Thursday, August 29, 2013

Live and Lively! + Music Subtle, Sublime and So Creative

Drummer Yoron Israel is coming to The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown this Saturday night (8/31) where he and his musicians will take the month out like lions and lambs (I know the adage relates to March but...)  His quartet, known as High Standards, features pianist Laszlo Gardony, bassist Henry Lugo and saxophonist Lance Bryant. All but Lugo (well-known around Connecticut for his work with various artists including pianist Noah Baerman) appear on Israel's delightful new CD, "Visions: The Music of Stevie Wonder"(Ronja Music Company) and one expects the program on Saturday will feature a goodly number of tunes from the recent recording - but, these are creative musicians and their music is always filled with surprises.

The drummer is in the midst of quite a career, working with artists such as Abbey Lincoln, Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell, Kenny Burrell, Russell Malone, Jay Hoggard and so many others - He's also released 5 CDs as a leader. It will be fun to see and hear Laszlo Gardony.  The Hungarian native came to the United States in 1983 to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston and has been a faculty member since his graduation in 1987.  His most recent release, "Clarity" (Sunnyside), was issued earlier this year and is a wonderful solo piano rumination.

Music starts at 8 p.m.  For more information, go to  To check out the High Standards and its leader, go to

I first encountered the music of Rob Mosher (soprano sax, english horn, clarinet) in 2008 when he (self-) released "Tortoise", a recording that featured 10 musicians playing a program that ignored genres, embraced melody and did so by challenging and not coddling the listener. Since then, the Canadian-native has created music for and with guitarist Rupert Boyd and for a string quartet.  He has also been touring and recording with banjoist Jayme Stone, with Mike Webster's Leading Lines, and with the Mark Stuart Dance Theatre.

His latest self-released project is titled "Rob Mosher's Polebridge", pieces for 5 musicians (plus guests on 3 tracks) inspired by a trip to Polebridge, Montana, a town in the northwestern corner of the state with a population of (approximately) 90 (88 for the purposes of the composer's comments on his website.)  The town is justifiably famous for Polebridge Mercantile, a "general store" with a saloon attached and known for its bakery - it's visage appears on the CD cover. Mosher was so taken by the store, the town and its setting in Glacier National Park (not to forget the out-of-tune piano in the saloon) that he began writing the first of the 12 pieces that appear on the recording.

That opening track, "Pass the Beer Bread", features the spry fiddle work of John Marcus and Andrew Small (also the bassist) - the piece opens and closes as a jig but gets mighty atonal in the middle.  The leader's expressive clarinet opens "Rango's Tango" that brings in the trumpet of Micah Killion, the piano of Stephanie Nilles and more fine fiddle work from Marcus.  One can visualize musicians in the tavern wearing over-starched collars, woolen coats, and hats in this work with its brisk and forthright melody lines.

Elsewhere, there is off-kilter Eastern European sounds of "The Klezmanaughts", the cinematic sweep of "North By Northwest" (featuring mandolin work from saxophonist Petr Cancura), the Kurt Weill-inspired adventure of "Marigold", the modern classical playfulness of "Around the Bend", and the serio-comic chamber music of "Didn't Ask (Breathe Now)" that  finds Ms. Nilles on Hammond B-3 organ and the low reed work of guest Peter Lutek (from the Canadian chamber jazz quintet ENGINE, who plays bassoon and contra alto clarinet.) There are also 3 "Sketches", the first 2 back-to-back and the 3rd as the penultimate cut, inspired by modern chamber music. The program closes with "Cowboy Ben", with Ms. Nilles leading the way in on saloon piano and Marcus playing the plaintive melody. When the bassist falls into a bouncing beat, Killion and Mosher join the fray - there's even a recitation from Ms. Nilles in her best Plains accent while Mosher takes his soprano sax way up high.

Rob Mosher describes this project as "drunken chamber music" which is apropos but a bit self-deprecating.  What "Polebridge" is is fun, at times wacky, at other moments lovely, quite melodic, well-played and never dull. For more information, go to

Rose & the Nightingale is a quartet featuring Jody Redhage (cello, voice, compositions), Sara Caswell (violin, mandolin), Leala Cyr (voice, trumpet), and Laila Baili (voice, piano), each with impressive credentials who came together when all but Ms. Baili toured with Esperanza Spalding's Chamber Music Society.  Ms. Baili has toured with Sting, Chris Botti and Suzanne Vega and has issued 2 critically-acclaimed CDs.  Ms. Redhage, who is married to trombonist Alan Ferber (he appears on 2 tracks), has a busy career in the classical, popular and indie art-song. Ms. Caswell, who recently issued a fine CD with her sister, vocalist Rachel, which was produced by Fred Hersch, is a often-dazzling violinist. Ms. Cyr, who has also toured in bassist Spalding's Radio Music Society, performs in a duo setting with her husband, acoustic guitarist Ricardo Vogt.

With all these fine instrumentalists, one might be surprised by the fact that the quartet's debut CD, "Spirit of the Garden" (Sunnyside), is so vocal-oriented.  Ms. Redhage, who composed 11 of the 16 tracks (to lyrics by various unnamed poets), skillfully blends multiple ideas and influences into her song cycle - while there is folk, classical and popular music running throughout the program, the balance often changes in each tune, save for the 4 group improvisations, "Haikus" for the 4 seasons of the year. "Where the Fish Are This Big" could be considered folk music yet there is a trumpet solo evocative of Miles Davis plus co-producer Ben Wittman's intermittent hand percussion as well as Ms. Caswell soft mandolin to support the sweet vocals. Ms. Redhage is both the foundation for many of the songs and leads the way on others.  Her impressionistic solo piece, "Chrysalis Intro" is stunning in its simplicity leading into "Butterfly" which is a rhythmic treat that moves from a chamber music setting into a modified Afro-Caribbean groove, the cellist as bass, strummed violin, hand percussion and Ms. Baili's sparkling chordal work, topped off with Ms. Cyr's soaring vocal (and excellent harmonies.) The vocal harmony on "Snow Peace Calms Us" blended with the cello and violin interactions is emotionally rich with Ms. Caswell's vibrant violin work atop the pizzicato cello working in counterpoint to the gentleness of the vocals. The CD closing track, "Despedida (Farewell)", is the only non-original track, this from the pen of Portuguese pianist/composer Mario Laginha, is a lovely yet wistful waltz where the piano serves as the foundation and Ms. Redhage's sonorous cello takes the lead then works in harmony with the trumpet.  Later in the song, her wordless vocal weaves in and around the cello while Ms. Baili's piano chords are reminiscent of the sparse accompaniment of Herbie Hancock in his Blue Note days.

"Spirit of the Garden" is filled with poetry, both verbal and musical, is blessed with exquisite (but not precious) voices and sublime instrumental sounds. Find this gentle yet assertive CD and let these sounds and words inspired by Jody Redhage's experiences in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens give you a sense of beauty and peace. In the meantime, Rose & the Nightingale has been awarded a Chamber Music America 2013 Musical Residency Grant that will take them to Green Bay,Wisconsin (Leala Cyr's hometown) in April of 2014 to work with students grades K-8 and transform their poetry into song.  For more information, go to

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