Thursday, June 21, 2018

Power & Subtlety From The Rhythm Section Up

Percussionist and educator Rogério Boccato, a native of Brazil, has worked on many fine recordings including Maria Schneider's "The Thompson Fields", Billy Child's "Rebirth", and Alan Ferber's "Jigsaw", to name but three. It's easy to understand his popularity in rhythm sections: his style is often understated, spare, creating colors with his hand percussion, his delightful way with brushes, and how he can play so powerfully without overwhelming the rest of the musicians.  Currently, Boccato is on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music as well as the Hartt School of Music/The University of Hartford.  He also performs with pianist Fred Hersch (Pocket Orchestra), saxophonist Jimmy Greene, and with the Maria Schneider Orchestra.

His debut album as a leader is "No Old Rain" (Red Piano Music) and it features the Rogério Boccato Quarteto with Dan Blake (tenor and soprano saxophones), Jay Anderson (bass), and Nando Michelin (Fender Rhodes).  The two-day session (June 1-2, 2016), recorded in bassist Anderson's home studio, is a 10-song program featuring music composed by Milton Nascimento, Egberto Gismonti, Toninho Horta, and Edu Lobo.  The use of Fender Rhodes may remind some listeners of Chick Corea's work with the acoustic version of Return to Forever (the group that first recorded for ECM) and Herbie Hancock's work on Wayne Shorter's interpretations of Nascimento's music on "Native Dancer" (1974).

Blake's soprano playing is quite impressive (and, happily, not just a clone of Shorter's iconic playing) - when he and Anderson make their way through Lobo's "Canto Triste", they do so with warmth and emotional tenderness.  If you have never paid attention to Anderson's bass work, he is one of the modern masters of ensemble playing, with a rich tone and an intuitive ear for counterpoint. In the opening minutes of Horta's "Bicycle Ride", he and Blake, on tenor, introduce the melody, work through it playing melodic phrases with and apart from each other, before the Rhodes and drums enter.  The addition of Michelin and Boccato changes the tone of the piece, moving the music away from the melody into more rhythmic areas.


The program is also intelligently programmed.  The first three tracks - Nascimento's "Cais" and "Clube da Esquina no. 2" plus Gismonti's "Tango" - flow easily into each other.  The next three tracks do the same - the afore-mentioned "Bicycle Ride", Gismonto's "Bianca" and Nascimento's "Cravo e Canela" - and it gives the listener the feeling of being a spectator, watching the four musicians feed off each other and the material, making logical musical decisions as well as surprising connections.  Later on the album, the Quarteto pairs Horta's "Pedro da Lua" and "Viver de Amor." On the latter track, Michelin creates a delightful solo as he rides the waves created by Boccato and Anderson, interacting with them as well as raising the intensity leading into Blake's powerful tenor solo.  

"No Old Rain" is a delightful exploration of Brazilian music that not only shows the influence the four featured composers had on percussionist Rogério Boccato but how he was influences by the North American musicians who explored the music of his native Brazil.  It's so easy to listen to this recording from beginning to end, 56 minutes of pure joy in playing music that speaks to the heart, the soul, and the feet.

For more information, go to rogerioboccato.com.

Here's a live version of the opening track (note Michelin on acoustic piano):





Bassist and composer Noam Wiesenberg, a native of Tel Aviv, Israel, first studied cello before switching to acoustic bass (at the age of 20). In his native country, he played with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Haifa Symphony Orchestra, and the Israeli Defense Force Education Unit Orchestra.  He studied composition and arranging at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance as well as jazz performance at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Ramat HaSharon, Israel. Wiesenberg then moved to the United States to study at Berklee College in Boston.  After graduation, the bassist moved to New York City where he has worked with saxophonist Dave Liebman, drummers Antonio Sanchez and Billy Hart, guitarists Lage Lund and Jonathan Kreisberg, pianist Aaron Goldberg, and vocalist Camilla Meza. He also arranged music for vocalist Lalah Hathaway that she performed with the Metropole Orkest (conducted by Vince Mendoza) as well as serving as arranger/music director of drummer Ari Hoenig's Nonet.

All those experiences has led Noam Wiesenberg to his debut recording as a leader.   "Roads Diverge" (BJU Records) finds the bassist in the company of Philip Dizack (trumpet), Immanuel Wilkins (alto saxophone, clarinet), Shai Maestro (piano, Fender Rhodes), and Kush Abadey (drums) with tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens on the title track. Abadey is one of those drummers, like Rudy Royston and Eric Harland, who not only makes the music seem brighter but also creates colors with his fine cymbal work. Listen how he pushes the band forward on the title track. He and Wiesenberg lock in the groove but also move in and out, prodding the soloists to move in different directions. The drummer's work is so subtle throughout the first 2/3rds of "Shir Le'Shir" but notice how he, Maestro, and the bassist push below saxophonist Wilkins during his excellent solo.

Photo: BJU Records
The joy of this record comes from the excellent compositions, songs that have smartly constructed melodies and intelligent arrangements plus solos that are usually built off those melodies.  Philip Dizack's trumpet tone is bright and clear, his notes well-articulated while solos are often exciting.  He and Wilkins trade zones on "Resfeber", winding in and around each other as the rhythm section pours on the fire. Listen also tho the fine piano work of Maestro whose playing is a delight all the way through the program. Dizack shines on the ballad "Melody For Ido", his combination of phrases, some rising high in the trumpet's range, bringing a sense of controlled fire.  When that is meshed with Wilkins's warm alto tones, the results are impressive.

As for the bassist, he rarely solos, preferring to build the foundations of the majority of the nine tracks.  The two exceptions are the opening "Prelude", in which Wiesenberg plays the melody over the piano and keyboard effects of Maestro, and the album's final track, Radiohead's "The Tourist."  Wiesenberg overdubs himself on pizzicato and arco bass, not only playing the melody but also harmony and counterpoint on arco placed across the sound spectrum.  He also plays a short pizzicato solo.  Technically, it's brilliant without being flashy or showy.

"Roads Diverge" is an impressive debut album. All of Noam Wiesenberg's talents are on display, illustrating an artist with great promise and a fine ear for melodies and harmonies.  The quintet he writes for gives him a very large palette of sounds and the bandleader takes full advantage.  Give Noam Wiesenberg and his music a close listen.

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

Here's the band in concert (February 2018):

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Playing Catch Up June '18

When one comes across a title such as "You Eat My Food, You Drink My Wine, You Steal My Girl", you either expect a comedy album or one by blues belter. You also expect there is a story behind it.  There is and it's one of "right place, right time" incidents. Leslie Pintchik overheard someone say those very words as the pianist and composer was walking through Soho in New York City.

For this, her sixth album as a leader (all but two on her Pintch Hard label) brings back the "core" band of her previous releases and that would be  bassist and guitarist Scott Hardy, drummer Michael Sarin, and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi.  Also returning on two tracks are Steve Wilson (alto saxophone) and Ron Horton (trumpet, flugelhorn) and, on two different tracks, Shoko Nagai (accordion).

If you have never heard Ms. Pintchik's music, you might be surprised that she actually studied 17th Century English Literature (all the while playing piano).  She found playing piano more rewarding and has kept up a busy schedule over the past decade + (currently, she has a regular trio gig with Hardy and Sarin every other Saturday night at Alvin & Friends in New Rochelle.  Still, her songs have a story quality; that gives them more depth than songs written to "blow on."  Certainly there are solos here but never at the loss of a good melody line.

The qualities I have admired in her previous - intelligent melodies, smart interplay with the band, and solos that unwind in the most fascinating ways - all that and more is evident on the new recording.  The title track bounces with a delightful funky feel, the horns alternating between quick jabs and flowing melodic phrases. Ms. Pintchik solos almost from the get-go riding gleefully along the percussion pop of Sarin and Takeishi.  Hardy overdubs a rippling solo: one hears a touch of later Steely Dan in the blend of rhythms and the guitar work.  Wilson steps out as well, her sweet alto sound dancing right along with the band.

Besides six originals, there are two standards.  A soft Caribbean feel inhabits the rhythms of "I'm Glad There Is You", a tune composed in the early 1940s by Jimmy Dorsey and Paul Madeira.  The piece has been covered by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, and Beyonce! You can hear that Ms. Pintchik knows the lyrics and enjoys the melody - her solo has an airy, gentle, feel and, if you pay close attention, it also swings.  "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" follows, Takeishi's "popping" percussion leading the rhythm section into a samba.  Hardy overdubs acoustic guitar but pay attention to his fine bass work; not just his solo but how he lets the drummers create the rhythm while he plays counterpoint.

Ms. Nagai's two tracks include "Hopperesque", a ballad with samba rhythms though the accordion suggests a tango feel, and the joyful "Happy Dog." Sarin sits out but Takeishi pits, patters, shakes, and rattles on cajón and hand percussion.  The blend of the clean piano sound and the reedy accordion with the acoustic bass and percussion seems enchanting and enchanted.

One would love to see the bright and breezy "Your Call Will Be Answered By Our Next Available Representative, In The Order In Which It Was Received. Please Stay On The Line; Your Call Is Important To Us" be nominated for a GRAMMY just to hear the presenters say the title on the air (as if the networks would air the Jazz category).  I suppose it's possible Ms. Pintchik wrote the snappy melody while she was on hold but the song is too upbeat to be angry.

To call an album with the title of "You Eat My Food, You Drink My Wine, You Steal My Girl" a serious effort is not being sarcastic. Yes, the music is playful at times and it's obvious these musicians are having fun in the studio. You can play this album in the background while doing other things; music fits most moods.  But, if you pay attention to how the musicians frame the songs, how they interact, how they "listen and respond", there's more to it than meets the inattentive ear.  Leslie Pintchik can always fall back on her Master's Degree but her music is mature, modern, and worth your attention.

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



Bassist and composer Rosa Brunello is a new name to me but has been involved in the Italian and European jazz scenes for nearly two decades.  "Volverse" is the her second release for CAM Jazz and the second to feature her group Los Fermentos.  For this album, she has pared down to the personnel to a quartet that features Filippo Vignato (trombone, electronics), Alessandro Presti (trumpet, electronics), and Luca Colussi (drums). The album was recorded live in Trieste in February 2017 and gives the listener a good look into how an improvisational unit works, especially one without a chordal instrument. Several of the pieces are built upon "the groove"; the opening "Stand Up" rides in atop a slinky bass line and 4/4 drums to introduce a melody played (initially) by Presti's muted trumpet (which gives the piece a feel of late 1960s Miles Davis). The groove changes slightly for "California Dream" while the thematic material has a funky feel of its own.


It should come as no surprise that "Pina Bausch" has a dance feel as the song is named for a choreographer, performer, and teacher (1940-2009). Colussi creates a handsome swirl of percussion, especially active on his cymbals while Ms. Brunello plays excellent counterpoint for the soloists (note how she supports Vignato's solo and makes delightful statements alongside Presti). "30 Nighthawks Indeed" has a hint of Dave Holland's groups that featured Robin Eubanks, Kenny Wheeler, and/or Julian Priester. You hear it in how two brass lines wind around each other, hear it in how the opening lines are melodic, playful, meandering, and clear-toned. When the rhythm section enters, the musicians create a ruckus with the interactive percussion and Ms. Brunello's powerful counterpoint. And the electronics, in the form of loops, swirl around the bottom of the sound spectrum.

The program closes with the title track.  Like the "...Nighthawks...", the action takes place ever 13+ minutes. plenty of time for the quartet to state the long melody line and to stretch out.  There's no wasted space (even at nearly 14 minutes), even time for a short bass solo, a bass-trumpet duo,and, then, Colussi joins the action followed by Vignato. The band falls in to a repetition of the opening theme and the piece ends on a gentle note.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Rosa Brunello Y Los Fermentos is a quartet that takes its cues from groups such as Ornette Coleman's quartet with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell and Max Roach's piano-less quartets as well as bassist-led groups such as the afore-mentioned Dave Holland and Stephan Crump.  The blend of rhythms and melody is enjoyable as is the interplay.  Good music crosses borders, tears down walls, and invites you in for nourishment of the soul.  That's what is happening here.

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

Here is a live version of the title track:





Drummer and composer Andrew Bain, a native of Edenburgh, Scotland, began studying drums and percussion in his youth (both classical and jazz).  He's been active on the English and European scenes since the late 1990s and now splits his time between London and New York City.  Bain released a pair of albums around the turn of the Millennium and has gone to be a first-call musician for London stage shows and classical orchestras.  Currently, he leads a quintet, Player Piano, that is composed of guitarist Mike Walker, pianist Gwilym Simcock, saxophonist Iain Dixon, and bassist Steve Watts; Bain is also the music director of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland.


His newest venture is a quartet, one that features saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist George Colligan, and bassist Michael Janisch.  Bain wrote a program of music, took the ensemble "on the road" in Great Britain in early November of 2016.  Right near the end of the two-week tour, he took them into the studio where they recorded "Embodied Hope" (Whirlwind Recordings).  The band truly gelled and the results are exciting, enjoyable, and challenging.  The project reminds this listener of the new Irabagon CD, "Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics" - both recordings feature a group in the midst of a tour. at the height of its interactions, a time when they totally trust and support each, music which rises far above the mundane.  There is not a weak or dull moment in the hour-long program.

The album opens with "Accompaniment", a rubato work that will surely bring the John Coltrane Quartet to mind. Wave upon wave wash over the listener; there's no harshness as the work sounds like a prayer, a call for the Spirit to inhabit the body of the band members and give the the power to play.  "Hope" follows (see the video below). What stands out is the handsome melody, the powerful piano work of Colligan, the driving force of Janisch and Bain, plus the muscular and rich sounds of Irabagon's tenor.  It's the longest work on the album (12:12) yet has such a compelling flow. Colligan channels his inner McCoy Tyner, his right hand dancing across the keys in abandon but never does he get lost.  Pay attention to Bain and how he both directs and drives the band.

BBC.UK
There's so much to like here. The deep funk opening of "Responsibility" (a big dollop of New Orleans in that piano), leads to a rollicking tune on which the rhythm section gets to solo and strut their own stuff.  "Listening" opens in a lighter, airy, manner before the band kicks and the piece takes off in high gear.  Irabagon's solo rises above the frenetic rhythm section before Colligan steps out on his own. Play attention to how both the bassist and drummer connect with each other and the soloist, feeding off the energy the pianist supplies. I'm not sure they could play the main theme any faster and still be so melodic.

The album goes out with "Hope (Reprise)" picking up from where the earlier version faded out. Note the gospel figure in the piano, Irabagon's "testifying" saxophone, and the delightful finish.  "Embodied Hope" is a recording for listeners who wish to be transported out of the everyday.  Like the Jon Irabagon album mentioned above, the power of the music may overwhelm some but , stay with it, the ride is quite a treat.

For more information, go to www.andrewbain.org.

Monday, June 11, 2018

You Want Live Music? Friday 6-15-18 Has Got You Covered

Such a busy week of live music and arts events here in CT. While the Firehouse 12 Spring Concerts series comes to a close on Friday (with trombonist's Samuel Blaser's Trio), the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven is in the midst of its annual two-week run, and The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme welcomes drummer Alex Syndman's Trio (Friday) and the Whitfield Family Band (Saturday).

This post features two younger artists, one a CT native, performing this Friday.


Vocalist, composer, and West Hartford native Allegra Levy comes "home" (she now lives, works, and gigs in New York City) to play a  CD Release Party at 8 p.m. in the performance space at The Hartford Flavor Company, 30 Arbor Street, in Hartford. The distillery is becoming well-known in the Capitol City Region for its line of Wild Moon Liqueurs with flavors such as birch, cranberry, rose, and others.  An incredibly astute person reached out to Ms. Levy and invited her to perform based on the fact that her third album, issued this week on the SteepleChase Records label, is titled "Looking At The Moon ", a program of songs (all covers) that range from "Moonshadow" to "Polka Dots and Moonbeams."  She's bringing the trio of musicians featured on the album - bassist Tim Horton (also a West Hartford native), pianist Carmen Staaf, and guitarist Alex Goodman - and they will play two sets.  The distillery is also creating a signature drink in honor of Ms. Levy and the new album.

For ticket information, go to www.eventbrite.com/e/allegra-levys-looking-at-the-moon-cd-release-show-tickets-45628344607. To learn more about the vocalist and her music, go to www.allegralevy.com.

Here's a track from the new album:

www.steeplechase.dk/audio/Harvest_Moon_SAMPLE.mp3.


The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, presents the Danny Green Trio in concert at 8 p.m.  The Trio - Green (piano, compositions), Justin Grinnell (bass), and Julien Cantelm (drums) - began their musical journey together in 2010 (the association of Grinnell and Green started three years before that) and have released four albums together. The Trio was signed to OA2 Records in 2014 and, with the recent release of "One Day It Will", now have issued three CDs on the Seattle-based label.

The new album is what brings the San Diego, CA resident and his band to the East Coast.  The recording features a string quartet, an idea that Green brought to his previous album for three songs. The reception was so positive that the composer and arranger created a full program for the his band and the strings. And, this is not just piano trio with strings for sweetening.  Green has created melodies especially for the two violins, viola, and cello in which the Trio supports, interacts, and creates new harmonic possibilities.  Also, Green's music has moved away from the strong Brazilian influence that one could hear on the first two recordings.  Now, one can hear hints of Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans - nothing overt, mind you but truly a sign of growth, maturity, and curiosity.

Photo: Sasha Israel
The Buttonwood gig is one of several on this East Cast swing without the strings. Nevertheless, the music should be listened to for the melodic content and the intuitive interactions of the rhythm section.  What is great about the venue is that you can really pay how the Trio creates its sounds, the communication taking place, and how they respond to the audience.

Danny Green is conducting a Master Class at 6:30 p.m. (with a separate admission charge).  The Danny Green Trio takes the stage at 8 p.m.  For tickets and more information, go to buttonwood.org/event/the-danny-green-trio/ or call 860-347-4957.

To learn more about the man, the Trio, and the music, go to dannygreen.net.

Here's the opening track of the new album:

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Three's Such Good Company (Pt 1)

Face it - at this moment, there are, at least, a zillion trios (okay, maybe only a few million) working in jazz and creative music.  Whether it's by the musicians choice or by economic need, the trio "form" is well-known to most music listeners. To this listener, the best threesomes are the ones who break, or really, "tweak" the mold and are a working unit of equal partners instead of leader with rhythm section.  It's nothing new. Remember the Benny Goodman Trio with pianist Teddy Wilson and drummer Gene Krupa or Lester Young's Trio with Nat "King" Cole (piano) and drummer Buddy Rich? They was first formed respectively in 1935 and 1951.  Move to the 1980s for the trio of Paul Motian (drums), Joe Lovano (saxophones), and Bill Frisell (guitar); they were active up until the drummer's passing in 2011. Trumpeters Dave Douglas and Avishai Cohen have led successful trios. The list goes on and on.

This post looks at three recordings by two trios, one a regular working group, the other created for the studio.


Photo: Amy Touchette
Thumbscrew, the trio of Mary Halvorson (guitar, effects), Tomas Fujiwara (drums, and Michael Formanek (bass), came together by accident or divine intervention when the bassist subbed in a grape that the guitarist and drummer were playing in.  One thing led to another and they formed a trio (now they work together in Formanek's Ensemble Kolossus, in Ms. Halvorson's Code Girl, and Fujiwara's The Hook Up - unlike those groups listed, Thumbscrew is a true cooperative with each member contributing works for the group. In fact, the band's self-titled Cuneiform Records debut featured three pieces each by the members (as does the new recording, "Ours").  Since the beginning, it's been clear that these compositions are written with this band in mind.

Now, we get not one but two new albums from Thumbscrew; like the others, both are on the Cuneiform label (a sweet surprise because the label was supposed on a year-long sabbatical).  "Ours", as stated above, is composed on all original pieces while "Theirs" features 10 classic works by a fascinating blend of composers. The pieces on album #1 go in so many and varied directions.  There's the well-constructed melody of Ms. Halvorson's "Snarling Joys" that opens the album.  She builds such a fascinating picture as there piece commences. The rhythm section feeds in ways that may remind some of the psychedelic jams of The Grateful Dead.  Formanek's "Cruel Heartless Bastard" has the feel of work by Nirvana, save for the crazy variations on the speed of the music.  The thunderous drums and bass that open Fujiwara's "Saturn Way" have an ominous feel heightened by the skewed guitar sounds.

Photo: Amy Touchette
The bassist shines on "One Day", his strong melodic feel plus his innate sense of rhythm is the driving force of the piece (Fujiwara drives it forward as well but the bass is more upfront).  My favorite song title is Formanek's "Words that Rhyme With Spangle (angle bangle dangle jangle mangel mangle strangle tangle wangle wrangle)" - it takes a long to write that title as it does to listen to the song (4:59) but what a fun cut. There are moments when this music gets so funky while the guitarist dances atop the beat.  The song that closes the album, "Unconditional", is a sweet ballad from the pen of the bassist. It's a treat to hear how each member embellishes the melody, Ms. Halvorson taking the lead, Formanek playing counterpoint, and the rolling drums that color the proceedings.

"Ours" and "Theirs" were recorded over four days in June 2017 while the trio was in residence at City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, PA.  In its own words, "City of Asylum creates a thriving community for writers, readers, and neighbors."  The directors first invited the Trio there in 2015 which led to their second album, "Convallaria."  Both times, Thumbscrew had the time to workshop the material and try the songs out in front of an audience before recording.  That could be another reason why the music sounds so fresh.

Here's the other lovely ballad:



The composers that Thumbscrew investigate on "Theirs" include Benny Golson, Jacob Do Bandolim, Herbie Nichols, Jimmy Rowles, Brooks Bowman, Evelyn Danzig, Julio De Caro, Wayne Shorter, Stanley Cowell, and Misha Mengelberg.  Some names you might recognize, others you might know the song but not the composer (Bowman composed "East of the Sun" for a Princeton review while Ms. Danzig is best known for "Scarlet Ribbons"). Then there are "foreign" composers such as the late Mengelberg, the Brazilian Do Bandolim, and the Argentinean De Caro. The project reminds me of the "Free Jazz Classics" that Ken Vandermark & The Vandermark 5 recorded in the early 2000s, several albums on which the band revisited music by the artists who influenced them individually and collectively.

That's what happening here. We hear Nichols's delightful "House Party Starting" with its melody that straddles bebop, Monk, and blues. Shorter's "Dance Cadaverous" opens gently, the three musicians feeling their way into the melody. Ms. Halvorson's electric-acoustic guitar sounds like a mandolin on the theme; slowly, the piece opens up, the intensity rises and Fujiwara leads the way.  The trio deconstructs and the re-constructs "East of the Sun", making oblique references to the melody all the way through. The album's "dance piece" is "Benzinho"; composed by mandolin master Do Bandolim (1914-1969), the music bounces along happily.

Photo: Amy Touchette
Among the 10 cuts are two surprising performances. Jimmy Rowles's "The Peacocks" is a certified "classic standard" with hundreds of cover versions since the original was issued in 1975 as a duo piece featuring the composer on piano with saxophonist Stan Getz. Here, the trio opens the piece in rubato but soon moves onto the melody in a slow, gentle, fashion.  Ms. Halvorson's effects create a short echo at the end certain but she stays true to the melody through the bridge and into the next verse (the bass counterpoint is also gentle and filled with quiet spaces). While the guitar dominates the solo section, the rhythm section keeps its cool and the piece is a treat. The reading of "Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)" owes much to guitarist Johnny Smith's 1958 version (listen here), especially is slow and steady pace as well as the gentle reading of the melody. Fujiwara's brush work is so sweet while Formanek is steady and solid beneath the wide-ranging solo.

"Ours" is a blueprint for the music of Thumbscrew - yet, the band has been together for three years at the time of the recording so one feels this album is as much listeners to understand the myriad influences that goes into the compositions of Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek, and Tomas Fujiwara.  The trio is one tour the second half of June and then has a six-day run at The Village Vanguard in New York City (July 17-22). One hopes this excellent pair of recordings gives a boost to the fortunes of Cuneiform Records, one of the most impressive of independent labels in the United States.

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

Here's the Herbie Nichols track:



Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Pianist and composer Theo Hill, a native of Albany, New York, first studied jazz piano with the late (and, in her neck of the woods, legendary Lee Shaw (1926-2015). After graduating from the Jazz Conservatory at SUNY/Purchase, Hill moved to New York City.  Slowly yet steadily, he has built quite the resume working with drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, trumpeter Wallace Roney, vocalist Gregory Porter, and many others. He has recorded with trombonists Frank Lacy and David Gibson; currently he holds down the piano chair in the Mingus Big Bang and with T. S. Monk. His debut album. "Live at Smalls", came out on SmallsLIVE in 2014 and featured a quintet. Hill now records for Posi-Tone Records which released his label debut, a trio date titled "Promethean", in May of 2017.

Hill's new Posi-Tone recording, "Interstellar Adventures", features the first-rate rhythm section of Rashaan Carter (acoustic and electric bass) and the sublime Rudy Royston (drums and percussion).  The ensemble alternately dances, roars, pounds, caresses, and glides its way through a program that includes five Hill originals plus five songs by composer/performers you could say are the pianist's influences and musical mentors.  "Promethean" only had one original amidst the 11 tracks, with two composed by the late Kenny Kirkland.  You can hear the influence of that pianist's appealing ballad "Revelations" as well as on Hill's originals, such as the title track. It's in the turn of a phrase or the attack at the beginning of the solo; not overt but there.  Hill also covers Marcus Miller's "For Those Who Do" and one can hear how his flowing lines show that pianist's influence.

Instead of looking and listening for influences, dig into the music itself.  The trio shines on Tony Willams's "For Those Who Do", a fiery number that flies forward on the propulsive bass lines and the thunderous drums.  Hill taps into those energy sources, builds on its intensity, and delivers a stunning performance. Sam Rivers's "Cyclic Episode" may start in a gentler fashion but soon builds up its own head of steam. This time, it's Royston responding to Hill's flying fingers and matching him phrase for phrase, power to power. Carter's bass is the foundation but he really captures the intensity. Hill moves to electric piano and Carter to electric bass for a romp through Jan Hammer's "Thorn of a Wild Rose", a tune the composer recorded with both Charlie Mariano and Elvin Jones.  The thick bass groove, the delightful cymbal work, and the leader's strong piano work give the song a real lift.

Hill's originals shine as well. After an introspective opening statement, "The Comet" thunders out on the power of the pianist's left hand (a hint of McCoy Tyner here), Carter's intelligent bass work, and Royston's percussive storm. It's breathtaking music at any volume but, played very loud, might just bring down walls. The album closes with "Enchanted Forest" with both Carter and the pianist going "electric." The bassist gets the first solo, showing a melodic side to his obvious impressive technique.  Hill approaches the electric piano in a different manner, somewhat quieter, and enjoying the sonic capabilities of the instrument. It's a placid finish to an imposing program.

The interaction of the three musicians, the intelligent compositions, and knowing the strengths of the rhythm section, all that and more makes "Interstellar Adventures" worth listening to again and again.   Theo Hill is making the most of his many and varied collaborations and sideman gigs, maturing before our very ears.  Going to be exciting to see and hear how he continues to grow.

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

Turn it up and feel the power:

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Lady Sings the Blues, The Drummer Creates Many Hues, & Great Music Made by Two!

Amy Cervini is a busy and very modern women. The Canadian-native has a family with producer Oded Lev-Ari (with two young children), she owns (or co-owns) a publicity firm, and is one-third of Duchess trio (along with Melissa Stylianou and Hilary Gardner).  With Duchess, she is co-host of the group's very enjoyable podcast "Harmony and Hijinks."

For her fifth solo recording, "No One Ever Tells You" (Anzic Records), Ms. Cervini has dug deeper into the blues than in the past, producing a powerful album whose emotions run deep. Her crackerjack band - Jesse Lewis (guitars), Michael Cabe (piano), Matt Aronoff (bass), and Jared Schonig (drums) plus Gary Versace (Hammond B-3 organ on four tracks) -  helped to develop the arrangements over the past few years during the ensemble's weekly residency at NYC's 55 Bar.

Photo: Shervin Lainez
The album opens with the only original on the program.  "I Don't Know" stretches the leader's voice in ways one hasn't heard before. That fascinating blend of soul and blues continues with Lyle Lovett's "God Does", adding a touch of country to the mix.  The soul dripping work of the band frames the voice and allows for Versace's burbling organ to interact throughout (as well as solo). The title track, composed by Hub Atwood and Carroll Coates, was first recorded in 1956 by Frank Sinatra but it was Seth MacFarlane's 2016 version that Ms. Cervini first heard. She replaces the big band groove with sturdy guitar work but pay attention to Cabe's excellent piano accompaniment.

Photo: Shervin Lainez
There are surprises throughout the album starting with the dream-like reading of "The Surrey With The Fringe On Top."  Performed at the pace of a snail, the Rodgers & Hammerstein frolic is transformed into a lullaby. It works!  Ms. Cervini and the band dance dreamily through Bertha Hope's "You Know Who" - Ms. Hope was married to jazz pianist Elmo Hope and has a very impressive career, not only as a performer and composer but also as an educator (her husband passed in 1967: she the married bassist Walter Booker).  Jesse Lewis's hard blues-rock guitar licks introduce "Bye Bye Country Boy", a Blossom Dearie tune that Ms. Cervini first recorded on 2009's "Lovefool."  Here, the song has a slower pace befitting the bluesy approach the band takes. Following that is a smashing duet with Versace on the Arlen-Mercer "One More For My Baby (and One More for the Road)" - first recorded in 1943 by Fred Astaire for the movie "The Sky's The Limit", the duo here have great fun recreating the feeling of the last song of the last set, perhaps 3 p.m. in a New York City bar.

The album closes with the Percy Mayfield classic "Hit The Road Jack" - Ray Charles had a huge hit with the song in 1961 (the song lasted less than two minutes yet stuck in one's brain all day) and it's fascinating to hear the original demo - click here).  But Ms. Cervini replaces the "bounce" of the original with a sultry take that does not have the humor or anger of the original yet there is no missing the singer's intention, that being "get out and stay out". The band takes the place of The Raelettes, Mr. Lewis lays down some fine blues riffs, and the leader caresses the lyrics with just a hint of resignation.

I will tell you that "No One Ever Tells You" is a treat from the opening notes to the soft landing that closes the program. Amy Cervini is a singer, a story-teller, and has a good ear for finding songs that not only fit her voice but also entertain and entrance the listeners.  And, the band shines throughout.

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

Here's the opening track:




Drummer, percussionist, and composer Chad Taylor has an impressive track record.  He's a founding member, along with trumpeter Rob Mazurek, of the Chicago Underground Duo (and its many offshoots), has recorded and toured with Marc Ribot. Cooper Moore, Matana Roberts, Eric Revis, the late Fred Anderson, and many others.  He's quite knowledgable about the history of his instrument and of the music.

His third album as a leader, "Myths and Morals" (earandeyesrecords), is a solo album of the first order.  One can hear the influence of the AACM, especially the work of Famadou Don Moye (Art Ensemble of Chicago) yet Taylor sounds nothing like that famed drummer.  There is something so appealing about "Gum Tree", a mbira solo that has a dancing rhythm, the "thumb piano" displaying its percussive side.  Other pieces, such as "Abtu and Ahnet" and "Simcha", have a dance feel as well. That latter track, the shortest on the album at 1:44, has an irresistible forward motion. Elliot Bergman joins Taylor, playing a somewhat distorted electric kalimba - one imagines dancing to that beat all night long.

There are many moments when one marvels at how these pieces are constructed. Taylor is not showing off any fancy technique but using his percussion instruments to tell stories. Listen to he builds "The Fall of Babel", the intensity moving from the cymbals as the beginning to the floor toms near the end.  Note the electricity, the drone created by looping, and the lovely African melody on "Island Of the Blessed", a piece where the sounds, natural and electronic, collide yet still dance.

I love the snap of the snare, the thump of the floor tom, the whooshing cymbals, the warp of the high-hat, all of it, and how Chad Taylor is as much an architect as a composer.  "Morals and Myths" is fascinating music, well worth investigating.

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

Listen to "Phoenix":



Photo: Ottawa Citizen
Joel Frahm (tenor and soprano saxophones) is a very talented musician equally at home in a quartet setting and a big band, as a leader or a sideman. He has worked, most notably, with pianist Brad Mehldau, drummer Matt Wilson, and is currently working with drummer Dafnis Prieto's Big Band as well as numerous groups in New York City.  Pianist Adrean Farrugia has been an integral participant in the Canadian music since the later 1990s and his brilliant play has taken him around he world with the likes of guitarist Larry Carlton, saxophonist Chris Potter, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, and bandleader Darcy James Argue. The pianist first met the saxophonist 10 years ago when both began working with drummer Ernesto Cervini's Quartet and his sextet Turboprop.  The two musicians have similar attitudes to music. Melody is king and what we do is play in every sense of the word.  They talked for several years about playing in a duo setting and, now, listeners can finally hear the fruits of their interactions.

"Blued Dharma" (self-released) finds the duo through eight spirited performances, including two delightfully different takess of Ray Noble's venerable "Cherokee."  It's as if the the first time one hears the song (actually marked as "Cherokee II"), it's in the first set and the musicians excitedly move through the piece.  "Cherokee I" sounds like we're now in the third set: the duo's interactions are a bit more contemplative and released but no less enjoyable. Frahm's soprano shines brightly on the title track. After a poetic piano intro, the soprano introduces the handsome melody. If you have never heard Farrugia play, he may remind you of Chick Corea or Keith Jarrett. I hear Bruce Hornsby, especially in the bounce created by his left hand and his impressive facility.

Their ballad work is filled with space and emotion. "For Murray Gold" opens with Frahm's breathy tenor with Farrugia doubling the melody but also providing soft chords and rippling responses.  The pianist feeds off the rhythmic and melodic choices that Frahm makes during his solo - it feels at times as if the two were gliding together, letting the wind take them wherever it will. The short piano solo is heartfelt and exquisite.  The other slow(er) tune, Jerome Kern's sweet "Nobody Else But Me", has more pizazz - the duo is in no hurry, making you sure you hear the breezy melody before Frahm ventures out on a delightful solo.  When the pianist steps out, there was a moment I heard a hint of Dick Hyman in Farrugia's sprightly phrases and rhythmic approach.

The album closes with the pianist's "Half Moon (for Sophia)", a lovely uptempo tribute to Farrugia's wife and another musical partner Sophia Perlman (they have a duo album of their own, "Live at The Musideum", released in 2012).  The powerful groove that the pianist creates is a springboard for Frahm's splendid soprano saxophone flight.

Sit in the back porch (if you have one) or in a shady park on a lovely day and just listen to delight-filled music that makes up "Blued Dharma".  Adrean Farrugia and Joel Frahm must have had great fun making this album as the music has a professional (not business-like) yet carefree feel.  Trust, melody, and wide-open ears, the duo makes magical music certain to excite the mind and soothe the soul.

For more information, go to adreanfarrugia.com.

Here's the final track:

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cornet Power & Trumpets Resound

June is a such a busy month.  The Arts world begins to transition to outside the concert hall and into sheds or tents, onto public greens and other open spaces. For those of us who live in Connecticut, June is the month of The International Festival of Arts & Ideas, a two-week explosions of lectures, walking tours, theater, indoor and outdoor concerts, a cornucopia of events that take over the city of New Haven to give audiences an amazing view of what the human mind and body is capable of.

That writ, this post only covers one event from the Festival. Instead, the focus is on two concerts and one recording, all of which feature cornetists or trumpeters.  Here's a quick overview courtesy of www.beginband.com: "The trumpet or cornet is the smallest and highest member of the brass family. As with all brass instruments, the sound is produced by buzzing the lips into a mouthpiece. The difference between a trumpet and cornet is very minor. They both play the same notes and they sound virtually the same. In appearance, the trumpet looks a bit longer and more slender than a cornet. The real difference has to do with the way the tubing of the instrument flares. A cornet is more cone shaped or conical than a trumpet."



Several weeks ago, cornetist, composer, and all-around great person Stephen Haynes sent an email blast about a new project that has taken several years to bring to fruition.  Knuckleball features Mr. Haynes in a brass quartet plus drummer that makes its debut on Tuesday June 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street in Hartford.  The quintet (see above) includes three cornetists - Mr. Haynes, Taylor Ho Bynum, and Los Angeles-resident Dan Clucas - plus Ben Stapp (tuba) and Eric Rosenthal (drums and percussion).  Stapp is one of the finer young tuba players, ranking alongside Jose Davila (Henry Threadgill's Zooid) and Dan Peck (Anthony Braxton, Tony Malaby's Novela) as someone who has moved the instrument into the forefront of creative music. Rosenthal, a Wesleyan graduate (as is Bynum), lives in Boston and is a long-time member of the Klezmer group Shirim and its more "radical" offshoot, Naftule's Dream.  Taylor Ho Bynum should need no introduction as he has been active on the CT music scene (as well as the international stage) for the better part of two decades.  One of the founders of Firehouse 12 Records, he has worked and recorded alongside Anthony Braxton since his Wesleyan days (and nights) as well as with guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, the late conceptualist and trumpeter Bill Dixon, and has several duo recordings with drummer Rosenthal as well as Mr. Haynes.  Dan Clucas is a new name to me: one listen to his albums, especially the two solo dates, on his Bandcamp page (danclucas.bandcamp.com) and you'll hear how he should fit right into this mass of brass.  

I understand how audiences might look a bit askance at this lineup, expecting a lot of noise and not much else.  Yet, my experience with the music that these people create has taught me that, yes, it can be challenging but it is created with love, humor, honesty, and respect for each other and the creative process. And, the experience is often better in concert than on recordings (not to knock the recorded output of any creative musician) as you can the performers communicate, sweat, act, react, interact, and take the music to places even they don't expect it to go.  

For more information and reservations, go to www.realartways.org/event/knuckleball/2018-06-12/

Photo: Charles Eshelman
Amir ElSaffar, who was recently heard in New Haven performing at Firehouse 12 with Jamie Baum's Septet+, returns to the city on Sunday June 17 to play a live concert on the New Haven Green as part of the Arts & Ideas Fest.  This time, he's bringing 10 members of his Rivers of Sound Orchestra, adding 13 members of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, and performing a program of nearly-all new music! Last June, New Amsterdam Records issued ElSaffar's stunning two-CD set, "Not Two", a recording that combined the composer's study of Middle Eastern maqams and the use of stringed instruments such as the oud and the santir (hammered dulcimer) as well as his study of vocal styles and various percussion.  The results (reviewed here), are entrancing, moving, and an aural delight.

This Sunday performance is free and open to the public.  Bring your lawn chairs, blankets, snacks, children, grandparents, and more to luxuriate in this fascinating music.  For more information, go to www.artidea.org/amirelsaffar.

Here's a sample of the sounds:




Trumpeter and composer Adam O'Farrill, the 23-year old son of composer/pianist Arturo O"Farrill and grandson on composer/arranger Chico O'Farrill, has been active on the contemporary music scene from an early age.  He and his older brother, drummer Zack, formed the O"Farrill Brothers Band and released two albums for the ZOHO label, the first in November of 2010 and the other in December of 2012. In 2014, he formed a new quartet with brother Zack, tenor saxophonist Chad Leftkowitz-Brown, and bassist Walter Stinson.  After touring and recording with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa's Birdcall and bassist Stephan Crump's Rhombal, O'Farrill issued his group's debut disk on Sunnyside Records: "Stranger Days" emphasized powerful rhythms, great group interaction, and intelligent melodies, with a sound that captures the listener on the first note.


2018 finds the quartet, now dubbed Adam O'Farrill's Stranger Days, moving to Biophilia Records for its second album "El Maquech".  All the elements that made the group's debut s appealing are evident here and more.  The majority of the new album was recorded in April of 2017 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, as the group was in the midst of its first tour.  The team of Stinson and Zack O'Farrill truly push the music forward, not just supporting the trumpet and saxophone, but challenging them (as the excellent compositions) to take the music in fascinating directions.  Therefore, pieces such as "Verboten Chant" and "Henry Ford Hospital" kick and strut with rhythmic variations and harmonic interactions.  Plus, such fire!  Listen to how the composer utilizes the front line before heading into solos. On "...Ford..", Leftkowitz-Brown comes blessing out of the "head" with a head of steam.  He and the trumpeter engage in a bit of call-and-response as well as unison "splats" before "O'Farrill steps out for a blazing trumpet solo.

Both "Henry Ford Hospital" and the title track (named for a beetle indigenous to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico) were inspired by artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954). The latter tune is built off a traditional Mexican melody that the trumpeter found on a recording by Orquesta Jaranera Sonora Yucateca. It's fun to compare the two versions: the Orquesta makes the melody dance, especially thanks to the pounding drums and percussion while the newer version is respectful of the melody and rhythm (excellent work by Zack O). After the quartet throughly exposes the melody and harmony, the solos start to move into a "freer" territory.  Even as the bass and drums stick to the rhythm patterns, the trumpet and sax take a number of liberties (notice how the rhythm goes into a short swing section before a spirited restatement of the opening melody).

There are two tracks that also call out to be mentioned.  "Shall We" is a duet for trumpet and drums, a quick frolic that is playful, displaying the love and respect the brothers have for each other and their joy for making music. "Get Thee Behind Me Satan", a spiritual that O'Farrill first heard sung by Ella Fitzgerald in the 2012  Paul Thomas Anderson movie "The Master", is performed as a trumpet solo.  It's fascinating to hear he plays the melody, breaks down the tempo as the music moves along, going into rubato, his breathiness, the echo, and how the young man brings the piece to a close.  It's a visceral shock when, just seconds later, "Henry Ford Hospital" opens with its brash clarion-call of sax and trumpet.

"El Maquech" is not just an impressive sophomore album from Adam O'Farrill's Stranger Days, it's a powerful reminder of creative music keeps growing, taking elements from different cultures, making music that is fresh and challenging.  Enjoy the roar but also pay attention to how the musicians work together, fitting their sounds to the leader's vision.  Don't ignore this album and definitely see this band live!!

In keeping with Biophilia Record's mission statement, the music is issued as a download. If you buy it from the label, you receive in the mail the fascinating origami art work and a download code.

For more information, go to www.adam-ofarrill.com and www.biophiliarecords.com/artist/?id=880174455.

Here's the title track: