Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Autumn Colors (Part 2)

Musicians like guitarist Nat Janoff play all kinds of gigs, from r'n'b to funk to electric fusion to straight-ahead jazz, and do so because they love to play.  Music is in their blood.  Janoff graduated from William Paterson University in 1996 and has been gigging ever since.  "Come Together Move Apart" (self-released) is his 4th release as a leader or co-leader and it's a winner for a number of reasons.  Janoff has assembled a fine band, including pianist John Escreet, bassist Fran├žois Moutin and drummer Chris Carroll. He composed all the pieces and then let the band loose.  The rhythm section is so fluid, they make the music move with fire and grace - the interaction of the guitar and piano with the bass and drums on pieces such as "Mood" and "Shorter Times" makes it sound as if they had played together for years.  When a musician moves within the poly-rhythmic world, they can either be conservative and fall back on cliches to get through or take bold chances knowing the support is there.  It's a treat to hear how Carroll gets into conversations with Janoff and Escreet during their solos on "Sunday Morning" and the way Moutin dances beneath the pianist on "Partly Cloudy."  Those interactive moments happen throughout the program and are a big part of what makes this music so enjoyable.  Escreet's work behind and alongside the guitarist is also pleasing.  The young British-born keyboard artist is one of those players who never goes for the "tried-and-true" and his accompaniment of as well as his interactions with Janoff shine ("Sketch 1" and "Sketch 2" show how well they work on ballads.)  His solo on "Hope Fills My Heart" is the musical explanation of the song's title. Moutin, whose work with both his brother Louis and pianist Jean-Michel Pilc's Trio, has shown to him to be such an inventive player, is no slouch on these tracks, with his thick tone and revelatory solos.

While Nat Janoff can really play guitar (his lines are often swift, blurs of runs that move up and down the fret board), you should listen to "Come Together Move Apart" to hear how strong the melodies are and how much fun the 4 players have on their journey through the pieces.  This is why I listen to jazz, to creative music.  Recordings this good give me hope in troubled times.  For more information, go to

Guitarist-composer Mike Baggetta is coming to New Haven and Firehouse 12 on October 28 to play 2 sets of music, 8:30 and 10 p.m., with the Quartet that has just issued its 2nd CD on the Fresh Sounds New Talent label.  "Source Material" features his "working" group of Jason Rigby (saxophones), Eivind Opsvik (bass) and George Schuller (drums) - on the CD, one can hear that these musicians really pay attention to each other and to the material, all of which are Baggetta originals.

It's a program that commences on the low-key side with 2 longer pieces, "Tonic" (12:10) and "Nathan" (8:55) both starting slowly and quietly.  The former opens with a short, even-keeled, drum solo before the band tip-toes in,  Baggetta's softer chords driving the piece forward. Rigby adds a livelier feel in his tenor solo that also spotlights the fine guitar accompaniment.  "Nathan" is even softer, a ballad all the way through, Rigby's soft tenor lines wrapping around the guitar, not unlike the work John Abercrombie did with Charles Lloyd on the saxophonist's "Water is Wide" and "Lift Every Voice" CDs. The band moves a several steps "out" on "Liberty", a work with a rubato feel (fine drum accompaniment) and the next track, "Momentum", has the feel of an Ornette Coleman piece from his Atlantic days. There's more Coleman influence on "Projections", a romp that shows Rigby (on tenor) at his most playful  Baggetta switches to acoustic guitar for the lovely and still adventurous "The Sky and the Sea."  The blend of the soprano saxophone and acoustic guitar is gentle and emotionally satisfying. The guitarist goes it alone (still on acoustic) for "The Winter Moon", a piece where the melody revolves around a lovely descending line.

Opsvik and Schuller are magnificent throughout, both knowing when to build intensity or to lay back. The bassist offers counterpoint to the soloists' melodies while the drummer is often coloring the background with his pleasing cymbal work. 

"Source Material" is modern music as it should be played, not only about cogent solos and sonic experimentation but also melodically strong and filled with striking interplay.   Much of the music is played at lower volumes so pay close attention and reap the musical rewards.  For more information, go to  For tickets to the Firehouse 12 date, go to


It would not be a lie to say that alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon is on a serious upwards roll.  The 8 seasons he has spent with the SF Jazz Collective have sharpened his ensemble playing and ability to create intricate arrangements and cogent solos. The MacArthur Genius Grant (2008) has eased any financial issues and his recordings on Marsalis Music just keep getting better.  "Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook" is his 2nd consecutive release to specifically deal with music from his homeland; while "Esta Plena" dug deep into the folkloric side of his heritage, the new CD uses "popular" music for its jumping off point (believe me, the jacket cover gives one a hint to Zenon's intention in recording these pieces - this is very sophisticated "dance" music.)

The program has much to recommend itself to the listener.  First, Zenon's Quartet, composed of Luis Perdomo (pianist), Hans Glawischnig (bass) and Henry Cole (drums), has been a working unit since early in the 2000s (Cole replaced Antonio Sanchez after 2005's "Jibaro" recording).  Secondly, he employs Guillermo Klein to write arrangements for 8 reeds and 2 brass) and he does a magnificent job of supplying subtle colors and shadings (never getting in the way.)  Third, the material Zenon chose comes from the pens of Bobby Capo, Rafael Hernandez, Pedro Flores, Sylvia Rexach and Tite Curet Alonso, names that may be unknown to the average North American listener but whose works sparkle with melodic charm and, at times, rhythmic intensity.  Finally, Zenon's saxophone work is so impressive.  He plays fluid lines that leap out of the speakers and his ballad work is passionate, warm, and soulful.  Several years ago, a criticism of his playing was that (and I am paraphrasing here) it was technically fine but lacked "soul."  Can't say that about his recent work - Miguel Zenon has developed into one of the more eloquent alto saxophonists, a player who has found his heart (and voice) in mining the music of his homeland and putting his own distinct sound (and soul) into creating it anew.  There is not a weak track on "Alma Adentro" (Depths of My Soul"). Kudos also go to Perdomo who makes the most out of each and every solo. And, Cole's drum work will make you get out of your seat - his dancing rhythms can be subtle or forceful but never dull.

For more information, go to If he's playing anywhere nearby, do your best to be in attendance.

the four bags has just released its 4th CD, "forth" (NCM East) and the ensemble - Mike McGinnis (woodwinds), Brian Drye (trombone), Sean Moran (guitar) and Jacob Garchik (accordion) - has delivered its most consistent and enjoyable program.  One continues to marvel at how a drummer-less ensemble can swing so smartly (when they want to) and how they continue to take unconventional material and make it "bags' music."  Garchik's fingers on his accordion keys provide the "click track" for the group's re-imagining of "Run", a song originally recorded by the French band Air.  The moaning trombone, the rippling and pinging guitar, and the keening accordion cast the piece in a very different light. The foursome has a lively time with its high-stepping "Girias Do Norte" (originally recorded by Brazilian singer-songwriter Jacinto Silva) - Moran's guitar sounds South African, at times, and the rest of the band creates quite a ruckus.  Garchik contributes a fascinating arrangement of Iranian musician Parviz Meshkatian's "The Burning", a dramatic piece with a distinctive melody and impressive shifts in intensity.

Of the original material, there's an Eastern European feel to Moran's "Terpischore", more Viennese than Romanian while Drye's "Imaginary Soda" blends Steve Reich and Frank Zappa into a more melodic sonic drink.  Garchik's funky "Wayne Shorter Tune With All Different Notes" takes of atop a rhythm that seems like a permutation of Chick Corea's "Spain." McGinnis's "Sweet Home California" utilizes the rhythm from the Lynryd Skynrd tune of a similar title (different state) and Moran gets to display his "guitar slinger" chops.  Garchik's solo has a fiery and atonal edge while the blend of clarinet and trombone creates fascinating colors.

the four bags (all small letters, if you please) could be dubbed a chamber ensemble with roots in Weill, Nino Rota, 20th Century serial music, "pop" music and modern jazz.  They impress with their blend of instrumental sounds, their fearless approach to repertoire, and their fine musicianship.  Go "forth" with open ears and these bags will hold your attention each time you listen.

Here's what "forth" sounds like (courtesy of the band) - make up your own mind.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Richard
    Brian here from the Four Bags - thanks so much for the great review!
    we really appreciate your support. All the best and thanks again.