Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Mid-Winter Live Music in CT

The Side Door Jazz Club presents guitarist Nir Felder in concert this Friday (February 12) at 8:30 p.m.  The Club's website says it's a Trio gig and the guitarist's site says it's a quartet; neither says who's in the band (Don't you just love surprises?)  Either way, the music will be quite good.  Over the past decade since he moved to New York City, Feder has recorded with such fine artists as Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington, Greg Osby, and Jack DeJohnette as well as performing with Diane Reeves, Bobby McFerrin, Lizz Wright and Matisyahu.  His 2014 debut CD, "Golden Age" (Okeh Records), showed myriad influences, featuring the splendid band of Aaron Parks (piano), Matt Penman (bass) and Nate Smith (drums).  While Felder is certainly technically adept (yes, he's got serious "chops"), he does not ignore melody.

For more information about the show, go to thesidedoorjazz.com. To learn more about Nir Felder, go to www.nirfelder.com.

Here's the guitarist in action:




Pianist Johnny O'Neal has had quite the life - read Owen McNally's column from last year to get the full story - let's just write that he's been on a major upswing for the past 5 years.  He's quite the keyboard artist plus he's an accomplished vocalist with a repertoire that stretches back decades, from blues to jazz standards to "pop" songs. O'Neal also has a wicked sense of humor. This Saturday night, he'll be back at The Side Door for 2 sets of sweet music.  Since it's Valentine's Day weekend, I expect there will be slew of "relationship" songs.

Joining Mr. O'Neal will be bassist Luke Sellick and drummer Charles Goold.  They'll hit the stage at 8:30 p.m.  For more information, call 860-434-0886.

Here's the Trio "Live at Smalls" from February 2015:



The Uncertainty Music Series presents bassist Shayna Dulberger solo and the Steve Niemitz Quartet this Saturday February 13 at 8 p.m. in Never Ending Books, 810 State Street in New Haven. Ms. Dulberger is a busy musician, leading her own groups plus appearing regularly in others. She approaches her bass as both a melodic and percussive instrument, using her bow to create "oceans" of sounds but also plucking for melody.  To learn more about her work, go to www.shaynadulberger.com.

Joining drummer Niemitz (a recent graduate of Western Connecticut State University) will be Josh Paquette (trumpet), Dan O'Brien (woodwinds), and Grant Beale (guitar).

For more information, go to uncertaintymusic.com.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Birth of an Orchestra

As I write this, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is in the midst of an 8-day run at the place where it was born 50 years ago this week.  On February 7, 1966, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, all 18 of them, marched downstairs to the Village Vanguard in New York City, set up their equipment all across the tiny stage and in front of it.  At approximately 10:20 p.m., Mr. Jones raised his hands, the band hit the first notes and the rest is history. Quite a history indeed!

It's not the TJ/MLJO was under-recorded in the 11 years the duo ran the ensemble (or since) but Resonance Records and its founder George Klabin has given us a most informative look at the beginnings of the phenomenon.   "All My Yesterdays: The Debut 1966 Recordings At The Village Vanguard" is a 2-CD set (with a wonderful 92-page booklet featuring interviews with a number of the original members and others) with the first album coming from the orchestra's first-ever night at the famed NYC nightclub and the second disk from a Monday night 6 weeks later. And these really are the "debut" sets as the aggregation's first trip to the recording studio did not take place until May of 1966 and the official "Live from The Vanguard" did not happen until April of 1967.

As I wrote in my preview of this album several weeks ago (read it here), Klabin was a student at Columbia University and already quite a sound engineer. For recording the band (as Jones & Lewis were shopping for a recording contract), the engineer received permission to play the tapes on his radio show on WKCR-FM.  Due to several technical issues, Klabin was not able to cleanly record the two sets on "opening night" but what he did get illustrates a number of impressive and important aspects of the Jazz Orchestra.  Among them are 1) - Jones' arrangements for the ensemble built and expanded upon the work he had done for Count Basie, 2) - the rhythm section of Richard Davis (bass), brother Hank Jones (piano), Sam Herman (guitar, percussion, and Mr. Lewis (drums) and 3) - this group of instrumentalists brought great joy every time they hit the stage. (Many of the musician in the band played in studio orchestras during the day and on weekends - those were the day when the 3 major networks all had variety shows that needed live music. Those who played in Broadway pit orchestras had Mondays off.)  The program opens with Jerry Dodgion's alto saxophone all by himself playing a sweet blues improvisation and then the band enters to play "Back Bone." The piece swing with abandon, slowing down for a trombone interlude with Bob Brookmeyer and Garnett Brown sparring, dipping and moaning before Lewis shows why he is considered such a great drummer - his solo is short, built off the melody (just listen), and kicks the band back into high gear.  The title track is next, a sweet ballad (composed by Jones), and shows off the brilliant section writing that remains a hallmark of the Orchestra.  There are moments throughout the 2 disks when the reeds move like birds in flight, swooping in and around the powerful brass. (A quick note about Sam Herman - you rarely if ever hears his guitar playing.  Mostly you can hear his percussion work on shakers, etc.  His main contribution to the band was a copyist, copying and cleaning up Jones' sheet music. When he retired from the bandstand, Jones never hired another guitarist.  Herman also worked with the Count Basie Band and with Quincy Jones.)

Disk 2 is chock-full of music (nearly 118 minutes) and you can now hear a band starting to hit its stride.  They still play with abandon, with unabashed glee and execute the hair-pin turns in the music without a glitch. There are a few more ballads in the mix including the samba-influenced "Don't Ever Leave Me" featuring strong solos from pianist Jones, Joe Farrell (on flute) and trumpeter Danny Stiles (who played in place of Snooky Young).  Another change from opening night is that Brookmeyer is replaced by Tom McIntosh whose stunning solo on "Willow Weep For Me" (a Brookmeyer arrangement ) stands out as does Jones' playful opening lines  (he starts out quoting "I've Got Plenty of Nothin'") and subsequent solo.  "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" stands out because the Orchestra mostly sits out as Hank Jones explores the lovely melody (Davis and Lewis join him halfway through and the reeds enter right at the end.)  Farrell steps out on tenor saxophone for a heart-felt reading and emotional solo of/on "Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be?"He also stands out on "All My Yesterdays" following a lovely short solo from Jimmy Owens (trumpet)  - it's fascinating to hear how Lewis works with the arranger Jones to control the dynamics of the band.

The sound quality is splendid throughout (Klabin worked with his resident audio/video engineer Fran Gala on the sound restoration and Gala did the mastering).  It really does feel as if you are sitting in the midst of the band. You can't help but hear Thad Jones as he exhorts his hand-picked band and he gets a number of solos and it helps remind one what a strong soloist he was. Also, Mel Lewis (his brushes-work is so amazing) and Richard Davis (who most people knew as a small-group participant) are quite clear throughout.

"All My Yesterdays" is a delight from beginning to end. Opening and closing with "Back Bone" (smart programming as the 2 versions - both delightful - shows how quickly the group gelled, the album serves to remind us Thad Jones bent the template for big bands, creating melodies as sophisticated as Duke Ellington atop rhythms as bluesy as Count Basie with section writing beholden to no one.  Best of all, the music that Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra plays on these 2 Mondays from early 1966 sounds as contemporary as it did when it was created.

For more information, go to www.resonancerecords.org. For more history, go to www.vanguardjazzorchestra.com.

The personnel on the 2-disk set is as follows:
Thad Jones (trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger, conductor)
Mel Lewis (drums)
Hank Jones (piano)
Sam Herman (guitar, percussion)
Richard Davis (bass)
Jerome Richardson (alto saxophone, clarinet, flute)
Jerry Dodgion (alto saxophone, clarinet, flute)
Joe Farrell (tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute)
Eddie Daniels (tenor saxophone, clarinet)
Marv "Doc" Holladay (baritone saxophone on CD 1)
Pepper Adams (baritone saxophone on CD 2)
Jimmy Nottingham (trumpet)
Jimmy Owens (trumpet)
Bill Berry (trumpet)
Snooky Young (trumpet on CD 1)
Danny Stiles (trumpet on CD 2)
Garnett Brown (trombone)
Cliff Heather (trombone)
Jack Rains (trombone)
Bob Brookmeyer (trombone on CD 1)
Tom McIntosh (trombone on CD 2)



Monday, February 1, 2016

Lionel Loueke 3 + Whitfield Family in CT + Progressive 'Bones

Guitarist, vocalist, composer and producer Lionel Loueke came to the United States in the late-1990s to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA.  He had left his home in Benin, West Africa, several years earlier to study in Paris, France.  Almost immediately after arriving in the US, he met bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth, forming a musical ensemble that remains intact to this day. They first toured and recorded as Gilfema, releasing several fine albums. Mr. Loueke has also worked with Terence Blanchard, Herbie Hancock, and vocalist Gretchen Parlato as well as producing the debut recording of vocalist Kavita Shah.

Now dubbed the Lionel Loueke Trio,  they will performing this Friday (February 5) at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme.  Loueke's new Blue Note CD, "Gaïa" was issued in late October of 2015 to excellent reviews and the music shows the band at its best.  Recorded "live" in the studio with the 3 musicians in the same room, no headphones, no overdubs, it's certainly the most visceral music the band has produced.  Listeners used to the earlier recordings may be surprised the crackle and snap of this new music.  The rhythmic drive of the trio is incredible, making impossible to sit still.

While the new recording has its softer moments, the Trio really "rocks out" on several tracks. In person, one can hear the years of friendship and musical interactions step to the fore, making the music come alive. They'll take the stage at 8:30 p.m. - for ticket information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886.

On Saturday night, The Whitfield Family Band returns to The Side Door for 2 exciting sets. Led by guitarist Mark Whitfield, who has played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock and Chris Botti, and recorded 14 albums as a leader, the WFB also includes Mark Jr. (drums), son and brother Davis (piano) and Yashushi Nakamura (bass). The music they grow plays is a reflection of Dad's career -  he has never been afraid to cross genres, from easy listening to funk to straight-ahead jazz to hard bop.

The doors open at 7:30 p.m. with the first notes ringing out an hour later.  Call 860-434-0886 for reservations.

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Here are 2 more recordings from 2015 that you should be aware of; both are the product of trombonist/composers and both have a decidedly "progressive" edge.

O, what to make of "Ye Olde" (Yester Eve Records), the 3rd album  of trombonist, composer, and arranger Jacob Garchik?  It comes 3 years after his fascinating solo extravaganza, "The Heavens: The Atheist Gospel Trombone Album" and features 3 guitarists - Jonathan Goldberger, Mary Halvorson, and Brandon Seabrook - plus drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. The 14-song, 37-minute album tells the mythical story of the village of Flatbush in the year 1014.

That written, the music Grachik created for his quintet has its roots in the progressive "rock" of the 1970s and 80s. groups such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and King Crimson as well as artists such as Lou Reed and David Bowie. The results are loud yet rhythmically strong with the trio of plectrists adding many layers of sound to Garchik's overdubbed choir of trombones blended with his alto and tenor horns.

Sperrazza pushes, coaxes and bludgeons (at times) the music forward, his forceful drums bringing to mind the work of John Bonham and Bill Bruford.  There's a playful quality to the project (as one might expect from the subject matter) and, if one takes the time to really listen, Garchik writes excellent melodies and the arrangements for the guitars give each musician an important voice in the songs.

"Ye Olde" is wonderfully off-kilter music and that's a compliment.  Jacob Garchik has a playful edge to his music and we are the beneficiaries.  For more information, go to jacobgarchik.com.



Mr. Garchik is also a member of The Four Bags, a group that features reedman Michael McGinnis, guitarist Sean Moran, and trombonist Brian Drye (Garchik mainly plays accordion for the ..Bags).  Brian Drye leads his own quartet, Bizingas, and their 2nd CD "Eggs Up High" (NCM East) came out (or escaped) in November 2015. Drye wrote all the tunes, playing trombone, synthesizer, organ and piano, and created the arrangements for Jonathan Goldberger (guitar), Ches Smith (drums, drum machine, rada drum,  electronics) and the ubiquitous Kirk Knuffke (cornet).  Mr. Goldberger's role in this band is quite similar to his work on the Garchik recording - his highly amplified riffs dance around the hearty drumming, weaving in and out of the brass players (check his blistering work on "Once").

Yes, this is "fusion" music but it goes in so many unexpected directions.  After a rollicking synth and drums opening, trombone and trumpet play the theme of "Hawaii" in half-time (the handsome melody bears resemblance in several lines to Bob Dylan's "Lay Down Your Weary Tune").  "Plant-based" opens with synth drums, hand percussion and solid piano chords.  This time, the melody find its way through the guitar effects and opens to a long solo from Drye (on trombone) and into a section that would not spend out of place on Weather Report's "Mysterious Traveler." Knuffke creates a excellent solo, against the grain of the piano chords.

downtownmusic.net
"Along" wildly dances atop a forceful beat, raucous guitar and organ chords.  On the opposite, "Shane" enters on a handsome piano melody which opens to Knuffke's countermelody. His solo has soft, burry, edges that have an emotional edge. Surprisingly, the drums and guitar enter with but 1:25 left in the song joining the corner and piano in replaying the melody. Funk a la James Brown mixed with DEVO is what the opening minute of "Slip" sounds like.  Goldberger enters and the piece begins to really explode cornet and trombone dueling over rapid-fire drums.  A burping synth drum beat leads the trombone in on "Pedal" - Drye's melody line is quite handsome and he is supported, at various times, by a guitar counterpoint. Smith returns, this time on "live" drums and the song dances forward.

Nearly 5 years passed between the first and second Bizingas albums - if you heard the self-titled debut, you'd hear that Brian Drye wanted this band to rock harder than The Four Bags but have a similar sense of direction(s).  If you like music where anything is possible, from heart-felt melodies to full-blown guitar shredding, burbling synths to impressionistic brass arrangements, "Eggs Up High" is a mighty tasty meal.

For more information, go to bizingas.com.

Here's a live version of "Plant-based":

Friday, January 29, 2016

Duo, Trio, & Quartet Telling Stories

Over the past several years, Wadada Leo Smith has released a slew of impressive albums including 4 on the Finnish TUM Records label. His 5th is out now, a duo recording with bassist and friend titled "Celestial Weather." Recorded 6 months before his 2014 "Great Lakes Suite" release, the CD pairs the trumpeter with his good friend and bassist in the Golden Quartet, John Lindberg.  The program includes 3 suites including Smith's "Malachi Favors Maghostut - A Monarch of Creative Music", the title track which is a 5-part improvisation, and Lindberg's "Feathers and Earth."  This is intimate music, a conversation between friends, and, as one expect from these musicians, challenging and original material.

photo by Radcliffe Roye
The best way to approach the music is with open ears.  The tribute to the late Favors (1927-2004, the long-time bassist in the Art Ensemble of Chicago and first bassist in Smith's Golden Quartet)  is a heartfelt elegy, the first part filled with long tones and bowed bass lines before the duo begins a complicated dance of longer bass runs amidst flurries of trumpet notes mixed with raspy whispers.  "Part II" opens with a splendid bass solo and a lovely trumpet melody; while the piece picks with intensity near the end, the music paints an unusual yet powerful portrait. "Feathers and Earth" is a tribute to both large birds (vultures, eagles and hawks) and the world that supports them.  Its first part is impressionistic, soaring lines that are often hushed as if the wind carried the sound away.  "Part II" is a forceful piece with a well-defined melody line and powerful solos.

The title suite, with subtitles that include "Cyclone", "Hurricane", "Icy Fog", "Typhoon" and "Tornado", is actually more fanciful than stormy most of the time.  In fact, "Typhoon" is more of a ballad than a fearsome weather event, with muted trumpet, numerous short stretches of silence. Only "Tornado" lives up to its name with the furious twisting bowed bass lines and snaky tendrils of melody from the trumpet - even on this track, there is a section where the 2 musician slow down as if to take shelter.

"Celestial Weather" is an often fascinating hour of sonic explorations from 2 musicians comfortable in their own skins and willing to take chances.  The excellent sound quality allows the listener to feel the force that is Wadada Leo Smith and the splendid work of John Lindberg. Dig in.

For more information, go to tumrecords.com/046-celestial-weather.

Here's the duo in concert 4 months before the recording:



In 2015, trumpeter, flugelhornist, and composer, John Raymond  captured lots of ears with his splendid "Foreign Territory" recording, a session that included pianist Dan Tepfer, bassist Joe Martin and the master drummer Billy Hart (and reviewed here). His new album is John Raymond & Real Feels (Shifting Paradigm Records) and features the leader exclusively on flugelhorn partnered with guitarist Gilad Hekselman (who played on Raymond's 2012 debut CD) and drummer Colin Stranahan.
The 10 tracks include several folk songs, Radiohead' leader Thom Yorke's "Atoms for Peace", Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee", Paul McCartney's "Blackbird" and Dave Holland's "Blues for C.M." The recording opens with the lone original work, Raymond's "Thaddeus" (possibly dedicated to another fine flugelhorn player, the late Thad Jones) - it's a snappy piece, showing off the collective strength of the trio. Shanahan swings mightily, Hekselman gets in a great groove and Raymond plays a strong melody and solo.

The album is infused with a healthy dose of Americana. The bouncy "I'll Fly Away" (a hymn from the pen of Albert Brumley) may remind some of the work of Bill Frisell and Ron Miles - this trio drives this piece straight to church and into a backyard barbecue. "Amazing Grace" (not American in origin but treated that way in the arrangement) opens with an unaccompanied flugelhorn solo (not the melody)before the drums and guitar enter to help Raymond play the original theme slowly and sweetly.  Later in the program, the traditional English ballad "Scarborough Fair" is gently but firmly presented with the undercurrent of Stranahan's floor-tom work and the interactions between Raymond and Hekselman.  The trio really swings the daylights out of "This Land is Your Land" with fine solos from flugelhorn and guitar while the drummer creates quite a storm beneath them.

photo by Andrea Carter
The band really digs into "Donna Lee", giving it just the right infusion of bebop while swinging madly. Holland's ode to bassist Charles Mingus is a true blues with the 3 musicians hitting it hard. Hekselman crushes his solo, spurred in by Stranahan's mighty drums.  Raymond displays plenty of swagger as he pushes his way through the clamor of his bandmates.

The program closes with a impressionist reading of McCartney's "Blackbird", eschewing the melody until late in the piece.  It's quite an effective way to end the album in reminding the listener that musicians have the freedom to take songs familiar to most people and have fun while respecting the intent of the composer. There's a feeling of joy throughout the recording, the joy that these musicians have working together and "playing music in the true sense of play.  John Raymond & Real Feels is the real deal - kudos all around.

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

Here's Messrs Raymond, Hekselman and Stranahan with Yorke's "Atoms for Peace":



"A New Kind of Dance" (482 Music), the 6th recording from drummer Mike Reed's People Places & Things, was issued in late September of 2015 making a slew of year-end Top 10 lists and I slept on it.  My mistake - it's a brilliant set that reminds the listeners that much of the music created throughout the world had and still has a social function.  Music brings people together and they interact, either by dancing or singing or playing.  Joining the quartet - Greg Ward (alto saxophone), Tim Haldeman (tenor saxophone), and Jason Roebke (bass) - on 7 of the 10 tracks (but never together are Matthew Shipp (piano) and Marquis Hill (trumpet). If you are already a fan of PP&T, you know how powerful the group's sound can be.  Adding Shipp to tracks such as the title song and Reed's "Jackie's Tune" allows the band to stretch in different directions.  The pianist brings the drive of McCoy Tyner to "A New Kind of Dance" and gives "Reesie's Waltz" an impressionistic feel while still pushing the music forward.  He, Reed and Roebke set the pace on the funky, up-tempo, take of Mos Def's "Fear Not of Man"; the horns enter and the one starts reveling in the solid beats from Reed.

Trumpeter Hill adds a cantorial voice to "Markovsko Horo", a tune that shows its Bulgarian roots from the opening notes, in its Klezmer-like bounce, and the intertwined lines of saxophones and trumpet. When the beat picks up, the music becomes a whirling dervish of sounds. There's a South African bounce in reed player Michael Moore's "Kwela For Taylor" and Hill rides the beat, delivering a spirited solo with Ward and Haldeman spinning their lines around him. When the reeds and brass join on the theme, one feels that gospel-like glow  (that you often hear in the music of Abdullah Ibrahim). Reed sits out the sweet version of "Star Crossed Lovers" (from the Ellington & Strayhorn Shakespearean tribute "Such Sweet Thunder.") Bassist Roebke adds excellent counterpoint to the melodic variations of the saxophones and trumpet.

While the guests do add much to the stew, the basic quartet plays with its usual gusto and style.  "AKA Reib Leitsma", from the pen of the late South African ex-patriate Sean Bergin, closes the program with a strong beat, a reminder that this music, even as the soloists blow mightily, is aimed towards the feet and the heart.  Music serves myriad functions, communicating even without words the importance of working, celebrating, and respecting each other.  "A New Kind of Dance" will move you in many ways, all of them life-affirming.

For more information, go to www.482music.com/albums/482-1092.html.

Give a listen to the title track:

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Happy Birthday Julius Hemphill

His music is poetry, sorrow, anger, deep blues, even "hard blues", joy, physical, spiritual, and filled with life. Julius Hemphill (1938-1995) played like he "meant it" - it seems every time he picked his saxophone, the music went in unexpected directions.  Like many of his contemporaries (Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Oliver Lake, Hamiett Bluiett), he appreciated all streams of the great river that is Black American Music.  He could rock, squeal, shout, whisper, make you angry, make you laugh, wail, weep and pray.

To honor his birthday, here are 3 different sides of his music.  The Julius Hemphill Sextet, the group he created after leaving the World Saxophone Quartet, play "The Hard Blues." Then, there's the 13-minute plus "Hotend" from his stunning "Blue Boyé" (still available thanks to Tim Berne and Screwgun Records.) Finally, there's "One Atmosphere", the album he recorded for John Zorn and Tzadik Records.  The music is performed by pianist Ursula Oppens and the Daedalus Stirng Quartet.

The music and spirit of Julius Hemphill continues to resonate and inspire!








Saturday, January 23, 2016

Pianists to the Fore

When one stops to think about it, 2016 is a heady time for piano trios. From Fred Hersch to The Bad Plus, Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio to 3-somes led by Kenny Barron, Kenny Werner, Yaron Herman, Shai Maestro, Romain Collin and Jason Moran (and so many more), all kinds of musicale being made around the world every night and day. It's not just economics, I think, but a logical evolution of the music from the days of Errol Garner, George Shearing, Bill Evans and the seemingly indefatigable Ahmad Jamal (85 years old).

Bluenote.com
Throw into that mix the fine pianist Bill Charlap.  Over the past 18 - almost 19 - the pianist has led a trio featuring bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (no relation) .  Together, they have issued a series of recordings for Blue Note Records and on the Venus label from Japan (Charlap has recorded several CDs for the label with bassist Jay Leonhardt and drummer Bill Stewart under the monicker New York Trio).  In 2015, the Charlap Trio backed Tony Bennett on the "The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern."

Charlap and the Washingtons will be in residence this Friday and Saturday night (1/29-30) at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme, CT.  They'll play several sets of music, new and old, and they;ll do so melodically yet with a rhythmic fire.  Would not be surprised if the shows are sold out so call 860-434-0886 or go to thesidedoorjazz.com to get your name on the list.

The following Friday (Feb. 5), guitarist Lionel Loueke brings his Trio to Old Lyme and you won't ant to miss that show!

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Before recording his 3 CD as a leader, pianist and composer Florian Hoefner moved from New York City to St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.  He had been in tumult of the Big Apple since relocating from Berlin, Germany, in 2008 to study at the Manhattan School of Music.  Hoefner had  already recorded several albums in Germany with a quartet known as Subtone as well as a pair of CDs with saxophonist Roman Ott (one disk featured guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel with whom the pianist had studied.) Those experiences helped him with his vision for his original music and the subsequent "sound" of his own band.

photo by Krysta Brayer
His debut recording as a leader , "Songs Without Words", was issued in 2012 on the Seattle, WA-based OA2 Records label as was 2013's "Falling Up."  His quartet, dubbed the Florian Hoefner Group, included bassist Sam Anning, drummer Peter Knonreif, and saxophonist Mike Ruby.  He has moved to OA2's mother label Origin Records for his new album, "Luminosity", 8 songs that feature the same rhythm section but now finds Seamus Blake on saxophones.  The music reflects his move to the Northern climes with pieces such as the exciting "Newfound Jig", the introspective "North Country" and the brilliant (as in the quality of light in St. John's) title track.  The blend of Blake's soprano sax (he is beholden to no one for his singular sound) and the rippling piano lines plus the highly sympathetic rhythm section make that track stand out.  The "Jig" shows its Irish roots at the outset before the band moves into more of a "swing" beat - yet, listen to how Kronreif takes the music in unexpected directions without anyone losing his way.

One hears the influence of the Keith Jarrett European Quartet in the high energy of "Elements" and, even there. the music takes a quick turn into a melodic bass solo.  When the pianist reenters, the intensity slowly but assuredly returns, propelled by the active rhythm section. After another downshift, Blake enters on tenor saxophone, easily dancing atop the shifting rhythmic landscape. The saxophonist effortlessly shifts into higher gear without losing his melodic side.

All of the 8 tracks (all Hoefner originals) clock in over 5 minutes; still, the composer and the band do not just play the theme and rush into long solos.  Listen for the interplay, as this is a band that has logged serious "stage time", and you can hear how supportive they are.  Sure they can "blow" - all 4 have a great time on "The Bottom Line" - but everything is played with a purpose with the sense of a group sound.

"Luminosity" will hold your interest with its expansive melodies, its fine rhythm section, and intelligent solos.  The Florian Hoefner Group is a "working band" and it shows in the care they and creativity they give to this music.  For more information, go to www.florian-hoefner.com.

Give a listen to the title track:



Over the past decade+, Cuban-born pianist and composer Aruán Ortiz has been impressing audiences and critics  alike with his lively piano playing and impressive blend of Cuban, Latin and African rhythms.  His 2013 recording with bassist Michael Janisch, "Banned In London", released on Janisch's Whirlwind Recordings, stood out for many reasons, not the least of which was the pianist's lively interactions with saxophonist Greg Osby.  He's worked and recorded with trombonist Steve Turre, trumpeter Wallace Roney, and bassist Esperanza Spalding (among others).

For his new album, "Hidden Voices" (Intakt Records), he joins forces with bassist Eric Revis (Branford Marsalis Quartet, Tarbaby) and drummer Gerald Cleaver (Craig Taborn, Joe Morris, Roscoe Mitchell) to fashion a most fascinating sound.  The 10-song program includes 6 originals, one collective improvisation, a medley 2 Ornette Coleman works ("Open & Close/The Sphinx"), "Skippy" by Thelonious Monk and a Cuban standard "Uno, Dos, y Tres, Que Paso Más Chévere" done as a piano solo.  That final song (also the last track on the disk, composed by Rafael Ortiz (no relation), is described by leader as a tune “everybody in Cuba knows from festivities and carnivals." The younger Ortiz gives the song an abstract feel, hinting at the rhythm and the pianist caressing the melody.

Photo by Michael Weintrob
Elsewhere. Ortiz and company create an open-ended program, from the disjointed yet funky opener "Fractal Sketches"  to the inventive re-imagining of "Skippy."  On the latter track, Revis propels the music from the bottom while Cleaver and Ortiz spin fascinating webs from the spiky melody.  The pianist pushes the melody up and down (at times, sounding somewhat like Matthew Shipp) while the piece rumbles forward. "Caribbean Vortex/Hidden Voices" features the insistent claves of Arturo Stable and Enildo Rasúa, the rhythms supporting the rapid-fire snare work of Cleaver and clanging left hand of the pianist.  As the piece moves forward, the piano solo grows in intensity but the rhythms stay steady and solid.  The hypnotic single-note piano leads one into "Analytical Symmetry", a piece that opens slowly like a flower then explodes for just a moment before moving inward for a bass - piano dialogue.  The 2-part "Arabesques of a Geometrical Rose" opens with a piano solo.  Subtitled "Spring", the melody, in places, reminds this writer of Monk in its uncommon beauty. Part 2, "Summer", brings back the rhythm section for a blues-drenched reinterpretation of the initial melody. Revis's thick bass tones and Cleaver's active drumming propel the pianist into a series of short single-note runs interspersed with "dark" chords. 

Repetition is important to many of these pieces  - the piano lines often dictate the rhythms that Gerald Cleaver expands upon while the often-furious bass lines of Eric Revis work in counterpoint to active hands of Aruán Ortiz.  "Hidden Voices" may refer to the Cuban artists, poets, playwrights, and musicians who have had to maintain personal and artistic silence for most of the Castro dictatorship. This powerful music now belongs to the world.  For more information, go to www.aruan-ortiz.com

Here's the Trio in concert 6 months before the recording date:

Friday, January 22, 2016

Happy 50th Anniversary Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

It was 50 years ago, on Monday night February 7, 2016, that the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra played its first notes in the famed Village Vanguard in New York City.  College student, jazz aficionado, and recording engineer George Klabin was seated at a smalltime near the stage with a 2-track tape machine and a 4-channel mixing board capturing every sound with 6 microphones place strategically around the various sections of the band.  Messrs. Jones & Lewis used the tapes to get a recording contract while Klabin was allowed to play the music on his radio show on WKCR-FM at Columbia University.

When Thad Jones (pictured left) left the Count Basie Orchestra in 1963 (where he had been a featured soloist on trumpet and flugelhorn as well as an arranger and composer), he had a number of pieces that he had never used. Just a few months before the end of 1965, Jones got in touch with long-time friend and drummer Mel Lewis (who had earned his stripes in the large bands of Stan Kenton and Bill Holman as well as dozens of small-group recordings) to create a rehearsal band to play these pieces.  By February of 1966, they were ready to face an audience and both the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra and a long-standing gig were born.

Klabin's tapes have long been "bootlegged" and never available to the listening public but all that changes on February 19 of this year. That's when Resonance Records, owned and operated as a non-profit by Mr. Klabin, releases "All My Yesterdays: The Debut 1966 Recordings at the Village Vanguard", a 2-CD set that includes not only the best of the cuts from the February 7th gig (several that never appeared on any bootleg) but also music from a Monday night 6 weeks later (March 21).  If you have any of the previous Resonance releases, you'll know that the packages always include several essays, great photos, and stories from participants.  This new CD will have a package that includes a 92-page booklet with numerous essays and never-before-seen photographs.

And, check this out from the press release for the album: "....on Monday, February 8, 2016, the Village Vanguard along with Resonance Records, will commemorate this golden anniversary with a CD release celebration. On this evening, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra will perform compositions from "All My Yesterdays" to celebrate opening night back in 1966. Although they normally play this material weekly, this evening will serve as a special tribute. Orchestra leaders John Mosca, Douglas Purviance and the Village Vanguard's Lorraine Gordon have joined together with Resonance to celebrate this milestone in American jazz history."  In fact, the VJO will be in residence at the Vanguard from February 1 - 8 so this should quite a week of great music old and new (not that Thad Jones' music ever sounds old.)  

To find out more about performance, go to www.villagevanguard.com/#!schedule/c1enr.  To find out about the upcoming CD, go to www.resonancerecords.org/release.php?cat=HCD-2023.
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Take a look in the top right-hand corner of the blog and you'll see that The Jazz Session is...well, it's back in session. Its proprietor, Jason Crane, is now living in State College, PA, where he is the program director and show host on 98.7TheFREQ-FM.  For those of us who have listened over the past 8 years, this is great news. Mr. Crane is an enthusiastic and well-informed interviewer who has helped to bring artists to the attention of an avid audience. Now, go to thejazzsession.com and take joy in his return and the music!