Sunday, March 1, 2015

Swing Into March

Quietly yet assuredly, pianist Joey Calderazzo has become a force to be reckoned with.  After replacing Kenny Kirkland in the Branford Marsalis Quartet (upon Mr. Kirkland's passing) in 1998, he has released a number of albums as a leader plus a lovely duet recording with Mr. Marsalis.  He tours with a trio featuring bassist Orlando le Fleming and drummer Donald Edwards who were featured on his 2013 Sunnyside release titled "Live ". His new Sunnyside album, "Going Home", continues in the Trio vein with the pianist and le Fleming joined by drummer Adam Cruz.

Calderazzo creates a program not unlike his previous ones, with a generous helping of original music and several standards.  Cruz struts like a New Orleans parade drummer on "One Way", which has a melody line reminiscent of a tune by The Meters. The drummer also leads the way into "Legend" with an out-of-time solo that frames the wistful piano melody and interjections from the bass.  Soon, the rhythm takes shape and the Trio skips forward on the bouncing bass and active drums.  There is a similar feel on "Mike's Song", an original that remind the listener of the influence that McCoy Tyner has had on Calderazzo's style.  That said, the piece leans towards the work that Keith Jarrett produced with his European Quartet in the 1970s.  Branford shows up on 1 track, the atmospheric "I Never Knew", his warm tenor sounds wrapping around the melodic pain for the melody then stepping away as the leader explores a number of different approaches to his solo. When the saxophonist re-enters, the piece picks up in intensity with the rhythm section pushing the soloist forward.

The title song, a solo piano work, is lyrical, wistful, a gentle ending to a program that certainly ranks among the best Joey Calderazzo has produced in his career (now into its 3rd decade.)  Orlando le Fleming and Adam Cruz are equal partners in the success of this music, not only for the support they give the pianist but also for their fine interactions. "Going Home" is an album you can sit down and listen to all the way through and then listen once more.  It surrounds the listener with its warmth, its excitement and its melodic joy.  The release date is 3/31/15. For more information, go to

This impressive quartet recording of a group led by drummer Jochen Rueckert was issued in October 2014 by Whirlwind Recordings and managed to fall through the cracks (if you've seen my desk, you would not be surprised.)  "We Make The Rules" features Mark Turner (tenor saxophone), Matt Penman (bass) and Lage Lund (guitar); Lund replaces Brad Shepik who appeared on the drummer's 2011 debut "somewhere, meeting nobody" (Pirouet). Considering the pedigree of the musicians, one will not be surprised at the various directions that the music goes in.  They certainly can "swing" as one can hear on "Saul Goodman" with Lund's rippling phrases riding the waves of percussion and walking bass lines.  Turner goes from understated to heated and back in the course of one phrase. His melodic yet muscular lines shine on "Alloplasty", a piece that starts rubato then breaks into a lively rhythm driven by the leader's splendid brush work (especially on the snare drum).  Penman is such an inventive bassist, showing a flair for melodic counterpoint (shown to great advantage on most tracks but especially on the medium-tempo "Pretty From Afar") as well as a percussive side (as he displays on "The Cook Strait").

Rueckert's compositions all have strong melodies, none more impressive than "Manong Twilight At The Whatever Hotel" (although the ballad "Bess" is right up there) - each musician moves the piece forward, from the buzzing of the tenor sax to the shimmering brush work to the thick bass tones to the spare interjections from the guitar. The combination of Turner's thoughtful saxophone phrases with Lund's impressionistic guitar riffs over the rhythm section serves to draw the listener in, rising and falling as the intensity waxes and wanes.

Jochen Rueckert, who releases electronic music under the monicker Wolff Parkinson White and has written several ebooks of anecdotes on "life on the road as a musician" (complete with self-portraits), has created a mesmerizing collection of songs - real songs, not just riffs to "blow over" - that get lodged in your mind.  You'll want to explore these musical trails time and again.  For more information, go to

Here's "Eggshells", the opening track on the album:

Trumpeter Alex Norris, a native of Maryland, is a busy session player and teacher.  He's got a list of sideman gigs with the likes of Village Vanguard Orchestra, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, the Mingus Big Band, and as musical director of Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead in the final years of her life.  He also plays with a number of groups that play Afro-Cuban music.  Norris made his debut CD for Fresh Sound New Talent in 1999.  It took 15 years for his sophomore album to be recorded and released.  "Extension Deadline" (BJU Records) finds Norris in the company of life-long friend George Colligan (Hammond A-100 organ), Rudy Royston (drums) and Gary Thomas (tenor saxophone). Thomas, who was a busy musician/bandleader in the 1980s and 90s, is now the head of Jazz Studies at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore and Norris is on his faculty.

Of the 8 tracks on the album, 6 are originals from the leader plus Colligan's rousing "Optimism" and a sweet version of Bobby Hutchinson's "Little B's Poem" (sans tenor sax). Norris plays the Hutchinson tune on flugelhorn, his mellow tones rising and falling over the skipping snare work and intense yet quiet organ chords.  Colligan, known more for his extensive work on piano, is a fine player with a strong bass presence and a style that shows the influence of the late Larry Young.  He works well on the front line whether in unison with the sax and trumpet as he does the title track or splaying chordal fills (nicely illustrated on the uptempo "San Jose"). Royston is his usual splendid self, lighting a fire under the soloists or displaying an easy swing.  Check out "Red Flag" to hear him at his most explosive or setting the easy pace for "Night Watchman".   On the former track, he and Colligan's bass lines set a torrid pace; Royston is such an expressive drummer, whether reacting to the soloists or "trading 4s" near the end of the track.  There is pure joy in those interactions.

Thomas, who released a series of fine recordings for JMT and Winter & Winter in the 1990s (plus spent several years with Jack DeJohnette and later with Herbie Hancock), can say so much in his solos.  On this recording, he displays a sturdy tone, never wasting a note, always riding the waves of sound/rhythm emanating from the drums.  Listen to how he and Royston get into it on "Where Angels Fear" and on the raucous "What Happened Here." 

Norris has a hearty attack and crisp tone on trumpet.  He dives into his solos with great abandon (check out "San Jose" for how he inspires Royston to provide the fireworks below his bandmates and "Red Flag" for his romp through the mid-range). Though this is an album filled with impressive solos, the vast majority of the compositions have solid melody lines.  Although Alex Norris organized the band for this recording, the results are far from perfunctory, with a "live" feel makes one dream of live gigs in a club setting.  In the meantime, "Extension Deadline" is a fiery, funky, and very satisfying listening experience. For more information, go to

I had the opportunity to see pianist Steven Feifke in concert several years ago in a quartet that featured Chad Lefkowitz-Brown (tenor saxophone), Raviv Markovitz (bass) and Connecticut native Jimmy Macbride (drums).  The group played a heady set of originals and jazz standards, each member showing great promise and none of them yet in his mid-20s.  Lefkowitz-Brown has gone on to play in Taylor Swift's touring band, Markowitz works with a number of ensembles including pianist Adam Kromelow's KROM trio, and Macbride is now in saxophonist Jimmy Greene's touring band as well as soon to be on tour with guitarist Nir Felder. Feifke has organized a Big Band and has worked with drummer Dafnis Prieto plus a slew of younger players.

In January of 2014, the pianist brought his 3 musical comrades into the studio along with Andrew Gould (alto saxophone), Benny Benack (trumpet) and Alex Wintz (guitar), with the results released as Feifke's debut CD, "Peace In Time". He composed 9 of the 12 cuts and arranged every song, produced and self-released the album.  The program opens with a pleasing re-imagination of Thelonious Monk's "Evidence", literally jumping out of the speakers with strong solos from Feifke, Benack (a member of Michael Dease's Big Band) and Gould (Wallace Roney's band).  Lefkowitz-Brown shines during his solo on the ballad "Am I Still There For You?" and on the up-tempo "Second Wind." Feifke's horn arrangement stands out on the latter track as well.  Throughout the program, the rhythm section really provides the drive on the faster tracks.  The piano, bass and drums really lock in on "Wollongong" while the brass and saxes have the melody. The saxophonists feed on that fire (Macbride and Feifke really stoke the furnace while Markovitz provides the rapid walking bass lines.) There are several times during the program when guitarist Wintz (Roxy Coss Quintet, Etienne Charles Creole Soul) stands out. He blends his mellow tone with the horns on "The Coast", which also features him playing the melody with the pianist.  An exciting Latin rhythm propels "Autumn In New York" forward with the melody pass around to the guitar and piano to the horns and trumpet.  The arrangement of Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream" also finds the theme moving to different instruments.   Macbride's drumming and the active bass lines creates an exciting foundation for Feifke's adventurous solo and Benack's more boppish turn.

There are several sonic surprises on the program.  The reeds, brass and guitar drop out for "Song For Ben And Gidi", a medium-tempo blues in which all 3 players solo (really enjoy Feifke's 2-handed approach).  The slow blues that is "3:23 a.m." has a fine melody, muscular bass solo, a tender tenor solo and an exciting climax with Gould leading the way.  A dollop of hip hop in the drums and bass powers the ultra-funky "The Missing Feeling II", a tune that the horns sit out while the guitar and piano share the melody. Watch out for the hard-hitting drama solo  -it will rattle your speakers! Wintz switches to acoustic guitar for the title track, a lovely ballad that closes the disk.  The horns do not show up until close to the end of the piece, after the handsome and melodic guitar solo.  

"Peace In Time" serves as an introduction to the musical world of multi-talented Steven Feifke.  He, in turn, makes sure that the listener pays attention to his cohorts.  The creative arrangements feature good section work, smart use of unison melody lines, all powered by the excellent work of Raviv Markovitz and Jimmy Macbride. There are moments where it sounds like 10 or 12 musicians playing instead of 7.  But there is no clutter nor filler.  Like the recordings above, this music sounds better and better with successive listens. The future looks most certainly bright for young Mr. Feifke. For more information, go to

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