Monday, July 16, 2018

Magical Moments of Music

If you listen to music from other countries and other hemispheres, one thing you may notice is how the populations in warmer climes (Central and South America, Africa, The Middle East, the Pacific Islands, to name a bunch) create music that blends percussion with melody, often with delightful results.  If one only listened to the ECM Records albums by Egberto Gismonti (pictured left), you might think he was an acoustic musician/composer with a great understanding in his country's indigenous music as well as European classical music. He is that and much more. Try and find Mr. Gismonti's Brazilian recordings from the 1970s and 80s. There, you hear music that combines even more influences, including the "Tropicália" movement of the late 1960s that produced such amazing artists such as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto, and Tom Zé.


Resonance Records owner George Klabin has been a huge fan of the Brazilian's music since he first heard his musician in the 1970s.  In 2016, he introduced clarinetist/saxophonist Eddie Daniels to Gismonti's music and the seeds for "Heart of Brazil" were planted. Daniels made several suggestions, including hiring Ted Nash to write arrangements as well as the idea of pairing a string quartet with a "jazz" quartet.  The producer picked the material, all but one piece ("Tango Nova", composed by Daniels) from Gismonti's Brazilian albums and employed the Harlem Quartet - violinists Ilmar Gavilán and Melissa White, violist Jamey Amador, and cellist Felix Umansky - putting them in the studio with Daniels, pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Kevin Axt, and drummer Marco Zottarelli.  Besides Nash's five arrangements), long-time Resonance Records arranger Kuno Schmid arranged five pieces while pianist Nelson added two and Mike Patterson (who had arranged pieces on Daniels's duet albums with pianist Roger Kellaway).

Photo: Detroit Jazz Festival
The results are, in a word, magnificent.  Bask in the delightful melodies of the faster pieces such as the two that open the album, "Loro" and "Baiâo Malandro". The former has been covered numerous times by artists such as Esperanza Spalding, guitarist Paolo Martell, and, most recently, by Anat Cohen on her Tentet recording "Happy Songs." That's understandable, with its joyous "Flight of the Bumblebee"-like melody line.  Note here how strings flow around the melody but also how Daniels' solo is echoed by the rousing drum work of Zottarelli.  The string quartet introduces the latter tune hinting at the funky, fast-paced tune to follow. If anything, the melody line is even faster than its predecessor. Played here by Daniels and Nelson, it's absolutely breathtaking! (Check out the original version here). The drummer is quite the spark plug here as well.

The ballads chosen for the album each have their charms and surprises.  "Trem Noturno" ("Night Train") opens as slow moody melody for tenor sax and piano before bursting into a fiery mid-section (including a splendid piano intro and give-and-take between strings and tenor), and then into a slower clarinet solo and the rapid-fire close.  "Auto-Retrato" ("Self-Portrait") includes a lovely string quartet intro before Daniels (clarinet) and Nelson play the melody. The entire ensemble then enters and the piece moves forward gently.  More of a classical feel is heard on "Adagio", the strings bathing the clarinet in showers of sweet counterpoint - take note of bassist Axt's fine accompaniment and Zottareilli's lovely brush work.

"Heart of Brazil" is a oft-times dazzling tribute to the music of Egberto Gismonti played with heart, soul, and wit by Eddie Daniels and company. It's a lot of music for one CD (nearly 78 minutes) yet I have no idea what the producer could have edited.  Take your time and deep breath, dive in and no matter where you emerge, the guarantee is that you'll be bot entertained and refreshed!

For more information, go to eddiedanielsclarinet.net.

Here's the official release promo video from Resonance Records:




Guitarist and composer Jean Chaumont, born in France, moved to Princeton, New Jersey, in 2014 and slowly, steadily, began playing his own music in the United States. Back home, he had composed music for advertisements, short films, and documentaries plus arranged pieces for several different artists.  For his debut album "The Beauty of Differences" (Misfitme Music), he gathers an excellent group of musicians - saxophonist Sam Sadigursky, pianist and Rhodes player Michael Bond, bassist Ike Sturm, and drummer Rudy Royston - to play nine original works.  Chaumont plays an electric acoustic guitar (with effects) plus steel string and nylon string guitars. While he is intimately involved in all phases of this music, he does not hog the spotlight giving plenty of room for others to solo.  Sadigursky plays both tenor and soprano saxes throughout (but no clarinet) with the tenor adding weight to the music.  Bond, who has worked with the Captain Black Big Band and saxophonist Tim Warfield among others, often matches the guitarist's impressionistic work - even his Rhodes work has a lighter quality.  Royston, who can light a fire under any ensemble, does not only play with his usual gusto but also displays his sensitive brush work and ultra-musical use of cymbals.

Photo: Eastman Guitars
The title tune adds the vocals of Vinod Gnanaraj, sung in his native Tamil language, and the splendid percussion of John Hadfield.  With the quintet swirling around them, the music goes in various directions at different tempi.  Tierney Sutton adds her lovely voice to "Prayer For Creation" which celebrates the Creator in word and song (lyrics by Cathy Yost).  The blend of acoustic guitar, soprano saxophone, and voice is quite pretty. Notice how the rhythm section moves the piece forward without force.

One can hear the influences of Chick Corea and progressive rock on pieces such as "PPCB" with its rapid-fire opening an d chordal progressions.  Royston kicks hard during the solo section, pushing Bond and Sadigursky to really dig in.  The album opener "Renewed Perspective" starts quietly but builds in intensity as Chaumont's long solo unwinds. The ballads engage the listener with fine melody lines ands intelligent solos. The rich tenor tones of Sadigursky dominate the first 2/3rds of "This One is For You", moving his way through the melody with emotion and grace.  The leader takes a short but sweet solo over the shimmering cymbals.  "For Each One of Them" starts ever-so-slowly with guitar, bass, and drums moving gracefully through the melody (note the excellent bass work).  Then the tenor enters leading the piece forward until the guitarist changes the direction with his rhythmical chord strumming. Bond, Chaumont, and Sadigursky exchange short solo lines as Royston creates a storm below.  The drummer gets his own spotlight, heating up the proceedings as he is wont to do.

Drawing: Jaynie McCloskey
"The Beauty of Differences" is a response to the New World that Jean Chaumont has moved to. Instead of being repelled by the craziness, he searches for beauty, for communication, for interaction, and for hope.  The quintet is in sync throughout, not just respecting the composer's intent but building upon it, making his ideas sing.  If you give this music more than a cursory listening, you'll be impressed by the depth and emotion of the performances.

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

The vast majority of the proceeds from the sale of the album go to finance the excavation of wells in Sakata region of Malawi, a landlocked republic in Southeast Africa.  Particularly hard-struck by drought and the AIDS virus, the country is aided by the NGO, Villages in Partnership - to find out more, go to villagesinpartnership.org.


Take a listen:

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Morning and Evening Music (Pt 1 - the Tenor Edition)

The past month has included the usual "stuff of life", from convalescing partners to losing a favorite animal to sad deaths in the community to the long East Coast heat wave.  While I still have been listening to the piles of CDs and mp3s that clutter my desk/desktop, writing time has diminished sharply.  As for the listing part, there was a week where Miles Davis's "In a Silent Way" and music from the John Coltrane Quartet (concentrating on his Atlantic releases and the new Impulse "Lost Tapes.")  That concentrated listening took place in mid-June but, since then, my ears have enjoyed a number of new albums including the two recordings below.

For his seventh album as a leader or co-leader, saxophonist and composer Geof Bradfield moves on to the Delmark Records label from successful stops at Cellar Live and Origin Records.  "Yes, and...Music for Nine Improvisers" is a "concept" program with four pieces for nonet and four for four different trios.  Utilizing his high-energy rhythm section of bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Dana Hall, Bradfield creates a number of different scenarios for the ensemble.  "In Flux" shines the spotlight on guitarist Scott Hesse even as it builds color options for the brass work of trumpeters Marquis Hill and Russ Johnson plus trombonist Joel Adams as well as his fellow reed players, Anna Webber (flute, bass flute, tenor saxophone) and Greg Ward (alto saxophone. Note how the arranger weaves his bass clarinet into the ensemble lines as well as Ms. Webber's expressive flute.

What the composer/arranger accomplishes on the nonet pieces allows the music to breathe even as the ensemble move in and out of written material into improvisations. The long opening theme section to "Impossible Charms" gives Bradfield the opportunity to utilize all the voices, setting up a series of solos from himself, Adams, and Hill (especially on fire here) that are occasionally punctuated by the reeds and  brass to play pieces of the opening theme.  "Anamneses" (defined as recollections - the word is plural - from a supposed previous existence) opens with statements from Webber's bass flute, Adams's expressive trombone and the handsome section writing (led by Johnson's clear trumpet tones). Webber's flute solo over the expressive percussion and rippling guitar chords opens the piece even further. Johnson's solo is a fascinating tour-de-force, expressive, exploratory, thoughtful, and powerful.  Listening to the final track without looking at the title of the piece, I immediately thought "Brazil."  "Forro Hermeto" (inspired by and dedicated to Brazilian genius Hermeto Pascoal is imbued with a lightness of spirit - one hears it in the delightful rhythm section work, the fun give-and-take between guitar and trumpet that culminates with both soloing at the same time.  Webber and Bradfield step out from the short full-band interjection to present their own call-and-response. The piece has a lightness yet still retains the adventurous spirit of the other nonet works.

The four shorter pieces for trio combinations include the opening "Prelude" that is a hard-driving sax-bass-drums romp that lights the fire for the proceedings.  "Chorale" combines the two trumpets with the trombone for a darkly beautiful classically inspired piece.  "Ostinato" is a work for guitar with bass and drums with all three overdubbed to great effect.  "Chaconne" is the last of the trio pieces. Composed for soprano sax (Bradfield), Ward's alto, and tenor (Ms. Webber), it's also classically oriented and attractive.

"Yes, and..." is inspired by the improvisational techniques created by Chicago's Compass Players in the mid-1950s whose comedy skits inspired the work of Second City and other experimental troupes. Geof Bradfield also cites his studies of French composer Olivier Messiaen's variety of ideas about rhythm, melody, and harmony on his preparation of this material. Over the course of the saxophonist's career, he's paid tribute to Melba Liston, to Leadbelly, to bebop and mainstream jazz, and the inspiration of African rhythms. One can see that this new album is a continuation of all of his studies, his maturity as a composer and arranger, and his desire to continue searching. We who listen closely reap the rewards of his adventurous musical mind.

For more information, go to geofbradfield.com.

Here's a different edition of the nonet playing Herbie Hancock's "The Prisoner" (from late March 2017 - it will give you a good idea of the ensemble's sound and Bradfield's arranging talent):


For his fifth release on Posi-Tone Records, "Wheelhouse", tenor saxophonist and composer Tom Tallitsch has gathered a strong assortment of musicians - Jon Davis (piano), Josh Lawrence (trumpet), Peter Brendler (bass), and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums), all leaders in their various groups - and let them loose on a nine-pack of originals that tempt the listener's ears and mind with fine melodies and excellent improvisation.  It helps that the rhythm section is quite strong, from Davis's sparkling accompaniment and fine solos to Brendler's "foundational" bass work (not to forget what a melodic player he is), and Sperrazza's adventurous work at the drum set.  The leader enjoys sparring with his rhythm section: those interactions on such songs as "Schlep City" and "Red Eye" makes the listener feel as if he or she are in the middle of the band watching as the musicians push, prod, and dance with each other.

Photo: Bryan Murray
One cannot miss the sound of the blues that permeates certain tracks.  "Paulus Hook" (named for the waterfront area of Jersey City, New Jersey across the Hudson River from Manhattan) has a sweet, slowly swinging, feel with a handsome melody (note pianist Davis's lovely elaboration around the tenor and trumpet at the close of the tune). The one real ballad on the album, "One for Jonny", opens with a long, lovely, piano solo before Tallitsch enters with the sweet, wistful, melody.  Lawrence shines on his part, so lyrical and clean, his articulated notes creating a fine musical portrait.  The piece, written with Davis in mind, opens up for allow him to dance atop the gentle brush work and spare bass lines.

There are really no weak tracks on "Wheelhouse." The program closes with the aptly-titled "The Crusher" and "Gas Station Hot Dog" (the two tracks that surround "One for Jonny").  On the former, the quintet explodes from note one on a journey that roils and rollicks thanks to the propulsive drum work and the exciting bass figures.  Davis absolutely rocks (he always plays as if he is having the "best time ever"), Lawrence's trumpet dances with glee (goosed on by the rhythm section), and Tallitsch flat-out swings! On the album's final tune, one hears a funky beat and melody reminiscent of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" - the listener may not be able to contain a laugh or two as the quintet hits the groove, as the soloists ride the "boogaloo", and the cares of the day wash away.

Need a sonic break from the endless waves of negativity that seem to batter one from all sides.  Dig in to "Wheelhouse", enjoy what Tom Tallitsch and his creative companions have created, and have a good time.

For more information, go to www.tomtallitsch.com/about/.

Here's the title track: