Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Something Old, Something New, Something Live + Selected Shorts

As I write this, the 2013 New Haven Jazz Festival (8/12-8/18) is in full flight with, at least, 4 events every night through Saturday (and one on Sunday.)  The schedule is listed here - - but here is one modification to the schedule.  On Thursday August 15, the Carl Testa Trio show at Project Storefronts has now become the Carl Testa & Mike McGinnis Duo at 7 p.m. in the same venue, located at 756 Chapel Street.  The bassist (pictured above) has organized a set list that features compositions from his 2008 CD, "Uncertainty", plus new compositions.  Clarinetist McGinnis, who will have 2 new CDs out in October, is a busy musician working with the four bags, OK|OK, and various other ensembles.  The event is free and open to the public.  Click on the link above for more information.

Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven (and Mr. Testa's place of employment), announced its Fall 2013 Concert Series this week and, no surprise, it's a doozy. Opening on Friday September 13 (the evening of Kol Nidre leading into Yom Kippur - now, some of us will have another reason to atone) with Gerald Cleaver & Black Host, the series also includes, among others, the David Binney Group (9/20), Claudia Quintet (10/04), Tim Berne's Snakeoil (10/11), Stephan Crump's Rosetta Trio (11/1), Jamie Baum's Sextet (11/15), Chris Dingman's The Subliminal and The Sublime (11/22), Ralph Peterson Fo'Tet Augmented (12/06) and closing with bassist Mark Dresser's Quintet featuring saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. 14 concerts on 14 consecutive Fridays makes for an excellent season.  And, ticket prices have not gone up! To find out more, go to

By the time pianist Paul Bley recorded "Closer" (ESP-Disk, remastered in 2013) with bassist Steve Swallow (playing acoustic bass in 1965) and drummer Barry Altschul, he was well into the second decade of his now 60+year career.  Recorded 2 months after "Barrage" (his debut in ESP) and the now-famous "October Revolution in Jazz" 4-day festival organized by Bill Dixon in New York City, "Paul Bley Trio: Closer" is an intimate recording, 10 songs in less than 29 minutes, 7 composed by ex-wife Carla Bley and one each by Annette Peacock (whom he married the following year), Ornette Coleman and, a rarity, one by the pianist himself.

Despite (or, perhaps, because of) the brevity of the pieces, this music is quite impressive. Opening with Ms. Bley's "Ida Lupino" and its handsome melody, one can hear this recording as a 3-way conversation.  The pianist and Swallow work well together while Altschul often is the driving force. He and Bley connect on "Starter", imbuing the music with a nervous energy that is also evident on Coleman's "Crossroads".  The funky-yet-"free" "Cartoon" has the feel of a Tom & Jerry animated short, a chase around the studio with the Trio pursuing each other with glee.

This re-mastered edition comes just 5 years after the recording's previous reissue but one will notice how good the sound is, especially the depth of Steve Swallow's acoustic bass.  Paul Bley, who turns 81 in November, has made many recordings over the decades but few more appealing than "Closer." For more information, go to

Gary Burton celebrated his 70th birthday in January of this year but shows no sign of slowing down. He's been an active musician since 1960 (his first session as a leader was released in 1961) and also spent 33 years on the faculty and administration of the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, retiring in 2003.  Since then, he has busy touring as a leader as well as in duos with Chick Corea and Makoto Ozone. In 2011, the vibraphonist created The New Gary Burton Quartet, featuring guitarist Julian Lage (who first recorded with Burton as a 16-year old), bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchez. That year, the ensemble released its debut CD, "Common Ground" on Mack Avenue and, now in 2013, they return with their second release for the Michigan-based label, "Guided Tour."

Each member contributes, at least, 1 original to the 10-song program.  They also do a rousing version of Fred Hersch's "Jackalope" and a lovely take on the ballad "Once Upon A Summertime" (composed by Johnny Mercer, Michel Legrand and Eddie Barclay).  Burton, who has always had a knack for finding great young musicians, has found a gem with Lage.  The guitarist, who turns 26 on Christmas Day, is not only a smart and melodic soloist but also an intelligent accompanist.  His acoustic work is striking, with phrases that blend blues, jazz and folk styles, often within the same solo.  And he spurs Burton on to really let loose.  The drive the Quartet displays on tracks such as Sanchez's "Caminos" and "Monk Fish", Lage's "The Lookout" and "Sunday's Uncle" and the Hersch track, is irresistible, hearkening back to the leader's recordings on ECM with Mick Goodrick, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow and Bob Moses.  Burton contributes 2 originals, the emotionally and musically rich tribute to Astor Piazzola, "Remembering Tano" and the finely constructed "Jane Fonda Rides Again." The rhythm section of Colley and Sanchez shines throughout, the melodic work of the bassist and poly-rhythmical approach of the drummer equal in importance to the success of this music.  Colley's original offering, "Legacy", is a lovely ballad, with the bassist's low notes reverberating beneath the solos and the shimmering cymbals.

"Guided Tour" is quite the trip and one well-worth taking. The New Gary Burton Quartet is impressive without being "showy" (although Sanchez's drum solo on "Helena" is very high-energy)
and this new CD a welcome addition to the leader's impressive discography.  For more information, go to  The NGBQ starts a 4-week tour on September 12 in Washington, D.C., a venture that will take them to a 6-night gig at the Blue Note in New York City, the Universities of Connecticut and Rhode Island, and ending with a date at the University of Pennsylvania on October 6. Check the website for more venues.
In keeping with what looks to be a theme in this series of reviews (older musicians with new recordings or a re-issue), 82-year old Kenny Burrell has a new CD (recorded when he was a spry 81-year old) - "Special Requests (and Other Favorites): Live at Catalina's" (HighNote) is the document of one impressive evening of music at the Hollywood, California, club.  Joining the guitarist is Justo Almario (tenor saxophone, flute), Tom Ranier (piano), Tony Dumas (acoustic bass) and Clayton Cameron (drums) for a genial and musical journey through the Burrell "playbook." Opening with a medium-tempo stroll through Benny Golson's funky "Killer Joe" and featuring 3 pieces by Edward Kennedy Ellington (including Duke's "The Feeling of Jazz" with the guitarist taking the lead vocal), the recording is easy to listen to but not "easy listening". Burrell can still "swing" with the best of them, as he displays on such pieces as "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Generation" (composed by Llew Matthews) and his ballad is quite strong, especially on the fine readings of "The Summer Knows" (where he plays acoustic guitar) and Duke's "In a Sentimental Mood."  Closing the program is the bluesy Burrell original "Chitlins Con Carne" that includes a wonderful unaccompanied guitar solo that displays that Kenny Burrell still can "stand and deliver."

The work of Almario and Ranier is impressive throughout while the rhythm section is solid and swinging (bassist Dumas has a resume a mile long and is his usual strong presence) - when you put Kenny Burrell in the front of this group, "Special Requests" is a special event.  For more information about the guitarist's CDs for HighNote Records, go to

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