Saturday, January 12, 2013

Pianos and More

It's been a year since I first became exposed to the music of Lorraine Feather.  Her 2012 CD, "Tales of the Unusual" (Jazzed Media), knocked me off my chair with its melodic charm and variety, Ms. Feather's erudite and often humorous lyrics (as well as her fine voice), and the excellent music. So, I had to just go check out her catalogue and  discovered this woman has no fear, tackling the music of Thomas "Fats" Waller, Duke Ellington, and others, her lyrics capturing the atmosphere of the times when the songs were created.

For this new CD, "Fourteen" (Relarion Records), Ms. Feather joins forces with the fine young pianist Stephanie Trick and dub their duo Nouveau Stride. They go back to the music of Waller, Ellington, James P. Johnson, Willie "The Lion" Smith and adds Ms. Feather pithy lyrics to their music and do the same to works by contemporary composers such as John Novacek, Robin Frost,and the late Artie Matthews.  Ms. Trick created the music to "Vive Le Boogie Woogie", a bluesy romp that sounds a lot like the work of "Memphis Slim" (John Len Peter Chapman).  These songs are happy, silly, pretty, classy and highly musical - the pianist is a wonderful technician yet, when she matches her talent with Ms. Feather witty lyrics, this program becomes irresistible.  Whether it's taking "Mule Walk" (composed by Johnson) and creating lyrics that praise bats ("Bat Boogie") or Duke Ellington's "Dancers in Love" and telling the story of the perfect man ("Imaginary Guy"), this collaboration will make you smile.

Nouveau Stride is too good to ignore. Don't get hung up on genre, just get into these grooves and intelligent lyrics and let them roll over you.  If this music does not make you smile, even laugh, shake your head and snap your fingers, you may be more depressed than you realize.  Find this CD and let down your defenses - have fun!  Lorraine Feather and Stephanie Trick certainly are.  For more information, go to

Myriad3 is a cooperative trio, Canadians all, composed of pianist Chris Donnelly, bassist Dan Fortin and drummer Ernesto Cervini. Their debut recording is titled "Tell" (ALMA Recordings) and features 10 originals plus a manic version of Duke Ellington's "C Jam Blues."  That last track commences as a fairly straight-ahead, up-tempo, reading and then proceeds to change speeds every chorus or even sooner.  In person, this must be fun and it's cool to hear the first few times through but gets a bit old after a while. Oddly enough, the next track, Cervini's 2-part "Disturbing Inspiration" has a similar affectation but works better as a ballad (both parts have handsome melodies).

There is much to admire in this music.  The band has quite an intuitive sense, working closely with other for the sake of the material.  Cervini is an excellent drummer with a strong sense of color; Fortin's bass work is often the true rhythmic pulse of the music, allowing the drummer to interact with the pianist to move the songs forward.  Donnelly also has a strong rhythmic drive as well as a playful sense (Cervini's "Fractured" rises and falls on the minimalist left hand of the piano while the pianist's "Mr. Awkward" is a blues with a twist) There's a mysterious feel to the classically inspired "Lament/PEX", another original from Donnelly, that right near the end, breaks into a sprightly romp that one could imagine the late Glenn Gould creating if he worked with an excellent rhythm section.

There are moments when Myriadmight remind you of The Bad Plus (especially the Trio's dynamic range and wonderful balance of melody and percussive drive);  this is their first CD and one expects they will continue to explore how best to combine their different interests into a unique project.  That writ, "Tell" is quite a lot of fun.  For more information, go to

On a recent Amtrak ride down to and back from Washington, D.C., I had the opportunity and joy to listen to "Museum Vol. 1" (self-released), the new CD from the Kevin Harris Project.  For pianist/vocalist/composer/educator Harris, this is his 4th CD featuring the rhythm section of Kendall Eddy (acoustic bass) and Steve Langone (drums - Ct native Richie Barshay replaces Langone on 4 of the 8 tracks) and 2nd to feature tenor saxophonist Rick DiMuzio (although he only appears on 2 tracks.)  Trumpeter Jason Palmer makes his debut as a member of the Project on this CD.

7 of the 8 tracks clock in at over 7 minutes yet this music never feels overdone or boring.  Part of the credit for the strength of the program goes to the 2 drummers;  Langone drives like mad on the funky "Pinched Nerve", shows great imagination on the McCoy Tyner-esque "The Nile", kicks heartily on "BBBB" and is inventive as well as quiet on the short, impressionistic, ballad "Bluegrass". That tune is one of 2 trio pieces, the other being the soulful reading of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song".  Harris blends acoustic and electric piano. moves the piece away from a reggae rhythm, and makes sure one understands the lyric.  Barshay's inventive drumming blends nicely with Eddy's solid bass work (he is a stalwart throughout.) Palmer and the rhythm section are featured in a quartet (no saxophone) reading of Wayne Shorter's "Prince of Darkness" (originally recorded on Miles Davis's "Sorcerer" Lp).  The group captures the fluidity of composition without aping the Davis Quintet version.  The 4 musicians also play a fascinating version of "You Are My Sunshine", which goes through a number of changes after Eddy's solo bass introduces the piece. Harris's unaccompanied piano solo (about 2/3rds of the way through the song) changes the feel and leads to a spirited finish (great drum work from Barshay and smart counterpoint from Eddy.)  Langone is the co-composer (with Harris) on the multi-sectioned "The Dinosaur Suite" but cedes the drum chair to Barshay.   Harris's strong chordal work combines with the powerful rhythm section to support Palmer as he rides atop their fine work.  As on "...Sunshine", the piano solo changes the direction and intensity of the piece, introducing a new melody leading to a bass solo and a forceful finish.

Giving an album the title of "Museum" might make one think that the music is dated or cliched.  Instead, Kevin Harris and his compatriots challenge the listener at many turns, erasing any doubts that this music is dull.  Everyone plays with great purpose and inventiveness making the music come alive with ideas, melody and rhythm.  To find out more, go to

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