Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2 x 2 To The New Year

I have several opportunities to hear Sinan Bakir in the 3 years since his debut CD "On My Way" was issued.  He has always had impressive technique but his 2nd release "Tales and Stories" (ASLAN Records) illustrates how the Turkish-born Hartford CT resident has matured as a composer and arranger.  It really helps that he has had several weekly  gigs to develop these pieces. Another positive factor in the success of this project is the work of Thomson Kneeland (bass) and the splendid drummer Mark Ferber, both of whom appeared on Bakir's debut. Joining them is pianist Warren Byrd (The Afro-Semitic Experience), a musician who has the talent to play just about anything.

The quartet explores the 12 original pieces with grace, fire, wit, and emotional intensity, displaying intuitive interaction throughout.  Bakir continues to mine the music he heard as a young person growing up in Ankara - he blends Turkish folk melodies into pieces such as "East West" with its rubato opening that leads to a hearty guitar solo.  After a short break for several rock chords, the band drops into a rocking groove (perhaps their interpretation of the "West" in the title.)  Yet, there are also songs built off of chords that reflect the influence of Pat Metheny and John Abercrombie - one can hear that on driving pieces such as "Up" and the sweet title track.  Other works stand out for the band's original approach like the handsome ballad "Dreams", with Kneeland's forceful bass work and Byrd's lyrical solo. When Bakir enters, the song resembles George Harrison's "Something."  Bakir's solos are impressive throughout but, to these ears, he saves his best for last.  "Kites (for Don)" begins as a reverie for piano and guitar, with a straight-forward single-note melody that continues to expand as the guitarist moves forward and the rhythm section enters.

"Tales & Stories" is head-and-shoulders above Sinan Bakir's impressive debut CD.  His melodies are stronger, his playing more varied and assured plus the addition of Byrd gives the pieces more emotional weight. Just let these sounds wash over you; good music can excite and soothe and this is good music.  For more information, go to

Vancouver, Canada-based cellist Peggy Lee has a new CD, "Invitation", released on the Drip Audio label.  It is the second release to feature her accomplished octet of Brad Turner (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jon Bentley (tenor saxophone), Jeremy Berkman (trombone), Andre Lachance (electric bass), Dylan van der Schyff (drums, co-producer) and 2 guitarists Ron Samworth and Tony Wilson. Many listeners know Ms. Lee as an "avant-garde" player yet she is som much more than that. Her original music for this ensemble, known as the Peggy Lee Band, blends so many different styles of music it's truly best to go with flow (the cellist composed all but 1 of the 11 tracks).  After a raucous, jittery, guitar intro (reminiscent of Captain Beefheart's music), "Why Are You Yelling" breaks into a hard-edged groove - in the middle of the tune, the band drops out for an unaccompanied trombone solo before Ms. Lee's shivery high notes leads the "groove" riff back in. Yet, it doesn't come all the way back as the song closes with an extended slow, rubato, coda. "Chorale" is also a multi-sectioned composition, opening quietly on van der Schyff's unaccompanied solo, with shimmering cymbals and movement around the trap set  Long chords from the brass, cello and guitars lead into the next section of the work, also fairly quiet bit with different voices stepping up for short statements before a more "formal" ending.

Turner's fine trumpet stands out of "Path of a Smile" as does the strong melodic turn from bassist Lachance (excellent drum support beneath him as well.) The lullaby-like ballad "You Will Be Loved Again" (from the Canadian composer Mary Margaret O'Hara) is the prettiest work in the program, a slow, dreamy, song with country harmonies.  In her notes, Ms. Lee mentions both Canadian playwright and librettist Tom Cone as well as drummer/vocalist Levon Helm (both of whom passed in 2012) as influences on this music.  One can hear shades of The Band in the lovely "End Waltz" (the guitar work is ethereal).

"Invitation" invites the listener to a world where sound, melody, harmony and expression is displayed in myriad ways.  Rom Samworth's 12-string guitar solo on "Little Pieces" has a West African feel, abetted by the horn interjections while "Not So Far" opens with noise such as scraping guitars, bows hitting cellos and drums interjections before one guitar begins a lovely chord progression and, slowly, a melody rises out of the background.  "Warming" closes the program on a bluesy note with a fine guitar solo, a melodic horn arrangement ahead of and beneath the short trumpet solo and an insistent rhythm.

The previous CD by The Peggy Lee Band (2008's "New Code", also on Drip Audio) introduced listeners to a band that seems to have infinite capabilities and "Invitation" proves the earlier recording was no fluke.  Ms. Lee does not hog the spotlight, blending her rich cello tone in with the horns or rising above the twin guitars.  Take your time with this music and you will be richly rewarded.

To hear "Your Grace", click on the following link:

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