Monday, March 21, 2011

The Tenor Man Cometh + Quiet Music with Power

Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, had a triumphant beginning to its Spring '11 season last week (3/18) with the Adam Rogers Trio. First set was sold out while the second was, at least, 3/4 full.  (Read what Chuck Obuchowski had to say about the show - click here.)

This week (3/25), the recording studio-turned-performance space welcomes the Donny McCaslin Quartet for 2 sets, 8:30 and 10 p.m.  The tenor saxophonist, best known for his work with both the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the Dave Douglas Quintet, is one of the busiest musicians in the business.  Not only does he have steady work as a sideman (he last appeared at the Firehouse during the Fall 2010 season as part of guitarist Joel Harrison's Ensemble) but he leads his own group.  Joining him will be Uri Caine (piano, keyboards), Scott Colley (bassist) and the fine young drummer Johnathan Blake.  They'll be playing music from McCaslin's fine new CD, "Perpetual Motion" (Greenleaf Music), a cauldron of burning improvisations and exciting interplay.  McCaslin is one of the more muscular tenor plays on the scene yet also knows how to play ballads with sensitivity and intelligence. And the band he has assembled is absolutely top-notch. To learn more about the man and his music, go to

For ticket information and more, call 203-785-0468 or go to

David Lopato is a pianist, composer, educator, author, playwright and more.  "Many Moons" (Global Coolant) is his second solo piano recording and, over the course of 65 minutes, covers a lot of territory.  And Lopato does so in a most entertaining fashion. For example, there's the "boogie-woogie" and "groove-funk" of "Swing Trades", the short bluegrass treat "Fly Brook", the rolling rhythms of "African Village" (with a nod to Abdullah Ibrahim), the experimental mode of "Piano Roll 1" (dedicated to 2 unique 20th Century composers, Conlon Noncarrow and John Cage) and the gospel/Americana of "Peace March" (from a longer work titled "Suite 9/11.") What's best about this music is that it is not self-conscious or reverential.  It is a group of aural stories that neither overstay their welcome nor feel incomplete.  There is humor, passion, love, sorrow and whole lot of music.  Lopato references the history of jazz piano without  being obvious or resorting to cliches.  In a year that has already seen excellent solo piano releases from Brad Mehldau and Fred Hersch, go find "Many Moons" - it's well worth your time.  For more information, go to

There is also beauty, grace and dignity as well as a dose of levity in the grooves of "Across the Way" (Songlines), the new CD from guitarist Brad Shepik.  This set of 11 original compositions features the fine talents of Tom Beckham (vibraphone), Jorge Roeder (acoustic bass) and Mark Guiliana (drums).  These musical observations display different influences, from the Radiohead feel of the title track to the Gary Burton Quartet sound of tracks like "German Taco" and "Your Eggroll."  Beckham has a soft, round, sound on vibraphone and his solos are impressive throughout.  He dances atop Guiliana's parade-style drums on "Xylo", creates a soft storm of sound on "Marburg" and lets loose for a romp on "Down the Hill."  Roeder's bass work is so supportive, creating a bottom that allows the other 3 to move without fear of getting lost.  His solos are quite melodic as well as rhythmic without going on too long.  Guiliana's work has a subtle power, never intrusive, with creative support on each track. His work beneath Shepik's hard-edged solo on "Transfer" is driving while his cymbal work throughout "Garden" creates delicate shades.
After you spend time listening to Shepik's fine solos (nary a weak one on this program), pay attention to his work in the background. The gentle chords behind Beckham on "Pfaffenhofen" ring with a clarity that captures a mood of longing while the over-dubbed finger-picking on "Train Home" (along with the electronic effects) may remind some of The Beatles' guitar work on "Tomorrow Never Knows" (only softer.)
"Across The Way" grows on you with each listen. Brad Shepik is neither a "shredder" nor a "wailer" and his music, while often quiet, is hardly New-Age.  The attractive blend of guitar and vibraphone is such a pleasurable aural experience and don't the excellent contributions of Roeder and Guiliana.  For more information, go to

Give a listen to to "Your Egg Roll" courtesy of Songlines and IODA Promonet:
Your Egg Roll (mp3)

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