Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Live Music Can Be So Nice

Israeli-born bassist and composer Ehud Ettun brings his Trio to The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, this Friday March 6.  Ettun, who has recorded and toured with guitarist Assaf Kehati and has several different ensembles, recorded his latest CD, "Raw Gestures" with pianist Daniel Schwarzwald and drummer Matan Assayag in 2013, releasing it on his own Internal Compass label. Drummer Nathan Blankett joins the bassist and pianist on this short New England tour.  There is a grace and beauty to much of Ettun's original music but also an intensity and playfulness that comes from the bassist's love of many different styles of music as well as the time he has spent working with saxophonist George Garzone and pianist Danilo Perez.

The Trio plays its first set at 8 p.m.  For more information, go to  To find out more about Mr. Ettun, go to  To get a feel for the Trio's music, here is a link to a 2014 concert in Tel Aviv with drummer Assayag:

Burrage is such a great name for a drummer and Ronnie Burrage is one fine player of the trap set.  He's coming to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme this Friday with one heck of a band including Jim Beard (piano, keyboards), Antoine Roney (saxophones), and bassist Gerald Veasley. This quartet will pay tribute to musicians they have worked with such as Josef Zawinul, Michael Brecker, Jaco Pastorius and George Duke. Expect the music to be funk, very rhythmical and downright exciting.  The room is going to shake!  The foursome hits the stage at 8:30.

photo by Davide Susa
The following night, saxophonist Gary Bartz returns to the performance venue with his regular quartet of Barney McAll (piano, keyboards), Greg Bandy (drums) and James King (bass). The 74-year old alto saxophonist first came to critical notice in the mid-1960s playing with drummer Max Roach then going on to work with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.  He started the decade of the 1970s working with Miles Davis as well as leading his own NTU Troup, an ensemble that recorded a number of fine Lps for the Prestige/Milestone label. He then made a series of more "commercial" recordings for Capitol Records and the Arista label, returning to acoustic music in the 1990s with recordings on Candid, Steeplechase and Atlantic Records.  He now records for his own OYO label with his latest CD titled "Coltrane Rules: Tao of a Music Warrior" - that came out in 2012 with "Volume 2" coming soon.   Bartz can play with both great fire and soul, rarely if ever wasting a note.  Plus, he's a great historian with an encyclopedic knowledge of African American music.  Doors open at 7:30 p.m. with the first set at 8:30.  For ticket information, go to or call 860-434-0886.
Despite the mountains of snow throughout the Nutmeg State, spring is on the way.  It just has to be...I mean, you see Firehouse 12 has just announced its Spring 2015 Concerts schedule. Fittingly, the 13-Friday series begins on March 20 (the first day of spring) with bassist Ben Wolfe and his Quartet. Bassist and composer Wolfe just played a sold-out show at The Side Door and brings saxophonist Stacy Dillard, drummer Donald Edwards, and pianist Anthony Wonsey (subbing for Orrin Evans) to the New Haven performance space.  The following week (March 27), the focus turns to freely improvised music with the trio of Paul Flaherty (alto and tenor saxophones), Chris Corsano (drums) and Steve Baczkowski (alto and tenor saxophones).

The series will also include performances by the guitar duo of Julian Lage & Nels Cline (April 17), the John Raymond Quartet with Dan Tepfer and Billy Hart (May 1), the duo of Tim Berne & Matt Mitchell (May 15) and the Rudresh Mahanthappa "Bird Calls" Quintet (June 5).  You can find out more and buy a season series ticket or single-show tickets by going to

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Swing Into March

Quietly yet assuredly, pianist Joey Calderazzo has become a force to be reckoned with.  After replacing Kenny Kirkland in the Branford Marsalis Quartet (upon Mr. Kirkland's passing) in 1998, he has released a number of albums as a leader plus a lovely duet recording with Mr. Marsalis.  He tours with a trio featuring bassist Orlando le Fleming and drummer Donald Edwards who were featured on his 2013 Sunnyside release titled "Live ". His new Sunnyside album, "Going Home", continues in the Trio vein with the pianist and le Fleming joined by drummer Adam Cruz.

Calderazzo creates a program not unlike his previous ones, with a generous helping of original music and several standards.  Cruz struts like a New Orleans parade drummer on "One Way", which has a melody line reminiscent of a tune by The Meters. The drummer also leads the way into "Legend" with an out-of-time solo that frames the wistful piano melody and interjections from the bass.  Soon, the rhythm takes shape and the Trio skips forward on the bouncing bass and active drums.  There is a similar feel on "Mike's Song", an original that remind the listener of the influence that McCoy Tyner has had on Calderazzo's style.  That said, the piece leans towards the work that Keith Jarrett produced with his European Quartet in the 1970s.  Branford shows up on 1 track, the atmospheric "I Never Knew", his warm tenor sounds wrapping around the melodic pain for the melody then stepping away as the leader explores a number of different approaches to his solo. When the saxophonist re-enters, the piece picks up in intensity with the rhythm section pushing the soloist forward.

The title song, a solo piano work, is lyrical, wistful, a gentle ending to a program that certainly ranks among the best Joey Calderazzo has produced in his career (now into its 3rd decade.)  Orlando le Fleming and Adam Cruz are equal partners in the success of this music, not only for the support they give the pianist but also for their fine interactions. "Going Home" is an album you can sit down and listen to all the way through and then listen once more.  It surrounds the listener with its warmth, its excitement and its melodic joy.  The release date is 3/31/15. For more information, go to

This impressive quartet recording of a group led by drummer Jochen Rueckert was issued in October 2014 by Whirlwind Recordings and managed to fall through the cracks (if you've seen my desk, you would not be surprised.)  "We Make The Rules" features Mark Turner (tenor saxophone), Matt Penman (bass) and Lage Lund (guitar); Lund replaces Brad Shepik who appeared on the drummer's 2011 debut "somewhere, meeting nobody" (Pirouet). Considering the pedigree of the musicians, one will not be surprised at the various directions that the music goes in.  They certainly can "swing" as one can hear on "Saul Goodman" with Lund's rippling phrases riding the waves of percussion and walking bass lines.  Turner goes from understated to heated and back in the course of one phrase. His melodic yet muscular lines shine on "Alloplasty", a piece that starts rubato then breaks into a lively rhythm driven by the leader's splendid brush work (especially on the snare drum).  Penman is such an inventive bassist, showing a flair for melodic counterpoint (shown to great advantage on most tracks but especially on the medium-tempo "Pretty From Afar") as well as a percussive side (as he displays on "The Cook Strait").

Rueckert's compositions all have strong melodies, none more impressive than "Manong Twilight At The Whatever Hotel" (although the ballad "Bess" is right up there) - each musician moves the piece forward, from the buzzing of the tenor sax to the shimmering brush work to the thick bass tones to the spare interjections from the guitar. The combination of Turner's thoughtful saxophone phrases with Lund's impressionistic guitar riffs over the rhythm section serves to draw the listener in, rising and falling as the intensity waxes and wanes.

Jochen Rueckert, who releases electronic music under the monicker Wolff Parkinson White and has written several ebooks of anecdotes on "life on the road as a musician" (complete with self-portraits), has created a mesmerizing collection of songs - real songs, not just riffs to "blow over" - that get lodged in your mind.  You'll want to explore these musical trails time and again.  For more information, go to

Here's "Eggshells", the opening track on the album:

Trumpeter Alex Norris, a native of Maryland, is a busy session player and teacher.  He's got a list of sideman gigs with the likes of Village Vanguard Orchestra, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, the Mingus Big Band, and as musical director of Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead in the final years of her life.  He also plays with a number of groups that play Afro-Cuban music.  Norris made his debut CD for Fresh Sound New Talent in 1999.  It took 15 years for his sophomore album to be recorded and released.  "Extension Deadline" (BJU Records) finds Norris in the company of life-long friend George Colligan (Hammond A-100 organ), Rudy Royston (drums) and Gary Thomas (tenor saxophone). Thomas, who was a busy musician/bandleader in the 1980s and 90s, is now the head of Jazz Studies at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore and Norris is on his faculty.

Of the 8 tracks on the album, 6 are originals from the leader plus Colligan's rousing "Optimism" and a sweet version of Bobby Hutchinson's "Little B's Poem" (sans tenor sax). Norris plays the Hutchinson tune on flugelhorn, his mellow tones rising and falling over the skipping snare work and intense yet quiet organ chords.  Colligan, known more for his extensive work on piano, is a fine player with a strong bass presence and a style that shows the influence of the late Larry Young.  He works well on the front line whether in unison with the sax and trumpet as he does the title track or splaying chordal fills (nicely illustrated on the uptempo "San Jose"). Royston is his usual splendid self, lighting a fire under the soloists or displaying an easy swing.  Check out "Red Flag" to hear him at his most explosive or setting the easy pace for "Night Watchman".   On the former track, he and Colligan's bass lines set a torrid pace; Royston is such an expressive drummer, whether reacting to the soloists or "trading 4s" near the end of the track.  There is pure joy in those interactions.

Thomas, who released a series of fine recordings for JMT and Winter & Winter in the 1990s (plus spent several years with Jack DeJohnette and later with Herbie Hancock), can say so much in his solos.  On this recording, he displays a sturdy tone, never wasting a note, always riding the waves of sound/rhythm emanating from the drums.  Listen to how he and Royston get into it on "Where Angels Fear" and on the raucous "What Happened Here." 

Norris has a hearty attack and crisp tone on trumpet.  He dives into his solos with great abandon (check out "San Jose" for how he inspires Royston to provide the fireworks below his bandmates and "Red Flag" for his romp through the mid-range). Though this is an album filled with impressive solos, the vast majority of the compositions have solid melody lines.  Although Alex Norris organized the band for this recording, the results are far from perfunctory, with a "live" feel makes one dream of live gigs in a club setting.  In the meantime, "Extension Deadline" is a fiery, funky, and very satisfying listening experience. For more information, go to

I had the opportunity to see pianist Steven Feifke in concert several years ago in a quartet that featured Chad Lefkowitz-Brown (tenor saxophone), Raviv Markovitz (bass) and Connecticut native Jimmy Macbride (drums).  The group played a heady set of originals and jazz standards, each member showing great promise and none of them yet in his mid-20s.  Lefkowitz-Brown has gone on to play in Taylor Swift's touring band, Markowitz works with a number of ensembles including pianist Adam Kromelow's KROM trio, and Macbride is now in saxophonist Jimmy Greene's touring band as well as soon to be on tour with guitarist Nir Felder. Feifke has organized a Big Band and has worked with drummer Dafnis Prieto plus a slew of younger players.

In January of 2014, the pianist brought his 3 musical comrades into the studio along with Andrew Gould (alto saxophone), Benny Benack (trumpet) and Alex Wintz (guitar), with the results released as Feifke's debut CD, "Peace In Time". He composed 9 of the 12 cuts and arranged every song, produced and self-released the album.  The program opens with a pleasing re-imagination of Thelonious Monk's "Evidence", literally jumping out of the speakers with strong solos from Feifke, Benack (a member of Michael Dease's Big Band) and Gould (Wallace Roney's band).  Lefkowitz-Brown shines during his solo on the ballad "Am I Still There For You?" and on the up-tempo "Second Wind." Feifke's horn arrangement stands out on the latter track as well.  Throughout the program, the rhythm section really provides the drive on the faster tracks.  The piano, bass and drums really lock in on "Wollongong" while the brass and saxes have the melody. The saxophonists feed on that fire (Macbride and Feifke really stoke the furnace while Markovitz provides the rapid walking bass lines.) There are several times during the program when guitarist Wintz (Roxy Coss Quintet, Etienne Charles Creole Soul) stands out. He blends his mellow tone with the horns on "The Coast", which also features him playing the melody with the pianist.  An exciting Latin rhythm propels "Autumn In New York" forward with the melody pass around to the guitar and piano to the horns and trumpet.  The arrangement of Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream" also finds the theme moving to different instruments.   Macbride's drumming and the active bass lines creates an exciting foundation for Feifke's adventurous solo and Benack's more boppish turn.

There are several sonic surprises on the program.  The reeds, brass and guitar drop out for "Song For Ben And Gidi", a medium-tempo blues in which all 3 players solo (really enjoy Feifke's 2-handed approach).  The slow blues that is "3:23 a.m." has a fine melody, muscular bass solo, a tender tenor solo and an exciting climax with Gould leading the way.  A dollop of hip hop in the drums and bass powers the ultra-funky "The Missing Feeling II", a tune that the horns sit out while the guitar and piano share the melody. Watch out for the hard-hitting drama solo  -it will rattle your speakers! Wintz switches to acoustic guitar for the title track, a lovely ballad that closes the disk.  The horns do not show up until close to the end of the piece, after the handsome and melodic guitar solo.  

"Peace In Time" serves as an introduction to the musical world of multi-talented Steven Feifke.  He, in turn, makes sure that the listener pays attention to his cohorts.  The creative arrangements feature good section work, smart use of unison melody lines, all powered by the excellent work of Raviv Markovitz and Jimmy Macbride. There are moments where it sounds like 10 or 12 musicians playing instead of 7.  But there is no clutter nor filler.  Like the recordings above, this music sounds better and better with successive listens. The future looks most certainly bright for young Mr. Feifke. For more information, go to

Saturday, February 21, 2015

February Goes Out Like a Lion

In the midst of the seemingly unceasing cold and storms that have battered the East Coast, The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme has been a beacon of live music.  Musicians love its piano and intimate performance space while patrons enjoy being part of the "action."  Plus, it's connected to the Old Lyme Inn and there are "weekend packages" where one can stay over, enjoying the food, the ambiance of a small but arts-centric community of Old Lyme, and the allure of the beaches.  All this in less than 2 years.

This coming weekend (February 27 & 28), Ken and Jan (who manage/book the club) present 2 great shows.  Friday night at 8:30, drummer/composer E.J. Strickland (pictured left) celebrates the release of his new CD, "The Undying Spirit" (Strick Muzik). Despite appearing on over 30 recordings in his career (now into its second decade), this recording is only his second as a leader (his debut "In This Day" came out in 2009).  He's bringing the musicians who appear on the recording; they include Jaleel Shaw (alto saxophone), Luis Perdomo (piano), Linda Oh (bass) and twin brother Marcus (tenor and soprano saxophones).  While E. J. could have easily made this a recording about his brilliant technical prowess, instead this is most definitely a group recording.  Ms. Oh's active bass lines, Perdomo's probing piano work, the singing reed lines of Shaw, the uplifting sound of brother Marcus's hardy tenor and the lilt of his soprano work, all this and more makes this album a success.  When you see E. J. live in concert, watch and listen to how he directs the music from his chair. The essence of the uptempo pieces is how the music moves and flows; that gives the music its excitement.    

A review of the new CD will posted here soon but, in the meantime, to find out more, go to

On Saturday, bassist/composer Ben Wolfe comes to The Side Door and, like E.J. Strickland, he's celebrating the release of a new CD.  "The Whisperer" (Posi-Tone Records - here's the review). He, too, is bringing the musicians on the album, pianist Orrin Evans, drummer Donald Edwards and saxophonist Stacy Dillard. Wolfe, who has worked with so many contemporary musicians (Wynton Marsalis and Diana Krall, to name but 2), creates music that concentrates on melody and, certainly, rhythm but, unlike many leaders who come from the rhythm section, he does not take many solos (so, I suppose, it's not "all about the bass").

This particular quartet is quite strong, the revelation being the excellent saxophone playing of Stacy Dillard (pictured left). The Michigan native has worked with numerous contemporary musicians (including   being a member of Orrin Evans' Captain Black Big Band) and has released several fine CDs as a leader including 2011's Criss Cross release "Good and Bad Memories."   His work with Wolfe, especially on the numerous ballads, is heartfelt, emotionally strong and oh-so-melodic.  He also let loose with a flurry of notes when called for. Dillard is really finding his voice on his reeds and it's refreshing to find a musician who does not overtly sound like John Coltrane or Wayne Shorter or Sonny Rollins.  Check him out at

To find out more about Ben Wolfe and his music, go to

To obtain tickets to these excellent shows, go to  You can also call at 860-434-0886.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Trios Music

If you have paid any attention to jazz over the past 6 decades, you'll know the Heath Brothers, Jimmy, Percy, and Albert.  Saxophonist composer Jimmy (born 1926) developed into one of the most consistent writers and performers, bassist Percy (1923-2005) is, perhaps, best-known for his long association with the Modern Jazz Quartet, and drummer Albert or "Tootie" (born 1935) has worked with so many great musicians including John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Dexter Gordon, and Herbie Hancock.  In the mid-1970s, the Brothers joined forces and created their own ensemble which continues to this day.

In 2009, Tootie played a gig with pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Ben Street at Smalls Jazz Club in New York City. They played material that, like the musicians, crossed a number of decades and styles. The 3 had so much fun (if you have ever seen Tootie Heath in a live setting, you know that fun is a major component of his performance) that they became a Trio. In 2013, they recorded "Tootie's Tempo" for Sunnyside Records and, on March 3, the label releases "Philadelphia Beat."  Recorded in the drummer's home, it's the group's most eclectic outing with material that moves from Milt Jackson to Gloria Gaynor to Cal Massey to Dizzy Gillespie to Eubie Blake to Johann Sebastian Bach (!) From the finger cymbal opening of "Bag's Groove" to the funky back-beat of "I Will Survive" to the African rhythms of Massey's "Bakai", this program entertains and enlightens.  There is no sense of bombast but an emphasis on melody and rhythm and, yes, "swing."  The CD is full of little touches that create a wondrous aural landscape.  Mr. Heath opens Lewis's "Concorde" with the drum pattern Shelly Manne created for Sonny Rollins' "I'm An Old Cowhand" while his sparse accompaniment on "Memories of You" (what a touch with brushes!) gives Iverson plenty of space to investigate the melody. There's a delicate mix of Latin and Middle-Eastern rhythms that open "Con Alma" and push it forward.  Thelonious Monk's "Bye-Ya" sparkles and jumps while Kurt Weill's "Speak Low" is playful and has just a touch of New Orleans Second Line in the drummer's attack.   Bach's cantata "Wachet Auf, Ruft Uns Dis Stimme, BMV 140" is stately, with a touch of swing and splendid counterpoint from Street.  Lateef's "Pentatonic Etude" features Iverson on electric piano; he and Mr. Heath create a spare painting yet rich in colors (the floor tom and cymbal work stands out) and do so without wasting a note.

"Philadelphia Beat" pays tribute to the plethora of sounds and the great artists associated with the City of Brotherly Love. It's a joy to listen to how these 3 musicians interact, react and inhabit the material, how nothing is off-limits or overdone.  There are many moments that produce smiles or nods - this music is alive and very satisfying.  For more information about the Trio as well as a link to a fine interview, go to

Here's a taste of the T. Monk tune:

Nick Sanders hails from New Orleans, a fertile ground for pianists. While attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, as a grad student, Sanders met freshmen Connor Baker (drums) and Henry Fraser (bass), beginning an association that now has lasted 5 years.  The Trio's 2013 debut, "Nameless Neighbors" (Sunnyside), not only displayed Sanders' maturity as a composer but also the intimacy of an ensemble. Produced by Fred Hersch, the recording showed musicians with great promise.

"You Are A Creature" (Sunnyside) builds on that promise.  In the 2 years since the debut CD, the Trio has developed an even closer bond and Sanders' writing has matured considerably.  There's a healthy streak of Thelonious Monk in his approach to melody and rhythm yet, like that great master, the music opens to include elements of the history of piano, from stride to blues to swing and beyond.  And. as on the debut disc, the rhythm section is so attuned to the movement of the music, to the pianist's playful asides or rollicking single-note runs, that there are multiple instances where the listener can believe these 3 breathe as one.

With Fred Hersch back as producer (he also worked with Sanders at NEC), "...Creature" is its own universe.  Ballads rub shoulders with quirky, up-beat, romps, melodies grow from rhythmic figures, and the line between composition and improvisation is nearly invisible.  "Let's Start" is the aptly-titled opening track and, before the first minute goes by, the listener knows this music will be worth investigating.  The best creative music sounds familiar and new at the same time, with phrases that remind you on something you've heard many times but on to someplace new before you can put your mental finger on where you have heard this before. "Wheelchair" has echoes of Chick Corea (acoustic Return to Forever) in the child-like melody yet the rhythm section decides to keep the piece grounded while Sanders floats above. There is a circular quality to the melody of "Round You Go" yet listen to how Baker creates his own world underneath (while Fraser provides the framework.)   The title track romps out of the gate and then stops abruptly for a quiet interlude, going back to romp into a piano solo and excellent drum spotlight before melting down to a soft landing.  One can her this is music that could only have developed in a live setting as well as a setting of complete trust. The CD closes with Ornette Coleman's "The Blessing", a gentle yet propulsive reading of one of his earlier pieces (you can really hear the influence of Monk and John Lewis on Coleman's composition.)

"You Are A Creature" is no monster but the musical interactions do, in some ways, reflect the contortionist in Leah Saulnier's cover painting.  Playful, adventurous, original, the music of the Nick Sanders Trio illustrates the continuing evolution of American music and the endless possibilities of the piano trio. One really would love to hear and see this Trio in a club setting. Kudos as well to engineer James Farber, who brilliantly captures the sounds of each musician, especially the impressive drumming of Connor Baker.  For more information, go to

Pianist/composer Jeremy Siskind has a most interesting variation on the piano trio; instead of the "traditional" rhythm section, he creates music for voice (Nancy Harms) and reeds (Lucas Pino).  Their 2012 collaboration "Finger-Songwriter" (BJU Records) not only displayed Siskind's love for poetry (he earned a Master's Degree from Columbia University in English and Comparative Literature) but the influence of Norma Winstone and John Taylor on his original music and the ensemble's presentation.  After the release of the CD, Siskind and company started touring the US, specifically performing "house concerts" - that makes great sense as this music is often so intimate that the hush of a small room increases the emotional richness.

"Housewarming" (BJU) builds off the previous CD with a program of 9 originals and 4 "standards."  Also added to this mix are guest vocalists Kendra Shank, Peter Eldridge and Kurt Elling, all of whom bring unique voices to the project.  There are numerous transcendent moments.  On the opening "Whispering Grass" (composed by Fred Fisher and his daughter Doris, made popular by The Inkspots in 1940), Pino's bass clarinet sees as the rhythm section, his low notes bolstering the bottom an his breathy sound acting like brushes on a snare drums. (there are moments when the music is reminiscent of the mid-to-late 1950s work of Jimmy Giuffre.) The interaction of Ms. Harms and Mr Eldridge on Siskind's "New Old West Theme" over the rich piano melody stands out as well, the blend accentuating the love story in the lyrics. The lovely title track features Mr. Eldridge telling a love story with a bittersweet feel; the melody and arrangement may remind some of Randy Newman, the wonderful spare chords and lonely high notes, the poignant yet hopeful vocal. The influence of Billy Joel insinuates itself into the melody of Siskind's "Hymn of Thanks" and the stride feel of the piano beneath the tenor solo is a sweet change of direction.  Mr. Elling has always shown his ability to make poetry into music and his 2 contributions here are exemplary.  The impressionistic "Light" pairs his voice with Pino's tenor sax and a flowing melody line; the saxophonist builds on the melody, creating a solo that stands out.  "Arise" is a prayer for peace with the melodic counterpoint of piano lovingly interwoven with Mr. Elling's compelling vocal.  "Everything You Need" is a fascinating reworking of British songwriter Adem Ilhans tune from 2004. The juxtaposition of Ms. Harm's hushed vocal, the rich piano accompaniment and the clarinet draws one in and speaks to the arranger's ability to imbue the song with several emotional climates.

Siskin takes 2 very well-known standards and makes them sound fresh.  One easily recognizes the melody "Moonlight in Vermont" yet the arrangement adds several quiet dramatic flourishes plus the evocative clarinet backing and solo.  The program closes with Lerner & Loewe's "I Could Have Danced All Night"; the wonder and innocence in Ms. Harm's voice leads to a more assured yet impressionistic tenor solo that brings the album to a standstill, almost in mid-phrase.  It leaves the listener with the sense that there is more, making one go back to start again.

"Housewarming" is an album to savor, lyrics to sit and ponder, vocals that wash through your soul, and music that draws you in.  Give it a number of listens to get the full breadth of the presentation, to begin to understand the hopeful message in the songs, to admire the work of everyone involved.  You will be warmed by what Jeremy Siskind has presented here.  For more information, go to

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Warm Sounds Abound (Part 1) + Pray for CT

The Northern tier of the United States (in particular the Northern 1/3rd) has had a colder and snowier beginning to 2015, meaning schools are closed once or twice a week, concerts and club dates are often postponed or cancelled, and one spends a great amount of time indoors.  Luckily for music lovers, the beginning to the New Year also a blizzard of new releases.  Over the next several posts, you will read and hear about a number of them,

Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou have a lot of common. They all hail from the northern climes (Ms. C. and Ms. S. from Toronto, Canada, while Ms. G. grew up in Wasilia, Alaska), they all moved to New York City (specifically, the borough of Brooklyn), they have lovely voices, and all record for Anzic Records (in fact, all 3 released excellent CDs in 2014). Somewhere along the line, someone or ones had the brilliant idea the 3 should blend their voices and Duchess was born.  Amy's husband Oded Lev-Ari, who has produced CDs for his wife and Melissa, brought them into the studio, added the talents of Matt Wilson (drums), Paul Sikivie (bass), Michael Cabe (piano), Jeff Lederer (tenor saxophone on 5 tracks) and Jesse Lewis (guitar in 4 tracks), and the result is 13 songs that will make you smile and/or tap your feet.

The 3 chanteuses acknowledge that the major influence for their repertoire is The Boswell Sisters, a vocal trio been and raised in New Orleans who came to fame in the 1930s.  Duchess pays tribute with a rousing rendition of "Heebie Jeebies", a Boyd Atkins the Boswells recorded in 1932. That's the final track - before that, they regale us with songs associated with Peggy Lee, Blossom Dearie, Doris Day, Billie Holiday, and others plus a New Orleans-inspired rendition of "Lollipop", a 1958 "smash for The Chordettes (this version includes splendid drumming from Mr. Wilson and a raucous sax solo.)

The program opens with 2 songs associated with Peggy Lee.  In fact, Ms. Lee wrote the lyrics to "Love Being Here With You", a  crowd-pleaser built off the swinging beat and the friendly banter of the vocalists. That's followed by Fred Fisher's "There Ain't No Sweet Man Worth The Salt of My Tears" (originally recorded in 1928 by Annette Henshaw with the Willard Robison Deep River  Orchestra and then the following year by Bix Beiderbecke with Bing Crosby on the vocal, no less) - Ms. Lee's version was recorded in 1963 and has a blues-rock feel.)  Duchess lean more towards a looser reading of the original. You'll enjoy the sweet love song penned by Ira and George Gershwin; titled "Blah, Blah, Blah" (no, not the Iggy Pop or Ke$ha songs), the lyrics show that sometimes it's easier to show love than to say "I love you." There are sweet ballads in the form of "Que Sera Sera" and "I'll Be Seeing You" plus an emotional take on "P.S. I Love You", the Johnny Mercer-Gordon Jenkins composition from 1934 with features close harmonies and a fine guitar solo from Lewis (an integral part of Ms. Cervini's Jazz Country group). A raucous tenor solo enlivens the playful "It's A Man", a Cy Coben composition recorded by his orchestra supporting the vocal of actress/singer Betty Hutton.

The singer each take the spotlight for one track.  Ms. Gardner swings her way through "My Brooklyn Love Song", a tune composed by George Tibbles and Ramey Idriss.  Ms. Cervini reprises "A Doodlin' Song" from her 2012 tribute to Blossom Dearie "Digging Me, Digging You", replacing the male voices with her sisters and Josh Sinton's baritone sax solo with a playful tenor sax hit from Mr. Lederer (otherwise, the arrangement is the same.)  Ms. Styling revisits "Hummin' to Myself" from 2014's "No Regrets" release and also does not change the earlier (right down to the bass solo) but spices it up with the addition of her friends' lovely harmonies.

Sassy, sweet, fun, playful, melodic, carefree and happy, all those positive adjectives (and more) should tell you that the trio known as Duchess have made a debut recording that should bring a smile to your face. Is it a bit "retro"?  Yes, but it's never "snarky", never patronizing.  Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou plus their merry band sound like they are having a swell time - you will as well.  For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:

For his 2013 MaxJazz CD, "From Here I See", bassist and composer Ben Wolfe worked with a core quartet of Orrin Evans (piano), Donald Edwards (drums) and JD Allen (saxophone) plus guest artists and a string quartet. Messrs. Evans and Edwards return on his new release, "The Whisperer" (Posi-Tone Records) while Stacy Dillard (soprano and tenor saxophones) replaces Allen.  Trumpeter Josh Evans (no relation to the pianist) is the only guest and appears on 1 track. The unique painting on the cover is the work of Colorado-based Ron Fundingsland and is titled "Sanctuary."

Wolfe, who has worked with a slew of well-known artists ranging from Diana Krall to Wynton Marsalis to James Moody to Harry Connick Jr., clearly loves melody and writes pieces that have solid tunes yet leave space for solos. Only 2 of the 12 tracks are over 6 minutes and 5 are under 5 minutes.  The program opens with "Heroist", an up-tempo romp that starts with a McCoy Tyner-groove before galloping into the piano. Dillard flies over the opening groove on his soprano with Edwards urging him on.  The soprano takes the lead on "Hat In Hand", the first of several heartfelt ballads that are musically and emotionally satisfying.  "Love Is Near" is another, this time with Dillard on tenor saxophone, his breathy tone reminiscent of Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins. Listen to how Wolfe makes each note count and Edwards barely brushing the snare and his cymbals as well as Evans's soft touch on the piano. Dillard returns to soprano for Jerome Kern's "All The Things You Are", the only piece not composed by the bassist.  The piano lines are so well-placed, with a blend of straight-forward phrases and "impressionistic" chords.  Josh Evans takes the place of Orrin Evans on the bopping "S.T.F.U", his exuberant playing pushing Dillard to a frisky soprano solo.

Edwards opens the longest track, "Chronos" (7:15) with a high-stepping drum solo before the band enters on a funky groove.  The piece is spiced by the various interactions, especially between Evans and Dillard (tenor) and then Dillard with Edwards.  The angular piano solo over Wolfe's rapid walking lines and Edwards' hop-scotch drums fills is a treat.  The drummer's cymbal work throughout the CD is perfectly captured by engineer Nick O'Toole, filling the sound spectrum with clicking sticks, the gentle touch on the ride and splash cymbals plus the occasional storms Edwards produces in support of the soloists.  He can sound so "free" at times; Wolfe's rock-solid foundation allows Edwards the opportunity to play (you can really hear him listening and reacting to the pianist and saxophonist.)

Ben Wolfe doesn't feel the need to solo on every track but he sets the table for bandmates to pay their best.  His mature compositions give "The Whisperer" a timeless quality; this is music that builds upon the sounds that Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Andrew Hill, Charles Mingus and Wayne Shorter discovered in the 1960s.  Mr. Wolfe and his cadre of excellent musicians do not copy any of those mentioned above, making his pieces sound fresh and alive.  For more information, go to

Here's the opening track of the album:


The news has been making the rounds the past 24-36 hours that Clark Terry has entered hospice care. Having just viewed "Keep On Keepin' On" and now in the midst of his autobiography (check it out here), one is amazed but not surprised at Mr. Terry's resilience through his many trials and tribulations.  Say a prayer for him, for his wonderful wife Gwen and his family.  Then, go to and over a listen to this music from composer Patrick Williams that features a short but sweet solo from CT.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Winter Heat

For his 8th recording as a leader, alto saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa look back and forward at the same time.  "Bird Calls" (ACT Music) takes its musical cues from Charlie Parker (his daring playing, his willingness to experiment and his often dazzling technique) and adds the myriad influences the leader has encountered in the years since he first started playing.  The group Mahanthappa has assembled for this project plays with grace and fire; bassist François Moutin and drummer Rudy Royston are long-time acquaintances and musical cohorts while the saxophonist started playing with pianist Matt Mitchell 4 years ago (first as a member of guitarist Rez Abbasi's band, then with Mahanthappa and Bunky Green in the "Apex" band). The secret weapon in this ensemble is the 20-year old trumpeter Adam O'Farrill (son of pianist/bandleader Arturo O'Farrill) - his cool, confident, musicianship is a fine counterpoint to the fiery work of Mahanthappa. The music does not ignore the leader's Asian-Indian heritage - in fact, the opening track of the CD, "Bird Calls #1", serves as an overture and one can clearly hear echoes of the shehnai, the double-reed instrument in the music of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran.

Besides the 5 short "Bird Calls" (which, besides the group opener, include a sax-trumpet duet plus solo pieces for saxophone, bass and piano, each serving as a lead-in to a longer quintet piece), there are 8 pieces for the group.  Mahanthappa, who composed the entire program, claims to base each track off a Charlie Parker composition but I would not listen for direct parallels in the melody.  Instead, concentrate on the tremendous work of the rhythm section who are the engine of this music, check out Mitchell's splendid support and solos, and listen to how each melody creates a fertile garden for the soloists.  "On The DL" has the sound of a Mahavishnu Orchestra track (play it loud, you'll see), especially in the melody line, the leader's incendiary solo and Royston's poly-rhythythmic attack.  The trance-like quality of the pianist's lines lead to a stunning solo until the pace slows for O'Farrill's softer, more impressionistic spotlight.  His circular lines pick up in intensity and the rhythm section guides the band back in. The interaction of saxophone and trumpet on "Chillin'" has a folk-blues feel, especially in the call-and-response of the theme.  Mitchell's ringing chords, Moutin's throbbing bass and Royston's majestic drum work push the piece forward (there are moments when the chord pattern beneath the solos sounds like Weather Report's "Birdland.")

Mahanthappa's visceral solos, with his full yet sharp tone, often have a percussive feel (not unlike solos by his contemporary, Miguel Zenón) as if influenced by a tabla player's attack.  Still, on a ballad like "Sure Why Not", with its strong hint of the blues in the melody, he displays an emotional richness and sweeter tones.  The interaction of the trumpet and piano, echoing the saxophone lines in "Gopuram", is a pleasing touch while the intense rhythm section work during the solos serves as kindling for the improvisers.  The "funky bop" of "Maybe Later", which builds off of Royston's rousing drum work and utilizes Moutin's forceful bass lines as its foundation, is exhilarating.

"Bird Calls" starts out by making the listener sit up and listen with its powerful groove; even the final track, "Man, Thanks for Coming", puts one on the edge of his chair for 1:38.  Do not play this CD to relax but to set your mind on fire.  Rudresh Mahanthappa, who is known for his great musicianship and for getting the most out of his compositions and cohorts, has created what, arguably, may be his finest ensemble and music.  Catch them in person if you can - this music will rock your soul.  For more information, go to

Give a listen to "Chillin'" and dig the fire! Also, Rudresh Mahanthappa is the first guest on the newly-invigorated "The Jazz Session" - it's great to have Jason Crane back and you can hear the podcast by clicking on the link at the top right of this blog.

Trombonist Marshall Gilkes, best known for his work with the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the Edmar Castaneda, has just issued his 4th CD as a leader and first with a large ensemble.  "Köln" (Alternate Side Records) is the culmination of his 4 years as a member of the WDR Big Band (Westdeutscher Rudfunk).  Based in Cologne, Germany, the 18-piece group works and records with many visiting artists as well as working with young people. Their discography includes collaborations with guitarist Hiram Bullock, vocalist Fay Classen, Maceo Parker, the New York Voices and many others.

The studio recording took place in January 2014. Gilkes's contract had expired the previous month but he had been invited back for a concert featuring his original works and an arrangement of Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer's "My Shining Hour."  Appropriately, it's that tune which opens the program, a sprightly arrangement that features Gilkes as its only soloist.  He returns once again on the lovely performance of "Edenberry", a ballad that was the title cut of his 2005 debut album. The "Introduction" is an arrangement for brass chorale then Gilkes steps up to lead the entire band through a handsome reading of the piece. Again, he is the only soloist but the arrangement shows off his talent for creating compelling voices for the reeds and brass sections. Gilkes returns to solo on the final track, a smart new arrangement of "Downtime", a track that was a highlight of his 2012 "Sound Stories" recording.  It's fun to hear how the sections support and expand his melodic expedition.

Gilkes does not play on the rest of the tracks but creates impressive pieces that spotlight different members of the Big Band.  Pianist Frank Chastenier and the flugelhorn of John Marshall are featured on the prayer-like "Vespers" yet the section work also stands out.  "4711 Special" has a strong melody but builds smartly from the playful rhythm work of the pianist, bassist John Goldsby and drummer Hans Dekker. Pleasing solos by trombonist Ludwig Nuss and alto saxophonist Johan Hörlen add spice to the piece named for the famous Original Eau de Cologne from the region.  Goldsby is front-and-center on the bluesy (strong hints of Thad Jones in the melody) "Plant Bassed" that also features a stand-out trumpet solo by special guest and frequent collaborator Michael Rodriguez (who appeared on the trombonist's 2008 "Lost Words"). Rodriguez solos on flugelhorn on the lovely "Mary Louise", named for and dedicated to Gilkes' mother.  The brilliant sounds of the brass propel the melody to its soft finish, a short, sweet, second flugelhorn solo. "End in Sight", which also appeared on "Lost Words", is actually a piece from the composer's days at Juilliard  Here, it opens with the horn intro from the earlier recording but soon transform into an animated work where each section contributes to the brightness.  When the rhythm section kicks into a higher gear, the piece becomes a spotlight for an exciting alto saxophone solo from Karolina Strassmeyer followed by a vivacious turn from tenor saxophonist Paul Heller.

The old adage says there is usually "strength in numbers" and the wonderful section work on "Köln" bears witness to that.  This recording not only celebrates the music and arranging of Marshall Gilkes but also his relationship with the WDR Big Band.  There is a great amount of joy in this music, strong emotions abound, and the ensemble plays with gusto as well as sensitivity. Those who love 21st Century Big Band music will enjoy this gem of a recording. For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Intimacy of the Small Ensemble

Australian-born saxophonist (alto and baritone) Lisa Parrott moved to the United States since 1993 and she has pretty busy ever since.  She's a copyist for several big bands, a member of DIVA Jazz Orchestra and the Artie Shaw Orchestra, and has appeared on numerous CDs including 7 with her sister Nicki (bass and vocals).

"Round Tripper" (Serious Niceness Records) is really her debut as a leader - the title refers to the fact she often returns home to teach and to play. Joining her are the splendid rhythm section of Chris Lightcap (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums) plus she shares the "front line" with fellow countryman Carl Dewhurst (guitar) and co-producer Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet and flugelhorn on 2 tracks). Ms. Parrott's choice of material is inspired.  The program opens with Carlos Ward's "Rosa Takes a Stand (for Rosa Parks)", a celebratory romp with Wilson in Ed Blackwell-mode.  Then, listen to how melodic (a la Backwell) he is on Bernie McGann's "D. Day." (If you have heard the late Mr. McGann - he passed in 2013 - check out his 2001 Rufus recording "Bundeena").  In fact, Ms. Parrott's generous playing and warm tone on alto reminds this listener of that player.  Her baritone work is facile, quite swinging and certainly inventive.  She attacks Ornette Coleman's "Round Trip" with great vigor, the hardy "bari" tones rising over the rousing bass lines and fiery drums.  Her deep sounds on "Do You Think That I Do Not Know" (based on a poem by the 20th Century Australian Poet Laureate Henry Lawson with music by the Parrott sisters) blend nicely with Ms. Noordhuis's husky flugelhorn tones.  Wilson's brush work is, as one has to come to expect, is exemplary.  Trumpet and alto mesh with guitar on the closing "Waltzing Matilda" (the saxophone harmony on the opening verse is quite lovely).  The quintet extends the piece to 8:34 (by 3 minutes, the longest track on the disk) and take their time with the solos.  Lightcap, Wilson and Dewhurst create a medium-tempo groove and the piece floats along with crackling solos until its gentle close.

The sound quality on "Round Tripper" (kudos to Mike Marciano at Systems Two in Brooklyn, NY) is mighty impressive - everyone sounds so clear and it gives the music a sense of intimacy.  Let's hope that this excellent album is the first of many Lisa Parrott makes as a leader.  For more information, go to

"Naked" is the 3rd CD issued by Israeli-born guitarist Assaf Kehati and his first with his Trio comprised of Ehud Etun (bass) and Ronen Itzik (drums).  In the 3 years since his previous recording, the guitarist has played his music with drummer Billy Hart, saxophonists Will Vinson, Donny McCaslin and Seamus Blake plus Anat Cohen. His new songs have stronger melodies, with personal  narratives that engage the listener.  The program opens with "Song for Saba" (composed when the guitarist heard the news of his grandfather's passing), a slow tribute with a country feel in the melody line.  Bassist Etun's counterpoint work stands out as does Itzik's expressive brush work. There is a joyful playfulness in the twists-and-turns of "Nathan Bo Rega" while "The Horses' Fight" has a Brazilian feel in the exciting drums and bouncing bass lines.  Kehati's ringing guitar tones (he likes to hold notes out) move like stallions across the fields and the rhythm section boldly push him forward.  The title track opens on a melody line not unlike a Lennon-McCartney ballad and the song goes on to be a beautiful performance, emotionally rich with a few climaxes built in but really embracing a more melodic approach. The longest track (11:25), "Beneath the Almond Tree", starts quietly with just guitar - Itzik  then creates Middle-Eastern rhythms that sweep the song along.  Etun's bass solo has a flamenco feel, especially as he dances down the neck of his instrument. When he finishes, the drummer kicks into a swing tempo for a powerful guitar solo and then takes his own thunderous solo, returning to the Israeli-influenced melody to take the piece out.

The Trio also tackle 2 standards and one Ornette Coleman classic.  "Long Ago and Far Away" swings with a vengeance without abandoning the melody while "Someday My Prince Will Come" is a sweet ballad.  The latter track moves right into a bass solo after the first verse. Listen to how the guitarist and drummer frame the solo. One can hear the many nights on the bandstand that the trio has played this song and how they breathe new life into this chestnut. Coleman's "When Will The Blues Leave" swings gently, its carefree demeanor giving the impression that the blues has most certainly "left".

"Naked" refers to the honest approach than the Assaf Kehati Trio brings to this music.  Not afraid to show emotions such as joy and sadness, the musicians create a program that draws the listener in from the opening guitar notes to the final fade.  This is music that deserves to seen and heard. For more information, go to