Friday, January 28, 2011

The Long Night's Journey Into Music

Charles Lloyd and his New Quartet (plus a very special guest) played at Crowell Concert Hall on the campus of Wesleyan University tonight (Friday January 28, 2011.)  Instead of a review, here are some impressions of the evening.

Eric Harland is a excellent drummer, creative and intuitive plus he wears great glasses as well as snappy sneakers.

Reuben Rogers played with great virtuosity, especially his work with the bow but, due to the murky sound conditions of Crowell Hall (better in the back, I'm told) he all but disappeared during the louder passages. Still, his unaccompanied solos were wonderfully musical.

Finally got to see and hear Jason Moran and he did not disappoint.  There were moments of pure melodic beauty and others where his intensity approached that of Cecil Taylor.

Listening to Mr. Lloyd tonight and then to his 1967 recording of "Forest Flower", his style of playing has not changed very much - his airy phrases, his tendency to play circular lines (probably learned from the blues players he heard while growing up in Memphis) and his powerful flute styling.  He, also, knows how to put a band together and give them plenty of room to shine.

The special guest was Alicia Moran Hall, wife of Jason.  She's a mezzo-soprano with a wonderful range  and was invited onstage to sing "Go Down, Moses."  O my, how she plumbed the depths of the material and fit her voice around Lloyd's expressive tenor sax playing. 

The Quartet played with great spirit throughout and, during the quieter moments, you could pick out all the instruments without any strain.  There was one piece that was introduced by a lovely piano solo, then, one by one the rest of the ensemble added their voices including Mr. Lloyd.  The way the music was building, the insistent drumming and pedal-point bass, it sounded (to these ears) like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" but, then a quick shift and into the melody of "Caroline, No."  It was one of several times during the program that I laughed at the playfulness.

"Lift Every Voice and Sing" is a stirring anthem, with nary a bomb bursting.  Mr. Lloyd, ever the teacher, made the audience stand.  It was worth it especially the interweaving of Ms. Moran's voice, Mr, Moran's piano and the forthright tenor saxophone. 

Finally, I had the pleasure of meeting Tom Reney, the host of "Jazz A La Mode" heard weeknights on WFCR-FM in Amherst, MA.  I've been listening to Tom since he began in 1984, checking out his first hour (8 p.m.) on my drive home from work (in the days I closed my shop at 8.)  For those who have never heard his program, click here and find out more. 

After a week of snow, ice and cold, the concert was like manna from heaven. Perfect, not truly, but definitely a joy to behold. 

Here's a look at the group from a 2009 concert.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Carry-On Companions (Part One)

If my iPod stays at home or in the car (not in really cold or extremely hot weather), I have a bag that holds a number of CDs for review purposes.  On occasion, I forget to unpack the contents.  The following reviews are the result of my recent unpacking.

Together Again: Live at The Egg - John Medeski & Lee Shaw (ARC) - The octogenarian Ms. Shaw may not be the first person one thinks of when looking for a musical partner for the mercurial Mr. Medeski but they have a history.  When Medeski was in his early teens and Ms. Shaw was living in Fort Lauderdale, FL, he studied with her and became immersed in jazz. Now, 3 decades, the teacher and student pair up for a concert recording.  Bassist Rich Syracuse and drummer Jeff Siegel, Ms. Shaw's rhythm section, join the pianists and the results make for an enjoyable hour of music.  Right off the bat, the program, recorded live in Albany, New York, opens with a group improvisation.  "Lizards" scurries at times and moves quite deliberately at others but always in a forward direction, not getting stuck in a endless repetitive rut. Medeski unpacks his melodica for the uptempo waltz "Prairie Child" (note Siegel's stick work a la Shelley Manne on Sonny Rollins' classic "I'm An Old Cowhand.")  Ms. Shaw's solo is a two-handed delight, rich with chords and dancing riffs.  "Caravan" meets "St. Thomas" at the onset of "Holiday" with bouncing bass riffs and an exciting drum solo - when the pianists enter, the piece becomes even livelier with a melody that is hummable and solos that really jump. Medeski's B-3 organ shows up on the final 3 tracks including the lovely and haunting "Tears", a piece that is just the 2 keyboards taking their time to move gently through the fine melody.  Medeski's "Wiggly's Way" closes the CD in a funky fashion with the rhythm section showing a New Orleans bent;  Ms. Shaw's solo illustrates that she can be melodic and still "get down" while Medeski pushes hard against Siegel's hard-edged percussion. I love the way the quartet takes the piece out, a fun musical conversation.
If you don't know Lee Shaw's music, you'd be wise to check out her vast discography - she's recorded for numerous labels including CIMP, Cadence Jazz Records, LuvLee Records as well as her most recent recordings on ARC (Artists Recording Collective.)  You would go not wrong starting with "Together Again."  For more information, go to or

Afterlife Music Radio: 11 New Pieces for Solo Cello - Marika Hughes (DD Records) -With the way the weather has been in the Northeast since the beginning of 2011, one needs music to really get lost in.  Ms. Hughes, best known for her work with Red Pocket, 2 Foot Yard, Charming Hostess and violinist Charlie Burnham's Hidden City, has made a unique contribution to the solo cello repertoire.  She commissioned 11 new works from contemporary composers, several of whom you might not expect to write for cello.  Drummer Nasheet Waits (Jason Moran Trio, Tar Baby) created the lovely and mysterious "Korean Bounce", more a ruminative blues than an Asian folk tune.  Saxophonist Abraham Burton is represented by "Change", a thought-provoking blend of long tones and pizzicato lines - it, too, has blues in its DNA. 
Jenny Scheinman's sweet "Ba Da Bum" is a short and folky romp while bassist Todd Sickafoose (a member of the band with whom Ms. Hughes recorded her other new CD, "The Simplest Thing" ) created "Murmur", an episodic piece that is mostly arco (bowed) but closes with an intense then peaceful pizzicato (plucked) section.  Bassist Trevor Dunn's "Singulus" opens quietly and has a fascinating blend of melodic fragments and longer tones. The title track, courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, moves slowly and quietly until 1/3rd of the way through its 6 minutes, sharply bowed notes erupt and lead to what sounds like a bowed "walking" bass line and back to a more pensive mood. "Bring In the Nasty", composed by Raz Mesinai (co-producer and engineer of the recording), offers harsher tones and a circular melody line that goes on relentlessly until the fade.
Many different moods, tones and ideas make "Afterlife Music Radio" a musical adventure to be savored and re-explored many times.  To find out more, go to - there, you'll read about the CD Release concert on 1/28/11 at the 92YTribeca in New York City. 

A Boy's Journey - Peter Hum Quintet (self-released) - Peter Hum is an excellent jazz journalist based in Ottawa, Canada - you can (and really should) read his columns from The Ottawa Citizen by going to  As it turns out, he's also a fine pianist, having played with many of Canada's finest musicians (including guitarist Sonny Greenwich, clarinetist Phil Nimmons, saxophonist Rob Frayne and bassist John Geggie (among many.)
Now, he's issued his debut CD, fronting a quintet composed of Kenji Omae (tenor saxophone), Nathan Cepelinski (alto and soprano saxophones), Alec Walkington (acoustic bass) and Ted Warren (drums). The selections are filled with handsome melodies, rich harmonies, pleasing interactions, and numerous good solos. The blend of the reeds on pieces such as "C.G." is so inviting; the pieces moves briskly atop the propulsive drumming and Hum's full chords.   Walkington's bass "walks in" the beginning of "New Toy", a piece with rolling piano riffs, Cepelinki's fine alto solo (like rays of sunshine) and a section for the bassist to take off.  "Big Lou" must be quite a character (dedicated to Hum's son Pascal) - the piece that bears his name opens with sly (and slightly bent) bass notes before Warren's funky drums and the keening horns come in.  Hum's electric piano sound is warm and his phrases ride easily atop the funky rhythms.  The title track is dedicated to the composer's father, a native of Ottawa, who, as a very young boy (4) traveled across Canada to go to China and made the return trip 10 years later.  The music has moments that move slowly before picking up in intensity (note Cepelinski's fine soprano solo over Warren's explosive drumming.) Hum's rippling electric piano leads "Unagi" (named for Japanese freshwater eels), a energetic piece that sounds a bit like Chick Corea (early Return to Forever) and featuring good solos from the reeds, the drummer as well as the pianist.
The CD closes with the longest track, "Three Wishes" - at nearly 11 minutes, the piece starts slowly, thoughtfully, a short, poetic, melody for the alto saxophone before Warren kicks the piece into a much higher gear for the solo sections.  After the saxophones take their turn, the drummer takes a fine and understated solo before the coda reintroduces the theme. A short silence follows and Hum reenters, leading the saxophonists into a short reading of the main melody - it's a very effective ending to an excellent piece.
"A Boy's Journey" is quite a strong debut for composer/musician Peter Hum, blending a penchant for flowing melodies with exciting rhythms.  When critics/reviewers make recordings (here, I'm thinking of people like saxophonist Chris Kelsey and as far back as Leonard Feather), one might think it would be easy to snipe at their shortcomings but many of the releases are well thought out, with a strong sense of direction and purpose.  It's true about Peter Hum's music and you should seek it out. 
For more information, go to - Hum's description of the recording session makes for fascinating reading and you can find it by clicking here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

New Classical Music

Every once in a while, a critic or commentator will bemoan the passing of classical music.  Perhaps these people have never read Alex Ross's "The Rest is Noise" and "Listen to This" or heard Nico Muhly on the radio or seen Gustavo Dudamel conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  If "dead" is based on market share, you can throw those figures out the window. With the advent of the Internet, more people are exposed to different types of music all the time.

Thanks to groups like the Kronos Quartet, SO Percussion, the Chiara String Quartet and people like Marin Alsop, Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma and others, classical music is alive and well in concert halls, performance spaces and night clubs (yes, clubs where rock and jazz musicians play.)

Janus is 3 young musicians, Amanda Baker (flute, voice), Beth Meyers (viola, banjo, vocals) and Nuiko Wadden (harp, percussion), with a repertoire that ranges from Debussy to Toru Takemitsu to contemporary composers such as Caleb Burhans, Cameron Britt, Jason Treuting, Angelica Negron, Sophia Gubaidulina and others.  In existence since 2002, the trio's debut CD, "i am not" (New Amsterdam), was issued late last year.

Flutist Baker lives in New London, CT, and will be my guest this Sunday (1/30/11) at 11 a.m. on WMRD-AM 1150, Middletown, CT, and WLIS-AM 1420, Old Saybrook, CT. She's studied at Northwestern University and Yale University, performed with the Coast Guard Band and was principal flutist with the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra in Southern China. 

On the show, we'll talk about her training, the origin of Janus and how the group finds its music.  And, we'll listen to several tracks from the excellent recording.  If all goes according to plan, there will be an archived recording of the show - the site is in the works.

In the meantime, here's Janus performing Burhans' "Keymaster."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Voices of Melody and Thought

Wingwalker - Jane Ira Bloom (Outline Records) - Ms. Bloom is truly an original, a musician dedicated to one instrument (soprano saxophone) and to creating music that grows organically outward from her compositions and interactions with her fellow musicians.  Known for her striking sonic experiments (involving both acoustic and electronic sound manipulations), she has rarely, if ever, sacrificed melody for artifice.
This is her 14th recording as a leader (and co-leader) since 1978 (hard to believe she's been on the scene this many years) and she's joined by her current working group of Dawn Clement (piano, Fender Rhodes), Mark Helias (bass) and Bobby Previte (drums).  Previte has appeared on all but one of Ms Bloom's last 7 CDs with Helias and Clement on the her 2 most recent releases (counting this one.)  Since the beginning of her career, Ms Bloom has created impressive melodies to record - with the exception of the strikingly beautiful "I Could Have Danced All Night" (played as a solo piece), all these works are originals.  Only two are over 6 minutes with three under 4 minutes yet nothing drags on too long or feels rushed. What you may notice first is the immediacy of the sound; you hear it in the warmth of her soprano, Clement's clean piano tones, Helias' wonderfully melodic bass lines and Previte's creative percussion.  The electronic sounds feel "natural" not afterthoughts, adding depth to the phrases she plays.
Still, it is the music that truly stands out, from the beautiful ballad "Rooftops Speak Dreams" to the funky and witty "Freud's Convertible."  The former piece moves out from the rich and repetitive piano chords while the latter hints both rhythmically and melodically to Thelonious Monk.  The interactions of the musicians help the works come alive. The opening minute of "Rookie" rises on the interplay of soprano and piano, as if breathing together.   "Life on Cloud 8" is a subtle blues riff that rides easily atop the rhythm section with the theme ending on a quick riff. A sudden change in tempo leads to the solo section, the blues is forgotten and a sly Latin riff pushes the solo forward.  Throughout the CD, the songs move in fascinating directions, not going where one might expect and, when returning to the music, the solos seem to stand out more as does the accompaniment. 
It's been nearly 3 decades since Jane Ira Bloom recorded and released "Mighty Lights" on ENJA, a quartet date with Fred Hersch, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell. On that Lp, her 3rd, she recorded "Lost In the Stars."  Through her many and varied projects, Ms. Bloom has invited listeners into the stars and beyond, creating music that excites, soothes and always sounds fresh.  For more information, go to

Click here to listen to Jason Crane's fine interview with Ms. Bloom from "The Jazz Session" podcast.

Convergence - Lynne Arriale (Motema Music Corp) -For her previous Motema release "Nuance", Ms. Arriale introduced a new drummer, Anthony Pinciotti, and recruited 2 veteran jazzers, trumpeter Randy Brecker and bassist George Mraz. After a string of trio recordings, it was a treat to hear the fine pianist working with another voice, one who offered a unique approach to the material.  For her new effort, she has added bassist Omer Avital and utilized the fine saxophone work of Bill McHenry on half the tracks. She's also expanded the number of non-original pieces to include compositions by George Harrison, Sting, Nine Inch Nails, Mick Jagger & Keith Richard and Blondie. What she has not altered is her impressive approach to the material and how the other musicians are not sideman but equals in the process.
Bassist Avital is a wonderful addition, replacing long-time associate Jay Anderson (no slouch himself.)  He's an extremely melodic player whose rhythmic sensibilities mesh well with drummer Pinciotti - Avital is also a fine soloist whose solos are always interesting and fit nicely within the flow of the songs. Arriale composed "Dance of the Rain" for Avital's oud, a beautiful piece that combines Middle Eastern rhythms (fine hand drumming from Pinciotti) with a yearning melody.  "Paint It Black" has a Bedouin feel, opening with Avital's handsome solo then moving into a sensuous rhythm before the bass returns to state the theme.  A quiet turn through Sting's "Sister Moon" is filled with sweet bluesy piano lines and big, round, bass tones. The blues permeates the group's version of Trent Reznor's "Something I Can Never Have", with McHenry's piercing tenor saxophone tones riding atop the heavy bass and drums.  The saxophonist seems a bit more introspective on Blondie's "Call Me" - here, it is Arriale who shows her blues "chops."
The high-energy title track features rousing solos from the pianist and saxophonist, both of whom push back against the blazing rhythm section - Pinciotti gets his spotlight, creating percussive fireworks.  The CD closes with "The Simple Things", a hymn-like ballad with McHenry playing the lovely melody in the higher range of the tenor and a lovely, introspective, piano solo.
Lynne Arriale teaches at the University of North Florida and tours whenever she gets the opportunity.  In person, she is generous in the choice of material and allowing space for her bandmates to be a major part of the creative process. Her recordings have always been solid but "Convergence" and "Nuances", her 2 most recent releases, show her at her best.  To find out more, go to

She, too, has been a recent guest on "The Jazz Session" - listen to the fine give-and-take here.

Who Knows Where The Time Goes - Rondi Charleston (Motema Records) - Lynne Arriale makes an appearance on 4 tracks on the new recording by vocalist/composer Charleston, the tunes that she wrote the music for.  This attractive CD covers a lot of musical territory, from Broadway to the blues, Brazil to the Promised Land.  The band is high-quality, from the rhythm section of James Genus (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums) to arranger/guitarist Dave Stryker and pianist Brandon McCune.  
There is much to like in this program, from the fine musicianship to the classy blend of material.  The first 3 tracks range from Sandy Denny's folk-inspired title track (featuring fine acoustic guitar from Stryker and the sympathetic piano fills of McCune) to samba rhythms of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" to the Brazilian bossa nova of Tom Jobim's "Wave." Penn and Genus fuel the fun on Frank Loesser's "I Hear Music", playfully darting around the vocal.  Later on, she and Stryker flirt pleasingly on Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone To Love."
For this listener, the real strength of the CD can be found on the 4 originals.  Here, Charleston mines her life, her family and her experiences to create music that touches the heart in more profound ways than the "covers." The "love" song that is "Dance of Time" is wondrous, richly melodic (more fine acoustic guitar) while "Song for the Ages" is a lovely duet with Arriale - the lyrics reach back to the Old Testament to find the words and images that celebrate the election of Barack Obama.  "Your Spirit Lingers" speaks through the voice of the lyricist's great grandmother, of the journey to the New World and the hardships endured.  The work of Genus and Penn beneath the vocal is just perfect, framing the voice in a way that does not call attention to their excellent musicality.  A family trip to Jerusalem and a wondrous snow storm (a rarity in that part of the world) is the the backdrop for "Land of Galilee" - here, it's the lovely melody one notices then the vocalist's wistful and wishful look at how the snow brought ancient enemies outdoors to revel in the heavenly cleansing. 
With repeated listenings, Rondi Charleston's music will grow on you. Her voice is facile but occasionally one-dimensional.   However, her choice of material is inspired and the original songs impressive.  To find out more, go to

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dr. King, Freedom and the Big Band with Mighty Voices

The Marcus Shelby Orchestra's wonderful tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., titled "Soul of theMovement " is now available from Porto Franco Records and myriad outlets. If my review of 1/01/11 (read it here) is not sufficient enough to convince you of the power and glory of the music, perhaps the video below will stir your soul. His truth is still marching on!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pay Attention

Paraphrase - Matt Blostein/Vinnie Sperrazza Band (Yeah-Yeah Records) - Alto saxophonist Blostein and drummer Sperrazza met in 2002 and began formulating a sound which culminated in the recording of their debut CD in 2006 (released 2008).  For their second recording, they have created a quartet with trombonist Jacob Garchik and electric bassist Geoff Kraly.  Sperrazza has been a member of pianist/composer Noah Baerman's Trio for several years, has issued several piano trio CDs (featuring pianist Jacob Sacks) and is one of the more dynamic players on the scene.  Blostein is less well-known to me but his clear tones and thoughtful lines work well in this outfit. Both the saxophonist and drummer wrote 4 works for this program.  Blostein's pieces tend to be more episodic - for example, "Helicopters" grows from a quiet melody in which the trombone and alto seem to shadow each other into solo sections for sax, trombone and bass over varying tempos.  Sperazza's works combine melody and percussion in ways that immediately capture the ear.  "One Hour" builds off of a dynamic drum intro and continually picks up speed as it moves forward. Solos merge into each other, the sax and trombone picking up each other's cues. "Duet Aria" opens with the saxophone in conversation with the drums, then the trombone begins the dialogue. After the bass enters, the piece moves forward with the front line carrying on the musical chat.  You can tell they are listening to each other, feeding off each other's melodic ideas and the insistent prodding of the rhythm section.  Much of this music goes in unexpected directions.  Blostein's "Bullfrog" is energetic, especially in the rhythm section's initial drive and then continue to push beneath the solos. Kraly's solo is quite melodic and calms the pace leading into Sperrazza's short break before the repetition of the main theme.
Sperrazza penned the lovely, heartfelt, ballad that closes the disk.  "Let Your Arms Fall Down" may remind some of a song by The Band, with a melody that seamlessly blends blues, folk and gospel influences. Blostein's alto solo is a sweet abstraction on the theme while Garchik returns time after time to elements of the original melody to shape a short yet sweet statement.
"Paraphrase" is finely crafted music that is never forced or phony, created by people who are relating on many levels and never ignoring the human element.  This is music to feed the soul and succeeds handsomely. To find out more, go to  The CD will be released on February 15. 

 Flora. Fauna. Fervor. - Matt Ulery's Loom (482 Music) - In 2008, bassist/composer Ulery, a resident of Chicago, Illinois, released "Music Box Ballerina", one of the more unusual melodic treats of that (or any year.)  So many different musical elements went into the creation of that CD and that eclectic mix is here as well.  Loom is a real band, not a studio concoction so Ulery writes for these specific musicians who include Thad Franklin (trumpet, flugelhorn), Tim Haldeman (tenor saxophone), Rob Clearfield (keyboards), Zack Brock (violin), Katie Weigman (vibraphone) and Jon Deitemyer (drums.) This is not your typical "theme-solo-theme" program but the pieces have an orchestral approach.  The longest track, "The Queen" (10:18) opens with a theme for the horns, a repetitive electric piano figure and pounding drums - as the piece moves forward, the intensity of the interplay changes but no soloist emerges from the ensemble yet one can sense the images behind the music. And the shortest piece (3:20), "High City/Low City", is not rushed but fully realized, with the instruments moving through the multi-sectioned composition like an ice skater on a pond, gracefully with power.  "Shadow Ballerina" feels like the soundtrack to a movie set in the early years of the 20th Century, with a burnished gold light, drawing rooms and fancy clothing. Yet, the melody line and the rhythm section careers forward, almost out of control at times, its intensity tamped down by the ruminations of saxophonist Haldeman. 
Brock steps out on the lullaby-like "A Winds A Blowin'" with a lovely and forceful romp over the splashing cymbals, crisp drumming and the bouncing bass lines, seemingly rushing headlong to the finish but, no, the song closes on a soft landing.  Clearfield's accordion is featured on "When I Think of You", a sweet reverie that also puts Franklin's trumpet out front.  Yet, there is always something else happening beneath the soloist to avert one's attention.
Those who feel the need to label Matt Ulery's music, take a step back.  There is so much music in this program that it feels an insult to label it.  Have fun listening to the arrangements, the rich melody lines, the attractive solos and the myriad sounds Ulery coaxes from this ensemble.  Enjoy the journey!  For more information, go to or  

The Talented Mr. Pelt - Jeremy Pelt (HighNote Records) - This is the 3rd recording (second for HighNote) for trumpeter Pelt and his Quintet of J D Allen (tenor saxophone), Danny Grissett (piano), Dwayne Burno (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums.)  This is a group of leaders, friends and excellent musicians, and a real "working band."  They play music based in the sounds Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and others created in in the mid 1960s yet this never sounds dated.  Whether it's the high-flying "Pandora's Box" that opens the set or the sweet ballad "In Love Again" (first recorded by the late Blossom Dearie), the music is, at turns, exciting, heartfelt, funky, handsome, and very well-played (to be expected, considering the caliber of the musicians.)  Pelt has matured nicely as a soloist over the years - on "When The Time Is Right", he does not rush his solo, weaving his full-toned sound through Cleaver's active snare-and-cymbal work as well as Grissett's strong chordal work.  When he lets loose, like he does on "David and Goliath", for instance, he remains under control as the phrases ripple from his horn.   Allen is the perfect partner, with his rich tone, his smartly constructed solos and blues sensibility. Grissett continues to grow as a player; he already is an excellent accompanist. His solo on fellow pianist Anthony Wonsey's "Paradise Lost" is quite exciting without being a "knuckle-buster."
Through the entire program, the work of Burno and Cleaver is par excellence. The bassist is rock-solid yet often is playing counterpoint beneath the soloists.  Meanwhile, the drummer is busy without ever being intrusive, pushing the beat, "goosing" the soloists, creating a cushion of sounds that always engages his fellow musicians and the listener.
Needless to say, this is music that needs to be heard "live."  That said, the Quintet pulls no punches and does not hold back at any point on this CD.  If you want to shake up your speakers, "The Talented  Mr. Pelt" (quite appropriate title) will do just fine.
A look at Pelt's website,, shows an April 1st date for the Quintet at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, CT., followed by 2 nights (April 5-6) at the Jazz Standard in New York City.  If you like improvised music that sizzles and soothes, see and hear this band in person.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The January Roundup

Chronos - Mike DiRubbo (Posi-Tone Records) - DiRubbo, a native of New Haven CT and graduate of the Jackie McLean Institute at the Hartt School/University of Hartford, is an alto saxophonist who understands "the burn", the ability to take the music up a notch when called for.  Throughout "Chronos", his 6th CD as a leader, he finds ways to take this organ trio into overdrive without descending into chaos.  "Rituals" features several "hot" solos but it is the saxophonist's drive to the finish line that really excites the senses. Part of the credit goes to drummer Rudy Royston (Bill Frisell, Ron Miles) who, when called for, really drives the music.  Organist Brian Charette (Lou Donaldson, Cyndi Lauper) is the perfect foil for DiRubbo, his active feet providing bass lines that "swing" and "pulsate" while his coloring beneath the solos is always "right."  His solos are concise and quite musical. He contributes 2 of the 9 original pieces including the pretty ballad "Excellent Taste" and "More Physical", the lilting yet up-tempo piece that closes the program with varying waves of intensity.  The give-and-take of the sax and organ, along with Royston's subtle then active percussion, has a powerful feel. The leader's solos seem to leap out of the speakers, with an intensity, at times, that borders on ferocious. He, also, utilizes overdubbing on the title track, a smart arrangement of the sound.
Mike DiRubbo may not forge new ground with "Chronos" but makes the organ trio format sound fresh and vital.  By making Charette and Royston equal partners in the creative process, the music is alive with possibilities.  For more information, go to
Here's the opening track to whet your appetite (courtery of Posi-Tone Records and IODA Promonet):
Minor Progress (mp3)

Bach-Centric - Dave Camwell (Teal Creek Music) - Saxophonist Camwell, comfortable in both the jazz and classical idioms, takes the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and makes its come alive. Whether overdubbing 4 reeds on "Cantata 29" or going it alone on alto for the 5-part "Sonata in A Minor" (sounding not unlike Paul Desmond!), this music never sounds dated.  There are so many highlights, from the 15 movements of the "Two-Part Inventions" (originally composed for clavichord and arranged for alto saxophones by Charlie Vetter) recorded in duo with alto saxophonist Stephen Page to the "Concerto in D minor" (arranged by James Bunte) for a saxophone quartet of Camwell (alto and tenor), Bunte (alto), Nathan Nabb (soprano) and James Romain (baritone).  The reed instruments give Bach's music a warmth and depth that sets it apart from Bach's works for clavichord or harpsichord. That's not meant to disparage the music for those keyboard instruments, much of which is breathtaking in its scope but Camwell's reeds add an airiness (no pun intended) that delights and soothes the mind.  The beauty and gentleness of works such as "Little Fugue in G Minor" and "Concerto in F" (movement 3), both tracks that feature Camwell on all parts, are joyous.
Classical music for saxophone, either original or transcribed, is nothing new yet "Bach-Centric" is fresh and entertaining.  For more information, go to    

Life's Little Dramas - George Schuller Trio (Fresh Sounds New Talent) - George Schuller is one of those drummers who can drive a band with power and finesse, blending in to an ensemble in such a way that does not call undue attention to him but makes one realize how important he is to the music.  Having seen him play in concert spaces and performance venues, his strength is that he listens, interacts and creates without missing a beat.  On the opening track, "Glass Notes", his interaction with pianist Dan Tepfer gives the piece its tension and release.  While bassist Jeremy Stratton anchors the work, the piano and drums stretch, chase and play in an appealing way.  That's the hallmark of the entire program - let the music breathe, dig deeply into the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic possibilities and never settle for the ordinary. There may be thousands of versions of Vernon Duke's "Autumn in New York" - here, the trio "swings" the standard with grace, a touch of the blues, extemporizing on the "changes" and only touching on the famous/recognizable melody near the end.
For a young pianist, Tepfer seemingly has no boundaries. One hears touches of Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau on pieces such as "Apocalypso" (such fun) and "Salad Days" but faintly and without resorting to mannerisms or cliches.  Schuller's "New Toon" allows the pianist space to develop the melody and expand the harmonies; he does so with fluid lines, two-handed melodic flourishes that move around the tempo and interact with the declarative drum work. It's easy to "get lost" in the groove of "None Taken", the loping bass lines and the rising piano melody, driven by Schuller's insistent yet not intrusive percussion.
"Life's Little Dramas" is music that invites the listener in and does not let go until the final note.  The interplay, the melodies, the dynamic rhythm section and the excellent work of Dan Tepfer will bring you back again and again.  For more information, go to
The Trio appears at The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown, CT on March 4  - call 860-347-4957 for more information or online at

Friday, January 14, 2011

Aiding and Abetting New Music

All hail Chamber Music America and its various granting programs. Over the past decade, CMA, through its "New Works" program, has commissioned full-length projects by jazz composers such as John Hollenbeck, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Joel Harrison, Jane Ira Bloom, Don Byron as well as Connecticut-based composers Mario Pavone, David Chevan and Noah Baerman (which resulted in his "Know Thyself" - reviewed here.) 

Another recipient is bassist/composer Alexis Cuadrado (pictured above) whose bold new work "Noneto Ibérico" will be released on February 15 on BJU Records.  The Barcelona native, a Brooklyn NY resident for over a decade, began researching Flamenco music, transcribing pieces for a small group but the CMA grant allowed him to expand the scope of his work to include 9 musicians.  And, the results are exhilarating.  The ensemble includes saxophonists Perico Sambeat and Loren Stillman, trumpeter Avishai Cohen, trombonist Alan Ferber, guitarist Brad Shepik, pianist Dan Tepfer, percussionist Marc Miralta and drummer Mark Ferber and several guests. It's wonderful how balanced and delicate this music sounds - not that it's without moments of intensity.  "Tocar y Parar" (translated as "Play and Stop" - you'll understand when you hear the piece) features a joyous melody phrased by Cohen's triumphant trumpet over a martial beat and sweet counterpoint from the reeds.   "Te Sigo" rolls gently atop electric piano and guitar lines with the percussion percolating below, the horns sighing then carefully exposing the melody line.  There is a sense of nervous energy on "Draconium" in the continually rising melody line, the circular piano figures, and the forceful percussion.  The solo section opens with Cohen's rippling phrases that are pushed and jostled by the active rhythm section (percussion, piano, bass and guitar.)

The rich melody lines, the handsome harmonies, the subtle rhythmic changes, the excellent solo work and ensemble parts and the joyous attitude of the music all make "Noneto Ibérico" worth your investigation.  To find out more about Cuadrado, his project and the possibility of hearing this vibrant music "live", go to - there, you can stream the CD in its entirety.

As for Chamber Music America, you'll be amazed by (and thankful for) all that the organization, now in its 33rd year. does to advance the cause of music in the United States.  Go to to learn more. 

Here's a video of the Cuadrado Nonet in the recording studio:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

100 + Reviews

This column is dedicated to my Aunt Margaret Gurland who passed away on Thursday January 6th 2011 at the age of 100 years +.  A particularly good person, she remained very involved with the community well into her 90s.  We already miss her sage advice, her incredible walking pace, and sweet disposition.

This is also post # 100.  I had hoped to be more active over the past 13 months but life is wonderful about getting in the way.

Lieb Plays the Blues a la Trane - The David Liebman Trio (DayBreak) - One of the first John Coltrane Lps to catch my ear and hold it fast was the classic Atlantic release, "Coltrane Plays the Blues." To this day, it remains one of my favorite recordings (by anybody.)  This new (2008) recording from David Liebman uses both the blues and 'Trane as its jumping-off point but is far from a carbon-copy.
Recorded in the midst of a European tour during which Liebman (soprano and tenor saxophones), Marius Beets (bass) and Eric Ineke (drums) were playing music by Alec Wilder and Kurt Weill, Liebman called an "audible" and the Trio played this program of blues pieces associated with Coltrane.  The program starts with a burning take of "All Blues" which Liebman roars through on soprano atop a circular walking bass line and driving drums. "Up Against the Wall" is more "straight-ahead", with the leader's bluesy then boisterous tenor sax.  Ineke is the right drummer for this music - he pushes hard, really slamming the drums without overpowering the trio.  The "hard-bop" of "Mr. P.C." opens with a bass solo, then a 3-minute turn from Ineke before Liebman "dances" his way over and through the changes.  "Village Blues", the longest track (15' 34') on the disk features a very impressive soprano sax solo  - Liebman's tone is nothing like Coltrane's in that the former has a thinner, reedier, yet no less compelling sound. Duke Ellington's "Take the Coltrane" closes the program -  after a melodic bass solo, the piece moves forward like a bullet train taking no prisoners.
David Liebman, a 2011 NEA Jazz Master, is a "master", a great teacher and forward-looking musician who is his own man.  Like John Coltrane, he gives every performance his "all" each time out, no resting on laurels, no laying back to preserve his strength. How lucky we listeners are.  For more information, go to

Live at The Penofin Jazz Festival -  Rich Halley Quartet featuring Bobby Bradford (Pine Eagle) -On paper, this may look like a tribute to the sound of Ornette Coleman (cornet, saxophone, bass and drums) but this release from tenor player and composer Halley is much more than that.  This is a celebration of interplay, of shifting rhythms, of the power of intelligent soloists and of having a great time playing together.  Halley has been involved with music over 3 decades, recording with numerous groups and as a leader.  One gets the feeling as he lets loose with a soaring, squalling, phrase (such as he does at the close of his solo on the very funky "Streets Below") that music is his key to personal freedom. Joining him in this band is his son Carson (drums), Clyde Reed (bass) and the legendary Bobby Bradford (cornet.) Bradford is a crisp soloist, steeped in the tradition of Louis Armstrong and Don Cherry yet sounding like neither.  His solo on "Grey Stone/Shards of Sky" over Carson Halley's martial parade beat is understated (and underrecorded) yet pleasingly melodic -
during the second half of the tune, his lines wrap themselves sinuously around the tenor and, later, during his solo, his sly phrases bring out the bebop in the piece.  The program closes with the blues-drenched "The River's Edge is Ice" and, again, the theme allows for the cornet and saxophone to play a dance-like counterpoint 4 of the piece's nearly 10 minutes.  When the rhythm opens up (more "parade-funk" from the drums), Bradford does not try to impress with multi-note phrases; instead, he skates along atop the drums. Halley displays much more fire yet does not overpower the music.
The biggest issue with "Live.." is the mix which often covers Bradford's cornet lines. The music makes for good listening, especially the fine drumming that continually pushes the program forward.  For more information, go to

From His World to Mine: Dan Block Plays the Music of Duke Ellington - Dan Block (Miles High Records) - It is said that Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, in a career that spanned over 5 decades, wrote over 1000 compositions, either by himself or with Billy Strayhorn or a number of other collaborators.  On this recording by reed master Dan Block, he and several different ensembles explore 13 of the lesser-known Ducal pieces plus one from Strayhorn.  A good number of the works come from the period of 1938 - 1949, a time when the Orchestra's popularity waxed and waned.  The "lean" times did not stop Ellington from his composing and allowed for some of his more interesting experiments.  One of those is "The Beautiful Indians", a 2-part work - here, Block chooses the second part, "Minnehaha", and scores it for Eb, Bb and bass clarinets plus basset horn (all played by the leader plus bass and cello. Cellist Pat O'Leary also appears on "Portrait of Bert Williams" (1940) and 1941's "Rocks in My Bed" from "Jump for Joy."  Block plays a very tuneful bass clarinet on these cuts which also feature bassist Lee Hudson and tasteful acoustic guitar work of James Chirillo.  Ellington fans will recognize "Mt. Harrissa" from "The Far East Suite" - -here, the Middle Eastern rhythms give way to a samba beat, Block's solo having the mellow edge of Stan Getz and a fine vibraphone solo from Mark Sherman.  "Cotton Club Stomp", from the early 1930s, features the excellent piano accompaniment of Michael Kanan and the "danceable" rhythms of bassist Hudson and drummer Brian Grice.  His sparkling clarinet work on "Second Line" (from "The New Orleans Suite") is both highly musical and fun. "Ballad Medley (All Heart/Change My Ways)" is the Strayhorn contribution, 2 lovely tunes that Block and pianist Kanan explore. The 2 pieces were written 10 years apart - 1957's "All Heart" features Block on clarinet and then he switches to alto saxophone for the earlier "Change My Ways." 
Block's reed work is exemplary throughout. This music is not concerned with big, technically excellent, musicianship.  Instead, Block moves into the emotional center of each piece and mines the heart and soul of the music. There is no attempt to "modernize" the music; instead Dan Block and his compatriots have a great time playing all these sweet melodies.  Find this music and revel in its musicality.

Here's "Old King Dooji" from Dan Block, courtesy of Miles Hugh Records and IODA Promonet:

Old King Dooji (mp3)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Struggles and Confirmation

Soul of the Movement - Marcus Shelby Orchestra (Porto Franco Records) -Bassist/composer Shelby is nothing if not an ambitious person.  He first came to critical notice in the early 1990s as the leader of Black Note, a quintet based on the West Coast that mined the fertile grounds of jazz from the 1960s.  Unlike many young musicians, he stayed in California (in the Bay Area) creating music for dance, film and theatrical productions, fronting a trio and, since early 2000, writing for a large ensemble.   

The Marcus Shelby Orchestra is the vehicle for his most impressive and expansive work.  The MSO's initial release was "The Lights Suite" , a combination of music written as a score for a play along with original pieces and jazz "standards.  2004 saw "Port Chicago", a long instrumental work based on the true story of the northern California naval base where a devastating explosion in July 1944 killed more than 320 men, predominantly African American sailors, and injured 400 others. That fine work was followed in 2007 by "Harriet Tubman" , the 19th Century Civil Rights activist who who rose out of humble beginnings, escaped slavery and dedicated her life to challenging the grave injustices in her day. It also was first time Shelby created a libretto for vocalists and, to my ears, was a great success.

The music he composes for his Big Band contains elements of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Thad Jones, Count Basie and more.  Much of it "swings" in the way the Lincoln Center Orchestra's productions do.  He creates wonderful grooves for the numerous soloists but rarely if ever lets solos dominate the work.  

Now comes "Soul of the Movement: Meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."   The CD, to be released the week of Dr. King's 82 Birthday celebration, blends traditional gospel melodies with songs of the late 50's and 1960s and Shelby originals.  The 16-piece orchestra (plus 3 guests) is once again joined by 3 distinct vocalists and the program is a stunning musical adventure.  Opening with the traditional "There is a Balm in Gilead", the project serves a stunning reminder of how important music was/is to African Americans.  Their frustrations, fears, desires, wants and needs were all wrapped up in the lyrics and music. "...Balm..." features the lovely soprano of Jeannine Anderson in the lead with Faye Carol and Kenny Washington as harmonic support. That is followed by another traditional "Amen" which most people know from Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions' version from the 1963 movie, "Lilies of the Field." Shelby does a masterful job creating a modern backdrop for the gospel melody, lovely angular harmonies and giving tenor saxophonists Sheldon Brown and Evan Francis the solo spotlight.  Washington and Carol contribute a soaring scat duet that leads back to the chorus.  

One of the better pieces is "Black Cab (Montgomery)" that tells the story of the cab drivers and car pools that drive people to work, church and school during the 13 month long bus boycott in the Alabama city. Not only do most listeners learn something from the lyrics but the "groove" is infectious.  There is also a rousing version of Mingus's "Fables of Faubus", the bassist's sarcastic tribute to the Arkansas Governor who defied the US Supreme Court's 1957 decision to desegregate Little Rock High School, ordering troops to keep African American students out.  The only thing missing is the lyrics (read them here), a searing indictment of not only the Governor but also President Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller.  

Honestly, there is not a weak track on this disk.  The all-instrumental "Birmingham: Project C" is a stirring multi-sectioned piece with stirring solos and great underpinning from bassist Shelby, pianist Adam Schulman and drummer Jeff Marrs. Curtis Mayfield's "We're a Winner" gets one's feet tapping, thanks to the funky rhythm, Matt Clark's gospel-drenched Hammond B-3 work, and "righteous" tenor saxophone from Howard Wiley.  Wiley also joins Washington, Carol, and pianist Sista Kee for the closing track, a deeply felt and down-home version of Thomas Dorsey's "Take My Hand, Precious Lord."

It's no accident that the first word in the album's title is "Soul" - chances are good you won't hear a more soulful release in 2011. But, there is also a number of important messages here, all delivered without the composer or the participants  beating the listener over the head.  The "beats" move you and the lyrics energize you.  And, it is important to listen right now - 2 years into the Obama Presidency and the verbal attacks on him and his wife are filled with vitriol, fueled (mostly) by ignorance and antiquated beliefs.  For all the messages and the photos that adorn the CD package that illuminate the struggle, there is so much joy in this music.  Joy, such a welcome element to this and every day.
For more information, go to

Know Thyself - Noah Baerman (Lemel Music) - Connecticut-based composer, bandleader, educator and pianist Noah Baerman received a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation/ Chamber Music America in 2008 and this 65 minute-plus suite is the result.  It's a brave step for Baerman on a number of levels. First of all, the piece is continuous - one must start at the very beginning and listen through to the very end, something that many CD listeners do not have the attention for these days (works well in concert, though.)  Though the work is multi-sectioned, it is only available as one long track (even on iTunes.)

Secondly, Baerman is best know for his Trio recordings, although his impressive 2005 tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., titled "Soul Force", featured a large ensemble on half the tracks. This work is scored for a septet of 2 reeds, vibraphone, guitar, piano, bass and drums.  All the participants are known to the composer, from his regular rhythm section of Henry Lugo (bass) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums, marimba) to childhood friends Wayne Escoffery (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Amanda Monaco (guitar) to newer friends Erica von Kleist (alto saxophone and flute) and Chris Dingman (vibraphone.)
One of the more interesting twists of the program is that it opens with a 3-minute tenor saxophone solo from Escoffery and not a piano intro. In fact, while Baerman takes several solos over the course of the work, they are fairly short.  At the premiere of the piece, his ultimate solo brought down the house.  It's quite exciting here, setting the tone for Escoffery's fiery spotlight (over McCoy Tyner-like chords and Sperrazza's thunderous percussion.)

There are 13 distinct sections to "Know Thyself", each with a title (listed on the inside of the CD package), some of which reflect the composer's myriad influences (from pianists James Williams and Phineas Newborn Jr. to Stevie Wonder and 70's soul music), while others sound unique to Baerman and come from his personal musical experimentation.  Much of the music rides on the fine rhythm work of Lugo and Sperrazza, both of whom understand how Baerman's musical mind works.  The ensemble sections are tight, the blend of guitar and vibes (as both "colors" and solo voices) fills out the sounds in a pleasing manner and there are a number of surprises along the way, from the leader's fine melodica work to Monaco's short acoustic guitar section to  von Kleist's sweet flute and alto voicings.

One could look at a project such as this and say it is a summation of the artist's career up until 2009 and the music hints at new directions.  That's thinking too much - the commission gave the composer the opportunity and resources to create a "large" work and, if you look at the composition, it's made to be played live in a concert hall.  There's plenty of great jazz on record but the best moments (for me) are in concert halls, performance spaces and night clubs.  "Know Thyself" was a major challenge for Noah Baerman and he succeeded in grand fashion.  But the true success will come when a work this good (and the Marcus Shelby work above) gets played in Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and other great venues around the country and people get to breathe its refreshing air.

For more information and a chance to hear the music, go to