Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mid-August Roundup (Part 1)

Saxophonist-composer Jasmine Lovell-Smith hails from New Zealand, moved to Indiana when just a lass of 6, went back to her homeland 3 years later and moved to Brooklyn, New York, in 2010.  Originally a tenor saxophonist, she switched to soprano several years ago and it's now her main "voice". This fall, she's moving to Middletown, CT (my hometown) to work towards her Master's Degree in Composition at Wesleyan University with teachers such as Anthony Braxton.

Ms. Lovell-Smith comes to town bearing her debut American CD, "Fortune Songs" (Paintbox Records) - she wrote the music for her quintet, "Towering Poppies", a group that features Cat Toren (piano), Russell Moore (trumpet), Patrick Reid (bass) and Kate Pittman (drums).  She met Ms Toren while attending the Creative Workshop at Banff and the rest of the band after moving to Brooklyn.  The music she and the band makes is often quiet in volume but intense in its emotional content.  Ms. Lovell-Smith composes pieces that flow rather than pound forward, building off the solid bass lines and active percussion.  "Seven of Swords" blends a feisty rhythm section, deep piano chords and a melody line that suggests Ornette Coleman - her soprano saxophone lines wrap around both the trumpet and piano. The opening track, "Confidence (One)", has a handsome melody line with pleasing harmonies, with a rhythmic drive reminiscent of the village music of South African pianist/composer Abdullah Ibrahim.  Later in the program, "Confidence (Two)" moves at a slower pace and the music has a serene, prayer-like, melody.  Moore sits out on "Lover's Knot"; the melodic interplay of the soprano sax and piano, Ms. Pittman's inventive drumming, and the bass counterpoint leads the listener into a gentle place.

Jasmine Lovell-Smith's Towering Poppies creates music that goes in various directions but never attempts to impress with towering technique and overblown solos.  Instead, this music insinuates itself into one's mind, making the listener pay attention to the melodic and harmonic richness.  There are moments that the leader's soprano tone may remind you of Branford Marsalis.  "Fortune Songs" announces a new voice and a new band whose future looks bright and exciting.

Here's the opening track from the CD, courtesy of Ms. Lovell-Smith's Bandcamp page:

Here's a link to an interview with the saxophonist:


There are numerous bands with the words "Hot Club" in their monicker but few as creative as the Hot Club of Detroit.  Based in the Motor City, the Quintet is the brainchild of guitarist Evan Perri who recruited accordionist Julian Labro and rhythm guitarist Paul Brady to form a band that would not only honor the work of Django Rheinhardt but give it a modern twist.  Their 3 CDs have included works by the master and added pieces by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt and even Frederic Chopin.

"Junction" is HCD's 4th release (all on Mack Avenue Records)  For the recording, the band is a quintet with Perri, Labro and Brady joined by bassist Shawn Conley (subbing for the group's regular bassist Andrew Kratzat, badly injured and recovering from an automobile accident) and saxophonist Jon Irabagon.  In addition, 3 tracks feature vocalist Cyrille Aimee and a different trio of tracks add saxophonist Andrew Bishop.  With all these voices (but no drummer), this music is uncluttered, often bright and rhythmically exciting.  The blend of Perri's rippling guitar lines with Brady's supportive rhythm work and Labro's burbling accordion is the basis of the band's sound - adding Conley's firm foundation and the expressive reeds gives this music substance.  There is a splendid arrangement of Rheinhardt's "Messe Gitane", a piece composed as part of an organ mass, that features Bishop and Irabagon on clarinets (the former on the solo) with strong bass work from Conley. The original songs include the evocative "Song For Gabriel" (Peter, that is) with soaring soprano sax (Irabagon) and a lovely solo from Perri.  Labro's "Chutzpah" starts as a tangled mass of notes before moving into a rhythmically charged romp (Brady's rhythm guitar work is key to the success of this piece).  Perri and Labro co-composed the title track for a group without adding the reeds; after a slow opening with a folkish melody, the rhythm picks up in intensity with Brady's guitar shaping the song as if it was a melody by Pat Metheny.  Irabagon even gets to open the CD with an original, "Goodbye Mr. Anderson", one of several tracks that utilizes the Rheinhardt rhythms while adding a "modernist" melody.

Ms. Aimee joins the group for a driving version of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman", singing the words of Margo Guryan (best known for her song "Sunday Mornin'", recorded by Spanky and Our Gang) - the rapid-fire lines of Irabagon (on alto sax) shadowing as well as supporting her voice.  She also gives a Billy Holiday reading to Labro's ballad "Django Mort" (with lyrics from a poem by Jean Cocteau) and dances atop the group on the rapid-paced "La Foule", a piece made famous by Edith Piaf in the 1950s.  The blend of accordion and tenor saxophone is a delightful touch.

The program closes with "Rift", a composition guitarist Trey Anastasio wrote for Phish (also the title of that band's 4th CD) - it's a treat from start to finish, with a bluegrass feel to the rhythm and the blazing solo work of Labro ("c&w" accordion riffs, no less), Irbagon's "honky" tenor sax and Perri's fiery guitar picking on the melody lines.

Lots to like as you make your way through "Junction" but, perhaps most impressive is how Hot Club of Detroit blends so many styles of creative music into its overall sound.  Like most of the Django Rheinhart -inspired ensembles performances, there's plenty of "hot" playing. What's pleasing about this group is the emphasis on melody, the creative interplay and the joy one hears in the band's in that interplay.  To find out more, go to hotclubofdetroit.com.

Here's the title track, courtesy of Mack Avenue Records and IODA Promonet:
Junction (mp3)

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