Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Divine Ms. P + A Bone to Pick for the CD of the Week

With the release of her 3rd CD, "The Lost and Found" (ObliqSound), Gretchen Parlato has solidified her position as one of the most exciting new vocalists of the 21st Century.  Her whisper-quiet vocals not only emphasize the lyrics but also her ability to create emotion-filled and exciting wordless solos.  Listening to her interact with saxophonist Dayna Stephens on Wayne Shorter's "Juju" is exhilarating.  Also, she flexes her compositional muscles, writing or co-writing 10 of the 15 tracks on the new CD.  Once again, she displays her fluency with Portuguese on the lovely "Alo Alo" and her lovely duet with bassist/guitarist Alan Hampton on "Still" has bounce and sweetness.

Gretchen Parlato returns to New Haven and Firehouse 12 this Friday (June 3) to perform 2 shows, 8:30 and 10 p.m.  Both sets are sold out (no surprise) so call 203-785-0468 or email to info@firehouse12.com to get on the waiting list.  You might consider purchasing tickets for the final show of the season, the June 10th show with the Scott Colley Trio.  For more information, go to www.firehouse12.com

Download "Circling" courtesy of IODA Promonet and ObliqSound.
Circling (mp3)

 "End of the Tunnel" is the second Posi-Tone release for composer/trombonist David Gibson. It's also th second to feature his quartet of Julius Tolentino (alto saxophone), Jared Gold (organ, bass pedals), and Quincy Davis (drums).  The 9 tracks move from the "soul-funk" of Herbie Hancock's "Blind Man, Blind Man" to the Crusader's influenced "Wasabi."  Davis's drums snap and crackle on the latter, providing plenty of push for the soloists.  Tolentino stays away from cliche on his solos (no David Sanborn clone, he), rarely, if ever, overplaying - his solo on Gold's "Splat" is filled with creative twists-and-turns while the fire he displays on "The In-Whim" inspires Gold and David to really dig in.  On the same track, Gibson dials down the heat for the first few choruses before he, too, kicks it in. 

But the emphasis is on the soulful side on the majority of the tracks.  Gibson steps up on Gold's "Preachin'", a tune drenched in a gospel feel, with a wonderfully understated solo while the composer grooves beneath him and Davis hits hard. One can imagine the "amen corner" shouting "hallelujah" during the excellent organ solo, egged on by the Davis's righteous drumming.  "Sunday Morning", too, has that gospel but filtered through the Crusaders and Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy."  The quartet plays off the "in-the-pocket" drumming and full organ chords, especially in sweet trombone solo. The CD closes with a driving take of Jackie McLean's "Blue Rondo" with its cleanly executed boppish theme. Gibson and Tolentino trade choruses for the first 75% of the tune before Davis rocks and socks it to the reiteration of theme and a quick out.

"End of the Tunnel" won't challenge the listener with multi-sectioned compositions or "free" playing but seduce one with the crisp drum work, the rolling organ lines, and the fine interplay and solo work of all involved.  For more information, go to www.jazzbone.org

Stay tuned for a download from the CD.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hey Ms. or Mr. Bass Person

Milo Songs - Anne Mette Iversen Quartet (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records) - The first impression of this music is that it reminds me of Andrew Hill.  Ms. Iversen, a native of Denmark, based this music on a melody her son Milo sang over and over again.  The composer/bassist mother heard something special in the son's song and built a musical narrative from it for Quartet.  Joining the bassist is John Ellis (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Otis Brown III (drums, cymbals) and Danny Grissett (piano). This is the 4th recording for this ensemble and one can hear that, happily, familiarity fosters creativity.

Where do I hear Mr. Hill in this music?  It's in the way the bassist is the "rhythm" while the drummer "solos" beneath the tenor sax and in the way the songs seem to move out from the melody but (nearly) always stay true to the harmonies.  Listen to the wonderfully episodic "Drum Dreams" where, in the opening moments, all 4 have melodic roles. The bass line moves alongside the clarinet as the piano accentuates the theme played by the drum. Grissett takes the first solo, an easily unfolding series of short phrases punctuated by longer runs. Brown and Ms Iversen create a slow yet steady pace and then the drum solo building off the final phrases of piano. The pace picks up for "Milo's Brother" yet the rambunctious rhythm is paired with a strong melody. Ellis's tenor solo moves quickly over the poly-rhythmic work of Brown but pay attention to Grissett's lines. He refers to the opening melody, reacts to the drummer's action and does not so much fill out the sound as create alternate colors.

There is little clutter in this music, it does not shout; instead, it has a playful quality (for instance, "The Storm" opens with the tenor sax and piano conversing, not arguing, leading the bass and drums
into the rest of the song) that allows the musicians to be themselves inside Ms. Iversen's "musical house."  Andrew Hill often created "thorny" music that challenged both musician and listener but,throughout his life, his music seemed to both expand and contract, to reflect his experiences yet always be searching for something beyond the physical borders of the composition.  Anne Mette Iversen's also has that quality, with structures that expand and contract, melodies that do not imitate the style of Hill but continually move forward.  The musicians "talk" to each other and us through the music, making "Milo Songs" a truly fine experience. To find out more, go to www.annemetteiversen.com.
Click on the link below and you'll hear an example of this excellent music (courtesy of BJU Records and IODA Promonet.)
The Storm (mp3)


Hues of a Different Blue - Rufus Reid & Out Front (Motema Music) - Bassist/composer Reid's "blues" are definitely of a "different" hue that one might expect.  The smile on the cover gives it all away - this is joyful music, not gospel, but jazz that swings and sings, at times makes one wiggle in his chair.  While the Trio - pianist Steve Allee and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca - are dubbed "Out Front", there in no doubt that this is Reid's band.  Unless you have the tinniest speakers, you cannot help but hear the bass parts.  The low notes "boom", the overtones stand out, and his majestic solos can be heard on many of the 14 tracks. There are fine guest appearances by tenor saxophonist JD Allen (3 tracks), trumpeter and flugelhorn player Freddie Hendrix (3 tracks), guitarist/vocalist Toninho Horta (3 tracks) and alto saxophonist Bobby Watson (2 tracks).

Highlights include Reid's "When She Smiles Upon Your Face", a sweet samba on which all the participants appear.  Allen and Watson take consecutive solos; both acquit themselves well.  Horta's acoustic guitar stands out on this cut and on the following track, his own piece, "Francisca".  It's just Horta and Reid working together, the full-toned bass dancing around the nylon-string guitar and Horta's soft vocals.  Da Fonseca snappy drum work ushers in the quaintly-titled "Lower Burellian Bicycle Loop", composed by saxophonist Don Aliquo.  Allen shines here, riding the waves of percussion and the handsome piano accompaniment.  Reid's "walking" lines truly propel the piece forward.  The bassist and Watson play "These Foolish Things", the second duo track on the program; they complement each other well, the alto sax taking the melody up as the bass fills out the bottom.  "Memories of You" is a tour-de-force for Reid, his finely-articulated lines setting the sonic table for Allee's sympathetic piano work.  The long bass solo holds one's attention because Reid thinks melody before technical prowess.

There's more to discover, from Hendrix's richly woven flugelhorn on "The Eloquent One" (a Reid composition dedicated to the late Hank Jones) to the hard driving title track that close the disk.  Hendrix really shines on his forceful solo while Allen pushes against the beat and Watson rolls with the punchy rhythms.  And, Allee is so good every time he touches the keyboard one might overlook his work, but don't - pay attention.

As compared to the Anne Mette Iversen Cd above, "Hues..." does not have the thematic presence or the gravitas (the "weight" does not mean it's too serious.)  Still, the interaction of the musicians, the excellence of the soloists and Reid's personality shines through.  To find out more, go to rufusreid.com

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Interviews, Musicians and Writers

May I recommend for your edification over the Holiday weekend an Internet journey to several websites.

If you have never perused the offerings at dothemath.typepad.com, the home of pianist/journalist Ethan Iverson (pictured left), do so now. There's a 4-part interview and discussion with and about Henry Threadgill that is worth spending the time to read. No one composes and orchestrates like Threadgill and he's been at it over 4 decades. The conversation between he and Iverson has lots of insights into the music, into the history of American music (you might call it jazz but Threadgill would not) and into the influences that shaped Threadgill.  Just follow this link and get cracking - dothemath.typepad.com/dtm/interview-with-henry-threadgill-1-.html.

And, for a taste of The Bad Plus (the trio with Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King) in concert with the HR Big Band, with arrangements by Jim McNeely, go to www.hr-online.de/website/rubriken/kultur/index.jsp?rubrik=2023.  The music is quite impressive, sound and picture quality very good, and well worth another chunk of your time.

The jovial drummer/composer/arranger John Hollenbeck is the subject of the cover interview at NewMusicBox, the web magazine of The American Music Center. He chats about the Claudia Quintet (with videos), about his Large Ensemble and about how he approaches composing and playing.  It's not as long as the Threadgill piece but very informative.  Here's the link - www.newmusicbox.org/article.nmbx?id=6906

If you want investigate more about creative music, go to - A Blog Supreme at www.npr.org/blogs/ablogsupreme/ - now that "The Treme" is into season 2, ABS author Patrick Jarenwattananon and Josh Jackson (he of The Checkout on WBGO-FM) are breaking down each episode. 


Also, for a viewpoint across the Northern border, Peter Hum of The Ottawa Citizen continues to be one of the more readable writers about the contemporary music scene.  Not only does write about jazzers from the United States but he also does a wonderful job of giving exposure to many Canadian artists.  For example, his column about pianist/composer David Braid led me to download his 2 CDs from emusic.com - click on the name to find out more.  To check out Mr. Hum, go to communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/jazzblog/default.aspx and dig in. 

"World" Music

For a fairly young man, drummer-composer Brian Adler has had a busy life.  He's studied with such modern "masters" as Billy Hart, John Hollenbeck, Billy Higgins, Bob Moses, Joe Morris and Cecil McBee as well as sharing the stage with Pablo Aslan, Ran Blake, Frank Carlberg, Marilyn Crispell, Mark Helias, Erik Lawrence, Kate McGarry, Ben Monder, and Ray Vega.  He's the leader of The Prana Trio, is a member of bassist Aslan's Trio and several other working ensembles performing on stages throughout the world.  Adler has his own  company, Circavison Productions, through which he has released a half dozen CDs (including 3 by The Prana Trio) and he teaches.

This week (May 24) sees the release of the "Phase 1" of the Helium Music Project.  Essentially what Adler is doing is creating a coterie of collaborators throughout the world, musicians and vocalists he can work with when he is "on the road."  You may have read of musicians who travel sans rhythm section and hire a local band/rhythm section for each gig. Through the "magic" of modern technology, Adler can compose, record, and edit a piece of music with anyone, anywhere, and any time.  You may be thinking "what's the difference between hiring a local rhythm section and creating a song  in this piecemeal fashion?"  Through the Helium Music Project, Brian Adler has turned the world into his playground in that he already has a working relationship with his collaborators.

The "proof", as they have said, "of the pudding is in the eating." "Phase 1" is 2 songs, the first titled "Lazy River" and featuring Kate McGarry (pictured left,vocals), Peter Ehwald (tenor saxophone), Benedikt Jahnel (piano), Dave Eggar (cello) and Adler on drums.  A poem by Federico Garcia Lorca set to music by Adler and singer/songwriter Evan McCullough, recording took place in Berlin, Germany (Ehwald and Jahnel), North Carolina and New York City.  Building out from the vocal and Egger's singing cello lines, the sound is seamless, the emotions real and the results rewarding.  Listening to Ehwald solo over the spare piano chords and shimmering cymbal work, one cannot tell the musicians are separated by thousands of miles.  For me, this speaks to the power of friendship, of maturity (both personal and musical) and trust.  Adler has worked with each of his cohorts on many occasions and the "proof" is this exquisite 7 minutes of music.

Track 2 is an attractive reading of Hermeto Pascoal's "Andie" (pronounced "ahn-day) performed by Adler (on trap set, midi drums and tablas), Nicky Schrire (vocals, pictured left), Nick Kadjaski (alto saxophone), Sean Moran (nylon-string guitar) and Mark Lau (bass, effects, production).  Ms. Schrire is a South African (by way of London, England) now living in New York City while Lau is an Australian now based in the city (where the piece was recorded.)   Built upon the bouncing bass line and the percussive acoustic guitar, the alluring rhythm draws the listener in and, like the best Brazilian music, does so making one want to move, to dance.  The way the vocalist interacts with the saxophonist and guitarist, the active bass lines, the tabla bubbling near the surface, all have a mesmerizing effect on the listener.

Brian Adler says future "phases" will feature guitarist Ben Monder, pianist Marilyn Crispell, fellow percussionist Daniel "Pipi" Piazzolla, vocalist Heather Masse, pianist Kenny Werner, trumpeter Matt Holman and many others. In fact, considering all the connections Adler has already made in the music "world" (and the ones he will make in the future), the Helium Project promises many years of fine music.

To find out more, hear the music (and to find out how you can be part of the "Project"), go to www.heliummusicproject.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Firehouse 12 Brings on the Bass + CD Picks

Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, moves into its final 3 Fridays (deep sigh...) and 2 of the concerts feature groups led by bassists.  This Friday (May 27), Ben Wolfe returns to the performance space as a leader for the first time since 2008 (the bassist has been a sideman 5 times) with a quartet that features Joe Saylor (drums), the fine young saxophonist Marcus Strickland and Hartford native Josh Evans on trumpet. Wolfe has worked with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Branford Marsalis, Diana Krall, Harry Connick, Jr. and scores more. He's issued 6 CDs as a leader, the latest being "Live at Smalls", issued earlier this year (my review is here.)

The only holdover from that CD is Strickland but, knowing Wolfe's creativity, this band should have many challenging and exciting pieces in its repertoire.  For ticket information, call 203-785-0468 or go to www.firehouse12.com

Here's a taste of Ben Wolfe's music, this track from his 2008 MaxJazz release, "No Strangers Here."  The track features Marcus Strickland, Terell Stafford (trumpet), Luis Perdomo (piano) and Gregory Hutchinson (drums).
The Minnick Rule (mp3)

For those of us who grew up in the late 1950s and early 60s and listened to AM radio, we probably heard the somewhat strange music of Martin Denny.  In the midst of "doo-wop", the rise of Motown and Elvis, Denny's music, much of it influenced by his move to Hawaii in 1955, was based around the marimba, percussion and the instruments he collected from places around the world.  Denny had several Top 20 singles, including "Quiet Village", "A Taste of Honey" and "Ebb Tide."

Here in 2011, we have Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica, a quartet based in the Boston, Massachusetts area.  The brainchild of percussionist Brian O'Neill (who plays many different instruments including vibraphone, bohdran, pandiero and bird calls plus others), the band's debut 2010 CD, "The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel", featured a 22-piece band dedicated to the music of composer/arranger Juan Garcia Esquivel (who created a fascinating body of work in Hollywood in the late 1950s.)

For Mr Ho's second CD, O'Neill returns to his quartet formation for "Third River Rangoon" (Tiki Records).  Despite the "retro" cover, the music takes many interesting paths in its 44 minute journey.  Featuring Geni Skendo (bass flute, c-flute), Noriko Terada (percussion, marimba, vibraphone) and Jason Davis (acoustic bass) as well as guest Tev Stevig (oud on 2 tracks), the 11 instrumentals have a calming effect on one's system.  Stevig's oud enlivens the band's version of Tchaikovsky's "Arab Dance" and the O'Neill original "Autumn Digging Dance" - the two play together in soprano Julia Madeson's Aljashu, a band dedicated the music of the Sephardic Jews from Spain and the influence of that music can be clearly heard on the tracks that feature the oud.  There are also tracks composed by Cal Tjader ("Colorado Waltz") and another king of "exotica", Milt Raskin ("Maika") while the rest of the program is original material.  O'Neill and his band do not treat this music as an oddity or "museum piece", no tongue-in-cheek performances; really, this is a pleasing collection that has fine melodies, short yet good solos, and fills the room with its expansive sound. Skendo's flute flutters and soars above the full-toned bass lines and soft percussion on "Thor's Arrival" and displays a Brazilian influence on the Tjader piece.  The rhythm section does yeoman's work, whether it's Davis's bowed bass beneath the oud on "Arab Dance" or Ms. Terada's shakers and cymbal work on "Terre Exotique." The rich bass counterpoint on "Moai Thief" and the hushed yet propulsive percussion on the title track captures the ear without taking away from the O'Neill or Shendo's solos.

Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica, unlike Sex Mob's hard-edged take on Martin Denny titled "Sexotica" (released in 2006), takes its "exotica" seriously but not to the point of  humorless reenactments or straight satire. The music is "cool" but not cliched, fragrant with the aural perfume of the South Seas and Hawaii.  And, it's fun to listen to.
For more information, go to orchestrotica.com

Below is a link to the upcoming CD release, "Mulberry Street" from trombonist/composer Jeff Fairbanks' Project Hansori to be issued in June on BJU Records.   When I first played the CD, the music, a heady blend of Korean and Chinese folk music with big band jazz, played by a 22-piece ensemble just knocked me out.  Produced by Darcy James Argue (who  knows a thing or 2 about large ensembles) and featuring several members of his Secret Society as well as the fine young bassist Linda Oh and guest baritone saxophonist Fred Ho, this wonderful coalescence of traditions and imaginative arrangements is worth your attention. Thanks to BJU and IODA Promonet for the generous taste below - a full review will be posted in several weeks.  In the meantime, go to www.fairbanksmusic.com and follow the links to Project Hansori. 

Mulberry StreetJeff Fairbanks' Project Hansori
"San Ma Da" (mp3)
from "Mulberry Street"
(Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records)

More On This Album

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Intimate, Creative and, often, Calming

Composer-pianist Steve Hudson is a new name to me but, once I espied the lineup on "Galactic Diamonds", I became even more intrigued.  Cellist/vocalist Jody Redhage, violinist Zach Brock and percussionist Martin Urbach make up Hudson's Chamber Ensemble who join himfor a program that blends numerous styles of music into an hour of sweet melodies, subtle harmonies, understated yet powerful rhythms and impressive interactions. Hudson, who has worked with improvisor/composers such as Steven Bernstein, James Zollar, Clare Daly and Marcus Rojas, also co-leads the Outer Bridge Ensemble with bassist Mark Dejeong. 

Much of this program is on the quieter side but packs quite an emotional punch. There's the bluesy "Tune With Tango" that opens the CD on a sly yet stylish way ( I hear a touch of Jelly Roll Morton in some of the piano lines while Brock shines on his dramatic solo. "Speak Out" rides in on a pizzicato cello line while Hudson's left hand lays down a solid and spunky rhythm. The piano solo builds off Ms. Redhage's rocking lines, twisting, turning and dancing over Urbach's active hand percussion. For the lovely cello solo, Hudson takes over the the cellist's bass lines.  There's a sense of wistful longing on "Song for John Lennon" with its lengthy piano solo - Brock adds his voice 4 minutes into the 7 minute piece and the others join 30 seconds later.  The longing is replaced for a moment by celebration before the piano finishes the piece alone again.  The title track really bounces, from Urbach's hard-edged drumming to Ms Redhage's furious bowing to the full-voiced melody line (and there are several quieter moments, one with a lovely wordless vocal line from the cellist. Hudson trots out an electric piano for Headhunters-inspired "Funky Hobbit."  Half the fun is hearing Urbach laying down the wonderfully funky beat, Brock's driving solo and Ms Redhage's Jimi Hendrix/Thurston Moore spot that closes with a duel between the quiet pizzicato and more furious bowing. A bit more tango enters into the closing track, "Mingus Moon", a piece with much dynamic variation and tension. There is also a very quiet piano solo, soaked in blues that slowly rises in volume as the band hits a bit harder and Hudson takes in their energy, pushing the piece back up in intensity.

"Galactic Diamonds" sparkles with wit and musicality, music for mature listeners yet with quite a bit of humor and happiness in the mix.  Hard to avoid calling this release a "gem" but it is really an excellent offering from Steve Hudson and associates.  To find out more, go to stevehudsonmusic.com.

Ms. Redhage's cello and voice also show up on "Streetcar Journey" (Married Fox Records), the latest recording from pianist Chie Sato Roden & Fire in July.  The project began when Ms Roden discovered composer Alex North's suite from his score for the 1951 film version of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire."The suite only lasts 30 minutes so, to fill out the program, Ms Roden enlisted Ms Redhage and her husband Alan Ferber (trombonist) to create new pieces inspired by "Streetcar."  The results are mighty impressive, songs replete with rich melody lines and instrumental work that mine classical, popular and jazz musics.   Joining the creative triumvirate (and comprising the Fire in July ensemble) are Ken Thomson (clarinet, bass clarinet), Tim Collins (vibraphone), Fred Kennedy (drums, percussion) and Dan Tepfer (piano on Ms Redhage's "Sister, My Sister.") Ms. Redhage's vocals may remind some of the style of singing one hears in a Stephen Sondheim musical, not quite opera or jazz or, even, "popular" but bordering on poetic or, perhaps, "art music." However you wish to describe it, they add weight to the program allowing a glimpse into the lives of Williams' characters.

Thomson's reeds work well alongside the full tones of the trombone and the rich cello.  Kennedy is a sympathetic player whose colors are essential to the music as is the work of Collins.  Roden is a full-voiced pianist whose knowledge of the play and movie imbue the music with gravitas but not to the point of dullness. The solo pieces, all arranged by North, displays the influence of New Orleans music (the play and movie are set in the Crescent City) with a feel of Louis Moreau Gottschalk. One can hear the dramatic influence in the "raggy" bass lines of "Mania" as well as in the formal melody and harmony of "Soliloquoy - Redemption."  Ferber's "North Rampart" closes the CD, a lovely ensemble piece (no piano or drums) that highlights the lovely sounds of Thomson's clarinet (very little vibrato), the darker yet no less handsome trombone (especially on the warm melody), the soft, pulsating vibes (sweet blues lick that takes the tune out) and the smart cello counterpoint.

Chie Sato Roden & Fire in July are bringing the work of Alex North to a 21st-Century audience in a way that not only pays great respect but, along with the original works of Jody Redhage and Alan Ferber, also give Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" a new set of viable musical interpretations. For more information, go to www.chiesatoroden.com.

"The Stream of Pearls Project: Inspired by Water" is the work of Massachusetts-based composer/pianist Claire Ritter and her 10th to be issued on Zoning Recordings. The pieces are inspired by and dedicated to different bodies of water, from the Charles River in Boston to the waterways of the 1000 Islands in both New York state and Canada to the Outer Banks/Ocracoke Island of North Carolina.  Charming, often beautiful,  sometimes lively, other times hushed, honest music that conveys the peace one can feel in the presence of nature.  True, we all know that water can be damaging, harsh and unyielding but, in Ms. Ritter's music, water is spirit, creativity and ever-changing. Here, the music reflects the composer's influences of jazz, Latin music, 20th Century classical music, and more. This is a CD for a cool summer's evening or late winter night (to remind one of the warmth of spring) and not for analyzing for its jazz pedigree or who influenced which soloist. 
Joining the pianist on various tracks are Ashima Scripp (cello), Toni Naples and Rick Hansen (accordions), Richie Stearns (banjo), Jon Metzger (vibraphone) and Takaaki Masuko (drums, percussion).  18 tracks in under 48 minutes and there are moments one wishes the song was longer  (because the groove is sweet or the melody attractive) but listeners who like to get lost in reveries will find much to like in these "streams." To find out more about Claire Ritter (and her work with Dave Holland, Ran Blake, Steve Swallow and others), go to www.claireritter.com.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Modern Grooves

Alto saxophonist-composer Travis Sullivan is, perhaps, best known for his 18-piece big band, Bjorkestra, an ongoing project in which he reimagines and reshapes the music of the Icelandic singer/songwriter and notorious shape-shifter.   In the midst of that heady project, one might forget that he himself is a strong writer and talented musician.

"New Directions" should and will open eyes and ears to Sullivan's ability to write for a small ensemble.  Joined by Mike Eckroth (piano), Marco Panascia (bass) and Brian Fischler (drums), Sullivan creates music that keeps the listener on his/her toes because not only is there a strong rhythmic pulse on most tracks but also what they play is involving, melodic and seeminglty without artifice.   "Jamia's Dance" opens the program and sets the stage with its handsome melody, shifting rhythms, the leader's sweet tone and Eckroth's piano work that is both powerful and impressionistic. It's the interplay of the rhythm section, the pianist's ability to color the music and Sullivan's vibrant alto saxophone that stands out. Even the sweet take of "Spring Is Here" displays a maturity of thought, no one rushing the beat, the long tones and "singing" quality of the alto and the truly complementary work of the rhythm section. And the emotional content of these pieces make them stand out - these songs are not just exercises in technique. Instead, they tell musical "stories", are constructed so that one can't miss the melodic content but also can hear how the solos grow from the thematic material. The other "cover" tune is a snappy take on "Everybody Wants to Rule The World", the 1985 hit for the British duo Tears for Fears.  This is music that is alive and makes one think how good the quartet must sound in a "live" setting.

One other aspect stands out (for this reviewer) - these 10 songs are so rich with ideas that one does not immediately reach out for comparisons (i.e., Sullivan sounds like "fill-in-the-blank", his writing is influenced by"so-and-so".)  Just listen. Enjoy the lightness of the interactions, the heat of the solos and the quality of the work.  To find out more, go to www.travissullivan.com.
Click below to enjoy the opening track, courtesy of Posi-Tone Records and IODA Promonet.
Jamia's Dance (mp3)


Perhaps the last instrument one would expect on a program dedicated to the music of alto saxophonist is a didgeridoo but trumpeter Mark Rapp adds it to his arsenal on "Good Eats" (Dinemec Records), his 4th release and 1st with his Melting Pot quartet.  One might assume that the tribute would include an alto saxophone but, once again, Rapp surprises the listener by adding guest Don Braden playing tenor saxophone and alto flute 6 of the 11 tracks.  Joe Kaplowitz mans the Hammond B3 organ, Ahmad Mansour adds funky electric guitar and Klemens Marktl supplies the drum work. Another interesting aspect of the program is that Rapp et al don't copy Mr. Donaldson's sound and songs; no, they have a joyous time with it.  Okay, the opening cut, "Alligator Boogaloo", doesn't stray far from the funky strut of the original and "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky" is a joyful 60's style romp (hot tenor solo from Braden) but moving on to "Brother Soul" and a Middle-Eastern feel creeps into the piece (splendid drum work from Marktl and rich guitar riffs liven the music.) "One Cylinder" transfers Donaldson's tune into "Bitches Brew" territory, with Rapp's muted trumpet (heavy on the echo) and Mansour's rambling guitar lines. There's a heady bebop/blues take of "Spaceman Twist" (great opening Charlie Parker-style riff that is the theme), a sweet laid-back reading of "The Glory of Love" and a funky, danceable, jaunt through "Pot Belly." 

Everyone plays well and they show great respect for what Lou Donaldson has brought to jazz. They do it by tapping into the playful, soulful, side of his music.  Marktl supplies the "serious" beat, Kaplowitz the much-needed organ foundation and Mansour the "chunky" riffs and rippling solo lines. Mark Rapp and Don Braden are, most often, the "main course" and ride the rhythmic tide.  Essential listening?  Perhaps not, but, if you need a hefty serving of "funky fun", dig into "Good Eats."  To find out more, go to www.markrapp.com.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hands & Brass

Percussionist Dan Weiss, who has performed and/or recorded with saxophonist David Binney, guitarist Rez Abbasi, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and bassist Eivind Opsvik (to name but 4), not only has mastered the trap set but also the tabla drums.  For his second set of compositions for drumset, "Jhaptal Drumset Solo" (Chhandayan Publication), Weiss again enlists guitarist Miles Okazaki to play the repeated melody line (in the style of the Indian tamboura but a melodic drone not one tone) while he plays the 36 different pieces for tabla on his drums.  The project will be of great interest to drummers and less so to the average listener.  I find it quite peaceful (even when Weiss is really "wailing") but one really has to be "in the mood." It is fascinating how he transfers the tabla lines to the snare and the subtle shifts in the rhythmic patterns.  For more information, go to www.danweiss.net

Though the covers bear a similarity and the music features an excellent drummer (in this instance Obed Calvaire), the new CD by trumpeter-composer Sean Jones, "No Need For Words" (Mack Avenue) is contemporary music strong on interplay, melodic variations and excitement.  With a core band of Calvaire, Orrin Evans (piano, electronic keys), Brian Hogans (alto saxophone, electronics) and Luques Curtis (bass), Jones continues to move forward.  "Look and See" opens the program in a high-powered fashion with Calvaire really pushing the tempo. His accents have a hard edge and he's not afraid to crack down hard on his snare.  Evans is stalwart throughout, whether negotiating his way through the hard-bop rhythms of "Touch and Go", opening the pretty ballad "Momma" with a gospel-tinged unaccompanied statement or creating a keyboard maelstrom on "Love's Fury."  The last piece would be out of place on a Living Colour CD, with its noisy background and Calvaire's percussive onslaught (guest guitarist Matt Stevens adds "wailing" sounds to the tune while percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell stokes the percussive fire.)  Jones' mellow muted trumpet adds a mellow "midnight" touch to the title track, a fairly quiet homage to a romantic liaison.  Evans' light touch, the solo that grows from just a few well-placed notes, and fine background work that supplies Jones and Hogan with an easy cushion, is delicious to hear.  The final track, "Forgiveness (Release)", also has a gospel feel, amplified here by the presence of Corey Henry's Hammond organ. Hogans' solo is short but very emotionally powerful and, when he and Jones rise high above the insistent rhythm section in the last several minutes of the piece, the listener is carried away by their musical testimony.  The quiet coda brings the program to a most satisfying close.

"No Need For Words" is Sean Jones' 6th CD as a leader and one can truly hear how he has developed as a composer, arranger and bandleader. From his debut in 2004, one could tell he was a very good musician but his growth has been impressive. This CD is audible proof of that - to find out more, go to www.seanjonesmusic.com

Tom Harrell is well into his 5th decade as a performer, having graduated from Stamford University in 1969 to step right into the Stan Kenton Band. He is not only a fine musician but also an excellent (and, somewhat, underrated) composer.  He has led a big band, composed music for trumpet and piano and created symphonic arrangements for vocalist Elizabeth Kontomanou. His growing discography has many strong entries.

Since 2006, he has led a quintet featuring Wayne Escoffery (tenor saxophone), Danny Grissett (piano, Fender Rhodes), Ugonna Okegwo (bass) and the human dynamo that is Johnathan Blake (drums). "The Time of the Sun" (HighNote) is the group's 4th CD and it's as good as the previous 3.  Why?  First and foremost, this is a working group, one that Harrell knows extremely well and writes to their individual strengths.  Escoffery, who is also listed as one of the producers, adds heft and fire to the sound, playing off the more mellow edges of the leader.  Listen to him wail above Blake and Grissett's burbling Rhodes on "Ridin'" - he follows a long, rather fiery, solo from Harrell (who really has a great time riding the percussive tidal wave), starting slowly, then really digging in to the groove. "Estuary"is another in a series of lovely melodies that Harrell dresses in mellow Brazilian rhythmic patterns.  Grissett's spare embellishments beneath the solo opens up during his spot with handsome single-note runs that rise like mist off a lake. Escoffery's solo is, understandably, a bit stronger yet the way he moves into the higher register of the tenor without force is a treat. Blake creates a "modern" groove for the riff-driven "Dream Text", a piece that has a melody line that resembles some by the Becker-Fagen duo aka Steely Dan. Grissett's Rhodes' chords emphasize the Dan connection but, pay attention to the fine flugelhorn solo because it's one of Harrell's best on record. Throughout the CD, Ugonna Okegwo is the unsung hero as he really holds the beat down and allows Blake to embellish what the soloists are creating. 

Tom Harrell, like Wayne Shorter, Charles Lloyd, and Herbie Hancock, is both a fine composer and strong soloist. Like those 3 modern "masters", he is not a slave to any one style so his music always sounds fresh.  The 65-year old Harrell surrounds himself with younger players (bassist Okegwo turns 50 next year while the others are only in their mid-50s), musicians who are leaders as well and who are dedicated making this music come alive.  And, believe me, it truly does. (I almost forgot to mention the solar "sounds" that open the CD - very interesting way to set the sonic table.) To find out more, go to www.tomharrell.com

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Professor Sells Out + CD Pick

Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, presents Anthony Braxton's newest project, a septet venture that carries the sobriquet Echo Echo Mirror House.  The good Professor (playing saxophones and clarinets for these shows), who has been on the faculty of Wesleyan University for over 2 decades, has written new music for conventional instruments and musicians wielding iPods. Joining him will be Aaron Siegel (percussion), Carl Testa (bass, bass clarinet, electronics), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Jessica Pavone (viola, violin), Jay Rozen (tuba) and Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet). 

All the advance tickets for both the 8:30 and 10 p.m. shows have been sold out (and have been for a good long time) so the folks at the Firehouse suggest you write (info@firehouse12.com) or call (203-785-0468) to get your name on the waiting list. To get more information, go to www.firehouse12.com.

Pianist/scientist Jean-Michel Pilc has issued his second solo CD, "Essential" (Motéma); the 18 tracks (just under 67 minutes) run the gamut from standards ("Caravan", "Take The A Train",  "Too Young To Go Steady" and more) to the "Waltz in A minor" by Chopin to a 6-part series of "Etudes" and beyond.)  Much of this program is quiet and intimate, a lovely series of audio dreams for the end of the day.  Even the Ellington and Strayhorn pieces are softer and a bit more abstract that one might expect. The music is in no way somnambulance personified. A good example is "Caravan" - here, Pilc takes the tune through a number of tempo changes, from a bluesy stroll to an out-of-time romp.  "Someday My Prince Will Come" moves easily under Pilc's fingers, with long flowing lines  moving in and around the melody. He even summons up the spirit of Art Tatum at one point in his pleasing rendition of "I Remember You."   One of the more impressive pieces is the pianist's abstract on "Blue in Green", slowly unfolding from the opening notes, not hurrying forward but lightly treading on the melody.
The 6 short "Etudes" ,broken up into numbered "Tableaux", have the feeling of being improvised and, at times. may remind some of the ramblings of Keith Jarrett.  Yet, because these are brief, none overstay their welcome. From the rumbling bass lines of "No.1" to the child-like melody line of "..2" to the abstract ballad that is "..3" and on, this is the creative essence of the pianist.  He moves gracefully through the pieces (as he does through most of the program) and one feels comforted, almost cuddled, by the generous chords and lilt of "..6."

"Essential" is a title that may raise questions in some listeners' minds about the CD's place in Jean-Michel Pilc's oeuvre (he has issued several other excellent recordings) but it may be that this was the right time for an album such as this. Don't think about it too much, just enjoy the width and breadth of Pilc's talent and artistry. CD buyers get an extra treat with a short video of Pilc at the piano. For more information, go to www.jmpilc.com


Received a note from vocalist Kendra Shank about a courageous and inventive creative musician - read it, follow the link and pass it on.

"I'm singing in this film documentary about guitarist Sangeeta Michael Berardi (pictured left) who, since contracting Parkinson's disease, continues to make music by utilizing his tremors in creative ways. An inspiring man, who has much to teach us about living. You can see the film trailer and donate to the project by clicking on the link below. One of the gift options for those who pledge, is an autographed copy of my CD "A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook." Please direct all inquiries about the project to burrillcrohn@earthlink.net."  

Friday, May 13, 2011

Listening Pleasure

Sitting by myself last night, I finally got to really listen to "Live at Smalls", the new CD by the Bruce Barth Trio.  The jazz club, located at 183 West 10th Street in New York City, has been issuing "live' recordings for the past year or so, thanks to an ambitious plan of Spike Wilner.  One can actually go to the club's website - www.smallsjazzclub.com - and watch live feeds of performances and they are building an archive of these performances as well.

Anyway, I'm in the big chair letting Barth's music wash over me and am blown away by just how impressive drummer Rudy Royston's playing is in this band.  First of all, you can't miss him, because Royston is way "up" in the mix.  Secondly, it's a trio gig so he stands out.  His work on Barth's "Wilsonian Alto" is positively stunning. He's right on top of the beat and while bassist Vicente Archer is holding down the tempo, Royston is absolutely dancing underneath Barth's flowing, funky, fiery phrases.  In the midst of the solo, Royston takes off and he is accenting the pianist's lines, he's firing off machine-gun riffs, he's all over the kit and I swear the room is levitating.  The piece slows down for the excellent bass solo; when the pianist returns, the music just boils over.  Elsewhere on the program, he bounces and romps through the pianist's "Almost Blues", softly emphasizes the handsome melody of "Yama", mostly on the floor toms and cymbal but always subtle. 

Let's take nothing away from Barth. His flowing lines and rapid phrases shine throughout "Peaceful Place", buoyed by the active percussion and Archer's rich, full-toned, bass lines. The pianist delivers a heartfelt reading of "Good Morning Heartache", first recorded by Billie Holiday in 1946. As mighty as Barth is on uptempo pieces, he can be so gentle and contemplative on ballads.  His rippling phrases are filled with blues, with longing, with regret while Archer plays off and under him. 

"Live at Smalls" is one of those recordings that makes one feel as if he or she is right next to the bandstand.  Some "live" recordings feel "juiced up" or muddy and distant - this one is immediate, exciting, alive and human.  Bruce Barth, Vicente Archer, and Rudy Royston deliver the goods. Enjoy!

For more information, go to www.brucebarth.com

Honorable mention goes to another master musician, the great Belgian guitarist and harmonica virtuoso Jean "Toots" Thielemans. His new "European Quartet: Live" CD, released by Challenge Records, is made up of pieces recorded over a 3-year period.  Accompanied by Karel Boehlee (piano, synthesizer), Hein Van de Geyn (acoustic bass), and Hans van Oosterhout (drums), the youthful "harmonicat" (now 89-years old, he's had to retire from guitar playing) runs through an eclectic program of standards, Brazilian tunes, and his "hits" ("Theme from Midnight Cowboy", "Bluesette"). Listen to his unaccompanied take of "Round Midnight" - it's heartfelt, touching, and pleasing.  And, he can "swing" so well, as he displays during "On Green Dolphin Street" and the hard-driving take of "Summertime" (his cohorts acquit themselves very well in support and on their own.)

Mr. Thielmans is one of those master musicians who always satisfies his audiences. His harmonica work, easily recognizable, continues to be inventive. What he may have lost in "speed", he more than makes up for with his inventiveness, his joy for playing and melodic flair.  May he continue to bring those qualities to his music for years to come.  Check him out at www.tootsthielmans.com

O, What I Wrote + More Free Music

The other day, I posted a column that included a review of the new CD by Musica Pacifica titled "Dancing in the Isles."  It's a wonderful collection of dances tunes and classical pieces from the 17th and 18th Century concentrating on the British Isles.  I heartily recommended  it and still do but wish to clear up a misconception of my part about the lack of improvisation in the music, especially the traditional works.  The West Coast-based septet wrote to say "there's improvisation in all the lines we made up in the dance tunes (they appear as only a single melody line), and in all of the ornamentation we add to the Baroque pieces--the masque dances, Locke, Matteis, Veracini, even Oswald (not so much the Purcell)."

And, of course there is.  Many of the pieces are either handed down from one generation of musicians to another or the composer left room in the music for individual interpretation.  Also, we should also give credit to the creative musicians who record this timeless music for injecting their own personality and vitality to the music.  To find out more, go to www.musicapacifica.org.   


Received an email from guitarist-composer Mike Baggetta announcing the imminent arrival (June 1) of the new CD from TIN/BAG, the duo he co-leads with trumpeter/composer Kris Tiner. "Bridges", recorded in early 2010, features 9 pieces including a sweet and melancholy reading of Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman".  The guys want you to check it out by going to http://tinbag.bandcamp.com/ where you can not only pre-order the CD but also listen to all the tunes.  And, the best part (besides the fine music)) is you can download the Dylan song for FREE!  To find out more, go to www.kristiner.com/tinbag

Potpourri for Spring

What follows is a series of short reviews of recordings that have arrived in the past month as well as a link to music you might be interested in downloading.

Eric Alexander has issued a slew of recordings both as a leader, member of a collective (One For All) and as a sideman in his 2 decades on the "scene.".  His big tone, his creativity, and his ability to sound like himself in a musical genre (hard-bop) that has had its share of impressive tenor saxophonists makes his music so approachable.  "Don't Follow The Crowd" (HighNote) is yet another strong addition to his discography.  It does not hurt one bit that his long-time partner Harold Mabern is at the piano yet again as the Memphis native is one of creative and classiest of people to sit at the keyboard.  The rhythm section of Nat Reeves (bass) and One For All partner Joe Farnsworth (drums) is top-notch.  My one issue with the CD is all the echo on Alexander's tenor.  Other than that, there is a sweet version of Henry Mancini's "Charade" (Mabern's accompaniment is so good) and a lovely take on Michael Jackson's "She's Out of My Life" (really!) that has one of the more graceful solos I have ever heard from Alexander.  There are several "burners" starting with the Alexander's "Nomor Senterbress" that opens the program with  a catchy melody line (sounds mystical) and his "Remix Blues", a piece with smart chord changes and great cymbal work.

This quartet sounds great together (no surprise given their long relationship) and the music is solid but not stolid.  One can see sitting in Dizzy's Club Coca Cola or the Jazz Showcase listening to this fine music.  To find out more, go to www.ericalexandermusic.com.

Best known for his stellar work with Kneebody and his appearances with Ben Allison, David Binney and Pearl Jam, Shane Endsley is a fine trumpeter and has just issued his second CD as a leader. "Then The Other" is the debut CD for Kneebody's Low Electrical Records and features his Music BandCraig Taborn plays piano (very nicely) alongside bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Ted Poor.  Whereas Endsley's work with the Kneebody collective is very high-powered and, to my ears, tightly structured, this session is somewhat "looser" (do not read as "sloppy) and more conversational. The quartet's interactions are pleasing to hear, the rhythm section really pushes many of the pieces along and the solos are quite impressive. Endsley's tone shows the influence of Dave Douglas and Ron Horton; none of these brass-men display blues "roots" but have styles that has elements of Clifford Brown.  One hears crisp, clear, lines, not a lot of "smears" but more of a melodic approach. It's fun to hear Taborn alongside Endsley, the way they move through the middle section of "Pedals", holding back, staying on the melody lines or adding quiet colors. There's a touch of rock music and Ben Allison in "Kings County Ramble", notable for Poor's active percussion, Taborn's rippling piano fills and the leader's wide-ranging solo.  The title track, an unconventional ballad in form, is quiet throughout, with subtle percussion work (Poor picks up the intensity later on but plays so melodically), minimalist (at times) piano and bass lines that give the piece its depth.  The piece unfolds slowly so it's a surprise when the band falls into a steady beat - it does not last very long and feels through-composed, giving the work even more variety.  Kneebody bandmate Kaven Rastegar composed "Conditional Love" (the only piece not by Endsley) - it's a pretty ballad that has room for a short piano solo and a really fine bass solo.  "Gallery Piece" brings the program to a close, with a romping rhythm and a trumpet solo that heats up in an exciting fashion.

Shane Endsley and the Music Band has been touring since the release of the CD and I'm told the interplay of the musicians has gotten stronger, making the music even more exciting.  There is so much to like here and one's enjoyment grows with subsequent listens.  The leader's work on the slower pieces is measured and musical yet he also displays plenty of fire when pushed by the rhythm section.  To find out more, go to kneebody.com/ler/

"Dancing in the Isles" (Solimar Records) is the 9th recording by Musica Pacifica, a septet dedicated to the classical and early musics of Europe. This CD, subtitled "Baroque and Traditional Music from England, Scotland, and Ireland", is a joyful reminder that people did not just sit around at the end of a long day. The 33 tracks (just under 75 minutes) range from the 5 "English Country Dances" from the mid-17th Century that open the program to the longer works  of Francesco Veracini (1690-1768) and Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695) at the close.  In between, one hears a 3-part medley of traditional Scots tunes, a 3-part medley of traditional Irish tunes (arguably the highlight of the CD), 5 tunes that make up "An English Court Masque" (more complicated works that come from theater performances), a Sonata by James Oswald (1710-1769), a 4-part Suite by Matthew Locke (1621, perhaps 1622-1677) and "6 Ayres in G major" by Nicola Matteis. Playing this pleasing, structured and often beautiful music is Judith Linsenberg (recorders, whistle), David Morris (baroque cello, viola da gamba), Charles Sherman (harpsichord), Charles Weaver (baroque, theorbo which is a long-necked lute), Peter Maund (percussion) and baroque violinists Elizabeth Blumenstock and Robert Mealy. Based in the San Francisco Bay area, the septet is known for its extensive repertoire (ranging from Vivaldi to Telemann to the Bachs, J.S., W.F. and C.P.E.) and championing the use of period instruments.

No improvisation here but a treasure trove of fine sounds and excellent musicianship. Though the music is certainly "old", Musica Pacifica gives the works its full attention, respect, and has fun bringing the sounds to life.  This is dance music - enjoy!  For more information, go to www.musicapacifica.org

Dawn of Midi, the creative music trio that issued its debut CD to critical acclaim in 2010 (my review is here), is offering fans a free download of 7 tracks recorded last year on 3 different dates. The trio, composed of contrabassist Aakaash Israni, percussionist Qasim Naqvi, and  pianist Amino Belyamani, create music with influences that range from contemporary classical music to improvisational jazz to post-modern rock  - what's most impressive is that they already have the own identity and labeling is really futile.  Their music takes such fascinating paths, not so much about technical facility (and all 3 are quite good musicians) as in following their muse.  Not for the traditional piano trio fan but for the person who likes to be challenged and can go deeper into the music on subsequent listens; Dawn of Midi is giving all listeners the opportunity to judge for themselves.  Go to www.dawnofmidi.com/music/ and try the  music on.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Firehouse 12 Concert + Discovering the "Noble Path"

The Firehouse 12 Spring 2011 Concert Series rolls right along - attendance has been excellent with a slew of sold-out shows (both sets of Anthony Braxton's 5/20 concert are already full and have a waiting list) amidst its eclectic group of performers. 

This week, saxophonist and composer Rob Brown returns to the venue for the 3rd time as a leader (I believe his trio played in the 1st year of the series), this time with his 4-Tet  The Virginia native has been part of the creative music scene for nearly 3 decades, working and recording with the afore-mentioned Professor Braxton, pianist Cecil Taylor, the late trumpeter/conceptualist Bill Dixon, drummer Hamid Drake, various dance companies, poets and performance artists.  His discography includes over 20 CDs and Lps as a leader or co-leader and many more as a sideman.

His latest release, recently issued on the Marge label (based in France) features the group he's bringing to the Firehouse. It's an impressive cast, including vibraphonist Matt Moran, bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Gerald Cleaver.  All have performed here in the past;  this is Cleaver's 9th appearance, Lightcap's 8th and Moran's 5th. The music the quartet creates resonates with far-flung influences, from the blues to Ornette Coleman's sounds to the rhythmic explorations of Matthew Shipp.  They'll play 2 sets, 8:30 and 10 p.m.  For more information and to buy tickets, call 203-785-0468 or go to www.firehouse12.com.  To find out more about the busy career of Rob Brown, visit www.robbrownmusic.com

Born in the Bay Area of San Francisco, pianist Art Hirahira has been playing, studying and teaching music most of his life.  He's studied with Charlie Haden and Wadada Leo Smith at CalArts, performed with Dave Douglas, Vincent Herring, Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra, Jim Black, Jenny Scheinman, Fred Ho, Sean Nowell, royal hartigan, and Rufus Reid.  His work on saxophonist Sarah Manning's impressive 2010 recording "Dandelion Clock" (Posi-Tone Records) really caught my attention (Ms. Manning's playing is mighty impressive as well) and now the label has issued his first CD as a leader in over a decade.

"Noble Path" features the pianist/composer in the company of bassist Yoshi Waki and drummer Dan Aran and is one of those "piano trio" recordings that captures one's ear with its musicality, subtlety and intelligence.  Don't let that scare you away - the music also has bounce, swing, and strong solos.  The program starts with the warm swing of Hirahira's "I'm OK", with a melody, a piece that feels influenced by Phineas Newborn Jr. and Harold Mabern, with a piano solo that moves easily from two-handed chordal phrases to rippling single-note runs. Waki and Aran keep the flow moving without over-playing.

The CD includes 4 "standards", ranging from the driving hard-bop attack of "All or Nothing at All" to the gracious take on Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" to the lithe swing of Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan" (really strong piano solo) to Cole Porter's gentle ballad "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" (the rhythm section is soft, supportive and creative behind the pianist.) Each song respects the original piece but the trio's interactions make each piece shine anew.

Hirahara's compositions cover much creative ground. The title track starts with a handsome melody (with a bit of a country music twist in the phrases) before stretching out into a sweet piano solo (Aran's snare work mirrors the pianist's lines nicely.)  A hint of both gospel music and Vince Guaraldi can be detected on the beautiful "Peace Unknown" with the pretty melody and piano solo supported by melodic bass lines and muted drums.  "Ebb and Flow" has a joyous swing, gentle not hard-edged while "Nocturne" is dreamy at the onset then opens up with some of the "freest" playing on the CD (the musicians go "out" without losing the melodic kernel of the piece.) "Change Your Look" begins with a harder attack (there's a hard-driving section in the first third of the performance) then the pianist takes it down before jumping back into a faster pace. The tempo shifts back and forth as the intensity rises, ending on a short, impressionistic, solo piano coda.

"Noble Path" is a generous hour's worth of music, generous in many senses, not the least of which is the abundance of melody.  Like the trio music of Bill Evans and Denny Zeitlin, the listener is drawn in by the quiet intensity of the players, by solos that capture the ear with unique turns-of-phrase, and sharp interplay.  Art Hirahara is a musician and person you should check out - his music will win you over.  For more information, go to www.arthirahara.com

Download and enjoy the title track by clicking on the link below, courtesy of Posi-Tone Records and IODA Promonet.
Noble Path (mp3)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Music of Joy

I download and listen to "Composers Datebook" every day. The 2- minute program, a production of American Public Media and the American Composers Forum, usually deals with a particular composer, either celebrating his or her birthday or the day they passed or the premiere of an important work.

On this date in 1824, an audience in Vienna, Austria, heard the premiere of Ludwig van Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony", the composer's final major work, the one that features the "Song of Joy" as its final section.  That stunning piece of music came to mind today as I played the new CD by multi-reed player and composer Paul Lieberman.  No, he does not rework the Beethoven masterpiece and his music is not really classical.  It is, however, filled from beginning to end with joy. 

After graduating from Yale in 1978, Lieberman moved to New York City where he continued his studies and played for dance companies. Working with Airto and Flora Purim solidified his love for Brazilian music and Lieberman moved to Rio De Janiero in the mid-1980s where he met and married his wife as well as becoming a popular studio musician. After returning to the US, he played with a slew of musicians from the jazz, soul and rock worlds and continued to work with many Brazilians. In 2006, he began to teach and study at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, earning his Master's Degree in Jazz Composition and Arranging.  Currently, he tours with Jaimoe's Jass Band, has been working with the Arturo O'Farrill Big Band, and has started a new Saxophone Quartet with Marty Ehrlich, Jason Robinson and Gary Smulyan.

"Ibeji" (self-released) is the long-awaited debut recording from the Boston, Massachusetts-area resident. Blessed with 2 cracker-jack rhythm  sections (either bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Tim Horner or bassist Nilson Matta and drummer Duduka da Fonseca) and a program that ranges from sparkling originals to classic tunes from Brazil to jazz standards to one of the best covers of a Beatles tune by a jazz player, the recording shines.  The secret weapon is the brilliant work of co-producer and pianist Joel A. Martin, whose playing has is so effervescent that it jumps out of the speakers as if to hug the listener. Even his work on the slow tunes sparkles.  Lieberman plays tenor, alto and soprano saxophones plus flute, alto flute, piccolo, percussion and adds several vocal flourishes.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the program is how Lieberman uses his American rhythm section to re-imagine the Brazilian tunes (Jobim's "Inutil Paisagem" as a shuffle! and Ivan Lins' ballad "Doce Presenca" with a strong blues feel and opening phrase hearkens back to "April in Paris") and the Brazilian rhythm section to give new life to classic pieces such as Al Dubin & Harry Warren's "Lulu's Back in Town" (bossa nova) and "I'll Remember April" as a sprightly samba. I have always loved Lennon & McCartney's "In My Life", a somewhat melancholy love song that looks back on "people and things that went before."  Lieberman takes the tune up several notches, overdubs several flutes then rises atop Matta's melodic bass lines, da Fonseca's sprightly rhythms, and Martin's intelligent piano fills to create a piece that celebrates life to its fullest.  On the leader's "Voa Livre" ("fly free"), cellist Eugene Friesen and drummer Jaimoe (he, an original and current member of the Allman Brothers Band)  make guest appearances, filling out the sound.  Lieberman plays the enchanting melody on several flutes while Friesen moves gracefully behind him.  The leader makes a sudden and subtle shift to saxophone while his wife adds a wordless vocal, harmonizing with the cello.  The effect is pleasing and oh-so-sweet, even as the saxophone and drums build the intensity.  The program closes with "Beatriz", a lovely ballad from the pens of Edu Lobo and Chico Buarque, played only by Martin and Lieberman (alto flute).  "Lovely" is a weak word for this stunning, heartfelt, and emotional work.

In truth, "Ibeji" is "soul" music through and through, in the way that John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme", JS Bach's "6 Suites for Cello", and, yes, "Song of Joy"  is "soul" music to my ears.  The music comes from a place that combines technique, intelligence, experience, emotions and risk-taking that pushes the musician beyond the ordinary or the commonplace. How one reacts to this joyful creation is a matter of personal taste but, for this listener, I am going to return to this recording over and over because I like just how fine this music makes me feel. 

For more information, go to www.paullieberman.com.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Voices of All Sorts

I continue to be impressed with the quality of the music being produced by young musicians. Over the past decade or so, major labels have all but abandoned jazz (granted, there are a few exceptions.)  Labels such as Blue Note, Sunnyside, Telarc, and HighNote (formerly Muse Records) certainly do their share and listeners can be grateful for newer labels such as Origin & OA2, Brooklyn Jazz Underground, and Posi-Tone Records (and, are they on a roll!) Then, there are the artist-owned labels, such as Greeneaf (Dave Douglas) and Marsalis Music that have moved to the forefront.

Here's a look at look at several fine recent releases worth your attention.

"Unified" (Sunnyside) is the second release for Texas native Stan Killian (the first came out in 2000.)  Since moving to New York City, the tenor saxophonist has worked with musicians such as drummer Antonio Sanchez, pianist Luis Perdomo and guitarist Ben Monder (among others) and "soul music" groups such as The Temptations and The Supremes.  For this self-produced recording, Killian utilizes 2 different rhythms (bassist Bryan Copeland and drummer Darrell Green or bassist Corcoran Holt and drummer McClenty Hunter) and 3 distinct guests (trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Jeremy Pelt on 2 tracks each plus 3 cuts with alto saxophonist David Binney). Killian's partner throughout the program is the energetic and creative pianist Benito Gonzalez

This is, for the most part, very enjoyable music.  I am puzzled that Killian chose to start the CD with "Twin Dark Mirrors" (the title brings to mind The New Yorker cover drawn by Art Spiegelman the week following 9/11/01) - the track, featuring Hargrove, is hard-bop but somewhat, especially in the light of the pieces that follow. Cut 2, "Elvin's Sight", rides in on an infectious piano riff (Gonzalez composed this piece, the only non-Killian tune on the disk)and the subtle drum work of Green. Killian and Binney play together through the handsome melody with the former taking the first solo in a contemplative manner while the latter hits his spot a bit harder which pushes the rhythm section to up the intensity. After both saxophonists spar a bit, Gonzalez creates a fine solo, bluesy, playful and percussive. Pelt also gets a hard-bop showcase on "Center" but, here, the melody and harmony line are more thoughtfully constructed giving the soloists a better foundation.  "Windows of Time" has a catchy rhythm part and the 2 saxophonists seem to enjoy the romp. It's not that the piece is "full-blown" romp; instead, the intensity level shifts under the soloists and those variations capture the attention. The program closes with Pelt guesting on "Eternal Return" and, while it is similar in feel to the opening track, the interplay is more impressive (Gonzalez sounds like he's having a great time comping underneath and his solo really smokes.)

Stan Killian's compositions and style, firmly rooted in the music of Art Blakey, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, makes for pleasing listening.  I like that he's not overblowing and that several of the pieces have the sound of a band that is really in sync with the leader.  Lots of promise here - to find out more, go to www.stankillian.com

I figure if Amy Cervini sends you a CD that features a vocalist, it has to be good.  After all, Ms. Cervini certainly knows her way around a song (she's released 2 quite pleasing CDs as a leader - see them here.) "Parade: Live in New York City" (self-released) is the 4th release from Jack Donahue and the first to feature all standards.  There are several pieces, such as "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" and "If I Only Had a Brain", that have been recorded by dozens, if not hundreds, of singers.  It's a tribute to Donahue and pianist/arranger Randy Ingram, that those particular songs are so affecting, without cliches or overt theatrics.  "...Brain" is performed as a ballad and here sounds like a sweet love song.  The rhythm section throughout is bassist Erik Privert (who arranged 4 of the 11 pieces) and drummer Jared Schonig (Dave Brophy takes over on 1 track.) Ingram steps aside for Adam Birnbaum ("Before the Parade Passes By"), Dan Kauffman ("Put On Your Sunday Clothes") and Fred Hersch ("Lazy Afternoon", from the 1954 musical "The Golden Apple") - the rhythm section sits out on the Hersch track and Marcus Parsley joins in on trumpet. 

The material ranges from the afore-mentioned "oldies" to 2 Jimmy Webb tunes to bassist Jay Leonhart's anti-war "Let The Flower Grow" to Kenny Rankin's "Haven't We Met" to pieces by Jerry Herman and the Gershwin Brothers.  The trio really "swing out" on "But Not For Me" (there's even a drum solo) but the best part is that Donahue doesn't feel the need to scat or get into vocalize.  This is a singer who loves the lyrics, doesn't slur or get overly dramatic (very little melisma) but rarely sounds slick or clever. This is not "throw-away" material but music that resonates in the soul - give it a good listen. To find out more, go to www.jackdonahue.com.

Not sure why but I've been sleeping on "The Basilisk" (self-released), the debut CD from violinist/composer Majid Khaliq.  It swings like mad, thanks to the infectious drumming of Johnathan Blake, who cut his teeth playing behind another fine jazz violinist, his father John Blake, Jr.  From the first seconds of the opening track (the title cut), the young man's energy jumps right out of the speakers.  Khaliq, a graduate of both the Juilliard School and Queen's College Aaron Copland School of Music, does not hold back.Thankfully, his music also does not carry the highly poisonous venom of the mythical monster from which the CD takes its name.  Utilizing the strong sound of trumpeter Charles "Charlie" Porter, Khaliq has composed a number of excellent tunes, multi-sectioned pieces that allow for full melodies and fine solos.  Bassist Ivan Taylor is the solid foundation of the group, completed by pianists Jeb Patton (5 of the 8 tracks) and Eric "ELEW" Lewis (on the other 3.)  One hears the influences of Jean-Luc Ponty and Regina Carter in Khaliq's rich tones and flowing lines.  On Porter's lone contribution to the recording, "The Truth", the leader wraps his lines around the expressive cymbal work and Patton's rich accompaniment.  The oh-so-funky piano and drum work on "Spirals" illustrate the song's title while the solo section lopes along thanks to the insistent bass line and Blake's exquisite yet playful time-keeping.

The only "standard" is "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" and it's here that one hears Khaliq's first influence, Ray Nance as well as Stephane Grappelli.  The band, sans trumpet, play the piece "straight", as a handsome ballad with the leader "doubling" the melody on his violin to great effect. The cut is a gentle and genial close to a promising debut CD.  One hopes this is just the first in a long lines of finely crafted works from Majid Khaliq.  For more information, go to www.majidkhaliq.com.

Drummer/composer Bastian Weinhold (whose fine percussion work graces guitarist Dave Juarez's Posi-Tone debut, "Round Red Light" (reviewed here), has his own debut to be proud of.  "River Styx" (Frame Music Label), also a nod to myth, shows the young German native (born 1986) as a hard-driving, perpetual motion, percussionist.  The quintet that plays his music features the impressive young bassist Linda Oh, tenor saxophonist Adam Larson (he's just 21), 24 year-old Pascal Le Bouef (piano, Rhodes) and older brother Nils Weinhold (electric guitar).  These compositions may remind some of the Chick Corea's electric Return To Forever but without the bombast.  Bastian Weinhold has a propulsive style, really pushing the tempo, working the entire trap set, busy but never instrusive, very much in the style of Tony Williams, Eric Harland and Dafnis Prieto. The opening 2 tracks, "The Tune" and "Punkberry", rarely let up - in fact, the latter track is quite intense yet not extremely loud.  The first half of the next track, "Kungafuh", is slower but the intensity level really climbs during Larson's tenor solo.  The one "true" ballad on the program is titled "The Last Line" has quite a pretty melody and the band shows great restraint throughout. Larson's solo, over a modified shuffle beat and rippling Rhodes figures, has intensity but never boils over. The title track closes the CD; the band starts slowly but begins the seemingly inevitable buildup during Ms. Oh's powerful solo.  While the piece never really "lets loose", the interaction of the front line with the leader's crashing cymbals and crackling snare work is both focused and intense.

Add Bastian Weinhold's name to the growing list of fine young drummer/composer/bandleaders.  With a bit more exposure, his name is sure to be on the lips of many jazz fans. To find out more, go to www.bastianweinhold.com.