Saturday, September 7, 2019

Music with Many Influences + 1000!


Photo: Desmond White
Alto saxophonist and composer Alex LoRe is an impressive young musician.  Moving to New York City after completing his undergrad studies at The New England Conservatory in Boston, MA., he did his grad work at the Manhattan School of Music. LoRe studied with and was tutored by saxophonists such as George Garzone, Lee Konitz, James Moody, and Steve Wilson plus has appeared on stage with the likes of Dave Liebman, pianists Aaron Parks and Dan Tepfer, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, and drummer Ari Hoenig.  He is a member of fellow reed player Lucas Pino's No Net Nonet and has recorded with the DanJam Orchestra and fellow saxophonist Paul Jones.  He's released two albums on Greg Osby's Inner Circle Music, the first (2014) a trio date and the second (2016) with a quartet that featured bassist Desmond White, pianist Glenn Zaleski, and drummer Colin Stranahan (who, like White, also appear on the earlier CD).  What impressed this listener about those albums was the amount of space in the music, the excellent melodies and arrangements as well as the interactions of the musicians involved.  Also, LoRe's influences come from myriad sources, classical to jazz and beyond.

"Karol" (Challenge Records) illustrates the influence of classical composers and performers with eight of the 12 compositions dedicated to classical composers.  They range from J.S. Bach to 16th Century Spanish composer Maddalena Casulana to Henry Cowell to Julius Eastman to Karol Symanowski.  His quartet (with drummer Allan Mednard replacing Stranahan) now has a name – Weirdear – and, even more than on his previous two albums, seem to be more involved in the creative process.  There is sensitivity, swing, and melody that moves in and out of many of these pieces including the opener "Skyward."  The song, not dedicated to any composer in particular, gives the entire band a chance to step out.  In this instance, it's Zaleski's handsome piano leading the way into the song then doubling the melody line with the alto saxophone.  White and Mednard are quite active in support of solos – it's as much fun to concentrate on their efforts as it is to listen to the pianist and alto saxophonist.

Photo: Desmond White
LoRe does an excellent job in their liner notes explaining the influence of each composer on the particular composition.  It's the use of rhythm and the complex harmonies of Igor Stravinsky's "Symphony for Wind Instruments" that inspired "Orahcle" while it was Charles Ives use of "Americana" melodies that sets the tone and direction of "Casey Jones".  But, notice the clear-as-a-bell tone of the alto saxophone, the dancing march-inspired rhythms from the drums and bass, and the strutting piano lines on the latter. The listener should be entranced by "Light" with its three chorales for soprano saxophone and piano.  This tribute to Johann Sebastian Bach leaves room for short improvised phrases by the saxophonist as well as freedom for the rhythm section throughout. "Eastman" is inspired by composer-pianist Julius Eastman (1940-1990) whose work was dubbed "post-minimalist" and really shook the contemporary classical music scene in New York in the late 1970s and early 80s.  Eastman was not afraid to speak of racial injustice and issues within the gay community.  LoRe treats his subject to a lovely melody, pushed forward by the fine brushwork of Mednard; he also adds the tenor saxophone of George Garzone. Their interactions are like a conversation in poetic verses, sometimes rhythmical, other times lyrical, all without tension or dispute.

The title track, dedicated to Polish composer Karol Symanowski (sp – the last name should contain a "z" – Szymanowski) who was born in 1887 and died in 1937.  His music changed a great deal over his composing career (approximately 23 years) ranging from pieces influenced by Wagner and the "Romantics" to creating his own "voice" with the use of "folklore" plus innovations in his compositional techniques that placed the composer in the "Modernist" camp. LoRe's piece is a distillation of those different voices with echoes of Stravinsky and Satie mixed with the approach of Jimmy Giuffre, especially at the period when that composer began to move from his "Americana" sound into a "freer" phase.  The quartet moves through various sections with ease and a sense of curiosity as well as with a forward motion created by the excellent playing of Mednard and White.

"Karol" also contains three "Miniatures", short compositions (between 2:25 and 2:36) in which melody and improvised are juxtaposed.  These cuts are exercises in economy and expansion, melodic structure and improvised rhythms, individual voices and collective sound.  In fact, the entire album is filled with examples of those exercises writ large; pieces that are organic and open to interpretation.  In a word, the playing is splendid.  Alex LoRe continues to create music that is involving as it is evolving, free of clutter and cliché, rich with possibilities.

For more information, go to alexlore.com.

Here's the opening track recorded live in December 2018 (two months after the recording session for the album):



Time has a way of erasing years even as it fills our memories.  It's been 20 years since pianist, composer, and arranger Guillermo Klein recorded the first album by his 11-piece ensemble Los Guachos.  Sunnyside Records released "Los Guachos II" ("I" was scrapped) in early 1999 – listeners were introduced to a sound that blended elements of the composer's Argentinean upbringing, his study of American jazz, and more.  Amazingly, the personnel (see below) has only changed slightly over the decades while the musical explorations continue to evolve and expand.

"Cristal" (Sunnyside) is the eighth Klein album to feature Los Guachos (the Orphans) continuing the composer's quest to meld his native country's older popular music and dance rhythms with a more modern approach.  On this recording, melody s just as important as rhythm. There are certainly of fine solos yet one should pay attention to the multitude of colors created by Klein's writing for the various sections. The program opens with an interpretation of "Melodia De Arrabal" – composed in 1932 by the extremely successful Argentinean duo of Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera, the song served as the title tune of a 1933 movie.  This modern take is actually a rearrangement of a rearrangement that Klein created for saxophonist Joshua Redman and the modern string quartet Brooklyn Rider.  The newer take accentuates the handsome melody line and also makes room for Jeff Ballard's brilliant drum work.  Take the time to listen to the blend of rhythm instruments, how the quiet guitar chords are echoed by the piano, and how the rhythms speed up and slow down as if elegant dancers were sliding across the floor in front of the ensemble.

Photo: Antonio Porcar Cano
"Burrito Volver" combines a rhythm from Klein's "Burrito Hill" (recorded with Los Guachos on the 2012 album "Carrera" with a reinterpretation of Gardel and Le Pera's "Volver", a tune that also shows up later in the album.  The first tune mentioned features a roaring solo from guitarist Ben Monder while the reeds and brass sway underneath.  The later take is more up-tempo with a dazzling interplay of the reeds and brass, excellent solos, and a powerful rhythm created by Ballard, percussionist Richard Nant, and electric bassist Fernando Huergo.  The three saxophonists – alto Miguel Zenón, tenor Bill McHenry, and baritone Chris Cheek (who is the album and group's MVP) – have wonderful interplay with the brass – trumpeters Taylor Haskins and Diego Urcola plus trombonist Sandro Tomasi.  Zenón takes the lead on "Quien Te Ve", first interpreting the handsome melody and then creating a far-ranging, emotionally rich solo.

"Cristal" closes with a new arrangement of Klein's "Flores" first recorded on 2005's "Una Nave." The composer's vocal is replaced first by the band working through the verses and then by Cheek's soaring soprano saxophone.  It's a dazzling, swirling, whirling, statement pushed forward by the powerful percussion and melodic bass.  The gentle ending of just guitar and quiet keyboard is a perfect way to let the listener relax and exhale.

Like the finest contemporary composers and arrangers, Guillermo Klein has slowly, steadily, built a repertoire that stands out for so many different reasons.  Los Guachos, formed in the wake of Klein's 17-member Big Van, is a splendid ensemble filled with great individual voices who mesh together making music that often soars while it moves the feet.

"Cristal" will be available on September 27, 2019 – in the meantime, here's a delicious taste:


Personnel:

Miguel Zenon - alto sax 
Bill McHenry - tenor sax 
Chris Cheek - soprano, tenor, baritone sax 
Diego Urcola - trumpet, flugelhorn 
Taylor Haskins - trumpet, flugelhorn 
Sandro Tomasi - trombone 
Ben Monder - guitar 
Guillermo Klein - piano, vocals, arrangements 
Fernando Huergo - electric bass 
Jeff Ballard - drums 
Richard Nant - percussion, trumpet


All compositions composed by Guillermo Klein except "Melodía de Arrabal" and "Volver" composed by Carlos Gardel & Alfredo Le Pera 

***********************************************

Step Tempest first posted in December 2009, a month after The Hartford Courant closed down the blogs (including mine) of numerous free-lancers.  Here we are, nearly 10 years later, and much has transpired but my love of, curiosity about, and desire to listen to music and write reviews remain unabated.  I have met, talked to, and heard many of the musicians I have written and continue to write about – their dedication to the music is, for a vast majority of them, remains powerful even as the music "business" continues to reinvent itself.  My productivity slowed a bit in 2010 when I began teaching as an adjunct Professor in the Seminar Series at Quinnipiac University; plus, I was able to develop several courses about the popular musics of the United States, working and learning with students about the origins of what we listen to today.

Above all, I still love this music, a love than continues to grow as the years keep passing by.  It's been over 50 years since I posted my first concert review for the UCONN Daily Campus – wow!  Seems like only a week ago.

Thank you so much for reading and for listening.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Blues + Beats + Bop (All Soul edition)

Some readers may remember that organist Chris Foreman and drummer Greg Rockingham were two-thirds of Deep Blue Trio – along with guitarist Bobby Broom, the Chicago-based ensemble recorded four albums, two on Delmark and two on Origin Records, from 2004 until 2011. Though the Trio in various iterations had been playing since 1992, they waited to record after a decade+ of gigs in the Midwest and beyond.  After the trio split, Foreman and Rockingham formed Soul Message Band with guitarist Lee Rothenberg and alto saxophonist Greg Ward.

"Soulful Days" marks the organist and drummer's return to Delmark Records as leaders. SMB's debut recording takes its name from Cal Massey's "These Are Soulful Days" – recorded in 1961 on the trumpeter-composer's one and only album as a leader, "Blues to Coltrane" but not released by Candid Records until 1987 (15 years after Massey's passing), this updated version slows the piece down to a bluesy shuffle featuring guest tenor saxophonist Geoff Bradfield (he's on three tracks), Rothenberg, and Foreman stepping out over the groove. And, it's quite soulful.  Ward contributes one of the two original pieces, the sprightly "Uncertainty".  Not at all like it's title, the piece dances forward on Rockingham's active (but not intrusive) drums and Foreman's delightful bass lines.  The guitarist composed "Sir Charles", the tune that opens the album; it's a tribute to both NBA star Charles Barkley and the great organist Charles Earland. The shuffle beat and easy interactions, delightful solos and the lack of ego, sets the tone for the album.  The band is telling the listener these "Soulful Days" are made for swinging, relaxing, and getting into the groove.

Every song is worth spending time with but here are two particular high spots.  Ward's singing alto and Foreman's gospel-infused organ lines open up the sweet Rodgers & Hart ballad "Little Girl Blue."
There are bluesy solos from Rothenberg, Foreman (it's the longest and most exciting one), and Ward (who plays such lilting phrases).  The quartet absolutely soars on Louis Bellson's "Easy Time" –it's another shuffle but, thanks to the interactions and fine solos from the guitarist, alto saxophonist, and organist plus the drummer's power rising from below, you will want to dance.

"These Soulful Days" lives up to its name. This music will wash away your troubles and sounds so good as it cleaned the soul!  Dance along with Soul Message Band as they put their spin on the organ-led band that has been a staple of soul-jazz for many, many decades.

For more information, go to www.soulmessageband.com. No videos or audio downloads but you can get a taste of the album by going to delmark.com/product/5030/.


Upon first listen, "Point Less" (Rugged Ram Records) struck me as an excellent debut by vocalist and composer Ola Onabulé. A little bit of research took me to his website whereupon I discovered the Nigerian-born, Great Britain resident, had released eight albums since his debut in 1995.  Therefore, this 2019 album is his ninth for the singer with the wonderful range; naturally a tenor, he can really sing quite high and surprisingly low (he has a three-and-ahalf octave range!). But, as appealingly the rhythms are in the majority of the 14-song, 77-minute program, listen to what he's singing about.  Themes of equality and inequality, promises made and broken, of violence perpetrated on people of all colors,  and how the lower class is held physically and fiscally move through all songs.  While the rhythms of "The Old Story" will remind many listeners of Santana's "Smooth", the theme of dominating the "other" reverberates in verses such as "I don't victim but why/Must I exist, just to tell a man/I must prepare him to die...."

"And Yet" opens with a splendid funky beat while Onabulé sings "Staring down a barrel again" then going on to "Don't blow Mister, Big Controller, do the rags bother/Maybe I could loose the hoodie for ya/...We all know you hold the rod of power."  All this to a rhythm that would not feel out of place on a Steely Dan album, especially "Aja" and beyond. On "Exit Wound", the singer exclaims "Don't send me all your thoughts and prayers/If they make it, they'll be no use here."  All this to a lively Latin-flavored beat provided by drummer Chris Nickolls, bassist Phil Mulford, percussionist Will Fry, pianist John Crawford, and guitarist Al Cherry. Nickolls plays on three on the tracks while Jack Pollitt pushes the band on the other 11.

The messages in the lyrics may seem relentless; it's best to put yourself into the composer's life.  Even the lovely ballad "Tender Heart" (kudos to Cherry for his soulful accompaniment and the powerful piano work of John Crawford) is not a respite from the issues people face in a soul-less world.  But Onabulé's vocals are soothing and give hope.  The harmonica of Berthold Matschat is handed to the final two tracks. He dances along with the leader's wordless vocal on "Pas Famille", interacting behind as the song turns to tell the story about a person who has no issues selling out his brethren (the title translates to "not family"). The excellent harmonica solo, with its blend of long, flowing, phrases with short melodic passages, stands out. The final track, "You Can't Depend On Love", opens with the harmonica introducing the melody while the lyrics speak of moving carefully through your life.  But, "Until you find a soul to some to/You'll find/You can't rely on hope" until the the singer changes the final chorus to "You can't depend on love." You can't help miss the lilt of Horace Silver in the melody and rhythm and the subtle honesty of Cole Porter in the lyrics.

Yes, "Point Less" is a long album yet it is worth taking your time to explore.  Ola Onabulé writes all the music and lyrics, produced these sessions, and released it on his own label.  He has stories to tell with a voice that does just honestly, melodically, soulfully, and without pity but filled with empathy. There's power in the rhythms and the beats as well.  All his albums are on Bandcamp and there's much to discover.

For more information, go to www.ola-onabule.co.uk.

Here's a video of Onabulé in studio (note the excellent guitar solo):



The language of hard bop was created in the 1950s nurtured by the likes of Clifford Brown, Theolonious Monk, Kenny Clarke, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Max Roach, and many others.  In the 1960s, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Albert Tyler (to name but four), began searching in multiple directions opening up the music while, often, scaring away older listeners. Even 60 years later, hard bop may sound obsolete to young listeners but, in the hands of musicians who understand the blues and "freedom" at the roots of the musical style, the music still can excite and electrify audiences.

Trumpeter Jimmy Smith and saxophonist James Hughes, both natives of the Detroit, MI, area, have been working together since 2012, recording three albums as a quintet.  For "The Gates" (Shifting Paradigm Records), Smith and Hughes added trombonist John Yao (from Chicago IL) to the front line (making him a co-leader to boot) as well as putting a new rhythm section (pianist Corey Kendrick, bassist Jeff Pedraz, and drummer Nick Collins – all three live and work in Detroit). The front line first came together several years ago when they were all studying in New York City. The nine-song program, with four sings by Hughes, three by Yao, and two by Smith, features intelligent music, great interaction, and excellent solos.  The rhythm section is delightful, with Kendrick's Horace Silver-inspired piano work, Pedraz's melodic and foundational bass, and Collins' delightful drumming.

While the first two tracks (Smith's "I-75 @ 5" and Yao's "Hell Gate" – the former moves faster than any highway I've been on at 5, p.m. that is) – swing with joyous abandon, Hughes's "Subterranean Miner" is a mysterious twisty blues line with fine bass work, a languid melody, and fine solos. Bassist Pedraz, who introduces the piece, also gets the first solo; his impressive melodic lines leads to a three-way conversation between Hughes (soprano), Smith (flugelhorn, perhaps), and Yao. The proceedings get a bit noisy before the band calms down to take the piece out. Hughes also composed the handsome ballad "Sophia's Song" – he plays the emotionally rich melody and takes the first solo (with Yao and Smith adding color in the background) the turns the spotlight over to Kendrick for a wide-ranging solo sans horns.  His playing truly sings even as he hands the song back to the front line.

The title track (composed by Smith) adds a Brazilian feel while giving the feel of a Lee Morgan piece.  Smith's crisp trumpet sound leads the way; the bounce in the rhythm section inspires his solo spot.  Yao, too, is inspired, his solo dancing along with Collins sweet cymbal work.  The drummer alters his attack a bit for Hughes's tenor spot, a playful romp from the co-leader.  The album closer, Yao's "Dog Days", is one of several that bring to mind Mr. Blakey's Jazz Messengers.  While the rhythm section is not as relentless as the master drummer's could be, the relaxed but powerful bop they create is highly appealing.  Kendrick, the composer, and Smith get the solos and they have a great riding the waves from the bass and drums.

"The Gates" opens wide and the avid listener gets to enjoy the delightful interactions of the Yao/Smith/Hughes Sextet.  The music brings to mind the hard-bop sounds that filled urban clubs in the 1950s and early 1960s, sounds that have never really gone out of style.  Dg in to this feast – the music satisfies!

For more information, go to www.shiftingparadigmrecords.com/yao-smith-hughes-sextet.html and/or to www.johnyao.com or www.jimmysmithmusic.net or www.jameshughesmusic.net – they all have sounds and pictures of the band.

Here's the title track: