Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Saxophone In Flight

Contemporary jazz played by a quartet that's been together for two decades with one only change in personnel is a rarity these days.  Alto saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón began organizing his Quartet in 1999 with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Antonio SánchezHenry Cole replaced Sánchez in 2005 and that's been the lineup ever since.  Of the 12 albums that Zenón has released as a leader or co-leader, nine have featured the Quartet by itself or with guests.

Album #12 (the ninth for the Quartet) is "Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera" and is released on Zenón's Miel Music label. Rivera (1931-87) had a career that lasted from the mid-1950s right up to the time of his passing.  His most "influential" years were the 1970s when his "stories" about life in Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean and parts of Latin America.  His vocal and rhythmical advancements and experiments made him extremely popular.  Even now, his recordings sell well and his influence is widespread.  This album opens with Rivera's voice from a 1966 a cappella recording with music arranged by Zenón for bass, piano, handclaps, and percussion beneath.  It gives the new listener a blueprint of what's to come.

Zenón and his cohorts have great fun with this music, rearranging many of the pieces with the alto saxophone as the lead "singer."  The rhythm section leads the dancers onto the floor while Perdomo not only supports the leader but plays with great abandon. Pieces such as "El Negro Bembón" and "Colobó" are infectious, both sprinting off at the beginning.  The latter tune is played at breakneck speed et manages to still be quite melodic.  Zenón, who has always been a splendid soloist, has rarely sounded this joyful. The arrangements, all by the leader, pay homage to the originals yet often take fascinating turns.

Don't miss the ballad "Si Te Contara" with its bolero rhythm, lovely alto tone and solo plus Glawischnig's splendid, rhythmical, bass spotlight.  The powerful piano backing and Cole's sympathetic, intelligent, drumming makes the song a highlight. The sweet call-and-response of the alto sax with the bowed bass leads the listener into "Hola" – the song is built up from Perdomo's block chords with Zenón's powerful solo standing out.

"Sonero" closes with "El Nazareno", a song written by Henry D. Williams that tells of a spirit watching over the singer's family in his time of serious addiction.    The alto sounds heavier in the beginning of the song while reading the theme yet the pall rises during the solo.  Perdomo's piano spot picks up on the positive energy, pushed forward by Cole's powerful drums.  After a sparkling unaccompanied alto solo, the band returns and Cole gets the spotlight.  His impressive statement is often breath-taking yet he never loses his way or plays outside the theme of the song.

Miguel Zenón continues to mine the rich veins of the music from his native Puerto Rico.  He's never been wary of exploring the "popular" and folk musics of the island. "Sonero" is a celebration of Ismael Rivera, illuminating how lively, timely, and timeless his music is.   Zenón's is a Quartet you will want to see in person and, depending where you live in the United States or Europe, they'll be on tour with this music for much of the rest of 2019.  In the meantime, this album shines brightly in a discography filled with blazing stars!

For more information, go to miguelzenon.com.

Here's a video with Miguel Zenón talking about Ismael Rivera and the singer/songwriter's influences on his life and music:

Here's the full version of "Las Tumbas":

For her fifth album as a leader, tenor and soprano saxophonist Roxy Coss made the decision to select material from her first four albums (her self-released debut, the second on Origin Records, and two recent excellent releases on Posi-Tone Records) plus a new arrangement of the standard "All or Nothing at All."   The new album, titled "Quintet", is her first for Outside In Music – the program posits her in the midst of her touring group composed of Alex Wintz (guitar), Rick Rosato (bass), Jimmy Macbride (drums) and newest member Miki Yamanaka (piano, electric piano).

While this is a studio date, the results have the feel of a live gig. Ms. Coss is quite proud of the band and its enthusiasm for her material, how each musician makes it better with their desire to get the song's message across loud and clear.  Take "Mr. President" for example – composed in response to the election of the current United States leader (?), the piece begins and ends as a Russian funeral march.  The band uses the march as a jumping off point to hit a hard groove with fine solos from the leader and Ms. Yamanaka.  "Enlightenment" is a sweet, blues-drenched ballad with a long, luxurious, tenor solo plus a handsome piano spot. "The spotlight falls on bassist Rosato and guitarist Wintz on "You're There" – Macbride, the CT native who is quickly becoming a first-call drummer in New York City, really pushes the soloists on the track with his explosive fills and driving beat.

Photo: Desmond White
The one non-original, "All or Nothing at All", finds Ms. Coss taking the lead on soprano sax.  The piece has a delightful Latin feel with a hard-bop release. After the flowing soprano solo, Wintz strums his way into a sweet solo prodded forward by the powerful bass and drums combination. Ms. Yamanaka keeps the chords coming on electric piano as the guitarist hits his stride.

It's Ms. Coss's tenor sax pushing the proceedings on the final track "Females Are As Strong As Hell" – not only does she take a fiery solo but the rest of the Quintet, save for Rosato, get to speak their piece.  It's the shortest track on the program (4:43) but it's packed with power from the opening second to the final fade.

"Quintet" sounds great – Roxy Coss uses this release to look back over her career and previous recordings while the use of her "regular" band shows she's ready to move forward with these musicians, create new music with and for them. Play it loud and let the sounds and the incredible spirit wash over and throughout you!

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

Here's the Quintet in action:

For his eighth album as a leader for Pi Recordings (and 10th over all as a leader), alto saxophonist and composer Steve Lehman pairs his long-standing trio mates, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid, with pianist Craig Taborn. The album title, "The People I Love", comes from a quote from vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and is particularly relevant in his case and in Lehman's as well.  His original material has always been quite challenging but his long relationship with these musicians gives this 10-song program a warmth as well as an adventurousness that sounds exhilarating and emotionally strong.

Three of the pieces are Lehman originals, three are duets with pianist Taborn, one medley that pairs a Lehman composition with one by Jeff "Tain" Watts, plus  one each by the electronica duo Auterche, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and the late Kenny Kirkland.  The strength of these performances is that no piece sounds out-of-place. The Rosenwinkel piece, "A Shifting Design", was recorded eight months before the rest of the album (September 2018 as opposed to May 2019) – it's a trio blowout of the tune that the composer released in 2001. It skitters along atop the splendid drumming and rapid-fire bass work.  Lehman rarely pauses for a breath yet never overplays.

There are moments when Lehman's alto is bouncing around in a manic style – those are the times that the saxophonist's attack remind this listener of fellow alto saxophonist Steve Coleman.  Lehman also is an extremely rhythmical player.  Note what he does on the original "Ih Calam & Ynnus" and the medley "Echoes/The Impaler". His melody lines seem to explode in sheets of notes and his solo ups the ante. On the former tune, his energy enliven the solos by Taborn and Brewer plus the tension created by the piano's block chords and Reid's chattering drums is palpable. The latter track opens with Lehman, Taborn, and Reid seemingly carrying on different conversations with only Brewer carrying the beat and, even without the listener notice, the music begins to cohere (or, perhaps, we get to used t the jagged rhythms.

The first 1:45 of Lehman's "Beyond All Limits"is a spotlight for  Brewer's unaccompanied bass. He sets the pace for the band to follow and they jump on the rhythm he provides.  As he does throughout the program, Reid cedes the bottom to the bass until he drops into the rhythm underneath alto solo. The drummer gets friskier beneath Taborn on the pianist's wide-ranging solo.

Kirkland's medium-tempo ballad "Chance" (first recorded for drummer Billy Hart's 1984 "Oshumare" album and then again on the pianist's 1991 debut album as a leader) has quite a different feel. The tension that can be felt on most of the quartet pieces and the one trio piece has dissipated, replaced by emotionally rich solos from both the leader and the pianist with sympathetic brush working intelligent counterpoint from the bassist.

"The People I Love" closes with the third duo track from Steve Lehman and Craig Taborn. "Postlude", like the previous two duos, is short, like haikus in the midst of longer stories. Just as powerful, these reflections stand out from the other tracks but do not interfere with the overall theme of the album, to make music with "the people I love."  Steve Lehman continues to mature as a composer and saxophonist, creating music that challenges, educates, and moves the listener.

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

Here's the full version of the track in the video:

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Love, Life, Live!

Photo: Shervin Lainez
If you enjoy vocalists, it's easy to enjoy the work Sara Gazarek. The Seattle, WA, native has been "on the scene" since the early 2000s releasing is albums as a leader or co-leader since 2005.  She really inhabits songs, articulates the lyrics, the emotions are real (and never forced), and records songs from across a wide spectrum from "pop", folk, rock, blues, Broadway, and jazz.  Ms. Gazarek possesses a seemingly effortless voice with a wide range – she can sing really high up in that range and always make it sound good.

Album #7 is "Thirsty Ghost." The singer produced the album and it's her first to be self-released. Working with a crackerjack trio – Stu Mindeman (piano, Rhodes), Alex Boneham (bass), and Christian Euman (drums) – the 12-song program is her most emotionally varied.  Take "Never Will I Marry", the Frank Loesser song the 1960 musical "Greenwillow"; the Caribbean rhythms, the responsive reeds and brass, her joyous scat singing, and Mindeman's bubbling electric piano make the piece a declaration of independence.  And, as break-up songs go, Hoagy Carmichael's "I Get Along Without You Very Well" is one of the sadder ones.  Missing the rarely used subtitle, "Except Sometimes", Ms. Gazarek makes us believe those two words without every uttering them.  The sympathetic bass and drums (subtle brush work) and Mindeman's soul-tinged piano is excellent, a smart arrangement by the vocalist and pianist.

Photo: Andrew Southam
Then, there's Stevie Wonder's "I Believe When I Fall In Love", arguably one of the songwriter-performer's better tunes.  Ms. Gazarek's reading, replete with a horn section and backing vocals, takes its time to get to the chorus – when she does, it's such a quiet yet intense emotional release. Plus, that leads directly into an equally emotional alto sax solo from Josh Johnson.  Ms. Gazarek's wordless vocal in the final 30 seconds is breathtaking.  She follows with a smashing Geoff Keezer arrangement of Dolly Parton's "Jolene".  The rhythm section hits hard and really creates a whirlwind of tension-and-release while the vocalist pleads her hopeless case.  One has to be impressed how big the sound of the trio and voice are here without being shrill or over-blown.  Note the delightful drumming by Euman (you'll see him at play in the video below).

Photo: Shervin Lainez
Three of the twelve piece are original lyrics by Ms. Gazarek  including two with melodies by Larry Goldings (who contributes organ on the tracks) and the other by Brad Mehldau.  "Easy Love" is a soft, swinging, tune with excellent piano by Mindeman with Goldings' organ coloring. The organ has a more atmospheric role on "Gaslight District", a tune that has the feel of Steely Dan's "Aja" with an excellent horn arrangement by trombonist Alan Ferber.  There's tenderness and vulnerability in the vocal plus a wistful hope for a better day. The album closes with "Distant Storm", the Mehldau melody. Opening with Ms. Gazarek's voice supported by Ferber's horn arrangement. Listen closely for the background voices of Erin Bentage and Kurt Elling – their subtle contributions help lead us to the verse and chorus.  Elling takes a verse after a fine Johnson solo, the poetry of the alto lines nicely expanded upon by the vocalist.  Ms. Gazarek returns, reminding the listener that although the "storms" that often make our lives so scary, there is hope with each new dawn.  She takes out the song with just Mindeman's piano and the reminder to "move on".

"Thirsty Ghost" is a triumph for Sara Gazarek.  Her song selection is spot-on, her voice sounds more assured than ever before, and the musicians she partners with play with such commitment and soul.  And, it sounds so good!  You'll feel better listening after listening to this music, so much so there should be no guilt playing it over and over.

For more information, go to saragazarek.com.

Here's Ms. Parton's tune with the fine Geoff Keezer arrangement:

The Curtis Brothers, pianist Zaccai and bassist Luques, grew up in Hartford, CT, and were the beneficiaries of the school that Jackie and Dollie McLean created, The Artists Collective.  They both studied in Boston, MA, Zaccai at the New England Conservatory of Music and Luques at The Berklee College; after graduation, they formed their own band while maintaining an impressive number of sideman gigs.  Zaccai has worked with Ralph Peterson, Wallace Roney, and Donald Harrison while Luques has been in-demand since moving to New York City, working with Eddie Palmieri, Etienne Charles, Albert Rivera, and many more. They started their Truth Revolution label in 2009 and now, with the arrival of "Algorithm", have released five albums (including one recorded nine years before they had their own label).

The new label is a live date recorded in February of 2018 at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme CT.  The nine-song program is the result of a Chamber Music America grant that Zacccai won; originally composed for their own band, this recording three of their mentors, drummer Ralph Peterson, trumpeter Brian Lynch, and alto saxophonist Donald Harrison.  Thanks to the presence of Mr. Peterson, much of this music is volcanic in nature (having seen the drummer perform in the space, he is surrounded by plastic for the recording; otherwise, his sound would swamp the band).  But the drums are not the only focal point. Zaccai is an excellent composer with an ear for intelligent melodies and fine harmonies.  He fashioned these songs to tell a story about the Brothers upbringing and the various mentors they encountered.  "Chief" is Donald Harrison's vehicle and he owns the space, his rippling phrases and powerful solo over the rollicking rhythm section is a joy to hear.  Touring with the "Big Chief's" band was the Brothers first professional gig.

Photo: Ramsey De Give/WSJ
The spotlight turns on Brian Lynch for "The Professor", a finely-etched tune, well-constructed, a blues-soaked ballad that he makes his own with long phrases, breathless runs, snappy notes, at times in dialogue with Peterson while the Brothers hold the piece together.  Luques takes a short but fine solo as the music fades to a close.  Several tunes pay tribute to the sound and feel of Art Blakey's Jazz Messenger, none moreso than "Undefined." The front line blares out while Zaccai's piano sets the stage. Soon, Lynch takes over, his muscular solo riding the waves of sound from the drums. Harrison roars into his solo and throughout, he too in dialogue with the drums. The thunder recedes for the beginning of the piano solo – the piano and drums engage in cat-and-mouse game before Zaccai dances forward, his brother's bass lines dancing beneath him.  You will scream alongside Side Door owner Ken Kitchings during the drum solo.

The album closes with "Sensei" and one its to hear Ralph Peterson in the lead. Zaccai and Luques supply the rhythmical melody line and the drummer tell the story.  The shortest track on the disk (4:01), one still is impressed by the power and the determination that Peterson brings to the song (as well as the entire program).

"Algorithm", with its Latin sensibilities and its impressive execution, is worth hearing for so many different reasons including the story lines, the wonderful musicianship, and to hear how the roles of the rhythm section and the front line can be blurred to great effect. Yes, the themes are well-drawn, the solos fiery yet often melodic, and the rhythms seductive and thunderous – for those of us in central Connecticut, The Curtis Brothers have grown up before our very ears, matured into excellent  and thoughtful musicians.  This album will rock your speakers (and your world) the way the performances rocked the audience at The Side Door.

For more information, go to truthrevolutionrecords.com/artists/curtisbrothers.

Here's the album's opener:

Photo: Ulysse Lemerise
Jacques Kuba Séguin is a trumpeter and composer based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  He is one of the more celebrated trumpeters in Canada, winning several awards for the work he has done with two of his groups, including his Litania Projekt quartet collaboration with the Quatuor Bozzini, the Montreal-based string quartet. Besides creating his own label, Odd Sound, for his various ensembles, he's traveled to Germany, Poland, and China.  One of his bands, Odd Lot, has more of an electric edge with keyboards, synths, and pedals.

His latest album, "Migrations", has its roots in the composer's interviews with various cultural groups in Quebec Province.  Séguin, who is of Polish origins, created a musical program that addresses the hopes, dreams, fears, and joys of the people he talked with.  Playing the seven-song program is an ensemble that features highly acclaimed saxophonist Yannick Rieu, equally as acclaimed pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, vibraphonist Oliver Salazar, bassist Adrian Vedady, and drummer Kevin Warren.  One may be surprised on much this music swings. For example. "L'érivain" would not sound out of place on a mid-1960's Miles Davis album or coming from Dave Douglas.

The album opens with "Hymn" which opens with a solemn melody played by the trumpet with the tenor sax in counterpoint.  The band enters with a gospel lilt before the bass and drums drop into a loping rhythm underneath the lilting yet bluesy trumpet.  Check out the delightful piano solo followed by a fine tenor turn.  "I Remember Marie in April", a title which sounds as if should be for a lovely ballad, is quite a active post-bop tune that would not sound out of place on Wynton Marsalis's "Black Codes From The Underground."  The piece has a contagious rhythm and features exciting solos from Séguin and Pilc (dig his "Giant Steps" quote), a hopping vibes solo, and excellent counterpoint from bassist Vedady.

The powerful ballad, "Preimiére Neige (You're Not Alone)", features the leader's lyrical trumpet playing, filled with emotion, long notes, and, at times, sadness.  The album closer, "Mosaïques", has a Middle-Eastern feel in its rhythm and sinewy melody line.  The bassist has a long solo, then a short call-and-response with the entire group before stepping out once more.  The group takes the song out with the melody.  What makes this program so good is how the blend of solos and group playing are on an equal level, one not more important than the other.

"Migrations" is my introduction to the music and musicianship of Jacques Kuba Séguin.  He's organized an excellent band, Jean-Michel Pilc has rarely sounded so joyous, and the rhythm section truly supports and pushes the rest of the band.  Check it out.

Give a listen:

Monday, August 19, 2019

Jazz UpClose: A man, His Music, and His Community

We are lucky people living in Middletown Connecticut in that we have a vibrant arts scene, we have Wesleyan University and its concerts spaces, galleries, and theaters, we have the Russell Library, and we have Noah Baerman (pictured left).  Mr. Baerman is a composer, educator, pianist, author, and the creator of Resonant Motion.  Resonant Motion is a record label, a place for visual artists, for writers, for performance artists, and for collaborations.  Noah is artistic director and the producer of Jazz Up Close, a series of concerts presented in the Hubbard Room of the Russell Library, 123 Broad Street in Middletown.  Now in its fifth season, the series has brought world-renowned artists to perform, talk about their work, and to answer questions from the audience.  It's a win-win situation in that the musicians and composers can explain the impetus to create their works and the audience members get to understand what goes into the creative process.  The artists usually are joined by the pianist/curator along with his longtime collaborator, bassist Henry Lugo.

This coming Thursday August 22, Jazz Up Close welcomes bass clarinetist, composer, and social activist Todd Marcus.  Mr. Marcus, a native of New Jersey, has lived in Baltimore, MD, for over two decades and works tirelessly in the Sandtown-Winchester/Upton section of the city to bring about positive change.  You may recognize that area because it's where Freddie Gray died in police custody in 2015 and where massive riots followed in the wake of the event.  Mr. Marcus, who is half-Egyptian, had moved to Baltimore to go to college but left after two years, settled down in the community and went to work with the non-profit organization Intersection of Change – click on the name to see all that the organization does to help its community.

In early 2018, Todd Marcus released "On These Streets (a Baltimore Story)", an instrumental recording interspersed with audio clips from those very streets.  While the clips present a neighborhood in the midst of exploding and trying to deal with the eruptions of emotions, you also hear how community members turn to prayer and also remember what the area was like in its heyday.   At one time, the community's main thoroughfare, Pennsylvania Avenue, was alive with nightclubs, concert halls, theaters, and businesses, a hub of and for the African American families and working people.  Many Black artists played there, influencing generations of musicians and artists.  Mr. Marcus takes his compositional cues from the socially conscious music of Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, and Duke Ellington.  On previous recordings, he has explored Middle Eastern music , especially on his 2014 Jazz Orchestra recording "Blues For Tahrir", and he will several of those compositions to the Hubbard Room.

The program starts at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Bring open ears and a curious mind; Jazz Up Close will do the rest.

Here's one of the audio clips and the musical story that follows:

While you're at it, check out the bass clarinetist's website @ toddmarcusjazz.com.

Check out his nine-piece Jazz Orchestra (this video is from 2013):

Friday, August 16, 2019

Music and More For The Long Drive (Pt 1)

I just came back from two long car trips in the space of three days.  Happily, the weather was good, I had the opportunity to drive through the Adirondack Mountains, and there were few, if any, road blockages. I packed the car with CDs as well as podcasts I wanted to catch up on (posted to my phone).  Over the next two posts, I will recommend a number of those albums.

First, though, I have a podcast to recommend.

I have been listening to trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas's podcast since "A Noise From The Deep" made its debut six-and-a-half years ago (Henry Threadgill was his guest on the premiere). Douglas has a wide array of musicians on the show, ranging from fellow trumpeters (Keyon Herrold, Charles Tolliver, Jaimie Branch, to name just three) to saxophonist Joe Lovano to guitarist Mary Halvorson and many more.  The host and guests really dig into the music and, while there is often technical talk, the shows usually are quite fascinating. Podcast #68, a delightful conversation with master percussionist Andrew Cyrille, is the one I listened to on the ride. If you love creative music, you should check out these conversations.

For more information, go to greenleafmusic.com/anftd-68-andrew-cyrille/.

Producer Marc Free has, over the past year or so, been putting groups together that pair Posi-Tone artists who may or may not have worked with each other into an ensemble for a recording session.  To the producer's credit, none of the groups – including Lioness, New Faces, and Maximum Enjoyment – have sounded anything less than stellar.  I had the opportunity last year to see New Faces, a sextet than includes saxophonist Roxy Coss, trumpeter Josh Lawrence, pianist Theo Hill, bassist Peter Brendler, drummer Vinny Sperrazza – who couldn't make the live gig - and vibraphonst Behn Gillece.  Gillece, who has an extensive discography on the label, really stood out for me, increasing my appreciation for both his compositions and musicianship.

Photo: Sara Pettinella
The vibraphonist (pictured left) can now be heard as part of the quintet known as Out To Dinner.  Along with trombonist Michael Dease, alto saxophonist Tim Green, bassist Boris Kozlov, and drummer Rudy Royston (need I write more), the band has created "Different Flavors", a 10-song program (five composed by Gillece) that is quite tasty and, ultimately, filling.  Opening with the mellow "Day Zero", it's fun to listen to how Royston plays melodically while rushing the band forward.  There's a mellow, Horace Silver-flavored, melody which opens up to excellent solos.  My car speakers rattled gleefully when Dease's "Skittles" played, a rollicking piece with an impossible tempo (dig Kozlov's "running" bass lines) that must have fun to play and is certainly fun to listen to. Near the close of the piece, the drummer erupts with a volcanic solo and you'll just might scream for joy (I did)!

Photo: Sara Pettinella
It's not all "shock and awe" – Wayne Shorter's "Rio", first recorded by trumpeter Lee Morgan for the album "The Procrastinator" (released posthumously), is a lovely medium-tempo ballad.  Dease takes the early lead, supported by the colors of the vibes and Kozlov's counterpoint.  When Green's keening a lot joins the melody, it sets the stage for a lyrical solo by the alto player. Royston contributes a handsome ballad; titled "Night Glow", the listener gets treated to the drummer's excellent snare-and-snare work (he has such a crisp sound) plus strong solos from both Green and Dease.

"Different Flavors" closes with Gillece's "Two Down". The opening actually sounds like the perfect ending (listen closely).  Thanks to the dancing qualities of the rhythm section, the track rushes forward with a such delightful spirit.  The rhythm section swings lustily in support of the alto solo; right near the close, Royston takes a short solo that reminds one why he plays with so many different artists – hard to sit still listening to such a joyous noise. Have no reservations about making a reservation to spend time with Out To Dinner – this music sounds and tastes really good!

Here's a delightfully funky track:

For his fifth album as a leader (and first for Ropeadope Records), tenor saxophonist and composer Adam Larson, a native of Normal, IL, returns to the studio with long-time collaborators Fabian Almazan (piano, electric piano, synth) and Jimmy Macbride (drums).  Joining them for "Listen With Your Eyes" is electric bassist Matt Clohesy.  The music they produce hearkens back to Larson's previous albums, especially in the sructure of the songs and the leader's fine solos, but now one can hear the influence of rock music in the power created by the rhythm section as well the heavier approach of groups such as Chick Corea's electric Returns To Forever (not as manic as RTF's mid-70 recordings .

Larson's album opens with "Sleepers", a powerful piece with a rising chord pattern, acoustic piano, thick bass notes, and exciting drum work.  First few times through, the saxophone work reminded me of Donny McCaslin – that's fine because, as one becomes more familiar with the music, the influences drop away.  "False Pageantry" follows; with its "heavier" beat, electric keys, and rhythmic melody line, the music charges forward with Macbride in the lead amidst Almazan's "chirping" keyboards and Larson's hard-edged solo.  "Bright" appears later in the program, a soulful melody with a jaunty rhythm and listen to the thick bass notes bouncy behind he electric piano solo.  The title track opens like a variation of the standard"Stout-hearted Men" but, instead of being a brace call to arms, the song asks for the attention of all your senses, not just your hearing.  After a fine bass solo, Almazan's powerful statement leads the tenor saxophonist into his most emotional solo on the album.

"Listen With Your Eyes" comes to a close with what starts a another slab of funk. Macbride's solid drums open the piece but the melody and chordal patterns do not the piece settle into a pattern.  Almazan, as usual, shines on his solo while Larson really digs into his spotlight.  The more you listen to this new album by the Adam Larson Band, the more the excellent musicianship and intelligent melodies win you over.  Open your mind and "Listen With Your Eyes."

For more information, go to http://adamlarsonjazz.com.

The album "drops" on September 5 – in the meantime, here's a tune:

Photo: Francis Wolff
Pianist, composer, and arranger Tadd Dameron (1917-1965) had a short but mostly productive life.  A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Dameron lived in a musical household and, in the early 1930s, came into contact with the music of Duke Ellington's Orchestra as well as the Orchestra of Fletcher Henderson.  By the age of 21, he was writing arrangements for several bands in his hometown. Soon, he was "on the road" with several different bands but did not create his own "style" until discovering "be-bop" as a member the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. By the end of the decade, Dameron was writing for the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band and touring with his own group
(one that included the trumpeter Fats Navarro). In the 1950s, he wrote and arranged for Clifford Brown and Sarah Vaughan plus made a number of albums including two with saxophonist John Coltrane. Narcotics addiction landed him in prison. After he served his time, Dameron wrote for numerous (including Benny Goodman) and recorded several more albums. A series of heart attacks slowed him down and cancer took him at the age of 48.

While doing research for his book "Dameronia: The Life and Music of Tadd Dameron" (2012, University of Michigan Press), saxophonist and educator Paul Combs (born 1946) discovered unrecorded and unpublished compositions by Dameron.  He created a program for quintet around a number of the pieces.  With the help of researcher and general manager Ken Poston of KSDS-FM in San Diego, CA, Combs first performed this program on the 100th anniversary of Dameron's birth. Summit Records got involved and helped underwrite the production of "Unknown Dameron: Rare and Never Recorded Works of Tadd Dameron" – the 12 tracks on the album include three from the live concert and three more each from three subsequent studio dates over 15 months.

The  musicians on the recording include pianists Bill Cunliffe (on the concert tracks), Ken Cook, Melanie Grinnell, and Kamau Kenyatta.  Trumpeter Derek Cameron appears on nine tracks while bassist Rob Thorsen and percussionist/sound engineer Richard Sellers are on half the album.  Other musicians involved are bassists Jeff Denson and Alex Frank, percussionist Alex Aspinall, and vocalist Danielle Wertz.  What stands out for this listener (one who is not well-acquainted with Todd Dameron's music) is just how melodic the majority of these compositions. The spirited nature of the up-tempo tracks ("The Search", from the Gillespie repertoire, 1962's "Moon From The East", written for Benny Goodman, and "The Rampage", composed for Woody Herman in 1956, stand out) while "Never Been In Love" (recorded by bassist Bill Lee and vocalist Muriel Winston) is a fine ballad that should be recorded by modern vocalists.  The rest of the piece have a delightful swing (1940's "A la Bridges" dances right along) while the 1945 composition "Zakat" shows that Bop influence that would inform Dameron's music into the 1950s.

You can't call "Unknown Dameron" "easy listening music" but this music is definitely easy on the ears.  These spirited performances make one realize just how joyous and melodic the music of Todd Dameron is.  Paul Combs not only plays and writes well but also brings the best out of his music. What a delight!

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

Here's a track:

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Contemporary Jazz Orchestras + Speaking With Bob B

Pianist, composer, conductor, arranger, and educator Mike Holober has been involved with the New York City jazz scene since 1986. He has led or co-led groups, played with a slew of artists (from The Tim Ries Rolling Stone Project to saxophonist Jason Rigby's bands to jazz orchestras led by John Fedchock, Alan Ferber, Tony Kadleck, The WDR Big Band, the HR Big Band, Pete McGuinness's Jazz Orchestra, and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra).  He's been on the faculty of The City College of New York since 1995 and teaches composition and arranging at The Manhattan School of Music plus conducts workshops around the country and the world.  From 2007 - 2015, Holober served as Associate Director of the BMI Jazz Composer’s Workshop, where he taught with Director Jim McNeely.  Among the groups he has led are the Westchester (NY) Jazz Orchestra, The Gotham Jazz Orchestra, a Quintet, and an octet known as Balancing Act plus the 45-member Gotham Wind Symphony.  

The Gotham Jazz Orchestra has just issued its third album (and first since 2009). The two-CD set, "Hiding Out" (Zoho Records), contains two long suites (one, "Flow", is four-part, the other, the title track, in five-parts) and the opening track "Jumble" which was commissioned in 2008 by the US Army Jazz Nights.  The final track, "Carminhos Cruzados", comes from the prolific mind of Antonio Carlos Jobim:  There's actually two version with the final cut a "radio edit" of the first (it's only 79 seconds shorter than the first but cuts out some of trumpeter Marvin Stamm's parts).  What stands out throughout the recording is Holober's excellent writing for the different sections, how the Orchestra creates a singular sound even though two different drummers split the four tracks equally, and the maturity of the compositions.  One can intuit the influence of Bob Brookmeyer as solos grow organically out of the composed material.

The two suites are quite different.  Both are inspired by the composer's retreats from the city: "Flow" sprang out of Holober's time at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire while the title track was inspired and composed on a journey to Wyoming. The four-part "Flow" opens with "Tear of the Clouds", a 14-minute section that takes its time to unfold, opening to a powerful tenor saxophone solo from Jason Rigby.  Listen to how the piano and guitar (Jay Azzolina) support the saxophone while bassist John Hébert and drummer Jared Schonig spur Rigby forward.  "Movement 2: Opalescence" has a handsome brass opening section with the flutes of Ben Kono, Billy Drewes, Adam Kolker, and Rigby coloring the thematic material.  The solo section belongs to trumpeter Marvin Stamm but pay attention to the flutes and the fine piano accompaniment of the leader.  The short (1:49) penny whistle "Interlude" (played by Kono) leads into "Movement 4: Harlem" another 14 minute track that opens with an unaccompanied alto saxophone solo from Billy Drewes.  When the rhythm section enters, the music changes into a high-driving and swinging dance for the alto saxophonist to continue playing over.  Holober introduces the next episode with his funky piano figure before the entire band dances in led by Schonig's dancing drums.  Trumpeter Scott Wendholt steps out for a crisp solo over the rampaging drums with occasional responses from the brass and reeds.  The music slows down and momentarily belongs to the Holober's piano before he leads the ensemble in for a full-throated closing section with a delightful give-and-take from the alto sax, clarinet, and trumpet.

The five-part "Hiding Out" suite may speak of an escape from the city especially in its gentle "Prelude" with chord created by the reeds as well as a lovely melody by Kono's piccolo and Stamm's trumpet – note the handsome brass arrangement near the end. "Movement 2: Compelled" opens with a gentle unaccompanied piano melody before the flutes and clarinet enter playing a melody that Holober continues to support underneath.  Various voices share the melody lines as the piece grows ever-so-gently into a handsome guitar spot for Steve Cardenas. The sections swirl around him while the bass and drums (Mark Ferber) keep the rhythms flowing.  As the ensemble fades out, Holober takes a musical journey first building a variation of the original melody and then dancing over the rhythm section.  The band returns to reiterate its earlier statement before the piano leads the song out.  "Movement 3: Four Haiku" is literally four short melodic statements sans solos, gentle phrases passed around the sections save for the bass and drums.  Holober's short unaccompanied piano "Interlude", with  the recording echoes of earlier melodies, leads the listener in to "Movement 5: "It Was Just The Wind"; the longest track on the recording at 18:30.  The piano is alone for the opening 90 seconds until the rhythm section enters. Soon, the music is pouring out from the entire ensemble, melodic phrases shared by the reeds and brass until the alto saxophone of Jon Gordon steps out over the rhythm section. Tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker is next with a fiery statement over the very active horns. At the climax of his statement, the music takes a turn into a frisky rhythm and a delightful Fender Rhodes solo from the leader – the occasional melodic fills from the reeds and brass plus a repetitive bass clarinet figure support Holober until he really digs in.  He switches to acoustic piano and the music changes as now the reeds and brass are featured.  Cardenas returns to take the piece out, working with as well as apart from the sections.

The album "Hiding Out" contains many moments of beauty, of melodies that singi and harmonies that ring, with solos that have power and grace.  Give this music the time it deserves to enter your mind (and heart) – its rewards are plentiful.  Mike Holober & The Gotham Jazz Orchestra have made one splendid musical adventure!

For more information, go to mikeholober.com.

Here's the long version of the Jobim tune:


Mike Holober - all tracks, Conductor, Leader, Piano/Fender Rhodes 
Billy Drewes - alto, soprano, flute on Flow 
Jon Gordon - alto, soprano on Hiding Out, Jumble 
Dave Pietro - alto, soprano, flute, piccolo on Hiding Out, Jumble, Caminhos Cruzados 
Ben Kono - alto, soprano, flute, clarinet, piccolo, penny whistle on Flow, Caminhos Cruzados 
Adam Kolker - tenor, flute, alto flute, clarinet – all tracks 
Jason Rigby - tenor, flute, clarinet on Flow 
Charles Pillow - tenor, flute, clarinet, alto flute on Hiding Out, Jumble 
Steve Kenyon - baritone, bass clarinet on Hiding Out, Jumble 
Carl Maraghi - baritone, bass clarinet on Flow, Caminhos Cruzados 
Tony Kadleck - all tracks 
Liesl Whitaker - all tracks 
Scott Wendholt - all tracks 
James de LaGarza - on Tear of the Clouds, Harlem, Jumble 
Marvin Stamm - on Hiding Out, Opalescence, Caminhos Cruzados 
Tim Albright - all tracks 
Mark Patterson - on Flow, Jumble, Caminhos Cruzados 
Alan Ferber - on Flow, Jumble, Caminhos Cruzados 
Bruce Eidem - on Hiding Out 
Pete McGuinness - on Flow 
Nathan Durham - bass trombone on all tracks 
Steve Cardenas - on Hiding Out 
Jesse Lewis - on Jumble, Caminhos Cruzados 
Jay Azzolina - on Flow 
John Hebert - all tracks 
Drums/ Percussion 
Mark Ferber - on Hiding Out, Caminhos Cruzados 
Jared Schonig - on Flow, Jumble 
Rogerio Boccato - on Hiding Out, Jumble,

Trombonist, vocalist, arranger, and composer Pete McGuinness, a native of West Hartford, CT, is a graduate of the famed Hall High School music program who went on the New England Conservatory of Music and the University of Miami, then earned his graduate degree at the Manhattan School of Music. McGuinness studied with Bob Brookmeyer and Manny Album in the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop.  He's been on the New York City jazz scene as long as his good friend Mike Holober, playing in the pianist's large ensembles as well as experiences with the Woody Herman Orchestra, Jim Cifelli's Nonet, and Bill Mobley's "SMOKE Big Band" plus recorded with the Maria Schneider Orchestra on "Concert in The Garden".  Although he had been co-leader on several albums in the 1990s, it was not until 2007 that McGuinness signed with Summit Records and released his first Jazz Orchestra album.

His latest recording, "Along For The Ride" (Summit), is the third Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra album (and fourth for the label).  The 17-member ensemble is comprised of New York City-based musicians, many of whom have worked together in groups led by Maria Schneider, Alan Ferber, Ryan Truesdell, and others.  Powered by an excellent four-person rhythm section including pianist Holober and drummer Scott Neumann, the music that McGuinness has composed and/or arranged for this project gives everyone the opportunity to shine. The leader, whose previous album "Voice Like a Horn", featured a smaller ensembles as well as his fine trombone work and handsome tenor voice, keeps both under wraps much of the time (save for a wordless vocal on "You Must Believe in Spring", singing the lovely ballad "May I Come In", and unpacking his 'bone for a delightful solo on his original "Point of Departure", not the Andrew Hill composition).

McGuinness's program has a healthy balance of slower pieces with full-throated romps. The latter is represented on tunes such as the venerable standard "Put On a Happy Face." After the brass and reeds introduce the tune (notice the sly call-and-response before the melody is played), there are several delightful solos,  especially Holober's exciting turn.   Nat Adderley's "Jive Samba", which opens with a six-note phrase older listeners may recognize from "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In", is a playful dance – Holober switches to electric piano, a sound that hearkens back to Joe Zawinul's work with Cannonball Adderley's Quintet.

Two of the tracks, both McGuinness originals, exceed 11 minutes.  "Old Roads" has great section work around a handsome melody replete with counterpoint and harmonies. Holober's piano solo stands out for his ability to tell a story while he's "singing".  The piece is capped by a short but catchy drum solo and a trumpet outro that takes its time to reflect on the song.  "Aftermath", the longest cut at 12:27, opens as an introspective ballad with the rhythm section providing the ethereal introduction before Dave Pietro plays the melody on soprano saxophone.  It's his piece throughout even as the brass and reeds enter to raise the tension.  Pietro responds and the piece moves out, loses its darker edge when he plays a danceable duet with Neumann's drums.  When that ends, there's a delightful soprano sax round that leads to a short piano solo.  The episodic nature of the piece, with several different mood shifts, all feature the soprano saxophonist. Near the close of the piece, he plays a beautiful, soulful, melody, that hearkens back to the ethereal opening.

"Along For The Ride" closes with "One For the Maestro", the leader's tribute to his Hall High Band Director Bill Stanley.  It's the most traditional piece on the album, With a sound that is reminiscent of the Count Basie bands of the 1950s and 60s, serving as a coda to a most delightful "ride".  Pete McGuinness has shown himself to be an excellent arranger and his original compositions on this album are among the most mature of his three+ decades.  The Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra, now in its 13th year, makes music to savor!

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

Here's a track to enjoy:


Pete McGuinness: leader, composer, arranger, trombone;
Bill Mobley: trumpet; Jon Owens: trumpet; Tony Kadleck: trumpet; Chris Rogers: trumpet;
Dave Riekenberg: alto sax; Dave Pietro: alto and soprano sax; Rob Middleton: tenor sax; Mark Phaneuf: tenor sax; Tom Christensen: baritone sax;
Jeff Nelson: trombone; Matt Haviland: trombone; Bruce Eidem: trombone; Mark Patterson: bass trombone;
Mike Holober: piano; Paul Meyers: guitar; Andy Ealau: bass; Scott Neumann: drums.

Just received an email from educator, bandleader, arranger, and composer that his new book "Bob Brookmeyer: In Conversation with Dave Rivello" should be out in print by mid-August.  Rivello funded his book through ArtistShare – writer's note: I happily supported the project being a fan of Mr. Brookmeyer's music since the 1982 release of "Make Me Smile" by the Mel Lewis & The Jazz Orchestra (why has this classic album never been reissued on CD?) Mr. Brookmeyer (1929-2011, pictured above) had a long career that hit some bumps along the road but really he always could play his valve trombone and piano and really hit his stride in the mid-1980s after shaking off his addictions.  His songs and arrangements for various large ensembles, including his own New Art Orchestra, are among the most adventurous in contemporary music plus his work as an educator influenced a slew of bandleaders including Mr. Rivello, Darcy James Argue, Jim McNeely (who wrote the "Forward" in the new book), Maria Schneider, Mike Holober, Ayn Inserto, and so many more.

The author sat with his mentor over several days in January 2010 and recorded their discussions.  He sent along a digital copy and, while I do not possess much musical intelligence, Mr. Brookmeyer's stories, some funny, some straight-forward, always truthful, are a pleasure to read.  He talks about the influence of 20th Century Classical music on his later compositions, chats about the experiments he attempted in his arrangements, and about how happy he was teaching, composing, arranging, and recording into his 80s. There's plenty of technical talk that should please students as well as an understanding of the creative mind at work (and the plain fact that creativity is work, a lot of work, but for Brookmeyer – especially later in life – fun and rewarding).

To find out more, go to www.artistshare.com/projects/experience/?artistID=22&projectId=499.

Let me tempt you with a track from Bob Brookmeyer New Art Orchestra: