Monday, March 18, 2019

Piano Trio Adventures & Meditations

The Matthew Shipp Trio - Newman Taylor Baker (drums), Matt Shipp (piano, compositions), and Michael Bisio (bass) - has been a unit for the past five years and you can hear their familiarity with each other every time they hit the stage or create a recording.  Because the leader takes chances, the bassist and drummer are encouraged to do so as well. In fact, the material Ship writes for the group calls for that.  They do not make "wine bar music"; instead, this music asks the listener for total concentration.

"Signature" (ESP) is the third album by this particular version of the Trio. To my ears, it's the best.  One reason is that it is the best-sounding recording that Shipp has ever made in my memory.  Many of the earlier mixes were too "compressed" for my ears but here you can clearly hear each instrument. The piano is clear and ringing, the drums sharp and the cymbals crystalline, and the bass thick and deep.  There is stunning lyricism in the opening solo piano passages of the title track and the majority of the piece like a piece by Herbie Nichols but with a more elastic rhythm.  Listen to how the piano rumbles at the onset of "Flying Saucers" plus the brilliant, rapid-fire riffs from Bisio. Throughout the album, the playing of Newman Taylor Baker stands out, not just for his amazing rhythmic drive but for the sounds he chooses to play under the solos. Check out his active drumming and fascinating cymbal work on "The Way", how both the piano and bass move with him and without.

Photo: Susan O'Connor
Thanks to the excellent recording and mix that I referred to above, every track is a gem.  Even the three short solo pieces:  Bisio's droning bow work is featured on the 49-second "Deep to Deep" while Newman Baker's two-minute solo is appropriately titled "Snap." Later in the program, "New Z" is another solo percussion piece, with hand-held sounds plus impressive cymbal work covering nearly four minutes.  That leads into "This Matrix" which, at 16:25, is the longest cut on the disk.  There's a lot to enjoy here, from the rippling piano phrases to the dancing bass lines to the helter-skelter drumming that pushes the piece forward.   Shipp is in charge for the first nine minutes before he and Newman Baker drop out for a fine bass solo, one filled with melody and thoughtful use of silence before building to a rapid-fire closing.  What follows is a short ballad for bass and piano, joined shortly by Newman Taylor Baker on brushes.  There's quite a blues feel in the last several minutes of the program and the ending is delightfully subtle. There's a slow yet determined push towards the close - on first listen, it seemed the music just stopped but really, it feels as if the conversation stopped in mid-sentence.

"Signature" is splendid music, well-played, creative, powerful, gentle at times, and certainly modern music at its best.  The Matthew Shipp Trio was quite impressive for the decade+ when Whit Dickey was in the drum chair but Newman Taylor Baker brings a different dimension that has energized both pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist Michael Bisio.  I wrote that, to my ears this is the finest recording these three musicians have made as a unit; this certainly is one of the top three recordings Matthew Shipp has made.

For more information, go to www.espdisk.com/catalogue/5000list.html/5029.html.

Here's the title track:


Drummer and composer Jeff Cosgrove, a native of the Washington, D.C. area, is fond of playing in and recording with trios.  His most recent albums include dates with Scott Robinson and Ken Filiano plus Frank Kimbrough and Martin Wind.  Over the past several years, he has recorded a trio featuring bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp (the pianist has recorded a total of seven times with the drummer), self-releasing two albums both of which feature three improvisations that cover a lot of musical territory.  The communication between the three musicians seem telepathic; each player not only does his "own thing" but also works towards a common goal - creating memorable interactions that listeners can return to time and again, hearing new connections each time.

The trio now has a third release. "Near Disaster" continues the group's improvisatory adventures. Over the course of three lengthy tracks, the longest, "October Nights Sky", at 35+ minutes, the shortest, "Last Steps, First", at 9, the band gets loose. The music they create is extremely powerful with cascading riffs from Shipp, melodic underpinning from Parker, and all propelled by Cosgrove's drums. he's quite active, reminding this listener of both levin Jones and, especially, Andrew Cyrille.  It's obvious throughout that the drummer responds to his bandmates and vice versa.

The music asks the listener to "go with the flow" - the flow is there, rarely collapsing into a "free-for-all". Notice the intensity and melodicism that inhabit the quiet moments of "...Nights Sky" and how that remains when Cosgrove and Shipp begin to power forward.  The opening of "Spherical" serves as an homage to Thelonious Monk (perhaps where the title comes from?) before the trio digs in and takes the music on quite a journey. Listen to how Parker creates such a danceable feel underneath as Cosgrove interacts with the piano.  This is what appeals to me about improvisatory music, how the musicians create new ideas from what one person plays and then go off in unexpected directions.

Photo: Jimmy Katz
Take your time to delve into "Near Disaster", don't ignore the noise because, throughout the album, the music coalesces into many fascinating turns-of-phrase and musician interactions.  Most of us know what Matthew Shipp and Williams Parker have contributed to creative music over the past three decades. Jeff Cosgrove, who keeps quite a busy performance schedule in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, is a force to be reckoned with, not only as a musician but also a catalyst for bringing artists together from different areas of creative music.

For more information, go to jeffcosgrovemusic.com.

Here's the opening track:

Friday, March 15, 2019

Posi-Tone Roundup 2019 (Pt 1)

Last July, I had the opportunity to see and her the sextet New Faces, an ensemble that features saxophonist Roxy Coss, trumpeter Josh Lawrence, vibraphonist Behn Gillece, pianist Theo Hill, bassist Peter Brendler, and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza (although there was a sub on drums). They were touring to support the self-titled debut album on Posi-Tone Records and the sextet filled The Side Door Jazz Club with its joyful mix of hard-bop and ballads. All of the members have issued albums on the label as leaders and Posi-Tone co-owner Marc Free organized the recording session and the tour to showcase their talents in venues around the United States. Everyone played well but I was particularly knocked out by the work of Behn Gillece.  I have heard and reviewed his work with saxophonist Ken Fowser; I liked the music but was not overly impressed with the vibraphonist until seeing him in a live setting.  Each solo was a compact yet expansive treat with an excellent blend of melody and percussion that intelligent players bring to the instrument.


My positive impression carries over to his new album.  "Parallel Universe" is his fourth release for the label and features an impressive lineup. Tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard, trumpeter Bruce Harris, pianist Art Hirahara, bassist David Wong, and drummer Rudy Royston (all leaders on their own except for Wong whose sideman credits are quite stellar) sound as if they are having a ball in the studio making their way through 11 Gillece originals. "Break The Ice" opens the program in a "smoking" vein, with a feel in the rhythm section plus piano as if the song would fit right in on a McCoy Tyner album.  Royston plays with the abandon one has come to expect from him without overshadowing the soloists.  Hirahara's accompaniment is top-notch (throughout the whole album) and Wong really gets the bottom moving.  


Beside the great energy the sextet exudes, Gillette's melodies do a fine job of setting the table for the soloists.  The title track's opening section highlights Royston's fills during the melody and then jumps right into a muscular tenor sax solo. At the start of his solo, Harris brings the intensity level down but just for a moment before diving into a playful improvisation.  Royston creates a funky feel at the onset of "Smoke Screen", a quartet track that finds Hirahara on Rhodes electric piano.  Wong locks into the groove giving the song a dancing foundation.  Another quartet track, "Evening Glow", opens slowly before the pianist introduces the handsome melody line.  Listen to the interactions throughout, the responses of the piano to the vibes, Wong's melodic bass, Royston's splendid cymbal work - it's easy to get lost in this song.  Hirahara returns to Rhodes on the final quartet track "Candle in The Dark", the lovely ballad that closes the album.

Photo: Mark Robbins


If you're like me, it's the faster tracks that will initially catch your attention. "Alice's Journey" is a high-powered barn-burner with both the leader and Dillard firing on all cylinders over the manic pace set by the rhythm section. If anything, "Eviscerate" is even a bit faster with the saxophonist and leader delivering splendid solos.  Dillard also plays with abandon on "Shadow of the Flame", pushed forward by the active piano, "running" bass line, and the powerful drums. Harris delivers a hardy solo before Gillece jumps in with a fiery statement.

"Parallel Universe" is the quintessential Posi-Tone release with great musicians having a ball playing tunes that allows enough time to create fine solos without going on and on. Behn Gillece is a smart leader, never hogging the spotlight but being happy as a member of this powerhouse ensemble.  Time to go back and listen closely to his previous releases to figure out what I missed. In the meantime, check out this delight-filled music.  

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

Here's the opening track:





Trumpeter and composer Josh Lawrence also shone brightly during The Side Door gig.  He plays with such assurance and a sparkling wit, even when his line explodes out of the horn, Lawrence keeps his cool.  "Triptych", his third album as a leader (and third for Posi-Tone Records) shows his continuing maturation process, especially as a composer. Comprised of three suites plus one song from the Earth, Wind, & Fire canon, Lawrence wrote and arranged the music for a splendid quintet including Hartford, CT, natives Zaccai (piano) and Luques (bass) Curtis, drummer Anwar Marshall, alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis (no relation, on five tracks) and organist Brian Charette (on the EW&F tune). 


Photo: Ola Baldych



The first suite of songs, "Happiest Together", takes its name from the opening track "We're Happiest Together."  The bright, mid-tempo, waltz has the feel of a walk through a green park on a late Spring day. Both Lawrence and Zaccai Curtis base their solos on the melody while Luques Curtis plays excellent counterpoint and Marshall sets a sprightly tempo.  "Sugar Hill Stroll" continues the "walking together" theme opening with trumpet and bass setting up the melody and the pace. There's such a bright feel to the tune and to Lawrence's jaunty solo.  "Sunset in Santa Barbara" is the final track in this suite and is a subtle, Latin-influenced, ballad with excellent muted trumpet from the leader and a lovely pianist solo as well.



Suite #2 is titled "Lost Works" and is an original piece supported by a grant from Chamber Music America funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.  Nowhere on the album does it give the listener the history of the composition but, in the promotional material (as well as on the trumpeter's website), one learns the suite is "a eulogy for the first three paintings of Vasily Kandinsky's (1866-1944) "Composition" series which were labeled "Degenerate Art" by the German Nazi Party, confiscated...and ultimately destroyed during World War II."  Surprisingly, the first section of the "...Works" (labeled "Composition #1") is a high-powered romp, fueled by Marshall's galloping drums and strong solos from pianist, alto saxophonist, and trumpeter. "....#2" is slower, darker, its rhythm and tone introduced by the piano. When the trumpet and alto sax play the melody, there is a sad component, almost a religious feel as well as a hint of a 1950s-60s ballad by Miles Davis.  After a fine bass solo, Lawrence and Caleb Curtis weave their instrumental voices around each other before pianist Curtis plays a splendid solo. Saxophonist Curtis creates a lovely solo that starts up in the higher register of his instrument and serves as a "light" in the darkness of the mood.  "...#3" builds off the active left hand of pianist Curtis and his brother's foundational bass lines.  More uptempo the the previous track, it speaks to the power of art, whether visual or instrumental, to bring one hope in troubled times.



"Earth Wind Fire", the final suite, is dedicated to the band that intrigued the trumpeter was a youngster. The mysterious rhythms of the bass and piano, the keening alto sax, the short, low, lines of the trumpet, and Marshall's dancing drum lead "Earth" in until the piece falls into a sinuous rhythm. You can hear everybody's voice as they dance around but it's the drummer who commands one's attention with his playful work.  There are moments where the music takes on an African feel. "Wind" is a soulful ballad with Lawrence's mid-range animated trumpet substituting for Philip Bailey's falsetto.  While there are no lyrics, both the piano and especially the trumpet have a vocal quality in their solos.  The bass and drums set up such a hypnotic beat and feel, it's easy to get lost in these sounds. "Fire" lives up to its name, an incendiary piece of music built upon Zaccai Curtis's powerful McCoy Tyner chords and the polyrhythms from the drums. Pay attention to the bass lines as Luques Curtis locks in with Marshall and gives the music even more of an explosive feel. And the solos from the front line are all worthy of attention.

"Triptych" closes with "That's The Way fo the World", the lovely ballad from the pens of Charles Stepney, EW&F bassist Verdine White, and the band's founder and leader Maurice White.  Brian Charette's organ work gives the piece an extra voice that is soulful and sweet plus opens up the path for Zaccai Curtis to create his own soulful sound.  Zan added attraction is the overdubbed trumpet choir that serves as the "horn section" for the track.  The piece serves as a tribute to the band and as a reminder that popular music has its roots in jazz, blues, rhythm 'n' blues, and in the communities around the United States that supported musicians when the "establishment" looked down their noses at "popular" music.

As I wrote earlier, Josh Lawrence continues to grow as a musician and especially as a composer. Go see this band live as their music, interactions, and the excellent material they play will warm you as much as it will excite you!

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

Monday, March 4, 2019

Friends Conversing in Sound!

The current edition of the Branford Marsalis Quartet has been together for 20 years with the exception of the drummer Jason Faulkner who joined in 2009.  Marsalis (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Joey Calderazzo (piano), and Eric Revis (bass) have built up quite a rapport and Faulkner (who is just 27 years old) stepped right into his predecessor's Jeff "Tain" Watts's role with nary a dropped beat.

The BMQ's new album, "The Secret Between The Shadow and The Soul" (Okeh Records), is the first quartet disk in seven years.  Five of the seven tunes are originals (two each by Calderazzo and Revis, one by Marsalis) with inspired readings of Andrew Hill's "Snake Hip Waltz" and Keith Jarrett's "The Windup". "....Waltz" (a piece Hill recorded twice in 1975, one with a quartet, the other as a piano solo) is a jaunty piece with playful yet powerful solos from the leader and the pianist plus splendid support from the rhythm section. Faulkner, in particular, sounds as if he is having such a fun time.  Revis, who is such a melodic player, joins in on the fun especially on his solo.  The Jarrett piece closes the program - if you remember the original with the pianist's "European Quartet" of Jan Garbarek (alto and soprano saxes), Palle Danielsson (bass), and Jon Christensen (drums), this version, once the band moves out of the theme, swings like mad. Calderazzo's solo is inspired from the get-go.  Marsalis, on tenor, digs right into his solo, pushed hard by the rhythm section and he rides their powerful waves.

Of the original material, the program opens with Revis's "Dance of the Evil Toys" which scoots along on Faulkner's martial drumming and the composer's rapid-fire circular bass line.  The piece changes pace several times, even going "out" for a quick moment, and features strong solos from tenor sax and piano. Revis also contributed "Nilaste", an intimate ballad that pulses with intense work from soprano saxophone and the interactions of the rhythm section. Calderazzo's ballad, "Conversation Among The Ruins" has a lovely full melody for the soprano sax plus strong solos from the composer and excellent brushwork from Faulkner. The pianist's "Cianna" also is a ballad, more uptempo but never rushed.  "Life Filtering From the Water Flowers" has a mysterious opening for tenor saxophone before entering into the body of the song. One hears a classical influence in this piece, composed by the leader, especially in Calderazzo's lovely piano unaccompanied piano interlude.  When the rhythm section (listen closely how they advance the music) enters, the music takes flight. Marsalis, on tenor sax here, creates a solo with rolling phrases, flowing lines, and powerful emotion.

"The Secret Between The Shadow and The Soul" is a delightful album.  Lively, collaborative, at times powerful, other times sensual, the Branford Marsalis Quartet is at the top of its form. Recorded in Australia during a break of the group's 2018 world tour, the music shines and sings, dances and swings.

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

Here's the Andrew Hill tune:



Pianists and composers Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn, born a year apart (1971 and 1970 respectively), first recorded together in saxophonist - conceptualist Roscoe Mitchell's Note Factory in 2001. Later that decade, they started working as a duo. Both bring a wealth of experiences and musical knowledge as well as a sense of adventure.  They have worked in both acoustic and electric groups but stick to the acoustic piano for their concerts and now for their debut album.

"The Transitory Poems" (ECM Records) was recorded in March of 2018 in the concert hall of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, Hungary.  All eight of the pieces on the album are credited to the duo (except for a section of the final track) and four are dedicated to three pianists (Cecil Taylor, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Ms. Geri Allen) plus artist Jack Whitten.  All but Taylor had died before the recording was made (he passed in early April of 2018) but the tribute makes sense as he was an influence on both pianists.
Instead of trying to pull the album apart and guessing who played which solo, I would recommend digging in to each piece and listen for melody, harmony, the flow, the rhythms, how ideas are transmitted from one player to the other, and how you will hear more with each listen.

Photo: Monica Jane Frisell
The program opens and closes with the two longest performances.   "Life Line (Seven Tensions)" (13:02), while not dedicated to Muhal Abrams, feels like one of his exploratory pieces.  Changing tempos, moving from quick, skittering, phrases to rich chords and impressionistic movements, the music holds your attention by moving in unexpected directions, almost at the whim of the performers.  The final track, "Meshwork/Libation/When Kabuya Dances" (12:49), is dedicated to Ms. Allen, with an exciting forward motion in the pianist's left hands as the phrases go from longer lines to pounding chords. There's no delineation between the three parts but one can hear subtle changes in the mood as the music shifts into a different modality.  If you listen to Ms. Allen's song (played solo), from her 1984 trio Lp "The Printmakers", you can hear how her music informs this medley from the very beginning.

"Clear Monolith" is dedicated to Mr. Abrams - it is fascinating to hear the duo build the piece from its quiet beginning to the blues-soaked middle to the quiet, trance-like, section that follows, ending with an intense dialogue.  Mr. Taylor is celebrated on "Luminous Brew."  Opening with an ominous rumbling, a quiet melody emerges. Slowly, the intensity begins to pick up while the melody opens wider.  A bass line emerges from one piano yet, before too long, both players are expanding the palette. The rolling piano lines come together before the pianists start to trade lines. Suddenly, the music explodes for a moment before coming down for a soft ending.

"The Transitory Poems" is a riveting program from start to finish. Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn marry their individual styles and create music that is powerful, exploratory, challenging, and beyond category.  Find the album and enjoy the journey these two fine pianists create.

For more information, go to  vijay-iyer.com and/or www.ecmrecords.com/artists/1435046836/craig-taborn.

When ECM puts the album officially on its website, one should be ablate listen to sound clips.  In the meantime, there are a number of videos of the duo with fair-to-middling loud quality.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Music That Challenges, Surprises, and Satisfies

Pianist and composer Matt Choboter, originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is currently, living, playing, and studying in three European cities (Copenhagen, Berlin, and Paris).  he's now signed to Greg Osby's Inner Circle Music label. His second album as a leader, "Spillimacheen" (named for a river in British Columbia), features trumpeter Simon Millerd and guitarist Maxime Rheault-Trembley in the front line plus bassist Cole Birney-Stewart and drummer Andrew Thomson providing the propulsion. Choboter is the driving force, the director, yet one gets the feeling throughout the album that he gives the band plenty of space to help re-shape (but not overthrow) his original vision for his compositions.

Choboter graduated from Capilano University in Vancouver and has gone on to study with pianist Jean-Michel Pilc and drummer Dan Weiss. He also spent a significant amount time in 2015 studying Carnatic rhythm and melody in India. All the influences play into his original music but not overtly. His pieces are often episodic with plenty of ensemble plating as well as lengthy solos, never sounding forced or over-thought.

In the instance of the two pieces in the middle of the program, the title track and "Meaninglessness", the two long tracks (8:42 and 13 minutes respectively) move into each other as if this was a concert presentation. Millerd's breathy solo at the end of "Spillimacheen" pours over into the following track.  The trumpeter continues to solo after the theme section (which he shares with the piano).  Notice how the song dissolves a third of the way with Thomson taking a short solo that has the feel of a First Nations  (Canadian Native Americans) drum chant before Choboter changes the direction of the music once again.  Sit back, listen to how all of the musicians can be heard, how what they play, even if is quiet riffs or gentle cymbal splashes, in integral to the music.

Photo: Justin Choboter
In case one thinks all of Choboter's music has an "inward" feel or is introspective, just listen to the power of the band on "Outsider."  Thomson really pushes this music forward as does the leader, especially in his exciting solo (notice how the snare is in sync with the piano notes). "Soweto" follows and, while the music tiptoes in on bowed bass and squealing trumpet, once the chiming piano chords enters, the music becomes like a whirling dervish, stopping to allow in the trumpet yet continuing to dance forward.

At 80 minutes, "Spillimacheen", like the river that gives the album its name, twists and turns, bubbles and then becomes calm, changing with every melodic or rhythmic idea.  Matt Choboter makes modern music that is every bit as intriguing as his grandfather's painting that graces the cover of the album.  Take your time and dive in to this music with an open mind and heart.

For more infraction, go to mattchoboter.com.

Here's the opening track:




I have listened to and talked with guitarist Mike Baggetta since the mid-2000s when I discovered his duo music with trumpeter Kris Tiner in their duo known as TinBag).  Over the last 15 years, the guitarist has crafted quite a career with a quartet that recorded for Fresh Sound New Talent (and featured saxophonist Jason Rigby) to solo work to a reunion with Tiner and a trio with drummer Billy Mintz and bassist guitarist Jerome Harris.  His latest album, "Wall of Flowers" (Big Ego Records), is a trio disk, this one with bassist Mike Watt (Minutemen) and drummer Jim Keltner (whose credits date back to the 1960s and include legends like Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, George Harrison, Charlie Watts, Ry Cooder, The Traveling Wilburys and many, many more).


What you have here is a delightful potpourri of sounds ranging from quiet ballads to wailing guitar workouts.  The album opens with "Hospital Song (intro)", a solo piece featuring several overdubbed guitars that leads into the trio version of "Hospital Song."  The rhythm section lays down quiet a beat and Baggetta's overdubbed guitars play a handsome melody that to these ears display a California twang (he's a native of Agawam, Massachusetts - go figure).  There are also two versions of "Blue Velvet", one for solo acoustic guitar, and the other a duo for Baggetta's electric guitar and Keltner's quiet shuffle rhythm.  Both expose the handsome melody (composed in 1950 by Bernie Wayne and Lee Morris) and leave room for solos built off that recognizable tune.  There's a sinister feeling to "I Am Not A Data Point", starting with the circular bass line which leads into Baggetta's howling, argumentative, guitar sounds (quite like Jimi Hendrix's noisy experiments with his tremolo bar/Whammy Bar). Watt holds it all together while Keltner skitters and jiggles across his snare and floor tom.  There's a similar feel to "Dirty Smell of Dying" with Baggetta's overdubbed guitars screaming, strumming, and howling in the distance over the rhythm section. The bass and drums take centerstage in the last third of the tune - the mix has Keltner's kit spread across the audio spectrum with Watt's bass right in the middle.

The album closes with the title song, a tune that starts slowly with melodic guitar chords over the solid rhythm section.  The piece take sit time to move through the melody but when Baggetta steps into his solo, the music picks up in intensity.  No overdubs, just the guitarist working with and interacting with the bassist and drummer from beginning to end.

"Wall of Flowers" is a powerful recording. Yes, it shows off the compositional and guitar skills of Mike Baggetta as well as his mastery of the studio but, first and foremost, it's a trio gig.  The guitarist has a strong connection with bassist Mike Watt and drummer Jim Keltner and everyone sounds invested in the project.  Since the beginning of 2019, there have been a number of guitar trio albums released (Joe Policastro Trio, David Torn's "Sun of Goldfinger" with Tim Berne and Ches Smith, Typical Sisters, and Lapis Trio, all but the last "electrified") - "Wall of Flowers" is no wallflower in the bunch and is worth your time to explore.

For more information go to mikebaggetta.com.

The digital album is released on 3/15/19 with vinyl following on 4/01 - here's a tune to whet your appetite:

Monday, February 25, 2019

Sounds From All Sides

Like many modern musicians, Anna Webber (tenor saxophone, flutes) is an extremely busy player. She has four ensembles of her own, performs with, at least, a dozen more.  Her newest recording, "Clockwise" (Pi Recordings), features a impressive septet performing nice original compositions all based on Ms. Webbers's study of various percussion compositions by Iannis XenakisMorton FeldmanEdgard VaréseKarlheinz StockhausenMilton Babbitt, and John Cage.  In her own words,  The goal was not to re-contextualize the composers’ original intents or ideas, rather it was to find hidden sympathetic points of resonance within the primary compositions that I could abstractly develop into new works."

What one hears is a fascinating collection of songs with the seven musicians weaving their sounds in and out of each other.  On "Idiom II", the forward motion is provided by Matt Mitchell (piano) and the drums of Ches Smith.  The melody is made up of various short phrases, often repeated, played by the band (including Smith) - at times, the reeds create a siren sound over the rest of the ensemble.  The title track moves slowly on on the bass lines of Chris Tordini, the leader's bass flute, and Smith's vibraphone.  As the rest of the group enters one by one, the music maintains its slower pace with the flute warbling above the lower tones.  Later in the piece, the melody is shared by the piano and flute, adding trombone (Jacob Garchik), clarinet (Jeremy Viner), cello (Christopher Hoffman), and more of Smith's melodic drumming. The episodic nature of the piece opens up to several different textures, all of which have a trance-like feeling.

The experimental nature of several compositions may put some listeners off but stay with it.  "King of Denmark I/Loper" starts with a starburst of sounds that all drop away for Smith's crisp, almost martial, drums that provide the foundation for the reeds, cello, trombone, piano, and bass to play a shared melody line.  There is a powerful tenor sax solo from Viner with Hoffman's cello as counterpoint - there are moments throughout the song that remind this listener of thematic of King Crimson.

Photo: Peter Gannushkin
It would be wise to find your own way through "Clockwise."  It might take a while to hear the music as a whole. Notice how the solos are conversations between several musicians - you cannot help but notice how brilliant the playing of Ches Smith is throughout the program.  Then again, after you listen three times, the brilliance of the music is not just the settings Anna Webber creates but how everybody's voice is equal. Ms. Webber also takes solo pieces from Smith and Chris Tordini, cuts them up, and reassembles them to create "King of Denmark II" and "III."  All told, an amazing project and a fascinating recording.

For more information, go to annakristinwebber.com.

Here's the opening track:



While the picture on the left looks like a folk music trio in the style of The Kingston Trio (well, no matching shirts), it's actually Stephan Crump's Rosetta Trio. The bassist and composer formed the group in 2004 by inviting guitarists Liberty Ellman (acoustic) and Jamie Fox (electric) to play pieces that Crump had composed post-9/11/01.  Their trio's debut album was issued early in 2006 on the bassist's Papillon Sounds label to be followed in 2010 by "Reclamation" and in 2013 by "Thwirl", both on Sunnyside Records.

In 2019, it's back to Papillon Sounds for the trio's fourth album, "Outliers."  Nine new originals (all by one by the bassist - the exception is Ellman's "Cryoseism"), each song a delight.  Yes, the music is quiet but most of the pieces have a powerful forward motion. All three play"rhythm" parts, supporting each other, playing melodies and riffs together, telling communal stories.  Listen to the title track, how all three create the hypnotic melody/rhythm, and how the music opens up to the short solo interactions. As Crump solos, the guitarists soften their respective sounds, making the music more melodic. The final section, with Fox supplying the repetitive phrase, finds Crump bowing the bass while Ellman plays melodic counterpoint.

The following track, "Synapse", opens with quickly strummed guitars a la The Who's "Pinball Wizard" and Prince's "Kiss." The song then moves into a delightful interchange between the two guitarists with Crump pushing the piece forward.  The song is actually pretty funky, especially the lines played by Ellman on acoustic.  "Away From, A Way To" is a handsome and emotional ballad with all three musicians having a role in the melody, solos, harmonies, and counterpoint.

"Outliers" may be pleasing "background" music but, if you truly sit and listen, the music is a delight from start to finish. The melodies are intelligent and the musicianship is quite impressive; even more important to note is how Stephan Crump, Jamie Fox, and Liberty Ellman work so well - intuitively - together as an ensemble. The Rosetta Trio, excellent music that will warm your heart and mind!

For more information, go to www.stephancrump.com/rosetta-trio.

Here's the title track:



Drummer, composer, and educator Ethan Ardelli, a native of Nova Scotia and now a resident of Toronto, has worked with pianist David Virelles and recorded with flutist Jane Bunnett. Besides his own quartet, he has steady gigs with trombonist Darren Sigesmund's Quintet, the Nancy Walker Quintet, Alexander Brown's Sextet, the Brian Dickinson Trio and guitarist Harley Card's Quintet. 

His debut as a leader, "The Island of Form" (self-released", came out in November of 2018 and features alto saxophonist Luis Deniz (Hilary Duran Latin Jazz Band), pianist Chris Donnelly (Myriad3), and bassist Devon Henderson (Civil Wray). All eight tracks are Ardelli originals, all written for these musicians, and all feel as if the band spent plenty of time together. Not that that the music feels "perfect" but that the four musicians really listen to and push each other.  Plus, the compositions all have strong melodies which opens so many possibilities for the soloists.  On initial listens, one might hear traces of the recent iterations of the Charles Lloyd Quartet (in the airiness of saxophone sound and the group dynamics) plus a kinship with the Branford Marsalis Quartet and the Miguel Zenón Quartet.  Still, Ardelli's music and the band's performances seem to owe allegiance to no group or musician in particular.

My suggestion - dive right in to this album. "Agua" opens the program with a taste of Caribbean rhythms and a touch of Lloyd's "Forest Flower."  Once the quartet enters the body of the song, the beat gets "heavier" and the well-developed melody takes off over the rhythm section.  Deniz steps out first, building a delightfully intense yet melodic flight fancy.  Donnelly leads the way into "The Serpentine Path", an impressionistic ballad that feels through-composed - there is a long unaccompanied piano section right after the full band plays the theme. The pianist ratchets up the intensity but then drops it way down for the handsome bass solo (splendid cymbal work from the leader in the background).  Deniz also works off the melody for an excellent, full-toned, solo.

Later in the program, the quartet play with great fire on "Thanks For Something", the drummer again leading the way with his propulsive style.  The album closes with "Shangri-La Pearl" which rolls along on Donnelly's strong piano chords, Deniz's lyrical alto saxophone playing plus the interactions of the rhythm section.

"The Island of Form" is an auspicious debut. Ethan Ardelli has taken the time to develop his music, to form a group sympathetic to his vision, one that would carry it out in surprising and very musical  ways.  Excellent music and well worth your time!

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

Here's the opening song in a live version from November 2017:

Monday, February 18, 2019

Large Ensemble Music February 2019

Over the past decade, composer and arranger Miho Hazama, a native of Tokyo, Japan, had developed into one of the jazz world's most in-demand artists. She has arranged and conducted for numerous Japanese Big Bands and pop recordings as well as making her mark in the United States and Europe in the past several years - she has worked with Owen Broder, Theo Bleckmann, the Danish Radio Big Band, and the WDR Big Band among many others.

In August of 2018, Sunnyside Records released "The Monk: Live at Bimhuis", her arrangements of classic Thelonious Monk songs. Now. less than six months later, the label has issued "Dancer in Nowhere" credited to Miho Hazam m_unit, her 13-piece ensemble (plus guests) that features a rhythm section plus vibraphone, three reeds and two brass, and a string quartet, the same instrumentation she has employed for her two previous large ensemble releases.  The original music this group plays is fascinating, not beholden to any one particular style or influential mentor.  One hears snippets of "pop" music, swing, hard-bop, Ellington-Strayhorn, theatrical music, and more.  That written, this music is certainly not static.  Like many of her contemporaries, the solos rise intelligently out of the melody lines and arrangements not just because the song needs a solo.

On the opening "Today, Not Today", note how natural the strings sound not only on their own but when mixing with the reeds and brass (trumpet and French horn). On "RUN", listen to how Ms. Hazama utilizes Jake Goldbas's powerful drumming to not only push the piece forward but also create the initial intensity in the music.  The interaction of the ensemble during the flute solo (Ryoji Ihara) creates quite a tension which increases during Steve Wilson's wonderful alto saxophone flight of fancy.

This is the rare recording where every song stands out. "Somnabulant"opens with the wordless vocals of guest Kavita Shah supported by the string quartet.  Then, the trumpet and reeds enter and the music drops into a slow ballad tempo over which guest Jason Rigby plays a lovely tenor solo.  Other instrumental voices are introduced as the music moves forward.  Ms. Shah and pianist Billy Test work together in the center section - when the drums reenter, it's to support the powerful guitar solo of Lionel Loueke.  The rest of the ensemble enters to support and then be influenced by the wailing blues lines from the guitarist.  Later in the program, Ms. Hazama creates an exciting arrangement of John Williams's "Olympic Fanfare and Theme", the only non-original on the eight-song program. The way the various voices are blended during the second half of the piece is fascinating.

Charles R. Hale Productions
The album closes with the title track.  There are several different storylines as the music progresses, moving from a quiet, even peaceful melody to a powerful series of interactions where the various sections interpret the melody and the harmonies (plus Nate Wood takes over the drum seat). Jason Rigby's robust tenor solo leads the group to the finish line.

"Dancer In Nowhere" is impressive and expressive from the opening note to the final fade.  Miho Hazama has grown up before our very ears. Her music is contemporary yet timeless and we are the beneficiaries of her brilliance.

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

Here's the opening track:


Personnel:

Miho Hazama - conductor, composer 
Steve Wilson - alto, soprano sax, flute 
Ryoji Ihara - tenor sax, clarinet, flute 
Jason Rigby - tenor sax, clarinet (4 & 8) 
Andrew Gutauskas - baritone sax, bass clarinet 
Jonathan Powell - trumpet, flugelhorn 
Adam Unsworth - French horn 
Tomato Akeboshi - violin 
Sita Chay - violin 
Atsugi Yoshida - viola 
Meaghan Burke - cello 
James Shipp - vibraphone, guiro, shekere 
Billy Test - piano 
Sam Anning - bass 
Jake Goldbas - drums 
Kavita Shah - voice (4 & 6) 
Lionel Loueke - guitar (4) 
Nate Wood - drums (8)


The Wing Walker Orchestra, an 11-piece ensemble organized by composer, arranger and bass clarinetist Drew Williams, has issued its debut album. "Hazel" (ears and eyes Records) is composed of the seven-part "Hazel Suite", two more Williams originals, and a reworking of tUnE-yArDs "Look Around".  The "...Suite" is inspired by the graphic "space opera" series "Saga" created by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. As a listener, you do not need know that because the music stands on its own.  The seven pieces utilizes all the voices in the ensemble; many of the songs ride on the powerful rhythms created by drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell.  The initial five tracks are fairly short but the music hits its stride on parts VI and VII.  The pounding drums and the clarinet melody leads the ensemble into "VI: Heists (or Your Majesty)", a piece that really pushes hard. The "low" instruments, trombones and tenor sax, continue the theme as the rest of the group begins to chime in.  "VII: Ignition (or Hazel)" is much slower, the tolling piano note keeps the rhythm section as the brass and reeds quietly play longer notes. The intensity picks up once the bass drum replaces the piano note yet the music never changes tempo - although the piano plays tolling chords as the piece fades - nor is there a defined melody line.  

The balance of the album is just as engaging.  "Look Around" is a smart arrangement of the original with trombone and alto saxophone replace Merrill Garbus's vocals. The ensemble really kicks into middle section which features a muscular trombone solo. "We've Seen These Walls Crumble" is a soulful ballad which, at times (especially at the beginning and in the final third), reminds this listener of The Band (Americana jazz?). The rubato middle section starts off very quietly and features a conversation by the two trumpeters (John Blevins and Danny Gouker). The final track on the CD (the digital download has a bonus track), "High", has a delightful feel with a playful bass clarinet solo from Williams, several tempo changes, a high-powered guitar solo from Jeff McLaughlin, and an exciting lead-up to the finish, once more powered by Ellman-Bell with help from  bassist Adam Hopkins.

Some of the thematic material on "Hazel" may remind listeners of the writing of Darcy James Argue.  However, unlike many modern large ensembles, the reed section of the Wing Walker Orchestra does not double or triple on other instruments.  Nevertheless, over its six years of existence, the ensemble has developed its own personality and one hopes this is just the first installment in a series of fine recordings with the promise of tours. 

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

Give a listen:




Personnel:

Brad Mulholland - alto saxophone & clarinet 
Eric Trudel - tenor saxophone 
Drew Williams - bass clarinet 
John Blevins - trumpet 
Danny Gouker -trumpet 
Karl Lyden - trombone 
Nick Grinder - trombone 
Jeff McLaughlin - guitar 
Marta Sánchez - piano 
Adam Hopkins - acoustic bass 
Nathan Ellman-Bell - drums 




Guitarist, composer, and arranger Chris Jentsch has, over the course two decades, released seven albums, the majority with larger ensembles.  The latest is "Topics In American History" (self-released on Blue Schist Records) and features the Jentsch Group No Net, a splendid ensemble recored live in concert;  the band features a group of Brooklyn-based musicians conducted by JC Sanford. The seven-song program covers, in its own special way, 460+ years of history Starting with "1491", just before the European ships ventured to the Caribbean; it's obvious this is an abstract history clarified by the liner notes. Still, the various voices of the ensemble, the strong rhythm section, and the intelligent arrangements help the listener to understand how the events referred to in the song titles helped to the shape the present day

Photo: Gina Renzi

The Copland-esque "prairie" ramble that opens "Manifest Destiny" gives way to a handsome melody (excellent colors from the reeds, brass, and guitar in the background) leads to solos by bassist Jim Whitney, onto a delightful conversation between the leader and the clarinet of Mike McGinnis who then steps out for a powerful solo before Jason Rigby creates a lovely soprano sax solo.
Before the songs closes, other voices step out for monetary solo and duo lines pushed forward by drummer Eric Halvorson.


Just as the pioneers discovered new territories, the listener can do that with these songs.  There are touches of darkness in "Dominos", a piece inspired by the Red Scare of the 1950s (Cold War and McCarthyism).  The leader takes a long impassioned solo followed by an equally powerful solo from Rigby, here on tenor sax. Throughout the album, the arrangements leave space for the various voices to interact and nobody is ignored.

Photo: Gayle Cornish
The album closes with "Meeting At Surratt's", a reference to Mary Surratt's boarding house where the group that plotted to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln met. She was hanged for her association with the conspirators although the evidence against her was weak. The song, introduced with martial drumming, has a traditional feel and a melody line led by the tenor saxophone. After Rigby creates a fascinating tenor sax statement, the leader steps out for a robust solo, his lines rising above the ensemble and leading them to the finish.  

"Topics In American History" is filled with good melodies and excellent musicianship.  Every solo stands out as do the arrangements around the melody and the verses.  Jentsch Group No Net, the brainchild of Chris Jentsch, tells us stories worth paying attention to.

For more information, go to chrisjentsch.com.

Personnel:

Chris Jentsch - electric guitar
Michael Gentile - flutes
Mike McGinnis - clarinets
Jason Rigby - tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
David Smith - trumpet, flugelhorn
Brian Drye - trombone
Jacob Sacks - piano
Jim Whitney - acoustic bass
Eric Halvorson - drums, percussion
JC Sanford - conductor