Monday, January 23, 2017

Storytellers in Song

Pianist and composer Noah Hadiu did not make his first recording as a leader until he reached his late 30s.  That debut -  "Slipstream" (Posi-Tone Records) -  introduced listeners to a musician who is technically impressive yet also has quite a melodic side. He has also recorded three albums with Native Soul, a quartet featuring Peter Brainin (saxophones), Marcus McLaurine (bass), and Steve Johns (drums).

His new recording, "Infinite Distances" (Cellar Live), takes its inspiration from a quote by Rainier Maria Rilke and also from the late Kenny Kirkland's relationship with saxophonist Branford Marsalis. The Rilke quote - read it here - speaks of relationships and that one cannot really know the heart of another person.  For Haidu, he views this music, and the six-part "Infinite Distances" suite, as "a musical reflection on relationships, loss, and self-realization."

This recording features two groups with the major difference being the rhythm section. The first sessions feature a quintet with Sharel Cassity (alto saxophone), Jon Irabagon (tenor and soprano saxophones), Peter Brendler (bass) and Mark Ferber (drums) while the other pairs Ms. Cassity and Mr. Irabagon with the rhythm section of Ariel Alejandro de La Portilla (bass) and John Davis (drums) as well as the occasional appearance of Jeremy Pelt (trumpet and flugelhorn).

The album opens with "The Subversive", a barn-burner of a piece with Brendler and Ferber laying down a torrid pace while the leader and Irabagon create blazing solos.  The latter has really come into his own on soprano sax and this solo absolutely soars.  The "Suite" is next;  initially, one notices the strong melodic element throughout and how Haidu mixes the voices of Ms. Cassity's alto and the soprano sax, especially on the first two parts and the final section.  The intelligent work of Brendler (one of the most melodic of contemporary bassists) and Ferber (splendid cymbal work) set off the piano solo and the raucous tenor solo. Parts 3 - 5 include the lovely ballad "Hanaya" (Pelt's flugelhorn really helps to fill out the melody and harmony parts), "This Great Darkness" (with Irabagon's tenor lines pushing through the fiery rhythms), and "Can We Talk", which moves slowly and has a pretty melody for Ms. Cassity's alto.  The piano solo is opens up in a delicate fashion but soon picks up power.  The final section, "Guardian of Solitude", is another powerful piece, with a rousing piano solo and a fascinating slowdown in the middle that leads into the alto solo.  Listen to how the intensity ratchets up on the strength of the piano chords and driving rhythm section.

The last four tracks on the program include a new version of the title track of Haidu's "Momentum" (whose rapid pace lives up to its name), the slinky rhythms of "They Who??" (which contains excellent solos from Pelt and the leader), and the high-powered "Juicy" (with yet another excellent soprano sax solo).  Irabagon's soprano leads the way once more in the final track, "Serenity", with its handsome melody and lengthy solos.  Heard Irabagon live recently (with Rudy Royston's Orion Trio), I am impressed by his singular playing on the soprano; he shines throughout this recording.  As does Haidu. His solos are emotionally strong as he poured his heart and soul into this project.  These compositions have deep meaning, as the musicians navigate the "infinite distances" between individual and communal work, as they attempt to understand the music, their relationships to each other, and the importance of working together.  Creative music is "about" many things but, for me, the best recordings and live dates are filled with intimate conversations, melodies that stay in your ears and mind, and interactions built upon trust, shared knowledge, and the freedom to explore. All that and more is evident on "Infinite Distances" - Noah Haidu has given listeners much to chew on and you will enjoy this adventure every time you dig into it.

For more information, go to

Here's the title track:

With the release of "Piano Song" (Thirsty Ear), pianist and composer Matthew Shipp announces his sabbatical from recording (he has a few projects to finish) but not from performing.  He has been incredibly prolific and consistent for nearly three decades, both as a leader and band member (his excellent work with the late David S. Ware and continuing relationship with saxophonist Ivo Perelman).

The new album features his Trio - bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker - a comfortable yet challenging rhythm section that finds its way through Shipp's compositions by not playing it safe but with a sense of inquisitiveness.  It would be easy to write that this is one of the pianist's most reflective collection with songs such as "Silence Of" and "Void of Sea" with plenty of breathing room as well as the several piano solos - the opening track, "Links", is short (1:48) yet reminds the listener how Shipp can create a song that sounds like poetry.  If you listen closely to the Trio performances, you hear how the composer makes these pieces conversations and not solo after solo.  Bassist Bisio, who possesses a big tone and a melodic heart, is not only supportive but also creates intelligent counterpoint.  Listen to "Cosmopolitan", with its bass line suggestive of Miles Davis's "So What", and pay attention to the fact that rhythm section is an equal.  There's a tinge of funk in Baker's drums at the opening of "Flying Carpet" yet the piece goes in an unexpected direction.  The blend of powerful chords and forceful playing gives way to softer approaches before picking up steam again.

If you have listened to Shipp's music for decades, you know how important the rhythm section is to his music.  Bisio and Baker have their way on "Scrambled Brain", opening with a playful flurry of notes and tapping high-hat, the bassist leading the way into a rapid-fire walking bass line while the drummer adds asides and percussive commentary.  The leader sits this piece out, allowing the duo to have great fun.  And they are equal partners on pieces such as "Gravity Point", a three-way conversation that bristles with energy and, at times, ferocious swing.  Then, there is the hand-held percussion that is the constant focal point of "Blue Desert", even as Bisio adds high-pitched arco bass sounds and the leader plays the chordal melody, soon moving inside the piano.  The impressionistic music has a trance-like feel yet is no simple canvas, the blending of sounds moving in and out of the spectrum.
The piano-drums duo "Mind Space" is an interactive joy while the quiet "Void of Sea" feels as if the trio was moving through outer space, each note or sound sustaining, floating in the sonic air, without rhythm but having a sense of direction.  When you get to the title track, the final cut on the album, the music moves deliberately as if the musicians want this song to continue for a long time.

Don't look at or listen to "Piano Song" as a definitive "farewell speech" but as part of Matthew Shipp's impressive timeline. Go back to his earlier recordings, the duos with saxophonist Rob Brown or his work with guitarist/bassist Joe Morris, the David S. Ware Quartet albums as well as his creative work with Thirsty Ear's "Blue Series" - Mr. Shipp is continually searching, always maturing as a musician and composer.  Don't begrudge him his time away; go and catch up on the amazing sounds he has given us to this point.

For more information, go to

Friday, January 20, 2017

Presidents, Protests, & Music

In my lifetime, there have been 17 Inauguration Days plus two swearings-in (one after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the other after the resignation of Richard M. Nixon).  These special days are often filled with excitement, the prospect of change, the hope of unity in an often-divided country, and a sigh of relief from many that our democratic process continues to work after two-plus centuries.

Then, there is "politics", a word that, for some, is a epithet for something unseemly and obscene. If one pays attention to the machinations of Washington politics, it can leave you with a sour taste in your mouth.  The press does its best (many would disagree with that statement) to let is know what's going on but there is so much happening at any moment. Yet, it is quite obvious these days that the United States is a divided country, that "conservative" and "liberal" as well as "party politics" is part of what looks like a big game, a game with obscene payouts for the lucky and agony for the losers (think of how healthcare is constantly tossed about in the House of Representatives and the Senate).

How artists look at this nation has, for me, always been a fascination.  From the populist anthems of Irving Berlin to the wide-eyed wonder of George Gershwin to the sly observations of Will Rogers to the dreams of Woody Guthrie to the inequalities reported by Billie Holiday to the satire of Randy Newman to the simmering anger of Nina Simone to the shouts of Public Enemy to the chest-thumping of Toby Keith to the clear-eyed visions of Gil Scott-Heron (and so many others), singers and songwriters speak to social issues by cutting to the emotional core of any situation. During the most recent Presidential election cycle, artists took a stand for or against the candidates with a ferocity one has not seen since 1968 and 1984 (also, the Bush years post 9/11/01 were filled with vitriol as well as unqualified praise).

President-elect Trump (who will be sworn-in just hours from when I am writing this) has certainly polarized this country (in many peoples eyes, President Obama did as well) but many reactions have bordered on the apocalyptic. At least, there was "hope" in the changes his predecessor spoke of but that has been replaced by fear, the fear of moving backwards, that the "great again America" being spoken of is one where women, minority groups, and immigrants will not be treated with the "equality" our Forefathers hoped for (dreamed of) when the United States was in its infancy.  Mobilization against the changes being sought has been swift (we'll wait and see how strong it is) and artist's reactions are beginning to emerge.

Five weeks after Election Day, saxophonist and composer Noah Preminger gathered the other members of his most recent Quartet - trumpeter Jason Palmer, bassist Kim Cass, and drummer Ian Froman - to record his musical reactions to the results. "Meditations on Freedom" (Dry Bridge Records) features melodies by Bob Dylan, Bruce Hornsby, George Harrison, and a particularly handsome reading of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" plus  five originals.  Is this music a call to action, a wake-up call, a lament, a warning shot across the bow or just dreaming out loud?  One could answer "yes" to every part of that question but the album - released today (January 20) - is more than that.  It's a reminder that the musicians are citizens, that creative music is "political" more often than not, that the "freedoms" stitched into these performances are as vital as picket signs and fiery speeches, that the rhythms of these songs are built from the ground up; the formation of this quartet to play this music is really the creation of a community built on shared visions, on trust, on taking risks as musicians, on compromises built from honest discussion.  This is music also built on the belief that "We Shall Overcome", that this country has "overcome" in the past and will again in the future, that we as individuals and communities have the ability to pull ourselves up and face any challenge.  There is no question that the United States faces challenges within and without but also no question if we face these challenges together, the results should be better.

In a future post, I will explore the music one hears on "Meditations on Freedom", especially the original material that grows stronger in my ears on every time I listen. While the impetus for these songs and performances was a reflection on the elections, the album also serves as a call to action, a powerful reminder that we must be ever vigilant and protect the rights of all people who live here, work on our farms, in factories, in our cities, people who raise families and educate them, to all who suffer from illnesses, from poverty, from oppression; in other words, protect the rights of everyone not just a privileged group who can afford it.  It should come as no surprise that this music also has its roots in the "blues", music created out of oppression that spoke of the glory of freedom, music that is both simple and complex, that pushes individual boundaries yet speaks to our humanity.

For more information, go to

Here's the Sam Cooke song:

Monday, January 9, 2017

Nat Hentoff
It's is tough to take when one of your "heroes" passes, tougher when you admired the person from afar and never reached out. My problem is that I read Nat Hentoff faithfully in the VILLAGE VOICE and in JazzTimes, continually impressed by his writing, his dedication to American music and to freedom and I never told him so. Yes, he infuriated me with some of his positions but his arguments were always well-researched, thoroughly fact-checked, and smartly written.  His phone number - never an email address - was always listed at the bottom of the JazzTimes columns and I never called.

I never called to thank him for his attempts to teach his readers about music, about freedom, about the fragility of our democracy, about the greed rampant in most political entities, about standing up for those and to those we disagree with.  Know all sides of an argument before you uncap your pen, sit at your keyboard, or open your mouth.

And those CANDID recordings from the 1960s!  From Max Roach to Charles Mingus to Cal Massey to Jaki Byard to Cecil Taylor to Booker Little and others, they set a standard for quality that was as hard to replicate as it was to maintain.  Hentoff was the A & R (artists snd repertoire) director and he made sure to chronicle the music he heard at the forefront of the contemporary jazz scene.  Discovering those albums in the 1970s, just as I was exploring the work of the AACM, gave quite an education on how the music grew from its roots in blues, folk music, bebop, into an indescribable genre all its own.  Think about how important it was to hear these stories at the beginning of the 1960s and throughout (and how this music begat the late 20th and early 21st Century works of the late Fred Ho, Public Enemy, Dave Douglas, Jason Moran, Matthew Shipp, Terence Blanchard, Kamasi Washington, Samora Pinderhughes, Kendrick Lamar, and so many more.

Nat Hentoff never backed down, never shied away from unpopular positions, believed fervently in the First Amendment (and the need to understand the entire Constitution of the United States), and fought complacency nearly every day of his life.  Honesty, unflinching honesty, makes enemies but also friends, real friends not sycophants - I should have called Nat Hentoff but never felt I knew what to say other than "thank you!" Do yourself a favor, read one of his books, dig out interviews, check out the recordings he produced, the liner notes he wrote; pay close attention, even when you do not understand.  Certain segments of our society rail about the "lame stream media" yet Mr. Hentoff, often tagged a liberal, was far from lame but an exemplar of what a journalist should be and do.

Yes, thank you!

Here are links to other articles and obits:

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Positively Posi-Tone January '17

Pianist and composer Art Hirahara, born and raised in the Bay Area of San Francisco, has worked with vocalists Freddie Cole and Stacey Kent as well as baritone saxophonist Fred Ho and trumpeter Dave Douglas.  "Central Line" is his fourth album as a leader and his third for Posi-Tone Records. The new album changes the focus a bit from his previous two (2011's "Noble Path" and 2015's "Libations and Meditations") in that, sprinkled into the 14 tracks, there are four solo piano performances and four that add tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin to the trio of Linda Oh (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums).

The variety of settings is a big plus in that the program moves from the introspective solo pieces to heartfelt ballads to more uptempo tracks.  McCaslin's appearances each stand out.  He and Royston stoke the fires on "Kin KaGold Coin", the hardest-hitting piece, while his full-toned and emotional solo on "Astray" moves from sweet melody to blues to impressionism.  "Entanglement" also moves between lyricism and hard blowing for both the tenor and piano solos, bolstered by the splendid bass work and Royston's fiery percussion.  McCaslin and Hirahara team up for a playful duet for the first third of "Little Giant" that continues in its buoyant mood as the rhythm section and ratchets up the energy.

The pianist shares the opening melody of the title track with Ms. Oh; their interactions through the high-speed song, punctuated by Royston dances around the drums, is pure delight.  Yes, their playing is technically impressive but the melodic aspects of the piece remain front-and-center. "Drawing With Light" is a perfect title, a ballad with a strong emotional feel that picks up in speed and intensity, the piece culminating in a two-handed piano solo abetted by the flying bass lines and powerful drumming. There's a similar feel to "Sensitive Animal" but, while the energy certainly picks up in the middle, the piece stays on a lyrical track. Lyricism also stands out on the lovely trio version of Chico Buarque's "As Minhas Meninas." Ms. Oh's fine solo is a melodic treat as is her work on the free-form "Redwood Thaw", a short piece (1:56) on which the listener feels as if one is intruding on a private moment.

The solo pieces each have a story.  "Kuroda Bushi" is a traditional song from Japan with a stately melody line while "Introspect" is a lovely tone poem, also with a well-drawn melody.  "Tracing The Line" builds slowly, the melody unfolding and opening up  not unlike a Keith Jarrett solo improvisation.  The closing track is the beautiful and soulful "Yuyake Koyake" - composed by Kanichi Shimofusa (1898-1962), its lovely folk melody describes a late afternoon sky and is a perfect close to an impressive program.

"Central Line" deserves your attention. The music that Art Hirahara created for this program gives the listener an insight not only into his fine musicianship but also into his creative mind.  Each song is a story built from his experiences as a pianist, composer, world traveler, accompanist, and human being. Enjoy this journey.

For more information, go to

Here's a look into the album and its creator:

Trombonist, composer, arranger, producer and educator Michael Dease is one busy musician.  "All These Hands" is his 10th CD as a leader and fourth for Posi-Tone.  It's a musical tour of the United States and how jazz moved from town to city to region.  Dease has organized an impressive group of musicians with pianist Renee Rosnes appearing on seven of the 12 tracks, drummer Lewis Nash (6 tracks), bassist Gerald Cannon (5 tracks), Steve Wilson (flute, alto sax, soprano sax) and bassist Rodney Whitaker (4 tracks each), Etienne Charles (flugelhorn, trumpet) and guitarist Randy Napoleon (3 tracks each) and single appearances by tenor saxophonists Jason Hainsworth and Diego Rivera (on "Downtown Chi-Town") and bassist Rufus Reid and tenor saxophonist Dan Pratt joining Dease, Ms. Rosnes, and Mr. Nash on "Brooklyn."

Because I'm a writer and not a producer, the choice of "Creole Country" as the opening track is puzzling.  Not that the song is bad - far from it.  The piece is a swinging tribute to New Orleans but, compared to the following track, "Delta City Crossroads", a blues-drenched duet with guitarist Napoleon, the opener feels like more like a culmination of a history than a look at the source. Complaints out of the way, tracks such as "Good & Terrible" (which has the feel of mid-60s Jazz Crusaders) and "Downtown Chi-Town" (with the smart blend of trombone, flute, and the two saxophones) are splendid reminders of how jazz music takes in so many elements (blues, Latin rhythms, narrative, improvisation) and sounds fresh.  The interactions of Dease and Charles on "Chocolate City", their harmonies and counterpoint, mixing with the intuitive rhythm section, pull the listener in.

MSU College of Music
The intimacy of "Gullah Ring Shout" and the easy loping "Territory Blues" (both tracks featuring only trombone, guitar, and bass), plus the sassy humor of "Black Bottom Banter" (a duet with Whitaker) illustrate the versatility of the leader.  Dease can do "gutbucket", smearing notes as if walking down Basin Street, as well as display the fluidity of J.J. Johnson in a club on 52nd Street. The trombonist knows the history of his instrument, its role in 20th Century Creative music (and more, such as when he displays his "multiphonics" technique a la the late Albert Mangelsdorff on "Gullah...") but he foregoes technical brilliance in favor of telling these stories.  He certainly loves to "swing" and to dance; can't miss the joy on "Bennie's Bounce" or the spirited, decidedly funky, three-way conversation of "Memphis BBQ & Fish Fry" with Ms. Rosnes (electric piano) and Mr. Wilson (soprano sax). Let's also give him credit for big ears. The final track on the album, "Up South Reverie", is a stunning unaccompanied bass spotlight for Whitaker, his friend and colleague from Michigan State University.

"All These Hands" not only pays tribute to the music born from the hardships,f rustrations, faith, and dreams of African Americans but also to the dedication of musicians to keep the music alive.  "Alive" here means not just in the classroom but also in the clubs, concert halls, living rooms, theaters, basements, etc, in the United States and around the world.  Michael Dease is active both playing and passing on the tradition - we listeners and his students are the grateful beneficiaries of his dedication, talent, and knowledge.

For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Catching Up In The New Year (Pt 2)

Composer, arranger, conductor, guitarist, and leader of the Jazz Composers Alliance, Darrell Katz has been living in Boston, MA, since the mid-1970s. He created the JCA in 1985, an organization that commissioned new works from national, international, and local composers, put on concerts, sponsored composition competitions, and supported ensembles.  Since 1992, the JCA has recorded 12 albums for companies such as CADENCE Jazz Records, CIMP, Innova Music, Leo Music, Accurate Records, and the defunct Northeastern and Brownstone labels.  To my ears, Katz has carried on the compositional tradition of Julius Hemphill (1938-1995) in that his music is always a fusion of blues, avant-garde, poetry, improvisation, disparate elements thrown together that reveal their connections after multiple listenings (if ever). The first two JCA recordings featured Hemphill as well as Sam Rivers as guest soloists.

 Album #12, Jailhouse Doc With Holes In her Socks, is the first for the JCA's own label (JCA Recordings) and is dedicated to Paula Tatarunis (1962-2015), Katz's wife, who was a physician (among other jobs, spent 10 years working in a medium security prison) as well as an accomplished and published poet. Six of the 12 tracks feature her poems while one, "Like a Wind", sets the words of Sherwood Anderson to music (the piece has appeared on two previous releases).  10 tracks feature the septet Oddsong. Composed of vocalist Rebecca Shrimpton (her 7th recording with Katz), Helen Sherrah-Davies (violin), Vessela Stoyanova (marimba, vibraphone), and the saxophone quartet of Jim Hobbs (alto), Rick Stone (alto), Phil Scarf (tenor, soprano, and sopranino), and Melanie Howell Brooks (baritone), the ensemble plays a fascinating combination of Katz's pieces as well as one,"LLAP Libertango", which is based on Astor Piazzolla's "Libertango 1974" and arranged by Ms. Sherrah-Davies plus the opening "Prayer", which is a group improvisation.

The title track has is a bluesy, rhythmic, jaunt with the Hemphill signature in the "walking" lines of the baritone but note how the violin and marimba are equal members of the ensemble (check out the interactions of Ms. Stoyanova with Ms. Howell-Brooks).  Hobbs takes a blistering solo followed by a dialogues between Stone and Scarff (tenor). Ms. Shrimpton takes the lead on "Tell Time" sharing the melody with the violins and reeds while the marimba holds the rhythm. The afore-mentioned Piazzolla piece blends a South Indian rhythm with the modern tango the composer created and it's a fascinating mix (and an impressive arrangement). "Gone Now" is a remake of the opening track from the Katz-Tatarunis 2002 "The Death of Simone Weil" and is a wonderful episodic piece that combines elements of blues, tango, and more underpinned by the saxophone quartet. Late in the piece, Hobbs and Howell-Brooks have a short, fun, dialogue before the ensemble returns.  The final track Oddsong appears on is a remake of "Red Blue", Katz's tribute to Julius Hemphill which has been recorded with several different ensemble on previous recordings (and appears again as part of thefts track on this disk). It's a rollicking piece in which each voice is important to the music (all this without a solo).

Accurate Records
The final two tracks, both recorded in concert, feature two different ensembles.  "Ye Watchers And" feature Ms. Shrimpton, Ms. Sherrah-Davies, Ns. Howell-Brooks (bass clarinet), Scarf (sopranino), plus Bill Lowe (tuba), and Hiro Honshuku (flute); the music has a "free" feel as the text conflates Advent/Christmas with a basketball game in a venue with a Jumbotron. The JCA Orchestra shows up 20 strong on the "The Red Blues/Red Blue" which pairs Ms. Tatarunis's poem about Hemphill with Katz's tribute composition. Special guest Oliver Lake creates an alto sax solo that will tear your speakers to shreds.  Later in the piece, he joins the reed section for a quick-building improvisation that leads into Honshuku's EWI (electric wind instrument/controller which makes his flute sound like a synthesizer) solo pushed by the impressive drive of drummer Pablo Bencid.   The entire ensemble returns as Ms. Shrimpton sings the final two verses of the poem.  The richness of her vocal tones matches the timbre of the saxophones adding a rich emotional quality to the words.  Mr. Lake takes a quick coda before the vocalist rides out on the word "blues."

"Jailhouse Doc With Holes In her Socks" is quite a project.  Though it can be viewed as a memorial to Paula Tatarunis, the vitality of her words and how Darrell Katz frames them, creates melodies out of them, uses the voices of Rebecca Shrimpton and the musicians to enhance the poetry. The poet lives in her words while the composer gives the listener a gift of her "presence" and the ensembles makes us hear with fresh ears.  Don't search for style (is it jazz or classical?), just listen and soak in the sounds.

For more information, go to  The composer and loving husband has also kept Ms. Tatarunis's blog alive.  Go to and look at her images of nature (that's her images on the album jacket), read her words, get a feeling for her passions.

Here's the title track:

Mark Dresser Seven - Sedimental You (Clean Feed Records) - Bassist, composer, and conceptualist Dresser first came to critical notice in the 1970s while playing on the West Coast in both free jazz and symphonic ensembles.  He moved to the East Coast in the mid-1980s to play with Anthony Braxton and has since worked as an educator, bandleader, and sideman in numerous institutions and groups.  Recently, he has been part of Trio M (with Myra Melford and Matt Wilson) as well as the trio known as Jones Jones (with  saxophonist Larry Ochs and percussionist Vladimir Tarasov) while teaching at his alma mater, the University of California/San Diego.  Plus, he is a pioneer in "telematics", described as  the interface of computers, communication, and performance" - he has worked, performed,and recorded   with musicians around the world in "real time." Dresser is a most expressive bassist with a rich tone, splendid technique, and an ear for melody and counterpoint that stands out among his contemporaries (on any instrument.

"Sedimental You" is a collection of seven compositions for seven musicians, an impressive ensemble that includes Nicole Mitchell (flutes), Marty Ehrlich (clarinets), David Morales Boroff (violin), Michael Dessen (trombone), Joshua White (piano), and Jim Black (drums, percussion).  The album, issued in the fall of 2016, includes several pointedly "political" musical screes including the opening "Hobby Lobby Horse" and "TrumpinPutinStoopin"; the former is a rambling, loose-limbed, romp with impressive solos all around while the latter may remind some of the musical commentary Charles Mingus created in the 1950s and 60s, the instrumental voices - in this instance, the trombone - making the ridiculous sounds like the people in the song's title.

San Diego Reader
Even when the music is not overtly political, Dresser and company have a lot to say.  The title track is a deconstruction of the standard "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" (music composed, fittingly, by George Bassman) which, over the course of 12:44, runs the gamut from cocktail lounge music to disheveled blues (Dessen's expressive trombone solo) to noisy interactions (Black's solo over an extended reading of the theme). Three tracks are dedications to colleagues of the bassist. "Will Well" is for trombonist Roswell Rudd and is a lovely ballad with fine playing all around (the interweaved solos of Ms. Mitchell and Ehrlich is particularly striking).  "I Can Smell You Listening" was composed in memory of vocalist Alexandra Montano (1961-2007) - she, Dresser, and vibraphonist Matt Moran had played a gig on the West Coast the day after 9/11/01. This song moves from quiet contemplation to fiery solos by Ehrlich and White to a lovely impressionistic melody for flute, violin, and trombone that culminates in a striking bass solo.  The final track on the album, "Two Handfuls of Peace", was composed for Dresser's friend and mentor Daniel Jackson (1937-2014) and is a short, through-composed ballad that is lovely without being treacly.

The longest track on the disk (14:15) is "Newtown Char", a musical response to the mass shootings in Newtown CT and Charleston, SC. Opening with a powerful bass clarinet solo, the piece moves into a jumpy rhythmic feel (Black sets quite a pace) over which each member of the ensemble solos (save for Dresser, who is unaccompanied).  There is great power in the angry reactions and equally frustrating resignation in this music but also a commitment to continue to fight for justice and equality.  Yes, I am projecting my own feelings into this music but there is plenty of room for interpretation. Music can uplift as well as educate even as it entertains.  "Sedimental You" does all that and more.

For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:

Monday, January 2, 2017

Catching Up In The New Year (pt 1)

2017 is upon us but I can't let a number of the CDs I received in 2016 to go unnoticed and unreviewed (by me).  Over the next week, I'll shine a spotlight on a number of deserving albums.

Kendra Shank & Geoffrey Keezer - Half Moon: Live in New York (Ride Symbol) - Once upon a time, one could go to a smoky nightclub to hear a vocalist and pianist work their way through a program of standards, an intimate setting for music that reaches deep into the soul. Nowadays more often than not, the "intimate" setting is a living room as "house" concerts are more more and more common (although, I suppose, the "rent parties" of the 1920s could be considered "house" concerts.)

The duo of Kendra Shank and Geoffrey Keezer came together when the vocalist was in need of a pianist for a quartet date on the West Coast and Mr. Keezer filled in.  They discovered a "simpatico" that, although this is not a "working duo", is there on every gig." What also stands out on this album, recorded on January 3 of 2015, is how both voices stand out without either person stealing the spotlight.

"Alone Together" is a perfect opening track. The song displays how Ms. Shank creates her vocal off of the piano lines. After the opening theme, the duo create counterpoint, go in different but sympathetic directions, changing the dynamic constantly. The "impressionistic" piano solo inspires a splendid "scat" solo. The way they reenter the lyrics is magical.

This recording has so many of those magical moments.  From the quiet corners of "Kneel" (a brilliant song poem composed by Jeremy Siskind) to the improvised "Half Moon" (inspired by the light one can see on the album cover and in the video below) to the pair of Abbey Lincoln songs (the playful "The Music is the Magic" and the tender yet bittersweet ballad "When Love Was You and Me", Ms. Lincoln's lyrics set to Thad Jones's "The Summary"), this concert pulls the listener in closely.  You listen for the turns of phrase in pieces such as in the sprightly "Life's Mosaic" (music by Cedar Walton) and the joyful "I'm Movin' On" (composed by Judy Niemack and Kirk Nurock).

The intimacy is never forced. As personal as the music can be - "Healing Song" is an original tune inspired by Ms. Shank's recovery from a back injury - this music reaches out to touch on our own personal experiences, from deep heartbreak to expansive love and more.  The best way to listen to "Half Moon" is to sit back and listen to the whole program.  You'll be surprised and impressed each time by the musicianship, by the creativity and freedom of both vocalist and pianist, And, yes, by the intimacy.  One also hears how this album has tinges of the great Tony Bennett/Bill Evans duos from the 1970s as well as the work pianist Ran Blake has been doing this decade with Sara Serpa and Christine Correa (which refer back to his 1960s work with Jeanne Lee);  Yet, this duo succeeds handsomely in creating its own personality.  Kudos to Kendra Shank and Geoffrey Keezer for this great recording and for the many hours of pleasure it gives and will continue to give.

The duo plays a "CD Celebration" on Monday January 9, 2017, at Mezzrow, 163 10th Street in New York City.  The first set starts at 8 p.m.  For more information, call 646-476-4346 or go to   For more information about Ms. Shank, go to  For Mr. Keezer, the website is

Here's the duo live on the night of the recording (note the lamp):

2016 was a great year for music and terrible in the sense that the world lost so many great artists.  Composer, arranger, author, and educator David Baker died in March at the age of 84.  Baker, a native of Indianapolis, Indiana, was known for his trombone work in the 1950s with composer George Russell's Sextet as well as the Quincy Jones Orchestra but a traffic accident he had suffered in the early 1950s curtailed his horn playing by the early 1960s.  He countered by turning to cello.  But, David Baker is most famous for his work in the field of education.  In 1968, he founded the Indiana University Jazz Studies which he headed until 2013.  He was named a NEA Jazz Master in 2000.

Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra recorded Basically Baker Vol 2: The Big Band Music of David Baker (Patois Records) in June of 2016, nearly a decade after releasing Volume 1 (which is set to be re-released by Patois later this year).  The 21-member orchestra, conducted by Brent Wallarab (who studied with Professor Baker and teaches at Indiana University) feature many alums of the IU program including some names you may be familiar with such as saxophonist Rich Perry and trumpeter Tony Kadleck who both play with the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Special guests Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Dave Stryker (guitar) appear on one track, the lovely ballad "Kirsten's First Song."

According to the liner notes, much of the material on this Two-CD set "comes from (Baker's) first decade at Indiana University" (approximately 1966-1975), a time when big bands such as Thad Jones-Mel Lewis were beginning to be noticed, even as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Woody Herman still brought in audiences.  Overall, this is not "ground-breaking" material but the songs are so melodically rich and the arrangements so intelligent that the music does not sound dated at all.  The one non-Baker composition, Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop", is a dazzling display of musical derring-do in the solos as well as the sparkling section arrangements (plus a "shout-out" to the fine rhythm section of pianist Luke Gillespie - no relation to Dizzy - bassist Jeremy Allen, and drummer Steve Houghton.)

Playful moments abound.  The album opens with "Harlem Pipes" (dedicated to Marian McPartland), a high-energy romp, the great swells of brass underpinned by an active rhythm section and the fine baritone saxophone work of Ned Boyd. The buoyant bop of "The Georgia Peach" displays ample blues roots plus fine solos from co-leader Mark Buselli (trumpet), Freddie Mendoza (trombone), and Rich Perry.  Love the Afro-Caribbean strut of "Walt's Barbershop" and the Ellingtonian styling of "Black Thursday" but it's the gorgeous 'Soft Summer Rain" and its evocative soprano saxophone melody (unidentified musician) that might just take your breath away. The deep tones of the bass trombone and tuba build the foundation of the piece while the reeds and brass ebb and flow behind the melody.  Sweet solos by Perry and trombonist Tim Coffman (the rhythm picks up for the latter solo) stand out.

The handsome brass fugue that opens and closes "Honesty", the delightful reeds and brass interactions on "25th and Martindale" (named for the area where the composer grew up in Indianapolis), and the bouncy blues of "Terrible T" are highlights on the second disk. Still, it's there afore-mentioned "Kirsten's First Song" (composed for Baker's granddaughter) that resonates deep within the soul.  From Gillespie's solo piano opening to fine solos by vibraphonist Mitch Shiner, Brecker, and Stryker to the sweet celeste and guitar coda at the close (Monika Herzig and Stryker), the music is a lullaby writ large.

I've not heard any of the music created by the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra before but, based on this fine recording, one can tell they are quite a professional group.  Because the majority of the members who appear here have had contact with David Baker as students, fellow musicians, and appreciative fans, the performances on "Basically Baker Vol 2" have great emotion and spirit, just like the person who created the music and arrangements did during his productive lifetime.

For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:

Conductor: Brent Wallarab

Tom Walsh – Alto
Bill Sears – Alto
Rich Perry – Tenor
Rob Dixon – Tenor
Ned Boyd – Bari

Tony Kadleck – lead
Scott Belck
Graham Breedlove
Jeff Conrad
Pat Harbison
Mark Buselli
Tim Coffman
Freddie Mendoza
Brennan Johns
Rich Dole
Dan Perantoni -Tuba
Celeste Holler Seraphinoff on French Horn
Rhythm section:
Luke Gillespie – Piano
Steve Houghton – Drums
Jeremy Allen – Bass
Mitch Shiner -Vibes

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Best of 2016 (4)

I do get carried away with writing about music that moves me; that is why a "Best Of" list is so dangerous. What starts as 10 for the NPR Critics Poll (see here) ends up being 40 on this blog. I'm not very good at picking more than 5 really great albums but find that, as I listen back, my opinion usually deepens, gets stronger, from finding and hearing more delightful moments.  Click on the links and listen - enjoy!  Thanks for reading. 2016 was quite a crazy year for all sorts of reasons and 2017 has a great possibility of surpassing the madness of the past 12 months.  Music is often the savior for many of us and will continue to do that eternally.

Again, this list is in no particular order:

Frank Kimbrough - Solstice (Palmetto) - Here's what I wrote about this delightful recording:

Stephan Crump - Rhombal (Papillon Sounds) - I wrote in August "(Y)ou will listen to this album for the impressive interactions of Crump (bass and compositions), Tyshawn Sorey (drums), Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone), and Adam O'Farrill (trumpet).  Pay attention to how the solos grow out of the melodies, how the quartet mix their distinctive styles to the composer's vision of the music, and the clarity of the sound."  

Fred Hersch Trio - Sunday Night at The Vanguard (Palmetto) - Few groups in the world more magical than pianist Hersch, bassist John Hébert, and drummer Eric McPherson. They are great in the studio and even better in person.

Thumbscrew - Convallaria (Cuneiform) - Thumbscrew makes thoughtful music, songs and sounds that both challenges the listener and rewards him or her.  It is easy to discern the comfort level that Mary HalvorsonMichael Formanek, and Tomas Fujiwara have each other, that they can be "themselves" in a cooperative trio while creating a "group" sound. 

Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You (Firehouse 12 Records) - This is one of several albums on the list that I have yet to review.  From start to finish, it's a great album.  Ms. Halvorson, arguably one of the more original contemporary guitarists, continues to grow as a composer and arranger, finding ways to make a large ensemble sound both bigger than its parts and as intimate as a conversation between friends. This is quite a group - Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (alto saxophone), Ingrid Laubrock, (tenor saxophone), Jacob Garchik, (trombone), John Hébert (bass), Ches Smith (drums), and Susan Alcorn (pedal steel guitar) - and they can be exuberant. 

Allison Miller BoomTic Boom - Otis Was a Polar Bear (Royal Potato Family) - Another recording I did not review but I did see this great ensemble live.  Drummer and composer Miller assembled quite a band  Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Jenny Scheinman (violin, vocals), Myra Melford (piano), and Todd Sickafoose (bass) -  and they went on tour in the Spring of 2016, showing up at Firehouse 12 the first weekend in May.  This is another group that can play any style of music and play well - check out the video from a gig in Philadelphia a week after the New Haven show, it's such a treat! Then, go find the CD.

Ted Nash Big Band - Presidential Suite: Eight Variations on Freedom (Motema Music) - The week before the United States 2016 election, I wrote ""Presidential Suite" will mean many things to different people but the words plus the music remind us that America can be great when our leaders work to unite citizens.  Even when this country's (and the others represented on this album) problems are front-and-center, we have had leaders step up to inspire us.  This music, with many songs based on the rhythms and words of African Americans, fills one with hope even in treacherous times.  Ted Nash has done listeners a great service with this music, illustrating that words and music can have a positive effect on us all.  Please listen."  Now, this music and these words resonate even louder and stronger, much fuller than any Tweet.

Tom Tallitsch - Gratitude (Posi-Tone Records) - What a band tenor player and composer Tallitsch assemble for this recording -  pianist Jon Davis, bassist Peter Brendler, and drummer Rudy Royston (with organist Brian Charette on 2 tracks - watch the video and you get a feeling for the intelligent music and the splendid interactions.  Tallitsch gives the rhythm section its freedom and they respond by providing him with such great support and the freedom to move around the music with abandon and, often, grace.
If you have the time (make the time), watch all the video for this Quartet from this live date.  

Larry Young - In Paris: The ORTF Recordings (Resonance Records) - The final recording on the list that I did not review is this impressive reissue from Resonance Records. Organist Larry Young (1940 - 1978) moved to France in 1964 to join the Nathan Davis Quintet and, while living there, made several recordings as a sideman and as the leader of a piano trio.  He had already made his Blue Note Records debut (1964's "Into Something") after several recordings for the Prestige label.  One gets several different views on Young's work but can already hear how his organ style is moving away from the blues-soaked sounds of Jimmy Smith, Johnny "Hammond" Smith", and Jimmy McGriff.  Amazing how much of this music sounds fresh today.

photo by David McLister
I should  tell you how much I enjoyed the return of singer-songwriter William Bell ("This is Where I Live" on Stax Records) and just how great he sounded on NPR's "Tiny Desk Concerts."  I grew listening to his songs recorded by himself and various Stax/Volt recording artists (Albert King's version of "Born Under a Bad Sign" still sends chills down my spine plus there's the wonderful version of "You Don't Miss Your Water" by Otis Redding).  Mr. Bell's going strong at 77 and his album is a pure delight.  He's had a busy career but this new album has brought a new and wider audience.

Dig the video and the preponderance of yellow:

Then, there's Paul Simon and "Stranger to Stranger" (Concord Music). The music refers back to the songwriter's long career, his journeys to South Africa and South America and into the heartland of the US plus his folk roots plus his love of 50's doo-wop and more. There's lots been written about this album - some say Simon just might retire - and the more "experimental sounds" might turn some fans off but it's certainly his most "fun" album in quite a while.