Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Midsummer Roundup 2012 (Day 1)

Plenty of good listening piled up on the desk (no, it doesn't really look like the picture on the left although my wife might disagree) and I'm the kind who dislikes giving any artist or groups the short shrift but.... but the Fall semester beckons, much reading to do to prepare so here's a quick survey of recent releases that have caught my ears (outer and inner) and that you should examine.

 Far and away, my favorite recording of the past month is this devilish solo CD from multi-instrumentalist/composer Jacob Garchik.  "The Heavens", subtitled "The Atheist Gospel Trombone Album" (Yestereve Recordings), features Garchik as a one-man brass band; through the course of the 9 tracks, he can heard on trombone, sousaphone, baritone horn, slide trumpet and alto horn. Songs include "Dialogue With My Great-Grandfather" with its brash melody line based on Jewish prayers and "Digression on the History of Jews and Black Music" with a James Brown rhythm feel and a melody based on call-and-response (dig those dancing sousaphone riffs!)  The title track opens with a melody similar to "I Can't Stop Loving You" (the country hit covered by Ray Charles in 1962) and builds from there.  The soulful trombone and baritone horns lines rise sweetly over the sousaphone's solid foundation.

Though "The Heavens" is short on time (28:13), the music is long on invention and elegant execution.  It's also quite funky and a whole lot of fun.  For more information, go to jacobgarchik.com.

Here's a slice of "Digression..." courtesy of Mr. Garchik and Bandcamp:

Here's another fascinating project that's been sitting around for a while (in this instance, on my harddrive.)  "The Wishbone Suite" (Table & Chairs) is the creation of trombonist/composer Andy Clausen.  The young man, 19 at the time of this recording, is a native of Seattle, Washington, who is now attending the Juilliard School in New York City. Besides the leader, the 19-track "Suite" features Ivan Arteaga (clarinet), Gus Carns (piano), Aaron Otheim (accordion, piano) and Chris Icasiano (drums, glockenspiel) playing music informed by the work of Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Steve Reich and Henry Threadgill. The pieces are through-composed yet do not sound staid or static.  Only 3 of the tracks are over 4 minutes with most in the 2-3 minute range. This music does not feel fragmented but more like a series of short stories, each instrument a character.  There are several themes repeated throughout the "Suite", the Copland-esque "Who Goes There" that opens the CD and its close (melodic) counterpoint, "Affinity."   Each time one of the themes is played, it's played by different musicians and, sometimes, at a different pace.  "Badlands" really swings while "Trouble (Again)" displays an experimental side similar to the music Bill Frissell created for his "This Land" and "Have a Little Faith" recordings.

Andy Clausen gives the listener much to ponder with this music;  everyone plays well while both the melodies and harmonic ideas have surprising depth for someone so young. "The Wishbone Suite", although not Clausen's debut recording, can serve as a fine introduction to a composer/arranger and performer worth paying attention to, hopefully for many years to come. 

Here's your opportunity to download "Who Goes There (Dance)", courtesy of Table & Chairs, Andy Clausen and Bandcamp:

I really enjoyed pianist-composer Jeremy Siskind's 2010 debut for Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, the supremely lyrical "Simple Songs (For When The World Seems Strange").  His new BJU release, "Finger-Songwriter", is just as lyrical but adds the dimension of lyrics to each track.  With the exception of the Billy Joel-penned bonus track "All You Wanna Do Is Dance" (from the "Turnstiles" recording), Siskind composed both the lyrics and music, arranging the songs for a chamber ensemble of piano, the voice of Nancy Harms and the excellent woodwind playing of Lucas Pino. Influenced by the often brilliant work of vocalist Norma Winstone, these songs blend rich melodies with Ms. Harms' understated (but not imitative) vocals.  Alongside them, Pino creates colors throughout, weaving his woody clarinet around the words and melodies.  Each song is dedicated to a poet or writer with the handsome ballad "A Single Moment" composed for singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan. Besides that fine track, other highlights include the slyly playful "Swift-Winged Darkness" (for Vladimir Nabokov) - the interplay of Siskind's high-tone barroom piano with Pino's bass clarinet ducking in and out of the mix is a treat.  The softly played and finely drawn melody of "Aubade" (for Paul Auster) pulls one in for not only the story but also the intricate interplay of piano and bass clarinet.  There's a 1930-40 blues tone to "What Is That Feeling?" (for Jack Kerouac), akin to Yip Harburg-Jay Gorney's Depression-era "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" replete with atmospheric tenor saxophone work from Pino.  Yet, listen to Siskind's abstract figures, Thelonious Monk-line chords bouncing behind the solo.  Ms. Harms has fine enunciation (one can understand each and every word), a clear tone to her alto voice, with no overtly theatrical vocal mannerisms (i.e. melisma, scat singing).

There is an underlying sadness to "Finger-Songwriter" (with the exception of the ebullient Billy Joel song and the uplifting mood of "Theme For a Sunrise" (for H.W. Longfellow) that precedes it) but one can deny the wonderful music Jeremy Siskind has created for this project. You will need to spend time with these songs to plumb the emotional and poetic depth of the words.  His richly-hewn piano work, the well-drawn melodies and the arrangements that allow each participant to stand out, all adds up to a recording that remains in the ear and mind of the listener long after the notes have faded away.

For more information, go to the pianist/composer's playful website at www.jeremysiskind.com.  Click on the link below to download a track, courtesy of BJU Records and IODA Promonet:
Theme for a Sunrise (mp3)

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