Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Independent Music Makers Live and On Record

Independence Day 2015 is upon us and what better way to celebrate  than to honor America's contribution to the world of music, jazz.  The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme brings in 2 masterful pianists leading 2 fine Trios.  Friday evening, Johnny O'Neal continues his comeback, recovering from a long and successful battle with H.I.V.  The pianist/vocalist, who hails from great music town of Detroit, MI, made his debut in New York City in the early 1980s, playing in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Milt Jackson's group and with Clark Terry.  After being attacked in New York City, O'Neal moved out, spending many years on the road. In the midst of his illness, he played the role of Art Tatum in the biopic "Ray" (2004), a role he was well-suited for as O'Neal is a master at  the keys.

He has returned to live and perform in NYC. As you can see by the photo above, Johnny O'Neal also is a vocalist and a fine one at that. He's bringing bassist Luke Sellick and drummer Charles Goold (son of tenor saxophonist Ned Goold) along for the ride.  Expect to knocked by the Trio's virtuosity and Mr O'Neal's warm personality.

Here's a track from his 2014 "Live at Smalls":

photo by Emra Islek
On Saturday night, the fireworks will be coming out of the piano when the Aaron Goldberg Trio comes to The Side Door. Mr. Goldberg has a great career as both a sideman and a leader, working with the likes of Joshua Redman, Freddie Hubbard and Nicolas Payton while releasing 5 CDs as a leader.  His latest disk, "The Now", was issued this past January on Sunnyside Records and features the pianist/composer with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer exraordinaire Eric Harland.  Goldberg is such a fine melodic player but also has an adventurous side.

For the gig in Old Lyme, the rhythm section includes bassist Matt Penman (SF Jazz Collective, James Farm) and drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr (son of guitarist Mark Whitfield). Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the Trio takes the stage at 8:30.  For ticket information and reservations, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886.  To learn more about Aaron Goldberg, go to www.aarongoldberg.com.

Here's a track from the new CD:

Bassist Joe Fonda will be at The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown on Friday July 3rd, serving as the rhythm section for The Nu Band, a quartet that also features alto saxophonist Mark Whitecage, trumpeter Charles Heberer, and special guest Erhard Hirt (guitar). The ensemble, formed in 1999 by Whitecage and drummer Lou Grassi, uses composition as a springboard for interactive collaborations and solos.

For this performance, there is no drummer listed so the music should have more of a chamber feel. However, if you know Joe Fonda, he can lay down some pretty serious rhythms. To find out out more about Nu, go to joefonda.com/the-nu-band. For more information about the gig, go to www.buttonwood.org. One caveat - The City of Middletown Fireworks Festival takes place on the evening of July 3, so build in extra time to get to the venue.

Over his career, which now hands nearly 3 decades, trumpeter, composer and conceptualist Dave Douglas has not been averse to taking risks. He has recorded in trio, quartet and quintet settings, worked with strings, with a brass quartet plus drums, interpreted the music of Joni Mitchell, Mary Lou Williams and Wayne Shorter as well as gospel and Americana, plus built of body of compositions whose quality rivals that of any composer in the creative music idiom.

He's recorded with electronic instruments before (for example, 2003's "Freak In") and taken political stands (2001's "Witness").  For his new CD, "High Risk" (Greeneaf Records), he matches his angular trumpet work and thoughtful compositions with the exciting rhythm section of Mark Guiliana (drums, electronics drums) and Jonathan Maron (electric bass, synth bass) plus adds the electronic manipulations of DJ Shigeto (aka Mark Saginaw) to create a most fascinating program.  The album is "dedicated to the entire community of people working towards global climate action" and the final track, "Cardinals", was "written in the wake of the events in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014."

From the outset, the music gets and keeps one's attention, with the sparkling work of Giuliana and deep notes from Maron (Groove Collective, Josh Roseman, Maxwell) pushing the music forward.  The somber trumpet melody of "Molten Sunset" is colored by the bubbling synth figures surrounding it and the amazing snare work below.  The bluesy funk of "Etiquette" sound like the backdrop of a Tom Waits piece but Douglas's trumpet leans more towards the funky side.  The title track is an atmospheric ballad with Maron's thick tones shadowing the trumpet melody - listen to the bass counterpoint and the percussion attack during the leader's driving solo. The afore-mentioned "Cardinals" opens with throbbing percussion, moaning synths and a lively bass melody. The trumpet enters, playing a elegiac melody.  The pace stays steady even as the snare drum enters and then departs.  Douglas stays in an introspective mode throughout and, with the wash of synths around him, the music has the air of a moist summer's night moving into a cloud-streaked morning sky.

"High Risk" is powerful music, especially in the light of its dedication and inspiration.  Dave Douglas and his cohorts do not play it safe and one imagines this music opens up even more in live performances. Music continues to address political and social issues(as artists have for centuries) and that helps to give this album extra depth.  For more information, go to www.greenleafmusic.com/davedouglas/.

Here's the opening track from "High Risk":

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Live in Old Lyme + A Bassist's Journey

Okay, so I'm a bit crazy when it comes to drummer Rudy Royston.  He's one of those players who plays with great fire but rarely does he upstage the leader.  He's been working and recording with tenor saxophonist J D Allen since 2008's "I Am I Am" (Sunnyside Records) and, along with bassist Gregg August, they are a formidable saxophone trio. Allen released 3 CDs of original material with the rhythm section between 2008 - 2012 and then organized a brand-new new ensemble - a quartet featuring Hartford natives Dezron Douglas on bass (for the 2013 sessions) and  Jonathan Barber on drums - that recorded his 2013 and 2014 Savant releases, "Grace" and "Bloom".

The Trio is now back together and they are coming to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme this Friday evening. They are celebrating the recent release (May 19) of their 4th adventure together.  "Graffiti" (Savant - you can access the title track below) is an excellent CD, 9 Allen originals that explore the blues and modern jazz roots in his music.  The influence of John Coltrane is noticeable throughout but especially on the album's opening track, "Naked",  a raucous duet for tenor sax and drums. August is no slouch - his bluesy phrases on "Sonny Boy" echo the work of Charles Mingus while the leader romps through the piece.

Mr Allen, Mr August and Mr Royston will take the stage at 8:30 p.m. (the doors open an hour earlier) and, rest assured, they will take the stage.  Many people believe the best creative music is interactive and the J D Allen trio plays together with great energy and gusto. Best call 860-434-0886 for reservations (I know this is late notice but do it anyway.)

J D Allen, amazingly, does not have a website but you can get information and find out where else the Trio is playing by going to www.facebook.com/TheJDALLENfanpage. !!!!(Author's Note: Jan from The Side Door set me straight - the saxophonist does have a website.  Go to www.jdallentenorsaxophonist.com.)!!!!

Here's the title track from the new CD:

NY Times
On Saturday evening, Jan and Ken welcome back trumpeter and composer Jeremy Pelt to The Side Door. This time, the former Hartt School Professor brings his acoustic ensemble, 4/5ths of whom appear on his 2015 HighNote CD "Tales, Musings, and Other Reveries".  Besides Pelt, the group coming to Old Lyme includes New Haven native Ben Allison (bass), veteran drummer Victor Lewis and the fine young Italian-born pianist Simona Premazzi (drummer Billy Drummond was the other musician featured on the CD).

The new recording is mighty impressive, filled with strong melodies, excellent improvisations and interactions, and exciting solos.  Pelt is a generous leader, not hogging the solo spotlight. The program features 5 original pieces plus reworkings of Clifford Jordan's "Glass Bead Games", Wayne Shorter's "Vonetta" and Jimmy Van Heusen's sweet ballad "I Only Miss Her When I Think of Her".

The Quartet plays its first note at 8:30 p.m. For more information and reservations, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886.

To find out more about Jeremy Pelt, go to www.jeremypelt.net.

Here's a piece from the new recording:

Bassist and composer Petros Klampanis is a native of Greece (from the island of Zakynthos in the Ionian Sea) - he came to the United States in 2008 to study at the Aaron Copland School of Music in New York City.  He stayed and has been working fairly steadily ever since. One of the musicians he worked with was saxophonist Greg Osby who quickly signed the bassist to his Inner Circle Music label.  In 2011, his debut CD "Contextual" showed him to be a fine bassist, a quickly-maturing composer and creative arranger.  His duo with vocalist Gretchen Parlato on Paul McCartney's "Blackbird" is quite delightful.

His new Inner Circle recording, "Minor Disputes", features Jean-Michel Pilc (piano), Gilad Hekselman (guitar), and John Hadfield (drums, percussion) plus percussionist Bodek Janke, a string quartet, and Max ZT who plays the Persian hammered dulcimer known as the santuri.  The music covers a lot of territory; the title track, for instance, opens the program as a quiet ballad with lovely piano and guitar work (with the strings swirling around them ,then drops into an infectious rhythmical treat. "March of the Sad Ones" has a bluesy edge, with strong work from Hekselman, an excellent string arrangement, whisper-soft percussion and melodic bass phrases. "Ferry Frenzy" is the East River version of "Parisian Thoroughfare", the speedy melody lines stopping for strong to get on board before pitching forward. The final track, "Thalassaki", uses a traditional Greek melody as its basis. Once again, the guitarist contributes a forceful solo (with a sound that resembles a bouzouki) over a subdued yet propulsive rhythm section. Here, as he does throughout the program, Klampanis creates a string arrangement that is more than mere decoration but an intrinsic part of the song.

Petros Klampanis is not only an exceptional bassist (his tone is rich without being cloying) but also on his way to becoming an impressive arranger.  The music on "Minor Disputes" has moments of great beauty and musicality, a journey home to the composer's roots but also a glimpse into his odyssey.  For more information, go to www.petrosklampanis.com.

Here's an alternate arrangement of "Thalassaki" (without the string quartet):

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Music for Healing

After hearing about the murderous attack in Charleston, South Carolina, in a house of worship, one that has served as a refuge (and much more) for the African American community of that area, music was the last thing on my mind for the past few days. Anger, sadness, disbelief, sorrow, and fear crowded out any other thoughts. As a teenager and young adult, I lived through the Vietnam era, through the Civil Rights movement, through the riots after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and more; I have seen the destruction we Americans can do to each other. And I have seen the good we can do as well, how we rush to help in times of crisis.

As someone who listens to music everyday for pleasure or work or teaching, there are certain pieces I turn to in times of sorrow. Works such as J.S. Bach's "Suites for Solo Cello", Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue", John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme", Maria Schneider's "Sky Blue" (especially the title track), certain solo piano pieces from Keith Jarrett, Erik Satie, and Ludwig van Beethoven, all these (and a several others) can help calm me down and raise my spirits.  Many of you would have chosen differently and some might avoid music altogether in hard times.

And, now there is a new recording to add to my list.

 "The Subliminal and The Sublime" (Inner Arts Initiative) is the second recording from vibraphonist and composer Chris Dingman.  Dingman, a graduate of Wesleyan University and the Monk Institute at the University of Southern California, has worked and/or recorded with saxophonist Steve Lehman, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, drummer/percussionist Harris Eisenstadt, and pianist Noah Baerman. His self-released debut CD, "Waking Dreams", came out in 2011 to great critical acclaim.

The major influence on his new album is nature and the composer's continuing study of how we, as humans and creative people, learn from nature and from its role in our everyday lives. The 5-part suite is often meditative and reflective; one would be wise to listen to the music in one sitting.  Not because the pieces don't "work" on their own but for how they flow into each other.  His cohorts on the recording include Fabian Almazan (piano), Loren Stillman (alto saxophone), Ryan Ferreira (guitar), Linda Oh (bass) and Justin Brown (drums). For them (and himself), Dingman has created music that illuminates their individual abilities and, especially, how well they work together as a unit.  While there are solos throughout the program, the suite is often about interlocking melodies, about quiet themes that take a good while to unwind.  The opening track, "Tectonic Plates", starts with sustained notes from the vibes, slowly adds guitar until the saxophone rises out of the center of the piece, surrounded by bowed bass, until the sustained notes drop away and a new melodic leads to the second track "Voices of the Ancient." The multi-sectioned piece moves in several fascinating directions, including a section where the piano and vibes solo together over a driving rhythm section.

Don't concentrate on or wait for the solos. Instead, pay attention to the intelligent arrangements of the instrumental voices. This music, more than anything, asks you to ruminate, to ponder, to take time to drop your expectations and follow the streams of music.  These pieces flow like the artwork of Shoko Tagaya that adorns the cover, the sounds undulating, coursing like the blood through our bodies, like the eddies at the mouth of a river or stream, like clouds drifting through an early morning sky. "The Subliminal and The Sublime" will lift your spirits, challenging yet reassuring, pulling you in and putting you under its spell. Give this piece a chance.

For more information, go to www.chrisdingman.com.

Here's the opening track:

I always ask my students if music can "change the world."  Many answer in the affirmative, others are not so sure. I would like to believe the former and fear that it is the latter.  But music can and has changed my "world", changed it for the better.

If you wish to donate to the funds set up for the families of the victims shot inside Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, go to www.charleston-sc.gov/index.aspx?NID=1330.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Side Door Welcomes 2 Groups of 3

Yet another great weekend for piano trio lovers awaits at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme. On Friday evening June 17, the red-headed Benny Green brings his Trio - bassist David Wong and drummer Rodney Green (no relation) - to the stage to play 2 sets of fine contemporary jazz.  It's hard to believe looking at the ever-young looking Green that 1) - he is 52 years old and 2) - he's been on the scene touring and recording since the late 1980s. Over the years, he's worked with such jazz legends as Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Freddie Hubbard, and Ray Brown. Listening to him play, he has absorbed his influences, playing free and easy with a penchant for swinging mightily.

His latest  CD, "Live In Santa Cruz!" (Sunnyside Records) is his 14th as a leader or co-leader and features Wong plus drummer Kenny Washington. It's an exciting program (the pianist loves to play and play quickly) of all-originals, recorded live,  that shows the influences of Bud Powell, Marcus Miller, Phineas Newborn Jr. and others. That written, Green is his own man, committed to making his music in his own way. Pieces such as "Golden Flamingo" show a bluesy side whereas "Anna's Blues" is so joyful that the blues melt away. "Sonny Clark" is a tribute to an underusing hero of hard bop taken at a knuckle-busting tempo.  Another is the rapid-fire "Bish Bash", which sounds like a variation of "Flight of the Bumblebee." Washington's sprightly drumming leads the way into "Phoebe's Samba", a tune that dances outrageously out of the speakers (and has a melody line reminiscent of Steely Dan's "Don't Take Me Alive").  Green plays with such abandon on this and most of the other 8 tracks. For more information, go to bennygreenmusic.com.

One should expect the Benny Green Trio will play with the same fire when they hit the stage at 8:30 p.m. on Friday.  You should expect that they will!

Here's a taste of the Trio's new recording to whet your appetite:

On Saturday, pianist/composer Luis Perdomo, often seen and heard sitting in the piano chair of the Miguel Zenon Quartet and the Ravi Coltrane Quartet, leads a new trio into The Side Door, an ensemble he calls the Controlling Ear Unit.  Consisting of the dynamic and always exciting drummer Rudy Royston and bassist Mimi Jones (who played the club last Saturday with her own quartet, the trio creates music that has its roots in Perdomo's childhood in Venezuela plus the music and musicians he encountered upon arriving in New York City to study at the Manhattan School of Music. (AUTHOR'S NOTE - the inimitable Mr. Royston had to step down so his chair is being filled by the equally dynamic snd exciting Henry Cole, the drummer in the Zenon Quartet.)

Perdomo & the CEU are celebrating the release of their new CD, "Twenty-Two" (Hot Tone Music) - the title of his 7th CD as a leader relates to how many years the pianist has lived in New York and is also half his age (at the time of the recording in December 2014).  Perdomo plays electric piano on 5 of the 12 tracks and Ms. Jones contributes a wordless vocal that is unison with her bass and the piano on "Aaychdee" - if you've heard her 2014 Hot Tone release "Balance", you know that she has a lovely voice and formidable "chops" on her instrument. Throughout the recording, the piano and bass work together well (no surprise, they are husband and wife!), with the pianist's left hand often playing the same lines on the thematic material.  "Two Sides of A Goodbye", a "freer" piece, opens that way; with Royston quietly moving around his kit, Perdomo and Ms. Jones play in and around each other's phrases. On "Old City", the bassist opens the piece with her thick tone setting the pace, a tempo that the drummer expands upon, creating a thunderstorm of percussion beneath the rolling piano lines.  Royston solos later in the piece, his poly-rhythmical attack erupting out of the speakers.   The bass-drum intro to "Cota Mil" is incredibly funky, setting the stage for the electric piano's entrance.  The song has a "push-pull" tension between the rhythm section and pianist, getting more exciting as the solo unwinds. The trio build to a fiery climax, leading to a soft bass solo that calms her bandmates until the theme returns in a blazing coda.

The interaction of electric and acoustic piano on "Brand New Grays" is impressive (it's overdubbed but sounds fresh and alive). The piece romps along, the pianist trading lines with himself until he and Ms. Jones step aside for an incredible drum solo! Rudy Royston makes one sit up and take notice, rattling the speakers in the car or on the wall.

Of the 12 tracks, only "How Deep Is Your Love" (yes, the Bee Gees tune) is not a Perdomo original. Yet, he brings the same kind of multi-genre approach to that track as he does on most of the cuts, with changing tempos, flowing lines and touches of Latin and Classical styles in the arrangement.

"Twenty-Two" is a splendid album with its spotlight on 3 excellent musicians who give their all, a rhythm section that is responsive and creative, and a composer/pianist whose songs are a kaleidoscope of his musical influences and explorations.  Luis Perdomo & Controlling Ear Unit not only "controls" your mind but also makes you want to move, to dance and to smile.  For more information, go to www.luisperdomojazz.com.

If you're lucky enough to be in Connecticut this weekend, The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme opens its doors at 7:30 p.m. with the first set at 8:30 on both nights.  For more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Large Ensembles 2015 (Part 3)

Composer, arranger, and conductor Ayn Inserto, born and raised in Singapore, moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at the age of 14. She got involved with music in both church and high school, discovering jazz along the way.  After several years in colleges on the West Coast, she transferred to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and, most notably, studied with Bob Brookmeyer and George Garzone.

"Home Away From Home" (Neuklang Records) is her 3rd recording, her first since 2009's "Muse" and also her first with an ensemble other than her own Orchestra.  This time around, she's working with the Colours Jazz Orchestra, the brainchild of trombonist Massimo Morganti (whom the composer met at NEC).  He invited her to Italy where she met his ensemble (in existence since 2002) and she knew she wanted ti work with them. Ms. Inserto composed 5 of the 7 tracks, including a smart rearrangement of Joe Henderson's "Recorda Me" and the splendid closer "Subo", a mambo from the pen of Boston-based trumpeter Dan Rosenthal (a member of Ms. Inserto's Jazz Orchestra).  One cannot help but hear the influence of Mr. Brookmeyer on the playful opening track, "You're Leaving? But I Just Got Here" with swirling interlocking solos and the long chords in the background, all taking place over a rousing beat. It's also evident in the lovely ballad "La Danza Infinita" in the way the various sections move in an out of the mix plus how Morganti's trombone solo does not occur until halfway through the piece, growing logically from what came before.  The slinky, soulful, "Down A Rabbit Hole" opens with a frantic brass and reeds scramble before dropping into a funky rhythm - the song also includes a blazing hot tenor solo from Fillippo Sebastianelli. Watch out for the really funky (think Average White Band funky) "Hang Around", driven by the "fatback" drumming of Massimo Manzi - he even gets a short high-energy solo near the close of the track.

"Home Away From Home" is a welcome addition to the discography of Ayn Inserto. Her compositions continues to mature and her arrangements have a sparkle that make them stand out from many of her contemporaries. Another impressive aspect of this music is how the emotional content comes through, even though the Colours Jazz Orchestra is not her main vehicle. The composer, who also serves as the conductor here, is able to get musicians who are not as familiar with her as the ones she has worked with for the past decade, to illuminate her intentions and emotions.

For more information, go to www.ayninserto.com.

Trombonist/composer John Yao, born and raised in Illinois, did his undergraduate work at Indiana University then earned a Master's Degree in Jazz Performance from the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College in New York City. He has worked with a slew of artists ranging from the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Arturo O'Farrill's Latin Jazz Orchestra, The Glenn Miller Orchestra and is a member of the salsa band, Chino Nunez and Friends.  

His debut CD as a leader was "In the Now", a Quintet date released by Innova Recordings in 2012. Now, he has issued "Flip-Flop", subtitled "John Yao and His 17-Piece Instrument" on his  See Tao Recordings. One will recognize many of the names in the ensemble, including Jon Irabagon (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Rich Perry (tenor sax), David Smith (trumpet, flugelhorn), Luis Bonilla (trombone), Jesse Stacken (piano) and Vince Cherico (drummer). Co-produced by Yao and JC Sanford (who has his own impressive large ensemble), the program kicks off (literally and figuratively) with the title track. It may remind some of the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra in its sweep and in how the the soloists moves easily in and out of the track.  Cherico is the perfect drummer for this music in that he can be explosive or tender when called but, more important, is always right on the beat and locked in with bassist Bob Sabin. Notice their support of the soloists throughout the album but especially on the medium-tempo "Reflection." "Ode to the Last Twinkie" may sound like the title of a Frank Zappa and there are some Zappa-esque flourishes plus a hyperactive closing section during which Irabagon, John O'Gallagher (alto sax), Andy Gravish (trumpet), and Matt McDonald (trombone) catch fire over the sections. The "call-and-response" right before the close is dazzling.

One needs to take his or her time with large ensemble. There is so much to listen, so many moving parts, and, often, so many impressive solos. Such is the case with "Flip-Flop".  One wants to go back and take time with all the tracks, even the 2 shorter "Soundscapes."  "No. 1" is a smattering of sounds, legato rhythm, swirling horns and cymbals yet never threatening. Rich Perry gets the lead on "No. 2", a piece with more forward motion but with moaning sounds from the reeds brass while Cherico moves around his kit with abandon. 

By the time you reach the final track, the straight-ahead swinging "Out of Socket", one realizes he's been on quite a journey. The composer may not be telling stories in the fashion of Maria Schneider or Bob Brookmeyer but that should come in time and experience; at this time, his intention is making music that involves the musicians, giving them a variety of avenues to display their talents  The album clocks in at 78 minutes with 6 of the tracks over 8 minutes. That's a lot to take in but it's worth the time.  John Yao uses this "Instrument" to deliver great pleasure.

For more information, go to www.johnyao.com.

Todd Marcus, who plays bass clarinet and hails from Baltimore, MD (where he still lives), has a new recording with his nonet, the Todd Marcus Jazz Orchestra. "Blues For Tahrir" (HiPNOTIC Records) is a multi-layered project, reflecting the composer's family roots (his father was born in Egypt) and his non-profit work in the poorer areas of his home.  Yes, this is music that has a message that can be construed as "dark"; after all, the title contains the word "blues" and we all know what has transpired since the 2011 "Arab Spring." It's also infused with hope and a desire to soothe, if not heal, the world with art.

The TMJO is a nonet that includes Greg Tardy (tenor saxophone), Russell Kirk (alto saxophone), Brent Birckhead (alto sax, flute), Alex Norris (trumpet), Alan Ferber (trombone), Xavier Davis (piano), Jeff Reed (bass), and Eric Kennedy (drums) plus guests Jon Seligman (percussion on 3 tracks) and Irene Jalenti (vocals on 3 tracks). The centerpiece is the   4-part, 24-minute title "Suite" yet the program opens with with "Many Moons (Intro)" and "Many Moons." These pieces posit Marcus's composing and arranging in the post 1960s, picking up hints of the work of McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock as well as younger composers such as Orrin Evans (Marcus has worked with the pianist's Captain Black Band). The quiet opening to "Alien" favors the reeds and brass with the leader's bass clarinet holding down the bottom.  The ballad picks up speed when Ms. Jalenti's husky alto, with a touch of Melody Gardot in the delivery, gives the lyrics (the piece was composed by Marcus's friend Gary Young) an air of mystery. There's a splendid solo from Ferber (not surprising) and, after vocal verse, Davis steps out over the active rhythms of Reed and Kennedy.  The vocalist returns for a fine Marcus arrangement of George Gershwin's oft-recorded "Summertime".  Again, the group takes its time moving through the opening section before Ms. Jalenti enters; she also is no hurry the first time through but, suddenly, the band moves in a funky direction. The Northern African influence is heard on "Wahsouli", pointing to Tyner's mid-70s recording with larger ensembles.  The sweep of the brass and the high tones of the flute also display a Randy Weston influence.

Add capGary Young imagetion
The "Blues for Tahrir Suite" open with "Adhan", a tune with a rippling, muezzin call for the melody line (also heard in the supporting phrases from the reed and brass). The excellent tenor sax solo rises over the forceful rhythm section.  The second section, "Reflections", starts out in a quiet mood again with a sinuous melody line, the alto sax doubling the muted trumpet while the bass clarinet and tenor saxophone respond.  The band quiets down for Marcus's emotional bass clarinet solo yet listen to Seligman's insistent hand percussion.  The handsome movement of the reeds and brass at the close of the piece gives way to "Tears on the Square", the third section, which opens with a long bass solo that echoes the prayer-like melody in the opening. Ms. Jalenti's wordless vocal lines, in tandem, at various times, with the flute or brass, have the feel of a person who has seen her dreams disappear but the piece ends n a more meditative state.  There's more hope in the final section, "Protest", but there's anger as well, heard in the fiery drum work of Kennedy and the roaring bass clarinet of the leader. Kirk flies out of the crowd with a blazing alto sax rallying cry before the drums solo sends fireworks through ending of the suite.

"Blues for Tahrir", the second large ensemble recording for Todd Marcus (2012's "Inheritance" featured 2 different quartet dates) is not only powerful work of social consciousness but also a strong musical step forward for the composer/arranger. The future for Marcus's father's homeland is muddy at best but that will not stop the citizen of baltimore and the world from trying to heal the rifts that surround him and us all.

For more information, go to www.toddmarcusjazz.com.

Out to the West Coast of the United States, Seattle WA to be exact, to uncover the music of the Zubatto Syndicate, a 14-member ensemble led by guitarist, composer, and arranger Andrew Boscardin.  The ensemble has a unique lineup; there are 8 reeds players including 2 bassoonists in Francine Peterson and Coltan Foster, oboist Janet Putnam, Beth Fleenor (clarinet), Chris Credit (bass clarinet), Steve Treseler (alto saxophone), Tobi Stone (tenor saxophone) and Jim DeJoie (baritone saxophone). Jim Sisko (trumpet) and David Marriot, Jr. (trombone) make up the brass section while Boscardin's guitar joins Tim Kennedy (acoustic and electric keyboards), Tim Carey (bass), and Eric Peters (drums) in the rhythm section.

There is a "pop" sensibility rife in the ensemble's program on its sophomore effort, simply titled "Zubatto Syndicate 2" (Boscology). One cannot miss it in the fiery take of Metallica's "Master of Puppets" and while the translation to large ensemble does not seem to be a parody, it's hard to match the energy of the original 1986 performance.  Not that the Syndicate does not try.  Boscardin's fuzzy guitar licks lurk in the background and there are "killer" solos from Ms. Fleener and and Marriot,Jr. The punk intro to "Thyonean Butt Rock" is even heavier (pun intended) and one has to chuckle in how the melody shifts from the clarinet to the bassoons and oboe. But, Boscardin is somewhat serious as well.   His blazing guitar solo is delightfully excessive and DeJoie's baritone sax solo matches his intensity. More of the same intensity on "Iggy (Ignaceous Carapace)" but this time it's Ms. Fleener who kicks serious butt on her wild solo.

The majority of this music is fun to listen to, especially to hear where Boscardin will take his band. The program opens with "BBots" - the swirling synth opening, a la Parliament Funkadelic, gives way to melody and arrangement that would not sound out of place on "Thriller". Can't help but chuckle at the keyboard "bagpipe" solo has the sound of Traffic's "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys."   "Gort's Big Day" displays a good dose of funk, much of which comes from the bass and drums.  The bass clarinet solo, with its somewhat excessive echo, does "get down" and the final 2 minutes has a pleasing call-and-response in the reeds while the brass bumps along. The guitarist combines 3 pieces by Beyoncé into "The Zeyoncé Suite".  Like the Metallica cover, one does not detect  parody as much as the opportunity to play with the possibilities in the originals.  When the oboe rises out of the mists of "Flawless" or the brass takes on the melody of "Pretty Hurts" or the trombone leads the way on "XO", there is an honesty that permeates the performances.

"Zubatto Syndicate 2" has its share of odd sounds (cheesy organ and synth riffs, flashy "shredded" guitar solos, and the delightful burbling bassoons) yet one can't help but smile and pump up the volume.  Andrew Boscardin is serious about the possibilities of linking "popular" music to an improvising ensemble yet does not discount the fun, the "play", in his and the band's endeavors.  Have fun with this recording!

For more information, go to www.boscology.com.

Enjoy "Gort's Big Day":

Friday, June 12, 2015

Two Michaels and One Sam, Bassists & Composers

Michael Bates is one might call a "Renaissance" musician.  He's recorded music by Shostakovich, created mainstream recordings, and is co-host, with trumpeter Dave Douglas, of the Greenleaf Music podcast, "A Noise From the Deep."

Judging by the cover of his new recording, "Northern Spy" (Stereoscopic), one realizes the title relates more to his Canadian heritage (with a nod to James Bond) than to the apple of the same name. It's his third trio recording, the first being his 2004 debut "Outside Sources" and the second a 2014 date co-led with saxophonist Peter Van Huffel, "Boom Crane."  Here, he leads a group with fellow Canadian Michael Blake (tenor saxophone) and Jeremy "Bean" Clemons (drums). Right from the opening notes of "Theme for a Blind Man", it's evident this will be yet another change of direction for the bassist. This music has its roots planted in the blues  Instead of a slide guitar, there is the thick toned bass notes behind the moaning voice and the heavy breathing of the saxophone.  "Essex House" is a slow blues with Blake's swaggering tenor pushed forward by the throbbing bass and steady drums. In the quieter moments, one can hear the basic blues patterns. "An Otis Theme on Curtis Changes" gives its influences in the title and features serious "testifying" from Blake.  The very slow take of Henry Mancini's "The Days of Wine and Roses" is quite powerful as well, sad but defiant as befits the storyline of the movie.

And the trio can swing.  "Roxy" has a great groove laid down by the walking bass and the driving drums.  Blake digs in, giving his all, jumping up into the higher register of the sax every now and then. The drummer takes the spotlight on the aptly-titled "Bean", moving around the kit with abandon. His partners join on a quick set of riffs but, for the most part, Clemons is the main voice. His funky intro to the title track provides the bed for the hip-shaking bass lines and the expressive conversational sax phrases. The final track, "Neptune", picks up on the energy of that track and intensifies it even more.  Blake really lets loose yet never loses control, even as the rhythm section pushes really hard beneath him.

"Northern Spy" is an aural treat, with strong playing, heady compositions and and "in-your-face" presentation. Michael Bates has such a "deep" tone, his notes seem to grab your chest to say "pay attention" - his cohorts also give their best, making this album a tasty addition to your library. For more information, go to outsidesources.org.

Michael Oien grew up in Wisconsin in a house filled with all sorts of music. At the age of 12, he met bassist Richard David and he found his true instrument.  After graduating from the Berklee School in Boston, Oien moved to New York City in 2004, finding work with drummer Yotan Rosenbaum, saxophonists Darius Jones and Uri Gurvich plus guitarists Nir Felder and Mick Goodrich.

Now, he has a debut CD.  "And Now" (Fresh Sound New Talent) features a quintet with the "rising star" guitarist Matthew Stevens, Canadian-born pianist and composer Jamie Reynolds (husband of vocalist Melissa Stylianou),  drummer Eric Doob, and alto saxophonist Nick Videen (tenor saxophonist Travis LaPlante appears on one track). The program concentrates more on the bassist's compositions (6 originals plus the traditional "All My Trials") than on his prowess as a soloist.  To his credit, the album starts with the lovely ballad "In The Early Autumn" - he does not play his first note until after the piano introduction and the acoustic guitar reading of the theme (over 90 seconds into the song).  He's careful to make sure that one fully hears the melody before Stevens' striking solo.  Oien opens the next track, "Skol", with a forceful Mingus-like solo before Doob enters with a skipping beat.  Videen's slow alto sax lines are a smart counterpoint to the rousing rhythm section (no piano or guitar on this track). The alto solo eventually picks up steam which pushes Doob to react in kind.

The centerpiece of the album is the 3-part "Dreamer".  "Part 1" opens with bass, cymbals and alto saxophone in legato before Stevens enters with his atmospheric electric guitar chords.  The bouncing bass lines lead in "Part 2" with Reynold's piano joining in. There is a touch of Pat Metheny in the melody and chords but the pace slows for the saxophone, piano, and guitar to move around each other.  "Part 3" opens with Videen's solo over Doob's striking drum work and Reynolds' powerful chords and short phrases. After the alto sax drops away the pianist moves the song into a different mood, more contemplative, before the rhythm section picks up in intensity and Reynolds responds in kind.  Soon, Stevens joins the mix in a support mode, his phrases in sync with the alto sax pushing the piece to its climax and a soft coda.

One of the more impressive aspects of the music is how the musicians moved around inside the pieces.  "Smile This Mile" has a lovely melody played by Videen, pushed along by the rich piano chords until Reynolds steps out. He does not rush, his phrases flowing like a leaf in the wind while Doob and Oien serve as both musical and emotional counterpoint.  The alto sax solo starts in the same "mood" before going in a more playful direction, dancing around the chords and the active drums.

"And Now" close with a solo bass reading of "All My Trials" - as he does throughout the album in his supportive role, Michael Oien shows a melodic side.  One hears traces of Charlie Haden, Charles Mingus, and Dave Holland in his assertive yet tasteful journey through the piece. His debut as a leader is impactful, especially in his desire to make this a "group" effort, to showcase the work of saxophonist Nick Videen and to give both Jamie Reynolds and Matt Stevens major roles in telling his stories.  Kudos to Eric Doob in his capacity as sparkplug for the music and battery mate to the leader's rhythmic conception. Overall, a splendid introduction to the music and vision of Michael Oien.

For more information, go to michaeloien.com.

art by Jeffrey Bishop
It's been nearly 4 &1/2 years since bassist/composer Sam Trapchak (born 1984, Livonia, MI) released his debut CD "Lollipopocalypse" with his quartet Put Together Funny. That group found the bassist in the company of Greg Ward (alto saxophone), Tom Chang (electric guitar), and Arthur Vint (drums).  Trapchak is set to release his 2nd CD "Land Grab" (Raw Toast Records), another quartet date with both Ward and Chang but now with Christian Coleman in the drummer's seat (and minus the group name).

What else has remained from the first effort is the impressive drive in the songs, the intelligent interactions of the musicians and the playful melodies the bassist creates for the quartet. Greg Ward impresses with his facility and bright tone, Tom Chang is both fiery and introspective, and Christian Coleman displays power and subtlety throughout.  "Lumpy's Blues" is just that, a hard-rocking blues with an odd meter and a smoking guitar solo. The leader gets to step out, displaying a big tone akin to that of Dave Holland. "Bell Curve" is a sweet ballad with classical overtones - Ward's expressive alto phrases reach into the higher registers of the alto saxophone. He has a tone not unlike Arthur Blythe in that one can hear the influence of the blues in the way he shapes his notes and how he "tells a story" in his solos. Hear how he moans in the background during the early moments of "Beautiful/Furious" eventually taking over the melody from the bass.  His solo takes its energy from Coleman's intense drumming.  Chang's fine guitar playing walks a line between jazz, rock and blues. When he lets loose over the active rhythm section on "Breathing Room" and "Pterofractal", all genres blur into his "attack mode" attitude.  Yet, his soft opening lines and continuing counterpoint on "Bell Curve" is spare yet vital to the movement of the piece. The mesmerizing back-and-forth riffing in the early part of the title track gets one's attention by creating the tension in tandem with the insistent bass note underneath the melody line played by Ward. The structure of the piece changes after the first part of the saxophone solo, picking up in intensity as the guitarist's rapid-fire phrases bob and weave in the mix. His solo near the end is refreshingly intense fueled by the drummer's insistent forward motion.

Through it all, Trapchak's bass sets the tone.  He can be percussive, his throbbing pulse freeing up Coleman to push and interact with the soloists.  His solid lines never waver, he does not step out of his foundational role  just to "show off", and is the heart of the music.  The parts he plays allow the others the freedom to move around in the structure.  When he and Coleman lock in under the saxophone solo on "Breathing Room", Trapchak's ever-changing yet steady bass lines are riveting.

The music and performances on "Land Grab" will grab you, make you sit up and pay attention, make you want to come back again and again to hear its kaleidoscope of sounds.  Sam Trapchak stands at the center of this music, his compositions and musicianship creating a joyful and adventurous listening experience.

For more information, go to samtrapchak.com.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ornette Coleman (1930-2015) + Saturday Uncertainty Series Live

As I was writing the paragraph at the bottom of this post, Twitter and Facebook (and other forms of media) began spreading the news of the passing of Ornette Coleman. The Texas native was one of several musicians who changed the face of Black American music in the mid-to-late 1950s, among them Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.  Like Mr. Rollins (his junior by 6 months) did on "Way Out West" (1957) and "Freedom Suite"(1958), Coleman dispensed with chordal instruments for his groundbreaking Atlantic recordings ("The Shape of Jazz to Come" and "Change of the Century" in 1959 and beyond).  His work with trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden (and later with Scott LaFaro), and drummers Billy Higgins ("..Shape of Jazz..") and Ed Blackwell ("Change..." and into the 1960s) continues to resonate n the world of improvised music.

Mr. Coleman went on the record for Blue Note Records (1965-68), Flying Dutchman, Impulse, Columbia Records (including the large ensemble work "Skies of America" in 1972) and then created his Prime Time "electric" band for Artists House in 1975 (although "Dancing In My Head" was not released until 1977).  In 1986, Pat Metheny, Jack DeJohnette and Charlie Haden joined Mr. Coleman for "Song X" (credited to the guitarist and saxophonist), a critical and commercial success.  In the 1990s, Verve Records gave the saxophonist his own Harmolodic imprint and released 4 CDs in 3 years but it would be nearly a decade before Mr. Coleman released another album under his name.  "Sound Grammar", a live recording from 2005 but released in 2006, featured his son Denardo (drums) plus bassists Tony Falanga and Greg Cohen.  It was to be the last recording to be released, although it's not hard to imagine that there are not more sessions in the "vaults."

Ft Worth/Star Telegram
Through it all, Ornette Coleman never wavered in his forward motion. His tone on alto saxophone was influenced by the Texas Tenor tradition of the 1940s and 50s, meaning he was steeped in blues. In the 1960s, he took up trumpet and violin, teaching himself to play in his own "primitive" fashion.  He hired his son Denardo to be his drummer when the the younger Coleman was 10 years old - Denardo went on to play on many of his father's recordings and became his producer.

For a more thorough history and obituary, click on the following link:  mobile.nytimes.com/2015/06/12/arts/music/ornette-coleman-jazz-saxophonist-dies-at-85-obituary.html?referrer=&_r=0.   Howard Mandel also contributes a fine obit on the npr.org site (click here). There is www.ornettecoleman.com which holds out hope for new music but there is not much else.

On Saturday June 13, the Uncertainty Music Series presents Trevor Saint and Jonathan Zorn for 2 solo sets at 8 p.m. in the cozy environs of Never Ending Books, 810 State Street in New Haven.  Saint, who plays many different mallet instruments but especially the glockenspiel, will play pieces by Matt Sergeant, Amanda Schoofs, Christopher Burns and Jeff Herriott. Zorn, who attended Wesleyan University, studying with Alvin Lucier and Anthony Braxton, will create a work for speech and electronics.

For more information, go to uncertaintymusic.com.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Large Ensembles 2015 (Part 2)

John Hollenbeck is a composer, arranger, drummer and percussionist of the highest order.  He is the leader of the acclaimed Claudia Quintet and the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble plus has a list of sideman ranging from Meredith Monk to Tony Malaby to Fred Hersch and beyond.

"Songs We Like a Lot" (Sunnyside Records) is a follow-up to 2013's "Songs I Like a Lot" - both feature vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckmann plus the Frankfurt Radio Big Band who also commissioned both recordings.  Gary Versace (who, as an accordionist, is an integral member of the Maria Schneider Orchestra) plays keyboards on the 2013 recording (and appears on 1 track here) while Uri Caine is at he piano and organ for the newer disc. Both recordings feature an eclectic repertoire that takes inspiration from American pop music and folk music (plus a few surprises). The album opens with lovely take on "How Can I Keep From Singing", a Christian hymn that Pete Seeger learned from folklorist Doris Plenn and is attributed to the 19th Century minister Robert Lowry. Before Ms. McGarry sings the plaintive melody, the vibraphone of guest Claus Kiesselbach creates a contemplative mood as befitting the lyrics. The mix of reeds and brass bring Aaron Copland to mind.

Among the standout tracks is the impressive rearrangement and performance of "True Colors", the Tom Kelly/Billy Steinberg composition that was a big hit for Cyndi Lauper in 1986, with floating horns, played legato and an emotional vocal from Bleckmann. Ms. McGarry creates a assured reading of "Close To You" (the Bacharach-David tune that The Carpenters in 1970) while Bleckmann's falsetto backing mirrors the reed section.  When the rhythm section kicks in (great work from drummer Jean Paul Höchstäder), the vocals become wordless in the background behind the intertwined solos of Axel Schlosser (flumpet, a hybrid of flugelhorn and trumpet) and Martin Scales (guitar). The leader's infatuation with the songs of Jimmy Webb continues here with the inclusion of "Up, Up and Away" (the giant 1967 hit for The Fifth Dimension). The blend of the voices is lovely and Hollenbeck builds the arrangement off of the rhythms of the original.  The vibraphone shadows the vocalists in the middle of the piece before the pace of the song slows down as if this was now a dream. Everything shifts as the musicians and vocalists play a rearrangement of the opening verse. The surprising "Get Lucky Manifesto" pairs the performance of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" with a Russian translation of Pharrell Williams' lyrics dealing with sexual conquest.  The emotionless computer-generated female Russian voice adds a quirky twist to the dark section playing and throbbing drums.

photo by Bill Douthart
Hollenbeck (pictured left) sets the words of the Persian poet, Sufi mystic and scholar Rumi (1207-1273) to a hypnotic Middle Eastern rhythm for "Constant Conversation" - Versace's melodica plays in unison with soprano saxophone of Julian Argüelles while Bleckmann's electronically manipulated voice swirls and weaves in and out.  Ms. McGarry recites pieces of the poem, an ode to the reed, as the instruments pulsate and moan. Kenneth Patchen's poem "The Snow Is Deep On the Ground" (published 1943) supplies the words for the longest track on the recording (11:19), an episodic work that has qualities of the music of Terry Riley, Americana and more. The dark mood of the anti-war poem is matched by the horns throughout.

"Songs We Like a Lot" is yet another triumph for John Hollenbeck. His writing for large ensembles, nurtured by his relationships with Bob Brookmeyer and Meredith Monk, stands out among contemporary composer/arrangers, alongside the work of Maria Schneider, Jim McNeely, and Michael Gibbs. This music will take several listens to begin to sink in - if you give the album time, the music will reward you time and again.

For more information, go to johnhollenbeck.com.

Here's the Jim Webb song:


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Firehouse 12 Series Ends, The Side Door's Ladies' Weekend + a Picker' CD Pick

The Firehouse 12 Spring 2015 Concert Series comes to a close this Friday June 12 with Noah Jarrett's Triage. Bassist/composer Jarrett, who is one of 2 sons from pianist Keith Jarrett's first marriage, started out playing violin at a very early but switched to electric bass by the age of 9 and acoustic bass some time later.  He graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music, all the while playing in numerous ensembles he either led or was a member of.  Triage features the bassist in the company of Jarrett Gilgore (alto saxophone) and Noah Ripley (drums).  The trio has, in the past, included tenor saxophonist Adam Niewood.  They have yet to record but have playing together a lot lately, with gigs up and down the Eastern seaboard.

They'll play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for more information, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.

Cezanne Jazz Club
Pianist and composer Leslie Pintchik has been in the studio this week recording tracks for her next release.  She's bringing her rhythm section, longtime bassist Scott Hardy and drummer Michael Sarin (Ben Allison's band, Thomas Chapin Trio, Mario Pavone) to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme.  They'll play a hefty amount of Ms. Pintchik's original music, which is quite melodic, filled with strong interplay, and flows rather than swings or rocks.  Her most recent self-released recording, "In the Nature of Things" (my review here), is quite impressive.  Her imaginative rearrangements of standards is also worth noting.

Doors open at 7:30 and the first set starts at 8:30. To find out more about the pianist and her work, go to www.lesliepintchik.com.

Bassist, composer, and label head Mimi Jones (Miriam Sullivan) leads a dynamic quartet to The Side Door on Saturday.  Ms. Jones, a native of New York City, started her musical career playing guitar but switched to cello to join the LaGuardia High school of Music and Performing Arts.  She earned a full scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music where she studied, played or came into contact with greats such as Dr. Billy Taylor, Max Roach, Barry Harris, Yusef Lateef and many others.  By this time she had switched to bass and began working on quite a regular basis.  Upon graduation, she found work in the bands of saxophonists Tia Fuller and Ravi Coltrane, pianist Luis Perdomo and so many others. Several years ago, she founded Hot Tone Music, a label that has released 6 CDs including "Balance", her 2nd recording as a leader (my review is here). O\

Joining Mimi Jones at The Side Door will be pianist Miki Hayama (who's appeared on both of Ms. Jones' CDs), Mark Shim (soprano saxophone, wind controller/synthesizer) and Hartford native Jonathan Barber (drums). You'l be impressed by the band's musicality as well as Ms. Jones' strong bass work.  The quartet hits the stage at 8:30 p.m.  For tickets and more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886. To find out more about the bassist and her music, go to www.mimijonesmusic.com.

Here are some hot tones from "Balance":


Jeff Richman, as one can see by the cover of his 16th CD as a leader, is an electric guitarist.  "Hotwire" (Nefer Records), produced by bassist Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets), features 9 originals and 1 cover ("Oh, Yeah?", composed by Jan Hammer and Fernando Saunders). Among the musicians on the various tracks are Vinny Colaiuta (drums), Jeff Lorber (synthesizer), Mitchel Forman (acoustic piano), Scott Kinsey (piano, keyboards), Jeff Beal (trumpet, flugelhorn), Brandon Fields (saxophones), Anthony Jackson (bass), Gary Novak (drums), George Whitty (keyboards and programming) and, on 2 tracks, guitarist Mike Stern.  To Richman's credit, when you consider all this "firepower", this is one of the most melodic fusion albums by a guitarist since Jeff Beck's "Blow By Blow" (1975).

That's not to say Richman does not display his formidable technique but he seems to be more interested in keeping your attention on the song. Pieces such as the funky "Seven Up" dance along merrily (in this instance atop Colaiuta's drums and the producer's thick bass lines) with the Fields and Beal providing acting as the horn section. Beal rocks out n flugelhorn on "Golden Arrow", acting as a strong solo voice to offset the guitar. Forman's handsome piano introduction on the ballad "One Last Kiss" sets up the emotionally rich melody line.  Scott Kinsey's "space" synth sounds lead the way into "Solar City" which then is powered by the melodic bass and powerful drums (here it's Haslip and Hungarian-born drummer Gergo Borlai in his only appearance). Anthony Jackson and Gary Novak make up the rhythm section for "North Shore", a powerful piece with a lovely solo acoustic piano intro by Gary Fukashima.  Here, the guitar melody is shadowed by the wordless vocals of Josefine Löfgren and she supplies an angelic voice beneath the fiery guitar solo.

One cannot help but hear the Jeff Beck influence in Richman's lines (although he's not as enamored of the whammy bar as the great British guitarist is) and in his intelligent use of volume.  His tone is truly big, similar at times to a trumpet, and he can really rip (check out the Hammer/Saunders to hear him let loose). Yet, each time I listen, it's easy to get past the Beck connection and enjoy the songs.  This music does not sound "phoned in" nor do the pieces seem an excuse for a "blowing session". "Hotwire" is indeed hot stuff - Jeff Richman sounds great throughout but, for this listener, it is his compositions that are the most impressive aspect of this recording.

At this moment, jeffrichman.net seems to be inaccessible. So, you can get more information and listen to most of his recordings by going to jeffrichman.bandcamp.com.

Here's a delightful taste of Mr. Richman and company:

Pomegranate Up Front

Composer, conceptualist and cornetist Stephen Haynes releases his new CD today June 9.  Titled "Pomegranate" (New Atlantis Records), the album catches Mr. Haynes with an exciting quintet that features Joe Morris (guitar), Ben Stapp (tuba), William Parker (contrabass violin, sintir, bass shakuhachi), and the amazing percussionist Warren Smith (drums, percussion, marimba). The recording captures the musicians in the performance space of Firehouse 12 in March of 2013 with music dedicated to Haynes' teacher and mentor Bill Dixon (1925-2010). In the notes on the recording's Bandcamp page, it is written that Mr. Dixon "loved the low end and he would have dug this instrumentation."  There are instances throughout the album that one is reminded of Henry Threadgill's Zooid, specifically in the blend of the tuba and guitar.

photo by Enid Farber
But, this is most certainly the intersection of Mr. Dixon's teaching, Mr. Haynes' fertile imagination and the big ears/open minds of the musicians involved. The title track, for instance, goes from a quiet conversation between the cornet, bass and drums to a high-energy full band groove.  The musicians move from being on top of Mr. Smith's powerful drumming to playing behind the beat to exciting chatter.  A blend of African rhythms and Southeast Asian elements infuse "Mangui Fii Reek (I am Still Here)" with a lighter quality that pulls one in - pay attention to the rhythmic variations in the guitar and bass plus how the drummer accents and complements them.  "Becoming" (the longest track at 17:18) opens with the sound of air through the cornet before Morris creates a hypnotic rhythm and the rhythm section moves underneath. The textures of the marimba and moaning/shimmering guitar give Haynes room to move through the piece. As everyone contributes to the flow, the music becomes hypnotic (especially during the splendid guitar solo).

William Parker anchors the light-hearted "Crepuscular" with a repetitive yet funky bass line while the marimba dances, the tuba whistles below (yes, whistles!) and the guitar plays delightful circular phrases.  Mr. Haynes moves in and out of the mix, actually stepping out of the song for last few minutes.  he's front and center for a fiery solo on the final track "Odysseus (Lashed to the Mast)" - here, the high-energy emitted by the rhythm section spurs the soloists forward (Stapp stands out in both a supportive role and as a soloist.)

jazz chicago 2007
"Pomegranate" stands out for its impressive music but moreso for the the interplay of the ensemble, their commitment to the project and for how Stephen Haynes and company harness/channel the myriad influences each person brings to the performance. It most certainly a tribute to the teaching and mentorship that Bill Dixon (pictured) gave to Mr. Haynes and all the people he taught over his career.

For more information, go to newatlantisrecords.bandcamp.com/album/pomegranate.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Yes, You Can Go Home Again (and Again)

"Charles Ives Take Me Home" is a play written by Jessica Dickey and first performed off-Broadway in 2013. There are only 3 characters. Professional violinist John Starr, his daughter, a college basketball coach, Laura Starr and the narrator and sometimes character, the composer Charles Ives (pictured). In the play, Ives has come to the Julliard School in New York City to act as a substitute in a Composition class taught by William Schumann. The father is always arguing with his daughter about her choice of sports for a career yet it turns out that Ives is a big sports fan. At one point early in the play, the teacher tells his class that "All music is founded on repetition" and goes on to compare it to how baseball is organized. Later on in the speech, he emphasizes "Music IS repetition. Just like memory. In fact, without memory there would be no music. Think about it.....As we listen to a piece of music we remember (playwright's emphasis) the tones we have just heard. And we connect them to the tones we are hearing. This is memory. That's why listening to music, if the music compels you to really listen - feels like coming Home." (copyright 2013, published by Samuel French)

"The Thompson Fields" (ArtistShare) is the 8th recording by composer/arranger Maria Schneider and her first with the Maria Schneider Orchestra since 2007's "Sky Blue." The disk contain 8 tracks - ArtistShare participants also receive 2 downloads - and , with those extra tracks, there is over 90 minutes of new music.  Ms. Schneider, who studied with Bob Brookmeyer (whose influence is evident - to me - on several tracks) and "understudied" (served as a copyist) with Gil Evans, is, arguably, the finest composer of this time. And, I would argue, she does not really "write" jazz. Yes, the MSO features 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, piano, electric guitar, acoustic bass and drums plus the "permanent" addition of accordion. Yes, the pieces contain solos, and there are rhythms from Brazil, several tracks have blues progressions while others display "swing" and you can hear "free" sections as well as Americana.

These songs tell "stories", convey message without words and, more often than not, the story relates back to Ms. Schneider formative years in Windom, Minnesota.  Like James Joyce, who wrote lovingly about Dublin, Ireland, in "Ulysses" while living in Switzerland and France, the composer's memories of home are burned into her being (she has lived in New York City since the late 1980s).  Her love of birds, of family and friends, all have find their way into her music (and have since her 2nd recording, 1996's "Coming About"). Like before, several of the pieces are "remembrances", even elegies.  "A Potter's Song", the dedication to long-time Orchestra member Laurie Frink (1951-2013), features the accordion of Gary Versace and relates to the late trumpeter's other passion, creating pottery.  "Lembrança" became a dedication to Brazilian clarinetist and saxophonist Paulo Moura (1932-2010) who passed at the time Ms. Schneider finished the composition.  The rhythms blend tango and samba (drummer Clarence Penn and guest percussionist Rogerio Boccato are a splendid team) while bassist Jay Anderson, guitarist Lage Lund (who replaced original guitarist Ben Monder) and pianist Frank Kimbrough (who came aboard before that second recording) make sure the bottom is solid. There is a wonderful dream-like section in the middle of the piece that includes a melodic bass solo and it's a treat hearing the percussionists welling up beneath the melodies of the different sections.

Lund's folk-influenced guitar lines lead in the title track, with accordion for the only backing until the the piano and bass come in.  Kimbrough introduces the melody line which then moves off into the reeds and brass and then the pianist returns for the solo. His phrases sound like the wind blowing through the hay, especially with the horns moving below. When the brass and reeds step out, the music has a Copland-esque feel, clouds floating above the farms and streams. As the sections drop away, Lund's guitar solo moves out front over the simple yet highly effective bass and drums plus the mesmerizing piano chords.

Just listen.  Notice how the brass and reeds take flight as they play melodies and counterpoint.  Listen for the brilliant solos. The alto saxophone of Steve Wilson is powerful, forceful yet with moments of grace on "Nimbus" (he plays for over 6 minutes). Rich Perry's soulful tenor saxophone dances atop the Orchestra on "Home", caressing the notes like a father with a small child. The interactions of trombonist Marshall Gilkes and trumpeter Greg Gisbert on "The Monarch and the Milkweed" tell quite the story while  Donny McCaslin (tenor saxophone) and Scott Robinson (baritone sax) expand upon the themes of "Arbiters of Evolution" (one hears a touch of Burt Bacharach in the chords and waltz tempo) - check out Clarence Penn's fiery drumming under the tenor solo).  Robinson's lovely alto clarinet is featured on the opening "Walking By Flashlight", a piece that first appeared on "Winter Morning Walks", Ms. Schneider's 2011 recording with soprano Dawn Upshaw.  The trilling clarinet lines, the piano and accordion walking alongside as the sections swirl and fade away, is so very attractive, so very comforting.

Jazz, though it encompasses many different and evolving styles, is too confining a word to describe the music of Maria Schneider Orchestra. So is classical and "popular".  When you give this recording to a loved one or a friend, let him or her decide what to call it. As Ms.Schneider has done so vividly over the past 2 decades, her writing on "The Thompson Fields" harnesses the power of memory, the power of wonder, of curiosity and, if you are willing to drop your defenses, to walk down these musical roads, you may hear echoes of your home, of your life.

For more information, go to www.mariaschneider.com.

For the record, the orchestra consists of the following musicians:

Steve Wilson (alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, flute and alto flute)
Dave Pietro (alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, flute, alto flute, bass flute and piccolo)
Rich Perry (tenor saxophone)
Donny McCaslin (tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute)
Scott Robinson (baritone, bass clarinet, alto clarinet, and clarinet)
Tony Kadleck (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Greg Gisbert (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Augie Haas ((trumpet, flugelhorn)
Mike Rodriguez (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Ryan Keberle (trombone)
Keith O'Quinn (trombone)
Marshall Gilkes (trombone)
George Flynn (bass trombone)
Gary Versace (accordion)
Lage Lund (guitar)
Frank Kimbrough (piano)
Jay Anderson (bass)
Clarence Penn (drums)
Rogerio Boccato (percussion on "Lembrança")

Produced by Maria Schneider and Ryan Truesdell