Tuesday, December 31, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, go to toddmarcusjazz.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's the opening track:

Monday, December 16, 2019

2019: Rough & Tough But Musically Blessed

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

First, the list:

Jonathan Blake - "Trion" (Giant Step Arts)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature WorkSelf-Titled (Sunnyside Records)

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

Los Guachos – Cristal (Sunnyside Records)

Miho Hazama m_unit – Dancer in Nowhere (Sunnyside Records)

Sara Gazarek – Thirsty Ghost (self-released)

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

Jason Palmer – Rhyme and Reason (Giant Step Arts)

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

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

Paul Dietrich Jazz Ensemble – Forward (self-released)

Samuel Torres – Alegria (Blue Conga)

Blood Drum Spirit – Time Changes (self-released)

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

Linda May Han Oh – Aventurine (Biophilia Records)

Tomeka Reid Quartet – Old New (Cuneiform Records)

Melissa Aldana – Visions (Motéma Music)

Remy Le BoeufLight as a Word (Outside In Music)

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

Denny Zeitlin – Remembering Miles (Sunnyside Records)

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

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

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

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

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

Florian Hoefner Trio – First Spring (ALMA Records)

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

Ashley Daneman – People Are Fragile (self-released)

Dave Douglas – Engage (Greenleaf Music)

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

Ola Onabule – Point Less (Rugged Ram Records)

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Ten Years & "Ten", the Album

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

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

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

Thank you for reading!

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

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

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

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

Here's the opening track of "Ten":