Saturday, July 4, 2015

More Playing Catch(up)

As I am writing, someone in our neighborhood is setting off firecrackers and serious fireworks (making our old cat crazy). People I know (and others I don't) are arguing on Facebook about the direction of the present administration in the White House, the right to bear arms, whether the Supreme Court should be abolished, and the economic situation in Europe.  Too much hot air, so again I take respite in music.

Pianist and composer Deanna Witkowski is not the first musician to infuse classical music with jazz improvisations nor the first to link Brazilian music to Chopin (especially the work of Antonio Carlos Jobim). Yet, on her latest recording "Raindrop: Improvisations with Chopin" (Tilapia Records), the New Hampshire native creates an entrancing exploration of 8 pieces by Frederic Chopin, linking 4 with pieces from Jobim, Luis Bonfá, and Arthur Schwartz.  The remaining 6 cuts are those "Improvisations", short pieces (all under 3 minutes) inspired by the classical pieces she was working on.

The linking of Jobim's "Insensatez" with "Prelude In E Minor, Op 28, No 4" has happened numerous times but rarely with such delicacy. The solemn "Prelude in C Minor, Op. 28, No 20" is the basis for Jobim's "Olha Maria" (check out this beautiful duo version with the composer and Milton Nascimento - click here).  There is such a sense of wonder in Ms. Witkowski's playing, as if she seems carried away on rippling phrases. Barry Manilow also used this "Prelude" as the basis of his "Could It Be Magic."     Bonfá's lovely "Manhā De Carnaval" rises gently out of "Nocturne in E Minor, Op 72, No 1" with such grace and emotion.   The connection of Schwartz's "You and The Night and The Music" to the "Etude in E-Flat Minor, Op 10, No 6" is so delightful that one can not help hear but how the lyricist Howard Dietz created his passionate lyrics.  

Ms. Witkowski's improvisations, while short, still carry an emotional punch, even the final cut, the  47-second "In Parting." The dancing quality of "A Single Thought" is reminiscent of Chick Corea (check out the left hand) while "Light That Shimmers" grows in intensity (and warmth) like the sun at the break of day.

Deanna Witkowski has created great beauty in this "Raindrop".  It's her 5th CD since 2000 and first solo recording.  We all need a healthy serving of beauty everyday to calm our minds and help bolster our defenses.  Graceful, melodic and generous in spirit, the music should bring you great joy.

For more information, go to

Here's "Prelude in D-Flat Major":

Tenor saxophonist and composer Rich Halley is a powerful musician, hardy improvisor and a person who understands the power of a "working" group. Since trombonist Michael Vlatkovich joined the Rich Halley 4 in 2011, the group has been on a serious roll, releasing 4 CDs in as many years.  With the inventive rhythm section of Clyde Reed (bass) and son Carson Halley (drums), the ensemble makes cogent statements about the joy of listening and interacting.

2015 bring the 4's 5th CD and it's a bit of change from the group's usual fare.  No, no standards or electronics, no vocals or guests.  When the group entered the studio in May of 2014, they recorded enough material for 2 CDs. Instead of releasing a double CD, Halley decided to separate the tracks into new compositions and free improvisations.  So, "Creating Structure" (Pine Eagle Records) is made of 16 of freely improvised tracks (3 of which come from the band's 2012 session and 1 from 2013). Most of the tunes are short with only 2 over 6 minutes. And, it's not just unintentional blowing. The band is "playing" in every sense of the word. They are trying out ideas, pushing each other, even getting downright funky at times.  Halley's tenor sound is big, Sonny Rollins style big, but he rarely just makes noise.  On the opening track "Analog Counterpoint", he picks up on the powerful flow of the rhythm section, riding it right to the end.  It's hard to believes that "Echoes of the South Side" is totally improvised because, while it bounces along, Halley creates a theme that pulls the piece together. In fact, many of the tracks build off the work of the drummer and bassist. Just listen to to the storm created by them on "Angular Momentum", a short (2:13) piece with the power of the Vandermark 5.  They create the foundation while the saxophone and trombone build on top.  There are several duos including the playful 'bone and sax dialogue that is "Pushing Breath"; it's a treat to hear the 2 musicians interact and react without the music becoming gibberish.  There's a New Orleans feel to their bouncing lines of the duo track "Metal Buzz."

"Creating Structure" helps the listener understand how working groups get ready to go into the studio. They play around with their sounds, try out songs, and loosen up.  What's impressive about these improvisations is how many of them sound composed, how the quartet seemed to know where the were going at every moment. It's a treat to hear the Rich Halley 4 play because this is such "play-filled" music.

For more information, go to

Here is the opening track:

There are few people who have more fun playing music than pianist Laszlo Gardony (Matt Wilson is one of the few who comes to mind).  When he sits at the piano, he digs right in, puts his entire body to work and often the results are quite joyous. His Trio with drummer Yoron Israel and bassist John Lockwood have together for over a decade and their intuitive interplay makes their live shows a treat to attend. That's not to infer he's not serious about his chosen profession or his teaching but when Professor Gardony is at the keyboard, the music is often inspired.

His new recording, titled "Life in Real Time" (Sunnyside Records), comes from a late September 2014 at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, MA.  Joining the Trio are the 3 tenors, tenor saxophonists that is, including Bill Pierce, Don Braden and Gardony's long-time duo partner, Stan Strickland (who doubles on bass clarinet.) The program ranges from the Professor Longhair inspired "Bourbon Street Boogie" to a soulful (and heartfelt) take on "Motherless Child" to the bouncy "Lullaby of Birdland" (that would not sound out of place on a Horace Silver album). Listeners will enjoy the playful interactions that Israel has with the soloists - the word "spark plug" comes to mind. The blend of bass clarinet and the tenors on "New Song" brings to mind the work of Abdullah Ibrahim; Strickland's solo not only plumbs the depths of his instrument but also reaches high into the uppermost ranges.  The piece also includes a most melodic bass solo that is right in the flow of the music and does not seem out of place (like so many bass solos do). Garden likes to use the reeds as a section, even letting them carry the melody. They do on the Mccoy Tyner-inspired "Gemstones", a longer track (12:12), with the melody opening up to a long and rewarding solo from Pierce. After a wonderfully rhythmical solo from Gardony and reiteration of the theme, the 3 tenors improvise together, weaving their lines around the rhythm section.

The program closes with "Out On Top", a Gardony original that agains shows his love of New Orleans music. Israel and Lockwood lock in to quite a groove with the leader's 2-handed chordal assault creating a dancing feel. Braden takes the spotlight for a rousing and powerful solo that just about tears the roof off the hall. When he steps aside, the pianist gets "down", creating a solo with equal amounts of joy and power.  After the sextet plays the theme (note Israel's Ed Blackwell-like drumming), the tenors get into their "call-and-response", taking the tune out in true "second-line" style.

 Laszlo Gardony and company make some mighty fine and powerful music on "Life In Real Time" - there is a great amount of "life" in this music and so much of it will make you smile.  Let yourself go,  play this CD loud then get up and dance.  "You ain't got but one life to live", may as well have some fun while you're living it!

For more information, go to

Get your party started with the CD's opening track:

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