Wednesday, April 27, 2016

April Closes on a Series of High Notes + CD Pick

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme presents the fine young pianist Christian Sands and his Trio this Friday (4/29).  Sands, a native of New Haven, is a protégé of the late Dr. Billy Taylor and is currently a member of bassist Christian McBride's Trio.

Joining him will be bassist Russell Hall and drummer Jerome Jennings.  Doors open at 7:30 p.m. with the band hitting the stage at 8:30.

Here's the pianist in action in 2015 (with a different rhythm section):



www.trbimg.com
On Saturday, the Door opens for saxophonist Dave Liebman's Expansions Quintet.  Liebman (tenor and soprano), who first came to critical notice in the 1970s playing with Miles Davis and Elvin Jones while leading his own group Lookout  Farm, has become one of the finest educators in this country as well as keeping a very busy performance schedule.  This particular ensemble features the excellent pianist and composer Bobby Avey plus Matt Vashlishan (reeds), Alex Ritz (drums) and Tony Marino (drums).  This group has worked together for several years, recording 2 CDs for the Whaling City Sound label.  Liebman creates very interesting aural soundscapes for this band, pushing them (as they push him) to the heights of their abilities.

The first set begins at 8:30 p.m.  For more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886.

On Friday night, Firehouse 12 in New Haven presents Clarence Penn & Penn Station.  Drummer Penn, who works with the Maria Schneider Orchestra and has worked with trumpeter Dave Douglas, is one of the classiest and talented players on the contemporary scene.  His quintet - Chad Leftkowitz-Brown (saxophones), Manuel Valera (piano), Rick Rosato (bass), and Chelsea Jackson (vocals) -  play original music as well as pieces from Penn's latest CD, "Monk: The Lost Files" (Origin Records). This is the drummer's 4th appearance in the venue, having worked there with guitarists Joel Harrison and Adam Rogers plus pianist Aaron Goldberg.

The band will play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - call 203-785-0468 or go to firehouse12.com.

Here's a piece from the latest album:



Last week, I wrote about the Wesleyan University Jazz Weekend so this is just a reminder.  Friday, it's the Jazz Orchestra, conducted by the weekend's honoree Jay Hoggard plus Jazz ensembles directed by Noah Baerman and Pheroan akLaff. The concert takes place at 8 p.m. in Crowell Concert Hall.

Saturday night, it's the Jay Hoggard Quintet celebrating the release of "Harlem Hieroglyphics", Professor Hoggard's fine new double CD.  He'll be playing with saxophonist Rene McLean, pianist James Weidman, bassist Belden Bullock, and drummer alkali.  The show starts at 8 p.m. and takes place in Crowell Concert Hall. For tickets, go to www.wesleyan.edu/cfa or call 860-685-3355.

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Dave Stryker (guitar) and Steve Stagle (alto and soprano saxophones, flutes, arrangements) have played together in various combinations over the past several decades, creating their own band in the early 2000s.  The Stryker/Slagle Band has issued 4 albums with a quartet lineup (2007's "Latest Outlook" added special guest Joe Lovano) - the duo's new CD, "Routes" (Strike Zone) introduces the SSB Expanded and they do so by adding John Clark (French horn), Billy Drewes (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet), Clark Gayton (trombone, tuba), and Bill O'Connell (piano, Fender Rhodes) to the dynamic rhythm section of Gerald Cannon (bass) and McClenty Hunter (drums).

This is one of those "comfortable" albums.  The octet handles Slag's fine arrangements with aplomb, the nine compositions (4 each by the co-leaders plus one by Charles Mingus) leave plenty of room for solos but never overstay their welcome, and the music really does take a variety of "routes." There's the laid-back warmth of the opener, "City of Angels", an ode to Slagle's hometown that deftly uses all the voices on the opening theme before several excel solos. Mingus's "Self-Portrait in Three Colors" is a tour-de-force, with the juxtaposition of the "low" sounds of tuba, French horn, and bass clarinet to the alto sax and flute.  Stryker's "Nothin' Wrong With It" utilizes soprano sax, bass clarinet and Fender Rhodes plus a driving beat to evoke the African sounds of electric Weather Report (circa "Black Market"). The interaction of Drewes (bass clarinet) and Slagle (soprano sax) is electrifying, all the while Hunter is deftly pushing the band.

Other highlights include "Great Plains", a sweet Stryker ballad with a handsome horn and reed arrangement plus fine solos from the guitarist, French horn, and alto sax supported by the quiet Rhodes and hypnotic bass and drums.  There's the slinky funk of Slagel's "Fort Greene Scene" plus the bluesy title track with a melody line arranged for the guitar, brass and reeds with sweet harmonies.  The album closes with "Lickety Split Lounge", steeped in the blues with a ripping guitar solo riding atop the hardy drumming and "walking" bass.

"Routes" is that kind of album you can play loud in the car or on the back porch, even a bit quieter while lounging on the couch.  The Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded is a good idea that sounds great.  Enjoy the journey!

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

Give a listen to "Great Plains" recorded live in February of this year:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Leading From the Rhythm Section

Bassist, composer, arranger, and educator Alexis Cuadrado creates such fascinating music.  On his previous 2 albums, he has explored the fusion of flamenco music with jazz (2011's "Noneto Ibérico") and the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca, specifically the poetry he wrote during his visit to the United States in 1928-29 (2013's "A Lorca Soundscape").  Now the native of Barcelona turns his attention to the 21st Century writings of Melcion Mateu (also a native of Barcelona) and Rowan Ricardo Phillips (a NYC native fluent in Catalan); both are featured on "Poètica" (Sunnyside Records) alongside Cuadrado, Miles Okazaki (guitars), Andy Milne (piano, keyboards) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums) on a program that challenges, soothes, and provokes many emotions.

allaboutjazz.com
The album contains thirteen tracks with 3 dedicated to the 3-part "Balada de Matt Sweeney" (Mateu) and 4 cuts with multiple poems.  Opening with with Phillips "Song of Fulton and Gold" and its evocation of 9/11, the power of the collaboration is immediately evident.  The leader leads the band in with his insistent cajón, then the powerful rhythms created by the bass, guitar, and drums push the piece forward through the lyrics to a shattering finish.  "Terra Incognita" (Phillips) also contains that powerful forward motion, with Sorey's forceful drums, Okazaki's roaring guitar lines, Milne's hypnotic piano chords and the leader's fundamental bass work.

photo by Jeremy Zilar

Throughout the album, the combination of the melodies and words are often filled with tension, the different stories being told capturing one's attention.  "..Matt Sweeney" (Mateu) spreads over nearly 13 minutes with different rhythms, several solos, and the poet's voice, sometimes dripping with sarcasm, sometimes anger, even with genuine wonder, with "Pt III" sung in both Spanish and English.  Mateu's gravely intro to "What Rose Is/Pamelia/ Cornelia St Café" sets the tone for the impressionistic images of a man fascinated with an older woman.  In the middle of the piece, there's a long and powerful guitar solo.

The hypnotic melodies, the circular poems, the amazing interaction of voice and musicians, the multitude of sounds from the guitars of Miles Okazaki and keyboards of Andy Milne, the percussion barrage of Tyshawn Sorey, the two different narrators with their poems of the ever-shifting New York City, landscapes (physical and emotional), all that plus the arrangements by composer Alexis Cuadrado make this new project spring to life. The more you listen, the more you can hear how the different come together and complement each other.  Part recital, part "poetry slam", often exciting, and always involving, "Poètica" shines.

For more information, go to alexiscuadrado.com.

Here's the ensemble in action from 2014, with both Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Melcion Mateu involved:



Since 2009, drummer, composer, and arranger Rob Garcia has led a most interesting quartet based around tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, pianist Dan Tepfer, and a rotation of bass players (Joe Martin, John Hébert, and Chris Lightcap).  For his 4th album for BJU Records, "Finding Love in an Oligarchy on a Dying Planet", Garcia turns his attention to issues that affect our daily lives, doing so with a stellar band including Preminger, bassist Masa Kamaguchi, and pianist Gary Versace plus tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano (3 tracks), vocalist Kate McGarry (2 tracks), and actor Brendan Burke (spoken word on 1 track).

robgarciamusic.com
Garcia's compositions take on such topics as gun control ("Guns Make Killing Easy"), global climate change ("Greenland Is Turning Green"), the current politic climate ("Terror, Fear, and Media"), and wars ("Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier"), doing so in the manner of Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins; the titles make you think while the music pulls you in.  "Greenland.." features both Lovano and Preminger on tenor sax playing the theme in harmony, each going on into strong solos.  Ms. McGarry joins the band (minus Preminger but plus Lovano) for "The Journey is The Destination", a swinging reminder of the arc of one's life.  She also teaches about the importance of equality on "People Are Everything", this time with Preminger winding his soft tenor lines around the lyrics.

The title track jumps atop the circular piano ones, throbbing bass and forceful drums plus the lyrical tenor sax of Preminger. Since he first came on the scene, the young saxophonist has been an impressive voice and now has a blues sensibility to his phrasing (not unlike Don Byas or Archie Sheep).  After a long bass solo, the saxophonist plays the plaintive melody of "Guns..." shadowed by the more colorful piano counterpoint.  There is a similar setup on "Johnny...." with a strong bass intro (melody and more) from Kamaguchi before Preminger play the folk-like melody.

Ottawa Jazz Fest
"Finding Love in an Oligarchy on a Dying Planet" (a message of hope on its own) charts the continuation of Rob Garcia as a  composer, arranger, bandleader, and human being.  Using music and his ensemble to help him make sense of the world as well as give his listeners the opportunity to find where they fit in this program makes this a fascinating program. The music stands out, is forceful yet never strident, and is contemporary with an understanding of its myriad roots.  No matter your politics, this music soars, flows, and sings.

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


One look at the discography of drummer and composer Donald Edwards and you see that the Louisiana native is a busy and versatile musician. He's worked and recorded with guitarist Mark Whitfield, saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, the Mingus Big Band and Orchestra, bassist Ben Wolfe, trombonist Conrad Herwig, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, pianist Orrin Evans, and others plus he's a charter member of Opus 5.

"Prelude To Real Life" is his 4th album as a leader and 2nd for the Criss Cross label.  Three of the musicians who played on 2014's "Evolution of an Influenced Mind" return - Orrin Evans (piano), Walter Smith III (tenor sax), and David Gilmore (guitar) - and are joined by bassist Luques Curtis plus guests Nicholas Payton (keyboards on three tracks), Vivian Sessoms (vocalist on three tracks) and Antoine Drye (trumpet on one track).

allaboutjazz.com
The program includes three short "sound sculptures" including the album opener "Taking Shape." Each features Payton on either Fender Rhodes, organ and/or piano.  "Hop Scotch" is a funky ditty with Ms. Sessoms singing the instructions for a children's game. "King" blends keys, drums, and saxophone into a quick, raucous, hit.

The majority of the material utilizes the quintet to excellent advantage.  There are 2 standards in the program, the understated but swinging rendition of Benny Golson's "Stablemates", the melody played by Gilmore and Smith III with the rhythm section dancing beneath them. Curtis, a native of Hartford, CT, takes a sweetly melodic solo before Evans, Gilmore, and the tenor saxophonist play succinct spots, all the while the leader moves deftly around his kit. A short group of solos from piano, drums and tenor sax leads the ensemble into a playful take on Thelonious Monk's "Skippy" (which is a good description of Edwards' accompaniment.) Ms. Sessoms adds her whispery yet articulate voice to Alex Sipiagin's "Way To Her", shadowed by the saxophone with counterpoint from Gilmore's vocal-like guitar phrases.  She returns for the drummer's "Thought For the Day" with lyrics that touch on the various ills in society, taking a positive approach.  The ensemble kicks it up several notches with the rhythm section leading the way during the fine solos (Smith III really pushes with abandon).

The music in the longer cuts all feature start melodies and strong improvisations. Longer tracks, such as "Beautiful Intuition" (8:57) and "Apple Street" (8:09), take their time to establish the melody sections, leaving room for improvisations.  What stars out on initial listening is how intelligently Edwards sets up the songs from his role in the rhythm section.  His intuitive playing, knowing when to push or hold back, is one of the joys of the recording.  Then, listen to the soloists and realize how each has his own style (or sound, if you will); this music is not about ego or technique as much as it is about story-telling and communication.

"Prelude to Real Life" is an album to play over and over, the program never gets tiring. Donald Edwards can be a "power drummer", like Rudy Royston and Eric Harland, but his control and how he plays in different situations really stands out.  Highly recommended!

For more information, go to donaldedwards.com.

Here's the title track:

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Large Ensemble Music Spring '16 (Part 1)

After 2 albums that expanded on his Nonet ensemble, 2013's "March Sublime" (big band) and 2010's "Chamber Songs" (for Nonet and strings). trombonist, composer, and arranger Alan Ferber returns to his 9-person group with "Roots & Transitions" (Sunnyside Records).  The 8 original compositions, funded by grans from Chamber Music America and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, are inspired by the birth of Ferber's first child (in 2013) with cellist Jody Redhage.

With an ensemble that includes his twin brother Mark (drums), Matt Clohesy (bass), Bryn Roberts (piano), Nate Radley (guitar), Charles Pillow (bass clarinet), John Ellis (tenor saxophone), Jon Gordon (alto saxophone) and either Scott Wendholt (6 tracks) or Shane Endsley (2 tracks) on trumpet), Ferber has sculpted a program that celebrates new life, creativity, the silence or hectic pace of living with a person that changes and grows every day plus trying to continue to carry on doing what a musician has to do. But don't expect squalling solos and skittery rhythms - instead, the listener moves through a series of reflections on a creative artist's ever-changing life.

Not surprisingly, the music starts on softer notes with "Quiet Confidence", an elegant melody that slowly grows from the trombonist's opening melody, adding other voices until we reach the theme, an expansion on the line one hears at the onset.  The rhythm section arrives around the 2-minute mark but the music continues on its slow pace adding solos from Roberts and the leader. The pieces stops around the 7-minute mark but there's a lovely rubato coda that leads into the .63 second "Hourglass", a chorale for the reeds and brass. The pace picks up with "Clocks" (if you have ever been awakened by a baby in the middle of the night, you know how often one looks at a clock), a bit more frenetic with the melody line and the rhythm section pushing forward, often atop the hypnotic piano chords. Short but powerful solos by Endsley, Gordon, Radley, and drummer Ferber follow.

The opening stop-and-start rhythms as well as the swinging melody section easily push "Wayfarer" forward while "Flow" follows, a poly-rhythmic treat that moves stealthily as if on tip-toes with an intensity that keeps building and climaxes with an exchange between Wendholt and Radley.  "Perspective" is calmer, introspective, with a slowly developing melody that opens to solos from Clohesy, Pillow, and a long, powerful, statement from John Ellis.  Ferber spreads the melodic material around on "Echo Calling" with the sections and the drummer creating a complex call-and-response.  The final tracks, "Cycles", builds from the playful give-and-take of muted trumpet, saxophone, and drums (Mark Ferber can really lay down the funk grooves), adding voices until the brass and reeds play the theme before Ellis plays a mighty solo.  A quick return to the circular, percussive, melody with all the voices riffing.  As the tempo slows, Gordon and Alan Ferber rise out of the mix for short solos before the guitar, bass, piano and drums quietly put the piece and album to bed.

Over the past decade+, Alan Ferber has created a body of music for his Nonet (and subsidiaries) that acknowledges the foundations of jazz and continues to move forward.  "Roots & Transitions", his 5th CD as a leader, is mature music that swings, that tells stories, that has moments of joy and wonder, shows the strength of Ferber as a composer, arranger, and soloist. Since his Nonet debut, he has displayed the understanding of how to write to the strengths of an ensemble and the individual voices within. Each album has been a treat for the avid listener. And, now with parenthood, he's found new modes of expression.

For more information, go to www.alanferber.com. To hear selections from the album, go to sunnysidezone.com/album/roots-transitions.


French hornist, composer, and arranger Justin Mullens seems to be equally attracted to jazz and mythology, in particular Old English and Greek. With his 16-member Delphian Jazz Orchestra, he released 2 albums on Fresh Sound New Talent, 2003's self-titled recording with music inspired by the legend of "Beowulf" and 2009's "Tales of Pan and Eyes of Argus."  For his new CD,
"The Cornucopiad" (BJU Records), his original music is based in Greek mythology plus he re-arranges 3 jazz standards plus he creates 5 "sonic portraits" with multi-tracked French horn and guitars (played by long-time associate and co-producer Pete Thompson).

Vacant Eye Photography
And, he has pared the band down to 8. Besides his French horn and Thompson's guitar, the octet features Chris Cheek (alto sax, clarinet), Peter Hess (bass clarinet), Ohad Talmor (tenor sax), Desmond White (bass), Matt Ray (piano), and Marko Djordjevic (drums).  The program opens with a rousing reading of Freddie Hubbard's "Hub-tones", built on the active drums, the insistent guitar chords, and walking bass lines.  Mullens takes the first solo, displaying his "bop chops" with a bow towards one of the first jazz French hornists, Julius Watkins (1921-1977).  After the mini-portrait (.22 seconds) "Mr. Squeaks", Mullens' "Amalthea" (named for the goat-nymph that raised Zeus) blends a handsome melody and horn arrangement (the blend of brass, sax and bass clarinet is striking), the solo section includes a melodic turn from bassist White, the leader, and pianist Ray.

If you strictly follow the song order, you'll see that Mullens pairs each standard with an original (sometimes split by a mini-portrait. The smart arrangement of Nacio Brown's classic "You Stepped Out of a Dream" (strong solos from the leader, Thompson and Hess) is followed by Mullens' "The Goatfish" (dedicated to Amalthea's son Aegipan who grew alongside Zeus).  The latter tune, with serious rock music inflections (especially from the guitar), really jumps atop the forceful drumming (funky, at times, as well) - listen closely to hear how Thompson's overdubbed guitar interacts with Ray's electric piano, subtly and tastefully. There is a lovely arrangement of John Coltrane's "Naima", replete with a handsome ensemble reading of the melody and a splendid alto sax solo from Chris Cheek.  That's paired with a hard-swinging "The River Horn" (relating to the battle between Heracles and river god Achelous - in the fight, Achelous's horn is torn off and he trades Amalthea's horn, the cornucopia, for his own.) The song is much more upbeat than the story, with sparkling solos supported by a very active rhythm section.

The best way to enjoy "Cornucopiad" is to listen to the program all the way through a number of times; that's really how you hear how the various stories are connected. Justin Mullens is such a talented arranger/composer, creating music that not only illustrates the ensemble's talents but also illuminates their fine soloing, all in the service of a fascinating story

For more information, go to delphianorchestra.com.

Here's the Octet in action for April 10, 2016 with Art Hirahara sitting in for pianist Matt Ray:



The modern big band often takes its cues from the music and arrangements of Bob Brookmeyer, Thad Jones, and Gil Evans.  Christopher Zuar, born Long Island, New York in 1987, went to the New England Conservatory to study with Brookmeyer (1929 - 2011) and also met pianist Frank Carlberg. After graduation, he went on to study at the Manhattan School of Music with Jim McNeely (also a Brookmeyer and Jones disciple).

The debut album of the Christopher Zuar Orchestra has just been issued on Sunnyside Records.  "Musings", produced by composer/ arranger Mike Holober, features 18 of the best musicians in New York City, many of whom play with or have played on albums by Maria Schneider, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Alan Ferber, Joel Harrison, Darcy James Argue, and with Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project.  The reed section features Dave Pietro, Ben Kono, Jason Rigby, Lucas Pino, and Brian Landrus.  The brass section features the trumpets and flugelhorns of Tony Padlock, Jon Owens, Mat Jodrell and Matt Holman while the trombonists include the afore-mentioned Alan Ferber, Matt McDonald, Tim Albright and Max Seigel (bass 'bone).  The rhythm section is top-notch with Pete McCann (electric & acoustic guitars), Frank Carlberg (piano, Fender Rhodes), John Hébert (acoustic & electric bass), and Mark Ferber (drums).  Guests include Rogerio Boccato (percussion on 3 tracks) and the wordless vocals of Joy Lawry (4 tracks).  Zuar not only arranged and conducted the ensemble but also composed 7 of the 8 songs, the exception being "7 Anéis" from the pen of Egberto Gismonti.

From the opening moments of "Remembrance", one can hear that Zuar has a gift for soaring melody lines, understands the dynamics of the rhythms section, and utilizes his horns and brass wisely.  The brilliance of the sound - kudos to engineer Mike Marciano and the mixing engineer Brian Montgomery - allows all the musicians to be heard.  Hébert's mobile bass lines move in and around Ferber's powerful drums while Carlsberg's "foundational" piano chords and counterpoint are echoed in the brass and reeds (in the early part of the piece, Landrus's bass clarinet stands out and then is absorbed into the seas of saxophones). The appropriately-titled "Chaconne" is a lovely work with its blend of low horns and higher reeds on the melody giving way to a handsome Carlberg solo over the intelligent bass lines and splendid brush work.  Soon, the rest of the ensemble filters in and theres a lovely exchange between saxes, flutes, trumpets and trombones before the piano solo continues.

What is also noticeable throughout the album is the influence of Maria Schneider's expansive arrangements, use of wordless vocals, and sweeping melodic passages. The essence of Ms. Schneider's "Buleria, Soleá Y Rumba" can be heard on Zuar's arrangement of Gismonti's "7 Aneis", down to the use of acoustic guitar and voice. The piece is brilliant, a wonderful mix of dynamic rhythms that support Jason Rigby's fiery soprano sax solo - even the horns and brass are playing "rhythm".

The exceptions are notable.  The funky "Ha! (Joke's On You)", at times, resembles one of Thad Jones' piece but updated. Guitarist McCann stands out with his "wah-wah" accompaniment plus his blazing solo. Drummer Ferber, who definitely the driver of this band, gets a rollicking solo joined by the "shakers" of Boccatto and the "popping" electric bass, taking the song out on a raucous note.  The drive and fire of "Vulnerable States" with its intense rhythms and shifting intensity, plus the use of Ms. Lawry's voice as the precursor to the horn arrangement, piano and alto sax solos (Ben Kono on alto), is adventurous, exciting, and rewarding. The short but lovely "Lonely Road" is a wondrous showcase for muted brass, flutes. clarinets, and Kono's handsome oboe playing.

"Musings" is quite the opening salvo for young Christopher Zuar.  While one can certainly hear his various influences, one can also tell he has the intelligence and drive to continue to absorb the sounds of his mentors and make something new. This is a exciting debut that grows on the ears with each listen.

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

Here's the first track:

Monday, April 18, 2016

Three Nights at The Side Door + Bassist's Bigmouth + CD Pick

Yet another busy weekend of music at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme; this time, it starts on Friday, features a drummer who's played the venue numerous times, has a sold-out show on Saturday, and ends on Sunday with a rollicking show from a Marsalis brother.

The drummer is E.J. Strickland and he's leading his quintet Transient Beings into the venue for the first time.  He formed the group in 2012 and the lineup includes vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles, 2 guitarists - Nir Felder and Tom Guarna - and electric bassist Rahsaan Carter.  As you can see, this is an "electric" group and, judging by their videos, the music can be electrifying.  Strickland's compositions reflect his philosophy and spiritual bent, with the music always pushing forward.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and Transient Beings play its first notes at 8:30.  Call 860-434-0886 for reservations.

Check out the quintet in action:



Vocalist and pianist Karin Allyson returns to The Side Door on Saturday but the show has been sold out for a good while.  Which is really no surprise as Ms. Allyson is one of the most popular and busiest performers on the scene.  She's touring to support her new album, "Many a New Day" (Motema Records); the recording finds her interpreting 14 songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein in the company of pianist Kenny Barron and bassist John Pattitucci.  It's quite a fine album and, perhaps, the video below will ease the pain of the sold-out gig in Old Lyme.

Go to www.karrin.com/events/ to see where she's performing this year.

Here's a video about the new album:



Sunday evening at 8 p.m., Jan and Ken present Delfeayo Marsalis & the 2nd Line Quintet for 2 sets of music that comes from or is inspired by New Orleans. Trombonist Marsalis, the 3rd of the Brothers who are the musicians/sons of pianist Ellis Marsalis, is best known for his production work but he's also been a touring musician and has released five Cds under his own name since 1992 (three in the last 9 years).

For his gig in Old Lyme, he's bringing the rhythm section of Reginald Veal (bass), the great Marvin "Smitty" Smith (drums) plus Roderick Paulin (saxophone) and special guest Cyrus Chestnut (piano).  If that lineup doesn't make you want to get up and dance, best you check your pulse.  The trombonist/leader also knows how to play sweet ballads, music from Eliington and Strayhorn and other masters of jazz.

For tickets, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886.  At the website, you can check out the upcoming shows through the middle of June and make your reservations accordingly.

Here's a taste of Poppa Marsalis and his sons swinging and "Struttin'":




Firehouse 12 in New Haven continues its Spring 2016 Concert Series with a visit from bassist and composer Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth. Lightcap, who is currently in the rhythm section of both the Matt Wilson Quartet and Regina Carter's group, has had quite the busy career recording and touring with the likes of vocalist Nicki Parrott, guitarist Joe Morris, Professor Anthony Braxton, and so many others.  The bassist named his quintet Bigmouth after releasing an album with that name in 2005.  The personnel has remained fairly stable over the past decade with Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek (tenor saxophones), Craig Taborn (piano, organ, electric piano) and Gerald Cleaver (drums).  The group's latest Clean Feed album, "Epicenter", was issued in 2015 and made many "Best Of" lists; deservedly so, as the music combines jazz and modern rock influences into a stew that blends the mesmerizing sounds of the saxes with a powerful rhythmic surge and the many keyboard colors that Taborn produces.

Bigmouth will play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - with separate admission to both.  For reservations, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.

Give a listen to the opening track of "Epicenter" here:



Also, I recommend you check out Jason Crane's interview with Mr. Lightcap on The Jazz Session. Click on the link up on the right of this column.

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In 1921, with World War I and the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 beginning to recede from the national memory, the musical "Shuffle Along" debuted on Broadway.  With an all-Black cast, music and lyrics by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, relegated to a distant theater on the edge of The Great White Way, the musical soon captured the hearts of Big Apple audiences with its exuberant and wonderful melodies.  Despite the fact that the show was built on racist stereotypes seen in the various Minstrel shows that been produced in the U.S. since the 1840s, the production brought Black audiences into the theater district, an area where they rarely ventured.  After its 15-month run on Broadway, the show took to the road and was quite successful through 1924.  The show has been revived several times and is now back on Broadway - The New York Times magazine ran a fascinating multi-media article on the show in March of this year - read it here.

Ehud Asherie has his own take on the music, producing a new solo piano CD. Appropriately titled "Shuffle Along" (Blue Heron Music), the young pianist, born in Israel but raised in Italy, explores the Blake tunes with joy and sensitivity.  Several of the tunes - in particular, "I'm Just Wild About Harry" and "Love Will Find a Way" - have long been part of the jazz standard repertoire. Listening to Asherie's performances, it's easy to understand why. The melodies are so well-developed (and hummable), moving with a lilt and grace plus a joie de vivre that belies the African American situation post Reconstruction.

My suggestion is to not only see the musical on Broadway (if you can) but also listen to this delightful recording from Ehud Asherie. He's such an accomplished musician, it's obvious to hear as he dances, sways, struts, and strolls through the melodies of Eubie Blake.  While a Broadway musical is often "blown up" to fill the stage, on a recording, one can revel in the rhythms, harmonies and melodies without having to watch a spectacle. What a treat!

For more information, go to ehudmusic.com.

Here's the opening cut from the CD:

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Take the Jay Train

It's been 40 years since Jay Hoggard graduated from Wesleyan University (and over 25 since he's been on the faculty of his alma mater).  Balancing the life of a professional musician as well as an educator, husband, and father, Hoggard has performed around the world, recorded more than 20 albums as a leader, and served as a mentor for musicians such as trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum and vibraphonist Chris Dingman.  His early albums for India Navigation Records explored African rhythms plus, at around the same time, he recorded commercial Lps for GRP Records. In the 1990s, Hoggard made a series of albums for the Muse Label, including a personal favorite "In The Spirit" (1992) that featured pianist Anthony Davis, reed master Dwight Andrews, bassist Mark Helias, flutist James Newton, and drummer Ed Blackwell. He also recorded albums that featured musicians such as guitarist Kenny Burrell, pianist Geri Allen, drummers Marvin "Smitty" Smith and Frederick Waits. As a sideman, he worked and recorded with pianist Davis, Newton, plus saxophonists Chico Freeman and Oliver Lake.

Like many musicians caught in the midst of the major label collapse of the 21st Century, Jay Hoggard started his own label in 2003, JHVM Music, a move that has allowed him to record a wide variety of material, from a Christmas album to a duet with long-time associate James Weidman (piano, organ) to a tribute to his mentor Lionel Hampton.

Which bring us up to 2016.  On April 29 and 30, the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University presents its annual Jazz Weekend. Each year, the Music Department invites an artist for a weekend of music starting on Friday night with a concert, free and open to the public, featuring the University Jazz Orchestra, directed by Professor Hoggard, and the Jazz Ensembles, directed by Noah Baerman, Visiting Instructor, and Pheroan akLaff, Visiting Assistant Professor of Music.  The concert takes place at 8 p.m. in Crowell Concert Hall, Wyllys Avenue, in Middletown

Saturday night, which happens to be International Jazz Day, belongs to the Jay Hoggard Harlem Hieroglyphs Ensemble. It's a quintet setting that finds the vibraphonist playing music from his new double-CD ("Harlem Hieroglyphs") with James Weidman, drummer Pheroan akLaff, bassist Belden Bullock, and saxophonist René McLean. The album (cover pictured left), funded in part by Wesleyan GISOS (Grant in Support of Scholarship), brings together the many influences on Hoggard's life, from the gospel music he heard in church (including the sacred music of Duke Ellington) to the sounds of African percussion to mentors like the afore-mentioned Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson to the popular music on the radio and so much more.

Messrs. Weidman and Bullock both play on the album along with Yoron Israel (drums), Gary Bartz (alto and soprano saxophones), and, on 6 of the 18 tracks, Nat Adderley, Jr. (piano, organ). Mr. Bartz, who first came to critical notice in the mid-1960s playing  in the Max Roach/Abbey Lincoln group and then moving on to Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, is a welcome addition to this music. It's not just because he's such an inspired musician but it marks the first time the vibraphonist has recorded with a reed player since the early 90s.  The first disk opens with "If I Were a Bell", the Frank Loesser classic from "Guys and Dolls", which Miles Davis first recorded in 1956.  The group gives the tune a gentle swing, the clear tones of the vibes meshing well with the soft tones of the alto sax.  Moving on to the blues of Hoggard's "Harlem Jazzbirds Swingin' and Swayin'"; the piece bounces sweetly atop Bullock's bass, Weidman's piano chords and Israel's masterly brush work.  Gospel chords from the piano leads the group into "I Am Free", a funky original that also reflects the influence of South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. For this listener, the highlight on disk 1 is the emotionally strong performance of Bernard Ingher's "Everything Must Change", an oft-recorded ballad, most notably by Nina Simone and Quincy Jones with James Ingram. Here, it's the expressive alto saxophone that shares the lead with ringing tones of the vibraphone. Nothing is rushed, the musicians pouring their souls into the song creating a beautiful experience.

Wesleyan CFA
CD 2 opens with the fiery "Sonic Hieroglyphs" with great solos by the leader, Bartz (on alto), and pianist Weidman, all powered by Bullock's walking bass and Israel's high-flying cymbals.  There's a rollicking version of Sonny Rollins' "Airegin" - it's one of the shorter tracks (3:33) but the musicians give their all.  "I Live Because I Breathe" is a lovely ballad with a handsome melody, a splendid vibes solo, and fine soprano sax counterpoint.  An African feel permeates "Mystical Cycles of Skin, Wood, and Metal", the hypnotic rhythms and circular melody, the pulsating vibraphone, Adderley, Jr.'s piano working in tandem with the organ work of Weidman, all creating a musical wonderland.  Hoggard and Weidman (on piano) paint a sublime portrait of Duke Ellington's "My Love", a piece the Maestro wrote for his Third Sacred Concert.  Following that track is a impressionistic solo work "Pleasant Memories." It's one of the two pieces on the album that is over 9 minutes long yet the music moves forward easily and melodically, going through several different moods and sonic variations (there are moments where the vibraphone sound like steel drums and marimbas).

Anyone who is acquainted with Jay Hoggard knows he's one of the most positive persons you'll ever meet. The music on "Harlem Hieroglyphs" is imbued with joy, hope, and wonder.  His story is not only filled with his history but also his accomplishments and dreams.  This is music that breathes, that swings with ease, soothes the soul, and makes one smile.

For more information about the album, go to www.jayhoggard.com.  To get tickets to Saturday's 8 p.m. concert, go to www.wesleyan.edu/cfa or call 860-685-3355.

Here's "Everything Must Change" to whet your appetite and the show:

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Sweet Sounds of Spring Live + CD Picks

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (explain that to your children), The Side Door Jazz Club goes from strength to strength.  This weekend, 2 great pianists and their ensembles will brighten the Shoreline nights.  On Friday (4/15), pianist and composer Renee Rosnes will play at the Old Lyme venue. Hot on the heels of her new CD, "Written In the Rocks" (Smoke Sessions), arguably the finest album of her career (which is now in its third decade), the pianist will bring 2 of the musicians from the recording, vibraphonist Steve Nelson and bassist Peter Washington as well as the wonderful drummer Lewis Nash.

The CD, (pictured left) which also features reed master Steve Wilson and drummer Bill Stewart, sounds contemporary and timeless.  Ms. Rosnes' "The Galapagos Suite" makes up the bulk of the program; it's an ode to evolution and the natural sciences.  Her compositions all have strong melodic lines yet leave plenty of room for great improvisations.  The songs have power while the interactions of the musicians, especially the rhythm section, are often riveting, each person a storyteller. Here's the opening line from a review by WBGO-FM's Gary Walker - "If I wanted to be a great writer, I would make a deal with the devil to be able to tell a story the way Renee Rosnes does when she sits at the piano." No argument here.

The Renee Rosnes Quartet will play two sets with the first commencing at 8:30 p.m.  To make a reservation, call 860-434-0886.

Here's the title track:




On Saturday night, Jan and Ken welcome pianist and composer Manuel Valera.  He's played the venue before with the New Cuban Express but, this time, the Cuban-born Valera brings the rhythm section of Ben Street (bass) and the delightful drummer Clarence Penn (a true master of "groove" who blends power and subtlety like few of his contemporaries).  Valera's last Trio album was recorded in 2014 at New Haven's Firehouse 12  (watch the video below) and features EJ Strickland (drums) and Hans Glawischnig (bass).  I love how the pianist lets loose in the Trio setting and, with such empathetic colleagues, the music really goes many different ways while maintaining the rhythmic excitement.

The Manuel Valera Trio hits The Side Door stage at 8:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com.  To learn more about the pianist and his career, go to www.manuelvalera.com.




Firehouse 12 in New Haven welcomes drummer and composer Ari Hoenig & Trio on Friday (4/15).  Joining him will be pianist Nitai Hershkovits and drummer Or Bareket, both natives of Israel and both busy as sidemen and as leaders.  Neither musician is on Hoenig's latest (and self-released) CD, "The Pauper and the Magician" but have worked with the drummer in the past.  Hoeing is quite an expressive and expansive player yet never gets in the way of fellow musicians. As a composer, he writes pieces that grow organically from both the rhythm and the melody, leaving plenty of room for improvisations and interactions.

The Ari Hoenig Trio will play two sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. (separate admission for each set) - for more information, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468. To find out more about the leader, go to arihoenig.com.

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Tenor saxophonist and composer Kirk MacDonald is a veteran of the Canadian jazz scene (yes, there is a busy scene up North) where he's been involved ensembles big and small for the past three decades.  "Symmetry" (Addo Records) is a release from late 2013 that just seeing the light of day in the US and finds the saxophonist in the company of pianist Brian Dickinson, bassist Neil Swainson, and drummer Dennis Mackrel plus guest Tom Harrell (trumpet and flugelhorn. All the tracks come from the pen of the leader. The ten tracks cover over 76 minutes leaving plenty of time for lengthy, but never boring, solos.  This is also Mackrel's first time recording with MacDonald and he displays his formidable talent throughout, teaming up with Swainson and Dickinson to keep the music flowing beneath the front line.  The appropriately named "Mackrel's Groove" is a spotlight for how well he can drive a band - his interactions with the leader near the close of the tracks explodes out of the speakers.  Harrell shines throughout as well. His delicate flugelhorn lines on "Shadows" are lyrical while he takes a rollicking solo on "Bop Zone."  The leader swings lustily on many of his solos, displaying a style that is built off the foundations of Sonny Rollins (and I hear both John Coltrane and Chris Potter in some of his phrases as well).

ottawacitizen.com
Kirk MacDonald is a busy musician and educator (he has been on the faculties of McGill University and University of Toronto - he now is a full time Professor at Humber College in Toronto, CA) with a resumé that speaks to his versatility as a player and community member.  "Symmetry" is a lively collection of songs that, despite its length, eschews cliches and trite phrases which displaying the power of working together and a love for what you do.  For more information, go to kirkmacdonald.com.


Pianist Steve Kuhn (born 3/24/1938) has been active on the contemporary music scene since the mid-1960s. While at Harvard, he worked with Chet Baker and Coleman Hawkins. Kuhn then  played in John Coltrane's Quartet right before McCoy Tyner, recorded a series of fine albums for both ECM (including several with vocalist Sheila Jordan) and Concord Jazz in the 70s and 80s (returning to Manfred Eicher's label in the 2000s) and has a number of CDs on the Japanese Venus label.  In 2012, ECM released "Wisteria", a studio album with electric bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Joey Baron.


John Rogers/ECM
"At This Time" find the trio of Kuhn, Swallow, and Baron on the Sunnyside label.  The hour-long program (7 standards and 2 Kuhn originals), recorded in August of 2015, is quite enjoyable. The pianist and bassist have a long association, know how to work together to support each other as well as provide freedom of expression.  Add Baron to the mix and this recording really sparkles.  The Trio really swings on several tracks including the opener, "My Shining Hour" and on Kurt Weill's "This Is New" (from the 1941 musical "Lady In the Dark"). Swallow's thick electric tone and Baron's splendid cymbal work give Kuhn a fine cushion and he plays with abandon on both tracks, really digging into his solos.  Among the ballads, Quincy Jones' (Theme from) "The Pawnbroker" stand out for its lyricism and the Latin groove under the piano solo. Kuhn's composition "The Feeling Within" is a handsome solo piano performance that one easily gets lost in.  The trio takes a gentle, wistful, and bluesy stroll through Leonard Bernstein's "Lonely Town"  (from "On the Town") and close the album with a sweet take of Gil Fuller's "I Waited For You."

At 78, Steve Kuhn continues to perform at the height of his talents as does Steve Swallow (75 years old).  If you decide to just let "At This Time" play in the background, it's delightful; if you sit and pay attention, the interactions really jump out as do the melodies.  Also, listen to how expansive Joey Baron (the young one at 60) plays on the uptempo tracks and his sweet brush work on several of the ballads (especially on "Carousel" from the British composer Duncan Lamont). As I have noted many times, there are plenty of piano trio recordings available on the market; there are few as enjoyable as this new disk from Steve Kuhn.

For more information, go to stevekuhnmusic.com.

Here's this delightful trio in action from 2014:

Monday, April 11, 2016

Down to Sea With Saxophones, Brass & a Chum Bucket


When one attempts to describe saxophonist Jeff Lederer, the words "exuberant", "dynamic", "elemental", and "fun-loving" come to mind. In concert with the Matt Wilson Quartet and the Honey Ear Trio, he can be, and often is, ebullient, a Puck-ish character whose approach to the tenor sax knows no limits.  In his own groups, Lederer's music blends blues, swing, hymns, gospel, and so much more. He has an affinity for the music and sound of saxophonist Albert Ayler (1936-1970) and has recorded a number of his works as well as dedicating several of his original pieces to the fiery musician.


Lederer's latest recorded adventure (and ensemble), titled "Brooklyn Blowhards" (Little (i) Music), blends his love for Ayler's music (5 of the 14 tracks are Ayler tunes) and sea shanteys - an unlikely match, you say, but ,when played by the octet of Petr Cancura (tenor saxophone), Kirk Knuffke (cornet, slide trumpet), Brian Drye (trombone), Art Bailey (accordion) and the percussion trio of Allison MillerStephen LaRosa, and Mr. Wilson (trap drums, ship's bell, chum bucket, chain), this music is so alive. Joining the ensemble on 5 tracks is vocalist Mary LaRose (Lederer's wife) and, on 3 tracks, guitarist Gary Lucas. There are moments when the music sounds like an unhinged Salvation Army Band (before and after the Cancura/Lederer duo on "Black Ball Line" and all throughout "Haul Away Joe") and cuts where the ensemble swaggers or romps with such panache (Ayler's "Heavenly Home" and his classic "Bells").  Check out Matt Wilson's "Dancing Waters", a truly lovely ballad with Ms. LaRose's wordless vocals and Lucas's sparkling dobro, underpinned by the swirling reeds and brass, building to an amazing climax on the power of the drummers, beginning and ending with a short chorale that sounds like a prayer. Lederer's "The Language of Resistance" is a stunning work for the octet, a spotlight for the leader's soprano sax and Bailey's fine accordion work.

Inspired playing abounds throughout the program.  Solos by Knuffke and Drye enliven the traditional "Haul on the Bowline" while the spiky slide work of Lucas shines on "Shenandoah." Ms. LaRose leads the way on the raucous take of Ayler's "Island Harvest" capturing the humor of the original version without imitating lyricist and vocalist Mary Parks. The multi-tracked voices on "Shallow Brown" blends sweetly with the dobro, the accordion swells, the martial drumming, and the sway of the horns.

"Brooklyn Blowhards" is serious fun, music that reaches back to music of early America while illustrating how Albert Ayler tapped into traditional musics, making it sound new and "free.'  Jeff Lederer, who arranged the entire project, was inspired by the brilliant work of artist Matt Kish, who created "Moby Dick in Pictures - One Drawing for Every Page".  Play this loud, let the music ring through the house while raising your glass to the ingenuity and vision of this splendid musician and his mighty band.

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

Here's a sample from "Brooklyn Blowhards" complete with artwork from the book: