Monday, September 30, 2013

Stephen, Joe, Ken and Nate + Tierney & Joni + Wee CD

Look! It's October, the leaves are changing and falling and the Improvisations series at Real Art Ways, 45 Arbor Street in Hartford, rolls on. On Wednesday October 2, series curators Stephen Haynes (cornet, trumpets) and Joe Morris (guitar, bass) are joined by Ken Vandermark (saxophones) and Nate Wooley (trumpet) for an evening of music that promises to be as exciting as it will be expansive.  Mr. Vandermark has been on the forefront of the international scene since his days in Boston in the 1980s (he was a member of one of Joe Morris's groups.)  His move to Chicago in 1989 and his work with the great saxophonist Hal Russell's NRG Ensemble led him to form a number of ensembles, including the high-energy Vandermark 5 and his cooperative group with drummer Hamid Drake and bassist Kent Kessler called DKV. Trumpeter Wooley has worked with John Zorn, Professor Anthony Braxton and guitarist Mary Halvorson plus leads his ensembles - he, too, has worked and recorded with Joe Morris.

Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley open the evening of music in a duo at 7 p.m. and then will be joined by Messrs. Haynes and Morris for the second set. For more information, go to or call 860-232-1006.

On Friday October 4, vocalist Tierney Sutton returns to Connecticut (she attended and graduated from Wesleyan University) with her top-notch ensemble to headline "A Music for Humanity Concert", an event to benefit Interval House, a shelter for women and children in Hartford. Ms. Sutton and band - pianist Christian Jacob, drummer Ray Brinker plus bassists Kevin Axt and Trey Henry - are beginning a tour to celebrate the release of "After Blue" (BFM Music).  The CD is dedicated to the music of Joni Mitchell (who celebrates her 70th birthday in November) and actually only features one member of her band, bassist Axt, who plays on only one track.  Flutist Hubert Laws and drummer Peter Erskine are featured on 2 tracks as is the Turtle Island String Quartet. Turtle Island founding member, cellist Mark Summer, supports Ms. Sutton on a pair of tracks as well.  The biggest contributor to the musical sound is Larry Goldings, who plays piano and Hammond B-3 organ on 5 tracks. Veteran LA session man Ralph Humphries is the sole/soul support on the finger-snapping version of "Big Yellow Taxi." Perhaps the most impressive track is Ms. Sutton's impassioned reading of "Woodstock", joined only by Goldings on piano - her vocal is emotionally rich and quite touching.  French guitarist Serge Merlaud appears on the 2 standards, "Don't Go to Strangers" and "Answer Me, My Love."

The concert takes place at 8 p.m. in the Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Avenue, in Hartford.  For ticket information, go to or call 860-278-0785.  To learn more about Tierney Sutton and her fine music, go to

The only thing "wee" about "The Wee Trio: Live at The Bistro" (Bionic Records) is in the name of the group. Otherwise, James Westfall (vibraphone), Dan Loomis (acoustic bass), and Jared Schonig (drums) swing their collective butts off on this, their 4th CD.  Recorded at the Trio's favorite club, Jazz at the Bistro in St. Louis, Missouri, this music rocks most of the time, from the opening notes of Ray Noble's classic "Cherokee" to the high-energy finale, Schonig's "White Out." More than anything, this is dance music, albeit often with a modern edge.  There are moments that hearken back to the sound (and dance feeling) of Lionel Hampton's early "swing" recordings. Yet, The Wee Trio is nothing if not a collective, meaning all 3 contribute original material to the program and there are plenty of solos for all involved.  Drummer Schonig not only composed 3 of the tracks he is also the only member of the group to get 2 "..Intros."  Throughout the program, the group's interactions are quite impressive, whether it's the manner in which the rhythm section pushes beneath the vibes on Westfall's "New Earth" or their funky yet hard-as-nails rearrangement of David Bowie's "Queen Bitch." Loomis's handsome, rapid-fire, filled with harmonics, lead-in to Isham Jones' "There Is No Greater Love"sets the table for a pleasing re-invention of the tune first recorded in 1936.  Westfall's "Space Jugglers" is a hardy dance tune with a strong melody, forceful bass and drums, and a forward motion that stops several times to catch its breath before getting back up to speed.  The music is irrepressible and irresistible.

As impressive as The Wee Trio's first 3 CDs are, "Live at The Bistro" really displays their strengths in the best light.  This is a group one needs to see and hear in person.  Find this recording then go find the band - you will not regret one minute! For more information, go to

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dayna Stephens Update

Saxophonist/composer Dayna Stephens, who works and has worked with artists such as Linda Oh, Gerald Clayton, Erik Jekabson, Gretchen Parlato and others, issued on one of 2013's more intriguing collections of songs.  "That Nepenthetic Place" (Sunnyside Records) is forceful, melodic, rhythmical, probing and more.  He's got such a sweet tone but can also rise above the rhythm section in a flurry of notes.

It's no secret that Dayna Stephens suffers from a rare kidney disease -  
Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis - a disease that him on a waiting list for a new kidney. Needless to say, his medical expenses are quite high.  He has kept quite active as a musician throughout his bout with FSGS.  

Here's how you can help and enjoy helping:

UPCOMING: Benefit Concert for Dayna Stephens
Saturday, September 28th, 2013 | 9:00 & 10:30 PM @ The Jazz Gallery
1160 Broadway, 5th Fl., NYC
Produced by the Jazz Gallery with the help of 
Pascal Le Boeuf & Linda Oh 

Featuring performances by
Joe Lovano, Judi Silvano, Donny McCaslin, Mark Turner, Dayna Stephens, Pascal Le Boeuf, Aaron Parks, Linda Oh, Rudy Royston, Becca Stevens and others
"A Saxophone Star Ready to Go Nova"
- Jerry Karp ( DownBeat Magazine, SF Chronicle, SFweekly & )
With the help of pianist Pascal Le Boeuf and bassist Linda Oh, the Jazz Gallery will be hosting a concert this Saturday, September 28, to raise funds to assist with Dayna Stephens' kidney related medical expenses.In addition to Stephens, many jazz luminaries such as Joe Lovano, Donny McCaslin, Mark Turner, Becca Stevens and others will be contributing performances.  
Internationally renowned for his fluid, vigorous solos and warm, soulful sound; saxophonist Dayna Stephens has also proven himself a master of composition and arrangement, a highly acclaimed band leader and an in-demand side man for contemporary jazz masters such as Kenny Barron, Al Foster and Roy Hargrove.
Dayna also has a rare kidney disease called Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) which affects 20 out of every million people and is waiting on an urgently needed kidney transplant.  He faces costly anti-rejection medications at a monthly rate of over $4,000 a month for an indefinite time period.

100% of all proceeds raised will go directly to Dayna Stephens. 
If you are unable to attend you can still donate through
Please come out for a deeply meaningful evening of music from a community of musicians who want to make a difference.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cello Fellow + Claudia's Coming

This Saturday night (9/28), the Uncertainty Music Series presents cellist Charles Curtis, one of today's celebrated champion of new and experimental music.  Curtis, who studied at the Juilliard School in New York City and joined the faculty of Princeton University upon graduation, is also known as the finest interpreter of the music of La Monte Young and was also involved (in the 1980s and 90s) in the NYC's "Downtown Music" scene. In recent years, Curtis, who also serves on the faculty of the University of California/San Diego, has concentrated on solo and duo works for his instrument and creative collaborators.  To that end, the concert he will present on Saturday at 8 p.m. in The BIG ROOM (in Erector Square), 319 Peck Street in New Haven, features music by Wesleyan Professor Emeritus Alvin Lucier, Christian Wolff, Allison Knowles, Eliane Radigue and Tashi Wada. In fact, Mr. Wada will be on hand to accompany the cellist on open reeled tape deck (!).  For more information, go to

Today, September 24, Cuneiform Records releases "September", the 7th CD by Claudia Quintet.  Formed in 1997 by drummer/ composer John Hollenbeck, the "Claudes" play music that is blessedly undefinable, thanks to the far-ranging compositions and the  intriguing makeup of the band.  Saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed and vibraphonist Matt Moran have been there since the beginning as has bassist Drew Gress who appears on 6 of the new CD's 10 tracks.  His replacement Chris Tordini plays on the other 4 tracks and is the band for the CD Release tour. Completing the Quintet is accordionist Red Wierenga, who replaced original member Ted Reichmann in 2011. The tour is actually a journey that begins October 2 at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and ends on October 24 at Jazzmandu/ The Katmandu Jazz Festival.  In between, the CQ performs in New York City, Oregon, Washington State and California.

For us lucky folk in Connecticut, the band performs Friday October 4 at 8:30 and 10 p.m. as part of the Firehouse 12 Fall 2013 Concert Series.  They'll be playing music from the new CD, a group of compositions dedicated to the bandleader's favorite month, one in which he usually goes on composing retreats in spots around the world. Like the month that starts in summer and closes at the beginning of autumn, "September" is a transitional recording that not only introduces new members but has new material and is the ensemble's first release in 3 years without a guest artist.  Each of the 10 songs is connected to a date and has a title.  For instance, "September 12th: Coping Song" is a musical reaction to the events of September 11th, 2011 while another piece, "September 9th: Wayne Phases", is dedicated to Wayne Shorter.  "September 29th: Me Warn You" features the words of President Franklin Roosevelt (from his 1936 campaign) cautioning the nation to beware of his smooth-talking opposition - the music is built upon FDR's speech patterns and manipulation of his phrases.  "September 17th: Loop Piece" features a plaintive melody but also spoken word, a barking dog and other sounds.

For more information about the group's tour, go to  To hear and purchase the new CD, go to For more information about the concert at Firehouse 12 (and the rest of the schedule), go to

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Live Music Wednesday, Thursday & Friday + S.O.S. Lives!

The duo of Kristin Slipp (vocals) and Dov Manski (piano, wurlitzer electric piano) have just released their debut CD, "A Thousand Julys", on Sunnyside Records. They met attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and discovered mutual musical interests.  Their music is a fascinating blend of standards from the likes of Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Hoagy Carmichael plus a strong version of Charles Mingus's "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love". The spare arrangements and soft vocals make the lyrics stand out.

Ms. Slipp and Mr. Manski perform this Wednesday (9/25) at Pizzeria Lauretano, 291 Greenwood Avenue in Bethel, a venue beginning to be known for its adventurous programming.  The venue's website does not list a time for the show so I would call 203-792-1500 for more information. To check out their upcoming schedule, go to

Vibraphonist/educator and now author Gary Burton is celebrating his 70th Birthday in style, going on tour. This Thursday (9/26), he and his New Quartet (bassist Scott Colley, drummer Antonio Sanchez, and guitarist Julian Lage) land at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on the campus on the University of Connecticut at Storrs for a 7:30 p.m. show. Earlier this summer, the New Quartet released "Guided Tour" on Mack Avenue Records and, arguably, it's one of Burton's best recordings (that's saying something, considering his 4+ decades as an artist). Every member of the band contributed compositions, including the leader who is not one of the more prolific composers.  Burton, who turns 71 next January, also has a new book, "Learning To Listen", a honest look at his career and personal life. Owen McNally of The Hartford Courant conducted a fine and informative interview with the vibraphonist - click here to read it. For ticket information, go to

It's week #3 for the Firehouse 12 Fall 2013 Concerts Series and one can already tell it's a special season. The series debuted with Gerald Cleaver & Black Host with the David Binney 4 the followed week. In keeping with the theme of ensembles with great drummers (Mr. Cleaver and Nasheet Waits), this Friday (9/27) the spotlight shines on the duo of Larry Ochs (saxophones) and Don Robinson (drums).  Mr. Ochs, long a stalwart member of ROVA saxophone quartet, has worked with Mr. Robinson (a resident of San Francisco rarely seen and heard on this coast) for over 2 decades, having first teamed up in 1991 as members of the late saxophonist Glenn Spearman's Double Quartet.  They have also worked with bassist Lisle Ellis in the cooperative trio What We Live as well as in Mr. Ochs' Sax and Drumming Core.  They have been officially been a performing duo since 2011 with recordings set to be released this Fall.

Larry Ochs and Don Robinson will play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - and you should expect the music will be going in many directions, as befits a pair of great improvisers.  For more information, go to and


John Surman (soprano sax, baritone sax, bass clarinet, keyboards, acoustic piano and synthesizers), Mike Osborne (alto saxophone, percussion) and Alan Skidmore (soprano sax, tenor sax, drums) formed the trio S.O.S. in 1973 and disbanded in 1976 - during that time, the ensemble produced some glorious noises.  A new 2-CD set,  "Looking For the Next One" (Cuneiform Records) documents 3 sessions, 2 in the studio from 1974 and 75 and the entirety of the ensemble's July 27, 1974 appearance at the Balver Hoehle Jazz Festival in Balver, Germany.

O, and what a joyous noise this trio could produce.  Surman was enamored with his synthesizers and enjoyed blending his trance-like figures (a la Terry Riley) with the sounds of the saxophones.  The first CD opens with "News", fading in on a synth loop that Surman plays his electronically-altered soprano over (it's a technique he continues to use).  Here, there is a "wah-wah" attachment which links it to the experiments of Miles Davis.  That is followed by the trio taking on "Rashied", composed by drummer Rashied Ali.  One hears the influence of AACM musicians such as Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman and others.  Drummer Tony Levin joins the trio for 2 tracks from the 1975 studio session.  "Q.E. Hall" opens with the drummer playing against a synthesizer loop before Surman adds electric piano behind the boisterous tenor sax solo. The music sounds a bit like early Weather Report, especially beneath Osborne's fiery alto solo. Martial drumming leads in Surman's arrangement of the traditional "The Mountain Road", a Highland jig with the alto trading lies with the twin sopranos of Surman and Skidmore.

The "Live" CD opens with the introduction of the musicians to great applause  The audience falls into rhythmic clapping as the synthesizer loop lead-in to "Suite" hushes the crowd.  Light percussion accompanies the loops, then electric piano appears in the background and, little by little, the saxophonists enter as the loop drops out. Surman's bass clarinet plays a supporting role as the alto and tenor play the rhythmical melody.  The piece changes course numerous times over its 25+ minutes, with the trio swapping lead and supporting roles.  Later on, Surman switches to electric piano, Skidmore to drums (quite a solid player) and Osborne creates a roller-coaser of an alto solo. Surman's piano solo utilizes a number of sound-shifting devices before Osborne returns for a soprano sax solo. "Up There", with its bass clarinet rhythm pattern and its genial interactions, may remind some of the World Saxophone Quartet in its early days (interesting, the W.S.Q. did not come into existence until 1977.) With the exception of the classically-inspired "Legends" (composed by Surman) which clocks in at 2:13 (38 seconds of which is applause), the live CD contains 3 fairly long pieces and nary a dull moment.

While John Surman and Alan Skidmore are still quite active, Mike Osborne retired from professional music in 1982 due to issues with mental illness and passed from lung cancer in 2007. Though the three musicians played and recorded together in larger ensembles, up until the release of "Looking For the Next One", the only recording by S.O.S. was their 1975 self-titled Lp on OGUN Records (it's been reissued on CD but is hard to find.) It's great to hear this music, this creative wall-of-sound created in the halcyon days of experimentation, and thanks to Cuneiform Records, available to all to behold.  For more information, go to

Monday, September 16, 2013

David Binney in New Haven (finally) + Rosetta Trio's Swirl of Thwirl

Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, started its Fall 2013 Concert Series last week with the amazing polyglot music of Gerald Cleaver & Black Host, a group that featured the fine alto saxophone work of Darius Jones.  This Friday evening (9/20), the recording studio/performance space plays host to another impressive alto saxophonist, David Binney.  Born in Florida, raised in California, and now living in New York City, Binney first came to critical attention touring with Cecil McBee in 1991 and went on to form Lost Tribe.  That quintet featured guitarists Adam Rogers and David Gilmore with the rhythm section of Fima Ephron (bass) and Ben Perowsky (drums), all of whom save for the bassist, are currently leaders of their own groups.  He went on to form the quartet Lan Xang with fellow saxophonist Donny McCaslin, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Jeff Hirschfield - that collective's first CD was the debut recording on Binney's Mythology label in late 1997 (their 2nd CD, with Kenny Wollesen on drums, showed up on Naxos Jazz.) He's worked with the Maria Schneider Orchestra, the Saturday Night Live Band, Bobby Previte, Edward Simon and others as well as produced CDs for Donny McCaslin, pianist John Escreet, flautist Jamie Baum and guitarist Joel Harrison.

Over the past decade, Binney has issued recordings on his own label (2011's "Graylen Epicenter" made numerous "best-of" lists), on ACT Music, and, most notably, 5 excellent recordings for Criss Cross.  His latest, "Lifted Land", came out earlier this year and features pianist Craig Taborn, drummer/percussionist Tyshawn Sorey and bassist Eivind Opsvik.  On Friday, the bassist will join the saxophonist as will pianist Jacob Sacks and drummer Nasheet Waits. One of the reasons to be excited is that Binney's music crosses numerous musical borders with, usually, fully realized melodies, smart harmonic arrangements and rousing rhythmic interplay.  As a soloist, he can be as fleet-fingered as fellow alto players Rudresh Mahanthappa and Miguel Zenon and, like both of them, has his own "sound."

Yes, I am thrilled David Binney is coming to Connecticut and to the acoustically rich space of Firehouse 12.  He and the group will play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for more information, go to To learn more about the artist, go to

Bassist Stephan Crump has been an integral member of several groups over the past decade including the Vijay Iyer Trio, guitarist Jim Campilongo's Electric Trio and in his wife Jen Chapin's Trio (along with guitarist Jamie Fox).  He's also worked Michael McDonald, drummer Billy Hart, pianist Kenny Werner and singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky.

As a leader or co-leader, Crump has issued 8 CDs, the latest being "Thwirl" (Sunnyside Records), his 3rd recording with Rosetta Trio. Comprised of the bassist, Jamie Fox (electric guitar), and Liberty Ellman, Crump organized the ensemble in 2004 to record pieces he composed in the days after 9/11/01.  The blend of acoustic bass and guitar with electric guitar created an intimate feel that carried to the Trio's 2010 Sunnyside debut "Reclamation" and onto the new recording.  But, "Thwirl" feels different in that a sense of playfulness has creeped into the music, there's more "rhythms" and "grooves" and the interplay is even crisper, never feeling forced.  The title track comes in on percussive guitar work from both Fox and Ellman while Crump pats on a rhythm on the body of the bass.  One by one, the trio falls into a groove that has a West African feel and, instead of pushing onto into solos, the band "dances" together.  "He Runs Circle" has a "groove" as well but it's more subdued, with a West Coast folk feel.  Early in the song, the guitarists alternate choruses while the bassist keeps the piece moving forward, at times offering counterpoint then Fox takes over with a forceful solo. Ellman, who works with Henry Threadgill's Zooid as well as mixing, mastering and producing numerous artists including Steve Coleman, Sam Rivers and Gregory Porter (and more), takes the next solo - he is such an impressive player, so melodic and original. "Palimpestic" opens with noises, "tight" plucking and picking above forceful bass lines, with the guitarists breaking into a rhythmic figure while Crump plays quite an expressive solo right to the end.

The bassist composed all but one of the 10 tracks; Jamie Fox makes his first contribution as a composer with "Conversate (talk-Wise)", notable for its well-formed melody line and the intelligent harmonies.  Crump re-arranged his "Stolid", a country-blues piece from an early CD ("Tuckahoe"), transforming the simple yet singable melody into "Still Stolid" that is anything but bland or emotionless.  Ellman really "gets down" during his solo, setting the bar for Fox to show his bluesy side.

Stephan Crump, over his career, has proven he can play many different styles of music, shown that he can be the foundation for singers, pianists and saxophonists.  He seems to have an affinity for guitars, having done duo work with Mary Halvorson, and in his work with the Rosetta Trio.  But, this is not really work but play, his intuitive interactions with Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox the result of many nights on stages around the world and days rehearsing and jamming in his home studio.  "Thwirl" is both challenging and comforting, a treat late at night or under headphones.  And, it's honest music, homemade music, and downright satisfying music.  For more information, go to

After Stephan Crump completes a European tour with the Vijay Iyer Trio in October, Rosetta Trio performs a CD release weekend opening (yay!!) at Firehouse 12 on November 1, a House Concert in Ellicott, Maryland, the next night and onto to Baltimore's The Windup Space on Sunday November 3.   His website has all the details and more.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Contemplative & Inspired Piano

Pianist/composer Geri Allen grew up in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of a public school teacher and principal.  Her new recording, "Grand River Crossings" (Motema), is dedicated to the music and artists of her hometown.  Not only does she perform works associated with Berry Gordy's Motown and Tamla labels but also includes a striking rendition of Paul McCartney's "Let It Be" influenced by Aretha Franklin (who was raised in Detroit) as well as pieces by Detroit native Roy Brooks (1938-2005) and Gerald Wilson (born in Mississippi but raised in Detroit.)

Trumpeter Marcus Belgrave (long associated with the Motor City jazz scene) joins Ms. Allen for 3 pieces, including his composition "Space Odyssey" (from his 1974 "Gemini" Lp.)  Mr. Belgrave also joins the pianist on Brooks' "The Smart Set" and Wilson's "Nancy Joe".   Detroit-based alto saxophonist David McMurray (Was/Not Was, The Rolling Stones, Bob James as well as a leader) pairs with the pianist for a short but rollicking version of "Itching In My Heart."

One can hear how these songs, many of these extremely popular around the world, became part of the soundtrack of the pianist's life.  Pieces such as Frank Wilson's "Stoned Love"  and Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown" draw on the harmonic and rhythmical strengths of the originals, caressing the melodies and bringing out subtleties one probably missed as these songs blasted out of a car radio. The CD opener, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" (composed by Michael Jackson) rides in on that irresistible bass line that made one's feet start moving while Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" mines the composer's gospel and r'n'b roots. The pianist follows the latter track with a heartfelt performance of Gaye's "Save the Children", capturing on her keys the emotion that filled the vocals on the original (both tunes by the late singer/songwriter appeared on his 1971 "What's Goin' On" Lp.) The trance-like figure by the left hand on "Baby, I Need Your Lovin'" gives the passionate melody great emotional depth.

The original compositions by Ms. Allen are 3 transitional pieces, only 1 - "In Appreciation" - is over 60 seconds long. The 2 that bear the name of the CD are contemplative and impressionistic while the other is a rocking gospel piece that emphasizes the pianist's solid left hand and highlights her sense of "groove."

"Grand River Crossings" is quite stunning in its musicality, notable for Ms. Allen's talent to make a song one may have heard in his or her youth seem fresh, even startling, at times.   Perhaps it is because a majority of this music was a major part of the soundtrack of my teens and early 20s, many of the pieces evoke memories long locked away.  Yet, even if you never paid attention to the music coming out of Detroit, Geri Allen draws the listener in on the strength of these melodies and you can hear how much they meant to her.  For more information, go to

In the 2+ decades since pianist/composer Satoko Fujii came onto the contemporary music scene, the Tokyo, Japan, native has appeared on 80 CDs, over 33% of them released by Libra Records, the label she co-owns with her husband and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura.   On September 21, 2012, she and Mr. Tamura spent the day at Systems Two in Brooklyn, New York, where engineer Mike Marciano recorded solo CDs by both of them.  Ms. Fujii's effort is titled "Gen Himmel" (translates to "heavenwards") and may surprise some listeners more familiar with her Big Bands, quartets and trios, how melodic and introspective the majority of these songs are.  That's not to say that Ms. Fujii does not take chances. For instance, the title track opens with the pianist playing inside the piano, strumming the strings, creating many fascinating overtones.  The plaintive melody that emerges from the "noise" has the feel of an Appalachian folk ballad.  Only 1 track is over 4:50 and that is "Take Right", an episodic piece with prepared piano that moves through several distinct sections before the pianist breaks into a forceful, percussive, rhythm. Even at 8+ minutes, one desires more of the fiery piano work that erupts.

Shorter performances, such as "Ittari Kitari" (2 minutes) and "Hesitation" (2:24), are satisfying, the former for its head-long rhythms and the latter for the ebb-and-flow of the melody against the rhythm in the left hand.  "Summer Solstice" (taking its name, perhaps, from the day of the recording) opens with 2-handed chords (similar to pieces by Aaron Copland) before moving into a charming melody line. later in the piece, the tension between the low notes in the left hand and the repetitive figures in the right hand, adds strength to the music that does not let up until the swirling finish. There is also a "modern classical" feel to "I Know You Don't Know", with it's forceful single-note melody lines and counterpoint.

The program closes with "Der Traum" ("The Dream"), another strong melodic excursion that draws comparison to the solo works of Keith Jarrett, the pieces that stand above style and type in a manner seamlessly that blends rhythm and melody (the former often understated and the latter the "heart" of the music.)  The piece returns to the opening theme but does not resolve (dreams are like that, at times).

"Gen Himmel" illustrates just how much creativity can be found in the heart and mind of Satoko Fujii.  Her "group" music is often angular, challenging, tense and one can hear those qualities in this solo music. Yet, there is beauty in these melodies, there is purpose in the rhythms and there are moments of sheer playfulness.  For more information, go to

Thursday, September 12, 2013

3 By Twos Live in New Haven + Trumpet Blasts in NYC & Brooklyn

The Uncertainty Music Series continues this Saturday September 14 with a concert featuring 3 duos taking place at 8 p.m. in Never Ending Books, 810 State Street in New Haven.  Scheduled to perform are the Theremin & Lap Steel (composed of Scott Burland - theremin - and Frank Schultz - lap steel guitar), Arabian Blade (the duo featuring analog synthesizer performers Christopher Donofrio and Donovan Fazzino) plus the duo of cellist Daniel Levin (pictured left, photograph by Christopher Gannu) and drummer Juan Pablo Carletti.  Levin is fairly well-known around New Haven for his appearances at Firehouse 12 while Carletti works alongside the cellist in his trio featuring saxophonist Ivo Perelman and in alto saxophonist Rob Brown's Quartet.

For more information and directions, go to

Yes, I'm slow on the uptake as the 2013 Festival of New Trumpet (FONT) opened earlier this week in various venues around Manhattan and Brooklyn.  But, a click on the following link - - will reveal that there's lots more music to come over the next 12 days.  You can learn more about FONT from one of the Festival's organizers, Dave Douglas, by going to and listening to Episode 11 of "A Noise From the Deep", the podcast Mr. Douglas co-hosts with bassist/composer Michael Bates. They interview trumpeter/educator/producer John McNeil, play excerpts from new and classic recordings (all featuring trumpeters, naturally) and do so in a lively fashion.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Fire(house) Returns! RAW "Improvisations" Returns! + Iyer/Ladd "Veterans' Dreams"

School is in, the football season has begun there are a slew of new recordings set to be released in the next 6 weeks but, for those of us who live in Connecticut, we know that the seasons are changing when the Fall Concert Series commences at Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, and the "Improvisations" series, curated by Stephen Haynes and Joe Morris, begins anew at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street in Hartford.

On Friday September 13, the Firehouse welcomes Gerald Cleaver & Black Host, a quintet of world-class musicians playing wonderfully "unclassifiable" music.  Is it jazz, electronic, rock, "free", or noise?  Yes, that and more.  The drummer/composer will bring the band that recorded "Life in the Sugar Candle Mines" released earlier this summer on Northern Spy Records.  They include Cooper-Moore (acoustic piano, synthesizer, diddley-bo), Darius Jones (alto saxophone), Brandon Seabrook (electric guitar) and Pascal Niggenkemper (acoustic bass) - the sounds they make as a unit hearken back to the "free jazz" movement of the 1960s but also one can hear Tony Williams' Lifetime and others but updated to include moments of melody and drama.  Seabrook thrashes, squeals, roars and more on his guitar while Jones is a forceful alto player, reminding this listener of Oliver Lake and Tim Berne.  Cooper-Moore can be forceful and gentle, offering the occasional calm comments as well as blues piano amidst the noise.

Black Host plays 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for more information, go to and, to check out the band, go to The picture of Black Host above was snapped by Juan Carlos Hernandez.

On Sunday September 15, the Improvisations series finds Messrs. Haynes (cornet, trumpet) and Morris (guitar, bass) working with percussionist/drummer Tatsuya Nakatani in the performance space at Real Art Ways. Nakatani (pictured left), born in Osaka, Japan, has lived, worked and created in the United States since the mid-1990s - he has worked as a solo artist, has accompanied dancers, and gives master classes all over the world.

If you know anything about this series, it's that the music is created spontaneously, meaning there has to be great rapport and trust among the musicians.  The musicians take many chances throughout the performance and that can be challenging for the audience. One will be rewarded with impressive interactions and honest music, music from the heart, mind and soul.  For more information, go to

On Tuesday September 10, Pi Recordings will release "Holding It Down: The Veterans' Dream Project", an amazing recording with poetry and music that looks at life after war for veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Pianist/composer Vijay Iyer and poet/performer/librettist Mike Ladd spent 3 years organizing this project. Ladd interviewed many veterans and heard about combat issues, about the dreams that continue to haunt long after their service  has ended, and about re-entry into "real" life.  With Ladd joined by veterans/poets Maurice DeCaul and Lynn Hill on vocals, Iyer creates a supporting soundtrack that lends support and substance to the words.  Providing the music is Liberty Ellman (guitars), Okkyung Lee (cello), Kaasa Overall (drums), and Guillermo E. Brown (drums).

In keeping with the spirit of Iyer and Ladd's previous 2 collaborations, "In What Language" (Pi, 2003) and "Still Life With Commentator" ( Savoy, 2007), the music is a blend of numerous styles that is often as striking as the poetry it illustrates.  Needless, the power in this project should be seen and heard in concert - the original commission came from Harlem Stage in New York City where it premiered in September 2012 - but the recording is a document that will hold your attention from beginning to end and long afterwards.  One often wonders if music makes a difference in this day - "Holding It Down" can and should make you want to do more than just shake your head and walk away.  For more information about this project, go to Also, you can get a feel for the project by going to

If you want to learn more about what is being done for military personnel, here are websites you can access:,,

Friday, September 6, 2013

3 by Twos

Vocalist/composer Nicky Schrire (pronounced "Shre-ra") issued her debut in Spring 2012, during a time when it seemed every other CD featured a great new voice or was a new recording by an established  female vocalist.  Yet, her "Freedom Flight" stood out in so many ways that it easily became one of my favorites of the year.

So, did Ms. Schrire rest on her laurels and put out "Freedom Flight, Vol. 2?" She certainly could have done that and, because of her inventive ways, the recording would (probably) stand out.  Instead, "Space and Time" (Self-released) features the vocalist in duo with 3 fine pianists, Gil Goldstein, Gerald Clayton and Fabian Almazan, singing a program that blends material from a variety of sources as well as 5 originals. She obviously adores a challenge, whether it's translating Massive Attack's electronically-driven "Teardrop" into a fierce yet heartfelt duo with Almazan or cavorting with Clayton on a gospel-tinged "Here Comes the Sun." The simple yet wonderfully effective "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You" opens the program with Gil Goldstein's fine accompaniment and spare solo.  Ms. Schrire arranged every track and one can tell by the way she works with each pianist that these performances were treated as true duos, not as a singer with piano backing.  Her take on the Gershwin brothers' "Someone to Watch Over Me" commences with the opening verse sung a cappella. When Goldstein enters, neither vocalist or pianist pushes the pace.  There is an innocence to the way Ms. Schrire wistfully delivers the wish in the lyrics. Goldstein dampens the piano notes to create a percussive feel  on "Seliyana", a work by South African composer/bassist Victor Ntoni, who died earlier this year.  The vocalist, who was raised in South Africa, sings the piece in its original language.  

The original "A Song for a Simple Time" is deceptive in that the vocal is straight-forward but Almazan's playful piano work has many different angles, toying with the tempo and moving into modern classical music at several turns.  On "Bless The Telephone" (composed by British poet/activist/performer Labi Siffre), Clayton's piano work sounds classical in the verses and bluesy on the bridge while Alamazan brings a spareness to Ms. Schrire's "And So I Sing", a song that has the feel of a Stephen Sondheim work (the overdubbed voices that close the piece is a touch of brilliance.)  The dramatic reading of Irving Berlin's "Say It Isn't So" displays a stunning emotional maturity in the vocal.  The title track (yet another original) closes the program, the lyrics a gentle homily to take life easily.  The sweet blend of voice with Goldstein's lyrical piano lines has the feel of a lullaby, as if the singer is tucking us in and assuring all is right in the world.

There are moments when it seems all one does is attempt to make sense of the chaos all around him so, yes, listening to "Space and Time" does make me feel all is right in the world.  Nicky Schrire and her trio of pianists have granted the listener a generous view of the creative process, of the intimate interactions of voice and instrument.  We breathe with them, laugh with them, sigh, wonder and, ultimately, it seems as if we get to play with them. Open your heart, open your mind - this music can be your spiritual oasis.  For more information, go to  

The indefatigable pianist Dick Hyman (85 at the time of this recording) and the delightful clarinetist Ken Peplowski (33 years younger than Mr. Hyman) came together in April of 2012 to play duos at the Kitano, 66 Park Avenue in New York City.  Despite the ritzy address, this music mines the joyous veins of blues, jazz and standards that the pianist has explored in various duos (and groups as well as solo) over the better part of the past 7 decades  "...Live at the Kitano" is this duo's second CD for the Victoria Company and is a delightful hour of collaborations on tunes by Thelonious Monk and W.C. Handy plus pieces from the Broadway songbook.  Mr. Hyman, who could probably accompany just about any musician and make him or her sound better, has a partner in Mr. Peplowski who needs no nudge to be musically adventurous.  The clarinetist moves to tenor saxophone for "Gone With the Wind" (the music was composed in 1936 by Allie Wrubel, who grew up in my hometown and still has relatives here, including a fine clarinetist) - Mr. Peplowski displays a softer, breathy, tone in the style of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster.  It's a lovely solo but listen to the fun Mr. Hyman creates in his accompaniment.  His rolling left hand provides robust support on the Handy tune, "Yellow Dog Blues" and then supplies a rollicking solo of his own.

The duo takes a breather for a ever-so-slow reading of the Ira Gershwin/Kurt Weill piece, "My Ship", a melody and performance so handsome as to give one pause.  Mr. Peplowski's lilting reading of the theme opens to a piano solo that moves away from and back to the melody in an impressionistic fashion.  They also give Monk's "Ugly Beauty" a pleasing yet dramatic reading (for these ears, the song is one of the composer's most lovely melodies.)  The piano solo sounds influenced more by Debussy than the composer (but, isn't that the joy of creative music.)

Dick Hyman and Ken Peplowski have performed together numerous times over the past 25 years, usually in the company of a rhythm section.  Yet, when you have a pianist as talented and creative as Mr. Hyman, he becomes the "rhythm section", the "strings" and more.  "...Live at the Kitano" is loads of fun and, if one pays attention, will brighten your day!  For more information, go to  

It's been 4 years since Fred Hersch returned to making music after his near fatal illness (check out to see what happened and how the pianist/composer has musically described the ordeal) and he continues to go from strength to strength.  He's recorded a live solo CD as well as a live trio CD and, now, we have "Free Flying" (Palmetto Records), a duo CD with the splendid young guitarist Julian Lage.  Recorded live at the Kitano in February of 2013, the program features 9 tracks, 7 composed by Hersch plus "Beatrice" by Sam Rivers and "Monk's Dream" by Thelonious Monk.  2 of the originals come from the pianist's suite "Songs Without Words", first recorded in 2001 for Nonesuch Records and the other 5 all carry dedications to musicians save for "Gravity's Pull", dedicated to poet Mary Jo Salter who collaborated with the pianist on a 2007 song cycle, "Rooms of Light."

Lage, who first came to notice in 2006 when he first worked with vibraphonist Gary Burton (that collaboration continues to this day in the New Gary Burton Quartet), is such a facile player and thinker.  He, like Hersch, has no fear of jumping into the musical fray.  Their interactions on the title track (dedicated to Egberto Gismonti) are stunning, their high notes blending to where you cannot tell them apart.  The gentle yet dramatic sway of "Song Without Words #3: Tango" displays the duo's intuitive interactions, Hersch building his solo from Lage's phrases.  When one solos, the other support in various melodic ways.  "Down Home (for Bill Frisell)" was first recorded on the pianist's 1998 CD with Frisell - here, it has a funky New Orleans in the rhythm and Hersch's delightful solo.  Lage's supporting phrases move from chunky Freddie Green chords (he of Count Basie Band fame) to bluesy riffs that slide around the piano lines.

The duo brings out the sunshine in Rivers' lovely melody that the saxophonist wrote to honor his wife and the frisky "Stealthiness (for Jim Hall)" shows a bluesy side of Lage even as the 2 engage in a series of playful exchanges.  More "play" on "Monk's Dream", with Hersch's quirky solo including a right hand up on the highest notes as his left reaches for the bass notes.  The suspended rhythms during the guitar solo add a pleasing bit of tension;  Lage matches Hersch playfulness with a solo that channels  Monk, Charlie Christian and early George Benson.

In his liner notes, Fred Hersch talks about how much he and Julian Lage enjoy the textures they create in this music.  It's not hard to hear that the two are kindred souls, the musical couple that finishes each other's phrases or reacts to a solo by quoting the other.  At times, "Free Flying" is just dazzling, breath-taking music that seems on the verge of a cliff, never falling off the edge but soaring over the valleys with ease.  Grab ahold and enjoy the ride!  For more information, go to

Monday, September 2, 2013

Four Bass Hits

After releasing the excellent "Noneto Iberico" (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records) in 2011, bassist/composer Alexis Cuadrado went to work on a project on which he wrote to selected poems that the Spanish writer/poet Federico Garcia Lorca created during the 9 months he was in the United States during the time before and after the Stock Market Crash in 1929.  "Poeta en Nueva York" was not published during Lorca's lifetime but 4 years after he was assassinated in a graveyard by soldiers of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.  Reading through the volume, one can see that the poet was shocked by what he saw and heard, a city in the thrall of racism, bootleg liquor and technology.

Cuadrado chose 8 pieces to record, resulting in the 7 tracks that comprise "A Lorca Soundscape" (Sunnyside Records).  He entrusted the words to Claudia Acuna and she is magnificent as she walks through Lorca's harsh city. The dramatic nature of the pieces blended with (often) surrealistic lyrics makes for music ripe with tension. Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon plays with great passion throughout, as if he were channeling the poet's emotional state - when he wraps his keening saxophone around the vocalist's cries on "Asesinato (Dos Voces de Madrugada en Riverside Drive)", it's a chilling and exciting moment.  The Afro-Cuban rhythms, supplied by drummer Mark Ferber and guest percussionist Gilmar Gomes of "Danzas de la Muerte" ("Dance of Death") support rippling piano lines from Dan Tepfer as well as the rapid-fire delivery of both Ms. Acuna and Zenon.  Ferber is also quite a presence in this music; his understanding and executions of the various rhythms is vital to the success.  He drives and pushes his fellow musicians on like the intimate then fiery ballad "La Aurora" (Dawn)"; he allows the composer to play the melody and also counterpoint. Tepfer's rumbling piano supports the voice on "New York", a piece that rallies against the conspicuous consumption of the city's inhabitants.  Creative overdubbing creates a musical "Tower of Babel" in the impassioned center of the song with numerous alto saxophones arguing with multiple pianos.  Tepfer's gentle lines lead the listener into "Vals en las Ramas"(Waltz of the Branches"), perhaps the sweetest melody in the program and also some of the most surrealistic lyrics in the program (many of which explode.  When Ms. Acuna sings the following verse "Llegará un torso de sombra coronado de laurel. Será el cielo para el viento duro como una paredy las ramas desgajadas se irán bailando con él" (which translates to "A shadow’s torso will arrive, wearing a laurel crown. For the wind, the sky will be as hard as a wall and all the drowned branches will leave as they dance"), she does so with the rhythm section gently beneath but as she reaches the lines that follow, Zenon enters and the music soars.  But, Ms. Acuna calms the saxophone's swirling lines but (vocally) bringing the swirling winds of music (Tepfer's lines, at times, resemble a dust devil) down to the earth ever-so-gently.

Federico Garcia Lorca saw the United States at its worst; it scared and sickened him.  8 decades later, Alexis Cuadrado, a native of Barcelona, Spain now an American citizen, watched the US economy suffer due to the excesses of greed, squandering of natural resources and vanity.  The music he creates on "A Lorca Soundscape" reflects Lorca's shock, imbuing the words with a panoply of emotions.  With the assistance and input of Claudia Acuna, Miguel Zenon, Dan Tepfer and Mark Ferber (plus Gilmar Gomes), the words and music come alive, a cautionary tale that also dances and sways to the rhythms of the composer's (and the poet's) Spanish heritage.  For more information, go to  

Bassist/composer Linda Oh, born in Malayasia, raised in Perth, Australia and now living in New York City, is a most intense musician.  She plays the acoustic bass with great skill yet never flaunts her technique.  Now a member of David Douglas's Quintet, she has worked with with pianists Pascal Le Beouf and Fabian Almazan.  As a composer, she writes pieces that have solid structures yet room for movement.

"Sun Pictures" is her 3rd CD as a leader and 2nd for the Greenleaf Music label.  Joining her on this session smartly recorded live in the studios of WKCR-FM New York (Columbia University) is Ben Wendel (alto saxophone), Ted Poor (drums) and fellow Australian James Muller (electric guitar).  The music ranges from the electronic collage of the opening track ("Shutterspeed Dreams") to the blues-inflected "Footfall", a tune on which the rhythm section locks into the groove and lets the music flow freely on top.  Muller, who has a successful career in his native land and has toured the world with drummer Chad Wackerman and worked with Maria Schneider, has a wonderful fluid style that matches well with Wendel's breathy abstractions.  The quartet can also fire on all cylinders, as is evident on the fiery funk of "Yoda" that builds off of the leader's percussive bass intro to a driving solo section.  The 'live" sound of Poor's drums shouts out of the speakers as the Muller and Wendel spar near the close of the song. "Terminal 3" is a sweet ballad; Poor's brush work and Muller's inventive chordal comping behind Ms. Oh's excellent solo while providing a good foundation for Wendel's melodic explorations.

Linda Oh builds most of these pieces off of strong melodies, allowing for the creative interaction throughout the program. This is music that not only displays the leader's continuing growth as a musician but her innate abilities in the rhythm section. "Sun Pictures" is indeed a collection of bright moments.  For more information, go to

Dave Holland came to the United States at the end in 1968 to join Miles Davis as the trumpeter/visionary began to move away from acoustic music (the native of Wolverhampton, England, replaced Ron Carter). After leaving Davis, he hooked with Chick Corea, Barry Altschul and Anthony Braxton to form the "free jazz" quartet Circle.  In 1972, Sam Rivers joined Holland, Altschul and Braxton to record "Conference of the Birds", considered by many as one of the best albums released by Manfred Eicher on ECM.  The bassist appeared on a number of Anthony Braxton's Lps in the mid-1970s. Anyone who has followed the bassist's career knows he has been prolific as a sideman and has lead a number of excellent ensembles.

His latest project is a quartet he calls Prism featuring Craig Taborn (piano, electric piano), Eric Harland (drums) and is a reunion with guitarist Kevin Eubanks (brother Robin played trombone with Holland's quintet, sextet and big band throughout the 1st decade of the 2000s.)   On the quartet's self-titled debut (released on Holland's Dare2 Records), the guitarist howls, wails, cries, shreds and basically obliterates his sidekick image.  He composed 3 of the 9 tunes, including the rip-snorting opener "The Watcher" (is Harland playing the intro to "Shaft" as Taborn's electric piano brings the piece in?)  Anyone who has seen and heard Eric Harland in Charles Lloyd's New Quartet or the SFJazz Collective knows how imaginative and forceful he can be on his kit. He can handle tricky rhythm changes or time signatures without blinking, caress his cymbals and kick the daylights out of his bass drum.  He's also a fine composer, with 2 of his pieces here, including the incendiary "Choir" that opens with the drums and electric guitar (sounding like a organ) pushing like mad.  When Taborn and Holland, the quartet "swing" mightily beneath Taborn's piano solo. The drummer's other contribution, "Breathe", is a stunning ballad, cymbals washing behind the rich piano lines, Eubank's long notes and the leader's handsome counterpoint.

Holland contributes 2 new pieces as well including the dynamic "A New Day" with its finely-constructed melody and chord structure plus a pulsating rhythm track that Harland shines on.  "The Empty Chair (For Clare)" is dedicated to the bassist's wife (who passed in 2011) - it is a blues built upon a simple bass line also played by Taborn on electric piano.  Holland takes a long solo, filled with blues figures but neither sorrowful or raging but emotionally strong.  Eubanks is the one who "burns", showing a touch of Jimi Hendrix and Larry Carlton in his fierce solo.  Holland's thick tones open "The True Meaning of Determination" (one of Taborn's 2 pieces) that soon moves into a jack-hammer rhythm that may remind some of pieces that Chick Corea wrote for Return To Forever.  The interaction of the acoustic piano and electric guitar over the forceful rhythm section is joyous, raucous, and, when Taborn switches to electric piano during the guitar solo, the piece gets even more intense.

Intense is a good word to describe this music.  There are quieter moments as well as a strong feel of "funk" on others. Within the space of 10 seconds on Eubanks' "Evolution", the song moves from flat-out flying over the guitar solo to a funky drive as a backdrop for the electric piano solo.  Then, there's the drum solo - let's just say it took the house a while to settle back on its foundation only to be rattling again for another guitar solo.  Prism has given fusion music an updated sound for the 2000-teens - After 4+ decades playing creative music, Dave Holland continues to enthrall listeners by taking chances and making honest music.  This music truly rocks! For more information, go to

Mario Pavone latest venture, dubbed Arc Trio, featuring pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver, have a new album on Playscape Recordings and it is the exemplar of what creative music should.  The 3-way conversation never flags, the interactions are exciting and the music challenging.  Right from the opening notes of "Andrew", bassist Pavone (who composed all the tunes) sets the tone with his furious strumming. Taborn plays the short melody and moves right into his solo while Cleaver, who has worked on-and-off with the bassist for over a decade, kicks and pushes the rhythm.  "Not Five Kimono" is slower but no less intense, impressive in how the bass and drums fit together to not only support Taborn but continually move the piece forward. Pavone's chunky chords and Cleaver's splashing cymbals and active high-hat generate great tension that pianist pushes against and rises over. "Hotep", dedicated to the late South African pianist/composer Hotep Idris Galeta (1941-2010) who spent 6 years as a lecturer at the Hartt School of Music/University of Hartford in the 1980s, opens with a purposeful swing in the bass line then moves into a melody that displays the influence of Thelonious Monk but also has quite a percussive feel. "Alban Berg" swings lustily yet shifts tempo at ease, the bassist keeping the tempo while Cleaver alternately "swings" and "plays around" the tempo interacting with Taborn.

Mario Pavone, The bassist, who produced this live session (recorded February 1, 2013 at the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City, chooses to fade out several of the tracks, leading one to believe that the Trio played these pieces as part of a suite.  Other pieces end without applause.  

Mario Pavone explains in the liner notes that these pieces and his approach to their performances has its roots in the music of Andrew Hill (specifically the 2-bass approach on "Smokestack"), Steve Kuhn, Dick Twardzik, Keith Jarrett (early Trio music) and Muhal Richard Abrams with Malachi Favors ("Sight Song").  Yet, "Arc Trio" is neither imitative nor dated - instead, the music stands right alongside its influences as consummate creative music.  For more information, go to  (Official release date is 9/17/13.)