Monday, November 22, 2021

Just the Child in Me

Photo: Peter Gannushkin
It's nearly impossible not to like Joe Fiedler the person. The Pittsburgh, PA, native has a quick sense of humor, is curious about lots of different things, and is a hard worker.  Joe Fiedler the trombonist is a top-notch player who has shared stages with musicians and groups that range from Eddie Palmieri to Maria Schneider, Anthony Braxton to The Four Tops, and beyond.  The trombonist also played in numerous Broadway pit bands including the entire run of Lin-Manuel Miranda's "In the Heights" as well as the soundtrack for the recent movie production of the play.  Since 2009, Joe Fielder has been the music director for "Sesame Street", arranging, orchestrating, and conducting the eight-piece orchestra. On top of all that, he leads an eponymous trio, the all-brass quartet known as Big Sackbut, and the quintet Open Sesame.  

In February of 2019, Fiedler's Multiphonics Music label issued the album "Open Sesame", a 17-song collection 15 of which were from the children's show along with two group improvisations. And, what a group –– joining the trombonist was Jeff Lederer (soprano and tenor saxes), Sean Conly (electric bass), and Michael Sarin (drums) plus special guest Steven Bernstein (trumpet, slide trumpet). The same group, now with Mr. Bernstein as a full-time member, and Conly on mostly acoustic bass), is back for "Fuzzy and Blue" (Multiphonics). Also in the mix for two songs is vocalist Miles Griffith. 13 songs including one three-song suite and two-song medley make up the program with over half the songs credited to Joe Raposo who was the first music director on the "...Street".

Photo: Peter Gannushkin
Chances are good you'll recognize a number of these melodies whether you sat with your children or grandchildren watching the show or you grew up parked in front of PBS in the morning.  The proceedings open where they should with Raposo's "ABC-DEF-GHI" with Conly's bouncy bass line leading the quintet in with a funky Caribbean beat.  Lederer leads the way on soprano while the horns play rhythmic fills and harmonies.  The trombone stands in for Kermit the Frog for the initial run-through of "Bein' Green" then shares the verse with the soprano sax and trumpet.  The solos are quite enjoyable especially the leader's.  Later in the program, one can hear the Palmieri influence on the conga-line inspired "One of These Things."  Note how Conly's electric bass is the counterpoint on both the trombone and trumpet solos.

Miles Griffith shows up on Fiedler's "I Am Somebody" which features original lyrics by Reverend William H. Borders –– In 1972,  Reverend Jesse Jackson led a group of young people on the show in a call-and-response.  Here, the leader provides a funky tune for the vocalist to scat and dance upon while the quartet rocks. Griffith returns on the delightful combination of "I Love Trash" with "C is for Cookie"; Griffith's vocals are such fun, playful, constricting his voice to sound like Oscar the Grouch (he who lives in a trash can) and Cookie Monster (whose name tells of his reason for living).  There's a fun interaction for Griffith and the trombonist before the songs comes to a close.

You do not need to know the music of "Sesame Street" to enjoy the musical shenanigans of "Fuzzy and Blue".  The sound is full and bright, the beats are irresistible (Michael Sarin's drumming stands out throughout the album), the solos playful yet sincere, and the arrangements full of wit and just the right touch of wise-guy!  Joe Fiedler and Open Sesame are just the right antidote to seasonal doldrums –– if this music does not make you smile, tap your feet, or laugh out loud, best to rediscover the "kid" in you.

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

Here's a taste:

Friday, November 19, 2021

The Majesty of Chicago and An Exemplary Trio

Photo: Dominick Huber

TUM Records continues its recorded celebration of Wadada Leo Smith in his 80th year on this plane of existence with two new albums.  Earlier this year, the Finnish label issued the solo three-disk set "Trumpet" plus a duo-trio three disk set "Sacred Ceremonies" that featured the trumpeter in musical conversations with maser percussionist Milford Graves and bassist Bill Laswell. Both albums are filled with captivating performances, sonic poems, a multiplicity of ideas, and a musical language that leads to new possibilities in an ever-changing world.

One can say the same about the two recordings TUM is releasing a month before Wadada's birthday (which is December 18). The first, "The Chicago Symphonies", consists of four separate works, "Gold - No. 1", "Diamond – No. 2", "Pearl - No. 3", and "Sapphire - No. 4: The Presidents and Their Visions for America" performed by the Great Lakes Quartet.  "Nos. 1 -3" features Wadada with Jack DeJohnette (drums), Henry Threadgill (alto saxophone, flute), and John Lindberg (bass) while "No. 4" has Jonathon Haffner (alto and soprano saxophones) instead of Mr. Threadgill.  The first three symphonies are dedicated to particular musicians that the composer met when he moved to Chicago in 1967 after five years in the Army.  Wadada joined the AACM where he met Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton,  Amina Claudine Meyers, Leroy Jenkins, Joseph Jarman, and Mr. Threadgill plus many others –– all these were expanding the possibilities of Black Music; many of them still do. 

Photo: Dominick Huber
Of all the myriad albums Wadada has issued in the past decade+, "Chicago Symphonies" bears witness to the influence of the people he came in contact with.  It's nearly impossible to hit the highlights as every track stands out but know this –– these are master musicians at play.  Mr. Threadgill's tart alto saxophone or the rounds tones of his flutes stand out while Mr. DeJohnette deftly drops into musical conversations with his three compatriots, playing with a freedom that not only displays his creativity but how intelligently he shapes each piece.  Mr. Lindberg's thick, often cello-like, bass tones and creative lines not only offer a sense of structure but he also shows he can step forward with his sparkling arco (bowed) bass work.  Wadada's trumpet pierces through the pieces while his muted work bears witness to the influences of Lester Bowie and Miles Davis. 

Photo: Dominick Huber
"Symphony No. 4: The Presidents..." is dedicated to Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama.  The text from "The Gettysburg Address" and President Obama's "Speech at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches" are included with the physical albums and can also be found on the TUM website (address below). The six-part piece was recorded in 2018, over three years after the other Symphonies. As with the works dedicated to the many Chicago musicians, there are moments of urgency, joy, darkness, and unity that touch the mind and soul of the listener.  The emotion that one feels just reading the texts and the titles of the movements help to prepare the listener for the depth and breadth and, yes, the emotional strength of these musical performances. 

The music and stories of "Chicago Symphonies" will keep you captivated throughout the four albums and all 165 minutes of music. Wadada Leo Smith's Great Lakes Quartet is in splendid form with the "Fourth Symphony" serving as this listener's introduction to saxophonist Jonathon Haffner (hope to hear much more) whose first gig with the GLQ was in 2017.  Listen closely!

Here's the opening movement of the "Golden Symphony" dedicated to Amina Claudine Myers:

Photo: R.I Sutherland-Cohen
Album # two, "A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday", has Wadada in a trio setting with Mr. DeJohnette and Vijay Iyer (piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B-3, electronics).  Mr. Iyer first played with the trumpeter over 20 years ago; the pianist understands how Wadada's music moves, his role in shaping the pieces, and how to "converse" in the composer's unique musical language.  An interesting aspect to this program is that all three of the participants contributed compositions: there is even one totally improvised piece.  The music is lively, dramatic, at times stunning, and always on the move.

The title track opens the album (do listen below): it's a fascinating journey, from the four minute drum solo that develops over the first four minutes to the rousing three-way conversation in the middle of the nearly 12-minute piece to the emotional "blues" of the final 90 seconds.  An atmospheric Rhodes piano is heard at the onset of Mr. Iyer's "Deep Time No. 1".  If you listen closely, the voice of Malcolm X's speech "By All Means Necessary" can be heard (at times, electronically altered) while the trio moves around led by Wadada's muted trumpet, the soft piano chords and Mr. DeJohnette's rapid-fire trips around his cymbals. There are moments when the track suggests the influence of Miles Davis circa "Filles de Kilimanjaro" and "In a Silent Way".

Photo: Maurice Robertson
The other three tracks include "The A.D. Opera: A Long Vision with Imagination, Creativity, and Fire, a Dance Opera" (dedicated to pianist, composer, and Wadada collaborator Anthony Davis), Mr. DeJohnette's affecting "Song for World Forgiveness" (wonderful musical interaction), and the trio improvisation "Rocket" that closes the album.  That final cut hearkens back to "Yo Miles!", Wadada's electric project with guitarist Henry Kaiser. Here's the Hammond organ leading the raucous trumpet and the frisky beat of the drums.  It's quite a finish to quite an album.

The cooperative trio of Wadada Leo Smith, Jack DeJohnette, and Vijay Iyer recorded "A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday" on November 22, 2016 just three days short of its release date of 11/19/21.  Yet, the music sounds contemporary, fresh, and brimming with intelligence, wit, and an animated sense of adventure.  One could not ask for more (other than a second recording and a tour from this trio)!

Dig into the title track:

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Five by Twos

Photo: John Rogers
Believe it or not, the duo of Dan Weiss (drums) and Miles Okazaki (guitar) has been together for 25 years playing with other musicians in various combinations; saxophonist and composer Ohad Talmor just issued his latest album "Mise en Place" (Intakt Records) with the duo serving as his musical partners. Both Weiss and Okazaki were commissioned to compose pieces for their duo by John Zorn's Stone Commissioning Series in early 2020; only the guitarist's eight-part "The Memory Palace" received its performance debut (2/26/2020). The drummer's debut of "Middlegame" was set for late March but was postponed due to the pandemic. 

Now Cygnus Recordings has issued the two suites on CD, digital download, and as a two-Lp set.  Aptly titled "Music for Drums and Guitar", the music is a fascinating amalgam of the two musicians various interests and how they communicate in sound.  Okazaki's 36-minute piece,  has moments of sly funky beats, throbbing grooves, flourishes of folk and classical influences, prog-rock and more. Plus there's a feeling of playfulness that inhabits pieces such as "Part II" and "Part IV" –– the guitarist digs in to the groove Weiss lays down and the dance forward.  The melody of "Part VII" is long but flows atop a river of percussion that builds in intensity until a flurry of guitar notes rain down on the frenetic drums.  "Part VIII" closes the suite slowly at first but the circular guitar riff begins to expand –– note how the snare echoes the rapid-fire guitar riffs. As the performance builds to a fiery climax, Okazaki steps on the "fuzz' pedal and the proceedings explode right up to the final chord.

Photo: John Rogers
Weiss's seven-part suite "Middlegame" displays all of his strengths without the music turning into a mere display of technique. First and foremost, not only does the drummer "swing", he is quite a melodic player. Note how "Parts I and II" set up the template for the rest of the work.  Weiss leads the guitarist in, all the while creating rhythms that have power and depth.  "Part III" finds the drums up front with Okazaki as the support and melodic foil. By the last 90 seconds of the piece, the guitarist is locked into the beat, his percussive lines in step with Weiss. The longest piece in the suite and on the album (12:52), "Part V", is also driven by the rhythms with the guitarist being the "foundation" while Weiss steps up.  The drummer moves in and around the guitar switching from swinging the beat to being "conversational" on his kit.  

Dig deeply into "Music for Drums and Guitar" and you will find a world of endless possibilities.  As stated above, Dan Weiss and Miles Okazaki have history together so they know each other's strengths.  There are no 'dead" spots in this program; instead, the music continues to move forward, slowly down now and then to contemplate textures and introspective interactions.  There's much to discover!!

For more information, go to To purchase the album, CD, or digital download, go to

Here's "Part II" from each suite:


The duo of Mary Halvorson (guitar, effects) and Sylvie Courvoisier (piano) first recorded together on 2017's "Crop Circle" (Relative Pitch Records), a collection of tracks that highlighted each musicians strengths as well as how they intuitively move through both composed and improvised material.  In June of this year, the duo got back together and recorded the 12 tracks that make up the two musicians second album and debut for Pyroclastic Records.  "Search for the Disappeared Hour" features five pieces composed by the guitarist, four by the pianist, and three improvisations.  The music draws in the listener while also challenging one's expectations. 

Ms. Halvorson's "Golden Proportion" opens the program; the opening melody is played by the guitar supported by powerful piano chords and rippling runs. On occasion, the musicians venture outside the stated rhythm yet never lose sight of the main thrust of the music.  Listen carefully and, right before the end, you'll hear a quote from Beethoven.  The pianist's "Mind Out of Time" finds Ms. Halvorson experimenting with sounds from the guitar while Ms. Courvoisier plays a dark, 20th Century style classical background.  The guitarist's "Bent Yellow" has a piano rhythm that references the music of Robin Holcomb; note how both musicians move in and out of blues patterns from the middle of the track forward. there are splashes of humor, the playful interactions of the duo creating a lightness that's hard to ignore. 

Photo: Self-portrait
Among the many delights on the recording is how the duo frame melodies so that they stand out. "Gates & Passes" is a ballad that builds up from the opening long melody into a long, dissonant, guitar solo. Note how Ms. Courvoisier never changes her pace or mood building her solo off the song's handsome chord structure. "Party Dress", an impromptu piece by the duo, has such a gentle feel even with the extended reverb on the guitar. "The album's closing piece, "Blizzard Rings", is also an improvisation that sounds like a dream, one in which someone is in a room full of wind-up toys –– the piano and guitar move in and around each other through to the soft finish.

"Searching for the Disappeared Hour" is quite an aural adventure through the creative minds of Mary Halvorson and Sylvie Courvoisier. If you are a fan of the two musicians, the music will delight and surprise you; if you are new to their explorations, keep an open mind and notice how the duo feeds off each others ideas, energy, and melodies.  

Here's the opening track:

Photo: Steve Mullensky
Does the end of Daylight Savings Time get you down?  Knowing that the evening starts earlier and the night lasts longer truly bother you?  My prescription for surviving the next several months is a healthy dose of "Reconvexo". No, it's not a new drug like the ones you might see on the nightly newscasts –– it's actually the new Anzic recording by the duo of Anat Cohen (clarinet, bass clarinet, voice) and Marcello Gonçalves (7-string guitar, voice). Recorded in January of 2020 while the duo was quarantined in Rio de Janiero, the nine-song program features songs from the Música Popular Brasileira songbook.  Their debut collaboration, "Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos", came out in 2017 so this time, they decided to play songs by some of Brazil's most popular composers.  

The album opens with the title track. Composed by Caetano Veloso for his sister Maria Bethânia for a 1989 album, the song has been covered by a slew of artists.  It's a bright melody that Ms. Cohen exults in while Gonçalves provides not only support but a percussive drive that pushes the song forward. Veloso and Milton Nascimento co-wrote "Paula e Bebeto", an episodic piece where the guitar and clarinets (Ms. Cohen overdubs bass clarinet) share the melody before the pace slows down for a lovely clarinet solo. The brightness of the guitar is expertly recorded so that you marvel at the brilliant accompaniment and how the piece moves organically.  Nascimento had his hand in composing two other songs on the album; he composed the words for Fernando Brant's lovely "Maria, Maria" which comes from a 1978 album about the legacy of slavery in Brazil while "Ânima" (composed with Zé Renato) is the title track for the singer's 1982 album.  The performance is truly beautiful with a melody that sounds like birds singing on a Spring morning. 

Other composers included in the program are Dori Caymmi, Gilberto Gil, the team of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa, the 19th Century Venezulean composer Heraclio Hernandez, and the team of Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright.  "Never Dreamed You's Leave in Summer" is the tune that closes the album –– the sparkling arrangement of the Wright/ Wonder song does not sound out of place in this delightful collection.

"Reconvexo" is splendid from start-to-finish, sounding lovely at any time of day (early morning as the sun rises works for me) –– the duo of Anat Cohen and Marcello Gonçalves has created a delight-filled alternative to moping and negativity. One should feel cleansed after listening to this music!

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

Here's "Ânima":

Photo: Whitney George
There is something soothing about two steel-string guitarists playing through their way through a set of songs that makes you long for sitting around a fire soaking in the sounds.  Cameron Mizell and Charlie Rauh have played together for a number of years but never like they have over the eight-plus months it took the duo to record its second album, "Local Folklore" (Destiny Records).  Both players contributed five songs to the program and both recorded in their own studios.  Despite the "remote" recording, this music sounds bright, collaborative, highly melodic and harmonic with a wistful quality permeating the songs.  Mizell and Ruah are busy leaders on their own yet when they come together, their musical conversations feel like a respite from the road, a quiet evening lost in melody and stories.

That's what "Local Folklore" is, a melody-laden journey into the heart.  Mizell's title song leads off the program on a uptempo note,, the strumming guitars setting the pace for the well-crafted melody and the fine, articulate, solos that follow. Rauh's "Petey & Kyle" follows with its Beatles-like melody just begging for words.  Yet, you can tell this is a story of two friends walking through life together   Still, Mizell's pieces also have stories connected to them whether. When you just sit and listen, you probably know people who the guitarists describe with their instruments and melodies.

Mizell switches to electric on several tracks mostly for the sustain and effects that add atmosphere and an orchestral feel to pieces such as Rauh's "A Forgiving Sort of Place" and lovely "Arolen".   The sounds are not intrusive; instead they add a sense of shimmering light off a mountain lake to the songs.  On he album closing "On Sundays I Walk Alone", the overdubbed electric plays both rhythm and the theme while Rauh's acoustic plays counterpoint.

"Local Folklore" is music for early in the morning and late in the evening.  The melodies are soothing, the musicianship impressive, a cooperative journey into the human heart and soul.  Cameron Mizell and Charlie Rauh may have had to curtail their "live" shows in the pandemic but, judging by the quality of their new album, both musicians made good use of their time.  

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

Here's the sweet "Greenwood Waltz":  

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Trios Magic

Three different trios, three varied approaches, and all three fascinating to explore! 

It's been over six years since Nicole Mitchell (flutes, electronics), Tomeka Reid (cello), and Mike Reed (drums, percussion) recorded "Artifacts" for 482 Music. The album was a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the AACM, the Chicago, IL-based organization that all three are members of. The delightful album featured compositions by original members of the organization plus one by later member, guitarist Jeff Parker.  Ms. Mitchell, Ms. Reid, and Mr. Reed have all been very busy in the intervening years with the ladies joining the expanded Art Ensemble of Chicago while the drummer recorded AEC's Roscoe Mitchell.  They have also continued to play in their own various ensembles.

The trio has taken the name "Artifacts". Their new album, "...and then there's this" (Astral Spirits) features seven works by the band members plus one each by Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell.  The music is, by turns, funky, earthy, improvisational, quiet, devotional, and emotionally rich.  Drummer Reed's "Pleasure Palace" opens the program on a dancing beat and raucous cello before Ms. Mitchell's tears her way through the melody.  "A. F. (dedicated to Alvin Fielder)" is a group piece built off the distorted flute sounds, the rhythm from the cowbell, and the hard-edge cello lines. The track and several others should remind the listener of the 1970s ensemble Air (Henry Threadgill, bassist Fred Hopkins, and drummer Steve McCall).  Ms. Reid shines on Ms. Mitchell's "Blessed", showing the influence of Abdul Wadud on her bluesy pizzicato lines.  

There's a large amount of aural variety on these tracks.  The cellist's "In Response To" swings with abandon featuring hearty solos from the trio while her "Song For Helena" is a stunning ballad, the rich tone of the flute meshing with the full-toned arco cello before the drummer sets a gentle pace with his brushes for Ms. Mitchell's graceful solo.  Muhal's "Soprano Song" jumps out over the solid rhythm section, the flute leaping atop the propulsive rhythms.

The program closes with the "get down funky" rhythms of Roscoe Mitchell's "No Side Effects"  – while Mr. Reed keeps the song the grooving, Ms. Mitchell and Ms. Reid dance around each other. Te music gets pretty "sweaty" in just 2:27.  "...and then there's this" is a delight from start to finish.  In just 39 minutes, Artifacts trio will make smile many times, maybe even get up and dance as well. Kudos to Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid, and Mike Reed for creating one of the finest albums of the past several years!

To hear more and purchase the album, go to

Here's the opening track:

Here's a link to a live date from earlier in 2021: 

Guitarist Lionel Loueke hails from Benin in West Africa and first came to the United States in the mid-1990s. Since completing his studies at the Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA) and the Thelonious Monk Institute (Los Angeles, CA), he has been one of the busiest musicians on the planet. Not only did he co-found the trio Gilfema but also worked and recorded with Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette, Terence Blanchard, Esperanza Spalding, Dave Holland, and Gretchen Parlato (and many others) plus he's recorded nine albums under his own name.

In 2017, Loueke went into the studio under the auspices of Newville Records to record an album of standards with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland. Released in 2018 as vinyl-only, the recording (with three extra tracks) has now been issued on CD and as a download by Sounderscore.  The label, owned by bassist (and Gilfema member) Massimo Biolcati, hired David Darlington to do the mixing and mastering; the sound quality is suberb! The 11-song program features two tunes each by John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk as well as pieces by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Henry Mancini, Hoagy Carmichael, Richard Rodgers, Bernice Peterke ("Close Your Eyes"), and Johnny Green ("Body and Soul"). At times, the music sounds like a tribute to Jim Hall but the unpredictability of many of the arrangements plus the freewheeling rhythm section puts the album in a class by itself.   

Check out the Caribbean-inspired "Skylark", the percussive guitar playing the melody over bass counterpoint and playful percussion; the long fade reminiscent of Charles Lloyd's "Forest Flower".  There's an atmospheric take of "Moon River" with minimal drum backing as well as a lovely reading of "Body and Soul" –– Rogers's resonating bass accompaniment and Harland's hand drumming serve to set off the lyrical guitar playing.  The trio swing the daylights out of the album opener, "Footprints" followed several tracks later with a delightful romp through "Blue Monk". 

Come to "Close Your Eyes" for the strong guitar work of Lionel Loueke but chances are very good you'll really get into the inventive and fun playing of Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland.  O, what sounds await the eager listener –– dig in, dive in, and enjoy!

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

Go ahead, dig you some T. Monk:


Photo: Matt Marantz
Alto saxophonist and composer Aakash Mittal, born in Texas to a New Delhi native father and Nebraska-born mother, is a busy writer, educator, traveler, and musician.  His journeys has taken him throughout the United States, India, Mexico, and elsewhere. Mittal has won many commissions as well as fellowships, recorded with Amir elSaffar, Dennis Gonzalez, and Ravish Momin plus he has self-released four recordings as a leader.  He leads various groups including a Quartet and now the Awaz Trio. The latter ensemble includes Miles Okazaki (guitars) and Rajna Swaminathan (mrudangam and kinjara).

That trio has just issued its debut album. "Nocturne" (self-released); the program includes the five-part title track, a three-part "Street Music", and an "Opening".  The 82-second "Opening" starts with a lecturer speaking about oral tradition then Ms. Swaminathan enters;  the warbling alto sax line and expressive guitar play a short melody that leads directly into "Nocturne  I" –– the music for the album is based on Mittal's journey to Kolkata, India, to study Hindustani evening and night ragas. One can hear the influence of raga music in Mittal's linear phrasing while both guitar and murdangam (often spelled "mridangam") add the rhythmic base.  After that short piece fades (2:34), a field recording begins with hand-held percussion dancing through the speakers; the musicians do a short interpretation before the street musicians reenter.

As the album sweeps along, one can hear how the sounds of the Indian city influences the music.  While the title suite is more lyrical, it's not a typical Western classical nocturne but certainly a fine illustration of a warm evening in Kolkata or Mumbai.  "Nocturne IV" is a quiet three-way conversation, like three friends walking at 3 a.m. through the city streets.  There are moments of dissonance but, mostly, the piece draws the listener in and leads through unfamiliar yet friendly territory. Okazaki's solo shines while the often-quiet percussion follows the path of the melody. The last section of the suite ("V") jumps from the very start, featuring great accompaniment, powerful interactions, and a rippling saxophone solo that bounces atop the guitar's lower notes and the rapid-fire drumming.  Mittal's playing is alive, swift melodic phrases blended with short fragments.  

The album closes with the high-powered "Street Music III" with just the trio playing the music of the parade band moving through the streets. Mittal's melody is locked in with the percussion and the guitar chords, moving decisively and powerfully to the close.  When you listen to "Nocturne", you need to stow away your "Western Music" ears and surrender to a music that ties with serious roots in an ancient culture and the lively madness of contemporary life. Aakash Mittal has composed a number of pieces about Indian street life for previous albums; yet, these acoustic pieces illustrate how he has grown as composer, interpreter, musician, and human being.  

For more information and to check out his previous work (an earlier version of Awaz Trio featured Rez Abbasi on electric guitar), go to  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to  

Here's "Nocturne I":

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

New Music from 5 and from 1


Photo: Milo Bosh
Over the decades of his career, Steve Coleman, alto saxophonist, composer, conceptualist, MacArthur Fellow, has taken his curiosity far afield, creating music that blends rhythm and melody in ways that are hypnotic and highly appealing. The Chicago, IL, native has absorbed the musical lessons of Charlie Parker, the live lessons of fellow alto player Bunky Green, and tenor master Von Freeman, what he learned in the bands of Cecil Taylor, Sam Rivers, and Dave Holland (to name but three) and created music whose home is in the African Diaspora and the streets of American cities. Since signing with Pi Recordings in 2010, Coleman has issued six albums that feature several different-sized ensembles.  His main musical vehicle is Five Elements, an ensemble that now features Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet) and the amazing rhythm section of Anthony Tidd (electric bass) and Sean Rickman (drums).   

In 2018, Pi released "Live at the Village Vanguard Volume I: the Embedded Sets", and two-CD set recorded in May of 2017. That album featured a fifth Fifth Element, guitarist Miles Okazaki.  12 months later, the band returned to the Vanguard with the spoken word genius Kokayi in the place of the guitar.  11 songs from that three-night stay can now be heard on Coleman's seventh album for the label "Live at the Village Vanguard Volume II (Mdw Ntr)".  The combination of the vocals and instrumental voices is, at times, astonishing as Kokayi is right on the rhythm, interacting with Coleman and Finlayson's melody lines, Tidd's thunderous yet melodic bass lines, and Rickman's powerful, conversational, drums.  Coleman's alto leads the way but everybody's voice is heard.  Finlayson has developed into an excellent front-line partner; whether the piece is totally improvised (such as disc #1's "Unit Fractions" or Bunky Green's "Little Girl I'll Miss You"), the trumpeter builds delightful solos off of the leader's rapid-fire solo phrases.  Another highlight of the Green piece is Kokayi's interaction with the leader's alto. 

Thanks to the rhythm section, this music is always moving. Not only do Tidd and Rickman act as the foundation but they both, at times, interact with the soloists.  Because Coleman builds these pieces around shapes and symbolism (from Egyptian hieroglyphics), the melodies the sax and trumpet create often sound static but the bassist and drummer keep the music interesting. Kokayi is often the spark plug –– his social commentary on "Pad Thai –– Mdw Ntr" locks in with the bass line and the solid drumming and making one leap out of their seat!

Happily, there's no let up on disc 2. In fact, "Rumble Young Man, Rumble" may be the best cut on the entire album.  Not only is the rapid-fire groove irresistible but Kokayi's lyrics have moments of sheer hilarity (something to do with "bichon frieses in the jungle with labradoodles") as well as social commentary about how dangerous walking the streets is for young Black men as well as the description of a boxing match.   All the while, Rickman is a thundering presence; like rush hour in downtown Manhattan, there's no escaping his presence. (Notice how Coleman uses the repeated 12-note phrase of the song as the opening salvo of "Khet & Kaba" and variations of the same for the melody).  

"Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Live at the Village Vanguard Vol. II (Mdw Ntr)" is powerful modern music.  Steve Coleman utilizes ancient codes and artwork to create explorations of 21st Century Black Music that is as intelligent as it is funky.  

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

Here's the afore-mentioned "Rumble Young Man, Rumble":

Pianist and composer Matthew Shipp is one of the busiest musicians you'll ever meet. Even though he has cut down his live appearances (as did the pandemic), he records with his own group, co-leads other ensembles, and appears on other people's recordings.  When he records a solo piano album, one can hear a dizzying number of musical references, from 20th Century Classical music to avant-garde jazz to blues to, by his own admittance, the influences of Bud Powell and Bill Evans.  Critics and reviewers call it jazz but that word is not quite right –– you can call it Black creative music or just music. 

His new album, "Codebreaker" comes to us via TAO Form, the label started last year by drummer (and Shipp collaborator) Whit Dickey.  11 songs spread across 45 minutes, all but one under five minutes.  The music blends melody, rhythm, hypnotic phrases, introspective moments, and more into a mesmerizing program.  Recorded in late July of 2020 in Brooklyn NY's Park West Studios, Shipp creates a world all his own –– this is not background music but a program to explore from beginning to end. There is a science-fiction motif to several of the song titles, e.g "Letter From the Galaxy", Raygun", and "Stomp To the Galaxy".  Yet, the pianist has a sly edge in not giving away any real hint through the names. What is enjoyable is how the music can shift in a heartbeat or stop your heart with its gentle quality; the "blues stomp" that shows up in "Green Man" and the lyrical tenderness of "Suspended". 

Find a comfortable chair, put on "Codebreaker", and let the sounds wash over you as well as enter your soul.  If you are a fan of the recorded music of Matthew Shipp, you know to do that. If you are new to his music, you become the person in the album's title, exploring the piano language he creates on eleven pieces. Don't hurry to crack any codes, just take in these sounds, these luminous creations, and enjoy.

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

Here's "Spiderweb":

Thursday, October 7, 2021

New Albums & Gigs in CT

 Slowly but surely, the "live music scene" is opening up, especially here in my native Connecticut.  Here are three artists with new albums gracing music venues this weekend. 

Mary LaRose, life partner and music collaborator of saxophonist/ clarinetist Jeff Lederer, has a new album project arriving on October 7.  "Out Here" (little (i) music) takes the music of Eric Dolphy (clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto saxophone), adds lyrics by Ms. LaRose, new arrangements by Mr. Lederer as well as poems by Hallie Lederer and Patricia Donegan, and gives all that to a dynamic quintet of musicians to support, innovate, explore, interpret, and more.  What a fine band –– Mr. Lederer (clarinet, bass clarinet), Tomeka Reid (cello), Patricia Brennan (vibraphone, electronics), Nick Dunston (bass), and Matt Wilson (drums –– they perform nine songs from across Dolphy's discography.  The arrangements allow one to hear the influences of the blues, be bop, and classical music that permeated the Master's music.

The album opens with a delightful take of "Gazzelloni", Dolphy's tribute to the Italian flutist and teacher Severino Gazzelloni (1919-1992) who gave numerous lessons to many artists over the decades including the composer.  The introduction is a particular delight with Ms. LaRose and drummer Wilson having a playful conversation.  "Out There" has a positive message and a propulsive melody.  Ms. LaRose sings with the cello, bass, and the vibes in unison with her.  There is no tempo yet the music leaps forward on the strength of the instruments and voice. Trombonist Jimmy Bosch, percussionist Bobby Sanabria, and vocalist Maya Rose Lederer join the band for the Afro-Cuban inflected take of Sonny Simmons/ Prince Lasha's "Music Matador". Note hoe Ms. Reid's cellist interacts with the voice as does the trombone.  The show has the quality of a "show stopper"!

Parade drums lead the way into "Out to Lunch" – listen to how the tempos shift under Lederer's clarinet solo as if the vibes were going one way, the cello another, and the drums yet another while the bass keeps the structure intact.  "Love Me", a melody by Victor Young with lyrics by Ned Washington and Bing Crosby, is a duet between the Ms. LaRose's playful voice and the swooping phrases of the bass clarinet.  

"Out Here" closes with Mal Waldron's "Warm Canto" which the pianist/ composer recorded with Dolphy for his 1961 album "The Quest".  Ms. LaRose reads the Patricia Donegan's poem "Lover's Wish" supported by Wilson's fine brushes work, Ms. Brennan's electronically enhanced vibes, and Ms. Reid's expressive cello.  In the middle, the clarinet trio of Isaiah Johnson, Cameron Jones, and Mr. Lederer carry on a lively conversation.  It's the perfect ending for a delight-filled album that not only contains surprises but also soothes the soul.  Mary LaRose is quite the adventurous artist and, while she has only released five albums over the past two decades (she has also recorded with her husband), each album is required listening.

To purchase the album, go to  

Here's the delightful take of Dolphy's "Gazzelloni":

Mary LaRose will celebrate the release of "Out Here" on Friday 10/7 leading a quintet that includes Ms. Brennan, Matt Wilson, Mr. Lederer , and Michael Formanek in the bass chair.   For ticket information, go to The event is in-person as well as streamed.  

On August 16, 2020, Jeff Lederer invited his friends Jamie Saft (organ, piano), Matt Wilson (drums, percussion), and Steve Swallow (electric bass) to record eight original compositions based on the saxophonist's study of the book "The Heart of Buddha's Teaching" by Thich Nahat Hanh. And, because of the extensive COVID-19 protocols being enforced at the time, the quartet was going to record the session outdoors.  They did just that in between the hit-or-miss summer showers.  The ensemble, known as Sunwatcher from the title of Mr. Lederer's 2011 Jazzheads release that featured Saft and Wilson plus bassist Buster Williams, creates a powerful sound pushed forward by the insistent drums and Mr. Swallow's amazing bass work.  "Eightfold Path" (little (i) music) is a guide to living a good life with the music serving as a guide to immerse one's self into the sound. Tunes such as "Right Speech" and "Right Livelihood" make one want to dance and sound great coming out of a car's speakers driving down the road.

Every time I encounter Steve Swallow's bass, I realize how much he fills the bottom and how melodic he is. Note how bluesy and fundamental he is on "Right Action" and how integral his counterpoint is behind the acoustic piano and tenor sax solos on "Right Effort".  Mr. Swallow connects with the New Orleans-tinged drums on "Right Action" playing a three-note figure similar to that of the  "Acknowledgement" movement of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme".  Saft's righteously funky organ playing stands out on that track as well.  In an interview I conducted with Mr. Lederer and Mary LaRose, I asked if "Right Resolve" was based on the chugging rhythm of Elton John's "Bennie and The Jets" –– the composer claimed "no" but Ms. LaRose laughed and said "Told you!" Certainly the chord structure is different but.....Saft's solo roars while Wilson's drums crush beneath him.  

While the music is noisy at times, there are also several lovely ballads.  The gospel-tinged melody of "Right View", played together then in counterpoint by Mr. Lederer and Mr. Swallow, has wonderful cymbal work and rich, sustained, organ chords.  Mr. Saft's long solo adds intensity to the piece and is followed by a sweet Swallow solo. The afore-mentioned "Right Effort" and the album closer "Right Mindfulness" finds the organist on acoustic piano. The latter track features long sustained bass notes, a handsome tenor solo, and Mr. Wilson on hand-held percussion. Notice how all four musicians are essential to the music moving forward even as they create a meditative sound.

"Eightfold Path" is Jeff Lederer at his best. Yes, he still plays with a ferocity that sounds as if his saxophone will explode but he also displays a softer, more melodic, side that fits the message of the album. Great band, good music –– sure sounds like they had a delightful day in the park!

For more information, go to  To purchase the album and other releases from little (i) music, go to

Here's "Right Action":

Vocalist Judy Wexler, born and still lives in Los Angeles, CA, is a person who loves tell a story with each song she sings.  Her new album "Back To The Garden" (released in June of this year on her Jewel City Jazz) illustrates how the songs of 1960s, pieces written by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Stephen Stills, Sandy Denny, and others, have great resonance for this third decade of the 21st Century. With a band that features pianist and arranger Jeff Colella, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Gabe Davis, drummer Steve Hass, a string quartet, and more guests, Ms. Wexler comes at these tunes with a jazz sensibility and an well-developed ear for harmony while the arrangements by Collela (with two from Josh Nelson) open the songs up without losing their essential qualities.  I imagine that anyone who "grew up" with these songs (as I did) will bring a myriad memories to his or her listening experience.  

Despite the album's title, that Joni Mitchell song is not in the program but "Big Yellow Taxi" is. The melody is propelled by a funky piano phrase. Danny Janklow's alto sax fills serve as a smart counterpoint to the vocal plus delightful backing vocals (the tune's co-arranger Erin Bentlage) will make you smile.  In the midst of their Brill Building years, Gerry Goffin and Carole King composed "Up On The Roof" and the homage to star gazing in New York City was a best seller for The Drifters during the Holiday season of 1962.  Collela's arrangement and far-ranging piano solo brings Bruce Hornsby to mind.  "For What It's Worth", composed by Stills for the Buffalo Springfield, became a rallying cry for protesters around the escalating Vietnam War.  Koonse's sharp-edged solo, accompanied by the militaristic drums, is a highlight as is Ms. Bentlage's backing vocals.  

Mr. Dylan gets two songs, the political broadside "The Times They Are A'Changin'" (1964) and the sweet lullaby "Forever Young", a song the composer recorded twice for his 1974 album "Planet Waves" (featuring The Band). The former song is just as relevant now as it was nearly six decades ago while the latter is one of the sweetest and straight-forward set of lyrics in Mr. Dylan's oeuvre.  Ms. Wexler and Jeff Collela don't take liberties with these songs; instead, they make sure you hear the lyrics. Violinist Sara Caswell
makes an appearance on "Forever Young" wrapping her velvety phrases around Koonse's guitar lines and the sweet-sounding background voices.

The album closes appropriately with "Who Knows Where The Time Goes" –– the late Sandy Denny composed and recorded the song with Fairport Convention in 1969 but it was Judy Collins whose 1968 version became the title of her third album.  This lovely arrangement by Josh Nelson features a splendid trumpet solo from Jay Jennings as well as a heartfelt vocal. Nelson also arranged "American Tune" (listen below) that utilizes a string trio that underscore Ms. Wexler's emotional vocal.  

When you listen to "Back To The Garden", make sure to notice that this is not a nostalgic trip or even a tribute album: instead, notice how Judy Wexler remind us all of the power of music to be relevant over decades and generations and how jazz artists were listeners first and interpreters second, introducing great songs to new audiences.  Subtle, swinging, soothing, fun, this album is a true delight!

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

Judy Wexler will be performing this album and more on Saturday October 9 at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme CT.  Accompanying her will be Jim Ridl (piano), Bill Moring (bass), and Tim Horner (drums).  For ticket information, go to

Here's Ms. Wexler's take on Paul Simon's "American Tune":

Monday, September 27, 2021

Quintet & Big Band with Jared Schonig Leading!


Drummer and composer Jared Schonig is the exemplar of the 21st Century musician. Not only does he write music but he also plays in Broadway pit bands ("Color Purple", "Moulin Rouge: The Musical"). Schonig has worked or recorded with artists ranging from Fred Hersch to the 8-Bit Big Band, from Amy Cervini to Darcy James Argue & The Secret Society, and others plus is a Private Lessons Instructor  The drummer has toured with Kristen Chenowith, Kurt Elling, the New York Voices, Cynthia Erivo, Duchess and Laila Biali.  He is one of the co-leaders of The Wee Trio with bassist Dan Loomis and vibraphonist James Westfall.   

Earlier in 2021, Schonig self-released the three-song EP, "112 Project", featuring three different trios recorded remotely during the Pandemic.  Now, Anzic Records has released the exciting and ambitious "Two Takes, Volumes 1 & 2".  "Volume 1: The Quintet" features eight original compositions by the drummer plus a short "Intro to White Out" and three "Drum Interludes" played by the dynamic quintet of Schonig, bassist Matt Clohesy, pianist Luis Perdomo, alto saxophonist Godwin Lewis, and trumpeter Marquis Hill. Perhaps the best words to describe the program is "smoking hot" with the occasional foray into ballad territory.  The musicians play with great emotional fire throughout and Schonig's compositions are well-shaped, thoughtful, and often fiery. "Intro to White Out" opens the album with...well...a drum soliloquy leading directly into the first full track.  "White Out" leaps from the speakers moving forward on the "hot" drums and the rapid-fire melody line played by the sax and trumpet.  Louis takes the opening solo, laying down an energetic gauntlet for Hill to follow.  Perdomo quietly 'comps" until his solo that races along atop the twin engines of Clohesy and Schonig. 

Photo: Amy Schonig
Highlights abound throughout the program.  The sly, funky, "Climb" builds off the "tick-tock" clicking from the leader's drums with dynamic work from the bassist plus a splendid piano solo from Perdomo, a smoky interlude from Hill that erupts into flames creating a jumping off point from Louis's sweet solo. "Eight Twenty" also contains a slinky, soulful, rhythm as well as a handsome, singable, melody that offers the musicians the opportunity to weave in and around each other as well as the space for Louis, Hill, and Perdomo to create melodic solos. The pianst, Schonig, and Clohesy lay down quite a sneaky yet funky pace on "Sabotage" then drop into a hard-bop 4/4 for the solos.  

Photo: Leonardo Mascaro
The program also includes two fine ballads.  "Tig Mack" opens  with just bass and trumpet before Clohesy lays down a lovely circular line that the heartfelt melody rides upon. Perdomo emerges from the theme with a sweet solo that slowly picks up in intensity without boiling over.  The album closes with "Gibbs St." with its whirlwind melody line played by sax and trumpet over a simple but blues-influenced rhythm section. Louis and Hill "converse" through the middle of the song before leading the band back to the opening two-part theme.  There are traces of Dave Holland's fine ballad "Conference of the Birds" in the chordal accompaniment –– whether it's intentional or not, it's a lovely sound. 

"Two Takes, Volume 1" is rich in melodic material, ripe with strong solos, and excellent accompaniment.   Jared Schonig set a sumptuous table for his musical partners and the listener gets to partake in the feast!

Enjoy the energy of "White Out"


"Volume 2: Big Band" takes Schonig's Quintet material, distributes each piece (not the "Intro" or "Drum Preludes") to a different arranger (see the list below), and reimagines the songs in a big band setting.  Recorded in several different sessions (with varying personnel), the music often crackles with excitement led by the powerful drumming of the leader/ composer.  Ms. Hazama's arrangement of "Sabotage" leads off the program; it's a "speaker-shaker" with delightful solos from Quinson Nachoff (tenor sax) and Brian Pareschi (trumpet), as well as Schonig's thundering attack on his kit.  Jim McNeely does the honors of arranging "White Out" giving the skittish melody line to the muted brass and a unnamed flutist.  What follows is an exciting dialogue between the reeds and the brass before the opening theme is repeated, this time with the trumpets unmuted and adding the trombone.  Powerful solos from Troy Roberts (tenor sax) and trumpeter Scott Wendholt. Yes, there is a drum solo: this time, the brass and reeds begin by sparring with Schonig then framing his fills.  

Photo: Amy Schonig
Co-producer Mike Holober's contribution is his arrangement of "Climb": built off the simple "tick-tick" of the drums, here the reeds and brass shine on the thematic material. Charles Pillow
creates a quiet alto sax solo over the shimmering rhythm guitar (Nil Felder) and atop the pulsating Fender Rhodes work of Adam Birnbaum. Jason Rigby starts his tenor sax solo over Felder's clicking rhythm guitar and Schonig's "conversational" drums.  "Tig Mack" stands out for the adventurous nature of Darcy James Argue's smashing arrangement: how he uses the high reeds and brass in the background to swell up over the other horns a la Steve Reich.  The rhythm section behind Felder's excellent solo reminds this listener of Talking Heads circa 1980-85.  

Like "Volume 1: Quintet",  the program ends with "Gibbs St."  Brian Krock created the arrangement, maintaining the "Conference of the Birds"-feel in the rhythm section but not as pronounced as the Quintet take.  Felder creates another fine solo as does electric bassist Ike Sturm.  There's also an exciting tenor sax solo from McCaslin that invigorates the track –– listen to how subtly Krock adds the reeds and brass until they are roaring and then falling back.up until the final minute during which the music slowly fades on Sturm's bass melody.   

"Two Takes, Volume 2: Big Band" is as compelling and intriguing as the Quintet volume.  All eight arrangers put their unique spin on the music Jared Schonig composed for this project without sacrificing the intent and integrity of the drummer's works.  Both albums are worth investigating and owning. Great sounds that will brighten your attitude and your day!

For information about the leader, go to  To hear more and to purchase the recording, go to

Here's the intriguing "Tig Mack":

aboutArrangers:  Alan Ferber, Jim McNeely, Mike Holober, Miho Hazama, Darcy James Argue, Laurence Hobgood, Brian Krock, and John Daversa.


Reeds: Jon Gordon, Charles Pillow, Dave Pietro, Ben Kono, Donny McCaslin, Donny McCaslin, Troy Roberts, Quinson Nachoff, Carl Maraghi

Trumpets: Tony Kadleck, Jon Owens, Brian Pareschi, Jonathan Powell, Scott Wendholt

Trombones: Michael Davis, Marshall Gilkes, Keith O’Quinn, Alan Ferber, Jeff Nelson

Bass (acoustic and electric): Ike Sturm, Matt Clohesy, and Dan Loomis
Piano: Adam Birnbaum, David Cook
Guitar: Nir Felder
Drums: Jared Schonig
Conducted by Matt Holman