Tuesday, June 26, 2012

You Can Go Home Again! + 2 Reviews

After 7 shows in 7 nights on a tour that took Broadcloth (vocalist Annie Rhodes, cellist Nathan Bontrager, and accordionist Adam Matlock) and bassist/composer Carl Testa as far south as Atlanta, Georgia, the entourage will perform an 8th show on the 8th night in their own backyard.  They'll perform, along with the electronics of Colorguard, at 8 p.m. in InterCambio, 756 Chapel Street in New Haven. InterCambio describes itself as " a new kind of arts organization, facilitating creative exchange and fostering collaboration across media and communities. Through our supported programming and publications, we're building a creative hub for the many talents in New Haven and beyond."  As for the musicians, one expects an exciting evening knowing they in their friendly environs.  For more information and directions, go to uncertaintymusic.com

About the same time that the new production of the Gershwin's "Porgy & Bess" was being reborn in the United States (winning several awards over the past 12 months), The Brussels Jazz Orchestra, Frank Vaganée, music director, enlisted an international team of arrangers to create "A Different Porgy & Another Bess" (Naive).  Singing the title roles are David Linx and Maria Joao - my suggestion is, to truly enjoy this recording, put the US version out of your mind.  The arrangements are all top-notch, the musicianship stellar, and the vocalists, at times, transcend the material.  Ms. Joao, a native of Portugal, has a light, reedy, voice and, I must admit, initially I thought that she had the wrong sound for these songs.  Yet, her take on "My Man Is Gone Now", sung over the dazzling splay of reeds and brass, is excellent. As for Mr. Linx, he takes a soulful approach and, with his elastic voice stands out.  The funky reading of "A Woman Is A Sometime Thing" may remind some of Steely Dan, circa "Aja", what with the crackling guitar and interactive horn arrangements. The vocalists scat their way into "I've Got Plenty of Nothing" and, after the exciting introduction, both have fun with the classic lyrics. The lengthy trombone solo that separates the singers has a pleasing and gentle swing.  There are moments, such as "Summertime", where the vocalists "overplay" their parts and the piece loses its soulful quality.

Purists may wrinkle their brow over the liberties taken with this material or the occasional over-wrought vocal but the 11 arrangers for the 11 songs, for this listener, make the Brussels Jazz Orchestra the true stars of the show.  Save for a few ill-advised vocal approaches, just roll with it and you will find many enjoyable moments.  For more information, go to www.brusselsjazzorchestra.com.    

To celebrate his 50th birthday, drummer/educator Ralph Peterson both revisits and updates his "sound."  "The Duality Perspective" (ONYX Music Label) features a Fo'Tet of young players (vibraphonist Joseph Doubleday, bassist Alexander L.J. Toth and clarinettist Felix Peikli), all of whom studied with the drummer at the Berklee School in Boston. Their 5 tracks start with the exciting opener "One False Move", introducing the Norwegian-born Peikli's clear clarinet tones over Doubleday's chordal work, Toth's bouncing bass and the leader's impressive drive.  This piece, while not as vibrant as the version of Thelonious Monk's "4 in 1" that follows, has a dynamic forward motion.  The Monk piece adds the marimba of Fo'Tet graduate Bryan Carrott and percussion of Reinaldo Dejesus to the mix. At loud volume, the percussion blend shakes the walls.  Doubleday solos after Peikli's impressive spot and he is followed by Carrott's dancing marimba work. The tender ballad "Addison and Anthony" (composed for the drummer's grandchildren) features exquisite brush work and quite the bass clarinet solo (the instrument rarely sounds this rich.)

The second group of 5 tracks features Peterson's Sextet, blending the trumpet work of Sean Jones with saxophonists Walter Smith III (tenor) and Tia Fuller (alto and soprano) with the rhythm section of Hartford, CT natives Luques Curtis (bass) and his brother Zaccai (piano - replaced by Berklee grad and Peterson student Victor Gould on the final 2 cuts). Tenor saxophonist Edwin "Eddie" Bayard joins the Sextet for 2 tracks, including the fiery "Pinnacle" that closes the program. Everyone shines on this cut, from Jones' explosive solo to the dialogue of the 2 tenors to Gould's sprightly spot, all done over the solid drive of the Peterson and Luques Curtis. The drummer, for his flash and fire, truly knows how to write a fine melody.  "You Have Know Idea" is dedicated to Peterson's wife - one can hear the joy in the lively percussion interchange of the leader with Dejesus plus there are fine solos from Ms. Fuller (on alto) and Jones.  The title track has a handsome melody line and full sound, built off the rich chordal work of Zaccai Curtis and the section work of the front line.  Smith's solo shows his warmer side (his playing always seems to have a strong emotional element), followed by an equally touching alto solo.

One can hear the connection to classic Blue Note recordings of the 1950s and 60s in the horn arrangements and in Peterson's "leading from the drums", a la Art Blakey. Yet, both the Fo'Tet and Sextet play music that has contemporary elements and Ralph Peterson has matured into a musician with a strong artistic vision and sound.  He always could "bring the fire" but now his ballad work is often tender, soft and uncluttered.   "The Duality Perspective" also shows Peterson to be a fine teacher with students that are quickly moving out of the classroom and into the public eye with voices that will hopefully be heard for many years to come.  For more information, go to ralphpetersonmusic.com.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Gig Alert + CD Pick (CT Connection)

That's bassist Ben Allison on the left of the picture and poet Robert Pinsky on the right.  They have been appearing together intermittently over the past 3 (or so) in a program that combines the spoken word and jazz.  Nothing new about that practice other than it does not happen as much these as it did even 25 years ago.  Jazz fans remember the work of Amiri Baraka with saxophonist David Murray in the 1980s as well as the hard-edged sound of poet Jayne Cortez and the Firespitters.  You dig back further and you will find the jazz poetry of Kenneth Rexroth in the 1950s plus the writing of Langston Hughes and Hart Crane in the 1920s.

Ben Allison is no stranger to the folks of New Haven as he is a native son and has appeared a good number of times over the past 2 decades.  Robert Pinsky, a native of New Jersey, studied at Rutgers then went on to get his PhD from Stanford. "Sadness and Happiness", his first book of poetry, was published in 1975 and he has since published 7 more collections, numerous essays, edited several books by other poets and served as the United States Poet Laureate from 1997-2000.

They'll be performing this coming Wednesday night (June 27) at 8 p.m. in Morse Recital Hall, 470 College Street in New Haven as part of the 2012 International Festival of Arts & Ideas. The Festival website (artidea.org) lists the Ben Allison Band  - the lineup will be percussionist Rogerio Boccato, guitarist Steve Cardenas and guitarist/banjo player Brandon Seabrook. In an email from Mr.Allison about the collaboration with the poet, "We'll be totally improvising our set with Robert.  It's very conversational and interactive music. Lots of dynamics and creative forms."  Sounds like this will be a great gig. 

I have been lax writing about this year's Fest, which began on June 16 and runs through the 30th, closing with a free concert on the New Haven Green featuring Rosanne Cash.  There has not been a lot of jazz in this year's schedule but there have been some excellent free concerts.  Click on the link above to see what great shows are coming up this week. To find out more about Ben Allison (he's quite a busy person), go to www.benallison.com - for an overview of the life and work of Robert Pinsky, go to www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/robert-pinsky.

The first time I heard clarinet player/composer François Houle was his 1998 Songlines CD "Vernacular" - the recording featured trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist Mark Dresser, cellist Peggy Lee and drummer Dylan van der Schyff. The interaction of that band was fantastic, the music brimmed with creative energy and it remains one of my favorite recordings.  14 years later, Houle has gathered another larger ensemble, dubbing the group  François Houle 5 +1, and releasing "Genera" (Songlines). This is a band of leaders, including the "Connecticut Connection" Taylor Ho Bynum (Wesleyan graduate and New Haven resident on cornet and flugelhorn), Samuel Blaser (trombone), Michael Bates (bass) and Harris Eisenstadt (drums) - the +1 is Houle's long-time associate Benoit Delbecq (piano, electronics).  The blend of the sounds is intriguing throughout, often pairing Bynum's tart cornet lines with Blaser's buttery trombone work.  Bassist Bates and drummer Eisenstadt generate plenty of power pushing, coaxing and creating a strong foundation for the soloists to work off of.  Delbecq's left hand complements Bates' thick bass lines, offering a "freer" counterpoint.

Houle (who, by way, completed his advanced degree at the Yale School of Music) wrote these pieces with this instrumentation in mind and it offers him quite abroad palette. The frenzied "swing" of "Albatros" suggests both Andrew Hill and New Orleans, the former in the construction of the melody and the solo sections while one can hear the latter in the group's work on the theme section.  Bynum's solo builds off the energy of the rhythms section, adding even more fuel to the musical fire.  Blaser's solo over Eisenstadt's active drumming blends blues with longer tones, cooling down the music but not the interaction.  "Piano Loop (for BD)" opens with barely audible piano lines that coalesce into a classically inspired melody (played by Delbecq) and, one by one, the other musicians enter.  Bynum, Blaser and Houle play variations of the pianist's theme until the cornet and clarinet come together to play the melody then separate into their own own phrases. There is an aura of peaceful interaction until one by one, the musicians depart to leave the pianist in his solemnity.

"Sulfur Dude" meshes (or mashes) several different styles (Latin rhythms and circus music, to name but 2) into a fanciful stew.  Bynum reaches for the stratosphere in his solo while Houle tamps down that fire with a solo that starts quietly then build steadily over Eisenstadt's conversational drumming.  When the group returns to the theme, the pianist plays rapid-fire lines that seen to encourage the other musicians to abandon the melody and interact with him as the piece fades. "Guanara", the longest track on the disk at 12 minutes, has a rhythmic approach reminiscent of Duke Ellington's "Blue Bird of Delhi" (from "The Far East Suite") - Bates and Eisenstadt not only set the tempo but also are entrusted with the shifting dynamics as they interact with the energy of the soloists (Houle takes a fiery solo that leads to a fine bass spotlight.)  The sextet creates a similar musical volcano (in 2:13, no less) on "Old Paradigm", which brings to mind the musical experiments of Muhal Richard Abrams. 

Perhaps the most impressive fact about "Genera" is that the 6 musicians had not played or even rehearsed this music together in a live setting before the March 23, 2012 recording date.  Houle had recorded a "demo" with Bynum, Bates and Eisenstadt in 2011 but had worked on the music, changing arrangements and adding new songs in the months before the session.  It speaks to the professionalism of the musicians, their respect and trust of the composer/arranger, as well as their considerable talents that this music is so good.  On June 25, the 5+1 begin a 12 day-8 city tour in Toronto, Ontario, that takes them back and forth across Canada, as far west as Vancouver (July 1) and back east to St. John's/Newfoundland (July 6).  By the time they finish, this music should be stunning (they should release a "live" version of "Genera" music.) One hopes that François Houle is able to keep writing for these musicians because his initial encounter with them is quite forceful and impressive. For more information, go to www.francoisehoule.ca/.

Here's a download of "Piano Loop (for BD)" courtesy of Songlines Recordings and IODA Promonet:
Piano Loop (for BD) (mp3)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

3 Piano Trios + 1 Quartet

More often than not, musical bagatelles are considered short, light, compositions, a pretty melody or melodic fragment.  Influenced by Bartok's "Fourteen Bagatelles" (written early in the Hungarian composer's career while shedding the influence of 19th Century European classical composers), pianist Jesse Stacken has created 13 "Bagatelles for Trio" (Fresh Sound New Talent Records).  Working with the rhythm section he first organized in 2005 (bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis), Stacken creates music that has more heft and exploration than one might expect.  "No. 3" begins mysteriously, a short melodic line underscored by Opsvik bowed drone - once the drums enter, the piece skitters atop Davis's forceful playing. Other pieces, such as "No. 5", are filled with long tones and silences while "No. 10" features the bassist solo for the first 80 seconds before quiet piano chords and intermittent drums move the piece in a different direction. Stacken composed several pieces to begin with one of his accompanists setting the tone, as Davis does so handsomely and forcefully on "No. 7." The presence of the piano on the longest track, "No. 12" (6:40), is, at times, gentle then forceful, sounding near the close of the work like a choir of church bell.  The rapid circular piano figures that introduce "No 13" go through a number of permutations as the piece rumbles forward, Davis's energetic drumming and Opsvik rumbling/rambling bass feeding of off the energy of the leader.

The more you listen to "Bagatelles for Trio", the more is revealed. One begins to discern the patterns of each piece and the various ways the rhythm section colors the music. Jesse Stacken is a fine pianist, a smart composer and a deft arranger - this CD, his 3rd with the Trio, illustrates his continuing growth.  For more information, go to www.jessestacken.com.

Canadian-born pianist Jamie Reynolds has studied with a number of fine pianists including David Braid in Canada and, since moving to the United States, with Fred Hersch as well as Craig Taborn.  On his debut recording, "Time With People" (Fresh Sound New Talent), one can hear he has already begun to absorb his influences and create...well, create a fresh sound. With the elastic bass lines of Gary Wang and compelling drum work of Eric Doob, Reynolds explore myriad melodic ideas.  This is often contemplative music, songs that breathe, that rarely rush but slow down to explore sounds that resonate in the soul.  Songs such as "Miel-Coeur" moves as if a gentle breeze was at the musicians' backs.  Yet, "Cold Spring" rocks with a purpose, Doob's driving drum work pushing the brisk pace. Several pieces seem ripe for lyrics, such as the sprightly paced "Singing School" and the title track, the latter taken at a medium but picking up in intensity as the trio moves forward.  Doob's drum work is somewhat surprising, seemingly working against the beat with his expressive snare work.

There are 5 tracks under 2:33 seconds, ranging from stately "Locks (Part Two)" to the Eric Satie-like "Improvisation (We're All Here)" to the disk closer, "The Feeling of Jazz", a solo piano piece whose rich melodic lines sound influenced by Randy Newman. Reynolds is married to the fine vocalist Melissa Stylianou; in fact, he's an important factor in the success of her latest CD, the splendid "Silent Movie" (my review is here.)  Though "Time With People is Jamie Reynold's first recording as a leader, the music reveals both a zest for melody and, as a soloist, a maturity tempered by countless experiences.  The program brings great pleasure - for more information, go to www.jamiereynoldsmusic.com.

Pianist-composer Tyson Naylor, a resident of Vancouver, has a multi-faceted career.  He works with Canadian folk-rocker Dan Mangan, a fascinating folk-oriented vocal group known as The Abramson Singers and the fine clarinettist Francois Houle.   One might expect his music to be a bit eclectic and I'm pleased to report that his debut CD, "Kosmonauten" (Songlines) is just that.   The recording, credited to the Tyson Naylor Trio, features bassist Russell Sholberg and drummer Skye Brooks as well as the aforementioned Monsieur Houle on 2 of the 9 cuts.  The opening "Paolo Conte" (named for the Italian singer-songwriter) moves in various directions going in and out of strict time before dropping into a delightful rhythm played out of both drums and piano. They follow that with the raucous boogie-woogie of "Book It" that, for a few moments in the middle, gets a bit "out" but Sholberg's fine bass solo sets the piece right. 

As one move through the music, you can't help but notice that no 2 cuts have the same feel or tempo. There's the hearty opening of "PKP" with its "European" flair that soon moves into a feisty romp, led by Sholberg's active bass lines, pushed along by Brooks' strong drumming and illustrated by Naylor's 2-handed chordal work.  Naylor's prepared piano and Brooks conversational drums lead in the somewhat rudder-less "Adrift" that is, for the middle 2 minutes of its 6:36 length, pulled back to the musical shoreline when the pianist switches to melodica ( a reed instrument with a keyboard that one picks up to blow - it has a 2-3 octave range. 

Houle's soft lines at the opening of "See It Through" have a Middle Eastern feel that turns more towards the classical side when the piano enters. After Naylor's richly etched solo, the clarinettist delivers his own impassioned statement.  He also appears on the longest track (11:20) "Beelitz";  again opening on the softer side, here, Houle weaves his birdsong-like phrases around the circular piano lines.  When the rhythm section enters, the music moves at a slower pace, the melodic interplay
giving away to each person moving at different intensities until they reach a mutual climax. In the final 90 seconds, the band restates the theme bringing the piece to its gentle close.

"Kosmonauten" is an excellent debut for pianist Tyson Naylor, bringing together the disparate elements of his Vancouver upbringing, his 3 years in Germany and return to his home city with an understanding of his creative powers. The rhythm section plays this music with great creativity and panache.  Houle's contributions are quite enjoyable. Enjoyable and engaging, the Tyson Naylor Trio deserves your ears and mind.  For more information, go to www.tysonnaylor.com.

Here's a shot of "Book It", courtesy of Tyson Naylor's Band Camp page:

Pianist Bruce Barth seems to be one of the busiest players on the planet with over 100 recordings on his resume. "Three Shades of Beauty" is his 13th as a leader and first for Savant Records. While his last 4 CDs have either trio or duo recordings, this time out Barth adds the melodic voice of vibraphonist Steve Nelson to the rhythm section of Ben Street (bass) and Dana Hall (drums). The results are an hour + of fine music.  The rhythm section is impressive with 9 of the 10 tracks built on the foundation of Street's melodic bass and Hall's active drum work.  Nelson, who's is never less than stellar, is a fine front line partner; he oozes melody, never overplaying. Barth creates a easy going atmosphere on "Wise Charlie's Blues", taking the first solo with panache. Nelson steps up and immediately "gets down" and sweetly funky.  But, he can also swing hard when called to as he demonstrates on "Final Push" when he rides atop the rhythm section. matching Hall's dynamic drive.  Nelson and Barth negotiate the tricky time signatures (at times in a Latin vein then switching to a blues vamp) of "The Rushing Hour" with aplomb as the rhythm section propels them forward.  John Coltrane's "Big Nick" skips along merrily with Nelson's solo rising off Barth's chords.  When the pianist steps out, he produces a bluesy dance, often moving ahead of the beat. 

Barth chooses to cover pianist Eri Yamamoto's evocative "Night Shadows", Hall's subtle brush work gently nudging the piece along.  Street plays a masterful solo while Barth and Nelson both expose the tender heart of the piece.  The CD closes with the pianist and vibraphonist dancing their way through Hammerstein/Kern's "The Song Is You", a wonderfully upbeat tune to close a delightful program.  If you want to hear an example of musicians at play (dig the way they finish each other's lines), this tracks would be one of the finer examples.

"Three Things of Beauty" is Bruce Barth doing what he does best, playing melodies and swinging with flair.  Teamed with the tasteful vibes of Steve Nelson, the strong bass of Ben Street and dancing drum work of Dana Hall, he touches both the heart and the feet with this well-balanced program.  Need to know more about the man and his music - go to brucebarth.com.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gig Alert (6/20) + CD Pick

John Friedlander, former co-conspirator of the Church House Concerts Series held in he and his wife Debi's old home in Haddam, CT, read the previous column on female vocalists. He them wrote to hip me to the fact that Canadian chanteuse Susie Arioli will be performing Wednesday June 20 at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, 300 Main Street in Old Saybrook.  Ms. Arioli, backed by a band featuring long-time collaborator Jordan Officer (guitar), are touring in support of "All The Way", her 8th CD and first for the Jazzheads label. 

Composed of (mostly) standards, the recording is notable for its fine musicianship, its restraint, and Ms. Arioli's classy vocal style.  Like many of the better contemporary singers, she does not "overdo" or "overthink" her songs, caressing each melody as a personal friend, and sure you hear the words. Her interactions with Officer shine, their musical relationship built on trust and talent.  The intimacy of the recording should play well in a smaller theater such as The Kate. For more information Ms. Arioli, Mr Officer and their recordings, go to susiearioli.com.   To get information about this concert, call 1-877-503-1286 for ticket information or go online to www.thekate.org.

JD Allen, the tenor saxophonist/composer and native of Detroit, Michigan, has been on quite a roll the past 4 years. Not only for his long-standing gig with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt's group but also with his splendid Trio of bassist Gregg August and the ubiquitous drummer Rudy Royston.  The Trio has issued 3 fine CDs for Sunnyside Records beginning in 2008 with the declaratory "I Am-I Am".  Listeners and critics were knocked out by the compositions, the instinctive interplay, the short but pithy solos and strength of the Trio's sound.  2012 finds Allen and the Trio on a new label, Savant, with a new CD, "The Matador and the Bull" but with the same determination, interplay and intelligent writing.  Most readers know of my recent "reviewer crush" on Rudy Royston - he has become one of the most "in-demand" drummers on the New York scene and his playing can ignite any group he plays with.  In a group where everyone's work carries equal weight, his work is an absolute treat.  August has a big bass tone and is called on to be the "timekeeper" throughout this music; over the past 4 years, he has developed into a forceful presence on the bass. His potent bowing on "Cathedral" even sounds like a choir of church bells.

The new CD has 12 tracks, only 2 over 4 minutes, yet never feels undeveloped or lacking.  Allen's writing for this release has a harder edge, playing with time signatures, varying dynamics and emotional solos.  His tenor playing is steady, melodic, staying within himself and never losing control (or, for that fact, "showing off") - even on faster pieces, such as the joyous "Ring Shout!", he doesn't overplay, digging right into Royston's powerhouse drumming (pay close attention to his fascinating cymbal play) and August's propulsive bass lines.  Notice how all 3 play the melody and then work off of it in their own fashion (and all this in 161 seconds!) The ballads, such as "Santa Maria (Mother)" and "Muleta", have a gravity and strength that, in both instances build from not only the saxophone but also the bass.Still, Royston's drum intro to "The Lyrics of Summer and Shadow" set the pace and tone for the richly melodic piece.  At times, one can hear the influence of Branford Marsalis in Allen's writing (especially the melody of "Vuela (The Whisperer)" and his saxophone phrases that never seem disconnected or dispassionate. The Trio fires on all cylinders on burners like the hard-bop "Passiello" (the forward motion on this track is heart-pounding) and the fiery "Pinyin" (with even more splendid cymbal work).

In the liner notes, JD Allen comments on the short length of his songs stating  "...I also genuinely believe that on record you should be able to tell your story in a few choruses and get out.  I strive for that.  I think it's how you reach people, especially in the modern world where people have so many things vying for their time."  One of the finer qualities of  "The Matador and the Bull" is how the music and performances resonate long after the songs have faded out.  The JD Allen Trio - accept no substitutes!  Amazingly (for this day and age), Allen does not have a web presence (his mySpace page has not been updated in over a year, his website has closed down and he's not on Facebook) but you can get the Trio's itinerary by going to www.rudyroyston.com.  (Photo above by Andzrej Pilarczyk.)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Good Music

The title of this post is really the best way to describe these 3 CDs.  When you get the opportunity to listen to these recordings, you'll hear there is no need for a clever heading.

Canadian-born Harris Eisenstadt is someone who could and should be termed a "composer-ly" drummer.  He is an impressive writer/arranger; one listen to his new CD, "Canada Day Octet" (482 Music) and maybe you'll understand my made-up term.  This ensemble, made up of the 5 members of his Canada Day  - Matt Bauder (tenor saxophone), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Chris Dingman (vibraphone) and Garth Stevenson (acoustic bass) - adds the distinctive voices of Jason Mears (alto saxophone), Dan Peck (tuba) and Ray Anderson (trombone) to play the 4-part suite "The Omsbudsman" and the attractive "Ballad for 10.6.7" (Mac users will know what this title refers to.) The 41+ minute suite opens with Eisenstadt's declarative drums solo setting not only the stage for what follows but also the "attitude".  The work is forthcoming, rhythmical, harmonically and melodically rich, with a wide dynamic range. Even with 8 powerful voices, this music is not cluttered.  After the drum statement, "Part 1" settles into a funky, African-style, rhythm - the new members get the solos with Anderson starting in a mellow mood before turning up the heat.  After a short group statement supported by Dingman's tolling vibes, Mears lets loose with a fiery spot.  Next, Peck makes a short solo statement, filled with moans and harmonics that leads to a longer and much "freer" section as the piece winds down. Mears opens "Part 2" with a boppish statement before Peck's mobile tuba phrases introduce the rhythmical direction. The bass and drums move in and around the rhythm patterns but the tuba keeps leading them forward.  There are several moments throughout the entire suite that the music will remind you of Abdullah Ibrahim's works for quintet and large band.  Wooley's continuous circular lines gives the opening of "Part 3" a rambunctious feel but the octet settles into a medium tempo and the trumpeter creates an exciting solo - the interplay between the tuba and bass is impressive here as well as throughout the program. They do not get in each others way while both support the ensemble with rock-solid phrases.

"Canada Day Octet" has fire and grace, a sense of melodic adventure and rhythmic variety and smart arrangements.  Let this music soak in to your soul;  you will return time and again to these satisfying sounds.  For more information, click here to go the "Project Page" on Harris Eisenstadt's website or go to www.482music.com/albums/482-1080.html.

I had the great pleasure of seeing and hearing the Quintet edition Canada Day live at Firehouse 12 in December of 2011. They had just finished recording the Octet tracks the week before and were still getting to know the book Eisenstadt had created for this, their 3rd CD on Songlines Recording (appropriately named "Canada Day III".) Like the Octet recording and the group's previous releases, this music is very involving and original.  There's more room for the principals to solo and they do not disappoint.  It's tough to be an original "voice" on vibraphone but Chris Dingman is maturing into an impressive soloist, relying on melodic invention as opposed to "speed".  Matt Bauder and Nate Wooley each make choices when they solo that may seem surprising (and often are) but make perfect sense in the flow of the pieces.  The dialogue of the trumpeter and drummer on "A Whole New Amount of Interactivity" during the former's solo is visceral and, before Eisenstadt's solo, he and Bauder push and poke at each other. The 2 also get together near the end of the following track, "The Magician of Lublin", their musical conversation reminding this listener of the Anthony Braxton-Max Roach duo in the late 1970s.

Garth Stevenson's bass work is integral to the success and quality of this music.  His foundational lines allow his section partner freedom of movement and to interact with the soloists.  The bassist creates a strong counterpoint to Wooley's "shredding" tones on "Nosey Parker", the two of pushing hard while Dingman and Eisenstadt add different colors.  The Quintet creates a wonderful aural world on "King of the Kutriba", a ballad dedicated to one of Eisenstadt's Gambian drum teachers Mamady Danfa.  This track has no real solos, just a group of melodic phrases shared by the band while the drummer keeps quiet accompaniment.   The other slow track, "Song For Sara" (dedicated to Eisenstadt's wife, the bassonist Sara Schoenbeck), has a structure in its rhythm that seems to be tumbling forward as the soloists play over it (on this track, both Wooley and Dingman create fine statements.)

On the evening of that December concert, I chatted with Harris Eisenstadt, telling him  how original and impressive his writing was for this band.  The music has plenty of fire but it's often tempered with stretches of melodic and rhythmic invention.  This music breathes especially as the band works with and for each other.  To find out more, go to www.harriseisenstadt.com -  to read an interview with the drummer/composer go to www.songlines.com and follow the prompts. Also, our friend Jason Crane interviewed the drummer before Crane went off on his extended "Jazz or Bust" road trip - click on the link at the top right of this post (or here, if you would rather.) "Canada Day III" is released in the USA on July 10, 2012.
Here's a download of the opening track, courtesy of Songlines and IODA Promonet:
Slow and Steady (mp3)

Here's a smart idea from the Brooklyn Jazz Underground that led to a knockout recording. Put together 5 bandleaders - bassist Anne Mette-Iversen, trumpeter David Smith, drummer Rob Garcia plus multi-reed players Adam Kolker and Dan Pratt - and have them write tunes for a concert in their adopted home city. They did just that in Spring of 2011 and had such a good time, they decided to put their pieces on record.  "A Portrait of Brooklyn" (BJU Records) features new material from each participant.  The results are mighty impressive, not at all feeling like it was thrown together.  Each musician/composer brings his or her strengths, they respect one another and know they can kick butt, if need be.  Let's start with the excellent rhythm section.  Bassist Mette-Iversen continues to improve, her steady hand and melodic lines underpinning each track.  Garcia has great feel, pushing when he feels the music requires his strong hand and also showing excellent cymbal work.  His insistent drive on the opening track, "Starr Street" (composed by Smith), makes the piece crackle. Smith's trumpet leads the charge yet the reed arrangement should not be missed (mostly on the theme and the breaks between solos).  Pratt's sneaky-funky "Buttermilk Channel" (again Garcia proves his mettle providing a beat you can actually dance to while driving the band) features smart solos from Kolker (tenor) and Pratt (alto) while Smith gets the opening and closing melody sections.  The drummer plays with exquisite fire on his own "King", a multi-sectioned composition with a hard-driving rhythm (the bassist plays a furious "walking" line to goad the saxophonists who respond with energetic solos. Garcia's other contribution, "1898", is a lovely ballad with evocative clarinets both in the lead and ensemble while Smith's trumpet sound is rich and clear.  Another ballad also stands out; Kolker's "Totem" has a simple melody but elegant harmonies - over his past several recordings, the composer has been moving towards a fusion of jazz sensibilities with folk melodies.  They are often entrancing.  Here, Ms. Mette-Iversen's steady melodic counterpoint beneath the reeds moves the piece forward peacefully while her solo shows just how melodic she can be. The reed player's other tune, "JV", is influenced by Ornette Coleman yet also has a touch of New Orleans in its DNA. The bassist's piece "The Cherry Bees" has a light-hearted melody played by flute, clarinet and trumpet while her big-toned bass lines and Garcia martial drums move easily below.  Note how the rhythm section falls into a blues pattern under the trumpet solo as the reeds provide counterpoint.  One can hear the influence of Dave Holland in these compositions (her other track, "Osgood In Brooklyn", has a heavier feel but here the saxophones raucously circle around the trumpet.)

"A Portrait of Brooklyn" showcases 5 musician/composers in their prime. This is not a "jam" session but a gathering of the spirits paying tribute to their home and having fun creating common ground.  Soul and creativity, imagination and joy are elements to be prized in creative music.  They are in abundance on this excellent CD.  For more information, go to either www.brooklynjazz.org or to www.bjurecords.com.   here's

The CD is released on June 26 -  here's a track to whet your appetite while you're waiting, courtesy of BJU Records and IODA Promonet:
King (mp3)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Birthday Celebration and Gift

Any aficionado of 20th Century music knows the name Gil Evans (1912-1988). Fans from the 1940s remember his work with the Claude Thornhill.  The next decade started with he and Miles Davis creating "The Birth of the Cool" and then they transformed the "big band" sound with a series of Lps for Columbia Records including "Miles Ahead", "Porgy and Bess", and "Sketches of Spain."  In the 70s, Evans embraced electric keyboards and guitars, adding grit to his big band.  In the last several years of his life, he continued to work with his big band as well as smaller projects with Lee Konitz and Steve Lacy.  He and a large ensemble even did a tour of Europe with Sting. You can hear the influence of Evans' unique arrangements in the writing of Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue (among others.)

Composer-arranger-copyist Ryan Truesdell is one of many young people who have studied the work of Gil Evans but with one major difference - after immersing himself in the music, he decided to fins out more about the man and the influences as well as experiences that shaped his writing. In the early years of his development, Evans heard the music of Duke Ellington and that changed the way he looked at the palette of big band music.  During World War II, he encountered be-bop and, with the encouragement of pianist/bandleader Claude Thornhill, created arrangements that merged the many different sounds he was hearing.

With the encouragement of Maria Schneider (for whom he has worked as a copyist for the past decade), Truesdell met with Gil Evans' family and was, after a while, granted full access to all of his scores and arrangements.  What the young arranger found was amazing, works that dated back to the mid-1940s and later pieces with different arrangements. Over the space of 2 years, Truesdell has amassed an amazing amount of music, much of which had never been recorded.

With the help of ArtistShare and in time for the 100th anniversary of Evans birth, Ryan Truesdell created "Centennial", 10 newly discovered pieces recorded with a wonderful ensemble.  The core group features Frank Kimbrough (pianist), Jay Anderson (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums) augmented on several tracks by guitarist James Chirillo.  The entire ensemble (13 reeds, 10 brass, 2 guitars, Dave Eggar on tenor violin, Joe Locke on vibraphone, Dan Weiss on tabla, brother Mike Truesdell on marimba and timpani plus vocalists Kate McGarry, Wendy Gilles and Luciana Souza on 1 track each) came together for 3 days of recording in August of 2011 in Studio A of Avatar Studios in New York City.  All of the larger ensemble cuts were recorded with everyone in the studio at the same time, no separate sessions for the rhythm section (although Ms. Souza and Ms. McGarry's vocals were recorded elsewhere.)

 Truesdell's sequencing is very intelligent.  The first sound one hears is tabla drums played by Dan Weiss leading in "Punjab", an Evans composition from 1964. In the manuscripts of the piece, Truesdell  found complete parts for brass and woodwinds but only 4 measures for the rhythm section.  And, when he heard the studio rehearsal tapes (the piece was originally slated to appear on "The Individualism of Gil Evans"), Truesdell heard that Evans never found the correct "groove" for the tune.That gave the young man the freedom to "play with what he had found and the results are a long (14+ minutes), languid, meditation with roots in Asian Indian folk music.

Evans fans will recognize pieces such as "The Maids of Cadiz" and "Look To The Rainbow."  The former, first heard by the record-buying public on "Miles Ahead", uses the the 1950 arrangement Evans created for the Thornhill Orchestra.  As for the latter, which first appeared in 1965 on Astrud Gilberto's Lp of the same name that Evans orchestrated, Truesdell admired the original arrangement that was pared down in the earlier version (basically, a flute shadows the vocal as opposed to horns or other reeds.)  Luciana Souza's gentle vocal over the lilting brass (Evan's brass arrangements rarely sound this "pretty") move the song like a spring breeze.  Jay Anderson's melodic bass is also prominently featured but make sure to pay attention to the brass behind him.

Other highlights include "Smoking My Sad Cigarette" originally created for vocalist Lucy Reed (who passed in 1958.)  It was the 4th arrangement for an Lp that only featured 3 of Evans' finished works.  Here, Ms. McGarry delivers a powerfully bluesy performance supported by Kimbrough, Anderson and Nash plus Brian Landrus (bass clarinet, alto flute, piccolo), Michael Rabinowitz (bassoon), Eggar's tenor violin, Marshall Gilkes (trombone) and George Flynn (bass trombone).  The fascinating blend of sounds create a "noirish" aural-scape without sounding theatrical or contrived.  "Waltz/Variation on the Misery/So Long" is a 19-minute medley that covers a wide swath of musical territory and includes strong work from Locke, Gilkes, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson and tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin. Of course, the work of of Scott Robinson on numerous reeds makes the music better.

The work of the rhythm section throughout this CD is just super.  One does not think of Nash as a driver of a large ensemble but his playing is exemplary.  Kimbrough has more room here than he does in Maria Schneider's Orchestra;  his creative solos and accompaniment shine brightly.  Anderson's gentle touch and melodic interplay as well as being the solid foundation this music needs.  As for Truesdell, he exposes to the world the many facets of Gil Evans' writing and arrangements.  The use of French horns, oboe, piccolos, bassoons (contra bassoons, even), the brilliant addition of tabla to the opening track and more illustrates how Evans heard the possibilities inherent in large ensemble music. 

In interviews with both Frank Kimbrough and Ryan Truesdell, they both mentioned the tremendous amount of music that this ensemble has in its repertoire - the 4 nights they played at The Jazz Standard in New York City for the "CD Release Party", Truesdell provided material from different parts of Gil Evans' career, a new program each night. This summer, Truesdell is touring Italy with students from the Eastman School and guests such as Paolo Fresu (trumpet), Stefano de Battista (alto saxophone) and Francesco Cafiso (alto saxophone) playing music from the Evans/Miles Davis collaborations.  Then, Truesdell brings the "Centennial" ensemble to play the Newport Jazz Festival, something that Gil Evans never did.  In the meantime, this recording is a gem and deserves your attention.  For more information, go to www.gilevansproject.com

Monday, June 11, 2012

2012 - Year of the Woman Vocalist

This has been quite a banner year for vocal music, especially CDs by the fairer sex. Right now, if I had to assemble my Top 10, there might be as many as 5 CDs by women vocalists.  Here's 2 more that are in contention.

In March of this year, I reviewed the CD by Triosence featuring Sara Gazarek (read it here.)  That was my initial exposure to the Seattle, Washington, native's erudite composing and singing.  "Blossom & Bee" (Palmetto Records) is her 4th CD as a leader and first since 2007. It would be easy to look at this recording, produced by Larry Goldings, as a tribute to Blossom Dearie as Ms. Gazarek and her fine trio -  pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Zach Harmon - play 5 tunes that the late chanteuse performed in her career (not to forget the hint in the title).  Interestingly, 3 of the songs were also covered by Amy Cervini on her fine "Digging Me, Digging You" recording that came out early in 2012 (more about that here).  Both vocalists do Ms. Dearie justice without trying to imitate or update her.  It's also fascinating that both open their recordings with same song, Rodgers & Hart's "Everything I've Got" from the 1942 musical "By Jupiter."  It's a clever lyric that should make you chuckle.  To her credit, Ms. Gazarek spreads the Dearie tunes across the 12 tracks. The title track, an original composed with Goldings and lyricist Bill DeMain, is a pleasing collaboration with guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli.  They wrap their voices around the lyrics, showing off some fine harmonies (Goldings' melodica solo is really nice.)

Nelson's accompaniments are excellent throughout, whether he's navigating the tricky meter of "Tea For Two"  or the painting the serious mood on Francesca Blumenthal's "The Lies of Handsome Men" (a track that Ms. Dearie recorded on her final album, "Blossom's Planet.")  The pianist leads the prancing drums and active bass through the sprightly version of "Down With Love."  Messrs Price and Harmon are so supportive, certainly not intrusive. They certainly can "rock out" as they display on George Newhall's "Unpack Your Adjectives", a tune Ms. Dearie recorded for "Schoolhouse Rock."  Price's melodic bass lines lead the vocalist through her heart-felt reading of Ben Folds' "The Luckiest."  Harmon can be whisper-soft, even on up-tempo pieces such as "Some of These Days", his brushes supporting Goldings' bluesy organ and Pizzarelli's Freddie Green-like rhythm guitar. 

Like a number of her contemporaries, Sara Gazarek is telling a story when she sings a song.  No need for showy embellishments or overwrought emotions, which allows the listener to hear each word without having to struggle. There's plenty of variety in the arrangements - perhaps the only misstep in the program is "Fly Away Birdie", an original that has the sound and feel of a Norah Jones tune.  That aside, "Blossom & Bee" is sweet nectar, music for the swing on the back porch or dancing close to your significant other.  The CD is released on Tuesday June 19 and, by then, you should be able to listen to the songs at www.palmetto-records.com.  To learn more about Ms. Gazarek, go to her site at www.saragazarek.com.

For what it's worth, thanks go to Ms. Dearie, Ms. Cervini and Ms. Garzarek for singing the opening lines of "Tea For Two" as opposed to going directly into the chorus we all know and love. Irving Caesar's lyrics (for Vincent Youman's melody) are charmingly poetic for 1925 (or any time) - the opening couplet goes like this:

I'm discontented with homes that I've rented
So I have invented my own.
Darling, this place is a lovely oasis
Where life's weary
taste is unknown

Maria Neckam's impressive contributions to the excellent new recording by bassist/composer Anne Mette Iverson ("Poetry of Earth" on BJU Records - my review is here) made the wait for the release of her new CD, "Unison" (Sunnyside Records) feel like forever.  Happy to report that the wait was more than worth it.  The native of Austria who now resides in Brooklyn, New York, Ms. Neckam has created a program that doesn't just cross borders, it obliterates them.

And, chances are good it will take listeners a while to get into this 75 minute musical journey. With a core group of Aaron Parks (piano, Fender Rhodes), Nir Felder (guitar), Thomas Morgan (acoustic bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums), this program is often mesmerizing, making time irrelevant and coaxing one to pay attention. The martial drumming and thick piano chords of the opening "I Miss You" has a Radiohead feel, carried over to Parks' off-center solo underpinned by Felder's atmospheric guitar.  Instead of continuing in that vein, the piano fades into the cello of Mariel Roberts.  As "The Story" unfolds, Stranahan's poly-rhythmical drumming pushes the ensemble forward, harder as the alto saxophones of Will Vinson and Lars Dietrich plus the tenor saxophone of Samir Zarif are added.  By the time you get into the third track, "Obsessed", one realizes that there are several "constants" - each track is unique, Ms. Neckam's vocals, more often than not, are percussive in nature (her interactions with the rhythm section makes one believe that these songs were "workshopped" in concerts) and her wordless contributions make her another instrumentalist.

The surprises are numerous.  The haunting setting for voice and cello of "Where Do You Think You Will Be?", the words of 14th Century Persian poet Hafiz (often spelled Hafez), illustrates the vocalist's acceptance of Buddhism. The duo return near the end of the program with an evocative reading of Pablo Neruda's poem "You Will Remember."   The blend of Glenn Zaleski's circular acoustic piano lines with Parks' Satie-like Rhodes phrases on "Unavailabilty" create a serene setting for lyrics that speak of an obsession with a person being aloof (all this in less than 3 minutes.) The wondrous interplay of instruments and voice on "Your Kindness" is nearly dazzling;  as the musicians move in and out of the center, Ms. Neckam makes the most of 12 words, repeating the lines like a mantra.  She clothes Rainier Maria Rilke's words for "Solitude" with the impressionistic sounds of alto and tenor saxophones. The lyrics speak of rain and couples who have fallen out of love. The 3 voices move around each other, utilizing small pieces of silence to emphasis the words and the emotions within them.

The flow of "Unison", at times, has a Brazilian feel, with tempos that start and stop, voices rising out of the background or above the ensemble.  And there is a classical/progressive rock structure to the instrumental lines on several tracks including the hypnotic "Laundry Song" - one is drawn to the cascading piano lines as well as the impressionistic lyrics but pay attention the wonderful work of Morgan and Stranahan.  Both hit hard as Dietrich's blistering alto solo sets the table for Zarif's hardy tenor spot on "You and I" but the pace slows at the close for the voice and piano.

Perhaps I have told you too much but this recording is so striking, so inviting, sensuous, spell-binding, one can (and did) get carried away.  Allow yourself to get lost in "Unison"; enjoy the fine musicianship, the intelligent arrangements, the poetic expressions and the imagination of Maria Neckam.  For more information (including the lyrics), go to www.marianeckam.com.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Firehouse Finale, Uncertainty On The Road and Cookers in the Capital

They may look a bit overdressed for the June temperatures here in the Northeast but Ellery Eskelin & Trio New York will be venturing to New Haven on Friday June 15.  Tenor saxophonist Eskelin, organist Gary Versace and drummer Gerald Cleaver (left to right in the picture) are the final concert in the Firehouse 12 Spring 2012 Series, performance 13 of 13 in a very busy and successful schedule.  TNY's self-titled CD, issued in 2011 on Eskelin's Prime Source label, is dedicated to the saxophonist's mother Bobbie Lee who played Hammond B-3 organ as a professional musician into the early 1960s.  The program consists of 5 long tracks, only one under 14 minutes ("Off Minor" clocks in at 13:34) and all are standards (perhaps pieces his mother played on her gigs.) Each piece stretches out to allow the Trio to go down many musical and sonic pathways, often referring to the melody as an abstraction.  The opening minutes of "Witchcraft" hint at the Cy Coleman melody while Eskelin and Versace move in and around each other.  Cleaver also toys with the melody as he playfully sketches various rhythmic ideas. As the track moves forward, Versace and Cleaver take the piece over and give it a "swing" groove. Eskelin reins in his harder tenor sound throughout but no more so than on the atmospheric and emotional first half of "How Deep Is The Ocean";  even when the song falls into a easy loping groove, the saxophonist caresses his phrases.  It's fun to hear Eskelin's tenor sax  riffing over the active drums, strong bass foot and organ fills on "Lover, Come Back To Me" - Cleaver's swing is solid, subtle and downright classy.

Trio New York plays 2 sets, 8:30 and 10 p.m. To find out more about Eskelin and company, go to his website at home.earthlink.net/~eskelin.   Firehouse 12 is located at 45 Orange Street in New Haven - for ticket information, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.  The Fall 2012 season does not start until late September and won't be posted until late August at the earliest. Nick Lloyd, Carl Testa and the rest of the staff have a lot to be proud of and fans of creative music should thank them any chance they get.

Speaking of Carl Testa, his Uncertainty Music Series goes on a short hiatus so that he can "take his show on the road."  He's packing his acoustic bass and electronics as well as the Broadcloth trio (vocalist Annie Rhodes, accordionist Adam Matlock and cellist Nathan Bontrager) for an 8-shows-in-8 days jaunt that starts in Philadelphia on June 22.  Then, they'll perform on successive nights in Richmond, VA, Asheville, North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, Wilmington and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Baltimore, Maryland, and back to New Haven for a June 29th show at Intercambio, 756 Chapel Street. To find out more about the tour, the musicians and the music, go to carltesta.net and broadclothtrio.com.  Road warriors, indeed!

Also on Friday June 15, the Hartford Jazz Society welcomes The Cookers for a 7 p.m. show in the Polish National Home, 60 Charter Oak Avenue in Hartford. The Cookers, organized in 2007 by trumpeter-arranger David Weiss, is a septet that takes its name from the classic 1965 Freddie Hubbard Blue Note Lp "The Night of the Cookers", a live recording that also featured trumpeter Lee Morgan, saxophonist/flautist James Spaulding and pianist Harold Mabern, Jr.  Weiss's group includes 5 musicians who came to their musical maturity in the late 1960s and early 70s including Billy Harper (tenor saxophone), Eddie Henderson (trumpet), George Cables (piano), Cecil McBee (bass) and Billy Hart (drums) with 49-year old Craig Handy adding his alto saxophone to the mix.  The band has issued 3 Cds in 3 years, the latest being "Believe" just released on Motema Music (see below).  Don't go to see The Cookers expecting an evening of nostalgia - this music is not dated or cliched (even their ballads have power.) The interactions of the musicians is highly charged (Harper is a tenor player from the John Coltrane - he never takes a solo "off") and Hart really drives this band. Much of the band's repertoire comes from Harper, Cables and McBee which Weiss or Harper arranges for the septet.

 Opening for The Cookers will be the East Catholic High School Jazz East Big Band.  For ticket information, go to www.hartfordjazzsociety.com or call 860-242-6688. 

As for the septet's 3rd CD, it's a winner from the first note of Billy Harper's "Believe, For It Is True."  With the rhythmic feel of Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage", Harper's tune has a soulful melody with a bluesy twist and the composer builds his heart-felt yet fiery solo atop Hart's rampaging drums - all the while, Cables and McBee keep the rhythm steady.  What separates The Cookers from many groups is that there are few songs on which more than 3 people solo (McBee does not even take one) and, when they play the "heads" of the songs, they create a joyous noise (sounding much larger than 7 pieces.)  There are several moments where the music takes on a softer side, especially Cables' light-hearted "But He Knows."  Henderson's muted trumpet spot opens to Handy's short but sweet alto solo before the composer puts his sweet "swing" on the tune.  The one non-original, Wayne Shorter's "Free for All" (from the 1964 Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers), lives up to its name with fine solos from all save Weiss and McBee (Henderson truly turns it on for his spot as does Handy.)  

What is so fine about "Believe" is that there are no wasted notes or empty gestures, just music that reaches out to the listener's soul and feet (hard not to move one's body when these musicians hits their stride.)  This septet, so ably guided by David Weiss, knows that there are no do-overs, you have to go for it with every fiber of your being (very much in the fashion of Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and so many others.)  If you can't get to see them in person (go to www.davidweissmusic.com for the band's itinerary), this CD will make you a believer.  For more information about the CD (which is officially on sale June 12), go to

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Next Roundup (Part 2)

Watching Paul Simon in "Under African Skies", the recently televised movie of the 25th Anniversary of "Graceland", I was struck by a number of different parts of the process that brought the music to fruition, then on to the stage and into history.  First of all, Simon broke the African National Congress's boycott of any interaction of non-residents with South Africans, especially those who were the victims of apartheid.  Secondly, it was mighty gutsy (or stupid, depending on your viewpoint) of Simon to enter South Africa in 1985 and then spend several days in the studio recording with Black musicians.  Granted, he paid them 3x union scale and, when he finally released the music, he gave composer credits where they were due. The film clips from the initial recording sessions are priceless as Simon attempts to pick up on the grooves he had only heard on cassettes and to steer the participants into different directions. Third, Simon has continued his relationship with a number of those musicians, including Joseph Shabalala & Ladysmith Black Mambazo, guitarist Ray Phiri, the incredibly gifted bassist Bakithi Kumalo, and keyboard player Tony Cedras (who joined Simon's band after the recording.) One fascinating revelation from Simon's work with these musicians is that he had a hard time fitting his lyrics to Phiri's unique guitar lines and found it easier to work off of Kumalo's phrases.

"Graceland", the recording, was a huge success in this country and around the world. The subsequent tours introduced millions of concert goers and viewers to the work of very talented South African musicians and vocalists.  And, the music holds well after a quarter of a century ("You Can Call Me Al" is goofy but irresistible while the title track is a true fusion of many genres.)  "Under African Skies", the documentary, is definitely worth watching, especially how Paul Simon has relaxed in this music. Older, perhaps wiser, the words and rhythms have to be part of his blood and it's fun to see him enjoying these experiences.  For more information and to watch the trailer, go to www.paulsimon.com/us/video/under-african-skies-graceland-documentary-trailer.

Cuban-born pianist Aruán Ortiz has made quite a name for himself, even before moving to the United States in 2003. He participated in bassist Esperanza Spalding's "Junjo" CD, has worked with flutist Mark Weinstein, saxophonist Greg Osby and, most notably, been a member of trumpeter Wallace Roney's ensemble.  "Orbiting" (Fresh Sound New Talent) is his 4th recording as a leader.  The band Ortiz has assembled features the fine guitarist David Gilmore, bassist Rashaan Carter, and drummer Eric McPherson. Their interactions are creative, honest, exciting and, even when the music is fast, the quartet does not overplay.  The program includes 4 originals and 4 tunes from other sources.  Charlie Parker's "Koko" is a playful take on the bebop classic, with touches of "free jazz" and fierce interactions between Gilmore and Ortiz.  They also work well off each other on the stately reading of the Schwartz/Dietz classic "Alone Together", Gilmore's ringing tones gliding over the pianist's rich chordal playing.  There is an exciting dynamic on the group's reading of Ornette Coleman's "WRU", a smart and fun blend of the "blues-swing-hard bop" that the composer created on his late 1950s-early 60s Atlantic Lps. Ortiz's ethereal solo really stands out as does the fine rhythm section work of Carter and McPherson.

On the title track, an original, each member of the group states the theme as they move through the song.  The stop/start action of the rhythm section adds extra tension to the solos and it is fascinating how Gilmore and Ortiz move through their spots.  "Green City" features an smartly structured theme and subtle shifts in tempo as well as intensity. Ortiz takes his time building his solo, sometimes taking cues from McPherson's dancing drum work, other times seemingly lost in musical contemplation.  The striking audio painting "Numbers", with its intense rubato and cinematic melody displays a classical influence.  

The music Aruán Ortiz and his cohorts make on this CD is well-worth investigating.  By eschewing any single genre, this music sounds fresh, alive with possibilities and makes one hope that this band "hits the road."  For more information, go to www.aruanortiz.net.  

There are recordings you put into the player and listen to all the way through.  Then you do it again not only to make sure the music is as good as it sounded on the initial run-through but also to listen a little closer.  Guitarist Bobby Broom began his professional career at the age of 16, has worked with a slew of great musicians, especially Sonny Rollins.  Since moving to Chicago in the 1990s, he has lead a Trio with bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Kobie Watkins; both appear on "Upper West Side Story" (Origin Records) (Makaya McCraven replaces Watkins on 3 of the 9 tracks.) This is Broom's 10th recording as a leader (he also co-leads Deep Blue Organ Trio, a group with 4 CDs over the past decade) and first with all original material.  The leader had a softer tone yet can play with fire when the music calls for it.  The Trio tears through "Frambocious (for Fambrough)", dedicated to the bassist who passed on New Year's Day 2011.  The rhythm section stokes a fairly hot fire and Broom flies over it. There's a funky feel to the rhythm and opening guitar riff of "Catch Me A Cab", Carroll's thick bass tone and and solid phrases serving as a foundation while Watkins swings and Broom digs in for a fine solo. The interaction of the Trio really shines on "When The Leaves Fall...", the medium-tempo track that closes the program. Broom's crisp notes, full chords and subsequent percussive riffs seem to stand out over the spare rhythm section yet, as the piece moves towards its climax, Watkins doubles his tempo as Carroll's pulsating bass figures create a fine cushion of sound. McCraven's contributions do not change the overall sound of the Trio.  He locks into the groove on "Father", especially as Broom pushes the intensity, and, along with Carroll, moves "Minor Major Mishap" into quite a playful direction.  
The music that Bobby Broom and his band creates is for people who like jazz that coaxes and cajoles, soothes and caresses but does not go off on crazy tangents.  That's just fine - Broom is a mature player who can be quite creative even as he is being quite entertaining.  For more information, go to www.bobbybroom.com or to his page at Origin Records, which is originarts.com/artists/artist.php?Artist_ID=106.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Next Roundup (Part 1)

Jason Crane, yes, he of The Jazz Session, has hit the road and you can follow his adventures by logging in at jasoncrane.org.  Crane, who is also an accomplished poet, will give readings while on tour as well as interview a slew of musicians in his continuing quest to acknowledge the many people who are busy creating jazz. And, there are ways to support him - clink on the links above to check it all out.

NAXOS of America has begun to re-issue ESP Disks, the American label that did so much to document "free-jazz" and creative African American music in the 1960s and 70s.  Among the latest releases is "Blues for Albert Ayler", a 1974 recording by the Frank Wright Quartet.  Wright (1935-1990) played tenor saxophone and flute and signed with ESP in the mid-60s.  By the end of the decade, he had relocated to Europe which was a much more active scene for musicians involved in "free avant-garde." At the time of this recording (July 1974), Wright had decided to move back home and assembled the quartet on this CD with drummer/club owner Rashied Ali.   Rounding out the band was bassist Benny Wilson and guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer. The tapes lay dormant until 2007 when Ali (1933-2009) played them for current ESP producer Michael D. Anderson.  He and Ali soon signed a contract but it has taken until 2012 for the music to be released.  Recorded live at "Ali's Alley", the music pays tribute to Ayler displaying much of the same intensity and sonic explorations that the saxophonist (1936-1970) created in his time on the scene.  Powered by Ali's explosive drum work and Wilson's active bass lines ( his isa name unknown to me though he worked regularly with Ali in the 70s), Wright pays tribute to Ayler's creativity by being his own man.  Ulmer, whose guitar work was and still is informed by the work of Ornette Coleman, is a strong presence, adding fiery licks throughout much of the 74+ minute 6-part "Suite."  There are stops along the way for unaccompanied solos from Ali and Wilson (his bowed bass solo lasts 12 minutes) as well as intense dialogues from Wright and Ulmer.

There is quite an assemblage of musicians on "Marzette Watts & Company", 3 pieces written by the saxophonist and recorded for ESP in December of 1966. The front line includes Byard Lancaster (alto sax, flute, bass clarinet), Clifford Thornton (trombone, cornet), Sonny Sharrock (electric guitar) and Karl Berger (vibraphone) and a rhythm section that consists of J.C. Moses (drums) and either Henry Grimes or Juni Booth on bass. Watts (1940 - 1998), a native of Alabama, was quite involved in the Civil Rights Movement as a student at Alabama State College and his music reflects the turbulence of the times.  Yet, it is hardly cacophonous but more impressionistic with the reeds, brass, vibes and Sharrock's raucous guitar weaving in and around each other - yes, the band blows quite hard at times but the intensity is built organically from the interactions of the ensemble.  There are several moments where one can hear the connections between this music and the sounds Miles Davis created on "Bitches Brew". 

Watts later recorded for Savoy Records but, in the 70s he became a recording engineer and then an educator (with a short stay at Wesleyan University here in my hometown, brought to the school by Thornton, who spent 6 years on the faculty.)  This reissue is a welcome reminder of the power of creative interplay and Marzette Watts' voice in the creative avant-garde.

Last but certainly not least is "The Loweski", a 1973 recording from tenor saxophonist Frank Lowe and a companion piece to the better-known ESP Disk, "Black Beings".  The 5-part suite features Art Ensemble of Chicago founding member Joseph Jarman, bassist William Parker, drummer Rashied Sinan and violinist Raymond Lee Cheng (also known as "The Wizard" - these recordings are the only ones in his discography.) While the Watts' recording hinted at high-energy, "The Loweski" has moments of true caterwauling.  Lowe kicks off the proceedings with a long, unaccompanied solo that goes off in many directions, with melodic shards followed by riffs with a hard, percussive, feel.  Throughout his career, Lowe was known for "pushing the envelope", never settling for cliches or giving in to currenbt fashions. "Part 2" features Lowe's tenor locked in a squalling match with Jarman's alto while the rhythm section pushes at breakneck speed.  "Part 3" features Cheng's violin being shredded over those same fiery rhythms (Sinan is quite impressive pushing the tempo). Parker, who today is acknowledged as a fine bandleader and composer, is quite solid here, his propulsive lines matching the energy of the soloists and drummer.

These 3 ESP Disk releases remind us of those post-John Coltrane years, when musicians continued to push against barriers and boundaries.  Many of these musicians left the United States not only because of the political climate (the Vietnam War, urban riots, the Nixon Presidency) but also because European audiences seemed to be more open to adventurous music.  For more information about these recordings and other offerings from ESP, go to www.espdisk.com

"Total Eclipse", the 4th Posi-Tone Records release from Ralph Bowen, has much to recommend it. Just look at the group Bowen plays with; the fine young organist Jared Gold, the supple guitarist Mike Moreno and the splendid drummer Rudy Royston. Powered by the drummer (who, in the last few years, has worked with saxophonist JD Allen, bassist Ben Allison, guitarist Bill Frissell, bassist Linda Oh and so many more), this music seems to surge forward. His relentless drive on "Hip Check" really propels the band (the leader lays down his most high-powered solo of the set) while his increasing intensity on the title track (you can download it below) spurs everyone to really dig in.  Yet, his subtle touch paired with Gold's creative accompaniment on "On Green" complement the fine solos of Moreno and the leader.  Then, there is Gold who continues to impress with his overall work.  As an accompanist, he reminds me of the late Larry Young in his early Blue Note days.  He's quite impressive throughout but no more so than on "Exosphere" where his background work is essential to the forward motion of the tune.  Yes, he's got "soul" in his phrases, blues in his sounds, but his solos are jazz to the core, explorations that go in unexpected but smart directions.   Moreno is a solid partner to Bowen on the front line, his "round" yet sometime "sharp' sound playing off the burbling organ and hearty tenor saxophone.  He understands how to build a solo, often starting out experimenting with a counter-melody then digging into the groove and pushing the intensity (all this is quite noticeable on "Arrows of Light.")

As for Ralph Bowen, he luxuriates and flourishes in these sounds.  His tenor sounds quite relaxed yet also quite focused. The 9 tracks, all Bowen originals, feel fresh, taking influences from all parts of the jazz world (hard-bop, funk, touches of Latin rhythms) and creating good music.  The sweet melody of "In My Dreams", the only true ballad on the CD, brings to mind soul music from the 1970s while "Into The City" is "funk-swing" at its best.   Bowen plays some solid soprano sax on "The Dowsing Rod", his handsome tones and lyrical solo giving way to the more "stinging" sounds of Moreno's guitar.

Play "Total Eclipse" from beginning to end and you'll hear 4 musicians not only having a great time but also making adult music of the first order.  "Adult", in that is not "dumbed-down" for commercial success but that it is playful, inspired, fully realized and involves the listener on many levels.  Ralph Bowen continues to produce really good music - don't hide your eyes or ears from this "..Eclipse."

Here is the title track, courtesy of Posi-Tone Records and IODA Promonet:
Total Eclipse (mp3)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Got Live (Music) If You Want It (Part 2) + CD Pick

If you've not been to The Big Room in New Haven's Erector Square neighborhood (319 Peck Street, Building 6W, Studio D), Saturday June 9 would be a fine time for your first visit.  Choreographer/dancer Rachel Bernsen (pictured left), who is the proprietress of the Room, presents an evening of music and dance that is dubbed "Studio Show".  There will be 3 presentations. Trumpeter Stephen Haynes and choreographer/dancer Olivia Iliano-Davis are combining on a program that also features vocalist Kyoko Kitamura, Joe Morris (guitar) and Ben Stapp (tuba). Dancer Emily Coates joins forces with violinist Charlie Burnham (who also provides vocals) for a piece called "Emily's Tiny Theater" which features improvised movements and music.  Finally, Ms. Bernsen presents "Oh, Solo", a work that she has been developing and performing since 2005.  For ticket information and purchase, send an email to thebigroomnewhaven@gmail.com.

 Guitarist/composer/vocalist Joshua Stamper issued one of my favorite recordings of 2011, the delightfully creative "Interstitials" (Hype City Recordings).  Instead of a conventional rhythm section, Stamper arranged the music for voice, guitar, low brass and woodwinds.  One can hear the influence of British progressive-rock, groups like Hatfield & The North and vocalists such as Robert Wyatt and Brian Wilson on this music.  While I enjoy the poetry of Stamper's lyrics, it's the fascinating sounds swirling around his voice that continue to grab my attention.  Now, The Uncertainty Music Series and its curator Carl Testa are presenting "The Music of Joshua Stamper" at 8 p.m. in Never Ending Books, 810 State Street in New Haven.  And, Stamper is bringing the trio of musicians from the recording, including Paul Arbogast (brass) plus reed players Michael Cemprola and Jon Rees. Opening the show will be Jose Oyola (guitar, vocals).  For more information, go to uncertaintymusic.com.
Here's a track from "Interstitials" to whet your appetite.

Guitarist Sinan Bakir appears with his Trio - pianist Warren Byrd and bassist Thomson Kneeland - Saturday at Royal Masala, 387 Main Street in Hartford.  Bakir sent an email around this week reporting that he is preparing music for his next CD, which he plans to record before the end of the year.  So, expect to hear a lot of those tunes on this gig. The first set commences at 8 p.m.  For more information, call 860-882-0900.

 The 3rd and final show of the Uncertainty Music Series' big week (see above as well as Part 1) features the Baltimore, MD, and New York City-based Rhymes With Opera.  They will be performing 3 works (2 new and 1 of their older "commissioned" pieces) at 8 p.m. in The Big Room, 319 Peck Street (Building 6W, Studio D) in New Haven. Among the pieces to be performed is "Red Giant", a speculative fiction narrative composed by New Haven-based Adam Matlock with a libretto by Brian Francis Slattery.  Also on the bill will be "Leads" by Kathleen Bader and "The Love Song of Mary Flagler Cary" from the pens of George Lam and Benjamin Rogers.   Lam plays violin and piano with RWO along with sopranos Elisabeth Halliday and Lisa Perry as well as Robert Maril (baritone, cello), John Biatowas (viola) and Ruby Fulton (accordion, violin and viola) with Brian Olsen-Ecker as director.  Go to uncertaintymusic.com for more information. 

The blending of classical music with jazz is not a new concept (examples include Duke Ellington's "Nutcracker", The Modern Jazz Quartet playing J.S. Bach and George Gershwin and bassist Michael Bates' contemporary take on Dmitri Shostakovich.)  "Beyond the Blue" (Motema/Venus Records) is the 4th CD for vocalist Tessa Souter and it's a wondrous blend of intricate melody lines plus sparkling solo work.  What a band!  The basic group is the trio featuring either Steve Kuhn (piano) or Joe Locke (vibraphone) with the rhythm section of David Finck (bass) and Billy Drummond (drums).  Guests include Joel Frahm (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone) and Gary Versace (accordion) - Souter provides the lyrics and arrangements to works by Beethoven, Borodin, Albinoni, Rodrigo, Brahms, Chopin, Faure, and Schubert. She also performs "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" (a "standard" based on a string quartet by Borodin), "My Reverie" (based on a work by Claude Debussy) and "The Lamp Is Low" (based on Maurice Ravel's "Pavane.") 

The various combinations of musicians with Ms. Souter's expressive and lyrical vocal stylings are what will make listeners come back to this music.  Yes, if you are a fan of classical music, you may take umbrage to how pieces such as "The Darkness of Your Eyes" (based on Faure's "Pavane") swing so much - relax and enjoy Frahm's delicious soprano lines, Kuhn's aggressive playing and Drummond's relaxed but urgent sense of "drive." "En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor" (Rodrigo) may be familiar from Miles Davis and Gil Evans' "Sketches of Spain"; here, this intelligent arrangement blends vibraphone with accordion while Frahm's gentle tenor saxophone lines waft over the vocal.  The "warm" recording makes Locke's vibraphone playing shimmer on each track he graces.  Kuhn is an accompanist who never steps on the toes of the singer - notice his rich yet softly executed lines on "Sunrise" (a melody adapted from Brahms) and his splendid swing on "My Reverie." Finck is rock-solid throughout while Drummond's cymbal work is exemplary (as is his unerring swing.) Versace appears on 3 tracks, his accordion lines often shadowing the vocals as well as displaying a gentler touch.  His fine accompaniment and solo on "Brand New Day" display his formidable  "chops" without highjacking the tune.  His "atmospheric" work on "The Lamp is Low" is whisper-soft while still underlining Ms. Souter's vocals. Her instrument is one that makes lyrics come alive, filled with but not overcome by emotion, real not forced - in these settings, she makes us see and hear myriad possibilities of interpretation which is, most assuredly, the essence of creative music.

"Beyond the Blue" is adult jazz, with lyrics that speak to the purity and possibility of true love while clothing Tessa Souter's vocals in fine classical melodies.  The band assembled for the collaboration play with taste, grace and more than a bit of fire.  One can lose themselves in this program and emerge better for the experience.  For more information, go to www.tessasouter.com/.