Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Moving Into a New Year While Playing Catch-Up (Pt 1)

Life has a way of throwing big curveballs into one's best-made plans.  Started out 2019 in the local hospital and am ending the year trying to catch up with all the fine music that came my way in the past 11 months.  What's got me far behind my projected writing was the end of a busy semester and then the joyous onslaught of grandchildren into our quiet domicile. Calendar aside, here are two 2019 recordings that deserve your attention.

Photo: Erain Ribeiro
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to interview bass clarinetist Todd Marcus (pictured left) and then hear him in concert at our local library (playing alongside his long-time associate Eric Kennedy (drums), pianist Noah Baerman, and bassist Henry Lugo. Marcus lives in Baltimore and works hard to make his adopted hometown a better place for all.  He does not do this all through music (although that's a good part of it) but also through the various non-profits he works with.  Marcus is straight-forward, pulls no punches, is filled with empathy at how his city has been maligned by politicians and people around the country but also sees how hard his neighbors work to keep their part of Baltimore (the Sandtown-Winchester/Upton communities) clean and livable.

While Marcus's 2018 album "On These Streets (a Baltimore Story)"  dealt with the issues of his city, late this past Summer the clarinetist issued "Trio+" (Stricker Street Records). Nine of the 12 tracks feature the rhythm section of Ralph Peterson (drums) and Ameen Saleem (bass on seven of those cuts replaced by Jeff Reed for one who also appears on five others). The album opens with the 14-minute, four-movement, "Something Suite"; inspired by Sonny Rollins classic "Freedom Suite", the music rises and falls on the powerful work of Peterson and Saleem while the leader creates a strong thematic message.  With the exception of one track, Marcus plays bass clarinet throughout the program. He's found his "voice"on the instrument as he moves, often glides, through the octaves.  Note the "sweetness" of his melody and tone on the "3rd Movement" – the lower tones resonate while the higher ones have a singing quality.

The "+" on four of the tracks is trumpeter Sean Jones.  He and Marcus danced and dive their way through "Amy Pookie" with Peterson pushing them hard during the solos sections.  The front line caresses the melody on Victor Young's "My Foolish Heart", a ballad that features fine counterpoint from Reed, excellent brushes work from Peterson, and lovely solos.

Reed and Marcus blend their voices (the bassist playing arco most of the way) on "How Deep Is The Ocean (intro)" before drummer Eric Kennedy enters to push the song forward.  Again, the bass counterpoint stands out throughout the track.  The clarinetist, Peterson, and the two bassists dance their way through a short but powerful take on Bennie Maupin's "Neophilia."  The piece really builds off the "bounce" that Reed and Saleem supply as well as Peterson's majestic drum work.

"Trio+" closes with "Plummeting", an original piece that Marcus first recorded on his 2005 debut for Hipnotic Records "In Pursuit of the Ninth Man" –  that album featured Marcus's Jazz Orchestra while here it's played as a quartet with Jones as the other voice.  The power of the playing hearkens right back to the opening track with Ralph Peterson leading the way with his energetic and joyous playing.

The more one listens to "Trio+", the more one wants to see this band in person.  They possess the power to pick the listener right out of his/her seat as well as make them lean in to really "hear" the softer pieces.  Todd Marcus continues to tell important stories in his music, this time making musical testaments on the importance of working together as a unit while still maintaining one's unique voice.   Dig in and play it loud!!

For more information, go to toddmarcusjazz.com.

Here's "Cantata" featuring bassist Reed and drummer Kennedy plus the leader on B-flat clarinet:

Pianist and composer Greg Reitan, a native of Seattle, WA, who has been in living in Los Angles, CA, for nearly three decades, has recorded exclusively for Sunnyside Records since his late 2008 debut "Some Other Time."  Each of his albums features the rhythm section of bassist Jack Daro and drummer Dean Koba who have been his steady musical partners for 25 years.  There is nothing stale or dull about this relationship – in fact, the music breathes with creativity and honesty.  Reitan is also busy with composing for film and television as well as for advertising plus has  composed several classical works.

"West 60th" is his fifth album and does not stray from the pattern set by the previous four other than there are more originals among the 11 tracks than usual (eight plus one each from Bobby Hutcherson, Herbie Hancock, and Aaron Copland).  But, it's five years since Reitan issued his previous album "Post No Bills" and, perhaps it's that fact that accounts for the urgency in many of the pieces.  The program opens with "Hindemith", a piece that jumps out of the speakers. Reitan dances over the rapid-fire "walking" bass lines and insistent cymbal work.  The breakneck pace does not let up even as Koba jumps into his solo.  The title track is next, a handsome waltz inspired by the Trio's 2017 "playdate" at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in NYC's Lincoln Center.  The bluesy swing from the leader builds upon the energy produced by his partners.

The pace slows down with a lovely take on "When You Are Near", a Bobby Hutcherson piece from his 1967 Blue Note Lp "Happenings."  The melody, as played by Reitan, has a classical feel – Daro's "singing" bass work is also a highlight both when he's playoff counterpoint plus during his solo.  The Aaron Copland composition is "Movement No. Three" from "Four Piano Blues."  Performed solo, one cannot help to hear the influence the older composer had on the work of Randy Newman.  To his credit, Reitan does not take liberties with the music allowing the plaintive melody to stand out.  If one goes back two tracks on the disc, the pianist's ballad "Luminosity" has a touch of the Copland influence in the chordal structure.

The best way to listen to "West 60th" is to start at the beginning and go right through to the melodious "Epilogue".  The music, at times exciting, always melodic, contemplative, and filled with intelligent musicianship, demands and deserves your attention.  Others have compared Greg Reitan and his music to that of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett; there are hints on several tracks but what one always hears on this album is creative songs, excellent arrangements, intelligent interactions, and a trio that loves to play together.  Works for this listener.

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

Here's the opening track:

Monday, December 16, 2019

2019: Rough & Tough But Musically Blessed

Okay, no political screes or rants against the Government in this column. Plain and simple, what follows is the list of my favorite recordings from the past 12 months.  The first 10 are the ones I chose for the NPR Jazz Critics Poll, the next 30 are albums that could have gone into the poll, and the last five are the Reissues or Historical Documents with the last one listed, the Kenny Barron & Mulgrew Miller Sunnyside masterpiece that actually could have been in the New Releases (the third concert of the three on the recording comes from 2011). Twelve of the New Releases are large ensembles (that's 30%) and any one of those choices could have led off the list. You'll notice Jonathan Blake - "Trion" at the top of the list – there was a month after I was released from my January hospital visit that that album and Jason Palmer - "Rhyme & Reason" were among the only albums I listened to. Both albums come from the debut of Deena & Jimmy Katz's Giant Step Arts label and both are infused with the interplay and excitement that makes contemporary music so enjoyable.

First, the list:

Jonathan Blake - "Trion" (Giant Step Arts)

Brian Lynch Big Band - "The Omni-Americans Book Club: My JourneyThrough Literature in Music" (Holistic MusicWorks)

Remy Le Boeuf's Assembly of ShadowsSelf-Titled (SoundSpore Records)

The Art Ensemble of Chicago - "We Are On The Edge" (Pi Recordings)

Alex LoRe & Weirdear - "Karol" (Challenge Records)

Fabian Almazan Trio - "The Land Abounds With Life" (Biophilia Records)

Wadada Leo Smith - "Rosa Parks: Pure Love" (TUM Records)

Camila Meza & The Nectar Orchestra -"Ámbar" (Sony Masterworks)

Zach Brock/Matt Ulery/Jon Deitmeyer - "Wonderment" (Woolgathering Records)

Nature WorkSelf-Titled (Sunnyside Records)

Mike Holober & The Gotham Jazz Orchestra – Hiding Out (ZOHO Records

Los Guachos – Cristal (Sunnyside Records)

Miho Hazama m_unit – Dancer in Nowhere (Sunnyside Records)

Sara Gazarek – Thirsty Ghost (self-released)

Miguel Zenón – Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera (Miel Music)

Jason Palmer – Rhyme and Reason (Giant Step Arts)

Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade – Stompin’ Off From Greenwood (Greenleaf Music)

Lucas Gillan’s Many Blessings – Chit-Chatting With Herbie (JeruJazz Records)

Paul Dietrich Jazz Ensemble – Forward (self-released)

Samuel Torres – Alegria (Blue Conga)

Blood Drum Spirit – Time Changes (self-released)

Branford Marsalis Quartet – The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul (OKEH Records)

Linda May Han Oh – Aventurine (Biophilia Records)

Tomeka Reid Quartet – Old New (Cuneiform Records)

Melissa Aldana – Visions (Motéma Music)

Remy Le BoeufLight as a Word (Outside In Music)

Fred Hersch & the WDR Big Band – Begin Again (Palmetto Records)

Denny Zeitlin – Remembering Miles (Sunnyside Records)

Ben Kono Group – Don’t Blink (self-released)

Garzone, Erskine, Oles, & Pasqua – Three Nights in LA (Fuzzy Music) 

Steve Lehman Trio + Craig Taborn – The People I Love (Pi Recordings)

Jason Yeager – New Songs of Resistance (Outside In Music)

Yes! Trio – Groove du Jour (Jazz and People)

Florian Hoefner Trio – First Spring (ALMA Records)

Brenda Earle Stokes – Solo Sessions Vol.1 (AllSheNeeds Music)

Ashley Daneman – People Are Fragile (self-released)

Dave Douglas – Engage (Greenleaf Music)

Marta Sánchez Quintet – El Rayo de Luz (Fresh Sound New Talent)

Ola Onabule – Point Less (Rugged Ram Records)

Ralph Peterson & The Messenger Legacy Band – Legacy Live Volume 6, Live at The Side Door (Onyx Productions)


Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake - "The Newest Sound You Never Heard (1966-67 European Recordings)" (A-Side Records)

Bill Evans - "Evans In England" (Resonance Records)

Nat "King" Cole - "Hittin' The Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943)" (Resonance Records)

Johnny Griffin & Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis – Ow! Live at The Penthouse (Reel to Real)

Kenny Barron & Mulgrew Miller ­– The Art of the Piano Duo: Live (Sunnyside Records)


I have been lax in reporting the October 31st passing of Gerry Teekens from CrissCross Records. The Netherlands-based 83 year-old was one of the more fascinating "hands-off" producers and rarely, if ever, produced a dull album. Musicians and listeners around the world mourn his passing.

Speaking of labels, kudos go to Sunnyside Records: they always issue great albums but seemed to outdo themselves the year!  ECM and Blue Note often win the Critics and Readers Polls (deservedly so) but Sunnyside deserves more attention!

Let's not forget the slew of fine releases from Pi Recordings and Whirlwind Recordings as well as Biophilia Records.

I have to say it's a pleasure to see my long-distance writing buddy Ralph Miriello back writing again after a long hiatus.  Check him out at notesonjazz.blogspot.com

Another long-distance friend, Jason Crane, continues to do great work with his interview show "The Jazz Session" – Just posted episode #501 and you can help him keep going by clicking on www.patreon.com/thejazzsession.

Don't forget the great podcast of Dave Douglas "A Noise From the Deep" – always informative.

I always enjoy who Leo Sidran chats with on "The Third Story" podcast – you just might as well. I recommend a subscription also through Patreon

In the next few weeks, I'll try and catch up on my backlog of reviews – in the meantime, have a Great Holiday (whichever one you celebrate), a very Happy New Year, and on to 2020! Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Ten Years & "Ten", the Album

In the Autumn of 2009, The Hartford Courant, the newspaper where I had been free-lancing for 13 years, moved in to the next phase of an endless time of layoffs.  My blog was closed down and, like many contemporary writers, critics, and reviewers, searched for a new outlet where I could write about the music and artists that caught my attention.  

Step Tempest was born on December 14, 2009, and has been closely following the contemporary music scene which, despite the economic hardships that many musicians deal with on a daily basis, continues to respond and predict the many moods of our often-crazy world. The posts have moved away (mostly) from posting live concerts close to where I live in Connecticut – there is a lively creative music scene with the continued successes of Firehouse 12 in New Haven (both as a recording studio and performance venue) plus the development of The Side Door in Old Lyme and The State House, also in New Haven.   

Much changed for me in my seventh decade.  I am now a grandfather (twice!), I have been adjunct faculty at Quinnipiac University since 2010. Our daughters have grown up and are now active members of their respective communities. Like many people, I have had my share of physical issues but most have disappeared.  I remain excited by the music I hear on a daily basis and am buoyed by the many friends I have made in the past decade. 

Thank you for reading!

Saxophonist-educator-radio show host Tom Tallitsch, both in Illinois and raised in Ohio, has been on the contemporary for two decades.  Currently living in Princeton, New Jersey, he maintains a busy schedule of private teaching as well as teaching piano to young people on the autism spectrum at the Princeton Child Development Institute.  His four CDs on Posi-Tone (2014, 14, 16, and 18) were, mostly, quintet affairs with excellent rhythm sections and songs that emphasized Tallitsch's melodic side.  He can "blow" with the best but has a bluesy, soulful, tone, especially on ballads, that stands out.  

His new album, "Ten", is his second release in 12 months to appear on his newly-revived personal label.  It's a quartet setting with guitarist Mike Kennedy, bassist Jason Fraticelli, and drummer Dan Monaghan, musicians who are all based in the Philadelphia, PA, area and all very busy.  All six pieces are composed by Tallitsch and each one is worth exploring.  The album opens with "Traveler", which prominently features Kennedy's guitar and the leader on soprano sax.  There's an open quality to the rhythm section but everyone digs in and the music becomes more intense as it scuttles forward.  Monaghan, in particular, really pushes the soloists but pay attention to the guitar underneath the sax solo responding to the energy his partners put out.  The rhythm section plus Kennedy leads the listener into the handsome ballad "Orange, Yellow, and Red" –  the mood is intensely bluesy and Tallitsch's tenor sax has a plaintive sound as he wends his way through the melody.  His solo pushes the band to push back yet the piece never boils over. Kennedy solos next, a blend of Bill Frisell-style "country" licks and blues riffs; never imitative but truly in line with the mood of the piece.  Fraticelli's short, powerful, solo precedes the move back to the theme for a final chorus.

What stands out through this program, whether the music is burning ("Ya Might Feel a Little Pressure") or soaring over a steady persistent beat ("North Shore") or pushing hard with rock overtones ("Lemmings"), is the urgency and interactions of the musicians. When Tom Tallitsch is soloing, the band is not only supporting him but also pushing him forward while creating intriguing backgrounds.  The use of guitar instead of piano in this band frees the composer-arranger to create compositions that give the quartet a broad audioscape to create the colors and moods that permeate the music: also, the music often escapes any definable genre. Let the sounds of "Ten" flow over and through you – satisfaction guaranteed!!

For more information about the saxophonist plus links to "The Modern Jazz Radio Show" (which originates on WWFM-Jazz on 2 from Trenton, New Jersey), go to www.tomtallitsch.com.  

Here's the opening track of "Ten": 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Thanksgiving Musing + Endectomorph Music: Part 1 - Kevin Sun + Earprint

I have to admit that the current state of American politics is dizzying; accusations of "lies", "human scum", and worse pass from the lips of politicians and their followers each and every day. It seems so melodramatic and would be quite silly – in the fashion of a Three Stooges short film – if peoples lives weren't being held in the balance. Empathy is gone; hail the gods of "fake news"!  "Spin" doctors have been a way of life for time immemorial yet seem to be ubiquitous today, "he said – she said" taken to the nth degree.

Still, time to take stock.  Election season is upon us, a season that won't come to its conclusion until three weeks and two days before next Thanksgiving.  How does live through the next year? I will read my share of articles from all sides of the political spectrum – I do have my own leanings but I need to know what other people in the United States and elsewhere think about the issues that affect us the most.  An informed electorate is what we should be: not just the "educated" class but everyone. Not easy. People do not like to think; they react to the voice or face or opinions that most appeal to them and act on that. Or don't. In the 2016 Presidential election, 61.4% of the electorate voted, up from 2012's 58.7% and  below the benchmark set in 2008 of 64.6%.  Less than two out of every three possible overs ventured to the polls or cast absentee ballots.  With all the freedoms one has in the United States, the freedom "not" to vote is just as important.

My fallback has always been music. In the Sumer of 1968 as the United States was reeling from assassinations, the violence at the Democratic Convention, and the ongoing escalation of the War in Vietnam, it was the music that helped me through Through recessions, the loss of parents and close friends, the birth of children and grandchildren, music has been my constant guide and companion. My best friend, my wife, tolerates that relationship and has done so for five decades. Music is so much a part of who I am.

Thanks for reading – I hope you have a warm and enjoyable Thanksgiving plus a contemplative Holiday Season.


There is not a lot of biographical information online about saxophonist-composer Kevin Sun's early years (other than he was born in New Jersey) but one can find out he's been involved with contemporary music as a blogger ("The Horizontal Search",  since 2012), formed a trio (since 2016) and a quintet.  He has been the editor of The Jazz Gallery's in-house blog "Jazz Speaks" and, since 2018, the Artistic Director of the Blue Note Beijing Jazz Orchestra. While at Harvard, Sun served as a teaching assistant to Vijay Iyer and also helps musicians by offering grant-writing services. He's also a founding member of the creative collectives Great on Paper, Mute, and Earprint (see review below) plus the founder of Endectomorph Music, the home for the majority of his recordings as a leader or co-leader.

His new recording, a two-cd set titled "The Sustain of Memory", is a fascinating swerve in direction.  The program is composed of three multi-sectioned original works, one each for trio, quartet, and quintet. The album opens with the six-part "The Middle of Tensions", a 36+ minute work for the quartet of Sun (tenor saxophone), Dana Saul (piano), Walter Stinson (bass), and Matt Honor (drums).  The sections illustrate the musicians versatilities,  with rhapsodic piano flourishes, strong melodic work from the saxophone, and an "open" feel from the rhythm section. Every person solos at one point or another plus the presence of the chordal instrument helps define the various structures. Stinson is a powerful soloist while Honor has great artistic sensibilities, especially with his use of cymbals as color.  Saul's piano work verges on the introspective tending more towards poetical phrases than powerful percussive runs. Sun created this music to have many possibilities, not as a solo vehicle for his saxophone.  Therefore, every member of the quartet has multiple roles throughout.

Photo: Jessica Carlton Thomas
"Circle, Line", a 12-part and 29+ minute suite, features Sun's trio of Stinson and Honor. In essence, it's a musical haiku with the shortest tracks at under two minutes, the two longest at over three, and the rest in the middle.  There are several moments that may remind listeners of the music created by Henry Threadgill, Fred Hopkins, and Steve McCall (the trio Air) – like the best trio music, the pieces are conversations, a push-pull of melody and percussive tension with Stinson serving as "foundation", counterpoint, and soloist.  Each setting the saxophonist creates, each "voice" he writes and plays, makes the music stand out again not for his solo work but for the interplay and "collective" sound. Still, both Stinson and Honor get solo sections ("IV" for bass with drums, "VIII" just for bass, and "X" plus "XI" for drums); "XII" closes the suite with just Sun and his tenor.

The third suite takes up all of CD II.  At 48+ minutes and in three distinct sections, "The Rigors of Love" covers even more musical territory than the other suites. Sun plays both tenor sax and clarinet, the second "voice" is trumpeter Adam O'Farrill (pictured above left), Dana Saul on piano, with the rhythm section of Simón Willson (bass, a member of Earprint) and Dayeon Seok (drums). There is one element that you hear on each suite; Sun writes a melody built off a stop-start melody and rhythmic structure, choosing to move away from that into short solos and then back.  Here, that technique shows up in section "II" and, because the piece is longer than any of the other instances, the soloists get to stretch out. The pianist goes first and romps through several choruses – the front line interjects in the middle and Saul plays over them before taking off on an even more power-filled tangent. Halfway through the 13-minutes, he cedes the solo space to a conversation between the tenor sax and trumpet.  Underneath, the rhythm section states the "theme" while Sun and O'Farrill continue to spar, come together, and break apart. Soon, the pace slows down, Sun returns to clarinet, O'Farrill to muted trumpet, Saul playing flourishes in the background and the rhythm section sitting out.  Soon, the rhythm section reenters to give the music foundation before a quick trumpet-clarinet rondo brings the section to a close. The final section is nearly 26 minutes in duration with  plenty of group interactions, tempo and mood changes, plus solos from every musician with kudos to the bright attack of the trumpeter and Ms. Seok's poly-rhythmic attack (and short, delightful, solo). The piece closes with unaccompanied music-box tinkling piano.

Kevin Sun displays his compositional and arranging maturity throughout "The Sustain of Memory" – his instrumental voice remains strong and true plus he makes sure to leave room for the others voices in the featured ensembles to come through loud and clear.  This recording is an excellent musical adventure that is worth exploring over and over.

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

Here's one of the tracks (the full album can be purchased through the Bandcamp website):

Photo: Jonas Tarm
Earprint, in existence since 2016, is composed of four friends who met while attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA.  Composed of Kevin Sun (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Tree Palmedo (trumpet), Dor Herskovits (drums), and Simón Willson (bass), the quartet released its delightful self-titled debut (my review is here) mere months after the group was formed. Each member composes and they play with a joy that is hard to ignore – why would you want to ignore such timeless sounds?

Yes, the setup is like that of Ornette Coleman's classic Atlantic Records quartet.  Just as that ensemble used blues and bebop as its initial influence, one can hear the influences of blues, hip hop and composers such as Julius Hemphill, Steve Coleman, and Dave Holland in Earprint's root sounds. "Easy Listening" (Endectomorph Music) shows the band in good form, using the lessons learned from its earlier album and the subsequent live dates to create an impressive 11-song program. Each musical voice is distinctive, from the clear-toned trumpet to the angular and sometimes raucous tenor sax to the melodic bass work and delightful percussion.

Photo: Jonas Tarm
Note how composer Palmedo uses unison melody and counterpoint for the theme on the album opener "Sink Song."  Listen to the subtle change of the rhythm section under Sun's solo.  That's followed by a delightful drummer solo over bass ostinato before heading back to the main theme (with some subtle changes there as well). Willson's "Volume" follows with contributions from all including strong drummer and soloists interactions. Just from the first two tracks, you can hear that this is a band that follows no trend other than making good music to listen to.

And, music to groove to as well.  Herskovits lays down a wicked beat on Palmedo's "Hey Wanna Dance." The drummer does the same on his own piece "Big Bear" – Both the tenor sax and trumpeter push the tempo during their solos and, of course, Herskovits responds in kind during his own spot at the end of the track.  The drummer sets an on again-off again pace over the bass obstinate on Sun's "Silo", carrying on a musical conversation with Palmedo (muted trumpet) while Willson does his own dance moves beneath them.  The composer uses his clarinet for color but not to solo.

The album closes with two more fascinating tracks.  First is the title cut; composed by the bassist, the piece dances along on a funky beat  with a melody line reminiscent of the sound of the Daniel Bennett Group.  The drummer's "" (my downloaded version titled the track "Trump University"!) is the final track, filled with sing-song melody line, the occasional discordant note and chords, tempo changes, and no overt reference to the now defunct educational institution that may have been the piece's original monicker.  Nevertheless, it's a fun way to close a delightful album.

"Easy Listening", as the title of this album, may lead you to expect much different music than what Earprint produces.  There is nothing "easy" about this program but there is a lot good about it.  If you enjoy music that challenges you to be less complacent, pokes you in the ribs, and makes you smile, acquiring "Easy Listening" is a must!

For more information, go to www.endectomorph.com/earprint.

Here's the opening track (from the group's Bandcamp where you can also purchase the entire album):

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

T-Bone Album Specials

John Yao (pictured left) is one busy person. Besides leading both a big band and a quintet, the Illinois native has worked and continues to work in several large ensembles including the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.  Yao has arranged for numerous groups and college ensembles plus now teaches in the greater New York City area.  He also gives workshops and currently has a monthly residence at Terraza 7 in Jackson Heights, New York.

Yao's quintet, now dubbed "Triceratops" (you'll understand why in a moment) has a new recording. "How We Do" (See Tao Records).  The long-extinct beast that gives the band its name is known for its three big horns; the "front line" includes Yao with Billy Drewes (alto saxophone, soprano saxophone) and long-time associate Jon Irabagon (tenor saxophone - he's appeared on each one of the trombonist's four albums).  The solid and exciting "back line" features bassist Peter Brendler and drummer Mark Ferber.

The eight-song program is a delight from beginning to end. Yao composed seven of the tracks, Irabagon contributes the the swinging "Tea for T" that closes the album, and, throughout, one can hear how much fun this group has playing together.  The opener, "Three Parts As One", features a melody and harmonies that the three horns share. Once the rhythm section lays down the pulsating rhythms, Drewes (on alto) solos first, supported by Irabagon and Yao before getting a chorus by himself over the bass and drums. Irabagon is up next, maneuvering around the slinky beats. Drewes and Yao reenter to lead him back to the theme before the trombonist rises out of the mix.  The music has the feel of Dave Holland's Quintet with Chris Potter and Robin Eubanks, an ensemble which at its best could bring a crowd to its feet with their great interactions.

Photo: Peter Koloff
After that track, the band digs into "Triceratops Blues", a tune whose title tells a lot of what you need to know.  The leader's smooth-as-butter tone gives his solo a delightful sound; that leads into a fine spotlight for Ferber support only by Brendler's melodic and foundational bass lines.  The title track is a episodic and playful set of interactions in which the rhythm section leads the way through melodic changes and tempo shifts.

For my money, there's not a weak moment to be heard in the 49-minute program.  The music swings, saunters then struts (dig "Doin' The Thing"), soothes (the lovely "Circular Path", a track that features an emotional soprano sax solo with counterpoint from trombone), and closes with sly pizazz of the afore-mentioned "Tea for T."  John Yao's Triceratops makes the kind of music that will never go extinct – it's fun, interactive, and crackles with creativity!

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

Here's the delightful opening cut:

Photo: Sara Pettinella
Over the past five+ years, trombonist, composer, and educator Michael Dease has built up a fine discography at Posi-Tone Records.  His seventh album for the label, "Never More Here", takes its title from the fact the jazz Dease and his fine cohorts make is always "in the moment"; even if the majority of the program comes from people whose physical lives may have come to a close, their music lives on.  Nine of the 10 tracks feature the core group of Renee Rosnes (piano) and Lewis Nash (drums) with bassist Gerald Cannon (replaced on three of the nine cuts by Rufus Reid), adding the talents of Steve Wilson (alto sax, soprano sax, or flute on five cuts), Jocelyn Gould (guitar on three tracks), and trumpeter Randy Brecker on one song.  The Dr. Billy Taylor classic "I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free)" finds the trombonist in the company of pianist Luther Allison, alto saxophonist Markus Howell, bassist Endea Owens, tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera, drummer Jason Tiemann, and arranger David Gibson.

The program includes pieces by Dr. Taylor, Jackie McLean, Jimmy Heath, John Lewis, Eddie Daniels, Eric Alexander (the barn-burning "Frenzy"), two by Dease's inspiration JJ Johnson, plus an original each from Ms. Rosnes and the leader.  The pianist's "Mirror Image" leads off the album, a classy work where the front line works as one then independently.  Dease takes the first solo supported delightfully by the rhythm section, especially Mr. Nash's splendid dancing cymbals.  The composer follows with a fine spot followed by Wilson, on alto sax, who swings with great delight.  Mr. Heath's "Harmonic Future" (a tune that he debuted in the 1990s) swings with a passion as does Wilson on soprano and Dease on tenor sax!

Photo: Sara Pettinella
There's lot to dig into here.  The sweet medium-tempo ballad, "For Hofsa", composed by Mr. Mclean has a lilting feel while Mr. Daniels's "Slow Dance" moves with grace of a slow Bossa-nova. Here, the gentle rhythm guitar blends well with the Ms. Rosnes's light touch. Look for the fine alto flute work of Wilson and more smooth trombone from the leader. Dease leads the way of Mr. Johnson's bluesy "Shortcake" – without Wilson, guest artist Rufus Reid contributes a delightfully melodic solo. The trombonist gets a long spotlight in the middle of the tune before Ms. Rosnes dances in front.  The other JJ Johnson tune, the classic "Lament", is a lovely ballad with  Dease leading the way playing with such emotion and love for this music.

John Lewis's bebop masterwork "Milestones", composed for Miles Davis's All-Stars with Charlie Parker, brings the program to a close on a springy set of steps. The composer played on the 1947 version; the original is not played at that frantic pace that other bebop tunes of the day were. It certainly fits Miles style of playing and there is no solo from Bird.  On the Dease album, the pace is similar but the beat is a bit looser, more buoyant.  Delightful solos all around from Ms Rosnes, the trombonist, Wilson (alto sax), Brendler, and Ferber.  It's certainly a sweet take on a classic.

"Never More Here" is a fine edition to the discography of Michael Dease.  It feels just right on a cold Autumn evening – check it out!

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

Here's that opening track:

JC Sanford is a trombonist, composer, arranger, conductor, and a native of Minnesota.  Not only does he lead several different-sized ensembles, he conducts a number of large ensembles for people such as Andrew Rathbun, John Hollenbeck, Alan Ferber, and others. Sanford studied with the legendary Bob Brookmeyer and is currently on the faculty of Gustavus Aldophus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota.

In April 2019, Shifting Paradigm Records released the trombonist's "Triocracy", a 2014 session with reed players Andy Laster and Chris Bacas.  Now, the label presents the JC Sanford Quartet and its debut recording, recording in February of this year. Perhaps the first album named for a disorder of the eye, "Keratoconus" features the leader on trombone and seven of the eight compositions as well as Zacc Harris (guitar), Chris Bates (electric and acoustic bass), and JT Bates (drums, percussion).  The title track opens the CD in a heavy-metal fashion, a thundering 93 seconds of distortion and all pedals-to-the-metal.  Sanford, who loves a good transition/ joke as much as any person, follows that with "Umm, Yeah", a lovely reduction for a large ensemble piece.  The handsome melody is introduced by Chris Bates (on arco bass) supported by gentle guitar lines and soft drumming. Sanford also plays the melody through before Harris steps out for a handsome solo.  The music is always moving, fairly gently, pushed forward by the rhythm section (listen to JT Bates pushing the leader forward on his solo ratcheting up the energy before the sounds calm down to a handsome bass solo.

The Quartet plays in and with many different styles throughout the album.  The funky opening of "Bates Brothers Boy Band" leads into a romp that is part Bossa Nova and part Motown.  Notice how the tune and the time dissolves on several occasions, leading to fine solos from the leader, bassist, and drummer.  "JT-Rex" is a showcase for the drummer with Sanford adding melodic fragments. The bass and guitar join in on those snippets but this is JT Bates time to shine – dig the crazy and stomping last 10 seconds coda. "Zaccfarben" is the guitarist's piece; the title blends his first name with the German word for "colors."  The performance lives up to its name with numerous shifts in melody, going in and out of rhythm, various dialogues between the musicians usually with Harris leading the way.

"Selfish Shellfish" takes the program out in a quirky and quite thumping fashion. The Bates Brothers rhythm section set the pace, one that leads to a rapid-fire bass solo and a John Bonham-style drum solo. The song ends with the Quartet vocally riffing on the title and a bit more.

Keratonus, the progressive eye disease, is not contagious but "Keratonus", the JC Sanford Quartet album, is often quite infectious. Much of the music is filled with humor plus the feeling that these four musicians are having a great time making music.  Even the one "standard", "All The Things You Are", moves in a jaunty manner.  Life is short, why not have fun? Umm, Yeah!

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

Here's a taste and the opportunity to purchase the album:

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Contemporary Music with Roots

Photo: Dimitri Louis
Guitarist and composer Miles Okazaki has proven to be quite an adept person in the Contemporary Music scene. His 2018 recording of "Work (the Complete Compositions of Thelonious Monk"), which is a solo guitar exploration of the man's oeuvre, was fascinating and still reveals new layers each time one returns to it.  Now, he's back with his Trickster quartet – Matt Mitchell (piano, Fender Rhodes, Prophet-6), Anthony Tidd (electric bass), and Sean Rickman (drums) – his "electric" adventure into and out of inner worlds and myths (if you want to understand the music's back story, go to www.milesokazaki.com/albums/the-sky-below-2019/ and read the "liner notes.")

Listening to this group's second recording "The Sky Below" (Pi Recordings), even without the notes, is a fascinating experience.  There are links to the "jazz-fusion" of the 1970s, e.g. Chick Corea's electric Return To Forever as well as to the sounds saxophonist-conceptualist Steve Coleman has been making with the M-Base Collective for the past three+ decades.  The Coleman connection also includes his current rhythm section of Tidd and Rickman, chosen for its ability to lay down the foundations plus be part of the melodic explorations.  Listen to the three-way dialogue on the opening cut "Rise and Shine" between Okazaki, Mitchell (who replaces Craig Taborn from the first album), and Tidd, how each musicians has a complimentary melody to what the other is playing.  When Rickman's expressive drums are added, the piece takes off in a different direction.  Notice how Tidd sets the pace on "Dog Star", how the melody is built off his bass line, and how the different keyboards of Mitchell move in and around Okazaki.

The blend of acoustic guitar and drums at the onset of "Seven Sisters", with the leader handling the melody (and the bassist the foundation) while Rickman s the "lead" voice is impressive.  The piece picks up intensity when the drums fall into the beat and Mitchell engages in a dialogue with Okazaki's electric guitar (note the acoustic piano is locked in with the bass while it's the Prophet-6 interacting with the leader).  The subtlety in the arrangements, even as the music moves from a roar to a whisper, stands out.

There is so much to take in as you listen to "The Sky Below"; note the use of layering keys and guitars and how the activities of the rhythm section add so much to how the music stands out.  Miles Okazaki, who has been touring Europe with his "Works" music as well as being part of Mary Halvorson's Quartet playing the music of John Zorn, produces music with Trickster that will not only challenge the listener but make them move their feet!

For more information, go to milesokazoki.com.

Here's the opening track:

Photo: Tayla Nebesky
Pianist and composer Marta Sánchez, born and raised in Madrid, Spain nonliving in New York City, is, like many of her contemporaries, a very busy musician.  She first came to the US and to New York in 2011 on a Fulbright Scholarship – she studied at New York University and soon formed her Quintet.  Ms. Sánchez had led a trio and quartet while living in Spain, recording several albums as well as working as a sideman for numerous projects. Her US group included the rhythm section of bassist Sam Anning and drummer Jason Burger plus saxophonists Roman Filiu (alto) and Jerome Sabbagh (tenor).  They released their first album in early 2015 on Fresh Sound New Talent.  By 2017 when the second album was issued (also on FSNT), the rhythm section now included bassist Rick Rosato and drummer Daniel Dor.

The Quintet, now with tenor saxophonist Chris Cheek instead on Sabbagh, now has its third album.  "El Rayo de Luz" (FSNT). On the second album, "Danza Impossible", Ms. Sanchez created much of the program to have the feel of dancing, swaying, and that trend is continued on the new recording.  Thete is also a touch of mystery to the stories the band tells on these eight songs. The mix of Filiu's alto and Cheek's tenor also gives the music, especially on the opening "Cascadas", a sense of urgency.  Pay attention to how easily the rhythm section moves as well as to how Ms. Sánchez "colors" in the background.  Her solo starts quietly and, while it does pick up in intensity, it's also a pleasure to hear how she expands the melody and her thoughts throughout the improvisation. The next track, "Parmesano", continues in that same vein but now Dor is responding to the soloists and pushing them forward.

Photo: Tayla Nebesky
"Nenufar" is a handsome ballad that on which Ms. Sánchez creates a lovely long solo.  Cheek continues along a similar road that the pianist created until Filiu reenters and the song moves to its close.  The combination of the saxes on the circular phrase that opens the title track is so seductive that the pianist and bassist pay a version of it. As the piece expands, the saxes move in and around each other, coming to together for unison and harmony lines.  As the dogs moves into the solo section, note the work of Rosato and Dor, the simple bass patterns (simple in that there are few notes) and the dancing cymbal work over the insistent piano creating a rhythm cushion for Fillies exploratory solo.  The bassist gets a short spotlight that is so melodic that it adda to the music rather than slows it down.

By the time the band and the listener reach the final track, one realizes how special this music is. Though the cut is titled "Unchanged", one cannot help but be changed by the music Marta Sánchez and the Quintet play here.  There's traces of Wayne Shorter and Guillermo Klein in the rhythms and melodies but neither the composer nor the musicians imitate anyone.  The Quintet are familiar with the material that Ms. Sánchez created for them; one can tell they truly listen to each other and are comfortable taking chances.  Try and see this ensemble live!

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

Here's the title track:

Since first coming to critical notice in 1990, Avram Fefer (alto, tenor, soprano, and baritone saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute) has created music that can melt your speakers as well as pieces the can melt your heart. Fefer studied at Harvard, Berklee College, and the New England Conservatory of Music.  In his 20s, he moved to Paris, France, playing with numerous US ex-patriates such as Archie Shepp and Sunny Murray as well as groups from Senegal and the Arab world. He has worked with David Murray's Big Band, Go: Organic Orchestra, Greg Tate's Burnt Sugar, and bassist Michael Bisio.  His debut as a leader was issued by Cadence Jazz Recordings and featured bassist Eric Revis who has graced a number of his bands and recordings.

His new recording, "Testament" (Clean Feed Records), is his 15 or 16th album was a leader. It's credited to the Avram Fefer Quartet and features Revis, drummer Chad Taylor (who's been a member of Fefer's trio for over a decade), and guitarist Marc Ribot.  The eight tracks from the swinging "Dean St. Hustle" that opens to the album to drummer Taylor's prayer-like tribute to the late African bassist "Song For Dyani" (the only track on the album not composed by Fefer).  A West African feel permeates "Wishful Thinking", a piece that features splendid drumming by Taylor and foundational bass work from Revis.  The Quartet takes its time to get through the melody but then Fefer take off on a lengthy and playful solo, pushed forward and higher by the rhythm section. Ribot takes over and digs right into a loud solo that rides over the powerful beats. Fefer reenters for a wild moment dropping back to the bass and drums and the opening theme.

The title track roars forward on the interaction of the sax and guitar while Taylor thunders under them and Revis gets in on the melody.  The music never gets into a rhythmic flow which allows everyone to "attack" the piece. After the tenor sax solo, Ribot tears the speakers to shreds while Revis and Taylor go on a sonic rampage (the drummer must be in great shape as he never lets down through the entire song and that includes his interactions with the bassist that leads to the final moments of the song).  The final piece, "Essaouria", is named for the Moroccan coastal city on the Atlantic Ocean.  Taylor and Ribot set the sensual mood with Revis's insistent bass line moving the piece forward. Fefer's handsome melody sings out, not forced with the guitar chords ringing alongside. The intensity picks up during the sax solo yet the rhythm section takes its time.  Ribot's solo is quite rhythmical, having fun interacting with Taylor and Ribot. The music flows, often floats, and keeps its cool throughout.

"Testament" is an excellent collaboration between the four masters who make up the Avram Fefer Quartet.  Fefer, Marc Ribot, Eric Revis, and Chad Taylor play with fire, conviction, and plenty of joy. This, too, is a band worth seeing live but the album truly captures the essence of this powerful music.  Play it loud!!

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

You'll note that all three of the music samples above come from Bandcamp.com.  You can buy the music and be assured that the artist gets a higher share of the profit than from other streaming services (especially if you use Spotify).

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Large & Larger Ensembles Autumn 2019 (Pt 2)

Pianist-composer Michele Rosewoman, born in Oakland, California, has been active on the contemporary music scene since the mid-1970s.  After moving to New York City in 1978, she became even busier working in the bands of Jimmy Heath, Julius Hemphill, Billy Hart, Butch Morris, Oliver lake, and many others. Ms. Rosewoman also worked in Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean bands led by Paquito D'Rivera, Celia Cruz, Román Diaz, and others. Her 1984 debut album, "The Source" (Soul Note), featured trumpeter Bakaida Carroll and was in a more exploratory vein. Subsequent recordings introduced her Quintessence band that's been in existence since 1986 and has featured over saxophonists Greg Osby, Miguel Zenon, Steve Wilson, Mark Shim, and Gary Thomas plus drummers Terri Lyne Carrington, Gene Jackson, and Cecil Brooks.  At the same time, she began to work with a trio as well as with New Yor-Uba, a larger ensemble inspired by the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo.

To celebrate the 35th anniversary (!) of New Yor-Uba, Ms. Rosewoman has recorded and released "Hallowed (featuring "Oru de Oro")" (Advanced Disques Music).  The program spotlight her 10-movement rhythmic suite "Oru de Oro" (roughly translated as "room of gold") that features the 10-member ensemble plus percussionist Román Diaz taking sacred rhythms and beats from the study of Yoruba deities.  The leader's arrangements keep the focus on the various drums while leaving room for her colorful horn voicing and powerful piano work.  Each song is dedicated to a different diety (often more than one) – still the music allows in all listeners to follow the melodies and ride the waves provided by the rhythm section.  Quite notable is the work of Chris Washburne, most especially his amazing tuba work on "Flowers That Bloom In The Dark."   Check out his mighty trombone solo on "Mountain Sky, Healthy High" as well as the strong solo of the leader. There is an delightful blend of saxophone and brass on "Forest of Secrets" that opens to a splendid flute spot from Román Filiú and a short trumpet solo from Alex Norris.

Percussionist Diaz's declamatory poem over Ms. Rosewoman's sweet Fender Rhodes and bassist Gregg August's fine bass work leads the listener into "The World is The First To Know", the first of the two tracks that close the album (but are not part of the suite).  Vocalist Nina Rodriguez shows up 1/3rd of the way into the track, singing sweetly over the Rhodes before breaking into a "folkloric" chant over hand drums and joined by a chorus of Ms. Rosewoman, Mr. Diaz, and percussionist Mauricio Herrera. When the ensemble reenters, there are powerful solos from saxophonists Filiú and Stacy Dillard as well as the leader.  As the piano fades, the drums, Ms. Rodriguez, and chorus return to sing the band out.

"Hallowed" closes with "Alabanza", one final rhythmic treat that is not only the longest track on the album bot one that spotlights the solo work of many of the ensemble members.  Halfway through the piece, the tempo changes, becoming more energetic and, if possible, even more exciting (Robby Ameen's drum solo absolutely shakes the walls). The vitality of the music, the splendid instrumental work, the continuous drums, and more, illustrates that Michele Rosewoman's New Yor-Uba is quite a force to be reckoned with.  Don't be surprised if you just want to get and dance.

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

Give a good listen:


Alex Norris--trumpet, flugel horn 
Román Filiú--alto & soprano saxophones, flute 
Stacy Dillard--tenor saxophone 
Chris Washburne--trombone, bass trombone, tuba 
Andrew Gutauskas--baritone saxophone (on the final two tracks)
Michele Rosewoman--piano, fender rhodes, vocals 
Gregg August--bass 
Robby Ameen--drums 
Román Diaz--batá, congas, vocals 
Mauricio Herrera--batá, congas, vocals 
Rafael Monteagudo--batá, congas 
Nina Rodríguez--lead vocals (on "The Wind Is the First To Know")

Saxophonist and composer Joel Miller first came to critical notice in1997 when he won the Grand Prix of the Montreal International Jazz Festival.  That was also the year he released his debut album.  Since then, he's released a dozen or so albums as a leader and/or co-leader, married composer and bandleader Christine Jensen, traveled all around the world, performing music that touches so many different genres and styles.  And Miller is a avid listener therefore he has no fear of putting different elements into his music.

"Unstoppable" (Multiple Chord Music) is his latest and features a unique large ensemble.  The 15-member group features 2 flutists, three clarinetists plus a bass clarinet player, two saxophonists, two trumpets, a horn player, a percussion, and rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass, and drums.  Five of the 14 tracks feature an additional percussionists (three of those tracks add one more percussionist).  The program, all composed and arranged by Miller, features three suites plus one stand-alone piece "Dance of the Nude Fishes", a rocking, good-time, tune that makes one want to dance all over the house.  First suite is "Song Story", a three-movement work whose opening section "Gyre" leans towards a mix of Aaron Copland, Maria Schneider, and Miller's wife Ms. Jensen (who leads an award-winning orchestra in Canada).  Percussionist Erin Donovan adds vibraphone which often shadows David Ryshpan's piano.  Part 2, "A Party", opens like a flat-out rocker a la Abba with a lovely coda at the end of each playing of the theme.  Miller's gutsy, gusty, tenor sax solo blasts out over the band – the piece picks up speed and the reeds and brass blow short phrases at each other.  Miller turns to soprano sax for a solo over a rubato rhythm and near the close of the movement, the plays alongside him. Part 3, "A Change of Scenery", opens as a soulful ballad that, at ties, reminds this listener of Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale", itself a mixture of JS Bach and Stax/Volt. Miller's tenor solo has great emotion and power and leads the band into a closing explosion a la Steve Reich.  Really – that's what I hear.

The other two suites are just as engaging.  The six-movement "What You Can't Stop" has a dark opening section but that changes quickly as the music takes on a lighter mode led by flutes and glockenspiel. This piece also has a panoramic sound in the fashion of Copland's majestic suites of the 1930s and 40s.  As the music moves forward, the piece changes for light to introspective to a brisk Latin beat (dig the cajón and cabasa) to a short, romp, led by the saxophones to a final movement that begins softly, layering the various voices and looking at previous thematic material before scurrying and slowing back down to a gentle close.

The third Suite, and the final four tracks on the CD, "Deerhead Hoof Suite", opens with tolling guitar chords and a Americana-style melody from the brass. As the "Intro" rolls along, it drops into a "rock and roll" beat still with the trumpets taking the lead. "2: Pachamama" opens as a handsome ballad; no one voice or section takes the lead as it is shared across the sound spectrum. Then, Miller's tenor sax steps out for the mix and into the spotlight. Listen to the different voices swirling around his lead. "3: How Do You Breathe" has an appealing forward motion and several lyrical themes shared among the instrumental voices.  As befitting the final movement, aptly titled "Finale", the music has a dancing feel, steady 4/4 drums, and, once again, the brass voices stand out. Miller's tenor solo has a wild streak running through it leading to a handsome fade and a return to the tolling guitar sound.

"Unstoppable" is a delightful look inside the creative mind of saxophonist Joel Miller. While it rarely sounds like a "big band" album, his arrangements utilize the instrumentation in enchanting and, often, powerful ways.  Sit back and soak in the sounds!!

For more information, go to joelmillermusic.com.

Enjoy this "Dance...":


Joel Miller - tenor & soprano saxophones, conductor 
Billy Kerr - flute 
Nadia Sparrow - flute 
Mark Simmons - clarinet 
Luc Jackman - clarinet 
Jennifer Bell - bass clarinet 
Bruno Lamarche - tenor saxophone & clarinet 
Jocelyn Veilleux - horn 
Lex French - trumpet 
Bill Mahar - trumpet 
David Ryshpan - piano 
Erin Donovan - percussion 
Steve Raegele - guitar 
Fraser Hollins - bass 
Kevin Warren - drums 
Sacha Daoud - percussion (tracks 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9) 
Kullak Viger Rojas - percussion (tracks 2, 7, 8) 
Christine Jensen - guest conductor (tracks 1, 2, 3, 10) 

Saxophonist, composer, and arranger Chelsea McBride (a resident of Toronto, Ontario, Canada) made quite a delightful splash in 2017 with the release of the debut album of her Socialist Night School large ensemble.  The 19-member group is conversant in many different styles – they can rock, they can push forward a blues and caress a ballad, and the solos that rise out of the ensemble are often impressive.  Vocalist Alex Samaras has a supple voice, a tenor with a broad range but not a belter.  When you mix that with the intelligent arrangements and how they frame his voice, it's an excellent listening experience.

The SNS's second album (it's debut recording in 2014 was an EP) is here; "Aftermath" (self-released) is a panoply of sounds and moods filled with fine melodies, mostly held together by Samara's voice.  Nine of the 10 tracks have lyrics and tells stories that deal with conflict, personal issues, reflection, and resolution.  Opening with "Revolution Blues", a song that takes a cynical look at street demonstrations and the commitment for change, one is introduced to a full sounding band. Powered by drummer Geoff Bruce and the baritone sax of Conrad Gluch, the piece has a kick but also a softer side plus a fine tenor sax-trombone dialogue between the leader and Aidan Sibley.  "Say You Love Me" is about commitment as well, one that has dissipated into lies and broken hearts.  One of the more powerful lines is "I thought I'd be hurt forever/But I turned you into art."  Alison Young creates a heart-wrenching solo, filled with cries and screams.  

Image: YouTube
When you pay attention, it's easy to be caught into the twin webs of the lyrics and the music.  "House on Fire" speaks to the rape of the world's natural resources ("I can take your dirt and make it gold/ Turn your trees to goods that can be sold") while the music refers to Blood, Sweat, and Tears bouncy lines on "And When I Die."  Gluch and Bruce are again quite impressive but the time both get to solo.  The high-energy "Fly By Night" begins with a short solo from guitarist David Riddel before Samaras tells the story living by his wits and his fists. "Niagara" is a love song about a person so much in love that he/she cannot live alone and wishes to be covered with the waters from the famous Falls.  The performance is a vocal tour-de-force yet pay attention to the different sections layered around the voice. 

The final two tracks begin with the bluesy, sassy, "Porcelain", a swinger that could easily move into Michael Buble's repertoire.  Again, it's the baritone that leads the arrangement giving the saxophones plenty of space to swing.  Naomi Higgins and Colleen Allen step to the fore with their alto sax interactions – the rhythm section picks up the power and they respond in kind.  The album moves out on "Love Is On The Line", a quiet ballad that speaks to a relationship that could either way. The narrator is looking for commitment and is willing to stay but "All I want to know is: Will you stay? ,,,,,,All I have to say/ All my love is on the line."  There's a lovely trombone solo from William Carn and fine acoustic guitar work by Riddel but the finest moments belong to Samaras's voice and the fine arrangement in the final minute.  

Chelsea McBride's Socialist Night School makes music that involves the listener, making one pay attention to the words, the solos, and the arrangements; this is not background music. You can hum along with some tunes, see yourself in the stories the leader creates, and appreciate the musicianship as well as the fine vocal work of Alex Samaras.  Take your time in entering into this sonic world – give it your mind and your soul and you will be richly rewarded.

For more information, go to crymmusic.com/projects/socialistnightschool/.

Here's the opening track:


Chelsea McBride – tenor sax, conductor, composer 

Colleen Allen – soprano and alto saxophones, piccolo, flute, alto flute 
Naomi Higgins – soprano and alto saxophones, flute, alto flute 
Alison Young – tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet 
Patrick Smith – tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, clarinet 
Conrad Gluch – baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, alto flute 

James Rhodes, Justin See, Tom Upjohn, Kaelin Murphy – trumpets/flugelhorns 

William Carn, Aidan Sibley, Jill Richards – trombones 
Nicholas Sieber – bass trombone, tuba 

Alex Samaras – voice 
Chris Bruder – piano 
David Riddel – guitar 
Steven Falk – acoustic and electric basses 
Geoff Bruce – drums 

Nonet 2019

Alto saxophonist Lee Konitz (born 1927) first encountered Ohad Talmor (1970) in Switzerland in 1990; the young saxophonist, composer, and arranger began to work with Konitz three years later.  After the younger man moved to New York City in 1995, he began a relationship that continues to this day.  In 2002, with the aid of bass clarinetist Denis Lee, Konitz and Talmor revived the elder musician's nonet. Along the way, Talmor arranged an album that appeared on OmniTone Records in 2006 but also two albums with two different string quartets (Palmetto and OmniTone) and with a big band (also on OmniTone from 2007).

Sunnyside Records is the home for the new Lee Konitz Nonet album "Old Songs New" – Talmor organized a group that has no brass instruments but features a string trio (violist Judith Insell plus cellists Mariel Roberts and Dimos Goudarolis) plus a reed section composed on Caroline Davis (flutes), Christof Knoche (clarinet), and the afore-mentioned bass clarinetist Lee.  Bassist Christopher Tordini and drummer George Schuller (who also helped with the mixing and editing) round out the ensemble. The program features seven standards plus two Konitz originals "Kary's Trance" and "Trio Blues."   The former track, first recorded in 1956 by Konitz in a quartet setting, is a delightful swing piece with a handsome solo from the leader and an excellent arrangement.  The latter track, the final cut on the album, is what the title intimates, a tune for Konitz and the rhythm section to "blow"over. All three players solo but nothing is hurried and the music unfurls in a delightful fashion from beginning to end.

Image: YouTube
The bulk of the material are "standards", many of which the a lot saxophonist has played over six decades.  They range from the moody "Goodbye" (Gordon Jenkins) to the lovely ballad "In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning" to the introspective "You Go To My Head".  Each track stands out for the way the arrangements add multiple colors, some times echoing the melody, other times providing counterpoint.  The lightness of the alto is matched by the gentle flute and clarinets while the strings provide depth to the atmosphere.  There are moments in Konitz's solos (such as "...My Head" and "I Cover The Waterfront") when one can really hear him relishing the melody and having a delightful time playing.  Note the delight in the spicy arrangement of "This Is Always" (composed by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon) plus the bluesy solo from Konitz.

Considering he had turned 90 the week before the 2017 recording, Lee Konitz sounds fine throughout "Old Songs New".  Even though these are works that he had played many times, his improvisations are a delight, displaying wit, wisdom, and a playful quality that brings a smile to the listener's face.  Be sure to listen to the fine, creative, arrangements of Ohad Talmor who must revel in the joy of placing his friend in such musical settings.  Sit back, relax, and soak in the sounds.

For more information, go to ohadtalmor.com.

Enjoy this slice:


Lee Konitz - alto saxophone 
Ohad Talmor - arranger, conductor, 
tenor saxophone on "I Cover The Waterfront") 
Caroline Davis - flute & alto flute 
Christof Knoche - clarinet 
Denis Lee - bass clarinet 
Judith Insell - viola 
Mariel Roberts - cello 
Dimos Goudaroulis - cello 
Christopher Tordini - bass 
George Schuller - drums