Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Further Adventures of the Majestic Clarinet

The 7th recording by clarinetist, arranger, and composer Darryl Harper hearkens back to his excellent 2009 HiPNOTIC release "Stories in Real Time", especially in how the leader blends his different ensembles into the mix.  "The Need's Got To Be So Deep" contains 19 tracks played by Harper and various combination of the 19 musicians he gathered for the project. Spread over 2 CDs and 96 minutes,  Harper works in duo settings with pianist Helen Sung and guitarist Freddie Bryant, in a trio and several quartet settings with his long-time rhythm section of Harry "Butch" Reed (drums) and Matthew Parrish (bass) plus pianist Lefteris Korderis, and with his Clarinet Quartet of Alex Spiegelman, Kenny Pexton, and Nicholas Lewis. There is 1 track with a Flute Trio (Jimmy Guiffre's "The Side Pipers")  and 3 with a Woodwind Quartet (performing a work commissioned from Andy Jaffe.)  

What keeps this blend of various ensembles and musical ideas together is the exceptional musicianship and direction of Harper.  Currently on the faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University, the Philadelphia, PA-native has worked onstage with pianist Orrin Evans, Tim Warfield, Uri Caine and Roscoe Mitchell and spent 2 years with violinist Regina Carter who appears here on the  classically inspired 2-part "Dances For Outcasts" with I-Jen Fang (marimba).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Both CDs open with compositions by pianist Xavier Davis, with the rocking title track based on a line from a poem by Yusuf Komunyakaa.  Vocalist Marianne Solivan digs deeply into the poet's words, supported by the leader with Korderis, Reed and Parrish. That group (minus Ms. Solivan) also shines on the 4-part "Jazz Clarinet Quartet" composed by Greg Bullen.  Each section - "Variations", "Ballad", "Interlude", and "Spin" - stands out with distinct melodies yet is tied together by its overall sonic quality.

The longest single cut on the CD, "Anthem For Unity", is a lovely duet for Harper and composer/acoustic guitarist Freddie Bryant. The music has a pleasing blend of Brazilian and North American folk music influence plus a touch of the melodic style of Ralph Towner.

The 4 duets with Ms. Sung are distinguished by their strong melodic content, exciting interactions and emotional strength. The pianist's "Prelude and Fugue-Like" is a multi-sectioned tour-de-force while Carla Bley's "Postures" (first recorded in 1961 by Jimmy Giuffre) blends jazz, blues, ragtime and "free" tempi. "Playtime" is just that, a playful musical romp composed by Ayn Inserto for pianist Korderis and  Harper, who performed the piece at the New England Conservatory (where Harper did his Doctoral studies.)

The 3-part "Woodwind Quintet", played by Harper, Michael Rabinowitz (bassoon), John Clark (French horn), the composer's sister Marina (oboe) and daughter Ceora (flute), brings the program to close with a flourish.  Composer Jaffe, who's known for his work as a jazz composer and leader of large ensembles, gives the musicians much to work with.  Part 1, "Bach's Corral", opens on a serious but soon moves into playful territory.  The short second Movement, "Panderinho", is a sweet melody for flute partnered with the oboe and, occasionally, the bassoon with the French horn and clarinet playing rhythm.  The piece hustles to its close, the composer's compositional tongue firmly in his musical teeth.  The longest movement, "Penthex", has a more formal feel but also turns towards jazz with its closing section where each one one of the instruments steps out for a short solo.

"The Need's Got To Be So Deep" says it all for those of us who cannot get enough jazz, cannot hear enough grooves or woody clarinets or singers moaning, saxophones keening or bassists throbbing beneath the ensemble (here's a link to Mr. Komunyakaa's stunning poem that gave Xavier Davis the title for his composition and Harper the title of his album.) Darryl Harper continues to grow in so many different facets of his career, giving the avid listener much to chew on with his latest recording.  This is a gem - pay attention and you'll be rewarded many times over.  For more information, go to www.darrylharperjazz.com.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

Saxophone-led Ensembles

Saxophonist, composer and arranger Jim Stranahan retired from teaching after 3+ decades of working with students in the Denver Colorado, area.  During that time, he also was a popular free-lance musician working with the likes of Rosemary Clooney, Bob Hope and Lee Konitz.

"Migration to Higher Ground: Jim Stranahan Little Big Band" (Tapestry) comes 3 years after his previous recording for the label "Free For All."  The 9 tunes include 5 featuring the leader in front of a 11-piece band (the rollicking "Bayou Bounce" adds the sousaphone of Ben Faust); many of the band members also teach in the Denver-area including trumpeters Brad Goode and Hugh Ragin plus the impressive bassist Eduardo "Bijoux" Barbosa. Beside the New Orleans-inspired "..Bounce", the ensemble performs the Afro-Cuban title track, replete with fiery trumpet work, strong drum work from Todd Reid, a melodic/percussive Barbosa solo and a rippling guitar spotlight for Mike Abbott. "Mambo Facil" opens with a saxophone cadenza that is all Stranahan, overdubbing tenor and soprano then leading into a lively montuno. The sweeping brass lines over the "dancing" drums create a splendid frame for the soloists (flutist Joe Anderies stands out). The remaining 2 Little Big Band tracks include the mellow "Paul and Dave", a tribute to Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck, plus a "swinging" reading of Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" which features the leader's swooping soprano lines over the responsive counterpoint of the reeds and brass.

The other 4 tracks belong to a sextet that features Goode and trombonist Wade Sanders from the larger ensemble plus the rhythm section of pianist Glen Zaleski, bassist Rick Rosato and the leader's son Colin on drums.  The rhythm section is also a working group; one can hear that in their interactions and the liveliness of the music.  Father Stranahan's alto flies over his son's active drums on "Straight From The Source" and floats his husky tenor sounds gently, but with a strong taste of the blues, on the Monk-inspired "Blues and a Half" (the track also features crisp solos from Goode and Zaleski).

The remaining sextet tracks include a rousing rendition of Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" which features a smart arrangement from Dad that only hints at the melody until the ensemble wraps it around a splendid drum break. The CD closes with Jim overdubbed 6 times swinging his way through  Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" with the help of the rhythm section - listen for the interaction of the drums with the sax breaks during Zaleski's sprightly solo plus a strong soprano solo.

Jim Stranahan shows his strengths as a soloist, arranger and bandleader on "Migration To Higher Ground." He is generous as a leader on the Little Big Band and gets to play more expansively on the Sextet cuts.  There is plenty to like on this CD, a worthy successor to his previous Tapestry release.  For more information, go to caprirecords.com/artists/jim-stranahan.

While I was away this past weekend, saxophonist Eric Wyatt came to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme, CT for a CD-Release Party celebrating his first United States release, "Borough of Kings" (Posi-Tone Records). In my preview of the show, there's a bit of Wyatt's history (read it here).

The recording features Wyatt's working group of Benito Gonzalez (piano), Ameen Saleem (bass) and Shinnosuke Takahashi (drums, mixing engineer) plus guests Duane Eubanks (trumpet on "Can He Come Out"), Kyle Poole (drums on "Can He Come Out") and Clifton Anderson (trombone on "What Would I Do Without You"). The quartet tracks display the influence of John Coltrane and are filled with electricity, sparks flying between the soloists and the delightful rhythm section. The title track shows Takakhashi really driving the band, pushing both Wyatt (on tenor) and Gonzalez to play with fire throughout. Wyatt moves to soprano for the pianist's "Quest", playing a solo that rises high above the forceful rhythm section.  Gonzalez, who also works with drummer Franklin Kiermyer and saxophonist Azar Lawrence, often shows the influence of McCoy Tyner, especially in his insistent supportive work and fiery solos.  Wyatt's biting tenor sax work is also featured on Mr. Coltrane's "Countdown" and the hard-hitting "One for Hakim", the latter featuring rampaging solos from leader and pianist.  There's also quite a splendid saxophone-drums dialogue on that track and plenty of Coltrane quotes as the piece fades.

The 2 tracks with the guests have a much different vibe from the Quartet cuts.  Eubanks and Poole bring the "funk" on "Can He Come Out" with Wyatt plugging in for a danceable confection - it's fine and dandy but seemingly out of place.  The final track, What Would I Do Without You", features the trombone of Anderson and, while it's not as hyperactive as many of the Quartet cuts, Wyatt and his guest bring good energy on the "straight-ahead" groove.

"Borough of Kings" will be most American listeners initial interaction with the music of Eric Wyatt. The majority of the program feels alive and, chances are quite good, this is what the group sounds like in person.  This CD is a worthwhile investment of your time and money.  For more information, go to www.ericwyatt-music.com.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Piano Trio, Substantive Sounds

Dr. Denny Zeitlin has 2 careers, one as a practicing psychiatrist and medical school teacher plus a parallel life as a working musician.  His interest in music came at an early age and he began classical training at the age of 7. His teacher introduced him to Ravel and Bartok but it was George Shearing and, subsequently Art Tatum, who really caught his ears and mind.  During his high school years, he became attracted to the mid-1950s (pre-Columbia Records) Miles Davis groups, especially the bass & drums work of Paul Chambers and Philly Jo Jones.  He moved on to look into the work of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.  During his medical school time at Johns Hopkins, he gigged with musicians such as saxophonist Gary Bartz and drummer Billy Hart. During his Fellowship at Columbia in New York City, he met and informally studied with composer/theorist George Russell. At around the same time, his friend reed-player Paul Winter introduced Zeitlin to producer John Hammond at CBS Records who signed him. Among his recordings for that label is 1965's "Live At The Trident", a Trio date featuring bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Jerry Granelli. (Much of the above biographical information came from an excellent April 2014 blog post from Ted Panken's "Today Is The Question" - read the entire article here).

"Stairway To The Stars" (Sunnyside Records) features Zeitlin's 21st Century Trio of Buster Williams (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums).  Although this is the ensemble's 3rd recording (2nd on Sunnyside with 2004's "Slick Rock" on MaxJazz), this November 2001 recording does from the first time they played together (either on-stage or in rehearsal.)   If you are one who believes in serendipity, Messrs. Zeitlin, Williams and Wilson sound as if they were made to play together (and had been doing so for years.)  The majority of the material comes from the "Great American Songbook" plus a smashing reading of Wayne Shorter's "Deluge" and Zeitlin's "Out for a Stroll", a medium-tempo blues that closes the recording. From the opening seconds of the first track, "There Will Never Be Another You", one can sense Dr. Zeitlin's comfort and pleasure with musical partners (he had recorded with Williams in the past), so, after he states the theme. the pianist goes on an extended romp.  Playing with thematic fragments, extended single-note runs, full-throated chords and more, the solo has "real" swing. The pianist's interactions with the bassist are wonderfully melodic throughout the program but none mores than on "You Don't Know What Love Is."  Wilson never intrudes on their dialogues; instead, he offers them a soft percussion cushion and steady tempo. That doesn't mean he's the third wheel. He locks into an exciting groove with Williams on the fiery reading  of Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" while his brushes work on the title track (taken from Billy Wilder's 1959 movie "Some Like It Hot") has the sound of a spring rain.

As for the pianist, he plays with such "freedom", not so much "out" as just allowing his mind and fingers to ramble where they may.  Because he has extra-wide melodic streak, the resulting music never seems forced or phony.  And, because he is so comfortable with the rhythm section and the material, one can close his or her eyes and luxuriate in these sounds. Therefore, "Stairway To The Stars" is an apropos name for this highly enjoyable recording.

Still active in his various professions, Dr. Denny Zeitlin creates music that is timeless yet of his time.  Chances are very good his music will resonate for decades to come.  For more information, go to www.dennyzeitlin.com.

Here's a good dollop of "Oleo":

Denny Zeitlin and I are scheduled to conduct an interview in the next week and I will post a link when it is complete.  In the meantime, Marc Myers has a 4-part interview with the Doctor on his website, JazzWax.  The link to Part 1 is here.

Pianist/composer J.J. Wright, while much younger than Denny Zeitlin (at least, 40 years), has varied interests, especially in music. He studied jazz improvisation at The New School for Jazz in New York City and is currently Director of Sacred Music at Sacred Heart  Parish at the University of Notre Dame. He has performed with the US Naval Academy Band and with vibraphonist David Samuels.  Wright also composed and performed with the quartet Turn Around Normaninitially based in the Baltimore, MD-area.

For his debut as a leader "Inward Looking Outward" (Ropeadope Records), Wright works and plays with Nate Wood (drums) and Ike Sturm (bass) on a 9-song program consisting of 6 originals and 1 tune each by Sufjan Stevens ("Little Person"), Jon Brion ("The Tranfigurations") and Phil Collins ("Take Me Home"). The first impression this listener had is just how upfront Wood's drums are in the mix.  One might make a connection to the sonic quality of The Bad Plus (Wood is as active a drummer as TBP's Dave King) but Wright has a different touch and attack than Ethan Iverson. Still, there are moments such as on the Brion tune where, in the piano-bass duet part of the song, the pianist's left hand work has the flavor of EI's.  Wright brings in one tune from his "..Norman" days, the funky "Consolations."  Sturm's thick tone and buoyant bass lines mesh well with Wood's active and dancing drums.  The pianist rides with and atop the beat, creating a hypnotic feel.

The 5-section "JTC", separate compositions spread through the program, ranges from the hard-edged "II" that opens the CD to the classically flavored "I" that follows. The latter track takes its time to develop, going through different tempos and melodic ideas before Wright's solo hits its stride. "III" is a soulful gospel-tinged, ballad (not unlike a Randy Newman ballad); un-rushed, the piece takes its time but is a highly satisfying journey. There's more than a hint of Bud Powell and Chick Corea in the rhythm and melodic movement on "IV" (Wood flat-out "swings" while Sturm "walks" or offers strong counterpoint.  "V" also is a gospel-infused ballad , this time leaning more to sound and feel of Richard Manuel of The Band.

Wood sets the pace on the Phil Collins song, a beat that neither wavers nor flags.  Wright presents the melody without flash or false sentiments.  The Trio does an admirable job of raising the intensity as they move to the final choruses and emotional climax, leaving the drummer to take the song "home."

J.J. Wright makes a powerful, musical, debut on "Inward Looking Outward" (also an apropos title for a recording) - his interactions with Nate Wood and Ike Sturm seem natural not forced and one can tell he felt comfortable to be himself (letting the rhythm section do what they do best.) For more information, go to jjwrightmusic.com.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Adventures in Sounds

People play and sing music for any number of reasons, including entertainment, for passing on information, for prayer, to rankle, to protest and so much more.  "Shape Note singing" or "Sacred Harp" is a form of vocalizing for people who want to be part of a community of voices.  Many of the pieces are based on hymns but the style of singing is not bound to any denomination. There are groups all over the United States who get together every week to sing and socialize (it is reported that young Abraham Lincoln and one of his girlfriends sang together.)  The music may remind one of earlier times when people gathered together, talked, ate, and sang, all to wash away the stress of the harsh work week.

photo by Alberto Gallo
"Present Joys" (Greenleaf Music) brings together long-time friends and collaborators Dave Douglas (trumpet) and Uri Caine (piano) for  9 duets (and 1 solo piano piece) that takes its inspirations from the Sacred Harp songbook.  The emphasis throughout is on melody and interplay, harmony and support, telling a musical story without resorting to flights of technical fancy.  5 of the tracks come directly from the songbook, including the opener ""Soar Away"; the gentle trumpet melody and the piano counterpoint immediately puts the listener into a more meditative state. Caine opens his solo with a discordant note but soon moves back into the flow.  The title track takes a traditional tune, plays the opening verse straight, and then moves into a bluesy exploration of the melody. There is a playful quality to "Ham Fist"; from the opening piano intro (terse chords) to the handsome melody (reminiscent of Clifford Brown) and the rousing solos over a rolling piano rhythm, the track oozes joy.  More "rolling" piano lines enliven "Seven Seas", a piece that blends its smartly written melody with the feel of a "Fats" Waller tune.

Caine goes its alone on "Old Putt", a quiet ballad built from tolling chords. The pianist develops the melody slowly, allowing the song to unfold like a poem.  That feeling can be felt as well on the following track, "Zero Hour", the final cut on the recording.  Caine's gospel-infused solo rises out of the contemplative trumpet lines, first pushing at Douglas then taking off on a glorious romp.

"Present Joys" soothes and cajoles the listener, allowing one to step away from the stress of daily life and enter a world of creative elegance (or elegant creativity).  Dave Douglas and Uri Caine, both creative forces on the contemporary music scene, have created the most joyous of escapes, one that reverberates in the mind and heart long after the last notes fade.  For more information, go to www.greenleafmusic.com/present-joys-released/.

Enjoy a taste of "Ham Fist":

Saxophonist/composer Andrew Rathbun, a native of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, released his debut as a leader in 1999 yet I'm pretty sure he's not as well-known as he should be.  Part of the reason is that he records for Nils Winther on his SteepleChase label based in Denmark, a company that does not always get the best distribution in the US.  Yet, like Gerry Teekens at Criss Cross, Michael Janisch at Whirlwind Recordings (both labels based in Europe), Winther gives his artists free rein and the music is better for it.

"Numbers & Letters" is Rathbun's 6th recording for SteepleChase and, from the opening seconds, the listener knows he/she is in for an audio treat. First, Rathbun employs the splendid rhythm section of bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Bill Stewart plus Phil Markowitz on piano. Second, his compositions all have intelligent, well-shaped, melody lines and the arrangements leave plenty of room for solos.  Third, he and co-producer Taylor Haskins (also, trumpet on 2 tracks) worked with recording engineer Michael Marciano to create a "clear and clean" sonic environment in which each instrument stands out without covering any of the others.

Bill Stewart really shines on this CD, his drum work so creative and often exciting. He splashes below the tenor and piano on "Pencil and Paper", adding colors and then creating a solid groove ably supported by the thick bass lines of Anderson. There are moments on "Bad Call", the opening track, where it sounds as if the drums are strutting, especially during the exciting piano solo. For the ballad "Sleep Please", his active cymbal work combines with the melodic counterpoint of the bass to move the piece forward. That track also includes a handsome melody for the soprano sax and piano that has a classical feel. Stewart relentless drive kicks "Swing Set" into a higher gear, pushing the tenor sax and piano into solos that really sparkle.

"Etude" has a devilish circular melody line, played on tenor that repeats several times before moving into the solos.  Markowitz picks up on the opening melody before delivering a rhythmically exciting solo dancing alongside the bass while the drums dance as well.  When the tenor returns, the intensity level picks up, the drummer kicking and splashing with glee. There's quite a drive to "Sculpy", great potency at volume.  Rathbun's tenor skips along atop Stewart's snappy snare work and Anderson's running not "walking" bass lines.

There's plenty of music on "Numbers & Letters" (nearly 70 minutes) and nary a dull moment.  Andrew Rathbun and company put on quite a show with being showy. Bill Stewart deserves major kudos, not to slight the rest of the band because everyone gives their all. It's worth finding this music because the rewards are plentiful.  For more information, go to www.andrewrathbun.com.

Might I also recommend:
What we have here is the 4th CD by French saxophonist/composer Stephane Spira (tenor and soprano), "In Between" (L'Autre/JazzMax), recorded with ex-patriate Glenn Ferris (trombone) and the New York City-based rhythm section of Steve Wood (bass) and Johnathan Blake (drums).  As with the Rathbun CD, one first notices the exemplary work of drummer and bassist. The first 3 cuts alone recommend this date. Blake lays down such a solid  and appealing dance beat on "Cosmaner" while Wood's bouncing bass lines underscore the sweet melody.  "Dawn In Manhattan" is slower but has such a irresistible rhythm. The blend of tenor sax and trombone alcoves appealing, with the leader's solo floating above the bass and drums. A recognizable New Orleans drum pattern and funky bass lines underscore "Glenntleman"; it's hard to sit still as Ferris dances on Crescent City bed (I detect the influence of The Meters).

There's more good music on rest of the 12-song program (9 of which are Spira compositions.) "Flight" has more sterling work from Blake and Wood (as well as a "rocking" tenor solo) while a blues feeling permeates the title track.  "N.Y. Time" displays the influence of Steve Coleman, especially in the slippery rhythms and short yet strong solos.  A sultry Brazilian feel permeates "A Special Place"; the leader switches to soprano for a lyrical solo. Ferris's 'bone solo takes its cue from the rhythm section, as if he is swimming alongside Wood and Blake.

The cover art work for "In Between" suggests Stephane Spira feels a pull from his native France (where this session was recorded) while taking note (no pun intended) of the great influences of New York City (with its rhythmic mash of jazz, hip hop. Latin and South American music.)  Whatever moved Spira to create this music, the results are quite enjoyable and worth our time.  For more information, go to www.spirajazz.com.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mid-Summer Night Music

There are not as many concerts this week as last but what's on tap is quite interesting.

The Uncertainty Music Series presents an intriguing double-bill on Wednesday July 23 at 8 p.m. in The Big Room, 319 Peck Street in New Haven. Headlining the event is vocalist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu. Ms. Shyu (pictured left), a native of Peoria, Illinois, got involved in the arts at the age of 6 when she began ballet training. At 7, she began studying violin and, at 8, started piano lessons.  She turned her attention to vocal training at the age of 12 continuing along different racks through her college career at Stanford University. Meeting Yosvany and Yunior Terry plus Dafnis Prieto turned her on to Afro-Cuban music, gong on to study in Cuba.  Over the last decade, Ms. Shyu has studied and performed with Steve Coleman Five Elements and gone on to study Taiwanese music and culture.  She has recorded with bassist Mark Dresser for Pi Recordings and issued 2 CDs as a leader for her own label. Ms. Shyu has also worked with Professor Anthony Braxton on his operas, including "Trillium E."

Her music certainly reflects her myriad interests, from storytelling to dance, traditional music to free improv.  Mixing and matching traditional instruments with her soprano voice, Ms. Shyu breaks down barriers. To find out more, go to www.jenshyu.com.

Opening the show will be the "Chamber Improvisation/New Music" Trio, Broadcloth.  Composed of Anne Rhodes (voice - she also works with Professor Braxton), Nathan Bontrager (cello, who plays in Prof. Braxton's Tri-Centric Orchestra) and Adam Matlock (accordion, who has recently been working with bassist Mario Pavone), the ensemble makes music that also moves through many different styles, from opera to free-improv and beyond, concentrating more on group interaction than on frequent solos.

For more information about Broadcloth, go to www.broadclothtrio.com.  To find more about the show and the series, go to uncertaintymusic.com.

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme has 3 exciting shows scheduled this weekend. On Thursday, tenor saxophonist, bass clarinetist and composer Adam Kolker visits the venue with a Quartet that includes the great guitarist John Abercrombie (a rare CT gig for the New York state-based musician) plus the rhythm section of Joe Fitzgerald (bass) and Anthony Pinciotti (drums). Kolker, who is a busy free-lance player, is a member of Yard Byard, the quintet led by flutist/composer Jamie Baum, guitarist Jerome Harris and drummer George Schuller.  He also plays in reed sections of the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra  (formerly the Mel Lewis Orchestra).

His own music bring in influences from many styles of contemporary American music, from standards to intelligent originals.  Mr. Abercrombie, who is featured on the reed player's 2008 Sunnyside release, "Flag Day", does a fine job of blending his electric lines with the airy tenor and woody bass clarinet. To find out more about the leader and his music, go to www.adamkolker.com.

On Friday night, percussionist extraordinaire Steven Kroon brings his Sextet to the Old Lyme nightspot.  Born in Harlem and raised in Queens, the New York native listened closely to the jazz, r'n'b and Latin music that permeated his neighborhood. After studying with Tommy Lopez, Sr. (who taught many modern percussionists) and Dom Um Romao (from the early years of Weather Report), Kroon went on to work and tour with the great vocalist Luther Vandross and bassist Ron Carter while playing on dozens of recording sessions.

He's released 5 CDs as a leader, the latest, "On The #1", coming in May of this year. For this gig, his Sextet includes Igor Atalita (piano), Ruben Rodriguez (bass), Craig Rivers (saxophones, flute), Diego Lopez (drums) and Bryan Carrott (vibraphone).  This should be a fun evening, filled with exciting rhythms and dancing tunes.  To find to more about the leader, go to www.stevekroon.com.

Saturday, tenor saxophonist and composer Eric Wyatt comes to The Side Door to celebrate the release of his first U.S, recording, "Borough of Kings" (Posi-Tone Records - my review will be posted this weekend.)  Wyatt, a native of Brooklyn, New York!, had the joy of growing with a father who loved jazz and who introduced him, when he was in grade school, to both Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins. In fact, it was the tenor saxophone legend who secured a recording contract for Wyatt on the Japanese King label (where he released 4 CDs.)

Pianist Benito Gonzalez (just in Hartford supporting Azar Lawrence) and drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi, both of whom play on the new CD, join bassist Essiet Okon Essiet (also part of Lawrence's group) in the handsome performance space. To learn more about Eric Wyatt, go to www.ericwyatt-music.com.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. on each for the 8:30 first set.  For tickets, reservations and more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Power of Positive Music

Listening to the opening minutes of the new Azar Lawrence CD, "The Seeker" (Sunnyside Records), brings back vivid memories of listening to McCoy Tyner in the mid-1970s.  It was Tyner's post-Coltrane recordings ("Sahara" - which featured Sonny Fortune, "Enlightenment" and "Sama Layuca" both with Lawrence) that showed me that Black American Music could have the same power, if not more, than the music I grew up listening, especially The Rolling Stones and The Who). Hearing Lawrence's tenor wailing over the forceful piano chords of Benito Gonzalez and the percussion storm created by Jeff "Tain" Watts as "Gandhi" flowed out of the speakers gave me goosebumps. Lawrence, who worked with drummer Elvin Jones before and after his years with Tyner, also worked with Miles Davis, Earth, Wind & Fire, Frank Zappa, and The Cookers (among many others), always displayed a full-throated tenor saxophone style and it's in full force on this "Live" recording (December 2011 at The Jazz Standard in New York City.) Joining him on the front line is trumpeter Nicholas Payton while Essiet Okon Essiet rounds out the rhythm section.  Payton gets to let loose as well as show a bluesy style on tracks such as "Lost Tribes of Lemuria" and "One More Time" (a piece that calms down after Lawrence's opening blast).  "Venus Rising" blends funk and swing, allowing for solos that roar (Lawrence) and "lay back" (Payton), never flagging in intensity or losing its dancing feel.

Lawrence's soprano saxophone appears on only 1 cut and that's the title track.  Building up from the solid piano chords, Lawrence takes the listener on a journey that rocks and swings.  After Watts kicks up a storm beneath the sax, Payton steps in and begins a journey of his own while the drummer responds to the powerful phrases emanating from the trumpet.  Pianist Gonzalez takes a bluesy turn that shows the Tyner influence (Essiet's bass lines are active and attractive.)

There is quite a resemblance to John Coltrane's mid-1960s music on "Rain Ballad."  Lawrence is the only soloist, prodded forward by the power of his melodic lines and the fervent work of the rhythm section.  Watts' drums play counterpoint while Essiet's line are harmonically rich.

Azar Lawrence never disappeared from the music scene, playing jazz and fusion jazz - in recent years, he has worked with pianist Gonzalez as well as drummer Franklin Kiermyer. "The Seeker" shows he's lost none of the power that appealed to listeners in the mid-1970s. If anything, his playing seems even stronger these days.  For more information, go to azarlawrence.com.

Drummer, composer and producer Ralph Peterson, grew up listening to funk and r'n'b; when he first entered Rutgers Univerity, he was better known as a trumpet player.  Meeting and studying with Michael Carvin convince Peterson the drums would be his focus and he was playing with pianist Walter Bishop's Trio plus in Art Blakey's 2-drummer big band while still a college student.  After graduation, he played with OTB (Out of the Blue), a quintet that Blue Note Records organized that also featured, at various stages of its 9-year existence, saxophonists Kenny Garrett and Steve Wilson, pianist Renee Rosnes and bassist Robert Hurst.  During that time, Peterson began recording for Blue Note in different settings including a trio with Geri Allen, a Quintet, and introducing his Fo'Tet. He went on to record excellent CDs for Gerry Teekens at Criss Cross and for the German Intuition label before starting the Onyx Music Label.

"ALIVE at Firehouse 12 Vol 2: Fo' n Mo'" is the 4th release on the label.  Recorded in December of 2013, the drummer blends his youthful Fo'Tet - Felix Peikli (clarinets), Joseph Doubleday (vibraphone) and the uncredited (on my edition) Alex Claffy (bass) - with guests Eguie Castrillo (percussion) and Steve Wilson (soprano saxophone).  The fire displayed by the group on tracks such as "Humpty Dumpty" (a Chick Corea composition from his 1978 "Mad Hatter" album) and Bud Powell's "Celia" gets one's blood roiling.  On the latter track, Peikli absolutely flies over the strong percussion duo of Castrillo and Peterson. That exciting music is tempered a long, evocative, reading of Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" that puts the spotlight on Wilson's magical soprano work, Doubleday's ringing vibes and the powerful bass of Claffy.  Castrillo's unaccompanied congas open Peterson's handsome medium-tempo ballad/bossa nova "The Tears I Cannot Hide" which, after the entire band plays through the fine melody, leads to a hardy bass solo and soaring clarinet statement.  The six musicians dance through a joyful performance of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" - the blend of soprano sax and clarinet makes the melody lines stand out.

The leader's powerful work stands out throughout the recording yet Peterson has learned to temper his enthusiasm so that the melody stands out.  His solo that opens "Surrender" is impressive in an understated way; even as he sets the pace for the band, the drummer is serving the songs. Peterson has always been a muscular drummer, loud even on ballads (at times). Now, he is a mentor, bringing young talent to the fore, giving them a solid education on and off the bandstand, lessons they will pass on as they develop into leaders and educators.  While this music has plenty of solos over its 74 minutes, the listener will/should pay as much attention to the work of the rhythm section, to the melodies, the harmonies and how the musicians give their all on each and every song.

Ralph Peterson makes music that is "Alive", alive with possibilities and ideas.  The sound on this CD, captured by Firehouse 12 owner Nick Lloyd and venue manager Carl Testa, is brilliant, especially the sound of the drums (no surprise), the percussion and the vibraphone.  The New Haven venue is quickly becoming a favorite for "live" recordings, with releases over the past few years from Marcus Strickland, Wayne Escoffery, Armen Donelian and Taylor Ho Bynum.  It's also a great room for the audience, allowing close proximity to the creative process.  

For more information about this and other Ralph Peterson recordings, go to www.ralphpetersonmusic.com.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How "Alternating Current" Came To Be

Matthew Shipp is one of the finest modern pianists in creative music (and a gleeful rabble-rouser) while William Parker has established himself as a voice/force for new music and new approaches to creative music.  Throw into that mix drummer Jeff Cosgrove, who lives and works in the Mid-Atlantic region, and who has studied with Matt Wilson and Andrew Cyrille (among others), a musician who seems to have no fear of jumping into unknown situations, and the music comes alive.

I finally got around to listening to Jeff's June 2012 interview with Jason Crane on"The Jazz Session" as I was reviewing the CD (the link to the interview is here and to my review here).  At that time, the drummer explained how he formed the ensemble to record his debut CD "Motian Sickness: the Music of Paul Motian" and it made me curious how this meeting with Mr. Shipp and Mr. Parker came about.  His response is below:

"I've wanted to play with Matthew and William for years.  They became instant musical heroes when discovering their music in college.  I would tell my wife, then girlfriend, every time I listened to their records that I wanted to find a way to play with both of them.  It really seemed like a stretch then because my playing was not near the level it's on now and I still feel like I've got so much to learn to be on the level of those two great masters.  It was also interesting because I was not well regarded in the music program of the college I went to...I ended up with a psychology degree, if that tells you anything.

Fast forward to 2009, I had won a West Virginia Arts study grant to continue my studying with Andrew Cyrille and Matt Wilson.  I had mentioned to Andrew how much I was into both Matthew and William's music, hoping he would talk about his associations with them.  We mentioned the gigs he had done with William in various ensembles and it was really inspirational.  Matt and Andrew have never played together, even though they've been friends for years.  I tried to casually mention how I wanted to play with them...but, it wasn't as eloquent as I had hoped.  Andrew simply said, “it will happen when the time is right.”

In the spring of 2013, I saw Andrew in NY and mentioned to him again how I wanted to do a recording with Matt and William and without hesitation, he sent me their info.  Just the fact that Andrew had the confidence in me put me on cloud nine.

I reached out to Matthew first who was in Europe at the time.  He wanted to check out my "Motian Sickness" recording that featured Mat Maneri, a frequent collaborator of Matthew's.  To my surprise he dug the record and felt that Maneri and I played really well together – performances that I’m really proud of.  We talked on the phone one evening after he had listened to my record and we just talked about records, inspirations, and playing solo concerts.  It was really great to get his perspective given his experiences and just get his down to earth vibe.  After that call, Matt was in.  He said he would take care of getting William on board as they have been close for many years.  Now I was freaked out!  I was going to be doing a recording with Matthew Shipp and William Parker in front of an audience…it was a lot to take in. 

Photo by F Schindelbeck
I connected with William in New York when he was playing with Tony Malaby and Nasheet Waits at Greenwich House with my friends Jimmy Katz and drummer Deric Dickens.  William was really looking forward to the date and couldn’t have been nicer.  We talked a little about his upcoming schedule and some general pleasantries but nothing about the recording other than the date. 

The night of the concert finally arrived and my wife and I were in New York.  Klavierhaus has some of the beautiful pianos, as well as, an incredible recital hall but no drums.  Deric Dickens had arranged for me to borrow a set of drums from Steve Maxwell’s Vintage Drums but the only trick was that we had to get them from their Times Square studio to the Klavierhaus near Lincoln Center at rush hour.  I was more than a little stressed about the performance and if we would be able to even get to the gig in enough time to set up based on the traffic but somehow everything aligned perfectly and we got to the venue in no time. 

When we walked into Klavierhaus, Jimmy was already setting everything up around the piano and I began to get the drums up.  Then, suddenly, Matthew runs in out of breath because he had literally run several blocks because he went to the wrong address.  We had a good laugh about it as he caught his breath and you could just see his excitement to play the Fazioli piano.  While Matthew can sound amazing on any piano, to hear him on an instrument that really is up to the level of his ability is truly inspiring.  When you couple that with the connection he has with one of the greatest bass players living, it put me in a place of pure joy.  I knew anything could happen and that was what I wanted.  This would be a night that I had prepared for but never thought would arrive.  Two masters and musical heroes playing with me.  To make it better, if possible, they are two of the kindest and most thoughtful people. 

We didn’t talk about what we would play at all.  The only thing we discussed was that "Victoria", the Paul Motian composition, would be the last piece of the evening.  We just started to feel the music from the first notes.  It was an on the spot decision to dedicate the last piece of our first set to Andrew.  He is just such a special player that the three of us have known, that it only seemed right.  "Alternating Current" just seemed like a fitting title for the piece because AC are Andrew’s initials, as well as, he has always been at the forefront of evolutions of jazz. Bridges of Tomorrow was really where we hit our stride.  It was the opening of our second set and I just felt that opening pattern with the mallets and it was like Matt and William were reading my mind.  They just played with exactly what the music needed and every time that I thought the music had peaked, they could push it further. 

Playing with Matt and William was like being hit by a musical freight train and I mean that in the best possible way.  By the end of the first piece that we played, I had sweat through my shirt.  It was strong but sensitive, as well as, free but it never seemed out of control.  My wife commented that she had never seen or heard me play like that.  Matthew and William brought out a side of my playing that I didn’t know was there.  That was what it was like playing with these masters.  They unlocked things in a service to the music that changed my playing forever.  It was one of the greatest musical experiences of my life.  I had so much adrenaline running through my body, whew, I could have run back to the hotel.

Hopefully, we will be doing more playing together soon!"

For more information and links to purchase Jeff's CDs, go to jeffcosgrovemusic.com

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Busy Week of Live Music in CT (Part 2)

The 2014 Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz takes place this weekend (Friday through Sunday) in Bushnell Park, downtown Hartford. The music starts Friday night at 7 p.m. with Cuban-born pianist/composer Manuel Valera & The New Cuban Express. One of the more progressive Latin-Jazz bands on the scene, the group finds Valera playing alongside Yosvany Terry (tenor saxophone), Tom Guarna (guitars), Hans Glawischnig (bass), Ludwig Alfonso (drums) and Mauricio Herrera (percussion). The sextet has issued 2 CDs on the pianist's Mavo label, both with strong compositions and playing.

The headliner for the Opening Night is alto saxophone great David Sanborn (pictured left).  He came out of St. Louis in the late 1960s, where he had backed touring blues players, and began performing with the Paul Butterfield Band. He soon moved on to work with Stevie Wonder, played with the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, and providing solos for records by Paul Simon and James Taylor. He has such a recognizable tone, tart, loud, often with a blues "cry".   In the late 1980s, he hosted "Night Music", a early-in-the-a.m. television show that featured many great jazz and blues artists. Over his career, he's recorded 24 CDs as a leader, his most recent being 2010's "Only Everything" on Decca Records.

Saturday is the day to bring your dancing shoes as a good number of the performers will have you up on your feet.  The music starts at 4:30 p.m with saxophonist David Davis followed at 6 by La Orquestra Espada.  At 7:30, the smooth sounds of the Urban Jazz Coalition will set the stage for the 9 p.m show of the Jazz All-Stars, a group led by soprano saxophonist Marion Meadows (pictured left), keyboard artist Brian Simpson and alto saxophonist Kim Waters.

After that "smooth jazz" triumvirate leaves the stage, the Park becomes a big dance floor with music provided by Jus...Us and moves by Side Street; New England's Premier Dance Crew.

Sunday's Festival Day begins with a 10 a.m. Jazz Mass at Christ Cathedral Church, 995 Main Street featuring the great sounds of Ross Tucker's Hot Cat Jazz Band.  Bushnell Park revs back up at 4:30 p.m. with flutist Sherry Winston and her group. At 6 p.m., the current chair of the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the Hartt School, Javon Jackson performs along with his band. The tenor saxophonist is well-schooled in the fundamentals of jazz having graduated from the Art Blakey school of The Jazz Messengers.  The Festival comes to a rousing close with the Azar Lawrence Quintet.  Lawrence (pictured above), who first came to critical as a member of the McCoy Tyner Quartet in the mid-1970s and went on to play in drummer Elvin Jones group. He has performed with artists as diverse as Frank Zappa and Busta Rhymes. He spent time with Miles Davis and, more recently, appeared on the debut CD of The Cookers and with the Headhunters.  He is in the midst of a CD release, celebrating his new Sunnysde CD "The Seeker."  Joining him in the Capital City will be pianist Benito Gonzalez, trumpeter Dr. Eddie Henderson, bassist Essiet Okon Essiet, and drummer Brandon Lewis.

Every performance is free and open to the public.  For more information, go to www.hartfordjazz.com.

The UMOJA Music Series of free concerts comes to its conclusion this Friday with an appearance by the Kris Allen Quintet featuring trumpeter Duane Eubanks. Allen, who studied Jackie McLean at both the Artists Collective and the University of Hartford, has been active musician over the past decade-plus, working with saxophone great Illinois Jacquet and in the Gerald Wilson Big Band as well as with bassist Mario Pavone and with the Mingus Dynasty Band.

His top-notch Quintet not only features the afore-mentioned Eubanks (of the famous Eubanks family including Kevin and Robin) but also Allen's wife Jen (piano) and the dynamic rhythm section of Dezron Douglas (bass) and Jonathan Barber (drums).  The show actually takes place in the Pump House Gallery at the other end of Bushnell Park from the Jazz Fest.  Opening the show at 6 p.m will be the Alex Tremblay Quartet.  In case of rain, the concert moves indoors to the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts Recital Hall, 15 Vernon Street. For more information, go to umojamusic.com.

The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, presents the Mike Augeri Quintet in concert Saturday at 8 p.m. The Middletown native, who is about to go on the road with The Drifters (yes, the singing group from the 1950s and 60s who had hits with "Up On The Roof" and "On Broadway"), is a fine jazz drummer who's been playing since his early teens.  Joining him will be the fine young pianist and vocalist Orice Jenkins, bassist Matt Dwonszyk, saxophonist Jim Bosco and percussionist Rich Tortorigi. Expect any style from jazz to funk to Latin and beyond when the Band hits the Buttonwood stage (such as it is).
For more information, go to www.buttonwood.org.

The first time I saw drummer Ralph Peterson Jr. (pictured left) was in Hartford at an indoor concert sponsored by the Hartford Jazz Society, perhaps 20+ years ago.  He's been back to the state numerous times as a leader or a sideman.  His latest 2 CDs are a product of 2 gigs in New Haven at Firehouse 12, the latest "Vol 2: Fo' n Mo'" (Onyx Productions) recorded in December 2013.  The knockout band for that date included the "Fo'" - Peterson, Felix Peikli (clarinet, bass clarinet), Joseph Doubleday (vibraphone) and Alexander Claffey (bass) - and the "Mo'" - Steve Wilson (soprano saxophone) and Eguie Castrillo (percussion).

On Monday July 21, the Hartford Jazz Society continues its 2014 Monday Night Jazz Series with an appearance by the Ralph Peterson Jr. Fo' n Mo', hopefully in Bushnell Park.  The band for the live show includes Messrs. Doubleday, Wilson, and Castrillo - joining them will be Alex Toth (bass) and Todd Marcus (clarinets).   Expect to be on your feet a lot during the show as Peterson's music can really shake the earth! Yet, he can also caress a ballad from the drum set and, with Wilson in the lineup, there should be a good amount of fine sounds.

Opening the show at 6 p.m. will be the quartet of Frank Kozyra (saxophones), Andrew Renfroe (guitar), Matt Dwonszyk (bass) and Curtis Torian (drums).  The concert is free and open to the public.  If you can't get to the Park, WWUH-FM91.3 broadcasts the show in its entirety over the airwaves and online (www.wwuh.org).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Busy Week of Live Music in CT (Part 1)

There is so much live music in our small state this week that this column must be posted in 2 parts.

On Wednesday July 16, bassist, composer and CT native Mario Pavone brings his "Street Songs: The Accordion Project" to Cafe Nine, 250 State Street in New Haven.  He has assembled quite a band - Matt Mitchell (piano), Adam Matlock (accordion), Carl Testa (acoustic bass), and Steve Johns (drums) plus a brass quartet that features Dave Ballou (cornet, flugelhorn), his wife Leise (french horn), Peter McEachern (trombone) and Gary Buttery (tuba) - and the music reflects his upbringing in the Italian community of Waterbury.  Like many of his ensembles, Mr. Pavone blends older and younger musicians who bring a wealth of experiences to his music, enriching the listener's evening.  The concert celebrates the release of Pavone's new Playscape Recordings CD (same name as the concert).

Doors open at 7 p.m. with the music starting at 8. For more information and ticket reservations, go to www.cafenine.com/event/553707-mario-pavone-street-songs-new-haven/.

Photo by Jimmy Katz
24 years ago, saxophonist Joe Lovano collaborated with drummer (and, at the time, Wesleyan instructor) Ed Blackwell on a pair of recordings, a trio date titled "Sounds of Joy" (with bassist Anthony Cox on ENJA) and "From The Soul" (on Blue Note with pianist Michel Petrucciani and bassist Dave Holland.) The drummer, who suffered terribly from diabetes, passed away just 10 months after the Blue Note sessions. In a recent conversation with Mr. Lovano, he recalled several trips to Middletown to visit and play with Mr. Blackwell and how easy their connection was.  That connection is quite evident on the 2 CDs.

On Thursday (7/17), Joe Lovano brings his Trio Fascination to Crowell Concert Hall at Wesleyan (Wyllys Avenue) for a concert that not only celebrates those earlier sessions but also looks forward to new music that the saxophonist has created for this band. Joining him are bassist Peter Slavov (a member of Lovano's US Five band), drummer Lamy Istrefi Jr (a native of Kosovo, Albania) plus special guest Judi Silvano (vocals).  Mr. Lovano, who plays tenor and soprano saxophone (among many others), enjoys these small groups as it allows him to interact on an intimate level, building the music up from the rhythm section.  Ms. Silvano, who is the saxophonist's wife, adds her voice in unique ways, serving as another improviser with her wordless vocals.

The concert starts at 8 p.m.  For more information, go to www.wesleyan.edu/cfa or call 860-685-2806.

If you want a real treat, head over to the home page of the HR Big Band (the short name of the Frankfurt (Germany) Radio Big Band) and check out the video of Joe Lovano's performance of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme", arranged by Jim McNeely.  Trust me, it's well worth the 2 hour investment of time as this performance is quite wonderful.  Talking with the saxophonist, he had nothing but praise for the Big Band (note the joy on drummer Paul Hochstader's face as the music unfolds) and for the superlative arrangement, which allowed him to be be himself in the midst of the legendary Coltrane composition. Mr. Lovano certainly displays a debt to Coltrane's saxophone legacy but also goes his own way throughout the performance. After a short intermission, the second half of the video features several arrangements of Lovano compositions as well as more Coltrane material.  Go to www.hr-online.de/website/rubriken/kultur/index.jsp?rubrik=2023 and hunker down for a most wonderful experience.

Speaking of impressive saxophonists, Cuban-born Yosvany Terry has made his mark on the American music scene performing alongside Dave Douglas, Ravi Coltane, Cassandra Wilson, David Murray, Taj Mahal and many others since arriving in New York City in 1999.  Not only does he play tenor and soprano saxophones but he is also known for his percussion work (especially the chekere).  He has a brand new CD, "New Throned King" (on pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba's 5Pasion label), featuring a sextet with numerous guests playing original compositions based in Terry's study of vodun.

This Thursday, he brings his Bohemian Trio for an 8:30 p.m. show at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme.  The ensemble, formed in 2013, features French-born cellist Yves Dharamraj (a recent graduate of Yale University) and pianist Orlando Alonso (also a native of Cuba) playing music that brings together myriad influences, from Afro-Cuban music to classical to tango to rock and much more.  Though the Trio has yet to release a CD, you can hear a selection of its music by going to www.bohemiantrio.com.  Better yet, see and hear them live in a room that accentuates the joy and sounds of music. For ticket information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886.

On Friday, The Side Door Club presents The Zach Bartholomew Trio.  Organized in 2009 at Florida State University, the ensemble features pianist Bartholomew, bassist Brandon Robertson and drummer Miles Bozeman. They released their debut CD, "Out of This Town" in 2012, concentrating on original music and new interpretations of jazz favorites. They have played venues throughout the United States.  Their first set begins at 8:30 p.m.

On Saturday, it's the music of the Metta Quintet.  Formed at the turn of the 21st Century by the not-for-profit JazzReachInc (a group committed to the "promotion, performance, creation and teaching of jazz music", the Quintet features tenor and soprano saxophonist Marcus Strickland, alto saxophonist Mark Gross, pianist David Bryant, bassist Zach Brown, and drummer Hans Schuman.  Over the course of 3 CDs, Metta has commissioned works by Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner, Miguel Zenon, Omer Avital, the afore-mentioned Yosvanny Terry and others.  The music is exciting, forward-looking, and challenging while the band plays with great fire and style.  To find out more about the Quintet and its music, go to www.jazzreach.org/metta-quintet.html.

The opening set commences at 8:30 p.m.  Call 806-434-0886 for reservations or go to  thesidedoorjazz.com.

The next post will talk about the 4th and final concert in the UMOJA series, about this weekend's Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz and the Monday Night Bushnell Park series.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Nick and Nicky

Nick Hempton came to the United States from his native Australia, saxophones in hand, a young man with a dream that one day his music would be heard around the world (or, at least, that's how I believe the story should go.)

Since organizing the Nick Hempton Band in 2005, he's released 3 CDs with the latest 2 out on Posi-Tone Records. This year, he's decided to try a new approach, a fan-friendlier approach but not "crowd-sourcing."  The "Catch and Release Experiment" is a unique idea, one in which the band - Hempton (alto, tenor saxophones), Dan Aran (drums), Jeremy Manasia (piano) and Dave Baron (bass) - will, over the course of 1 year, "write, rehearse, record, and release one new song every 6 weeks." The songs will be made available on the Band's website, on iTunes and Amazon.

If you have ever listened to Nick Hempton's music, you'll know he's a confident player with a sweet sound on alto and a swinging approach to the tenor.  His compositions leave plenty of room for solos but he does not skimp on melody.  Drummer Aran has been in the band since its inception and one cannot miss his rapport with the leader.

The first track, which takes its name from the "experiment", will be released on Tuesday July 15.You can join in on the fun by going to nickscatchandrelease.com.

Earlier this year vocalist/composer Nicky Schrire returned to her native South Africa after 4 years in New York City where she studied music, recorded 2 CDs and an EP, made scads of friends and ran herself ragged trying to get her career moving forward.  Despite strong positive critical responses, Ms. Schrire felt she needed a change of scene and made plans to settle in London, England.  First, she went home to recharge, see family and friends and to slow down for a little while.  She's now in London, starting to gig and getting established.

Before Nicky Schrire left the US, she recorded 11 original pieces in New York City with pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Desmond White and drummer Jimmy Macbride plus tenor saxophonist Jonas Ganzemuller on 3 tracks.   Titled "Demo 2014", the music seems fully realized but was not marked for release.   However, this music deserves to be heard so this post is a personal "shoutout" to Ms. Schrire to consider making these songs commercially available.  (Update - these tracks are not yet commercially available in any form and, after consulting with the artist, she has generously forwarded the following song for our enjoyment:)

While in Capetown, Nicky Schrire formed a duo with cellist Ariella Caira, recorded a 5-song EP that also begs to be heard.  Time will tell.

To find out more about the person and her engaging music, go to www.nickyschrire.com.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Charlie Haden

Just as I published my previous post, news of Charlie Haden's passing was coursing around Twitter, Facebook and the internet.

He'd been suffering for the past several years, had stopped playing in public and in the recording studio.

I never met him but he certainly had an impact on my opinions about the role of musicians in the modern world.  Mr Haden used his music to speak his mind about the foibles of democracy, about revolution, the rights of every person to live his or her life in freedom and the hypocrisy all around us.  Those beliefs certainly rubbed some people the wrong way but....

His music never lied, whether it was the raucous in-your-face-and-ears approach of the Liberation Music Orchestra or the film noir approach of Quartet West, Charlie Haden was honest.  The work he did with Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry in the 1950s and 60s (and the various reunions), his interactions with Keith Jarrett in his 1970's Impulse and ECM groups, Old & New Dreams (pictured left) in the 1980s, the trio with Geri Allen and Paul Motian and so much more, all stood out for its strong music and lack of compromise.

Then, of course, the love he had for his family stands out in a world where relationships can be as disposable as paper cups.  He started out singing and playing with his family's country & western band in the late 1940s and, in 2008, gathered his children, wife and friends to create a new musical experience along those lines for his "Rambling Boy" record.

Charlie Haden walked tall in good times and persevered in bad times, pushing music and ideas out from the rhythm section, not afraid to tell the truth as he saw it.  He played with substance, not speed, a full tone and articulated notes, not settling into the background (unless called for).

Many Jewish people believe in "tikkun olam", that we are on this earth to promote healing, to help repair what lies broken around us.  Though not a Jew, Charlie Haden, through his music and his activism, was just that kind of "repairman" and we were quite lucky to have him in our midst.  

Fred Hersch + Eric Reed, Monk & Beyond

One could argue all day and night about who are the great contemporary pianists; there are so many good players who are  composers and bandleaders.  Since moving to New York City in 1977, Fred Hersch has worked with numerous jazz giants and produced quite a body of work as a leader.  Over the past decade, he has created 2 long-form works, "Leaves of Grass: The Walt Whitman Project" and the un-recorded "Coma Dreams", he has collaborated with clarinetist Nico Gori, trumpeter Ralph Alessi and guitarist Julian Lage, recorded a "double-trio" project with fellow pianist BenoĆ®t Delbecq, produced several solo albums and worked with artists such as Nancy King and the Caswell Sisters.

One of the pianist's favorite settings is his Trio, especially the latest incarnation with bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson.  Their glorious new recording, "Floating" (Palmetto Records) is the ensemble's second studio effort (2010's "Whirl" was the first) and is a delightful 10-song journey filled with handsome melodies, magnificent interactions and strong solos.  "You & The Night & The Music", the Howard Dietz - Arthur Schwartz standard from 1934, opens the program with an impressive of piano work (Hersch's melodic and rhythmic ingenuity stands out) and don't ignore McPherson's inventive drum work. The following 7 tracks are originals, 6 of which are dedications.  They range from the lovely "West Virginia Rose", a short solo piano melody for his mother and grandmother, to the sprightly "Home Fries", a New Orleans-flavored treat for bassist Hebert, to the haunting and emotionally charged "Far Away", a piece written for Israeli-born pianist/composer Shimrit Shosan who passed away in 2012 at the age of 29. Other tunes are dedications to Esperanza Spalding ("Arcata"), pianist Kevin Hays ("Autumn Haze") and artist Maaria Wirkkala ("A Speech to the Sea" - it's her installation that graces the front cover).

The remaining tracks include a truly lovely reading of the Lerner-Loewe classic "If Ever I Would Leave You"; Hersch caresses the melody while Hebert provides melody counterpoint amidst McPherson's whisper-soft brushes work. No Hersch recording is complete without a Thelonious Monk song - in this instance, it's a "chill" version of "Let's Cool One", which dances atop a buoyant bass line and sparkling cymbals.  The musicians swing with glee, a pleasing reminder how Mr. Monk continues to inspire players and audiences alike (see below as well).

"Floating" will more than satisfy the fans of the Fred Hersch Trio; in fact, it should whet one's appetitive to see this ensemble live (Messrs. Hersch, Hebert and McPherson will be at The Village Vanguard from July 15-20 and on tour in October and November - find out more at www.fredhersch.com.) Enjoy!

Like Fred Hersch above, Eric Reed has been playing piano since he could walk (age 2 in his case).  He first came to national notice working with Wynton Marsalis (1990-95) and has world with a slew of fine artists, in and outside the realm of jazz.  He's recorded over 20 CDs as a leader.  "The Adventurous Monk" is his 6th release on Savant Records and the 3rd to be dedicated to the music of Thelonious Monk.  What Reed has been able to accomplish with his exploration of Monk's music is to make sound fresh and relevant in the 21st Century, treating the original versions as inspirations to be himself.

Joining him for this "adventure" is the classy rhythm section of Ben Williams (bass) and Gregory Hutchinson (drums) with appearances by tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake (3 tracks) and Charenee Wade (vocal on "Dear Ruby (Ruby My Dear")).  Reed is not afraid to "swing" as he and the rhythm section display on the opener, "Thelonious."  Hutchinson sets the breath-taking pace, Williams joining with rapid "walking" bass lines and Blake rising out of the piano solo.  "Work" is all play for the Trio plus Blake,with the leader delivering a delightful dancing solo before the saxophone gets down and bluesy.  Reed's sporadic chords and Hutchinson's martial snare drum coalesce into an exploratory performance of "Evidence", in which the drummer keeps the beat while Reed and Williams have numerous interactions. Hutchinson introduces the sweet take on "Pannonica" with his mallets on the tom-tom; Reed's slippery solo is a highlight as he dances atop the subtle rhythmic work.

Ms. Wade, who was the first runner-up in the 2010 Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition (to Cecile McLorin Salvant), makes the most of her one appearance.  There's more than a touch of Carmen McRae in her take of "Dear Ruby" (lyrics by Sally Swisher for a 1988 recording by Ms. McRae), a charming ballad where she is accompanied by piano and bass.  Reed's accompaniment is spare but effective, coloring where he can but making sure the spotlight stays on the vocalist.

The CD closes with a Monkian take of "Ba-lues Bolivar Ba-lues-are" (extra "s" in the first word) - the crisp drum work, the "strolling" bass lines and Reed's splendid solo make for fine listening.  The majority of the piano solo pays homage to the style of the composer, quirky lines that have a strong blues flavor. The interaction of the bassist and the drummer is such a delight.

"The Adventurous Monk" should appeal to aficionados of Eric Reed, Thelonious Monk and modern jazz.  Reed and company are not beholden to sounding like Monk revivalists, opting instead to be themselves and have fun.  No doubt, Mr. Monk would appreciate that attitude and approach - you should as well.  For more information, go to ericreed.net.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Steve L 8 + Sam B 5

Saxophonist, composer, arranger, and conceptualist Steve Lehman, who studied with Jackie McLean, Anthony Braxton, George Lewis and Tristan Murail, creates music that one can not absorb all at once but must let soak into your ears and mind over a period of time (much better if you don't hurry.)  "Mise en Abime" (Pi Recordings) is the second CD to feature the Octet of Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Mark Shim (tenor saxophone), Tim Albright (trombone), Jose Davila (tuba), Drew Gress (bass), Tyshawn Sorey (drums) and Chris Dingman (vibraphone) plus the leader on alto saxophone and live electronics.

The title refers to the phenomenon of standing between 2 mirrors and looking at the myriad reflections.  That's an apropos title as this music "reflects" the history of creative music, with elements of jazz, hip hop, classical, West African music, noise and more; it's also about Mr. Lehman's history, the explorations he has taken within the worlds of Jackie McLean (and his main influence, Bud Powell) and within the music he heard as a young man (the only non-original is a fascinating take on the 1997 hip hop tune "Luchini" by the duo Camp Lo which comes near the end of "Chimera.")

Earshot Jazz Photography
Opening with a flurry of notes from the saxophonist (unaccompanied), the program shows its colors from the way Lehman arranges the music (the drone of the vibes, the keening saxophones and the moaning brass plus the forceful drums.) There are moments when the track reminds me of Henry Threadgill's music for his Very Very Circus. Sorey is truly the driving voice throughout the program, his dancing drums pushing the musicians (his work beneath Lehman on "13 Colors" is visceral).  He literally blasts off at the start of "Beyond All Limits" and sets a furious tempo on "Autumn Interlude." Dingman's vibraphone "rings", his notes sustaining, shimmering, creating a soundscape that is more percussive than melodic (hear how he frames Finlayson's trumpet and Alrbright's trombone solos on "Glass Enclosure Transcription" ) - the simple melody he plays at the onset of "Chimera/Luchini" is the germ of a melody line from which the piece takes its shape.  Dingman's long solo (the only one until Sorey takes over near the end) dances and twists like a murmuration of birds, always changing shape and direction.

The closing track, "Parisian Thoroughfare Transcription", features what is probably Bud Powell slowly playing a series of chords (sounding like a melody from Beethoven) and talking (although you can't really make what he is saying) while Lehman solos and creates an electronic soundscape to wash over the music.  The overall feeling is one of time travel, of dreams, of reflections, of looking back and forward at the same time.

"Mise en Abime" is an intense musical experience, best listened to from beginning to end (and then again).  Though one notices his various influences, no one but Steve Lehman could have created this music.  His biting tone, his endless quest to discover new ways to make the sounds he hears in his head come alive, and the brilliant musicians who interpret those sounds, all of the above and more makes this recording one to own.  For more information, go to www.pirecordings.com.

"Exploding Syndrome" (self-released) is the debut recording for the Sam Boshnack Quintet.  Formed in 2011 by trumpeter and composer Boshnack, the same year she formed B'Shnorkestra (a 13-member ensemble - reviewed here), the SBQ blends influences from a wide swath of musical territory.  One hears West African grooves on "Dormant" and "Juba", slinky New Orleans rhythms on "Suite For Seattle's Royal Court, Movement 3", heavy metal scat singing on the title track followed by an overdubbed trumpet choir on the title track, and classical melody on "Xi." Sharing the front line is Beth Fleenor (clarinet, bass clarinet, vocal) and Dawn Clement (piano, Wurlitzer, synths), supported by Isaac Castillo (acoustic bass) and Max Wood (drums, percussion).

The blend of bass clarinet and trumpet is particularly delightful on the opening track, "Juba."  With Ms. Clement's Wurltzer setting the foundation and Wood's driving percussion.  The solos are short yet each musician displays a vigor that helps to build excitement as the music progresses.  The 3-movement "Suite..." moves from an opening melody (perhaps inspired by Wayne Horvitz) into a rhythmic jaunt flavored by Castillo's percussive bass lines and Ms. Clement's burbling organ.  The lively trumpet solo is followed by a forceful keyboard spotlight over buoyant bass and drums. "Movement 2" opens with bowed bass and muted drums and cymbals before the handsome melody emerges.  There is a stately piano solo before Ms. Fleenor's bass clarinet suggests Eric Dolphy in the company of Herbie Hancock. The crisp attack and sound of Ms. Boshnack's trumpet stands out as the piece reaches an intense climax. That attack has more of a bluesy tinge on during her solo on "Dormant."

"Ashcloud" may have an ominous title but is a touching ballad built upon a short piano figure.  The melody is stated by trumpet and clarinet before Ms. Boshnack creates an emotionally rich solo that stays in the middle range of the instrument.  Ms. Clement also creates a lovely solo before Ms. Fleenor plays the short piano figure on her instrument in support of a handsome bowed bass solo.  The performance shows the strength of this ensemble, how they listen and support each other, and how no one instrument or instrumentalist dominates the music - no surprise, as that is how they approach this material throughout.

The Sam Boshnack Quintet is in the midst of a new adventure - "The Nellie Bly Project" (read about it here - but will soon hit the West Coast trail in support of "Exploding Syndrome."  This music has fire, passion, melody, and excellent interactions - you should listen.  For more information, go to samanthaboshnack.wordpress.com.

Listen to "Suite..Movement 2":