Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mallets For All + Drummers Shine (add-on)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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