Monday, December 28, 2015

New Year Weekend Music + Music I Missed in '15 (Part 1)

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme reopens its door this Saturday night (1/02/16) and the first concert for the New Year is going to be quite the show.   Trumpeter Wallace Roney brings a fine Quintet, an ensemble that includes the great drummer Lenny White and impressive pianist Anthony Wolsey.  Rounding out the group will be bassist Rahsaan Carter and the fine young saxophonist Benjamin Solomon. Mr. Roney has been a force on the contemporary music for 3 decades and has long outgrown the label of being a clone of Miles Davis.  His ballad work is exemplary plus he knows hows to drive a band.  For the last 10 years or so, he has been leading various sized ensembles and recording with them on the High Note label.

The Wallace Roney Quintet takes the stage at 8:30 p.m.  For more information and a look at The Side Door's impressive upcoming schedule, go to You can also call them at 860-434-0886.

Since I began teaching in 2010, the last 4 months (or the Fall semester) has become a blur of classes, papers, presentations and grading.  While I still write, the time I usually spend reviewing has dried up.  I still listen to plenty of music and, over the next several weeks of posting, I will catch up on recordings that have captured my attention and deserve yours.

Trombonist, composer and arranger Robin Eubanks has been a vital member of the creative musician for over 3 decades.  Along with his brothers Kevin (guitar) and Duane (trumpet), he makes music that cross various genres and border. He is an integral member of several of bassist Dave Holland's ensembles (including his big band) and is in his 8th season with the SF Jazz Collective.  "More Than Meets The Ear" (ArtistShare) is the initial recording of his Mass Line Big Band, a 17-member ensemble (plus 2 guests) that, thanks to support from Oberlin College (he's on the music faculty), the Arthur and Charlotte Zitrin Foundation and ArtistShare participants, explores arrangements of music Eubanks composed for Holland and SF Jazz.

If you know anything about his music, you'll know he loves odd time signatures and over to make them swing.  The crisp arrangements and twisting melody lines leave plenty of room for solos and, while trombonist takes the spotlight on all 9 cuts, he is generous in the solo room for others.  The rhythm section includes Glenn Zaleski (piano), Boris Kozlov (acoustic and electric bass) and the exciting Nate Smith (drums).  There are 5 reed players including Antonio Hart (lead alto), Alex Cummings (alto and soprano), Marcus Strickland (tenor), Bobby LaVell (tenor) and Lauren Sevian (baritone, bass clarinet).  The late Lew Soloff (in one of his last recording sessions) leads the trumpet section which also features brother Duane, Alex Sipiagin, and Aaron Janik while lead trombonist Jason Jackson presides over the section that also includes James Burton, Jennifer Wharton (who doubles on tuba), and Douglas Purviance (bass 'bone). Organist Mike King appears on 2 tracks, the sweet ballad "Bill and Vera" and the lowdown "Blues for Jimi Hendrix."  On the latter track, as well as on several others, the leader plays his electronic trombone, an effect which, for me, is a bit overdone. Percussionist David Silliman also appears on a number of tracks and is especially effective on "A Seeking Spirit" and "Mental Images."

The arrangements throughout the program stand out for their start use of timbre, harmonies, and how the section blend their voices.  "Yes We Can - Victory Dance", a piece Eubanks wrote after the election of Barack Obama, is so infectious. Latin rhythms set the pace, the celebratory melody weaves in and out of the sections while Smith and Silliman keep the piece bouncing forward.  That "bounce" also enlivens "A Seeking Spirit", pushed forward by the montuno Zaleski plays and the conversational melody lines. Zaleski also stands out on the handsome, medium tempo, ballad "Full Circle", with a pretty solo that unwinds over the strong play of Kozlov (acoustic) and Smith. The band then kicks the piece into overdrive for the blazing tenor solo from Strickland. Soloff has his moment on the final track, the sprightly "Cross Currents", and he responds with his customary clarity and fire. Ms. Sevian follows and delivers a sweet baritone sax solo before Smith creates quite a powerful solo over a very smart arrangement.

After a number of listens, one can hear how the music Robin Eubanks has created for his Mass Line Big Band is more akin to the work of Arturo O'Farrill than to Maria Schneider.  Rhythms are so important to this music; one not only hears that in the brilliant work of Nate Smith but in the lines Eubanks campuses for his sections.  "More Than Meets The Ear" is truly exciting music.

For more information, go to
Here's a bit of video about the project:

Composer, arranger, conductor and sometimes pianist Miho Hazama leads a most interesting large ensemble. Dubbed Munit, tt's a 13-member group with a rhythm section but, instead of the typical saxophones and horns, there are 3 reed players and 2 brass plus a string quartet and vibraphone.  Ms. Hazama's second CD, "Time River" (Sunnyside), is built along the same lines as her 2013 debut "Journey To Journey", expansive melodies (often multi-sectioned) with intelligent use of the strings. The new CD features a 3-person reed section (Cam Collins on alto sax and clarinet, Ryoji Ihara on tenor and soprano saxes plus flute, and Andrew Gatauskas on baritone sax and bass clarinet) and 2 brass players (Matthew Jodrell on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Adam Unsworth on French horn) plus the splendid string of violinists Joyce Hammann and Sara Caswell, violist Lois Martin and cellist Meaghan Burke. The rhythm section includes pianists Sam Harris (3 tracks), Alex Brown (4 tracks) and Ms. Hazama (2 tracks) plus Sam Anning (acoustic bass) and Jake Goldbas (drums).  Rounding out the ensemble is vibraphonist James Shipp, an integral component of the music on the majority of tracks.  Special guest Gil Goldstein's sweet accordion sounds take the lead on "Under The Same Moon" which opens up in its second half to include an exciting soprano sax solo from Ihara. The arrangement displays the influence of Maria Schneider, especially in the voicings for the brass and reeds.

The other special guest is Joshua Redman, who plays tenor and soprano saxes on the title track. The longest cut on the recording (at 10:26), the swirling melody lines open up to strong solos from Jodrell (flugelhorn) and Redman (with a tenor spot that, at its onset, reminds this listener of Wayne Shorter's take on Steely Dan's "Aja").  After the solo section, the ensemble returns then drops out to leave Redman and pianist Harris to have quite the conversation.  The rest of the musicians return in full force as Redman soar above them (note the brilliant work of Goldbas as he pushes the music forward).

Other highlights include the perceptive arrangement of A Perfect Circle's "Magdalena" (the only non-original in the program). The piece swings lustily for the baritone solo of Gutauskas and rocks hard in support of the fiery tenor solo of Ihara.  The interplay of vibes, strings and the rhythm section between the solos is really well-organized.  The stop-and-start rhythms of "Dizzy Dizzy Wallflower" frames fine solos from Collins (alto sax) and Jodrell (trumpet) yet pay attention to the interludes which occur throughout, keeping the band and listeners on their toes.  There's an mysterious yet comforting feel to "Alternate universe, was that real?", the swirling reeds and strings beneath the melody.

The 2 tracks, "Introduction" and "Fugue", with the leader on piano stand out as the reeds, brass and bass sit out.  Goldbas support the strings as they dance through the melody lines and Ms. Hazama propels the music forward.  There are numerous striking moments, such as the impressive drum openings and when the strings literally fling the melody line one-by-one near the close of "Fugue".

I did not hear Ms. Hazama's debut CD so "Time River" serves as my introduction to this young composer and arranger.  If the first recording, which features many of the same musicians, is even close to the quality of the new one, Miho Hazama should have a wonderful career.  This music is involving from beginning to end with musicians that give their all to this fine music.

For more information, go to

Here's a short preview of the recording:

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