Saturday, December 25, 2010

Beauty in Ballads

Before the Rain - Noah Preminger (Palmetto Records) - The 24-year old tenor saxophonist first came to critical attention in 2008 with the release of his debut CD, "Dry Bridge Road" (Nowt Records).  Since that time, he has traveled the world, played in clubs and concert halls in groups or settings with pianist Frank Kimbrough, drummer Rob Garcia, bassist Cecil McBee, guitarist Ben Monder and trumpeter John McNeil.

For his new CD, Preminger retains Kimbrough and bassist John Hebert from his debut and adds drummer Matt Wilson. The lineup alone should serve as a hint that the music will be special.  Kimbrough, who works with the Maria Schneider Orchestra and leads his own trio, is a listener, an involved accompanist and accomplished soloist. In early 2010, he and Preminger played a number of duo dates. Hebert plays with numerous ensembles and has issued several critically acclaimed recordings including 2009's "Byzantine Monkey" (Firehouse 12 Recordings.) As for Wilson, if you do not know about him by now, you've been out of touch with music for the past 15 or so years. 

So, with all these fine players, Preminger ups the ante by deciding to record (mostly) ballads.  Most young musicians want listeners to hear how technically adept they are, how fast they can move through the changes and how they command the spotlight.  For Preminger, this program is about melody, harmony, interplay and emotion.  The CD opens with the Rodgers & Hart classic "Where or When", a quiet reading of the tune with bare bones percussion, sweet background from Kimbrough, good counterpoint from the bass and Preminger giving his lyrical all.  "The Quickening", one of the pianist's fine compositions, is a fascinating from the opening seconds.  Influenced by Ornette Coleman's music of the late 1950s and early 60s, it rumbles forward on the careering bass lines, Wilson's dramatic drumming (it's amazing how he can be so "free" yet always on the beat) and the fascinating juxtaposition of the saxophone and piano.  Preminger takes the opening solo sans piano accompaniment - once he finishes, Kimbrough jumps in, pushing and pulling at the melody lines.

Other highlights include the achingly beautiful title track, a slowly unwinding melody with solos from Preminger and Kimbrough that, like the song itself, are contemplative and without guile.  After you absorb the melodicism, go back and listen to what Wilson does underneath the song. While Hebert holds the rhythm, the drummer accents the proceedings by using brushes on snares, light flourishes on the cymbals, nothing forced but powerful in its simplicity.  At the end of the piano solo, Wilson drops out as Preminger holds a long note before returning to the theme; those 10 -15 seconds are among the most purely musical moments I've heard in years. The quartet gets to romp a bit on Ornette Coleman's "Toy Dance" (from his 1968 Blue Note "New York Is Now" release.  Dig the opening reading of the melody with just sax and drums, then how the piece moves forward when Hebert digs into the beat, the fine tenor solo and Kimbrough's abstract yet blues-drenched spot.  There's just a touch of Stan Getz in the sound of the tenor on the pianist's atmospheric "November" as well as more fine drum work - listen to how Wilson changes his approach under each section i.e. more forceful with a martial beat under the tenor solo and somewhat "straight-ahead" beneath the piano. The most lyrical playing on the CD can be heard on "Until The Real Thing Comes Along", a 1936 ballad credited to Sammy Cahn and a slew of co-writers. The tenor solo draws on Lester Young and John Coltrane, not as obvious influences but in the way those musicians would approach a ballad with the knowledge of the song's lyrics.  The program closes with Preminger's "Jamie", an extremely slow and lovely piece, a tone poem that draws one in on the whispering tenor lines, the quiet piano chords, the intimate bass lines and the melodic - yes, melodic - percussion. 

If you enjoy music that is intelligent, melodic, poetic, thoughtful and unpretentious, this CD will more than satisfy your desires.  In fact, "Before the Rain" should please you for years to come.  For more information, go to  (The CD will be released in January 2011.)

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Ones That (Nearly) Got Away (Saxophone edition)

Cerulean Landscape - Jason Robinson & Anthony Davis (Clean Feed) - Saxophonist, composer and educator Robinson has issued 3 CDs at the same time; this duo, the larger ensemble below and a solo recording that I'll review at another time. Here, he is paired with pianist Davis with whom he studied in California.  There is much to like in their program. Both men play with fire and plenty of ideas yet never lose their way in the different challenges they create for each other.  The program from Davis's handsome ballad "Shimmer" that opens the CD to the harder-edged "Vicissitudes" from the pen of Robinson (whose soprano work brings Roscoe Mitchell to mind.) They explore the pianist's "Of Blues and Dreams" which Davis has recorded on a number of occasions. Here, it is slow, ruminative, melodic, with sections that recall blues ballads.  Robinson's tenor displays a rich tone while Davis rumbles, rambles, and moves gracefully in and around the reed playing.  The title track closes the disk, opening with a solo saxophone exploration that is far-ranging in its scope. Once the piano enters, the piece becomes a ballad that moves slowly yet steadily forward.  Davis's solo is a highlight, filled with powerful chords and majestic melodic runs.
This is not background music.  Robinson and Davis listen and react, step out when called for, and always serve the music.  One can tell when musicians are not just showing off, when the music prepared for the session is substantive and the interactions intuitive not forced.  For more information, go to

 The Two Faces of Janus - Jason Robinson (Cuneiform) -Here, Robinson records (mostly) with the quartet of Liberty Ellman (guitar), Drew Gress (bass) and George Schuller (drums.)  Marty Ehrlich (alto saxophone, bass clarinet) appears on 5 of the 9 tracks (including 2 duets) and Rudresh Mahanthappa adds his alto sax to the front line for 3 of the songs. There is plenty of energy on the opening "Return to Pacasmayo" with Robinson's tenor and Ehrlich's alto sparring, Ellman's guitar lines rippling over Schuller's high-energy drumming and Gress's booming bottom lines. Ehrlich's squalling and soaring lines match well with the leader's harder, percussive, riffs.  Mahanthappa joins the other saxophonists on the title track, pushing the already high-energy up several more notches.  Pay close attention and enjoy how Ellman plays counterpoint at different times. The three reeds also perform on the slower yet equally engaging "Tides of Consciousness Fading", Ehrlich moving to bass clarinet where he creates a blues-drenched solo over Ellman's Monk-like chords. 
At under 4:02, the duets are among the shorter tracks on the 76-minute disk.  "Huaca de la Luna" (named for "The Temple of the Moon" in Northern Peru) is a fascinating conservation for alto and tenor, with some call-and-response, independent lines and a constant movement forward.  "Huaca del Sol" (the "Temple of the Sun" in the same area) is in a similar vein, opening with the two reeds buzzing around each other, then moving through sections where each plays a lead while the other flutters below then closing on a long fade.
"Paper Tiger" is the only Trio track (sax, bass and drums), a piece that is reminiscent of a Mario Pavone composition, especially in the way Gress pushes the piece forward while, occasionally, shadowing the tenor lines.
Ellman's guitar softens the proceedings on "The Twelfth Labor" - whereas a piano might have "harder" chords, here he allows Robinson's tenor lines to stand out. With numerous tempo changes, the track keeps one's attention with its sharp interplay (great rhythm section work) and the fine solos. The piece feels like a Coltrane Quartet song with a "hard bop" edge.
Jason Robinson has much to offer and this CD has plenty of variety in the strong voices he surrounds himself, the fine compositions and his own tonal attack.  Modern music that invites and excites the senses - for more information, go to or go to Robinson's site listed above.

Hear You Say: Live in Willisau - The Ray Anderson/Marty Ehrlich Quartet (Intuition) - Trombonist Anderson and Ehrlich are no strangers to each other or to adventurous music.  Their paths first crossed in the late 1970s when they appeared on an Anthony Braxton recording and they have worked together numerous times since.  This live date, from August 2009, features the blessedly intuitive and inventive rhythm section of Brad Jones (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums.)  Opening with the multi-sectioned "Portrait of Leroy Jenkins", this music dances, wails, flutters, swings and rocks (yes, as in heavy backbeat and all the trappings.) There is something about Anderson's playing that continually brings a smile to my face.  He's always been facile yet there's an edge of joy to everything he plays. Even on the ballad "My Wish", his lines are swooping and soaring, getting "lowdown" and "testifying".  When the 4 musicians stir the "Hot Crab Pot", the music feels like Charlie Parker on the Bayou Teche.With Anderson roaring atop Wilson's dancing drums and Jones' buoyant bass lines, this is music that just feels so good.  Ehrlich's solo, on alto saxophone, is a swirling journey with dancing bass work and propulsive drums. Wilson seems to be channeling Ed Blackwell on the trombonist's "Alligatory Rhumba", his drums creating a dance beat that is highly infectious. The title track closes the program with bluesy interplay, exclamatory trombone, a very melodic yet rhythmic bass solo and hip-shaking alto sax lines, all propelled by Wilson's "fatback" drums. 
Each track is praise-worthy, the interplay delightful, Ehrlich shines on his various reeds (clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones), and Anderson is...vintage Anderson.  Jones and Wilson are the perfect rhythm section.  Judging by the final ovation, the crowd is thrilled - you will be too.  If this music doesn't make you feel good to be alive, best check your pulse. For more information, go to

Fierce - Patrick Cornelius (Whirlwind Records) - Don't let the title put you off.  This is not music that claws at your ears; instead, alto saxophonist Cornelius has crafted 9 tracks on his second release as a leader that draw from the history of jazz, complete with flourishes of the blues.With a complimentary rhythm section of Michael Janisch (bass) and Johnathan Blake (drums), this is music that may remind some of the classic Sonny Rollins Trio and others of Henry Threadgill's work with Air.  You can hear hints of both on "Hopscotch" in both Cornelius's tart yet bluesy alto and Janisch's active and melodic bass lines. Blake works with both, giving them room and also pushing the piece forward.  "Two Seventy-Eight" has an intensity created by the active rhythm section and reinforced by the addition of valve trombonist Nick Vayenas - Cornelius carves a solo out of rapid-fire notes and long tones while Vayenas starts his section with fire then unwinds slowly. The trombonist flies over the bass and drums on "New Blues", sputtering and spraying notes like a gunner. Cornelius comes in next, building his solo from short phrases, stretching more and more as he races forward.  It's both breathtaking and musical at the same time.  Tenor saxophonist Mark Small adds his voice to the front line on "First Dance." His style is somewhat more laconic than Cornelius, making for an interesting contrast.  
While it is pleasing to have the other voices, the trio tracks remain my favorite.  The interplay of the rhythm section with the leader is impressive and Cornelius responds with solos that range far afield but never lose focus.   He's got fire and grace, showing no need to compromise on his vision.  For more information, go to

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Ones That (Nearly) Got Away (guitars)

Okay, the semester is over, grades are posted with the registrar, and it's time to get back to the reviews.

Hard to believe but "Triple Play" (MaxJazz) is guitarist Russell Malone's first trio CD.  He released his debut disk in 1992 and has had a busy, busy, career, working with the Harry Connick Jr. Big Band, organist Jimmy Smith, Diana Krall, Dianne Reeves and Ron Carter (among others.)  His first CDs for MaxJazz were quartet dates  but, for this date, he subtracted the piano.  Ably assisted by bassist David Wong and drummer Montez Coleman, the threesome swings its way through 11 tracks including 3 standards and 4 originals.  Malone displays a clean, clear, tone throughout, thinking melody and harmony first.  Wong is a first-class accompanist as well as a fine, melodic, soloist while Coleman has a funky side that shows on swingers such as "Sweet Georgia Peach" and the opening track "Honeybone."  One cannot help but dig the groove in Ron Carter's Tail Feathers" (must also mention the Wes Montgomery-like octave jumps on guitar.
If you know someone who loves the pure sound of guitar jazz (no effects, no fusion), this is the CD.  Nothing fancy, no pedal works, just a melodic approach to everything Russell Malone and the Trio does. To find out more, go to
Here's the opening track, "Honeybone", courtesy of MazJazz and IODA Promonet.
Honeybone (mp3)

 Swedish-born guitarist Tomas Janzon has lived in the US for nearly 2 decades and "Experiences" (Changes Music) is his 4th release as a leader.  Not only is he a skilled guitarist but he also knows how to put together a band.  The great Albert "Tootie" Heath is in the drumseat and he is a man who knows when to push, when to support and when to step out.  His snare-drum work is impressive throughout. no more so than on "Float", where he demonstrates how his well-known mastery of brush work.  Bassist Jeff Littleton is the glue of the band as well as a fine soloist.  His fine counter-point on ""En DeJlig Rosa", a Swedish folk tune, is a highlight.  Art Hillery provides piano or organ on 6 of the 11 tracks, nothing fancy but just right.  He gers "lowdown" on Jimmy Smith's cooker "Messin' Around" and displays similar funkiness on piano for "Moanin'", the Bobby Timmons classic.  For his part, Janzon swings lustily when called for and caresses the melody lines on ballads.  If you're a jazz fan, you have probably heard dozens of versions of "Polka Dots and Moon Beams" but few as pretty as Janzon's take.  His tone is similar to Russell Malone's but he seems more influenced by be-bop.  "Experiences" is a delightful excursion, one worth your time and a great gift idea for someone who likes guitar-jazz.  For more information, go to

Guitarist Sean Clapis (pictured right) is a 24-year old native of Hartford, CT, who studied at the Artist Collective, the Academy of the Performing Arts High School and a graduate of the Hartt School of Music at the University of the Hartford.  But, plenty of schooling doth not a musician make (gives good perspective though.)  In the past few years, he's been teaching and playing a lot of gigs throughout New England.  He also has found time to release his debut CD.  "Convergence" is self-released and features music from 3 sessions, the earliest in July 2008.  His style and tone is influenced, most notably, by Pat Metheny and John Scofield, crisp single-note lines that ripple out above the rhythm section.  He's not a shredder or a techno-geek, thinking melody first even in his solos.  "Mother" is a lovely ballad, a piece where no aspect is rushed, the solos thoughtful (also note the fine bass work of David Baron) and, even near the end when the intensity picks up, the song never loses its focus.  The addition of saxophonist Jovan Alexandre on several tracks makes a welcome addition.  The Joe Henderson-inspired "Isle of Fogo" is a pleasing high-energy romp, replete with roaring tenor sax, McCoy Tyner "power" chords from pianist Lemuel Gurtowsky, and a short yet powerful guitar solo. Alexandre and Clapis share the melody on "You Will Do Great Things", a handsome piece more about exposition of melody than technical prowess.

"Convergence" is a good calling card for Sean Clapis, a recording that lays out his future as a musician, bandleader and composer.  The sound quality is a bit muted (good for the guitar, not so for the rhythm section) yet that is a minor glitch.  To find out more, go to

If you get the opportunity, see the young man in person.  Caught the guitarist in a duo setting with pianist Noah Baerman at The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown.  It was their initial collaboration and, admittedly, took a few tunes to get the mix right.  When they did mesh, the music was rewarding, rich with melody and strong solos.  Clapis became more assertive as the night progressed and allowed himself to dig into his solos for creative possibilities.  Baerman gave great support (nothing fancy just right there) and soloed well, often with bluesy abandon, always with creativity.   

Sunday, December 19, 2010

ATreat Before the Holiday

PathwayDavid Cook
"The Thing" (mp3)
from "Pathway"
(Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records)

More On This Album

In the midst of grading final papers, I've had iTunes on "Party Shuffle", meaning there's been a lot of music swirling around the office.  Several tracks from the new CD from pianist/composer David Cook have wafted through the room and really caught my ear.  Titled "Pathway", the disk is yet another fine release on the BJU Records label, a subsidiary of Brooklyn Jazz Underground. A review is forthcoming but click on the link above for a taste of the CD - it's a piece of danceable jazz to get you through the craziness of the next week.

Thanks to IODA Promonet and BJU Records for the preview.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Noah B "Know Thyself" Is On the Way

No review just a preview.
Thanks to a "New Works" grant from the Chamber Music America/Doris Duke Foundation, pianist-composer Noah Baerman created a 65-minute work he titled "Know Thyself."  Scored for 7 instruments (piano, bass, drums, vibraphone, electric guitar and 2 saxophonists), the piece debuted in November of 2009 at Wesleyan University's Crowell Concert Hall.  Shortly afterwards, Noah took the group into the studio and is now ready to bring the CD into the light. 
As a short preview, I offer the following enticement and a reminder to go to to find out more.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Best of 2010 (Part 2)

Rudresh Mahanthappa was nothing if not noticeable this past year.  Besides one excellent and one very good "twin altos" CDs, he appeared with Amir ElSaffar's Two Rivers Ensemble and guitarist Nguyen Le's Saiyuki Trio, recorded with Danilo Perez, and more.  It's the "twin altos" projects that really hit the spot.  "Apex" (Pi Recordings) is his collaboration with septuagenarian Bunky Green - the music soars, roars, and pours from the 2 saxophonists. There is a smashing rhythm section of drummer Damion Reid and bassist Francois Moutin along with pianist Jason Moran - Jack DeJohnette appears on 4 tracks. The energy level is impressive as is the interplay and ideas. 
Mahanthappa's other duo was with Steve Lehman on "Dual Identity" (Clean Feed), a fiery program also fueled by Reid and featuring guitarist Liberty Ellman and bassist Matt Brewer. Both recordings are worth your attention.

Ted Hearne's "Katrina Ballads" (New Amsterdam), initially released as a download-only in 2008, received its "physical" release around the time of the 5th anniversary of the disastrous hurricane.  If anything, the music and the words (all taken from news reports) are just as striking and damning as they were on initial listening.

One "modern classical" CD I received but did not review was "10 Mysteries" (Tzadik) from guitarist/violist John King. His music is quite involving, making one pay attention as the string quartet Crucible (featuring King, violinists Cornelius Dufallo and Mark Feldman with cellist Alex Waterman) move effortlessly through the challenging material.  The title track is a 32+ minute, 9-part suite while the other 2 pieces feature "live" electronics - "Winds of Blood" gets 2 performances because of the chance nature of the electronic environment and that experimentation is thought-provoking and an intelligent manner in which to show how the music changes and grows off the page.

The newest release from Kronos Quartet, "Rainbow" (Smithsonian Folkways), features music and musicians from Central Asia including Afghan composer and rubab player Homayun Sakhi and Azerbaijani composer/vocalist/percussionist

Nguyên Lê's Sai, recorded with Danilo Perez, 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Double Tenor Fun

Bassist-composer Mario Pavone brings his Orange Double Tenor sextet to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven this Friday night (12/10) for 2 sets.  Hot on the heels of his new Playscape CD, "Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po", the shows and the music serve as a 70th Birthday celebration for Pavone. The music on the CD (reviewed here) gives notice that the Waterbury native is not about to meander off into the sunset (heck, we should all look and sound so good.)  Like much of his music, the new material is built from the bass outward - many of the songs have great forward propulsion (supplied by drummer Gerald Cleaver and pianist Peter Madsen) and feature concise but wide-ranging solos.

Cleaver and Madsen (who is a splendid accompanist and soloist) will be on the bandstand on Friday along with Dave Ballou (trumpet) plus the Double Tenor saxophones of Andrew Bishop and Marty Ehrlich.  My understanding is that the 8:30 show is already sold out but there is still room for the 10 p.m. set.  My suggestion is to call 203-785-0468 and get your tickets now - the nice folks at the Firehouse will also put you on the waiting list for the first show.  For more information, go to  To check out Mario Pavone, go to his site at

Monday, December 6, 2010

Best of 2010 (Part 1)

Personally, 2010 has been a roller-coaster of a year (seemingly moreso than the past few.)  On a musical level, there's been great CDs and concerts, more than I can document.  In previous years, I have gone a bit overboard in "end-of-the-year" columns but, seeing as "austerity" is the watchword of the day, this will be a tad more compact than usual. Also, as usual, there is no order of preference.

Trombonist-composer Alan Ferber is a very busy player, appearing on many recordings over the past yeas including the wild and crazy "Asphalt Orchestra" on Canteloupe as well as John Ellis's "Puppet Mischief" and Owen Howard's "Drum Lore" (see below.) His own release, "Music for Nonet and Strings: Chamber Music" (Sunnyside) is stunning in its breadth and musicality.  Not only is his writing excellent but also his choice of music by his bandmates and surprising arrangements of solo works by both Keith Jarrett and Ben Monder makes this a program to savor for many months to come.

There are several CDs on this list created by drummers.  Each one is different but similar in that the music is quite impressive.  The afore-mentioned "Drum Lore" (BJU Records) is Owen Howard's wonderful tribute to his fellow percussionists with tunes from the pens of Shelley Manne, Jack DeJohnette, Ed Blackwell, Peter Erskine, Denzil Best, Chick Webb and others.  Composer-percussionist Roland Vazquez produced a splendid large ensemble recording in "The Visitor" (self-released) - the arrangements are complex and arresting, the playing rich and exciting, with a slew of fine musicians (although Vazquez does not perform, he conducts the ensemble.)  John Hollenbeck created "Royal Toast" (Cunieform) for his Claudia Quintet (plus guest pianist Gary Versace) - he continues to surprise listeners with richly designed pieces that cull from so many traditions.

Early in 2010, drummer Allison Miller released her second CD (Foxhaven Records) as a leader, an absolute treat.  With pianist Myra Melford and bassist Todd Sickafoose, she invigorates the "piano trio" with her smart compositions while the playing is flat-out exquisite.  And the, it is so rich that, even on inexpensive speakers, the cymbals crackle, the bass drum booms and Sickafoose's playing is articulate and melodic.

Firehouse 12 (the label) released Ms. Melford's latest recording "The Whole Tree Gone" in January.  The music, played a fine sextet, is melodically rich while maintaining the composer's challenging vision.

 Trumpeter Avishai Cohen created "Introducing Triveni" (Anzic Records) with fellow Israeli Omer Avital (bass) and the ubiquitous drummer Nasheet Waits (he's as busy as trombonist Ferber.)  The intimacy of the sound,  intelligent choice of the material and the fine interaction makes this Cohen's best release (to date.)  His sound has grown up, taking in the history of the trumpet's role in jazz and blues.

Cohen has taken over the trumpet chair in the SF Jazz Collective - their 3 CD set, dedicated to the material of Horace Silver (and works by Collective members) is the 7th strong release from the organization.  Miguel Zenon (alto saxophone) is the only original member left, the rhythm section of Eric Harland (drums) and Matt Penman (bass) have anchored the band since year 2 (2005), vibraphonist Stefon Harris returns after a year absence, pianist Edward Simon takes the seat of original member Renee Rosnes, trombonist Robin Eubanks is a major presence as is new member Mark Turner (tenor saxophone.)   The aggregation gives the Silver material the attention it deserves (with many fine arrangements) and the new material is quite impressive.

Educator-arranger-composer Jamie Begian (who's on the faculty of Western Connecticut State University) released his 2nd Big Band CD, "Big Fat Grin" (Innova), and it does much to bring a smile to fans of large ensemble music. Good tunes, smart arrangements and great playing all makes for a fun experience.

Last but not least (for Part 1) is the sprawling and often enthralling "A Wallflower in the Amazon" (Accurate Records), the new work from composer/arranger Darrell Katz & the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra.  Filled with poetry, blues, humor, the fine voice of Rebecca Shrimpton, knock-out arrangements of Ellington's "I Like The Sunrise" and Willie Dixon's "Hoochie-Coochie Man" (with Mike Finnegan) and much more, this is a recording that one must pay attention to - it's not for the background.

In Part 2, there is classical music, more fine small-group work and a modern broadside.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sounds of Playing

I Will Follow You - Jerome Sabbagh (BEE JAZZ) - French saxophonist Sabbagh's 4th CD as a leader is his second straight trio "hit".  He retains guitarist Ben Monder from his quartet recordings and adds the classy European drummer Daniel Humair to the mix. The program is a mix of freely improvised pieces and Sabbagh's originals, played sans rehearsals. Only 3 of the cuts are over 5 minutes yet nothing seems rushed, forced or superfluous.  Humair may remind some of Paul Motian's "less is more" approach to the drummer's role but he is also quite melodic.  He and Sabbagh create "Come With Me" out together - listen how their lines weave in and out, complementing each other - the same approach can be heard on the saxophonist's duet with Monder, "Apaise" (meaning "appeased" in English) although the guitar is both atmospheric and melodic.  Monder "wails " on "Rahan", his duet with Humair, for the first 80 seconds then drops into a reflective period before flaring up for a short while then fading out. 
Throughout the program, there is a strong feeling of experimentation, a sense of friends having short conversations - it's no surprise that one piece is titled "Haiku" yet there's a touch of irony that it is the longest cut.  "Saloon" is a freely improvised piece, opening with Monder's distorted riffs over Humair's parade drums  - about 1/2 way through, Sabbagh enters on soprano sax, Humair moves a "rocking shuffle" beat before a frenetic close.  There are sections that sound like Jimi Hendrix sparring with Mitch Mitchell.  The lone standard, "I Should Care", closes the disk, softly, a reflection of the interplay that precedes it and a reminder of the power of what happens when like-minded musicians enjoy their time together.
"I Will Follow You" works best as a complete statement.  Only 44 minutes long, the music goes in many different directions, perhaps sounding (on first listen) a bit disjointed.  Let the sounds wash over you, pay attention to what each musicians does and you'll enjoy this ride.  For more information, go to

cd-leavingLeaving - Scott Lee (Steeplechase) - Bassist/composer Lee has as worked with a surprising array of artists such as Lee Konitz, Zoot Simms, Al Cohn, Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Werner, Andy Statman, Mose Allison and Joe Lovano.  He has also supported a bevy of vocalists including Nancy Wilson, Morgana King, Betty Buckley, Helen Merrill, and Anita O’Day.  It's easy to hear why - he is a very melodic and supportive player with musical ideas that make the pieces fuller.
This session features the sweet reed work of Billy Drewes (tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet), pianist Gary Versace and drummer Jeff Hirschfield.  There's much to like on these 11 tracks, from the joyous interplay of "Two Ways" (emphasis on the idea of "play") to the reflective title track (Drewes' clarinet work is just right) to the aptly-titled "Old Friends Talking" (contemplative and playful duet for bass and soprano sax.)  "Drummersome" may conjure up images of James Brown exhorting his band to step aside and let the drummer have his time - here, Hirschfield is the backbone of the music, pushing the beat on his ride cymbals in the beginning and "kicking it hard" in the second half.  Solid but not flashy, this is music not "showtime" or even "show-off time." Bass and drums go together on  "The Connection", an example of how creative musicians pay attention to each other while in the process of creating. If the listener pays that attention, he or she can hear the way the rhythm section interacts throughout the program, never in each others way but building the foundation for the lead voices to be able to express themselves.
Versace, best know for his creative organ work in  numerous settings, is being heard more often on piano.  He stands out on several tracks here, including the fast-moving but never frenetic "JGB."  He, Lee and Hirschfield create a wonderful flow, like a rushing stream with each musician moving in and around each other (more impressive cymbal work) while Drewes' soprano darts like a bird above.
The best contemporary jazz is timeless. One can hear the kind of interplay and interaction from the Miles Davis Quintet of the mid-to-late 1960s that is played here but the music is different because the players are different, each with his own style and each being able to be himself within the wide-open spaces of the music. This recording may not instantly knock you for a loop but, if you listen with an open mind, there is much to savor here. 
For more information, go to

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Usually, this column is concerned with music, especially modern jazz.  The excitement of hearing a drummer push the beat, a saxophonist fly over the changes, or a guitarist go from low to high in a flurry of notes sets  my mind, body and heart abuzz.

Thankfully, that feeling has never disappeared for more than a day or 2 at a time.  The past 6 months, keeping this blog alive has not been easy what with the health issues of my wife (she's much better) and the search for new employment.  No, I'm not looking for a handout, for sympathy, for get-well cards - music is still a big part of my day but putting my thoughts onto the pages of this comfortable format has, understandably, taken a back seat to more pressing issues.

Yet, I am such a lucky person.  We live in a great town, are involved with a goodly number of communities within the city limits and are supported by and, in turn, support good people.  I continue to be impressed by the fine citizens who donate time, food, clothing and/or money to the needy, the homeless, the working poor and the scores of children who survive without one or both parents and live in less-than-comfortable surroundings.

After a rancorous election season, where millions upon millions of dollars were spent to win a  position that could be used for such good (and instead, is an invitation to the "rich man's club - great benefits and super retirement), the Thanksgiving holiday reminds us of the importance of family, of security, of the simple helping hand and what we can accomplish by listening to each other.

Enjoy this time if you can. Be thankful for your health. Play, dream, love, and live for peace.

Here's a treat from the new Randy Weston CD, "The Storyteller", courtesy of Motema Records and IODA Promonet.

The StorytellerRandy Weston
"African Sunrise" (mp3)
from "The Storyteller"
(Motema Music)

More On This Album

Music Provided by IODA Promonet

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Going Places, Hearing Music

'Tis the weekend before Thanksgiving and you've got plenty of choices.  Here's a quick look at several events that I wish I were attending.

Middletown-based pianist-composer Noah Baerman cites Mr. Steveland Morris as an influence.  Music lovers know Mr. Morris as Stevie Wonder, whose music has permeated the airwaves for over 4 decades.  Noah, bassist Henry Lugo and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza will be performing the world premiere of "Fulfillingness' First Finale" (in its entirety) on Friday November 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the Chase-Bear Experimental Theater on the campus of Choate-Rosemary Hall in Wallingford. The program includes such Wonder-ful tunes as "You Haven't Done Nothin'", "Creepin'", "Boogie on Reggae Woman", "They Won't Go When I Go" and others. For ticket information, go to

The following night, the NBTrio heads for Brooklyn, NY, to give the audience at IBeam a taste of the Wonder music.  That show starts at 8 p.m. and you can find out much more by going to

Mr. Baerman also has an informative blog housed on his website - - and I recommend you visit him there.  

Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, also has a busy weekend with 2, not just 1, fine evenings of music.  On Friday, the performance space welcomes Ches Smith & These Arches for shows at 8:30 and 10 p.m.  Drummer-composer Smith, who has worked with Wadada Leo Smith and Nels Cline (among many), loves to play with sound and he has 3 fine collaborators in Tony Malaby (tenor saxophone), Andrea Parkins (accordion, organ, electronics) and Firehouse favorite Mary Halvorson (guitar). The foursome's debut CD, "Finally Out of My Hands", has just been issued on Skirl Records -  the music literally dares you to put a label on it (esoterica? punk-jazz? - not worth it, just enjoy.) The band can be thunder-storm loud and whisper soft.

On Saturday, the Firehouse welcomes 2 ensembles associated with the New Haven Improvisers Collective for an evening of fascinating sounds.  Set 1 (8:30 p.m.) features NHIC Atlas, a group with Steve Asetta (saxophones), Nathan Bontrager (cello), Bob Gorry (guitar), Jaime Paul Lamb (bass), Adam Matlock (clarinet), and Steve Zieminski (drums, percussion). Set 2 (10 p.m.) belongs to Mayhem Circus Electric and that ensemble features Pete Brunelli (electric bass), Jeff Cedrone (guitar), Bob Gorry (guitar), Paul McGuire (soprano and alto saxophone), Nate Trier (keyboards), John Venter (bass clarinet), Steve Zieminski (drums, percussion). One ticket gets you in to both sets and the adventurous music is worth exploring  For more information about these and other shows, go to To learn more about NHIC, go to  

Guitarist and NHIC leader Bob Gorry can be heard every Thursday from 6 - 8 a.m. on WNHU-FM, 88.7 in New Haven - the show is streamed live on

Reviews return next week in between getting ready for the Thanksgiving onslaught and other responsibilities.  Have a great holiday! Go dig some live music. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

O Mario and A Wonderful Discovery

Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po -  Mario Pavone Orange Double Tenor (Playscape Recordings) -This is a good time for composer/bassist Pavone.  He's just celebrated his 70th birthday, been feted by NPR (click here to check it out) and was the subject of an in-depth interview on Jason Crane's "The Jazz Session" (listen here.)
Those of us who live in Connecticut have had the good fortune of watching and listening to Pavone in various settings for over 4 decades, from his work with the late Bill Dixon and Thomas Chapin, his association with the Connecticut Music Improvisers Forum, and his numerous groups that have recorded on the Playscape label.  His music combines exciting rhythmic variations and compositions built from his bass outwards.  As a player, he's never been a slouch or showoff; as a leader, he surrounds himself with intelligent collaborators.
The sextet on this program is no exception -  what's interesting to me is various influences I've not noticed in his music before.  Michael Musillami's arrangements on the opening 2 tracks have an Ellingtonian feel in the sway of the horns and reeds.  "East Arc" combines the tambre of "East St Louis Toodle-oo" with the shuffle-cum-sway of many uptempo Duke Ellington works from the the 40s and 50s.  Pavone and drummer Gerald Cleaver set the tone for the soloists while pianist Peter Madsen moves in and around the ensemble (and he's such an impressive soloist.) The double tenors of Jimmy Greene and Tony Malaby each bring a different flavor to the songs, the former with his John Coltrane-like explorations, the latter with a thicker tone and more experimental side.  Greene unveils his handsome soprano work on "Poles" joining with Madsen and trumpeter Dave Ballou in the journey through Pavone's musical landscape.The title track has a slippery melody, nicely executed by Ballou (who doesn't even solo), as well as more strong work from Greene and Madsen. The challenging melody of "17 Note" moves from the piano to the guest Steven Bernstein's slide trumpet with ease while pieces of the rhythm are used by the tenor saxophonists to create their solos.
The Cd also contains 3 short pieces, the rhythmical "Nokimo", the angular, edgy, "Half Dome (for Bill Dixon)" and its companion "Dome." The brief works allow the composer and band to create unique worlds that pull the listener in the way a haiku attracts a reader.
Over the decades since he took up the bass (when he was in his mid-20s), Mario Pavone has continued to move forward, not slowed by the vagaries of the music business or lack of imagination.  His creative music marries rhythm and melody in original ways that make one sit up and pay attention.  For more information, go to

The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer - Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell (Kabell) - This is an unqualified treat.  A live recording from 1986 pairing the splendid drum work of Ed Blackwell and the exciting brass, flute and voice of Wadada Leo Smith.  Originally recorded at Brandeis University, the duo are in sync from the opening moment through to the closing tones.  Blackwell, who passed in 1992, was born in New Orleans and, though he often played in "free" jazz settings, never lost his rhythmic propulsion. One can hear the influence of the "parade drums" on the opening track "Uprising" and the joy in the trumpet trills, splats, and riffs above him.  The duo creates an African dance on "Love", Blackwell riding his cymbals while bouncing between snare and toms as Smith roars triumphantly.
Several of the tracks include vocals by Smith, including the mbira-fueled tracks "Seeds of a Forgotten Flower" (dig the subtle cymbal work) and "Don't You Remember".   Smith sounds like a blues griot on the latter track with Blackwell's sticks creating subtle, provocative, dance rhythms.  The move to muted trumpet does not change the ageless rhythmic patterns. 
The mellower tone of the flugelhorn ushers in "Seven Arrows in the Garden of Light" while the drummer creates a "Bolero"-type rhythm but, instead of building up to a climax in the fashion of Ravel, Smith moves to flute and the piece becomes quieter and more intimate. Close to the end, he returns to trumpet but only for a moments of impressionistic phrases. There is a wonderful sense of swing amidst the raucous sounds and humid air of the Crescent City on "Buffalo People: A Blues Ritual Dance", a delightful musical jaunt.
"The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer" can and should be listened to in one sitting. There are no weak moments, only the joyous dialogue of 2 musical equals. For more information, go to Wadada Leo Smith's homepage at

I had the joy of being able to see and hear Ed Blackwell play in various ensembles (some with faculty, others with students) many times at Wesleyan University where he taught for the last 2 decades of his life. Even in his later years as his kidney problems slowed him down, his drum work always danced. This CD is a real gift for those of us who still thrill to hear his unique approach to rhythm. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

'Tis the Season

Wilson, Matt - Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O CD Cover Art
Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-o - Jeff Lederer/Paul Sikivie/Matt Wilson (Palmetto) - Recorded in May (undoubtedly a time "when treetops glisten and children listen" in the area near Maggie's Farm Studio), this is drummer Wilson's gift to the world of music.  "Winter Wonderland" goes from a New Orleans shuffle to a walking blues, led by Lederer's blowsy, bluesy, tenor sax aided and abetted by Sikivie's fat bass tones and the leader's solid drumming.  The soprano sax is the main voice on "The Chipmunk Song" (what? No Alvin?) - Lederer contributes a rollicking solo, the bass and drums get a noisy interlude and the piece ends in humorous disarray. There is an intriguing medley of Albert Ayler's "Angels" paired with "Angels We Have Heard On High" where the traditional tune is given the "free" treatment.
Other highlights include a soulful take on John & Yoko's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" and a jaunty romp through the Bing Crosby classic "Mele Kalikimaki".  "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" is taken as a march while the "Hallelujah Chorus" flies a wee bit off the Handel (love the drums role as the chorus.)  "Little Drummer Boy" has the feel of a Sonny Rollins hit (Lederer on soprano instead of tenor.) 
Even if Holiday music is not your "bag", this CD is the one gift that keeps on giving.  Indulge yourself and then give your friends this most joyous treat.  For more information, go to

  imageNow, for a little treat - here's the title track from the new CD by Henry Threadgill Zooid  (courtesy of IODA Promonet and Pi Recordings.)  Enjoy!

This Brings Us To (mp3)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Piano Up Front

Tepfer, Dan Trio - Five Pedals Deep CD Cover Art CD music music CDs songs album
Five Pedals Deep - Dan Tepfer Trio (Sunnyside Records) -Young Mr. Tepfer's playing is quite impressive, especially his work with Lee Konitz and on the Rob Garcia 4's "Perennial" (issued late last year on BJU Records.) He does not try and blow you away with technique; melody is his forte. On initial listening to this new release (his first with the rhythm section of drummer Ted Poor and bassist Thomas Morgan), the music sounded highly influenced by the Brad Mehldau and Radiohead but, as the music sunk in, I began to hear so much more. The interaction of the trio, the way Morgan holds the bottom allowing Poor to drive the faster pieces, the manner in which Tepfer inhabits the music, seemingly playing from the inside out. The fire of "Peal, Repeal" comes not only from the bustling rhythm section but also from the way the pianist builds the melody from the repetitive figures in his left hand. The drone in the piano figure on "All I Heard Was Nothing" tugs at the listener,  the long right-hand runs over Poor's rampaging drums makes you listen - you want to follow this journey.  The ballads are equally affecting; the Satie-like melody line on "The Distance", a piece that slows down as the rhythm gets jagged for a short but melodically generous bass solo, opens like a flower. The program also features 5 solo piano pieces.  The brief "Interludes" range from meditations to angular explorations - all were recorded at home and were conceived as exercises.  "Body and Soul" closes the program and Tepfer digs right in; the piece seems to become more contemplative as it moves forward, softening slowly on the way to the final chords.
"Five Pedals Deep" is thoughtful, playful, at times dark but never dull. This is music to play over and over, allowing the notes to gently rain down upon you.  For more information, go to

Simple Songs - For When The World Seems Strange Simple Songs (For When the World Seems Strange) - Jeremy Siskind (BJU Records) - Siskind is another young pianist who is beginning to make people sit up and take notice.  His music is neither brash nor confrontational yet it's not as simple as the title of the program may lead one to believe.  As with Dan Tepfer's Trio, Ted Poor is here to incite riotous rhythmic adventures from his seat behind the trap set. Bassist Chris Lightcap is both melodic and forceful; his "swinging" solo on "The Fates" is impressive and his support is flawless.  Vocalist Jo Lawry appears on several tracks, from the prayerful "Hymn of Thanks" (sounding like a tune written by her 2010 employer, Sting, save for the bluesy piano solo in the middle) to her wordless vocal duo dance with Siskind on "Six Minute Tango" (that clocks in at under 4 minutes - go figure.) The latter track combines touches of Louis Moreau Gottschalk with Carla Bley and is pure joy. Lawry's lovely voice sounds waif-like and angelic on "Little Love Song", another duet with the richly melodic piano. After Lawry reads the melody, Siskind creates a world that mirrors her innocence and hope. The pianist goes it alone on "The Inevitable Letdown", displaying a left hand that would make Earl "Fatha" Hines sit up and applaud while creating a melody that struts and sashays.
The "bonus track" is a jazzy take on "The Candy Man" that is most "satisfying and delicious", a joyous romp with splashy cymbals, a short yet melodic bass solo and a "cool" final section with Poor holding court above the gentle piano chords until the final "zing."
I know there are a million-or-so piano trios but Jeremy Siskind (and Dan Tepfer above) proves there is always room for more.  A most impressive debut and one only hopes there are many more adventures to come.  For more information, go to
Enjoy a track from the CD courtesy of IODA Promonet and BJU Records.

The Inevitable Letdown (mp3)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Riffing Through the Disks (Take 1)

When Lights Are Low
Economy of writing has never been my strong point is a quick look at several new CDs that are worth your time.

"When Lights are Low" is vocalist Denise Donatelli's 2nd CD (first for the Savant label.)   Produced by pianist Geoff Keezer, the music is a blend of modern and traditional techniques, all held together by her facile voice. Keezer utilizes a fine rhythm section (bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Jon Wikan), creates intelligent arrangements that features guests such as guitarist Peter Sprague, the flugelhorn of Ingrid Jensen, the vocal arrangements of Julia Dollison and Kerry Marsh, an occasional string section, yet it's Ms. Donatelli's voice you'll remember.  Her passionate take of "Don't Explain", the tenderness and resilience in the delivery of Ms. Dollison's "Forward, Like So", and the bright joy of "It's You or No One."  After several listens, one begins to notice the subtleties of Keezer's arrangements and the many fine musical contributions.
Want to know more? Go to

Tarbaby is the collective trio of Orrin Evans (piano), Eric RevisNasheet Waits (bass) and (drums) and "The End of Fear" (Posi-Tone Records) is the their 2nd CD. They've invited 3 fine guests to join them, including J D Allen (tenor sax), Oliver Lake (alto sax) and Nicholas Payton (trumpet).  This is music that takes plenty of chances, throws the listener plenty of curves, yet never feels forced or contrived.  Blending original works by each member, collective improvs and a number of fascinating interpretations, the recording sticks in your mind.  There is a vocal sample from Duke Ellington (among others), hard-edged riffing (a la The Bad Plus), echoes of Thelonious Monk while the guests match the fire and invention of the hosts. Lake slams through his own piece, "November '80", his angular lines pushed by Waits' rampaging drums (the drummer has been part of many fine rhythm sections this year besides this one - he's a regular member of Jason Moran's Bandwagon and trumpeter Avishai Cohen's "Triveni.")
Allen, Lake and Payton add moody voices to the ominous take of Andrew Hill's "Tough Love" (which he recorded as a solo piano piece on the Palmetto release,  "Dusk") - here, it's Revis's rumbling bass and Evans' jagged piano riffs that open up the piece for the braying trumpet and sharp-edged saxophones. It's not all rampage - the trio plus Allen do a lovely take of Fats Waller's "Lonesome Me" with the tenor lines being smooth and blues-drenched.  Also, listen to the impressionistic piano of Evans. More impressionism on Paul Motian's "Abacus" where the lead voice is Revis and his melodic bass lines.
Tarbaby rocks and rumbles, sways and soothes, and makes one pay attention.  Take heed.
Here's a taste of "Brews" (courtesy of Posi-Tone and IODA Promonet.)
Brews (mp3)

McNeil, John - Chill Morn He Climb Jenny CD Cover Art
The latest effort from trumpeter John McNeil and saxophonist Bill McHenry carries the fascinating name of "Chill Morn He Climb Jenny" and opens with a truly fine version of the old chestnut "Moonlight in Vermont."   Here, it's the trumpeter who makes an abstraction of the melody (though listen to him at the opening of his solo when he echoes his partner's last line) while the saxophonist approaches it like Lester Young, pushing the sound up in the tenor range.  Supported by bassist Joe Martin and drummer Jochen Rueckert, this version is anything but a "moldy oldie." The 4-some romps through pianist Russ Freeman's "Batter Up", a baseball-inspired hit, and, later in the program, dance through Freeman's "bebop rhumba" known as "Maid in Mexico" before high-stepping through his "Bea's Flat." Freeman is ripe for rediscovery and McNeil/McHenry do him proud.
Other highlights include the Brazilian-inspired "Carioca" during which the saxophonist takes off on a long, multi-faceted, solo.  The quartet also create a jaunty stroll for Wilbur Harden's "Wells Fargo",a bluesy hoot with lots of long notes over a pleasing walking bass line and skipping drums.
Delightful music; really, you can just sense that the band had a great time at this gig.  Recorded live at the Cornelia Street Cafe in NYC and released on Sunnyside (definitely the label of 2009-10), "Chill Morn He Climb Jenny" is sweet fun for adventurous listeners. For more information, go to

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dancing Through The Discs (Part 1)

You may have noticed how infrequently I have been posting lately (after my August boast to catch up on the back-log of CDs on my desk) but a new job and family responsibilities have eaten into my writing time.  Listening time has actually increased (90 minutes on the road 2 mornings a week plus plenty of time in my home office) but the time to translate my thoughts into sentences (and coherent ones, at that) has decreased (go figure).

Instead, here's a short look at several recordings that caught my ear and that are worth your time.

Saxophonist Eli Degibri (tenor and soprano) has assembled his "dream" band for his second recording on the Anzic label. "Israeli Song" finds him in the company of pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster.  The quartet spent a day in December 2009 at Sear Sound in New York City and it was time well spent.  First thing one notices is just how much Foster brings to the program.  His escapades around the drum kit on the opening cut, Mehldau's "Unrequited", is not only exciting but masterful. For the saxophonist's "Judy The Dog", his splashing cymbals propel the soloists forward with urgency.  Add Carter's melodic yet supportive bass work and the piece is irresistible. There are several duo tracks on the recording, including a lovely tenor/ acoustic bass reading of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (Carter's chordal work is quite attractive) and a powerful tenor/drums rendition of Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop."  The title tune pairs Mehldau's expressive piano with the Degibri's melodic tenor -  the influence of classical music on both players as well as their love for harmonies makes the piece stand out. For more information, go to

Colorado Saxophone Quartet / Pagan, Michael - Michael Pagán: 12 Preludes And Fugues CD Cover Art
Michael Pagan is best known as a jazz pianist, an educator and is now the Director of Marketing and Communications at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. His latest recording, "12 Preludes and Fugues" (Tapestry Records), is a rich blend of classical and jazz influences. Performed by the Colorado Saxophone Quartet, an ensemble known for its extensive forays into traditional classical repertoire, ragtime, and the works of modern jazz composers, this CD is lovely, lively, melodic and filled with variety.  Certain pieces "swing" in the manner of an elegant work by Ellington while others have harmonies and rhythms akin to those of the World Saxophone Quartet.  One can also hear the classical influences of Bach, Debussy, Satie and others.  Forget the influences - it's easy to get lost in the full tones of the multiple reeds and in the melodies that unfold gracefully like large flocks of birds moving through the autumn sky.  As one who enjoys Bach's solo cello suites and Beethoven's string quartets, this is music one can return to time and again to discover nuances as well as melodic and/or harmonic connections.  For more information, go to

Liebman, David - Live: As Always CD Cover Art
Soprano saxophonist Dave Liebman is in the midst of a long and varied career as a musician, composer, producer, and educator. In these economically challenging times, he also finds time to record with a big band and even is doing several live gigs as well. As opposed to many other modern large ensembles, Liebman supplies the original material but farms out the arrangement and is also not the conductor.  His new recording in front of this 18-piece band, "As Always" (MAMA Records), is made up of 6 tracks, 4 recorded at the University of Colorado/Denver in October of 2005, the remainder at the University of Toldeo, Ohio in April 2007.  Conductor Gunnar Mossblad (who is a member of the reed section) arranged 1 tracks, trombonist Scott Reeves supplied 2 and 3 came from commissions outside of the band.  Liebman solos on each tracks - his soprano work is so impressive, with a tone that is often singing, sometimes keening, rising over the band or riding along with them.  The music is filled with surprising turns such as Liebman's wooden flute fluttering over the brass section on "Anubis" followed by a melody that features the oboe of Charles Pillow in duet with the bass clarinet of Chris Karlic.  "Phillippe Under the Green Bridge" is a rolling ballad with a long soprano solo supported by the trombone section, then all the brass, all atop Marko Macinko's splendid drum work. The recording closes with the funky, hard-driving, "Turn It Around", with Liebman reading the melody with guitarist Vic Juris.  The guitarist gets the first spotlight, riffing over the pulsing synthesizer of Jim Ridl and Macinko's drum barrage. The leader pushes the rhythm section even harder and they respond in kind.
"As Always" is an hour well-spent with Dave Liebman and his Big Band.  There are no false notes, no lazy arrangements, no "treading water" beneath the soloist - instead, the music is exciting, challenging yet approachable, with Liebman playing inspired, modern, music.  To find out more about this CD, go to Jason Crane interviewed Dave Liebman for the 200th episode of "The Jazz Session" and it's well worth listening to - go to

Liebman is listed as the co-producer (and also appears on 4 of the 8 tracks) on "A New Face" (jayDell Records), the debut recording from pianist/composer Bobby Avey. The 25-year old first worked with his co-producer on the 2006 "Vienna Dialogues" but went back to finish school.  Well, he may be "A New Face" but he's a mature composer, creating aural landscapes that showcase his fine, two-handed, piano style and intelligent arrangements.  His rhythm section - Thomson Kneeland (bass) and Jordan Pearlson (drums) - is an equal partner in the music, with the majority of the pieces built upon strong piano lines and melodies that use the bass and drums as counterpoint as well as support.  "Late November" opens with a circular piano line (played unaccompanied) until Pearlson announces his entrance in dramatic fashion.  The piece rises out of Avey's active left hand, the trance-like figures he plays even as his right hand shares the melody with the bassist or solos over the propulsive drums. The rhythmic fire that introduces "Delusion" only lets up for a mid-song reverie but the majority of the song races forward with dispatch (even the bass solo never lets up.) The cuts that feature Liebman include the mysterious "In Retreat" (Pearlson's percussion is stellar - even sounds as if he utilizes a tambourine) which rises in intensity throughout the soprano sax solo and then moves quietly to its close. He and Avey play without the rhythm section on the Satie-like "Influence", a stunning ballad that starts slowly, also rising in intensity into the middle, with piano notes raining down on Liebman as he cuts through them with piercing phrases.  The final section of the song reverts to the slow pace of the opening - here the musicians seem to be caressing the original melody, letting it down easily to the close.
Bobby Avey may remind some of Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran, pianists who infuse their melodies with rhythmic drive and many harmonic possibilities (John Escreet is another young musician cut from that same broad cloth.)  This music has great drive, filled with surprising turns, fine solos, and savvy interplay.  Go find this CD, live with the music for a while, and it will give you many rewards.  For more information, go to

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Saxes, Classy Interpretations and One Big Band

Apex - Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green (Pi Recordings) - What a treat!  The 75-year old Green and Mahanthappa, 36 years his junior, playing with such verve, fire, and sass.  Listening back to some of Green's early recordings as well as his 2008 "Another Place" recording, one realizes he plays without allegiance to one particular style or genre.  Meanwhile, Mahanthappa's approach to the alto on this CD shows a style that blends the understanding of Indian music with the fiery playing of Charlie Parker (throughout this program, there are phrases that are incredibly fast and quite articulated. 
The rhythm section of Francois Moutin (bass) and Damion Reid (drums) as well as Jack DeJohnette (on the first 2 and last 2 tracks) keeps this music fluid.  Add to that the intelligent piano of Jason Moran and the disk burns with an unquenchable fire.  Moran's solo on "Soft" over the rampaging drums brings both Herbie Hancock and Andrew Hill to mind.  The 2 altos jab and feint around each other until Mahanthappa takes off, streaking over Reid's drums.  Moran also takes over for the majority of "Lamenting", stepping back for a lovely statement from Green, who then trades lines with his fellow alto player. DeJohnette's splendid cymbal work leads "Ranier and Theresia" in, another piece where the 2 altos share the solo spotlight. Both players are quite assertive and they spur the rhythm section to react in kind. The short, bluesy, solo for Moran leads into a rousing give-and-take with Mahanthappa. "Eastern Echoes" opens with the feeling of muezzin leading his fellow believers into prayer before opening out into solos by Green (displaying great fire) and Mahanthappa, who starts in an abstract fashion before pushing Reid into a thunderous dialogue. The CD closes with "The Journey", commencing with an exciting bass solo before the 2 saxophonists rip into the call-and-response theme. Moran takes over for a few choruses, pushing the intensity higher until Green, then Mahanthappa, take the piece into overdrive with the help of the dynamically profound DeJohnette. The piece returns to the opening saxophone theme and ends at the 9-minute mark.  After 50 seconds of silence, Mahanthappa breaks the quiet with a soft intro leading into an impressive duet with DeJohnette for nearly 6 more minutes (see comment below - thanks.)
The iTunes edition features 3 extra tracks including another alto/drum dialogue (I believe it's Reid with Green), a 2-alto dialogue and a thunderous alto/drums dialogue leading the quintet in for a stunning final piece (there's also a fine piano/alto section for Moran and Mahanthappa) and a boppish drive to the close.
Here's the deal - "Apex" is a great collection of contemporary creative music that should excite listeners. It's most definitely recording, a group that one should see live and bask in the musical fire.  For more information, go to

Impromptu - Ted Rosenthal Trio (Playscape Records) -One does not always think of Brahms, Chopin, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Bach and Puccini when one thinks of jazz but, here, pianist Rosenthal, bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer Quincy Davis romp, glide, and sway through 10 cuts by those composers listed above. The pianist, who arranged all the tracks, took the themes out of their natural habitat placing squarely (better yet, hip-ly!) in a jazz setting. The lovely melody of Puccini's "O Mio Babbino Caro" is given a graceful arrangement, allowing the beauty of the line to rise and fall on a easily swinging rhythm line. Rosenthal displays his prodigious technique on J.S. Bach's "Presto" (from the composer's first violin sonata), riding happily atop the impressive cymbal work of Davis and Ueda's driving yet melodic bass lines. Chopin's "Nocturne in F-Minor" may remind some of the sensitive ballad work of the Bill Evans Trio.  Robert Schumann's "Traumerei" is subtle, sweet and gentle, with a loping bass line and soft yet propulsive drum work. Davis also shines on "Theme from Symphony No. 5" (from Tchaikovsky), setting the sprightly pace after the quite intro, giving the tune the feel of a Bud Powell piece.
"Impromptu" is music that celebrates classic melodies and the rhythmic influences of jazz and blues without sacrificing creativity. If the Trio's treatment of Tchaikovsky's "June" doesn't make you smile, you just might not be alive.  For more information, go to or

A Wallflower in the Amazon - Darrell Katz & The Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra (Accurate Records) -In 1985, Darrell Katz and several other Boston-based composers began the Jazz Composers Alliance to help present their works in public - a big band was formed and, over the years, the JCA has presented the works of over 15 resident composers performing their own works as well as the works of guest composers Muhal Richard Abrams, Marty Ehrlich and others.  The Orchestra has released 7 Cds in its lifetime as well as 1 with works for a saxophone quartet.  This new CD, the first for composer Russ Gershon's Accurate Records label, is the 3rd of the last 4 to feature (mostly) works by Katz.  This is a sprawling program, with Katz showing his love and respect for the blues, for Duke Ellington and Julius Hemphill as well as showcasing the poetry of his wife Paula Tatarunis.  11 of the 12 tracks feature the 19-member JCAO, plus guests Mike Finnegan (organ, vocals on 3 tracks) and Taki Musoko (marimba on 2 tracks) with the final cut," The Red Blues", featuring the JCA Saxophone Quartet with the Orchestra's vocalist Rebecca Shrimpton.
The program opens with Ellington's "I Like the Sunrise" (from "Liberian Suite") and, from the opening section, one hears creativity of Katz's arrangements.  This version, like the original, starts slowly yet, when Shrimpton heads into the main vocal, the tempo picks up speed and the fun begins.  The sweep of the horns, the varying tempi, the smart solos (I chuckled when Bill Lowe's boisterous tuba solo began) and the sparkling call-and-response for the vocalist and Orchestra near the end of Part 1, keeps the listener on the edge of the seat. The title track ( one of 4 2-part compositions) brings Ms. Tatarunis's poetry front and center - it's fun to hear how Katz decorates the words, illustrating the story of a city-dweller's journey to the heart of the Amazon with graceful melodies and harmonies.  Part 2 is a more mysterious, with a modern classical feel, noisy interludes, and a closing section that glides out quietly.
Finnegan struts in on pounding drums and blaring brass for Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man" - here, Katz has fun with the traditional blues form, allowing the bluster and humor of the lyrics to set the pace for the body of the first part.  The long solo section features Natalie Dietrich's low-down vibes and Norm Zocher's hard-edged guitar solo.  That leads in to Part 2, titled "All Bark and No Bite"; the tempo picks up a bit for a section where Jim Hobbs' wild alto phrases get wrapped up with Lowe's tuba work before a return to Dixon blues and Finnegan's "testifying."
There's more blues, a "lowdown" version of Big Maceo Merriwether's "Tuff Luck Blues" (updated lyrics from vocalist Finnegan.  There's the humorous and very swing-filled "Visiting My Aunties" in which Ms. Shrimpton sings Ms. Tatarunis's unique lyrics dedicated to her family, including Aunties "Pathy", "Thesis", "Social" and others, remembering to pronounce "Auntie" as "Anti." The track features a break for Lowe's tuba, Alan Chase's alto sax, Melanie Howell's baritone sax and Bob Pilkington's trombone that is an absolute delight. The final 2 tracks feature a slyly humorous (and quite short) "For Our Sins", dedicated to a person who just has to have the spotlight, and the Sax Quartet/Shrimpton reading of the lyricist's dedication to Julius Hemphill.
Compared to other JCAO recordings, the sound quality here is impressive, the sessions taking place in WGBH's large Fraser Recording Studio (save for the last cut which comes from a 1999 session.) "A Wallflower.." is a lot of music to take in in one sitting and the lyrics take some time to decipher (save for the blues tunes.) But, let this music and the impressive arrangements take hold in your mind - you'll catch the nuances in the work of the musicians as well as Ms. Shrimpton's excellent vocals, begin to understand the humor of the poetry and enjoy the intelligence of Katz's aural landscapes.  To find out more, go to