Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Piano; Rhythm, Melody and Message

Ahmad Jamal, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, turns 82 in July of this year.  After settling in Chicago in the late 1940s, he recorded his first Lp in 1951 with guitarist Ray Crawford and bassist Eddie Calhoun (the group was known as The Three Strings).  In 1955, he switched to the piano-bass-drums format; Jamal signed to Argo Records (part of the Chess Records family) and, with bassist Israel Crosby plus drummer Vernel Fournier, made a slew of albums in the late 50s through the mid-60s. Since then, he's led a number of Trios, recorded with orchestras as well as vocalists, toured continuously throughout the world and inspired or influenced several generations of pianists and jazz musicians.

"Blue Moon" (Jazz Village) features his current group with its New Orleans rhythm section of Herlin Riley (drums) and Reginald Veal (bass) plus percussionist Manolo Badrena.  The music they create on this session is wonderfully seductive, rhythmically exciting, extremely melodic and, at many turns, pure fun.  The title track, composed by Rodgers & Hart in 1934, pulls the listener on the strength of Riley and Badrena's percussive interaction, Veal's bass line (a variation of the bass line in the "Acknowledgment" section of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme") and the pianist alternating 2-handed phrases and percussive chordal work.  If you have heard the mesmerizing work of the Australian piano trio The Necks, there are moments here where the band "riffs" hypnotically yet always come back to the melody.

Bronislaw Kaper's "Invitation", a piece that's been recorded by countless jazz musicians for many decades (Jamal first put it on record in 1965), gets a similar treatment as "Blue Moon" but with even more influence of the percussion.  Riley and Badrena lock into the beat, pushing the pianist to exciting heights and dance-like figures.  Veal's solo bounces atop the beat sweetly before Jamal returns to the theme.   Dig the hip-hop influence in the drums on "This Is the Life" (from the musical "Golden Boy") and how Jamal works on the beat as well as playing around it with his fine melodic flourishes.

Right in the middle of the program are 2 fascinating ballads.  "I Remember Italy" (a Jamal original) is a lengthy excursion with minimal yet intriguing work from the band (implied rhythms, swirling percussion and a soft but supportive bass line).  The oft-recorded standard "Laura" is a showcase for Jamal's wonder-filled "stream-of-consciousness", fragments of the melody intertwined with flights of single-note lines and chordal fills, all with Veal tracing a rhythm with his solid bass work.

The CD closes with a playful reading of Dizzy Gillespie's "Woody'n You", a be-bop classic Jamal first recorded in 1958. The ensemble moves away from the original tempo yet suggests it throughout the performance, varying the tempo and the attack.

"Blue Moon" clocks in at over 75 minutes yet is so attractive I find myself not only playing the CD all the way through but playing certain tracks over again.  Herlin Riley is both supportive and creative while Manolo Badrena adds just the right spice whenever he's called on.  Because Ahmad Jamal's left hand work is so strong, one might suspect Reginald Veal's bass work to be superfluous;  instead, he 
 plays both timekeeper and counterpoint (when you pay attention to him, you'll notice his worth to the group.)  As for the leader, he's a master musician, combining melody and rhythm seamlessly, an "impressionist painter" at the keyboard. Ahmad Jamal might be 81 years old but, at the keyboard, his exuberance is ageless.  For more information, go to   

In 2009, the Vijay Iyer Trio (pianist Iyer, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore) released "Historicity" (ACT Music) to great critical and public acclaim.  The exciting blend of contemporary rhythms, melodic adventures, creative re-imagining of standards and "pop" tunes, and Iyer's exploratory nature at the keyboard made for exhilarating listening.  On the surface, the Trio's new ACT CD, "Accelerando", looks like a similar adventure with several fascinating "cover" tunes, works by jazz legends (in this case, Herbie Nichols and Duke Ellington), a reinvention of a work by a modern master (Henry Threadgill) and strong original compositions.

However, the Trio has played numerous dates since its first CD and that time together has greatly enhanced the music.  Crump has been with Iyer for over a decade and Gilmore joined in 2005 (at the age of 18!) - this familiarity breeds trust and creativity.  Listening to the 11 tracks, one hears a cooperative and not a pianist plus rhythm section. Pieces like the Iyer original "Actions Speak" and the Trio's arrangement of Threadgill's "Little Pocket Size Demons" unfold organically, each musician's part matched to the other's. In the latter piece, listen how Crump's bowed bass weaves in and around the piano melody and how Gilmore's percussion converses with the bass.  In Iyer's liner notes, he states "music is action" going on to describe how the listener acts and reacts emotionally and physically.  The Trio takes "Human Nature" (the Michael Jackson hit composed by Steve Porcaro and John Bettis), pushing the bass and drums up front while Iyer interprets and reshapes the original melody.  In the middle, the piano vamp, built off the main theme, allows the bassist to move out front while Gilmore's polyrhythmic approach creates tension and release.

Scotty Hard's mix has the rhythm section, especially Crump's bass, at the volume level of the piano.  One hears how he both supports and plays in counterpoint to Iyer - "Lude" shows his versatility and also his deep feel for rhythm.  In the last third of the track, he locks in with Gilmore's solid beat, creating space for the piano to navigate around the funky rhythm.  The volatile "Action Speaks", at times, has all three players moving independently yet coming together - the drum solo creates a foundation that allows the piece to resolve in a peaceful manner.

Duke Ellington's "The Village of the Virgins" (from "The River Suite") closes the program on a gospel feel, Iyer's fine chordal work supported by Crump's wide-ranging bass lines and Gilmore's solid groove.  A reverential, soulful, piece that is a peaceful finish to a powerful recording.

What one encounters listening to the Vijay Iyer Trio is creative music at its finest.  "Accelerando" is music for the modern "dance" of life, searching for the soul that will allow us to communicate in these often maddening times.  For more information, go to

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Radio, Jazz Radio

Jazzhaus, the label based in Berlin, Germany, is beginning a new series of releases culled from "audio and video jazz programs taken from live radio and television recordings from the archives of Südwestrundfunk Stuttgart, Baden-Baden and Mainz in south west Germany." If you go to the website - - you'll get the entire story. The exciting news for jazz fans is that there is going to an incredible amount of live music hitting the streets in the next decade and beyond.

The first releases are here and include (for this review) music from the Benny Goodman Orchestra (pictured), the Cannonball Adderley Quintet and the Gerry Mulligan Sextet.  The Goodman CD is from the label's "Big Bands Live" series and finds the great clarinetist recorded in October of 1959 with a 10-piece band plus vocalist Anita O'Day. It's quite a band featuring Red Norvo (vibraphone), Russ Freeman (piano), Jack Sheldon (trumpet), Flip Phillips (tenor sax), Bill Harris (trombone), Jerry Dodgion (flute), Jimmy Wyble (electric guitar) and the relatively unheralded yet solid rhythm section of Red Wooton (bass) and John Markham (drums). Goodman sounds quite lively, with a handsome tone, on his solos, especially on the faster tracks such as "Air Mail Special" where he, Norvo, Phillips, Harris, and Sheldon take good solos (but no guitar - odd considering the piece was co-written by Charlie Christian.)  Same soloists on the ensemble's romp through "Breakfast Feud" which also features plenty of punch from the bass and drums.

Ms. O'Day adds her smooth and sassy vocals to several tracks, including a pleasing romp through "Honeysuckle Rose" which opens with just voice and "walking" bass from Wooton.   When the band enters, the tune features nice give-and-take with the reeds and brass. A bluesy take on "Come Rain or Shine" follows - O'Day shows off her jazz chops especially on the first half of the track where it's just her and pianist Freeman.  Even better is the Earl Bostic blues "Let Me Off Uptown" where she has a sweet call-and-response with trombonist Harris and then shares the vocal with Sheldon (who's already in the "bopster" persona he was well-known for.) Her best moments come on the medley of "Not For Me", Jimmy Guiffre's "Four Brothers" (where she trades lines with Phillips) and improvises a "Blues" (in B-flat). 

Goodman displays his sweeter side on "Memories of You" and then lets Norvo and Wyble have the spotlight on "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." Harris and Phillips get in some serious "blowing" on "Ten Bone", sparked by the fine drumming of Markham.  The 6-song "Medley" that closes the program brings out the entire ensemble (save for the vocalist) for a piece that starts off swinging gently on "Stompin' At The Savoy" but 5 minutes in, switches over to a "jump" blues beat a la "Sing Sing Sing" with melodic references to "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" and other pieces.  Goodman's woody tones dance above Markham's pounding floor toms before ceding the spotlight to the drummer. It's a splendid finish to a joyous 76-minute program.

There are some sonic issues (solos starting off microphone, buried vocal lines) but this is a spirited set of songs.  If you like melodic swing, this one is for you.

The Cannonball Adderley Quintet "Live in Liederhalle Stuttgart March 20, 1969" is one of the last tours that pianist Joe Zawinul made with the band.  He has already recorded with Miles Davis for the "Bitches Brew" sessions and would soon hook up with saxophonist Wayne Shorter to form Weather Report.  Yet, he is having a great time pushing the fine rhythm section of Victor Gaskin (bass) and Roy McCurdy (drums) to create a funky yet free wheeling cushion for the brothers, Cannonball (alto sax) and Nat (trumpet).  The Quintet bursts onstage with the pianist's fiery "Rumpelstiltskin" and then goes right "down home" for Nat's "Sister Emma" - Zawinul's piano has a New Orleans-feel, especially in his fills behind the solos and his very funky solo.  Cannonball has the spotlight for the sweet take on Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere" and then leads the band back to the "funk" for "Pops" Staples' variation on "Watermelon Man" titled "Why Am I Treated So Bad."  Zawinul is on electric piano, displaying the style that he would bring to the synthesizer in the coming decades.

If you've ever heard any of Cannonball's live recordings, you know that the programs his band performs are an eclectic mixture of jazz, blues, funk and humor (Nat's vocal on "Oh Babe" is a bit "over the top"). The sound quality is uneven (voices get buried) but one should be impressed by the work of the fine rhythm section.  By the time the Quintet breaks into Nat's "Work Song", you'll be hard-pressed to wipe the smile off your face. 
At the time that Gerry Mulligan brought his Sextet to Germany where SWR recorded them live at "Liederhalle Stuttgart November 22, 1977", he had been a professional musician for over 30 years.  In the late 1940s, the baritone saxophonist with the smooth tone had worked with Gene Krupa's Band, the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, and worked with Miles Davis on "The Birth of the Cool."  Several years later, he toured and recorded with trumpeter Chet Baker (in a piano-less quartet, a rarity in those days), a relationship that ended (on a regular basis) when Mulligan got busted in 1953.  After he was released from prison, he began a working relationship with trombonist Bob Brookmeyer that would culminate in the Mulligan Concert Jazz Band.  He remained a busy sideman (he had a long and fruitful relationship with pianist Dave Brubeck) and leader the rest of his life (he passed in 1996), studying classical chamber music, recording more big-band music ("The Age of Steam", released in 1971, remains required listening) and touring with smaller ensembles.  His discography features Lps with Ben Webster, Thelonious Monk, Lee Konitz and Johnny Hodges.

For this tour and recording (issued under the rubric of "Legends Live" as is the Adderley Quintet CD), Mulligan is flanked by vibraphonist Dave Samuels (fresh off his experience with Spyro Gyra), Thomas Fay (piano), Mike Santiago (guitar) and the veteran rhythm section of George Duvivier (bass) and Bobby Rosengarden (drums). The same group recorded the Lp, "Idol Gossip", for the Chiaroscuro in 1976 and 3 of the pieces from that recording are performed here.  

Mulligan was a composer and performer who rarely, if ever, rested on his laurels.  The set opens with "For An Unfinished Woman", a piece he first recorded with Brubeck and Paul Desmond in 1971. The tune has a mesmerizing bass line and rhythm with solos from all.  "Line for Lyons" is a composition from 1952 Mulligan composed for his ensemble with Chet Baker.  A fairly straight-forward blues, Samuels sits this one out but everyone else gets a solo.  The leader's emotionally rich solo on "My Funny Valentine" is one of the highlights of the concert and recording.  Another lovely piece is Mulligan's "Song For Strayhorn";  the intricate mix of piano, vibes and baritone allows room for all to interact.  The program closes with a rousing reading of the leader's "K-4 Pacific", named for the train he rode out in California.  The music speeds up, slows down, speeds up again, throughout the musical journey. Everyone solos before all is played and done.  Kudos to the excellent rhythm section who never lose their way, giving the necessary support and the occasional push. 

Gerry Mulligan had a long, productive, career. His baritone work brings to mind the fluidity of Harry Carney (of the Ellington Orchestra) and points the way for the expressive work of Hamiett Bluiett, Gary Smulyan and others.  His ability to adapt his works to different ensembles (from quartets to big band to symphony orchestras) illustrates his creativity and forward thinking.  This live set is well worth your time.

I can't wait to hear what else Jazzhaus has in the vaults but, for now, these are 3 satisfying recordings.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Miscellaneous Reading and Listening

Jason Crane of and have just issued their 2nd "joint" interview and it's a chat with the gentleman to the left.  Composer/arranger Darcy James Argue, whose main musical outlet is the large ensemble known as the Secret Society, speaks with Crane about a number of subjects including his relationship to the late Bob Brookmeyer and Argue's new multi-media project, "Brooklyn Babylon."  Then,he sits with Crane for the video interview and speaks about his entry into the world of jazz as well as the business of running a modern band. Both discussions are fascinating (to me) and will give you further insights about the contemporary music scene.  Clink on the links above (or, for The Jazz Session interview, there's a link on the right of this post) and enjoy.

Bassist Ratzo Harris (Betty Carter, Mose Allison and Kenny Werner, to name but 3 of the people he has graced with his musical presence) also blogs for the New Music Box web magazine.  Recent posts include his comments on the NEA Jazz Masters ceremony, the GRAMMYs, Stan Kenton, a tribute to the life and work of drummer Paul Motian and the joy of playing "live music."  Always thoughtful and thought-provoking, Harris's words are worth your time.  Go to and check him out.

Those of you who follow professional basketball are probably already quite tired of "Lin-sanity", the media madness surrounding New York Knicks (and Harvard graduate) point guard Jeremy Lin. Jazz fans know New York Times and JazzTimes writer Nate Chinen - I heartily recommend you go to and check out Chinen's post titled "Race Is The Place", a personal take on racism, color, nationality and minority status.  Click here to read the entry.

Just last week, I saw and heard vocalist Theo Bleckmann in concert with the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble.  Bleckmann's new CD, "Hello Earth - The Music of Kate Bush" (Winter & Winter), is due for U.S. release on April 14.  Bleckmann, who not only sings but also plays toy piano and percussion, has been working on this project for several years with an ensemble that features Hollenbeck (drums, percussion, voice), Skúli Sverrisson (electric bass, voice), Henry Hey (piano, Fender Rhodes, electric harpsichord, voice) and Caleb Burhans (electric violin, electric guitar, voice). Ms. Bush first came to fame in her native Great Britain in 1978 and her eclectic style of songwriting, production and vocalizing soon drew comparisons to Peter Gabriel.  Like Gabriel, she is a sonic explorer and many of her songs tell stories (some of them quite strange.)  She does not tour and has only released 2 CDs since the beginning of the 21st Century.  Bleckmann's take on Ms. Bush is quite wondrous, his voice covering large swathes of aural and emotional territory ( a full review is coming).

In the meantime, Bleckmann and band appeared on WNYC-FM's "New Sounds" in April of 2010, performing 5 songs live (with snippets of the original pieces) and talking with host John Schaefer about why the vocalist took on the project.  Click on the link below to listen to the entire show, courtesy of WNYC.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Firehouse 12 Spring Series + Buttonwood Jazz

The Firehouse 12 Spring 2012 Series has been announced and, as to be expected, the concerts are an eclectic bunch covering much territory in the world of creative music. Starting March 23 and running for 13 consecutive Fridays, the performance space, located at 45 Crown Street in New Haven, will present very interesting shows. Each concert has 2 sets, 8:30 and 10 p.m., each with a separate admission fee.

Up first is saxophonist Larry Ochs and his new project, Kihnoua. Ochs, the "O" in the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, will present music influenced and informed by Korean musical traditions.  Joining Ochs will be vocalist Dohee Lee (also a fine dancer and composer) plus the rhythm section of Trevor Dunn (bass) and Scott Amendola (drums, electronics). The group has 1 CD, "Unauthorized Caprices", released in 2009 on Not Two Records - the recording does not feature Dunn. The music is, as to be expected given Ochs' career in the avant-garde, experimental, challenging, and fascinating.

Week 2 (3/30)brings the Michael Musillami Trio + 4, a septet whose new Playscape Recording, "Mettle", is arguably the best CD the guitarist has ever released.    Joined by his rhythm section of past decade (bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller), Musillami adds the unique voices of Matt Moran (vibraphone), Russ Johnson (trumpet), Ned Rothenberg (alto sax, clarinet) and the always exciting Jeff Lederer (tenor sax, clarinet). The music he has created for this ensemble is exciting with a great breadth of melodies, harmonies and rhythmic variety.

On April 6 (Good Friday and the first night of Passover...sigh), Trio M will fill the performance space with the inspired interplay of Myra Melford (piano), Mark Dresser (bass) and the irrepressible Matt Wilson (drums).  Their debut recording, 2007's "Big Picture" (Cryptogrammophone), was a delightful collection of improvisations and compositions - they're "on the road" celebrating the release of "The Guest House" (ENJA) recorded at the Firehouse.  With 3 such fine musicians, this music will be wondrous.

Friday the 13th of April brings the Steve Lehman Trio to New Haven.  Lehman, a graduate of the fine music program of Wesleyan University, is a fine alto saxophonist and adventurous composer.  His new recording, "Dialect Fluorescent" (Pi Recordings), hits the streets on March 27 and features Matt Brewer (bass) and Damion Reid (drums).  For this concert, Chris Tordini will replace Brewer, no big problem because Tordini has worked with Lehman and Reid in the past.  Lehman's music is filled with melodic twists and great rhythmic drive while his solos often go in unexpected directions.

The rest of the schedule includes the duo of Mike DiRubbo (alto sax) and Larry Willis (piano) on April 20 followed the next week by the Noah Kaplan Quartet featuring guitarist Joe Morris.  Bassist Trevor Dunn (week #1) returns to New Haven as a member of saxophonist Darius Jones' Quartet on May 4 while trumpeter Russ Johnson (week #2) returns as a member of bassist Michael Bates's Acrobat, a  quintet that celebrates the music of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Guitarist/composer Mary Halvorson (pictured above left) celebrates the release of her new Firehouse 12 CD, "Bending Bridges" on May 18 (Ches Smith, week #1, is a member of the Wesleyan grad's Quintet.) Vibraphonist Tyler Blanton makes his Elm City debut on May 25 with a quartet that features former West Hartford resident Joel Frahm (saxophones) and the rhythm section of The Wee Trio, bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Jarid Schonig. Drummer Allison Miller, whose initial of her last name qualifies her to be a member of Trio M, brings her Boom Tic Boom to the room on June 1 - the ensemble includes pianist Myra Melford (week #3).

2 weeks after appearing with Tyler Blanton, Messrs. Frahm and Loomis return to the Firehouse on June 8 with the Ernesto Cervini Quartet.  Drummer/composer Cervini's 2011 release, "There" (Anzic Records), was one of my "Best-of-2011" and you'll hear why - this group, also including the fine pianist Adrean Farrugia, has so much fun playing together; their music is full of fine melodies and splendid interplay.

The final show of the series takes place on June 15 and features Ellery Eskelin - Trio New York.  The formidable tenor saxophonist, flanked by organist Gary Versace and drummer Gerald Cleaver, has created a fanciful and funky tribute to the classic organ trios so prevalent in jazz of the 1950s and 60s. 

Tickets for the entire series or specific shows can be purchased by going to (they'll also answer any questions you might have). You can also call 203-785-0468. 

 Pianist/composer Laszlo Gardony returns to The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, on Saturday March 3 for an 8 p.m. show.  He appeared at the intimate performance space last year in a duo setting with saxophonist Stan Strickland - this time, he brings his working Trio of drummer Yoron Israel (left) and bassist John Lockwood (right).  The 3 have been together for over a decade and have recorded 4 Cds, the latest 2011's "Signature Time", issued on Sunnyside Records (my review can be read here.) Gardony, born in Hungary and now a resident of the Boston, Massachusetts, area (he teaches on the faculty of his alma mater, Berklee School of Music) is a fine pianist whose prodigious technical facility is leavened by his fine sense of melody and love of rhythms.  To reserve your seats, call 860-347-4957 or go to  To find out more about Laszlo Gardony, go to

Another great ensemble appears at The Buttonwood on March 10 with the return of the John Funkhouser Trio, another fun and funky group from the Boston area. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

3 Piano Trios

One of the joys of listening to pianist/composer Matthew Shipp is that one really does not know what to expect.  "Elastic Aspects" (Thirsty Ear) is the 4th recording by his Trio that features the fine bassist Michael Bisio and creative percussionist Whit Dickey.  Opening with bowed bass and what sounds like percussion and electronics, the piece, titled "Alternative Aspects", sounds like the overture - however, it is followed by "Aspects", a 27 second long piano statement.  The first actual Trio piece, "Psychic Counterpoint", has the feel of a Herbie Nichols composition with its jagged melody, tempo changes, and boppish bass line.  That is followed by "Frame Focus", a piano solo that is contemplative yet exploratory.  Furiously bowed bass and fiery percussion is dubbed "Flow Chart" while the aptly-titled "Mute Voice" is a rambling piano solo over the barely-heard rhythm section. Shipp moves inside the piano and manipulates the pedals for "Stage 10" while Dickey plays a modified shuffle beat and Bisio plays a nimble "walking" bass line.

"Elastic Aspects" is a good description of Matthew Shipp's approach to creating music.  First and second time through the program, there is a continuous sense of discovery (the duo tracks, the piano solos, the dynamic variations.)  As one returns again, it's easier to hear the musicians "conversing", easier to concentrate on Shipp's fascinating melodic and rhythmic playing, and it makes one wish he was in the audience watching this creative Trio makes this music come "alive."  For more information, go to

The Venezuelan-born pianist Luis Perdomo spent a good part of the first decade of the 21st Century as an integral member of the bands led by tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon.  His work on the latter composer's 6 CDs has been exemplary, making the music sound fresh and exciting.  Perdomo has also issued 3 CDs as a leader, his most recent being 2008's "Focus Point" released on CrissCross.  This new recording, "Universal Mind" (RKM), came about at the suggestion of label head and bandleader Coltrane.  In the liner notes, Perdomo writes "A few years ago, Ravi Coltrane mentioned the idea of me playing with Jack (DeJohnette) and I said 'Hell yeah'".  It took a while for the pianist to work up the courage to write to the great drummer and 2012 Jazz Master but once they got together, DeJohnette was happy to be part of the project.  Drew Gress is the bassist and the results, recorded in August of 2009, are quite a treat. 

The program opens with a rousing reading of Joe Henderson's "Tetragon" - for those who think Perdomo only has Latin "chops", one can hear the influence of his mentor Sir Roland Hanna in the blues-soaked hard bop approach.  The rhythm section dances below as the pianist goes on joyful romp.  "Langnau" is an medium-tempo original with a handsome melody line that features fine solos by Gress and Perdomo while DeJohnette provides fine work beneath them.

Perdomo and DeJohnette create 2 spontaneous pieces, "Unified Path I and II", separated by another Trio romp.   The duo pieces allow the musicians the opportunity to explore different sounds, taking their time to allow the music to evolve.  "..Path I" has the feel of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" with the pianist creating a hypnotic feel with the full piano chords and repetitive lines while "..Path II" is "freer" and faster, both musicians pushing each other.

Among the other highlights is the joyful journey through DeJohnette's "Tin Can Alley", with its various twists-and-turns.  The composer really dances on this piece, his ecstatic "drum-dance" providing propulsion and also engaging in a fanciful 3-way conversation that brings the piece to an energetic close.  "Dance of the Elephants" is a lovely ballad from the pen of bassist Miriam Sullivan (also Perdomo's wife), a song that the Trio allows to emerge slowly. Again, the interaction of the 3 musicians alows the emotion of the song to be fully realized. The program comes to a close with the exciting Perdomo original, "Doppio", which flies forward on the thunderous drums and flying fingers of Gress.

"Universal Mind" is a bit long (73:25) but filled with great playing, several strong melodies and wonderful interplay.  This is music that feels so "alive" and deserves to be heard live.  As I write, Perdomo is about to perform a "CD Release" tour with bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Jhonathan Blake starting at New York City's Jazz Standard (2/23) before heading to Europe for a week.  For more information, go to

 Adam Kromelow, a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, studies with Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer.  His debut CD, rightly titled "Youngblood" (ZOHO), features his Trio of Jason Burger (drums) and Raviv Markovitz (bass) and is produced by Arturo O'Farrill (someone who knows a thing or two about the piano.) Kromelow is a powerful pianist, with impressive facility, and he likes to push hard on the faster pieces.  The CD opens with the first of 6 originals, "Black Mamba", and it's a "burner" from the get-go, save for the 2 short classical interludes and a quick bass solo.  The rhythmic attack abates a bit on "Mojo", with its quirky, Thelonious Monk-like, intro, that opens up into an impressionistic piano foray closing on a jaunty piano figure. The funky, playful, "Mr. Pokey" shows that they can do "dynamics" in an intelligent manner and Kromelow's playful piano work sets the mood for the slip-and-slide rhythms that Markovitz and Burger create.

The prettiest track is the straight-forward take of John Lennon's "Across The Universe";  Kromelow presents the melody without much embellishment while the shuffle-like rhythm reminds me of Fleetwood Mac instrumental "Albatross" from 1969.  The Trio brings up the intensity for the final pass through the chorus but fades out quietly.

They have fun with Monk's "Brilliant Corners", with a out-of-time introduction that finally breaks into a gallop and the pianist plays fragments of the melody line. Right before the end, they drop into the familiar in a medium-blues tempo then double-time the piece out.  Another inspired cover is Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street" - the song starts slowly and quietly but, as the Trio moves through the verses, the intensity picks up until it reaches a fever pitch.  The bass and drums drop out as the piano plays a short coda.  The approach works so well, the Trio repeats it on, at least, half the cuts. For instance, they go in and out of "intense" mode on "Bushido", really ratcheting it up for the closing 90 seconds.  They really slam their way through the last 2 minutes of the final track,  "Upgrade." Chalk it up to youthful enthusiasm.

What does stand out is the lyrical quality of Adam Kromelow on the slower pieces as well as his rhythmic left hand work on most of the pieces.  As a composer, his tendency is to change tempos several times during the songs.  With the forceful work of the rhythm section, there are several instances where one hears the influence of The Bad Plus.  The 9 tracks come in at just under 44 minutes so there's no excess in this program.  Markovitz and Burger rarely solo; instead, the rhythm section concentrates on its interplay and supporting the pianist.

As a debut, "Youngblood" is full of enthusiasm and promise. There's much to enjoy as one digs into the program.  Casual jazz listeners will like the hard-rock drive of the bass and drums while piano trio fans will enjoy Adam Kromelow's way around the keyboard. Find out more by going to  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Live, Living, Music

The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble played last night 2/18) in the Buckley Recital Hall at Amherst College - thank heavens the ceiling is so high for the energy of this group might have brought the roof down.  18 musicians (including vocalist Theo Bleckmann) plus conductor JC Sanford brought Hollenbeck's complex music and arrangements (a lovely take on Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman"  was the only non-original) to life.  The front line featured 5 reed players - Chris Speed, Jeremy Viner, Ben Kono, Dan Willis and Bohdan Hilash - all of whom played multiple instruments.  Behind them, the trombones of Mike Christenson, Jacob Garchik, Rob Hudson and Alan Ferber gave the music depth while the trumpets of Dave Ballou, Tony Kadleck, Jon Owens and Laurie Frink provided power and, at times, a fascinating palette of swirling colors. Bassist Kermit Driscoll (electric and acoustic) served as timekeeper and also played melodic counterpoint - his flying finger work on "Perseverance" was mighty impressive. Patricia Franceshy played vibraphone, marimba and other percussion while pianist Red Wierenga made his debut with the JHLE (and is joining the Claudia Quintet for its upcoming tour). 

What stands out for this listener is how the compositions are so well-drawn, how the soloists work within the composer's challenging frameworks, how Bleckmann's voice (and sonic manipulations) rise above the ensemble often serving as an adjunct member of the reed section and, most of all, the conversations within the songs.  No trumpet solos last night; still, the 4 trumpets were an integral part of each piece.  Often, the "bottom" of the music belong to the trombones and Hilash's bass clarinet. The juxtaposition of Ben Kono's flute with the tenor work of Speed, clarinet of Viner, and soprano sax or English horn of Willis intrigued and pleased - there were several sections during which Bleckmann and Kono sang/played the same melody line. Wierenga's piano work was inaudible during the louder moments but, on the quieter pieces, was the important foundation and melodic voice.  As for the leader, he is more than the "pulse" of the band, often involved in the musical dialogues as another voice, sometimes as the transition between sections, never overplaying.

As wonderful as this music is on CD, the pieces take on new life in person.  Following the music as it moves through its various sections, as conductor Sanford cues the band or stands back for solos (he even crouched as Willis and Speed roared back and forth at each other, and as Bleckmann beautifully sang the words to "An Irish Blessing", the listener loses track of time and place.  Music should transport us; often, it beats us down with volume or tricks us with insincerity.  The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble raised questions, pushed hard against any expectations, made me laugh, and touched my soul.  Considering the size of the ensemble and the availability of the musicians (incredibly, 10 of the 18 musicians on stage were on the JHLE's 2005 debut CD), the group does not do many live shows.  If you see a listing for them, do not hesitate to obtain tickets.  For more information, go to

Had the opportunity to meet and chat briefly with Earl MacDonald, composer, arranger, and currently Associate Professor and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut. He's a very busy person yet finds time to write a highly informative blog.  Check him out at and find his fine blog at

Professor MacDonald is one of an excellent cadre of music educators who live and work in Connecticut.  Western Connecticut State University has Jamie Begian, Southern Connecticut State University has David Chevan, Wesleyan University has Anthony Braxton and Jay Hoggard plus Noah Baerman while Yale has many fine classical and jazz people.  Hartt School of Music, Connecticut College, Trinity, most, if not all, of these schools have impressive faculty.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Quartet and Trio Music; Well-done Fun

Bassist-composer Josh Ginsburg, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, has just issued his debut CD.  "Zembla Variations" (BJU Records) features George Colligan (piano, Fender Rhodes), Eli Degibri (soprano and tenor saxophones) and Rudy Royston (drums) playing a program of tunes all composed by the leader.  The first impression of this music is how interactive the musicians are, how they "converse"throughout the program and how strong the melodies are.  The title track ("Zembla" comes from Vladimir Nabokov's book "Pale Fire" and is the fictional name of the lead character's homeland) opens with a long bass solo over tolling piano chords before Colligan takes off over Royston's highly-charged drumming.  Degibri does not enter until 2/3rds of the way through the track and bring the piece to an intense climax. The Israeli-born saxophonist (recently named co-artistic director of the 2012 Red Sea Jazz festival) plays a strong soprano sax solo on the opening track "PushBar (for Emergency Exit)" - as he does throughout the CD, Royston is a firebrand, pushing the soloists to dig in to their solos.  Colligan, who fronts a Trio that features Ginsburg, also shines brightly, whether supplying active chordal figures
behind the bowed bass and tenor sax dialogue on "Koan" or creating a shimmering solo on "Oxygen".  His unpredictable turns on the bluesy and energetic "10,000 Leagues" make for fun listening.  His Fender Rhodes work on the soulful "Gently" gives the piece a lighter quality that allows the fine melody to stand out.  Degibri's rolling tenor lines and Ginsburg's highly melodic solo stand out as well. Then, there's "Red Giant"; with Royston leading the way, the tune explodes out of the speakers, leaving the listener exhilarated.

People complain that jazz is not relevant or exciting - those folks need to sit down for a generous helping of Josh Ginsburg's "Zembla Variations."  Intelligent, melodic, exciting, mature 21st Century music that makes one smile. To find out more, go to

Here's the funky, delectable, "Jakewalk", courtesy of Mr. Ginsburg and Bandcamp:

The October Trio - Evan Arntzen (tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet), Dan Gaucher (drums) and Josh Cole (drums) - came together as an ensemble in 2004 in Vancouver.  "New Dream" (Songlines) is their 4th CD, a project that took several years to come
to fruition yet the music is exciting and cohesive.  The Trio breathes as one on tunes such as "Do Your Thing", with Arntzen's lively soprano weaving around the thick bass lines and slippery drum work. "Imagine It" is a funky, bouncy and somewhat raucous take on a piece by The Dirty Projectors while the Trio reaches in to Bjork's song bag for the handsome ballad "You've Been Flirting Again." The interplay of clarinet, bass and drums reminds me of the work of Henry Threadgill with Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall in Trio Air (there's also an "airy" quality clarinet that may remind some of Jimmy Guiffre)  Nothing is rushed, no cliches, an emotionally rich reading of the melody with solos that overlap. You hear that as well in "The Park", its circular melody line played at different times by each member of the band.  The melody floats as the rhythm moves forward yet there is a dream-like quality to the piece.  Cole's full bass tone fills out the bottom, allowing Gaucher to play at different levels, moving from soft fills to accentuating the melody.  There's a funky feel to "Potential Bog", the overdubbed reeds playing a repetitive lines that pushes against the "heavy" drums and Cole's booming bass.

"New Dream" isn't very long; its 8 tracks clock in at 41:32.  Still, there is so much happening in this music it's easy to hit the "repeat" button and take it in again.   One can hear the joy of 3 friends making music that is meaningful and fun.  How pleasing!
Here's the title track courtesy of The October Trio and Bandcamp:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Voices for Valentine's Day (Vocal and Instrumental)

First, a confession - up until "Tales of the Unusual", the new CD from vocalist/composer Lorraine Feather crossed my desk, I had never heard her music.  Knew the name, knew she was the daughter of critic/composer Leonard Feather (1914-1994) and that was all.

In the past few weeks, rarely a day has gone by without listening to most or all of this wonderful recording.  The music she has produced echoes in my ears all day, snatches of melody or swatches of lyrics get repeated with glee and, possibly, madness.

13 songs, 13 stories and not just any kind of song or story.  In the past, Ms. Feather wrote lyrics for songs by Fats Waller (2001's "New York City Drag") and Duke Ellington (2003's "Such Sweet Thunder") - her past 2 CDs, "Languages" and "Ages", have featured new works by collaborators such as Russell Ferrante. Eddie Arkin, Shelly Berg, her husband Tony Morales and others. Those 4 composer/arrangers appear on "Tales of The Unusual" (Jazzed Media) plus Ms. Feather adds lyrics to works by Enrico Pieranunzi, Duke Ellington, Edvard Grieg and Nino Rota.

The opening track, "The Hole in the Map", tells the true story of Amazonian explorer Percy Fawcett (who disappeared on a journey to the river in 1925.  At the onset of the piece, the music, by Ferrante, has a Romantic classical feel but soon the rhythm section of Michael Valerio (bass), Michael Shapiro (drums, percussion), and Grant Geissman (guitar) fall into a seductive blend of jazz and South American rhythms.  Add to that mix the evocative violin of Charles Bisharat (whose splendid playing serves as a counterpoint to the voice on 8 of the tracks) and the listener is transported to a surreal yet utterly possible world.  My initial reaction to this recording was that the project sounded like an extension of Steely Dan's 1977 classic "Aja" but with more concentration on the lyrics.  In fact, the song "Out There" (music by Shelly Berg) seems to be based on the break of that Lp's title track that leads to Wayne Shorter's solo over the brilliant drumming of Steve Gadd.  Eddie Arkin's music for "Sweet Miriam" has the feel of a Yiddish Theater piece (a glorious blend of vaudeville and Eastern European harmonies); one of the sweeter touches on the track is how Valerio's bowed bass plays the melody line that Ms. Feather is singing.  Berg's country-jazz hoedown music for "Get a Room" sets the pace for a humorous look at an "odd couple" (certainly the first song that features a rhyme that pairs "I don't care whose cage I'm rattlin'/This isn't a matter of left and right/like Jim Carville and Mary Matalin".) In "The Usual Suspects", there are such sweet lines as "I told the guy to get ready to spill/Like the Exxon Valdez" and later on, Ms. Feather rhymes with "3 card-Monte" with "Richard Conte."  Geissman's bluesy guitar licks and Ferrante's barrelhouse piano is a perfect fit for this tale of a criminal who fades into the background. Ms. Feather had recorded "Indiana Lana" with a large ensemble on her 2005 "Dooji Wooji" CD - here, it's just her and Shelly Berg (using Duke Ellington's 1939 composition that gives the CD its title - oops, check the comment below from Ms. Feather) telling the tale of a young woman who was a world-class runner who could only compete against motor cars.

Honestly, there's not a weak track on this recording.  Ms. Feather has a supple voice with a wide range, never forces the pace, her witty lyrics often bringing a chuckle or smile - yet, there are songs like "Ahh" (music by Nino Rota - her overdubbed harmonies bring Harry Nilsson to mind) and "Cowbirds" (music by Ferrante adapted from Grieg) that have a serious side, with stories that make you pay close attention.  Lorraine Feather and her musical compatriots have paid great attention to their craft and the results are quite satisfying.  "Tales of the Unusual" is a true beauty! - for more information, go to

"Blame It On My Youth" (self released) is the second CD from Chloe Brisson, the 17-year old vocalist from New Hampshire.  She recorded her debut CD, "Red Door Sessions", when she was just 13 - since then, her impressive alto voice has gotten deeper, fuller and more expressive.  Tenor saxophonist and arranger Fred Haas organized a top-notch band to join Ms. Brisson in the studio.  The rhythm section consists Bill Mays (piano), Martin Wind (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums) plus solo and background work from Marvin Stamm (trumpet) and Ben Williams (trombone). 

The program is a good blend of recognizable standards and several intelligent covers.  The CD opens with "Send For Me", a "jump blues" composed in the 1940s by Ollie Jones.  Wilson and Wind push the tempo, the arrangement prominently features the horns, and Ms. Brisson has fun with the lyrics.  She does not over-sing, no vocal gymnastics; for her, the words are quite important and she wants to make sure you can hear them.  Her lovely version of the title track has strong solos from Haas and Wind, lovely brushes work from Wilson (he can really swing softly) and a handsome vocal.  She swings the daylights out of Canadian songwriter Sharada Banman's "So Long, You Fool" (covered in 2007 by Sophie Millman) and caresses the lovely, soulful, "Aretha" from the pen of Rumer.  That latter track, along with her fine duet with Bill Mays on the Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me", are the best cuts on the CD.

Sheila Jordan, a mentor to the young vocalist, appears on the sprightly, New Orleans-inspired, version of "I'm Gonna Sit Write Down and Write Myself a Letter" that closes the program.  Their playful conversation in the middle of the piece conveys their genuine friendship; Ms. Jordan sounds quite pleased to be singing alongside Ms. Brisson and the feeling is mutual.  Might strike some as "cutesy" but they really are having a good time (as is the band, which swings with great zest.)

Chloe Brisson's sophomore release has much to offer fans of jazz vocals.  One imagines that, as she continues to explore the possibilities of the world of music as well as continues to study and work with great musicians like Fred Haas, Matt Wilson and Bill Mays, her music will grow exponentially. She's definitely got the "voice" and the desire - it's going to be fun to see where Chloe Brisson goes.  For more information, go to

Flutist Holly Hofmann has been working with pianist Mike Wofford since she moved to San Diego, California, in the late 1980s, eventually marrying him in 2000.  She's recorded with her husband as well as pianist Bill Cunliffe and issued a 3-flute recording with Frank Wess and Ali Ryerson.

"Turn Signal" (Capri Records) features the wife-and-husband with a Quintet that features Terell Stafford (trumpet, flugelhorn), Rob Thorsen (bass) and the fine drumming of Richard Sellers (who works with Thorsen in the San Diego-based quartet Ruby Blue.) Wofford's "The Dipper" (for Horace Silver) is a sweet ballad - the blend of Ms. Hofmann's alto flute and Stafford's trumpet is smooth and musical while Seller's steady hand keeps the music percolating.  It's alto flute and flugelhorn in harmony on the opening of Vince Mendoza's "Esperança".  Again, Seller's sparkling percussion makes the song stronger.

The music catches fire on a blazing reading of Bobby Watson's "Karita".  Stafford's solo is so musical, so warm, swinging with a purpose (love the reference to "If I Only Had a Heart") and setting the stage for Ms. Hofmann's fine solo.  The flute and trumpet sit out as the rhythm section does a soulful reading of baritone saxophonist Richard Twardzik's "The Girl From Greenland", which has a melody line that sounds somewhat like Roger Waters' "Just Another Brick In The Wall" (you can also hear it in Thorsen's walking bass lines). The closing track, "M-Line", features a fiery interchange between flute and drums.  It's also great to hear how Stafford and Sellers interact during the trumpeter's solo.

Mike Wofford and Holly Hofmann (and their cohorts) have created a "joyful noise" on  "Turn Signal".  The music is well-played, intelligent, soothing, swinging and worth your time.  For more information, go to

Friday, February 10, 2012

Found Sounds, The Drummer Leads and Live Heat

Guitarist Wes Montgomery (1923-1968) left Indiana at the age of 25 to join the Lionel Hampton Band, playing electric guitar in the style of his main influence, Charlie Christian.  Such a clean, clear, tone, such articulated notes - it wasn't until later that he began to play in the "octave" style that became his trademark.  After several years on the road, he returned home to form a trio with his brothers Monk (bass) and Buddy (piano), all the time holding down a full-time job. He and his brothers released several Lps for the Pacific Jazz label in 1958 but, when the guitarist signed with Riverside Records in 1959, his star began to rise. Subsequent recordings with Verve and A&M Records moved him into more commercial territory and, at the time of his passing (from a heart attack), Montgomery was one of the best-selling jazz artists in the world.

"Echoes of Indiana Avenue" (Resonance Records) hearkens back to Wes Montgomery's Indianapolis days and nights.  The tapes, made in 1957 and 58, are a blend of studio and live tracks (several from the splendidly named Hub Bub Club), were offered to Michael Cuscuna (of Mosaic Records) and he mentioned their existence to Resonance Records owner George Klabin.  With the aid of producer Zev Feldman, the label purchased the digital transfers, did a slew of research (great booklet!) and, on March 6, the music will excite jazz fans the world wide.  Among the musicians featured are the Montgomery Brothers, bassist Mingo Jones, pianists Earl van Riper and Melvin Rhyne (who plays organ on 1 track as well) plus drummers Sonny Johnson and Paul Parker. The majority of the material is jazz standards, ranging from "Round Midnight" to "Take The A Train" to "Misty" to "Body and Soul" - Wes is in fine form throughout, whether blasting through the changes on "Straight No Chaser" to a Buddy Guy-like "nasty" solo on "After Hours Blues." The "octaves" show in several solos but, much of the time, his single-note runs show his wonderful versatility and good taste.  He never sounds rushed or timid  -by this time of his career, he was in total command of his instrument.

Great package, fine music and a guitarist in his prime, "Echoes of Indiana Avenue" is more than collector's item.  Go to and check out the video.

Drummer Jeff Williams first came to critical attention in the early 1970s as a member of both Lookout Farm (with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach) and his work with Stan Getz.  Since then, he has worked in the US and abroad, is currently teaching in England and continued to study his craft as a percussionist and composer.  "Another Time" (Whirlwind Records) is his 3rd release as a leader and first since 1997. The recording features his "New York Quartet" composed of Duane Eubanks (trumpet), John O'Gallagher (alto saxophone) and John Hébert (bass).  As you might imagine by the instrumentation, the influence of Ornette Coleman can be felt in this music but does not overwhelm it. What the listener comes to understand is that Williams plays to the strength of his collaborators, all of whom bring myriad influences to the project.

Williams leads the way throughout, whether it's opening tracks (as he does on "Search Me"), creating a ever-shifting pace (such as the one on Hébert's "Fez") and his ever-so-quiet work on O'Gallagher's "Go Where You're Watching".  The musicians seem so comfortable with each other, no one overplays, solos flow organically from the "heads" or are influenced by the previous solo.  Among the highlights is Eubank's ballad "Purple, Blue and Red" - the piece has tempo changes built into both the theme sections and during the solos.  The music has an open feel and the soloists play off the interactions of the rhythm section.   It's fun to hear Hébert's bowed bass beneath the sparse melody line at the onset of the title track which then leads to a medium-tempo piece. O'Gallagher's intense, probing, solo follows the more introspective work of Eubanks, all the while the rhythm section adjusts to the emotional movement of the front line.

"Another Time" is mature creative music, not so sober as to be uninteresting but playful and rhythmically involving.  The compositions are strong without being stultifying allowing the players to move easily in and around each other.  The more one listens, the better the music sounds and feels.  To find out more, go to

A strong sense of playfulness inhabits the new CD from Pete Robbins Transatlantic Quartet.  "Live in Basel" (Hate Laugh Music) features the Brooklyn-based alto saxophonist-composer with a group he first played with in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Joining him is Danish guitarist Mikkel Ploug, Irish-born electric bassist Simon Jermyn and Canadian-born drummer Kevin Brow. Robbins wrote all the pieces but the music has a lived-in quality; there's a sense that the quartet has played these pieces a number of times.  For instance, there's a long bass intro to "There There" that suddenly yet easily drops into the main theme.  The way the guitar gently moves beneath the saxophone on the verse and then pushes against him during the solo while the rhythm section also push and probe makes for great listening.  The quiet coda at the end of Robbins' solo sets the stage for Plough's contemplative spotlight.  Brow and Jermyn solo together to bring the piece back to the theme.  Then, there's the yin-yang, "push me, pull you" feel of "Inkhead" - the intense drive of the rhythm section gives Robbins quite a boost for his solo while Ploug's section starts and stays quiet for several minutes before the intensity builds.  "The Quiet Space Left Behind" is a fine ballad that features a pleasing bass solo and a long, well-constructed solo from the leader.  Nothing is rushed nor is there a fancy arranged, just a well played piece.

There's no secret formula to the success of "Live In Basel"; Pete Robbins has created a book of pleasing melodies, there is an excellent rhythm section plus solos with power, thought and are well-shaped.  Judging by the results of this recording, this Transatlantic Quartet is worth traveling to see play live.  For more information, go to                                                    

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Talking to Each Other and To the Listener

Juhani Aaltonen (tenor saxophone) and Heikki Sarmanto (piano) have been friends and musical collaborators for nearly 5 decades, first playing together in 1964.  Before that, they were both listening to American jazz on record and in person in their native Finland, influenced by the European tours of the John Coltrane band with Eric Dolphy, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner and Reggie Workman. Over the years, they played in ensembles large and small, classical and jazz.

One can feel their comfort level and hear their friendship on "Conversations" (TUM Records), a 2-CD set that combines Sarmanto's compositions, several on-the-spot improvisations and 2 standards from the team of Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz.  Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this music is one can not easily tell the difference between the "composed" works and the improvised pieces. The program is heavy with ballads but none are ponderous - this is music that pulls one in and allows to get lost in the interplay. 

Pieces like "Evening Prayer" unfold slowly, with the deliberate saxophone lines framed by the raindrop-like quality of the piano notes.  Sometimes the song starts in a quite mode and then begins to move in fascinating directions.  The improvised "...It Happened Today" opens like a haiku yet, before too long, the duo catches fire and the listener is pulled into their hearty interplay.  There are several moments when one can hear the influence of McCoy Tyner on Sarmanto; yet he also has an impressionistic side that blends sustained, soft, notes with silence.

The first 3 tracks on CD 2 are like a thick novel with many plots, wondrous twists and turns.  "From Nothing" and "No Work Bound Me" are inspired by the work of American-born poet Rika Lesser, with the former piece are forceful ballad that has a rich melody line wonderful support from Sarmanto.  The pianist displays a fine range of emotions and styles on the second piece, his articulated lines weaving in and around the the more declaratory tenor.  Meanwhile, "Free Souls" is a powerful improvisation, with Tyner-esque chords and runs from the piano and often fiery lines from Aaltonen alternating with more conversational phrases.

There is lot to digest in these "Conversations", much more than a listener would want to take in in one sitting.  Spend some serious time with these songs, allow them to soak into your mind and being - chances are good you will be moved by the experience, moved in a positive way.  For more information, go to

Israeli-born pianist Ehud Asherie teams up with tenor saxophonist Harry Allen for an 11-pack of standards, most, if not all composed before either player  was born.  "Upper West Side", the second CD the duo has recorded for Posi-Tone Records;  they worked with a rhythm section on 2010's "Modern Life."  If you have only heard Asherie as a organ player, you should be impressed by his formidable piano work.  There are moments when his left hand has the power associated with "Jelly Roll" Morton or Art Tatum (listen to him fly on ("I Want To Be Happy")  and one can hear a healthy dollop of Teddy Wilson.  At times, a touch formal but he can be quite playful  (i.e. his "Spanish tinge" on Jobim and Silva's "O Pato.")  As for Allen, he's the perfect foil with his breathy Ben Webster tone and calm demeanor, bluesy smears and airy high notes. He dances his way through his solo on "Learning The Blues" bouncing over the rumbling piano bass and trilling high notes.   His "old world" charm works just fine on "Our Love Is Here To Stay" and does he ever caress Billy Strayhorn's "Passion Flower" (with more than a hint of Johnny Hodges in his approach.)

"Upper West Side" is a positive experience from beginning to end. By returning to the blues roots of 1930's piano jazz, Ehud Asherie shows his continuing maturity as a player - his playing throughout command's one attention.  Harry Allen makes no bones about his roots or "throwback" tenor style.  He also loves melody and his solos are often quite hummable.  Together, they sound as if they are having the best of times; the listener should laugh, sing along and tap his/her feet.  What depression?  This music will drive your "blues" right out of the house.  To find out more, go to

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Places to Be on 2/18/12

On any given night, there is great music being created and played in and around big cities - for those of us in the Northeast US, just check out the offerings in New York City and Brooklyn.

Here's an interesting conundrum for the creative music fan in Connecticut. On February 18 of this year, you have to choose among 4 excellent shows.

Pictured on top of the post is the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble (photo courtesy of Nuno Martins.) The 18-member ensemble is coming to the Buckley Recital Hall at Amherst College for an 8 p.m. concert in the school's "Parallels Series."  The music that composer/drummer Hollenbeck creates and/or arranges for his group ranges from hard-hitting, sprawling, pieces (often featuring voices moving in and around the instruments) to quieter, hypnotic works that suggest contemporary classical music.  Vocalist Theo Bleckmann will be with the group for the concert and he brings such a wondrous quality to the music, whether it's a heartfelt ballad to wordless sounds in counterpoint to the horns and reeds. Clink on the link to a concert that the JHLE played last year at the rain-swept Newport Jazz Festival - - and you'll get a taste for just how great this music can be.  For ticket information, go to or call 413-542-2195.

The duo of Mary Halvorson (guitar) and Jessica Pavone (viola, voice) comes to The Big Room, 319 Peck Street in New Haven, to celebrate the release of "Departure of Reason" (Thirsty Ear Records).  They blend jazz, pop, folk, classical and other influences into music that can surprise, soothe, shock and keep one of the edge of his/her seat. The intimate qualities of dancer/educator Rachel Bernsen's performance space is perfectly suited for this fascinating music.  To reserve a seat (or 2), go to  To hear a sample of the duo's new CD, go to

The Arts Center Killingworth (CT) presents its 8th Annual "Jazz Night Out" at 7:30 p.m. in the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 North Main Street in Ivoryton.  Headlining the show is the Eddie Allen Quartet.  Trumpeter Allen, whose horn has graced stages and pit orchestras throughout the country, is one of the more versatile players on the scene.  He's worked with Art Blakey, Mongo Santamaria, Benny Carter, Vanessa Rubin, Lester Bowie and many others while recording 7 CDs as a leader.  For the 2/18 gig, he's joined by Donald Vega (piano), Carl Allen (drums) and Hartt School of Music instructor Nat Reeves (bass).  Opening the show will be pianist Alma Macbride and her Trio.  The 16-year old Macbride, a West Hartford native whose older brother Jimmy (drums) is also a rising star (and a member of his sister's Trio), is graced with great talent and stage presence. Tickets for this event are going quickly so go to to find out more. For more information about Eddie Allen, go to  You can find out more about Alma Macbride by going to

The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, presents the duo of Avery Sharpe (bass) and Charles Neville (saxophones) at 8 p.m.  Mr. Neville (pictured left) may be best known for his work with the Neville Brothers Band, has his musical roots in the sounds of Louis Jordan, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins as well as the myriad sounds emanating from his New Orleans home.  Mr. Sharpe, born in Georgia but moved to Massachusetts to attend college (and never left), is a prodigious musician who has worked alongside Pat Metheny, Archie Shepp - for many years, he played, toured and recorded with pianist McCoy Tyner.  They call their program "From New Orleans to New England";  judging by their various influences and experiences, this music should be a real treat.  To find out more, go to  To learn more about the work of Avery Sharpe, go to - for Charles Neville, go to

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ms. Jazz Master, Sam He Is, BG Speaks + Hello Bill Lowe

 Whenever I listen to Sheila Jordan, her voice mesmerizes me.  It's easy to enter her musical world, easy to sit and listen as she tells her stories through song.   Just last month, the National Endowment for the Arts honored her life's work by naming her one of the 2012 Jazz Masters.  Honestly, what took so long?    

Her latest CD, "Yesterdays" (HighNote), features Ms. Jordan alongside bassist Harvie S.  Recorded live in concert circa 1990, the tapes turned up one day and we are so lucky they did.  The duo recorded 3 Lps/CDs in their decade+ association but none with the warmth, the experimentation and the musicality that this program.  All of their recordings are worth hearing but this one is a necessity.  Bassist S manages to be an "orchestra" behind the voice, his thick tones and fleet lines serving as both support and equal partner. They "rock" out on "It Don't Mean A Thing"  then make "Mood Indigo" a very deep hue of the blues. Their playful take of "The Very Thought Of You" moves beyond the lyrics into a personal story of the singer being told by critic Leonard Feather taking her task for not singing the melody.

There is so much to like here, from the title track that opens the CD as a longing paean to "olden days, golden days" (Harvie S's bass chords are wonderful) to the "Fred Astaire Medley" that closes the program.  The duo blaze through "Let's Face The Music and Dance" before their playful take of "Cheek to Cheek" ending with an absolutely jovial (and operatic!) version of "I Could Have Danced All Night";  Ms. Jordan collapses in laughter at the end, a splendid exclamation point to an excellent set.  

If you don't own a Sheila Jordan recording and claim to be a fan of jazz vocalists, you should be ashamed.  "Yesterdays" is one of her best and a good place to start. To find out more, go to

 "From Sun to Sun" (Origin Records) is the second CD pianist/organist Sam Yahel has recorded with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Jochen Rueckert - PosiTone Records released the first, "Hometown", in 2009.  Yahel, who many listeners first encountered as an organist on numerous CDs, has worked with Joshua Redman, Norah Jones, Bill Frisell and Peter Bernstein (among others), surprised many people with the excellence of his piano playing on the previous CD and this new one (recorded in May of 2010) is equally as pleasing.  The 3 musicians are quite comfortable with each other and don't play it safe.  Their work on "A Beautiful Friendship" sounds effortless yet is filled with emotional and melodic richness.  The shifting tempos of "2 Pilgrims" allows for shimmering cymbal sounds, pleasing counterpoint from the bass and piano figures that move from swinging jazz to mellifluous classical phrases (check out Yahel's left hand..very nice.) 

One hears traces of Americana in the melody of the title track (Rueckert's drumming is pleasingly interactive) while the trio's version of Cole Porter's "So In Love" is a musical celebration of a fiery romance.  Here, Penman's bass pushes the piece forward, spurring the pianist on to one of his more "high-energy" solos.  There is plenty of playfulness in this music, whether it's the bluesy, Ornette Coleman-like, melody of "By Hook or By Crook" to the funky sprint through "Git It" (again, Rueckert's drumming is quite a joy to listen to.)

The sounds emanating from the minds, hands and feet of Sam Yahel, Matt Penman and Jochen Rueckert is a true pleasure.  "From Sun to Sun" is bright and joyous music, well worth exploring.  To find out more, go to  FYI, Sam Yahel sits with Josh Jackson on the 1/31 edition of "The Checkout" and plays the "iPod Shuffle" - check it out at by clicking here

The same show features a long, very enjoyable, conversation with saxophonist/composer Benny Golson. Golson, composer of "Whisper Not" and "Killer Joe" (and lots more), turned 83 on January 25 and continues to compose, perform and record.  A 1996 NEA Jazz Master, the stories he tells to host Jackson are filled with humor, wisdom and joy.  There are moments when Golson drops into a whisper, effectively drawing the listener into his world.  Check it out at

Bass trombonist and tuba player Bill Lowe has performed with a slew of fine musicians over his 4+ decades as a musician.  He's also spent many years as an educator at Wesleyan University, Northeastern, Columbia and, most recently, at Brown University. Professor Lowe has recorded and toured with Henry Threadgill, Bill Dixon, James "Jabbo" Ware's Me, We & Them Orchestra, and currently is a member of Taylor Ho Bynum's Sextet.  Along the way, he's worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Eartha Kitt, Mercer Ellington and Bill Barron (that's only 4 out of many.) He's composed work for small ensembles, orchestras and for theater productions. 

Bynum, his former student and long-time friend, has assembled recordings and radio broadcasts for the fine music blog, "Destination Out."  Part 1 is up now - it's a well-deserved (and long overdue) look at the man, his music and fascinating journey.  Give a look and listen at