Friday, June 28, 2013

3-2-1 Piano

In jazz, when friends get together to play, the results are often quite relaxed yet fun for the avid listener.  "River Edge, New Jersey" (Azica Records) is the work...well, play, of the Bill Cunliffe Trio featuring pianist/composer Cunliffe with bassist Martin Wind and drummer Tim Horner. The pianist has known and worked with the rhythm section on numerous occasion in different settings since the 1990s.  One listen to this CD, recorded in 2011 in Manfred Knoop's studio, located in the city that lends its name to the recording's title, and you can hear friends having great fun.

Cunliffe, who first came to notice as a pianist and arranger with the Buddy Rich Band before going on to play with Frank Sinatra, Freddie Hubbard and James Moody, is a facile pianist with an unerring penchant for melodies as well as being a rhythmical soloist.  The program opens in a funky mood, with Horner and Wind leading the pianist into "Sweet Andy" - the result is an infectious jaunty romp. There are moments throughout the CD where Cunliffe rides atop the forward motion of the rhythm section.  Harry Nilsson's "One (Is The Loneliest Number" is another powerful tune, taking its cue from the Three Dog Night version.  The pianist's two-handed attack is quite appealing. "All Is Full of Love", composed by Bjork for her 1999 "Homogenic" album, is a sweet ballad while Cunliffe's "For Wanda" has a more emotional feel, starting slowly and picking up in intensity (the melody is played by both bass and piano).

The 2 Brazilian numbers, the well-known "..Girl From Ipanema" and the pianist's own work, "Choro"(from "Nostalgia in Corcovado"), show the versatility of the Trio.  The former moves away from the (expected) bossa nova rhythm into a more "open" feel in both the piano work and how the drummer controls the song.  The latter is reprised from a 2009 recording that bears the name of the suite and was recorded with a sextet Cunliffe dubbed "Trimotif."  It has a dizzying melody line and sprightly rhythms.

On the surface, "River Edge, New Jersey" may look like a typical piano trio recording but the spirited play of Bill Cunliffe, Martin Wind and Tim Horner lift this music far above the mundane.  If I have one criticism, it's that there is a bass solo in just about every tune.  The upside of that comment is Wind is such a melodic player, he acquits himself admirably throughout.   Pour a glass of rose or pink lemonade, sit back and enjoy the ride.  For more information, go to

George Shearing (1919-2011) had a long and illustrious career, culminating in a Knighthood in 2007.  The native of the Battersea area of London, England, moved to the United States in 1947 and went to record dozens of Lps and CDs, performing for Presidents, receiving numerous awards and honorariums,  and winning several GRAMMYs.

In 1982, the pianist joined forces Canadian-born bassist Don Thompson and they worked together for nearly 6 years. In January of the following year, the duo had a 6-week residency in a New York City club.  Shearing lived in the City and his apartment had a lovely grand piano;  he and Thompson would play in the afternoons before gigs.  The bassist suggested they record their sessions - the result, 30+ years in the making, is "George Shearing At Home" (Proper Note/Jazzknight Records).  Shearing always had wonderful technical skills but was also known for the intimacy of his ballad work.  In the comfort of his own living room, the pianist had no reason to hurry, no one to please but himself, making this CD a welcome addition to his large discography.

The bulk of the material is standards but there are also an abundance of surprises.  The bassist contributed "Ghoti", an uptempo blues that Shearing frolics through as he does on the duo reading of Charlie Parker's "Confirmation." They are also in complete sync on "Subconscious Lee" and take a pleasant jaunt through the traditional Scottish tune, "The Skye Boat Song." But, it is the ballads that takes one's breath away. The solo reading of "I Cover The Waterfront", the Johnny Green composition from 1933, is stunning, emotional, with bows to DeBussy and "Over The Rainbow." Shearing also goes it alone on "Laura", a song he probably performed dozens of times.  Here, he caresses the melody, taking his time to both enjoy its lyrical nature and the colors he spontaneously contributes.  The CD closes with "Beautiful Love", a song from 1931 that Thompson says in the liner notes, "I never heard him play it before and he never played it again."  The performance is, in a word, stunning.

"George Shearing At Home" is not just for completists; in fact, this lovely disk can serve to introduce the pianist to a whole new generation.  George Shearing and Don Thompson, in the privacy of the pianist's living room, struck gold - 30 years later, we are the lucky beneficiaries.  No website to send you to for more information but you can check out the tracks at

When one stops to think about solo piano music, especially as it relates to Black American Music and its international off-shoots, there are recordings you can listen to with a crowd of people (think Art Tatum, Meade Lux Lewis and Art Hodes) and others made for late at night by yourself.  In the 1970s, Keith Jarrett began a series of solo piano recordings that set the standard (so to speak) for the late night crowd, introspective music that often included rolling rhythms but mostly stuck to slower tempi.

Born in Finland (where he still resides), Esa Helasvuo first studied classical music; it was his older brother who turned his attention to American music.  By the age of 10, he has his own jazz trio and, by the early 1960s, he was playing interpretations of works by Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum. After high school, he did his compulsory military service and, at the end of that decade, was working as a dramaturg for the theatrical department of the Finnish Broadcasting Company, a gig that came him the opportunity to write and arrange music for productions. His influences changed, shifting to the afore-mentioned Jarrett and, surprise, Frank Zappa. In 1975, he joined the faculty of the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki where he stayed until his retirement in 2008. Along the way, he composed and performed music in a variety of ensembles, from small-group to chamber orchestra to arranging music for vocalists. Hevasulo also made numerous recordings, especially solo piano CDs but few, if any, are available in the United States (none on iTunes or in the catalog.)

"Stella Nova" (TUM Records) leans more to the Keith Jarrett style of solo piano.  The majority of the 10 tracks are improvisations, several of which include themes that Hevasvuo has used in other pieces plus one composition by Finnish guitarist and composer of tangos, Unto Mononen (1930-1968). The program commences with the lovely "To Feel You Us To Love You"; to his credit (and our interest), this work is really a long melodic line. Thee is a darker shade can be heard to the title track, a long (9:14) improvisation that, in its opening few minutes, uses plenty of silence to set off the dramatic melody.  When Hevasvuo drops into a rhythm, the music has the feel of an Indian raga as well as one of Jarrett's pieces that emphasizes the trance-like left hand.  He follows that forceful work with the dream-like "Intimacy", its soft melodic lines suggesting a ballad sung by Sarah Vaughan or Billie Holiday yet also displays a classical side. The Mononen work, "Satumaa", has a handsome melody that Hevasuvo improvises upon without losing the emotional quality of the opening theme.  The final track, "Blues Addiction", a lovely and loving coda to the program, a wistful recollection of the pianist's many years of listening, composing and playing.

TUM Records is doing a fine job of exposing Finnish improvising musicians to the international scene (not to forget the great releases by Billy Bang, Wadada Leo Smith, the splendid new CD by Barry Altschul and others).  Listeners who enjoy internal monologues translated to piano should take the time to investigate "Stella Nova" and Esa Hevasvuo.  For more information, go to

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Questions for JP Schlegelmilch

Several months ago, I had the joy to review "Throughout", the new solo piano recording from J.P. Schlegelmlch (pictured left).  The pianist arranged 10 pieces composed by Bill Frisell, helping listeners realize several aspects of the guitarist's music, i.e. 1) - his piece have a bit more complexity than meets the ear and 2) - one can hear numerous influences in the music.

As for the interpreter, Schlegelmilch is a busy musician, working with several ensembles including Old Time Musketry, Two of Anything, Minerva, and NOOK.

JP took the time to answer questions that I posited and those answers are what follow. My thanks to him.

Personal musical history: I started playing classical piano at age six and began exploring jazz, rock, and improvisation in high school. Since then I've been trying to connect the dots between these formative musical experiences, working towards an aesthetic that embraces all of them. I would say that "Throughout" is more of a "jazz" album than my other recent projects. 

Accordion in your arsenal: When I moved to Brooklyn I started hearing the accordion in all kinds of contexts from experimental improvisors like Andrea Parkins and Ted Reichman to traditional virtuosos like Slavic Soul Party's Peter Stan. There is also a big interest in Balkan folk music among the Brooklyn jazz community which can be heard in the work of musicians like Chris Speed.  I used to play saxophone and sometimes I miss playing a wind instrument, so in some ways the accordion helps me get closer to that. I think the accordion has so many possibilities and I'm just starting to scratch the surface in my approach to the instrument. 

Discovering Bill Frisell: The first Frisell music I heard was the "Live" album of his trio with Joey Baron and Kermit Driscoll. I had just started school at Berklee and had very little knowledge of modern jazz, my listening was still focused on the 50's and 60's. Hearing the total freedom that Frisell's trio had in terms of moving between different musical styles blew my mind. It had the energy of rock music, great melodies, exciting group interplay, and weird electronic sounds. All of this spoke to me on a deep level. Later, as I discovered more of Frisell's work, particularly the studio album "This Land", I gained even more respect and admiration for him as a composer, his unique voice as a guitarist, and his choices in putting together ensembles. 

The new CD: I recorded the music on "Throughout" in two sessions during December 2011 and March 2012. Before that I played a handful of solo piano shows focusing on this material, which were the first solo performances I had ever done. 

Live "Throughout": I played a CD release concert in March at Cornelia St Cafe in New York where I performed most of the music on the album. I think I will continue to keep some of these pieces in my repertoire when playing solo while also branching out into new material. 

(Link to video of "Hangdog" from Cornelia St concert)

More of this type of exploration: I don't have any other repertoire projects planned at the moment, I'm going to be focusing more on my own compositions. My next solo project will involve combining acoustic piano with electronic sounds using a keyboard, effects, and a sampler. 

To find out more and hear selections from the CD , go to

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Some Like It Hot

In 2011, drummer/composer Jeff Williams introduced the world to his new Quartet - John O'Gallagher (alto saxophone), Duane Eubanks (trumpet) and John Hébert - via his first recording as a leader in 16 years.  The CD, "Another Time" (Whirlwind Recordings), displayed an ensemble comfortable with each other, willing to stretch and take chances with the music. The instrumentation suggests the classic Ornette Coleman lineup from his Atlantic Records days; several of the pieces have that pleasing blend of blues, folk and post-bop influences that made Coleman's music so attractive.

Following the release of the CD, Williams did a short tour of the UK, recording the second show of the tour at The Vortex in London.  "The Listener" (Whirlwind Recordings) features a sharp package with the cover photos by the drummer and the same lineup as the previous album. The live format gives the band the opportunity to expand upon several the pieces from its debut CD, add some new tunes and throw in a standard.  The musicians are in fine form, especially Hébert, whose nimble fingers enliven every track. His long introduction to "Lament" is slow yet rhythmical, trance-like yet continually moving forward.  The bassist them plays the melody with the saxophone.  He supplies the bottom on "The Fez" so that Williams can dance along beneath O'Gallagher's lively solo. His sprightly "walking" lines are an excellent counterpoint to Eubank's fine solo on "Beer and Water", the track that opens the program. The trumpeter, a member of the musical Eubanks of Philadelphia (his brothers Robin and Kevin), does not get as much press as his siblings yet makes his presence felt throughout this CD with his razor-sharp phrases and clear tones.  His unaccompanied introduction to the Sammy Cahn/Hy Zaret/Sal Chaplin chestnut "Dedicated to You" is tender and emotionally rich, one of the high points of the CD.  He continues as the bass and drums enter quietly.  The feel of the piece gets quite "bluesy" staying that way as O'Gallagher enters 2/3rds of the way through. His fleet phrases push the rhythm section to drive a bit harder.  The alto player plays a "sweet' duet with Williams in the midst of "She Can't Be A Spy", moving on to joust with Hébert when he joins in.  

Get the idea?  "The Listener" is filled with long stretches of rewarding moments, from the interplay of a snappy rhythm to heartfelt ballads. Jeff Williams supplies the majority of the tunes and the heartbeat that makes this program shine.  The band, plus guitarist Phil Robson, plays a "CD Release Party" on Saturday July 6 at Smalls Jazz Club, 183 West 10th Street in New York City - for more information, go to  To find out more about Jeff Williams and his lengthy career, go to  

Tenor saxophonist/composer Matt Parker moved to New York City in 1999 from his native Florida to attend the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music; he's been there ever since.  He's worked and recorded with the late Maynard Ferguson, plays with the Candy Shop Boys, co-leads the 2s & 4s, and appeared on drummer/composer Reggie Quinerly's delightful debut recording, "Music Inspired by Freedmantown."

"Worlds Put Together" (BYNK Records) is his debut as a leader.  Quinerly and bassist/co-producer Alan Hampton make up the rhythm section joined by guitarist Josh Mease (on 7 of the 11 cuts), pianist Jesse Elder (8 of the 11 cuts) and alto saxophonist Julio Monterrey (also 8 of the 11 tracks). The CD opens with the edgy "Eye of Rico" - first the saxes blurt out the opening lines and then it goes directly into Elder's quiet solo piano reverie.  The saxophonists return atop a churning rhythm stepping aside once again, this time for Mease's electric guitar.  Surprisingly, there are no saxophone solos.  Parker takes center stage for the short ballad (1:31) "I Can't Help It." Hampton's mournful arco bass leads the saxophonists into "Lists", another ballad that, this time, suggests the influence of Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy."  "WPT" opens with a  funky sax line accompanying the tap dancing of Jimmy "Taps" Sutherland.  When the band returns, the piece moves into a faster tempo and goes on in raucous until the end.

4 tracks, 4 different approaches and that carries on for the remainder of the program.  Parker has a "big" sound, somewhat like Lenny Pickett of Tower of Power and SNL fame. He does not embrace a ballad as much as steamroll his way through (with the exception of "Darn That Dream", a piece for 2 saxophones though even that track has its fiery sections).  He and Monterrey blend their voices in "free" fashion on "Alien Baby", both rearing back and letting the notes fly.  Elder is the voice of sweetness in the midst of the storm, serving to cool off the steaming saxes.  The longest track (10:32) "Full Sun" starts slowly but soon picks up in intensity. The counterpoint of the trilling piano lines, circular guitar phrases and the quavering saxophone sections open to a short melody line but the piece does not really let loose until the half-way point when Monterrey steps out for an impressive solo.  Parker follows, lowering then raising the intensity bar as he prods the rhythm section to hit hard.

By the time the CD reaches the children-and-adults choir that "hams it up" through the simple, Nino Rota-like melody of "Zeynep's Piano", the listener is either laughing with glee or staring at the speakers puzzled by this eclectic program.  I say "Roll With It" - Matt Parker put his heart and soul into this project, revealing an original voice and surprising even himself with the ferocity of his playing. "Worlds Put Together" is an introduction that deserves your attention.  For more information, go to  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

"..the furious infinite"

Over the course of 2+ decades, alto saxophonist/composer David Binney has issued 18 CDs as a leader or co-leader. 5 of them have been released by the Dutch Criss Cross label.  Those of you familiar with label head Gerry Teekens and his methods (basically, "here's the studio, you've got one day" - other than that, hands-off) know that he has eclectic taste. For Binney, who is a most "prepared" musician, the producer's attitude gives him a lot of freedom.  Yet, compared to other recordings on the label, Binney rarely, if ever, makes a pure "blowing" session - his Criss Cross CDs sound as smartly constructed as the ones released on his own Mythology label (or, for that fact, any label he has released albums on.)

"Lifted Land", Binney's 19th CD and 6th for Criss Cross as a leader), takes its name from the book "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" and several of the song titles refer back to the book.  Featuring pianist Craig Taborn, bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Tyshawn Sorey (his first "date" with Binney as leader - they recorded together on pianist John Escreet's PosiTone release), the music stretches in many directions, an often stunning combination of composition and improvisation.  Sorey brings a different feel to the rhythm section than Dan Weiss, Binney's most "regular" drummer over the past 6 years - he can swing with great intensity yet uses space and silence in very creative ways.  On "As Snow Before a Summer Sun" (at 18:34, the longest work Binney has even put on record), Sorey's solo is a minimal masterpiece, built from tolling gongs, quiet cymbal splashes, and hand percussion.  The piece moves from short statements of the theme to unaccompanied solos to reveal one of Binney's most moving melodies and on to a striking alto sax improvisation over a slowly rising intensity from the rhythm section.

The other long track (11:54) is "The Blue Whale" - built off an unaccompanied bass solo, the music features a long and luxurious melody section that opens to a long, fiery, alto solo (Binney can really move from flowing phrases to incendiary "blowing" in a heartbeat) with Taborn and Sorey providing the kindling as Opsvik holds the piece together.  Taborn's solo has an intensity akin to one of the late Don Pullen's incredible two-fisted piano journeys. Late in the piece, he and Sorey lock into a groove that gives way to the drummer's propulsive solo beneath the alto-piano reiteration of the theme.

It is tempting to write about all 8 pieces but, just as David Binney's vision for the recording was a journey of discovery, it should be the same for the avid listener. The song titles, such as "Curious About Texas" and "Losing The Central Valley", speak to the composer's inquisitive nature about the world (the latter song referring to environmental issues in the state where Florida-native Binney grew up.)  Listen to the splendid melodies, to how the musicians interact as the music allows the room to "converse", to the power of the improvisations as well as to the power of the "quiet."  Every piece, from the joyous minimalism of "Fanfare For Basu" that opens the program to "Red Cloud", Craig Taborn's unaccompanied solo composition at the close of the CD, has its rewards that reverberate in one's mind for hours.  David Binney continues to create music that is mature, riveting, and generous. Simply put, "Lifted Land" is excellent music, worthy of your attention. For more information, go to

First came across alto saxophonist/composer John O'Gallagher when he released 3 CDs for the CIMP label between 2003-06.  He had been featured on several recordings before the first CIMP ("Axiom", featuring Tony Malaby, John Hebert and Jeff William) but this was his initial attempts as a leader.  Since then, recordings have appeared on Fresh Sounds New Talent and Red Piano Records.   He continues to work with bassist Hebert and drummer Williams in the latter's quartet as well as working with bandleader/composer Asuka Kakitani, pianist Frank Carlberg and drummer Owen Howard.

His new CD, "The Anton Webern Project" appears on bassist Michael Janisch's Whirlwind Records.  O'Gallagher has been attracted to Webern's music since his undergraduate days at The Berklee School. The Austrian composer (1883-1945) was a student of Arnold Schoenberg in the early years of the 20th Century and is considered the "Father of Serialism."  O'Gallagher takes a different view of the music.  With his exceptional company of musicians - Matt Moran (vibraphone), Pete McCann (electric guitar), Russ Lossing (Hammond Organ, Fender Rhodes, piano), Johannes Weidenmuller (bass), Tyshawn Sorey (drums) and Margret Grebowicz (voice) -  the saxophonist/arranges these 8 pieces as if Webern was composing today and working in the creative music idiom.  Pieces such as "Quartet (after Op. 22)" and "Schnell (after Op.27)" are sonically akin to the music Ornette Coleman has created with his "Dancing In Your Head" projects and beyond.   Throughout the program, Sorey lays down quite a beat while Weidenmuller creates a thick bottom. A "ragged" swing enlivens "Ways Going Over (after Op. 31)" during Moran's solo (pleasing chunky rhythm guitar and bubbly organ in support) before moving in to a straight-ahead groove for O'Gallagher's romp.  The interweaving of saxophone, guitar, vibes, organ and drums create a hypnotic opening to "The Secret Code (After Op. 28)" before Weidenmuller brings it all together with his authoritative bass lines.  Still, the stop-start rhythms behind the solos give the piece a choppy, funk, feel.  The lively interaction of the rhythm guitar and organ behind Moran shines as does McCann's high-volume romp (he can really let loose).

Ms. Grebowicz (who released a CD on Sunnyside in 2010 under her first name only) appears on 2 tracks.  Her voice blends neatly into the ensemble on "Three Songs (after Op. 25)", her airy voice supplying the lyrics written by Webern's friend, the German poet Hildegard Jone (1891-1963). She returns for the final track, "All This World (after Op. 31)", adding a wordless vocal to the opening and closing theme.

Kudos to the excellent keyboard work of Lossing; not only is his accompaniment fascinating, but his solos have a fire that feeds the imagination of the other musicians.  His overlaying of keyboards also catches one's attention, often doubling lines on Rhodes and organ while often adding acoustic piano to the track.

People unfamiliar with the music of Anton Webern may be curious to hear pieces such as "Opus 22 (for tenor saxophone, violin, clarinet and piano)" or guitarist Bruce Arnold's Spooky Action quartet that blended woodwinds, electric guitar, bass and drums into a sonic exploration of the composer's "5 Canons, op. 16" and 5 Movements for String Quartet, op. 5" (check that out here).  John O'Gallagher, like many creative musicians, uses Webern's music as the foundation for music that appeals on many different levels, i.e. group interactions, spiky and funky rhythms, fiery solos and much more.  "The Anton Webern Project" will appeal to fans of the Claudia Quintet (yes, Matt Moran is in that group as well) but also to listeners who enjoy creative challenges, music that hits hard with excellent arrangements and feisty musicianship .  For more information, go to

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Large Ensemble, Big Band (Part 2)

When you stop to think about the composers who came out of the Great Black Music movement of the 1960s-70s, many are still active today.  Muhal Richard Abrams (82 years old), Anthony Braxton (68), Roscoe Mitchell (72), Joseph Jarman (75) and Wadada Leo Smith (71) all came to the attention of the critics and public in the post-John Coltrane era.  All are fairly active and all continue to make music that cannot be categorized.

In 2012, Wadada Leo Smith released "10 Freedom Summers", a work that combined his Golden Quartet/Quintet with a large Chamber ensemble. The music was a journey through historic moments in the Black Liberation Movement that started with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, came to the first of many "heads" in the 1950s and 60s and is ongoing in the 21st Century.  Not one to rest on any of his laurels, Mr. Smith has now created "Occupy the World", a 2-CD, 5-song set featuring the 18-member Todella Uuden Musikin Orkesteri (TUMO) plus double-bassist John Lindberg issued on the Finnish TUM label.  TUMO is composed of 4 brass players, 3 multi-reed players, piano, harp, 2 electric guitars, quarter-tone accordion, 2 violins, viola, cello, bass and 3 drummer/percussionists.  The program is inspired by the "Occupy Wall Street" movement of 2011-12 but also contains a piece dedicated to and featuring Lindberg ("Mount Kilimanjaro") and a work inspired by the poetry of Sterling Allen Brown (1901-1989) titled "Crossing On A Southern Road (A Memorial For Marion Brown)".  Lindberg, who has worked with Smith on numerous projects, is in fine fettle, his brilliant arco work standing out in its clarity and richness of tone.  "...Southern Road" is quiet then furious, foreboding, with sectional work that stands out, a "dream work" with the leader's clarion calls rising above the fray.  As the music moves forward, the muted trumpet stands apart from the siren calls of the strings.  Marion Brown, who passed in 2010, was good friends with Smith, working and recording together in the early 1970s.  This work captures the poetry of Brown's music without imitating it.

"Occupy The World For Life, Liberty And Justice" is the longest piece of the set at 33:29; the opening melody, played by the strings, is stunning in its richness. When the ensemble enters, the piece turns darker, with the low brass, marimba and electric guitars standing above the strings.  There is a "white noise" section that gives way to the strings.  Whereas on "Ten Freedom Summers", the strings were not always integrated with the Quintet, here they are an integral part of the presentation.  Smith's trumpet work is stellar throughout as is the work of TUMO. This is music that asks a lot of the musicians and, like Anthony Braxton's large ensembles, the players give 100% every step of the way.

As with "Ten Freedom Summers", one has to give him- or herself over totally to the music. "Occupy The World" is not background music nor does it sound good as you are speeding down the highway with the windows open and top down.  This is musical story-telling of the highest order, with complex themes that weave intricate patterns.  Wadada Leo Smith continues his life-long search for truth, perhaps with the knowledge that beauty can exist in the harsh reality of the human condition.  His music, like that of his contemporaries, does not pander nor coddle, does not set up false expectations and asks that one be open and non-judgemental.  Occupy indeed!  For more information, go to

In a career that has spanned nearly 2 decades. guitarist/composer Joel Harrison has created music for all sizes of ensembles, from duos to quartets to septets to a effort for string quartet plus 2 guitars.  With the release of "Infinite Possibility", he has now created a work for a large ensemble.  Credited to the Joel Harrison 19 (JC Sanford, conductor) and issued on Sunnyside Records), this is a collection that lives up to its name and to the ambitious goals of the leader.

Harrison assembled quite a lineup for this project.  The rhythm section features Rob Garcia (drums), James Shipp (vibes, marimba, hand percussion), Kermit Driscoll (acoustic + electric bass) and Daniel Kelly (piano, keyboards).  The stunning reed section includes Michel Gentile (flutes), Ned Rothenberg (alto sax, bass clarinet, clarinet, flute), Ben Kono ( alto sax, soprano sax, oboe, english horn, flute), Donny McCaslin (tenor sax on 2 cuts, flute on 1), Ben Wendel (tenor sax on 4 tracks), Rob Scheps (tenor sax, clarinet and flute) and Andy Laster (baritone sax).  The trumpet section includes Seneca Black, Taylor Haskins, Dave Smith and Justin Mullens while Alan Ferber, Jacob Garchik and Curtis Fowlkes fill the trombone chairs. Ben Stapp plays tuba on 2 tracks while Joe Daley adds his tuba and euphonium on 4.  Anyone who pays attention to the ensembles of Maria Schneider, Darcy James Argue and Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project will recognize these names and many are leaders on their own.

Gospel and blues sounds infuse the opening 2 tracks.  "As We Gather All Around Her" opens quietly with Everett Bradley singing the lyrics of an Appalachian hymn while shadowed by Kono's oboe.  The vibes sound like falling water in the background as the melody lines is shared by the flutes. The piece builds slowly then moves into a medium-tempo section for the solos of Haskins, McCaslin (tenor) and Kelly.  As Kelly moves through his unaccompanied spotlight, Bradley returns and delivers a verse over the piano's cascading notes.  "Dockery Farm" has a harder, darker, edge.  In the liner notes, Harrison writes that the piece "is inspired the Mississippi plantation where Charlie Patton, Howlin' Wolf and others picked cotton and learned the Blues."  The arrangement makes a slight reference to Patton's mixed heritage (it is believed that he had Native American relatives) but is blues all the way through, the highlight being Harrison's roaring solo followed the unaccompanied trombones and tuba 4-way conversation.

Vocalist Liala Baili makes an arresting appearance on "Remember", an impressionistic work that blends the different colors of the ensemble as well as numerous shifts in the dynamics.  Ms. Baili has only the title word to sing throughout the 5:49 but her haunting delivery and the swirling sounds around her create a meditative feel.

One could go on about how strong Joel Harrison's writing is, how intelligent the arrangements and just how enjoyable the program.  Plus the soloists really shine.  Still, the curious listener should complete this journey on his or her own. Get a taste by going to or

"Infinite Possibility", like "Occupy The World" above, should be seen and heard in a concert hall. Both are efforts that deserve wide audiences, both display mature composer/arranger/performers in full bloom and both leave one wanting more of this challenging and rewarding music.

The Joel Harrison Big Band will play a "CD Release Party" July 16 and 17 in Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex.  Click on for more information.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Live This, the First Week of Summer (Part 2)

The more I dig, the more I find going on in the state of Connecticut this week.  Saxophonist/composer Jimmy Greene and his Quartet will perform this Thursday (6/21) as part of the 2013 UMOJA Music Series, held in the Pump House Gallery in Bushnell Park in Hartford. UMOJA is the brainchild of saxophonist Yunie Mojica and trombonist Raynel Frazier, 2 young musicians from the Hartford area who began collaborating in 2007 at the Jackie McLean Institute/ Artists Collective.  This series, now in its second year, brings in musicians from throughout the area and the country.  TFor now, the UMOJA website ( is listing 4 shows between June 20 and July 18. This Thursday's show opens at 8 p.m. with the Yunie Mojica Quintet featuring tenor saxophonist Camille Thurman.  Click on website link above for more information.

One of the better events that Connecticut hosts is the Hot Steamed Jazz Festival. The 2013 edition takes place this weekend Friday night through Sunday evening) on the grounds of the Essex Steam Train station (hence the name), 1 Railroad Avenue in Essex. The lineup is a pleasing blend of Traditional jazz, Dixieland, blues, boogie-woogie with perennial favorites such as the Dan Levinson
New Millennium All-Stars, CT's own Galvanized Jazz Band, the Riverboat Ramblers and the great pianist Jeff Barnhart.  There is also a youth jazz ensemble that is a knock-out and lots more.  The website - - lists the lineup but not the times.  Nevertheless, it'a a fun way to spend a day or weekend. Even better, the money raised from these shows goes to benefit the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a no-fee summer camp experience for seriously ill children and their families.  Founded 25 years ago by Paul Newman, the Camp is truly a wondrous thing.

The Afro-Semitic Experience, who spent many an evening in The Buttonwood Tree in its early days (early in the New Millennium) working out its material, returns to the Middletown venue at 605 Main Street this Friday to help raise money for The Buttonwood's piano fund.  A new (new-ish) keyboard has been purchased but needs to be refurbished so the proceeds from the ticket sales will go to help defray the costs.  Co-founded by pianist Warren Byrd and bassist David Chevan, the Afro-Semitic Experience plays a heady blend of African American and Jewish liturgical music as well as a number of original works that mine the Black Music continuum.  The gig will feature music from the band's new project, "Jazz Souls on Fire." For more information, go to - to find out more about the band, go to

Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street in Hartford, presents Wicked Knee in special outdoor concert at 7 p.m. this Saturday evening (6/22). Wicked Knee is a funky band featuring drummer Billy Martin (yes, he of Martin, Medeski & Wood) with Stephen Bernstein (trumpet), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone) and Marcus Rojas (tuba); the drummer/ leader describes the quartet as a "juke joint band" that plays "ragtime funk."  Got your attention? This is a free concert so be prepared to dance the evening away. You best call RAW at 860-232-1006 to find out how and where you can get in on this musical treat.  To find out more about the ensemble and its origins, go to

Monday, June 17, 2013

Live This, The First Week of Summer (Part 1)

Summer arrives this Friday (June 21) but the heat will be on in New Haven the night before.  With the International Festival of Arts & Ideas well into its first (of 2) weeks ( is a good place to check out the myriad events), here's a show jazz fans are sure to enjoy.  Bassist/composer Christian McBride comes to the Festival with his Inside Straight band.  The Quintet - McBride, Peter Martin (piano), Steve Wilson (alto and soprano saxophones), Warren Wolf (vibraphone) and Ulysses Owens, Jr. (drums) plus special guest Christian Sands (piano) - are in the midst of a tour celebrating its new Mack Avenue CD, "People Music" and they'll perform at 8 p.m. in Morse Recital Hall, 470 College Street.  Owens, Jr. is subbing for the group's regular drummer, the great Carl Allen, but it's no issue.  He and Sands play in McBride's Trio and they'll be releasing a CD in late summer.  For the 24-old Sands, it's a homecoming as he is a native of the Elm City. He studied with the late Dr. Billy Taylor and has worked with vibraphonist Stefon Harris, saxophonist Lou Donaldson and has traveled around the world.

For ticket information and more, click on the link above or call 1-888-ART-IDEA (278-4332.)  To learn more about the career and music of Mr. McBride, go to

I had the happy occasion to chat with multi-reed player/composer Daniel Bennett - you can hear that conservation (for the time being by going to, going to the "On Demand" section and looking for "RK with Daniel Bennett."  We talked about the Daniel Bennett Group's new CD, "Clockhead Goes to Camp" (Manhattan Daylight Media Group), about his "roots", education (another NEC graduate) and his career. The DBG is playing a "CD Release Party" on Friday June 22 at the Funky Monkey Cafe, 130 Elm Street in Cheshire, CT (right off Route 10 in the center of town.) It's the ensemble's second CT gig this year as they played the Hartford Public Library's "Baby Grand" series on April 14.

For the Cheshire hit, the DBG includes Bennett, the group's New York City drummer Tyson Stubelek and Bennett's good friend, Assaf Kehati (guitar).  The music will be a giddy blend of folk, jazz, classical and pop with through-composed pieces as well as plenty of room for improvisation.  Bennett plays alto saxophone, flute, oboe and piccolo, with a pleasing, clean, tone on each and his long melody lines and the strong rhythmic of many of the songs is very appealing. To find out more about the Friday show, go to (check out their calendar - lots of stuff going on).  To get a taste of the DBG, go to

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Lorca Soundscape In NYC

Bassist/composer Alexis Cuadrado (pictured left) has a new piece that actually has its debut in October of last year - "A Lorca Soundscape" - and now, the recording will be issued in September of this year on Sunnyside Records.  Based on the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) wrote during the year he spent in New York City (1929-1930); during his stay, the Stock Market crashed and the poet observed people flinging themselves from buildings, others starving in the street, and his reactions were captured in poems that tend towards the surrealistic. Published posthumously in 1940 (4 years after the Franco government assassinated the poet/playwright/author) as "Poeta en Nueva York", the book did not become popular world-wide until years after its publication.

Cuadrado, a native of Barcelona, Spain, had read Lorca as a student but it was not until the Stock Market/banking crisis of 2008 that he was reminded of the book.  The music he created for the 8 poems he chose draws heavily on the composer's study of the folk musics of his native country yet, like his brilliant 2011 BJU release "Noneto Iberico", also displays the mesh of modern classical and jazz music Cuadrado has played and studied since moving to New York City at the turn of the 21st Century. The album features the stunning vocal work of Claudia Acuna (pictured above), alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon, pianist Dan Tepfer and drummer Mark Ferber plus a guest appearance from percussionist Gilmar Gomes (2 tracks).

On Friday June 21, Alexis Cuadrado brings the Quintet to the 92Y Tribeca, 200 Hudson Street in New York City to present "A Lorca Soundscape" at 8 p.m.  All the participants save for Zenon (replaced by "Noneto Iberico" group member, Loren Stillman) and Gomes will perform. For ticket information, go to and you'll find what you need to know.  If you go to, you'll find out more about the September CD release event.  And finally, I had the opportunity to talk with Alexis Cuadrado - you can find that by going to and clicking the "On-Demand" button (we are the second show in the lineup titled "Alexis Cuadrado and RK.")

Large Ensemble, Big Band (Part 1)

Those of us who live on one of the coasts of the US like to think that where you'll find the most exciting music.  Places such as Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle are considered hot-beds for "new music" of all stripes when, in actuality there is great music being made in Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans and Provo, Utah.  Provo? you ask.  That's the home of Brigham Young University where composer Steve Lindeman teaches and where "The Day After Yesterday" (Jazz Hang Records) was recorded.  The CD is made up of 10 original pieces, many of which were developed over the period of 3 years in which Lindeman participated  in the BMI Jazz Composers' Workshop.  The Workshop is held monthly (sometimes more) 9 months of the year and Lindeman managed to attend most of the meetings.  There he worked with Jim McNeely (who contributes one set of liner notes) and Mike Holober yet this CD does not feature session players from either coast but the 18-member BYU Synthesis, the school's premier jazz ensemble under the direction of Dr. Ray Smith.  Special guests include Kelly Eisenhour (vocals) and Steve Call (tuba) plus appearances by the BYU Faculty Ensemble Q'd Up, composed of Dr. Smith (flutes, saxophone), Jay Lawrence (percussion), Ron Brough (vibraphone, marimba, percussion) and the composer on Hammond B-3 organ.

As for the music, one hears the influence of large ensemble composers such as McNeely an Holober as well as Bob Brookmeyer and Maria Schneider but I also hear a touch of Steely Dan in pieces such as "Llevame ya Al Mundo de las Maravillas" and "Meet Me When the Stars Come Out." The former features Ms. Eisenhour, who contributed the lyrics and the overdubbed vocals (the arrangement also reminds me of the recent work of Lorraine Feather.  The myriad percussion instruments plus the fine guitar work of Brady Bills also makes a strong impression. The processed electric bass of Aaron McMurray leads the piece in, creating a groove that is hard to resist.  The longest piece on the disk, "Verloren (for Murray Boren)", opens with the plaintive solo tenor sax work of Ben Nichols before the band starts to enter, one section at a time.  The episodic tune has a 2 distinct Latin sections, the first dripping with sensuous rhythms and scratchy percussion and the second shorter but much more explosive, fueled by the dizzying percussion of Lawrence (guiro, timbales, etc) and Brough (congas) and the strong playing of Austie Robinson (trumpet) and Jory Woodis (soprano sax).

"October, Last" is an impressive piece of writing and arranging. The blend of high and low sounds (trumpets meshing with flute, vibraphone and bass clarinet), the colors they evoke, the unhurried manner in which the melody is laid out brings to mind the work of Ms. Schneider.  When the piano solo (Jordan Kamalu) emerges out of the theme and is followed by the spell-binding flute solo (Dr. Smith), neither the pace nor the emotional weight of the music wavers.  There's a similar feeling in the handsome ballad "I Remember", a loving tribute to the composer's father that features the expressive soprano saxophone of Jory Woodis.

While there are number of attractive ballads on the CD, the program closes with the sprightly "Take a Jake Break." While the solos (piano, trombone, trumpet and tenor sax) are short yet sweet, the section writing (and the execution thereof) is utterly charming.

You find a way to make "The Day After Yesterday" part of your life.  Large ensemble music is rarely as emotionally satisfying as the music that Steve Lindeman and the BYU Synthesis create on this recording.  This music invites you in, makes you smile, may help you relax and unwind and should stimulate your senses - can't ask for more than that. For more information, go to

To the lay-person, blues is often labelled "sad" or "old-fashioned" music.  Fans of the big band music of Due Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman, and others know that the blues encompasses many moods. Listen to "Pop-Culture Blues" (Bell Production Company), the new recording by the Michael Treni Big Band and you'll know that blues (as interpreted by the trombonist/composer/arranger Treni) is alive and quite well.  Subtitled "A Suite in 10 Parts", Treni and his 18-piece ensemble take a musical journey inspired by the afore-mentioned Ellington and Basis as well as Oliver Nelson, Kenny Dorham, The Brecker Brothers, Gil Evans and more.  Powered, pushed and caressed by the fine rhythm section of Takashi Otsuka (bass), Ron Vincent (drums) and the piano work of Charles Blenzig (6 tracks) or Jim Ridl (4 tracks), the program is filled with good melodies and strong solos.

Ridl and Jerry Bergonzi (tenor sax) are the featured soloists on the hard-driving "Smokin' Blues" - the composer writes that the music was "inspired by McCoy Tyner" and one can hear that in the powerful work of Ridl (no imitation, though) and the explosive sax solo.  Vincent and Otsuka move like the Amtrak Acela (at full speed), imbuing the music with such spirit.  Bergonzi also stands out on the Oliver Nelson/John Coltrane inspired "Summer Blues", a tune that evokes warm, humid, nights and also features a splendid flugelhorn solo from Freddie Hendrix.  "Minor Blues" truly captures the spirit of Charles Mingus who inspired Treni to dig into the aspect of the blues that connects love, sex and longing.  The section writing behind the excellent trumpet solo of Chris Persad sways, struts and hits hard. The "suite" closes with the title track which, in the spirit of the big bands of the 1930s and 40s, features short, pithy. solos atop an urgent rhythm section.

More celebratory than somber, more soulful than technically correct, "Pop-Culture Blues" begs to played loud and often.  Michael Treni embraces and salutes his influences while writing to the strengths of his ensemble - by the time the last notes fade, the active listener will be more than satisfied.  For more information, go to

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Firehouse Season Goes Out on a High Note + Fascinating Piano Trios

In New Haven, CT, there are a number of reasons one knows that summer is around the corner, e.g., Yale graduation, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas sends out its annual catalogue and the Firehouse 12 Spring Series comes to a close.  All of which is exciting but the last one is certainly bittersweet. 14 concerts on 14 consecutive Fridays is a wondrous occurrence for those of us who do not live in or get to New York City or Boston on a regular basis.  Kudos to Nick Lloyd, Carl Testa and the wonderful staff for the creative programming!

Ultimate concert of this season belongs to Ches Smith and These Arches. Drummer/composer Smith, a native of California, is the backbone of several fine creative music ensembles including those of guitarist Mary Halvorson and alto saxophonist Tim Berne, both of whom are members of These Arches.  Rounding out the quintet is accordionist/electronics specialist Andrea Parkins and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby - Malaby is unavailable for this gig so Smith has rearranged the band's material for his long-time friend and associate, bassist Devon Hoff.  The group's most recent CD (its second), "Hammered", was issued earlier this year on Clean Feed Records.  The music Smith writes for this band blends melody, noise, exciting solos, tantalizing juxtapositions of interactions within the group and more.  The performance space will most certainly be "jumping" this week.

Ches Smith & company play 2 shows - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for more information, go to or call 203-785-0468.


To quote from the mission statement of Connection Works - "Connection Works is an artist-run non-profit organization that engages the Brooklyn community with world-class jazz performances and educational events. Our programs promote and facilitate new work by established and up-and-coming artists alike. We provide a forum that supports the astonishing number of brilliant artists in our borough. We at Connection Works believe in and encourage the practice of creativity as a means to nourish the mind, body, and spirit."

The organization is the brainchild of drummer/composer Rob Garcia, flutist/composer Michel Gentile and pianist/composer Daniel Kelly. Since its inception, the organization has sponsored and continues to sponsor numerous concerts of new music, hosts a "Composers Workshop, and works in schools to promote music education.  Now, the principals have issued their first CD.  Titled "Works", the album appears on Connection Works Records. Each member has contributed 4 pieces including one short "Soliloquy".  The music ranges from Garcia's commanding "Island" that opens the program on martial rhythms to Kelly's classically-inspired "Chorale" to Gentile's rollicking, nearly out-of-control "Voir Dire."  Kelly's "Hundertwasser" (perhaps named for the Austrian artist/painter 1928-2000) explodes in on Brazilian rhythms and moves rapidly through its verses and choruses as Gentile's flute rides the waves created by the piano and drums.  The pianist also composed "Emanglons" which displays the influence of McCoy Tyner in the rhythmic piano introduction.  Kelly's subsequent solo (over Garcia's fiery drumming) builds off a thunderous left hand in the lower range of his instrument.

Gentile, who graduated from and has taught at The New England Conservatory of Music (graduates of that institution have been cropping up a lot in recent reviews), studied composition with George Russell and Muhal Richard Abrams.  He's played with Joe Lovano, Anthony Braxton and co-leads a duo with guitarist Tony Romano.  He contributes the CD's prettiest tune, "C'est Bien Ca", his full-toned flute leading the way through the winsome melody.  His "Commodius Vicus" closes the program with a sly twist in the rhythms, as they speed up, slow down, drop out and dance along besides the piano and drum.  The 3-way conversation is playful, right down to Garcia's tip-tapping on the high-hat and Kelly's modified tango lines.

Rob Garcia has issued 2 excellent CDs with his Rob Garcia 4 on Brooklyn Jazz Underground. His compositions smartly blend long melody lines with a forceful rhythmic approach.  His "Spring Comes Round" meshes a jazzy swing feel in the opening section with a classical break before moving to a rubato section and then back to the "jazzy" section for the flute solo.  Lots going on but always moving forward. The same can be said for the driving rhythms of "Will", with a wonderful stride feel in the piano and a bluesy Rahsaan Roland Kirk-influenced flute solo that leads right back to a statement of the opening theme into the high-energy drum solo.

"Works" is play, serious play, adult music that eschews borders in favor of cross-pollination. Many people might look at that statement and feel the music is too highbrow or forced. No way - this music is alive, filled with excitement that comes from 3 musician/composers who do not hold back or concede to  fad.  To find out more, go to  The CD Release Party is July 11, 2013 at the Cornelia Street Cafe, 29 Cornelia Street in New York City -  to find out more, go to  While there, check the Cafe's amazing list of performances - it's enough to make one want take up residence in their performance space.

To call pianist/composer Satoko Fujii prolific is not giving the Japanese native and graduate of The New England Conservatory of Music the proper credit.  Since 1992, she has issued dozens of CDs, many on her on her own label Libra Records, with numerous ensembles, ranging from duos to the 4 different big bands she leads, composes and arranges for.  "Amazing" is a much more accurate word, because the quality of her output is downright stunning.

"Spring Storm" is one of her latest CDs and is credited to the Satoko Fujii New Trio.  Ms. Fujii organized the group in July 2012, calling upon bassist Todd Nicholson and drummer/percussionist Takashi Itani to perform a new book of her pieces.  They played several gigs and recorded this CD in March 2013.  In many ways, this music reminds me of the early recordings by the Myra Melford Trio (on Enemy Records and Hat Hut) i that the music ranges far afield and each musician contributes to the success of the music.  Nicholson, who worked with the late Billy Bang, Peter Brotzmann and William Parker before relocating to Tokyo, has a strong hand in the rhythmic direction of many of the pieces.  Itani has the ability to go "from a whisper to a scream" within the context of this music.  His whirling cymbals and gentle touch are perfect for the quiet ballad "Tremble" while his thunderous solo matches the pianist's intensity on "Whirlwind"  Ms. Fujii rumbles inside the keyboard while the bassist does some furious bowing during the drum spotlight.

The title track opens with a gentle shower of notes from the piano, an introspective melody which the bassist and drummer slowly enter.  Nicholson offers counterpoint while Itani emphasizes the quite power in Ms. Fujii's melody and solo.  A bass and hand percussion dialogue introduces "Convection" but the piece begins to heat up when the pianist joins the discussion with an active left hand.  Yet, the piece does not boil over, preferring to move in and out of quiet and loud sections.  "Maebure", the longest track on the CD at 14:01, displays more of Nicholson's excellent arco work and Itani's ever-shifting percussive landscapes.  A little past the halfway point, Nicholson moves to a pedal point, Itani into a steady, almost funky, rhythm and Ms, Fujii erupts with a solo that starts on fire and moves up and down in intensity.  The drum solo near the close of the piece is immense before the slow and quiet denouement, led by the arco bass.

Despite the fact that the Satoko Fujii New Trio has only been a unit a short time, "Spring Storm" is vibrant music and the group interactions fearless.   Ms. Fujii continues to find new avenues for her art and continues to mature as both a composer and musician.  For more information, go to  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Young Man at the Piano + New "Old" Material

O ho, yet another piano trio CD in a season filled with them.  "Nameless Neighbors" (Sunnyside Records) is the debut recording from the Nick Sanders Trio.  New Orleans-native Sanders is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) where he studied with Danilo Perez, George Garzone, Cecll McBee, Jason Moran, Jerry Bergonzi and John McNeil (not a shabby crew of people to learn from and work alongside.)   Fred Hersch produced the sessions that resulted in these 13 tracks (including 2 solo piano cuts) - Sanders composed 10 of the pieces and chose 3 smart covers, including "'Orse at Safari" (Herbie Nichols), "Manganese" (Thelonious Monk, also titled "Wee See" or "We See") and "I Don't Want To Set the World On Fire" (a 1941 hit by The Inkspots).  One can hear the influence of the Crescent City in Sanders's composing, especially on "New Town" (in the fiery opening section) and "Dome Zone" (one of the solo piano pieces.)  It's not overt but can be detected in the rhythmic movement of the piano lines.

There are numerous reasons why this recording stands out, not the least of which is the rhythm section. Bassist Henry Fraser and drummer Connor Baker (both currently NEC students) play with great fire and sensitivity that belies their relative youth.  They certainly can swing ("Row 18, Seat C" is the best example of the "driving" quality of the 2) but the composer is always throwing them curves, "stop-on-a-dime" tempo shifts and changes in dynamics.  Their work on the title track illustrates how the musicians are listening to each other as they navigate the changes. After a soft, introspective solo piano intro, "Motor World" races forward on "motor rhythm" in Sanders' left hand and Baker's propulsive snare drum. In the middle, there is a "free" section held in check by Fraser's stout bass work. Nothing feels sloppy or out of place.

There's a sense of playfulness in "Hymn" and "Flip" that builds from the pianist's desire to move away from the tried-and-true.  The former literally leaps away from its solemn opening section while the latter starts at a sprightly pace only to slow down within 45 seconds for a quiet bass solo.  Fraser's pleasing bass is also featured on "Simple" - he goes it alone for the first 3 minutes of the track (which is the longest on the program at 6:43) drawing he listener in on the strength of his melodic sense and rich tones. Sanders' melody and solo draw on the song's title, with the falling notes like a spring shower.

"Nameless Neighbors" joins the parade of excellent piano trio CDs issued in 2013 (other examples being the new Joey Calderazzo "Live" also on Sunnyside, "Pascal's Triangle" by Pascal Le Boeuf, the debut CD by Myriad3 and the new Noah Haidu on PosiTone).   These CDs may have the same figuration but are all quite different and all enjoyable.  The Nick Sanders Trio is young but, judging by the original works on this debut, the leader is already a formidable composer and arranger as well as an impressive pianist.  And, the rhythm section is also mighty impressive.  Be sure to pay attention to the cover photograph by Alejandro Cartagena - it, too, has great power. For more information, go to

For the most part, German-born pianist Jutta Hipp has been forgotten over the 5+ decades since she left the music world to become a seamstress and painter (she passed in 2003.)  She came to America in 1955 at the age of 30 at the urging of composer/journalist Leonard Feather.  Her 1956 Blue Note recording with Zoot Sims is, perhaps, her most famous as well as the one that sold the most.  The music revealed a pianist steeped in the styles of Teddy Wilson and Horace Silver, a facile soloist who held her own playing alongside the more famous Sims.

The German-based SWR Music/Jazzhaus label is in the midst of a project that will release hundreds of CDs over the next several decades that document Sudwestrundfunk studio and live recordings, programs and shows that started in late 1940s and went on for over 3 decades.  "Jutta Hipp: The German Recordings 1952-55" captures 4 different session over a 30-month period.  The most recognizable names here are trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff (who appears on 6 tracks recorded in 1953), guitarist Attila Zoller (2 tracks from 1955) and tenor saxophonist Hans Koller (who appears on 11 tracks spread over 3 dates.) The vast majority of the material is comprised of recognizable jazz standards with the exception of 1 track each composed by Mangelsdorff tenor saxophonist Joki Freund (who appears on 2 pieces from the 1955 session.)

Ms. Hipp's playing is solid throughout, steeped in the blues and swing of the 1930s and 40s.  On the 1952 sessions, Koller is shaky on several tracks but bassist Franz "Shorty" Roeder is a strong accompanist and drummer Karl Sanner reliable if unremarkable. Koller is stronger on the 1953 sessions, sharing the front line with Mangelsdorff.  The trombonist is more than a decade away from his best work but certainly displays his "swing" chops.

If you don't know Jutta Hipp, the best place to start is the Blue Note recording but "The German Recordings" have their charms, especially the leader's finely drawn solos.  Not essential, but worth hearing - to find out more about Ms. Hipp, go to

Bassist/cellist Oscar Pettiford (1922-1960) moved to Germany in 1958 and immediately became one of the busiest musicians on the European continent.  He remained busy throughout the rest of his short life, dying at the age of 37 from complications of a Polio-live virus.

Pettiford, a native of Oklahoma whose mother was a Native American and Father half-Black, half-Native American, turned professional in his teens playing in his father's touring band.  In 1943, he moved to New York City joining, in succession, the bands of Charlie Barnet and Roy Eldridge. The bassist was involved in the birth of the "Be-Bop" movement co-leading a group with Dizzy Gillespie.  Pettiford went on to work in the 40s with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Woody Herman Thundering Herd. He led his own bands small and large in the 1950s, although he worked on many sessions with artists such as Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Milt Jackson and with Sonny Rollins on "The Freedom Suite" Lp.

SWR/Jazzhaus Records has collected 4 session from a 7 month period from before and after an automobile accident that laid him up for several months and issued them as "Oscar Pettiford Lost Tapes: Germany 1958-59." The 16 tracks range from a pair of duets with trumpeter Dusko Goykovich that open the program to one quartet track featuring soprano saxophonist Lucky Thompson (Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" to 4 cuts that feature the clarinet of Rolf Kuhn (including a slow reading of fellow Oklahoman Charlie Christian's "A Smooth One.") The December 2, 1958, studio session feature drum master Kenny Clarke, guitarist Attila Zoller and 2 tracks with  saxophone section featuring tenor saxophonist Hans Koller and 3 baritone saxophonists (but no guitar).  Clarke, Zoller, and Koller are featured on the final 2 cuts, recorded live in concert the following night.

Pettiford is an excellent bassist and cellist, not only as a "supporting" musician but also as a soloist.  His bass sound is so "full" on the duet tracks that one can hear the influence he had on Ray Brown, Ron Carter and others who followed.  Even his cello work sounds "big' as is demonstrated on the live recording of "All The Things You Are."  Koller's chops have vastly improved in the 6 years after the Jutta Hipp sessions (see above); he blends the smoother tones of Lester Young with the tenor presence of Coleman Hawkins on pieces such as the leader's "Blues In the Closet" and "O.P."

Overall, "Oscar Pettiford Lost Tapes" are definitely a good find.  The sessions serve as a reminder of what a strong musician he was, even in the last year of his short but fruitful, life. For more information on the SWR releases, go to  To lear more about the bassist and his career, click here.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Pianist from Azerbajian, The Saxophonist from Iran + CD Picks

Pianist/composer/arranger Amina Figarova was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, met her husband Bart Platteau (flute) 2 decades ago and they settled in the Netherlands. They formed the Amina Figarova Quintet, now a Sextet, and have released 12 CDs since 1994.  They have now settled in New York, an event that spurred her latest recording, 2011's "Twelve" (In and Out Records).  Her music reflects the influence of composer/musicians such as Herbie Hancock  and Chick Corea with arrangements that have the airiness of the work of Maria Schneider. Her "European" Sextet has featured the elegant tenor and soprano saxophone work of Mark Mommaas.

The Amina Figarova Sextet comes to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven on Friday June 7, the penultimate presentation of the venue's Spring 2013 Concert Series.  The ensemble features the pianist, her husband, Mommaas plus 3 Americans; the rhythm section consists of bassist Joe Sanders (Ravi Coltrane, Gerald Clayton) and drummer Justin Brown (Rudresh Manathappa, Pascal Le Boeuf Trio - see below) plus the fine young trumpeter Josh Evans, a native of Hartford, CT.   When I interviewed Dave Douglas prior to his Firehouse 12 gig, he was effusive in his praise of Evans's playing and demeanor.

The Sextet will play 2 shows - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for ticket information, go to or call 203-785-0468.  To find out more about Ms. Figarova and her music, go to

The Uncertainty Music Series welcomes Jonathan Moritz's Secret Tempo Trio to Never Ending Books, 810 State Street, in New Haven Saturday June 8.  Moritz, a native of Teheran, Iran, moved to Southern California as a young boy.  He studied at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, Belgium (where his Father was living) and returned to the US to get his BFA at the California Institute of the Arts.  He, then, moved with his wife and family and has worked with a slew of creative musicians.

The Secret Tempo Trio finds the tenor saxophonist in the company of bassist Shayna Dulberger and drummer Mike Pride (all pictured above left).  Moritz has worked with both musicians in the past but this is their first endeavor as a trio. They have a new recording scheduled to be released soon on Hot Cup Records.  The music they create is steeped in the tradition of classic Tenor Trio (see Sonny Rollins) but also has a modernist bent.  The Secret Tempo Trio hits the stage at 8 p.m.  For more information, go to  To hear Jonathan Moritz and his various groups, go to


Pianist/composer/educator David Ake has released an impressive sextet date, "Bridges" (PosiTone Records);  having listened to the music, at least, 6 times over the past month, Ake's songs and arrangements bring Andrew Hill and Charles Mingus to mind.  Not that he imitates them in any way other than to blend and blur the lines between genres as well as composition and improvisation.

What a band!  The rhythm section consists of Scott Colley (bass) and Mark Ferber (drums) while the "front line" boasts Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Ravi Coltrane (tenor saxophone) and Peter Epstein (alto saxophone).  Epstein and Ake are on the faculty of the University of Nevada/Reno and have recorded with the fellow faculty member Chris Clark on his recent "Cedar Wisely" recording on Songlines as well as being 2/3rds of the chamber-jazz trio EEA whose CD "The Dark" was issued in 2011 on Origin Records.

The title track opens the recording and, by the time the musicians have worked through the piece, the listener knows this will be one of the more special albums of this year (or any year.)  The melody and harmony lines move like a flock of geese across the sky (sans the "honking).  Throughout the program, traditional roles are overthrown.  On "Sonomads", it's Colley's bass that moves the piece forward and whose phrases everyone else builds off of.  Ake's piano holds the "bottom" while Ferber's drums join the conversation with the bass and Alessi's trumpet. The trumpet leads in "Story Table", then the band joins, the melody split among the reeds and trumpet. Ferber, Colley and Ake execute the "stop-start" rhythm with aplomb, nudging the piece forward.

The sly, slippery, rhythms on the opening of "Dodge" give way to a accelerated bass line then back for Coltrane's forceful solo.  In the middle of the tune, the piece stops for a muted trumpet-piano-drums conversation that is a sparring session for Alessi and Ferber while Ake plays a rhythmical solo. The program closes with a short lyrical trumpet-piano duo titled "Light Bright" that lives up to its name. Gospel and blues informs "Year in Review" - listen to the piano solo as Ake strides, pounds, trills, plays "in" then "out", in the fashion of the late Jaki Byard.

If you like creative music that takes chances, where the musicians play with both wit and fire, and where the compositions are so much more than mere heads to string solos upon, "Bridges" will more than scratch your itch.  David Ake is leaving Reno for Cleveland, Ohio, where he will be the head of the Music Department at Case Western Reserve University.  One hopes he finds enough time to create more music as stunning as this.  For more information, go to

Pianist Pascal Le Boeuf who, with his identical twin brother Remy (saxophones), has led a quartet for the past decade playing jazz all over the world.  He has also formed a piano trio with bassist Linda Oh and drummer Justin Brown;  their debut CD, "Pascal's Triangle" (Nineteen Eight Records), has just been issued.  If you like Jason Moran's Bandwagon or Gerald Clayton's Trio, this is a recording for you.  8 tracks in under 33 minutes, none longer than 5:13 but you will walk away from this experience wanting more.  Le Boeuf is a melodic player, facile but able to convey emotions, he allows these songs to breathe.  Plus, he's got a monster left hand.  When he lays down a bass line, like the one on "What Your Teacher...",  Ms. Oh is free to create counterpoint or accentuate the slippery rhythms.  His chordal work on ballads, such as "Song For Ben Van Gelder" and "Jesse Holds Louise", creates space for the bass lines that float around the piano.  Brown is a drummer who truly knows his role; he instigates the soloists, his cymbals frame several of the melodies.  He's an inventive player as he displays on "The Key" where he supports the opening melody lines with some funky hand-drumming.  His "dancing" drum work on "What Your Teacher.." is irresistible, so buoyant and quite danceable.

"Pascal's Triangle" is a delight from start to finish, so contemporary yet with subtle bows towards Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans.  Judging by his sparkling present-day accomplishments, Pascal Le Boeuf has such a bright future. He'd be wise to keep Ms. Oh and Justin Brown in the mix - they are his equals and make him work harder to create an individual sound for their ensemble. Hear for yourself by going to  Happiness should ensue.