Monday, October 21, 2013

Buttonwood and Firehouse Live + on CDs

The John Funkhouser Trio - Mr. Funkhouser (piano, keyboards), Greg Loughman (acoustic bass), and Mike Connors (drums) - return to The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown.   This is the band's 3rd appearance in the last 2 years; this time, they are celebrating the release of "Still" (Jazsyzygy Records), the JFT's 3rd release and first in 4 years.

If you have ever seen and heard this ensemble (pictured left) in person, you know how much energy they bring to a live show.  Yes, they each have technique to burn (and, there are moments when they let it rip) but are also extremely musical.  The material on the new CD ranges from a Latin-inspired romp through Thelonious Monk's "Little Rootie Tootie" to a blues-drenched rendition of "House of the Rising Sun" (featuring a long but emotionally rich bass solo from Loughman) to a long and satisfying journey through the Rodgers/Hart standard "My Romance."  There are also 5 Funkhouser originals including the often fiery opener "Indigo Montoya's Great Escape" (named for the pianist's cat) to the multi-sectioned "The Deep"(1 of 3 tracks featuring guitarist Phil Sargent and 1 of 2 featuring the wordless vocals of Aubrey Johnson). Ms. Johnson also appears on "Leda", a ballad that turns up-tempo, propelled by Connors' splendid drum work. The CD closes with the haunting and mysterious title track; it features a fine bass solo, a hint of George Harrison's "Within You, Without You" in the melody line, atmospheric guitar, more splendid drum work and a mesmerizing piano solo.

The John Funkhouser Trio is, often, wildly inventive and great fun to watch and listen to - they can also play with grace and sweetness.  The Buttonwood gig starts at 8 p.m. this Saturday (10/26).  Go to for more information and to reserve a seat (or 2).  To learn more about Mr. Funkhouser and his talented comrades, go to  

Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, is in the midst of a fascinating season.  Last week (10/18), the Elm City venue welcomed trumpeter/composer Amir ElSaffar and his splendid quintet (Dan Weiss, John Escreet, Ole Mathisen and Dave Ambrosio - wow, did they rock the performance space!) - this week, the spotlight turns to bassist/composer James Ilgenfritz and his splendid band, a quartet that features Angelika Niescier (saxophone), Andrew Drury (drums) and the amazing Denman Maroney (piano). The band's debut CD, "MIND GAMeS", was issued in 2012 on OutNow Records.  The music created by the quartet is built upon their interactions, their innate ability to act upon and/or react to what each one is playing.  Ilgenfritz is no stranger to challenges, having recorded a solo bass CD of Professor Anthony Braxton's large group compositions.

This adventurous quartet plays 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for ticket information, go to
To learn more about James Ilgenfritz and his music, go to

Firehouse 12 Records has just issued "Life Carries Me This Way", a collection of solo piano pieces performed by Myra Melford and inspired by the paintings of her family's life-long friend, Don Reich (1931-2010).  Reich, a native of California and long-time resident of Sacramento, responded to Ms. Melford's request for a stack of drawings and paintings for her to interact with and create a series of compositions.  The pieces took some time to come to life but the results are remarkable.  Some of the credit must go to label head/recording engineer/mixer and mastering engineer Nick Lloyd who also co-created the packaging with his wife Megan Craig.  Each of the paintings that inspired the music is included in the booklet as is a short essay from Ms. Melford and a longer look at the painter from his friend, Charles Johnson, the former art critic for the Sacramento Bee.

Then, there is the music.  Contemplative, rhythmical, challenging, lyrical, often enthralling, every piece makes sense to the listener when looking at the painting that inspired the music. The gentle sounds of "Japanese Music" follows the patterns in the painting, perhaps an overcast day with mist leaving shapes on the windows of the studio.  The angular melodic fragments and changes in rhythm of "Piano Music" may be inspired by the different sections of the painting that inspired it, images and colors that flow into each other.  "Moonless Night", the painting, features unconnected body parts, Picasso-like, while the music is straight-forward, melodic, minimal left-hand accompaniment, slow, stark, with quiet strength. "Still Life", the exquisite melody that closes the program, is breath-taking in its emotion and execution; the music resonates in your heart and mind long after the final notes fade.

You should discover this music for yourself, creating your own responses to the art of both Don Reich and Myra Melford.  If you have paid any attention to her music, you already know Ms. Melford takes no short-cuts, does not play "down" to her audience, but does allow her muse to carry her "this way" and "that way." "Life Carries Me This Way" is, simply put, essential listening, timeless and richly rewarding.  For more information, go to and to

Don't forget to look on the right of this column where you will see that "The Jazz Session" is back in business.  Thanks to his many supporters, host/interviewer Jason Crane is back doing what he has done so well in the past, speaking with many of the people who create the music that many of us live to listen to.  Two shows a month for the foreseeable future and you can still become a supporter.  Click on one of the shows to listen and find out more.  Welcome back, Jason!

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