Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Live Music in Middletown, New Haven & Beyond + Marcus Hits All the Marks

It's amazing when the calendar turns to September just how crazy/busy life becomes, especially when it comes to concerts.

My hometown is hopping this weekend, especially down at The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street, Middletown.  Pianist/composer and tall person John Funkhouser returns to the Tree with his trusty rhythm section, bassist Greg Loughman and drummer Mike Connors.  If you've seen and heard the Funkhouser Trio, you know that they have such a great time playing with time (lots of interesting and often odd meters -  the results are quite infectious.  Opening the show at 8 p.m. is Boston-based singer-songwriter Britt Sawdon. Looks to be a good night of music.  To reserve a seat or 2, call 860-347-4957 or go online to

Saturday night, The Buttonwood presents the duo of Laszlo Gardony (piano, on left) and Stan Strickland (reeds, flute, kalimba, voice, on right) at 8 p.m. The Hungarian-born pianist has lived in the United States, settling in the Boston area and teaching at the Berklee School of Music.  Over the years, he performed with the likes of saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman, bassist Dave Holland, bluegrass musician Kenny Glaser and the Boston Pops.  For the past decade, he's toured the world with his Trio of Yoron Israel (drums) and John Lockwood (bass) and pursued duo gigs with Strickland.  Perhaps best know his work with saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, Stan Strickland is an impressive musician as well as a member of the Berklee faculty.  They're celebrating Gardony's new Sunnyside CD, "Signature Time", a Trio date that features a number of fine original tunes plus a pair of fascinating interpretations of Beatles' songs (Strickland appears on several tracks.)  Both men are fine, intuitive musicians. 

Also on Saturday night, the Uncertainty Music Series (concerts curated by bassist/conceptualist Carl Testa) presents a solo performance by trumpeter and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum (pictured here with Professor Anthony Braxton).  Also on the bill is Colorguard, aka electronics musician Kryssi Battleene. The event takes place at 8 p.m. in Never Ending Books, 810 State Street in New Haven.  For more information, go to

On Tuesday night September 13, the Series presents the duo of Jen Shyu (vocal, erhu, dance) and Mark Dresser (bass) at 8 p.m. in The Big Room, 319 Peck Street in New Haven. They'll play music from their brand new CD, "Synastry" (Pi Recordings), a fascinating recording that is intimate, challenging, mysterious and wonderfully musical. Shyu, who has worked extensively with saxophonist Steve Coleman, has studied music from many different cultures.  Dresser has been at the forefront of the creative music scene for over 3 decades, working by himself, with his own groups and alongside Anthony Braxton, pianist Myra Melford, soprano Dawn Upshaw and many others.  This should be a very special night.  For more information about the CD, go to Go to the Uncertainty Music website (listed above) for directions.

That's pianist Fabian Almazan pictured at the piano on the left and he will be in a similar pose on September 16 when he opens the Fall 2011 Concert Series at Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven. Almazan, born in Cuba and raised in Miami, Florida, is celebrating the release of his often stunning debut CD, "Personalities" (Biophilia Records).  The recording features his working group of Linda Oh (bassist) and Henry Cole (drums, guiro) plus a string quartet on several tracks.  You can various sides of Almazan's musical personality through his use of electronics, his arrangements, his choice of material (7 originals, a song each from Cuban composers Antonio Maria Romeo and Carlos Varela, plus an arrangement of the "Adagio" from Shostakovich's "String Quartet No. 10) and splendid musicianship on piano.  For the Firehouse gig, Ms. Oh will be on bass but Kendrick Scott replaces Cole on drums. There will be 2 sets, 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for ticket information, go to or call 203-785-0468.  To find out more about the pianist, go to  

Just received information about the 9th Annual Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT), set to take place October 20-23, 2011, at the Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street, New York, NY.  This year, FONT is holding a "Kenny Wheeler Celebration", honoring the 81-year old Canadian native (pictured left) who has lived in Great Britain for many decades.   Look at this lineup:  On Thursday 10/20, Ingrid Jensen + Brass, an ensemble with 3 trumpeters (plus Mr. Wheeler), french horn, trombone, tuba plus piano, bass and drums;  on Friday and Saturday (10/21-22), the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble (featuring Mr. Wheeler) play 3 sets (7:30, 9:30 and 11:30 p.m.); On Sunday 10/23, the Kenny Wheeler Quintet featuring Jon Irabagon (saxophone), Craig Taborn (piano), Matt Brewer (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums) close the fabulous weekend (sure hope someone records this group.)  For more information about this impressive live event, go to

Saxophonist-composer Marcus Strickland's previous recording, "Idiosyncracies" (2009, Strick Muzik), remains one of my favorite CDs.  Rarely a month goes by without listening that most impressive trio hit.  Saw the group - brother E.J. on drums with bassist Ben Williams - play live at Firehouse 12 in May of 2010 and was bowled over by their interplay, musicianship and insistence on making sure each song had a strong melody before they ventured off into extended solos.

"Triumph of the Heavy; Volume 1 & 2" (Strick Muzik, to be released 9/27/11) is a 2-CD set, the second of which features music culled from the evening at the New Haven performance space/recording studio.  "Volume 1" adds the piano of David Bryant to the mix (he also appears on Strickland's 2009 CrissCross "ballads" CD, "Of Song", also highly recommended.) The pianist gives the music added depth and he gets a lot of solo space; he's a solid player with solos that display a bluesy feel ("A Temptress' Gait") or stromg forward motion ("Bolt Bus Jitter").  Marcus continues to develop as a composer and musician (he adds alto sax to his arsenal of tenor and soprano, with one track featuring overdubs of clarinet and bass clarinet).  His soprano work is quite impressive, with a tone that feels clear and warm (finely displayed on "A World Found") while his tenor playing, especially in the higher range, has a softer but no less forceful quality. His solo on "Shapes", especially atop the forceful drumming of his brother, is multi-directional yet true to the "shapes" he lays out at the onset of the tune.  His rollicking alto solo on "Set Free" builds off Bryant's romp and Williams' short yet finely honed melodic bass solo.  The bassist, who can be a very effective second "voice" (as he was on "Idiosyncracies" and proves to be on "Volume 2") has a more supportive role in the Quartet setting yet he along with E.J. provide such excitement and color.

As I wrote above, I was in the audience on the evening that produced "Volume 2" and the live recording, despite the somewhat muddy drum sound (certainly not heard or felt in person), brings back happy memories.  Listen to E.J. plays with the accents and beats on the uptempo cuts including the "hip-hop" feel underneath the tenor solo on "Mudbone", his whisper-soft cymbal work on "A Memory's Mourn" and the playful poly-rhythmic approach on Jaco Pastorious's "Portrait of Tracy". Marcus's soprano sax on the last track mentioned ranges from a clarion call to a stomping, near-revivalist feel to a sweetness as the piece comes to a close. Williams' strong walking bass lines drive the "free-swing" feel of "Surreal", anchoring the bottom while E.J. matches the energy of his brother's fiery soprano lines. The 3 musicians open "Gaudi" each moving in a slightly independent direction but then Williams moves into a long, rhythmically exciting, solo.  When Marcus enters for his tenor solo, his brother drops into such a funky beat that it is (and certainly was that night) impossible not to move your feet.  The next time someone tells you jazz is such serious music, play him or her"Gaudi."

"Triumph of the Heavy" really is a triumph for Marcus Strickland and his excellent band.  This music is so alive, so much fun, serious when the tune calls for a different approach and well worth the investment.  If you like music that can not only thrill you but has the power to move you emotionally, latch on to this fine 2 Volume set. For more information, go to  

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