Thursday, January 12, 2023

Jeff Beck Guitar

Photo: Getty Images
 Growing in the 1960s, the "British Invasion" captured my mind and my ears. First, there was The Beatles, then The Rolling Stones, The Who, and on.  Every week, it seemed there was another group from England playing music inspired by American musicians who has been bypassed or pigeon-holed by radio programmers into regional boxes that were hard to break out of.  In June of 1965, The Yardbirds hit Top 40 with "For Your Love"–the British quintet were a blues-rock band known for its excellent support of American bluesman and featuring guitarist Eric Clapton.  But, the group's turn towards "pop-rock" pushed Clapton to depart and join John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers; the group asked session musician Jimmy Page who, in turn, recommended Jeff Beck and, thus, a career was born.

While The Yardbirds pursued Top 40 audiences with their 45rpm "pop" tunes, their albums featured a lot of blues-inspired material some of which leaked onto the radio. The group's raucous rendition of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man" gave listeners a hint of Beck's prowess but he lasted less than two years in the group, replaced by Page. After an uninspired pair of recordings, including "Hi Ho Silver Linings" (which included a rare Beck vocal), he formed his own group with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on bass.  The group released several albums of blues-soaked material but broke up after several years.

After Beck disbanded his "heavy metal" Beck/Bogert/Appice" (the bassist and drummer from the US band Cactus), he contacted producer George Martin to produce his new instrumental album.  Released in 1975, "Blow by Blow" was a huge success thanks to excellent material, especially the two Stevie Wonder songs, the super funky "Thelonious" and the beautiful "'Cause We've Ended as Lovcrs".  Beck's guitar playing on the latter track is emotionally rich and truly proved he was more than a technical whiz.  A year later, Martin and Beck collaborated on "Wired" which included a number of cuts recorded with keyboardist Jan Hammer who helped to push the guitarist to play with even more abandon. The album includes a stunning take of Charles Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat". 

The guitarist recorded several albums with Hammer, toured with Hammer's band, and continued to record albums when the inspiration hit. When he wasn't guesting on recordings or doing the occasional tour, Beck would spend the time in his garage rebuilding cars.  He had said on numerous occasions that he had no need to always be in the public eye. Still, his albums continued to sell and he would win GRAMMYs in 2011 for "Best Rock Instrumental Performance" (for "Hammerhead" from the album "Emotion & Commotion") and for his rendition of Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" ("Best Pop Instrumental Performance"  from the same album). 

One of the joys of listening to Jeff Beck is he could make the oddest sounds and make them fit into the context of any song. Like Buddy Guy, another guitarist who pushes the envelope, Mr. Beck could make one grimace, laugh out loud, and really smile.  He will be missed but we were so lucky to have him here!!

Here's a live take of "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat":

Here he is shredding "What Mama Said" with guitarist Jennifer Batten:

Back to 1984 and Beck's reunion with Rod Stewart for Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready":

Monday, January 9, 2023

17th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Poll


For those of you who do not know Francis Davis (pictured left), he is an exceptional writer, critic, and has won a slew of awards for his music journalism and even a GRAMMY. For years, he hosted the Jazz Critics Poll that appeared first in The Village Voice, moved on to several sites (including NPR) and landing several years ago at, a web-based online arts magazine based in the Boston, MA area. One of that sites goals has been to pick up the slack in arts coverage due to the loss of area newspapers.  Best of all, the site looks at the many and varied genres/artists that  one is interested in.

Critic/writer Tom Hull has been working with Davis on the poll for years and took over the heavy lifting for 2022.  Below is a series of links where you can see the results Hull collated from over 150 jazz critics and writers plus read his essay as well as one from Francis Davis and finally, the list of Jazz Notables who passed in 2022.  I am honored to be one of the participants and really enjoy reading what the other contributors have chosen. Hope you do as well!

Tom Hull has organized the four links on his web page––check it out by going to

Friday, January 6, 2023

Intimate yet Playful, Big Band Brazilian

Two years ago, in the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, esperanza spalding and Fred Hersch issued a live recording with five songs they recorded in 2018 at the Village Vanguard. The digital-only album was posted on a special Bandcamp page with all proceeds from sales to the Jazz Foundation of America, an organization raising money to assist musicians affected by the international work stoppage. The album was posted for six weeks only (my review is here) and, unless you own it, disappeared from sight (and sound).

Until now, that is. "Fred Hersch & esperanza spalding: Alive at the Village Vanguard" (Palmetto Records) is available again and, great news, the program has been expanded to eight songs: the "original" five plus "My Little Suede Shoes" from Charlie Parker (first recorded in 1951), Thelonious Monk's "Evidence", and Mr. Hersch's lovely "A Wish" (that he first recorded with Norma Winstone in 2003).  The new "additions" make the album even better (and the earlier version was quite delightful).  Ms. spalding sticks to vocals and she's a great front-person.  Her introduction to Bobby Troup's "Girl Talk" and patter throughout is hilarious but make sure to pay attention the delightful piano that plays along.  "But Not for Me" opens the album and really sets the pace–listen below and just how playful both the lady and gent can be (one can just see lyricist Ira Gershwin laughing along with ms. spalding's joyous interpretation).  Egberto Gismonti would be thrilled to hear the duo dance through "Loro" (the vocalist even stops her wordless jaunt to to say "bless you" to a patron who sneezed).  

Photo: Facebook
O, how imaginative and expansive are the duo's performances of the two pieces from Monk.  Actually "Dream of Monk" is Mr. Hersch's reimagining of "Monk's Dream" with original lyrics by the pianist––the vocal is so good especially when ms. spalding is scatting but dig the piano solo. "Evidence" captures the duo in full flight, playfully deconstructing Monk's original theme before the pianist creates a series of inventions around the theme and the rhythm.  

How much one wishes to be in an audience when these fine people are playing.  In fact, the duo is celebrating the release with 20 dates starting January 8th and running through February 5th (more information can be found by going to For those of us who can't get to any of the gigs, "Fred Hersch & esperanza spalding: Alive at the Village Vanguard" is an absolute gem!

Listen to how the opening track, "But Not For Me" sets the pace for the entire set:

Photo: Leo Aversa
Brazilian-born saxophonist, composer, arranger, and conductor Gaia Wilmer was already a busy musician in her homeland before coming to the United States to study at Berklee Collee of Music and New England Conservatory (both located in Boston, MA).  One of her teachers, Frank Carlberg, released Ms. Wilmer's US debut "Migrations" on his Red Piano Records label and serves as co-Producer on her new Sunnyside Records album "Folia: the Music of Egberto Gismonti". 

The two-CD set (released on 1/13/23) features her 19-member Large Ensemble plus special guests Gabriel Grossi (harmonica on one cut) cellist Jaques Morelenbaum (on one track), and the honoree Mr. Gismonti (piano on two tracks). One of those tracks with the composer, "7 Aneis", features thunderous piano which during the unaccompanied solo section sounds like Art Tatum interpreting the song of birds but notice how the reed section is so melodic in contrast to the piano.  There's a touch of birdsong in the opening of "Bianca", dedicated to the composer's daughter, but it opens up to a Near Eastern rhythm with a handsome melody atop it. Mr. Morelenbaum, who has recorded a duo album of the music of Caetano Veloso with Ms. Wilmer, joins the ensemble for the lovely "Infancia"––the cellist steps out unaccompanied for a moment in the middle of the song before the rhythm section enters pushing up the tempo. The rest of the piece features various members of the ensemble in a call-and-response with the piano, bass, and drums before they dive into the lively melody!  The last several minutes features pianist Rafael Martini playing a classically-inspired coda that brings the Ensemble back for a short reprise of the original melody. 

CD two opens with "Lôro", one of Mr. Gismonti's most recorded melodies. The arrangements opens with flutists Maiara Moraes and Aline Gonçalves wrapping their sweet lines around each other before the Ensemble plays an introduction to Mr. Grossi–his lively harmonica solo, reminiscent of the sound of the late Toots Thielemans, is accented by staccato blasts from the reeds and brass. Then, the ensemble breaks into the frolicking melody line.  Later on, Mr. Grossi returns for an exciting romp of a solo.  The composer returns to lead the musicians into "Karatê", yet another romp. Listen to how he and Mr. Martini (on accordion) dance their way through the melody line. The accordion solo jumps off the brass interjections before that section leads the group back into the melody. That song plus "Cego Aderaldo" both come from Mr. Gismonti's 1980 "Circense" album. The latter track opens somberly before the Ensemble breaks into the exciting rhythmic and melodic variations created by the arranger. Different voices step out throughout the performance (there is a splendid flute and clarinets interaction that is joined a minute on by the soprano sax). Guitarist Luciano Camara has a short, handsome, unaccompanied solo before the rest of the rhythm section enters (there's also a momentary vocal exchange between the women and men of the Ensemble right before a spirited exchange between the drums, muted trumpet, and clarinet).  

"Folia" closes with "Baiâo Malandro", a piece that opens at a blistering tempo before introducing the amazing melody line that rises high before sliding back down.  After a series of pinpoint twists-and-turns, there's a series of short solos including flute and flugelhorn (Diego Garbin) that grow into a rollicking call-and-response over the rampaging rhythm section.  Drummer Lourenço Vasconcellos (son of pianist Renato Vasconcellos) steps out for just a moment before the Ensemble returns with an exciting close to a delight-filled album.

Gaia Wilmer has crafted quite a wonderful tribute to Egberto Gismonti. She's credited as having "arranged, recomposed, and conducted" the music and the Large Ensemble. While she does not play a note, her arrangements are colorful, imaginative, thoughtful, witty, and most impressive. Chances are very good you've never heard of many or all of the 19 members who comprise her group but a deep dive will show that each one is a busy musician and educator in Brazil and beyond.  Start the New Year with "Folia: The Music of Egberto Gismonti"––the music and performances will make one feel like the sun shining even on the darkest days!

Learn more about Ms. Wilmer by going to  To purchase "Folia", go to

Hear "7 Anéis" featuring Mr. Gismonti:


Gaia Wilmer - arranger, conductor

Special Guests:
Gabriel Gross - harmonica
Jaques Morelenbaum - cello
Egberto Gismonti - piano

Maiara Moraes - reeds
Aline Gonçalves - reeds
Fernando Trocado - reeds
Rui Alvim - reeds
Gustavo D'Amico - reeds
Joana Queiroz - reeds
Henrique Band - reeds
Bruno Soares - trumpet
Diego Garbin - trumpet
Gilson Santos - trumpet
Pedro Paulo Junior - trumpet
Rafael Rocha - trombone
Everson Moraes - trombone
Jonas Hocherman - trombone
Leandro Dantas - bass trombone
Luciano Camara - guitar
Rafael Martini - piano & accordion
Mayo Pamplona - bass
Lourenço Vasconcellos - drums

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Of These I Sing (Part 2)

You should think of "OTIS Pt 2" as the other albums that could have been in "Part 1" save for the space and attention span (mine).  I love this music and the genuine creativity of the musicians makes me hope for a future that is bright and welcoming for our successors.

Fergus McCreadie – "Forest Floor" (Edition Records) – This is the third album from Scottish pianist McCreadie, the third to feature his trio of bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson. All are busy on the growing Jazz scene in Scotland (and beyond) but when they come together to play McCreadie's music, magic happens! The pianist has become even more melodic in the past several years; though he can still play with exquisite technique, the pianist and the rhythm section are concentrating on telling stories and delivering messages in their music. One can still hear the influence of Highland reels, at times, and that is a welcome delight!

Listen to "The Unfurrowed Field":

Vadim Neselovskyi – "Odesa: a Musical Walk Through a Legendary City" – (Sunnyside Records) – Speaking of stories, four months after Russia invaded Ukraine (February 2022), pianist, composer, and educator Neselovskyi released this tribute to the city where he was born and raised (moving to Germany at the age of 17).  One can not help but write that emotional pull of the terrible war (and the horrific stories we have heard and seen) gives this music heft––still, this is a tribute to the vibrant country where the pianist spent his formative years, to the family and friends he left behind, and to his desire that the country remain free. Since the album's release, Neselovskyi has toured extensively raising money to help refugees and the displaced within the country.  

Walk down the "Potemkin Stairs":

Andrew Cyrille, William Parker, & Enrico Rava"2 Blues for Cecil" (TUM Records) – This release was a delightful surprise when it was issued in late January.  These three masters play tribute to pianist and composer Cecil Taylor, not be imitating him or covering his music but by demonstrating how the rhythmic innovations and startling melodic explorations can be interpreted so magically.  Messrs. Cyrille and Rava (both born in 1939) sound great together and Mr. Parker (13 years their junior) keeps them on their musical toes.   All three contribute compositions and there are four improvised plus a sweet version of "My Funny Valentine".

Here's "Ballerina":

Clark Sommers Lens – "Intertwine" (Outside In Music) – Bassist Sommers is often the glue in the various sideman projects he takes part––on his own, he shows a fine ear for melody, for allowing his music to breathe, and for giving his bandmates the room to create.  There is a lot of music on "Intertwine" so let it roll through your brain and soon it will find its way to your heart. While I find the ballads most rewarding, there are several hard-edged pieces that sound great turned up loud! Great playing from the leader and from Chris Madsen (tenor sax), Geof Bradfield (bass clarinet, soprano and tenor saxes), Matt Gold (guitar), and Dana Hall (drums). 

Here's "Second Guess":

Ernesto Cervini – "Joy" (TPR) – Drummer, composer, arranger, and publicist Cervini is a fan of the mysteries of Canadian author Louise Penny. And, for good reason. She writes mysteries where the lead character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, spend many days and nights in the fictional town of Three Pines, Quebec, solving complicated murders and discovering just how magical a place it can be.  The drummer has created a fascinating suite of music featuring members of Turboprop, Tune Town, and Tetrahedron, groups that he leads or co-leads. Also, there are a number of guests, all who work to describe the characters who inhabit the town as well as the Chief Inspector and two of his closest associates. It's a smart idea that covers a lot of musical and literary territory!

Blues inspired by duck?  Listen here to "Ruth's Rosa":

David Murray Brave New World Trio – "Seriana Promethia" (Intakt Records) – Murray, who excels on bass clarinet and tenor, remains vital well into his seventh decade. This "power trio" date on Intakt features bassist Brad Jones and drummer Hamid Drake playing music that swings, rock, whispers, squalls, and, at times, that you can dance to.  The music on this album, all originals from Murray, is neither dated nor imitative but vital, exciting, and impressive. There's not a wasted note in this program only music that will challenge, soothe, and ultimately remind you of the power and grace of Black American Music.

Dance to the funky title track:

James Brandon Lewis Quartet – "Live: Molecular Systematic Music" (Intakt Records) – Bassist Jones (see directly above) is also a member of saxophonist and composer Lewis's "Molecular Music" Quartet.  Along with Lewis and Jones are pianist Aruan Ortiz and drummer Chad Taylor.  This double CD set was recorded on the opening night (May 15) of the ensemble's 2021 European tour, the first time the group had played together since they recorded the second album, "Codes of Being" (released in October of 2021).  The excitement and enthusiasm of the musicians is palpable; the fiery playing may remind some of John Coltrane's classic Quartet but these songs display Lewis's growing maturity as a songwriter and a leader.  He is quickly becoming a major voice as a musician, composer, and storyteller.

Hear "Of First Importance":

Art Hirahara – "Verdant Valley" (Posi-Tone Records) - Pianist and composer Hirahara is an impressive pianist (also plays organ on occasion) and has developed into a top-notch composer.  His work for producer Marc Free and Posi-Tone Records (now eight albums as a leader and more as a sideman) sparkles with creativity and swings lustily with a softer side that is often lyrical and poetic. Joined here by bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Rudy Royston with saxophonist/ flutist Donny McCaslin showing up on over half the tracks, the album jumps out of the speakers with a joy and intensity second to none. This is another recording that will make you glad to be alive in this day and age!

Hear "Zero Hour":

Dave Douglas Quintet – "Songs of Ascent: Book 1 – Degrees" (Greenleaf Music) – Mr. Douglas and his "Be Still" Quintet––Jon Irabagon (saxophones), Matt Mitchell (piano), Linda May Han Oh (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums)––created these musical interpretations of Old Testament Psalms in a unique. The leader played all his parts, sent those of to Mr. Irabagon who played his parts and passed them on to Mr. Mitchell and so on.  To these ears, this music is alive, feeling like the Quintet is playing together in a studio. That's a tribute to the composer's vision and the great talents of the ensemble.  

There's a "Book 2" that is only available to subscribers of Greenleaf Music.  Believe me, it's worth the investment! Go to and find out more.

Listen to "Lift Up My Eyes":

Pablo Ablanedo – "Chistreza" (Newvelle Records Digital) – The folks at Newvelle Records have begun this year to release digital versions of the high quality vinyl albums that have captured listeners attention over the past six years.  "Chistreza" is a gem from pianist-composer Ablanedo featuring the band he recorded his debut album with over 20 years before. What a band––violinist Jenny Scheinman, saxophonists Chris Cheek, Jerome Sabbagh, and Anat Cohen (clarinet only), trumpeter Diego Urcola, guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Fernando Huergo, and drummer Franco Pinna (with saxophonist Daniel Ian Smith on two tracks. Best of all, the original compositions are well-drawn, the arrangements sharp, and the soloists impressive.

Listen here to "La Señal":


Yes, Virginia, there is a "Part 3" coming soon!

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Of These I Sing (Part 1)

 It's that time of year when critics and reviewers create their "Best-of" lists. I am no different but I look at this group of recordings as music that informs, changes, and enhances my life and teaching. Here is the group of albums from the past year that helped me through illnesses, sadness, joy, and much change.

Miguel Zenón - "Musica De las Américas" (Miel Music) – It's no secret how much I admire the music and work of Miguel Zenón. With his long-time ensemble, composed of Luis Perdomo (piano), drummer Henry Cole, and Hans Glawischnig (bass and truly the "glue" of the band). This new album celebrates the music of Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, showing how various elements have entered into the music of the United States (and beyond).  Along with the latest album by rapper Bad Bunny ("Un Verano Sin Ti"), whose music celebrates the rhythms that inspire reggaeton, the album has deep grooves, evocative melodies, and the inventive musicianship one has come to expect from Señor Zenón and company. Percussionists Paoli Mejías, Victor Emmanueli, Daniel Díaz, and the five member Los Pleneros de La Cresta each appear on one track during the eight-song program. 

Enjoy the fiery "Opresión y Revolución ":

Wadada Leo Smith w/ Pheroan akLaff, Andrew Cyrille, Han Bennink, and Jack DeJohnette - "The Emerald Duets" (TUM Records) – Trumpeter, composer, conceptualist, historian, and philosopher Wadada Leo Smith celebrated his 80th birthday on December 18, 2021 (meaning he just turned 81 yesterday, as I write this). The Finnish-label TUM Records celebrated that momentous occasion by issuing two multi-disc box sets by Mr. Smith, the seven-CD "String Quartets: Nos. 1-12" and the five-CD "The Emerald Duets". Both are amazing but I expect it will take many more months to truly take in the scope of the string music. Whereas five albums with drummers captured me immediately.  All the sessions stand out (this is the first time Mr. Smith played with Mr. Bennink) but the two CDs feature Mr. DeJohnette, a long-time musical compatriot. The drummer plays piano as well as percussion; it's not hard to fall under the spell of this music.

Marta Sanchez - "SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum") (Whirlwind Recordings) – Pianist and composer Sanchez had a tumultuous time during the Pandemic as her mother passed early on.  She found time to write new music for her group – saxophonists Roman Filiu and Alex LoRe, bassist Rashaan Carter, and drummer Allen Mednard – and it's her most mature and realized program. The music sings throughout the album plus there are fine solos from all involved. Subtle, emotional, and intelligent, "SAAM" draws from myriad influences, is never imitative, and draws in the listener on the strength of the melodies.  One track, "Marivi", features Ms Sanchez, Mr. Carter, and Mr. Mednard with Camilla Meza (vocal, guitar), Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), and Charlotte Greve (synths).

Listen to "Dear Worthiness":

Tyshawn Sorey Trio + 1 (with Greg Osby) - "The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism" (Pi Recordings) -  Another impressive year for drummer, composer, and educator Sorey, filled with debuts, impressive gigs, and two great albums. This live three-album set of standards, jazz classics, and more, is a splendid exploration of melody, improvisation, and interplay featuring Mr. Sorey with the impressive pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Dana Hall, and the very welcome alto saxophonist Greg Osby. Three long sets (75 + minutes) yet the music never gets dull or stale because the musicians are free of any expectations other than play the melody, improvise, and follow your creative flow. The week before I wrote about the album, I listened to, at least, one set a day, especially on my daily walk.  The addition of Mr. Osby, whose musicianship is impressive throughout, is such a delight!

Hear "Solar":

Noam Lemish – "12" (TPR Records) – This album, from the pianist, composer, and educator Noam Lemish, was one of the more impressive releases of the last six weeks. The Israeli-born, American-educated, and Canadian resident, had recorded several albums with oudist Amos Hoffman, duets with percussionist (and one of his teachers) George Marsh, plus several solo piano explorations.  Here, he leads a 12-piece ensemble comprised of many fine Canadian musicians, supplying them with fine, often episodic, pieces with impressive arrangements. There's humor, pathos, wit, and emotion throughout the album (one of the initial releases on Three Pines Records, a new Canadian label led by Amy and Ernesto Cervini). This album gets better each time I listen––give it a whirl!

Here's the delightful "Beethoven's 7th Visit to Romania":

PUBLIQuartet – "What Is American" (Bright Shiny Things) – I don't write about classical music very much but this album (plus the Johnny Gandelsman album in Part 2) truly caught my attention. The PUBLIQs––violinists Curtis Stewart and Janina Norpoth, violist Nick Revel, and cellist Hamilton Berry––often blend European and American classical music but also have a expressive modernist bent.  One of the group's ongoing projects, dubbed "Mind| The| Gap|", features arrangements of music by Nina Simone, Ornette Coleman, Tina Turner, Ida Cox, Alice Coltrane, and others into stew that really alters the way you listen to a string quartet.  This album features music by Antonin Dvorák, Vijay Iyer, Roscoe Mitchell, Rhiannon Giddens, and others––it certainly does make you think about "what is American"! 

Give a listen to "Improvisations on "Law Years" and "Street Woman" (composed by Ornette Coleman):

Trish Clowes – "A View With a Room" (Greenleaf Music) – Composer and saxophonist (tenor and soprano) Trish Clowes signed with Dave Douglas's Greenleaf Music this year and gifted listeners with "A View With a Room".  Featuring her long-time band My Iris––guitarist Chris Montague, pianist and organist Ross Stanley, and drummer James Maddren––the music may, at times, remind you a bit of the quieter music of Jimmy Guiffre but, to this listener, Ms. Clowes has really created her own sound. The band interaction is impressive and the music makes you want to return to the album often.  They have not toured the US yet––if they do, I would recommend you spend a night in their company.

Here's the delightful "Amber":

SomiZenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba (Salon Africana) – The vocalist and composer Somi has truly blossomed into a world-class artist, celebrating the sound of the African continent even as she updates it.  Here, she pays tribute to the great Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), creating one of the most uplifting programs you will ever hear. In fact, Somi also created a play, "Dreaming Zenzile", around Ms. Makeba that debuted off-Broadway earlier in 2022. The album sounds so good, with such delicious rhythms, attractive vocals, and an impressive guest list including Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Angelique Kidjo, amd Gregory Porter (listen below) plus others.  World music at its best–give a listen.

Here's the sensuous "Strawberries" featuring Gregory Porter:

Kate Wyatt – "Artifact" (Self-released) – The Montreal, Canada-based pianist Kate Wyatt, a native of British Columbia, has been active on the creative music in her native country for over two decades. "Artifact" is her debut recording as a leader and well worth the wait. Featuring drummer Jim Doxas, bassist Adrian Vedady (her husband), and trumpeter Lex French (on the Music Faculty of McGill University) the quartet explores this music with vigor, sensitivity, and emotional depth.  Ms. Wyatt is a fine player but always makes sure you hear the other members of the group.  One can hear a nod in the direction of the Kenny Wheeler, as much in the "open" sound and wit in the composition as well as in Dr. French's trumpet work.  Impressive debut and one hopes there's more coming soon.

Listen to the lovely "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing":

Sachal Vasandani with Romain Collin – "Still Life" (Edition Records) - This is the second collaboration for the vocalist with pianist Collin––like its 2021 predecessor "Midnight Shelter" (also on Edition Records), these performances are intimate, often spare, quiet, yet with an emotional intensity that draws in the listener from the beginning and does not let go until the last note fades. In fact, each time I listened, I played the album all the way through.  When I spoke to the duo this past summer, they said that Mr. Vasandani stood right next to the piano during the recording session––the intimacy of the recording process translate to the music. Such a smart selection of tunes, from folk music to jazz standards to "pop" tunes to originals. Late night or early morning, this music is a comforting friend..

Listen to the emotional and heartbreaking "(I) Can't Make You Love Me":

Part 2 will come soon!

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Piano Trios Separated by 58 years!

 Piano trios––piano, bass, and drums––have been a constant of American music since the 1940s, catching fire in the 1950s with the work of Ahmad Jamal (see below), Oscar Peterson, Hank Jones, Bud Powell, Bill Evans, and so on. They remain popular today thanks to the artistry of Jason Moran, Matthew Shipp, Brad Mehldau, Tord Gustavsen, Fergus McCreadie, and others including the gentleman below.

Pianist and composer Laszlo Gardony first recorded with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel in 2003 and five times since. Their sixth recording, the appropriately-titled "Close Connection" (Sunnyside Records),  accentuates the musicians' relationship on and off the bandstand. The trio reconvened in early 2022 after nearly two years of inactivity due to the COVID pandemic.  Professor Gardony (he's on the faculty of Berklee College of Music and Harvard University) brought in six original pieces and the Trio created another six collectively in the studio. 

One of the most enjoyable facets of Gardony's music is how rhythmical many of his pieces are. The program opens with "Irrepressible", which roars out of the speakers with a melody inspired by Bela Bartok, Eastern European folk music, and the hard-edge funky swing of Chick Corea.  The pianist grew up in Hungary listening to Progressive Rock (Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, Genesis, Can) which one can hear in "Strong Minds" but this listener hears a touch of Black Sabbath in the "heavier" sections. The New Orleans roll of "Cedar Tree Dance" displays the danceability of this music––influenced by Black music, the Trio never lose the infectious feeling (listen to the piano under the bass solo).  "Times of Discord" builds off an eight-note descending piano rolling forward on Israel's powerful drumming and Lockwood's mighty bass lines. The drummer switches to the kalimba (African thumb piano) and hand percussion while Gardony picks up the melodica for the hypnotic "Savanna Sunrise", a gentle piece built upon simple phrases.

Photo: Chris Drukker
Six of the last eight tracks on the album are group improvisations. They are a varied and often fascinating collection of ideas, rhythms, and interactions.  Ranging from the tender, Abdullah Ibrahim-like, "Everybody Needs a Home" (a nod to bassist Lockwood's native land of South Africa) to the lovely, meditative, "Hopeful Vision" to the quiet interactions of "All that Remains" to the fiery "Night Run" (check out the swinging rhythm section plus the nod to the opening melody of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring") to the album closer "Cold Earth" (a rumination of the state of the world featuring splendid arco bass work), the music stands as a testament to the friendship of the Trio, to their fertile musical imaginations, and their intelligent interactions.

"Close Connection" will make you sit up and listen. Laszlo Gardony, along with Yoron Israel and John Lockwood, has created music that shines in the darkness that seems to envelop our world. Recorded as the pandemic still had its tight grip on this country and abroad, this music, even with several darker moments, brims with hope, joy, and fun!

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

Hear "Strong Minds":

Photo: Ross Archives
Looking for the perfect gift for the "jazzhead" on your Holiday shopping list, look no further "Emerald City Nights : Live at The Penthouse", two 2-CD sets from pianist Ahmad Jamal. The sets are the first releases on producer-historian Zev Feldman's new Jazz Detective label.  Feldman has built quite a reputation for discovering never-before-released music from the 1950s and 60s and releasing intelligently package albums for Resonance Records (he's also worked on several archival releases for Blue Note).  His work not only features music but also interviews with many of the musicians involved in each project as well as with writers, presenters, and others who give great insight on each project. 

The first two CDs from the Seattle, Washington nightclub, are subtitled "1963-1964" and feature one session recorded in June of 1963 while the other has selections from March 28 and April 2 1964. The 1963 date features Mr. Jamal with bassist Richard Evans and drummer Chuck Lampkin; opening with the lively and truly swinging "Johnny One Note" from the 1937 Rodgers & Hart musical "Babe In Arms".  One can help but notice the flexible yet solid rhythm section giving the pianist lots of space to dance. Because the bassist and drummer are not sideman but partners in the creative process. Yes, the pianist selects the material but the music is continually reshaped on the bandstand and in the studio by all three.  Bassist Evans composed "Minor Adjustments", a classically-inspired work that shows how graceful both he and the pianist can play.  The highlight of this first Trio set is the high-energy "Squatty Roo"––the blistering pace allows Mr. Jamal to play both minimalistic and also let loose.  He throws quotes from several songs in his fiery solo.  

Bassist Evans is gone by the two 1964 sessions of CD 2, replaced by the gracious sounds of Jamil Nasser. The set starts with "Bogota", a handsome piece by the departed bassist that, to these ears, builds on the mood of the pianist's biggest "hit" "Poinciana".  Other highlights include the sweet unaccompanied piano opening to the 1960s "pop" tune "Lollipops & Roses" plus the gospel-infused "Keep On Keeping On" (also composed by Richard Evans).  The latter tune, recorded a week later, breaks out into a lively jam with Mr. Jamal's displaying his blues chops. On the next cut, "Minor Moods", stays in the blues mood albeit in waltz tempo–this time, his two-handed solo pushes against the bass and drums until he dances away; when he adds in several long escapades up and down the keyboard, it's hard not to smile.  Lampkin's brushes blend so well with the melodic moves of both Mr. Jamal and Nasser. The bassist and drummer both get to solo to appreciative responses by the leader.

The booklet that accompanies the package includes interviews with Mr. Jamal, with Marshall Chess (whose Argo label released a number of seminal Lps by the pianist), with Ramsey Lewis, Hiromi, and a long history of the pianist and review of the album's performances written by reviewer/critic Eugene Holley, Jr.  

Here's "Tangerine" with the 1964 Trio of Mr. Jamal, bassist Jamil Nasser, and drummer Chuck Lampkin:

The second double-Lp and CD set begins in March 1965 with the same trio that appeared the previous year.  Like the 1963 set, the album opens with a Rodgers & Hart song; this time, it's "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" from the 1939 musical "Too Many Girls". After a fairly formal-sounding opening, the rhythm section breaks into a brisk tempo and Mr. Jamal creates an incredible solo. Far and away, the longest track on either package (15:07), there are solos by Lampkin and Nasser and nary a dull moment. Just when you think the song is about to end, the Trio slows the tempo down and plays a sweet take on the melody before a short drum solo helps take the tune out. The other three songs on the first CD/Lp were composed by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse and all from their 1964 show "The Roar of the Greasepaint––the Smell of the Crowd".  Mr. Jamal caresses the melody of "Who Can I Turn To" but the next track, recorded seven nights later, "My First Love Song", toggles between an medium-tempo ballad and a swing beat.   The Trio's take on "Feeling Good" is a deep-blues with the hint of Middle Eastern tempos. There's a sly musical reference to the music of Herbie Hancock near the close of the piano.

CD/Lp 2 opens with two tracks from late October 1965. Drummer Vernal Fournier replaces Lampkin for these cuts including "Concern", a bluesy Jamal original that swings with a purpose.  The playful solo features a slew of song "quotes", a quiet section then a bass solo, a drum solo, then back to Mr. Jamal for more "play". "Like Someone in Love" opens with an expansive unaccompanied piano solo that, when the rhythm section comes in, there's pedal point bass and quiet drums while the pianist quotes the opening melody from "The Sound of Music".  When the Trio breaks into a swing mode, Mr. Jamal creates yet another playful solo. 

The last three tracks come from September 1966; Frank Gant is now the drummer and the Trio hits the ground running with the Bronislaw Kaper classic "Invitation". The sound quality on these cuts is crisper, louder, yet the Trio still swing the pieces with abandon (Mr. Jamal even strums the piano strings!). Next up is the tune most people associate with Ahmad Jamal, "Poinciana". First recorded for his 1958 album "Live at The Pershing", the hypnotic rhythms and two-handed piano approach has mesmerized audience for over six decades.  The version here does not stray much from the original save for the playful piano solo.  The set closes with Benny Golson's "Whisper Not"––dig the Fats Waller-inspired solo piano opening before the Trio jumps into a high-powered romp featuring a jaunty piano excursion. The music fades out at around 2:40 just as the leader seems to heading into another solo.  

The accompanying booklet features another fine essay by Eugene Holley, Jr, a repeat of the statements by Feldman, Mr. Jamal, and Marshall Chess plus essays from Kenny Barron, Jon Batiste, and Aaron Diehl.  All told, "Emerald City Nights: Live at The Penthouse" is a gem that should not be missed.  There is a promise of a third CD in 2023––what a treasure! If you have ever wondered why pianist Ahmad Jamal, now 92 and retired from performing, is held in such high regard, just listen to these two great recordings!

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Here's Mr. Jamal's 1966 Trio with bassist Nasser and drummer Frank Gant on the classic "Poinciana":

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)