pushes the band on the other 11.

The messages in the lyrics may seem relentless; it's best to put yourself into the composer's life.  Even the lovely ballad "Tender Heart" (kudos to Cherry for his soulful accompaniment and the powerful piano work of John Crawford) is not a respite from the issues people face in a soul-less world.  But Onabulé's vocals are soothing and give hope.  The harmonica of Berthold Matschat is handed to the final two tracks. He dances along with the leader's wordless vocal on "Pas Famille", interacting behind as the song turns to tell the story about a person who has no issues selling out his brethren (the title translates to "not family"). The excellent harmonica solo, with its blend of long, flowing, phrases with short melodic passages, stands out. The final track, "You Can't Depend On Love", opens with the harmonica introducing the melody while the lyrics speak of moving carefully through your life.  But, "Until you find a soul to some to/You'll find/You can't rely on hope" until the the singer changes the final chorus to "You can't depend on love." You can't help miss the lilt of Horace Silver in the melody and rhythm and the subtle honesty of Cole Porter in the lyrics.

Yes, "Point Less" is a long album yet it is worth taking your time to explore.  Ola Onabulé writes all the music and lyrics, produced these sessions, and released it on his own label.  He has stories to tell with a voice that does just honestly, melodically, soulfully, and without pity but filled with empathy. There's power in the rhythms and the beats as well.  All his albums are on Bandcamp and there's much to discover.

For more information, go to www.ola-onabule.co.uk.

Here's a video of Onabulé in studio (note the excellent guitar solo):



The language of hard bop was created in the 1950s nurtured by the likes of Clifford Brown, Theolonious Monk, Kenny Clarke, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Max Roach, and many others.  In the 1960s, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Albert Tyler (to name but four), began searching in multiple directions opening up the music while, often, scaring away older listeners. Even 60 years later, hard bop may sound obsolete to young listeners but, in the hands of musicians who understand the blues and "freedom" at the roots of the musical style, the music still can excite and electrify audiences.

Trumpeter Jimmy Smith and saxophonist James Hughes, both natives of the Detroit, MI, area, have been working together since 2012, recording three albums as a quintet.  For "The Gates" (Shifting Paradigm Records), Smith and Hughes added trombonist John Yao (from Chicago IL) to the front line (making him a co-leader to boot) as well as putting a new rhythm section (pianist Corey Kendrick, bassist Jeff Pedraz, and drummer Nick Collins – all three live and work in Detroit). The front line first came together several years ago when they were all studying in New York City. The nine-song program, with four sings by Hughes, three by Yao, and two by Smith, features intelligent music, great interaction, and excellent solos.  The rhythm section is delightful, with Kendrick's Horace Silver-inspired piano work, Pedraz's melodic and foundational bass, and Collins' delightful drumming.

While the first two tracks (Smith's "I-75 @ 5" and Yao's "Hell Gate" – the former moves faster than any highway I've been on at 5, p.m. that is) – swing with joyous abandon, Hughes's "Subterranean Miner" is a mysterious twisty blues line with fine bass work, a languid melody, and fine solos. Bassist Pedraz, who introduces the piece, also gets the first solo; his impressive melodic lines leads to a three-way conversation between Hughes (soprano), Smith (flugelhorn, perhaps), and Yao. The proceedings get a bit noisy before the band calms down to take the piece out. Hughes also composed the handsome ballad "Sophia's Song" – he plays the emotionally rich melody and takes the first solo (with Yao and Smith adding color in the background) the turns the spotlight over to Kendrick for a wide-ranging solo sans horns.  His playing truly sings even as he hands the song back to the front line.

The title track (composed by Smith) adds a Brazilian feel while giving the feel of a Lee Morgan piece.  Smith's crisp trumpet sound leads the way; the bounce in the rhythm section inspires his solo spot.  Yao, too, is inspired, his solo dancing along with Collins sweet cymbal work.  The drummer alters his attack a bit for Hughes's tenor spot, a playful romp from the co-leader.  The album closer, Yao's "Dog Days", is one of several that bring to mind Mr. Blakey's Jazz Messengers.  While the rhythm section is not as relentless as the master drummer's could be, the relaxed but powerful bop they create is highly appealing.  Kendrick, the composer, and Smith get the solos and they have a great riding the waves from the bass and drums.

"The Gates" opens wide and the avid listener gets to enjoy the delightful interactions of the Yao/Smith/Hughes Sextet.  The music brings to mind the hard-bop sounds that filled urban clubs in the 1950s and early 1960s, sounds that have never really gone out of style.  Dg in to this feast – the music satisfies!

For more information, go to www.shiftingparadigmrecords.com/yao-smith-hughes-sextet.html and/or to www.johnyao.com or www.jimmysmithmusic.net or www.jameshughesmusic.net – they all have sounds and pictures of the band.

Here's the title track: