Wednesday, February 24, 2016

She Sings, They Swing: Live and on CD

The lady on the left is the fabulous vocalist and composer René Marie.  She and her accomplished trio - pianist John Chin, bassist Elias Bailey, and drummer Quentin Baxter - are making a return trip to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme this Saturday (2/27).  Last time she was at the venue, she celebrated the release of "I Wanna Be Evil (With Love to Eartha Kitt)" (Motema Music), one of the more delightful albums of 2014. Ms. Marie is more than a torch singer bit you can singe your ears with her exciting music. Plus, her ballad singing is just wonderful.  As for her stage presence...well, she is graceful, witty, sassy, sexy and soulful.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the music commences 60 minutes later.  Call 860-434-0886 for reservations.

Here's a track from the Kitt CD, the delightful "I Rather Be Burned As a Witch":

On Friday night (2/26), The Side Door opens up for the Mike Casey Trio.  The Hartford-area born tenor saxophonist graduated from the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the University of Hartford and has played alongside the likes of trumpeter Charles Tolliver, pianist Marc Cary, trombonist (and one of his teachers) Steve Davis and bassist Dezron Douglas.  The saxophone trio has been an honored tradition since Sonny Rollins recorded and toured with various rhythm sections in the mid-1950s (and recorded a number of Lps including "Freedom Suite" and "A Night at The Village Vanguard").  Joining young Mr. Casey will be bassist Matt Dwonczyk and drummer Corey Garcia.

For tickets and more information, go to To find out more about the saxophonist, go to

Here's the Trio with a rousing reading of Jackie McLean's "Little Melonae":

anna yatskevich
Tenor saxophonist and composer Ken Fowser recently released his debut CD as a leader.  "Standing Tall" comes after 4 CDs co-leading an ensemble with vibraphonist Behn Gillece, all, like his debut, on the PosiTone Records label.

Mr. Fowser is bringing his Quintet to the 9th Note, 15 Bank Street in Stamford this Friday evening.  It's the same group that recorded "Standing Tall" including pianist Rick Germanson, trumpeter Josh Bruneau (a graduate of the Jackie McLean Institute), bassist Paul Gill, and drummer Jason Tiemann.

There's a breezy, bluesy, feel to the music on the album.  One can hear the influence of the Blue Note Records sounds of the late 1950s through the mid 60s, for instance the sound of McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, and early Wayne Shorter.  To his credit, the young saxophonist does not imitate any particular saxophonist, mixing the essence of Shorter, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, and Michael Brecker into his pleasing tenor tone. Bruneau has a crisp attack and articulates his notes with brio. He also has a mellow side, especially when he use a mute (as he does on "Hanging On."  "Mode for Red" frolics at the pace of a high-energy Tyner track. One hears it in the opening chords and theme as well as during Germanson's short but rousing solo.  Out of the 12 tracks, there is only one song over 6 minutes and that's the mellow, medium-tempoed "Timeless." "Filling In The Blanks" is a blues with one of Fowser's more emotionally rich solos.

The music on "Standing Tall" is good and is probably even better in person.  The rhythm section is solid without being flashy (Germanson is so fundamentally sound) while both Ken Fowser and Josh Bruneau play with taste and, in the case of the trumpeter, with great fire.  To find out more about the album, go to To learn more about the saxophonist, go to

The gig on Friday night starts at 9 p.m.  For reservations and more information about the venue's weekly calendar, go to or call 203-504-8828.

Here's the title track:

Pianist David Berkman, saxophonist Tim Armacost, and drummer Gene Jackson formed the New York Standards Quartet in 2005 and wound up spending a lot of time playing in Japan. Each musician had his own career performing and teaching but so much enjoyed each other's company that they continue to get together each year for a trip to the Orient.

They've managed to record 4 CDs over the decade for 4 different labels.  But "Power of 10" changes that part of the story in that it is the 2nd straight release to be issued by Whirlwind Recordings. There s also a new bassist n the group (Yosuke Inoue was featured on the first 2 and Daiki Yasukagawa on the next 2) and it just happens to be the head of the label, Michael Janisch.
The band's format has not changed as they continue their personal spin on "standards."  They like to put their own spin on these songs so there are 3 variations of "On Green Dolphin Street" including Berkman's concise solo piano Doll's Phone Cause" (:26 seconds) and Armacost's "Green Doll's Phone" and "Doll's Phone Effect."  There is a medium tempo take on "All Of Me" (with Armacost on soprano) that has the energy of a McCoyTyner piece.  The rhythm section really pushes these piece forward and the saxophonist whirl and dances above them. The choice of Elvin Jones' "Three Card Molly" is an inspired one as the powerful work is a highlight of the album. Jackson does not choose to imitate Mr. Jones but plays with his own sense of thunder; his intensity and the incessant pain chords push the Armacost (on tenor) to really dig in.  Berkman follows and display his own sense of vigorous combination of chords and rushing single-note runs. Jackson's gentle but active brush work adds a lighter touch to the bittersweet reading of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life." Janisch is an excellent addition to the group, not only because he keeps the bottom of the sound moving but also he is an articulate and melodic soloist (one hears all that and more on the short "Secret Fondness", his intro to "Hidden Fondness", Berkman's hard-swinging take on "Secret Heart").

"Power of 10" is notable for its powerful music, intelligent interactions, excellent solos and music more. The New York Standards Quartet takes music many listeners are familiar with, styles we can put a name to, and creates a program that illustrates just how alive jazz can be.

For more information about the band, go to and to

Here's the NYSQ in concert with bassist Janisch from 2011:

Guitarist Ed Cherry, a New Haven CT native, first came ti critical notice as a member of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's bands from 1978 until 1992.  His clean, clear, tone, his intelligent and funky chording, and his ability to make a melody stand out, all of that plus solos that incorporate jazz and blues, makes his music so attractive.

"Soul Tree" is his second release for PosiTone Records. Like 2012's "It's All Good", the guitarist utilizes an organ-drums-guitar format, this time with utilizing the talented duo of Philadelphia-based musicians, Kyle Koehler on the Hammond B-3 and Anwar Marshall on drums. The majority of the material covers a wide swath of the jazz idiom, from Jimmy Heath's "A New Blue" to Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes" to John Coltrane's "Central Park West" yet the program opens with the trio's funky, high-energy, take on Kool and the Gang's "Let The Music Take Your Mind."  Marshall's spirited drumming pushes his cohorts hard and with Cherry and Koehler respond with brawny solos.  Cool organ tones lead the band into a quiet, tuneful, reading of Harold Land's "Ode to Angela" - Cherry's solo is so bluesy, the rippling phrases rolling over the movement of the rhythm section.   The trio swings the heck out of Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower" (note the excellent cymbal work of Marshall, how he pushes the tempo but the ride cymbal stays steady.)

The guitarist contributes 2 originals, the sweetly swinging "Rachel's Step" and the cool medium tempo ballad "Little Girl Big Girl". The former jumps atop the propulsive drumming and insistent organ chords yet the melody unfolds over several changes in tempo. The give-and-take with Marshall at the end of the first chorus is a pleasant surprise; that seems to give the piece its energetic backbone and the solos are spirited.  The latter sounds and feels personal, as if the composer was painting a portrait of someone he deeply loves. The interaction of the guitar and the organ throughout the song plus the smart brushwork of Marshall at the beginning and the end stands out. Koehler's solo adds a bit of heat after Cherry's cool playing (a touch of Wes Montgomery shows up in his solo) but never shatters the calm demeanor of the tune.

"Soul Tree" lives up to its name on many levels; the music is certainly soulful and Ed Cherry pays tribute to his "roots" by playing songs that influenced him to create his own "voice."  The contributions of Kyle Koehler and Anwar Marshall go a long way to making the album a most enjoyable listening experience.

For more information, go to or

Here's "Rachel's Step":

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Mature Voices, Youthful Voices

There is something about the clarinet that, in the right hands, can transform a room with a phrase.  Ken Peplowski (pictured left) has a set of the "right hands."  His long career includes stints with the Tommy Dorsey Band under the direction of Buddy Morrow, playing tenor saxophone in Benny Goodman's Band (the 1980s), recording with a wide range of artists from Rosemary Clooney to Madonna to Steve Allen to Marianne Faithful. He's recorded for Concord Jazz, Nagel-Heyer. Venus Records (where he recorded 2 albums of the same material, 1 on clarinet, the other on tenor saxophone), and, over the past 6 years, for the Colorado-based Capri Records.

His new Capri CD, "Enrapture", continues his tradition of playing material from famous composers that is not so familiar.  And he does so with a quartet that features the splendid rhythm section of Martin Wind (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums), both whom appeared on the reed players 2013 CD "Maybe September", plus the Israeli-born, Italian-raised, New York City-schooled pianist Ehud Asherie.   The title track comes from the pen of pianist Herbie Nichols (1919-1963), a piece he never recorded but Peplowski found in a book written about the composer by trombonist Roswell Rudd (The Herbie Nichols Project did record the piece for its 2001 "Strange City" release on Palmetto). The lilting melody swings in that medium-tempo groove Nichols often employed and that some people would compare to Thelonious Monk.  The program opens with Duke Ellington's "The Flaming Sword", a very Cuban-inspired piece that appeared on the 1940 "Live at Fargo" Lp. Wilson sets a torrid pace and Peplowski soars atop the ensemble.

Other pleasant surprises includes a lovely clarinet-bass duet on John Lennon & Yoko Ono's "Oh, My Love" - short and bittersweet, the clarinet tone tugs at the heartstrings.  Even prettier (if possible) is "I'll Follow My Secret Heart", a Noel Coward piece from his failed 1934 Broadway musical, "Conversation Piece."  Here, the clarinetist hews close to the melody (one that he learned from a 1962 Frank Sinatra recording).  It's quiet, ever-so-gentle, the clarinet rising gently into the higher registers while Asherie paints the corners and Wind holds the bottom. Another lovely ballad is the Johnny Mercer/Barry Manilow collaboration "When October Goes", a song Peplowski heard Ms. Clooney sing - his handsome tenor sax paired with the floating chords from the piano over the fundamental bass lines and whisper-quiet brush work of Wilson give this such an emotional pull. There's a similar feel to "Cheer Up, Charlie" (from the movie "Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory") with the breathy tenor sax moving easily through the melody as Asherie decorates the spaces around the tune.

After the melodies have faded, the solos played and over (and "Fats" Waller's "Willow Tree" is a splendid closing track), what stands out most from "Enrapture" is how much joy there was in the studio on that one day in February of 2015. You can play the CD from beginning to end and then do it again without being bored - the music played by Ken Peplowski and friends is comfortable without being staid and emotional without being sappy. No political agenda, no axes to grind, just good music  played with delight.  For more information, go to

"Forest Grove" (self-released) is the second album from alto saxophonist and composer Allison Au and her Quartet.  Her late 2012 debut "The Sky Was Pale Blue, Then Grey", introduced to the listeners a person more interested in melody than technique as well as working within a group setting than being a lead voice with a supporting cast.  Like that debut, this new recording features Todd Pentney (keyboards, producer), Jon Maharaj (basses), and Fabio Ragnelli (drums).  With a several years and numerous gigs, the group is even tighter and more responsive - plus Ms. Au's new compositions have matured in that the melodies seem richer, longer, and the musicians' interactions and transitions seamless.

Th album (literally) kicks off with "Tides", the alto sax and drums introducing a quick melody yet the rhythm section is not hurried or nervous.  The juxtaposition of exciting sax/drums and the more cautious bass/electric piano creates a playful tension that erupts into several exciting solos.  Ragnelli's drum work will remind some of Eric Harland and Kendrick Scott is how he pushes the band, reacting differently to each soloist. The playful "Aureole" is a romp for all involved, the rhythm section setting a torrid pace, the Hammond B-3 burbling underneath the alto sax solo, and quick but meaty solos.

The addition of wordless vocals from Felicity Williams on 3 tracks gives each song an ethereal feel.  The sweet ballad "Bolero" pairs her in the melody with the saxophone, making the melody float easily forward.  The pairing lasts throughout the song, even behind the fine bass solo. On "The Clearing", the voice again is paired with the alto sax at the onset, then adds counterpoint during Ms. Au's solo.  Ms. Williams' voice rises out of the piano phrases on the final track, the 2-part "They Say We Are Not Here." The piece begins as a pretty ballad that Pentney eventually colors with various keyboards (acoustic piano, synth, and Rhodes).  The quartet plus voice builds to an intense close, there is approximately 30 seconds of silence, then the band reenters on a funky groove, not unlike "Aureole" in its intensity and swing (and blistering Hammond B-3 licks), an encore perhaps, an emotional release maybe, fun absolutely.

"Forest Grove" packs a lot of music into 58 minutes and the enthusiastic listener will discover much to savor throughout.  Whether it's the well-sculpted melodies, the active and complementary rhythm section, the various keyboard sounds, or the lyrical alto saxophone sound of Allison Au, give this music time to soak in - it's well worth the time.

For more information, go to

Listen to the Ms. Au and the band talk about the recording:

One has to admire the chutzpah/cheek of a musical ensemble that names itself Great On Paper.  The 4 musicians that make up the group - Robin Baytas (drums), Kevin Sun (tenor saxophone), Isaac Wilson (piano) and Simon Willson (acoustic bass) - seemingly have no fear. The musicians had met as students in 2011, became a working band in 2013, and recorded their self-titled debut album (issued on Endectomorph Records) in 6 hours at Sears Sound in NYC on March 7, 2015 (they rode the bus down from and back to Boston, MA. And, they got pianist/blogger/composer Ethan Iverson to write the liner notes (there was a previous connection). they live up to or down from their name?

Great On Paper is good music.  You can hear various influences throughout but in expects that on a debut.  What's fun to hear is that the chutzpah referred to above translates to "no fear" at any point of the 6-song, 37-minute program. One hears post-bop ramblings on "Slimy Toboggan" (there's an image), Kenny Wheeler-like airiness on "Winnings" (one of the joys of Wheeler's music is that it could sound airy even while going "out"), a bebop-inspired "Negative Bird" (influenced by Steve Coleman),and a lengthy swing outing on "I Hear A Rhapsody."  On the last track mentioned, the rhythm section is joyously rambunctious during the piano and tenor sax solos.  That allows both Wilson and Sun to explore melodic and rhythmic paths without losing their way.  Both Baytas and Willson get to solo, with the former dancing about on his high-hat and the latter showing his tuneful side.

Elsewhere, Sun transcribes a work by Olivier Messiaen, "O Sacrum Convivium", taking the original choral piece (from 1937) and giving each instrument its own role. It's a standout work.  The pianist composed "Torsion", which takes its forward motion from the wonderfully propulsive work of Baytas and the strong chordal feeds from Wilson.  His solo really goes in many directions, at times melodic then percussive and always interesting.

Plenty of promise in this program.  Give Great On Paper a chance and their music will grow on you.  I imagine they are a lot of fun to see and hear in person.  To find out more, go to

Give a listen to the opener, "Winnings":

Monday, February 15, 2016

Busy Musical Weekend

Laurent Leduc image
Vocalist/pianist Champian Fulton has a new album, "After Dark" (self-released), dedicated to the music of Dinah Washington (1924-1963). Ms. Washington, born Ruth Lee Jones, started out performing in her adopted hometown of Chicago in her late teens, worked with numerous musicians and made her first recordings in a group led by vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. She signed with Mercury Records in 1946 and began recording a string of hits that ranged from blues to jazz standards to adaptations of country songs and much more. She sang with many fine bands and big bands, from Cannonball Adderley to Count Basie to Duke Ellington.  Although there are still a number of albums and compilations available, you rarely hear Ms. Washington's music these days.

Along comes Ms. Fulton, the Oklahoma native who was born into a musical family (Dad is a trumpeter and educator).  In an email conversation, she writes " When I was about 5 years old, my father began to buy me CD's, which were still a bit new back in the early 90's, and the second CD he gave me was "Dinah: For Those in Love". He thought I would love Dinah's singing, but also Clark Terry was a very good family friend, and that made the recording even more precious. I became obsessed with that record. I only had a walkman, so we had to make a cassette so I could listen to it whenever I wanted. Pretty soon I learned every song and every solo. My father and Clark thought this was HILARIOUS and would make me sing bits of the record at parties. After all this, when I was about 8, I decided all I would listen to was Dinah. So everytime we went record shopping, that's all I bought and eventually I had most of her recordings. I spent most of my younger years with her, only listening to Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, etc etc, once I was a teenager. To this day Dinah remains my touchstone and my constant companion and inspiration. Doing this project was a great deal of fun, for that reason. I selected the tunes from among my favorite Dinah recordings, some were big radio hits and some were only big hits to me."

The new album features bassist David Williams, drummer Lewis Nash and, on flugelhorn and trumpet, her father Stephen Fulton. If you've not heard the music of Dinah Washington or only know her from her 1959 mega-hit "What a Difference A Day Makes", this recording will be a real treat. That song is here but with a subtle Latin rhythm and no big string orchestra. You'll hear the influence of the vocalist on Ms. Fulton and that's fine - Ms. Holiday and Ms. Vaughan can be heard but this is no imitation. And, this recording also has quite a fine piano solo.  Dad turns up on "Ain't Misbehavin'", his muted trumpet work playing some fine blues lines.  On "A Bad case of the Blues", the elder Fulton channels Louis Armstrong (at times) but stays in the horn's middle register.  There's a great blues piano solo on "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" with Ms. Fulton ranging up an down the keys but always in her blues mode. Williams' thick tone on bass and Nash's splendid cymbal work also stand out. The program closes with "Midnight Stroll"; just piano on this reflective walk, the strong left hand keeping the bottom covered while the right hand tells the "story", telling the "truth" of why she's strolling alone.

Champian Fulton and band - Dad on flugelhorn Adi Meyerson on bass, and Ben Zweig on drums - will be this Friday February 19 at 9 p.m. in the 9th Note, now located at 15 Band Street in Stamford.  The venue moved from its original home in New Haven some months ago and has been great entertainment 4 - 5 times a week.  To reserve tickets and get directions, call 203-504-8828 or go to  To find out more about Ms. Fulton, go to

Here, give a listen:

On Saturday night (2/20), the 9th Note welcomes guitarist Syberen Van Munster and his Quintet.  The Dutch guitarist and composer released his debut CD, "Plunge For Distance", last Marchand brings most of the musicians who participated on the sessions to the Stamford night club including Ben van Gelder (alto sax), Vitor Gonçalves (piano/accordion) and Rick Rosato (bass).  Joining them on drums will be Mark Ferber, one of the finer drummers on the NYC scene. 

I have yet to hear the recording but below is a video of the title song which will give you an idea of the musical and emotional qualities in the guitarist's compositions. To find out more about his life and work, go to  For ticket information, call the club at 203-504-8828.

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme has yet another impressive weekend of music planned for this week. On Friday night, Jan and Ken welcome baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan with the fabulous rhythm section of bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Billy Drummond (no relation).  Smulyan, a native of Bethpage, NY, joined the Woody Herman Young Thundering Herd in 1978, a high-powered ensemble that also included saxophonist Joe Lovano and bassist Mark Johnson. He then went on to play with the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra as well as the Mingus Big Band and is now a mainstay in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.  He's also worked with dozens of pop and jazz stars plus has recorded 10 albums as a leader.  Smulyan is one of the baritone players who uses the full range of the big wind instrument and sounds great in every one of them

He and the Drummonds will hit the first notes at 8:30 p.m.  For more information and ticket reservations, call 860-434-0886.

On Saturday, bassist Ben Wolfe returns to Old Lyme and he brings 2 of his favorite musicians and collaborators, pianist Orrin Evans and drummer Donald Edwards.  Both appeared on Wolfe's excellent 2015 PosiTone Records CD, "The Whisperer" (that session also featured the fine reed player Stacy Dillard) and have recorded several dates as a unit (including the one below).  Wolfe, who can swing with the best of them, also is a fine composer, writing tunes that bring out the best in the musicians who are featured.  He's worked with vocalists Harry Connick, Jr. and Diana Krall as well as with groups led by Wynton Marsalis, his brother Branford, pianist Marcus Roberts, and drummer Carl Allen.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the Trio will begin at 8:30.  For more information, go to or call the number above. To find out more about the bassist, go to

Here are Messrs. Wolfe, Edwards, and Evans playing the blues from Orrin Evans' "Flip The Script" CD on PosiTone Records:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Music with Warmth & Color

As I write this, the temperature in central CT is plummeting towards 0 degrees and the wind is rattling the windows. But the music contained on the 2 CDs below is filled with warmth, creativity, joyous interactions, and humanity.

Camilla Meza came to the United States in 2009 from her native Chile in 2009 and, since then, has slowly but steadily become a force to reckon with.  Originally a guitarist, she discovered the joy of Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny, studying throughout her teens and pushed by a mentor to begin using her voice as well. Over the past few years, she has worked and recorded with vocalist Sachal Vasandani, pianist Fabian Almazan (she's part of his impressive "Rhizome" project, and trombonist Ryan Keberle's Catharsis quintet (see below). She's also collaborating with Israeli bassist and composer Noam Weisenberg in The Nectar Orchestra.

With 2 albums released in Chile (only 2009's "Retrato" has been issued in the US), Ms. Meza recorded her previous CD in 2013 with pianist Aaron Goldberg, drummer Clarence Penn, reed player John Ellis, and bassist Pablo Menares.  The 6-song "Prisma" (self-released) illustrated her growth not only as a guitarist and vocalist but also as an arranger. Her assured vocals and vocal lines stand out, placing alongside contemporaries Kate McGarry, Kavita Shah, Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens as brilliant interpreters.

Her new album, "Traces" (Sunnyside Records), features Ms. Meza with a stellar band - Shai Maestro (keyboards), Matt Penman (bass), Kendrick Scott (drums) and Bashiri Johnson (percussion) - playing a brilliant program of originals and smartly chosen interpretations. In charge all the way (Ms. Meza co-produced the recording with Matt Pierson), this music wraps its arms around the listener, pulling him/her closer - it's not that all the music is bright and sunny but many different aspects of adult life are open for inspection.  Mr. Vasandani and cellist Jody Redhage join the group on the original "Away", a song about relationship in trouble.  You hear the emotional darkness in the cello lines but the voices are calm (beautiful harmonies).  Once you've absorbed the lyrics, vocals, handsome acoustic guitar and brooding cello, listen to the brilliance of the rhythm section, to Penman's solid bass lines and Scott's gentle but sturdy brush work. The percussive push of the guitar on "Amazon Farewell" (from the pen of Djavan) sets the tone for propulsive snare drum.  The message is just as important bow as when the original appeared in 1990, the destruction of the natural environment for the advantage of outsiders.  Ms. Meza also pays tribute to a slain Chilean activist, singer-songwriter Victor Jara, who was brutally slain during the coup of General Pinochet, with a lovely voice and acoustic guitar reading of "Luchín", a story of poor boy playing in the rain. And her interpretation of Stephen Sondheim's "Greenfinch and Linnet Bird" (from "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street") flows atop the impressionistic piano of Maestro and propulsive work of the rhythm section.  One can hear the essence of freedom in how the vocal and guitar lines flow freely through the song. Ms. Meza has such a pliable voice; she never rushes a vocal and also has learned how to integrate her guitar so that the two are extensions of each other. Listen as she dances through "Emerald", her rapid-fire guitar riffs complement the sustained notes and emotion in the vocal.

Chances are good you will not hear a better CD this year.  "Traces" is, blessedly, adult music with being middle-of-the-road, music that lingers in the mind's ear long after the final notes fade.  Camila Meza, songs, voice, and guitar, the entire package, all will bring a smile.  Highly recommended!

For more information, go to

Here's Camila Meza talking about the album:

One of the other projects Camila Meza is involved with is Ryan Keberle & Catharsis.  She joined the trombonist/composer's band for their previous album, 2014's "Into The Zone" (Greenleaf Music). Her voice is front and center on the band's new Greenleaf CD "Azul Infinito", an equal alongside Keberle, Mike Rodriguez (trumpet, pandeiro), Jorge Roeder (electric and acoustic basses), and Eric Doob (drums) - the program is a tribute to the South American music community in New York City that welcomed Keberle into its bands when he first moved from the Pacific Northwest.
People such as vocalist/songwriter Sebastian Cruz, bassist Pedro Giraudo, percussionist Samuel Torres, pianist Emilio Solla, and vocalist Ivan Lins have tracks dedicated to them on the album.  The program opens with voice, then one-by-one, the other musicians enter and the melody is played by Roeder on electric bass. By the middle of "I Thought I Knew" (for Pedro Giraudo), one does even notice that there are no chordal instruments. But listen to how the rhythm section fills the sound spectrum, how the interwoven lines of trombone and trumpet really drive the music, and how Ms. Meza not only sings the lyrics but serves as another instrument. The lovely ballad "She Sleeps Alone" (for Sebastian Cruz) sounds like a ballad from a 1940s romance or mystery film, the brass melodies having a film noir feel while Doob and Roeder move impressionistically underneath. The piece closes with Keberle on melodica (hand-held keyboard that one blows into to create an accordion-like sound) right after Ms. Meza's lovely vocal. Cruz's "Cancion Mandala" has an infectious rhythm, a lovely acoustic bass counterpoint, a heartfelt turn from the vocalist, and a rousing trumpet solo.

There are so many special moments throughout the album.  The influence of Kenny Wheeler can be heard in the free-wheeling (some pun intended) "Quintessence" (for Ivan Lins), especially in the fiery rhythmic drive and hardy brass solos.  "La Ley Primera" is a lovely ballad from the pen of bassist Giraudo that Keberle had songwriter Roxana Amed write the lyrics to.  Again, it's Roeder's electric bass leading the melodic way beneath the vocal as Rodriguez and Keberle weave lovely harmonies in the background. Both solo. limpid sounds that reflect the blues in the lyrics.  The bounce in the rhythm section and the splendid vocal on "Madalena" brings the album to a close on a playful note. Listen for the section with trombone, wordless vocal and the pandiero and one will hear the essence of dance in South American music.  When Doob and Roeder return, the music dances even more, an urgent reminder to shed our worries and, if only for the length of the song, live in the moment.

"Azul Infinito", the 3rd album by Ryan Keberle & Catharsis (among the trombonist's 5 CDs as a leader), may be its finest.  The musicians are comfortable with each other to push the boundaries and the addition of Camila Meza takes the music to great heights.  Everyone plays so well, the recording ring out the nuances and power in the rhythm section and Keberle's voicings for his trombone and Michael Rodriguez's trumpet are inventive, filling the sound spectrum with impressive harmonies and counter-melodies.  Ryan Keberle continues to mature as a composer, arranger and musician; the avid listener is the beneficiary.

For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Mid-Winter Live Music in CT

The Side Door Jazz Club presents guitarist Nir Felder in concert this Friday (February 12) at 8:30 p.m.  The Club's website says it's a Trio gig and the guitarist's site says it's a quartet; neither says who's in the band (Don't you just love surprises?)  Either way, the music will be quite good.  Over the past decade since he moved to New York City, Feder has recorded with such fine artists as Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington, Greg Osby, and Jack DeJohnette as well as performing with Diane Reeves, Bobby McFerrin, Lizz Wright and Matisyahu.  His 2014 debut CD, "Golden Age" (Okeh Records), showed myriad influences, featuring the splendid band of Aaron Parks (piano), Matt Penman (bass) and Nate Smith (drums).  While Felder is certainly technically adept (yes, he's got serious "chops"), he does not ignore melody.

For more information about the show, go to To learn more about Nir Felder, go to

Here's the guitarist in action:

Pianist Johnny O'Neal has had quite the life - read Owen McNally's column from last year to get the full story - let's just write that he's been on a major upswing for the past 5 years.  He's quite the keyboard artist plus he's an accomplished vocalist with a repertoire that stretches back decades, from blues to jazz standards to "pop" songs. O'Neal also has a wicked sense of humor. This Saturday night, he'll be back at The Side Door for 2 sets of sweet music.  Since it's Valentine's Day weekend, I expect there will be slew of "relationship" songs.

Joining Mr. O'Neal will be bassist Luke Sellick and drummer Charles Goold.  They'll hit the stage at 8:30 p.m.  For more information, call 860-434-0886.

Here's the Trio "Live at Smalls" from February 2015:

The Uncertainty Music Series presents bassist Shayna Dulberger solo and the Steve Niemitz Quartet this Saturday February 13 at 8 p.m. in Never Ending Books, 810 State Street in New Haven. Ms. Dulberger is a busy musician, leading her own groups plus appearing regularly in others. She approaches her bass as both a melodic and percussive instrument, using her bow to create "oceans" of sounds but also plucking for melody.  To learn more about her work, go to

Joining drummer Niemitz (a recent graduate of Western Connecticut State University) will be Josh Paquette (trumpet), Dan O'Brien (woodwinds), and Grant Beale (guitar).

For more information, go to

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Birth of an Orchestra

As I write this, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is in the midst of an 8-day run at the place where it was born 50 years ago this week.  On February 7, 1966, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, all 18 of them, marched downstairs to the Village Vanguard in New York City, set up their equipment all across the tiny stage and in front of it.  At approximately 10:20 p.m., Mr. Jones raised his hands, the band hit the first notes and the rest is history. Quite a history indeed!

It's not the TJ/MLJO was under-recorded in the 11 years the duo ran the ensemble (or since) but Resonance Records and its founder George Klabin has given us a most informative look at the beginnings of the phenomenon.   "All My Yesterdays: The Debut 1966 Recordings At The Village Vanguard" is a 2-CD set (with a wonderful 92-page booklet featuring interviews with a number of the original members and others) with the first album coming from the orchestra's first-ever night at the famed NYC nightclub and the second disk from a Monday night 6 weeks later. And these really are the "debut" sets as the aggregation's first trip to the recording studio did not take place until May of 1966 and the official "Live from The Vanguard" did not happen until April of 1967.

As I wrote in my preview of this album several weeks ago (read it here), Klabin was a student at Columbia University and already quite a sound engineer. For recording the band (as Jones & Lewis were shopping for a recording contract), the engineer received permission to play the tapes on his radio show on WKCR-FM.  Due to several technical issues, Klabin was not able to cleanly record the two sets on "opening night" but what he did get illustrates a number of impressive and important aspects of the Jazz Orchestra.  Among them are 1) - Jones' arrangements for the ensemble built and expanded upon the work he had done for Count Basie, 2) - the rhythm section of Richard Davis (bass), brother Hank Jones (piano), Sam Herman (guitar, percussion, and Mr. Lewis (drums) and 3) - this group of instrumentalists brought great joy every time they hit the stage. (Many of the musician in the band played in studio orchestras during the day and on weekends - those were the day when the 3 major networks all had variety shows that needed live music. Those who played in Broadway pit orchestras had Mondays off.)  The program opens with Jerry Dodgion's alto saxophone all by himself playing a sweet blues improvisation and then the band enters to play "Back Bone." The piece swing with abandon, slowing down for a trombone interlude with Bob Brookmeyer and Garnett Brown sparring, dipping and moaning before Lewis shows why he is considered such a great drummer - his solo is short, built off the melody (just listen), and kicks the band back into high gear.  The title track is next, a sweet ballad (composed by Jones), and shows off the brilliant section writing that remains a hallmark of the Orchestra.  There are moments throughout the 2 disks when the reeds move like birds in flight, swooping in and around the powerful brass. (A quick note about Sam Herman - you rarely if ever hears his guitar playing.  Mostly you can hear his percussion work on shakers, etc.  His main contribution to the band was a copyist, copying and cleaning up Jones' sheet music. When he retired from the bandstand, Jones never hired another guitarist.  Herman also worked with the Count Basie Band and with Quincy Jones.)

Disk 2 is chock-full of music (nearly 118 minutes) and you can now hear a band starting to hit its stride.  They still play with abandon, with unabashed glee and execute the hair-pin turns in the music without a glitch. There are a few more ballads in the mix including the samba-influenced "Don't Ever Leave Me" featuring strong solos from pianist Jones, Joe Farrell (on flute) and trumpeter Danny Stiles (who played in place of Snooky Young).  Another change from opening night is that Brookmeyer is replaced by Tom McIntosh whose stunning solo on "Willow Weep For Me" (a Brookmeyer arrangement ) stands out as does Jones' playful opening lines  (he starts out quoting "I've Got Plenty of Nothin'") and subsequent solo.  "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" stands out because the Orchestra mostly sits out as Hank Jones explores the lovely melody (Davis and Lewis join him halfway through and the reeds enter right at the end.)  Farrell steps out on tenor saxophone for a heart-felt reading and emotional solo of/on "Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be?"He also stands out on "All My Yesterdays" following a lovely short solo from Jimmy Owens (trumpet)  - it's fascinating to hear how Lewis works with the arranger Jones to control the dynamics of the band.

The sound quality is splendid throughout (Klabin worked with his resident audio/video engineer Fran Gala on the sound restoration and Gala did the mastering).  It really does feel as if you are sitting in the midst of the band. You can't help but hear Thad Jones as he exhorts his hand-picked band and he gets a number of solos and it helps remind one what a strong soloist he was. Also, Mel Lewis (his brushes-work is so amazing) and Richard Davis (who most people knew as a small-group participant) are quite clear throughout.

"All My Yesterdays" is a delight from beginning to end. Opening and closing with "Back Bone" (smart programming as the 2 versions - both delightful - shows how quickly the group gelled, the album serves to remind us Thad Jones bent the template for big bands, creating melodies as sophisticated as Duke Ellington atop rhythms as bluesy as Count Basie with section writing beholden to no one.  Best of all, the music that Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra plays on these 2 Mondays from early 1966 sounds as contemporary as it did when it was created.

For more information, go to For more history, go to

The personnel on the 2-disk set is as follows:
Thad Jones (trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger, conductor)
Mel Lewis (drums)
Hank Jones (piano)
Sam Herman (guitar, percussion)
Richard Davis (bass)
Jerome Richardson (alto saxophone, clarinet, flute)
Jerry Dodgion (alto saxophone, clarinet, flute)
Joe Farrell (tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute)
Eddie Daniels (tenor saxophone, clarinet)
Marv "Doc" Holladay (baritone saxophone on CD 1)
Pepper Adams (baritone saxophone on CD 2)
Jimmy Nottingham (trumpet)
Jimmy Owens (trumpet)
Bill Berry (trumpet)
Snooky Young (trumpet on CD 1)
Danny Stiles (trumpet on CD 2)
Garnett Brown (trombone)
Cliff Heather (trombone)
Jack Rains (trombone)
Bob Brookmeyer (trombone on CD 1)
Tom McIntosh (trombone on CD 2)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Lionel Loueke 3 + Whitfield Family in CT + Progressive 'Bones

Guitarist, vocalist, composer and producer Lionel Loueke came to the United States in the late-1990s to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA.  He had left his home in Benin, West Africa, several years earlier to study in Paris, France.  Almost immediately after arriving in the US, he met bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth, forming a musical ensemble that remains intact to this day. They first toured and recorded as Gilfema, releasing several fine albums. Mr. Loueke has also worked with Terence Blanchard, Herbie Hancock, and vocalist Gretchen Parlato as well as producing the debut recording of vocalist Kavita Shah.

Now dubbed the Lionel Loueke Trio,  they will performing this Friday (February 5) at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme.  Loueke's new Blue Note CD, "Gaïa" was issued in late October of 2015 to excellent reviews and the music shows the band at its best.  Recorded "live" in the studio with the 3 musicians in the same room, no headphones, no overdubs, it's certainly the most visceral music the band has produced.  Listeners used to the earlier recordings may be surprised the crackle and snap of this new music.  The rhythmic drive of the trio is incredible, making impossible to sit still.

While the new recording has its softer moments, the Trio really "rocks out" on several tracks. In person, one can hear the years of friendship and musical interactions step to the fore, making the music come alive. They'll take the stage at 8:30 p.m. - for ticket information, go to or call 860-434-0886.

On Saturday night, The Whitfield Family Band returns to The Side Door for 2 exciting sets. Led by guitarist Mark Whitfield, who has played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock and Chris Botti, and recorded 14 albums as a leader, the WFB also includes Mark Jr. (drums), son and brother Davis (piano) and Yashushi Nakamura (bass). The music they grow plays is a reflection of Dad's career -  he has never been afraid to cross genres, from easy listening to funk to straight-ahead jazz to hard bop.

The doors open at 7:30 p.m. with the first notes ringing out an hour later.  Call 860-434-0886 for reservations.

Here are 2 more recordings from 2015 that you should be aware of; both are the product of trombonist/composers and both have a decidedly "progressive" edge.

O, what to make of "Ye Olde" (Yester Eve Records), the 3rd album  of trombonist, composer, and arranger Jacob Garchik?  It comes 3 years after his fascinating solo extravaganza, "The Heavens: The Atheist Gospel Trombone Album" and features 3 guitarists - Jonathan Goldberger, Mary Halvorson, and Brandon Seabrook - plus drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. The 14-song, 37-minute album tells the mythical story of the village of Flatbush in the year 1014.

That written, the music Grachik created for his quintet has its roots in the progressive "rock" of the 1970s and 80s. groups such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and King Crimson as well as artists such as Lou Reed and David Bowie. The results are loud yet rhythmically strong with the trio of plectrists adding many layers of sound to Garchik's overdubbed choir of trombones blended with his alto and tenor horns.

Sperrazza pushes, coaxes and bludgeons (at times) the music forward, his forceful drums bringing to mind the work of John Bonham and Bill Bruford.  There's a playful quality to the project (as one might expect from the subject matter) and, if one takes the time to really listen, Garchik writes excellent melodies and the arrangements for the guitars give each musician an important voice in the songs.

"Ye Olde" is wonderfully off-kilter music and that's a compliment.  Jacob Garchik has a playful edge to his music and we are the beneficiaries.  For more information, go to

Mr. Garchik is also a member of The Four Bags, a group that features reedman Michael McGinnis, guitarist Sean Moran, and trombonist Brian Drye (Garchik mainly plays accordion for the ..Bags).  Brian Drye leads his own quartet, Bizingas, and their 2nd CD "Eggs Up High" (NCM East) came out (or escaped) in November 2015. Drye wrote all the tunes, playing trombone, synthesizer, organ and piano, and created the arrangements for Jonathan Goldberger (guitar), Ches Smith (drums, drum machine, rada drum,  electronics) and the ubiquitous Kirk Knuffke (cornet).  Mr. Goldberger's role in this band is quite similar to his work on the Garchik recording - his highly amplified riffs dance around the hearty drumming, weaving in and out of the brass players (check his blistering work on "Once").

Yes, this is "fusion" music but it goes in so many unexpected directions.  After a rollicking synth and drums opening, trombone and trumpet play the theme of "Hawaii" in half-time (the handsome melody bears resemblance in several lines to Bob Dylan's "Lay Down Your Weary Tune").  "Plant-based" opens with synth drums, hand percussion and solid piano chords.  This time, the melody find its way through the guitar effects and opens to a long solo from Drye (on trombone) and into a section that would not spend out of place on Weather Report's "Mysterious Traveler." Knuffke creates a excellent solo, against the grain of the piano chords.
"Along" wildly dances atop a forceful beat, raucous guitar and organ chords.  On the opposite, "Shane" enters on a handsome piano melody which opens to Knuffke's countermelody. His solo has soft, burry, edges that have an emotional edge. Surprisingly, the drums and guitar enter with but 1:25 left in the song joining the corner and piano in replaying the melody. Funk a la James Brown mixed with DEVO is what the opening minute of "Slip" sounds like.  Goldberger enters and the piece begins to really explode cornet and trombone dueling over rapid-fire drums.  A burping synth drum beat leads the trombone in on "Pedal" - Drye's melody line is quite handsome and he is supported, at various times, by a guitar counterpoint. Smith returns, this time on "live" drums and the song dances forward.

Nearly 5 years passed between the first and second Bizingas albums - if you heard the self-titled debut, you'd hear that Brian Drye wanted this band to rock harder than The Four Bags but have a similar sense of direction(s).  If you like music where anything is possible, from heart-felt melodies to full-blown guitar shredding, burbling synths to impressionistic brass arrangements, "Eggs Up High" is a mighty tasty meal.

For more information, go to

Here's a live version of "Plant-based":