Sunday, April 29, 2012

Creative May Weekend of Live Music in CT + CD Picks

Titanium Lounge, 412 Main Street, in Middletown, started a Friday night Jazz Series last month and have done a quiet job of bringing quality musicians to my home town (Harold Mabern was here several weeks back and I heard nothing about it - shucks!  I could be more proactive.)  On Friday May 4, they present the Noah Baerman Trio at 8 p.m.  Special guest for the date will be drummer Yoron Israel (in place of the Trio's fine percussionist Vinnie Sperazza) - bassist Henry Lugo completes the Trio.  Mr. Israel was in town a few months ago as part of pianist Laszlo Gardony's Trio and impressed the audience with his timing, his unerring rhythm and ability to both propel the music as well as add subtle textures (especially his colorful cymbal work.) Plenty of musical sparks should fly as this threesome digs into the repertoire.  For more information, call 860-788-2419 or go to

Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, continues its Spring 2012 Concert series on 5/4 with an appearance by the Darius Jones Quartet.  Led by alto saxophonist/composer Jones (a native of Virginia), the Quartet has just issued a new CD titled "Book of Mæ'bul (Another Kind of Sunrise" (Aum Fidelity) - the music, all Jones originals, displays his continuing maturity as a composer, moving away from the blues-based pieces of his earlier recordings into a territory he can honestly call his own.  And, he's got quite a fine band including pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Sean Conly (subbing for Trevor Dunn) and drummer Ches Smith (making the first of 2 appearances at The Firehouse in May - he returns with guitarist Mary Halvorson on May 18.)  This music is involved, poly-rhythmical, with melodies that pull the listener in and improvisations that make one sit up.  The band's interplay is impressive; they listen, react, push and support each other.  The Darius Jones Quartet plays 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for more information, call 203-785-0468 or go to  To find out more about Mr. Jones and his music, go to

On Saturday evening May 5, Jazz Haven presents the T.S. Monk Sextet in concert at 6 p.m. in Woolsey Hall, 500 College Street in New Haven. Proceeds from the ticket sales goes to support the New Haven Public Schools TAG (Talented and Gifted) Program.  T.S Monk is the son of jazz legend Thelonious Monk and was introduced to drums at the age of 10 by Max Roach. After performing with his father in his late teens, his initial recordings as a leader were in the rhythm 'n' blues vein.  After the elder Monk passed, his son established the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, an organization that has helped nurture numerous careers and educate thousands of young people around the country (to find out more, go to - you'll be impressed by the scope of its offerings.) In the early 1990s, T.S. Monk returned to the world of jazz, organizing a sextet and recording a series of CDs, first for Blue Note Records then moving to N-Coded Music and now has his own Thelonious label.

Not sure who's in the band for the New Haven gig but you know the music and musicianship will be first-class.  For more information about the concert, go to

Sunday evening (May 6), Connecticut native Noah Preminger proves "you can come home again"...well, at least for one night, to play a gig and stay with your parents; he brings an accomplished Quartet to 41 Bridge Street in Collinsville.  The Canton native (a stone's throw or 2 away from the venue) has had quite a busy year, touring and recording with the Rob Garcia Quartet, and the Dan Cray Quartet as well as touring in support of his 2011 Palmetto Records release, "Before the Rain."  For this performance, the band includes the splendid young pianist Dan Tepfer (on Fender Rhodes this night) Australian native Matt Clohesy (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums).  Preminger has been working on new material and I expect the audience will hear a majority of those pieces.  For ticket information, go to - to learn more about the saxophonist, go to

There are those who will read the title of the new CD by saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh and think twice before listening.  Pass this fine CD by and you'll miss quite a fine sonic experience. "Plugged In" (BEE Jazz) could refer to 1/2 the instrumentation on the recording, in particular Jozef Dumoulin's Fender Rhodes and Patrice Blanchard's electric bass. Yet, if you have followed Sabbagh's career, you know that 3 of his previous 4 recordings feature guitarist Ben Monder, an electric player much of the time. This quartet, rounded out by the excellent New York-based drummer Rudy Royston, creates music that blends myriad influences (early Weather Report, Return to Forever, progressive rock) and makes music that feels and sounds fresh.  Of the 14 tracks (7 each composed by either Sabbagh or Dumoulin), only 1 is longer than 7 minutes. Yet the music does not feel rushed or incomplete.  Sabbagh's lighter tone rides over the keyboard washes, propelled by Blanchard's thick bass tones and Royston's active drumming.  Magical moments include the tenor sax rising out of the unison reading of the theme (with Dumoulin) on "UR" as well as Royston's activity on "Walk 6".  "Ronny" is a soft ballad for Fender Rhodes and tenor saxophone, soft music with substantial melody. Blanchard's ultra-funky bass over Royston's soft percussion sets the stage for "Kasbah", a strong melody from Sabbagh - the sensuous rhythms and the well-developed melody moves the piece forward, especially when the drummer kicks into a higher gear.

Yes, this is most definitely "Plugged In" music but stretch your definition of that term to include that this quartet is "plugged in" to the group concept of listening, supporting, reacting and challenging each other. Jerome Sabbagh does not change his sound to fit this music; instead, these songs and these musician create a different sound palette for his melodic playing.  While several of these tracks have more of a "minimalist" feel, every track has a melody line that is fully realized and not just hinted at.  So, turn up "Plugged In" and ride the sound waves.  For more information, go to either or

Drummer-vibraphonist-composer-arranger Joe Chambers grew up in a family where music was quite important.  He listened to a lot of jazz growing up near Philadelphia although his first gigs as a musician was with a local r'n'b band. Yet, it was Miles Davis and Max Roach who really turned his head.  After graduating from the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, his first recording session was "Breaking Point", trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's 7th Lp for Blue Note.  Within the year, Chambers had recorded with Donald Byrd, Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson, Wayne Shorter and Sam Rivers while touring with Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock and Dizzy Gillespie.  In the 1970s, the drummer released solo albums on Muse and worked with the percussion ensemble M'Boom.

Fast forward over 3 decades, Joe Chambers is now Professor of Jazz at University of North Carolina/Wilmington and began recording again for the Savant label.  "Moving Pictures Orchestra: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola" is his 3rd for the label and certainly the most ambitious.  17 musicians (including the leader) plus vocalist Nicole Guiland perform the 5-part "Moving Pictures Suite" and 5 other works including a splendid reading of Max Roach's "Mendacity" (quite topical in this contentious election year) and a smooth-and-slinky take on Count Basie's "Theme From M Squad."  The ensemble is a sharp collection of veteran and younger musicians assembled by trumpeter David Weiss.  Not only do they bring Chambers' fine compositions and arrangements to life but the solos are uniformly strong. And this is music that covers a lot of territory, from the blues to mainstream jazz to Latin music to Afro-Cuban and beyond; yet, there are no cliches, no trite arrangements.  The program closes with the 4th "Movement" of the "Suite" titled  "Clave de Bembe Parts I and II" - the interplay of the rhythm section (Chambers, bassist Dwayne Burno, and master percussionist Steve Berrios) throughout "... Part I" is downright incendiary and that fire carries over to "..Part II" and pianist Xavier Davis's fiery solo that covers more than 1/2 the tune.  The blend of the flutes (Tim Green and Sherel Cassity) with the blazing brass creates handsome colors as the piece winds down.

Ms. Guiland (who also co-leads a group with keyboard player Casey Benjamin) appears on 2 tracks, the afore-mentioned "Mendacity" (she also recorded the tune of Chamber's 2010 "Horace to Max" CD) and "Lonesome Lover", also composed by Max Roach (with lyrics by Abbey Lincoln.) To her credit, she does not attempt to sound like Ms. Lincoln on either tracks and both tunes are quite fine. Other highlights include the Latin-tinged arrangement of Joe Henderson's "Power To The People" featuring excellent solos from Craig Handy (soprano sax), Conrad Herwig (trombone) and Tim Green (alto saxophone).  Green also digs in for a hearty alto sax solo on "Irena" ("2nd Movement"), also notable for the gutsy trumpet of Greg Gisbert (and listen for the smart horn arrangements behind his solo). 

Joe Chambers turns 70 years old in June of this year and, with this excellent collection, sounds as if he is in the prime of his creative life.  He really drives this big band, giving them arrangements that play to the strengths of each musician while his "Moving Pictures Suite" is a tour de force. Sure would have nice to be in the audience on September 16, 2011, when this band hit the stage.  Thankfully, there is this recorded document. To find out more about Joe Chambers, go to

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Piano Trios Con Brio (Part 1)

As the great critic Whitney Balliett once posited, jazz is the "sound of surprise" - in the case of "La Tendresse" the new CD from pianist Spike Wilner (PosiTone), the sense of surprise comes from Wilner's approach to the standards that comprise 2/3rds of the program.  Aided and abetted by Hartford native Dezron Douglas (bass) and Joey Saylor (drums), the pianist creates a delightful program.  After listening to his solo take on Harold Arlen's "If I Only Had a Brain", I jotted down the name of Jaki Byard on my pad.  Wilner's lively left hand and delicate phrasing as well as his trilling manner is ever-so-fine. Scott Joplin's "Solace" does not stray far from its New Orleans roots, quite reminiscent of bravado piano work of "Jelly Roll" Morton.  The rhythm section sounds a touch formal until you pay closer attention to Douglas's melodic lines and Saylor's light and, yes, lilting drum work.  Wilner's piano lines shimmer on the Trio's reading of Duke Ellington's "Le Sucrier Velours" (from "The Queen's Suite.") He displays an active left hand throughout the program and that frees up the bassist to play counter melodies.  His take on Thelonious Monk's "Crepuscule With Nellie"commences as a solo piano piece with Wilner concentrating on the melody, then drops into a slow blues shuffle after the rhythm section enters (Saylor is a real spark-plug on this track), coming back to the original melody for a playful close. 

Besides "If I Only Had A Brain", there are several other solo piano pieces and each is as impressive as the other.  The Wilner original "Lullaby of the Leaves" is a blues worthy of James P. Johnson, melodic not strident. Wilner's take on "I'm So Glad We Had This Time Together" (composed by Joe Hamilton for his wife Carol Burnett's television show) shows a wistful side, staying close to the melody and not forcing a steady rhythm on top of the sweet melody.

The title track that opened the program on a hard-driving, mainstream, romp (actually going a bit "outside" for a few moments), is a somewhat misleading introduction  to the CD.  It;s the most "modern" sounding music the band plays (that's not a criticism; it's an intense piece, at times, played at a level the rest of the songs do not approach.)  Yet, by the time you reach the last track, appropriately titled "Happy Ending", a rip-roaring finish with solos by all 3 musicians, one should be be quite pleased with this musical journey. Spike Wilner's music goes in multiple directions and it really is a fun journey, one worth repeating many times.  To find out more about Spike Wilner, click here - it will take you to his page on the Smalls Jazz Club website.

Here is a taste of this delightful CD, courtesy of PosiTone and IODA Promonet:
Happy Ending (mp3)

Listening to Rudresh Mahanthappa talking with Josh Jackson on the April 17th edition of "The Checkout" ( do listen here), a lightbulb went off in the (fairly) dim recesses of my brain.  The alto saxophonist talked about the influence of "prog-rock" in the jazz of the 21st Century.

Moving on to "The Calling" (Palmetto Records), the fine new release (his second as a leader) from pianist/composer Romain Collin, I hear the influence of groups such as Radiohead, Rush, and other progressive bands on the rhythms created by drummer Kendrick Scott and certain chordal patterns of the pianist.  Long melodic passages, shorter tracks without solos, the interaction of Collin with Scott and bassist Luques Curtis (like Dezron Douglas, a native of Hartford, CT) is more comparable to the model of The Bad Plus and the Brad Mehldau Trio than to the music of Bill Evans or, for that fact, McCoy Tyner. Collin has a melodic streak a mile wide and his use of "programmed" sounds feels natural, not forced.  The sonic textures behind the rippling piano solo on "Greyshot" (created by guest Adrian Daurov, cello) are haunting and cinematic. Not that this music is all "sturm und drang" -  try the tricky rhythms of "Pennywise The Clown".  Yes, this is danceable, playful, music and the interaction of Collin and Scott is priceless (don't forget to pay attention to Curtis's solid contributions beneath his cohorts.) For me, Kendrick Scott is the perfect drummer for this music because he never settles for the tried-and-true.  His percussive playfulness on the opening of "Airborne" gives the music its wings while his actions during the varying dynamic settings the pianist creates illustrate that he is a drummer who listens yet is proactive (not reactive.) Listen to him drive "Runner's High", pushing the pianist and bassist without cluttering the sound, creating billows of cymbal splashes - the intensity in this music is incredible, especially since, much of the time, it's not played at a high volume.

The CD closes with "One Last Try", a solo piece with the air of nocturne composed by Claude Debussy.  Collin concentrates on the melody, never relying on excessive technical garnishes or overplaying. The music is emotionally satisfying and honest.  There are other tracks that display a classical influence, an influence that is not heavy-handed or artificial. 

Romain Collin, a native of France and graduate of the Berklee School of Music as well as the Thelonious Monk Institute, has created quite a fine program with "The Calling." Thanks to Kendrick Scott and Luques Curtis for helping to give his music wings, for pushing the pianist forward and framing his melodies in a manner that feels fresh and without cliche.  Kudos also go to producer Matt Pierson who provided Collin with the freedom and guidance to cultivate his music.  To learn more about the pianist, go to Also, check him out in conversation with Jason Crane - click on the link at the top right of this post or go to   Finally, to hear the CD, go to

Monday, April 23, 2012

Live, Local, Let's Go! (Special Addition)

Somehow, I forgot this wonderful concert to add to the listing I posted yesterday. Saturday April 28, the Artists Collective, 1200 Albany Avenue in Hartford, presents the great vocalist Sheila Jordan in concert with the Steve Kuhn Trio. Ms. Jordan, who turned 83 this past November, began singing as a young girl growing up in rural Pennsylvania. After moving back to her native Detroit, Michigan, in her teens, she discovered the music of Charlie Parker and began singing with a local vocal trio (material akin to the music sung by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.)  After moving to New York City in the early 1950s, she married the pianist Duke Jordan (who had worked with Parker extensively during the saxophonist's truncated career.)  Ms. Jordan did not make her recording debut until 1962 when she recorded "You Are My Sunshine" for pianist/arranger George Russell's "Outer View" Lp.  Later that same year, Blue Note Records issued her debut album, "Portrait of Sheila." 

Over the next decade-and-a-half, she spent much of her time raising her daughter yet found time to perform in clubs and churches as well as working with trombonist Roswell Rudd.  In the late 1970s, she began working, recording and touring with pianist Steve Kuhn - their 2 recordings for ECM helped to bring Ms. Jordan to a wider audience. She also displayed an affinity for performing in duos with bassists.  She's recorded with Arild Andersen, Steve Swallow, Cameron Brown (a collaboration that continues to the present day) and Harvie S.

 Mr. Kuhn, who is 10 years younger than Ms, Jordan, recorded a pair of ECM Lps with the vocalist that were released in 1979 and 1981 respectively. They reconnected in 1998 and again in 2002 for CDs released on HighNote Records.  Stee Kuhn is one of those rare musicians who at home as both as artist and accompanist. You can hear that the 2 have worked well together over the years; it is most evident in how they feed off each other's energy and how her lines complement his and vice versa.

Joining them will be bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Billy Drummond.  For more information about tickets, call 860-527-3205 or go  To learn more about Sheila Jordan, go to her site at - here's a link to a recent interview on NPR's "Piano Jazz";  On Tuesday April 24, Chuck Obuchowski of WWUH-91.3 FM will speak to Ms. Jordan about her career as well as the upcoming gig in Hartford.

For more on Steve Kuhn, go to, too, appeared on"Piano Jazz" - the show, from 2007, features the pianist in conversation and duets with the original host, Marian McPartland. Here's the link; The following year, Mr. Kuhn spoke with Jason Crane on "The Jazz Session" - listen by going to

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Live, Local, Let's Go!

The Uncertainty Music Series, held in various locations in New Haven, continues on Wednesday, April 25, with a concert featuring the duo of Colin Fisher (guitar, saxophone, drums) and Brandon Valdivia (drums, percussion, electronics).  They go by the name of Not The Wind Not The Flag and they will perform at 9 p.m. in Elm Bar, 372 Elm Street.  NTWNTF makes music that pushes and pulls at convention, can be noisy and improvisational and will often surprise the listener.  They will add Adam Matlock (accordion) and series curator Carl Testa (bass) for a different set as an unnamed quartet.  For more information, go to

The Improvisations Concerts series at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street in Hartford, continues on Thursday April 26 with an evening of solos, duos, trios and quartet music.  The series, curated by Stephen Haynes (trumpets) and Joe Morris (bass, guitar), has been an exciting addition to the resurgent live music scene in the Capitol City.  For "Improvisations VII", Messrs. Haynes & Morris welcome Kyoko Kitamura (voice) and Rick Rozie (acoustic bass).  Mr. Rozie, principal bassist with The Hartford Symphony as well as a member of the faculty at the Hartt School and the Jackie McLean Institute, has successfully maintained a career that moves from the classical to the improvisatory.  With his brother Lee "Mixashawn" Rozie, he co-led the Afro-Algonquin ensemble and also played with pianists Anthony Davis and Muhal Richard Abrams, vibraphonist Jay Hoggard and flutist James Newton.  Ms. Kitamura, who performs with reed player Michael McGinnis in the experimental ensemble ok|ok and sings with Professor Anthony Braxton's "Trillium E" ensemble, recently self-released "Armadillo in Central Park", a collection of quirky songs that will make you laugh as you scratch your head in amazement.  This should be a fascinating evening of improvisational adventures.  For more information, go to or call 860-232-1006.  To find out more about the series, go to

The following evening (4/27), Mr. Morris brings his guitar to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street, as a member of the Noah Kaplan Quartet. Mr. Kaplan (tenor and soprano saxophones), a California native and graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, will play music from "Descendents" (Hatology), a CD recorded at the Firehouse  in November of 2008 with Mr. Morris, Giacomo Merega (electric bass) and Jason Nazary (drums.) The recording is a spirited blend of serious compositions and strong improvisations, angular riffs, an interactive rhythm section and more.  The blend of burbling electric bass and Nazary's creative percussion often works as counterpoint to the saxophonist's probing melodic lines and the guitarist's quiet yet insistent phrases.  The NKQ will play 2 sets -- 8:30 and 10 p.m. --  for more information, go to  For a good overview of Noah Kaplan and his different musical adventures, go to

On Saturday evening April 28, the always nattily-attired Jay Hoggard (vibraphone) presents his Quartet in concert at 8 p.m. in Crowell Concert Hall, Wyllys Avenue, Middletown.  Mr. Hoggard, a Wesleyan graduate and member of the Music faculty, will present the world premiere of the multi-part suite "Sonic Hieroglyphs from Wood, Metal, and Skin", dedicated to the inspiration of Wangari Maathai, the late Nobel Peace Prize recipient from Kenya.  Quartet members include long-time associates James Weidman (piano) and Yoron Israel (drums) plus bassist Santi De Briano.  Joining them will be Professor Anthony Braxton and Marty Ehrlich (reeds), Kwaaku Kwaakye Martin Obeng (percussion) and Brandee Younger (harp.) Knowing Professor Hoggard's love of percussion and African music as well as his deep knowledge of jazz traditions, this should be an exciting evening of music.  For ticket information, go to or call 860-685-3355. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jazz Through (Mostly) Israeli Eyes & Souls (Part 2)

The quartet of Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Yonatan Avishai (piano), Omer Avital (acoustic bass) and Daniel Freedman (drums) call themselves Third World Love. They first came together in 2002 in Barcelona to play one gig and had such a good time they decided to become a band.  Over the past decade, they recorded 3 CDs, one each for Fresh Sounds New Talent, Smalls Records and Anzic.  "Songs and Portraits" is the band's second release for Anzic. Recorded in New York City in 2009, the music is a dizzying blend of influences, from Middle Eastern rhythms and melodies to Latin sounds to mainstream jazz.  Each band member contributes, at least, 1 composition with Avital composing 3 (plus the unaccompanied intro to "Sefarad"), Freedman 2, and Cohen and Avishai each with 1 (pianist Avishai credited for the arrangement of the traditional Yemenite song, "Im Ninalu.")  O, the rhythms they create, from the swirling sounds of "The Abutbuls" to the hard swing of "Song For a Dying Country" to the West African drive of Freedman's "Song for Sankoum." The latter is a "shoutout" to Senegalese drummer Sankoum Sissoko, has an irresistible drive (love Avishai's piano over the simple drumming in the first few minutes) plus several tempo changes. Cohen's clarion-call trumpet ushers in a ripping solo while Avital's percussive bass line paired with the solid drum work dances the piece forward.  Freedman also composed the lovely ballad "Alona" - it also appears on his new Anzic CD (reviewed in Part 1 - read it here) as a fine vehicle for tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. Here, it belongs to the sweeping piano lines and handsome trumpet. Pianist Avishai's "A Night in Zebulon" has an Ellington-type melody line;  it goes "out" a bit after the fine trumpet solo with Freedman's powerful drums and strong cymbal moving around the splashing piano chords. Yet, his piano solo is tender and melodic.  Avital's "Sefarad" (the ancient Hebrew name for Spain) has a fine melody, the Iberian influence showing in the trumpet and bass solos as well as Freedman's sympathetic drumming. 

On "Songs and Portraits" one can really hear a band at work and play. They listen, they respond, nudge each other in new directions, never hogging the spotlight, always sharing.  Third World Love makes music that is creatively and emotionally strong.  Powerful stuff that is worth your full attention - for more information, go to

Pianist-composer Ari Erev, a native of Israel, is one of the busiest musicians in his homeland, playing jazz at festivals, concert halls, on stage and television.  "A Handful of Changes" (self-released), his second CD, finds him in several different settings, from duo to quartet to quintet to sextet.  His rhythm section features Eitan Itscovich (drums) and either Arie Volinez (electric bass, acoustic bass on 7 tracks) or Tal Ronen (acoustic bass on 3 tracks) as well as percussionist Gilad Dobrecky (6 tracks).  Joining him on 8 tracks is the seemingly ubiquitous Joel Frahm (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone) while Ofer Shapiro plays alto saxophone and clarinet on 1 track each.  The generous program (11 tracks, 75+ minutes) ranges from straight-ahead jazz pieces to classical works to standards to creative interpretations of 2 works by Israeli composer Alexander "Sasha" Argov (1914-1995), a noted composer of popular Israeli songs.  Pianist Erev openly acknowledges the influence of Bill Evans (he leads a trio dedicated to the late American pianist) and it shows on Argov's lovely "Me'ever La'Tkhelet" (Beyond the Blue), a waltz with Ronen's excellent bass work. Shapiro's lyrical clarinet playing enlivens the other Argov piece, "Kshe'Or Dolek Ba'Halonekh" (Light In Your Window

Elsewhere, Erev combines Chopin's "Prelude in E-minor Opus 28, No.4" with Cole Porter's "So In Love", the transition between the melodies aided by a pronounced Latin beat.  Frahm's work is exemplary throughout, especially the duet reading with Erev on the standard "For All We Know" and his fiery soprano on Erev's "Step by Step" (Volinez's electric bass work is also quite fine.)   "Irit's Wave", a lovely waltz dedicated to the pianist's wife,  prominently features Frahm's masterful tenor work - he is both powerful and melodic during his long, well-thought out solo.  Shapiro (alto saxophone) and Frahm (soprano) share the lead on "Precious Present", a bouncy piece with a decided Brazilian feel.

With such a long program, it can be hard to keep one's interest but Erev does a fine job of shifting tempos and rhythms, using different combinations of musicians, and providing a good melodic foundation.  His debut CD "About Time", released in 2008, was his tribute to Bill Evans - "A Handful of Changes" shows Ari Erev developing his own approach to jazz, smartly adding new voices to the mix.  To find out more, go to

Levon Helm

People die every day but some weeks are crazier than others.  Dick Clark, who brought pop music to the forefront of television for over 3 decades via "American Bandstand", and Teddy Charles, jazz vibraphonist and pianist who also became famous as a charter boat skipper, both passed on Wednesday April 18.  Today, we received news that drummer/mandolinist/vocalist Levon Helm (pictured) lost his long battle with cancer. 

Any rock music fan who came of age in the late 1960s know about The Band.  5 musicians, led by composer/guitarist Robbie Robertson, came together to work with Bob Dylan in Woodstock, New York - after Dylan's motorcycle accident in 1966 and subsequent retreat to the country, Robertson, Helm, bassist Rick Danko, pianist/drummer/vocalist Richard Manuel and keyboard whiz Garth Hudson worked with the iconic composer as his "house" band, recording scores of demos (many released as "The Basement Tapes") and pulling their own music together.  "Music From Big Pink", The Band's debut Lp, was issued in 1968, combining Canadian-native Robertson's love of Americana with several unreleased Dylan tunes.  Robertson wisely combined the voices of Helm (with his Arkansas country twang) with Danko's ethereal falsetto and Manuel's strong tenor (he wrote several of the songs), often alternating verses ("The Weight" being a prime example.) Their second Lp, "The Band", is universally (and properly) treated as a classic, with songs such as "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", "Jemima Surrender" and "King Harvest Has Surely Come" that shine to this day.  Helm's joyous vocal and mandolin work (Manuel switched to drums) on "Rag Mama Rag"  and rollicking work on "Up On Cripple Creek" never fails to make me smile.

The quintet continued to tour and record through the mid-70s, culminating in the concert that became "The Last Waltz" (1976).  Due to a contractual obligation, they reunited in 1977 for "Islands" and then broke up forever.  Helm toured and recorded with Danko then reformed The Band (without Robertson) in 1983.  Manuel committed suicide in 1986 (he had become an alcoholic in the 70s which really damaged his handsome voice) yet the group soldiered on until Danko's death in 1999.  During that time, Helm worked in a number of movies (including "Coal Miner's Daughter") and recorded several solo albums. He suffered from throat cancer in the early part of the new century but recovered his voice to record several excellent CDs over the past 5 years. 2009's "Electric Dirt" and its 2011 followup, "Ramble at the Ryman" both won GRAMMYs.  But, the cancer returned and, sadly, took the 71-year old musician and entrepreneur.

Levon Helm was not the most technical drummer but was just right for music he loved so much.  His reedy voice, filled with personality and honest emotion, could drill lyrics right into the brain. Happy music, sad music, blues, country or folk, Levon Helm did not seem to have a false bone in body - he lived the songs he sang.  "King Harvest" takes us all away; yet, we are never ready when someone who made music come alive as Levon Helm did passes.  Yes, he will be missed but we do have his music.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jazz Through (Mostly) Israeli Eyes & Souls (Part 1)

Bassist-composer Omer Avital has been at the forefront of the Israeli-American jazz connection since the early 1990s. Possessor of a mighty sound, he is, at times, quite melodic as well as rhythmical. "Suite of the East" (Anzic Records) features fellow Israelis Avishai Cohen (trumpet) and Omer Klein (piano), the latter 26 years old at the time and about to launch his international career.  Joining them is drummer Daniel Freedman and tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm (proving yet again he can play in just about setting.) Recorded in 2006 after a week-long residency at Small's, this music bristles with electricity and improvisational fire. Avital's imagination is fueled by the sounds and sights of his native land; most of these songs have rhythms and melodies one would find in Israeli folk tunes (where the myriad influences include music brought to the country from Yemen, Morocco, Jordan and elsewhere.)  The opening track, "Free Forever", builds from the opening moment atop Klein's McCoy Tyner-esque piano chords. When the sax and trumpet enter, the energy level jumps higher; yet,everything grows quiet for Frahm's melodic exploration which slowly builds to a pulsating climax. The title track opens with a solo piano excursion that is ruminative and thoughtful.  When the rhythm section, the counterpoint from the bass and the splashing cymbals move through the melody until Frahm enters with the handsome melody - the next section introduces the trumpet and Cohen weaves in and around the tenor part.  Next section starts with a short bass statement before dropping into a funky beat for the piano, then the brass and reed to play call-and-response.

"Song for Peace" is the longest track (14:49) - notice how Avital splits the melody line between tenor sax and trumpet, having them move towards each other until there is harmony.  The sensuous rhythm  pulls the listener in, mesmerizing even as becomes quiet for the trumpet solo. Freedman begins to push against the "quiet", accentuating the martial feel in his snare and beat on his ride cymbal.  Cohen responds without "boiling over", bringing the level down for the opening of Klein's long and involved solo. 

There is not a weak cut or even weak moment on "Suite of the East."  There are pieces, such as "Sinai Memories", where the melodies played by both the bass and piano are so filled with emotion.  And, the CD closes with "Bass Mediation (on the possibility of peace in the Middle East", a solo piece for Avital that is both highly musical and also filled with great longing.  Perhaps one gets the feeling from the title but here Avital is most like Charles Mingus, another musician who channeled his anger, his dreams and hopes, into his music. Not sure why this session took 6 years to see the light of day but its arrival is most welcome.  For more information, go to

Daniel Freedman, Omer Avital's rhythm section partner in Third World Love, has issued his 2nd CD as a leader (his self-titled debut was issued in 2001 on Fresh Sounds New Talent).  "Bamako By Bus" (Anzic Records), produced by the drummer/composer in 2009, features an "all-star" lineup including Lionel Loueke (guitars, vocal), Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Jason Lindner (keyboards), Abraham Rodriguez (percussion, vocals), Pedrito Martinez (percussion, vocals), Yosvanny Terry (vocals, percussion), Mauro Refosco (percussion), Davi Viera (percussion), Mark Turner (tenor saxophone), Joshua Levitt (ney flute) and Meshell Ndegeocello (bass) with Avital sharing bass duties on 1 track.   This is the sort of program that will drive jazz purists crazy because the music has myriad influences.  Yet, if you follow Freedman's career, you know he's worked Angelique Kidjo, Anat Cohen, Pharoah's Daughter, Charles Owens Quartet, and Sting, therefore the variety in this music should come as no surprise.  Loueke is featured on 4 tracks, including the highly rhythmical "All Brothers" (composed by Avishai Cohen and Freedman) - Ms. Ndegeocello's bass work is mesmerizing atop the fiery drumming  of Freedman and Viera.  The trumpet solo reflects the percussive nature of the piece while Loueke's vocal and guitar playing is exemplary. "Darfur/Oasis" pairs Loueke's guitar with the ney flute of Levitt along with both acoustic bass (Avital) and electric - the second half of the tune features Lindner's sparkling Fender Rhodes sound.  Turner appears on 2 tracks paired on the front line in each instance with Cohen's trumpet.  "Alona" is a ballad with a dramatic overture that leads to a soft yet intensely heartfelt melody played by Turner who build his fine solo slowly.  Cohen, whose playing has matured greatly over the last decade, takes the tune out with a short but strong statement. They pair up again on "Sa'aba"; here, the tune rises on the funky rhythms but without overheating. Turner can certainly be quietly "intense" as can Cohen. "Rumba Pa'NYC" is a drum workout that features Rodriguez, Martinez, and Yosvanny Terry on vocals and percussion - in fact, along with Freedman's trap set, they are the only performers on the first half of the track.  Linder, Ms. Ndegeocello and Cohen enter and the piece really catches fire.

Daniel Freedman wrote or co-wrote and/or arranged all the pieces on "Bamako By Bus" yet rarely takes the spotlight.  The variety of styles as well as the excellent rhythm section (not to forget the fine solo work) makes this music so highly enjoyable.  For more information, go to

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Duo at The Firehouse + CD Pick

The Spring 2012 Concert Series at Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, has hit its stride and is firing on all cylinders.  This Friday night (4/20), the recording studio/performance space welcomes the duo of Mike DiRubbo (alto saxophone) and Larry Willis (piano).  DiRubbo, a native of the Elm City, studied at the University of Hartford/Hartt School of Music with the great Jackie McLean (as did last week's headline, Steve Lehman). With the help of Hartt School alum/current faculty member Steve Davis (trombone), the saxophonist began to make inroads into the New York City club scene.  Over the decade+ since making the move, DiRubbo has worked with pianist Michael Weiss and tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander.  He has recorded with bassist Mario Pavone, trumpeter Jim Rotondi and is a member of organist Brian Charette's Organ Sextette (see my review here.)  DiRubbo has issued 7 Cds as a leader, including "Four Hands, One Heart" (Ksanti Records), his duo with Willis.

Larry Willis has been an active musician for the better part of 5 decades, working with numerous great musicians.  Like DiRubbo, he came under the tutelage of Jackie McLean, making his recording debut on the saxophonist's 1966 Blue Note Lp, "Right Now" (Willis even contributed 2 songs to the session.) Willis is one of those musicians who has been involved with all types of musicians, from Cannonball Adderley to Carmen McRae to Stan Getz to Art Blakey to a 7-year stint with Blood, Sweat & Tears. He's equally at home in Latin music as well as classical.

The reviews for "Four Hands, One Heart" have fairly glowing and you'll be hear why on Friday.  Messrs. DiRubbo and Willis will play 2 sets, 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for ticket information, go to or call 203-785-0468.   To find out more, go to

Pianist Kenny Werner has recorded in a duo setting (Toots Theilemann), numerous trio settings, big band, string ensemble and quintet but "Me, Myself & I" (Justin Time) is his first solo piano effort.  Recorded live over 2 nights at the Upstairs Bar & Grill in Montreal, Quebec, Werner stretches out on a program of 7 tunes.  The pianist is both wonderfully melodic and highly inventive so the listener can be enthralled as Werner allows the music to move in various directions over the course of the performance.  The one original piece, "Balloons", is a fairly new one, having been recorded in a quartet recording released in 2011 - here, the tune emerges from Erik Satie-like minimalist chords, picking up intensity as it moves along.  By the 5-minute mark (the tune runs 13:34), Werner becomes ruminative once more. One hears traces of Chick Corea's "Children's Songs" as the pianist follows his instincts.  Werner is nothing if not playful - he maneuvers through John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" with ease, playing with the tempo, building one part of his solo on ascending chords and single-note runs that go high to low. (His vocal reactions throughout the program range from grunts to surprised laughs as if he is surprising himself.)

He goes back to Joni Mitchell's "Songs to a Seagull" Lp (her 1968 debut) for the stunning "I Had a King" (there are moments I believe Werner is whistling along with the melody line)  - his solo captures Ms. Mitchell's emotionally mature vocal and then spins his own musical story.  Even as his most forceful, there is a grace to Werner's melodic excursions.  How he caresses Thad Jones' touching "A Child Is Born", imbuing the performance with a childlike innocence (befitting the melody), seemingly moving up into the stars before returning to earth (and the melody) with full chords followed by more heavenly figures (and the whistling).  Combined with the Joni Mitchell song, these 2 pieces are a stunning example of how music can stir memories and emotions that resonate long after the piano notes decay.

"Me, Myself & I" may not reveal anything about Kenny Werner listeners did not already know;  his melodic flair, adventurous solos, and intelligent arrangements can be heard on his numerous recordings.  But, this solo music also displays, at different times in the program, a generous amount of soul. Yes, generous as well as moving - isn't that why many of us listen to music? To be moved.  This music does just that, and should be heard.  For more information, go to
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Monday, April 9, 2012

2 by B-3s

There's something about Hammond B-3 organ trios that reminds me of spring and summer, lounging on the back porch with a cool drink.  Perhaps, it's the "burbling brook" sound some players get out of their speakers - whatever it is, the chemical reaction in my brain is quite positive.

For his 5th release on the Posi-Tone label, "Golden Child", Jared Gold returns to the Trio setting that served him well on his 2009 CD, "Supersonic."  Guitarist Ed Cherry is back from that date while  Quincy Davis (who appeared on Gold's previous Posi-Tone release) mans the drum chair.The program ranges from "pop" tunes, such as "Wichita Lineman" and "I Can See Clearly Now" to jazz standards like "In A Sentimental Mood" and "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" to 5 pieces from the leader. The disk opens with an ultra-funky version of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come", a piece that sets the tone for the entire album.  Davis is a responsive and explosive drummer, doesn't hold back reacting to the soloist.  Cherry, who has worked with a slew of great musicians (like Dizzy Gillespie, Henry Threadgill and Hamiett Bluiett), is an equal partner in the music, either doubling the song's theme or stretching out on a solo.  His lines blend jazz licks (a touch of Wes Montgomery octaves show up on the title track) with a strong blues feel.  This is no "lounge" band; every one digs in and gives his all.  One can enjoy the subtle shadings of Gold's "Pensa Em Mim", groove on the "second-line" feel of "14 Carat Gold" or bask in the sweet glow of "...Sleepy Time..."  Excellent solos from both Gold and Cherry as well as simple-sounding yet masterful percussion.  The trio's take on Jmmy Webb's "..Lineman" is quite funky while remaining true to the melody and mood of the original.  Cherry's rhythm guitar work is exemplary while Davis lets loose during the organ solo - then, the drummer gives the guitarist a real "fatback" feel beneath his short yet satisfying solo. "Times Up" moves (rather successfully) into Larry Young territory, with Davis's fiery drumming pushing, urging, coaxing his cohorts forward.

Each one of Jared Gold's Posi-Tone recordings has something to recommend it but "Golden Child" is, arguably the best.  Even in a trio setting, the program is his most varied. You'll like the way the Trio communicates, how their solos are substantial (and not just space fillers) and, for these ears, Gold's handsome "burbling" organ.  To find out more, go to

If you're a fan of Josh Jackson and WBGO-FM's "The Checkout", you may remember hearing organist Brian Charette play with his Sextette last May (check it out here) - perhaps, like me, you really enjoyed the mix of reeds, drums and B-3.  The 3 pieces they played live in the studio whetted my appetite for the upcoming Steeplechase CD but then I never saw it.

Brian was kind enough to send the mp3s that make up "Music for Organ Sextette" and, believe me, this is one fine group and CD.  Charette has assembled an impressive lineup, starting with the excellent drummer Jochen Rueckert, alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo, flutist Jay Collins, bass clarinetist John Ellis and tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm.  With all this "firepower", the program Charette creates for his ensemble will surprise you. There are moments the arrangements really swing, like on the opener "Svichkova", with Charette's bass pedal work locked in with Rueckert's drumming. "Fugue FKA/ EGF Variations" opens as if written by JS Bach while the second half has a serious groove;  yet, the reeds come in one at time. First the tenor, then alto, followed by flute and finally bass clarinet all playing a round, especially when the organ joins the fray.  The melodic arrangement for the reeds on "French Birds" may remind one of the sound of the World Saxophone Quartet.  Every one solos but no one goes on too long and the results are rewarding.

"Elvira" is playful, a delightful melody over a reggae beat, with each soloist getting a different emphasis in the rhythm section beneath them.  "Tambourine" blends New Orleans melody and harmonies (love the blend of flute and alto sax on the melody section) over seriously funky drumming - Reuckert is both a dynamo and painter throughout the CD, whether it's the James Brown opening of "Late Night T.V." or his exquisite cymbal work on "Equal Opportunity" or his ability to quickly shift gears as he demonstrates on the mysterious "Mode for Sean Wayland" (dedicated to the contemporary Australian-born keyboard artist.) Charette has a keen sense of humor; can't help but praise the gospel setting for "Prayer For An Agnostic" (with an Ellingtonian feel in the melody line by the reed ensemble) and the "testifying" solos, each one more soulful than the one before.

It's hard to single out one soloist, everyone plays so well.  Relaxed yet intense, with rhythms that caress you one moment, push you up out of your seat the next.  Pay attention to the arrangements, to the textures of the reeds as they move with and around each other, notice the different sounds from the organ as well as the first-class work of the drummer.  Then, just sit back and let it enter your soul - because this music, more often than not, is quite satisfying.  Brian Charette and his Sextette makes honest and joyous music.  You should seek out this fine recording. For more information, go to

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Firehouse Goes" Fluorescent" + Reunion of the Spirits

Alto saxophonist, composer and conceptualist Steve Lehman (Wesleyan University, class of 2000) returns to Connecticut on Friday April 16 where he and his Trio - drummer Damion Reid and bassist Chris Tordini (subbing for Matt Brewer) -  to perform at Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven. They will be in the midst of an East Coast tour celebrating the release of "Dialect Fluorescent", their explosive new CD on Pi Recordings.

In his youth and college days, Lehman studied with both Jackie McLean and Anthony Braxton.  Over the past decade, he has developed into one of the most fascinating composers and musicians on the contemporary scene.  During that time, he's worked alongside pianist Vijay Iyer and drummer Tyshawn Sorey in Fieldwork, has been studying composition at Columbia University in New York City with French composer Tristan Murail, played with bassist Stephan Crump as well as alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and toured with various sized ensembles.  Yet, this new recording reminds me a lot of Trio Air, the collective of saxohonist/flutist Henry Threadgill, bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall.  And, it's not imitation; I hear it in the "conversations" between the instrumentalists, in Damion Reid's wonderful sense of drive and propulsion, in the full tones of Matt Brewer's bass notes and in the tart, crystalline sharp, tone of Lehman's alto saxophone.  

It's no surprise that the Trio covers the Anthony Newley/Leslie Briscusse composition "Pure Imagination" or that one of the leader's originals is titled "Alloy."  Lehman challenges his band mates to think beyond the cliche and engage him in this "triologue" that does not eschew tradition but recognizes so many musical styles and allows to filter into the music.  John Coltrane's "Moment Notice" is fueled by the Reid's juggernaut drums, Brewer's propulsive yet melodic bass work and the leader's contemplative then fiery alto playing.  He reacts to Reid's drumming by embracing the fire and then playing against it.  The twisting and turning solo bass that opens Lehman's "Fumba Rebel" leads into a bass-drum dialogue with Reid and Brewer "talking" together. When Lehman enters, the conversation beneath him opens up to allow his input.  The trio absolutely "smoke" Duke Pearson's "Jeanine", Reid's brushwork as active and multi-directional as his work with sticks.

This music, either on record  or "live" in performance, is insistent, demanding on both listeners and performers, and quite exhilarating.  Damion Reid's playing is exceptional, made more so by the fact that bassist Matt Brewer equally impressive bass does not always supplant the drums as timekeeper. Yet, the music rarely stops moving forward; one has to believe that is Steve Lehman's vision, to continually move and change, like a strong river current that is always changing shape but never losing sight of its ultimate destination.  To find out more, go to or to  For ticket information and availability, go to or call 203-785-0468.

The cover of the self-released 2-CD set from the David Bindman Ensemble  is the first clue to the musical experience the listener will enjoy on "Sunset Park Polyphony."  The brilliance of the sun draws you in to the center of the painting; yet, one should also notice that there are no dark shadows or ominous clouds.  Don't expect "new-age" noodling from saxophonist/composer Bindman (Wesleyan class of 1985, M.A. 1987) but an intense yet finely shaded group of pieces that illustrate his interest in African music and the exploratory jazz work of Bill Dixon and Bill Barron.  The rhythm section features fellow Wesleyan travelers royal hartigan (drums, percussion) and Wes Brown (bass), both of whom he has continued to play with over the quarter-century since graduation.  Pianist Art Hirahara, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area who moved to New York City nearly a decade ago, is a welcome voice in this music as he creates many different colors and never sounds intrusive.  Trombonist Reut Regev, who has worked with Anthony Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum and Metropolitan Klezmer, adds burr and bite to the mix while the declamatory trumpet of Frank London (The Klezmatics) is a fine foil to the rounder tones of the saxophone.

Disk 1 is comprised of 4 longer pieces opening with the hard-driving "Shape One."  The song has great drive (excellent work from hartigan) and a melody that works off the percussion.  The interaction of the brass with Bindman's tenor and the chords behind the tenor solo remind me of Andrew Hill in his Blue Note days.  The title track is, admittedly, influenced by South Indian rhythms, moving from an opening section without metric time to a thematic section with multiple meters.  The drum solo, which sounds like hartigan using only his hands (and foot on the high-hat) in the beginning, is involving as is the tenor solo that follows, with several phrases that refer to the South Indian beats in the rhythm. Bindman acknowledges the influence of trumpeter/composer Bill Dixon on "Robeson House Echoes", another multi-sectioned piece with more rhythmic excitement and fascinating writing for the front line.  Hirahara's hypnotic piano alongside hartigan's strong ride cymbal work sets the table for the solo section.  London rides the rhythm and delivers an impassioned solo while Regev jousts and spars with the drummer while the pianist adds quiet tinkling noises.  Bindman's episodic music leaves room for exposition and improvisation, moments of silence in the midst of a series of  sonic storms and  strong solos.

I had the pleasure to watch Messrs. Bindman, Brown and hartigan play many times together during their University years.  At the time, hartigan would thrill us with his percussive choices and you can hear how expressive and thoughtful he is throughout this program.  He and Bindman's tenor work well together on "Landings Suite: 1. The Transient", with his African-influenced drumming in conversation with Bindman's somewhat edgy sounds.  After they finish, Brown and Ms. Regev engage in a lively musical exchange.  This piece offers ensemble work, trio interaction and several different tempi. London's rich trumpet work is featured (above the moaning sax and trombone but no rhythm section) on the next section "2. Singing Bird Melody." hartigan's African drumming is the focal point of "4.Invisible Dance", a piece inspired by the poorest people in all societies who are subjugated by their poverty and rendered invisible to most peopel by their economic condition.  Brown joins in as the piece picks up in pace.

Disk 2 also features the handsome ballad "Unspoken", an ever-so-slow work that shows the influence of Charles Mingus - the sparkling yet gentle piano of Hirahara is very effective in setting the mood that is carried on by the reeds and horns. The pianist is quietly expressive on several tracks, his rippling phrases fanning across the music and adding handsome colors. 

"Sunset Park Polyphony" is a very personal recording from David Bindman; dedicated to his late mother (who passed when he was in his early teens) and featuring musicians, some of whom he has quite a history with, this music demands your attention.  Intelligent, multi-rhythmic, at turns lyrical or challenging but never dull, this aural experience is worth your attention. For more information, go to

Pick of the Week Special Edition

May I introduce Elliot Flaxman Kamins, the son of our daughter Rachel and her husband Joel Flaxman.  Like many long-anticipated "wondrous" events, he arrived early in the morning, showing up on Friday April 6 (yes, a very Good Friday) in time for his first seder.  ("Why, Elliot, of course" was my immediate reaction to the first of the Four Questions; Why is this night different than any other night?)  He moves into a world of mischief, mayhem, political bluster (he'll certainly stay warm since he lives in Washington D.C.), food and water shortages, abject poverty only a few miles from his new home, and so many promises.   Elliot has a loving family who will do try their utmost to nurture his creativity and teach him that his world can and should be one of many communities that will support him in any and all endeavors.

Can't help but notice Elliot has big cheeks on his handsome face; perhaps his first exposure to jazz should be John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie. Perhaps his first CD or download should be the recording pictured below, the wonderful "WeBop" from Jazz at Lincoln Center and its resident "big drummer man", Matt Wilson. Hmmmm.....

Saturday, April 7, 2012

More of Dears, I Surrender

Yes, another female vocalist and another recommended release.  Sara Leib has not issued a CD in 8 years but, judging by "Secret Love" (OA2 Records), she has not been wasting her time. Looking at the list of tunes and seeing that 8 of the 12 tracks are recognizable "standards", you might be inclined to pass on this music.  Don't make that mistake.  With the exception of one song, Ms. Leib created these arrangements and producer Matt Pierson (Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Kirk Whalum, Becca Stevens) has surrounded her with a responsive band.  Start with the excellent rhythm section of bassist Harish Raghavan (Taylor Eigsti, Kurt Elling), drummer Eric Harland (Charles Lloyd, SF Jazz Collective)  and percussionist Richie Barshay (The Klezmatics, Herbie Hancock) who create fascinating textures beneath Ms. Leib supple voice and then add either Taylor Eigsti or Aaron Parks (piano, electric keyboards - 6 cuts each) both of whom add colors and frame the voice very well. Dayna Stephens bring his expressive tenor saxophone to several tracks including the ever-so-funky "With My Own Two Hands" (Ben Harper). On that tune, Harland turns up the percussive fire and Ms. Leib delivers a super vocal, displaying her ability to scat and melismatic turn of phrase.  The world she creates for Cole Porter's "Night and Day" is mysterious and fiery, Eigsti's piano providing a chordal cushion for the voice (but also check out his rhythmical left hand) and delivering a solo that rises atop Harland's taut drums.

Ms. Leib's arrangements might offend purists but truly breathes new life into "chestnuts" like "Someday My Prince Will Come" (Aaron Parks shines on his forceful solo while Stephens lets loose in his short spotlight) and "Willow Weep For Me" (the blend of Harland's drums and Barshay's percussion below Eigsti's Fender Rhodes is made for the dance floor).  Ms Leib dips, swoons and soars through the fine re-imagining of "The Thrill Is Gone" (a  smart blend of Los Angeles "cool" and Philly Soul.)  "All I Have to Do is Dream" closes the program with a funky dance groove wrapped around Boudeleaux Bryant's plaintive melody and lyrics - it shouldn't really work but does so in a delightful manner.

One hears the influence of Tierney Sutton and Kate McGarry in the textures and rhythms of Sara Leib's music and arrangements. That's fine - they are her contemporaries.  For every person who thinks they know "Night and Day" or ""It Might as Well Be Spring" inside and out, Ms. Leib recasts them in new threads yet never loses the intent of the originals. "Secret Love" may not melt your heart but this music will certainly make you smile and maybe even want to take a spin around the dance floor. For more information, go to

Pianist-composer Sunna Gunnlaugs writes music that plays to her strengths and those of her fellow musicians.   First of all, she thinks melody; few songs are mere riffs with extended "blowing" sections.  Second, bassist Þorgrímur Jónsson is her "cushion", freeing her left hand to color the melodic phrases she plays. Third, drummer Scott McLemore (her husband) shows wonderful sensitivity throughout the repertoire, never overreaching or dropping into beats just for the sake of "groove." Listen to "Thema", the second track on "Long Pair Bond", the trio's new self-released and self-financed recording.
You'll hear the drums "frame" the piece and how the Erik Satie-like melody moves through both the bass and piano.  Blues chords mix with minimalistic splashes, creating a hypnotic slow groove that moves like ripples across a pond.  And, this is a band that can "groove" - there's a bouncy beat to "Crab Canon", the kind that insinuates itself into your feet even as Ms. Gunnlaugs creates an impressionistic musical painting atop the throbbing bass.  The sensuous bass line wrapping around the soft percussion on "Safe From the World" frees the pianist move the melody lines in subtle ways;  these pieces have a "poetic" feel in that one can imagine that story behind them.  A soulful aura pervades "Diamonds on the Inside", a piece from Ben Harper that shows the influence of Bob Dylan and The Band.  The piano rides atop the melodic/propulsive bass line while the drums create an easy rhythm.  The interplay of Ms. Gunnlaugs' gentle melodic phrases with the melodic counterpoint of  Jónsson's full-toned bass on the opening minute of "Vicious World", the final track, is a gracious and enchanting dance.

Listen to "Long Pair Bond" under headphones at least once to really hear how wonderfully these 3 musicians navigate the music. Scott McLemore often plays so quietly you might think he's absent but listen; his supportive and color-filled percussion is quite fine.  Þorgrímur Jónsson's fulsome bass work works well with the Ms. Gunnlaugs' lyrical piano lines. The beauty of this music rings true throughout the program, allowing the listener to relax and enjoy the flow.  To find out more, go to    

Here's the Ben Harper tune, courtesy of Sunna Gunnlaugs and Bandcamp.

It's easy to classify this new recording from bassist/composer Anne Mette Iversen as "Chamber Jazz" but the 2-CD "Poetry of Earth" (BJU Records) is really a splendid amalgam of "art" song, well-developed melodic and harmonic ideas, glorious musicianship and poems (in both English and Danish) that speak to the human condition through observations on nature. The magic of this program is the work of her cohorts including Dan Tepfer (piano), John Ellis (tenor saxophone, flute, bass clarinet, clarinet) as well as the 2 vocalists Maria Neckham (English lyrics) and Christine Skou (Danish lyrics). With texts by A.E. Housman, Thomas Hardy, John Keats, Lene Poulsen, Henrik Ibsen and 8 by contemporary Danish poet Svende Grøn (whose nature poems were the catalyst for the program, the music is, by turns, quiet, contemplative, experimental, rhythmical, forceful and shimmering.  When you first sit to listen, don't spend a lot of time with the words (there is a lyric sheet with translations); pay attention to how the vocalists move in and around the instrumentalists (and vice versa).  Listen to the full bass tones, the lyrical and articulated piano work of Tepfer and the excellent work of Ellis (on all his reeds.) Ms. Iversen has tailored these pieces to leave room for improvisation, also allowing the vocalists and musicians to improvise transitions between selected pieces.  While Ms. Neckhan and Ms. Skou split the lead vocals (depending on the language of the song), they do sing together (wordlessly) on the rollicking "Music" on Keats' "On the Grasshopper and the Cricket" (the only tracks on which Ms. Skou sings English.)

One can hears traces of Kurt Weill, Danish folk melodies, jazz, show tunes, contemporary classical music and so much more.  Yet, don't waste time looking for antecedents in the melodies or improvisations. Just listen - music as pure as this needs your attention because of its subtle shifts and turns, the way Ellis's reeds move through the songs, either shadow the voice, doubling the piano or bass lines or any one of impressive solos (smart use of overdubbing on several pieces.)  Dan Tepfer continues to impress with his finely etched solos, strong left hand work and ability to be percussive and melodic, often within the same phrase.  Anne Mette Iversen is the sculptress of this creation, not only pushing the rhythm forward but also as a melodic force. "Poetry of Earth" is compelling modern music; don't expect to be "blown away" but to be seduced.  For more information, go to

Here's a track from "Poetry..." courtesy of BJU Records and IODA Promonet:
When I Was One-and Twenty (mp3)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Myra, Mark & Matt Make Music (Live and on CD) + CD Pick

Friday, April 6, 2012 - "Why is this night different from all other nights?" In households around the world, families seated at the dinner table ask this (and other questions) on the first night of Passover.

For creative music aficionados in the New Haven, CT, area, the answer is quite exciting - on this night, Trio M comes to perform 2 sets, 8:30 and 10 p.m., in the sonically sweet confines of Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street. 

Formed in 2006 by pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer/percussionist Matt Wilson, the musicians toss the "traditional" concept of a piano trio out the door and play it by ear (rather big "ears" at that.)  They are touring in support of their 2nd CD, "The Guest House" (Yellow Bird/ENJA), recorded and mixed at the Firehouse in June 2011.   All 3 contribute pieces to the repertoire, ranging from Ms. Melford's playful title track (which has echoes of her first Trio recordings as well as the Tizol/Ellington classic "Caravan") to Wilson's dedication to Albert Ayler ("Al") to Dresser's 2-part "Tele Mojo", a track that opens and closes quietly while going through a series of fascinating changes in-between. 

Other highlights include Wilson's "Hope (for the Cause)", a tender ballad composed for Cancer's Society "Relay for Life" (Wilson's wife was diagnosed with leukemia several years and in, thankfully, in remission), features lovely arco bass work and spare piano lines.  Another soft piece is Ms. Melford's "Even Birds Have Homes (to return to)", inspired by the late Iraqi poet Muhammad Mahdi Al-Jawahiri (1899 - 1997) features Satie-like piano lines, more fine arco bass and quiet yet effective percussion.  "Don Knotts" is a Wilson piece with a circular melody, joyous "parade"-style drumming, and a muscular bass line.  The interaction of the 3 is playful, conversational, and ever-so-musical.  Listen to how Wilson underscores both the bass and piano solos while never losing his propulsion.  

In a year filled (so far) with splendid piano trio CDs (Vijay Iyer, Ahmad Jamal, Corea/Gomez/Motian, Masabumi Kikuchi), add "The Guest House" to your list of must-haves.  For more information, go to to learn more and get a taste of Trio M's tasty aural treats.  If you are close to the Elm City on Friday (and/or finish your seder early enough), go see and hear them play live - Trio M is creativity personified.  For ticket information, go to or call 203-785-0468.  

"Meridies", the new release on Origin Records by Illinois-born pianist/composer Dan Cray, opens with an up-tempo reading of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile." With the snappy percussion of Mark Ferber and melodic bass work of Clark Sommers, the song has a verve and bounce that gives the normally-melancholy piece a hopeful feel.  It's his first CD for Origin and also his first since moving to Brooklyn, New York, in 2009.  As one moves through this program, which also features tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger on most tracks, you hear an intense pianist, comfortable in his skin and his abilities, not afraid to swing and accentuate his left hand work.  His interplay with Ferber and Sommers (who's played with him for over a decade) shines on every track; the "freedom" he gives them raises not only the intensity but also the quality.  The multi-sectioned "Winter Rose (1728)" has the feel of a short story, with a calm opening but soon the intensity rises through the piano solo as does the interplay of the bass and drums - Preminger's solo takes the piece on a slightly-different path, his swirling lines of cascading notes over the dancing drums leading back to the leader's impressionistic closing lines.  

The slow blues of "Amor Fati", with Preminger's breathy tenor sax and Cray's lyrical piano lines sans rhythm section, is gentle and quite melodic.  Notice Cray's sweet solo and how Preminger insinuates the melody back into the song; it displays the maturity of both the performers and the composition.  The quartet hits hard on Joe Henderson's "Serenity" with a touch of Bud Powell in the piano solo and Ferber's crisp drumming. Sommer's martial drumming leads in "March of the Archetypes" and one might expect from his attack a hard-edged piece but the song moves in on a brisk but not powerful melodic line. As the soloists hit their stride, the intensity picks up.  The interaction of tenor sax and piano during Preminger's solo is impressive.  "East 69" opens with a lovely melodic discourse from Cray (he really articulates each note); the rhythm section seems to enter on tip-toes right up through the bass solo but the energy picks up during the piano solo (the music does not get "wild" - it's the reaction of the piano to Ferber's more energetic approach.)

"Meredies" is a delight, a program to sit with and soak in the rich melodies and fine interactions of all involved.  Do let it soak as you may not hear all the nuances first or second time through.  The original piece (6 of the 8 tracks are Dan Cray compositions) are impressive, well-constructed and not over-thought.  One can really appreciate the excellent rhythm section while Noah Preminger continues to impress as a melodic yet adventurous player.  If you've not heard any of Dan Cray's previous 4 CDs (like me), "Merdies" is a great way to get introduced to his music.  For more information, go to or