Saturday, May 31, 2014

These Most Impressive "Views"

"Views From the Inside" (Whirlwind Recordings) is the debut CD of the JC Sanford Orchestra.  Sanford, a fine trombonist/arranger/composer, is well-represented on recordings having co-led the Schumacher/Sanford Sound Assembly, conducted the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, the Joel Harrison 19, the Alan Ferber Nonet with Strings, and the Alice Coltrane Orchestra.  He did his undergraduate work at the University of North Iowa and went on to study with Bob Brookmeyer at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Like his mentor Brookmeyer, his music for large ensemble blends brilliant section writing with highly intelligent melodies, advanced harmonies and, on the faster pieces, a brilliant use of percussion.  And, like most large ensembles/big bands, Sanford utilizes a very smart drummer/percussionist, in this instance the inventive Satoshi Takeishi.  Anyone who listens to contemporary music knows Takeishi's work with such artists as John Hebert, Shoko Nagai, Leslie Pintchik, Erik Friedlander and Anthony Braxton.  His partners in the rhythm section include Tom Beckham (vibraphone), Jacob Garchik (accordion), and Aidan O'Donnell (acoustic bass).   Reed players include Dan Willis (oboe, piccolo, flute, soprano), Ben Kono (Englsih horn, bass clarinet, clarinet, flute, alto saxophone), Chris Bacas (clarinet, soprano sax, tenor sax), Kenny Berger (contra-alto clarinet, bassoon, alto flute) while the brass section features Taylor Haskins (trumpet, flugelhorn, harmonizer), Matt Holman (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mark Patterson (tenor trombone), Jeff Nelson (tuba, bass trombone), Chris Komer (French horn) and the leader playing trombone solos on 2 tracks. Rounding the ensemble are Meg Okura (violin, electronics) and Will Martina (cello, electronics).

Sanford spreads 5 longer works through the recording, among them "An Attempt At Serenity." This piece opens the program with voices coming at the listener from all sides of the spectrum describing multiple "sufferings" (described by the composer as an "eight-layered cacophony of overlapping Buddhist recitations fear-based sufferings") out of which dark chords and instrumental cries begin to submerge the words leading to Berger's angry contra-alto clarinet taking the podium. After these "negative" sounds come to an abrupt halt, Holman's trumpet leads the band and listener into a more serene and assured aural-scape.

The title track, the longest cut at 15:12, stands out for its breadth and creative reach.  Created for Jill Echo and the Take Dance Company, the music goes through many sections, from chaos to serenity, dissonance to breath-taking melodic passages. Stravinsky, Copland, Stan Kenton, Steve Reich, myriad connections are made as the music unfolds; one feels as if the title refers to the composer as he works to make the sounds in his mind become reality, first onto paper then translated/interpreted by the musicians into what we hear (and begin to interpret from our life experiences.)

Included in the program are 5 of Sanford's "Brooklyn Vignettes", music inspired by the composer's residence. They range from the atmospheric "2nd & 7th" (as if the listener was walking down the street and came across a concert) to "Brownieland" (an ominous piece that pits Garchik's "wheezing" accordion against the intermittent brass, strings and Takeishi's imaginative percussion).  Later in the program, the listener joins the ensemble for an amble through "Sunset Park, Sunset Park", a composition that blends Takeishi's "whisking" percussion, a short melodic figure for vibes and accordion, Reich-like percussive phrases from the strings and dark chords that culminates in a gentle finale. The final "....Vignette", "Verrazano Bikeride", opens with an accordion figure that reminds this listener of works by Guy Klucevsek before morphing into a blues shuffle and setting for a fine Sanford solo that quotes from "A Love Supreme" as the percussionist engages him in a heated "conversation." There are also 3 pieces titled "Pre-Systems",  "Inter-Systems" and "Systems Two (Brooklyn Vignette # 6"); the first 2 are improvised duets for Haskins' trumpet/harmonizer and Takeishi with the final piece (dedicated to the studio where the sessions took place) starting with the duo and adding an orchestration for the full ensemble.

At nearly 70 minutes, "Views From the Inside" is truly a magnificent triumph but one that will take listeners time to appreciate. One hears a variety of melodies, imaginative arrangements, splendid musicianship, forceful and emotional solos, and ideas coming at one, seemingly, from all sides.  When all is said and done, I return to my initial response; "wow!"  For more information, go to or to Kudos also to Executive Producer Michael Janisch for making this music available to the world.

Listen to "Your Word Alone" for a sample of JC Sanford's musical visions:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Brooklyn Jazz Underground on Top

It's been 4 years since the debut CD by the Rob Garcia 4 and 2 since the band's 2nd effort.  "The Passion of Color" (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records) is the 3rd release featuring Garcia (drums), Dan Tepfer (piano) and Noah Preminger (tenor saxophone) with bassist Joe Martin joining the band (Chris Lightcap was on the 1st and John Hebert on the 2nd).

What has always impressed about Garcia's music is how equally important melody and rhythm are (not one above the other.)  There's nothing radically changed on this date but, if anything, the ensemble is tighter.  Garcia pushes his soloists on the up-tempo pieces; the title cut drives with such intensity especially during the very tenor solo.  Preminger has often accentuated his "softer" side but here he delivers quite a forceful solo.  Tepfer takes a more impressionistic approach which allows the leader's sparkling cymbal work to stand out.  Dig how the 4-some transforms Max Roach's hard-edged "It's Time" into a medium-tempo ballad, imbuing the piece with more of a blues feel. Garcia's short drum solo is notable for his melodic sensibility and staying "in the mood."  As a composer, Garcia writes to the strengths of his band.  Preminger's tenor on "Purple Blush" explores the melody in the style of Archie Shepp, short shards of melody in sync with the rhythm section.  Meanwhile, Tepfer is both melodic and abstract, downright bluesy too.  The playful rhythms of "The Caterpillar Vs. The Butterfly" gives the quartet plenty of room to maneuver in and around the propulsive bass lines (Martin "runs" not "walks") and the skitter, jittery, drums.  The pianist channels Bud Powell as he slides around the bass and drums. Garcia's splendid brush work sets the proper mood on "The Garden's Poet", a short tune that shows that everyone in the group can play melodies in support of each others.

The disk comes to a close on 2 fascinating tracks.  Speaking of melody, Garcia gives himself the spotlight, going it alone on "The Painter", delivering a drum solo that both swings and sings.  Then, Martin's full-tone bass lines lead the band in on a first-rate reading of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing." No one holds back, each member of the group digs deep into the modern blues that the composer created nearly 5 decades  ago and, although the piece is fairly quiet, there is an intensity of emotion that is palpable throughout.

The Rob Garcia 4 uses an impressive musical palette to create "The Passion of Color." The trust that the members of the group have with each other and the material provides the listener with an aural experience that satisfies on many levels, continuing to do so on subsequent listens.  And, as good as the recording is, the RG4 are a great band to see in person.  For more information, go to  CT residents, be aware - the Rob Garcia 4 plays The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme on Thursday July 10. Go to for ticket information.

Pianist/composer John Chin, a native of Korea who was raised in Los Angeles, has just issued his 2nd CD as a leader (his debut, "Blackout Conception", was released in 2008 on Fresh Sound New Talent). "Undercover" is a self-produced disk from sessions held in May of 2010 and finds the pianist in the company of drummer Dan Rieser and bassist Orlando Le Fleming.   At the time of the taping, the trio had been playing together for some time and Chin wanted to document its progress.  The 3 musicians worked in one room with no preconceived arrangements; the results are quite impressive.  Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington's "Caravan" is given quite a funky backbeat, a cross between Ramsey Lewis and The Bad Plus.  The pianist's polyphonic improvisations (basically, the right and left hands playing several line at the same time) give the trio a full sound.  3 of the other "covers" on the recording were penned by saxophonists including 2 by Wayne Shorter ("Edda" and "Fall") plus John Coltrane's "Countdown." Shorter's "Fall", recorded by Miles Davis on the "Nefertiti" Lp, has great drive, rightfully capturing the mood that composer intended but giving more of a pronounced backbeat.   Rieser and Le Fleming lock in nicely, giving Chin the foundation he needs to explore the harmonic possibilities.  The counterpoint created by the interaction of the piano and bass on Charlie Chaplin's exquisite "Smile" as well as the drummer's playful exploration of the rhythm makes for excellent listening.

Chin supplies 3 original pieces including the sweetly melodic title track that, at times, has the sound and feel of a Bruce Hornsby composition.  Chiming piano chords introduce "If For No One", a tune that blends a Brazilian feel with a classically inspired melody.  After the introduction and theme, Chin's solo rises out of the lower end of the keyboard, building in intensity before the pianist steps aside for the bass solo. "Seemingly" is a imposing ballad and a piece where Le Fleming's strong feel for melody meshes well with that of the pianist.

Again, it's no secret that there are, seemingly, thousands of piano trio recordings released each year.  Don't miss hearing "Undercover", especially for the intense group interactions and the impressive choice of material.  John Chin may have waited 4 years to release this CD; his patience and belief in his musical vision makes this project stand out. For more information, go to Give the music a listen by clicking on the Bandcamp link below.

Tenor saxophonist/composer Gianni Gagliardi, born in Barcelona, Spain and now living in Brooklyn, opens his debut CD "Nomadic Nature" with the sound of rain and thunder.  The song, "Paris", rises out of those sounds with a haunting circular melody that is pushed forward by the drive of Mark Ferber's drums, the throbbing bass lines of Alexis Cuadrado, the 2-handed chords of pianist Luke Marantz and hypnotic guitar work of Gilad Hekselman.   The youthful leader (25 at the time of these sessions) pushes forward with a solo that stays in the middle of his range, displaying the influence of Mark Turner.  He takes a more playful approach on "L'ironie D'une Jolie Prisse De Tete" (roughly translated as "the irony of a pretty headache") with the melody have a smattering of Iberian colors resting atop the electric piano chords.  "Macanudo Man" opens in a style reminiscent of Weather Report in its "Mysterious Traveler" phase, the major difference being Hekselman's probing guitar lines. The "grungy" guitar and distorted electric piano sounds give "Varicela Patagonia" a harder edge and the leader takes advantage of the "heaviness" of the chords to heft to his solo.

Perhaps, the most impressive piece is the handsome ballad "Margolinda" that opens with an impressionistic unaccompanied piano solo that leads to the finely constructed saxophone melody. Marantz takes a solo that moves away from that melody line  while Gagliardi sticks fairly closely to the chord structure.  The strength of the piece lies both in the strong melody but also in the propulsive work of Ferber and Cuadrado (the guitarist sits out for this performance).

"Nomadic Nature" speaks to the fact that young Gianni Gagliardi has already traveled far and wide.   He's well on his way to discovering his "sound", aided greatly on this project by an excellent ensemble.  As he continues to mature, one hopes he does not lose that inquisitive side of his song creation and lyrical nature to his saxophone playing.  For more information, go to

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Music For Remembrance & For Healing

Life is filled with mishaps, missteps and dangers.  Some we can anticipate, some that come as shocks.  Every day, we read of people dying in accidents, shootings, terrorist attacks and, unless we know someone involved in the event, our day continues.

How does one react when the tragedy hits close to home? There is certainly an immediate reaction (anger, sorrow, silence, tears) yet we try and move on.

"When Words Fail" (Motema Music), the new recording from trumpeter/composer/arranger David Weiss, is one artist's attempt to deal with loss (losses). In the year leading up to the sessions for this CD, there was the Sandy Hook massacre (where his friend and fellow musician Jimmy Greene and wife Nelba lost their daughter Ana) and a long-time acquaintance was pushed onto the subway tracks by a person who thought he was a Muslim.  Add to that the number of musicians who passed away; Weiss was often distraught and torn.  He channeled his emotions into this music.

To play these compositions (6 originals and 1 each by John Taylor and Karl Jenkins), Weiss reconvened his sextet, an ensemble that had not worked together in nearly a decade. Saxophonists Myron Walden (alto) and Marcus Strickland (tenor), pianist Xavier Davis, drummer E J Strickland and bassist Dwayne Burno make up the group with guitarist Ben Eunson (misspelled "Eunsen" on the CD cover) appearing on 2 tracks. Just 2 weeks after the session, bassist Burno passed away after a long battle with kidney disease.

This music does not wallow in pity or melancholy. Yes, there are moments of introspection on the title track and elsewhere in the program but, mostly, this music looks forward.  In fact, "The Intrepid Hub", the first track on the disk, burns with an intensity that Weiss picked up from his years working with Freddie Hubbard. E J Strickland really pushes the group while Burno keeps the rhythm flowing. Weiss dedicates the title track to the bassist, not only because of his loss but also because the bassist complimented him on the piece.  Walden's alto work stands out because of how he enters into the rhythm of the piece, reacting in melody to the force of the piano chords, the drive of the drums and the thick bass lines.  The leader builds his solo logically and with growing intensity.  Walden takes center stage on "Wayward", a piece that has a long introductory theme played by all that gives way to the alto solo. After his wailing notes fade, Davis steps out for a solo that pushes back against the waves created by his partners in the rhythm section.  The handsome melody and performance of "Loss" is dedicated to Motema label head Jana Herzen whose father passed in the months before the recording.

"White Magic" is a piece composed by British pianist John Taylor for a 1973 trio Lp; here, it's a hard-swinging piece that features strong solos from Strickland (tenor sax), Weiss, Walden, and Davis.  Karl Jenkins, who many remember as a member of the British "progressive jazz" ensemble Soft Machine, composed "Lullaby For a Lonely Child" in 1969 as a member of bassist Graham Collier's Sextet - the piece sounds influenced by Herbie Hancock and Horace Silver.  The theme section is long and Weiss's group takes its time getting to the solo section.  Walden's solo builds to a mighty crescendo, not so much a lullaby as a lament.

The closing track, "Passage into Eternity", comes from a missive that Ana Marquez-Greene's family wrote soon after her death. Instead of a dirge, the piece seems to take the strong faith that the family has and creates a shout against the darkness - not a scream but a defiant stand against the evil that wears so many guises.

"When Words Fail" is when music can stand in as a salve for those of us who stand by and feel hopeless.  This music is filled with hope, with sorrow, even with joy.  David Weiss has created music to remind us that pain, like joy, is fleeting, that we must cling to good memories and that imagination can be a powerful emancipator.  The musicianship throughout is impressive and impactful.  For more information, go to

The country of Haiti is one that has suffered much over the past 2 centuries.  The most successful slave revolt in the history of mankind (1791-1804) made the country the first Black republic in the world; they have paid for the freedom with a series of reprisals from the European and American monarchies and governments as well as a series of natural disasters and corrupt leaders that continue to wreak havoc on its economy.

In 2012, pianist/composer Bobby Avey, a native of the Poconos Region of Pennsylvania, traveled to Haiti to study its culture and, specifically, the Vodou traditions.  After a period of deep listening and analysis of several drumming ensembles, Avey created "Authority Melts From Me" (Whirlwind Recordings).  Instead of organizing his own drum ensemble and recreating the sounds he had heard on the journey, the pianist recruited Miguel Zenon (alto saxophone), Ben Monder (guitar, acoustic guitar, effects), Thomson Kneeland (bass) and Jordan Perlson (drums) to play his music based on his studies and celebrating the revolution.

The results are quite impressive. The 5 compositions include 3 long works plus a short piano interlude (hushed, rippling, phrases) and short drum interlude (forceful).  Everyone plays wonderfully throughout but extra special kudos go to Perlson.  His authoritative work on the trap set and assorted percussion drives the longer works, setting the pace, signaling changes and representing the force of the will of the people.  Avey's piano work is often quite percussive but also richly melodic.  He leads the ensemble in on the opening track, "Kalfou" (translates to "intersections" or "crossroads"), then  sitting out for Monder's raucous spot before offering thick chords for Zenon's high-flying solo.  In the meantime, the rhythm section are raising the intensity level. "Louverture" (dedicated to the leader of the revolt), creeps in on percussive figures played high up on the keyboard.  Perlson and Kneeland advance the melody line before Zenon enters with his own melody - his solo starts quietly, short melodic fragments that soon give way to longer phrases, like declarations of intent as the drummer stokes the fire.  After the alto solo reaches its climax, the rumbling piano combines with looped guitar feedback to create a dream-like state.  Several minutes later, the rhythm section enters with a martial beat before the rhythm takes on a "vodou" feel.   The final long track, "Cost", begins at the end of the "Drum Interlude"; the melody, as played by alto sax and piano, has a formal feel while the guitar, bass and drums swirl like a hot wind below it. The piano solo rises out of the melody and above the swirling drums and forceful bass lines.  Monder picks his way through the piano lines as a quiet interlude before Zenon enters.  His solo starts with short, percussive, phrases that soon take off on the power of the rhythm section.  After a long crescendo (Monder on electric here), the piece fades out on finger-picked acoustic guitar and piano.

"Authority Melts From Me" is, indeed, powerful music with a message about the costs of freedom and the perils of foreign neglect and/or intervention.  In his liner notes, Bobby Avey reminds us that the United States is not innocent when it comes to the current state of affairs in Haiti, supporting the dictators Duvalier (father and son) as well as helping to overthrow the popularly elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991 and, again in 2004.  Then, the earthquake of 2010, the outpouring of support and money, much of which did not reach the people who needed it the most and another long, slow, recovery.   The music does not sweep away the misery but acts as a reminder of the power of native traditions in the time of upheaval. For more information, go to and/or

Here's a taste of Avey's "Authority.."

Monday, May 26, 2014

Trumpets + Guitar + Voice Live + 2 CD Picks

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme opens its door this Friday and Saturday nights to 2 fine trumpeters.  First up is Jeremy Pelt (pictured left) and his Face Forward ensemble.  Pelt, who is on the faculty of the Jackie McLean Institute at the Hartt School, is a fine player who blends numerous styles into his original music.  The California native studied at the Berklee School of Music and went on to work with groups led by Roy Hargrove, Greg Osby, and Ravi Coltrane as well as the Mingus Big Band. Since his 2002 debut CD, Pelt has produced 11 recordings for labels such as MaxJazz, Criss Cross, Smalls Live and, most recently, HighNote.  The Face Forward ensemble, named for his latest release, mixes electronic and acoustic instruments plus elements of jazz, r'n'b, soul music and more into a highly listenable stew.  To find out more and the talented trumpeter/composer, go to

On Saturday, Etienne Charles returns to The Side Door (he was  member of Rene Marie's band that appeared just a few weeks ago). Born in Trinidad and raised in Florida, Charles, who is still in his 20s, studied with Marcus Roberts and has worked with saxophonist Benny Golson, Roberta Flack, Wynton Marsalis, and Maria Schneider.  He has created 3 CDs for his own Culture Shock label, the latest being 2013's "Creole Soul".

Charles possesses a bright tone, a sound which serves his music, a delicious gumbo of Caribbean, New Orleans, blues and jazz, so well.  He's now on the faculty of Michigan State University while maintaining a busy performance schedule. To learn more about the musician, go to

For tickets to either one or both of these shows, go to or call 860-434-0886.

Firehouse 12 in New Haven presents the duo of Brandon Ross (guitars, banjo) and Stomu Takeishi (acoustic bass guitar) in concert this Friday May 30. They are touring under the name of For Living Lovers and in support of their debut CD "Revealing Essence" (Sunnyside Records).  The album, much of which was recorded in the Firehouse 12 studios by Nick Lloyd, is filled with haunting melodies, quiet solos, fine supportive work from Takeishi and intriguing ideas from Ross. The music is dream-like, rarely forceful but emotionally powerful.  Ross, who has worked with Henry Threadgill and Cassandra Wilson (among others), plays acoustic guitar in ways that suggest both Derek Bailey and James Emery without sounding like either one. Takeishi, who played alongside Ross in Mr. Threadgill's ensemble, has also worked with pianist Myra Melford and cellist Erik Friedlander.  His bass lines are clear and clean, with round tones that fill the tunes.

For Living Lovers plays 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for more information, go to or call 203-785-0468.

Vocalist Karen Frisk, a native of Cromwell, CT, brings her fine Quartet to The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown this Saturday (5/31) for an 8 p.m. performance.   Ms. Frisk, who possesses a 5-octave range, started singing at a young age in her church choir and in community theater productions. She went on to study both piano and voice, moving to Cape Cod, MA, performing there and in Boston.  She's living in Connecticut again and performing throughout the Northeast.  Her excellent band includes pianist Kent Hewitt, the great bassist Brian Torff, and drummer Rich Tortorigi.  To find out more about Ms. Frisk, go to  For reservations and ticket information, go to or call 860-347-4957.

Bassist Jeff Denson, who has worked and recorded with Lee Konitz plus is 1/3rd of the trio Minsarah (with pianist Florian Weber and drummer Ziv Ravitz, has issued a most uplifting duo recording with pianist Joshua White.  "I'll Fly Away" (pfMENTUM Records) is a album of gospel tunes, several of which the bassist  played at the funerals of his grandmother and father.  The title tracks - 3 versions of the Alfred Brumley tune - range from  the opening Fats Waller meets Charles Ives version to the deep blues of the second reading to the manic all-out swing version that closes the CD.   It's not that White or Denson are being facetious but more that they are celebrating the joy that the music brings and the good memories of the people who passed.  Denson's bowed bass reading of "Amazing Grace" stresses the beauty of the melody while going on to give the tune the feel of an Appalachian folk tune. His other solo piece, "Crying In The Chapel", is wonderfully melodic, getting quite bluesy at times.  The duo is pensive on "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" and take "When The Saints Go Marching In" on a jaunt that runs the gamut from hard-bop to traditional.

Joshua White, a native of Southern California, is a splendid pianist who has worked with bassist Mark Dresser, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and guitarist Anthony Wilson - he currently leads a quartet that features saxophonist David Binney as well as drummer Mark Ferber.  He and Jeff Denson have an excellent rapport, supporting each other and sometimes playing independently.  "I'll Fly Away" is filled with fine religious music but should appeal to music lovers of all faiths.  For more information, go to    

Saxophonist Rich Halley lives in Oregon and enjoys hiking through the mountains in the central part of the state, understanding the majesty of nature and man's role in both destroying and protecting his environment.  He also leads the Rich Halley 4, a group that features Michael Vlatkovich (trombone), Clyde Reed (bass) and his son Carson (drums). "The Wisdom of Rocks" (Pine Eagle Music) is the quartet's 4th CD in 4 years and may be the best of a very strong bunch of recordings.  There are 2 short group improvisations, a duo for tenor and drums, and some of the strongest rhythms you'll hear this or any year.  The band comes blasting out for the chute with "The Atoll" that has the drive of the music created by the Vandermark 5, a hearty tenor solo and a forceful trombone solo.  The rhythm section pushes with great intensity without losing its focus.  The title track has a "cool" feel and a wonderful blowsy 'bone solo.  One can see the band contemplating the heavens on "Faint Scattered Lights", a short ballad with an insistent throbbing beat and moaning sounds from the sax, 'bone and bowed bass.  There's a ton of funk on "The Get-Go" and a deep sense of the blues on "Heat In May", featuring a subdued tenor sax solo.  More blues can be felt and heard on "Radial Symmetry" but this time it burns with a fever; the saxophonist  certainly can stoke the fire while the trombonist gets pretty hot himself. The program closes with the group composition "Conversation In Blue", a short piece that reminds this listener of the mid-50s work of Jimmy Guiffre and Bob Brookmeyer but with a bit of an edge.

The music on "The Wisdom of Rocks" feels both new and familiar.  The  has worked together long enough now to know each other's strengths, understand how to support and egg each other on, and feel that that the music does not need to be complicated to be creative.  The music of the Rich Halley 4 does satisfy the soul - to find out more, go to

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Look Into Inner Circle Music

Since the beginning of 2014, Inner Circle Music, the label saxophonist/composer Greg Osby started in 2007, has issued 5 CDs.  Four of them are reviewed below, each one unique and well worth listening to. To find out more about the artists Mr. Osby has recorded, go to

Upon listening through "Primavera" several times, one is struck by a number of impressions; most of all, the wife-and-husband collaboration of Sara Serpa (voice, keyboards) and Andre Matos (guitars, bass) is so bright and full of life.  Not surprising because when the recording process began, Ms. Serpa was pregnant and, by the time the duo completed the sessions, their first child was born.
14 songs make up the program, 2 with lyrics by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa and 1 by e.e. cummings, 1 each by Gullermo Klein and the duo of Jeanne Lee & Ran Blake (with whom Ms. Serpa has recorded 2 lovely CDs) and the rest by either the vocalist or her husband.

I hear John Lennon's "Julia" in the lovely and deliberate melody of "Tempo" as well as XTC's Andy Partridge on "Song for a Sister"  The duo substitute guitar for piano on Lee & Blake's "Vanguard" (which Ms. Serpa also recorded with pianist Blake), making the piece less mysterious but still moving.  Label head Greg Osby appears on Matos' "Choro" where he wraps his flowing lines around the duo. There are moments when either the guitar or the saxophone shadows the vocal and that give-and-take makes the piece stand out.  Leo Genovese appears on 3 tracks playing a variety of instruments - his lovely melodica rises out of the wordless vocal lines on "Rios" sounding like Toots Thielemans.  He also adds bomba leguero and piano to the sweet Serpa ballad "Nuvem" plus toy guitar to the uptempo "Kubana."  Ms. Serpa takes the e.e. cummings' poem "i Thank You God for most this amazing" for the final track, "Earth" where her simple yet effective Fender Rhodes lines give Matos the room to add counterpoint.

Throughout the album, Andre Matos complements Sara Serpa's vocals with his expressive guitar lines.  He's not out to show his technical skills but to be a painter of the scenes that the melodies and harmonies create.  In Portuguese, "Primavera" means "in spring", the season of renewal and creation.  Listening to this music, you'll say "yes" to all counts.  For more information, go to Also, listen to Sara and Andre on "The Jazz Session" - go to Check out the CD below.

Alto saxophonist Alex LoRe, a native of Tarpon Springs, Florida, is a young saxophonist/composer whose Inner Circle debut, "Dream House", will thrill fans of the saxophone trio. LoRe, who graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music in 2009 and the Manhattan School of Music in 2011, has studied with George Garzone, Bunky Green, James Moody, Lee Konitz, Frank Carlberg, Dave Liebman and Steve Wilson (and others).  For his debut CD, his Trio mates include the thoughtful supportive bassist Desmond White and the delightful drummer Colin Stranahan plus former teacher Garzone appears on 3 of the 8 tracks.

The rhythm section gives LoRe plenty of support throughout the program.  Case in point - the lovely ballad "Tonight I Shall Sleep."  The melody feels like a Bach sonata filtered through an Ellingtonian lens (it actually is an Ellington composition from 1945 that he recorded with trombonist Tommy Dorsey) with the leader's handsome alto sax sounding like a young Johnny Hodges.  Stranahan stays with brushes throughout and, boy, can he dance.  White's rich bass lines offering a counterpoint through the melody and the alto solo. "Too Soon" also has a classical feel, especially in the long arc of the melody line and the bouncing bass lines.The airy alto leads in "Here Comes Tomorrow" (composed by White) but the rhythm section really pushes against the limpid sax lines with more strong counterpoint from White and very active but not intrusive pal from the drummer.

George Garzone joins forces on the front line and the blend of the 2 saxophones suits the ballad "Forward" just fine.  LoRe's melody unfolds slowly with the teacher weaving his lines in and around the student.  Stranahan's playing actually has a strong melodic bent while his cymbal work shimmers.  White, a native of Perth, Australia (who is also a fine singer-songwriter), makes all the right moves, all of which makes the music so compelling. The dual saxes also the opening and closing tracks additional urgency; "Amnesia" opens the proceedings in modified bop fashion but it's the splendid insistent bass lines that truly moves the piece forward while the program closes with the high energy "Buto." Stranahan gets to step out, playing with a joyous fire that is so inviting.  Garzone rides atop the waves of percussion and the motoring walking bass lines. The title track has a stunning melody line accentuated by White's droning bowed bass and Stranahan's subtle drive.

Alex LoRe rarely shortchanges a piece, letting the music unfold logically.  His alto lines  develop intelligently, making many of the tracks sounds as if one was watching the creative process in real time.  The trio plays with great freedom yet never loses sight of the importance of the melodies.  "Dream House" is a lovely abode, one in which the listener can relax and open up to a delightful experience.  For more information, go to

If you enjoy the stew that can be created when jazz comes in contact with music from diverse cultures, place "Visions" in the player.  Vocalist Kavita Shah, a native of Manhattan, approaches her debut recording as a leader with no trepidation.  Opening with Cape Verdean composer/performer Amandio Cabral's "Sodade", one must be prepared to be surprised.  The blend of co-producer Lionel Loueke's acoustic guitar, the koto of Yacouba Sissoko, acoustic bass of Linda Oh, the tabla of Stephen Cellucci and hand percussion of Rogerio Boccato, the song floats in on Ms. Shah's rich voice (overdubbed later to create a sweet chorus).  When the string quartet enters, it's the perfect touch.  The title track, the Stevie Wonder song with such hopeful lyrics, has a strong drum track (Guilhem Flouzat) and percussive guitar (Michael Valeanu) plus atmospheric piano (Steve Newcomb - Ms. Shah is the vocalist in his Orchestra).  The overdubbed vocals create an orchestra of its own. The 3rd track, Joni Mitchell's "Little Green" (from 1971's "Blue") builds on the original with Ms. Shah's showing the influence of the composer's elastic voice but using the koto, piano, percussion bass, and Flouzat's sensitive brushwork creates a dream-like background.

That's just the first 3 tracks.  Then, there is the tabla-driven reading of M.I.A's "Paper Planes" (the original version used a sample from The Clash) that also features strong work from Valeanu and Steve Wilson (soprano saxophone) followed by a lovely take on A. C. Jobim's "Triste" driven by more fine brushwork, Ms. Oh's melodic/percussive bass work, Valeanu's strong rhythm guitar and the alto flute of Wilson (whose other appearance is on "Deluge", Ms. Shah's take on the Wayne Shorter composition from his "Juju" Lp). Loueke's voice and guitar join Ms. Shah on the exciting reading of "Oju Oba", a Brazilian tune from composers Edil Pacheco and Paulo César Pinheiro made popular by Gilberto Gil. The string quartet is employed to great effect on the 3-part "Rag Desh" that not only shows the vocalist's wonderful range and understanding of South Indian music but her creative arranging skills as she adds koto and a full rhythm section as the piece (based on a composition by percussionist Samir Chatterjee from his collaboration with wood flue master Steve Gorn)  By the time  you reach the playful down-tempo remix of the beautiful ballad "My Time Is When" that closes the CD (as a bonus track), it's hard to suppress the smile spreading across your face.

Some may consider the variety of styles that appear on "Visions" as overreach on the part of Kavita Shah.  Ignore any comments such as those and dive right into this music.  Like the Serpa/Matos duo CD above, there is such a feeling of the joy that comes from the creativity and the collaboration of the vocalist and musicians, the recording serves as a panacea to the sadness that creeps into everyday life. Of course, that can be considered as one of the underlying purposes in Stevie Wonder's lyrics on the title track.  If so, dream on.  For more information, go to

For her debut recording, Emilie Weibel decided to go it alone in the studio.  "Omoo" features her lovely soprano voice surrounded by sound samples, percussion, electronics, keyboards and, on the transcendent "L'Heure Exquiste" (a poem of Paul Verlaine set to music by Reynaldo Hahn), a music box.

Ms. Weibel, a native of Lausanne, Switzerland, has studied with Gretchen Parlato, Jen Shyu and Ralph Alessi. On pieces such as "River Song", one can hear the influence of Ms. Parlato in both the lead and backing vocals.  That influence shows again in the sweet reading of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" (the arrangement is based on Marc Copland's 2005 version of the track while the lyrics are original) - here, the melody is supported by a thunderstorm and vocal percussion.  The title track, inspired by the Herman Melville novel and a song from the Babinga tribe of the Congo, also use water - here, the sound of waves lapping the shore - to support the vocal.  The overdubbed voices swell like waves striking the side of a boat.  "Hello Lea" shows the influence of Bobby McFerrin in her choice of sounds in the backing wordless vocals.  She has worked with French violinist Scott Tixier and based "Tu Dis (to my Dad)" on one of his compositions. The influence of "downtempo" music is evident on several cuts including the opening song "Lemania" where the synthesized drums rise out of the sounds of a quiet bay, complete with the wind pushing the water.

"Omoo", at just over 28 minutes, is still quite a fulfilling experience.  The voices, the delicate melodies, the incidental sounds, the richness of the aural soundtrack and the honesty of the creator's intent all stand out.  This music will not bowl you over but will seduce you; enter the world of Emilie Weibel and you'll be in a unique Wonderland.  For more information, go to

Give a listen:

Friday, May 23, 2014

Let's Help Arthur Blythe
It's been nearly a year since I first read about the debilitating conditions plaguing the great alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe (pictured left). The worst issue is that he suffers from Parkinson's Disease plus, in July 2013, a large benign tumor was removed from his right kidney and, while he has been recovering, it's a slow healing process.  Like most musicians, the 74-year old Blythe has no comprehensive insurance.

I remember seeing and hearing Arthur Blythe with tubaist Bob Stewart and a percussionist (perhaps Akhmed Abdullah) in the old Real Art Ways space across from the-then Hartford Civic Center.  He had the sweetest tone on the alto, not as shrill as David Sanborn can be at times, but with a similar vocal cry in his phrases, a touch of Johnny Hodges here and there but just such as lilt.  Even in his "freer" pieces, he never lost touch with the melodic side of his playing.  Blythe signed with CBS Records in 1979, covering a number of different styles before moving on to ENJA Records. Along with Lester Bowie, Famadou Don Moye, Kirk Lightsey and Cecil McBee, he helped form the Leaders and ask was recruited into the World Saxophone Quartet after Julius Hemphill left. Blythe spent time as a member of Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition for that group's ECM debut.  After a series of recordings for the Savant label (2000-2003), he moved back to his native San Diego and, due to illness, slowly withdrew from the music scene.

Composer/percussionist/producer Gust William Tsillis, with whom Mr. Blythe recorded in the late 1980s and early 90s, has set up the Arthur Blythe Parkinson's Fund so that the costs of his care and medication can be covered. Go to to find out more about how you can help.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The B.A. in Percussion, Improv Fest at RAW & More

photo by Daniel Theunynck
The Firehouse 12 Spring Concerts Series presents Barry Althscul & the 3Dom Factor this Friday May 23 for 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m.  The 71-year old drummer/composer Altschul, a native of New York City, has been an important presence on the creative music since the late 1960s. He first came to critical attention playing with pianist Paul Bley before hooking up with Chick Corea and bassist Dave Holland.  With the addition of Anthony Braxton, the quartet recorded as Circle. They recorded a 2-Lp set for ECM that remains one of the finest documents of the "avant-garde." He worked and recorded with Professor Braxton during the 1970s, recorded several Lps for Muse, played with Sam Rivers and ended the decade with a splendid trio that featured trombonist Ray Anderson and bassist Mark Helias that recorded one great album under the name Brahma for Sackville Records.   Altschul then moved to Europe for the next 2+ decades working steadily but not recording as much.  In the mid-2000s, he began to work with violinist Billy Bang and bassist Joe Fonda, recording first for CIMP Records and then going on to release 4 more disks before Bang passed from cancer in 2011.

In early 2013, TUM Records released 3Dom Factor, a trio led by Altschul with his friend Fonda plus alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, with whom the drummer had recorded the high-energy "Foxy" in 2011.  The group's interactions, the drummer's rhythm-laden compositions and the great sound made the CD a favorite for many critics and listeners. Fonda's melodic and elastic bass lines, Irabagon's forceful, bluesy, and athletic sax playing, all blends smartly with the drummer's intelligent style.

For ticket information, go to or call 203-785-0468.  To learn more about Barry Altschul, read this excellent interview with Harris Eisenstadt posted on the Destination-Out website:

The 3rd season of "Improvisations", the monthly series at Real Art Ways in Hartford curated by Stephen Haynes and Joe Morris, comes to a close - actually more like a climax - this Saturday (5/24) with "Spectacle", an event that brings together improvising musicians from the Tri-State area (CT, NY, MA).  In the words of Messrs. Haynes and Morris, the assembled multitude will perform in a "series of ad hoc groupings of various sizes...culminating with all the players performing in the large ensemble, Abstract Forest." The event takes place from 6 - 11 p.m. and will feature Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Jerome Deupree (drums), Tatsuya Nakatani (percussion), Daniel Levin (cello), Chris Cretella (guitar), Mat Manieri (viola), Jim Hobbs (alto saxophone), Brad Barrett (bass), Minta White (flute), Matt Plummer (trombone), Andria Nicademou (vibraphone), Daniel Pencer (tenor sax, clarinet),  Zoe Christiansen (clarinet), Matt Chilton (reeds) and Sean Sonderagger (reeds) plus Haynes (cornets) and Morris (guitar, bass).  With all these fine musicians, one expects the evening to filled with sounds and surprises. For more information, go

Busy 3-day weekend at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme - the fun and the funk starts on Thursday with alto saxophonist Donald Harrison (pictured left) and the Berklee Quartet. New Orleans native Harrison will perform alongside students from the music school in Boston, MA including Santiago Bosch (piano), Osmar Okuma (bass) and fellow Crescent City native Darryl Staves (drums).

On Friday, Danish saxophonist Benjamin Kopell returns to The Side Door with an all-star Quartet that includes the great French pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, bassist Johannes Weidenmuller and drummer John Hadfield. Kopell, who appeared in Old Lyme last year in a duo setting with pianist Kenny Werner, has just recorded a new CD with Pilc, "Illuminations", based on the work of French poet Arthur Rimbaud. This should be quite a night of melodic and rhythmic adventures.

photo by Lori Butler
The weekend concludes with vocalist/saxophonist Greg Piccolo & Heavy Juice.  Piccolo, a mainstay of the East Coast Blues, Jazz and R'n'B scenes, spent a quarter century with Roomful of Blues but has been leading Heavy Juice since 1994.  After years of touring, Piccolo has stayed close to home for the past several years so it's a real treat to see him live and alive again.

Doors at The Side Door open at 7:30 p.m. with the first set commencing at 8:30.  For more information, go to or call them at 860-434-0886.  Upcoming shows include the Jeremy Pelt Quintet (5/30), Etienne Charles Group (5/31), Diane Schur (6/11), Sunna Gunnlaugs Trio featuring Scott McLemore (6/20) and much more.  Looks like quite an exciting Summer on the CT shoreline.

On Friday, pianist-vocalist Orice Jenkins, Hartford native, brings his Trio to The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown for an 8 p.m. show.   Joining him in the performance space will be guitarist Dan Liparini and bassist Tom Sullivan.  Jenkins' music covers a large territory, from classic jazz to r'n'b to soul and beyond.  For more information, go to  To learn more about Orice Jenkins, go to

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Serious Rhythms, South African Creativity & Higher Standards

Though the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble has been in existence since 1990, the group did not release its debut CD until 2003.  Founder/saxophonist/flutist/composer Ken Field (Birdsong of The Mesozoic) views the RSE as an "improvisational percussion and horn group" greatly inspired by the music of New Orleans.  Over the 2+ decades since its inception, RSE has many members including Boston-based improvisors Charlie Kohlhase, Russ Gershon (of the Either/Orchestra) and Dana Colley (Morphine).

"Live Snakes" (Accurate Records) is RSE's 3rd CD and first since Field's wife, animator and filmmaker Karen Aqua passed (2011).  For the most part, the program, 12 tracks from 4 different live gigs, stays true to Field's vision of "party music."  All but one track features 2 drummers (either Kenny Wollesen, Joey Lefitz or Phil Neighbors) and most cuts feature 3 trombonists (some have 4, 2 have none).  The irrepressible rhythms jumps from the speakers on pieces such as the opener "Parade" (one of the no 'bone tracks) where Fields' alto spars with the tenor sax of Matt Darriau while Wollesen and Neighbors push mightily.  There is a similar feel to the funky take of "Que Sera Sera" - one can just see the musicians sashaying down Ramparts Street.  The tenor saxes of Charles Neville and Tom Hall join the fray on the slinky version of the Tizol/Ellington classic "Caravan" which opens with a fine acoustic bass solo from Blake Newman and is enlivened by the roaring trumpet of Jerry Sabatini.  "Rock of Ages" rocks while Fields' alto sax, Sabatini's trumpet and the twin trombones of Josh Roseman with Alex Asher have a polyphonic field day.

The centerpiece of the CD is the fully improvised tribute to Ms. Aqua, "For Karen", recorded 8 days before her passing. The music begins slowly, quietly, the 4 trombonists and 1 trumpet moaning above the percussion.  The alto sax begins to rise out of the dirge, the intensity picks up with Fields' intense melody line and then, slowly as it started, the piece fades. In an impressive job of mixing, the next track, "I'll Fly Away" (recorded 21 months later) serves as the second line returning from the cemetery.

Fields and co-producer Andy Pinkham throw an interesting curve with the final 2 cuts, the electronics-laden remix of "Cassandra 4" and "Breakdown Part 1", the latter cut assembled from bits of bass lines, horn parts and rhythms of a number of cuts that are not on the recording.  This creative "cutting-and-pasting" serves as a funky epilogue to the proceedings.

Revolutionary Snake Ensemble finds joy in the rhythms of the street, in the melodies of the everyday, and in the shouts one creates against the darkness.  "Live Snakes" will get you out of your seat and out of many doldrums - give this music a whirl! For more information, go to

While some folks cry and moan at how jazz is marginalized, there are still great young musicians here in the US and around the world who are making impressive music.  Take a close listen to "Oscillations", the self-released debut CD by bassist/composer Shane Cooper and take heart.  The native of Port Elizabeth, East Cape Province, South Africa, the 29-year old Cooper started playing rock guitar with his brother before joining his high school band and becoming entranced by the bass and the rhythmic varieties of jazz,  Even while attending the University of Cape Town (and since graduation), the bassist worked with numerous musicians including the master drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo.  He works with groups such as Restless Natives, Babu and Closet Nature and is a member of pianist Kyle Shepherd's Trio. Cooper also has an electronic/hip hop project Cards on Spokes, with a debut 3-song ep that features the vocals of fellow South African Nicky Schrire.

"Oscillations" features a quartet of impressive young musicians including Bokani Dyer (piano, Rhodes, organ), Kesivan Naidoo (drums, cymbals, cowbell), Reza Khota (electric guitar) and Justin Bellairs (alto saxophone) plus tenor saxophonist Buddy Wells (a veteran of the Cape Town scene)  on 2 tracks. Produced by bassist/composer and mentor Carlo Mombelli, the generous recording (76+ minutes) covers a wide swath of musical territory, from the mysterious yet funky opener "Broken Blues" to the South African folk-inspired "The Herdsman" (the track opens with Cooper playing marovany, a box zither often heard the music of Madagascar) to the hard-bop burner "Oriah" (Wells and Bellair sharing the main theme) to the progressive rock feel of the title track.  Cooper's compositions all have strong melodies; one could compare his composing style to that of Dave Holland and Mario Pavone, songs often built from the bottom up.  Naidoo and Dyer, who have worked with the bassist for several years (in their own groups as well as his), are the perfect foils.  They both play with great fire (the drummer may remind some of Jeff "Tain" Watts, especially on "Destination Unknown") and Dyer complements the bass with solid left hand work.  His dancing opening fill on "Drop Down/Deconstruct" channels Monk while the melody line has a touch of Frank Zappa.  Bellairs really digs into his solo, rising higher over the pulsing beat and the guitar counterpoint.  Guitarist Khota, whose own impressive debut CD features both Cooper and saxophonist Wells, fires on all cylinders during his explosive solo on "Shadowplay" and, throughout the program, serves as counterpoint to Dyer's piano.  Cooper rarely steps out to solo but, when he does, his powerful lines are, not surprisingly, quite melodic.

Listening to "Oscillations" makes one realize the reach of creative music, that the work of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Jason Moran, Greg Osby, Steve Coleman, Dave Holland and others continues to leap across boundaries of race, ethnicity and culture to inspire young musicians.  Shane Cooper has created a masterful recording, with music that keeps one's interest and grows with each listen.  And, it serves to introduce Bokani Dyer (whose 2011 CD "Emancipate The Story" is well worth exploring), Reza Khota, Justin Bellairs and the often brilliant work of Kesivan Naidoo to a wider audience.  "Oscillations" deserves a rousing standing ovation - for more information, go to Check out these artists in iTunes and at

The cooperative collaboration of Jamie Saft (piano, organ), Steve Swallow (electric bass) and Bobby Previte (drums) have produced a fine new CD.  "The New Standard" (RareNoiseRecords) is a most delicious collection of hour of music, an effort that blends jazz, soul, blues and rock influences into a finger-licking stew that satisfies on many levels.  First, this music, recorded by Joe Ferla at Saft's home studio (Potterville International Sound), sounds so good.  Swallow's bass is the foundation, his thick sound and big notes sustaining the pieces while one can hear all the nuances of Previte's playful drumming.  Saft's acoustic piano fits easily into the mix, rising above the rhythm section or, on several occasions, climbing right in with them.  There's an Eastern European feel to the melody and solo on Saft's "Trek" while "Minor Soul" gives off the Memphis vibe of the late Phineas Newborn Jr. and the very alive-and-lively Harold Mabern.

"Clearing" is one of 3 tracks that feature Saft on the B-3 organ and is clearly influenced by the music of Robbie Robertson and the sound of Garth Hudson from The Band. "Blue Shuffle" takes the B-3 into the realm of Jimmy Smith with a touch of the gosplel. "All Things To All People" come at the listener like the classic Santana sound of the late 1960s, Previte's thunderous drumming and Swallow's throbbing bass underpinning Saft's swirling organ rifts.  That track, along with "Clearing" and the bluesy "Step Lively" (which sounds influenced by Ben Tucker and Bob Dorough's "Comin' Home Baby"), is credited to all 3 musicians yet does not sound haphazard or unfocused.

By the time the listener reaches the final track, "Surrender the Chaise" (great interaction between the Swallow's melodic bass lines and the deep bluesy piano melody), one realizes "The New Standard" is far from "standard" - it's a first-rate "labor of love." Recorded in one 3-hour session (!), it's the result of years of working and playing together in various groups.  "Playing" that sounds as much fun as this CD is combination of talent, trust, intuition, and joy. The music of Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow & Bobby Previte will make you shake your head and stomp your feet with joy; that's a mighty good reason to get up in the morning.  For more information, go to www.rarenoiserecords. The music is available on CD, in various digital formats, and on a Double LP/180 grams vinyl.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Byard & Bread

For those of us lucky enough to have seen, heard and/or met Jaki Byard (1922-1999), the pianist/composer/educator left an indelible impression. As a pianist, his ebullient style cam be traced back to the "Rent Party" players of the Harlem Renaissance (James P. Johnson, Eubie Blake) in that the keyboard was his orchestra.  As a young man, Byard loved big band music, learned how to play alto and tenor saxophones, moved to Boston, MA, from his native Worcester, played and taught but it was not until he moved to New York City that he began to get critical notice.  He worked with the mercurial bassist Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and, later, with Rashaan Roland Kirk.  As rock music pushed jazz out of the public eyes and ears, Byard returned to Boston and to teaching (first at the New England Conservatory and later to the Hartt School and the Manhattan School of Music).  Though mostly known for his small group recordings, Byard formed the Apollo Stompers in the mid-1970s, a raucous big band that included his daughters as vocalists.  Jaki Byard died from gunshot wounds in 1999 and his killer has never been brought to justice.

"Yard Byard: The Jaki Byard Project" (GM Recordings) is the work of 5 musicians - Jamie Baum (flutes), Jerome Harris (guitar), George Schuller (drums), Ugonna Okegwo (bass) and Adam Kolker (tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet) -  3 of whom (Ms. Baum, Harris and Schuller) worked and/or studied with the bandleader/Professor.  You can't help but notice the absence of piano. Ms. Baum, for whom the Project has been a goal for a number of years, states on her website "the ensemble's desire is not to recreate "The Jaki Byard sound", but to both explore the beauty and creativity of his compositions and approach to the piano, as well as to convey his serious and whimsical sides."  

The results, titled "Inch By Inch", live up to the group's "desire."  Tracks such as "Aluminum Baby" and "St. Mark's Among The Sewers" have that whimsical feel in both the melody and rhythms, the former driven by the lovely flute melody and Schuller's active percussion, the latter on Kolker's fine tenor sax lines pushed by Okegwo's active bass work.  Jerome Harris, who is, perhaps, better known for his bass playing, is on electric guitar throughout the program.  His handsome work stands out on tracks such as "Ode to Charlie Parker", where he insinuates his melodic lines around the tenor sax and flute, and on "Garr", where he leads the group in with his rippling phrases.  Kolker and Ms. Baum are a formidable front line; the blend of their various instruments creates numerous sonic surprises.  Clarinet and alto flute mesh with guitar for the joyful melody line of "Strolling Along" while the bass clarinet provides the foundation and counterpoint on "Toni." One can not help but notice the firm touch of Okegwo's bass work in support of the group and his solos stand out as well. Schuller keeps the music moving with his usual gleeful style; whether accentuating Kolker's tenor solo on "Dolphy" or relentlessly pushing the tempo on "Twelve" or dancing gently beneath the intertwined bass clarinet, flute and guitar lines on "Gaeta", Schuller stays the course.

Yard Byard serves as a happy reminder of life and work of Jaki Byard.  This quintet not only masterfully paints a picture that leaves no doubt of its love and respect for the person but also makes sure the listener knows just how special the man was.  For more information, go to

Like Jaki Byard above, Steve Lacy was a musician for all seasons. Born in New York City in 1934, he first gained critical notice as a teenager playing Dixieland jazz and then went on to play alongside pianist Cecil Taylor in 1956 and 57.  Lacy was one of the first musicians to record an Lp of Thelonious Monk's music and worked with the composer/musician on several occasions.  He went on to form a quartet with trombonist Roswell Rudd (another musician schooled in Dixieland) in the early 1960s, formed a trans-Atlantic quartet with trumpeter Enrico Rava and then later worked with composer Michael Mantler. In 1969, he moved to Paris where he spent the next 2 decades playing with many of the finest European musicians, marrying cellist Irene Aebi and went to form several ensembles around her and alto saxophonist Steve Potts. He and Ms. Aebi  moved back to the United States in 2002 to teach at The New England Conservatory of Music and died due to cancer in 2004.

 In 2006, baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton formed the quartet Ideal Bread to play the music of Steve Lacy, with whom he had studied at NEC. With the help of Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Tomas Fujiwara (drums) and Reuben Radding (bass), Sinton recorded a pair of CDs with the charts he had brought from his lessons with Lacy.  For the group's 3rd CD, "Beating The Teens" (Cuneiform Records), Sinton decided to "recompose, reconstruct and reimagine" the music from Lacy's 3-CD set "Scratching The Seventies", a compilation of the 5 Lps the soprano saxophonist recorded for the French Saravah label. Bassist Adam Hopkins has replaced Radding in the lineup and fits right in to the experimental style Sinton has created for this music.  One of the joys of listening to what the quartet does with this music is that the songs do not easily fit into any one genre.  "Blinks" bounces along atop a martial beat while "Three Pieces from Tao" is now divided into 4 sections that bookend the program.  "The Oil" has a punk-rock feel while "The Uh Uh Uh" dances along on a New Orleans groove. 

Instead of describing each track, I'd advise to pay attention to the interactions of the quartet, to the clear tones of Knuffke's cornet, and to the great range of Sinton's baritone sax (yes, Lacy played soprano in his groups yet Sinton can sound like a tenor and alto plus can reach fairly high without screeching). The rhythm section shines brightly as well.  Hopkins is a melodic bassist with a full tone and Fujiwara is so inventive, such a fine cymbal player with accents that make one smile (it's fascinating to read that Sinton wrote out the drum parts.) "Beating The Teens" is modern music, a reminder that the "tradition" of creative music is ever evolving and that the legacy of Steve Lacy lives on. Ideal Bread deserves to be seen and heard live - until then, climb into the wondrous world of this 2-CD set.  For more information, go to  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Program Not To Be Missed

Jackie McLean (1931-2006) joined the music faculty of The Hartt School of Music at the end of the turbulent decade of the 1960s.  The Harlem native was in the midst of a career that has many ups and downs but understood he needed to not only settle down but also to educate young people on the American art form that had grown up from the brothels of the deep South and from the riverboats along the Mississippi River to be played in nightclubs and concert halls around the world.  McLean, in the span of 4 years (1972 - 1975) founded the African American Music Program at Hartt, became the head of the Jazz Studies, and with his wife Dollie, created the Artists Collective in Hartford, a "safe haven" for at-risk children where they could learn about and participate in the music, theater and dance. Though Jackie McLean went on to be named a NEA Jazz Master and continued to record great music, the Artists Collective may stand as his (and Dollie's) greatest achievement.

The following is the press release created by the Artists Collective for the 7th Annual Jackie McLean International Arts Festival Memorial Celebration:

Wednesday,  May 14, 2014
*  Artists Collective Theater * 
1200 Albany Avenue, Hartford
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm 
Nelson Mandela Remembered
An inspirational evening of reflection and music dedicated to the anti-apartheidrevoluntionary, politician, and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. Mr. Mandela died in December 2013. The program will feature South African born Andrea Van Den Heever, the founder of the, CT Center for a New Economy, along with Kathleen S. Santiago, President, CT Chapter Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Bill Shortell, Machinists Union, John Fussell, Tree of Life, andDan Durant, Hartford Rising.
Artists Collective dance and music ensembles will perform. Nelson Mandela Remembered is presented by the CT Mandela Committee in collaborationwith the Artists Collective.
 Free and open to the public.

Thursday, May 15, 2014
*  Artists Collective Atrium *
1200 Albany Avenue, Hartford
5:00 pm - 8:00 pm
African American Connecticut Explored 
* Panel Discussion * Book Signing * Reception
Considered the first book for a general readership to present an overview of more than 300 years of the African American experience in Connecticut, numerous essays by many of the state's leading historians document an array of subjects beginning from the earliest years of the state's colonization around 1630 and continuing well into the 20th century.  Panelists for this thought-provoking and enlightening historical journey will feature some of New England's foremost African American historians, including Stacy Close, Eastern Connecticut State University, Katherine Harris, Central Connecticut State University, WmFrank MitchellAmistad Center for Art & Culture, and moderator Elizabeth Normeneditor of the volume, and publisher of Connecticut Explored, the magazine of Connecticut history.  The panel discussion will be followed by a reception. Books will be for sale and the authors will be available to sign.
Free and open to the public. 

Friday, May 16, 2014 
Artists Collective Atrium *
1200 Albany Avenue, Hartford
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
UCONN Funky Dawgz
The UCONN Funky Dawgz return for a participatory Second Line presentation outside and inside of the Artists Collective.  This innovative and exciting brass band is based on the New Orleans genre. The Funky Dawgz are entertaining and educational while preserving an important piece of American musical history. 
Free and open to the public.

Saturday, May 17, 2014
Artists Collective Theater *
1200 Albany Avenue, Hartford
8:00 pm
The Jimmy Greene Quartet
Jimmy Greene (pictured above left) has emerged as a positive presence in the jazz world. His nine solo releases and numerous appearances as a leader and sideman have won rave reviews from critics, fans and his peers. As a composer, he has been recognized by the ASCAP/IAJE, Chamber Music America, the State of Connecticut, City of Hartford, to name a few.  
Jeff Watts, drums * John Patitucci, bass * Renee Rosnes, piano
Concert tickets: $30 advance general * $35 at the door

The Artists Collective is located at 1200 Albany Avenue (corner of Woodland Street/Jackie Mclean Way) in Hartford. Call 860-527-3205 for more information.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Singers, Musicians and a Solo Piano Gem

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme celebrated its 1st Anniversary last weekend and is now starting Year #2 in great style.
On Wednesday May 14, vocalist/composer Rene Marie hits the stage and one best be ready.  Ms. Marie, a native of Virginia, is touring in support of her new Motema release, "I Wanna Be Evil: With Love to Eartha Kitt".  The CD, issued late in 2013, features the vocalist, her splendid trio (pianist Kevin Bales, bassist Elias Bailey and drummer/percussionist Quentin Baxter) plus guests Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), Adrian Cunningham (tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute) and Etienne Charles (trumpet, percussion, horn arrangements) on a sultry, sexy, stimulating, quite enjoyable journey through 9 songs associated with the delightful Ms. Kitt (1927-2008).  Rene Marie's other releases on Motema - "Black Lace Freudian Slip" and "Voice of My Beautiful Country" - both came out in 2011, pushing the envelope in the style that her fans have gotten used to. She's not afraid to speak her mind through her music; the "Kitt" CD contains the original piece, "Weekend", that tells of a woman in an abusive relationship and a sexual encounter that could be viewed as rape.

Side Door attendees not only get to see Rene Marie and her Trio but Etienne Charles will be joining in on the gig.  Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the music starts at 8:30. Tickets are still available so call 860-434-0886 or go to

On Friday 5/16, The Side Door presents vocalist Sachal Vasandani.  The Chicago native and graduate of the University of Michigan, has been making listeners perk up their ears for the past decade.  He's issued 3 CDs for Mack Avenue Records, the latest being 2011's "Hi-Fly". His repertoire covers a wide swath of the American Songbook, from Broadway to Hollywood to jazz standards and his smooth voice never sounds out-of-place.  Joining him in Old Lyme will be the great young pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Buster Hemphll and drummer Jeremy Dutton.   Call the number above for more information and go to to learn more about the fine young singer.

You could make it 3-for-3 and show at The Side Door on Saturday and partake of Ray Vega & His New York Latin Jazz All Stars.  The trumpeter, a native of the South Bronx, has played with a slew of Latin music greats over his career including Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Arturo Sandoval and Mongo Santamaria.  Vega also has appeared on recordings and stages with composer Osvaldo Golijov, Paul Simon, Diane Schur, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and The Mingus Big Band (plus many more.) Lately, he's been concentrating on his All Stars Band, a quintet that features Andy Eulau (bass), Willie Martinez (drums), Chembo Corniel (congas) and Hartford-native Zaccai Curtis on piano.   The exciting rhythms will no doubt get you up on feet throughout the night.  Call 860-434-0886 to make the connection.

On Wednesday, Cafe Nine, 250 State Street in New Haven, presents a triple bill organized by the New Haven Improvisers Collective.  Scheduled to appear is the 11-member Large Magic Ensemble, electronhic, plus Guitar Trio E (Jeff Cedrone, Chris Cretella and Bob Gorry) and the duo of cellist Daniel Levin with drummer Juan Pablo Carletti.  The Large Magic Ensemble will be performing a new work from New Haven-based composer Nate Trier while the Guitar Trio E will play play music from its new CD, "Goodbye Watson." The music commences at 9 p.m.  For more information, go to or call 203-789-8281.  

Firehouse 12's Spring Concert Series rolls right along and this week welcomes the Russ Nolan Quartet.  Tenor saxophonist/ composer Nolan, a native of Illinois who now lives in the borough of Queens, has just issued his 4th CD as a leader, the aptly titled "Relentless" (Rhinoceruss Music).  The recording features the band on the CD including bassist Michael O'Brien, drummer Brian Fishler and the fine Cuban-born pianist Manuel Valera (see below) and that's the group he's bringing to the performance venue. Nolan, who took up salsa dancing 7 years ago, brings a strong sense of  rhythm to his music but does not skimp on melody.  Valera leads a group called the New Cuban Express that explores the many facets of the music of his native land.  Both he and Nolan are excellent soloists, pushing each other to play their best; with the rhythm section percolating beneath them, the music rarely if ever stumbles.

The Russ Nolan Quartet will play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for ticket information go to or call 203-785-0468.  To learn more about Mr. Nolan and his music, go to

"Self Portrait" (Mavo Records) is pianist Manuel Valera's 8th recording as a leader and first solo piano effort.  As one can tell from the title, this is a musical biography, a compendium of Valera's influences and inspirations that range from Bud Powell to Bill Evans to Thelonious Monk to Erik Satie to George Gershwin to classic songs from a Cuban and a Mexican composer.  There is a short "Impromptu" dedicated to Russian composer, pianist, musicologist and lexicographer Nicolas Slonimsky. Valera even plays a sweet blues tune to close out the program.

This project may remind some listeners of the solo piano series Concord Jazz created at Maybeck Recital Hall. The piano sound is impeccable, very live and full - Valera recorded his music on 2 separate dates in November 2013 in the Arlan Harris Piano Salon.  This is wonderful music to lose one's self in. The music flows easily, nothing feels forced and the pieces are filled with long stretches of melodic invention.  There may be thousands of recordings of Monk's "Ask Me Now" but few as exciting as Valera's rhythmical romp through the melody and rhythms. The original ballad, "Hope", has moments where the phrases take one's breath away with the emotional content.   "Water" has lines that would not be out of place in a Broadway musical, a poetic piano melody that could have words but conveys its message with elegance.

"Self Portrait" is dazzling without overwhelming the senses, a confident. mature, statement from its creator.  I have played this recording all the way through on numerous occasions and continue to find moments that surprise or challenge me.  Manuel Valera has technique galore but does not fall back on cliches or speedy riffs that might impress one but fall flat on repeated listenings.   This music, this hour of pure joy, comes from a pianist who is self-assured, confident, masterful and clearly in his prime.   For more information, go to