Monday, February 18, 2019

Large Ensemble Music February 2019

Over the past decade, composer and arranger Miho Hazama, a native of Tokyo, Japan, had developed into one of the jazz world's most in-demand artists. She has arranged and conducted for numerous Japanese Big Bands and pop recordings as well as making her mark in the United States and Europe in the past several years - she has worked with Owen Broder, Theo Bleckmann, the Danish Radio Big Band, and the WDR Big Band among many others.

In August of 2018, Sunnyside Records released "The Monk: Live at Bimhuis", her arrangements of classic Thelonious Monk songs. Now. less than six months later, the label has issued "Dancer in Nowhere" credited to Miho Hazam m_unit, her 13-piece ensemble (plus guests) that features a rhythm section plus vibraphone, three reeds and two brass, and a string quartet, the same instrumentation she has employed for her two previous large ensemble releases.  The original music this group plays is fascinating, not beholden to any one particular style or influential mentor.  One hears snippets of "pop" music, swing, hard-bop, Ellington-Strayhorn, theatrical music, and more.  That written, this music is certainly not static.  Like many of her contemporaries, the solos rise intelligently out of the melody lines and arrangements not just because the song needs a solo.

On the opening "Today, Not Today", note how natural the strings sound not only on their own but when mixing with the reeds and brass (trumpet and French horn). On "RUN", listen to how Ms. Hazama utilizes Jake Goldbas's powerful drumming to not only push the piece forward but also create the initial intensity in the music.  The interaction of the ensemble during the flute solo (Ryoji Ihara) creates quite a tension which increases during Steve Wilson's wonderful alto saxophone flight of fancy.

This is the rare recording where every song stands out. "Somnabulant"opens with the wordless vocals of guest Kavita Shah supported by the string quartet.  Then, the trumpet and reeds enter and the music drops into a slow ballad tempo over which guest Jason Rigby plays a lovely tenor solo.  Other instrumental voices are introduced as the music moves forward.  Ms. Shah and pianist Billy Test work together in the center section - when the drums reenter, it's to support the powerful guitar solo of Lionel Loueke.  The rest of the ensemble enters to support and then be influenced by the wailing blues lines from the guitarist.  Later in the program, Ms. Hazama creates an exciting arrangement of John Williams's "Olympic Fanfare and Theme", the only non-original on the eight-song program. The way the various voices are blended during the second half of the piece is fascinating.

Charles R. Hale Productions
The album closes with the title track.  There are several different storylines as the music progresses, moving from a quiet, even peaceful melody to a powerful series of interactions where the various sections interpret the melody and the harmonies (plus Nate Wood takes over the drum seat). Jason Rigby's robust tenor solo leads the group to the finish line.

"Dancer In Nowhere" is impressive and expressive from the opening note to the final fade.  Miho Hazama has grown up before our very ears. Her music is contemporary yet timeless and we are the beneficiaries of her brilliance.

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

Here's the opening track:


Personnel:

Miho Hazama - conductor, composer 
Steve Wilson - alto, soprano sax, flute 
Ryoji Ihara - tenor sax, clarinet, flute 
Jason Rigby - tenor sax, clarinet (4 & 8) 
Andrew Gutauskas - baritone sax, bass clarinet 
Jonathan Powell - trumpet, flugelhorn 
Adam Unsworth - French horn 
Tomato Akeboshi - violin 
Sita Chay - violin 
Atsugi Yoshida - viola 
Meaghan Burke - cello 
James Shipp - vibraphone, guiro, shekere 
Billy Test - piano 
Sam Anning - bass 
Jake Goldbas - drums 
Kavita Shah - voice (4 & 6) 
Lionel Loueke - guitar (4) 
Nate Wood - drums (8)


The Wing Walker Orchestra, an 11-piece ensemble organized by composer, arranger and bass clarinetist Drew Williams, has issued its debut album. "Hazel" (ears and eyes Records) is composed of the seven-part "Hazel Suite", two more Williams originals, and a reworking of tUnE-yArDs "Look Around".  The "...Suite" is inspired by the graphic "space opera" series "Saga" created by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. As a listener, you do not need know that because the music stands on its own.  The seven pieces utilizes all the voices in the ensemble; many of the songs ride on the powerful rhythms created by drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell.  The initial five tracks are fairly short but the music hits its stride on parts VI and VII.  The pounding drums and the clarinet melody leads the ensemble into "VI: Heists (or Your Majesty)", a piece that really pushes hard. The "low" instruments, trombones and tenor sax, continue the theme as the rest of the group begins to chime in.  "VII: Ignition (or Hazel)" is much slower, the tolling piano note keeps the rhythm section as the brass and reeds quietly play longer notes. The intensity picks up once the bass drum replaces the piano note yet the music never changes tempo - although the piano plays tolling chords as the piece fades - nor is there a defined melody line.  

The balance of the album is just as engaging.  "Look Around" is a smart arrangement of the original with trombone and alto saxophone replace Merrill Garbus's vocals. The ensemble really kicks into middle section which features a muscular trombone solo. "We've Seen These Walls Crumble" is a soulful ballad which, at times (especially at the beginning and in the final third), reminds this listener of The Band (Americana jazz?). The rubato middle section starts off very quietly and features a conversation by the two trumpeters (John Blevins and Danny Gouker). The final track on the CD (the digital download has a bonus track), "High", has a delightful feel with a playful bass clarinet solo from Williams, several tempo changes, a high-powered guitar solo from Jeff McLaughlin, and an exciting lead-up to the finish, once more powered by Ellman-Bell with help from  bassist Adam Hopkins.

Some of the thematic material on "Hazel" may remind listeners of the writing of Darcy James Argue.  However, unlike many modern large ensembles, the reed section of the Wing Walker Orchestra does not double or triple on other instruments.  Nevertheless, over its six years of existence, the ensemble has developed its own personality and one hopes this is just the first installment in a series of fine recordings with the promise of tours. 

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

Give a listen:




Personnel:

Brad Mulholland - alto saxophone & clarinet 
Eric Trudel - tenor saxophone 
Drew Williams - bass clarinet 
John Blevins - trumpet 
Danny Gouker -trumpet 
Karl Lyden - trombone 
Nick Grinder - trombone 
Jeff McLaughlin - guitar 
Marta S├ínchez - piano 
Adam Hopkins - acoustic bass 
Nathan Ellman-Bell - drums 




Guitarist, composer, and arranger Chris Jentsch has, over the course two decades, released seven albums, the majority with larger ensembles.  The latest is "Topics In American History" (self-released on Blue Schist Records) and features the Jentsch Group No Net, a splendid ensemble recored live in concert;  the band features a group of Brooklyn-based musicians conducted by JC Sanford. The seven-song program covers, in its own special way, 460+ years of history Starting with "1491", just before the European ships ventured to the Caribbean; it's obvious this is an abstract history clarified by the liner notes. Still, the various voices of the ensemble, the strong rhythm section, and the intelligent arrangements help the listener to understand how the events referred to in the song titles helped to the shape the present day

Photo: Gina Renzi

The Copland-esque "prairie" ramble that opens "Manifest Destiny" gives way to a handsome melody (excellent colors from the reeds, brass, and guitar in the background) leads to solos by bassist Jim Whitney, onto a delightful conversation between the leader and the clarinet of Mike McGinnis who then steps out for a powerful solo before Jason Rigby creates a lovely soprano sax solo.
Before the songs closes, other voices step out for monetary solo and duo lines pushed forward by drummer Eric Halvorson.


Just as the pioneers discovered new territories, the listener can do that with these songs.  There are touches of darkness in "Dominos", a piece inspired by the Red Scare of the 1950s (Cold War and McCarthyism).  The leader takes a long impassioned solo followed by an equally powerful solo from Rigby, here on tenor sax. Throughout the album, the arrangements leave space for the various voices to interact and nobody is ignored.

Photo: Gayle Cornish
The album closes with "Meeting At Surratt's", a reference to Mary Surratt's boarding house where the group that plotted to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln met. She was hanged for her association with the conspirators although the evidence against her was weak. The song, introduced with martial drumming, has a traditional feel and a melody line led by the tenor saxophone. After Rigby creates a fascinating tenor sax statement, the leader steps out for a robust solo, his lines rising above the ensemble and leading them to the finish.  

"Topics In American History" is filled with good melodies and excellent musicianship.  Every solo stands out as do the arrangements around the melody and the verses.  Jentsch Group No Net, the brainchild of Chris Jentsch, tells us stories worth paying attention to.

For more information, go to chrisjentsch.com.

Personnel:

Chris Jentsch - electric guitar
Michael Gentile - flutes
Mike McGinnis - clarinets
Jason Rigby - tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
David Smith - trumpet, flugelhorn
Brian Drye - trombone
Jacob Sacks - piano
Jim Whitney - acoustic bass
Eric Halvorson - drums, percussion
JC Sanford - conductor










Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Sonic Explorations of the Soul

Dr. Lewis Porter is a musicologist, author, and educator who happens to be one fine pianist. Over the seven years, he has released several trio albums and a slew of duo performances.  His new recording, "Solo Piano" (Next To Silence LLC), is his first going it alone.  Since the good Doctor is a historian of jazz music, you won't surprised to find that the music on the album has a wide variety of influences including standards, originals, blues, and, of course,  jazz. Best of all, it often sounds as if Porter is having fun.  Listen to the original "Ragtime Dreams" - there is a bit of dissonance in the melody line reminiscent of Randy Newman. "Blues for Sunset", also an original, is a sweet meditation that moves on an "easy rollin'" left hand while the pianist digs dances and creates a solo with phrases that seem to dance in the air.

Photo: Ed Berger
Three of the pieces are "standards", starting with the opening exploration of Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love."
The long playful solo goes through several styles while stand connected to the melody line throughout.  Porter paints quite a portrait on George Gershwin's "I Loves You, Porgy." There's an orchestral feel to the piano and an intelligent use of occasional silence.  Later in the program, Porter's take on "Body and Soul" is truly lovely. Sit back and let music fill your ears, listen to how articulate the pianist is (reminding this listener of Fred Hersch), and enjoy the ride.

Photo: Bill May
Other originals include the delightful and hypnotic "Mixolydia", the meditative yet expansive "Through the Sunset", and "For Eddie Harris."  The "...Harris" track is notable in its combination of short melodic phrases and an insistent rhythmic but notice how the piece threatens to break down in the middle yet never loses its way.

The album closes with a handsome version of John Coltrane's "Central Park West."  Here again, the pianist takes his time to create a fine story from the opening melody. There are moments when the piano lines take flight and others when it seems like the piano is sweetly singing. Actually, one could write that about many of the songs on "Solo Piano."  Lewis Porter certainly understands the power of melody, especially when combined with a strong, rhythmic, left hand. This collection is a delightful addition to his catalogue and deserves your attention.

For more information, go to www.lewisporter.com. (The album will be released on 3/29/18.)


Our house is quiet this mid-February morning with only the sounds of pianist Lucian Ban and clarinetist Alex Simu wafting through the rooms.  The duo's new Sunnyside album, "Free Fall", is inspired by and dedicated to Jimmy Giuffre (1921-2008).  Giuffre, who played tenor saxophone and clarinet, graduated from North Texas Teachers College (now North Texas State University, one of the premier music schools in the USA) and went on to play with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra and the Buddy Rich Band before joining Woody Herman's Thundering Herd. For Herman, he composed what may still be his most famous composition, "Four Brothers" (1949) which featured the tenor saxophones of Giuffre, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, and the baritone saxophone of Serge Chaloff.  In the mid-1950s, Giuffre organized a drummer-less band with guitarist Jim Hall and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer (replaced a year later by bassist Ralph Pena) and recorded the classic "Western Suite" Lp for Atlantic Records.  In the early 1960s, the reed master (who also played soprano and baritone saxes plus flute and bass flute) formed a new trio with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow, moving into a "freer" sound.  Giuffre went on teach for several decades, all the while still recording even adding electronics to his groups.

For the Ban and Simu CD, recorded live in Bucharest, Romania, (both musicians are natives of the country) in February of 2018, the duo mixed original pieces with several improvisations (including the title track) plus a lovely version of Carla Bley's "Jesus Maria" and two pieces from Giuffre (both recorded with Bley and Swallow as was the Bley piece). Here, Ms. Bley's lovely ballad rolls in on a piano figure not unlike a piece by Erik Satie.  Simu moves lightly through the melody and creates a long, impressionistic, solo.  "Cry, Want", the first of the two Giuffre compositions that actually come at the end of the program, opens with an unaccompanied clarinet solo. One can hear the influence of the blues on the composer, even more so when Ban enters. The piece moves slowly and quietly with one really hearing the "cry" in Simu's phrases.  "Used To Be", the other Giuffre piece, has a livelier feel. The gospel sound in Ban's thick piano chords, reminiscent of Abdulah Ibrahim, creates a great cushion for Simu to explore the higher range of his instrument.

The album opens with the pianist's "Quiet Storm", setting the tone for the rest of the program. As the music moves forward, the duo opens up, their lines dancing in and around each other, never very loud but you almost see Ban and Simu watching each other anticipating the next moves.  The title track builds off a dark piano riff that slowly lightens up as the clarinet - then, they begin to really dig in challenging each other yet making sure to stay connected.  There's a similar feel to the other improvised work, "Mysteries." The piano creates a quiet riff while the clarinet plays long tones, even dissonant tones.  That dissonance is a foreshadowing of how the music will pick up in intensity and even move int "freer" territory.  Still, the duo never loses the connection to Ban's left hand, the quiet riff that is the glue of the music.

"Free Fall" demands your attention, doing so not by shouting in your ears but, most often, whispering into them.  Lucian Ban and Alex Simu are influenced not just by Jimmy Giuffre's music but also by the composer's desire to move beyond the cliches that often permeate music. Several of the pieces, especially the originals, are influenced by the blues, using that musical language as a touchstone for personal and duo explorations.  This music, the concert, and the resulting album is certainly an enjoyable listening experience.

For more information about these musicians, go to www.lucianban.com and www.alexsimu.nl.


Monday, February 11, 2019

Looking Back Yet Sounding Like Today

If one subscribes to the belief that you learn something new everyday then the life of a reviewer can be very exciting.  I have known about the duo of Jeanne Lee (1939-2000, vocal) and Ran Blake (piano) but never really sat down to listen.  They first met in the mid-1950s and started performing together several years later.  Their debut album, "The Newest Sound Around" (RCA Victor), was issued in early 1962, a fascinating combination of standards, blues, and jazz. The Lp earned positive reviews but did not sell well in the United States.

Europe was another matter, especially Sweden and the Netherlands. Ms. Lee and Mr. Blake made several trips to perform there during the mid-1960s. Now A-Sides Records has issued "The Newest Sound You Never Heard", a double-CD collection recorded both in the studio and live in 1966 and 1967 while the duo was in Belgium. 33 never-before heard songs, some familiar to fans but many quite surprising. The 1966 sessions, a combination of a radio concert and "in-person" tracks, is a fascinating collection of songs, from Thelonious Monk's"Misterioso" (with lyrics by Gertrude Stein) to The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" to standards such as "Honeysuckle Rose", "Night and Day", and "Take The A-Train" to gospel, Broadway and even a funky reading of Ray Charles' "Hallelujah, I Love Him So."  Scattered among the tracks are several originals by Blake including an impressionistic instrumental titled "Birmingham U.S.A."  Ms. Lee, who said she was influenced by Abbey Lincoln, does some impressive scat singing on a number of tracks but don't ignore the lovely ballads. Included  in that list is Cole Porter's "Night and Day" - note how Ms. Lee caresses the words while Blake provides such a sympathetic background.  Disc One is quite the hour of music.

A year later, the duo returned to the VRT Studios and recorded the 14 tracks that appear on disc #2.  There's only one repeat from a year earlier (Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington's "Caravan") and more adventures in creativity.  Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" gets a gospel-flavored accompaniment while Ms. Lee stays close to the original melody; in the middle of the the song, the rhythm disappears and the duo move in and around each other Asia in a dream.  Ms. Lee's unaccompanied reading of Billie Holiday's "Billie's Blues" is an absolute stunner as is the duo's performance on Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman."  Listen to the spare piano backing to the highly emotional vocals, the essence of describing loneliness in music.  The final three tracks, "The Man I Love", Billy Strayhorn's "Something To Live For", and "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most", make for an intimate and poetic close to the program.

There are moments on the 1967 sessions that remind this listener of the interplay between Cecile McLorin Salvant and pianist Sullivan Fortner on the former's latest album "The Window."  I hear it in the the playfulness and the intimacy, in how both participants interpret the music and the lyrics, making the songs their own.  Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake only made two studio recordings together Fresh Sounds issued a recording in 2013 of the duo from their 1966 visit to Stockholm, Sweden and, now with the release of "The Newest Sound You Never Heard", listeners get an even fuller picture of the magic these two created whenever they convened to make music.  And, it's amazing how contemporary these recordings, made over five decades ago, sound today.  Highly recommended!

For more information, go to ranblake.com.

Here's the Monk tune from 1966:



Eric Dolphy (1928-1964) had a short professional career as a musician but that career was quite full.  From the time he joined drummer Chico Hamilton's group in 1958, he rarely went without work. He hooked up with bassist and composer Charles Mingus in 1959 with whom he recorded the extremely impressive Candid album "Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus." Even after he left Mingus's employ in 1960, Dolphy hooked up with the bassist for tours.  In 1960, the multi-instrumentalist (alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet) recorded his debut as a leader and in the next few years, recorded with Oliver Nelson ("Blues and The Abstract Truth") and began an exciting if short-lived relationship with tenor saxophonist John Coltrane.  Dolphy's own group, featuring trumpeter Booker Little, made an historic album "Live at The Five Spot" in 1961.

In February of 1964, Dolphy recorded his classic "Out to Lunch" for Blue Note Records but seven months prior to those sessions, he went in the studios with producer Alan Douglas the nine tracks that were split into two Lps, "Conversations" and "Iron Man".  Notable for the debut of 18-year old trumpeter Woody Shaw and the amazing bass work of Richard Davis, the tapes were released numerous times by different labels; along the way, the stereo master tapes disappeared and it turns out that the Dolphy family actually had documents, scores, and several reels of tapes which they gave to flutist James Newton for safekeeping. He, in turn, donated the documents to the Library of Congress.

In 2016, James Newton visited Resonance Records studios with the tapes in tow. Over the course of listening with producer Zev Feldman and executive producer George Klabin, they decided to release an album that featured a newly re-mastered versions of the two Douglas albums plus 80+ minutes of outtakes from the session - one notable exception is the 15-minute "A Personal Statement",  composed by pianist Bob James, from March of 1964. The resulting package, "Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions",  as issued in Fall of 2018 as a three-Lp set which is why you may seen the album on many "Best-of" lists.  The CDs have just been issued with an impressive booklet that features interviews with bassist Davis, saxophonist Sonny Simmons (who appears on four of the original Lp tracks and four of the alternate takes), Sonny Rollins, Steve Coleman, Oliver Lake, Nicole Mitchell, Marty Ehrlich, Henry Threadgill, Joe Chambers, Han Bennink, Bill Laswell, a former manager of the Douglas Record label Michael Lehman, and Dolphy's close friend Juanita Smith.

Photo: Blue Note Records
The two "official" releases continue the artist's explorations into expanding his musical range.  Four of the tracks feature Simmons, Shaw, Prince Lasha (flute), Clifford Jordan (soprano saxophone), Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), and J. C. Moses (drums) while three add Garvin Bushell (bassoon), and Eddie Khan (who shares the bass parts with Davis). Drummer Charles Moffett appears on one track.  Dolphy is generous sharing the solo spotlight therefore the group tracks feature plenty of solos all around.  There are a pair of short unaccompanied alto sax takes of the standard "Love Me" in which you can hear how Dolphy expanded the language that Charlie Parker created for the instrument.  Perhaps the most fascinating outtakes are the two versions of Roland Hanna's "Muses for Richard Davis." Davis on bowed bass and Dolphy on bass clarinet explore the handsome melody with deep bass sounds and chords providing a strong foundation for the lower reed instrument.  Coming after the classic "Alone Together" (also a duet for bass - plucked here - and bass clarinet), the "Muses..." blend the expressive the reed sounds with the more formal sounding bass (Davis has such a wonderful sound and the mix here shows him in his best light.

Eric Dolphy may not have had a long life but his influence can still be felt 55 years after his passing. His willingness to experiment, his tart yet refreshing alto saxophone playing, his lovely flute, and his championing of the bass clarinet as a lead instrument, make him a role model for musicians around the world. "Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions" restores two albums that sorely needed someone's attention - how delightful and intelligent that James Newton brought the tapes to Resonance Records and what a splendid package.  The "limited edition" three-Lp set sold out quickly but, thanks to the sound restoration of George Klabin and Fran Gala (who also mastered the albums and CDs), the music steps out of the speakers and fills the room.  Highly recommended!!

For more information about this recording, go to resonancerecords.org/artists/eric-dolphy/.

Here's the exciting alternate version of "Mandrake":

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Companionship and Intimacy of The Trio

Pianist, composer, and interpreter Russ Lossing has had a fascinating career, one that now spans three + decades. He has worked with so many contemporary musicians, ranging from drummer Billy Hart to saxophonist Dave Liebman to guitarist John Abercrombie to vocalist Kendra Shank to cornetist Kirk Knuffke and beyond.  There are really good reasons for his seemingly steady employment but the most notable is that Lossing is a thoughtful and creative pianist who truly immerses himself in every musical situation and gives his all.  As a leader, he's recorded albums for Hat Art, Fresh Sounds New Talent, Clean Feed, SteepleChase Records, and Sunnyside, many in a trio setting as well as several solo recordings.  

What you might not know is that, as a young man, he studied with the avant-garde composer John Cage and what I did not remember until reading the liner notes of his new recording, "Motian Music" (Sunnyside), was his long and close relationship with drummer and composer Paul Motian. The drummer would invite him up to his New York City apartment to help work on his compositions plus recorded several excellent albums as a sideman with the pianist.  This tribute is a follow-up to Lossing's 2012 solo exploration of the late Motian's music "Drum Music" (also on Sunnyside).  For the new album, Lossing works alongside his rhythm section of the past two decades, bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz.  

If you paid any attention to the music of Paul Motian since his ECM days (his debut as a leader, "Conception Vessel", came out in 1973) is that many of his pieces embraced melody and not always rhythm as one might expect of a drummer.  "Motian Music" opens with "Asia", a lovely ballad first recorded by the drummer in 1978. One can hear the influences of American folk music as well as the melodic explorations of Keith Jarrett who the drummer first started working with in 1966.  This tune stretches out easily, opening and closing with quiet solo piano.

The intimacy of the music is underscored by the fact that the trio recorded in the same room and that each piece was recorded in one take. That can only happen if there is great trust among the participants as well as an intimate knowledge of the material. Listen as the trio wends its way through "Jack of Clubs", swings heartily on "Fiasco" and "Dance", and gently moves through "Introduction" (a piece from 1985's "It Should Have Happened Here", the first trio effort by Motian, guitarist Bill Frisell, and saxophonist Joe Lovano).  Kamaguchi has a deep bass sound and a great melodic sense while Mintz plays in the tradition of Motian, never overdoing anything, at times quiet as can be, and with excellent work on the cymbals.

"Motian Music" closes with the whisper-soft "Psalm" a piece so quiet at the outset one has to lean into the speakers. Soon, you can make out a melody from the piano as the bass plays a slow counter-point. The drums and cymbals color the piece as the music floats forward. The sounds seem to hang in the air, like early morning clouds on a Spring morning awaiting the sunrise.  A glorious ending to a splendid album of music. Russ Lossing's love and respect for Paul Motian the man and composer shines through every track - the listener is the beneficiary and, honestly, in these days of uncertainty and daily unkindness, one needs this music.

For more information, go to www.russlossing.com.  (The album will be released on February 22).

Here's an uptempo track to whet your appetite



Photo: Harvey Tillis
Over the course of four albums, the Joe Policastro Trio - Policastro (bass), Dave Miller (electric guitar), and Mikel Patrick Avery (drums, percussion) - has proven itsefs as adept translators of many different styles of music, from their 2013 debut where the Trio (albeit with a different guitarist and drummer) danced its way through Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story" to its delightful interpretations of popular music that one can hear on its more recent  efforts.

Album #4 (and the third release by the current trio since June of 2016) is "Nothing Here Belongs" (JeruJazz) - the nine-song program features six Policastro originals and three unique covers including a fascinating remake of "The Wandering Sea", first recorded in 1963 by Santo & Johnny (who are best known for 1959's "Sleep Walk").  Miller, who is also currently working with saxophonist Greg Ward's Rogue Parade, blends a country music feel into his guitar sound while Avery (whose creative music credentials include working alongside cornetist Rob Mazurek and bassist Joshua Abrams) keeps a steady, uncomplicated, yet urgent beat.


I grew up musically in the 1960s when trios such as Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience defined the "power trio" (in those days, that meant three musicians and a wall of Marshall amplifiers).  Over the years, I found the trios led by John Abercrombie, Jim Hall, Bill Frisell, Jeff Parker, and several others very appealing. The rhythm section is so integral to the success of the music and the lead guitarist needs to balance melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic duties.  That is also what is so appealing with the JPTrio.  Yes, the leader stands out as the chief composer here yet, without the interaction and intelligence of Miller and Avery, the music would not shine.  What the listeners get on "Nothing Here Belongs" is a band that likes to take chances without blowing your ears off. As they have done on previous recordings, the music moves from "swing" rhythms to blues to folk-influenced pieces to rock to jazz (even a touch of "surf" guitar.) The trio has no fear - they tackle Talking Heads "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)" and really capture the emotion inherent in the piece.  They also get "down & dirty" on the bassist's "Bloodshot" yet listen to Miller's guitar moving through various styles.   Policastro's "Plain Song" is a fascinating and handsome melody that suggests Frisell's country side with a funky touch.  Yet, there is an intensity that pushes the piece forward, especially when Miller goes into his solo.  The leader solos on most tracks - that's good because he's quite a melodic player. He also enjoys playing counterpoint to Miller on many of the tracks. Avery is so supportive; he rarely steps out but the drums are a force throughout.

The Joe Policastro Trio is blessed with a 3-day-a-week (Sunday through Tuesday) steady gig at Pops for Champagne, North State Street in Chicago.  That regular schedule (3 sets a night) allows the band to continually work on material, tighten it up, revisit older pieces, play with arrangements. "Nothing Here Belongs" is enjoyable from start-to-finish and I recommend you listen several times to understand just how good this music and the JPTrio is.

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

Here's the band in the studio: