Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Brass, Drums, Stories to Tell

photo by Austin Nelson
There are days when it's hard to believe that Dave Douglas has been recording since 1993 as it seems he's been around much longer (I mean that nicely).  As a composer, his music continues to mature and expand. As a bandleader, he continues to take chances and not settle into a routine for long stretches or time. As a soloist, he has a recognizable sound yet eschews cliches in favor of continually challenging himself.  Douglas is one of the more prolific recording artists (perhaps not in the same league as Anthony Braxton and pianist Satoko Fujii) with 47 CDs as leader or co-leader and as many if not more as a "sideman." His work with Myra Melford and John Zorn's Masada also stands out as highlights in his career.

His newest album, "Little Giant Still Life" (Greenleaf Music), is a collaboration with the brass quartet known as The Westerlies (trumpeters Riley Mulkerhar and Zubin Hensler plus trombonists Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch) plus drummer Anwar Marshall.  The music is inspired by painter Stuart Davis (1892-1964), whose work combined Cubism and Early American Modernism to help usher in the age of "pop art."  Take a look of one of his paintings (left) - "Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors - 7th Avenue Style" -  and you might be able to see the influence of jazz music and improvisation on the artist.

The music Douglas composed for this sextet is, at times, as bright as the Davis's canvasses.  "Swing Landscape" evolves into a groove so serious, informed by the blues and funk, it's hard to sit still.  "Percolator" opens not with an imitation of a coffee pot at work but more like a "swing" take of a Steve Reich minimalist melody.  Marshall gooses the band forward, the stop-start rhythm supporting the melody and solos in such a playful manner.  The circular melody line that opens "Colonial Cubism" is played by the trumpets while the trombones create the bottom and the drums dances beneath. Don't bother thinking about the music and the paintings are related; listen instead to the smart interactions, the powerful solos, and fascinating melodies.

Do not overlook the fine ballads such as "Codetta" and "Worlds Beyond the Sky" as each song is a world unto itself. What one notices here (and, honestly, throughout the album) is how the listener cannot and should not try to put this music into categories.  Maybe it's me - we seem to be in a time where the most creative music defies easy categorization. One can imagine that these pieces could be translated to string quartet and trumpet or a trio of guitar, bass, and drums.  One of Dave Douglas's strong points is the malleability of his material and we are the beneficiaries of his hard work and inspiration.

If "Little Giant Still Life" inspired you to seek out the paintings of Stuart Davis or check out other recordings of The Westerlies or check out Anwar Marshall's work with Fresh Cut Orchestra or Kurt Rosenwinkel, then Dave Douglas has accomplished much with ensemble and recording.  The music should not be ignored either - the album is a treat from start to finish.

For more information, go to www.greenleafmusic.com.

Here is the title track:

Pianist and composer Jamie Reynolds has created a compelling new project.  Titled "Grey Mirror" (Fresh Sound New Talent), the Canadian native (now a resident of New York City) blends four pieces by his trio (bassist Orlando LeFleming and drummer Eric Doob), five with The Westerlies brass quartet, four with his Trio plus guitarist Matthew Stevens, and one beautiful piano solo, into a statement about creativity and how music can be seen and heard through various lenses.

The program is bookended by two versions of "The Earliest Ending", the first a short performance by the brass while the second features the trio plus guitar. The latter performance stretches out to 6:11.  It's quite a contrast with the final track having a series of dynamic climaxes and tempo changes, moving into a powerful "rock" beat that roars to a finish before the piano enters by myself to echo the opening melody.

Elsewhere, there are "mirror" versions of "Small Worlds", the first  with the leader on Wurlitzer piano while Stevens and the rhythm section ratchet up the energy.  This piece as well has more of a "prog rock" feel (listen to how LeFleming's electric bass plays the main melody and how Doob drives the track).  The "brass" version is slower, less insistent and more "prayer-like", yet with a darker edge.  Another "mirror" track pairs the Erik Satie-like piano solo "Lake Cycle" with the brass quartet - here the latter version is reminiscent of melodies created by Robin Holcomb.  Both performances are riveting, gentle, musical, and quietly filled with emotion.  Finally, there is the mysterious ballad "Church", the trio version with overdubbed Wurlitzer creating a percussion-like curtain for the solid melody while The Westerlies plays the melody fairly straight-forward over pulsating brass for 1:21.

There is so much variety here, from the high-powered "Sleep" (Stevens guitar loud yet shimmering) to the mysterious interactions on "Green-Wood" (rattling percussion, circular melodies played on the different keyboards) to the powerful stride of "Untitled Interlude" (a trio piece with no overdubs but endowed with a generosity of spirit.)

The concept of playing compositions by two different configurations is intriguing and Jamie Reynolds pulls it off with aplomb.  It does not hurt that there are pieces specifically for each of the ensembles (and the solo piece).  It would have nice to hear more of The Westerlies (they have the bulk of the shorter pieces) and just as nice to hear more trio interactions with Matthew Stevens but "Grey Mirror" is still a worthwhile experience, one that is fun to go back to again and again.

For more information, go to jamiereynoldspiano.com.

Most American listeners know bassist Lloyd Swanton (born 1960, Sydney, Australia) from his 30 years as a member of The Necks, a trio (piano, bass, and drums) that is known for its minimalist, long, compositions, often without improvisation. Their live gigs are always improvised. Swanton is also the founder bandleader of The Catholics, a septet that plays music from across the jazz spectrum with nods to music of the Caribbean and Africa (that group is in its 26th year of existence).  Swanton has played with many different leaders and groups from his native land but especially for his work with the late saxophonist Bernie McGann.

Knowing all that probably won't prepare you for his absorbing double CD "Ambon" (Bugle Records).  Named for an island in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), the place was the site for a bloody battle between the Japanese Army, Navy, and Air Force and a group of soldiers from Australia.  Outmatched from the beginning, the island (considered a strategic site in the Pacific theater) fell to the Japanese who used the bases to conduct raids on other combatants, even air raids on Australia.

One of the soldiers captured o the island was Lloyd Swanton's uncle Stuart Mill Swanton. His uncle spent most of his adult life before the joining the Australian Army working with the underprivileged people in the Melbourne area and playing violin. A year after he joined up, his battalion sailed to Ambon.  The older Swanton survived the ferocious battle and spent the rest of his life (3 and 1/2 years) as a prisoner of war (In an ironic twist, he died the day before the Japanese surrendered and his camp liberated - but few people survived).  Amazingly, Stuart Swanton kept a diary of his captivity and it is now part of the Australian War Memorial.

The album is a collection of tunes ranging from gospel tunes that Uncle Stuart composed in the 1930s to songs inspired by the diary to a field recording from Ambon over which a reed and brass quartet plays a hymn.  Swanton organized quite the ensemble, a 12-piece orchestra that includes Paul Cutlan (saxophones, clarinet, recorder), Sandy Evans (tenor and soprano saxophones), James Greening (trombone, cornet, baritone horn, tuba), Alex Silver (trombone), James Eccles (viola), Chuck Morgan (ukulele), Jon Pease (guitar), Michel Rose (pedal steel guitar), Fabian Hevia (cajon, percussion), Ron Reeves (kendang - Southeast Asian two-headed drum, percussion), and Hamish Stuart (drums, percussion) plus Jess Ciampa (glockenspiel on "The Ambon Waltz").

Sydney Morning Herald
There is nearly 109 minutes of music on the two CDs and extensive liner notes that tell the horrific story of life as a prisoner of war.  The captives were treated poorly but still found time to create art, build makeshift instruments, write songs and plays, and take care of each other even as they were starved to death or succumbed to disease.  Yet, the majority of the music is uplifting. On CD 1, the 14+ minute "Ambiont Jungle" blends the kendang drums with the ensemble and the sound of the viola (an instrument that belonged to Stuart Swanton) for a powerful representation of the setting in which the soldiers were dropped.  "Camp Concert I" is a 27 minute suite in three parts that uses the guitars, ukulele, and viola to great effect. Again, the music is quite melodic with no hints of the troubles as if the composer took pieces of the captives dreams, the most positive parts, to create the suite.  The last cut is "Hymn: Blessed Holy Spirit" that opens with excerpts from Uncle Stuart's diary; halfway through, the brass and reeds play the hymn.  The spoken text speaks to the daily horrors of being a prisoner and dealing with cruel captors.

CD 2 continues the powerful description of camp life but, this time, the instruments on "Camp Concert 2: Top Brass" include a tenor saxophone without a mouthpiece, the bell section of a trombone, a flute with a saxophone mouthpiece, a bass clarinet without a reed, and much more, all to symbolize the improvisation prisoners had to do everyday.  Other striking pieces include "Meat Case Bass" and "Big Noise From Hawthorn"; the former is a solo piece also symbolizing the make-shift life in the camp while the latter features the bassist and drummer playing the same instrument. "Work Song: The Long Carry" is a blues dedicated to the extremely hard work the prisoners did every day of the week. The piece includes powerful solos from trombonist Greening and guitarist Pease.  Now, one can feel the men are being systematically drained of their spirit and strength.  Stanton's final original piece, "The Ambon Waltz", celebrates liberation, the happiness of the soldiers who came to bring the freed prisoners back home, but also refers to those who survived and needed to be carried to the boats that brought back them to freedom.

There is great power in this story, one that may not resonate with my fellow Americans but anyone who had a parent, grandparent, relatives or friends who served in the Pacific know the horror stories of the prison camps (if you have read the story of Louis Zamperini related in the book and movie "Unbroken") knows these terrible experiences. In the hands and mind of Lloyd Swanton, "Ambon" is a story of hope, love, resistance, survival, and remembrance.  You need to hear this music, need to read the story of Stuart Mill Swanton, to remind you of the futility of war and the atrocious consequences.

To find out more and hear excerpts, go to www.rufusrecords.com.au/catalogue/BUG010.html or to www.buglerecords.com.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Benefit Concert for Puerto Rico

Fuerza Puerto Rico!
A Jazz Benefit for the Victims of Hurricane Maria

Wednesday, November 1 at the Jazz Gallery, NYC
Peter Bernstein • Dave Douglas • Kurt Elling • Marcus Gilmore •
Larry Grenadier • Jon Irabagon • Branford Marsalis • Christian McBride • Luis Perdomo •
Jorge Roeder • Rudy Royston • John Scofield •
Bill Stewart • Miguel Zenón

Join some of the world’s top jazz musicians for Fuerza Puerto Rico! a jazz benefit concert for the victims of Hurricane Maria on Wednesday, November 1, 2017 at the Jazz Gallery, 1160 Broadway, New York City. Tickets $50; all proceeds go to Puerto Rico Recovery Fund.  Sets at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.  For tickets and information visit www.jazzgallery.org or call 646-494-3625.

“Hurricane Maria was the worst storm to hit the island of Puerto Rico in almost a century.  I hope you’ll join us to help the people of Puerto Rico recover from this devastating catastrophe. It’s going to take years for the island to recover, but residents need immediate help,” says event organizer saxophonist/composer Miguel Zenón who was born and raised in San Juan.  “It’s going to be an amazing event.  We’re honored that so many incredible musicians have chosen to donate their talents to help raise badly needed resources, and that the Jazz Gallery is providing a wonderful venue so that we can perform for everyone who wants to help.”

Performing are some of the top jazz musicians in the world including Peter Bernstein, Dave Douglas, Kurt Elling, Marcus Gilmore, Larry Grenadier, Jon Irabagon, Branford Marsalis, Christian McBride, Luis Perdomo, Jorge Roeder, Rudy Royston, John Scofield, Bill Stewart, and Miguel Zenón.

This is the second benefit concert organized by Zenón.  The first took place October 8 at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, CA and raised over $20,000.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Musicians From Israel (Pt 1)

As I am writing this post, radio stations throughout the US and elsewhere are celebrating the 100th birthday of Thelonious Monk.  None of the albums reviewed below have Monk compositions yet his music has influenced musicians from around the world for the last 70+ years. Ethan Iverson wrote an excellent appreciation for The New Yorker and you can - and should - read it by clicking here.
It's amazing how many musicians from Israel have taken up residence in the United States. Among the first to be noticed was bassist Avishai Cohen who first came to critical notice when he joined pianist Chick Corea's group in 1996.

Clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen came to the United States to study at Berklee College around the same time bassist Avishai Cohen (no relation - her brother Avishai is a much-heralded trumpeter) joined Corea's Origin sextet.  Moving to New York City in 1999, she joined DIVA Jazz Orchestra as well as several Brazilian ensembles plus David Ostwald's Gully Low Jazz Band, an ensemble dedicated to the music of Louis Armstrong.  In 2005, she started Anzic Records and had released eight albums as a leader, four as the Three Cohens (with her brothers Avishai and saxophonist Yuval), two each with the Choro Ensemble and Trio Brasileiro, and a duet with Brazilian guitarist Marcello Gonçalves. She has also recorded as a side person with numerous bands plus tours in a duo setting with pianist Fred Hersch.

The eighth Anzic album is "Happy Song" and features a fascinating Tentet playing quite a repertoire mostly arranged by Oded Lev-Ari (he's also the co-producer with Ms. Cohen). The ensemble for this recording includes Rubin Kodheli (cello), Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet, flugelhorn), Nick Finzer (trombone), Owen Broder (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet), James Shipp (vibraphone, percussion), Vitor Gonçalves (piano, accordion), Sheryl Bailey (guitar), Tal Mashiach (bass), and Anthony Pinciotti (drums).

 The material ranges from klezmer (the album's centerpiece is the 12:26 "Anat's Doina", a medley of three traditional melodies) to Brazil (a sweet arrangement of Egberto Gismonti's "Loro") to several impressive standards (Owen Murphy's snappy "Oh Baby" from 1924, made famous by Bix Beiderbecke and Gordon Jenkins's "Goodbye" composed in 1935 and a tune that became Benny Goodman's sign-off tune).  The program opens with two originals from Ms. Cohen, the funky title track followed by the handsome ballad "Valsa Para Alice", a piece she recorded with Trio Brasileiro on their 2016 collaboration "Algeria Da Casa."  Lev-Ari's original contribution is "Trills and Thrills", a seven-minute sonic adventure that opens in rubato until Ms. Cohen plays the lovely melody and the piece opens up with contributions from all building to a powerful, blues-drenched finish. The album's final track is "Kenedougou Foly", a high-spirited romp composed by Malian balafon artist Néba Solo (the 2006 album that features this song is well worth examining) - arranged by Ms. Cohen, each member of the Tentet adds his or her personal touch and the joyous piece is worth playing at very high volume. Special kudos to Messrs. Shipp and Pinciotti for their impressive work driving the band.  It should remind some close listeners of the work of Pierre Dørge's Jungle Orchestra.

This album does live up to its name. There are solemn moments but the album opens and closes on such "highs" that one walks...no, dances away from the speakers.  From the delightful Milton Glaser cover painting to Ms. Cohen's highly expressive clarinet playing to the intelligent and inventive arrangements and the "knockout" ensemble, Anat Cohen's Tentet's "Happy Song" is a treat to hear over and over.

For more information, go to www.anatcohen.com.

Here's the title track:

Bassist and composer Or Bareket had an international upbringing. He was born in Jerusalem, raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then in Tel Aviv, Bareket (whose brother Eden is a baritone saxophonist) is now based in New York City.  His debut album as a leader (he's worked or recorded with drummer Ari Hoenig, pianist Aaron Goldberg, plus vocalists Cyrillé Aimee and Camila Meza), "OB1" (Fresh Sounds New Talent), features guitarist Shachar Elnatan, pianist Gadi Lehavi, and drummer Ziv Ravitz.

The album opens with a bluesy guitar intro that leads into "Patience", a song that has a jump and an irrepressible forward motion that gets interrupted every now and then with melodic interludes.  Sound engineer Luis Bacque does an amazing job of capturing the band's sound, you can clearly hear the quartet's interactions as well as the intimate relationship of the drums and bass. Bareket's sound and attack remind this listener of the playing of Eric Revis; they are both so melodic yet can be percussive when need be.

What stands out throughout the program is how melodic these songs are. Influences from Middle-Eastern music, traditional Israeli music, and the innovations of 1960s Blue Note Recordings move in and out of pieces such as "Snooze" and "Misdronoth"; One hears a more traditional melody on the piano-bass duo "Elefantes I" et the piano backing has a classical feel, especially when Lehavi plays beneath the bass solo.  Still, the fun is allowing the music to just roll over you, to listen closely, then at a distance, and to hear how the music often moves seductively.

Percussionist Keita Ogawa and accordionist Vitor Gonçalves join the group for "La Musica Y La Palabra", a lovely tango composed by pianist and vocalist Carlos Aguirre.  The leader and accordionist have several lovely moments when they play the same phrases.  It's a haunting melody and Bareket deserves much praise for filling the piece with long solos but for embracing the melody with short solos that rise organically out of the thematic material.

The album closes with "Shir Lelo Shem (Song with No Name)" - composed by one of the earliest Israeli-born "rockers" Shalom Hanoch (born 1946), Bareket plays it solo, sticking to the handsome melody with several short solo excursions.  His notes are well articulated and he never lets technique stand in for emotion.

"OB1" is a memorable debut that stands out as much for the excellent musicianship as for its thoughtful melodic content.  One hopes Or Bareket continues his quest for what he has created here bodes well for his future as both a musician and composer.

For more information, go to www.orbareket.com.

One of the essential components of jazz has how the blues has been integrated into the music. Sometimes, you can hear it in the chord progressions, sometimes in the anguished cries or gleeful shouts of the musicians, and sometimes it's how the composer and/or musician approaches the material and performance. "Antidote" (AIMA Records) is the fourth album from Jerusalem native Rotem Sivan and the first since the guitarist/composer a seven+ year relationship with his girlfriend ended and new person entered his life.  Recorded with his "working" band of Haggai Cohen Milo (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums), the album is, not surprisingly, an emotional roller-coaster.

photo by Tomasz Handzlik
The opening track, "Shahar", has a lighter feel. Built upon a powerful bass line and splendid brush work, the guitarist flies over the rhythms.  The title track follows. It's a bit darker, there are a touch of electronics in the background, and the melody is accompanied by whistling and wordless vocals. Milo's bowed bass work helps the dark mood as does the short, highly amplified, break.  But there is hope in the melody.

Vocalist Gracie Terzian joins the trip for a funky, danceable, version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - the touch of hip hop in the rhythm section and the "chill" vocal gives the music less of a wistful feel and feels more positive.  The other non-original is Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" which turns out to be a vehicle for Milo's wonderfully melodic bass.  Sivan takes several choruses but does not stray far from the melody until his powerful solo. Urged on by conversational drums of Stranahan, the guitarist does step out and continues to ride the percussive wave until the piece fades out. Interesting to note - several cuts earlier, Sivan's hard-edged "Sun Song" sounds like variations on the Dylan song.

The bluesiest track is the ballad "Aloof", a piece with a country twang in the melody and another excellent bass solo.  Milo, who has worked with pianists Omer Klein and Jarrett Cherner plus has worked with numerous choreographers, knows how to shape a solo.  The counterpoint he creates for the drum solo on "For Emotional Use Only" includes low notes that resonate on the bottom.  The song goes through several sonic changes before the guitarist turns up his amp and rips off a powerful solo.

Rotem Sivan channeled his heartbreak and bewilderment into his music and, thanks to his trust and love for his bandmates, came up with his "Antidote."  Instead of burying himself in long self-indulgent solos, these 11 tracks come in at 38 minutes yet one does not feel short-changed.  Give it a listen at rotemsivan.bandcamp.com/album/antidote-full-album.

To learn more about the guitarist, go to www.rotemsivan.com.

Here's one of the tracks:

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Two Days & Plenty of Music

Saxophonist, composer, and educator Rene McLean returns to Connecticut on Friday October 6 to perform two sets of music at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme. The son of saxophonist and educator Jackie McLean, he's traveled the world, lived in South Africa for some time and returned to CT to teach at the school that bears his father's name at the University of Hartford.

Joining him in Old Lyme will be several of his contemporaries from the Hartt School including bassist Nat Reeves, drummer Eric McPherson, and trombonist Steve Davis plus Hubert Eaves III (piano), and Neal Clarke (African percussion).  You'll hear influences from throughout the eras of jazz as well as from its African roots.  For ticket reservations, call 860-434-2600.

That dapper gentleman on the left is keyboard and organ player Brian Charette. The native of Meriden CT is bring his Kürrent Trio, including guitarist Yotam Silberstein and drummer Jordan Young to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown St in New Haven on Friday.  Mr. Charette is one of the busier players in this country and in Eastern Europe whether he's playing straight-ahead jazz, rock (he plays keyboards in Allan Brothers drummer Jaimoe's Jasssz Band), or the new electronic track he takes with this group.  The trio's self-released debut, issued this summer, features Ben Monder and finds the organist also contributing electric piano, various synths, and sequencers to the mix.  The music is delightfully upbeat, a dizzying mix of funky beats, swinging grooves, and much more. Young, who has played with the organist for a long time, really drives the trio.  Silberstein is an excellent replacement for Monder and i expect the intimate performance space to rock plenty hard.

For more information, go to firehouse12.org or call 203-785-0468.  To find out more about Kürrent and its leader, go to www.briancharette.com.

On Saturday evening, The Side Door welcomes back composer, saxophonist (alto and soprano), bassist, and educator Mark Zaleski and his Band. You may recognize the last name as his brother Glenn performs with a number of groups (including his own). The Brothers from Boylston, MA, grew up playing music and both were busy around the Boston area. The saxophonist has worked with The Either/Orchestra and toured with Jethro Tull (!) plus has recorded with the Omar Thomas Large Ensemble, pianist Matt Savage (with whom he played The Side Door in 2016), and Brighton Beat.  Mark went on to study at the New England Conservatory of Music where his Band was formed 11 years ago.  The core band - Glenn, tenor saxophonist Jon Bean, guitarist Mark Cocheo, bassist Danny Weller, plus drummer Oscar Suchenek (a newcomer as he joined the band in 2013) - has a new album "Days, Months, Years" (self-released) filled with material they have played for several years.

The album is great fun. Six tracks, four of them originals plus two fascinating covers (Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke's "Epistrophy" and Charlie Parker's "Big Foot") and each is interesting in its own right.  The Monk tune gets "funkified" (brother Glenn on Rhodes and a hard-edged solo from Cocheo) while the Parker tune is slowed down and the group pared down to a trio (bass, drums, alto sax).  The originals are really quite impressive, most of them episodic, each with intelligent interplay, fine melodies, and strong solos.  All this bodes well for The Side Door gig as the band is "tight" and loves to play. For these sets, guitarist Carl Eisman will take the place of Cocheo.

For more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-2600.  To learn more about the leader and his many musical associations, go to www.markzaleskimusic.com.

Friday, September 29, 2017

May I Recommend (Part 1)

At its heart and soul, the new recording from tenor saxophonist Tim Armacost, "Time Being" (Whirlwind Recordings), is a saxophone trio album.  Recorded at drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts' home studio in Pennsylvania,  the session features the saxophonist in musical conversations with Watts and bassist Robert Hurst - pianist Dave Kikoski shows up on several tracks as well but it's the trio cuts that initially capture one's attention.

The program opens with "Alawain" (one of nine originals among the 11 tracks), an up-tempo piece that moves forward on the power of the bass, drums, and the saxophonist's powerful melody. One is immediately entranced by the interactions as well as the clean sound quality: it feels as if you are sitting alongside Watts as he dances around his kit.  The title track is next, a ballad that slowly picks up tempo thanks to the powerful bass lines and the often funky as well as swinging drums.

It's a surprise when Kikoski's piano nudges its way in on "Sculpture #1: Phase Shift", moreso that he does not stick around but immediately steps back. He's much more part of the lovely ballad "The Next 20", although he leaves plenty of space for Armacost to present the melody and for Hurst to offer fine counterpoint and for Watts to show how versatile he is with his brushwork.  The piano solo rises out of the sax spot, a pleasing melodic exploration with tines of the blues exposed in every phrase.

For this listener, it's the trio tracks that keep me coming back.  The brilliant up-tempo take of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" and how the piece grows from the initial bass and sax interaction, prodded by Watts' double-time drumming.  Armacost never rushes even as the rhythm section pushes alongside him.  The three musicians swing delightfully through Thelonious Monk's "Teo", urged on throughout by Watts' joyous playing.

The album closes with the anarchic "Sculpture #3: All the Things You Become in the Large Hadron Collider" - along with Kikoski, the trio really do sound as if they are various particles moving in and around each other, occasionally bumping into one or the other, getting into sync as the music reaches its conclusion.  It's a humorous idea that is also quite musical.

Tim Armacost, who may be best known for his work with the New York Standards Quartet, has  soaked up numerous influences over his career and come out his own man.  "Time Being" is filled with intense interactions yet rarely, if ever, feels frenzied or even rushed. It's easy to get "lost" in this music and so much fun to hear musicians really "play"; that playful quality is what stands out the most and is so satisfying.

For more information, go to music.whirlwindrecordings.com/album/time-being.

Here's the title track:

Under One Sun is the collective name for an octet formed by drummer/ percussionist Jamey Haddad (Paul Simon, Dave Liebman): its self-titled debut album was recorded at the Oberlin (College) Conservatory of Music (where Haddad teaches) and features the music of saxophonist Billy Drewes (tenor and soprano saxes plus clarinet, bass clarinet, C flute and alto flute) who the percussionist met in the rehearsal studios of Berklee College in 1972.  The ensemble features a fascinating array of musicians including Ali Paris (qanun - box zither, voice), Salar Nader (tabla), Luisito Quintero (congas, timbales, percussion), Leo Blanco (piano), Michael Ward-Bergeman (hyper accordion), and Roberto Occhipinti (acoustic bass).  The music they create is as fascinating as the different instruments, music that is melodic and rhythmic as well as emotionally strong.

Drewes, whose credits include the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchesta, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Bill Frisell, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, Paul Motian, Fred Hersch, and many others, has created a program of music that shows not only his studies in Brazilian and Indian music but the influence of blues and big band sounds.  While one is tempted to tout the virtues of every track, it's more fun to let the sounds soak through you, to make up your own mind, to enjoy how the disparate sounds of qanun and soprano sax intertwine and interact, how the voice of Paris evokes so many different memories, and how the percussion makes you want to turn up the volume and dance.

Drewes (pictured left) has composed several stunning ballads on the album. "Tinker" moves gently atop a cushion provided by tabla, bass and trap drums with the saxophonist, accordion, and voice sharing the melody.  "For Those We've Known" opens with a sweet melodic tenor saxophone melody over piano, bass, and drums and stays with that formation, each musician with the exception of Haddad contributing a fine, heartfelt, solo. The influence of Maria Schneider is heard clearly on the final two tracks.  "High Above" features the octet and is built off a gentle melody, each voice moving in and out of the spotlight. That melody and subsequent interactions are reminiscent of several of Ms, Schneider's pieces that are informed by her interest in the songs of birds.  With the addition of a brass quartet (trombonist Lee Allen, tuba player Miguel Santos, trumpeters Olivia Pidl and Wyeth Aleksel), the final track "Ode to Brigadoon - A Path to All" is a lovely coda, wistful, poetic, and soothing.  Drewes' gentle clarinet over Ward-Bergeman's accordion brings the melody to the forefront, a melody that is then amplified by the piano, voice and brass.  Stunning, life-affirming, this music resonates long after you put the CD back into its case.

At nearly 72 minutes, "Under One Sun" offers so much music and shows listeners how sounds of different cultures plus intelligent melodies can come together to make a unified statement. If these voices can rise as one, can there not be hope for peace in a fractured world?  I do not know about that but this album, this music, these performances, certainly made my day so much better.

For more information, go to jameyhaddad.com.

If you are old enough to remember 1968, you know how terrible a year that was.  The assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, the continuing escalation of the war in Vietnam, the horrific events in Chicago during the Democratic Convention, and more threw the United States into turmoil.  Some pundits believe that 2017 is the equal but we need time to pass and time to reflect before making that statement.

For six months of that year, Jack DeJohnette sat in the drum chair for the Bill Evans Trio.  He had spent several busy years touring with saxophonist Charles Lloyd as well as Betty Carter but jumped at the chance to play with the pianist.  Up until several months ago, there was but one recorded document of that trio: "Bill Evans at The Montreux Jazz Festival" was issued in the fall of that year on Verve Records and even won a GRAMMY in 1969.  Turns out that the Trio twice more in the next week.  Earlier this month (September 2017), Resonance Records issued "Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest" recorded in Germany five days after the Verve recording.  Now, the label presents "Another Time: The Hilversum Concert" recorded in front of a live audience on June 22 1968 in the studios of Netherlands Radio Union.

photo by Giuseppe Pino
Of the 20 tracks on the "..Black Forest" CDs, only two are repeated here (same with the "...Montreux" album) which, to these eyes, shows how big a repertoire Evans had in those days.  Bassist Eddie Gomez stands out on all three albums but especially on the "...Hilversum" set as his big tone, melodic lines, and unerring swing enliven the faster pieces and give just the right punch to the ballads as well. One can hear how much Stanley Clarke's acoustic bass work is informed by Gomez.  He works well with DeJohnette (they would work together again in the 1980s); you can tell they trust each other as does Evans and these piece never are staid or rote.  Evans is in good voice throughout as well and these tracks seems to have a liveliness that the album recorded two days before had in fits and starts (that written, "The Black Forest" sessions allow the pianist to be more expansive at times).  Check out piece such as the CD opener 'You're Gonna Hear From Me", "Embraceable You", and the rapid-fire "Five" that closes the concert: all have such a playful quality, a buoyancy and lightness that is so appealing.

By the end of the summer, Jack DeJohnette was invited to play with Miles Davis and Marty Morell took his place, staying with the Trio through 1974.  Eddie Gomez ended up spending 11 years (1966-77) alongside Bill Evans recording numerous Lps in trio, duo, quintet, and even orchestral settings.  The pianist's addictions finally caught up to him in September 1980 and he died at the age of 51.  He played and recorded up until a week before his passing; in fact, many critics and fans felt that his final recordings with the rhythm section of Marc Johnson (bass) and Joe LaBarbera (drums) rank up there with some of his early successes.  No matter which side you fall on in there arguments about the best recordings by Bill Evans, "Another Time: The Hilversum Concert" is a delightful, musical journey. While the songs might not reflect the insanity of the times, the interaction and musicianship of Bill Evans, Eddie Gomez, and Jack DeJohnette shows us all how much good it is and how much fun it can be to work together.

For more information, go to www.resonancerecords.org/release.php?cat=HCD-2031.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

What a Weekend for Creative Music in CT

What to do, where to go, so much good music all around me - deep breath  Okay, Autumn officially starts this week and the concert venues around the state are already cranking up.  I is actually was a fairly busy Summer but now the choices are even more numerous.  After a number of great concerts in July and August, I'm itching to get out and hear some live music.

Let's start on Friday in Old Lyme.  The Side Door Jazz Club welcomes Matt Wilson's Honey & Salt for an 8:30 p.m. performance (actually, there are two sets).  The Quintet - composer and drummer Wilson, Dawn Thomson (guitar, vocals), Jeff Lederer (all sorts of reeds), Ron Miles (cornet), and Martin Wind (acoustic bass guitar) - gets its name from its new album, a recording that celebrates American poet Carl Sandburg (1868-1967). The recording is a delightful pastiche of styles, from raucous jazz to country 'n' western to blues to rock and so on.  The ensemble has been touring for the past month or so and been getting great receptions wherever they perform.

To reserve and/or buy tickets, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-2600.  To learn more about the Sandburg project, go to www.mattwilsonjazz.com.

Here's the drummer and poet in duet:

Also on Friday, the Firehouse 12 Fall 2017 Concert Series continues with the Frode Gjerstad Trio with special guest Steve Swell.  Alto saxophonist Gjerstad (he also plays clarinet) has been on the European Free Jazz scene since the late 1970s and is one of the more fiery players around.  The rhythm section, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Jon Rune Strøm, match the leader's intensity and often help to keep the fires stoked.  Trombonist Steve Swell joins the Trio on occasion for tours and recordings, bringing his unique approach to the instrument and music, one that he has developed from his associations with Bill Dixon, Anthony Braxton, and William Parker.

The band plays two sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - and there is a separate admission for each one. Firehouse 12 is located at 45 Crown Street in New Haven.  To get tickets, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.

Pianist and composer Laszlo Gardony returns to The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, on Saturday (9/23) at 8 p.m. for a concert of solo piano music.  Professor Gardony, who is on the faculty of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, is a frequent visitor to The Buttonwood.  He's back this time to celebrate the release of his latest Sunnyside Records album, "Serious Play", a delightful collection of works including a number of originals and standards such as "Georgia on My Mind" and John Coltrane's "Naima."  The pianist pays with great fire, great emotion and a love for melody.

For ticket information, go to buttonwood.org/event/lazlo-gardony-cd-release-concert/ or call 860-347-4957. To find out more about the pianist, go to www.lgjazz.com.

Here's the delightful and forceful "Truth to Power":

Bassist, composer, and curator Carl Testa is bringing the Uncertainty Music Series to a close this weekend with a Farewell Festival.  And it take place in the delightful sound space of Firehouse 12.  On Saturday at 8:30 p.m., the Series presents Jeremiah Cymerman's SYSTEMA MUNDITOTIUS with Matt Bauder, Patrik Holmes, and Aaron Novik plus a set by a collaborative ensemble featuring Anne Rhodes, Chris Cretella, Forbes Graham, James Ilgenfritz, and Adam Matlock. Sunday, the show starts a 7:30 p.m. with Electronic Music by Val Inc. plus a set by a collaborative ensemble featuring Erica Dicker, Louis Guarino Jr., Junko Fujiwara, Andria Nicodemou, and Carl Testa. For ticket information, go to uncertaintymusic.com or firehouse12.com.

Carl Testa ran the Uncertainty Music series for 10 years, bringing musicians from all over the world to play music that challenged our stereotypes and made us listen with new ears.  The series will be sorely missed!

Finally, on Saturday night, The Side Door Jazz Club welcomes guitarist and composer Dave Stryker and his Quartet.  Stryker's new album, "Strykin' Ahead", (issued on the guitarist's own Strikezone Records) is a delightful mix of blues, swing, and bebop: he's bringing two of the musicians, organist Jared Gold and the delightful drummer McClenty Hunter to the Old Lyme venue. Sitting in on vibraphone will be Monte Gold who's taking the place of Steve Nelson.  

The band hits the stage at 8:30 for the first of two sets. Go to thesidedoorjazz.com for more information.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Much Longer Hiatus Than Expected + Recommended Listening!

Hard to believe that it has been 18 days since I posted a review or a concert preview or even a video. It's not that music hasn't entered my house and subsequently my ears. My lassitude has come about from the intersection of surgery and the beginning of school.  The surgery, not life-threatening, took place in late July and the doctor/surgeon said that the recovery time was 8-12 weeks but that I could start school on August 28 as long as I paced myself, sat and talked with students instead my usual pacing around the room, and took the elevator up to the third floor as opposed to my usual taking the stairs.  One of the side-effects of going back to the classroom somewhat early is that after my third class is over, I am quite tired.  Still.

That writ, music has been a constant companion of my "down" time.  Fred Hersch's "Open Air" plus Australian pianist Tim Stevens's "Media Vita", both of which  I reviewed in August (click here), have been filling the rooms of our house with their sweet, sometimes hard-edged, sounds.  But there have been others and my recommendations are below - I may review them in depth when I can but, in the meantime, I can show you covers and give you links.
I love poetry inspired by music and vice versa.  I saw the listing from Cedille Records for "Portraits: Works for Flute, Clarinet, & Piano", an album that features the McGill/McHale Trio playing music composed by Chris Rogerson, Guillame Connesson, Sergei Rachmaninov, Paul Schoenfield, Phillip Hammond, and the brilliant "Portrait of Langston" by Valerie Coleman, a 26-minute piece that features the poetry of Langston Hughes read by Mahershala Ali.  I purchased the album from the label and am deeply moved as well as excited by the performance.  To find out more, go to www.cedillerecords.org/albums/portraits-works-for-flute-clarinet-and-piano.

Follow this link to hear a piece from the album: www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEQgqSqQXs4.

I have reviewed several recordings by the duo of Eddie Daniels (clarinet) and Roger Kellaway (piano), all recorded since the turn of the 21st Century. Imagine my delight when Resonance Records sent "Just Friends", recorded live at The Village Vanguard one November night in 1988! Best of all, the two master musicians employ the delightful rhythm section of Buster Williams (bass) and the irrepressible Al Foster (drums).  The co-leaders each contribute two compositions plus the classic title track (composed in 1931 by John Klenner with words by Samuel Lewis).  Label head George Klabin found the tape of this music in his collection in 2016: amazingly, he had used a cassette recorder with one condenser microphone yet one feels like he is in the first row with the musicians a few feet away.

The album will be released on September 29 and, believe me, the music will brighten your days and warm the house at night.

For more information, go to www.resonancerecords.org/release.php?cat=HCD-2028.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Write! said Fred, John A passes, + Celebrating Oliver Nelson

It's a busy time for pianist, educator, and, now, author Fred Hersch.  His latest solo album, "Open Book", will be released by Palmetto Records on September 8th (my review is here). On September 12, his autobiography "Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz" will be published by Crown Archetype (Penguin Random House LLC). Later that week, Jazz at Lincoln Center presents the pianist/composer's "Leaves of Grass" in the Appel Room for four shows over two nights (9/15-16).  Joining Hersch for the shows will be a number of of artists who appeared on the 2005 Palmetto album of the same name including vocalists Kate McGarry and Kurt Elling plus trombonist Mike Christianson, saxophonist Tony Malaby, and drummer John Hollenbeck - rounding out the 10-person ensemble will be Bruce Williams (reeds), Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jody Redhage (cello), and John Hébert (bass).  For ticket information, go to www.jazz.org/events/t-6271/Fred-Hersch-Kurt-Elling-Kate-McGarry-Leaves-of-Grass/.

As for the book, I had a hard time putting it down.  Hersch, and his collaborator David Hadju, basically, "tell it like was/is."  The pianist, who has been candid about his homosexuality and HIV-positive status for nearly twenty-five years, talk about his upbringing, his discovery of music at an early age, his parents troubled marriage, and how hard a time he had as a teenager (lots of marijuana and playing gigs at an early age).  Yet, he never feel sorry for himself, is honest about how much he hated to practice piano (especially for his classical music lessons).  The best parts of the story deal with his jazz "apprenticeships" with Art Farmer and Joe Henderson, his relationship with Nonesuch Records (not an easy one), his relationship with Scott Morgan, and the illness that nearly killed him in 2008-09. If you have a squeamish stomach, you want to forego the details of the symptoms, the ensuing coma, and the long, amazing, recovery.

Yet, the book, like the music Fred Hersch has created over his career, is far from depressing.  He's a survivor (several times over) and admits to being a better musician and more appreciative human being.  He does not spend a lot of time going in to the mechanics of his music but Is fulsome with his praise of his various rhythm sections, his doctors, his older brother Hank, and his friends. He also does not pull punches with his criticisms and is not shy writing about his drug use as he made his way through the 1970s and 80s. But this is no "show and tell" as Hersch writes about the people who helped him along the way (including Lorraine Gordon at the Village Vanguard).  When you listen to his new recording or watch the video of "My Coma Dreams" or sit in a club and watch how he works with his Trio, you realize a number of things including how lucky he is to be alive in the 21st century and just how impressive a musician and creator he is.  That latter observation makes us the lucky ones.

To find out more, go to www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/253693/good-things-happen-slowly-by-fred-hersch/.

photo by John Watson
I can't remember now the first time I heard the guitar playing of John Abercrombie who passed away on Tuesday August 22.  He first came on to the creative music in after a stint at Berklee College of Music, playing first with Johnny "Hammond" Smith. Abercrombie went on to work with drummers Chico Hamilton and Billy Cobham as well as saxophonist Gato Barbieri.  He signed to ECM in 1975 with his first releases being "Timeless" featuring drummer Jack DeJohnette and keyboard whiz Jan Hammer.  Along the way, he recorded and toured with fellow guitarist Ralph Towner, formed Gateway with DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland.  He also recorded with several different ensembles for the label including his last quartet with pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Joey Baron. Abercrombie also added his guitar stylings to albums by Charles Lloyd, organist Jeff Palmer, plus trumpeters Enrico Rava and Kenny Wheeler.

It's amazing how few pictures there are of John Abercrombie without a guitar - because above all, he was a player.  In his early days, he often experimented with the sound of his guitar but while he could still create mysterious compositions as he aged, his sound got rounder and cleaner, his phrases often surprising yet soothing as well. And, the man could "swing" as he picked one articulate phrase after another.

For a more thorough at John Abercrombie's life and career (along with videos and an interview, go to ottawacitizen.com/entertainment/jazzblog/rip-john-abercrombie.

Here's a track from his latest album:

One of the great"classic" jazz albums of the early 1960s has to "Blues and the Abstract Truth."  Featuring the compositions, arrangements, and tenor saxophone of Oliver Nelson (1932-1975), the music showed just how the blues permeated much of modern music anyhow it could "speak" with so many voices.  By the time the album was released on Impulse Records, Nelson had built a good career with albums released on Prestige featuring artists such as trumpeter Kenny Dorham and saxophonist Eric Dolphy. That career would skyrocket over the next decade due to the numerous movie soundtracks and television shows the St. Louis, MO, native composed and scored.  Yet, he also wrote classical music, much of which deserves to be rediscovered an played by symphony orchestras in the US and abroad.

Kudos to trumpeter, arranger, and conductor John Vanore on his new album.  "Stolen Moments" Celebrating Oliver Nelson" (Acoustical Concepts Inc) features an all star 14-member band playing compositions and arrangements from throughout Nelson's career.  Pieces such as "Greensleeves", "A Taste of Honey", and "St. Louis Blues" sit easily alongside the title track (a highlight of the "Blues and The Abstract Truth" - the song with that name did not appear on that album but on the followup), "Self Help is Needed" (from 1970's "Black, Brown, and Beautiful"), and "Reuben's Rondo" (from 1975's "Skull Session").  Perhaps the best thing Vanore, who, as a young man studied with Nelson one summer before joining the Woody Herman Band, does is not mess with the music.  Though the album credits the leader with "reimagining" Nelson's songs, what he has done is arrange the music for this unique ensemble.

What a band! There is Steve Wilson (alto sax, soprano sax, flute) and Bob Malach (tenor sax, bass clarinet) plus the trumpets and flugelhorn work of Tony Kadleck, Augie Haas Jon Owens, and Dave Ballou as well as the trombonists Ryan Keberle and Dave Taylor (bass 'bone) alongside the French horns of George Barnett and Adam Unsworth.  The rhythm section includes pianist Jim Ridl, guitarist Greg Kettinger, bassist Mike Richmond, and drummer Danny Gottlieb. Percussionist Beth Gottlieb joins the ensemble on the slinky, sultry, "El Gato", a tune Nelson wrote for the late saxophonist Gato Barbieri.

Each track has great ensemble work plus an impressive solo or more.  Wilson's alto stands out on "Self Help..", "El Gato" (which also features a scorching solo from Malach) plus he creates a beautiful soprano solo on "I Hope in Time a Change Will Come."  Keberle shines on "Greensleeves", a tune that packs a lot into 2:39.  Ballou is understated then forceful on his long spotlight on "St Louis Blues" followed by a solo that has him swinging out of his shoes on "Blues And the Abstract Truth."   After Ridl's sparkling solo on the title track, the leader takes the spotlight for a short but strong trumpet statement.

In a perfect world, people will pick this album up and discover just how much good music Oliver Nelson brought to the world in his short but jam-packed career.  John Vanore has done us all - casual listeners and reviewers - a really good turn. "Stolen Moments" should steal your heart, mind, and your ears!

For more information, go to www.johnvanore.net.

Here's a mini-documentary about the recording:

Here's a short compilation of pieces from the album: