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


  1. Nice work, Richard. For folks who'd like to hear more from Darrell Katz and the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra, listen to Darrell's episode of The Jazz Session:

    All the best,


  2. The hidden track is Rudresh & Jack as is the alto drum duo bonus track.