Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Digital Side of Newvelle Recoirds

 Over the past year, the vinyl-only, subscription series, record label Newvelle Records has been issuing digital versions of albums from its first four "seasons".  While the digital releases go a long way to capture the impressive "sounds" of the Lps, one does not get the brilliant art work that accompanies each package. Nevertheless, the lesser expensive alternative is a great way for music lovers to learn about the great work that Artistic Director Elan Mehler and engineer Marc Urselli of NYC's East Side Sound are capturing.  

Noah Preminger has two releases on the label including "Some Other Time" released in Season One (2015).  It's a ballads album that features the tenor saxophonist playing alongside guitarist Ben Monder, bassist John Pattitucci, and drummer Billy Hart.  This is not a typical standards collection; yes, there are pieces from Billy Strayhorn "My Little Brown Book"), Duke Ellington ("Melancholia"), Victor Young ("A Ghost of a Chance"), and Jimmy Campbell's "Try a Little Tenderness" but there's also Bob Dylan's "Boot of Spanish Leather", "Porcelain" from The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and "Una Limosnita por Amor de Dios ("An Alm for the Love of God") composed by guitarist Agustín Barrios Mangoré (1885-1944).  Preminger contributes "Semenzato", a piece that is not only quite melodic but features a great bass solo plus the saxophonist's strong give-and-take with Hart. 

There's a touch of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster in Preminger's tone on pieces such as "Ghost of a Chance" that also features splendid bass playing and smart brushes work. That breathy and bluesy sax sound permeates the Leonard Bernstein piece that gives the album its name.  Here, the interactions of all four musicians stand out with kudos to the wonderful rhythm guitar of Monder plus the high-energy saxophone coda. The guitarist's "atmospheric" sound is a delightful foil to Preminger's attack––note how Monder weaves in and out of the melody on the opening of "Melancholia" as well as his "ringing" chords behind the bass solo.

"Some Other Time" is a timeless set of music. How impressive is this quartet of contemporary musicians that they can take material that is over 70 years old and mix it with much newer works and the results are so ageless. This album is a welcome addition to growing discography of Noah Preminger, a series of fascinating and adventurous musical experiences.  

For more information, go to www.noahpreminger.com. To hear more and to purchase the album, go to  https://noahpreminger.bandcamp.com/album/some-other-time

Hear "A Ghost of a Chance":



From Newvelle's Season 3 comes "Half Light", an impressive and imagistic collection of pieces created by tenor saxophonist and composer Andy Zimmerman. Based in Chicago, IL, he doesn't have a big discography but is involved in an on-going project with his father, award-winning storyteller Jack Zimmerman. The saxophonist also appears on the first Newvelle release, Frank Kimbrough's "Meantime".  His release finds him in the company of pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Matt Penman, and trumpeter Dave Douglas.  There are moments throughout the 11-song program when it feels like all four are playing melody. One rarely hears Douglas as a sideman these days but he's an excellent second "voice" in much of this music––he stands out on "Sunset and The Mockingbird" (a Duke Ellington piece from "The Queen's Suite") especially on his interactions with the leader. Although the liner notes calls these pieces "sketches", the music shines.  Zimmerman's pellucid sound has a lightness akin to alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. There are no wasted notes, no need to impress with long, technically amazing solos–the melody, the story, is all.

There are no weak moments on the album. Whether the song is a shimmering musical poem ("The Bay Area"–listen below), an aural painting ("Clearing"–watch below), celebrating a sweet melody with a Latin feel in the rhythm ("Lena's Dance"), or reimagining George Gershwin's soulful ballad ("Bess You Is My Woman Now"), Andy Zimmerman and company play with love, conviction, joy, respect, and an understanding that music can do many things for listeners including offer solace in bitter times. "Half Life" is a gem and will offer you, as it has for me, a creative respite.

For more information, go to www.andyzimmermanmusic.com. To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://newvellerecords.bandcamp.com/album/half-light.

Here's "The Bay Area":


Watch the quartet in the studio:

   



Pianist Billy Lester is not well-known in the great big music world yet that should stop from checking out "From Scratch" his album that appeared in Newvelle's Season 4. Joining him in this 14-song program are bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Matt Wilson.  The Lp version contains nine songs while the digital release adds four more songs and one alternate take.  All standards, this music is anything but standard.  The piano is front-and-center throughout while Reid offers delightful counterpoint and Wilson is the engine that can and does gleefully swing or gently strolls through the music.  Listen below to the 1917 James F, Hanley classic "Back Home In Indiana"–the piano, bass, and drums lock in from the start and never let go.  The same can be said for Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" in that the Trio "hits it" from the onset and never lets go.

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Lester, who studied with Sal Mosca (a Lenny Tristano disciple), has a bright sound as well as witty take on approaching on performing a tune often splintering the original melody and building his solo out of those melodic and/or rhythmic splinters. There's a dollop of Thelonious Monk on the previously unreleased "These Foolish Things" and traces of Duke Ellington in the opening minutes of the piano solo "Darn That Dream" which later has a playful stride section.  That's the joy of this music––Billy Lester can play what he wants when he wants and no two versions of any song in his repertoire can be subtly (or even not-so-subtly) changed each time he sits at a piano.  Check out "From Scratch" for a musical adventure par excellence.

For more information, go to www.billylestermusic.com. To hear more and to purchase the music, go to 

Here's the swinging "Back Home in Indiana":


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

A Sonic Taste of "Thisness" + Classic "Thatness"

 

In 2015, guitarist, composer, and conceptualist Miles Okazaki built a new ensemble which, ultimately, took its name Trickster from its 2017 eponymous debut Pi Recordings. Utilizing the brilliant rhythm section, bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman, from Steve Coleman's Five Elements plus pianist Craig Taborn (replaced in 2018 by Matt Mitchell).  The music couldn't help but be affected by the guitarist's many appearances with Coleman's group. But, the music has matured.

Okazaki's latest album with the quartet, "Thisness" (Pi Recordings), has a different feel from its three predecessors. Besides piano, Mitchell plays Fender Rhodes and Prophet–6 synthesizer and the four original pieces are the longest (all between 9:27 and 10:04). The song titles were adapted from the Sun Ra poem "The Far Off Place"; the music does have an exploratory feel throughout. Also, to get the full effect of the music, listen through headphones or in a room with really sensitive speakers. There is a lot going on over the course of these songs, overdubs of several guitars and keyboards that one will want to hear to get the full sonic picture.  The mix of the thick bass tones, the powerful percussion, the strong piano chords, and Okazaki's fascinating acoustic and electric guitar work keeps one's interest throughout.  The music feels "in the moment", spontaneous each time you listen.


"In Some Far Off Place" opens the album in subdued fashion. This listener is reminded of several ballads of Jimi Hendrix (as well as John Lennon's "Julia" later on) in the early moments as the leader's overdubbed guitars move gracefully through the aural landscape. Listen closely, there are wordless vocals that show up now and then.  Halfway through, the music changes direction, becoming more rhythmical (noticeable in the guitar solo and work of the rhythm section. Synth washes can be heard and then the tempo picks up with much more urgency. It's never overwhelming even as the guitars move around in the mix. The various trails of the music intersect as the band moves forward––kick back, enjoy the journey.


Musical magic can be heard on each track. The rock-solid rhythms beneath the guitar and rippling piano phrases on "Years in Space", the song powered by Tidd's hard-hitting bass lines clearing the path for the soloists while Rickman hits the snare, it pops! "I'll Build a World" literally jumps off the starting line but pay attention to the calming Fender Rhodes underneath the rapid-fire melody lines.  As the piece develops, the pace slows for a moment for a piano solo while Rickman (listed as co-writer) dances beneath.  Halfway through, the drummer instigates a musical call-and-response with the guitar and piano––such an invigorating interaction.

"And wait for you" truly kicks in on the strength of the funkified drums and pumping bass lines. The electric guitar and Fender Rhodes dance atop Tidd's solo phrases until Okazaki plays a rhythm figure that could easily have been created by Nile Rodgers (Chic) or Leo Nocentelli (The Meters).  The guitar solo moves back and forth into the groove until music changes directions for an acoustic piano solo that turns into an interaction between guitar phrases from several overdubbed guitars. 

"Thisness" is an album to play on repeat. Not only does the music sound alive but also, on subsequent listens, one begins to understand the pathways in these compositions. This music is never static; like a river, its current can be swift but the eddies are enthralling. Miles Okazaki continues to mature as a composer and musician while the Trickster ensemble is a wonderful vehicle for both his playing and conceptual adventures.

For more information, go to www.milesokazaki.com.  To hear more and purchase "Thisness" and other albums with this ensemble, go to https://milesokazaki.bandcamp.com/album/thisness

Hear Miles Okazaki & Trickster perform "I'll Build a World":





1970 was quite the year for Soft Machine. The trio of Mike Ratledge (Hohner pianet, Lowrey Holiday Deluxe organ), Robert Wyatt (drums, vocals), and Hugh Hopper (electric bass) continued its move towards electric jazz-fusion by adding Elton Dean (alto saxophone, saxello) and Lynn Dobson (soprano and tenor saxophones, flute, harmonica, vocals) as well as, for a very short time in late 1969, trombonist Marc Charig (as far as I know, there are no live recordings with him).  The new quintet's music sounded influenced as much by Miles Davis's move towards fusion on "In A Silent Way" as by American composer Terry Riley's mixture of electric instruments and improvisation on "A Rainbow in Curved Air". 

There are a slew of bootleg "live" albums of the band in 1970 but now Cuneiform Records has officially released "Facelift France and Holland". Both sets, the first recorded on January 17, 1970 at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, the second on March 2, 1970, at the Théâtre de la Musique in Paris, feature the Quintet in full flower. Both the CD and vinyl versions have the full video of the later show. The 2-CD + DVD and the 2-Lp + DVD (this package won't be available until 12/31/2022) as well as the digital version are programmed with the March concert first.  The later show is longer (71:15) than the earlier one (44:36) but fans won't mind.  The sound quality on the January concert recording is fairly impressive (editing at the end of the first track is sloppy though) while the March show sounds a bit more distant at times (CD buyers get a third disc with a previously unreleased soundboard recording of the March program.

As for the music, four of the songs played in these concerts would appear on the Soft Machine's Columbia Records June 1970 debut "Third".  Those tracks include "Facelift", "Slightly All The Time", "Moon In June", and "Out-Bloody-Rageous".  The older album's "Facelift" does feature the Quintet as it was recorded on January 4, 1970, two weeks before the Paris concert version.  It's fun to hear the bigger group. Both Dobson and Dean play with abandon as does Wyatt. While his playful vocals would soon disappear from the band's repertoire as would he the following year. He was the right drummer for this music bringing the zany yet rhythmically strong performances this music called for.  The sounds that Ratledge gets out of the organ are often other-worldly, blending well with the soprano sax and the saxello (a Bb soprano sax). Hopper's electric bass lines help the music from flying totally out of control while his "fuzz" bass really thickens the sounds,.

Pieces such as "Mousetrap" and "Eammon Andrews" blend jazz and rock while the afore-mentioned "Facelift" and "Slightly All the Time" are prime examples of "electric jazz".  If you are curious about this most fertile time of jazz-fusion, "Facelift France and Holland" gives a particular English take. The Soft Machine would go on to influence distinctively British bands like Hatfield & The North, National Health, and Gilgamesh. Wyatt started Matching Mole after his departure continuing to mine his unique vocal style to adventurous music.  Ratledge, Hopper, and Dean would add drummer John Marshall, guitarist Allan Holdsworth, and reeds/keyboard player Karl Jenkins who would take over the group in 1976.   Still, this fascinating release illustrates just how impressive an ensemble the group was in 1970. 

The group still exists with Marshall on the drums, Holdsworth's replacement John Etheridge, young reeds player Theo Travis, and the newest member bassist Fred Thelonious Baker who joined in January 202 (replacing Roy Babbington who had replaced Hopper in the mid-1970s).  To find out more and get a history of the band, go to www.softmachine.org

For more information and to purchase "Facelift France and Holland", go to  https://cuneiformrecords.bandcamp.com/album/facelift-france-and-holland-3.

Here's a taste of "Moon in June" recorded 01/17/70 in The Netherlands:


Thursday, April 28, 2022

Greenleaf Spring & Australian Autumn

 

30-plus years into a fascinating career, one is still impressed by the music Dave Douglas composes, records, and performs.  When you think that trumpeter, educator, Greenleaf Music head, podcast host, festival coordinator, and so forth, is most comfortable in one of the various quintets he leads (or co-leads, in the case of Sound Prints), he'll record a solo trumpet album ("Hudson Solos") or work with an ensemble made up of students from Australia's Monash University ("The Dream: Monash Sessions") or record hard rock funk music for listening to during demonstrations with bassist Melvin Gibbs, guitarist Rhafiq Batia, and drummer Sim Cain ("Marching Music")––that's just in the last 24 months.

The trumpeter's new album, "Secular Psalms", is a 10-song program inspired by "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb", painted between 1420-1432 and hung in Sgt. Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. Douglas initiated the project before the pandemic shut down the world, choosing a band (six members in all) from Europe and the United States; artists include Berlinde Deman (tuba, serpent, voice), Marta Warelis (piano, prepared piano, pump organ), Frederik Leroux (guitars, lute, electronics), Lander Gyselinck (drums, electronics), Tomeka Reid (cello), and the leader on trumpet and background vocals. The blend of tuba or serpent (a wooden brass instrument!) with amplified guitar, cello, trumpet, the various keyboards, and voice is fascinating.  While the music is inspired by 14th Century composers, there is a 21st Century "avant-garde" as well as 1960s-70s "prog-rock" feel (if there was a flute, this music could easily be linked to Jethro Tull (check out "Agnus Dei" and see if you agree). 

 

Photo: Gemma Vander Hayden
You understand you are in a different musical right from the opening seconds of "Arrival".  The trumpet melody is supported by electronic sounds, cello, and the guitar with Ms. Deman's serpent playing a quiet counterpoint.  The drone created by cello and serpent carries the piece as does the subtle drive of the drums.  "Mercy" jumps forward with the trumpet and cello on the melody––the lyrics blend Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy", "Kyrie Eleison", and a short phrase penned by Douglas. Leroux's funky, raunchy, guitar solo offsets the solemnity of the lyrics as does Ms. Reid far-ranging cello work. If you listen closely to the vocals, you can hear Douglas shadowing Ms. Deman's voice.  

Photo: Johan Jacobs
If you listen closely, not only are Ms. Deman's vocals important to the sound but so are her tuba and serpent contributions (that's her on the left). Listen to how she and Ms. Reid join with Gyserlinck to create a rhythmic flow on "Instrumental Angels" and how her counterpoint enlivens "Hermits and Pilgrims".  Her soulful vocal on "If I'm In Church More Often Now", based on lyrics composed by Christine de Pasan (1364-1430?), makes the poet's sentiment contemporary as we now see many people looking for answers from their spiritual leaders in these often-scary times.  Douglas's original "Edge of Night" closes the album, the lyrics speaking to how music can heal, can serve to push us forward, all the while the drone created by the pump organ, the cello, and the lute takes on a chant-like feel.  Leroux switches to electric, joining the trumpet, cello, percussion, and serpent in accentuating the closing lyrics "Making this music, will help us to heal/ Even as the world continues to reel/ We laugh/ We dance/ We love/ We pray/ Even as we mourn."  


"Secular Psalms" is a stunning album, all the more so because all the parts were recorded remotely at different times, then edited and remixed by Tyler McDermid and Dave Douglas. The album stands out in the trumpeter's oeuvre not only because it's an amazing collection of music and performances but also because like 2012's "Be Still" and 2015's all-instrumental "Fabliaux", the songs, messages, and instrumental experimentation gives the listener deep insight into the trumpeter's inner life.  Listen and be moved!

For more information, go to https://greenleafmusic.com/out-now-secular-psalms/. To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://davedouglas.bandcamp.com/album/secular-psalms

Listen to "We Believe":



Photo: Monika Jakubowska
Saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes (pronounced "clues") hails from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. At the age of 19, she moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music. Seven years later (in 2010), Ms. Clowes issued her debut album "Tangent" on Basho Records––an ambitious project for sextet and, on two tracks, a full orchestra with vocalist. Two years later, not only did she release her second album as a leader ("And In the Night-Time, She Is There") which featured her touring quintet with a string quintet and guests, the saxophonist was named BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist. The BBC commissioned Ms. Clowes to compose for their Concert Orchestra which garnered her a British Composer Award in 2015. That piece of music can be heard on her third Basho release, 2014's "Pocket Compass", her first full album with her Quintet with three tracks featuring the BBC Concert Orchestra.  Over the next few years, Ms. Clowes kept herself quite busy with many different commissions and projects including "Emulsion", a fascinating improvised music "happening" that continues to this day.

Photo: Brian Homer
In 2016, the saxophonist created MY IRIS, a quartet that features two members of her Quintet, guitarist Chris Montague and drummer James Maddren, plus pianist/ organist Ross Stanley. The bass-less ensemble's self-titled album was issued on Basho in early 2017 followed two years later by "90 Degrees Gravity" (also on Basho). The quartet was hoping to record in April of 2020 but the pandemic put that project on hold.  Ms. Clowes did self-release "MY IRIS Live!", a digital-only album through Bandcamp in 2020, a "low-fi" six-track set from an October 2019 live date.  

The group finally got into the studio at the end of August 2021 and the results of their efforts can be heard on "A View With a Room", Ms. Clowes debut for Greenleaf Music.  Still working with MY IRIS, many of the saxophonist's eight original pieces were composed during the world's lockdown. One can hear a restlessness, an urgency, in several of the songs such as the funky title track and the driving "No Idea".  The first track has such a "poppy" feel (note the bouncing piano line and dancing drums). The leader's solo is a joyful romp which leads right into pianist Stanley's spirited and playful spotlight.  Montague steps out next and he makes a more intense statement and the band picks up on that fieriness.  Ms. Clowes kicks off "No Idea" in musical conversation with drummer Maddren––notice how the piece then breaks into separate conversations (guitar with just drums before the piano reenters followed by sax, piano, drums, and quiet guitar). 

"Amber" is dedicated to Amber Bauer, CEO of Donate4Refugees, a London-based charity that Ms. Clowes works as an ambassador––if the charity's head is an energetic as this music, she'll do well.  The rhythm and main melody suggests Steely Dan (circa "Aja") and the band makes the most of the r'n'b swing of the piece. Guitarist Montague stands out on "Time", his Country-ish riffs reminiscent of Bill Frisell while there's a touch of Bruce Hornsby in Stanley's spot. The lovely ballad "Morning Song" is muted like the hour before daybreak, the handsome melody opening to a classically-inspired piano solo.  The short yet hushed tenor solo makes way for a powerful guitar statement and the set of fascinating chord changes before the close.


The program closes with "Almost". The piece opens rubato, scurrying brushes on snare, scattered piano chords, atmospheric guitar phrases, and disjointed saxophones phrase that slowly take shape into a lilting ballad. Nobody rushes but the song seems to grow more soulful as Ms. Clowes rides the guitar chords and the piano glissandos forward.  A shift in direction so that the guitarist can push the song forward and, as the intensity builds, the leader's soprano sax rises up above the rhythm section for a moment, like a colorful bird riding the thermals. Stunning, stirring, a momentary burst of pure joy.

Trish Clowes may be a new name to US audiences but do check out her music and, especially her work with MY IRIS.  "A View With a Room" feels like a musical balm, creating a sense of joy in the midst of complicated and often dangerous world––do spend time soaking in these sounds!

For more information, go to trishclowes.com/.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://trishclowes-glm.bandcamp.com/album/a-view-with-a-room.

Here's the afore-mentioned "Amber":



I first became aware of Australian-born saxophonist Angela Davis back in 2013. At that time, she was studying for her Masters of Music at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA.  That was also the year Ms. Davis self-released her debut album, "The Art of the Melody". Two years later, her second album, "Lady Luck", featured the saxophonist alongside pianist Dan Tepfer, bassist Linda May Han Oh (who was also on the debut album, drummer Richie Barshay, and a string quartet. Ms. Davis moved back home, to Melbourne, where she serves as a lecturer at both University of Melbourne and Monash University.  She's married to trumpeter Mat Jodrell and they have a son, Max.  Since returning home, she's released one album, "Little Did They Know", for ABC Jazz, the label of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Ms. Davis's fourth album is the result of a Commission from the ABC Fresh Start Fund.  "Suite for Max" (ABC Jazz) is dedicated to her son born right before the pandemic. The five-movement, 36-minute, "Suite" features the saxophonist's "working" quartet including guitarist Stephen Magnusson, bassist Frank De Sario, and drummer Patrick Danao.  The opening "Movement" bears the influence of the Joe Lovano/ Bill Frisell/ Paul Motian trio, especially in floating rhythmic feel and Magnusson's guitar tone.  Max's father, Mat Jodrell, shows on the next track and his addition charges the album's atmosphere with Danao being more aggressive without overwhelming the music.  The leader's takes the first and most lyrical of the solos. The guitarist also creates a fine solo with his rippling phrases swooping and diving about the interactive rhythm section.
 
"Movement 4" opens like a quiet lullaby, Ms. Davis's gentle tenor leading the way. The handsome and fully-realized gives way to short solos then to the guitar and saxophone dancing around each other and landing back at the melody.  Bassist De Sario provides the counterpoint while the drummer moves from his cymbals back to a solid beat as the music draws to a close.  A tender guitar melody serves as a prologue on "Movement 5" which takes its lively feel from the engaging.  Ms. Davis's playing, at times, has a feathery feel as she was a leaf dancing on an Autumn breeze. Magnusson lets loose on his solo without jacking up his volume, making the most of the dancing rhythms of the bass and drums.   The saxophonist leads the band through a melodic coda, reminiscent of the way Keith Jarrett led his American Quartet (there's Paul Motian again) on their mid-70s albums.  

"Suite for Max" won't shake your world but that's not its purpose.  The music that Angela Davis composed for this project is the result of her watching her son begin to move, begin to claim his own space in the world, all the while wide-eyed at wonders all around.   Ms. Davis rarely plays on the fiery side; instead, she gravitates towards the melodic side of music.  Listen to this music at the break of dawn or at the close of the day; it's such pleasant company!

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

Here is "Movement #2" from "Suite for Max":

Friday, April 22, 2022

Record Store Day Spring 2022 & Resonance Records

 Saturday April 23 2022 marks the 14th Annual Record Store Day, a day to celebrate the "brick-and-mortar" stores where one can go and browse albums from all styles of music.  With vinyl making a comeback over the past decade, many labels use the day to introduce new recordings, holding off on digital or CD releases so that the platters get to be celebrated. As one who grew up listening to 45 rpm "singles" and to full-length albums (and whose younger daughter learned to read by reading album jackets and lyric sheets while the music was playing), this day is more than a trip down Nostalgia Lane.  There is something indescribable about the smell of an unwrapped album and the joy of liner notes.

For the past decade, Resonance Records has issued some great albums on Record Store Day and 2022 is no exception.  To celebrate the 100th Birth anniversary of bassist, composer, author, and activist Charles Mingus (4/22/1922-1/05/1979), label co-President and album co-Producer Zev Feldman (trumpeter David Weiss is the other co-Producer) is issuing the three-Lp "Mingus: The Lost Album From Ronnie Scott's", a document of the mercurial artist and his sextet at the close of a very successful 1972 European tour. Mingus was enjoying a career renaissance thanks to receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1971; the same year, choreographer Alvin Ailey had adapted several of the bassist's compositions for his ground-breaking dance troupe. In early 1972, Mingus's auto-biography "Beneath the Underdog" was published and Columbia Records issued his large jazz orchestra album "Let My Children Hear Music" (before dumping him and many of their jazz artists the following year). 

In usual Resonance style, there is a great booklet with numerous photos and interviews but you're going want to hear this music.  The ensemble includes Charles McPherson (alto sax), Bobby Jones (tenor sax, clarinet), 19-year old Jon Faddis (trumpet), Roy Brooks (drums, musical saw), and the relatively unknown John Foster (piano, vocals––he would stay in Europe as did Jones but the pianist died relatively young in 1976). Of the nine tracks, two are over 30 minutes and one, "Mind Readers Convention in Milano", just three seconds shy of that mark.  Two more pieces are over 18 minutes so you get the idea––each song is a concert in its own right with long solos, numerous tempo changes, and fascinating interaction.  "Fables of Faubus" stretches out to 35 minutes (!) yet is so fascinating that it's tough to tear one's self away. Definitely pay attention to the bass solo as Mingus inserts a number of lines from such American songs like "The Star-Spangled Banner", "Dixie", "Short'nin' Bread", and others.

Foster, who joined the band at the beginning of the tour, is quite a treat to listen to. His piano style is very much like the person he replaced, Jaki Byard, and on "Pops" (a.k.a "When The Saints Go Marchin' In"), he does a credible imitation of Louis Armstrong's inimitable vocalizations. Foster drops the imitation for a soulful vocal on "Noddin' Ya Head Blues" that is notable for the powerful bass work and several fine sax solos.  Faddis, who turned 19 a few weeks before the tour, is in great form––he may have been nervous working for the combative Mingus but there is no evidence of shyness in his playing.  Brooks fits right in; if anything, he's more "exciting"a player than Mingus's long-time companion Danny Richmond.  Bobby Jones, who also stayed in Europe and enjoyed a long career, wasn't as bluesy a tenor as, say, Booker Ervin, or fiery as George Adams (who played with Mingus before and after this ensemble, but he was an intelligent, intuitive, player on tenor and pretty good on clarinet. Charles McPherson, 23 at the time of this recordings, play with abandon, at times, on these tracks but, to his credit, does not try to be Eric Dolphy or Jackie McLean

The enclosed booklet includes two interviews with McPherson (one alongside Mingus, another just last year), as well as conversations with Eddie Gomez, Christian McBride, the writer Fran Lebowitz (a close friend of Susan Graham Mingus), British critic and historian Brian Priestley, and more. There are great pictures but the best part of the package (besides the music), is how good the music sounds. Mingus's bass work is impressive throughout and he truly seems to be enjoying himself and his band. Most of this music sounds contemporary as if it coul have been recorded in the last several years. Pieces such as "Pops" and Charlie Christian's "Air Mail Special" sound somewhat dated but serve to fill out the portrait of an artist who was restless and creative until his untimely passing.  "Mingus: The Lost Album From Ronnie Scott's" is the perfect gift for Charles Mingus's 100th Birth Anniversary year and well worth checking out.


Give a listen to "The Man Who Never Sleeps":


Over the past 10 years, no one has done more to fill in the gaps of pianist Bill Evans live recordings than Resonance Records.  The first release, "Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of the Gate", came in 2012 followed by 2016's "Some Other Time: The Lost Sessions From The Black Forest", the first of two albums recorded in the Summer of 1968 when drummer Jack DeJohnette was a member before he went off to join Miles Davis. 2019 brought "Evans in England" recorded live at Ronnie Scott's London club inDecember of 1969 while 2020's "Live at Ronnie Scott's" was recorded 17 months earlier with bassist Eddie Gomez and DeJohnette.

For Record Store Day 2022, Resonance is releasing two 2-CD sets recorded in Buenos Aires, Argentina, one in 1973 (with Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell who is on two of the earlier releases listed above) and another in 1979 (see below).  The earlier recording came at a particularly good, stable, time in Evans' life. Having been addicted to heroin for almost two decades, he was on Methadone, gigs were plentiful, the Trio had been together for five years, and his recordings were selling well.  From start to finish, the music on "Morning Glory": The 1973 Concert at The Teatro Gran Rex, Buenos Aires" flows easily. The album takes its name from the fact the performance took place at 10 a.m. (!!) on a very cold Sunday morning in June. Yet, the Trio sounds great buoyed by an audience excited for this artistic respite from the political tensions that rocked the country. 

The material will be familiar to aficionados of the Evans ensemble. Pieces such as "Who Can I Turn To, "Re: Person I Knew", "T.T.T. (Twelve Tone Blues)", "Emily", songs this Trio had played hundreds of time sound fresh and the interplay, especially, of Evans and Gomez, is outstanding.  The pianist also liked to incorporate the occasional "pop" tune into his repertoire; the title track (originally spelled without the "g" at the end of the first word) was composed by Bobby Gentry for her 1968 "The Delta Sweete" Lp. Listen below to "Waltz for Debby" and you'll hear music that exemplifies why Bill Evans, despite all his baggage, became the model for many piano trios that followed. The lyricism and the intimacy, the articulated phrases plus the occasional bluesy swing, all this and more make "Morning Glory" a splendid document.


Hear's the afore-mentioned "Waltz For Debby":



The political tensions that swirled around the 1973 Buenos Aires concert had only gotten worse six years later when Bill Evans returned. Evans had changed as well. He divorced his wife, married and had a son, finally kicked heroin but when his brother Harry committed suicide earlier in 1979, he started getting deeper into cocaine. Eddie Gomez left in 1977 and the pianist went through two bassists (Chuck Israels and Michael Moore) before 25-year old Marc Johnson joined him and drummer Joe LaBarbera (who replaced Marty Morell in 1975). By the time the band got to Argentina, they were firing on all cylinders and the fact that they continue the Trio's commitments kept Evans alive (he would eventually die 50 weeks after this concert).  

In the midst of a vicious military dictatorship came the three musicians and the audiences were more than ready.  "Inner Spirit: the 1979 Concert at The Teatro General San Martin Buenos Aires" documents two sets played on September 27.  The pianist often sequestered himself before concerts and often needed help getting to the piano; once there, his superb musicianship took over (most nights).  The first set opens with "Stella by Starlight", a surprise to the rhythm section but after the long solo piano introduction, the bass and drums fall right into place.  Johnson's bass tone is quick thick but his regular forays into the higher register and his delightful counterpoint inspire Evans to continue his adventurous playing. Melody still remains the most important of the Trio's mission; still, on the uptempo tracks, this trio really smokes.

Photo: David Redfern
I find it quite ironic that Evans chooses to play the "Theme From M*A*S*H" considering its subtitle is "Suicide is Painless" (considering his brother's recent death but the music becomes very exciting as the trio builds the intensity of the tune–listen below.  Paul Simon's "I Do It For Your Love" starts with a short solo piano reading of the theme before the eloquent bass lines and soft brushes work lay down a gentle cushion for the long piano improvisation. "Letter To Evan" closes the first disc, a lovely song dedicated to his son (who was 4 at the time), a lovely solo piano lament for time spent away from each other.

Disk #2 opens with one more piano solo, a fascinating journey through George Gershwin's "I Loves You, Porgy" that shows how percussive the pianist's playing was becoming. The concert picks up steam with two powerful tracks in a row, "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "If You Could See Me Now". The former begins to cook after the opening featuring solos from all three.  The Tadd Dameron piece that is a ballad yet listen to how the trio interacts, respecting the melody even as the de-construct the piece.  The album closes with a 17+ minute take on Miles Davis "Nardis" and what a version this is. The piano solo opens the piece lasts nearly eight minutes and it's a true joy to hear Evans deconstruct the melody and set the framework for Johnson and LaBarbera to join him.  The bass solo calms the piece down for several minutes as Johnson for four minutes so he can explore numerous melodic avenues. After a quick abstract on the main melody, the drummer picks up his mallets and dances around his kit. After an explosive climax, the pianist and bassist join the drummer to bring the track to its close.

"Inner Spirit" is an appropriate title for an album recorded in a tough political environment by an artist pursued by his vices and sorrows.  Yet Bill Evans had always been able to marshal his resources once he sat down to play.  He was in the midst of killing himself but the beauty of his music is undeniable. He does not sound theatrical playing with artifice; instead, he seems to get stronger from the first notes forward.  Mark Johnson and Joe LaBarbera are excellent partners––this is music that should be heard!


Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Ornette, Or Not

Here are two  bands, each peopled by musicians who all have their own ensembles and whose sonic palette is influenced by that of the Ornette Coleman quartet of the late 1950s-early 1960s that recorded for Atlantic Records. The group featured Ornette (alto saxophone), Don Cherry (pocket trumpet), Charlie Haden (acoustic bass), and either Billy Higgins or Ed Blackwell on drums.  

Kind Folk features (from left to right) Colin Stranahan (drums), John Raymond (trumpet, flugelhorn), Noam Weisenberg (bass), and Alex LoRe (alto saxophone). The quartet takes its name from a Kenny Wheeler piece and his spirit certainly can heard throughout their 2018 debut "Why Not" (Fresh Sound New Talent). In June of 2021, the group reconvened, each member bringing in new material. Stranahan, having worked with guitarist/pianist Kurt Rosenwinkel, suggested to his compatriots one of his tunes ("Mr. Hope") as well as bringing in an arrangement of Elliot Smith's "Between the Bars". Perhaps it was the time in lockdown and all the lost gigs (plus the worries of surviving the pandemic) but there is an extra urgency to this music.


"Head Towards The Center" (FSNT Records) is the album's name and also the final track.  The nine-song program opens with a group improvisation, "Where Am I", a veritable sonic and physical centering piece that introduces listeners to the quartet's leanings towards melody.   The bassist strums the band in on Raymond's 'Power Fall", a piece that reminds this listener of the music of Booker Little (1938-1961). LoRe's solo rises out of the unison theme and he partakes in an exciting push/pull with the bass drums.  Raymond hovers in the background until he steps into his spirited, crisp-toned, exploration of ideas.  He switches to flugelhorn for his other tune "Sweet Spot".  The bassist introduces the melody while the brass and alto murmur in the background.  One hears a tinge of Lee Konitz in the clear-tones of the alto sax lines. There's a hint of melancholy in the flugelhorn solo that picks up intensity as it rolls forward.

LoRe, Weisenberg, and Stranahan dance "Mr. Hope" in with Raymond joining on the last part of the theme. The song really swings with the fast-paced waking bass line and the drummer's hearty swing.  More strummed bass chords followed by a slow bass melody opens the Smith track, a deliberate, sweet, blues-soaked ballad. The combination of soft alto sax lines with Raymond's emotional flugelhorn phrases in the solo section is a highlight of the program, especially when Stranahan responds to their growing urgency.

As I wrote above, the title track closes the album. The throbbing floor drums beneath the intertwined reed and brass opens the song in a somber fashion. As the music moves forward, the contrapuntal lines pick up intensity, freeing up the drummer while the bass holds down the bottom.  LoRe and Raymond continue to feed off each other until a drum solo over strummed bass chords brings the music to a close.

 "Head Towards the Center" is an album built around the love of music and melody, the excitement of exploration and interaction, and the need to push away the darkness of daily life. Kind Folk does listeners a kindness by playing with integrity and passion, not settling for easy solutions. Give them a good listen!

For more information, go to www.kindfolkband.com

Here's the quartet's version of Elliot Smith's "Between the Bars":



Way North, the collaboration of three Canadians––tenor saxophonist Petr Cancura, trumpeter Rebecca Hennessey, and bassist Michael Herring––with American drummer/percussionist Richie Barshay came together in 2014 (same year as Kind Folk above) through their love of music.  There's a New Orleans-inspired looseness to their music but don't get the idea they are lazy. They like melody, harmony, danceable rhythms, mixing it all together in a delightful gumbo.


"New Dreams, Old Stories" (Roots 2Boots Recordings) is the quartet's third album and continues their adventures into jazz, blues, funk, and more. The title of the album is a nod to Old & New Dreams, the quartet that featured saxophonist Dewey Redman, Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell, and Charlie Haden (all alumni of Ornette Coleman's ensembles). Bassist Herring, in fact, penned the ballad "If Charlie Haden Couldn't Write a Song to Bring World Peace , What Hope is There for Me?", the lovely ballad right in the middle of the 12-song program. Outside of that, much of this music will keep you tapping your feet.  The album opens with Ms. Hennessey's "Play"––listeners  can ravel in the playful melody, in the delightful dance of the rhythm section, and in the sweet solos.  The tempo seems to be doubled on Cancuras's "I'm Here To Stay" with Barshay's thundering drums pushing Herring into a "running" bass line.  

Several tracks include group vocals including the bluesy ballad "Come Over to Our House". Composed by Herring, there are short vocal refrains wrapped around the soulful tenor sax solo, the sweet trumpet spot, and a sparkling bass solo.  Ms. Hennessey's "Dr. Good" has a raucous New Orleans feel, a snappy vocal chorus, a growling tenor sax spot, a clarion call from the trumpet, stomping drums, and a thick bass line.

Drummer Barshay, who now teaches in Boston and also performs with The Klezmatics, offers up the sprightly Venezuelan traditional "Pajarillo Verde", replete with delightful rhythm changes, splendid bass work, and short but pithy solos all around.  Barshay also arranged Jackie McLean's "Dig" for the quartet––it's a playful romp that features powerful solos and on-the-dime tempo changes. 

"New Dreams, Old Stories" closes with the lilting ballad/lullaby "When You Say Goodnight to Me"––composed by Ms. Hennessy and Herring, the music feels likes a hymn and, at the same time, a love song. Sweet and satisfying, it's just the right song to finish a program that is so inviting, so much fun, and so well-played.  Way North is not about technique, it's about how one can have a good time in the midst of a crazy world creating music from the heart and soul. Enjoy!!

For more information, go to http://waynorthband.com/.  To hear more of the album, check out the band's other two albums, and to purchase any or all of them, go to https://waynorth.bandcamp.com/

Here's the title track:

Friday, March 25, 2022

Spring Brings Joyous Music

 

Trombonist, composer, band(s)leader, and educator Ryan Keberle is the very model of a 21st Century musician.  His trombone playing feels at home in Latin music ensembles, alongside contemporary songwriters such as Sufjan Stevens, leading his quintet Catharsis, or in ensembles led by Dave Douglas.  It's no surprise that on a trip to Brazil in late 2017 that he would hook up with a fine trio of local musicians; even better, he returned six months later and recorded with these musicians. 

The results can be heard on the exciting and expansive "Sonhos Da Esquina" (Alternate Side Records).  Credited to Ryan Keberle's Collectiv do Brasil, the trombonist and the trio––Felipe Silviera (piano), Thiago Alves (bass), and Paulinho Vicente (drums)––examine three compositions from Milton Nascimento, two from Toninho Horta (a contemporary of Nascimento), and three by Keberle.  One can hear the influences of Brazilian MPB, of Wayne Shorter's 1975 recording "Native Dancer", and hints of Pat Metheny's explorations into World Music, especially in the movement of the rhythm section.  Even so, pieces such as "Clube Da Esquina 2" and "Aqui, Oh!" move in ways that you can hear their origins. The latter tune, originally composed by Horta for Nascimento (1969), takes off from the beautifully expressed original melody (in rubato) into a lovely samba rhythm. Both Keberle and Silviera take fine solos that handsomely swing over the activity of the rhythm section. 

Several of the pieces come from Nascimento's self-titled second album such as the afore-mentioned "Aqui, Oh!" as well as the lovely ballad "Tarde" (words by Nascimento, music by Márcio Borges). The latter song sounds to this listener like it could have been composed by Duke Ellington or Billy Strayhorn––the trombonist and pianist create emotionally strong solos.  "Clube Da Esquina 2" is the title track of a 1972 double album Nascimento made with singer-songwriter-guitarist Lô Borges that many consider a landmark MPB recording for its variety and myriad styles.  The softer ballad opens with a bass solo that introduces the main melody with Alves plays in unison with Keberle.  The piece gains in power as it moves forward but never loses its melodic aim.

The album closes with Horta's "Francisca" which Nascimento recorded for his 1976 album "Milton". It, too, is a ballad (at least, for the first 2/3rds of the tune), also quite emotional; this version features excellent melodic and contrapuntal playing from bassist Alves plus he creates a splendid solo. That's followed by an appropriately mellow piano.  Note how the tempo picks up as Silviera is playing so that when Keberle takes off on his solo, the rhythm is quite powerful.

"Sonhos Da Esquina" ("Corner Songs") is a delightful journey into Brazil with Ryan Keberle's Collectiv Do Brasil.  Thoughtful, passionate, and melodic music that reaches deep into your soul. Listen closely.

For more information, go to http://ryankeberle.com.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to  https://ryankeberle.bandcamp.com/album/sonhos-da-esquina.

Hear the Milton Nascimento-penned opening track:



Two decades into his professional career, pianist, composer, arranger, and bandleader Manuel Valera is hitting his stride. His 2020 release "Jose Marti En Nuevo York", was his first big band album as well as his debut on Greenleaf Music.  That album combined poetry, politics, folklore, and a splendid original score.  As you can see from the personnel listed below, the 20-member plus vocalist ensemble dubbed the New Cuban Express Big Band is filled with A-list musicians from New York City–the blend of Jimmy Macbride and Samuel Torres on drums and percussion is nothing short of magnificent.

"Distancia" is the big band's second album. Although there is no "theme" that unites the program, the eight Valera compositions all stand out. Whether it's strong construction of the compositions, the fiery rhythms, the excellent section writing, or the fine solos, this music should grab your attention from the get-go and not let go.  The opening track, "Expectativas", is the title track of the New Cuban Express's 2013 release (its second)––here, like there, the band jumps out with the melody shared by the brass and reeds (the lead bounces back and forth. The leader's piano keeps the music on an even keel and kudos to bassist Hamish Smith for his free-flowing lines built off the piano chords. The lush melody and harmony lines of "Gemini" really sing yet the rhythms remain exciting.  There are several splendid solos including one from trumpeter Stuart Mack plus the baritone sax spot for Andrew Gutauskas and the leader's jaunt over the drums, percussion, and bass.

Camilla Meza joins the band for "From Afar", her wordless vocal supported by the reeds and guitar with the many colors of the brass. Valera layers the reeds and the brass behind the voice then steps away for a long and excellent solo from trumpeter Michael Rodriguez.  When she returns, her voice is joined by the saxophones while the trumpets respond. Ms. Meza joins the the alto sax of Remy LeBouef and Valera's roller-coaster piano figures to lead the band into the medium-tempo "Pathways".  Moments later, it's the flutes with the voice, then the muted trumpets, then the sections push the entire ensemble to the solo section with contributions from Jeremy Powell (tenor saxophone), bassist Stuart, and drummer Macbride.  

In the long run, it's the melodies and performances that will bring you back to "Distancia". The title track (listen below) has a lovely and emotional melodies that touches the heart. The stunning soprano sax solo (Charles Pillow), the powerful trombone work (Mike Fahie), the lovely wordless vocal from soprano Bogna Kicińska, and the gentle rolling rhythms lull one into a peaceful space. 

The album closes with "Remembered" but instead of the song being an elegy, the piece leaps in on the guitar of Alex Goodman plus the snap and crackle of the percussion. The middle of the piece opens for strong solos from trombonist Andy Clausen and trumpeter David Smith before the entire band dances towards the finish line.  Run don't walk to grab "Distancias", easily one of the finest large ensemble albums you'll hear this year. The New Cuban Express Big Band shines throughout thanks to the great music and arrangements of its leader Manuel Valera––kudos all around!!

To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://manuel-valera.bandcamp.com/album/distancia

Hear the title track:



Tracks:

1) - Expectativas
2) - Gemini
3) - From Afar
4) - Pathways
5) - From the Ashes
6) - Impressionistic Romance
7) - Distancia
8) - Remembered

Personnel:

VOICE
Camila Meza, voice (3, 4)
Bogna Kicińska, voice (7)

TRUMPETS
Brian Pareschi (lead)
Michael Rodriguez (3, 5, 6, 8)
Stuart Mack (on all except 5 & 8)
David Smith
Alex Norris (on all except 3 & 6)

SAXES
Michael Thomas, alto sax, soprano sax & flute
Roman Filiu, alto sax & flute (3, 5, 6, 8)
Remy Le Boeuf, alto sax & flute (1, 2, 4, 7)
Joel Frahm, tenor saxophone (3, 5, 6, 8)
Jeremy Powell, tenor saxophone, clarinet (1, 2, 4, 7)
Andrew Gutauskas, baritone saxophone & bass clarinet

TROMBONES
Matt Macdonald (lead)
John Yao (3, 5, 6, 8)
Mike Fahie (1, 2, 4, 7)
Andy Clausen (3, 5, 6, 8)
Sam Blakeslee (1, 2, 4, 7)
Jeff Nelson, bass trombone

RHYTHM SECTION
Manuel Valera, piano
Alex Goodman, guitar
Ricky Rodriguez, bass (3, 5, 6, 8)
Hamish Smith, bass (1, 2, 4, 7)
Jimmy Macbride, drums
Samuel Torres, percussion