Saturday, February 21, 2015

February Goes Out Like a Lion

In the midst of the seemingly unceasing cold and storms that have battered the East Coast, The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme has been a beacon of live music.  Musicians love its piano and intimate performance space while patrons enjoy being part of the "action."  Plus, it's connected to the Old Lyme Inn and there are "weekend packages" where one can stay over, enjoying the food, the ambiance of a small but arts-centric community of Old Lyme, and the allure of the beaches.  All this in less than 2 years.

This coming weekend (February 27 & 28), Ken and Jan (who manage/book the club) present 2 great shows.  Friday night at 8:30, drummer/composer E.J. Strickland (pictured left) celebrates the release of his new CD, "The Undying Spirit" (Strick Muzik). Despite appearing on over 30 recordings in his career (now into its second decade), this recording is only his second as a leader (his debut "In This Day" came out in 2009).  He's bringing the musicians who appear on the recording; they include Jaleel Shaw (alto saxophone), Luis Perdomo (piano), Linda Oh (bass) and twin brother Marcus (tenor and soprano saxophones).  While E. J. could have easily made this a recording about his brilliant technical prowess, instead this is most definitely a group recording.  Ms. Oh's active bass lines, Perdomo's probing piano work, the singing reed lines of Shaw, the uplifting sound of brother Marcus's hardy tenor and the lilt of his soprano work, all this and more makes this album a success.  When you see E. J. live in concert, watch and listen to how he directs the music from his chair. The essence of the uptempo pieces is how the music moves and flows; that gives the music its excitement.    

A review of the new CD will posted here soon but, in the meantime, to find out more, go to

On Saturday, bassist/composer Ben Wolfe comes to The Side Door and, like E.J. Strickland, he's celebrating the release of a new CD.  "The Whisperer" (Posi-Tone Records - here's the review). He, too, is bringing the musicians on the album, pianist Orrin Evans, drummer Donald Edwards and saxophonist Stacy Dillard. Wolfe, who has worked with so many contemporary musicians (Wynton Marsalis and Diana Krall, to name but 2), creates music that concentrates on melody and, certainly, rhythm but, unlike many leaders who come from the rhythm section, he does not take many solos (so, I suppose, it's not "all about the bass").

This particular quartet is quite strong, the revelation being the excellent saxophone playing of Stacy Dillard (pictured left). The Michigan native has worked with numerous contemporary musicians (including   being a member of Orrin Evans' Captain Black Big Band) and has released several fine CDs as a leader including 2011's Criss Cross release "Good and Bad Memories."   His work with Wolfe, especially on the numerous ballads, is heartfelt, emotionally strong and oh-so-melodic.  He also let loose with a flurry of notes when called for. Dillard is really finding his voice on his reeds and it's refreshing to find a musician who does not overtly sound like John Coltrane or Wayne Shorter or Sonny Rollins.  Check him out at

To find out more about Ben Wolfe and his music, go to

To obtain tickets to these excellent shows, go to  You can also call at 860-434-0886.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Trios Music

If you have paid any attention to jazz over the past 6 decades, you'll know the Heath Brothers, Jimmy, Percy, and Albert.  Saxophonist composer Jimmy (born 1926) developed into one of the most consistent writers and performers, bassist Percy (1923-2005) is, perhaps, best-known for his long association with the Modern Jazz Quartet, and drummer Albert or "Tootie" (born 1935) has worked with so many great musicians including John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Dexter Gordon, and Herbie Hancock.  In the mid-1970s, the Brothers joined forces and created their own ensemble which continues to this day.

In 2009, Tootie played a gig with pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Ben Street at Smalls Jazz Club in New York City. They played material that, like the musicians, crossed a number of decades and styles. The 3 had so much fun (if you have ever seen Tootie Heath in a live setting, you know that fun is a major component of his performance) that they became a Trio. In 2013, they recorded "Tootie's Tempo" for Sunnyside Records and, on March 3, the label releases "Philadelphia Beat."  Recorded in the drummer's home, it's the group's most eclectic outing with material that moves from Milt Jackson to Gloria Gaynor to Cal Massey to Dizzy Gillespie to Eubie Blake to Johann Sebastian Bach (!) From the finger cymbal opening of "Bag's Groove" to the funky back-beat of "I Will Survive" to the African rhythms of Massey's "Bakai", this program entertains and enlightens.  There is no sense of bombast but an emphasis on melody and rhythm and, yes, "swing."  The CD is full of little touches that create a wondrous aural landscape.  Mr. Heath opens Lewis's "Concorde" with the drum pattern Shelly Manne created for Sonny Rollins' "I'm An Old Cowhand" while his sparse accompaniment on "Memories of You" (what a touch with brushes!) gives Iverson plenty of space to investigate the melody. There's a delicate mix of Latin and Middle-Eastern rhythms that open "Con Alma" and push it forward.  Thelonious Monk's "Bye-Ya" sparkles and jumps while Kurt Weill's "Speak Low" is playful and has just a touch of New Orleans Second Line in the drummer's attack.   Bach's cantata "Wachet Auf, Ruft Uns Dis Stimme, BMV 140" is stately, with a touch of swing and splendid counterpoint from Street.  Lateef's "Pentatonic Etude" features Iverson on electric piano; he and Mr. Heath create a spare painting yet rich in colors (the floor tom and cymbal work stands out) and do so without wasting a note.

"Philadelphia Beat" pays tribute to the plethora of sounds and the great artists associated with the City of Brotherly Love. It's a joy to listen to how these 3 musicians interact, react and inhabit the material, how nothing is off-limits or overdone.  There are many moments that produce smiles or nods - this music is alive and very satisfying.  For more information about the Trio as well as a link to a fine interview, go to

Here's a taste of the T. Monk tune:

Nick Sanders hails from New Orleans, a fertile ground for pianists. While attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, as a grad student, Sanders met freshmen Connor Baker (drums) and Henry Fraser (bass), beginning an association that now has lasted 5 years.  The Trio's 2013 debut, "Nameless Neighbors" (Sunnyside), not only displayed Sanders' maturity as a composer but also the intimacy of an ensemble. Produced by Fred Hersch, the recording showed musicians with great promise.

"You Are A Creature" (Sunnyside) builds on that promise.  In the 2 years since the debut CD, the Trio has developed an even closer bond and Sanders' writing has matured considerably.  There's a healthy streak of Thelonious Monk in his approach to melody and rhythm yet, like that great master, the music opens to include elements of the history of piano, from stride to blues to swing and beyond.  And. as on the debut disc, the rhythm section is so attuned to the movement of the music, to the pianist's playful asides or rollicking single-note runs, that there are multiple instances where the listener can believe these 3 breathe as one.

With Fred Hersch back as producer (he also worked with Sanders at NEC), "...Creature" is its own universe.  Ballads rub shoulders with quirky, up-beat, romps, melodies grow from rhythmic figures, and the line between composition and improvisation is nearly invisible.  "Let's Start" is the aptly-titled opening track and, before the first minute goes by, the listener knows this music will be worth investigating.  The best creative music sounds familiar and new at the same time, with phrases that remind you on something you've heard many times but on to someplace new before you can put your mental finger on where you have heard this before. "Wheelchair" has echoes of Chick Corea (acoustic Return to Forever) in the child-like melody yet the rhythm section decides to keep the piece grounded while Sanders floats above. There is a circular quality to the melody of "Round You Go" yet listen to how Baker creates his own world underneath (while Fraser provides the framework.)   The title track romps out of the gate and then stops abruptly for a quiet interlude, going back to romp into a piano solo and excellent drum spotlight before melting down to a soft landing.  One can her this is music that could only have developed in a live setting as well as a setting of complete trust. The CD closes with Ornette Coleman's "The Blessing", a gentle yet propulsive reading of one of his earlier pieces (you can really hear the influence of Monk and John Lewis on Coleman's composition.)

"You Are A Creature" is no monster but the musical interactions do, in some ways, reflect the contortionist in Leah Saulnier's cover painting.  Playful, adventurous, original, the music of the Nick Sanders Trio illustrates the continuing evolution of American music and the endless possibilities of the piano trio. One really would love to hear and see this Trio in a club setting. Kudos as well to engineer James Farber, who brilliantly captures the sounds of each musician, especially the impressive drumming of Connor Baker.  For more information, go to

Pianist/composer Jeremy Siskind has a most interesting variation on the piano trio; instead of the "traditional" rhythm section, he creates music for voice (Nancy Harms) and reeds (Lucas Pino).  Their 2012 collaboration "Finger-Songwriter" (BJU Records) not only displayed Siskind's love for poetry (he earned a Master's Degree from Columbia University in English and Comparative Literature) but the influence of Norma Winstone and John Taylor on his original music and the ensemble's presentation.  After the release of the CD, Siskind and company started touring the US, specifically performing "house concerts" - that makes great sense as this music is often so intimate that the hush of a small room increases the emotional richness.

"Housewarming" (BJU) builds off the previous CD with a program of 9 originals and 4 "standards."  Also added to this mix are guest vocalists Kendra Shank, Peter Eldridge and Kurt Elling, all of whom bring unique voices to the project.  There are numerous transcendent moments.  On the opening "Whispering Grass" (composed by Fred Fisher and his daughter Doris, made popular by The Inkspots in 1940), Pino's bass clarinet sees as the rhythm section, his low notes bolstering the bottom an his breathy sound acting like brushes on a snare drums. (there are moments when the music is reminiscent of the mid-to-late 1950s work of Jimmy Giuffre.) The interaction of Ms. Harms and Mr Eldridge on Siskind's "New Old West Theme" over the rich piano melody stands out as well, the blend accentuating the love story in the lyrics. The lovely title track features Mr. Eldridge telling a love story with a bittersweet feel; the melody and arrangement may remind some of Randy Newman, the wonderful spare chords and lonely high notes, the poignant yet hopeful vocal. The influence of Billy Joel insinuates itself into the melody of Siskind's "Hymn of Thanks" and the stride feel of the piano beneath the tenor solo is a sweet change of direction.  Mr. Elling has always shown his ability to make poetry into music and his 2 contributions here are exemplary.  The impressionistic "Light" pairs his voice with Pino's tenor sax and a flowing melody line; the saxophonist builds on the melody, creating a solo that stands out.  "Arise" is a prayer for peace with the melodic counterpoint of piano lovingly interwoven with Mr. Elling's compelling vocal.  "Everything You Need" is a fascinating reworking of British songwriter Adem Ilhans tune from 2004. The juxtaposition of Ms. Harm's hushed vocal, the rich piano accompaniment and the clarinet draws one in and speaks to the arranger's ability to imbue the song with several emotional climates.

Siskin takes 2 very well-known standards and makes them sound fresh.  One easily recognizes the melody "Moonlight in Vermont" yet the arrangement adds several quiet dramatic flourishes plus the evocative clarinet backing and solo.  The program closes with Lerner & Loewe's "I Could Have Danced All Night"; the wonder and innocence in Ms. Harm's voice leads to a more assured yet impressionistic tenor solo that brings the album to a standstill, almost in mid-phrase.  It leaves the listener with the sense that there is more, making one go back to start again.

"Housewarming" is an album to savor, lyrics to sit and ponder, vocals that wash through your soul, and music that draws you in.  Give it a number of listens to get the full breadth of the presentation, to begin to understand the hopeful message in the songs, to admire the work of everyone involved.  You will be warmed by what Jeremy Siskind has presented here.  For more information, go to

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Warm Sounds Abound (Part 1) + Pray for CT

The Northern tier of the United States (in particular the Northern 1/3rd) has had a colder and snowier beginning to 2015, meaning schools are closed once or twice a week, concerts and club dates are often postponed or cancelled, and one spends a great amount of time indoors.  Luckily for music lovers, the beginning to the New Year also a blizzard of new releases.  Over the next several posts, you will read and hear about a number of them,

Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou have a lot of common. They all hail from the northern climes (Ms. C. and Ms. S. from Toronto, Canada, while Ms. G. grew up in Wasilia, Alaska), they all moved to New York City (specifically, the borough of Brooklyn), they have lovely voices, and all record for Anzic Records (in fact, all 3 released excellent CDs in 2014). Somewhere along the line, someone or ones had the brilliant idea the 3 should blend their voices and Duchess was born.  Amy's husband Oded Lev-Ari, who has produced CDs for his wife and Melissa, brought them into the studio, added the talents of Matt Wilson (drums), Paul Sikivie (bass), Michael Cabe (piano), Jeff Lederer (tenor saxophone on 5 tracks) and Jesse Lewis (guitar in 4 tracks), and the result is 13 songs that will make you smile and/or tap your feet.

The 3 chanteuses acknowledge that the major influence for their repertoire is The Boswell Sisters, a vocal trio been and raised in New Orleans who came to fame in the 1930s.  Duchess pays tribute with a rousing rendition of "Heebie Jeebies", a Boyd Atkins the Boswells recorded in 1932. That's the final track - before that, they regale us with songs associated with Peggy Lee, Blossom Dearie, Doris Day, Billie Holiday, and others plus a New Orleans-inspired rendition of "Lollipop", a 1958 "smash for The Chordettes (this version includes splendid drumming from Mr. Wilson and a raucous sax solo.)

The program opens with 2 songs associated with Peggy Lee.  In fact, Ms. Lee wrote the lyrics to "Love Being Here With You", a  crowd-pleaser built off the swinging beat and the friendly banter of the vocalists. That's followed by Fred Fisher's "There Ain't No Sweet Man Worth The Salt of My Tears" (originally recorded in 1928 by Annette Henshaw with the Willard Robison Deep River  Orchestra and then the following year by Bix Beiderbecke with Bing Crosby on the vocal, no less) - Ms. Lee's version was recorded in 1963 and has a blues-rock feel.)  Duchess lean more towards a looser reading of the original. You'll enjoy the sweet love song penned by Ira and George Gershwin; titled "Blah, Blah, Blah" (no, not the Iggy Pop or Ke$ha songs), the lyrics show that sometimes it's easier to show love than to say "I love you." There are sweet ballads in the form of "Que Sera Sera" and "I'll Be Seeing You" plus an emotional take on "P.S. I Love You", the Johnny Mercer-Gordon Jenkins composition from 1934 with features close harmonies and a fine guitar solo from Lewis (an integral part of Ms. Cervini's Jazz Country group). A raucous tenor solo enlivens the playful "It's A Man", a Cy Coben composition recorded by his orchestra supporting the vocal of actress/singer Betty Hutton.

The singer each take the spotlight for one track.  Ms. Gardner swings her way through "My Brooklyn Love Song", a tune composed by George Tibbles and Ramey Idriss.  Ms. Cervini reprises "A Doodlin' Song" from her 2012 tribute to Blossom Dearie "Digging Me, Digging You", replacing the male voices with her sisters and Josh Sinton's baritone sax solo with a playful tenor sax hit from Mr. Lederer (otherwise, the arrangement is the same.)  Ms. Styling revisits "Hummin' to Myself" from 2014's "No Regrets" release and also does not change the earlier (right down to the bass solo) but spices it up with the addition of her friends' lovely harmonies.

Sassy, sweet, fun, playful, melodic, carefree and happy, all those positive adjectives (and more) should tell you that the trio known as Duchess have made a debut recording that should bring a smile to your face. Is it a bit "retro"?  Yes, but it's never "snarky", never patronizing.  Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou plus their merry band sound like they are having a swell time - you will as well.  For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:

For his 2013 MaxJazz CD, "From Here I See", bassist and composer Ben Wolfe worked with a core quartet of Orrin Evans (piano), Donald Edwards (drums) and JD Allen (saxophone) plus guest artists and a string quartet. Messrs. Evans and Edwards return on his new release, "The Whisperer" (Posi-Tone Records) while Stacy Dillard (soprano and tenor saxophones) replaces Allen.  Trumpeter Josh Evans (no relation to the pianist) is the only guest and appears on 1 track. The unique painting on the cover is the work of Colorado-based Ron Fundingsland and is titled "Sanctuary."

Wolfe, who has worked with a slew of well-known artists ranging from Diana Krall to Wynton Marsalis to James Moody to Harry Connick Jr., clearly loves melody and writes pieces that have solid tunes yet leave space for solos. Only 2 of the 12 tracks are over 6 minutes and 5 are under 5 minutes.  The program opens with "Heroist", an up-tempo romp that starts with a McCoy Tyner-groove before galloping into the piano. Dillard flies over the opening groove on his soprano with Edwards urging him on.  The soprano takes the lead on "Hat In Hand", the first of several heartfelt ballads that are musically and emotionally satisfying.  "Love Is Near" is another, this time with Dillard on tenor saxophone, his breathy tone reminiscent of Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins. Listen to how Wolfe makes each note count and Edwards barely brushing the snare and his cymbals as well as Evans's soft touch on the piano. Dillard returns to soprano for Jerome Kern's "All The Things You Are", the only piece not composed by the bassist.  The piano lines are so well-placed, with a blend of straight-forward phrases and "impressionistic" chords.  Josh Evans takes the place of Orrin Evans on the bopping "S.T.F.U", his exuberant playing pushing Dillard to a frisky soprano solo.

Edwards opens the longest track, "Chronos" (7:15) with a high-stepping drum solo before the band enters on a funky groove.  The piece is spiced by the various interactions, especially between Evans and Dillard (tenor) and then Dillard with Edwards.  The angular piano solo over Wolfe's rapid walking lines and Edwards' hop-scotch drums fills is a treat.  The drummer's cymbal work throughout the CD is perfectly captured by engineer Nick O'Toole, filling the sound spectrum with clicking sticks, the gentle touch on the ride and splash cymbals plus the occasional storms Edwards produces in support of the soloists.  He can sound so "free" at times; Wolfe's rock-solid foundation allows Edwards the opportunity to play (you can really hear him listening and reacting to the pianist and saxophonist.)

Ben Wolfe doesn't feel the need to solo on every track but he sets the table for bandmates to pay their best.  His mature compositions give "The Whisperer" a timeless quality; this is music that builds upon the sounds that Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Andrew Hill, Charles Mingus and Wayne Shorter discovered in the 1960s.  Mr. Wolfe and his cadre of excellent musicians do not copy any of those mentioned above, making his pieces sound fresh and alive.  For more information, go to

Here's the opening track of the album:


The news has been making the rounds the past 24-36 hours that Clark Terry has entered hospice care. Having just viewed "Keep On Keepin' On" and now in the midst of his autobiography (check it out here), one is amazed but not surprised at Mr. Terry's resilience through his many trials and tribulations.  Say a prayer for him, for his wonderful wife Gwen and his family.  Then, go to and over a listen to this music from composer Patrick Williams that features a short but sweet solo from CT.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Winter Heat

For his 8th recording as a leader, alto saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa look back and forward at the same time.  "Bird Calls" (ACT Music) takes its musical cues from Charlie Parker (his daring playing, his willingness to experiment and his often dazzling technique) and adds the myriad influences the leader has encountered in the years since he first started playing.  The group Mahanthappa has assembled for this project plays with grace and fire; bassist François Moutin and drummer Rudy Royston are long-time acquaintances and musical cohorts while the saxophonist started playing with pianist Matt Mitchell 4 years ago (first as a member of guitarist Rez Abbasi's band, then with Mahanthappa and Bunky Green in the "Apex" band). The secret weapon in this ensemble is the 20-year old trumpeter Adam O'Farrill (son of pianist/bandleader Arturo O'Farrill) - his cool, confident, musicianship is a fine counterpoint to the fiery work of Mahanthappa. The music does not ignore the leader's Asian-Indian heritage - in fact, the opening track of the CD, "Bird Calls #1", serves as an overture and one can clearly hear echoes of the shehnai, the double-reed instrument in the music of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran.

Besides the 5 short "Bird Calls" (which, besides the group opener, include a sax-trumpet duet plus solo pieces for saxophone, bass and piano, each serving as a lead-in to a longer quintet piece), there are 8 pieces for the group.  Mahanthappa, who composed the entire program, claims to base each track off a Charlie Parker composition but I would not listen for direct parallels in the melody.  Instead, concentrate on the tremendous work of the rhythm section who are the engine of this music, check out Mitchell's splendid support and solos, and listen to how each melody creates a fertile garden for the soloists.  "On The DL" has the sound of a Mahavishnu Orchestra track (play it loud, you'll see), especially in the melody line, the leader's incendiary solo and Royston's poly-rhythythmic attack.  The trance-like quality of the pianist's lines lead to a stunning solo until the pace slows for O'Farrill's softer, more impressionistic spotlight.  His circular lines pick up in intensity and the rhythm section guides the band back in. The interaction of saxophone and trumpet on "Chillin'" has a folk-blues feel, especially in the call-and-response of the theme.  Mitchell's ringing chords, Moutin's throbbing bass and Royston's majestic drum work push the piece forward (there are moments when the chord pattern beneath the solos sounds like Weather Report's "Birdland.")

Mahanthappa's visceral solos, with his full yet sharp tone, often have a percussive feel (not unlike solos by his contemporary, Miguel Zenón) as if influenced by a tabla player's attack.  Still, on a ballad like "Sure Why Not", with its strong hint of the blues in the melody, he displays an emotional richness and sweeter tones.  The interaction of the trumpet and piano, echoing the saxophone lines in "Gopuram", is a pleasing touch while the intense rhythm section work during the solos serves as kindling for the improvisers.  The "funky bop" of "Maybe Later", which builds off of Royston's rousing drum work and utilizes Moutin's forceful bass lines as its foundation, is exhilarating.

"Bird Calls" starts out by making the listener sit up and listen with its powerful groove; even the final track, "Man, Thanks for Coming", puts one on the edge of his chair for 1:38.  Do not play this CD to relax but to set your mind on fire.  Rudresh Mahanthappa, who is known for his great musicianship and for getting the most out of his compositions and cohorts, has created what, arguably, may be his finest ensemble and music.  Catch them in person if you can - this music will rock your soul.  For more information, go to

Give a listen to "Chillin'" and dig the fire! Also, Rudresh Mahanthappa is the first guest on the newly-invigorated "The Jazz Session" - it's great to have Jason Crane back and you can hear the podcast by clicking on the link at the top right of this blog.

Trombonist Marshall Gilkes, best known for his work with the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the Edmar Castaneda, has just issued his 4th CD as a leader and first with a large ensemble.  "Köln" (Alternate Side Records) is the culmination of his 4 years as a member of the WDR Big Band (Westdeutscher Rudfunk).  Based in Cologne, Germany, the 18-piece group works and records with many visiting artists as well as working with young people. Their discography includes collaborations with guitarist Hiram Bullock, vocalist Fay Classen, Maceo Parker, the New York Voices and many others.

The studio recording took place in January 2014. Gilkes's contract had expired the previous month but he had been invited back for a concert featuring his original works and an arrangement of Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer's "My Shining Hour."  Appropriately, it's that tune which opens the program, a sprightly arrangement that features Gilkes as its only soloist.  He returns once again on the lovely performance of "Edenberry", a ballad that was the title cut of his 2005 debut album. The "Introduction" is an arrangement for brass chorale then Gilkes steps up to lead the entire band through a handsome reading of the piece. Again, he is the only soloist but the arrangement shows off his talent for creating compelling voices for the reeds and brass sections. Gilkes returns to solo on the final track, a smart new arrangement of "Downtime", a track that was a highlight of his 2012 "Sound Stories" recording.  It's fun to hear how the sections support and expand his melodic expedition.

Gilkes does not play on the rest of the tracks but creates impressive pieces that spotlight different members of the Big Band.  Pianist Frank Chastenier and the flugelhorn of John Marshall are featured on the prayer-like "Vespers" yet the section work also stands out.  "4711 Special" has a strong melody but builds smartly from the playful rhythm work of the pianist, bassist John Goldsby and drummer Hans Dekker. Pleasing solos by trombonist Ludwig Nuss and alto saxophonist Johan Hörlen add spice to the piece named for the famous Original Eau de Cologne from the region.  Goldsby is front-and-center on the bluesy (strong hints of Thad Jones in the melody) "Plant Bassed" that also features a stand-out trumpet solo by special guest and frequent collaborator Michael Rodriguez (who appeared on the trombonist's 2008 "Lost Words"). Rodriguez solos on flugelhorn on the lovely "Mary Louise", named for and dedicated to Gilkes' mother.  The brilliant sounds of the brass propel the melody to its soft finish, a short, sweet, second flugelhorn solo. "End in Sight", which also appeared on "Lost Words", is actually a piece from the composer's days at Juilliard  Here, it opens with the horn intro from the earlier recording but soon transform into an animated work where each section contributes to the brightness.  When the rhythm section kicks into a higher gear, the piece becomes a spotlight for an exciting alto saxophone solo from Karolina Strassmeyer followed by a vivacious turn from tenor saxophonist Paul Heller.

The old adage says there is usually "strength in numbers" and the wonderful section work on "Köln" bears witness to that.  This recording not only celebrates the music and arranging of Marshall Gilkes but also his relationship with the WDR Big Band.  There is a great amount of joy in this music, strong emotions abound, and the ensemble plays with gusto as well as sensitivity. Those who love 21st Century Big Band music will enjoy this gem of a recording. For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Intimacy of the Small Ensemble

Australian-born saxophonist (alto and baritone) Lisa Parrott moved to the United States since 1993 and she has pretty busy ever since.  She's a copyist for several big bands, a member of DIVA Jazz Orchestra and the Artie Shaw Orchestra, and has appeared on numerous CDs including 7 with her sister Nicki (bass and vocals).

"Round Tripper" (Serious Niceness Records) is really her debut as a leader - the title refers to the fact she often returns home to teach and to play. Joining her are the splendid rhythm section of Chris Lightcap (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums) plus she shares the "front line" with fellow countryman Carl Dewhurst (guitar) and co-producer Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet and flugelhorn on 2 tracks). Ms. Parrott's choice of material is inspired.  The program opens with Carlos Ward's "Rosa Takes a Stand (for Rosa Parks)", a celebratory romp with Wilson in Ed Blackwell-mode.  Then, listen to how melodic (a la Backwell) he is on Bernie McGann's "D. Day." (If you have heard the late Mr. McGann - he passed in 2013 - check out his 2001 Rufus recording "Bundeena").  In fact, Ms. Parrott's generous playing and warm tone on alto reminds this listener of that player.  Her baritone work is facile, quite swinging and certainly inventive.  She attacks Ornette Coleman's "Round Trip" with great vigor, the hardy "bari" tones rising over the rousing bass lines and fiery drums.  Her deep sounds on "Do You Think That I Do Not Know" (based on a poem by the 20th Century Australian Poet Laureate Henry Lawson with music by the Parrott sisters) blend nicely with Ms. Noordhuis's husky flugelhorn tones.  Wilson's brush work is, as one has to come to expect, is exemplary.  Trumpet and alto mesh with guitar on the closing "Waltzing Matilda" (the saxophone harmony on the opening verse is quite lovely).  The quintet extends the piece to 8:34 (by 3 minutes, the longest track on the disk) and take their time with the solos.  Lightcap, Wilson and Dewhurst create a medium-tempo groove and the piece floats along with crackling solos until its gentle close.

The sound quality on "Round Tripper" (kudos to Mike Marciano at Systems Two in Brooklyn, NY) is mighty impressive - everyone sounds so clear and it gives the music a sense of intimacy.  Let's hope that this excellent album is the first of many Lisa Parrott makes as a leader.  For more information, go to

"Naked" is the 3rd CD issued by Israeli-born guitarist Assaf Kehati and his first with his Trio comprised of Ehud Etun (bass) and Ronen Itzik (drums).  In the 3 years since his previous recording, the guitarist has played his music with drummer Billy Hart, saxophonists Will Vinson, Donny McCaslin and Seamus Blake plus Anat Cohen. His new songs have stronger melodies, with personal  narratives that engage the listener.  The program opens with "Song for Saba" (composed when the guitarist heard the news of his grandfather's passing), a slow tribute with a country feel in the melody line.  Bassist Etun's counterpoint work stands out as does Itzik's expressive brush work. There is a joyful playfulness in the twists-and-turns of "Nathan Bo Rega" while "The Horses' Fight" has a Brazilian feel in the exciting drums and bouncing bass lines.  Kehati's ringing guitar tones (he likes to hold notes out) move like stallions across the fields and the rhythm section boldly push him forward.  The title track opens on a melody line not unlike a Lennon-McCartney ballad and the song goes on to be a beautiful performance, emotionally rich with a few climaxes built in but really embracing a more melodic approach. The longest track (11:25), "Beneath the Almond Tree", starts quietly with just guitar - Itzik  then creates Middle-Eastern rhythms that sweep the song along.  Etun's bass solo has a flamenco feel, especially as he dances down the neck of his instrument. When he finishes, the drummer kicks into a swing tempo for a powerful guitar solo and then takes his own thunderous solo, returning to the Israeli-influenced melody to take the piece out.

The Trio also tackle 2 standards and one Ornette Coleman classic.  "Long Ago and Far Away" swings with a vengeance without abandoning the melody while "Someday My Prince Will Come" is a sweet ballad.  The latter track moves right into a bass solo after the first verse. Listen to how the guitarist and drummer frame the solo. One can hear the many nights on the bandstand that the trio has played this song and how they breathe new life into this chestnut. Coleman's "When Will The Blues Leave" swings gently, its carefree demeanor giving the impression that the blues has most certainly "left".

"Naked" refers to the honest approach than the Assaf Kehati Trio brings to this music.  Not afraid to show emotions such as joy and sadness, the musicians create a program that draws the listener in from the opening guitar notes to the final fade.  This is music that deserves to seen and heard. For more information, go to

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Drummer Expands His Band + Young Lady With Bass

Drummer, composer, arranger, and publicist Ernesto Cervini leads one of the more exciting quartets on the music. His last 2 CDs, "Little Black Bird" (2010) and "There" (2011 - both available through Anzic Records) feature great work from pianist Adrean Farrugia, bassists Jon Maharaj (the former) and Dan Loomis (the latter) and saxophonist Joel Frahm.

For his new Anzic release "Turboprop", Cervini has added the distinctive voices of Tara Davidson (alto and soprano saxophones) and William Carn (trombone) but has not traded in his sense of musical adventure for a larger sound. One thing that stands out on all of his recordings is the sense of fun the musicians are having.  This program includes "Cheer Up Charlie", the Leslie Bricusse - Anthony Newley tune from "Charlie and The Chocolate Factory" as well as "Red Cross", Charlie Parker's high-stepping piece from 1944 (first recorded with guitarist Tiny Grimes.)  The former is a sweet ballad that really works well with the 2-reeds/1 trombone front line; each player shares the melody and take a short solo (Ms. Davidson on alto).  The Parker burns brightly from the get-go, Corvine laying put the beat while the alto and tenor saxes plus the trombone share the "give-and-take" intro and then the melody.

The program includes 5 originals contributed by the leader.  The impressionistic opening track "Unnecessary Mountain" (named for a real peak near Vancouver, British Columbia) introduces the band, with the melody shared by the saxes (soprano and tenor) and horn while the rhythm section builds the tension and intensity to a boiling point during Frahm's fiery solo. "Fear of Flying" slips in on a slinky rhythm and well developed melody (a touch of Monk and a dollop of Hancock). Frahm takes the first solo, taking a jaunty ride over the rhythm section.  Farrugia solos next and, if you have never heard this young man play, he is a splendid soloist, forceful yet whimsical at times.  Cervini takes the next solo; it's short but powerful with a touch of humor. "Three Angels" is a very personal piece. Opening on Frahm's solo tenor lines, it slowly progresses first adding the rhythm section then the Davidson's alto and Carn's trombone. The harmonies are striking, the solos powerful (including a strong turn from Loomis) and, although the piece lasts over 12 minutes, the music always moves forward.  "Bindi Bop" swings agreeably with Cervini's active brush as the only rhythm instrument while Carn, Ms. Davidson and Frahm weave in and around each other. The drummer's other composition is the lovely ballad "Marion Theresa" (dedicated to his grandmother) - at times, it feels like a Gil Evans composition and arrangement, especially in the minor chords and voicings for the reeds and brass.

The remaining tracks include Cervini's stunning arrangement of Claude Debussy's "The Engulfed Cathedral" during which the music feels suspended in time as the trombone slowly intones the melody over a simple bass line and tolling piano chords.  Frahm's "De Molen" is a piece and it burns with great intensity - listen to Farrugia's frolicking chords beneath the forceful tenor solo and hear how he takes off on his solo.  The CD closes on Keith Jarrett's "The Windup" (first recorded with his European Quartet in 1974) and is one of the pianist's most playful and funky pieces (Ornette Coleman meets Phineas Newborn Jr.).  Frahm and Farrugia combine for a great interactive dialogue before the band takes the tune out on a rollicking high.

"Turboprop" is great modern music, played with fire, integrity, passion and a sense of playfulness missing from 99% of recorded music. The ballads are emotionally strong, the interactions speak to 6 musicians digging deeply into the material and themselves to give their all.  Ernesto Cervini continues to mature as a composer and arranger (plus he is a powerful and sensitive drummer). One hopes this sextet makes it down to the Lower 48 from its Canadian base. In the meantime, this super CD will give you wings.  For more information, go to

Give a listen to "Red Cross" and enjoy!

Bassist-vocalist Katie Thiroux has just issued her debut CD "Introducing Katie Thiroux".  As I write this, the Los Angeles, CA-area native is on a 3-date tour of the Northeast with the fine band that plays on the recording, including guitarist Graham Dechter, drummer Matt Witek and tenor saxophone Roger Neumann. They'll finish the short jaunt on Friday February 6 at The Side Door Jazz Club (click on the name to get more details.)

Ms. Thiroux is no stranger to the East Coast as she matriculated at The Berklee School of Music in Boston, MA.  Since returning to the West Coast, she's worked and played with pianists Larry Fuller, Geri Allen, and Bill Cunliffe as well as trumpeter Terrell Stafford, saxophonist Jeff Clayton, guitarist Mundell Lowe plus drummers Lewis Nash and Jeff Hamilton (who produced the CD). She also played and studied with vocalist Tierney Sutton.

She's a first-class musician.  Bacharach-David's "Wives and Lovers", a hit for Jack Jones in the early 1960s, is just voice and bass yet the song swings with ease and grace.  The bass is recorded with great presence throughout. Listen to how she leads the guitarist and drummer into "There's a Small Hotel" and pushes the tempo on her original  "Ray's Kicks" (dedicated to the late Ray Brown, a big influence on her playing.) She's displays solid blues "chops" on that cut as well as on Frank Foster's "Shiny Stockings" (a track that features great contributions from Dechter and Neumann).  Witek's classy brush work supports Ms. Thiroux's fine vocal on the opening chorus of "I'm Old Fashioned" then he takes a splendid "soft shoe" solo.  Dechter follows with a fine solo, filled with sweet single-note runs and percussive chords.  One can clearly hear the influence of Ella Fitzgerald on Ms. Thiroux's vocal approach on this track (and on several others).

The bassist contributes 3 originals. Besides the afore-mentioned "Ray's Kicks", there's the up-tempo shuffle "Rosebird", a vehicle for Neumann's robust tenor playing and Dechter's rippling phrases. "Can't We Just Pretend" is a soft blues-soaked ballad with the tenor player sounding like Ben Webster in his prime.

The CD closes with a bass tour-de-force, an unaccompanied reading of "Oh What a Beautiful Morning", that shows Ms.. Thiroux's inventiveness and playful side.  She doesn't go overboard with technique yet she is certainly "strutting her stuff."

"Introducing Katie Thiroux" does its job admirably.  The music has a "conservative" side with the majority of the material composed long before the bassist was born.  Yet, neither she nor her bandmates treat this music as museum pieces.  The enjoyment they get from playing together is infectious and this music is quite alive.  For more information, go to

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Strings and More

Pianist-composer Jon Davis has been an active participant on the contemporary music scene since the 1980s, first coming to critical attention for his work with bassist Jaco Pastorius.  He's also worked with Beatle Jazz, with the Bill Mobley Big Band, with saxophonist Ilhan Ershahan and a long list of other great players.

For "Moving Right Along", his 6th recording as a leader (and second for Posi-Tone Records), he leads a trio that features drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi (who appeared on that first CD) and bassist Yashushi Nakamura through a smart program of originals, standards, and covers.  He pays tribute to Pastorius with a lovely version of "Portrait of Tracy" (one of the late bassist's must enduring melodies) as well as a blazing take of "Dania" (originally composed for big band).  The quiet yet active percussion of Takahashi stands out on the former track (as does the wonderful "dancing" piano solo) while the latter tools along atop the strong walking bass lines.  The arrangement for John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" opens on a lovely, lilting, Caribbean rhythm and moves forward with glee.  The interaction of the drums and piano on Davis's solo is delightful, really the essence of what creative music can be. There's also a great take on The Beatle's "She's Leaving Home", one that illuminates the bluesier side of the song. Takahashi's splendid cymbal work on the opening choruses of Frank Loesser's "I've Never Been in Love Before" sets up a tension that is relieved and revived all through the solo section. Nakamura's bass lines explore counterpoint, weaving through the showers of piano notes and cymbal splashes.

Davis takes 2 pieces for solo piano, Thelonious Monk's "Reflections" and Harold Arlen's "I Gotta Right to Sing The Blues."  The pianist caresses Monk's handsome melody, not rushing the pace, and keeping the reflective quality of the music. The Arlen composition, from 1932, is also quite reflective, an appropriate song to close the CD.

The album includes 5 Davis originals including the McCoy Tyner-like title track that opens the program and the blues-drenched "Under The Stairway" that follows. It's really quite a pleasure to hear a rhythm section so tuned in to the movement of the leader; though there are few bass or drums solos (and those are much closer to the end of the recording), one can hear just how involved and important Nakamura and Takahashi are to the success of the trio "sound".  There's a touch of Horace Silver's sound in the medium-tempo of "Pensive Puff" (bass line, at times, echoes "Song For My Father") and a hint of Abbey Lincoln's classic "Throw It Away" in the bluesy melody of "Just In Case." The familiar touches serve to draw the listener closer and truly make the piece more enjoyable.

"Moving Right Along" does just that - for 66 minutes, Jon Davis, Yasushi Nakamura, and Shinnosuke Takahashi move the listener through a panoply of musical styles and emotions. You can listen early in the morning as you prepare for the day or late in the evening with a glass of wine.  With the typical clean Posi-Tone sound (Nick O'Toole must love drummers), this album is a welcome addition to lovers of piano trio music...and lovers of good music anywhere.  For more information, go to

Violinist and vocalist Tomoko Omura came to the United States from her native Japan in 2004 to study at the Berklee School in Boston.   She released her debut CD in 2008, "Visions", her dedication to 7 violinists who brought their instrument and personalities to the fore of improvisational music. She has gone on to play with numerous musicians including Fabian Almazan, The Mahavishnu Project, and as a member of the Guy Mendilow Ensemble.

For her second album, "Roots" (Inner Circle Music), Ms. Omura works with the excellent rhythm section of Glenn Zaleski (piano, keyboards), Colin Stranahan (drums), and Noah Garabedian (bass) - guitarist Will Graefe joins the ensemble on 8 of the 11 tracks.  Each of the 10 songs is a melody familiar to Japanese audiences (there are 2 short versions of the Japanese "National Anthem") and what Ms. Omura has done is filter these pieces through her experiences in the United States and her work as a student and improvising musician.  What should stand out, even to the casual listener, is the brilliant musicianship, the fascinating melodies, and the intelligent solos all around.  Stranahan is the sparkplug throughout and young Mr Garabedian (whose BJU Records debut recording "Big Butter & The Eggmen" is quite fine) really fills the bottom with his full sound and active bass lines.  Zaleski frames the music with his rich piano chords plus takes a number of strong solos while Graefe's solos and percussive comping help to expand the textures of the music.

The first sound you hear is Ms. Omura's overdubbed voice on the traditional Japanese tune "Antagata Dokosa (Where Are You From?)"; soon she is joined by a walking bass line and, then, the drummer leads the rest of the band in. Rising out of the piece is the violin and the leader's long melodic lines plus full tone soars above the active rhythms.  The guitarist blends a Bill Frisell-like tone with his angular phrasing for an exciting solo that leads into a fiery synthesizer solo from Zaleski. The rhythmic drive on "Ge Ge Ge" (so smartly pushed by Stranahan and prodded by Garabedian) supports the lovely melody and gives a solid platform for the excellent solos. There are echoes of Appalachian fiddle music is the lovely melody of "Tinsagu Nu Hana (Green Tea Picking)" and just of hint of "Danny Boy" in the opening line of "The Mountain." Some listeners may remember saxophonist Billy Harper's adaptation of "Soran-Bushi" from the late 1970s - here, the quintet of musicians take the haunting traditional melody and give it wings. The interaction of violin, guitar and piano plus the forceful rhythm section jumps out of the speakers. That is followed by the percussive intro to "Chakkiri-Bushi" played by the plucked and picked strings of violin and guitar leading to a handsome melody and compelling solos.

Give credit to the wonderful violin work of Tomoko Omura. Her solos rise organically out of the melodies, her viola-like tones, smartly-placed pizzicato, and vocal-like phrases stand out.  And, one can really tell that this is a "working" band, not just a "studio" date. Their individual styles complement each other and all work together to create this beautiful and often exciting soundscape.  "Roots" reaches back for its source material but is most certainly contemporary music at its best.  For more information, go to

Here's the opening track - Enjoy!

Cellist/arranger Akua Dixon has had a long and varied career; she was a founding member of The Uptown String Quartet and now leads Quartette Indigo.  She has created string arrangements for recordings by Lauryn Hill and Aretha Franklin, for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, and played alongside Duke Ellington, Max Roach, B.B. King, Henry Threadgill, Mary J.Blige and Busta Rhymes plus many more.

Her self-titled and self-released eponymous second CD is, literally, a "holiday for strings" with tracks arranged for string quartet, for 3 violins and cello, and 2 pieces for voice and strings.  Only the opening "Haitian Fight Song" has a traditional bass-and-drums rhythm section although bassist Kenny Davis also provides the bottom (and rhythm) on 3 other tracks (Ms. Dixon's son Orion makes the lone appearance as the drummer).  Violinist John Blake (who passed in August of 2014) plays 2 great solos, one on the Mingus tune and also on the splendid take of Cachao Lopez's "A Gozar Con Mi Combo." Regina Carter is on 3 tracks, soloing with aplomb on the Lopez tune, showing a bluesier side on Duke Ellington's "Freedom" and a romantic flair on the string quartet arrangement of Astor Piazzola's "Libertango."

Henry Mancini's "Moon River" is arranged for string quartet, with the lovely melody supplied by violinists Patrisa Tomassini and Gwen Laster.   The counter-melody and first solo comes from violist Ina Paris (who, like Ms. Tomassini and Ms. Laster, are members of Quartette Indigo), all the while Ms. Dixon supplies the foundation for the music. These 4 fine musicians also dance through "Poinciana" and join bassist Davis on Richard Rodgers "It Never Entered My Mind."  Ms. Dixon adds a wordless vocal atop the classy arrangement, displaying a great range of notes and emotions.

Ms. Dixon's daughter Andromeda Turre (dad is trombonist Steve Turre) joins the string quartet plus Davis on a strong reading of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" that starts slowly and then heads into a "swing" arrangement.  Ms. Turre's does a fine job of inhabiting the lyrics and then tops the piece off with several choruses of "scat" singing.

The variety of music and the compelling arrangements Akua Dixon presents and creates on this CD offers music to the avid listeners, showing a string quartet need not be staid nor revolutionary - in fact, one can swing!.  For more information, go to