Saturday, May 30, 2015

Large Ensembles 2015 (Part 1)

Drummer, composer and arranger Billy Mintz organized The 2 Bass Band in 1990 when he lived on the West Coast.  Even after moving back to New York City in the early 2000s, he kept the band going. Best known for his work with the Alan Broadbent Trio, the Mark Feldman-Sylvie Courvoisier Quartet, and with the Roberta Piket Trio (and many others), he's a wonderfully modern drummer in that he does not hog the spotlight but makes sure that the music comes first.

25 years after he organized the ensemble comes its first album.  "Billy Mintz: The 2 Bass Band....Live" (Thirteenth Note Records). The 9 other members includes bassists Cameron Brown and Masa Yamaguchi plus the brass section of Ron Horton (trumpet), Dave Scott (trumpet), Brian Drye (trombone) and Samuel Blaser (trombone) with the reeds of John O'Gallagher (alto and soprano saxophones), Kenny Berger (baritone and alto saxes), and Adam Kolker (tenor and soprano saxes, clarinet). Recorded live in January 2014 in the cozy confines of Ibeam Brooklyn, the recording features all Mintz originals that range from the swinging "Flight" (with an understated solo from Horton and a more playful solo from Berger on baritone following the clarinet reading of the theme) to the Ellingtonian drive of "Ghost Sanctuary" (the leader's drum work is exemplary as is the arrangement) to the bluesy Afro-jazz of "Darkland" (and the conversational work of trombonists Drye and Blaser).  The 2 bassists get their own spotlight on the appropriately-titled "Bass Thing", both soloing and working together.  O'Gallagher's expressive alto sax is out front on "The Dream" (a ballad with fine sectional writing) and reaches dizzying heights on the high-powered "Shmear."

While this is the drummer's band, Mintz rarely solos.  When he does, it's usually at the beginning of a song.  He steps off "Dit", a boppish yet "free" piece and, after the band runs through the theme, the horns and reeds plays lines that collide with each other in an appealing fashion. Mintz takes a harder approach to the opening of the final track, "Relent", his powerful figures setting the stage for the raucous opening section that follows.  The rhythm section continues the furious pace beneath Kolker's angular tenor sax solo.  Blaser lets loose with a striking solo, filled with rapid lines, a bit of multi-phonics and a bluesy feel leading into Berger's muscular baritone spotlight.

You have to listen closely to hear the 2 bassists in The Billy Mintz 2 Bass Band but, when you do, one can tell that they truly complement each other (sometimes serving as the chordal instruments in this piano-less dectet.)  What stands out most is the adventurous writing, the impressive solos, and lack of cliches in the music.  This is an ensemble one needs to hear live but, in the meantime, Mr. Mintz et al have made an excellent entrance. Let's hope we won't have to wait 25 years for the next recording.

For more information, go to

Monday, May 25, 2015

Brian's Funky Trio, Benny's Groove, & Clarence's Smokin' + Organ Trio CDs

Firehouse 12 in New Haven takes a turn towards the "funky side" this Friday (5/29) when Meriden CT native Brian Charette brings his Mighty Grinders to the Elm City.  Helping him dish out the rhythms is guitarist Will Bernard (Stanton Moore Trio) and drummer Eric Kalb (Charlie Hunter, John Scofield).  Charette, who began his career as a pianist, learned to play organ after moving to New York City and getting several gigs on instrument.

Charette has a new recording out this week.  "Alphabet City" is his 3rd trio date with Posi-Tone Records and the first to feature Bernard   and drummer Rudy Royston (both the organist and drummer appear on Bernard's 2011 Posi-Tone release "Just Like Downtown.") While Charette's previous CD, "Good Tipper" blended pop and jazz standards with originals, the new album features all Charette tunes.  Pieces such as "Sharpie Mustache" and "Disco Nap" are danceable ditties with the accent firmly on the "groove" but not at the cost of melody. Most of the tracks go in very interesting directions including the Booker T & The MGs-inspired "Split Black" (interesting sound effects) and the playful, verging on "free form" sounds of "Hungarian Major" (love the vintage horror movie organ tones!)   There's such a bouncy, springtime feel to "West Village" while the high-energy "They Left Fred Out" kicks serious butt.  Royston is the perfect drummer for this trio as he plays with great taste and equally great fire.  Bernard plays impressive rhythm guitar, often supplying the rhythm while the drummer struts.  He's also a strong soloist, as displayed on the ballad "White Lies" and the Philly Soul-infused "Detours." This is great music for driving through the country with the windows wide open.  For more information, go to

As for the Firehouse 12 gig, Brian Charette's Mighty Grinders play 2 sets with the first commencing at 8:30 p.m. For more information, go to or call 203-785-0468.

The musical excitement at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme does not let up as the weather warms up. This weekend, Jan and Ken host 2 fine artists. On Friday, they open the door to tenor saxophonist Benny Sharoni. The Israeli native, who has lived in the Boston, MA, area for almost 30 years, has a wonderfully round tone, is a big proponent of playing melody yet is a forceful soloist. He's been playing a number  of gigs over the past month and will continue through the summer in support of his most recent self-released album "Slant Signature." He's bringing most of the musicians who played on the disk and that includes Todd Baker (bass), Steve Langone (drums) and the excellent pianist Joe Barbato. This unit has worked together for a number of years and it shows in their fine interactions. They'll take the stage at 8:30 p.m. To find out ore about the leader, go to

On Saturday evening, The Side Door welcomes back drummer Clarence Penn, last seen and heard at the performance venue last August supporting Kavita Shah.  This time, he's the leader of Penn Station, a fine quartet featuring pianist Shai Maestro, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and multi-reed artist Ben Wendel. Mr. Penn is one of those drummers who can play anything, whether it's behind a vocalist like Ms. Shah or kicking hard underneath the Dave Douglas Quintet or moving through the intricate arrangements of  the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Though he has been "on the scene" since the early 1990s, he's only released 4 CDs as a leader, 3 with the Dutch Criss Cross label - his most recent album, "Monk: The Lost Files", came out in Fall of 2014 on the Origin label.  Not what the Quartet will play at this show but I expect it will contain several pieces from the playful "Monk" recording. For more information about Clarence Penn and his busy schedule, go to

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the band begins to play 60 minutes later.  For more information and reservations, go to or call 860-434-0886.

Here's a bit of Monk from the latest album:

It's back to the Trio format for the new CD from organist Jared Gold.  "Metropolitan Rhythm" is the 8th release on Posi-Tone Records and the 4th to feature guitarist Dave Stryker. Filling out the rhythm section is the young drummer Kush Abadey (known for his work with trumpeter Wallace Roney and the son of drummer/composer/educator Nasal Abadey. Gold is quite the melodic player and he works well with Stryker. The New Jersey native, who has worked with numerous artists including saxophonist Oliver Lake, has chosen an intelligent mix of pieces for the new disk ranging from pop tunes such as "Maybe I'm Amazed" to high-energy romps such as Joe Henderson's "Granted" to the rich gospel melody of Isiah Jones'"God Has Smiled on Me."   Gold et al have a fun yet  sophisticated time with Thelonious Monk's "Let's Call This", changing tempos and giving the piece sections where the trio gets deep into the groove.  Where the Charette trio CD above has a funky feel, the Gold trio likes to swing, often with a vengeance. On Stryker's "As Is", Abadey sets a wicked pace, propelling the guitarist and organist forward with great glee.  Soft guitar lines and gentle brush work lead the way into "Risco", a sweet samba that may take listeners back to the 1960s sounds of organist Walter Wanderley.

"Metropolitan Rhythm" is one of those sneakily seductive albums in that the music might not blow you away on first listen but grows on you each time you return.  The CD has 9 tunes in 48 minutes and only one (the Monk piece) over 6.  Dave Stryker shows his worth as both a rhythm guitarist and soloist while Kush Abadey keeps the music percolating without much fuss but great flair.  Jared Gold has proven himself to be a fine soloist and he continues to mature as a composer (his "In A Daze" is a bluesy treat).  This music sounds great on the back porch on an early summer afternoon.

For more information, go to

Listen to the Trio have fun with the Paul McCartney tune:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Idiosyncratic Audio

Listen to the music of Henry Threadgill from 40 years ago, when the trio known as Air made its first recording.  His saxophone and flute, the majestic bass of Fred Hopkins (1947-1999) and the brilliant percussion of Steve McCall (1933-1989) sounded like few other trios (compare their recordings to the work Sonny Rollins created in the 1950s) - the evidence of Threadgill's Chicago upbringing can be heard in the occasional hints of blues that enter the pieces but the freedom, the unexpected twists that don't sound dated or forced even today, their intuitive interactions (both live and on record) excited many people willing to travel down the trails they blazed.

Threadgill formed Zooid at the turn of the 21st Century building the sextet/quintet around the incredible tuba work of Jose Davila and the expressive guitar of Liberty Ellman.  By the time of the group second Pi recording "This Brings Us To, Vol 1." (2009), drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee joined the ensemble with cellist Christopher Hoffman coming the 6th member (original cellist Dana Leong was on the band's initial release but left before #2.)

"In For a Penny, In For a Pound" is the new Pi release and, with the departure of bassist Stomu Takeishi, the group is once more a quintet. The 2-CD set features 6 tracks with each disc starting with a short track (the first disk is the title track, subtitled "opening" while the second disk starts with "Off The Prompt Box" subtitled "exordium", meaning "the beginning.") The other 4 tracks are much longer, episodic compositions dedicated to the different instruments (with the exception of the reeds) in which the quintet breaks into smaller formations at various times.  Threadgill is fine voce throughout, his squiggly alto lines or colorful flute playing (he plays both concert and bass flutes) weaving in and out of the sound spectrum.  "Ceroepic (for drums and percussion)" opens with the impressive melodic interaction, the alto sax in the lead, Davila playing counterpoint while both the guitar and cello plays the foundational bass lines.  Kavee's drums people the work forward as the solos unwind, first Threadgill then Hoffman.  After the fine cello solo, the piece and heads off into quiet territory, with just cello, guitar and percussion in the mix. After several several changes in direction, Threadgill's flute takes the lead for a turn before handing off to Davila, now on trombone.  Despite the subtitle, there is never a drum solo in the spotlight although Kavee is crucial to the movement in several sections. Meanwhile the following cut, "Unoepic (for cello)" does start with the instrument the piece is named for but soon everyone joins in.

Meanwhile, this music features all the elements we have come to expect in Threadgill's music.  Rhythms that push but do not represent any particular "style", solos that grow right out of the melodies and great interactions.  On "...Prompt Box", listen to how each musician plays rhythm especially and notice how the leader steps out after the opening theme, not to return. The interaction of guitar and cello at the onset of the last cut, "Unoepic (for guitar)", sets the stage for several duo dialogues (alto sax and drums, cello and drums) yet, over the course on nearly 18 minutes, there are moments when the musicians solo over drums, tuba and guitar or guitar, cello and drums and so forth. Threadgill's alto erupts out of a drum solo, exchanging phrases with cello and guitar, then stepping out for a thoughtful and somewhat abstract solo.

At 80 minutes, "In For a Penny, In For a Pound" is much to digest and would not fit easily on one disk.  That said, this suite is most certainly interconnected, with themes moving in and out of separate tracks. While there are solos throughout, the rhythm section does not just "comp" or simply keep "time" but are vitally important to the movement and direction of each piece.  When you listen, pay attention to what Liberty Ellman, Christopher Hoffmann and Jose Davila are playing when the there are solos. Melodies and rhythms intermingle, all while the music continues to move forward.  On the CD jacket, Henry Threadgill gives "my endearing thanks and respect" to both Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman, musicians, soloists, bandleaders and composers who paved the way for his vision and his music.  Yet, we can be thankful that there is no one like Henry Threadgill. At 71, he's going strong (his work with Wadada Leo Smith and Jack DeJohnette on new recordings is wonderful), seeming to grow stronger with every recording and every ensemble.  For more information, go to

Composer and pianist Kris Davis, over the past 12 years since her debut CD appeared on Fresh Sound New Talent ("Life Span"), has grown in ways one might not have expected.  Her solo piano recordings reveal an artist always searching for new ways to express herself, the Trio dates find her and rhythm section avoiding cliches, and her work with Ingrid Laubrock and Tyshawn Sorey in Paradoxical Frog is indescribably audacious.  Her arrangements for Tony Malaby's 2011 recording "Novela" (where she worked with 4 reeds, 3 brass, drums and piano, set the stage for her new project "Infrasound" an octet that features 4 clarinetists (Ben Goldberg, Oscar Noriega, Joachim Badenhorst, and Andrew Bishop), guitarist Nate Radley, organist Gary Versace, drummer Jim Black, and her piano. There is a video on Ms. Davis' website that tells the story behind the group and recording (watch it here)  - the octet had not worked together as a unit until the night before its first gig and went into the recording studio the day after the gig!

That written, her new recording - "Save Your Breath" (Clean Feed Records) -  is a tribute to the talent of the musicians, to her arrangements, to her music that allows the ensemble to explore textures and rhythms, to the way silence and noise are a part of the mix and to how the lower reeds (bass clarinets and contrabass clarinets) are utilized.  Opening with "Union Forever", which slowly moves towards a melody not unlike the chorus of "The Battle Cry Of Freedom" but not before introducing all the musicians.  Black is often the spark plug, punching and jabbing, goosing the band forward.  After the band drops out, a lonely clarinet plays above tolling piano chords. Davis' arrangement also has the organ moving in and out the mix, Versace's burbling lines adding a different flavor to the music.  Is that accordion on the introduction of "Always Leave Them (Wanting More)", it's ethereal high notes drifting above the piano and increasingly powerful drums. Radley's guitar serves a similar purpose to the accordion, weaving in and out of the sounds from the reeds and the powerful piano chords. Slowly, the piece builds with the drums and piano in a fiery interchange while the clarinets keen quietly.  Suddenly, the piece falls into a soulful rhythm for Noriega's powerful solo. "Whirly Swirly", which first appeared on Ms. Davis' 2014 Trio CD "Waiting For You To Grow", is a vehicle for Radley's hard-edged solo, over a bass line from Versace and rampaging drums.  The piece stops on a dime and becomes extremely quiet, organ swirls and clarinet phrases nearly inaudible unless you sit still.  When the band returns, Badenhorst's roaring clarinet is front-and-center over a chordal pattern not unlike a Black Sabbath tune.

The title song closes the program. The longest track (14:50), the sound rarely rises above a whisper, the instrumentalists stepping up and then fading out. Yet it's not an afterthought or an epilogue.  Look at the cover photo - the music describes what to must be like to be underwater, to be standing on the ocean floor connected to the world above by ropes, breathing air from a tank, the only sounds being your breathing and whatever is going on in your mind.  Each voice in the ensemble contributes to this adventure and it's makes for absorbing listening.

"Save Your Breath" has moments of great beauty and harsh noises ("The Ghost of Your Previous Fuckup" offers much of the latter without ignoring the former), often moving with great force and determination.  Considering the time the octet had to rehearse, perform, and record, this is incredibly fine music.  I can imagine how pieces could get stronger with more performances (alas, only 2 European dates on Ms. Davis' website) but this recording is mighty good.  For more information, go to

Here's a taste of this fine recording:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Holiday Weekend Music + CD Picks

Saxophonist Dave Rempis, a native of Wellesley, MA but a long-time resident of Chicago, IL, is one of the busiest musicians on this (or any) planet.  He leads or co-leads, at least, 4 different ensembles, curates concerts series in and around the Windy City plus tours incessantly.  He runs Aerophonic Records, the label he started in 2011 to document his many projects including the Trio of Rempis (alto saxophone), Darren Johnston (trumpet) and Larry Ochs (tenor and sopranino saxophones). Their debut recording, "Spectral", came out 1 year ago this month and they are currently in the midst of a 2-week tour that has taken them or will them to 10 cities. They'll be in New Haven this Friday night (5/22), stopping at Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street, to take part in that venue's Spring 2015 Concert Series.

Rempis (pictured left) spent the better part of 10 years as a member of the Vandermark 5, one of the most high-energy ensembles in creative music.  Johnston, born in Canada and now living in the San Francisco Bay area, has worked with numerous artists including the ROVA Quartet where he met Larry Ochs.  That saxophonist, a founding member of ROVA (in 1978), also is a man of many ensembles. Together, Messrs. Rempis, Johnston and Ochs created the 7 improvisations that appear on the CD and approach each concert as an opportunity to interact on the highest level of musical communication. Expect the music to go in many directions and to be kept on your "musical toes."

They'll play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for more information, go to or call 203-785-0468.

Here's a track off the Trio's debut CD:

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme presents vocalist Joanna Pascale on Friday evening at 8:30.  Ms. Pascale, a resident of Philadelphia, PA, is in town to celebrate the release of her 4th CD, "Wildflower" (Stiletto Records) - she'll sing in front of a trio that features long-time associate Anthony Wonsey (piano), Vicente Archer (bassist - he plays on most of the album tracks) and Willie Jones III (drums).  The CD, produced by another long-time friend and associate Orrin Evans, continues the vocalist's exploration of the Great American Songbook with a few notable exceptions including a quiet reading of Gerry Goffin/Carole King's "Will You Still Me Tomorrow" and Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" plus the "deep blues" of Ray Charles' "Drown In My Own Tears" (featuring Cyrus Chestnut on organ).  Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and vocalist Bilal appear on the title track while the soulful harmonica of Gregoire Maret on the "pop" tunes listed above.

What emerges out her recordings is that Ms. Pascale has a firm grasp on her material, a soulful voice and a deep knowledge of jazz history.  Listening to her recordings, one understands that she never "oversells" a song, preferring to take her time, making sure the listener hears the story.  To find out more, go see Joanna Pascale this weekend or check out

Here's a taste of "Overjoyed":

Pianist and organist Mike Ledonne takes The Side Door stage on Saturday night with the top-notch rhythm of Ira Coleman (bass) and Carl Allen (drums).  Born into a musical family (his father owned a music store and gigged as a guitarist), Ledonne has been playing since he was 5 and has worked with the likes of Benny Goodman, Sonny Rollins, and vibraphonist Milt Jackson.  He's recorded 16 CDs as a leader, starting off in the late 1980s on the Dutch Criss Cross label and most recently for the Savant label.  His repertoire plumbs the depths of jazz history, scattering original songs plus soul and r'n'b favorites throughout. Ledonne has a fluid style on both keyboards, understands the blues, and knows how to swing.  For more information, go to

The doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the music starts at 8:30. For more information, go or call 860-434-0886.

Here's a taste of Mr. Ledonne's blues chops on Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love":


There are still those among us who rue the day (or night) that jazz stopped being "dance music" and became a haven for soloists to strut.  Be that as it may, there have always been musicians who aim for the feet as much as the mind.  In 2011, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin began a turn towards more electronic and dance music elements in his music, working with the powerful rhythm section of bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Mark Guiliana.  Their first CD for Greenleaf Music, "Perpetual Motion", employed 2nd drummer Antonio Sanchez and the keyboards of Kneebody's Adam Benjamin with producer David Binney (himself a creative saxophonist) adding extra keyboards. 2012 brought "Casting For Gravity" and even more excursions heavy grooves and expanded sonic textures, all the while McCaslin's powerful tenor saxophone in the middle of the maelstrom.  Jason Lindner replaced Benjamin on keyboards the lineup was set.

Now, there is "Fast Future", featuring the core quartet plus producer Binney on synths and backing vocals. The music builds upon the language of the preceding turn while allowing for quieter moments. McCaslin, who can be such a lyrical yet powerful player in the Maria Schneider Orchestra, shows that side on his piece, "Midnight Light", caressing the melody while Lindner (on acoustic piano) adds colors around him. For the most part, the program burns with an intensity that is engaging and truly exciting.  The title track opens the album, its sinewy rhythms kicked out by Guiliana, and the leader flying over them. Lefebvre fills the bottom with his amazing thick tones (the speakers do rattle when he hits those low notes) and Lindner contributes plenty of colors.  The tenor saxophone stands in for the plaintive vocal on "No Eyes" (a piece from the electronica artist Baths) and Binney adds wordless vocals.  The bouncy "pop" feel with the sharp synth beats merges well with the handsome melody while allowing McCaslin to be himself on the short but sweet saxophone solo. The saxophonist and the producer are fans of Aphex Twin and include a short but furious reading of "54 Cymru Beats" - while McCaslin plays acoustically, his bent notes and husky squeals jump and twist over the belching synths and amazing drum work. Binney's composition "This Side of Sunrise" includes a melody that pairs the tenor sax with synth - Lindner's percussive keys add an extra layer of beat underneath the sax solo.

The CD closes "Squeeze Thru", a McCaslin composition that subtly blends reggae with electronica with its stop-and-start approach in the rhythm section. The bassist dances around while the drummer pushes and pulls. The leader plays a solo that blends short, percussive, phrases with longer flowing lines. He never sounds as if he's anything but fully engaged.

"Fast Future" is quite playful and filled with strong playing.   In interviews, Donny McCaslin said that David Binney came prepared to the sessions with many ideas, working with the leader's compositions to make these pieces come to life.  Some may say that McCaslin has abandoned jazz but he's really doing what the great artists, people like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Mary Lou Williams, Wayne Shorter and others, did and continue to do throughout their career - move forward, experiment, listen to what's going on around them, distill it with their own contributions and keep searching.  For more information, go to

Here's the fine version of "No Eyes":

Trombonist and composer Samuel Blaser is another artist who resist categories.  Over the course of 11 CDs as leader or co-leader, the native of Switzerland has explored many types of creative music in solo, duo trio, quartet, and quintet settings.  His 12th release, "Spring Rain" is his first for the British Whirlwind Recordings label and features a lineup of Russ Lossing (piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, minimoog), Drew Gress (acoustic bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums).   Produced by Blaser under the watchful eyes and ears of industry veteran Robert Sadin (Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Kathleen Battle, Sting), the music pays tribute to the artistry and vision of reed master Jimmy Giuffre, playing 5 pieces associated with his drummer-less trio from the early 1960s featuring pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow.

To his credit, Blaser finds his own way into that material, whether its the ethereal reading of Carla Bley's "Jesus Maria", the playful piano-trombone duo of Giuffre's "Scootin' About", or the more solemn duo with Lossing on "Cry, Want."  The Giuffre influence is evident on the Blaser original "Spring Rain"; it's very quiet throughout, barely rising above a whisper until close to the end. The music glides forward on the repetitive piano lines, leaving the bassist to bow and drummer to color beneath the melodic trombone. On "Missing Mark Sutterlyn" (also by Blaser), the trombonist also pays tribute to Albert Mangelsdorf - it's a bluesy piece with trombone multiphonics, funky drumming, thick yet melodic bass lines and rollicking, noisy, electric and acoustic keyboards.  The blend of keyboards on Blaser's "The First Snow" frolics atop the bass and drums, Lossing basically "trading 4s" with himself. The trombonist gets in on the action with a boisterous solo pushed along by Cleaver's explosive drumming. The dancing quality of "Counterparts" features more fine work from the drummer (especially on the drums-bone duo in the middle) The pianist moves inside the acoustic piano on the leader's "Umbra", a duo that moves from plaintive melodic lines to rumbling piano backing.

"Spring Rain" has an impressive blend of serious and playful moments, music to contemplate yet not fuss over. There is often a minimalist quality to the music of Samuel Blaser but not at the expense of melody or interaction.  The "conversations" on the recording rarely last long - Blaser's solo piece "Homage" runs a mere 66 seconds  - with only "Jesus Maria" over 6 minutes (8:01) yet the listener has much to digest (including the impressive use of silence).  Sit down and listen all the way through, then listen again.  This "Spring Rain" is a quite refreshing experience.

For more information, go to

Here's Ms. Bley's "Temporarily":

Thursday, May 14, 2015

May Ladies' Day (Part 1)

Over the past decade, Anat Cohen has emerged as one of the major voices in improvisational music.  With other artists such as Don Byron, Ken Peplowski, Mike McGinnis and Darryl Harper, she has returned the clarinet to the forefront. Her musical "ears" are quite big, taking in classic American jazz, big band music, Brazilian choro, and so much more.  Ms. Cohen has dedicated her life to making the world brighter through her performances and, if you have ever seen her in person, she does just that.

"Luminosa" is her 7th recording as a leader, all released on her Anzic Records label.   The album features 7 tracks with her "working" quartet of Jason Lindner (piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, synthesizer), Joe Martin (bass), and Daniel Freedman (drums), 2 with her partners in Choro Aventuroso (accordionist Vitor Gonçalves, 7-string guitarist Cesar Garabini, and pandeiro player Sergio Krakowski), a duo with guitarist Romero Lubambo, and a stunning reading of "Beatriz" featuring Lubambo, Martin on bowed bass and threader on bass clarinet. While over half of the program features pieces written by Brazilian composers (including Lubambo's dancing clarinet-guitar duo"Bachiāo"), there's a mostly acoustic version of Flying Lotus's playful "Putty Boy Strut", a lovely original ballad "Ima", and the "cool jazz" swing of Ms. Cohen's "The Wein Machine" featuring her on tenor saxophone and special guest Gilad Hekselman on electric guitar. Percussionist Gilmar Gomes joins the proceedings on a number tracks including the expansive reading of Milton Nascimento's "Cais", a track made famous by vocalist Elis Regina.

There is an abundance of joyous music on this disk.  From the afore-mentiond "Putty Boy Strut" to Ms. Cohen's flight of fancy on "The Happy Song", it's a treat to her cavort atop the dancing drums and bass.  Of the 2 pieces with her Choro group, the sprightly "Espinha De Bacalhau" (a piece composed in 1937 by Brazilian clarinetist/bandleader Severino Araujo) jumps with glee and includes a funky piano solo from Lindner. Nascimento's romantic samba "Lilia" opens the recording - composed in the early 1970s, the tune is dedicated to the composer's mother. Here, the main Quartet (plus Gomes) stretch out and create a fine uptempo reverie. "In The Spirit of Baden" (a Cohen original) has a pleasing melody and quite a subtle yet exciting rhythm created by Freedman and Gomes. Lubamo's rhythmic guitar adds to the pleasure blending his chordal work with the acoustic piano.

Ms. Cohen's "Ima" ("mother" in Hebrew) is a sweet ballad with a clarinet solo that weaves in and out of the melody line. The gentle tribute shines in the midst of the more energetic tracks.  The Choro quartet also contributes a ballad "Ternura" (composed by Brazilian saxophonist K-Ximbinho, a member of Severino Araujo's Orchestra) - the piece has a lilting melody and Ms. Cohen's clarinet solo has a bluesy edge.

"Luminosa" lives up to its title, the word means "bright, luminous" in Portuguese.  Anat Cohen and her musical cohorts have a mission to bring lightness into our world and succeed...well, brilliantly.  Her spirit and exuberance shines throughout this music, even moreso in person.

For more information, go to

Here's "Espinha De Bacalhau":

Cristina Pato, a native of the Galicia region in the northwest of Spain, may be best-known in the United States for her work with the Silk Road Ensemble. She is a pianist and vocalist but her main instrument is the Galician bagpipes. "Latina" is her second US release for Sunnyside and it blends her love for the sounds of her native country with world music from other lands including jazz from America.  Featuring her working band of Victor Prieto (accordion), Edward Perez (acoustic bass), and Eric Doob (drums), the music is extremely exciting, with rhythm and sounds that seem to explode out of the speakers.  My first reaction to hearing "wailing" pipes over Doob's furious rhythms on the opening track "Fandango: Prueba De Fuego" (translates as "fireproof") is how much her interactions sound like Jan Hammer on the synthesizers working with Jeff Beck in the 1970s.  That track is the first section of the 6-part "The Latina 6/8 Suite", created for her by bassist Perez, all in the same time signature but inspired or based on rhythms from Sicily, Peru, Colombia and Spain.  "Tanguillo: The High Seas" has a formal feel in its initial presentation but when Ms. Pato, on piano, solos, one can hear Eddie Palmieri in her attack.  Ms. Pato explains the meaning of "Latina" on the final track on the suite "Taranella-Muiñeira: Epilogue" both vocally and with her pipes; the piece really takes off on the strength of the amazing drumming and the interaction of the pipes and accordion.

photo by Xan Padrõn
Prieto, who also hails from Galicia, has worked with the Maria Schneider Orchestra, the Arturo O'Farrill Latin Jazz Orchestra, and the Silk Road Ensemble, is quite a soloist as well, showing off his prowess on "Curralao: Currulao De Crisis" and on his composition, the high-powered as well as very funky "Let's Festa". Listen to the band romps on Emilio Solla's "Llegará, Llegará, Llegará" ("It will come, it will come, it will come") - pushed forward by the powerful accordion and the force of the rhythm section, Ms. Pato burn through her solo, hitting notes at the top of the pipes' range.

A compact 36 minutes, "Latina" will leave you breathless. There's nary a ballad - I can't imagine wanting to leave the dance floor when this music is playing. Cristina Pato not only can play impressively but also uses her music to teach about the wide range of Latin music.  A warning for the faint of heart; watch out for her screams as they as fiery as her incendiary Galician bagpipes.  For more information, go to

Pianist Roberta Piket issued her first solo CD in 2012. Featuring pieces by Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk, her mentor Marian McPartland, her father Frederick (who passed when she was 8) plus several originals, it displayed her wonderful ability to "tell stories" in song. "Emanation (Solo: Volume 2)" (Thirteenth Note) is similar in style and repertoire (Ms. McPartland and Monk, joined here by Herbie Hancock, Dizzy Gillespie, Jerome Kern, Howard Dietz/Arthur Schwartz, Sigmund Romberg/Oscar Hammerstein II, and 3 originals, 1 based in a theme by Frederic Chopin) and just as rewarding to listen to.

Her splendid work on Gillespie's "Con Alma" conveys both the flowing rhythm and the handsome melody. Monk's "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-lues" has that recognizable quirky melodic style the composer employed, conjuring images of him dancing while the band plays. The music gets decidedly funky on Hancock's "Actual Proof", a piece from his Headhunters days. Ms. Piket stays acoustic but the music is grounded in the dance rhythms that that ensemble specialized in. Her solo takes flight, moving in and around the left hand "funk".

The ballads deserve special mention. "Saying Goodbye" (a original) conveys all the emotions that the title suggests (with a light-hearted turn in the middle of the solo) while Ms. McPartland's "Ambiance"  has a lilting melody and chordal patterns that go in unexpected directions.  The title track blends darker chords with an expressive melody; the music does not flow as much as it seems to be falling forward, nudged by the low notes. There is a sweetness in "Haunted Heart", derived from Ms Piket's light touch on the melody.  The album closes with her "Fantasy on a Theme by Chopin", based on the Polish composer's "Prelude Opus 28 No. 2 in A-minor".  The opening chords and slow movement through the melody brings to mind the work of Erik Satie, the airiness of the approach to the work (despite the "dark" chords at the close), all contribute to the ultimate beauty of the performance.

Roberta Piket does not waste her time or that of the listener by creating an album where she merely displays her formidable technique. Nor are there long tortuous passages; in their stead are well-defined melodies, intelligent harmonies and solos that build upon those harmonies and melodies in logical fashion.  This is music that breathes, that reaches out for the heart and soul of the listener and, on occasion, for the dancing feet. "Emanation" is a fine recording that deserves your close attention.

For more information, go to

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Jazz Up Close & Classical Music in My Hometown

Jimmy Katz image
The Russell Library, 123 Broad Street in Middletown, presents the second installment of "Jazz Up Close", a series cured by pianist, composer and educator Noah Baerman and supported by Resonant Motion Inc., this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Hubbard Room. In case you have never attended, Mr. B brings guest artists in to not only play jazz but also to talk about what and why they do what they do. This month, drummer/composer Johnathan Blake (pictured above) will join the pianist plus bassist Henry Lugo for a program that will surprise and move you.  Mr. Blake, the son of the late violinist John Blake, Jr., had worked with such fine musicians as trumpeter Tom Harrell, in the Mingus Big Band, the Kenny Barron Trio and with the 3 Cohens, is a dynamic drummer and maturing into an excellent composer.

The event is free and open to the public.  For more information, go to To find out Johnathan Blake, go to his website at To check out Professor Baerman's Top 10 Favorite tracks by father and son Blake, go to

Here's a piece from the younger Mr. Blake's 2012 Sunnyside release "The Eleventh Hour." The hard-driving piece features saxophonists Jaleel Shaw (alto) and Mark Turner (tenor) plus bassist Ben Street.

This Saturday (5/16), the Library presents the Tesla Quartet in concert at 2 p.m. in the Hubbard Room. TQ is composed of violinists Ross Snyder and Michelle Lie, violist Edwin Kaplan plus the Russian-born cellist Serafim Smigelskly and have been together (with a few personnel changes) since forming in 2008 while attending the Julliard School in New York City.  The group's repertoire ranges from Haydn to Schubert to Mendelssohn to modern composers such as Matthew Browne.

The concert, free and open to the public, is co-sponsored by the Library and the Edythe & Arthur Director Family Music Fund of Congregation Adath Israel.  To find out more about the Tesla Quartet, go to

Here's the TQ with a piece from Haydn:

Live and Exciting Music
Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, welcomes the duo of Tim Berne (alto saxophone) and Matt Mitchell (piano, keyboards) for an evening of sonic explorations. This is the 7th visit to the Elm City for the 60 year-old Berne, who first came t critical attention in the mid-1970s when he moved to New York City and began studying/collaborating with saxophonist/conceptualist Julius Hemphill (1938-1995).  Like his mentor, Berne continues to "push the envelope", creating music that does not fit easily into any boxes.  He has documented his music on labels such as Black Saint/Soul Note, JMT and Columbia Records. He has run his own label, Screwgun Records, since 1996 and currently leads a quintet known as Snakeoil, whose 3rd ECM recording "You've Been Watching Me" was issued last month.
Matt Mitchell, who is a member of Snakeoil, is also making his 7th appearance at The Firehouse (with his 8th just 3 weeks away, as a member of the Rudresh Mahanthappa Quintet). He's worked with a slew of great artists, from Ravi Coltrane to Dave Douglas to John Hollenbeck to Mario Pavone.  His 2013 recording "Fiction", issued in Pi Recordings, is a group of fascinating duos with drummer Ches Smith (not surprisingly also a member of Berne's Quintet).

As has been said many times, "expect the unexpected" when you go to see Tim Berne & Matt Mitchell - this should be quite an evening.  They'll play 2 sets, with the first commencing at 8:30.  The 10 p.m. show is a separate admission.  For more information, go to  

Not ones to rest on their laurels, Jan and Ken have a very busy weekend planned at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme. They start their 3rd year of presenting the finest live jazz along the CT shoreline on Friday May 15 with a return visit from vocalist Diane Schuur.  One of the finer contemporary interpreters of blues and jazz, Ms. Schuur has collaborated with numerous artists and has won 2 GRAMMY Awards in her career, which now spans 4 decades.  Her first set starts at 8:30 p.m.

The following night, the Club welcomes drummer Nasar Abadey & Supernova for 2 sets of high-energy music.  His Supernova shines brightly, a quintet that features 2 musicians with links to Hartford, native son Josh Evans on trumpet and the great tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton (who graduated from the Haart School).  Filling out the band is pianist Allyn Johnson and bassist James King.  Mr. Abadey, who is on the faculty of the Jazz Studies Department of the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, continues the tradition of other great drummers, such as Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Ralph Peterson Jr., in mentoring young musicians.  His son Kush Abadey has toured and recorded with trumpeter Wallace Roney and organist Jared Gold.  The music starts at 8:30 p.m

On occasion, The Side Door opens its door on Sunday night - they will do just that this week when trumpeter Ingrid Jensen brings her Berklee Quintet to Old Lyme for an 8 p.m. show (note the earlier start time).  Joining her will be saxophonist Daniel Ko, bassist Max Salinger-Ridley, Cuban-born pianist/vocalist Zahili Gonzalez Zamora, and drummer Peter Barnick.  Ms. Jensen, who may be best known for her work with the Maria Schenider Orchestra, is also a Berklee School alum and spends a good deal of her time working with younger musicians.  The Side Door appearance is the group's 4th in 5 nights, culminating with Monday's show at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

For more information and reservations, go to or call 860-434-0886.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Recording Live

This Friday evening (May 8), saxophonist and composer Russ Nolan (pictured left) returns to Firehouse 12 in New Haven just 51 weeks after his debut appearance.  Since his previous trip to the Elm City performance venue and recording studio, he recorded his 5th CD as a leader.  Titled "Call It What You Want" (Rhinoceruss Music), the disk was issued at the end of March.  However, his trip is not considered a "CD Release Party"; instead, the tenor saxophonist (he also plays soprano) and his regular Quartet - Mike Eckroth (piano), Daniel Foose (bass), and Brian Fishler (drums) - will be recording new material for his next album, "Sanctuary From The Ordinary - Live at Firehouse 12."  

"Call It...." continues Nolan's explorations into Latin rhythm and their usage in the American jazz idiom. To help create the exciting sounds on the CD, he adds percussionists Yasuyo Kimura and Victor Rendon (who plays, among other instruments, the jawbone of an Ass!).  The pieces flow organically, the solos are impressive as are the interactions of all the musicians.  Go to to find out more about Mr. Nolan and get a generous taste of his music.

The Russ Nolan Quartet plays 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for ticket information go to or call 203-785-0468.

Click here to listen to Russ's interview with Chuck Obuchowski on WWUH-FM.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Pianist Back on the Farm + The Producer Steps Up

Hard to believe it's 17 years since David Berkman released his debut recording for Palmetto Records. "Handmade" featured a splendid quintet including bassist Ugonna Okegwo, saxophonist Steve Wilson, trumpeter-flugelhornist Tom Harrell and drummer Brian Blade. Harrell's brilliant understated solo on "Sense of Loss" is so memorable as is Wilson's equally stunning solo on the title track.  Blade's drumming throughout is sparkling and the interaction of the group quite impressive. Beckman's compositions included several lovely heartfelt ballads. The recording remains one of my all-time favorites.

The rhythm section would stay intact for the pianist's next 2 releases, 2000's "Communications Theory" and 2002's "Leaving Home", both featuring a 3-saxophone lineup and recorded at label owner/chief engineer Matt Balitsaris's "Maggie's Farm" in Pennsylvania.  Berkman would go on to release 1 more for Palmetto (2004's "Start Here...Finish Here", a quartet date) and then get deeply involved with teaching as well as touring in the United States and throughout Europe and the Far East. He formed the New York Standards Quartet in 2006 (that group, with saxophonist Tim Armacost, bassist Daiki Yasukagawa, and drummer Gene Jackson, issued its 4th CD, "The New Straight Ahead" on Whirlwind Records) - the pianist also released a Quartet disk, "Live at Smoke", in 2009 featuring saxophonist Jimmy Greene.
Berkman (pictured left) reconnected with Balitsaris again in 2014, told him about his new group, a quartet with bassist Linda Oh and saxophonist (soprano, tenor) Dayna Stephens. One thing led to another, including the possibility of having Brian Blade in the mix as well as saxophonists Adam Kolker (soprano, alto,and tenor plus clarinets) and Billy Drewes (alto, soprano), and the musicians gathered at Maggie's Farm in March 2014.  The results of their 2-day excursion is "Old Friends and New Friends" and also serves as Berkman's return to Palmetto Records (Balistaris had sold but new owner Missi Callazzo was thrilled to invite the pianist back to the fold.)

The program makes great use of the 3 saxophonists, using multiple variations of their reeds to create many a handsome aural landscape. On the opening track "Tribute", all 3 are on soprano for the opening exposition of the theme with Kolker stepping out for the first solo. Stephens returns to tenor for his spotlight, coming after a heady piano solo.  Ms.Oh keeps the steady rhythm while Blade dances beneath Berkman's rippling piano phrases.  There is a "Maiden Voyage" feel to the chords and airy feel of the piece. The playful "No Blues No Really No Blues" follows; the soprano, alto and tenor  weave in and out of melody (Stephens playing counterpoint to Drewes while Kolker comes and goes). The bassist also utilizes the melody in her strong support, again allowing the drummer to interact with the soloist. The pianist does not enter the song until Kolker's soprano solo 1:45 seconds into the track. During the bass solo, which is just as melodic as anything on the recording, you can hear Stephens quietly playing the counter melody. "Strange Attractions Then Birds" has the most peaceful opening - piano, bass, and drums - leading to Kolker's soprano sax exposition of the melody. After a long solo from Berkman, Kolker and Drewes swoop around each like "birds" playing in the late afternoon sky, going higher and higher, diving down before heading right back up.  Their interactions are exhilarating.

Surprisingly, there are but 2 ballads in the program, the opening track and "Past Progressive", and both pick up speed as the sextet hurtles forward. One could argue that the closing tune, "Psalm", has the makings of a true ballad. The piano leads the group in, sharing the melody with the soprano saxophone and Kolker's bass clarinet for support (he may have overdubbed an extra clarinet part for the return to the theme after the handsome bass solo).  Blade's sparkling brush work, Ms. Oh's wide-ranging bass lines, and the memorable melody line, all make for a pleasing listening experience.

"Old Friends and New Friends" is not so much a return to form as it is, pardon the pun, a return to the farm.  Throughout his career as a leader, David Berkman has never made a dull album because, I believe, he's written a good number of melodies that stick in in the mind long after other pieces have faded away. This music, recorded in late winter, sounds as if it was recorded with the windows open, cool breezes wafting through Maggie's Farm recording studio, the sun lifting the spirits of the participants  Give it a listen - free your spirits! For more information, go to

For your enjoyment, here's "Tribute":

Over the past several years, the name of Oded Lev-Ari has shown up as producer and arranger on albums by Anat Cohen, the Three Cohens, Marty Ehrlich, Ernesto Cervini's Sextet, Basya Schecter, and Melissa Stylianou.  He has also produced several CDs for his wife Amy Cervini including her recent recording with Ms. Stylianou and Hilary Gardner in the guise  of the Duchess Trio. He moved to the United States from his native Israel in the 1990s to study at The New England Conservatory (among his teachers was Bob Brookmeyer.) He really caught the ears of critics when he arranged and produced "Noir", Ms. Cohen's 2007 recording with the Anzic Orchestra.

Considering all the work he has done in both Israel and the US, it's a bit of a surprise that Oded Lev-Ari (pictured left) is just now issuing his debut CD (at the age of 40!).  "Threading"(Anzic Orchestra) features a splendid octet including Ms. Cohen (clarinet), Will Vinson (alto and soprano saxophones), Brian Landrus (baritone sax, bass clarinet), Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet, flugelhorn), Gilad Hekselman (guitar), Joe Martin (bass), Matt Wilson (drums) and Mr. Lev-Ari (piano).  There is also a trio of cellos - Alex Waterman, Yoed Nir, and Noah Hoffeld - plus  the voice of Alan Hampton on 2 tracks and Jo Lawry on one.  The integration of the celli with the horn stands out throughout while Ms. Cohen solos with abandon on pieces such as the blues-drenched "Black Crow" (not the Joni Mitchell song). The opening 2+ minutes of that track is among the prettiest blend of sounds you'll hear this year (or anytime, for that fact) and check out Matt Wilson's melodic drums!

There is so much enjoy in this 45 minute program. One hears the influence of Oliver Nelson in the blues-drenched swing and melody line of "Lost and Found".  Matt Wilson's brushes subtly push the song forward, supporting Vinson on his alto solo or dropping a beat beneath the sweet baritone sax sounds of Landrus.  The title track has the feel of Nino Rota meets Maria Schneider is its sensuous rhythm, the lovely cello solo (uncredited), the soprano and trumpet interactions and the swooping clarinet solo. Mr. Hampton's voice and the subtle arrangement of Gordon Jenkins' "Goodbye" (the only piece not composed by the leader) brings to mind the work of Joe Henry -  in a fascinating turn, there is an instrumental reading of the same song (it closes the program) with the clarinet as the lead voice and the guitar replacing the piano on the opening section (everything else in the arrangement is the same). The blend of Ms. Lawry's voice with Mr. Hampton's on "The Dance" is hypnotic while the rhythms suggest the influence of John Hollenbeck and the melody a bow, perhaps, towards, Stephen Sondheim. "Voices" opens slowly with long phrases from the the cellos and the introduction of the reed and brass before Wilson pushes the song into high gear. Yet, within a minute, the piece quiets down and goes into a long reverie with instruments moving in and out of the sound spectrum. This time, it's the piano that falls into a steady rhythm and moves the piece forward. The soulful "E and A" has a quiet opening before Vinson's soprano saxophone introduces the melody as well as the other voices. At one point, the clarinets, saxophone and trumpet swirl around each other like a Dixieland band, each member playing his or her own variation of the melody.

It's barely May and there have been so many good new recordings issued this year. "Threading", with its wonderful melodies, airy arrangements, and inspired musicianship, is one of the best.  Oded Lev-Ari, who has helped to make so many contemporary musicians and vocalists uncover the truth and beauty in their music, reveals those attributes and more in how own music.

For more information, go to

Here's the delightful "Lost and Found":

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Connected by Rhythm

By now, most people know Steve Coleman, his various groups, his continuous of the relationship of the body to music, and, of course, his 3-decades old M-Base Collective.

For Mr. Coleman's new CD, "Synovial Joints" (Pi Recordings), he has returned to his Council of Balance (last heard on 1998's "Genesis & The Opening of The Way") - the new recording features up to 21 musicians, including vocalist Jen Shyu and 6 members of the contemporary classic group, the Talea Ensemble. Also on board are current members of his Five Elements group plus other frequent collaborators and a 4-percussion section.

Now well into his 4th decade of creating music, Mr. Coleman's alto saxophone sound is quite recognizable.  Like another famous Coleman (Ornette), he sounds like himself in any sized-group or musical situation, phrases cascading out of the instrument, a melodic yet percussive style that has its roots in both Charlie Parker and the afore-mentioned Ornette.  His solos have a dancing as well as a conversational quality, leaping atop the rhythms (ably supplied on the new recording by Marcus Gilmore) and the various combinations of strings, brass and reeds.

In his research, Steve Coleman investigated the synovial joints of the human body (defined as "...bounded by a fibrous capsule whose inner membrane secretes a viscous lubricating liquid (synovia), thus allowing a wide range of motion", for example those found in the elbows, knees and shoulders.  The composer/arranger applied his study of how these joints move to create this music, how the sounds move fluidly through each of the 10 tracks, whether playing the themes, the rhythms, or around the soloists. Often in this music, the guitar of Miles Okazaki is used as part of the  percussion section, his "clicking" lines audible above the congas and trap set. On "Harmattan", he plays counterpoint to the berimbau of Nei Sacramento. On the same track, one gets a great example of he composer's musical intentions when the trumpet solo of Jonathan Finlayson is followed by a long series of phrases played the piccolo, alto saxophone and trumpet supported by the echoing strings.  Ms. Shyu's voice stands out on the "multi-cultural" stew of "Celtic Cells", a ballad that slowly builds on the lovely circular melody until the leader steps on a long solo that moves in to and away from the main theme. 

It is tempting to describe every track but the best advice is to listen to this music and draw your own conclusions.  Sit and let the sounds wash over you; close your eyes and follow the paths that Steve Coleman creates with the long, sinewy, melodies and the varying streams of "beats".  Listen to how the different sections move in and out of the sound spectrum. Celebrate the rhythms of this music, rhythms born in Africa, South America, the Middle East and brought to the United States to swirl into the melting pot that became and continues to be Black Music.  "Synovial Joints" is truly music that dances, dances through your body and mind in ways that delight and satisfy.  For more information, go to