Friday, June 18, 2021

Mario Pavone "Legacy Stories"

Photo: Steve Sussman
As these words appear on the page, it's five weeks since Mario Pavone passed (May 15, 2021) after a multi-year, multi-episode, fight with cancer.  Bassist, composer, and educator (he was closely involved with the Litchfield Jazz Camp), he had a long career working alongside creative artists, most notably Bill Dixon, Anthony Braxton, Paul Bley, and Thomas Chapin. After Chapin's death in 1998, Mr. Pavone became a leader – he had already begun recording his own music back in 1979 on labels such as Alacra, New World/Crosscurrents, and Knitting Factory. From 2002-2017, the bassist recorded 13 albums (as a leader or co-leader for his good friend Michael Musillami's Playscape Recordings; he also did the artwork for many of the label's releases. When queried about his writing, he told me his pieces were "composed from the bass upwards" and, when you listen closely, you hear how the rhythm section always participates in the melody.  His music is propulsive, even fierce at times but always with a melodic center.

Last time we spoke in person (three years ago at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, CT –– he was a concert attendee not a player), he was thrilled about his latest Trio.  He loved writing for and playing alongside pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Tyshawn Sorey.  He felt that they brought the ferocity and emotional balance that his new compositions called for.  They first recorded as a unit on 2015's "Blue Dialect" (Clean Feed Records) and followed that with 2019's "Philosophy" (Clean Feed).

2020 was a very tough year for the bassist. His cancer had returned plus his 23-year old granddaughter Isabella died. Mr. Pavone poured himself into his music writing enough material for two albums, two groups.  In late February, he went into the studio with his son Michael (guitar), Mike DiRubbo (alto saxophone), and Michael Sarin (drummer who was the third member of the Thomas Chapin Trio) and recorded an album for Clean Feed ("Isabella", to be released later this month). Four weeks after that session (3/25-26/21), he went into the studio with Mitchell, Sorey, and trumpeter/ arranger Dave Ballou (who served as arranger for "Isabella" as well) and recorded "Blue Vertical" (Out of Your Heads Records).  Credited to the Dialect Trio + 1, the nine-song program sounds full of life, jammed with melodies, rhythmic twists-and-turns, powerful solos, and Mr. Pavone's trademark propulsive. forward motion. He never looked back, making the music for the time and the future.

Photo: Maurice D. Robertson
The addition of Ballou's excellent trumpet work to the Trio fired the composer's imagination. Pieces such as the opener "Twardzik" and "Good Treble" show his versatility and wit; the former features a delightful solo, with notes tumbling out of the horn and onto the rumbling rhythm section while the latter dances ahead on a Latin-tinged rhythm, the muted trumpet locking in with the piano for the melody. Ballou's solo over the jagged rhythm exudes swagger and a New Orleans-like frisson opening the door for Mitchell's rippling lines over Sorey's mighty drums.  "Isabella" shows the bassist at his best, his counterpoint to the melody setting the tenor for the solos.  The pianist's impressionistic lines connect with the bass lines, creating a duet that is ethereal.  Ballou's muted trumpet joins that conversation, his long tones supported by the whispering cymbals. Sorey's whip-snapping drums at the onset of "Legacy Stories" set the pace for an exciting performance (note how the bass and drums fall into a "swing" rhythm right before the piano solo).

Photo: Victoria Lindsey
The album closes with "Face Music", the composer's percussive plucked notes and the tolling piano chords wrapping around the somber trumpet melody.  The music moves slowly, tentatively but with purpose until Sorey's rapid-fire high-hat dance pushes the trumpet solo higher and, eventually, the piano and bass join the mix.  The piece closes on Mitchell's abrupt note with the expectation that there was more to be said.  

Mario Pavone lives on in his music and the fact that people will continue to explore his oeuvre, perhaps even recording pieces from his repertoire, gives this writer great hope.  If you are not familiar with his music, know that from his earliest recordings as a leader to "Blue Vertical", Mario Pavone led from the heart.  

For more information, go to  To hear more and purchase the new album, go to

Hear "Philosophy Series":

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Summer Reading List

When I was first got interested into digging deeply into Black Music in the late 1970s, a friend recommended I read "Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews" (Da Capo Press), a collection written by drummer Arthur Taylor. Taylor (1929-1995) had a long and busy career working and/ or recording with artists such Coleman Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, Gene Ammons, Red Garland, Gigi Gryce, Jackie McLean, and John Coltrane.  Between 1968-1972, Taylor compiled the conversations that make up his book; musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Art Blakey, Carmen McRae, Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, Betty Carter, and others. Taylor's insightful questions pulled no punches and while many of the answers may have shocked White audiences, they gave great insights into the lives of these musicians.  In the decades since its publication, I have rarely encountered a book like "Notes and Tones".  

Photo: Gari Garalalde
Earlier this year, trumpeter, composer, and educator Jeremy Pelt released his latest album "GRIOT: THIS IS IMPORTANT!"  The recording not only featured music but also spoken word excerpts from interviews Pelt had conducted with Larry Willis, J.D.Allen, Harold Mabern, Bertha Hope, Ambrose Akinmusire, Paul West, Rene Marie, and Warren Smith.  The words the listener hears give real insights into the life of modern musicians, new and old veterans, trying to make a living doing what they love.

At just about the same time, Pelt self-published "GRIOT: Examining the Lives of Jazz's Great Storytellers, Vol. I".  The book is only available from the author's website and I can tell you from personal experience that the shipping is fairly quick, at least in the U.S.  The book contains interviews with the people from the album (except the late Mr. Mabern who will appear in "Vol. II") plus Robert Glasper, Terri Lyne Carrington, Lewis Nash, Greg Hutchinson, Dr. Eddie Henderson, Justin Robinson, and Wynton Marsalis.  The book is similar to "Notes and Tones" as are the responses. While Black Music has changed in the four-plus decades, issues with racism, musicians rights, how poorly people and record labels treat the artist, and much more.  If you only know these people through their music, you should be fascinated by who they are are human beings.   

For more information, go to  

The day before my wife and I left for vacation, I received "Guitar Talk: Conversations with Visionary Players" (Terra Nova Press), a collection of interviews guitarist Joel Harrison (pictured left) conducted with his contemporaries. 26 different players, ranging from Ralph Towner to Pat Metheny to Michael Gregory Jackson to Ben Monder to Liberty Ellman to Mary Halvorson to Ava Mendoza and so many more. At the end, the author includes a "Catalogue of the Missing", a long list of guitarists who Harrison says the reader should give as much attention to as the ones who are in the book. 

The book is available at, from traditional book stores, and various online sources. Harrison has also released an album of the same name that features duos with Ben Monder, Steve Cardenas, Pete McCann, David Gilmore, and electric bass innovator Steve Swallow. That recording is the first for Harrison's new label Alternative Guitar Summit Recordings. Check it out  at 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Drums, Chanting, Vodou, & Ches Smith

Photo: Mimi Chakarova
When drummer, percussionist, and composer Ches Smith lived in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2000, one of his gigs was to accompany a Haitian dance class. He soon moved to NewYork City where he began to play and record with guitarists Mary Halvorson, Nels Cline, and Marc Ribot plus saxophonists Tim Berne, John Zorn, and Darius Jones.  Smith also began to immerse himself in Haitian music, picking up several mentors along the way and began to incorporate the various rhythms in his music.  In 2015, he went into the studio with pianist Matt Mitchell and master percussionists Daniel Brevil and Markus Schwartz to record an album of instrumentals and chants under the monicker of We All Break.  Issued only on Bandcamp, the album received very little publicity.

We All Break has expanded to twice its original size with the addition of vocalist Sirene Dantor Rene, acoustic bassist Nick Dunston, drummer/ vocalist Fanfan Jean-Guy Rene, and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón.  The octet's new album, "Path of Seven Colors" (Pyroclastic Records), expands upon the ideas of the debut album (included at no extra cost if you purchase the CD –– you should do that because it's one of the loveliest packages on the market today).  One can know hear how Smith and company are able to be more melodic and more experimental.  From the opening minutes of the first track "Woule Poe Mwen" ("Roll it for Me") when the hand percussion and rolling piano lines usher in the lead singer and vocal responses, you hear the more traditional Haitian music. Whereas the first voice you hear on the following track "Here's The Light" is Miguel Zenon's expressive alto saxophone. The male and female leads tell their story with the choir gently ululating in response.  The saxophonist's expansive solo over the poly-rhythmic piano, bass, and drums not only channels the voices but also the spirit of traditional music

Photo: YouTube
Four of the eight tracks are over nine minutes and are episodic in that they incorporate several melodies and rhythms. "Leaves Arrive" (9:39) with Ms. Dantour leading the chorus in a chant praising the great forest and the spirit over minimalist accompaniment.  The rhythm picks up led by the voices and clapping hands. When the voices depart, Zenón and Dunston lead the melody in; both solo over the powerful drumming aided by Mitchell's percussive piano lines. "Lord of Healing" (13:36) is the longest track. Mitchell quietly leads in the melody, Daniel Brevil takes over, first singing by himself and then joined by the choir.  There's a long section for solos –– Mitchell and Zenón create impressive improvisations over the drums and bass (Dunston is described in the liner notes as the "fifth drummer" – he's all that and a melodic powerhouse as well) and the music becomes more exciting and intense. 
Daniel Brevil and Ches Smith
The music rolls forward throughout the album. The program is a delightful hybrid, asking the listener to accept the traditional songs with the modern themes of Ches Smith's original music.  And it works very well.  The vocals, with deep roots in the tradition,  help to "ground" the music, giving the musicians the freedom to explore. When you listen to the title track, the piano opening is modern and angular but when the drums enter, the music, with its blend of ancient and contemporary, feels timeless (Mitchell's solo work is stunning throughout).  

"Path of Seven Colors" is an absorbing, exciting, musical adventure.  Blending the spiritual and community aspects of Vodou music with Black American music and concepts Ches Smith & We All Break has surprised the listener and soothed him/her at the same time.  Go, get lost in the amazing aural adventure.

For more information about the leader, go to www.chessmith.comBobby Sanabria just published an excellent overview and has a link to the documentary film by Mimi Chakarova on the WBGO-FM website –– go to

Hear "Here's the Light":

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Words and Music From Death Row

Received this email from Bandcamp this morning (the narrator is Adam O'Farrill):

“I'm very proud to share with you all a new piece written in collaboration with the beautiful soul and human being that is Keith Lamar. Mr. Lamar has been wrongfully incarcerated in the State of Ohio for almost three deuces, and has spent a majority of that time in solitary confinement, despite maintaining and proving his innocence in the ensuing years. He is scheduled to be executed on November 16th, 2023. 

Against all of these odds, Keith recorded these powerful words of anguish, resilience, and ultimately love- all while behind prison walls. I'm deeply humbled that he shared his story with me and allowed me to find a way to thread music into it, especially since he's an avid jazz listener. 

I hope you enjoy, and please donate to Keith's legal fund at 

Go to to find out more and purchase the music.


Patricia Brennan- vibraphone
Xavier Del Castillo- tenor saxophone
Albert Marques- piano
Adam O'Farrill- trumpet
Zack O'Farrill- drums
Walter Stinson- bass 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Large Ensemble: Joy, Tears, Concepts & Changes

 Ahhhh....the sounds of the modern Big Band.  The stories on these two albums will touch your heart and the rhythms just might shake the foundations of your house.

Actress Glenn Close and saxophonist/ composer Ted Nash first met when the actress hosted the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra after the ensemble had played a show near her home in Maine.  Ms. Close appeared on Nash's 2016 "Presidential Suite" (Motema Music) reading the words of Aung San Suu Kyi, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs for the country of Myanmar. They now have a fascinating new collaboration recorded with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and special guests Amy Irving, Wayne Brady, Matthew Stevenson, and the saxophonist's son Eli.  "Transformation" (Tiger Turn) tells stories of change, most times personal but also communal. As Nash writes in the liner notes, "Transformation is the highest expression of change" while Ms. Close says "I wanted to create an experience from which people are comforted, but also inspired, to discover their true humanity".  

Recorded live in concert at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall just weeks before the COVID pandemic shut down venues around the globe, the pieces include texts by Ted Hughes (excerpt from "Tales from Ovid"), Conrad Aiken ("Preludes from Memnon"), Judith Clarke ("One Among Many"), Matthew Stevenson ("Rising Out of Hatred"), Wayne Brady ("A Piece by the Angriest Black Man in America; or, How I Learned to Forgive Myself for Being a Black Man in America"), E.O. Wilson ("Wisdom of the Humanities"), Tony Kushner ("Reaching the Tropopause" from "Angels in America"), and Eli Nash ("Dear Dad/ Letter").   Of the 11 tracks in the program, three have a musical response as a separate track while the rest have the responses built into the performances.
The opening piece, "Creation, Part I", utilizes the words written by Hughes, to reframe the opening section of Genesis in the Old Testament.  Ms. Brady and Brady tell the story while the band responses with alto saxophonist Sherman Irby and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis translate the words into music. Note the splendid backgrounds created by drummer Obed Calvaire and pianist Dan Nimmer. "Part II" comes in on an irresistible with the sections playing before trombonist Chris Crenshaw and baritone saxophonist Paul Nedzela solo over the rhythm section. 

Next up is "Dear Dad/ Letter". Eli Nash tells his story of feeling awkward in his body and desires. After making the decision to "transgender", the younger Nash struggled with how to tell his family.  The letter, read without anger or fear but with love and honesty, is surrounded by the long chords from the different sections with the elder Nash's soprano sax soaring above the music and words.  The composer's musical response follows: the piece has an expansive melody, the orchestra creates a full background while the soprano sax plays a solo that exudes emotion, confidence, and love.

Among the other "transformations" is the story of Judith Clarke who gets paroled after 38 years in prison. Amy Irving's fine reading of Ms. Clarke's words is full of wonder, regret, and gratitude. Matthew Stevenson tells his story of meeting fellow college student Derek Black who, at the time, was a Neo-Nazi. Inviting Black to Friday night dinner (after Shabbat services) much to the dismay of his friends, Stevenson and Black find common ground by meeting many different people, people from different faiths and beliefs. Eventually, Black stepped away from his family's embrace of racist and anti-Semitic views.  

Wayne Brady (pictured left) takes center stage for his "Angriest Black in America" –– the words may be rated R but the story, so well-written, comes on like a rap piece, at times, with humor mixed into the incident in which Brady is told he's too Black (in much less flattering terms).  He has such a negative reaction to being surrounded by people who tell Black jokes that he begins to hate himself.  Listen to how the Orchestra support the narrator (bassist Carlos Henriquez plays a modified version of Jimmy Garrison's foundational bass line from the "Acknowledgement" movement of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme").

There's more – the concert runs 78 minutes – and that is for you to uncover and discover.  First listen to "Transformations" for the words, for the stories, for the excellent narrations; then return for the music. Listen to how the music supports the words, strengthening them, echo them, and respond to the emotions, be it anger, joy, fear, or acceptance.  The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra shines playing this music by one its long-time members, Ted Nash. The soloists are uniformly excellent (always great to hear Wynton rise to his powers) while the rhythm section plays at its usual high standard throughout.  Kudos to Glenn Close for helping to bringing this project to life and to Wayne Brady for his excellent work!  As the world slowly reopens, embrace these stories and see if you can be brave as these people.

For more information, go to

Hear the opening "Creation, Part I":



Woodwinds: Sherman Irby (lead), Marc Phaneuf, Victor Goines, Mark Lopeman, Paul Nedzela

Trumpets: Ryan Kisor (lead), Tatum Greenblatt, Marcus Printup, Wynton Marsalis

Trombones: Vincent Gardner (lead), Christopher Crenshaw, Elliot Mason

Rhythm Section:
Dan Nimmer, piano; 
Carlos Henriquez, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums 

Trumpeter Tim Hagans (born 1954, Dayton, Ohio) has taken his horn and his music around the world. He first came to critical notice in the 1970s in the big bands of Stan Kenton and Woody Herman before heading over to Sweden where he played with Dexter Gordon, Thad Jones, and others. It was Jones who encouraged the young Hagans to compose for large ensembles.  Even after moving back to the United States in the 1980s, he served as music director and composer-in-residence for the Sweden-based Norbotten Big Band (1996-2010) and has been involved with the NDR BigBand (Hamburg Radio Jazz Orchestra) since 2000.  As a soloist, Hagans absorbed the musical and stylistic influences of Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and the afore-mentioned Thad Jones plus John Coltrane. He recorded a number of small group recordings for Blue Note Records and SteepleChase as well as appearing on recordings by Bob Belden, Maria Schneider, Joe Lovano, arranger Mark Masters, the Yellowjackets, and others. 

Hagans latest adventure with the NDR BigBand, "A Conversation" (Waiting Moon Records), is a five-part Suite ("Movements I-V") –– for the program, the Band members are not grouped by sections but into four separate "ensembles" (the composer/ arranger calls them "divisions" and it's based on "sonics" and "emotions"; see "Personnel" below).  On first listen, one can not pick out the separation but there are moments throughout where you can hear Hagans concept at work.  Because of his long association with NDR, he composes to the musicians' strength; their familiarity with his ideas, how he arranges, his expectations, all that and more means they will and can go anywhere he wants to.  

"Movement I" opens with various voices communicating across the sound spectrum. When the rhythm section enters, the music picks up speed; yet there is still the various instruments talking to and over each other. Six minutes in, pianist Vladyslav Sendecki steps out above the ensemble and begins a long, absorbing, solo with the collective ensemble playing counterpoint, pushing him, or creating a wash of sound.  As "I" fades on long notes, that sound introduces "Movement II" which then breaks into different voices crossing the spectrum a la the opening of Gershwin's "An American in Paris" albeit more disjointed.  The main melody is slow, stately, sans rhythm section, that slowly gives way to a lovely bass clarinet solo by Daniel Buch.  He stays close to the melody as the percussion, guitar, and piano fill in the background. As Buch catches fire, the music picks up in intensity until the full Band reenters playing a swaggering melody that soon steps aside for what sounds like a coda of long tones but instead leads to a bass solo from Ingmar Heller that goes right to the close of the movement. 

Photo: Michele Brangwengen
You get the idea. This music is hardly static, often changing directions yet making sure individual voices stand out.  After a solo trumpet introduction (one of the three pieces Hagans plays on) "Movement IV" turns into a dark blues that, at times, shimmies and struts its way for four minutes until percussionist Marcio Doctor helps "lighten" the mood and change the "groove" for a delightful alto saxophone solo from Fiete Felsch. The gentle habanera rhythm that opens "Movement V" moves sinuously beneath the Aaron Copland-like melody.  The muted trumpet solo (by Hagans) brings to mind the sound of Miles Davis on "Sketches of Spain" – that mood continues the middle of the piece when the music changes direction and mood, becoming a bouncy rhythm to support the fine solo from trombonist Klaus Heidenreich. As that solo comes to a close, the rhythm slows down, all the different "voices" enter, split apart then coalesce into a powerful climax and a soft coda.

"A Conversation" is splendid music, covering a wide swath of musical territory, never sounding cliched, the pieces played with feeling, emotion, and, at times, great fire.  Kudos to Tim Hagans and to his compatriots at the NDR BigBand – this music sings, swings, rocks, and soothes, human interaction at its best.

For more information, go to  To purchase this recording and more, go to  

Hear the opening "Movement":


TIM HAGANS, composer, arranger, conductor, trumpet (solos on Movements III, IV, & V)

Ensemble I:
FIETE FELSCH, lead alto saxophone, flute (solo Movement IV) 
FRANK DELLE, tenor saxophone, clarinet 
INGOLF BURKHARDT, trumpet, flugelhorn 
STEVE WISEMAN, trumpet, flugelhorn 
CLAUS STÖTTER, trumpet, flugelhorn (solo Movement III) 
KLAUS HEIDENREICH, trombone (solo Movement V) 

Ensemble II: 
PETER BOLTE, alto & soprano saxophone (solo Movement III) 
STEPHAN MEINBERG, trumpet, flugelhorn (solo Movement III) 
DAN GOTTSHALL, lead trombone (solo Movement III) 
DANIEL BUCH, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet (solo Movement II & III) 

Ensemble III: 
CHRISTOF LAUER, tenor saxophone 
THORSTEN BENKENSTEIN, lead trumpet, flugelhorn 
STEFAN LOTTERMAN, trombone (solo Movement III) 
INGO LAHME, bass trombone 

Ensemble IV 
ED HARRIS, guitar 
INGMAR HELLER, acoustic bass (solo Movement II) 
VLADYSLAV SENDECKI, piano (solo Movement I) 
MARCIO DOCTOR, percussion (solo Movement IV) 

Friday, June 4, 2021

June Roundup: Gems, Keepsakes, & Fun (Pt 1)

Time to write about music thats been filling our house with good sounds this Spring:

Photo: Alan Nihigian
Drummer, trumpeter, composer, historian, educator, and mentor Ralph Peterson Jr. passed away on March 1 of this year after a long battle with cancer.  He arrived on the jazz scene in the late 1980s as a member of the Blue Note "Young Lions" group Out of the Blue but soon was making albums as a leader.  He had apprenticed at the side of drummer/mentor Art Blakey and was able to channel the explosive qualities of the older musician to create his own sound. Over the decades, Peterson proved to one of the finest "ballad" players –– when I saw him in person, most audience members were impressed by his ability to drive a band with great power but I loved to hear him play soft as a whisper.  Over the past decade, Peterson moved between his own groups as well as leading the Messengers Legacy Band which featured members of Blakey's Jazz Messengers.  He also taught up-and-coming musicians at Berklee College. 

"Raise Up Off Me" (ONYX) is being billed as Ralph Peterson's final album as a leader.  Recorded in December 2020 (less than three months before his passing), the program finds him in the company of the Curtis Brothers –– Zaccai (piano, keyboards) and Luques (bass) –– plus guests Eguie Castrillo (conga, timbale, cymbal, and cowbell on one track) and Jazzmeia Horn (vocals on three tracks).  The title track opens the album, a group improv featuring the leader on various percussion instruments plus Zaccai on both acoustic and electric pianos.  The music is reminiscent of Herbie Hancock's more exploratory of the late 1960s. "Right to Live" (composition by Peterson) features his fiery percussion pushed to the max by the powerful piano and foundational bass work.  It's no surprise that the Curtis Brothers became the basis for "Triangular III" and "IV"; you remember the initial "Triangular" with pianist Geri Allen and bassist Essiet Essiet.  Both Ms. Allen and Zaccai Curtis knew how to play Peterson's opfetn-complicated music.  

The 12-song CD (13 if you buy the "download") is loaded with delightful music.  The trio's take on Bud Powell's "Bouncin' With Bud" is playful with excellent interplay among the trio; note the angular "bounce" of the theme and the conversation between the piano and drums during Zaccai's solo. "Blue Hughes", a piece that the drummer composed for Out of the Blue, adds Mr. Castrillo to the mix. The percussion stew that sizzles up from the rhythm section sounds like an orchestra unto itself, really kicking the piano solo forward.  

Photo: Emmanuel Afolabi
Ms. Horn first shows up on Peterson's lovely ballad "Tears I Cannot Hide".  Her voice, often at the top of her natural range, is soulful and honest while the trio supports with a musical cushion. Pay attention to the drummer and how he uses space, his subtle cymbal work as well.  The musicians dance delightfully beneath Ms. Horn's voice on John Hick's "Naima's Love Song" –– Peterson rocks the rhythm, especially under the smashing piano solo. The drummer also contributes a splendid trumpet solo and accompaniment.  The vocalist's third contribution (the "bonus track" for the download) is a rollicking take of Betty Carter's "Please Do Something".  The three musicians each solo with the drummer "trading 8's" with the vocalist's splendid scat singing. She drops out and Peterson takes over for a rhythmic treat!

If "Raise Up Off Me" is to be Ralph Peterson Jr's final album, he certainly goes out on a high note (a major bunch of them in fact).  If you are listening to hear if the drummer is weak or has slowed down, you won't hear anything like that. Neither does one hear sadness, pity, or anger.  Joy is the sound emanating from the speakers. Ralph Peterson Jr dealt with numerous issues during too-short lifetime but his music was his strength, his refuge, his contribution to making the world a better place! What a man, what a man!

To learn more about the artist, go to     To buy the album, go to

Hear "The Right to Live":

Photo: John Abbott
Jennifer Wharton, a native of Pittsburg, CA, is called a "low brass specialist'. Best known for her work with Darcy James Argue's Secret Society and many other large ensemble, her bass trombone playing is noted for its power and her fine ensemble work. Ms. Wharton also has worked in the pit bands in Broadway productions of "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical", "Porgy & Bess", "9 to 5", and others.  Several years, the trombonist decided to give her instrument top billing and formed Bonegasm, a septet with four trombones – yes, a whole section – and a rhythm section.  The 'bone players include Ms. Wharton, her husband John Fedchock, Nate Mayland, and Mark Ferber; aiding and abetting them are Michael Eckroth (piano, Fender Rhodes), Evan Gregor (bass), and Don Peretz (drums). The group's self-titled debut appeared on Sunnyside Records in February 2019. The album's liner notes by Jim McNeely played up the name as well as the originality of an artist creating new music for jazz trombone as well as putting the instrument front and center

While the debut is good fun, album # 2 "Not a Novelty" (Sunnyside) is, in many ways, even stronger. That could be because by the time the septet entered the studios, it was September 2020, right in the midst of the pandemic.  No one in the band was working regularly, venues had closed down, the theaters on Broadway and beyond silenced; save for teaching students on ZOOM, there were no gigs.  Opening with Eckroth's "BonGasmo", the band (with Samuel Torres irrepressible percussion joining) plays with abandon including soloist Mayland.  There are only two other originals by band members in the program. Instead there is an eclectic collection of pieces from composers such as Remy LaBouef, Tori Amos, Chris Cheek, Ayn Inserto, Carmen Staaf, Manuel Valera, and Chris Cornell (the former leader of Soundgarden now deceased).  

Photo: John Abbott
The Cornell tune, "The Day I Tried to Live", features a "grunge metal" arrangement by Darcy James Argue and a Tom Waits-influenced vocal by 
Kurt Elling. He and Ms. Wharton solo together with the vocalist imitating a 'bone player with a cup mute.  Ms. Amos's "Twinkle", arranged by Fedchock, is a lovely ballad; spreading the brass around the sound spectrum and giving them sweet harmonies to play while he solos, the music moves forward gently gaining in intensity. Torres shows up once more for the rollicking take of Valera's "La Otra Mano" even getting a solo after both Ferber and Eckroth shake the rafters.  "Blue Salt", by Ayn Inserto, features a rocking bass line (doubled on piano) plus a splendid solo from Ms. Wharton and her husband over several different rhythms.  

Mark Ferber's "Blue Salts" is definitely a blues, down and somewhat dirty (especially the swagger from the 'bones). Ms. Wharton takes her solo low down while bassist Gregor solos with the band responding in kind.  There's even a Frank Zappa feel to the "march" that closes the piece.

No truer words than "Not a Novelty" as the trombonists take center stage and acquit themselves magnificently.  The basic difference between the first and second Bonegasm album is that while the material is just as good it's the arrangements that feel stronger.  Jennifer Wharton should be proud of this album and this group –– she gets to work and play with her husband and with her friends. Hopefully, the band will get to play in front of live audiences.

For more information, go to To purchase the album, go to

Hear the opening track:

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Masters At Play May 2021

The decade between 1963-1972 was such a fertile time for Creative Music.  Musicians like John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Muhal Richard Abrams, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and others were stretching, even obliterating the boundaries of music and sound. The artists mentioned below, especially Wadada Leo Smith, Dave Holland, and the late Milford Graves, have never sat still waiting for the world to catch up with them; instead, they have dedicated their creative lives to continually exploring the myriad possibilities open to them and fellow musicians.

Photo: Petri Haussila
Wadada Leo Smith (12/1941, Leland. MS) began playing trumpet when he was 12 years old. After completing high school, Mr. Smith played in various soul rhythm 'n' blues, and blues bands before joining the U.S. Army, studying in the Music Program and playing in Army bands.  After leaving the service, the trumpeter settled in Chicago where he began playing with saxophonist Anthony Braxton and violinist Leroy Jenkins. Like a number of musicians associated with the AACM (the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), Mr. Smith developed his musical philosophy which he called Ankhrasmation Symbol Language which he utilizes to this day.  In 1970, he moved to New Haven, CT,  working with numerous groups (including New Delta Ahkri and The Creative Improviser Orchestra) as well as studying at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.

Photo: Petri Haussila
In 1992, Mr. Smith moved to Southern California to teach at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) where he remained for two decades.  He organized new ensembles and worked alongside guitarist Henry Kaiser in Yo Miles! while still working with his AACM cadre.  Over the past two decade, Mr. Smith has recorded numerous albums with various ensembles that he has led (and still leads) plus continuing to work on solo material.  His albums have appeared on ECM Records, Tzadik, Moers Music, Cuneiform, Pi Records, Nessa, Clean Feed, his own Kabell label, and, since 2011, on the Finnish TUM Records label.

2021 will see a flurry of new releases from Wadada Leo Smith beginning with two three-CD sets from TUM. "Trumpet" is just that; a solo program recorded over 4 days in July of 2016 inside St. Mary's Church in Pohja, Finland (approximately one hour west of Helsinki).  Officially, it's his eighth "solo" album but only the second that is exclusively trumpet (the other one being "Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk" released by TUM in 2017 – 2001's "Red Sulfur Sky" on Tzadik is mostly trumpet and some flugelhorn).  If you are a devotee of Mr. Smith's music, you will be pleased by this 134+ minutes, 14-song program. The first two discs each contain a five-part composition while disk three contains two four-part pieces. Each disk is housed in a cardboard jacket featuring original artwork by the trumpeter.  For neophytes, it's best to just sit down, sit still, and listen.  Don't try to make sense of either the music or the fact that each work is dedicated to someone who has had a powerful influence or relationship with Mr. Smith.  Disk one opens with "Albert Ayler" and is followed by the five-part "Rashomon", named for the movie that so moved the composer.  Elsewhere there are works dedicated to violinist Jenkins, the author James Baldwin, drummer Steve McCall, pianist/ vocalist Amina Claudine Meyers, bassist Reggie Workman, and to Mr. Smith's family. 

Photo: Petri Haussila
There is no mistaking Mr. Smith's sound, his clarion call tone clear inside the church.  His ability to blend sound and silence, to make his muted trumpet cut through the air like a saber and sill be grounded in the blues, to absorb how his long notes resonate, and to sit straight up during his rapid-fire phrases, all this has only grown more powerful over his musical lifetime.  Plus, by dedicating these pieces to various people, curious listeners will discover musicians and thinkers who they may be able to learn from. To understand "Trumpet", you must surrender to the fact that you have entered the multi-cultural world of Wadada Leo Smith: his music, his rules, his ideas and ideals of freedom. 

Here's the album opener "Albert Ayler":

"Sacred Ceremonies" is the second three-CD set to released this month by TUM. Disk one (5/27/2016) is a duet with Wadada Leo Smith in musical conversation with percussionist Milford Graves, disk two a duo with Mr. Smith and bassist Bill Laswell (recorded the day before), and disk three with all three participants (recorded 12/11-12/2016).  While the bassist has worked with both the trumpeter and the percussionist in the past, this looks to be the first time Mr. Smith and Mr. Graves (who passed earlier this year) met in the studio.  The majority of the material on the duo albums is composed by the trumpeter while four of the seven trio tracks are credited to all three musicians.  Clocking in at 174 minutes, the three albums are chock-full of ideas, fascinating interplay, and the joy of three people creating musical conversations

Photo: R.I. Sutherland-Cohen
Unlike "Trumpet", "Sacred Ceremonies" is three distinct recordings yet sharing the same title.  Mr. Smith has always had a special affinity with drummers having recorded duo albums with Ed Blackwell, Jack DeJohnette, Adam Rudolph, Louis Moholo-Moholo, Gunter "Baby" Sommer, and now Milford Graves.  This session with Mr. Graves is a joy from start to finish with the drummer displaying his affinity to African drumming as well as rhythms from the Caribbean and South America.  Among the highlights is "Baby Dodds in Congo Square", a nearly 14-minute opus with drums that rumble and tumble while the trumpet sharp tone sings, shouts, and praises "freedom".  The interaction between the two throughout is a pleasure to hear.  Mr. Graves's high-hat work is fascinating on several tracks but especially on "The Poet: Play Ebody, Play Ivory"; the gentle rhythmic propulsion shimmers beneath the floating trumpet phrases.

Photo: R.I. Sutherland-Cohen
The combination of Mr. Smith and electric bassist Laswell hearkens back somewhat to both musicians love of electric Miles Davis.  The bassist appeared on Mr. Smith's "Najwa" album (TUM 2014), the recording with four guitarists. Recorded in Mr. Laswell's West Orange, NJ, studio, all of the tracks feature synths (presumably the bassist playing them) washing behind the musicians.  The program features performances dedicated to Prince, Donald Ayler, Tony Williams, and the late vocalist Minnie Ripperton.  "Prince –– A Blue Diamond Spirit" is actually quite funky with its dancing bass line, "wah-wah" bass, and overdubbed counterpoint bass while the trumpeter wails above. "Tony Williams" opens with a muted trumpet melody, circular in its intent.  The basses enter and the music bounces forward. Mr. Smith stays close to the original melody until he bursts out momentarily for 15-20 seconds before giving the music over to the synths.  

Photo: R.I. Sutherland-Cohen
The third disk brings the three musicians together for more adventures in creativity.  After Mr. Graves sets the pace on the opening track, "Social Justice –– A Fire for Reimagining the World", Mr. Smith makes a blazing statement atop the powerful rhythm section.  This album also hearkens back to the electric Miles period; you hear it in the rhythms and in the muted trumpet trumpet attack.  Throughout most of this recording, the drummer is the one who sets the pace, builds the foundation of the music while the bassist and trumpeter weave around each other.  Mr. Laswell's thick bass melody opens "Waves of Elevated Horizontal Force", soon joined by the muted trumpet on countermelody –– one hears echoes "In a Silent Way".  The pulsating and pounding drums change the mood and the music rumbles forward.  Mr. Graves leads the way into "The Healer's Direct Energy" (a reference to the work the drummer conducted on the healing properties of music); when Mr. Smith and Mr. Laswell enter, the music takes a slower route forward, one that depends upon the long trumpet tones and the bassist's responses.  

As Wadada Leo Smith moves through his 80th year in this dimension, he continues to create fascinating music in so many different contexts.  These two TUM releases, "Trumpet" and "Sacred Ceremonies", should certainly satisfy long-time listeners; if you have never spent time in his worlds, start with the Milford Graves/ Bill Laswell set as it covers so much territory.  If you love a challenge, go for the trumpet solo albums as the music will teach you and make you think.  

For more information, go to  To learn more about the trumpeter's amazing career, go to

Here's the Trio and "Social Justice –– A Fire For Reimagining the World":

Photo: Ralf Dombroski
Bassist and composer Dave Holland (born 1946) began his professional career at the age of 14 playing in dance bands in and around his hometown of Wolverhampton, England.  Four years later, he moved to London and soon began playing in jazz ensembles led by saxophonist Tubby Hayes, pianist Chris MacGregor, and reed master John Surman. The story goes that trumpeter Miles Davis heard young Dave Holland at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club and invited him to join his new acoustic/ electric ensemble. Over the next few years, Holland played on "Filles de Kilimanjaro", "In a Silent Way", and "Bitches Brew", finding time to work with Chick Corea and the Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis Orchestra. After leaving Davis's employ, he joined pianist Corea, reed master Anthony Braxton, and drummer Barry Altshul to create the free jazz-minded Circle.  The bassist signed to ECM Records where, within a few years, he produced his first masterpiece in 1972, "Conference of the Birds" (with Mr. Braxton, Mr. Altschul, and Sam Rivers), and then co-created Gateway, a trio with guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Jack DeJohnette.  Holland became an in-demand studio bassist appearing on scores of ECM dates and more.  His original music and powerful as well as melodic bass playing has kept him in the spotlight for five decades.

In 2019, Holland debuted on Edition Records in Fall 2019 in "Good Hope", a trio with saxophonist Chris Potter and tabla master Zakir Hussain.  His debut as a leader for the label is "Another Land", a trio that reunites the bassist with guitarist Kevin Eubanks and is his first recording with drummer Obed Calvaire.  The Trio has actually been together over five years but this is its debut recording.  Holland, who knows how to to create a good groove, pulls out his electric bass for the opening "Grave Walker" –– he immediately locks in with Calvaire and the album is off to a deeply funky start.  Eubanks jumps right in and plays a powerful solo that includes long phrases, choppy r'n'b chords, and a percussive drive of his own.  Later in the program, the deep tones of the electric bass begin a mysterious journey title "The Village" that features a long, languorous, opening that explodes when Eubanks enters. Calvaire's solo is a thunderous treat that inspires a fiery guitar solo. 

Holland's thick acoustic bass lines lead in "Gentle Warrior", a piece that should remind you of pieces that the bassist has written for his sextet.  There's an airy quality to the melody line but Calvaire's drumming, front and center, keeps up the heat.  "20 20" opens with quiet work from the Trio but then Holland's electric bass plays a line that would not be out of place in a "prog-rock" setting. For the bulk of the tune, he shifts between the acoustic and electric basses, the former for solos.  The title track is a handsome blues-tinged piece buoyed by a repetitive bass line, gentle acoustic guitar, and quiet cymbal work as Eubanks (on electric) plays the gentle melody. One expects the piece to explode at any time yet the gentleness continues throughout (Holland's long solo is quite impressive while Calvaire's cymbal work never rises above a whisper). 

Photo: Megan V. Agins/ NY Times
Rockers such as "Mashup" and the rip-roaring "The Village" mesh nicely alongside the lovely ballad "Passing Time" and the elegant solo guitar piece, "Quiet Fire".  The solo piece is reminiscent of John Abercrombie's "Timeless"; not as trancelike, Eubanks moves easily through the melody without trying to dazzle or impress the listener. In fact, this is one of the most impressive recordings that the guitarist has made. He's creative and he does not let his impressive technique get in the way of his soulful, exciting, contributions.

"Another Land" closes with the deep blues of "Bring It Back Home". Featuring a subtle acoustic bass solo and a splendid guitar spotlight, pay attention to how Calvaire does not overplay but takes it nice and gritty.  We listeners are so lucky that Dave Holland continues to move forward, never resting on his imposing laurels.  Turn up the volume and give a listen! 

For more information, go to  

Here's "Mashup" –– play it loud!