Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Shakers n' Bakers & Albert Ayler's Revival Meeting

It's Valentine's Day 2018 and it seems obvious we could all use a "whole lotta love" (no Led Zep today though, thank you) and a revival of our spirits. To that end, tenor and soprano saxophonist Jeff Lederer has come to our rescue.  His Shakers n' Bakers crew has a new album.  "Heart Love: Shakers n' Bakers Play the Songs of Albert Ayler and Mary Maria Parks (little (i) music) revisits and updates three tracks from Ayler's controversial 1968 "New Grass" (critics thought the funky sounds beneath Ayler's talent) and three from 1969's "Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe". Lederer has been one of the late Ayler (he died just a year after the "...Healing Force...." Lp was released) and has recorded several albums based on material from throughout the saxophonist's career.

The ensemble includes Jamie Saft (piano, organ, Baldwin electric harpsichord), Chris Lightcap (bass), Allison Miller (drums), Mary LaRose and Miles Griffith (vocals) plus Steven Bernstein (trumpet, slide trumpet), Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Joe Fielder (trombone) and Lisa Parrott (baritone saxophone). Special guest Matt Wilson plays drums on two tracks a quintet of background vocalists known as the "Heart Love Singers" are featured on a number of tracks. They include Amy Cervini, Melissa Stylianou, Toni Seawright, Chelsea McLauren, and Ms. LaRose.

The album hits the streets on February 28 but the digital version can be purchased starting today by going to shakersnbakers.bandcamp.com/releases.

Listen to the track below and you'll get a good idea just how funky and far afield Shakers n' Bakers can go.  The band plays with great fire, the vocalists are perfectly matched (sweet and sassy, smooth and gruff), and Jeff Lederer plays with the fire that his fans and audiences have come to expect.

A review will post in a week or so but, for now, if this music fascinates you, give it a listen. Make sure to play it loud: it will do your heart good!

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

Monday, February 12, 2018

Wes Flies!

In his lifetime (1923-68), Wes Montgomery only made one trip to Europe as a professional musician (and none as a tourist). That makes great sense - he hated to fly! In 1965, he crossed the ocean via plane but crossed the European continent by train.  The year before, he had moved to Verve Records and started to get popular acclaim. In 1967, he made the move to A&M/CTI Records and began a short but profitable career working with producer Creed Taylor and arranger Don Sebesky (with whom he had worked at Verve).

Resonance Records has just released "Wes Montgomery In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording", a 2-CD set from his March 27, 1965 concert that has been one of the most popular jazz bootlegs of all time.  Reissue producer Zev Feldman was able to secure the master recording from the National Audiovisual Institute of France, the overseer of the Office of French Radio and Television (ORTF): working with Resonance label owner and sound wizard George Klabin and master technician Fran Gala, the album is finally official.

For the tour, Montgomery assembled a rhythm section that features pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Arthur Harper, and drummer Jimmy Lovelace.  Of the 10 tracks, only one is less than seven minutes and several stretch beyond 12.  Montgomery is in top form throughout the album.  If there is one track that defines the album, it's the highly rousing rendition of John Coltrane's "Impressions."  The guitar solo ranges from rippling single-note runs to his amazing "octaves" riffs and the jazzy block chords., all played as the rhythm section keeps up a torrid pace. Later on Disc one, the quartet plays Montgomery's "Jingles", another longer piece with great power and a stunning guitar solo.  Mabern, 29 at the time, is inspired by the guitarist and delivers a powerful solo that swings with glee. The slower tracks on the first disk include a Latin-tinged reading of "Here's That Rainy Day" but the keeper is the truly lovely reading of "The Girl Next Door" (composed by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane as "The Boy Next Door").

Jean-Pierre Lelour
Disk two opens with "To Wane", a Mabern composition that matches the power and energy of "Impressions."  Special guest tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin joins the band for the next three selections.  Now a quintet, they start with a famous Montgomery piece "Full House", a tune and album the guitarist and saxophonist recorded in 1962.  Griffin's bluesy style fits well in this music. The ex-patriate saxophonist, who had moved to France in 1963, and Montgomery have great fun playing over the active rhythm section. A short piano solo opens "'Round Midnight" (very hip audience in attendance - they applaud the melody) before Montgomery leads in the theme and takes the first solo.  When Griffin enters he plays one line then sings a short reply and gets a big laugh from the band.  The solo that follows is actually quite serious and ranges far afield. Griffin has a great time on Dizzy Gillespie's "Blues and Boogie" - he enters quietly after Montgomery's romping solo but soon digs in and creates a rollicking statement, complete with quotes from several children's songs and more.  The rhythm section has a great time as well. When they drop out, Griffin goes it alone for over two minutes, riffing on a theme with great power and joy.

"Wes Montgomery In Paris", a bootleg no more, is 105 minutes of impressive musicianship, bluesy twists and turns, and melodic adventures.  The rhythm section gives the leader great support throughout and the addition of Johnny Griffin is a real treat.  The sound is quite good save for a bit of a drop off when Harold Mabern moves into the higher registers of the piano (his "comping" is quite audible).  The sound of the bass and drums is excellent throughout while the guitar  dominates without being harsh or annoying.  All in all, a treat for guitar fans and, especially, for people who like the jazzy side of Mr. Montgomery.

For more information, go to www.resonancerecords.org/release.php?cat=HLP-9032.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Positively Posi-Tone (February 2018)


Producer Marc Free, who sets the pace at Posi-Tone Records, always signs his emails "Keep on swingin'" - that would certainly be the motto for this group the producer put together.  The sextet and its debut album is called "New Faces": the ensemble includes vibraphonist Behn Gillece, tenor saxophonist Roxy Coss, trumpeter Josh Lawrence, pianist Theo Hill and the "veteran" rhythm section of bassist Peter Brendler and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza.  Every member has, at least, one album on the Posi-Tone label or has been featured one of the label's many recordings.  The program is split between songs from deep in the label's catalogue, new pieces from the vibraphonist and the pianist plus Herbie Hancock's "King Cobra" (from his 1963 Blue Note Lp, "My Point of View").

With its airy feel and open chords, the Hancock composition posits the album in the era of "progressive hard bop" - listen to how the rhythm section plays with the tempos under the soloists.  The piece simmers and it's that feel that permeates much of the album.  Opening with pianist Jon Davis's "Happy Juice", the music has a delightful swing, the melody glides forward, and the soloists (Lawrence. Ms Coss, and Gillece, each create swinging solos.  The second track, "Delilah Was a Libra", comes from one of the earliest albums in the label's catalog "Trapdoor" by the guitarist known as Edwing (issued in 1995). The piece has a modal feel and the rhythm section really push this forward - Lawrence, Hill, and Ms. Coss each create fine solos.

Of the three tracks composed by vibraphonist Gillece, "Down the Pike" leaps out of the speakers thanks to the drive supplied by Sperrazza, Brendler, and Hill.  The ethereal opening of his tune "Vortex" (with the chimes of his vibes) may remind some of the late Bobby Hutchinson's work on "Maiden Voyage" as will the handsome melody (Lawrence has a such a fine tone).  Ms. Coss does not rush through her tenor solo, enjoying the great support as she moves easily through the changes.   Gillece's final contribution, "Follow Suit", starts slowly but then the sextet takes off on a joyous romp with rapid-fire solos from the composer, Lawrence (one hears Lee Morgan in his playing), Ms. Coss (whose power matches that of the rhythm section, and closes with short statements from Hill and Sperrazza.

The hard-bop swing of Lawrence's "Hush Puppy" is a giddy trip through a sweet melody and strong solos.  However, he adds a delicious Latin concoction to the mix with his piece "Frederico."  Leading with his muted trumpet playing the melody with the tenor sax, the piece conjures up a smoky nightclub with the band having a great time. Pay attention to the excellent work of Hill whose background chords and fills are a lesson in how to create a fine foundation for the soloists. Of course, Brendler and Sperrazza keep everyone on their toes with their tasty accompaniment.

"New Faces" is a tasty concoction, an album that is sneaky good. On the surface, most of the music sounds "straight-ahead jazz" and it is. But, listen closely to the excellent rhythm section, to the intelligent choice of tunes, and to how the "front line" responds to all the different types of tunes. Best of all, it's fun to listen to.

For more information, go to www.posi-tone.com/newfaces/newfaces.html.

Here's the delightful "Frederico":


Trombonist and educator Michael Dease puts together a fine ensemble for his new Posi-Tone release (his fifth for the label).  "Reaching Out" blends his young rhythm section of pianist Luther Allison (who played drums on Deases's 2016 "Father Figure" CD) and drummer Zach Adleman (a student of the trombonist at Michigan State University as is Allison) with veterans Peter Brendler (bass), Ralph Bowen (tenor saxophone), Walt Weiskopf (alto and tenor saxophones), and Behn Gillece (vibraphone on three tracks). The program is an intelligent blend of standards, newer "pop" tunes, and several originals.  The reed players appear together on  eight of the 11 tracks. Bowen also has a smashing interaction with the leader and the rhythm section on the rapid-fire reading of Steve Turre's "Blackfoot" while Weiskopf joins Gillece on Dease's Herbie Hancock-like "The Chameleon Eye."

Dease reminds me a lot of fellow trombonist Steve Davis. He's possesses a buttery tone, can play in many different styles, is a top-notch educator and mentor. Plus, both men can swing with abandon. There are several tracks that "burn" from the opening notes.  The opening track, "Something In Common" (composed by Cedar Walton), simmers and features powerful solos from the leader, Bowen, Weiskopf (alto), and Gillece.   Deanne's "Tipping Point" may have the most fire on the album, with exciting solos from both the alto and tenor saxophonists, the leader, and a rollicking "trading 8's" with Adleman.

There are three fascinating covers on the album that speak to Dease's upbringing, the "pop" music of his youth,  "More Than Words", a big hit in 1990 for the metal band Extreme, is a sweet mid-tempo ballad with the reeds and brass playing sweet harmonies and counterpoint. Babyface's "Water Runs Dry" was a hit in 1994 for Boyz II Men and is given a similar arrangement to the Extreme tune. The sextet (all but Gillece) treat the melody with respect while Dease's solo has, at times, a fine vocal feel. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the inclusion of Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" - the original, because if its connection to the James Bond movie franchise, is, at times, bombastic. But Dease and company not only swing the heck out of the song but also give a strong blues feel.  There's a powerful "trading 4's" section with the brass and reeds and the vibes add a powerful touch in the final minute of the piece.

"Reaching Out" is melodic, exciting, and quite accessible. Michael Dease shares the spotlight throughout the album and both Ralph Bowen and WaltWeiskopf take full advantage of the solo space  (they trade phrases with abandon on "Morning Shade") as well as serve as smart counterpoint on a majority of the tracks. Pay attention to the contributions of the "kids", Luther Allison and Zach Adleman: they play well now and will only get better and smarter.  Posi-Tone "keeps on swinging" and we are the beneficiaries!

For more information, go to www.posi-tone.com/reachingout/reachingout.html and to www.michaeldease.com.

Here's a tip of Mr. Dease's musical chapeau to writer/blogger Malcolm Gladwell:

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Trio Music, House Concert, Intimate Music

Pianist-composer Jeremy Siskind created the Housewarming Project after the 2012 release of his BJU recording "Finger-Songwriter." That splendid album (reviewed here) featured the attractive voice of Nancy Harms and the excellent reed work of Lucas Pino (clarinets, saxophones): early 2015 saw the release of  "Housewarming" (BJU) with the same lineup plus guest vocalists  Kendra Shank, Peter Eldridge, and Kurt Elling.  The two albums not only shone the light of the excellent interactions of voice and instruments. The first album featured 11 original compositions dedicated to poets and authors plus a delightful cover of Billy Joel's "All You Wanna Do Is Dance" (from 1976's "Turnstiles" album). The second album included nine originals, three standards, and an inspired rendition of Adem's "Everything You Need" from 2004.

The trio has spent considerable time performing "house concerts" (makes sense, giving their intimate sound) not only because the songs seem so personal but also it's easier to connect with the performers and see how they work, how they play, interact, and enjoy what they do.

2018 brings "The Housewarming Project", a multi-media venture that continues and builds upon what Siskind and his bandmates have been doing for the past six years.  The group started releasing videos on its YouTube channel in January and plan to continue into March.  Titled "at_Home/at_Play", the series features performances from the Blue Whale in Los Angeles and from videos made "at home" in San Diego, CA  The trio performs new pieces as well as revisiting songs from their albums.  Along with the videos, one can download a five-song EP (free or "name your price") from housewarmingproject.bandcamp.com/releases. And Siskind is blogging about all the songs which you can find by going to mfasiskind.wordpress.com.


photo by Danielle Guerra
One could just set the YouTube channel to continuous play and have your own house concert in your living room. There's a delightful blend of music. There's the uptempo and hilarious "If You Can Read (You Can Cook)" that features guest Dan Ogrodnik on pandiero, the quiet and wistful "Melancholy Times", the dramatic "Vanished Music, Twilit Water" (for Seamus Heaney), the sweet, jazzy, ballad "Whispering Grass", and rapid-fire "Sometimes I Wander." One could easily concentrate on Ms. Harms and the versatility of her voice, the emotional richness but you could - and should - pay close attention to the splendid keyboard work of Siskind, not just his technical prowess but the rich melodies he creates. Pino doesa delightful job of wrapping his clarinet sound around the vocal, sometimes shadowing the melody or playing counterpoint to the piano. The dark tones of his bass clarinet, the bluesy swagger of his tenor saxophone (check out his husky tones on the Gershwin-esque "The Inevitable Letdown" as well as the delightful "rent party" piano solo), all point to how important the reeds are to the overall tone of this Project.

Intelligent words and excellent music, real emotions and myriad colors, "The Housewarming Project" is such attractive and adult music.  The intimacy of the performances, the sumptuous melodies, and the wonderful musicianship makes "The Housewarming Project" worth paying attention to.

The YouTube channel is found at www.youtube.com/channel/UCo23Y7J1cwrH5BWW6TPG6sQ - dig around, have fun, buy the EP, and check out this trio's fine recordings.

For even more information, go to www.jeremysiskind.com.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

One Piano, Two Pianos, & Piano Trio +

2018 is the year of pianist, composer, and arranger Satoko Fujii's 60th birthday. She's celebrating with her fans and new acquaintances by releasing an album every month.  January's entry is "Solo" (Libra Records), recorded on the afternoon of July 9, 2017, in Yawatahama, Japan, approximately 530 miles to the southwest of Tokyo. As much as I enjoy Ms. Fuji's projects with her various large ensembles as well as her work with husband and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura (they share several projects), her solo piano outings are always fascinating and this album is no exception.


There are moments of great beauty and solemnity, there are moments of vigor and furious sounds - playing inside the piano, dampening the strings that certain notes sound like small bells ("Ninepin") and giving the high keys a more percussive sound ("Gen Himmel"), Ms. Fujii plays the entire piano.  Listen to "Spring Storm" as the music dances up from the bass notes, imitating rain drops, swirling sounds out of the piano, until the low notes reluctantly give way to a lovely melody. The lines clash, come together, break apart, push at each other, until the storm picks up in intensity - now the phrases are spilling out of the piano but the listener need not take cover.

The final track is a whisper-thin reading of "Moonlight", a truly lovely ballad composed by the late reed master Jimmy Giuffre.  The notes are so well articulated, so clear, one imagines standing on the back porch in the country, staring at the sky.  Her left hand strumming inside the piano as the right plays a rippling melody, the music is suspended in the air and we are still, like the evening breeze, we are quiet, like the song birds sleeping in their nests, as the melody slowly comes to a close.

If you listen to a lot of the music that Satoko Fujii creates, "Solo" may surprise you.  There is plenty of power in her percussive left hand on certain tracks but there are also many moments of tenderness. Yes, there is angularity in her melodies and solos but she also gives pieces where the rhythm carries you rapidly forward (all of that and more happens in nine+ minutes of "Geradeaus").  Approach this album with open ears and you will reap musical rewards.

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

Here's the opening track:



Pianist and sonic adventurer Kris Davis inaugurated her Pyroclastic label in September of 2016 with the 2 CD "Duopoly", an album on which she played duets with reed players Tim Berne and Don Byron, drummers Billy Drummond and Marcus Gilmore, guitarists Bill Frisell and Julian Lage, and pianists Angelica Sanchez and Craig Taborn, a smaller version of Noah's Ark.

Her second album on the label, "Octopus", is also a duo album but this time it's her with Taborn.  The pianists did a 12-city tour, each bringing new compositions (two for Ms. Davis, three for Taborn) plus one each from Carla Bley and Sun Ra,  What stands out on th initial listening is how compatible and flexible the duo is.  Since both are excellent improvisers, these pieces blend a sense of adventure with melodic freedom and rhythmic experiments.

This is one of those programs where you should just sit back and let the music wash over you. Pretend you are in the audience, watch the pianists, allow your mind to wander.  Pieces such as the opening track "Interruptions One" (all three of Taborn's pieces share that title) flow out of the opening moments, moving in unexpected (for the listener and, probably, for the musicians) directions. The pianists are interacting, responding to musical cues, to the lines each one is playing, building off the intensity or the quiet, and then pushing the music towards a new area.  Ms. Davis's "Ossining" has quite a pulse, one that shifts, morphs, continually moving forward. Through the first several minutes, it reminds this listener of the percussion pieces that Steve Reich has written, works that develop slowly but keep our attention because the rhythm is so pronounced. When you think it's over, the duo turns the piece inward on long, flowing, impressionistic melodic fragments and the closing moments are mesmerizing.

Every track is a highlight, from the aptly named "Chatterbox", an intense workout that does flag from the opening clusters, to the powerful reading of Carla Bley's "Sing Me Softly of the Blues" (first recorded by the Art Farmer Quartet in 1965 followed by Gary Burton Quartet in 1967) - the piece transforms into Taborn's "Interruptions Two", a dramatic ballad that moves away from its powerful chord towards a reflective interaction between the pianists. The album closes with a stunning performance of Sun Ra's "Love In Outer Space."  There are a number of versions by the composer but none that have the luxurious opening of this two-piano reading.  The piece builds slowly but surely to a powerful climax, a rolling, roiling, rhythmical drone that drops to a quiet finish.

"Octopus" is quite an artistic accomplishment. Two pianists, Kris Davis and Craig Taborn, each with an individual style, coming together and creating such fascinating music.  Both have proven themselves to be intrepid experimenters, musicians who do not follow trends but follow their passions.

For more information, go to krisdavis.net.  To watch one of the duo's concerts (from Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center n Washington, DC, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4Eu80jR9Kk.

Here's a track:



Many people know Lewis Porter from his excellent books on John Coltrane, Lester Young, and his various "Jazz Perspectives" books. Dr. Porter teaches at Rutgers University where he created the Masters in Jazz History and Research.  In addition, he's also an accomplished composer and pianist with recordings that feature him with saxophonists Dave Liebman and Chris Kelsey and trio date with bassist Joris Teepe and drummer Rudy Royston.

This past month, pianist/composer Porter has released a Quartet date co-led by saxophonist Phil Scarff (on Whaling City Sound) and "Beauty & Mystery" (Altrusioni), a session that features bassist John Patitucci and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington plus saxophonist Tia Fuller (on two of the 10 tracks). It's the latter recording that is our focus.

With the exception of the opening "Prologue", which is a solo piano piece, the trio dives into a program that features originals, a piece by one of Porter's former students Ted Chubb, and two inspired covers.  The dancing-on-air version of "Bye Bye Blackbird" illustrates how well the three musicians interact with the pianist and bassist wrong through the melody while Ms. Carrington's delightful brush work sizzles underneath.  Patitucci moves into a brisk waking bass while Porter frolics atop the brisk rhythms.  Curtis Mayfield's inspirational "People Get Ready" opens rather solemnly with the piano introducing the melody. The bassist takes over for the first verse before the pianist returns with a wonderful solo (especially the chordal work in the middle of the song). One is touched by the power, the hope, and the humanity in this performance. "1919", the piece by Chubb, is a lovely ballad that the composer/trumpeter first recorded on a 2009 CD he made with Mike Lee. It's a treat ti hear three musicians listen to each other, support each other, and play with such emotion, emotion that does not feel forced or contrived.

Three of the original pieces have connections to John Coltrane.  The uptempo "Birthplace" features Ms. Fuller on soprano sax sharing the main melody with bowed bass while the piano and drums build a fire underneath them.  The saxophonist takes her cue from that powerful foundation and creates a stunning solo, her lines swooping, flying upwards as if freed from her earthly bounds.  Porter also unless a powerful solo, he too feeding off the rollicking rhythm section.  Ms. Fuller returns on "Blues for Trane and McCoy", this time on alto saxophone. Before she enters, the trio go on quite a romp with the pianist happily leading the way. The sax solo is no afterthought: the intensity level drops for her introduction (but pay attention to how Patitucci and Ms. Carrington support her) and she creates quite a delightful, exciting, solo.  "From Giovanni to Jimmy" is a spotlight for the bassist and a nod to one of his most important influences, Jimmy Garrison.  It's a handsome, medium-tempo, ballad with a fine, elongated, melody line (of the three Coltrane-related tracks, this is there only one where you can really hear the influence of MyCoy Tyner.  The music also has a delightful flow, Ms. Carrington pushing the piece forward while the bass and piano interact, play counterpoint, and dig deeply into the bluesy chords that are the foundation of the music. The unaccompanied bass statement that closes the piece is stunning and heartfelt.

"Beauty & Mystery" is the perfect title for this album by Lewis Porter.  The playing of the pianist with Terri Lyne Carrington, John Patitucci, and Tia Fuller, is creative music at its best. While the music pays tribute to several of Porter's influences (as well as his love for ragas), the results sound contemporary and alive.  Find it, play it loud, and climb into these captivating sounds.

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

Monday, January 29, 2018

Visions, Dreams, and Realities

What a treat to immerse oneself in a big band recording!  To hear how the different sections work together and independently, how the solos are built upon such elegant and intelligent foundations, how melody leads to counterpoint, how rhythm leads to interaction, how the composer and arranger utilizes all these voices to tell his or her story, all this and more is exciting to these ears.  The sound of the big band in jazz has grown from the primitive yet really sophisticated work of Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington and Fletcher Henderson in the 1920s and 30s, from the "territory" dance bands of Benny Moten and Count Basie, the high-powered swing of Benny Goodman and Chick Webb, the smoother sounds of the Dorsey Brothers (together and separately) and Glen Miller and beyond.  The work of Gil Evans with and without Miles Davis in the 1950s and 60s as well Gerry Mulligan and Bob Brookmeyer paved the way to the work of Maria Schneider, John Hollenbeck, Alan Ferber, Ryan Truesdell (in his case, Gil Evans) and a number of younger voices such as Darcy James Argue, Ayn Inserto, and more.

 Jim McNeely (born 1949) grew up (musically) in the 1970s, working with the likes of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Phil Woods, and Stan Getz.  After Thad Jones moved to Europe, he began working with the Mel Lewis Orchestra and soon discovered how much he loved arranging and writing for big bands.  Mentored and employed as a pianist by Bob Brookmeyer, McNeely learned much and soon began working with big bands such as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, the Danish Radio Big Band, and, since 2008, has been the chief conductor of the Frankfurt Radio (HR) Big Band. That group is featured on his new album "Barefoot Dances and Other Visions" (Planet Arts), a stunning and highly enjoyable seven-song suite that speaks to the composer's relationship with these musicians and their myriad abilities.

What composer McNeely envisioned was a song cycle that pulled together a number of story-lines, from the celebration of Mr. Brookmeyer that opens the album, the playful and ebullient "Bob's Here", to the somber, wistful yet a bit bouncy ballad "A Glimmer of Hope" to the wondrous swing of "Redman Rides Again" (a tribute to the arranging style and adventurous nature of Don Redman (1900-1964) - the stunning interaction on the last track mentioned between the clarinets of Heinz-Deiter Sauerborn, Stefan Weber, and Rainier Heute with the electronically manipulated clarinet of Oliver Leicht is flat-out brilliant.


When you listen to program, notice the brilliant foundations laid down by bassist Thomas Heidepriem, how the electric guitar work of Martin Scales is so important to both the power and direction of certain pieces, the amazing work of the brass and reeds, and how drummer Jean Paul Höchstäder is the linch-pin for so much of the music - his power, his push, his fills - just the way he dances underneath trombonist Günter Bollman and the rest of the band on the title track is life-affirming. As you work your way back through the music, you'll hear soloists such as trombonist Peter Fell, tenor saxophonist Tony Lakatos, and trumpeter Axel Schlosser maneuver through the arrangements to create memorable solos.

With exception of his work with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (also released on Planet Arts as well as New World Records), "Barefoot Dances and Other Visions" is only other large ensemble work by Jim McNeely to be issued on an American label. This is music that should be heard - like the best work of the afore-mentioned composers and arrangers (Ellington, Brookmeyer, Schneider), the music builds off the past but is clearly of its day. This is also music that speaks of the creativity of the American musical experience, when freedom, creativity, talent, and the curiosity to see how one can continue to move forward collide to create art.  Plus, it's great fun from the opening minute right to the end!

For more information, go to www.jim-mcneely.com and to www.hr-bigband.de/english/index.html. The latter site has several concert videos (not of the music on the new CD but of collaborations with bassist Dave Holland and vocalist Gretchen Parlato).  

Personnel:
​THE BAND
Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn--Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute, Alto Flute, Bass Flute, Clarinet
Oliver Leicht--Alto Sax, Clarinet, Flute, Alto Clarinet, Alto Flute
Tony Lakatos--Tenor Sax, Flute, Alto Flute
Steffen Weber--Tenor Sax, Flute, Clatinet, Bass Flute
Rainer Heute--Baritone Sax, Bass Clarinet, Alto Flute
 
Frank Wellert--Trumpet, Flügelhorn
Thomas Vogel--Trumpet, Flügelhorn
Martin Auer--Trumpet, Flügelhorn
Axel Schlosser--Trumpet, Flügelhorn
 
Günter Bollman--Trombone
Peter Feil--Trombone
Christian Jaksjø--Trombone, Valve Trombone
Manfred Honetschläger--Bass Trombone
 
Martin Scales--Guitar
Peter Reiter--Piano
Thomas Heidepriem--Bass
Jean-Paul Höchstädter—Drums


The Diva Jazz Orchestra, founded in 1992 by Stanley Kay after he conducted a band with Sherry Maricle as its drummer, is celebrating its birthday and continued existence with the "25th Anniversary Project", a smashing new recording produced and released through ArtistShare.  Instead of focusing on earlier works or standards, music director Ms. Maricle asked members of the all-women group to submit new works.  She brought two pieces to the project and eight other members have one each.  A number of these musicians and composers have busy careers outside the band but they have brought their best to this effort.


By this time, most people have gotten over the novelty of the "all female big band" and can concentrate on how good this music (besides, when one is listening to a recording, can you tell if it's a woman or a man playing - and does it matter at all?)  The program opens with the rollicking "East Coast Andy" composed and arranged by baritone saxophonist Leigh Pilzer (also a member of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra) - the song is a spunky romp a la the Basie Orchestra with fine solos from the composer and trumpeter Jami Dauber. Clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Janelle Reichman blends Eastern European sounds and chords with a lively Latin rhythm on "Middleground" (co-arranged with bassist Noriko Ueda) - it's a delight to hear how the sections add to the melody section before pianist Tomoko Ohno dances over the rhythm section. Then, Ms. Reichman takes off with the reeds and brass playing counterpoint.  All the while, the bass and drums keep the piece percolating.

Every track as its standout moments. There is the delightful double trumpets solo (Leisl Whitaker and Barbara Laronga) on "Jami's Tune" and the powerful tenor saxophone statement by Erica von Kleist on "Darkness of the Matter" (composer Sara Jacovino adds a hardy trombone solo as well).  Ms. Maricle's lovely ballad "Forever in My Heart" features a handsome melody by Rachel Therrien on flugelhorn plus intelligent fills from the reeds and brass (excellent baritone sax work from Ms. Pilzer underneath).  The drummer also contributed the final track, aptly titled "The Rhythm Changes", which has a dazzling opening theme that breaks into exciting solos from trumpeter Laronga and alto saxophonist Mercedes Beckman.  Both bassist Ueda and drummer Maricle take short solos with the reeds and brass adding occasional "shout" phrases or bluesy riffs - the scramble at the end of the piece that leads back into the opening melody takes the album on a triumphant note.

Diva Jazz Orchestra may be 25 years old but this album sounds fresh and on target.  There's neither a weak tune nor boring solo in the 65-minute program. Yes, you can hear echoes of Count Basie, touches of Duke Ellington, a bit of Woody Herman but they are just that - echoes.  What truly stands out is how strong this music, how much fun the musicians are having as an ensemble, and how positive the listening experience is.  Happy "25th Anniversary Project"!  Here's to many more.

For more information, go to divajazz.com.

Personnel:
Alexa Tarentino: alto and soprano saxophones
Mercedes Beckman: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet
Janelle Reichman: tenor saxophone, clarinet
Erica von Kleist: tenor saxophone
Leigh Pilzer: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Leisl Whitaker: trumpet, flugelhorn
Jami Dauber: trumpet, flugelhorn
Rachel Therrien: trumpet, flugelhorn
Barbara Laronga: trumpet, flugelhorn
Jennifer Krupa: trombone
Sara Jacavino: trombone
Leslie Havens: bass trombone
Tomoko Ohno: piano
Noriko Ueda: acoustic bass
Sherry Maricle: drums, music director
with guest soloist Marcia Gallas on one track



Saturday, January 27, 2018

All You Need......

These days, it seems the world is louder than it's ever been. Many people blame the acidic political climate, the acerbic comments from on high and in the various forms of media that crowd our pockets and desktops.

Creative music reflects our times.  "Protest" songs comes from rap artists, from modern country artists;  jazz musicians respond today as Max Roach and Charles Mingus did in the late 1950s and1960s and the song/stories created by Gil Scott-Heron in the 1970s.  Musicians and composers feel the need to live in the present and to connect with as many people as possible. The airwaves are cluttered, the choices are many, yet the messages are often drowned by the collective apathy.

Pledge Music
What to make of "The Subject Tonight is Love"?  It's the new album from the trio of Kate McGarry (vocals), Keith Ganz (guitar, acoustic bass guitar), and Gary Versace (piano, electric piano, organ, accordion). The project, crowd-funded through Pledge Music and self-released on the artists' Binxtown Records, is an intimate project conceived by three friends who have worked together closely over the past decade or so (certainly on the past three albums Ms. McGarry released on Palmetto).  It's my belief that this music is a response to the harsh noises of the past several years, to the rancor one sees in many social interactions, not in the manner of the psychedelic 60s "Peace & Love" but as adult artists finding that true "repair" starts at home and moves outward.

The program is an enchanting, challenging, rewarding, and, in the long run, soul-satisfying experience.  The "Prologue", really the title track, is an original melody by Ganz with lyrics from the 14th Century Persian poet Hafiz (1319-1390?) sets the stage: "The subject tonight is LoveAnd for tomorrow night as well,/ As a matter of fact/ I know of no better topic For us to discuss/ Until we all Die!"  All the songs deal with the various forms in which people love and live, from courageous to fleeting to fractured to new love to maternal love and more.  Seven of the 12 tracks are standards. Most of them should be familiar but what the trio does with the music is quite magical.  There's the beauty of "Secret Love", opening with the the whispery vocal over the nylon string guitar and then Versace entering with counterpoint.  The jazzy take of "Gone With The Wind" (from the pen of Allie Wrubel and Herb Magidson) opens nicely into a delightful piano solo with excellent support from Ganz's acoustic bass guitar.  Ms McGarry's playful vocal is a real treat as she moves in and out of melody and "scat" syllables.  "My Funny Valentine" is amazing (listen below), from the arrangement of the guitar, bass, and keyboards to the honesty and vulnerability in the vocal.  Is the singer wistful, hopeful, fretful, pleading, or all of that and more.  All this can be heard as well in the instrumental work. Pay attention to the heartfelt "Fair Weather", composed by Benny Golson and Kenny Dorham, known as well for a brilliant recording by Chet Baker. It's such a handsome melody with lyrics that speak of equality composed at a time - 1958 - when the Civil Rights Movement was beginning to be noticed in the United States. Of course, 60 years later and the message is still poignant and still on point.  There is also is a sweet take of Egberto Gismonti's "Palhaço" - Geraldo Carneiro wrote the original Portuguese lyrics while this version, retitled "Playing Palhaço", has English lyrics by Jo Lawry.  



There are three pieces with original lyrics from Ms McGarry, one of which, "Climb Down", addresses her Irish ancestors and the issues they had on both sides of the Atlantic. The music may remind some of the work of Robbie Robertson and Dick Connette (Last Forever) but with a hefty blues edge.  The vocalist's "Losing Strategy #4" is about lost love and turning the blame away from one's self and how that always fails.  The lovely piano, bass guitar, and accordion accompaniment sets a lonely tone that resonates long after the song fades.  The third original "She Always Will" looks at life, our many decisions that lead us to roads we may never expected to take; yet, this could also be a dream or a reflection the composer had standing by a pond or sitting on the porch by herself.

There are playful moments, songs where Ms. McGarry's voice soars over the organ, piano, and guitar (such as "What a Difference a Day Made") - everyone sound like they are having such fun.  Perhaps it's the freedom that "doing it yourself" brings, that you're making the music you have always wanted to make, taking chances you always wanted to take, and that there is an audience who appreciates what you, will support you and embrace your stories.  Kate McGarry, Keith Ganz, and Gary Versace actually recorded 30 songs as they were preparing "The Subject Tonight is Love", such an exciting prospect that the sessions certainly yielded more delightful musical stories, more aural support, smiles, and, even tears.  

This is music to climb inside of and take to your heart. Really, just give in. It's good to smile!

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

Enjoy this piece!


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Let's Dance, say the Drummers

Drummer, composer, and arranger Rob Garcia is a very busy artist. Besides working with his own quartet, he is also the founder and artistic director of a non-profit organization called Connection Works, works and records with groups such as Svetlana and The Delancey Five and Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra, and is an active member of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground.

His new project is a delightful aural treat. Aptly titled "Drum Solos for Dancers Only" (Connection Works Records), Garcia has created a program that will help people who love to dance realize that it's the drummer who gets them up and onto their feet and provides the impetus to keep going (not to slight the wailing horns, the athletic bass lines, the propulsive left hand of the pianist, and others).  The 13 pieces emphasize different dances ("Savoy Steps", "Honey Soft Shoe", "Elastic Boogie", etc) and it is impossible for the listener (or, the writer at the keyboard) to sit still.  It's fascinating to hear the different melody lines - yes, melody - that Garcia creates here. Listen to "Americana Thrill" -  do you hear the theme from Ferde Grofé's "Grand Canyon Suite"?



The album is not Rob Garcia showing off but illustrating how he can direct an orchestra and how to keep folks on the dance floor.  Technically, it's brilliant but this is neither a thesis project nor an exact history lesson.  Throughout the recording, you hear the influences of people like Chick Webb, Sonny Greer, Gene Krupa, and the countless drummers of the "swing era" and beyond.  In the long run, this is music for and about movement. The music brings people together, gives them a reason to have fun, to express themselves physically, to work out frustrations - it's why we sing in the car or the shower, why we go to concerts, why we sit up late at night listening to albums that turned our heads 40, 50 years ago.  Dancing can free us of certain inhibitions and I recommend you listen to this album really loud - Come on, "everybody dance now!"

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

Frank Perowsky is a clarinetist and saxophonist from Des Moines, Iowa, who's been involved in the New York City music scene since graduating from the Juilliard School in the late 1950s. He's worked with bands led byWoody Herman, Jimmy Dorsey, in Broadway pit bands, backing singers such as Billy Eckstine, Peggy Lee, and Mel Torme, plus a three decade-plus working relationship with Liza Minnelli. One thing Frank Perowsky has yet to become is a prolific recording artist in his own right.

His new album, "An Afternoon in Gowanus" (JazzKey Music), features his 16-piece Jazz Orchestra (plus vocalist Ira Hawkins) and is his first album since he recorded "Bop on Pop" with  his son, drummer Ben Perowsky and organist Sam Yahel, in 2001.  The latest disc hearkens back to the days of the Count Basie Band, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, with hints of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra.

Look at the lineup and you'll see many familiar names. The saxophone section includes Jerry Dodgion, Loren Stillman, John Ellis, Bob Franceschini, and Roger Rosenberg while the trumpets include Seneca Black, Chris Rogers, Antoine Drye, and Waldren Ricks. The trombone section boasts the big sounds of Sam Burtis, Jacob Garchik, Brian Drye, and Joe Randazzo.  Besides Ben Perowksy at the drums, the rhythm section includes pianist David Berkman and bassist Aidan O'Donnell. The program, recorded in front of a live audience, features a bright selection of originals and intelligent arrangements of works by John Lewis, Tom McIntosh, Duke Ellington,  Bud Powell and Larry Young.  The Young piece, "Talkin' About J.C.", is a smart re-working of the organist's 1962 work recorded by Grant Green.  First of all, it swings like mad and opens up to a number of fine solos.  It's the blues that underpins this music, whether it's the happy-go-lucky original "Big Apple Circus" that opens the album or the quiet ballad "Paris Dreams", a vehicle for trombonist Burtis. Even on the latter track, there is a bounce in the rhythm section. I dare you to sit still on John Lewis's "Two Bass Hit" as it roars right out of the gates powered by the powerful drums.

When you listen all the way through "An Afternoon in Gowanus" a few times, you realize just how much fun this band is having.  Frank Perowksy's arrangements leave plenty of room for solos and the sectional work is exciting and active, quite complementary throughout.  This is "live" music, alive in many ways.  Perhaps no new ground is covered but never does it sound stale, re-hashed, or a pale copy of bands past.  This is the kind of music for a crowded nightclub or concert hall, sounds that fill the air and have the power to block out negativity.  Play it loud and enjoy!

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

Here's a taste: