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 firehouse12.com 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 www.realartways.org or by calling 860-232-1006.

To learn more about Evan Parker, go to evanparker.com.

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 music-tickets.yale.edu or call the box office at 203-432-4158. To learn more about the man and his fine music, go to www.edmarcastaneda.com.

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 thesidedoorjazz.com 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 - fontmusic.org/upcoming-events/2014-festival/ - 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 www.pirecordings.com/album/pi55.







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 www.resonancerecords.org/release.php?cat=HLT-8016 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 www.tumrecords.com/041-2-the-great-lakes-suites.

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 thejazzsession.com/radio-playlists/, 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 uncertaintymusic.com. To learn more about BOLT, go to erichofbauer.com/2014/07/bolts-shuffle-cd-is-out-now-on-driff-records/.

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 matthewshipp.com.

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 mattulery.com.

Here's a taste of this fine music:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sept. 12 - An Embarrassment of Richness + Super Group Music

I understand that, if you look at a calendar of jazz events in New York City on any given night, there's at least 2 shows you might want to attend (3 or more on the weekends). Living here in CT, we are blessed by our proximity to The Big Apple and its plethora of venues. Still, there are a growing number of great concert spaces in our state that vie for one's attention. Listed below are 4 shows taking place on the same night, any one of which is your worth your attention.

The Firehouse 12 Fall 2014 Concerts Series begins this Friday; it's an impressive lineup with a strong start.  The Ingrid Laubrock Quintet, led by the German-born tenor saxophonist/composer, will play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - of music that truly is her own. Ms. Laubrock, who has worked alongside the likes of Kenny Wheeler, Professor Anthony Braxton, dave Douglas, Mary Halvorson and so many others, creates music that runs the gamut from experimental to through-composed, from austere to playful. Her group features Tim Berne (alto saxophone), Ben Gerstein (trombone), Dan Peck (tuba) and her husband Tom Rainey (drums), all musicians who navigate the creative music waters with grace, wit and plenty of muscle.

In the coming weeks, the Firehouse, located at 45 Crown Street in New Haven, presents the trio of Evan Parker, Joe Morris & Nate Woodley (9/19), guitarist Michael Gregory Jackson & Spirit - Signal - Strata (9/26), and the Michael Musillami Trio + Kris Davis (10/04).  For more information, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.

About 15-20 minutes (by foot) to the northeast of The Firehouse, The Yale School of Music Ellington Jazz Series presents the Ravi Coltrane Quartet in concert at 8 p.m. in Morse Recital Hall, 470 College Street. Coltrane, the second son of Alice and John Coltrane, has long out-paced his father's great legacy and created one of his own. He's a fine tenor player/composer as well as the co-owner of RKM Music, label that has recorded trumpeter Ralph Alessi and pianist Luis Perdomo, both of whom have played in Coltrane's Quartet. Besides cutting his improvisational teeth in Steve Coleman and Elvin Jones's groups, the saxophonist has recorded 6 CDs as a leader, the latest being 2012's "Spirit Fiction", his debut for Blue Note Records.

On Friday, Coltrane brings a new group to the Elm City campus venue, replacing the piano with guitarist Adam Rogers and adding the rhythm section of Matt Brewer (bass) and Nate Smith (drums).  Each member of the group is a leader on his own; Rogers and Brewer have CDs on the Criss Cross label while Smith, currently the drummer in Dave Holland's Quintet and Big Band, has a CD coming on BJU Records later this month.

For ticket information, go to music-tickets.yale.edu/single/eventDetail.aspx?p=12486 or call 203-432-4158.  To learn more about the leader, go to www.ravicoltrane.com.

WHUS-FM, the radio station for the University of Connecticut in Storrs, presents the Michael Musillami Trio + special guests Kris Davis & Jimmy Greene in concert at 8 p.m. in Von Der Mehden Recital Hall, 875 Coventry Road, Unit 1128.  Guitarist/composer Musillami, whose Trio with bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller, has been exciting audiences for the past decade +, is celebrating a new 2-CD set titled "Pride" just released on the leader's Playscape Recordings label (my review is here).  The second disk in the set is a live date from 2007 featuring violinist Mark Feldman but the first album was recorded earlier this year with the lineup that will perform at UCONN.  Ms. Davis appears on the entire program but Mr. Greene (who has recorded several times with Playscape artist Mario Pavone) only appears on 2 cuts.  Not sure what the live concert will include but I cannot imagine the saxophonist will sit out most of the show.   

The ticket prices are incredibly low (free for students) - for more information, go to www.facebook.com/events/250312131829323/.

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme welcomes flutist and soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett with her new group Maqueque.   Ms. Bunnett, a Canadian musician whose musical tastes are international (if not universal), organized this group of musicians on one of her sojourns to Cuba and they are a sassy, exciting, bunch, who have really added a spark to her music.  Maqueque includes Dayme Arocena (voice), Magdelys Savigne (bata drums, congas, percussion, voice) Yissy Garcia (drums), Yusa (tres, bass guitar) and Danae Olana (piano, voice). Judging by the music on their just-released self-titled debut CD (Justin Time) and their August appearance at the Litchfield Jazz Festival, Jan and Ken of The Side Door might just want to reinforce the walls; this sextet plays with great fire and joy. To find out ore about this fascinating collaboration, go to www.janebunnett.com.

Doors open at 7:30 and the music commences at 8:30 p.m. For more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886.

On Saturday night, The Side Door presents the Bruce Barth Quartet. Pianist Barth, one of the finer keyboard artists of the quarter-century, is bringing an all-star group including Jerry Bergonzi (tenor saxophone), Linda Oh (bass) and Montez Coleman (drums).  Although he's up in the Boston-area, we don't get to see and hear Mr. Bergonzi very often; his muscular tenor is a welcome sound any time on hears it. The splendid rhythm section will make this a fun show.  Check out The Side Door website for more information.
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"Coalition", the new CD featuring Kenny Werner (piano, electric piano), Miguel Zenon (alto saxophone), Benjamin Koppel (alto, mezzo-soprano, baritone saxophones), Ferenc Nemeth (drums, percussion) and Lionel Loueke (guitar, bass, vocals), initially was scheduled to a project for the pianist. He chose the musicians; having played with Koppel, Nemeth and Loueke in the past, Mr. Werner wanted to hear Zenon's voice in that mix.  After rehearsing and playing several gigs, Werner writes in the liner notes "the group stopped being mine....It became a true Coalition."  

Not just a Coalition but a full-blown treat, a splendid session from beginning to end. The only real question is "With all this firepower, why did it take 3+ years for this music to be released?  It's out now, thanks to Half Note Records, and well worth investigating.  Heck, the opening 2 tracks, Zenon's "Phonetics #2 (Folk Dance)" and Werner's "April Blue" truly whet one's appetite. The former opens with the composer clapping out the infectious rhythm while Loueke adds his voice and funky "chicken-scratch" guitar - all of sudden, Nemeth takes over the rhythm, goosed on by the guitarist's deep bass lines.  The piano and reeds enter and the piece really takes off. Zenon plays his usual energetic solo (he has such an inviting sound) as does Koppel (also on alto).  In between the 2 (not quite which alto is which), Werner really digs into his solo urged on by the drums and bass guitar.
Meanwhile, the latter piece opens in a Latin groove, Koppel's baritone playing the melody with the alto sax.  The chord progression keeps the piece moving in an upward motion. Nemth's active drumming and Loueke's thick bass lines plus clicking guitar are attractive, giving the piece its forward motion.

Loueke's "Flying", originally on the guitarist's 2010 "Mwaliko" CD, opens with quiet guitar and the composer's overdubbed/electronically altered voices.  One can also see the dancers jumping about to the rhythmic fire and, suddenly, the piece breaks out into a mid-1970s Weather Report-like funky swing, Werner's electric piano matching lines with the guitar. Zenon flies over the stop-and-start groove.  During the keyboard solo, Koppel's baritone shadows the bass line, adding his deep voice to the mix.  I laughed out loud at least 5 times at the brash energy and smoking rhythms that everybody plays.

"Swan Song" is the only ballad in the program and features a long, melodic, unaccompanied piano solo that is undeniably lovely and emotionally rich. Koppel's sweet solo on mezzo-soprano also stands out, soaring atop the spare but solid bass and drums. Loueke's fiery guitar solo changes the mood (the rhythm in the latter part of the piece is reminiscent of Keith Jarrett's work with Dewey Redman, Paul Motian and Charlie Haden) but the handsome blend of saxophones carries the tune to a peaceful conclusion.

The final 2 tracks take the CD on more rhythmic adventures, with "Tune 4" flowing on a Afro-Cuban rhythm with 2 excellent saxophone solos (Koppel's closes his mezzo-soprano spotlight with a nod to Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas") and a rousing piano spot.  "Wishful Dreaming" opens quietly with just acoustic piano behind Loueke's guitar and wordless vocals. Once the band enters, the rest of the band comes in on a waltz with the 2 saxophones weaving in and around each other.  Slowly, the intensity picks up during Zenon's sweet solo, setting the stage for Koppel's even more intense mezzo-soprano solo.  Werner tamps down the fire with a fine piano solo over the "clicking" guitar and Nemeth's handsome brush work. The main theme returns slowly fading out until Loueke's voices return and the reeds and piano flutter in the background.  A serene finish to a great adventure.

Coalition has 4 live dates planned for 9/25-28, one at The Regatta Bar in Cambridge, MA and the remaining three at the Blue Note in NYC.  It'd be a sin if this quintet does not tour more.  However, their debut recording sounds great, especially at higher volumes (under headphones, the music shines brilliantly). The Half Note website remains under construction and Kenny Werner's site (kennywerner.com) contains no info about the quintet other than the live dates.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

All Hail The Drummer (Sept. 2014 Version)

The day that "Vipassana" arrived in the mail, I googled the word and discovered that it referred to an ancient form of Indian meditation and means "to see things as they really are." (If you keep digging, you'll also come across the Macklemore/Ryan Lewis video with the same name from 2010.)

Drummer/composer Eric Harland is a thrilling musician. His work with Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, the cooperative quartet James Farm, Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding and so many more is a tribute to his creativity as not only a timekeeper but as a time-expander. His group, not surprisingly, is dubbed Voyager and features Walter Smith III (saxophones), Taylor Eigsti (piano), Julian Lage (guitar) and Harish Raghavan (bass) - the music this band creates crosses many genres and does so forcefully yet with a certain amount of grace.  "Vipassana" (GSI Records) is the group's 2nd CD ("Live By Night" came out in 2011), expanding on the earlier effort by not only adding Chris Turner (vocals) and Nir Felder (guitar) but also going in new directions.  Turner, who has performed with Ms. Spalding, Bilal, and ERIMAJ, has a handsome, soulful, voice and, at times, his work here is reminiscent of Marvin Gaye from "What's Going On" (and beyond) with its layered sound. One hears that on the opening track, "Relax" with the lines "You don't need to worry/just relax your mind" coming at the listener from various points in the sound spectrum and serving as an invitation into the music. Turner does not appear on every cut but is a welcome addition.  His sweet tenor and falsetto float and moan behind the funky drums on "Passana" then becomes a lovely choir (and the only other musician) behind the electric guitar on "Greene" (perhaps a tribute to saxophonist Jimmy Greene). His voice soars above Felder's raucous and Lage's comforting acoustic guitars on the ballad, "Normal" and becomes a playful foil to the super-funky chunky rhythms on "Dhyana" that closes the program (a track that suggest Sly Stone, Robert Glasper, and Nile Rodgers). The long fade on the latter tune, with the piano solo rolling over the guitar, bass and drums, could have gone on for another 4-5 minutes, the groove is so infectious.

The group's arrangement of Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" is a wonderful reminder of the forward motion of creative music, changing the rhythm and creating a hypnotic background for the exciting work of Eigsti (the use of guitar and tenor sax as foundation is impressive as is restraint of the rhythm section. On "VI", the pianist creates an impressionistic solo over strings (synthesized?) and Turner's voice ping-ponging while Harland plays a simple beat. Smith III rises out of the mesmerizing background on "Eminence" with a soulful melody/improvisation built off the piano chords, paving the way for Lage's short but o-so-sweet solo. The energy of the saxophonist's duet with the drums draws the listener into"Singularis", setting the stage for excellent interaction and strong piano and saxophone solos.

If possible, one should listen to "Vipassana" all the way through (anybody do that anymore?) - at 50 minutes, the music moves by quickly yet there are times so much is happening and there is such pleasure in letting the music wash over and through you.  Eric Harland Voyager is very much a group, not a side project.  The soulfulness and energy of this music plus the excellent contributions of Chris Turner is a joyful addition to one's days and nights. For more information, go to www.ericharland.com.

If you have attended a Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra concert over the past 8 years or bought a recent Wynton Marsalis recording or heard the Yes!Trio, you know Ali Jackson is one exuberant drummer - really, this is one musicians who always looks like he's having a great time.  "Amalgamations" is his 4th CD as a leader and first for Sunnyside Records.  Jackson, a native of New York City who was raised in Detroit, is the common denominator on the 11 tracks as each features a different lineup (none larger than a quintet) and, to the drummer's credit, the album hangs together.  7 of the tracks feature his LCJO rhythm section partner, bassist Carlos Henriquez, while 4 feature LCJO associate, trombonist Vincent Gardner (both are members of Jackson's touring quartet as has been pianist Jonathan Batiste, who appears on 2 tracks.) LCJO leader Marsalis shows up on 2 tracks, the Puerto Rican dance band piece "Cachita" and the "hot" trio reading of Ray Noble's "Cherokee" - the latter track opens with the trumpeter soloing over the energetic rhythm section and the famous melody is only played once (and then, only the first line.)

Among the highlights is the ultra-funky reading of "A Closer Walk With Thee" featuring Henriquez and Jackson in support of the sweet Hammond organ work of Shedrick Mitchell.  Trombonist Gardner join those 3 musicians for the heartfelt Jackson original "Praise", a tribute to the store front churches saw in the Detroit of his youth. The buoyant bass line and robust tambourine work of the leader puts the listener in the front pew.  The longest track (6:27), both the trombonist and organist get to stretch out.

Tenor saxophonist and fellow Detroiter, J.D. Allen, is featured on the quiet ballad "I Love You" along with the excellent piano work of Eldar Djangirov (who also appears on Allen's 2 recent HighNote CDs).  Jackson's cymbals create a subdued rhythmic backdrop for the soloists.  The saxophonist also appears on "Fee Fi Fo Fum", the Wayne Shorter tune recorded on Christmas Eve 1964 with a quintet and released on the Blue Note Lp "Speak No Evil."  Here, it is a blues influenced by Sonny Rollins' "Freedom Suite" trio with Jackson's mentor Max Roach.

Bassist Omer Avital appears on 2 tracks as well, the CD opener "Ali Got Rhythm" (featuring Yes! Trio mate Aaron Goldberg on piano) and the country-blues ballad "Kentucky Girl", played here as a duo. Avital's deep notes resonate over the sharp sounds of the drum kit and tambourine.

LCJO associate Ted Nash flashes his excellent alto sax on the CD closer, "Inner Urge."  Bassist Henriquez gets the first solo, a mighty impressive display of melodic and rhythmic elements.  When Nash steps in, the rhythm section really begins to propel the piece forward and the saxophonist flies high over them.  Jackson's solo anticipates the return of the melody -  he even plays the theme alongside Nash as the piece (and CD) comes to its sparkling close.

Ali Jackson is a player who loves his gig and never gets caught up in simply "showing off his stuff."  "Amalgamations" shows he is as adept at feeding the fire beneath small ensembles as he is at being the primary thrust rockets for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.  There is a warmth to the sound of this album; you can really hear what Jackson and the bassists (Phillip Keuhn also appears on 2 tracks) are playing.  Give a listen and you'll like what you hear!  For more information, go to www.alidrums.com.

Here's a mesmerizing taste of Mr. Shorter's tune:

Drummer/composer Phil Haynes (Free Country, Paul Smoker, Gebhard Ullmann) organized his new trio - known as No Fast Food - around David Liebman (flutes, tenor sax, soprano sax) and his long-time collaborator Drew Gress (bass).  As someone who first was introduced to creative music in the late 1960s and early 1970s by seeing and hearing Wadada Leo Smith, Julius Hemphill, and Trio Air (Henry Threadgill, Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall) among others, the music one hears on "In Concert" (CornerStoreJazz) hearkens back to those nights in airless concert spaces or large churches, when the music would cut right through the listener, bounce off the walls, shock, soothe, and challenge everyone in the audience.

The 2-CD set was recorded over 2 nights (9/06 & 08/2012), one in the Bop Shop (Rochester, NY), the other in the Elk Creek Cafe (Millheim, PA).  Gress's full, thick, tones mesh well with Haynes' expansive use of his trap set.  As "free" as it seems at times, this music rarely feels noisy.  There are moments, especially on "Incantation", that the music feels more like praying. Isn't that what the blues, a prayer, calling out to the Lord for release?  One hears that in Leibman's heartfelt soprano solo on "Blues for Israel" and his tenor statements on "Last Dance."  The fine mallet work and the counterpoint from Gress on the latter track stand out.  The way this Trio manipulates rhythms is impressive throughout.  "West Virginia Blues" combines a hearty walking bass with pounding drums while the tenor solo seems to be in 1/2-time.  And, after the bass solo, the trio emulates Sonny Rollins' "Way Out West" for a brief moment before moving on.  There are numerous playful moments, most noticeably on "The Code", where the theme seems to built upon a game of hide-and-seek.  During the drum solo, the bass dips in and out, then Gress and Leibman conduct a feisty conversation (especially the tenor) - the drummer returns and the conversation gets a bit more agitated leading to Leibman's a cappella moment.  The Air connection really stands out, for me, on "Ballad du Jour" especially the interplay of the bass and drums as well as the "open" quality of the tenor solo.

"No Fast Food" is a fine credo to live by and, in the case of Phil Haynes, a splendid showcase for both his compositions and his relationship with Drew Gress and David Leibman. This is "live" music that deserves to be heard live.  Until that happens, take a deep breath and dive into this 100-minute ocean of sounds.  For more information, go to www.philhaynes.com.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Guitar Trios Plus

The Michael Musillami Trio - Musillami (guitar) with the irrepressible rhythm section of Joe Fonda (bass) and George Schuller (drums) - has been together for over 10 years during which time they have released 7 CDs for the leader's Playscape Recordings.  No. 7 is titled "Pride" and is a 2-CD set comprised of 2 sessions recorded in New Haven CT's remarkable Firehouse 12 Studios.  Both disks feature guests with the Trio, the first from late November of 2013 adding pianist Kris Davis and tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene (on 2 tracks).  Disk 2 was recorded in concert (the space serves as both recording studio and performance space) on October 10, 2007 and features violinist Mark Feldman.

Musillami has recorded with pianists before, most notably the mercuric Peter Madsen and melodic Ted Rosenthal.  Ms. Davis (pictured left), whom the guitarist met in an Artists Showcase in January 2013, brings a different dynamic from the pianists mentioned above.  She's rarely demonstrative, often understated, yet can play with such grace, as she displays on "Old Tea."  Her angular lines both work against and with the active rhythm section on "Mountain Pride" and serve as a smart counterpoint for the often rapid-fire phrases of the leader.  The head to "Uncle Fino's Garden" is a swinging, even boppish, jaunt that evokes Thelonious Monk. Ms. Davis's gentle comping behind the guitar during the solo sets the stage for her impressionistic solo, one that starts out rubato (with smart counterpoint from Fonda and forceful interjections from Schuller) and goes through numerous shifts in tempo and intensity. Her subtle blues riffs on "Bald Yet Hip" (also Monk-like at times) set the pace for the leader's long solo, which in turn, opens up the floor for Greene to come in soft and low before building a head of steam.  There's a funky feel to "Courageous David B." and Greene rides the evolving waves of support from Fonda and Schuller.

The disk closes with "Wild Things Music", 4 songs from a suite Musillami composed to accompany a reading of Maurice Sendak's 'Where the Wild Things Are." Like the book and the drawings that inspired it, the moods of the music range from dark and foreboding to playful and downright rowdy. Ms. Davis is an integral part of the music from the opening seconds to the last tones, seamlessly matching her intensity to the Trio's exuberance.

Disk 2 comes from a CD-release gig that the MMT with Mark Feldman (pictured left) played at the Firehouse 5 months after recording the CD/DVD set "The Treatment." This 4-song set includes 1 song ("Human Conditions" from the earlier release (it appears on both the studio and live recording that make up that package), 2 early Musillami songs re-arranged for this quartet, and the title track from the Trio's 2003 debut CD, "Beijing."

"Swedish Fish" opens the set, a high-energy piece that excites not only the crowd but the band. Once the 4 musicians leave the "theme" section, the music exploded with feisty solos and great rhythm section work. "Human Conditions"  features a melody picked and plucked by the guitarist and violinist plus playful movement in and out of solos.  Schuller's subtly forceful drumming underpins Feldman's expansive solo then drops out as Musillami and Fonda execute a nifty dialogue filled with counterpoint and call-and-response.  The 20-minute "Beijing" is a multi-sectioned tour-de-force that starts softly but picks up in excitement as the 4 musicians move into the body of the piece. Everyone but Schuller solos in the first 11 minutes then the guitarist returns to solo over a "straight-ahead" rhythm. After that solo reaches its climax, everyone drops out for the drummer who, at first, quietly with hand percussion, then with growing intensity, delivers a rhythmic and melodic solo dropping back down to a whisper before the guitarist returns to the opening theme.  Overall, the performance is dramatic and emotionally satisfying.

"Pride" is powerful music played by musicians who have no fear of the unknown and great trust in each other.  The music that Michael Musillami composes for these various combinations is written knowing the strengths of his partners and their intuitive natures.  Messrs. Fonda and Schuller are adventurous, supportive, and playful throughout the program - the listener should pay special attention to how they interact and support the soloists and the composed material. The guests are not afterthoughts or add-ons but full participants in the adventure.  For more information, go to www.michaelmusillami.com.

Kris Davis joins the Michael Musillami Trio in concert at Firehouse 12 on October 3, 2014 (writer's note: the evening of Yom Kippur - darn!) - for more information, go to firehouse12.com.


Rotem Sivan is a young guitarist/composer who moved to the United States from his native Israel in 2008 to study at the New School in New York City.  "For Emotional Use Only" (Fresh Sound New Talent) is his 2nd recording and the first to feature his working group of Haggai Cohen Milo (bass) and Mark McLean (drums). It's fascinating that the first song you hear on the CD - "Intro to Spirals" - is a bass solo but, after you listen several times, you understand that the leader cares more about the compositions than displaying his formidable chops.  Yet, Sivan can surely play. "Sefi's Blues" shows he can "blaze" with the best, that bassist Milo has great dexterity and that McLean can swing quietly or very much out loud. The melody line of "Spirals" may remind you a country song until the bridge while the title track is a stunning ballad built upon a handsome bass line.  "Pass It On" has a sly melody line that picks up speed as if the guitar and bass were falling downstairs.  The guitar solo starts off as if the Trio was playing hide-and-seek but soon hits on a groove that allows the guitarist to show a bluesier side.  There's a strong sense of "play" as the 3 shift tempos at will, speeding up to a breathtaking pace.

Sivan composed 8 of the 10 tracks, the exceptions being the expansive reading of "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" (from Disney's "Cinderella") - one hears the influence of the late Jim Hall in the rippling horn-like phrases of the guitar solo (not to mention the various song quotes Sivan throws in). Tom Jobim's "Useless Landscape" shows that the group can move in-and-out of tempo without losing its forward motion and also play an intense piece without raising the volume.

"For Emotional Use Only" ought to introduce guitarist Rotem Sivan to a larger audience (his previous release is on SteepleChase). The program is a delight from start-to-finish, the musicianship top-notch and the execution delightful.  You can listen late at night without waking anyone in the house (but not in the car with the windows open.)  More, please!  For more information, go to www.rotemsivan.com.


For his first release as a leader since 2007's "Invocation", guitarist and composer Paul Bollenback brought bassist Joseph Lepore (Melissa Aldana, Shauli Einav) and drummer Rogerio Boccato (John Pattitucci, Kenny Garrett) into the studios for 2 days in October 2013.  The ensemble's work resulted in "Portraits In Space and Time" (Mayimba Jazz), nearly 80 minutes of fine melodies, hearty improvisations and, best of all, wonderful give-and-take.  Set up in the manner of a trio gig, the 14-tune program includes several short group improvisations that serve both as an introduction to the program as well as transitions to new songs.

Perhaps the best way to enjoy this music is to start at the beginning and let it go. It will take the interested listener 2 or 3 times through program to tell the tunes apart. There are traces of John Abercrombie in the sound and melody phrases of "Homecoming" and isn't that the opening riff of Miles's "Milestones" that shows up now and then.   The second transition piece, "Collective", introduces the acoustic guitar into the set plus sets the stage for Bollenback's lovely ballad "Sunset" - he articulates his notes with such grace on this track and the more up-tempo (and Brazilian sounding) "Little Island" that these tracks really stand out. The subtle rhythms and sway of "Dance of Hands" and the quiet yet emotional strength of "Dance Delicious" display a gentleness , 2 more acoustic guitar tracks with song melodic content and intuitive interplay. The trio never substitutes technique for content, endless riffs for melody and it's important to mention that the rhythm section is not there just to support the guitarist but to interact, to give him ideas and to push him in new directions.

By the time one reaches the final track, the blues-soaked "Swingin' At Capones", I can't imagine one not being satisfied with these "Portraits."  Paul Bollenback can and does play with great gusto but a good percentage of this recording shows off a well-developed sense of melody.  Kudos to Joseph Lepore and Rogerio Boccato for their stellar contributions. For more information, go to www.paulbollenback.com.