Thursday, March 10, 2011

Catching Up Again: Recommended Releases

Israeli-born pianist/composer Yaron Herman is steadily gaining recognition around the world. Based in Paris, France, he has recorded a series of CDs that feature his own work, traditional Israeli tunes and occasional covers.  "Follow The White Rabbit" is his debut for ACT Music and continues the pattern of of his earlier recordings but with a new rhythm section. Here, bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Tommy Crane serve as his foils and catalysts, pushing the music while providing the pianist with a good cushion for his solos.  There is more of a "pop" feel as Herman et al cover pieces by Radiohead ("No Surprises") and Nirvana ("Heart Shaped Box") but with several interesting choices such as "Baby Mine" (from the soundtrack of "Dumbo") as well as the Israeli classic "Ein Gedi."  There are plenty of Radiohead covers around but the Trio treats the piece as a lovely ballad, with a music box intro before a gentle reading of the theme.  Herman is a powerful yet lyrical pianist and he forcefully rides the strong percussion of Crane on pieces such as "The Mountain in G Minor", the effervescent "Trylon" (hip-hop influence in the tricky beats) and the short, subversive, "White Rabbit Robot." For me, Herman is at his best on ballads, when he can use the keyboard to paint aural landscapes one can get lost in, such as "Cadenza" and the title track (excellent counterpoint from Tordini.)
There are moments when one hears the stylistic influences of Brad Mehldau and Ethan Iverson on Yaron Herman; yet there are many more times that he transcends those players and moves into his own fertile melodic and harmonic world.  There's lots and lots of piano trio music around - "Follow The White Rabbit" is a worthwhile addition to the canon.  To find out more, go to www.yaron-herman.com

Drummer Colin Stranahan has released his 3rd CD as a leader.  "Life Condition" (Tapestry/Capri Records) is (mostly) a trio recording that blends originals by the group (one each by alto saxophonist Ben Van Gelder and bassist Chris Smith and 2 by the leader) with 4 fascinating covers.  Van Gelder caresses the melody line of "How Deep Is the Ocean", his soothing, somewhat breathy, tone so appealing.  Bassist Smith takes a fine, melodic, solo while Stranahan accompanies him with delightful brush work.  Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge" opens with a short drum solo before the recognizable melody line takes over but the reading of the theme is anything but obligatory.  The rhythm beneath is splintered and, all through the song, the trio varies the dynamics.  The drum solo refers to the melody on several occasions while, for his solo, Van Gelder plays riffs that dart around the furious bass lines and propulsive drums.
The original pieces are just as impressive, with Smith's "Post Meridian" a lovely ballad with a cascading alto sax solo and the leader's "A Promise" featuring tenor saxophonist Jake Saslow added to the group as he and Van Gelder trade solos over the breakneck tempo.  The 2 saxophones also take center stage on Stranahan's mysterious and forceful ballad, "For The Third Time." 
The sound quality is excellent - you can really hear the intricacies of the drumming and Smith's "singing" on his bass solos.  If you pay attention, "Life Condition" will reward you with endless sonic and melodic treats. If you let it become "background music", it loses its potency.  To find out more, go to www.myspace.com/www.colinstranahancom.


Stranahan also appears on this delightful debut from bassist/composer Colin Dean.  "Shiwasu" (Roots and Grooves Production) also features saxophonist Sean Newell and pianist Rachel Z. Ms. Z works well with the bassist.  They romp through Rodgers & Hart's "My Romance" with Dean's active bass lines dancing beneath the piano solo and Stranahan pushing them with his active cymbal work.  Newell's sensuous soprano sax lines over the rich piano chords, thick bass lines and Middle-Eastern percussion make "Growth" quite expressive. The "big" piano chord that opens "Brooklyn Ferry" gives way to an impressionistic tone-poem  - one feels as if he is standing by the docks on a warm summer morning. Ms Z's fine solo has elements of "pop" songs, folk melodies, with suggestions of Spanish melodies and more.  The bass and drums weave in and around her; the overall effect is mesmerizing and exhilarating.  Newell's contemplative tenor saxophone work at the onset of "Bardo" opens to a melodic bass solo before the quartet raises the intensity for a forceful tenor solo.  The sonorous piano chords above the skittering drum solo and booming bass lines is exciting. The long, funky, intro to "Akasha" allows Newell's tenor saxophone to build the tension before it is dramatically released by the fine refreshing piano solo.
"Shiwasu" is music that opens many different doors without slamming one in the face.  This is a program for a lovely Spring or Summer day (the trees in full flower on the CD cover emphasize that as well); the sounds flow over the listener, drawing one in to this peaceful world that Dean creates with his colleagues. For more information, go to http://rootsandgrooves.com.

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