Friday, July 12, 2024

The Power of Posi-Tone Thinking

Producer Marc Free and Chief Mixer-Master Nick O'Toole continue to issue high-quality music on the Posi-Tone Records, mixing newer artists with great rhythm section and giving established artists the opportunity to continue to stretch their creative wings. Here are three exciting new albums.

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Vibraphonist and composer Behn Gillece has, over the past decade-and-a-half, taken part in dozens of sessions for Posi-Tone.  He first came to critical attention as part of duo with saxophonist Ken Fowser – they released four albums from 2009 to 2013.  Gillece released his debut album as a leader in 2015 and since then has recorded five more but also has been part of several ensembles created by Producer Free. Groups such as New Faces, Out to Dinner, and Idle Hands have released albums combining his vibes and some of his compositions with artists such as saxophonists Roxy Coss, Donny McCaslin, and Tim Green plus trombonist Ryan Keberle, drummer Donald Edwards, guitarist Will Bernard, and others.

Since the beginning of the Pandemic in 2020, Free has employed the "regular" rhythm section of pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Boris Kozlov, and either Rudy Royston or Donald Edwards on drums for his recording sessions in New York City.  They have done impressive work on numerous occasions adapting to different styles, harmonic ideas, and rhythms.  Gillece's seventh solo album, "Stick Together", features Messrs. Hirahara, Kozlov, and Royston in a 10-song, 56-minute, program that stands out for the excellent musicianship and intelligent compositions.  On top of all that, this music really swings.  "Almost There" opens the album on a slow pace; then the groove kicks in and the quartet dances forward. One of the joys of listening to these four musicians is that when they are playing, they are "playing".  Royston is disruptive, noisy, but always on the beat.

Listen below to "Four Of a Kind" and you'll see why that's the exact right title. After a quick run-through of the theme, they hit the floor running powered by Kozlov's mighty bass and Royston's wonderful attack.  The vibes solo is infectious which gives Hirahara the jolt for a flying fingers solo. This is the kind of performance that makes an audience rise from their seats and cheer.

The group slows down the pace several times including the lovely "Changing My Day" (the drummer sits out) and the medium-tempo "Dreamscape."  The latter track picks up the pace for a far-ranging vibes solo.  "Cascades Merging" has a similar feel with a slower opening and then a bump in the tempo for the solos.

One of the delightful surprises is the quartet's take on Sam Rivers' "Cyclic Episodes". The tune, which first appears on Rivers' 1962 Blue Note classic "Fuschia Swing Song", really does swing atop the excellent cymbal work and the melodic "walking" bass lines.

"Stick Together" closes with "Lazy September", a duet for vibraphone and piano.  Not only does the song have a handsome melody but also Hirahara's emotional, rhapsodic, piano support.  It's a gentle ending to a pleasing musical experience.  Behn Gillece has created an album that one can return to time and again, enjoying the music on many levels.  

For more information, go to www.behngillece.com.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://behngillece.bandcamp.com/album/stick-together

Swing along with the quartet on "Four of a Kind":



Photo: Ola Baldych
For many of us, our introduction to trumpeter and composer Josh Lawrence was 2017's "Color Theory", his debut recording on Posi-Tone.  He certainly has done a lot in the last decade as member of the Fresh Cut Orchestra, working and recording with TARBABY, Posi-Tone's New Faces, Erykah Badu (among many others), and is now Director of Jazz Studies at Interlochen Center for the Arts and conductor of Interlochen Jazz Orchestra. His recorded output for Marc Free's label shows a musician who has created his own voice, who's not afraid of showing vulnerability in his musical and sonic choices and who has developed into an excellent composer.


His sixth Posi-Tone release, "Measured Response", is a thoughtful, intelligent, and, at times, quite playful collection of songs. Eight of the 10 pieces in the 57-minute program are Lawrence originals plus one song each by John Coltrane ("Wise One") and Charlie Haden ("Song For the Whales").  Unlike many of the label's releases which usually open with "barnburners", "Where Do We Go?" is a slower blues based on a Pandemic vacation trip.  There are excellent solos from the leader and tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera atop the gentle swing created by pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Luques Curtis, and drummer Rudy Royston.  "A Tragic Tango Comedy" follows – reminiscent of tangos composed the late Carla Bley, it's fun to hear Royston and Curtis play with the rhythms and Hirahara's ornamental yet rhythmical piano accompaniment.  The solos are concise and never overtly technical.  

Photo: Ola Baldych
Lawrence's choice of "cover" songs is inspired and inspiring. Charlie Haden's "Song For the Whales" (which the late bassist recorded with the Liberation Music Orchestra on 2016's "Time/Life") is an elegiac piece that utilizes Curtis's bowed bass as "whale song", Hirahara's rippling piano lines like waves over the prayer-like melody played by sax and trumpet, and pounding drums. That melody is actually lovely, moving slowly over the rhythm section.  John Coltrane's "Wise One" (from 1964's "Crescent" Lp) has a similar rubato feel in the opening 80 seconds before the bass and drums kick in for the powerful piano solo. Lawrence is next, caressing the melodic variations as the thundering rhythm section attempts to push him; instead, he leads them back to the opening, taking the piece out on a bluesier note.

Listen below to "Every Choices Comes With An Invoice" (Lawrence borrowed the title from Busta Rhymes) – it's an antithesis to the ballads as the piece explodes out of the gates on rapid-fire bass lines and frenetic drums. Lawrence digs into his solo displaying his own fire and versatility.  Riviera also rises to the challenge the rhythm section lays down. The pianist initially tamps down the fire before he too is inspired by Curtis's flying fingers.  

Photo: Ola Baldych
There are moments when the music feels like Miles Davis circa 1960-62 when one listens to songs such as "Flip On A Drip" (a "smoking" piece that really highlights what a good accompanist Hirahara can be) and other pieces ("Between the Lakes") that move towards the sound of the classic Davis Quintet in 1966 and '67. The muted trumpet and solemn melody on "Prelude To a Farewell (For Barry Harris)" pay tribute to one of Lawrence's most important teachers and mentors. The simple beauty of the lines played by trumpet and saxophone give way to a rhapsodic piano solo that also features excellent bass work and soft cymbals. Riviera's tenor spot has a gentle power that speaks to the heart as does Lawrence's short yet poignant turn in the spotlight.  

The album closes with "Texas Tenor", a bluesy ballad that gives Riviera a chance to take center stage. His solid solo hints at Coleman Hawkins and David "Fathead" Newman. Lawrence follows with a romp over the bouncing rhythms.  Because the leader is all about sharing, Hirahara creates a playful, "in your face", solo that brings the quintet back to the bridge and a quick close.  

With "Measured Response", Josh Lawrence and company have created a compelling artistic triumph that also is great fun to play loud.  Lawrence's material brims with creativity which his fellow musicians much to work with. He does not worry about playing "quiet" or giving other soloists more room to shine. This album is well worth diving into often!
 
For more information, go to www.joshlawrencejazz.com/. To hear more and purchase the album, go to https://joshlawrence.bandcamp.com/album/measured-response

Listen to Josh and the band tear it up on "Every Choice Comes With an Invoice":



Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Pianist, drummer, and composer Luther Allison made his recording debut at the age of 19 when he appeared (as the drummer) on trombonist Michael Dease's 2016 Posi-Tone recording "Father Figure".  Since then, he's appeared on several Dease albums plus releases by Diego Rivera (as pianist), Markus Howell (drummer) and on Samara Joy's GRAMMY-winning 2023 "Tight".  The Charlotte, NC, native now lives in New York City where he has performed with bassist Rodney Whittaker, vocalist Jazzmeia Horn, saxophonist Gregory Tardy, drummer Ulysses Horn, and so many others. Allison also teaches at Jazz Summer camps and as a clinican touring all the globe.

To his credit, Allison waited several years and had a plethora of musical and life experiences before recording his debut as a leader.  "I Owe It All To You" is a trio featuring bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Zach Adelman.  The 10-song, 53-minute, program is a blend of four originals with four songs composed by piano greats James Williams, Mulgrew Miller, Harold Mabern, and Donald Brown plus a song each from Stevie Wonder and Richard Rodgers.  The album opens with the title track which, within the first few moments, one can hear the influences that underlay Allison's style – there's blues, gospel, hard-bop, a touch of Hip Hop, and a quest to create his own voice. The young man is an excellent soloist and the rhythm section makes sure he's a solid foundation to go off on his solo flights.  Just when you think the song is over, there's a slower, sly, gospel coda.

Photo: Roby Davidson Media
Click on the link below and listen to Allison's "Until I See You Again"; the tune has such a lovely melody but to how the tempo changes subtly throughout the solo as well as the fine bass work of Kozlov.  

It's fun to hear where the trio takes the material. The pianist's take on Rodgers's "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" starts out with a funky piano riff and goes through a couple of changes before settling into a swinging groove for the piano solo. Allison's two-handed approach may remind some of the late Harold Mabern, a musician whose blues roots ran deep through his music. It's interesting how the Mabern tune, "There But For the Grace of..." starts so regally before dropping into a delightful fast-paced groove. The trio caresses the melody of the late Mulgrew Miller's "From Day To Day", the longest track in the program at just over seven minutes. That's plenty of time for all three musicians to sparkle.

The album closes with "Lu's Blues", a high-powered blues introduced by a thundering two-handed piano attack before the rhythm section creates a break-neck pace. No problem for Allison who challenges the bassist and drummer to keep up with him. Yes, it'a technically impressive but also impressive how melodic the pianist can be at faster-than-light speed.  

No doubt about it, Luther Allison is a talent to be watched.  His choice of material, his own songs have weight and show his influences without being slavish to any one in particular. It's going to be a joy listening to him grow. Put on track one, sit back, and enjoy this 53-minute ride. I promise it'll make your day better!

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


Listen to the lovely "Until I See You Again":

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Giant Step Arts Presents Music With Its Roots in the Past & Its Eyes On the Future

 

TARBABY, the collective featuring Orrin Evans (piano, voice), Eric Revis (bass), and Nasheet Waits (drums), first started gigging together in the late 1990s but did not release its first album until 2009.  Over the course of five albums, they have railed in their own subtle and not-so-subtle ways against the racism and violence that continues to plague the United States. Their albums have usually featured guests such as Oliver Lake or JD Allen (saxophone), Nicholas Payton, Ambrose Akinmusire or Josh Lawrence (trumpet). The Trio may remind some of Jason Moran's Bandwagon (Mr. Waits is a member of that group as well) but the two groups each have their own personality and direction.

"YOU THINK THIS AMERICA" is TARBABY's sixth album
and first for Jimmy Katz's Giant Step Arts.  It's also the band's first live album and first true trio album (no guests). Of the 10 songs that compose the 54-minute program, three are originals (two from Mr. Evans and one from Mr. Revis) – the rest range from two pieces by Ornette Coleman, one each from Andrew Hill, David Murray, and Sunny Murray (no relation) plus the blues standard "Nobody Knows You When You Are Down and Out" (Jimmy Cox) and the 1970s soul classic "Betcha By Golly Wow" (Linda Creed and Thom Bell, sung by The Stylistics).  The album opens with Mr. Coleman's "Dee Dee" (from the 1965 Blue Note album "At The Golden Circle, Vol. I"). It's so fascinating to hear how the music has elements of blues and reggae. The sound of the cymbals jump out of the speakers while Mr. Revis's muscular bass lines are also so melodic.

Listen below to David Murray's "Mirror of Youth". Listen how Revis and Waits set the rhythm for Evans to then come state the theme. It's a gentle piece that illustrates how melodic the pianist and how his solo logically flows out of the melody. Nothing is rushed or overheated, certainly well-played.

The inclusion of "Betcha By Golly Wow" is a bow towards the great Thom Bell and the "Sound of Philadephia".  The trio plays it straight out of love and respect.  No solos, just a gentle melody that brings back so many memories.  "Nobody Knows You..." also gets a respectful presentation but it's the blues after all so there's a touch of light humor, good bit of swing, delightful brushes work, and a dancing bass solo.  

The album closes with Sunny Murray's "Tree Tops" (from the drummer's 2016 quintet album "Aigu-Grave").  TARBABY's version is half the 9+ minute version of the original yet it definitely takes its cue from the "free swing" of Mr Murray's take.  Bassist Revis is the catalyst here and his active phrases at first build of the melody (stated by the piano) and then joins with the skittering brushwork in pushing Evans to move kin and out of the melody during his solo.

"You Think This America" may be to some a confrontational title (as is the name of the trio) – perhaps it is. People have certain preconceptions and expect that creators of all stripes stay within a certain zone. TARBABY ignores all that and makes music that means something to them as people, as Black Americans, as musicians in the 21st Century. Orrin Evans, Eric Revis, and Nasheet Waits ask nothing more than to listen with open ears and an open mind. Believe me, it's worth the time and investment.

For more information, go to https://orrinevansmusic.com/portfolio/tarbaby/.  To hear more and purchase the album, go to https://tarbaby2024.bandcamp.com/album/you-think-this-america

Here's the Trio on "Mirror of Youth":



Nasheet Waits (drums and compositions) is in the midst of a very busy career. He leads his own groups, is tri-leader of TARBABY (see above), and has toured and recorded with more artists than fits this page, most notably Jason Moran's Bandwagon, Ron Carter, Andrew Hill, trumpeter Avishai Cohen, the late Geri Allen, pianists Fred Hersch and John Escreet.  The son of Frederick Douglas "Freddie" Waits, he was mentored by Max Roach, studied with Michael Carvin, and, as a young man, toured in Mr. Roach's M'BOOM and with saxophonist Antonio Hart's groups.  He's only released three albums over his career (now in its fourth decade), the first, "Equality" (on Fresh Sound New Talent), in 2008, the second, "Between Nothingness and Eternity" (on the French Laborie Jazz label) in 2016, and now in 2024 "New York Love Letter (Bitter Sweet)" for Giant Step Arts). 


Waits organized an excellent Quartet for this gig, recorded live in 2021 and '22 in New York's Seneca Village section of Central Park.  Mark Turner (tenor saxophone), Steve Nelson (vibraphone), and Rashaan Carter (bass) join the drummer for this six song program that featured two songs composed by the leader, two by John Coltrane, and one each by Andrew Hill and Jason Moran. The proceedings open with Moran's bouncy and mischievous  "Snake Stance"; everybody states the theme then Turner leaps out in front powered by the thundering rhythm section and Nelson's angular vibes work. There are numerous times throughout the performance that the music and rhythms reminds this listener of the sound of Eric Dolphy's classic Blue Note 1964 Lp "Out to Lunch" – that album featured the rhythm section of Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Richard Davis (bass), and Tony Williams (drums). Listen below to Mr. Hill's "Snake Hip Waltz" next to the Dolphy album and see if you don't agree.

The two Waits' originals include the lovely, ultra-slow, "Moon Child" and the high energy "The Hard Way AW". The former places Nelson's vibes over the gentle brushes work and resonant bass notes. Nobody is in a hurry so the song unfolds like a flower in the early morning sun. Turner's tenor enters about 2/3rds of the way through with a more energetic but also handsome solo.   The latter track, on the other hand, bursts out of the gates at a breakneck pace, Turner spinning out the melody and then roaring off atop the frenetic drums and throbbing then walking bass lines.  At nearly 12 minutes, it's the longest track on the album so one hears a number of dynamic changes. Nelson's rippling vibes solo– sans accompaniment – is a treat. The band gets seriously raucous as Turner and Waits converse with each other; then, the drummer plays a delightful solo, full of rhythmic twists and turns. The music then slows down into an impressionistic ballad that is 180 degrees removed from 7:30 of the songs.

The program closes with the two John Coltrane compositions. First up is "Liberia".  Opening in a rubato setting, Waits making odd noises on the cymbals (listen closely and you hear children playing near the bandstand) yet slowly and steadily the piece comes into focus.  Turner introduces the melody, the band kicks in and the music jumps forward. First recorded in 1964 for the Atlantic Lp "Coltrane's Sound", the band gets to stretch their improvisatory wings for nearly 11 minutes.  "Central Park West" (from the same Coltrane album) is the last track (although the Bandcamp version has a different sequence) – this is one of the saxophone master's more popular songs for artists to record because of its airiness, suspended chords, and gentle rhythms. It's a true pleasure to hear Carter and Waits interact, the deep bass notes bouncing off the drum patterns. The solos by Nelson and Turner are impressive while the park sounds makes the listener feel as if they are in the crowd.

"New York Love Letter (Bitter Sweet)" is quite wonderful, covering a wide swath of musical territory in its 51-minute span. The sound of the recording is superb and everyone plays with respect, intelligence, fire, and creativity.  It's truly a joy to pay attention to Nasheet Waits when he plays as his approach to each song is so creative, making even the most recognizable tunes sound fresh and new!

To learn more, go to www.nasheetwaits.com/.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to  https://nasheetwaits.bandcamp.com/album/new-york-love-letter-bittersweet

Listen to the Andrew Hill's "Snake Hip Waltz":

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Inspiration, Imagination, & Intent

 

There are many listeners of contemporary music no matter the genre are usually looking for spiritual uplift. Listeners say they love technical prowess or "new" sounds but what makes us return to music is how it moves us. Music is a "full-body experience" – for this listener, it usually starts with moving my feet, then enters into my brain, and finally into my heart.  If it feels "real nice", play it twice.  That's why I like the music of John Coltrane, of McCoy Tyner, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bill Withers, Bruce Hornsby, Bonnie Raitt, and others. And Anthony Branker. His music often makes one think, his titles lead one to investigate Black experiences and history, and his rhythms often bring you up out of your seat. Over the course of 10 albums, all released by Origin Records, he's assembled some of the best musicians, given them music to sink their creative teeth, and a created a lot of memorable performances.  

Given the overt political nature of a good number of his albums (2013's "Uppity", 2014's, "The Forward (Towards Equality) Suite", and 2023's "What Place Can There Be for Us"), Dr. Branker's 10th album (and third with his group Imagine), "Songs My Mom Liked" takes a different tack.  His 88-year old mother (she turns 89 on June 27) has been dealing with the ongoing effects of cognitive dementia. Dr. Branker has been driving her to appointment and elsewhere playing his albums in the car. His mother responded so positively to certain songs that he began to collect a group of them, rearranging them for this septet that features Fabian Almazan (piano), Linda May Han Oh (bass), Rudy Royston (drums), Pete McCann (guitar), Phillip Dizack (trumpet), Donny McCaslin (tenor and soprano saxes), and Aubrey Johnson (voice).  Nine of the 12 songs are from Dr. Branker's earlier albums and none recorded by this particular group.

With different "voices" and approaches to the material, this program is brimming with energy, imagination, and joy. Right out of the gate, "Praise" jumps out of the speakers powered by the rhythm section with Royston's drums front and center. This is McCaslin's first recording with Dr. Branker and he shines throughout the program. Listen below to "Sketches of Selim" to hear how he and trumpeter Dizack interact and build off each other's solo. Fabian Almazan also brings a heightened sense of urgency to each one of his solos while his work as part of the rhythm section is a delight. The rollicking "The House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads" takes off at a blistering pace with Ms. Oh and Royston furiously pushing the group forward. Each of the soloists (Dizack, Almazan, and McCaslin) rides the rhythmic waves, sometimes behind the beat but mostly enjoying the frenetic drive.  Later in the program, "To Be Touched (By the Spirit)" gives the listener an insight to one of the composer's touchstone influences; the power and glory of McCoy Tyner. Almazan's incredible solo stands out flowing out atop Royston's stunning drum work and the foundational bass playing. McCaslin comes roaring out out of the piano solo feeding the percussive fire even as his lines raise higher and higher.  A richly melodic and percussive bass solo leads the band back to a quick reiteration of the main theme.

Aubrey Johnson is heard on "Three Gifts (From a Nigerian Mother to God", her lovely wordless solo reading of the theme opens the piece before Dizack and the band enter to repeat the theme.  She can be heard in the background singing in unison with McCaslin's tenor. She drops out for the solos but returns to sing the melody and, later, counterpoint, in the background.  

One of the other highlights is the trio version of "Imani (Faith)" with Ms. Oh and Royston laying down a reggae beat for McCaslin's tenor to soar and roar atop.  The bass solo stands out for its melodic reach and bluesy intent.

Pete McCann performs on a couple of tracks including "When We Said Goodbye", where he states the handsome melody while producing a rippling solo supported by the responsive rhythm section.  McCaslin builds off the energy of the guitar solo for his own splendid spot.

The album closes with the one song not composed by Dr. Branker. "If..." was composed by his daughter Parris at the age of 11! The proud father arranged the piece for the group with McCann replacing Dizack. It's a high tempo, high spirited conclusion to a most excellent program.

"Songs My Mom Liked" is a treat from start to finish. The excellent septet of musicians transform the 12 songs in the program into living representations of Dr. Anthony Branker's spirit, beliefs, and desire to communicate through music.  There are moments where one hears the spirit of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the fire of Max Roach, the cool burn of Miles Davis, the spirituality of John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, and the Caribbean roots of his family (Trinidad and Barbados). These songs are glorious prayers to the power of belief, love, family, hope, and music.  All of Dr. Branker's albums are recommended, all are excellent: "Songs My Mom Liked" is, arguably, the best he and his groups have yet produced.

For more information, go to www.anthonybranker.com/ – the site needs to be updated but there is still plenty to learn. To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://anthonybranker1.bandcamp.com/album/songs-my-mom-liked-2.

Listen to "Sketches of Selim":

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Samuel Torres's Three Universes in A Dance for Birds

 

Percussionist and composer Samuel Torres, a native of Bogota, Colombia, has been in the United States for 25 years during which he has played with many great jazz, Latin, classical, and popular music stars as well as with symphony orchestras around the world.  His own groups have combined rhythms from the African diaspora, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Southern Hemisphere of America with richly detailed melodies and smart solos.  In 2019, Torres won the Latin GRAMMY in Classical Music for his album with the Neuva Filarmonia (Colombia) – titled "Regreso", the program features two four-part suites plus an encore composed for congas and symphony orchestra. For his new project, he was inspired by the artwork of Colombian artist and Jazz promoter Diego Pombo, especially a piece that featured a human-like winged creature. Torres was inspired by the image to create a nine-movement suite "A Dance for Birds" which also takes its inspiration from the various dance styles of Central and Latin America plus the Caribbean.  The title of this post mentions "three universes" which for Torres is contemporary classical music, Afro-Latin rhythms, and jazz.

You'll hear all that and more on the recording of "A Dance for Birds" (Blue Conga Records).   Besides the leader on congas and hand percussion, the ensemble features Alex Norris (trumpet), Troy Roberts (tenor saxophone), Ahmed Alom (piano), Ricky Rodriguez (bass), and Jimmy Macbride  (drums) plus the Bergamot String QuartetLedah Finck (1st violin), Sarah Thomas (2nd violin), Amy Tan (viola), and Irene Han (cello).  Not sure what's more impressive – is it how the strings are integrated into the ensemble or how Torres can lead from the congas or how the music easily shifts from one piece to another?  It's fascinating how the instrumentalists interpret bird song, the call-and-response, the joy, the worry, the feeling of never really settling down, always on the move.  You, the listener, sit still and be transported to new dimensions.

The program opens with "From Stillness" which is the "daybreak" of the piece, the time of day when the world wakes up. The music moves the first stirrings of the piano, bowed bass, and cymbal slashes to the stirring of each instrument. As the piece moves into "Horizons Take Wings",  Torres introduces the melody before the music drops into a lively rhythm. Solos by Roberts and Cuban-born pianist Ahmed Alom pour out in joy while the rhythm section romps underneath. During the piano solo, saxophone, trumpet, and strings helps lead the ensemble back to the opening melody. The "breakout" dance before the abrupt finish is a true delight. 

Listen below to "Movement 7: Shall We Fly" to hear how Torres uses melody, the instrumentation, "classic" Afro- Latin rhythms (in this case, the Bambuco rhythm of Colombia), and a structured melody.  The leader's maracas solo is great fun, buzzing like flies around the sound spectrum.  

The album comes to a close with "Strength in Unison", a celebratory piece that draws on the Torres's Colombian roots. The trumpet, saxophone, and piano trade short solos while the rhythm section bounces behind them.  The main melody uses the strings in glorious counterpoint and, yes, unison to pull you up out of your seat and dancing.  

 "A Dance for Birds" is a great success, music that gives one hope and a smile in the midst of our crazy times. When Samuel Torres migrated to the United States, to a professional career that has taken to stages and concert venues around the world, he brought the rhythm and melodies of his native Colombia with him –– the world is so much better for that.  

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


Here's "Movement VII: Shall We Fly":



Monday, June 24, 2024

Challenges, Changes, and New Avenues for Expression

 

Photo: Shervin Lainez
In 2021, in the midst of the Pandemic, composer and producer Ryan Truesdell was worried about the future of the Big Band, a genre he has been quite committed to for a long time.  He changed his focus and decided to commission a number of big band composers to write pieces for string quartet.  Truesdell then worked with cellist Jody Redhage Ferber to help him think through the project and to advise on which musicians to invite into the studio to record what turned out to be 17 new pieces for string quartet plus, in several instances, additional instrumentation. He did not give the composers any restrictions but did invite them into the studio to work with the musicians who were interpreting their work.

The results of the experiment can be heard on "Ryan Truesdell Presents: Synthesis: The String Quartet Sessions" released through ArtistShare. Besides recording three of of his own string quartet pieces, the producer, who is the Manager of the Bob Brookmeyer Music Estate, used a work that the St. Louis Symphony had commissioned from the late trombonist-composer (1929-2011) but never recorded. Anyone who listens to contemporary Big Band music will recognize Jim McNeely, John Clayon, Christine Jensen, John Hollenbeck, Alan Ferber, Dave Rivello, and, perhaps, Miho Hazama but Truesdell also invited younger composers such as Joseph Borsellino III, Nathan Parker Smith, Vanessa Perica, and Asuka Kakitani. Producer and arranger extraordinaire Oded Lev-Ari debuts a new work as does bassist Rufus Reid, who premieres his "String Quartet #1". 

Photo: Leo Mascaro
How should one approach "Synthesis", a three-CD set containing nearly three hours of music? One obvious answer is with "open ears and an open mind" but that's too easy. You literally have to set aside that these composers, many of whom you've heard in large instrumental ensembles are working with a much different palette. As stated above, there are a few additions to the Quartet; clarinetist Anat Cohen is the main soloist on Truesdell's "Suite for Clarinet and String Quartet", bassist Jay Anderson joins a Quartet on Truesdell's "Heart of Gold", composer Borsellino III uses pre-recorded synth tracks on his "Paper Cranes", and Hollenbeck adds marimba, drums, and piano (not all on the same movements) to different movements of his seven-part "Grey Cottage String Quartets" that closes the album.  The Brookmeyer piece was written for and is performed by a string trio.

Photo: Leo Mascaro
There are pieces that have impressive rhythmic flow (the album opener "Where Can You Be" by Mr. Parker Smith Ms. Hazama's "Chipmunk Timmy's Funny Sunny Day", and Ms. Jensen's "Tilting World") and others that have moments where time is suspended or fractured (the "#1 Movement" of Mr. Reid's "String Quartet #1", Mr. Lev-Ari's "Copycat" movement of "Playground", and Mr. Rivello's "1. "Sorry" section of "Two Reflections for String Quartet". Several of the works jump out on first listening including Mr. McNeely's "Murmuration and Adagio", the leader's lovely "Dança de Quarto" and his four-part "Suite for Clarinet and String Quartet", and Ms. Kakitani's "Melt".

Photo: Dina Regine
This project owes much of its success to the brilliant musicians who interpreted the variety of styles, genres, ideas, and desires of the composers.  Violinist Sara Caswell appears on every track while cellist Redhage Ferber appears on all but two (she's replaced by Noah Hoffeld). The second violin chair features either Joyce Hammann or Lady Jess (who tours with Beyoncé as well as with her husband Jay-Z). Violist Lois Martin performs on the majority of the album save for the three times she is replaced by Orlando Wells.  

Perhaps that's the best way to enter into this glorious project: just listen to the musicians. Throw aside expectations and comparisons. Dive in, test the musical waters – take your time but also make the time to go back and really allow the music to move you out of the everyday and into its special worlds. 

As stated above, "Ryan Truesdell Presents: Synthesis: The String Quartet Sessions" is only available through ArtistShare.  Go to www.synthesissqs.com/ for more information. To learn more about Ryan Truesdell, go to https://ryantruesdell.com/.

Here's a little morsel:



Saturday, June 15, 2024

This Rock...

How does one use music to teach?  Can a song or song cycle change someone's mind?  Can art persuade a society to move forward?  One imagines this to be a project in futility. Still, many artists over the past six decades have written songs that point to the issues surrounding climate change and here's one new recording that stands out for its creativity, intelligence, and musicality.

Photo: Luke Marantz
Composer, arranger, pianist, and educator Mike Holober has had a fascinating musical career.  Classically trained, he's worked almost extensively with Big Bands.  He's led the Westchester (NY) Jazz Orchestra as well as having worked overseas with the hr-Big Band (Frankfurt, Germany) and the WDR Big Band (Cologne, Germany).  Holober teaches at the City College of New York and the Manhattan School of Music.  On top of all that work, he's an active outdoorsman whether it be leading canoe trips or climbing mountains. He is the leader of a Quintet, of the octet Balancing Act, and co-leads a group with trumpeter Marvin Stamm. Holober also leads The Gotham Jazz Orchestra, a large ensemble he assembled two decades ago to perform large-scale works and whose influences are many and varied.  It's that group that takes center stage on the composer's latest adventure, one that blends his love of sonic and stylistic possibilities with his love and concern for the outdoors to new heights (pun somewhat intended). It's also a way for him to add his voice to the growing of people in the US and abroad who are concerned with climate change.

"This Rock We're On: Imaginary Letters" (Palmetto Records) is an often dazzling, mesmerizing, and highly inventive two-CD collection of songs influenced by the lifework of six people who have shown us the beauty of the natural world as well have warned us of the damage that human beings can create through overuse, through destruction, and neglect.  Not only has Mike Holober composed and arranged the music, he has also composed letters in the mindsets of Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, Sigurd Olson, as well as Castleton Tower in Utah to Terry Tempest Williams, from a tree to Robin Wall Kimmerer, and from a child to the world.  Holober also sets to music a poem from Ansel Adams to his wife Virginia Best Adams – the tenor solo on "Dear Virginia" is played by Virginia Mayhew, the Adams' granddaughter!

Photo: Luke Marantz
Seven of the 17 tracks feature vocals, the vast majority by Brazilian born Jamile Staevie Ayres who first recorded with Holober on his 2021 Sunnyside album "Don't Let Go" featuring his Balancing Act octet.  The blend of her husky tones with the cello of Jody Redhage-Ferber on "Refuge" is quite lovely. Throughout the album, the words pull the listener into the musical multiverse the composer creates. On "Another Summer", Ms. Ayres sings in the voice of Rachel Carson to her closest friend Dorothy Freeman. Two tracks later is "Another Summer Epilogue" which is the imaginary response of Ms. Freeman. Both pieces are truly love letters to each other and the support Ms. Carson felt from her closest friend.  The music Holober creates for these pieces have a classical feel strengthened by the counterpoint and responses of the cello.

There are plenty of powerful musical moments throughout the album.  Chris Potter opens the album with an adventurous tenor sax solo on "Lay of the Land". I mentioned above Ms. Mayhew's work on "Dear Virginia" – the piece features her in an intimate conversation with trumpeter Marvin Stamm and pianist Holober.  The splendid arrangement on the high-powered "Domes" (for Ansel Adams) suggests the influence of Bob Brookmeyer and features the powerful drumming of Jared Schonig, the smart vibes backing of James Shipp, snaky guitar lines from Nir Felder, and great solos from Ben Kono (alto sax) and Scott Wendholdt (trumpet). "Skywoman Falling" (for Robin Wall Kimmerer) opens with Ms. Redhage-Ferber's richly sonorous cello solo before opening into a medium tempo (inspired by Ms. Kimmerer's Native American heritage). As the piece moves forward, there are lovely moments of section playing plus fine solos from Stamm (flugelhorn) and Charles Pillow (alto flute). Note also the background wordless vocals from Ms. Ayres and James Shipp.

The album with the title song.  The lyrics are first sung by Ronan Rigby, tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby's eight year-old son and then is passed on to James Shipp. After a short solo by Carl Maraghi (baritone sax), Ms. Ayres takes over the vocal with guitarist Felder responding beneath her. The tempo slows, young Mr. Rigby returns to sing the song title only and then his father's tenor sax flutters atop the Orchestra and the story comes to a close.

While the message in the lyrics is loud and clear, take your time to absorb the music that Mike Holober has created for the Gotham Jazz Orchestra. Also take the time to read Terry Tempest Williams' "real" letter in the album booklet. Swirl the words and music around in your senses, let the rhythms pull you along and the solos take you away. Do listen and perhaps you'll understand what needs to done for the survival of what the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft called the "Blue Marble".

For more information, go to www.mikeholober.com. To hear more and purchase the album, go to https://mikeholober.bandcamp.com/album/this-rock-were-on-imaginary-letters.

Here's "Tower Pulse" with solos by Chris Potter (tenor sax) and Nir Felder (guitar):




PERSONNEL
Mike Holober - composer, lyricist, piano, Fender Rhodes
Jamile Staevie Ayres - voice
Jody Redhage Ferber – cello
Ronan Rigby – child voice on This Rock We’re On

Saxophones/Woodwinds
Charles Pillow - alto, soprano, flute, alto flute, bass flute, clarinet
Ben Kono - alto, soprano, flute, alto flute, clarinet (flute on Three Words for Snow)
Jason Rigby - tenor, soprano, flute, clarinet
Adam Kolker - tenor, soprano, flute, clarinet
Chris Potter - tenor, clarinet (Lay of the Land, Tower Pulse)
Virginia Mayhew - tenor (Dear Virginia, Dirt Lover’s Almanac)
Carl Maraghi - baritone, bass clarinet

Trumpet/Flugelhorn
Tony Kadleck
Liesl Whitaker
Marvin Stamm
Scott Wendholt
Stuart Mack (Skywoman Falling, Tower Pulse)

Trombones
Matt McDonald
Mark Patterson
Alan Ferber (Erosion, Domes, Boundary Waters)
Jason Jackson (Tides, Dirt Lover’s Almanac, Skywoman Falling)
Sara Jacovino (Lay of the Land, Tower Pulse, This Rock We’re On)
Jeff Nelson - bass trombone

Rhythm Section
Nir Felder - guitar
John Patitucci - bass, electric bass
Jared Schonig - drums
James Shipp - vibraphone, percussion, synth, voice

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Potpourri

Much has befallen (emphasis on "fall') since the previous post. Now I have two fractures to heal! Still listening to plenty of music but writing is slow and cumbersome. Here's a sampling of what I was working on between the two accidents.

Unless you have paid no attention to Black American Music over the past decade-plus, the name Luke Stewart should be quite familiar. The bassist has worked with David Murray, Wadada Leo Smith, Nicole Mitchell, the late Jaimie Branch, Marshall Allen, and so many more.  He leads several different ensembles including the Exposure Quartet, Heart of the Ghost, and the Remembrance Quintet as well as co-leading Irreversible Entanglements.  He also leads Silt Trio, an ensemble featuring tenor saxophonist Brian Settles, and drummers Trae Crudup or Chad Taylor. The Trio's 2020 debut, the self-released "No Trespassing" did not carry the Silt Trio monicker, has Crudup on drums, and sounds like a totally improvised set. 2022's Cuneiform release,  "The Bottom", features Taylor and showsw three voices working as one, not beholden to any one style and also displaying Stewart's ear for melody – the songs are not "blowing tunes" but composition and free improvisation often reside in the same pieces.

Silt Trio's new recording "Unknown River" (Pi Recordings) is made up of four tracks recorded in Tempo House studios in Baltimore, MD, and three recorded live in Trinosophes, a cafe/ performance space in Detroit, MI. The studio tracks open the album with Crudup in the drum chair (he's also worked with saxophonist James Brandon Lewis). Listen below to "Seek Whence", the opening track – the bass and drums lay down a "tight" groove and the underappreciated Settles delivers the melody then creates a solo that is his response to both that melody and the rhythmic drive.  "Baba Doo Way" follows and it's easy to see where the tune got its title.  Doesn't take long for the Trio to move up and away from the melody into a frenetic, at times, improvisation that shows how deeply they listen to each other plus the strength of the bass lines to allow Crudup to explore poly-rhythmic pathways.

Photo: Luciano Rossetti
The three live tracks open with "Amilcar" and Taylor announces his presence from the get-go with the powerful solo that introduces the track. Two minutes in, Stewart joins in, his powerful bass work introducing Settles and a thunderous solo, arguably his most exciting and impressive of the album. Stewart taes the peace to its finish with a throbbing solo which leads into the nearly 13-minute opus "Dudu".  The bowed bass, the steady beat, and Settles playing slow melody lines creates a drone. Three minutes in and there's a shift in dynamics, the tempo picks up, the tenor and bass lines flutter and skitter around each other as the drums sit out.  As Settles and Stewart continue their improvisatory dance, Taylor returns and the intensity begins to climb. Soon, the three musicians are firing on all cylinders withg Settles riding the rhythmic headwinds created by the bass and drums.

"Unknown Rivers" may refer to the numerous underground water sources that fill our lakes, bays, reservoirs, and oceans or, more to the point, to the rivers of music that course through the musicians bodies as they are creating in real time.  Luke Stewart Silt Trio creates fascinating music on this, their third album, and one imagines they must thrive in the concert/ club setting. If you're a fan of saxophone trio music, this album ranks up there with Sonny Rollins' "Freedom Suite", with Air's "Air Time", and Matana Roberts, Josh Abrams, & Chad Taylor's "Sticks and Stones", arguably my favorites. 

For more information and to purchase the album, go to https://lukestewart.bandcamp.com/album/unknown-rivers

Here's the opening track:



There's a delightful new recording from percussionist-composer Samuel Torres. Titled "A Dance for Birds",  Torres has created a nine-movement suite of music for the Latin Chamber Ensemble that features the members of his Sextet plus the Bergamot String Quartet.  

Here's the video for "The Song" with graphics created by Colombian visual artist Diego Pombo:


Ernesto Cervini is one busy person, leading several ensembles, playing as a sideman, running his publicity company, touring, and helping to raise a young family.  One of his ensembles is the sextet Turboprop and their new recording is, arguably, its best.  "A Canadian Songbook" (TPR Records) is a seven-song program featuring two interpretations of two Canadian "pop" songs, two Cervini originals, one from Turboprop trombonist William Carn, and one each from friends Allison Au and James Hill. 

Here's the group's take on The Barenaked Ladies "When I Fall":


Turboprop is:

Tara Davidson - Alto Saxophone
Joel Frahm - Tenor Saxophone
William Carn - Trombone
Adrean Farrugia - Piano
Dan Loomis - Bass
Ernesto Cervini - Drums