Friday, April 16, 2021

Preview of Coming Distractions – Large Ensemble Edition

Most readers of this blog know just how much I love Large Ensemble Music. In the next four weeks, there will be, at least, five new Big Band albums released (plus one already issued that I just received) and each one is worth exploring. This post does not have reviews per se but, hopefully, will whet your appetite to check these out.

Singer and actor Rubén Blades, born in Panama, made his recording debut on 1970 on Fania Records singing in front of the Pete Rodriguez Orquesta.  Since then, he has appeared on numerous recordings as a leader or co-leader (nearly 40) –– he's also appeared in 40 movies plus had/ has recurring roles on several television series.  He's also been active politically.  On April 16, Blades can be heard with Roberto Delgado & Orquesta on "SALSWING" (Rubén Blades Productions), his third album with this band over the past six years; this is the first of the three that contains English vocals.  Looking at the cover, you can see the myriad influences on Blades and the musicians in the Orquesta.  He's in excellent voice here, even "crooning" a la Frank Sinatra at times, and the musicianship of the large ensemble is top-notch.

To find out more, go to http://rubenblades.com/.

Here's Blades & the Band live from 2018:



"Virtual Birdland" (ZOHO Records) is the latest album from Arturo O'Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ALJO created an "Emergency Fund" for freelance musicians whose livelihood had ground to a halt, and also began a weekly stream of full-length concerts called "Virtual Birdland".  You can see the concert streams on YouTube.  For those streams and the album, all of the musicians and guests were recorded in their homes (throughout the world). Same thing for the album where all the musicians' contributions were mixed together in Kuwait by engineer Amin Farid Abdal. The music sounds live, lively, filled with smart arrangements and great solos.  The various guests, who include saxophonist Paquito D' Rivera, French-American vocalist Malika Zarra, Kuwaiti guitarist and vocalist Ghazi Faisal Al-Mulaifi, and Kuwaiti percussion ensemble Boom Diwan.  You'll won't be able to keep yourself from dancing to this music!  The album, released on April 9, is basically the "Best of" the weekly concert series.


Here's a way to contribute to the latest fundraiser, "Sustain The Groove", organized by Afro Latin Jazz Alliance of New York:


Here's the "album release" video:




On April 19, Chronograph Records of Canada will issue "Saskatchewan Suite", a powerful new recording by the Saskatchewan All Star Big Band.  The 21-member ensemble, composed of musicians born or raised or currently living in the Province, was organized to play this "Suite" by the Regina Jazz Society who recruited composer, arranger, and pianist Fred Stride to write a musical history of the Canadian Province, from its days as a part of the lands of the First Nations, then the influx of immigrants, surviving the harsh winters and so much more. Many of the players are known beyond the Canadian border.  The music was recorded live in front of an enthusiastic audience.

To find out more, go to https://chronographrecords.com/artists/saskatchewan-all-star-big-band/.

Here's an overview:




Actress Glenn Close and saxophonist/ composer Ted Nash have a fascinating new collaboration that they recorded with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and special guests Amy Irving, Wayne Brady, Matthew Stevenson, and the saxophonist's son Eli.  "Transformation" (Tiger Turn - issued on May 7) tells stories of change, most times personal but also communal. Recorded live in concert just weeks before the COVID pandemic shut down venues around the globe, the stories are powerful, the music never gets in the way of the words, and the Wayne Brady piece (which he wrote and performed) will change your opinion of him forever! The Orchestra, as usual, plays with power and grace with solos from many members sprinkled throughout the 11-song program.


Here are the two principals talking about the project:




Over the past decade, drummer/ composer/ conceptualist Ulysses Owens Jr. has been busy as a leader and sideman.  Now, he's released his first Big Band album––"Soul Conversations" (Outside In Music) blends blues, swing, bebop, pop music, hard bop, and more into a delightful 73-minute adventure. Recorded over three nights in concert at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the 17-piece ensemble is filled with fine young players from the New York City area plus several veterans (for example, trombonist and associate co-producer Michael Dease) as well as several guests (including vibraphonist Stefon Harris). There are moments when the Band roars with excitement as well as quieter passages that are emotionally rich. The album hits the stores and online on May 7.

For more information, go to www.usojazzy.com/

Here's the delightful opening track:



Also on May 7, the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra, Richard Gillis director, releases its fourth album. "Twisting Ways" (self-released) combines compositions by David Braid (piano) and Phillip Côté with the four-part title track featuring lyrics by Dr. Lee Tsang. The composers share writing credits on the title track while each contribute one more piece (Braid's "Lydian Sky" also features lyrics by Dr. Tsang while Côté's "Fleur Variation" shines a spotlight on vibraphonist Stephan Bauer).  This is powerful music, well-executed, and brimming with invention.

For more information, go to www.winnipegjazzorchestra.com/.

Here's the album trailer:



Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Voices of Beauty, of Dreams, of Hopes

There's something so appealing about music from Latin America; whether it's the rhythms, the "Romance Language" lyrics, or the expansive melodies, how the music gets to one's emotional core. 

Photo: Lauren Desberg
Gretchen Parlato made quite a splash on the contemporary scene in the mid-2000s, her alto voice with a nasal edge moving easily through lyrics, her wordless vocals rising easily over rhythm sections, and her ability to mesh with other voices. Ms. Parlato has recorded with Becca Stevens, Esperanza Spalding, Terence Blanchard, Lionel Loueke, Terri Lyne Carrington, David Binney, and many others.  Six years ago, she have birth to a son and began a sabbatical from singing with a few exceptions to record with the trio Tillery (Ms. Stevens and Rebecca Martin), saxophonist Dayna Stephens, vibraphonist Joel Ross, the New West Guitar Group, and drummer Nate Smith.  

Ms. Parlato signed to Edition Records last year and now issued her debut for the label (and fifth as a leader).  "Flor" features original music, several delightful covers, and a reimagining of J.S. Bach's "Cello Suite No. 1: Minuet I/II”.  The album opens with "É Preciso Perdoar", a Brazilian song made famous in 1973 by João Gilberto (composed by Carlos Coqueijo and Alcyvando Luz) –– the track also introduces Ms. Parlato's tremendous trio that features guitarist Marcel Camargo, percussionist Léo Costa, and cellist Artyom Manukyan.  Both the guitar and cello serve as counterpoint to the vocals (in both English and Portuguese). The gentle flow is a mood-changer, stripping away one's burdens.  Gerald Clayton joins the band (on Fender Rhodes) for a sweet version of Anita Baker's "Sweet Love".  Listen to how the pervasive rhythms sweep the vocalist off her feet and she flies delightfully through the piece.

Photo: Lauren Desberg
Several songs speak to the wonders of parenthood.  "What Does a Lion Say" (composed by Chris Morrissey) finds the singer in her son's bedroom near the end of the day, interacting and showing love. Manukyan's cello tone is rich, full-toned, while Camargo's guitar (he also plays what sounds like a bandolim, a mandolin) creates sweet textures.  Husband Mark Guiliana can be heard laying down the dancing beat on "Wonderful", which also features a children's chorus (including their son Marley) plus the leader's overdubbed harmonies.  Ms. Parlato's lyrics serve as a prayer, to teach about love, self-realization, and gratitude.  

Photo: Lauren Desberg
The brilliant arrangement of Bach's "Cello Suite No. 1: Minuet I/II” opens with Ms. Parlato singing solo.  Camargo enters 100 seconds into the piece playing in tandem with the wordless vocal.  There's a short statement from the bandolim, then the cello enters playing in tandem plus the percussion and trap set. Close your eyes and let the music wash over you, its beauty stunning and revivifying.  Airto Moreira joins Ms. Parlato and the trio for "Roy Allen", a tribute to the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove (that he composed for his 1995 album "Family"). The 79-year old Moreira brings a lot of his percussive arsenal as well as his playful voice.  The leader sticks to the melody while Camargo plays several short solos, all the while the percussion creates a wonderland of sound.

"Flor" is a welcome return to the spotlight for Gretchen Parlato. She sounds refreshed, renewed, ready to continue to explore and mine the many veins in the world of music. We are the lucky recipients of her adventures.

For more information, go to gretchenparlato.com.  To hear more of "Flor" and to purchase the delightful album, go to https://gretchenparlato.bandcamp.com/album/flor

Give a listen to Ms. Parlato's take of the Anita Baker's song:




Photo: Rafael Piñeros
Vocalist and composer Roxana Amed, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, has been on the international music scene for nearly two decades.  I first became aware of her upon her the 2013  album, "La Sombra de Su Sombra", a duo date based on the poetry of Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-72) she recorded with pianist Frank Carlberg (with contributions from Christine Correa).  She 's issued six albums as a leader or co-leader since 2004.  Since moving to the United States in 2013, Ms. Amed has worked with Guillermo Klein, Emilio Solla, vocalist Sofia Rei, and pianist Andre Mehmari.  

Her new album, "Ontology" (Sony Music/ Latin), should open the eyes and ears fo many people. Ms. Amed produced the album, as well as having composed or co-composed 12 of the 14 tracks.  She sings in both Spanish and English, plays tribute to Wayne Shorter ("wrote the lyrics for his "Virgo") and Miles Davis (re-arranging the trumpeter's "Blue and Green" with Cassandra Wilson's evocative lyrics).  She adds lyrics to Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera's " Danza de la Moza Donosa", creating a lovely ballad then turns to wordless vocal for his "Danza Del Viejo Bojero".  On the first song, it's just her and pianist Martin Bejerano; on the second, the two add the thunderous drums of Rodolfo Zúñiga and the music flies forward not unlike Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk."  The playful interactions of the voice, keys, and drums

The pianist is featured throughout the program while Zúñiga shares the drum duty with Ludwig Afonso (the former on three tracks, the latter on six tracks). Also featured throughout the album is tenor saxophonist Mark Small (eight songs), bassists Edward Perez (three songs), Carlos De Rosa (two songs), and Lowell Ringel (three songs), plus guitarists Tim Jago (two songs) and Aaron Lebos (one song). Ms. Amed mostly keeps her voice front and center; she's quite articulate in both Spanish and English as well as dramatic but she keeps her emotions under control. Nothing seems forced or rushed. The title track features piano, saxophone, and voice with Berejano's solo far-ranging while Small adds bluesy phrases behind the vocalist.  Kendall Moore (who teaches at Sam Houston State University in Texas and plays trombone) composed, "Peaceful", a sweet ballad with Small's tenor in conversation with Jago's electric guitar. Notice how the tenor sax often shadows the voice, adding depth to her long notes.

There is so much music to explore here. Shorter's "Virgo" features strong performances from the leader, Small, and, especially, Berejano (pictured left).  While the tenor sax sounds wrap sensuously around the voice, the piano is, at times, lyrical, introspective, forthright, as it follows the storyline.  The pianist's tune "Chacarera Para La Mano Izquerida" ("folk dance for the left hand") is driven by the exciting work of bassist Perez and drummer Afonso as well as the composer's dancing piano.  Ms. Amed's joins in on the fun, letting her voice stretch for the higher notes. The pianist also contributed the up-tempo "El Regreso" ("The Return") which has traces of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" –– Berejano sets the pace throughout while Perez and Afonso push the music forward. 

"Ontology" closes with "Winter", an original (sung in English). The words speak of the stillness of the season, of the inevitability of loss, how the cold attacks the body, how we wait for "the winter to tear our eyes/ to break our bones".  Just voice and piano.  Berejano's solo is stunning, emotionally powerful, and Ms. Amed understands how the darker, colder, time of the year turns us inward, to protect ourselves in all ways.  There is a lot of music over the 73 minutes of "Ontology", much to listen to, much to absorb, yet the album does not feel too long.  You want to inhabit these worlds that Roxana Amed and the musicians create, you want to linger a while in these songs and you should.  Find this album – the music shines!

For more information, go to https://roxana-amed.com/

Here's a taste:








Thursday, April 8, 2021

Springing and Swinging!

One of the joys of Spring (for some of us) is opening the windows, sitting outside, and listening to music. Here are three viable candidates for backyard (or indoor) enjoyment. 

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Saxophonist, flutist, composer, and arranger Alexa Tarantino is a busy musician. She plays with DIVA! Jazz Orchestra, with Arturo O'Farrill & His Latin- Jazz Orchestra, with the Steven Feifke Big Band, with vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, and others.  Ms. Tarantino is adept on soprano and alto saxophones, flute, alto flute, and clarinet who serves her well in her various musical assignments. She's also an educator serving on the Faculty of Jazz at Lincoln Center as well as the founder and director of the Rockport Jazz Workshop (Rockport, Ma).  Posi-Tone Records producer Marc Free has posited Ms. Tarantino in his "curated" groups such as Lioness, Works for Me, and Something Blue plus paired her with baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian.  She's issued two CDs as a leader for Posi-Tone and has been a featured soloist in several ensembles.


The third album under her name, "Firefly", finds the young lady in the company of Behn Gillece (vibraphone), Art Hirahara (piano, Fender Rhodes), Boris Kozlov (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums and percussion).  The four gentlemen are Free's choice for his "Lockdown" group as they have became (along with drummer Donald Edwards) his rhythm section during the pandemic recording sessions.   All but two of the 12 tracks on the disk are originals by the leader and group members with a pair of Wayne Shorter tunes ("Iris"and "Lady Day") filling out the program. The album opens with the pianist's "Spider's Dance", a medium-tempo tune with a sweet melody for alto sax and the comforting vibes providing a soft cushion for the song. Gillece contributes the next piece, "Mindful Moments" which finds the leader on flute and Hirahara on Rhodes.  There's a gentle quality to both of these tracks with the latter rising on the easy push from the bass and drums plus the sweet combination of Rhodes, vibes and flute.

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Ms. Tarantino's piece, "Daybreak", has the funky feel of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" with the insistent nature of the Motown classic.  Kozlov and Royston do a fine of job of making sure the music has a groove and always moves forward.  "Surge Capacity" leaps out of the speakers on top of rapid "walking" bass lines and frolicking drums. Ms. Tarantino and pianist Hirahara really get fired-up when it's their time to solo plus they enter into a delightful "trading fours" with Royston before all is said and done.  Rhodes and bass introduce the powerful "Rootless Ruthlessness"; when the band enters, the music scurries forward propelled by the rampaging drums and Kozlov's furious bass lines.  When the alto sax solo begins, the band has dropped into slow-motion with Royston all over his drums, Hirahara running his hands up and down the Rhodes, and the bassist sending urgent musical messages. Soon, the music is at break-neck speed and rushing to its climax.  

Ms. Tarantino caresses Wayne Shorter's melody on "Lady Day", the lovely ballad evoking Billie Holiday's unique way of presenting a melody.  Kozlov's lovely bowed bass solo is a highlight as is the leader's ever-so-sweet alto solo.  Shorter's "Iris" is a also a ballad for alto sax and features an impressionistic piano solo, lovely colors from Gillece, and the intelligent work of the bassist and drummer.

 "Firefly" closes with "The Firefly Code", another medium-tempo piece that is dedicated to the resilience of people as well as musicians since the pandemic began.  The sound of the flute supported by the vibes feels comforting plus there is a surprising drum solo that raises the intensity level; listen for the "surprise" ending!  Overall, "Firefly" is an aural treat on which Alexa Tarantino shares the spotlight with her four-piece band. She is generous in sharing the spotlight, the songs do not dawdle with only a pair over six minutes, and the sound quality is clear and cool.  Enjoy! 

For more information, go to https://alexatarantino.com/

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
A month before Ms. Tarantino's September 2020 recording sessions, Behn Gillece took Messrs. Royston, Kozlov, and Hirahara into the studios to record the 10 tracks that make up his fourth Posi-Tone album "Still Doing Our Thing".  The vibraphonist contributed seven originals to the program, several of which have titles that reference the musician's issues with the pandemic. Songs such as "Back to Abnormal", "Don't Despair", "Going On Well", the title track, and Royston's "Glad to Be Back" carry titles that illustrate how these musicians are dealing with having their lives turned upside down. Yet, the overall feeling one gets listening to this music is the joy the musicians have for being able to get together and play.  


One of the most impressive aspects of Gillece's compositions is that while the music does not seem complex, the pieces are well-organized, have strong melodies and rhythmic fire, and are ripe fodder for soloists.  Take the opening track, "Extraction".  The composer introduces the melody; the rhythm section with Hirahara on Rhodes set a wicked pace and the vibraphonist takes off.  Chances are you'll dig the solo but do pay attention how Kozlov and Royston set the torrid pace while the pianist lays down the chordal structure.  The next track, "Rattles", has a similar opening but this time Hirahara and Gillece share the melody while the beat is decidedly funky.  Both the pianist (acoustic) and the leader share the solo space feeding off each other's lines.  The rhythm section is relentless during the solos, pushing, shoving even, as the intensity level rises to the boiling point.

Among the other highlights is the leader's lovely ballad, "Blue Sojourn", which shows the influence of Billy Strayhorn.  The song is a duet for vibes and piano and includes an emotional and lovely solo from Hirahara.  There's plenty of space in the vibes solo giving the notes time to breathe. Kozlov's "Outnumbered" finds the bassist going "electric" supported by the pulsating chords from the Rhodes.  The piece may remind some of Chick Corea's Return To Forever especially in Kozlov's throbbing bass, Royston's "attack-mode" drumming, and the incredible forward motion.  Tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover joins the trio (Royston sits out) for Hirahara's "Event Horizon", her lighter attack a pleasing contrast to the flowing yet percussive piano and vibes.   

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
The album closes with Gillece's soulful musical plea, "Don't Despair".  The ballad has a handsome melody played by the leader and Kozlov (electric bass).  Hirahara is back on Rhodes, the lighter sound of the keyboard meshing well with the rounder bass tones (listen to the excellent music the bassist is creating) and Gillece's soothing vibes chords.  

It's good to know that Behn Gillece, his compatriots, and producer Marc Free are "Still Doing Our Thing".  This music has the power to pull listeners out of their doldrums, giving us hope for when we can get out and see/ hear music in person.  In the meantime, open the windows and let this music flow!

For more information, go to www.behngillece.com.  To hear more and purchase the album, go to. https://behngillece.bandcamp.com/album/still-doing-our-thing

Give a listen to the closing cut:




Saxophonist, educator, and radio show host Tom Tallitsch never fails to impress when it comes to making music, having a great cohort of musicians, and swinging with abandon.  If one has to classify his music, it comes out of the flow of the late 1950s through the mid-1960s Blue Note/Prestige Records sounds.  Much of the music kicks hard but rarely boils over.  Yes, there is a hint of John Coltrane's emotional style in the tenor saxophonist's phrasing and an urgency in his uptempo piece that show the influences of Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, and Jackie McLean.  He's not a zealot for any particular style but Tallitsch has a melodic streak a mile wide making his songs stand out for their emotional strength and, yes, the fire that comes from really exploring his repertoire.

Earlier this year, Tallitsch issued his 11th album as a leader, "Message", the fourth release on his TT Productions label. Featuring his working band of Mike Kennedy (guitar), Neil Podgurski (piano), Matthew Parish (bass), and Dan Monaghan (drums), the program features nine original pieces by the leader.  The album opens with the appropriately-titled "Let's Go!" which jumps out from the first note and does not relax for seven-plus minutes. Fueled by the thick piano chords, a romping bass, and rock-steady drums, Tallitsch takes the first solo flying over the rhythm section with glee.  Kennedy displays touches of Herb Ellis and John Pizzarelli in his lively spot while you hear hints of McCoy Tyner in Podgurski's lively solo.  Parish's short yet powerful solo leads to the everybody "trading 4's" with Monaghan.  

The leader switches to soprano sax for the medium tempo "Bubble". Meshing his sound with the guitarist on the melody, the tune feels a breath of fresh after a long winter (and the album was recorded in January 2020!)  "Dusk" is a bluesy ballad with Tallitsch's tenor sketching the melody. Podgurski, who works with the Capt. Black Big Band and drummer Chad Taylor's Trio, creates an impressionistic solo supported by the melodic bass and steady drumming. Listen to what guitarist Kennedy adds in the background especially during the leader's delightful solo. Then, there's "Mablestates", a lovely reconstruction/ tribute of and to Benny Golson's classic "Stablemates."  Golson first recorded the piece in 1958 with his Philadelphians; Tallitsch's loving remake is also performed by musicians active in the Philly jazz scene. There's a "cool" feel to the tune and, once again, the leader's sax plays the melody in tandem with the guitar.  

The album's final two tracks are like day and night.  "In The Weeds" is a powerful, hard-bop, filled with fiery work in the rhythm section and strong solos from piano, tenor sax, and guitar. There is a clever change near the end that should make you smile.  "Moon" closes the album, a ballad that is takes its time to unfold. The richness in Tallitsch's tenor sound stands out, an emotional highpoint on the album.  The guitar solo starts quietly before picking up in intensity but Kennedy knows when to back off so as not to upset the gentler nature of the ballad.

This "Message" is clear –– Tom Tallitsch and company make human music, not trying to overwhelm you with technique but reminding us all that there is room in this music for melody, for rhythm, and for intelligent interplay. Give a listen!

For more information, go to www.tomtallitsch.com.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to  https://tomtallitsch.bandcamp.com/album/message.  

Here's the band in the studio recording the opening track:



Friday, April 2, 2021

The Joys of Spring (Pt 2 – Large Ensemble Edition)

During the pandemic, we have gotten used to seeing and hearing small group performances.  But, here are two classy large ensemble recordings that captured my attention and imagination.

Photo: Hyemi Kim
Originally from South Korea (now living in New York City) composer and arranger Jiyhe Lee came to the United States in 2011 to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. In her native land, Ms. Lee had been a fairly popular "indie pop" singer –– within her first year at Berklee, she won the school's prestigious Duke Ellington Prize (she won it again the next year). Over the past decade, Ms. Lee has won numerous awards and commissions, worked with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Her self-released debut album, "April", came out in 2017 and received glowing reviews from the Jazz press.  The pieces on that recording were based on Ms. Lee's  response to a tragedy; the Korean ferry Sewol, which sank en route from Incheon to Jeju, claiming the lives of 304 innocent passengers, most of whom were teenage children. You should listen to her conversation with Jason Crane of "The Jazz Session" as it gives an excellent picture of the composer's career, influences, and more –– go to www.thejazzsession.com/2021/02/17/the-jazz-session-545-jihye-lee/ and pay attention.

Her new album, "Daring Mind" (Motema Music), is a dazzling display of original music, savvy arrangements, and excellent musicianship.  Album one featured Boston-based musicians while this is a NewYork-centric ensemble as befits her move to the City after graduation in 2015.  What stands out throughout the nine-song program are the strong melodies, the excellent section writing, and the emotional strength.  Pieces such as the opener, "Relentless Mind", and "I Dare You" have such a conversational feel with the reeds jousting with the brass and the soloist Quinsin Nachoff (tenor sax) getting both support and push back from underneath on the latter cut. On the former track, it's the rhythm section that pushes the piece forward during the exciting Sean Jones trumpet solo (his playing is  impressive throughout the program) and Alan Ferber's trombone dance.  Listen near the end of the track when the sections interact with drummer Mark Ferber. 

Ben Kono's alto sax leads the way into "Unshakable Mind", a ballad whose lovely opening melody is carried by the reeds until the brass and martial drums enter, causing the piece to turn dark. The insistent rhythmic pulse has the fell of Ravel's "Bolero" but there is much more shading here, quiet moments when bassist Evan Gregor and guitarist Sebastian Noelle carry on a conversation built upon the melody.  Kono returns again later in the piece to create a splendid solo as the intensity inevitably ratchets up to an amazing close.  

There is not a weak track on the album.  "Struggle Gives You Strength" has the feel of a soulful ballad from Burt Bacharach with hints of Aretha Franklin as well as Ashford & Simpson.  The sectional writing is exceptional as their phrases move upwards throughout the first half of Jone's trumpet solo.  "Revived Mind" has a lilting melody, with a traditional feel, played by the flutes and piccolos. The song moves forward over a soulful rhythm with the trombones responding to the trumpets and flute. Trombonist Mike Fahie solos over the rhythm, although it has not changed, feels more South African.  Listen to how the bass trombone and bass clarinet dance on the bottom while the sections sway behind the soloist.  "Why Is That" opens as a torch-y blues tune with going to the reeds and trumpets. The trombones enter and, a moment later, the music gets even more playful.  There are moments where everybody swings –– suddenly, the piece goes into double-time for a fine alto sax solo from Rob Wilkerson.  Jones's solo also starts in double time as the sections converse while the trumpeter proclaims for all the world to hear.

The album closes on a ballad, "GB", that is another spotlight for trumpeter Jones.  After he leads the song in, the reeds share the melody line.  There's a quick transition, with the low brass adding darker colors to the piece while the trumpets and reeds play powerful phrases.  The middle of the song to Jones and the responsive yet supportive piano of Adam Birnbaum . As the trumpet solo continues, the sections reenter pushing Jones to an exciting climax.  When the music continues, two alto saxophones play the melody, the baritone counterpoint, while the brass play long tones. Jones reenters, rising above the sections as the music winds down.  Its a stunning close to a dramatic work.

"Daring Mind" is a musical triumph. In just two recording, Jihye Lee has proven herself to be a mature composer and arranger, creating music that engages both the musicians and the listeners. And one does want to go back and listen because one cannot hear just how well-crafted and played this music is on initial contact.  Spend time with this music because the joy emanating from the sounds will create joy in and around you.   

For more information, go to https://jihyemusic.com/. To hear more and purchase "Daring Mind", go to https://jihyeleeorchestra.bandcamp.com/.  

Here's the band in action in the studio:


Personnel:

Ben Kono: Alto Saxophone
Rob Wilkerson: Alto Saxophone
Quinsin Nachoff: Tenor Saxophone
Jeremy Powell: Tenor Saxophone
Brian Pareschi: Trumpet
Sean Jones: Trumpet
John Lake: Trumpet
Alex Norris: Trumpet
Mike Fahie: Trombone
Alan Ferber: Trombone
Nick Grinder: Trombone 
Mark Patterson: Trombone (replaces N Grinder on two tracks )
Jennifer Wharton: Trombone
Adam Birnbaum: Piano (six tracks)
Haeun Joo: Piano (three tracks)
Sebastian Noelle: Electric Guitar
Evan Gregor: Double Bass
Mark Ferber: Drums


Photo: Chris Lee
I first heard pianist Steve Feifke play in the intimate confines of The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown, CT.  He was part of a quartet with saxophonist Chad Lefkowicz-Brown, drummer Jimmy Macbride, and  bassist Raviv Markowitz.  The group of friends had gotten together to stretch their musical wings and they certainly filled the venue with exciting sounds as well as youthful exuberance.  Feifke, a graduate of New England Conservatory of Music Preparatory School, New York University, and Manhattan School of Music, is busy as a performer, lecturer, composer, arranger, and orchestrator.  Even though he is yet to turn 30 (he will on June 29 of this year), his list of credits is quite impressive. His works have been commissioned by the Mingus Big Band, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra (to name but three), he's written music for televisions shows such as "Animaniacs", "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee", and TruTV's "Impractical Jokers". Feifke has performed or recorded with artists such as Randy Brecker, Chad LB, Veronica Swift, and Ulysses Owens Jr.   His debut as a leader, "Peace In Time", was self-released in 2015 and served to show Feifke's skill as a composer and pianist.

"Kinetic" (Outside In Music) is Feifke's fourth album as a leader or co-leader. Besides "Peace In Time", he co-led a date with trumpeter/ vocalist Benny Benack III, a Christmas EP with his Big Band.  There's also a Big Band date from 2019 titled "Prologue" that is only available through Feifke's website (when you download the mp3s, the folder bears the name "The Story Begins" - go figure).  Featuring a similar lineup, the program is totally different, more "standards", but still quite exciting music.  The new album starts off with the title track, a roaring fast-paced original that has tinges of McCoy Tyner in both the arrangement and the leader's rollicking solo spot. Trumpeter Gabriel King Medd is up next and he sparkles before giving way to drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. –– it's his only appearance on the album and he makes the most of driving the band as well as soloing with abandon.

You'll notice that the energy level of this band is quite high. "Unveiling of a Mirror" starts in a relaxed mode but as soon as the soloists hit, the band, powered by drummer Joe Peri and excellent section play, goes for broke.  Even "The Sphinx", which starts in a sultry manner has moments that really rock especially in the first part of saxophonist Lucas Pino's long, delightful, solo.  Powered by drummer Jimmy Macbride, the music grabs ahold and never lets go. Veronica Swift joins the band on the true ballad, "Until The Real Thing Comes Along", a song that beens recorded Erskine Hawkins, Andy Kirk & His Mighty Clouds of Joy, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, even Rod Stewart.  Feifke envelops Ms. Swift in mellow tones from the reeds and brass, strummed guitar a la Freddy Green, tinkling piano, and swishing cymbal splashes.  Kudos to all involved as they treat the song and its lyrics (which is credited to five different writers) with respect.

Ms. Swift returns later in the program for a bluesy take on "On The Street Where You Live" –– she sings it fairly straight but the band takes more of a 1940s Duke Ellington approach. In the middle of the second verse, the groove gets smoother, the sections play it cool, and the music careers forward. Solos by Robert Edwards (trombone) and Andrew Gutaukas (bass clarinet) liven up the tune.  Feifke supplies a fascinating arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "Nica's Dream", giving the tune a Latin feel. Both Benack III and the leader play strong solos, especially Fiefke who gets into quite a conversation with Macbride.  "Midnight Beat" offers the ensemble the opportunity to get funky and they do.  Bassist Chmielinski "gets down" with the funky rhythm guitar and "fatback" drums while Alexa Tarantino plays a singing solo that twists and turns above the rampaging rhythms.

A lovely and short chorale of brass and reeds introduces the final track, aptly titled "Closure."   The ballad has a heartfelt melody played by Sam Dillon (tenor sax)whose muscular yet melodic slo fils the middle section of the tune.  Again, the section writing stands out in its orchestral sound as they support Dillon as well as returning to the melody several times.  

For "Kinetic", Steven Feifke takes sounds and songs that feel familiar (some of them are) and shapes then so they sound new, fresh, and alive.  Many of the musicians in the Steven Feifke Big Band are the leader's contemporaries, younger musicians on the cusp of greater popularity who already play with great presence and creativity.  Very strong effort that bodes well for the future.

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

Here's the Band in the studio with Ms. Swift:




Personnel:

Andrew Gould - Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute

Alexa Tarantino  - Alto Saxophone, Flute

Lucas Pino - Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute

Sam Dillon - Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute

Andrew Gutauskas - Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinet

Alex LoRe - Alto saxophone (for Ms.Tarantino on "The Sphinx")

Max Darche, John Lake, Benny Benack III, and Gabriel King Medd: Trumpet, Flugelhorn

Robert Edwards, Jeffery Miller, and Armando Vergara - Trombone 

Jennifer Wharton - Bass Trombone

Alex Wintz - Guitar

Steven Feifke - Piano, Composition, Conducting, Arrangements and Orchestrations

Dan Chmielinski - Bass

Jimmy Macbride - Drums on six tracks

Joe Peri - Drums on "Unveiling of a Mirror"

Bryan Carter - Drums on two tracks

Guests: 

Ulysses Owens Jr - Drums on title track

Veronica Swift - Voice on two tracks 


Saturday, March 27, 2021

What We Remember, What We Forget, What We Learn

 I am finishing this post the day before the Holiday of Passover, a Jewish Holiday that falls in the Spring of the year. The Holiday commemorates the exodus from Egypt when the Jews were slaves to Pharaoh. The Holiday celebrates the rebirth of the land after Winter ends, when baby animals begin to populate the farmyards and crops are planter.  At the communal/ family dinner, the story of the exodus is told to remind Jews that once they were slaves in the land of Egypt and to remember to tell that story every year. The retelling serves as a reminder and a warning, making sure we remember that communities can suffer when the members go silent.  

POLIN Polish Museum of the History of Polish Jews opened its doors on April 19, 2013.  Located in Warsaw, Poland, on the site of the Polish Ghetto in World War II, the Museum is a major in the rebirth of Jewish Culture, the restoration of Jewish Memory, and a reminder of the role of Jews in Poland over the past 1,000+ years. Musicians such as the late Tomasz Stanko, John Zorn, the JACK Quartet, and more have been invited to perform and/ or commissioned to create music for the Museum's concert series. Music was an important aspect of Jewish life over the centuries and continued even as the Jews were forced in ghettoes around the country.


In 2015, composer and percussionist Lukas Ligeti served as the Artist-in-Residence at POLIN.  The program he created took its direction from the interviews he conducted with a group of Polish citizens ages 20 to 98, asking not only about Jewish life in Warsaw during their lifetimes but also to sing songs they remembered. The composer and collator took the melodies and the rhythms from the spoken word interviews and fed them to a quartet of musicians and a vocalist –– the objective was for the performers to continue the conversations, expand upon the ideas, melodies, and sounds they heard through the headphones.  The concert took place in the Museum on November 29 of 2015. The next day, Ligeti and the musicians convened in the Music Studio of Radio Warsaw. The results of that day in the studio can be heard on "That Which Has Emerged...That Which Will Remain..." (subtitled "Of Apocalypses and Dreamscapes") and has been released this year of Col Legno Music. 

Photo: Bartosz Górka
Ligeti's ensemble includes Pawel Szamburski (clarinet), Patryck Zakrocki (violin, viola, mbira), Mikolaj Palosz (cello), Wojtek Kurek (drums, synthesizer), and Barbara Kinga Majewska (soprano) with the composer on electronics.  The studio recording opens with a thump and then a chorus of voices fills the speakers.  The sentence fragments whiz by for a moment before one hears the musicians and Ms. Kajewska wordless vocal. You can pick words out of the babble such as "My mother" or "My grandmother" as well as Polish phrases –– the sudden thump of the drums silences all and the program moves forward.

Photo: Bartosz Górka
Slowly, melodies begin to take shape, live and manipulated, until a traditional Klezmer melody ("Saposhkelekh") rises out of the percussion, clarinet, cello, viola and voice; in fact a chorus of voices move in and out of the sound spectrum. The wail of clarinet, the moan of the cello, martial drumming, al bring to mind images of occupation, of forced marches, amplified by the speeches that push the music to the sides of the sound spectrum.  Later in the continuous flow of music, an older male voice sings "Belz, Mayn Shtetele Belz", the song written for a 1930s Yiddish theater production.  The simple melody pictures life in the Romanian town before the First World War, before the Soviet occupation, before life was disrupted and people (and their culture)  disappeared. (Notice Ms.Majewska's counterpoint and the ghostly male choir in the background).  The section with the opening prayer of the Sabbath, "Shalom Aleichem" and an explosion of sound from the drummer. The songs, secular and religious, all point to memory, dedication, and hope.

What all this means to the listener may depend on your history. Did you have family in Eastern Europe?  How did they live before World War II?  Did they survive?  Were they forced into boxcars and shipped to concentration camps?  Did they help Jews hide?  Did they flee the cities to the countryside? If you did not live in Poland or have relatives who did, does this program still have power?  No ethnicity is exempt from intolerance. The pogroms of Eastern Europe are directly related to ethnic cleansing in Southeast Asia and on the African continent. Didn't the slave traders try to erase culture of Africans in the boats that plied the seas to South America and the Caribbean?  

Lukas Ligeti's purpose just may be to remind us that not all the voices are eternally silenced. If one person survives and remembers the cities, the people, the melodies, perhaps we can rebuild or recreate memory?  We will never banish hate nor jealousy nor ignorance but that does mean we should not try.  As stated above, the program presented on "That Which Has Remained...That Which Will Emerge..." is one continuous 45-minute presentation separated on disk to help one hear how the piece segues.  But, it does not make sense to point and click on specific segments; listen all the way through, go back and listen again, become familiar with the pieces and how they develop, how the voices move in and out as do the instruments, how "folk" songs melt into interpretations only to disappear and return in a new form.  Listen as the musicians, playing a rapid rhythm, begin to fade in the final moments, and we are left with voices, electronically distorted, that slowly disappear.  We are left with fragments, which is how most memories work –– we cannot comprehend all we heard in 44:46 seconds, just snatches of phrases, of songs, and of sounds.  Lukas Ligeti makes us think, and think hard, about the past, how it affects the present-day, and how, as we remember and we learn more, what our future might be.  

To learn more, go to www.lukasligeti.com.  To hear more about the artist's residency and project, go to

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Joys of Spring (Part 1)

Lots and lots of new music to absorb and enjoy. This is the beginning of a series of short reviews of new release.

Photo: Volha Talatynik
Organist, composer, pianist, and arranger Brian Charette has kept himself busy during the pandemic making videos of his songs surrounded by keyboards in his apartment. When I spoke to him last year, he was waiting for SteepleChase Records to release his third recording with his "reeds" sextet.  "Power From the Air" has just been issued and it's well worth the wait.  Charette plays organ throughout, composed eight of the 10 tracks, is joined by drummer Brian Fishler in the rhythm section; the "Air" comes from Ital Kriss (flute), Mike DiRubbo (alto saxophone), Karel Ruzicka (bass clarinet), and Kenny Brooks (tenor saxophone).

If you are familiar with the organist's music, you know that he likes to "swing" but also can be very funky.  His piece "As If To Say" rolls forward on a burbling organ bass line before dropping into a hard-bop free-for-all. The saxes and flute play a trance-like repetitive line while the organ introduces the melody.  The solos are short but powerful.  That's followed by Earle Hagen's classic "Harlem Nocturne" –– dig the slight dissonance in the reeds arrangement. The four-piece section really dig into the bluesiness of the piece yet also take a slight "free" turn before Charette's restating of the theme. The other "standard" is Ray Noble's "Cherokee" which jumps delightfully with the reeds playing a slightly altered arrangement of the main theme.  The leader takes a splendid joyride through the changes with Fishler's dancing drums as his co-pilot. Ruzicka dances through his solo followed by DiRubbo, Brooks, and Kriss – they make time to "trade 4s" with Fishler.  

Photo: Volha Talatnick
The melody for the funky and soulful "Want" is shared by the reeds before the drummer gets "down and dirty for the organ solo.  Back to the original rhythm for Kriss's delightful flute solo, DiRubbo's funky spotlight, Brooks short but pithy solo that leads into Ruzicka's tour-de-force that srars low in the bass clarinet's range and rises throughout. The album closes with "Low Tide", the only track other than "Harlem Nocturne" that has a ballad feel. There's a lot going on in this piece and the music builds in intensity throughout right up to the drums-fueled ending.

"Power In The Air" is yet another feather in the chapeau of Brian Charette.  The performances bristle with energy and creativity, the organ work is strong, and the drumming contains an energetic snap.  Give this album several close listens and it will work its way into your soul and your feet.  

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

Here's the ensemble live in 2019 from Dizzy's @ Lincoln Center in February 2019:



The trio of Kelly Jefferson (tenor and soprano saxophones), Artie Roth (acoustic bass), and Ernesto Cervini (drums, percussion, bass clarinet), a.k.a. TuneTown, are three of the busiest and creative musicians on the contemporary Canadian scene.  Together since 2016, the trio released its debut in late Summer of 2019.  That recording displayed myriad influences as well as the trio's delight in creating its own sound.  By the time that album was issued, they had already recorded their follow-up. 


"Entering Utopia" (Three Pine Records) follows a similar format with originals from both Cervini and Roth, several group improvisations, and two standards.  All three musicians are leaders, all are excellent musicians and improvisors, so this music breathes with excitement and adventure.  The opener "Hello, Today" opens with Cervini hand-held percussion followed by a bluesy theme from Jefferson.  When Roth joins, the drummer turns to the drums set, kicking his bandmates forward. Everybody solos but the last half of the track show hows closely the musicians listen to each other. Cervini's "Layla Tov" ("Good Morning" or "Good Night" in Hebrew) opens with the bass and tenor sax holding one note while Cervini plays a melody on glockenspiel.  The bassist introduces the main melody which Jefferson then picks up on soprano. Roth's solo is quite melodic with just brushes-on-snare for accompaniment.  The soprano solo that follows is emotionally rich, melodic, and heartfelt.  Interspersed through the piece are the sounds of the drummer's family at the beach (the baby's infectious laughter is contagious).

Charlie Parker's "Cheryl" opens with a slow bass solo but soon the trio step out with Jefferson's tenor rising above the rampaging rhythm section.  Cervini's "Billyish" is a good companion piece, it's boppish head leading to a thundering drum solo before Jefferson's tenor steps out. Roth's thick bass sound gives the other two players a strong foundation to get creative.  "Flood, Deluge" is the longest of four group improvisations on the album –– Roth's droning then frantic arco bass sounds spark his companions to create their own paths in the song's maze-like construction. The bassist's "Memories Remain" is a lovely ballad during which the tenor sax and bass intertwine the melody through the opening several minutes.  Roth's highly melodic bass solo is supported by quiet brushes work and Jefferson's breathy tenor notes.  The bass counterpoint behind Jefferson's lovely solo is stunning (and pay attention to how the drummer also gets in on the melody.

Roth's short (30 seconds) multi-tracked bass feature, titled "Looking Glass", serves as an introduction to "Blue Gardenia", the album's final track.  Composed in 1953 by Lester Lee and Bob Russell for the Fritz Lang movie of the same name, the piece was performed by Nat "King" Cole. Several years later, Dinah Washington had a big hit with the song, so big that he became one of her "signature songs" through to the end of her career (1963).  Cervini plays the melody on bass clarinet with Roth's strummed bass as the only accompaniment until Jefferson enters on tenor to play harmony and counterpoint. The two reeds wind around each other throughout with Roth creating a comfortable cushion for their tuneful interactions.

"Entering Utopia" is a delightful musical vacation trip. Our three tour guides play with fervor, emotion, and plenty of joy plus the sound of the performances is powerful, clean, and clear.  TuneTown is an apropos name for this fine trio!

For more information, go to tunetownjazz.com.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to. https://tunetownjazz.bandcamp.com/album/entering-utopia

Here's the trio performing "Billyish":




Pianist and composer Paul Bedal is another one of the fascinating artists that reside in Chicago.  After earning his undergraduate degree in Studio Music and Jazz Performance from the University of Miami, he returned to the Windy City to earn his Master's Degree in Film Composition form Columbia College Chicago.  He's co-led a band with saxophonist Caroline Davis, played and recorded with trumpeter Paul Dietrich as well as bassist Matt Ulery. The pianist issued his debut CD, "Chatter", in 2014, a quintet date featuring Ms. Davis and bassist Ulery. Bedal has since signed with the Chicago label BACE Records and issued another quintet album (2018's "Mirrors") plus his first album (2019's "In Reverse") with the quartet of Ulery, alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella and drummer Charles Rumback

The same lineup returned to the studio in January of 2020 to create Bedal's new recording on BACE, "Cerulean Stars."  The pianist certainly created this music for these musicians with each of the seven compositions playing to their strength.  Both Rumback and Mazzarella have been on the Chicago scene for over a decade and are often heard in "freer" music settings.  Ulery, who is known for his excellent writing for large and small ensembles, is a "foundational" bassist, more concerned with keeping the beat steady and creating a solid bottom. Still, on the opening track "Iris", his counterpoint during the solos is a highlight. The saxophonist leans more in a melodic direction throughout the album yet there are moments, such as during his solo on "Panorama", when he rides the powerful drums and moves away from the melody. That melody, by the way, is quite well-drawn, giving the pianist a great base to create an impressive solo.  Speaking of impressive melodies, the title track comes in on a dancing alto sax song (carries a trace of Randy Newman) then moves forward into Mazzarella's solo with a bounce in rhythm section.  Pay attention to the leader's intelligent fills and short runs underneath then hear how they inform his enchanting solo.  

I have been listening to this music as well as Bedal's previous quartet album on my daily walks. There are moments when the music reminds me of Herbie Hancock's mid-60s Blue Note Lps (post "Watermelon Man") –– you can hear the resemblance in the flow of the material, in how the members of the quartet interact, and the movement of the rhythm section.  As a soloist, Bedal leans more towards Keith Jarrett, Fred Hersch, and occasionally, Bill Evans.  The combination of melody and rhythm on pieces such as "Summer Fade" and "Citrine" offers so much possibility that one would love to hear the band play live. 

"Cerulean Stars" closes with "Free" –– the piece begins slowly and solemnly, in rubato, picks up somewhat in intensity during the sax solo but the rippling piano figure lead the listener to a soft close. This album is a joy from start to finish –– Paul Bedal is a mature composer with his ears attuned to his musicians and not to what's popular or hip. Not to say this music is "square"; no, instead from the opening moments, these songs enter the long and, hopefully, timeless river of Creative American Music, music that is always loving back and forward but never static.

For more information, go to www.paulbedal.com.  To hear more and to purchase Paul Bedal's music, go to https://paulbedal.bandcamp.com/album/cerulean-stars.  

Here's a video of the title track: