Sunday, October 6, 2013

Berne's Snakeoil, Adler's Helium Project + CD Picks

It's always a sonic adventure when alto saxophonist/composer Tim Berne comes to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven.  He's back for the second time this year on Friday October 11 (he appeared as part of Ches Smith's These Arches on June 14) with his Snakeoil quartet - Smith (drums, percussion, vibraphone), Oscar Noriega (clarinet, bass clarinet) and Matt Mitchell (piano, keyboards). Snakeoil is touring in support of its new CD, "Shadow Man", the band's second effort for ECM Records.  The recording is yet another stellar effort form Berne, with songs that whisper, shout, bang, knock, caress, played by 4 musicians who know each other well and have no fear exploring the composer's episodic pieces.

Tim Berne's Snakeoil plays 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - one should expect music that is challenging and, ultimately, rewarding. For ticket information, go to or call 203-785-0468. To find out more about Mr. Berne and his band, go to

Percussionist/composer/producer/author Brian Adler is celebrating October in a big way.  He's issued a new book, "A World of Percussion", in which he illustrates a plethora of hand-held, hand beaten, and stick-played percussion instruments.  His Circavision label has gathered 13 tracks he and a good number of co-creators have recorded over the past 4+years that were only released as mp3s and issued them all together on "Helium Music Project."  Along the way, Adler traveled to numerous places to record.  He overdubbed vocals from people such as Kate McGarry, Nicky Schrire, Wendy Gilles, and Heather Masse.  The results are often mesmerizing, filled with emotion and pulsing with rich rhythmic interplay.

Now, Brian Adler is taking 3 fellow musicians on the road for 3 consecutive nights starting at 8 p.m. on Friday October 11 at The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street  in Middletown.  Besides Adler on drums and percussion, HMP includes Danny Fox (piano), Mark Lau (bass) and Nick Kadajski (alto saxophone). With influences that span the globe, Helium Music Project is a treat for the ears, mind and feet (hard to sit still, at times).

The following night, HMP will play at 8 p.m. in The Space Gallery in Portland, Maine and finish the busy weekend on Sunday with a 5 p.m. gig in Cambridge, Massachusetts at The Lily Pad. For more music, go to For tickets to the Middletown date, go to My interview with Brian can be heard as part of my Sunday 10/06 radio show by going to and clicking the "On-Demand" button.

Guitarist/composer Mary Halvorson continues to be one of the busiest young musicians in creative music. She leads her own Trio and Quintet, co-leads a duo with violist Jessica Pavone as well as a duo with bassist Stephan Crump, and has a cooperative trio called Thumbscrew with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara plus one with saxophonist Jim Hobbs and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum dubbed Aych.  Add to that numerous sideman dates with Professor Anthony Braxton, Curtis Hasselbring's New Mellow Edwards and Fomanek's Ensemble Kolossus.  Get the picture?

Her new Firehouse 12 Records release, "Illusionary Sea", expands her already exciting Quintet (saxophonist Jon Irabagon, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith) by adding the unique musical voices of Ingrid Laubrock (tenor saxophone) and Jacob Garchik (trombone).  My first impression of this music is that many of the pieces had a real bounce, a rhythmic excitement, that propelled the pieces forward.  There is still plenty of creative interplay; that can't be helped when John Hebert and Ches Smith are the rhythm section. Both are rhythmically strong but also very melodic players. When you listen to the slippery "funk" of the title track that opens the program, it's hard not to tap your feet. The "progressive rock" feel of "Smiles of Great Men"(Ms. Halvorson's guitar solo conjured up images of King Crimson, the edition that featured guitarist Adrian Belew and drummer Bill Bruford. The playful melody line over a modified cha-cha beat also has splendid counterpoint.

Even with 7 musicians, this music rarely sounds cluttered or dis-organized. Garchik's solo spots throughout the program are impressive as is his "section" work while Ms. Laubrock blends her voice well within the ensemble.  Irabagon, who is noted for his exciting solos, does not disappoint - his "romp" on "Butterfly Orbit" is delightful as are the sounds of Ms. Halvorson's "chatty" guitar and Smith's "melodic" percussion.  When the guitarist steps out, she hits the "volume" pedal and lets fly. Finlayson's strong trumpet work continues to dazzle, his clear, bright, tones rising above the ensemble. His opening statement on "Fourth Dimensional Confession" stands out, especially when his tones blend with the saxophones and the trombone counterpoint. The CD closes with the one non-original, a fine adaptation of Phillip Catherine's "Nairam."

 Stalwart fans of Mary Halvorson's music may miss the "wilder" edge that often permeates her original music but "Illusionary Sea" displays her maturation as a composer and arranger as well as her splendid guitar work. It's been an aural treat and quite an adventure seeing and hearing the many different routes her music has taken and will continue to take. For more information, go to There, you can purchase the CD or a digital download or the limited edition Deluxe Vinyl 2-Lp set.

Over the past 35 years, drummer Billy Mintz has created a career that illustrates just how a versatile musician makes his way through the "crazy" world of jazz and creative music.  He's anchored bands led by saxophonists such as Lee Konitz, Vinny Golia and Pete Christlieb.  He's worked with pianists Mose Allison and Alan Broadbent as well as vocalists such as Mark Murphy and Gloria Gaynor. Nowadays, he lives in New York City where he often works with pianists such as Russ Lossing, Hal Galper and Roberta Piket.

Ms. Piket, who is married to Mr. Mintz, is part of the Mintz Quartet whose self-titled CD has just been issued on Thirteenth Note Records. Completing the band are veteran West Coast musicians Putter Smith (acoustic bass) and John Gross (tenor saxophone).  The aura of the music of latter-day Paul Motian, Charlie Haden's Quartet West and Thelonious Monk's rhythmic experiments informs the compositions of Billy Mintz bit does not really "describe" the music. Over the course of 12 tracks, the quartet "rocks", swings, struts, goes "out", stays "in" - in other words, the composer plays to the strengths of his fellow musicians.  The best pieces are conversations; for instance, "Shmear" moves forward on Mintz's forceful snare and quiet cymbal work, with Smith and Gross interjecting comments while Ms. Piket takes a forceful solo while, the very next track, "Cannonball", finds the pianist on organ for a funky venture. To his credit, Gross does not imitate the Adderley "sound" but has his own bluesy feel.  Ms. Piket's organ solo drips with funk while her husband creates a slinky groove.  I'm reminded of the late Larry Young on "Retribution" when Ms. Piket's work eschews the familiar blues or gospel feel for the organ, moving into territory that blends a melodic feel with longer tones.

Throughout the program, Mintz's cymbal work is exemplary.  His high-hat dance on the chorus of "Dit" is delightful while his interactions with Smith play against Gross and Ms. Piket on their respective solos (her piano work is quite exciting in its scope and playfulness.)  The drummer also displays his melodic side on pieces like "Haunted", a duo for tenor sax and piano that may remind some of vintage 1940s movie music.  The rubato "Beautiful" has the feel of the John Coltrane Quartet, especially in the interplay of saxophone and piano on the theme - the following track, "Ugly Beautiful", has a harder edge with considerable fire from the Quartet.

Often, reviewers stumble when making comparisons, believing readers need to be guided into a program.  When one comes upon a CD like this one, from the Mintz Quartet, one is better off leaving the listener to fend for his or her self.  Simply put, this is good music, informed by many different strands of modern music, made stronger by the splendid musicianship of all involved.  Roberta Piket's keyboard work is exemplary, John Gross's tenor saxophone work is forceful, at times minimalistic and, at other times, hardy and Putter Smith's bass, while a bit under-recorded, is the glue that holds most tracks together.  Billy Mintz stands out as the leader, the composer and for understanding that his compeers know what they are doing with his music.  For more information, go to

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