Saturday, March 30, 2019

Large Ensemble (April 2019)

Trumpeter, composer, arranger, and educator Paul Dietrich splits his time between Chicago, IL, and Madison, Wisconsin, where he has been playing as well as directing the Madison East High School Jazz Orchestra.  As a leader, he has issued two Quintet disks: if you have access to that music, you can hear the roots of his third album "Forward" (self-released).  Credited to the 19-piece Paul Dietrich Jazz Orchestra featuring Clarence Penn, the music is a splendid band of strong melodies, lovely harmonies, excellent solos, and intelligent arrangements.  The Orchestra (see personnel below) is composed of musicians from both Chicago and Madison (the leader has groups in both cities), some of whom are among the most in-demand players in the Midwest. Dietrich reached out to New York City-based Clarence Penn to round out the rhythm section for several reasons, not the least of which is the drummer's work with the Maria Schneider Orchestra.

You can hear Ms. Schneider's influence on the compositions and in the way the arranger paints the arrangements around the solos.  Only three of the eight tunes have more than one soloist - each of those cuts has two.  And there are several stunning spotlights.  Trumpeter Russ Johnson is featured on the album opener "Rush" and on "Forward: I. Perennial" : it's such a treat to hear him rise above the sections and Megan Moran's wordless vocals.  Alto saxophonist Greg Ward, who seems to be on every album out of Chicago, is featured on two stunning ballads. He leads the orchestra in on "Settle" before stepping out for a beautiful and richly emotional solo.  Ward's other spot is on "Forward: II. Snow", a piece that is so evocative of standing at a window on a cold winter night watching the snow settle on the neighborhood. The alto saxophonist plays gently in the alto's higher ranges. Pay attention to the incredible percussion and Carl Kennedy's gentle piano backing.

Tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi (Twin Talk) stands out on the lovely "Chorale" whose opening saxophone chorale is reminiscent of Ms. Schneider's "Sky Blue." Different voices within the ensemble play the song's main theme through the opening two and-a-half minutes. Laurenzi begins with just Penn, guitarist Matt Gold, Kennedy, and bassist John Christensen in support.  As he tells his "story", the brass and reeds begin to filter in the background playing long chords which leads back to the opening theme. The other feature for the tenor saxophonist is the up-tempo "Forward: III. Roads" - the piece opens on a Burt Bacharach-style rhythm and Laurenzi does not step out until halfway through the piece.  Again, it's a spare piano-guitar-bass-drums backing underneath Laurenzi's spiraling lines. It's just those five musicians for the first two minutes but soon the brass, reeds, and voice begin to make their presence felt.

If you are an aficionado of modern big band/large ensemble music, go find "Forward."  Chances are good that you do not know the name or the music of Paul Dietrich but this album will make you smile, perhaps remember days of walking through fields or through the wooded areas with the sun ship through colorful leaves.  The leader/composer plays on only one track - the beautiful "Forward: IV. Green Fields", playing a solo that is filled with heart and emotion.  His brilliant use of Megan Moran's voice as part of the ensemble adds an ethereal feel throughout the program (she appears on all but one song) is an inspired touch.  Find a comfortable chair put this music on your player, relax in the glorious sounds, and allow your emotions to range free.   This album has been become a constant in my large rotation of weekly CDs and I have no reason to replace it as I hear something different each time through.

For more information, go to


Paul Dietrich - trumpet and compositions 

Corbin Andrick - alto saxophone, clarinet, flute, soprano saxophone 
Greg Ward - alto saxophone 
Tony Barba - tenor saxophone 
Dustin Laurenzi - tenor saxophone 
Mark Hiebert - baritone saxophone, bass clarinet 

Andy Baker - trombone 
Jamie Kember - trombone 
Kurt Dietrich - trombone 
Tom Matta - bass trombone 

Chuck Parrish - trumpet 
Russ Johnson - trumpet 
Jessica Jensen - trumpet 
David Cooper - trumpet 

Megan Moran - voice 
Matt Gold - guitar 
Carl Kennedy - piano 
John Christensen - bass 
Clarence Penn - drums 

Here's a track from the four-part "Suite" that closes the album (soloist is tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi):

It's rare you find a Canadian jazz musician who is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada - actually, it's rare that I receive a recording from one. Saxophonist, composer, and arranger Jim Brenan was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, studied jazz as an undergraduate at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scoti, then on to Rutgers (the State University of New Jersey) where he studied with Ralph Bowen and earned a Masters in Jazz Studies. During his time of study, he played with Kenny Barron, Kenny Wheeler,and Randy Brecker. After graduation, Brenan played lead tenor in Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau Band.  Before returning to his native Canada, he taught at the University of Aukland in New Zealand.  Since 2004, he's been the Chair of the Theater, Speech, and Music Performance at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

His third album as a leader, "50/50" (Death Defying Records), is credited to the Jim Brenan 11 featuring Chris Andrews (Fender Rhodes, clavinet). The undectet for this album is actually a duodectet (see Personnel below) and is composed of four reeds, two  trombones (including the leader's brother Craig), two trumpets, and four person rhythm section.  Much of the program is quite funky and soulful thanks to the powerful drumming of Jamie Cooper, the electric bass of Rubim De Toledo, and Andrews's electric keyboards.  Songs such as the title track and the closer, "Ozark Mountain Cougar Fightin'" absolutely kick butt, the former featuring Andrews on a lengthy solo and the latter a saxophone dialogue between the leader's tenor sax and the alto of Sean Craig or Mike Gardner.

In many ways, Brenan's music and arrangements take the cues from the fusion music of the 1970s and 80s. There's more than a hint of Weather Reprt's "Sweetnighter" in the beats that permeate "Empress." "Hiding Place", a ballad that may remind some of Earth, Wind, and Fire, has quite the r'nb feel - dig the way the baritone sax joins the bassist as the two musicians hold down the bottom.   "Fant-O-Max" also has the feel of a Joe Zawinul. After the tension of the opening interaction of the reeds and brass against the drums, Brenan's soprano solo rises up and over the Cooper's driving beat. The Rhodes solo dances between the stereo channels and atop the powerful rhythms.

"Colossal Suite" is an episodic adventure as well as the longest track on the program  (11:14). After the trombone leads the piece in, the song has a thudding rhythmic drive a la heavy metal rock (De Toledo's bass creates the thud while Cooper's drums dance excitedly).  The next chapter of the "...Suite" is introduced by rollicking riff played by the ensemble before an uncredited alto sax solo. The rhythm section takes the piece with Andrews's "space" Rhodes joining the powerful bass-and-drums towards the finish line.

Jim Brenan learned several lessons from his mentors.  His time with Maynard Ferguson taught him how to rev up and audience and playing alongside Randy Brecker showed his that jazz can be funky and funk can be jazzy.  "50/50" is an album to be played loud so that the power generated from musicians can get you moving.  Solid solos, smart arrangements, and an excellent drummer (Jamie Cooper's tenure with the 35-member Royal Canadian Artillery Band certainly taught him how to be heard in a large ensemble) all coalesce to make the Jim Brenan 11 an enjoyable listening experience.

For more information about Jim Brenan, go to

Here's the opening track:

Jim Brenan 11 - Tiger's Milk from jim brenan on Vimeo.


Jim Brenan: saxophones/clarinets
Sean Craig: alto saxophone
Mike Gardner: alto saxophone
Sarah Matheson-Nadeau: baritone saxophone/flute
Craig Brenan: trombone
Carsten Rubeling: trombone
Jim Murray: trumpet
Sergio Rodriguez: trumpet
Chris Andrew: Rhodes/clavinet
Rubim De Toledo: bass
Jamie Cooper: drums
Raul Tabera: percussion

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Guitars Front & Center

Photo: John Rogers
Ben Monder has been a part of the Creative Music scene for over three decades performing and recording with the likes of Paul Motian, Lee Konitz, David Bowie, Marshall Crenshaw, and the Maria Schneider Orchestra (among a whole slew of artists).  He's issued, at least, 13 CDs as a leader or co-leader and appeared on dozens more. There was a time that the writer thought his sound was close to that of Bill Frisell but, in actuality, Monder's style is very much his own, his attack is different, his use of electronics, solo style, all different.  However, both he and Frisell are consummate believers in the power of melody.

Which brings us to his latest solo effort.  "Day After Day" (Sunnyside Records). It's a double album set, the first CD recorded in April 2018 on which Monder plays solo while the second disk was recorded over two days in early October 2018 with bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Ted Poor. All songs on both albums are "standards" (of a sort), many from the 1950s and1960s, as well as a solo reading of Olivier Messiaen's "O Sacrum Convivium" , a choral piece composed in 1937. And, it fits right in. The melody, as faithfully played by Monder, sits comfortably next to songs such as Johnny Mercer/Johnny Mandel's "Emily" and Guy Wood and Robert Mellin's "My One and Only Love."

Photo: John Rogers
While the acoustic side is quite gentle throughout, the trio album opens what sounds like a straight-forward reading of Jimmy Webb's "Galveston." Well, it opens fairly conservatively but three-quarters of the way through, Monder steps on the high-volume pedal and lays down a fiery solo, one that ignites Poor's drums right down to the finish.  "Dust", from the pen of Danny Kirwan during the final months of his work with Fleetwood Mac, is a lovely medium-tempo ballad that the trio plays acoustically (Poor uses his brushes).  There's a beautiful guitar and drums (note the impressive cymbal work by Poor) reading of George Harrison's "Long, Long, Long" (from the 1968 "The Beatles" or, as most people know it, "The White Album") and a "swinging", brought sunshine, take of Richard Carpenter's "Only Yesterday." John Barry's "Goldfinger" sounds like Black Sabbath and features a deft shredding of the melody, especially during the delightful solo. Nice take of David Gates's "Guitar Man" (Gates wrote all the music for Bread, a group he led from 1968-73) with delicious plucking throughout.

The second disk closes with the title track, the song that Pete Ham wrote for Badfinger.  The original version features the slide guitar work of George Harrison.  Monder's version, recorded for multiple electric guitars and effects (and sans rhythm section), deconstructs the piece, resulting in a fascinating and slow, mostly rubato, performance of the melody.  Such a psychedelic close to the entire program, one that does not truly resolve but fades slowly. It took this listener several times through to find the melody: yet, the piece draws the listener in on the power of the long, drawn-out chords and roaring notes.

"Day By Day" is a handsome portrait of the many sides of guitarist Ben Monder.  At times playful, other times contemplative, always thoughtful, the songs, many of which many listeners should recognize, pull their power from our memories as well as the guitarist's creative arrangements and impressive musicianship.  Listen closely!

For more information, go to

Here's the opening track on disk 1:

"The Travelers" (Shifting Paradigm Records) is the debut album from the Lapis Trio, an acoustic group composed of Casey Nielsen (guitar, compositions), Dan Thatcher (bass), and Tim Mulvenna (percussion).  Based in the Chicago area, the group has been together since 2014 and are dedicated to playing Nielsen's compositions.  Both Thatcher and Mulveena are busy musicians with the former currently holding down the bass chair in Lucas Gillan's Many Blessings while the latter has worked with Ken Vandermark, the late Fred Anderson, and John Abercrombie.  Nielsen also leads a "standards" trio plus is quite busy teaching both jazz and classical guitar.  He's also worked and recorded with vocalist Christy Bennett.

The music on the Trio's debut album, lovingly recorded and mixed by the guitarist's brother Dana (best known for his work on albums by Smashing Pumpkins, the Avett Brothers, and Neil Young), covers much territory. The program can best be described as a pleasurable of classical, folk, pop, Brazilian, and jazz influences.  Thatcher is quite the supportive as well as adventurous bassist and a fine soloist (check out his work on "Scatalogical Humor" for his smart solo and delightful counterpoint). Mulvenna's main work is on cajon (as pictured above) but he also adds other hand percussion and cymbals.

The sound of the group is somewhat reminiscent of the trio recordings guitarist Tim Sparks made for Tzadik but the compositions are quite different.  Nielsen creates a lovely melody for "Culver City" - listen to the depth of his sound, the clarity of the melody and the notes he plays. There's plenty of improvisation but first pay attention to the "stories" the band creates. If you pay attention, you'll soon sway with the rhythms of "Clavé" and it's hard not to dance to the "popping" percussion on "The Fischer" yet don't miss the excellent bass counterpoint, the well-developed melody line. and Mulvenna's witty work.

"The Travelers" has such a light feel one cannot help to his or her spirits raised as you "travel" through the seven-song program.  Lapis Trio is a refreshing change as those of us in the northern half of the United States move into Springtime.  The charity of the sound and the richness of the compositions plus the delightful musicianship makes the Trio's debut album an aural treat!

For more information, go to

Here's the title track recorded in a live setting:

"Hungry Ghosts" is the second recording from Typical Sisters and the first to be issued on Outside In Music. The trio - Gregory Uhlmann (guitars), Matt Carroll (drums), and Clark Sommers (bass) - first played together in Chicago in 2009 and has stayed as a working unit although the guitarist moved to Los Angeles in 2010. He returned to Chicago to record the band's 2016 self-titled debut album (issued of ears&eyes Records).  Although the three musicians have busy careers as sidemen, this project and music is quite important to them.  One of the more attractive elements of the group is how the songs have all sorts of influences yet stand on their own.

Pieces such as "Goner" and "Excavate" have great power. In the case of the former, it's the hard-edged guitar and, in the latter, it's the powerful rhythm section. When Uhlmann jumps into his solo on "Excavate", Sommers and Carroll push him forward with thunderous playing.  The title track hearkens back to the sound of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac around the time of "Oh Well" and the album "Then Play On."  The influences of the blues can be heard and felt on "Portrait Of a Fast Moving Object" - Uhlmann pushes against the steady drone of the rhythm section with his hard-hitting solo
(and overdubbed rhythm guitars).

I grew up listening to the great guitarists of the 1960s and 70s but also paid attention to groups such as Pell Mell (from Portland, Oregon) and the guitar music of Tom Verlaine.  While Typical Sisters often "rock out" on this album, there are pieces where the melody is just important.  There's a folky feel to "Benjamin" and a gentleness to the album closer, "Young and Foolish" (an original tune, not the "pop" song from the mid-1950s).  Stand-out work from Clark Sommers (a lovely "thick" yet "buttery" tone) and Matt Carroll (his ballad playing is so subtle) plus the excellent guitar work of Gregory Uhlmann make "Hungry Ghost" a pleasure to listen to over and over.

For more information, go to

Have a listen to "Goner":

Monday, March 25, 2019

Music That Imagines, Caresses, & Remembers

If you've been to Boston, Massachusetts, to catch live music over the past two decades, chances are the name Jason Palmer has come up more than once. If you are a fan of Nils Winther's SteepleChase label, Palmer has issued eight albums on the Danish imprint since 2010, including tributes to both the late Minnie Riperton and to Janelle Monae.  For the past several years, he has toured and recorded as a member of tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger's Quartet.  It is with that ensemble that I saw and heard Palmer play.  He's a joyous and serious musician, locked into the music and enjoying interacting with his fellow musicians.  He can be quite a powerful player but he is also supremely melodic.

His new album, "Rhyme and Reason", is the initial releases on photographers/arts patrons Jimmy & Dena Katz's Giant Step Arts label.  Recorded over two nights in early June of 2018, the eight Palmer originals are performed by the trumpeter along with tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, drummer Kendrick Scott, and bassist Matt Brewer. They have recorded together before in different settings but this is the first time all four have appeared on the same album.  Kudos to Jimmy Katz for his engineering as the sound is bright and clear, the rhythm section is up front but never overwhelms the front line.  This music sounds great over headphones, blasting out of speakers in the house and car, and thanks to Scott and Brewer, it's impossible to sit still on the uptempo material.

Photo: Jimmy & Dena Katz
As for the material, the eight tracks are spread over two CDs with only one cut under 11 minutes .  Three cuts - the title tracks, "Mark's Place", and "Kalispel Bay" - clock in at over 16 minutes. Yet, none of this music feels bloated. Every piece has a well-developed melody, harmonies, and delightful interplay. Sure, there are many long solos but each one of the players create witty and delightful statements.  What stands out to this listener is how much joy there is in this music.  It's apparent from the opening track "Herbs in a Glass", influenced both by particular pieces by August Greene ("Aya") and Herbie Hancock ("Tell Me a Bedtime Story" from "Fat Albert Rotunda").  Listen to how both Palmer and Turner float over the active drumming and powerful bass lines.

Just in case you think the album is just a "blowing session", give a listen to the title track. It's hard to initially choose who to listen to: could be the excellent drumming or the delightful bass counterpoint or you could concentrate on the soloists. Play the track several times back-to-back and you should come away at just how good, how alive, this music feels.

"Rhyme and Reason" is an album to savor, to soak up the sounds, to revel in the exuberance of such creative music, and how timeless this music feels.  So many different factors go in to the success of this music, from the long friendships of the musicians to the excellent and intelligent compositions to the exceptional sound of the recording.  Jason Palmer strikes gold with this music and the listeners are the beneficiaries.

For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:

I mentioned above that this is the first project to be released by Giant Step Arts.  Photographer/ engineer Jimmy Katz and his wife Dena head the non-profit organization and their mission states:

"Our goal is to present unique premiere live performances  featuring some of modern jazz’s most innovative artists, all recorded for independent release and documented both photographically and on film. What is truly unprecedented about this endeavor is that the musicians have total control of their artistic projects. They will not only receive all the recordings and digital downloads of their musical output but will also retain complete ownership of their masters. Giant Step Arts is committed to promoting the projects and fostering the careers of their artists by providing them with promotional photo and video material and publicity."

Mr. Katz chooses all the artists: the next recordings will come from drummer Johnathan Blake in a trio setting (released in April) with bassist Linda May Han Oh and saxophonist Chris Potter. Blake will also appear on the May release by tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, also recorded in a trio setting with bassist Doug Weiss.

For more information, go to  


Alto saxophonist, composer, and educator Jim Snidero has been playing, touring, and recording for nearly four decades. He studied with Phil Woods, attended the University of North Texas where he studied with Dave Liebman, moved to New York City after graduation to begin his professional career. He's toured with Brother Jack McDuff, Frank Wess, the Mingus Big Band, and the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra (among others).  Over the decades, he has recorded albums for Double Time Jazz, Criss Cross Jazz, and, over the last dozen years, has recorded seven albums for Savant. He's currently on the faculty of the New School in New York City as well as the New Jersey City University.

"Waves of Calm" is the saxophonist's eighth release for Savant and features Orrin Evans (piano, Fender Rhodes), Nat Reeves (bass), Jonathan Barber (drums), and Jeremey Pelt (trumpet). Snidero's father's ongoing struggle with Parkinson's Disease is one the primary influence on this project.  One can also hear the influence of Miles Davis on this music, especially noticeable on tracks where Evans is on electric piano and where Pelt is involved.  Snidero does not copy the legendary trumpeter but feeds into the spirit and sound of Davis's second "Classic Quintet".  Note the steadiness of Barber's beat on "Dad" and how the trumpet and alto sax play the melody and harmony. There's a sense of freedom and "flying" in the alto, no pity or sadness when he thinks of his father.  "Estuary" rides in on the gentle drumming and rippling Rhodes while Snidero and Pelt play a melody that has more intensity. The trumpeter rises above the rhythm section for a delightful solo that leads to a more introspective solo by Snidero and a sweet turn from Evans.  Bassist Nat Reeves is the foundation of this music, a subtle and thoughtful accompanist, never busy but always "there."

One cannot miss the sound of the blues on Willard Robison's classic"Old Folks."  When I hear this track, I think of Lou Donaldson and the joy plus blues feeling he has brought to his music over his 70+ years as a working musician.  Snidero does not imitate Donaldson either but there is a honesty in his blues that makes tracks like "Old Folks" and "I Fall in Love" so emotionally powerful.

The music on "Waves of Calm" is a smart blend of power and, yes, calm.  Influenced by his father, Jim Snidero, along with an excellent ensemble, creates a program that blends the modern influence of Miles Davis with classic blues ballads.  Give this music time to soak in because there are so many facets to the pieces and such excellent musicianship.

For more information, go to

Here's a taste of the album:

Vibraphonist Michael Davidson is a busy musician based Toronto, Canada.  He plays with numerous musicians, from guitarist David Occhipinti to drummer Nick Fraser to bassist/cellist Andrew Downing and many more.  He leads or co-leads several ensembles including a duo with bassist Dan Fortin.  Fortin is also based in Toronto, also a very busy musician touring and recording with Myriad3, Bernice, the chamber-jazz-pop band Queer Songbook, and guitarist Harley Card (among others).  Currently, he's working with saxophonist Tara Davidson and pianist Adrean Ferrugia's Playdate.  Both musicians keep busy schedules but found time to enter the studio in 2017.

The results can be heard on "Clock Radio" (Elastic Recordings, the duo's now label). It's a engaging collection of pieces that reflect the many different genres they are a part of without being beholden to any one particular style. In the months before the recording, Davidson was in Germany studying with mallet master David Friedman: his studies are reflected in the program that Davidson composed for the duo and in the song titles, many of which are in German or have the word "Berlin" in the title. After the short, classically inspired "Tür" that opens the album, the duo moves in to "Berlin V" - that tune starts as if the melody and tone was along the lines of music by Gary Burton and Chick Corea but soon takes on a hypnotic and rhythmical feel. The vibes take the melody and, at times, the bass offers counterpoint.  The longest piece on the album, the musicians move easily away from the airy opening to a more intense conversation before moving back towards the opening.

There's a playful feel to "Berlin I" and the musicians fascination with slowing down and picking the tempo back up.  They are literally and figuratively "playing" throughout this piece. "Berlin IV" is the most melodic of the five separate "Berlin" pieces. Fortin's thick bass sound and melodic solo stand out as does the dancing quality of Davidson's solo.  At the onset of "VII", the tracks juxtaposes electronic sounds with the high-powered, rhythmic, dance.  Note how the vibes echo the rhythm in the bass before the electronics return. "VI" is a slow-paced conversation, with stops and starts, quick riffs from the vibes over slow bass lines.

"A Lift Above" opens with a rapid-fire, repetitive, solo from the vibes before Fortin enters with a throbbing bass line plus the melody is picked up by synth.  The duo weave in and around the melody before a mysterious yet lovely close.  "H Moll (Zeitweisse)" has a strong classical feel, a touch of JS Bach right before the melodic bass solo.  As Fortin comes out of his solo, Davidson takes off on a delightful romp. There's also a short vibes overdub right before the close. The album immediately jumps into the lovely ballad "Out of Love" - here, the synth work colors the lovely melody provided by the vibes and underscored by the bass.

Therein lies the pleasure of "Clock Radio."  First time through, the listener is not sure what to expect. Upon further exploration, there are plenty of musical avenues to follow. This is music that demands your attention, that asks you to trust the musicians to take you on a journey that will, in the end, be rewarding.  Listen all the way through and , when you arrive at the closing short track "Doorway", you should realize that the music has come full circle and you are invited to jump right back in.  I imagine this music is just as fascinating, if not more, in person.  As stated above both Michael Davidson and Dan Fortin are busy musicians so catching a show by the duo may be rare.

For more information, go to

Here's the delightful "Berlin I":

Monday, March 18, 2019

Piano Trio Adventures & Meditations

The Matthew Shipp Trio - Newman Taylor Baker (drums), Matt Shipp (piano, compositions), and Michael Bisio (bass) - has been a unit for the past five years and you can hear their familiarity with each other every time they hit the stage or create a recording.  Because the leader takes chances, the bassist and drummer are encouraged to do so as well. In fact, the material Ship writes for the group calls for that.  They do not make "wine bar music"; instead, this music asks the listener for total concentration.

"Signature" (ESP) is the third album by this particular version of the Trio. To my ears, it's the best.  One reason is that it is the best-sounding recording that Shipp has ever made in my memory.  Many of the earlier mixes were too "compressed" for my ears but here you can clearly hear each instrument. The piano is clear and ringing, the drums sharp and the cymbals crystalline, and the bass thick and deep.  There is stunning lyricism in the opening solo piano passages of the title track and the majority of the piece like a piece by Herbie Nichols but with a more elastic rhythm.  Listen to how the piano rumbles at the onset of "Flying Saucers" plus the brilliant, rapid-fire riffs from Bisio. Throughout the album, the playing of Newman Taylor Baker stands out, not just for his amazing rhythmic drive but for the sounds he chooses to play under the solos. Check out his active drumming and fascinating cymbal work on "The Way", how both the piano and bass move with him and without.

Photo: Susan O'Connor
Thanks to the excellent recording and mix that I referred to above, every track is a gem.  Even the three short solo pieces:  Bisio's droning bow work is featured on the 49-second "Deep to Deep" while Newman Baker's two-minute solo is appropriately titled "Snap." Later in the program, "New Z" is another solo percussion piece, with hand-held sounds plus impressive cymbal work covering nearly four minutes.  That leads into "This Matrix" which, at 16:25, is the longest cut on the disk.  There's a lot to enjoy here, from the rippling piano phrases to the dancing bass lines to the helter-skelter drumming that pushes the piece forward.   Shipp is in charge for the first nine minutes before he and Newman Baker drop out for a fine bass solo, one filled with melody and thoughtful use of silence before building to a rapid-fire closing.  What follows is a short ballad for bass and piano, joined shortly by Newman Taylor Baker on brushes.  There's quite a blues feel in the last several minutes of the program and the ending is delightfully subtle. There's a slow yet determined push towards the close - on first listen, it seemed the music just stopped but really, it feels as if the conversation stopped in mid-sentence.

"Signature" is splendid music, well-played, creative, powerful, gentle at times, and certainly modern music at its best.  The Matthew Shipp Trio was quite impressive for the decade+ when Whit Dickey was in the drum chair but Newman Taylor Baker brings a different dimension that has energized both pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist Michael Bisio.  I wrote that, to my ears this is the finest recording these three musicians have made as a unit; this certainly is one of the top three recordings Matthew Shipp has made.

For more information, go to

Here's the title track:

Drummer and composer Jeff Cosgrove, a native of the Washington, D.C. area, is fond of playing in and recording with trios.  His most recent albums include dates with Scott Robinson and Ken Filiano plus Frank Kimbrough and Martin Wind.  Over the past several years, he has recorded a trio featuring bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp (the pianist has recorded a total of seven times with the drummer), self-releasing two albums both of which feature three improvisations that cover a lot of musical territory.  The communication between the three musicians seem telepathic; each player not only does his "own thing" but also works towards a common goal - creating memorable interactions that listeners can return to time and again, hearing new connections each time.

The trio now has a third release. "Near Disaster" continues the group's improvisatory adventures. Over the course of three lengthy tracks, the longest, "October Nights Sky", at 35+ minutes, the shortest, "Last Steps, First", at 9, the band gets loose. The music they create is extremely powerful with cascading riffs from Shipp, melodic underpinning from Parker, and all propelled by Cosgrove's drums. he's quite active, reminding this listener of both levin Jones and, especially, Andrew Cyrille.  It's obvious throughout that the drummer responds to his bandmates and vice versa.

The music asks the listener to "go with the flow" - the flow is there, rarely collapsing into a "free-for-all". Notice the intensity and melodicism that inhabit the quiet moments of "...Nights Sky" and how that remains when Cosgrove and Shipp begin to power forward.  The opening of "Spherical" serves as an homage to Thelonious Monk (perhaps where the title comes from?) before the trio digs in and takes the music on quite a journey. Listen to how Parker creates such a danceable feel underneath as Cosgrove interacts with the piano.  This is what appeals to me about improvisatory music, how the musicians create new ideas from what one person plays and then go off in unexpected directions.

Photo: Jimmy Katz
Take your time to delve into "Near Disaster", don't ignore the noise because, throughout the album, the music coalesces into many fascinating turns-of-phrase and musician interactions.  Most of us know what Matthew Shipp and Williams Parker have contributed to creative music over the past three decades. Jeff Cosgrove, who keeps quite a busy performance schedule in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, is a force to be reckoned with, not only as a musician but also a catalyst for bringing artists together from different areas of creative music.

For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:

Friday, March 15, 2019

Posi-Tone Roundup 2019 (Pt 1)

Last July, I had the opportunity to see and her the sextet New Faces, an ensemble that features saxophonist Roxy Coss, trumpeter Josh Lawrence, vibraphonist Behn Gillece, pianist Theo Hill, bassist Peter Brendler, and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza (although there was a sub on drums). They were touring to support the self-titled debut album on Posi-Tone Records and the sextet filled The Side Door Jazz Club with its joyful mix of hard-bop and ballads. All of the members have issued albums on the label as leaders and Posi-Tone co-owner Marc Free organized the recording session and the tour to showcase their talents in venues around the United States. Everyone played well but I was particularly knocked out by the work of Behn Gillece.  I have heard and reviewed his work with saxophonist Ken Fowser; I liked the music but was not overly impressed with the vibraphonist until seeing him in a live setting.  Each solo was a compact yet expansive treat with an excellent blend of melody and percussion that intelligent players bring to the instrument.

My positive impression carries over to his new album.  "Parallel Universe" is his fourth release for the label and features an impressive lineup. Tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard, trumpeter Bruce Harris, pianist Art Hirahara, bassist David Wong, and drummer Rudy Royston (all leaders on their own except for Wong whose sideman credits are quite stellar) sound as if they are having a ball in the studio making their way through 11 Gillece originals. "Break The Ice" opens the program in a "smoking" vein, with a feel in the rhythm section plus piano as if the song would fit right in on a McCoy Tyner album.  Royston plays with the abandon one has come to expect from him without overshadowing the soloists.  Hirahara's accompaniment is top-notch (throughout the whole album) and Wong really gets the bottom moving.  

Beside the great energy the sextet exudes, Gillette's melodies do a fine job of setting the table for the soloists.  The title track's opening section highlights Royston's fills during the melody and then jumps right into a muscular tenor sax solo. At the start of his solo, Harris brings the intensity level down but just for a moment before diving into a playful improvisation.  Royston creates a funky feel at the onset of "Smoke Screen", a quartet track that finds Hirahara on Rhodes electric piano.  Wong locks into the groove giving the song a dancing foundation.  Another quartet track, "Evening Glow", opens slowly before the pianist introduces the handsome melody line.  Listen to the interactions throughout, the responses of the piano to the vibes, Wong's melodic bass, Royston's splendid cymbal work - it's easy to get lost in this song.  Hirahara returns to Rhodes on the final quartet track "Candle in The Dark", the lovely ballad that closes the album.

Photo: Mark Robbins

If you're like me, it's the faster tracks that will initially catch your attention. "Alice's Journey" is a high-powered barn-burner with both the leader and Dillard firing on all cylinders over the manic pace set by the rhythm section. If anything, "Eviscerate" is even a bit faster with the saxophonist and leader delivering splendid solos.  Dillard also plays with abandon on "Shadow of the Flame", pushed forward by the active piano, "running" bass line, and the powerful drums. Harris delivers a hardy solo before Gillece jumps in with a fiery statement.

"Parallel Universe" is the quintessential Posi-Tone release with great musicians having a ball playing tunes that allows enough time to create fine solos without going on and on. Behn Gillece is a smart leader, never hogging the spotlight but being happy as a member of this powerhouse ensemble.  Time to go back and listen closely to his previous releases to figure out what I missed. In the meantime, check out this delight-filled music.  

For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:

Trumpeter and composer Josh Lawrence also shone brightly during The Side Door gig.  He plays with such assurance and a sparkling wit, even when his line explodes out of the horn, Lawrence keeps his cool.  "Triptych", his third album as a leader (and third for Posi-Tone Records) shows his continuing maturation process, especially as a composer. Comprised of three suites plus one song from the Earth, Wind, & Fire canon, Lawrence wrote and arranged the music for a splendid quintet including Hartford, CT, natives Zaccai (piano) and Luques (bass) Curtis, drummer Anwar Marshall, alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis (no relation, on five tracks) and organist Brian Charette (on the EW&F tune). 

Photo: Ola Baldych

The first suite of songs, "Happiest Together", takes its name from the opening track "We're Happiest Together."  The bright, mid-tempo, waltz has the feel of a walk through a green park on a late Spring day. Both Lawrence and Zaccai Curtis base their solos on the melody while Luques Curtis plays excellent counterpoint and Marshall sets a sprightly tempo.  "Sugar Hill Stroll" continues the "walking together" theme opening with trumpet and bass setting up the melody and the pace. There's such a bright feel to the tune and to Lawrence's jaunty solo.  "Sunset in Santa Barbara" is the final track in this suite and is a subtle, Latin-influenced, ballad with excellent muted trumpet from the leader and a lovely pianist solo as well.

Suite #2 is titled "Lost Works" and is an original piece supported by a grant from Chamber Music America funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.  Nowhere on the album does it give the listener the history of the composition but, in the promotional material (as well as on the trumpeter's website), one learns the suite is "a eulogy for the first three paintings of Vasily Kandinsky's (1866-1944) "Composition" series which were labeled "Degenerate Art" by the German Nazi Party, confiscated...and ultimately destroyed during World War II."  Surprisingly, the first section of the "...Works" (labeled "Composition #1") is a high-powered romp, fueled by Marshall's galloping drums and strong solos from pianist, alto saxophonist, and trumpeter. "....#2" is slower, darker, its rhythm and tone introduced by the piano. When the trumpet and alto sax play the melody, there is a sad component, almost a religious feel as well as a hint of a 1950s-60s ballad by Miles Davis.  After a fine bass solo, Lawrence and Caleb Curtis weave their instrumental voices around each other before pianist Curtis plays a splendid solo. Saxophonist Curtis creates a lovely solo that starts up in the higher register of his instrument and serves as a "light" in the darkness of the mood.  "...#3" builds off the active left hand of pianist Curtis and his brother's foundational bass lines.  More uptempo the the previous track, it speaks to the power of art, whether visual or instrumental, to bring one hope in troubled times.

"Earth Wind Fire", the final suite, is dedicated to the band that intrigued the trumpeter was a youngster. The mysterious rhythms of the bass and piano, the keening alto sax, the short, low, lines of the trumpet, and Marshall's dancing drum lead "Earth" in until the piece falls into a sinuous rhythm. You can hear everybody's voice as they dance around but it's the drummer who commands one's attention with his playful work.  There are moments where the music takes on an African feel. "Wind" is a soulful ballad with Lawrence's mid-range animated trumpet substituting for Philip Bailey's falsetto.  While there are no lyrics, both the piano and especially the trumpet have a vocal quality in their solos.  The bass and drums set up such a hypnotic beat and feel, it's easy to get lost in these sounds. "Fire" lives up to its name, an incendiary piece of music built upon Zaccai Curtis's powerful McCoy Tyner chords and the polyrhythms from the drums. Pay attention to the bass lines as Luques Curtis locks in with Marshall and gives the music even more of an explosive feel. And the solos from the front line are all worthy of attention.

"Triptych" closes with "That's The Way fo the World", the lovely ballad from the pens of Charles Stepney, EW&F bassist Verdine White, and the band's founder and leader Maurice White.  Brian Charette's organ work gives the piece an extra voice that is soulful and sweet plus opens up the path for Zaccai Curtis to create his own soulful sound.  Zan added attraction is the overdubbed trumpet choir that serves as the "horn section" for the track.  The piece serves as a tribute to the band and as a reminder that popular music has its roots in jazz, blues, rhythm 'n' blues, and in the communities around the United States that supported musicians when the "establishment" looked down their noses at "popular" music.

As I wrote earlier, Josh Lawrence continues to grow as a musician and especially as a composer. Go see this band live as their music, interactions, and the excellent material they play will warm you as much as it will excite you!

For more information, go to  

Monday, March 4, 2019

Friends Conversing in Sound!

The current edition of the Branford Marsalis Quartet has been together for 20 years with the exception of the drummer Jason Faulkner who joined in 2009.  Marsalis (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Joey Calderazzo (piano), and Eric Revis (bass) have built up quite a rapport and Faulkner (who is just 27 years old) stepped right into his predecessor's Jeff "Tain" Watts's role with nary a dropped beat.

The BMQ's new album, "The Secret Between The Shadow and The Soul" (Okeh Records), is the first quartet disk in seven years.  Five of the seven tunes are originals (two each by Calderazzo and Revis, one by Marsalis) with inspired readings of Andrew Hill's "Snake Hip Waltz" and Keith Jarrett's "The Windup". "....Waltz" (a piece Hill recorded twice in 1975, one with a quartet, the other as a piano solo) is a jaunty piece with playful yet powerful solos from the leader and the pianist plus splendid support from the rhythm section. Faulkner, in particular, sounds as if he is having such a fun time.  Revis, who is such a melodic player, joins in on the fun especially on his solo.  The Jarrett piece closes the program - if you remember the original with the pianist's "European Quartet" of Jan Garbarek (alto and soprano saxes), Palle Danielsson (bass), and Jon Christensen (drums), this version, once the band moves out of the theme, swings like mad. Calderazzo's solo is inspired from the get-go.  Marsalis, on tenor, digs right into his solo, pushed hard by the rhythm section and he rides their powerful waves.

Of the original material, the program opens with Revis's "Dance of the Evil Toys" which scoots along on Faulkner's martial drumming and the composer's rapid-fire circular bass line.  The piece changes pace several times, even going "out" for a quick moment, and features strong solos from tenor sax and piano. Revis also contributed "Nilaste", an intimate ballad that pulses with intense work from soprano saxophone and the interactions of the rhythm section. Calderazzo's ballad, "Conversation Among The Ruins" has a lovely full melody for the soprano sax plus strong solos from the composer and excellent brushwork from Faulkner. The pianist's "Cianna" also is a ballad, more uptempo but never rushed.  "Life Filtering From the Water Flowers" has a mysterious opening for tenor saxophone before entering into the body of the song. One hears a classical influence in this piece, composed by the leader, especially in Calderazzo's lovely piano unaccompanied piano interlude.  When the rhythm section (listen closely how they advance the music) enters, the music takes flight. Marsalis, on tenor sax here, creates a solo with rolling phrases, flowing lines, and powerful emotion.

"The Secret Between The Shadow and The Soul" is a delightful album.  Lively, collaborative, at times powerful, other times sensual, the Branford Marsalis Quartet is at the top of its form. Recorded in Australia during a break of the group's 2018 world tour, the music shines and sings, dances and swings.

For more information, go to

Here's the Andrew Hill tune:

Pianists and composers Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn, born a year apart (1971 and 1970 respectively), first recorded together in saxophonist - conceptualist Roscoe Mitchell's Note Factory in 2001. Later that decade, they started working as a duo. Both bring a wealth of experiences and musical knowledge as well as a sense of adventure.  They have worked in both acoustic and electric groups but stick to the acoustic piano for their concerts and now for their debut album.

"The Transitory Poems" (ECM Records) was recorded in March of 2018 in the concert hall of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, Hungary.  All eight of the pieces on the album are credited to the duo (except for a section of the final track) and four are dedicated to three pianists (Cecil Taylor, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Ms. Geri Allen) plus artist Jack Whitten.  All but Taylor had died before the recording was made (he passed in early April of 2018) but the tribute makes sense as he was an influence on both pianists.
Instead of trying to pull the album apart and guessing who played which solo, I would recommend digging in to each piece and listen for melody, harmony, the flow, the rhythms, how ideas are transmitted from one player to the other, and how you will hear more with each listen.

Photo: Monica Jane Frisell
The program opens and closes with the two longest performances.   "Life Line (Seven Tensions)" (13:02), while not dedicated to Muhal Abrams, feels like one of his exploratory pieces.  Changing tempos, moving from quick, skittering, phrases to rich chords and impressionistic movements, the music holds your attention by moving in unexpected directions, almost at the whim of the performers.  The final track, "Meshwork/Libation/When Kabuya Dances" (12:49), is dedicated to Ms. Allen, with an exciting forward motion in the pianist's left hands as the phrases go from longer lines to pounding chords. There's no delineation between the three parts but one can hear subtle changes in the mood as the music shifts into a different modality.  If you listen to Ms. Allen's song (played solo), from her 1984 trio Lp "The Printmakers", you can hear how her music informs this medley from the very beginning.

"Clear Monolith" is dedicated to Mr. Abrams - it is fascinating to hear the duo build the piece from its quiet beginning to the blues-soaked middle to the quiet, trance-like, section that follows, ending with an intense dialogue.  Mr. Taylor is celebrated on "Luminous Brew."  Opening with an ominous rumbling, a quiet melody emerges. Slowly, the intensity begins to pick up while the melody opens wider.  A bass line emerges from one piano yet, before too long, both players are expanding the palette. The rolling piano lines come together before the pianists start to trade lines. Suddenly, the music explodes for a moment before coming down for a soft ending.

"The Transitory Poems" is a riveting program from start to finish. Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn marry their individual styles and create music that is powerful, exploratory, challenging, and beyond category.  Find the album and enjoy the journey these two fine pianists create.

For more information, go to and/or

When ECM puts the album officially on its website, one should be ablate listen to sound clips.  In the meantime, there are a number of videos of the duo with fair-to-middling loud quality.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Music That Challenges, Surprises, and Satisfies

Pianist and composer Matt Choboter, originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is currently, living, playing, and studying in three European cities (Copenhagen, Berlin, and Paris).  he's now signed to Greg Osby's Inner Circle Music label. His second album as a leader, "Spillimacheen" (named for a river in British Columbia), features trumpeter Simon Millerd and guitarist Maxime Rheault-Trembley in the front line plus bassist Cole Birney-Stewart and drummer Andrew Thomson providing the propulsion. Choboter is the driving force, the director, yet one gets the feeling throughout the album that he gives the band plenty of space to help re-shape (but not overthrow) his original vision for his compositions.

Choboter graduated from Capilano University in Vancouver and has gone on to study with pianist Jean-Michel Pilc and drummer Dan Weiss. He also spent a significant amount time in 2015 studying Carnatic rhythm and melody in India. All the influences play into his original music but not overtly. His pieces are often episodic with plenty of ensemble plating as well as lengthy solos, never sounding forced or over-thought.

In the instance of the two pieces in the middle of the program, the title track and "Meaninglessness", the two long tracks (8:42 and 13 minutes respectively) move into each other as if this was a concert presentation. Millerd's breathy solo at the end of "Spillimacheen" pours over into the following track.  The trumpeter continues to solo after the theme section (which he shares with the piano).  Notice how the song dissolves a third of the way with Thomson taking a short solo that has the feel of a First Nations  (Canadian Native Americans) drum chant before Choboter changes the direction of the music once again.  Sit back, listen to how all of the musicians can be heard, how what they play, even if is quiet riffs or gentle cymbal splashes, in integral to the music.

Photo: Justin Choboter
In case one thinks all of Choboter's music has an "inward" feel or is introspective, just listen to the power of the band on "Outsider."  Thomson really pushes this music forward as does the leader, especially in his exciting solo (notice how the snare is in sync with the piano notes). "Soweto" follows and, while the music tiptoes in on bowed bass and squealing trumpet, once the chiming piano chords enters, the music becomes like a whirling dervish, stopping to allow in the trumpet yet continuing to dance forward.

At 80 minutes, "Spillimacheen", like the river that gives the album its name, twists and turns, bubbles and then becomes calm, changing with every melodic or rhythmic idea.  Matt Choboter makes modern music that is every bit as intriguing as his grandfather's painting that graces the cover of the album.  Take your time and dive in to this music with an open mind and heart.

For more infraction, go to

Here's the opening track:

I have listened to and talked with guitarist Mike Baggetta since the mid-2000s when I discovered his duo music with trumpeter Kris Tiner in their duo known as TinBag).  Over the last 15 years, the guitarist has crafted quite a career with a quartet that recorded for Fresh Sound New Talent (and featured saxophonist Jason Rigby) to solo work to a reunion with Tiner and a trio with drummer Billy Mintz and bassist guitarist Jerome Harris.  His latest album, "Wall of Flowers" (Big Ego Records), is a trio disk, this one with bassist Mike Watt (Minutemen) and drummer Jim Keltner (whose credits date back to the 1960s and include legends like Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, George Harrison, Charlie Watts, Ry Cooder, The Traveling Wilburys and many, many more).

What you have here is a delightful potpourri of sounds ranging from quiet ballads to wailing guitar workouts.  The album opens with "Hospital Song (intro)", a solo piece featuring several overdubbed guitars that leads into the trio version of "Hospital Song."  The rhythm section lays down quiet a beat and Baggetta's overdubbed guitars play a handsome melody that to these ears display a California twang (he's a native of Agawam, Massachusetts - go figure).  There are also two versions of "Blue Velvet", one for solo acoustic guitar, and the other a duo for Baggetta's electric guitar and Keltner's quiet shuffle rhythm.  Both expose the handsome melody (composed in 1950 by Bernie Wayne and Lee Morris) and leave room for solos built off that recognizable tune.  There's a sinister feeling to "I Am Not A Data Point", starting with the circular bass line which leads into Baggetta's howling, argumentative, guitar sounds (quite like Jimi Hendrix's noisy experiments with his tremolo bar/Whammy Bar). Watt holds it all together while Keltner skitters and jiggles across his snare and floor tom.  There's a similar feel to "Dirty Smell of Dying" with Baggetta's overdubbed guitars screaming, strumming, and howling in the distance over the rhythm section. The bass and drums take centerstage in the last third of the tune - the mix has Keltner's kit spread across the audio spectrum with Watt's bass right in the middle.

The album closes with the title song, a tune that starts slowly with melodic guitar chords over the solid rhythm section.  The piece take sit time to move through the melody but when Baggetta steps into his solo, the music picks up in intensity.  No overdubs, just the guitarist working with and interacting with the bassist and drummer from beginning to end.

"Wall of Flowers" is a powerful recording. Yes, it shows off the compositional and guitar skills of Mike Baggetta as well as his mastery of the studio but, first and foremost, it's a trio gig.  The guitarist has a strong connection with bassist Mike Watt and drummer Jim Keltner and everyone sounds invested in the project.  Since the beginning of 2019, there have been a number of guitar trio albums released (Joe Policastro Trio, David Torn's "Sun of Goldfinger" with Tim Berne and Ches Smith, Typical Sisters, and Lapis Trio, all but the last "electrified") - "Wall of Flowers" is no wallflower in the bunch and is worth your time to explore.

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The digital album is released on 3/15/19 with vinyl following on 4/01 - here's a tune to whet your appetite: