Tuesday, July 7, 2015

CT Live + Masters on CD

I wrote a weekly Arts column for The Hartford Courant from 1997-2009, covering events (and posting occasional CD reviews) in Middlesex, New London, and New Haven Counties. Rarely a month would go by without mentioning that pianist Joyce DiCamillo and her Trio were playing a gig on Friday and/or Saturday nights.  Ms. DiCamillo, who lives in the Stamford, CT area, has played at venues throughout the U.S. and around the world not only with her Trio (now featuring bassist Yoshi Waki and drummer Todd Strait) but also with jazz greats such as Phil Woods, James Moody and Houston Person.  She also served as music director for the late Donna Summer as well as being involved with education, either in clinics or hands-on studio training.  The pianist has issued 5 CDs with a 6th on the way.

Joyce DiCamillo and her rhythm section come to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme this coming Friday (7/10). They'll play 2 sets of standards and original music, doing so with the pleasing combination of grace and swing. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. with the Trio commencing at 8:30.

The Side Door continues its "local flavor" on Saturday when the Cedric Mayfield Quartet (on FaceBook, the group is known as Epitome but, for the gig, there is a different rhythm section). In the image on the left, you'll notice that the native of Houston, TX, is 1) - holding a clarinet and 2) - wearing a uniform. Currently, he is a member of the United Coast Guard Band as are the other members of his band; they include Mark McCormick (bass), Nathan Lassell (drums) and Robert Langslet (piano).  The quartet's repertoire, as befitting members of an armed services ensemble, covers a wide swath of territory, from classical to traditional jazz to rhythm 'n' blues to rock music.  Mayfield not only plays clarinet but also saxophone. For this gig, the rhythm section will feature Hartt School graduates Jason Schwartz (bass, on the faculty of Westfield State University) and Bloomfield CT native Jocelyn Pleasant (drums, who now lives in Middletown).

This looks to be a fun night of music.  For more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886.

Drummer and composer Jerry Granelli, born in San Francisco in 1940, has been a professional musician most of his adult life. But, he's been interested in music since helping to set up Joe Morello's drum set when the Dave Brubeck Quartet played in the Bay Area in the early-to-mid 1950s. His first serious paying gig was with the Vince Guaraldi Trio in 1962.  He went on to play with pianist Denny Zeitlin and, at the same time, began working in the studios around San Francisco.  Later, he would move to Boulder, Colorado, then on to Seattle, Washington, playing all types of music.  During the Ronald Reagan administration, Granelli moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and, around the same time, took a teaching job in Berlin, Germany.

 Over the decades, he has recorded a series of impressive albums including 1993's "A Song I Thought I Heard Buddy Singing". Inspired by Michael Oondatje's book "Coming Through Slaughter", the recording featured the twin guitars of Bill Frisell and Robben Ford plus saxophonist Kenny Garrett and trombonist Julian Priester.  In the first decade of the 21st Century (and beyond), Granelli led groups that featured guitarist David Tronzo and played in bassist Simon Fisk's Trio. His new CD (pictured above) is titled "Jerry Granelli: What I Hear Now" (Addo Records) yet is also credited to G Trio + 3. The trio is his latest "working" ensemble (this one is based in Halifax) featuring Fisk (on 3 string bassetto - a "baby" bass, a bit larger than a cello) and Dani Oore (soprano and tenor saxophones) - the +3 refers to Mike Murley (tenor sax), Andrew McKelvey (alto sax) and Andrew Jackson (trombone). The 7-song program, all Granelli originals, is a wonderful smörgåsbord, long on melody, filled with expressive solos and wide-open spaces.  Tracks such as "Mystery" are steeped in blues, deep blues, that does not necessarily follow any typical patterns yet are filled with great emotion and splendid work from all involved. There is also an air of mystery around "Walter White", the front line weaving lines around the sensuous rhythms.  The reeds and trombone have a track to themselves, the declamatory "Another Place" with sonorities that remind listeners of the overdubbed "solo" pieces of Julius Hemphill. "Dance For Me" starts slowly but, eventually, picks up speed as the music picks up in intensity.

The ensemble can also hit it hard as tracks such as "Run Daddy Run" and the super funky "The Swamp" shows.  On the former, Fisk sits out and Granelli pushes the band plenty from his drum chair. The latter builds off an infectious bass and drum attack, not letting up until the piece stops abruptly (not unlike the way James Brown used to end a cut).

"What I Hear Now" is one more feather in the ever-growing cap of Jerry Granelli.  Like the drummers he grew up admiring (the afore-mentioned Morello and Max Roach) and has forged his sound and continues to mature well into his 8th decade.  He obviously loves to play, loves working with younger musicians, and still enjoys the challenge of creating new music for all sorts of ensembles.  Play it loud and play it often.  For more information, go to www.jerrygranelli.com.

Kenny Werner, a native of Brooklyn, NY, has had a fascinating career. After studying at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, MA, he spent several years in Brazil in the mid-1960s. Not only did he start his first trio in the early 1980s but he also joined the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra and began writing for large ensembles. He has worked with Toots Thelemans and Broadway star Betty Buckley.  He has released almost 30 recordings as a leader, not just trio and big band albums, but with ensembles of all sizes plus 4 excellent solo dates.

In 2000, he began working with bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and drummer Ari Hoenig.  The unit has just issued its 4th CD, "The Melody" (Pirouet) and it truly is about melody. Yes, there are plenty of solos on the 7 tracks but all rise smartly from the foundation of each piece. It might take the listener a moment or 2 to recognize the melody in Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" because the Trio playfully backs into it. They return to the legato section once more before the second chorus and then it's off to the solos.  Weidenmueller and Hoenig alter the tempo every now-and-again during the piano spotlight an then share a solo section before the piece returns to its beginning section to close the song. The rhythmic insistence of Werner's "Who?" is felt in the bass line (sounds like The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" and Hoenig's "snappy" snare work. The tension they create is picked up in the forceful piano work, little melodic and percussive elements that lead to longer phrases. Werner in repeats the bass figure during his high-energy romp. The trio also romps through John Coltrane's "26-2", making sure one hears the melody before stepping out on their individual solos.

If you are familiar with Kenny Werner's playing, you already know his ballads are often quite lovely. The program opens with "Try To Remember" (from "The Fantasticks") A long solo piano introduction (sounding much like a Keith Jarrett piano ramble) leads to the melody and easily rises atop Hoenig's quiet brush work and Weidenmueller's high notes.  The trio takes its time to fall into a rhythmical pattern and, when it comes, it's an intense rush of notes and drum patter.  Werner has recorded "Balloons" several times (even named one of his CDs after the song) - the melody ha a wistful feel, the rhythm often flirts with waltz tempo, and the band plays with grace, effortlessly gliding through the performance (pay close attention to the fine yet intense drumming of Hoenig).

"Beauty Secrets" is the final track and, like the opening tune, begins with a long piano introduction. There's a hint of Erik Satie in the hypnotic Werner melody; when the rhythm section enters, the music slows down and the melody is articulated.  It is a joy to listen to how the rhythm section interacts with the pianist throughout the song. The bass and drums are not just there for support but they provide counterpoint, create both tension and release, even drama at times.  Ari Hoenig, who also works with pianist Jean Michel-Pilc truly pays attention, reacting quickly to shifts in intensity but also creating those shifts himself.  Johannes Weidenmueller is more than the timekeeper freeing up the pianist's left hand. There are moments throughout when they work in tandem, other times when the bass is playing counterpoint and the times when the bass maintains the structure allowing both the piano and drums to roam freely.

In a world awash with piano trios, "The Melody" stands out in so many ways. The music is a joy to hear, a delight to return to time and again to hear how the pieces are put together, to truly comprehend how musicians in a trio can be independent and interdependent.  The Kenny Werner experience, on CD, is impressive and is one that should not only be heard but certainly be seen in person.

For more information, go to kennywerner.com.

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