Sunday, March 10, 2013

Live, Local, Music-Making! + CD Picks

That's Wethersfield, CT, resident Stephen Haynes, he of the cornet, original music and a true epicure - what you don't see in this fine image from Enid Farber (copyright 2013) is his band known as Pomegranate.  That quintet - Haynes, Joe Morris (guitar), Ben Stapp (tuba), Warren Smith (percussion, marimba) and William Parker (bass) - gets the honor of opening the Spring 2013 Concert Series this Friday (3/15) at Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven. The music Haynes has written for the group is dedicated to and inspired by his mentor and teacher, Bill Dixon (1925-2010).

Haynes just completed a very successful Indie Go-Go fundraiser to raise money for the group the following day in the Firehouse 12 studios.  Come hear this music as it continues to be created and shaped.  Pomegranate plays 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. (separate admission charge to each set) - and tickets are available by going to or calling 203-785-0468.  Read more about Mr. Haynes and his music by going to

I have been aware of saxophonist and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native Jaleel Shaw since I heard him (on record) with Mingus Big Band and an early Fresh Sounds CD led by Jeremy Pelt (he also plays in drummer Roy Haynes Quartet.) His amazing and emotionally charged solo on "Jena Six" from the Captain Black Big Band's PosiTone release of 2011 received many compliments from fans and critics alike.

The picture on the cover of his 3rd release as a leader, "The Soundtrack of Things to Come", was taken by Shaw's mother when he was 2 years and it shows the toddler playing a plastic toy saxophone. Shaw composed the music on the CD for his Quartet, an ensemble that features the fine young pianist Lawrence Fields (Dave Douglas), his friend and bassist from the Mingus Big Band, Boris Kozlov, and the excellent drummer Johnathan Blake.   The 10 original pieces, 78 minutes in length, allow Shaw the opportunity to show how he continues to mature as a composer but also as a soloist in a small group setting.  Several things stand out on initial listening;  these piece all have solid melodies to capture the attention and as platforms for solos plus Fields is the perfect partner for the saxophonist.  The pianist shows the chordal influence of McCoy Tyner while his solos are well-structured and, often, exciting.  His work on "Conclusions" and "Leel's Tune" are but 2 examples of his burgeoning talent at the keyboard.   Kozlov is such a solid player, the anchor of the quartet, and contributes intelligent counterpoint to the soloists when called upon.  His work beneath Fields on "Chroma", a handsome modern blues, is so fine.  As for Blake, he has quite the melodic ear for a drummer.  His chattering cymbals on "Ballerina", his direct propulsion on "Song For Sid" and fiery interactions with Shaw on "I Wish I Didn't Know" show why he is such a popular band member - he pays attention and does not play it safely.

Shaw does not treat this recording or the music as simply a showcase for his technical prowess.  Instead, he creates pieces that draw the listener in, such as the lovely ballad "Sister" (his alto work is so gentle and measured) and the lilting melody he created for his soprano saxophone (and the piano) on "Song For Sid" (dedicated to the fine Philadelphia pianist and teacher, Sid Simmons.)   He certainly can wail, as he ably demonstrates on "Chroma" and "Faith" - the latter has a strong gospel feel which shine through the playing of both Fields and Shaw.

"The Soundtrack of Things to Come" (released on the saxophonist's Changu label) is such satisfying music.  Jaleel Shaw used specific artworks as well as his personal life experience as his inspirations to create this music and his choice of Lawrence Fields, Boris Kozlov and Johnathan Blake was also quite inspired.  There is much life and love in this music; if you like music that takes the listener on a fascinating journey, give Mr. Shaw's creation the time it deserves.  For more information, go to

There's plenty of spirit, soul and swing to be heard on "The Gathering", the latest ArtistShare release from the Clayton Brothers. Jeff (alto saxophone, alto flute) and John (bass) plus John's son Gerald (piano) lead their Quintet - the splendid Terrell Stafford (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Obed Calvaire (drums) with invited guests Wycliffe Gordon (trombone on 8 tracks) and Stefon Harris (vibraphone on 4 tracks) - through an impressive program of mostly original tunes.  This is music informed by swing, by blues, and by 70s funk (there are moments when one can hear the feel of The Crusaders, the Los Angeles-based group led by pianist Joe Sample and tenor saxophonist/bassist Wilton Felder.) The funk is never more obvious than on Jeff's tune, "This Ain't Nothin' But A Party" sounding much like a piece Joe Zawinul might have written for Cannonball Adderley's band.  The alto, trumpet and trombone combine for a smooth read of theme then each get solo section. The composer hits some serious high note and then Gordon comes sputtering in for a "down 'n' dirty" spotlight.  Stafford goes high and low before yielding the spotlight to Gerald Clayton, who shines as well.  John Clayton composed "Stefon Fetchin' It" for the vibes player to have fun with. The rhythm section flies through the piece while Harris romps and rollicks his way through a god long solo. Jeff brings out his alto flute for John's "Touch The Fog", a lovely ballad that has strong work from the pianist and another fine vibes solo. The vibraphonist leads the way into the super-slow ballad "Simple Pleasures", the languid pace allowing the soft horn arrangement to stand out as it complements the vibes and piano.

Gordon steps out on Jeff's "Coupe de Cone", a bluesy ditty that has more than a hint of swing in the rhythm section. "Blues Gathering" ups the tempo nicely and, once again, the blend of alto, trumpet and trombone leads the way.  Stafford's crisp tone makes for a good contrast with Gordon's gutbucket style and, when you throw in Jeff's bluesy touch and Gerald's two-handed solo, the tune is irresistible.  The pianist's lone composition, "SomeAlways", is a handsome ballad with smart voicings for the reed and brass plus a another well-executed piano solo. Gerald joins his father and uncle for a emotionally rich reading of "Don't Explain" with just Calvaire's shimmering percussion underneath.  John's bowed bass work, Gerald's gentle touch on the keys and Jeff's keening solo stand out.

"The Gathering" shines the spotlight on many different aspects of the Clayton Brothers.  The swing and the funk are joyous but, for my money, it's the ballads that stand out for their clarity of sound and emotional qualities.  Young Gerald shows why he's considered one of the best of the "new breed", Wycliffe Gordon kicks up his musical heels throughout and Stefon Harris makes the most of his 4 appearances.  Add the solid contributions of Obed Calvaire and Terrell Stafford into the mix and this is a recording that will make you smile.  For more information, go to

1 comment:

  1. Richard, thanks for your consistent support of the Pomegranate: New Music for Bill Dixon project. I am very excited about the ensemble and it's unfolding voice. We record live at Firehouse 12 on Friday. The following day, we return to the F12 studio for a day of additional, more controlled/differently structured, recording activity.