Tuesday, November 25, 2014

November (Pt 1)

Depending on which hemisphere one lives in, November can be an awfully cruel month. The hours of daylight lessen, the winds often howl, snow and/or ice can surprise you at any time, and the prospect of 4-5 months like this weighs on some heavily.  Yet, there is the holiday season, opening in the United States with Thanksgiving and moving through until and after the New Year arrives.  The CDs and DVD below are excellent companions for the darker times.

Jason Yeager is an articulate pianist, an impressive composer, and yet another splendid graduate of the music programs at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA.  He also graduated from Tufts University with a B.A. in International Relations.  While at NEC, he studied with Danilo PĂ©rez, Fred Hersch, Jerry Bergonzi, Frank Carlberg, John McNeil, and Ran Blake. Since graduating, he has gone on to serve on the faculties of the Berklee School in Boston and the Varta Academy of Musical Arts in New York City. Yeager is also a busy sideman, working in numerous groups of all sizes.

"Affirmation" is the pianist's 2nd release on Inner Circle Music, the first being 2011's "Ruminations."  Recorded with his regular rhythm section of Danny Weller (bass) and Matt Rousseau (drums) - both NEC grads - the 12 tracks range from introspective ballads to playful uptempo romps.  Vocalist Aubrey Johnson (yes, an NEC grad as well) appears on 2 tracks including the lovely title track that closes the program, a piano/wordless vocal duet that contains shades of Norma Winstone's work with pianist John Taylor.  Ms. Johnson joins the Trio for a lovely take on John Lennon's "Julia", the only Beatle song that Lennon recorded all by himself. While this version hews closely to the original, the piano solo stretches out while Weller plays counterpoint and Rousseau quietly stays on the beat.  

Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger (NEC grad, too) adds his lyrical playing to "Smiled First", his sometimes deliberate, other times sprightly phrases wrapping around the active bass and drums.  Yeager is an impressive accompanist throughout the program; here, his full chordal backing beneath the tenor sax really fills out the sound.  That 4-some stretches to 5 with the addition of trumpeter Jean Caze (a graduate of both the Manhattan School of Music and the graduate program at Florida State University) for the dancing "Keep The Fire."  Rousseau's driving percussion and Weller's melodic bass lines propel the piece forward.  Caze switches to flugelhorn for the handsome ballad "Aurora", a smartly constructed piece (dedicated to the victims and families of the tragic events in both Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut), is a beautiful melody that is both impressionistic and elegiac without being treacly. 

The Trio tracks all stand out, from the Thelonious Monk-like "Blues for Billy P" to the gentle medium tempo "Achi" to the pianist's adaptation of Olivier Messiaen's "Dance of Fury, For the Seven Trumpets" (from the composer's prisoner-of-war composition "Quartet for the End of Time".)  That last track includes more impressive interplay and a great sense of urgency.  "Twelve Etude" is a dedication to percussion master Jerry Leake, with all 3 musician sharing percussive lines and melodic phrases.  

"Affirmation" sparkles with intelligence and impressive musicianship; the Jason Yeager Trio plus guests never substitute technique for talent and these 12 tracks  This music gives off a warmth that can transcend any dark day or night.  For more information, go to www.jasonyeager.com

"Post No Bills" is the 4th recording pianist and composer Greg Reitan has recorded for the Sunnyside label as well as the 4th to feature his Trio of bassist Jack Daro and drummer Dean Koba.  From their initial collaboration, 2009's "Some Other Time", it's been clear that these 3 musicians interact on an intuitive level and have built a strong union.

This new recording features 10 tracks, 3 Reitan originals and the rest a fascinating blend of standards and pieces by fellow pianists (but nothing by Bill Evans - perhaps that's what the name of the CD refers to?)  The program opens with Keith Jarrett's "The Mourning of  Star"  (from the pianist's 1971 Lp of the same name). Reitan and company speed up the piece a bit  yet do a fine job interpreting the melody, a blend funky phrases and long flowing lines.  There's a pleasing rendition of Joe Sample's soulful "One Day I'll Fly Away", a emotionally rich "Lonely Woman" (the Horace Silver composition) and whisper-soft yet forceful take on Denny Zeitlin's "After The War" (from that composer's 1965 "Carnival" Lp).  Chick Corea's "Windows" rounds the pieces by composer/musicians who are influences in Reitans approach to Trio playing as wells his compositional style. The Corea piece gives the Trio the opportunity to stretch out and swing which they do quite nicely.

The oft-recorded "Stella By Starlight" opens with a blues-drenched unaccompanied bass solo then bursts into an energetic take on the piece (including a lively spot for drummer Koba). The Trio then delivers a soft and emotional take of "I Loves You, Porgy", a track that contains, arguably, the pianist's most melodic solo on this disk.

The 3 Reitan originals range from the inspired 2-sectioned title track (an impressionistic piano solo opening followed by a jaunty Trio romp) to the bluesy "Spring" (excellent bass solo after an animated piano solo) to the handsome "Solitude" that closes the program. Again, bassist Daro delivers a strong solo before Reitan's lively solo belies the song's title and thematic material.

"Post No Bills" may actually remind listeners of the Bill Evans Trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, especially in the way Greg Reitan utilizes the melodic strengths of Jack Daro and steady support of Dean Koba.  This is a recording where melody reigns supreme and where the Greg Reitan asks nothing more than you sit and enjoy their play.  For more information, go to www.gregreitan.com.

Here's the Trios take on the Keith Jarrett song:

I treated myself to a copy of "Arrows Into Infinity", the new ECM DVD that serves as a musical biography of saxophonist, composer and spiritual seeker Charles Lloyd. The film, created by Lloyd's long-time partner Dorothy Darr and producer/co-editor Jeffery Morse, is an overview of Lloyd's life, starting from his youth in Memphis, Tennessee, to his musical adventures with Chico Hamilton and the Adderley Brothers and them onto his long and varied solo career. Interviews with Jack DeJohnette, Michael Cuscuna, Robbie Robertson, John Densmore (of The Doors) and Staney Crouch help shed light on his Atlantic years while Blue Note-head Don Was joins to talk about the albums before Lloyd went into seclusion.  There are great videos from the earlier days as well as Lloyd's honest assessment of why he stepped away.  It was at the prodding of the late pianist Michel Petrucciani that Lloyd began to move back into the world of performance in 1981 and played/recorded in a quartet with Buster Williams, Cedar Walton and Billy Higgins in 1983.  

In 1989, Lloyd joined forces with pianist Bobo Stenson and began his tenure with ECM Records that now includes 16 CDs.  With the help of Indian philosophy and meditation as well as the love and support of Ms. Darr), the saxophonist continues to play with great creativity, serving as a mentor to younger musicians such as Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland (all members of his current Quartet).  There are long stretches of performances with that group (and earlier ones) plus the Sangam trio with tabla master Zakir Hussain and Harland.  There is a lovely tribute to master Billy Higgins and a meeting with Ornette Coleman.  Surprising to me, there is no mention of his near-contemporaries of the tenor saxophone, Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins (although one can read articles of his great respect and admiration for both men.)

One moment of the film stands out for me and that is Alicia Hall Moran's stunning rendition of "Go Down Moses", recorded live in concert at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, (where I live). I was lucky enough to be in attendance that night and have always felt that Ms. Moran's vocal was the emotional highpoint of a great performance.  I'm happy to see it here and relive that moment again.

Charles Lloyd does not rest on his laurels, continuing to play and grow, to mentor musicians around the world and to keep on bringing light to an increasingly darker world.  "Arrows Into Infinity" will please his fans and help newer converts understand why those of us who first discovered his music in the 1960s are still listening intently and with great joy.  For more information, go to www.ecmrecords.com/Catalogue/ECM_Cinema/5052_DVD.php.

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