Sunday, December 2, 2012

Home Stretch for the Firehouse + Drummers Shine on CD

New Haven resident, Wesleyan grad, and Firehouse 12 Records co-owner Taylor Ho Bynum brings his Sextet home to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street on Friday December 7 for the penultimate show in the performance space's Fall 2012 Concert Series. Cornet and trumpet player Bynum has created new music for his group that features Bill Lowe (tuba), Jim Hobbs (alto saxophone), Ken Filiano (bass, electronics), fellow Wesleyan grad Mary Halvorson (guitar) and long-time friend Tomas Fujiwara (drums).   Bynum has worked with this lineup for several years now; they can breathe as one, support each other as the soloists take flight, and truly inhabit the music.

Bynum has composed a new set of material for the Sextet and, after they play it on Friday night, they'll record it the next day.  The first set starts at 8:30 p.m. - call 203-785-0468 or go to for ticket information.

Since drummer/composer Scott McLemore lives in Iceland, the title of his new CD "Remote Location" is quite accurate. The Virginia-native has always been a melodically-minded percussionist and this new CD is no exception.  Featuring his wife Sunna Gunnlaugs on piano and Wurlitzer, Óskar Guðjónsson (tenor saxophone), Andrés Thor (acoustic and electric guitar), and Róbert Þórhallsson (contrabass, electric bass and acoustic bass guitar), the music has a lightness yet there is plenty of substance. Pieces like "Citizen Sitting Zen" and "Dunegrass" are multi-sectioned, with intelligent use of dynamics and pleasing interplay.. The textural blends of electric guitar and acoustic piano as well as Guðjónsson's evocative tenor saxophone work allows the listener to float inside the music - on "Secrets of Earth", the gentle sway of the rhythm section gives the saxophonist, Ms. Gunnlaugs and Thor a lovely cushion to move atop.  "Woods at Night", which opens with an evocative piano solo, is one of the highlights - Mclemore's martial drumming underneath the early part of the tenor sax solo is so "right" while his melodic and percussive interaction with the band near the end shines. The program closes with "Movement for Motian", a shimmering tribute to the late drummer that would not sound out of place on one of Motian's Trio  or Electric Bebop band recordings - Guðjónsson's gentle lines against the lyrical piano and soft guitar are one of the many highlights of the CD.

"Remote Location" is anything but remote or mechanical.  McLemore's melodic music and the manner in which the 5 participants work with each other invite the listener to explore as well as just let the sounds take you where they will.. To find out more, go to which will lead you to the drummer's BandCamp page where you can listen to and purchase this excellent recording.

George Schuller is a musician who impresses with the power and joy in his playing, whether he's in a trio, quintet or nonet.  While he does record as a sideman with great frequency, CDs under his name are always a treat when they show up in the mailbox.  "Listen Both Ways" (Playscape Recordings) is the 3rd recording by his Circle Wide group and first in 5 years. The 8 tracks are evenly split between 2 sessions, the first in May of 2010, the latter in late May of 2012 - both feature the same 5 musicians including Peter Apfelbaum (tenor saxophone, melodica), Brad Shepik (electric guitar), Tom Beckham (vibraphone) and Dave Ambrosio (bass) with Schuller on drums and percussion as well composing 6 of the 8 tracks.  3 pieces clock in at over 10 minutes but never feel boring or overdone.  "Store Without a Name" (inspired by Schuller's grandfather and his business in Fargo, North Dakota") features a handsome melody that takes its time to unfold gradually moving into a hardbop rhythm that drives to the melodic coda.  One can hear the influence of Keith Jarrett on the composer's style, especially in the sweep of the melody line.  Apfelbaum unveils his melodica (a "free-reed" instrument that one blows into and has a keyboard) for the gentle arrangement of Carla Bley's "Jesus Maria" which also features excellent guitar work. The melodica returns several times in the program, even leading the way on "Newtoon", interacting with the bass and brushes.    Beckham shines on the boppish "A Map Would Help" - his supporting lines create intelligent counterpoint throughout the track.  He truly dances on his solo during "Edwin" a piece that composer Margo Guryan created for the drummer's bass-playing brother Ed when he was a toddler. The melody has a happy-go-lucky feel should make the listener smile.  The same goes for "Bed Head", the romp that closes the program.  Schuller lays downs a solid beat while tenor sax, guitar and vibes "trade 4s."  Bassist Ambrosio is solid; his counterpoint beneath the soloists on "Could This Be The Year" is impressive without being showy.

There's a quality of airiness, of calm, and purpose that permeates "Listen Both Ways" - yes, there is heat on several cuts yet the music is never turgid or stodgy.  George Schuller's grace and caring shine in his melodies while the creative fire of his years of pushing, driving and supporting various ensembles remains unchanged.  Find this music, play it often and it will give you much pleasure.  For more information, go to

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