Friday, April 14, 2017

Modern Chamber Music, perhaps

Music and poetry are often intertwined; whether it's through the turn of the lyrical phrase or the message of the verse, poetry has a rhythm that speaks to many people. Trumpeter and composer Matt Holman was introduced to the Greek poet Sappho (630-550 B.C) by his wife in the early of their courtship and the poet's words fell on receptive ears. Historians believe that the poems were written to be sung with accompaniment of the lyre.

Holman, who has worked or is now working with large ensembles led by Darcy James Argue, John Hollenbeck  Fred Hersch’s Leaves of Grass, Asphalt Orchestra, guitarist Joel Harrison, and the JC Sanford Orchestra (among others), also is a member of the SKETCHES quintet and is on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music and Hunter College.


The poetry of Sappho is the inspiration for "The Tenth Muse" (New Focus Recordings), the trumpeter's second album.  Working with Sam Sadigursky (soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute), Chris Dingman (vibraphone), and Bobby Avey (piano), Holman uses fragments of poems (many of them no more than a short sentence) to create 16 pieces that are minimalistic yet melodic, thoughtful, meditative, reflective, emotionally powerful, and sometimes verging on melancholy.

The Lilypad/Cambridge, MA
It's best to let the music do the talking. The clarity of the sound, the beauty of the individual instruments, how the composer and arranger mixes and matches the voices, how the poetic fragments become musical stories, the moments when the music transports the listener (literally) out of time, all this and more makes "The Tenth Muse" very special. There are moments when the Sadigursky's clarinet or soprano sax echoes or trails behind the trumpet, when the rolling piano chords build to a thundering climax, when Dingman's vibraphone peels like a church bell or the trumpet sustains a note that resonate long after the album ends.

Holman leaves space in the program for each member of the ensemble to have an unaccompanied solo. Those interludes are the shortest tracks in the 67-minute suite but do not feel extraneous (are titled as "Fragments"). And, while there is a classical chamber music feel to the proceedings (especially in Bobby Avey's piano work), the music defies categorization. The composer wisely leaves it up to each listener to find his or her way.

If you are a person who loves to get lost in music, who likes to be challenged and rewarded by a composer and his ensemble, then seek out "The Tenth Muse." The sounds, these abstract notes that coalesce into emotions, have great power and stand out from the standard fare. Matt Holman has given us a wonderful present; take notice.

For more information, go to mattholman.com.

Take a look:


Mike McGinnis (clarinet, soprano saxophone) is a musician who easily moves in an out of different musical styles without losing his voice.  He has composed for large ensemble ("Road Trip" for 10 musicians), worked on Broadway (in "Fela"), performed with Anthony Braxton and Steve Coleman as well as with Yo Lo Tengo, plus is a founding member of The Four Bags, an eclectic group that combines accordion, trombone, guitar, and his woodwinds.

His new recording, "Recurring Dream" (Sunnyside), is a consummation of a desire to work with musicians he idealized growing up in Maine. The album finds him in the company of pianist Art Lande and bassist Steve Swallow, both with long careers, both connected with ECM in its early years (and, in the case of the bassist, to this day thanks to his association with Carla Bley), and both excellent composers as well as adventurous musicians.

McGinnis's liner notes make mention of the bassist's work with clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, a big influence on the young reed player.    This program does not follow Giuffre's experimental trio music (with Paul Bley as well as Swallow) of the early 1960s although "Circle Dance" (credited to McGinnis and Lande) is a short "free" excursion.  Instead, the listener is treated to seven delightful melodies with originals for all three, one track by saxophonist Mel Martin (the album opener "Mel's Drive In"), and a Lande "derangement" of the standard "Darn That Dream" that the pianist titled "Drat Recurring Dream."

The opener is a rousing and funky piece with McGinnis on soprano sax dancing through the theme supported by the bass and piano. Listen to how Swallow not only supplies the rhythm but also counterpoint, especially beneath Lande's delightful solo. The bassist's subtle sound blends nicely with the piano throughout and, most notably, on McGinnis's handsome bluesy "Hearth."  Another lovely ballad is "Amazing", composed by Swallow, that the trio takes its time to explore.  Again, the piano solo is a delightful, a poetic take on the melody with impressionistic flourishes and lovely single-note runs. After the composer's melodic solo, McGinnis creates an emotionally rich clarinet excursion. Lande's "Constantinople" opens with an unaccompanied piano solo and it's fun to hear where the directions the pianist's mind goes.  Swallow's tone is perfect for this ensemble, meshing well with the lower piano notes but also serving as a strong solo voice. Listen to his delightful lead-in to his piece "Bend Over Backwards" and how it sets the stage for the bluesy body of the song.  Lande and McGinnis take a jaunty stroll through the theme and then the clarinetist digs in for a solo that may remind some of Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw. The pianist takes off into a solo that plays with the tempo, working with it or behind the beat, even jumping ahead on occasion.

One gets the feeling while listening to "Recurring Dream" that this trio had a lovely March day in the recording studio. They got to play, create lovely music, some playful music, and just enjoy the camaraderie.  Art Lande or Steve Swallow, no matter the setting, are always "themselves", knowing when to lay back or step in.  Over the past 15 years, Mike McGinnis has demonstrated he can play and compose in many different styles, creating a body of work is fun, funky, serious, and very much his own.  Delightful music anytime of day, I bet they are a joy to watch in person as well.

To find out more, go to www.mikemcginnis.com.




One of the joys of contemporary music is how composers and musicians often go in unexpected directions (not talking about "pop" music here). Drummer and composer Harris Eisenstadt has several "working", ensembles that explore "free" music, through-composed pieces, jazz, Americana (Canadia, I suppose), and more. His new album, "Recent Developments" (Songlines Recordings), features a fascinating nonet - Anna Webber (flute), Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Dan Peck (tuba), Brandon Seabrook (banjo), Hank Roberts (cello), Eivind Opsvik (bass), and Eisenstadt (drums) - playing a suite that only displays a form on repeated listenings.  That is not a criticism. The composer does not betray a theme by giving his pieces titles so it's up to the "active" listener to make sense of this work.

The music features a "Prologue", "Introduction", the six-part "Suite", five "Interludes", and an "Epilogue."  Each part of the "Suite" contains intimate conversations between the musicians, whether it's Ms. Webber's flute interacting with Robert's cello to close "Part 4" or "Wooley's trumpet solo over bass and drums (with Bishop and Peck interjecting) on "Part 1" which then has a countermelody for flute, banjo, and bassoon before the trumpeter takes off over the drums.  It's much more fun to listen than to dissect, more exciting to hear how structure is stretched, broken, reassembled, and changes. "Part 3" sounds like "modern jazz" yet is led in by the bassoon while the trombone solo is supported by bass, drums, and Seabrook's banjo as the rest of the ensemble move in and out of the mix.  The composer adds a short counter-melody for reeds and brass that comes and goes like before you really notice.  Ms. Schoenbeck's emotional solo on "Part 5" is stunning but note how the music evolves from various voices moving in and out with melodic fragments at the beginning and how the bassoon rises out of that to begin her statement over just bowed bass and drums.

Subtle, rewarding, and challenging, the album opens with just flute and bassoon on the "Prologue" and closes on a group "Epilogue", a piece that ends on a bass and banjo melody that makes you feel like there's more to come and that the music is not really over. "Recent Developments" is engrossing music, surprising at times, often quiet, with the various voices drawing the listener in. Let the musical vision of Harris Eisenstadt soak into your mind and enjoy how it unfolds, expands, and changes.

For more information, go to www.harriseisenstadt.com/bands/recent-developments/.

Here's a piece from the album:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ladies Day April 17 Edition (Pt 1)

Whether you believe in a Supreme Being or not, some spiritual entity must have placed Anat Cohen on this earth to play clarinet in a joyous styles and to interpret, as well as to create, Brazilian music.  It is impossible to sit still listening to "Rosa Dos Ventos", the second Anzic Records release to feature Ms. Cohen with Trio Brasileiro. The Trio - Douglas Lora (7-string guitar), his brother Alexandre (drums, pandeiro, percussion), and Dudu Maia (mandolin, bandolim) - have been making music together since 2011, creating original music that stretches the boundaries of Choro, a Brazilian art form that mixes dance rhythms with traditional folk melodies (read more here).

The Israeli-born Cohen first recorded and toured with Trio Brasileiro in 2013. Their debut album, "Alegria da Casa", (released in 2016 on Anzic), blended choro classics with originals. This time around, the songs are all originals. There is much to enjoy in this 12-song program, from the entrancing opening cut "Baião Da Esperança" to the percussive "Das Neves" (Luiz Ungarelli adds congas on this and one other track) to the clarinet-percussion duo on the title track. Pieces such as "Flamenco" and  "O Ocidente Que Se Oriente" move in fascinating directions. The former is built off the lovely melody played by the 10-string bandolim and by Alexandre Lora on the hang (hand drum); when the clarinet enters, the piece takes on a melancholy tone. The latter track takes its title from a poem by Diego Petrarca. Opening with a drone created by the tambura, the melody is played by clarinet and guitar shadowed by the hand drums (tabla drums, I believe).

There is a touch of Lennon & McCartney in the melody and the feel of "Lulubia", the lovely ballad that closes the album.  The Trio takes it slowly while the clarinet faces and whirls around them, the presence of a sprite in the calm and the quiet.  "Rosa Dos Ventos" charms and thrills listeners from start to finish with lively percussion, fully realized melodies and harmonies as well as far-ranging solos.  Anat Cohen & Trio Brasileiro have made a album that feels like Springtime, like the shackles and darkness of winter have been thrown off to be replaced by the gentle sun, cool breezes, and clean air.  For more information, go to anzicstore.com/album/rosa-dos-ventos.

Here is the delightful opening track:



The second album Ms. Cohen is releasing this month features her in duo with Brazilian 7-string guitarist Marcello Gonçalves.  "Outra Coisa" (Anzic Records) translates to "another thing" and finds the duo exploring the music of composer and multi-instrumentalist Moacir Santos (1926-2006). The guitarist chose the pieces from Santos's long career, rearranging the material, often recorded by larger ensembles, for the two instruments.  Needless to say, the music works very well in this intimate setting for many reasons but especially because the melodies are so strong and tell stories.

The 12 tracks feature six "Coisas" (things), all of have different personalities ranging from the classically inspired "..No. 1" to the somber ballad "..No 6" to the sprightly "..No 10" to the handsome ballad "..No 9."  That last tune, in Santos's recording, has the feel of a Billy Strayhorn ballad. You can hear that hear as well, the lovely and crystal clear guitar backing giving Ms. Cohen the foundation to play the sweet melody and male little musical comments on it. Meanwhile, "..10" is a romp for Gonçalves and listener will love how the the clarinet just slides in the middle of the opening verse.  Two other tracks are "Coisas" including the playful title track in which there are moments where it seems the musicians are circling around each other.  Listen to the "heavy" chords of "Nanã (Coisa No. 5)" - this inspired track gets so quiet at times you can almost see the musicians leaning into each other to listen.

There is a strong hint of Delta blues in the opening guitar statement on "Mae Iracema" (translates to "The Honey-lips"). The song opens up to another splendid dance for the duo.   Pieces such as  "Maracatutute" and "Amphibious" move at a delightful pace and give both musicians the opportunity to create smart solos. The album closes with two ballads, the George Gershwin-inspired "Paraiso" (the song would not feel out of place in "Porgy and Bess") which includes a lovely clarinet solo sans guitar followed by the short (1:08) and emotionally rich "Carrossel", a gentle coda to a delightful album.

Delightful is an excellent word to describe "Outra Coisa."  Marcello Gonçalves did a masterful job on the arrangements (if you're curious, check out his duo work with soprano saxophonist Daniela Spellmann) while Anat Cohen is at the top of her form. She combines the joie de vivre of Paquito D'Rivera with the warmth of Jimmy Guiffre.  All things considered, find a quiet corner and dive into this splendid album.

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

Here are the musicians talking about this project:

Monday, April 10, 2017

Stories to Tell Live & on CD

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme welcomes back saxophonist and composer Noah Preminger this coming Friday (4/14). Been a busy time for the Canton, CT, native with the release of "Meditations on Freedom" in January of this year, a response and reaction to the 2016 election in the United States. Recorded with his current Quartet - Jason Palmer (trumpet), Kim Cass (bass), and Ian Froman (drums) - the music is, at turns, reflective, angry, sad, resolute, and a call to action.

At times, the recording is reminiscent of the music Sonny Rollins created in the late 1950s, music that verges on exploding, that challenges the listener yet pulls one in on the power of the melodies and improvisations.  Whether it's the solemnity of "A Change Is Gonna Come" or the deconstructed "The Way It Is" that seems to fight against the definition of the title or the gentle push and pull of "Women's March", Preminger and company are asking to rethink the way we interact with our community, the politicians in our district and in Washington, and the world.  Is the joy of George Harrison's "Give Me Love" enough to get us through the day or the resolve of "We Have a Dream" going to get us out of our seats? There is power in Preminger's music and its messages.

The doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the band takes the stage for the first set an hour later.  Sitting in for Jason Palmer (who is out of the country teaching) will be the impressive young trumpeter Billy Buss. For ticket information and reservations, call 860-434-2600.

To learn more about the saxophonist and his music, go to www.noahpreminger.com.

Here's the opening track of the new CD:




On Saturday (4/15), the Side Door presents bassist and composer Linda May Han Oh and her Group as she celebrates the release of her new album "Walk Against Wind" (see below).  Ms. Oh, born in Malaysia and raised in Australia, came to the United States in the mid-2000s to study at the Manhattan School of Music and has gone on to play with Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas, and is currently in guitarist Pat Methany's new Quartet.  Her 2009 debut album, "Entry", recorded with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and Obed Calvaire, was an auspicious one displaying her compositional talents and fine bass work.

Image by Shervin Lainez
In 2013, she introduced her new Quartet with saxophonist Ben Wendel and released "Sun Pictures" (Greenleaf Music).  One could hear the growth in her compositions and arrangements which is continued on the new album.  Mr.Wendel is on the recording and will be on The Side Door bandstand as will drummer Rudy Royston, guitarist Gilad Hekselman, and pianist Fabian Almazan.  One should expect to hear music that defies expectations and ignores genres while valuing melody and interactions.

The Linda May Han Oh Group commences playing at 8:30 p.m.  To find out more, go to thesidedoorjazz.com.
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Inspired by the art of Marcel Marceau (and his brilliant piece "Walking Against The Wind"), Linda May Han Oh has titled her fourth album as a leader "Walk Against Wind." It's her first recording for Fabian Almazan's Biophilia Records and features Ben Wendel (tenor saxophone), Matthew Stevens (guitar), and Justin Brown (drums) with label head Almazan on piano and keyboards (three tracks) and Minji Park (percussion on "Mantis").

The album starts with "Lucid Lullaby", the bassist leading the melody in as Brown skitters and scrambles underneath.  After sharing the theme with the tenor sax, Ms. Oh takes the first solo and the piece unfolds slowly, stopping and starting as the bass gives way to the guitar solo. Yet, listen to the rhythm section as they dance below Stevens's fluid lines.

The emotions and moods shift throughout the album.  There's the joyous interactions on "Speech Impediment" replete with wordless vocals from the leader and Brown's powerful drumming. That song also features a fine slow blues section near the end.  The rapid-pace melody of "Firedancer" is played by the bass and piano before the band takes off on an exciting journey.  The entrancing ballad "Deepsea Dancers"(dedicated to Izumi Uchida, the bassist's manager who passed several years ago) is a lovely ballad and one can hear the influence of Malaysian and Japanese traditional music in the melody and supporting lines). There is beauty as well on "Midnight Reasons", a somber lead by the Stevens's guitar with counterpoint from Ms Oh over long notes held by the tenor sax. Wendel then steps out, adding a third melodic voice to the front line.  There is give-and-take here normally reserved for uptempo pieces.  The high-energy of "Midnight" follows powered by a strong bass line and Brown's explosive drums. Listen to the melody, how intelligently it plays with and against the rhythm section, the changes in tempo and how Almazan's distorted Fender Rhodes suggests the sounds of Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea when they worked with Miles Davis in 1970 and 71.

The album comes to a close on the M-Base influenced funky bop of "Western", whose thematic material grows from the percussive work of Brown and Ms. Oh's thick and active electric bass lines (it's one of several tracks that feature her electric work; check out the rapid-fire excitement of "Perpluzzle" below). The interaction of bass and drums gives the piece its propulsion and you should enjoy how all four members of the band take turns interpreting the melody.

Linda May Han Oh has made quite an impression since coming to the United States. The first thing many people noticed was her impressive bass playing but the quality and breadth of her compositions has emerged to equal that of her instrumental work. She certainly knows how to anchor a rhythm section but the melodic work she does as both a composer and performer is well worth paying attention to. "Walk Against Water" is a special recording, one that demands and deserves many close listens.

For more information, go to lindamayhanoh.com. The album package, like all the new releases on Biophilia this year, is a fanciful origami-like construction that is fun to play with, somewhat tough to read, and heck to fold back up. But, then again, I'm a klutz when it comes to puzzle-like packages.

Here's a taste of this music:

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Side Door Live, Cohen & Cobb, + Hear the Berne

Pianist Emmet Cohen, 27 years old, has been one busy musician over the last decade. He graduated from The University of Miami, did graduate work at the Manhattan School of Music, has worked with bassist Christian McBride, with drummer Ali Jackson, is the music conductor for Lea DeLaria, and has toured schools as part of Jazz at Lincoln Center's "Jazz for Young People" programs.  He's recorded with drummer Herlin Riley, trumpeter Brian Lynch and has three CDs as a leader (the new one is reviewed below.)

On Friday night April 7, young Mr. Cohen brings his Trio to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme.  Joining him for the two-set program will be bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Joe Saylor. You'll hear that his music features both standards and originals plus he's one of the finer pianists playing today. Not just technically but with a deep emotional well that gives new life to the older material he chooses to play.

The Emmet Cohen Trio hits the stage at 8:30 p.m.  For more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-2600.

To learn more about the pianist, go to emmetcohen.com.

Here's a track from Cohen's 2010 debut CD with bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Rodney Green:



On Saturday night, The Side Door welcomes the fine young harmonica player Grégoire Maret and his Quartet.  A native of Geneva, Switzerland, Maret has worked with many artists, from Pat Metheny to Bebel Gilberto to Marcus Miller to David Sanborn to the late vocalist Jimmy Scott.  He's issued two CDs as a leader, the latest being "Wanted", issued by Sunnyside Records in April of 2016.

Joining him in Old Lyme will be Romain Collin (piano, keyboards), Antoine Katz (bass), and John Davis (drums).  Expect a mix of standards, originals, and the occasional "pop" tune.  For reservations, call 860-434-2600.

To find out more about the versatile musician, go to www.gregoiremaret.com.

Here's a funky take of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" from the new recording:


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Emmet Cohen's latest release is the first in a series he's dubbed the "Masters Legacy Series" (which he explains in the video posted below.)  "Volume 1" (Cellar Live Records) finds the pianist in the company of bassist Nakamura and special guest, drummer Jimmy Cobb. Although the drummer is 6 decades older than Cohen, they certainly speak the same musical language.  Mr. Cobb, while not as prolific a session player as bassist Ron Carter, has played with scads of musicians and groups, from Miles Davis to Dizzy Gillespie to Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, George Coleman, and Dave Holland. The drummer has led his own bands and recorded, at least, six albums under his own name.

For this album, the band (augmented by alto saxophonist Godwin Lewis on two of the 11 tracks) recorded front of an invited audience in the DiMenna Center for Classical Music in New York City. The Trio romps through the opening three tracks starting with a fun take of Ferde Grofe's "On The Trail" then sliding right into "Tin Tin Deo" and "Two Bass Hit" before a gentle and generous reading of "When I Fall In Love."

Saxophonist Louis makes his first appearance on Cohen's uptempo "Folk Song", his warm tone blending sweetly with the Trio.  The leader's rolling two-handed solo is a highlight as are the single-note runs he adds throughout.  Louis also appears on the bluesy "Hard Times", a track that Mr. Cobb first recorded with David "Fathead" Newman - one cannot miss the gospel feel that both Louis and Cohen add to the swinging feel of the rhythm section.

photo by John Abbott
The program closes with Cohen's "Concerto for Cobb", a high-energy swing piece on which the drummer not only lays down a strong tempo but also adds smart fills and creates a powerful solo. His energy does not ebb at any time during the concert or on the recording.  Bassist Nakamura does his usual excellent job of keeping the music moving forward, laying down a melodic or percussive foundation on every track.  Cohen's solo are, more often than not, joyful, playful, and pleasing.  He's played standards throughout his career and understands that songs familiar to a jazz audience need an imaginative touch yet he also makes the music accessible to those unfamiliar with the "canon."

Emmet Cohen is onto something really good with his "Masters Legacy Series" and his choice of Jimmy Cobb as his initial collaborator is quite inspired.  You will be inspired as well by this delightful album. Let's see and hear where this goes from here.

For more information, visit Emmet Cohen's website (listed above) or go to www.cellarlive.com.

Here's a preview:



Over the past decade, pianist Matt Mitchell has made quite an impact on contemporary music.  Not only does he lead his own groups but he is also a member of the Dave Douglas Quintet, Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bird Calls, Jonathan Finlayson's Sicilian Defense, Anna Webber's Simple Trio, and Tim Berne's Snakeoil (and there are many more).

For his new recording, "FØRAGE" (Screwgun Records), Mitchell turns to the music of Tim Berne and rearranges, reimagines, and a reworks a number of Berne works for solo piano.  I have listened to Tim Berne for over three decades, since he came east and began to work with saxophonist and composer Julius Hemphill. His recording career began with quartet of self-released albums before going on to record for JMT, Soul Note, Winter & Winter, Columbia, Thirsty Ear, and others plus starting Screwgun Records in 1996.  If you've listened to Berne's music, you know its a mashup of numerous styles and approaches, with long episodic compositions, raucous sounds, frenetic beats, and experiments with textures and sounds.  While Snakeoil has issued three albums on ECM (and one on Screwgun), he has not tempered his approach.

Robert Lewis image
On their own in a solo setting, Berne's music and Mitchell's interpretations take myriad forms.  There are moments, such as throughout"ŒRBS", when one can hear the influence of Keith Jarrett's more "open" improvisations.  The heavy chords that lead into "TRÃÇĘŚ" give way to high-energy exploration of melody and improvisation.  There's even a touch of "boogie-woogie" for just a few seconds in Mitchell's active left hand that catches the ear.  The ballad feel at the onset of "RÄÅY" goes away but the piece picks up and loses speed over the course of seven minutes.  "CLØÙDĒ" also begins as a ballad and stays for the first third of the 13-minute piece. The pianist starts pushing the tempo, there's a hypnotic flow in the rhythmic pace, and, soon, the piano begins to thunder, shards of melody flying off the right hand. But the bombast simmers down as the music slows and returns to the calm of the opening minutes.

photo by Peter Gannushkin
You need to play "FØRAGE" all the way through to understand the story Matt Mitchell is telling.  The music of Tim Berne is often thorny yet a different kind of beauty also inhabits the music.  Don't waste time attempting to categorize this music; to these ears and mind, the various shapes and melodies are in a class of their own.  But, do listen. If you like a challenge and are willing to follow the lead of the composer and pianist, this is an amazing journey.

For more information, go to www.mattmitchell.us.

Take a listen:

Weekend at the Firehouse (4/7-9)

The Firehouse 12 Spring 2017 Concert Series is in full swing (no pun intended) but this coming weekend may be the most impressive in the New Haven venue's 12-year history. The first official performance was a concert on April 3 2005 titled "Solo Duo"; the show featured pianist Lisa Moore and violinist Tim Fain playing music by Bach, Rzewski, Bresnick, Puts, and Janáček. 10 days later, guitarist Greg Davis & Kranky played the venue followed in May by the duo of Matthew Shipp & William Parker. That fall, weekly concerts started in earnest with shows usually Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.  Friday became the "regular" performance night in 2006 and the performance space/recording studio has presented two 13-week series since then (with the occasional Thursday and Saturday concert).

This coming weekend (7th-9th) is, arguably, the most exciting weekend of music and seminars the venue has ever presented. Friday night, the trio of Anna Webber (saxophone, flute), Matt Mitchell (piano, keyboards), and John Hollenbeck (drums) will perform.  Ms. Webber composes all the music for the ensemble known as Simple Trio and it's an exciting concoction of imaginative pieces that blend "free" elements with composed themes and sparkling improvisations.  Skirl Records has issued the Trio's two albums, the latest "Binary" in Fall of 2016 (my review here).

The Trio plays two sets - the first at 8:30, the second at 10 p.m. - and tickets are available by going to firehouse12.com or calling 203-785-0468.  To find out more about Ms. Webber's musical adventures, go to www.annakristinwebber.com.

Here's the opening track from "Binary":



On Saturday and Sunday, Firehouse 12 presents the CREATE Festival, four sessions of seminars and music curated by and featuring trumpeter, conceptualist, and composer Wadada Leo Smith. The daytime sessions commence at 1 p.m. and features the composer talking on day one about the music to be performed at the Festival and how he creates his unique compositions.  His musical language, called  "Ankhrasmation", is described by the composer as "an approach to conveying ideas to another musician that leaves a great deal of room for personal interpretation." Day 2, he will give a fuller description of his "systems", how these ideas have evolved over the past five decades, and much more. Both sessions include video images created by Jesse Gilbert who has worked with the composer since the "10 Freedom Summers" project.  The price of admission also includes premium coffee brewed by Mr. Smith and Creole Gumbo prepared by Gianna Chachere, a film producer and director currently serving on the Board of Directors of the New Orleans Human Rights Festival and The New Quorum Artist Residency. Both these events take place in the apartment above Firehouse 12, the entrance at 47 Crown Street.  


Villagevoice.com
The two evening sessions begin at 7 p.m. and are both chock-full of music.  The Saturday session opens with the Lamar Smith Experiment, a three-guitar ensemble led by Wadada Leo Smith's grandson and featuring William Brennan and Bentley Lewis. They will be followed by the reunion of New Dalta Ahkri, the trumpeter's trio featuring vibraphonist Bobby Naughton and reed master Dwight Andrews. Mr. Smith created this group in the mid-1970s while living in New Haven and it featured many different musicians but especially Messrs. Naughton and Andrews. Another trio follows - Mbira is composed of Mr. Smith,  Min Xiao Fen (pipa and voice) and Pheeroan akLaff (drums and percussion).  The first half of the concert closes with excerpts from the "Rosa Parks Oratorio" performed by Mbira plus the RedKoral Quartet (Shalini Vijayan (violin), Mona Tian (violin), Lorenz Gamma (viola), and Ashley Walters (cello). Jesse Gilbert will supply the video images.


The second half of Saturday's concert includes "String Quartet No. 9 ( Ma Rainey; Marian Anderson; Rosa Parks; Angela Davis)" and "String Quartet No. 10 (Ellingtonia / Reminiscing in Tempo (Movement No. 1)".  Both works feature the RedKoral Quartet with pianist Anthony Davis joining them for "..No 10."  Following that will be "New Orleans: The National Cultural Park USA 1718" and "Yellowstone: The First National Park and the Spirit of America - The Mountains, Super-Volcano Caldera and Its Ecosystem", both from 2016's "America's National Parks.This expansive music will be performed by Mr. Smith's Golden Quintet that features Ms. Walters, drummer akLaff, pianist Davis, and bassist John Lindberg plus video images from Mr. Gilbert.  


Sunday evening at 7, Mr. Smith opens the proceedings with a solo performance of "A Thelonious Reflection" which includes  "Crepuscule with Nellie", "Monk and his Five Point Ring at The Five Spot" (an original work), "Ruby, My Dear" and "Round About Midnight."  Following that, the trumpeter is part of The Crystal SextetStephanie Griffin (viola), Gwen Lester (viola), Tanya Kalmanovitch (viola), Jason Kao Hwang (viola), and  Hardedge (electronics) - they will perform "Pacifica, Viola Quartet No 12". After intermission, the Golden Quintet and Jesse Gilbert return to perform more music from "America's National Parks." 

Read this program over and look at how much music will be performed.  It helps one realize how important Wadada Leo Smith is to contemporary American music. Not just jazz or classical but many tributaries of American music.  This is a good selection from a very impressive oeuvre that continues to grow.  What a treat!

For ticket information and discount packages, go to firehouse12.com.  

Here's a recorded version of "Yellowstone":

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Arthur Blythe

Just read of the passing (here's the obituary) of saxophonist Arthur Blythe, a man whose vibrant alto saxophone playing enlivened many recordings from the mid-1970s to the early years of the 21st Century. The Los Angeles native spent his formative years in San Diego, moving to New York City in the mid-1970s Most people know of his recordings for Columbia Records ("Lenox Avenue Breakdown" still is a delight while "In The Tradition" stands out for many others) but he first came to my attention in 1977 with several releases on the India Navigation label ("The Grip" and "Metamorphosis") plus a smashing 1978 trio recording "Bush Baby" on the Adelphi label. That album featured the saxophonist with tubaist Bob Stewart (who was on the earlier Lps and would record with Blythe throughout his career) and Akhmed Abdullah (congas).  That ensemble played Real Art Ways when the venue was located on Asylum Street across from the Civic Center in downtown Hartford.  To hear the powerful duo of Blythe and Stewart together was a treat; they so enjoyed their interactions, the music was filled joy, gospel shouts, and "free" excursions.

When talking with Mr. Blythe that weekend, I discovered he had made his performing and recording debut in 1969 as a member of pianist Horace Tapscott's Pan-Afrikkan Peoples Arkestra. The album, "The Giant Is Awakened" (reissued on CD in 2116 by Ace Records,  showed the saxophonist, billed here as "Black" Arthur Blythe, already in possession of his "big" tone, the keening cry that was his signature sound, and, at that time, the big influence of John Coltrane.  In 1975, the saxophonist shows up on fellow alto player Julius Hemphill's powerful self-released "Coon Bid'ness" (later issued on Arista/Freedom) - that recording also features drummer Barry Altschul, cellist Abdul Wadud, percussionist Daniel Zebulon, and baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett. Blythe would go on to work with the baritone saxophonist when he replaced Hemphill in the World Saxophone Quartet (1990).

It was the Columbia debut in 1979 that really caught people's ears.  The dancing feel of "Down San Diego Way", with James Newton's flute soaring over the bass of Cecil McBee and Bob Stewart's expressive tuba plus the roiling percussion of Jack DeJohnette and Guilliermo Franco and the chunky guitar of James "Blood" Ulmer, remains a touchstone. When Blythe enters, right at the top of his alto's range, the song just flies out of the speakers.  The funky feeling continues throughout the other three tracks culminating with the mysterious "Odessa." One can hear the influence of Ornette Coleman in the interactions of the rhythm section and Ulmer's chunky guitar fills while the leader wails with abandon.

Blythe would go on to record eight more Lps for Columbia over the next decade, going in many directions, from the straight-ahead "In The Tradition" to the synthesizer-infused "Put A Little Sunshine In It." He went on to record with ENJA and his final four albums appeared on Savant.

As a sideman, Blythe, who was born in 1940,  worked with Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition, The Leaders (with bassist McBee, trumpeter Lester Bowie and saxophonist Chico Freeman), McCoy Tyner, Joey Baron, and percussionist Gust William Tsillis.  Over the past decade, he had to stop playing due to complications from Parkinson's Disease.

Arthur Blythe will be remembered for his generous sound, his gentle soul, and his exciting music.  Below are a few examples of his artistry and his joyous approach to Black American Music.






Mr. Blythe in Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition:



Here are The Leaders from 1989:



From drummer Joey Baron's "Down Home" with Bill Frisell (guitar) and Ron Carter (bass):



Ethan Iverson posted this tribute:
ethaniverson.com/2017/03/27/arthur-blythe-the-generous-avant-gardist/

Nate Chinen from WBGO-FM published this remembrance:
wbgo.org/post/arthur-blythe-powerful-alto-saxophonist-who-gracefully-straddled-styles-dies-76

Rest In Peace, Arthur Blythe - thank you for all that joyous music!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Trios Live & on Record Late March

Corey Warner photo
Trio M - Myra Melford (piano), Mark Dresser (bass), and Matt Wilson (drums) - will perform this Friday March 31 as part of the Spring 2017 Concert Series at Firehouse 12.  Collectively, it's the ensemble's second appearance at the Crown Street venue (April 2012) and, overall, the 19th time one, two, or all three have appeared in the Elm City performance space. Each musician is a leader but, when they work together, it's a joy to listen.  Their music blends so many influences, can be "free" or highly structured, with ensemble playing that leads to great solos and songs that tell stories.  It's not always easy for three fine musicians to mesh but these Ms challenge each other even as they support each other.

The first set starts at 8:30 p.m. with the second - separate admission - at 10 p.m.  For ticket information, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.  To fond out more about Trio M, go to www.myramelford.com/projects/project/display/id/1/Trio-M.

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme continues its weekly forays into contemporary jazz with two more great shows this weekend.  On Friday, it's the Donald Vega Trio. A deft pianist and fine composer, Vega is not only a leader but also the 1/3rd of bassist's Ron Carter's Trio.  His most recent CD, 2015's "With Respect to Monty" (Resonance Records), is Vega's investigation lf the music of fellow pianist Monty Alexander.  The recording is a delight from start to finish, not just because Vega is such a fine pianist but for the way he makes the Alexander sound fresh and invigorating.

Mr. Vega and his as yet unidentified rhythm section takes the Side Door stage at 8:30 for the opening set.  For more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com.

Here's a neat video about the latest album:



The great tenor saxophonist Ricky Ford comes to The Side Door on Saturday April 1.  The Boston, MA, native, has had a fascinating career starting with his studies at the New England Conservatory of Music in his hometown to his work with Charles Mingus and the Duke Ellington Orchestra (when Duke's son Mercer led the band). Ford has also worked with pianists McCoy Tyner, Abdullah Ibrahim, Mal Waldron, and many others. Plus he has recorded numerous albums for various labels, from Muse Records to the Candid label. Ford has been living i France and teaching in Turkey for the better part of the last decade, leading a big band, and recording with numerous ex-patriates.

As of this writing, not sure who's in the Quartet behind Ricky Ford but whoever they are, Mr. Ford's booming tenor and intelligent writing will keep them on their toes.  Set #1 commences at 8:30 p.m.  For ticket information, call  860-434-2600.
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Bassist and composer Daniel Toledo, born in Ecuador, came to the United States to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and is now is a full Professor of Music at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.  He also is the leader of the Daniel Toledo Trio & Pianohooligan.  The ensemble has just issued its second CD, "Atrium" (For Tune Records) - joining the bassist is pianist Piotr Orzechowski (turns out he is the "pianohooligan") and drummer Paul Svanberg.  Mr. Orzechowski is quite an accomplished musician playing classical, "free" jazz, and more throughout Europe while drummer Svanberg is known for his work with pianist Lars Jansson's Trio.

Pablo Larrea image
What stands out on this seven-song program of original material (all by the leader) is how melodic this music is and also how interact the trio can be. One can hear suggestions of The Bad Plus, of the Bill Evans Trio, of Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, but these influences are never overt and disappear on repeated listenings. Pieces such as the title track that opens the CD and the impressionistic "Abridged Perspective" move away from any specific genre into a form of storytelling that eschews technique in favor of thematic material.  The dancing phrases from Orzechowski enliven "Tawny" as do his occasional "earnest", almost classical, riffs he throws into his solo. Meanwhile, the rhythm section does its own dance delightfully in support.  Take notice of how the piano and bass go in somewhat different melodic directions on "Horyzont" during the verse, held together by the steady drums. Svanberg changes his approach under the expansive piano solo, switching to brushes and toying with the beat as the bass bounces gently along.

Introspection takes a back seat on the rollicking "Margins" - the drummer pushes from the opening moment while Orzechowski dances through the melody line.  Toledo keeps a steady pace while the piece drops in intensity picking up just in time for his powerful solo.  Dig the swing of the final cut "Near Focus" and how its bluesy feel opens to a smart melody.  The playful interaction of the trio is so attractive and disarming.

"Atrium" can refer to the open roof of an ancient house or the central chambers of the human heart.  The music created by Daniel Toledo Trio + Pianohooligan is filled with heart and with soul while its openness is so inviting. In a day and age when piano trio music is so abundant, this is a recording to discover and enjoy.

For more information, go to www.dantbass.com/home.

Here's the title track and a link to purchase the entire album:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Quartet Music

One of the joys of listening to the music of saxophonist, composer, conceptualist, and producer David Binney is that you can always "expect the unexpected."  You know that he always works with top-notch rhythm sections and pianists plus brings in people to join him on the front line who are leaders in their own right.  The "unexpected" parts of this equation are his compositions, arrangements, and improvisations, all of which he does with great intelligence and passion.

His new album, "The Time Verses", is his ninth as a leader or co-leader to appear on the Criss Cross label (based in The Netherlands). This is the sixth Binney release on the label to feature drummer Dan Weiss, fourth to feature bassist Eyvind Opsvik, and third with pianist Jacob Sacks. These musicians, who appear together on Binney's 2010 "Aliso" album) are Binney's "regular" band and, on numerous Tuesdays over the past seven years, the ensemble that has played alongside him at New York City's 55 Bar. Like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and other artists who maintained "working bands", Binney composes to the strengths of his musicians and knows they are up to the challenges he creates for them.

The recording is a suite of long pieces and short interludes that follows the composer through a "day in his life", a day that includes a gig at "Fifty Five" (celebrated in song near the end of the day and the program).  The album opens with "Dawn", a short (.26 seconds) synthesizer "sound sculpture" that leads directly into "Walk" which puts into music a person's thoughts while walking through a city.  The drums and bass set a good pace but soon the piece takes a turn, still moving forward on the strength of the melody line. A child's voice pops up during Opsvik's arco bass solo and the quartet then moves in a new direction for Binney's lengthy and fascinating solo.

Vocalist Jen Shyu joins the quartet for "Seen"; she sings her lyrics written for an instrumental that Binney composed years ago but had yet to record. It's a lovely ballad with solos from Opsvik (a very melodic bassist) and a powerfully emotional turn from the leader. The gentle vocal helps to calm the emotions as the music comes to rest.  Later in the program, alto saxophonist Shai Golan adds his musical voice (for just a moment) to the thematic section of "Where Worlds Collide", a episodic composition with numerous time changes and shifts plus splendid solos from Binney and Sacks. But, make sure to listen to the melodic and powerful drumming of Weiss.

The music that one hears on "The Time Verses" contains many emotions, compositions that invite joyful interactions as well as thoughtful solos, and beautifully constructed melodies.  Since his recording debut in 1989, David Binney has matured greatly as a person musician, composer, arranger, producer, and bandmate.  Arguably, he is one of the finer contemporary composers in the creative music community. His albums bear repeated listenings , challenging the eager listener on multiples levels.

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

Here's a taste of this fine album:




Speaking of sonic delights, one should partake in a deep drinking in of  "Trickster", the new album from guitarist and composer Miles Okazaki and his first for Pi Recordings (although he has participated on numerous recordings for the label). On initial listen, you cannot help but hear the influence of saxophonist Steve Coleman, not only because the guitarist has worked with the MacArthur Fellow for the past eight years alongside the rhythm section of Anthony Tidd (electric bass) and Sean Rickman (drums) but also the majority of these original pieces, like his mentor's compositions, build their melodies off of the powerful rhythms.  "Mischief" displays a Brazilian Bossa Nova influence while the fiery "Black Bolt" has the intensity of Ornette Coleman's electric music.  The work of pianist Craig Taborn shines throughout, each of his solos goes in unexpected direction, and he also helps to create the foundation for the pieces. Listen to how he and Rickman lock in on the high-powered "The West."

NYTimes.com
Several of the pieces have a palpable tension; whether it's the gun-shot snare drums on "The Calendar" or the prog-rock funk of "Box In a Box", the music has an edge. The guitarist dances atop the bouncy rhythm section (at times, reggae-like) on the latter track. Also, check out how Taborn creates his solo off those serious rhythms. "Eating Earth" take its time to develop, the slow melody unfolding from guitar and piano lines with Tidd's deep bass notes setting an ominous tone. When the drummer enters, the bassist creates a thick yet nervous bass line for Taborn to slowly maneuver the melody, Okazaki's quiet plucking acting as a second percussionist.

The ultra-funky "Caduceus" close the program, dancing in on a bass line that would not sound out of place on a Bootsy Collins records followed by a funky guitar lick - the piano counterpoint opens the door for the drums and the quartet literally hurtle forward.  The clarity of Tidd's notes mixed with the crackling work of Rickman gives Okazaki and Taborn a deep cushion to trade choruses.

"The Trickster", like the origami figures that grace the album cover art, has many folds and shapes, the music drawing from many influences.  Play it loud, let the low notes of Anthony Tidd's bass rattle your speakers, the drums of Seth Rickman shakes the windows, Craig Taborn's piano notes fly around your head, and the percussive attack of Miles Okazaki dig into your chest.  And, you can dance to it!

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

Here's a preview of the album: