Sunday, September 28, 2014

Big Band Rocks & a Trio Rocks

I imagine that reviewers like surprises as much as the next person - one gets dozens of CDs or mp3s a month and the job is to be as fair as one can be.  Every once in a while, a batch of CDs arrive featuring musicians one does not remember hearing of or reading about and the music stands out. Two such examples of happy surprises are found in this post.

Adam Meckler, trumpeter, composer and resident of St. Paul, Minnesota, has just issued the debut CD of his Orchestra; "When The Clouds Look Like This" (Meckler House Music) features his 18-piece ensemble on 6 originals - I do not recognize any of the names of the musicians but they did not stop from really enjoying this music.  Several of the tracks - in particular "Sparkly Eyes" and "Open Your Eyes" - have the feel of the music created by the team of Gamble & Huff in Philadelphia in the the 1970s as well as Philly favorite Thom Bell. The songs have singable melodies and rhythms one can dance to yet the arrangements are smart and the solos short and sweet.  The section work is what stands out, the way Meckler arranges the brass to support or echo the reeds, how the solos rise out of the swirling lines and the fine rhythm section.  The opening track, "Busta Jones" (presumably dedicated to the funk bassist), opens with drummer Adrian Suarez playing simple pattern for nearly 2 minutes before the brass butt in. While the music does not reach the rhythmic drive that Mr. Jones was noted for, there is a splendid piano solo (Joe Strachan) plus a fluid trombone spotlight (Nick Syman).

Guest Jana Nyberg (Meckler writes, arranges and plays with her band and is her husband) adds voice and flute to the whimsical title track (which also features wordless vocals by trumpeter Cameron Kinghorn, a good name for a brass player.)  This is the one time on the CD that one can hear the influence of another Minnesota composer/band leader, Maria Schneider. There is a long rubato section that features different instruments and the voices that leads to a full-blown climax. It's a work evocative of a late summer evening but, unlike the rest of the pieces, the music actually loses its way.  That said, it's fun to hear how the composer/arranger gets the music back on track.

By the time you reach the final track, "Beautiful Beatrice", you'll be seduced by the generous quality of the music. It swings, bounces at times, more akin to the jazz-rock of Al Kooper's Blood, Sweat & Tears and the hard-edged swing of the Thad Jones & Mel Lewis Orchestra. Best of all, this music is fun. "When The Clouds Look Like This" is an auspicious debut for the Adam Meckler Orchestra (Meckler has released 1 small group CD as well) - let's hope we get to hear much more music from the aggregation. For more information, go to

Here's one of the tracks for your enjoyment:

The rhythm section that world with guitarist and composer Anthony Pirog on "Palo Colorado Dream", the young man's debut on Cuneiform Records, is only one of the impressive aspects of this recording.  Anytime you get the opportunity to work with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Ches Smith, you know as a composer and performer, their support will always be there, and creative sparks will certainly fly. What also stands out is that many of the pieces have sturdy melodies that capture one's attention.

The "spaciness" of the unaccompanied yet overdubbed title track (which opens the album) will remind some of the work of Bill Frisell. Smith thumps his way through "Motian" (also shadowing the guitar with his vibraphone), taking the first solo - the bassist gets the second solo and his thick lines reverberate through the speakers.  Pirog's short unaccompanied solo is filled with whirring noises and various effects.  Veteran Formanek manages to hold his own in the mix, his circular phrases pulsating up through crashing cymbals and roar of Pirog's electric guitar on "Song In 5", a tune that shows the influence of Marc Ribot.  One might immediately expect pyrotechnics on a piece titled "The New Electric";  instead, the piece is a handsome ballad that slowly builds to a fiery crescendo, the repetitive lines creating a trance-like atmosphere before the guitarist's solo forces its way through the wall-of-sound created by the rhythm section and overdubbed "loops" plus programmed electronics. "I'm Not Coming Home" is also a ballad, this time with the leader on classical guitars, Smith using brushes and Fromanek offering counterpoint to the finely-spun melody lines.

Anthony Pirog can make his guitars bellow or whisper. He composes pieces that start moving in one direction then veer off their path towards a different destination.  He understands the strengths of Michael Formanek and Ches Smith, letting them loose when the music calls for it (the closing track, "Vicious Cricket", is a great example of how freely the rhythm section can move in Pirog's structure).   In case you wondered, "Palo Colorado" is in the Big Sur area of California. Pirog, who studied at the Berklee School in Boston and NYU, lived in the region when he was a boy but grew up outside of Washington, D.C.  His "Dream" is worth exploring.  For more information, go to

Here's one track from the CD:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

R Keberle Catharsis Live & New CD, MG Jackson in New Haven & Prof Hoggard's 3-day Gig

Trombonist and composer Ryan Keberle certainly leads a busy life.  Besides leading his Double Quartet and his piano-less quartet Catharsis (pictured above, with vocalist Camila Meza), Keberle has toured with Sufjan Stevens, Maria Schneider's Orchestra, Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, Alicia Keys, Justin Timberlake and worked in Broadway show "pit bands."

Next week (9/30), Greenleaf Records will issue "Into The Zone", the 3rd CD in 2 years to feature Catharsis (2 full length CDs and a live, digital only, 3-song mini-Lp). Those of us who live in Connecticut have the opportunity to catch the CD-Release Party on Friday September 26 at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme.  The quartet - Keberle, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Eric Doob plus Ms. Meza - plays an eclectic mix of originals, standards  and tunes from the jazz and rock pantheon.  What is most impressive about the group is that they don't play as 2 horns with a rhythm section (which they can do very nicely as they have proven on "Blueport" from the group's debut "Music Is Emotion") - there are many moments in their music where each musician is playing melody or rhythm and others where they play independently.

Doors at The Side Door open at 7:30 p.m. with the first set at 8:30.  For more information, go to or call 860-434-0886.

There are a good many people who understand the concept of being "in the zone", a place where your natural ability takes over, time disappears and you feel like you own the world.  For Ryan Keberle, getting "Into The Zone" meant years of practice and playing, a Zen-like concentration that requires accepting one's strengths and shortcomings, letting go and being honest about one's goals and desires.

Not only does Ms. Meza join the band for the new recording but also long-time associate Scott Robinson (tenor saxophone) who adds a 4th voice to the front line as well as being a great soloist. On "Gallop", the various voices move in and around each other, doing an intricate dance that allows for counterpoint, for harmonies, for standout solos, all supported by an infectious rhythm. Ms. Meza delivers a lovely vocal on Fran Landesman's oft-recorded "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" - be sure to pay attention to how Keberle and Rodriguez play alongside the vocal plus, yet again, the strong contributions of Roeder and Doob.  Another brave choice is "Easy To Love", Cole Porter's classic tune - this version is closer to the ballad that Ella Fitzgerald recorded in 1956 than Billie Holiday's happier 1936 rendition. The arrangement behind Roeder's fine solo blends wordless vocals with the brass and reed. The playful interpretation of Charlie Parker's "Cheryl" owes much to the smart arrangement that pairs the tenor and trumpet echoing the melody that the trombonist plays.  The thoroughly modern rhythm section beneath Robinson's breathy solo "jumps" and "walks" then ratchets up the tension under the short but sweet 'bone spotlight that soon turns into a "give-and-take" with the trumpet.

"Zone" closes the program, a handsome melody for Ms. Meza's heartfelt vocal, moving out of its rubato opening into a slower tempo for her to extemporize, supported by Keberle on melodica. After another memorable bass solo, the trombone, trumpet and voice create lines that swirl around as the rhythm section builds the intensity, with Rodriguez's strong trumpet stepping out for a powerful solo.

"Into The Zone" has a clarity that makes one pay attention, a sharpness of focus that does not waver throughout the 8-song program.   Catharsis is a real ensemble, a quartet that has spent months (on and off) creating a group sound that is its own, one that becomes fuller (not diffused) with the addition of Camila Meza and Scott Robinson.  Ryan Keberle has, since coming to critical notice 15 years ago, proven to be a strong soloist and excellent section player while maturing into an excellent composer and arranger. If you can't catch the band on its latest tour, latch onto this CD - it's really good music!  For more information, go to

Enjoy "Zone", courtesy of Ryan Keberle and Greenleaf Music:

Hard to believe it's nearly 4 decades since Michael Gregory Jackson released his debut Lp, "Clarity."  The New Haven native wrote and arranged all the music, performing in a quartet with Wadada Leo Smith (with whom he would go on to produce and perform with in the early 2000s), Oliver Lake and David Murray.  After a flirtation with more commercial music, Jackson has created a busy career of producer, sideman, teacher and, occasionally, a performer.

He returns to the Elm City and to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street, on Friday with a trio that features the creative Keith Witty (bass, electronics) and the powerful drummer Kenwood Dennard. Jackson, who will also have an "electronics" component in his arsenal, is calling this program "Spirit-Signal-Strata."  Well, there are 3 adventurous player so one should expect a fine evening of "serious fun."  They'll play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - go to for more information and reservations.

I can think of few things so rare as a 3-night gig in Middletown, CT, for a jazz group. However, Jay Hoggard is bringing a Quartet to Scatz Restaurant & Lounge, 139 Main Street Extension. Joining the good professor (Wesleyan University) and great vibraphonist will be Warren Byrd (piano), Belden Bullock (bass) and Alvin Carter Jr. (drums).  They'll play 2 sets - 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. - on Friday and Saturday (9/26 + 27) plus 2 more in Sunday at 4 and 6 p.m.  For reservations, call 860-347-2289.  To learn more about the Professor, go to  

Be sure to wish the always dapper and youthful looking Mr. Hoggard a Happy Birthday!  He turns 60 on September 24!  May he be blessed with good health and great music for many years to come.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Kenny Wheeler

photo by L Pretaloni
There has been a whirlwind of activity online in honor of Kenny Wheeler since his passing this past Thursday (9/18) and deservedly so.  The Canadian-born Wheeler, who played trumpet and flugelhorn, had lived on London for over 6 decades and it was there where he first came to critical notice in the late 1980s.  His carer really took off after signing to ECM Records and releasing "Gnu High" in 1975, a 3-song Lp that featured Keith Jarrett (according to the record company, the last time he played as a sideman), Dave Holland (whose group he played with for several years), and Jack DeJohnette.  The album received much critical praise and Wheeler went on to record 8 more CDs as a leader (with his last session - recorded in December of 2013 - set to be issued in 2015.)

Although he recorded many albums with small ensembles, I'm partial to his large band recordings.  Pictured left is his 1990 ECM "Music for Large and Small Ensembles", a 2-CD set that has as its rhythm section the composer's Quintet that included Holland, drummer Peter Erskine, pianist John Taylor and guitarist John Abercrombie.  Wheeler's compositions (which he often called "sad songs") and arrangements are quite lovely, showing classical and jazz influences.  His writing for Norma Winstone's voice (they worked together with Taylor in the grow Azimuth) is so good, her haunting wordless vocals blending in with the reeds or soaring over the brass.

Just 2 years later, Ah Um Records (a label based in Great Britain) released another large ensemble recording "Kayak", scored for 10 musicians (as opposed to 19 for the ECM).  It's a great ensemble, all British save for Erskine and really tough to find but well worth the search.

Kenny Wheeler was also quite a soloist on both his horns, a surprising who often leapt into the higher register of his instrument as a spark was running throughout his body.  A gracious leader, he rarely hogged the spotlight, preferring to let others lead the way.  On the 1996 ECM release, "Angel Song", Wheeler does not solo on the opening track "Nicolette" until both Holland and saxophonist Lee Konitz have had their respective time in the spotlight. That particular recording also featured guitarist Bill Frisell, the perfect mate for Holland in the drummer-less session plus a great match for the "open" quality of Wheeler's compositions.

Kenny Wheeler may have passed but his music will resonate for many years. His well-constructed melodies, many with long lines, and his splendid arrangements should, like the work of Bob Brookmeyer and Gil Evans, inspire musicians to never settle for the tried-and-true but to always to attempt to venture into unknown territories.

Ottawa Citizen scribe Peter Hum has collected a number of tribute in his latest blog post - click on the link below, read it and then go listen to Kenny Wheeler's music with open ears.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Selected Short Subjects (Live +)

Life is topsy-turvy at the moment so this post is a bit of a hodgepodge - there's so much going on in creative music throughout the state and the country, it's tough to keep up.  However, here's a quick overview of the following few day plus a nod to a stunning recording.

British-born saxophonist and conceptualist Evan Parker is in the midst of a CT Mini-Fest.  On Friday September 19, he'll join guitarist Joe Morris and trumpeter Nate Wooley for 2 sets of fascinating improvisations and musical conversations in the comfortable surroundings of Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven.  Parker is fresh off a week-residency at The Stone in New York City and has played several other shows in the Northeast. The first set is at 8:30 p.m. and the second at 10.  For more information, go to or call 203-785-0468.

On Saturday, he ventures up to Hartford and plays the inaugural concert in the Real Art Ways 2014-15 "Improvisations" series. Mr. Morris, co-curator of the series, performs again along with the other curator, Stephen Haynes (trumpet, cornet). They'll begin their musical explorations at 7 p.m.  RAW is located at 56 Arbor in the Capital City and you can get more information by going to or by calling 860-232-1006.

To learn more about Evan Parker, go to

Colombian-born harpist Edmar Castaneda is in New Haven this Saturday - he'll be performing at 8 p.m. in Morse Recital Hall on the campus of Yale University, 470 College Street.  Not only will he play a number of solo pieces but also be joined by trombonist Marshall Gilkes and drummer/percussionist Dave Silliman. Special guest Andrea Tierra (vocals) will be part of the program. For more information, go to or call the box office at 203-432-4158. To learn more about the man and his fine music, go to

Just your typical busy weekend at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme.  On Friday night, saxophonist/flutist Greg Abate hits the stage with a "smoking" quartet including CT great Kent Hewitt (piano), Phil Woods-sideman of many years Bill Goodwin (drums) and the splendid Harvie S on bass.  Doors open at 7:30 p.m.and the music starts at 8:30.

On Saturday, it's the Whitfield Family Band. Led by guitarist Mark Whitfield Sr. (whose resume is a true "who's who" of jazz, including Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones and so many more), he gets to create music with his sons Mark Jr. (drums) and Davis (piano) plus the fine bassist Yasushi Nakamura.  Expect some fireworks as well as some sweeter moments.

For tickets and more information, go to or call 860-434-0886.

As I write this, the Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT) is set to kick off its 12-day run in various venues throughout New York City. If you just do a quick overview of the Festival schedule - - you'll see names such as Dave Douglas (President, co-founder and participant), Stephanie Richards (Vice-President, participant), Jeremy Pelt (co-curator) and participants such as Kirk Knuffke, Nadje Noordhuis, Tim Hagans, John McNeil, Shane Endsley, Josh Evans, Graham Haynes, and the American Brass Quintet (and there are many more). Mr. McNeil will pay tribute to Laurie Frink, one of the finest trumpet teachers and section players in New York City - she passed in July of 2013. 2 of the concerts will feature music by awardees of the newly founded Laurie Frink Career Grant.  Brass music new and old played by musicians of all ages is on the bill of fare from 9/17-28.  Click on the link above for more information.

Sometimes, one hears music that is utterly enchanting and indescribable.  Such is the case with the new recording from Hafez Modirzadeh.  "In Convergence Liberation" is filled with references to Persian music as well as pieces influenced and inspired by the centuries of Arab rule of the Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andulus) from 709-1614 A.D.  Modrizadeh wrote all the pieces, plays soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, alto flute, alto clarinet, karma (an ancient Persian double-reed instrument), chains, bells, rattles and net flute, and produced the album.  Joining him are the great contemporary string quartet ETHEL (if you have never heard the group's "Oshtali" CD, music composed by Chickasaw Indian composers, find it now), his long-time musical partner Amir ElSaffar (trumpet, vocals, santur - Persian hammered dulcimer), Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh (percussion, bells), Faraz Minooei (santur) and the incredible vocal contributions of Mili Bermejo.  Her work on 5 of the 6 movements of "Sor Juana", a piece based on the life of 17th Century Mexican nun and feminist Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651-1695) is truly stunning, her husky alto singing in modes common to both Perian and Andalucian traditions. There are moments when the "ancient" blend with more modern music to create a hybrid unlike any you have heard before.  The strings moving sinuously around the percussion and one hears the horns breaking into a 20th Century swing feel.  There's a moment on Part 5, "Libertades" where ElSaffar's trumpet plays alongside Modirzadeh's tenor sax, sounding like Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman. The 4-part "Suite Compost" (for string quartet) goes by in less than 8 minutes yet feels so full and fulfilling.  "Number That Moves" pairs the string with percussion and alto saxophone; Etemadzadeh lays down a compelling rhythm while the strings shimmer and moan and the leader's alto rises above the din.

Is it contemporary classical music?  Well, yes, but it has major components of jazz and world music, making it hard to pin the music to one genre.  That's good for the adventurous listener but might confound many others. So much happens in the 71 minutes of "In Convergence Liberation" that it feels a shame to put the music in a box. Instead, enjoy its ripples, its hairpin changes, its quiet moments, the fiery percussion, and, most certainly, the excellent vocal work of Mili Bermejo. Hafez Modirzadeh has found a rich vein of inspiration and one would be wise to follow his work. For more information, go to

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Old and New Dreamers

Approximately 47 years separate these 2 recordings but one can hear the plethora of threads that underpin Black American music.

Charles Lloyd, born in Memphis, Tennessee , was educated both in the classrooms of USC and on the bandstand with the Gerald Wilson Big Band as a music director of the Chico Hamilton Quintet. In 1964, he joined Cannonball Adderley's band and performed on that group's "Fiddler on the Roof" CD for Capitol Records.  A year later, he left that group and moved to New York City - he had already released 2 Lps as a leader on Columbia Records, the second of which, "Of Course, Of Course", featured his band mate Gabor Szabo (guitar) who he had worked with in the Hamilton Quintet.

"Manhattan Stories" (Resonance Records) is a 2-CD set recorded in July and September 1965, and finds Lloyd with Szabo, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Pete La Roca Sims.  The September gig, recorded live in Judson Hall, across the street from Carnegie Hall in New York City, took place just 6 months before Lloyd recorded "Dream Weaver", his debut Lp for Atlantic Records and the first to feature the quartet of Keith Jarrett (piano), Cecil McBee (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums).  This is his legendary Atlantic group that stayed together (save for Ron McClure replacing McBee) through the end of the decade.

CD 1 is actually the later gig and is taken from the tapes Resonance head George Klabin made as a student at Columbia University. The concert he recorded was part of Charlotte Moorman's Festival of the Avant-Garde. When the engineer and co-producer Zev Feldman sought permission from Lloyd and his wife Dorothea Darr to release the tapes, not only did the saxophonist/flutist agree but gave the duo the tapes that make up the second CD, recorded at the legendary Slugs', 242 East 3rd Street in the East Village. The Saloon/jazz venue closed in 1972, just weeks after trumpeter Lee Morgan was shot to death by his wife.

photo by Lee Tanner
The music is delightful, 3 lengthy tracks on both disks (the longest is "Sweet Georgia Bright" at just under 18 minutes and the shortest is the following track "How Can I Tell You" at just under 12 minutes - both from the Judson Hall show), and filled with references to Lloyd's love of the blues, his study of classical music, Szabo's musical influences (ranging from Indian scales to blues to gypsy melodies).  Kalbin and Fran Gala did a super job restoring the Slugs' tapes, the "bright" mix allowing Carter's tasty bass work to stand out.  La Roca Sims does a splendid job as both the time keeper and interacting with the soloists. Szabo's piece "Lady Gabor", appears on both disks - it's a tune the guitarist brought to the Chico Hamilton ensemble.  Both versions stretch out nicely, Lloyd's flute introducing the melody, taking the first solo which leads (on both versions) to Szabo's raga-like solo.  Carter's counterpoint is notable, creating a drone of his own. The leader's flute playing really stands, especially for its bluesy quality. On the Slugs' CD, Lloyd picks up the maracas to add to the mesmerizing percussion.  Also from Slugs' is the debut reading of "Dream Weaver" - it's fascinating to note the similarities to the long "jams" the Grateful Dead would go on to create in the next several decades in San Francisco and beyond.  When the piece was recorded for Atlantic Records nearly 9 months later, the composer added a new beginning but the basic rhythms were the same (sounding much like a predecessor to "Forest Flower.") Another treat is the totally improvised "Slugs' Blues", created on the spot for the gig.

"Manhattan Stories" may not be aurally pristine but has a spirit, a grit, and fire that one hears in much of the music Charles Lloyd has created over the 5+ decades of his career.  From the beginning, he's been an explorer, always moving forward, going down different paths yet always being himself.
Kudos to Resonance Recordings for this great package (excellent booklet as well). In addition, the label is making a limited edition 10" vinyl version of the "Live at Slugs'" - go to to find out more.

In late December 2012, composer, trumpeter, and conceptualist Wadada Leo Smith went into Avatar Studios in New York City to "The Great Lakes Suites" (TUM Records).  Joining him was the rhythm section from several of his Golden Quartet recordings, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist John Lindberg - to round out the ensemble, he invited Henry Threadgill to play alto saxophone, flute and bass flute. Smith and Threadgill are part of Muhal Richard Abrams' Experimental Band but their history goes back to the late 1960s, to Chicago and the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) - DeJohnette was involved with that group back at its formation, as well.

photo by Jules Allen
The music Smith has composed for the Quartet plays into each musician's strength. The leader plays with great clarity, focus, a sound that cuts through the speakers with power and articulation.  Threadgill's alto sound can be so tart and clipped while his flute work sings - he is a such a unique player, one never really knows what to expect. Lindberg, at 55 the "baby" of the group (at the time of the recording, both Smith and DeJohnette had already entered their 8th decade while Threadgill was 14 months shy of 70), is one of the most impressive bassists playing in the arco style (using his bow).  DeJohnette plays with extraordinary power and subtlety throughout this music, very much in the "driver's seat"; his creativity is unrivaled, reminding of the work that Max Roach created from the 1950s through the early 2000s.

"The Great Lakes Suites" takes its name from the 5 interconnected freshwater lakes that border the United States and Canada. The 5 tracks named for the Great Lakes are dedicated to Petri Haussila, producer and founder of TUM Records.  The composer added Lake St. Clair to the "Suite", the body of water to the northeast of Detroit that borders Michigan and Ontario Province, connecting Lake Huron to Lake Erie; the lake is used for both recreational and commercial ventures.  "Lake St. Clair" is the cut that closes the program and is dedicated to saxophonist/composer Oliver Lake.

"Lake Michigan" opens the program and is the longest track at 22 minutes. The multi-sectioned rises and falls on the various melodic elements plus the brilliant work of the rhythm section.  Threadgill's alto blends sweetly with the trumpet on the opening and closing themes; elsewhere, the saxophonist's lines weave in and around the other musicians while Smith often serves as both the leader and "town crier", his bright high notes serving as a wake-up call.  There's a serious call-and-response in the opening minutes of "Lake Ontario" for the flute and trumpet plus the bass and drums. Lindberg's furiously bowed bass alongside DeJohnette's "conversational" drums is a magnificent 3-minute adventure before the bass drops out and Smith engages with the drums.  When they finish, it's Threadgill's turn but suddenly the drummer becomes coy, just dropping in a few sounds before the trumpet and bass play a series of long tones. There's a hint of Julius Hemphill's "The Hard Blues" in the opening minute of "Lake Superior" but soon subtlety turns to fire as DeJohnette goes into hyperdrive, pulling his bandmates along (the melody Threadgill and Smith are playing moves slowly atop the fiery percussion.)  The trumpet and alto sax solos serve to remind the listener how creative both musicians can be, pushing against the rhythm section to carve out their own space. Lindberg's pizzicato work supplies as much as heat as his battery mate.

CD 2 has its own pleasures and surprises, none more moving than the stunning unaccompanied bass flute music that opens "Lake Erie" - it's a wonderful mix of sounds, from Native American to South Indian Carnatic music but not beholden to either music. The first to join in is DeJohnette and his work sparks the conversation but he soon steps back to allow Lindberg to interact with Threadgill. The music takes a more dramatic shift when Smith's muted trumpet joins the flute to play a stolid melody. Soon, the trumpet begins a duet with the bass and now the mood has definitely changed, Smith's sonic experiment adding fire where once the meditative flute had been. DeJohnette enter and the intensity level spikes higher. There's much more that happens as the work develops through several more sections, including a marvelously understated drum solo.

If you are fan of Wadada Leo Smith's music, "The Great Lakes Suites" is a must own.  Just to hear these 4 master musicians wend there way through this highly charged yet impressively melodic audioscape gives one hope in uncertain times.  Kudos all around to Wadada Leo Smith, Henry Threadgill, John Lindberg and Jack DeJohnette, to sound engineer Robert Musso, to the liner notes of John Litweiler, to the art work of Markus Kontinnen that graces the covers and others. For more information, go to

Jason Crane (pictured left) not only turned 41 this week but also returned to radio.  He's now the host of "The Jazz Session" (sound familiar?) Friday morning from 9 - 11 a.m. on The Lion 91.7 FM in State College, PA, the home of the Nittany Lions (ok, Penn State.)  Yes, he is still the host of "The Jazz Session" podcast where his interviews with musicians are notable for the depth of questions (and occasional silliness) and now he gets to play the music he loves to talk about.  If you go to, you can see just how much territory his fertile imagination and music collection covers.  You can also still sign up to support Jason Crane in his quest to keep "The Jazz Session" in motion.  So, you can listen to his show online (did not see any archives) on Friday or check the great interviews by clicking on the right hand side of this blog post.

Saddened to read of the recent passing of pianist/composer Joe Sample at the age of 75.  I actually heard The Crusaders before I realized there was a Jazz Crusaders - DJ Don Imus used the band's "Put It Where You Want It' as a theme song, a track from their 1972 debut on Blue Thumb Records.  A funky little ditty, perhaps better known for bassist Wilton Felder's hearty tenor saxophone solo and Larry Carlton's slinky guitar riffs, yet it's the 6-note Fender Rhodes figure Sample plays to open the cut (and throughout) that hooks you from the  word "go!"  Over his career, which spanned 5 decades, he worked with artists as diverse as Eric Clapton, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, and Willie Nelson, not to forget his work with Quincy Jones and hits with vocalist Randy Crawford.  Born in Houston, he worked steadily in the Los Angeles studios and and a touring performer before health issues slowed him down as he moved back home in the early 2000s.  Joe Sample recorded many CDs under his own name, the most recent being a live 2008 recording with Ms. Crawford released in 2012. He played with grace and style, rarely if ever showing off.  Joe Sample will be remembered as a good musician and a great man.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

BOLT Out of Boston in New Haven

The Uncertainty Music Series continues its monthly series of concerts on Saturday September 13 with a special quartet from Boston.  BOLT - Eric Hofbauer (guitar), Eric Rosenthal (drums), Jorritt Djisktra (alto saxophone, lyricon) and Junko Fujiwara (cello) - has been an improvisational unit since 2011.  The group's debut CD, "Shuffle", was issued this summer on the Boston-based, musician-owned Driff Records, and is a 19-track compilation taken from a 2013 recording session. It's made to played in "Shuffle" mode as there is no overarching theme other than the tracks are totally improvised.  Playful, noisy, quiet and "free", the music displays myriad influences yet sounds like nothing you have really heard before.  The blend of Hofbauer's slide with Fujiwara's groaning cello, Djisktra's "warbling" lyric on (it's an analog wind synthesizer) and Rosenthal's raucous drumming on "Blaze" is a delightful mash of sounds.

The concert takes place at 8 p.m. in Never Ending Books, 810 State Street in New Haven. Opening the show will be series curator Carl Testa creating a set of solo electronics.  For more information about the show, go to To learn more about BOLT, go to

Here's the fascinating "Blaze":

State of Shipp + Ulery's Gold

Pianist Matthew Shipp strikes me as a man/musician who rarely looks back; it's not that he has no respect for the past (including his own) but that he's continually moving forward, looking for new pathways and new ways to express himself.

And, is he ever prolific!  "I've Been To Many Places" (Thirsty Ear) is the 3rd CD he's released as a leader in 2014 plus he's released a new duo CD with saxophonist Darius Jones as well as appearing on recordings with The Core Trio and the splendid new CD by drummer Jeff Cosgrove (reviewed here).

On March 31 of this year, Matthew Shipp sat down at the piano of Park West Studios in Brooklyn, NY with the concept of recording music he had played in group settings (duos, trios, quartets) updated as solo material.  He's often accused of playing music that is packed with dense chords and hypnotic rhythms (as if that was such as bad trait).  What stands out on the initial listens is just how melodic this program. The title track has the feel of an Appalachian folk tune interpreted by Elliot Carter while George Gershwin's "Summertime" is tender yet without any blues or gospel influences but with a carnival-like middle section. Later in the program is a lovely and generous reading of John Coltrane's "Naima" replete with fine rippling phrases and deep chords.  You may be surprised by the gentle reading of "Where Is The Love? (reprise)" - here, you hear gospel chords serving, perhaps, as a tribute to the late Donny Hathaway.  Boogie-woogie and stride piano make an appearance on "Blue Astral Bodies", the pianist digging deep and ending on a series of up notes. Shipp does not avoid the "darker"tones - "Cosmic Waves" features forceful chords, sustained low notes and, at times, the sonic equivalent of a lion stalking in his cage.  On the other side of the spectrum, "Reflex" is an emotionally rich and rewarding piece of music that draws one in with its flowing melody lines that end in slower reflective phrases.

Critics have long stopped comparing Matthew Shipp to Cecil Taylor and deservedly so.  Some of the music on "I've Been to Many Places" reminds this listener of the music Myra Melford has created as a solo pianist.  That's not to imply that Mr. Shipp sounds like Ms. Melford but that he has a similar approach. No matter the material, whether original or an older standard or jazz classic, Matthew Shipp sounds like himself.  For more information, go to

Bassist/composer Matt Ulery makes music that blends Americana, 20th Century Classical, classic Hollywood soundtrack, jazz, pop, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, progressive rock, what-have-you, into what can only be filed under "Matt Ulery Music."

"In The Ivory" is his 6th CD as a leader and 3rd for Greenleaf Music and, in ways, a continuation of his debut for the label, "In  Little Light."  The recording clocks in at just under 80 minutes but wisely is split into 2 separate CDs, 7 tracks on each. The musicians playing and singing these songs include 4 long-time associates, drummer Jon Deitemyer, pianist Rob Clearfield, violinist Zach Brock and vocalist Grazyna Auguscik plus members of the chamber ensemble eighth blackbird including Dominic Johnson (viola), Nicholas Photinos (cello), Timothy Munro (alto flute), Michael Maccaferri (clarinets), Lisa Kaplan (piano), and Yvonne Lam (violin). Gregory Beyer, an important member of the recording ensemble, adds marimba, vibraphone, berimbau and maracas to the mix.  Other vocalists include Sarah Marie Young, Erik Hall, and Corbett Lunsford.

While bassist Ulery can be a very assertive member of the rhythm section in his smaller ensembles, for this music his most impressive contribution, besides the compositions, are the arrangements. The album opens with "Gave Proof", a swirl of strings, piano, flute, clarinet, vibraphone and it's not until 3 minutes into the piece that the rhythm section enters only to depart before the closing seconds for the "swirl" to reappear.  Ms. Auguscik voice rises above the strings on "There's A Reason And A Thousand Ways", a piece that so wonderfully combines elements of classical music and folk music, going through several sections and tempo changes, including a vocal duet with the bassist in the middle.  Sarah Marie Young, a Chicago-based singer/songwriter, makes her only appearance on "The Farm", her softer lilt and bigger range blending well with the cute and strings - the improv section that follows gives Clearfeld, Deitemyer and Ulery an opportunity to stretch out, even as the strings rise above the piano solo.

Intriguing musical juxtapositions abound on this recording. Whether it's the plucky (own intended) opening of "Innocent" that leads to a slower introspective melody or the appropriately named string feature "Longing" or the playful string arrangement behind Ulery's forceful solo on "Sweet Bitter", this music offers the eager listener the opportunity to really pay attention.

I suppose some people could treat "In The Ivory" as background music but one gets so much more satisfaction when immersed in the performances. Then, you can hear the blend of marimba, strings and piano on a particularly bright section of "Seeker" and how "Resilin" develops from the opening circular melody played by piano and marimba.  This is music to revel in, to bathe your mind and soul, to meditate on and to return to, an oasis in an ever-maddening world. Don't waste time comparing this to "In a Little Light", his other "large ensemble" recording.  Enjoy them both.  Matt Ulery continues to mature as a composer, arranger and musician - he's a major talent and a singular voice.  For more information, go to

Here's a taste of this fine music: