Monday, November 28, 2022

1 X 12 = Captivating Music

Here's one of my favorite albums of Autumn 2022.

Photo: Dahlia Katz
Pianist-composer-educator Noam Lemish, born in the United States, grew up in Israel, came back to the US for college, and now teaches at York University in Toronto, Canada, has created quite an intriguing musical career.  He studied and recorded with master percussionist George Marsh as well as contemporary classical composer/pianist W. A. Mathieu. The pianist has also recorded with Israeli oud player Amos Hoffman and is the co-leader of the Israeli-Iranian Musical Initiative (I=I).  His original music combines myriad influences, is intelligent and heartfelt and, up until this year, usually in a small setting (save for I=I).

His latest album, "Twelve" (TPR Records), features a 12-member ensemble (13 on one track) that includes an impressive lineup of Canada's most exciting musicians. The six original pieces, all but two over 11 minutes, not surprisingly cover a wider swath of music of musical territory. One can hear the influence of Maria Schneider on the first track, "Song for Lia";  it's in the expansive melody, the use of wordless vocals, in how the solos (alto saxophonist Allison Au and guitarist Ted Quinlan) rise up out of the section playing, and the active but never intrusive rhythm section.  "The Nagila Mayster" is playful, rhythmically active, with intriguing call-and-response, and fine vibraphone work from Michael Davidson.  Listen below how the music evolves over 14 minutes, how Lemish arranges the various "voices" in the ensemble, slowly building the intensity, and not afraid to stop and start. After a slow and majestic "chorale" led by the brass augmented by the vibes, the tempo jumps up , slows down, and leads to the leader's delightful piano solo.

Photo: Dahlia Katz
There are four more excellent pieces including the enchanting "Beethoven's 7th Visit to Romania"––that's quite a title yet the song is based on the theme from the Second Movement of the composer's "Seventh Symphony".  Besides the splendid melody, there's a lovely 13-voice choir, and a hardy trumpet (Jim Lewis) and tenor saxophone (Kelly Jefferson) duet. "Between Utopia and Destruction" draws its inspiration from two different Russian-Jewish melodies, one of which "Der Verter Un Di Shtern" dates back to World War II and was recently rediscovered in the Ukraine.  The two folk melodies are well-drawn and serve as stepping stones for powerful solos from both the leader (there are moments when the music swings in an Ellington mode) and soprano saxophonist Jefferson (several interesting tempo changes and returns to the melody during this section).

If you're like me and enjoy adventurous large ensemble music, go find "Twelve". Noam Lemish has created one of 2022's most delight-filled recordings.  The playing is crisp, the arrangements intelligent and thoughtful, and the melodies all stand out.  One cannot ask for more from an album other than one more like this, please!

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

Enjoy "The Nagila Mayster":

Songs and personnel:
  1. Song for Lia 

  2. The Nagila Mayster 

  3. Beethoven’s 7th Visit to Romania 

  4. Steals on Steeles 

  5. Between Utopia and Destruction 

  6. Rebirth  

Noam Lemish - piano & compositions
Terry Promane - musical director
Kevin Turcotte - trumpet & flugelhorn
Jim Lewis - trumpet & flugelhorn
Allison Au - alto saxophone
Mike Murley - tenor saxophone & soprano saxophone (2,3)
Kelly Jefferson - tenor saxophone & soprano saxophone (5)
William Carn - trombone
Karl Silveira - trombone
Laura Swankey - vocals (1, 2)
Ted Quinlan - guitar
Michael Davidson - vibraphone (2, 3, 4, 6)
Justin Gray - double bass
Derek Gray - drums & percussion

Choir ("Beethoven’s 7th Visit to Romania"): Michelle De Palma, Sanja Dejanovic, Aliyah Guthrie, Yuval Jarus Hakak, Alexandra Kapogiannis, Allison Long, Dulce Martinez, Sarvi Seivani, Nitish Sharma, Marie Tossios, Jackson Welchner, Yulina Wong, Samira Yeo

All compositions & arrangements by Noam Lemish (ASCAP)

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Quartet Joys

 Since the beginning of November, Connecticut has been blessed with a delightful week of Indian Summer (soon to depart in favor of the chill of late Autumn).  The balmy temps (68-77) have allowed this writer to walk every day and to listen to music as I dodge the remaining leaves. The two albums have been in rotation each day!

Earlier this year, drummer and composer Tyshawn Sorey issued a trio album––"Mesmerism" featured bassist Matt Brewer and the splendid young pianist Aaron Diehl on an exciting and thoughtful exploration of "standards".  In early March of this year, Sorey brought Diehl, bassist Russell Hall (Joey Alexander), and special guest Greg Osby (alto saxophone) to New York City's The Jazz Gallery for a five-night engagement. The band did not rehearse and, pretty much, chose the music on the bandstand.  And, they recorded every set!

The results can be heard on "The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism", a fantastic three-CD package from Pi Recordings. The 19-tracks are split up into three sets, each album approximately 75 minutes long. Five of the tracks are repeated in subsequent sets (Mr. Osby's "Please Stand By", Ornette Coleman's "Mob Job", Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now", Johnny Green's "Out of Nowhere", and "Three Little Words" composed in 1930 by Harry Ruby and lyricist Bert Kalmar).  It's truly a delight to hear where these four players go with the music.  The "Set 1" take of "Three Little Words" starts with a long, impressionistic, piano solo, so slow and gentle that it takes a moment before you the drums and bass have entered. Mr. Osby plays with the melody as if rolling a fine wine across his palette. Slowly and steadily, the alto solo builds with the insistence of the rhythm section. The leader, who does not solo on the set, engages in conversations with the other musicians.  Diehl paints a fascinating solo first with the introspection he showed at the onset of the track and it becomes great fun to hear where he takes the piece goosed forward by Sorey and shadowed by Hall whose solo later in the track is quite playful and percussive.

If you love improvisatory music, there is not a dull moment in this music. There's the beauty of Andrew Hill's "Ashes" (which Mr. Osby first recorded in 2000 on his "The Invisible Hand" album that featured the composer plus guitarist Jim Hall) as well as the saxophonist's unaccompanied introduction to Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge"––listen below and notice the playful background work of bassist Hall and the beautiful work of Diehl. The pianist, at times, reminds this listener of Jaki Byard as well as Mr. Hill. The Trio + 1 swings mightily on both versions of "Mob Job" with the bass and drums leading the way. The second take of "Out of Nowhere" (originally recorded by Bing Crosby in 1931) opens with an expansive solo piano meditation before Mr. Osby enters with over the rippling piano, whispering cymbals, and bass counterpoint.  At the five-minute mark, the band kicks into a higher gear (but not out of control) with the alto and piano in conversation while the rhythm section dances about in support.

Photo: Jonathan Chimene
Every time one digs into the music of "The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism", he or she can get carried away at the inventiveness of Tyshawn Sorey, Aaron Diehl, Russell Hall, and Greg Osby. The playfulness of the musicians on tracks such as "Jitterbug Waltz" (the track where one hears the inspiration of Jaki Byard in Diehl's piano solo) and the rip-roaring "Solar" is infectious and you can only imagine what is what being in the audience (unless you were). There are moments in each set where this quartet has the energy of the classic John Coltrane Quartet of the early-to-mid 1960s, the group with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones. It's truly a delight to hear Greg Osby play with such imagination, power, and so melodically. Treat yourself to this great album!

For more imagination, go to To hear more and buy this stunning set, go to
Here's the Trio + Mr. Osby on Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge":

Clarinetist Anat Cohen first assembled the three musicians who would join her to form Quartetinho (pronounced "quar-te-Chin-yo and meaning "little quartet") before the pandemic stopped the world in its tracks.  James Shipp (vibraphone, glockenspiel, analog synth, percussion), Vitor Gonçalves (piano, accordion, Fender Rhodes), and Tal Mashiach (acoustic bass, guitar) join Ms. Cohen (who also plays bass clarinet) for their self-titled debut album (Anzic Records).  If you have followed the clarinetist's career, you know that she has had a long love affair with Brazilian music, recording with guitarist Marcello Gonçalves as well as Trio Brasileiro and the Choro Ensemble.  

For its debut album, the "little quartet" treats the audience to an 11-song program that includes original pieces from the leader, Shipp, and Mashiach plus two pieces by Egberto Gismonti and one each from Antonio Carlos Jobim, the contemporary Brazilian composer Maria Do Carmo Barbosa De Melo (the lively "Boa Tarde Povo"), and Antonin Dvorāk's "Going Home".  The smashing arrangement of the last tune listed features accordion, vibes, bowed bass, and bass clarinet––it's a beautiful arrangement which during Ms. Cohen's solo takes a turn towards the blues.  Shipp's solo also takes the "blues route" with his sweetly expressed lines over the supportive bass and accordion swells.  Mashiach's "The Old Guitar" is a lovely ballad that leaves solo space for the leader as well as Gonçalves' sweet accordion sounds. The album opener, Shipp's "Baroquen Spirit", starts slowly with just clarinet, vibes, and a synth drone––the melody blends an Americana feel with a touch of classical music.

Photo: Shervin Lainez
That first track leads directly into Egberto Gismonti's lyrical "Palhaço"––there are moments during Ms. Cohen's solo that, thanks to the bass line, piano chords, and the dancing vibes, the music resembles a Joni Mitchell song.  Also check the splendid piano solo (with Mashiach's supportive bass) that leads to the close of the piece. The other Gismonti piece, "Frevo", jumps atop the rippling clarinet and piano melody before the clarinetist takes a sly solo over Shipp's delightful percussion and the throbbing bass notes. The piano solo is also a treat.

Ms. Cohen contributes three originals to the program.  "Birdie" is a melancholy melody played over a medium tempo with the Fender Rhodes offering shimmering chords (see the video below).  Next up is "Canon" which starts with a richly melodic bass solo (there's a touch of flamenco in Mashiach's playing). The bassist then articulates the handsome melody supported by Shipp's vibes. Ms. Cohen joins on bass clarinet while Gonçalves joins on piano.  "Louisiana" pops right along on the thick bass notes, the dancing piano chords, and the "jump-blues" in the vibes solo.  Everybody solos but at 3:30, the music hardly overstays its welcome.

The album closes on Mashiach's "Vivi and Zaco" which he introduces on 7-string guitar. The accordion and vibes enters when the guitarist expands on the heartfelt melody. The piece has a lovely flow that often speeds up and slows down at the end of the verse.  Before the piece ends, everyone has shared the melody line.  It's a sweet close to an elegant group of songs. 

"Quartetinho" is yet another jewel in the crown Anat Cohen is creating with her music.  Her heart is so enmeshed in her music and her love for playing shines through every performance.  With this quartet, culled from her Tentet, she has given listeners yet another reason to listen deeply.  

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

Here's the Quartet live in the studio playing "Birdie":

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Playing, Praying, & Time Passages

Two very different projects are reviewed below; initially, what is interesting is how both projects dealt with time. 

Over the course of 2018-9, pianist, composer, and educator Noah Baerman spent a lot of time and energy putting together a project to honor his former student and collaborator Claire Randall who died in 2016 as a result of domestic violence.  That project, "Love Right", is a 17-song program featuring dozens of vocalists and musicians with as many styles of music as songs.  At the final recording session in late September 2019, producer Baerman found himself with two hours of unused studio time.  He and long-time collaborator, bassist Henry Lugo, put together a seven-song program; 90 minutes later, they had "Alter Ego" (RMI Records). 

What stands out in this music is the obvious communication between the two friends and how the music makes one feel so comfortable and never bored.  It's a fascinating septet of songs ranging from the opening "My Romance" (from Richard Rodgers and Lorenzo Hart) to the title track (composed by one of Baerman's influences, the late James Williams) to two pieces associated with Duke Ellington (Juan Tizol's "Caravan" and the great bandleader's "Prelude to a Kiss").  There is no feeling of being rushed or any intent to dazzle the listener with show of technical bravado––no, these songs make one listen closely, to absorb the handsome melodies and/or tap your feet. One. cam sense the duo is stretching out, having fun, shaking off the stress caused by the scope and intense emotions of the "Love Right" project.  

One can hear the blues influence of another one of the pianist's influences, Phineas Newborn, Jr. in pieces such as "Prelude..." and the funky take of Stevie Wonder's "Creepin'"(listen below).  Lugo, who has developed over the past decade into an excellent and melodic soloist, is solid and playful throughout (his "dancing" solo on "My Romance" is a highlight). 

The program closes with Tom Waits "I Want You" (a piece composed in 1971 but not released for over a decade) and it'a a delightful choice.  The music blends gospel and "pop" influences giving the duo the opportunity to expand upon the original ballad, imbuing the music with a hopeful feel.

"Alter Ego" is a lovely portrait of two friends doing what they love to do, playing music in the moment, and hoping to soothe frayed souls.  Noah Baerman and Henry Lugo have created a little gem that sounds good any time of day, any day of the year.  

For more information and to purchase the album, go to

Hear the duo go "Creepin'":

Over the three-plus decades of trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas's career, he has led several notable ensembles ranging from the Tiny Bell Trio to Charms of the Night Sky to the "Magic Triangle" quartet to Keystone to the first Quintet (including Donny McCaslin, Uri Caine, James Genus, and Clarence Penn) to Brass Ecstasy to Sound Prints (the quintet he co-leads with Joe Lovano. In 2011, Douglas organized a new Quintet with saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Rudy Royston when he wrote and arranged the music for "Be Still", a group of hymns and folk songs the trumpeter played for his mother's funeral (the resulting album featured the vocals of Aoife O'Donovan). In 2015, the Quintet released "Brazen Heart", a collection of originals tunes and two hymns dedicated to the trumpeter's older brother Damon who had passed earlier that year. 

While creating the music that became the album "Secular Psalms" (released in April of this year), Douglas was also reading the 15 Psalms that make up "Songs of Ascents", a series of prayers sung by Jewish pilgrims on their way to the temple in Jerusalem on the three "Pilgrimage" holidays (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot).  The trumpeter was so moved that he began writing a new program of music that he thought would be perfect for the new Quintet (now a decade old). Once he had all the music, the world was in the early stages of the Pandemic. So, starting in May of 2020, Douglas recorded all his parts (including solos); he then sent the pieces to Irabagon (tenor, soprano, and soprillo saxes) for his contributions. From there, the music went to pianist Mitchell, then to Ms. Oh for her bass parts, and to Royston for his percussive touches. Once the drummer finished, the tapes returned to Douglas and engineer Tyler McDiarmid (who also mixed and mastered the project)

It's amazing how alive and collaborative this album sounds. For the project, titled "Songs of Ascent: Book 1 – Degrees" (Greenleaf Music), Douglas has created such splendid melodies while his musical partners on these journeys play with such sensitivity and intelligence that the music jumps out of the speakers (as if the band was in the same studio and not separated by distance and time––the project took over 12 months to complete).  Listen below to "Peace Within Your Walls"; note the well-constructed melody, the brilliant interactions of the trumpet and tenor saxophone, and listen to how the rhythm section is supportive and inventive. 

Photo: John Abbott
And the music has fire as well. The album opener, "Never Let Me Go" (the one composition not based on one of the Psalms), introduces the inspired interaction that comes from the musicians being comfortable with each and willing to challenge each other. "A Fowler's Snare" smokes from the opening note, hinting at being a free-for-all with a rollicking melody played by everyone save for Royston.  Both Douglas and Irabagon solo as the rhythm section threatens to fall apart. Ms. Oh's bass solo pulls the music together for a moment before launches back into the theme. "Lift Up My Eyes" moves from its "playing a scale" opening into a twisting and roiling exhibition of power. The final track, "Mouths Full of Joy", has a similar opening (listen to the fiery drumming), before the leader steps out for a hard-edged solo supported by Mitchell's angular piano chords. Irabagon's tenor spot is playful as Royston takes apart the rhythm.  Mitchell steps out next as the drums seem to explode beneath him while Ms. Oh keeps the the rhythm section from flying away. 

"Songs of Ascent" Book 1 – Degrees" stands out as yet another musical triumph for Dave Douglas. Even if you don't know the story behind the recording, this project is so alive, so musical, so collaborative, so fascinating.  Besides the leader, every other member of the Quintet is a leader in her and his right yet they come together as a coherent musical unit, supporting and stimulating each other. The Dave Douglas Quintet will be touring Europe in early 2023 and one hopes those live shows are archived for all of us to hear the five musicians sound playing this music together on stage. In the meantime, find this recording and dig in.

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

Hear "Peace Within Your Walls":

There is a "Book 2 - Steps", eight more Douglas originals written for the Quintet and the music is just as impressive. However, the only way to listen to the album is to become a subscriber to Greenleaf Music. There are three tiers to choose ranging from $75 to $175–each level gives you access to all the recordings on the label through as well as special "live sets", alternate takes, and unreleased material.  The more you spend the more perks you get.  There is also access to monthly "Subscribers Sessions", right now on ZOOM only, in which you can meet and interact with musicians who record for the label and special segments of Douglas's "A Noise From The Deep" podcast now in its 10th year of interviews. 

As a subscriber myself, it's well worth the investment–you get access to some of the most fascinating music being released today. To find out more, go to   

Monday, October 17, 2022

Two Drummers Who Lead, Think, Tell Stories, and Play

Photo: Jim Levitt

Ernesto Cervini is a multi-faceted person; not only does he play drums, piano, and clarinet but he also arranges, composes, is a publicist for numerous Canadian artists plus he teaches.  And, apparently is an avid reader. His sister Amy (she of Duchess trio and solo albums) recommended he read the books of Louise Penny, the Canadian author best known for her series of mystery novels featuring the detective inspector Armand Gamache where much of the action is set in the fictional village of Three Pines, Quebec.  Each one of the characters is finely drawn, their stories are often riveting, and the hero, while somewhat flawed, is wise and quite intelligent.

Cervini, the composer, was much taken by the series (up to 18 books now with the November 2022 publication of "A World of Curiosities") and decided to put his impressions into music. The result, "Joy" (TPR Music), is a fascinating melting pot of styles as the drummer creates portraits of the major characters utilizing 16  musician and vocalists (see the list below), some of who only appear on one tracks, others as many as seven.  The programs ranges from the impressionistic opening track, "Three Pines", a work that features three vocalists and atmospheric guitar over acoustic bass and drums to the slow blues of "Myrna" that features the smoky tenor saxophone of Kelly Jefferson and the fine acoustic bass of Artie Roth.  Pianist Adrian Farrugia, bassist Dan Fortin, and Cervini shine on "Sandalwood and Rosewater" (if one gets close to Gamache, that's what they smell). Then there's the quirky blues of "Ruth's Rosa" (Ruth is a poet, Rosa is her profane duck), a tune on which clarinetist Virginia Macdonald plays the former and trumpeter Jim Lewis the latter while Cervini creates clatter underneath their call-and-response.  Even more fun is the "hot" swing of "Surprised by Joy" (listen below) with its thematic bow to Keith Jarrett's "The Windup" and smashing solos by Farrugia and Jefferson!

Photo: Justin Van Leeuwen
There are two solo performances in the program. First is "Clara", a villager who is an artist and she is aurally "painted" by alto saxophonist Tara Davidson and the second is Farrugia's solo piano portrait of the artist's husband "Peter Morrow". These characters  have a troubled relationship and one can hear a touch of dissonance in their musical portraits.  In another portrait, Cervini's lively brush work supports Ms. Davidson and her husband, trombonist William Carn, as they create a genial portrait of "Oliver & Gabri", the owners of the village's Bistro and Bed & Breakfast.  

If you haven't read the books, you should still seek out "Joy"; the music is lively, heartwarming, tender, swinging, mysterious, and filled with fine melodies and great performances.  Ernesto Cervini, who is a fine drummer, shows off his "composerly" side and it works like a charm.  As a fan of Ms. Penny's book series, I'm delighted with this excellent collection of portraits of characters I've come to admire and look forward to reading about!

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

Here's the opening track "Three Pines":

Felicity Williams , Emilie-Claire Barlow, Amy Cervini, Alex Samaras  - Vocals, 
Virginia MacDonald – Clarinet, Tara Davidson – Alto Saxophone, Luis Deniz – Alto Saxophone, Kelly Jefferson - Tenor, Soprano Saxophones, 
Jim Lewis – Trumpet, William Carn – Trombone, 
Adrean Farrugia – Piano,
Don Scott – Guitar, 
Dan Fortin - Acoustic Bass, Artie Roth - Acoustic Bass, Rich Brown - Electric Bass,
EC – Drums, compositions, arrangements

Drummer-composer Mark Guiliana wears many hats as a musician including leader, sideman, composer, arranger, and collaborator.  He's worked with David Bowie, Brad Mehldau, Dave Douglas, Donny McCaslin, Lionel Loueke, and Gretchen Parlato among others.  Over the course of nine albums as a leader, he's integrated electronics with acoustic music, created dance music , and played straight-ahead jazz.  His 10th album, and first for Edition Records, is "The Sound of Listening" and features his "jazz" quartet composed of Shai Maestro (piano, mellotron, ampli-celeste, Fender Rhodes), Jason Rigby (tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute), and Chris Morrissey (acoustic bass) while the leader not only plays drums and composed all the pieces but also contributes synths, percussion, and drum programming.

Guiliana the composer asks the listener to look inside him-or-herself and to really think and feel how music can move you, can make you a better person, and even heal you. The program opens with "A Path To Bliss", a lovely ballad introduced by Maestro's acoustic piano and electronics; slowly but surely, the bass and tenor sax enter and the melody continues to rise until Rigby plays a short solo on bass clarinet.  The layers of reeds and keys soon are underpinned by Guiliana dancing over the drums and cymbals. That powerful piece leads to "The Most Important Question" which opens on a tenor and a bass pedal point. The piano joins the melody before the bassist steps out for a short statement. The music speeds up but keeps fluctuating to different voices in the lead. The intensity draws the listener in as do the insistent rhythms. 

Photo: John Watson
Interspersed amidst the 10 songs are four shorter  compositions, two of which are fully "electronic" pieces, the longest (2:37) being the title track. One of the other short works, "A Way of Looking", blends acoustic and electronic sounds yet it's the handsome melody that catches your ears. One of the other "shorties", "Practicing Silence", has a loping bass line played on piano while Maestro and Morrissey play the gentle yet compelling melody. 

The program closes with "Continuation", an African-inspired work that builds off of shaken percussion and prepared piano (that sounds like kalimba).   All the members of the group get to play the melody, the sensuous phrases snaking over the galloping rhythms.  All of a sudden, Maestro's piano steps out front (the solo sounds overdubbed)––Rigby comes back to state the melody before everyone drops out and the percussion takes the piece and the album to its conclusion. What remains in your mind is just how joyful a piece of music you just heard.  

"The Sound of Listening" draws you in on its blend of rhythm, melody, and emotions.  Mark Guiliana and company mix it up and keeps one's interest throughout.   Dig in and really listen!

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

Hear "Under The Influence":

Monday, October 3, 2022

The Recuperation Playlist (Part Three)

The final installment of what could easily called the best new releases of the past three months and among the best of 2022.

Photo: Stephen Hawk
Bassist and composer Noah Garabedian is not only a well-educated musician (with degrees from UCLA and NYU) but also quite busy. He has worked with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Kris Davis, drummer extraordinaire Jeff "Tain" Watts, and guitarist Nir Felder. He co-leads a trio with saxophonist Caleb Wheeler Curtis and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza (they have two recordings) and has released two albums as a leader, 2014's "Big Butter and the Eggmen" (BJU Records) and 2020's "Where Fables Meet" (self-released through Bandcamp).  Since before the Pandemic, Garabedian has been working with the rhythm section of Carmen Staaf (piano) and Jimmy Macbride (drums). They appear on the 2020 album along with bassist's tenor saxophonist brother Raffi.  Both albums are well exploring because the musicianship and the compositions are top-notch.

For his third album "Consider The Stars Beneath Us" (Outside In Music), Ms. Staaf and Mr. Macbride are back along with saxophonist Dayna Stephens (tenor and soprano) plus producer Samuel Adams (effects, programming, Moog Minitaur, and Juno JU-06A).  What stands out for this listener is the strength of the compositions, the great work of the band, and the depth of the sound. Garabedian's bass is front and center in the mix yet everyone else is so clear. Listen to the Weather Report-influenced "Salt Point"––under headphones, the music is so immediate and alive. Through speakers in the room, the music seems to fill every space but is not as intrusive as it is joyous and welcome. 

The blend of playful tunes and softer, more introspective, music pulls the listener. The blend of quiet tenor sax, classically-inspired piano fills, and full-throated bass push the opening "RR" with Macbride's active yet softer drumming pushing the music forward. One might look at the title "Expectation. Regret." and think this piece might be introspective as well.  But there is a quiet fire in the rhythm section that gives Stephens the cushion to build an impressive solo. The combination of the thick-toned bass lines and powerful piano work of Ms. Staaf makes the music jump. The pianist channels her inner McCoy Tyner on the closing track "Alice", producing a stunning solo.  Stephens expressive soprano sax pairs with the percussive piano to dance through the theme of "Petty Thieves" that then opens to a formidable bass solo.  "Shackelton's Cocoa" follows and it's a mischievous blend of blues and tango–the music is not a joke and builds to an impressive conversation between the four musicians.

Producer Adams layers electronics on several tracks; his most impressive work can be heard on "Pendulum for NG", a tune he wrote for the bassist. It's a strong piece especially for the fine tenor sax solo and the melodic strength of the rhythm section.  The synth sounds are, mostly, subtle and hardly intrusive.

"Consider the Stars Beneath Us" is a splendid album, filled with  with excellent compositions and fine playing.  Having listened numerous times over the past several months, this album fills this listener with joy and, like the best music, gives me hope.

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

Hear "Salt Point":

Five years ago, tenor saxophonist and composer Chet Doxas released "Rich In Symbols" (Ropeadope Records), a collection of compositions inspired by artworks from New York City artists of the 1980s. The saxophonist spent hours in galleries looking at the pictures, writing down melodic fragments and other thoughts. The resulting album was a powerful statement that mixed different genres of music and sounds, subtly capturing both the energy of the art and the composer's musical interpretations.  You can listen by going to

"Rich in Symbols II" (Justin Time Records) carries the subtitle "The Group of Seven, Tom Thomson and Emily Carr"; this time, Doxas spent time investigating artists from his native Canada (he's a native of Montreal, Quebec). Because all of the works are outdoor scenes, Doxas also created "field recordings" for the tracks that places the music (and the paintings) outside the galleries.  The rhythm section of Zach Lober (bass) and Eric Doob (drums) return from the first recording and the group is filled out by Jacob Sacks (piano, mellotron) and Joe Grass (pedal steel, guitar, banjo).  Like the earlier album, there are seven tracks but, for the most part, the newer pieces are longer and episodic in composition.  The impressionistic quality of the music and the performances allows for great variety in sounds––the music escapes from any specific genre and offers the listener a fascinating aural experience.

Photo: William Geddes

The first piece that really drew me into the project is "The Jack Pine". The longest piece in the program (13:04), the music also seems to travel the farthest. From the faint bell sounds (processed guitar and piano) plus a scratchy saxophone (as if recorded through a telephone), the music moves slowly like the wind blowing through the lonesome tree as depicted by Tom Thomson's painting (the artist lived from 1877-1917). Once Sacks picks up the melody on piano, the music begins to move forward with Doxas picking up the theme.  Suddenly, the rhythm section, sans piano, falls into a swing rhythm for a far-ranging pedal steel solo (reminds this listener of the playing of Susan Alcorn)–as the intensity picks up, the piece goes rubato and Doxas takes the lead. A quiet resolution to his solo leads to a gentle piano statement that reintroduces the theme and the cut closes on the gentle sounds of the opening seconds. Upon multiple listens, it strikes this listener that the melody hearkens back to music of the artist's time.  And the "airiness" as well as the noise places the subject outdoors in a cold and windy landscape.

Emily Carr
There is a playful quality that emerges from "Tree Trunk", the song based on the painting by Emily Carr (1871-1945).  The music takes almost three minutes to emerge but when Doob drops into a "thumping" beat and Grass strums the banjo, Doxas (on clarinet) introduces the delightful melody. Shadowed by the bassist, the leader keeps dancing over the rhythm that is influenced by the work of Steve Reich. 

"House of Yprés", based on the painting (one of two on the album) by A.Y. Jackson (1882-1874) that the artist created while in France during World War I. Depicting a bombed-out house, the piece also features poet Sam Roberts reading an original work over the stark musical landscape.  

The final track, "The Front of Winter" which is based on a painting by J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932),  is a stunning "tone-poem", a handsome evocation of a snowy landscape on a winter morning. The blend of Doxas's rich tenor sound with the crisp piano lines, floating pedal steel sounds, thick yet melodic bass work, and the active brushes dancing around on the drum kit, is soulful, joyous, and reverential at the same time, a perfect close to a wonder-filled program.

"Rich In Symbols II" is an album you need to live with for a while. Much of the music is deliberate as if you are with Chet Doxas as he "sketches" his idea in the company of the paintings.  This is not a program concerned with technical brilliance but with helping you see and hear how one art form influences another as well as how the musician's interactions with the outside (natural) world can create concepts in the creator's inner world.  A glorious program that deserves your attention!

For more information, go to To hear more of the album and to purchase the music, go to
Hear "House of Yprés":

Friday, September 16, 2022

The Recuperation Playlist (Part Two)


Like many top-notch bass players, Chicago-based Clark Sommers is often first-call.  He has done numerous tours with vocalist Kurt Elling, with pianist Darrell Grant, the late tenor sax giant Von Freeman, vocalist Jeff Baker, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the 13-member Chicago Yestet, and guitarist Bobby Bloom (plus many others). For the past decade, the bassist has led the Ba(SH) Trio with saxophonist Geof Bradfield (tenor and soprano saxes plus bass clarinet) and drummer Dana Hall. That group has issued two excellent albums and Sommers' two compatriots are the foundation of the latest version of his Lens quintet. Sommers and Bradfield, along with drummer Kendrick Scott, guitarist Jeff Parker, and pianist/ organist Gary Versace released its first album, the self-titled "Lens", on eyes&ears Records in 2017. The quintet's second album, "Intertwine", is now out on Outside In Music now featuring guitarist Matt Gold, tenor saxophonist Chris Madsen, and drummer Hall.

Replacing the keyboards with the guitar acts to "open up" the sound of the quintet. The new album, which clocks in at nearly 74 minutes, never feels over-stuffed or sounds dull––instead, Sommers has composed music with strong melodies that gives the ensemble plenty of room to create cogent solos and for Hall to experiment underneath the solid foundations the leaders creates.  "Also Tomorrow" opens the 12-song program, the two tenor saxes combining to present the melody while the drums and bass play a skipping rhythm.  "James Marshall" follows and the title is a reference to James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix. You can hear the influence of the great guitarist in the structure of the song but Gold's solo certainly goes its own original way. There's a bluesy solo from Bradfield and exciting statement from Madsen that leads the piece to its powerful close.

Sommers the composer keeps one guessing as to what direction the next track are going to take.. There's the swinging hard-bop of "Second Guess", the lovely and mysterious modalities of "Ancient Voice" (where Bradfield's bass clarinet blends nicely with Madsen's tenor sax), the bluesy funk of "Weeks and Weeks" (where the handsome melody runs counter to the down-home feel of the rhythm section) which leads into "Invisible Arrow" that again has the open play feel of the earlier tracks.  

The up-tempo title tracks closes the program. Again, it's the skipping quality of the drums that gives the handsome melody the room to move and expand. The blend of soprano and tenor over Gold's rippling guitar lines is so attractive. The track also features a melodically rich solo from the leader and rousing call and response by the saxes that leads the piece and album to a gentle finish.

"Intertwine", for this listener, is an album that I start at the beginning, go to the end and start all over again. The bountiful melodies and rhythms wash through the room and, in the long run, are greatly rewarding.  Clark Sommers Lens is an ensemble that begs to be seen live so it can work its musical magic on an attentive and appreciative audience. In the meantime, this album is a true treat! 

To find out more, go to

Most modern music fans know Elan Mehler as co-producer and Artistic Director of Newvelle Records, the label that has been producing ultra-high quality vinyl albums in a subscription series since 2016.  There's much more than music––each package features impressive art work, informative liner notes, and more.  Most people don't know that Mehler is a fine pianist––the fifth" season featured Mehler in a musical conversation with trumpeter Dave Douglas and, in 2020, his duo album with vocalist Becca Stevens was issued as a "digital-only" release. 

This month, Newvelle issues a new quartet of albums under the name of "The Renewal Collection". Subscribers purchase four vinyl albums including new work from Mehler, saxophonist Michael Blake, saxophonist Dave Liebman, and trumpeter/ flugelhornist Nadje Noordhuis.  All four will be issued digitally one month at a time. The impetus for this collection is how music was able to soothe so many souls during the worst months of the Pandemic.  "There Is a Dance" finds Mehler in a trio conversation with acoustic bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Francisco Mela––if you love piano trios, this is worth your time.  While most people will point to Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett or Bud Powell as the most influential piano trios, this 13-song (the digital release has two more tracks than the vinyl) reminds this listener of the cooperative trio of Geri Allen, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian that recorded for Soul Note and DIW (Japan) in the late 1980s and 1990s.  

In his liner notes, the pianist writes that "I’ve spent my whole life with this music – listening to this music – practicing this music – relying on this music – struggling with this music – and – when it’s good – welcoming this music’s arrival from the quietest place in my heart." (There's much more to understand about this recording in the notes).  The music ranges from the sweet blues of "East Side Blues" to deep introspection of the title track to lovely gospel sounds of "When You Were Blind" to the Frank Kimbrough influence that permeates "The Shakes" to the lyrical "We Spin" to the Erik Satie gentleness of "Ruby D."  Scherr and Mela are the perfect partners––while neither solos, they listen intently to the pianist either following as Mehler moves through his solos or gently prodding him or just quietly interacting.  One of the aspects of this music that stands out is how articulate and musical Elan Mehler is.  

What might happen to the active listener as he or she goes deeper into "There Is a Dance" is that a sense of calm should spread through the body.  This music is not about technique, about swing, or volume; inevitably, it's about healing, about acceptance, about moving forward into a better state of being.  Power need not be about pushing someone away until they push back; it can also be about pulling one into a hug and giving thanks for being alive.  Elan Mehler may have struggled to bring this music to life but the results are life-affirming.  

For more information, go to  If you would rather the digital release, go to

Enjoy the gospel-blues of "When You Were Blind":

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The Recuperation Playlist (Part 1)

Life is often wild and crazy with all sorts of mayhem right outside your window, on your screens, and in your ears.  When the craziness moves indoors and becomes personal, one looks for escapes to give a sense of normalcy. We saw that in the pandemic where virtual concerts, streaming movies, and myriad television shows became even more of the "norm".  

On a personal level, my life got crazy this Summer with the need for Open Heart Surgery in July and, just this past week, contracting a case of COVID.  I thank the Doctors, Physicians Assistants, and nurses for their care over these past few months. I thank the higher powers for the music that has gotten me through the surgery, illness, and continued recuperation.

Haven't posted much but I have been listened to a lot of great music. Now, I plan to make several posts about the best of those albums (in no particular order).

As far as I am concerned, any new release by Miguel Zenón is cause for joy.  Since his debut album as a leader (in 2002), he has grown as a composer, arranger, and alto saxophonist. The native of San Juan, Puerto Rico also spent 14 seasons with the SF Jazz Collective and has recorded with a slew of artists from Kurt Elling to Charlie Haden to Fred Hersch to Antonio Sanchez and many more.  His long-tenured quartet includes pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole, all of whom save Cole (who joined the ensemble in 2006) is as impressive as any working group playing today!

His latest release on Miel Music, his 15th as a leader or co-leader, is "Musica De Las Americas", a recording that illustrates how "American music" is an on-going fusion of elements from all corners of the American continent (North, Central, South and the Caribbean) and is tied to the rhythms that traveled in slave ships from Africa but also to the indigenous tribes the Spanish discovered when they arrived in the 15th Century.  Zenón composed all the pieces, not only giving the listener a stunning listening experience but also infusing this music with history. For instance, the opening track "Tainos y Caribes", tells the tale of two indigenous tribes who live in peace in the Caribbean and northeastern South America respectively who were wiped out within several decades after the arrival of the Conquistadors.  The powerful music, built upon the the polyrhythmic attack of Cole plus the thunderous piano and thrumming bass, paints a portrait of vibrant societies. 

Photo: Jimmy Katz
Four of the eight tracks feature guest percussionists. The silky smooth "Navegando (Las Estrellas Nos Guian") adds the five-person Los Pleneros De La Cresta who add not only exciting rhythms but also vocals to the story of the Indigenous tribes that traveled the waters of the Caribbean and Atlantic in handmade boats following the stars.  Percussionist Paoli Mejias pairs with Cole to create a vibrant backdrop for the powerful "Opresión y Revolución" (listen below), which draws on elements of Haitian Voodoo music to tells its story of uprising and self-rule (though the Haitians have paid an extremely steep price ever since). Victor Emmanuelli brings the Bomba drum (barril) into "Bambula", a song that illustrates how the drum the song is named for created a rhythmic pattern that once can hear in musical styles of Cuba, the Caribbean, Central America, New Orleans, and today's reggaeton. "Antillano" closes the album, celebrating the Antilles with young conga master Daniel Diaz helping to propel the playful bounce and sway of the music. 

Throughout "Musicas De Las Americas", Miguel Zenón and the band play with fire, abandon, and joy.  They build off each other's lines and emotions to create music that stands out for its spontaneity, celebrating the many and varied cultures of the American continent.  This is music played by a band that deserves to be seen and heard in person––go to to find out more and see where this most accomplished ensembles is appearing.  You'll also see that the saxophonist is playing with other ensembles over the next few months, all of which looks exciting. If you don't get out to see them, this wonderful new album will brighten your life!

Here's the Quartet with percussionist Paoli Mejias on "Operesión y Revolución":

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Pianist and composer Pablo Ablanedo moved to the United States from his native Argentina in the early 1990s to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. After graduating, he stayed in the US forming an Octet in 1999 filled with New York City-based artists to play his original music.  Like his fellow Argentine Guillermo Klein, his music fuses influences from his homeland with the Black Creative Music he has come into contact over his 25+ years since moving. Over the course of four albums, Ablanedo has impressed listeners and reviewers with his ability to make music jumps with originality.

In 2019, Newvelle Records brought Ablanedo back into the studio with most of the musicians who helped to create his 2001 debut album "From Down There" for a follow-up.  The results, "Christeza", was issued as part of the label's Fifth Season and now is available as a download from the label's Bandcamp page (see below).  Take a look at the personnel––many have gone on in the two decades since uniting for the first album to have international careers as both leaders and sideman.  One thing that stands out for this listener is the immediacy of Ablandeo's compositions, whether it's the percussive ballad "La Señal" that opens the eight-song program (the digital version has a "bonus track") or the playful call-and-response of "Karmavaleando" or the gentle swaying of "Winter Variations" (note how the intensity picks up throughout the piece), the melodies and the rhythms are well-defined and build off each other.

While the compositions stand out, there is brilliant musicianship throughout as well. There's a touch of Thelonious Monk in Ablanedo's introduction to "Plaisantriste" which unwinds to a delightful clarinet solo from Anat Cohen. Do also listen to the smashing support of bassist Fernando Huergo, drummer Franco Pinna, and guitarist Ben Monder.  Ms. Cohen also stands out on "Ti Mi Do" as does violinist Jenny Scheinman. There's a tinge of Aaron Copland in the deliberate melody line and chords behind the front line and pay attention how the rest of the group enters behind the soloists.  The spotlight is on Ben Monder for "Bipolarious"––after the sharp-edged intro, the guitarist dances atop the ever-intensifying rhythm.  The title track has a mysterious, rubato, opening as if getting ready to go into "Sketches of Spain", especially when trumpeter Diego Urcola takes the lead; his long-held sparse notes keeps the mystery alive throughout the piece

The digital download closes "Christeza" with a rhythmic take on Kenny Dorham's "Una Mas". The brilliant rhythm section of Pinna and Huergo lead the way with tenor saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh (the only other member of the ensemble on the track) playing the theme as well as a powerful solo.  But, it's the bass and drums that makes this track stand out.  A delightful finish to a wonder-filled album. Pablo Ablanedo does not record very often but when he does, it's so rewarding to listen.  Kudos to the great band, to the composer, leader, and pianist, and to co-producers Elan Mehler and JC Morisseau for such fine modern music!

To find out more and to purchase the album, go to To find out more about the leader, go to

Hear "Karmavaleando": 


Pablo Ablanedo on piano, & compositions:
Anat Cohen on clarinet,
Jenny Scheinman on violin,
Chris Cheek on tenor and soprano saxophone,
Jerome Sabbagh on tenor and soprano saxophone, 
Diego Urcola on trumpet, 
Ben Monder on guitar, 
Fernando Huergo on electric bass, 
Franco Pinna on drums, 
Daniel Ian Smith on additional saxophones on "Karmavaleando" and "Bipolarious."