Sunday, July 26, 2015

Summertime Musical Diversions

I've written so many times about how music can take us away from the madness of everyday life (although there are number of great albums that magnify and help one understand the complexities that surround us).  Here are 3 such pleasant and diverse diversions.

My first reaction to the 5th album from the Daniel Bennett Group is "What?  No Bears?" There are several releases from the DBG that have ursine figures at the center.  However, "The Mystery at Clown Castle" (self-released) continues in the melody enriched and occasionally wacky vein that Bennett has been mining with such artistic success for the past decade.  The leader, who in the course of 11 songs, plays alto saxophone, flute, piccolo, oboe, clarinet, and piano, composed all the pieces and even rearranged 2 pieces from the band's previous CD.  The big difference from his other releases is that Bennett now has 3 new bandmates including Nat Janoff (guitar), Eddy Khaimovich (electric and acoustic bass), and Matthew Feick (drums).

Don't fret that the man has gone over to the totally serious side.  Check out pieces such as "Paul Platypus", "Nine Piglets", and "Uncle Muskrat" and you may feel that you've fallen into the rabbit hole that so entranced young Alice. The flute and alto sax melody that introduces "...Platypus" is joyful, supported by a very active bass line, raucous guitar and snappy snare.  Pianist Jason Yeager joins the group on several tracks including "..Muskrat" where he plays not only the handsome bluesy melody but also supplies a sweet solo. Khaimovich's bass lines are a pleasing counterpoint here as well (this time on acoustic).  Britt Milewski's robotic recitation on "Minor Leaguer" tells an odd tale of a baseball player in a used-car limbo while the band swirl beneath him (Bennett plays flute, oboe,and clarinet in the background). There's a "poppy" bounce to "Strange Jim and the Zebra" while "Flow" zips along at a rapid with the leader's piccolo offering a melody with a Celtic tilt.

The band goes a bit "out" on "Inside the Outro Interlude" and the album closer "Outside the Inside Outro" with Yeager's piano adding splashes of color, jagged phrases, and melodic fragments while Bennett flits about and the bassist plucks or bows.  Both tracks feature electronically altered saxophone. There are moments on the final cut that may remind some of the dialogues of Jimmy Lyons and Cecil Taylor. And you just have to love the stride piano that ends the CD.

The only mystery about "The Mystery at Clown Castle" is how one suppresses a smile or stops from tapping his toes or keeps the windows closed while the music is playing. It's all done in fun yet without cynicism.  The Daniel Bennett Group hits a sweet spot and does so without hurting any animals - seriously, this is good music.

For more information, go to

Drummer Makaya McCraven, son of Hungarian folk singer Agnes Zsigmondi and drummer Stephen McCraven, has worked and recorded with guitarist Bobby Bloom as well as shared stages with Lionel Loueke, Yusef Lateef, Bernie Worrell and many others.  In January of 2013, the drummer began a weekly residency at The Bedford in Chicago inviting his many musical friends to come by and improvise.  "In The Moment" (International Anthem Recording Co.) is the result of turning on the recorder, catching all the live sounds, and then begin to cut and paste.  The 2-LP or single CD features a number of notable Chicago musicians, including Marquis Hill (trumpet), Matt Ullery (bass), Jeff Parker (guitar), Joshua Abrams (bass) and several other young musicians.

The 74-minute journey runs the gamut of lineups, from McCraven's trio of Hill and Ullery to the quartet of Abrams, Parker, Hill and the drummer plus a number of tracks that feature vibraphonist Justefan. There is more of a sense of organization to the 4 sides of the LP package and the drummer's liner notes are a help in picking out the various group configurations.  Yet, because I have the CD,  the way I have enjoyed this music is to just sit back and let it flow. The "glue" here is the drummer; he keeps everyone moving. These improvisations blends soul music, African music, hip hop, jazz, and funk throughout the program. And, there's a mesmerizing, trance-like, quality to a number of pieces that is most appealing.

"In the Moment" can be listened closely, can rise and fall in the background, and in large or small chunks.  Anyway you approach this music should reward you and it's fun to share the experience with fellow music lovers.  It's fun and funky, the essence of collaboration and collegiality.

For more information, go to

Click on the link below and enjoy the flow:

Julian Lage has not yet reached his 30th birthday (and won't until Christmas Day 2117!) but has been involved with music for the  majority of life.  Over the past several years, he has released several CDs as a leader or with the likes of Gary Burton, Nels Cline, Fred Hersch, Anthony Wilson, and Chris Eldridge.  He has proven himself to be an excellent soloist, an intelligent composer and a creative force in the various ensembles.

In the midst of a busy time, Lage went into the studio with co-producer Matt Munisteri and created his first solo guitar album.  "World's Fair" (Modern Lore Records) is an all-acoustic adventure in song with 10 of the 12 pieces being original.  Melody is king throughout but what is most impressive is the various moods the young man creates over the course of the program.  "Peru" hints at both Lennon/McCartney and Paul Simon using rapid-fire single-note runs to tell its story.  The gentle rhythm of "Ryland" opens to reveal a sweet folky melody line. The sweet mood is never interrupted by a showy riff or flashy solo.  Chances are good there is a story behind "Missouri" (perhaps the song is dedicated to Missouri native Pat Metheny).  Lage discovered the traditional "Red Prairie Dawn" through the work of fiddler Garry Harrison and it's such a delightful romp. The other non-original is the Rodgers/Hart ballad "Where or When" - the melody unfolds slowly but easily and, despite the lack of any solo, draws the listener back again and again.

The album closes with "Lullaby", its wistful melody filled with short but cogent silences, unfolding somewhat like McCartney's "Junk" or a ballad by Kurt Weill.  It's a simple but emotionally rich work, one that leaves you feeling full yet waiting for another sweet song.

"World's Fair" is, at times, quiet, contemplative, haunting, and ever-so-gentle.  Song is king and, while one can tell that Julian Lage is a fine musician, technique takes a back seat to melody.  This is music that sounds good in the morning with the windows wide open and the birds singing their own songs. And, it's just as enjoyable late at night lying down in the dark in search of sense of peace.  Great stuff!

For more information, go to

Here's a track to play us to a new day:

No comments:

Post a Comment