Wednesday, April 27, 2016

April Closes on a Series of High Notes + CD Pick

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme presents the fine young pianist Christian Sands and his Trio this Friday (4/29).  Sands, a native of New Haven, is a protégé of the late Dr. Billy Taylor and is currently a member of bassist Christian McBride's Trio.

Joining him will be bassist Russell Hall and drummer Jerome Jennings.  Doors open at 7:30 p.m. with the band hitting the stage at 8:30.

Here's the pianist in action in 2015 (with a different rhythm section):
On Saturday, the Door opens for saxophonist Dave Liebman's Expansions Quintet.  Liebman (tenor and soprano), who first came to critical notice in the 1970s playing with Miles Davis and Elvin Jones while leading his own group Lookout  Farm, has become one of the finest educators in this country as well as keeping a very busy performance schedule.  This particular ensemble features the excellent pianist and composer Bobby Avey plus Matt Vashlishan (reeds), Alex Ritz (drums) and Tony Marino (drums).  This group has worked together for several years, recording 2 CDs for the Whaling City Sound label.  Liebman creates very interesting aural soundscapes for this band, pushing them (as they push him) to the heights of their abilities.

The first set begins at 8:30 p.m.  For more information, go to or call 860-434-0886.

On Friday night, Firehouse 12 in New Haven presents Clarence Penn & Penn Station.  Drummer Penn, who works with the Maria Schneider Orchestra and has worked with trumpeter Dave Douglas, is one of the classiest and talented players on the contemporary scene.  His quintet - Chad Leftkowitz-Brown (saxophones), Manuel Valera (piano), Rick Rosato (bass), and Chelsea Jackson (vocals) -  play original music as well as pieces from Penn's latest CD, "Monk: The Lost Files" (Origin Records). This is the drummer's 4th appearance in the venue, having worked there with guitarists Joel Harrison and Adam Rogers plus pianist Aaron Goldberg.

The band will play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - call 203-785-0468 or go to

Here's a piece from the latest album:

Last week, I wrote about the Wesleyan University Jazz Weekend so this is just a reminder.  Friday, it's the Jazz Orchestra, conducted by the weekend's honoree Jay Hoggard plus Jazz ensembles directed by Noah Baerman and Pheroan akLaff. The concert takes place at 8 p.m. in Crowell Concert Hall.

Saturday night, it's the Jay Hoggard Quintet celebrating the release of "Harlem Hieroglyphics", Professor Hoggard's fine new double CD.  He'll be playing with saxophonist Rene McLean, pianist James Weidman, bassist Belden Bullock, and drummer alkali.  The show starts at 8 p.m. and takes place in Crowell Concert Hall. For tickets, go to or call 860-685-3355.

Dave Stryker (guitar) and Steve Stagle (alto and soprano saxophones, flutes, arrangements) have played together in various combinations over the past several decades, creating their own band in the early 2000s.  The Stryker/Slagle Band has issued 4 albums with a quartet lineup (2007's "Latest Outlook" added special guest Joe Lovano) - the duo's new CD, "Routes" (Strike Zone) introduces the SSB Expanded and they do so by adding John Clark (French horn), Billy Drewes (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet), Clark Gayton (trombone, tuba), and Bill O'Connell (piano, Fender Rhodes) to the dynamic rhythm section of Gerald Cannon (bass) and McClenty Hunter (drums).

This is one of those "comfortable" albums.  The octet handles Slag's fine arrangements with aplomb, the nine compositions (4 each by the co-leaders plus one by Charles Mingus) leave plenty of room for solos but never overstay their welcome, and the music really does take a variety of "routes." There's the laid-back warmth of the opener, "City of Angels", an ode to Slagle's hometown that deftly uses all the voices on the opening theme before several excel solos. Mingus's "Self-Portrait in Three Colors" is a tour-de-force, with the juxtaposition of the "low" sounds of tuba, French horn, and bass clarinet to the alto sax and flute.  Stryker's "Nothin' Wrong With It" utilizes soprano sax, bass clarinet and Fender Rhodes plus a driving beat to evoke the African sounds of electric Weather Report (circa "Black Market"). The interaction of Drewes (bass clarinet) and Slagle (soprano sax) is electrifying, all the while Hunter is deftly pushing the band.

Other highlights include "Great Plains", a sweet Stryker ballad with a handsome horn and reed arrangement plus fine solos from the guitarist, French horn, and alto sax supported by the quiet Rhodes and hypnotic bass and drums.  There's the slinky funk of Slagel's "Fort Greene Scene" plus the bluesy title track with a melody line arranged for the guitar, brass and reeds with sweet harmonies.  The album closes with "Lickety Split Lounge", steeped in the blues with a ripping guitar solo riding atop the hardy drumming and "walking" bass.

"Routes" is that kind of album you can play loud in the car or on the back porch, even a bit quieter while lounging on the couch.  The Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded is a good idea that sounds great.  Enjoy the journey!

For more information, go to

Give a listen to "Great Plains" recorded live in February of this year:

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