Thursday, July 21, 2011

Brass Bonanza (Part 1)

I admit to rarely moving out of my comfort zone, basically the room with the computers and the CDs.  Bur, I do love "live" music, I like to watch musicians interact, create on the spot, "think" on their feet, and react to the audience.

Last night, I hopped into the car and drove 80+ miles to Montague, Mass, the home of the Montague Bookmill, an old grist mill that's been converted into a bookstore/performance space with quite the cafe on the lower level.  I went to see and hear TIN/BAG,the duo of Kris Tiner (trumpet) and Mike Baggetta (guitar), whose new CD "Bridges" (Mabnotes) is one of the better releases of 2011 (my review is here.)  Opening the show was a high school friend of Baggetta's, singer-songwriter-acoustic guitarist Nathan Hobbs. In the humid air, with windows wide open, fans whirring and the sounds of the Cafe's customers ringing through the room, some of the subtleties of Hobb's lyrics got lost.  But his guitar was mesmerizing, the slow quiet delivery of the words often hypnotizing, and, in the summer's heavy air, the music was soothing to the ears.

After a short break, Messrs. Tiner (a resident of Bakersfield, CA) and Baggetta (now living in New York City) moved into the title tune of the CD.  The guitarist opened the piece solo, overtones, full chords, a handsome melody rising out of the introduction - Tiner, who gets his "wild on" with the Industrial Jazz Group, moved easily into his melody lines, never forcing the pace.  His crisp tone meshed well with the fullness of the amplified guitar throughout the evening.  Their music, too, was mesmerizing but a bit more playful with a Hank Williams tune (there was than a touch of Bill Frisell in Baggetta's sonic explorations) and a straight-forward reading of "Broken Windmills", a pensive ballad from the Blue Cranes.   Closing with a Willie Nelson song (sounding a lot like "The Tennessee Waltz"), the music soared through the room, landing softly on appreciative ears.  Despite the humidity, the intimacy of the music and the creativity of the duo made any physical hardship seem minor.

Although the duo does not play together as often as they (or music lovers) would like, they have a West Coast tour planned for October of this year.  To find out more, go to either or

I drove home from the concert listening to trumpeter Randy Brecker's sumptuous new recording with the DR (Danish Radio) Big Band, Michael Bojesen, conductor.  "The Jazz Ballad Song Book" (Red Dot Music/Half Note Records) has much to recommend it, not the least of which is Brecker's impressive melodicism, his fine solos and rich tone.  Surrounded by the 19-piece aggregation plus the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, the program ranges from classic standards, such as "Cry Me A River" (with an evocative arrangement from Jasper Riis) and "Skylark" (arrangement by Gerard Presencer and Siobhan Lamb) to jazz favorites such as ""Round Midnight" (arrangement by Bill Dobbins with the string arrangement by Siobhan Lamb).  There's a particularly rousing take on John Barry's "Goldfinger" (with excellent drum work from Soren Frost).  There are even a pair of Brecker originals, "Foregone Conclusion" (a funky piece arranged by Vince Mendoza) and the light-hearted "I Talk to the Trees" (also arranged by Mendoza), impressive for the way the arrangement wraps the brass, horns and strings around Brecker's trumpet lines.

There are a few moments when the strings, to my ears, get in the way but, most of the time, the arrangements are imaginative, well-played and add greatly to the presentation.  Randy Brecker never falters, displaying his creativity solo after solo, while members of DR also get the spotlight on a number of tracks.  This may remind some listeners of Miles Davis & Gil Evans' work on "Miles Ahead" (no strings attached to that but listen to the rhythm sections) - "The Jazz Ballad Song Book" hearkens back to that collaboration and is mighty easy on the ears. For more information, go to

Before the concert, I continued digging in to the fine new book, "What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years" (Pantheon).  The work of journalist/historian/pianist Ricky Riccardi, the book takes a comprehensive look at the last 25 years of the great musician/entertainer's life and career (tough to separate.)  Armstrong was often depicted as a "moldy fig", a "throwback", even worse, an "Uncle Tom", but the doors he opened for African American musicians, actors and writers took great courage, fortitude and determination. Riccardi debunks those myths and more, including the one that the trumpeter was not as good a musician after becoming popular.  Yes, he was an entertainer, he had a "shtick", but he was the smiling face of American music throughout the world, bringing jazz to parts of the globe that had never heard it.  He was wildly popular in Europe and Japan, made State Department trips to Africa and rarely rested.  Everyone knows of his daily use of marijuana and more people should know of his condemnation of the way Blacks were treated in the United States (all popular African American entertainers can talk about playing to full houses in the southern part of the United States and not being allowed to stay in good hotels or even eat with their audiences.)

Louis Armstrong took much heat during his life but, most often, let his trumpet and songs do the talking.  Ricky Riccardi's book gives the man his proper due and it would be great to hear all the songs he references in the text. You can actually do that by going to Riccardi's excellent website - - and, what a treat that site is.  Along with Terry Teachout's 2009 "Pops", "What a Wonderful World" makes abundantly clear just how much "Satchmo" meant to American music in the 20th Century.

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