Sunday, October 4, 2020

Large Ensembles: Poetry, Politics, & Presence

Photo: Luke Awtry
Composer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist Kyle Saulnier created the Awakening Orchestra 15 years ago not only to play his original music (and some astute covers) but also to create conversations around the political situation in the United States and the world.  18-members strong, Saulnier has assembled an aggregation of veteran and young musicians from both the New York and Boston musical community, sprinkled in the occasional guest vocalists and a guest soloist––together, they make music that blends many genres to create a sound that soars, roars, cries, and sighs.

"volume II: to call her to a higher plain" (Biophilia Records) is the Orchestra's third recording ("vol. I: this is not the answer" in 2014 on Innova Recordings and "Interlude: Atticus Live–the Music of Jesse Lewis" in 2016)––the music was composed, workshopped, and performed over the past five years. Like all of the recent releases on Biophilia, the 15-song, 116+ minute program has an artistic, origami-foldout cover and is available only as a digital download.

The album is broken into two parts;  "Part 1: the pessimist's folly" includes "prelude & fanfare: the Patriot", an adaption of Nine Inch Nails "burn", an orchestral arrangement of Bill Frisell's "Throughout", and the four-part "i can see my country from here (Symphony No. 2 for the Awakening Orchestra"). "Part II: the optimist's folly" includes an orchestra adaptation of Molly Drake's "I remember", the five part title track which carries the subtitle "Concerto for Violin and Awakening Orchestra", the two part "the (desc/diss)ent", and closes with an instrumental adaptation of Eric Whitacre's chorale "lux arumque".

Photo: Guinara Khamatova
When faced with this much content, it's better to dive right in and start from track one. Sit and listen: this music changes moods often so after the "prelude & fanfare" prepare you for a big band experience, the first sounds you hear on "burn" is Michael McAliister's electric guitar. After his intro, vocalist Nathan Hetherington leads the way––there's a break in the middle where various instrumental vices from the Orchestra play before the intensity ratchets up for a powerful guitar. After a handsome reading of Frisell's piece, "Throughout", featuring excellent solos from bassist Joshua Paris, trombonist Michael Fahie, and trumpeter Seneca Black, the listener enters the musical world of "Symphony No. 2..."

Photo: Richard Velasco
The two long multi-section pieces (one is 41+ minutes, the other 33+ minutes) are quite involved, episodic; the "Symphony.." based on the comparison of the ideas of the French Revolution and how the United States democratic republic seems to have abandoned its ideals in the 21st Century and "Concerto..." is a work based on the 1980 book by Alvin Toffler "The Third Wave" and, the piece like the album, takes its name from a quote from Senator George McGovern.  For the latter piece, the composer wrote the violin parts for his wife Brooke Quiggins Saulnier––the blend of her playing, classically and folk music inspired, with the ensemble adds more shades to the music. Note her work with soloists Samuel Ryder (soprano), John Yao (trombone), Pablo Masis (trumpet), and Vito Chiavuzzo (alto saxophone)––sometimes. the violin is a color in the background, it's counterpoint during a solo, she sets up the solos. Ms. Saulnier is the primary voice on the "Cadenzas" that come after the first and third parts of the "Concerto..."

Photo: Luke Awtry
I't's hard to not attempt to describe each piece of music on this album as each song stands out for its melody, for its emotion, its interplay, the fie solos, and the arrangements. Still, after the tour-de-force of the "Concerto...", the final two tracks should not be missed.  "the (desc/diss)ent" features splendid work from the rhythm section, intelligent section writing plus powerful solos by Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet)––kudos to drummer Will Clark for keeping up his part of the conversation during the solo––followed by a give-and-take with Remy Le Boeuf (soprano sax) and Felipe Salles (tenor sax), also with Clark as a partner. Just past the halfway make of the 13-minute, Ms. Noordhuis steps out for an unaccompanied minute before Michael Caterisano (vibraphone) ushers her back in and slowly, the ensemble reenters.  The soulful trumpet solo takes the song to its close with just high trumpet notes over subdued electric piano.

"volume II: to call her to a higher plain" closes with the Whitacre chorale.  Arranged for the eight brass players, the lovely sounds echo as the melody rises, a spiritual finish to a spirited program.  Kyle Saulnier wants the listener to understand the gravity of the political and social issues that plague the United States but he refuses to lose hope.  There are moments throughout the album where the music asks questions and others where the music and the Awakening Orchestra seems to hold our hands, saying "be strong."

For more information, go to www.kylesaulnier.com and www.awakeningorchestra.com. To purchase the album, go to https://awakeningorchestra.bandcamp.com/album/volume-ii-to-call-her-to-a-higher-plain.

Here's the Nine Inch Nails song:



Personnel:

Kyle Saulnier: compositions, arrangements

Reeds:
Remy Le Boeuf, Vito Chiavuzzo, Samuel Ryder, Andrew Gutauskas, and Felipe Salles

Trumpets:
Daniel Urness, Seneca Black, Nadje Noordhuis, and Pablo Masis

Trombones:
Michael Fahie, John Yao, Samuel Burtis, and James Rogers

Rhythm Section:
Michael Caterisano, Michael MacAllister, Aaron Kotler, Joshua Paris, and Will Clark

Guests:
Seth Fruiterman; voice
Julie Hardy; voice
Nathan Hetherington; voice
Brooke Quiggins Saulnier; violin


(Reader, take note––I have known Mr. Saulnier for around six-seven years as we were both teaching at Quinnipiac University in Hamden CT. He's spoken to my classes about contemporary music and we have talked about his writing process and the issues one has trying to get his/her music heard. He's since moved on but we stay in touch. Our discussions barely scratched the surface of how hard he has worked to get this music performed and recorded.  Kudos to Biophilia Records and to Nick Lloyd plus Greg DiCrosta for their efforts in bringing this project to fruition.)




Tenor and soprano saxophonist and composer Marius Neset, a native of Bergen, Norway, has been living in Copenhagen, Denmark, since he began his collegiate career there in 2003. While in school, he met numerous artists and performers, including British keyboard master Django Bates who featured him in his student band at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory.  Upon graduation, Neset began playing in various ensembles (including one with Professor Bates) throughout Europe including several that he lead or co-led.  His debut as a leader, "Suite for Seven Mountains", was issued in 2008 on Edition Records––the saxophonist went on to record several more albums for the British label before signing with the German ACT Music label in 2014, recording his debut album  for them , "Lion" with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra.  


In 2019, Neset decided to move back "home" to Norway but, before leaving, he created a program to record with the Danish Radio Big Band with its newly-appointed chief conductor Miho Hazama.  "Tributes", his sixth album as a leader for ACT, features five new original compositions, one ("Bicycle Town") in two parts and another ("Children's Day") in three parts.  The program opens with "Bicycle Town", Neset introducing the song with a circular line that suggests Sonny Rollins without imitating the great master. He goes it alone for several minutes, expanding the melody and his sound until the reeds of the Big Band begins to flutter around him. The playful flutes and the bouncing baritone sax are soon joined by the low brass and eventually the rest of the band.  The music now has a funky feel suggesting Weather Report, especially Joe Zawinul's more rhythmic songs. 


Photo: Nicolas Koch Futtrup
The tune comes to a quick close leaving Neset playing a spiraling line to the close. "...Part 2" is introduced with a new circular line before electric bassist Kaspar Valdsholt digs into his solo.  When the entire band joins, they play a familiar line from "...Part 1" and Neset produces a powerful solo. "Tribute" follows and is a classically-inspired work with a lovely melody––soprano saxophonist Hans Ulrik steps out of the ensemble for a sweet solo.  In fact, his voice dominates the middle of the song before Neset's arrangement for the reeds and brass creates a delightful dance.

The two pieces in the middle of the program, "Farewell" and "Leaving the Dock", would not sound out of place on a Maria Schneider album.  The former starts with a lovely melody for the soprano sax (Neset, this time) supported by the brass, reeds, and piano. The music gently ripples forward as the soprano rises over the ensemble: in this instance, Neset sounds like Wayne Shorter, especially in his most fluid phrasing.  The slow fade leads directly into the next song. One can feel the waves lapping the side of the boat as trumpeter Mads la Cour introduces the melody with the leader and various other reeds shadowing his line. Pianist Henrik Gunde steps out for a thoughtful and poetic solo with the band sitting out for the first few choruses and then offering occasional support. The close of the piece suggests the boat, now on the open sea, looking homeward.

The album closes with the three-part "Children's Day". After its formal opening, "...Part 1" is a delightful and playful piece that suggests the Caribbean with a rollicking solo section for guitarist Per Gade and Neset. The somber theme also opens "...Part 2"––this time, the piece is a ballad with solos by Valdsholt (acoustic bass) and an excellent spotlight for trumpeter Gerard Presencer that covers a lot of time and ideas.  No formality or somber feel as "...Part 3" rides in on hand percussion and thumping bass. Neset dances through his sweet solo with the sections jumping in from time to time. The tenor sax leaps in and out of the sections short phrases before moving into the next part of his solo. The rhythms and the solo are irrepressible and irresistible pushing the band to a rousing climax.  

"Tributes" certainly does not sound like a sad goodbye to Denmark for Marius Neset.  He celebrates his growth as a person and musician, hails his friendships, refers to his musical partnerships, shows how his twin influences of jazz and classical are easily intertwined in this 50-minute program.  A big bow to the work of the Danish Radio Big Band and conductor Miho Hazama (herself an excellent composer-arranger). Music can be and should be a joy to listen to: this recording certainly is!

For more information, go to www.mariusneset.info.

Personnel:

Marius Neset; tenor saxophone, compositions

Danish Radio Big Band:

Miho Hazama, conductor

Trumpets:
Erik Eilertsen, Thomas Kjærgaard, Dave Vruels, Mads LaCour, and Gerard Presencer

Trombones:
Vincent Nilsson, Peter Dahlgren, Annette Saxe, and Jakob Munck Mortensen

Saxophones:
Peter Fuglsang, Nicolai Schultz, Hans Ulrik, Karl-Martin Almqvist, and Anders Gaardmand

Rhythm Section:
Per Gade: guitar
Søren Frost; drums
Kaspar Valdsholt: bass
Henrik Gunde: piano


Here's Marius Neset and the DR Big Band in concert with a song that's not on the album:




Friday, October 2, 2020

Trios Time Again

Pianist and composer Matthew Shipp turns 60 years old in early December and remains one of the busiest, most creative musicians on the Black Music scene.  His current Trio––bassist Michael Bisio and Newman Taylor Baker––is, arguably, his finest ensemble while his music continues to expand.  The band's new album, "The Unidentifiable" (ESP Disk),  captures one's ears and mind from the opening seconds of "Blue Transport System" and refuses to let go until the 10:31 "New Heaven and New Earth" fades to silence. Even then, moments return in snatches of melody, sounds, and beats.  Upon first listening, you might think Newman Taylor Baker's splendid drumming is the reason to return. Perhaps it's Michael Bisio's powerful and often melodic bass work or the muscular piano, long flowing phrases, or thoughtful compositions that the leader supplies that turn your head. In fact, it's all three and more.

Photo Mark Lazarski
I've learned to listen to a new Matthew Shipp Trio all the way through each time. This is not music you "cherry-pick" your favorites and ignore the rest.  Listen to how the rhythm section goes its own way on "Phantom Journey" or provides a gentle cushion of colors for the exploring piano lines on "Dark Sea Negative Charge". Baker's trance-like drums go alone on the short "Virgin Psych Space 1" serving as an intro to the trio's reading of "...Space 2".  Note how each music builds on those drums, Bisio's bass weaving in and around while Shipp's piano travels above.

There is a quiet passion pulsing on the above-mentioned "Dark Sea...."; check out the fascinating hard drumming on "Trance Frame" (another short solo piece) and the powerful piano on "Phantom Journey."  The sound of the album, engineered by Jim Clouse in Park West Studios in Brooklyn, NY, is clean and loud.  Te lengthy final track will glue you to the chair, the thick bass tine, dancing snare work, and the ever-exploratory piano lines slowly build to a powerful climax–Bisio's bowed bass and overtones atop Shipp's gently piano melody become a contrast in light and darkness dropping out so the music can close on Baker's subtle brushwork.

"The Unidentifiable" is one more high point in the creative career of Matthew Shipp, not just for the music he composed for the Trio but also for his continued dialogue with Michael Bisio and Newman Taylor Baker.  There is no compromise, no cliches, just a powerful message of creativity in uncertain times.

For more information, go to www.akamu.net/shipp.htm. To purchase the music, go to https://matthewshipp.bandcamp.com.

Here's the opening track:




Pianist and composer Lafayette Gilchrist has created an amazing amount of music, relevant music, over the past three decades.  A resident of Baltimore, MD, since 1987, his music covers a wide swath of territory, from House to Jazz to Hip Hop to Funk to Blues and beyond.  His music has been featured on the HBO series "The Wire" "Treme", and "The Deuce", he's played with the David Murray Quartet as well as drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, and bassist William Parker.  The pianist gets compared to many keyboard masters, from McCoy Tyner to Willie :The Lion" Smith––his ability to play so any styles reminds this listener of the late Jaki Byard.

It's been 13 years and myriad experiences since his last Trio album ("3") was issued. "Now" (self-released) has arrived and it's an collection of amazing adventures.  Two CDs, 16 songs (all originals), 150 minutes, and the great rhythm section of Herman Burnie (bass) and Eric Kennedy (drums), the music is an incredible journey.  Opening with "Assume The Position" (first heard on David Simon's "The Wire"), the listener is bowled over by the thundering chords, the rapid-fire drums, and the pounding bass.   Latter on Disk one, "BMore Careful" is a New Orleans-inspired blues that serves a warning and a spotlight for Burnie's handsome arco work. Kennedy's drums and Gilchrist's piano are mixed high and loud making the music jump from the speakers.  

Dig into "On Your Belly Like a Snake", another hard-edged romp. Most of the longer pieces (seven of the 16 tracks are 10 minutes or longer) usually have stretches where the band eases off the intensity but here it's a short break before the drums push the leader to play harder. Disk one closes with "The Midnight Step Rag", a delightful dance with a touch of the Crescent City in Kennedy's drumming and a bouncy piano solo.  You can just about pick out the deep notes of the bass but also listen to the pianist's active left hand.

Photo: Theresa Keil
Disk two opens with the 13:33 "Tomorrow Is Waiting Now (Sharon's Song)", a handsome medium tempo ballad that builds in intensity on the strength of Gilchrist's splendid piano playing.  Burnie creates a fine solo as well and even though Kennedy does not solo, he plays an integral role throughout the piece. The following piece, "The Wonder of Being Here", is a true ballad, a handsome one at that. The bassist shows his melodic side, especially beneath the lovely piano solo.  Later on the disk, "Can You Speak My Language" is a poignant ballad, the two-handed piano playing and Gilchrist's melodic runs seem to nod towards Keith Jarrett.

Disk two and the album closes with "Specials Revealed", a rich melody wrapped in a soulful rhythm. Gilchrist's solo is built off the repeating chords in his left hand and he gracefully moves up the keyboard while Burnie hugs the bass line and Kennedy pushes the rhythm forward.  I understand the title of the song is also the name the leader has given the Trio–that make sense as this is special music. Yes, "Now" is a lot of music to take in all at once, really three good sets of music on two CDs.  But, take your time and do take it all in.  One can hear so much in the music that Lafayette Gilchrist, Herman Burnie, and Eric Kennedy have created for this album.  Gilchrist's collection of songs plumb his own experiences as well as those of his community, reminding us that music not only tells stories but moves us emotionally. "Now" moves, oh yes it moves!  

For more information, go to www.sonicbids.com/band/lafayette-gilchrist-music/.

Here's the powerful opening track:





The trio of Geof Bradfield (tenor and soprano saxophones), Ben Goldberg (clarinet and contra-alto clarinet), and Dana Hall (drums, percussion) first met in 2017 at The Hyde Park Jazz Festival in Chicago, IL.  That chance encounter led to "General Semantics" (Denmark Records), recorded a year later.  All three musicians have years of experiences behind them as leaders, co-leaders, or group members (Bradfield and Hall have worked together over two decades)––one can tell from the music that recorded how comfortable they are with each other, willing to push and be pushed into many different musical areas.

What a splendid sonic journey this is.  Opening with the quiet rush of "Air" (Bradfield on tenor, Goldberg on contra alto, and Hall using brushes), the music dances forward delightfully as the two reed players carry on quite a conversation.  Composed by the late pianist Cecil Taylor and recorded in 1961 by Steve Lacy, the "swinging" track has a timeless feel. "Tioga Street Zenith" is a three-way conversation, a bit more frenzied yet Hall sticks with brushes as the reeds spar and parry.  "Last Important Heartbreak of the Year" may sound like the title of a Country ballad but is really a rollicking tune with New Orleans drumming goosing the reeds right along.  A bit later in the program, "Hit Flip Switch" (from Goldberg's prolific pen) also is a delightful romp, hearkening back to the raucous music of Louis Armstrong and Johnny Dodds. Bradfield's laughing soprano and Goldberg's playful clarinet should tickle one's fancy!

The soprano sax and clarinet combo returns to dance together yet again on Hermeto Pascoal's happy "8 de Agosto"––again, the two reeds weave around each other as Hall kicks and sticks away with glee.  Bradfield's tenor sax introduces the title song which soon drops into a funky beat, Goldberg's contra alto clarinet producing the bass line. The tenor solo is built off that bass line while Hall keeps the tune close to the ground.  "Half The Fun" opens with a "deep" solo from Goldberg over quiet hand-held percussion.  Several minutes later, Hall drops into a modified "jungle" rhythm a la 1920's Duke Ellington, Goldberg plays a slinky bass line, and Bradfield creates a sweet soprano sax melody.

The album comes to a close with "Under and Over" which has a "freer" feel as the tenor sax and drums open the piece in a fiery conversation.  After they stop, Hall drops into a slow, bluesy, beat, Goldberg's clarinet gets the melody while Bradfield acts as the bass line. There's a feel of Julius Hemphill's "Hard Blues" in the sound of the music, in the way the sax and clarinet move together. The piece closes with a classically-inspired clarinet and tenor saxophone duet.

The trio of Geof Bradfield, Ben Goldberg, and Dana Hall reminds us that when like-minded musicians get together, magic can happen.  Magic does happen on "General Semantics"––this delightful and musical recording is well worth your attention!

For more information, go to geofbradfield.com.

Hear the album's closing track:






Monday, September 21, 2020

Michael Moore, Clarinets & Alto Saxophone, Big Band & Quartet

Photo: Francesca Patella
Michael Moore, a native of Eureka, California, has lived in the Netherlands for nearly four decades.  The clarinetist and saxophonist is celebrating his residency and the art he is creating by issuing three new recordings, all quite different, two of which are reviewed below.  It's also the 30th anniversary of his first release on his own Ramboy Records––that initial album, "Trio Clusone", featured the amazing percussion of Han Bennink and the equally exciting work of cellist Ernst Reijseger, two musicians Moore would spend a decade with redefining the sound of a trio.  Over the years, the label has issued 36 recordings that posit Moore in many different sound ensembles.  He's also spent a number of years performing, touring, and recording with the ICP Orchestra but has never fronted a large ensemble....until now.

In January 2019, at the invitation of percussionist Marcio Doctor (longtime member of the NDR Big Band),  Moore flew to Hamburg, Germany to spend a week rehearsing and recording with the 18-member large ensemble. The resulting album, "Sanctuary", is a smashing success.  The 10 pieces are all Moore originals pulled from his various Ramboy recordings; the clarinetist also contributed six of the arrangements with two by Henk Meugeert (Dutch composer and arranger) plus one each from Christian Elsässer (German composer and arranger) and Frank Carlberg (American-based Finnish pianist and composer).  Each piece stands outs, not just for Moore's splendid playing but also for the arrangements that frame the melodies and soloists plus excellent support from the NDR players. Drummer Tom Rainey rejoins the band (he has played with the ensemble a number of times before) for the album with trumpeter Tim Hagans picking up the conductor's baton.

The music is so fascinating. The lovely opening of "Brunheiras" opens to a sweet melody yet after the band fills the background, the clarinetist steps aside for a raucous solo from guitarist Sandra Hempel with Rainey driving the band.  "Anomalous Soul", first recorded with pianist Fred Hersch and bassist Mark Helias in 1993, is a handsome ballad with more lovely clarinet and intricate interactions within the rhythm section.  "Fogo von Slack" is a short (2:18) work for the three clarinets of Moore, Fiete Felsh, and Luigi Grasso––there's a classical feel that also has a touch of the work of Jimmy Giuffre.  Felsh (on alto sax) also shines on "Odin" as does the impressive section writing.  Listen all to the simple yet solid rhythm section.  The bluesy "Shotgun Wedding" with its delightful trumpet melody and Moore's smoky alto sax work glides along like a smooth ride on a midnight ride.

Photo: Francesca Patella
Because the music is so good, there is the desire to write about each track. Whether it be the Americana-flavored "Trouble House" or the conversation-laden "Igor" (a tribute to Igor Stravinsky) or powerful yet sweet episodic tribute to the composer's mother (the album's title song) that closes the album, this music has melodic and harmonic power, excellent solos, intelligent arranging, and delightful solos.  "Sanctuary" serves as a refuge to the daily madness, a refreshing bath of sounds to excite your soul.

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

Here's the opening song:


Personnel:
Michael Moore - clarinets, alto saxophone

NDR Big Band:
Felix Meyer, Ingolf Burkhardt, Claus Stötter, Sebastian Stein - trumpet, flugelhorn
Dan Gottshall, Klaus Heidenreich, Stefan Lotterman - trombone
Sebastian Hoffmann - bass trombone
Fiete Felsh - clarinet, alto sax, Peter Bolte - flute, alto sax
Gabriel Coburger, Konstantin Herleinsberger - clarinet tenor sax
Luigi Grasso - baritone sax
Florian Weber - piano

Sandra Hempel - guitars
Ingmar Heller - bass
Tom Rainey - drums

Marcio Doctor - percussion
Tim Hagans - conductor

Michael Moore - clarinets, alto saxophone


Photo: Scheba F M
Michael Moore convened his Fragile Quartet for the first time in 2007. Composed of pianist Harmen Fraanje, bassist Clemens van der Feen, and drummer/percussionist Michael Vatcher (who also has worked with Moore in their Jewels & Binoculars Bob Dylan Tribute trio), the ensemble allows the alto saxophonist and clarinetist to create music that can and does go wherever the music wants to go, many times in unexpected and exciting directions.

For the Quartet's fifth album––Gerry Hemingway has replaced Vatcher––Moore created 13 songs that serve as a travelogue, an appreciation of natural beauty, and meditations on the Greek god Zeus, photographer Saul Leiter (1923-2013) and the painter Paul Klee (1879-1940). "Cretan Dialogues" opens with "...Dialogue #1" a three-song medley ("Lollapalooza", "Fenix Blue", and "The Meliae" (nurses of the infant Zeus)) that goes through a number of changes and melodic ideas.  The interplay is powerful, especially the work of the rhythm section as they chart new courses for the leader's reeds over the course nearly 16 minutes.  "...Dialogues #2" follows ("Europa", "Doldrums", and "Leaving Paleochora"); the first part really swings with a hint of Kenny Wheeler in the melody before van der Feen introduces the second piece with a slow spare yet effective bass solo. that leads to the clarinet melody over Frannje's supportive chordal work.  After a splendid percussion interlude, Hemingway's cymbals and brush work give way to a lovely piano ballad. "Paleochora" is on the southwestern coast of Crete and the music sees to look back at the town while looking forward to another ocean voyage.

Photo: YouTube
The album continues on with a Brazilian-flavored piece "Eugenia Uniflora" (named for the Brazilian Cherry bush) and the handsome ballad "Pussy Willow."  On the latter track, Moore's breathy alto and Hemingway's conversational drumming lead the way.  One of the album's shorter tracks, "A Little Box of Jazz", is also one of its "freer" pieces with all four musicians engaged in the "chat room".  The shortest track "Slowly, Slowly" closes the program–the bowed bass solo over the solemn piano chords and simple percussion serves as a coda to an album that covered a wide stylistic territory without settling in one.

"Cretan Dialogues" is quite the journey, one that moves the soul and heart of the engaged listener.  Michael Moore remains one of the more creative artists you will hear these days. He uses his Ramboy Records as an outlet for his various projects and you'd be wise to take a listen to his often-absorbing, probing, and exciting works.

Here's the tune to the Brazilian Cherry:

The albums reviewed here will be released on October 2 in the United States.. To listen to and purchase Moore's recordings on Ramboy, go to https://michaelmooreramboy.bandcamp.com.

Monday, September 14, 2020

What Ben Goldberg has Been Doing During the Pandemic

Photo: John Rudoff
Like most musicians, clarinetist and composer Ben Goldberg had a busy Spring and Summer 2020 planned with concerts, tours, recordings, etc.  By the middle of March, all that had evaporated and he was sitting home shocked, wondering what to do until the world reopened.  After a few days of contemplation, Goldberg decided to record one song a day in his home studio. He has a number of instruments, acoustic and electric––Bb Clarinet, Eb Albert System Clarinet, Contra Alto Clarinet, Roland JX-03 Synthesizer, Korg MS-20 Synthesizer, Empress Tape Delay Pedal, Memory Boy Analog Delay––and so, on March 19, he posted his first piece in his Bandcamp page, dubbing the sessions the "Plague Diary". The recordings are free but donations are welcome; the address is below.

Goldberg posted one track each and every day until April 7. Since then, he's averaging five to seven pieces a week (from April 30 to June 28, he did not miss a day) and has yet to go more than two days between pieces. As of this writing (9/14/2020), the clarinetist has posted 148 separate recordings.  Some are experimental while others have delightful melodies and playful treatments.  Some tracks last no more than 90 seconds while others are multi-sectioned, episodic, and are over 17 minutes long.  All of it is fascinating.  While we do not know the thought processes behind the songs, many of the pieces are dedicated to musicians he has worked with (such as Ron Miles and Myra Melford) and others who have inspired him (Charlie Parker, family members).

If you are a Ben Goldberg fan or just curious, go to https://ben-goldberg--bag-production-records.bandcamp.com/album/plague-diary and check it out.  You can play any song on his site and, if you like what you hear, leave some money.

To find out more about Ben Goldberg, go to www.bengoldberg.net.

Here's his piece from July 15 dedicated to Joshua Redman:

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Stepping Out From the Rhythm Section

Bassist and composer Eric Revis (pictured left) has got serious pedigree. He's graduated from the school of Betty Carter, has also worked with Steve Coleman, Jason Moran, Lionel Hampton, Andrew Cyrille, and Orrin Evan and Nasheet Waits in the collective trio Tarbaby.  Revis has spent the past 23 years in the rhythm section of the Branford Marsalis Quartet playing alongside Jeff "Tain" Watts and his successor Jason Faulkner. A prolific composer, he has contributed songs to the Marsalis Quartet repertoire and received several prestigious grants and fellowships.

His eighth album as a leader, "Slipknots Through a Looking Glass", is his first for Kris Davis's Pyroclastic Records label. The recording features Ms. Davis on piano plus his "working" quartet of Chad Taylor (drums, mbira), Darius Jones (alto saxophone), and Bill McHenry (tenor saxophone with afore-mentioned Faulkner on drums for two tracks. The resulting music (nine Revis originals, one each from both the saxophonists, and one credited to the bassist, drummer, and pianist) runs the gamut from funk to fiery blowouts to subtle ballads, and never a dull moment. The program opens with "Baby Renfro" (listen below), a serious slab of funk underscored by Faulkner's drums, Ms. Davis's "rhythm guitar-like" piano, and and the leader's thick bass lines.  The overdubbed saxes play a robotic rhythmic line plus there are several slowdowns but most of the piece romps forward.

Photo: Jati Lindsay
Faulkner also appears on "Earl and the Three-Fifths Compromise", a slinky piece that features a circular (and hypnotic) bass line, impressionistic piano chords, and a lengthy conversation feature the two saxophones.  It's Taylor's drums that set the torrid pace "Shutter" on which both McHenry and Jones tear a hole in the ozone layer with their powerful, frantic, and raucous solos.  Ms. Davis dances all over the keyboard while Revis rips out a thunderous walking bass line. "Vimen" opens with a bass and drums dialogue before the pianist joins the fray laying down a series of angular lines blended before Jones scrambles atop the rhythm section and leaps into action. When it's his turn, McHenry takes a softer approach but slowly builds towards a powerful climax.

The title track is split in three short parts, all of which features the bassist in both speakers, quiet piano in the background, and a high-pitched but barely intelligible squeals as white noise. The "second" "Slipknots..." leads into "House of Leaves" which unfolds over four minutes of jagged, rubato, interaction before dropping into a slow funky groove and turning into a moody, introspective, work.

The most intriguing song "SpÆ", an improvised work for bass, mbira, and treated piano that flows from Revis's opening pattern and quiet piano figures and the percussive mbira into a more steady pace. Also a three-part work, the music flows from section to section seamlessly. The trance-like effect of the overdubbed mbira takes over the final moments slowing down with the bass to the fade.  McHenry's lovely ballad "When I Become Nothing" features the band moving forward together with only Ms. Davis moving around the two saxophones.  While not a conventional ballad, the music has a subtle beauty and a yearning quality.

"Slipknots Through a Looking Glass" continues the impressive body of music that Eric Revis has produced over the past two+ decades.  The sound quality of the recording is quite impressive as you can clearly hear all the voices, even when there is a lot of noise.  This is neither simple music nor "art-for-art's-sake" but true creative Black American Music.

For more information, go to https://ericrevis.com.  To purchase the album, go to https://ericrevispyroclastic.bandcamp.com/album/slipknots-through-a-looking-glass.

Here's the deliciously funky "Baby Renfro":




Who better than drummer, composer, educator, and impressive human being Matt Wilson to bring a smile to one's face in the midst of the pandemic.  From a distance––a socially responsible distance––he and his musical cohorts (reed man Jeff Lederer, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, and bassist Chris Lightcap) have conspired to give a musical "Hug!" (Palmetto Records). And, darned if we don't need a big one (hug, that is) plus a reason to smile through our collective fears and worries.

It's been six years since the MWQ released an album of its own––the members all appeared on Wilson's 2016 "Beginnings of a Memory" album as part of his Big Happy Family ensemble. The band's 2014 recording, "Gathering Call", also featured pianist John Medeski but "Hug!" is just the four musicians making their own fun.  The 11-song program opens with Gene Ammon's rollicking "The One Before This", a joyous "blues shout" that features solid bass work, crashing drums and cymbals, and stand-out solos from Lederer (tenor sax), Knuffke, Lightcap, and the leader.  Everybody gets loose so the audience can sit back and rest assured the music will be top-notch!

Off they go into a collection that features pieces by Abdullah Ibrahim ("Jabaloni"), Charlie Haden ("In The Moment"), Dewey Redman ("Joie de Vivre"), five Wilson originals, one riotous collaboration with Sun Ra ("Space Force March/Interplanetary Music"), and a Wilson favorite from his youth, Roger Miller's "King of the Road". If you are a long-time Wilson fan, his choice of material shouldn't surprise but the Miller tune stands out for its delightful....well...."joie de vivre".  Lederer's clarinet leads the way, Knuffke gets a short solo, Lightcap contributes the foundational bass line while Wilson's subtle percussion sets an ambling pace––his "tap dancing solo near the close will are you smile even wider.

Photo: John Abbott
Another surprise is the presence of the voice of President Donald Trump. He's there to announce the Space Force initiative as the band contributes a Charles Ivesian background and then break into the "Space Force March" as the President serves as counterpoint to the musical mayhem. The Quartet then segues into Sun Ra's "Interplanetary Music" (hear the original) and creates a pastiche of bouncy blues riffs with a touch of New Orleans.  They sing Sun Ra's lyrics while the President interjects his "Space Force" words.

There are plenty of other highlights.  Wilson's "Every Day With You" is a lovely ballad, heartfelt, emotional, and richly melodic. "Sunny & Share", also an original, may be a tribute to the 1960s hitmakers but, in reality, it's a raucous and rapid melody line punctuated by short solos from each member of the band.  The title tune (listen below) may just bring Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass to mind. Complete with a string accompaniment (all parts arranged and performed by Matt Combs, a Nashville, TN-based fiddler), the piece is quite sweet and deserving of its title.

Photo: John Abbott
"Hug!" closes with the aptly-titled "Hamba Kahle (Goodbye)"––the title is from the Zulu language and the music hearkens back to the sounds of Abdullah Ibrahim.  The solid drumming, the dancing electric bass line, the sweet melody line (from the drummer), and the gentle fade all serve to close the album on a hopeful note.  Having attended numerous performances by Matt Wilson either in a leadership role or as a sideman, his music and playing are often imbued with joy.  He can be silly, and irrepressibly so at times, but he is always serious about making good music. The music of the Matt Wilson Quartet obliterates borders, ignores genres, and embraces melody and improvisation. You should partake of this bounty!

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

Here's the title track:


Monday, September 7, 2020

Music With Many Roots

Drummer Adam Nussbaum has had quite the career. Long associations with guitarists John Abercrombie, saxophonist Stan Getz, bassist Steve Swallow, the Brecker Brothers, Dave Liebman, and many others have proven to fans and listeners his worth in the rhythm section. He's co-led and co-leads a number of ensembles but until Sunnyside Records issued "The Lead Belly Project" in February 2018, the affable musician had never released an album as a leader.

After that album was issued, Nussbaum led his cohort––alto saxophonist Ohad Talmor, guitarists Steve Cardenas and Nate Radley––on several tours and they gelled as a working ensemble.  The quartet's second release, "Lead Belly Reimagined" (Sunnyside), includes eight more songs from the songbook of Huddie Ledbetter (1888-1949), with each member of the group contributing ideas and arrangements.  If you liked the initial disc, you'll love this.  "Princess Elizabeth", a tune written in honor of the wedding of Elizabeth to the future Prince Philip, is a lovely, lilting tune in which the guitarists play the simple but enchanting melody in unison with the alto saxophone.  "Laura" keeps the playful edge and the sprit of the original (on which the composer played button accordion and hopped and hollered)––dig how the leader even plays the melody on occasion plus the delightful, dancing, sax solo.

Photo: Neil Swanson
One of the many highlights is the evocative "Rock Island Line". Nussbaum is the train in the station warming up while one of the guitarists calls "all aboard".  Talmor plays the melody through once and the train takes off.  Pretty soon, the song is up to speed with everybody trying to keep up with the beat until we hear the melody shared by the guitar and sax and the songs comes to its conclusion. Chances are you'll also love the spunky "Shorty George"; with its bouncy New Orleans-inspired beat, Talmor and the guitarists head off in quite a playful manner.  Listen closely to "If It Wasn't For Dicky"––the tune, inspired by an Irish folk song "Drimmin' Down", became the inspiration for "Kisses Sweet Than Wine" adapted by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays of The Weavers. That last tune was a big hit for pop singer Jimmie Rogers in 1957, even winning the GRAMMY Award for "Best Pop Collaboration with Vocal" that year.  Here, the quartet caress the original melody treating it care and love.

Photo: YouTube
"Lead Belly Reimagined" closes with "Governor Pat Neff", who, legend has it, was so impressed by the songs of the prisoner Ledbetter (convicted of murder twice) that he released him before his term had expired––not so, in truth but Neff's song is a playful ditty with rollicking drums. You can hear Adam Nussbaum and the band laughing heartily after the final thump. Can't blame them as they must had such a great time on that July day in 2019 when they created this delightful album.  A playful collection of Americana, blues, "roots-jazz", and chutzpah, "Lead Belly Reimagined" will help placate your Pandemic blues!

For more information about Lead Belly, go to www.leadbelly.org.  Check out Adam Nussbaum's site at www.adamnussbaum.net. You can purchase the album by going to https://adamnussbaum.bandcamp.com/album/lead-belly-reimagined.

Here's the opening tune:



Photo: Isabel Firpo
Alto saxophonist and composer Max Bessesen grew up in Denver, CO, where he first discovered Ron Miles (cornet, trumpet)––in fact, among his first professional gigs were appearances with the brass master.  He studied at Oberlin Conservatory when he came into contact with master musicians/ educators Gary Bartz, Billy Hart, and Dr. Eddie Henderson. In 2016 he received a grant to study music that took him to India, Ghana, and Cuba.Upon his return, the saxophonist moved to Chicago where he became involved in the exciting music scene playing with bassist Matt Ulery, fellow saxophonist Greg Ward, trumpeter Emily Kuhn, and is part of the quartet Echoes. Bessesen's initial recording experience was Echoes 2018 debut EP "Square Two" followed up by the group's 2019 full album "Loading Screen."

The saxophonist also started his own group upon his return to the US, a quintet that featured Eric Krouse (piano, keys), Ethan Philion (bass), Nathan Friedman (drums), and guitarist Zac Nunnery. Sadly, the guitarist died unexpectedly in December of 2018 and the ensemble continued on as a quartet.  Bessesen's debut as a leader, "Trouble" (Ropeadope Records), is dedicated to "...Nunnery and anyone in Trouble".  Mentor Miles joins the quartet for six of the ten tracks but one can hear from the maturity of Bessesen's writing that this is a group of equals.  The program opens with "Whirling"; the leader plays a circular melody while Miles adds noises in the background, the piano chimes in, the drummer dances on his kit––the piece serves as an introduction to "Blue Glass Halo", a richly melodic piece in which the cornet and alto sax share the melody. Listen below; there's a Kenny Wheeler influence to the music yet the rhythm section seems to want to be more active, especially Friedman's powerful work

Friedman is front and center on the 52-second "Nungam" which leads into the quartet playing "Bakkam".  The titles inform the listener that the music is inspired by Bessesen's studies in India. The melody line of the latter track has that inspiration as do the dancing rhythms.  Krouse's powerful piano solo roils atop the bass and drums setting the stage for the leader's exciting interaction with the band.  One can hear the influence of Rudresh Mahanthappa in the rapid-fire lines––Bessesen's tone is "sweeter" than the sometime tart timbre of his fellow alto saxophonist.

Photo: Elliot Ross
Pieces such as "Mayhem" and the title track also gives Ron Miles (photo left) and the musicians room to be inventive.  The former track has a simple yet "mysterious" melody as well as a relentless rhythm. As the music opens, Krouse adds his Wurlitzer electric piano to the mix.  The cornet solo slowly builds from the melody line out. Note the softer yet still strong accompaniment beneath him, Bessesen enters and the rhythm becomes funkier allowing the saxophonist to dance atop the beat. "Trouble" is, not surprisingly, a more sober work. With a long alto sax intro that sounds what a flower unfolding in the morning might sound like, the song moves forward with a muted cornet. After Miles' long solo, Krouse steps out inn front with a long, flowing, solo that builds in intensity pulling the drums and bass along. For the most part, Bessesen stays in the background until close to the end of the piece when he and Miles state the full theme.

There's a lot of music, a plentitude of inspired moments, excellent musicianship and interactions throughout "Trouble".  Max Bessesen was certainly prepared for his debut yet this music does not sound overwrought or feel overwritten.  The leader contributed eight of the songs, pianist Krouse added one, and there's a lovely reading of Sammy Cahn's "Be My Love" that closes the album.  The alto saxophonist reminds this listener of another young alto player, Alex LoRe, especially in their "handsome" tone and willingness to move beyond conventional song forms while never ignoring the many musicians and sounds that preceded them.  When you add James Brandon Lewis, Logan Richardson, and several other to the list of artists who will move Black American and creative Contemporary Music forward through the next decades of the 21st Century, the music is in good minds and hands.

For more information, go to www.maxbessesen.com.  To hear more of and to purchase "Trouble", go to https://max-bessesen.bandcamp.com.

Give a listen:


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Large Ensembles, Classical Music & Classic Cuban Poetry

Mike Fahie is a multi-faceted artist: he plays trombone, composes, arranges, plays in several large ensembles as well as having played Broadway shows, and teaches at both the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA. but also is on the faculty of United Nations International School. He's recorded with Darcy James Argue, Pedro Giraudo, Andrew Rathbun, and others. He's recorded two albums with all-star Quintets and now has his initial large ensemble album.

"Urban(e)" (Greenleaf Music) brings together the worlds of classical music and jazz, filters pieces by Chopin, Puccini, Stravinsky, Debussy, Bartók, Tchaikovsky, and JS Bach through Fahie's creative mind and is translated by an 18-piece Jazz Orchestra.  While many listeners may familiar with pieces such as "Nessum Dorma" (recorded by the likes of Jeff Back, Aretha Franklin, and Deep Purple with Luciano Pavarotti) and "The Firebird", it's fun to hear how those songs sound played in these settings. In fact, the Stravinsky piece mentioned just above is one of the highlights of the recording not only for its brilliant writing but for the fine solos by pianist Randy Ingram, tenor saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff, and a lovely conversation between Fahie (euphonium) and Jennifer Wharton (tuba).

Other fascinating turns include the hard rocking center of Bartók's "String Quartet No. 1, III. Allegro vivace".  Jeff Miles' slide guitar leads the ensemble into that––when the barrage of sounds conclude, the band into a Brechtian tango before rocking out once more.  A gentle entry into the sound world of Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 6, II. Allegro con grazia" leads to a playful waltz. Cinematic in scope, the music flows up and out of the speakers leading to delightful solos by Aaron Irwin (alto saxophone) and Nick Grinder (trombone).

The album concludes with Bach's "Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not" (sighs, tears, grief, need) from "Cantata, BWV 21" that Fahie first heard on a recording by the great soprano Kathleen Battle and Wynton Marsalis.  The ensemble pays respect to the original then breaks into a long conversation between the leader (on trombone) and David Smith (trumpet).  Near the close of the piece is a terrific give-and-take between the sections led by the trumpets.

"Urban(e)" is truly an aural treat. Whether you know the original pieces or not, the creative arrangements of Mike Fahie posits you in the midst of the Jazz Orchestra.  This music is emotionally moving and, at times, a real romp.  Just let the sounds flow over you and your day will be better for it.

For more information, go to www.mikefahie.com. To listen to more and to purchase the recording, go to https://mikefahie.bandcamp.com/album/urban-e.

Music by Claude Debussy for your ears––check out the video on the Bandcamp page):



Personnel: 
Winds 
Aaron Irwin, Anton Denner, Chet Doxas, Quinsin Nachoff, Carl Maraghi 

Trumpets 
Brian Pareschi, David Smith, Sam Hoyt, Brad Mason 

Trombones 
Matthew McDonald, Nick Grinder, Daniel Linden, Jennifer Wharton 

Guitar 
Jeff Miles 

Piano 
Randy Ingram 

Bass 
Pedro Giraudo 

Drums 
Jeff Davis 

Arrangements, Orchestrations, Trombone, Euphonium 
Mike Fahie 


Photo: Mariana Maraz
Pianist, composer, and arranger Manuel Valera, a native of Havana, Cuba, has been in the United States for over two decades. Over that time, he's worked with Paquito D'Rivera, Daphnis Prieto, Arturo Sandoval, Brian Lynch, and many others.  The pianist leads several ensembles including a trio and his sextet the New Cuban Express plus a quintet Groove Square. Valera has issued albums on CrissCross Jazz, MaxxJazz/ Mack Avenue, and his own label Mavo Records. For his latest project, the artist has expanded his sextet to 19 members plus vocalists Camilla Meza (three tracks) and Sofia Rei (four tracks) , thereby creating the New Cuban Express Big Band.

"José Marti en Neuvo York" (Greenleaf Music) contains seven Valera originals based on nine poems from "Versos Sencillos" (simple verses), the collection that the great Cuban writer (1853-95) wrote during his time in the New York City area (he spent nearly 15 years in the US) and published after his death.  The combination of bubbling percussion, melodies built on traditional Cuban pieces, the colorful section arrangements, and the splendid vocals, this music comforts, excites, holds your interest from beginning to end, and features excellent musicianship.  Valera, who can burn on the keys like few others, reins in his formidable chops to allow the ensemble the space to develop strong solos.

The album opens quietly with "Odio La Mascara Y El Vicio" (I Hate the Mask and Vice)––after Ms. Meza completes the verses, the tempo picks up, pushed by the powerful rhythms by drummer Jimmy Macbride and veteran percussionist Samuel Torres.  When the vocalist returns, now over the faster tempos, the music takes a powerful turn.  Ms. Rei steps out on the next track, "Es Rubia, El Cabello Suelto" (She is Blonde: loose hair); her voice seems to rise out of the ensemble especially as she sings a wordless vocal along with the brass and reeds.  A melodic electric bass solo by Pedro Giraudo opens "El Enemigo Brutal" (The Brutal Enemy) supported only by the hand percussion of Mauricio Herrera and the synthesized strings of the leader before Ms. Rei steps into the tale of an ugly war, her husky voice a fascinating contrast to the sharp brass and bright reeds. The gentle flow of the medley "Yo Quiero Salir Del Mundo / Yo Pienso Cuando Me Alegro" (I Want to Leave the World/ I Think, When I'm Glad) grows slowly but surely in intensity as more instruments are added. Ms. Meza enters after a short alto saxophone statement and glides through the vocal. Valera employs the same melody as the first section for the second poem in the melody. Here, the vocal is doubled by guitarist Alex Goodman giving the piece a shimmering feel. 

The album closes with the rhythmically exciting "Si Quiere Que De Este Mundo" (If You Want From this World) that features Ms. Rei taking the lead and also joining the ensemble with her wordless vocals.  Valera takes a fine, playful, solo over the rest of the rhythm section followed by an exciting trumpet solo (no credit) and the a rousing spot for baritone saxophonist Andrew Gutauskas.  Macbride and Torres's percussion interchange leads the ensemble back in for an intense finish.

"Jose Marti en Neuvo York" is an intelligent and exciting musical experience fueled by the experiences of the Cuban poet early in the final decade of the 19th Century.  Marti, a vocal advocate and fund-raiser for the independence of his homeland, created these works in exile and the writings speak to the human condition.  Manuel Valera spent many months working on these pieces during the time his wife was battling (and subsequently succumbing to) cancer. The music celebrates his ties to his native country where he first studied piano, composition, and arranging.  Truly a delightful listening experience, this debut recording by the New Cuban Express Big Band is a treat.

For more information, go to www.manuelvalera.com. To listen to more music and purchase the recording, go to https://manuelvaleranewcubanexpressbigband.bandcamp.com.

Here's the opening track (with vocals by Camila Meza):



Personnel: 
VOICE 
Camila Meza (on three tracks 
Sofia Rei (on four tracks) 

TRUMPETS 
John Walsh (Lead on two tracks
Brian Pareschi (Lead on five tracks
Michael Rodriguez 
David Smith 
Alex Norris 

REEDS 
Michael Thomas (Lead Alto and Soprano Saxophones, C and Piccolo Flutes) 
Roman Filiu (Alto and Soprano Saxophones, Flute and Alto Flute) 
Joel Frahm (Tenor and Soprano Saxophones) 
Charles Pillow (Tenor and Soprano Saxophones, Clarinet) 
Andrew Gutauskas (Baritone Saxophone and Bass Clarinet) 

TROMBONES 
Matt McDonald (Lead) 
John Yao 
Andy Clausen 
Jeff Nelson (Bass) 

RHYTHM SECTION 
Manuel Valera (Piano, Celeste and Keyboards) 
Alex Goodman (Guitar) 
Ricky Rodriguez (Bass) 
Jimmy Macbride (Drums) 
Samuel Torres (Percussion on five tracks
Mauricio Herrera (Percussion on two tracks)