Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Give The Drummer Some (November '17 Edition)

Drummer, composer, and arranger Ernesto Cervini is quite a busy human. He leads or co-leads eight groups (!), is a publicist for a growing number of Canadian musicians, and is a member of several other ensembles.  His sextet, Ernesto Cervini's Turboprop, has just issued its second album - titled "Rev" (Anzic Records), the ensemble features the mighty rhythm section of Cervini, Adrian Farrugia (piano), and bassist Dan Loomis plus the front line of Joel Frahm (tenor saxophone), Tara Davidson (alto and soprano saxes), and William Carn (trombone). The majority of the program was recorded after the ensemble had finished a tour of Western Canada. The joy and camaraderie that the sextet exudes is obvious from the start and, honestly, the music they create is irresistible.

Farrugia contributes the opening track, "The Libertine": from the solo drums lead-in, the band builds off the sinewy bass and piano lines, playing a handsome melody.  The pianist dances over the active rhythm section. There's an appealing urgency as the music rushes forward. Frahm roars out of the piano solo, pushed by and pushing back against the tumultuous rhythms.

That spirited interplay continues on Cervini's original "Granada Bus."  Again, the bass and drums add the jet fuel to the music while the dance melody opens up for delight-filled solos from Ms. Davidson (soprano), Farrugia, and Frahm.  The title track (also a Cervini composition) is also a fiery exchange between the horns and drums with the alto, tenor, and 'bone "riffing" away while the drummer thunders beneath them.

There are three eclectic "covers" in the program.  "No Rain", a tune by Blind Melon that captivated the leader as a youth, maintains the sprightly melody while getting a powerful rhythmic undercoating.  Carn's dancing solo is a highlight (pay attention to splendid counterpoint created by Loomis) as is the lovely and powerful soprano sax statement.  "The Daily Mail", written, recorded, and released by Radiohead in 2011, is a handsome ballad that opens with a strong melodic bass solo over the simple piano chords before Frahm enters with the melody. When the tenor, soprano, and trombone take off for the combined solo, the songs takes on a gospel feel. The sextet does not overthink the piece but really the capture the power and mystery of the original.  The third standard is "Pennies From Heaven" and the band swings the heck out of the piece.  Frahm plays the theme then joins for the alto and trombone for a delightful romp.  Later on, Loomis steps out in front for a fine melodic solo before the song swings its way out.

The music and the performances invite you into "Rev", keeping your attention throughout and making you want to return again and again.  Sure would be great to see and hear this band live in the U.S. but the upcoming dates are all in Canada.  In the meantime, jump aboard Ernesto Cervini's Turboprop and enjoy the ride!

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

Here's the delightful "Granada Bus":


Dylan Jack is a drummer and composer from Massachusetts who has played in a number of rock and fusion bands.  Thanks to a gig that fellow student (bassist Anthony Leva) at Bard College's Longy School of Music in Boston had booked, Jack met and played alongside guitarist Eric Hofbauer and clarinetist Todd Brunel.  The drummer than asked the trio to play for his graduate recital: soon, the band had gelled playing his original material, played more clubs and concert halls, and Hofbauer invited Jack to join his Creative Nation Music label.  The results of a late February 2017 day in the studio is the drummer's debut as a leader.


"Diagrams" is credited to the Dylan Jack Quartet and the music is really a collective affair.  You can hear in the first seconds of the opening track "Are You Made of Coins" how the rhythm and melody are connected.  The high-spirited theme, played by bass clarinet and guitar, has its roots in bop and funk but it's such fun to hear how Jack and Leva change the feel during Brunel's solo (sounds like a touch of bossa nova).  When the guitarist steps out, the three plays a funky riff as Hofbauer digs in with a blend of single-note runs and chordal lines.  The exuberant drum solo during which Jack keeps circling back to the melody really stands out.

music-elements.com
The listener might not be able to tell listening to the gentle yet firm feel of the melody that the title of the next track, "Sentenced", was influenced by the trial of the Boston Marathon bomber. After the theme section, Hofbauer steps out over sweet brush work and a genial walking bass line.  The feel changes during Brunel's powerful soprano sax solo with much more energy from the rhythm section - note the interaction between the soloist, drums, and guitar. Leva solos over the impressionistic guitar. The piece has now slowed down and is more reflective before the the guitar, bass, and soprano reintroduce the melody. They drop out, Jack takes over for an intense solo with his brushes - it makes the listener lean in. He switches to sticks yet never overpowers the song, again referring to the melody which invites the band back in for the close.

"Ghost Pal", the longest track (13:58), opens in free time, with much dynamic variation and shifting focus, before the melody is introduced at 3:50. The piece teeters between being a ballad and short, spiky rapid-fire riffs, before Brunel steps out for a powerful clarinet solo. As he quiets down to an eerie moan, Hofbauer steps out. His electrified acoustic sound is quite melodic and percussive: in contrast, Leva plays a bowed bass solo.  Jack's skittering brush work takes center stage as with more clarinet moans, rapid-fire yet quiet guitar riffs, and the occasional bass interjection.  Soon, the band reenters, the "ghost" story continues, with a return to the melody line taking the piece out.

"Diagrams" asks a lot of the listener, as the music shifts and darts, changing direction with glee. Yet, one is rewarded time and again by hearing how this quartet works and plays together, really listening and responding to each other, not just "blowing" over the changes.  The Dylan Jack Quartet creates music worth exploring; let go of your expectations and enjoy this sonic journey.

For more information, go to dylanjackmusic.com.

Here's a track for you to dig into:

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Reed Master in Person + Big Band Delight

On Saturday night, The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme welcomes the great clarinetist (and darned good tenor saxophonist) Ken Peplowski for an evening that will illustrate why the Cleveland, Ohio, native is considered one of the best "stickmen" around.  He started off his career playing in polka bands in his home city and discovered jazz in his teens.  While still in college, he was invited by Buddy Morrow to join the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and has been a working musician ever since. His credits include working with Mel Torme, George Shearing, Madonna, Woody Allen, Marianne Faithfull, Benny Goodman, and many others.  He studied tenor saxophone with Sonny Stitt and his style on that instrument reminds many of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster.

For the 11/11 gig at The Side Door, Mr. Peplowski brings a trio of musicians he has played and recorded a number of times in recent, including pianist Ehud Asherie, bassist Martin Wind, and the irrepressible drummer Matt Wilson. It's the band that is on his 2016 Capri CD "Enrapture" (my glowing review is here) so one should expect quite the eclectic repertoire, from Duke Ellington to Lennon & McCartney, from Noel Coward to "Fats" Waller.  It's a classy quartet with a splendid repertoire - chances are very good you will be mesmerized even as you are tapping your feet.

For ticket information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-2600.

Here's the title track from the CD mentioned above:


It's been four years since trombonist and composer Alan Ferber released a big band recording (the impressive "March Sublime") but he's not just been sitting around.  As a leader, he released a Nonet CD in 2016 and as a sideman, he's appeared on a slew of recordings with groups led by Darcy James Argue, Frank Carlberg, Brian Landrus, Miguel Zenon, and Paul Simon (among many others).

Late October saw the release of "Jigsaw" (Sunnyside Records), his second recording featuring his 17-member large ensemble.  It's pretty much the same group that recorded the 2013 album except that trombonists John Fedchock and Jacob Garchik replace Josh Roseman, Ryan Keberle, and Tim Albright (the latter two each appear on for tracks) plus trumpeter Alex Norris is the full-time replacement for Taylor Haskins (full lineup below).  Ferber is a such an intelligent arranger, making such creative choices for his sections, utilizing the great dynamic differences between the trombones and the higher reeds as well as Anthony Wilson's electric guitar.  Note how the medium-tempo ballad "She Won't Look Back" (composed by Wilson) builds off of the bluesy guitar intro and Matt Pavolka's melodic bass solo. There are hints of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" in the main melody and the supporting brass and reed phrases.  The solos are spread around from Garchik to John Ellis (tenor sax) to Rob Wilkerson (alto sax) to trumpeter Norris, culminating in a hard-edged solo from Wilson that slow fades with various players in counterpoint to the guitar.

There's something a bit awry at the opening of the title track, with the powerful alto sound of John O'Gallagher flying over the pounding counterpoint of Mark Ferber's drum (he's the leader's twin brother) while there is crazy looping noises in the background (could be guitar or synth).  Pavolka's electric bass begins riffing and, soon, the sections enter and they introduce the main melody.  The body of the piece is made up of the interchanges between the sections before O'Gallagher takes off on an amazing journey with the bass and drums using him higher and higher.  Close to the end of the 10-minute piece, the drummer gets his own spotlight with the reeds and brass riffing behind him.

That power and drive is also an important part of "Get Sassy", another bluesy "shout" that opens with trombonists Ferber and Garchik in conversation.  About two minutes in, the entire band enters with a "down and dirty" melody line played by the reeds and guitar (the brass joins in later on counterpoint).  There is a sense of danger in the chorus; soon, Wilson steps out in front for a raucous solo and, then, all the horns enter one by one to play his or her own solo. It's chaotic yet the rhythm section never loses its direction. One imagines when the band plays this piece live, the audience is u and cheering by the close.

The loveliest performance is "North Rampart", a ballad composed by the leader. It opens with a short brass fugue that signals the emotional depth of what will follow. The main melody is played by the reeds and brass with fine harmonies and counterpoint built in. Wilson takes the first solo; theres a "twang" in his sound but the blend of single-note runs and chordal phrases (played over the rhythm section only). John Ellis enters next. The reeds and brass play the emotional melody while the alto saxophonist swoops and darts around them (but make sure to listen to the excellent drumming).  The brass return at the end with Ellis continuing to rise above them.

One could go on and on about how delightful "Jigsaw" is to listen to.  The music is, at times, challenging yet the ensemble is so alive, the sound is so clear, the melodies rich, ripe with possibilities. If you enjoy the large ensemble music of Stan Kenton, Bob Brookmeyer, Gil Evans, and Maria Schneider, then the Alan Ferber Big Band will brighten your life perceptibly.

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

Here's the title track:



Personnel:

John O'Gallagher (alto and soprano saxophones), Rob Wilkerson (alto sax), John Ellis (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Jason Rigby (tenor sax, flute), Chris Cheek (baritone sax), John Fedchock (trombone), Jacob Garchik (trombone), Jennifer Wharton (bass trombone), Tony Kadleck (trumpet, flugelhorn), Scott Wendholt (trumpet, flugelhorn), Alex Norris (trumpet, flugelhorn), Clay Jenkins (trumpet, flugelhorn), Anthony Wilson (guitar), David Cook (piano, keyboards), Matt Pavolka (acoustic and electric basses), Mark Ferber (drums, percussion), Alan Ferber (trombone, composer, arranger) + Rogerio Boccato (percussion on two tracks).



Tuesday, October 31, 2017

One, Two, & Three

In this year of the Thelonious Monk Centennial, there is no more fascinating tribute than "Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk" (Tum Records) from trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. Just trumpet.  Smith, who is a major force on the creative music scene (and has been since the early 1970s), interprets four Monk classics ("Ruby, My Dear", "Reflections", "Crepuscule With Nellie", and "'Round Midnight") plus creates four original "reflections" of his own inspired by his relationship to Monk's music.  Beautifully recorded over three sessions (in November of 2014 and August 2015), the package includes excellent notes by Smith and a fairly extensive bio.

Paul Ryan Photography
So much stands out on this very personal recording. Start with how in this setting, one can hear how the blues infiltrates Monk's music. Note how beautifully the trumpeter blends sounds and silence - there are many moments that the listener hangs on the notes, even after they fade.  One also hears how this music connects with the philosophies of the AACM and with Smith's creative philosophies as well as with the sounds of another creative musician celebrating his 100th birthday, John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie.  The avid Monk fan knows that both Dizzy and Miles Davis recorded "'Round Midnight" yet the performance here apes none of the numerous recordings and live concert versions.  The plaintive melody pours over the listener; Smith takes his time, caressing each note who producing a sound that is so intimate on an instrument that can shake the rafters.

The original pieces range from the intense yet tender "Monk and His Five Point Ring at The Five Spot Café" to the gentle ballad "Adagio: Monkishness - A Cinematic Vision of Monk Playing Solo Piano." That latter track is quiet, with notes that ring out, gently fade, and create a heartfelt melody.  "Adagio: Monk, the Composer in Sepia - A Second Vision" is not only influenced by the blues of a Monk ballad but also by the "muted" tones of old photographs of the pianist. The muted trumpet sounds fragile but sympathetic, with strength in the higher notes.  Following that is a piece inspired by a dream: "Monk and Bud Powell at Shea Stadium - A Mystery" unites the two pianists, great friends, both who dealt with ailments, who were stalked by the police as well as demons, yet who created such vital music. The playful quality that Smith interjects into this piece reflects the creative adventure of the pianists. Still, as the piece comes to its close (it sounds as if the music ends in the middle of a phrase), one can hear both musicians lives were often interrupted.

"Solo" Reflections and Meditations on Monk" is music to savor, to sit and breathe in, to inhabit.   Once you surrender to the sounds, you grow to not only appreciate the immense contributions that Thelonious Monk made to contemporary music but also how Wadada Leo Smith made his explorations of this man and his music personal and universal at the same time.

For more information about this other TUM recordings, go to tumrecords.com/053-solo-reflections-and-meditations-on-monk.



In many big cities around the world, there are jazz clubs and other venues that stay open very late, well into darkness of the new day. Even if you have not spent time in one of these often intimate performance spaces, you probably have hear the music created in the last set of the evening can be extremely powerful, personal and, often, quite romantic.

Listening to the nine songs on "The Late Set", the new Anzic Records album from vocalist Hilary Gardner and pianist Ehud Asherie, one is transported to a late-night joint: the tables are close together, almost all of them near the bandstand, with candles burning down to their final moments, and several nearly-empty glasses that the listeners are caressing gently.  The songs were not chosen to spotlight the many talents of the duo but to tell stories that an audience can connect to.  Perhaps it's the loneliness of Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers's "A Ship Without a Sail" or the sweet reverie of "I Never Has Seen Snow" (from the musical "House of Flowers", music by Harold Arlen and words by Truman Capote) but Ms. Gardner and Mr. Asherie caress each tune, making sure the melody is given its due and you can hear every word.

After you've taken in these classic tunes (all composed between 1928 and 1950), then listen to how fine an accompanist and soloist Mr. Asherie in. There are touches of Thelonious Monk on the opening "Shadow Waltz" and Fats Waller on "After You've Gone"; also notice how he sets the mood on pieces such as the tender ballad  "Seems Like Old Times" or the jauntiness he infuses into Irving Berlin's "I Used to Be Color Blind." On the latter tune, he accompanies the vocal with a countermelody that is a perfect match for the joyful vocal.  The duo returns to Hart & Rodgers for the spunky "Everything I've Got", a delightful story of a love-struck but determined woman and her philandering boyfriend.  The joy in both the vocal and the piano are infectious!

If you are not moved by the sassy, sexy, seductive, and swinging version of "Sweet and Slow" (from the prolific team of Al Dubin and Harry Warren), you might want to go to the doctor.  Yes, it's about slow dancing late at night but not only on the dance floor.  Though one of the earliest versions of this song was recorded by Fats Waller, the piano accompaniment displays the influence of George Gershwin.

"The Late Set" is a delight from start to finish. Hilary Gardner has such a mature, honest, and, yes, playful voice while Ehud Asherie is such an intelligent accompanist, partner, and soloist.  If younger listeners want to understand the power of the Great American Songbook and how songs not only captured the hearts of many listeners but also their imaginations, this album is one of the best contemporary showcases of that power.

For more information, go to www.hilarygardner.com/the-late-set/

Here's a splendid tune from the album:



Violinist and composer Sam Bardfeld graduated from Wesleyan University in 1990. He had studied with a number of people while there including jazz saxophonist Bill Barron.  He played (and still plays) all sorts of music, from Latin and Afro-Cuban to the avant-garde works of Anthony Braxton and John Zorn to the Americana of Bruce Springsteen.  While he has recorded with the likes of Johnny Pacheco, Roy Nathanson & The Jazz Passengers, and Joel Harrison, the arrival of "The Great Enthusiasms" (BJU Records) is a delightful surprise.  It's his first CD as a leader since 2005 and features the dynamic pianist Kris Davis and intelligent yet playful percussionist Michael Sarin.

The opening track, "Fails While Daring Greatly", takes its name from President Richard Nixon's resignation speech and sets the tone for the entire program. The piece has a medium-tempo shuffle beat, a jaunty melody, and delightful interplay.  Ms. Davis lays out while the violinist and drummer dance about, returning to the shuffle rhythm at the close of the solo before stepping out with a Monk-like dancing solo.  Sarin is the glue of the music but also serves as a provocateur throughout.  His "second-line" bounce enlivens "Resignation Rag", a platform for the leader's swooping violin lines.  That beat makes the "resignation" more of a "celebration" (remember that the "second line" shows up on the way home from a New Orleans funeral).  Ms. Davis's unaccompanied solo is a treat; she messes with the tempos, moves from percussive sounds to melodic fragments, and, when the drummer returns, leads hi a chase through the middle of the performance.  The title track manages to combine traces of "country swing" fiddle music and the Teutonic beats of Kurt Weill, leading the listener through challenging yet enjoyable passageways.

BJU Records
Beside the five Bardfeld originals, the trio "covers" two pieces from the 1970s.  Bruce Springsteen's "Because the Night" was a Top 10 "smash" for Patti Smith - here, the melody is deconstructed, made darker and somewhat scarier by the unaccompanied piano solo plus listen to how the violinist leads the trio back into the melody in frenetic fashion. The funky take of Robbie Robertson's "King Harvest Has Surely Come" (the song that closes the classic second album by The Band) rides on the powerful drums and Ms. Davis's left hand.  Bardfeld soars over the rhythm section until he and Sarin drop for an impressionistic and solemn piano solo that takes the piece out (and takes the listener's breath away).

There's plenty of melody, rhythms, interactions, humor, and sadness spread throughout "The Great Enthusiasms"; much of that surprises the listener first time through but, once you return for several more journeys through this daring program, you begin to understand that this music displays the leader's myriad influences without being beholden to any of them.  Kris Davis and Michael Sarin are perfect partners for the"dancing on the edge" approach of this music.  The music of Sam Bardfeld dazzles, delights, and definitely deserves to be heard.

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

Check out the title track:

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Brass, Drums, Stories to Tell

photo by Austin Nelson
There are days when it's hard to believe that Dave Douglas has been recording since 1993 as it seems he's been around much longer (I mean that nicely).  As a composer, his music continues to mature and expand. As a bandleader, he continues to take chances and not settle into a routine for long stretches or time. As a soloist, he has a recognizable sound yet eschews cliches in favor of continually challenging himself.  Douglas is one of the more prolific recording artists (perhaps not in the same league as Anthony Braxton and pianist Satoko Fujii) with 47 CDs as leader or co-leader and as many if not more as a "sideman." His work with Myra Melford and John Zorn's Masada also stands out as highlights in his career.

His newest album, "Little Giant Still Life" (Greenleaf Music), is a collaboration with the brass quartet known as The Westerlies (trumpeters Riley Mulkerhar and Zubin Hensler plus trombonists Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch) plus drummer Anwar Marshall.  The music is inspired by painter Stuart Davis (1892-1964), whose work combined Cubism and Early American Modernism to help usher in the age of "pop art."  Take a look of one of his paintings (left) - "Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors - 7th Avenue Style" -  and you might be able to see the influence of jazz music and improvisation on the artist.

artstack.com
The music Douglas composed for this sextet is, at times, as bright as the Davis's canvasses.  "Swing Landscape" evolves into a groove so serious, informed by the blues and funk, it's hard to sit still.  "Percolator" opens not with an imitation of a coffee pot at work but more like a "swing" take of a Steve Reich minimalist melody.  Marshall gooses the band forward, the stop-start rhythm supporting the melody and solos in such a playful manner.  The circular melody line that opens "Colonial Cubism" is played by the trumpets while the trombones create the bottom and the drums dances beneath. Don't bother thinking about the music and the paintings are related; listen instead to the smart interactions, the powerful solos, and fascinating melodies.

Do not overlook the fine ballads such as "Codetta" and "Worlds Beyond the Sky" as each song is a world unto itself. What one notices here (and, honestly, throughout the album) is how the listener cannot and should not try to put this music into categories.  Maybe it's me - we seem to be in a time where the most creative music defies easy categorization. One can imagine that these pieces could be translated to string quartet and trumpet or a trio of guitar, bass, and drums.  One of Dave Douglas's strong points is the malleability of his material and we are the beneficiaries of his hard work and inspiration.

If "Little Giant Still Life" inspired you to seek out the paintings of Stuart Davis or check out other recordings of The Westerlies or check out Anwar Marshall's work with Fresh Cut Orchestra or Kurt Rosenwinkel, then Dave Douglas has accomplished much with ensemble and recording.  The music should not be ignored either - the album is a treat from start to finish.

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

Here is the title track:



Pianist and composer Jamie Reynolds has created a compelling new project.  Titled "Grey Mirror" (Fresh Sound New Talent), the Canadian native (now a resident of New York City) blends four pieces by his trio (bassist Orlando LeFleming and drummer Eric Doob), five with The Westerlies brass quartet, four with his Trio plus guitarist Matthew Stevens, and one beautiful piano solo, into a statement about creativity and how music can be seen and heard through various lenses.

The program is bookended by two versions of "The Earliest Ending", the first a short performance by the brass while the second features the trio plus guitar. The latter performance stretches out to 6:11.  It's quite a contrast with the final track having a series of dynamic climaxes and tempo changes, moving into a powerful "rock" beat that roars to a finish before the piano enters by myself to echo the opening melody.

Elsewhere, there are "mirror" versions of "Small Worlds", the first  with the leader on Wurlitzer piano while Stevens and the rhythm section ratchet up the energy.  This piece as well has more of a "prog rock" feel (listen to how LeFleming's electric bass plays the main melody and how Doob drives the track).  The "brass" version is slower, less insistent and more "prayer-like", yet with a darker edge.  Another "mirror" track pairs the Erik Satie-like piano solo "Lake Cycle" with the brass quartet - here the latter version is reminiscent of melodies created by Robin Holcomb.  Both performances are riveting, gentle, musical, and quietly filled with emotion.  Finally, there is the mysterious ballad "Church", the trio version with overdubbed Wurlitzer creating a percussion-like curtain for the solid melody while The Westerlies plays the melody fairly straight-forward over pulsating brass for 1:21.

There is so much variety here, from the high-powered "Sleep" (Stevens guitar loud yet shimmering) to the mysterious interactions on "Green-Wood" (rattling percussion, circular melodies played on the different keyboards) to the powerful stride of "Untitled Interlude" (a trio piece with no overdubs but endowed with a generosity of spirit.)

The concept of playing compositions by two different configurations is intriguing and Jamie Reynolds pulls it off with aplomb.  It does not hurt that there are pieces specifically for each of the ensembles (and the solo piece).  It would have nice to hear more of The Westerlies (they have the bulk of the shorter pieces) and just as nice to hear more trio interactions with Matthew Stevens but "Grey Mirror" is still a worthwhile experience, one that is fun to go back to again and again.

For more information, go to jamiereynoldspiano.com.

Most American listeners know bassist Lloyd Swanton (born 1960, Sydney, Australia) from his 30 years as a member of The Necks, a trio (piano, bass, and drums) that is known for its minimalist, long, compositions, often without improvisation. Their live gigs are always improvised. Swanton is also the founder bandleader of The Catholics, a septet that plays music from across the jazz spectrum with nods to music of the Caribbean and Africa (that group is in its 26th year of existence).  Swanton has played with many different leaders and groups from his native land but especially for his work with the late saxophonist Bernie McGann.

Knowing all that probably won't prepare you for his absorbing double CD "Ambon" (Bugle Records).  Named for an island in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), the place was the site for a bloody battle between the Japanese Army, Navy, and Air Force and a group of soldiers from Australia.  Outmatched from the beginning, the island (considered a strategic site in the Pacific theater) fell to the Japanese who used the bases to conduct raids on other combatants, even air raids on Australia.

One of the soldiers captured o the island was Lloyd Swanton's uncle Stuart Mill Swanton. His uncle spent most of his adult life before the joining the Australian Army working with the underprivileged people in the Melbourne area and playing violin. A year after he joined up, his battalion sailed to Ambon.  The older Swanton survived the ferocious battle and spent the rest of his life (3 and 1/2 years) as a prisoner of war (In an ironic twist, he died the day before the Japanese surrendered and his camp liberated - but few people survived).  Amazingly, Stuart Swanton kept a diary of his captivity and it is now part of the Australian War Memorial.

The album is a collection of tunes ranging from gospel tunes that Uncle Stuart composed in the 1930s to songs inspired by the diary to a field recording from Ambon over which a reed and brass quartet plays a hymn.  Swanton organized quite the ensemble, a 12-piece orchestra that includes Paul Cutlan (saxophones, clarinet, recorder), Sandy Evans (tenor and soprano saxophones), James Greening (trombone, cornet, baritone horn, tuba), Alex Silver (trombone), James Eccles (viola), Chuck Morgan (ukulele), Jon Pease (guitar), Michel Rose (pedal steel guitar), Fabian Hevia (cajon, percussion), Ron Reeves (kendang - Southeast Asian two-headed drum, percussion), and Hamish Stuart (drums, percussion) plus Jess Ciampa (glockenspiel on "The Ambon Waltz").

Sydney Morning Herald
There is nearly 109 minutes of music on the two CDs and extensive liner notes that tell the horrific story of life as a prisoner of war.  The captives were treated poorly but still found time to create art, build makeshift instruments, write songs and plays, and take care of each other even as they were starved to death or succumbed to disease.  Yet, the majority of the music is uplifting. On CD 1, the 14+ minute "Ambiont Jungle" blends the kendang drums with the ensemble and the sound of the viola (an instrument that belonged to Stuart Swanton) for a powerful representation of the setting in which the soldiers were dropped.  "Camp Concert I" is a 27 minute suite in three parts that uses the guitars, ukulele, and viola to great effect. Again, the music is quite melodic with no hints of the troubles as if the composer took pieces of the captives dreams, the most positive parts, to create the suite.  The last cut is "Hymn: Blessed Holy Spirit" that opens with excerpts from Uncle Stuart's diary; halfway through, the brass and reeds play the hymn.  The spoken text speaks to the daily horrors of being a prisoner and dealing with cruel captors.

CD 2 continues the powerful description of camp life but, this time, the instruments on "Camp Concert 2: Top Brass" include a tenor saxophone without a mouthpiece, the bell section of a trombone, a flute with a saxophone mouthpiece, a bass clarinet without a reed, and much more, all to symbolize the improvisation prisoners had to do everyday.  Other striking pieces include "Meat Case Bass" and "Big Noise From Hawthorn"; the former is a solo piece also symbolizing the make-shift life in the camp while the latter features the bassist and drummer playing the same instrument. "Work Song: The Long Carry" is a blues dedicated to the extremely hard work the prisoners did every day of the week. The piece includes powerful solos from trombonist Greening and guitarist Pease.  Now, one can feel the men are being systematically drained of their spirit and strength.  Stanton's final original piece, "The Ambon Waltz", celebrates liberation, the happiness of the soldiers who came to bring the freed prisoners back home, but also refers to those who survived and needed to be carried to the boats that brought back them to freedom.

There is great power in this story, one that may not resonate with my fellow Americans but anyone who had a parent, grandparent, relatives or friends who served in the Pacific know the horror stories of the prison camps (if you have read the story of Louis Zamperini related in the book and movie "Unbroken") knows these terrible experiences. In the hands and mind of Lloyd Swanton, "Ambon" is a story of hope, love, resistance, survival, and remembrance.  You need to hear this music, need to read the story of Stuart Mill Swanton, to remind you of the futility of war and the atrocious consequences.

To find out more and hear excerpts, go to www.rufusrecords.com.au/catalogue/BUG010.html or to www.buglerecords.com.







Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Benefit Concert for Puerto Rico

Fuerza Puerto Rico!
A Jazz Benefit for the Victims of Hurricane Maria
 

Wednesday, November 1 at the Jazz Gallery, NYC
 
Peter Bernstein • Dave Douglas • Kurt Elling • Marcus Gilmore •
Larry Grenadier • Jon Irabagon • Branford Marsalis • Christian McBride • Luis Perdomo •
Jorge Roeder • Rudy Royston • John Scofield •
Bill Stewart • Miguel Zenón

 
Join some of the world’s top jazz musicians for Fuerza Puerto Rico! a jazz benefit concert for the victims of Hurricane Maria on Wednesday, November 1, 2017 at the Jazz Gallery, 1160 Broadway, New York City. Tickets $50; all proceeds go to Puerto Rico Recovery Fund.  Sets at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.  For tickets and information visit www.jazzgallery.org or call 646-494-3625.

“Hurricane Maria was the worst storm to hit the island of Puerto Rico in almost a century.  I hope you’ll join us to help the people of Puerto Rico recover from this devastating catastrophe. It’s going to take years for the island to recover, but residents need immediate help,” says event organizer saxophonist/composer Miguel Zenón who was born and raised in San Juan.  “It’s going to be an amazing event.  We’re honored that so many incredible musicians have chosen to donate their talents to help raise badly needed resources, and that the Jazz Gallery is providing a wonderful venue so that we can perform for everyone who wants to help.”

Performing are some of the top jazz musicians in the world including Peter Bernstein, Dave Douglas, Kurt Elling, Marcus Gilmore, Larry Grenadier, Jon Irabagon, Branford Marsalis, Christian McBride, Luis Perdomo, Jorge Roeder, Rudy Royston, John Scofield, Bill Stewart, and Miguel Zenón.

This is the second benefit concert organized by Zenón.  The first took place October 8 at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, CA and raised over $20,000.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Musicians From Israel (Pt 1)

As I am writing this post, radio stations throughout the US and elsewhere are celebrating the 100th birthday of Thelonious Monk.  None of the albums reviewed below have Monk compositions yet his music has influenced musicians from around the world for the last 70+ years. Ethan Iverson wrote an excellent appreciation for The New Yorker and you can - and should - read it by clicking here.
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It's amazing how many musicians from Israel have taken up residence in the United States. Among the first to be noticed was bassist Avishai Cohen who first came to critical notice when he joined pianist Chick Corea's group in 1996.

Clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen came to the United States to study at Berklee College around the same time bassist Avishai Cohen (no relation - her brother Avishai is a much-heralded trumpeter) joined Corea's Origin sextet.  Moving to New York City in 1999, she joined DIVA Jazz Orchestra as well as several Brazilian ensembles plus David Ostwald's Gully Low Jazz Band, an ensemble dedicated to the music of Louis Armstrong.  In 2005, she started Anzic Records and had released eight albums as a leader, four as the Three Cohens (with her brothers Avishai and saxophonist Yuval), two each with the Choro Ensemble and Trio Brasileiro, and a duet with Brazilian guitarist Marcello Gonçalves. She has also recorded as a side person with numerous bands plus tours in a duo setting with pianist Fred Hersch.

The eighth Anzic album is "Happy Song" and features a fascinating Tentet playing quite a repertoire mostly arranged by Oded Lev-Ari (he's also the co-producer with Ms. Cohen). The ensemble for this recording includes Rubin Kodheli (cello), Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet, flugelhorn), Nick Finzer (trombone), Owen Broder (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet), James Shipp (vibraphone, percussion), Vitor Gonçalves (piano, accordion), Sheryl Bailey (guitar), Tal Mashiach (bass), and Anthony Pinciotti (drums).

 The material ranges from klezmer (the album's centerpiece is the 12:26 "Anat's Doina", a medley of three traditional melodies) to Brazil (a sweet arrangement of Egberto Gismonti's "Loro") to several impressive standards (Owen Murphy's snappy "Oh Baby" from 1924, made famous by Bix Beiderbecke and Gordon Jenkins's "Goodbye" composed in 1935 and a tune that became Benny Goodman's sign-off tune).  The program opens with two originals from Ms. Cohen, the funky title track followed by the handsome ballad "Valsa Para Alice", a piece she recorded with Trio Brasileiro on their 2016 collaboration "Algeria Da Casa."  Lev-Ari's original contribution is "Trills and Thrills", a seven-minute sonic adventure that opens in rubato until Ms. Cohen plays the lovely melody and the piece opens up with contributions from all building to a powerful, blues-drenched finish. The album's final track is "Kenedougou Foly", a high-spirited romp composed by Malian balafon artist Néba Solo (the 2006 album that features this song is well worth examining) - arranged by Ms. Cohen, each member of the Tentet adds his or her personal touch and the joyous piece is worth playing at very high volume. Special kudos to Messrs. Shipp and Pinciotti for their impressive work driving the band.  It should remind some close listeners of the work of Pierre Dørge's Jungle Orchestra.

This album does live up to its name. There are solemn moments but the album opens and closes on such "highs" that one walks...no, dances away from the speakers.  From the delightful Milton Glaser cover painting to Ms. Cohen's highly expressive clarinet playing to the intelligent and inventive arrangements and the "knockout" ensemble, Anat Cohen's Tentet's "Happy Song" is a treat to hear over and over.

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

Here's the title track:



Bassist and composer Or Bareket had an international upbringing. He was born in Jerusalem, raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then in Tel Aviv, Bareket (whose brother Eden is a baritone saxophonist) is now based in New York City.  His debut album as a leader (he's worked or recorded with drummer Ari Hoenig, pianist Aaron Goldberg, plus vocalists Cyrillé Aimee and Camila Meza), "OB1" (Fresh Sounds New Talent), features guitarist Shachar Elnatan, pianist Gadi Lehavi, and drummer Ziv Ravitz.

The album opens with a bluesy guitar intro that leads into "Patience", a song that has a jump and an irrepressible forward motion that gets interrupted every now and then with melodic interludes.  Sound engineer Luis Bacque does an amazing job of capturing the band's sound, you can clearly hear the quartet's interactions as well as the intimate relationship of the drums and bass. Bareket's sound and attack remind this listener of the playing of Eric Revis; they are both so melodic yet can be percussive when need be.

What stands out throughout the program is how melodic these songs are. Influences from Middle-Eastern music, traditional Israeli music, and the innovations of 1960s Blue Note Recordings move in and out of pieces such as "Snooze" and "Misdronoth"; One hears a more traditional melody on the piano-bass duo "Elefantes I" et the piano backing has a classical feel, especially when Lehavi plays beneath the bass solo.  Still, the fun is allowing the music to just roll over you, to listen closely, then at a distance, and to hear how the music often moves seductively.

Percussionist Keita Ogawa and accordionist Vitor Gonçalves join the group for "La Musica Y La Palabra", a lovely tango composed by pianist and vocalist Carlos Aguirre.  The leader and accordionist have several lovely moments when they play the same phrases.  It's a haunting melody and Bareket deserves much praise for filling the piece with long solos but for embracing the melody with short solos that rise organically out of the thematic material.

The album closes with "Shir Lelo Shem (Song with No Name)" - composed by one of the earliest Israeli-born "rockers" Shalom Hanoch (born 1946), Bareket plays it solo, sticking to the handsome melody with several short solo excursions.  His notes are well articulated and he never lets technique stand in for emotion.

"OB1" is a memorable debut that stands out as much for the excellent musicianship as for its thoughtful melodic content.  One hopes Or Bareket continues his quest for what he has created here bodes well for his future as both a musician and composer.

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


One of the essential components of jazz has how the blues has been integrated into the music. Sometimes, you can hear it in the chord progressions, sometimes in the anguished cries or gleeful shouts of the musicians, and sometimes it's how the composer and/or musician approaches the material and performance. "Antidote" (AIMA Records) is the fourth album from Jerusalem native Rotem Sivan and the first since the guitarist/composer a seven+ year relationship with his girlfriend ended and new person entered his life.  Recorded with his "working" band of Haggai Cohen Milo (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums), the album is, not surprisingly, an emotional roller-coaster.

photo by Tomasz Handzlik
The opening track, "Shahar", has a lighter feel. Built upon a powerful bass line and splendid brush work, the guitarist flies over the rhythms.  The title track follows. It's a bit darker, there are a touch of electronics in the background, and the melody is accompanied by whistling and wordless vocals. Milo's bowed bass work helps the dark mood as does the short, highly amplified, break.  But there is hope in the melody.

Vocalist Gracie Terzian joins the trip for a funky, danceable, version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - the touch of hip hop in the rhythm section and the "chill" vocal gives the music less of a wistful feel and feels more positive.  The other non-original is Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" which turns out to be a vehicle for Milo's wonderfully melodic bass.  Sivan takes several choruses but does not stray far from the melody until his powerful solo. Urged on by conversational drums of Stranahan, the guitarist does step out and continues to ride the percussive wave until the piece fades out. Interesting to note - several cuts earlier, Sivan's hard-edged "Sun Song" sounds like variations on the Dylan song.

The bluesiest track is the ballad "Aloof", a piece with a country twang in the melody and another excellent bass solo.  Milo, who has worked with pianists Omer Klein and Jarrett Cherner plus has worked with numerous choreographers, knows how to shape a solo.  The counterpoint he creates for the drum solo on "For Emotional Use Only" includes low notes that resonate on the bottom.  The song goes through several sonic changes before the guitarist turns up his amp and rips off a powerful solo.

Rotem Sivan channeled his heartbreak and bewilderment into his music and, thanks to his trust and love for his bandmates, came up with his "Antidote."  Instead of burying himself in long self-indulgent solos, these 11 tracks come in at 38 minutes yet one does not feel short-changed.  Give it a listen at rotemsivan.bandcamp.com/album/antidote-full-album.

To learn more about the guitarist, go to www.rotemsivan.com.

Here's one of the tracks:

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Two Days & Plenty of Music

Saxophonist, composer, and educator Rene McLean returns to Connecticut on Friday October 6 to perform two sets of music at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme. The son of saxophonist and educator Jackie McLean, he's traveled the world, lived in South Africa for some time and returned to CT to teach at the school that bears his father's name at the University of Hartford.

Joining him in Old Lyme will be several of his contemporaries from the Hartt School including bassist Nat Reeves, drummer Eric McPherson, and trombonist Steve Davis plus Hubert Eaves III (piano), and Neal Clarke (African percussion).  You'll hear influences from throughout the eras of jazz as well as from its African roots.  For ticket reservations, call 860-434-2600.

That dapper gentleman on the left is keyboard and organ player Brian Charette. The native of Meriden CT is bring his Kürrent Trio, including guitarist Yotam Silberstein and drummer Jordan Young to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown St in New Haven on Friday.  Mr. Charette is one of the busier players in this country and in Eastern Europe whether he's playing straight-ahead jazz, rock (he plays keyboards in Allan Brothers drummer Jaimoe's Jasssz Band), or the new electronic track he takes with this group.  The trio's self-released debut, issued this summer, features Ben Monder and finds the organist also contributing electric piano, various synths, and sequencers to the mix.  The music is delightfully upbeat, a dizzying mix of funky beats, swinging grooves, and much more. Young, who has played with the organist for a long time, really drives the trio.  Silberstein is an excellent replacement for Monder and i expect the intimate performance space to rock plenty hard.

For more information, go to firehouse12.org or call 203-785-0468.  To find out more about Kürrent and its leader, go to www.briancharette.com.

On Saturday evening, The Side Door welcomes back composer, saxophonist (alto and soprano), bassist, and educator Mark Zaleski and his Band. You may recognize the last name as his brother Glenn performs with a number of groups (including his own). The Brothers from Boylston, MA, grew up playing music and both were busy around the Boston area. The saxophonist has worked with The Either/Orchestra and toured with Jethro Tull (!) plus has recorded with the Omar Thomas Large Ensemble, pianist Matt Savage (with whom he played The Side Door in 2016), and Brighton Beat.  Mark went on to study at the New England Conservatory of Music where his Band was formed 11 years ago.  The core band - Glenn, tenor saxophonist Jon Bean, guitarist Mark Cocheo, bassist Danny Weller, plus drummer Oscar Suchenek (a newcomer as he joined the band in 2013) - has a new album "Days, Months, Years" (self-released) filled with material they have played for several years.

The album is great fun. Six tracks, four of them originals plus two fascinating covers (Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke's "Epistrophy" and Charlie Parker's "Big Foot") and each is interesting in its own right.  The Monk tune gets "funkified" (brother Glenn on Rhodes and a hard-edged solo from Cocheo) while the Parker tune is slowed down and the group pared down to a trio (bass, drums, alto sax).  The originals are really quite impressive, most of them episodic, each with intelligent interplay, fine melodies, and strong solos.  All this bodes well for The Side Door gig as the band is "tight" and loves to play. For these sets, guitarist Carl Eisman will take the place of Cocheo.

For more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-2600.  To learn more about the leader and his many musical associations, go to www.markzaleskimusic.com.