Thursday, March 26, 2020

Major Issues: The Large Ensemble Responses

Guitarist, composer, arranger, and occasional vocalist Joel Harrison is certainly s musical polymath, taking his guitar and songs into many genre-blurring areas.  His guitar can squawk, squeal, dance, fly, and be gentle all in the cause of telling a story.  His musical adventures in North and South Indian music, country music, film scoring, Americana, the music of George Harrison (no relation), classical music, etc, has opened his creative mind and opens the listener's mind to the endless possibilities in music

In 2013, Harrison released "Infinite Possibilities" (Sunnyside Records), his first foray in large ensemble writing (all tolled, 23 musicians including two vocalists) and, now, seven years later, his second effort for his large ensemble is here."  America At War" (Sunnyside) posits Harrison in the midst of 18 musicians plus one guest (Ned Rothenberg on shakuhachi for one track).  These compositions take their inspirations from the composer's father's experiences at the end of World War II ("My Father in Nagasaki"), a former President's assertions to his country that Saddam Hussein was preparing chemical weapons ("Yellowcake"), the composer's praise for people who not only fight our wars but also those who fight for peace ("Honor Song"), and the 1963 "March on Washington", the march for "Jobs and Freedom".  Some of the music is angry with solos that tear across the sound spectrum (trombonist Curtis Hasselbring and tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon on "Yellowcake"). "Gratitude" takes a quieter approach, a soulful tune that not only takes into accounts the composer's recovery from a traumatic brain injury but also the people who work with soldiers dealing with PTSD (Ingrid Jensen's trumpet solo rising out of the collective ensemble is quite handsome). The quiet vibraphone phrases of Wilson Torres takes the piece to its gentle conclusion.   

Photo: Scott Friedlander
Harrison composed all nine tracks save for Tom Waits's "Day After Tomorrow" (from 2004's "Real Gone" album).  The guitarist sings the plaintive melody whose lyrics tell the story of a young soldier from Illinois (Rockford, to be exact) writing home to his wife from the battle front. While there are no solos, the background is stunning in its support in how the sections frame the voice, capture the emotion, and advance the melody.

The program closes with the pointedly titled "Stupid, Pointless, Heartless Drug Wars"––the composer points his finger at how the casualties of this long and senseless battle, the prisoners, the poor, the various communities, the children who suffer from their parents addiction, have such a poor survival rate. Instead of education and support, those who command choose to incarcerate and, upon release, let the freed prisoners swing in the wind.  There are those who will say "if you mess with this s**t, you deserve the consequences" but the U.S. is a country of second chances a beast, for those who can afford it), where rehabilitation can be a path to a positive life.  As the music progresses, Harrison's arrangement becomes more claustrophobic, angrier, and the conclusion is unsatisfying.  Note the powerful alto saxophone solo from Ken Thompson as well as the muscular work of bassist Gregg August and drummer Jared Schonig.

Photo: Scott Friedlander
"America at War" pokes the listener, pushes to make one more aware of the costs that wars have on society, and prods one to speak out in the face of jingoism and nationalism. Joel Harrison + 18 is a formidable ensemble, an assemblage that can roar, can purr, can get you of your chair (and stupor). Yes, this is emotional music, the song titles are provocative, the playing often acerbic––music that demands a response.  In this time of societal isolation, think on these topics and see how you might change.

The album will be released on 4/24/2020.

For more information, go to

Here is the substantial opening track:


Joel Harrison - composer, arranger, guitar, voice 
Matt Holman - conductor 
Seneca Black - trumpet 
Dave Smith - trumpet, flugelhorn 
Ingrid Jensen - trumpet (five tracks) 
Chris Rogers - trumpet (four tracks) 
Marshal Sealy - French horn 
Alan Ferber - trombone 
Sara Jacovino - trombone 
Curtis Hasselbring - trombone 
Ben Staap - tuba 
Ben Kono - English horn, soprano, alto saxophone & flute 
Ken Thomson - alto saxophone, Bb clarinet & bass clarinet 
Stacy Dillard - tenor saxophone 
Jon Irabagon - tenor saxophone, flute 
Lisa Parrot - baritone saxophone & bass clarinet 
Daniel Kelly - piano 
Gregg August - electric & acoustic bass 
Jared Schonig - drums 
Wilson Torres - vibraphone, timpani, concert bass drum, bongos, bells & shaker 
Ned Rothenberg - shakuhachi (on "My Father In Nagasaki")

The Chicago Yestet, the brainchild of trombonist and composer Joel Adams, a veteran of the Woody Herman Orchestra as well as the Chicago music scene, is a unique large ensemble.  The band, in existence for a dozen years, includes three saxophones, two trumpets, two trombones, guitar, bass, drums, a vocalist plus a spoken word artist.  Their music combines elements of jazz, r'n'b, hip hop, and more with messages that speak about current issues and the age-old topic of love.  The ensemble, listed below, is composed of musicians who are active throughout the Chicago area plus lead their own groups.

The band's third album, "Not There Yet" (self-released), take sits name from the opening track, a funky tune that may remind some of Curtis Mayfield (especially the muted trumpets in the opening section). Keith Harris's rap speaks on the relationship beween black people and the police––the title refers to the fact that, since the Civil Rights Acts, African American have been granted entry into American Society but only so many and only so far.  Vocalist Maggie Burrell takes over from Harris yet her soulful vocal picks up the topic. The band is musical sympathetic but one is surprised on initial listening by Adam's highly amplified trombone solo ("megabone").  Yet, his harsh voice is in keeping with the lyrics.  Bassist Clark Sommers and, especially, drummer Xavier Breaker stoke the fire throughout. The all-instrumental "Moment of Truth" opens with a passionate statement from Geoff Bradfield (tenor sax) before the rest of the musicians enter.  The melody is developed by the section before Russ Johnson grabs the lead. Listen to how Breaker leads the band forward, taking a powerful as everyone vamps. Close to the end, Bradfield returns for a short but fiery solo.

Photo: Janet Takayama
Ms. Burrell's voice rides the waves of sound on "So It Goes", a multi-sectioned piece that, at times, resembles the music of the band Chicago as well as Isaac Hayes "Theme from Shaft." In the middle of the track, pianist Stu Mindeman (most recently with Kurt Elling as bassist Sommers is now) takes off on a fine solo. The ensemble hits hard on Adams's arrangement of John Coltrane's "Wise One" (from the 1964 Impulse "Crescent" album). Again, it's Breaker who provides the energy while the section writing goes from explosive to flowing melodically. Both Bradfield and guitarist Mike Allemana solo but not until after the sections get their say.  

The album contains a song that could be a big hit on the "adult contemporary" charts.  "I've Been Meaning to Tell You" (lyrics by Cherise Thomas plus a rhythmical rap from Harris), at times, sounds as if it would fit right in on an East, Wind, & Fire album, what with the funky backbeat, the chunky guitar chords, and the soaring reeds and brass.  The long middle section allows the band to shows its versatility plus the fine tenor sax solo from Chris Madsen. Both Ms. Burrell and Harris are emotionally "real"; an off-note for some may be that the vocal tells a heartfelt love story while the rap deals with a couple's separation from the perspective of the husband.

The final track, "Anthem for a New Generation of Sociopolitical Reactionaries", is a fascinating duo between the soundbites of President Donald Trump and the responses of Keith Harris.  Depending on your politics, you'll either find the track irresponsible or humorous but it really is a poignant take on what many people on all political sides feels is a divisive politician.  The writing for the band has great power, serving as a bluesy rallying call to the listeners.  

"Not There Yet" stands out for its impressive writing, the handsome ensemble playing, the excellent rhythm section, plus the intelligent lyrics.  This music keeps your attention all the way through its 68 minutes; this music begs to heard and seen in person. Kudos to Joel Adams for his great work in bringing this music to light. 

For more information, go to

Here's the "hit" song:


Maggie Burrell - vocals, lyrics
Keith Harris -  spoken word artist 
Geof Bradfield, Chris Madsen, and Nick Mazzarella - saxophones
Chuck Parrish and Russ Johnson - trumpets 
Tom Garling and Joel Adams (leader) - trombones 
Clark Sommers - bass
Mike Allemana - guitar
Stu Mindemann - piano
Xavier Breaker - drums

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Since We Should/Must Stay Inside, Make The Best of It!

Viewing & Listening Tips for those who need to learn patience (and soon):

1) - Fred Hersch is posting a video everyday at 1 pm on his Facebook and then it is archived––check it out.

You can tune in at 1 p.m. or find the link to his daily mini-concert.

Plus, you should follow the link to "The Ballad of Fred Hersch" – created by the team of Charlotte LaGarde and Carrie Lozano, the documentary was released in 2016 and, like his 2017 autobiography "Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz" (Crown Archetype), paints a honest picture of the pianist's life , his coming-to-terms with AIDS, and the coma that nearly claimed his life in 2008. The movie contains a number of long musical performances plus shows the composers hard at work at recovering and creating "My Coma Dreams", his 2014 jazz/theater piece only available on DVD.

Here's the link:

2) - Just discovered this morning that, for the next two weeks (through 4/7/20), you can view for free "Rambling Boy", the 2009 Charlie Haden documentary created by Reto Caduff. Haden was the essence of "Speak softly but carry a big stick" in that he had a a quite voice but his bass and music stood up against tyranny at home (the United States) and and the world world.  Haden left many legacies including his musical family, his work with Ornette Coleman, Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Old & New Dreams as well as the Liberation Music Orchestra.

Here's the link to the movie:

3) – The number of music documentaries, concerts, and daily musical interludes on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Netflix,, etc is amazing. Jazz at Lincoln Center announced they'll post free videos every week starting today with the JALC's shows about Miles Davis, South African Music, and a Family Concert: "Who is Chick Corea?"  Go to for more information.

4) - Podcasts: While you're hanging about or out for a walk/jog/run, there are a slew of podcasts (seemingly more everyday) for your distraction/entertainment. Check out my friend Jason Crane (you'll see links in the right-hand corner of this blog page) plus the often-brilliant "A Noise From the Deep" (trumpeter Dave Douglas's monthly conversations with modern musicians/creators––go to Make time for Leo Sidran's "The Third Story"podcast to be found at as well as trombonist/label owner Nick Finzer's "Outside In Music Podcast" at Of course, there are a ton more––if you have a favorite, send me a link at

Stay safe!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Posi-Tone at 25 (and Still Growing)

Posi-Tone Records, based in Los Angeles, CA, continues to carry on in the jazz tradition of Blue Note, Prestige, Mainstream, and other labels from the 1940s-1960s. Co-owner and producer Marc Free gathers great, often young, talent, gives them guidance, a studio, and the big ears of co-owner/ Chief Engineer Nick O'Toole, smart packaging, and tireless promotion. Over the past 15 years (the label opened for business in 1995 but really rebooted in early 2006), starting with the debut album by pianist Ehud Asherie's"Lockout"), Free and O'Toole have recorded and released albums by organists Jared Gold and Brian Charette, trombonists Steve Davis, Nick Finzer, and Michael Dease, saxophonists Doug Webb, Roxy Coss, Ralph Bowen, and Tom Tallitsch, pianists Orrin Evans, Art Hirahira, and Jon Davis, bassists Ben Wolfe and Peter Brendler, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, and so many others. The label has also debuted projects by Evans's Captain Black Big Band, trumpeter Josh Lawrence, vibraphonist Behn Gillece, pianist Theo Hill, and saxophonist Alexa Tarantino. Over the past several years, Free has been putting together artists from the label's roster and creating a series of "studio" groups starting with 2018's "Straight Forward" by the sextet New Faces that combined the talents of Ms. Coss, Lawrence, Gillette, Brendler, Hill, and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza.

Now, in 2020, Posi-Tone continues to do what the co-owners do best––make good music that swings! Happy Birthday to them!

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Farnell Newton was born in Miami, FL and then moved to Philadelphia, PA. He is a big man and gets a big sound out of his trumpet. After graduating from Oberln Conservatory of Music, Newton moved to Portland, OR, where he and family still live. Newton has played with lots of people from various genres including Bootsy Collins, Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder, Galactic, and the Portland String Quartet plus he leads his bow funk band, The Othership Connection.  He's self-released a number of different albums and singles on his Portland-based label and signed to Posi-Tone in 2017. His first album for the label, a quintet date titled "Back To Earth", featured his West Coast band on a program that really swung.

"Rippin' & Runnin'" is his second date for Marc Free; this time, Newton is supported by Brian Charette (organ) and Rudy Royston (drums) while his front-line partner is Brandon Wright (tenor saxophone), all veterans of numerous recordings on Posi-Tone.  The eight-song program features four Newton tunes and one each from Wright, Ezra Weiss, Tom Tallitsch, and Duke Ellington.  The music ranges from the greasy funk of Tallitsch's "Gas Station Hot Dog" (check out the organ and drums–oh my!) to the leader's fast-paced title track to Weiss's New Orleans-soaked "The 5 A.M. Strut" (marvelous trumpet work and it's a pleasure to hear Wright strut his stuff). Charette and Royston are a delight throughout (Mr. Producer, give them their own album, please).

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
On such a powerful album, the ballads are bound to standout.  Te leader's "Little Bird Rose" moves ever-so-slowly, its sound and feel more aligned to soul/ r'n'b music than to jazz.  The only solo goes to Charette (just his keys and Royston's quiet brush work) while the trumpet and tenor sax read the theme and reprise it at the end.  The program closes with Ellington's masterful "Come Sunday."  Newton arranges the melody section that he plays the opening two lines alone and then Wright joins in on the last; the sax leads the way into the chorus and the trumpet joins for the last line.  The trumpet solo is pure gospel (with a touch of Louis Armstrong and Lester Bowie) while the tenor solo has shades of the blues throughout.  Perfect close to a fun listen!

"Rippin' & Runnin'" might not heal any diseases but chances are quite good you'll feel a lot better listening to this quartet having so much fun making music. Farnell Newton sounds great and his bandmates are top-drawer––all in all, get in the groove and move to this music!

For more information, go to

Here's one of the delightful Newton originals:

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
To mix old quotations, Idle Hands makes "such sweet music".  There are six sets "Hands" in this Marc Free-organized ensembles; the sextet includes Will Bernard (guitar), Sam Dillon (tenor saxophone), Behn Gillece (vibraphone), Art Hirahara (piano), Boris Kozlov (bass) and Donald Edwards (drums). Like most of Free's "groups", each musician has with recorded for or with the label.  This rhythm section is a true knock-out, Kozlov well-known for his work with the Mingus Big Band while Edwards is best known for his solo albums on Criss Cross plus his  dates with pianist Orrin Evans (the drummer also has worked with the Mingus BB). Hirahara is a stalwart whose Post-Tone albums are quite impressive.  Gillece, who is in several of these label "groups" continues to impress while Dillon is the "kid" here but his elders give him plenty of room to play. Bernard, whose funk-driven albums are delightful, is an excellent voice in this mix.

"Solid Moments" is a good name for the sextet's debut.  The 12-song program features, at least, one original from each member plus  pieces composedly Stevie Wonder and Freddie Hubbard. Of Gillece's two pieces, "Maxwell Street" swings in a slippery, funky, fashion and features strong solos from Dillon, Hirahara, and the composer while his "Barreling Through" opens the album in an exciting fashion with a bopping melody and several tempo changes. Bernard's "Silver Bullet" jumps right along with a fiery solo from Dillon and a "cool" solo from the composer. You'll love the bounce in the ensemble's steps on Edward's "Dock's House" – the music moves is such a sinuous fashion thanks to the rhythm section (after all, the drummer was born in New Orleans). Fine solos all around from Dillon, Bernard, Gillece, and, especially, Hirahira whose fingers are dancing with glee.

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Two pieces that stand out for this listener are the pianist's (pictured left) "Event Horizon" and Kozlov's handsome ballad "Ashes".  The former rides in on a long melody, well-designed, melody; Dillon gets the first solo with support from the composer's excellent work in the background, Gillece's ringing vibes, and Bernard well-placed chords.  Hirahara's solo piano introduction on the latter track is quite dramatic leading to a gentle, powerful, melody line played by guitar, vibes, and piano.  The rhythm section drops and the piano has a short interaction with the vibes before the band comes back in for Dillon's take on the melody.

Idle Hands are hardly dormant on "Solid Moments"––in fact, they seem to be having an enjoyable time playing together.  This album stands out not only the musicianship but also the overall high quality of the compositions. One hopes that someday this sextet will get to perform in person but, in the meantime, wrap your hands around the album!

Here's the Art Hirahara original:

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Works For Me, one more group organized and named by Marc Free (after one of his favorite John Scofield recordings), is a fascinating blend of veterans and newcomers, women and men. Featuring Alexa Tarantino (alto and soprano saxophones, flute), Caili O'Doherty (piano), Adi Myerson (bass), Tony Davis (guitar), and Joe Strasser (drums), the quintet explores on its debut a nine-song program including seven originals (three by the bassist plus two each by the pianist and guitarist) as well the opening "Jinrikisha" (Joe Henderson) and the closing "Send One Your Love" (Stevie Wonder).

Ms. O'Doherty composed the title track, a medium-fast piece with fine soprano sax work from Ms. Tarantino, dancing drums, and a graceful melody. The pianist, whose 2015 debut album "Padme" (Sunnyside) was quite impressive, is an excellent soloist as is Davis whose guitar phrases truly push the piece forward.  His tune, "Lake Sebago", has a handsome melody played by Ms. Tarantino on flute – listen to the chordal structure of the piece as it's quite intelligently constructed.  Davis also composed "El Gran Birane", a piece that its roots in contemporary r'n'b yet retains a jazz feel.  Thick piano chords and solid drumming support the guitar solo while Ms. O'Doherty creates her adventurous solo over just bass and drums.   Ms. Tarantino really digs down deep – there are moments when her alto sounds more like a tenor sax – for a short yet pithy pair of choruses.

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Ms. Myerson's "Your Smile (Keeps Me Sane)" is a lovely ballad with delicate work from the rhythm section plus smart solos from the alto saxophonist and the pianist (pictured left) with the guitar only utilized during the readings of the song's melody.

The quintet delivers a sweet version of Mr. Wonder's "Send One Your Love" (an apropos message for these times). Strasser and Ms. Myerson create a solid cushion for the front line and Davis take full advantage, creating a delightful solo that hints at Wes Montgomery as well as being quite soulful.

"Reach Within" is a good debut with the only caveat that several of the pieces could stretch out a bit more.  That aside, Works For Me is a quintet filled with promise and this writer looks forward to hearing more from each artist over the coming decades.

Here's the title track (composed by Ms. O'Doherty):

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Riches of the Large Ensemble (Part 2)

Photo: National Sawdust
As we sit in our homes in the early stages of the pandemic, music and arts seem even more important.  Other issues seem to be swept under the legislative carpets but not immigration––for all intents and purposes, no one is legally crossing the borders.  Still, we should all sit and watch the DVD that comes in the new 3-disk set from Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble "The New Immigrant Experience: Music Inspired by Conversations with Dreamers" (Tapestry).  No matter how you feel about the immigration situation in the United States and around the world, putting a human face and voice to the issue is so important.

The music stands up well without the video; in fact, this is a brilliant program that Salles has composed and arranged.  His 2018 Tapestry release, "The Lullaby Project (and Other Works for Large Ensemble",  was excellent (one of my Top Ten recordings of that year)––this music is even better. Salles, a Brazilian by birth, uses numerous rhythms from his homeland during this 11-song program.  Kudos to the rhythm section and, especially to the composer's use of Ryan Fedak's mallet percussion. Also worthy of mention is how brilliant (as in "illuminating") the sections sound, how they serve to advance the melody and open up spaces for solos. And this is not a program with many people soloing on every song (the average length of which is nine minutes).  When they do occur, the results are uniformly excellent. There's even a touch of modern electronic playfulness on several tracks e.g. guitarist Kevin Grudecki's heavily amplified solo on "IV: A Part And Not The Other" plus the "electronics"-enhanced trumpet solo (Eric Smith) and tenor sax solo (Mike Caudill) on "IX: These Things That Are Taken For Granted".

Truly, the best part of "The New Immigrant Experience" is the writing––this music, some of whose melodies are based on the cadence of certain words spoken by the people the composer interviewed during the process), stands out from the opening moment until the last notes have faded.  Even after listening to the stories of the nine "Dreamers", the feeling one gets from the music is hope, positive hope. Please listen to the stories, then listen to the music.  Then listen again and share with friends and your state and federal politicians. Felipe Salles has something to say and he does so brilliantly, especially with the aid of the Interconnections Ensemble.

For more information, go to

Here's # "I":


Felipe Salles, composer and conductor
Jonathan Ball, alto and soprano saxes, flute, piccolo
Mike Caudill, tenor and soprano saxes, flute, clarinet, electronic effects
Rick DiMuzio, tenor sax, clarinet
Tyler Burchfield, bari sax, bass clarinet, clarinet

trumpets/ flugelhorns
Jeff Holmes; Don Clough; Yuta Yamaguchi; Eric Smith, electronic effects; Doug Olsen

Clayton DeWalt; Randy Pingrey, Bulut Gülen, Angel Subero, bass trombone

Nando Michelin, piano
Kevin Grudecki, guitar
Ryan Fedak, vibraphone
Keala Kaumeheiwa, bass
Bertram Lehmann, drums, percussion

Anna Webber (tenor saxophone, flute) and Angela Morris (tenor saxophone, flute) started their big band, in fact the Webber/Morris Big Band, in 2015, gathering an ensemble of New York City musicians to play music that refers to the past, is very much of the present moment, and often looks to the future.  The W/MBB has just issued its debut album, "Both Are True" (Greenleaf Music) and, like the aggregation's live show, this music is bound to turn grab one's attention.

Over the course of 58+ minutes, so much happens.  Voices step out of the songs, the different sections take on various roles, the music is both introspective and communal, emotional and cool, pulsating and ruminative, yet always alive.  "Climbing on Mirrors" (A.W. composition) opens the program with an urgent three-note staccato; immediately, other horns ands reeds pick up on playing slight variations a la Steve Reich. Only drummer Jeff Davis gets to move around freely. When the entire band enters, it's only for a short moment and one hears shades of the music of Darcy James Argue. As alto saxophonist Charlotte Greve moves into her solo, pay attention to what else is occurring. Soon, a "groove" emerges with Davis, bassist Adam Hopkins, and vibraphonist Patricia Brennan the spark plugs. Still, this is "slippery" music in that the shapes are continually shifting, creating a tension that is never quite dispelled.

For some listeners, the elusive quality of the music may be off-putting but, for this writer, it's engaging. Both Anna Webber and Angela Morris have roots in the avant-garde, creative classical music (Ms. Webber), and pop (Ms. Morris) with their individual works covering much territory. That's the spirit which pervades this music. Whether it's the two short duos performed by the leaders or the sombre "Coral" (A.M. composition), an elegy for orchestra out of whose floating chords and little "noises" the solo voice of Adam O'Farrill rises with short notes and long tones that begin to coalesce  into a series of phrases that pick up in intensity as the ensemble roils below him. Other voices give chase but soon the bottom disappears and the clarion call of the trumpet leads to a gentle finish.

Photo: Hiroyuki Masuro
There's much more, such as the rollicking "And It Rolled Right Down" (A.W.) with its triumvirate of Adam Schneit (clarinet), Jake Henry (trumpet), and Reginald Chapman (bass trombone) "conversing" over the stumbling rhythms plus Ms. Webber's "Reverses" that closes the album. With an opening  melody that suggests "The Peacocks" by Jimmy Rowles, the music picks up speed thanks to the insistent trumpets before dropping down to tolling piano chords.  The rhythm section revives the "groove" and the ensemble pushes forward even as the brass and reeds are playing the long, slow, phrases from the opening. Halfway through the 11:39 track, the trumpet of Kenny Warren steps out of the once again diminished ensemble, creating a solo that is filled with quick runs. The brilliance in the arrangement is how the arrangement frames the solo with occasional full-on blasts from the assembled multitude before all drop back. Yet, they all jump back in leading to the close where various voices recite Maya Angelou's poem that the track took for its name.

Give "Both Are True" the time to infiltrate your mind, take the time explore the melodies and how the sections move in and out, how the soloists use their time in front so intelligently, and the seeming infinite colors the Webber/Morris Big Band creates.  This music lives, breathes, and, in the long run, lifts one higher.

For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:


Angela Morris: conductor, tenor saxophone, flute 
Anna Webber: conductor, tenor saxophone, flute 
Jay Rattman: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute 
Charlotte Greve: alto saxophone, clarinet 
Adam Schneit: tenor saxophone, clarinet 
Lisa Parrott: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet 
John Lake: trumpet, flugelhorn 
Jake Henry: trumpet, flugelhorn 
Adam O’Farrill: trumpet, flugelhorn 
Kenny Warren: trumpet, flugelhorn 
Tim Vaughn: trombone 
Nick Grinder: trombone 
Jen Baker: trombone 
Reginald Chapman: bass trombone 
Patricia Brennan: vibraphone 
Dustin Carlson: guitar 
Marc Hannaford: piano 
Adam Hopkins: bass 
Jeff Davis: drums 

By this time, you should know the name and the voice of Luciana Souza.  Born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, Ms. Souza actually began her career at the age of three (!) when she recorded a radio jingle. She was quite busy in the advertising world through her middle-teens and soon moved into the world of entertainment. She came to the United States, studied and rtaught at the Berklee School, then earned a Master's Degree at The New England Conservatory of Music, and also taught at the Manhattan School of Music. Ms. Souza's list of recordings is impressive, not only for the 12 releases under her own name (most on the Sunnyside label) but also for her collaborations with artists such as The Yellowjackets, Ryan Truesdell Gil Evans Centennial Orchestra, Bobby McFerrin, the vocal quartet MOSS, Herbie Hancock, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, and more. 

Among the "more" is composer-arranger Vince Mendoza––she appears on his 2011 album "Nights On Earth." In 2017, Ms. Souza and Maestro/ arranger Mendoza joined forces with the WDR Big Band Köln for "Storytellers" (Sunnyside), an album and concert celebrating great Brazilian songwriters. Over the course of the 10-song program, one hears music from Ivan Lines, Edu Lobo & Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, Djavan, Guinga, Chico Pinheiro & Tiago Costa pone piece each from Ms. Souza, Mr. Mendoza as well as two pieces from Antonio Carlos Jobim.  In the liner notes, the singer writes Matita Perê” is at the center of this recording. It is Jobim’s tribute to the vast and relentless presence of nature in Brazil". Composed in 1972 at a time when Brazil was going through martial law, censorship, and the Right Wing's consolidation of power, the piece celebrates the greatness of the country and its vast ecological power––while the lyrics are quite abstract, the music is extremely powerful (too bad there is no English translation in the liner notes).

The album moves between lovely ballads, such as Lobo/Buarque's stunning "Beatriz" (with a melody that invokes Stephen Sondheim) and delightful uptempo songs such Lins's "Se Acontecer" (whose tempo suggest Steely Dan circa "Royal Scam" and "Aja").  Mendoza's arrangements utilize the Big Band in intelligent fashion, with the brass and reeds often shadowing the voice, doubling her wordless vocals (as they do on his "Choro #3" which includes a delightful clarinet solo from Johan Hörlen as well as a dancing spot from trombonist Andy Hunter); the band gets to swing and float––check out Ms. Souza's "Baiäo" and how the rhythm sections buoys the flutes while the brass connect with the wordless vocal.  

Photo: Kim Fox
The other Jobim tune, "Choro Coração", is such a gentle piece. Besides the lovely vocal, Karolina Strassmeyer contributes an emotionally rich alto saxophone solo which is followed by a handsome muted trumpet solo courtesy of John Marshall.  Pay attention to how gentle the rhythm section is, especially pianist Rainier Böhm, bassist John Goldsby, and drummer Hans Dekker; smooth but ever-so-enchanting.  

"Storytellers" closes with the elegant "Sim ou Näo" (Djavan) where one hears Ms. Souza's voice joined by multiple flutes and supportive brass.  There's a fine flugelhorn from Ruud Bruels and such a gentle sway from the rhythm section that one finds it quite easy to fall under the spell of this special music.  Luciana Souza, Vince Mendoza, and the WDR Big Band Köln are a perfect match and this album is joyful listening in many different ways. Don't miss this recording!

For more information about the vocalist, go to  For the WDRBB, go to (it's all in German).  For Vince Mendoza, go to  

Here's the delightful Ivan Lins tune:



Luciana Souza - vocals 
Vince Mendoza - producer, arranger & conductor 

WDR Big Band Köln: 
Johan Hörlen - saxophone 
Karolina Strassmayer - saxophone 
Olivier Peters - saxophone 
Paul Heller - saxophone 
Jens Neufang - saxophone 
Stefan Karl Schmid - saxophone 
Wim Both - trumpet 
Rob Bruynen - trumpet 
Andy Haderer - trumpet 
Ruud Breuls - trumpet 
John Marshall - trumpet 
Bastian Stein - trumpet 
Ludwig Nuss - trombone 
Shannon Barnett - trombone 
Andy Hunter - trombone 
Mattis Cederberg - tuba 
Paul Shigihara - guitar 
John Goldsby - bass 
Rainer Böhm - piano 
Hans Dekker - drums 
Marcio Doctor - percussion

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Art Intimates Art

Trumpeter and composer Jason Palmer continues to go from strength to strength.  Over the past decade, he's produced 10 fine albums for Steeplechase Records with one for Whirlwind Recordings as well.  Palmer has also recorded and performed with tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger for six albums over the five years.  Last year, Giant Step Arts issued "Rhyme and Reason", a splendid quartet session with tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, drummer Kendrick Scott, and bassist Matt Brewer recorded live at The Jazz Gallery in New York City. Both Turner and Scott are longtime associates with the trumpeter having appeared on his second Steeplechase album, 2011's "Here Today."

They are both back for his latest Giant Step Arts venture "The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella"––joining them are bassist Edward Perez (who appeared on the 2011 CD) and vibraphonist Joel Ross.  The new double-CD pays tribute to 10 paintings and two pieces of ornamental art that were stolen (and have never been recovered) in the March 1990 robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA (in fact, the album was released on the 30th anniversary of the event - March 18).  For his blog, Palmer wrote an extensive piece on the program and it's well worth reading even if you do not listen to the music; of course, the writing helps even more if you listen to the pieces.  Like his previous Giant Step album, this was recorded live, this time at the Harold S. Vanderbilt Penthouse at the Intercontinental New York Barclay.

Painting: Rembrandt (1633)
The program begins with "A Lady and Gentleman in Black" (the image to the left); everything that is impressive about the album is laid out within five minutes, from the brilliant drum to the melodic, percussive, bass lines to the crisp, clear, trumpet to the handsome, post-bop tenor sax.  The critical element, besides the excellent writing, is the Joel Ross, the sound of this vibes, how he "colors' the music, his counterpoint, interactions with Scott, and his deceptively inventive solos.  Label owner and co-photographer Jimmy Katz engineered the session and mixed it with Dave Darlington––they expertly capture the quintet's sounds so you can hear all the different voices clearly.  Only one of the 12 tracks is under eight minutes long with seven running more than 11 minutes.  Nevertheless, it's such a pleasure to hear this intelligent music that one finds listening to one disk in one sitting is hardly a chore and to both time well spent.

Painting: Vermeer
Listening to the skittish melody line of "The Concert" (Vermeer painting to the left) and noticing how inventive yet quiet Scott (brushes) and Perez (counterpoint) are during the long vibraphone solo is such a treat.  The slow opening section of "Landscape With an Obelisk" (painted by Govert Flinck in 1638) features a short yet delightful drum solo before the band kicks the piece into a much higher gear. "A French Imperial Eagle Finial" (one of two pieces for ornamental art) has quite the formal opening for trumpet and tenor sax but the body of the piece dances atop impressive bass playing and Scott's inventive drum playing.

Painting: Degas
While the Gardner Museum may still hope to retrieve these stolen masterpieces, this album offers the audience the opportunity to spend two hours+ in the company of five masters.  Jason Palmer was obviously inspired by these paintings to create his own musical canvasses and allow his friends to add their own touches to the works.  If you have had the privilege to hear the trumpeter in concert, you know he never relies on cliches or effects during his solos or his composing.  One could say the same about the playing of Mark Turner and Kendrick Scott plus the intelligent listening and responding of Edward Perez as well as how young Joel Ross (24) is on his way to a long creative career.  "The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella" is a real delight!

For more information, go to  For his blog, go to

Here's one of the "works":

Bassist and composer Peter Slavov already had a busy career as a teenage musician in his native Bulgaria when he came to the United States and the Berklee School of music in 1998.  After graduation, he moved to New York City and within two years, was working with Joe Lovano, Quincy Jones, Kevin Mahogany, and others.  The bassist works in Lovano's Quartet and Nonet plus in US Five band. He's also recorded with saxophonists Patrick Cornelius and Uri Gurvich, pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, and drummer Francisco Mela. Slavov never seemed to have time or the inclination to create his own music; after his father (drummer Peter Slavov Senior) died in 2008, a long period of thinking, composing, and arranging began.  The recording sessions began in early 2017 and continued in its own pace until September 2019.  The results can now be heard on "Little Stories", Slavov Jr.'s self-released album and dedicated to the memory and inspiration of his father.

As you can see by the personnel listed below, there were a lot of people involved in bring the music to life.  Yet, the program feels organic, organized in a sensible fashion so that one can hear all the various influences on the bassist's life and career without imitation. The string quartet intro to "Gone", with the composer's bass lines as counterpoint, opens to a gentle piano melody that pushes forward on the power of the rhythm section and the delicate string arrangement; pianist Nitzan Gavrieli is the focal point and his work is delightful. John Ellis's reed presence is quite impressive on the five tracks on which he plays, none more so than "Bye", a song composed about the last time Slavov's waved goodbye to his son. It's emotional without being sappy while the interplay of Ellis (tenor sax), the bassist, pianist Gavrielli, and drummer Diego Ramirez is lovely. Mi Kim adds her wordless vocals to the Brazilian-inspired "History of Beauty" and "Ghost", her ethereal sound rising in tandem with the acoustic guitar (Marcio Philomena) and then weaving around the active bass lines on the former track. For the latter, her voice sets the mood, picked by Gavrielli's excellent piano solo (note the fine bass counterpoint and active drumming), and joining in with Ellis's alto sax.

Photo: Facebook
There are many different moods on the album.  "Small Little Things" has a funky rhythm and a lively sound darkened a bit by the woody bass clarinet sounds of Mark Small. His interactions with the rhythm section are delightful. Ellis's rich tenor sounds leads the rhythm section into the bluesy "Photos", yet another tune about memories composed right after the bassist moved to the US.  The lovely, medium-tempo, ballad "A.M." features the breathy tenor sax of Matt Marantz (who creates quite a strong solo in the later part of the tune) plus more excellent piano work.

The album closes with "Elegy", a solo bass piece (with overdubbed arco and pizzicato)––composed for a friend who recently died, the music focusses on how melodic a soloist Slavov can be. The piece is not very long but still powerful....and truly hopeful and healing.

"Little Stories" is certainly not small music nor is it loud or annoying. Instead, this program, conceived and composed by Peter Slavov, soothes as much as it excites, makes one think on the stories from our own lives and how being apart from loved ones is never easy. The blend of sounds, of strings and reeds plus piano and vocals, makes for good listening any time.

For more information, go to

Here's the second track:


Peter Slavov - bass, compositions, arrangements, producer 
John Ellis - saxophone, bass clarinet (on five tracks ) 
Mark Small - bass clarinet ("Small Little Things" only) 
Matt Marantz - tenor saxophone ("A.M." only)
Nitzan Gavrieli - piano
Dan Kaufman - piano (opening track
Mark McLean- drums (on two tracks) 
Diego Ramirez - drums 
Marcio Philomena - guitar ("History of Beauty" only) 
Mi Kim - voice (2 tracks) 
Entcho Todorov - violin  (opening track and 
Patti Kilroy - cello ("Gone"
Jen Herman -viola (
Yves Dharamraj - cello (
Adele Stein - cello (opening track) 
Miguel Lagos - executive producer 
Maria Jose Concha - cover art

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

More Guitars in Many Moods and Modes

Photo: Alan Nahigian
Anyone with even a casual link to creative music has heard the work of Liberty Ellman but may never have heard of him.  Born in London, England, his family moved to the United States when the guitarist was still in the early grades of school.  Settling on the West Coast, he got involved with artists such as Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Coleman as well as hip-hop groups and the San Francisco Mime Troupe.  Ellman made his recording debut with pianist Iyer in 1995 and his first album as a leader, "Orthodoxy", was issued by Noir Records in late 1997. After moving back to New York City, Ellman worked with many artists across the musical spectrum, from pianist Jason Moran to Wadada Leo Smith to Rwandan composer/ vocalist Somi to pianist Myra Melford's Snowy Egret and more; not only did he perform and record with these artists but also mixed and mastered the recordings.  His work with alto saxophonist and composer Henry Threadgill began when he became a member of Zooid in the latter part of 2008; he's now recorded six albums with the Pulitzer Prize-winning artist, all on Pi Recordings.

"Last Desert" is Ellman's fifth album as a leader, his first in five years, and fourth for Pi.  He's composed seven pieces for a sextet that appeared on 2015's "Radiate": his guitar, Steve Lehman (alto saxophone), Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Jose Davila (tuba), Stephan Crump (bass), and Damion Reid (drums). The album's title refers to the international ultramarathon "4 Deserts", in which competitors race across several of the harshest environments in the world. The album is no competition but a smartly-shaped set of songs that range from the introspective opening track, "The Sip" to the Threadgill-inspired speedy "Rubber Flowers" (splendid drumming from Reid while Lehmann and Ellman spar) to the funky "Doppler" (listen to how the tuba, drums, bass, and guitar bounce off each other while trumpet and alto sax play a percussive melody).  Finlayson, Lehman, and Ellman converse in short solos built off the main melody which as a bit of Thelonious Monk lurking in there. The blend of Lehman's tart sound, the crisp, soaring, phrases of Finlayson, and the percussive melodicism of the leader

Photo: Alan Nahigian
The title track is, actually, two pieces that stretch out to over 15 minutes. "I", an episodic composition, opens with a through-composed melody for trumpet lead, tuba bottom, and saxophone counterpoint.  The guitar and drums enter filling out the melody line and providing color. Crump joins to fill out the sound.  The next section moves forwardly rapidly thanks to the active rhythm section while Ellman and Finlayson create powerful solos. Near the close of the piece, Lehman and Rojas play a strong counterpoint to the trumpet before a quick restatement of the initial theme.  "II" starts similarly with trumpet lead, saxophone counterpoint but also tuba and guitar counterpoint.  When Reid and Crump enter, the music falls into a skewed blues pattern while the alto sax and guitar take the lead––the drums beneath the sax solo are explosive, on a rampage, as the guitar and bass play sparse riffs.  Davila steps out alone leading the way to a powerful trumpet solo . There's much to listen to here between the rhythms, the background voices, the tuba and bass support while Finlayson leads the way to the close.

The program comes to a close on the funky "Liquid" with an opening that brings to mind James Brown, Steve Coleman, West African pop, hip hop, and more without being like any of those names and styles.  Again, Reid is the spark that moves the music forward; yet, like the other tracks, the mood and pace change on a dime before the hardy tuba solo.

"Last Desert" is truly modern music. Grown on the fertile ground that Ornette Coleman, Jamaldeen Tacuma, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Henry Threadgill, and others churned up in the 1980s and 90s, Liberty Ellman moves into a newer territory, one where you hear the individual voices in the ensemble weave in and around each others, sometimes joining together, other times spinning away, yet always keeping your attention.  You might not truly appreciate this music on the first or second listen but giving it time and attention will open the amazing worlds Ellman and his cohort are creating.

For more information, go to

Let the opening track inside around your brain:

Guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel (born 1965 in Judenburg, Austria) has been active on the international music scene since his student days in Graz, Austria.  He first studied classical music but was exposed to jazz and, over the next three+ decades, he has kept his hands in both genres while expanding into singer-songwriter territory.  While at the Berklee School on Boston, MA in the mid-to-late 1980s, he studied with Mick Goodrick and his first major gig was with the Gary Burton Group.  Muthspiel stayed in the United States until 2001, moving to Vienna that year where he still lives.  Many of his earlier recordings as a leader appeared on his own Material Records label (where you can find the singer-songwriter albums); the guitarist signed with ECM in 2013 as member of a trio with fellow guitarists Ralph Towner and Slava Grigoryan.  In 2014, the label issued "Driftwood", Muthspiel's trio with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade.  The guitarist has since gone on to release two other ECM albums, both featuring trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and pianist Brad Mehldau.

Muthspiel's latest for the label is "Angular Blues"; the ensemble is back to a trio still with Brian Blade and now Scott Colley playing bass. The nine-song program features seven originals by the guitarist plus, for the first time in his ECM career, two "standards", Cole Porter's "Everything I Love" and Gene Paul's "I'll Remember April."  The former, inspired by the Keith Jarrett Trio's version, swings on the power of Blade's delightful brushes and Colley's counterpoint.  Muthspiel caresses the melody and then plays a wide-ranging solo.  Colley also contributes a fine solo––he's one of the more melodic players of the bass––all the while, Blade dances underneath.  The latter tune, actually, the final track, has a lively Caribbean rhythm under the guitarist's playful reading of the melody; Colley solos first over a steady beat and quiet chords.  Both he and Muthspiel stay close to the melody for their solos plus there's a lengthy rubato section that may remind some of Marc Johnson's "Bass Desires" group (John Scofield, Bill Frisell, and Peter Erskine) for ECM

The opening three tracks feature the guitarist on nylon-string acoustic.  "Wondering" starts the album, an up-tempo tune that shows just how well the rhythm section interact with the softer guitar. The title track follows, a rambunctious piece with impressive interaction, excellent use of the bass as counterpoint, and a stop-and-go approach in the early minutes before opening to an expansive guitar solo and another excellent solo from Colley.  Listen to how Blade interacts with the guitarist during his solo and how both he and Muthspiel frame the bass solo.  The final acoustic guitar piece is the lovely "Hüttengriffe"' its folk-like melody and gently county-western strolling rhythm pulling in the listener and asking nothing more than total attention.

The remainder of the program features electric guitar and each track offers new delights.  Look out especially for the rapid-fire "Ride" for the loping melody and Blade's super brush work.   Also, check out "Kanon in 6/8", a trio romp that features sparkling guitar work (involving subtle looping) and "Kanon in 5/4" which is a solo piece for electric guitar.  One can certainly hear Muthspiel's classical training throughout the piece; he's playful and even ebullient at times but always quite melodic.

"Angular Blues" is a delight-filled album from the trio of Wolfgang Muthspiel (leader), Scott Colley, and the always masterly Brian Blade.  The usually pristine ECM sound allows the listener to hear each musician and their glorious interactions are an integral part of what makes the recording so enjoyable.  Check it out!

For more information, go to

Here's the Trio on the Cole Porter tune:

Photo: Jeff Hand
Guitarist and composer Jeff Swanson, a native of Indiana and graduate of Northern Illinois University (located in DeKalb, IL), has been based in Chicago for the better part of the past 10 years. He's performed and recorded with saxophonist Caroline Davis and drummer Charles Rumback (in the trio called Whirlpool) plus formed the quartet Living Bridge (you can find albums by both groups on Swanson has also toured with many of the area's more progressive jazz bands.  In 2018, he released his debut album as a leader on his own Bace label––titled "Case-fitter", the recording featured an octet including saxophonists Greg Ward and Dustin Laurenzi, trumpeter Quentin Coaxum, drummer Greg Artry plus Fender Rhodes player Paul Bedal.

Bedal and Artry are part of Swanson's new album, "Fathoms" (Bace), now featuring electric bassist Matt Ulery and taking the group name from the title of the guitarist's debut album.  Ward and Laurenzi show up on four of the 10 tracks.  Swanson's music takes elements of jazz, blues, prog-rock, rock, and more, to create textures that catch the ear even as they make you want to dance.  What one should notice immediately is these songs, all composed by the guitarist, have strong melody lines, even, as in the instances of "Replicant" and "Let The Children Play", the group is thrashing away; that latter tune has an excellent intro featuring Ward's alto in the lead.  There is a flow to Swanson's phrases when he is soloing while his arrangements for the expanded group on the four songs give the saxophonists the opportunity to stretch out. The opener, "Gaussian" (named for a friend), introduces the "prog-rock" from the get-go with the OP-1 synth (played by the guitarist) supplying strings.  Artry and Ulery really lock in on the track, really pushing the song forward as they create a cushion for the guitar solo.

There are less intense moments scattered throughout the program such as the insistent "Roads", "Elisha" (with a guitar solo that starts quietly and picks up slowly), and the medium-tempo blues "The Accutron" (which also has several ballad sections that Ulery and Swanson use to begin their solo)s. Bedal takes the lead on "Fyra", first with an unaccompanied section that opens him interacting with Ulery and Artry while the leader creates eerie noises in the background.  "Tre" is a handsome ballad with a long opening section in which Swanson sticks close to the melody before Ulery's melodic bass solo (the only person to get a solo on the track).

There's more than a touch of West Coast funky swing on "Färvel" with the drummer's clicking sticks and the bassist's thumping bottom notes. Swanson's intense solo stands out as does Ward's romping spot. As the climax, the band drops the volume quickly and reprises the opening. On the afore-mentioned "Let The Children Play" (the track that closes the album), Swanson's guitar work and subsequent solo evokes sonic images of both Jimi Hendrix and Vernon Reid.

"Fathoms" is one of those albums that dances across so many musical genres that the smartest move is to just let it rip through your speakers at a high volume and enjoy the ride.  What fun!

For more information, go to

Here's a track with the saxophones: