Thursday, August 2, 2018

Steve Coleman's Elemental Music (And You Should Dance To It!)

Photo: Montreal Jazz Fest
The best person to describe the music of Steve Coleman is the man himself. The alto saxophonist, composer, conceptualist, and community educator/activist, he has spent over three decades creating his own musical language. The M-Base Collective, an organization that Coleman founded around 1984, takes its cues from the AACM from Chicago, the composer's hometown.  If you click on the link above, you can see how musicians have collaborated together as members of the various bands that Coleman leads or have worked with him in other ways.

Over the decades, Coleman has led and continues to lead numerous ensembles but, most consistently, has worked with The Five Elements.  The current quintet, featuring Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Miles Okazaki (electric guitar), Anthony Tidd (electric bass), and Sean Rickman (drums), has been together for over five years.  That lineup's debut was the powerful 2013 "Functional Arrhythmias" (Pi Recordings). Both Rickman and Tidd had worked with Coleman in earlier versions of the group while Finlayson has been part of the the ensemble since 2000. Okazaki joined in 2009 while building his own solo career.  Over the past four years, the group has been involved in a series of weeks-long residencies in cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit and others, that go beyond just concerts and into outreach to underserved communities and more.

The ensemble's latest musical adventure is "Steve Coleman and The Five Elements: Live at The Village Vanguard, Vol. 1 (The Embedded Sets)" (Pi Recordings).  The two-disc, 150 minute, program was recorded during the Quintet's residency in May 2017 (Volume 2 was recorded at this year's residency).  Coleman fans do not need a review; they know to expect an amazing blend of rhythms, spontaneous melodies, intelligent interactions, and one tremendous rhythm section.  Coleman has stated that his musical style was greatly influenced by Charlie Parker - one can hear that in his tart tone, the rapid-fire riffs that often serve as melodies, and his energetic approach to solos.  What bassist Tidd and drummer Rickman do is make this music dance.  There are numerous examples throughout the two sets of rhythmic abandon.  Think of Clyde Stubblefield (drummer for James Brown in his most popular era, 1965-1974) and bassists Bernard Odums and Bootsy Collins (both who worked for Brown in that era) jamming backstage with Sun Ra or Albert Ayler.  Tidd and Rickman don't just drive this band, they help the music take alternate routes.


The music is, at turns, exhilarating, demanding, forceful, hurtling forward on the power of group interactions - whether the band is playing older material or working through brand-new compositions, the spirit of spontaneous improvisation can be felt from note one.  Even Coleman favorites, like his reading of fellow alto saxophonist Bunky Greene's "Little Girl I'll Miss You" has a spontaneous arrangement - you can hear it twice on Disk 1 and it's fascinating to hear the difference between the two. The unaccompanied alto intro remains (though Coleman changes his approach on each rendition) but how the band comes in is different and, of course, so are the solos.  

Just pay attention.  If you do, you can bask in how Finlayson and the leader interact throughout, hear how Okizaki adds his distinctive voice to the songs, and, of course, the splendid rhythm section. Tidd's electric bass work is delightfully articulate while Rickman's polyrhythmic funk-swing-groove conjures up Sam Woodyard with the Duke Ellington Orchestra (check out "rmt/Figit Time" that opens the second set), Max Roach, Billy Cobham, and Dafnis Prieto without sounding like anyone in particular.

So, dig into "Live at The Village Vanguard, Vol. 1 (The Embedded Sets)", listen closely, and then go see Steve Coleman and Five Elements in person for yourself.  Try and stay in your seat.

Release date is August 10, 2018.

For more information, go to pirecordings.com/artists/steve-coleman/ and/or m-base.com.  

Give a listen:

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Voices of Love, Loss, Happiness, Desire, and More (Pt 1)

Honestly, I have been returning to listen to the latest album from singer and songwriter Jeff Baker since it arrived at the beginning of 2018.  "Phrases" (Oa2 Records) is a 76-minute program that, on initial listens, struck me as a series of vignettes on love and loss as if Baker was working his way through a dark time. On a personal note, throughout the year, the writer has dealt with deaths and/or illnesses of friends and relatives as well as health issues that affected the closest of compatriots.  The solace received from certain recordings and live performances was great but how does one write about the unspeakable.  I am not such a fool as to drown my sorrows in drink or drugs but crave the nearness of people.  Heaven forbid, I read about contemporary politics - much of the good happening in the world, in this country, and the state is covered by screaming headlines of divisions and inequalities (proving that not much has changed over the years only that we hear about faster and from all corners of the globe.  Easier to curl up with a book with music welling and cooing in the background.

Back to "Phrases."  From Baker's adaptation of Pablo Neruda's poem "Tonight I can write the saddest lines" to the singer's quiet take of "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" (from the pens of Rube Bloom and Fred Koehler), the songs deal with issues of the heart.  He's got quite a sparkling band, one that includes Darrell Grant (piano), Clark Sommers (bass), and Brian Blade (drums) as well as the smart reeds of Steve Wilson (alto saxophone) and Geof Bradfield (tenor saxophone) and the powerfully rich trumpet of Marquis Hill.  One also hears the electric guitar of Gregory Uhlmann plus contributions from the Avalon String Quartet (Blaise Magniere and Marie Wang on violin, Anthony Devrove on viola, and Cheng-Hou Lee on cello).

Listen to how Baker folds his tenor voice around the horns on "Lost" with Blade really driving the ensemble, Uhlmann's ringing guitar phrases (good solo as well) and Grant's flowing lines in support.  This is one of the songs that pulled me back into the album, lyrics that spoke of possibilities, mostly positive.  Note how Wilson's expressive soprano sax dances with the guitarist in the solo section of "Salinger" - based on a short story by the late J.D. Salinger as well as novel by Stephen Chbosky, this song also shows the influence of the music of Sting.  The slow ballad "Harbor" (composed by bassist Sommers and Baker) is a true love song, no premonitions of breaking hearts.

Still, it's hard to stay away from the heartbreak.  Baker's sweet take of Bonnie Raitt's "Not 'Cause I Wanted To" (which opens with a fine bass solo) is emotionally rich without being saccharine.  "People of Paper", based on the 2005 debut novel of Mexican-born author Salvador Plascencia, is a story of love unrequited and lost.  The horns float above the vocals until Hill steps out with a most reserved yet heartfelt solo - don't miss the short but stunning soprano sax phrase as the piece fades away.  .

Several of the reviews have said that the songs on "Phrases" go on too long and no one song stands out. I beg to differ; to my ears, each piece is part of a longer story, a tale in which love and loss are at the center.  Pay attention to the musicians Jeff Baker surrounds himself with, how they serve the music, how the arrangements have a strong sense of drama, and how Sommers and Blade offer such great support.  And, I can't through "A Hundred Less One" without tearing up knowing it speaks for the many people I know who have been married for decades.  Some music blazes trails, some music makes you dance, and some music takes so far inside yourself you feel as if your life is exposed to the world. "That's "Phrases" in a sentence!

For more information, go to jeffbakerjazz.com.




Twenty-two years ago, New York Voices shared the bill on an album alongside the Count Basie Orchestra.  Five years ago, the quartet - founded in 1998 by original members Kim Nazarian, Darmon Marer, and Peter Eldridge plus Lauren Kinhan (who joined in 1992) - recorded with the WDR Big Band.  2018 finds them joining the Bob Mintzer Big Band for "Meeting of Minds" (MCG Jazz). It's a treat from track one, a bluesy take on "Autumn Leaves" to the hard-driving samba of "I'll Remember April."

The album title certainly refers to the splendid band arrangements written by Mintzer as well as the wonderful vocal arrangements by Marder.  Yet, it's Eldridge and Marder who arranged both the band and vocal arrangements on Hoagy Carmichael's "I Get Along Without You Very Well" and Meader who does the dual honors on the Big Band (without NY Voices) on "I Want To Be Happy."  The former has a more "modern" sound with an arrangement perhaps influenced by Maria Schneider (especially how the high reeds frame the voice).  The latter tune bounces along on the powerful drum work of John Riley and solid bass of Jay Anderson.  Arranger Marder shines the spotlight on Scott Wendholdt's trumpet and the delightful piano of Phil Markowitz (both in support and when he takes his solo.)

The 17-member Mintzer Big Band has been in existence over 35 years, recording 21 Lps and CDs for labels such as DMP and MCG. Since 2004, the BMBB has issued seven CDs for the Pittsburgh, PA-based label.  Composed of musicians who are busy in large ensembles action both coasts, they can play just about everything.  Listen to the funky take of "Old Devil Moon" - with its raucous vocal from Ms. Kinhan and "down-and-dirty" drums, one feels the need to dance.  Check out the way Mintzer supports the voices of Ms. Nazarian and Mr. Eldridge on "The Way You Look Tonight" plus the smashing center section of wordless vocals and section voices.  The long tenor sax solo from Mintzer is also a treat.

Even though the vast majority of the music on "Meeting of Minds" comes from the 1930s-40s Golden Era of the Great American Songbook (save for Mintzer's original "Weird Blues" yet that would sound out of place played by the Count Basie Orchestra in the late 1950s), this album is no throwback.  Kudos to the Bob Mintzer Big and and New York Voices and all involved bringing this project to light! This album will brighten your day and do so perceptibly.

For more information, go to newyorkvoices.com or to www.bobmintzer.com.

Here are the groups in action:


Personnel of Bob Mintzer Big Band:

Bob Mintzer – Tenor Saxophone, Flute
Bob Sheppard – Alto Saxophone, Flute
Lawrence Feldman – Alto Saxophone, Flute
Bob Malach – Tenor Saxophone
Roger Rosenberg – Baritone Saxophone, Clarinet
Bob – Millikan – Trumpet
Frank Greene – Trumpet
Scott Wendholt – Trumpet
James Moore – Trumpet
Keith O’Quinn – Trombone
Jeff Bush – Trombone
Jay Ashby – Trombone, Percussion
David Taylor – Bass Trombone
Phil Markowitz – Piano
Marty Ashby – Guitar
Jay Anderson – Bass
John Riley – Drums











Tuesday, July 24, 2018

American Music of Many Hues

Clarinetist, composer, and arranger Andy Biskin (born 1955 in San Antonio, Texas) is a true musical adventurer. A student of music and anthropology at Yale University, one of his first jobs out of college was as assistant to folklorist Alan Lomax whose work cataloging and recording American "folk" music, an endeavor started by his father John, led to better understanding how American music became American. As a youngster, Biskin heard all types of music in Texas, from Mexican conjuntos to German Polkas to Dixieland Bands to symphonies.  Over the past four decades, Biskin has worked as a video editor, documentary maker, and, starting in 2001, has released five recordings as a leader or co-leader.

Album number six is now here and its roots are in the music Andy Biskin must have heard working alongside the famed ethnomusicologist.  "16 Tons: Songs from the Alan Lomax Collection" (AnDorfin Music) has songs one will easily recognize, others that are rearranged although the melodies are intact, and one Biskin original steeped in the traditions he has studied.  Even more interesting is the ensemble gathered to play this repertoire.  Three trumpets  - played by John Carlson, Dave Smith, and Kenny Warren - plus Biskin's clarinet and bass clarinet and drummer Rob Garcia come together for a spirited journey through these songs.  Reminiscent of his 2006 (recorded in 2000) release "Early American: The Songs of Stephen Foster", Biskin arranges this music in such a way that everything sounds fresh and often surprising on one's first listen,

You'll hear echoes of Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, blues, jazz, swing, marching band tunes, and so much more.  Biskin must have had so much fun with his arrangements.  The album opener, "Sweet Betsy From Pike", opens with each trumpeter taking his turn to play the melody and only near the end does the bass clarinet add his voice to the short section in which the three trumpets play together. "Grey Goose" hits hard with the drummer leading the charge.  Rob Garcia is an inspired choice for this ensemble.  Having played numerous styes of music (from big band to early jazz to his own modern quintet and more), he always makes the right moves either leading the quintet forward or in support.   Garcia pushes the group through a funky, spirited, take of "Knock John Booker" (Biskin's bass clarinet part has echoes of David Murray's work with the World Saxophone Quartet, especially on "Steppin'").

Photo: Rebecca Greenfield
So many highlights throughout the album.  The 1817 gospel tune "Am I Born To Die" has a haunting melody, lovely harmonies, and a martial beat that links it to the early days of the American republic.  The plaintive melody of "House Carpenter" starts slowly but the middle section "rocks out" for a few moments around solo clarinet melodic fills.  "Down in the Valley" has moments that sound like Copland's "Appalachian Spring"; the splay and trills of the muted trumpets, Biskin's mournful clarinet, and Garcia's strong brushes and bass drum work stand out.  "Tom Dooley" is a bouncy piece considering the sadness of the story. Here the song moves with great spirit.

"16 Tons" closes with a solo clarinet reprise of "Sweet Betsy From Bike", a gentle send-off to an album that is full of splendid performances, humor, emotion, melodies, harmonies, and fascinating rhythms. Actually, the one thing the album does not have is the title song (possibly because the song we know as "16 Tons" was composed in 1950 by Merle Travis - there are people who say the song comes from the 1930s).  That's no problem, really.  Andy Biskin continues to create music that, even as it embraces its roots, pushes against convention and cliche.

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

Here's the sweet "House Carpenter":



The 20th Century has been called the "American Century" because of all the trials, tribulations, innovations, the Depression, World Wars, the Vietnam War, the end of Communism in Eastern Europe, and so on.  American music absorbed the sounds and poetry of the country's inhabitants, whether it was the Broadway Dreams of the Gershwin Brothers, Irving Berlin, and Rodgers & Hammerstein or the  songs and sound of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Allen Touissaint, Motown, Michael Jackson, and others.  Classical music innovators include George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, John Harbison, and Leonard Bernstein.  Bernstein (1918-1990) drew from so many influences and broke down so many walls that people continue to study and perform his music, watch his lectures, and buy his recordings.

Bernstein composed the music for six Broadway musicals, from 1944's boisterous "On The Town", 1956's comic satire "Candide", and his one giant mistake, 1976's "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" (with lyrics by Alan J. Lerner). His most famous work is, arguably, 1957's "West Side Story" (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim), an adaptation of William Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet" set in New York City in the wave of Puerto Rican immigration.  The story aside, the music is extremely adventurous with rhythms coming at the listener/audience from all sides.

Jazz musicians have taken up the challenge of playing this music with artists such as pianists Bill Charlap, Tommy Flanagan, and Oscar Peterson recording all or some of the material from the production.  Stan Kenton's Orchestra released a memorable version on the early 1960s as did saxophonist Bill Barron (1963).  To celebrate Maestro Bernstein's 100th Birthday, drummer Bobby Sanabria decided to record the score with his Multiverse Big Band.  The results, recorded in December of 2017 at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola for Jazz at Lincoln Center, can be heard on the dynamic new "West Side Story: Reimagined" (Jazzheads Records).

Sanabria's faculty mate at the Manhattan School of Music, Jeremy Fletcher, contributed five of the arrangements along with arrangers that former MSM students, band members, and friends such as baritone saxophonist Danny Rivera, Niko Siebold, Jeff Lederer, Matt Wong, Nate Sparks, Eugene Marlow, Andrew Neesley, and  percussionist Takao Heisho. Over the two hours of music, the 21-member Multiverse Big Band (personnel below) handles the material with aplomb.  Not surprising that the rhythm sections almost always leads the way through the songs.  The first of the two CDs bursts right out of the starting gate with "Prologue" (an overture), "Jet Song", "America", and "Gee, Officer Krupke" only slowing down for the lovely "Tonight."  The first side closes with two "Gym Scenes" both utilizing the melody of "Maria" played as a blues and a mambo on the first cut and as a Cha Cha Cha on the second.

Side two opens with a full version of "Maria" arranged by Sanabria's musical associate Eugene Marlow.  It's a fascinating version. Opening with an Yoruban chant featuring drums and voices that lead into the memorable melody (brilliantly played by the trumpets), the piece soon moves into another percussion & voice interaction that reaches a frenzied climax before returning to the melody.  "Cool" and "The Rumble" raises the temperature back to a boiling point - it's easy to lose one's breath keeping up with these frenetic performances.  The arrangements of "One Hand, One Heart" and "Somewhere", both dramatic ballads, also are built on rhythms that may surprise lovers of the originals. The former features a lovely samba rhythm with trombonist Armando Vergara and alto saxophonist David Dejesus representing the star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria. The piece breaks out into a joyous strut for the fine flute solo by Gabrielle Garo.  The latter tune is taken at more of break-neck speed, slowing down for the delightful melody.  The lovely tune almost gets lost in the fiery rhythms.  The "Epilogue/Finale", coming after an emotional speech by Sanabria, also uses the melody of "Somewhere" , taken slower here but with a  rubato "free" section to use sounds to illustrate Maria's sense of loss.

I have to admit it took me a while to really see the brilliance of "West Side Story: Reimagined" as I missed the sassy lyrics of "America" and "Gee, Officer Krupke" as well as the lovely sentiments of "Somewhere" and "One Hand, One Heart."  Yet, play this music good and loud, let the trumpets and trombones bore a hole in your soul, the reeds rise above the fray, and the percussion guide your feet, you'll soon be seduced by these delightful performances.  You know that Leonard Bernstein, such a champion of all kinds of music, a man with empathy for all people, would be charmed and thrilled! Bravo Señor Bobby Sanabria!

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

Here's "America" in all its glory:



The Personnel:

Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band – 
Trumpets: Kevin Bryan (lead, opening whistle), Shareef Clayton, Max Darché, Andrew Neesley.

Saxophones: David Dejesus: lead alto and soprano, flute; Andrew Gould: alto and flute; Peter Brainin: tenor and flute; Yaacov Mayman: tenor, flute and clarinet; Danny Rivera: baritone.

Trombones: David Miller (lead), Tim Sessions, Armando Vergara, Chris Washburne (bass trombone);

Flute and Piccolo: Gabrielle Garo;

Electric Violin: Ben Sutin; 

Rhythm Section: Bobby Sanabria: musical director, drumset, cowbells, police whistle, samba whistle and lead vocals; 

Darwin Noguera: piano; 

Leo Traversa: electric bass; 

Oreste Abrantes: congas, itotele batá drum and second voice (Disc Two. "Maria"); 

Matthew González: bongó/cencerro, primo bomba drum, Iyá batá, requinto pandereta, ganza and Dominican güira; 

Takeo Heisho: claves, Cuban güiro macho, cencerro, Puerto Rican guicharo, okonkolo batá drum, maracas (Cuban and Venezuelan), shekere, tamborine, cuica, pandeiro, triangle, gong and police siren. 

Background vocals: all the members of the Multiverse Big Band

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Late July Live Music (Inside & Out)

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme CT, now in its fifth year, is having a bang-up summer, combining programs that feature artists rarely seen in Connecticut to shows with regular visitors, some who are Connecticut natives. This weekend (7/20-21) marks the return of saxophonist (tenor and soprano) and composer Jimmy Greene.  The Hartford native, graduate of the Hartt School of Music/Jackie McLean Institute, and currently on the music faculty of Western CT State University, has worked with many greats artists including Harry Connick, The Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, Kenny Barron, Tom Harrell, and another CT native, the late Horace Silver.

Sadly, Jimmy Greene may be best known as the father of Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, one of the 26 people killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012. The two albums that have appeared since that horrible event - 2014's "Beautiful Life" and 2017's "Flowers - Beautiful Life Volume 2", both on Mack Avenue Records - include original music inspired by his daughter, all of it life-affirming, much of it powerful.  Professor Greene plays with power and direction, his emotions poured into performances that are spirited and spiritually moving.

He's bringing his Quartet, a group that features the fine drummer Otis Brown III, bassist Luke Sellick, and pianist Taber Gable.  They will take the stage both Friday and Saturday nights at 8:30 p.m. for two sets.  For ticket information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-2600.

To find out more about his music as well as the ongoing Ana Grace Project, go to www.jimmygreene.com.

Here's a funky track from the latest album:



Pianist, composer, and educator Laszlo Gardony is one of the more joyful musician on the contemporary scene. Whenever he sits at the piano, it seems as if the everyday craziness of the world disappears and he plus the audience are transported to a better place.  He can ever-so-melodic as well as percussive and pounding, bluesy as well as lyrical. With his trio of bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel, that world expands to include creative interpretations of standards and pop songs.  When Gardony adds the reeds of Stan Strickland (tenor and soprano saxes, bass clarinet), Don Braden (tenor and soprano saxes, flute), and Bill Pierce (tenor and soprano saxes), the musical universe expands even more with touches of New Orleans and Kansas City blues and jazz, Broadway, and more standards plus more of Gardony's inspiring music.

The Laszlo Gardony Sextet comes to Hartford CT on July 23 to perform as part of the Paul Brown Bushnell Park Monday Jazz Series.  The free concert opens at 6 p.m. with a set by the Don DePalma Trio with vocalist Linda Ransom.  Mr. Gardony and friends take the stage at 7:30.  In case of rain, the concert moves indoors to the Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Avenue, in Hartford.  For more information, go to hartfordjazzsociety.com/paul-brown-monday-night-jazz-2018/.

To learn more about Lazslo Gardony and the Sextet, go to www.lgjazz.com.

Here's a track to get you dancing:



On Friday July 27, The Side Door Jazz Club opens its door to New Faces, a sextet of musicians personal chosen by Marc Free, President of Posi-Tone Records for a project of "Straight Forward" music. That's the title of the album as well as the emphasis in the music.  Gathering people who have recorded for the label, the ensemble includes vibraphonist Behn Gillece, tenor saxophonist Roxy Coss, trumpeter Josh Lawrence, pianist Theo Hill and the "veteran" rhythm section of bassist Peter Brendler and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. Several members contribute new arrangements of older pieces plus there are pieces by label mate Jon Davis and one song from back at the company's early days. The front line sounds well matched with trumpeter Lawrence and saxophonist MS Coss easily matching their sounds. Gillece's vibes blend nicely with Hill's piano throughout.  And, this is one fine rhythm section!!

The sextet should be dynamite in person, stretching some of the tunes, everyone getting a chance to really dig into their solos.  Make no mistake, they are all fine soloists (Lawrence is developing impressively each time he picks up his trumpet and Hill's work is quite a treat).  First set starts at 8:30 p.m.  To find out more, go to thesidedoorjazz.com.  

To learn more about the band, go to www.posi-tone.com/newfaces/newfaces.html.

Here's a track from the album:

Monday, July 16, 2018

Magical Moments of Music

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


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

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

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

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

For more information, go to eddiedanielsclarinet.net.

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




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

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

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

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

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

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


Take a listen:

Thursday, July 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, go to geofbradfield.com.

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


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

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

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

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

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

Here's the title track:

Monday, June 25, 2018

Mario P's Back In Town (Middletown, CT)

Photo: Kevin R. Mason
I've been listening to, talking to, watching, and enjoying the music of Mario Pavone for over four decades.  His percussive yet melodic bass playing anchored and freed up the music of the Thomas Chapin Trio. Before his 18 year run in the late saxophonist's ensemble (1980-97), he worked with pianist Paul Bley and trumpeter/ conceptualist Bill Dixon. Pavone has also led or co-led groups with Wadada Leo Smith, pianist Peter Madsen, guitarist Michael Musillami, and saxophonist Marty Ehrlich - his bands have featured drummer Michael Sarin, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, pianist Craig Taborn, and drummer Matt Wilson (among many others).  I have always admired how Pavone builds his music up from the rhythm section, his muscular playing and elongated melodies giving the musicians so much to work with.

Mr. Pavone, who turns 78 in November, remains active throughout the United States and Europe.  His latest album, "Chrome" (Playscape Recordings) features the Dialect Trio of pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer/Wesleyan Professor Tyshawn Sorey - they did a short tour around the release of the new album in May.

The bassist is coming to The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, on Saturday June 30.  He'll have his partner from the Chapin Trio Michael Sarin at the drum kit and a relative newcomer to his groups, pianist Angelica Sanchez, one of the finest interpreters of creative contemporary music.  They'll perform music from the new album as well as earlier compositions arranged for this version of the Trio.

For more information, go to buttonwood.org/event/dialect-trio-feat-mario-pavone/.

Here's an older piece by the Pavone-Mitchell-Sorey trio: