Sunday, July 26, 2015

Summertime Musical Diversions

I've written so many times about how music can take us away from the madness of everyday life (although there are number of great albums that magnify and help one understand the complexities that surround us).  Here are 3 such pleasant and diverse diversions.

My first reaction to the 5th album from the Daniel Bennett Group is "What?  No Bears?" There are several releases from the DBG that have ursine figures at the center.  However, "The Mystery at Clown Castle" (self-released) continues in the melody enriched and occasionally wacky vein that Bennett has been mining with such artistic success for the past decade.  The leader, who in the course of 11 songs, plays alto saxophone, flute, piccolo, oboe, clarinet, and piano, composed all the pieces and even rearranged 2 pieces from the band's previous CD.  The big difference from his other releases is that Bennett now has 3 new bandmates including Nat Janoff (guitar), Eddy Khaimovich (electric and acoustic bass), and Matthew Feick (drums).

Don't fret that the man has gone over to the totally serious side.  Check out pieces such as "Paul Platypus", "Nine Piglets", and "Uncle Muskrat" and you may feel that you've fallen into the rabbit hole that so entranced young Alice. The flute and alto sax melody that introduces "...Platypus" is joyful, supported by a very active bass line, raucous guitar and snappy snare.  Pianist Jason Yeager joins the group on several tracks including "..Muskrat" where he plays not only the handsome bluesy melody but also supplies a sweet solo. Khaimovich's bass lines are a pleasing counterpoint here as well (this time on acoustic).  Britt Milewski's robotic recitation on "Minor Leaguer" tells an odd tale of a baseball player in a used-car limbo while the band swirl beneath him (Bennett plays flute, oboe,and clarinet in the background). There's a "poppy" bounce to "Strange Jim and the Zebra" while "Flow" zips along at a rapid with the leader's piccolo offering a melody with a Celtic tilt.

The band goes a bit "out" on "Inside the Outro Interlude" and the album closer "Outside the Inside Outro" with Yeager's piano adding splashes of color, jagged phrases, and melodic fragments while Bennett flits about and the bassist plucks or bows.  Both tracks feature electronically altered saxophone. There are moments on the final cut that may remind some of the dialogues of Jimmy Lyons and Cecil Taylor. And you just have to love the stride piano that ends the CD.

The only mystery about "The Mystery at Clown Castle" is how one suppresses a smile or stops from tapping his toes or keeps the windows closed while the music is playing. It's all done in fun yet without cynicism.  The Daniel Bennett Group hits a sweet spot and does so without hurting any animals - seriously, this is good music.

For more information, go to www.danielbennettgroup.com.

Drummer Makaya McCraven, son of Hungarian folk singer Agnes Zsigmondi and drummer Stephen McCraven, has worked and recorded with guitarist Bobby Bloom as well as shared stages with Lionel Loueke, Yusef Lateef, Bernie Worrell and many others.  In January of 2013, the drummer began a weekly residency at The Bedford in Chicago inviting his many musical friends to come by and improvise.  "In The Moment" (International Anthem Recording Co.) is the result of turning on the recorder, catching all the live sounds, and then begin to cut and paste.  The 2-LP or single CD features a number of notable Chicago musicians, including Marquis Hill (trumpet), Matt Ullery (bass), Jeff Parker (guitar), Joshua Abrams (bass) and several other young musicians.

The 74-minute journey runs the gamut of lineups, from McCraven's trio of Hill and Ullery to the quartet of Abrams, Parker, Hill and the drummer plus a number of tracks that feature vibraphonist Justefan. There is more of a sense of organization to the 4 sides of the LP package and the drummer's liner notes are a help in picking out the various group configurations.  Yet, because I have the CD,  the way I have enjoyed this music is to just sit back and let it flow. The "glue" here is the drummer; he keeps everyone moving. These improvisations blends soul music, African music, hip hop, jazz, and funk throughout the program. And, there's a mesmerizing, trance-like, quality to a number of pieces that is most appealing.

"In the Moment" can be listened closely, can rise and fall in the background, and in large or small chunks.  Anyway you approach this music should reward you and it's fun to share the experience with fellow music lovers.  It's fun and funky, the essence of collaboration and collegiality.

For more information, go to www.makayamccraven.com.

Click on the link below and enjoy the flow:



Julian Lage has not yet reached his 30th birthday (and won't until Christmas Day 2117!) but has been involved with music for the  majority of life.  Over the past several years, he has released several CDs as a leader or with the likes of Gary Burton, Nels Cline, Fred Hersch, Anthony Wilson, and Chris Eldridge.  He has proven himself to be an excellent soloist, an intelligent composer and a creative force in the various ensembles.

In the midst of a busy time, Lage went into the studio with co-producer Matt Munisteri and created his first solo guitar album.  "World's Fair" (Modern Lore Records) is an all-acoustic adventure in song with 10 of the 12 pieces being original.  Melody is king throughout but what is most impressive is the various moods the young man creates over the course of the program.  "Peru" hints at both Lennon/McCartney and Paul Simon using rapid-fire single-note runs to tell its story.  The gentle rhythm of "Ryland" opens to reveal a sweet folky melody line. The sweet mood is never interrupted by a showy riff or flashy solo.  Chances are good there is a story behind "Missouri" (perhaps the song is dedicated to Missouri native Pat Metheny).  Lage discovered the traditional "Red Prairie Dawn" through the work of fiddler Garry Harrison and it's such a delightful romp. The other non-original is the Rodgers/Hart ballad "Where or When" - the melody unfolds slowly but easily and, despite the lack of any solo, draws the listener back again and again.

The album closes with "Lullaby", its wistful melody filled with short but cogent silences, unfolding somewhat like McCartney's "Junk" or a ballad by Kurt Weill.  It's a simple but emotionally rich work, one that leaves you feeling full yet waiting for another sweet song.

"World's Fair" is, at times, quiet, contemplative, haunting, and ever-so-gentle.  Song is king and, while one can tell that Julian Lage is a fine musician, technique takes a back seat to melody.  This is music that sounds good in the morning with the windows wide open and the birds singing their own songs. And, it's just as enjoyable late at night lying down in the dark in search of sense of peace.  Great stuff!

For more information, go to www.julianlage.com.

Here's a track to play us to a new day:

Friday, July 24, 2015

"Crisis" & Fusion

Trumpeter, vocalist, composer, and arranger Amir ElSaffar, a native of Illinois, is the son an American mother and a father born in Iraq.  He studied at De Paul University in Chicago and soon was playing in various orchestras and groups in that great hub of music.
After moving to New York City at the turn of the 21st Century, the trumpeter was playing with Cecil Taylor, Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa. He also began to study the music of his ancestral home, specifically Iraqi maqam which is "a set of notes with traditions that define relationships between them, habitual patterns, and their melodic development." (To find out more about the musical form, go to www.maqamworld.com.) To do this studying, he traveled to Iraq and Europe to find the maqam masters. By 2006, ElSaffar had learned to speak Arabic, to sing maqamat, and to play the santur (the Persian hammered dulcimer).  ElSaffar is the leader of 5 ensembles including Safaafir (a group dedicated to playing maqamat in original settings) and the Two Rivers Ensemble (a sextet - there is also a "large ensemble" version - that plays music utilizing the modal system unique to maqam with elements of jazz.)

ElSaffar formed the latter group a decade ago with the rhythm section of Nasheet Waits (drums), Carlos DeRosa (bass), Tareq Abboushi (buzuq, a Persian string instrument related to the Greek bouzouki and Turkish saz), Zafer Tawil (oud, violin, qanun - a Persian zither - and Arab percussion) and Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone). In 2007, the group released its debut album for Pi Recordings, "Two Rivers." By the release of 2011's "Inana", tenor saxophonist Ole Mathisen had replaced Mahanthappa and remains with the sextet to this day.

Around the time the 2nd CD was released, ElSaffar received a commission from the Newport Jazz Festival for a new work to be premiered in 2013.  The composer spent 8 months living, studying and composing the work in Egypt while keeping a wary eye as the positive outcomes of the Arab Spring of 2011 began to unravel.

The piece was ready in time for its premiere (click here to watch a video about the Newport Festival date) and, earlier this year, the Sextet entered the studio.  The resulting album, titled "Crisis" (Pi), is both a continuation of the maqam studies of the group's first 2 recordings and a reflection of the turmoil in Iraq and the Middle East.  The blend of traditional Middle Eastern and Black American music is even more seamless than on the earlier albums. The "Crisis Suite" opens with a barrage of drums from Waits that leads to the opening theme of "Introduction - From the Ashes." Everyone drops out save for ElSaffar (santur, vocal) and Abboushi's echoing buzuk.   Listen to the flow of the second track ("The Great Dictator"), how the melody moves and the rhythms shift, how the brilliant drum work of Waits keeps the pulse and sets a fire under Mathisen's hard-edged tenor spotlight.

In the midst of the sextet work, ElSaffar plays a mournful trumpet solo. Titled "Taqsim Saba", the composer and performer dubs the work "a lamentation on oppression and destitution" - the music rises up into the horn's higher ranges before coming to its final, hushed, notes. DeRosa opens the following piece "El-Sha'ab (The People)" in his own quiet world before Waits and the rest of the ensemble crash in.  There's a funky, Middle-Eastern, vibe here, the declamatory trumpet and saxophone weaving around the buzuq, the drummer pushing very hard while the bass throbs below.  ElSaffar steps up and digs into a strong solo, one that echoes his singing voice in places.  The addition of Mathisen's soprano sax is a treat.

"Flyover Iraq" and "Tipping Point" are the 2 long pieces (8:19 and 13:40 respectively) that close the 7-movement "...Suite." The former is fired by Wait's incendiary drumming (he is in "high energy" mode up until the 7:30 mark when everyone stops and DeRosa takes the tune out by himself with a powerful bass statement. The rolling rhythms of the opening minutes of the latter track begin to give way to harder beats, a trumpet and saxophone dialogue, and an oud solo shadowed by the buzuq while the beat breaks down.  The trumpet and tenor saxophone solos follow, both musicians delivering a powerful message. The beat continues to press forward, Tawil going hand in hand percussion before a forceful buzuq solo enters.  The scene changes several times before the fiery rubato close.

The final 2 tracks are variations, the first "Aneen (Weeping), Continued" acting as an epilogue and based on a section from the "Two Rivers Suite."  That slow meditation fades out and then into the full version of "Love Poem", a tune that is part of the "Crisis Suite" with lyrics from the 13th Century Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi. The earlier reading only employs several lines of the text while the closing track had ElSaffar singing all the lyrics.

Amir ElSaffar is building quite the repertoire for his ensembles, traditional music apart from but also married to contemporary rhythms.  His 2013 quintet recording "Alchemy" featured his trumpet and Mathisen's tenor sax in the company of drummer Dan Weiss, bassist Francois Moutin and the impressive young pianist John Escreet. While several of the pieces on that critically acclaimed CD are based on Middle Eastern modes, there's more of an American jazz feel overall. With his return to the Sextet, "Crisis" reflects the trumpeter/composer's journey into a world that harbors danger and extracts sadness from those attempting to survive the purging of a people's history by forces out to remake the countries of the conflict-ravaged area. Those of us who are far away from the reach of militant strikes and endless suffering ave this this music, music that serves to tell an important story and still sound innovative while also preserving ancient customs. "Crisis" is brilliant and important music for the 21st Century.

For more information, go to www.amirelsaffar.com.  Take note, this band will play a week of live dates that includes 2 nights in Chicago and one each in Northampton, MA, New Haven CT (Firehouse 12!!) and Toronto Canada.  See this music live, it's so important.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Uncertainty Music Wednesday, The Side Door This Weekend, & Bushnell Park on Monday + CD Picks

The Uncertainty Music Series moves to a new venue this Wednesday (7/22), the Ball & Socket Arts Garage, 530 West Main Street in Cheshire.  Scheduled to perform is the trio known as Broadcloth (pictured left) composed of Anne Rhodes (voice), Adam Matlock (accordion, recorders) and Nathan Bontrager (cello). The trio plays "avant-garde chamber improvisational music" and does so with a great sense of adventure and drama.  Scheduled to open the show at 7 p.m. is the trio of Bontrager, Loren Ludwig (analog synth, viola da gamba), and Spiff Wiegand (guitar).

For more information, go to uncertaintymusic.com.

This weekend, The Side Door Jazz Club presents 2 artists with a strong connection to the late saxophonist and educator Jackie McLean (1931-2006).  On Friday (July 24), the Club presents pianist and composer Alan Jay Palmer brings his Nu Soil Ship to the Shoreline venue. Palmer, a native of Washington D.C., first encountered Mr. McLean when the young man came to Hartford to study at the Hartt School of Music. There, he studied with pianists Jaki Byard and Hotep Galatea. In Palmer's senior year, he toured Europe and Japan with the McLean Quintet and eventually made his recording debut on the alto saxophonist's 1992 recording "Rhythm of the Earth".  Palmer continued to tour with McLean until a few years before the saxophonist passed.  The pianist has gone on to work with trumpeter Roy Hargrove, rappers Mos Def and Common as well as saxophonist Kenny Garrett and many others.

Nu Soil Ship is the name of Palmer's large ensemble but there is no information about the group he's bringing to Old Lyme save the names of saxophonists Bruce Williams and Ronald Sutton, Jr.  No matter who's in the band, the music should be energizing and challenging.  Palmer and Nu Soil Ship hit the stage at 8:30 p.m.

On Saturday 7/25, saxophonist and educator Jimmy Greene returns to The Side Door Jazz Club. The Hartford-native plays a hearty tenor saxophone and has become quite proficient on the soprano. He attended Jackie McLean's Artists Collective and earned his undergraduate degree at the Hartt School of Music/University of Hartford and his Master's from Boston University.  Now on the faculty of Western Connecticut State University, Greene has worked with the late Horace Silver, Kenny Barron, Harry Connick Jr., Mario Pavone and so many others.  He's bringing his Quartet but, as of this writing, I'm not sure who's in the band but you know that it will be a top-notch group as much of Greene's music is not for the faint of heart.

The door opens at 7:30 p.m. and the Jimmy Greene Quartet hits the stage at 8:30.  For reservations and more, call 860-434-0886 or go to thesidedoorjazz.com. To learn more about the saxophonist, go to www.jimmygreene.com.

The Bushnell Park Monday Night Jazz series is in full swing and next week's show should be quite a good one.  Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense come to Hartford to perform original music that builds on modern beats and classic African American music from the likes of Ornette Coleman, Woody Shaw, and especially Steve Coleman. The trumpeter has been a member of Coleman's Five Elements since 2000, recording a number of impressive CDs and touring throughout the world.   Finlayson's 2013 debut album "Moment and the Message" (issued on Pi Recordings), covered a wide swath of musical territory, filled with exciting playing and striking improvisations.

For the Hartford date, which begins at 6 p.m. with trumpeter Ricky Alfonso's group, Finlayson's quintet includes Miles Okazaki (guitar), Matt Mitchell (piano), John Hébert (bass), and Craig Weinrib (drums).   It's quite a band and they should be firing on all cylinders.

For more information about the series, parking and rain location, go to hartfordmondaynightjazz.com. And, if you can't get to the Park, you can listen to the entire shore on WWUH-91.3 FM or online at www.wwuh.org.
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I have had the joy of hearing bassist and composer Mario Pavone many times over the past 4+ decades.  I have seen him anchor and power groups led by the late Thomas Chapin and guitarist Michael Musillami plus play the fascinating music of reed master Anthony Braxton. He has recorded 17 albums as a leader, including 9 for Musillami's Playscape label, with groups of differing sizes composed of impressive musicians, composing music that pushes the boundaries and decidedly ignores genres.

Recording # 18 is here and it's his first on a European label.  "Blue Dialect" arrives on Clean Feed based in Lisbon, Portugal.  Pavone, who turns 75 in November of this year, wrote all of the pieces save for one group improvisation and is in the impressive company of pianist Matt Mitchell (Tim Berne's Snakeoil) and drummer Tyshawn Sorey (Paradoxical Frog, Steve Lehman).  As to be expected from a Pavone program, the pieces are composed to features the interactions of the trio and build upon the impressive melodies.  There's a mighty undertow of "swing" on "Two One" (listen to how Sorey converses with his cohorts from the drum chair) while "Xapo" has an intensity fired again by the propulsive drumming and the powerful countermelodies from the bass.  "Silver Print" may remind some of the Duke Ellington/Max Roach/ Charles Mingus 1962 "Money Jungle" especially in how the rhythm section creates the tension that is released when the pianist moves into a higher gear.

Several pieces display an Andrew Hill influence in the melody lines and approach to the performance.  "Reflections" has a quirky beat but a straight-forward melody that Mitchell splays over the rhythm. The unrelenting forward motion of "Suitcase in Savannah" pulls the listener in and makes one pay attention to the strong piano solo and the leader's active bass lines.  There's a blues tinge to "Zines" as well as an Ornette Coleman feel in the hesitant piano lines. The group improvisation, "Trio Dialect", concerns itself with how these 3 musicians share a common language yet maintain their individuality.

I do love the energy of these performances, the tension and release, the leaps of faith each musician takes because of their relationship to each other and the music.  "Blue Dialect" doesn't reinvent the piano trio as much as the 3 musicians shun the conventional approaches, eschew cliches, and has a relentless forward motion. Kudos to leader Mario Pavone, Matt Mitchell and Tyshawn Sorey for this splendid music.

For more information, go to www.mariopavone.com (although it needs a bit of an update).
Here's the group in action courtesy of Scott Friedlander:




For his second PosiTone release, tenor saxophonist and composer Walt Weiskopf takes to the "Open Road" with a quartet that features pianist Peter Zak, bassist Mike Karn and the dynamic drummer Steve Fidyk. The urgency in the saxophonist's attack is on display throughout, flying right out of the gate with the first 3 tracks, all originals (10 of the 12 cuts come from the pen of the leader.) The opener, "Premonition", leaps atop the fiery Fidyk, pushed forward by the 2-handed attack of the pianist and active "walking" bass lines.  In the middle of the piece, Weiskopf and the drummer have a short but very high-energy exchange similar to ones that John Coltrane had with Elvin Jones on the early-to-mid 1960s.

Playing hard and forceful soloing is the modus operandi for the majority of the program. Weiskopf, who also tours the world with Steely Dan, drives the band with solo after solo that explode from the speakers. Whether it's the joyful fury of "Electroshock" or the clarion call of "Invitation to the Dance", the leader's energy never flags. The quartet does take its time on ballads such as "Stage Whisper" and the Matt Dennis-penned standard "Angel Eyes"; still, the tenor solos have an unmistakeable passionate edge. On "Nancy With the Laughing Face", the bass and saxophone lead the song in with a gentle reading of the theme before Zak's bluesy solo.   When Weiskopf re-enters, his lines crackle with excitement.

The music and performances on "Open Road" refers back to the Prestige, Blue Note and Impulse sessions of the late 1950s through the mid-1960s.  And the musicians do so without sounding deferential or imitative.  For his 15th date as a leader, Walt Weiskopf gives listeners a welcome rush of fresh musical air to breathe deeply and savor.

To find out more about the saxophonist, go to www.waltweiskopf.com. For more information and a slew of sound clips, go to www.posi-tone.com/openroad/openroad.html.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Lady Sings The Truth

Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011) first came to public notice in 1970 with "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and, for many people, he expressed the plight, hope, fears and dreams of the African American population in the United States. Over his career, his songs served as anthems, reminders and warnings. He disappeared from public view in the late 1980s and did not return until 2007.  Mr. Scott-Heron had been imprisoned for parole violations, having initially arrested for cocaine possession.  His final recordings have an electronic backdrop, his voice weakened by time and addiction but the messages he delivered still carried the sting of truth.

Producer, journalist, and radio personality Mark Ruffin had a long-standing relationship with the music of and the artist that was Gil Scott-Heron, citing the poet-singer as a major influence on his choices in life.  In 2011, Ruffin produced a tribute to Scott-Heron's music that featured vocalist Giacomo Gates, hoping to spur interest in the jazz vocal side of the composer/performer.  But, the recording was issued just weeks after Scott-Heron passed and was seen as a post-humous tribute. Ironically, some of the criticism aimed at the recording had more to do with the choice of singer (Mr. Gates is Caucasian) than with the material.  My suggestion is to listen and you'll hear the respect that the artist, the producer and the participants have for the music and the issue of color becomes moot.

Ruffin decided to make another recording, this time with a woman and, especially, a black woman. The result of his endeavors (over half of the cost was funded through Kickstarter) is "Offering". It is the second album from vocalist, arranger, and educator Charenée Wade and also the second album of Gil Scott-Heron's music and cultural influence to released on Motema Music (check out "Evolutionary Minded" here).

Ms. Wade, a native of Brooklyn, NY, was a first runner-up in the 2010 Thelonious Monk Competition.  She's been singing most of her life, inspired at the age of 12 by hearing Sarah Vaughan sing  and going on to be a participant in Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead program.  She has since performed off-Broadway in the show "Cafe Society" and has worked with many artists, including the Eyal Viner Big Band.  All that won't necessarily prepare you for her powerful performance on "Offering" save to understand that she is as fearless an artist as Ms. Carter. With an ensemble that includes Brandon McCune (piano), Dave Stryker (guitar), Lonnie Plaxico (bass) and Alvester Garnett (drums) plus a major contribution from vibraphonist Stefan Harris, MS. Wade makes this music her own. The way she attacks the lyrics and melody on "Home Is Where The Hatred" is brilliant, her arrangement giving the musicians their wings while she relates the tale of abuse and addiction. Garnett and Plaxico lay down some serious funk on "Ain't No Such Thing As a Superman", echoed in the "wah-wah" guitar and forceful chords from the pianist. The vocalist is right up in the mix, admonishing her audience to stand up on its own and not wait for a super-hero to change the world.  The gentle sway of the musicians lead the way into "Song of the Wind" while Harris wraps his handsome lines around both the words and McCune's excellent accompaniment.

postandcourier.com
Ms. Wade does not shy away from the controversial material that Mr. Scott-Heron created.  "Essex/Martin, Byrd & Till" builds off of the powerful contributions of guests Malcom-Jamal Warner (spoken word), Marcus Miller (bass clarinet) and especially Ms. Lakecia Benjamin (alto saxophone).  If you do not know the story behind the song, Mark Essex was a disgraced Navy dental technician who was given his general discharge for unsuitability, joined the Black Panthers and moved to New Orleans, where over the opening week of 1973, he shot 19 people, killing 10 including a number of policemen and dying in a hail of bullets.  The song does not make a hero out of Essex but talks of the myriad frustrations that read people to act out in murderous ways.  On "The Vulture (Your Soul and Mine)", Ms. Wade sings about the "meanest creature ever known" and one is led to believe that the character in the title is either heroin or crack-cocaine.  The piano and guitar line skitter over the powerful bass and drum attack while the vibes rises and falls around the mute-tracked vocals.

The joy that rises from the words and music of "I Think I'll Call It Morning" also reflects who Gil Scott-Heron was as an artist and poet.  It's the final track on the CD and echoes the positive "vibes" of the title and opening track where the artist sings "We have something to offer you/We have new love to offer you/And music to offer you/And spirits to offer you/And new love and music to offer you." 

Charenée Wade states in the liner notes of "Offering" "The songs I chose to include on this recording I feel speak to truths that still need to be heard."  She, along with the great ensemble alongside her, prove once again that music not only has the power to tell stories but also to lead the way to positive change in society.  Gil Scott-Heron influenced and continues to influence artists with his songs with messages harsh and damning as well as uplifting and encouraging.   Ms. Wade's album   is powerful and real, full of truth, music that should be heard throughout the land and the world.

To find out more, go to www.chareneewade.com.

Here's the title track courtesy of Motema Music:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

July Short Takes - Trio Version

In the past 2 decades, there have been few pianists as busy and prolific as Matthew Shipp.  The quality of his work is without question as he continues to explore the multi-faceted world of creative music.  His Trio for the better part of the past 10 years has consisted of bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey. Not only does this rhythm section follow its leader but it also support and inspires his vision.

Earlier in 2015, the Matthew Shipp Trio issued "To Duke" (Rogue Art), a collection of 11 tracks, 6 of which were composed by  Edward Kennedy Ellington by himself and in collaboration with Billy Strayhorn or Barney Bigard. Shipp composed the remaining 5 tracks. Overall, the recording may remind some listeners of the 1962 Ellington - Max Roach - Charles Mingus recording "Money Jungle" in that the high-powered rhythm section really pushes the pianists to higher levels of intensity.  In the case of Shipp, he has no problem being pushed or pushing back.  His composition "Sparks" is high-energy all the way as is the raucous reading of "Take The A Train", a piece that, at times, sounds like trains moving out of Grand Central Station.  The powerful give-and-take of the rhythm section drives "Satin Doll", pushing Shipp to deconstruct the melody and build his solo off the rhythm (there are several moments in the piano solo where the band locks into a groove that resembles Terry Riley's "In C"). "Mood Indigo" starts slowly, the recognizable melody rising over the elemental brush work of Dickey and the counterpoint of Bisio. The pianist caresses the melody and one can hear the influence of James P Johnson on the composers (Ellington and Bigard). Another Ellington piece from the early 1930s, "Solitude", is deconstructed by the Trio but Shipp never loses sight of the melody. Pay attention to Bisio's bass lines; his "free" association creates a tension that is never really released.

"To Duke" is exhilarating, frenzied and fearless music that might shock Ellington purists but more than satisfy listeners who enjoy the journeys of the Matthew Shipp Trio.  The music is played with the combination of a healthy respect for Duke Ellington and an equally healthy desire to interpret the music in the Trio's own particular free-wheeling style.

For more information, go to www.matthewshipp.com.


On "De Profundis" (Envoi Recordings), Andrew Bishop plays flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones, composed all 11 tracks and much of the music was inspired by the works of Joaquin Des Prez (1440? - 1521).  There are 6 pieces that carry the subtitle of "De Profundis" (from the depths) and those are based on particular works of Des Prez - the other 5 tracks go in fascinating directions.  Throughout the program, Bishop works with his long-time trio of Gerald Cleaver (drums) and Tim Flood (bass) with whom he has relationship built on mutual trust and creativity. The reed player also works with both men in their ensembles.

"Falling Up" features a rousing tenor sax melody reminiscent of Sam Rivers and Anthony Braxton's work with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul  on the bassist's brilliant "Conference of the Birds".The push-pull of the bass and drums with the tenor is delightful and rousing.  Later in the program, "Six Days, 5 Nights", a lovely ballad featuring Bishop on flute makes another connection with Sam Rivers as well as with Henry Threadgill in Air. Aficionados of the music of Messrs. Rivers and Threadgill will enjoy the conversational quality of "Now What?" and  be mesmerized by the funky backbeat plus impressionistic soprano saxophone work on "There Are Many Monkeys."

Bishop plays each one of his instruments with strength and clarity.  The buoyant bass clarinet slides around the propulsive rhythm section on "Bottled" and then roars and squawks on "From the Depths". The flute twitters and floats around the bowed bass and quiet percussion on "Fleeting Light" - note how the high notes of the bowed bass move in and out of the higher flute lines.  The simple beauty of "Benedictus", the ballad that closes the program (and also is the only piece that utilizes a melody from Dez Pres - it's from his "Missa Pange Lingua") features the bass clarinet and bass as the 2 melody "voices".

"De Profundis" is thoughtful music that also has power and, if you can pardon the pun, depths worth exploring. Andrew Bishop, Gerald Cleaver, and Tim Flood work and play so well together, one is easily seduced by their performances.  Freedom and foundation, inspiration and vision, you'll find all that and more in this excellent recording.

For more information, go to www.andrewbishop.net.

Enjoy this cut from the album:


Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Heat Is On But the Sounds Are Cool

July in Connecticut is finally beginning to feel like a July in Connecticut; the temperature is up, the dew points are up, the late afternoon sky is often filled with thunderheads, and the Air is still at night.

But, if you head to the CT shoreline, there is usually a breeze coming off of Long Island Sound plus, every weekend, The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme is home for the coolest sounds around.

This weekend is no exception as hosts and curators Jan & Ken welcome 2 exciting acts to their intent performance space. On Friday (7/17), it's the "Creole Soul" of Etienne Charles. The trumpeter and composer (pictured above and on the left) is a native of Trinidad, West Indies, came to the US to study at Florida State University and then did his graduate work at the Juilliard School in New York City.  He's released 3 CDs and possesses a bright tone and clarion-call attack on his horn. Known for his genre-melting sound that combines rock, reggae, r'n'b, Motown, jazz and more, Charles is in the midst of a tour he's calling the Calypso Review and featuring, among others, John Davis (drums), Victor Gould (piano), and Alex Wintz (guitar).

The doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the band hits the stage at 8:30.  To learn more about the talented Mr. Charles, go to www.etiennecharles.com.

On Saturday night, pianist and composer Amina Figarova brings her Sextet to The Side Door for an evening of original music.  Ms. Figarova, a native of Baku, Azerbaijan, has been playing jazz with her partner, flutist Bart Platteau, for the better part of 2 decades.  In 2010, the couple moved from their home in Amsterdam to the New York City. They still tour a lot overseas but have increased their dates in this country exponentially.

Ms. Figarova has issued 12 CDs as a leader with a new one coming at the end of the summer.  She's bringing her rhythm section of Jason Brown (drums) and Jeroen Vierdag (bass) - if he can't make the date, Hartford native Luques Curtis often takes his place. Besides Mr. Platteau, the front line often includes saxophonist Mark Mommaas and trumpeter Ernie Hammes. Her music has its roots in the Blue Note sounds of the 1960s but also has quite a lyrical side. She has a lovely touch on the keyboard and writes smart arrangements for the reeds and brass. To find out more, go to www.aminafigarova.com.

The Sextet starts playing at 8:30 p.m.  For more information, go to www.aminafigarova.com.

Here's the title track of her latest CD, "Twelve":


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One of the joys of being a reviewer is, as my Mother used to say, "You never know what fate has in store for you."  She certainly wasn't talking about music but her statement is correct, especially when you open the CD envelope and do not recognize the artist. On July 24, Sunnyside Records releases the debut recording of alto saxophonist and composer Logan Strosahl.  Titled "Up Go We", the program created by the Seattle, Washington native (and graduate of the New England Conservatory in Boston) covers a wide swath of musical territory in 39 minutes, from classical to mainstream jazz and is filled with delightful twists and turns.


His Septet is dubbed the Logan Strosahl Team and its rhythm section includes all 3 members of the Nick Sanders Trio - Mr. Sanders (piano, organ), Henry Frazer (bass) and Connor Baker (drums). Joining the alto saxophonist on the front line is Sam Decker (tenor saxophone), Andrew McGovern (trumpet) and Michael Sachs (clarinets). Strosahl freely admits one of his major influences is British composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695) and the listener can hear that influence on pieces such as "The Leaves Be Green", "M.M: Ground" and "DK's Jungle Jewel" -  hear it in the intertwining melody lines and the harmonies but also pay attention to how the composer "plays" with the material. The "...Jungle Jewel" moves in and out of a formal setting; while several instruments play the melody, others move away from the center (listen for the "laughing" alto saxophone). The following track, "DK's Jungle Nights", also has a formal melody but the harmonies have moved into the 20th Century. The title track features sprightly brush work from Baker, an agile bass solo, and a rollicking bebop melody line.   The alto sax rises out of the rhythm section with a raspy edge.  The contrapuntal reeds and brass frame the solo before falling into and out of a pleasing "riffing" section. With a bow towards "free" improv and a touch of Charles Ives-like dissonance, the piece romps then glides towards the finish line.

The closing track is the only non-original and it's the chestnut "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." The rhythm section and the leader takes turns playing it straight and going off on madcap tangents (the other horns st this one out).   The piano solo is low-key but, when the alto sax returns, the 4 musicians take it out with gusto.

"Up Go We" is not very long but is packed with delightful music, intelligent arrangements and excellent material.  Logan Strosahl has organized an impressive Team and created a most auspicious debut, one that leaves the listener wanting more.

To find out more about the saxophonist/composer/arranger, go to loganstrosahl.com.

Here's a track for your listening pleasure:

Friday, July 10, 2015

Guitar Time

It's been a busy several years for guitarist and composer Joel Harrison. The Washington D.C.-native has released a series of impressive albums, each different and each special.  For Sunnyside, he recorded a tribute to Paul Motian arranged for a string quintet and 2 guitars (2011), a septet recording with its roots in classical music (2012), and a recording with a 19-piece orchestra (2013). For Cuneiform, he released a quintet recording with trumpeter Cuong Vu, Italian bassist Lorenzo Feliciati, and drummer Dan Weiss (2012) plus a Blues-Rock guitar fest with bassist Michael Bates and drummer Jeremy "Bean" Clemons (2014).   Also in 2014, he released an album for the London-based Whirlwind Recordings label that paired the guitarist with sarod player Anumpam Shobhakar, keyboard virtuoso Gary Versace and Mr. Weiss on drums (plus guests).

His second release for Whirlwind is titled "Spirit House"; the music features trumpeter Vu, Paul Hanson (acoustic and electric bassoon) plus the special rhythm section of Kermit Driscoll (acoustic and electric basses) and Brian Blade (drums, vocals). The album opens with "An Elephant In Igor's Yard", a noisy blend of bassoon, Vu's articulated trumpet lines and Harrison's hard-edged sound.  The work of the rhythm section stands out, with Driscoll's melodic electric bass lines flying around over the propulsive drums.  There's a sense of hope and wistfulness heard on the ballad "Johnny Broken Wing"  -after the long solo looped guitar intro with its hint at the melody, the bass and drum move in and the handsome melody takes center stage. The solemn trumpet-bassoon opening of "Some Thoughts on Kenny Kirkland", the pianist who passed in 1998, leads to Blade's vocal telling the composer's story of hearing Kirkland playing a solo on the radio. Harrison's solo wails and cries over the overdubbed brass and bassoon.  The other vocal track, "Look At Where You Are", features Harrison taking the lead and Blade supplying the harmony on lyric that celebrate a life now passed.  The long notes of the trumpet in the middle lead back to the vocal that now shares the sonic space with the moaning bassoon and harsh trumpet washes.

Much of this music is reflective with long melodies and thoughtful solos.  "Sacred Love" moves quickly forward on the driving drums but the melody is slow and measured.  Vu's solo, at the beginning, interacts with Harrison's guitar squalls before he moves on his own.  The guitar sound may remind one of Pete Cosey on Miles Davis's "On The Corner." Hanson's bassoon work runs the gamut, from hard-bop to classical to blues inflections.  He also creates interesting settings with his electronics.  How he weaves around the trumpet, guitar, bass and drums on the title track and rides atop Driscoll's active acoustic bass lines on "Old Friends", sounding like a baritone saxophone.   That latter track also includes a very funky drum solo before returning to the somber melody.

"Spirit House" was recorded in 2013 after the Quintet had toured the West Coast. The music is, at turns, solemn, playful, wistful, impressionistic but never boring.  Joel Harrison never lets technique get in the way of melody, even when the music takes a turn for the noisy (the close of the trumpet and bassoon solos on "Left Hook", for instance). Give a close listen and you will be pleased, even moved.

For more information, go to joelharrison.com.

Here's the opening track:


Several months back, I waxed on about guitarist Ross Hammond's acoustic recording "Flight" (review here). I noted that he's mostly known as an electric guitarist and he returns to an electrified mode for his new release knows as "Lowburn" (digital only, link below). The 2 tracks - "Basic Fundamentals" and "Making Friends Wherever We Go" - features the guitarist with the rhythm section of Jon Bafus (drums) and Steuart Liebig (electric bass) recorded live, the first track in March of this year while the latter was recorded last November.  The Trio entered the venue, plugged in, tuned up, and just played.  The results are raucous, hard-edged, rhythmically adventurous, and challenging for a casual listener.  However, if you turn it the music up loud and let it roar, you cannot help but be impressed with the musicians' energy (Bafus rarely lightens up...well, maybe for a minute or 2 on "Basic Fundamentals").

"Lowburn" fires on all cylinders for the better part of 65 minutes.  One hears allusions to Ornette Coleman's electric music, James "Blood" Ulmer as well, along with the more rock stylings of Hüsker Dü and other punk-rock bands, even a hint of the Nels Cline Singers.  This is fearless music that bows to few conventions.  It is, at times, exhausting for my aging ears but ultimately exhilarating.

To find out more and to purchase a digital download, go to rosshammond.bandcamp.com.

Composer and arranger Michael Gibbs, born in 1937 in Zimbabwe (when the country was known as Rhodesia), first came to the United States in 1959 to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Before settling in Great Britain in 1964, he had studied at Tanglewood, the Boston Conservatory and the Lenox School of Music with the likes of the recently passed Gunther Schuller, Aaron Copland, George Russell and others. He went to work with Stan Getz, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel, and a host of others in the pop, jazz and classical worlds.

Bill Frisell first met in Gibbs in 1975 in the guitarist's first year at Berklee (the arranger was artist-in-residence). When Frisell moved to Belgium in 1978, he subbed for Gibb's guitarist on a tour of the U.K. and met the bassist Eberhard Weber. The two musicians hit it off and Frisell made his first ECM recordings as a member of Weber's band.

 "Michael Gibbs & The NDR Big Band Plays A Bill Frisell Set List" (Cuneiform Records) is fascinating recording of Gibbs with one of his "recording" ensembles plus Frisell (pictured left) and drummer Jeff Ballard.  The program blends Frisell originals with pieces from Thelonious Monk (a guitar/drums duo on "Misterioso"), Gil Evans, Benny Goodman/Count Basie, Lee Konitz and John Lennon. Frisell and Ballard lead the band in on "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away", taking their time to introduce the melody. Soon, the brass and reed have taken the melody and the guitarist moves around them, playing counterpoint on the chorus.  Mr. Konitz's "Subconscious-Lee" is a delightful romp with the guitarist showing a touch of Les Paul in his swinging riffs.  And, does he ever swing on "Benny's Bugle", riding the riffs of the brass and popping percussion (Mario Doctor on bongos alongside Ballard.)   There's a touch of dissonance at the opening of Evans' "Las Vegas Tango" but one can hear the classic Miles Davis sound in the arrangement plus strong solos from pianist Vladyslav Sendecki, trombonist Klaus Heidenreich and Frisell (who really rises above the ensemble.)  The guitarist unleashes his "loops" on the second half of his compositional medley "On The Lookout/Far Away."  Gibbs captures Frisell's playful side on "Freddy's Step" the short track that closes the CD.  He opens the piece for alto saxophonists Fiete Felsch, Lutz Büchner, and Peter Bolte to get short solos (4 bars at most).  It's a treat, one that the audience at Überjazz Festival in Hamburg, Germany, really enjoys. Felsch returns on "Monica Jane" to produce a bluesy yet vibrant solo on one of Frisell's languid ballads, given a nice bit of swagger in the brass section.  

Michael Gibbs and Bill Frisell back together, albeit for the first time since the late 1970s. Along with Jeff Ballard and the NDR Big Band, they produce a lot of pleasing sounds. Most of the uptempo piece are playful, the arrangements frame and support the pieces well, and Frisell's guitar work, while a bit tamped down at times, still shines on the majority of tracks.  

For more information, go to cuneiformrecords.com/bandshtml/gibbs.html.

Here's a taste of the collaboration: