Friday, August 7, 2020

Live Singer, Songwriter, and Large Ensemble

Photo: TEDxNew York
Somi, vocalist, musician, composer, and activist, is a first generation daughter of a couple who came to the United States from Rwanda and Uganda. Over the past decade, she has released four albums, toured the world and is the founder of "Salon Africana", an arts agency that celebrates the arts from the African continent. What audiences have discovered over the years is an artist with a wonderful voice, a fine lyricist who tells stories that touch on current issues as well as issues that touch on Africa and on the role of women in society.

Her new recording (her debut on her own label), "Holy Room: Somi Live at Alte Oper" (Salon Africana/ hr Big Band), pairs the singer with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band for a live concert. John Beasley did all the arrangements for the 15-member ensemble plus two of Somi's touring band, pianist Toru Dodo and guitarist Hervé Samb.  All the compositions come from the vocalist except "Alien" (written by Sting as "Englishman in New York" with new lyrics by Somi) and "Lady Revisited" (written by Fela Kuti as "Lady" with new new lyrics). Eight more songs come from Somi's two most recent albums, while one is a piece from 2007.  Right from the opening, this music is enchanting, rhythmically exciting, with soaring vocals, stunning ballads, and intelligent arrangements for the Big Band.

The 92-minute (two disk) concert program opens with "Kadiatou the Beautiful". Originally recorded for the 2017 "Petite Afrique" album (OKeh Records), the songs starts as a meditation before the African rhythms kick in and guitarist Samb breaks out into a powerful solo. Kudos to the Big Band's rhythm section, bassist Hans Glaswischnig (acoustic and electric basses) and Jean Paul Höchstäder (drums) for creating such deep beats.  Listen to them push the vocalist on "Black Enough" while the band wails in the background. Dodo's electric piano solo roils on top of the band.  "Ankara Sundays" (from 2014's "The Lagos Music Salon", also released on OKeh) features a splendid Beasley arrangement which, at times, has a Maria Schneider feel.  Somi's vocal is stunning as she inhabits the soul of a woman dreaming a way through her present life.  Samb's evocative guitar is the only accompaniment at the onset of "Like Dakar"––the reeds lead the band in and the songs drops into a sensuous rhythm thanks to the bass and drums. Listen to how the vocalist accompanies the guitar solo as if she was a part of the reed section.

Disk 2 opens with "Alien", Christian Jaksjö's amplified trombone leading the song in.  Somi tailors the lyrics that speaks to her experiences in the City ("I'm a legal alien/ I'm an African in New York") singing from the viewpoint of a taxi driver.  Listen to the various voices accompany the trombone solo, blowing like a wind through the caverns of Manhattan.  Dodo's classically inspired solo introduces "Two Dollar Day" (from "The Lagos Music Salon"), an impressive story of a young Nigerian widower trying to bring home enough money to feed her hungry children. We look at her from the outside, not knowing her name but realizing "her days are numbered."  "Look away, look away, if you dare" cries the vocalist before Samb's blues-soaked solo.  The guitarist has a long, unaccompanied, introduction to "Ingele" (from Somi's 2007's "Red Soil in My Eyes") is melodic and percussive as is the song that follows.  The vocalist plays with the title and adds others words but mostly utilizes her voice to interact with the band.  Samb and baritone saxophonist Rainier Huete create fiery solos over the rampaging band before Somi's voice, accompanied only by Hochstäder's fiery drumming brings the song to a close.

Photo: hr Big Band
The album closes the lovely "Holy Room", a prayer that, similar to the Old Testament's "Song of Songs" in the way the words are a love song to her religion, to her God. Yes, there is a sensuality to the song but it's not lurid, sexy, or suggestive––the music is gentle, the vocal is lovely, and the arrangement handsome and supportive. Samb's guitar solo flows like birds dancing on the wind, the rhythm section  pushing but gently with the low reeds in the background.  

"Holy Room", the album, is a treat for tired ears and minds.  It gets noisy at times but this is a joyful noise.  The lyrics are sometimes sad but the vocalist never sounds as if she has given up hope. John Beasley does excellent work here as does the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. While one may view this program as a reassessment of her earlier work, Somi gives her all to her art so this music sounds fresh, relevant, contemporary, and refreshing.   Such an excellent recording is worth your full attention!  

For more information, go to  To listen to more and purchase the album, click on  

Here's an exciting track:

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

America The Dutiful & The Beauty-filled

Hard to ignore in the midst of the pandemic the fact that 2020 is a Presidential Election year with the one, arguably, the most fraught since 1860.  Regina Carter has put together a new ensemble, dubbed it the Freedom Band, and, tougher, they create "Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground" (Tiger Turn/eOne).  Ms. Carter (Michigan) joins with bassist, percussionist, and co-producer Kabir Sehgal (Georgia), trumpeter, arranger and co-producer John Daversa (Florida), drummer Harvey Mason (Kansas), pianist Jon Batiste (Louisiana), and bassist Alexis Cuadrado and tenor saxophonist Brian Gorrell (on four tracks) ––Doug Davis and Harvey Mason, Jr also serve as co-producers––to create a musical journey through a number of US states that will loom large in the coming election.

Along the way, the listener stops for a swinging take on "Georgia On My Mind", a bouncy reading of "Rocky Mountain High", a playful "You Are My Sunshine" kicked off with a sweet, minor-key flourish from pianist Batiste.  Ms. Carter pays tribute to Michigan and, especially, Detroit with a lovely ballad reading of "Dancing In The Streets" (originally released by Berry Gordy in 1964 to help quell the various riots occurring in large American cities: strangely enough, the song was also used by protesters to complain about police brutality and more). Daversa introduces "Swanee River" which also gets a bluesy ballad treatment featuring his delightful trumpet work as some fine "down home" fiddle from the leader. "Swanee" (the river) is a adapted name from the "Suwanee" River that runs from Georgia through Florida.

Right in the middle of the program is short, unaccompanied, performance by Ms. Carter on the traditional "We Shall Overcome"––that's one of the only tracks one could consider "political" in nature along with the violinist's spoken plea to make sure and vote. That seems sad to comprehend for this writer who was taught by his parents that voting, like living in a democracy, is not a right to take lightly.

There are delightful musical treks through "Pennsylvania" and Wisconsin (the off-kilter take of the old football fight song "On Wisconsin").  The album closes with a short (but sweet) tribute to "Faygo", a soft drink made in Detroit. MI.  It's a fascinating way to close this often light-hearted journey but reminds one that so much of this music could be considered nostalgic. The underlying message is that we can rearrange and change the plentiful wrongs in the United States by paying attention to our communities and states, working together, speaking and listening to each other, and voting.  You can hum these tunes while marching, while writing to your Congress people, and in the voting booth.

For more information, go to

Hear Ms. Carter and the Freedom Band's take on "Georgia On My Mind":

Photo: Christopher Georgia
Biophilia Records is the right home for the duo Endless Field. Bassist/ composer Ike Sturm and guitarist/ composer Jesse Lewis makes music that celebrates the richness of the outdoors, the myriad stars, moons, and constellations that fill the nighttime sky. The record label, the brainchild of pianist Fabian Almazan, produces no CDs; the music is available as download only but they do create a lovely Origami-inspired recording jacket for notes, photos, and more. The jacket is produced from all recycled materials using plant-based inks.

The duo's third album bears the title "Alive In The Wilderness" and truly lives up to its name. The duo recorded outdoors in Utah with engineers Dana Nielsen and Phillip Broussard, Jr. working with equipment using only solar power. The videos created for the project by Christopher Georgia and Brandon Sargeant also use solar-powered equipment.  On many of the tracks, one can hearing running water from streams and brooks, animals and birds in the background, wind flowing past the microphones, and more. All the outdoor noises helps one concentrate on the music which, with few exceptions, is quite contemplative. Therefore, it should as no surprise this music is about calm, about nature, about one's place in the environment, about evaluation and re-evaluation, about peace, and about creativity.

The music may be best experienced on the porch in early morning and/or early evening. Play the program all the way through (55 minutes), enjoying the melodies, the interplay, the deep tones of Sturm's bass and the clean tones of Lewis's steel-string guitar. Enjoy the surprises along the way––there's the funky, percussive, "Zim" (listen below), the throbbing sound of "Fire", the classically inspired "Heart", the folky joy of "Dance of the Bee", the hard-driving "Moon", and the iridescent "Prayer for the Earth."

Such delightful music!  "Alive In the Wilderness" is just that––alive with many possibilities, joys, and discoveries. Endless Field continues to explore the endless possibilities of acoustic music and we are the beneficiaries.

For more information, go to  Purchase the music at

Here's the lively, percussive, and melodic "Zim":

Here's the video trailer:

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Composer, Her Orchestra, Their Music

Photo: Briene Lermitte
Over the course of her career (which is well into its third decade), composer, arranger, and conductor Maria Schneider has compiled an amazing track record. Nine albums, eight with her Orchestra plus one with soprano Dawn Upshaw, have garnered her six GRAMMY Awards, numerous nominations, and a devoted audience, many willing to give money to support her endeavors. Ms. Schneider was one of the first creators to sign with ArtistShare and has been working with that organization since the release of 2004s "Concert In The Garden".

Cover art: Aaron Horkey
The seeds of her new project with the 18-member Maria Schneider Orchestra, the two-disc "Data Lords", were sown in 2014 when the composer collaborated with David Bowie on his song "Sue (Or In a Season of Crime"––the track appeared on a 2014 compilation and was later re-recorded for Bowie's final album "Blackstar". The first disk, titled "The Digital World", take its edginess not only from the musical experimentation with Bowie but also from Ms. Schneider anger and frustration with the "data farmers", those companies who gather information from users, usually without anyone's permission. For the past decade, the composer has been warning of companies and websites that take your music, use it without your permission, and/ or pay a pittance for that use.  Artists, especially those who are not as famous or who make music that appeals to world-wide audiences, get ripped off on a daily basis, their music shared without compensation. Ms. Schneder has appeared before the US Congressional Subcommittee on Intellectual Property speaking on the topics of "digital rights", copyright infringement, and more.

Photo: David Bazemore
The five songs of "The Digital World" have a darkness fed by the  frustration Ms. Schneider feels. The growl and roar of Ben Monder's guitar is heard throughout those songs, put to good use on "A World Lost" and "Don't Be Evil". The dark sectional writing, the eerie sounds created by Gary Versace on accordion, and the powerful drumming of Johnathan Blake (his debut with the MSO),  the electronics added to the trumpets of Mike Rodriguez and Greg Gisbert, feels new in Ms. Schneider's world. "...Evil", aimed at a failed ad campaign of Google, deconstructs and then reconstructs the melody of "Taps" throughout, giving the music a feeling of dread as well as a political edge.  The sounds of Morse code permeates "CQ CQ Is Anybody There", a piece dedicated to the composer's father who was a devoted ham radio operator.  The satisfaction that the elder Mr. Schneider got from talking to people around the world does not translate to the music.  Underpinned by the bass of Jay Anderson and drummer Blake, the music intimates that the "connections" we make on the Internet are not truly equal to the ones we make "off-line". We may have 500 friends on FaceBook but are no match for sitting down and chatting through the ether with someone a world away.  The dissonance of Gisbert's electronically-modified trumpet, the staccato of the Morse code, the rat-a-tat of the percussion, keep the listener on edge while serving up its dire warnings.

Photo: Siimon
Disk two, "Our Natural World", relates to earlier "pastoral" works of the MSO while still breaking new ground.  "Sanzenin" is a musical tour of an ancient Buddhist temple (found in Japan) posits Versace and his accordion on front of the ensemble (pay close attention to Anderson's excellent bass playing) as one takes a walk through the gardens. The joyful sounds of "Stone Song" adds a healthy touch of levity to the "serious" music and is, arguably, the most fun piece of music the composer and Orchestra have produced to date––the interaction of Versace's accordion with the soprano sax of Steve Wilson is endearing. "Look Up" is a gentle command that we take refuge in the night skys, in the myriad stars and lights we see.  Solos by Frank Kimbrough (piano) and Marshall Gilkes (trombone) stand out as do Blake's drums and the "floating" sounds of the reeds and brass. KImbrough leads the way into "Bluebird" which, after its powerful, soaring, opening melody turns into a spotlight for Wilson's delightful alto sax solo and a superb flight of improvisational fancy from Versace (note the wondrous section writing that serve as the accordionist's dancing partner).

Photo: Kyra Kverno
Two pieces inspired by poet Ted Kooser, "Braided Together" and the album closer "The Sun Waited For Me", are multi-faceted gems.  The former begins slowly but, thanks to Blake's impressive drumming, picks up in intensity as Dave Pietro (alto saxophone) creates his powerful statement. The latter, which was previously recorded by Ms. Schneider with Ms. Fleming on "Winter Morning Walks" as "How Important It Must Be" (the final piece in the medley based on Mr. Kooser's poems), featured the soprano voice interacting with the clarinet of Scott Robinson––here, Gilkes's trombone takes the melody while Donny McCaslin (tenor saxophone) is the primary solo voice.  The impressive work of the various reeds, brass, and accordion open the door for McCaslin's handsome and wide-ranging solo.

Photo: Whit Lane
One cannot just take in all that "Data Lords" contains in one sitting or use the albums as background music. In conversation with Maria Schneider, one can feel the excitement she must enjoy when bringing new music to her ensemble, a group that still contains a number of musicians (eight) who appeared on her 1994 debut "Evanessence".  The job of the attentive listener is to hear the music with fresh ears each time you listen. The Maria Schneider Orchestra, like the Duke Ellington Orchestra, like the best works of Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer, and Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis, has a sound all its own. The music comes alive in the creative minds of the musicians, never sounds stale or clichéd, while Ms. Schneider works so hard with the engineers and the mastering person to make this music sound so deep and full. If you're not one of those many, many, people who gave money to bring this music to life through ArtistShare, I have no need to convince you that "Data Lords" is splendid.  If you've never heard the MSO, it's time to get these sounds into your life!

For more information plus buying options, go to


Maria Schneider (composer, conductor)
Steve Wilson (alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, flute and alto flute)
Dave Pietro (alto saxophone, clarinet, flute, alto flute, and piccolo)
Rich Perry (tenor saxophone)
Donny McCaslin (tenor saxophone, flute)
Scott Robinson (Bb, bass, and contra-bass clarinet, baritone saxophone, and muson)
Tony Kadleck (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Greg Gisbert (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Mike Rodriguez (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Ryan Keberle (trombone)
Keith O'Quinn (trombone)
Marshall Gilkes (trombone)
George Flynn (bass trombone)
Gary Versace (accordion)
Ben Monder (guitar)
Frank Kimbrough (piano)
Jay Anderson (bass)
Johnathan Blake (drums, percussion)

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Season of the Large Ensemble

Photo: Eliza Margarita Bates
One would not be out of place writing that Jacob Garchik is a unique presence on the contemporary music scene. He plays trombone, tenor horn, tuba, and accordion, has played with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, John Hollenbeck, Darcy James Argue, Laurie Anderson, and Mary Halvorson plus many others.  He has arranged for numerous vocalists including kd lang, Rhiannon Giddens, Sophie Von Otter, Natalie Merchant, and Angelique Kidjo.  Over the past 14 years, Garchik has contributed a dozens of arrangements and transcriptions for Kronos Quartet. He's also a member of The Four Bags, the delightful ensemble that eschews genres for a mix of fascinating sounds.

In 2005, Garchik started his own label––Yestereve Records––and has issued five fascinating albums, including two trio dates, one for a trombone choir (2012's "The Heavens: The Atheist Gospel Trombone Album"), and 2015's "Ye Olde" for trombone, drums, and three electric guitarists. His latest recording, "Clear Line", features a large ensemble consisting four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones (two alto, two tenor, and one baritone), and no rhythm section.  Nary a chordal instrument in sight.  The music, all Garchik originals, is fascinating from the opening note right through to the end. The title refers to the "Ligne Claire" style of drawing. Pioneered by French author and illustrator Hergé (1907-1983, the creator of "Tintin"), the drawings combine cartoon characters with "natural" backgrounds.  Garchik, who does not play on the album but who is the conductor, has also developed an interest in architecture, not surprising as an arranger, among other things, needs to understand the framework of the music and what each composition will support.

Condé Nast Traveler
What will the curious listener hear on "Clear Line"?  Nine pieces that feature crisp playing, intelligent and witty arrangements, and a distinctively fluid blend of styles. The album opens with the rippling phrases of "Visualizations of Interior Spaces" which the gives the music the feel of a fanfare. There are also moments that the listener can sense the growth of a new structure.  "Ligne Claire" has a modern classical sound yet one could hear a touch of Bob Brookmeyer in the blend of the sections' phrasings.  Long tones with just a touch of dissonance stand out on the ballad "Hergé: Vision and Blindness" while an infectious rhythm can be felt throughout the opening section of the delightful "Moebius and Mucha"––the latter track breaks down at several times for short solo statements. The composer celebrates the "Line Drawings of Paul Rudolph", the American architect (1918-1997) who was considered one of the leaders of the Modernist Era. It's a slow ballad that moves into a darker tone as the piece develops.

Photo montage: Jacob Garchik
The album closes with the title track. A lively piece, the melody is shared by the different instruments in a playful vein. The ensemble plays around with the rhythmic flow, bouncing beneath the solos, stopping to play an elegiac section, which is interrupted by the playful bouncy opening section then returns to the slower tempo. The two distinct "feels"––bouncy then slow––go back and forth changing somewhat each time.

"Clear Line" is such an enjoyable journey. The project should open your mind to the creative genius of Hergé and Paul Rudolph plus gives another glimpse into the creative world of Jacob Garchik.  Take your time with this music as it's well worth the adventure.

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

Here's the opening track:


Jacob Garchik: composer, conductor 
Nathan Eklund, Jonathan Finlayson, Adam O’Farrill, Davy Lazar: trumpets 
Natalie Cressman, Kalia Vandever, Kalun Leung: trombones 
Jennifer Wharton: bass trombone 
Roman Filiu, Charlotte Greve: alto saxophones 
Anna Webber, Kevin Sun: tenor saxophones 
Carl Maraghi: baritone saxophone 

Alto saxophonist/ bass clarinetist Andrew D'Angelo is a musician who can light up a room with his incendiary musicianship, His solos can rise from a whisper to a shriek, raining down phrases, riffs, wails, on the listener.  His fiery approach to creative music has been evident since emerging on the scene in the late 1980s and early 90s.  With fellow saxophonist Chris Speed, drummer Jim Black, and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, he toured clubs and concert halls as Human Feel. They recorded three albums in the 90s before going their own ways, regrouping to record in 2007 and, again to tour Europe in 2017 resulting in the album "Gold", released on Intakt Records in 2019. D'Angelo has also worked and recorded with Jamie Saft, Cuong Vu, Erik Friedlander, and was a long-time member of the Matt Wilson Quartet.  

In 2008, D'Angelo suffered a seizure and collapsed, was rushed to the hospital where it was discovered he had a brain tumor. That resulted in two surgeries and removal of his right temporal lobe. The saxophonist went the route of alternative healing.  He returned to music as soon as possible, began writing pieces for a large ensemble, and the results can be heard on "DNA Orchestra" (Human Use Records). The 12-member ensemble (plus two guests) features the cream of the crop of fiery younger players, many based in New York City, all of whom are either leaders or co-leaders.  The nine tracks are all D'Angelo compositions, filled with emotional passages, powerful solos, the occasional loud noises and screeching as well as poignant vocals, and a deep desire to communicate.

The 64-minute program, recorded live, can best be described as "raucously joyful and joyously raucous."  Yes, there are quiet moments there and there, especially on "I Love You". The piece has a sweet melody sung by the leader – the arrangement for the orchestra does a great job of framing the vocal as well as filling out the sound. The leader's alto sax lines at the opening of "FELICIA" are heart-felt as they lead in to the lovely viola tones supplied by Nicole Federici.  The sections then enter playing the melody in a style that resembles Abdullah Ibrahim's South African sounds. The band joins in on the lyrics ("Love Felicia") before D'Angelo's strong solo. Strange sounds, courtesy of the human "beat box" Eric Biondo, are heard at the onset of "Big Butt". Drummer Dan Weiss joins the fun leading the band in with a modified James Brown rhythm attack which is echoed in the sections reading the melody.  The forward motion of the rhythm section dares you to put on your dancing shoes. Weiss again kicks up a storm on "Marching Fvckers", its chaotic horn lines hearkening back to the arrangements of the late Fred Ho as well as Pierre Dorge's New Jungle Orchestra. Josh Sinton's baritone sax solo roars atop the thundering ensemble.

Photo: Dave Kaufman
The ensemble romps through "Meg Nam Sa", one of the pieces that came out of D'Angelo's healing process. Again the band roars, goosed forward by the rhythm section with a number of hard-edged solos, building in intensity like a Category 5 hurricane. Weiss's thunderous solo serves as a preamble to a blustery, stunning, finish. It's the final track and that's good as the listener will probably be as spent as the band members.

"DNA Orchestra" is quite an experience. Andrew D'Angelo, along with his very talented friends, create music that is joyous, noisy, exciting, filled with delicious section arrangements, all underpinned by Dan Weiss's drums and Trevor Dunn's great electric bass playing.  Not for the faint of heart but definitely for the adventurous listener––play it loud!!

For more information, go to To purchase the album (and other D'Angelo recordings), go to

Here's the opening track, dedicated to drummer Matt Wilson:

Andrew D’Angelo – Compositions, Arrangements, Alto Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Voice, Director 

Bill McHenry – Tenor Saxophone 
Jeremy Udden – Alto Saxophone 
Joshua Sinton – Baritone Saxophone 

Ryan Snow – Trombone 
Bryan Drye – Trombone 
Josh Roseman – Trombone 

John Carlson – Trumpet 
Jacob Wick – Trumpet 
Kirk Knuffke – Cornet 

Nicole Federici – Viola 

Trevor Dunn – Bass 
Dan Weiss – Drums 
Sasha Brown – Guitar 

Eric Biondo – Beat Box 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

"My Coma Dreams" Event

Fred Hersch, pianist and composer, has had a most successful career.  His generation of musicians was among the last to grow up in a time when you work with an older musician serving as a mentor, travel the United States, get a recording contract, play constantly, testing your powers of improvisation and accompaniement. By the mid-2000s, Mr. Hersch had a large following, was traveling the world –– he had publicly acknowledged that he was gay and had been suffering from the long-term effects of HIV-AIDS. His condition was kept in check by a mixture of medications which allowed him to continue to perform, to teach, and to record. But, something went wrong in the Winter of 2007-08 and the pianist soon became quite sick –– originally, his doctors were able to fight the condition but it worsened to the point that Mr. Hersch stopped eating, became painfully ill and, to save him while they helped his system right itself, he was put into a medically-induced coma for two months.

The pianist recovered but it took may months of physical therapy, rest, and relearning the basics (eating, walking, etc) as well as finding his way back to the piano –– he was left so weak by the debacle that there was the fear he would never return to music, let alone t other daily activities.  Happily for Mr. Hersch (and for his many fans), his abilities returned to the point where, within 18 months, he had returned to performance, composing, and teaching. Unlike many coma survivors, the pianist actually remembered a number of vivid dreams during the time he was, technically, "dead" to the outside world.  Soon, he had sketched out melodies, harmonies, and his memories. With the help of librettist Herschel Garfein (who also directed the performances), Mr. Hersch began to make his dreams come to life. Soon, the pair had created an eight-song program for an 11-piece ensemble plus narrator (see personnel below).

Photo:Tom White/NY Times
"My Coma Dreams" never became a vehicle for touring but was performed several times with one presentation at the Miller Theatre on the campus of Columbia University in New York City recorded as a DVD in March 2013.  If you do not own the video, released in 2014 by Palmetto Records, you can watch the entire performance free on YouTube beginning this Friday, July 17 2020 and will be free indefinitely (the link is listed below as well) –– in fact, you should it and not just because it's being presented free of charge but because it's an amazing piece of musical theater (kudos to actor Michael Winther on his powerful performance).

Go to, put in your ear buds or put on your head phones, and get lost in these "...Dreams."

Fred Hersch, piano
John Hébert, bass
John Hollenbeck, drums and percussion
Ralph Alessi, trumpet, flute;horn
Mike Christiansen, trombone
Bruce Williamson, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone
Adam Kolker, flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone
Joyce Hammann, violin and viola
Laura Seaton, violin
Dave Eggar, cello
Gregg Kailor, conductor, music director

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

More Drums In Front

Photo: Gord Loser
Drummer and composer Florian Arbenz, a native of Switzerland, is a musician that has his hands and feet in both the classical and jazz worlds.  Active for over two decades, Arbenz has worked with numerous American musicians –– he co-leads a duo with saxophonist Greg Osby plus has played with trombonist Glenn Ferris, reed masters Bennie Maupin and Dave Liebman, as well as Swiss composer/ conductor Heinz Holliger and American conductor Kent Nagano. Arbenz is also one-third of VEIN, a jazz trio that also features his brother Michael on piano and bassist Thomas Lähns.

The drummer's latest project is dubbed Convergence, an apropos name for a group that features musicians from Cuba, Brazil, Great Britain, Australia, and Europe.  The sextet –– Arbenz (drums, compositions), Jim Hart (vibraphone), Jorge Vistel (trumpet), his brother Mikael (tenor saxophone), Nelson Veras (guitar), and Rafael Jerjen (acoustic bass) –– has just issued its self-titled debut album (on the drummer's Hammer Music label).One can hear the influences of the afore-mentioned Mr. Osby plus Steve Coleman, and Dave Holland (in the blend of vibes with sax and trumpet).  The music jumps out of the speakers with an urgency of the newer sounds of Liberty Ellman and Steve Lehman. Tunes such as the album opener "Little Idea" (listen below) and "Sound" have a funky dance/ M-Base Collective feel.

Once you have listened through the album, go back and check out songs such as "Translacion" and "Nocturne".  The former opens with the unaccompanied Hart setting up a three-chord pattern. Bass and drums enter quietly, then guitar, sax, and trumpet. The foppish melody line is a pleasing contrast to the trance-like rhythm section. Jerjen's fine bass intro leads into a heart-felt ballad with the emotionally rich tenor sax and trumpet glide easily over the gentle cymbal and brush work of the drummer and the long, resonant, tones of the vibes.

Photo: Hans Buerkle
Like most albums, the more you listen to Convergence, the more the individual work of the musicians stand out. Veras's excellent guitar work is featured throughout "Ambar" while the rest of the band movie and around him. Turn up the volume for the aptly-titled "Sound" and listen to the excellent interaction of Arbenz and Jerjen. The album closer, "Edificio 17", is a fast-paced, even breath-taking groove with the Vistel brothers working in tandem and also echoing each other on the opening theme. Mikael's mid-range tenor solo feeds off Arbenz's energy. The leader takes a long yet exciting solo in the middle before Jorge Vistel's fine solo, his tone reminiscent of the late Kenny Wheeler, leads the sextet forward to a rousing close.

One hears plenty of promise in the debut recording of Florian Arbenz & Convergence. Each of the musicians involved have developed strong voices and the more they play the leader's music, the more those voices will push the material forward.  As debuts go, this one rocks!

For more information, go to  To hear more of the album plus purchase the recording, go to

In the meantime, here's a taste:

Are you still mourning the passing of pianist McCoy Tyner? Do you miss the sound the pianist's 1970 albums for both Blue Note and Fantasy?  May I draw your attention to "Happy Synapse", the second album on Rainy Day Records by drummer Sasha Mashin. Mashin, a resident of Moscow, Russia, gathered a mighty sextet with fellow native musicians Dmitry Mospan (tenor saxophone) and Mikan Novikov (acoustic bass) plus Rosario Giuliani (alto saxophone, from the Veneto region of Italy), Benito Gonzalez (piano, from Venezuela, now in NYC), and Josh Evans (trumpet, born in Hartford, CT).  Everyone but the bassist and drummer contributed two pieces to the album (which is split into "1" and "2" on Bandcamp, iTunes, and from other suppliers)

The power in this music comes from the leader who drives each tune as if he were driving a race car through the streets of Moscow. The album opens with a drum solo before the pounding piano chords take the sextet into the theme of Giuliani's "The Hidden Voice" –– Mashin pushes the band in the style of Art Blakey and Jeff "Tain" Watts. Gonzalez's solo harnesses that power and blazes forward before Mospan jumps in and flies away. "Incantation", one of the three tracks on the collection that clocks in near or above 13 minutes, opens with a fiery bass solo. When Novikov drops into a circular bass line, the band enters playing Mospan's composition and its echoing voices.  The composer's powerful tenor solo leans more to Coltrane as he piles up phrase-upon-speedy phrase, setting quite a high bar for those who follow. Evans is more than up to the task before Gonzalez enters and rides the powerful waves of sound generated by the rhythm section.

Evans contributes the most Tyner-ish piece, the delightful "Sulieman Saud" that opens disk 2.  The pianist states the opening theme before the reeds and trumpet enter with a fascinating, if a bit dissonant, second theme. Gonzalez produces a tremendously playful solo giving way to solos from Mospan followed by the composer (his most playful spot as well).  The drummer takes a turn supported by the thunderous chords and booming bass.

The album closes with the longest track (13:19), Giuliani's "The Hidden Face of Stars", its rubato opening giving way to a modified Latin and Blues groove. The theme is a call-and -response between the "front line" and the piano. The sextet takes its time working through lengthy melody section but then they move easily into the solos. Evans goes first and creates a fascinating story moving in and around the beat and the insistent and exploratory piano chords. Mashin sounds busy beneath him but he's really stroking the fire as he does throughout the album.

An album as boisterous as "Happy Synapse" deserves to be heard, to be listened to loud, and, in a less panic-stricken, to be heard in person. The only overt political statement about the album is how this American art form, Creative Black Music, stealthily has made inroads into Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, and just about everywhere.  Sasha Mashin and his international sextet play this music with enthusiasm, with joy, and abandon –– enjoy the ride!

For more information, go to To hear more of the album and to purchase the two distinct releases, go to

In the meantime, give a listen:

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Returning and Turning

Photo: Ryan Bennett
Pianist, composer, and arranger Ryan Cohan has returned to the recording scene seven years since his last recording "The River." Not that the Chicago, IL-born-and-raised (and still lives) Cohan has been idle––he's appeared on a slew of recordings plus has been commissioned to write scores for several films, orchestras, and artists.  Cohan, before the pandemic, still played throughout the United States as well as conducting clinics for high school students.  And, he's been composing music for a story that has been gestating for a decade.

The music for 2013's "The River" was inspired by a tour that took Cohan to Africa. The new album, "Originations" (his debut on Origin Records), has its inspiration in Cohan's reunion with his long-estranged father who lives in Jordan.  Even before meeting the paternal side of his family, the pianist felt comfortable walking the streets of the Middle-Eastern country. One can hear that in the music he's created to tell his story. The melodies and rhythms of the music point to that part of the world; his blend of reeds and string, the strident and piercing trumpet, the hand percussion plus the string quartet illuminate his ideas, bringing the experiences to life.

Even though Cohan does not bill "Originations" as a suite, the six-song, 51-minute, program certainly feels like one.  The subtext of the music is the composer's coming terms with his parentage and his background, and how the music bridges the gap between countries in the region, doing so without an overt agenda.  As he has worked with and recorded with most of these musicians in the past (save for the KAIA String Quartet plus percussionists Michael Raynor and Omar Musfi), he knows how to write for their "voices"––listening to the ensemble maneuver through the tricky rhythm patterns on "Imaginary Lines", one can hear their familiarity with the material and Cohan's trust in their ability. The "dancing" piano lines that open "Sabra" may remind some of the music of Third World Love, the quartet featuring trumpeter Avishai Cohen and bassist Omer Avital.  The sensuous strings and bass lines create a flow that is enhanced by the excellent drumming and the use of Geof Bradfield's bass clarinet to shadow the bass lines. The leader's dazzling solo is framed by the hand percussion and the shimmering strings. One can hear the influence of maqam (Arabic melody modes) on this piece (and other songs). The lovely ballad "Heart" is graced by a lovely flugelhorn solo from Tito Carrillo––listen to how the clarinet and bass clarinet, trumpet, and strings move around behind the piano solo.

The final track on the album, "Essence", is also the longest (12:27). The opening 90 seconds spotlight the individual voices of the string quartet––when the full band enters, the music begins a fascinating journey with melodies springing up out of the rhythmical forward motion. A lengthy solo by John Wojciechowski (flute) leads to a drum break, then a restatement of an earlier theme, this time with a few more textures. There is a quick break then Cohan takes off on an wide-ranging and dizzying solo over the bass, trap drums, and hand percussion. One hears Latin beats mixing with Middle-Eastern; as the intensity increases, more voices come to support the percussion until the music comes to an abrupt climax.  Makes you want to go back and listen again.

And you should listen again to "Originations."  Climb onto the rhythms, cling to the melodies, savor the arrangements, and, after a while, you fell that the emotional richness of the music stands out. Over his career, one that spans two+ decades, Ryan Cohan has been known for his great technique on piano. Listening to his three previous albums on Motema plus here on his Origin debut, you can really hears how he's grown as a composer and arranger as well as a storyteller.  

For more information, go to  To purchase the album and read more about the project, go to


Ryan Cohan - piano 
John Wojciechowski - Bb clarinet, flute, alto flute, tenor saxophone 
Geof Bradfield - bass clarinet, soprano saxophone 
Tito Carrillo - trumpet, flugelhorn 
James Cammack - acoustic bass 
Michael Raynor - drums 
Omar Musfi - riqq, frame drum, dumbek

KAIA String Quartet:
Victoria Moreira – violin
Naomi Culp – violin
Amanda Grimm – viola
Hope DeCelle – cello

Guitarist and composer David Gilmore, a native of Cambridge, MA, has been active on the contemporary music scene for over two decades. He's worked with artists such as Robin Eubanks, Mavis Staples, Boz Scaggs, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, Joss Stone, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Wayne Shorter, Don Bryon, and many more. As a leader, he's issued six albums, his latest just out o Criss Cross Jazz.  "From Here To There" was recorded in September of 2018 but, due to label head Gerry Teekens illness and subsequent death in late October 2019, its release was in limbo.

Happily, his son and grandchildren have released the album, Glmore's second for the label, as tribute to Teekens. Gilmore assembled a dynamite ensemble––pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Brad Jones, and drummer E.J. Strickland (the only holdover from his label debut, 2017's "Transitions"––giving them 10 pieces (eight Gilmore originals plus one piece each from Sam Rivers and Bill Evans) and let them loose.  There's tremendous energy in this music, songs being propelled by the top-notch rhythm section.  Jones, who plays both acoustic and electric basses, joins with Strickland and the two of them really drive the music.  You hear it almost immediately on the opening track, "Focus Pocus"––when Perdomo unites with the duo, the results are powerful. They push Gilmore into a thoughtful yet powerful solo. The drummer gets a spotlight in the middle before the pianist heads into a joyous romp.

The quartet kicks up the volume for "Metaverse", with Jones on electric bass while the guitarist and pianist play a melody line that reminds one of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra.  The guitar solo rises out of the melody, trading choruses with the piano, pushing the intensity higher throughout as the two joust and parry. "When and Then" has a funky feel (listen to Strickland and Jones create such a mighty groove) and both Perdomo and Gilmore stretch out. "Free Radicals" breaks out of the gate, cymbals splashing, into a well-constructed melody line. The pace is quite fast but never feels rushed, the solos hard-edged but always melodic. The Evans tune, "Interplay", is a fun blues with a hint of classical influences in the melody line. Jones (on acoustic bass) gets the first solo, his graceful, melodic, side balanced with his powerful phrases stand out. Sam Rivers "Cyclic Episode" (from his 1965 Blue Note Lp "Fuchsia Swing Song") really does swing. Pay attention to Strickland as he accents throughout the solos until he gets to "trade 4s" with Gilmore.

The leader take out his acoustic guitar for the handsome ballad "Child of Time", a piece that balances quiet melodic passages with moments of intensity. Gilmore's articulate lines rise above the rhythm section, his solo displaying great emotion as well as technical dexterity.

"From Here To Here" brings joy for several different reasons.  The music displays leader David Gilmore's continuing maturity as a composer and a player plus he's got one heck of a band supporting, prodding, pushing, and framing his music.  It's great to have Criss Cross Records back and one hopes they'll continue to support the artists and their music!

For more information about the recording, go to  To find out more about David Gilmore, go to