Monday, May 28, 2012

Freedom Stories

As I write these words, Memorial Day parades are winding down throughout the area (save for those few towns who still celebrate on the 31st, the date originally chosen for Decoration Day.) The holiday has been celebrated since several years after the cessation of the War Between the States or the Civil War. People gather on town greens to hear speeches, build statutes and/or monuments to the fallen and drape their houses in flags.

But, if we stop to think about the war that begat the holiday and the reasons why the North fought the South, one realizes that, for some portion of the society, that war did not end in 1865.  President Lincoln did free the slaves but his successor, President Andrew Johnson, did much more to ensure that Black people would not enjoy their freedom.  In fact, it was not until after the assassination of another President - John F. Kennedy - that the Civil Rights Act was passed.  Today, we have a President who is an African American (certain conservative commentators stress the African and deny the American) and it is true that racism, despite the tremendous advances of the past 100 years, is still part of the fabric of American society.

Trumpeter-composer Wadada Leo Smith (born 12/18/1941, Leland, Mississippi) has created a magnificent piece of music and imagery titled "10 Freedom Summers" and now Cuneiform Records has issued the "soundtrack." 4 CDs, nearly 4 and 1/2 hours of music, and 2 accomplished ensembles performing 19 compositions based on different events in the Civil Rights Movement.  Smith utilizes his Golden Quartet/Quintet featuring Anthony Davis (piano), John Lindberg (bass) plus drummers Susie Ibarra and Pheroan akLaff.  On 3 of the tracks, the group is augmented by Southwest Chamber Music, a nonet including Alison Bkorkedal (harp), Jim Foschia (clarinet), Lorenz Gamma (violin), Peter Jacobson (cello), Larry Kaplan (flute), Jan Karlin  (viola), Tom Peters (acoustic bass), Lynn Vartan (percussion) and Shalini Vijayan (violin), conducted by Jeff von der Schmidt.  The Chamber ensemble performs 4 of the pieces on their own.

Though instrumental music is usually considered to be abstract, the titles of the tracks gives the listener a good entry into Smith's creation.  The title of the project refers to the decade between Brown vs the Board of Education (1954) and the Civil Rights Act (1964) - Compositions include "Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 381 Days", "The Freedom Riders Ride", and "The Little Rock Nine: A Force for Desegregation in Education, 1957."  However, the composer takes his inspiration from events that occurred well before and after the decade so there are also pieces such as "Dred Scott; 1857" and "September 11, 2011: A Memorial." While the music has impressive gravitas, the titles are an important factor in telling the stories.  In live performance, Jesse Gilbert, founder of Dark Matter Media, LLC, creates "live visuals" on the screens behind the musicians.  His work is also integral in connecting the music to the events.

This music is not about flashy solos, not about technical wizardry; Wadada Leo Smith's trumpet serves as a clarion call.  He wants to wake the world up, shake the complacent among us who believe that, with the Emancipation Proclamation and the passage of the Civil Rights Act a century later, the wounds were healed.  This music deserves to be heard and seen; kudos to Cuneiform Records for releasing the entire work.  Now, concert presenters need to open their halls to allow so that this history does not disappear under the weight of revisionists.

Yes, there is a lot of music to digest; it makes great sense to spread out your listening so that you can begin to understand the shape of the music.  Don't ignore "10 Freedom Summers" because of the subject matter or the length of the tracks or the fact that this is really an ensemble piece and not a bunch of songs with solos.  For more information, go to

Like many CDs, this package is already showing up on "pirate" sites.  Considering the time and energy musicians put into their life's work, downloading from those sites is a true slap in the face (as well as the wallet.)  Yes, Wadada Leo Smith received funding from numerous charitable organizations to create the pieces that make up "10 Freedom Summers" but it takes a lot of money to hire musicians and copyists, rent rehearsal halls, pay agents, and do everything one has to do to bring the music to the attention of the public.  Stealing it stinks.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

2 Shows, 2 Fine Pianists + CD Pick

The jazz world is filled with good pianists;  some play in trio settings, others work unaccompanied and many work with large ensembles.  Frank Kimbrough does all that and more - he also teaches. Over the past year, he's kept his regular gigs teaching at the Juilliard School and performing with composer Mara Schneider (both in her wonderful Orchestra and in a small ensemble plus strings backing soprano Dawn Upshaw as she has been touring a new work she commissioned Ms. Schneider to compose.) This spring, he toured Indonesia with bassist Ron Carter and just finished the premier concerts of the undiscovered works of composer/arranger Gil Evans that Ryan Truesdell has been working on for the past 16 months.  O yes, he's done duo concerts with saxophonist Noah Preminger as well as the occasional gig with vocalist Maryanne deProphetis.

This Thursday (May 31), Frank Kimbrough (pictured above) ventures to North Branford, CT, where he will walk into Shoreline Piano, 50 Shaw Road.  Once there, he will sit down at a piano (preferably a Steinway) and play.  This is the final concert in the venue's "Live at the Piano Shop", a concert series that began in January of this year in association with  Click on the link to find out more information and purchase tickets. 

And why should you go?  Mr. Kimbrough, one of the nicest people on the face of the planet, is also one of the more fascinating solo pianists you're likely to encounter. There were a number of years he played plenty of solo piano gigs in and around New York City and built up a huge repertoire (Monk, Ellington, Herbie Nichols and others.)  Nowadays, when he does a solo show, he does not lay out music or create a set list - he sits and plays whatever comes into his mind.  This time around, you may hear some of that Gil Evans material or the tunes he played with Ron Carter. Frank Kimbrough will and can play whatever his muse chooses. It's a one-of-a kind concert by one fine person.  To fnd out more about him and his many musical associations, go to

The following night (Friday June 1), the Firehouse 12 Spring 2012 Concert Series presents Allison Miller & Boom Tic Boom.  Ms. Miller, a drummer (hence the onomatopoetic name of her ensemble), is a multi-faceted player. She can sing, write songs, has worked with far-ranging group of performers, from Ani DiFranco to Natalie Merchant to Dr. Lonnie Smith to Kenny Barron to Sheila Jordan (and so many more.) She co-leads several groups, including EMMA, her duo with singer-songwriter Erin McKeown, and the Honey Ear Trio (with Rene Hart and Eric Lawrence.)

Several years ago, Ms. Miller assembled a group featuring bassist Todd Sickafoose and pianist Myra Melford;  they recorded a dandy CD for the Foxhaven Records label (violinist Jenny Scheinman appears on 1 track) using the monicker of Boom Tic Boom. The group's new release, a vinyl only 2-Lp set "Live at Willisau", features saxophonist Marty Ehrlich and pianist Dan Tepfer along with Ms. Miller and Sickafoose.  For the New Haven gig, Ms. Melford returns to the ensemble along with bassist Brad Jones and saxophonist Donny McCaslin.  The pianist, recent winner of the 2012 Alpert Award in the Arts for Music, last performed at The Firehouse on April 6 of this year with Trio M.  If this music excites you, go to or call 203-785-0458 for tickets - they'll go quickly. To find out more about Allison Miller and get a good taste of her music, go to

 Alto saxophonist-composer Ted Nash probably had little or no choice but to become a musician.  His father Dick was an active trombonist and his Uncle Ted played the alto saxophone.  Both played jazz and worked in the Hollywood studios.  By the age of 18, younger Ted had already toured Europe and worked with drummer Louis Bellson and pianist-composer Toshiko Akiyoshi.  He soon moved to New York City and found work with the Gerry Mulligan Big Band and the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra.  In 1992, Nash was one of the founding members of the Jazz Composer Collective, a New York City based organization that presented concerts and recorded several CDs dedicated to the music of pianist Herbie Nichols.  Other founding members included saxophonist Michael Blake, bassist Ben Allison and pianist Frank Kimbrough (see above).  Nash also has worked with the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra  who recorded his "Portrait in Seven Shades" in 2010.  He also released 4 CDs as a leader on the Palmetto label, including his mainstream "Still Evolved" and "The Mancini Project", dedicated to the composer Henry Mancini (in whose Orchestra both his father and uncle played.)

His latest CD, "The Creep" (Plastic Sax Records), is his first on his own label and also the first without a pianist.  With an excellent rhythm section including the fine young drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., and rock-solid bassist Paul Sikivie, Nash (who sticks to alto saxophone although he is quite proficient on tenor sax, flute and clarinet) and trumpeter Ron Horton dance their way through 9 blues-inflected pieces.  The comparison to and influence of Ornette Coleman is unavoidable; the lineup, the insistent rhythmic drive on the majority of the tracks, the reference to "plastic sax" in several of the tunes (Ornette played a plastic alto saxophone in the 1950s and early 60s) and in the "open-ended" feel of the music. Yet, none of these musicians are clones and Nash is an intelligent composer.  The real difference from his other projects/recordings is how "loose" and "easy" these performances feel.  The New Orleans feel of the saxophone-trumpet lines that serve as the "theme" of "Twilight Sounds" (composed by fellow alto player Sherman Irby), Sikivie's bluesy strut that leads the title track in, the high-energy romp of "Plastic Sax Rumble" followed by the soothing harmonies "Plastic Sax Lullaby", all these add up to a joyous listening experience.  Nash and Horton blend their voices with such ease; neither feels the urge to play too much, with solos that "speak volumes" in a few bars. 

Owens, who has been working with Kurt Elling and Wynton Marsalis as well as Christian McBride and Nicholas Payton, has a major role in this music. Listen to his "conversation" with Nash on "Cabin Fever" (over Sikivie's mesmerizing pedal-point), his exquisite "ride-cymbal" on "Plastic Sax Rumble", the forceful way he drives the quartet all throughout "Kaleidoscope" (an Ornette Coleman tune from 1960's "This Is Our Music")  and impeccable fills on "Minor Adjustments" - like Rudy Royston, he's quickly becoming a "go to" musician.  Like Owens, bassist Sikivie is suddenly ubiquitous, working with Matt Wilson's Christmas-Trio and Quartet plus gigs with pianist Aaron Diehl and others.  He plays with fire and intelligence, never trying to fit lots of notes into his pulsating phrases. He's got the "chops" (certainly evident on "Kaleidoscope" and the sprightly walking lines on "Twilight Sounds") yet he's most important as the foundation of the music.

Ted Nash, as well as Ron Horton, are both musicians with impeccable taste, sounding like noone else in the jazz world.  They listen, lead, react, are creative with their choices and never rely on cliches.  They thrive in this "open" situation, interacting with the rhythm section as if they'd been playing together for years.  "The Creep" has great comic book artwork from Jonathan Ashley and liner notes from Ivette Dumeng, a singer who worked with Nash on the movie "Chaography: Variations on the Theme of Freedom" - check that out here. Much of this music has its roots in Nash's experiences in his role in the film.  If that's what it took to get Nash rolling in this new (for him) direction, so be it. Jazz has been called called the "sound of surprise" but can also be the "sound of joy."  This music has what it takes - swing, great rhythms, strong solos, fine melodies - to make you smile and dance.  Life does not get better than this. 

Go to and read what Benny Golson has to say about this music - high praise from a master!  Then, go through and read other entries.  Ted Nash does an eloquent job of describing the life of a musician. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Aud(io)acity (Part 2)

When you go to the website of guitarist/composer Miles Okazaki, one can get lost in his explanations of his music.  When you listen to his new CD, "Figurations" (Sunnyside), one can lose him-or-herself in the impressive musicianship, the strong interplay and how each musician gives his all.  Recorded live at The Jazz Gallery in New York City in June of 2011, the music features the quartet of Okazaki, Miguel Zenon (alto saxophone), Thomas Morgan (bass) and the electrifying percussion of Dan Weiss.  Zenon and Weiss have appeared on all 3 of the guitarist's recordings and what is noticeable over the yeas and the session is how they maintain their individuality in the different settings. The saxophonist can and does play with great celerity yet there is always a clarity to his notes.  He and the guitarist fly over the persistent rhythm section on "Rain"- Okazaki and Weiss then "converse" while Morgan, as is his style, is the foundation of the music. The bass solo that opens the title track is slow and thoughtful, filled with little silences that make the melodic fragments stand out. He picks up the pace for the main body of the track, an insistent piece built from Weiss's powerful (yet neither nor ponderous) rhythm force. The guitar solo blends element of bop figures with the melodic experimentation of John Coltrane, repetitive figures that move in and out while building intensity.  Weiss plays with the tempo, dropping out at the beginning of the saxophone solo then returning with a (rhythmic) vengeance. The drummer takes the lead on "Mandala", a composition that accentuates his ability to be both a rhythmic and melodic force.  Zenon, who is a powerhouse throughout, truly shines on "Corazon", where (like the drummer) he not only displays a fine melodic sensitivity but also displays a strong percussive side. 

Okazaki, even on the uptempo pieces, moves the songs forward on the strength of the melody.  Like Zenon, his solos often have a forceful percussive edge (reminding this writer of Larry Coryell and Joe Morris, both players who can "speak" volumes without a high level of volume.)  Though his music has an intellectual structure, the musicians play with such joy and emotion that it is easy to fall under the spell of "Figurations".  And, this music benefits greatly from being recorded in a "live" setting  - one can truly feel that Miles Okazaki and company connected with the audience (which is what all music should do, make connections on many different levels.)  For more information, go to

Pianist-composer Orrin Evans makes music that can be confrontational, hard-edged, and vigorous yet has a melodic side that, like Charles Mingus, allows his pieces to go in many and varied directions.  Evans has released a series of CDs on Posi-Tone Records that displays his many talents, from the forceful Captain Black Big Band to the trenchant sounds of Tar Baby (with the dynamic rhythm section of bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits) to his celebration of Philadelphia on "Freedom" to his tribute to saxophonist Bobby Watson on "Faith in Action."  His new CD, "Flip The Script", leans more towards the aggressive (in a good sense) nature of Tar Baby, thanks (in part) to the work of bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer Donald Edwards.  Evans, to me, is a 21st Century Jaki Byard, someone who knows his history, understands the roots of  jazz and is not a slave to tradition.  At times, I hear the influence of Bud Powell in the forward motion of his solos (especially on the faster songs.)  And, on ballads, such as "Someday My Prince Will Come", there is a "painterly" touch to his delicate phrases, a sensitivity that embraces the quiet side.

Like Byard, all music is fair game to Evans.  There is an elegiac solo piano reading of "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)", the theme of "Soul Train" composed by the hit-making machine of Gamble & Huff.  Although there is nothing in the notes, this bluesy and touching piece has to be a dedication to the late Don Cornelius.  The Trio dances through a hard-bop adaptation of Luther Vandross's "A Brand New Day", with Wolfe's furious "walking" bass and Edward's percussive barrage driving the pianist forward.  The title track barrels forward with Evans matching the intensity level of the rhythm section while creating memorable melodic lines.  "Big Small" is an original blues tune, thick piano chords and short melodic phrases over the rock-solid bass lines and Edward's fine drum work (he sounds as if he's talking back to the piano during Evans' solo.)

"Flip The Script" might just refer to a concept in which a person gives equal weight to the good and bad things in his life and chooses to take a positive attitude.  Not easy for a musician to make his or her way through the world yet there is so much creativity to be found, not only in the world of jazz but also in classical, hip hop and folk.  Orrin Evans creates music that can make you dance, make you sit back and get lost in the quiet melodies; it should make you see that there are so many possibilities if you allow your creativity to flow.  For more information about his music, go to  (The CD will be released on June 12, 2012; here is a track, courtesy of Posi-Tone Records & IODA Promonet:

Clean House (mp3)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Aud(io)dacity (Part 1)

The title of this post is a made-up word (although there is a quintet from Indianapolis that bears the name - without the parentheses).  What is most enjoyable about these recordings is that neither the composers nor the performers take the easy way out. This is music that demands the listener's full attention (no background sounds for your next cocktail party among these CDs).

For her second CD as a leader, bassist-composer Linda Oh, born in Malaysia and raised in Perth, Australia, has assembled an impressive quartet.  Pianist Fabian Almazan (whose group she has toured and recorded with), tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens and the ubiquitous Rudy Royston (like Matt Wilson, he seems to be showing up on dozens of CDs) and guest vocalist Jen Shyu (singing in both Mandarin and English on "Thicker Than Water"  as well as string players Christian Howes and Christopher Marion (on "Little House") give life to this music with purpose and expression.  Pay attention to what Ms. Oh and Royston do as they move pieces forward, at times, independently, the skipping drums and the propulsive yet musical bass lines ("No. 1 Hit" and "Ultimate Persona" are but 2 excellent examples.) There are times when Royston's drumming makes me laugh; he is so playful as he dances through the songs.  Almazan's absorption of classical and world music influences shines through on tracks such as "Something's Coming/Les Cinq Doigts" (a fascinating blend of Bernstein and Stravinsky) where he plays with both  fire and elegance.

Stephens' delicate tenor work on "Mr. M" (dedicated to Charles Mingus) and on the impressionistic "Come Sunday" reveals a depth of empathy that shines through the speakers.  On the latter, his solo, though short, peels away the melody line to uncover the blues and gospel roots of Mr. Ellington's paean to the day of rest and religious contemplation.  Elsewhere, the composer has created melodic lines that give the saxophonist (and the entire ensemble) the freedom to play.  Ms. Oh's fiery electric bass work on "Deeper Than Happy", goosed forward by Royston's playful percussion, displays yet another of her musical personality, one shaped by her explorations of fusion. Almazan's sprightly, burbling, Fender Rhodes is a welcome addition to several cuts, including the cheerful "Desert Island Dreams." 

"Initial Here", in a word, is delightful.  The wide array of emotions, the expansive compositions and the forceful, impassioned, work of the participants elevates this music above much of what one hears every day.  This band must be electrifying in person. For more information, go to and

People, Places & Things is an appropriate name for drummer Mike Reed's quartet in that the musicians take the myriad influences of life to create a music with deep roots.  Here in the 21st Century, "roots" can be a slippery concept. Take, for example, the version of Roscoe Mitchell's "Old", a piece first recorded in 1967 by the saxophonist/conceptualist.  One hears the blues that permeates much of Chicago jazz as well as the fiery explorations of saxophonists Greg Ward (alto) and Tim Haldemann (tenor) evoking the awakening "free jazz" movement of the 60s.  With bassist Jason Roebke's forceful bass and Reed's solid swing, the tune is far from "old" or even dated; in fact, it's feels contemporary, even timeless.

"Clean on the Corner" (482 Music) is a fascinating follow-up to Reed's "Chicago" trilogy without totally abandoning his exploration of the evolution of that city's musical history.  Pianist Craig Taborn joins the 4-some for a rollicking of Chicago saxophone legend John Jenkins' "Sharon." The pianist evokes Bud Powell in his spiraling lines and forward motion.  Taborn also appears on the leader's impressionistic ballad, "The Ephemeral Words of Ruth", his notes spilling over the insistent light swing of the rhythm section.    The expressive cornet work of Josh Berman gives the front line an extra boost on 2 tracks, especially so on "House of Three Smiles." Throughout the program, Haldemann and Ward blend their reeds to create a curtain of sound that opens to reveal the various solos.  No more so than on the track with Berman, who rises carefully but steadily above the somber melody line. 

The Quartet tracks are the epitome of group interplay;  there are moments on "The Lady Has Bomb"  when each instrument plays independently only to come back to a tight group line. Both saxophonists solo over the rampaging drums and flying "walking" bass.  The interweaving saxophones atop the tolling bells and hand percussion of Reed on "December" paint a solemn but not dreary sonic painting. 

The power in this music comes from the manner in which Mike Reed and company approach the material.  It seems by satisfying their own curiosity they create an inviting yet not necessarily a comfortable environment for the listener.  This is music that should be heard live.  For more information and a taste of this fine CD, go to

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Threedom in the 'House, Good Live Music + Gilkes' Gem

Improvised music is at the root of jazz; the concept of a group of musicians "playing" together with few rules and the determination to to not only express their "selves" but also a create an ensemble persona.  There's a thin line between self-expression and "noodling"  - to my ears and mind, the best music is created when the musicians are really listening to each other and trusting their intuitions. 

When the trio of Jean-Michel Pilc (piano), François Moutin (bass) and Ari Hoenig (drums) perform, there is no set list.  They may discuss ideas over dinner but, much of the time the trio (pictured above in the order of Hoenig, Pilc and Moutin) just sits and "hits." Their latest CD, "Threedom" (Motema), was created over the space of 2 days last March.  The vast majority of the 18 tracks are first-takes and half the pieces are credited to the group (created on the spot in the studio.)  There are a number of wonderful surprises along the way ("Giant Steps" with a hip-hop feel, a delicate yet playful take on "A Foggy Day" and a blistering run through Charlie Parker's "Confirmation") and none of it feels forced. You may laugh at the scurrying sounds of "The Grinch Dance" and you could be mesmerized by the chiming piano on "Birth." Just listen with an open mind.

You'll get that opportunity when the Trio comes to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, this Friday (May 25) to play 2 sets, 8:30 and 10 p.m.  It will be the 3rd night of a 4-night adventure that finds them starting in Boston, New York City, New Haven and Marlboro, NY.   For ticket information, go to or call 203-785-0468.  For more information about Pilc, Moutin and Hoenig, go to

Other live events this week in Connecticut include the appearance of pianist Orrin Evans and flugelhorn player and trumpeter Haneef Nelson (pictured left) on Monday (May 21) at Black-eyed Sally's, 350 Asylum Street in Hartford.  Evans, based in Philadelphia, is a fine player who moves easily through genres, has a blues sensibility and truly understands that jazz is always evolving (he has a new Trio CD on Posi-Tone Records that I'll review later this week.)  Nelson is based in Hartford and is beginning to get attention from audiences and writers in the area.  The show is part of Jazz Mondays, a series presented by the Charter Oak Cultural Center and the Hartford Jazz Society - for more information, call 860-249-1207.  (Just learned on Monday at 12noon that Orrin Evans will not be on the keys for this gig.)
Wednesday May 23, the Carl Testa 4Tet performs at 9 p.m. in the Elm Bar, 372 Elm Street in New Haven.  Sponsored by bassist/composer and part of his Uncertainty Music Series, the 4Tet features Kevin Frenette (guitar, pictured left), James Rohr (keyboards) and John McLellan (drums).  Like Pilc, Moutin and Hoenig, this quartet plays mostly improvised music but may be a bit "freer" with rhythms.  Yet, the group interaction will be there and it should be fun to see and hear what musical directions these musical minds go in.  For more information and directions, call 475-238-8529.  To learn more about the Uncertainty series, go to  For more information about Carl Testa and his many projects, go to
Pianist Noah Baerman returns to The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, with a quintet that features Henry Lugo (bass), Yoron Israel (drums), Kris Allen (alto saxophone) and a special guest on tenor saxophone (I have my suspicions but will wait to find out. O ho, it's Jimmy Greene, newly returned to these parts.)  Baerman has been composing new music for a larger ensemble and the Buttonwood is a comfortable space to give these pieces their initial airings.  The music commences at 7:30 p.m. - to find out more, call, 860-347-4957 or go to (Check out their new web presence as well.)


Trombonist-composer Marshall Gilkes, a native of Camp Springs, Maryland, is perhaps best known for his work with the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the Richard Bona Band; his credits also include the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the David Berger Octet and harpist Edmar Castaneda. Currently, he's living in Koln, Germany, where he is a member of the WDR Orchestra.

"Sound Stories" (Alternate Side Records) is his 3rd release as a leader and features a fine band including Donny McCaslin (tenor saxophone), Adam Birnbaum (piano), Yasushi Nakamura (bass) and Eric Doob (drums).  The program, all Gilkes' originals, sounds "lived-in" and not like a "studio session." From the dizzying opening riffs of "Presence - part 1", the listener is drawn to the melodies and harmonies and drawn in by the excellent rhythm section.  Nakamura, whose list of gigs is quite impressive for someone who's been playing professionally for less than a decade, is a steady presence throughout and also adds counterpoint to the main melody on numerous occasions.  Doob, who has worked with Paquito D'Rivera, Miguel Zenon and Christian Scott, is a fluid player who can really drive the band bit also provide softer colors (quite noticeable on the lovey ballad, "Bare.") Pianist Birnbaum, whose not only has 3 Trio CDs to his credit but also has recorded with Greg Osby, trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt and trombonist Ryan Keberle, is a fine 3rd voice. Supportive, muscular yet displaying a softer touch when called on (you can hear both sides of his playing is his lengthy solo on "First Song".)  McCaslin should need no introductions; he is such a strong foil to Gilkes' burred sound.  His solo on the opening solo is breath-taking, a riff driven roller coaster powered by Doob and Nakamura.

Gilkes knows he's surrounded by a feisty yet supportive crew and he gives each one of them plenty of freedom to move throughout the program. One can hear an orchestral approach on several pieces including the atmospheric yet forceful "Armstrong - Part 2".  As a soloist, he himself has a strong presence, leaning towards the melodic in the majority of his solos (even the harder-driving ones, such as "Anxiety - Part 2"; here, he starts quietly but artfully builds the intensity level atop the furious drums and slashing piano chords.)  His compositions bristle with ideas, abound with rhythmic possibilities and surprise at many a turn.  "Slashes" opens as if the 5 musicians were going to tear a hole in the roof of the studio yet drops in intensity for the beginning of the leader's solo.  Gilkes slowly but surely brings the musical stew back to a boil then McCaslin adds his own spice to the mixture (I'm not sure he is capable of anything less than an excellent solo!)

Self-produced and self-assured, "Sound Stories" is a major statement from Marshall Gilkes.  His music is mature, adventurous, a treat for listeners who enjoy contemporary artists such as Wayne Shorter, Dave Douglas, Tom Harrell and the latter Bob Brookmeyer.  There's a little touch of the latter's sound in Gilkes' playing, mostly in the smooth tones and articulated notes; that does not mean Gilkes does not use smears and "bent" notes but his phrases are quite clear.  At 75 minutes, there's plenty of music but never a dull moment.  For more information, go to

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"Duck" Dunn Passes

Coming of age in the 1960s and paying close attention to popular music, one had to be aware of the great rhythm sections that worked behind singers and vocal groups that regularly hit the "Top 40".  Whether it was James Jamerson (bass) and Benny Benjamin (drums) of Motown Records fame, bassists Carol Kaye or Max Bennett with drummers Hal Blaine or New Orleans transplant Earl Palmer in Los Angeles, these people were the foundation of the music that made many of us dance.

Then, there was Booker T. & The MGs. Organist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper and the rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Lewis Steinberg and drummer Al Jackson powered many of the great tracks that came out of Stax Studios in Memphis, Tennessee.   After Steinberg decided to leave the band in 1965, Donald "Duck" Dunn (already a studio musician) stepped in to the bass slot, locking in with Jackson (sadly, murdered in 1975) and never looking back.

The band toured and recorded with Otis Redding (you can see them in action behind the great singer at The Monterey Pop Festival of 1967 (search YouTube) but, basically, they worked as studio musicians, occasionally opening for other bands.

"Duck" Dunn, whose list of credits include many of the biggest hits and finest artists of the past 5 decades, passed away at the age of 70 Sunday May 13 in Tokyo, Japan, several hours after playing a date with long-time friend and associate Steve Cropper.  Many people saw Dunn in the "Blues Brothers" movies and he certainly had a long career.  My memories will include songs like Eddie Floyd's "Knock On Wood", William Bell's "You Don't Miss Your Water (Till Your Well Runs Dry)", Otis Redding's smoking version of "Rock Me, Baby" as well as dates with blues guitarist Albert King, Wilson Pickett, Herbie Mann, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave and so many others.  Dunn was not a "show-off"; instead, he was the heart of the rhythm section.  No matter who the drummer might be, Dunn stayed the course.  That doesn't mean he was not a creative player; listen to Booker T.'s "Melting Pot" Lp from 1971 and one can hear how he and Jackson interacted with Cropper and Jones, how the liquid bass lines flowed around the solos never losing direction, always solid as a rock..

Thanks to digital archives and fans of soul music, "Duck" Dunn's passing will not go unnoticed.  Solid as a rock, his bass playing may not have the influence of Paul McCartney, Jaco Pastorius, or Larry Graham but every time you hear a band playing "I Can't Turn You Loose" or "In The Midnight Hour", the blueprint of that music was the work of "Duck" Dunn.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Across the Spectrums Live & Recorded

Friday May 18th marks the 9th appearance of guitarist Mary Halvorson at Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven (only the 2nd as a leader - her quintet first appeared here in December of 2009.) She returns as one of the bigger attractions in creative music, known for her work with various ensembles led by  Professor Anthony Braxton as well as with Jessica Pavone, Taylor Ho Bynum, Myra Melford, Matana Roberts and others.

Her Quintet - Jon Irabagon (alto saxophone), Jonathan Findlayson (trumpet), Stephan Crump (bass, subbing for John Hébert) and Ches Smith (drums) - is adept at negotiating the various twists-and-turns that Ms. Halvorson creates for them.  Hers is music that shouts, screams, whispers, rocks, caresses, frolics and goes in unexpected directions, often within the song.  This New Haven gig celebrates the release of "Bending Bridges" (Firehouse 12 Records), an exciting recording that jumps out at the listener from the opening moments.  "Sinks When She Rounds The Bend (No. 22)" has a theme with melody lines for the trumpet and saxophone with a guitar counterpoint.  Smith's conversational drums offer a 3rd counterpoint as the piece builds, erupting after the bass solo with distorted guitar driving up the intensity level.  There is a "pop" feel to the opening rhythms of "Hemorrhaging Smiles (No 25)"that quickly give way solo sections for the rollicking Irabagon, melodic Findlayson and, later in the song, a fine trio-logue between guitar, bass and drums.  One of the finer aspects of this music is how seamlessly any and all influences are woven into the fabric of the tunes. The trio track (no sax or trumpet)  "Deformed Weight of Hands (No. 28)" sounds like James "Blood" Ulmer blended with Henry Threadgill and a dab of Captain Beefheart thrown in.  This music may not "swing" in conventional but the forward motion is, at times, irresistible.  Tempos rarely stay constant through the songs; yet, when Smith and Hébert lock into a groove (like they do on "All the Clocks (No 29)", the music soars even more. Even the ballad "That Old Sound (No. 27)" (another trio track) has amazing tension and intensity.

As one can clearly hear on "Bending Bridges", Mary Halvorson's music continues to evolve, growing in unexpected and delightful directions, an aural delight for fans of adventurous jazz.  In person, the music is even more intense, more visceral, surprising and challenging.  The Quintet plays 2 sets at Firehouse - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for tickets, call 203-785-0468 or online at (where you can listen to excerpts from the CDs.)

Vibraphonist Joe Locke and pianist Geoffrey Keezer have worked together on a number of projects over the past decade, none more exciting than their quartet with bassist Mike Pope and drummer Terreon Gully.  "Signing" (Motema) is this band's 2nd CD;  powered by the mighty Gully and underpinned by Pope's burbling and thick-toned bass, the music soars and swoops, at times stopping to take its musical breath with melodic ballads such as their version of Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek." Keezer's piano work is full of melody, rhythmically sharp, with delightful solos and intelligent accompaniment.  Over the course of his career, Locke has played in many different settings, from duo with Frank Kimbrough to larger group settings.  He also writes fine melodies, creates smart arrangements and is a knock-out soloist.

Among the highlights is the fine re-arrangement of John Coltrane's "Naima".  Originally arranged for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, the voicings translate well to the quartet setting (Keezer's chordal work behind Locke is full and melodic while his solo is moves artfully between chords and single-note runs.)  A strong gospel/soul music influence can be detected on the lovely Locke composition "This Is Just to Say" - the rhythm section plays so calmly, Keezer's keys fill the background and Locke creates a lovely melody, then a fine solo.

On the uptempo pieces, the rhythms section is equally impressive. Gully gets into the groove on "Darth Alexis" opening up the possibilities for Pope to really create counterpoint beneath the soloists.  It's fun to hear the bassist and Keezer's left hand patrol the lower end.  On the title track, Keezer's ringing piano chords float atop and then alongside the bass lines. 

Most apparent from the opening moments through to the quiet finish, "Signing" is a group recording. Yes, the compositions and arrangements are top-notch but it's the interactions throughout that truly make this CD shine.  For more information, go to

Here we go, another recording of music by Thelonious Monk.  Yet, do not ignore "The Baddest Monk" (Savant Records), the latest release from pianist Eric Reed.  Yes, there are tunes here a true jazz fan has probably heard a hundred or more times; still, I would not hesitate to whole-heartedly recommend this gem of a CD. First of all, there's the rhythm section of Matt Clohesy (bass) and Henry Cole (drums) - they are not only supportive but fine soloists and really good listeners.  Second, the front line consists of Seamus Blake (tenor saxophone) and Etienne Charles (trumpet). The blend of Blake's sweet yet muscular tenor with Charles' crisp, clear tones is a treat on the tracks on they are appear.   Third, Eric Reed's arrangements and inspired piano playing is a delight throughout. There's more than a hint of New Orleans on several tracks, including the opening "Rhythm-A-Ning". The structure allows for short statements by Blake and Charles that cap off each verse of the piano solo. Reed's original "Monk Beurre Rouge" blends the Crescent City feel with lines from several Monk tunes for a sweet. slow, blues (fine solos from Clohesy and Blake).  Cole and Reed do a delicious dance on "Green Chimneys" with Clohesy moving in and around their conversations.  Those joyous interactions carry over to another trio hit, "Evidence", which swings with intensity with a fine Cole solo.

Right in the middle of the program, Reed and guest vocalist Jose James create a smoky version of "'Round Midnight." This version sounds influenced by Gershwin's "Summertime" but the interplay of James' voice with the piano is impressive and Reed's solo (without a steady rhythm hand until near the end) stands out.

None of these players treats this music as museum pieces.  In fact, in Eric Reed and company's hands, Thelonious Monk's compositions sound fresh and downright fun. For more information, go to   

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Voices In Song With & Without Words

Nicky Schrire, a native of London, England, who was raised in South Africa, has issued her debut CD, "Freedom Flight" (self-released in association with Circavision Productions) - she joins Lorraine Feather, Kate McGarry, Melissa Stylianou and Sara Lieb on the list of impressive 2012 recordings.  Like her compatriots, the music is successful on many levels, not the least of which is the excellent musicians who make this program shine.  The core group - pianist Nick Paul, bassist Sam Anning and drummer Jake Goldbas (a native of Hartford, CT) - shows such great ease and creativity in its interactions with Ms. Schrire.  This music breathes, nothing is rushed or forced.  The vocalist is quite self-assured, trusts her judgement so that each piece stands out.  Whether singing in Portuguese ("E Preciso Perdoar") or Neapolitan (the opening verse of Maria Pia de Vito and David Linx's "Sleep Away") or the wordless vocal of the short title track that leads the program in and serves as an introduction to Lennon/McCartney's "Blackbird", Ms. Schrire is emotionally invested in every syllable of this material.  And her arrangement of the tune includes room for a bass solo. She is quite democratic in how the space she allows her fellow musicians.  Tenor saxophonist Paul Jones creates a tense, almost combative, second voice on "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" yet, by the end of the song, Ms. Schrire is singing right along with his hearty playing.  On the playful "Me, The Mango Picker" (composed by South African bassist Carlo Mombelli), the vocalist sets the rhythm while the clarinet lines of Jay Rattman dance around her. Bassist Anning joins, his melodic lines and full tones a fine third voice.  Brian Adler adds his percussion arsenal (cajon, shakers, shells) to the many voices of Ms. Schrire on an inventive read of Loudon Wainwright III's "The Swimming Song."

2 of the tracks feature her in duo settings with her teacher-mentor Peter Eldridge, "If Ever I Would Leave You" (the Lerner & Loewe song from "Camelot") and James Taylor's "Shower The People."  On the former, he accompanies his student on piano as she makes the oft-recorded piece sound new and then adds his voice to a brilliant rearrangement of the latter (the mixture of the different voices, created through overdubbing, is breathtaking.)

Recordings like "Freedom Flight" make me glad to be alive.  People might look at the song listing and say that Nicky Schrire is trying to cover too much territory, trying to prove too much -  maybe she should stick to standards.  To me, the word "flight" in the title alludes to "flights of fancy", of an artist spreading her wings and climbing as high as possible.  The sound quality is excellent, very "warm" and spacious for a CD, in keeping with the content.  Excellent program and, dear me, this is her debut recording.  The CD "launch party" is set for June 6 at the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City. For more information, go to

"Number 5" HighNote Records), the 5th recording in 5 years to feature the 5-piece band that trumpeter and flugelhorn player Tom Harrell has had together since 2007.  Saxophonist and co-producer Wayne Escoffery, pianist Danny Grissett (he also plays Fender Rhodes), bassist Ugonna Okwego and drummer Johnathan Blake give this music great personality, imbuing the pieces with fire, grace, intelligence and substance.  Add to that Harrell's fine compositions and arrangements as well as strong playing and this music shines.

For this CD, Harrell has mixed things up a bit.  The first track, Dizzy Gillespie's "Blues 'N' Boogie", features the leader in a furious duo with Blake, the two musicians tugging at each other, pushing and pulling and absolutely swinging. Harrell's duo with Grissett, "Journey to the Stars", is a lovely ballad with circular piano figures and overdubbed trumpets that support the leader's lyrical flugelhorn work.  "Present" is also a handsome ballad, with Grissett's chiming Rhodes tones plus excellent brush and cymbal work from Blake.   Harrell goes it alone on the standard "Star Eyes", 5:29 of melody, invention, and, yes, rhythm. He close the program with another solo piece, Tadd Dameron's "A Blue Time", a medium tempo ballad that most certainly is a blues but also a richly melodic piece. Harrell's solo displays a swinging feel as well as a wonderful use of silence.

When the Quintet "hits", one can easily hear why Harrell is enamored with this band.  Escoffery's tenor playing gets stronger with each recording, his solos filled with smart phrases and ideas (and not cliches.)  Grissett, an intelligent player, and Okwego are the "glue" of the group - along with the active percussion of Blake, they give the soloists such fine support on the title track and the mysterious grooves of "GT".  On the latter tune, Blake not only propels the piece forward but also engages in conversations with the soloists. Grissett picks up on the Thelonious Monk reference in Escoffery's solo and builds his solo off of it.  In this section, the bass and drums move independently of the piano but never lose the forward motion.

Although the CD is credited to Tom Harrell, the 5 musicians are a real working unit and this music would not be good as it is without their interactions and ideas.  Put their 5 recordings in a multi-disc player, press the "shuffle" button and luxuriate in one of the best working units in contemporary music.  Yes, "Number 5" shows growth and adds new elements to Harrell's vision; yet it is a continuation of the excellent road has taken since 2007's "Light On."  For more information, go to

Bassist-cellist-composer Henning Sieverts is one of Europe's busiest musicians.  He has appeared on over 100 recordings including 12 as a leader (most recorded in the last decade.  For his latest recording, "Symmethree" (Pirouet), he pares his usual quintet down to a drummer-less trio (hence the names a play on his "Symmetry" group and recordings.)  Here, he is joined by Nils Wogram (trombone) and Ronny Graupe (electric guitar)for a program of original pieces by the bassist that combines his love for jazz with 20th Century European classical music.  Wogram's warm tones brighten "New Tone Barn", a piece based on Anton Webern's "Kammersymphonie, Opus 21" - this music moves from edgy dialogue to a long solo section where the thick tones of the bass and handsome chordal guitar allow the trombonist to roam freely while maintaining his melodic style.  "Deep, Deep!" channels New Orleans blues with with elements of "free" music and is quite an aural treat.  While not as "pointillistic" as work by French artist, "A La Seurat" is a shimmering piece with a simple melody and intelligent interplay.  There are moments, such as "Coffee To Stay" and "Walking On The Other Side" when this music reminds of the work of Jimmy Guiffre with Bob Brookmeyer and Jim Hall in the 1950s. Much of it is soft, there is an emphasis on melody and, while not as steeped in the blues as some of Guiffre's music, there is an importance of how each piece is framed, how the musicians are listening, acting and reacting.  At times, especially "Nine On Twelve", this music swings with a vengeance but ever-so-playful.

The German-born Graupe is a new name to me but plays with great taste and intelligence while Nils Wogram has worked and recorded with pianist Simon Nabotov and fellow trombonist Conny Bauer as well as leading his own groups. Henning Sieverts has done a masterful job of crafting this music so that it sounds full and rich. The compositions and arrangements hold and engage the interest of the listener. There is much to digest and you'll hear more on each return visit.  To find out more, go to    

As a songwriter, producer, performer and Civil as well as Human Rights advocate, Curtis Mayfield (1942-1999) cut quite a figure during his 3+ decades as an artist.  Even today, nearly 22 years after he passed, his music resonates.  "Impressions of Curtis Mayfield" BFM Jazz) is the brainchild of producer Brian Brinkerhoff and features a group dubbed the Jazz Soul Seven.  That's an apropos name - look at the lineup.  The "front line" consists of Wallace Roney (trumpet), Ernie Watts (tenor saxophone) and Phil Upchurch (electric guitar) while the "supporting cast" includes Russ Ferrante (piano), Bob Hurst (bass) and Terri Lyne Carrington (drums) with special guest Master Henry Gibson.  Although the CD carries a 2012 publication date, there is no indication when the program was recorded.  As it turns out, Gibson passed in December of 2002 (almost 3 years to the day when Mayfield died.) 

That should not affect your enjoyment of this CD.  The material comes, mostly, from 1962 through 1971, the most prolific time of Mayfield's career, from the sensuous "Gypsy Woman" (recorded by The Impressions) to the gospel-soaked "Amen" (not an original) to "Move On Up" and "We're a Winner" (both tunes reflecting the composer's pride in the African American community) to the music composed for the soundtrack of "Superfly" (the 1972 film with songs such as "Freddie's Dead" and the ultra-funky title track.) Gibson shines on those tunes - he had been a member of Mayfield's touring group for 17 years and recorded the sound track.)    Watts is a force on this music, whether wailing with intensity on "Superfly" or taking his sound to church on "Amen".  One of the busiest "session" player in Los Angeles, the saxophonist always gives his best.  Roney is a good foil for both the saxophone and guitar, his muted tones suggesting Miles Davis on "Beautiful Brother of Mine" or soaring majestically on "Keep On Pushing." Upchurch, who has probably been on as many sessions as Watts, has a sweet tone.  His rhythm work meshes well with the more full-bodied tone of Ferrante's acoustic piano.  The pianist, perhaps best known for his work with the Yellowjackets, plays with great assurance throughout the CD, either supporting the soloists or stepping into the spotlight.   As for the rhythm section, they are the heartbeat of this music and really supply the "deep" grooves. 

For those of us who grew up with and were educated by Curtis Mayfield's musical messages, "Impressions..." is a sweet reminder of his greatness.  His tunes were solid, filled with spirit, and many of his best songs sound just as fine today (with messages that still resonate.)  Turn it up and let this fine music fill your house with soul.  For more information, go to


This Friday night, Michael Bates Acrobat comes to Firehouse 12 in New Haven - I write about the gig in my previous column.   Turns out that trumpeter Russ Johnson won't be able to make the performance but his replacement is the equally impressive Ron Horton.  Horton, who was an  integral member of the Jazz Composers Collective and had great musical associations with both the late Andrew Hill and soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, is an excellent and inventive player as well as one of the nicest people you'll ever meet.  Tickets are still available at

Composer-pianist-educator Earl MacDonald, whose blog "Ever Up and Onward" I recommended several months ago, has just posted recordings of his "30 Tunes in 30 Days" experiment. You may recall, he challenged himself to create 30 new blues tunes.  You can hear Professor MacDonald playing these tunes with 4 of his students - Emily Lavins (saxophone, flute), Tom Lee (trumpet), Nick Trautmann (acoustic bass) and Mike Allegue (drums) - by going to  It's fun.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lots of Live Music in CT (5/09 - 5/12) + CD Pick

The Uncertainty Music Series, created and curated by composer Carl Testa, welcomes the Scott Clark 4tet to Elm Bar, 372 Elm Street in New Haven on Wednesday May 9 for a 9 p.m. show.  Last week, I wrote about the group, led by drummer-composer Clark and based in Richmond, Virginia, and, since that time, have had the opportunity to hear the recording that is in search of a label. The 4Tet's music is fiery, punchy, thoughtful and thought-provoking and, at times, great fun.  Composed of drums, bass, saxophone and trumpet, the music has its roots in the experimentations of the Ornette Coleman groups of the late 1950s and early 60s.  But, Clark is definitely the leader, with many of the songs building up from the drums (setting the pace and the mood).  All the members are fine soloists and this is music with plenty of substance and little filler. According to Clark's website (, the second set "will be the second performance of our suite of music based off of the book “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown and on my own research into my family history."

On Saturday evening May 12, the Series moves to Neverending Books, 810 State Street in New Haven for a performance by the duo of Christopher Riggs (guitar) and Carl Testa (bass, electronics).  The sounds commence at 8 p.m.  To get a taste of the duo's collaborations, click here.  For more information about the series, go to

Those of us who love adventurous music have a difficult decision to make on Friday May 11. We must go to New Haven and choose between Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts (performing at 8 p.m. in Yale University's Morse Recital Hall, 470 College Street or Michael Bates Acrobat: Music By and For Dmitri Shostakovich at 8:30 p.m. in Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street.  Drummer-composer-educator Wilson and A&C are the concluding concert in the 2011-12 Ellington Jazz Series at the University's School of Music.  The group includes Michael Rodriguez (trumpet, subbing for Terrell Stafford), Martin Wind (bass) and Gary Versace (piano, organ, accordion.)  "An Attitude for Gratitude" (Palmetto Records), the band's 4th CD,  continues Wilson's quest to create music that is approachable without being sappy or programmed.  To find out more about the concert, go to or call 203-432-4158. 

Meanwhile, the Vancouver, Canada, native Michael Bates (bass) brings an accomplished group to the Firehouse for an evening of fascinating music.  Joining him will be Russ Lossing (piano, Fender Rhodes), Greg Tardy (clarinet, saxophone), Russ Johnson (trumpet) and Michael Sarin (drums) and they will explore
music the bassist composed after studying the 20th Century Russian Shostakovich (1906 - 75).  The latter was quite a figure in the last century, creating music that reflected the changing society in which he lived.  Much happened to him and around him and he often had issues with the Soviet officials. On one hand, he composed "serious" music, filled with myriad influences (and certainly some of them were European) but also felt forced to compose "nationalistic" works.  By the early1960s, Shostakovich wrote darker works, including his "13th Symphony - Babi Yar" based on the poems of Yevgeny Yevtushenko that look at the oppression and slaughter of Russian Jews.

Bates' music makes great use of Lossing's atmospheric Fender Rhodes, Sarin's explosive drumming and the blend of reeds and brass.  The music can be quite serious; yet there is also a playful edge to certain pieces. Jazz lovers will enjoy the interplay, the melody lines played by 2 or more instruments that come together and move apart.  Bates and Acrobat play 2 sets, 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for tickets and more information, go to or call 203-785-0468.

This Saturday (May 12) at 2 p.m., Joe Morris (guitar) and Stephen Haynes (trumpet, cornet) present "Improvisations VIII", the latest in the duo's ongoing series at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street in Hartford.  Joining them will be Jason Kao Hwang (violin, viola) and New Haven resident Nathan Bontrager (cello).  Hwang has been active of the jazz/new music scene for 3 decades, working with artists such as Professor Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, and bassist William Parker as well as leading or co-leading numerous ensembles (several that feature New Haven-based cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum.)  Bontrager just played this past weekend as part of Broadcloth (in the Uncertainty Music series) and in the ensemble behind vocalist Anne Rhodes.  For more information about "Improvisations" and ticket availability, go to

Pianist Bill Carrothers makes his home on the Upper Penisula of Michigan, not a place to settle down if you plan on pursuing a busy career in music. But, busy is in the eye and mind of the beholder. Mr. Carrothers has a wicked sense of humor which is on display at his electronic home - www.bridgeboymusic. His CDs range from trio explorations of the music of Clifford Brown to songs from the Civil War played as solo piano pieces to larger group takes on the songs from World War I.  All these creative efforts do not make for great commercial success. Yet, I'll lay odds Carrothers does not really care about the hoopla of success. 

His new CD, "Family Life" (Pirouet Records), is comprised of 15 pieces for solo piano and may bequietest music you'll hear this year.  Yet, the intensity of melody and emotion that one hears in this music will touch you long after the last notes fade.  Like the snapshots on the cover, the stories implicit in the music are of nights spent around the dinner table, of days walking in the woods, of sitting on a chair after the children have gone to sleep and listening to them breathe, of memories of parents and relatives who shape your life even after passing. 

It does not pay to  explain the individual tracks; every listener will hear something in this music that will resonate in his or her life (I would be surprised if you could not or did not connect with this music.) Shut off the lights, turn off the computer, open the shades, relax -you might even fall asleep - but do not sleep on this music, an oasis in an ever-maddening world.  Check out Bill Carrothers website (listed above) or go to to hear for yourself.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Lots of Listening To Do (Part 1)

"Outdoor Living" (Dreck To Disk Records) is the latest CD from the Will Bernard Trio, a funkified set of instrumentals that will rattle the speakers and shake your soul.  Guitarist Bernard, Hammond B-3 specialist Will Blades and drummer Simon Lott sound like they are having more fun that is legally possible. The music hearkens back to the Memphis soul sounds of Booker T & The M.G.s, to the sweet percolating rhythm section of Hi Records, to the 60s soul/rock of Sly & The Family Stone.  The Trio has chops to spare but this is "attitude" music, from the spacy yet hard-edged "Roaming Charges" to the "retro soul" of "Morgan Deux" to the blues-drenched "Nooksack" (Bernard plays some seriously "mean" slide guitar) to the Dixie-fried "Katskan" (New Orleans meets Atlanta) to the appropriately titled "Squeaky Chug Chug".  Will this music change the world?  Perhaps not but it does have the power to adjust your mood, especially if you're in a bad way.  Put on your dancing shoes and play it loud.  For more information, go to

Minnesota-native John Raymond is a fine trumpeter, a burgeoning composer and an active sideman. "Strength & Song" (Strength & Songs Records) is his debut as a leader (he did produce an EP in 2008);  here, he has assembled as impressive group to play this music including Gilad Hekselman (guitar), Javier Santiago (piano, Fender Rhodes), Raviv Markovitz (bass) and Cory Cox (drums) with guests Gerald Clayton (piano) and Tim Green (alto saxophone). Clayton contributes his lyrical piano to "Onward", a medium tempo piece built on the active drums and bass with Hekselman's ringing guitar tones and the leader's straight-forward trumpet (by that, I mean he is neither flashy nor prone to bluesy smears to fill out lines.)  After an exciting finish, Raymond supplies Clayton with "Onward Outro", a lovely solo piano piece as soothing as spring rain. Raymond and company breathe new life into Joe Henderson's "Isotope";  right from the opening trumpet/drums dialogue, the music swings sweetly.   "The Rock" is a harder piece, Hekselman's guitar tone reminiscent of Kurt Rosenwinkel;  his solo twists and swirls, rising above the insistent drums and propulsive bass. Raymond digs in, really pushing the band even as he delivers his brass sermon.  The trumpeter's religion is very important in his life and music.  Several pieces, such as the peaceful "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", the Pat Metheny-Lyle Mays influenced uptempo drive of "Motivations of a Pharisee" (fine solo from Tim Green) and the specific dialogue on "Psalm 37:Anthem", which speaks to the importance of Raymond's faith to his music, his mission and how he lives his life. Raymond's interplay with Santiago on the ballad "The Poor Blind Man" is quite nice; the piece also has room for a melodic bass solo and striking guitar work (Hekselman is impressive throughout the program.)

"Strength & Song" is good, honest, heart-felt music.  John Raymond's compositions show his intent to continually move forward as a musician and person.  Search out this music and you'll be richly rewarded.  For more information, go to  

For "Heads Or Tales", his 4th CD as a leader (and first for PosiTone Records), tenor saxophonist Tom Tallitsch convened a group that features Jared Gold (Hammond B-3), Dave Allen (guitar) and Mark Ferber (drums).  Gold's fine organ work, paired with Allen's strong single-note lines and supported by Ferber's insistent percussion, truly set the stage for this music.  Tallitsch has no issue with sharing the spotlight so every player gets his due. Allen shines each time he gets to solo, no more so than on "The Lummox."   Tallitsch's tenor style hearkens back to the sounds of early John Coltrane and Don Byas.  You can hear a blues tinge yet he never overplays or just "blows" - his solos "sing", even on faster tracks such as the high-speed drive of "Double Shot" or the funky, James Brown-influenced "Flat Stanley."  The ballads, especially "Perry's Place", show a tone as sweet as Lester Young and melodic inventions in the manner of Ben Webster.  Yet, Tallitsch is neither a traditionalist nor a throwback.  The rhythms that Gold and Ferber create for these original pieces (the sole exception, the emotionally charged ballad reading of Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down") are up-to-date without kowtowing to "trendiness." 

No need to flip a coin, "Heads Or Tales" is a winner any way you listen to it.  I continue to be impressed with Jared Gold's versatility and Mark Ferber's stunning percussion while Dave Allen, who has released several CDs on Fresh Sounds New Talent, adds a sound that works well with the organ and tenor (his rhythm work is also quite good.)  Tom Tallitsch has created a strong program with a group that would "burn down the house" in a club setting.  For more information, go to

Here's the opening track, courtesy of PosiTone Records and IODA Promonet:
Coming Around (mp3)

"Journeyman" (PosiTone Records) is only Brandon Wright's second CD as a leader yet he sounds like a veteran. He's aided on his musical trek by his mates from the Mingus Big Band, David Kikoski (piano), Boris Kozlov (bass) and Donald Edwards (drums).   The program is a blend of 6 originals and 4 covers, 3 of which are quite unexpected.  "Better Man" is an Eddie Vedder tune, written for his band Pearl Jam - Wright digs into the melody and pushes it hard, spurred by Edward's fine drumming. "Wonderwall", written by Noel Gallagher and recorded by his band Oasis (a year after the Pearl Jam tune) has a good melody that allows Wright and company plenty of leeway to play with tyhe dynamics. Kikoski excellent solo sets the stage for Wright's impassioned spot (Kikoski has quite a way with "pop" tunes - his reading of Brian Wilson's "Surf's Up" which he recorded for CrissCross is brilliant.)  The program closes with a uptempo read of "He'll Make Me Happy" from "The Muppets Take Manhattan."

Other highlights include the sweet ballad "Illusions of Light", which opens with Wright unaccompanied strolling through variations on the melody he plays when the rest of the quartet enters.  Kikoski moves to electric piano for "Search For Truth", a medium tempo piece with excellent work from Edwards (who really controls the dynamics of the song.) "Big Bully" has a scorching opening riff for saxophone and piano then moves right into overdrive for the solos.  Here, Kozlov and Edwards propel the piece; Wright and Kikoski handle the changes with aplomb.

Brandon Wright and his fine colleagues have created a very good recording, with melodic and rhythmic variations galore.  The solos are uniformly strong and the rhythm section is both supportive and challenging.  Does not hurt one bit that David Kikoski is Wright's partner on the front line as he is one of the more accomplished pianists on the scene today.  "Journeyman" is satisfying music that gets better each time you listen.  To find out more, go to

Here's an uptempo taste, courtesy of PosiTone Records and IODA Promonet:
Shapeshifter (mp3)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

On the Lookout for New Sounds

This Sunday (May 6), the Wesleyan University Experimental Group presents the Broadcloth Trio (pictured left) and bassist/composer Carl Testa in concert at 8 p.m. in the Russell House, 350 High Street in Middletown, CT.  Broadcloth is Anne Rhodes (voice), Nathan Bontrager (cello) and Adam Matlock (accordion) and the sounds you hear have myriad influences; like all good improvisatory music, it changes with each performance.  Ms. Rhodes has a wonderful, pliant, voice that can reach great heights yet never sounds shrill or harsh.  Both she and Bontrager are members of Professor Anthony Braxton's Tri-Centric Orchestra while Matlock creates music in a number of different settings (from electronic music to "neo-cabaret to tango and klezmer.) 

Carl Testa, also a member of a number of Professor Braxton's ensemble, is the curator of the Uncertainty Music Series (held in various in New Haven - see below) as well as a solo artist. He creates works for acoustic bass and electronics that he calls "textural and melodic ambient music", drawing the listener in to a different yet engrossing sonic world.  Testa also has performed with the members of Broadcloth separately and together as well as in a duo setting with experimental guitarist Christopher Riggs, in the works of choreographer Rachel Bernsen and organist/composer Brian Parks.  

Sunday's show is free and open to the public - for more information, go to

The day before the Wesleyan performance, Ms. Rhodes will debut a new work at 2 p.m. in the Charter Oak Cultural Center, 21 Charter Oak Avenue in Hartford. Commissioned by the Hartford New Music Festival, this fascinating piece is a combination of textiles and sound, an 8 foot by 2 foot piece of sliver burlap stretched over an artist's canvas frame on which Ms. Rhodes will embroider (in her words) "graphics... in the form of a flowchart, allowing the musicians to move through choose paths between cells of information."  Scheduled to perform with the vocalist/embroiderer are cellist Bontrager, accordionist Matlock, bassist Testa along with Ben Klein (tuba), Bill Solomon (percussion), Maura Valenti (harp) and Libby Van Cleve (oboe). To find out more about Anne Rhodes work with design and sound, go to

The Uncertainty Music Series continues on Wednesday May 9 with a concert featuring the Scott Clark Quartet. Drummer/composer Clark and his group - saxophonist Jason Scott, trumpeter Bob Miller and bassist Cameron Ralston - are part of the burgeoning jazz and improvised music scene based in Richmond, Virginia.  As one might deduce from the instrumentation, the band (formed in late 2010) was initially influenced by the classic Ornette Coleman Quartet on the late 1950s and early 60s.  One can hear by the music on Clark's website (, the band has already begun to move into its own territory.

The SCQ plays at 9 p.m. in Elm Bar, 372 Elm Street in New Haven.  For more information and a look at the upcoming schedule (including a rare appearance by New Haven native guitarist Michael Gregory on Wednesday June 6), go to