Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sept. 12 - An Embarrassment of Richness + Super Group Music

I understand that, if you look at a calendar of jazz events in New York City on any given night, there's at least 2 shows you might want to attend (3 or more on the weekends). Living here in CT, we are blessed by our proximity to The Big Apple and its plethora of venues. Still, there are a growing number of great concert spaces in our state that vie for one's attention. Listed below are 4 shows taking place on the same night, any one of which is your worth your attention.

The Firehouse 12 Fall 2014 Concerts Series begins this Friday; it's an impressive lineup with a strong start.  The Ingrid Laubrock Quintet, led by the German-born tenor saxophonist/composer, will play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - of music that truly is her own. Ms. Laubrock, who has worked alongside the likes of Kenny Wheeler, Professor Anthony Braxton, dave Douglas, Mary Halvorson and so many others, creates music that runs the gamut from experimental to through-composed, from austere to playful. Her group features Tim Berne (alto saxophone), Ben Gerstein (trombone), Dan Peck (tuba) and her husband Tom Rainey (drums), all musicians who navigate the creative music waters with grace, wit and plenty of muscle.

In the coming weeks, the Firehouse, located at 45 Crown Street in New Haven, presents the trio of Evan Parker, Joe Morris & Nate Woodley (9/19), guitarist Michael Gregory Jackson & Spirit - Signal - Strata (9/26), and the Michael Musillami Trio + Kris Davis (10/04).  For more information, go to or call 203-785-0468.

About 15-20 minutes (by foot) to the northeast of The Firehouse, The Yale School of Music Ellington Jazz Series presents the Ravi Coltrane Quartet in concert at 8 p.m. in Morse Recital Hall, 470 College Street. Coltrane, the second son of Alice and John Coltrane, has long out-paced his father's great legacy and created one of his own. He's a fine tenor player/composer as well as the co-owner of RKM Music, label that has recorded trumpeter Ralph Alessi and pianist Luis Perdomo, both of whom have played in Coltrane's Quartet. Besides cutting his improvisational teeth in Steve Coleman and Elvin Jones's groups, the saxophonist has recorded 6 CDs as a leader, the latest being 2012's "Spirit Fiction", his debut for Blue Note Records.

On Friday, Coltrane brings a new group to the Elm City campus venue, replacing the piano with guitarist Adam Rogers and adding the rhythm section of Matt Brewer (bass) and Nate Smith (drums).  Each member of the group is a leader on his own; Rogers and Brewer have CDs on the Criss Cross label while Smith, currently the drummer in Dave Holland's Quintet and Big Band, has a CD coming on BJU Records later this month.

For ticket information, go to or call 203-432-4158.  To learn more about the leader, go to

WHUS-FM, the radio station for the University of Connecticut in Storrs, presents the Michael Musillami Trio + special guests Kris Davis & Jimmy Greene in concert at 8 p.m. in Von Der Mehden Recital Hall, 875 Coventry Road, Unit 1128.  Guitarist/composer Musillami, whose Trio with bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller, has been exciting audiences for the past decade +, is celebrating a new 2-CD set titled "Pride" just released on the leader's Playscape Recordings label (my review is here).  The second disk in the set is a live date from 2007 featuring violinist Mark Feldman but the first album was recorded earlier this year with the lineup that will perform at UCONN.  Ms. Davis appears on the entire program but Mr. Greene (who has recorded several times with Playscape artist Mario Pavone) only appears on 2 cuts.  Not sure what the live concert will include but I cannot imagine the saxophonist will sit out most of the show.   

The ticket prices are incredibly low (free for students) - for more information, go to

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme welcomes flutist and soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett with her new group Maqueque.   Ms. Bunnett, a Canadian musician whose musical tastes are international (if not universal), organized this group of musicians on one of her sojourns to Cuba and they are a sassy, exciting, bunch, who have really added a spark to her music.  Maqueque includes Dayme Arocena (voice), Magdelys Savigne (bata drums, congas, percussion, voice) Yissy Garcia (drums), Yusa (tres, bass guitar) and Danae Olana (piano, voice). Judging by the music on their just-released self-titled debut CD (Justin Time) and their August appearance at the Litchfield Jazz Festival, Jan and Ken of The Side Door might just want to reinforce the walls; this sextet plays with great fire and joy. To find out ore about this fascinating collaboration, go to

Doors open at 7:30 and the music commences at 8:30 p.m. For more information, go to or call 860-434-0886.

On Saturday night, The Side Door presents the Bruce Barth Quartet. Pianist Barth, one of the finer keyboard artists of the quarter-century, is bringing an all-star group including Jerry Bergonzi (tenor saxophone), Linda Oh (bass) and Montez Coleman (drums).  Although he's up in the Boston-area, we don't get to see and hear Mr. Bergonzi very often; his muscular tenor is a welcome sound any time on hears it. The splendid rhythm section will make this a fun show.  Check out The Side Door website for more information.

"Coalition", the new CD featuring Kenny Werner (piano, electric piano), Miguel Zenon (alto saxophone), Benjamin Koppel (alto, mezzo-soprano, baritone saxophones), Ferenc Nemeth (drums, percussion) and Lionel Loueke (guitar, bass, vocals), initially was scheduled to a project for the pianist. He chose the musicians; having played with Koppel, Nemeth and Loueke in the past, Mr. Werner wanted to hear Zenon's voice in that mix.  After rehearsing and playing several gigs, Werner writes in the liner notes "the group stopped being mine....It became a true Coalition."  

Not just a Coalition but a full-blown treat, a splendid session from beginning to end. The only real question is "With all this firepower, why did it take 3+ years for this music to be released?  It's out now, thanks to Half Note Records, and well worth investigating.  Heck, the opening 2 tracks, Zenon's "Phonetics #2 (Folk Dance)" and Werner's "April Blue" truly whet one's appetite. The former opens with the composer clapping out the infectious rhythm while Loueke adds his voice and funky "chicken-scratch" guitar - all of sudden, Nemeth takes over the rhythm, goosed on by the guitarist's deep bass lines.  The piano and reeds enter and the piece really takes off. Zenon plays his usual energetic solo (he has such an inviting sound) as does Koppel (also on alto).  In between the 2 (not quite which alto is which), Werner really digs into his solo urged on by the drums and bass guitar.
Meanwhile, the latter piece opens in a Latin groove, Koppel's baritone playing the melody with the alto sax.  The chord progression keeps the piece moving in an upward motion. Nemth's active drumming and Loueke's thick bass lines plus clicking guitar are attractive, giving the piece its forward motion.

Loueke's "Flying", originally on the guitarist's 2010 "Mwaliko" CD, opens with quiet guitar and the composer's overdubbed/electronically altered voices.  One can also see the dancers jumping about to the rhythmic fire and, suddenly, the piece breaks out into a mid-1970s Weather Report-like funky swing, Werner's electric piano matching lines with the guitar. Zenon flies over the stop-and-start groove.  During the keyboard solo, Koppel's baritone shadows the bass line, adding his deep voice to the mix.  I laughed out loud at least 5 times at the brash energy and smoking rhythms that everybody plays.

"Swan Song" is the only ballad in the program and features a long, melodic, unaccompanied piano solo that is undeniably lovely and emotionally rich. Koppel's sweet solo on mezzo-soprano also stands out, soaring atop the spare but solid bass and drums. Loueke's fiery guitar solo changes the mood (the rhythm in the latter part of the piece is reminiscent of Keith Jarrett's work with Dewey Redman, Paul Motian and Charlie Haden) but the handsome blend of saxophones carries the tune to a peaceful conclusion.

The final 2 tracks take the CD on more rhythmic adventures, with "Tune 4" flowing on a Afro-Cuban rhythm with 2 excellent saxophone solos (Koppel's closes his mezzo-soprano spotlight with a nod to Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas") and a rousing piano spot.  "Wishful Dreaming" opens quietly with just acoustic piano behind Loueke's guitar and wordless vocals. Once the band enters, the rest of the band comes in on a waltz with the 2 saxophones weaving in and around each other.  Slowly, the intensity picks up during Zenon's sweet solo, setting the stage for Koppel's even more intense mezzo-soprano solo.  Werner tamps down the fire with a fine piano solo over the "clicking" guitar and Nemeth's handsome brush work. The main theme returns slowly fading out until Loueke's voices return and the reeds and piano flutter in the background.  A serene finish to a great adventure.

Coalition has 4 live dates planned for 9/25-28, one at The Regatta Bar in Cambridge, MA and the remaining three at the Blue Note in NYC.  It'd be a sin if this quintet does not tour more.  However, their debut recording sounds great, especially at higher volumes (under headphones, the music shines brilliantly). The Half Note website remains under construction and Kenny Werner's site ( contains no info about the quintet other than the live dates.

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