Saturday, August 29, 2015

Potent Quartets

There was a thread going around Facebook earlier this summer asking about saxophonists who have been inspired by Charles Lloyd.  I could not think of one (although I'm sure they exist) until I heard the new recording by Ochion Jewell.  It's not that he sounds like the man from Memphis, TN, but the musical structures and the influences of both world music and folk/blues in the music of the Kentucky native (he grew up in Appalachia) has, in my ears, has many similarities.

"Volk" (self-released) is young Mr. Jewell's second CD with his Quartet - his debut, "First Suite for Quartet", was issued on David Binney's Mythology label and is quite hard to obtain. The opening track, "At The End of the World", is called by the composer "the overture to the album" setting the stage with its dramatic presentation (hear it below). One hears the influence of Spanish music is the conversation between the members of the Quartet. And, what a responsive band, the same musicians as on the debut including pianist Amino Belyamani (Dawn of Midi), bassist Sam Minaie (Tigran Hamasyan), and drummer Qasim Naqvi (Dawn of Midi, Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber).  The 3 also play together as the Axis Trio. They are a integral part of telling the majority of the 10 stories on the album (Jewell goes it alone on the final track "Black Is The Color of My True Love's Hair").  This music can be extremely powerful, as displayed on in the opening minutes of  "Give Us A Drink of Water" yet the same piece has incredibly quiet passages. And the leader does not even come until after the 4 minute mark of the 11 minute track, then plays a delightfully schizoid solo ranging from bluesy sustained notes to short percussive notes. The tenor solo in the middle of "Radegast" displays an anger, veering into "free" territory yet is followed by one of the prettiest interludes on the album.

Guitarist Lionel Loueke shows up on 2 tracks, the forceful yet subtly exciting "Gnawa Blues" (Gnawa being in West Africa) and the highly rhythmical "The Master" (based on the drumming of the Ewe people of West Africa.)  Loueke's slinky, percussive, sounds meshes well with the Quartet on these tracks - his phrase on the latter track sound much like J.J. Cale in the short melodic mesmerizing phrases. The saxophonist slowly rises out of the piano-guitar interaction joining in the rhythmic lines and quietly adding a phrase here and there but not stepping out.  The song belongs to the rhythm section, Naqvi rampaging drums and Belyamani's throbbing piano.

Minaie's expressive bowed bass introduce the melody of "Shenandoah" then shares it with the tenor. The piano enters, its sweet and plaintive counterpoint supporting the saxophone before playing parts of the melody. Belyamani's sweet solo is variations of the melody line with the quiet cymbals beneath him. When Jewell re-enterts, he also plays abstracts of the melody, some with a touch of swaggers, others with gentle lyricism.  The pianist takes the song out on his own, tenderly reaching the final low chords.

There's beauty, rhythm, energy, melody, counterpoint and splendid interactions throughout "Volk". Ochion Jewell, the composer and arranger, challenges the listener to join in on this journey, to allow the music to seep into one's soul for what is "folk music" but "soul music" in another guise.  The Ochion Jewell Quartet plays this music with great passion, something else they share with Charles Lloyd and his Quartet.  Play this music next to one of Lloyd's post-2000 CDs - the ensembles, with mostly identical instrumentation, do not sound alike but they both play with great joy.

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




Bassist and composer Daniel Fortin, a native of Peterborough, Ontario, has a new CD - his debut as a leader.  Titled "Brinks" (Fresh Sound New Talent), the 10 original tracks feature the distinctive musical voices of Michael Davidson (vibraphone), David French (tenor saxophone) and Fabio Ragnelli (drums), all (including the leader) deeply involved in the Toronto jazz scene.  They create a program rich in melody, alive with interaction, and smart solos.  The blend of French's clear-toned tenor and Davidson's whirling, full-toned vibraphone creates a handsome atmosphere throughout the program.  Right from the opening moment of the first track, "Verona", one can sense this will be a pleasing journey. French plays the uncomplicated melody while Davidson dances around, Ragnelli creates a pulsating beat and Fortin adds counterpoint (and punch) as he pushes the piece forward.  The saxophonist takes the lead on the following track, "Ends",  while the vibes provide the counterpoint.  But, this music is not as easy to describe as that. The long and involved vibes solo skitters atop the bouncing bass and dancing drums. Fortin's solo is pleasingly melodic and the vibraphone flourishes just divine.

The multi-sectioned "So As To" pulls in the listener, taking one for a fascinating ride while "Smithereen" romps along on Ragnelli's playful yet rock-solid drumming. "Adldmbdld" (now that's a title that alludes spell-check!) moves in the manner of a Gary Burton piece, Fortin's electric bass and Ragnelli's uninhibited drumming propelling the piece forward.  There is a similar excitement in the rhythm on the final track, "But Still and Yet" - the tension between the slow melody line, the high energy of the lines that Davidson is playing, and the propulsive bass and drums is joyous as the sounds spill out of the speakers. Fortin the soloist stands out on the ballad "Flecks" and his interaction with Davidson near the close of the track as the piece speeds up is  infectious

Daniel Fortin, who is one of the three composer/musicians in the cooperative Myriad3, is a strong player who can play percussively along drummer Fabio Ragnelli and then create the most melodic solos. These pieces flow more than swing and several have quite an intensive drive.  A bit of judicious editing (8 songs instead of 10 but which 2 to cut?) might have made "Brinks" a stronger album but it still has much to recommend it.

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

Here's a taste to whet your whistle:



Monday, August 24, 2015

Young Musicians in Old Lyme + Firehouse 12 Sets Its Lineup

Yet another splendid musical weekend at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme.  On Friday evening, Jan & Ken present the Linda Oh Quartet.  Ms. Oh, a bassist and native of Malaysia who was raised in Perth, Australia, has made her mark on the creative music scene over the past 8 years, working with the Dave Douglas Quintet, the Fabian Almazan Trio and with drummer Terri Lynn Carrington. She has released 3 CDs under her own name, the latest being 2013's "Sun Pictures" on Greenleaf Music.

Joining the bassist/composer in Old Lyme will be her rhythm section mate in the Douglas ensemble, the classy and fiery drummer Rudy Royston plus saxophonist Troy Roberts and the young guitarist Matt Stevens.  Chances are good that they'll play much of the music from the album as well as new pieces.  These are 4 of the finest players around so the music should shine (and, certainly, burn) like the late August sun.

The Quartet hits the stage at 8:30 p.m.  Call 860-434-0886 for reservations.

Here's a piece from "Sun Pictures":


On Saturday night, the fine young pianist Victor Gould (a native of Los Angeles, CA) will lead the rhythm section of bassist Ben Williams and drummer (and frequent visitor to the Old Lyme venue) E.J. Strickland.  The pianist and composer has worked and recorded with many fine musicians including trumpeter Wallace Roney (he was in the trumpeter's band when they played The Side Door) and drummer Ralph Peterson, Jr.  He also spent several years working, touring and recording with saxophonist Donald Harrison's Quartet.

This should also be a fun evening of jazz with generous helpings of blues, soul music and strong improvisations.  To make reservations, go to thesidedoorjazz.com.

To find out more and Mr. Gould, go to victorgouldmusic.com.

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The Firehouse 12 Fall 2015 Jazz Series begins its 10th year of presenting quality music in a splendid setting, the recording studio/ performance space located at 45 Crown Street in New Haven.  The new season begins on Friday September 18 and runs through Friday December 11.  Along the way, there will several Saturday concerts (including John Zorn's SIMULACRUM on November 14th) and, as always, it's quite a lineup.

Opening night features the Jon Cowherd Mercy Project, named for the keyboard player's 2013 ArtistShare crowd-funded recording.  Joining the composer/pianist (pictured above), best known for his long association with drummer Brian Blade & The Fellowship, will be Steve Cardenas (guitar), Tony Scherr (bass) and Kendrick Scott (drums).

As has been the custom, the first show starts at 8:30 p.m. and is followed by a 10 p.m. set (separate admission).
Photo by Michael Crommelt
The following week (9/25), Amir ElSaffar's Two Rivers Ensemble returns to the Elm City for its 3rd appearance (the first was in 2008, the second in 2011).  ElSaffar and company are touring in support of his new Pi Recordings CD, "Crisis", a brilliant collection of songs that looks at the trumpeter/ composer's Iraqi roots (he also sings throughout the program). Scheduled to join him onstage will be the impressive band on the disk, including saxophonist Ole Mathieson, bassist Carlo DeRosa (bass), Nasheet Waits (drums and he's quite a force in this band), percussionist and buzuq player Tareq Abboushi, and Zafer Tawil (dumbek, oud, violin).

Subsequent weeks will feature Bryan & The Aardvarks (October 2), the duo of Mat Manieri (violin) & Lucian Ban (piano) on 10/9,   Tony Malaby's TubaCello Quartet (10/17), pianist George Colligan (pictured left) with Vincente Archer (bass) and - huzzah! - Matt Wilson (drums) on 10/23. The October part of the schedule comes to roaring finish on the 30th with drummer Ralph Peterson's Trio featuring the Curtis Brothers from Hartford - Zaccai (piano) and Luques (bass).

November starts with 2 shows in 1 weekend.  Keyboard artist Andy Milne will be in New Haven on Friday 11/06 with his Dapp Theory while, on the following night, Uncertainty Music Series curator Carl Testa creates fascinating sounds with guitarist Joe Morris as a duo known as Sn. As noted above, SIMULACRUM is the following Saturday (11/14) and it's back to Friday on 11/20 with pianist Satoko Fujii's Tobira (pictured left), a quartet featuring Ms Fujii's husband Natsuki Tamura (trumpet) and drummers Takashi Itani and Reggie Nicholson.

There's no show on Thanksgiving weekend so it's off to December for the final 2 shows in the series.  The penultimate Friday is 12/04 and features trumpeter Peter Evans, drummer Kassa Overall and bassist John Hébert, an ensemble that goes by the name of the Zebulon Trio. On 12/11, the final performance belongs to Ned Rothenberg Inner Diaspora, a quintet led by the saxophonist/flutist and featuring Jerome Harris (acoustic bass guitar), Mark Feldman (violin), Erik Friedlander (cello) and the talented percussionist Satoshi Takeishi.

Tickets are now on sale for the entire series or whichever show you want to attend.  To find out more, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.





Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Give Us Liberty! Give Us Tom!

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the career of guitarist and composer Liberty Ellman that it's been 9 years since his last recording as a leader, "Opiuchius Butterfly" (Pi Recordings). He's also stayed busying producing, mixing, and/or mastering recordings for artists such as Vijay Iyer & Mike Ladd, Steve Lehman, and Wadada Leo Smith (among others) plus he's a longtime member of Henry Threadgill's Zooid as well as Stephan Crump's Rosetta Trio and Myra Melford's Snowy Egret.

Ellman, born in London, England, and raised in New York City, has been a busy creative artist. He attended college in California and became active in the Bay Area creative music which is where he met, played with and recorded Mr. Iyer and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.  Since returning New York City in 1998, he has been even busier (click here for his bio).

photo by A Karpovich
Liberty Ellman's 3rd Cd as a leader, "Radiate" (Pi) features the rhythm section of Stephan Crump (bass), Jose Davila (tuba, trombone), and Damion Reid (drums) plus a fine front line of Steve Lehman (alto saxophone) and Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet).  Having Davila in the ensemble (as he was on the previous recording) is a link to the guitarist's work in Zooid and some of the pieces will remind listeners of that music, especially in how the musicians interact with the thematic material and each other.  Still, this music builds off Ellman's previous recordings, with cuts such as "Rhinocerisms" and "Supercell" displaying "deep grooves" thanks to the exciting work of Reid, Davila and Crump.  There's more than a touch of saxophonist Steve Coleman's influence on Ellman on these tracks, the fiery give-and-take of Lehman and Finlayson creating a raucous atmosphere along with the guitarist's more electric sound and the "fuzz bass" of Crump.
The slower pieces also have a quiet intensity.  "Furthermore" opens with just electric guitar (with barely audible loops) and drums, slowly adding the other voices, who weave in and out of the guitar phrases.  The piece stays rubato but builds to an impassioned finish with the guitar always in front. "Skeletope" also opens slowly with the guitar, alto sax, trombone, and drums leading the way until the music falls into a gentle yet funky groove. The instruments share the melody, harmonies and counterpoint until Crump steps out with a strong bass solo.One by one, the other instruments drop out, leaving the bassist to close the track and set the pace for the next piece. "Vibrograph" also has a gentle groove to begin with yet picks up in intensity, especially during the guitar and alto saxophone solos. There's a short trio (guitar-bass-drums) track, "Moment Twice", that is an impressive conversation between the musicians.

The album closes with "Enigmatic Runner", replete with electronic drums, overdubbed guitars, and a forceful bass line. The "electronic drums" drop out after the blazing guitar spotlight. Lehman shares his solo space, first with Ellman, then with Finlayson.  Reid really kicks hard on this piece, especially in the solo sections.   His solo, near the end of the track, literally explodes out of the speakers.

"Radiate" is dynamic modern music, played by people who enjoy working together, musicians who push each other, give their all, listen, interact and create quite an auspicious album.  Liberty Ellman, who wrote all the pieces, created the cover and inside art, mixed and mastered the recording, makes music that reflects his myriad interests and influences, welcoming in and challenging listeners.  Great ensemble, great music, and well worth the wait!

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


Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim (1927-1984) may be the most famous Brazilian composer of popular music, even now 31 years after his passing. He recorded dozens of Lps in his homeland and abroad, entering the United States market in a big way thanks to his collaborations with Stan Getz, Frank Sinatra, and with Creed Taylor, first on A&M Records, then on the producer's CTI label.

Composer, guitarist and vocalist Vinicius Cantuaria grew up in Rio de Janiero where he first came to fame in the early 1980s when one of his songs was recorded by Caetano Veloso.  He toured with that superstar and also recorded 6 CDs as the leader of O Terco.  He moved to New York City in the mid-90s and immediately fell in with the "downtown crowd" including Laurie Anderson and David Bryne.  He's issued 10 CDs since moving to the US.  For his latest recording, "Vinicius canta Antonio Carlos Jobim" (Song X Jazz/Sunnyside), he recorded the majority of the 13 tracks in Tokyo in November 2013 and the remainder in Rio de Janeiro in May of 2014. There are 10 guest on the album but no more than 3 musicians on any track (Cantuaria goes it alone on 2 cuts.)  Among the highlights is the sparkling acoustic guitar work of Celso Fonseca on the opener "Ligia"and later on "Vivo Sonhando" (his solo is quite lovely). Guitarist Bill Frisell, who has collaborated with Cantauria on several recordings (he returned the favor as a member of the guitarist's "The Intercontinentals" in 2003), also appears on 2 tracks including the delightful uptempo "
Danço Samba" (listen to how Frisell shadows the vocal, playfully reacting to the singer's inflections) as well as the atmospheric "Inútil Paisagem."  The gentle piano work of Ryuichi Sakamoto adds a sweet touch to both "Eu Não Existo Sem Você" and "Por Causa de Você", the latter being one of the highlights of Jobim's recording with Sinatra (who sang in English, translating the title as "Don't Ever Go Away.") The plaintive vocal on the latter track is matched by the somber piano chords.

Ricardo Silveira adds his handsome guitar work to "Garota de Ipanema" (perhaps his most recorded song in English "The Girl From Ipanema.")  What stands out even more is Cantuaria's fine percussion on that track and on the next one, "Felicidade". The leader overdubs hand-held percussion on the latter cut and one hears the bass drum beneath his pleasing rhythm guitar and easy vocal.

Brazilian vocalist Joyce joins Cantuaria on the lovely ballad "Caminhos Cruzados", a track that also the expressive acoustic guitar of Chico Pinheiro (he takes such a fine solo). The other guest vocalist is Melody Gardot, who sings the English on "Insensatez" ("Insensitive").  The overdubbed electric guitar rises out of the vocals (the 2 singers share the verses) and takes the piece out.

Whether one understands the lyrics or not, Tom Jobim's music is wonderfully inviting.  Vinicius Cantuaria does not play tricks by rearranging the songs to where one does not recognize the melodies.  His soothing voice, his pleasing guitar work, smart percussion and excellent use of his fellow musicians and vocalists, all of this makes "Vinicius canta Antonio Carlos Jobim" a real joy to listen to.

To find out more, go to www.vinicius.com.

How about a samba to make you smile?

Monday, August 17, 2015

These Ladies are Live (and More)!

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme presents vocalist and composer Marianne Solivan in concert this Friday (8/21) at 8:30 p.m.  Ms. Solivan, born in Queens, NY, but raised in Venezuela, New Jersey and Massachusetts, studied at the Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music.  She moved back to New York City in 2007 and, slowly but steadily, has been working and garnering critical attention.  She's worked with trumpeters Jeremy Pelt and Roy Hargrove plus recorded with clarinetist Darryl Harper, releasing her first solo CD, "Prisoner of Love" in 2012 and her second, "Spark", in 2014, both on HipNOTIC Records.  What you will hear is a singer well-versed in blues and jazz, one who inhabits her songs with great spirit, never "phoning it in."

Her Quartet includes Hartford-natives Dezron Douglas (bass) and Sharp Radway (piano) plus Darrell Green (drums). Doors open at 7:30 p.m.  For tickets and more, call 860-434-0886.  To find out more about this fine vocalist, go to www.mariannesolivanmusic.net.

Here's some music to whet your appetite:



On Saturday, percussionist Steve Kroon returns to the Old Lyme venue with his fine Sextet. Born in Harlem and raised in Queens, NYC, Kroon grew up in a household filled with Latin music. Along the way to his career, he studied with percussionist Dom Um Romao (Weather Report).  He toured and recorded with vocalist Luther Vandross for 2 decades plus spent time in bands led by bassist Ron Carter and Diana Krall.  He's recorded 5 CDs as a leader, the latest being 2014's "On the #1".

He's bringing his fine Sextet, an ensemble that features Craig Rivers (saxophone, flute), Igor Atalita (piano, keyboards), Waldo Chavez (bass), Diego Lopez (drums) and the fine vibraphonist Bryan Carrott (Ralph Peterson's Fo'Tet, Don Byron's Quartet). They'll take the stage at 8:30 p.m. and I expect your feet will be tapping a few seconds into the first song.  To find out more about Mr. Kroon and his music, go to www.stevekroon.com.

For tickets and more information about The Side Door, go to thesidedoorjazz.com.

The 2015 New Haven Jazz Festival takes place this Saturday from 6 - 9 p.m. on the New Haven Green.  Organized by Jazz Haven (click the name to find out more), this year's Fest is titled "Celebrating Women in Jazz" and features 2 fine performers.


After a short opening set by the Jazz Haven All Star Youth Band (they are well worth getting to the Green by 6 p.m. to hear), vocalist, composer, and pianist (not to forget she has a degree in Bachelor's Degree in Civil Engineering) Isabella Mendes takes the stage at 6:45.  Ms. Mendes, born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, moved with her family to the United States when she was 15, settling in New Haven. She attended the Educational Center for the Arts (ECA) in the Elm City before heading off to college.

Returning to New Haven after college, she started both her engineering and musical career (reality is that you have to have a "day job" to be a musician). Ms. Mendes came to critical and popular notice as a member of Sambaleza and that's the excellent band performing with her in New Haven. The ensemble includes Joe Carter (guitar), Jeff Fuller (bass), Adriano Santos (drums, percussion) and the excellent reed player Paul Lieberman (saxophones, flute, percussion) plus special guest vocalist George Lesiw. Chances are quite good they'll play music from her fine new CD (released just last month) "Blame Destiny."

To find out more and hear tracks from the new album, go to isabellamendes.com.

At 8 p.m., vocalist and pianist Karrin Allyson takes the stage with her Quartet (see below) and she, too, is celebrating the release of a new recording.  Ms. Allyson, who has spent the past 2 decades plus on the Concord Jazz label moves to Motema Music for her next project, "Many A New Day - Karrin Allyson Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein". Recorded with pianist Kenny Barron and bassist John Pattituci, the album (scheduled for release on 9/18) features 14 songs from one of the greatest teams to write for Broadway.

Still, the vocalist has a large repertoire to choose from and an excellent Quartet to support her endeavors, Joining her onstage will be Ted Firth (piano), Sean Smith (bass), Mark McLean (drums) and Randy Napoleon (guitar).  Don't be surprised if she plays plenty of music from Brazil and the Caribbean as well as a number of jazz standards.

To fond out more about Ms. Allyson, go to www.karrin.com.

And, to find out more about this free Festival and the upcoming New Haven Jazz Week, go to jazzhaven.org/festival-schedule/.

Here's the title track of the new CD:

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One of my all-time favorite guitar trios is Gateway, the convergence of John Abercrombie, Jack DeJohnette and David Holland.  They recorded 2 Lps in the 1970s and 2 CDs in the 1990s, all of which are worth (to my mind) poring over for hours on end. I was reminded - and pleasantly, at that - of Gateway while listening to the trio of Marc-Andre Drouin (bass), Wayne Eagles (guitar) and Ian Froman (drums) who have released their debut recording, "trio\DEF" on the TetraArtist label.  Drouin, a Montreal, Quebec resident first met Eagles in 2013 at a workshop at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, where the guitarist has been on the faculty since 1992. Eagles was eager to play with the bassist and drummer Lee Fish and they hooked up after the conference. When offered a slot at the 2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Fish was not available and Eagles contacted his friend Froman, an Ottawa native now living in New York City.  They worked together ever since.

Ottawa Jazz Fest
The trio's music blends jazz, blues and rock influences in a seamless and playful manner.  "OmniMouse" opens the proceedings in a quiet manner, the band feeling its way into the song. When the drums and bass lock into the groove, the guitarist flirts with a melody before playing the central theme.  His solo flit and darts over the easy rhythms, Froman's cymbals decorating the proceedings as Drouin creates a mysterious yet sweet bass line. The sweeping brushwork creates an intimate setting on the ballad "NEME" and the "clucking" single-note runs intermingle  with chordal sections on Eagles' fine solo. Drouin's melodic electric bass work brings Steve Swallow on this tracks and throughout the album, especially on the solos. The other ballad on the program, "JDJ" opens with chords and the bass tone reminiscent of that other Canadian guitar-bass-drums trio, Rush.  Eagles' handsome melody  takes its time to unfold but it's one of the best on the CD.  The band brings the heat on "At Most" and on the final track.  The former builds to 2 climaxes, first after the blazing bass solo and the second during Froman's solo near the close of the track. The latter cut (and the last on the album), "Or Not", is a treat, complete with snaky guitar lines, rumbling and walking bass lines plus fiery drumming.

trio\DEF, while reminding this listener of Gateway (especially their 90's albums), is successful in its own right. Still, like Abercrombie, Holland and DeJohnette, this music is definitely interactive, pulling you in and keeping you listening.  It's a relatively short program (7 tracks in under 41 minutes) but, overall, is quite satisfying.

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

Here's the trio in action:










Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Trumpets Take Charge

Trumpeter Lee Morgan (1938 - 1972) came out of the creative Philadelphia PA jazz scene like a firecracker. Joining Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers at the age of 18 drew the attention of Dizzy Gillespie who invited the young man to join his Big Band within 2 weeks of his gig with Blakey.  By the late 1950s, Morgan was leading his own groups, had signed to Blue Note Records and was battling the addictions that would follow the rest of his life. But, when he was "right", his inspired playing caught the ears of many people.

Trumpeter Terell Stafford, while not born in the City of Brotherly Love, came of "musical age" in that city under the tutelage of Shirley Scott and Mickey Roker.  Stafford settled in the city, is on the faculty of Temple University and recently established the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia. He pays tribute to the music of Lee Morgan on his new CD, "BrotherLee Love" (Capri Records).  Fronting a quintet that features Tim Warfield (tenor saxophone), Bruce Barth (piano), Peter Washington (bass) and Dana Hall (drums), Stafford plays a program that features 7 tunes by Morgan, a sweet piano - bass - trumpet version of Alex Kramer's "Candy" (the title track of Morgan's first release on Blue Note in 1958, and one original from the leader. Morgan's music was usually quite rhythmical much of the time (hard-bop and bluesy ballads), and he played many great solos. That can be said about this project as well.  Right from the opening track. "Hocus Pocus", the listener gets pulled into the music.  The excitement of Hall's drive, Washington's swift walking lines and Barth's active chording creates a fine bed for Stafford's splendid solo and Warfield's rich tenor sounds.  There's no letup on "Mr. Kenyatta" with Barth's strong opening statement setting the table for the melody. Stafford is quite the articulate player, his sound and attack reminding this listener of another Philly native, Clifford Brown. The bluesy swagger of "Petty Larceny" (do I hear a much of "The Pink Panther Theme" in there?) is the perfect vehicle for Warfield's tenor, Barth's two-handed attack, the leader's sly, yet classy, strut. Check out Stafford's fine mute work on the afore-mentioned "Candy" and how he and Warfield caress the melody on the other ballad, "Carolyn." "Favor" is Stafford's contribution to the program and is a "deep blues" that allows everyone but Hall to stretch out.  Pay attention to Barth's brilliant solo, especially how he interacts with Hall to raise the intensity level.

By the time you finish grooving to the final track, Morgan's "Speedball", you'll probably be thinking a couple of different thoughts. First, why don't more people cover Lee Morgan material and second, this is one "hot" quintet. Terell Stafford is a generous leader, making sure every one gets the spotlight. He also makes quite sure that the listener gets his-or-her money's worth.  Honestly, 77 minutes of music seems to go by so quickly.  "BrotherLee Love" is aptly titled and well worth your time.

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

Here's that final track for your listening pleasure:



For his new PosiTone release "Three On Two" (his second for the label), trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and producer Marc Free assembled a splendid quintet, put together a program of originals and standards, then let them loose.  The rhythm section includes Brian Charette (organ) and Rudy Royston (drums) while the front line includes "Mags", Mike DiRubbo (alto saxophone), and the only holdover from 2014's "Lookin' Up", trombonist Steve Davis.  The first 4 tracks are originals with 2 by the leader and one each from Davis and DiRubbo. With the organ burbling underneath and Royston's razor-sharp drumming pushing the beat, the title track "burns" from the get-go.  Davis's "Easy" follows, a sweet shuffle, that's as smooth as barrel-aged bourbon; that tracks leads into DiRubbo's energetic "The Step-Up."  Later in the program, the trumpeter's "Outlet Pass" creates quite a fast break for the quintet, driven by Royston at his best.

Other highlights include John Coltrane's "26-2" and "Central Park West" with the former displaying a real be-bop feel and the latter delivered as a sweet ballad.  On the second cut, Magnarelli blends his mellow flugelhorn with Davis's trombone and the alto sax to not only play the melody but also supply a fine cushion for the organ solo.

The program closes with a very bluesy take of "My Reverie", a piece from French composer Claude DeBussy that's been a favorite of jazz musicians since it was recorded in 1938 by Larry Clinton.  It's a gentle but swinging way to end the show.

"Three On Two" doesn't break new ground but it sure sounds fresh and lively. Everyone plays well, the solos are short but always right on the money, and - really - the rhythm section of Messrs. Charette and Royston can't be beat.   Joe Magnarelli is in good form and even better company.

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

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Patriarch in Old Lyme + Young Musicians in Front

The Marsalis Family is well-known around the world for its contributions to jazz and jazz education.  Saxophonist Branford, trumpeter Wynton, trombonist/producer Delfeayo, and drummer/ vibraphonist Jason, all have followed their father's lessons, taught to them at an early age in their New Orleans home. They are all ambassadors for the music that took root in the Crescent City.

Father of the 4, Ellis Marsalis, 80 years old and going strong, is coming to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme this Friday August 14 and he's coming to play - in fact, and no surprise, the show is sold out.  Not sure yet whether it's his Trio or it's a solo gig but, one thing for sure, the music will shine brightly and swing mightily.  The elder Marsalis also understands the power of a ballad, caressing the melody as well as playing a solo that builds from the foundation of the song.

Doors for the sold-out show open at 7:30 p.m. and the first set commences at 8:30 p.m.  Call 860-434-0886 and hope for a cancellation.

Here's Ellis in support of Delfeayo on the trombonist's latest CD "The Last Southern Gentlemen" (also featuring bassist John Clayton and drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith).




On Saturday, vocalist Michelle Walker arrives at The Side Door with a top-notch quartet for an evening of jazz, blues, Brazilian music and more.  Ms. Walker, who has released 1 CD on her own (plus 1 on the way) as well as co-leading a date with fellow vocalists Hilary Gardner and Whitney James) brings guitarist Ron Affif, pianist Toru Dodo, bassist Michael O'Brien and drummer Willard Dyson.  Ms. Walker studied classical voice at the University of Maryland and Holland's Amsterdam Music Academy before heading off to the Stanford (CA) Jazz Workshop.  She possesses a supple voice really digs into a lyric, inhabiting each song as if she wrote the words.

Her Quartet appears on her upcoming CD (plus former West Hartford resident saxophonist Joel Frahm) so they are quite familiar with the material.  The first set starts at 8:30 p.m.  Call 860-434-0886 or go to thesidedoorjazz.com for tickets and more information.

Here's a piece from an earlier recording:

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For his second recording for Skirl Records as a leader, 31 year-old Devin Gray has assembled and created a program of original pieces for a group of impressive improvisors (coincidentally all with the same first name.)  "RelativeE ResonancE" features Kris Davis (piano), Chris Speed (tenor saxophone, clarinet) and Chris Tordini (bass) playing music that is wonderfully challenging, filled with angular writing, smart interactions and thematic hairpin curves.  While there are moments when the group falls into a "groove", much of the time Gray's drums do much more than keep the beat.  On pieces such as "Notester" and "Translatlantic Transitions", there are long stretches when he's part of the melodic movement of the music. "In The Cut" rumbles along on the power of Tordini and Gray and then, seemingly out of nowhere, drops into a slower tempo while Davis and Speed (on clarinet) play a handsome melody.

The longest track (10: 29) on the CD, "Jungle Design (for Hannah Shaw)" is a thorny elegy dedicated to a woman from Brooklyn, NY who was a garden designer and died in a strange accident in 2014.  The piece opens slowly with long times from Speed (tenor sax) and bowed bass while the drums and piano create a structure around them.  The music pieces up in intensity culminating in a hard-edged solo from Davis while Speed weaves around her and Gray creates a percussive storm below. Again, he piece changes direction, moving into a thematic section where all 4 musicians move the music forward.  Tordini's solid bass playing really shines on this piece as well.

The title track moves forward on the power of the bass lines and Ms. Davis's dancing phrases; it's dedicated to composer/pianist Tadd Dameron (1917-1965) but has a more modern sound than the fine hard-bop composer.  Speed's oboe-like tenor sax solo bounces atop the rhythm section, often slowing behind the beat without losing his momentum.

"RelativE ResonancE" is deliciously modern music that refreshingly ignores convention but never abandons structure.  Devin Gray has composed music that asks as much of its performers as it does of the audience, never looking down on either or resorting to cliches to get a message across.  Make sure ti listen to how the melodies and rhythms fit together, move away from each other and come back or, even better, go somewhere new.  If you like the music of Henry Threadgill, Wadada Leo Smith, and Tim Berne, chances are good you'll like this music.  It's just as exciting and just as unique.

For more information, go to devingraymusic.com.

Here's a tune to enjoy:



Pianist/composer Caili O'Doherty hails from Portland, Oregon, and reached musical maturity under the tutelage of Danilo Perez and Marco Pignataro at the Berklee College of Music in its Berklee Global Jazz Institute. She has performed in venues around the world bringing her talents to women's shelters, orphanages and prisons as well as concert halls and clubs.  Ms. O'Doherty also teaches in the Jazz at Lincoln Center WeBop program.

She has just issued her debut album, "Padme", on her Odo Records label, not only producing the sessions but also writing and arranging all the pieces.  The basic band includes Zach Brown (bass) and drummer Cory Cox (on all tracks but "Prayer Song" where Adam Cruz sits in the chair) with a number of guests throughout the program.  Alto saxophonist Caroline Davis joins the band on 4 of the 9 tracks, adding wordless vocals on "Ode to St. Johns" which also features trombonist Eric Miller.  The alto saxophonist is the other featured voice on "Stumptown", a rousing tune that show the influence of Perez in its construction and the playful piano solo.  Tenor saxophonist Ben Flocks and violinist Alex Hargreaves play on 3 tracks; along with trombonist Miller, they create a mini-orchestra behind the trio on several tracks including "The Promise of Old Panama City" and the lovely ballad "Prayer Song". On the latter cut, Flocks' tenor takes the lead on the melody and then, after a fine bass solo, the tempo picks up and he creates a  strong solo statement.  Guitarist Mike Bono join the trio on the title track, his rippling phases cutting nicely alongside the rich piano chords.  Cox and Brown create quire a fire underneath the soloists.  Ms. O'Doherty switches to electric piano on "Rose Baiâo", a piece that has a Brazilian feel and an excellent melody that opens to reveal strong solos from the leader and Ms. Davis.  On "89 Chestnut Street", one of the 2 Trio tracks, Ms O'Doherty revels in her formidable "chops", a joyous romp for all involved.

What truly stands out on this recording is the maturity of the melodies, the strength of Caili O'Doherty's playing and the excellent arrangements.  The guests are not for show, they really are part of the songs on which they appear, and understand and add greatly to the "stories" the composer is telling.  The rhythm section is such an integral part of this music as well.  They listen, they react, they are also equal partners in the success of this endeavor.

Caili O'Doherty, at 23 years of age, has all the makings of a true jazz artist.  Composer, arranger, teacher, soloist, producer and fundraiser, her debut recording circumvents the rules for most new artists. "Padme" has no standards, no covers of rock tunes, no "sweetening" with synths or string sections.  Listen, savor and imagine how bright her future will be.

For more information, go to cailimusic.com.

Here's the video introduction to the album (and you get to meet the band):


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Ensembles Small & Big (August '15)

The second album from the Michael McNeill Trio - "Flight" (self-produced) - opens with a piano solo. Titled "Placid, Ruffled", the piece sets the tone for a program that that is adventurous, intelligent, and highly musical.  The leader is an integral part of the creative music scene in Buffalo, NY, playing in numerous ensembles as well as teaching on various levels. The rhythm section  of Ken Filiano (bass) and Phil Haynes (drums, producer) are improvisers of the highest order, understanding that trio music is conversational and interactive.  You'll hear that in Haynes' sprightly brush work on "Za" and how the drummer gently but firmly propels the music forward on "Picture Window."   Filiano's thick tones and fluid lines provide excellent support and strong counterpoint throughout; his bowed bass work has classic overtones on pieces such as "Wild Geese I: Cloudburst" in which his stormy interactions with the piano create great tension.  His long introduction on "Skies" (nearly half of the 6 minute piece) is exploratory, quivering phrases interspersed with sweeping lines leads to a barely audible piano solo that, to me, is an auditory representation of sunset.

There's the bluesy "No Dice" that may remind some of Keith Jarrett's early trio work and the soulful "In That Number" which slyly shuffles forward on Haynes' exquisite drumming and Filiano's deep low notes and interactive phrases.  McNeill, to his credit, rides, even glides, atop his rhythm section. He's not a showy pianist, more of a sonic "painter" than a "technique freak".  He can certainly swing (he does so quite nicely on "Za" and quite forcefully on "Wild Geese III: Follow Our Sun") yet the manner in which his phrases flow on "Picture Window" illustrates how the pianist listens, reacts and creates within a song.

"Flight" is thoughtful music, interactive music that is seriously playful. Michael McNeill gives his collaborators plenty of creative license throughout; the listener will find much to ponder and enjoy each time the recording unfolds.

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


"Like It Is" is the 5th album for John Fedchock (trombone, compositions, arrangements) and his New York Big Band, the first one to be released on the MAMA/Summit label. Fedchock first came to national attention in the early 1980s as a member of the Woody Herman Orchestra and went on to work with T.S. Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Louie Bellson, Bob Belden and many others.  The New York Big Band came together over 25 years ago, composed on musicians very active on the contemporary music scene then and now, and released its first CD in 1992.  Powered by the excellent drum work of Dave Ratajczak (a charter member of the band who passed several months after this session), the music hearkens back to Fedchock's days with Herman in its excellent section writing that not only moves the music forward but offers great support to the fine soloists.  The title track, one of 5 Fedchock originals, pairs the the drummer with percussionist Bobby Santabria and the dynamic duo drives the music with great abandon.  There's more of a subtle approach on the trombonist's "Havana", a piece with such a sensuous rhythm and wistful melody plus strong solos from the leader and flutist Mark Vinci. When the brass and reeds sweep in after the solos, it's like a warm breeze off the Caribbean.  One can just imagine dancers swirling across the floor on Cedar Walton's "Ojos De Rojos", the bounce and attack of the drummer and percussionist propelling the melody, the sections and the soloists with great joy.

There are highlights galore over the 70-minute program. "You and the Night and The Music" opens the recording on a series of high notes, starting with Fedchock's smart arrangement of the melody followed by excellent solos from the leader, Vinci (alto saxophone), Rich Perry (tenor sax) and Ratajczak. Scott Robinson and his eloquent baritone saxophone lead the way on a delightful take on Duke Ellington's "Just Squeeze Me" (with kudos to the delightful bass work of Dick Sarpola). The spirited call-and-response of the brass and reeds on "Just Sayin'" opens to a playful soprano solo courtesy of Charles Pillow while Barry Ries delivers a sweet, soulful, flugelhorn solo on "For Heaven's Sake." The album ends with "Ten Thirty 30", a blazing track whose title refers to the birthday of trumpeter Clifford Brown (1930-1956).  The splendid trumpet solo is courtesy of Scott Wendholt with additional statements from pianist Allan Farnham, Perry and the leader.  Make sure to pay attention to the super work of the rhythm section as they "drive" this piece with abandon.

In a year that has already seen a number of fine "big band" or "jazz orchestra" records, "Like It Is" will appeal to those fans of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra.  The John Fedchock New York Big Band swings is collective butts off and also displays a sweet and mellow side ("Never Let Me Go" is an original ballad whose melody is played by the brass and reeds before the leader delivers a emotionally rich solo.)  Many members of the band work with the large ensembles of Maria Schneider and Ryan Truesdell as well in Broadway "pits" and recording studios. This music goes down easy, like a cool glass of rosé on a warm summer night.

For more information go to www.johnfedchock.com.

Here's the opening track: