Monday, January 5, 2015

Youth Movement in the New Year (Part 1)

There have been a slew of new CDs by artists under 30 released in the past 6 months and I am just catching up to them.  There will be one more post before the end of this month.

Alto saxophonist and composer Allison Au, based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, self-released her debut Quartet CD "The Sky Was Pale Blue, Then Grey" in late 2012 and was nominated for the JUNO Awards as "Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year" in 2013 (losing to Joel Miller's "Swim"). The recording, produced by pianist/Quartet member Todd Pentney, has much to offer to the fan of creative music.  Ms. Au's compositions are well-drawn, with long, often involved, melodies with intricate arrangements that gracefully ease into the solos. The rhythm section of Jonathan Maharaj (acoustic bass, electric bass) and Fabio Ragnelli (drums) are allowed great range of motion in this material so most of these tracks move in unexpected directions (even after numerous times listening, I am often surprised where this music goes.) It's also quite playful.  "Birdy" opens the program with a melody played by saxophone and bass that feels like a story with the piano offering counterpoint and the drums painting the backdrop. The funky intentions of "What Went With the Wind" rise on Ragnelli's percussive strength and Pentney's trance-like piano riff. It's a piece that is busy and relaxed at the same time (listen especially to the drumming underneath the piano solo) -listen as well to the sweep of Ms. Au's alto, not unlike soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom's approach to a solo.

The title track opens on an excerpt of a 1966 interview with Morton Feldman and John Cage talking about the intrusion of transistor radios on the beach. Cage's reaction is to write compositions with radios as part of the soundscape. The music that Ms Au creates is certainly not intrusive but features electric bass and Hammond B-3 (the only instance both instruments appear on a track.)  Cage and Feldman return and now the former says "What we need is a music which will not interrupt the noises of the environment, hmm."  The quartet returns quieter, acoustic again - does the dialogue of the composers, who were both known for their "environmental" works, change how we hear music?  In the final seconds of the piece, Cage returns to tell us (better yet, remind us) that "this (music?) is a coin that has 2 sides..the reality is the environment. What you want to do in it is an intrusion. The work of an it not an incisive intrusion, hmmm?  Because, for heaven's sakes, it didn't exist until the artist does it."

The "intrusions" that Allison Au has created for the listener with her Quartet on "The Sky Was Pale Blue, Then Grey" come from her experiences as a reader, musician and human being. The music feels organic, not forced, lived in, not created on the spot (for the recording session). Like the music of fellow saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Charles Lloyd, one needs to surrender to the sounds and follow the sonic trails - it's quite a rewarding journey.  For more information, go to
New Hampshire-based guitarist Michael Blum, just 20 when he recorded his debut Quartet CD "Initiation" (self-released), has a sound that's easy to take and easier to get lost in. Produced by the  bassist on the session and one of Blum's professors at the Berklee School of Music Jim Stinnett (he also composed 4 of the 10 tracks), the recording blends standards and originals, allowing plenty of solo room for the guitarists and the keyboards of Brad Smith (a veteran of the Boston scene). Rounding out the rhythm section is educator and drummer Dom Moio.

Blum gets a lovely round tone out of his hollow-body electric guitar and one can hear the influence of jazz greats such as Charlie Christian, Herb Ellis, Jim Hall and others. He displays a great sense of swing on "Castle Rock", a softer side on "A Child is Born" (his gentle rippling phrases take off easily from the melody) and delivers a gentle yet emotionally rich solo on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Corcovado." There's also a Brazilian feel on the chestnut "When Sunny Gets Blue" with the guitar flying above the rich bass tones and active percussion (no keys on this track yet the 3 musicians really fill the sound spectrum.)

Blum's original contribution to the program, "Six Weeks", is a duet with Stinnett, a blues-drenched dialogue with a bit of overdubbing (an electric bass solo). The guitarist works well with the bassist, bouncing off his thick notes or wrapping his phrases around the bass figures.

"Initiation" is the first step in what one hopes is a long and successful career for guitarist Michael Blum.  He's definitely got the "chops"; he needs to stretch his wings, play as much as possible and continue to mature and take chances. That growth should be great fun to watch.  For more information, go to

For his debut CD "Short History" (BluJazz) , tenor saxophonist and composer Paul Jones has created a program of songs built from the titles of great books. His sextet (not all 6 play on each track) includes the fine young Connecticut drummer Jimmy MacBride, pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist Johannes Felscher, alto saxophonist Alex LoRe, and guitarist Matt Davis. The blend of sounds is fascinating, with Fortner's full-chordal attack juxtaposed to Davis's quieter guitar style and MacBride's adventurous drumming paired with Felscher's rock-solid bass lines. The alto and tenor saxophones make for an "airy" front line; neither musician tries to "outblow" the other, instead preferring to play the melody and harmony lines with similar strength.  On the title track, the alto sax and guitar play the melody while Davis offers a counter-melody while the more frenetic "On The Road" pairs the saxes with Davis moving in and out of the melody line. The "drive" created by Fortner, Felscher and MacBride pulses with nervous energy yet, after LoRe' fine solo, the piece calms down for the guitarist's introspective solo.

"The Fountainhead" has a slinky bass line, a funky beat and a well-developed melody. It's just sax with bass and drums and one feels the connection to Trio recordings such as Sonny Rollins "Freedom Suite" and the Henry Threadgill-Fred Hopkins-Steve McCall classic "Air Time." I love the openness of this particular track as well as the intimacy of the musicians interactions.  That intimacy and openness extends into larger group setting, such as the mysterious "At The Lighthouse" that closes the program.  The intensity of the saxophones flying over the hearty drumming gives way to a quiet piano solo over a throbbing bass line and splendid cymbal work.  That's another impressive aspect of Jones' music; these multi-section pieces offer his colleagues freedom to move around and nothing becomes stale. The smart arrangement of Richard Rodgers' "I Could Write a Book" is chock-full of intricate section work in the statement of the theme before the bassist takes the first solo.

"Short History" is an exciting recording as it straddles the styles of so many creative musicians without being beholden to any of them.  The confidence and talent of Paul Jones and his musical collaborators shines throughout the program without pretension. Jones, who has recorded with Nicky Schrire and worked on guitarist Davis's "City of New York 2013" project, looks and sounds like a talent to be reckoned with, hopefully for many decades.  For more information, go to

No comments:

Post a Comment