Thursday, January 20, 2022

Tributes & Remembrances with Masterful Interactions

 

One of the great joys of listening to creative music is how many of the artists that came of age in the 1960s and 70s are still with us and are still pushing forward.  OGJB –– Oliver Lake (alto saxophone), Graham Haynes (cornet, electronics), Joe Fonda (acoustic bass), and Barry Altschul (drums, percussion) –– first came together as a quartet in 2015 to do several tours. They recorded "Bamako" in 2016 and it was issued in 2019 on TUM Records. Right after that debut album was issued, the quartet went back into the studio and the results can be heard on "Ode To O", the group's second recording for the Finnish label.

The 10-song program includes three compositions by Altschul, two apiece from Lake and Haynes, one by Fonda, and two collective improvisations.  The drummer's title track is dedicated to Ornette Coleman while "Da Bang" is a tribute to the late violinist Billy Bang. The former piece opens the album in a swinging mode but check out the well-developed melody. Haynes takes the first solo and he dances along with the powerful bass lines and rambunctious drums. The latter track opens with a fine drum soliloquy that dips and swerves, talks and turns, before Fonda drops into a rapid-fire walking bass and the quartet dances forward.  Lake's "Justice" includes a deliberate melody line over the rampaging rhythm section.  The music feels akin to the "protest" music that Charles Mingus created in his powerful songs. Lake and Haynes solo together with the saxophonist squalling while the cornetist shouts back at him. The saxophonist composed "Bass Bottom", another tune with a deliberate melody line but this time it's Fonda funky bass lines and solo over the simple drum pattern that pushes the song forward.

Photo: Enid Farber
The opening moment of Haynes' "The Other Side" feels inspired by Richard Strauss's "Thus Spake Zaruthustra"; it's slow development of the theme gives way to the composer's solo which also includes  his use of electronics to distort the sound of cornet. Fonda's "Me Without Bela" owes its inspiration to the bassist's love of Mr. Bartok's string quartet but when the song moves out into its second half, Fonda drops into a hypnotic and funky rhythm which pushes Altschul and the front line into a fascinating push and pull. The coda of the song is quite engaging and surprising, an abridged version of the opening of the piece.

Check out the two improvisations, especially "OGJB#3" with its playful electronics. Playful is a good word for "Ode To O"; the album is full of playing by four musicians who listen to and inspire each other as well as inspire the listener. Such goos music deserves to be heard both on album and in person.

For more information, go to https://tumrecords.com/058-ode-to-o/. 

Here's the title track:



On the first day of February 2021, three musicians entered Studios Ferber in Paris, France, all three associated at one time in their careers with pianist Cecil Taylor (1929-2018). Drummer Andrew Cyrille spent 11 years (1964-75) with the groundbreaking artist, recording on his two Blue Note albums, his work with and for the Jazz Composers Orchestra, and several other Taylor albums. Bassist William Parker also spent more than a decade as a member of the pianist's ensemble, recording 13 albums from the mid-1980s into the early 1990s.  Flugelhornist and trumpeter Enrico Rava performed as a member of Taylor's Orchestra of Two Continents (1984) and his European Orchestra (1988), recording one album with each band.

The 10-song program opens with "Improvisation No. 1", a burst of energy from the opening moments. For those listeners who only know the 82-year young Rava from his ECM recordings, his flugelhorn work is a joy to hear. He rides the rhythmic waves, playfully tossing out lines yet never overplaying. Meanwhile, Parker creates a throbbing bottom from Cyrille to play around with.  "Ballerina" is the first of two Rava compositions; the title does not prepare one for the rapid-fire rhythms and blazing flugelhorn riffs. Even the unaccompanied cymbal and drums solo burst out with unbridled energy.  Later in the program, Rava's "Overboard" opens with a short flugelhorn spot that resembles the melody of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman".  Parker's powerful bass lines atop Cyrille's rolling drums stands out as well.

Photo: Luciano Rossetti
Cyrille's "Top, Bottle, and What's in the Middle" opens with solo flugelhorn, then bass, and then drums, hence the title. Yet, that's how the tune moves forward, each member of the trio getting a short solo in that order.  The drummer also contributes "Enrava Melody" –– Rava plays the melody in with Parker offering counterpoint until the composer enters to set the pace for the music to jump forward.  

The album also includes two "Blues For Cecil".  "No. 1" is a funky urban blues that Rava gleefully moves through while Parker shows his "gutbucket" side. The trio goes "free" for a moment before Cyrille's martial, drumbeat pushes the bassist out front for yet another powerful solo.  Listen to Cyrille dancing, bobbing and weaving throughout the second half –– such joy!  "No. 2" opens as a ballad with Rava displaying his blues "chops" while the bassist plays such deep low notes.  

Photo: Luciano Rossetti
"2 Blues for Cecil" closes with the program's only standard, Rodgers & Hart's "My Funny Valentine".  Rava caresses the melody while Cyrille moves gracefully around his cymbals and Parker offers gentle support.  The three musicians created this beguiling tribute to Cecil Taylor not by imitating but by playing who they are as musicians and as human being. Mr. Taylor always expected the very best from his ensemble and Andrew Cyrille, William Parker, and Enrico Rava responded during their time working with him.  This delight-filled album is their gift to us!

For more information, go to https://tumrecords.com/059-2-blues-for-cecil/music.

Give a listen:




Born in 1937, Mark Whitecage (alto saxophone, clarinet, Díne flute) lived a jazz life. He started playing while still a boy, his father exposing him to the music and sound of Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Ben Webster, and many other "boppers".  By the time he arrived in New York City in the early 1970s, his approach to music had changed. Whitecage hooked up with multi-instrumentalist Gunter Hampel and they toured constantly spending a lot of time criss-crossing Europe. He led a number of his own bands through the 1980s and 90s recording a number of albums as a leader and sideman for CIMP Records. He joined The Nu Band in 1999, a quartet organized by drummer Lou Grassi and trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr. (featuring bassist Joe Fonda) and was a member up until his passing in March of 2021 at the age of 83.

In January of 2018, The Nu Band performed at the Bop Shop in Rochester, NY. "In Memory of Mark Whitecage" (NotTwo Records) captures 63 minutes of that evening's performance.  After Roy Campbell passed in 2014, the rest of the group asked trumpeter Thomas Heberer to join them and he's been a member ever since.  The exciting seven-song program features songs by each member. The program opens with Whitecage's "Prayer for the Water Protectors"; the composer's Díne flute rolls on unaccompanied for the first two minutes before Grassi's tribal drums and Heberer's growling trumpet move behind him. Fonda's bowed bass lines quietly underpin the music. The saxophonist's "Five O'Clock Follies" opens with a short saxophone intro (opening lines sound a bit like "How are Things in Glocca Morra" from "Finian's Rainbow") and heads right into a rhythm that befits the name of the venue.  Everybody takes a solo, the audience and the band have fun.

The next two cuts are both composed by the trumpeter. "One For Roy" pays tribute to the late trumpeter and co-founder of The Nu Band. The music goes in and out of tempo plus features a great conversation between the alto sax and trumpet.  "The Closer you Are the Further It Gets" is the album's longest piece and it, too, does not adhere to a strict rhythm. Yet, listen to how Fonda and Grassi converse underneath the soloists. They stay quite busy and finally push a rhythm onto the soloists which Whitecage obliterates with his wild duo with Grassi.  

After a pair of Fonda's pieces, the free then rollicking "Christoff and Ornette" and the hard-driving "Minor Madness" (great solos all around), the album closes with Grassi's elegy "Dark Dawn in Aurora".  Opening with a long and powerful solo from Fonda, the band enters on a martial beat and then into strong solos from Heberer and Whitecage (again, he duets with the drummer) before returning back to the theme with the added spice of the trumpeter dancing atop the saxophone melody until the close.

In the liner notes to "In Memory of Mark Whitecage", Joe Fonda writes about his 40-year relationship with the saxophonist first as a young musician soaking up all the stories then as an equal on the bandstand.  Lou Grassi looks back at the 20 years of Whitecage's membership in The Nu Band while Thomas Heberer first met the man as a 24-year old new to America before joining him on the bandstand 25 years later.  The energy, the creativity, the sheer joy of making music even as he entered his 80s, Mark Whitecage made and left his mark on creative music.

For more information, go to http://joefonda.com/the-nu-band.html

Here's The Nu Band and "Five O'Clock Follies":


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Sixteen Strings Attached


Over the past decade+, pianist Fred Hersch has released solo piano records, several duo sessions as well as a number of trio albums plus a 2019 date with the WDR Big Band.  He continues to explore different facets of his instrument as well as different ways to approach his original music. During the first lockdown of the pandemic, Hersch showed up online playing solo piano in his Pennsylvania home but was already writing charts for piano, bass, and drums joined by a string quartet. In August 2021, the pianist, composer, and arranger entered the studio with bassist Drew Gress, drummer Jochen Rueckert, the Crosby Street String QuartetJoyce Hamman and Laura Seaton (violins), Lois Martin (viola), and Jody Redhage (cello) – plus, on one track, percussionist Rogerio Boccato.  The results of their two days recording can be heard on "Breath by Breath" (Palmetto Records).

For this project, Hersch composed "The Sati Suite", an eight-part musical adventure based on the pianist's longtime practice of "insight meditation".  The "Suite" opens with "Begin Again", its handsome melody moving atop a Latin-flavored rhythm reminiscent of the late Chick Corea's love of Spanish music.  The string quartet is part of the piece not just background.  The first one-third of the next track, "Awakened Heart", belongs to the strings; with its handsome melody and counterpoint, the music transitions into the composer's solo piano.  The strings return to play a short coda.  The quartet also gets the opening of the title track to themselves before the drums enter and bassist Gress begins his solo. The piano enters, the strings exit, but Gress continues for another 90 seconds. Hersch takes over the solo spotlight pushed forward by the bass and Rueckert's splendid brushes work. 

Hersch, who has had a number of excellent trios over his career, continues that tradition here.  Gress, who was a member in the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s, is back – Rueckert is new to the ensemble and his gentle touch is perfect for this material. He creates such a fascinating atmosphere on pieces such as "Rising, Falling" as well as joining with Gress to really push "Worldly Winds" (listen below) forward.  

The ninth and final track is "Pastorale (Hommage A Robert Schumann)", an original that the pianist featured on 2011's "Alone At the Vanguard" and on 2019's "Begin Again" with the WDR Big Band. And why not?  It's one of Hersch prettiest pieces with counterpoint from the bass, a playful middle section with pizzicato strings, a powerful section for the piano, strings, and rhythm section leading back to the piano and bass, then solo piano to the finish (with the string quartet on the last note).  

"Breath by Breath" is yet another triumph for Fred Hersch.  With his Trio and the string quartet, one can fall into this music from the the opening notes to the very end. For the avid listener, the reward is that you can go back time and again because these songs are so melodic and the arrangements so intelligent. Enjoy!

Go to www.facebook.com/fredherschmusic/videos/619069642762378 to hear Fred Hersch talk about this album.

Hear "Worldly Winds"



Photo: Steve Splane
Guitarist and composer Dave Stryker is nothing if not prolific.  In the 1990s and early 2000s, he recorded two dozen albums for Steeplechase Records and, since 2014 for his own label. Stryker has performed in jazz groups, blues groups, big bands, and now, his latest album, "As We Are" (Strikezone Records), finds him fronting a jazz quartet and joined by a string quartet.  It's a "dream" ensemble.  The rhythm section features John Patitucci (bass), Brian Blade (drums), and Julian Shore (piano, all arrangements) with violinists Sara Caswell and Monica K Davis plus violist Benni von Gutzeit and cellist Marika Hughes.  

After a short (70 seconds) "Overture" for the string quartet, the band kicks in to Stryker's "Lanes" (six of the nine tracks are composed by the leader, one he co-wrote with Shore, one piece by Shore plus Nick Drake's "River Man"). With the shimmering strings on top, the rhythm section sets a frisky pace and the guitarist plays a delightful solo. Blade steps out for a spotlight that leads into an excellent solo statement from the pianist.  The funky "Hope" has a bouncy feel with the strings moving around the guitarist's melody lines.  Shore, Stryker, and Patitucci each solo and the string quartet  arrangement over the final two minutes is excellent.  Shore is featured on the opening melody of Stryker's "Saudade", a lovely slow Brazilian-inspired piece with deep cello accompaniment from Ms. Hughes in the opening moments.  The guitarist's solo kicks up the energy while the piano spotlight gently rides the waves from the rhythm section and strings. The final minute pays tribute to Tom Jobim with the quiet piano melody above the gentle guitar chords. "As We Were" may be the most mature ballad that Stryker has composed; the richness of the melody, the guitarist's evocation in the last chorus of his solo plus the excellent use of the strings, all make this track stand out on the album

Sara Caswell
The oft-recorded "River Man" is extremely soulful, especially the emotional work of the leader and the generous colors plus harmonies added by the string quartet.  Ms. Caswell steps out in front for a powerful solo that captures many of the qualities composer Nick Drake imbued the song with, particularly the wonder and the solitude.  Stryker builds off that solo: with his ability to infuse much of what he plays with the blues, the song stays at an emotional high throughout.  The violinist is also a featured voice on the final track, the guitarist's "Soul Friend".  This is more of a straight-ahead blues but make sure to listen to how Shore's arrangement utilizes all the strings.  Stryker's long solo over the driving drums is a sheer delight but stick around for Patitucci's bluesy spotlight with the strings adding counterpoint.

Dave Stryker strikes gold again on "As We Are".  He met Julian Shore two decades ago at the Litchfield Jazz Camp in CT when the pianist was a precocious and quickly maturing 14-year old.  The guitarist's memories of those encounters plus listening to Shore's albums convinced Stryker that the now 35-year old musician was the right person to arrange these pieces.  Adding Messrs. Patitucci and Blade to the mix as well as the smashing string quartet makes this recording stand out among new releases.  

For more information, go to www.davestryker.com/wp/.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to  https://davestryker.bandcamp.com/.

Hear "Lanes": 

Friday, January 7, 2022

From the Bass Upwards & Onwards!

Photo: Antonio Porcar Cano
Bassist John Hébert, a native of New Orleans, LA, has made his home in New York City for the past quarter-century-plus.  He's been the foundation in groups led by Andrew Hill, Lee Konitz, Kenny Wheeler, Paul Motian, Tomasz Stanko, John Abercrombie, Fred Hersch, Mary Halvorson, and so many more.  As a leader, he's issued albums on Firehouse 12 Records, Clean Feed, and Sunnyside.  Hébert has co-led a number of ensembles as well as appearing on a slew of albums in the past decade.  He has a great tone, his bowing is superb, and his compositions intelligent.

His third release for Sunnyside Records, "Sounds of Love", was recorded live in Lugano, Switzerland on March 27, 2013.  Hébert leads a most interesting lineup –– pianist Fred Hersch, alto saxophonist Tim Berne, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, and drummer/ percussionist Ches Smith –– in a six-song set that includes four  originals as well as two classics from the pen of the great bassist, Charles Mingus. The longest piece on the program (12:31) is Mingus's "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love" which opens with Hébert in a conversation with Smith. They dance around each other for 90 seconds before the percussionist drops out and the bassist goes on alone for another three minutes. The band, sans Berne, enter with Bynum playing the theme and Hersch harmonizing around him.  The alto saxophonist takes over the theme for several lines before he and Bynum play the theme in harmony.  Hersch steps out for a sparkling solo then Bynum creeps in for a delightful turn, softly twisting his lines around the bass and piano as his cornet moves into and out of the melody.  Berne returns to play the melody while Hersch dances like a sprite beneath him.  

Photo: Western Michigan Univ.
The other Mingus tune, "Remember Rockefeller at Attica",  opens with Bynum squeezing harsh notes out of the cornet with the alto sax in the background.  Smith enters, Bynum exits, there is now even more urgency in the piece as the drummer slowly but steadily builds his solo. Smith pushes the song into the "hard-bop" gear, the rest of the band enters and it's off to the races.  Berne jumps out in front and into a conversation with Hersch and Smith while Hébert keeps the song on track.  Bynum is next, with notes exploding out of the cornet then stepping aside for the piano solo.  If you are used to the more melodic side of Fred Hersch, he can really "get down" when the music calls for it.


This is not to take away from the leader's music. "Constrictor" opens the album with Bynum, his muted cornet shouting at the audience until the rest of the band quietly enters. He keeps rolling while Smith and Hébert scramble beneath him.  Berne enters and the music begins to take shape with a regular pulse. Smith's rollicking drums opens "The Blank-Faced Man" until the bassist's rapid-fire lines actually lowers the intensity. The rest of the band enters as if playing a second prologue untill the bottom falls out for a solemn interaction between alto and bowed bass.  When Hersch reenters, his dream-like reverie plus the overtones coming from the bass lay the foundation for a handsome Gamelan-like melody played by alto sax, cornet, and percussion.

"Sounds of Love" ends with "Frivolocity" – Hersch leads the band with another delightful solo turn before the rhythm takes on a quasi-Caribbean feel.  Playful solos by Smith and Bynum, together and separately, play off the lively stop-start rhythm with a quick turn to a ferocious "walking" tempo. The song goes back and forth rhythmically with a short return to the theme and then out.  

Not sure why this music nearly nine years to an album release but, be that as it may, this is an excellent album.  John Hébert is not only a fine musician but knows how to shape compositions so that they have a personality of their own. It hurts not one bit that his comrades-in-music are also great players and able to move through the music with creativity and wit. 

For more information, go to www.johnhebert.com.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://johnhebertbass.bandcamp.com/album/sounds-of-love

Dig into "Frivolocity":



Photo: Anna Yatskevich
In the midst of Summer 2020, bassist and composer Boris Kozlov went into the studio for Posi-Tone Records producer Marc Free and mixing/mastering engineer Nick O'Toole with pianist/ organist Art Hirahara, drummer Rudy Royston, and vibraphonist Behn Gillece plus guest artist Donny McCaslin (tenor sax, alto flute).  The musicians spent four days recording a slew of songs resulting in albums released in 2021 from the pianist ("Open Sky") and vibraphonist ("Still Doing Our Thing").  Kozlov, who many jazz fans know as a top-notch accompanist on both acoustic and electric bass, now has issued the third album from those sessions –  "First Things First" (Posi-Tone Records) is actually the bassist's first for the label and second as a leader (which amazes this writer as Kozlov has appeared on so many albums). 

McCaslin's "Page One" opens the program. After a sombre piano, bowed bass, and vibraphone entrance, Royston and Kozlov kick the band into high gear with an energy level that rises from the rhythm section up. Gillece's solo, playing off the thick piano chords gleefully rolls forward until Hirahara takes over with his own joyous romp. The leader's finger-snapping solo follows goosed on by Royston's thunderous drums. McCaslin takes the piece out on the original melody. He trades his tenor sax for flute, Kozlov his acoustic for electric bass, for the bassist's "Flow", a lovely ballad sans piano and Royston on hand percussion.  Later in the program, McCaslin returns to the flute with the pianist moving to organ for the leader's "Once a Fog in Brooklyn", a medley of Russian folk tunes Kozlov remembers from his youth. McCaslin returns to tenor for his solo over the pattering drums and burbling organ. The exciting ending has such an uplifting and infectious feel. 

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
There is so much to like on this album. Kozlov's lovely ballad, "Aftermath", with its rippling piano and vibraphone phrases plus emotionally rich tenor sax.  McCaslin's "Second Line Sally" brings the band (minus Gillece) and the listener down to New Orleans.   The burbling organ, popping bass lines, and ever-so-funky drums hearkens back to the music of The Meters while the tenor sax dances out in front. Kozlov's overdubbed electric bass solo is so guitar-like, it's uncanny.  "Warm Sand", with its full piano chords and soft vibraphone, may remind some of Herbie Hancock and Bobby Hutcherson in those artists recordings for Blue Note. Gillece's "Mind Palace" opens quietly with the flute, vibes, and electric bass playing in unison as Royston roils beneath them –– the music goes into a series of fiery stops-and-starts before the tenor sax jumps atop atop the thrashing drums and deep, throbbing, bass lines.  The musical confection is topped by an exciting drum that leads the song to a quick exit.

After listening to "First Things First" several times, a number of thoughts became clear: 1)- what a great ensemble; 2) - how great the music sounds; and 3) - one hopes Boris Kozlov makes albums as good as this one on a regular basis. Dig in and dig this music!

For more information about the bassist, go to https://vpa.syr.edu/people/boris-kozlov/. "First Things First" will be released on 1/21/2022. 

Bassist, composer, and author Gui Divignau, born in France and raised in Brazil, has slowly but steadily making inroads into the US jazz scene.  He first came to North America to study at Berklee College and, upon graduating, headed to Paris and to Portugal before returning to Sāo Paulo to lead his own groups as well as play in others.  He came back to the US to study at New York University where he encountered Drew Gress, Billy Drummond, Billy Drewes, and others plus did private study with Ron Carter.    

Duvignau's American debut album, "3,5,8", was issued last January by Sunnyside Records. The recording, all original pieces, featured saxophonist Drewes, drummer Jeff Hirschfield, pianist Santiago Liebson, and German guitarist Elias Meister.  For his second Sunnyside release, the bassist pays tribute to one of his Brazilian influences, the guitarist and composer Baden Powell (1937-2000).  "Baden" features Drewes, Hirschfield, and Lawrence Fields (piano, Wurlitzer) plus guests Bill Frisell (electric guitar on four tracks), and mentor Ron Carter (bass on one track).  The 12-song program features nine tunes (including one two-song medley) from Powell, four by Duvignau, and a two-song medley for the leader and Mr. Carter (one by the bassist, the other "Asa Branca" composed by Luiz Gonzaga & Humberto Teixeira).  

Photo: Edgar Tavares
The album opens with three songs from Powell and one of his most prolific co-writers, lyricist Vinicius de Moraes (1913-80).  Guitarist Frisell joins the ensemble for lively samba "Canto de Ossanha" and the more somber ballad "Tristeza e Solidāo" – the latter track, sans Drewes and Fields, may remind the work the guitarist has done with Paul Motian. The first original on the program, "Ao Baden", has a delightful melody and sweet interaction between the acoustic piano and bass before Drewes enters on alto sax. Notice also the fine connection between the bassist and the active brushes work of Hirschfield especially beneath the fine piano solo.  

Photo: Baden Powell 1970s
There's a strong hint of the blues and bossa on "O Astronauta" – you can hear it in the bass lines as well as the Stan Getz-like lines of Drewes on tenor sax.  It's a more "down home blues" presence that is quite evident on the two-song medley ("Bluesa Preta/ Asa Branca"), the duet for Maestro Carter and Duvignau. Both musicians have a lovely tone and articulate their notes so well, it's a pleasure to hear them together. A sense of mystery fills the music of "Canto de lemanjá", an ode to the Afro-Brazilan goddess of the sea, also known as Janaína.  The saxophone plays the gentle melody while the bass and Wurlitzer piano offer counterpoint.  Drewes and Fields solo over Hirschfield's steady beat, pushing the piece forward before the musicians return to the gentle opening.  The bassist imitates the one-string berimbau (overdubbing hand percussion) on the first half of the two-song solo medley that pairs the song with the instrument's name with "Consolaçāo",a song named for the central district of Sāo Paulo. The performance is quite beautiful and moving.

The album closes with Duvinau's piece "For Bill & Baden" which opens with a melody influenced by Thelonious Monk and the blues.  Pay attention to Fields piano below Frisell's delightful solo as well as during Drewes exuberant soprano sax spotlight – the pianist rises above the rhythm section for a fine ramble. It's a sweet close to a very pleasurable listening experience.  

Hopefully, Gui Duvignau, with his explorations of the music of Baden Powell, will pique people's interest into checking out the Brazilian genius.  To his credit, Duvignau truly shares the spotlight with his ensemble through the 74-minute program while still showing off how melodic and supp ortive a musician he is.  "Baden" is quite good!!

For more information, go to www.guiduvignau.com.  To purchase this album, which will be issued on 1/21/2022, and others by the bassist, go to https://guiduvignau.bandcamp.com/

Here's the bassist's "Mata Adentro":

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Saxophone Sounds for the New Year!

 

Over the course of 24 albums, tenor saxophonist and composer Rich Halley has created music that takes from various streams within the Jazz tradition and makes it his own.  Just listen to the first minute of "Corroboration", the opening track of his new album, "Boomslang" (Pine Eagle Records) –– the saxophonist engages in a conversation, sans rhythm section, of short phrases with the bright, tart, sounds of Los Angeles, CA-based cornetist Dan Clucas. One expects the music to go in a "free" direction but when bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley enter, the music drops into a jaunty uptempo joyride. Given that it's one of the five pieces (out of nine in the program) that is a group improvisation, the piece is episodic and changes directions several times in the six-minute performance.

The album takes its name from a snake from mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. The snake only bites when backed into a corner and its fangs contain a deadly poison. There's nothing poisonous about Halley's music. "Northern Plains" opens with the younger Halley (Rich's son) playing Native American rhythms on his drum kit that leads to a melody that blends traditional elements of Native American melody with blues.  After a powerful tenor solo over the thunderous drums, the band drops into a rhythm with its roots in the hard bop of Art Blakey.  

Right in the middle of the program is the 12-minute group improvisation "Dispholidus" (also named for a sub-Saharan snake).  The front line really stretches out pushed forward by the urgent rhythms. Bassist Reed takes his own powerful solo, a true solo as he is all alone; when the sax and trumpet step in, he steps out so Halley and Clucas can wrap their phrases around each other.  The rhythm section returns, Halley steps out for another compelling solo which Clucas follows with his own exciting spotlight.

Rich Halley has always been one to create his own trail through the vast landscape of creative music. One should not be surprised by the funky beat throughout the raucous "The Lean" and the fiery tempos pushing "The Converse" into the audio stratosphere.  The energetic music and exciting solos that fill the tracks on "Boomslang" make you sit up and take notice! Kudos to all involved.

For more information, go to www.richhalley.com

Here's the opening track:



Saxophonist (tenor and alto) Nick Hempton, originally from Sydney, Australia, has been in the United States, New York City to be exact, since 2004.  His early albums (he now has issued seven) show a player who loves melody, loves to improvise, and has a round sound one associates with jazzmen from the 1950s and 60s playing in late-night venues. After issuing albums on Posi-Tone Records and SmallsLIVE, Hempton issued "Night Owl" in 2019 on his own label – that album featured Peter Bernstein (guitar), Kyle Koehler (organ) and Fukushi Tainaka (drums) with music that hearkened back to classic Blue Note Records sessions that paired Jimmy Smith with the likes of Lou Donaldson and Stanley Turrentine.

Nearly three years later, Hempton takes the same ensemble into GB's Juke Joint, a recording studio in Long Island City, NYC, and lets them loose on a delightful 10-song program. "Slick" (which may be the saxophonist's nickname) slides down into the nightclub right from the opening notes of the opening track "The Runaround".  Nobody is in a hurry; instead, they all jump on Tainaka's solid shuffle-swing digging into the groove creating solos to point to all participants having a great time.  Six of the tracks are originals with four "standards" sprinkled into the program. The first of those tracks is Mel Torme & Robert Wells "Born To Be Blue" featuring splendid, emotionally rich solos, from the guitarist and saxophonist plus empathetic support from Koehler as well as sweet brush work from Tainaka.  Another standard and ballad, "The Gypsy" (composed by Billy Reid in 1945) is oh-so-sweet with Hempton's tenor showing the influence of Coleman Hawkins throughout his solo and on the coda.  

Photo: Caroline Conejero
Still, this band is built to swing. Pieces such as "Frying With Fergus", "Liars Dice", and "Upstairs Eddie" gives everyone the chance to "blow" supported by the infectious swing of the drums and the organists's excellent bass pedal dancing. Then there's "Short Shrift" with leaps out of the speakers sounding liek the musical equivalent of the band running to catch the last train back to the city.  The performance just might take your breath away yet it is joyous and lots of fun.

"Slick" ends on a sweet note with an uptempo but not fast performance of Allie Wrubel & Herb Magidson's "The Masquerade is Over".  Hempton's alto solo has a bluesy, playful, feel while Bernstein takes off from the melody without ever losing sight of it.  Koehler digs right in cruising atop the easy swing of the drums.  It's the perfect close to a pleasing set of music.  Nick Hempton creates music whose goal is to make you happy, entertain you, and take your mind off of the world outside your door. Nothing wrong with that at all!

For more information, go to https://nickhemptonband.com/

Here's the album opener:


Thursday, December 30, 2021

Canadian Wonderlands

 

Carn Davidson 9, the brainchild of trombonist/ composer William Carn and multi-reed player/ composer Tara Davidson (they are also husband and wife), has been in existence for a decade.  Composed of nine of the busiest musicians and educators in the Toronto, Canada, area, the nonet (see personnel below) features three reeds, four brass, and bass and drums, but no chordal instruments.  The intelligent compositions and arrangements spread the warm sounds of the brass and reeds across the sound spectrum with rich melodies and harmonies that pull in the listener.  Kudos also go to the splendid rhythm section –– bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Ernesto Cervini –– for their great support, enthusiastic as well as musical playing, and sensitivity in propelling the "little big band". 

The nonet's third album, "The History of Us" (Three Pines Records), consists of two three-song suites plus one composition by Carn dedicated to the late Murphy the Cat who is positioned in the middle of the album cover.  The trombonist's "Finding Home Suite" (Pt. 1 – "A New Life") opens the recording in a ballad tempo led in by the flutes and clarinets with the brass and supportive reeds on either side of the sound spectrum.  Kevin Turcotte creates a fine trumpet solo in the middle, reminiscent of the sound and style of the late Kenny Wheeler. The opening brass and reeds fanfare of "A Mother's Song" has the richness of a Bob Brookmeyer arrangement–– as the song progresses, the trumpets open the melody then share it with the reeds and trombones.  The suite closes with "Home" with the baritone saxophone and low tines leading the way to the melody. The emotion of the melody pushes the piece forward to a bluesy and powerful baritone sax solo from Shirantha Beddage that fills the mid-section of the nearly nine-minute piece.  The reeds follow with a repetition of the melody that builds in intensity until a solo trombone line slows the piece down, producing a lovely coda.

As the album title suggests, this is a very "family-centric" program with songs by both co-leaders dedicated to parents (and, yes, the late family cat).  The music is impressionistic but nearly always with a calm center.  On ""Swept Out to Sea (For Dad)", the sweep of the brass and reeds as well as how Kelly Jefferson's tenor sax solo steps out is reminiscent of Maria Schneider's "open sounds" –– the sharp but not harsh brass sounds and the warm reeds blend fill in the musical portrait.

"The History of Us" is a powerful yet mentally soothing program from Carn Davidson 9.  Powerful because the songs and the performances are so heart-felt and soothing because in these uncertain often frightening times, we need "us" more than ever.  To find out more, go to www.threepinesrecords.ca/home/carndavidson9.  To hear, watch, and purchase the album, go to https://carndavidson9.bandcamp.com/album/the-history-of-us

Listen to "A Mother's Song", the second Movement from the "Finding Home Suite":


Personnel:

Tara Davidson – alto & soprano saxophones, clarinet (track 4), flute, piccolo
Kelly Jefferson – tenor & soprano saxophones, clarinet (track 1)
Shirantha Beddage – baritone saxophone & bass clarinet
Jason Logue – trumpet & flugelhorn
Kevin Turcotte - trumpet & flugelhorn
William Carn – trombone & bass trombone (track 4)
Christian Overton – bass trombone
Andrew Downing – acoustic bass
Ernesto Cervini – drums & percussion


Multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, and bandleader Don Macdonald lives in Nelson, British Columbia, Canada (located 410 miles to the east of Vancouver, BC and 387 miles southwest of Calgary, Alberta, Canada) where he teaches in the Contemporary Music and Technology Program of Selkirk College Contemporary Music and Technology Program. His musical life is delightfully eclectic having composed operas, choral works, movie soundtracks, played in jazz and rock bands plus has worked in World Music settings.  


His latest album, "Shifting Sands" (self-released) is a collection of nine original instrumentals with a group of musicians from or based in Canada plus mandolinist Jason Anick from Boston, MA.  Macdonald plays violin throughout (he's also a saxophonist); besides his fine musicianship and that of his colleagues, it's the musical settings he creates that catch the ear. Yes, this is "fusion" music but with a twist in that the melodies and rhythms get in your ears and stay there. Whether it's the jazzy drive of the title tune or the flamenco-inspired drive of "La Tormenta" (great solo from guitarist Mike Rud) or the flowing melody of "Atacama" or the joyous bounce of "Bayou" (a Crescent City hoedown at its best), the music wraps the listener in its creative embrace (leaving your feet free to dance!).

"Shifting Sands" is an apropos title in that every song stands out from the other yet the program never feels forced or slick.  There are moments that remind this listener of the fusion music violinist Jean-Luc Ponty created through his career (also hear Ponty in Macdonald's tone). Need a musical pick-me-up?  Play this new recording Don Macdonald and your mood is sure to turn brighter!

For more information, go to https://donmacdonaldmusic.com/.  To hear more and purchase the album, go to https://donmacdonald.bandcamp.com/album/shifting-sands

Put on those dancing shoes – here's a taste of "Bayou": 



Personnel:

Don Macdonald - violin/composer/producer
Dave Restivo - piano
Mike Rud - guitar
Steven Parish - drums
Rob Fahie and Jill McKenna - upright bass
Jason Anick and Dylan Ferris - mandolin


Israeli-born pianist, composer, and educator Noam Lemish has issued his second solo piano album, "Erlebnisse" (self-released) but his first with all-original music.  Lemish, who is Assistant Professor of Jazz Instruction and Pedagogy in the Music Department of York University in Toronto, came to the United States, specifically to the San Francisco Bay area, to study music with and perform with W.A. Mathieu and percussionist George Marsh. He co-leads a quartet with Israeli oud player Amos Hoffman and they play original tunes as well as songs from their native land.  Lemish is also the co-director of the Israeli-Iranian Musical Initiative, an ensemble based in Toronto that plays music from both countries with musicians that come from that area of the world.   

"Erlebnisse" can mean "deeply felt experiences" (in conversation, the pianist hinted that translation does not totally the convey the power in the word) – in that spirit, the 16 improvisations that make up the program reflect the various life experiences that Lemish has encountered. Dedicated to Mathieu, the pieces range from dramatic to quiet to nearly without form to quiet rumination and more.  There are myriad musical references but mostly, this is the pianist connecting his inner world to the piano keys. What one hears in  this music is Lemish's sense of wonder, his love of exploration, and who he was at the time of and on the day of the recording.  Shed your own expectations, step into the pianist's world, and listen. Be open. Be vulnerable.
Noam Lemish can't hope for more than that.

To find out more about the artist, go to www.noamlemish.com.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to  https://noamlemish.bandcamp.com/album/erlebnisse.  

Here is "Erelbnis 2":

 


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Rest of the Music that Moved, Soothed, Educated, and Inspired in 2021!

Yes, it's a long list but my belief is that the albums I have chosen are all worth listening to, that they speak to our current world situations, that the music can give us strength to more forward.  Will this complete the job for 2021? Lord no, but all of these are albums I received to review and not ones that I purchased.  Do check these out if you haven't already!  Happy & Healthy New Year!!

Amir El Saffar River of Sound – "The Other Shore" (Outnote Music/ Outhere Records) – Trumpeter, santurist (the santur is a dulcimer), vocalist, composer, and arranger ElSaffar formed River of Sound six years ago to continue his explorations into Maqam, jazz forms, and more.  This 17-piece ensemble (plus guests) includes strings, different percussion instruments, guitar, piano, oud, reeds, brass, and the leader's fascinating wordless vocals.  This is music to savor, to get lost in, to marvel at the possibilities, and float away.  


Miguel Zenón & Luis Perdomo – "El Arte Del Bolero" (Miel Music) – This splendid live duo recording finds the alto saxophonist and his long-time quartet pianist playing six Latin "standards", caressing each melody and imbuing each song with emotional solos.  While some might say that this is good "evening" music, these tunes sure sound great early in the morning when the natural world is awakening.  


Artifacts – "...and then there's this" (Astral Spirits) – Artifacts (flutist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid, and drummer Mike Reed), all members of Chicago's AACM, paid tribute to their elders on its 2015 debut from which they took their name. Here, they mostly concentrate on original music. One might be surprised how funky much of this music sounds yet there is depth, interplay, powerful melodies, and a sense of playfulness that transcends genres and generations.  


Matthew Shipp – "Codebreaker" (TAO Forms) – 2021 was yet another amazing year for pianist Shipp but this solo piano session ranks among his best ever.  While one can still hear the fire that characterizes his earlier album, Mr. Shipp has been exhibiting a delightful melodic streak of late. His ability to create music that eschews genres and cliches remains one of the strongest factors in Matthew Shipp's creative world.


Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints – "Other Worlds" (Greenleaf Music)  – The music on "Other Worlds" is a delightful mix of well-developed melodies and sparkling solos with a rhythm section (pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Joey Baron) second to none.  Messrs. Lovano and Douglas say their inspiration for the quintet remains the visionary work of Wayne Shorter. No better choice for a blueprint but the music on this release is even more than that. Also, great music to get lost in!


Jared Schonig – "Two Takes Volumes 1 (Big Band) & Volume 2 (Quintet)" (Anzic Records) – Drummer and composer Schonig, one of the busier players on the NYC scene pre-Pandemic, has released a most impressive debut recording; in fact, two recordings.  The Big Band session features eight original compositions , each one arranged by a different (and fairly famous) resident of the Big Apple. The Quintet album features trumpeter Marquis Hill, alto saxophonist Godwin Louis, pianist Luis Perdomo, and bassist Matt Clohesy –– with the exception of the three "Drum Interludes" and an electronically processed "Introduction..." intro to the opening track, the repertoire is the same as on the Big Band disk.  Both are worth owning with the edge going to the exhilarating Quintet date.


Jihye Lee Orchestra – "Daring Mind" (Motema Music) – Ms. Lee, who had a good career in her native South Korea as a singer-songwriter, came to the United States to study at Berklee College of Music and discovered a new voice as a composer of large ensemble.  Her self-funded debut album, "April" was issued in 2017, receiving praise from many fellow musicians and arrangers. "Daring Mind" is a delightful blend of melodies, harmonies, and rhythms that takes musical influences from her native country, mixes that with a healthy dose of Western influences plus Ms. Lee's natural curiosity and creates new and quite fascinating.

Go to https://jihyemusic.com/

Miho Hazama/ Danish Radio Big Band – "Imaginary Visions" (Edition Records) – In 2019, Ms. Hazama took on a new assignment as Chief Conductor of the Danish Radio Big Band and this album bears the first fruits of that new relationship.  She s following in the footsteps of such notable composers, arrangers, and conductors as Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, and Jim McNeely and if this first album with the DRB is any indication, her tenure should be quite productive and enjoyable for fans of large ensemble music.


Dave Holland – "Another Land" (Edition Records) – Master bassist Holland is in the midst of a long and amazing career. This album, which features guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire, roars, whispers, and rushes forward in a glorious blend of sounds. The opening cut, "Grave Walker", is the funkiest music the bassist has created since his days with Miles Davis's "electric" ensemble.  And the title track is a lovely reminder that guitarist Eubanks can draw one in on the strength of his melodies and improvisations.  I can listen to this music all day and revel in its creativity and joy!


Sam Pilnick's Nonet Project – "The Adler Suite" (OutsideIn Music) – Composer, arranger, saxophonist, educator, and bandleader Pilnick looked to the stars for inspiration as he write the material for his Nonet Project.  Based in Chicago, he spent a number of days composing while visiting the Adler Planetarium and the results are an expansive set of compositions for his little Big Band.  The repertoire display Pilnick's wonder and curiosity and, hopefully, is the beginning of a long, productive, career creating music that transports the listener beyond the mundane.


Tim Hagans & the NDR Big Band – "A Conversation" (Waiting Moon Records) – Like the Amir ElSaffar album listed above, the music on composer, arranger, and trumpeter Tim Hagan's new recording takes its time to unfold. The liner notes tell the reader that the arranger broke the Big Band into a number of different "chat rooms" (my words, not Hagan's) so that the various instrumentalists in each would react and respond to each other. It's a fascinating concept that takes the listener a while to grasp; meanwhile, the intelligent melodies and smashing arrangements draws one in to the music.  


Remy Le Bouef's Assembly of Shadows – "Architecture of Storms" (Soundspore Records) – The second large ensemble album from composer, arranger, and alto saxophonist Remy Le Bouef features nine tracks recorded before the pandemic in 2019 and three recorded in Spring 2021. The composer's splendid ear for melodies and smart harmonies that one heard on 2019's "Assembly of Shadows" album are here as well as is his intelligent arrangements plus sense of rhythmic drive.  This time around, the leader solos on five of the nine tracks and it's a distinct to hear his alto soaring about the ensemble.  


Last but not least....

Roy Hargrove & Mulgrew Miller – "In Harmony" (Resonance Records) – Resonance Records is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Producer and coordinator Zev Feldman scouts the world to find live recordings that are either long out-of-print, concerts recorded for radio, and connoisseur recordings committed to tape by zealous fans.  This splendid two-CD set reminds us how great both these musicians were, how the music created through their sadly short lives was so vital, and how sorely many of us miss them. As always, the liner notes are thorough and entertaining, the sound quality excellent, and the music a pure delight!