Sunday, January 31, 2010

Music to Help & Heal

The news from Haiti doesn't get better but, thankfully, there are many people making great efforts to ease the suffering.

On Monday, February 1, there will be Haiti Relief Pianothon taking place from 7 - 10 p.m. at Saint Peter's Church,  Lexington Avenue and 54th Street in New York City.  Among the pianists scheduled to perform are Frank Kimbrough, Pete Malinverni, Rodney Kendrick, Harold O'Neal, Dan Tepfer (pictured left), Armen Donelian, Deanna Witkowski and many others.  Proceeds benefit Real Medicine Foundation ( and World Water Solar (

The flyer I received gave no contact information, only the time and place. 

On Friday and Saturday (February 5 & 6) at 8 p.m., the Monterey Jazz Festival comes to UCONN's Jorgenensen Auditorium.  The performance space will be set up as a nightclub, with candle-lit tables and cabaret fare.  Scheduled to perform are the highly expressive vocalist Kurt Elling, great swinging guitarist Russell Malone, recently named NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron & Trio and the fine violinist Regina Carter.  A portion of the proceeds go to help victims of the Haitian Earthquake.  For more information, call 860-486-4226. 

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Past Informs the Present

The Traveller - Tineke Postma (EtceteraNOW) - This is Dutch saxophonist/composer Postma's 4th CD as a leader and it's a delight-filled 55+ minutes of music.  One can hear the influence of Wayne Shorter in her fluid soprano saxophone work, her open compositions and sense of sonic adventure.  Joining her are pianist Geri Allen, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington (who appeared on the saxophonist previous CD), a splendid rhythm section.  On the opening track, "Song for F", Postma plays call-and-response with her soprano and alto saxophone - the wordless vocals of Anne Chris (fellow Dutchman, solo artist with a release on Challenge Records) adds another sweet color to the mix.  Allen's solo is a delight as well, ranging from short, single note phrases to longer melodic flights.  Chris returns on "Adagio 13 - Heitor Villa Lobos", working with and below the soprano on the theme and solo. The rhythm section moves effortlessly below the front line. 
Other highlights include the fast-paced "Cabbonal" (with its riveting piano solo) and the slinky "YWC" that closes the program (one hears the influence of Weather Report in the funky soprano, wordless vocal, liquid bass lines and Ms. Carrington's propulsive drum work.) 
There's not a weak track on this recording.  Everyone plays with grace and intensity, the compositions have strong melodies, and the solos are seemingly free of cliche.  On subsequent listens, the influences drop away and what remains is very good music, a balm to the hardships of daily life.  For more information, go to

Men Of Honor - Jeremy Pelt (HighNote Records) - The influence of the mid-60s Miles Davis "Classic Quintet"(with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams) continues to be strong 4 decades after its demise.  This new CD from trumpeter Pelt shines with similar limpid melodies, open arrangements, crisp solos and an attentive rhythm section. Like Davis, Pelt is surrounded by intelligent players, the fine tenor saxophonist J. D. Allen (whose 2 trio CDs on Sunnyside are excellent), emerging talent Danny Grissett (piano), veteran bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The leader makes sure that every one of the band members contributes, at least, one tune.  Cleaver's "From the Life of the Same Name" is a sweet ballad with a heartfelt tenor solo, rich piano chords, and lyrical trumpet work. Allen's "Brooklyn Bound" moves atop Cleaver's active yet shimmering percussion and Burno's melodic bass lines.  The saxophonist writes such compact pieces with short solo sections that always leaving you wanting more (Pelt's lovely flugelhorn solo is so sweet and gives way to Grissett's introspective spot.)  "Milo Hayward" (named for the trumpeter's baby boy) is lively, with active drumming and sprightly solos.
Only one of the tracks is over 7 minutes (and two are under 5) so the band wastes little time; still, the music never feels rushed (Pelt's "Illusion" is just 5 minutes yet feels complete.) The way in which the band works together to create this music is intimate and far from "manufactured" - this is a working group.  Like the Davis Quintet, this recording is a blueprint for live gigs. The songs can be stretched, rearranged, even shortened, the compositions are that pliable.  Until one can see this quintet in concert, "Men of Honor" is a sweet treat and an excellent follow-up to the band's debut recording from 2008, "November" (MaxJazz.) For more information, go to

New York State of Mind - Harry Allen (Challenge Records) - I've played this disk several times at gatherings where non-jazz listeners are about and just about every one perks up their ears.  Why not?  Saxophonist (*see note below) Allen's collection of tunes, all related to The Big Apple, swings with great verve and sparkles with inspired playing. Pianist Rosano Sportiello is a new name to me but he's quite a find.  His command of different styles reminds me of Jaki Byard -  he can play stride with elan and absolutely caresses ballads (such as "Autumn in New York.") The rhythm section of Joel Forbes (bass) and Chuck Riggs (drums) is unobtrusive yet swings with panache.  Trombonist John Allred appears on 6 of the 11 cuts and his burry tone is a smart match for Allen's sometimes clean, other times breathy, tenor sound. 
Allen's playing certainly has its roots in Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Lester Young - I know that but the average listener doesn't and so what if they don't. My friends like it because the music, no matter the tempo, is so melodic. Allen and the band don't challenge one by "pushing the envelope". Instead they play songs that often sound deceptively easy.  On one level, they might be. Yet few musicians can play "Harlem Nocturne" so slowly without wanting to rush the beat.  Here, the quartet just caresses the melody and creates a true nocturne.  Then they turn around and "swing" the heck out of "Broadway Melody"with such joy. The title track features one of Allen's finer solos, hard to describe but easy to fall under its spell of bluesy phrases and long tones (quite like later period Ben Webster.)  Sportiello's solo on the track is so pretty, introspective without being cliched.  "Chinatown, My Chinatown", to some, may be a "moldy oldie" but here it sounds fresh and inspired, especially the hearty exchange between sax and trombone.
"New York State of Mind" is a fun experience, the kind of recording that brightens the day with its spirit. The rap against jazz is that nobody goes to concerts anymore yet look at the continued popularity of "trad jazz" festivals in the summer.  There are some mighty fine musicians whose inspirations reach back several generations and who are keeping that the traditions alive.  Allen and company do just that and it makes for good listening.  For more information, go to

*(Author's note - My thanks to Jason Crane, whose comment below reminded me of the following -  Harry Allen was born in Washington D.C. in 1966, and was raised in Los Angeles, CA and Burrillville, RI. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in music in 1988 from Rutgers University in New Jersey, and currently resides in New York City.  I originally stated he was British.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reviews & News (late January 2010)

Cyrllic - Rempis/Rosaly (482 Music) - Saxophonist Dave Rempis, a Massachusetts native who moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern University and stayed to become an integral part of the creative jazz scene.  Best known for his association with the Vandermark 5, Rempis plays in a number of different ensembles plus is very involved as a music presenter.  Drummer Frank Rosaly has lived in Chicago since 2001 and has worked with vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, saxophonist Aram Shelton, cellist Fred Lonborg-Holm, and the Rempis Percussion Quartet as well as leading his own groups. The duo has played gigs together since 2004 but "Cyrillic" is their debut recording. As one might expect from these 2 adventurous players, the music is fiery, explosive, declamatory, sometimes whisper-soft, with smart shifts in dynamics and rhythmic intensity. Rempis work well in the duo setting; he gives as good as he gets, spilling out lines that run from melodic to percussive, riding atop Rosaly's propulsive percussion, often pushing him to play harder and faster. The music is often playful, as if the musicians were sparring, feinting, jabbing, dancing around and with each other. "How To Cross When Bridges Are Out" is the longest track (nearly 16 minutes) and one has to admire how the duo hits the music so hard - there is a great rhythmic intensity that not only grounds the music but also allows Rempis' sometimes sweet, other times tart alto to move in and out.  He brings out his baritone sax for "In Plain Sight", a hard-bop piece that rarely lets up.  Rosaly's touch moves from feather-light to hard-edged but never losing the propulsive element. "The baritone also makes an appearance on "Thief of Sleep", a ballad that feels contemplative in the midst of the more incendiary tracks.
At times, "Cyrllic" reminds me of the great Max Roach & Anthony Braxton duo recordings from the late 1970s.  One hears it in the percussive drive, in the sonic explorations, in the intelligent give-and-take. This is music that works very well in the concert and makes for an engaging and challenging recording.  For more information, go to, to or

Portraits - Matt Slocum (Chandra Records) - This is drummer/composer Slocum's debut as a leader and is a rewarding adventure for the listener.  A Wisconsin native, he studied at USC with John Clayton, Alan Pasqua, and Peter Erskine (who supplied the liner notes), has toured with vocalist Sara Gazarek and recently made the move to New York City.  The basic band for the recording is the fine young pianist Gerald Clayton (all but 2 tracks) and bassist Massimo Biolcati.  Tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III appears on the piano-less cuts, tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens appears on 2 other tracks and alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw joins with Stephens and the band on 1 song. 
First thing one hears is how crisp the music sounds - you can hear the nuances of Slocum's active stick work and the full tones of Biolcati's bass lines.  The music on the opening 2 cuts has a gentle intensity, with "Homage" displaying Smith's rousing tenor work and "Cambria" Clayton's lyrical side.  The rhythm section is totally engaged, not just playing the beat but reacting to the soloists' dynamic shifts.  Smith also appears on the disk's one non-original, a sweet, bluesy, take of Ellington/Strayhorn's "Daydream." He shows the influence of Joe Lovano on this track, with a solo that never lose the intention of the song.
Other highlights include the high-flying "Shadows", a piano trio piece with a melody line that sounds by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. Clayton builds his solo intelligently, rising to a smashing climax that leads to a heated drum solo. The 2 saxophonists are featured on "Seven Stars", weaving phrases around each other while the rhythm section pushes and prods them on. The middle of the tune belongs to Clayton for another melodic and dynamically engaging solo. The prettiest piece is "For Alin", a ballad with a lovely melody line, good bass work and excellent work from the leader on the cymbals. The CD closes with "Avenida del Paraiso"(perhaps named for the street in Carlsbad, California, or Caracas, Venezuela), another intense yet not overpowering trio piece.
Matt Slocum's debut is filled with good melodies, smart arrangements, strong solos, and great promise.  The music is creative and somewhat mainstream (no "outside" music or exotic sounds) yet is consistently entertaining.  To find out more, go to or


2 concerts to be aware of this weekend and both are in Hartford.  Saturday night January 30 at 8 pm., The Studio at Billings Forge (565 Broad Street, across from the Firebox Restaurant) presents the duo of Noah Preminger (saxophones, pictured left) and Ben Monder (guitar) in a Benefit Concert for the Covenant Preparatory School and Grace Academy (a girls' school set to open in September of this year.) Preminger, a native of Canton, CT, is an excellent young musician whose debut CD, "Dry Bridge Road" (NOWT Records), was issued in 2008 to great critical acclaim.  Monder is a first-class, first-call, guitarist who works with many groups including the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Guillermo Klein y Los Gauchos, vocalist Kendra Shank, Paul Motian, and many others.  For more information about the concert and the other events surrounding the benefit, call 860-519-1997.

On Sunday January 31, the Hartford Public Library's "Baby Grand Jazz Series" presents David Bryant in concert at 3 p.m. in The Atrium.  Bryant, a native of Brooklyn, NY, has worked with Hartt School of Music teacher and trombonist Steve Davis, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, vocalist Jen Shyu and many others.  The concert is free and open to the public. The Library is located at 500 Main Street and the contact number is 860-695-6295.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Creative Explorations

The Whole Tree Gone - Myra Melford's Be Bread (Firehouse 12 Records) - In the 2+ decades pianist/composer Myra Melford has been on the contemporary music scene, she has created a good number of impressive recordings.  With a piano style well-versed in both the blues and avant-garde as well as studies that have taken her to India and beyond, her music is truly her own.  This latest disk features a smashing sextet including Ben Goldberg (clarinets), Cuong Vu (trumpet), Brandon Ross (acoustic guitars), Stomu Takeishi (acoustic bass guitar) and Matt Wilson (drums) and it's truly a group recording.  Melford has a way of orchestrating "group" arrangements that makes the music, at times, sound bigger.  Each piece stands on its own, with sections that allow the musicians to move easily and creatively through the music.  To these ears, many of the pieces have a Brazilian influence, in the long, well drawn, melodies and the smartly-crafted dynamics (there are moments that are so quiet one must lean into the speakers.)  Ross's acoustic work is crisp, forceful, contemplative and commands the listener pay close attention.  His long abstract unaccompanied solo on "Moon Bird" leads into a slow, introspective, solo from Vu (whose playing is solid throughout.)  Goldberg's clarinet voice works well within the ensemble, a softer color next to the sharp trumpet, rippling piano and Ross's crackling guitar. Goldberg's lines fly over the roiling, rhythmical, piano on the title track, a work with wide shifts in dynamics and mood. Wilson truly pushes the soloists in the faster sections as Takeishi's swift bass lines act as the anchor. The group interplay on "I See A Horizon" is arresting, the rhythm section pushing the volume and the leads moving, really dancing, within the piece. "On The Lip of Insanity" glistens with melodic invention, a musical chess match in which each player moves the piece along - Vu's solo over the tolling piano chords and the hard-edged drums has great power and dynamic force yet the piece remains a ballad throughout.
Melford can play hard and fast with the best of them, with knuckle-busting phrases that jump out at the listener, short solo sections that are stunning for their power and rhythmic fire.  Yet, she also displays a melodic grace and creative sense of wonder.
"The Whole Tree Gone" is beautifully recorded, intimate, music that opens with each listen - take the time to listen to how each musician works within the compositions and enjoy the interaction. For more information, click or go to

Many Worlds - Greg Burk (482 Music) -  Pianist/composer Burk takes a similar approach to his quartet's endeavor as does Myra Melford. Many different elements make up this program, with the emphasis on group interaction and a creative intensity that elevates the music. Bassist Ron Seguin's "Sonny Time" opens the disk, hearkening back to the music of the classic John Coltrane Quartet (save for multi-reed player Henry Cook's flute.)  Drummer Michael Lambert provides the muscle and Burk the sheets of sound.  He's most often a percussive pianist and his interactions with Lambert keep the listener's attention throughout.  The drummer contributes "Storm Cloud", with its eerie flute sounds (provided by Cook on the washtint, an end-blown flute from Ethiopia.) The piece feels like the moments before a late summer deluge, just as the wind has picked up and loose leaves are skittering aross the landscape. 
In interviews, Burk refers to his band's creations as "rubato music", with "a way of approaching rhythm that doesn’t involve a fixed pulse." That's true, yet you have lovely works like "Look to the Lion" that rise out of the rubato, with a loping gait that dances with grace and serenity.
The "Many Worlds Suite" makes the final 32 minutes of the program.  Credited to the entire group, it features the fieriest music on the disk, especially in the opening minutes of the title track and a good part of "The Strong Force."  The music never dissolves into pure chaos, pushing forward on the power of rhythm section, Burk's expressive piano and Cook's high-energy alto. The pianist leads the way on "Waves/Scattering Matrix", with a long, winding, solo that pushes against the intermittent bass lines and interacts with Lambert's gentle yet intense percussion.  Cook's introspective alto lines weave in and out of the piano lines, short interjections that reflect the drummer's skittery work. The Coltrane influence returns on the final track, "The Spirit Will Take You Out", all the more for Cook's sweet soprano lines. But the fine reed player, who has worked with Salim Washington, Frank Lacy, the Either/Orchestra, and co-led a group with drummer Bobby Ward, is no Coltrane clone possessing a tone and style more akin to Yusef Lateef and Charles Lloyd (both saxophonists who also play the flute.)
"Many Worlds"contains an intensity that is shared among the 4 musicians, who did not come together to just  play "the changes" or show off their "chops" - instead, this fine recording demonstrates the results of working together and trusting each other to create music that is expansive, highly emotional and free-spirited.  To find out more, go to

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Big Bands Rock & Swing

A Single Sky - Dave Douglas with Jim McNeely + Frankfurt Radio Big Band (Greenleaf Music) - Trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas is nothing if not prolific but, unlike some artists, his quality level is quite high.  This CD, released in October 2009, is his first "big band" recording and it is quite impressive.  3 of the disk's 7 pieces are part of Douglas's "President's Suite", commissioned by NDR (North German Radio) and premiered at the Jazz Baltica Festival 2008.  There is a grandeur and a heaviness to "The Presidents", the track that opens the program, the soloists striding over the fullness of the horns and the pounding percussion.  "Campaign Trail" is a bluesy romp (a la Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra), bouncing along atop as rhythm not unlike what Shelley Manne played behind Sonny Rollins on "I'm An Old Cowhand" - the piece gets bluesier during the solos and, at times, feels like a train moving from tow to town with the candidate onn a "whistle stop tour."  "Blockbuster" kicks up the intensity another notch or 3 with strong solos from Douglas and tenor saxophonist Tony Lakatos over a blazing, declamatory, horn arrangement from the composer. The other 4 tracks are older works by Douglas,, arranged for the big band by the WDR resident conductor Jim McNeely. He took these "small group" pieces and captured both the composer's melodic and emotional intentions. "Bury Me Standing" (from "Mountain Passages") is quite atmospheric, whisper-quiet at times, with a long, probing solo from trombonist Christian Jaksjö and a strong lead line from the composer.
Other highlights include the fast-paced title track with a forceful brass arrangement and fiery drumming from Jean Paul Höchstädter. The pretty ballad "Tree and Shrub" (a piece from Douglas's Quintet week at Village Vanguard) features Douglas alongside fellow trumpeter Axel Schlosser. The silky sounds of trombonist Peter Feil are featured on "The Persistence of Memory", a piece from the 1990s which builds in intensity as Douglas builds his memorable solo.
The rhythm section shines throughout (especially the drummer and pianist Peter Reiter) and there really is no weak link.  The "section" parts are so well written and set off the solos dramatically. 2009 was a splendid year for large ensemble recordings and "A Single Sky" is no exception.  The music is compelling, forceful and alive with possibilities, not unlike the political landscape the composer illustrates in his suite.  For more information, go to

Bombella - Abdullah Ibrahim & WDR Big Band Cologne (Intuition) - One of my favorite large ensemble recordings is Ibrahim's 1980 "African Marketplace", one of the more evocative albums released.  Ibrahim recorded the Lp with a (mostly) American lineup - to the best of my knowledge, there are few other examples of the pianist/composer in a "large band" setting. There is nothing confrontational about this music; instead, it swings, bounces, bubbles with positive emotions, and features impressive solo and ensemble work.  The melodious arrangements come from the pen of British composer Steve Gray, who passed away 5 months after the recording.  Ibrahim's songs come from his South African homeland, many have a bluesy, gospel, feel, rising and falling on the fine rhythm section of John Goldsby (bass), Hans Dekker (drums) and Paul Shigihara (guitar). Ibrahim opens the program with "Green Kalahari", a solo piano improvisation.  He's featured on the lovely "Meditation", a contemplative solo piece that gives way to "Joan Capetown Flower (Emerald Bay)", a sweet ballad for Ibrahim and tenor saxophonist Olivier Peters. An interesting change of pace is the medley of Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You" and Ibrahim's "For Monk." The piece swings sweetly with strong solos from Shigihara, trumpeter John Marshall, and tenor saxophonist Paul Heller.  Gray creates a whirling transitional section out of which the pianist takes the Monk melody and grafts it onto his piece, slowing the pace as the band reenters for Peter's splendid soprano sax solo. Karolina Strassmeyer's piccolo flute leads in "Mandela", a swing piece that could easily come from the fertile mind of Henry Mancini with an arrangement that blends the feel of South Africa with the Kansas City blues of Count Basie.
Ibrahim's "For Lawrence Brown (Remembrance)" celebrates the fine trombone player from the Duke Ellington Orchestra; it's a ballad spotlight for Ludwig Nuss (trombone) and a short but ever-so-sweet piano interlude.
Ibrahim's sliinky piano intro gives way to a slinky bass line, the pitter-patter sounds on the snare drum and slippery horn lines on "African River." Strassmeyer's exciting also sax work dances atop Dekker's "parade drum" accompaniment (sounds a bit New Orleans-influenced) as does the fine trumpet work of Rob Bruynen. Strassmeyer leads the reed section as they trade licks and spar with the brass sections.
"Bombella" is a joyous celebration of the work of Abdullah Ibrahim, a composer/performer whose music is a cogent reminder how one can rise above the humiliation and injustice of their native land to create beauty. For more information, go to

Friday, January 15, 2010

Words and Music That Can Touch the Soul

Words Project III: Miniatures - Sam Sadigursky (New Amsterdam) - In his ongoing project to connect poetry with original music, saxophonist Sadigursky has, in the past, created elaborate works, with melodies that often used a small coterie of instruments in counterpoint with the vocals.  The 3rd entry in the series concentrates more on the sound and shape of the words, this time allowing the poetry to dictate the form of the songs. Few of the 18 tracks have more than 3 or 4 instruments playing; there's no real rhythm section and solos are rare. This time out, Sadigursky's focus is on the voice - even the one track that has no words is a chorale written for voices. Working alongside multi-instrumentalist Michael Leonhart (and a number of musicians and vocalists), Sadigursky is not interested in displaying his (or his sideman's) technical facility but in making the listener move easily into this aural landscape.  Sometimes it's tough, the words whiz by, the images don't make immediate sense - go back, play the cut again and again and, as you do, the words and music start to come into focus.

If you've not read Carl Sandburg in decades, you may have forgotten how he could create such vivid images in short sentences.  There are 4 examples on this disk and each one has a unique soundscape. "Wistful"utilizes Leonhart's multi-tracked brass chorale to frame the lines while "Swirl" moves on the Middle-Eastern percussion of Richie Barshay and droning background vocals. "To Know Silence Perfectly" utilizes several keyboards, sounding not unlike Brian Wilson in his "Smile" days or the simple yet haunting songs of Robert Wyatt.  Numerous horns and strings play in unison with Leonhart on "Stars, Songs, Faces" and there's a dreamy quality to this beautiful idea of how to live your life that the poet asks his reader to consider. The shortness of the cut (1:07) only strengthens the message of impermanence.

Other poets include William Carlos Williams (his "Dance Russe" is a mad look at the creative process while "El Hombre"has the feel of Brazilian poem/melody by Caetano Veloso), Sadi Ranson-Politizotti (her "Now" is a song of love that Karlie Bruce sings with an aching tenderness over a chamber music ensemble) and Kenneth Patchen ("Do Me That Love" has the feel of a introspective John Lennon work.)  "O Muzyke Tolstykh" uses text by Maxim Gorky that is a scree against modern jazz with a soundscape featuring bass clarinet, piccolo, baritone saxophone, tabla and moaning brass.  "Light (Ample Make This Bed") features a handsome guitar melody (played by Andrew McKenna Lee) over which Heather Masse quietly recites a wondrous piece by Emily Dickinson.  Sadigursky also wrote music for the words of contemporary poets Michael Lally, Han Dong, and Maureen N. McLane as well as older poets such as David Ignatow (1914 - 1997), Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), León de Greiff (1895-1976), and Alena Synkova (1926 - ?, the only child-poet to survive the Terezin Concentration camp. 

Sam Sadigursky is a busy musician, playing and recording with the likes of Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, Folklore Urbano, Tibagui, Julie Hardy and Rob Mosher's Storytime.  He's a fine, articulate, player whose sweet tone enlivens the various ensembles he plays with.  Yet, the Words Project CDs offers listeners the opportunity to hear Sadigursky the composer, arranger and orchestrator.  While there is an "art song" quality about the Projects (a style which often has a distant and impassive feel), the majority of the pieces on "..III" have emotional weight and many speak of longing or love or sadness.  The musical backdrops may be spare at times (the use of kalimba on "Rain" is a perfect touch as the hand-held African thumb piano's sound can resemble falling water) but never out of touch with the words. In this time when one can be surrounded by "talk shows" on television and radio as well as the constant jabbering of politicians and fundamentalists, these "Miniatures" pack quite a punch.

The CD will be released on January 29; for more information, go to or (where you will be able to purchase or download the CD.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Listening Pleasures

I have often praised WBGO-FM's "The Checkout", a show heard every Tuesday evening and which I download from iTunes.  Last week, they began a 2-part show honoring the 2010 NEA Jazz Masters. The show featured interviews with vocalist Annie Ross, producer George Avakian, and pianist/composers Muhal Richard Abrams (pictured) and Cedar Walton.  Each person is fascinating in her or his own right and worth your attention (click on the show name above to find out more.) This week, the spotlight turns on pianist Kenny Barron, composer/arranger Bill Holman, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, and reed master/educator Yusef Lateef. If you listen "live", you can hear the NEA Induction Ceremony following "The Checkout."

Hearing the interview led me to Cedar Walton's latest CD, "Voices Deep Within", issued late last year on the HighNote Records label.  It's a sweet set, featuring the splendid, buttery-toned bass of Buster Williams, the high-energy drum work of Willie Jones III, and, on 4 tracks, tenor saxophonist Vincent Herring.  This is mainstream jazz at its best with fine playing and creative interplay, smart compositions, and an overall aura of fun. Walton, who turns 77 this coming Sunday (1/17), sounds as if he is having the greatest time, dropping song "quotes" into his solos and playing with glee.  Even the slower tunes, such as "Dear Ruth" (which the pianist wrote for his mother) and John Coltrane's "Naima", are light-hearted yet heartfelt.  Herring, who is better known as an alto saxophonist, plays well on his appearances and shows great spunk on Sonny Rollins' "No Moe" (he follows the leader's sprightly solo with a muscular tour-de-force.)

When you gets the tag "jazz master" applied to his or her name, one might expect that the artist's better days are in the past.  Listening to the interviews on "The Checkout" and to Cedar Walton's latest recording, you know that's pretty much a crock (gosh, Avakian, who turns 91 in March, is still producing recordings and is excited about new musicians.) 

Perhaps, the best "new music" label in the few years has been Clean Feed. The label, based in Portugal, has released a high number of quality in the past half-decade and starts 2010 off with a bang with the release of "Voladores", music by Tony Malaby's Apparitions. The tenor saxophonist surrounds himself with class musicians including bassist Drew Gress, drummer Tom Rainey and percussionist John Hollenbeck (all great players.) If you want to get a taste of this fine music, go to and search for the CD (you can also click here.) I'll post my review in a few weeks but, from initial listening, this music is fiery and involving, hard-edged jazz that keeps one guessing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Piano Front & Center (Part 1)

4D - Matthew Shipp (Thirsty Ear) - There are few contemporary pianists like Matthew Shipp.  He's one of those players whose style one cannot easily pigeonhole and one who, I think, is best served in a solo setting.  I know he's made dozens of recordings in small group settings (many of them are quite good) but it's really fun to listen to him alone.

At just under an hour, "4D" should really be listened to uninterrupted. Nothing is overworked or overbaked and, depending on your mood, you'll hear new things on each listen. The title track opens the program and sets the stage.  Melodic and forceful, yet contemplative and exploratory, the piece is a guide to Shipp's probing mind.  He's been on the scene for over 2 decades and  keeps the listener off-guard and interested with his choices. Later in the program, Shipp plays several standards such as "Autumn Leaves" (a take reminiscent of Art Tatum in the way the pianist moves the rhythm along and dances through the melody) and a probing version of "Prelude to a Kiss." There's also a "deconstruction" of "Frere Jacques" and a short (:54) and sweet "What A Friend We Have in Jesus."  If these tracks (plus "Greensleeves" and "What is This Thing Called Love?") were placed upfront on the disk, one might think these are pieces that have influenced Shipp's development.  Instead, coming in the second half of the program, and the fact he's not a novice, I believe this is just the way the pianist's mind works when he sits at the keyboard. Shipp knows exactly what he is doing and the listener is free to interpret the "why?" anyway he or she wants.

Matthew Shipp is intelligent, assured and outspoken (his interview with David Adler in the January/February issue of JazzTimes is enlightening and provocative - read it here) and one can hear it in his music.  He displays no fear, no worry about his place in the jazz continuum, no making it palatable for gentle ears - drop your expectations when you come to "4D", get into Shipp's flow and the rewards are great.  For more information, go to

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

3 Hot Cups for the Cold Winter

Forty Fort - Mostly Other People Do The Killing (Hot Cup 91) - Bassist/composer Moppa Elliott began Hot Cup Records almost 9 years ago as a student at Oberlin Conservatory.  "Forty Fort" is the fourth CD by his main vehicle, MOPDTK, a quartet featuring Jon Irabagon (alto & tenor saxophones), Peter Evans (trumpet) and Kevin Shea (drums, electronics.)  The music is rousing, raucous, noisy, at times respectful, witty, and filled with tremendous interplay.  The witty part starts before you even play the music.  The cover is a recreation of the Roy Haynes "Out of the Afternoon" Lp from 1962 and the liner notes (penned by one "Leonardo Featherweight") spend much of the time discussing recreating the album cover. The music within is not a recreation of the Haynes Lp but a marvelous blend of many different musical styles.  In the first minute of the opening track, "Pen Argyl", you know this is no ordinary post-Millennium "hard bop blowing session."  From the funky bass line to Shea's drum barrage to the melody lines that scramble and shake up the listener, the overall experience is "hot."  The tempo changes on a dime, with moments that sound like Louis Armstrong Hot 5 that give way abstractions along the line of the Art Ensemble of Chicago to funky breakdowns a la Tower of Power (and that happens in the first 3 minutes of the disk.)  "Rough and Ready" has a melody line and rhythmic attack that reminds this listener of Les McCann's "Compared to What?" but, of course moves out into a hard-blowing solo section in which Evans and Irabagon smoke over Shea's rampaging drums. (Something I read compared the drummer to Gene Krupa - to my ears, he's much more like Keith Moon of The Who, able to shift gears in a instant, with great propulsion.)  There are quiet moments such as the melodic opening of "Blue Ball" but, all the while, Shea's threatening to explode beneath the sax and muted trumpet lines. There's a long abstract section in the middle including a rhythm-less flurry of notes, bowed bass and splashy cymbals that lasts until the song ends (all the while, one expects the quartet to drop back into the theme.) The title track begins in a "swing mode"and, of course, continues to evolve over 8:29 seconds.

"Forty Fort" may remind some of the "anarchist music" of the Willem Breuker Kollektief but this music can also be compared to James Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake" in that MOPDTK creates their own language out of the shards of multiple musical styles. At times breathtaking and overwhelming, exhausting and ebullient, "Forty Fort" will knock your socks off - if not, check your pulse.

Live at Saint Stephens - Charles Evans/Neil Shah (Hot Cup 92) - Baritone saxophonist Evans and pianist Shah have been friends for years and this concert displays their comfort with each other in many ways.  One can always try to create music that is a display of technical prowess but this duo wants the listeners (both in the setting of the live concert and the person who purchases the disk) to hear a conversation, a dialogue that goes in many directions and does so without artifice.  Yes, this is composed music and yes, it has moments of improvisation and yes, you do not need to classify it in any one style (jazz, classical, pop, whatever.) This is hard music to explain to the reader because it eschews classification. Longer pieces like "On Tone Yet - Parts I, II, and III" serve to show Evans' versatility on his instrument, the clarity of his high notes and the way the duo uses silence to balance the music. Shah can be quiet and economical as a accompanist and forceful when in the spotlight. "Mono Monk" is the shortest of the 6 tracks (4:34), the melody and spare piano accompaniment perhaps influenced by the jagged lines of Thelonious Monk. Nothing is rushed, the bell-like piano chords supporting the bluesy baritone exclamations.

This CD only demands that one pays attention - the creative listener will enjoy the journey.

Accomplish Jazz - Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord (Hot Cup 93) -  On this, guitarist/composer Lundbom's 3rd CD as a leader and first in over 4 years (and his debut on Hot Cup), features long-time associates Jon Irabagon and Moppa Elliott, tenor saxophonist Bryan Murray (his 2nd CD with the guitarist) and drummer Danny Fischer (making his recording debut as a member of the quintet.  The music is spacious and swinging, occasionally raucous and hard-edged with solos that push at the boundaries of the songs.  To this listener, Lundbom's guitar style sounds influenced by both Joe Morris and James "Blood" Ulmer, the former in the way he controls volume and in the movement of his phrases and the latter in the underlying blues foundation of his lines.  "Truncheon" opens the CD and, with a title like that, one might expect it to beat the listener over the head.  But, it's a bluesy shuffle with a long guitar solo that pushes the rhythm section to react in a forceful way and sets the stage for Irabagon's fiery and edgy solo that brings the piece to a close. "Phonetics" starts quietly with a short melody line for both saxophonists that splits and comes back together, then opens for Irabagon's multi-dimensional solo (most of the time over a pulsing bass line.) This time, Lundbom takes the second solo and it moves from quiet, short, phrases to jagged riffs that ring both clear and bluesy. There's a touch of Bill Frisell in the guitar lines that lead the saxophones back in to a reiteration of the opening theme.  I like how this music can be so quiet yet so intense.
The Frisell influence continues with the sweet bluesy reading of the Louvin Brothers' "The Christian Life."  Elliott and Fischer play so economically and clearly beneath the soloists, with the bassist getting a long time in the spotlight near the end of the track.
"Tick-Dog" opens with a long guitar ramble before Fischer makes it a dialogue for several more minutes, raising the intensity level.  Nearly halfway through the 10 minute piece, the rest of the band comes in and Murray blows a long, hot, tenor solo.  The final track, "Baluba, Baluba", rides in on a funky drum and bass rhythm, crisp guitar lines and saxophone lines out of a Stax recording.  Irabagon gets the first solo, flying and sputtering phrases over the hard-edged rhythm section. Then, Murray and Lundbom engage in a dialogue that starts as a good-natuured give-and-take then goes out in a blaze of glory.

Judging by the sounds emanating from this recording, Jon Lundbom and his musical posse had a great time making "Accomplish Jazz."  Listeners with a mind for adventurous music that does not necessarily stick to an obvious format should have great fun making their way through this musical playland.

For more information about these and other Hot Cup releases, go to