Pianist, composer, and educator Frank Carlberg, is also the founder of Red Piano Records. Based in Brooklyn, NY, the label has issued a number of impressive CDs over the past 5+ years, many of which feature Carlberg as leader, co-leader or ensemble member. His own projects are often built around poets, i.e. 2009's "The American Dream", the poems of Robert Creeley set to the pianist's original melodies. His most constant co-conspirators are his wife Christine Correa (vocals) and Michael Sarin (drums).
Both are featured on his latest project. "Word Circus" sets the words of 4 contemporary poets - Ken Mikolowski, Joe Elliot,Anselm Berrigan, and Ron Padgett - to an impressive group of melodies. Rounding out the group are bassist Pascal Niggenkemper and alto saxophonist John Gallagher. There is a minimalist feel to Mikolowki's "Things to Do in a Economic Crisis"; in fact, the title is longer than the body of the poem which reads "Buy low/Sell high." The music is much more expansive, the funky melody and rhythms supporting Ms. Correa as she plays with the title and the 4 words. O'Gallagher and Carlsberg share the solo space, pushed along by the forceful rhythms. Mikolowoski also wrote "Ecology", a ballad on which Ms. Correa caresses the short free-form verse that reads "Some day soon nothing will be made out of wood not even trees." The interaction of the music starts quietly but slowly picks up during the piano solo, a lengthy excursion during which Carlberg moves farther and farther away from the original melody. The blend of the wordless vocal and O"Gallagher's supporting alto sax lines creates great tension that Sarin picks up on and expands upon before the short, quiet, coda that returns to the poem. (The 10 tracks on Carlberg's 2013 CD "Big Enigmas" all use Mikolowski's poems for its lyrics).
The 2 shortest tracks, "On Some Level" and "Lullaby", both utilize poems by Ron Padgett. The former has a pleasing melody, an honest message and a wonderful counter melody played by O'Gallagher winding in and out of the vocal. "Lullaby" has a similar melody line with ethereal sounds from the saxophone, a musical forest one might encounter in a dream. The trance-like piano figures and skittering drum sounds (floor toms, snare and cymbals) set a mysterious path for the alto sax and wordless vocal to follow; soon, Ms. Correa returns to the text and the story comes together.
If we use the British meaning of circus (anopencircle,square,orplazawhere severalstreetsconverge), it helps to bring "Word Circus" into better focus. The different "avenues" of voice, words, melody, and musical interpretation do converge into an "aural" plaza that feels, at times, comfortable and a bit unsettling. The "poetry projects" of Frank Carlberg may remind some of the work Steve Kuhn and Sheila Jordan created for ECM (specifically 1979's "Playground") and that's fine - the music has much to offer, returning to your mind at all times of day like a slowly unraveling puzzle.
For his debut album as a solo artist, pianist, organist, and composer Dan Kaufman has created a most comfortable setting for his original music. With the splendid rhythm section of drummer Jonathan Blake and bassist Matt Clohesy (several tracks feature percussionist Keita Ogawa) plus the expressive work of Sam Sadigursky (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Gilad Hekselman (guitar), Kaufman creates 8 portraits of contemporary music that easily transport the listener beyond the mundane.
While living in Boston, MA, Kaufman studied with Danilo Perez and Fred Hersch (it's hard not to recognize the work these 2 men have done with a number of young pianists on the scene) at the New England Conservatory and recorded/worked with the Either/Orchestra, Miguel Zenon and drummer Bob Moses. Graduate work at the Julliard School brought him into the teaching sphere of Kenny Barron and then onto work and/or recordings with trumpeter Dominick Farinacci, trombonist Nick Vayenas, bassist Ben Wolfe, as well as saxophonists Wayne Escoffery and Donald Harrison. He has worked with vocalists such as Nneena Freelon, Kevin Mahogony and Gretchen Parlato.
All of that education and training doesn't amount to much (other than an impressive resumé) if one's music does not move the listener. Kaufman wisely titled debut CD "Familiar Places" because it does displays his talents as a composer and performer while illustrating how he has already begun the (life-long) process of moving away from his influences. On certain levels, the music is "familiar" in its song forms and melodies that allude to Messrs. Hersch, Barron and Keith Jarrett. What stands out is the work of the musicians, the rhythmic attack and the gentle colors created by Blake, the lively interplay of piano with saxophone and guitar, and Kaufman's expressive piano. Hear how he floats atop the rhythm section on "Dew Eye" and creates a chordal cushion for both the guitar and saxophone. "Kuumba" suggests an African excursion such as the ones created by Abdullah Ibrahim and Randy Weston yet the "lighter-than-air" quality of the piano chords, the lilting lines of soprano sax, gentle melody from the guitar as well as the excellent work from Blake, Ogawa and Clohesy in creating the "bounce" makes the music shine brightly. "Cross Check" suggests both the late Allen Toussaint and the long-running New Orleans-based group Astral Project in its funky attack; dig the overdubbed Hammond B-3 solo, the sweeping guitar sounds and the sweet soprano sax lines.
Cornelia Street Cafe
There is a grace and maturity in the handsome ballad "Falling Petals" plus fine bass work, a gentle piano solo, and an expansive, emotionally rich, tenor sax statement. When you return to listen again, pay close attention to how Blake maneuvers so freely beneath the rest of the band. His drive and delivery on the title track makes the music sound new, refreshing and challenges his musical companions to play with similar intent and creativity.
By the time the listener reaches the final track, "Farmington", one should feel comfortable following the musicians wherever they take the music. The sound is expanded to allow the organ to rise out of the rhythm section, for the "gospel" chords from the piano serve as counterpoint to the guitar sounds, and for the drummer to create his own storm that passes like a late summer shower.
Dan Kaufman, along with producer and fellow pianist Randy Ingram, have created a aural document of an artist spreading his creative wings, enjoying his opportunity and getting the best from his fellow participants. "Familiar Places" has been in rotation on my trips to and from school for the past 2 months, the music filling the car with its joyous noise and seemingly putting color back into the late autumn/early winter skies.
Been a while since I've checked in with Taylor Ho Bynum, the trumpeter, cornetist, composer, arranger, educator, essayist, head of the Tri-Cenrric Foundation, and all-around good person. During his years at Wesleyan (mid-1990s and mid-2000s), I saw and heard him on numerous occasions as a bandleader, participant, and conceptualist. I've interviewed him on the radio several times, reviewed his albums, and almost always enjoyed the challenging music he's created over the past 2 decades.
I was thrilled to read that Taylor has a new project that will feature his music played by a very large ensemble, the 15-member PlusTet. He's currently in the midst of funding the project with plans to record on 1/11-12/2016 - go to www.indiegogo.com/projects/taylor-ho-bynum-s-plustet-dream-band#/ to find out more - and become part of the support group. Depending on what level you choose, you can receive a CD, attend a studio performance/recording session at the Firehouse 12 warehouse space in New Haven, CT, receive additional CDs from THB's impressive output, and even sit and sup with the ensemble prior to the performance.
Check out the list of band members (5 of whom, marked with an *, are seated above THB in the photo), a cross section of of collaborators past and present; scheduled to record and perform are Nate Wooley (trumpet), Stephanie Richards (trumpet), Vincent Chancey (french horn), Steve Swell (trombone), *Bill Lowe (bass trombone, tuba), *Jim Hobbs (alto sax), Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax), Matt Bauder (tenor and baritone sax), Jason Kao Hwang (violin, viola), Tomeka Reid (cello), Jay Hoggard (vibraphone), *Mary Halvorson (guitar), *Ken Filiano (bass), and *Tomas Fujiwara (drums). You can see from the personnel listed above why Taylor is so excited to play and perform. Check out the website listed for more information and, to learn more about the young man with the horn, go to taylorhobynum.com.
The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme reopens its door this Saturday night (1/02/16) and the first concert for the New Year is going to be quite the show. Trumpeter Wallace Roney brings a fine Quintet, an ensemble that includes the great drummer Lenny White and impressive pianist Anthony Wolsey. Rounding out the group will be bassist Rahsaan Carter and the fine young saxophonist Benjamin Solomon. Mr. Roney has been a force on the contemporary music for 3 decades and has long outgrown the label of being a clone of Miles Davis. His ballad work is exemplary plus he knows hows to drive a band. For the last 10 years or so, he has been leading various sized ensembles and recording with them on the High Note label.
The Wallace Roney Quintet takes the stage at 8:30 p.m. For more information and a look at The Side Door's impressive upcoming schedule, go to thesidedoorjazz.com. You can also call them at 860-434-0886.
Since I began teaching in 2010, the last 4 months (or the Fall semester) has become a blur of classes, papers, presentations and grading. While I still write, the time I usually spend reviewing has dried up. I still listen to plenty of music and, over the next several weeks of posting, I will catch up on recordings that have captured my attention and deserve yours.
Trombonist, composer and arranger Robin Eubanks has been a vital member of the creative musician for over 3 decades. Along with his brothers Kevin (guitar) and Duane (trumpet), he makes music that cross various genres and border. He is an integral member of several of bassist Dave Holland's ensembles (including his big band) and is in his 8th season with the SF Jazz Collective. "More Than Meets The Ear" (ArtistShare) is the initial recording of his Mass Line Big Band, a 17-member ensemble (plus 2 guests) that, thanks to support from Oberlin College (he's on the music faculty), the Arthur and Charlotte Zitrin Foundation and ArtistShare participants, explores arrangements of music Eubanks composed for Holland and SF Jazz.
If you know anything about his music, you'll know he loves odd time signatures and over to make them swing. The crisp arrangements and twisting melody lines leave plenty of room for solos and, while trombonist takes the spotlight on all 9 cuts, he is generous in the solo room for others. The rhythm section includes Glenn Zaleski (piano), Boris Kozlov (acoustic and electric bass) and the exciting Nate Smith (drums). There are 5 reed players including Antonio Hart (lead alto), Alex Cummings (alto and soprano), Marcus Strickland (tenor), Bobby LaVell (tenor) and Lauren Sevian (baritone, bass clarinet). The late Lew Soloff (in one of his last recording sessions) leads the trumpet section which also features brother Duane,Alex Sipiagin, and Aaron Janik while lead trombonist Jason Jackson presides over the section that also includes James Burton, Jennifer Wharton (who doubles on tuba), and Douglas Purviance (bass 'bone). Organist Mike King appears on 2 tracks, the sweet ballad "Bill and Vera" and the lowdown "Blues for Jimi Hendrix." On the latter track, as well as on several others, the leader plays his electronic trombone, an effect which, for me, is a bit overdone. Percussionist David Silliman also appears on a number of tracks and is especially effective on "A Seeking Spirit" and "Mental Images."
The arrangements throughout the program stand out for their start use of timbre, harmonies, and how the section blend their voices. "Yes We Can - Victory Dance", a piece Eubanks wrote after the election of Barack Obama, is so infectious. Latin rhythms set the pace, the celebratory melody weaves in and out of the sections while Smith and Silliman keep the piece bouncing forward. That "bounce" also enlivens "A Seeking Spirit", pushed forward by the montuno Zaleski plays and the conversational melody lines. Zaleski also stands out on the handsome, medium tempo, ballad "Full Circle", with a pretty solo that unwinds over the strong play of Kozlov (acoustic) and Smith. The band then kicks the piece into overdrive for the blazing tenor solo from Strickland. Soloff has his moment on the final track, the sprightly "Cross Currents", and he responds with his customary clarity and fire. Ms. Sevian follows and delivers a sweet baritone sax solo before Smith creates quite a powerful solo over a very smart arrangement.
After a number of listens, one can hear how the music Robin Eubanks has created for his Mass Line Big Band is more akin to the work of Arturo O'Farrill than to Maria Schneider. Rhythms are so important to this music; one not only hears that in the brilliant work of Nate Smith but in the lines Eubanks campuses for his sections. "More Than Meets The Ear" is truly exciting music.
For more information, go to robineubanks.com.
Here's a bit of video about the project:
Composer, arranger, conductor and sometimes pianist Miho Hazama leads a most interesting large ensemble. Dubbed Munit, tt's a 13-member group with a rhythm section but, instead of the typical saxophones and horns, there are 3 reed players and 2 brass plus a string quartet and vibraphone. Ms. Hazama's second CD, "Time River" (Sunnyside), is built along the same lines as her 2013 debut "Journey To Journey", expansive melodies (often multi-sectioned) with intelligent use of the strings. The new CD features a 3-person reed section (Cam Collins on alto sax and clarinet, Ryoji Ihara on tenor and soprano saxes plus flute, and Andrew Gatauskas on baritone sax and bass clarinet) and 2 brass players (Matthew Jodrell on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Adam Unsworth on French horn) plus the splendid string of violinists Joyce Hammann and Sara Caswell, violist Lois Martin and cellist Meaghan Burke. The rhythm section includes pianists Sam Harris (3 tracks), Alex Brown (4 tracks) and Ms. Hazama (2 tracks) plus Sam Anning (acoustic bass) and Jake Goldbas (drums). Rounding out the ensemble is vibraphonist James Shipp, an integral component of the music on the majority of tracks. Special guest Gil Goldstein's sweet accordion sounds take the lead on "Under The Same Moon" which opens up in its second half to include an exciting soprano sax solo from Ihara. The arrangement displays the influence of Maria Schneider, especially in the voicings for the brass and reeds.
The other special guest is Joshua Redman, who plays tenor and soprano saxes on the title track. The longest cut on the recording (at 10:26), the swirling melody lines open up to strong solos from Jodrell (flugelhorn) and Redman (with a tenor spot that, at its onset, reminds this listener of Wayne Shorter's take on Steely Dan's "Aja"). After the solo section, the ensemble returns then drops out to leave Redman and pianist Harris to have quite the conversation. The rest of the musicians return in full force as Redman soar above them (note the brilliant work of Goldbas as he pushes the music forward).
Other highlights include the perceptive arrangement of A Perfect Circle's "Magdalena" (the only non-original in the program). The piece swings lustily for the baritone solo of Gutauskas and rocks hard in support of the fiery tenor solo of Ihara. The interplay of vibes, strings and the rhythm section between the solos is really well-organized. The stop-and-start rhythms of "Dizzy Dizzy Wallflower" frames fine solos from Collins (alto sax) and Jodrell (trumpet) yet pay attention to the interludes which occur throughout, keeping the band and listeners on their toes. There's an mysterious yet comforting feel to "Alternate universe, was that real?", the swirling reeds and strings beneath the melody.
The 2 tracks, "Introduction" and "Fugue", with the leader on piano stand out as the reeds, brass and bass sit out. Goldbas support the strings as they dance through the melody lines and Ms. Hazama propels the music forward. There are numerous striking moments, such as the impressive drum openings and when the strings literally fling the melody line one-by-one near the close of "Fugue".
I did not hear Ms. Hazama's debut CD so "Time River" serves as my introduction to this young composer and arranger. If the first recording, which features many of the same musicians, is even close to the quality of the new one, Miho Hazama should have a wonderful career. This music is involving from beginning to end with musicians that give their all to this fine music.
Track one starts quietly, just the bass, and one must pay attention. The reward is in how the melody sounds likes a prayer, the pizzicato notes sustained. Soon the trumpet enters and another melody, one that complements and comments on the bass lines, takes shape. The bright clarity of the trumpet rises above then bends to join the frenetic bowing.
"Celestial Weather" (TUM Records), recorded in 2012, features the unique voices of Wadada Leo Smith and John Lindberg. Friends and musical partners (on-and-off) since 1977, the duo play 3 extended pieces, a pair of 2-part works (one composed by each musician) and the 5-part title "Suite" credited to the duo.
Opening with Smith's "Malachi Favors Maghostut - A Monarch of Creative Music", the music celebrates the contribution of the late bassist (1927-2004) who most know from his decades with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. He was such an elemental part of the early music from the AACM, his thick tones and his assured playing was more than an anchor but a guidepost for his fellow musicians. Here, Lindberg does not imitate his elder; this is both an elegy and an appreciation, a prayer and a sonic painting, reaching an exciting climax in a flurry of bowed tones.
The "Suite" lasts nearly 35 minutes, each section dedicated to bad weather. The artists use their poetic license to suggest a hurricane, to create a eulogy for a typhoon (great muted trumpet and expressive - often moaning bass lines), to intimate the danger of a cyclone, to wander through but not fear an icy fog, and, in a most impressive manner, paint the dangers and express the fearful wonder of chasing a tornado. It's true, the titles gives a guidepost to the listener and it's fun to match the sounds to the description but this is also music that involves one on so many ways.
photo by Lyn Horton
Both Wadada Leo Smith (his 74th birthday was a week before Christmas) and John Lindberg (56) have been creating impressive sounds together and separately since the 1960s and late '70s respectively. Their paths have crossed many times since their initial meeting as members of Anthony Braxton's Creative Orchestra (3 decades later, Lindberg replaced Favors in The Golden Quartet). On "Celestial Weather", their creative conversation continues in ways that defy labels, ignore cliches, and enrich our lives - like the poetry of William Carlos Williams, Phillip Levine and Claudia Rankine, the emotion and power in this duo music moves beyond borders, over fences and the barriers we erect and allow us to see further and hear deeply.
So much of American music is influenced by rhythms of the African diaspora, especially those developed in the Caribbean and South America. At this point in time, no one is more adept at capturing the attention of audiences around the US and world than arranger, composer, and pianist Arturo O'Farrill. In 2014, his brilliant CD "The Offense of the Drum" (Motema Music) was a musical history lesson filled with stories, rap, rhythm and great interplay. Later that year, O'Farrill and his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra were in Cuba preparing to record his latest project "Cuba: The Conversation Continues" (Motema Music) when President Obama announced the normalization of relationships between the island nation and the United States. The recording was made less than 48 hours later; the result is both a celebration of the musical heritage and a showcase for how the music has developed from the days when Xavier Cugat's Orchestra danced its way into the movies and nightclubs and Chano Pozo electrified audiences with Dizzy Gillespie.
Trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas had yet another busy musical year, culminating in a 4-day run at The Jazz Standard with his most recent Quintet. He had initially convened the group - Jon Irabagon (tenor sax), Matt Mitchell (piano), Linda Oh (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums) - to record "Be Still" (Greenleaf Music), an album dedicated to the trumpeter's mother with ballads and hymns she requested be play at her funeral (the album also included the vocals of Aoife O'Donovan). At the same time, the Quintet recorded "Time Travel", an impressive set of instrumental pieces. This year, the Quintet released "Brazen Heart", a collection of songs that not only point to the influence of Mies Davis's mid-1960s classic Quintet but incorporates rhythms and melodies that sound contemporary. The energy and musicality of this group is undeniable.
Speaking of busy people, guitarist, composer, engineer and mix Master Liberty Ellman issued his first recording in 9 years. "Radiate" features the talents of Stephan Crump (bass), Jose Davila (tuba, trombone), Damion Reid (drums), Steve Lehman (alto saxophone) and Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet). One hears a harder edge in the guitarist's playing than usually displayed on his work with Mr. Threadgill's Zooid and Mr. Crump's Rosetta Trio yet there is such an impressive soulfulness to his playing as well. The rhythm section of Davila, Crump and Reid is brilliant throughout plus the combination of Lehman and Finlayson adds spice to the overall sound. For more information, go to pirecordings.com/album/pi60.
Whereas Arturo O'Farrill has mined the traditions of the African diaspora and Dave Douglas has delved into the folk traditions of Appalachia, trumpeter, vocalist, composer and santur player Amir ElSaffar has explored his family's roots in Iraq. This year, Pi Recordings issued "Crisis", a stunning exploration of Middle Eastern music (no doubt influenced by the time the composer spent in Egypt and Lebanon in 2013 during the months of political and social upheaval. Composed for and performed by ElSaffar's Two Rivers Ensemble - Nasheet Waits (drums), Carlos DeRosa (bass), Tareq Abboushi (buzuq, a Persian string instrument related to the Greek bouzouki and Turkish saz), Zafer Tawil (oud, violin, qanun - a Persian zither - and Arab percussion), and Ole Mathisen (tenor saxophone), "Crisis" is filled with dazzling rhythms (Mr. Waits at his finest), splendid solos and emotionally rich vocals.
Over the course of 3 CDs, pianist and composer Jeremy Siskind has shown he is enamored of emotionally rich melodies, lyrical poetry, and connecting with audiences on a personal level. His latest album, "Housewarming" (BJU Records) features the trio of Siskind, Nancy Harms (vocals) and Lucas Pino (reeds) plus contributions from vocalists Kendra Shank, Kurt Elling and Peter Eldridge. The results are not only charming but also intelligent, mature, and intimate.
Guitarist Mary Halvorson seems to be as busy as Dave Douglas with her work as a bandleader plus her regular gigs with drummer Tomas Fujiwara, reed master Anthony Braxton, trombonist Jacob Garchik, bassist Michael Formanek and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock (I'm sure I missed a few). 2015 saw the release of Ms. Halvorson's first solo CD "Meltframe" (Firehouse 12 Records), a fascinating collection of songs and sounds that illuminates the guitarist's myriad influences and just how original her work is. There is intensity as well as gentleness on this program of standards (such as Duke Ellington's "Solitude" and McCoy Tyner's "Aisha") and works by her contemporaries (bassist Chris Lightcap and Noël Akchoté). For more information, go to firehouse12records.com/album/meltframe.
Since the days of Louis Armstrong 's youthful (and lifelong) infatuation with opera, contemporary musicians have turned to classical music for inspiration. Enter trumpeter Thomas Bergeron: his 2nd CD as a leader, "Sacred Feast" (self-released) blends the fertile imagination of Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) with Bergeron's own take on modern music. His ideas and sketches are interpreted by the fine ensemble of Satoshi Takeishi (drums, percussion), Michael Bates (acoustic bass). Hannah Collins (cello),Jason Ennis (guitar), vocalist Becca Stevens and the atmospheric accordion/piano of Vitor Gonçalves. The music is both intimate and expansive, leading the listener down unexpected yet entertaining paths. For more information, go to thomasbergeron.bandcamp.com/album/sacred-feast.
My students often point to artists such as Nas, Tupac Shakur, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar and tell me (rightfully) that these artists are contemporary social commentators. The link between the modern rappers and artists such as Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye (in his "What's Goin' On" days) was Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011) who sang about issues in the 1970s and 80s that still plague the United States to this minute. Vocalist Charenee Wade joined forces with producer Mark Ruffin plus the musical talents of Brandon McCune (piano), Dave Stryker (guitar), Lonnie Plaxico (bass) and Alvester Garnett (drums), plus guests vibraphonist Stefan Harris, Malcom-Jamal Warner (spoken word), Marcus Miller (bass clarinet) and especially Ms. Lakecia Benjamin (alto saxophone) to create "Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson" (Motema Music). This potent combination of musicality and poetry, honesty and lyricism breathes new life into the original versions plus illuminates the power of social commentary. The entire package is pulled together by Ms. Wade's dramatic, emotional and lyrical voice. For more information, go to chareneewade.bandcamp.com/releases.
I've been a fan of pianist David Berkman since I first heard him play on bassist Cecil McBee's 1997 Palmetto CD "Unspoken" - he's a lyrical, thoughtful, player who's not afraid to create emotional music as well as swing mightily (note his work with the New York Standards Quartet). His latest CD - a return to Palmetto - is "Old Friends and New Friends" features the fine ensemble of bassist Linda Oh, saxophonist (soprano, tenor) Dayna Stephens, Brian Blade (drums) saxophonists Adam Kolker (soprano, alto,and tenor plus clarinets) and Billy Drewes (alto, soprano). What I like as much as the melodic riches throughout program is how one hear that this band is having fun playing together. It's infectious and so enjoyable. For more information, go to davidberkman.com/music/old-friends-and-new-friends/.
It's a known fact that I love large ensembles and remain amazed how composers and arrangers can think and cat on such a large scale. Trombonist, composer and arranger Marshall Gilkes, who is a long-time member of the Maria Schneider Orchestra, spent a productive 4 years (2010-13) working with the WDR Big Band. In a wonderful parting gesture, the German organization invited him back in January of 2014 for a farewell concert. The resulting studio album, "Köln" (Alternate Side Records), shows both the talent of Mr. Gilkes and the versatility of the big band. While the music does have, at times, great power and swings with abandon, there are also many delicate passages and intelligent section voicings. For more information, go to marshallgilkes.bandcamp.com.
"The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern" (Columbia Records) is one of those 2015 releases I did not review yet this collaboration between Tony Bennett and pianist Bill Charlap has become an obsession. The ageless vocalist sounds like he's having a ball, complimented by Mr. Charlap (40 years his junior) whose elegant lyricism is combined with a wonderful penchant for swinging with abandon. 6 of the 14 tracks features musical "brothers" Kenny and Peter Washington (drums and bass) plus several cuts with Mr. Charlap's wife Renee Rosnes joining on piano. The pianos-only cuts are lovely in their intricate simplicity. Mr. Bennett rarely, if ever, wastes a note while the framework created by the pianists is always on point. In this time political intrigue and social unrest, Tony Bennett and Bill Charlap, with the words and music of Jerome Kern, remind us of the hope and longing that the great American songwriters of the early-to-mid-1900s brought to the public.
Yes, I missed some great releases but these 3 posts include ones that I keep returning to, finding much to enjoy each time the music flows through the speakers or headphones. One can argue that music business is in disarray but musicians seem to find a way to get their voices, instruments, and ideas heard.
Merry Christmas, Happy 2016, and let us continue to work towards peace. Thanks for reading.
No personal reflections this time, just continuing my survey of the music that moved me the most over the past 12 months. This part of the list included recordings I did not post reviews for.
Technically speaking, this album came out in late 2014 and technically speaking, it's quite brilliant. Over the past decade, Sam Newsome has concentrated his efforts on the soprano saxophone, releasing a series of solo albums that stand out for their brilliance, audacity, and sheer musicality. So it is with "The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation" (Some New Music), 21 tracks, many of them overdubbed, where the saxophonist creates percussion by clicking the keys in ways that suggest drum choirs. It was such fun to return to listen to this music again, fun to have one' breath taken away track after track.
Violinist, composer and arranger Tomoko Omura released "Roots" (Inner Circle Music) early in 2015 and the music resonates with me still. Employing a great ensemble including Glenn Zaleski (piano, keyboards), Colin Stranahan (drums), and Noah Garabedian (bass) plus guitarist Will Graefe on 8 tracks. Ms. Omura reimagines pieces from her native Japan in ways that honor their original intent while giving the new life. And, there is such of a sense of "serious play" on these cuts. For more information, go to www.tomokoomura.com.
The new recording from vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu is a dazzling display of creativity and musicality that also defies categorization. Let's just say you'll not hear a more dynamic and dramatic album than "Sounds and Cries of the World" (Pi Recordings) - you may hear some that are its musical equal (Mycale, Bjork) but not as powerful. She makes brilliant use of her band - Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Mat Maneri (viola), Thomas Morgan(bass) and Dan Weiss (drums) - while making you return time and again to hear how she uses her voice nd instruments. For more information, go to pirecordings.com/album/pi61.
Saxophonist and composer Ochion Volk and his Quartet - pianist Amino Belyamani (Dawn of Midi), bassist Sam Minaie (Tigran Hamasyan), and drummer Qasim Naqvi - released his 2nd CD this year and it's a jewel. The interplay of the musicians (guitarist Lionel Loueke appears on several cuts), the creativity of the compositions and fact that the musicians serve the music and not just show how well they can play, all that and more makes this a standout CD. I would love to hear this band live just to get lost in this creative experience. For more information, go to www.ochion.com.
The latest hit from alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa has its roots in 2 musical areas, those being the intricate rhythms of South Indian music and the saxophone language developed by Charlie Parker. Performed by a band that boasts the fiery rhythm section of François Moutin (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums - he shows up again below), the agile piano work of Matt Mitchell and the brilliant trumpet playing of Adam O'Farrill, this music is an often joyous blend of dexterity, rhythmic complexity and melodic playfulness.
Speaking of Mr. Royston, his work with tenor saxophonist JD Allen is how listeners first heard his dynamic drumming. After a pair of Quartet recordings, Mr. Allen returned to his Trio (bassist Gregg August is the important third member) he formed in 2007 to create "Graffiti", perhaps the bluesiest and most melodic recording he has released in his career. Yes, there's a bow to the classic Sonny Rollins Trio recordings of the 1950s but this recording serves to remind us of how revolutionary the elder tenor player was in his youth and this style is far from being tired and old.
Going back to listen to "Synovial Joints", the 2015 Pi Recordings album from Steve Coleman and the Council of Balance, I am reminded of how many different styles of music the alto saxophonist, composer and arranger dips into to create his music and just how seamlessly he does it. Utilizing the great rhythm section of Anthony Tidd (electric bass) and Marcus Gilmore (drums) plus the splendid voice of Jen Shyu (see above), trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, guitarist Miles Okazaki, a string quartet, 3 additional brass players, 3 additional reeds, and 3 percussionists, t is stunning how clean, clear, and insistent this music is.
In a world filled with masterful pianists, Fred Hersch is certainly one of the finest. Whether in front of his Trio or a larger ensemble, his lyricism and creativity is, at many turns, quite amazing. This year, he gave us "Solo" (Palmetto Records) and, once again, the listener is whisked away from the mundane and everyday to bask in the glow of a consummate performer. Whether it's his original music or one of his joyous forays into the land of Thelonious Monk, Mr. Hersch always gives the listener much to chew on.
Speaking of masterful pianists, Myra Melford dropped "Snowy Egret" (both the name of the group and its recording from ENJA) during the year. With a band that includes such great players as Ron Miles (trumpet), Liberty Ellman (guitar), Stomu Takeishi (bass guitar) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums), the composer gave us music that, like Mr. Coleman's and Ms Shyu's, is multi-directional, challenging and quite satisfying. For more information, go to www.myramelford.com.
No one was busier this year than pianist Matthew Shipp, showing up as a sideman on several CDs, co-leading others and releasing, arguably, his most impressive Trio recording in his career. "The Conduct of Jazz" (Thirsty Ear) is contemplative, feisty and filled with, at a number of turns, impressive interplay between the pianist, long-time associate Michael Bisio (bass) and the Trio's new member, drummer Newman Taylor Baker.
So much has happened on a public and personal level that there were stretches over the past 12 months when music took a back seat to life. Anyone who knows me realizes how hard it is for me to write those words because, for the vast majority of my 66+ years on this planet, music has always been front-and-center. Can't walk through our house without a CD on a table or desk, can't ride in my car without a pile of CDs to play (love those 6-disk changers!), and there is always a song running through my head.
But, 2015 was different. My teaching load was heavier but not so bad (plus I met some very smart and curious young people) and I actually stepped down from a part-time job. There were numerous health issues in the family, good friends moved and, invariably (as it happens when one ages), friends passed away.
After a particularly tough few weeks (in October), several new recordings wormed their way into my ears and the excitement returned. You'll see them listed below in this first set of "Best of 2015."Also, on the night of the Paris terrorist attacks, I saw and heard the Dave Douglas Brazen Heart quintet at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme; the power of the music, whether it was the gospel songs that were woven n and out of the 2 sets or the splendid interactions of the 5 musicians, gave me back a piece of my heart that is continuously torn away at by the horrendous stupidity and callous yet calculated disregard for human life and basic rights at home and around the world. Every semester, I ask my students "Can music change the world?", a question that begs to answered in the affirmative. I think many of them humor me by saying "Of course it does" but, in the long run, I fall back on telling them that music certainly changes the way I see the world, thereby avoiding the possibility of having them say "not really."
Well, these recordings brought me joy, often challenged my world views, made me sit down and take notice, and even gave a sense of peace (if only for a few hours at a time).
There is no one overall favorite but this group are the ones I returned to time and again.
Truth be told, I heard Henry Threadgill Zooid live at Wesleyan University several years ago playing a few pieces off of "In For a Penny, In for a Pound" (Pi Recordings) and was not blown away. Then the 2-CD set arrived this year and blew me away each time I listened. One really needs to sit and listen, to listen to the interactions, to the various melodies and counter-melodies that move through these 6 tracks to really take in the majesty of this project. This is just one of several recordings in this list that point to the ongoing work of the AACM, the Chicago-based organization that has been celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015.
Go to pirecordings.com/album/pi58.
Near the close of 2014, we got to hear David Bowie's collaboration with the Maria Schenider Orchestra, a dark-hued, sinister, piece titled "Sue (or In a Season of Crime"). Then in May of this year came "The Thompson Fields" (ArtistShare), a splendid collection of new pieces that feature her amazing ensemble and fine soloists (ArtistShare supporter also received 2 other tracks, making the entire album run nearly 90 minutes.) Cinematic in scope and poetic at heart, one is continually impressed by how much emotion and narrative the composer/arranger puts into her music.
In its 20th year, PosiTone Records released a slew of recordings, most, if not all, worth your time and money. The one that stood out most to me was "The Whisperer" from bassist/composer Ben Wolfe. With pianist Orrin Evans, drummer Donald Edwards and the very impressive Stacy Dillard (his soprano sax work stands out throughout the program), the program goes from strength to strength with nary a wasted moment. The quartet (or variations of the 4 participants) appeared twice in Connecticut around the time of the release and, not hard to believe, the music sounded even more impressive.
Vibraphonist Chris Dingman appeared on a number of mighty impressive CDs this year (see directly below and in further installments) but his own release "The Subliminal and the Sublime"(Inner Arts Initiative) is a splendid work of art. The original music features the contributions of an amazing group of young musicians including Fabian Almazan (piano), Loren Stillman (alto saxophone), Ryan Ferreira (guitar), Linda Oh (bass) and Justin Brown (drums). In my review, I called this "music for healing" and this music resonates even more as I return. For more information, go to www.chrisdingman.com/the-subliminal-and-the-sublime/.
This is a fairly new release but, like the Mike Holober release below, has been very hard for me to ignore. "Follow The Stick" (BJU Records) is the first recording from reed artist Sam Sadigursky to exclusively feature his clarinet work and not to have poetry. Nevertheless, the music shines on the strength of the material (mostly original) and the great work of Bobby Avey (piano), Jordan Perlson (drums), the afore-mentioned Chris Dingman and the leader. I love the interactions, the variety of material and sounds and would love to see the band in person.
Ryan Truesdell has dedicated a good part of his life to keeping the legacy of Gil Evans' music alive and most certainly well. He has done this through his research and access to arrangements that had never seen the light of day. In the process of 2 recordings (with personnel that often overlaps with Ms. Schneider's Orchestra), Truesdell has reminded modern audiences of the incredible scope of this music, how modern it sounded 5 -6 decades and his modern it still sounds. "Lines of Color: The Gil Evans Project" (ArtistShare) may not be as immediately dazzling as its predecessor (2013's "Centennial") but the CD is chock-full of impressive pieces that gives an even fuller picture of a most amazing composer/arranger.
For more information, go to www.ryantruesdell.com/gilevansproject/.
During my time of musical abstinence, the recording that broke the spell (so to speak) was the sprawling 2-CD release from pianist and composer Matt Mitchell. "Vista Accumulation" (Pi Recordings) features all-original compositions played by Mitchell (who also appears on several albums below), bassist Chris Tordini, drummer Dan Weiss and saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed. Even today as it plays in the background, I am pulled into the group's performances by the audacity of the melodies and performances.
This was the other CD to snap the spell. Pianist, composer, and arranger Mike Holober may be best known for his big band work but "Balancing Act" (Palmetto) stands out of his discography for any number of good reasons. First is the 8-member ensemble including Brian Blade(drums) and John Hébert(bass) plus a front line of Jason Rigby (tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet). Dick Oatts (alto & soprano saxes, flute), Marvin Stamm (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mark Patterson (trombone), and Kate McGarry (voice). Second is the great choice of material, mostly originals but with 2 prominent covers. I love the intimacy of this music, the splendid musicianship, the intelligent writing, and just how great Kate McGarry sounds in the midst of the arrangements. For more information, go to mikeholober.com/discography/.
"Flight" by Ross Hammond (Prescott Records) is a collection of solo guitar pieces created by an artist best known for electric guitar playing. Recorded in various locations around California (including on his front porch), this is music that pulls in the listener from the first note and does not let go until the 15th song has ended (and beyond). In my review, I mentioned John Fahey and Leo Kottke but should have included Jorma Kaukonen as well. That written, Hammond doesn't imitate any of those players but creates his own world. This is great music for sitting by yourself and contemplating the world.
For more information, go to rosshammond.bandcamp.com/album/flight. While you're on his Bandcamp page, check out "Reindeer Songs", his album of Christmas songs - it certainly makes the season lighter and brighter!
In my initial review, I called "Flirting With Disaster" (Jazzed Media) "adult music", serious and playful, contemplative, so well-played and sung. That's what we expect from Lorraine Feather. From her sanctuary in the islands of Washington state, she connects with the hearts and minds of listeners around the world. Her collaborations with composers Dave Grusin, Russ Ferrante, Shelly Berg, and Eddie Arkin keep getting deeper and, if possible, more personal and even more musical. I find it impossible not to listen to all 11 songs when I play this CD (no shuffle for me. Violinist Charles Bisharat, who appears on a number of tracks, is an absolute standout!
Tenor saxophonist and CT native Noah Preminger returns to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme on Thursday December 10 to record a new album with his "Pivot" quartet. Pivot - Preminger, trumpeter Jason Palmer, bassist Kim Cass and drummer Ian Froman - released its debut CD in September and, to the surprise of many long-time listeners, it was a raucous tribute to the music of blues artist Bukka White. And, it was quite a "blowing" session with just 2 tracks spread out over the 60-minute program.
Preminger is planning to record the band's next CD at this gig with new songs based on the music of Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, Skip James, John Lee Hooker and others. One should expect the music to be powerful, punchy, pungent with the memories of smoky roadhouses and musicians who pushed the borders of their sounds every night. The band will play 2 sets with the first starting at 8 p.m. For more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886.
On Friday, The Side Door welcomes drummer Rodney Green and his Quartet while on Saturday, the venue presents vocalist Kevin Mahogany (pictured left) in a special trio setting. Mr. Mahogany, one of the most versatile vocalists of the past 25 years, is performing alongside pianist Helen Sung and bassist Mario Panascia. This is a great venue for the vocalist, intimate. with a good piano played by an excellent accompanist.
Both these nights, the doors open at 7:30 p.m. with the first set at 8:30. Call the number above for more information.
On Friday December 11, the final concert in the Fall 2015 Firehouse 12 Concert Series takes place and features saxophonist Ned Rothenberg & Inner Diaspora. It's quite a band assembled for this gig including Jerome Harris (bass guitar), Satoshi Takeishi (percussion), Erik Friedlander (cello) and Mark Feldman (violin). The leader is immersed in the Radical Jewish Culture of the 21st Century, records for John Zorn's Tzadik label, and makes music that challenges one's expectations. Plus, this is a group of great improvisers so the concert should be great fun.
The first set starts at 8:30 pm with a second set - separate admission - at 10 p.m.
In actuality, Firehouse 12 opens its doors on Saturday for the annual concert from the New Haven Improvisers Collective. This is the 11th year that the NHIC has presented its members in concert at the venue and each time, the music is fresh and multi-directional. On this night, there will be 2 separate sets with the first at 8:30 featuring Elm Fiction, a quartet that features NHIC founder Bob Gorry (guitar), Jeff Cedrone (guitar, keyboards, electronics), Adam Matlock (accordion) and Tom Hogan (drums, vibes). The 10 p.m. set belongs to Fuchsprellen, a trio with Pete Brunelli (bass, electronics), Peter Riccio (drums) and John Venter (saxophone). Expect a number of guests to come by and participate. For more information about the Collective, go to www.nhic-music.org.
For tickets to either or both shows, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.
Dave Douglas (trumpet, compositions) has always been a busy artist, literally hopping from one project to another, one studio or concert venue seemingly every week. The weekend before the most recent Thanksgiving, Douglas and his Brazen Heart quintet - Jon Irabagon (tenor saxophone), Matt Mitchell (piano), Linda Oh (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums, and then some) played 4 nights, 8 sets, at the Jazz Standard in New York City, recording each note and releasing the results through his Greenleaf Music website. Having seen and heard the band a week prior to the NYC gig, I knew what to expect yet the music is so explosive and exciting, melodic and heartfelt, it always sounds so fresh. Go to www.greenleafmusic.com to find out more (and listen to some of the program.)
When you get to the front page of the Greenleaf website, you'll see Mr. Douglas has another new album. This one was recorded last year when the trumpeter wrote new music for the Monash Art Ensemble, a group located at Monash University in Victoria, Australia working under the watchful eyes and attentive ears of pianist PaulGrabowsky. The recording, titled "Fabliaux", has just been issued - the music is based on the work of the 14th century French Ars Nova, with composers, in particular Guillaume De Machaut (1300 -1377) who specialized in both secular and sacred polyphony. Yet, what I have heard of this music, performed by an ensemble consisting of 15 musicians plus Mr. Douglas, it sounds fresh, full of lively improvisations and impressive interactions.
We listeners certainly are fortunate that Dave Douglas continues to follow his muse. Give a listen and then go the website to find out more.