Sunday, March 31, 2013

Friday Choices

Those of us in central Connecticut who enjoy adventurous creative music rarely have to make choices like the one we have to make Friday April 5.  In Middletown, bassist Joe Fonda has organized and curated the 8th Annual CT Jazz Composers & Improvisers Festival to take place starting at 7:30 p.m. in The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street.  Scheduled to appear are poet Steve Dalachinsky, violinist/ composer/artist Terry Jenoure (pictured), and the Michael Jefry Stevens/George Schuller Quartet.

Brooklyn, NY, native Steve Dalachinsky is well-known as a New York City "downtown poet" and is famed for his collaborations with creative musicians such as pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker, and saxophonist Rob Brown. Accompanying his poetry will be Mr. Fonda and saxophonist Gerhard Ullmann.  Ms. Jenoure, who has recorded with the late clarinetist John Carter, is an accomplished musician and vocalist who lives in the Northampton, Massachusetts area.  Closing the show will be the Quartet of pianist Stevens, drummer Schuller, bassist Fonda and multi-reed player Ullmann (you may know them better as Conference Call.)  For more information, go to www.buttonwood.org where you can and should make reservations.

Meanwhile, the Firehouse 12 Spring Concert Series continues with the return of Tomas Fujiwara and the Hook Up. The quintet - drummer/composer Fujiwara, guitarist Mary Halvorson, saxophonist Brian Settles, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and bassist Adam Hopkins - last appeared in the performance space in April of 2010 (though Fujiwara is no stranger, having played 4 shows with cornetist and good friend Taylor Ho Bynum.)  Fujiwara also works with saxophonist Greg Ward, Anthony Braxton's Tri-Centric Orchestra and Ideal Bread (among others). The music he creates for the band is a swirling blend of styles that transcends numerous barriers. The mix of Ms. Halvorson's adventurous guitar and Finlayson's clear trumpet tones makes for good listening - add in Settles' fiery tenor saxophone work plus the fine rhythm section and this music truly moves.  Several of Fujiwara's melodies feature drums parts that work in tandem with the front line.  The interaction of the 5 musicians is mighty impressive and lots of fun to see and hear.

The band plays 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - to find out more, go to firehouse12.com.  To check out the drummer and his numerous projects, go to www.tomasfujiwara.com.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Wondrous Dance Music of Steve Coleman

Continuing his quest to meld improvisation and composition, melody and rhythm, alto saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman has released, what I believe, is one of the best recordings of his career. Paring his Five Elements ensemble to 4 musicians (Coleman, trumpeter Jonathan Findlayson, bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman plus guitarist Miles Okazaki on 5 of the 14 tracks) has served to focus the composer's study "of the connection between the biology of the human body, the human soul, and music" which he discovered through his relationship with percussionist Milford Graves.

The 14 tracks that comprise Coleman's 3rd release for Pi Recordings "Functional Arrhythmias" bristle with creativity, with splendid musicianship and and impressive interplay. On top of that, much of this music has an irresistible rhythmic feel that induces smiles and the desire to move one's body, dance music for the entire person. Finlayson, who has also worked with guitarist Mary Halvorson, saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Steve Lehman (among others) possesses a clear tone that meshes well with the leader's fluid lines and warm sound.  The work of Rickman and Tidd, who both return to Coleman's band after a decade away, has to heard (and felt) - it is the "heartbeat" and the "flow" of this production.  It's no surprise that the first sounds you hear on "Sinews", the track that opens the CD, comes from the rhythm section, the thick bass notes and funky drumming.  All through this music (all original), the drums catch your ear.  From the Ed Blackwell-influenced rhythms of "Cardiovascular" (the majority of the titles reference bodily functions and parts) to the fiery propulsion of "Snap-Sis", Rickman brings the beat.  For his part, Tidd throbs, bounces, bobs and weaves, plays phrases that go "way low" and move "up high."  His counterpoint of "Respiratory Flow" and his dub-like grooves on "Assim-Elim" serve to cushion the melodic interplay of Coleman and Finlayson.  Yet, they, too, play with rhythmic drive in their phrases, whether it's the bounce of "Hormone Trig" or the James Brown-inspired grooves of "Cerebellum Lean" the front line gets into the groove.  On the latter track, Coleman's solo is so slippery and feisty and he manages to incite the soul without wailing.

Finlayson is also an equal partner in the success of the music.  His playing is forthright, he not only executes the melody lines with style but his solos are built with intelligence and wit, whether he's riffing off the percussion (as he does so gracefully on "Medulla-Vagus") or building off of a phrase or fragment he hears in Coleman's solos (so brilliantly displayed on "Limbic Cry").

Miles Okazaki makes his presence felt on the 5 tracks he appears on; there's his West African-inspired "clacking" rhythm guitar on "Cardiovascular", his funky interactions with Tidd's bass lines under Rickman's spright;y drumming on "Irregular Heartbeats" and his understated Nile Rodgers-like solo on "Adrenal, Got Ghost."  His acoustic guitar sounds re-tuned, kora-like, on the mysterious yet funky "Lymph Swag (Dance of the Leukocytes)" - again, how he interacts with Tidd stands out as do his inventive, blues-soaked riffs beneath the solos.

Listening to "Functional Arrythmias", I am reminded of Ornette Coleman's 1959 Atlantic recording "The Shape of Jazz To Come."   With the exception of the 5 tracks with guitarist Okazaki, the instrumentation is the same, the differences being Charlie Haden's acoustic bass instead of Tidd's electric and Don Cherry's cornet for Finlayson's trumpet.  Billy Higgin's insistent drum and cymbal work may not be as multi-rythhmical as Sean Rickman's but it drives the music in the same manner (and the modern recording is much brighter.)  Both recordings can be said to be "music of its time" yet both seem timeless.   The 2 groups, separated by more than 5 decades, play with purpose, fire, and joy. I'm not sure either of the 2 Colemans get enough credit for how the rhythms in their music are so playful, elemental and essential (in the case of Ornette Coleman, especially in the music he and the group created for Atlantic Records).

Simply put, "Functional Arrhythmias" shines brightly - find it, play it loud and play it often.  For more information, go to www.m-base.com or www.precordings.com.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More Firehouse News + Good Reading

The Uncertainty Music Series presents the 2nd of 2 concerts in conjunction with SOUND HALL on Saturday March 30 at 8:30 p.m. in Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven.  Clarinetist/composer Jeremiah Cymerman presents "Book of Dead", a solo concert for clarinet and electronics; the work is part of a new project Cymerman is developing that moves his music into a more meditative state.  Inspired by Chögyam Trungpa's "Tibetan Book of the Dead" (translated by Francesca Freemantle), the music focusses on the sound of the performer's clarinet and the silence between the notes.  

Cymerman has issued several CDs on the Tzadik label as well for Porter Records;  just last year, he started his own label, 5049.   To find out more, go to www.jeremiahcymerman.com. The concert begins at 8:30 p.m.  There is a free "Pre-concert Talk" at 7 p.m.  - for ticket information, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.  To find out more about the Uncertainty Music Series, go to uncertaintymusic.com


On the eve of the release of "Functional Arrhythmias", the brilliant new recording by Steve Coleman And Five Elements (Pi Recordings), bassist/composer/
blogger Ronan Guilfoyle has published part 1 of a long interview with the saxophonist/composer/ conceptualist on his blog, "Mostly Music." You can and should find their conversation titled "Steve Coleman on Rhythm" by going to ronanguil.blogspot.com.  Coleman literally speaks volumes about his rhythmic concepts, especially (in Part 1) how he developed his ideas.  You may be surprised by the people he cites.  Nevertheless, it's engrossing reading.  My review of the new CD should be posted next week. In the meantime, listen to the words!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Left Coast Meets Right at The Firehouse + Quick Hits

The Firehouse 12 Spring 2013 Concerts Series rolls this Friday March 29 with an appearance by the Lisa Mezzacappa Trio featuring Fay Victor.  Ms.Mezzacappa, based in the San Francisco Bay area, is one of the busiest musician/curators around. Not only does the bassist/composer lead several different ensembles (Bait & Switch being the most recognizable) but she also programs several different music series in Los Angeles and San Francisco as well as a live Cinema series.  Her Trio with the exciting Brooklyn, NY-based vocalist Fay Victor blends pop, jazz and blues influences into a sonic adventure unlike any you have heard. Ms. Victor, who leads her own ensembles, is a fearless improviser who treats words and sounds with equal weight.  She enunciates, even when she is scat-singing.  Rounding out the Trio is guitarist John Finkbeiner who has worked and recorded with bassist Adam Lane Full Throttle Orchestra, with drummer Vijay Anderson's various groups and alongside Ms. Mezzacappa (and Mr. Anderson) in the wonderfully eclectic and electric Bait & Switch. He's also got a great feel for the blues which stands him in good stead in this Trio.

Judging by the music the bassist has posted on her website (www.lisamezzacappa.com), the Trio makes one sit up and pay attention.  They'll play 2 shows - 8:30 and 10 p.m. (each with its own admission charge) -  and you can get more information by going to firehouse12.com or calling 203-785-0468.

Last week, the Matthew Shipp Trio rocked the Firehouse with its exciting brand of creative improvisations. 2/3rds of the Trio - pianist Shipp and bassist Michael Bisio - creates the music of "Floating Ice" (Relative Pitch Records), a CD that appeared late in 2012.

The 7 tracks will not surprise anyone who has listened to the Shipp Trio in that much of the music has a great forward motion and that the strong left hand of the pianist frees up the bassist to play counterpoint.  There are some wonderful moments; "The Queen's Ballad" is a slow exploration built off a handsome melody that Shipp creates an impressive solo from.  Meanwhile, Bisio moves beneath the melodic surface creating his own impressions (and rhythms) that catch the ear. The light-hearted swing of "Holographic Rag" suggests "Jelly Roll" Morton, Professor Longhair and Conlon Noncarrow in its bluesy feel and rhythmic drive. It's the longest track on the CD (10:29) yet moves with stealth and allows for a fiery bass solo that really moves.

The introspective opening of "Disc" shows a strain of Chicago blues before moving out and away from its melodic center (and doing so without resorting to high volume or displays of technical prowess.)  Bisio's arco work sets the slower pace of the final cut, "Decay", a work that builds in intensity and then moves away from its climax on the rapid-paced bowing bass lines.  Shipp's droning chords over the bowed bass close the piece on a strident note.

The music created by Michael Bisio and Matthew Shipp on "Floating Ice" demands your attention and deserves it. The 2 musicians know each other well and that friendship gives them the freedom to make music that goes in many directions (and never gets lost.)  For more information, go to michaelbisio.com.


Like the more famous Neil Young, British artist Neil C. Young is a guitarist and composer.  But, the younger Young does not rock out a super volume or create electronic landscapes or acoustic songs that go right to the heart of human relations.  On his 4th CD as the leader of the Neil C. Young Trio, "El Camino" (ENCE), one hears music that blurs the lines between rock, blues, r'n'b and jazz without ever erasing those lines.  Ably supported by bassist Alan Witham and drummer Richard Young, the guitarist creates a program that is enjoyable, undemanding and, for me, brings back some fond memories.  When I was much younger, I used to scour the "cutout" bins for 45 r.p.m. vinyl records of an instrumental nature.  9 out of 10 times, I had no idea what the music was like or who the artists were but the price was often 4 for $.99 cents" - every once in a while, I'd come across a gem from the DOT label or SMASH or Chess Records.

"El Camino" reminds me of those long-gone treasures in that the music will not knock you out of your chair but, unlike many of those earlier recordings, the musicianship is top-notch.  Neil C. Young is an excellent rhythm guitarist - a majority of the 8 tracks on the CD are built off of the solid rhythm section and the strong guitars that often comprise the melody.  There are moments on the opening track, "Nutter Strut", that remind this listener of the rhythm guitar work of Jimi Hendrix, another musicians who often built his songs and solos off his chordal work.  The "country meets jazz" feel of "The Wagon (it left without me)" works quite well, with a touch of Wes Montgomery and Lenny Breau, although the rhythm section is a bit "clunky."  No such problem on "Slashville", where the drums and bass set the pace while the leader plays a hearty solo. Perhaps the best track is the lovely "Ballaed" (sic), with its stately melody and excellent counterpoint from the bass.

The music that the Neil C. Young Trio creates on "El Camino" probably won't blow you away but the results are certainly easy to listen to.  Go to www.neilcyoungtrio.com and give the band your ears.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March Improvisations

The monthly "Improvisations" series at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street in Hartford, continues this Saturday March 23 at 7 p.m.  Series curators Stephen Haynes (cornet, trumpet) and Joe Morris (guitar) welcome Charles Downs (drums) and Pascal Niggenkemper (pictured left, acoustic bass) for an evening of musical adventures.  Mr. Downs is a veteran of bands led by pianist Cecil Taylor and the late violinist Billy Bang - he is as known as Rashid Bakr.  Mr. Niggenkemper has worked with drummer/composer Tyshawn Sorey (February's guest in the series), drummer/composer Gerald Cleaver and with guitarist Morris in his Abstract Truth group.

Messrs. Haynes and Morris are but 1 week removed from the cornetist Bill Dixon: Promegranate project, the quintet that opened the Spring Concerts series at Firehouse 12 and the recording session the following day.  From all the reactions I have heard and read (plus what I saw at the live date), the weekend was quite successful.  One should expect musical sparks to fly this Saturday as well.  For more information, go to www.realartways.org or call 860-232-1006.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Truly Musical

On April 1, BJU Records releases "Musica Para Un Dragon Dormida", pianist/composer Emilio Teubal's 3rd recording as a leader.  With a sextet featuring percussionists John Hadfield and Satoshi Takeishi, cellist Erik Friedlander, electric bassist Moto Fukushima and the superb reed work of Sam Sadigursky, the pianist has created a stunning musical landscape that covers much ground, especially rhythmic and emotional territories.

Born in Madrid, Spain, to Argentinean parents in exile, Teubal has also covered much territory in his life.  His family returned to their native land when he was 8 years and, one year later, he started studying and playing piano.  He moved to New York City in 1999 to continue his studies and begin his professional career, one that has seen him perform with John Benitez and the Marta Gomez Group, among others.

All of which leads us to his new CD.  The influence of his Argentinean roots is evident throughout but not overwhelming.  Much of this music is carried by the tremendous rhythmical playing of the pianist, the percussionists and Fukushima thick-toned electric bass.  On top of that are the often captivating melodies, many of which feature Sadigurksy on clarinet.  The program opens with "Un Simple Objeto" with its perky melody played over chords that would not be out of place in Vince Guaraldi's music for "Charlie Brown." While the clarinetist and cellist share the melody line, the music percolates forward.  Hadfield (hand drums) and Takeishi (cajon and hand percussion) strut back and forth while the bass and piano support them. The impressionistic solo piano opening of "The Constant Reinventor" has the sound of a work by Ralph Towner, even more so when the clarinet enters to share the main theme.  The arrangement adds the other players as it moves forward with the cello having its part in the melodic development and the bass serving as counterpoint.  All of sudden, the tempo shifts into a tango yet the melody continues to be shared by the 3 musical voices.   Teubal's solo is a series of cascading notes and rhythmic patterns over the percolating rhythms.Near the close of the song, he adds a short section with a rapidly descending line for the piano, clarinet and cello that is so thrilling (especially as Friedlander goes in the opposite direction of the piano and clarinet.

This recording is filled with breath-taking moments.  Sadigursky gets to play most of his reeds on "La Perla", overdubbing clarinet, bass clarinet and flute even soloing on all 3 as the piece moves forward. Then, close to the end, there's a section that features 2 clarinets, bass clarinet and flute pushing the melody and rhythm forward.  In an email exchange with the reed player, he wrote "Emilio plays with such a great time feel and percussiveness, and really writes for the entire piano.  He has a vision, but also trusts the players around him to make decisions and push things in different directions." 


"Musica Para Un Dragon Dormido" is quite an impressive achievement. Like a great movie director, Emilio Teubal went into the study having an overall blueprint for this music and, once he put it in the hands and minds of this fine ensemble, the project took flight.  Like fellow Argentinean Guillermo Klein accomplishes in his original music, Teubal has woven threads of numerous musical styles into his compositions without losing touch with his "roots." This CD creates such an amazing sonic world, one does not want the music to end.  Brilliant and accessible, highly rhythmic and strongly melodic, one will find much to enjoy in Emilio Teubal's new recording.  For more information, go to www.emilioteubal.com.  



Trumpeter/composer Matt Holman has a list of credits the length of one's arm, ranging from his regular gigs with Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble and Asuka Kakitani's Big Band to appearances with Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry. He's won a slew of awards, grants and commissions and is currently of the New York Symphony Jazz Band, a 17-piece ensemble dedicated to not only preserving the Big Band tradition but also support young composers.

For his debut CD as a leader, Holman has convened a quintet featuring Mike McGinnis (clarinet, bass clarinet), Christopher Hoffman (cello), Nate Radley (electric guitar) and Ziv Ravitz (drums, percussion) and supplied them with a program that challenges their skills as creators.  Hoffman, who has worked and recorded with Henry Threadgill, is called on to be both a soloist and to play the bass lines; he does so with poise and style.  Ravitz, born in Israel and now in the United States for over a decade, displays great sensitivity and drive.  His wonderful martial drumming on the title track really pushes the band but never overwhelms them.  Guitarist Radley, who is a member of Loren Stillman's Bad Touch and has worked with a score of New York-based musicians, is a fine rhythm guitarist.  His rippling lines, funky rhythm lines and smart counterpoint on "Chain Of Command" captures one's attention.  McGinnis, a member of the four bags and co-founder of OK|OK, is a wonderful foil on the front line, his warm tones working nicely with and alongside the clear, crisp, tones of the leader's trumpet.

There is a modern classical feel to the opening strains of "Kindred Spirits" with the theme carried the clarinet.Once the rhythm section settles into the beat, Holman's trumpet enters, playing the second theme.  When he and McGinnis play in unison, the music soars.  And, listen to how the cello and drums negotiate the rhythms.  The clarinet once again leads the way on the subsequent track, the handsome ballad title "Tutti." When Holman starts, the piece begins to swell and recede, like waves lapping on a dock.  The stately feel of the previous can be felt in the early moments of the title track, with the trumpet leading the way and the clarinet lines moving in and around.  Then, the piece picks up for a while before dropping back to a quiet groove for Radley's halting solo (he seems to be just behind the beat at the beginning before riding the groove.)  The guitar solo builds in intensity as the front line plays flowing lines behind him.

Ravitz's Middle-Eastern rhythms open "Where the Tracks End", a piece with a melancholy melody. McGinnis's bass clarinet melds with the trumpet at times then splits away moving back in.  After Hoffman's short, blues-influenced solo (over the percussion and Radley's gentle backing phrases, the guitarist takes off on his own.

One hears the influence of Dave Douglas (especially the Tiny Bell Trio), at times, in the melody lines and rhythms.  Yet, Holman is also very interested in group dynamics and how each musician contributes to the overall sound. So, in the rocking mid-section of "Chain of Command", there is equality in the hard-edged guitar lines, the rollicking clarinet, the keening cello, the clarion call of the trumpet and, all the while, Ravitz is bashing away with glee, not out of control but with purpose.

"When Flooded" continues the flood of impressive new recordings for 2013. These are Matt Holman's compositions and his vision but the music is an entire group effort. The sound quality is excellent, there is very little clutter (the clarity of the cymbals and cello is super) and, most certainly, no ego-trips.  This CD, like the Emilio Teubal reviewed above, deserves your attention.  For more information, go to mattholman.com.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mr. Shipp Comes to New Haven + CD Picks

One of the most creative as well as one of the more outspoken people in Black American Music is pianist/composer Matthew Shipp.  On Friday March 22, Mr Shipp returns to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street for his 3rd appearance at the performance space/recording studio.  And he seems to like to match the number of musicians with the number of times he has played; his initial appearance in 2005 was a solo piano concert, the next (in 2006) was a duo show with bassist William Parker and, this time he's bringing his Trio.  Joining him is bassist Michael Bisio and long-time drummer Whit Dickey (all pictured above).

Mr. Shipp is touring in support of his latest Thirsty Ear release, "Greatest Hits", which is a compilation of tracks from the past decade. The pieces range from solo observations to Trio cuts and larger ensembles. The music reflects the pianist's continuing creative probing of melody and rhythm.  Bisio and Dickey are perfect foils in that they are both excellent musicians, capable of playing anything that the composer puts on the music stand or follow whatever improvisatory path the pianist decides to take.

The Matthew Shipp Trio will play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. (a separate admission for each) - and I strongly recommend reservations.  It was quite a treat to see and hear Stephen Haynes: Pomegranate last week (the music was and the musicians were mighty impressive) and also quite wonderful to see the first set sold out.   For ticket information, go online to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.

In the past 3 years, trombonist/composer Samuel Blaser has released several impressive CDs including a classical music-inspired date with the late drummer Paul Motian, bassist Thomas Morgan and pianist Russ Lossing plus a live date with guitarist Marc Ducret, bassist Banz Oester and drummer Gerald Cleaver.  13 months after that latter Quartet recorded its initial CD, they got together at the Hnita Jazz Club in Belguim; the results can be heard on "As The Sea", released on the Hatology label.  The 4-part title suite ranges from the introspective opening section to the full-out blast on both "Part 2" and "Part 4" Ducret, who sounds like the legitimate child of Bill Frisell and Derek Bailey (with more than a passing nod to Uncle Jimi Hendrix), gets an amazing array of sounds out of his guitar and pedals.  On "Part 1", the Frisell influence can be heard on the somewhat twisted solo in the middle of the cut while "Part 2" is hard edged and angular picking, Ducret climbing aboard the supersonic rhythm section (Cleaver is downright forceful.)  Blaser follows the guitarist with a fiery solo that blends rapid single-note lines with the multi-phonic blasts (a la Albert Mangelsdorff.) He and Ducret weave their lines in and around each other (and the furious rhythm section) on "Part 3", blending blues and free-blowing to great effect. "Part 4" takes the suite out on a raucous note with all 4 musicians in a high-energy mode.  Pay attention to the excellent work of Oester - he's not just the "anchor" of the band but his counterpoint is quite creative.

"As The Sea" begins to build halfway through "Part 1" and becomes a mesmerizing roller-coaster ride.  Samuel Blaser and company have built this music from numerous nights of free improvisation, they know, respect and like each other and this music hits the listener with quite a pleasing punch.  For more information, go to www.samuelblaser.com.

The first time I listened to "Hudson City Suite", the latest recording from pianist/composer Scott Healy, the music blew me away.  Haven't changed my opinion in the 4+ months the CD has been in rotation but am not sure why this review has taken so long (the word "laziness" comes to mind.)  Healy, who worked in Conan O'Brien's "show" band when he started at NBC and his subsequent move to TBS, admits to being greatly influenced by Duke Ellington.  There are moments on the 9 tracks that make up the "..Suite" where one can notice that influence but what is even more noticeable is how good this music and this 11-member ensemble are.  Employing mostly Los Angeles-based musicians (with the exception of trumpeter Tim Hagans who plays on 3 tracks), the composer's "little Big Band" (formally known as the Scott Healy Ensemble) is comprised of 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, 3 saxophones, piano, bass and drums.  While the songs have well-constructed melodies and intelligent arrangements, the solos are uniformly fine.  Each time Hagans takes the spotlight, he produces a winning solo.  On the opening "Transfer", he rises majestically over the ensemble while on "Summit Avenue Conversation", he just lets loose over the solid rhythm section of pianist Healy, bassist Carlitos Del Puerto and drummer Bill Wysaske.  The cut also features impressive solos from tenor saxophonist Alex Budman and trombonist Andrew Lippman - but the best part might just be the coda that features the saxophone section blowing over the comping" brass.

All of these pieces, even the short "Interlude" (1:47) in the middle of the program, are fully realized and never cluttered.  The mysterious "Princess Tongora", with its lullaby-like opening, features artful drumming from Kendall Kay (he's worked with Rickie Lee Jones, Kenny Burrell, Alan Broadbent and many others).  His cymbal and snare work under Jeff Driskill's soprano sax solo is both delicate and musical and he really drives the piece as Healy's piano solo reaches its climax.  Wysaske displays his excellent brushwork on the bluesy "Gaslight", the muted trombone solo of Lippman over the clarinet of Tom Luer and bass clarinet of Doug Webb an added treat as is Hagan's smooth and swinging flugelhorn spot.  Webb moves to baritone saxophone for the sly and slinky "Koko On The Boulevard"; the song's descending melody line carrying all the way through the first half, whether the rhythm section is moving in 3/4's time or blowing in 4/4.  Webb gets to drive his solo over the sparkling brass and shifting rhythms from the bass and drums (there's a hint of Charles Mingus in the arrangement near the end of the baritone solo.)

Though it is tempting to talk about (and praise) every track on "Hudson City Suite" (issued on the pianist's Hudson City label), let me suggest you go find this gem wherever you can (iTunes. Amazon.com, emusic.com).  Yes, one can hear the influence of Duke Ellington on the melodies and arrangements of Scott Healy but there is so much more to be heard in the voicings, the counterpoint and the inventive manner in which the composer writes for the sections of his talented ensemble. Positively smashing music - for more information as well as a handsome video devoted to the recording, go to www.hudsoncityrecords.com.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Quintet X 2

Tenor saxophonist/composer Stan Killian, born in Texas and now residing in New York City, shows strong development on "Evoke", his second recording for Sunnyside. His own playing is measured, thoughtful yet with moments of true excitement. I like his melodic side where one can hear his saxophone "singing" but he can also get fired up during a solo (as is evident on the CD opener, "Subterranean Melody.")  These 7 pieces, written and arranged for a quintet featuring Mike Moreno (guitar), Benito Gonzalez (piano), Corcoran Holt (bass) and McClenty Hunter (drums) cover a lot of territory, from the quiet soul of the title piece to the joyous swing of "Kirby".

One can hear that this band spent serious time with this material, especially when you pay attention to how each musician works within the song.  Groups that have both piano and guitar don't always blend the 2 instruments as well as Killian does here. On the playful "Echolalic", Gonzalez plays smartly beneath Moreno's solo, alternating between chords and single-note runs to support the guitarist.  His own funky solo is a treat.  The exciting riff that opens "Observation" gives way to a finely structured piece that moves forward atop the excellent work of Holt and Hunter; the composer's sense of dynamic variation and the rhythm section's execution is impressive.  The straight-ahead swing of "Beekman33" is relaxed yet opens up to a fiery tenor solo, a bluesy guitar spotlight and a very playful piano groove.

Stan Killian was wise to bring his working band into the studio to record "Evoke."   Their understanding of the material and their relationship to the composer allows this music to breathe;  this is not just another "blowing session" where the 5 musicians can display their impressive chops but a well-tempered meeting of colleagues open to any and all ideas.  For more information, go to stankillian.com.

Here's some of the fine music on "Evoke", courtesy of Sunnyside:


Pianist Aruan Ortiz and bassist Michael Janisch first met as students at The Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.  The Cuban-born Ortiz has been a busy musician, touring the world and making a series of recordings that show his maturity as a composer and improviser,  Janisch, born in Wisconsin and now a resident of London, is not only an in-demand musician but also the head of Whirlwind Records which, in the first several years of existence has released a number of fine CDs from artists such as trombonist/vocalist Nick Vayenas, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, guitarist Phil Robson, saxophonist Patrick Cornelius and drummer Jeff Williams.  Ortiz and Janisch formed their Quintet in 2011 for a tour of Ireland, France, Spain and the United Kingdom culminating in "Banned In London" (Whirlwind Records) recorded in November of that year at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London. Besides the pianist and bassist, the Quintet includes French trumpeter Raynald Colom, American drummer Rudy Royston and special guest Greg Osby on alto saxophone.  The 5 tracks, all over 10 minutes long, include 2 originals by the pianist, 1 by the bassist and extended versions of Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" and Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now."  What is good about this intelligent recording is that the songs all have good melodies, not just riffs to blow over, and that the soloists have the time to explore different moods within their solos. For example, Osby leads off the Waller piece unaccompanied, an abstract expression of creativity that moves "inside" to lead the band in.  Royston's martial drumming, Ortiz's bluesy splashes and Janisch's strong counterpoint, all work well under Osby and Colom's reading of the recognizable melody.  The saxophonist builds his solo off both the melody and Ortiz's chords while the piano solo opens with rippling phrases leading to an extended solo rumination.  Listen to the active bass and drums beneath the solo;  they continually move the piece forward and push the pianist.

And, the true joy of this music is how the rhythm section reinvents itself during the course of these "long" songs. After the formal opening of "Orbiting" where all 5 of the musicians contribute to the theme (Royston, one of the best drummers on the planet at this time, really "moves this piece.)  Both Janisch and Royston can stop on a dime, can change direction and intensity in a flash so, as you listen to this music, hear what they do under the soloists. On this particular piece, they really fire up Colom as he flashes through his solo and then, as the applause dies down, they take it easy as Ortiz begins his long dissertation, pushing at the pianist as the solo moves forward until the music explodes.  Then, it's the drummer's turn and he does not disappoint. Yes, he's got the chops but there is such spirit in his playing.

"Banned In London" is filled with exciting musical moments, making one wish he was in the front row of the concert. Greg Osby is the perfect foil for the pianist's more abstract ideas, playing with fire and confidence throughout.  Raynald Colom is also a good foil in this band, his interactions with the rhythm section a excellent example of how give-and-take works in the concert setting.  I have already praised the woro of Rudy Royston - if you ever get a chance to hear him live, do not pass it up. To their credit, Aruan Ortiz and Michael Janisch have not re-invented creative post-bop music as much as reinvigorated it.  Play this CD good and loud; much joy can be had while the walls shake.  For more information, go to www.aomjquintet.com.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Young Composer Live and On CD

Joshua Kwassman is a native of Newington, CT, a graduate of the New School in New York City and an impressive young composer (24 years old).  He and his group are coming to The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown this Saturday (March 16) to celebrate the release of his debut recording, "Songs of the Brother Spirit" (Truth Revolution Records).  The CD, recorded in May and August of 2011, will surprise many jazz fans as it a very mature statement in that the performances revolve around the compositions and are not just vehicles for lengthy solos.   And, although there is a vocalist in the recording and in the group coming to Middletown, the song-stories that make up the program have no words. Kwassman cites Brian Blade's Fellowship Band as a big influence on his music and group philosophy and one can hear Blade's sound in the blend of guitar and piano, the open chords and the folk-like  melodies.

Joshua Kwassman, who plays alto and soprano saxophone, clarinets, flute, melodica and piano, recorded this program with his friends, most of whom have played this music many times. The rhythm section of Craig Akin (acoustic bass) and Rodrigo Recabarren (drums, percussion) are not just "time players" but add colors, help to create the dynamic variation and change of moods.  Israeli-born guitarist Gilad Hekelsman plays guitar on 6 of the 8 tracks with Jeff Miles (who is in the ensemble at The Buttonwood) on 1 track.  Angelo DiLoreto (4 tracks) splits the piano duty with Adam Kromelow (3 tracks) and it's Di Loreto who will be in the band on Saturday.  Arielle Feinman is the "voice" of Kwassman's music (she also contributes glockenspiel on the beautiful "Meditation", a piece for piano, voice and clarinet.  The composer created syllables for the vocalist (it's not gibberish yet does not sound like a familiar language.)  "The Nowhere Trail", the 3-part, 27 minute work that closes the CD, covers an impressive swath of musical territory.  "Part 1", the longest section at nearly 12 minutes, blends the exciting guitar work of Miles with the expressive voice, Di Loreto's forceful piano and Kwassman's active clarinet.   The music is a blend of contemporary jazz, progressive rock influences and Brazilian sounds.  "Part II" opens with a handsome acoustic guitar melody (Hekelsman) that has the influence of Ralph Towner.  When the ensemble enters, the music rises on the overdubbed guitars and Ms, Feinman's ethereal vocal.  The composer moves from clarinet to melodica in the background, offering a counterpoint to the melody line. "Part III" starts quietly but soon picks up in intensity, offering solo opportunities for the leader (on alto saxophone) followed by a section in which the voice, guitar, piano, and soprano saxophone blend their tones, slowly for each instrument to drop out save for the acoustic guitar and an introspective close.

Other highlights include the powerful "In Light There Is Song", another piece that picks up as it moves along only to stop in the middle for a rubato interlude then picks up again. The episodic nature of this material encourages the listener to attention yet songs such as "2/22" allow one to close his eyes and just let the sounds wash over.  Opening with atmospheric electric guitar, the voice enters then the composer on piano and the trio presents the melody in such a gentle manner.

"Songs of the Brother Spirit" is quite a mature debut for composer and multi-instrumentalist Joshua Kwassman. One can tell he poured his heart and soul into this music, songs that are moving, honest and filled with sparkling moments.  For more information about the composer/musician, go to www.joshuskwassman.com. To reserve a seat for Saturday's performance, go to www.buttonwood.org.

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 firehouse12.com or calling 203-785-0468.  Read more about Mr. Haynes and his music by going to stephenhaynes.blogspot.com.


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 www.jaleelshaw.com.

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 www.johnclaytonjazz.com.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Winter Afternoon Reverie

Several years ago, I read that soprano Dawn Upshaw has commissioned composer/band leader Maria Schneider to write new pieces for her.  The 2 suites, "Winter Morning Walks" and "Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories", are written for voice and chamber orchestra with the first work also featuring bassist Jay Anderson, pianist Frank Kimbrough and Scott Robinson (alto clarinet, bass clarinet.) The works were debuted in 2008 and, in 2011, Ms. Schneider launched an ArtistShare campaign to commit the pieces to record.

For those who participated in the campaign, the recording, also titled "Winter Morning Walks", arrived this week.  If you are familiar with the music Ms Schneider creates for her orchestra, this is quite a different experience. Not just because this music for voice or that the majority of the musicians come from either the Australian Chamber Orchestra or the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; no, the 14 tracks are fairly compact (only 2 clock in at over 6 minutes and there are 2 under 2 minutes.)  The title suite features 9 poems from Ted Kooser (born 1939 in Ames, Iowa, he now lives in Nebraska) written in 1998-99 as the poet was recovering from cancer surgery and the subsequent radiation treatments.  The poems Ms.Schneider selected do not deal with illness or recovery but with living and love.  The 4 poems that make up the second suite come from the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-87) - there is also a "Prologue" on which Ms. Upshaw supplies the wordless vocal.  The vocalist, whose career has been put on hold twice in the last 7 years as she, too, recovered from cancer surgery, is in wonderful voice throughout.

This is a not a review but I felt the need to write about the recording in the aftermath of having to cancel classes today as our state was hit with 12 inches of snow.  I found the time to sit and absorb the music and then, as I surfed the web later in the day, came across an October 2012 interview (audio and video) from Minnesota Public Radio. Taped as Ms. Schneider was in Minnesota recording the "...de Andrade Stories", the (nearly) 60 minutes she spends with interviewer Daniel Gilliam is filled with talk of birds, composing, her influences, the new music for the recording, ArtistShare and much more.  It's quite delightful - see and hear the conversation by going to ht.ly/ix1RP.  To find out more about Maria Schneider and her wonderful and wonder-filled music, go to www.mariaschneider.com.

Here are 2 poems, one each from Ted Kooser and Carlos Drummond de Andrade:


Spring, the Sky Rippled with Geese
Spring, the sky rippled with geese,
but the green comes on slowly,
timed to the ticking of downspouts.
The pond, still numb from months
of ice, reflects just one enthusiast
this morning, a budding maple
whose every twig is strung with beads
of carved cinnabar, bittersweet red.
(Ted Kooser, from "Winter Morning Walks: 100 Postcards to Jim Harrison", Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2001)
Quadrille
John loved Teresa who loved Raymond
who loved Mary who loved Jack who loved Lily
who didn’t love anybody.
John went to the United States, Teresa to a convent,
Raymond died in an accident, Mary became an old maid,
Jack committed suicide and Lily married J. Pinto Fernandez
who didn’t figure into the story.


(Carlos Drummond de Andrade, translated by Mark Strand, from "Looking For Poetry: Poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Rafael Alberti and Songs from the Quechua" Knopf Publishing, 2002

Thursday, March 7, 2013

More Pianos and A Touch of Classy Saxophone

After listening several times to the fine new recording from pianist Aaron Diehl, "The Bespoke Man's Narrative" (Mack Avenue), I realized how much this project reminds me of the work of the late composer/pianist John Lewis (1920-2001).  Lewis, perhaps best known as the founder of the Modern Jazz Quartet, had a long and illustrious career.  He wrote and performed with Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band in the 1940s and recorded with Miles Davis on "The Birth of the Cool." He played "Third-Stream" music with Gunther Schuller, helped to form the American Jazz Orchestra in 1985 and taught students through most of his adult life.

The instrumentation of Diehl's group mirrors that of the MJQ with Warren Wolf (vibraphone on 7 of the 10 tracks) and the highly-interactive rhythm section of David Wong (bass) and Rodney Green (drums).  The material is a blend of originals, standards and a trio arrangement of the "Forlane" or "3rd" section of Maurice Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin."  That final piece is the longest on the CD, nearly 11 minutes, and is a tour-de-force, especially the interaction of the piano, bass and drums.  The trio also offers a stately version of George Gershwin's "Bess, You Is My Woman Now"; the blend of Diehl's articulate piano lines and Wong's bowed bass atop the strong brush and cymbal work of Green is dynamically charged and so arresting. There is a sparkling quartet performance of "Moonlight in Vermont", with Wong's bass leading the way once more in the "intro" and chorus sections.   To heighten the comparison with the MJQ, there's a bluesy romp through Milt Jackson's "The Cylinder" (Jackson was the vibraphonist in that band, though this piece was not part of its repertoire.)

The young pianist (26 at the time of this recording) offers a splendid solo version of Duke Ellington's "Single Petal of a Rose" (from "The Queen's Suite".)  The dynamic variation, the intelligent use of silence in the verses, and the stunning, rippling, piano lines in the bridge of the song can put the listener in a reverie.

Among the original works are the playful "Stop and Go" (replete with abrupt changes of tempo), the driving "Generation Y" (the rhythm section work is exemplary) and the sweet ballad "Blue Nude."  On that last track, Wolf's sustained notes ring out over the piano, bass and drums. Diehl's elegant comping and stately solo, Green's "conversational" drums work and Wong's "walking" bass lines are as sweet as they are subtle.  "Prologue" and "Epilogue" (logically) open and close the program, first setting up the dynamics between the players and then serving to sum up the proceedings.  The bluesy and playful quality of the final track makes one want to go right back to the beginning.

"The Bespoke Man's Narrative" looks good, sounds good and is good.  Aaron Diehl, who has won a number of awards, could have made this recording all about his magnificent technique; instead, this is a definitely a "group" recording with all the musicians having their say in the success of this musical effort. I did not read the "press packet" until after I wrote the first draft of the review but the interview with the pianist mentions his connections to John Lewis, Ahmad Jamal, Kenny Kirkland and others. One can certainly hear those connections but one also hears a fresh, young and creative musician at work and play, adding his "voice" to the continuum of the tradition.  For more information, go to www.aarondiehl.com.


Although "Fun House" (Songlines Recordings) carries the by-line of the Benoît Delbecq and Fred Hersch Double Trio, one can and should view this fine program as a sextet date.  Yes, there are 2 rhythm sections - Steve Argüelles (drums, live electronics) and Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass) +  Mark Helias (bass) and Gerry Hemingway (drums) - but this is neither a "blowing" or "cutting" session.  Don't expect classy or clever re-arrangements of standards; Delbecq is the producer, he composed or co-composed all the material save for Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" that closes the session and it's his vision that sets the pace.That's not to intimate that Hersch is either a bystander or session player. The arrangement is such that one can not tell who is playing what at any given time (save for the instances of Argüelles' electronics.   So, toss away those expectations, relax and dig into this program.  

These pieces are more than songs, more than melodies - they are "creative conversations", musical
interactions that blur the lines between compositions and improvisations so one should not listen for particular solos but how the music moves - literally - flows from beginning to end.  One can concentrate on the bass counterpoint alongside the pianos in 'Ronchamp" and the blues-drenched piano intro to  "Fun House" that opens to a piece that seems like a meditation on the music of George Gershwin (but 
don't miss the playful percussion or the 2 bassists conversing after the halfway point.)

That's the approach to take with this CD. Let it play through, then go back, if you like, to concentrate on how Delbecq and Hersch interact or the interplay of the bassists or how both percussionists take different but complementary approaches to their contributions.  Remember that musicians "play" as they create and it's that sense of "playing" that inhabits "Fun House" - there are many serious moments but no angst, no over-wrought emotions.  For more information, go to www.songlines.com and search for this CD on the "Catalogue" page - release date is March 12, 2013 but it is already available on iTunes, Amazon.com and emusic.com.


Saxophonist Eric Alexander is a musician who has, to my ears, has absorbed a myriad of influences and truly found his own sound.  Critics may point to his slew of recordings as a leader (34 in 21 years) or his work in One For All (17 CDs in 16 years) and say he rarely steps outside his comfort zone - I say "so what?"  If you pay close attention to his playing, his choice of material and the arrangements, what stands out is his consistency and lack of cliche (not easy for a tenor saxophonist playing "mainstream" jazz.

"Touching" (HighNote Records) is CD #35 and features his long-time associates John Webber (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums) and the irrepressible Harold Mabern on piano (who never allows this music to become maudlin or predictable.) The program, all ballads per request of Executive Producer Joe Fields, ranges from works by Michel LeGrand to John Coltrane to the r'n'b classic "Oh Girl."  Typical to their personal traditions, Alexander and Mabern (who first encountered the saxophonist as a student over 2 decades ago), the material and arrangements are anything but staid. "Central Park West", the beautiful Coltrane melody, has a pleasing "soul music" feel (although the bass solo seems out of place) and Alexander truly digs into his solo. "I'm Glad There is You" is from the pen of Jimmy Dorsey has been recorded by a slew of artists.  After a long reading of the theme, Mabern steps out over Farnsworth's classy brush work and delivers a joyful and playful solo.  Alexander's solo is also playful but really builds off the melody.  "Gone Too Soon", first recorded by Dionne Warwick in 1983 and made even more popular by Michael Jackson in 1991 (the song appears on the "Dangerous" album), is a lovely piece; Alexander finds the emotional heart of the piece and plays without over-sentimentalizing the music.

One of the highlights of the recording is the piano/saxophone duet on "Dinner for One Please James", a piece long associated with Nat "King" Cole.  Mabern's stride-like piano backing is the perfect accompaniment for the saxophonist's handsome and, yes, playful romp through the verses.

Recorded by legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder in his classic New Jersey studios, "Touching" has much to recommend it to the fan of good music (although the mix tends to be obscure Webber's bass lines in the favor of Farnsworth's drums and cymbals.)  Messrs. Alexander and Mabern make these songs come alive by respecting the melody and injecting their improvisatory spirit.  For a taste of this music, go to soundcloud.com/highnote-savant-records/.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

March Lions and Lambs (on record and on-stage)

New York Voices - Kim Nazarian, Lauren Kinhan, Damon Meader and Peter Eldridge - celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Over the past quarter-century, the quartet has toured the world playing with big bands, orchestras and small combos and conducting vocal workshops.  They've only released 1 CD in the 21st Century while pursuing individual careers but, when they come together, magic occurs. Give a listen to "Live With the WDR Big Band Cologne" (Palmetto Records), a 76 minute live concert recorded in May of 2008, and you'll be impressed by NYV's range. Also impressive are the excellent arrangements, courtesy of Michael Abene, and the splendid musicians who appear on all but 1 of the 10 tracks (the Voices do a wonderful a cappella take of "Almost Like Being In Love.")

The repertoire ranges from 2 pieces from the pen of Paul Simon, several "standards", 2 originals and 1 piece from Annie Lennox. The program opens with a bluesy take of Simon's "Baby Driver", complete with distorted guitar (Paul Shigihara) and a rousing lead vocal from Eldridge. Though the lyrics are a touch "space-y", every one swings the heck out of the piece.Following that is a sweet take on Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" (lyrics by Mark Murphy) with the Voices blending and several fine solos (trombonist Ludwig Nuss and alto saxophonist Heiner Wiberny).  Ms. Nazarian leads the Voices and the Band through a high-powered reading of "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning", the highlight of the first half is an exciting tenor solo from Paul Heller; then, the piece slows down for the Voices to caress the melody and harmonies. Swing reappears on a rousing reading of Jimmy Van Heusen's "Darn That Dream".  After Eldridge's take on the lyrics, there are 3 strong solos including a hearty "scat" from Meader.  The CD closes in a Latin vein with a long, high-powered, romp through "The Sultan Fainted" (an Eldridge-Meader original), complete with fiery solos from Olivier Peters on EWI, Meader scatting once more, and Frank Chastenier on acoustic piano, followed by a solo exchange featuring Hans Dekker on drums and percussionist Pernell Saturnio.

The way the New York Voices work together is mighty impressive, weaving their individual voices in and out of the mix, never sounding phony or academic.  Abene's arrangements work seamlessly alongside the vocals and the 18-member WDR Cologne execute his charts with aplomb.  Recorded in 2008 (during NYV's 20th anniversary), this music is both timeless and fun.  For more information and to have a listen, go to www.palmetto-records.com/album.php?album=191.

The Uncertainty Music Series continues this Saturday (March 9) with a bassists double-bill at 8 p.m. in Never Ending Books, 810 State Street in New Haven. Opening the show will be UMS curator Carl Testa who will play a solo set (acoustic bass and electronics) - following him will be the Shayna Dulberger Quartet.  Ms. Dulberger, bassist and composer, has worked with fellow bassist William Parker's Large Ensemble, with percussionist Warren Smith, tubist Joe Daley and others.  She has led and recorded with the Kill Me Trio while this ensemble features her music played by guitarist Chris Welcome, saxophonist Yoni Kretzmer and drummer Carlo Costa.  To find more about her music, go to www.shaynadulberger.com.  To find out more about this show and upcoming concerts, go to uncertaintymusic.com.




Sunday, March 3, 2013

March Lions and Lambs (Part 1)

Drummer/composer Ches Smith can be heard in many different settings as a sideman, adding his "guerrilla percussion" to ensembles led by Tim Berne, Marc Ribot and Mary Halvorson.  As a leader, he's involved in a number of projects.  His band, These Arches, has just issued its 2nd CD, "Hammered" (Clean Feed Records) - composed of Smith, Andrea Parkins (accordion, electronics), Ms. Halvorson (electric guitar) plus the saxophones of Tony Malaby (tenor) and Tim Berne (alto), the quintet creates music that is adventurous, built on collective improvisation, and filled with many twists and turns.  The forward motion is relentless on the opening 2 tracks, "Frisner" and "Wilson Phillip".  The former opens with what sounds like the band "stretching" until they drop into a rollicking groove.  Malaby and Berne spar over the hard-edged drums while Ms. Parkins electronics grumble and Ms. Halvorson's guitar ripples, growls and scratches.  The second track might be dedicated to the original drummer of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Phillip Wilson - Malaby holds down the bottom along with the guitarist while Berne spills out the melody.  There's a frantic musical conversation of guitar, alto and drums before a return to the theme and then the tenor saxophonist gets the spotlight to wail, screech and roil over the rest of the band.

What's so much fun about this music is its crazy blend of melody and chaos. The title track lives up to its name with Smith's steamroller drums driving the quintet through a piece that blends the sounds of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band with Ornette Coleman's Prime Time. The short ballad track, "Limitations", is a rubato piece filled with melodic fragments, loud and soft noises, the drummer on what could be a glockenspiel. The playful "This Might Be a Fade Out" starts as frenetic noise before dropping into a rocking groove and catchy melody for a short time, then a drum solo, then noise, back and forth through numerous changes and moods.

Ches Smith & These Arches will surprise you with inventiveness, catch you off-guard with spontaneous changes of direction, and please you because these musicians hold no allegiances except to each other (no commercial sell-outs they!) So, get (purchase) "Hammered" for a real good new-fashioned romp.  For more information, go to chessmith.com. CT readers, be aware that Ches Smith brings this band to New Haven on June 14, 2013, as the final show in the Firehouse 12 Spring 2013 Concerts series - go to firehouse12.com for ticket information.

As I write this review, pianist Dick Hyman is several days away from his 86th birthday (born March 8, 1927). With a career that has now entered its 7th decade, Mr. Hyman has composed film scores and orchestral compositions, toured as a solo artist and recorded well over 100 albums. Vocalist Heather Masse, born in Maine and trained at the New England Conservatory of Music, first came to public acclaim as a member of The Wailin' Jennys, a fine acoustic folk trio.  Her 2009 Red House Records debut, "Bird Song", showed that the young lady also had some fine jazz "chops."

"Lock My Heart" (Red House Records) is the result of Ms. Masse and Mr. Hyman being paired by Garrison Keillor for his "Prairie Home Companion" weekly radio show. This "match made in Lake Woebegon" is an absolute treat as the blend of voice and piano with songs that range from Broadway to rhythm 'n' blues to jazz standards to a pair of fine originals by Ms. Masse.  Among the highlights is the bluesy take on Buddy Johnson's "Since I Fell For You".  While the vocal is emotionally rich, the pianist moves from simple yet sweet accompaniment to a verse with "doo-wop" inspired triplets. That seems to kick the temperature several degrees and Ms. Masse really digs into the vocal. There is a smart pairing of 2 pieces by the team of Maxwell Anderson (lyrics) and Kurt Weill (music).  "September Song" has a lovely vocal that Mr. Hyman supports ever-so-melodically (and dramatically) before taking a short solo.  The second track, "Lost In The Stars", has more dramatic piano and an understated yet handsome vocal.

Of the 2 originals, "If I Called You" is a most lovely ballad.  In the beginning, the sparse piano work is the perfect accompaniment for the emotion in the vocal. There's a touch of "country music" in the vocal and the shimmering piano lines.  The blues creeps right into "Morning Drinker" but it's a playful piece about the intoxication that sleep and love-making can bring.

Mr. Hyman's blues-drenched piano riffs leads into a sweet reading of "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" (composed by Duke Ellington with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster) and this blues, also about love, allows the pianist to shine as he caresses the vocal lines.   The duo turns to Billy Strayhorn for his "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing", a Debussy-inspired piece written for the Ellington Orchestra.  Ms. Masse embraces the lyrics, her voice gentle with an intimate huskiness that comes out now and again.

The program closes with a rollicking run-through of "I'm Gonna Lock My Heart (And Throw Away the Key)", a piece that Jimmy Eaton and Terry Shand composed and that Billie Holiday had a hit with. Ms. Masse "gooses" up her voice, in a "Betty Boop" fashion while Mr. Hyman strides delightfully through the choruses.  It's a fanciful and fun finish to a classy recording.

Heather Masse and Dick Hyman sound as if they've been partners for decades (Ms. Masse first encountered the pianist through his book "Dick Hyman's Professional Chord Changes and Substitutions for 100 Tunes Every Musician Should Know").  "Lock My Heart" is wonderful music to wake up to and to help ease the strain of a busy day - you really ought to let this fine collection into your life. For more information, go to www.redhouserecords.com.