Monday, April 11, 2016

Down to Sea With Saxophones, Brass & a Chum Bucket

When one attempts to describe saxophonist Jeff Lederer, the words "exuberant", "dynamic", "elemental", and "fun-loving" come to mind. In concert with the Matt Wilson Quartet and the Honey Ear Trio, he can be, and often is, ebullient, a Puck-ish character whose approach to the tenor sax knows no limits.  In his own groups, Lederer's music blends blues, swing, hymns, gospel, and so much more. He has an affinity for the music and sound of saxophonist Albert Ayler (1936-1970) and has recorded a number of his works as well as dedicating several of his original pieces to the fiery musician.

Lederer's latest recorded adventure (and ensemble), titled "Brooklyn Blowhards" (Little (i) Music), blends his love for Ayler's music (5 of the 14 tracks are Ayler tunes) and sea shanteys - an unlikely match, you say, but ,when played by the octet of Petr Cancura (tenor saxophone), Kirk Knuffke (cornet, slide trumpet), Brian Drye (trombone), Art Bailey (accordion) and the percussion trio of Allison MillerStephen LaRosa, and Mr. Wilson (trap drums, ship's bell, chum bucket, chain), this music is so alive. Joining the ensemble on 5 tracks is vocalist Mary LaRose (Lederer's wife) and, on 3 tracks, guitarist Gary Lucas. There are moments when the music sounds like an unhinged Salvation Army Band (before and after the Cancura/Lederer duo on "Black Ball Line" and all throughout "Haul Away Joe") and cuts where the ensemble swaggers or romps with such panache (Ayler's "Heavenly Home" and his classic "Bells").  Check out Matt Wilson's "Dancing Waters", a truly lovely ballad with Ms. LaRose's wordless vocals and Lucas's sparkling dobro, underpinned by the swirling reeds and brass, building to an amazing climax on the power of the drummers, beginning and ending with a short chorale that sounds like a prayer. Lederer's "The Language of Resistance" is a stunning work for the octet, a spotlight for the leader's soprano sax and Bailey's fine accordion work.

Inspired playing abounds throughout the program.  Solos by Knuffke and Drye enliven the traditional "Haul on the Bowline" while the spiky slide work of Lucas shines on "Shenandoah." Ms. LaRose leads the way on the raucous take of Ayler's "Island Harvest" capturing the humor of the original version without imitating lyricist and vocalist Mary Parks. The multi-tracked voices on "Shallow Brown" blends sweetly with the dobro, the accordion swells, the martial drumming, and the sway of the horns.

"Brooklyn Blowhards" is serious fun, music that reaches back to music of early America while illustrating how Albert Ayler tapped into traditional musics, making it sound new and "free.'  Jeff Lederer, who arranged the entire project, was inspired by the brilliant work of artist Matt Kish, who created "Moby Dick in Pictures - One Drawing for Every Page".  Play this loud, let the music ring through the house while raising your glass to the ingenuity and vision of this splendid musician and his mighty band.

For more information, go to

Here's a sample from "Brooklyn Blowhards" complete with artwork from the book:

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