Tuesday, November 25, 2014

November (Pt 1)

Depending on which hemisphere one lives in, November can be an awfully cruel month. The hours of daylight lessen, the winds often howl, snow and/or ice can surprise you at any time, and the prospect of 4-5 months like this weighs on some heavily.  Yet, there is the holiday season, opening in the United States with Thanksgiving and moving through until and after the New Year arrives.  The CDs and DVD below are excellent companions for the darker times.

Jason Yeager is an articulate pianist, an impressive composer, and yet another splendid graduate of the music programs at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA.  He also graduated from Tufts University with a B.A. in International Relations.  While at NEC, he studied with Danilo PĂ©rez, Fred Hersch, Jerry Bergonzi, Frank Carlberg, John McNeil, and Ran Blake. Since graduating, he has gone on to serve on the faculties of the Berklee School in Boston and the Varta Academy of Musical Arts in New York City. Yeager is also a busy sideman, working in numerous groups of all sizes.

"Affirmation" is the pianist's 2nd release on Inner Circle Music, the first being 2011's "Ruminations."  Recorded with his regular rhythm section of Danny Weller (bass) and Matt Rousseau (drums) - both NEC grads - the 12 tracks range from introspective ballads to playful uptempo romps.  Vocalist Aubrey Johnson (yes, an NEC grad as well) appears on 2 tracks including the lovely title track that closes the program, a piano/wordless vocal duet that contains shades of Norma Winstone's work with pianist John Taylor.  Ms. Johnson joins the Trio for a lovely take on John Lennon's "Julia", the only Beatle song that Lennon recorded all by himself. While this version hews closely to the original, the piano solo stretches out while Weller plays counterpoint and Rousseau quietly stays on the beat.  

Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger (NEC grad, too) adds his lyrical playing to "Smiled First", his sometimes deliberate, other times sprightly phrases wrapping around the active bass and drums.  Yeager is an impressive accompanist throughout the program; here, his full chordal backing beneath the tenor sax really fills out the sound.  That 4-some stretches to 5 with the addition of trumpeter Jean Caze (a graduate of both the Manhattan School of Music and the graduate program at Florida State University) for the dancing "Keep The Fire."  Rousseau's driving percussion and Weller's melodic bass lines propel the piece forward.  Caze switches to flugelhorn for the handsome ballad "Aurora", a smartly constructed piece (dedicated to the victims and families of the tragic events in both Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut), is a beautiful melody that is both impressionistic and elegiac without being treacly. 

The Trio tracks all stand out, from the Thelonious Monk-like "Blues for Billy P" to the gentle medium tempo "Achi" to the pianist's adaptation of Olivier Messiaen's "Dance of Fury, For the Seven Trumpets" (from the composer's prisoner-of-war composition "Quartet for the End of Time".)  That last track includes more impressive interplay and a great sense of urgency.  "Twelve Etude" is a dedication to percussion master Jerry Leake, with all 3 musician sharing percussive lines and melodic phrases.  

"Affirmation" sparkles with intelligence and impressive musicianship; the Jason Yeager Trio plus guests never substitute technique for talent and these 12 tracks  This music gives off a warmth that can transcend any dark day or night.  For more information, go to www.jasonyeager.com

"Post No Bills" is the 4th recording pianist and composer Greg Reitan has recorded for the Sunnyside label as well as the 4th to feature his Trio of bassist Jack Daro and drummer Dean Koba.  From their initial collaboration, 2009's "Some Other Time", it's been clear that these 3 musicians interact on an intuitive level and have built a strong union.

This new recording features 10 tracks, 3 Reitan originals and the rest a fascinating blend of standards and pieces by fellow pianists (but nothing by Bill Evans - perhaps that's what the name of the CD refers to?)  The program opens with Keith Jarrett's "The Mourning of  Star"  (from the pianist's 1971 Lp of the same name). Reitan and company speed up the piece a bit  yet do a fine job interpreting the melody, a blend funky phrases and long flowing lines.  There's a pleasing rendition of Joe Sample's soulful "One Day I'll Fly Away", a emotionally rich "Lonely Woman" (the Horace Silver composition) and whisper-soft yet forceful take on Denny Zeitlin's "After The War" (from that composer's 1965 "Carnival" Lp).  Chick Corea's "Windows" rounds the pieces by composer/musicians who are influences in Reitans approach to Trio playing as wells his compositional style. The Corea piece gives the Trio the opportunity to stretch out and swing which they do quite nicely.

The oft-recorded "Stella By Starlight" opens with a blues-drenched unaccompanied bass solo then bursts into an energetic take on the piece (including a lively spot for drummer Koba). The Trio then delivers a soft and emotional take of "I Loves You, Porgy", a track that contains, arguably, the pianist's most melodic solo on this disk.

The 3 Reitan originals range from the inspired 2-sectioned title track (an impressionistic piano solo opening followed by a jaunty Trio romp) to the bluesy "Spring" (excellent bass solo after an animated piano solo) to the handsome "Solitude" that closes the program. Again, bassist Daro delivers a strong solo before Reitan's lively solo belies the song's title and thematic material.

"Post No Bills" may actually remind listeners of the Bill Evans Trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, especially in the way Greg Reitan utilizes the melodic strengths of Jack Daro and steady support of Dean Koba.  This is a recording where melody reigns supreme and where the Greg Reitan asks nothing more than you sit and enjoy their play.  For more information, go to www.gregreitan.com.

Here's the Trios take on the Keith Jarrett song:

I treated myself to a copy of "Arrows Into Infinity", the new ECM DVD that serves as a musical biography of saxophonist, composer and spiritual seeker Charles Lloyd. The film, created by Lloyd's long-time partner Dorothy Darr and producer/co-editor Jeffery Morse, is an overview of Lloyd's life, starting from his youth in Memphis, Tennessee, to his musical adventures with Chico Hamilton and the Adderley Brothers and them onto his long and varied solo career. Interviews with Jack DeJohnette, Michael Cuscuna, Robbie Robertson, John Densmore (of The Doors) and Staney Crouch help shed light on his Atlantic years while Blue Note-head Don Was joins to talk about the albums before Lloyd went into seclusion.  There are great videos from the earlier days as well as Lloyd's honest assessment of why he stepped away.  It was at the prodding of the late pianist Michel Petrucciani that Lloyd began to move back into the world of performance in 1981 and played/recorded in a quartet with Buster Williams, Cedar Walton and Billy Higgins in 1983.  

In 1989, Lloyd joined forces with pianist Bobo Stenson and began his tenure with ECM Records that now includes 16 CDs.  With the help of Indian philosophy and meditation as well as the love and support of Ms. Darr), the saxophonist continues to play with great creativity, serving as a mentor to younger musicians such as Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland (all members of his current Quartet).  There are long stretches of performances with that group (and earlier ones) plus the Sangam trio with tabla master Zakir Hussain and Harland.  There is a lovely tribute to master Billy Higgins and a meeting with Ornette Coleman.  Surprising to me, there is no mention of his near-contemporaries of the tenor saxophone, Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins (although one can read articles of his great respect and admiration for both men.)

One moment of the film stands out for me and that is Alicia Hall Moran's stunning rendition of "Go Down Moses", recorded live in concert at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, (where I live). I was lucky enough to be in attendance that night and have always felt that Ms. Moran's vocal was the emotional highpoint of a great performance.  I'm happy to see it here and relive that moment again.

Charles Lloyd does not rest on his laurels, continuing to play and grow, to mentor musicians around the world and to keep on bringing light to an increasingly darker world.  "Arrows Into Infinity" will please his fans and help newer converts understand why those of us who first discovered his music in the 1960s are still listening intently and with great joy.  For more information, go to www.ecmrecords.com/Catalogue/ECM_Cinema/5052_DVD.php.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Side Door Becomes Payton's Place

The impressive multi-instrumentalist and communicator Nicholas Payton returns to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme this weekend for 2 nights, Friday and Saturday 11/21-22. The 41-year old native of New Orleans is best-known as a trumpeter but also plays trombone, saxophone, clarinet, bass and, in his Trio, keyboards.

He's been touring and recording with his Trio - Vincente Archer (bass) and Bill Stewart (drums) - for the past several years, releasing one CD, "#BAM: Live at the Bohemian Caverns" on his PAYTONE Records (the recording features Lenny White on drums). Payton is adamant about not using the word "jazz", especially for its derogatory and narrow definition, preferring to call his music "Black American Music."  And, if you have followed his career, he can and does play many styles of music, from the early days of Louis Armstrong to Thelonious Monk to funk to classical to a wonderful recreation of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaboration "Sketches of Spain." He's a splendid and inventive soloist, a thoughtful and incisive writer, plus his gigs are great fun.

Doors open at The Side Door at 7:30 p.m. with the Trio taking the stage for the first set at 8:30.  For this date, the fine young drummer Joe Dyson (Branford Marsalis, Stefon Harris, Esperenza Spalding) joins Payton and Archer so expect the music to have plenty of propulsion.  For tickets, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886. Check out Nicholas Payton at www.nicholaspayton.com.

The New York Times published a fine article about The Side Door in its Metropolitan section this past Sunday (11/16) - you can read it by clicking on www.nytimes.com/2014/11/16/nyregion/an-ear-for-jazz-and-a-nose-for-business.html?_r=0.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Duo Dialogue at The Firehouse

Pianist Myra Melford is no stranger to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street, in New Haven. This Friday (November 14) marks her 6th appearance as a performer, 4th as a leader or co-leader.  For clarinetist Ben Goldberg, this is his initial appearance as a performer.  He appears on the venue's record label as a member of Ms. Melford's Be Bread ensemble, the quintet that released "The Whole Tree Gone" in 2010. In 2013, Firehouse 12 Records also released the pianist's brilliant solo CD "Life Carries Me This Way."

Ms. Melford is no stranger to the duo setting, having recorded 2 fine CDs with reed master Marty Ehrlich and one each with drummer Han Bennink, violinist/violist Tanya Kalmanovitch and fellow pianist Satoko Fujii. She has distinguished throughout her career (which is well into its third decade) as a thoughtful and fearless composer, an exciting soloist and an as a performer who follows her music, whether it be working in large and small ensembles, studying in faraway countries or working in multimedia. Goldberg, who grew up in Denver, Colorado, has played clarinet met of his life. He first came to critical notice in the early 1990's as a member of The New Klezmer Trio, an ensemble that recorded 3 CDs for John Zorn's Tzadik label, broke up in 1996 and reunited in 2009 for a recording that celebrated the life of Goldberg's father. He's a member of the avant-classical group Tin Hat and has released numerous recordings as a leader or co-leader, the latest being a trio recording of Thelonious Monk compositions with guitarist Adam Levy and drummer Smith Dobson - titled "Worry Later", the download only album appears on Goldberg's BAG Productions label.

The Melford-Goldberg duo has been working and creating together for 5 years and, although they have yet to release a CD, you can see and hear excerpts from their 2013 European on the pianist's website (click here) and several more on the SoundCloud page created by the clarinetist (click here). 
They'll play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - you'll enjoy the intimacy of their musical interactions as well as how adventurous and melodic the music can be.  For ticket information, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.  To find out more about the duo, go to www.myramelford.com/projects/project/display/id/3/::Dialogue::.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Musicians at Play + November 1st Noah

It's been nearly 3 decades since Wayne Horvitz wrote and performed with the New York Composers Orchestra, a large ensemble that commissioned works from numerous composers (Anthony Braxton, Lenny Pickett, Butch Morris and others), playing the pieces and more in concerts around the world.

Mr. Horvitz and his wife, the composer Robin Holcomb, moved to Seattle, Washington, in the late 80's and, while he has composed for orchestras and large ensemble, his latest for Songlines Recordings "At The Reception: The Royal Room Collective Music Emsemble" is his first for a "big band" since the NYCO days. This 14-member ensemble, composed of musicians from the Pacific Northwest, may not have many recognizable names (one exception would be tenor saxophonist Skerik) but they play this music with great joy and abandon.

The all-original program, split into "Side A" (7 tracks) and "Side B" (6 tracks), opens with "A Walk In The Rain" that shows the influence of Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, an opinion strengthened by the strong trombone solo of Naomi Siegel. The funky rhythm section - Ryan Burns (piano), Geoff Harper (bass) and Eric Eagle (drums) - keep the piece on track while the sections interact behind the combined solos of Skerik and trombonist Jacob Herring. The next 6 songs feature plenty of group interaction and very few solos, ranging from the lovely ballad "Forgiveness" (it's a treat to hear the reeds dancing around the brass figures in ways that remind this listener of the music of Ms. Holcomb) to "Daylight" with its quiet rubato opening to the sudden explosion of sound.  Again, the reeds carry the melody until they begin to furiously challenge the brass.  "Barber Shop", with its English Music Hall bouncy rhythm, replaces the Strayhorn with a blend of Ray Davies (around the time of "Village Green Preservation Society") as well as a Bavarian Gilbert & Sullivan brass section. There's a touch of Anthony Braxton and Muhal Richard Abrams' circular melodies, rhythmic variations and section interaction on "Ironbound."

"Side B" opens with "Prepaid Funeral", a swirl of horns, reeds and rhythm section sprinkled with fine solos, sounding like the work Bob Brookmeyer did with the New Art Orchestra in the first decade of the 2000s. The solos grow naturally out of the section interplay. Unlike the majority of the tracks on "Side A", most of these songs have solos.  "Sweeter Than The Day", which is also the name of a quartet Horvitz led from 1999-2008, has a melody and harmony feel of Randy Newman and Robbie Robertson - the quartet version came be heard on the group's 2002 Songlines CD (which also contains "Ironbound.") "Disingenuous Firefight" (also recorded by STTD on its 2000 debut) marries a boppish groove to a mysterious descending line while Al Keith (trumpet) and Ms. Siegel play above the band (there's a touch of Carla Bley's music in this tune). Back into an Ellington and Basie groove for the title track, which features strong solos from Steve O'Brien (trumpet), Kate Olson (soprano saxophone) and Beth Fleenor (clarinet).

"At The Reception" is a delightful large ensemble recording, depending more on Wayne Horvitz's intelligent arrangements and well-crafted songs than on solo after solo.  The section writing is truly delightful.  During his career, Wayne Horvitz has rarely stayed in the same mode for long periods of time but does like to rearrange his material for different groups. The Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble is quite a treat, not only for aficionados of his music but for fans of contemporary big band music. For more information, go to songlines.com/release/at-the-reception/ - there are even a pair of bonus tracks.

It's been nearly 15 years since pianist/composer Frank Kimbrough recorded an album as a leader that also featured a reed player (Scott Robinson appeared on 2000's "Noumena").  His 6th release (7th, if you count the digital-only reissue of "Chant") for Palmetto Records is aptly "Frank Kimbrough Quartet" and finds the pianist in the company of drummer Lewis Nash, bassist Jay Anderson and saxophonist Steve Wilson (alto and soprano) - the latter 2 musicians also play alongside Kimbrough in the Maria Schneider Orchestra. All 4 are members of Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project.

Judging by the opening 2 cuts, "The Call" and "Blue Smoke", the addition of Wilson has opened up the possibilities for Kimbrough's music. Both pieces have great forward motion with the former having a strong blues feel while the latter swings with abandon. The composer's Southern roots (he was raised in North Carolina) are quite evident on "Kudzu" - Nash's work is quite "groovy" while Anderson's thick tones create a solid foundation for the soloists.

Still, there are few who play an introspective ballad as well as Kimbrough and this CD has several excellent additions to his repertoire.  "Trouble Man" (the Kurt Weill composition, not the Marvin Gaye one) is a lovely piece, framed intelligently by Nash's cymbal work and Anderson's melodic bass work. Wilson's soprano lines are filled with sweetness and a generosity which one also hears on the closing track, the Rodgers & Hart gem, "It Never Entered My Mind."  There is a bluesy touch to Wilson's lines as well as a sparkling bass solo - Kimbrough states the melody at the beginning and as the piece closes. Otherwise, his sensitive support and Nash's splendid brush work give the saxophonist and bassist wings to soar.

The Quartet jumps right into John Lewis's "Afternoon in Paris", everyone at his melodic best (yes, even Nash.)  It's fun to hear these musicians move from the solo piano introduction of the melody into the body of the piece and realize how "free" the music becomes.  Kimbrough supports the lyrical saxophone while Anderson and Nash play around beneath them. During the long piano solo, the rhythm section continues to play outside the form and, damn, if that's not exhilarating.

"Frank Kimbrough Quartet" is what one has come to expect from the pianist and more.  Melody, rhythms, group interactions, sensitive ballads, and utter joy.  The liner notes say that the CD was culled from one 6-hour session at Systems Two in Brooklyn, NY.  O, what fun they must have had! If you like music that takes chances and also soothes the soul, dig into this disk.  For more info ration, go to home.earthlink.net/~fkimbrough/.

Frank Kimbrough joins leader and saxophonist Noah Preminger, bassist Ed Howard and drummer Billy Drummond this Saturday November 1 (already!) for an 8:30 p.m. gig at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme. Young Mr. Preminger (pictured left), a CT native now living in the Boston area and in school at his alma mater The New England Conservatory, working on his Master's Degree, returns to the venue as a leader - he appeared once before as a member of the Rob Garcia 4.

Kimbrough appeared on the saxophonist's 2011 Palmetto debut, "Before the Rain" as well as 2008's "Dry Bridge Road", recorded when Preminger was in his senior year at NEC.  They work well together, knowing when to push each or when to hold back or when to lay out.  Preminger, like the pianist, is a melodic player and, as he has matured, has become an excellent soloist, neither dull nor derivative. The veteran rhythm section will not only be supportive but also knows when to light a fire and build the intensity.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. - reservations and more information can be found thesidedoorjazz.com or by calling 860-434-0886.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ideas Into Music

The music that drummer/composer Tyshawn Sorey creates is truly his own.  If you have only seen or heard powering groups led by Vijay Iyer, Anthony Braxton, Steve Lehman, Armen Donelian or the trio he co-leads with Ingrid Laubrock and Kris Davis (Paradoxical Frog), you know that the Newark, New Jersey-native is capable of shaking the foundations.  Yet, his own recordings, of which the latest "Alloy" (Pi Recordings), are often quiet with long pieces and, oddly (to some) very little drumming.

As a composer, Mr. Sorey shows the influence of Morton Feldman and that influence can be felt throughout "Alloy."  With pianist Cory Symthe and bassist Chris Tordini, the 4 tracks are deliberate, filled with moments of silence, quiet interactions and, unlike several of his previous CDs, handsome, long, melodic lines.  A sense of sly playfulness can be heard in the trio's interactions on the opening track, "Returns", with Smythe (who is knowns for his work with violinist Hilary Hahn) sounding like Thelonious Monk at times.  His solemn solo lines lead into "Movement" - he plays the Satie-like melody by himself for the first 6 minutes (the piece runs 19:52) with his lines opening up as the bass and drums enter.  He and Tordini both play melodies as the drummer moves around his cymbals. The pianist's phrases stretch out as the song progresses yet retain a strong melodic bent. "Template" and has a "freer" feel, still quiet, until 2:30 into the 7-minute track when the drummer falls into quite a funky figure.  The remainder of the track may remind some of Vijay Iyer's pieces that cross hip-hop beats with trance-like piano figures and bouncing bass accompaniment.

The longest track, "A Love Song", clocks in at just under 31 minutes and opens with a long solo piano statement.  Filled with repetitive figures, sustained notes, quiet chords that change every now and then, it becomes easy to surrender to the mesmerizing melody. The serenity of the music changes slightly when the bassist enters at the 19:40 mark, his round tones move with the piano and then one hears the quiet cymbal splashes. When Mr. Sorey drops into a slow, soulful, beat, Smythes lines pick up in intensity, like a heavy spring shower falling atop the rhythm section. The bass and drums stop abruptly; the remaining 3 minutes are quiet, impressionistic, piano notes and chords that slowly brig the piece to a close, like the final raindrops coming off the leaves at the end of a summer rainstorm.

"Alloy" is stunning, peaceful, challenging, art without artifice.  This is music that slowly works its way into your mind and puts you at rest.  Even when the Trio goes "out", it's not for long.  Upon listening, one might think this is Cory Smythe's album.  Those listeners who know the music of Tyshawn Sorey understand that he composes for a "sound", for an overall group impression, and not to show off how great a player he or any member of his ensembles can be. It's a rare gift to hear music this peaceful in such a noisy world. Be grateful for this.  For more information, go to www.pirecordings.com/album/pi56 or to www.tyshawnsorey.net.

Sketches is a New York-based quintet that has hit upon a unique group dynamic. All of their music is original (not so rare nowadays)  with each track composed by one member based on a "sketch" of another member. Composed of Jeremy Udden (alto and soprano saxophones), Matt Holman (trumpet and flugelhorn), Jarrett Cherner (piano), Martin Nevin (bass) and Ziv Ravitz (drums, mixing and mastering), the quintet came together in 2011.  All are as busy as sideman and/or leaders and their varied influences are evident in the music.  "Volume 1" was issued early in November 2013 (though it was recorded 14 months earlier) while the new recording comes from a March 2014 recording session.

The way that Udden and Holman blend their sound throughout the recording is quite impressive.  Pieces such as "Y & H" and the opening "Caught In The Storm" build from the harmonies the two create as well as the active but never intrusive drumming.  Cherner's fine chordal work on "Sirenia" and the ever-so-funky "Bibi" is both melodic and supportive.  It may take a few close listens to notice the fine support of bassist Nevin (who has worked with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and Joe Lovano) but his work frees up both the drummer and pianist to explore. As he and Cherner hold down the bottom, Udden, Holman and Ravitz push the exciting "Rub" to its boiling point.  As for the drummer, Ravitz shines throughout, whether it's the New Orleans strut of "Hybrid Cars" or The Band-like slow drag of "Hail From Plainville" (which features a delightful soprano sax solo).

There is a dramatic quality to songs such as "Wrong Place, Wrong Time", its handsome melody line taking its time to unfold.  With the rhythm section pushing the intensity, the alto sax and flugelhorn unwrap the melody with Holman getting the only solo. Whereas "Dyson Ritual" has more fire, especially noticeable in the trumpet and drums interaction in the middle of the performance. Cherner rides the circular bass lines and intense drumming for his solo just before the close of the song. The pianist studied at the New England Conservatory, played with the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra and earned a Master's Degree from the Manhattan School of Music.  He's an impressive soloist and an immaculate accompanist.

The only track that is not a collaboration is the short (1:13) "Calm After The Storm" that closes the album.  All 5 play but there are no solos, just the piano, sax and trumpet sharing the melody line as the bass and drums offer support.

"Sketches" becomes songs and songs become vehicles for intelligent and exciting interactions throughout this first-rate program. The quintet does perform live and one imagines the music gets stronger and stronger the more they play together.  Honest and unpretentious, Sketches catches your attention from the opening notes.  For more information, go to www.sketchesmusic.com.

Here's "Bibi" (composed by Jeremy Udden from a sketch by Jarrett Cherner):

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

More Live Music + Keyboard Trio CD

Infinity Hall, 32 Front Street in Hartford, presents David Bromberg in concert Thursday Oct 23 at 8 p.m.  Bromberg, who plays guitar and mandolin plus sings in a earnest style, has been playing blues, folk, country, rock - Americana is the best overall genre - since the late 1960s, working with Jerry Jeff Walker, Bob Dylan and so many more. After some time off the trail, Bromberg returned in 2011 with a great recording for the Appleseed Recordings label titled "Use Me" and now is touring in support of "Only Slightly Mad", a fine collection that opens with a raucous, rocking, version of "Nobody's Fault But Mine" - the piece features some nasty slide guitar.

Joining will be the CD producer Larry Campbell, a master of many stringed instruments plus local folk artist Eric Michael Lichter.  For ticket information, go to www.infinityhall.com or call 866-666-6306.

The Hartford Jazz Society presents saxophonist J.D. Allen and his Quartet in concert Friday 10/24 at 7 p.m. in Polish National Home, 60 Asylum Avenue in Hartford.   Since 2008, the Detroit native has released 6 CDs, 4 on Sunnyside Records with his fine Trio and the most recent 2 with his new Quartet (the latest, "Bloom", was issued several months ago on the Savant label.) Joining him will be pianist Victor Gould, bassist Alexander Claffy and drummer Jonathan Barber (a native of Hartford).  To his credit, Allen has carved his own sound in a crowded field of saxophonists with his focus on melody and short yet rich solos.

Opening the show will be the East Catholic High School Jazz Ensemble.  For ticket information, go to www.hartfordjazzsociety.com or Integrity 'N' Music in Wethersfield.

Busy weekend at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme. On Friday, the young tenor saxophonist Chelsea Baratz comes to the club; recommended by pianist Orrin Evans, the Pittsburgh native has been gathering fans with her fine musicianship since first arriving on the scene a mere 4 years ago. Her debut CD, "In Faith", came about in 2011 and is a pleasing blend of jazz, funk and r'n'b.

Her bands includes Eric Wheeler (bass), Joe Blaxx (drums) and Warren Fields (keyboards). Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the first set commences at 8:30.  Go to thesidedoorjazz.com for ticket information or call 860-434-0886.

On Saturday, Jan and Ken welcome vocalist Marianne Solivan for 2 sets of contemporary music. Ms. Solivan is certainly a citizen of the world, having lived in Venezuela, and New Jersey before sending her high school years in Massachusetts. After studying at the New England Conservatory of music in Boston, she began working with musicians like Roy Hargrove and clarinetist Daryl Harper.

Her second album as a leader, "Spark", was issued in September on HiPNOTIC Records. Self-produced, the recording is a splendid blend of standards and originals, with Ms. Solivan's handsome vocals framed by the piano of Xavier Davis, basis Matthew Parish and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.

For her Old Lyme gig, she's bringing pianist John Chin, bassist Neal Caine and drummer Montez Coleman.   The first set starts at 8:30 p.m.  Check the website and/or number above for ticket information.

Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, continues its classy Fall 2014 Concert Series this Friday evening with The Wee Trio.  Composed of Dan Loomis (bass), Jared Schonig (drums) and James Westfall (vibraphone), the ensemble came together 6 years ago in Brooklyn, playing (mostly) original music built upon one of the better rhythm sections in creative music. They released 4 CDs, the most recent being 2013's "Live at The Bistro" released on the group's Bionic Records. Loomis has worked with T.S. Monk, the David Bixler Quintet and, most notably, with drummer Ernesto Cervini's Quartet.  Schonig also is a busy player, working with Tyler Blanton, Erika Von Kleist and powering the Nathan Parker Smith Large Ensemble.

Together, The Wee Trio rocks, swings and struts with the best of them.  They'll play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for more information, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.

The Yale School of Music/Ellington Music Series presents the great bassist Ron Carter and his equally talented Trio at Morse Recital Hall, located in Sprague Hall at 470 College Street (corner of Wall Street), New Haven.  Carter was a member of the legendary Miles Davis Quintet from 1963-69, creating many memorable rhythms alongside drummer Tony Williams.  He's also played on over 2,500 recordings in a career that has spanned 50+ years.  Joining him will be guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Donald Vega.  Expect the music to have a deep groove, to swing with grace and to be filled with melodies. For ticket information, go to music.yale.edu or call 203-432-4158

The monthly "Improvisations" series at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street in Hartford, continues this coming Sunday (10/26) with a 3-way conversation featuring series curators Stephen Haynes (cornets, trumpets), Joe Morris (guitar, bass) and their guest, vibraphonist Bryan Carrott. Mr. Carrott has worked with Ralph Peterson, Gunther Schuller, David "Fathead" Newman, and in the Broadway production of "The Lion King."  He is truly a "mallet master".

It's a an early show - 3 p.m. - for more information and tickets, go to www.realartways.org/livearts.htm#Improvisations or www.facebook.com/events/767506246638548/.

Here's a unique twist on the piano trio genre - the Parker Abbott Trio, composed on pianists Teri Parker and Simeon Abbott plus drummer Mark Seeger, has a new CD, "The Wayfinders" (self-released) that blends acoustic and electric pianos as well as synthesizers into a pleasing musical experience. The pianists have been working throughout Canada for the past several years, recording a duo CD in 2010 that experimented with different styles of music on different keyboards. Adding a drummer has focussed their attention on melodies and structure, creating a sound that veers closer to progressive rock than jazz.  The blend of synths, keys and a skid backbeat propels the opening track "Nature Speaks", sounding not unlike Elton John meets Andy Partridge (XTC).  The Rhodes and drums set a funky and mysterious pace on "Coral Castle" while "Companions" would not sound out of place with words or vocals by Peter Gabriel. The Wurlitzer sound on "Circus Piece" creates a spooky ambiance, heightened by the rhythm moving in and out of waltz time. The longest cut, at 7+ minutes, "With Robots We Live Forever" has moments that remind this listener of Rush (the chord changes and the driving rhythms at the beginning and near the end.

The sounds created by the Parker Abbott Trio on "The Wayfinders" probably won't attract many straight-ahead jazz fans but this is no "New-Age" musical fantasy. There are stories inside these songs, carried by the finely-crafted melodies, heightened by the interactions of the two keyboardists and booted by the contributions of drummer Seeger.  Throw away your expectations and just listen - you will find much to like in this piano trio.  For more information, and to listen to all the tracks go to parkerabbott.ca.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

October Recommendations (Part 2)

It's been over 4 years since drummer Owen Howard released "Drum Lore", his musical "love letter" to the drummer/composers who influenced his playing, writing and arranging.  It remains one of my favorite recording of the decade and I still listen to it on a regular basis.  Bless my soul, here's"Drum Lore Vol.2: More Lore" (BJU Records) and, while the program pays tribute to more of Howard's favorites, he also includes 4 original compositions and uses his "working quintet" of John O'Gallagher (alto saxophone), Adam Kolker (tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet), Frank Carlberg (piano) and Johannes Weidenmueller (bass).

The band plays compositions by Joe Chambers, Victor Lewis, Paul Motian, Tony Williams and "Philly" Joe Jones, all of whom (except Jones) are known for writing much of their material for their groups (although Motian recorded a slew of standards and Broadway tunes). Howard's arrangements don't veer much from the originals save for speeding up Williams's "Pee Wee" and changing the time signature on Lewis's "Hey, It's Me You're Talking To."  Howard pays tribute to Motian in his intro to the late drummer's "Mumbo Jumbo" and, although most fans don't need reminding, it's fun to hear someone else Motian's unique music.

Just as impressive as the "tributes" are the original pieces.  "Plus/Minus" opens the CD, an uptempo romp that gives everyone a chance to just "blow."  "Haiku" (which appears twice on the program, the second time as the solo piano piece at the end of the CD ) has a lovely melody played by the alto sax and bass clarinet with bass and piano offering counterpoint over Howard's active brush work.  The funky reworking of Sonny Rollins's melody "Oleo" into "Like Buttah" (honest) features a staggered beat, strong work from Kolker (tenor) and O'Gallagher with Carlberg pushing and prodding at the piano.  Weidenmueller keeps the beat straight while the leader gets to play.  The rhythm section falls into a boppish beat for Carlberg's excellent solo. There's a "free" approach to the group interactions on "Labyrinth" with all 5  playing melody lines (yes, even Howard at the drums) until one by one they fall into the "Mwandishi"-like groove for the melody. Another change in tempo leads to solos by Kolker (bass clarinet), Carlberg, Weidenmueller and concluding with O'Gallagher.  All the while, Howard plays creatively and with great taste, keeping the music fresh and exciting. This creativity happens because these 5 musicians are comfortable with each other, know each others strengths, understand they can go as far as deep into the music as possible because of trust (and talent).

"More Lore" reminds one that musicians can go back to their roots and make their explorations sound fresh and relevant.  Owen Howard and his talented cohorts have a great time bringing this music to life; it's a joy to listen to.  For more information, go to owenhoward.net.

Nathan Parker Smith, a native of northern California, formed his Large Ensemble in 2009, a 17-piece band that just about blows down the house on its debut CD, "Not Dark Yet" (BJU Records). Darcy James Argue has described the music that his Secret Society plays as "steampunk" - well, this recording is really "punk steampunk."  11 tracks in just under 37 minutes, only 1 over 5 minutes and 4 under 3 minutes, all original compositions, this program challenges the listener's understanding of what a large ensemble can do.

You'll recognize some of the names from their own work or other big bands.  The trumpet section includes David Smith and Matt Holman, both of whom have recorded for BJU while trombonist JC Sanford just issued one of the best recordings of 2014 on Whirlwind Records ("Views From The Inside"). On Rhodes is the fine young player/composer Landon Knoblock and the drummer is Jared Schonig (who is 1/3rd of the Wee Trio).

The music Smith composes has its roots in "prog-rock" (the short opener "Mega" shows the influence of King Crimson), the "big-band" rock sound of Chicago, the music of John Hollenbeck, a touch of Frank Zappa, and 20th Century classical music.  With such short songs, the solo space tends to be diminutive but each solo, whether it's 4 bars or 2 verses, stands out.  "Dark Matter" has saxophonists Michael Thomas and Kevin Russell, trumpeter Josh Deutsch and trombonist Nick Finzer trading lines and then all soloing atop the forceful sound of their colleagues.    Schonig and electric bassist Russ Flynn are the booster engines on "Rhetoric Machine", replete with fuzzed Rhodes and thick guitar chords (courtesy of Kenji Shinagawa). There are moments when the rapid-fire phrases played by the brass and reeds bring to mind the more electric sounds of the late Don Ellis as well as some of the music Buddy Rich made late in his career.

This music just keeps coming at you, with the only exception being the solo piano opening of "Solace" but, once Knoblock falls into a groove and Schonig enters, the music goes wild all over again (great squalling horn arrangement). A hint of funk enters the mix on the oddly-timed "Spin", which features a sparkling alto sax solo from Chris Shade, flutes in the reed section and a rousing solo from Deutsch.  The flutes are evident again on "Build and Destroy", swirling in the mix with the roaring brass and crunching sounds from the rhythm section.

Although Nathan Parker Smith thanks Dave Rivello, Jim McNeely, Mike Holober JC Sanford, and Ryan Truesdell, all of whom write for or arrange or lead large ensembles, "Not Dark Yet" owes as much to the experiments of the Willem Breuker Kollektief and Robert Fripp as it does to anyone else listed above (at least, to these aging ears.) If there is are "star performers" on this CD, it's certainly Jared Schonig and Russ Flynn - they provide the power that fuels the brass, reeds, guitar and keys.  This is blockbuster, even bruising, music with little respite on the program; such vigorous music might scare some folks away.  Can't wait to hear this ensemble live - for more information, go to nathanpsmith.com.

Lend an ear to "Interstellar Radiation Field":

Saxophonist Dayna Stephens has developed into quite a force on saxophone over the past decade.  Most people know him as a tenor player but on his new recording "Peace" (Sunnyside), he is featured on soprano, alto and baritone as well. Stephens has also become an impressive composer but, for this CD, he stashed his pen and chose to interpret 11 standards from the likes of Horace Silver, Astor Piazzola, Enrico Morricone, Henry Mancini, Dave Brubeck and others.  Producer Matt Pierson brought in a stunning group of musicians to support the saxophonist.  The rhythm section features Larry Grenadier (bass) and Eric Harland (drums); rounding out the group is pianist Brad Mehldau and guitarist Julian Lage. Not everyone plays on all the cuts ("Body and Soul" is just sax with bass and quiet drums) but this is really Dayna Stephens's show. The playful interaction of tenor and guitar on Mancini's "Two For The Road" while Mehldau meshes well with Lage on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Zingaro." Stephens brings out the baritone for a delightful stroll with with the pianist and rhythm section through "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" - his feathery solo is one of the highlights of the recording.  Mehldau really digs into his solo on the title track as does Grenadier while Lage's work on Sacha Distel's melody "The Good Life" stands out.

The 2 Morricone pieces are from movie soundtracks.  "Brothers" is from the 1986 movie "The Mission" and, at 1:44, is the shortest cut on the album. The lovely, classically inspired, melody is just right for the soprano sax and with both Lage and Mehldau providing counterpoint (and Grenadier holding down the bottom - Harland sits out), the music has a strong emotional pull. As does "Deborah's Theme" (from "Once Upon A Time in America") - Harland's cymbals, Mehldau's rippling piano lines, Lage's simple yet effective guitar fills and Grenadier's bowed bass all provide the framework for the sweet alto reading of the melody.

"Peace" is mostly ballads but don't think for one moment that Dayna Stephens has sold out.  He gives his accompanists plenty of room but doesn't shortchange the fan who expects lots of saxophone.  No clutter, no muss or fuss, just classic melodies that play to the strengths of all the musicians involved. For more information, go to sunnysidezone.com/album/peace.

Here's Stephens with Grenadier and Harland on "Body and Soul":

The first recorded collaboration Brian Lynch (trumpet) and Emmet Cohen (piano), "Questioned Answer" (Holistic MusicWorks), is one of the most enjoyable of this and any year. Comprised on 9 tracks, 3 of which are duets and 6 with the "ideal" rhythm section of Boris Kozlov (bass) and Billy Hart (drums), the music is exploratory, celebratory, introspective and downright exciting.  Lynch met the young pianist when Cohen's Trio played a Jazz Cruise in 2011 and again when the trumpeter joined the faculty of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami where Cohen was in his final year of his undergraduate career.  Their proximity gave them ample opportunities to play together and Lynch soon became a mentor.  Cohen had already recorded his debut CD (reviewed here) and come in 3rd in the 2011 Thelonious Monk Piano Competition.

This new CD, recorded a year after they met, includes 3 original pieces each by Lynch and Cohen with the duo tracks of standards.  The trumpeter's "Cambios" opens the album on a sprightly, hard-bop, rhythm pushed by Kozlov's solid bass lines and Hart's splendid cymbal work.  Lynch's "Buddy" is a funky number (dig Hart's "in-the-pocket" drumming) with a wistful melody line.  There's a touch of Herbie Hancock in Cohen's fine solo which incites the drummer to truly "play around", at times, as the pianist moves through his statement. Hart's cymbal splashes frame the sparkling trumpet solo. The title track, the 3rd Lynch piece, is a lively tune with a fine circular melody line. The trumpeter drives through his solo, interacting with the piano and pushing the rhythm section.

Cohen's contributions include the intriguing "Dark Passenger", which opens with muffled piano notes before Lynch plays the flowing melody line. The pianist and trumpeter share the solo space in an extended call-and-response that displays how creative both can be.  Hart's solo follows, a swirl of cymbals, rolls and thumps that leads to a return to the opening melody. "Distant Hallow" also has a mysterious feel in the modified montuno (expertly echoed by Kozlov) and a smartly-placed "straight-ahead" rhythm for the solos.  Cohen rarely goes where one might expect, taking his time to decide how to move through the landscape until his phrases begin to lengthen. He drops back to allow Lynch to take over and the trumpeter digs right in, delivering a powerful statement. The third Cohen, "Petty Theft", opens with a lovely solo piano melody before the rest of the group enters and, despite the title, the music feels very modern, open chords, bass and drums moving independently of the trumpet while the piano moves in and out of the background (mid-to-late 60's Miles Davis Group comes to mind.

The standards include an expansive reading of Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is The Ocean" (with quite the piano solo), a quiet and somewhat wistful "I Wish I Knew" (composed by Harry Warren and Mck Gordon in 1945) and a playful reading of "Just In Time" (the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne tune) that displays Lynch's more melodic side.

"Questioned Answer" has so much going for it, from the crisp interplay of Brian Lynch and Emmet Cohen to the first-class rhythm section to the young pianist's originality as a soloist, accompanist and composer.  Lynch is no slouch as a composer and performer either.  This is an album where the musicians inspire each other and it shows from the opening moment to the simple stick figure on the cymbals that ushers in the silence.  You'll be able to listen to this CD many times and pick on something new each time you do.  For more information, go to hollisticmusicworks.com.

Here's a taste of "Distant Hallows"- Enjoy!

To his credit, no two of pianist/composer Ezra Weiss's six CDs sound alike.  He has recorded with a big band, with vocalists, did a tribute to the late Shirley Horn and written for young audiences.  "Ezra Weiss Sextet: Before You Know It [Live In Portland]" (Roark Records) is the 7th and continues that trend.  Now living and teaching in Portland, Oregon, Weiss leads an ensemble featuring Farnell Newton (trumpet), John Nastos (alto saxophone), Devin Phillips (tenor saxophone), Jon Shaw (bass) and Christopher Brown (drums) through a 8-song program (6 originals, 2 "standards") recorded live at Ivories Jazz Lounge. It's a generous recording (77 minutes) and, happily, goes in many different directions though one can detect the influence of Blue Note recordings from the mid-60s.

The CD opens with the funky, slinky, "Winter Machine", with the handsome theme first presented by Nastos then supported by Newton and Phillips. Weiss joins his left hand with the bass and they support the front line while Brown pushes from below.  Newton is impressive throughout - the young trumpeter, who has toured with Jill Scott and Bootsy Collins, has a crisp yet forceful sound and style  (think Nicholas Payton) and is a pleasing foil for Nastos's more soulful sound and Phillips' fuller tones.   Each one delivers a strong solo on the lovely ballad "Don't Need No Ticket" as does bassist Shaw (but, surprisingly, not the pianist.) The New Orleans-flavored "The Five A.M. Strut" is just that, a high-stepping strut that gets its bounce from the bassist's percussive work and the drummer's fancy footwork. It's the longest track on the CD (15:15), contains several splendid solos including one from Weiss that starts slowly in the lower half of the piano and slowly moves up on both the keys and in intensity.

Of the "standards", the first is a pleasing reading of the Gershwin's "A Foggy Day" with handsome harmonies during the theme and a series of fine solos. The music swings yet there is a contemplative feel to the piece; one can just kick back to enjoy how the bass and drums really provide the spark to the soloists. Three cuts later, the Sextet enters the world of John Coltrane's "Alabama", the composer's lament for the four girls killed in the September 1963 church bombing in Birmingham. After the 5-minute rubato introduction, the rhythm section locks into the powerful rhythms first created by McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones beneath Phillip's reading of the theme. The tenor saxophonist, a transplant from New Orleans, is the only soloist and Phillips pours his heart into the solo, slowly building to a mighty crescendo before the entire group returns for the heartfelt coda.

The title track closes the program - it's a slow, soulful, blues that is more celebratory (composed before the birth of Weiss's first child) than cerebral, with a touch of Joe Zawinul's "Mercy Mercy" in the piano chords. It's a gentle reminder that music can provide a cushion in uncertain times.

"Before You Know It" is a true band effort. In fact, Ezra Weiss does not not solo on every track but he creates the music and arrangements that gives his musical cohorts the freedom to have their "say." Enjoyable and honest music, this CD is worth your attention. For more information, go to ezraweiss.com.