Monday, May 20, 2019

Resonating Through The Decades

Over the past seven years, Resonance Records has done a excellent job of rejuvenating the jazz career of guitarist Wes Montgomery. Not that his more famous CTI records demeaned him but this slew of albums serves as a reminder of just how good a soloist he could be, how adventurous he and the various musicians he played with could be, and, in several cases, serves as a history lesson for present-day listeners. Several of the albums comes from the period just before (or immediately after) the guitarist signed with Riverside Records.

The new two-CD set, "Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll deCamp Collection", is the sixth release from Resonance and hearkens back to their 2012 album "Echoes of Indiana Avenue."  As in many of the label's releases, there is a great back story to his the tapes were made and how they came into the hands of Zev Feldman at Resonance - watch the video below for more information.   As for the sessions, they are broken into three different sections, including "piano quartets with guitar, piano, bass, and drums plus organ trio and two tracks of piano sextet all on disk one while the overwhelming majority of disk two is "Nat "King" Cole-style trios with piano, bass, and guitar.  Because Mr deCamp did not keep notes (or they were never discovered), no-one is positive of who plays on what track (save for organist Melvin Rhyne, trombonist David Baker, and tenor saxophonist David Young.  Bass players include Wes's brother Monk and Mingo Jones while drummers are identified as Paul Parker and Sonny Johnson.   Pianists are a bit harder to pin down but the ones that are listed include Earl Van Riper, John Bunch, Carl Perkins, and another Montgomery brother Monk (who just may be the pianist on the two horn sextet tracks

Photo: Franklin Daily Journal
For those of us who grew up in the 1960s and later, many do not how about the myriad clubs in African American communities around the US.  Cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and elsewhere had a street or streets dedicated to bars that presented live music, often seven days a week.  Musicians were able to hone their skills, work on new material, entertain and educate audiences night after night.  Indianapolis, Indiana, the city in which the Montgomery Brothers were born and where they returned after the family moved to Columbus, Ohio, had several clubs in the Indiana Avenue area that catered to jazz and late night sessions.

"Back on Indiana Avenue" features music recorded from the mid-to-late 1960s (and, perhaps some tracks from the early 60s).  Wes's signature octave playing is in full bloom but so are his rapid-fire single-note runs and delightful rhythm work. One can hear the influence of Charlie Christian on his attack as well as the horn-like solo style of Les Paul. Check out the piano quartet on "Stompin' At The Savoy"for the Christian influence but make sure to dig brother Monk romping on the piano.  Dr. Lewis Porter's excellent notes state a number of these tracks may have recorded at Montgomery's home.  Dr. Porter, who is an excellent pianist and educator, theorizes that Buch appears on several cuts on these recordings plus Carl Perkins, another fine Indianapolis native, swings lustily on the final cut, "The Song Is You."  No matter who's playing, the music really turn on the audience (someone or ones is clapping in rhythm in the piano solo).

If you're a Wes Montgomery fan, you'll want "Back on Indiana Avenue - the Carroll deCamp Recordings" for many reasons.  If you're new to his music, perhaps the studio recordings on Riversde and Verve are the place to start.  Nevertheless, this is music that is filled with spirit and joy as well as a numerous splendid solos.  Dig it!



Photo: Steinway & Sons
Pianist and composer Bill Evans (1929-1980) is another artist whom Resonance Records has shown in a new light.  Two albums, "Some Other Time: The Lost Session from The Black Forest" (2016) and "Another Time: The Hilversum Concert" (2017), added to the mystique created by 1968's "Live at The Montreux Jazz Festival" (Verve Records), hitherto the only recording to feature Evans and bassist Eddie Gomez with drummer Jack DeJohnette. The more recent albums were both recorded within five days of the Verve release and show the Trio in full flight, the pianist truly enjoying the experience, especially on the "The Hilversum...." session.

DeJohnette was gone by the end of that summer. Marty Morell joined the group, staying for nearly seven years. The first Evans release on Resonance was 2012's "Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of The Gate" - that album, recorded in October of 1968, just weeks after the Morell entered the scene, comes from tapes made by label owner George Klabinthen 18 years old.  Now, the label presents "Evans in England", an 18-song two CD recorded when the Trio spent four weeks (basically the month of December) in residence at Ronnie Scotts in London.  The musicians are in sync throughout, having not only spent the past year playing together but also having the luxury of playing the same venue for an extended period of time. 

You can really hear the camaraderie of the three musicians on these songs.  How much they swing together, how both Gomez and Morell play quietly on the ballads, and how much the rhythm section pushes the pianist during his solos.  There are several Evans classics, such as "Re: Person I Knew", "Waltz For Debby", and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" that closes the second disk.  "Waltz..." has a delightful unaccompanied piano opening that leads to a more spirited reading of the tune.  When Gomez steps out to solo, the song speeds up appreciably.  It's a treat to hear Morell's brushes dancing on the snare and cymbals before he returns to hs sticks.  It's fun to hear the trio play Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" - the pianist had great respect for Monk's piano work as well as his compositions. Evans plays up the melodic and harmonic sides of the song while the bass and drums play with the rhythms, making the song flow and swing.

Two previously unrecorded Evans compositions made their debut during the Trio's residency.  Both "Sugar Plum" and "The Two Lonely People" are featured on Evans 1091 Columbia Records Lp, "The Bill Evans Album".  The unaccompanied piano opening  on the former tune followed by a delightful conversation between the piano and bass shows just locked in the musicians are.  Gomez plays counterpoint to Evans lovely thematic material and swings mightily during the lively solo.  The opening moments of "...Lonely People" are breathtaking in its lyricism - when the bass and drums enter, the music begins to swing but the pianist maintains his more introspective approach. Evans expands upon his solo near its close, picking up on the energy that his bandmates are sending his way.  If you listened or have listened to much of the music this trio made over its time together (1968-74), you'll know they pushed each other constantly while respecting each other's space yet honoring the music and spirit of jazz.

"Evans in England" is a worthy addition to the Bill Evans legacy.  Now that there are three albums of material from 1968 and 69, you can really hear that the pianist was fully in creative flight during that time, that he had finally recovered from the untimely death of bassist Scott LaFaro in 1961.  Eddie Gomez not only plays with great verve but is so delightfully melodic that his frequent solos unfailingly stand out.  Marty Morell is the consummate accompanist, rarely "showing off" but always into the music. Absolutely recommended!



If you want to learn more about Bill Evans, blogger and author Marc Myers is the person to read (he adds much to the album liner notes). Go to www.jazzwax.com and search for the numerous postings he's done on the pianist!

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Drummer Tells the Story (Pt 1)

I was lucky to grow up in Middletown, CT, for many reasons: one in particular was the presence of Wesleyan University, its bookstore, galleries, theater, and, especially, the Music Department.  The University greatly expanded its World Music studies under the auspices of Robert "Bob" Brown introducing the students (and curious community members) to Javanese gamelan music as well as South Indian classical music. Members of the faculty were two brothers, T. Vishwanathan, an amazing flutist, and T. Ranganathan, who played the mridangam, a double-headed drum. "Ranga", as he was called, was one of the most out-going people one could ever meet. He had a great sense of humor and was strikingly humble about the fact he was an amazing percussionist (here he is in the 1960s - click here).  He died much too young - at the age of 62 - but I can still hear his incredible laugh and his amazing hands as they created such amazing rhythms and melodies.  Like the great tabla master Alla Rahka, Ranga could make you marvel at his technique as well as being thrilled by joyous playing.


Meet Rajna Swaminathan. She plays mrudangam (variant spelling), having studied with several current masters of the drum including Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman.  Ms. Swaminathan, born in Maryland, has been involved in both the world music and jazz scene in New York City since 2011 working with artists such as Vijay Iyer, Amir ElSaffar (she's a member of his Two Rivers Orchestra), Steve Coleman, and saxophonist Maria Grand.  She's currently a Graduate Student at Harvard University and has worked with Iyer in that capacity as well as on several concerts.  Ms. Swaminathan also composes for dance and theater productions including 2015's "The Worry Machine" (music from the Anu Yadav play, "Meena's Dream").  Her frequent musical companion is her sister Anjna who is a composer and violinist. Together with their father Dr. P.K. Swaminathan, they run a 5013-C called Rhythm Fantasies, INC, whose goal is to "promote South Indian classical music and dance in a space that encourages education and enrichment through innovation and cross-cultural collaborations."  



Now Rajna has her first album as a leader "Of Agency and Abstraction" (Biophilia Records).  The recording, co-produced by Iyer, features her group RAJAS, a quintet that features her sister (violin), Ms. Grand (tenor saxophone), Miles Okazaki (guitar), and Stephan Crump (bass) plus guest Amir ElSaffar (trumpet) and Ganavya Doraiswamy (vocal).  One of the joys of this music, this beautiful collection of original compositions, is that while it's obvious these musicians are brilliant technicians, there's more emotion inside the motion, a flow that enters one's mind, closes the eyes, and allows you to breathe easily (that's what it does for me).  Note how easily the percussive [luck of the guitar combines with the singing violin, bowed bass, bouncing mrudangan, and dancing tenor saxophone blends. 

The tendency to want to discuss this music gives way to the belief that each listener approach there album with an open mind.  If you're looking for a message, take your time to find it.  The leader describes the group's mission as one that is "a network of like-minded improvisers from multiple/overlapping traditions to experiment with new horizons of relation through hybrid forms, textures, and sensibilities." After all, RAJAS means passion/action" in Sanskrit. 

Yet, there are moments throughout that stand out.  Ms. Grand's breathy tenor leads the way on "Peregrination" with the violin in counterpoint and the rhythmic guitar in sync with the percussion.  The splendid "singing" violin meshing with the guitar at the onset of "Vigil" begins a journey that spreads over 10 minutes with the various voices adding counterpoint and harmony.  Ms. Doraiswamy and Mr. ElSaffar join the quintet on "Departures" - while you may not understand the words, the trumpet and violin create a call-and-response that helps to transmit the emotions of the lyrics.  Don't ignore the contributions of bassist Crump - his arco work throughout is deep and resonant. Without a "regular" drummer, he's free to be melodic as well as foundational.

Just listen.  As I write these words, the windows are open and birds are singing in the trees close to the house.  Their songs fit in nicely with the sounds swirling out of the speakers.  Late at night, listen.  Early in the morning, listen. Give this music all the attention you can. Time will fall away and the beauty inherent in these songs, these collaborations, the myriad voices, will seep into your soul.  Too poetic for you?  This music is quite lyrical, gentle, soothing, and challenging.  "Of Agency and Abstraction" stands out amidst the noise of the everyday. Rajna Swaminathan took plenty of time to create this music, to find the right musicians, the right sonic combinations, and the results are very impressive, very moving.  Listen.

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

Here's an example of the wondrous sounds:



The drummer, educator, and mentor Ralph Peterson literally burst into the public ears in 1985 as a member of O.T.B. (Out of the Blue), a group of young musicians that Blue Records Records created to showcase younger talent.  He worked with so many musicians through his career including Tom Harrell, Terence Blanchard, Geri Allen, Charles Lloyd, and Betty Carter.  But the once person who made the biggest impression on his person and career was drummer Art Blakey.  Peterson was one of the few drummers who the great master invited to play in his bands, the talent incubator known as The Jazz Messengers.  The younger man learned that you give everything on the bandstand and that you expect the same from the people you work with as well as to pass on the jazz traditions through your music and through teaching.  Peterson has done just that over the years creating groups that featured younger players such as clarinetist Don Byron, vibraphonist Bryan Carrott, pianist Orrin Evans, and trumpeter Sean Jones (among others).


Peterson has been recording prolifically over the past few years for his own Onyx label. Most of those albums feature younger musicians recorded live.  The newest addition to the catalogue, "Legacy Alive: Volume 6: Live at The Side Door", is credited to Ralph Peterson & The Messenger Legacy, a sextet composed of musicians who played with Mr. Blakey (1919-1990) in the late 1970s and through 80s.  What a unit - Bill Pierce (tenor saxophone), Bobby Watson (alto saxophone), Brian Lynch (trumpet, Essiet Essiet (bass), and Geoffrey Keezer (piano), who along with Peterson, swing their way through 11 pieces associated with the Jazz Messengers repertoire (the group stayed active for 35 years!)

Photo: Peter Leng Xiong
The program was recorded over two nights in October 2018. The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme is owned and operated by Ken Kitchings (Rich Martin does the booking) and there is no bigger or more vocal supporter of the music in the state than he.  If you listen closely, you can hear Kitchings shouting his encouragement throughout and the end of songs. Why not?  The sextet is having a great time, they all play with gusto, the material is top-notch, and the sound is great. The drums and piano come through loud and clear; Brian Lynch's trumpet cuts through the mix with his delightful blend of riffs, smears, and articulated lines. It's so great to hear Bill Pierce playing so strong, his bluesy solos are a treat.  Bobby Watson, who joined the Messengers in 1977, has always played with wit, humor, and when called for, grace. He does so here as well.  He also has blues in his background but he can fly with ease over this band. Check him out on his "In Case You Missed It", a tune on which everyone solos with abandon.  Geoffrey Keezer, who joined the Messengers when he was 18, also plays with great wit and spontaneity.  Listen to his unaccompanied opening of "That Ole Feeling" - he sets the pace for the band who dance delightfully behind his sparkling keyboard.  His solo on Curtis Fuller's  "A La Mode" is flat-out amazing

As for the leader, he's always been fun to listen to. Yes, his power can overwhelm some groups but not this one.  His ability to push a band, to prod soloists, to stop-on-a-dime, to create a storm that not only dazzles listeners and make them shout but also is so darn joyous - Peterson is having fun, even as you realize that some of this material was composed 40, 50, over 60 years - this band makes it sound contemporary.  The Juan Tizol - Duke Ellington classic "Caravan" was first recorded in 1936. Listen here and it's alive, ebullient, and powerful.  "Three Blind Mice", credited to Anthony Rooley and Thomas Ravenscroft (who wrote the melody in 1611), was recorded by Blakey in 1962 in a quintet that included Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard.  The arrangement is quite similar and the overall effect is as well.  The sextet also takes an energetic run through Shorter's "Children of the Night" (which he composed and recorded with The Messengers in 1961).

Thanks to the great engineering and mastering, the music on "Legacy Alive" is loud and clear. Every member of the Messenger Legacy gives his all (just as Art Blakey commanded them to do during their tenure with him) - it's that dedication, that desire to communicate living history, that makes this music so thrilling.  Just start with first track "A La Mode": if that does not make you jump up and shout, call the doctor immediately! Also, check out the great cover collage by CT-based artist Andres Chaparro. It exemplifies the powerhouse that Ralph Peterson has been throughout his career and who is today.

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

Here's that opening track:

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

New Music: Solo, Duo, & Trio

I have had the pleasure to write about Dr. Denny Zeitlin and his music numerous times over the past decade. We have spoken several times and I remain amazedly by his energy, his devotion to his music, his practice, and his students (he teaches Clinical Psychology at the University of California/ San Francisco and sees patients in the "City by the Bay" as well as in his current hometown of Kentfield, CA). His professional music career started in the early 1960s, playing acoustic before getting deeply involved with synthesizers (still is, to this day). He may be best-known for his absolutely scary soundtrack to the 1978 movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."  Several generations of "Sesame Street" viewers learned to count to 10 with the music he created for the then-Public Television program.

Over the past five years, Zeitlin has played yearly solo piano concerts at the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland CA. He has the pick of the pianos in the showroom. In 2016, Sunnyside released his December 2014 presentation "Early Wayne", the compositions Wayne Shorter - now the label presents "Remembering Miles".  Recorded in December 2016, the concert features an overview of Mies Davis's amazing career, from early songs such as "Milestones (1947 Version" to "Tomaas" from the trumpeter's 1986 "Tutu" collaboration with bassist Marcus Miller.  Left to his own devices, the pianist makes each song sparkle with inventiveness and spirit, melody and emotion.  You may not recognize "Flamenco Sketches" on first listen but it's easy to hear how the piece takes shape. Zeitlin has great fun deconstructing Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" (check out the rhythmical and playful left hand).

Photo: Josephine Zeitlin
Hard to pick out a favorite track but one of the more interesting ones is the afore-mentioned "Tomaas."  The 1986 recording is quite funky (a la Chic) whereas here, Zeitlin plays inside the piano and has also prepared strings - it's as if he's duetting with slide guitarist. But, when the slinky bass line comes in, the music changes direction, starting to roll forward and the melody line emerges.  Now the right and left hands are in a call-and-response and the listener hears the original funky nature.

The album closes with two songs that have their origins in the 1950s.  "The Theme" comes from a 1955 Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers session - you may have it played on several of Davis's live albums (he used the tune int the 60s). Put simply, the music swings. The rolling bass lines and the percussive attack of the left hand is a delight.  "Weirdo", from a 1954 Blue Note quartet session (bassist Percy Heath, pianist Horace Silver, and Mr. Blakey on drums) gives the pianist a lot to play with; it's bluesy quality, the rolling gait, and flowing solo lines.

Denny Zeitlin is a master.  His love for this music comes shining through the notes he plays and how he rearranges the songs so you hear them anew. "Remembering Miles" is not only a tribute to the game-changing Mr. Davis but also to the elasticity and longevity of jazz.  Splendid recording, sweet sound, and great music - can't be that combination.

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

Take a stroll through this Benny Golson tune:



The duo of Alex Harding (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet) and Lucian Ban (piano) has been together two decades.  They first recorded on the CIMP label in 2002, releasing one album as a duo and two as a Quintet (including 2006's delightful "Tuba Project").   They have recorded with the electronic musician Silent Strike and with soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome on "The Romanian-American Jazz Suite."  Harding has worked with Julius Hemphill's Saxophone Sextet, with the Sun Ra Arkestra, and with fellow baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett's Baritone Group. He has appeared on recordings by David Lee Roth (!) and Greg Osby.   Ban has led groups with violist Mat Manieri, saxophonists Evan Parker and Abraham Burton plus earlier this year, released a duo album with clarinetist Alex Simu.  The pianist has also issued several recordings that reframe the music of Romanian composer George Enescu.

"Dark Blue" (Sunnyside Records) is their first duo album since 2002's "Somethin' Holy". The music ranges from exploratory  ballads such as the title song and Harding's solo tribute to the late Bluiett ("H.B.") to the meditative, Erik Satie style "Chakra" and the more "open" "Tough Love."  On baritone, Harding likes to mine the lower tones as well as use the "keys" to play percussion. His bass clarinet work has a lilt ("Esto") as well as a bite to it ("The Invisible Man").  Ban is never intrusive, providing excellent support plus rhythmic excitement (a touch of Chick Corea on "Black Sea") and a sense of melodic wonder as he does on his solo piece "Low Country Blue".

Photo: Cornel Brad
The duo's use of silence and interaction on "Monkey See", how Harding uses the piano as a springboard as well as to speak to, and how Ban keeps the music flowing with his phrases and spare bass lines, all combine to keep one's attention.  Listen to them "testifying" on the gospel-influenced "Not That Kind of Blues" - the melody suggests Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man". Ban puts a lot of boogie-woogie into the piano backing as Harding roars, struts, and dances on top of the rollicking keys.


Photo: Ziua de Cluj
"Hymn" closes the 11-song program on a hopeful yet solemn note.  Ban's lovely introduction opens to let Harding's melodic and breathy baritone melody. The pianist composed the song and you can hear his hope and love for a better world come out in the performance.

Alex Harding and Lucian Ban bring there friendship, musicianship, and intelligence to the forefront on "Dark Blue".  The music surrounds the listener, invites him or her in, and keeps their attention throughout. Take a chance on this album - there are many rich moments in the music.

For more information, go to www.lucianban.com or jazzbarisax.com/harding.php.

Here's the title track:



Trombonist JC Sanford may be more recognizable these days as a conductor than as a composer/performer.  He is a protégé of Bob Brookmeyer, creating two big band albums (one with composer David Schumacher): the last several years, he has been busy conducting the large ensembles of John Hollenbeck, guitarist Joel Harrison, trombonist Alan Ferber, pianist Frank Carlberg, and the late Alice Coltrane.  He also leads several smaller groups including a quartet (the JC 4) and the three-piece band known as Triocracy. That latter group, which features Andy Laster (alto sax, baritone sax, clarinet) and Chris Bacas (tenor sax, soprano sax, clarinet), came together in the mid-200os, recorded its debut album in November of 2014.  Sanford, who won two grants in the past year, used a portion of the money to finally release  the recording.

Photo: Ryo Sasaki
"Pyramid Scheme" is finally available thanks to the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Shifting Paradigm Records.  The 13 tracks include seven pieces from Sanford, three short improvised pieces, and one song each from Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, and George Frederic Handel. Though the program is just a shade over 44 minutes long, there's a lot to take in.  The title track opens with the three musicians playing the theme, goes into another short section, back to the theme, and then, the separate voices begin to go there own way away from and back to the theme.  There's a hint of Julius Hemphill in the bluesy "Everything We've Always Wanted" starting with the bouncy baritone sax line, the trombone counterpoint, and Bacas's tenor sax solo. There's a different  kind of bounce to "Bagheera's Dance", a piece based on the trombonist's love of the Disney classic cartoon based on "The Jungle Book." Sanford created a melody out of the baritone saxophonist's last name to create "Outlaster" which breaks into a funky dance for the soprano sax, trombone, and the baritone sax.

"And So It Goes", the oft-recorded Billy Joel (at least this year it is), gives the trio the opportunity to each play the lovely melody as well as create counterpoint for the lead player.  The harmonies Sanford orchestrated for his horn, the tenor and alto saxes, sound lush and gentle.  Handel's "Sarabande" (from the third movement of his "Concerto for Oboe in G minor") also contains lovely three-part harmony as well as a fine soprano line. The Wonder song, "You and I" (from 1972's "Talking Book" album), has an expansive melody line that the trio plays in harmony.  Laster's tenor solo is played alone, a finely etched interpolation of the melody.

As for the improvisations, they range from the bumble-bee freneticism of "Quick Change (#5)" to the odd call-and-response of "Time Parameters (#3)" and it's nervous trombone, fluttery soprano sax, and noisy alto sax.  "Something Chordal (#4)" is exactly what it purports to be, the three musicians creating long tones and the occasional group chord.  That track is quite handsome and even more striking for the fact it's totally improvised.

"Pyramid Scheme" may have taken four-and-a-half years from the studio sessions to the final product but the music sounds contemporary.  JC Sanford's Triocracy debut is an often exhilarating blend of sounds and styles of composition with and without improvisations.  And it's fascinating to sit and listen to.

For more information, go to www.jcsanford.com and/or www.shiftingparadigmrecords.com.

Here's a track to tickle your fancy:

Monday, May 13, 2019

Sonic Explorations: Hard-Bop, Post-Bop, & Beyond

Alto saxophonist and composer Patrick Cornelius returns to Posi-Tone Records with "This Should Be Fun", a delightful 10-song program that finds him in the company of the fine young British pianist John Escreet, bassist Ben Allison, and drummer Mark Ferber.  It's important to mention their names as the band is so important to the success of this music.  Does not hurt one bit that Cornelius, a native of San Antonio, Texas, is an excellent songwriter - his pieces have well-developed melodies, thoughtful harmonies, are conducive to both excellent ensemble work and intelligent interplay.  The composer uses the word "fun" deliberately as the sounds throughout most of the album prove.

Photo: Sara Pettinella
Nine of the 10 songs are originals with one track,"Dissolution", from guest Nick Vayenas (the trombonist is a long-time friend of Cornelius - in fact, he has appeared on all of the saxophonist's previous releases plus they worked as co-leaders on the first album either player ever released in 2000).  What a treat to listen to Allison and Ferber create the underpinnings on each track, how melodic the bassist is (his phrasing is rarely cliché-filled), and the power and subtlety the drummer brings to the songs (for example, "Telescope" finds him responding to what the soloist are doing but also pushing them to dig deeper).  Then, there's Escreet - he can and does play many different styles.  Here, he sets up the chordal patterns, and, on occasion, the pace (his playful two-handed rhythmic intro to "Restless Willow" can be heard throughout the piece as both a touchstone and a pace setter).  His solos are quite delightful, playful, and, in the case of the final track "For Morgan", emotionally satisfying.  That track, written in response to the sudden passing of Cornelius's high school saxophone teacher and mentor Morgan King, is a tender and loving remembrance. The melody has a soulful, gospel-like feel, and the leader's alto sounds, at times, as if he's praying as well as also celebrating the life of an extraordinary person.

Among the other highlights are the jaunty title track, the Brazilian-tinged sway of "Leaving Paradise", and the aching ballad "Precious Souls."  "....Fun", as you will hear below, has a bouncy New Orleans feel and delightful interplay of sax and trombone. Drummer Ferber really dances on this track as does Escreet.  There's quite an atmospheric feel to "...Paradise", the smooth blend of the horns, and the lilt in the piano solo.  It's just Cornelius and Allison on the ballad "Precious Souls" - inspired by the present administration's separation of children from their families along the Texas-Mexico border, the music s a plaintive cry to the humanity of the people of the people involved this decision, one that reverberates to this day and hour.

"This Should Be Fun" is another fine album by Patrick Cornelius.  Each one has been different with one of the constants being the excellent songwriting.  The leader has a "sweeter" sound, neither gutsy nor gusty, but also not soft and irrelevant.  He sings on the saxophone in a manner that makes one listen closely, closer to hear the melodies throughout his solos as well as his interactions with the band.  All in all, a fine hour of music from start to finish.

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

Step out with the title track:



Photo: Pete Coco



Tenor saxophonist Sam Dillon makes his Post-Tone debut with "Force Field"; coming just seven months after his album debut "Out In The Open", released on Cory Weeds' Cellar Live.  Dillon, a native of New York City, has been playing saxophone since before he was a teenager and has numerous high-profile gigs.  He's worked with drummer Joe Chambers's Moving Pictures Jazz Orchestra, the Captain Black Big Band, the Big Apple Circus, and many more. Dillon is also an educator and conducts numerous workshops with high school bands.  His C.V. is already chock-full of accomplishments and he's only in his mid-30s.
If you only listen to the opening three tracks on the nine-song program, you might expect the album to a high-powered blast.  The title track kicks off the show; one can hear the influence of McCoy Tyner on the song, with Dillon blowing off the powerful changes play by Theo Hill (piano, Rhodes), the thick bass lines of David Wong, and the rampaging drums of Anwar Marshall.  Played loud, this will shake the speakers and the windows!  "Go For the Jugular" follows. Composed by trombonist Michael Dease, the hard bop romp features the composer along with alto saxophonist (and frequent collaborator) Andrew Gould along with trumpeter Max Darché.  The piece hearkens back to the sound of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, capturing the energy of the great drummer's many ensembles.  Hill moves over to Rhodes for Chick Corea's "Straight Up and Down", a tune whose melody line is a spotlight for Darché's energetic trumpet.  The lighter sound of the electric piano does not get lost in the onslaught of the horns and rhythm section. In fact, Hill's solo is quite powerful.

The music slows down with the appropriately titled "Shift".  It's a sweet ballad with the tenor, alto, and trumpet on the front line.  Wong's active bass lines stand out as does the subtle drum work from Marshall - the interaction of Hill with the soloists also is sweet to hear as is the pianist's wide-ranging solo.  "Marionette", from the pen of pianist Lars Jansson, opens with tenor sax and electric piano, moving softly through the handsome melody.  Dillon caresses the melody at the beginning of his solo, moving easily away and back to the main theme.

Still, the emphasis is mostly on uptempo tunes. Dease returns for Dillon's "Two-Part Problem", a fast-paced romp that Hill fills with powerful chords and long-single note runs.  The leader digs into his solo and flies over the propulsive drums and galloping bass lines. The album closes with Charlie Parker's "Dexterity".  Dig Wong's fine bass work.  Hill sits this one out so it's Dillon, Marshall, and the bassist filling the sound spectrum. They have great fun doing so and it shows.

Sam Dillon, to play on the words of the Parker tune, is quite a dexterous musician.  He does not tend to show off but plays shorter, pithy, solos.  That leaves plenty of room for the other musicians to show their talents. Theo Hill's fine piano work stands out throughout the album and the rhythm section shines.  "Force Field" is a pleasure to listen to and bodes well for the future of its leader!

To find out more, go to www.samdillonmusic.com.

Here's the title song:

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Bass In Many Places (Part Two)

Photo: Shervin Lainez
Over the past 10 years, bassist (acoustic and electric) Linda May Han Oh has been one of the busiest musicians on the contemporary music scene. She has toured and recorded with Dave Douglas, Joe Lovano, Terri Lynn Carrington, Pat Metheny, Johnathan Blake, and Fabian Almazan (her husband).  Beside her continual work as a side person, she also leads several units that play (mostly) her original music (including a trio, quartet, and quintet). Ms. Oh's music covers a wide swath of stylistic territory and, to may mind, she's more interested in melody and harmony that she is on "showing off her chops".  She's a fine soloist but an even better "foundational" bassist.


"Aventurine" (a word that is defined as "a translucent mineral containing small reflective particles" - the green version is called "the Stone of Opportunity") is her second album for the Biophilia Records label. Ms. Oh has been working on some of this music for the past 13 years: it's written for quartet (saxophonist Greg Ward, pianist Matt Mitchell, percussionist Ches Smith, and the leader), string quartet (violinists Fung Chern Hwei and Sarah Caswell, violist Bennie Von Gutzeit, and cellist Jeremy Harman), plus four tracks feature a vocal quartet (Louisa Rankin, Josh Kyle, Andrew Murray, and Jonathan Skovron with director Gian Slater). 


The 14-song program contains absorbing music, pieces that not only make you think but also have great emotion.  Ward, who plays both alto and soprano saxes, is such a versatile player.  His singing alto enlivens pieces such as "Rest Your Weary Head (Part two)" and "Au Privave" (yes, the Charlie Parker tune): on the former track, he meshes a sweet sound with the flowing strings and wordless vocals while on the latter, he engages in quite an interaction with Mitchell.  Notice the pianist's  rippling call-and-response with the bass on "Cancrizan" plus his delightful lines underneath Ward's soprano sax and the exclamatory strings on "Song Yue Rao (Moon in the Pines)", a traditional Chinese folk song whose arrangement suggests Far Eastern harmonies and the work of Aaron Copland.  Smith, who can whisper on the cymbals as well and pound out hard rhythms, is a stalwart throughout. He goes from subtle to swinging to "beyond" on "Satuit" plus check how delightfully he dances along with the strings and electric bass on "Lilac Chaser" (another track with a splendid piano solo as well).  


The album closes with Ms. Oh's rearrangement of Bill Evans's loves ballad "Time Remembered" - the opening three minutes+ belongs to the string quartet before the bassist moves into a solo with strings as support. Mitchell and Smith (brushes) join the players for several more minutes until the string quartet returns to take the piece out.  It's an amazing arrangement and really shines a light on the leader's ever-maturing talent.  

 Linda May Han Oh has created quite a statement with "Aventurine", making music that reverberates in one's mind long after you have heard the last notes. Wonderful musicianship all around; take a chance and dive into these pools of sounds - you won't regret it.

For more information, go to lindamayhanoh.com.

Here's the title track:


Bassist and composer André Carvalho came to the United States in 2014 on a Fulbright Scholarship where he studied at the Manhattan School of Music.  Born and raised in Lisbon, Portugal, he'd already built quite a career as a sideman and leader in both the jazz and classical worlds, winning grants to tour Egypt and working with the likes of Brazilian singer-songwriter Gilberto Gil and the Ibero-American Orchestra, Gustavo Dudamel conductor. He released two albums as a leader in Portugal (2011 and 2013), both shoeing the influences of jazz and classical music.

His first U.S. release is "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (Outside In Music) and inspired by the painting of the same name from Hieronymus Bosch.  Painted between 1490-1500, the triptych visualizes the creation of the world, life's joys and sorrows' and the dangers of sin. Carvalho, like the Dutch painter (1450-1515 or 16), juxtaposes light and dark, harmony and atonality, composition and improvisation, complexity and simplicity, to paint his 11-part Suite. He's aided and abetted by an excellent ensemble including André Matos (guitar), Oskar Stenmark (trumpet, flugelhorn), Eitan Gofman (tenor sax, flute, and bass clarinet), Jeremy Powell (soprano sax, tenor sax, and flute), and Rodrigo Recabarren (drums, percussion).

There's much to capture your attention over the course of the 58+ minutes of the album. There's he handsome opening track "Prelude" with the reeds (soprano sax and bass clarinet) and trumpet blending their voices over the rubato opening before the rhythm section drops into a slow-paced exploration of long tones.  "The Fools of Venus" follows, opening as a playful dance before dropping back to a slower tempo.  There's quite a touch of blues and funk in the music plus several strong solos (Recabarren's drums are a big plus as well). There's a lightness that permeates "Of Mermaids and Mermen", a playfulness that dissipates several minutes into the piece as Gofman enters his tenor solo atop spare bass notes, chattering drums, and ethereal guitar chords

After the short yet strangely constructed "The Thinker in the Tavern", a piece for percussion, guitar (with and without effects), and bass, "The Forlorn Mill" comes roaring out of the gate with Matos's guitar roaring atop the fiery drums and thumping bass.  Add the trumpet, tenor and soprano saxes who then share the solos in a call-and-response with the rhythm section. It's fun and crazy, noisy, playful, and a bit scary all at once.

"The Garden of Earthly Delights" closes with "Phowa", a handsome ballad with a a gentle pace, a handsome melody shared by the trumpet and bass clarinet with quiet drums, counterpoint from the bass, and Matos's  alternating chords and phrases.  It's a gentle landing for an album that covers a lot of musical territory. André Carvalho is an impressive composer and arranger (go to his Bandcamp page to check his earlier releases) plus a fine bassist.  This music is a group effort and everyone's voices are heard.  Quite an aural treat, a delight!

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

Here's a track to whet your appetite:




Bassist Pablo Aslan, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, has lived in the United States for nearly four decades. In that time, he has become the foremost interpreters of tango music, playing both traditional and new works as well as being an educator, producer, sideman, and researcher.  He possesses a beautiful tone as well as a technique that allows his instrumental voice to stand out without sounding over-amplified or "gimmicky".  As a leader or co-leader, Aslan has recorded five albums and produced several others.


His latest venture, "Contrabajo: Works for Bass and String Quartet" (Soundbrush Recordings), finds the bassist in the company of Quarteto Petrus, a string quartet based in Buenos Aires and composed of violinists Pablo Saravi and Herman Briático, violist Adrián Felizia, and cellist Gloria Pankeava. Te 10-song program consists of compositions by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Duke Ellington, Roger Davidson, Gabriel Senanes, Gerardo Matos Rodriguez, Alexis Cuadrado, and one piece by the leader.   The two pieces by Cuadrado (one of Aslan's closest friends), "Confluenceas" and "Reflejos", come back-to-back and are the first "classical" pieces composed by the fine Spanish jazz bassist. The former track has a delightful bounce and lilting melody that is shared by all five musicians while the latter is slower, with a percussive feel from the cellist.  The bassist has the lead throughout the piece, first playing arco (bowed) and then pizzicato (listen closely, it sounds as if the string quartet is "looped").

Photo: Anita Kalikies
Paquito D'Rivera appears on the Aslan composition "Tanguajira", his delightful lines rising above the quintet as well and becoming part of the ensemble.  His dancing solo is a highlight; while the leader bows the bottom and the percussion, the other strings sway and pluck in support.  Senanes, who wrote two of the pieces and arranged three others infusing the lush reading of Ellington's "Come Sunday."  In the liner notes, Aslan writes that the arranger steered him towards the vocals of Mahalia Jackson as the inspiration for his playing. Senanes's "Contratango" features the bassist throughout either bowing, plucking, or being the percussion section.  The body of the bass makes quite a resonant drum!  Aslan's long-time musical partner Raul Juarena arranged the classic Matos Rodriguez (1897-1948)  piece "La Cumparsita" that closes the album.  He also appears on the bandoneon sharing the solo duties with the bassist.  The bright and bouncy music is both melodic and dramatic.

"Contrabajo" is a treat from start to finish.  Tango music can be quite attractive with its blend offloading melodies and percussive intensity.  While there is no drummer, one can easily see people dancing to these often-rousing sounds.  Pablo Aslan's assertive sound, his excellent bowing technique, and articulate pizzicato leads the way while Quarteto Petrus adds vibrant colors and its own splendid melodic qualities.  Enjoy!!

Give a listen:

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Personal Statements on the Saxophone (trio & solo)

Eric Alexander began playing his tenor saxophone over three decades ago as a freshman in college (he had started on clarinet then moved to alto sax in high school) and, judging by his constant touring and ever-growing discography, has no intention of stopping.  After transferring to William Paterson College in New Jersey, he came into contact with pianist/educator Harold Mabern (a relationship that continues to this day) and studied with Joe Lovano and Rufus Reid (and a host of other fine musicians. After college, he moved to Chicago, began a recording career (his 1992 debut, "Straight Up", was issued by Delmark Records) and soon began a career that has taken him around the world.

"Leap of Faith" is Alexander's debut for Giant Step Arts, the new label started by Jimmy and Dena Katz. For long-time fans of the saxophonist, it's one of the few opportunities to hear him moving away from the hard-bop sounds that have been his bread-and-butter over the decades.  In fact, on the opening two tracks ("Luquitas" and "Mars"), one can hear the influence of John Coltrane in his powerful phrases and gutsy sounds.  Plus, this s a trio date - no piano (save for the saxophonist's piano chords on "Corazon Perdido") - and that "freedom" helps to open new avenues for Alexander's music.  Joining him on this journey are bassist Doug Weiss (a fellow William Paterson grad whose career has seen him work with artists such as Pete Seeger, Brian Blade, Lizz Wright, George Coleman, and many more) and drummer Johnathan Blake.

Recorded live at The Jazz Gallery in New York City, the music often crackles with great energy.  The trio digs into "Hard Blues"; not the Julius Hemphill tune but a short yet equally powerful blues "shout" that opens with Alexander, solo, pushing quite hard.  "Big Richard" is also a ballad, a piece that the saxophonist wrote for his father who had recently passed.  This piece is quite gentle, the saxophone traveling over the melodic bass lines and Blake's active yet sensitive brush work.  There's more than a touch of the blues here as well yet the overall feel is one of reflection and memory.

Photo: Jimmy & Dena Katz
And there's fire - "Frenzy" lives up to its as the rhythm section sets a torrid pace for Alexander to push against and to ride atop.  The saxophonist often stays in the tenor's mid-range but he certainly plays with great passion.  He utilizes a wider range on "Mars" and it's a joy to hear how Blake's rampaging drums push the saxophonist to let loose.  Alexander is in quite the playful mood and infuses the piece with the joy of playing.

"Second Impression", the longest track on the program (13:28). closes the album with more energy.  A bit of Sonny Rollins, some more Coltrane, Don Byas, Hank Mobley - pick whoever you choose - Alexander flies high, soaring over the powerful rhythm section (dig Weiss's rollicking bass lines and Blake's insistent drive). He plays and plays, never tires, for the entire piece. It's quite the performance. Play the track loud and imagine the excitement of being in the audience as the trio blazes its way.

"Leap of Faith" is quite the leap for Eric Alexander. Even if you have any or many of his albums, you know he always plays with great energy and thought. Yet, this album, this trio, this music, this setting, opens his big sounds even more, his ideas and phrases often leaping with joy, his ballads even more emotional.  Kudos to Doug Weiss and Jonathan Blake for their splendid work and to Jimmy & Dena Katz for creating the platform for Alexander to make such passionate music.

For more information, go to www.giantsteparts.org/eric-alexander or to www.ericalexandermusic.com.

The album will be issued on May 17.  In the meantime, here's the opening track:



Photo: Russ Rowland
Alto saxophonist, pianist, and composer Michaël Attias, born in Haifa, Israel, and raised in Paris, France, has quite the biography. His parents moved the family to Minneapolis, MN, when he was nine and exposed him to all sorts of music including recordings by Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Ornette Coleman. Coleman's eclectic work led the 15-year old Attias to the alto saxophone and he began a life-long journey that took him back to Paris for college, to Connecticut to study at Wesleyan University, and onto New York City and collaborations with Anthony Braxton, Oliver Lake, Paul Motian, and many others.  As a leader, he has worked and recorded with trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist John Hébert, drummers Tom Rainey, Nasheet Waits, and Satoshi Takeishi, plus pianists Aruàn Ortiz and Matt Mitchell - many of his albums can be found on the Clean Feed label.

"Échos la Nuit" (released on bassist Adam Hopkins' Out of Your Head Records) is his first solo album. Recorded in one day (in just over an hour!) in a French studio, Attias plays alto sax and piano at the same time; every once in a while, he utilizes the inside of the latter to help enhance the sound of the former.  What stands out is how quiet the music is. The opener "Echoes: I - Mauve" sets the tone for the program with its combination of long, winding, alto sax phrases and spare piano accompaniment. The pictures Attias paints often are ethereal yet the attentive listener can intuit that while he is searching as he plays, the music tells stories have deeper meaning.  "Grass" blends long breathy saxophone notes and silence to evoke a quiet night, as if the musician is staring across a big field at the distance.  "Autumn I" and "Autumn II", with the piano and saxophone often in unison, has the simple yet emotional feel of composers Erik Satie and Morton Feldman.

Still, one Attias has distilled this music from his years traveling the world as well as the work he has done composing for theater.  The dramatic circular lines and popping stops of the saxophone on "Rue Oberkampf" have an undeniable energy while the deep piano notes  mixed with the airy alto sax melodies on "Sea In The Dark" have a stillness that is sheer poetry.

With "Échos la Nuit", Michaël Attias has invited the listener into his world of creativity, a world of (mostly) calm exploration mixed with wonder.  Just as the music does not hurry or even scurry, take your time to allow the sounds to float in your room and into your mind. Those sounds have the clarity of an ECM recording and an emotional pull that keeps one returning to these songs time and again with renewed wonder.

For more information, go to www.outofyourheadrecords.com/michael-attias.

Here's a track to whet your appetite: