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 firehouse12.com 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 www.joannapascale.com.

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 mikeledonne.net.

The doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the music starts at 8:30. For more information, go thesidedoorjazz.com 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 www.donnymccaslin.com.

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 samuelblaser.com.

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

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