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.

artstack.com
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.