Thursday, July 2, 2015

Playing Catch(up)

New releases continue to cross my desk and so many are worth writing about. All too often, I find recordings that got pushed aside; now's the time to bring them front-and-center.

"Inside Voices" (self-released) is the 4th recording from Kenosha Kid, the Athens, GA-based ensemble led by guitarist and composer Dan Nettles.  Actually, it's the 4th studio album by the band - go to where there are a slew of live recordings featuring various lineups. Some of the more recent ones feature the material heard on "Inside Voices" often in lengthier versions.  Besides the guitarist, the rhythm section features Robby Handley (bass) and Marlon Patton (drums) plus the "Horns From Hell" trio Nettles encountered at the Banff Centre for the Arts -  Jacob Wick (trumpet), Peter Van Huffel (alto saxophone) and Greg Sinibaldi (tenor and baritone saxophones).

The album is an atmospheric blend of Americana, improvisations, smoky ballads and crunchy guitar.  Opening with the somber ballad "Vanishing Point", Nettles the composer/arranger makes sure one hears the melody which is bathed in the warmth of trumpet, alto and baritone saxes. Handley and Patton create a solid foundation (as they on all 7 tracks) while the leader builds a forceful solo. "Liberty Bell" opens as a "country' ballad yet Nettles' smart chord choices and sustained guitar notes over plucked bass and quiet drums set a blues-drenched mood. The horn arrangements and poignant melody hearken back to the early recordings of The Band.  "Mushmouth" has a James Brown-feel in the horn writing, a slippery melody line and a driving rhythm while "Zombie Party" blends odd noises (in the opening seconds), a pronounced "rock" beat, and a catchy melody to grab your attention.  On the latter track, the short solos from the horns are wonderfully askew while the guitar sounds reaches back to The Ventures. "Everyone I Know" closes the program in a raucous blend of roiling horns and crackling guitar, held together by Patton's solid drumming.

It's quite informative and engrossing to compare the various live versions of the songs heard on "Inside Voices" to hear how Dan Nettles shaped the arrangements and crafted the recorded versions. The album has great focus and sounds substantial; as a listener who likes electric guitar, I really enjoy Nettles' approach to this music, his role in the ensemble and his various 6-string sounds.  Kenosha Kid - the name comes from Thomas Pynchon's 1973 novel "Gravity's Rainbow" - is certainly worth discovering.  To find out more, go to

Take a listen to "Liberty Bell":

For his second album as a leader, drummer and composer Reggie Quinerly brings a sparkling quintet into the studio to interpret his various stories.  His fine debut, "Freedmantown", paid tribute to his  roots in Houston, Texas. The new recording, "Invictus" (Redefinition Music), takes its name from the 1888 William Ernest Henley poem (read it here), an ode to perseverance that ends with the couplet "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul." The music, 10 originals and a bluesy rendition of "My Blue Heaven", features a different ensemble from the debut including Warren Wolf (vibraphone), New Haven CT-native Christian Sands (piano, Rhodes), Yotam Silberstein (guitar) and coproducer Alan Hampton (bass).

From the outset, the emphasis is on melody and interplay. The blend of vibes and piano plus Silberstein's Wes Montgomery-style chording gives "Tavares" (named for and dedicated to Norwalk CT-native Horace Silver - it's one of his middle names) its unique sound while the rhythm section strolls pleasantly beneath. Throughout the program, Quinerly makes sure the listener understands this is a group effort. One can hear the strong influence on the medium tempo swing and piano chords of "My Blue Heaven." The tune swings with ease and grace atop the insistent drums and bouncing bass lines. "The Child of the 808" (named for a drum machine featured prominently in soul music in the 1980s and 90s) features the drummer creating acoustically the feel of a drum loop while Hampton plays a funky bass pattern.  One can imagine the voice of Gretchen Parlato on a piece like this. Quinerly composed "Kunst Überlebt" as a solo piano work and Sands shines on this emotionally rich ballad. Another sparkling ballad is "Variation 24" which features more fine work from the pianist, from Wolf, the exquisitely quiet rhythm section and a lovely guitar solo. Quinerly's active dancing brush work enlivens "The Star, The Crescent and the Police Captain"; the rhythm has a Brazilian feel and the pianist, on Rhodes, plays with great joy. The bluesy strut of "Lester Grant" (dedicated to one of the leader's drum teachers in Houston) has a great groove and a sprightly melody with lively solos from Silberstein and Sands plus fine interplay between them and Wolf's vibes.

"Invictus" is a gentle celebration from beginning to end. The music does not roar; instead these songs have a gracefulness and dancing quality that is quite appealing plus the ballads are heartfelt and devoid of cliche. Reggie Quinerly and his talented cohorts celebrate a number of the enduring qualities of Black American music, including interplay, love of melody, swing, and telling cogent stories.  Give this music a close listen - it's well worth it.  For more information, go to

Here's the delightful tribute to the late Mr. Silver:

Consider the trumpet. At first glance, it's all brass and valves with a history that dates back to the Old Testament and is often confused with the shofar (or, ram's horn). Yet, the 2 distinct instruments share a common usage, to wake up the congregation at times of prayers.

In the right hands, the trumpet can create quite a joyful noise. Louis Armstrong remains one of the most recognizable trumpeters in American music but, over the decades, there have been so many that left or continue to leave their mark, more than this is space here to mention. It's an instrument that lends itself to all styles and genres of classical and modern music

Thomas Bergeron (pictured left) is conversant in the many languages of his chosen horn. He has worked with symphony orchestras, with folk singers (most notably, Judy Collins and Arlo Guthrie), r'n'b artists (The Temptations), rock bands (Vampire Bands) and jazz artists (Ernie Watts, Jon Irabagon).  His debut album, "The First of All My Dreams" (issued in 2011 on Daywood Drive Records) was a quintet session based on the piano music of Claude Debussy. For his new CD, "Sacred Feast" (self-released) Bergeron convened a first-rate sextet of collaborators including the classy rhythm section of Stomu Takeishi (drums, percussion) and Michael Bates (acoustic bass). On his front line, the trumpeter (who also plays flugelhorn on several tracks) utilizes the elegant cello of Hannah Collins, the active guitar of Jason Ennis, and the atmospheric accordion/piano of Vitor Gonçalves.  Add to that eclectic mix the expressive voice of Becca Stevens and the music truly is a feast.

For this program, Bergeron turns his attention to the music of Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992, pictured left), the French composer whose body of work, like his years on this planet, covered a great swath of territory. He may be most famous for his composition "Quatour pour la Fins du Temp" ("Quartet for the End of Time") mostly composed and certainly premiered when Messiaen was a prisoner in Stalag VIIIA camp in Gôrlitz, Germany in 1941. He was captured in 1940 while serving as a nurse. He was released in 1942 and went back to Paris.He was greatly influenced by bird songs, eventually composing a group of pieces from his studies including "Catalogue d'oiseaux" ("Bird Songs"), 7 books of songs based on many different birds.

Bergeron's recording commences with "Part 1" of the title composition, a adaptation of Messiaen's choral piece "O, Sacrum Convivium" ("O, Blessed Sacrament").  The piece is arranged for guitar, accordion and trumpet. The austere melody is surrounded by the breathy accordion and long sustained notes from the electric guitar.  The other 2 "Parts" are placed at the middle and end of the program and are different section of the original pieces. For "Part 2", Bergeron employs a "looping" system that spreads his trumpet lines across the sound spectrum as well as weaving around the accordion and guitar. Ms. Stevens' voice blends well into pieces such as "Pourquoi?" and "Vocalise" - on the former track, she lends a somber touch to the song while Ennis, Gonçalves, and Takeshi move freely around her and Bergeron adds cogent counterpoint. The first voice one hears on the latter track is the accordion as he sets an autumnal mood But, when the voice and acoustic guitar enter, followed by the bowed bass, percussion and cello, the piece picks up in intensity and the melody swells and ebbs, as if breathing with the musicians. The setting for "Le Sourire" ("The Smile"), a handsome ballad, makes it seem as if the singer is remembering a smile instead of returning or initiating one herself. The articulated trumpet notes mesh well with Ms. Stevens' delicate voice.

"Rondeau" leaps out on the strength of Takeishi's active percussion. The piano solo is a joyful romp over the rhythm section, with Bate's bass offering as much propulsion as the drums.  Oddly enough (considering the title), "The Lost Bride" ("La Fiancée Perdue") also is one of the brighter songs. Again the rhythm section leads the way with the accordion offering a rhythmical counterpoint to the bass as well as the rippling guitar phrases. The blend of formality and animated rhythms make "To Fabricate Unknownness" quite an attractive piece. Again,the pianist offers a sparkling solo plus Takeishi gets a spotlight of his own. His playful spotlight actually takes the tune to its rapid-fire close.

Some listeners may listen to "Sacred Feast" and be reminded of Dave Douglas's "Charms of the Night Sky" quartet with accordionist Guy Klucevsek or John Hollenbeck's eclectic Claudia Quintet. Sonically, there are similarities yet Thomas Bergeron frees up the rhythm section (to be fair, the Douglas recordings with his group have no drummer), adds the fine vocals of Ms. Stevens (who shines brightly here), and this music goes in its own entertaining direction.  The trumpeter's clear tones and intelligent arrangements stand out as does this excellent recording.

For more information, go to

Give a listen to "Pourquoi?"

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Independent Music Makers Live and On Record

Independence Day 2015 is upon us and what better way to celebrate  than to honor America's contribution to the world of music, jazz.  The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme brings in 2 masterful pianists leading 2 fine Trios.  Friday evening, Johnny O'Neal continues his comeback, recovering from a long and successful battle with H.I.V.  The pianist/vocalist, who hails from great music town of Detroit, MI, made his debut in New York City in the early 1980s, playing in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Milt Jackson's group and with Clark Terry.  After being attacked in New York City, O'Neal moved out, spending many years on the road. In the midst of his illness, he played the role of Art Tatum in the biopic "Ray" (2004), a role he was well-suited for as O'Neal is a master at  the keys.

He has returned to live and perform in NYC. As you can see by the photo above, Johnny O'Neal also is a vocalist and a fine one at that. He's bringing bassist Luke Sellick and drummer Charles Goold (son of tenor saxophonist Ned Goold) along for the ride.  Expect to knocked by the Trio's virtuosity and Mr O'Neal's warm personality.

Here's a track from his 2014 "Live at Smalls":

photo by Emra Islek
On Saturday night, the fireworks will be coming out of the piano when the Aaron Goldberg Trio comes to The Side Door. Mr. Goldberg has a great career as both a sideman and a leader, working with the likes of Joshua Redman, Freddie Hubbard and Nicolas Payton while releasing 5 CDs as a leader.  His latest disk, "The Now", was issued this past January on Sunnyside Records and features the pianist/composer with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer exraordinaire Eric Harland.  Goldberg is such a fine melodic player but also has an adventurous side.

For the gig in Old Lyme, the rhythm section includes bassist Matt Penman (SF Jazz Collective, James Farm) and drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr (son of guitarist Mark Whitfield). Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the Trio takes the stage at 8:30.  For ticket information and reservations, go to or call 860-434-0886.  To learn more about Aaron Goldberg, go to

Here's a track from the new CD:

Bassist Joe Fonda will be at The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown on Friday July 3rd, serving as the rhythm section for The Nu Band, a quartet that also features alto saxophonist Mark Whitecage, trumpeter Charles Heberer, and special guest Erhard Hirt (guitar). The ensemble, formed in 1999 by Whitecage and drummer Lou Grassi, uses composition as a springboard for interactive collaborations and solos.

For this performance, there is no drummer listed so the music should have more of a chamber feel. However, if you know Joe Fonda, he can lay down some pretty serious rhythms. To find out out more about Nu, go to For more information about the gig, go to One caveat - The City of Middletown Fireworks Festival takes place on the evening of July 3, so build in extra time to get to the venue.

Over his career, which now hands nearly 3 decades, trumpeter, composer and conceptualist Dave Douglas has not been averse to taking risks. He has recorded in trio, quartet and quintet settings, worked with strings, with a brass quartet plus drums, interpreted the music of Joni Mitchell, Mary Lou Williams and Wayne Shorter as well as gospel and Americana, plus built of body of compositions whose quality rivals that of any composer in the creative music idiom.

He's recorded with electronic instruments before (for example, 2003's "Freak In") and taken political stands (2001's "Witness").  For his new CD, "High Risk" (Greeneaf Records), he matches his angular trumpet work and thoughtful compositions with the exciting rhythm section of Mark Guiliana (drums, electronics drums) and Jonathan Maron (electric bass, synth bass) plus adds the electronic manipulations of DJ Shigeto (aka Mark Saginaw) to create a most fascinating program.  The album is "dedicated to the entire community of people working towards global climate action" and the final track, "Cardinals", was "written in the wake of the events in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014."

From the outset, the music gets and keeps one's attention, with the sparkling work of Giuliana and deep notes from Maron (Groove Collective, Josh Roseman, Maxwell) pushing the music forward.  The somber trumpet melody of "Molten Sunset" is colored by the bubbling synth figures surrounding it and the amazing snare work below.  The bluesy funk of "Etiquette" sound like the backdrop of a Tom Waits piece but Douglas's trumpet leans more towards the funky side.  The title track is an atmospheric ballad with Maron's thick tones shadowing the trumpet melody - listen to the bass counterpoint and the percussion attack during the leader's driving solo. The afore-mentioned "Cardinals" opens with throbbing percussion, moaning synths and a lively bass melody. The trumpet enters, playing a elegiac melody.  The pace stays steady even as the snare drum enters and then departs.  Douglas stays in an introspective mode throughout and, with the wash of synths around him, the music has the air of a moist summer's night moving into a cloud-streaked morning sky.

"High Risk" is powerful music, especially in the light of its dedication and inspiration.  Dave Douglas and his cohorts do not play it safe and one imagines this music opens up even more in live performances. Music continues to address political and social issues(as artists have for centuries) and that helps to give this album extra depth.  For more information, go to

Here's the opening track from "High Risk":

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Live in Old Lyme + A Bassist's Journey

Okay, so I'm a bit crazy when it comes to drummer Rudy Royston.  He's one of those players who plays with great fire but rarely does he upstage the leader.  He's been working and recording with tenor saxophonist J D Allen since 2008's "I Am I Am" (Sunnyside Records) and, along with bassist Gregg August, they are a formidable saxophone trio. Allen released 3 CDs of original material with the rhythm section between 2008 - 2012 and then organized a brand-new new ensemble - a quartet featuring Hartford natives Dezron Douglas on bass (for the 2013 sessions) and  Jonathan Barber on drums - that recorded his 2013 and 2014 Savant releases, "Grace" and "Bloom".

The Trio is now back together and they are coming to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme this Friday evening. They are celebrating the recent release (May 19) of their 4th adventure together.  "Graffiti" (Savant - you can access the title track below) is an excellent CD, 9 Allen originals that explore the blues and modern jazz roots in his music.  The influence of John Coltrane is noticeable throughout but especially on the album's opening track, "Naked",  a raucous duet for tenor sax and drums. August is no slouch - his bluesy phrases on "Sonny Boy" echo the work of Charles Mingus while the leader romps through the piece.

Mr Allen, Mr August and Mr Royston will take the stage at 8:30 p.m. (the doors open an hour earlier) and, rest assured, they will take the stage.  Many people believe the best creative music is interactive and the J D Allen trio plays together with great energy and gusto. Best call 860-434-0886 for reservations (I know this is late notice but do it anyway.)

J D Allen, amazingly, does not have a website but you can get information and find out where else the Trio is playing by going to !!!!(Author's Note: Jan from The Side Door set me straight - the saxophonist does have a website.  Go to!!!!

Here's the title track from the new CD:

NY Times
On Saturday evening, Jan and Ken welcome back trumpeter and composer Jeremy Pelt to The Side Door. This time, the former Hartt School Professor brings his acoustic ensemble, 4/5ths of whom appear on his 2015 HighNote CD "Tales, Musings, and Other Reveries".  Besides Pelt, the group coming to Old Lyme includes New Haven native Ben Allison (bass), veteran drummer Victor Lewis and the fine young Italian-born pianist Simona Premazzi (drummer Billy Drummond was the other musician featured on the CD).

The new recording is mighty impressive, filled with strong melodies, excellent improvisations and interactions, and exciting solos.  Pelt is a generous leader, not hogging the solo spotlight. The program features 5 original pieces plus reworkings of Clifford Jordan's "Glass Bead Games", Wayne Shorter's "Vonetta" and Jimmy Van Heusen's sweet ballad "I Only Miss Her When I Think of Her".

The Quartet plays its first note at 8:30 p.m. For more information and reservations, go to or call 860-434-0886.

To find out more about Jeremy Pelt, go to

Here's a piece from the new recording:

Bassist and composer Petros Klampanis is a native of Greece (from the island of Zakynthos in the Ionian Sea) - he came to the United States in 2008 to study at the Aaron Copland School of Music in New York City.  He stayed and has been working fairly steadily ever since. One of the musicians he worked with was saxophonist Greg Osby who quickly signed the bassist to his Inner Circle Music label.  In 2011, his debut CD "Contextual" showed him to be a fine bassist, a quickly-maturing composer and creative arranger.  His duo with vocalist Gretchen Parlato on Paul McCartney's "Blackbird" is quite delightful.

His new Inner Circle recording, "Minor Disputes", features Jean-Michel Pilc (piano), Gilad Hekselman (guitar), and John Hadfield (drums, percussion) plus percussionist Bodek Janke, a string quartet, and Max ZT who plays the Persian hammered dulcimer known as the santuri.  The music covers a lot of territory; the title track, for instance, opens the program as a quiet ballad with lovely piano and guitar work (with the strings swirling around them ,then drops into an infectious rhythmical treat. "March of the Sad Ones" has a bluesy edge, with strong work from Hekselman, an excellent string arrangement, whisper-soft percussion and melodic bass phrases. "Ferry Frenzy" is the East River version of "Parisian Thoroughfare", the speedy melody lines stopping for strong to get on board before pitching forward. The final track, "Thalassaki", uses a traditional Greek melody as its basis. Once again, the guitarist contributes a forceful solo (with a sound that resembles a bouzouki) over a subdued yet propulsive rhythm section. Here, as he does throughout the program, Klampanis creates a string arrangement that is more than mere decoration but an intrinsic part of the song.

Petros Klampanis is not only an exceptional bassist (his tone is rich without being cloying) but also on his way to becoming an impressive arranger.  The music on "Minor Disputes" has moments of great beauty and musicality, a journey home to the composer's roots but also a glimpse into his odyssey.  For more information, go to

Here's an alternate arrangement of "Thalassaki" (without the string quartet):

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Music for Healing

After hearing about the murderous attack in Charleston, South Carolina, in a house of worship, one that has served as a refuge (and much more) for the African American community of that area, music was the last thing on my mind for the past few days. Anger, sadness, disbelief, sorrow, and fear crowded out any other thoughts. As a teenager and young adult, I lived through the Vietnam era, through the Civil Rights movement, through the riots after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and more; I have seen the destruction we Americans can do to each other. And I have seen the good we can do as well, how we rush to help in times of crisis.

As someone who listens to music everyday for pleasure or work or teaching, there are certain pieces I turn to in times of sorrow. Works such as J.S. Bach's "Suites for Solo Cello", Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue", John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme", Maria Schneider's "Sky Blue" (especially the title track), certain solo piano pieces from Keith Jarrett, Erik Satie, and Ludwig van Beethoven, all these (and a several others) can help calm me down and raise my spirits.  Many of you would have chosen differently and some might avoid music altogether in hard times.

And, now there is a new recording to add to my list.

 "The Subliminal and The Sublime" (Inner Arts Initiative) is the second recording from vibraphonist and composer Chris Dingman.  Dingman, a graduate of Wesleyan University and the Monk Institute at the University of Southern California, has worked and/or recorded with saxophonist Steve Lehman, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, drummer/percussionist Harris Eisenstadt, and pianist Noah Baerman. His self-released debut CD, "Waking Dreams", came out in 2011 to great critical acclaim.

The major influence on his new album is nature and the composer's continuing study of how we, as humans and creative people, learn from nature and from its role in our everyday lives. The 5-part suite is often meditative and reflective; one would be wise to listen to the music in one sitting.  Not because the pieces don't "work" on their own but for how they flow into each other.  His cohorts on the recording include Fabian Almazan (piano), Loren Stillman (alto saxophone), Ryan Ferreira (guitar), Linda Oh (bass) and Justin Brown (drums). For them (and himself), Dingman has created music that illuminates their individual abilities and, especially, how well they work together as a unit.  While there are solos throughout the program, the suite is often about interlocking melodies, about quiet themes that take a good while to unwind.  The opening track, "Tectonic Plates", starts with sustained notes from the vibes, slowly adds guitar until the saxophone rises out of the center of the piece, surrounded by bowed bass, until the sustained notes drop away and a new melodic leads to the second track "Voices of the Ancient." The multi-sectioned piece moves in several fascinating directions, including a section where the piano and vibes solo together over a driving rhythm section.

Don't concentrate on or wait for the solos. Instead, pay attention to the intelligent arrangements of the instrumental voices. This music, more than anything, asks you to ruminate, to ponder, to take time to drop your expectations and follow the streams of music.  These pieces flow like the artwork of Shoko Tagaya that adorns the cover, the sounds undulating, coursing like the blood through our bodies, like the eddies at the mouth of a river or stream, like clouds drifting through an early morning sky. "The Subliminal and The Sublime" will lift your spirits, challenging yet reassuring, pulling you in and putting you under its spell. Give this piece a chance.

For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:

I always ask my students if music can "change the world."  Many answer in the affirmative, others are not so sure. I would like to believe the former and fear that it is the latter.  But music can and has changed my "world", changed it for the better.

If you wish to donate to the funds set up for the families of the victims shot inside Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, go to

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Side Door Welcomes 2 Groups of 3

Yet another great weekend for piano trio lovers awaits at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme. On Friday evening June 17, the red-headed Benny Green brings his Trio - bassist David Wong and drummer Rodney Green (no relation) - to the stage to play 2 sets of fine contemporary jazz.  It's hard to believe looking at the ever-young looking Green that 1) - he is 52 years old and 2) - he's been on the scene touring and recording since the late 1980s. Over the years, he's worked with such jazz legends as Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Freddie Hubbard, and Ray Brown. Listening to him play, he has absorbed his influences, playing free and easy with a penchant for swinging mightily.

His latest  CD, "Live In Santa Cruz!" (Sunnyside Records) is his 14th as a leader or co-leader and features Wong plus drummer Kenny Washington. It's an exciting program (the pianist loves to play and play quickly) of all-originals, recorded live,  that shows the influences of Bud Powell, Marcus Miller, Phineas Newborn Jr. and others. That written, Green is his own man, committed to making his music in his own way. Pieces such as "Golden Flamingo" show a bluesy side whereas "Anna's Blues" is so joyful that the blues melt away. "Sonny Clark" is a tribute to an underusing hero of hard bop taken at a knuckle-busting tempo.  Another is the rapid-fire "Bish Bash", which sounds like a variation of "Flight of the Bumblebee." Washington's sprightly drumming leads the way into "Phoebe's Samba", a tune that dances outrageously out of the speakers (and has a melody line reminiscent of Steely Dan's "Don't Take Me Alive").  Green plays with such abandon on this and most of the other 8 tracks. For more information, go to

One should expect the Benny Green Trio will play with the same fire when they hit the stage at 8:30 p.m. on Friday.  You should expect that they will!

Here's a taste of the Trio's new recording to whet your appetite:

On Saturday, pianist/composer Luis Perdomo, often seen and heard sitting in the piano chair of the Miguel Zenon Quartet and the Ravi Coltrane Quartet, leads a new trio into The Side Door, an ensemble he calls the Controlling Ear Unit.  Consisting of the dynamic and always exciting drummer Rudy Royston and bassist Mimi Jones (who played the club last Saturday with her own quartet, the trio creates music that has its roots in Perdomo's childhood in Venezuela plus the music and musicians he encountered upon arriving in New York City to study at the Manhattan School of Music. (AUTHOR'S NOTE - the inimitable Mr. Royston had to step down so his chair is being filled by the equally dynamic snd exciting Henry Cole, the drummer in the Zenon Quartet.)

Perdomo & the CEU are celebrating the release of their new CD, "Twenty-Two" (Hot Tone Music) - the title of his 7th CD as a leader relates to how many years the pianist has lived in New York and is also half his age (at the time of the recording in December 2014).  Perdomo plays electric piano on 5 of the 12 tracks and Ms. Jones contributes a wordless vocal that is unison with her bass and the piano on "Aaychdee" - if you've heard her 2014 Hot Tone release "Balance", you know that she has a lovely voice and formidable "chops" on her instrument. Throughout the recording, the piano and bass work together well (no surprise, they are husband and wife!), with the pianist's left hand often playing the same lines on the thematic material.  "Two Sides of A Goodbye", a "freer" piece, opens that way; with Royston quietly moving around his kit, Perdomo and Ms. Jones play in and around each other's phrases. On "Old City", the bassist opens the piece with her thick tone setting the pace, a tempo that the drummer expands upon, creating a thunderstorm of percussion beneath the rolling piano lines.  Royston solos later in the piece, his poly-rhythmical attack erupting out of the speakers.   The bass-drum intro to "Cota Mil" is incredibly funky, setting the stage for the electric piano's entrance.  The song has a "push-pull" tension between the rhythm section and pianist, getting more exciting as the solo unwinds. The trio build to a fiery climax, leading to a soft bass solo that calms her bandmates until the theme returns in a blazing coda.

The interaction of electric and acoustic piano on "Brand New Grays" is impressive (it's overdubbed but sounds fresh and alive). The piece romps along, the pianist trading lines with himself until he and Ms. Jones step aside for an incredible drum solo! Rudy Royston makes one sit up and take notice, rattling the speakers in the car or on the wall.

Of the 12 tracks, only "How Deep Is Your Love" (yes, the Bee Gees tune) is not a Perdomo original. Yet, he brings the same kind of multi-genre approach to that track as he does on most of the cuts, with changing tempos, flowing lines and touches of Latin and Classical styles in the arrangement.

"Twenty-Two" is a splendid album with its spotlight on 3 excellent musicians who give their all, a rhythm section that is responsive and creative, and a composer/pianist whose songs are a kaleidoscope of his musical influences and explorations.  Luis Perdomo & Controlling Ear Unit not only "controls" your mind but also makes you want to move, to dance and to smile.  For more information, go to

If you're lucky enough to be in Connecticut this weekend, The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme opens its doors at 7:30 p.m. with the first set at 8:30 on both nights.  For more information, go to or call 860-434-0886.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Large Ensembles 2015 (Part 3)

Composer, arranger, and conductor Ayn Inserto, born and raised in Singapore, moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at the age of 14. She got involved with music in both church and high school, discovering jazz along the way.  After several years in colleges on the West Coast, she transferred to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and, most notably, studied with Bob Brookmeyer and George Garzone.

"Home Away From Home" (Neuklang Records) is her 3rd recording, her first since 2009's "Muse" and also her first with an ensemble other than her own Orchestra.  This time around, she's working with the Colours Jazz Orchestra, the brainchild of trombonist Massimo Morganti (whom the composer met at NEC).  He invited her to Italy where she met his ensemble (in existence since 2002) and she knew she wanted ti work with them. Ms. Inserto composed 5 of the 7 tracks, including a smart rearrangement of Joe Henderson's "Recorda Me" and the splendid closer "Subo", a mambo from the pen of Boston-based trumpeter Dan Rosenthal (a member of Ms. Inserto's Jazz Orchestra).  One cannot help but hear the influence of Mr. Brookmeyer on the playful opening track, "You're Leaving? But I Just Got Here" with swirling interlocking solos and the long chords in the background, all taking place over a rousing beat. It's also evident in the lovely ballad "La Danza Infinita" in the way the various sections move in an out of the mix plus how Morganti's trombone solo does not occur until halfway through the piece, growing logically from what came before.  The slinky, soulful, "Down A Rabbit Hole" opens with a frantic brass and reeds scramble before dropping into a funky rhythm - the song also includes a blazing hot tenor solo from Fillippo Sebastianelli. Watch out for the really funky (think Average White Band funky) "Hang Around", driven by the "fatback" drumming of Massimo Manzi - he even gets a short high-energy solo near the close of the track.

"Home Away From Home" is a welcome addition to the discography of Ayn Inserto. Her compositions continues to mature and her arrangements have a sparkle that make them stand out from many of her contemporaries. Another impressive aspect of this music is how the emotional content comes through, even though the Colours Jazz Orchestra is not her main vehicle. The composer, who also serves as the conductor here, is able to get musicians who are not as familiar with her as the ones she has worked with for the past decade, to illuminate her intentions and emotions.

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Trombonist/composer John Yao, born and raised in Illinois, did his undergraduate work at Indiana University then earned a Master's Degree in Jazz Performance from the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College in New York City. He has worked with a slew of artists ranging from the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Arturo O'Farrill's Latin Jazz Orchestra, The Glenn Miller Orchestra and is a member of the salsa band, Chino Nunez and Friends.  

His debut CD as a leader was "In the Now", a Quintet date released by Innova Recordings in 2012. Now, he has issued "Flip-Flop", subtitled "John Yao and His 17-Piece Instrument" on his  See Tao Recordings. One will recognize many of the names in the ensemble, including Jon Irabagon (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Rich Perry (tenor sax), David Smith (trumpet, flugelhorn), Luis Bonilla (trombone), Jesse Stacken (piano) and Vince Cherico (drummer). Co-produced by Yao and JC Sanford (who has his own impressive large ensemble), the program kicks off (literally and figuratively) with the title track. It may remind some of the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra in its sweep and in how the the soloists moves easily in and out of the track.  Cherico is the perfect drummer for this music in that he can be explosive or tender when called but, more important, is always right on the beat and locked in with bassist Bob Sabin. Notice their support of the soloists throughout the album but especially on the medium-tempo "Reflection." "Ode to the Last Twinkie" may sound like the title of a Frank Zappa and there are some Zappa-esque flourishes plus a hyperactive closing section during which Irabagon, John O'Gallagher (alto sax), Andy Gravish (trumpet), and Matt McDonald (trombone) catch fire over the sections. The "call-and-response" right before the close is dazzling.

One needs to take his or her time with large ensemble. There is so much to listen, so many moving parts, and, often, so many impressive solos. Such is the case with "Flip-Flop".  One wants to go back and take time with all the tracks, even the 2 shorter "Soundscapes."  "No. 1" is a smattering of sounds, legato rhythm, swirling horns and cymbals yet never threatening. Rich Perry gets the lead on "No. 2", a piece with more forward motion but with moaning sounds from the reeds brass while Cherico moves around his kit with abandon. 

By the time you reach the final track, the straight-ahead swinging "Out of Socket", one realizes he's been on quite a journey. The composer may not be telling stories in the fashion of Maria Schneider or Bob Brookmeyer but that should come in time and experience; at this time, his intention is making music that involves the musicians, giving them a variety of avenues to display their talents  The album clocks in at 78 minutes with 6 of the tracks over 8 minutes. That's a lot to take in but it's worth the time.  John Yao uses this "Instrument" to deliver great pleasure.

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Todd Marcus, who plays bass clarinet and hails from Baltimore, MD (where he still lives), has a new recording with his nonet, the Todd Marcus Jazz Orchestra. "Blues For Tahrir" (HiPNOTIC Records) is a multi-layered project, reflecting the composer's family roots (his father was born in Egypt) and his non-profit work in the poorer areas of his home.  Yes, this is music that has a message that can be construed as "dark"; after all, the title contains the word "blues" and we all know what has transpired since the 2011 "Arab Spring." It's also infused with hope and a desire to soothe, if not heal, the world with art.

The TMJO is a nonet that includes Greg Tardy (tenor saxophone), Russell Kirk (alto saxophone), Brent Birckhead (alto sax, flute), Alex Norris (trumpet), Alan Ferber (trombone), Xavier Davis (piano), Jeff Reed (bass), and Eric Kennedy (drums) plus guests Jon Seligman (percussion on 3 tracks) and Irene Jalenti (vocals on 3 tracks). The centerpiece is the   4-part, 24-minute title "Suite" yet the program opens with with "Many Moons (Intro)" and "Many Moons." These pieces posit Marcus's composing and arranging in the post 1960s, picking up hints of the work of McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock as well as younger composers such as Orrin Evans (Marcus has worked with the pianist's Captain Black Band). The quiet opening to "Alien" favors the reeds and brass with the leader's bass clarinet holding down the bottom.  The ballad picks up speed when Ms. Jalenti's husky alto, with a touch of Melody Gardot in the delivery, gives the lyrics (the piece was composed by Marcus's friend Gary Young) an air of mystery. There's a splendid solo from Ferber (not surprising) and, after vocal verse, Davis steps out over the active rhythms of Reed and Kennedy.  The vocalist returns for a fine Marcus arrangement of George Gershwin's oft-recorded "Summertime".  Again, the group takes its time moving through the opening section before Ms. Jalenti enters; she also is no hurry the first time through but, suddenly, the band moves in a funky direction. The Northern African influence is heard on "Wahsouli", pointing to Tyner's mid-70s recording with larger ensembles.  The sweep of the brass and the high tones of the flute also display a Randy Weston influence.

Add capGary Young imagetion
The "Blues for Tahrir Suite" open with "Adhan", a tune with a rippling, muezzin call for the melody line (also heard in the supporting phrases from the reed and brass). The excellent tenor sax solo rises over the forceful rhythm section.  The second section, "Reflections", starts out in a quiet mood again with a sinuous melody line, the alto sax doubling the muted trumpet while the bass clarinet and tenor saxophone respond.  The band quiets down for Marcus's emotional bass clarinet solo yet listen to Seligman's insistent hand percussion.  The handsome movement of the reeds and brass at the close of the piece gives way to "Tears on the Square", the third section, which opens with a long bass solo that echoes the prayer-like melody in the opening. Ms. Jalenti's wordless vocal lines, in tandem, at various times, with the flute or brass, have the feel of a person who has seen her dreams disappear but the piece ends n a more meditative state.  There's more hope in the final section, "Protest", but there's anger as well, heard in the fiery drum work of Kennedy and the roaring bass clarinet of the leader. Kirk flies out of the crowd with a blazing alto sax rallying cry before the drums solo sends fireworks through ending of the suite.

"Blues for Tahrir", the second large ensemble recording for Todd Marcus (2012's "Inheritance" featured 2 different quartet dates) is not only powerful work of social consciousness but also a strong musical step forward for the composer/arranger. The future for Marcus's father's homeland is muddy at best but that will not stop the citizen of baltimore and the world from trying to heal the rifts that surround him and us all.

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Out to the West Coast of the United States, Seattle WA to be exact, to uncover the music of the Zubatto Syndicate, a 14-member ensemble led by guitarist, composer, and arranger Andrew Boscardin.  The ensemble has a unique lineup; there are 8 reeds players including 2 bassoonists in Francine Peterson and Coltan Foster, oboist Janet Putnam, Beth Fleenor (clarinet), Chris Credit (bass clarinet), Steve Treseler (alto saxophone), Tobi Stone (tenor saxophone) and Jim DeJoie (baritone saxophone). Jim Sisko (trumpet) and David Marriot, Jr. (trombone) make up the brass section while Boscardin's guitar joins Tim Kennedy (acoustic and electric keyboards), Tim Carey (bass), and Eric Peters (drums) in the rhythm section.

There is a "pop" sensibility rife in the ensemble's program on its sophomore effort, simply titled "Zubatto Syndicate 2" (Boscology). One cannot miss it in the fiery take of Metallica's "Master of Puppets" and while the translation to large ensemble does not seem to be a parody, it's hard to match the energy of the original 1986 performance.  Not that the Syndicate does not try.  Boscardin's fuzzy guitar licks lurk in the background and there are "killer" solos from Ms. Fleener and and Marriot,Jr. The punk intro to "Thyonean Butt Rock" is even heavier (pun intended) and one has to chuckle in how the melody shifts from the clarinet to the bassoons and oboe. But, Boscardin is somewhat serious as well.   His blazing guitar solo is delightfully excessive and DeJoie's baritone sax solo matches his intensity. More of the same intensity on "Iggy (Ignaceous Carapace)" but this time it's Ms. Fleener who kicks serious butt on her wild solo.

The majority of this music is fun to listen to, especially to hear where Boscardin will take his band. The program opens with "BBots" - the swirling synth opening, a la Parliament Funkadelic, gives way to melody and arrangement that would not sound out of place on "Thriller". Can't help but chuckle at the keyboard "bagpipe" solo has the sound of Traffic's "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys."   "Gort's Big Day" displays a good dose of funk, much of which comes from the bass and drums.  The bass clarinet solo, with its somewhat excessive echo, does "get down" and the final 2 minutes has a pleasing call-and-response in the reeds while the brass bumps along. The guitarist combines 3 pieces by Beyoncé into "The Zeyoncé Suite".  Like the Metallica cover, one does not detect  parody as much as the opportunity to play with the possibilities in the originals.  When the oboe rises out of the mists of "Flawless" or the brass takes on the melody of "Pretty Hurts" or the trombone leads the way on "XO", there is an honesty that permeates the performances.

"Zubatto Syndicate 2" has its share of odd sounds (cheesy organ and synth riffs, flashy "shredded" guitar solos, and the delightful burbling bassoons) yet one can't help but smile and pump up the volume.  Andrew Boscardin is serious about the possibilities of linking "popular" music to an improvising ensemble yet does not discount the fun, the "play", in his and the band's endeavors.  Have fun with this recording!

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Enjoy "Gort's Big Day":

Friday, June 12, 2015

Two Michaels and One Sam, Bassists & Composers

Michael Bates is one might call a "Renaissance" musician.  He's recorded music by Shostakovich, created mainstream recordings, and is co-host, with trumpeter Dave Douglas, of the Greenleaf Music podcast, "A Noise From the Deep."

Judging by the cover of his new recording, "Northern Spy" (Stereoscopic), one realizes the title relates more to his Canadian heritage (with a nod to James Bond) than to the apple of the same name. It's his third trio recording, the first being his 2004 debut "Outside Sources" and the second a 2014 date co-led with saxophonist Peter Van Huffel, "Boom Crane."  Here, he leads a group with fellow Canadian Michael Blake (tenor saxophone) and Jeremy "Bean" Clemons (drums). Right from the opening notes of "Theme for a Blind Man", it's evident this will be yet another change of direction for the bassist. This music has its roots planted in the blues  Instead of a slide guitar, there is the thick toned bass notes behind the moaning voice and the heavy breathing of the saxophone.  "Essex House" is a slow blues with Blake's swaggering tenor pushed forward by the throbbing bass and steady drums. In the quieter moments, one can hear the basic blues patterns. "An Otis Theme on Curtis Changes" gives its influences in the title and features serious "testifying" from Blake.  The very slow take of Henry Mancini's "The Days of Wine and Roses" is quite powerful as well, sad but defiant as befits the storyline of the movie.

And the trio can swing.  "Roxy" has a great groove laid down by the walking bass and the driving drums.  Blake digs in, giving his all, jumping up into the higher register of the sax every now and then. The drummer takes the spotlight on the aptly-titled "Bean", moving around the kit with abandon. His partners join on a quick set of riffs but, for the most part, Clemons is the main voice. His funky intro to the title track provides the bed for the hip-shaking bass lines and the expressive conversational sax phrases. The final track, "Neptune", picks up on the energy of that track and intensifies it even more.  Blake really lets loose yet never loses control, even as the rhythm section pushes really hard beneath him.

"Northern Spy" is an aural treat, with strong playing, heady compositions and and "in-your-face" presentation. Michael Bates has such a "deep" tone, his notes seem to grab your chest to say "pay attention" - his cohorts also give their best, making this album a tasty addition to your library. For more information, go to

Michael Oien grew up in Wisconsin in a house filled with all sorts of music. At the age of 12, he met bassist Richard David and he found his true instrument.  After graduating from the Berklee School in Boston, Oien moved to New York City in 2004, finding work with drummer Yotan Rosenbaum, saxophonists Darius Jones and Uri Gurvich plus guitarists Nir Felder and Mick Goodrich.

Now, he has a debut CD.  "And Now" (Fresh Sound New Talent) features a quintet with the "rising star" guitarist Matthew Stevens, Canadian-born pianist and composer Jamie Reynolds (husband of vocalist Melissa Stylianou),  drummer Eric Doob, and alto saxophonist Nick Videen (tenor saxophonist Travis LaPlante appears on one track). The program concentrates more on the bassist's compositions (6 originals plus the traditional "All My Trials") than on his prowess as a soloist.  To his credit, the album starts with the lovely ballad "In The Early Autumn" - he does not play his first note until after the piano introduction and the acoustic guitar reading of the theme (over 90 seconds into the song).  He's careful to make sure that one fully hears the melody before Stevens' striking solo.  Oien opens the next track, "Skol", with a forceful Mingus-like solo before Doob enters with a skipping beat.  Videen's slow alto sax lines are a smart counterpoint to the rousing rhythm section (no piano or guitar on this track). The alto solo eventually picks up steam which pushes Doob to react in kind.

The centerpiece of the album is the 3-part "Dreamer".  "Part 1" opens with bass, cymbals and alto saxophone in legato before Stevens enters with his atmospheric electric guitar chords.  The bouncing bass lines lead in "Part 2" with Reynold's piano joining in. There is a touch of Pat Metheny in the melody and chords but the pace slows for the saxophone, piano, and guitar to move around each other.  "Part 3" opens with Videen's solo over Doob's striking drum work and Reynolds' powerful chords and short phrases. After the alto sax drops away the pianist moves the song into a different mood, more contemplative, before the rhythm section picks up in intensity and Reynolds responds in kind.  Soon, Stevens joins the mix in a support mode, his phrases in sync with the alto sax pushing the piece to its climax and a soft coda.

One of the more impressive aspects of the music is how the musicians moved around inside the pieces.  "Smile This Mile" has a lovely melody played by Videen, pushed along by the rich piano chords until Reynolds steps out. He does not rush, his phrases flowing like a leaf in the wind while Doob and Oien serve as both musical and emotional counterpoint.  The alto sax solo starts in the same "mood" before going in a more playful direction, dancing around the chords and the active drums.

"And Now" close with a solo bass reading of "All My Trials" - as he does throughout the album in his supportive role, Michael Oien shows a melodic side.  One hears traces of Charlie Haden, Charles Mingus, and Dave Holland in his assertive yet tasteful journey through the piece. His debut as a leader is impactful, especially in his desire to make this a "group" effort, to showcase the work of saxophonist Nick Videen and to give both Jamie Reynolds and Matt Stevens major roles in telling his stories.  Kudos to Eric Doob in his capacity as sparkplug for the music and battery mate to the leader's rhythmic conception. Overall, a splendid introduction to the music and vision of Michael Oien.

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art by Jeffrey Bishop
It's been nearly 4 &1/2 years since bassist/composer Sam Trapchak (born 1984, Livonia, MI) released his debut CD "Lollipopocalypse" with his quartet Put Together Funny. That group found the bassist in the company of Greg Ward (alto saxophone), Tom Chang (electric guitar), and Arthur Vint (drums).  Trapchak is set to release his 2nd CD "Land Grab" (Raw Toast Records), another quartet date with both Ward and Chang but now with Christian Coleman in the drummer's seat (and minus the group name).

What else has remained from the first effort is the impressive drive in the songs, the intelligent interactions of the musicians and the playful melodies the bassist creates for the quartet. Greg Ward impresses with his facility and bright tone, Tom Chang is both fiery and introspective, and Christian Coleman displays power and subtlety throughout.  "Lumpy's Blues" is just that, a hard-rocking blues with an odd meter and a smoking guitar solo. The leader gets to step out, displaying a big tone akin to that of Dave Holland. "Bell Curve" is a sweet ballad with classical overtones - Ward's expressive alto phrases reach into the higher registers of the alto saxophone. He has a tone not unlike Arthur Blythe in that one can hear the influence of the blues in the way he shapes his notes and how he "tells a story" in his solos. Hear how he moans in the background during the early moments of "Beautiful/Furious" eventually taking over the melody from the bass.  His solo takes its energy from Coleman's intense drumming.  Chang's fine guitar playing walks a line between jazz, rock and blues. When he lets loose over the active rhythm section on "Breathing Room" and "Pterofractal", all genres blur into his "attack mode" attitude.  Yet, his soft opening lines and continuing counterpoint on "Bell Curve" is spare yet vital to the movement of the piece. The mesmerizing back-and-forth riffing in the early part of the title track gets one's attention by creating the tension in tandem with the insistent bass note underneath the melody line played by Ward. The structure of the piece changes after the first part of the saxophone solo, picking up in intensity as the guitarist's rapid-fire phrases bob and weave in the mix. His solo near the end is refreshingly intense fueled by the drummer's insistent forward motion.

Through it all, Trapchak's bass sets the tone.  He can be percussive, his throbbing pulse freeing up Coleman to push and interact with the soloists.  His solid lines never waver, he does not step out of his foundational role  just to "show off", and is the heart of the music.  The parts he plays allow the others the freedom to move around in the structure.  When he and Coleman lock in under the saxophone solo on "Breathing Room", Trapchak's ever-changing yet steady bass lines are riveting.

The music and performances on "Land Grab" will grab you, make you sit up and pay attention, make you want to come back again and again to hear its kaleidoscope of sounds.  Sam Trapchak stands at the center of this music, his compositions and musicianship creating a joyful and adventurous listening experience.

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