Sunday, August 21, 2011

Autumn in the Elm City

Okay, the heading of this post is not as catchy to sing as Vernon Duke's homage to the Big Apple in the Fall but it reminds that my jazz heart goes pitter-patter this time of year when Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, announces its lineup of its Fall Concert series (I also know feel the same way in late Winter when the performance space/recording studio announces its Spring lineup.)

Since I rarely get into New York or Brooklyn to enjoy the music offerings, the Firehouse offers a generous taste of what I'm missing by being a homebody.  For 13 Fridays, starting on September 16 and ending on December 16 (the venue takes the day after Thanksgiving), the performance space will offer music that ranges from straight-ahead jazz to more exploratory forms of creative music.

The opening concert (9/16) features young pianist Fabian Almazan making his 3rd appearance in the Firehouse (2009, he sat in Gretchen Parlato, last year with Chris Dingman) but first as a leader.  The Cuban native first came to the US in 1998 to attend an Arts High School and moved here permanently in 2003.  He has worked extensively in trumpeter Terence Blanchard's Quintet.  Almazan, along with afore-mentioned Dingman, is a member of bassist Bryan Copeland's group, Bryan & the Aardvarks; he co-produced the quartet's debut CD issued earlier this year.
For a taste of his Trio's music, click on the following link and check out his appearnace on WBGO-FM's "The Checkout" -

The following week (9/23), pianist/composer Armen Donelian brings his Quintet back to New Haven to celebrate the release of his new CD, "Leapfrog" (Sunnyside Recordings), recorded in the space in July and October of 2010 - the group, including  Marc Mommaas (tenor saxophone), Mike Moreno (guitar), Dean Johnson (bass) and recent Wesleyan graduate Tyshawn Sorey (drums), had premiered much of the material in April of that year.  Donelian, whose parents came to this country from Armenia, has been performing and recording since the 1970s, creating music that is rich with melody and harmony but also has an exciting rhythmic pulse.  The Quintet's new recording has many fine moments and the music should be even more visceral in person.

Pianist Amina Claudine Myers makes her Firehouse debut with her Trio on September 30 followed the next week (10/07, Yom Kippur, no less...sigh) by cellist Erik Friedlander's Bonebridge Quartet  featuring guitarist Doug Wamble, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Michael Sarin. On October 14, the Harriet Tubman Double Trio also makes its debut in the performance space.  The high-energy Trio, led by guitarist Brandon Ross and anchored by the dynamite rhythm section of Melvin Gibbs (electric bass) and J.T. Lewis (drums), has been doubled with the addition of Graham Haynes (cornet) as well as DJ Logic and DJ Val.

On October 21, the Rob Garcia 4 will perform music from "The Drop and the Ocean", the ensemble's 2nd recording for Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records.  This is the first time in the space for composer/drummer Garcia and pianist Dan Tepfer (whose much-awaited recording of "The Goldberg Variations" should be released by Sunnyside soon) but saxophonist Noah Preminger (he played the room as a leader in 2009) and bassist Chris Lightcap have played in New Haven several times (there is a strong possibility that Lightcap won't make the gig.) The new CD is a real treat and the RG 4 have great rapport so the live date should be great fun.
Here's a track from "Perennial", the band's 1st CD on BJU Records (courtesy of the label and IODA Promonet.) Little Trees (mp3)

Another show that I am really looking forward to is scheduled for October 28.  Guitarist/composer Mike Baggetta has a new CD coming featuring his Quartet.  Comprised of bassist Eivind Opsvik, saxophonist Jason Rigby and drummer George Schuller, the MB 4 makes music that is quite melodic but also features great interplay.

The month of November belongs to ensembles led by saxophonists.  On November 4, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa debuts his Samdhi quartet, an ensemble that features the excellent young drummer Damion Reid as well as electric guitarist David Gilmore and electric bassist Rich Brown. The next week (11/11), cellist Friedlander and drummer Sarin return to The Firehouse, this time as members of saxophonist Marty Ehrlich's Rites Quartet.  Based on the sounds of the late alto saxophonist/conceptualist Julius Hemphill (1938-1995), the music is bluesy, filled with exciting twists and turns and hard to resist.  On the 18th, saxophonist Jeff Lederer, a veteran of drummer Matt Wilson's bands, takes center stage with his Sunwatcher ensemble. Joining him will be the exuberant Mr. Wilson and the exciting keyboard player Jamie Saft (plus a bassist to be announced.)

December "roars" in the strong percussive drive of Ralph Peterson's Unity Project (12/02).  The fiery drummer, who has led a number of ensembles over the past 25 years (including his Fo'Tet), originally organized his new Project as a tribute to organist Larry Young and trumpeter Woody Shaw.  After getting in the studio with Pat Bianchi (organ), Hartford-native Josh Evans (trumpet) and Jovan Alexander (tenor saxophone), his vision for the group expanded to include original material.  For the Firehouse gig, alto saxophonist Craig Handy (a veteran of the Mingus Big Band) will sit in for Alexander.

On December 9, drummer/composer Harris Eisenstadt brings his Canada Day quintet to the space, a group that features Wesleyan graduates Chris Dingman (vibraphone) and Matt Bauder (saxophones) along with Nate Wooley (trumpet) and bassist Opsvik (who appears with Mike Baggetta in October.) The group's 2nd CD came out on the Canadian Songlines label in April of this year.  Here's a track from the CD to whet your appetite (courtesy of Songlines Recordings and IODA Promonet.) 
Song for Owen [for Owen Eisenstadt] (mp3)

Last but definitely least (December 16), trumpeter Russ Johnson has assembled an all-star quintet to play the music of saxophonist Eric Dolphy (1928-1964).  The ensemble, known as Out to Lunch (after Dolphy's most famous Blue Note LP), features saxophonist Roy Nathanson, bassist Brad Jones, pianist Myra Melford, and drummer George Schuller (who's part of the Baggetta Quartet - see above). The music, some of it discovered by Schuller's father Gunther in the family attic), may be 50 years old but bristles with great energy and shines with originality.

Every gig features both an 8:30 and a 10 p.m. set (separate admissions) - you can buy a Series Seasons Ticket that allows entrance to both sets at almost half the price of buying the tickets separately. Last season, a number of the first sets sold out. Whatever you decide about the tickets, you should find time check out this excellent series.  For more information, go to or call 203-785-0468. 

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