Thursday, July 2, 2020

Looking at Lives Through Different Windows

Photo: Isabel Roeder
As a youth growing up in Lima, Peru, Jorge Roeder first studied guitar, moved on to cello, but became entranced by the bass in High School, and found his musical calling. He came to the United States in 2002 to study at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, and soon came into contact with teachers such as Bob Moses, Dominique Eade, Danilo Perez, and bassists John Lockwood, Cecil McBee, and fellow Peruvian, Oscar Stagnaro. Roeder also began performing with his contemporaries such as drummer Richie Barshay, pianist Carmen Staaf, and pianist Dan Tepfer.  Moving to Brooklyn, NY, in 2007, the bassist started a professional relationship with guitarist Julian Lage which is ongoing today as well as with pianist Shai Maestro, John Zorn, and has been a member of trombonist Ryan Keberle's Catharsis since 2012.

If you have listened to Roeder in any of those groups, you'll know he possesses a wonderful facility for playing melody, rhythm, and counterpoint, with rich tones emanating from both his acoustic and electric basses.  For his debut album as a leader, "El Suelo Mio" (self-released), the bassist goes it alone, playing only his sonorous upright bass––the album title translates to "my ground" or "my soil". His classical training comes through on pieces such as Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman": Roeder plays the tune with his bow, sawing at his instrument to capture the beauty of the melody and the emotion the song contained within the composition.  Other pieces that have great emotion are "El Piebeyo" by legendary Peruvian composer Felipe Pingol Alva (1899-1936) and the lovely original "Silencio De Um Minuto".  The aptly-titled "Bounce" is a rollicking blues with a handsome melody while "Patrona" displays exquisite finger work not unlike a flamenco guitarist. "I'll Remember Paris", the oft-recorded Gene De Paul melody, shines as Roeder caresses the melody and then creates a powerful solo.

Photo: Isabel Roeder
"El Suelo Mio" closes with the slowly unfolding ballad "Les Lapins", the soulful melody highlighting Roeder's articulate playing, the harmonics he creates ring in your ears for just a second before he moves back into the melody.

Jorge Roeder has created an album that resonates in so many ways; with his love of melody, emotion, and communication shines throughout. Yes, the bassist has tremendous facility on his instrument yet that ability is harnessed in order to present songs that sing to your heart, mind, and soul.

For more information, go to www.jorgeroeder.com. You can purchase the album by going to jorgeroeder.bandcamp.com/releases.

Here's the title track:



Flutist, composer, and educator Nicole M. Mitchell is one of the most visible contemporary members of the AACM whose recordings cover many different subjects and styles of Black Music.  Lisa E. Harris is a vocalist, composer, creator and manipulator of electronic sounds who is also a filmmaker.  The two artists have come together, along with members of Ms. Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble (including cellist Tomeka Reid), to create "EarthSeed" (FPE Records), the third chapter in Ms. Mitchell's projects inspired by the work and vision of author Octavia Butler (1947-2006).

When you listen to the music on "EarthSeed" (recorded live in concert in January of 2017 at the Art Institute of Chicago), be prepared to enter into a different sonic world. After the brief introduction titled "Evernascence/ Evanescence" for flute and voice (breathing and whistling), "Whispering Flame" begins the story in earnest.  Instruments move in and around each other, cello and bass swirl, percussion rattles, while flute and trumpet rise above the combined voices of Ms. Harris and tenor Julian Otis singing a song of "creation".  Both vocalists also stretch their instruments, creating alien languages, guttural noises, grunts and squeals as the cello creaks beneath. A quiet interlude for flute and cello as trumpeter Ben Lamar Gay roils above the singers.  That's just one song.

Photo: Emily Berl (NYTimes)
There's the fun of "Yes and Know" with its bouncing rhythm courtesy of percussionist Avreeayl Ra, violinist Zara Zaharieva, and Ms. Reid and vocal play of Ms. Harris and Mr. Otis as the flute and trumpet dance above. The mewing, snorting, hissing, babbling, chattering, flirting voices cause the audience to laugh on "Phallus and Chalice"––when the instruments and percussion join, the interactions sound like a chase scene in a cartoon. The gentle interaction of flute, muted trumpet, cello, violin, and percussion frame Mr. Otis and Ms. Harris (who soars and wails behind the poetry) at the onset of "Fluids of Time" before the music erupts into a "Rite of Spring"-like section.

"EarthSeed" closes with "Purify Me with the Power to Self Transform", an impressionistic ballad that blends a gospel influenced lead vocal (Mr. Otis's falsetto) and Ms. Harris's wordless responses) with all the instruments plus synthesizer to create an otherworldly benediction.  Even the 15 seconds of silence at the end holds great power while serving as a re-entrance into our everyday reality. This album that Nicole Mitchell and Lisa E. Harris have created with members of the Black Earth Ensemble is filled with sounds, voices, poetry, prose, and the joy of performance.  Get lost in this "new" world.

For more information, go to www.nicolemitchell.com. To hear more of the music and purchase the album, go to https://nicolemitchell.bandcamp.com/album/earthseed.

Here's a track:

Personnel:

Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble 

Lisa E. Harris, vocals / theremin / electronics / composition 
Nicole M. Mitchell, flute / electronics / composition 
Julian Otis, vocals 
Zara Zaharieva, violin 
Ben LaMar Gay, trumpet / electronics 
Tomeka Reid, cello 
Avreeayl Ra, percussion 



Photo: Joe Crocetta
Drummer Jeff Cosgrove lives in Maryland and, up until the pandemic, played a lot in the Washington, D.C. area.  Over the last decade or so, he's been working with his group Motian Sickness as well as gigging with numerous local musicians.  Plus, he's invited musicians such as pianists Matthew Shipp and Frank Kimbrough, bassists Ken Filiano and William Parker, saxophonists Scott Robinson, Noah Preminger, and Rob Brown plus guitarist Steve Cardenas to play in clubs in and around the Capitol area, releasing many of the collaborations on his own label and on Bandcamp.com. A majority of the recording sessions––in-studio and live––are improvisations and offer the attentive listener the opportunity to listen to musicians "conversing" and listening to each other for the sake of the music. Cosgrove never "overplays"or "overthinks" the music; that sensitivity is one of the major components of his music, making it all the more interesting.

His newest offering, "History Gets Ahead of the Story" (Grizzley Music/self-released)", finds the drummer in a new trio, alongside John Medeski (organ) and Jeff Lederer (tenor and soprano saxophones, flute). Seven of the program's 10 songs are from the pen of bassist William Parker with two from Lederer and one from Cosgrove. Parker is one of the more important people on the contemporary scene, not just for his music but also for the work that he and his wife, poet and choreographer Patricia Nicholson, have done for artists by creating organizations, most notably the Vision Festival. The blues-soaked sounds this trio produces serve to remind the listener of Mr. Parker's "roots", his connection to "soul" music and the blues as well as to fellow bassist and composer Charles Mingus.

Photo: Joe Crocetta
Opening with "O'Neal's Porch" (from the 2001 album of the same name), the trio sets the easy pace and one can feel the influence of Curtis Mayfield in the melody and groove. These musicians are not afraid to go "out" for a moment yet the song always returns to the walking organ bass lines and Cosgrove's steady cymbal and snare work.  Lederer's solo ranges far afield, something he does with joy, playing with an exuberance that adds fire.  Medeski gets rights into the groove with his soulful Hammond B-3 sound.  Lederer moves to flute for the playful "Little Bird", opening with a cheerful duet with Medeski before dropping into a sweet groove.  The clarinet comes out for "Wood Flute Song", an angular groove that the drummer drives with his innate sense of rhythm. The drummer contributed the other-worldly "Ghost"––again, the richly-hued tones of Lederer's clarinet reads the melody and dances off into a sweet solo while Medeski's gospel chords swell in the background.

Photo: Joe Crocetta
Lederer's two contributions, "Gospel Flowers" and "Purcell's Lament", both show the trio at its musical best.  The former track has a steady groove with powerful solos from Medeski and the tenor saxophonist, all the while Cosgrove pushes them forward.  The latter tune opens with a unaccompanied keening soprano sax before the organ enters.  The piece moves into a lovely ballad, the cymbal and trap set coloring the lines as Medeski supports the voice in front.  The swirling organ moves in and around the lovely soprano phrases while the drummer adds more color (the photo on the left gives you an idea of what Cosgrove is doing as he listens and plays).

"History Gets Ahead of the Story" closes with Mr. Parker's "Harlem" (off his Quartet's 2005 "Sound Unity" album). The power of the tenor sax, Lederer at his bluesiest, is balanced by the quiet organ and drum accompaniment.  Pay attention to Medeski's solo and how Cosgrove gives him so much space but never abandons the groove.  This is 2 a.m. music at its best.

The trio of Jeff Cosgrove, John Medeski, and Jeff Lederer celebrate the music of William Parker by taking his music and not copying it but by putting their own creative voices to the forefront.  The clarity of the recording allows the listener to enter into the studio and really "feel" the conversations going on with the trio and this music.  A delight from start to finish, take an hour to dive into these "Stories."

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

Have a listen:


Friday, June 26, 2020

Stories Sans Percussion

The music of Spanish-born (raised in Argentina) pianist and composer Emilio Teubal covers a wide swath of territory. One can hear classical influences, rhythms from his native lands mixed with modern sounds, and a love for lyricism that can be found in each of his recorded projects. His American debut album, 2013's "Musica Para un Dragon Dormido" (BJU Records), remains one of my favorite listening experiences (my review is here) while his 2018 recording "Memorias de Otro Tiempo" (Not Yet Records) is a splendid trio (piano, clarinet, acoustic guitar) that is lyrical and moving, forceful yet gentle, worth returning to time and again.  He's also recorded with the Tango ensemble of bassist Pedro Giraudo as well as a member of bassist Pablo Lanouguere's Quintet.

Teubal's latest album, "Tides" (New Focus Recordings/ Naxos) is a perfect antidote to our current International unease and fear of disease.  The nine original solo piano compositions and improvisations take a little over 33 minutes to listen to yet will reverberate through your mind and soul a long while.  Yes, the lyricism and innate sense of rhythm is present but it's the emotional richness of the music that is so striking. Pieces such as the title track (listen below) and the Stephen Sondheim-like "Playing" pull the listener in; both songs conjure up visions of the ocean as well as strong winds blowing through thick, leafy, trees.  There's also the playful melody and rhythms of "Tortuga" that dance out of the speakers, an artful tango with a mesmerizing rhythm.  "Rio" has a similar feel––here, the rhythms and melody intertwine in a way that moves forward incessantly, powerfully. The yearning, searching, melody brings to mind the great 20th Century Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. While its not very long (1:48), "Tectonic (plates)" is dramatic, theatrical, and sonically striking.

"Tides" is beautiful music with pieces and performances that have power, dignity, a sense of playfulness, an emotional pull, and a sense of exploration. Emilio Teubal has presented to the world a personal yet universal panacea, music that will excite your senses and calm your fears or, at least, serve as a respite from the troubling times.

For more information, go to emilioteubal.com.

Here's the title track:



Ahh, the trombone.  In the right hands, the instrument can be melodic (Bob Brookmeyer), introspective (Julian Priester), raucous (Roswell Rudd, Albert Mangelsdorff), and playful (Trombone Shorty).  The instrument's use in Latin Music is well documented as it can bring listeners to the dance floor and make them move. In the hands of Joe Fiedler and his brass quartet Big Sackbut, it's all the above and more. The collected work experiences of the leader and band's members––Ryan Keberle, Luis Bonilla, and Jon Sass who plays tuba)––would fill the rest of this page and more.

Joe Fiedler's Big Sackbut has just issued its third album, "Live In Graz" (Multiphonics Music/ self-released)––Keberle is the only constant member since the quartet's eponymous 2012debut album. Also a constant is the leader's joy in mixing genres, one minute you're feeling the implied "second line" rhythms on "Peekskill", digging into the funky blues on the ensemble's take on Charles Mingus's "Devil Blues" (check out the leader's "conversational" multi-phonic opening), and dancing through a playful take on Roswell Rudd's "Yankee No-How" (one of three Rudd tunes in the nine-song program). Pay attention to the deep "bottom" Sass creates on Rudd's onomatopoeic "Su Blah Blah Buh Sibi" (the chattering solos bearing a fairly close resemblance to a White House press conference).

Fiedler's "Chicken" is one of the album's slower pieces––the handsome tune features fine solos from the composer and Bonilla.  Listen to Sass underneath the soloists as his counterpoint is so melodic. "Ways" brings to mind an Otis Redding-style "soul" tune while the program's closing tune, "Tonal Proportions", also has a ballad feel with a sparkling solo from Fiedler and sweet harmonies plus support from the other members.

"Live In Graz", recorded in Tube's Cafe in Graz, Austria, is quite the album.  The "low-brass" quartet Big Sackbut sets a high bar for music that involves the listener on many levels; yes, the performances are fun but also quite rich in melodies, harmonies, counterpoint, and fine solos.  The trombone has an impressive history, with works created by Mozart (one of the first to feature the horn as a lead instrument), Haydn, and others.  One might say that the 'bone's reputation has only grown since the instrument came in contact with musicians in New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago, San Juan, Havana, and NewYork City (elsewhere, I know).  Hat's off to Joe Fiedler, Ryan Keberle, Luis Bonilla, and Jon Sass for such a delight hour's worth of sounds!

For more information, go to joefiedler.com.

Here's the Charles Mingus tune:

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Music That Helps

In these days of pandemic, how one deals with the inevitable loss of a loved one is often painful for all sides.  In many hospitals and hospices throughout the world, visitors (until recently) have not been allowed into the room: now, at most, only one person can come in at a time and only if you are healthy.  In 2018, vibraphonist, composer, and educator Chris Dingman was able to create music for his father as the elder Dingman lay in his home hospice bed. The father had such a hard time sleeping when in the ICU and, subsequently, in an inpatient hospice center but was able to rally enough to go home for the final seven weeks of his life.  His son turned to the one part of his life that would help, music, and began improvising phrases and forms to help calm his father's nerves, to regulate his breathing, to take his thoughts in a different direction. The vibraphonist recorded these evening sessions onto CDs that his father could play when the son was away.  Other than the disks made for the father, Chris Dingman kept the music private for several years. When I spoke to him earlier this year, he was planning on making the music, now called "Peace",  available to hospitals and hospices with an eye towards in-facilities performances.  Since the pandemic struck the US, he has conducted on-line performances and video chats.  The album is available as a download or a five-disk set through Bandcamp.com and a percentage of the sales will go to the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, an organization that provides mental health services for the African American community.

"Peace"lives up to its name. The gentle melodies, the deliberate pace of the music, the swirling sound of the vibes in your ears, has a calming effect. If you just listen, you will slow down. Don't multi-task, don't read, cook, clean, chat with friends, just sit and listen. You may fall asleep; don't worry, that's fine. If you get bored, it's because you're not paying attention. The song titles came from the elder Mr. Dingman with occasional help from his son. The titles have stories and emotions involved; perhaps, you'll give them names as well.

Whatever you do with this truly exquisite music, know that is a labor of love, a conversation with a loved one, once private but now shared with a world in need of peace. And, for a good cause!

For more information, go to www.chrisdingman.com.  Click on the Bandcamp link above to go directly to the album page. You, too, can make a donation to the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation by clicking on the link in the opening paragraph.

Here is the opening track:

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Drums Out Front (June 2020)

Drummer and composer Rudy Royston, a native of Texas who grew up in Denver, CO, is one of the busiest musicians in contemporary music. Or, he was one of the busiest musicians until the pandemic. In an phone conversation just the other day, he told me his "gig book went from all into no ink" in a matter of hours.  He received several grants that helped to pay bills and it gave him the time to think about those musicians who were not being funded and how he could help. Royston had recorded a series of drums solos in 2013 just after releasing his debut album ("303") as a leader.  He sat back, listened, and talked with Greenleaf Records head Dave Douglas about releasing the solos as an album and using the proceeds to support MusiCare Foundation's "Covid-19 Musicians Relief Fund."

The album, "PaNOptic", comes out on June 19, "Juneteenth", and is well worth exploring.  Most people would argue that the drums are not a melodic instrument but, in the hands of someone as talented and dedicated as Rudy Royston, one can hear he's telling  stories throughout the 23-track program.  Whether it's the speaker-shaking "bLUes", the subtly etched "defeRRed" (complete with excerpts from Langston Hughes' "A Dream Deferred" and wordless vocal), or the gospel thump of "MOTHER KELLY and the preacher part 1", the attentive listener understands much of what is going on. He pays tribute to his drum mentors Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Jack DeJohnette as well as the inspirations of fellow Texan Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk.  Royston also pays musical tribute to Bill Frisell with whom he has played and toured with for two+ decades.

If you have ever seen and heard Rudy Royston in person, you know just how fine a musician he is.  "PaNOptic" offers the listener the opportunity to spend a hour in the room with this fine person and to help him help other musicians make their way through these uncertain times.

To read more, go to https://greenleafmusic.com/rudy-royston-on-musicares-and-panoptic/.

Here is a teaser:





Drummer and composer Jerry Granelli, a native of San Francisco, CA, who has lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada since the early 1990s, is quite an interesting musician. He's played alongside bassist Charlie Haden, Sly Stone, Sonny Stitt, and Ornette Coleman.  Two of his earliest "high-profile gigs" in the 1960s were with pianists Denny Zeitlin and Vince Guaraldi – in fact, he played on the former's first three albums and on the latter's "Charlie Brown's Christmas" album.  In the 1970s, he worked with pianist Mose Allison. Granelli went out oh his own in the 1980s and has recorded a number of impressive albums that blur the lines between blues, jazz, and "free" music.  He's a prolific composer, is interested in electronic sounds, and has recorded with such great players as vocalist Jay Clayton, guitarists Dave Tronzo, Ralph Towner, Bill Frisell, Robben Ford, and many musicians.

For his new album, Granelli recruited pianist Jamie Saft and bassist Bradley Christopher Jones to investigate the music of two of his early employers. "The Jerry Granelli Trio Plays the Music of Vince Guaraldi & Mose Allison" (Rare Noise Records) finds the trio exploring five pieces associated with Allison, three with Guaraldi plus two improvisations for bass and drums.  The album opens Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate To The Wind"; the pianist composed the song after the seeing the 1959 Brazilian movie "Black Orpheus" and the 45 rpm version of the song was a surprise top 40 hit in 1962. Granelli and the trio capture the mysterious beauty of the opening section which introduces the lovely melody. Unlike the original, the Trio does not go into a conventional "jazz stroll" but keep the sonic sense of mystery going through until the fade.

Photo: Scott Irvine
The five Allison pieces are standards in the late Mississippian's repertoire. "Parchman Farm", named for the infamous Mississippi maximum security prison, allows the musicians to stretch out. Saft refers to the melody throughout his solo as Jones thick tones and Granelli's solid pulse drive him forward. "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy" captures the lowdown feeling of the original while the band lets loose on "Your Mind Is On Vacation" where the minimalist/ pointillistic approach of Saft's piano is countered by the powerful drums and throbbing bass. Hard not to move your body while listening to the three musicians dance through "Baby Please Don't Go" (credited as a "traditional" in the liner notes); the groove is there from the opening gun and it's fun to hear Saft bounce atop the rhythm section.

Photo: Scott Irvine
Besides the opening track, the other two Guaraldi pieces are "Star Song" and the album closer "Christmas Time Is Here".  The former is a gentle samba tha really shows off the virtuality of the bassist especially during his sweet solo.  The latter is, of course, from the "Charlie Brown Christmas"; for many young people, the music Guaraldi composed for the cartoon was the first jazz they ever heard.  The trio plays it straight with fine solos from Jones and Saft above the sympathetic and gentle drums and cymbals from the leader.

The  pair of drums-bass improvisations, "Mind Prelude 1" and "2", illustrate the fine conversational interplay of Messrs. Granelli and Jones. "1" takes place over a rapid-fire drum rhythm while the bassist flies over the delightful brushes work (note the booming bass drum). "2" has a similar feel to its partner with a more pronounced (and bluesy) melody from Jones.  The delightful sparring of the bass with the drums is a highlight of the album.

One should and could emphasize the word "Plays" in the album's title, "The Jerry Granelli Trio Plays Vince Guaraldi & Mose Allison".   The trio of Jerry Granelli, Bradley Christopher Jones, and Jamie Saft approaches this music with respect for the artists who created it and the joy of playing together, making fun music that has substance.  Feels good, sounds good – enjoy!

For more information, go to jerrygranelli.com.

Here's one of the Mose Allison tunes:




Drummer, composer, and educator Steve Fidyk began playing in front of audiences when his father, saxophonist John Fidyk, brought him onstage at the age of eight.  At the same age, the younger Fidyk discovered drummer Buddy Rich and one can hear some of that drummer's tremendous drive in the way Fidyk propels a band forward.  He later studied with Joe Morello (best known for his work with the Dave Brubeck Quartet) and spent 21 years playing with the Army Blues Big Band, an experience that took the drummer around the world playing for dignitaries as well as for troops stationed in the Mid East. While Fidyk has appeared on a number of recordings with the Army Band and others, his debut as a leader, "Heads Up!", was issued in 2014 on Post-Tone Records.  He released another album on the label in 2016 plus appeared on disks led by saxophonists Doug Webb and Walt Weiskopf plus organist Brian Charette.

His third album, "Battle Lines", is Fidyk's first self-released recording (Blue Canteen Music) and finds him at the helm of a swinging quintet: Joe Magnarelli (trumpet, flugelhorn), Xavier Perez (tenor saxophone), Peter Zak (piano), and Michael Karn (bass).  The 11-song program features seven pieces by the drummer plus one each by Eddie Harris, Dave Brubeck, Blue Mitchell, and Charlie Parker. Harris's "Ignominy" leads off the album in an Art Blakey/Jazz Messengers mode with the drums front-and-center but not distracting from the fine solos by Perez, Magnarelli, and Zak. The handsome  waltz "Thank You (Dziekuje)" was composed by Dave Brubeck on a 1958 tour of Poland, has a lovely melody, and is infused with a blues feel.

Photo: Lea Alexandrine
Fidyk's "Bebop Operations" tells you much of what you need to know about the song and the inspired romp fills out the rest.  His "Battle Lines" is a high-speed romp whose melody is split between the saxophone and piano before Zak takes off on a dizzying solo propelled by the leader's driving drums and Karn's speedy bass lines.  Perez (also a member of the Army Blues Big Band) creates a delightful solo before ceding the spotlight to a short but impressive drummer break. The loveliest piece on the recording, "Lullaby For Lori and John", is a sweet ballad Fidyk wrote in memory of his parents, both of whom died in the last two years. Magnarelli's soft-edged flugelhorn frames the piece nicely (he also takes a fine solo) and there are short but eloquent solos from Zak and Karn.

Photo: Lea Alexandrine
After the ballad comes the aptly-titled "Churn" with its rolling bass lines, turbulent percussion, and a roiling tenor sax solo. Perez does a great job building his solo; with Zak's powerful chords pushing him ahead, the saxophonist sings and frolics.  The pianist takes a fine solo as does the leader whose drums fill the sound spectrum delightfully. That's followed by the joyous quartet (Magnarelli sits this and several other tracks out) take on Yardbird's classic "Steeplechase."  The musicians capture the spirit of the 1948 original, kicking the tempo up a notch or two. The album closes with Blue Mitchell's "Sir John", a medium tempo blues that, like the opening track, has that Jazz Messenger "sound".

Despite its militaristic title, "Battle Lines" is more of a party than a skirmish.  Steve Fidyk and company sound as if they were deep into the second set of a gig at an underground club.  It's always fun to hear music that is hard-driving yet relaxed at the same time. Everyone, including the listener, is having fun.  "Make grooves, not war" just might be this drummer's philosophy – give a listen and see if you agree.

For more information, go to stevefidyk.com.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Many Stories of the Past & Present

Pianist and composer Denny Zeitlin has been playing music all his life and professionally for the better part of six decades.  The 82-year old native of Chicago, IL, has lived on the West Coast since 1964 when he moved to study at University of California/ San Francisco and do his internship – yes, Dr. Zeitlin is also a clinical Professor of Psychiatry and also has a private practice. He's scored movies (the 1978 remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"), developed an interest in synthesizers and electronic music, and, while he does not tour much these days, he's maintained his current trio of Buster Williams (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums) since 2001. When you listen to them play, it's easy to hear why the association has lasted over the years – Dr. Zeitlin is a pianist with great facility, loves melody, and creates long, flowing, solos that are poetic and powerful whereas the rhythm section is just as musical and exploratory as its leader. One just knows they never play a song the same way twice.

"Denny Zeitlin: Live at Mezzrow" (Sunnyside Records) was recorded in May 2019 when the good Doctor was back East, a rare occurrence these days.  The nine-song program stretches out over 72 minutes, a collection of seven standards and two originals, and there's not a dull moment throughout. By this time of his career, one knows what to expect from a Denny Zeitlin performance and album; impeccable musicianship, intelligent choice of repertoire, and the delight of interacting with his fellow musicians.  Even his "electronic" duos with drummer/ percussionist George Marsh have those same qualities.  Mr. Williams and Mr. Wilson both come to these performances armed with their love of melody, joy of improvising, and in creating musical conversations with Dr. Zeitlin that are emotionally rich and musically powerful.

As I wrote above, one knows what to expect from this Trio yet we always listen because these albums are creative music at its best. Denny Zeitlin never cheats the listener, never relies on cliches or drastic rearrangements or deconstructions. His career-long adherence to playing the melody then taking those notes and chords so the audience can hear them grow as he (and, in many cases, his cohorts) explores all facets of the song is what the true fan revels in.  The finest pianists do that. People such as Fred Hersch, Geri Allen, Vijay Iyer, Keith Jarrett on back to Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, and Earl Hines always keep or kept digging throughout each song and each performance.  Sit back, listen, and luxuriate in the splendid "Live at Mezzrow".

For more information, go to www.dennyzeitlin.com. To purchase the album, go to https://dennyzeitlin.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-mezzrow.

Here's a piece from the pen of Billy Strayhorn:




Photo: Heather Sten
Vocalist and composer Sara Serpa creates music that is intimate, personal, and exploratory, reaching into the listener's heart and mind to create a connection.  Her partnership with pianist Ran Blake has been an ongoing investigation of standards (with a mix of improvisatory magic) while her work with husband André Matos (guitar) has been a splendid mix of folk material and often gentle sonic explorations.  Ms. Serpa often uses her voice as another instrument in the mix, her wordless vocals evoking emotions that words cannot explain.  One of her more intriguing collaborations is her work with the vocalist quartet Mycale who perform music created by John Zora. She's part of the four-person a capella ensemble (along with Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, Sofia Rei, and Malika Zarra) for its second Tzadik release "Gomory: The Book of Angels Vol. 25" (2015).

For her debut on Biophilia Records, "Recognition", Ms. Serpa created a multi-media presentation based around the family movies her father took when he worked in the Portuguese territory of Angola. The music not only serves as her soundtrack to the silent films – when you purchase the album (see below) you receive a link to the presentation – but also tells the story of European colonialism  in its dying days. Images of planes dropping bombs (open practice runs, one believes), armies marching down the Main thoroughfare with the jarring juxtaposition of Caucasian Generals and Majors leading their troops (nearly all dark-skinned Africans and their cartoon-like white gloves) are manipulated by Ms. Serpa to create a dream-like atmosphere.

Photo: Carlos Ramos
Performing the music is a formidable trio; Zeena Parkins (harp, tuning forks), Mark Turner (tenor saxophone), and David Virelles (piano).  With Ms. Serpa's often over-dubbed wordless vocals, the music holds a mystery all its own. The composition are not in the head-solo-head mode; instead, the quartet creates a mood for each piece. For instance, insistent repeated melodic fragments roil beneath and besides the voices on "Free Labour" giving the piece the feel of a Steve Reich piece. "Beautiful Gardens" uses the words of José Luandino Vieira, an Angolan novelist, from his 1961 novel "A Vida Verdadeira de Domingos Xavier (The Real Life of Domingos Xavier)", with a story line that speaks to the cruelty of the police towards the Black Angolans.  The section that one hears tells about the difference between conditions of the native laborers, the White workers, and the management.  It's not a pretty and the music does not pretend to make it sound better.

"Queen Nzinga" tells quite another story.  The piece, adapted from an excerpt of "Njinga of Angola – Africa's Warrior Queen" (2017), a book by Linda Heywood, celebrates the life of the 17th Century Queen, leader of the Mbundu people, who defied Portuguese rule by opposing slavery throughout her 37-year reign, even leading her people into battle.  After you listen to the story, go back and listen to the brilliant music the trio creates (it's a group improvisation as the other track discussed above), an important role in helping to tell the story.

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The mixture of the voices on "Absolute Confidence" blends with the crashing piano chords and plucked harp notes while Turner serves as a counterpoint to the singer. There's a classical feel to the intertwine lines from piano, sax, and voice on "Propaganda" and, as the piece moved forward, Virelles steps away and into a solo filled with rippling phrases. The album closes with "Unity and Struggle" with words from from Amílcar Cabral, an agricultural engineer, poet, essayist, and an anti-colonial leader who was assassinated in 1973.  The accompanying music is fascinating as Ms.Serpa creates the melody from reciting Cabral's forceful words. Turner shadows the voice here as well while Ms. Parkins has her own melody line and a short solo.  Turner and Virelles then trade with harpist as the piece and album fade don.

If you are someone who enjoys the voice and music of Sara Serpa, "Recognition" might seem a bit stark and shocking first time through.  Go back, listen to how the voice, the words, the music, all these elements together tell a story of slavery, subjugation, tradition, transition, and more.  Disturbing story and music? Yes. Do artists still need to tell these stories?  Yes.  Do you need to listen? Now more than ever.

For more information, go to www.saraserpa.com.  To purchase the album, go to https://saraserpa.bandcamp.com/album/recognition-2.

Here's one of the fascinating tracks:



Photo: David Crow
Rudresh Mahanthappa, alto saxophonist, composer, and educator, not only possesses great technique but also quite a curious mind. Over the course of his career (now spanning nearly a quarter of a century), he has worked with artists such as Vijay Iyer, Jack DeJohnette, Bunky Green, Steve Lehman, Danilo Pérez,and many others. He's led or co-led numerous sized-ensembles with forays in Carnatic Music, fusion, and through-composed music. He also has a sweet tone, can easily and rapidly move through into his instrument's higher ranges; there are times on his recordings when his saxophone sounds straddle the worlds of jazz and South Indian music.

His latest musical adventure, "Hero Trio" (Whirlwind Recordings), is a loving and often hard-driving tribute to his musical inspirations. With the high-energy rhythm section of bassist François Moutin (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums), Mahanthappa dances, dips, dives, roars, and purrs through a program that differs from anything he's done before – he did not compose any of the music.  Nevertheless, the trio tackle music by Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Stevie Wonder, Keith Jarrett, Ira Gershwin-Vernon Duke ("I Can't Get Started"), Gene de Paul ("I'll Remember April"), and Johnny Cash.  Yes, Johnny Cash! The Trio dances through "Ring of Fire" (a tune that June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore and was first recorded by June's sister Anita in 1962 and was a big hit for June's husband Johnny the following year), paying tribute to the original tempo in the beginning and continually toy with it throughout.  Moutin never loses the groove and Mahanthappa dances atop it with glee.

Photo: David Crow
There is plenty of joy in this music. From the rumbling volcano of Parker's "Red Cross" (listen below) to the trio's dancing take of Bird's "Barbados" which is paired with Coltrane's "26-2" to Jarrett's romping "The Windup" (notice that Moutin takes the role of the composer's left hand), one can just imagine the energy in the stdio as the band played. "...April" is initially deconstructed then the alto and bass dive into the melody as Royston creates a percussive storm beneath them. They move back-and-forth to the melody until Mahanthappa uncorks a dazzling solo building off the energy of the drummer.

Photo: David Crow
The music slows down for a pair of tracks,  the down-tempo version of "I Can't Get Started" and Coleman's "Sadness."  Moutin's excellent bow work is displayed on the latter as he and the leader share the melody and improvisation. The piece is performed rubato therefore Royston's role is to dramatically "color" around his colleagues.  On the former, the saxophonist introduces the handsome Vernon Duke melody but note how the tempo is parsed, a martial beat that evokes a darker quality to the piece.  The album closes with a rousing take of Parker's "Dewey Square" with Mahanthappa playing around, through, and in and out of the melody. The rhythm section feeds off of the leader's energy, pulling the music forward in a spirited rush of sound.

2015's "Bird Calls" (ACT Music) was Rudresh Mahanthappa's tribute to one of his musical mentors, using the same rhythm section and adding the musical voices of Matt Mitchell (piano) and Adam O'Farrill (trumpet). "Hero Trio", in its way, "flips the script", taking the original music the saxophonist exposed in his younger days and making it feel new, fresh, invigorated by the sheer joy of playing.  The avid listener will marvel at the delightful sounds created by Messrs. Mahanthappa, Moutin, and Royston – play this music loud and often!

For more information, go to www.rudreshm.com. Go to https://rudreshmahanthappa1.bandcamp.com/album/hero-trio to hear more and purchase the album.

Here's the opening track (one of the three tunes composed by Charlie Parker):

Monday, June 8, 2020

Big Bands: Bold, Melodic, & Seeking

Pianist and composer Orrin Evans is not only the pianist in The Bad Plus, he also leads his own groups including the Captain Black Big Band. Evans organized the ever-evolving ensemble in 2009 in Philadelphia, PA, inspired by his years working with the Mingus Big Band plus a commission to lead a big band at a festival in Portugal in 2007. Evans has originally employed friends from the jazz community in New York City, mixing in students from Temple University and Philadelphia's University of the Arts. The CBBB, named for the pianist's father's favorite brand of pipe tobacco, is now based in The Big Apple

After releasing its first two albums on Posi-Tone Records, the Band moved to Smoke Sessions Records which released "Presence" in 2018. That album, recorded in Philly, featured a slimmed-down version of the ensemble (nine musicians instead of the usual 16-18) yet retains the power and raucous quality that has been the band's personality since its inception. CBBB's fourth album, "The Intangible Between", finds the ensemble back up to full strength, back in the studio, and creating thoughtful, exciting, provocative music.  Many of the tracks include two bassists, Eric Revis being one of them, and powerful soloists in each section – included are trumpeter Sean Jones, saxophonists Stacy Dillard and Immanuel Wilkins, and others – see personnel below.

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The eight-song program opens with the thunderous "Proclaim Liberty" with powerful solos from Evans, Jones, Dillard, and one of the drummers. That's followed by the leader's fascinating arrangement of the Harry Dixon Loes's gospel classic "This Little Light of Mine."  The music opens into a propulsive rhythmic arrangement with the sections framing the soloists with phrases from the original melody.  The band pays tribute to Roy Hargrove with a handsome reading of late trumpeter's "Into Dawn".  Arranged by trombonist David Gibson, the finely-hone  melody is shared by the brass and reeds before a strong alto sax solo followed by an even stronger piano solo (listen for the short Latin groove and how Evans interacts with the bassists and drummer.

The final two tracks on the album also stand out.  "Tough Love", an Andrew Hill composition, utilizes the text of poems, one by Evans's brother Todd, to talk about social issues in the African American community. All the voices in the band, both their own and their instruments plus children chime in the opening moments over a bass accompaniment; the piece then opens up into a high-speed walking bass (actually two walking basses) and the leader takes over speaking his brother's poem.  After a few minutes, the entire band reenters and the music burns bright hot white as Evans takes on gun control and police brutality (extremely timely). Over the course of nearly 16-minutes, both words and the music gets more serious.

"I'm So Glad I Got To Know You" is dedicated to Lawrence "Lo" Leathers. The drummer, who worked with pianist Aaron Diehl and with Cecile McLorin Salvant, was shot to death in the stairwell of hs apartment in the Bronx, NY.  The track, composed by Evans, opens with a quiet piano solo before the band enters in an uptempo rhythm reminiscent of Abdullah Ibrahim (especially the brass and reeds melody) – the music picks strength as it dances forward until the reeds and brass drop out and everyone sings a mantra composed on the words in the song's title.  Powerful finish to a powerful set of music.

The Captain Black Band is getting better with age. Always run as more of a cooperative, with members contributing both songs and arrangements, the CBBB plays with fire and enthusiasm, eschewing labels and genres to create its own voice in a growing sea of large ensembles. "The Intangible Between" is essential listening at any time but especially in this time of social unrest and pandemic. Orrin Evans and company offer hope, humor, and beauty in this exciting 65 minute package.

For more information about the Bad, go to www.orrinevansmusic.com.

Learn more here:


Personnel:

Orrin Evans: piano; 
Luques Curtis: bass; 
Eric Revis: bass; 
Madison Rast: bass; 
Mark Whitfield Jr.Anwar Marshall: drums; 
Thomas MarriottJosh LawrenceSean Jonestrumpet; 
Caleb Wheeler CurtisTroy RobertsImmanuel WilkinsStacy Dillard, Todd Bashore: alto and tenor saxophones
David GibsonStafford Hunter, Reggie Watkins: trombone; 
Jason Brown: drums; 
Joseph Block: keyboards; 
Dylan Reis: bass



Trumpeter, composer, arranger, and band leader Daniel Hersog hails from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He graduated from the New England Conservatory in 2016 where he met, studied, and worked with pianist Frank Carlberg, drummer John Hollenbeck, trumpeter John McNeil, and many others. He now teaches music and conducts plus serves as the composer for Big Band at North Vancouver's Capilano University.  He also teaches trumpet and leads the school's Trumpet Ensemble.  For his debut album, "Night Devoid of Stars" (Cellar Live), he's working with the 16-member Daniel Hersog Jazz Orchestra – most of the musicians hail from Canada are joined by saxophonist Noah Preminger (who is the "featured soloist"), drummer Michael Sarin, and pianist Carlberg.


The eight-song program (seven Hersog originals plus a classy rearrangement of the venerable Jerome Kern piece "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes") shines from the opening seconds to the raucous closing track.  Close your eyes, don't read the liner notes, and make up own your mind; I heard music inspired and influenced by Bob Brookmeyer , Jim McNeely, Maria Schneider and Thad Jones plus Darcy James Argue. Yet, once you listen again, those influences mostly die away and each track begins to stand out.  "Cloud Break" starts off the album in a forward motion with the first five notes sounding like the melody of "Getting To Know You" – the melody opens up like a morning flower before the sections drop back for a delightful solo from trumpeter (and one of Hersog's mentors) Brad Turner. Sarin and bassist James Meger lock into the groove as the solo unwinds. The sections return to usher out the trumpeter, opening the door for Preminger's powerful solo – the Boston, MA-based saxophonist is in great voice throughout.


The pieces in the program feel as if they have been percolating for a long time but do not sound overworked. That's thanks to the fine musicianship.  Carlberg's long, rhythmical solo opens "Motion" with Sarin's cymbal work standing out. After he steps back, the reeds and brass sounds like a power blossoming before Preminger digs in for a powerful statement.  "Makeshift Memorial" is one of the loveliest large ensemble compositions of the past several years, voices echoing throughout the melody section – listen to how Preminger's saxophone wheels in and around the others reeds and the brass.  The title track flows forward in a joyous rush; note how the sections are integrated with the soloists, Preminger and Turner, and inspire to flights of fancy. I especially like the use of the flute and piccolo to add to the brightness of the music.


Photo: Robert Iannone
Carlberg, the brass and reeds, and the somber arrangement, all converge to give an original treatment to "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." The pianist dances through his solo as if to dispel the cloudiness, leading to an introspective finish.

The album closes with two playful pieces. The stop-start beginning of "Indelible" leads to a medium tempo rhythm and then, the fun begins.  The spirited clarinet solo by Tom Keenlyside interacts with the piano until the trumpets return with bird-like chatter over a droning trombone note. Listen to how Hersog has the playful clarinets and flutes support the trumpet melody. The closing track, "Song for Henrique" (dedicated to pianist Henrique Eisenmann), opens with a classical flourish provided by the solo piano.  Then, the band jumps into a dramatic yet playful tango with the sections involved in the dance before Carlberg moves off into his solo. Preminger's solo takes place in rubato with rumblings from the brass while Sarin explodes underneath.  When the rhythm returns, the trumpets, acting like toreadors, lead the way to the end.

"Night Devoid of Stars" is a delightful introduction to the music and artistry of Daniel Hersog. During the hour-long program, he and his cohorts take the listener to so many places and through so many emotions. Listening to the Daniel Hersog Jazz Orchestra leaves one in a better frame of mind thanks to the creativity of the composer-arranger, the inventive solos, and fun that emanates from musicians doing what they love to do.  Kudos to Frank Carlberg and Noah Preminger for bringing more light to the sessions. 

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

Take a look and listen to the title track: 


Personnel: 

Chris Startup :Alto Saxophone, Clarinet 
Michael Braverman: Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Clarinet 
Noah Preminger: Tenor Saxophone 
Tom Keenlyside: Tenor Saxophone, flute, piccolo, alto flute 
Ben Henriques: Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinet 

Michael Kim: Trumpet, Flugelhorn 
Brad Turner: Trumpet, Flugelhorn 
Derry Byrne: Trumpet, Flugelhorn 
Jocelyn Waugh: Trumpet, Flugelhorn 

Rod Murray: Trombone 
Jim Hopson: Trombone 
Brian Harding: Trombone 
Sharman King: Bass Trombone 

Frank Carlberg: Piano 
James Meger: Bass 
Michael Sarin: Drums 




Photo: Peter Gannushkin
Throughout his career, trumpeter, composer, and arranger Bobby Spellman has played a multitude of styles; r'n'b with The Four Tops and The Temptations, Afrobeat with the Big Mean Sound Machine, large ensemble experimental with Charlie Kohlhase's Explorers Club and the Either/Orchestra, and a combination of all the above with his own Dingonek Street Band. Spellman also leads a Nonet that explores the sound of Miles Davis/ Gil Evans Birth of the Cool. Spellman's nine-piece has just issued its debut album "Revenge of the Cool" on Sunnyside Records.  

Spellman utilizes the instrumentation that Davis and Evans employed for their original projects and, entranced by the sonic possibilities, created his own music. There are some similarities that ones hears throughout; the leader is a fine trumpeter, the intelligent use of the "lower" sounds of the tuba (Ben Stapp), trombone (Tim Schneier), and baritone saxophone (Taylor Burchfield) plus the way Spellman's arrangements utilizes Evans-like harmonic clusters.  Also, the majority of the music captures the enthusiasm of be-bop that the 1950s recording demonstrated. There's a delightful wit involved here as well. Spellman's "The Isles of Langerhans" has a romantic title but is named for "the islets", or specialized cells, found in the pancreas of most vertebrates (discovered by 19th Century German physical Paul Langerhans). The tune is part of the leader's "Endocrinology Suite". Even better, the title does not detract from the fine performance!

The drum solo at the end of "...Langerhans" leads directly in to the joyful swing of "At The Brink" with the relentless drive supplied by bassist Andrew Schiller and drummer Evan Hyde supporting the solos of David Leon (alto sax) and Justin Muellens (French horn).  "Uncle Chip" opens with a spirited interaction between the leader and drummer before the entire plays the theme.  Note the fine piano solo (Ben Schwendener) which has echoes of Cecil Taylor and Don Pullen which leads to both a chattering solo from Leon and toying around with the tempo. 



Photo: Peter Gannushkin
The Evans commecntion can be heard in the melody line and the writing for the bass and reeds on "Certainty for Uncertainty". The nonet takes its time playing the full melody before Leon steps into his solo followed by trombonist Schneier and pianist Eli Wallace.  "The Human Condition" closes the program on a raucous bluesy note; right from the leader's countdown into the tune followed by his hard-edged solo, the music has a late-night, smoky barroom feel. The brass and reeds don't enter until near the close of pianist Schwendener's solo and disappear again for Schiller's bowed bass solo(as does every but the drummer and occasional piano interjections. Everyone returns to (finally) play the "head" and take the tune out.

"Revenge of the Cool" is more than just a tribute to the classic "Birth of the Cool", it's also the sound of a composer-arranger coming to terms with his influences and moving beyond them. There's much to like listening to the debut album of the Benny Spellman Nonet – one fervently hopes that we get to see and hear the band play in person because one can tell from the album that the ensemble can really "hit it".


For more information, go to www.bobbyspellman.com. To hear some of the music and purchase the album, go to https://sunnysiderecords.bandcamp.com/album/revenge-of-the-cool

Here's "At The Brink":




Personnel:

Bobby Spellman - composer, trumpet & slide trumpet 
Emily Pecorard - alto saxophone (on the opening track only) 
David Leon - alto saxophone (all tracks but 1) 
Tyler Burchfield - baritone saxophone 
Kyra Sims - French horn (six tracks) 
Justin Mullens - French horn (two tracks) 
Tim Shneier - trombone 
Ben Stapp - tuba 
Ben Schwendener - piano (six tracks) 
Eli Wallace - piano (two tracks) 
Andrew Schiller - bass 
Evan Hyde - drums