Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving & Giving Thanks

As we get older, every Thanksgiving day seems to be more important, more special, and more fretful.  As Americans began to prepare their tables, warnings abound for travelers in this country and around the world.  More than ever, we want to protect those we love, our families, communities, educational institutions, and the environment.  There is not just a "physical" war being waged but most certainly a psychological one.  Technology has become quite the weapon - just the hint of an "attack" sends officials scrambling (as most if us believe it should) with the response from most of us to simply stay put.

But we can't.  Attacks happen at random and, yes, people get hurt and families get scarred which is exactly what the forces of terror want; put people on edge, stall the economy, make it harder to travel.
Terrorist attacks get the headlines but we cannot ignore the dangers in our own towns and cities.  We can not and should not ignore the issues of greed and inequality, of racism, sexism, bullying, of misunderstanding what we read and misstating our positions.

My family laughs when I write and say these things because, while they understand my need for peace, they also realize the myriad roadblocks in our paths.  I still have to believe it and still have to live it.  Otherwise, I can just pull the sheets back over my head and refuse to live.

Enjoy if you can, love because you must, practice "tikkun olam" (healing the world) wherever and whenever you can, and be part of the world in which you live (hard as that may be).

One of the prettier recordings you'll encounter this year (and that's in a year of beautiful music) is "Shelter of Trees" (Kilde Records), the 3rd CD from bassist, composer and arranger Ike Sturm. Composed in honor of the 50 year tradition of jazz at St. Peter's Church in New York City (and the bassist's 10 years of service as the Music Director to the Jazz Ministry to it community), the music is a graceful collections of original melodies, recognizable prayers and new poems that celebrate renewal of the spirit and Sturm's deep faith.  Besides the leader on acoustic and electric basses, the ensemble includes 3 vocalists (Misty Ann Sturm, Chanda Rule, and Melissa Stylianou), pianist Fabian Almazan, alto saxophonist Loren Stillman, vibraphonist Chris Dingman, guitarist Jesse Lewis, and Jared Schonig (drums) plus marimba on 2 tracks by Zaneta Sykes and a children's choir of 4 voice on 1 track.  The arrangements often build from piano and guitar chords plus the hypnotic swirl of sounds from the vibes.  There is a powerful attraction in the quiet sections, one that puts the listener at ease, helping him or her to contemplate the infinite.  The lovely blend of the voices (it's really impressive how they pass the lead around) plus the counterpoint created by Stillman, Almazan, Dingman, and Lewis over the steady push of the rhythm section on pieces such as "Sanctus", "Rejoice" and "Turning Point" offers up a delightful soundscape.
The title track jumps out of the speakers on the strength of Schonig's powerful drumming and the forceful piano chords. After a lovely lead vocal, Stillman and Lewis play impassioned solos over the driving rhythm section.  The harmony in the vocals and the way Dingman wraps his phrases around those lines is quite impressive.

Another highlight is the tender "Family" which builds from acoustic guitar chords to include the occasional ringing high notes  from the vibes.  After the hushed vocal, Lewis steps out on electric guitar over the quiet percussion and vibes.  The songs fades on the guitars and vibraphone.

Yes, there are words on "Shelter of Trees" that are specific to the religion that the composer and his family practices but the message is most assuredly a universal one.  A generous, caring, community, whether religious or secular, can offer us solace in times of darkness purpose in times of madness.  The music of Ike Sturm, interpreted and performed by this excellent ensemble, should bring a sense of calm - even when the musicians turn up the heat (as they do on the closing track, "Psalm 23"), one is never left with a sense of foreboding or unease.  We can get through hard times on the power of our faith and our music.

For more information, go to


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Musicians With Stories To Tell

French-born pianist/composer Romain Collin is a busy person.  Besides touring with his excellent Trio - Luques Curtis (bass) and Kendrick Scott (drums) - he has composed scored for a good number of short films and documentaries including one for the "Stand with Malala Fund" (watch and listen here).

There is a heightened sense of drama amidst the lyricism of this music.  Some of that comes from the maturity of the artists as he has travelled/played around the world with his mentors.  From the opening piano figure of "99", this is purpose and direction to this program.  Does not hurt one bit that Mr. Scott is the motor of this music - he knows when to push (and push hard), knows when to "dance" beneath the piano (check out his work on "Clockwork"), and does it all without stealing the spotlight. Young Mr. Curtis (a native of Hartford, CT) is most certainly the "glue" in this music, a solid presence along with the drummer.  He is the "push" on "Webs" while Scott acts as the time-keeper, his counterpoint to Collin's left hand a reminder of his melodic talents.

Act Records
One of the more powerful pieces on the disk is "Event Horizon", a simple yet handsome melody that plays beneath the voices of men who had been wrongfully imprisoned.  As the voices swirl in and out of the mix, the Trio plus cellist Laura Metcalf and vocalist Megan Rose create a prayer-like atmosphere and one hears different people comment on their experiences and life after release. Ms. Rose also adds her wordless vocals to the lovely "San Luis Obispo", yet another beautiful melody on the recording.

Act Records
In the midst of the serious stories (and placed in the middle of the program), is "Kids", a playful melody enhanced by the presence of fellow pianist Jean-Michel Pilc. Mr. Pilc does not add his keyboard talents but instead is employed as a whistler, creating a playful sound to the bouncing rhythm and melody (sounds like Collin on keyboard bass throughout.) Another guest is percussionist Mino Cinelu who joins the fray on the explosive "The Line (Dividing Good and Evil Cuts Through the Heart", a piece that continues to build throughout over the pounding drums, the deep notes of the cello until the climax - the solo piano epilogue is a gentle finish. The program ends with an wistfully impressionistic solo piano take on "'Round About Midnight", which opens with the pianist working his way towards the melody, finding it and then moving in and away from then back to Mr. Monk's classic lines.  Though the piece was recorded over 2 years before the recent events in Paris, this version serves as an elegiac reminder of the fragility of life.

If you pay close attention to "Press Enter", you'll notice that Romain Collin uses synthesizers to add strings and other sounds to a number of the tracks.  As opposed to other artists who overuse effects, these additions never get in the way and really do enhance the music.  Overall, this is powerful music, music for healing, for joy, whose darker moments are utilized to inform and teach.

For more information, go to

Listen to "Event Horizon":

Like many contemporary jazz artists, saxophonist and composer Nick Hempton has watched the recording industry "go south" over the past decade.  So, after 2 fine releases on the PosiTone Record label, the artist sent out the following release, titled "Catch and Release", in May of 2014:
"Nick and his band treated each track like a self-contained album. A new tune was composed and rehearsed; then recorded at a pop-up recording studio set up in New York’s legendary Smalls Jazz Club. The number was mixed and mastered, the artwork designed, the promotional materials drawn up, the whole package sent off to radio and press, and finally the finished product was put up for sale online. Every step, meanwhile, was documented through videos, photos, and blog posts. Six weeks later, the process began again." 

Yet, Mr Hempton did not feel complete without something to hold in his bands (sound files are useless that way.)   The result, naturally, is "Catch and Release" (Triple Distilled Records - note to those in the know - while "Triple Distilled" makes vodkas smoother, the CD is not a "smooth jazz" album).  The leader's rhythm section includes drummer Dan Aran and bassist Dave Baron (who has a brand-new CD that is well worth seeking out) plus pianists Jeremy Manasia (4 tracks), Tadataka Unno (3 tracks) and Rossano Sportiello (1 track).  3 of the cuts feature guest artists including a delightful turn by guitarist Peter Bernstein on the Horace Silver-influenced "The Third Degree." Hempton's tenor and the guitar roll easily over Manasia's piano while the rhythm section sets a pleasing medium tempo. "Nordberg Suite" is a sly take on the sound of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis (guest trumpeter Bruce Harris plays the Davis part, right down to the mute.)  Part of the fun is that, for a song that swings as much as this one, drummer Aran sits out this track.  He's definitely back for the rousing "Change for a Dollar" that features guest Jerry Weldon on tenor sax.  It's certainly a "blowing" extravaganza with a sprightly theme and 2 fiery sax solos.  Pianist Unno, who works with the likes of bassist James Cammack and drummer Winard Harper, takes his own excellent solo before the saxophonists "trade 4s".

Other highlights include the Monk-soaked blues "Target Practice" (dig how Aran and Baron set the pace and how both the saxophone and piano solos try to up the intensity) and the multi-sectioned "Catch Up" which starts out rubato before dropping into a medium tempo.  But, this time, there is more intensity from the rhythm section and the piece feels like a blues from the pre-"Love Supreme" John Coltrane Quartet.  Hempton switches to alto sax for the handsome "Montauk Mosey", a duo with pianist Sportiello, a tune takes its sweet time and features fine solos from both.

The album closes with the title track, which was the first of the 8 cuts Nick Hempton issued, is a delightful romp. Everyone plays in "full speed ahead" mode and ends this program on an up note (actually a lot of up notes.) The order of the CD does not match the order in which the tracks were released - not sure why but that does not really make a difference in one's ability to enjoy this music.  Catch ahold of "Catch and Release" - unlike fish, this music gets better with age.

For more information, go to

Here's the Hempton 4 live at Smalls:

Monday, November 23, 2015

Post-Thanksgiving But Not Leftovers

Oklahoma-native Sharel Cassity brings a dynamic band to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme the day after Thanksgiving (11/27).  The young alto saxophonist, who was mentored by such legends as Jimmy Heath and James Moody, has recorded 3 CDs as a leader plus has worked alongside Nicholas Payton Christian McBride, Anat Cohen, and Natalie Cole among many.

Joining her on the well-lit stage in Old Lyme will be Freddie Hendrix (trumpet, flugelhorn), Luis Perdomo (piano), Alex Claffy (bass) and the exciting E.J. Strickland (drums). If there is any lethargy after the big Holiday meals, this quintet will get you up and grooving.

To find out more about Ms. Cassity, go to

Houston Chronicle
There will be no diminution in the sound or the quality of the music the following night (11/28) as The Side Door welcomes drummer-composer Reggie Quinerly and an impressive Quartet. The Houston, Texas, native first came to critical notice with his debut CD, 2012's "Music Inspired by Freedmantown", an ode to the section of his hometown established by emancipated African Americans after the Civil War (my review is here).
Turns out he was quite well known in the jazz community, having worked with Joe Lovano, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Greg Osby and others.

What a fine ensemble he's assembled for this gig, one that includes pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Ben Wolfe, and trumpeter Antoine Drye.  Quinerly's compositions are not just made for "blowing" - he tells stories with his songs, ones that reach into the history of jazz as well as looks forward.  This should be yet another "4 Star" night on Old Lyme.

For more information about the artist, go to  To make a reservation and get more information, go to or call 860-434-0886.

For the first time in a long while, there's been a change in the lineup of the Matthew Shipp Trio.  Long-time drummer Whit Dickey has moved on, replaced by the veteran Newman Taylor Baker, who powered ensembles led by Henry Threadgill, Leroy Jenkins and Billy Harper.

Bassist Michael Bisio, he of the full tones and long, winding, phrases, remains in the rhythm section for "The Conduct of Jazz" (Thirsty Ear), the latest addition to Shipp's ever-growing discography.  Critics are forever trying to posit the pianist and composer into a particular sub-genre of jazz but this new music again demonstrates his ability to play just about anything.  "Instinctive Touch" opens with the 3 musicians trying to find their footing around the circular piano lies but the listen as the phrases spread out, as the bassist creates an active counterpoint and the drummer chatters beneath.  The title track swings mercilessly, not unlike a Herbie Nichols Trio piece; again, the melody expands as the piece bops forward. Notice the hearty swing rhythm that Baker creates yet he has no issues following Shipp as he plays with the time.  There's a hint of McCoy Tyner in the throbbing chords at the onset of "Blue Abyss" yet the pianist goes in several unexpected directions through the song, the repetitive phrases roiling above the rock solid drums. As the song progresses, Shipp gets deeper into the blues but never deserts the throbbing chords.

The final 2 tracks bring the album to a rousing finish.  "Stream of Light", a solo piano piece (the only one on the program), is a work to get lost in.  Shipp never settles into a rhythm but creates quite a world with his two hands.  There are sporadic flashes of melody and counterpoint in his left hand, leaving the right to move freely in and out of melody and time. Go back and listen several times - the "stream" in the title refers to the changing flow in the music. What follows is the longest track (12:37), titled "The Bridge Across" - the episodic nature of the music allows one to hear how the musicians interact, how Baker both drives and "colors" the music, how the lines Shipp and Bisio play flow in and out of each other, and especially how the music is always moving forward (sometimes at breakneck speed).  

"The Conduct of Jazz" makes for an intense 50 minute of music.  But, as the music of Matthew Shipp has evolved, the intensity now contains numerous sections of grace and reflections.  He's not slowing down as much as continuing to explore the multitude of avenues creative music can take.

To find out more, go to

Go behind the scenes with this video clip:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

More Dave D, More Side Door Jazz + Smoking O.P.
Last Friday evening, as the horrific news from Paris was filling the airwaves, the Dave Douglas Quintet played 2 inspired sets of music at The Side Door Jazz Club on Old Lyme, CT. Knowing well that music can help to assuage fears and heal the pain caused by incidents in the "real" world, the group - trumpeter Douglas, pianist Matt Mitchell, tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Rudy Royston - filled the room with songs that ranged from improvisational romps to Americana ballads ("Barbara Allen" was a particular highlight).

The DDQ is in the midst of the final leg of a long stretch of touring, one that concludes with 4-night run at The Jazz Standard in New York City (11/19-22).  They'll be recording all 4 nights and releasing the 8 sets on November 24 (you can purchase as many nights as you want or - what the heck - the entire run); Douglas did this twice before at the venue, once with his earlier Quintet (Uri Caine, Donny McCaslin, James Genus and Clarence Penn) in 2006 and again in 2010 with the Keystone sextet (Marcus Strickland, Adam Benjamin, Brad Jones, Gene Lake and DJ Olive).

If you've heard the current Quintet, you know how exciting, explosive and melodic it can be.  To find out more, go to

This weekend, The Side Door Jazz Club welcomes saxophonist Craig Handy & 2nd Hand Smith on Friday evening (11/20) for 2 sets of high-energy New Orleans-flavored music.  Handy, who has worked with so many great musicians and ensembles, from Betty Carter to Art Blakey to Herbie Hancock to the Mingus Dynasty to The Cookers, gets a robust sound from his tenor saxophone.  Joining him on this funky venture is Kyle Koehler (organ), Matt Chertkoff (guitar), Jerome Jennings (drums) and the great Clark Guyton (sousaphone). I expect the room will be jumping!

On Saturday, The Side Door swings open to welcome trumpeter and composer Sean Jones and his superb Quartet.  Joining the Ohio native on the bandstand will be Hartford's own Luques Curtis (bass), Mark Whitfield, Jr. (drums) and the great Philadelphia-based pianist Orrin Evans. Jones has just replaced fellow trumpeter Avishai Cohen in the prestigious SF Jazz Collective plus he is the artistic director for both the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestras.

The door of The Side Door opens at 7:30 p.m. both nights with the first set commencing at 8:30.  For ticket reservations and more information, go to or call 860-434-0886.

Cellist Erik Friedlander is a wonderfully eclectic musician - his repertoire ranges from classical to Americana to beyond and he is with an engaging soloist and composer.  In 2008, Friedlander released "Broken Arm Trio" (Skipstone Records), a collection inspired by bassist Oscar Pettiford (1922-1960) and pianist Herbie Nichols.  Pettiford was an extremely prolific musician and composer and, when he broke his arm in 1949, he took up the cello and soon integrated it into his music.

For "Broken Arm..", Friedlander play pizzicato throughout and used the rhythm section of Trevor Dunn (acoustic bass) and Michael Sarin (drums), both of whom are members of the cellist's Bonebridge band. The rhythm section is back again for the new album, "Oscalypso" (Skipstone), a collection of 9 Pettiford originals; to spice up the session, Michael Blake (tenor and soprano saxophones) joins the trio serving as both a sonic foil for Friedlander and an impressive soloist. To its credit, the quartet does not attempt to update the sound and feel of Pettiford's pieces. Needless to say, because the bassist/cellist came of age in the be-bop, this music contain a great deal of swing an forward motion. After a mysterious swirl of sound, "Bohemia After Dark" jumps out on the strength of Dunn and Sarin. Dunn states the theme, then Friedlander and Blake (tenor sax) join him and the piece takes off.  Blake's softer attack on tenor may remind some of Ben Webster and Lester Young yet he plays with great authority. Another fairly famous Pettiford composition, "Tricotism", has such a gentle push, with the theme passed around from the bass to the cello to tenor.  Sarin's delicate brush work sways pleasantly as all solo above him. One can also hear the influence the blues had on the composer.

So much of this music is quite delightful. The joyful jump of "Cello Again" with its twisting and turning melody lines and the rapid-fire phrases of "Cable Car" lift up the spirit each time one listens.  The beautiful ballad (the only really slow tune in the program) "Two Little Pearls" (Pettiford's rearrangement of a melody by Antonin Dvořák) features strong soprano work from Blake and excellent bowed cello.  The closing track, "Sunrise Sunset" (no relation to the tune from "Fiddler on the Roof") also features inspired arco work from Freidlander a rousing tenor sax solo, and inspired drumming from Sarin (he even gets a short solo near the close that also has the great drive one hears earlier on the title piece.)

I cannot think of a better way to pass 45 minutes than to fall under the spell of "Oscalypso".  The quartet of Erik Friedlander, Michael Blake, Trevor Dunn, and Michael Sarin (pictured above, left) dig right into the music, capturing the essence of the spirit of Oscar Pettiford, the man and his far-ranging compositions.

For more information, go to

Here's a taste of the album:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Late Notice But Worth Knowing & Going

Percussionist and conceptualist Timothy "Tim" Daisy is on a national tour supporting his new solo recording "On the Ground 'An Amusing Mess'" (Relay Records).  Daisy, who has recorded and toured with reed master Ken Vandermark, saxophonist Dave Rempis, cellist Fred Lonborg-Holm and so many more artists, is based in Chicago.To find out more and give a listen, go to

He's bringing his percussion array plus radio and turntables to the Uncertainty Music Series and Never Ending Books, 810 State Street in New Haven.

The evening starts at 8 p.m. with the trio known as veRmulsCHt. Composed of Pierre Borel (saxophone, found objects), Léa Lanoe (video) and Paul N. Roth (saxophone, recordings, voice), the ensemble has a fascinating time creating new sounds from old, using multiple approaches to present its music.  To find out more, go to

To find out more about Friday's show, go to

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Music of All Shapes & Colors

Pianist and composer Mike Holober spends much of his time as an arranger with a number of large ensembles, from the Westchester Jazz Orchestra to the Gotham Wind Symphony to the HR Big Band of Frankfurt, Germany.  As a leader, he has issued 5 CDs over the 12 years, 2 at the head of the Gotham Jazz Orchestra and 2 with his Quintet. The 5th and latest, "Balancing Act" (Palmetto Records), features an octet of world-class musicians playing a program that includes 5 new songs by Holober, 1 by Jason Rigby (who plays tenor sax, clarinet and bass clarinet on the CD), Billy Joel's "Lullaby; Goodnight My Angel", and an inventive re-arrangement of Jerry Ragavoy/Bert Berns hit for Janis Joplin, "Piece of My Heart" (originally recorded by Erma Franklin, Aretha's sister.)
And what a band!  The rhythm section includes Brian Blade (drums) and John Hébert (bass) plus a front line of Rigby, Dick Oatts (alto & soprano saxes, flute), Marvin Stamm (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mark Patterson (trombone), and Kate McGarry (voice).  Holober utilizes Ms; McGarry as both a singer and as another instrument blending her voice with the reed and brass.  Her reading of "Piece of my Heart" is heartfelt, bluesy, angry and defiant, matching the emotions of the arrangement.  Stamm's muted solo is a quiet counterpoint to the vocal.

There are moments of contemplation throughout the program including the opening moments of "Canyon." That piece picks up in intensity through the trumpet solo and explodes duty Oatts' fiery alto spot.  "Sighs Matter", one of 2 songs with "Sighs" in the title (the opening "Book of Sighs" is the other) is a lovely ballad with a Brazilian influence in the melody, a subtle tinge in the rhythm and in the beautiful soprano sax lines.  "Grace at Sea" may remind some of a Maria Schneider piece yet listen to the graceful funk of Blade and Hébert under Patterson's trombone solo plus the solo piano spotlight after the second vocal verse.  Speaking of funk, the rhythm section creates an incredible dance on "Idris", blending the influences of James Brown and Bob Brookmeyer in a glorious fashion. Listen for the strong tenor solo as well as Holober's hearty spotlight.  Blade gets a solo and honors the memory of the gentleman the song is named for, the late Idris Muhammad.

The album closes with the wistful "When There Were Trains", a remembrance of youth and quieter times. The Brazilian influence re-emerges here in the beat, the harmonies and Oatts' transcendent flute.   The composer's original lyrics stand out throughout the program and Ms. McGarry delivers with the game and emotion we have come to enjoy over the past decade.

 "Balancing Act" speaks to the challenges of modern life and is adult music of the highest quality.  Mike Holober does not speak down to his audience; instead, he respects the idea that the curious listener will enjoy the width and breadth of his project. The songs are intelligent, the arrangements impressive and the musicianship outstanding - find this music and take it into your heart.

For more information, go to

Here's the lovely last track:

It's the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, founded by Muhal Richard Abrams, Jodie Christian, Phil Corhan, and Steve McCall in Chicago. Over the 5 decades, the AACM's aim has been to help musicians and composers create "serious original music."

3 younger members, Nicole Mitchell (flute, electronics), Tomeka Reid (cello), and Mike Reed (drums), have recorded a tribute to the organization.  "Artifacts" (482 Music) is a fine collection of 10 pieces by 9 composers, most of whom (Abrams, McCall, Leroy Jenkins, Fred Anderson, Amina Claudine Myers, Anthony Braxton, and Roscoe Mitchell) were there at the beginning.  The Trio also plays a work by Edward Wilkerson, whose music emerged in the dates 1970s, and one by guitarist Jeff Parker.  The latter's composition, "Days Fly By with Ruby" is attached to Anderson's "Bernice", a smart move as the guitarist was mentored by the saxophonist in the 1990s.

The program serves as a reminder of the powerful music that these men and woman created.  The powerful drive of Mr. Braxton's "Composition 23B" swings hard, reminding that the composer was influenced by the music of John Coltrane and Miles Davis.  The playful dance rhythms of "Jo Jar", Mr. Mitchell's tune for his partner in the Art Ensemble of Chicago, makes one smile as does the energetic reading of Mr. Abrams' "Munkt Munk".  Ms. Myers' "Have Mercy On Us" is modern gospel and the trio, after a frenetic opening with electronically distorted flute, fall into a hypnotic rhythm - the distortion of the flute and the churning cello create an intensity matched by Reed's drumming.

The late Steve McCall (1933-1989) is the only composer on he CD with 2 tracks, both associated by his work alongside Henry Threadgill (saxes, flute) and the late Fred Hopkins (bass) in Air.  "B.K." has numerous rhythmic changes, a tumultuous cello part, and fiery drumming while "I'll Be Right Here Waiting" is a stunning ballad (certainly the prettiest piece that Air ever performed).  The round notes of the flute combined with the thick cello tones and the wonderful colors created by Reed (especially when the music drops out of tempo) is powerful and emotionally rich.

Mr. Wilkerson's delightful march "Light On The Path" closes the program on quite an upbeat note.  The way Ms. Mitchell's wraps her dancing flute phrases around the active pizzicato cello while the drummer dances along in abandon will set your feet tapping.  The funky drums that support Ms. Reid's cello solo reminds one that the AACM made and still makes music from all elements of the Black experience throughout the world.

The title "Artifacts" may make you think of a museum or an archaeological exploration yet this is far from what Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid and Mike Reed want one to feel about this music.  No, these compositions and performances are alive with possibilities; the DNA of the originals is deep inside the musicians and they understand this music was made for the ages.  The album serves as both a tribute and a reminder what can be accomplished by a community.

For more information, go to

"Vista Accumulation" (Pi Recordings), the new album from pianist and composer Matt Mitchell, may remind listeners of the work of Muhal Richard Abrams in its shifting rhythmic patterns and episodic nature.  Yet one can hear the influence of Andrew Hill and John Hollenbeck on the 8 tracks spread out over 2 CDs (over 96 minutes of music).  Joining Mitchell is his "working group" composed of Chris Speed (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Chris Tordini (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums).   Each one is essential to the success of this music as the pianist's pieces are filled with twists and turns, with long melody lines (shared by piano, bass and drums) and intelligent harmonies.  Mitchell's powerful left hand, on occasion, works in tandem with Tordini's bass and, at other times frees the bassist to play counterpoint.  Weiss, as he has exhibited over the past decade, has this wonderful ability to make music come alive and is often a melodic element as well as a timekeeper. Speed is a perfect partner with the piano, especially when playing clarinet  The reedy sound combined with the brightness coming from the keyboard soothes as it cajoles.

Hiroyuki Ito/NYTimes
Perhaps the most interesting aspects of this recording (in this author's mind) are the movement within the music, how melody drives each piece, and how solos come and grow so organically.  Tracks such as "'twouldn't've" and "Hyper Pathos" seem to breathe with the musicians, never sounding forced or contrived. The latter is a good example of how Tordini's bass is so important; not only does he solo (at the end) but his counterpoint to the clarinet is quietly intense and easy to pick up in the spaces left by the piano and drums.

What one should do with such (seemingly) complex music is to concentrate on a particular musician each time you listen.  Mitchell's piano is the driving force of this music yet he understands the need to stand back when the material calls for it.  His subtle backing of Speed's clarinet solo on "All The Elasticity" not only reacts to the phrases being played and providing counterpoint but also pays attention to the other members of the rhythm section, feeding them chords. Mitchell uses his power in a similar manner to Don Pullen on "Utensil Strength", splintering melodic lines and creating a musical firestorm in his left hands.  The propulsive melodic fragment that appears throughout the song serves to change the focus and intensity.  On that same track, notice how Weiss moves in and out of the picture; at one point, he is silent for 4 minutes while closer to the end, he's playing the melody and pushing the proceedings.  His hip-hop approach at the opening of "Numb Trudge" press at the tolling piano chords trying to coax Mitchell into a melody and, after 2 minutes, Speed enters and plays a theme.  When he's done, the song breaks down and the pianist plays a long, abstract, solo  that ultimately removes the tension.  Once he's done, the other musicians enter and slowly the piece builds up with Speed's clarinet leading the way.

I've played "Vista Accumulation" numerous times in the past 6 weeks and each time I hear something new.  What is more evident now is the emotional richness and sincerity of this music, the honesty with which Matt Mitchell and band breath life into the notes and in how they interact with each other.  The songs may be long (none under 7:48 and 4 above 12:28) but there is not a dull moment to be heard.

For more information, go to To get a taste of this excellent recording, go to

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Dave Douglas 5 Returns + CT Composer & Improvisers Fest x 10

Trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Dave Douglas is back in CT this weekend with his latest Quintet to perform at The Side Door Jazz Club this Friday November 13.  Mr. Douglas is surrounded by the youthful foursome of Rudy Royston (drums), Linda Oh (bass), Jon Irabagon (tenor saxophone) and Matt Mitchell (piano), all leaders on their own.  They're out touring in support of "Brazen Heart" (Greenleaf Music), their 3rd release in 3 years.  It's an
excellent recording, dedicated to the memory of the leader's late brother (who passed earlier this year after the CD was recorded), soulful, honest, yet with a playful streak on many cuts.  The band is so comfortable together, their interactions exciting, and the material filled with opportunities for splendid interplay and strong improvisations.

The doors open at 7:30 p.m. with the first set commencing at 8:30. The Side Door is a great setting for this band and this band is a great fit for the setting.  Call 860-434-0886 or go to for more information and reservations.

Tum Records
Bassist Joe Fonda presents his 10th Connecticut Composers & Improvisers Festival this Saturday at The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown. The evening begins at 7:30 p.m. with a set from Allan Chase (saxophones) and his partner Dominique Eade (vocals).  He teaches at the Berklee School and she at the New England Conservatory; both have had exemplary careers as musicians and educators.

At 8:30, Fonda joins forces with composer/pianist/bandleader Satoko Fujii.  Ms. Fujii is one of the busiest musicians on the planet, leading several small ensembles and also several large bands (with one each in New York City, Berlin, Germany, and Tokyo, Japan.  While she is known for her open-ended compositions, the pianist is also a brilliant improviser. This is the first time this duo has played together - in fact, they'll meet for the first time when they arrive at The Buttonwood.

The third and final set of the evening (9:30) belongs to saxophonist Jimmy Greene.  The Bloomfield, CT, native serves on the music faculty of Western Connecticut State University while continuing to keep a busy itinerary of weekend gigs.  Usually, Mr. Greene has a top-notch group but, for the festival, he'll be on his own sans rhythm section, just the man, his tenor and soprano saxophones and his creativity.

Kudos to Joe Fonda, one of the more active musicians in creative musicians, for keeping this Festival coming to Middletown every year.  Also, thanks for keeping the spirit of the music alive and making available to all listeners young and old.  For ticket information and reservations, go to or call 860-346-4957.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

"Dark Reed" Quartets

Over the past decade or so, listeners have been treated to a cadre of impressive clarinetists ranging from Ken Peplowski to Don Byron to Marty Ehrlich to Anat Cohen and more.  The 2 musicians whose recordings are in this review have added much to the repertoire looking back on the history and ahead to the future.

Sam Sadigursky (clarinet, bass clarinet), who has been in the reed section of Darcy James Argue's Secret Society since its inception an has worked in a number of bands that play Central and South American music, has released 5 albums of poetry set to original music (including a  collaboration with French pianist Laurent Coq titled "Crosswords/Mots Croisés").  "Follow The Stick" (BJU Recordings) is his first recording sans vocalists (and the leader's saxophones and flutes) but continues in the composer/musician's exploratory style. Joining him on the adventure is Bobby Avey (piano), Chris Dingman (vibraphone, marimba) and Jordan Perlson (drums, percussion) plus Jason Palmer (trumpet on 4 tracks) and violist Ljova for the lovely "Looks Can Be Deceiving".

courtesy Samurai Hotel
The 76-minute program features 11 original compositions plus a smart rearrangement of "String of Pearls" (a big hit for the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1941).  Thanks to the forceful work of Perlson and Avey, one does not miss the bass on the bottom. The interaction of Dingman's "orchestral" vibes with the band also gives the music a full sound throughout.   When Palmer joins the band, he creates a strong counterpoint for the clarinet.  He and Sadigursky play the theme on "String of Pearls" first in unison then in harmony then back to unison.The trumpet solo over the funky rhythms is a highlight of the CD. The muted trumpet is the lead voice (the leader/composer sits this one out) on "Math Music" not only playing the theme but also the first solo.

There's a great sense of playfulness on numerous tracks.  The slinky, slow, blues of "Austerity Measures" (the leader on bass clarinet) features skittering brush work, deep notes from Sadigursky and a plaintive piano solo. "3 + 2" has a melody line that blends a blues inflection with the sound of Astor Piazzolla and lively solos from the vibes and clarinet but don't miss the great work of the pianist and drummer. After a quiet piano prelude at the onset of "Deadly Sins", the band enters and Sadigursky leads them through a stop-and-start melody, joined by Dingman, and then the quartet moves in and out of time.  The elasticity of the time and the punch of the rhythm section matches the fire in the clarinet lines.  Perlson's work stands out throughout the album with his creativity and drive pushing the band on pieces such as "Touché" and the raucous "Do The Dance" (dig the reference to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" during the fiery trumpet and clarinet exchanges) while he is quietly supportive on "Mule".   Dingman also brings a great presence to this music, whether creating a supportive cushion of sound on "Life's Flowering" or with his smart counterpoint on the opening track, "Fast Money".  Bobby Avey's piano, to my ears, is the spark that keeps the music roiling or simmering, his full chords pushing the proceedings. The quiet opening exchange with the vibraphonist on "Heart" is so emotionally strong and that to make the entrance of the bass clarinet more dramatic.

"Follow The Stick" has much to offer the open-minded listener; listen first for the mature melodies and enjoyable harmonies, then notice the interplay and how each instrument pays its part in painting these 12 song portraits. While there are no words on these songs, the emotional content and lyricism speaks volumes.  Sam Sadigursky has developed quite a voice on his clarinets, one worth savoring.
This is music to explore and get lost in time and again.

For more information, go to

Here's a taste of "Life's Flowering":

For his 4th album as a leader, the Israeli-born clarinetist Oran Etkin  (his family moved to the US when he was 4) turns his attention to the music and legacy of one of the first clarinet players to capture the attention of the jazz world.  "What's New? Reimagining Benny Goodman" (Motema Music) looks at a musician who discovered his voice by listening to and then interpreting the music of Louis Armstrong (Etkin's biggest and earliest influence) and Jelly Roll Morton.  Goodman, born in Chicago in 1909 (died in 1986), began his professional career in the 1920s and found fame as a bandleader in the mid-1930s when his Orchestra traveled through the country, ending in Los Angeles, CA, where a gig at the Palomar Ballroom was featured on a national radio broadcast and the Swing Era began.  Goodman's recordings with pianist Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton helped break the "color barrier" and, when he went on the road with those great musicians, it seemed to break for good.

 The Etkin recording has the same core instrumentation as the Sadigursky CD with the leader on clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone plus Sullivan Fortner (piano), Matt Wilson (drums) and Steve Nelson (vibraphone) - vocalist Charenee Wade adds her strong voice to 2 tracks.  The leader composed 3 of the 13 tracks and arranged the entire program.  Opening with the dream-like "Prelude", which is credited to New Orleans-born trumpeter Louis Prima, one hears snippets of klezmer melodies and the composer's "Sing, Sing, Sing" (near the end of this album).  Goodman's first gigs were in the Settlement House in Chicago and, on occasion, some of the cantorial music he heard as a youngster found its way into his music (Ziggy Elman's "And the Angels Sing" - composed for the Goodman Band - was based on a klezmer tune "Frailach in Swing" which itself was based on a a melody from Eastern Europe).

The music ranges from the swing of "Dinah" (love the "fractured" rhythms of Wilson and the "rent party" sound of Fortner) to the bouncing "King Porter Stomp" (Etkin's bass clarinet, the James P Johnson piano lines and fiery drumming makes the song come alive.) Ms. Wade digs deep into the blues for Joe McCoy's "Why Don't You Do Right" with the band joining in to tell the story. Fortner is a force throughout the album but his work is exceptional behind the vocalist here while Etkin wails in counterpoint.  Nelson's vibes add subtle mystery to the piece and Wilson slips and slides in support. She returns later on to deliver the blues on "After You're Gone" with Fortner channeling Teddy Wilson.

The clarinetist's original pieces are connected to the Goodman story in different ways.  The gospel-tinged "When Every Voice Shall Sing" pays tribute to Goodman's work to bring musicians of color into the spotlight.  "Be Good Lady" takes its name from an obvious source and the melody comes from 4 notes that Goodman played from that source.  Nelson's solo over the dancing piano and brilliant high-hat is ingenious and downright delightful as is Fortner's solo that follows.  "Brink" is a playful quartet piece that its cue from 30s swing (sound at times like "Minnie the Moocher") with the irresistible interplay of the musicians flowing out of the speakers.

After an impressionistic opening to "Sing, Sing, Sing", the beating "tom-toms" enter and the song takes off.  Etkin plays at the top of his range while Fortner and Wilson provide him with forceful support.  The uncredited 13th track is the mysterious "Moonglow"; ushered in by tolling piano chords  and single notes from Nelson, Etkin plays the melody on bass clarinet. The quartet takes it easily as if playing beneath a Bayou moon.  The short but wide-ranging vibes solo leads into a two-handed piano treat. the clarinetist returns to take the band and the song out in style, if a bit breathy.

"What's New? Reimagining Benny Goodman" celebrates the past by making it come alive, not treating the material as museum pieces and not being afraid to take chances (the way Goodman did with his music and his life).  Oran Etkin chose his band carefully and they perform masterfully from beginning to end (if you've haven't discovered Sullivan Fortner yet, this is quite a calling card!)  Find it! Dig It! Tell your friends this is what good music is all about!

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Here's the sweet sounds of "Be Good Lady":