Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When I Paint My Masterpiece - Marty Ehrlich's Expansive Canvases

Over the past 3+ decades, Marty Ehrlich has created numerous musical experiences that one returns to time and again.  His Quartet with fellow reed player Stan Strickland, his duo with pianist Myra Melford, his work with the Julius Hemphill Sextet, his Dark Woods Ensemble with cellist Erik Friedlander, the Rites Quartet, and his cooperative group with trombonist Ray Anderson.  The thread running through each of the projects he has organized or still is involved in is his sweet alto saxophone sound, his strong clarinet and bass clarinet work as well as how seamlessly he mixes melody, harmony and rhythm, never skimping on any or all of those aspects of his music.

On Tuesday, November 12 Mr. Ehrlich releases his most ambitious project - "A Trumpet In The Morning" (New World Records) and begins a week-long residency at The Stone, corner of Avenue C and 2nd Avenue in New York City.  Over the span of 6 nights, he will perform 12 sets with 11 different ensembles (more on that below).

The new CD features 6 tracks, 2 over 20 minutes, half of them commissions and 2 older rearranged for this Large Ensemble. What a collection of players, 25 in all with 7 who play on the entire program.  There are 2 great rhythm sections, one with Uri Caine (piano), Drew Gress (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums), the other with James Weidman (piano), Brad Jones (bass) and Eric McPherson (drums).  The title track is, at 23:21, the longest track but, trust me, the piece moves with great fluidity and features the splendid bass and soprano saxophone work of J.D. Parran, one of the people Mr. Ehrlich studied and played with when he joined the B.A.G. (Black Artist Group) in St Louis, MO, the city which became  his home during his formative years.  Parran also is the vocal star on the track, acting out the "hipster" lyrics of a poem written by another St. Louis resident (and friend of vocalist) Arthur Brown (1948-1982.)

The other long piece "Rundowns and Turnbacks" was originally composed for the Dark Woods Ensembele and is a 7-part journey through American music, featuring splendid solo work from Jerome Harris (on electric guitars instead of bass), pianist James Weidman, trombonists Anderson, Michael Dessen, and Curtis Fowlkes, trumpeters James Zollar and E.J. Allen, saxophonists Robert De Bellis, Andy Laster, Lisa Parrott and Adam Kolker plus stalwart work from both drummers. (It is also the only piece that the composer plays on.)

Other highlights include "M Variations (Melody for Madeline)", a piece originally recorded by Mr. Ehrlich's Traveler's Tales Quartet and expanded several years later for the New York Composers Orchestra. Uri Caine opens the piece with an unaccompanied piano solo and the arrangement features a handsome melody for the reed section with harmonies from the brass. The pianist fashions another solo in the midst of the performance as does bassist Gress, tenor saxophonist Kolker and trumpeter Horton. "Blues for Peace" was commissioned for a high school jazz orchestra in California but don't think it's a simplistic work. Wilson lays down a solid beat and the ensemble rocks and roils above it.  The CD opens and closes with "Prelude: Akgebor Translations" and "Postlude: Akgebor Translations", the newest composition. Originally written for the collaboration of the Hampshire College Jazz Improvisers Orchestra (directed by the composer) and Mt. Holyoke West African Drumming Ensemble, the inspiration for the rhythm came from Ghana and the raucous horn and reed melody could easily come from New Orleans.  The solos wind in and around the drums of McPherson and percussion of Warren Smith.

"A Trumpet In The Morning" is a delightful 76 minutes of music, all informed by Marty Ehrlich's pursuit of a musical vision that takes in sounds from all over the world and from his days in the B.A.G. (where he not only met J.D. Parran but also Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and Charles "Bobo" Shaw.) There is a lot to take in on the CD but take your time, savor these sounds and solos; after a short while, the joy that went into the creation of this music will make you glad to be alive.  For more information, go to

As noted above, Marty Ehrlich is in residency at The Stone from Tuesday 11/12 - Sunday 11/17.  The week commences with "Music for String Quartet and Alto Sax" at 8 p.m. and, at 10 p.m., a duo set with drummer Tyshawn Sorey.  Wednesday, the first set features music from Ehrlich's Tzadik CD "Fables" followed a duo set with drummer/composer Kate Gentile.  Thursday night, the first set belongs to the Rites Quartet (8 p.m.) and Traveler's Tales (10 p.m.).  Friday is Sextets night with the 8 p.m. group playing music from Ehrlich's "News on the Rail" CD followed by at 10 p.m. with music from "A Trumpet In The Morning" arranged for 6 musicians
including J.D. Parran (pictured left with his bass sax!).

Saturday evening, both sets will features the Ray Anderson-Marty Ehrlich Quartet.  Rounding out the group will be bassist Brad Jones (who also plays in both groups on Friday) and drummer Matt Wilson.  The final 2 sets of the week (on Sunday) feature the Dark Woods Ensemble.  First, Ehrlich, cellist Erik Friedlander and bassist Drew Gress will play music from the 1995 CD, "Just Before the Dawn" while the second show will add guitarist Liberty Ellman to the trio to play music from "Sojourn", a 1999 recording for Tzadik. All told, it's an incredible week of music old and new.

For more information, go to

This coming Sunday (11/10), I'll be broadcasting an interview I conducted with Marty Ehrlich. I have followed his career and music since the 1980s but this is the first opportunity I've had to go in-depth with him.  The interview can be heard at 12noon on WLIS-AM Old Saybrook, CT, and WMRD-AM Middletown, CT.  The station also streams live on Finally, I will post a link on this blog to the interview next week.

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