Thursday, March 29, 2018

Drummer, Composer, Arranger, & Leader Pt 1 (Large Ensemble)

Photo: David Garten
The Cuban-born drummer, composer, and bandleader Dafnis Prieto came to the United States in 1999 and, almost immediately made an impact.  He performed with groups led by Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman, Arturo O'Farrill, Eddie Palmieri, Don Byron, Andrew Hill and others and has led several groups. He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011 and has won numerous grants and commissions. After recording two albums for the Zoho label, Prieto started his own Dafnison Music in 2008.  He has since released four CDs with various sized ensembles, from trio to sextet.

2018 sees the release of "Back To The Sunset", the debut of the Dafnis Prieto Big Band.  The 17-member ensemble roars, rollicks, rumbas, and purrs its way through nine original piece, each one dedicated to two or three of the drummer's mentors and/or employers.  Three of those mentor/employers - Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman, and Brian Lynch - are guests. In fact, the program opens with "Una Vez Más" dedicated to Tito Puente, the afore-mentioned Palmieri, and trumpeter Lynch, who appears as a soloist. One of the first things one notices listening to this music is the seductive rhythms created by the leader, percussionist Roberto Quintero, pianist Manuel Valera, and bassist Ricky Rodríguez. Once the melody is stated by Lynch, the various sections create fascinating backgrounds, counterpoint, and more. The pianist gets the first solo, a dancing excursion which starts and stays with only his partners "on the bottom" for support.  Then Lynch steps in with a crackling yet melodic solo.  Quintero and Prieto burn through a call-and-response with the brass and reeds before the whole band restates the opening theme (dig the brass trills in the foreground).

Photo: David Garten
There's nary a dull moment on this album. "The Sooner, The Better" (dedicated to Egberto Gismonti and Jerry González) features smashing solos from Peter Apfelbaum (tenor sax), Alex Sipiagin (flugelhorn), Romãn Filiú (alto sax), and bassist Rodríguez, yet pay attention what the ensemble plays in the background or to how the music moves subtly from a ballad to a more up-tempo setting.  Threadgill, who's been a Guggenheim Fellow as a well as having won a Pulitzer Prize in 2016, steps out in front of the band on the title track (a ballad, dedicated to him and Andrew Hill, with a powerful solo that, at different times, shows a bluesy and angular edge (there's even a feel of Johnny Hodges in some of the quieter passages). Coleman's alto sax is featured on "Song for Chico" (dedicated to Chico  O'Farrill and his son Arturo plus Mario Bauzá), a delightful, percussion fueled romp that jumps out of the speakers. Coleman soars on his solo and is matched by the excellent trumpet spot from Nathan Eklund (make sure to check out how the sections frame the solos).

Photo: David Garten
"Out of the Bone" is dedicated to Steve Coleman as well as pianist Michel Camilo and opens with an impressive unaccompanied baritone sax solo from Chris Cheek.  Make sure to listen to how the melody is built from the drums up. After an exciting drum spotlight with the reeds and brass playing percussive figures, the 'bones of Jeff Nelson (bass trombone), Alan Ferber, and Jacob Garchik step in front (the latter two trade "fours" over the frenetic rhythm section). Be sure to listen for the reed and brass voicing, especially the trumpets "laughing" during Nelson's solo.

The program closes with "The Triumphant Journey", a driving, pulsating, tune dedicated to Dizzy Gillespie and the great Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo (first brought to this country by Mario Bauzá).  The section writing and musicianship is splendid as are the solos from trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, trombonist Tim Albright, alto saxophonist Filiú, and the fiery blast before the close from tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm.

Music and, especially, rhythms from the Caribbean as well as from Central and South America has mesmerized the United States since the 19th Century. The joyful sounds created by the Dafnis Prieto Big Band may have its roots in the slave trade but here is a paean to freedom and creativity.  "Back To The Sunset" is a treasure, sounds to delight in, to play really loud so the drums shake the walls and the rhythms inhabit your body. On top of that, there are memorable melodies and splendid arrangements.  What a joy!

For more information, go to



Mike Rodríguez, Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Nathan Eklund, Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Alex Sipiagin, Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Josh Deutsch, Trumpet, Flugelhorn

Román Filiú, Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute, Clarinet
Michael Thomas, Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute, Piccolo
Peter Apfelbaum, Tenor Sax, Soprano Sax, Melodica
Joel Frahm, Tenor Sax, Soprano Sax
Chris Cheek, Bari Sax

Tim Albright, Trombone
Alan Ferber, Trombone
Jacob Garchik, Trombone
Jeff Nelson, Bass Trombone

Manuel Valera, Piano
Ricky Rodríguez, Acoustic & Electric Bass
Roberto Quintero, Congas, Bongos, Percussion

Dafnis Prieto, Drums & Music Director

Special Guests:
Brian Lynch, Trumpet (Track 1)
Henry Threadgill, Alto Sax (Track 4)
Steve Coleman, Alto Sax (Track 6)

Counting the two albums John Hollenbeck created with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band plus one each with Jazz Big Band Graz and Orchestre National de Jazz as well as the first two under the monicker of John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble (2005's "A Blessing" on Omnitone and 2009's "Eternal Interlude" on Sunnyside), "All Can Work" (New Amsterdam Records) is the drummer and composer's seventh adventure with a big group.  Like the Dafnis Prieto album, Hollenbeck's recording is filled with tributes to musicians and mentors who have help to shape him into a unique voice in contemporary music.  The new album, featuring 17 musicians, the fascinating voice of Theo Bleckmann, and conductor JC Sanford, offers five new works by the leader plus fascinating new arrangements of pieces from Billy Strayhorn, Kenny Wheeler, and electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk.

Wheeler's "Heyoke" (from his 1976 ECM "Gnu High" album that featured Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette) was arranged for big band when Hollenbeck's Ensemble backed the composer and trumpeter at the 2011 Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT).  Wheeler, who produced a number of brilliant recordings for large ensembles, had only arranged the opening segment of the original 22-minute piece so Hollenbeck finished it for him.  This brilliant tune, featuring fine solos from Matt Holman (trumpet), Matt Mitchell (piano), and Jacob Garchik (trombone) plus powerful wordless vocal from Bleckmann, ends before the final section with just piano and voice in tribute to the passing of Wheeler and his longtime collaborator, pianist John Taylor.

The title track is dedicated to the late trumpeter, educator, and mentor Laurie Frink (1951-2013) who worked with many large ensembles in the New York City area.  Based on an exercise she wrote for her students and featuring lyrics taken from her texts with the composer, the swirling brass and reeds, the mesmerizing piano and vibraphone, and the short phrases from the various sections, all combine to take the listener on a fascinating sonic journey.

Photo: Ken Weiss (T Bleckmann edit)
There is a dream-like quality to several of the songs, moments when the brass, reeds, voice, rhythm section combine to move one away from the everyday.  "This Kiss", composed for a production of William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet", rolls along on the martial drum patterns as the sections move around each other in a dance with the voice pulling everyone forward. The short rubato section in the middle of the song is a stunning change of pace before the swirling patterns return.  The opening track, "lud", enters on a marimba melody before the airy voices of reeds and brass and the piano (which shadows the marimba) begin to move the piece forward.  The piece sounds like a prayer at times but also like a prelude to a theater piece (especially with the sustained electronic chords floating around the musicians).  Hard not to be seduced by "Elf", Billy Strayhorn's original title for "Isfahan", thanks to the fascinating soprano sax work of Tony Malaby that soars atop the pulsating rhythms - during Mitchell's fine piano spot, listen to how the reeds and brass hint at the famous melody that made its debut on Duke Ellington's "Far East Suite."  Listening to the whirling sounds behind the melody suggest a Persian bazaar or a walk through an Israeli shuk (marketplace).

These words do not do justice to the brilliant writing and playing to be heard on "All Can Work".  Although John Hollenbeck does not dedicate to a song to either Bob Brookmeyer (the album is dedicated to the late composer, arranger, and valve trombonist) or Meredith Monk, the engaged listener can hear their influences at times during this delight-filled program.  When you really listen to the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, you will hear music of its time, music that point to continued innovation and new ways to combine the music of our world.

For more information, go to  Connecticut readers, take note that the JHLE will be appearing in Danbury on April 28 as part of the Western Connecticut State University 23rd Annual Jazz Fest.  The previous evening (4/27), trumpeter Roy Hargrove joins the WCSU Jazz Orchestra, Jimmy Greene director.  For more information about those shows, go to For just the Hollenbeck concert, tickets are available at

Here's the Strayhorn tune:


Ben Kono soprano/alto/tenor sax, flute
Jeremy Viner clarinet, tenor sax
Tony Malaby tenor/soprano sax on 3, 6
Dan Willis tenor sax, clarinet
Anna Webber flute, tenor sax on 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8
Bohdan Hilash clar/bass clarinet, bass sax, tubax
Mark Patterson trombone
Mike Christianson trombone
Jacob Garchik trombone, euphonium on 8
Alan Ferber trombone on 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Jeff Nelson trombone on 1, 7, 8

Tony Kadleck trumpet, flugelhorn
Jon Owens trumpet, flugelhorn
Dave Ballou trumpet, flugelhorn
Matt Holman trumpet, flugelhorn
Chris Tordini acoustic, electric bass
Matt Mitchell piano, organ, keyboard
Patricia Brennan vibes, marimba, glockenspiel
John Hollenbeck drums, composition
Theo Bleckmann voice
JC Sanford conductor

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Life of Musicians & a Powerful Song

Photo: Robert Adam Mayer
Saxophonist, composer, and educator David Bindman started his collegiate education at Wesleyan University in the early 1980s when Bill Barron, Bill Lowe, and Ed Blackwell were on the Music faculty  (in fact, Professor Barron was chair of the department from 1984-87). All three (and others) made a great impact on the young saxophonist.  After earning his Master's Degree in 1987, Bindman co-led the Brooklyn Sax Quartet with baritone saxophonist Fred Ho, worked in Blood Drum Spirit (a group formed by long-time associate, percussionist royal hartigan), and has taught at various schools in the New York City as well as Bennington College in Vermont.  In 2007, he created the David Bindman Sextet that features hartigan and fellow Wesleyan graduate Wes Brown (bass) plus Klezmatics-founder Frank London (trumpet, flugelhorn), Reut Regev (trombone), and Art Hirahara (piano).

In the latter half of 2017, the Bindman Sextet issued its second album, "Ten Billions Versions of Reality" (self-released).  The group's 2012 debut, "Sunset Park Polyphony" (reviewed here), was a fascinating 2-CD set with several long suites. The new album has seven Bindman originals (composed and arranged as a suite)  that, not surprisingly, covers a lot of musical territory.  The opening track, "Sketch in 12", shows the influence of Charles Mingus in its opening melody plus the strong African drum tradition that the leader, bassist, and drummer played while at Wesleyan. hartigan and Brown lay down a powerful rhythm and it's exciting to hear how the front line comes together, splits into their individual solos, and comes together again.  London's crisp trumpet is a splendid foil to the bluesy trombone of Ms. Regev and the hearty tenor sax.  Hirahara's solo, with just the bass as counterpoint, goes" out for a moment before group interplay takes the piece to its conclusion.

Photo: Sara Pettinella

Everyone's voice is important on this album.  From Brown's melodic bass solo on "Spring Song" to hartigan's powerful and masterful playing alongside the soloists and on his own on "Refuge" to the exciting polyrhythms of the title track over which Ms. Regev dances quite delightfully followed by a fiery piano solo, this music involves the listener.  The opening statement for the soprano sax and brass on "Ashgrove" hearkens back to Bindman's writing and arranging for the Brooklyn Sax Quartet.  After a moment, Hirahira becomes the fourth voice for the rest of the song, helping with the foundation but also serving as counterpoint. The short duo of soprano sax and piano stands out for how both Bindman and Hirahara move around each other in different moods yet finding common ground as they "speak". 

Photo: Xanyani Ephraim
The opening minute of "Through the Clouds" features just the tenor sax and brass but their melodic interplay sets the tone of the piece.  When the rhythm section enters, the music goes through many changes, changes of mood, tempo, yet the direction is always forward. The trombone solo is quite funky yet free and it's interesting how the bass, drums, and piano respond.  Hirahara's solo - sans rhythm section - starts out in a modern classical vein and then goes off in fascinating direction.  Brown and hartigan reenter and the pianist continues his journey.  Bindman's solo includes a three-way conversation with the bass and drums that is both contemplative and rollicking.

"Ten Billion Versions of Reality" is a mature statement from David Bindman. The music is thoughtful, thought-provoking, and displays how the composer-musician continues to grow.  The Sextet is the perfect vehicle for this music, six strong and individual voices, who put the music first.  Set yourself down and listen from beginning to end!

For more information, go to  

Passover starts this weekend and coincides with Easter.  One thinks of the journeys his grandparents took from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to land at Ellis Island. From the tenements of Brooklyn and New York City, the intrepid families moved to various parts of this country and became Americans. They overcame the stigmas of not knowing English and speaking with a thick accent but they persevered, built businesses, synagogues, churches, homes, schools, and families.  This writer has always been partial to Paul Simon and his "American Tune." Composed around the time that the country was truly tired of the seemingly endless Vietnam War, the years of Richard Nixon, and still reeling from the deaths of John F. Kennedy, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr, and Robert Kennedy and beginning to the toll that hard drugs was taking on the poorer segments of society, the song still has a message of hope, of discovery, of rebirth.  Kurt Elling has released a new album for Okeh Records, "The Questions", and it includes a lovely version of "American Tune." Take a look 
and listen for yourself:

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Music for the 21st Century (Posi-Tone Records Edition)

Over the past year, it's been quite tough for anyone not to hear the voices of women around the world rising up to proclaim "Enough." Enough of the sexual harassment and inequality in the work place, whether it be perpetrated by Hollywood Big-wigs, national and local politicians, sports doctors, educators, or someone in your neighborhood.

Saxophonist and composer Roxy Coss participated in the Women's March the week of Donald Trump's inauguration. She carried a sign that read "The Future is Female"; that's the title of her new album, a  of 10 original compositions featuring her working ensemble of Alex Wintz (guitar), Miki Yamanaka (piano), Rick Rosato (bass), and Jimmy Macbride (drums) with bass clarinetist Lucas Pino on one track.

Song titles such as "#MeToo", "Nasty Women Grab Back", and "Females Are Strong as Hell", might make you think that music has a strident quality. Many of the songs have great power but Ms. Coss wants to entertain and educate. While you're grooving to the great rhythm section or enjoying Wintz's delightful guitar solos or Ms. Yamanaka's foundational piano, the leader wants you to think, wants you to react to the issues she's presenting that you will begin to take action and demand better behavior throughout the country.

Sitting and listening to the music, one hears the influence of Charles Mingus (whose song titles made you sit up) and the power of Art Blakey and Max Roach. Those artists and others were also fighting for the cause of equality.  Sometimes, their music rankled listeners but, more often than not, the sounds excited those who listened and, perhaps, even made them change attitudes for the better. Ms. Coss's lovely ballad "Choices" is filled with emotion while "Mr. President" starts slowly with a somber melody over martial drums.  Soon, the rhythm section kicks into high gear and Ms. Coss's tenor sax pushes them forward.  "Feminist AF" is a blues - no surprise there - that hints at both John Coltrane and Wayne without imitating either one.  The afore-mentioned "Nasty Women..." features the leader on soprano and, while the rhythm section has some "bite", the solos soar, especially Wintz's rippling guitar lines.

Besides her work on the bandstand, Roxy Coss is the founder and director of WIJO (Women in Jazz Organization) - their Mission Statement is quite clear:


Give a listen to "The Future is Female" - it's music that swings and rocks plus has a number of messages you should pay attention to (if you haven't already).  For more information, go to and  

Here's the opening track:

Pianist, composer, and educator David Ake is a native of New Haven, CT, but spent his formative years in Chicago. He did his  undergraduate at the University of Miami before heading to the West Coast to do post-grad work at the California Institute of the Arts and UCLA.  He has taught at the University of Nevada/Reno and is now on the faculty of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.

Ake's fifth album on Posi-Tone is titled "Humanities" and features the powerful musical voices of his fellow CalArts colleague Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Ben Monder (guitars), Drew Gress (bass), and Mark Ferber (drums).  If you have heard any of Ake's earlier group albums, you'll know he's a powerful and thoughtful pianist while his music often has a powerful forward motion.

There are moments on the new album where the music leans towards Americana, not surprisingly on the quintet's reading of The Grateful Dead's "Ripple" (the only "cover" tune on the CD) - they don't mess with the gentle bluesy quality of Jerry Garcia's sweet melody. Alessi's muted trumpet brings the sound of Ron Miles to mind and the piece would not be out of place on a Bill Frisell album (but note the alternate chords at various times throughout the piece). The piano introduction to "Drinking Song" has the feel of a Randy Newman ballad but there is a spare quality to the melody. The trumpet and guitar play the melody and counterpoint while the rhythm section tosses and turns beneath them, not disrupting the flow as much as creating dynamic differences.

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
What stands out throughout the program is how distinctive all five voices are.  On songs such as "The North", one can hear the power of the guitar, the rich melodic sense of the trumpet, the "heavy" chords from  the piano, the counterpoint and melodies from the bass, and the driving force of the drums. Ferber is truly in the driver's seat; listen to his strength on "Rabble Rouser", how Gress helps him push the music forward, and then how the soloists are inspired by the rhythm section.  And, they can swing! "Hoofer" starts out with the drummer's brush work creating his own sweet soft-shoe.  Ake picks up on that and dances right through his sly Monk-like solo.  The bassist leads the group through the beginning of "Stream" - much of the fun of the piece is how the dynamics change on the fly.  After the opening, the band moves into a harder-edged melody but drops back for the piano solo.  Ake build the tension as the trumpet and guitar play a unison counterpoint to his solo. A similar interaction takes place beneath Alessi's solo, this time the pianist and guitarist playing chordal patterns as Ferber builds the tension with a fiery drum spotlight.

The program closes with "Walter Cronkite": that's the newsman's voice you hear near the beginning saying "'s the ultimate question that being a democracy we the people are responsible for the actions of our leaders".  Alessi's keening, questioning, trumpet moves atop the rumbling piano, droning bass, quiet guitar fill, and active drums, giving the rubato piece the feel of an elegy, at times, a prayer.  There is a short section where the trumpet and piano sounds like a telegraph signaling an urgent question across the great divide before the music fades.

To do justice to the music on "Humanities" is truly to tell you to listen and listen deeply. David Ake composes music that asks questions, that plumbs the depth of the human spirit, and looks for the soul within the songs. And the musicians know how to transmit those questions and searches to an eager audience.  Give some time to this music; it will make you think and, perhaps, even move you to action in these often tense times.

For more information, go to

Listen, hear:

The young trumpeter Josh Lawrence is making quite a splash on the contemporary scene as a player and composer.  "Contrast" is his second Posi-Tone album within 12 months to feature his Color Theory ensemble. What a fine band!  The rhythm section includes the Curtis Brothers, Zaccai (keyboards) and Luques (bass) plus Anwar Marshall (drums) while the front line has Lawrence paired with alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis (no relation to the Brothers).  Orrin Evans joins the band on piano for several tracks as does trombonist David Gibson.

The album has two distinct sections.  The first four tracks have the bop and hard bop feel of Lawrence's 2017 "Color Theory", shorter tunes with melodic heads and fine solos ("Dominant Curve" is a standout cut with its Charlie Parker-type melody and attack). The program changes on track #5, the powerful "In The Black Square."  Now, the influence is McCoy Tyner and the music he began to make in the early 1970s.  The shifting rhythms (Marshall is on fire here), the pounding piano chords, and the leader's fiery solo.

Photo: Ola Baldych
The next song, "Gray", is a handsome piece fueled by the richly melodic lines of Luques Curtis, the active drums and cymbals, and the adventurous work of Lawrence and Caleb Curtis. It opens in a fiery tone with the front line dancing through the melody and then the alto sax rides atop the rhythm section.  Following that, the song slows down, with quiet sax and muted trumpet - Lawrence builds a fascinating solo, rolling his lines around the drums and bass then moving "out" near the end before the sax returns.  Drums and bass reintroduce the opening section, the front line repeat the original melody and the piece romps to its close.  There's a touch of electronics on the muted trumpet opening of "Brown", with Lawrence and Caleb Curtis exploring a fine melody.  The power is kicked up a notch on "Agent Orange", the rubato opening featuring trumpet, saxophone, and trombone.  Gibson takes the first pass through the melody pushed forward by Zaccai Curtis's powerful piano chords. Note the slight change as the bass and drums fall in to a driving rhythm for the sax solo.  Lawrence has a powerful interaction with the pianist, giving the piece the feel of the classic Miles Davis Quintet music of the mid-1960s.  The music fades with the pianist playing "My Country, Tis of Thee" over quiet cymbal touches.

Orrin Evans on acoustic piano and Zaccai Curtis on Rhodes ride a funky beat at the onset of "Blues On The Bridge." The opening is reminiscent of Julius Hemphill's "The Hard Blues" but, when the keyboards kick in, the song moves into Cannonball Adderley style rhythm 'n' blues.  The groove opens up for the trumpet solo gets back to its original "greasiness" for Evans's playful solo.

The program closes with a soft version of Prince's "Sometimes It Snows in April", just muted trumpet and piano (Evans again), a lovely tribute to the artist. The version does not stray far from the original ballad, the piano giving the song more weight than Prince's acoustic guitar and trembling voice.

"Contrast" continues Josh Lawrence's fascination with colors and illustrates how the trumpeter is expanding his palette.  He is growing as an artist on so many levels, not just as an excellent soloist but as a composer and bandleader.  Grab ahold of this album and get into its grooves - the music is very alive and moving!

For more information, go to

Here's the core quintet in action with the opening song from "Contrasts":

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Such Delight in Duos

What do you get when you pair a clarinetist whose ability to play so many different types of music with a master pianist and composer who is always "thinking" forward without ignoring his roots?  Judging by the opening track of "Anat Cohen & Fred Hersch" Live in Healdsburg" (Anzic Records), you get "A Lark." "A lark" is defined as "something done for fun, especially something mischievous or daring; an amusing adventure or escapade" (Oxford English "Living" Dictionary). This album, a recording from the June 2016 Healdsburg (CA) Jazz Festival, certainly has its moments of mischief but, overall, this is "serious fun" music at its best.  

Oregon Music News
The program opens with two Hersch, the aforementioned "A Lark" and one of the pianist's more adventurous composition "Child's Song."  The latter tune moves from its richly melodic opening into a gentle rolling melody. After the duo plays the melody, the pieces moves into a rubato section for Ms. Cohen's delightfully ascending solo before the duo takes the piece a bit "out" - here, it reminds this listener of Jimmy Giuffre's early 1960s work with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow.  And it's a treat to hear how they bring the song back to the theme.

Ms. Cohen's composition "The Purple Piece" (first recorded in 2007 with her Quartet on the "Poetica" album) follows. Slower than the earlier version, it goes in several directions and moods, starting out somber then becoming more open and playful during the clarinet solo. Pay attention to how Hersch accompanies the solo and just how closely he's paying attention to his musical partner. The pianist's solo is a pleasing two-handed journey that is also emotionally rich.

The album also includes a number of recognizable standards ("Jitterbug Waltz", "The Peacocks", "Isfahan", and "Mood Indigo") but, surprisingly for a Fred Hersch album, no Thelonious Monk. Nevertheless, the listener should enjoy how the duo approaches the classic jazz tunes.  Jimmy Rowles oft-recorded "The Peacocks" is a fascinating 10:25 journey with Ms. Cohen, at first, caressing the melody, giving the song a bluesy feel. Hersch's solo is breath-taking, also referencing the blues yet with such dynamic and melodic variation.  When the clarinetist returns, the duo slows down the piece, making the music shimmer and the listener hang on every note.

For the encore, the duo take a slow stroll through the elegant Ellington composition "Mood Indigo". There are moments here (and elsewhere) where this listener as is the pianist is creating a very fancy "rent party." Ms. Cohen enjoys the challenge, dancing with her partner on "Jitterbug Waltz" and Hersch's "Lee's Dream" where she is darting in and out of his solo with quiet flurries of short phrases.  "Live in Healdsburg" is a gift from two distinctive musician, Anat Cohen and Fred Hersch, both of whom play with such joy and "daring", on "a lark" when they hit the stage to make the listeners smile.

For more information, go to or

Give a listen:

Vocalist Kavita Shah first came to critical attention with her fascinating 2014 album "Visions" (Inner Circle Music), an adventurous collection of songs co-produced by guitarist Lionel Loueke (my review here). Bassist François Moutin has been playing since he was five years old, first on guitar and piano, then moving to the bass in his teens.  After earning a doctorate in physics, he became a professional musician.  Before coming to the United States in 1997, he had worked with artists such as pianists Martial Solal and Jean-Michel Pilc. Since settling in the New World, Moutin has never lacked for steady work, playing alongside Billy Hart, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Vijay Iyer, Oliver Lake, and Dave Liebman (among many others).

Photo: Jacob Blickenstaff
When the bassist approached Ms. Shah to create this duo (he had first met her when she subbed in trumpeter Amir elSaffar's ensemble), the vocalist felt it was the right time.  She has studied music from around the world and has worked with numerous artists. Born in New York City, she studied with Theo Bleckmann, Jim McNeely, and Peter Eldridge.  A chance meeting (on the subway, no less) with Sheila Jordan turned the young Ms. Shah towards the idea of being a jazz singer.

Mr. Moutin and Ms. Shah have created and released "Interplay" (Dot Time Records), an album of duos and trios (Ms. Jordan and pianist Solal are each featured with bass and vocalist on two tracks).  From the outset, one can immediately hear that Ms. Shah's voice has matured, that she is willing and able to take chances. The program opens with just voice on the standard "You Go To My Head" (first recorded as a vocal by Billie Holiday in 1938). When the bass enters, one hears a musician who has mastered his instrument.  Moutin is melodic, percussive, plays counterpoint and solos with ease as well as inventiveness.  Because is Ms. Shah is so comfortable in this setting, the bassist is free to be creative and not just hold the bottom.  The following track is an terrific romp through "La Vie En Rose" with the vocalist singing a part for tabla while the bassist pounds on his instrument. They perform the melody together with Moutin creating quite the call-and-response (with himself).

Ms. Jordan is heard on "Falling In Love (With Love)" but not until Ms. Shah dances through the melody (you can really hear the "smile" in her voice) - when Ms. Jordan enters, she sings a counterpoint to the original melody.  The two voices swap "wordless 4's) before one hears the original melody, and as a coda, the two vocalists take the piece out.  For the track of the album, the trio of voices and bass create a lovely version of Horace Silver's "Peace".   The blend is so handsome, especially because of the wonderful bass work. Ms. Jordan, who was one of the first to record with just bass accompaniment, is in fine voice (still inventive as she approaches 90!) and has taught Ms Shah (through example and friendship) how to tell a story as well as be part of an ensemble.
Monsieur Solal, who turned 90 in Augusr 2017, was one of bassist Moutin's first employers. Here, he joins the duo for a "free-leaning" exploration of his piece "Coming Yesterday" (which he recorded with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian in 1998). The musicians give the vocalist plenty of room but also follow her through the melody as the song moves forward. The pianist is also featured on "Aigue-Marine" (green-blue), an original he first recorded in 1962 and to which Ms. Shah composed the lyrics. The music has the feel of Bill Evans, the melody opening to playful solos (it's fun to hear the piano and bass scurry around).

There's much to enjoy here.  François Moutin is quite the musician, such a melodic and inventive bassist. Kavita Shah is also quite a musician, with a mature voice that holds your attention and seemingly no fear. One can't help but hear how the duo has built up trust in each other.  There are surprises throughout "Interplay" but the focus is on creativity and excellent musicianship.  Get this, sit down, then let the sounds into your heart and mind.

For more information. go to or

Here's one of the pieces with Martial Solal:

Monday, March 12, 2018

Speaking To Us From the Present & The Past

Pianist and composer Emilio Teubal, the son of Argentinean parents who were in exile in Spain at the time of his birth ands returned to Buenos Aires when he was eight years old, first came to my attention with his fine 2013 BJU album, "Musica Para un Dragon Dormido."  His new recording, "Memorias de Otro Tiempo" (Music of Another Time), finds him in a trio setting with acoustic guitarist Federico Diaz and clarinetist Ivan Barenboim as well as on a new label, Not Yet Records.  I wrote of the earlier album "Teubal has woven threads of numerous musical styles into his compositions without losing touch with his "roots." The same is true here but the smaller ensemble allows the listener to hear his impressive work at the keyboard where he supplies melodies, harmonies, and, often, the rhythmic flow.

The forward motion of pieces such as the title track, "La Inquieta", "Playing", and "El Orzuelo" will remind listeners of Astor Piazzolla and Guillermo Klein yet Teubal is no mimic. Guitarist Diaz is quite percussive on "El Orzuelo" with his powerful strumming in the opening section and his pounding on the body of his instrument during the powerful piano and clarinet interaction. He takes a similar approach on the opening of "La Inquieta" before he joins the piano and clarinet in the escalating melody lines (Teubal's left hand builds an excellent foundation for the melody and the interactions).  The trio chases after each other in the delightful romp  of the solo section.  It's joyous, impressive, and certainly breathtaking music. The previous track, "Playing", is a delight-filled solo piano  piece that one might expect at the close of the program.  Here, it's in the middle of the album, literally pulling the listener into the songs that follow. 

The ballads are equally as breathtaking but for other reasons. "April 7th" opens with bass clarinet, soft guitar, and slowly unwinding piano melody. As the intensity builds, so does the emotion.  The piano gives way to a plaintiff clarinet melody with smart counterpoint from the guitar.  There is a melancholy sadness to "En la Dia de los Muertos (An American Tragedy)", not surprising since the pianist composed the piece on the November 2016 night of the US Election Day.  With that amount of gravitas, one is temper to read many things into the music. Put that out of your mind and let the music flow into your ears and get wrapped up in the excellent interaction of the trio.

Memorias de Otro Tiempo" is truly lovely music Well-played, intelligently composed and arranged music that plays to the strengths of the trio.  On this, his fourth album as a leader, Emilio Teubal not only displays his great talent but also a emotional depth that makes this music personal and universal.  Listener, sit back and let the music wash over in and take over your mind.  Don't worry about labels such as "Chamber jazz" or "South American folk music", just listen.

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Look and listen to the trio:

Drummer and composer Jeff Williams is, perhaps, best known for his work with Stan Getz and with Dave Liebman and Richie Bierach in Lookout Farm. He's played with many great artists but did not record as a leader until the 1990s when he released two small group albums on SteepleChase Records and Willful Music (his own label). Whirlwind Recordings has issued four albums since 2011, the latest being a live date from June 2017. "Lifelike" features a group that expands on the 2016 quintet that recorded his previous album "Outlier"; pianist Kit Downes, bassist Sam Lasserson, and tenor saxophonist Josh Arcoleo return and are joined by alto saxophonist John O'Gallagher (who appeared on Williams's first two Whirlwind albums) and special guest, trumpeter Gonçalo Marquez.

photo by John Rogers
The sextet rambles, rumbles, and rocks through seven Williams originals, several from earlier albums.  There is plenty of fire in the performances, from the powerful drive of "The Interloper" to the relentless tension of "Dream Visitor" to the hard-edged "Double Life."  Yet, it's hard not to be seduced by the subtle tempo changes and searching quality of "Under The Radar". Marquez's solo on the tune belies the fact that this is the first time he played with this time yet he connects with the rhythm section for a powerful solo.  Lasserson's melodic bass solo at the opening of "Lament" sets the tone for the lovely ballad. With O'Gallagher's lovely alto sax on the melody, the piece rises gently on Williams's skittering brush work and Downes's excellent piano solo. There are moments on this album when one is reminded of Keith Jarrett's work with his American Quartet (Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian).  This is one and so is the the exploratory "Canção do Amolodar" where the trumpet and saxophones ride atop a powerful wave of percussion, piano, and throbbing bass.

photo: Danielle White
Thanks to the excellent sound quality, one feels as if he is in the audience of London's Vortex Jazz, right in the middle of the action.  Jeff Williams is one of those leaders who also is in the middle of the action without hogging the spotlight.  Tenor player Josh Arcoleo continues to mature and blends well with O"Gallagher's alto.  Downes stands out for his melodic and adventurous playing while Lasserson is solid and strong.  Marquez is a new name, a graduate of Berklee College who also blends well in the front line plus creates several exciting solos.  All told, "Lifelike" is full of life, an hour of progressive music not beholding to any genre other than than six musicians fully involved in playing in the moment.

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Here's the band on the night of the recording:

Walter Smith III is one of the cadre of musicians who hail from Houston, Texas, who are important members of the contemporary music scene (a group that includes pianists Jason Moran and Robert Glasper, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Eric Harland). Both McBride and Harland are present on Smith's new album "Twio" (Whirlwind Recordings) with the bassist billed as a special guest (he's on four of the nine cuts).  Harish Raghavan also plays bass on four tracks: he's toured and recorded with Smith3 for several years when he's not touring with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire.

Fellow tenor player Joshua Redman joins the ensemble for two tracks, the easy going "On The Trail" and the rollicking "Contrafact."  The latter track open with the two tenors going full out on the melody line sans rhythm section.  When Harland and McBride, the tenors rip through the melody before both soloing with abandon (not hard when the rhythm section is playing up a storm behind you).  The Ferde Grofé tune, from his 1931 "Grand Canyon Suite", swings delightfully with solos that bow in the direction of Sonny Rollins without imitating his free-flowing style. Redman and Smith3 sound as if they are having the best of times and that joy permeates the performances. This is not a cutting section but truly a collaborative effort.

Smith3 and Raghavan are part of Harland's Voyager ensemble also it's easy to hear his comfortable they are with each other.  Listen to how they dive into Wayne Shorter's "Adam Apple", not only making sure one hears the melody but also with solos that are inspired and powerful.  They swing the daylights out of Jerome Kern's "Nobody Else But Me" and take an adventurous stroll through Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now."  When Harland and Raghavan drop into the rhythm for the first part of the tenor solo, the listener feels like settling in.  The fun here is that the tempo changes, gets friskier, then calms down, heats up again.  Dig the delightful sax cadenza right near the end.

There are also a pair of impressive duo tracks.  Harland and Smith3 give a sweet reading to "We'll Be Together Again", taking their time to make sure you hear the melody. The tenor solo is drenched in the blues and rarely strays from the melody.  Harland stays close to the beat but still manages to prod the tenor forward. McBride joins Smith3 for a sweet traipse through Gigi Gryce's "Social Call" - it's fun to hear how the two interact, sometimes hewing close to the melody, other times dancing around each other with glee.

"Twio" stands out for many reasons, not the least of which is how much fun the musicians are having in the studio. Walter Smith III displays a "clean and clear" sound with little vibrato and his solos steer clear of cliches.  With "Contrafact" the only original tune, the musicians make these standards anything but "standard." What a treat from start to finish!

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Here's Smith3, Redman, McBride, and Harland:

Chances are good if you have been listening to jazz and creative music for the past four decades, you have run across the drummer Adam Nussbaum.  He has worked extensively with saxophonist Dave Liebman, the late guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Steve Swallow, saxophonists Jerry Bergonzi and the late Michael Brecker, composer-arranger George Gruntz, even the Allman Brothers Band, and many more. Nussbaum is one of those musicians who makes everyone him sound better because they never have to worry about the beat disappearing. Plus, he is one of the finest cymbal players extant

Now, at the age of 62, Nussbaum's first project to bear his name is "The Lead Belly Project" (Sunnyside Records). The album features saxophonist Ohad Talmor plus guitarists Steve Cardenas and Nate Radley.  On first listen, one will be reminded of the Paul Motian - Joe Lovano - Bill Frisell trio or Frisell's Americana albums but a deeper examination will lead you to hear the program as delightful blend of blues, country, folk, and early jazz.  Without a bassist, the music depends on the essential drumming of the leader (his brush work throughout is quite delightful).  It's also fun to hear how the guitarists complement each other, especially on pieces such as "Bring Me a Little Water, Sylvie", "Green Corn", and the rollicking, rocking "Black Betty."  Both Cardenas and Radley crackle on that last track mentioned, soloing at the same time as Nussbaum stokes the fire.  Listen to how they support Talmor's sweet tenor sax solo on "Bottle Up and Go", creating a country-blues shuffle along with the drummer that is delightfully seductive.

The Israeli-born Talmor, who did not grow up with this music, adds a great deal to these songs.  He never wastes a note, displays a bluesy side one may have never heard in his playing, and makes sure you hear the melody line. His is the first voice you hear on the album, introducing the melody of "Old Riley" before the guitar and drums enter.  The quartet plays the piece in rubato for the first 90 seconds before Nussbaum plays the scrappy rhythm and the band takes off.  On "Insight, Enlight" (one of the two Nussbaum originals), Talmor sounds as if he's playing a lullaby for his children. His mellow sound wraps around the two guitars on "Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night)", remaining calm as Nussbaum ratchets up the intensity.  The ending is really quite enchanting.

The music of Huddie Ledbetter, a.k.a Lead Belly, has touched American music fans for nearly100 years. He sang his way out prison twice, was brought to New York City by folklorist John Lomax, performed throughout the 1940s but succumbed to ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) in 1949.  A few months after his passing, the folk group The Weavers sold two million copies of "Goodnight Irene"; sadly that success would have pulled him out of poverty but he did not live to see it.  That song closes "The Lead Belly Project" and, save for the short drum introduction, stays close to the melody line. The solos that follow use the melody line as their North Star (even the leader plays the melody about a minute before the end of the track.

Adam Nussbaum may have waited a long time to release his debut album but he has been an active and influential member of the creative music scene for a long time.  "The Lead Belly Project" plays tribute to a giant of American music and proves how his music is integral to the development of popular music.  This album won't challenge the listener but will certainly soothe, amuse, and entertain anyone who gives it a spin.

For more information, go to Adam Nussbaum's website at

Here's the band live:

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Masters At Play & Eight Makes Great (Music)

Perfect listening for a snowy March day in central Connecticut,
"Live at U of T" (UofT Jazz) is the second CD led by the saxophone duo of Dave Liebman (soprano, tenor, flute) and Mike Murley (tenor, soprano). The former has been on the faculty at the University of Toronto as a visiting artist/adjunct Professor since 2013 while the latter has been teaching there since 2011.  Joining them is bassist Jim Vivian (who has worked with both leaders in the past, especially with Murley for over three decades) and the veteran drummer Terry Clarke (John Handy, the Fifth Dimension, Rob McConnell Boss Brass).  The quartet sounds loose and limber, each musician playing with great fire and joy.
The program includes four compositions by Liebman, two by Murley, one by Vivian, Joe Lovano's "Blackwell's Message", and a smashing cover of Ziggy Elman's "And the Angels Sing" (which was first recorded by its composer as a Klezmer-style tune in the mid-1930s before he adapted it for the Benny Goodman Big Band and Johnny Mercer added lyrics).  The quartet swings the heck of the Elman, with the two tenors trading leads and and then "trading 4's".  The rhythm section really pushes the proceedings, something they do throughout the album.

Among the highlights is "Small One", a ballad/waltz composed by Liebman where both he and Murley play soprano sax.  Both create excellent solos over the easy-going rhythm section. Listen to how they intertwine the melody and harmony of the theme section.  The two sopranos play sans rhythm section on Liebman's "Missing Persons", a piece that has the feel of a modern classical composition (yet the timbre of the sopranos and direction of the music reminds this listener of the song "Fertility" from the "Buster Bee" album on Sackville by Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake.)  There's a sense of the mysterious in Murley's "Open Spaces", starting with the flute sounds of Liebman.  When the tenor saxophones enter, one hears the influence of John Coltrane.

"Blackwell's Message", a piece that Joe Lovano wrote in tribute to drummer Ed Blackwell, opens with a delightful drum solo by Clarke. He then falls into a New Orleans "strut" over which the soprano and tenor saxes play the plaintive melody.  Dig how Vivian creates a drone then plays in and round the pedal point.  Both Liebman and Murley create powerful solos with the drummer pushing them forward with such glee.

"Live at U of T" is a treat for those listeners who like to listen "deeply" to music.  The Liebman/Murley Quartet plays with fire, grace, intelligence, a sense of the past and present of music, and with great joy.   You should listen.

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Here's the Elman/Mercer tune:

Mike Murley and Terry Clarke show up again as members of the Dave Young/Terry Promane Octet, the ensemble that has just issued "Octet: Vol. 2" on Modica Music.  Bassist Young is a veteran of the Toronto music scene, having worked in the early 1960s with guitarist Lenny Breau plus a 35 year association with pianist Oscar Peterson.  Trombonist Promane has played and taught in the Toronto scene as well (not as long as his partner), playing in pit bands for touring Broadway shows as well as with artists such as the late Kenny Wheeler, Rob McConnell, Mike Murley's Septet, and so many others. He's been on the faculty of the University of Toronto where he leads the Jazz 12Tet.  For this album, he's joined in the brass section with Kevin Turcotte (trumpet and flugelhorn) while tenor saxophonist Murley is surrounded by Vern Dorge (alto sax) and Perry White (baritone sax). Young and Clarke are the foundation of the Octet along with pianist Dave Restive.

Like "Vol. 1" (which was issued in late 2012), the new album features music from Charles Mingus ("Duke Ellington's Sound of Love") and Dizzy Gillespie ("Bebop") but there is only one original and that's Murley's "Can't You See" (the earlier album contained three tunes from Promane). This time around, the band plays music from Rodgers & Hammerstein II (the opening "O What a Beautiful Morning"), Cedar Walton (the closer "Hindsight"), Duke Pearson ("Jeannine"), Alec Wilder & Morty Palitz ("Moon and Sand"),  Jimmy McHugh & Dorothy Fields ("I Can't Give You Anything But Love"), Michel Legrand ("You Must Believe In Spring"), and Jimmy Frigo, Herb Ellis, and Lou Carter ("Detour Ahead").

With the leaders contributing four arrangements apiece, the music shows vitality, wit, and intelligence throughout. Those listeners who like swing will enjoy the rollicking "Bebop" (with a super solo from Turcotte) and the driving "Can't You See" (with its melodic bass solo and mellow trombone spotlight). Turcotte also romps through "Jeannine" as does White.

For this listener, it's the ballads that shine.  Young's arrangement of fellow bassist Mingus's "Duke Ellington's Sounds..." celebrates the song's handsome melody while featuring a heartfelt alto sax solo from Dorge.  Murley's tenor leads the way into and throughout most of "Detour Ahead" with the only other solo courtesy of the bassist.  Restivo dances through "You Must Believe In Spring" (a more uptempo take than usual) and "Hindsight", two medium tempo delights.

"Octet: Vol. 2" is good listening music.  The Dave Young/ Terry Promane Octet moves easily through this music, never taking anything for granted. This could easily be background music but the fine arrangements and strong solos holds one's attention throughout.

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