Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Arthur Blythe

Just read of the passing (here's the obituary) of saxophonist Arthur Blythe, a man whose vibrant alto saxophone playing enlivened many recordings from the mid-1970s to the early years of the 21st Century. The Los Angeles native spent his formative years in San Diego, moving to New York City in the mid-1970s Most people know of his recordings for Columbia Records ("Lenox Avenue Breakdown" still is a delight while "In The Tradition" stands out for many others) but he first came to my attention in 1977 with several releases on the India Navigation label ("The Grip" and "Metamorphosis") plus a smashing 1978 trio recording "Bush Baby" on the Adelphi label. That album featured the saxophonist with tubaist Bob Stewart (who was on the earlier Lps and would record with Blythe throughout his career) and Akhmed Abdullah (congas).  That ensemble played Real Art Ways when the venue was located on Asylum Street across from the Civic Center in downtown Hartford.  To hear the powerful duo of Blythe and Stewart together was a treat; they so enjoyed their interactions, the music was filled joy, gospel shouts, and "free" excursions.

When talking with Mr. Blythe that weekend, I discovered he had made his performing and recording debut in 1969 as a member of pianist Horace Tapscott's Pan-Afrikkan Peoples Arkestra. The album, "The Giant Is Awakened" (reissued on CD in 2116 by Ace Records,  showed the saxophonist, billed here as "Black" Arthur Blythe, already in possession of his "big" tone, the keening cry that was his signature sound, and, at that time, the big influence of John Coltrane.  In 1975, the saxophonist shows up on fellow alto player Julius Hemphill's powerful self-released "Coon Bid'ness" (later issued on Arista/Freedom) - that recording also features drummer Barry Altschul, cellist Abdul Wadud, percussionist Daniel Zebulon, and baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett. Blythe would go on to work with the baritone saxophonist when he replaced Hemphill in the World Saxophone Quartet (1990).

It was the Columbia debut in 1979 that really caught people's ears.  The dancing feel of "Down San Diego Way", with James Newton's flute soaring over the bass of Cecil McBee and Bob Stewart's expressive tuba plus the roiling percussion of Jack DeJohnette and Guilliermo Franco and the chunky guitar of James "Blood" Ulmer, remains a touchstone. When Blythe enters, right at the top of his alto's range, the song just flies out of the speakers.  The funky feeling continues throughout the other three tracks culminating with the mysterious "Odessa." One can hear the influence of Ornette Coleman in the interactions of the rhythm section and Ulmer's chunky guitar fills while the leader wails with abandon.

Blythe would go on to record eight more Lps for Columbia over the next decade, going in many directions, from the straight-ahead "In The Tradition" to the synthesizer-infused "Put A Little Sunshine In It." He went on to record with ENJA and his final four albums appeared on Savant.

As a sideman, Blythe, who was born in 1940,  worked with Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition, The Leaders (with bassist McBee, trumpeter Lester Bowie and saxophonist Chico Freeman), McCoy Tyner, Joey Baron, and percussionist Gust William Tsillis.  Over the past decade, he had to stop playing due to complications from Parkinson's Disease.

Arthur Blythe will be remembered for his generous sound, his gentle soul, and his exciting music.  Below are a few examples of his artistry and his joyous approach to Black American Music.

Mr. Blythe in Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition:

Here are The Leaders from 1989:

From drummer Joey Baron's "Down Home" with Bill Frisell (guitar) and Ron Carter (bass):

Ethan Iverson posted this tribute:

Nate Chinen from WBGO-FM published this remembrance:

Rest In Peace, Arthur Blythe - thank you for all that joyous music!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Trios Live & on Record Late March

Corey Warner photo
Trio M - Myra Melford (piano), Mark Dresser (bass), and Matt Wilson (drums) - will perform this Friday March 31 as part of the Spring 2017 Concert Series at Firehouse 12.  Collectively, it's the ensemble's second appearance at the Crown Street venue (April 2012) and, overall, the 19th time one, two, or all three have appeared in the Elm City performance space. Each musician is a leader but, when they work together, it's a joy to listen.  Their music blends so many influences, can be "free" or highly structured, with ensemble playing that leads to great solos and songs that tell stories.  It's not always easy for three fine musicians to mesh but these Ms challenge each other even as they support each other.

The first set starts at 8:30 p.m. with the second - separate admission - at 10 p.m.  For ticket information, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.  To fond out more about Trio M, go to www.myramelford.com/projects/project/display/id/1/Trio-M.

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme continues its weekly forays into contemporary jazz with two more great shows this weekend.  On Friday, it's the Donald Vega Trio. A deft pianist and fine composer, Vega is not only a leader but also the 1/3rd of bassist's Ron Carter's Trio.  His most recent CD, 2015's "With Respect to Monty" (Resonance Records), is Vega's investigation lf the music of fellow pianist Monty Alexander.  The recording is a delight from start to finish, not just because Vega is such a fine pianist but for the way he makes the Alexander sound fresh and invigorating.

Mr. Vega and his as yet unidentified rhythm section takes the Side Door stage at 8:30 for the opening set.  For more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com.

Here's a neat video about the latest album:

The great tenor saxophonist Ricky Ford comes to The Side Door on Saturday April 1.  The Boston, MA, native, has had a fascinating career starting with his studies at the New England Conservatory of Music in his hometown to his work with Charles Mingus and the Duke Ellington Orchestra (when Duke's son Mercer led the band). Ford has also worked with pianists McCoy Tyner, Abdullah Ibrahim, Mal Waldron, and many others. Plus he has recorded numerous albums for various labels, from Muse Records to the Candid label. Ford has been living i France and teaching in Turkey for the better part of the last decade, leading a big band, and recording with numerous ex-patriates.

As of this writing, not sure who's in the Quartet behind Ricky Ford but whoever they are, Mr. Ford's booming tenor and intelligent writing will keep them on their toes.  Set #1 commences at 8:30 p.m.  For ticket information, call  860-434-2600.
Bassist and composer Daniel Toledo, born in Ecuador, came to the United States to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and is now is a full Professor of Music at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.  He also is the leader of the Daniel Toledo Trio & Pianohooligan.  The ensemble has just issued its second CD, "Atrium" (For Tune Records) - joining the bassist is pianist Piotr Orzechowski (turns out he is the "pianohooligan") and drummer Paul Svanberg.  Mr. Orzechowski is quite an accomplished musician playing classical, "free" jazz, and more throughout Europe while drummer Svanberg is known for his work with pianist Lars Jansson's Trio.

Pablo Larrea image
What stands out on this seven-song program of original material (all by the leader) is how melodic this music is and also how interact the trio can be. One can hear suggestions of The Bad Plus, of the Bill Evans Trio, of Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, but these influences are never overt and disappear on repeated listenings. Pieces such as the title track that opens the CD and the impressionistic "Abridged Perspective" move away from any specific genre into a form of storytelling that eschews technique in favor of thematic material.  The dancing phrases from Orzechowski enliven "Tawny" as do his occasional "earnest", almost classical, riffs he throws into his solo. Meanwhile, the rhythm section does its own dance delightfully in support.  Take notice of how the piano and bass go in somewhat different melodic directions on "Horyzont" during the verse, held together by the steady drums. Svanberg changes his approach under the expansive piano solo, switching to brushes and toying with the beat as the bass bounces gently along.

Introspection takes a back seat on the rollicking "Margins" - the drummer pushes from the opening moment while Orzechowski dances through the melody line.  Toledo keeps a steady pace while the piece drops in intensity picking up just in time for his powerful solo.  Dig the swing of the final cut "Near Focus" and how its bluesy feel opens to a smart melody.  The playful interaction of the trio is so attractive and disarming.

"Atrium" can refer to the open roof of an ancient house or the central chambers of the human heart.  The music created by Daniel Toledo Trio + Pianohooligan is filled with heart and with soul while its openness is so inviting. In a day and age when piano trio music is so abundant, this is a recording to discover and enjoy.

For more information, go to www.dantbass.com/home.

Here's the title track and a link to purchase the entire album:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Quartet Music

One of the joys of listening to the music of saxophonist, composer, conceptualist, and producer David Binney is that you can always "expect the unexpected."  You know that he always works with top-notch rhythm sections and pianists plus brings in people to join him on the front line who are leaders in their own right.  The "unexpected" parts of this equation are his compositions, arrangements, and improvisations, all of which he does with great intelligence and passion.

His new album, "The Time Verses", is his ninth as a leader or co-leader to appear on the Criss Cross label (based in The Netherlands). This is the sixth Binney release on the label to feature drummer Dan Weiss, fourth to feature bassist Eyvind Opsvik, and third with pianist Jacob Sacks. These musicians, who appear together on Binney's 2010 "Aliso" album) are Binney's "regular" band and, on numerous Tuesdays over the past seven years, the ensemble that has played alongside him at New York City's 55 Bar. Like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and other artists who maintained "working bands", Binney composes to the strengths of his musicians and knows they are up to the challenges he creates for them.

The recording is a suite of long pieces and short interludes that follows the composer through a "day in his life", a day that includes a gig at "Fifty Five" (celebrated in song near the end of the day and the program).  The album opens with "Dawn", a short (.26 seconds) synthesizer "sound sculpture" that leads directly into "Walk" which puts into music a person's thoughts while walking through a city.  The drums and bass set a good pace but soon the piece takes a turn, still moving forward on the strength of the melody line. A child's voice pops up during Opsvik's arco bass solo and the quartet then moves in a new direction for Binney's lengthy and fascinating solo.

Vocalist Jen Shyu joins the quartet for "Seen"; she sings her lyrics written for an instrumental that Binney composed years ago but had yet to record. It's a lovely ballad with solos from Opsvik (a very melodic bassist) and a powerfully emotional turn from the leader. The gentle vocal helps to calm the emotions as the music comes to rest.  Later in the program, alto saxophonist Shai Golan adds his musical voice (for just a moment) to the thematic section of "Where Worlds Collide", a episodic composition with numerous time changes and shifts plus splendid solos from Binney and Sacks. But, make sure to listen to the melodic and powerful drumming of Weiss.

The music that one hears on "The Time Verses" contains many emotions, compositions that invite joyful interactions as well as thoughtful solos, and beautifully constructed melodies.  Since his recording debut in 1989, David Binney has matured greatly as a person musician, composer, arranger, producer, and bandmate.  Arguably, he is one of the finer contemporary composers in the creative music community. His albums bear repeated listenings , challenging the eager listener on multiples levels.

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

Here's a taste of this fine album:

Speaking of sonic delights, one should partake in a deep drinking in of  "Trickster", the new album from guitarist and composer Miles Okazaki and his first for Pi Recordings (although he has participated on numerous recordings for the label). On initial listen, you cannot help but hear the influence of saxophonist Steve Coleman, not only because the guitarist has worked with the MacArthur Fellow for the past eight years alongside the rhythm section of Anthony Tidd (electric bass) and Sean Rickman (drums) but also the majority of these original pieces, like his mentor's compositions, build their melodies off of the powerful rhythms.  "Mischief" displays a Brazilian Bossa Nova influence while the fiery "Black Bolt" has the intensity of Ornette Coleman's electric music.  The work of pianist Craig Taborn shines throughout, each of his solos goes in unexpected direction, and he also helps to create the foundation for the pieces. Listen to how he and Rickman lock in on the high-powered "The West."

Several of the pieces have a palpable tension; whether it's the gun-shot snare drums on "The Calendar" or the prog-rock funk of "Box In a Box", the music has an edge. The guitarist dances atop the bouncy rhythm section (at times, reggae-like) on the latter track. Also, check out how Taborn creates his solo off those serious rhythms. "Eating Earth" take its time to develop, the slow melody unfolding from guitar and piano lines with Tidd's deep bass notes setting an ominous tone. When the drummer enters, the bassist creates a thick yet nervous bass line for Taborn to slowly maneuver the melody, Okazaki's quiet plucking acting as a second percussionist.

The ultra-funky "Caduceus" close the program, dancing in on a bass line that would not sound out of place on a Bootsy Collins records followed by a funky guitar lick - the piano counterpoint opens the door for the drums and the quartet literally hurtle forward.  The clarity of Tidd's notes mixed with the crackling work of Rickman gives Okazaki and Taborn a deep cushion to trade choruses.

"The Trickster", like the origami figures that grace the album cover art, has many folds and shapes, the music drawing from many influences.  Play it loud, let the low notes of Anthony Tidd's bass rattle your speakers, the drums of Seth Rickman shakes the windows, Craig Taborn's piano notes fly around your head, and the percussive attack of Miles Okazaki dig into your chest.  And, you can dance to it!

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

Here's a preview of the album:

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring Weekend Music

Trombonist and composer Joe Fiedler, a native of Pittsburgh, PA, is one busy musician. Since moving to New York City in 1993, he has worked with the likes of Cecil Taylor, Eddie Palmieri, Ed Palermo's Big Band, the Mingus Big Band, and has been the music director for television's "Sesame Street."  In addition, he leads his own trio plus a quartet of "low" brass quartet (three trombones and a tuba) known as Big Sackbut.

This Friday (3/24), Fiedler releases a new album, "Like, Strange" (Multiphonics Music), celebrates his 52nd birthday, and performs with the quintet from that album at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, CT.  Besides his regular rhythm section of Rob Jost (bass, flugelhorn) and Michael Sarin (drums), the ensemble includes the always fascinating Jeff Lederer (saxophones, clarinet) and Pete McCann (guitar).

The album is a delight from the opening track, the feisty "Go Get It", to the closing sonic adventure (replete with wacky "salsa" dancing rhythms) "Yinz."  One cannot help but notice how rhythmical this music can be.  There's the sly humor of "Maple Avenue Tango", its slinky melody rising atop the dancing bass and drums plus McCann's "clicking" guitar lines.  How about the funky strut of the title track replete with "wah-wah" guitar riffs?The tune has a melody section that sounds like a cross between The Meters and the Crusaders.  The interlocking tenor and trombone dance through the melody lines on "Guiro Neuvo" while Lederer switches to soprano to join Fiedler's 'bone on "A Ladybug In My Notebook", both pieces with a pronounced forward motion - in fact, Jost and Sarin are essential to the vitality of this music, often pushing the soloists throughout with their forceful support.  On "..Ladybug..", McCann's rollicking solo stands out as does his "slippery" rhythm support and raucous and rocking solo on "Quasi." Lederer and Fiedler deliver powerful solos on that track, the saxophonist trading "4s" with Sarin near the end.  Even the bassist gets in on the fun with a short but pulsating solo. The front line also enlivens the vivacious and Latin-flavored "Tuna Fish Cans" yet listen as well to the delightful work of the rhythm section.

The energy of the music on "Like, Strange" leads one to believe that the live gigs for this band will be exciting, even a bit frisky. Joe Fiedler and his Quintet are in the midst of an East Coast tour and, judging by the material and interactions of the album, this music will positively alter your mood and set your feet dancing. We could all use a bit of fun as this long winter comes to a close.

To find out more about Mr. Feidler and his music, go to www.joefiedler.com.

The Firehouse 12 show on Friday starts at 8:30 p.m. with a second set (separate admission) at 10 p.m.   For more information and tickets, go to firehouse12.org or call 203-785-0468.

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme welcomes back the Fred Hersch Trio on Friday.  Pianist and composer Hersch has been a regular at the club since its opening appearing with his splendid rhythm section - bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson - on numerous occasion as well as the rare solo gig. The Trio's sets combine standards, originals, the obligatory Thelonious Monk tune (the pianist is one of the best contemporary practitioners of that composer's music), and a few surprises.  An educator, producer, composer, conceptualist, and performer, Fred Hersch makes music that plumbs the depths of his mind and soul whether he is caressing a melody or "swinging" with abandon.

The Trio hits the stage at 8:30 p.m. For more information, go to www.fredhersch.com.

Call 860-434-2600 for reservations (if you can get one) - these shows always sell out.

Here's the Trio in action:

On Saturday night, The Side Door presents a return visit from Expansions: Dave Liebman Group.  The great tenor and soprano saxophonist, who has been active on the contemporary music scene since the early 1970s, has become one of the finer educator and mentor of and for young musicians.  This quintet, which features veteran acoustic and electric bassist Tony Marino, includes a trio of excellent younger musicians including pianist Bobby Avey, alto saxophonist and flutist Matt Vashlishan, and drummer/percussionist Alex Ritz. This group's repertoire lives up to its name as it is quite expansive, building upon the legacy of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter as well as the work that its leader did with Richie Bierach & Lookout Farm, and Quest.  The band explores swing, hard bop, funk, modern classical music, standards (check out the version of "Love Me Tender" below) and much more.

The first set starts at 8:30 p.m.  For reservations, call the number above or go to thesidedoorjazz.com.

Here's two videos of Expansions (courtesy of Eddie Owens Productions):

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Two B's

What a weekend! First, we read that Chuck Berry has passed away. Granted, he lived to be 90, a life that featured many high points, some serious low ones, and, arguably, was the real "King of Rock 'n' Roll."  He paved the way for so many "rockers", from The Beatles to The Beach Boys to Bruce Springsteen to The Rolling Stones to The Yardbirds to Randy Newman - I include the last person because Berry was the first great lyricist of Rock, a literate storyteller who make you laugh at his audacity  and chortle at his rhymes.  There was no better, or few bigger, artists between 1956 and 1964 with hit after hit on the charts at a time when the charts were awash in pablum. Black groups such as The Drifters and The Coasters, the early Motown successes, the "Philly" sound of the Cameo-Parkway label (Chubby Checker, The Orlons), and the emergence of Phil Spector, were just beginning to "cross over" to AM radio.  Chuck Berry paved the way for all that plus the English Invasion of 1964-67.

His brushes with the law became quite famous; when he went "on the road", he insisted on being  paid in cash before he would go onstage and always work with local bands.  He had charisma as big as his ego, ignored the press, and rarely sat for autographs, yet his music spoke to so many. The music he created for Chess Records was a true "fusion" of country, rhythm 'n' blues, "jump" blues, and more.

There are lots of appreciations on line. Check them out. Some have links to songs such as "Maybelline", "Living In The USA", "Promised Land", "You Can't Catch Me", "Roll Over Beethoven", "Sweet Little Sixteen", and "Johnny B. Goode."  You can find them on Youtube and elsewhere.  That's American Music at its best!

For more, go to www.nytimes.com/2017/03/18/arts/chuck-berry-dead.html or www.rollingstone.com/music/news/chuck-berry-rock-roll-innovator-dead-at-90.

Sunday brought the news of the passing of Jimmy Breslin, a newspaper writer, novelist, and raconteur.  I first read Mr. Breslin when he wrote about my favorite baseball team, The New York Mets, in its first season of ineptitude. "Can Anybody Here Play This Game" was as uproarious as the team was atrocious.  He went to write about the Mafia, the "Son of Sam", the AIDs epidemic, and the plight of poor people not only in New York City but around the country, He ran for office in the Big Apple on a ticket with Norman Mailer, has numerous personal tragedies in his life but it was his columns in the newspaper (most notably for The New York Herald Tribune, the New York Daily News, and Long Island's Newsday) that stood out.  His stories about "real people" never made you feel as if Breslin was faking his sympathy while his diatribes against politicians, gangsters, and others were often filled with vitriol.  This man could write, had an ego the size of the Empire State Building, and you always knew how he felt because he rarely, if ever, held back. Best of all, Jimmy Breslin was a newspaper man and understood the power of the printed word.

Follow these links to learn more - nyti.ms/2mivEg6 and to nydn.us/2npkIgy, and to www.nytimes.com/2017/03/19/business/media/jimmy-breslin-dead-ny-columnist-author.html.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Large Ensembles North of the Border

Kenny Wheeler (1930-2014) played trumpet and flugelhorn and created an impressive body of compositions that covered a wide swath of contemporary music.  Born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Wheeler moved to England in the early 1950s, slowly, steadily, building a career in bands led by Tubby Hayes and John Dankworth. In the 1970s, he worked with various different ensembles, ranging from the avant-garde sounds of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and the Global Unity Orchestra as well as alongside Anthony Braxton and Dave Holland.  He had a long association with pianist John Taylor and vocalist Norma Winstone performing together and recording as Azymuth.  He recorded numerous Lps and CDs for ECM, starting in 1975 with "Gnu High" and his final recording, "Songs For Quintet", released in 2015 after his passing.  Wheeler also recorded for Soul Note and CAM Jazz.

My favorite recordings of Mr. Wheeler's tend to be the Big Band albums.  His arrangements for brass and reeds have a classical sensibility yet are flavored with the experimentation that was a large part of his life. The original compositions often blend airy melodies with thick section playing, opening up for solos that seem to ride atop the rhythm section like birds gliding on columns of thermals. Best of all, his melodies are well drawn and the music often has a swing the composer/arranger had absorbed the blues arrangements of Count Basie and Duke Ellington. And his ballad pieces often have a wistful feeling, filled with emotion and, occasionally sadness.

The University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra, Gordon Foote, director, has just issued "Sweet Ruby Suite"(self-released on UofT Jazz) an album dedicated to the music of Kenny Wheeler. Joining the 18-member ensemble for this project is Ms. Winstone and guest soloist, soprano saxophonist Dave Liebman.  The 4-song program includes the 29-minute title track that Mr. Wheeler recorded in 2002 with the Maritime Jazz Orchestra plus three other shorter tracks. The arrangements, all but one by the composer, leave room for contributions by many of the band members as well as Liebman. The multi-sectioned "...Suite" does an excellent job of displaying the UTJO's strengths; those includes the excellent work of pianist Josh Smiley, bassist Victor Vrankujl, and drummer Andrew Miller plus the excellent section work His interaction with Brad Eaton's flugelhorn on "W.W" really shines.  His sweet tone meshes nicely with Ms. Winstone's scat vocals on "Canter No. 1", perhaps named for its loping rhythms -  the piece, arranged by Terry Promane, makes great use of the sections in call-and-response, counterpoint, and harmonies.  She also joins the brass for the melody line on the song which appeared on Mr. Wheeler's final ECM release.  "Winter Sweet", also first recorded with the Maritime Jazz Orchestra, is a lovely ballad complete with strong playing from Marie Goudy (flugelhorn), Conrad Gluch (alto saxophone), and Mr. Liebman.

"Sweet Ruby Suite" shines not only on the strength of the Kenny Wheeler's compositions and arrangements but also the powerful work of the University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra.  Perhaps the presence of Norma Winstone (who also wrote the lyrics) and Dave Liebman gave the musicians extra incentive; they never sound like a "backing band" for the two guests but really as equals.  If you like "modern" big band, the music of Kenny Wheeler, and the work of Ms. Winstone and Mr. Liebman, this is music worth hearing.

Saxophones: Naomi Higgins, Conrad Gluch, Patrick Smith, Connor Newton, Alec Trent
Trumpets & Flugelhorns: Austin Jones, Marie Goudy, Brad Eaton, Max Forster, Josh Stuckey
Trombones: Zachary Smith, Jared Kirsh, Modibo Keita, Collins Saunders
Piano: Josh Smiley
Guitar: Christopher Platt
Bass: Victor Vrankujl
Drums: Andrew Miller

For more information, go to www.uoftjazz.ca.

The University of Toronto 12TET is 11 musicians and one vocalist directed by Terry Promane, a prominent Canadian trombonist, tubaist, composer, and arranger who has worked with Rob McConnell Tentet, the Hilario Duran Latin Jazz Orchestra, and Kirk MacDonald's Big Band (among many others). "Trillium Falls" (UofT Jazz) is the ensemble's second CD and features a combination of standards, originals, and smart covers of contemporary works.

The album opens with Jon Cowherd's "Crooked Creek" which the pianist composed from Brian Blade's Fellowship. Drummer Mike Rajna arranged the piece, capturing the airiness of the original as well as the energetic forward motion. Jacqueline Teh's wordless vocal blends nicely into the ensemble on the theme, her voice pairing with the reeds. Rajna's rhythm section mate, bassist Alex Lakusta, provides the arrangements for Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan" (from Duke Ellington's "Far East Suite") and Ellington's "Star Crossed Lovers" (from "Such Sweet Thunder").  The former is fairly straight-ahead with solos from trombonist Modibo Keita, trumpeter Emily Denison, and guitarist Dan Pitt while the latter is much more atmospheric with fine solos from the arranger and from alto saxophonist Anthony Argatoff (who suggests the classic Johnny Hodges sound without reproducing the master's solo.)

The album does cover a wide swath of musical territory. Promane (pictured left) contributes two original pieces. "The Icemaker's Mistress" suggests the music of Christine Jensen and Maria Schneider in its long melodic lines and sweeping arrangement. Pianist Jacob Thompson creates a lovely solo over the splendid brush work and bass counterpoint while trumpeter Brad Eaton flies over lush sounds from the sections.  After the solos, the piece opens up for a short interaction with the rhythm section and Ms. Teh plus a call-and-response from the sections.  The director also contributed the title track, another "open" piece, that features a flowing melody and strong solos from Harrison Argatoff and flugelhornist Emily Denison. The ensemble swings mightily on Promane's arrangement of "Witchcraft", the drummer leading the way while tenor saxophonists Kieran Murphy and Harrison Argatoff share the main melody and the solos.   UofT graduate Noam Lemish contributes "Song for Lia" (he also plays piano on the piece), a song that has a Brazilian feel in its rhythmic flow, a lovely melody that rises and falls with various voices moving in and out in the style of Maria Schneider, and smart solos from Anthony Argatoff and Pitt.

The album closes with "Hat Music", composed by Swedish saxophonist Nils Berg (for his quartet The Stoner) and arranged here by trumpeter Denison.  She captures the playfulness of the original, especially the bounce in the bass line and the rapid-fire exclamations from the drums.  The full ensemble plays at the beginning of the song, drops out for Harrison Argatoff's tenor solo and returns in the middle of pianist Thompson's excellent solo (which opens with just the accompaniment of bassist Lakusta).

What stands out when listening to "Trillium Falls" is that The University of Toronto 12TET, this small "big" band, is not only talented and full of promise but also willing to experiment and follow the vision of director Terry Promane. While jazz has moved out of clubs and mentorship has changed from learning on the bandstand to classrooms, there is often critical reaction that "institutionalizing" the music has made it stale.  You certainly do not hear that on these recordings - there is life, joy, experimentation, and community, all necessary elements to move music forward.

Jacqueline Teh – Vocals
Emily Denison – Trumpet/Flugelhorn/arrangement
Brad Eaton – Trumpet/Flugelhorn
Anthony Argatoff – Alto Saxophone
Harrison Argatoff – Tenor Saxophone
Kieran Murphy – Tenor Saxophone
Modibo Keita – Trombone
Zach Smith – Trombone
Dan Pitt – Guitar
Jacob Thompson – Piano 
Alex Lakusta – Bass, arrangements
Mike Rajna – Drums, arrangement
Noam Lemish – Piano, arrangement ("Song for Lia")

Terry Promane – Director, compositions, arrangements

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Friday Night Live in CT 3/17

By Friday evening, the roads in these parts should be clear of the ice and snow that bedeviled Connecticut residents this week.  I suggest an evening of live music to celebrate one's freedom.

The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, presents the duo of Satoko Fujii (piano) and Joe Fonda (bass) at 8 p.m.  The two were familiar with each other's work but hadn't meet until getting together for a short tour in November 2015. They recorded their second gig, releasing the performance as "Duet Song" in 2016.  What's impressive about their pairing is the fact that the music is totally improvised.  The results can be thrilling, "free", highly musical, ferocious, soothing, and well worth watching.

For reservations, call 860-347-4957 or go to www.buttonwood.org.

Here's a taste of the duo with guest trumpeter (and Ms. Fujii's husband) Natsuki Tamura:

Saxophonist and composer Dan Pratt comes to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme on Friday.  Best known for his work with an organ quartet, Pratt's new CD, "Hymn for the Happy Man", finds the California native alongside pianist Mike Eckroth, drummer Alan Mednard, and bassist Christian McBride for a program of original music that takes its cues from Wayne Shorter's Blue Note years and the early Wynton Marsalis Quintet.

For the Old Lyme gig, Pratt, Eckroth and Mednard will be joined by bassist Matt Clohesy.  They'll take the stage at 8:30 p.m. play two sets.  For more information and reservations, go to thesidedoojazz.com or call 860-434-2600.

Here's the title track:

As I wrote earlier this week (read here), the Firehouse 12 Spring 2017 Concerts series commences this week on Friday in the intimate recording studio and performance space located at 45 Crown Street in New Haven.  The opening show belongs to Stephan Crump's Rhombal, a quartet that features Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone), Adam O'Farrill (trumpet), Tyshawn Sorey (drums) and the leader on bass; he also has created all the music for the ensemble (so far).  The combination of blues, improvisation, brilliant interactions, and strong solos made for an impressive debut album (released in late Summer 2016) - the music should be even better live.

The Elm City date is the third of five-shows-in five-days that Rhombal is playing this week.  To find out more about the Mr. Crump and the band, go to stephancrump.com.   To make reservations or get more information about the Concerts series, go to firehouse12.org or call 203-785-0468.

Here's a track from the album:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Friends and Music

Drummer and composer Billy Mintz ventured into the studio on a late December day in 2015. He gathered his friends John Gross (tenor saxophone), Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano saxophones), Roberta Piket (piano, keyboards, organ), and Hilliard Greene (bass) plus saxophonist Anton Denner (on one track), turned on the tapes and started to play.  The results can be heard on "Ugly Beautiful" (13th Note), a 2-CD set that covers a wide swath of musical territory over 17 tracks that includes one alternate take and an extended version of another track.  Don't get the idea that this is one long blowing session; instead, it's a prime example of musicians stretching, challenging each other (and the listener), thoughtfully engaging with the notated pieces, and creating improvisations that don't adhere to any formula.

The programming pairs more structured pieces, such as the piano/tenor (Malaby) reading of "Vietnam", with the hard blowing "Dit", whose first version builds on the fire of the rhythm section and opens up to incendiary solos by Gross and Malaby (tenor).  The alternate take shows up later on Disc 1 - here, Gross and Malaby solo together then drop out to allow Ms. Piket to play a delightful solo (her solo on the first version is excellent as well if a bit more playful).  "Flight" and "Flight" (ballad) are back-to-back, the first version is a swinging romp with stroll solos from the two tenors, piano, and Denner (overdubbed on soprano, alto, and tenor).  The ballad takes a different approach with Malaby leading Ms. Piket into a minimalistic reading of the theme. Without the drummer, the group plumbs the emotional depth of the music to great effect. "Cannonball" is a funky piece with a trance-like rhythm emphasized by Greene's throbbing bass and Mintz's gentle dancing sound.  Ms. Piket's Hammond B-3 solo is a treat as well. The longest track on the first disc, "Shmear"(11:37), opens with a long drum before moving into a fast-paced riff a la mid-60s Ornette Coleman.  Before you get used to that, everyone drops out for a gospel-tinged piano solo.  The pace picks with an energetic pace laid down for the bass and drums for a rollicking piano solo.  Then, the tenors enter one at a time before engaging each other in a spirited conversation. The disc closes with "Umba", a funky piece for Fender Rhodes, Nord keyboard, and drums.

Disc 2 commences with "Tumba"; the minimalism of "Umba" now is expanded to add organ and acoustic piano to the mix and a harder rhythmic pace. The piece takes a decidedly Native American turn with hand percussion setting the stage for a fascinating soprano sax solo over Ms. Piket's expanding chordal explorations.  The exploratory nature of the musicians and these challenging compositions continue to grab attention throughout the side, especially on the Coltrane-influenced tracks "Love and Beauty" (a forceful ballad) and the powerful, medium-tempo, title track.  Greene's double-tracked bowed bass introduces "Retribution"; it's slow pace, whispering cymbals, and foreboding organ sounds take their time to get to the handsome melody line played by the tenor and soprano saxophones. To these ears, the melody line has the richness of a cantorial melody from the early 20th Century.  Following that, "After Retribution", has a similar pace but now the piano and drums carry a more plaintive melody to the tenor saxophones. The piece ends so quietly, you can hear the quintet breathing as one.  The program ends with an extended reading of "Cannonball"; it's as funky as the shorter version, just more room for solos from the saxophonists and Ms. Piket's Hammond B-3.

"Ugly Beautiful" is 2+ hours of music that has so much to recommend purchase by the curious listener.  Take your time delving into the program, listen to how these musician/friends interact, how the compositions fit the overarching themes of the project, not the least of which is the joy of making music.  Music can take us out of the commonplace - Billy Mintz and company give us much to contemplate, so much to think about.

For more information, go to thirteenthnoterecords.com.

Check this video of the band at play (and I mean play)!

Trumpeter and educator Carol Morgan has a new album "Post Cool, Vol. 1: The Night Shift" (self-released), and it finds her in the company of the three gentlemen who joined her on the delightful 2011 release "Blue Glass Music."  Joining her on the front line is tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm while the rhythm section is the delightful duo of Martin Wind (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums).

The six songs include an original each from the leader and from Frahm plus four standards.  Yet, there is nothing standard about the "oldies."  The program opens with a pleasant jaunt through Horace Silver's "Strollin'".  The tenor solo over the splashy cymbals gives way to a enjoyable trumpet solo.  The bassist creates a splendid melodic solo before the entire band go back to the head.  Wilson pounds and punches the group through the opening choruses of "A Night In Tunisia" before settling down and working alongside Wind beneath Ms. Morgan's jaunty solo.  Check out the "wild" ending and how Frahm wraps his sound around the trumpet melody.  Wilson's brush work sets the pace on Tadd Dameron's "On A Misty Night" with solos from the trumpeter and saxophonist that literally dance with glee.  The Quartet has fun with "Autumn Leaves", taking its time to get to the melody and then imbuing the blues with a deep blues sensibility.  Listen to how Ms. Morgan plays behind the saxophonist through the latter half of his solo before taking off on her own.  Frahm returns the favor in the middle of the trumpet spot, adding harmony as well as counterpoint.

Ms. Morgan's "Night" has a samba feel underneath the handsome melody.  The interaction of trumpet and saxophone on the thematic material is harmonically rich while the melody is ripe for lyrics.  The piece has a "quiet" feel plus a soft and, of course, melodic solo from Wind. When the Quartet returns to the theme, you realize the heart of the song is in the melody that Ms. Morgan created for herself and Frahm.  The saxophonist's "Song For Mom" appears on his 2011 "Live at Smalls" CD - he does not tinker with the arrangement using the same medium tempo and solo order.  Because there is such a strong melodic line, the soloists have much to work with.

"Post Cool, Vol. 1: The Night Shift" from the Carol Morgan Quartet is subtle, melodic, and fun.  Considering the musicians she asked to be part of the project, you should not have expected anything less.

For more information, go to www.carolmorganmusic.com/.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Three by 3 in the Third Month

Unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon, your reaction to
"Laughing at Life (Anzic Records), the second album from Duchess  should be one of sheer joy.  The trio of vocalists - Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou - takes its cues from The Boswell Sisters, who recorded and toured from 1925-1936. Equally fine singers and musicians, The Boswells, born and raised in New Orleans, first came to fame on the radio and then toured with bands led by the Dorsey Brothers (Jimmy and Tommy) as well as Bunny Berigan. When each sister married and subsequently started a family, the decision was to split but their influence can be heard in  various "girl groups" of the 1940s including the Andrew Sisters.

Duchess, with its top-notch band including pianist Michael Cabe, bassist Matt Aronoff, drummer Jared Schonig, plus guitarist Jesse Lewis (on 9 of the 14 tracks), takes to heart the influence of its predecessors and that is to have fun.  They do a pair of songs associated with The Boswells; "Everybody Loves My Baby" features the double-time middle of the original tune and the original "Dawn" (composed by Vet Bosewell) closes the album in soft tones. "...Baby" features the playful clarinet work of Anat Cohen who also supplies the sweet, woody, sounds on "We'll Meet Again."  Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon adds his "growl" to "Creole Love Call" (his arrangement as well) and gives a sweeter touch to the lovely "Stars Fell on Alabama."  Then there's Johnny Mercer's "Strip Polka" which hails from 1942 and was a hit for him as well as for The Andrew Sisters.  The addition of Jeff Lederer's boozy tenor saxophone gives the song its initial boost and the tight 3-part harmony is a delight.  Lederer also adds his powerful sound to "Here's To The Losers" with a solo that raises the temperature on the "cool" vocals (dig the "kicking" final verse).

The trio goes for a more "contemporary" sound (okay, the 1950s and 60s) with such additions as the sweet bluesy sounds of Ray Charles "Hallelujah I Love Her (Him) So" (strong vocal lead from Ms. Gardner) and the easy swing of "Where Would You Be Without Me" from the Anthony Newley - Leslie Bricusse classic "The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd".

"Laughing at Life" can be such healthy advice but not always easy to do.  However, this fine album from Duchess is certainly a step - actually a shower of steps - in the right direction. With fine arrangements from producer Oded Lev-Ari, a crackerjack band, plus fine contributions from the guests, this is music that makes one feel good and there is nothing wrong with that at all.

For more information, go to www.duchesstrio.com/welcome.

Now, take a listen:

Over the course of the past 10 years, Champian Fulton has proven herself to be a strong vocalist and excellent pianist. She loves to swing, her ballad work is emotionally rich, and is becoming an excellent music educator.  "Speechless" her 8th album and first for Posi-Tone Records, is also her first purely instrumental recording. Featuring the rhythm section of Adi Myerson (bass) and Ben Zweig (drums), Ms. Fulton has a created a 10-song program that is just the right combination of emotion and technique, steeped in the blues and with a healthy dollop of "swing."  The more I listen, the more I hear the influence of Earl "Fatha" Hines on several tracks. Listen to the gentle two-handed attack on the album's first cut, "Day's End", as well as the smart accompaniment of the rhythm section.  There is also a Hines flavor on the recording's only non-original, "Somebody Stole My Gal" (composed by Leo Wood in 1918).  After an introspective opening, the song takes off as if the band members were trying to keep up with Usain Bolt.

Image by Laurent Leduc
There is so much to enjoy here. The rousing "Lullaby for Art", with its hint of Bobby Timmons in the opening melody, builds off the relentless drive of the rhythm section and Ms. Fulton's dancing solo.  The first notes of "Dark Blue" may lead one to believe the song is actually Michel LeGrand's "What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life" but it's really a slow blues - the piano solo is a wonderful mix of short phrases and long, rippling, lines that dance atop the elemental bass tines and brush work.  She follows that with the uptempo waltz "Tea and Tangerines", a delightful and jaunty romp. The pianist is close friends with alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson; she composed "Later Gator" with his funky blues stylings in mind. It's a "down home" treat and the rollicking piano solo drips with sound of gospel-inflected soul.

By the time you arrive at the final track, "Carondeleto's", Ms. Fulton's tribute to her friend Clark Terry's home town of Carondelet, Missouri, the music has gone through a number of moods and style.    The cut swings with a vengeance and is a pleasing close to a splendid album.  Champian Fulton's previous album, "After Dark", was a tribute to vocalist Dinah Washington and a good one at that. "Speechless" may not have vocals but is a treat from beginning to end with nary a weak cut and a slew of strong solos.  Just let the sounds seep into your brain; I guarantee you will feel better.

For more information, go to www.champian.net.

Here's a live version of one of the tracks from "Speechless":

Pianist Gene Harris organized The Three Sounds in 1956 along with bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy.  Over the next 17 years, the trio (always with Harris but various drummers and bassists) recorded for many different labels including Blue Note, Verve, and Mercury, backed numerous musicians (including Lester Young, Lou Donaldson, vocalist Anita O'Day and others) and toured incessantly.  The appropriately-titled "Groovin' Hard: Live at The Penthouse 1964-68" (Resonance Records) is a collection of tracks recorded in a club located in Seattle, Washington.  Drummer Dowdy appears on the 1964 sessions while Kalil Madi takes over in 1966 and Carl Burnett in 1968.

As to be expected from the folks at Resonance, the sound quality is exceptional.  Harris's gospel/blues piano work is in full bloom and you can understand why he had such a fine career.  Yes, he could "get down" but also really loved melody.  At the time of these recordings, trios led by Ramsey Lewis and Ahmad Jamal were very popular, especially with more mature audiences (although Lewis did have hits on the Top 50); the role of these groups were to mostly play clubs where they would entertain people after a long day at work, help the listeners relax and shed the inhibitions caused by the daily grind.  Harris was quite happy to entertain. Pieces such as "Blue Genes" with its infectious boogie-woogie rhythms, the brisk 3/4 stroll of Toots Theilemans's "Bluesette", and the rollicking "Theme from Ceasar and Cleopatra" (note the Afro-Cuban rhythms of Dowdy) would make people sit up and take notice.

With the exception of Franz Lehar's "Yours is My Heart Alone" at 7:50, the performances clock in at under 7 minutes. But there's plenty of time on each track for Harris (1933-2000) to play excellent solos. He gets your attention on every track, a bit "showy" at times, but never at the expense of melody or the "groove". Simpkins (1932-1999) is not only quite supportive but his counterpoint work is impressive.

"Groovin' Hard" is a delightful musical snack from Gene Harris & The Three Sounds.  The accompanying booklet as well as the video on the Resonance Records website are quite informative; it makes one wish that there was more like this waiting for release (hint hint!)

For more information, go to www.resonancerecords.org/release.php?cat=HCD-2025.  You can read his obituary from the New York Times (written by Ben Ratliff) by going to www.nytimes.com/2000/01/18/arts/gene-harris-66-a-jazz-pianist-who-played-bebop-and-soul.html.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Spring In Our Steps + Happy 10th at Firehouse 12!

After a fairly mild February (in the madness that now passes for winter in southern New England), March has definitely come in like a lion.  Actually, more like a marauding polar bear but the calendar reminds us that the Vernal Equinox is almost upon us and, even more important (especially for fans of creative music in CT), the Firehouse 12 Spring Concert series is set to commence.

The opening show of this year, the venue's 10th Anniversary season, belongs to bassist and composer Stephan Crump's Rhombal.  The quartet's debut album came out last summer and made it to numerous "Best-of" lists.  Featuring a front line of Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone) and Adam O'Farrill (trumpet), the music is powered by the exciting rhythm section of Crump and drummer Tyshawn Sorey.  The album was recorded fairly early in the band's career and they have been gigging a lot since then so they should be in great form on March 17th.

Here's music to accompany your reading:

Filling out the month will be the Joe Fielder Quintet (3/24) and Trio M (3/31).  Trombonist and composer Fielder has formed a new ensemble, one that features the amazing (and madcap) Jeff Lederer (saxophones, clarinet), Pete McCann (guitars), Rob Jost (bass, french horn), and Michael Sarin (drums).  The band's new album comes out later this month and is filled with exciting performances of Fielder's fine compositions.  Trio M takes its name from its three members, pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser, and drummer Matt Wilson. Each member also contributes music and their interactions make for an impressive performance.

The first weekend in April will be quite exciting.  Friday the 7th, it's saxophonist Anna Webber with her "Binary" Trio featuring pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer John Hollenbeck. "Binary" is the name given to the Trio's second album on SKIRL Records which was released on October of 2016.  Wadada Leo Smith's picture is there because on Saturday (4/08) and Sunday (4/09) because he has curated a fascinating event.  Dubbed the CREATE Festival, there will be workshops, seminars, and numerous performances, many of which feature Wadada's music.  Among Saturday's performances are the debuts of his String Quartets Number 9 and 10 as well as his Golden Quintet playing excerpts (on Sunday too) from 2016's "America's National Parks" recording.  More debuts will come on Sunday but many people (including me) are excited about the reunion of New Delta Ahkri, a trio that Wadada assembled in the 1970s with vibraphonist Bobby Naughton and multi-reed master Dwight Andrew.  You can see the whole lineup by clicking here.

April's offerings also include drummer Ralph Peterson's Triangular III Trio on the 14th;  The ensemble (pictured left) features Hartford natives Zaccai and Luques Curtis (piano and bass respectively). Peterson is such a powerful drummer and a strong composer with a great love for the history of jazz.  On the 21st, the Michaël Attias Quartet comes to the venue. Attias is a fine alto saxophonist and composer; this quartet - pianist Aruan Ortiz, bassist John Hébert, and drummer Nasheet Waits - just released its first recording on Clean Feed, filled with impressive interactions and musical conversations.  For this gig, pianist Kris Davis sits in the piano chair.  The last Friday of the month belongs to the Anthony Braxton Septet.  Mr. Braxton, who retired from his teaching position at Wesleyan several years (Tyshawn Sorey takes his place this coming Fall semester), has been touring the world with his many ensembles, performing his operas and other new compositions.  Featured in this group are Adam Matlock (accordion), Dan Peck (tuba), Tomeka Reid (cello) Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, and the twin harps of Jacqueline Kerrod and Shelley Burgon (Mr Braxton will play clarinet and electronics).  Mr. Bynum, Ms. Melford, and Mr. Hébert return on Saturday to play a concert with a group dubbed the Firehouse 12 Records All Stars. The ensemble also includes guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, trumpeter Nate Wooley, and pianist Carl Maguire.

Dig the sounds of Mr. Peterson and the brothers Curtis:

May starts out with a visit (on the 5th) from the Matthew Shipp Trio.  The talented, opinionated, and forceful pianist Shipp released what he says his final album in January.  If it truly is his denouement as a recording artist (he still plans to perform live as a leader and band member), "Piano Song" (Thirsty Ear) is one of his best.  Joining him will be bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker who also are on the album.  On May 12th, Harriet Tubman, the trio of Brandon Ross (banjo, guitar, vocal), J.T. Lewis (drums), and Melvin Gibbs (bass).  Their new Sunnyside album, "Araminta", also features Wadada Leo Smith, and the collaboration is quite fascinating (hear a track below).  The following week (5/19), the volume might be lower but the music should be just an engaging when the Pete Malinverni Trio takes the stage.  The pianist and composer has not only worked with jazz masters such as Mel Lewis and Joe Lovano but has also served as a church musician in an African American Baptist Church in Brooklyn. May closes out on the 26th with Joe Morris "House of Refreshment" that finds the guitarist in the company of bassist Kim Cass (who in a member of Noah Preminger's Quartet), also saxophonist Jim Hobbs, and drummer Gerald Cleaver.

Here's a healthy slice of music from Harriet Tubman:

The season closes with 2 shows in June but both will be fascinating.  On June 2, guitarist Brandon Seabrook will celebrate the release of "Die Trommel Fatale", his new album and group.  Not sure yet who'll be sharing the stage but the one song I have heard features a sextet with bassist Eyvind Opsvik and cellist Marika Hughes plus a vocalist and two drummers!  The music is a wild blend of Captain Beefheart, "scream-o", "trance", and more.  On June 9, come help celebrate the 40th anniversary of BassDrumBone, the magical trio of bassist Mark Helias, drummer and percussionist Gerry Hemingway, and trombonist Ray Anderson.  They, too, are celebrating a new album, aptly title "The Long Road", a 2-disk set they self-released late in 2016. Pianist Jason Moran and saxophonist Joe Lovano join them on three tracks each; the music sparkles with musical invention, deep thought, sly humor, and splendid playing.

A new track from BassDrumBone for your enjoyment:

All the concerts, save for Mr. Smith's CREATE Festival, include two sets. with the first at 8:30 p.m. and the second at 10.  To order a season's pass or individual tickets, go to firehouse12.com or call them at 203-785-0468.