Friday, December 30, 2011

Chuck Obuchowski's 2011 Favorites

I invited Chuck Obuchowski, Jazz Music Director at WWUH-91.3 FM and writer for the Hartford Courant, to post his Favorite CDs of 2011.  What follows is a somewhat altered version of the article that will appear in the January 2012WWUH Program Guide. (I'll be joining Chuck on the radio Tuesday January 3 2012 from 9 a.m. - 12 noon and we'll play selections from our "Best-of..." and/or "Favorites" lists.) 

Friends often complain to me that they have a tough time finding new music which really wows them. They suggest that the current jazz scene needs more star power: after all, where are the Armstrongs, the Ellingtons, the Monks and the Coltranes of this generation?

While it may be true that no bona fide jazz musician – save perhaps Wynton Marsalis – has attained household-name status lately, there are still many exceptional improvising artists around, and – I would argue – a decent number of noteworthy jazz recordings continue to be issued every year. Looking back on my 2011 Tuesday Morning Jazz play lists, I identified over 50 contenders for inclusion on my “top 10 list.”

I prefer to call them my “10 favorites,” but everybody else insists on using the “10 best” prefix with such lists … call ‘em whatever you wish, but – if you like online samples of any of these albums – please purchase the music; musicians need to eat, too.

At WWUH, we still receive a plethora of new jazz discs every year, even though it seems every few months some “expert” predicts the imminent demise of the compact disc. While I applaud the resourcefulness of independent artists, a lot more mediocre music finds its way onto disc these days without anyone around to offer quality control. So it can be daunting to slog through lots of so-so recordings in search of a few gems.

Hopefully, you’ll discover something gem-like in at least a few of the releases I’ve selected here; great music has the power to transcend time and space if we allow ourselves to fall under its spell.

Please note that I have listed these releases in alphabetical order according to the artists’ surnames; they are not ranked in order of preference.

The New Gary Burton Quartet – Common Ground (Mack Avenue Records)

Vibraphonist Burton, who will be 69 years old on January 23, is still making vital music, as this album attests. His four mallets dance effortlessly across the keys of his instrument, as he and three highly skilled composer-improvisers take the listener on a sensual sonic sojourn.

Julian Lage, who first joined forces with Burton while a student at Berklee, shares the leader’s gift for lyricism. He provides many of the album’s most compelling solos on his distinctive archtop semi-acoustic guitar. Listen to his ebullient exchanges with Burton during “Did You Get It?,” written by drummer Antonio Sanchez. Sanchez has worked extensively with Pat Metheny, who – like Lage – earned accolades as a member of the vibist’s band while still a teenager. 
Here's a track from the CD courtesy of Mack Avenue & IODA Promonet:
Was It So Long Ago? (mp3)

Joseph Daley Earth Tones Ensemble – The Seven Deadly Sins (JARO)

This is certainly one of the most ambitious jazz projects to be released in 2011. Fronting a band of nearly 30 musicians, Daley conducts a suite he composed based on the seven deadly sins. The work was specifically inspired by paintings by Wade Schuman which portray each of the infamous transgressions as animals; prints of these paintings are included in the CD package, which also contains a DVD of the recording sessions.

Astoundingly, this is the 62-year-old tuba player’s first release as a leader, although Daley has worked with everyone from Lionel Hampton to Cecil Taylor during his busy career. The music here is bold and brassy – with multiple trumpets, trombones, tubas and French horns – plus five percussionists. Saxophones, piano and vibraphone also add to the tonal palette.

Daley performed with Connecticut-based trumpeter Stephen Haynes in his Paradigm Shift brass ensemble during the 1990s. The group’s sole recording was culled from a performance at Real Art Ways in Hartford.

Tim Horner – The Places We Feel Free (Miles High Records)

Like Joseph Daley, Horner has made a name for himself as a first-rate sideman, working for many years with outstanding jazz composers like Maria Schneider and Rufus Reid. He credits them with encouraging him to step forward as a leader and composer at last.

The results are delightful; not only has the drummer written 10 fascinating tunes, some inspired by his world travels, but he’s also assembled an excellent team to interpret them. Horner employs seven musicians in all, in various combinations on each track. It’s tough to single out any one soloist, but guitarist John Hart, trumpeter Ron Horton and keyboardist Jim Ridl offer especially engaging improvisations.

Ben Kono – Crossing (19/8 Records)

Kono’s music is panoramic in scope, ranging from the lovely flute-and-reed chorale that introduces this disc’s title track to the Asian-flavored fusion of “Rice” – from the fiery tenor sax and guitar solos on “Tennis” to the carefully crafted 12-tone abstractions which highlight “Celestial Birch.”

The Vermont native and former U.S. Army Jazz Ambassador plays eight horns on this, his debut CD. In addition to typical jazz axes like saxophone and flute, Kono provides more unusual aural textures on oboe, English horn and shakuhachi.

His terrific ensemble includes drummer John Hollenbeck, guitarist Pete McCann and bassist John Hebert. All five accompanists seem perfectly suited to bringing Kono’s distinctive compositions to life.

Peter McEachern Quintet – Shockwave (self released)

What a joy that Connecticut trombonist McEachern took it upon himself last year to finally bring this amazing music – recorded in 1994 – to the public’s attention. It finds him in the company of two longtime colleagues: bassist Mario Pavone and multi-reedman Thomas Chapin, both operating at the height of their powers.

Plans to have the album released back then on Knitting Factory Works fell through when the label began having financial problems, and McEachern shelved the project after Manchester native Chapin was diagnosed with acute leukemia.

The quintet featured here only worked together a few times, but all had performed with the trombonist before, including trumpeter Jamie Finegan and drummer Steve Johns. McEachern’s compositions are highlighted, yet everyone but Johns contributed at least one tune. The improvising is uniformly inspired throughout; fans of Pavone’s and Chapin’s edgy-but-swinging work will rejoice in hearing this lost treasure for the first time. It’s also worth noting that these sessions marked Chapin’s debut on baritone saxophone, but he plays with the authority and daring he brought to every one of his chosen instruments.

Brad Mehldau – Live in Marciac (Nonesuch)

The onetime West Hartford resident continues to hone his impressive ability to blur distinctions between musical genres: seamlessly shifting from classical precision to the jangly discord of Kurt Cobain’s “Lithium,” heard in medley with 1970s singer/songwriter Nick Drake’s hypnotic “Things Behind the Sun.”

It’s all here – along with much more – on this two-disc document of a 2006 solo recital in France (A 10-song DVD from the concert is also included in the package.) Despite his staggering virtuosity, Mehldau never forgets the importance of conveying a range of emotions to his audience. There are solemn ballads (“Goodbye Storyteller”) and carefree romps (the Lennon/McCartney trifle “Martha My Dear”), even the occasional jazz standard (“Dat Dere”).

Mehldau’s solo performance at the Garde Arts Center in New London last February preceded the release of this album by just two days. That event was one of the concert highlights of my year. There, he strayed even further from the usual jazz repertoire, including a 20-minute rendition of Massive Attack’s “Tear” and a poignant cover of an old Neil Young song.

Marcus Shelby Orchestra – Soul of the Movement (Porto Franco)

The San Francisco bassist has subtitled his big band’s latest recording “Meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” The music combines striking arrangements of spirituals, “We Shall Overcome” and Shelby originals to create a vivid musical portrait of the life and times of the famed civil rights leader.

Faye Carol and Kenny Washington bolster the instrumentalists’ contributions with their dramatically delivered lyrics and swinging scat vocals. Shelby also includes potent interpretations of appropriate material by Charles Mingus and Curtis Mayfield to flesh out Dr. King’s story.
Here's one of the great original tracks from the CD, courtesy of Porto Franco Records & IODA Promonet:
Black Cab (mp3)

Jack Wilkins – The Blue & Green Project (Summit Records)

It’s a safe bet that this disc features the first jazz piece to incorporate a “field recording” of two master blacksmiths at work. “Song of the Anvil” uses their clanging interplay as the basis for its mesmerizing rhythms.

But “The Blue & Green Project” is no mere novelty record. Rather it’s a collection of eclectic musical stories “inspired by Appalachian Mountain culture and environment.” Each weds elements of jazz with American roots music ranging from gospel to bluegrass. Saxophonist Jack Wilkins (not to be confused with the guitarist of the same name) also translates his impressions of the region’s geography into pieces like “Mountain Watercolors” and “River Run.”

Wilkins, Director of Jazz Studies at The University of South Florida, coaxes an astonishing array of moods and improvisations from his large ensemble. Guitarist Corey Christiansen rocks out one moment, and violinist Sara Caswell glides sweetly along the mountaintops the next. Drummer Danny Gottlieb keeps everyone in line with his surefire drumming, but the bandleader deserves the most credit for shaping these diverse elements into a coherent whole.

Dr. Michael White – Adventures in New Orleans Jazz Part 1 (Basin Street)

This one gets my vote for “fun album of the year.” If you don’t find yourself tapping along to some of the euphoric rhythms on this disc, it may be time to have your hearing examined.

Clarinetist White has assembled a dynamic cast of Crescent City players to present a musical adventure that takes the listener on a journey through the African Diaspora, including stops in Jamaica and Haiti – as well as visits to back porches and black churches in the Deep South.

He gives the Bob Marley classic “One Love” a trad jazz twist, and similarly imbues the music of South African songstress Miriam Makeba with a N’orleans vibe. Elsewhere there are charming vocals and a blues-drenched duet with banjo on “House of the Rising Sun.” White’s newest endeavor reminds us that, even in the 21st century, New Orleans remains an indispensible musical melting pot.

Various Artists (produced & arranged by Bob Belden) – Miles EspaƱol (E One)

Talk about ambitious projects! Bob Belden invited some of today’s most broad-minded improvisers to explore the history and influence of Spanish and Gypsy musics as they relate to jazz. A longtime Miles Davis aficionado, Belden used elements of the renowned Davis/Gil Evans collaboration “Sketches of Spain” as a springboard for these explorations.

This album begins – as did the 1960 Davis/Evans classic – with an enticing version of Joaquim Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.” More exotic instrumentation is employed, however – with gorgeous contributions from harp, oud, bassoon and percussion.

Many of the musicians who perform on this two-CD set have opted to contribute their own compositions based on the aforementioned concepts. This results in a blend of folk forms and inspired jazz improvisations by an impressive roster of talent. Some of the names you just might recognize: Chick Corea, Ron Carter, John Scofield, Sonny Fortune and Jack DeJohnette.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Two Creative Voices Silenced

Adrienne Cooper died on Sunday December 25at the age of 65 and in the prime of his creative career. Arguably the finest interpreter of Yiddish music of her generation, Ms. Cooper had worked with numerous groups including Kapeleye, the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, the Klezmatics and Mikveh.  I had the honor of presenting Mikveh in concert at out local synagogue here in Middletown.  That ensemble, an all-star and all female group, lit up the night with the splendid musicianship but Ms. Cooper's forceful vocals and formidable stage presence was the highlight of the evening.

Along with pianist Zalman Mlotek, she created "Ghetto Tango: Wartime Yiddish Theater", a fascinating collection of songs from shows written in the ghettoes of Eastern Europe during World War II. She also co-wrote (with Jenny Romaine and Frank London) "The Memoirs Gluckl of Hameln", presented to acclaim in New York at the legendary La Mama Annex. Her most recent CD, "Enchanted: A New Generation of Yiddish Song" (Golden Horn Records), is a varied and wondrous collection of songs, ranging from songs from "..Gluckl.." to traditional pieces to sound collages. 

In addition to her performing career, Adrienne Cooper served as the Workman’s Circle’s external affairs officer for cultural programming, and had worked previously as the assistant director of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. She won several prestigious awards including Jews for Racial and Economic Justice’s Risk Taker Award.

Adrienne Cooper sang with heart, emotion, fortitude and with great joy.  She will be greatly missed. For more information about her life and music, go to

Saxophonist, composer, arranger and educator Sam Rivers passed away on Monday December 26 at the ago of 88.  His career spanned 6 decades but his rise to critical notice came in the early 1960s when he began performing with the young drummer Tony Williams. It was Williams, who joined Miles Davis classic mid-60s Quintet in 1964 (at the age of 17!) who recommended Rivers for the tenor saxophone role in the group.  He lasted for just a few months before Davis replaced with Wayne Shorter.  That did not curtail Rivers' career - he signed with Blue Note Records and released 4 Lps while playing as a sideman on numerous sessions.  In 1970, Rivers and his wife Beatrice (who died in 2005) opened Studio Rivbea in New York City and the performance space became the "hot spot" for the "new" music that grew out of the revolutionary sounds of John Coltrane and Chicago's AACM.  Rivers recorded a slew of sessions for Impulse Records and a number of smaller labels, including a series of duets with bassist Dave Holland on the Improvising Artists label.  He shared the front line with fellow reed player Anthony Braxton on Holland's wonderful 1973 ECM recording "Conference of the Birds."

Rivers also fronted the Studio Rivbea Orchestra culminating in a pair of strong recordings for RCA Victor (the last "major" label to release his music.)  In 1995, he created a masterful solo performance for the "Workshop Freie Musik" in Berlin, Germany - the FMP label issued 9 of the solo pieces as "Portrait: Sam Rivers" in 1997.After moving to Florida, he formed a trio with bassist Doug Mathews and percussionist (and tenor saxophonist) Anthony Cole, creating intense music and touring throughout the country.  The Trio worked closely with Steven Bernstein on his 2002 Tzadik release, "Disapora Blues", the trumpeter's imaginative rearrangements of Jewish cantorial melodies.

Over the last decade, Rivers appeared on CDs with NOJO (the Neufield-Occipinti Jazz Orchestra from Canada), on pianist Jason Moran's "Black Fire", and in a trio setting with percussionists Adam Rudolph and Harris Eisenstadt.

Sam Rivers did not rest on his laurels.  He was a "forward" thinker when it came to his music but did not shy away from working with anyone (he played in several ensembles led by Dizzy Gillespie for 4 years.) He could play "in", "out", through-composed music, totally improvised pieces, in solo settings, trio, big band - Sam Rivers made music and, over the years, influenced many people.  Not only musically but with his sense of business and independence.  For more information about his life and work, go to

Sunday, December 25, 2011

...And One More For The Road

The joy of having a blog is that one can correct his mistakes - the flipside of that statement is that I make too many mistakes (all the more as I approach "alter kocker" status - look it up.)

In my previous post ("Rest of Best Of.."), I inadvertently omitted the splendid "Goldberg Variations/Variations" recording of pianist Dan Tepfer (Sunnyside). And, in my haste to complete the list before 2012, I left out a section of favorites that fall, for me, in the category of "Uncategorizable."  In June, I reviewed "Interstitials", the latest release by composer/vocalist/guitarist Joshua Stamper. Returning to the music over the past week, it still sounds fresh and refreshing; the blend of voices, guitars, low brass and woodwinds makes me smile, replacing the chill of the outside world with the joy of creation. My review (click here) still contains a link to the music.

"Flickers of Mime/Death of Memes", the latest "solo" creation of Alexander Berne & The Abandoned Orchestra (Innova Recordings) is filled with sounds that are wonderfully strange and familiar at the same time.  Berne's music is a mysterious world of sounds from many different sources, including instruments of his own making.  Like many other composers whose work is considered "out" (such as Roscoe Mitchell, Terry Riley, John Cage), the listener has to jettison preconceived notions of what music "should be" and revel in composer's sonic world.  Yes, easier writ than done but...  For more information and a fascinating visual experience, go to

There are numerous examples of musicians who came of age in the 1960s who still perform their "hits" on a regular basis - because they are in the "music business", many of them plow the same fields that gave them their fame.

Paul Simon will still perform his "big hits" but he is no nostalgia act.  He continues to write, record and go on tour, all the while continuing to experiment. Some work, some don't, but his music stays pliant and current.  "So Beautiful or So What" (Hear Music) shines, plain and simple.  Make of the lyrics what you will but this music, a wondrous amalgam of guitars, drums, blues and world music influences, is often exhilarating.

Darcy James Argue has added his voice (and the words of others) to the tributes for Bob Brookmeyer. Argue blends his heartfelt words with reflections from others who have been touched by the music and teachings of this man whose career spanned 6 decades and whose influence on large ensemble music can be compared to that of Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington. Go to to read the entire piece. 

Musician, yogi and teacher Pat Donaher also writes a lovely tribute to Mr. Brookmeyer - go to to read his fine words.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Rest of Best of 2011 + Recap

The Holiday Season is a swirl of activities, new beginnings and endings, so much to do.  I'd like to be a bit more expansive in this final part of the list but life, in its glorious mash of good and bad, is in the way.

Therefore, here's a "shout-out!" to more of the most exciting music from the past 12 months (including several "smoking" live shows.

 So Percussion - Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, and Jason Treuting - has been a creative unit  since its inception 12 years ago at the Yale School of Music.  Over that span, they recorded music by Steve Reich (this year, they perform his "Mallet Quartet" on the "WTC 9/11" CD), Paul Lansky, David Lang, Bjork and many others.  In 2011, they released  Steven Mackey's "It Is Time" , Lansky's "Threads", Yale Professor of Composition Martin Bresnick's "Caprichos Enfaticos" ( a collaboration with pianist Lisa Moore (all issued by Canteloupe Music), and "Bad Mangos" a collaboration with trumpeter Dave Douglas issued on his Greenleaf Music label. If I had to pick one to recommend over the others, I'd say "it depends on the day."  Each program is absorbing and challenging, especially if you pay attention.  So Percussion does not create background music, they change the world around you. For more information, go to

Several piano trios caught my ear this year.  Jean-Michel Pilc-Francois Moutin-Ari Hoenig released "Threedom" (Motema Music), a series of in-studio improvisations that revolve around the musicians' magical interactions.  Cuban-born pianist Fabian Almazan issued his debut CD, "Personalities" Biophilia Records), utilizing the talents of bassist Linda Oh and drummer Henry Cole to create music that shimmers and soars.  The Trio (with Kendrick Scott sitting in for Cole) opened the Fall 2011 Concert Series at Firehouse 12 in New Haven and shone brightly.  Posi-Tone Records issued a slew of fine CDs this year including "Noble Path" by Art Hirahira and "Freedom" by Orrin Evans.

The saxophone, bass and drum ensemble known as Honey Ear Trio (Erik Lawrence, Rene Hart and Allison Miller) issued its debut CD, "Steampunk Serenade" (Foxhaven Records) while pianist Joan Stiles got together with drummer Matt Wilson and saxophonist Joel Frahm to produce the joyous "Three Musicians" (Oo-Bla-Dee Records). FAB Trio (bassist Joe Fonda, drummer Barry Altschul and violinist Billy Bang) created "History of Jazz in Reverse" (TUM Records), arguably its best recording and sadly issued just after Bang's passing.

BJU Records also issued "Mulberry Street", the delightful and pleasingly detailed big band recording by trombonist/composer Jeff Fairbanks' Project Hansori.  Featuring (among others) the hearty baritone saxophone work of Fred Ho, the music reflects the myriad influences the composer hears on the street where he resides plus what he has encountered in his relationship with his wife, cellist Heun Choi Fairbanks (a native of South Korea.) One other large ensemble, bassist/composer Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra makes the list with its expansive and highly musical "Cordoba" (ZOHO). 

Drummer John Hollenbeck continues to mature as composer, arranger and musician. This year, his Claudia Quintet released "What Is The Beautiful" (Cunieform Records), a collection of songs paired with the poems of Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972). The CQ - Hollenbeck, Chris Speed (reeds), Ted Reichman (accordion), Matt Moran (vibraphone) and Drew Gress (bass) - expands to include pianist Matt Mitchell as well as the voices of Kurt Elling and Theo Bleckmann. This is one of those recordings that each time I play it, something new is revealed either in the words or music that frames the poems.

Hollenbeck, a student of the late Bob Brookmeyer (as well as a frequent collaborator), also wrote a touching elegy for his teacher and mentor - you can (and should) read it by going to

Earlier this year, I wrote about journalist/pianist/composer Peter Hum's excellent CD "A Boy's Life" (self-released). It remains a favorite as does "Across the Sky", a sparkling CD from bassist John Geggie's Trio plus saxophonist Donny McCaslin.  And, although the music was recorded in 2009, "MY Duo - Andrew McCormack & Jason Yarde (Joy and Ears) was a pleasing find this year.

Finally, I had the good fortune to attend a number of excellent concerts this year including the Charles Lloyd Quartet (Wesleyan), Janus Trio (East Haddam Congregational Church), and a slew at Firehouse 12 in New Haven. One of the most exciting was Jeff Lederer's Sunwatcher, his quartet with Matt Wilson, Jamie Saft and Avery Sharpe - my, o my, there was spirit in abundance on that evening. Most recently, I was knocked out by the wonderful melodicism, interplay and fire of Harris Eisenstadt's Canada Day.  The band's second CD (issued this year on Songlines ) is really strong but the quintet's live show was transcendent.

Here's the recap of the recordings that made this (expansive) list:
David Binney - "Barefoot Town" (Criss Cross)
Ernesto Cervini Quartet - "There" (Anzic)
Marcus Shelby Orchestra - "Soul of the Movement" (Porto Franco Records)
Dan Tepfer - "Goldberg Variations/Variations" (Sunnyside)
Ben Kono - "Crossing" (Nineteen-Eight)
Captain Black Big Band - self-titled (Posi-Tone Records)
Fred Hersch - "Alone at The Vanguard" (Palmetto Records)
Miguel Zenon - "Alma Aldentro" (Marsalis Music)
Arturo O'Farrill & the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra -  "40 Acres and a Burro" (ZOHO)
Tom Harrell Quintet - "The Time of the Sun" (HighNote Records)
Chris Dingman - "Waking Dreams" (self-released)
Noah Baerman - "Know Thyself" (Lemel Records)
Noah Preminger - "Before the Rain" (Palmetto)
Alexis Cuadrado - "Noneto Iberico" (BJU Records)
Jeff Fairbanks' Project Hansori - "Mulberry Street" (BJU Records)
Jean-Michel Pilc, Francois Moutin & Ari Hoenig - "Threedom" (Motema Music)
Honey Ear Trio - "Steampunk Serenade" (Foxhaven Records)
FAB Trio - "History of Jazz in Reverse" (TUM Records)
So Percussion -  "It Is Time" (Canteloupe) + "Caprichos Enfaticos" (with Lisa Moore, also on Canteloupe) + "Bad Mangos" (with Dave Douglas, on Greenleaf)
Peter Hum Quintet - "A Boy's Journey" (self-released)
Geggie Trio + Donny McCaslin - "Across The Sky" (Plunge)
Andrew McCormack + Jason Yarde - "My Duo" (Joy and Ears)
Claudia Quintet - "What Is the Beautiful" (Cunieform)

Have a happy and safe Holiday Season - here's to a peaceful and creative 2012!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

More on Bob Brookmeyer

In the rush to get  my previous post on Bob Brookmeyer completed, I forgot to mention the influence the arranger/composer had on the life and work of Darcy James Argue.  When you listen to the debut CD of DJA's Secret Society, "Infernal Machines" (New Amsterdam), one can hear brass sweeps, long sections of melodic development and just how important a strong drummer (in this case, Jon Wikan) is in the music of a larger ensemble. And you can trace that style back to Bob Brookmeyer.  Like most smart, creative, and hard-working composer/arrangers. Argue adds other influences to the mix to make the music his own.  Go to and read what Mr. Argue has to say about his mentor and friend.

Then, go take a look at what 26-year old Nicholas Urie (click here) has to say about Mr. Brookmeyer.  A teacher, an elder statesman, a friend, a mentor, Bob Brookmeyer, through his life's work, set an example that not only resonates through his music but now courses through the creations of his students and admirers. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mr. Bob Brookmeyer - Spirit Dance Indeed

I had the post planned out in advance.  This coming Monday (December 19), I would wish the composer-arranger-valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer a Happy 82nd Birthday with a sparkling review of his new CD, "Standards" (Artist Share), recorded with his most constant ensemble of the last 15 years, the New Art Orchestra, and guest vocalist Fay Claassen

Instead, this post is 3 days before his birthday and written the day after Bob Brookmeyer died.  There will be plenty of deserving tributes for this man who had a most wonderful talent to write handsome melodies, unique arrangements, and could play with humor.  Oddly, his passing comes at the same time as the writer and political & cultural correspondent Christopher Hitchens.  Although the politics of the 2 men were diametrically opposed (Brookmeyer strongly opposed the Iraq War and it's another odd coincidence that the US involvement in that country - a deployment Hitchens greatly supported - is now history.)   Both men wrote with great passion and disregard for the feelings of those who disagreed with them.  And, both deplored complacency, an attitude that has been in abundance for the longest time.

Bob Brookemeyer leaves behind a legacy of 50+ years of fine recordings (his work in the 1950s and 60s with Jimmy Guiffre and the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band) and splendid compositions and arrangements for the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band.  He co-led a Quintet with trumpeter Clark Terry in the 1960s and recorded a 2-piano date with Bill Evans. After Thad Jones left the US to work overseas, Brookmeyer became musical director of the Mel Lewis Orchestra (the band's 1982 classic, "Make Me Smile", is woefully not available on CD).  He also recorded a duo set with Jim Hall,
recorded in smaller group settings (one quite memorable one with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and never shied away from experimentation.  Yet, his output with the New Art Orchestra supplied with a vast canvas and he painted so many memorable musical portraits with that ensemble ("Waltzing With Zoe", "Elegy", the entire "Spirit Music" CD) - on the new CD, the opening section of "I Get A Kick Out Of You" channels Aaron Copland, Erik Satie, and Nino Rota without sounding like any of them. 

He also leaves behind a slew of disciples and students ranging from Maria Schneider (who sent out the initial announcement of his passing) to John Hollenbeck (who Brookmeyer installed as the drummer in the NAO) to Ayn Inserto to Ed Partyka to Nicholas Urie and many more.  Ms. Schneider was also the driving force behind the new CD, making the initial suggestion and writing the expansive liner notes.

As I wrote above, in the next few days and weeks, there will be plenty of tributes.  Start here with Terry Teachout, move on to Peter Hum (who has a fine knack of getting quotes from musicians - click here) and then take the time to read this excellent 2009 interview on Marc Myers' JazzWax website (click here for Part 1). Such a great talent - we are so lucky to have so many examples of his music to get lost in.  Losing Bob Brookmeyer and Paul Motian is the space of 3 weeks is quite shocking but that's one of the mysteries of life.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

More of Best Of 2011 (Including Local Folks)

25-year old Noah Preminger grew up in the Hartford, CT, area and studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Since arriving in New York City, he's played with a slew of great musicians including Frank Kimbrough, Fred Hersch, Dave Liebman and Dave Douglas.  For his second CD as a leader, "Before the Rain" (Palmetto Records), he once again called upon pianist Kimbrough while added bassist John Hebert and drummer Matt Wilson.  This is not your typical sophomore attempt.  Preminger rarely if ever overplays and his compositions offer much space for Hebert's counter-melodies, Wilson's expansive percussion and Kimbrough's impressionistic piano. Several of the pieces are informed by Ornette Coleman (the quartet plays Coleman's "Toy Dance" from his Blue Note Lp, "New York Is Now"). Preminger often displays a light tone, playing high in the tenor range but, like Charles Lloyd, he does not squall or scream.  This music is timeless, this music is contemporary and my desire to hear the entire program has not waned over the year since its release.

I admit to a soft spot in my heart for pianist/composer Noah Baerman's "Know Thyself" (Lemel) - I've known Mr. B for over a decade and was in the audience at Wesleyan University (where he directs the Jazz Ensemble) when the piece was premiered in 2009.  The 65-minute work, broken into 13 parts for the recording, is a story in sound featuring musicians who are long-time friends and associates.  Wayne Escoffery (tenor and soprano saxophones), Amanda Monaco (guitar) and Baerman met in their teens and have played together in various formations for over 2 decades while bassist Henry Lugo and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza have been the nucleus of his Trio for the past 7 years.  Also in the mix are Erica von Kleist (alto saxophone, flute) and Chris Dingman (vibraphone).  The music covers a wide swath of stylistic territory, from gospel to blues to pop influences to straight-ahead hard-bop - it's filled with great emotion, at times gentle, yet Sperrazza can be a firebrand and both Escoffery and Baerman create powerful statements near the end of the work.  This is music to contemplate and celebrate.  For more information, go to

Dingman issued his debut CD this year and "Waking Dreams" (Between Worlds Music) is stunning.  The Wesleyan graduate, who was turned on to the vibraphone by Wesleyan Professor Jay Hoggard, wrote this extended suite (he does not call it that but there is a sonic thread that is woven throughout the program) for a group that features Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Loren Stillman (saxophones), Fabian Almazan (piano) and the superb rhythm section of Joe Sanders (bass) and Justin Brown (drums).  One of the 14 pieces, "Manhattan Bridge", is truly one of the loveliest songs you'll ever hear.  Akinmusire, whose Blue Note debut CD I have yet to hear in its entirety, plays so gracefully as does Almazan  and, with the bass and drums creating a rich bottom, this music is gets inside you and does not let go.  To find out more, go to

Dingman also appears on drummer Harris Eisenstadt's "Canada Day 2" (Songlines Records), a recordingripe with possibilities which one can really hear when you see the band live.  The CD is quite good but the current lineup (also including original members saxophonist Matt Bauder and trumpeter Nate Wooley plus newcomer bassist Garth Stevenson) really shine.

Other 2011 faves include the delightful "Noneto Iberico" (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records), yet another suite of tunes that celebrate composer and bassist Alexis Cuadrado's Catalan upbringing. Infectious dance shares the musical stage with soft ballads, performed by a wonderful nonet including saxophonists Perico Sambeat and Loren Stillman, pianist Dan Tepfer, trumpeter Avishai Cohen, trombonist Alan Ferber, his brother Mark on drums, guitarist Brad Shepik and percussionist Marc Miralta (4 of the 8 tracks feature a Flamenco "handclap" trio).  I love the way this music flows and how the musicians inhabit these with their talent and their soul. It's hard to sit still during the moments when this music hits the groove.  To find out more, go to

Other fine BJU releases this year include the Rob Garcia 4 "The Drop and The Ocean" (also featuring pianist Tepfer) and bassist Anne Mette Iverson Quartet "Milo Songs."

In the final installment of the "Best of 2011" will be a nod to "Mulberry Street", the sweeping new big band sounds of Jeff Fairbanks Project Hansori (also on BJU), plus a look at the incredible streak of fine releases by So Percussion, several fine piano CDs by people mentioned above, and a tribute to an American poet by one of the more impressive musician/composers on the planet.

In the meantime, I leave you with a piece from the Rob Garcia 4:
The Return (mp3)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Seasons Come and They Go

Trumpeter Russ Johnson possesses a wonderful clear tone, at times quite classical, yet plays with wit and invention that defies categorization.  He has had (and still has) a slew of sideman gigs, ranging from Lee Konitz's New Nonet to violinist Jenny Scheinman to bassist Michael Bates and on to Michael Buble and Elvis Costello.  He has co-led the Other Quartet (with saxophonist Ohad Talmor), worked in a duo setting with pianist Mick Rossi, and teaches in a number of different schools.

He is also the leader of Out To Lunch, a quintet that takes its name and part of its repertoire from the classic 1964 Blue Note Lp created by reedman Eric Dolphy. That recording featured the explosive trumpet of Freddie Hubbard, the expansive vibraphone work of Bobby Hutcherson and the stunning rhythm section of Richard Davis (bass) and 18-year old Tony Williams (drums). Johnson's bandmates are also excellent musicians; they include Myra Melford (piano), Roy Nathanson (alto saxophone), Brad Jones (bass) and the ever-inventive George Schuller (drums).  Schuller's father, the esteemed composer and educator Gunther, contributed several pieces that he has composed for Dolphy to Johnson's project.

Expect an evening of music that will go in many directions, challenging yet exciting the listener at every turn.  Out To Lunch plays 2 sets, 8:30 and 10 p.m. and you can get tickets and more information by going to or calling 203-785-0468.

Guitarist Julian Lage, seen here in a 2010 photo by Ken Francking, has assembled a special trio to play New Year's Eve in Boston, Massachusetts, and he's playing the night before (Friday 12/30) at Firehouse 12.  Joining the fine young musician will be bassist Larry Grenadier (Brad Mehldau Trio, FLY) and drummer Eric Harland (Charles Lloyd, SF Jazz Collective). Lage continues to impress as a guitarist and his compositional skills are growing exponentially (consider the fact that he is but 23 years old!)

The music starts at 8 p.m. and there are tickets still available but going quickly. Go to the website or call the number above to join in on the fun.

On Wednesday January 25 2012, Firehouse 12 presents Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers, the guitarist's trio with Eyvind Kang (viola) and Rudy Royston (drums).   The band's repertoire consists of Frisell's imaginative arrangements of standard and classic American music as well as his own unique compositions.  The Dreamers have been making music together since early 1990s and played in the New Haven venue in February of 2010.  I can make several promises about this show;  1) - the music will be wonderful and 2) - the 2 sets (8:30 and 10 p.m.) will be sold out very quickly.  So, go to or call 203-785-0468 and make your reservations. 

Kudos to Nick Lloyd and the staff at the Firehouse for another impressive season of music.  They continue to bless the area with musicians that create work deserving to be heard in such an impressive sound environment.  Honestly, I can't wait to see and hear what 2012 has in store for Firehouse 12.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

O Canada Day!

Had the great joy of seeing and hearing Canada Day, the quintet led by drummer-composer Harris Eisenstadt, at Firehouse 12 earlier tonight.  I have the pleasure of attending a number of concerts at the New Haven venue, listened to a slew of excellent musicians, and the 2 sets I heard from this group were among the most consistent and original that i can recall. (In my notebook, I renamed them "4 Beards and Matt Bauder" - with the addition of bassist Garth Stevenson, only the saxophonist is clean-shaven.  The leader, the bassist, trumpeter Nate Wooley and vibraphonist Chris Dingman all have beards - I digress.)

The 2 CDs the band has released, the first on Clean Feed and the second on Songlines, are quite good but, in person, the band really shines.  Eisenstadt arranges the pieces so that there are concise sections of thematic development, often with the main theme shared among the musicians on the front line.  There are phrases played behind many of the solos, sometimes tempos shift, voices drop out; the textures are rich and varied, the rhythms often thrilling and the band shows great sensitivity in the quieter moments.  Wooley's solos are often rough-edged yet he also has a softer side.  Bauder's notes in the higher ranges of his tenor saxophone had sweetness yet he, too, had fiery moments.  Dingman's vibes added color, sustained chords and phrases that ranged from clean, single-note runs to distorted textures.  Stevenson, a new name to me, played with great authority - his "bow" work was rich as well as rhythmical.  Through it all, Eisenstadt created wonderful torrents of percussion, egging on the band slamming on the 4/4, and keeping the tempos alive and lively (his brush was just as impressive.)  But, to my ears, the best part of Canada Day's music is that every song sounded fresh and original - I could not pick out any obvious influences. I'm sure the drummer might point some out but I just sat back and soaked it all in.

I recommend you go to and find out when the quintet is playing in a venue near you.  If you love music that will surprise you with its wit, intelligence, strength and rhythmic variety, go celebrate the work  and play Canada Day (and not just on July 1 - look it up.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Best of 2011 (Part 1)

Going back through the past 12 months, there have a number of mighty impressive CDs that have caught my attention.  So, in no particular order (and, of course, in 2 parts), here's my choices for music you should pay attention to.

 Saxophonist-composer David Binney released 2 CDs as a leader this year and both are excellent.  He issued the expansive "Graylen Epicenter" on his Mythology label and it's chock-full of ideas, smart arrangements, handsome melodies and strong solos.  At the moment, I'm leaning more towards "Barefooted Town", a quintet session recorded in 1 day and issued on Criss Cross.  Like the 4 other releases Binney has led or co-led for Gerry Teekens label (based in Holland), this is no jam session.  Binney always approaches a recording knowing how he wants it to sound and with material suited for his musical cohorts. Here he shares the front line with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire (whose own CD will appear on many "Best Of" lists) and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner with the rhythm section of David Virelles (piano), Eivind Opsvik (bass) and the delightful drummer Dan Weiss (both Opsvik and Weiss appear on "Graylen Epicenter").  Several of the tunes feature the combination of saxophones and trumpet playing the melody in unison, with solos that grow for the handsome themes.  Akinmusire plays with great intensity without overblowing.  Both Turner and Binney are fine soloists who know how to construct a solo that captures the ear and mind.  As for Weiss and Opsvik, both bring so much maturity and emotion to the music while Virelles is an intelligent accomanpist and spirited soloist.  "Once When She Was Here", the track that closes the CD, is one of the prettiest ballads of this or any year.

Drummer Ernesto Cervini leads a smashing quartet on "There" (Anzic Records) with Joel Frahm (saxophones), Adrean Farrugia (piano) and Dan Loomis (bass).  Recorded live over 2 evenings at Cory Weeds' Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver, British Columbia, the interplay of the musicians and the strong material makes this such a great listening experience.  Frahm and Farrugia are splendid together, dropping quotes in the midst of snappy solos, while the rhythm section eggs them right along.  The sound quality is excellent - it feels like you're at a table close to the bandstand.  You can just feel these musicians are having a great time.  The ECQ's take on the standard "Secret Love" should win you over.

Bassist-composer Marcus Shelby celebrates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on "Soul of the Movement", issued in January of 2011 on Porto Franco Records.  Blending gospel, blues, r'n'b, Ellington-style arrangements and 3 fine vocalists, Shelby teaches a new generation a lesson in the history of Civil Rights in Memphis, Tennessee, without beating the listener over the head.  The packaging is excellent, the sound quality quite good and the musicians as well as the vocalists are top-notch.  Some intelligent person or foundation should send the Marcus Shelby Orchestra on the road with this program, a reminder to be ever vigilant and true to your convictions.

 The first time I listened to "Crossing" (Nineteen-Eight), the debut CD by multi-reed player Ben Kono, the music stopped me cold.  Not only does Kono play a slew of instruments (oboe, english horn, flute, alto flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone and shakuhachi), his compositions and arrangements are strikingly good.  Supported by the rhythm section of John Hollenbeck (drums) and John Hebert (bass) plus the fine keyboard work of Henry Hey and soaring electric guitar of Pete McCann (his acoustic work is also excellent), Kono creates an aural auto-biography that is as moving as it is musical.  His wife, Heather Laws, adds vocals and french horn to several tracks.  What a debut!

Pianist-composer Orrin Evans created the Captain Black Big Band as a workshop ensemble in his hometown of Philadelphia with a contingent in New York City.  The 38 musicians who appear on the CBBB's debut recording (issued on Posi-Tone Records) bring an impressive amount of energy to this project.  While not as polished as a Duke Ellington group, this music (recorded live in various venues) has such life, such energy (reminiscent of music that Charles Mingus created in the late 1950s and early 1960s) and a swagger that the results are so appealing.  This is music that needs to be heard live because it will grab you by the throat and the heart.

Pianist Fred Hersch recorded all 6 nights of his week-long solo gig at The Village Vanguard from November 30 - December 2010. The 9 tracks that make up "Alone at the Vanguard" (Palmetto Records) turn out to be the entirety of the final set of the last night. Ranging from standards to blues to classical to Brazilian to Monk and Sonny Rollins, this music is exhilarating, emotionally rich, and ever-so-melodic.  Perhaps Fred Hersch viewed this weeks of playing by himself as a vacation from the preparations for his "Coma Dreams" project that debuted in the Spring of this year - whatever, his joyous playing is a welcome respite from the craziness of everyday life.

3 other recommended releases include the latest gem from alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon, "Alma Aldentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook" (Marsalis Music), his tribute to the music of his parents' generation.  Also, "40 Acres and a Burro", the genre-bending release from Arturo O'Farrill & the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra on ZOHO Records.  The arrangements on both recordings (Zenon's excellent quartet is aided and abetted by a string section led by Guillermo Klein) really shine.  Tom Harrell issued yet another impressive recording with his Quintet - "The Time of the Sun" (HighNote Records) is filled with great playing, intelligent melodies and arrangements that allow each musician to shine.

Yes, there's more but these are the ones I returned to listen to over the past 8-10 days.  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, dig in to the Ernesto Cervini Quintet and "Secret Love."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Canada Day in New Haven + CD Pick

Drummer-composer Harris Eisenstadt brings his wonderfully musical quintet Canada Day to Firehouse 12 in New Haven this coming Friday December 9.  The group, featuring Wesleyan graduates Chris Dingman (vibraphone) and Matt Bauder (saxophones) as well as Nate Wooley (trumpet) and Garth Stevenson (bass), makes music that blends handsome melodies with impressive improvisations.  And, how Eisenstadt and bassist Stevenson (the 2 Canadians in the group) interact with the soloists gives the music a conversational quality - in other words, no one is out there just to show off his impressive technique.  Some of the material can have a "thornier" edge while other pieces are more ethereal but the music is never mundane.

The group has 2 CDs, the latest "Canada Day 2" released by Songlines Recordings (a label based in Canada - naturally!) and are now working on its 3rd recording, adding 3 members to create an octet.  But, it's back to 5 for the Firehouse gig.  Canada Day will play 2 sets, 8:30 and 10 p.m.  For ticket information, go to or call 203-785-0468.  To find out more about Harris Eisenstadt, go to

My wife is fond of reminding me to clean the desk every chance she gets and I am remiss in most instances.  But I took her suggestion on Thanksgiving Day and, lo and behold, we discovered this Samuel Blaser CD I had misplaced several months ago.  "Consort in Motion" (Kind of Blue) features the Swiss-born trombonist rearranging works by Claudio Monteverdi, Girolamo Frescobaldi, and Biagio Marini, Italian composers born in the 16th Century and who wrote well into the 17th Century (Marini died in 1663 while the other two both passed in 1643.) Blaser re-imagines 10 works for a quartet featuring Russ Lossing (piano), Thomas Morgan (bass) and Paul Motian (drums) - no mention in the notes if the title is a play on the drummer's name.

The casual listener, not confronted with the concept of this music, might find this a charming and somewhat moody collection of jazz improvisations.  But, dig deeper and hear how Blaser takes the themes and allows them to move in new directions.  The lovely "Lamento della Ninfa" that opens the program sets the tone (one of thoughtful experimentation) with the melody line given a gentle ride, though the first "voice" you hear is a simple drum pattern.   And this music can go outward - listen as Blaser and Motian engage in a lively conversation during parts of "Si Dolce e l'Tormento."  The drummer rarely if ever pulled punches and he really pushes his cohorts here. The trombonist reads the theme using multi-phonics while Lossing responds with an impressionistic solo sojourn.  Morgan is the glue on this CD, holding down the bottom and adding his full tone to melodic counterpoint.  Pay attention to the way he moves through "Balletto Secondo - Retirata", his probing bass lines pushing against Lossing; then Blaser rises over the rhythm section, initially with the melody then with his solo.  "Ritornello" is offered twice. The first, and longer, version has an abstract feel in how Blaser and Lossing play the theme section but, underneath them, Motian is a subtle "swinger" and Morgan a slow "walker."  Version #2 is a lovely ballad, much closer to the original, played by just the trombonist and bassist.

So much goes on in this music that one should take his or her time to allow to sink into the mind.  While the pieces have many quiet moments, there is an intensity of creativity that imbues each track.  Messrs. Blaser, Motian, Morgan and Lossing all make cogent statements throughout and always serve the arrangements with a heady mixture of respect and joy.  To find out more, go to

Speaking of Paul Motian, the crew at Destination Out has added its voices to the many tributes to the late drummer.  They also post several hard-to-get musical pieces.  Take a look and listen at

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fusions + More Tributes to Paul Motian

"Suno Suno", the new recording by guitarist-composer Rez Abbasi, is his first for ENJA Records and second with his formidable quintet known as Invocation.  Here, as on 2009's "Things to Come" (Sunnyside Records), Abbasi creates a fascinating program of music for Vijay Iyer (piano), Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone), Johannes Weidenmueller (bass) and the splendid drummer Dan Weiss.  The percussionist has been a mainstay of Abbasi's groups (save for the Acoustic Quartet) for over 5 years is the lynchpin of this music.  The compositions are informed by the guitarist's love of Qawwali music from his native Pakistan (he was born in Karachi but raised in Southern California).  Pieces such as "Thanks for Giving" and "Onus On Us" (the title of the CD backwards but also Hindi for "listen") have rhythms that may remind some listeners electric jazz-rock from the 1970s.  Yet, it is never bombastic nor static and the solos are very good.  Mahanthappa displays a fuller tone than on his recent "Samdhi" project (released on ACT Records), still playing in that vigorous style of his - on more than one occasion, his solos sounds like a fusion of Indian music and Charlie Parker riffs.  Listen to the way Iyer weaves blues riffs and Cecil Taylor-like power into his solo on "Onus On Us."  "Monuments" has a similar feel in its rhythmic drive and bounce - Weidenmueller's thick bass and Iyer's single-note left hand lines create a solid bottom while Mahanthappa and Abbasi play the melody. Things get both fiery and funky during the guitar solo, with Abbasi playing off Weiss's pulsing percussion.  The forward motion of "Part of One" is irresistible and the way the melody plays against then with the beat makes the piece stand out; then again, the solos by Abbasi, Iyer and Mahanthappa and the way that Weiss spurs them to intense playing is also quite glorious. 

It's a treat to get lost in this music. Played loud, the rafters shake - even on lower volume, one can not miss the intensity of the interplay and the joyous work of the rhythm section.  To find out more, go to

British-born pianist John Escreet creates music that has myriad influences and, for such a young person, sounds like no one else.  His debut recording, "Consequences" (Posi-Tone Records), recorded when he was 24 (he's now 27), displayed a musician with great technique and burgeoning compositional talent - by the time "Don't Fight the Inevitable" (Mythology) hit the racks in 2010, there was no doubt Escreet was a force to be reckoned with.  "Exception To The Rule" is his first for Gerry Teekens' Criss Cross Jazz label and features his compatriot (and mentor) David Binney (alto saxophone, electronics), drummer Nasheet Waits (he's appeared on 3 of the pianist's 4 CDs) and bassist Eivind Opsvik.  Unlike many of the releases on Teekens' label, there is an experimental edge to this music (several of the shorter tracks feature electric piano and synthesizers) -  "The Water Is Tasting Worse" has such a complex rhythmic patterns that the execution of it creates great tension.  Binney's billowing alto solo over Escreet's accompaniment ( a swirl of pounding chords alternating with swift, single-note, runs) is a highlight of the program.  "Escape Hatch" opens with a rapid-fire melody line and then, after a piquant alto solo (over impressive percussion), the pianist plays impressionistic figures while synthesizer sounds erupt around him(and the rhythm section colors the background.)  The multi-sectioned "Wayne's World" (a piece from Escreet's debut CD) goes in many directions with the interplay of Waits and Opsvik with Escreet particularly impressive.  Binney's solo is filled with melodic twists, a percussive attack that moves the track forward and, at times, "out."   After the solo reaches its climax, Escreet takes a short, unaccompanied, solo that starts quietly but picks up fire, leading the rhythm section back in for more fiery interplay (Binney rejoins the trio to take piece out.)

"Exception to the Rule" is an excellent program that should be listened to in one sitting.  If you only check out the shorter electronic pieces or the longer, up-tempo romps, you will not get the full effect of the project.  John Escreet is an exciting composer and Messrs. Binney, Opsvik and Waits make his writing come alive.  He is also an exciting musician as well as a person who has no fear of experimentation, crossing genres and avoiding cliches.  What more can an adventurous listener ask for? To find out more, go to  

The week after drummer-composer Paul Motian's passing on November 22, Ottawa-based journalist Peter Hum posted a series of remembrances from a dozen musicians who either worked with or were influenced by the master of understatement and supreme musicality.  Veteran players, such as Lee Konitz and Marc Copland, share their thoughts along with his long-time band-mates Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano as well as younger collaborators like Dan Tepfer and Jerome Sabbagh.  If you start with the comments of Larry Goldings, you can find links to the other musicians at the bottom of the page.  Go to - the tributes are heartfelt, honest, touching, and giving the often irascible Mr Motian a sweet sendoff.

Pianist-composer-journalist Ethan Iverson (keeper of the keyboard in The Bad Plus) weighs in on the life and appeal of Paul Motian on his blog, "Do The Math."  Read it and you'll learn even more why this drummer was such a influential and inspiring musician (with a wicked sense of humor).  Go to - once you finish reading, find some Motian music and be thankful for his long, fascinating, career.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Live Music for Early December + Duo Picks (on CD)

Drummer-composer Ralph Peterson is a big man with a giant sound.  For over 25 years, he's been powering ensembles big and small, mentoring young musicians and producing music that celebrates both the past and future of jazz - in other words, he does not sit still. Peterson is a dazzling player, who drive a band relentlessly yet turn on a dime to caress a ballad.

While making his recording debut with Blue Note Records and the group Out of the Blue (a sextet that also introduced saxophonists Ralph Bowen and Kenny Garrett as well as bassist Robert Hurst), he also began making CDs under his own name with his trio and the Fo'Tet. He moved on to record for Evidence Records and Criss Cross. His latest ensemble, Ralph Peterson's Unity Project, released its debut CD last year on Onyx Music. Titled "Outer Reaches", the music pays tribute to both trumpeter Woody Shaw and organist Larry Young.  The recording features Connecticut natives Josh Evans (trumpet, Hartford) and Jovan Alexandre (tenor saxophone, Wallingford) along with organist Pat Bianchi

Peterson, Evans and Bianchi are coming to Firehouse 12 in New Haven this Friday (Dec. 2) to play 2 sets of this high-energy music.  Saxophonist Craig Handy joins this group for this show, bringing his own magic to an evening that should rock the performance space.  The Unity Project will play at 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for ticket information, call 203-785-0468 or go to  To learr more about the drummer and his music, go to

Firehouse 12 will also open its doors on Saturday night this week (12/03) to celebrate the new CD by the New Haven Improvisers Collective.  Titled "NHIC: Atlas", the program features the organization's founder Bob Gorry (guitar), Steve Asetta (saxophones), Nathan Bontrager (cello), Jaime Paul Lamb (bass), Adam Matlack (clarinet) and Stephen Zieminski (drums, percussion) - the music is informed by electric Miles Davis, world music, 20th Century classical music, progressive rock, the experimental side of the AACM and more. 

For the CD Release party, Gorry, Asetta and Matlack will join forces with Pete Brunelli ( acoustic bass guitar), Gabriel Kastelle (viola) and Mike Paolucci (drums, percussion) in the first set (8:30 p.m.)  At 10 p.m., Gorry and Brunelli will take the stage alongside Paul McGuire (saxophones), Jeff Cedrone (electric guitar), and Pete Riccio (drums) for Electric NHIC, an exciting set of improvised music.  For more information, go to  To buy tickets (one charge for both sets), contact Firehouse 12 at the numbers and web address above.

Trumpeter-composer Dave Douglas is coming to the Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street in New York City, for 4 nights of new music from December 8 - 11.  On Thursday (12/08), Douglas plays 2 sets (7:30 and 9:30 p.m.) with Key Motion, a quintet featuring Donny McCaslin (saxophones), Adam Benjamin (Rhodes), Tim Lefebvre (bass) and Mark Guiliana (drums).   On Friday (12/09), the trumpeter shares the stage with So Percussion to play music from their new digital release "Bad Mango" (Greenleaf Music).  The 5 musicians will play 3 sets (7:30, 9:30 and 11:30 p.m.) so the music will move beyond the recorded program.  3 sets the following night (12/10) when Douglas brings the Orange Afternoons Quintet to the performance venue - composed of Vijay Iyer (piano), Linda Oh (bass), Ravi Coltrane (saxophones) and E.J. Strickland (drums), the OAQ creates expansive melodies with solos that soar.  Sunday December 11 brings the weekend to a close with Brass Ecstasy, the unit formed to celebrate the life and music of Lester Bowie; the quintet features Vincent Chancey (french horn), Luis Bonilla (trombone), Marcus Rojas (tuba) and Rudy Royston (drums). They'll play 2 sets - 7:30 and 9:30 - and you find out more by going to  Any one of these shows would be worth the trek to the Big Apple - give yourself an early Holiday present and go for all 4.  

Bassist Christian McBride is known for his awesome technique, his swaggering "swing" and his melodic chops.  He's also the host of "Conversations with Christian", a podcast that he produced for iTunes in 2009.  Mack Avenue Records has just a CD with the same title that features strictly musical selections from 13 of the podcasts with artists ranging from the sublime (Hank Jones, Eddie Palmieri) to the laughable (Gina Gershon playing the blues on jew's harp) to downright joyful (Dee Dee Bridgewater getting down on "It's Your Thing").  McBride's bass also converses with Sting, Regina Carter, Roy Hargrove, Angelique Kidjo, Dr. Billy Taylor, George Duke, Chick Corea, Russell Malone and saxophonist Ron Blake. It's a delightful recording that is so entertaining - even the Gershon/McBride blues is great fun.  There is no information up yet on either or  

Here's the track with George Duke, courtesy of Mack Avenue and IODA Promonet:
McDukey Blues (mp3)

This should not count as a "duo" recording because both pianos are played by the same person.  Alan Pasqua is a big fan of pianist Bill Evans (he calls him "my greatest influence") and "Twin Bill" (BFM Jazz) is his tribute to that great yet tragic figure of the keyboard.  It's Pasqua's "Conversations with Myself" with different material than the Evans' Lp of that name and with more than a small nod to the game of baseball.  

With the exception of Pasqua's lovely ballad "Grace" that closes the program, all the pieces are connected to Evans.  There are 6 originals plus one each by Miles Davis ("Nardis") and Scott La Faro ("Gloria's Step") as well as "Vindarna Sucka Uti Skogarna" (a piece Evans recorded with Swedish vocalist Monica Zetterlund) and a rousing version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" (a piece not recorded by Evans but played in his swinging and exploratory style.)  This is a delightful program from the first pitch to the final (fade)out.  Sweetly musical, highly melodic and a wonderful tribute, "Twin Bill" is a big hit. Puns aside, this CD will please lovers of jazz piano, fans of Bill Evans, and listeners who love good music.  To find out more, go to   

The duo of Eddie Daniels (clarinet, top) and Roger Kellaway (piano, bottom) have a new CD just out on IPO Records.  "Live at The Library of Congress" is the follow-up to the duo's wonderful "A Duet of One/Live at The Bakery" (I wholeheartedly recommended that release is 2009 - click here) and this one is just as fine.  The material ranges from the playful "Strike Up The Band" to the sweet reading of "America The Beautiful" (with traces of blues, gospel, and New Orleans) to the lovely pairing of Daniels' "Etude of a Woman" with Stephen Sondheim's "Pretty Women."  Both musicians shine throughout the program, displaying their virtuosity without flaunting their technique.  Kellaway is one of those pianists who can play anything and not sound like someone else (Jaki Byard could play in many different styles and always sounded like himself) - he's not afraid to be impressionistic (like he is at the onset of "Just Friends") or display his "stride" roots ("50 State Rambler") and his work on Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere" is achingly beautiful, ever-so-graceful and filled with emotion. Daniels matches his partner's melodic intensity and creativity at every turn - listen to them playing around on "Rhythm-a-ning" and I'm sure that even Thelonious Monk would say their inventive romp perfectly illustrates the song's title. 

"Live at the Library of Congress" is not scheduled for release until early 2012 but is already garnering great reviews.  Well, I couldn't wait either because this CD, to me, is what creative music is supposed to be - emotionally rich, wonderfully melodic and, at times, rhythmical to the max!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rhythm, Melody, Sound and Style - Learning to Listen

By now, anybody who is a fan of jazz knows that Paul Motian died Tuesday morning (the link to the obituary in the New York Times is here).  The drummer/composer had a wonderfully long career, beginning in the late 1950s and a stint with pianist Bill Evans and truly coming to notice with Keith Jarrett in the 1970s. 

But, his CDs as a leader on Black Saint, ECM and Winter & Winter is what most fans of his music love him for.  Motian did not really follow fashions; instead he created pieces that opened improvisational doors for his fellow musicians while he (usually) eschewed the spotlight.  He played alongside bassist Charlie Haden in a number of projects (besides the Jarrett "American" Quartet, they recorded with a series of wonderful CDs with pianist Geri Allen) and had a long-standing trio with guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano.  Motian recorded standards as well as Broadway show tunes and bebop swingers while his own compositions were often, in later years, ballads with long melody lines.  His recent work with saxophonist Bill McHenry, pianists Frank Kimborough and Russ Lossing and trumpeter Enrico Rava displayed his "minimalist" tendencies.  Paul Motian did not "swing" like the bebop drummers he grew up listening to; more likely he was constructing percussive "cushions" for soloists and space for bassists to create counterpoint. If you pay attention to the sound of his drums on the ECM CDs with Frissell and Lovano, he plays as much melody as they do as well his own aural sound-scapes that captured the ear without overwhelming the songs.  Still, he was no slouch when it came to playing rhythms and there are a slew of recordings to back up that claim. 

There should be plenty of well-deserved tributes to Paul Motian - on the eve of Thanksgiving, one should give thanks he had such a long and often fascinating career. Terry Gross chatted with Motian in 2006 and it gives great insight into his style - go to  Then, listen to him put his ideas to work in this 2008 live gig from the Village Vanguard, a place that was Motian's home away from home (especially in the later years of his career when he rarely left New York City.  Go to and enjoy the ride. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Raising the Roof and the Spirit

Jeff Lederer's Sunwatcher elevated the spirits gathered this past Friday evening (11/18/11) in Firehouse 12, at least, those who ventured into the performance space/recording studio on the second floor.  With the support of Matt Wilson (drums a'plenty), Jamie Saft (acoustic piano, Korg organ) and Mr. Avery Sharpe (acoustic bass master),  Lederer (who played tenor and soprano saxophones plus clarinet) illustrated how "ecstatic" playing over rock-solid rhythms can set the soul free.  He originally assembled the band for a project inspired by the music and visions of saxophonist Albert Ayler (1936-1970), whose often ferocious solos and squalling sound sent jazz fans to the exit but whose music was based on the rhythm 'n' blues and jazz he heard growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.  Oh, yes, he played "free" music but music rarely far from its roots.

Throughout the 2 sets, Lederer and company continually blurred the lines between genres but rarely if ever lost the heartbeat of the music.  Whether it was the church organ-fueled blues-soaked "Cristo Redentor" (composed by Duke Pearson) or the pounding drums and throbbing bass of Ornette Coleman's "Old Gospel, New Gospel", the joy in the music never wavered.  The quartet genuinely enjoyed creating music together and their spirit elevated the vast majority of audience members (a few people could not handle the intensity of Lederer's energetic "blowing.") 

It's always fun to watch Matt Wilson at play.  Yes, he can be goofy but he is also a rock-solid rhythm master who knows when to push, when to "color", when to carry on and when to lay back.  His relationship with the other band members ranges from shouting encouragement to wide smiles when Sharpe strummed his upright bass like a flamenco guitarist and Saft filled the quieter moments with waves of glissandos (foot holding the sustain pedal).

O, what a way to elevate a day from tiring to inspiring!  Sunwatcher takes its name from a funky Ayler tune off his unjustly maligned "New Grass" Lp - if you suffer from SAD (seasonal attitude depression), my prescription would be a healthy dose of Jeff Lederer's musical elixir.  I've not heard the band's 2011 CD on Jazzhead (with Buster Williams on bass) but, if the groove comes close to that of the live show, find it.  To discover more about Jeff Lederer, go to  

In 2010, Matt Wilson released his "Christmas Tree-O" CD (Palmetto Records), a joyful and somewhat wacky collection of tunes ("The Chipmunk Song" side by side with "Winter Wonderland" and "Little Drummer Boy") - if you have yet to discover the CD which features the drummer with Lederer and bassist Paul Sikivie, put it on your list or go get it right now.  The trio's performance on Claude Thornhill's "Snowfall" is stunning in its beauty -  and you will probably never hear a more forceful and dramatic version of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" or happy, hard bop-march, rendition of  "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

The Christmas Tree-o will be playing concerts Christmas week in Washington D.C. (12/21 at Atlas Perforrd ng Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE) and the following night at Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City.  For more information, go to