Sunday, September 24, 2023

Chicago: Large Ensemble Dreams


Over the past two decades, bassist and composer Clark Sommers seems to have become ubiquitous. He's worked or still works with Kurt Elling, Typical Sister, Chicago Yestet, guitarist Jeff Parker, pianist Darrell Grant, and saxophonist Chris Madsen (among many others). There are really good reasons for his continued employment; not only is he a truly "foundational" bassist but also very melodic.  His composing "chops" are formidable as he has displayed on his two "solo" albums plus his work in the cooperative Ba(SH) Trio (with saxophonist Geof Bradfield and drummer Dana Hall) and with guitarist John McLean in their Quartet.  Like most musicians, the pandemic took him off the road for an extended period of time which gave him the opportunity to work on his composing and arranging skills in the wake of his attending at Master's Program at DePaul University. While there, he attended a Workshop led by the afore-mentioned Dana Hall. That workshop included writing and arranging for a 12-piece band and Sommers created several pieces for that group.

In his time away from touring, Sommers composed numerous pieces for his own 12-member ensemble that would include many of the people the bassist has worked with since moving to Chicago from the West Coast. Scroll down and look at the list of musicians; they are among the "cream of the crop" of the Windy City and the Midwest.  The results of Sommers' work can be heard on "Feast Ephemera" (Phrenology Music/self-released).  Nine songs, 71 minutes of music and not a dull moment to be heard.  Take your time to get into the program. You may notice how delightful the arrangements are or the smart original works that Sommers brought to the sessions. Perhaps it's the impressive solos that stand out for you or the fact that the leader does not take a solo.  On pieces such as "The Rider" and "Pedals", the textures of the horns and reeds as they swirl around the rhythm section as well as the soloists that surprise on first listen.  Also, notice how the section writing makes room for the solos.

Photo: Scott Hesse
Perhaps the most impressive aspect (to my ears) of this program is how the music does not really sound like any other modern large ensemble. The music swings a bit more than that of Maria Schneider and it is not as "spiky" and angular as the music of Darcy James Argue.  Like those two composers (and others like Duke Ellington, Bob Brookmeyer, Miho Hazama, and Jim McNeely), Sommers writes for these friends and musicians, knowing their strengths, their willingness to explore their roles within the music, and to stretch. Listen to "Cave Dweller" below; you'll hear the various voices, including piano, clarinet, flute, and saxophone introduce the opening melody before moving into the theme. Notice the powerful drumming and direction setting of Hall, the powerful bass notes (in step with and counterpoint to the piano accompaniment), all in service of the music.

Dig in to "Feast Ephemera", bask in the brightness of melodies and solos, drink in the sweetness of each performance.  As he showed listeners on 2022's "Intertwine" (Outside In Music) and 2017's "By A Thread" (Phrenology Music), Clark Sommers is an excellent composer, more interested in the arc of the musical stories he and the musicians are telling than in showing how technically fine a player he is.  Sit down and listen, listen deeply!

For more information, go to To hear more and to purchase the album, go to

Explore the "Feast" with "The Cave Dweller":


Clark Sommers-compositions/arrangements & bass, 
Dana Hall-drums, 
Nick Mazzarella-alto saxophone, 
Geof Bradfield-bass clarinet, soprano & tenor saxophones, 
Chris Madsen-tenor saxophone, 
John Wojciechowski-C & alto flutes and alto saxophone,
Tito Carrillo, Russ Johnson-trumpet, 
Joel Adams, Andy Baker-trombone,
Stu Mindeman-piano/keyboards, 
Scott Hesse-guitar 

Friday, September 8, 2023

Tribute and Tributaries

In May of 2021, tenor saxophonist and composer James Brandon Lewis released "Jesup Wagon" on Tao Forms (AUM Fidelity). The music on the album told the inspirational story of George Washington Carver (1864-1943), agricultural scientist, inventor, and community organizer (the Southern farming communities). The recording introduced the world to the Red Lily Quintet. Composed of Lewis, Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Chris Hoffman (cello), William Parker (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums, percussion), the ensemble contains multitudes, playing with creativity, invention fire, and wit. The album made a slew of "Best of" lists later that year and deservedly so.

Lewis and the RLQ is back, this time album inspired by the saxophonist's grandmother.  "For Mahalia, With Love" (Tao Forms) is a nine-song program of spirituals made famous by Ms. Jackson (1911-1972) during the four+ decades she toured the United States and the world.  Many people point to the influence of Gospel music on the blues and "soul" music but certainly Black spirituals have influenced a multitude of artists from Louis Armstrong to Duke Ellington to John Coltrane to Archie Shepp to the wonderful albums of Hank Jones and Charlie Haden (there are plenty more).  Lewis and company lean more to the Coltrane type of "testifying" but unlike the 1965 classic "A Love Supreme", there is only one original work on "For Mahalia"–the program opens with "Sparrow", which includes the melody "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" (composed in 1905 by Charles H. Gabriel and Civilla D. Martin) and the leader's "Even the Sparrow".  

Smithsonian/Museum of African History
This music covers a wide swath of territory. From the fiery saxophone shouts on "Calvary" to the swinging final minutes of "Go Down Moses" to the hard-edged driving force of "Wade In The Water" to the joyous power of "Swing Low", this is music that celebrates Ms. Jackson's legacy and builds upon the lessons learned, the lives lost, and the freedoms gained (and now in jeopardy) over the last 400 years.  The music also builds off the messages in the music adapted from the teachings Blacks learned in their churches, the prayers of hope and freedom that flowed into and out of the music. Check out the sly grooves of "Elijah Rock", the splendid bass solo that opens the piece, the long rubato tenor/trumpet call-and-response, and the mid-song drop into tempo; if that does not makes you want to shout "Hallelujah" for its sweet blend of African, Swing, and Caribbean rhythms, I do not know what will

The Red Lily Quintet is an excellent ensemble and the music James Brandon Lewis creates and/or arranges for them gives each person room to move, to influence the direction, to add to the harmonies, to engage in the call-and-response, and more.  The saxophonist's interactions with Knuffke soar, shout praise, and dance on many of the pieces.  Parker and Taylor are...well....they are a rhythm section par excellence in that one creates the foundation and the other the flow plus the fire. There are times when Hoffman's cello gets covered but he's there, sometimes playing counterpoint to the melody, other times counterpoint to the bass lines.  

All told, "For Mahalia, With Love" is a great collection of songs for many and varied reasons, not the least of which is the the ensemble's powerful playing and the excellent settings created by James Brandon Lewis.  Do dip your feet into this mighty stream!

For more information, go to  To purchase the recording, go to  For a limited time, if you purchase the compact disk or vinyl versions of the album, you receive a second disk features Lewis leading the Lutoslawski Quartet in his chamber music piece "These Are Soulful Days", recorded live at its premiere performance in November 2021 at the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland.  

Revive your spirits with "Swing Low":

Photo: Brian Harkin/NYT
Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner has been collecting critical acclaim since he moved to New York City in the early 1990s.  One might say he has a "cool" tone" but you could also argue he's very much his own man.  In late 2019, Turner recorded "Return From the Stars" for ECM with a quartet featuring Jason Palmer (trumpet), long-time collaborator Joe Martin (acoustic bass), and the young, dynamic, drummer Jonathan Pinson.   That group was invited by photographer and label owner Jimmy Katz (Giant Step Arts) to take part in his label's new series. Titled "Modern Masters and New Horizons", the series is curated by Palmer and drummer Nasheet Waits and will include contributions from artists such as vibraphonist Chien Chien Lu, saxophonists Neta Ranaan and Ben Solomon, drummer Eric McPherson and others. 

The first release in the series "Live at The Village Vanguard" and features the Mark Turner Quartet, the same ensemble on the ECM album. Recorded over two nights in June of 2022, the 11-song, 2+ hours, program features material from the earlier studio recording, new pieces written specifically for this ensemble as well as older Turner originals.  What Katz the producer is get out of the artist's way and lets the band do what they do best–play.  Listen to "Return from the Stars" below to hear how tight the band is, how much they listen to each other, and how this music flows.  "Brother, Sister", first recorded in 2014 for ECM with a different quartet (save for Martin), opens with a long, poetic, powerful, solo tenor sax statement––the band comes in seemingly on tiptoes but pay attention to Pinson on the offbeat and Martin's swinging counterpoint.  Palmer gets a shorter unaccompanied solo before the the band reenters. Now the trumpet and sax play long tones while Martin solos.  Notice how the textures change as the music moves forward. 

The newest piece on the album, "Wasteland", is a fascinating ballad that also opens with an unaccompanied tenor sax solo––this time, one hears a plaintive cry, a sense of deep sorrow or, even, loss of hope that leads to a full group elegy. There are long bass notes, Pinson on his toms, a melody line for the sax and trumpet that starts in unison, moves away, and back but in counterpoint now.  When you listen to the song in total, you realize that not only is it an elegy but also serves as a vehicle for the drummer to create short solos in response to and seeming rejection of sorrow.

Photo: Jimmy & Dena Katz
"It's Not Alright With Me" is, at 18:36, the longest track on the album. The playfulness of the melody brings images of the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet. While the rhythms prances and struts, the band takes its time to move through the melody section.  Martin gets the first solo and it's a tour-de-force, quite melodic yet percussive, careering forward at breakneck speed. Turner's solo starts slowly but he rides the waves created by Pinson to create a masterful, hard-edged, dramatic solo.  

The oldest Turner song on the program, "Lennie Groove", is from the leader's second album, 1998's "In This World".  The piece has a nervous, almost jittery, melody line which does fall into a delightfully swinging "groove".  

"Live at The Village Vanguard" is yet another high water mark in Mark Turner's three decade career.  To me, the best to listen to this album is to sit back, put on headphones, pretend you're at one of the tables at the Vanguard, and let the music play.  There's so much music to listen to so take your time and let them play!

As of now, the best place to find out more about the album is to click on this link:  You can buy copies of the CD at Mark Turner's gigs and there will soon be a Bandcamp link to purchase digital copies. This page will be updated as soon as that happens

Here's the opening track, "Return From the Stars":

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Summer Shorts: Big Band Edition #1

 Plenty of Big Band/Large Ensemble have come my way this Summer––here's three of the best!

Arranger, conductor, composer, and educator Chuck Owen, with over four decades on the music scene, finally got to live a dream in late 2019 when he flew over to Germany to record with the WDR Big Band.  He was hoping to record new pieces with the ensemble but the sessions were moved up. Instead, he "reimagined" three of his original works, arranged three pieces by members of the WDRBB, and brought over arrangements of the Frank Sinatra/Tommy Dorsey classic "This Love of Mine" (1941) and Chick Corea's "Arabian Nights" (from 2007's "The Ultimate Adventure").  Over the course of the eight song, 73-minute, program, the music not surprisingly displays the talents of one of Europe's most accomplished ensembles but also the intelligent, witty, arrangements of Mr. Owen.

The sessions were recorded before and during the Pandemic. Ms. Caswell made the initial journey and is guest soloist on two of the tracks including the achingly lovely "Of Mystery and Beauty" composed by WDR alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmeyer.  Watch below and listen how Owen's arrangement moves the brass and reeds around the solos. Bassist John Goldsby's evocative "Fall Calls" has a lovely melody line shared by alto and trombone (Ms. Strassmeyer and Andy Hunter)––nothing is rushed and you can almost hear the autumn leaves pirouetting down from the tree.  The Big Band kicks good and hard on Mr. Owen's "...And Your Point Is?"–thanks to the presence of organist Billy Test, the tunes sounds somewhat like Jimmy Smith and his large ensemble recordings on Verve. 

While it turned out that the sessions that created "Renderings" were a hardship for those involved, the music triumphs.  If you are an aficionado of Big Bands, you already know how good the WDR Big Band can be––thanks to the top-notch material and excellent arrangements from Chuck Owen, the large ensemble is at the top of its game––go listen.

To learn more about Chuck Owen and this album, go to  Do go to to learn more about the great German Big Band. 

Here's "Of Mystery and Beauty" with guest Sara Caswell:

Boston, MA-based pianist and composer Mehmet Ali Sanlikol has never been one to shy away from his Turkish roots (born in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1974)–over the course of five albums released on DUNYA Records in the past nine years, he has shown an affinity to large ensembles (with one exception, his 2021 trio date "An Elegant Ritual"). His main vehicle is Whatsnext?, a sprawling 20-person group that includes a three-person percussion section made up of the finest musicians in the Boston area.  "Turkish Hipster: Tales From Swing to Psychedelic" (the title tells the listener what to expect) is quite the trip. With guest artists such as Anat Cohen (clarinet), Miguel Zenón (alto saxophone), and Antonio Sanchez (drums), the music expands to take in the styles and influences of those musicians, with the composer and arranger finding ways to tell all the stories contained in the compositions. 

Photo: Eric Antoniou
The program opens with "A Capoeira Turca (Baia Havasi)" which blends Turkish and Brazilian rhythms plus the expressive and joyful clarinet of Ms. Cohen. Listen below and see if you can keep still––it's downright funky. The most ambitious piece on the album follows; "Times of the Turtledove" takes its form from classic Turkish music yet drummer Bertram Lehmann and bassist Fernando Huergo give the piece a more modern sound in the first part of the episodic work. A lovely melody played by the leader on ney flute supported by a simple percussive pattern gives away to the brass section's strong melodic interpretation of the theme. Mr. Zenón plays as part of the ensemble early in the piece and does not move out for a solo until nearly 10 minutes has passed.  The rhythm section dances beneath him before the horns and brass swell up leading to a powerful finish to his musical story.  All three of the guests plus the leader are celebrated by rapper Raydar Ellis on "The Boston Beat",  a funky hiphop tune that pulsates out of the speakers.

"Turkish Hipster: Tales From Swing to Psychedelic" closes with the three-part 21-minute "'Abraham' Suite".  Featuring Mr. Sanchez, the story is based on the patriarch Abraham's story seen through the lens of Islam; the piece was commissioned for the Jaazar Festival in Switzerland and also recorded with an international lineup of musicians including drummer Billy Cobham.  The composer expanded the arrangement for this more orchestral lineup.  It's a powerful piece with excellent musicianship and an impassioned vocal for Mr. Sanlikol. 

This splendid recording illuminates the many and varied talents of Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, especially in how he marshals his musical troops to create a work of beauty, power, and a bit of sassiness, one that will resonate for years to come.  For more information, go to  

To purchase this and other recordings from Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, go to

Here's the delightful opening track (featuring Anat Cohen):

Dr. Javier Nero, trombonist, composer, and arranger, has an impressive CV, one that encompasses his education at the Juilliard School and the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. He has played and recorded with numerous large ensembles, played in Broadway pit bands, and worked with artists such as Veronica Swift, trumpeter Brian Lynch, and pianist Shelly Berg (among many others).  He is currently the lead trombone for the U.S. Army Blues, an 18-member Big Band that plays concerts throughout Washington D.C.  In 2020, Outside In Music released his debut Septet album––"Freedom" featured all original material, band members included bassist Dion Kerr (Nicholas Payton, Marcus Strickland), saxophonist Melvin Butler (Brian Blade), and pianist Tal Cohen (Terence Blanchard) as well as numerous guests including the afore-mentioned Messrs. Lynch and Berg plus vocalist Lauren Desberg.

For his second Outside In Music album, "Kemet (The Black Land)", the ensemble is now billed as the Javier Nero Jazz Orchestra, 18 musicians (plus guests) strong. Most of the musicians are members of the U.S. Army Blues with a number of guest artists including Randy Brecker (trumpet), Warren Wolf (vibraphone), Sean Jones (trumpet), and others. The nine-song, 74 minute, program covers a wide swath of musical territory from blues to swing to lovely R'nB ballads to World Music.  The playing is uniformly (no military pun intended) excellent and the occasional use of vocals add a fuller feel to tunes such "One Day", the lovely Brazilian/African-flavored "Reflections on the Dark, Tranquil Water", and the title track.  "Reflections..." stands out for many reasons including the well-crafted melody, the handsome piano solo (Josh Richman), and the leader's silky-smooth melodic solo.  The folky African feeling "One Day" rides in on the acoustic guitar of Michael Kramer that leads to Dr. Nero's aspirational lyrics. After a soaring flute solo (Daniel Dickinson), there is a fine Chris Burbank trumpet solo with the assembled voices swirling around him.  Perhaps the prettiest tune on the album is the impressionistic ballad "Just Let Go", a soulful ballad with a handsome trombone solo from the leader and impressive arrangement for the horns and reeds (clarinets add quite a lovely touch

Listen below to "Nostalgic Haiku", a soulful song with powerful brass and great solos from Messrs. Brecker and Wolf.  The rhythm section, especially electric bassist Regan Brough and drummer Kyle Swan, create a strong pulse while the arrangement opens to smart section behind the soloists second chorus.  

The digital edition of "Kemet (The Black Land)" features two bonus tracks (pushing the total time of the album to 87 minutes!). Cole Porter's "It's Alright With Me" features the sweet voice of Christie Dashiell, a rollicking piano solo from Richman, and the excellent trumpet spot for Sean Jones (he spars with the vocalist).  The album closes with McCoy Tyner's "Contemplation" (off of the pianist's 1967 Blue Note Lp "The Real McCoy").  The leader creates a sturdy solo before Sean Jones digs into his wide-ranging solo. Richman (who's quite active on the Philadelphia scene) again delivers a fine solo which leads to the song's end and the program's finish.

Take your time to savor the music on "Kemet (The Black Land)", listen to the arrangements, to the excellent section work, to the fine solos, and to the music.  Javier Nero has certainly put his heart and soul into this recording, gathering his musician friends to help tell all these stories.  There's a lot to here to contemplate as well as pieces that just ask to tap your feet or clap your hands.  Dr. Nero's music has expanded exponentially since his 2020 debut and one expects/hope he continues to mature as a composer, arranger, and musician.

To find out more, go to  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to

Here's "Nostalgic Haiku" (featuring guests Randy Brecker and Warren Wolf):

Monday, July 24, 2023

George, By Denny!


Dr. Dennis Zeitlin, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California/San Francisco and practicing Psychiatrist, is also Denny Zeitlin, pianist, composer, arranger, and improvisor––the latter has been playing and recording since the early 1960s when he was a Graduate Student at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, MD.  He continued his career and began teaching after moving to the West Coast.  The pianist recorded four LPs for Columbia from 1963-67, the first in a trio with bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Freddie Waits; other ensembles featured bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Jerry Granelli. In 1969, he met percussionist George Marsh (who, like Dr. Zeitlin, was born in Chicago) forming a trio with bassist Mel Graves. Together, they recorded two albums, one ("The Name of This Terrain") recorded in 1969 that was issued in 2022, and the other ("Expansion") issued in 1973––Dr. Zeitlin had added electronic keyboards and synthesizers to his repertoire and the musical results still sound fascinating.  In 1978, he composed the soundtrack to the first remake of "Invasion of the Body-Snatchers"; that immersive electronic experiment sent him back to the acoustic piano.

In the late-2000s, after issuing on labels such as Windham Hill, Palo Alto Jazz, Concord, and one smashing Trio session on the Japanese Venus label, Dr. Zeitlin began his association with Sunnyside Records. Since that time, he has released four Trio albums (featuring bassist Buster Williams and drummer Matt Wilson), three totally-improvised electronics-laden albums with George Marsh, and six solo piano albums (one of which, 2013's "Both/And", features electronics as well).  Album #14 for Sunnyside is "Crazy Rhythms: Exploring George Gershwin" (the Doctor's seventh solo album and third recorded at the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, CA).  The package includes 11 Gershwin works that range from "standards" to show tunes to one fascinating find (the lovely waltz "By Strauss").  Dr. Zeitlin chose these pieces several months before the December 2018 concert, playing through and with them. He then sat in the concert space in front of the audience and proceeded to play through the program following no set format and improvising, in his estimation, 95% of the concert.

What a treat this album is.  From the opening zither-like sound of "Summertime" to the playful "I Was Doing All Right" that closes the album, the music goes in many directions. In conversation with Dr. Zeitlin, I compared the improvisor to a person diving into the water, going deep down and coming back up to touch on the melody.  Right from the start, the music does not move the way one might expect; instead, these performances are an open door into the musician's creativity. While you sing along to "How Long Has This Been Going On?", the pianist changes the tempo now and then, creating a joyful solo. "Fascinating Rhythm" bounces forward yet there are moments when the two-handed approach sounds like a JS Bach exercise before swinging away on the power of right-hand single note runs.  Listen below to "The Man I Love"–is the opening a bow to fellow pianist McCoy Tyner's use of modal chords before the music dances away?

The three pieces from "Porgy and Bess"––"Bess You Is My Woman Now", "It Ain't Necessarily So", and "My Man's Gone Now"––could be an album on its own.  The pianistic explorations on each piece not only honor the melody but the "heart and soul" in each tune.  "Bess" is just gorgeous, emotionally rich and rewarding in numerous ways.  "It Ain't...." moves far from its melodic home for a powerful journey inside the questions at the heart of faith and beliefs, not settling for a laugh.  At nearly 13 minutes, "My Man's Gone Now" is, at times, an elegy, a celebration, and a angry fist waving at the heavens, a journey inward and out again with a renewed resilience. 

That's my take. "Crazy Rhythms: Exploring George Gershwin", if you are willing to give the music the time it deserves, is quite an album. Denny Zeitlin makes George Gershwin come alive, illuminating the universality of the composer's music as well as the joy (try and sit still listening to "S'Wonderful"). Pay attention and get lost; let this music take you away from the mundane, from the troubles, for the rewards are many!

For more information and to purchase the album, go to  To learn more about Dr. Denny Zeitlin, go to

Listen to "The Man I Love":

Friday, July 21, 2023

Summer Shorts: Living Music


Pianist and composer François Bourassa  has been a mainstay on the Montreal, Quebec, CA, jazz scene for nearly four decades. A graduate of McGill University, the pianist went to study with Fred Hersch, Miroslav Vitous, and George Russell at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, before returning to Canada where he formed his first "working" trio in the 1980s. In the early 2000s, he formed a quartet with bassist Guy Boisvert, Andre Leroux (tenor and soprano saxophones, flutes) joined in 2010, and Guilliame Pilote (drums) replaced original drummer Greg Ritchie late in the same decade.

"Swirl: Live at Piccolo" (Effendi Music), recorded live over two nights in July of 2022 at Montreal's Studio Piccolo, is the fifth album by the François Bourassa Quartet and the first since 2017's "Number 9".  The music, all original material penned by the leader, is, at turns, playful, solemn, contemplative, exciting, filled with sudden twists-and-turns and intelligent interactions. You can tell they are listening to each other. Take the episodic "Pooloop" that opens the program.  Sometimes it seems the wheels are coming off but the rhythm section never wavers. The title is a palindrome and there are moments the music has a circular feel.  Leroux's soprano sax is out for most of the second half of the 12-minute performance. He switches to flute for the next cut, "Prologue"–he is by himself for the opening two+ minutes. At times, it seems as if he is "mumbling" in the background and in a give-and-take with his louder self. Bourassa enters and the dialogue shifts towards the more dramatic and even more so when the rhythm section enters for the piano solo.  The piece moves inward for a bowed bass solo (while Bourassa plays a "dampened" bass. 

If you have never heard this band, I was reminded, at different times during the tracks, of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, of Eric Dolphy's "Out to Lunch" recording, and of the work Billy Hart is doing with his Quartet. The François Bourassa Quartet does not sound like those groups but they sail in waters that those other ensembles have traversed. Listen below to "Room 58" and make up your own mind. The six-song, 60-minute "Swirl" (apt title) compels the listener to pay attention not just because the musicians play with such fire and wit "Remous", the fifth track, is such a great example of that) but also because the the leader's originals gives each musician plenty of space to "be themselves" as well as a cohesive unit.  If you like Creative music, "Swirl: Live at Piccolo" will make you feel good!

For more information, go to To hear more and to purchase the album, go to

Give a listen to "Room 58":

Thursday, July 13, 2023

A Voice for Love

Photo courtesy of BCM
Every once in a while, you pick a CD out of the stack on your desk, sit down to listen, and get transfixed. I know Nicole Zuraitis is a Connecticut native, that she has recorded several albums with her husband, drummer and composer Dan Pugach, is a member of Sonica (with Thana Alexa and bassist Julia Adamy), and has issued four albums as a leader since 2013.  Her fifth album is now out––"How Love Begins" (Outside In Music) began percolating in the vocalist, composer, and pianist's mind when she met bassist Christian McBride in 2018 and he said that "we should do something together".  It took them two a few years to reconnect; when she sent him a large amount of her newer material, he chose the 10 that make up the album. Ms. Zuraitis chose the musicians; besides her husband on drums and McBride on bass, there's Gilad Hekselman (guitar) and Maya Kronfeld (organ,Wurlitzer, Rhodes) with pianist David Cook (three tracks), drummer Billy Kilson (three tracks), and Sonica (one track).  

The program is divided into two parts, "Oil" and "Water", each section having five songs.  In conversation, Ms. Zuraitis said that the first section is really about "how love begins" while the second half is about "how love ends". What one notices on first listen is how strong a voice she has, how articulate she is in all registers, , and how flexible her voice can be.  Pay attention as well to her piano work. Her McCoy Tyner-esque chords beneath the guitar solo on "Reverie" are both powerful and percussive, locking in with the bass and drums (in this instance, Mr. Kilson).  "Travel", a track she composed with fellow vocalist Cyrille Aimée, features lyrics by the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay plus a lyrical guitar solo. It's just voice and guitar on "Let Me Love You", a bluesy plea.  The intimacy and humor of the performance is an aural treat.

The "Water" section opens with "Two Fish"; based on a Hebrew poem written by Dahlia Rabikovich, the open seconds of the tune sound like the intro to Leslie Bricusse's "My Kind of Girl" before heading out on its path. It's really a sweet love song with lovely fills from pianist Cook and bluesy responses from Hekselman.  The love affair begins falling apart on the soulful "Well Planned, Well Played" but the music is buoyed by the gospel organ work of Ms. Kronfeld and Hekselman's bent notes. Mr. McBride takes a short but melodic solo. The love affair is but over on "Like Dew", a slow, sorrowful, ballad in which Ms. Zuraitis's emotional vocal takes center stage but don't disregard her fine piano work.  The program ends with "To The Garden", a Carole King-like melody that is both a vocal treat (delightful overdubbed vocal "responses") and a heartfelt musical experience––if you buy the CD, the "hidden track" is the original "Save It For a Rainy Day" in which the singer realizes that love has totally been eclipsed by a consistent and insistent storm. 

Slowly, steadily, Nicole Zuraitis is making inroads as a singer, pianist, and especially as a composer.  "How Love Begins" is a smashing album, filled with fine songs, excellent musicianship, led by a vocalist whose voice is inviting, intimate, playful, and emotionally real. Give the album several full spins and see how good you'll feel bathed in these sweet sounds.

For more information, go to  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to

Here's "Let Me Love You":

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Solo Trumpeter

Hard to believe it's 16 years since Ambrose Akinmusire won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. That same year, he won the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition plus his debut album on Fresh Sound. In 2011, Akinmusire signed to Blue Note Records where he released five albums as a leader one as a member of the Blue Note All Stars. He's been a frequent guest artist appearing on albums by Jen Shyu, Me'shell Ndegeocello, guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel and Mary Halvorson, Jack DeJohnette, and many more. He's also has collaborated with Australian composer Michael Yezerski for two seasons on the soundtrack of the STARZ series "Blindspotting".  Earlier this month, Akinmusire was named the Artistic Director for the incoming class of 2025 of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz (formerly the Monk Institute) in Los Angeles, CA. 

Now, Ambrose Akinmusire is launching his own label, Origami Harvest. The first release is also Akinmusire's first solo album.  Titled "Beauty Is Enough", the 16 tracks were recorded in Paris inside the Church of St. Eustache (pictured below)––the trumpeter rented space within the building bringing sound engineer Julien Bassères along to capture the improvisations.  In an excellent interview with Nate Chinen for his SubStack blog, "The Gig", Akinmusire said "You know, the idea started from talking to Wadada and Roscoe, and them talking about the importance of having a solo record". (Sign up for "The Gig" as it is now Mr. Chinen's main vehicle for writing).  There's certainly a precedent for this album as there are numerous Creative Music solo trumpet albums including several excellent TUM releases by Wadada Leo Smith.  

As stated above, there are 16 tracks clocking in at just under 50 minutes. Only two are over four-minutes long and all are absorbing.  Solo albums tell a story––few of them are created to highlight technical brilliance––and "Beauty Is Enough" is filled with dedications, memories, and dreams.  Listener sit down, start on track one ("To Taymoor"), pay attention to the intimacy of the sound (and the resonance within the building), to how Akinmusire builds the piece up from the opening tones to a gentle melody, and the softness of his attack.  Other "dedication songs" include "Carvin" (for drummer Michael Carvin), "To Shabnam", and "To Cora Campbell" which closes the recording.  There are others tracks with names attached but also tracks such as the playful "Off the Ledge" (feels like madcap romp based on "Reveille") and "Achilles" which, to these ears, sounds like a chase scene in a cartoon.

Over the course of his career, Ambrose Akinmusire has made us listen to the power in his music, to his responses to the world around him that he translates into sounds and images. "Beauty Is Enough" feels more like a launching pad for future adventures than a summing up of where the trumpeter has already been. Listen and judge for yourself but do listen with an open mind.  

For more information and to purchase the recording, go to  For the trumpeter's history, go to  

Hear "Launchpad":