Friday, November 26, 2010

Sounds of Playing

I Will Follow You - Jerome Sabbagh (BEE JAZZ) - French saxophonist Sabbagh's 4th CD as a leader is his second straight trio "hit".  He retains guitarist Ben Monder from his quartet recordings and adds the classy European drummer Daniel Humair to the mix. The program is a mix of freely improvised pieces and Sabbagh's originals, played sans rehearsals. Only 3 of the cuts are over 5 minutes yet nothing seems rushed, forced or superfluous.  Humair may remind some of Paul Motian's "less is more" approach to the drummer's role but he is also quite melodic.  He and Sabbagh create "Come With Me" out together - listen how their lines weave in and out, complementing each other - the same approach can be heard on the saxophonist's duet with Monder, "Apaise" (meaning "appeased" in English) although the guitar is both atmospheric and melodic.  Monder "wails " on "Rahan", his duet with Humair, for the first 80 seconds then drops into a reflective period before flaring up for a short while then fading out. 
Throughout the program, there is a strong feeling of experimentation, a sense of friends having short conversations - it's no surprise that one piece is titled "Haiku" yet there's a touch of irony that it is the longest cut.  "Saloon" is a freely improvised piece, opening with Monder's distorted riffs over Humair's parade drums  - about 1/2 way through, Sabbagh enters on soprano sax, Humair moves a "rocking shuffle" beat before a frenetic close.  There are sections that sound like Jimi Hendrix sparring with Mitch Mitchell.  The lone standard, "I Should Care", closes the disk, softly, a reflection of the interplay that precedes it and a reminder of the power of what happens when like-minded musicians enjoy their time together.
"I Will Follow You" works best as a complete statement.  Only 44 minutes long, the music goes in many different directions, perhaps sounding (on first listen) a bit disjointed.  Let the sounds wash over you, pay attention to what each musicians does and you'll enjoy this ride.  For more information, go to

cd-leavingLeaving - Scott Lee (Steeplechase) - Bassist/composer Lee has as worked with a surprising array of artists such as Lee Konitz, Zoot Simms, Al Cohn, Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Werner, Andy Statman, Mose Allison and Joe Lovano.  He has also supported a bevy of vocalists including Nancy Wilson, Morgana King, Betty Buckley, Helen Merrill, and Anita O’Day.  It's easy to hear why - he is a very melodic and supportive player with musical ideas that make the pieces fuller.
This session features the sweet reed work of Billy Drewes (tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet), pianist Gary Versace and drummer Jeff Hirschfield.  There's much to like on these 11 tracks, from the joyous interplay of "Two Ways" (emphasis on the idea of "play") to the reflective title track (Drewes' clarinet work is just right) to the aptly-titled "Old Friends Talking" (contemplative and playful duet for bass and soprano sax.)  "Drummersome" may conjure up images of James Brown exhorting his band to step aside and let the drummer have his time - here, Hirschfield is the backbone of the music, pushing the beat on his ride cymbals in the beginning and "kicking it hard" in the second half.  Solid but not flashy, this is music not "showtime" or even "show-off time." Bass and drums go together on  "The Connection", an example of how creative musicians pay attention to each other while in the process of creating. If the listener pays that attention, he or she can hear the way the rhythm section interacts throughout the program, never in each others way but building the foundation for the lead voices to be able to express themselves.
Versace, best know for his creative organ work in  numerous settings, is being heard more often on piano.  He stands out on several tracks here, including the fast-moving but never frenetic "JGB."  He, Lee and Hirschfield create a wonderful flow, like a rushing stream with each musician moving in and around each other (more impressive cymbal work) while Drewes' soprano darts like a bird above.
The best contemporary jazz is timeless. One can hear the kind of interplay and interaction from the Miles Davis Quintet of the mid-to-late 1960s that is played here but the music is different because the players are different, each with his own style and each being able to be himself within the wide-open spaces of the music. This recording may not instantly knock you for a loop but, if you listen with an open mind, there is much to savor here. 
For more information, go to

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Usually, this column is concerned with music, especially modern jazz.  The excitement of hearing a drummer push the beat, a saxophonist fly over the changes, or a guitarist go from low to high in a flurry of notes sets  my mind, body and heart abuzz.

Thankfully, that feeling has never disappeared for more than a day or 2 at a time.  The past 6 months, keeping this blog alive has not been easy what with the health issues of my wife (she's much better) and the search for new employment.  No, I'm not looking for a handout, for sympathy, for get-well cards - music is still a big part of my day but putting my thoughts onto the pages of this comfortable format has, understandably, taken a back seat to more pressing issues.

Yet, I am such a lucky person.  We live in a great town, are involved with a goodly number of communities within the city limits and are supported by and, in turn, support good people.  I continue to be impressed by the fine citizens who donate time, food, clothing and/or money to the needy, the homeless, the working poor and the scores of children who survive without one or both parents and live in less-than-comfortable surroundings.

After a rancorous election season, where millions upon millions of dollars were spent to win a  position that could be used for such good (and instead, is an invitation to the "rich man's club - great benefits and super retirement), the Thanksgiving holiday reminds us of the importance of family, of security, of the simple helping hand and what we can accomplish by listening to each other.

Enjoy this time if you can. Be thankful for your health. Play, dream, love, and live for peace.

Here's a treat from the new Randy Weston CD, "The Storyteller", courtesy of Motema Records and IODA Promonet.

The StorytellerRandy Weston
"African Sunrise" (mp3)
from "The Storyteller"
(Motema Music)

More On This Album

Music Provided by IODA Promonet

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Going Places, Hearing Music

'Tis the weekend before Thanksgiving and you've got plenty of choices.  Here's a quick look at several events that I wish I were attending.

Middletown-based pianist-composer Noah Baerman cites Mr. Steveland Morris as an influence.  Music lovers know Mr. Morris as Stevie Wonder, whose music has permeated the airwaves for over 4 decades.  Noah, bassist Henry Lugo and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza will be performing the world premiere of "Fulfillingness' First Finale" (in its entirety) on Friday November 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the Chase-Bear Experimental Theater on the campus of Choate-Rosemary Hall in Wallingford. The program includes such Wonder-ful tunes as "You Haven't Done Nothin'", "Creepin'", "Boogie on Reggae Woman", "They Won't Go When I Go" and others. For ticket information, go to

The following night, the NBTrio heads for Brooklyn, NY, to give the audience at IBeam a taste of the Wonder music.  That show starts at 8 p.m. and you can find out much more by going to

Mr. Baerman also has an informative blog housed on his website - - and I recommend you visit him there.  

Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, also has a busy weekend with 2, not just 1, fine evenings of music.  On Friday, the performance space welcomes Ches Smith & These Arches for shows at 8:30 and 10 p.m.  Drummer-composer Smith, who has worked with Wadada Leo Smith and Nels Cline (among many), loves to play with sound and he has 3 fine collaborators in Tony Malaby (tenor saxophone), Andrea Parkins (accordion, organ, electronics) and Firehouse favorite Mary Halvorson (guitar). The foursome's debut CD, "Finally Out of My Hands", has just been issued on Skirl Records -  the music literally dares you to put a label on it (esoterica? punk-jazz? - not worth it, just enjoy.) The band can be thunder-storm loud and whisper soft.

On Saturday, the Firehouse welcomes 2 ensembles associated with the New Haven Improvisers Collective for an evening of fascinating sounds.  Set 1 (8:30 p.m.) features NHIC Atlas, a group with Steve Asetta (saxophones), Nathan Bontrager (cello), Bob Gorry (guitar), Jaime Paul Lamb (bass), Adam Matlock (clarinet), and Steve Zieminski (drums, percussion). Set 2 (10 p.m.) belongs to Mayhem Circus Electric and that ensemble features Pete Brunelli (electric bass), Jeff Cedrone (guitar), Bob Gorry (guitar), Paul McGuire (soprano and alto saxophone), Nate Trier (keyboards), John Venter (bass clarinet), Steve Zieminski (drums, percussion). One ticket gets you in to both sets and the adventurous music is worth exploring  For more information about these and other shows, go to To learn more about NHIC, go to  

Guitarist and NHIC leader Bob Gorry can be heard every Thursday from 6 - 8 a.m. on WNHU-FM, 88.7 in New Haven - the show is streamed live on

Reviews return next week in between getting ready for the Thanksgiving onslaught and other responsibilities.  Have a great holiday! Go dig some live music. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

O Mario and A Wonderful Discovery

Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po -  Mario Pavone Orange Double Tenor (Playscape Recordings) -This is a good time for composer/bassist Pavone.  He's just celebrated his 70th birthday, been feted by NPR (click here to check it out) and was the subject of an in-depth interview on Jason Crane's "The Jazz Session" (listen here.)
Those of us who live in Connecticut have had the good fortune of watching and listening to Pavone in various settings for over 4 decades, from his work with the late Bill Dixon and Thomas Chapin, his association with the Connecticut Music Improvisers Forum, and his numerous groups that have recorded on the Playscape label.  His music combines exciting rhythmic variations and compositions built from his bass outwards.  As a player, he's never been a slouch or showoff; as a leader, he surrounds himself with intelligent collaborators.
The sextet on this program is no exception -  what's interesting to me is various influences I've not noticed in his music before.  Michael Musillami's arrangements on the opening 2 tracks have an Ellingtonian feel in the sway of the horns and reeds.  "East Arc" combines the tambre of "East St Louis Toodle-oo" with the shuffle-cum-sway of many uptempo Duke Ellington works from the the 40s and 50s.  Pavone and drummer Gerald Cleaver set the tone for the soloists while pianist Peter Madsen moves in and around the ensemble (and he's such an impressive soloist.) The double tenors of Jimmy Greene and Tony Malaby each bring a different flavor to the songs, the former with his John Coltrane-like explorations, the latter with a thicker tone and more experimental side.  Greene unveils his handsome soprano work on "Poles" joining with Madsen and trumpeter Dave Ballou in the journey through Pavone's musical landscape.The title track has a slippery melody, nicely executed by Ballou (who doesn't even solo), as well as more strong work from Greene and Madsen. The challenging melody of "17 Note" moves from the piano to the guest Steven Bernstein's slide trumpet with ease while pieces of the rhythm are used by the tenor saxophonists to create their solos.
The Cd also contains 3 short pieces, the rhythmical "Nokimo", the angular, edgy, "Half Dome (for Bill Dixon)" and its companion "Dome." The brief works allow the composer and band to create unique worlds that pull the listener in the way a haiku attracts a reader.
Over the decades since he took up the bass (when he was in his mid-20s), Mario Pavone has continued to move forward, not slowed by the vagaries of the music business or lack of imagination.  His creative music marries rhythm and melody in original ways that make one sit up and pay attention.  For more information, go to

The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer - Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell (Kabell) - This is an unqualified treat.  A live recording from 1986 pairing the splendid drum work of Ed Blackwell and the exciting brass, flute and voice of Wadada Leo Smith.  Originally recorded at Brandeis University, the duo are in sync from the opening moment through to the closing tones.  Blackwell, who passed in 1992, was born in New Orleans and, though he often played in "free" jazz settings, never lost his rhythmic propulsion. One can hear the influence of the "parade drums" on the opening track "Uprising" and the joy in the trumpet trills, splats, and riffs above him.  The duo creates an African dance on "Love", Blackwell riding his cymbals while bouncing between snare and toms as Smith roars triumphantly.
Several of the tracks include vocals by Smith, including the mbira-fueled tracks "Seeds of a Forgotten Flower" (dig the subtle cymbal work) and "Don't You Remember".   Smith sounds like a blues griot on the latter track with Blackwell's sticks creating subtle, provocative, dance rhythms.  The move to muted trumpet does not change the ageless rhythmic patterns. 
The mellower tone of the flugelhorn ushers in "Seven Arrows in the Garden of Light" while the drummer creates a "Bolero"-type rhythm but, instead of building up to a climax in the fashion of Ravel, Smith moves to flute and the piece becomes quieter and more intimate. Close to the end, he returns to trumpet but only for a moments of impressionistic phrases. There is a wonderful sense of swing amidst the raucous sounds and humid air of the Crescent City on "Buffalo People: A Blues Ritual Dance", a delightful musical jaunt.
"The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer" can and should be listened to in one sitting. There are no weak moments, only the joyous dialogue of 2 musical equals. For more information, go to Wadada Leo Smith's homepage at

I had the joy of being able to see and hear Ed Blackwell play in various ensembles (some with faculty, others with students) many times at Wesleyan University where he taught for the last 2 decades of his life. Even in his later years as his kidney problems slowed him down, his drum work always danced. This CD is a real gift for those of us who still thrill to hear his unique approach to rhythm.