Sunday, December 30, 2012

Music, Good Music

Australian-born trumpeter/composer Nadje Noordhuis relocated to the US in 2003 to complete her Masters Degree and study with modern trumpet legend Laurie Frink.  She has since gone on to take part in the 2007 Thelonious Monk Competition, a week-long residency with Dave Douglas and to perform with DIVA Jazz Orchestra and Darcy James Argue's Secret Society.

Now, Little Mystery Records has issued her self-titled debut CD. Featuring Sara Caswell (violin), Geoff Keezer (piano), Obed Calvaire (drums), Joe Martin (bass) plus James Shipp (percussion) and Rupert Boyd (classical guitar), the scope of this music might remind listeners of works by Maria Schneider, especially in the way Ms. Noordhuis uses the rhythm section to create the counterpoint to the soloists and the melody (the CD's opening track, "Water Crossing" is an excellent example.)  Shipp's percussion and Boyd's elegant rhythm guitar support the violin and trumpet on "Le Hameau Omi" - Keezer's subtle piano lines, here combined with the guitar, gives the music buoyancy.

Calvaire and Martin lock in to create a strong groove on "Le Fin", a pleasing blend of jazz and funk with a strong trumpet spotlight and impressive piano solo. Keezer also shines on the fiery "Mayfair", a piece that has Celtic influences in its rapid-fire melody line.  Calvaire and Shipp combine to create a percussion whirlwind the impressive piano solo.

What stands out most (for me) in Nadje Noordhuis's debut are the melody and harmony lines she creates for her ensemble and how the musicians create such impressionistic worlds from those musical blueprints. Compositions such as "Magnolia" and "Waltz For Winter" are emotionally rich, the former with the blend of violin and flugelhorn leading the way (don't ignore the super rhythm section) while the latter builds off of Keezer's rich piano lines (his solo is stunning.)

The highest compliment one gave give is to write that the music on this lovely recording from Nadje Noordhuis resonates long after the final notes fade away.  For more information, go to

Click on the link below to hear "Mayfair" from Ms. Noordhuis's CD:

Although "Continuous Beat", the new ENJA CD from guitarist/composer Rez Abbasi is billed as a "Trio" recording, it opens and closes with 2 solo pieces.  The opener, "Intro", does exactly what one might expect, setting the tone for the program while the closer, an acoustic reading of "The Star-Spangled Banner", is more of a surprise than an epilogue of the CD.

In between, the work of Abbasi, bassist John Hebert and drummer Satoshi Takeishi is fascinating, a 3-way conversation that is creative music at its best.  The drummer both powers and continuously colors the music while Hebert, a bassist cut from the Dave Holland mode, is supportive as well as melodic.  Melody and interplay are important throughout - Takeishi's strong drum intro to the Trio's reading of Gary Peacock's "Major Major" sets the stage for an exploration that shimmers; Hebert's handsome counterpoint to Abbasi's excellent solo stands out but, then again, so does the drummer's insistent forward motion.  Abbasi's impressionistic re-arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "Off Minor" opens with each member of the trio scampering about. Even after the guitarist introduces the familiar melody, the rhythm section continue to play with the tempo and Abbasi builds his solo off their interplay. Abbasi's other "cover" tune comes from pianist Keith Jarrett.  "The Cure", originally recorded by Jarrett's Trio for a 1990 ECM CD of the same name, has a sweet groove (Takeishi makes "funk" fun). "Rivalry", a composition from the guitarist, has a "heavier" and steadier tempo, Takeishi's drums leading the way yet again.  Yet, the rhythm section beneath the soaring guitar solo, moves in and out until the drum solo slows the piece down until a reworking of the opening theme.

Throughout "Continuous Beat", Rez Abbasi's guitar work impresses with its creativity, his horn-like tone, the sustain of his notes, and solos that stand out more for their melodic content than for any technical prowess.  Hebert and Takeishi are the perfect foils, pushing, prodding and supporting the guitarist, giving the music a sense of vitality from the Trio's first note to its last.  This is Rez Abbasi's 9th CD as a leader; he continues to show growth as a composer, guitarist and as an improviser.  For more information, go to

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Live From Germany, It's Jazz From The 50s + 60s

The Jazzhaus label, located in Halle, Germany, owns the rights to all the video and audio recordings from the archives of Sudwestrundfunk (SWR);  we are talking 3000 hours of footage featuring over 400 ensembles and soloists playing all styles of jazz (just look at the 4 examples in this column.)

First up is the Duke Ellington Orchestra, recorded in March of 1967 in Stuttgart.  The band was in the midst of a long tour which would be interrupted 2 months later by the death of Billy Strayhorn.  The band features a number of its long-time stalwarts, from saxophonists Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves and Harry Carney to trumpeters Cat Anderson and Cootie Williams plus the silky smooth clarinet of Jimmy Hamilton and splendid trombone of Lawrence Brown.  This digital mix moves the rhythm section of bassist John Lamb and drummer Rufus Jones as well as the impressionistic piano work of the leader. As for the material, it covers a wide swath of the Ellington/Strayhorn songbook, from the tried-and-true "Tutti for Cootie" to newer pieces like "Swamp Goo" (with a raucous solo from Russell Procope on  clarinet.)  Strayhorn's "Blood Count" is presented as "Freakish Lights" and there is a splendid take of French composer Raymond Fol's "Salome" (Cat Anderson hits some seriously high notes on the climax of the song.)

Yes, there are plenty of Duke Ellington recordings on the market but there always seems to be room for one more, especially one as well-done as this live document.  Duke Ellington and the Orchestra spent so much time "on the road" that one might expect that the musicians could phone in the concert.  That's certainly not the case here.  It's easy to understand why this music remains so popular - it's vital, emotionally rich and, much of the time, loads of fun.

Most of us who discovered trombonist Albert Mangesldorff did so through a series of Lps released by the MPS Records label. Those recordings included several solo recordings in which the German-born trombonist showed off his skill playing multi-phonics (split notes) - he went on record with the likes of saxophonists John Surman and Lee Konitz, bassist Jaco Pastorius and drummers Elvin Jones, Ronald Shannon Jackson and Han Bennink. This recording features his working Quintett from 1964 including Heinz Sauer (tenor sax and soprano sax), Gunter Kronberg (alto sax), Gunter Lenz (bass) and Ralf Hubner (drums). At the time of this recording, the group had returned for a tour of Asia and it shows in the music.  This group would go on to record "Now Jazz Ramwong" later in the year - it's the opening track on this CD and one can hear the languid yet loping (hypnotic) groove that would also show up in John Coltrane's Quartet recordings several years later.  The ensemble also understood swing - you can hear that on "Set 'Em Up" but the majority of the music reflects the sounds they heard interacting with other musicians on their Far East tour.  "The rhythm section takes center stage on "Raknahs" (a tribute to Indian ragas - turn the title around) - later on in the program, they perform the sitar master's "Theme From Pather Panchali" digging deep into the Indian rhythms without abandoning a Western beat. "Far Out Far East" is a bass spotlight for Lenz, who acquits himself impressively.  On the closing track, "Es Sungen Drei Engel", the Quintett truly struts its stuff with strong ensemble playing and a rousing trombone solo.

Of all the Jazzhaus recordings I have heard so far, the Albert Mangelsdorff Quintett CD is the most revealing, giving one the true insight into the trombonist's development of his music and playing. This is highly recommended. 

This live date from saxophonist Zoot Sims (1925-1985) dates from 1958 and came about after Sims met fellow saxophonist Han Koller while on tour with the Benny Goodman Orchestra.  With the help of producer Joachim-Ernst Berendt, the reed players organized a band and a concert to take place in Baden-Baden, Germany.  Along for the ride are trombonist Willie Dennis (4 tracks), flautists Adi Feuerstein and Gerd Husemann (2 tracks), baritone saxophonist and flautist Helmut Brandt (3 tracks) and the rhythm section of Hans Hammerschmid (piano), Peter Trunk (bass) and the great Kenny Clarke (drums).

As opposed to the first 2 recordings, this one has a looser vibe yet there are moments where everyone and thing falls into place.  Pianist Hammerschmid's "Blue Night" swings pleasingly and the horn arrangment, bolstered by Brandt's baritone, is smart. The bari player gets the spotlight on "I Surrender Dear" while Dennis gets the honor on "These Foolish Things." - both do a fine job and I like the way it breaks up the the order. Sims and Koller break out their clarinets for Hammerschmid's "Minor Meeting for Two Clarinets" (you can hear that both players paid attention to the afore-mentioned Mr. Goodman.)  Clarke sparks the saxophonists on Denzil Best's romp titled "Alan's Alley" and swings like mad on Koller's reading of Richard Rodger's "Falling In Love."  Sims' mellow tenor leads the way on the classic "Tangerine", playing a most melodic solo.

This recording seems to get better with each listen. There is a lot to pay attention to (the rhythm section, the smart arrangements, and the majority of good solos) - if you like your jazz "straight-ahead", this CD is a pleasurable experience.

John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie was one of those musicians who never failed to make his listeners smile.  A sparkling yet playful trumpeter (who can' forget those cheeks) as well as a influential vocalist, Gillespie was one of the pioneers in bring bebop as well as Latin Jazz to a wider audience.  This recording comes from 2 concerts in late November 1961 features a band that Leo Wright (alto sax, flute), Bob Cunningham (bass), Mel Lewis (drums) and the pre-movie and television soundtrack composer Lalo Schifrin on piano. The program commences with a swinging take of Duke Ellington's "The Mooche" - stretched out to just over 16 minutes, everyone gets plenty of time to solo.  Wright digs in nicely while Dizzy gets pretty funky.  Schifrin takes a wide-ranging solo, displaying a bit of his classical upbringing and a good dollop of the blues as well. Wright's flute leads the way with a sometimes lilting, sometimes gritty solo on "Willow Weep For Me" (the trumpeter sits this tune out.) The leader shows off his blues chops on "I Can't Get Started" and brings out the mute for his Middle-Eastern tinged "Kush." Wright takes flight on the latter tune with a solo that begins in a Charlie Parker mode before taking a turn to the Eric Dolphy side.  Lewis and Cunningham really push the soloists (dig the drummer behind the pianist) and, though the song stretches to nearly 16 minutes, there is not a boring moment.

There are 2 versions of Gillespie's "Con Alma" (recorded 2 days apart) and, while the structure and solo order is the same, it's interesting and instructive to compare the solos.  Can't say that I like one over the other but Leo Wright really shines on the second version.

The late 1950s and 1960s were a fertile time for jazz, especially as it marched across the globe. These 4 CDs cover a lot of musical territory and each has rewards for jazz lovers.  For more information, go to

Thursday, December 27, 2012

2 x 2 To The New Year (Part 2)

Bill McHenry is a saxophonist/composer who impresses one by always being himself in any musical situation. His latest Sunnyside release, "La Peur Du Vide" (fear of the void) features his latest quartet including Orrin Evans (piano), Eric Revis (bass) and drum master Andrew Cyrille (McHenry's previous quartet recordings featured Paul Motian.) Recorded live at The Village Vanguard in March of 2012, the group's second such engagement in 6 months.  All the music on the CD was written for this band - Cyrille is a much more forceful player than Motian was (in his later years) so several of these pieces have more fire than one might be used to on a McHenry recording. "Siglo XX" sounds like the classic John Coltrane Quartet with the pounding piano chords, Revis's melodic counterpoint behind the soloists and Cyrille's hearty swing.  The following track, "Today", is as quiet as the opener was fiery yet the interplay of the musicians is just as vital.  Cyrille and Revis lock into the groove on "In Sight", freeing both Evans and McHenry to have fun.  The pianist swings with abandon while McHenry alternates between melodic fragments and long, flowing, lines.

The title track is a quiet meditation, opening with the saxophonist, pianist and bassist moving in and around each other.  Revis, who plays alongside Evans in Tar Baby and also is a mainstay in the Branford Marsalis Quartet, displays his most melodic qualities on this track, especially during the impressive piano solo. Cyrille's brushwork stands out beneath the bass solo and his presence throughout the song adds subtle coloring.  "Trillard" closes the program; there is a splintered melody that leads to a series of solos.  Revis goes first, sticking to his bow and creating a multi-colored experience.  Evans digs in for his solo atop the clamor of the rhythm section. McHenry joins them for moment before taking off for his own exploration. There is a bluesy edge to his playing, at times, but when he and Cyrille take the spotlight, he creates a most playful solo. Cyrille's spotlight takes its time to build up, allowing him to explore different rhythmic patterns and colors.

"La Peur Du Vide" is honest music, without frills, ripe with creativity and melody. McHenry's choice of band members really pushed in new and, perhaps, unexpected directions.  Rewarding for him and the eager listener.   For more information, go to

Steve Lacy (1934-2004) first played Dixieland jazz before discovering Thelonious Monk; it was the influence of the latter that reverberated throughout Lacy's career.  He was also an influential soprano saxophonist, with a sound that had little to do with that of John Coltrane. Yet, you can hear his influence on contemporary players such as Jane Ira Bloom.

He spent the better part of 3 decades living in Europe (1970-2002) working with his own groups as well as working with pianist Misha Mengelberg and drummer Han Bennink.  Bennink is in the drum seat for "The Whammies Play the Music of Steve Lacy" (Driff Records), a sextet that also features Jorrit Dijkstra (alto saxophone, lyricon, co-producer), Pandelis Karayorgis (piano, co-producer), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Mary Oliver (violin, viola) and Nate McBride (bass). You can't help but hear the Monk influence in the loping rhythms of the opening 2 tracks, "Bone (to Lester Young)" and "As Usual (to Piet Mondrian)" as well as Monk's "Locomotive" that closes the CD. Given the pedigree of the musicians (plus the fact that Bennink is on the drums), this is not reverential music; instead, the sextet plays with fire, humor, and joy.  "Ducks (to Ben Webster)" opens with Dijkstra and Bishop doing their best duck calls.  When Bennink and Karayorgis enter the fray, the piece becomes a sparring match, with the drummer smashing away in the middle between sax (left channel) and trombone (right channel.)  Later on, the pianist takes a ride on the drummer's waves of sound. The playful melody line of "Dutch Masters (to Spike Jones & The City Slickers)" doesn't replicate the madness that Jones was able to conjure from his music, instead opting for what that band might sound like if it played mainstream jazz.

The band takes its name from a Lacy composition dedicated to trumpeter Fats Navarro; here, it is a rollicking free-for-all that features Bennink flailing away pushing Dijkstra to play his most intense solo followed by Bishop, who also feels the drummer's fire, his lines jabbing, bobbing and weaving in a most playful.  The Whammies do Steve Lacy justice without imitation - they feed off the composer's creative fire, the example of his life well-lived.  For more information, go to

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2 x 2 To The New Year

I have several opportunities to hear Sinan Bakir in the 3 years since his debut CD "On My Way" was issued.  He has always had impressive technique but his 2nd release "Tales and Stories" (ASLAN Records) illustrates how the Turkish-born Hartford CT resident has matured as a composer and arranger.  It really helps that he has had several weekly  gigs to develop these pieces. Another positive factor in the success of this project is the work of Thomson Kneeland (bass) and the splendid drummer Mark Ferber, both of whom appeared on Bakir's debut. Joining them is pianist Warren Byrd (The Afro-Semitic Experience), a musician who has the talent to play just about anything.

The quartet explores the 12 original pieces with grace, fire, wit, and emotional intensity, displaying intuitive interaction throughout.  Bakir continues to mine the music he heard as a young person growing up in Ankara - he blends Turkish folk melodies into pieces such as "East West" with its rubato opening that leads to a hearty guitar solo.  After a short break for several rock chords, the band drops into a rocking groove (perhaps their interpretation of the "West" in the title.)  Yet, there are also songs built off of chords that reflect the influence of Pat Metheny and John Abercrombie - one can hear that on driving pieces such as "Up" and the sweet title track.  Other works stand out for the band's original approach like the handsome ballad "Dreams", with Kneeland's forceful bass work and Byrd's lyrical solo. When Bakir enters, the song resembles George Harrison's "Something."  Bakir's solos are impressive throughout but, to these ears, he saves his best for last.  "Kites (for Don)" begins as a reverie for piano and guitar, with a straight-forward single-note melody that continues to expand as the guitarist moves forward and the rhythm section enters.

"Tales & Stories" is head-and-shoulders above Sinan Bakir's impressive debut CD.  His melodies are stronger, his playing more varied and assured plus the addition of Byrd gives the pieces more emotional weight. Just let these sounds wash over you; good music can excite and soothe and this is good music.  For more information, go to

Vancouver, Canada-based cellist Peggy Lee has a new CD, "Invitation", released on the Drip Audio label.  It is the second release to feature her accomplished octet of Brad Turner (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jon Bentley (tenor saxophone), Jeremy Berkman (trombone), Andre Lachance (electric bass), Dylan van der Schyff (drums, co-producer) and 2 guitarists Ron Samworth and Tony Wilson. Many listeners know Ms. Lee as an "avant-garde" player yet she is som much more than that. Her original music for this ensemble, known as the Peggy Lee Band, blends so many different styles of music it's truly best to go with flow (the cellist composed all but 1 of the 11 tracks).  After a raucous, jittery, guitar intro (reminiscent of Captain Beefheart's music), "Why Are You Yelling" breaks into a hard-edged groove - in the middle of the tune, the band drops out for an unaccompanied trombone solo before Ms. Lee's shivery high notes leads the "groove" riff back in. Yet, it doesn't come all the way back as the song closes with an extended slow, rubato, coda. "Chorale" is also a multi-sectioned composition, opening quietly on van der Schyff's unaccompanied solo, with shimmering cymbals and movement around the trap set  Long chords from the brass, cello and guitars lead into the next section of the work, also fairly quiet bit with different voices stepping up for short statements before a more "formal" ending.

Turner's fine trumpet stands out of "Path of a Smile" as does the strong melodic turn from bassist Lachance (excellent drum support beneath him as well.) The lullaby-like ballad "You Will Be Loved Again" (from the Canadian composer Mary Margaret O'Hara) is the prettiest work in the program, a slow, dreamy, song with country harmonies.  In her notes, Ms. Lee mentions both Canadian playwright and librettist Tom Cone as well as drummer/vocalist Levon Helm (both of whom passed in 2012) as influences on this music.  One can hear shades of The Band in the lovely "End Waltz" (the guitar work is ethereal).

"Invitation" invites the listener to a world where sound, melody, harmony and expression is displayed in myriad ways.  Rom Samworth's 12-string guitar solo on "Little Pieces" has a West African feel, abetted by the horn interjections while "Not So Far" opens with noise such as scraping guitars, bows hitting cellos and drums interjections before one guitar begins a lovely chord progression and, slowly, a melody rises out of the background.  "Warming" closes the program on a bluesy note with a fine guitar solo, a melodic horn arrangement ahead of and beneath the short trumpet solo and an insistent rhythm.

The previous CD by The Peggy Lee Band (2008's "New Code", also on Drip Audio) introduced listeners to a band that seems to have infinite capabilities and "Invitation" proves the earlier recording was no fluke.  Ms. Lee does not hog the spotlight, blending her rich cello tone in with the horns or rising above the twin guitars.  Take your time with this music and you will be richly rewarded.

To hear "Your Grace", click on the following link:

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Ones That (Almost) Got Away + Remember

Invariably, I forget to list a CD (or 4) among my "Favorites" because it was loaned to someone and not returned or I moved it out of one pile into another (my desk can take on the form of an archaeological dig, at times) or, most often, I forgot.

Such is the case with the delightfuand irreverent mini-CD from trombonist/composer Jacob Garchik.  Clocking in at just over 28 minutes, "The Heavens: The Atheist Gospel Trombone Album" (Yestereve Recordings) is a funky exploration of faith, belief, and social responsibility that will rock you to the core.  Garchik overdubs sousaphone, baritone horn, slide trumpet and alto horn to aid and abet his trombone.  What you get is a healthy dollop of New Orleans, trad jazz, James Brown, the blues, shades of Jewish liturgical music, dance music and much more.  If you have yet to partake in this sweet slice of earthy and earthly delights, go to

I did not have the opportunity to review "By A Little Light" (Greenleaf Records), the 4th CD from bassist/composer Matt Ulery. Blending classical elements with jazz and folk music, this music enters one's brain and won't let go.  This music is not geared towards one audience; instead, it's a deeply personal experience with the composer speaking through various soloists, including pianists Rob Clearfield or Ben Lewis and violinist Zach Brock (whose 2012 CrissCross CD "Almost Never Was" deserves to be noticed as well).  Ulery also contributes a fascinating group of lyrics, most sung by Grazyna Auguscik (the composer sings harmony as well as takes the lead on 1 track.)  This 2-CD set will continue to grow on you as you listen because the music is so smart and there is so much going on (without the songs ever feeling cluttered.)  To find out more, go

Pianist Luis Perdomo, who can often be seen and heard pushing, prodding and propelling the music of saxophonist Miguel Zenon, released 2 CDs in 2012.  "Universal Mind" (RKM Music) received numerous good reviews (deservedly so) but it was "The Infancia Project" (CrissCross Records) that really shook the house.  With a quintet featuring tenor saxophonist Mark Shim, percussionist Mauricio Herrera and the splendid rhythm section of Ignacio Berroa (drums) and Andy Gonzalez (bass), Perdomo plays original music plus classics from Miles Davis ("Solar"), Ornette Coleman ("Happy House") and Bud Powell ("Un Poco Loco") and plays them all with such joy and verve that it's hard not to get hooked.  It's a special pleasure to hear the woefully under-appreciated Mark Shim flying over the fiery rhythm section.  To find out more, go to

The trio of Sam Rivers (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, piano), Dave Holland (bass) and Barry Altschul (drums) reunited in 2007 to perform for WKCR-FM's Sam Rivers Festival.  They had not played together in over 25 years and hit the stage for 2 continuous sets of totally improvised music.  "Reunion: Live In New York" (Pi Recordings) is the document of those 2 sets.  Mr. Rivers was 83 &2/3rds years old at the time of this concert (he died the day after Christmas in 2011) and, dear me, sounds as vibrant, creative and full of fire as he did during the Trio's time together in the 1970s.  Holland and Altschul are equal partners in this venture, giving this music a foundation that "frees" Mr. Rivers to go wherever his spirit takes him.  Delightful, challenging, raucous and impressionistic, this "Reunion" is a great union of the "spirits."  Go to for more information.

I must admit to missing "The Jazz Session", Jason Crane's wonderful podcast that he shut down in late October of this year. He seems to be in good mental shape and there's hope he will return to his journalistic endeavors but his podcast still can (and should) be accessed at   It remains a pleasure to read the writings of Peter Hum, Doug Ramsey, Nate Chinen, Ethan Iverson, David Adler,  Patrick Jarenwattananon at NPR's "A Blog Supreme", and other fine jazz journalists who all write with great passion and understanding of the music and its role in this country and the world.  And, if you need to explore the "freer" side of music, "Chilly Jay Chill" and "Prof. Drew LeDrew" of the blog "Destination: OUT" continue to teach and preach the joys of great improvisational music.

It's been 11 days since the horrific events in Newtown, CT, and we are still reeling from the aftershock. There are plenty of words being thrown around about gun control, mental health issues, and school security; one hopes that real progress can be made to make such incidents as the ones in Columbine, Virginia Tech and Newtown as rare as possible.  Madness abounds (and seems to be worse when guns are involved) and, while we reel from all these horrible events, we lose sight of the fact that millions of children go to bed hungry every night, that their parents can not find meaningful work and that educational systems around the country are struggling to keep these young students from succumbing to fatigue and burnout.

In the meantime, there are numerous ways to remember the victims of the December 11, 2012 shooting.  If you wish to remember and support the family of Ana Grace Marquez-Greene (pictured above), the daughter of Nelba Marquez and saxophonist/educator Jimmy Greene, you can do so by going to   And, then, you should call your legislators, speak to your community leaders and become an activist for change in this nation.  We'll never completely stop violent attacks on innocent people (freedoms such as we in the United States often come with wretched side-effects) but we can and should help bring about an end to hunger and recognize the need for better education for all of our young people.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Rest Of The Best Of....

"Ten Freedom Summers" (Cuneiform Records), the 4-CD masterwork by composer/ arranger/trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, is a sprawling, introspective, abstract on the Civil Rights Movement in the United States in the 1950s and 60s.  Scored for both Smith's Golden Quartet/Quintet and the 9-member Southwest Chamber Music ensemble, the music pays tribute to, remembers and reminds us of both the everyday heroes and famous people who made the attempt to bring equality to African-Americans a century after the Emancipation Proclamation.  Along the way, Smith pays tribute to September 11, 2001, to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., to Dr. King, Rosa Parks and much more.  There are no lyrics or poems only the titles to jog our memories or teach us a period History books often gloss over.  The music has a fascinating pull and I imagine this powerful work is even more so heard live with the graphics behind and above the musicians

Solo saxophone recordings are not unique but few have the blend of intellect, melody and invention that permeates "The Art of the Soprano: Vol. 1" (self-released), the latest exploration of saxophonist Sam Newsome's chosen instrument.  By shuffling 3 suites ("The Ellington Medley", "A Love Supreme", and "Soprano de Africana") Newsome illuminates the similarities and differences in the music as well as exhibiting his mastery over the soprano saxophone.  Yet, this is no technical exercise (although his technique is mighty impressive) but a wonderful journey into imagination.  To find out more, go to

Alto saxophonist/composer Ted Nash pays tribute to both the comic book imagination of his youth and the amazing Ornette Coleman Quartet of 1958-1962 on "The Creep"(Plastic Sax Records). Powered by bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Ulysses Owens plus aided by his faithful, full-toned, trumpet sidekick Ron Horton, Nash's music is an absolute treat, his alto lines flying above the exciting rhythms.  This project has the feel of a summer vacation, throwing caution to the wind and just having a great time.  While you dig the music, you should go to and read his fun blog; one gets quite the view of a working musician dealingwith everyday life.

In the aftermath of the December 14, 2012, school tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, I could understand how hard it becomes to listen to music.  "Be Still" (Greenleaf Music) is Dave Douglas's assignment from and tribute to his mother - she asked that he create a program of music for her memorial service. Blending traditional American folk music with jazz is nothing new but rarely has the music had the clarity that this project displays from beginning to end. The rhythm section of Linda Oh (bass), Rudy Royston (drums) and Matt Mitchell (piano) gently yet solidly supports Douglas, saxophonist Jon Irabagon and the emotional vocal work of Aoife O'Donovan.  Peaceful, probing, and honest music that deserves many listenings, even when life is at its happiest, "Be Still" exhibits the power of continued creativity.

In a recent interview in Keyboard Magazine (which you can read in full by going to, the pianist talks about his approach to his Trio music; "I want danger. And this trio to me has the requisite amount of danger, and at the same time, the requisite amount of respect and depth, in equal parts." Fred Hersch, along with bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson, really does come "Alive At The Vanguard" (Palmetto Records) and this CD, recorded several years after the pianist's nearly-fatal illness, bustles with life and shines with quiet joy.  Melody swims alongside harmony, rhythms jump, dance and caress while solos are trenchant and heartfelt.   

Whether organizing and leading the Captain Black Big Band or fronting a piano trio, Orrin Evans creates music that is as engaging as it is challenging.  Evans is a musician whose musical vocabulary seems limitless.  "Flip The Script" (Posi-Tone Records) features the interactive trio of Evans, Ben Wolfe (bass) and Donald Edwards (drums) moving through a program where rhythm, harmony and melody move in and out in a manner that belies slickness; one can intuit how comfortable and free the musicians feel with each other and the material. Yes, there are countless piano trio recording to choose from  - many of them impressive (see paragraph above) - but Orrin Evans and company make the time spent listening well worth it.

"Suite of the East" (Anzic Records) may have been recorded 6 years ago but this music feels fresh, invigorating and contemporary.  Composer/bassist Omer Avital assembled this ensemble of Omer Klein (piano), Joel Frahm (tenor saxophone), Avishai Cohen (trumpet) and Daniel Freedman (drums) knowing the musicians could interpret his blend of Israeli, North African and African-American music so that the listener would concentrate on the creativity and the power (this music hits many incredible climaxes) within his ideas.  Plus, Avital is a very impressive bassist, such a melodic and rhythmic force, that one is easily swept up in this journey.

Yes, there will be one more column dedicated to 2012 that will be concerned with several other recordings (most of which I did not get to review) that resonated deeply over the year.  In the meantime, have a peaceful Holiday season, one in which the music you love can help soothe the wounds caused by the (often) uncaring world.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Remembering Adrienne Cooper

Hard to believe it's been 12 months since the great Yiddish chanteuse and composer Adrienne Cooper passed away.   Seemingly in the prime of her career, Ms. Cooper had just issued her finest CD, "Enchanted: A New Generation of Yiddish Song"(Golden Horn), and a few months later, she was gone.

A slew of her friends and collaborators are gathering this Saturday December 22 (sorry for the late notice) at 8 p.m. in the Kaye Playhouse of Hunter College, 695 Park Avenue at 68th Street in New York City.  The notice I received earlier today read thusly:

"The celebration will feature performances by Mikveh (Alicia Svigals, Lauren Brody, Susan Watts and Nicki Parrott), The Klezmatics, Eleanor Reissa, Zalmen Mlotek, Sarah Gordon, Michael Alpert, Basya Schechter as well as international artists such as SoCalled, Shura Lipovsky, Psoy Korolenko, Marilyn Lerner, Theresa Tova and Daniel Kahn along with authors Michael Wex, Jenny Romaine, Jeffrey Shandler and Michael Cooper.  Leading the large orchestra and chorus will be Frank London and Michael Winograd."

If you cannot attend, the concert will be livestreamed on  If you want ticket information, call 212-772-4448 or go online to - there are only 20 tickets left as of 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Senseless, senseless

Over the next few days, scores of tributes will be written to honor the lives of those slain inside (and out of) the elementary school in Newtown, CT.  Though few of the names have been published, we know that the daughter of Nelba and Jimmy Greene, Ana Grace, was one of the students who perished...who was slaughtered by some person who had no value for human life.  By all accounts, Jimmy Greene (pictured left), saxophonist/composer/educator, is one of the genuinely good people in the world.  Deeply religious, thoughtful, a caring member of every community he comes in contact with, Greene expresses his love of life through his music and in the way he teaches others to express their inner truths.

Over the next few months, editorial pages will be filled with countless words about gun control, about regulations, and about personal freedoms.  Those words will, probably, do little or nothing to comfort those who lost their loved ones in the school; or on the streets of our cities and towns or anywhere in the world where these events happen every minute of the day.  Writers will say that it's finally time to sit down and really confront this issue.  And those of of us who sit and watch them posturing, whether they be politicians or lobbyists, will realize that we live in a world that is reactive, not proactive.  Like poverty, early childhood education, like universal health care, like the unchecked greed of many of our corporations, many people can only sit and ponder why, in a country that proclaims to be caring and responsive to the needs of all of its citizens - young and old - so many of those with the loudest voices and widest reach are so sheepish, unwilling to act. Even as President Obama fought back tears in his comments on Friday, too many people certainly felt frustrated by his administration's and our government's inability to remove the weapons of mass annihilation from the hands of those who know how to shoot first and never ask questions.

Whether you know anyone whose family have been touched by this or any of the senseless killings that occur all around us or whether you are just continually sickened by what you read and hear, raise your voice in sorrow and tell those who have the power to make a difference, whether they be politicians, clergymen, educators, journalists, whoever, the time for inaction is over.  We have waited too long, come too far, seen too much, to let these young children (or anyone who is a victim of a senseless crime) be forgotten.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

More Live Music + Sultans 3

The Uncertainty Music Series, curated by bassist/composer Carl Testa, presents a 3-part show this Saturday December 15 at 8 p.m. in The Big Room, 319 Peck Street (Erector Square) in New Haven. Scheduled are 2 solo sets, one featuring Nick Millevoi on guitar and the other Keir Neuringer on saxophone.  Following them will be an unnamed Quartet composed of Annie Rhodes (voice), Adam Matlock (accordion), Ben Klein (tuba) and Maura Valenti (harp). Ms. Valenti is currently in the Masters of Music program at Yale University while the other 3 members have worked together on numerous occasions.  Mr. Millevoi is a Philadelphia, PA, resident known for his wild improvisations while Mr. Neuringer, also a Philadelphia resident, has worked with many improvising artists in Europe and the USA.

For ticket information and directions, go to  There, you can check the very exciting schedule for the next 5 months including several Elm City favorites.


This past Monday, I wrote about the upcoming (12/20/12) appearance of the Canadian world music/folk/gypsy swing/etc. group Sultans of String at Infinity Hall in Norfolk, CT.  Violinist Chris McKhool and guitarist Kevin Laliberte opened for singer/songwriter Livingston Taylor in October impressing the audience and Hall ownership with their lively blend of musical styles and technical prowess.  Originally, I figured they would be touring with the quintet of musicians that appear on their CD, "Move" - instead, Messrs. McKhool and Lalaiberte will be making the 10 hour trip from their homes in Toronto, Ontario, Canada along with bassist Drew Birston.  I had a pleasant chat today with the violinist and he assured the music will be just as complex as one hears on the CDs (you can hear our chat this Sunday (12/16) at 11 a.m. on WLIS-1420 AM in Old Saybrook and WMRD-AM 1150 in Middletown. Hopefully our new "stream" will be up at  For tickets to the show, go to

Favorites From a Great Year! Gentlemen Now!

As I stroll through my reviews for the year, there are several CDs I did not get to review that are among my favorites.  Such is the case with the first on this part of the list.

Since he has been recording for his own label, Marsalis Music, Branford Marsalis has gone from strength to strength.  He has toured the world with his quartet, recorded with his Farther Ellis and brothers, played with symphony orchestras and worked with Harry Connick, Jr. to help rebuild in his native city of New Orleans.  His Quartet really began to hits its stride with the addition of pianist Joey Calderazzo who joined after the tragic passing of Kenny Kirkland.  Bassist Eric Revis joined in 1998 to create a versatile rhythm section with drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts; that human dynamo left amicably in 2009 (after 25 years!) and was replaced by 18 year old Justin Faulkner. "4 MFs Playin' Tunes" is his first recording with the band and an absolute joy to listen to.  The interactions of the musicians are so impressive and it's because this music is more about melodic invention than technical prowess. O yes, they can play and there are numerous fine solos but this program is the strongest Branford Marsalis (and his group) has ever put on CD or Lp.  For more information, go to

When I first spoke to arranger Ryan Truesdell about his Gil Evans Project, it was just after he initiated the ArtistShare program to raise the money necessary to record and release this newly discovered treasure trove.  The result?  "Centennial" shows Evans' creativity that spanned 6 decades, from his beginnings in the Claude Thornhill Orchestra to pieces made famous by Miles Davis to works written for his own progressive big band that was active from the early 1970s to Evans death in 1988.  With 10 songs and 35 participants (including 3 vocalists), Truesdell has produced a musical document that one understands as the first salvo of arrangements and compositions that will only enhance the legacy of Gil Evans.  If you have yet to hear this delightful music, go to

"Anti-Mass" (Jekab's Music) is the 4th release from composer/trumpeter Erik Jekabson, filled with songs that reverberate in the mind long after one listens.  A resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, he has played and recorded with a score of fine musicians over the past 15 years.  This music, composed for a sextet that features saxophone, violin, viola, bass, and drums (plus vibes), is inspired by the composer's numerous walks through DeYoung Museum of San Francisco.  Like the various pieces of art, this music goes in many directions, with abrupt changes of tempo and dynamics, featuring finely constructed melodies and intelligent harmonies.  The title track, inspired by British sculptor Cornelia Parker's created from the charred remains of a Southern Baptist Church attacked by arsonists, is riveting thanks to the fine work of the soloists (saxophonist Dayna Stephens, violinist Mads Tolling and the leader) and the intricate work of the rhythm section.  To find out more, go to

Drummer/composer Harris Eisenstadt released 2 CDs this Spring and both deserve to be on this list.  "Canada Day III" (Songlines) features his Quintet of Nate Wooley (trumpet), Matt Bauder (tenor saxophone), Garth Stevenson (acoustic bass) and the wonderfully atmospheric vibraphone work of Chris Dingman. Eisenstadt's music for this group is highly melodic, at times playful, and filled with wonderful interactions.  The other CD, "Canada Day Octet" (482 Music), adds Ray Anderson (trombone), Dan Peck (tuba) and Jason Mears (alto saxophone) to the band to play the 40-minute long, 4-part suite titled "The Ombudsman" and a ballad. Far from being cluttered, the result is a fascinating journey with fine solos and intricate harmonies.  If you ever have the opportunity to see either one or both of these ensembles, you must do so. For more information, go to

Other CDs on the list include "Multiverse" (Jazzheads), the raucous music of percussionist Bobby Sanabria and his Big Band, organist Brian Charette's "Music for Organ Sextette" (SteepleChase) and Bob Brookmeyer's final recording with his New Art Orchestra, "Standards" (ArtistShare).

Just a 5 or 6 more to go on this list and I'll get to them soon.  Be well all!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Favorites From a Great Year! Ladies First!

For me, 2012 was quite a year.  I became a grandparent for the first time, my teaching gig at Quinnipiac University was ever-so-satisfying and the amount of great music that crossed my desk was impressive.  As long-time readers (bless you all) might remember, I find it hard to contain myself to a Top Ten so here's Part 1 of a list that will ultimately stretch to over 20.

"Tales of the Unusual" (Jazzed Media), the 8th CD from singer-songwriter Lorraine Feather, was the first I had ever heard (writes I, blushing and embarrassed) and hooked me immediately with its literate lyrics, smashing vocals, superb musicianship and healthy dollop of humor.  Turns out, Ms. Feather has worked with many of the musicians and songwriters on this CD a number of times before.  Played it again the other day and reinforced my view that, though the "tales" may be "unusual", the music is stellar (and not just by starlight.)  Her next recording is a duo with the phenomenal young pianist Stephanie Trick - I have heard the music(they call their duo Nouveau Stride) and am saving a space in the 2013 "Favorites."

2012 was also the year I really listened to the music of Blossom Dearie (1924-2009), mainly due to the excellent "Digging Me, Digging You" (Anzic Records), the work of Amy Cervini.  To her credit, Ms. Cervini did not attempt to recreate Ms. Dearie's soft vocaliationss - instead, she assembled a fine rhythm section (pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Matt Aronoff and drummer Matt Wilson), chose 13 songs from across her subject's long career and asked her husband (Oded Lev-Ari) for some smart arrangements and the rest is an enjoyable tribute that stands on its own.  Not content with a great CD, Ms. Cervini and Mr Lev-Ari also produced a baby girl in 2012 - the hits just keep on coming!

That bassist/composer Linda Oh's second CD as a leader, "Initial Here" (Greenleaf Music) is as good as it is should come as no surprise - Ms. Oh is one intense musician. If you have ever seen in person (with Dave Douglas, for instance), you know she is always "inside" the music.  This recording features pianist Fabian Almazan, saxophonist Dayna Stephens and the fine drummer Rudy Royston (he'll show up again on this list) and the material ranges from straight-ahead jazz to music with classical influences and some well-played funk.  All in all, there is not a weak track - this music sticks in one's mind for a long time.

Anne Mette Iversen is also a bassist/composer and she also covers a wide swath of territory in her compositions.  For the sparkling 2-CD "Poetry of Earth" (BJU Records), the bassist created an aural wonderland for the words of poets  A.E. Housman, Thomas Hardy, John Keats, Lene Poulsen, Henrik Ibsen  as well as the contemporary Danish poet Svende Grøn and put them in the impressive hands and voices of pianist Dan Tepper, saxophonist/flutist/bass clarinetist John Ellis along with vocalists Maria Neckham and Christine Skou. The results are an impressive amalgam of jazz and contemporary classical music with nods to Kurt Weill and Danish folk melodies.  Even if you do not understand the poetry (Ms. Skou sings in Danish), the meotion of this music can't help but touch you.

Other CDs on this part of the list (all led by vocalists) include "Silent Movie" by Melissa Stylianou (Anzic Records), "Freedom Flight", the debut CD from Nicky Schrire (self-released), "Unison" from Maria Neckham (Sunnyside Records) and "Blossom & Bee" by Sara Gazarek (Palmetto Records) - the last disk in the list also honors the music of Blossom Dearie and is quite different yet just as excellent as Ms. Cervini's recording.  (Author's note - forgot to include "Girl Talk" (Palmetto Records), the latest by Kate McGarry.)

There's more to come so check later in the week.

Happy Holidays & a very Happy New Year!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Firehouse Finale + Strings On Tour + Thomas Chapin

The Firehouse 12 Fall Concerts Series comes to a close this Friday (December 14) with a familiar sound, the cello of Daniel Levin.  This will be Vermont native's 8th appearance in the Elm City performance space, his 5th as a leader and the 2nd time he has closed a season.

This time around, Mr. Levin brings a quartet that features Nate Wooley (trumpet), Matt Moran (vibraphone) and Peter Bitenc (bass). This is the group that appears on the 2011 Clean Feed release "Organic Modernism" as well as 2010's "Bacalhau" (also on Clean Feed).  The ensemble's sense of adventure, textural experiments and interactions are quite impressive and, while all are fine technicians, their music often has more of a conversational quality.

The Daniel Levin Quartet will play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for ticket information and reservations, call 203-785-0468 or go online to It's been a quite a season for the Nick Lloyd, Carl Testa and the rest of the Firehouse crew and there are many people already curious for Spring 2013.

 On Thursday December 20, the Toronto Canada-based Sultans of String will bring its exciting blend of folk, Gypsy Swing Middle-Eastern, Flamenco, and Latin American music to Infinity Hall, Route 44 in Norfolk CT.  Group founders Chris McKhool (6-string violin) and Kevin Laliberté (guitar) recently appeared at the Hall opening for Livingston Taylor (10/05/12) and were invited back to celebrate their 3rd CD, "Move" (self-released).  The full ensemble features bassist Drew Birston, Eddie Paton (acoustic guitar) and Rosendo "Chendy" Leon (percussion); in November, SOS won World Music Group of the Year at the 2012 Canadian Folk Music Awards.  In 2013, they'll be opening for The Chieftains as that group enters its 51st year (!) with a 6-week tour of the United States (they'll play the Palace Theater in Stamford, CT, on 3/12/13.)

Sultans of String play music that will excite, impress and move you.  To find out more about the band and its origins, go to - for ticket information and more from Infinity Hall, call 1-866-666-6306 or go to

Received a Press Release from bassist/composer Mario Pavone and knew that I had to pass it on:  On Tuesday December 11, the public and fans of Connecticut jazz artist Thomas Chapin, who passed away at age 40 in 1998, are invited to a free reception to celebrate the release of "NEVER LET ME GO", a new 3-CD set of Chapin live-quartet performances from '95 and '96. The gathering will be hosted in person by Chapin’s widow Terri Castillo-Chapin from New York City and EMMY-winning filmmaker Stephanie J. Castillo from Hawaii at Hartford's Real Art Ways on Dec. 11 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. A 7-minute trailer about Castillo's new documentary film-in-the-making, "Night Bird Song: The Thomas Chapin Story", about the Manchester, CT, native's life and music, will also be shown. 

Real Art Ways is located at 56 Arbor Street in Hartford - for more information, go to or call 860-232-1006.  The morning of the event, Chuck Obuchowski will interview Thomas's widow Terri and her sister Stephanie Castillo (the filmmaker) at 10 a.m. on WWUH-91.3 FM (you can listen online at

Friday, December 7, 2012

Alien in Name Only + Appreciating Mr. Brubeck

Chanukah commences at sundown this Saturday (December 8) - while not the religious celebration that Christmas is, the holiday celebrates a military victory as well as the the miracle of the oil that lasted 8 nights (read more here.)  Usually the holiday falls near the winter solstice and the light coming from the menorah is always a welcome site.

Not sure if Anne-Marie of The Buttonwood Tree had Chanukah in mind when she booked Isra-Alien for this Saturday but the acoustic guitar duo of Oren Neiman and Gilad Ben-Zvi will definitely light up the performance space at 605 Main Street in Middletown. The duo, both natives of Israel, met during their compulsory military service in the Israeli army and have been friends ever since.  After moving to New York City in 2005, they formed this ensemble with Neiman on nylon-string guitar and Ben-Zvi on steel string.  They released their self-titled, self-produced and self-released debut CD in 2009 and their latest, "Somewhere Is Here" just a few months ago. Their music is a joyous blend of Middle-Eastern melodies, Eastern European klezmer tunes, jazz, and world music - one can hear the influence of Belgian guitar genius Django Reinhardt as well as tango in the duo's eclectic mix.

Isra-Alien will be in The Buttonwood's spotlight at 8 p.m. - for more information, go to  To learn more about the duo and hear selections of their infectious music, go to

The tributes have been pouring out since news of the passing of pianist/composer Dave Brubeck went public.  A prolific composer, excellent pianist, humble human being and activist, Mr. Brubeck had a long and full life (passing one day before his 92nd birthday.)  He was a champion of creative music in that he rarely stood still.  Best known for his 1959 mega-hit, "Take Five" (composed by his long-time saxophonist Paul Desmond), a feature for the gifted drummer Joe Morello, Brubeck often transcended labels.  Yes, he certainly played and composed "jazz" music but also produced an oratorio, a cantata, religious works and more. He mentored young musicians as he traveled the world over.

One of the better tributes can be read on The New Yorker website - click here to read it - written by trumpeter/composer Taylor Ho Bynum, the words paint an excellent portrait of a man who blazed musical trails and never compromised his values.  Bynum also explains Dave Brubeck's influence on musicians such as Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor.  I, also, recommend going to Doug Ramsey's blog Rifftides for a several fine postings.  And, if you really need to be cheered up, go to where you can listen to the pianist playing Holiday music.  Finally, see if you can find the Clint Eastwood produced documentary from 2010 that aired on Turner Classic Movies - "In His Own Sweet Way" (the title of one of Mr. Brubeck's lovelier pieces) does an excellent job of telling the pianist's story.  For more information, click here.

Thank you, sir, for brightening our lives with your music and inspiration.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mallets For All + Drummers Shine (add-on)

Composer and marimba virtuoso Robert Paterson (born 1970 in Buffalo, New York) is one of the few musicians who has mastered the use of 6 mallets whilst playing his instrument.  One can imagine how impressive that must be to watch in person.  His new CD, "Six Mallet Marimba" (American Modern Recordings) features 9 Paterson originals composed for his style of playing and featuring members of the American Modern Ensemble.  The average listener won't necessarily be "wowed" by his technique but his music is quite a treat for the ears.

The program opens with 2 works for solo marimba, the lively and playful "Komodo" and the more slippery, impressionistic, "Piranha." The remainder of the pieces are duets including the feisty "Tongue and Groove" featuring alto saxophonist Jeremy Justeson, the sensuous and serious "Fantasia" (composed for marimba and tuba, here played by Dan Peck, a musician who also fronts a jazz trio) and the mysterious, jazzy, "Clarinatrix" (featuring the splendid bass clarinet playing of Meighan Stoops from the Da Capo Chamber Players.)

Other pieces include 2 works for marimba and violin, the dramatic "Braids" (featuring Paterson's wife Victoria) and the more up-tempo and fiery "Links & Chains" (featuring Robin Zeh of the Saratoga Chamber Players.)  Perhaps the loveliest piece on the CD, "Stillness" features the expressive oboe of Sarah Schram (who has played with the New Jersey Symphony and the New Haven Symphony as well as the Sonevole Wind Trio).  The longest piece on the program is the 3-part "Duo for Flute and Marimba", a lively, wide-ranging work that features the stunning flute and alto flute work of Sato Moughalian (a musician with numerous credits including serving as the Artistic Director of the Perspective Ensemble.)

"Six Mallet Marimba" deserves your full attention, not because of Robert Paterson's prodigious technique but because his compositions engage the listener on many levels (melodic, rhythmic and emotional.)  His interaction with the musicians on the duo works truly captures the ear and mind, so much so that one hears more each time he returns to the music.  For more information, go to either or

Born in Japan and now a New York City resident (since 1997), Makoto Nakura is a master marimba and vibraphone player who has worked with orchestras, opera companies and poets.  He is, also, a champion of new music for his instrument; his new CD, "Wood and Forest" (American Modern Recordings) features 6 new works commissioned by the marimbist from composers Jacob Bancks (born 1982, now based in Chicago), Kenji Bunch (born in Oregon in 1973), Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez (born 1964 in Mexico City, Michael Torke (born 1961 in Milwaukee) and Robert Paterson (see above).  The music ranges from Bunch's romantic, wistful and fanciful "Duo for Viola and Vibraphone: From the Verdant Kingdom" (featuring the composer on viola and the leader on the largest vibraphone in the world, an instrument which resides in Japan) to the fiery and rhythmical "Winik/Te for Solo Marimba" by Sanchez-Gutierez.  Torke's "After the Forest Fire" was composed for marimba, flute (played by David Fedele) and cello (Wilhelmina Smith) and has moments that range from Baroque to French Impressionism.  Bancks contributes 2 works, the 3-part "The Trees Where I Was Born" inspired by the poetic imagery in Walt Whitman's "O Magnet-South" (published in 1860) and "Arbor Una Nobilis" ("Noblest of Trees") for marimba and violin (played by Jesse Mills).  The latter work has moments that are whisper quiet and draw the listener in close - there are also stretches when the volume rises quickly.  Paterson's "Forest Shadows" is a solo marimba based on the composer's appreciation for the nature and landscape paintings of several 19th Century artists.

I love how the sound of the marimba fills the room, the warmth of its tones helping to ease the tensions from the day.  The vibraphone on Bunch's 3-part composition has a "sharper" sound, especially on the up-tempo third section; yet, this music neither grates nor alienates.  Jazz fans should seek both Paterson and Nakura's recordings out as both are satisfying, often adventurous and sonically rich.  For more information, go to


Colorado-native Jeff Davis is a composer and drummer who has worked and recorded with numerous creative musicians including the Jesse Stacken Trio, Michael Bates Outside Sources, Kirk Knuffke Quartet, the Amanda Monaco 4Ben Holmes Quartet,  Pedro Giruado Jazz Orchestra, Jon Irabagon’s Outright!, and Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas.  He first began percussion studies playing marimba, going on to study at the University of Colorado and earning a Master's Degree from the Manhattan School of Music. Having seen him play in several different ensembles, he is capable of not only "driving" a band but also creating masterful colors.

"Leaf House" (Fresh Sound New Talent) is the debut recording from his New Trio.  Featuring bassist Eivind Opsvik and pianist Russ Lossing, the music goes in multiple directions but rarely where one might expect a piano trio to go.  The title track opens the program with Lossing playing a percussive repeated figure before the rhythm section enters.  The powerful rhythmic surge beneath the pianist lurches forward as he plays a fragmented solo.  "Faded" is a bit subdued with the piano supplying a melody that blends blues and hard bop.  Opsvik "walks" or plays furious driving lines then moves around both the piano and drums, adding a solo that slows the proceedings, allowing the listener to breathe.

Davis leads the Trio through "Overath", moving around his kit and cymbals with stealth and somewhat manic determination. The shortest track at 2:23, "Saint Albert" has forceful Trio opening before the leader takes center stage for a solo that shows he can be powerful and melodic.  The majestic, deliberate, arco bass opening of "Catbird" sets the pace for a dramatic ballad.  At times, Lossing plays deep low notes while the bassist moves up into his higher registers.  The interaction of the Trio in the body of the piece is intelligent, free-wheeling and makes the piece feel like a "free improvisation" because of the way the music continually changes shapes.  The fiery "Lion Mouth" closes the CD, featuring a "wicked" bass and drum dialogue, a mouth-dropping bass solo and a piano solo taken at half-tempo (for a while) as the rhythm section pushes with abandon.

The intuitive interactions throughout "Leaf House" will thrill and fascinate the eager listener.  Jeff Davis challenges his fellow Trio mates and the audience with music that does not bow to any fashion; instead, the 8 pieces blaze trails that transcend mainstream jazz for their own particular world.  For more information, go to  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Home Stretch for the Firehouse + Drummers Shine on CD

New Haven resident, Wesleyan grad, and Firehouse 12 Records co-owner Taylor Ho Bynum brings his Sextet home to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street on Friday December 7 for the penultimate show in the performance space's Fall 2012 Concert Series. Cornet and trumpet player Bynum has created new music for his group that features Bill Lowe (tuba), Jim Hobbs (alto saxophone), Ken Filiano (bass, electronics), fellow Wesleyan grad Mary Halvorson (guitar) and long-time friend Tomas Fujiwara (drums).   Bynum has worked with this lineup for several years now; they can breathe as one, support each other as the soloists take flight, and truly inhabit the music.

Bynum has composed a new set of material for the Sextet and, after they play it on Friday night, they'll record it the next day.  The first set starts at 8:30 p.m. - call 203-785-0468 or go to for ticket information.

Since drummer/composer Scott McLemore lives in Iceland, the title of his new CD "Remote Location" is quite accurate. The Virginia-native has always been a melodically-minded percussionist and this new CD is no exception.  Featuring his wife Sunna Gunnlaugs on piano and Wurlitzer, Óskar Guðjónsson (tenor saxophone), Andrés Thor (acoustic and electric guitar), and Róbert Þórhallsson (contrabass, electric bass and acoustic bass guitar), the music has a lightness yet there is plenty of substance. Pieces like "Citizen Sitting Zen" and "Dunegrass" are multi-sectioned, with intelligent use of dynamics and pleasing interplay.. The textural blends of electric guitar and acoustic piano as well as Guðjónsson's evocative tenor saxophone work allows the listener to float inside the music - on "Secrets of Earth", the gentle sway of the rhythm section gives the saxophonist, Ms. Gunnlaugs and Thor a lovely cushion to move atop.  "Woods at Night", which opens with an evocative piano solo, is one of the highlights - Mclemore's martial drumming underneath the early part of the tenor sax solo is so "right" while his melodic and percussive interaction with the band near the end shines. The program closes with "Movement for Motian", a shimmering tribute to the late drummer that would not sound out of place on one of Motian's Trio  or Electric Bebop band recordings - Guðjónsson's gentle lines against the lyrical piano and soft guitar are one of the many highlights of the CD.

"Remote Location" is anything but remote or mechanical.  McLemore's melodic music and the manner in which the 5 participants work with each other invite the listener to explore as well as just let the sounds take you where they will.. To find out more, go to which will lead you to the drummer's BandCamp page where you can listen to and purchase this excellent recording.

George Schuller is a musician who impresses with the power and joy in his playing, whether he's in a trio, quintet or nonet.  While he does record as a sideman with great frequency, CDs under his name are always a treat when they show up in the mailbox.  "Listen Both Ways" (Playscape Recordings) is the 3rd recording by his Circle Wide group and first in 5 years. The 8 tracks are evenly split between 2 sessions, the first in May of 2010, the latter in late May of 2012 - both feature the same 5 musicians including Peter Apfelbaum (tenor saxophone, melodica), Brad Shepik (electric guitar), Tom Beckham (vibraphone) and Dave Ambrosio (bass) with Schuller on drums and percussion as well composing 6 of the 8 tracks.  3 pieces clock in at over 10 minutes but never feel boring or overdone.  "Store Without a Name" (inspired by Schuller's grandfather and his business in Fargo, North Dakota") features a handsome melody that takes its time to unfold gradually moving into a hardbop rhythm that drives to the melodic coda.  One can hear the influence of Keith Jarrett on the composer's style, especially in the sweep of the melody line.  Apfelbaum unveils his melodica (a "free-reed" instrument that one blows into and has a keyboard) for the gentle arrangement of Carla Bley's "Jesus Maria" which also features excellent guitar work. The melodica returns several times in the program, even leading the way on "Newtoon", interacting with the bass and brushes.    Beckham shines on the boppish "A Map Would Help" - his supporting lines create intelligent counterpoint throughout the track.  He truly dances on his solo during "Edwin" a piece that composer Margo Guryan created for the drummer's bass-playing brother Ed when he was a toddler. The melody has a happy-go-lucky feel should make the listener smile.  The same goes for "Bed Head", the romp that closes the program.  Schuller lays downs a solid beat while tenor sax, guitar and vibes "trade 4s."  Bassist Ambrosio is solid; his counterpoint beneath the soloists on "Could This Be The Year" is impressive without being showy.

There's a quality of airiness, of calm, and purpose that permeates "Listen Both Ways" - yes, there is heat on several cuts yet the music is never turgid or stodgy.  George Schuller's grace and caring shine in his melodies while the creative fire of his years of pushing, driving and supporting various ensembles remains unchanged.  Find this music, play it often and it will give you much pleasure.  For more information, go to

Sunday, November 25, 2012

This Week: Lots of Live Music

Pianist Noah Baerman convenes a Trio - bassist Henry Lugo and drummer Zane West - and adds the muscular, musical, saxophones of Jimmy Greene to play an evening of the music of John Coltrane and Miles Davis this Thursday (11/29) in The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown. Mr. Greene, a native of Bloomfield, CT, is a graduate of the Hartt School of Music and just returned to the area after teaching for 3 years in Western Canada - he's now on the faculty of Western Connecticut State University (from where bassist Lugo graduated and drummer West now attends.)

The evening starts at 6:30 p.m. with a lecture/demonstration plus question-and-answer period featuring the musicians speaking the music and musicians they are about to interpret.  The concert begins at 7:30.  For more information and to make a reservation, go to or call 860-347-4957.

Saxophonist-flautist-composer Jason Robinson is on the faculty of Amherst College in Massachusetts; he,also, leads the Janus Ensemble, a vehicle for his compositions and arrangements that are steeped in the traditions of contemporary creative music and improvisation.  His latest Cuneiform CD, "Tiressian Symmetry", features music influenced by Charles Mingus and Henry Threadgill (especially HT's Sextett) played by a nonet that includes, among others,  fellow saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, guitarist Liberty Ellman and drummer George Schuller. Those 3 fine players plus bassist James Ilgenfritz join Mr. Robinson this Friday evening (11/30) in the performance space of Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven. They'll play music from the new CD as well as selections from the Janus Ensemble's previous Cuneiform release, 2010's "The Two Faces of Janus."

You should expect, at times, that the room will shake with the fire created by this excellent band. They'll play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - and, for more information, go to or call 203-785-0468.

The following evening (12/01), Firehouse 12 opens its doors to The New Haven Improvisers Collective for an 8:30 p.m. show celebrating its new self-released CD "Electric NHIC: Ground Waves."  Founded by guitarist/electrical engineer Bob Gorry, NHIC came together to fill the void creative musicians from the Elm City felt - these like-minded players wanted the freedom to explore the music and sounds outside the mainstream.  Since 2008, the Collective has issued 7 CDs, with the newest being a blend of electric Miles Davis, Captain Beefheart, James "Blood" Ulmer, Ornette Coleman and more.

For the Firehouse gig (your single admission charge gives your entree to 2 sets), the ensemble will include 3 guitarists (Mr. Gorry, Chris Cretella, and Jeff Cedrone) plus Brett Bottomley (Chapman Stick), Nick DiMaria (trumpet), Paul McGuire (alto and soprano saxophones), Pete Brunelli (electric bass) and Pete Riccio (drums).  Free-wheeling music that keeps your interest is not always the case with "free-improv" but NHIC is an exciting and ever-shifting entity.  The first set features features Guitar Trio E (the 3 gentlemen listed above) while set 2 brings out the rest of the group. Go to the venue's website above for more information - to learn more about The New Haven Improvisers Collective, go to

Also on Saturday, guitarist-vocalist-composer Howard Fishman brings his Biting Fish Brass Band to Old Saybrook and the Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center (The Kate) for an 8 p.m. show. Fishman, who had studied for a career in theater, found himself in New Orleans in the mid-1990s and was seduced (not surprising) by the amazing music he heard throughout the Crescent City.   It took a while to figure how to blend his acoustic guitar with the Brass Band sound that so excited him and it was not until 2010's "Better Get Right" (Monkey Farm Records) that he got the sounds on record.  The blend of gospel, funk, pop (there's an excellent version of Wall of Voodoo's "Mexican Radio"), and soul music is wonderfully infectious and also emotionally satisfying.  There is something about a tuba blasting out the bottom over the slippery drum beats that are the trademark of New Orleans music and Mr. Fishman does "get it right." For more information about the live date, go to To learn more about Howard Fishman and his music, go to