Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Farewell Fred Anderson

Since his passing last week, I've been reading plenty of tributes to saxophonist, composer and club owner Fred Anderson.  He lived a busy life, playing and working (mostly) in Chicago.  Born in Louisiana, he moved up north to the Windy City with his mother when he was fairly young and stayed.  Perhaps best known as one of the founders of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Anderson was a champion of young musicians and a consummate tenor saxophonist. To these ears, his style was built from the powerful tenor traditions of the 40s and 50s (a real basis in the blues) plus a keen appreciation for the work of John Coltrane.  Unlike many of his contemporaries, Anderson rarely screeched or squawked or even played in the higher registers of his instrument yet always pushed and pulled at rhythms.  He loved to work with strong drummers, people like Steve McCall, Robert Barry and Hamid Drake.  He also favored playing in smaller ensembles, duo, trio and quartet settings, creating longer works filled with interplay and solos that took plenty of time to develop. You can find many of his recordings on the Chicago-based Delmark Records and Thrill Jockey labels as well as the Okka Disk label from Milwaukee.

Anderson opened The Velvet Lounge on the South Side of Chicago in the early 1980s and could often there tending bar and listening to young players.  Many of the fine young Chicago-area musicians have worked there, from Ken Vandermark to guitarist Jeff Parker to saxophonist Matana Roberts to the post-rock Tortoise.  The club has live music 5 nights a week and is often crowded with jazz fans from around the world.

No one knows if Fred Anderson could have or would have been a bigger star if he had left Chicago and settled in New York City (like so many jazz players have down since the 1920s.)  But, his fine music and honest approach to fellow musicians made him quite a stellar person to many people.

On the last month, the jazz/creative music worldhas lost Mr. Anderson, trumpeter/conceptualist Bill Dixon and trombonist Benny Powell.  All brought special gifts to this world and all will be missed.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Quick Picks of Pickers

One of my favorite "listens" of the past several months is this quirky solo guitar CD by Eric Hofbauer.  "American Fear" (Creative Nation Music) is a fascinating blend of recognizable tunes (from Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" to Tears for Fear's "Everybody Wants to Rule the World") to very short original works that have splintered rhythms and fractured melodies.  Hofbauer re-imagines Andrew Hill's "Black Fire" and one sees the song in a much different light.  He does the same for Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", with an abstract on the piece that seem to focus on how the song moves. One hears traces of Derek Bailey and Fred Frith in the "freer" sections and Jim Hall in Hofbauer's electric guitar sound. The take of Charlie Parker's "Moose the Mooche" features the guitar modified by threading a business card through the strings, creating a kalimba-like sound.   This is quite the recital and one must come to the music with an open mind. For more information, go to
Here's his take on "Hot For Teacher", courtesy of Creative Nation Music and IODA Promonet:
Hot for Teacher (mp3)

Guitarist Phil Sargent has created a program with his self-released "A New Day" that has traces of Chick Corea's Return to Forever (both the acoustic and electric versions) as well as a taste of the sound of British "prog-rockers" Hatfield & The North.  Perhaps it's the wordless vocals of Aubrey Johnson, the expansive and supportive rhythm section of Greg Loughman (bass) and Mike Connors (drums) or Sargent's well-developed melodies.  6-string aficionados will appreciate the different guitar tones Sargent uses, from the reggae-inspired "clicking" background on "Kelita" to the Allan Holdsworth-like "shredding" on "Powerplay." Loughman and Connors are 2/3rds of the John Funkhouser Trio (the pianist plays on the title track), they understand poly-rhythms, and know when to really push the proceedings or lay back to let Sargent lead the way. Johnson often shadows the guitar lines, helping to fill out the sound.  She leads the way on "Light",  displaying a lovely sound and big range - the piece moves in unexpected directions. "A New Day" is a very pleasing blend of jazz, rock and pop influences that sounds mighty nice pouring out of the speakers. For more information, go to

Based in the San Francisco Bay area, guitarist George Cotsirilos has just issued his 3rd CD for the OA2 Label.  "Past Present" features his working trio of Robb Fisher (bass) and Ron Marabuto (drums) and is a light-hearted, softly swinging mainstream affair.  Cotsirilos has a warm, articulate, guitar style with solos that rise easily out of the melodies.  Despite the presence of several "standards", this is not "supper club" jazz.  The Trio takes "The Way You Look Tonight" and swing it fairly hard.  Fisher's bass lines are quite active, serving as a good counterpoint to the leader's rippling phrases.  Marabuto's cymbal work is pleasing throughout, no more so than on the bluesy, up-tempo, "Rosie's Tune." Cotsirilos switches to acoustic guitar for an unaccompanied version of "What Kind of Fool Am I" - he really caresses the melody yet adds just the right amount of flourishes to keep the piece moving.
While there's nothing "new" on "Past Present", the music is played so well, so thoughtfully and so melodically by this Trio, it's easy and rewarding to return to time and again.  One imagines that their "live" shows sound just like this. For more information, go to

Recorded in February of 2000 and initially released on the Blue Music Group label, "Bloom" (Sunnyside Records) is a series of improvised duets featuring guitarist Ben Monder and tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry.  On several of the tracks, Monder creates various "sound sculptures" that McHenry maneuvers through.  Works like the title track and "Poppies", the music rises and falls on Monder's chordal interjections.  Sometimes, the music is so quiet, such as the first half of "The Shadow Casts Its Object", that it's easy to get lost in the pauses and moments of silence. "Winter" has quiet intensity and a blend of dissonance and melody, like a work by Philip Glass. When the saxophonist leads the way, as on "Chiggers" and "Heliogabalus", the music picks up in pace, although on the latter track, Monder plays quite deliberately beneath the boppish saxophone lines (they then switch roles for the guitar solo.) 
One is used to Bill McHenry working in small ensembles, creating musical worlds that often swing or sway with an emphasis on melodic and harmonic development. Ben Monder has created many different sonic worlds for groups large and small.  On this date, the duo has experimented in developing an audio program that is adventurous in scope and execution but may be too chilly for those expecting musical fire.  Yet, this CD is well worth exploriing.  For more information, click on

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Good Music, Good Cause

Summer can now officially begin - The 18th Annual Hot Steamed Jazz Festival takes place this weekend (6/25-27) on the grounds of the Essex Steam Train, right off Exit 3 of Route 9 South.

As usual, the committee has put together a "killer" lineup.  Festival favorites such as Dan Levinson (pictured), Bob Seeley and the Galvanized Jazz Band play alongside newcomers like Cangelosi Cards and the duo of Bolcom & Morris.  And there's more where they came from.  4 separate sessions (Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and evening and Sunday afternoon) will showcase musicians young and old.  The music takes place under several tents (so the show goes on rain or shine) and it's all for a good cause.  All the proceeds (after expenses) go to Paul Newman's Hole-in-the-Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, CT, a place for young people with serious illnesses or diseases can have a "summer camp" experience. It's quite a place with a wonderful staff but it costs plenty of money every year to keep it running.

Other artists scheduled to appear include Kevin Dorn's Big 72Buffalo Ridge Jazz Band, Annette St. John, The Festival All-Stars with Ray Skalski, and the Sugarfoot Youth Jazz Band (an ensemble made up of talented young musicians from Connecticut under the direction of Art Hovey.)

The above-mentioned Levinson will appear, at least, twice - first, he'll be heard with the James Langston's New York All-Star Band and then he'll present an interesting program called "The Three Benny Opera", a salute to Benny Goodman featuring 3 clarinetists. 

William Bolcom is, most certainly, one of the United States most eclectic composers. He's created operas, symphonies, sonatas, cabaret songs and "modern" rags.  Along with his wife, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, he's organized a program of "popular songs" from the early years of "Tin Pan Alley", songs that have heart and humor and a taste of history. The duo will appear in the Saturday evening program and there's a possibility Bolcom will also share the state with the great boogie-woogie pianist Bob Seeley.  No matter when he's playing, the music will be great fun.

Sunday's session will start with a Gospel Service at 10:30 a.m., led by Reverend Josh Crowell and featuring Ms. St. John, Seeley and the Festival All-Stars. That event is free and open to the public.  For ticket information, go to or call 1-800-348-0003. 

Go have fun and do it for a good cause.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Music That Excites and Delights

Five on One - Contact (Pirouet) - Contact is composed of 5 master musicians - Dave Liebman (tenor & soprano saxophones), Marc Copland (piano), John Abercrombie (guitar), Drew Gress (bass) and Billy Hart (drums) each has been on the "scene" for a good while.  Everyone contributes, at least, one original piece and they save the one standard, "You and the Night and the Music" for the final track.  Instead of breaking down each cut, let me illuminate what's so good about this CD.  First, it's most definitely a "group" recording - it feels like a working unit, the music breathes, the musicians are listening to each othe and the interplay is intuitive.  There are moments on the opening track "Sendup" when Copland, Abercrombie and Liebman are weaving lines around each other in the manner of The Hot Five in the 1920s.  That's not to say the tune is "trad jazz" or New Orleans Jazz but that the musicians are creating a rich tapestry.
Secondly, the music is cliche-free. Because the players trust each other, they can make individual statements and move in unexpected directions.  Thirdly, Abercrombie and Liebman have such distinctive styles.  The latter has such a "full" sound on soprano sax yet he never overblows as he displays on his romp through "Childhood Smile."  His tenor playing can be muscular but he tends to insinuate himself into a song.  He does just that on "You and The Night...", creating a solo that moves from contemplation to forceful phrases with ease and forethought. Abercrombie plays so smartly.  He can "let loose" with fiery lines (he does so on "Four On One") or play with grace of a dancer ("Lullaby for Imke".)
The rhythm section can't be beat. Gress is a strong support underneath and an expressive soloist while Hart swings, prods, pushes and caresses, often within one song.  He's a "colorist" and a sparkplug.
Copland is a smart accompanist, a playful and thoughtful soloist - his interactions with Liebman and Abercrombie make one sit up and pay attention while his rippling phrases can be mysterious and contemplative.  He's never showy or pretentious, always quite musical.
Good creative music makes one want to listen again and again because each musician is doing interesting work (and you can't take it in all at once.)  This music has swing, drive, melody, harmony and intelligence - give us more.  To  find out more, go to

Pretend It's The End of the World - Bryan and The Haggards (Hot Cup Records) - Caveat emptor! Do not read the liner notes first. The laughter that Leonardo Featherweight's words engender might cloud your mind.  Messrs Murray (tenor saxophone), Jon Irabagon (alto saxophone), Jon Lundblom (electric guitar), Matthew "Moppa" Elliott (bass) and Danny Fischer (drums) tackle the Merle Haggard songbook.... ...deconstruct and reconstruct are better words to describe the proceedings than "tackle."  They are certainly having fun but not (really) making fun of the material.  Yes, it gets unruly at times. The opener, "Silver Wings", sounds more like Neil Young's Crazy Horse (with saxophones)  and "Lonesome Fugitive" lurches about in a drunken manner but the band never messes with the melodies.  There's a touch of "Hee-Haw" on "All of Me Belongs to You" especially the "fey" vocals and Elliott's bass solo with scat singing (he bows the bass and does his best Slim Gailliard imitation).  Lundbom's guitar roars at times like Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and Nels Cline (the closing "Trouble in Mind" is the best example) but he can also pick a pleasant bit of rhythm guitar ("Swinging Doors"). That latter tune has a very jazzy, angular, tenor solo from Murray. The 2 saxophonists dip and swoop around each other with abandon on "Miss the Mississippi and You."  "Working Man Blues" begins as a "rocking" country tune but then Elliott commences a rapid "walking" bass line and it's off to the races with flailing solos from Murray and Ibragon as well as a "shred-fest" from Lundbom.  The tune gets "out there" yet the band pulls it back in for the closing romp.
This same quintet us featured on Lundbom's Big Five Chord  "Accomplish Jazz" Cd from earlier this year (reviewed here) which featured a sweet take on the Louvin Brothers' "The Christian Life."  This CD is a raucous but not caustic with enough "sweet" moments that work well beside the "rave-outs."  Mr. Haggard may be flattered (he has a noticeable "rebel" streak) and music lovers with open minds and a good sense of humor should dig right into this. To find out more, go to or

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cello, Saxophone, Piano and More

 With the International Festival of Arts & Ideas going strong for the next 12 days in New Haven (through June 26 - check it out an, reviewing the Maya Beiser disk takes me back 2 years when she premiered the work at the 2008 Festival. It was a great gig, an impressive display of musicianship and social awareness, and whetted one's appetite for the recording and future live performances.

Provenance - Maya Beiser (Innova Recordings) -For this program, Israeli-born cellist collected compositions from around the Middle East in a musical attempt to recreate the time that the Iberian Peninsula (now Spain and Portugal) was the peaceful home for Muslims, Jews and Christians (approximately from the 9th to the 15th Century, ending around 1490s with the expulsion of the Jews.)  Commerce and art flourished, there was peace and cooperation (less so in the later years under Christian rule.)

The CD features 4 of the works commissioned for the project plus a rousing rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." The program opens with "I Was There", from the pen of Iranian composer Kayhan Kalhor.  Featuring the percussion of Jamey Haddad and Shane Shanahan plus the oud work of Bassam Saba, the work moves slowly on a cello solo before Saba changes the mood with his articulated lines.  The percussion comes in 1/2 way through, giving the work a strong forward propulsion.  "Memories" is a beautiful and haunting ballad composed by the Armenian Djivan Gasparian. Beiser creates a drone and weaves the melody around it, filled with sadness and longing but not despair.  Israeli composer Tamar Muskat based his "Mar de Leche" (Sea of Milk) on a traditiona Ladino text (Ladino being a hybrid of Spanish and Hebrew. Saba, Haddad and Shanahan return, joined (in the beginning) by vocalist Etty Ben-Zaken. Muskat builds in many shifts in the piece's dynamics, flurries of notes and drum beats alternating with long, luxurious, melodic passages.  American composer Douglas Cuomo contributed "Only Breath" based on Muslim-Andalusian Sufi chanting. With the aid of sound designer Sharakh Vadegari, the multi-tracked cello lines draws the listener into a world of peacefulness and contentment.  In comparasion, the afore-mentioned "Kashmir" features the pounding drums of Jerry Marotta, thundering cello bass bowing and lovely harmonies.

"Provenance" should be listened in one sitting, from the soft intro to the long, languid, fade on the Plant/Page tune (with melodic phrases coming at the listener from all angles.  Is this the sound of peace, of nations reaching across borders to interact on human levels?  Maya Beiser certainly believes so - we are better for her optimism and conviction.  To find out more, go to

Following Signs - Justin Janer (Janer Music) -  Justin Janer's alto saxophone work shone brightly on Bobby Sanabria's "Kenya Revisited Live" CD from 2009.  For his self-issued debut, the Seattle Washington-native has gathered a group of young compatriots and created a CD that leans towards the influence of Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis' Quintet of the mid-60s. The front line features, on  the rich, melodic, work of Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet) and the shimmering piano work of Fabian Almazan. With Michael Davis and Will Clark sharing the drum duties (each on 4 tracks) and the solid bass work of Ruben Samama, Janer chooses melody over riffs and substance over flash. That's not to say the music doesn't have a groove.  "California Sky" rides in on Samama's strong bass lines and Janer pushes the ensemble (minus trumpet and piano) forward. His ballad work is often stunning - atop more fine bass work, Janer creates an emotional palette on "Loss" that moves from grief to acceptance to moving forward (this track reminds me of Henry Threadgill's work with AIR.) "Song for Suji"has a well-defined melody and Akinmusire's solo work is heartfelt (fine counterpoint and support from Almazan.)  The closing track, "Bump", starts slowly but picks up emotional steam from Clark's fine drum work along with  Janer andAkinmusire's creative work.

"Following Signs" offers a new voice and the promise of creative explorations.  Justin Janer goes a long way to create music that stimulates the mind and ear.  There could be bit more "fire" in the program yet, that is a minor quibble, for there is so much to enjoy in the melodic and creative interplay.  For more information, go to

Don't Fight The Inevitable - John Escreet (Mythology Records) - For his sophomore effort, pianist/composer moves to David Binney's label and delivers a knockout of a CD.  With Binney (alto saxophone) and Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet) up front and the energetic rhythm section of Matt Brewer (bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums), Escreet has written music that is concerned with communication, with the participants listening to and reacting with each other - this is no "jam session". The title tune rumbles in on full piano chords, declaratory drumming and a short melody line.  The solo section allows for Binney, Akinmusire and Escreet to stretch out.  The trumpeter rarely sounds agitated, opting to rumble and clamor over the rhythm section.  Escreet moves "in and out" playing with then against the rhythms. There is a calm at the onset of "Magic Chemical (For the Future)" that soon dissipates in th wake of fiery trumpet phrases and the leader's high-powered solo over Wait's slashing drum work.

"Gone But Not Forgotten" is a quiet, lovely, ballad for alto sax and piano. Co-written by Escreet and Binney, the soft tones belie a sadness that make the piece stand out on the, mostly, high-energy program.  On his Posi-Tone debut "Consequences", one could hear that Escreet was no clone and had no fear about allowing his music to go in multiple directions.  So, the jabbering horns on "Civilization on Trial" give way to the jarring piano/electronics duet on "Soundscape" and it feels natural.  The dark mood that permeates "Avaricious World" fits easily alongside the fiery rhythmic thrusts of "Trouble And Activity." 

The one non-original is Muhal Richard Abrams' "Charlie In the Parker" which features the voice of Charlie Parker talking about the future of music.  60 years (or so) after Parker uttered these words, creative music is still evolving bringing in the influences of international cultures and styles.  Melodic invention, percussive drive, solos that do not go where one might expect, all that adds up to music that is multi-faceted, engaging and challenging.  "Don't Fight the Inevitable" is both contemporary and forward-looking - the music and musicians take chances and no one settles for cliches.  To find out more, go to 

Sunna Gunnlaugs in Middletown

Icelandic-born pianist/composer Sunna Gunnlaugs comes to Middletown this Saturday (June 19) in the midst of 6-city tour of the Eastern Seaboard.  She and her Quartet (husband Scott McLemore on drums, Loren Stillman on saxophones, and bassist Dan Fabricatore) will perform at The Buttonwood Tree on a double-bill with Middletown-resident Noah Baerman.  Noah will open the evening at 8 p.m.  performing with McLemore and Fabricatore.

Gunnlaugs et al are on tour supporting her new CD, "The Dream", being issued on June 17.  You can hear excerpts from the CD and a good interview with the pianist by checking out Jason Crane's "The Jazz Session" (click here to listen to and/or download the podcast.)  To reserve a seat in the intimate performance space, call 860-347-4957.  To find out more about Ms Gunnlaug's career and music, go to

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Firehouse Series Gains Momentum + 2 CDs of the Week

Saxophonist-composer Myron Walden brings his quintet Momentum to Firehouse 12 this Friday June 11 for 2 shows of barrier-bending creative music.

The Miami, Florida, native spent his teenage years in New York City, attending the LaGardia High School of Music and the Arts as well as participating in the Jazz Mobile Workshop and Harlem School of the Arts. He attended the Manhattan School of Music and hs worked with many great jazz players, including Jon Hendricks. Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr, Brian Blade's Fellowship and many others.

Joining him will be Darren Barrett (trumpet), Eden Ladin (piano, electric piano), John Davis (drums) and Yasushi Nakamura (bass). That outfit has just issued a new "live" recording while a slightly different lineup issued a studio recording.  You can find out more (and hear the band hitting hard) by going to

The quintet will play the first set at 8:30 and the second at 10 p.m. (separate charge for each show.)  To make reservations, go to or call 203-785-0468.

Big Fat Grin - Jamie Begian Big Band ( Innova) - Ahhh...another fine big band CD. Composer-guitarist Begian, currently the director of the Jazz Studies Degree Program at Western Connecticut State University (he's been on the faculty since 1991), had the good fortune to be involved with the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop, studying under the tutelage of Jim McNeely and Manny Albam.  He wrote his first arrangement for big band whie working there and soon began organizing the 17-piece group he has led since 1998.  As a composer, Begian displays such diverse influences as the Count Basie Orchestra, Jimi Hendrix, Chicago Blues, Philip Glass and Gil Evans.  This new release has works that swing with a bluesy lilt (the opening "Funky Coffee"), have classical beauty ("Suddenly, Summer Falls") and literally "rock out" with nervous joy ("Patience").  The 25 minute, 4-part, "Taylorations" is based on exercises developed by bass trombonist Dave Taylor - Begian creates a piece for each member of his 'bone section. They range from the bouncy then introspective then fiery  "One" (featuring Jeff Bush) to the more classical sounding "Two" (Paul Olenick's feature) to the sound "sculpture" that transforms into a bluesy romp titled "Three" (featuring Deborah Weisz) to the swinging, Thad Jones-like, "Four" (featuring the bass trombone of Max Siegel.)  Kudos go to the interactive rhythm section of guitarist Bruce Arnold (Begian also adds his guitar "voice" throughout the program but especially on the title track when he trades phrases with Arnold), bassist Dave Ambrosio and drummer Peter Retzlaff.  5 reeds and 4 trumpets round out the lineup and they all play well.
A "Big Fat Grin" is what should break out when one spends time with this fine CD.  Due to the expenses of keeping a 17-piece band together and his teaching responsibilities, Jamie Begian does not get to play this music all that often.  Here's hoping more people get the opportunity to hear this excellent recording and that gives the band the opportunity to play some gigs.  Music this good needs to be heard live.  For more information, go to  

American Dream - Taylor Haskins (Sunnyside Records) - From the opening short trumpet intro, the listener understands that this music has weight and a story to tell.  Add the unique "atmospheric" guitar of Ben Monder and the sympathetic rhythm section of Ben Street (bass) and Jeff Hirschfield and the experience is impressive.  "Theme from 'Dead Men'"  rides in on growling, almost howling, guitar lines and sounds like it comes from the soundtrack of Western movie.  Muted trumpet crawls above sinister bass and drums on "Black Boxes" with Monder's quiet guitar phrases holding back until he erupts in the midst of the piece, splintered guitar phrases over Hirschfield's hard-edged percussion.  Haskins returns, open bell and distorted now, pushing against the band.  "The Ballad of Michael Jackson" is an affecting work, Monder's often finger-picked electric lines moving easily the bass and drums. Here, Haskins is melodic, contemplative, with long phrases that rise gently.  Stock Market watchers should avoid the acid bath of "The Monetary System Blues" and its rippling, "ripped",  guitar solo plus hard-edged trumpet phrases.

One hears strains of "standard" melodies, mainstream jazz and the influence of folk and folk-rock music in these performances.  The music is a self-proclaimed "mediation on the concepts of Breakdown, Destruction, The Ideal, Abandonment and Memory" - weighty topics all and the music does not take them lightly.  The creative artist sees an America, even the entire world, in a state of free-fall so this music serves as a reminder, a rallying call and even a bittersweet farewell to "The American Dream."  For more information, go to

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Quick Hits (Take 1)

It's You or No One - Dana Lauren (Dana Lauren Music) - I had the opportunity to interview the young Hartford-area native Dana Lauren the week this CD was issued. Her effervescence and excitement shone through the phone lines and that youthful exuberance (she's but 21 years old) gives way to a mature sounding vocalist in this, her second recording.  With the cracker-jack rhythm section of Luques Curtis (bass) and Jake Goldbas (drums) ably abetted by Manuel Valera (piano), Will Graefe (guitar) and Joel Frahm (tenor saxophone), the program of standards is a refreshing listen. 
Ms. Lauren cites Ella Fitzgerald and Doris Day among her influences and one hears that in her clear tones and fine enunciation.  Everyone plays well throughout and there is one guest appearance by bassist Christian McBride - it's just voice and bass on "On The Sunny Side of the Street".  She certainly holds her own with the wonderfully musical McBride, "riffing" her way through the lyrics.  Elsewhere, the joyful work of Frahm and the way he weaves his way through the vocals is a real treat.  He never intrudes but plays the most creative solos.  Guitarist Graefe appears on 5 tracks, with his Herb Ellis-like chords leading the vocalist in on "Isn't This A Lovely Day" and his bell -like tones and crisp single-notes lines adding much to "I Had The Craziest Dream."  Valera, who is quite a player, gives great support on 7 tracks, laying smart chords beneath the vocals.  It's just him and Ms. Lauren on "In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning" and his flowing lines and full chords add to the wistfulness and beauty of the piece.
Dana Lauren is a artist who knows what she wants and has the talent (and the vocal "chops") to achieve her dreams.  Chances are, you've heard many of these songs done by other artists but Ms. Lauren makes this music exciting once again.  For more information, go to

Tivoli Trio - Frank Carlberg (Red Piano Records) - For his second project on his own label, the Finnish-born pianist/composer has created a soundtrack highly influenced by an amusement park in his native Helsinki. In fact, he named this group after the Trio that accompanied many of the acts.  His cohorts are the marvelously supportive and musical John Hebert (bassist) and the top-notch Gerald Cleaver (drums).  Carlberg is a very musical and thoughtful pianist - throughout this album, his playfulness is infectious.  Whether it's his Ornette Coleman-inspired romp through "The Chase" or the cunning reworking of a famous melody on "Two For Tea" (a sweet ballad) or the hectic give-and-take of "Tumbles", this music shines with originality.  Hebert and Cleaver are equal partners with Carlberg, his material giving them the freedom to create fascinating musical pictures. Hebert's bowed bass gets the lead on "Highwire" and one can visual him bravely making his way overhead. Cleaver sets the pace and the dynamic "temperature" during "Rumble  Mumble", never overplaying or "stealing the show" but playing what's seems perfect for the piece.
Carlberg also gives credit to filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock, Carol Reed, Federico Fellini and others for creating cinematic equivalents to his childhood memories.  There's much to digest on "Tivoli Trio" and you should find the time to enter this musical 3-ring circus - a splendid time is guaranteed to all with curious minds. To find out more, go to or

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Piano in Good Hands + Musical Views of the Capital City

For my money, Peter Madsen, who has recorded and performed with area favorites Mario Pavone (bass/compositions) and Michael Musillami (guitar/compositions), is one of the finest pianists on the contemporary music scene.  He's got technique to burn yet his inquisitive mind and ability to soak up influences and make original music is what's most impressive about the music he creates.

He's now a resident of Germany but will be in the US for a series of dates in the next few months.  His latest Playscape CD, "The Litchfield Suite", came out several months ago and is an unqualified success (read my review here.) Recorded with bassist Andy McKee and drummer Gerald Cleaver, the work was created at and for the Litchfield Jazz Festival and the Jazz Summer Camp where Madsen has taught for the past 7 years.

This Friday (June 4), Messrs. Madsen, McKee and Cleaver come to New Haven and Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street, for 2 sets of high-powered and lyrical piano trio music.  They'll keep you engrossed and excited.  The first set begins at 8:30 p.m., the second at 10 p.m.  For more information, call 860-785-0468 or go to

Trombonist-composer-educator Steve Davis has a brand-new CD out this week and it's dedicated to his adopted home city, Hartford. "Images" (Posi-Tone Records) contains 10 songs, all dedicated to people or places around the Insurance City.  People like Mark Twain, Jackie McLean, and UCONN Basketball coach Jim Calhoun get honors as do places such as the Elizabeth Park Rose Garden, Kenney's Bar & Grill and the sorely-missed Club 880.  Davis is joined by his regular working quintet that includes alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo, pianist David Bryant, bassist Dezron Douglas, and the highly expressive drummer Eric McPherson plus guests trumpeter Josh Evans and tenor saxophonist Kris Jensen.

The music on the disk really swings at times - after all, Davis studied with Jackie McLean at the Hartt School (where he now teaches) and performed in the final edition of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.  And there is a lightness and sprightly step to many of the pieces that makes the music quite attractive. To find out more about Davis, go to

Here's "Nato", dedicated to Davis's close friend and bassist Nat Reeves. The track comes courtesy of Posi-Tone Records and IODA Promonet.

Nato (mp3)