Friday, July 19, 2019

Living Large Ensemble (July Edition)

This is a thrilling time of the summer for me in that I have time before school starts again to listen and to write. On top of that, I have a slew of large ensemble albums to dig into.



Arranger, composer, conductor, and alto saxophonist Ed Palermo (pictured left) has had quite a career. He has worked and toured with many artists including Aretha Franklin, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Lou Rawls, and The Spinners  He has written and arranged for the Tonight Show as well as dancer Maurice Hines.  Since 1997, he and his Big Band have been performing and recording music by Frank Zappa. Of the eight albums he has released over the past two decades, only two not have music by the late Zappa. One more splits the program between Zappa and Todd Rundgren.  He has won international praise not only for his inventive arrangements but also for exposing a larger audience to this music.


Photo: Hugh Brennan
Album #9 by the EPBB, "A Lousy Day In Harlem" (Cuneiform Records), turns the spotlight on Palermo's compositions plus delightful interpretations of pieces by Duke Ellington, Egberto Gismonti, Gigi Gryce, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and the duo of Renee Rosnes and Walt Weiskopf.  The 15-piece ensemble is in fine form throughout and there are a number of powerful solos including several by Mr. Palermo.  The album opens with "Laurie Frink", the leader's piece dedicated to the late trumpeter and teacher.  Despite the presence of three fine trumpeters (see personnel below), the solos are by soprano saxophonist Phil Chester and tenor saxophonist Bill Straub. Dig the splendid rhythm section work under the soloists especially pianist Bob Quaranta and drummer Ray Marchica. There's a splendid rearrangement of Gisberti's "Sanfona" including Zappa-like sounds in the harpsichord/keyboard of Ted Kooshian.  Chester's soprano solo is quite sweet over the steady rhythms.  "Brasilliance" is a spirited romp through Mr. Ellington's tune that he wrote for his "Latin American Suite" (1968).  Great solo from pianist Quaranta before the piece takes a quick turn into Juan Tizol's "Caravan" for solos from trumpeter John Bailey and saxophonist Straub.  The entire band plays hard on the delightful "Minority", the Gigi Gryce classic.  The saxophone section plays the melody and the brass join on the second time through.  The leader steps out for a spirited solo and then does a call-and-response with the sections.  Monk's "Well You Needn't" jumps out of the gate and features solos by the leader once more, trombonist Charley Gordon, and trumpeter Bailey – The arranger manages to throw in quotes from several other Monk tunes; all that and more in 3:02.  Tenor saxophonists Straub and Ben Kono introduce Coltrane's "Giant Steps" with the opening lines of "Dueling Banjos" (from "Deliverance") before the band leaps into the piece.  The tenorists each get a spotlight but don't miss the excellent electric bass work of Paul Adamy.



Regarding the Palermo originals, they are all impressive.  "Like Lee Morgan" celebrates the fine trumpeter from the 50s and 60s – this time, trumpeter Bailey gets to step out for the fine solo.  Tap dancer Nicki Denner joins the EPBB for a spirited dance on "The One With The Balloon", an evocative melody that also makes room for a solo from trombonist Gordon and a touch of accordion from Kooshian. Soprano saxophonist Cliff Lyons is featured throughout the sweet ballad-waltz "Affinity" though the brass and then the reeds get to play the handsome melody as well.

"A Lousy Day In Harlem" is Ed Palermo's satirical title take on the famous 1958 Art Kane photograph – click here – that featured nearly five dozen jazz greats and some neighborhood kids sitting on those very steps.  But the music from the Ed Palermo Big Band is no laughing matter unless you're laughing at such delightful and audacious music.  Put the disc on play, turn the volume up loud, and watch the party start!


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

Personnel:

Reeds: 
CLIFF LYONS - alto sax, clarinet, soprano sax on “Affinity” 
PHIL CHESTER - alto sax, soprano sax, flute, piccolo 
BILL STRAUB - tenor sax, clarinet, flute 
BEN KONO - tenor sax, flute, oboe 
BARBARA CIFELLI - baritone sax, bass clarinet, Eb mutant clarinet 

Trumpets: 
RONNIE BUTTACAVOLI (lead) 
JOHN BAILEY 
STEVE JANKOWSKI 

Trombones: 
CHARLEY GORDON (lead) 
MIKE BOSCHEN 
MATT INGMAN (bass trombone) 

Drums: 
RAY MARCHICA 

Electric Bass: 
PAUL ADAMY 

Piano: 
BOB QUARANTA 

Keyboard: 
TED KOOSHIAN 


all arrangements by ED PALERMO (who also plays alto sax on several tracks)

Here's the Ellington/Tizol mix: 




Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, composer, conductor, and arranger Jaelem Bhate has been making a name for himself in both the jazz and classical spheres.  He's now the assistant conductor of the Vancouver Philharmonic after spending 2018 as assistant conductor of the National Academy Orchestra of Canada under Maestro Boris Brott.  His classical training includes work in New York City and Oregon plus Bhate just completed his Master of Music degree in Orchestral Conducting at the University of British Columbia. He also leads the Last Call Jazz Collective and has composed works for a large ensemble.  Judging by the amount of work he has taken on, the young man seems comfortable with his feet in both musical worlds.


Bhate's debut recording, "On The Edge" (self-released), features an 18-member ensemble made up of musicians from Western Canada many of whom have worked with the composer in the Last Call Collective and all who are busy playing and teaching. The centerpiece of the album is the four-part, 29-minute, "Pacific Suite", a celebration of the composer's life in British Columbia. "Part I: Straits and Narrows" is a lively evocation of life in the edge of the North American continent with the melody and harmony shared by the reeds and brass while Andrew MacDonald (piano), Jacques Forest (bass), especially Duran Ritz (drums) pushes the music forward. Forest's unaccompanied opens "Part II: Weeping Skies" – his phrases remind this listener of Charlie Haden. The piano and guitar (Ricardo Halabi) enter next and then the entire band enters playing the handsome melody.  "Part III: Uninhabitation" opens with a somber brass chorale before a lovely ballad takes shape – one can picture the composer deep in the forests of the Province listening to the quiet all around him.  The closing section, "Sea of Glass", has a bluesy feel, a lively shuffle rhythm, and sweet melody line before moving into the solo section.  



The other pieces on the album each have standout moments.  Guitarist Halabi gets to strut his stiff on "Strung Along" as the band digs into the blues-rock feel.  "Wishful Thinking" has a delightful alto sax solo (unidentified) and impressive sectional writing. The lovely mix of reeds and brass usher in the sweet ballad "When I Was Loved", a song that also features an emotional trumpet melody and it's that trumpeter (possibly Michael Kim) who leads the way through the piece. One can hear the influence of Thad Jones on this piece.  

From the exciting title track that opens the album to the uptempo lullaby "You Will Be Ok" that closes it, "On The Edge" is an impressive statement from a young composer who is just beginning to find his voice.  That written, this debut recording from Jaelem Bhate illustrates his strengths as a composer and his excellent arrangements for the reeds and brass. For more information, go to www.jaelembhate.ca.  

Personnel:

Brent Mah, Mo Miao, Steve Kaldestad, Ardeshir Pourkeramati, Adam Kyle: saxophones
Michael Kim, Jocelyn Waugh, Daniel Hersog, Silas Friesen: trumpets
Kevin Jackson, Cam Henderson, Sean Lavigne, Sharman King, Louis Lam: trombones
Andrew MacDonald: piano
Ricardo Halabi: guitar
Jacques Forest: bass
Duran Ritz: drums


Jaelem Bhate: compositions

Here's one of the fine pieces on the album:

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Music From the Heart & The Soul

Historians believes that before early man created instruments, the first "music" was created by the voice.  Perhaps these sentient beings heard the songs of the birds, the cooing of mothers with their babies by their side, or other forms of communications that had melodic and/or rhythmic qualities.

On a personal level, I was first attracted by the voices coming from the radio. Later I heard marching bands in parades and on local football fields: then and there, I realized the importance of the drums. Nowadays, I listen to the rhythm section first and, with music that features a vocalist, I listen to the melody first and then pay close attention to how the singer responds to his accompaniment (and vice versa).

Here are two new albums which are quite different yet both speak to the heart of the creators and listeners as well as to the soul of the listener.

Peter Eldridge (pictured left) is a vocalist, composer, arranger, pianist, and educator whose voice I find to be quite compelling and handsome.   He was one of the founding members of New York Voices in 1988, has released seven solo albums as a leader since 2001, works on-and-off with the vocal quartet known as Moss, and is now on the faculty of the Berklee College of Music. He also travels to conduct workshops throughout the United States and internationally.  Eldridge is currently in the midst of creating his first full-fledged musical that will tell the story of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).

Pianist, composer, arranger, author, and educator Kenny Werner has been involved with the creative music for four decades.  He has worked with so many musicians ranging from Toots Thielemans to Stan Getz to Dave Douglas to Pat Metheny to Mel Lewis and many others.  As a leader, he has released over three dozen albums and has worked as a co-leader and sideman on so many others.  He is also the author of "Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within" (Alfred Music), in which he offers struggling musicians (as well as other creative artists) who feel "stuck" and can't move forward.  He, too, plays in venues and with groups throughout the United States and Europe.


Now Mr. Eldridge and Mr. Werner have collaborated on "Somewhere" (Rosebud Music) – the program posits the vocalist (he plays piano on one track) in front of a quartet led by Werner (piano, electric piano, arrangements), Eugene Friesen (conductor, cello), Matt Aronoff (string bass), and Yoron Israel (drums) alongside the "Fantastical String Orchestra", a 19-member ensemble composed of violins, violas, cellos, string basses, and a harpist.  If you are familiar with Eldridge's music, you know he's worked with strings before but has rarely recorded a collection of such lush orchestrations.  Eldridge composed four of the tracks, adding lyrics to two others:  Werner also composed four with one he also wrote the words for.

The album opens with the Eddy Arnold classic "You Don't Know Me."  With the strings leading the voice in, this version hearkens back to the Ray Charles 1962 version but Eldridge does not channel the original but gives it his own spin.  The title track is part of a medley in which the Bernstein classic (from "West Side Story") comes first and is a lovely, powerful, reading with just Werner's piano like a harp behind the voice: it's paired with "A Time For Love", composed by Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster for the 1966 movie of the same name. Here, the voice is supported by the strings who sometimes serve as counterpoint but mostly create a lush backdrop for the lyrics. Eldridge created the lyrics for "Minds of Their Own", an Ivan Lins melody first recorded in 2004 by Nancy Wilson.  There is not an overt Brazilian influence – instead, the piece sounds like a classic ballad of the 1940s and 50s.

The originals range from the sweet, introspective, "That Which Can't Be Explained" to the bluesy "Ballad For Trane."  The latter track features a handsome tenor saxophone solo from George Garzone yet neither the song nor the tenor saxophone sound connected to John Coltrane (or, in the case of the vocalist, to Johnny Hartman.  Nevertheless, the piece stands out for its melody line and the fine vocal. Eldridge's "Less Than Lovers" (with lyrics by Douglas Worth) is a  ballad on the fence between love and hate with sweeping strings and splendid accompaniment from Werner on both acoustic and electric piano.  The influence of Randy Newman can be heard on "Distinct", especially in Eldridge's parlor-room piano and the dancing strings.

The album closes with two fascinating pieces.  Werner's "Untitled Lament" opens with the vocalist over the basic quartet then stops to allow a fantasia of strings to lead back into the pianist's reimagining of the melody.  Then, it's solo piano that tells the story before the vocalist returns with the quartet now augmented by the string orchestra.  It's a fascinating arrangement that leads into the final track, "Day Is Done (Prayer for Diego)".   Eldridge sings his song at the top of his range with the band locked in with him plus the deep, sonorous, strings.  Friesen's cello steps out for a solo – he sings along for a stretch, wordless lines that have a joyous quality.  Werner follows with his own romp before the vocalist returns to finish his prayer.

"Somewhere" is lovely music, filled with passionate melodies, strong arrangements, and sympathetic musicianship.  This is music that speaks to the heart, sings of love that goes beyond a person to a world of daily discovery, of hope, and understanding in times of despair.  Peter Eldridge and Kenny Werner have made a recording which soothes the soul and stirs the imagination.

For more information, go to petereldridge.com/projects.

Give a listen to this jazzy waltz:




I first met percussionist, trap drummer, composer, and educator royal hartigan (he's always spelled his name sans capital letters) in the 1980s when he was working towards his Masters degree and PhD in world music and ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University.  This was after he had studied at University of Massachusett/ Amherst where his instructors included Max Roach, Archie Shepp, and Reggie Workman.  While at Wesleyan, he studied with and played alongside teachers such as Bill Barron, Bill Lowe, master drummer Abraham Adzenyah, Ed Blackwell, and noted ethnomusicologist David McAllester.  He often played in the Student Union with visiting artists and other students including saxophonist David Bindman and bassist Wes Brown.

hartigan went on to teach in New York City and San Jose State University, finally returning east to join the music faculty of UMASS/Dartmouth.  He also has played with numerous artists including Kenny Barron, Clifford Jarvis, Fred Ho's Afro-Asian Music Ensemble, Rudresh Mahanthappa's Dakshina ensemble, and vocalist Dominique Eade. He also performed West African music alongside percussionist Martin Kwaakye Obeng, Helen Abena Mensah, and so many others here in the United Staes as well as in Ghana.  He, along Bindman and Brown, became the royal hartigan ensemble and, along with guitarist Kevin McNeal recorded "Blood Drum Spirit" in 1993, released on CD in 2004 on Innova Recordings.  The group added pianist Art Hirahara in 2003 and he  appeared on 2008's "Live In China" (also on Innova).

"Time Changes", the group's third album and first to be credited to just Blood Drum Spirit, came out early in 2019. It's a sprawling two-CD set with 21 songs spread over 161+ minutes.  With this much music, one is initially overwhelmed – you'll see that four of the pieces are over ten minutes long, six more are over seven minutes, and the rest range from 1:52 to 6 minutes.  Where to begin?  Start with track one, "Hits."  The song literally introduces the band with the bass and percussion leading the way while the percussive piano plays beneath the tenor saxophone melody.  You'll hear how the band uses dynamics to build and maintain its message.   Bindman rides the waves of energy produced by Brown, hartigan, and Hirahara before the pianist enters ushered by a wave of cymbal splashes.  One can hear influences of West African and Latin music in the rhythms and the early 60s John Coltrane Quartet in the energy and in the searching.  Before th song comes to its close, everyone has had a chance to solo.

That leads into "Donna Notaso", Hartigan's talking drum and steady high-hat accompanied by a bluesy piano. Soon, the bass is setting a pace alongside the drummer and the tenor sax is building the melody.  Note how the tempo changes as Hirahara steps out.  The talking drum is in constant conversation with the bass and the soloists: the listener probably does not notice he or she are getting carried away by the exuberance of the music and its creators.

Photo: Sara Pettinella
As you continue through the program, you'll note that there are five solo drums tracks.  First up is "Drum Solo for Clifford Brown/Lenny McBrowne/Max Roach/Clifford Jarvis/Ed Blackwell", a short (1:45) dance around the trap set.  Next up is the "Fomtomfrom Suite" – four times as long as the first solo, hartigan sets up a hypnotic rhythm on his drums that hearkens back to his love for West African music. Basically, he's using three parts of his kit; the tom, a ride cymbal, and bass drum. Later in the piece, he adds the high hat but the music rarely varies. The appropriately-titled "Dancing on the Drums" is a hard-edged rhythmic romp (on brushes, no less).  "Penteng" is short (1:52) but it rolls forward with an immediacy and excitement that is so attractive.  The final solo piece is "Blues For Mister Charlie and Miss Ann": One might think that the piece is dedicated to Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy (one of his pieces had the title "Miss Ann") – in actuality, the piece is inspired by author and playwright James Baldwin and is the drummer's dedication to the Black victims of police violence. The piece is also inspired by Max Roach's "Triptych: Prayer, Protest, Peace" from his landmark 1960 album "We Insist: Freedom Now Suite."  

Photo: Sara Pettinella
That last piece closes with a martial beat on the snare which leads into the next track, a 10 minute-plus exploration of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues."  It's fun to hear the quartet (Bindman on soprano sax) swing with such glee with the drummer leading the way with his "parade" drums.  After a powerful bass solo, Hirahara steps out with a barroom piano solo before the band returns and the piece goes in a slightly different direction. Suddenly, the tempo shifts once again, more of a Latin feel, and the piece picks up speed.


Photo: Sara Pettinella
CD 1 closes with a long exploration of Coltrane's "Naima", a piece with a series of strong solos and mood changes, talking drums and dancing piano riffs, bouncing bass and lovely solos from Hirahara and Bindman (tenor sax).  CD 2 opens with the longest track on the program.  "Circle of Creation/Adzohu Suite" is a multi-sectioned dance through several powerful melodies and shifting rhythms. Pay attention to the drummer's long solo (complete with vocalizations of the rhythm he is playing – that leads into a long, exciting, piano solo that resonates with a blend of American jazz and West African rhythms If you listen closely, you can really hear the interactions and connection of the rhythm section.  Brown and hartigan have worked together for over three decades: they support each other, prod each other, and listen to the rest of the band.  Bindman has been along for all those years and he, too, shares a special musical relationship.  The pianist is the "new guy", 15 years, yet he, too, is an integral member of this working unit.

"Time Changes" refers to the different rhythms throughout this highly listenable album.  Also, time always moves on and we change. What has not changed – if anything it's stronger – is Blood Drum Spirit and royal hartigan's dedication to, love for, and continual exploration of world music and how it is so much a part of jazz.

For more information, to listen, and to purchase), go to royalhartigan.bandcamp.com/releases. Check out the band's website – www.blooddrumspirit.com – for even more information. That will lead you to the documentary "We Are One", a movie about the quartet's trip to Ghana to teach, to collaborate with local musicians, and to connect and reconnect with master musicians and dancers. That can be found at www.weareonethemovie.com.

Give a listen to the quartet's take on the famous Eddie Harris composition:

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

And, Time for Four Threes!

The trio of Zach Brock (violin), Jon Deitmeyer (drums), and Matt Ulery (bass) has worked together in various larger groups and on recordings by both the violinist and bassist.  But, never as a three-piece group: that is, until the last few years (the one exception is one track on Ulery's 2014 Greenleaf album "In the Ivory").  All three are composers and very busy sidemen with Brock playing with groups such as Snarky Puppy and bassist Stanley Clarke's band, Ulery playing in numerous ensembles throughout the Chicago area, and Deitmeyer with pianist/vocalist Patricia Barber and pianist Phil Markowitz.

The band's eponymous debut album, "Wonderment", is out now on bassist Ulery's Woolgathering Records.  The 12-song program features four compositions by each member; yet, each piece plays to the strengths of the trio as an ensemble. Whether they are dancing delightfully (Deitmeyer's "Wokey Dokey") or creating a mysterious flow (Brock's title track) or negotiating a tricky rhythm ((Ulery's "Pumpkin Patch"), the music shines with creative interactions, well-drawn melodies, and fine solo moments.  There is a full-out "rock" feel, thanks to Deitmeyer's solid drumming (he "kicks it" with such glee), on "Cry Face" and make sure to listen to how articulate and deep Ulery's bass lines sound on "Yge Bieve."  Brock's blues and bluegrass sound comes to the fore on the lovely ballad "Cheyenne" – at times, the violin sounds like a voice singing a plaintive ballad.

The album closes with the high-spirited "Happy Place."  Note Brock's strummed intro (sure sounds like a mandolin) and how he dances atop the funky rhythms during his solo.  "Wonderment" indeed! And in fact. This music is a joy to behold from beginning to end.  Playing with your friends is often great fun – to do just that in the studio is an impressive accomplishment.  Enjoy this fine new CD from Zach Brock, Matt Ulery, and Jon Deitmeyer: if they are ever playing anywhere near you, go catch them in concert!!

For more information, go to www.mattulery.com/product/wonderment/.

In the months before and until the release of this album, the trio was known as Triptych.  Here's the Trio live:




Alto and soprano saxophonist Jeremy Udden (pictured left) moved to Boston, MA, in the mid-1990s to study at the New England Conservtory of Music. Once there, he met, studied, and played with people such as saxophonists George Garzone, Jerry Bergonzi, and Allan Chase, pianists Fred Hersch and Paul Bley plus trombonist/ arranger Bob Brookmeyer. He also began a friendship and musical relationship with trumpeter John McNeil with whom he recorded three albums for Sunnyside Records.  Udden also leads a group called "Plainville" that has recorded several albums for Fresh Sound New Talent and one for Sunnyside.  He's recorded with the Either/Orchestra, pianist Frank Carlberg, Darrell Katz's Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra, and vocalist Amy Cervini.

While in France several years ago, Udden met bassist/synthesist Nicolas Moreaux and they recorded album of duets plus the "Belleville Project" with a sextet. The saxophonist returned in 2018 and worked in a trio setting with Moreaux and American-born drummer John Betsch now making his home in Paris. Udden chose 30 tunes to present to his band mates including a number of pieces by the late soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy (1934-2004) whom Betsch had played with for two decades.  The resulting album, recorded over two days in August 2018, is aptly titled "Three in Paris" (Sunnyside Records) – the 10-sonh program features two Udden originals, a group improv, four pieces by Mr. Lacy plus one each from Duke Ellington, Don Cherry, and Jerome Moross. Moross's 1954 ballad "Lazy Afternoon" is a lovely vehicle for Udden's soprano sax, Moreaux's splendid counterpoint, and Betsch's smart brush work.  And Ellington's "Azure" (first recorded by the Master in 1937) has a lovely Caribbean lilt with the soprano sax lines floating over the dancing drums and melodic bass lines.

The four Lacy compositions range from the alto sax-drums conversation titled "Who Needs It" to the playful "Prayer" during which Betsch moves in a sprightly fashion over his drum kit while Moreaux and Udden (still on alto sax) carry on a musical conversation.  Even more playful is "Bone" where the drums and rapidly-walking bass lines propel the alto solo forward. Udden responds by feeding off that fire, moving "out" and away from the melody.  The only Lacy tune played on soprano is "The Crust": again Udden is in conversation with Betsch only and they jauntily move through the piece as if they had not a care in the world.

"Three in Paris" just might take its cues from the fascinating cover photo by Alain Laboile ("L'orielle" is its title and is part of the French photographer's series "The Family").  The music is certainly playful, a bit mysterious at times, and should be enjoyed for the interactions, the abundant melodies, and the sweet sound that Jeremy Udden creates with his friends.

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

Here's one of the Steve Lacy songs:



Photo: John Rogers
Drummer and composer Jeff Williams has a career that spans five decades.  Having worked with Stan Gets, Dave Liebman, John Abercrombie, and Frank Kimbrough.  For the past two decades, he's split his time between London and New York City and went back to recording as a leader (after a 16-year hiatus) when he signed in 2011with Whirlwind Recordings.  Since then, he's released four albums, two with his NYC-based quartet and two with his British quintet. While the music sometimes hearkens back to his earlier recordings, his style of composing and playing has certainly become his own "sound."

Album number five is here: the meeting of musical minds came about when the drummer was in New York City in early 2018 playing in saxophonist Dan Blake's "The Digging."  Blake had just replaced his pianist with Carmen Staaf and Williams felt an immediate musical kinship. On the same trip, he became reacquainted with bassist Michael Formanek who has met when the young musician moved to the City in the 1970s – six months later, the trio entered the Samurai Hotel Studios in Astoria, Queens, New York and the sessions yielded "Bloom" (Whirlwind).  Each participant contributed compositions (Williams has four, Ms. Staaf three, and Formanek two) plus there's one group improvisation and a lovely reading of bassist Buster Williams's "Air Dancing" (first recorded by the composer with guitarist Larry Coryell in 1988 and than the following year on his own "Something More" album with pianist Herbie Hancock.

Much of the trio's music has a joie de vivre brought on by the sheer joy of playing together.  Whether they are playing introspective slow pieces (such as Formanek's "Ballad of the Weak") or up-tempo "soft-shoe (the drummer's "She Can' Be a Spy") or Ms. Staaf's modal blues ("New York Landing"), the musicians are on the same wave length.  Ms. Staaf, who co-leads a group with drummer Alison Miller and works with artists as diverse as vocalist Allegra Levy, klezmer clarinetist Michael Winograd, plus is musical director for Dee Dee Bridgewater, is a delightful player – she certainly can swing but also can produce long, flowing, phrases (as she does on Williams's "Another Time").  She certainly pays attention to details, listens closely to the rhythm section (as they do to her), ands builds her solos from a combination of melodic and rhythmic explorations. Her composition "Chant", which closes the program, is an atmospheric ballad with a truly enchanting melody, brilliant bowed-bass work, and Williams's orchestral cymbal colors.

Photo:Lester Barnes
Williams and Formanek shine throughout. Whether working together to push a piece forward (listen to what they play underneath the piano solo on "Short Tune") or making space for their own solos, they are always in sync.  The bassist is known for his muscular playing plus he is a top-notch composer for ensembles large and small.  Check out his Herbie Nichols-inspired "A Word Edgewise"where the song, anchored by his rapidly walking bass lines, always seems to be rushing forward ever-so-sightly out of control.

In a world with so many piano trio albums released every month, "Bloom" stands out on the strengths of its compositions and the excellent musicianship of Jeff Williams, Carmen Staaf, and Michael Formanek. Willams may be the leader and producer but this subtle, swinging, and singing album truly is a group effort.

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

Give a listen:



Photo: Andrea Canter
There are hundreds of albums every year that seem to come and go. In the instance of the jazz world, unless the group is touring or gets a write-up in a major publication or has a "famous" name or two, the album is set aside to make room for the next recording. For some artists who spend years playing their trade in clubs and concert halls, it's not fun to be ignored. But that part of the business has always been there. You never know what will capture the fancy of listeners or when that might happen. Numerous artists have told that sell more recordings on gigs than through the internet or in the retail world.

The trio of pianist Chris Lomheim, bassist Michael O'Brien, and drummer Jay Epstein often worked together in the years before the bassist moved to NewYork City from the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul). All three are quite busy with the pianist leading his own trio as well as playing with other groups, the bassist working with the likes of drummer Matt Wilson, Harry Connick Jr., and saxophonist Joel Frahm while the drummer has recorded and/or toured with pianist Bill Carrothers, the late Sarah Vaughan, and saxophonist Eric Alexander (among many others).  These three veterans have now recorded their debut album.  "Triage" (Shifting Paradigm Records) is an odd title for this lovely group of original songs (eight by Lomheim and three by O'Brien) but don't let that distract you from listening.

Photo:Andrea Canter
While the music works as an accompaniment to a late afternoon time on the porch or to play during dinner, when you sit and really listen one hears how enjoyable these 11 pieces are.  Particularly attractive is the pianist's "Even More Than Before", a medium-tempo ballad with the hint of a Burt Bacharach melody (as well as a section of the chorus that reminds this listener of the 60's hit "Goin' Out of My Head") –pay attention to O'Brien's foundational bass work and the dancing cymbal work of Epstein.  The bassist's "At What Price Happiness" has a faint touch of bossa nova in its rhythm. The airy melody line, the quiet interactions of the rhythm section, and the long, luxurious, piano solo (as well as the melodic bass solo), all adds up to an enjoyable aural experience.

Photo: Andrea Canter
As one returns to "Triage", you begin to see and hear the influence of the Bill Evans Trio and the Keith Jarrett Standards Trio. Specifically in the importance of bassist O'Brien (pictured left) and how his solos plus his great ear for melody meshes with the work of pianist Lomheim.  And, like Evans and Jarrett, smartly written melodies are so important to how the music opens up for the solos. Epstein's role is to make sure the music flows on a even keel yet even he get many opportunties to interact with the melodic lines and solos.

The music of Chris Lomheim, Michael O'Brien, and Jay Epstein truly unfolds when one really pays attention.  Their professionalism and camaraderie makes "Triage" a delightful experience, one that should come and stay.

For more information, go to www.shiftingparadigmrecords.com/chris-lomheim-michael-obrien-jay-epstein.html.

Enjoy this track:

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Motor City Musical History

As a novice jazz writer in the early 1970s I'd read Nat Hentoff, Whitney Ballet, Leonard Feather, Steve Lake (in England's Melody Maker), DownBeat, and others, in hope that some of those styles would rub off on me.  It took time but I finally realized two important things; 1) - readers appreciate you more if you speak in your own voice and 2) - if you really engage in deep listening and do not rely on snap judgements, you will find the words to describe the indescribable.  Still working on it!

I still seek out as many writers as I can (the Internet certainly helped that search) and discovered Mark Stryker (pictured left) a decade or so ago.  His articles for the Detroit Free Press helped to open my eyes to the importance of the city's jazz scene on modern jazz and the many musicians who came from the area  Like most larger U.S. industrial cities, Detroit's neighborhoods were filled with bars and nightclubs, places for workers to take it easy after a long day or long week in the factories. Many of those clubs had live entertainment where jazz and blues musicians older and younger cut their teeth playing all styles of contemporary.

Mr. Stryker has created a history of those people and their impact on the city and beyond, in an extremely well-researched and lovingly written book. "Jazz From Detroit" (University of Michigan Press) traces the development of the city's once burgeoning jazz scene to its lean years (really, since the 1990s) to today and a sense of rebirth for the music, musicians, and the cities.  In six parts, the author profiles legendary folks, such as composer/bandleader Gerald Wilson, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, pianists Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, and Roland Hanna, guitarist Kenny Burrell, bassist Ron Carter, and saxophonist Joe Henderson.  That's just the first section of the book. Mr. Stryker makes sure the readers understand how important the Jones Brothers – pianist Hank, trumpeter/composer/arranger Thad, and drummer Elvin – were and still are to the music of the 70s, 80s, and 90s and into the 21st Century.  We meet the musicians of the Detroit Jazz Workshops and other Black music organizations of the 1970s that gave artists such as pianist Kenn Cox, trumpeter Charles Moore, trombonist Phil Ranelin, saxophonist Wendell Harrison, and,  most of all, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave whose spirit and mentorship of young musicians inspires the final third of the book.

Mr. Belgrave (1936-2015) worked with the Ray Charles Orchestra in the early 1950s, moved to NewYork City where he played with Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus, and moved to Detroit in the early 1960s to become a staff musician at Motown Records.  Part five of "Jazz in Detroit" looks at a number of musicians that Mr. Belgrave mentored including pianist Geri Allen, saxophonists James Carter and Kenny Garrett, bassists Robert Hurst and Rodney Whittaker, and drummers Kareen Riggins and Gerald Cleaver.  Most, if not all, of those listed serve (or served) as mentors or teachers to younger musicians in the Detroit area.

The final section looks at the present-day situation (as of 20
18) and offers hope for the proud city and the music it sired.  Throughout the book, Mr. Strkyer gives examples of the music, offers insight into what life was like in the city during the youth and early careers of the musicians – an important factor in the development of these people is what the public schools and its dedicated teachers were able to provide in the way of instruction, band opportunities, and access to instruments.

"Jazz in Detroit" is a deep dive into the heart and soul of a city that created so much of the important music of the 20th Century.  For this reader, the descriptions of the musicians as they were playing are often priceless: for example, the author writes about Elvin Jones's drumming – "On a technical level, Jones reinvented the fundamental bebop ride cymbal beat with his right hand. He reorganized the standard ding-dinga-ding pattern, breaking up the beat with fluidity and phrasing over bar lines. Jones scattered triplets across the drum kit with his left hand and integrated all four limbs into a churning undertow. He further unshackled the beat by abandoning the conventional practice of accenting beats 2 and 4 in every bar of 4/4 time on the hi-hat. Instead, he folded the hi-hat into his vortex."  Then, there's Kenny Burrell's tone on guitar  (pictured above)- "Instantly recognizable, it’s a singing sound, a seductive purr, with a faint halo of reverb and a refined attack that’s crisp upfront but finishes as warm and mellow as cognac."  

Mark Stryker makes musical history come alive in this book. If you're curious about that history, its roots and musicians, plus its implications for the future, look no further than "Jazz in Detroit" – the book is necessary reading!

For more information, go to jazzfromdetroit.com.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Time for Three Fours!

Nature Work is both the name of a quartet of talented (and busy) musicians and the title of that ensemble's debut album out now on Sunnyside Records.  The front line features the bass clarinet of Jason Stein and the alto saxophone of Greg Ward (currently the MVP of the music world having shown up on, at least, five albums released in the first half of 2019);  The stalwart rhythm section is composed of bassist Eric Revis (Branford Marsalis Quartet) and drummer Jim Black (Human Feel, AlasNoAxis, the Jim Black Trio, and former member of Tim Berne's Bloodcount).  The foursome, formed in 2017, creates a fascinating aural landscape on its nine-song program playing a repertoire of originals by Stein (four tracks) and Ward (five tracks).

This is modern music. Groups lacking a chordal instrument can get its influences from Ornette Coleman and Henry Threadgill. A group with two reeds can look at the work of Sonny Rollins.  Nature Work  certainly has those sounds in its hip pockets.  To these ears, each one of these musicians brings his individual strengths and, together, the players figured out its group sound.  Listen to Black and Revis push, prod, and power its way through Stein's "Hem The Jewels", the duos slippery rhythms supporting muscular solos from both Stein and Ward.  There is a funky feel to the saxophonist's "Opter Fopter", with the call-and-response conversation between the reeds swooping over Revis's powerful lines and Black's sledge-hammer drumming. That latter track pushed the limits of both my house and car speakers.

Yes, the music can be noisy but it's never off the rails.  The frenetic rush of the opening several minutes of Stein's "Porch Time" resolves into a rollicking up-tempo scramble held together by the reeds. If you've never heard Jason Stein play (he's recorded numerous labels including Delmark Records, Not Two Records, Leo Records, Northern Spy, and others), he has developed his own sound.  Ward's alto work can be sweet and sassy but he also displays power  and a vulnerability that makes his playing stand out.  The album has few soft spots but the saxophonist's "Cryptic Ripples" gives the quartet a rare opportunity to be introspective – the conversation between the reeds starts with both players in a melodic yet exploratory mood (Ward's high notes literally sing).  And, one should not be surprise when the band kicks the tempo into a much higher gear (one expects that from Black).

I hope Nature Work plays live in a venue near you, one with good sound.  In the meantime, its debut album stands out on the originality of the material and the excellent playing from every person in the quartet.  Find it, buy it, play it loud, and play it over and over.

For more information, go to www.jasonsteinmusic.com/nature-work/.

Here's the track that opens the album:


Here's a link to a live concert recorded in 2018 in Austria – www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0krnew5O3k.

Photo: RI Sutherland-Cohen
The four gentlemen pictured on the left make up The OGJB Quartet.  Formed in 2015 by reed master Oliver Lake (alto & soprano saxophones, recitation), Graham Haynes (cornet, dousn'gouni), Joe Fonda (bass), and Barry Altschul (drums, percussion, mbira), the quartet contains two generations of master improvisers, instrumentalists who have the abilities to create music that goes in myriad directions, that blend ancient rhythms with modern sensibilities in styles that hearken back to the early days of the AACM and B.A.G. (Black Artists Groups), the work of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, of Anthony Braxton's various groups, the World Saxophone Quartet, and so much more.

18 months after the group formed, they entered System Two Studios in Brooklyn, NY, to record their debut album.  "Bamako" (TUM Recordings) contains 10 tracks with compositions from each musician plus the two group improvisations that close the program. Altschul's "Be Out S'Cool" was first recorded by the composer on 1980's "Brahma" (Sackville Records) with trombonist Ray Anderson and bassist Mark Helias; he's featured on several other albums by groups he's led or co-led over the decades.  Why not?  It's so delightfully open-ended and allows all participants to have great fun.  Lake's "Is It Alright" was first performed and recorded as a duo with bassist William Parker – dedicated to the late trumpeter Roy Cambell, the piece is notable for the powerful drumming, playful bass work, and the interplay of alto sax and cornet.

Photo: RI Sutherland-Cohen
The album opens with Fonda's rousing and lengthy (nearly 15 minutes) "Listen to Dr. Cornel West".  The group takes its cues from the powerful bass work of the composer. I have known Joe F. for over 40 years and am amazed (and so pleased) how he's become such a great musician.  Haynes's solo lopes along over six minutes, covering a lot of musical territory, never rushing, riding the changes that the rhythm section negotiate beneath him.  The cornetist composed the title track – he plays the dousn'gouni while Altschul adds hand percussion and mbira. Lake recites an excerpt on his poem "Broken in Parts", the section dedicated to drummers from the Native American tradition.  Note Fonda's floating bowed bass work, the ethereal quality of the sound a perfect fit for this piece.

"Bamako" closes with the two group improvisations with "OGJB #2" programmed before "#1."  It's great fun to hear where the musicians lead each other, how they come together, pull apart, and move around each other without either the quartet or the listener getting lost.  That's the fun of this music. The sounds continually challenge the eager listener.  Masterful yet playful music from The OGJB Quartet.

For more information, go to www.joefonda.com/ogjb-quartet-lake-/-haynes-/-fonda-/-altschul.html.

Here's the opening track:



50 years ago, Anthony Braxton recorded and Delmark Records released "For Alto". a two-Lp set of pieces for alto saxophone created by the Chicago native. Since that landmark recording, he has released scores of albums with ensembles of all sizes, from duos to four symphony orchestras (all playing at once with the listener in the middle).  He's played standards, marching band music, created operas, worked with choirs, and much more.  His amazing output has many transcendent moments spread across five decades including numerous other solo albums.  Plus, he has influenced dozens of musicians/composers through his teachings and workshops.

This writer's favorite Anthony Braxton albums are his duos with musicians such as Max Roach, Mario Pavone, John Lindberg, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Abraham Adzenyah plus his quartet/quintet recording with musicians such as Kenny Wheeler, Ray Anderson, Marilyn Crispell, and Barry Altschul.  His new album on Firehouse 12 Records, "Quartet (New Haven) 2014", features a fascinating lineup – it's actually more of a surprising lineup in that besides Mr. Braxton (sopranino, soprano, alto, baritone, bass, and contrabass saxophones) and long-time associate and former student Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn, piccolo and bass trumpets, trumpbone), the ensemble is completed by guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Greg Saunier (Deerhof).  The album is comprised of four CDs, each one with an improvisation dedicated to a popular recording artist of the mid-to-late 1960s. That includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, James Brown, and Merle Haggard. Don't read that list and expect that this group is channeling, copying, or paying music by those people.  Remember, this is Anthony Braxton, he makes music like no one else (his "standards" albums often feature recognizable versions of the originals but his original music never has - and never will - sound like anyone but Mr. Braxton.


Photo: Eriq Robinson
Four tracks, nearly four hours of improvisations, and a fascinating journey all the way through.  Cline, who has done his share of experimentation over the decades, is right at home moving in and out of these various soundscapes. So is Saunier, whose main gig is propelling the experimental rock quartet Deerhof.  The drummer also leads or co-leads several other bands plus has worked with various artists including guitarist Marc Ribot, Sean Lennon, and harpist Joanna Newsom.  He and Cline often make a fine rhythm section plus the drummer has the power to drive the entire band.

Instead of writing about each track, listen to the track below (courtesy of Firehouse 12 Records) – it's nearly an hour long but, if you love "free" improvisations, you'll never get bored. A mix of quartet, trio, duo, and solo conversations, the quartet roars, purrs, screams, is contemplative, plays with great abandon, and, truly, sounds like they are having so much fun.  If you're an Anthony Braxton aficionado, you'll really enjoy these excursions. If you are curious because of the participation of Nels Cline and Greg Saunier, be prepared for the wild musical adventures.  Kudos to co-producers Taylor Ho Bynum and Nick Lloyd for making "Quartet (New Haven) 2014" a reality!

Give a listen:



Here's a link to Rolling Stone and Hank Shteamer's fine article about and interview with Mr. Braxton and this album: www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/anthony-braxton-interview-nels-cline-quartet-new-haven-844843/.


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Pull Up a Seat, Give a Listen, a Good Listen

Since vocalist Camila Meza joined Ryan Keberle & Catharsis in 2014, the quintet has gone from strength to strength Though Ms. Meza was not a full member in that year, she did sing on five of the eight tracks of "Into The Zone" (Greenleaf Music) plus the bonus track, Sufjan Stevens' "Sister."  Two years later for "Azul Infinito", her voice had become an integral part of the quintet, an ensemble that features Keberle (trombone, keyboards), Michael Rodriguez (trumpet), Jorge Roeder (acoustic and electric basses), and Eric Doob (drums).  That group also recorded 2017's "Find the Common, Shine a Light", a recording made in the wake of the 2016 U.S. election with music that was a strong indictment of the election process and results yet without pointing fingers. That album also featured several short improvised pieces plus longer pieces that showed the versatility of its members.

"The Hope I Hold" is a step forward for the group. Rodriguez is gone, replaced by tenor saxophonist Scott Robinson (who actually has guested on a number of Keberle's earlier albums).  Also, the sound of the band has expanded with the addition of Ms. Meza's excellent guitar work plus vocal contributions from the leader and from Roeder.  The program is split in two fascinating halves. The first five tracks are Keberle compositions with lyrics adapted from the great American poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967), specifically from his 1935 poem "Let America Be America Again." Hughes's powerful words (read them here) are been lightly edited to fit the equally powerful music.  The four tracks that make up "The Hope I Hold Suite" are driven by the impressively forceful rhythm section, by the intelligent melodies the leader has created, by the mixture of reeds, brass, and guitar, plus the strong vocal work.  Ms. Meza, an immigrant from Chile, understand the history of this country, has seen the remnants of "Jim Crow" that exist throughout the U.S. – yet, there is neither vitriol in her voice (as there is none in Hughes's words: sorrow yes but not burning hatred) nor sorrow in her delivery.  One does hear hope, hope for a better country, a more compassionate leadership, and a better understanding of the myriad issues facing the world. Following the suite is another Keberle composition.  "Campinas" not only features his trombone and keyboards but also he sings lead.  The first part of the piece has a strong Brazilian feel, especially in the "floating" voices and the exciting drum patterns.  The second part starts with understated percussion, synthesizer sweeps, and a lyrical trombone solo before the drums kick back into the rhythms of the opening under the trombone solo and the guitar spotlight that follows.

Photo: Takahiko Tokusa
The next four tracks introduces The Catharsis Trio.  Composed of the leader, Ms. Meza, and bassist Roeder.  The trio first worked together on a tour of Japan when the promoter really wanted the music but could not afford to bring the entire band.  Needless to say, the participants viewed the tour as a both a challenge and an opportunity to see the material in a different light.  The guitarist contributes the lovely "Para Volar" – the blend of voice, guitar, bass, and trombone is alluring. Roeder's first recorded composition, "Peering", has quite a fine melody with the various voices playing off each other, providing fine harmonies as well as smart counterpoint.  The team of Manuel Jose Castillo (lyrics) and Gustavo "Cuchi" Leguizamon (music) composed "Zamba de Lozano", a song
made famous by Mercedes Sosa.  Ms. Meza caresses the lovely melody while Keberle offers handsome support and even shadows her on several lines. The Trio closes its set with a rearranged version of "Become the Water" of the previous Catharsis album that took its title from the chorus of this song.  Here, Keberle intertwines the sounds of his Korg Minilogue synthesizer into the mix but the words are loud and clear.

The album closes with with "Epilogue/Make America Again", a chorale for voices, trombones, and keyboard that ends with a long drawn-out chord (sounds like an organ).  The music has the feel of a prayer, a wordless plea for hope that seems to have eluded many of us in the past two+ years.  Bitterness and cruel satire is no help – it is imperative that we all talk to each other, at community meetings, in churches, mosques, and synagogues, in the classroom, in the halls of the government. Then, "The Hope I Hold" may become a reality.   Ryan Keberle & Catharsis continue to make relevant music, the writing continues to mature, and the musicianship is of the highest caliber. Now that Ms. Meza's immense talent is being put to its full use, next time around, perhaps Scott Robinson will get to employ his full array of instruments. Imagine that!!

For more information, go to ryankeberle.com.

Give a listen to "Campinas":


Photo: Ken Drew
Saxophonist, violinist, vocalist, and composer Tori Freestone has been busy making a name for herself in her native England and on the Continent.  As a leader or co-leader, she's issued four CDs and has appeared on recordings by Ivo Neame, Andre Canniere, and a group called Compassionate Cow.  Ms. Freestone has also worked in a number of British big bands and smaller ensembles plus is currently a tutor for the National Youth Jazz Collective and for Trinity College of Music in London.  Her main musical vehicle at the moment is the Tori Freestone Trio based on her saxophone playing and compositions with the delightful rhythm section of Dave Manington (bass) and Tim Giles (drums).

The Trio has just issued its third recording for Whirlwind Recordings.  Titled "El Mar de Nubes" ("the Sea of Clouds"), much of the program was inspired by the saxophonist's retreat to the Canard Islands at the close of 2017.  There she wandered the landscape catering her thoughts, inspired by the longs walks in the natural forests and mountains as well as viewing the Super Moon, a phenomenon that makes the night as bright as day when it rises.  The music she created from her sojourns is not radically different than her previous two Trio discs yet one feels that the three musicians are locked in more than ever before.  The title track opens the album with the leader's saxophone interacting and responding to the lyrical bass lines and dancing brushes work.  Dig the funky opening of "Hiding Jekyll", how the rhythm section locks into the groove even as the saxophonist plays a double-time on top of them. Pieces such as "Hasta La Vista" and "Los Indianos" have such a playful quality, the former (composed by the bassist) built off a speedy riff that has hints of Trio Air in how the sax and bass work together over the dancing drums while the latter rises out of Giles's drums interacting with the cowbell. The riffs Ms. Freestone play may remind some of Sonny Rollins's playful interactions with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne on "Way Out West."

The album also includes two versions of the traditional American song "Shenandoah."  Version 1 is all instrumental, replete with wonderful bass playing (note Manington's fine bow work  and his deep sonorous phrases in response to Ms. Freestone's wide-ranging solo (she rarely strays far from the original melody but does create an impressive solo).  In the middle section, Giles creates a hypnotic rhythm for the bass solo (note how the saxophonist plays long, breathy tones behind Manington)that leads into a more expansive tenor spotlight.  Version 2 is quite different – Ms. Freestone accompanies her vocal with keening fiddle tones.  The bassist creates a counter melody behind her, joined a verse later by Giles's skittish drums.  The violin solo brings to mind the raspy tones of Charles Burnham and, when Ms. Freestone moves away from the melody, the music moves into more playful territory. The trio does return to the melody; this time, the vocalist sings with just the drums as her accompanist before it fades out on Giles.

"El Mar de Nubes" is music well worth exploring. Over the course of seven years and (now) three albums, Tori Freestone, Dave Manington, and Tim Giles have become tighter and looser, the former through the many gigs they have played and the latter from the trust they have built by playing all those gigs. Sadly, I don't see any live dates on this side of the Atlantic Ocean listed for the album release tour but this is a Trio one needs to hear live.  That written, the new album is one for listening deeply and all the way through!

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

This video should serve as a great introduction to the album: