Thursday, February 28, 2013

Potpourri for February

Drummer/composer Antonio Sanchez may be best-known for his work with guitarist/composer Pat Metheny but his work has graced the bands of Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Miguel Zenon, Joshua Redman and a slew of other contemporary musicians.  "New Life" (CamJazz) is his 3rd releases as a leader and it displays his continuing maturity as a composer.  Donny McCaslin (tenor) and David Binney (alto) share the front line while bassist Matt Brewer anchors the rhythm section - both of Sanchez's previous releases features 2 saxophonists but the difference here is the addition of pianist John Escreet.

From the rubato opening moments of the first track, "Uprisings and Revolutions", to the gospel/funk-inspired rhythms and splendid saxophone sounds of the final cut, "Family Ties", this music has substance as well as many fine solos.  McCaslin's solos start with a wealth of melodic possibilities, allowing him to follow his muse.  On that first track, he jumps aboard the fiery drumming, the excellent bass counterpoint and the rich piano chords to produce a brilliant statement. Binney is also an adventurous soloist, digging into the rich chords on the title track and taking his lines high above the thunderous rhythm section. That cut also features the wordless vocals of Thana Alexa; her work is reminiscent of the vocals one hears in the Metheny band. On the second, slower, half of the track (at 14:19, it's the longest on the disk), Escreet creates an emotionally rich solo, with melodic phrases falling like rainwater off a pitched roof. As the energy level rises, the song takes on an urgency that draws in the listener.

The funky trio of saxophones and drums lead one into "The Real McDaddy" - after that New Orleans-inspired interaction, the band maneuvers the tricky, odd-meter, melody line.  Escreet's Fender Rhodes work si slippery and sly as are the bass lines and the leader's dancing drum accompaniment. The driving rhythms and twin saxophone attack of "Medusa" are yet another highlight, with both McCaslin and Binney pushing the energy levels. McCaslin switches to soprano for the handsome ballad "Air", blending his voice on the closing reading of theme with Binney's expressive alto.

"New Life" is contemporary music at its best. Antonio Sanchez is a generous composer and arranger, with melodies ripe with harmonic variations for the soloists.  He allows those soloists time to build coherent, fiery and joyous statements; listeners can get lost in their fine work or get lost in just effortless the rhythm section lends its support. Hard not to imagine this quintet being wonderful in a live setting - in the meantime, grab hold of "New Life" and enjoy the ride.  For more information, go to

New York City-native Jonathan Kresiberg has an impressive resume - the guitarist has played classical music with Michael Tilson Thomas, jazz with Lee Konitz and Joe Locke (to name but 2) and worked with Dr. Lonnie Smith. His new CD, "One" (New for Now Music) is his ninth release as a solo artist and his first solo CD.  The 11 cuts, with the exception of 2 originals (both of which use effects to make the guitar sound like an organ), are all standards. The guitarist goes for the heart of each piece - the melody - making sure to state that before heading into his solo. He caresses the Johnny Mercer melody for "Skylark", imbuing the sweet song with a touch of longing.  The solo has a dancing quality, as if Kresiberg was having a sense memory of a happier time. He emphasizes the bluesy side of the oft-recorded "Summertime" with a solo that seems to rise off the words "you'll spread your wings and you'll take to the sky".  The sprightly version of "My Favorite Things" may remind some of the work of Joe Pass in the way Kresiberg seamlessly blends melody and solo. Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" has become a modern "standard", perhaps beyond the point of redundancy.  Yet, Kresiberg makes the song anew, emphasizing the folk-music quality of the melody as well as adding a touch of atonality at one point.  The program ends with an original, "Escape From Lower Formant Shift", an effects-laden piece that sounds like heavy metal among the folky and jazzy melodies that precede it.  It's, admittedly, a jarring finish.

Despite that oddity, "One" is quite enjoyable, a well executed program that shows the many and varied sides of Jonathan Kreisberg.  If you have paid attention to his music, you'll know that he has always embraced melody and built his solos organically from them.  He can play but, even better, his music has heart.  For more information, go to

Giacomo Gates is a vocalist with a history like few that have come to jazz.  Toiling on oil pipelines in Alaska, he did not return to his home state of Connecticut until his late 30s and has been perfecting his craft for the past 2 decades.  His previous Savant recording was dedicated to the music of Gil Scott-Heron, issued right about the time the poet/performer passed away.  "Miles Tones" looks at the music of Miles Davis, features a top-notch band (trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, pianist John Di Martino, guitarist Dave Stryker, bassist Lonnie Plaxico and drummer Vincent Ector) and excellent arrangements.  To his credit, Gates blends well-known Miles classics, such as "All Blues", "Milestones" and "So What", with several surprising choices as "Be-Bop Blues" (based on "Boplicity" from "Birth of the Cool") and "'Long Come Tutu" from "Tutu." The latter is quite funky with a wonderful muted trumpet support while the former swings ever-so-smoothly, Gates' "vocalese" solo a real treat.  Di Martino's classy piano lines support the vocal on "'Round Midnight" - here, Hendrix's muted trumpet lines weave beneath the vocal. The afore-mentioned "So What" is a perfect match for Gates voice, which dances like Cannonball Adderley's alto sax did on the original version.  Ector's "swinging" drums set the pace on "Four" and the "groove" is strengthened by Plaxico's active walking bass lines.

Also to the leader's credit, these songs do not overstay their welcome with only one over 6 minutes and most under 5.  The solos are concise but impressive; it's the wonderful support of the musicians that stand out as does Giacomo Gates's "easy" approach to the vocals.He does not force his way through the material, making the experience all the more satisfying.  To find out more, go to

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Time To Dance, A Time to Grow

Tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell, born in Alabama, educated in Boston and New York, has, over the course of his recording career for Positone Records, shown that he can not only swing but also bring the funk.  "The Kung-Fu Masters" is his 4th CD for the Los Angeles, California-based label and it would not be out of place that Nowell and his group display their considerable "chops" and that the music has a real kick.

Bad puns aside, Nowell's new CD channels the sounds of The Crusaders (circa late 1970s), Chicago and The Headhunters into a most delightful mash-up.  With the driving rhythm section of Evan Marien (electric bass) and Marko Djordjevic (drums) plus the twin keyboards of Art Hirahara and Adam Klipple (he doubles on Hammond organ), the front line of Nowell, Brad Mason (trumpet) and Michael Dease (trombone) play music inspired by martial arts, breakdancing and comic books.  And this music is quite good fun.  With the exception of the explosive opening track, a ripping version of Jimi Hendrix's "Crosstown Traffic", Nowell composed and arranged the material.  It's impossible not to snap your fingers to the crackling funk of "The 55th Chamber" and "In the Shikshteesh", the former riding on Hirahara's rippling electric piano while the latter features the rich trombone sounds of Dease (one can hear the influence of Crusaders bone-man Wayne Henderson on this track.) Funk oozes out of the speakers on "Song of the Southland", with the languid melody lines drifting over the keyboard washes, the throbbing bass lines and the "fatback" drums.  Klipple's burbling organ ushers in the handsome layered melody lines of "Prosperity" - the organist (who leads The Drive-by Leslies) takes the only solo and it drips with soulful conviction.

Other highlights include the rambunctious "The Outside World", the propulsive excitement of "Uncrumplable" and the fiery overdrive of "Can Do Man" that takes the program out, leaving the listener breathless.  Through it all, Sean Nowell's tenor, whether electronically altered (there's even a bit of "wah-wah") or clean, leads the charge.  He is generous in ceding the spotlight to his fellow players, preferring to blend in with the brass (though he stands on several tracks, including the aptly-titled "For All Intensive Purposes").  If you're looking to shake off the winter doldrums and just have a good listen, "The Kung-Fu Masters" "kicks out the jams" in fine style.  For more information, go to

Born in Russia, raised in Israel, saxophonist/composer Ilia Skibinsky is a young man who has not rushed onto the scene.  While still under 30, Skibinsky has played in pit bands for numerous Israeli productions, toured with Cirque du Soleil, written soundtracks for television documentaries, and studies at the New School in New York City (he also studies with Joel Frahm). "The Passage" (Mythology Records) is his debut as a leader and is quite a mature statement.  The core band features Glenn Zaleski (piano), Edward Perez (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums) plus the trumpet of Matt Jodrell and tenor saxophone of Matthew Silberman on 3 tracks as well as contributions from guitarist Mike Moreno on 3 cuts.  Russian-born violinist Joe Deninzon (leader of the fusion-jazz group Stratospheerius) plays Skibinsky's lovely string arrangement on the handsome ballad "When We Forget."  " Handsome" is the proper word to describe the bulk of this music; these are well-constructed compositions that have strong melody lines and smart arrangements. Yet, there is a fire burning beneath the 2-part title track that opens the program.  Zaleski's hypnotic piano chords lead in bass and drums while Skibinsky's alto shares the melody line with Moreno's guitar.  Jodrell and Silberman add their "voices" to the mix. The first solo belongs to Moreno, his rippling lines moving easily over the active rhythm section (Stranahan stokes the energy here without great volume.)  "Part 2" comes in like a lion, the propulsive bass and drums driving the soloists (arranged in a round-robin "call-and-response").

The leader does not really step into the solo spotlight until the 3rd track, "Seven Skies."  Here, Skibinsky overdubs alto and soprano saxophones for the opening melody before stepping out on the higher reed for his solo.  Zaleski's excellent counterpoint and Stranahan's active drumming stand out as does the pianist's exploratory solo.  When the leader returns, he executes a short but sparkling dialogue/dance with the drummer before taking off for a second excellent solo.  The spirit of Ralph Towner's music floats through "Distant Lights", the melody rising over the rhythm section before stopping for Perez's fine bass solo;  Zaleski is next and his melodic phrases usher in the alto solo which occurs over a Brazilian-influenced rhythm. Skibinsky's phrases hop, skip and fly above the rhythm section, reminding this listener of Miguel Zenon.  Moreno's guitar weaves around the alto on the slow yet intense "Beyond the Sun" - in the midst of both the guitar and flowing alto solos, one should also pay close attention to the "conversation" in the rhythm section. Skibinsky returns to soprano saxophone for "Dorian Ways", a multi-sectioned piece with an irresistible rhythmic drive, rippling melody line (more overdubbing from the leader) and outstanding piano work.  The soprano solo moves effortlessly over the dynamic rhythms, the pure sound of the higher notes dancing along with the drums.  The program closes with "What Words Cannot Express", an emotional ballad with another fine bass spotlight as well as excellent cymbal and brushwork.

The more one listens to "The Passage", the more impressive the project becomes.  Ilia Skibinsky shows his ability to compose, arrange, play and direct in a way that stands out among the myriad releases of the early weeks of 2013.  This excellent CD stands up well next to the new releases from Chris Potter and Wayne Shorter, displaying a maturity of musical understanding similar to those fine musicians. I'd love to hear this music live.  For more information, go to

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Firehouse 12 Welcomes Spring

Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, has announced its Spring 2013 Concerts schedule and, for many of us, that's a welcome sign.  Beginning on March 15th and running for 14 Fridays (until June 14th), the performance space/recording venue (created by Nick Lloyd, pictured by the front door) plays hosts to a wide array of musicians, from the well-known to the up-and-coming, from local residents to international travelers, all of whom share a love of exploratory music and creative interaction.

First up (3/15) is Wethersfield. CT, resident Stephen Haynes whose new Quintet is called Pomegranate: New Music for Bill Dixon. Cornetist/composer Haynes, who studied and played with the late conceptualist/trumpeter Dixon (1925-2010) for several decades, organized this ensemble around the brilliant rhythm section of William Parker (bass), Ben Stapp (tuba) and the great percussionist Warren Smith and is joined on the front line by his partner in the monthly Real Art Ways "Improvisations" series, guitarist Joe Morris. The group recently played its initial gig as a Quintet at The Stone in New York City and the plans are to record this music the day after the concert.  And, you can help make the recording come to fruition - go to and find out more about Mr. Haynes's relationship with Bill Dixon and how you can support this project.

The following Friday (3/22), the Matthew Shipp Trio comes to the Elm City.  Pianist/composer Shipp, one of the more creative and outspoken voices in creative music, has been a vital force for nearly 3 decades and his Trio - bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey - support, push, prod and elevate his music with great energy.  Shipp's new CD, "Greatest Hits" (Thirsty Ear Blue Series), is a compilation culled from a decade of recordings, ranging from solo to quintet, all acoustic to groups with electronic augmentation.  One should expect this evening of music to be nothing short of exhilarating.

The season continues with concerts from the Lisa Mezzacappa Trio featuring vocalist Fay Victor (3/29), drummer Tomas Fujiwara and the Hook Up (April 5) and the inventive quartet Conference Call (4/12).  That quartet (pictured left) brings together the fertile imaginations of Michael Jefry Stevens (piano) and Gebhard Ullmann (reeds) with the dynamic rhythm section of Joe Fonda (bass) and George Schuller (drums, percussion).

On April 19, the duo of Dan Tepfer (piano) and Ben Wendel (reeds) will celebrate the release of their new CD by coming to the performance space.  On 4/26, former New Haven resident Wayne Escoffery (pictured left) brings his Quintet to town for an evening of exciting sounds.  May is an especially exciting month of music starting on 5/3 with pianist Craig Taborn and his Trio.  Trumpeter/composer/ Hartt School of Music Senior Teacher Jeremy Pelt brings a group down to New Haven on 5/10 while the following week (5/17) pianist Armen Donellian returns with his Trio (bassist David Clark and drummer George Schuller) for an evening of classy melodies and swirling improvisations. Memorize The Sky - the cooperative trio of Aaron Siegel (percussion), Matt Bauder (reeds) and Zach Wallace (bass) - brings its improvisational magic to the Firehouse on Memorial Day weekend (5/24).

Mark your calendar for May 31 because the Dave Douglas Quintet will be performing in the series.  Composer/trumpeter Douglas released his most personal recording in 2012, "Be Still" (Greenleaf Music) - dedicated to the memory of his mother, the program combined hymns, folk songs and classical music with quiet improvisations and the delicate voice of Aoife O'Donovan.  The Quintet - Douglas, Jon Iraagon (saxophones), Matt Mitchell (piano), Linda Oh (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums) - has recorded an all-instrumental CD, "Time Travel", that is set to be released in April.  By the time they get to New Haven, they'll have finished a series of dates at the Jazz Standard in New York City as well as a short tour of the Southwest.  To find out more about Mr. Douglas and his myriad projects, go to

The final 2 concerts of the Series take place in June with the penultimate show featuring the Amina Figarova Sextet on 6/07.  Ms. Figarova, a native of Azerbaijan, has been slowly and steadily making a name in the contemporary jazz scene with original music that blends a world of influences.  Last but certainly not least, the Series comes to a close on 6/14 with the appearance of Ches Smith & These Arches (pictured left). Built upon Smith's percussive barrage, the Quintet blends the saxophones of Tony Malaby (tenor) and Tim Berne (alto) with the creative sounds of Andrea Parkins (accordion, electronics) and Mary Halvorson (guitar). The room will definitely be shaking on that night.

Each show features 2 sets (separate admissions) - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - and you can buy a Series pass or individual tickets by going to  If you claim to be a fan of creative music, you'll find something to tickle your fancy down at the Firehouse.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Eclectic, Electronic, Electric and Energetic Music

'Tis an exciting week for music that will surprise, soothe, shock and (hopefully) satisfy the adventurous career.  On Thursday February 24, the Imani Winds come to Millard Auditorium on the campus of the University of Hartford, 200 Bloomfield Avenue in West Hartford, for a 7:30 p.m. performance.  The quintet, formed 16 years ago in New York City, is composed of flutist-composer Valerie Colemanoboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz, clarinetist Mariam Adam, French horn player-composer Jeff Scott, and bassoonist Monica Ellis.  The UHart concert features several pieces by Ms. Coleman, an exciting arrangement of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" plus works by Simon Shaheen, Gyorgy Ligeti and Karel Husa.

The quintet is known for its unique repertoire, ranging from collaborations with saxophonist-composer Wayne Shorter and Jason Moran, to recordings  of holiday music and a project dedicated to Josephine Baker.  They are all fine players and this should be a wonderful concert.  For more information, go to or call 860-768-4228.  

On Friday February 25, Rudresh Mahanthappa's Gamak comes to Morse Recital Hall inside Sprague Hall, 435 College Street in New Haven. The alto saxophonist-composer has been "electrifying" audiences with this excellent quartet that features bassist Francois Moutin, drummer-percussionist Dan Weiss and guitarist David "Fuze" Fiuczynski.  The group's recently released self-titled CD is filled with rapid-fire riffs, fascinating rhythmic changes and strong solo work.  Mahanthappa is a virtuosic soloist, blessed with great speed but also a ear for melodic invention.  This show will absolutely rock the Recital Hall - for more information, go to or call 203-432-4158

The Uncertainty Music Series moves to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, for an evening of electronic music featuring composer Keith Fullerton Whitman. Whitman, a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been creating sound "environments" on computer for nearly 2 decades. Here is how Whitman describes the event: "I'll playing a four-channel piece for hybrid digital-analogue modular synthesizer that applies concepts drawn from the "Analogue Computing" tradition to generate a poly & free- rhythmic assemblage of asynchronous events that move in Newtonian fashions through space. The systems at use reference this history of "Live Electronic Music" from Cage & Tudor through mid-90's Dance Music ..."  He'll be giving a "Pre-concertTalk" at 7 p.m. (that is free) and the concert, titled "Quad Audio and Video" is at 8:30 p.m ($12. ticket).  This is the first collaboration of Uncertainty Music and SOUND HALL, with another show scheduled for March.  For more information, go to

"Venture Inward" (Posi-Tone Records) is the third release in 3 years by trumpeter David Weiss and his Point of Departure quintet. Coincidentally, all the music was recorded in 2008 but this release is the first "studio" album (the others, "Snuck In" and "Snuck Out" were recorded live on March 25th and released on Sunnyside Records, one day after 4 of the 6 tracks on "Venture Inward" were recorded - the remaining 2 cuts come from a June 2008 session.) Another interesting difference between the live and studio sessions is that bassist Matt Clohesy appears on the former and Luques Curtis on the latter. The rest of the lineup remains the same with J.D. Allen on tenor saxophone, Nir Felder on electric guitar and Jamire Williams on drums.

Compared to the live recordings where the majority of the songs clock in at over 10 minutes, this session, with the exception of Charles Moore's "Number 4" (16:17) and Herbie Hancock's "I Have A Dream" (11:36) has 4 songs under 8:25.  Then again, Weiss ties the Hancock song to Tony Williams' "Black Comedy" (7:18), a song that first appeared on Miles Davis's "Miles In The Sky."  Both pieces are propelled by the dynamic drumming of Williams - when he and Curtis lock in, this music soars. Felder's rhythm work is also worth mentioning.  His is the only chordal instrument and Felder is the foundation of this music, allowing the rhythm section to roam at will.  He eschews louder volume for a more mellow tone and his solo work is excellent. On "Black Comedy", the guitarist plays against the beat as well as riding atop it to great effect.  It's illuminating to hear Allen stretch on these songs as his own Trio material is usually fairly short and filled with interplay.

"Snuck In" has appeared on all 3 CDs - the song, also composed by trumpeter Charles Moore for Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quartet (a group based in Detroit, Michigan, that was active on the 1960s and 70s), has a compelling forward motion.  Curtis, Felder and Williams really drive this peace hard and the front line does an excellent of floating the melody over the energetic rhythms.  "Number 4" has a similar feel but, here, it's Williams and Curtis who lead the charge through the song. The bassist dances beneath Allen's expansive and thoughtful solo.  Weiss, who is also the catalyst behind The Cookers (the "super" group with Billy Harper, Dr. Eddie Henderson, Billy Hart, Cecil McBee, Craig Handy and George Cables), displays the influence of Freddie Hubbard in his lengthy yet quite coherent solo.  Felder and Williams play a fiery duo before the drummer takes the spotlight for his excellent solo.

The quintet recorded "Erato" by Andrew Hill on "Snuck In",  this CD includes 2 Hill compositions including the title track (first recorded on Hill's "Grass Roots" Lp) and "Pax" (a piece from 1965 that was not released until 1975).  The latter is the "ballad" of the recording, with a melody from the trumpet and saxophone that weaves in and around the counterpoint of the guitar.  Williams is quite active but also somewhat subdued, serving to "color" the work of the front line and guitarist.

"Venture Inward" has the sound of American jazz in the mid-to-late 1960s but these renditions are not slavish recreations.  David Weiss wisely uses younger musicians, ones who bring fresh ears and minds to this music.   The housing market may have collapsed in 2008, the banking industry suffered great losses but Weiss's Point of Departure quintet gave the jazz world 3 excellent recordings.  For more information, go to

Thursday, February 14, 2013

10 Freedom Summers Needs Your Support

Received an email today asking for support in funding Wadada Leo Smith's ongoing "10 Freedom Summers" project.  The 4-CD set, released last year by Cuneiform Records to great critical acclaim, is but the first part of Professor Smith's project.  Here's part of the message:

Trumpeter /composer/musical innovator Wadada Leo Smith is seeking $17,000 to complete and premiere a new work for his highly acclaimed civil rights opus "Ten Freedom Summers." The new work, entitled The March on Washington D.C.- August 28, 1963, will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. This will be the 22nd composition of "Ten Freedom Summers", which the trumpeter has written over the past 34 years and calls "one of my life's defining works."

The new work-composed for quintet, along with string quartet and harp-will be performed by the Golden Quartet, the Pacific Coral Reef Ensemble, the Flux String Quartet and video artist Jesse Gilbert. Through the USA Projects funding, Smith plans to premiere this new work at Roulette in Brooklyn, NY in May 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of this historic event. The funding will help Smith to improve the theatrics of the performance, which would include additional high-definition screens for video projections, and to show the Civil Rights Movement in a new light. 

To donate to the project,  log on to by Monday, March 11, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Can't Keep an Improvisations Series Down

The snow has begun to melt, most streets in the area are passable (if a bit skinny in places) and it's time to think about other joys of life besides re-stocking the larder and shoveling out the mailbox.

So many shows in the Connecticut area were canceled this past weekend due to Storm Charlotte/Nemo (so big a storm it had 2 names) but one that stood out (for me) was the Sunday February 10 show at Real Art Ways.  The "Improvisations" series, curated by Stephen Haynes (up there on the left) and Joe Morris, had scheduled a show with percussionist/trombonist Tyshawn Sorey (Wesleyan grad).  It's good to know that they have rescheduled for this coming Sunday (2/17), same place (RAW is at 56 Arbor Street in Hartford) and same time (3 p.m.) Who really knows what the weekend weather will be but this is a musical event that is sure to involve fiery interactions and fun exchanges.  To find out more, go to or call at 860-232-1006.

Another show that has been rescheduled is one that The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street, had planned for Friday February 9 featuring pianist Alon Nechustan (pictured left) and his Trio.  That show is now set for Saturday May 4 at 8 p.m.  By that time, the Israeli-born composer will have 2 new recordings set to be released.  For more information, go to

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Poetry With and Without Words

It's been 3 years since composer-reed player Sam Sadigursky released "Word Project III", his attractive series of recordings pairing original music with poems by a wide array of poets. While that 2010 release blended different musicians and vocalists into the mix, "Words Project IV" (New Amsterdam Records) features Sadigusrky in a collaboration with French pianist Laurent Coq and a rhythm section of Yoni Zelnik (acoustic bass) and Karl Jannuska (drums). Also, in other differences from the previous releases, Christine Correa is the only vocalist (save for the occasional harmony from the leader) and the music is primarily acoustic. Ms. Correa, whose readings of poetry have enlivened recordings by pianist-husband Frank Carlberg, sparkles throughout this program, adding grit, drama, humor and fire to the music.  Among the poets Sadigursky chose for this CD are Carl Sandburg, Sadi Ranson-Pollizzotti, Bertold Brecht, Charles Simic, Fernando Pessoa, Kim Addonizio, Spencer Reece and an amateur writer, George W. Bush (collected by cartoonist-journalist Richard Thompson.)

In interviews, Sadigursky spoke of how this project came about, the second of 2 recordings with pianist Coq and the group, how much he enjoyed working with them and how easily the sessions went.  Of all the recordings, this is one that feels most like "jazz" but not at the expense of the words.  Opening with Sandburg's "Basket", a poem that consists of only 2 sentences that the ensemble performs in several different settings.  After a short musical introduction, Ms. Correa sings the lines with great power and the band reacts. Coq's chordal attack, pushed by the active rhythm section, supports both the vocalist and the leader's hardy tenor sax solo. Another highlight is the multi-sectioned "Bestiary Suite" (words by Hartford, CT native and graduate of both Wesleyan University and the Yale Divinity School  Spencer Reece, who currently serves as the Chaplain to the Bishop of Spain for the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church!) with musical settings for "The Frog", "The Bat", "The Snake", "The Elephant" and "The Cat", the final section played with a wicked tango beat. Zelnik's Charles Mingus-inspired bass intro to "What Do Women Want" (poem by contemporary American poet Kim Addonizio) is a sly beginning to a very playful piece (prepared piano, clanky percussion, Sadigursky's saxophone shadowing the vocal - Ms. Correa does a super job relaying the humor and underlying anger in the narrator's voice. There's also a playful quality to the words and music of Carl Sandburg's "Snatch of Sliphorn Jazz" with the band pushing the tenor solo up and above the vocal.  Drummer Jannuska is excellent throughout the program but stands out on this track as well as on "Motto". Based on a poem by Bertold Brecht (the lyrics read " In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will be singing. About the dark times"), the drummer pushes in over a repetitive electric piano figure and leads the way throughout. Ms. Ranson-Pollizzotti's plaintive "Simple Love Poem" closes the program on a handsome note.  While the drummer plays a fast rhythm, the piano and bass play counterpoint to the vocal. When Sadigursky's tenor sax enters, he picks on the impressionistic qualities of both the vocal presentation and Coq's piano.

Sam Sadigursky is certainly not the first person to blend jazz and poetry but he is one who has continued to search for new ways to express both his creativity and help bring the music out in the poetry he explores.  The fact that "Words Project IV" features a "working" band - they also recorded an album of Coq's compositions with poetry, to be released later this year on Sunnyside Records - is a plus. The music feels fresh, conversational, wonderfully interactive and quite alive.  For more information, go to and (scroll down to find the article about this CD.)  The CD will be available for purchase and review at on February 26. You can also check it out at Amazon, or on iTunes.

 Composer Bill Ryan does not hurry to release recordings by his Billband - "Towards Daybreak" (Innova) comes nearly 9 years after his previous CD, "Blurred." It's not like he's been sitting still. Ryan produced 3 fine CDs by the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble, curated a concert series ("Open Ears and Free Play"), composed music for several dance companies and has been teaching.  Billband is his ensemble, hand-picked to play his music, compositions with deep roots in 20th Century minimalism but also featuring elements of jazz and rock.  "Simple Lines", a work for cellist Ashley Bathgate, opens "Towards Daybreak" in a pensive mood with the melodic lines folding in and around each other. The title track is built upon short melodic fragments played by Vicky Chow (piano), David Cossin (vibraphone), Michael Lowenstern (bass clarinet), Pablo Mahave-Veglia (cello), Jonathan Nickle (alto saxophone) and Todd Reynolds (violin). The blending of sounds is peaceful, no one instrument stands out yet the piece continues to move forward (as does coming of daybreak). The same sextet performs "Rapid Assembly", with Cossin adding marimba and drum set to the mix. As the alto saxophone and violin begin to move into the center of the sound, the drums fall into a martial rhythm before giving way to a Spanish-flavored rhythm (played on piano).   "Friction" shows the influence of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir", especially in its insistent rhythmic drive and the drone-like melody lines.Yet, like "Rapid Assembly", it changes to a softer approach with the alto sax, violin and piano weaving around each other; soon the drums usher the vibraphone and bass clarinet back in before violin and cello duet quietly.  The sextet jumps back in to take the piece out as it began. Cossin's glockenspiel opens "Sparkle" with Ms. Chow's quiet, high, piano notes as support.  Nichol's soprano saxophone has the opening melody line (90 seconds into the piece) with the cello, violin and bass clarinet adding their voices one by one.

Todd Reynolds (violins, violas) and Paul DeJong (cellos) perform "A Simple Place", their combined instruments translating Ryan's compelling melody with deep emotion.   Reynolds joins Ms. Chow and Ms. Bathgate on the live performance of "Blurred" that closes the program. The piano introduces the simple yet plaintive melody as the violinist adds high, keening, notes - when the cello enters (3 minutes in), the instrument adds depth.  The interwoven melody and harmonies (and implied rhythms) move up and down in intensity but rarely forward, as if the listener is in a pleasant dream adrift on a lake.

Bill Ryan's music on "Towards Daybreak" is often peaceful, offering moments of contemplation. If one needs to lose him-or-herself in music to help ease the madness of everyday life, this is the recording you would want.  Simple pleasures, to be sure, but real emotional catharsis.  For more information, go to

Friday, February 8, 2013

3 X 3 (February 2013)

In the past few weeks there has been much hoopla (deserved) for the new Wayne Shorter CD (his return to Blue Note after 4 decades) and Chris Potter's debut (also well-deserved) as a leader on ECM.  One fervently hopes that "The 3Dom Factor" (TUM), the new CD from drummer-composer Barry Altschul, (his first as a leader in a decade) does not get lost in the flurry (as I write this, in the "blizzard") of new music.

Why? Because this music, like Mr. Shorter's, is alive with possibilities, with intelligent interplay, and open-ended conversations.    Right from the get-go, Altschul, bassist Joe Fonda and tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon dig into this music with joy and abandon. The splendid recording by Robert Musso at Sears Sound posits the leader's trap set across the spectrum while the bass and saxophone hover in the middle.  This music has humor, nicely displayed on "Martin's Stew" (dedicated to the late drummer Stu Martin) bounces in among a bouncing bowed bass line and a conversation between the sax and drums (nice touch with the police whistle and other assorted toys. "Papa's Funkish Dance" has appeared on previous recordings under the name "For Papa Jo, Klook and Philly Too", a dedication to 3 of Altschul's drum heroes (Jo Jones, Kenny Clarke and ""Philly" Joe Jones) - here, however, the emphasis is on the "funk" and the "fun", Irabagon clucking and squealing while the leader and bassist lay down a wicked beat.  Altschul, who has traveled the world playing in all shapes of aggregations, picked up the rhythmic impulses for "Oops" in Mali while watching a camel walking.  Fonda's bass lines serve as a foundation for the exciting drum dances and Irabagon's braying tenor.

There are several handsome ballads, including "Just a Simple Song" (composed for a live recording by the FAB Trio - Fonda, Altschul and the late Billy Bang) and "Irina", first composed for the Brahma Trio of Altschul, Ray Anderson and Mark Helias.) The former tune may have a "simple" melody line but the musicians really dig in to the piece, Fonda's full-toned bass lines and Altschul's active brush work giving the saxophonist a platform for a very emotional solo.  The latter piece finds each member of the Trio stating the melody (yes, even Altschul, at times) before Irabagon delivers another emotionally-charged solo and Fonda plays yet another fine melodic solo.  I've known the bassist for nearly 4 decades and can honestly state his playing continues to grow and impress.

"The 3Dom Factor" is a welcome return for Barry Altschul, a musician ho has worked with Anthony Braxtom, Chick Corea, Sam Rivers, Dave Holland, Paul Bley, Roswell Rudd, Julius Hemphill and many others.  If you enjoy music that is serious fun, played by musicians who listen and respond with originality and wit, this CD belongs in your house.  For more information, go to  If you have yet to check out Harris Eisenstadt's comprehensive 3-part interview at Destination: OUT, go directly to and dig in!

Joe Fonda also shows up (and shows "big") on "Powers" (Konnex), a new recording featuring brothers Anders (guitar) and Peter Nilsson (drums).  The title track opens the proceedings with fiery rhythms and ferocious guitar work, reminding this listener of the late Sonny Sharrock.  He could really "shred" when he put his mind to it and there are moments on the opening track when Anders Nilsson truly catches fire.   When this trio "whispers", such as they do on "Tri-cep", the music has a melodic quality - of course, the guitarist begins to "champ" at the pick and the piece catches fire. Fonda can be such a muscular bassist, here locking with Peter Nilsson to really drive the music. The guitarist's "Vodka Meditations" has a "film noir" feel, with the bassist's "shivering" arco behind the blues-tinged guitar riffs.  During the guitar solo, Fonda alternates between "walking" lines and counterpoint.  He, also, contributes 3 fine compositions, the lovely "China" (originally composed for Fonda's Eastern Boundary Quartet),the bluesy "rocker" "I've Been Singing" (the latter having the feel of a ZZ Top cut), and the up-tempo romp "Fish Soup" that closes the CD on a rip-roaring note.  On that track, it's the bass and drums that initially deliver the "punch" but, about 1/2 way through, the guitarist begins to move a bit "out" as well as starts experimenting with his tones.  After an forceful bass solo, the song slowly and quietly fades on long tones and cymbal washes. The drummer contributes "Melodrone", a piece that opens with quiet chords, an insistent slow shuffle feel, and the guitarist playing the chordal melody without ornamentation.  To the trio's credit, they hold the "groove" while the dynamics do not waver all the way through and the piece fades on a short bass solo.

"Powers" mashes jazz, rock, blues-rock and more into an enjoyable sound "stew" - Anders and Peter Nilsson are both young veterans who have played jazz and rock in their native Sweden.  Anders has been based in New York City for the past 12 years, playing with bassists William Parker and Ken Filiano plus collaborating with vocalist Fay Victor.  Joe Fonda continues to be a major presence on the creative music scene, both in the US and abroad, creating music that holds to no one genre but is always exploratory and moving forward.  This trio has great potential and this CD is a smashing introduction. For more information, go to

Drummer-composer Dylan Ryan, a native of Chicago and graduate of DePaul University, is, perhaps, best known for his work with the group Herculaneum.  "Sky Bleached" (Cuneiform Records) is his first release with the trio known as Dylan Ryan/Sand and features guitarist Timothy Young (who has worked with Wayne Horvitz, the late Sam Rivers and John Zorn) and bassist Devin Hoff (who has played and recorded with clarinetist Ben Goldberg, guitarist Nels Cline and reed master Ken Vandermark.)  What one notices on first listen is the emphasis on melody, interplay and sonic experimentation that infuses this material - yes, it's a "guitar" trio but it's no ordinary "blowing session."  Pieces such as "White Nights", "Barocco", and "Translucent Spheres" have appealing rhythmic drive but are also bolstered by strong melody lines.  Other tracks, such as "Mayan Sun" and "Dreamspell", take a different tack, blending moaning, wailing and keening guitar sounds with fiery and forceful work from the bass and drums.  The former shows the influence of Jimi Hendrix, especially the "Axis: Bold as Love" recording and the guitar manipulations.  Then, there is the smashing take on Paul Motian's "White Magic" (a piece that first appeared on that drummer/composer's 1981 ECM Lp, "Psalm") - Ryan's trio picks upon the energy of the original (Bill Frisell's guitar work is stunning) and kicks it even harder.  Young has a touch of that "country twang" of Frisell, most evident on the impressionistic"Time Stalkers". Hoff and Ryan work together quite nicely, with the bassist playing both counterpoint and foundational lines throughout. The leader does not hold back, pushing this band with an infectious power and inventiveness that reminds this listener of the work of Hamid Drake and Chad Taylor.

"Sky Bleached" is an excellent recording, sounding quite impressive as it blasts from the speakers, shaking the walls and floors with a delightful sonic anarchy.  As a person who grew up in the era of rock guitar experimentation (the afore-mentioned Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Robert Fripp), Dylan Ryan/Sand has a strong appeal - yet, one can not and should not ignore the jazz feel that infuses this session.  Highly recommended!  For more information, go to

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Plethora of Live Dates + Music in Bloom

The Uncertainty Music Series, curated by bassist-composer Carl Testa, presents an intriguing double-bill on Thursday February 7 at an even more intriguingly named venue, Taco Hut HQ, 265 Orange Street in New Haven. Scheduled to perform is the duo of Jessica Pavone (pictured left, violin and voice) and C.J. Boyd (bass and voice) along with An Historic Trio, the ensemble composed of Testa (bass), Adam Matlock (accordion, voice) and Brian Slattery (violin).  Ms. Pavone, who is often performing in ensembles featuring guitarist Mary Halvorson and Professor Anthony Braxton, first came to critical notice while performing with the Middletown Creative Orchestra.  This show, the first in a 12-day tour that goes throughout New England into Quebec Province and New York state, features original music described by Ms. Pavone as "songs about deception, malleability and the drama of the underworld." Music commences at 8 p.m.  For more information, go to

This Friday (2/08), the Hartford Symphony Orchestra presents another installment of its popular "Jazz and Strings" series at 8 p.m. in the Theater of the Performing Arts at the Learning Corridor359 Washington Street in Hartford. This time around, it's "Fusion! Wes Montgomery with Strings" featuring the rhythm section of Gene Bozzi (artistic director, drums), Edward Rozie (acoustic bass) and Walt Gwardyak (piano, arrangements) with special guest Mike Stern (guitar - pictured left) performing music that Montgomery recorded in 1963 for the Prestige Lp that bears the name of the concert.  Also scheduled to perform will be the String section from the HSO as well as a select group of guitarists from high schools in the greater Hartford area. For ticket information, call 860-244-2999 or go online to   

Also on Friday, The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, welcomes Israeli-born pianist/composer Alon Nechustan for an 8 p.m. concert.  Joining him will be bassist Ehud Ettun and drummer Shareef Taher.  Nechustan (pictured left) moved to New York City in 2003 and has played with bassist Ben Allison, drummer Bob Moses, trumpeter Frank London, fellow Israelis Anat Cohen and Assaf Tsahar.  He is also a member of the group TALAT, a quintet that has recorded a CD for the Tzadik label.  His most recent recording, "Words Beyond" (Buckyball Music), is a trio CD that features the dynamic rhythm section of Francois Moutin (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums) - read my review here.  Expect an evening of exciting original music.  For ticket information, go to; to find out more about Alon Nechustan, go to   

The "Improvisations" series at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street in Hartford, is now in its 2nd year and more exciting than ever.  Organized by Stephen Haynes (alto horn, cornet, soprano cornet) and Joe Morris (guitar, bass), the series has shone its light on a goodly number of excellent creative musicians.  The music is an unscripted conversation among friends, interactions that range from fiery exchanges to hushed tones.  This Sunday (2/10), percussionist, trombonist and composer Tyshawn Sorey (2011 graduate of the Masters Program in Music at Wesleyan) joins Messrs. Haynes and Morris for the latest installment.  Sorey plays in numerous ensembles, ranging from the Paradoxical Frog trio to the Fieldwork trio with saxophonist Steve Lehman and pianist Vijay Iyer to his own quintet, Oblique.  This looks to be an excellent collaboration and, if you like improvised music, this is a 3 p.m. show on Sunday - for more information, call RAW at 860-232-1006 or go online to

Composer-arranger Asuka Kakitani formed her Jazz Orchestra in 2006 and the 18-piece ensemble has been playing her music in venues around New York City ever since.  The Japanese native, the wife of composer-arranger-conductor J.C. Sanford, has won numerous commissions.  She studied with Mike Abene and Jim McNeely at the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop.  Her debut CD, "Bloom" (Nineteen-Eight Records), is now out and it's a stunning set of original works that draws the listener in with its lovely melodies, handsome arrangements and captivating musicianship.  With 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, guitar, piano, bass, drums and voice, one can hear a connection to the music of Maria Schneider and back to Bob Brookmeyer but also to Toshiko Akiyoshi and Gil Evans. 

One can hear Ms. Schneider's influence on tracks such as "Islands in the Stream", with its flowing melody lines and in the way the rhythm section interacts with the reeds and brass. It's also evident in the manner in which the soloists are framed, often rising out of the rhythm section with colors added as the solo progresses.  Yet, Ms, Kakitani's reshaping of Kozaburo Hirai's melody "Dragonfly Glasses" is a wonderful blend of Eastern harmonies and the feel of American blues  Pete McCann's electric guitar lines push at the foundation of the composition and set up the moving alto saxophone solo of Ben Kono. The work of bassist Dave Ambrosio and drummer Mark Ferber (his ability to work with groups large and small should not be overlooked) really drives this and other pieces.  In the quiet moments at the onset of the title track (which opens the program), the rhythm section is hushed yet still pushing the music forward.  The colors of the various reeds (saxophones, clarinets and flutes) are a major factor in how Ms. Kakitani builds this music.  When she adds in the brass on pieces such as "Bumblebee Garden", the music swells with being swollen.  On that piece, the solo section features forceful trombone work from Matt McDonald and a impressionistic wordless vocal from Sara Serpa.  
Ms. Serpa leads the way into "Skip", the final cut of the 8 on the CD, with a sweetly shaped melody line that leads to a statement from Mark Small (tenor saxophone) before the ensemble works in and around the rising rhythms.  

There are so many excellent solo statements in this program that it's hard not to mention each one but you really should discover them for yourself. However, one that stands out is the brilliant bass clarinet work of Kenny Berger on "Opened Opened", Ms. Kakitani's arrangement of a Japanese traditional melody.

"Bloom" is music for those moments when the listener wants to relax and get lost in the magic of creativity.  Asuka Kakitani's music does not attack one but takes hold of the heart, soul and mind with such ease that the 75 minutes move by quickly.  It's Ms. Kakitani's debut; this music seems so mature and rich, well worth your attention. For more information, go to

Friday, February 1, 2013

Prince of a Guy

Had the opportunity on Thursday (1/31) to chat with cornetist, composer, educator, arranger, and bicyclist Taylor Ho Bynum about his gig this Saturday (2/01) at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street in Hartford.  Dubbed the "Prince Project", Mr. Bynum and his ensemble will tackle 5 or 6 pieces from Mr. Roger Nelson, otherwise known as Prince.  Included in the ensemble is Kyoko Kitamura (vocals, piano), Jim Hobbs (alto saxophone), Nick Lloyd (yes, he of Firehouse 12, here on keyboards), Evan Patrick (guitar, vocals), Abraham Gomez-Delgado (voice, percussion), Stomu Takeishi (bass) and Pheroan akLaff (drums).  All the music comes from the period between 1982-1990) and will include an arrangement of "Crystal Ball" (an unreleased track.)

The music starts at 7:30 p.m. and will take place in the big lobby of RAW.  For more information, go to or call 860-232-1006. To find out more about the creative Taylor Ho Bynum, go to his website at  To hear a section of our chat, go to, click on the "On-Demand" button and search for "RBK Taylor Ho."