Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Frank Kimbrough

Photo: William Semeraro
 I first met pianist Frank Kimbrough nearly 30 years ago when he was a member of the New York City-based Jazz Composers Collective.  Playing alongside bassist Ben Allison, trumpeter Ron Horton, saxophonists Ted Nash and Michael Blake, these musicians sponsored concerts of new original music, helped fellow musicians with grant applications, find venues to play, and more. He was also a member of the Herbie Nichols Project, an ensemble whose goal was expose the music of Nichols to a larger audience.  In 1993, the North Carolina native joined the Maria Schneider Orchestra and has since toured regularly with the large ensemble as well as recording eight albums with the composer-arranger.  He joined the faculty at the Juilliard School in 2008 after a stint at NYU plus continued to conduct workshops up until the pandemic struck.

Now, just as 2020 is about to come to a close, Frank Kimbrough has passed from this world.  Already, tributes are filling Facebook and Twitter, blogs, and, by morning, newspapers and websites.  In a year known for its numerous losses, especially in the arts community, the pianist's passing still seems cruel as he continued to be playing at a high level of creativity.  He was generous with this time for students, fellow musicians, and writers.  Other people will write about his influences, about his many fine albums, and seeing him concert where he would draw listeners in on the strength of his melodic creativity.  Many of us will miss Frank Kimbrough as a person, as a teacher, mentor, a messenger of joy and peace in both good times and dark days. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Maryanne deProphetis.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Twenty Recordings for 2020 (Pt. 2)

There was a lot of very good-to-excellent music to listen to and write about this year; so much so, that I'll play catch-up through January 2021. Here's the rest of the recordings (in no particular order) I believe made this year so much better.

Brian Asher – "Brian Asher's Skrontch Music" - (Sinking City Records) – Even though this large ensemble album was issued in October of 2019, I did not create a review until late January of 2020. Asher has created a fascinating recording illuminating how the Black music that grew up in New Orleans permeates much of what we listen to.  The 5-song "suite", created for a 10-piece ensemble, combines the issues of anti-Jim Crow activism with the growth of jazz from the turn of the 20th Century forward.  Considering the craziness of this year, the music is hardly dated but right on target.  
For more information, go to  Go to to hear more and purchase the album. 

Rudy Royston – "PaNOptic" - (Greenleaf Music) – Mr. Royston is one of the finest drummers playing at this time.  He is the supersonic engine beneath numerous Posi-Tone Records recording sessions yet can play gently and melodically when working with people such as Bill Frisell and Dave Douglas.  When the pandemic hit, the drummer decided to release these solo tracks he made several years before.  It's a percussive "autobiography" with Mr. Roystron paying tribute to the blues, to influences Max Roach and Elvin Jones, Herbie Hancock, Prince, and Jack DeJohnette, to dancing and more.  100% of the proceeds from the sale of the album goers to the Music Cares COVID-19 Musicians Fund.  To listen to and purchase this splendid project, go to
And, here's a video:

Jorge Roeder – "El Suelo Mio" - (Self-released) - Bassist Roeder, who has regular gigs with guitarist Julian Lage as well as trombonist Ryan Keberle's Catharsis, created this musical gem before the pandemic struck yet it's a perfect example of an artist making creative statements on an instrument that often is overlooked for its versatility. Like a snifter of Cognac, aged single-malt Scotch, or vintage Port, this is music to be savored in the quiet moments of the day, early morning and late evening.  Thoughtful, melodic, soulful, exciting and more, this music shines!  For more information, go to To hear more and purchase, go to  Take a look:

The Dayna Stephens Quartet – "Right Now! Live at The Village Vanguard "- (Contagious Music) - Listening to this album for the first time five months into the pandemic made me long for live venues and for groups such as this who are musical explorers. Stephens (saxophones, EWI), joined here by Aaron Parks (piano), Ben Street (bass), and Gregory Hutchinson (drums), dances, swings, and sings his way through pieces from throughout his expanding catalogue.  What a treat!  Stephens work on the EWI has always been fascinating and the two tracks on this 2-CD set are excellent. To find out more, go to  To hear more and purchase, go to

(Honorable mention––Dayna Stephens Trio "Liberty" (Contagious Music),  

Here's a piece from the Quartet:

Chris Dingman – "Embrace" & "Peace" - ( - Vibraphonist Dingman issued two projects this year, "Embrace", a trio recording with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Tim Keipers plus the solo project "Peace" that he created for his father during his time in hospice.  Both albums are infused with melodic invention, with hypnotic sounds, and with love. The trio disk is mesmerizing yet has moments of great excitement.  "Peace" is a five-CD, nearly five hour project that is concerned with soothing and healing the body and mind. "Beautiful" is the word that comes to mind when this music is playing––it's not about technique or flash but all about how one person can help others when they are vulnerable, ailing, and in the last days of their life.  For more information, go to

Here's a trio track:

Kurt Elling with Danilo Perez – "Secrets are The Best Stories" - (Edition Records) - Elling's debut for the British-based Edition Records is a fascinating reminder just how wide-ranging his creative mind can be. Teamed up with pianist Danilo Pérez, the material combines jazz compositions that the vocalist adds his poetry to. Social conscious works sit comfortably next to tributes to Toni Morrison and Robert Bly. Percussionist Rogerio Boccato is on the majority and there are appearances by bassist Clark Sommers, drummer Johnathan Blake, and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón but the work of Elling and Perez is exemplary––this music gets better and deeper with each listen.  For more information and to purchase the album, go to  

Here's the video for powerful "Song of the Rio Grande":

Dave Douglas – "Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity" - (Greenleaf Music) - There are few people busier in the music world than Dave Douglas. The trumpeter-composer runs Greenleaf Music, hosts a monthly podcast, seems to be composing all the time, and teaches as well. 2020 saw three releases, tow initially for Greenleaf Music subscribers only, and this delight-filled tribute to John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie.  Joining him are Dave Adewumi (trumpet), Matthew Stevens (guitar), Fabian Almazan (piano), Carmen Rothwell (bass), and Joey Baron (drums).  While only two of the nine pieces are Gillespie compositions, one can hear the Master's influence throughout the album.  To find out more and to purchase the recording, go to 

(Honorable mention:  Dave Douglas – "Overcome" (Greenleaf Music) – This six-song album, released in December, was recorded "in quarantine" with each musician adding his or her part to the "blueprint" tracks that the trumpeter sent. What a lineup––Fay Victor and Camila Meza (vocals), Jorge Roeder (bass), Ryan Keberle (trombone), and Rudy Royston (drums)––playing music that ranges from "protest" songs to "prayers" to "free improvisation." The recording is now available at  Check it out!)

Orrin Evans and The Captain Black Big Band – "The Intangible Between" - (Smoke Sessions Records) – Pianist, composer, and sometime arranger Evans has managed to keep this large ensemble going for nearly a decade. For this album, it's more of large-ish band, down to nine members from its usual 16-18.  But, as always, these pieces are noisy, raucous, emotionally powerful, and chock-full of excellent soloists.  There's Monk ("Off Minor"), there's gospel ("This Little Light of Mine"), a tribute to Roy Hargrove (the late trumpeter's "Into Dawn"), and a statement of power and against police brutality in these uncertain time ("Tough Love", music by Andrew Hill plus several poems).  This music sounds better the more you listen!  For more information, go to

Take a listen:

Raphaël Pannier Quartet – "Faune" - (French Paradox) - As debut albums go, this effort from French drummer and composer Pannier. Now based in New York City, Pannier enlisted Miguel Zenón as "music director", co-producer, and alto saxophonist for these sessions. From the opening moment of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman", the music is exciting, exploratory, and interactive.   Besides the drummer and saxophonist, the ensemble includes François Moutin (bass) and Aaron Goldberg (piano); there are also two "classical" pieces, one composed by Olivier Messiaen, the other by Maurice Ravel, both featuring pianist Giorgi Mikadze.  Great playing all around as well as inventive arrangements!  To hear more and to purchase this delightful album, go to

Check out the classic Coleman piece:

The Awakening Orchestra – "vol. II: to call her to a higher plain" - (Biophilia Records) – The long-awaited sequel to 2014's "vol. I", this album, composed (most of it), arranged, and conducted by Kyle Saulnier for this 18-member (plus guests) ensemble, continues in the vein of the earlier album in that there is a strain of "protest music" running through these works.  The program includes two four-part "suites" plus rearrangements of songs by Nine Inch Nails, Nick Drake's mother, Bill Frisell (in the style of the Liberation Music Orchestra), and choral composer Eric Whitacre. The four-part title track features the powerful violin of the composer's wife Brooke Quiggins. The album, nearly two hours in length, is quite impressive for the intricate arrangements, often-stunning musicianship, and the breadth of the compositions.  To find out more about this orchestra and its creator, go to  To listen to and purchase the digital-only album, go to

Give a listen:

This year's most wonderful "Historical Release" comes, no surprise here, from Resonance Records. "Sonny Rollins: Rollins in Holland" is a combination of tracks from three different sessions, one for a radio program and two in concert. Mr. Rollins met his rhythm section––bassist Ruud Jacobs and drummer Han Bennink–moments after stepping off the plane.  Sound quality ranges from very good to okay but the music shines nonetheless.  On the longer tracks, the great tenor master rarely comes up for an extended breather.  Kudos to the rhythm section as they really spurred Mr. Rollins on to such inspired playing.  For more information, go to  Be sure to check out the mini-documentary!

Actually, it was quite impossible to stop after 20 (my list, including reissues and "historical releases", comes closer to 44) but, as I wrote at the top, over the next month I will attempt to catch up with 2020 releases that are well worth your attention.  

Have a Happy, Healthy, and Safe New Year!  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Twenty Recordings for 2020 (Part 1)

 At the beginning of this year, many of us knew that we would have to suffer through the Presidential Election cycle, that the amount of money spent on Federal and State elections would reach epic heights, and the possibility of lies and half-truths flying through the air might rent this country asunder.  We did, it did, but hardly anyone predicted that a deadly virus would kill so many people, close up so many businesses, turn cities into deserts, and touch so many families around the country and the world.  

Here at the cusp of 2021, there are now vaccines to fight the virus beginning to be distributed around the world, there will be a new administration in Washington, D.C., and we will soon be able to venture outdoors to begin the process of healing our communities. On a personal note, my older sister passed in April and my wife's brother in September; like many older people, our family is spread around the country and we only see them on FaceTime or via ZOOM. Our friends suffer in the hospital and we cannot visit to help buoy their spirits. Even worse, unless we can go outside, there's no breaking of bread, no sharing of wine and desserts, no going to plays or concerts or galleries.  

Yet, music remains a constant and 2020 was a sparkling time for Black American Music. Whereas many of the albums that topped the "Critics List" were recorded in 2019 or before, by the end of the year we were hearing music produced in the pandemic months. The spirit of creativity has not suffered even as so many musicians, who depend on live performances to pay the rent and feed their families, often have to apply for grants and gifts to stay afloat. As a reviewer, I am blessed with plenty of promotional CDs and audio files; artists appreciate reviews but the only money they will see form that are the royalties when the album is sold.  Many of them have turned to Bandcamp, perhaps the fairest of all the music sellers in the world (the website's "First Fridays", a day when over 90% of the money paid for a music file or album goes directly to the artist)––you'll see links to the artist's Bandcamp page at the bottom of nearly all the albums in Step Tempest.  Listen when you can, purchase what you can.  Music brings hope, solace, awakens our senses and emotions, and makes our blood flow.  

Below are albums that I reviewed this year and that stand out from the rest.

Chad Taylor Trio - The Daily Biological (Cuneiform Records) –  This album arrived several weeks after my sister's passing. The energy and beauty in the music reminded me that music has the power to cut through grief, to amplify emotions, and to soothe us in times of loss. Listening to the music created by drummer and composer Chad Taylor, tenor saxophonist Brian Settles, and pianist Neil Podgurski wafting through our house as the Spring breezes danced through now-open windows shook me from my lethargy and mourning to confront and savor how these three musicians tackled diversity, melody, and rhythm over the course of nine songs in 61 minutes. Sounds fresh each time I listen and it remains a "go-to" recording.  To listen and purchase, go to

(Honorable mention: "Live in Willisau" – James Brandon Lewis and Chad Taylor - (Intakt Records)

Eric Revis - "Slipknots Through a Looking Glass" - (Pyroclastic Records) -  Bassist and composer Revis, a mainstay of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, releases the most interesting albums as a leader and this one is no exception.  With a band that includes Chad Taylor (drums, mbira), label head Kris Davis (piano, prepared piano), Darius Jones (alto saxophone), Bill McHenry (tenor saxophone), and Justin Faulkner (drums on two tracks), this music is experimental, funky, fiery, loud, and soothing, an album that makes you sit up and dig in.  Taylor and Revis together could light up the night sky; mix in the piano and reeds and the music takes off in so many fascinating directions.  To listen and purchase, go to  

Aubrey Johnson - "Unraveled" - (Outside In Music) - It took three years for this album to reach the public but Ms. Johnson's performance, her song choices, and the delightfully simpatico quintet of musicians was well worth. Her voice is supple, emotionally full, and she sounds so invested in the material that you believe ebery word she sings.  Her ability to take a piece like Jimmy Rowles oft-recorded "The Peacocks" and make it her own (kudos to the bass clarinet of Michael Sachs for her fine counterpoint) or the opening "No More I Love Yous" (made a hit by Annie Lennox) which brings the lyrics into focus is a listener's delight.  The pandemic cut off the "Album Release Tour"––let's hope she gets to bring this impressive group and music to the public soon.  To listen to more and purchase the album, go to.

Doxas Brothers - "The Circle" - (Justin Time Records) - This recording snuck up on me, quietly but stealthily invading my brain and my heart. Brothers Chet (tenor saxophone) and Jim (drums), along with Adrian Vedady (drums) and the magnificent Marc Copland (piano) present a nine-song program (eight originals, one standard––Gordon Jenkin's "Goodbye") that is rich in melody, inventiveness, and, when called for, great fire.  Copland's solos and support are fascinating to listen to throughout, eschewing cliches for thoughtful interaction and melody.  The Brothers, who play with Dave Douglas and Steve Swallow in Riverside, are mighty impressive players who do not overplay.  For more information and to purchase the recording, go to

Matthew Shipp Trio – "The Unidentifiable" - (ESP-Disk) – Pianist and composer Shipp turned 60 a few weeks ago (December 7) but shows no signs of slowing down.  He's on a slew of albums again that were releases in 2020 including this delightful Trio recording on ESP.  With his tremendous rhythm section of Michael Bisio (bass) and Newman Taylor Baker (drums), the pianist pounds, darts, dashes, swings, and sings a splendid 11-song program.  Over the last few Trio recordings, Shipp has embraced melody in a way that is adventurous and not cloying, thoughtful without technical histrionics. He can still wail on piano but his music is concerned with texture, interplay, and finding the links between darkness and light.  To listen and to purchase, go to

(Honorable mention goes to "The Piano Equation", Shipp's solo piano recording for drummer Whit Dickey's TaoForms label––check it out at

Max Bessesen - "Trouble" - (Ropeadope Records) – There were a number of debut albums this year (Aubrey Johnson, for instance) but none that captured my imagination more than young Mr. Bessesen's recording. The Denver, CO, native began playing alto saxophone as a teenager and mentored by great cornettist Ron Miles. He attended Oberlin Conservatory and, after traveling the world through a Fellowship, he settled in Chicago and started his own band. The death of one of the band members––guitarist Zac Nunnery––spurred the saxophonist to bring the his (now) quartet into the studio. The resulting album is quite exciting, musical, and well worth exploring.  An added bonus is the presence of Mr. Miles on six of the 10 tracks!
To listen to and purchase the album, go to

(Honorable mention––Ron Miles 2020 Blue Note release "Rainbow Sign". For more information, go to

The first half of this list of 20 also includes four of the Large Ensemble albums I posted about the other day. They include Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble "The New Immigrant Experience: Music Inspired by Conversations with Dreamers", Maria Schneider Orchestra "Data Lords", Gregg August "Dialogues on Race, Vol. I", and Arturo O'Farrill Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra "The Four Questions". 

Second half will be posted next week!

Friday, December 18, 2020

Last Minute Gift Ideas!


There was a time in the United States during the early years of Rock & Roll when the occasional instrumental would enter the Billboard "singles" charts.  Imagine the surprise of many radio listeners in the Spring of 1961 when "Take Five", a Paul Desmond composition from the Dave Brubeck Quartet's 1959 Columbia Records album "Time Out" leapt into the Top 40.  Pianist Brubeck, alto saxophonist Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright, and drummer Joe Morello were already traveling the world as well as experimenting with odd time signatures before they recorded "Time Out" but that was the first album that showcases the group's prowess over an entire program.   The powers-that-be at Columbia Records edited the 5-minute album track down to under three (truncating the famous drum solo) and the song, played in 5/4 time yet feeling like a waltz, became a big hit.

2020 is the 100th birth anniversary of Brubeck while 1961 will be the 60th anniversary of the Top 40 appearance of "Take Five."  To commemorate both milestones, the Brubeck Family has authorized the release of "Time OutTakes" (Brubeck Editions)––the eight tracks, all previously unissued, include two musical tracks not on the original album plus alternate takes of five songs that were as well as a 4-minute+ cut of "studio banter" of the group members with producer Teo Macero. The revelation here is "Take Five". Recorded at the end of the first frustrating day in the studio, the song is taken at a quicker tempo and Morello's drum solo is "heavier", neither as subtle nor melodic as the final album track recorded six days later.  The original album's other major highlight (for many) "Blue Rondo A La Turk", is not substantially different than the "final" take––the extended piano solo illustrates Dave Brubeck could play blues piano very nicely not to forget Desmond's own sweet solo over the bass and drums.  

The lively Brubeck tune "I'm In a Dancing Mood" is a treat, a piece with Morello's dancing drums that the Quartet often played in person but left off the 1959 album. It's easy to hear the various time changes through the piece with the drummer often leading the way.  "Watusi Jam" is a trio piece (sans Desmond); the track features an extended drum solo, very elemental (one can really hear the African roots of drumming). If it was considered a "warm-up" for the evening recording session, this track illustrates that this group of musicians were always working on new ideas.  

"Time OutTakes" serves as both a reminder of how the Dave Brubeck Quartet was one of the rare jazz ensembles to reach many different audiences and how much the four members of the group enjoyed each other's company and talents.  Historically important? Yes! Fun?  Very much so!  A welcome addition to the Brubeck discography.

For more information, go to  

Enjoy the lively opening track:

I so rarely review "Holiday" albums but I just received a delightful recording that is spirited without being sarcastic.

Out of nowhere.....really Denton, Texas, comes the Simeon Davis Group and its debut recording, "Bah Humbug: An Absolutely Unnecessary Christmas Album" (self-released).  Self-deprecating title aside, this is actually a delightful collection of 11 songs associated with the December holiday, many of them classics plus others from the European folk tradition.  Besides the leader on alto saxophone, the quartet includes Jake Chafee (electric and acoustic bass), August Knobbe (acoustic and electric piano), and Joshua Parker (drums).  They approach the pieces with an eye on honoring the influences including musicians such as Art Blakey, James Brown, The Bad Plus, John Coltrane, and others.  The band calls how they create the pieces as "derangements"; fair enough, but this music is hardly "crazy."  Great fun, however.

The album kicks off with a funky take of "Let It Snow" before jumping into a be-bop take of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."  The former has a delightful kick while the latter absolutely jumps from the get-go.  Kudos to Knobbe and the leader for their "hot" solos on "Santa Claus...".   Vocalist Rachel Azbell adds her husky alto to a "cool" reading of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen".  Her pleasing scat vocal leads directly into a fine solo from Davis.  Elsewhere, we get a spicy "Deck The Halls" which has traces of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, of Sonny Rollins "St. Thomas"  as well as the Jamaican feel of Monty Alexander.  Parker's hand drumming stands out as does the delightful alto solo. The album closes with "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"––you can hear the song's English folk roots and revel how, during the body of the piece, the quartet opens the music up, playing with the tempo, the original melody, and more.

There's one track that Davis recorded two years ago with a different ensemble; "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" packs quite a punch.  The lead vocal, performed by Ken Ballard (who also plays keyboards) is shadowed by Callandra Youngelson and pushed forward by the active rhythm section of 
Kyle Dugger (drums) and Alex Hodge (electric bass). The combination of electric piano and the vibraphone of Destin Wernicke makes for a pleasing background.  The performance has different textures than the rest of the program yet is not out of place.

No, the Simeon Davis Group has not created the musical equivalent of a Holiday stocking full of coal. Instead, "Bah Humbug: An Absolutely Unnecessary Christmas Album" should bring a smile to those who enjoy music that takes chances by playing with tradition but does so in the spirit of creativity and fun.  A delight-filled present!

Here's a taste:

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The 2020 Large Ensemble Edition of "Here Are a Few of My Favorite Disks":

 As I write this post, yesterday (December 14) marked the beginning of the 12th year of "Step Tempest."  This is post #1004 (that's a lot of albums although in the first five-six years, I write columns about live music in my home state of Connecticut)––I've slowed down over the past few years due to teaching and family responsibilities but I remain excited about Black Creative Music and its myriad creators as well as performers.  

Each year, I have created a "Best of..." list which usually numbers in the 40s (hey, I hear a lot of good music) and 2020, despite its various challenges, has produced a plethora of outstanding. Instead of posting one giant list this year, I have broken it down to two editions.  Mostly because 30% of my final list consists of large ensemble albums (minimum of eight members) and that's the most of any year since I began creating a list for CADENCE Magazine in the 1980s. Therefore, they get a column to themselves.


(In no particular order:

Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble – "The New Immigrant Experience: Music Inspired by Conversations with Dreamers" (Tapestry Records)

Brian Asher's Skrontch Music - "(Self-titled)" (Sinking City Music) 

Luciana Souza w/ the WDR Big Band Köln, Vince Mendoza arranger & conductor - "Storytellers" - (Sunnyside Records)

Maria Schneider Orchestra - "Data Lords" (ArtistShare)

No video available but here's a link to the album's home page:\

Gregg August – "Dialogues on Race, Vol. 1" (Self-released)

Orrin Evans & The Captain Black Band – "The Intangible Between" (SmokeSessions)

Daniel Hersog Jazz Orchestra – "Night Devoid of Stars" (Cellar Live Records)

Arturo O'Farrill/ Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra - "The Four Questions" (ZOHO Records)

Joel Harrison +18 – "America at War" (Sunnyside Records)

Mike Fahie Jazz Orchestra – "Urban(e)" (Greenleaf Music)

The Webber/Morris Big Band – "Both Are True" (Greenleaf Music)

Somi w/ The Frankfurt Radio Big Band (hR Big Band),  John Beasley arranger & conductor – "Holy Room: Live at The Oper" (Salon Africana)

John Hollenbeck w/ The Frankfurt Radio Band – "Songs You Like a Lot" (Flexatonic Records)

the awakening orchestra, Kyle Saulnier composer, arranger, & conductor - "vol ii: to call her to a higher plain" (Biophilia Records) 

The NDR Big Band w/ Michael Moore – "Sanctuary" (Ramboy Records)

No video available – here's a link to the title track:

Marius Neset w/ the Danish Radio Big Band, Miho Hazama conductor – "Tributes" (ACT Records)

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Two Pandemic Albums + One Pre-pandemic Album for Good Measure!

As 2020 mercifully (or mercilessly, depending on conditions where you live) crawls to a close, albums are being released that were recorded in the Spring and Summer of this most unusual year. Since live venues have been shuttered around the world, many musicians and ensembles lost a major portion of their income.  Some venues have reopened but, mostly, for streaming concerts; with the promise of several vaccines, one can only hope that Spring 2021 will be a renewed time for live music and theater.

In the meantime, multi-instrumentalist Chris Potter and trombonist Marshall Gilkes were able to create and record new music in the midst of the pandemic––a look at their respective albums is below as well as a fine new recording from L.A.N. Trio (recorded in November 2019).

Chris Potter, born on New Year's Day in 1971 in Chicago, IL, has fashioned quite a career.  He started playing saxophone at the age of 10 and began winning awards as well as garnering critical acclaim in his teenage years.  Although he won a scholarship to attend the New School in New York City, trumpeter Red Rodney invited Potter to join his band.  As he was learning the ins-and-outs of bebop, he was meeting musicians such as Ornette Coleman, playing in the horn section of Steely Dan, working with pianist Marian McPartland, drummer Paul Motian, trumpeter Dave Douglas, saxophonist David Binney, and his long association with bassist Dave Holland.  Since his 1993 Criss Cross debut, Potter has issued 20 albums as a leader and appeared on over 100 more.  Though he is mostly known as a tenor saxophonist, he plays soprano and alto saxes, clarinets, flutes, piano, electric keyboards, electric and acoustic guitar, and percussion (including drum set),
All of those instruments are on display on Potter's 22nd release "There Is a Tide" (Edition Records).  When the touring stopped, the musician began composing and, in May of this year, began assembling all the pieces for the new recording.  Over the course of six weeks (!), Potter played, arranged, and engineered the 10 songs that make up the 54-minute program.  In the promotional material that accompanies the album, the musician talks about all the limitations that recording at home can have including not having a "proper" studio environment.  If you did not read that comment or know the fact that Potter creates every sound you hear, chances are good you'll still be impressed by the results.  This music rocks, swings, soars, dances, excites, soothes, and sounds so good.  

Photo: Dave Stapleton
Although the artist was locked away in his recording area, the opening and closing songs on "...Tide" illustrates he's still in touch with the outside world.  The opening track, "I Had a Dream", can be understood as a response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and the protests that followed through the United States. Yet, the song has a lilting feel, its infectious rhythms seeming to give us hope as the soprano sax solo rises up in the mix.  The closing track, "New Live (In the Wake of Devastation)", has a more emotional pull.  One cannot "appeal" for change but must make an effort to live it.  The dramatic tenor sax solo leads to a fascinating orchestration featuring saxophones, clarinets, flutes, and keys while Potter uses guitars to push the rhythm.  

What stands out throughout the recording is the textured layers of sounds, the "sectional" arrangements, and the excellent melodies.   The dancing percussion and electric piano opening of "Mother of Waters" suggests Weather Report and its "Black Market" album while the funky "Rising Over You" channels the Brecker Brothers––dig Potter's rapid sax lines on either side of the sound spectrum plus his fine keyboard work.  "Rest Your Head" is a lovely ballad with excellent guitar work plus a melody line reminds this listener of Paul McCartney.  The clarinet solo is emotionally and melodically rich.  The following track, "As the Moon Ascends", blends flute, clarinet, and percussion in its opening minute into a fascinating mini-concerto before settling into a medium tempo in which multiple flutes introduce a handsome soprano sax solo.

"There is a Tide"is quite an impressive album; not just because Chris Potter plays all the instruments and plays them well but also because of the strength of the songs, the smart orchestrations, and the lively solos. Many creative music albums are recorded on the fly. Considering the amount of tracks Potter laid down in the six-week process, this project came together quickly.  Nevertheless, he is able to fill out the sound spectrum so the music has a richer, fuller, sound without sounding cluttered.   Sit down, relax, let these sounds roll through your mind––you'll be surprised and comforted by the joy this music contains.

For more information, go to  To listen to more and to purchase the album, go to

Here's a taste:

Trombonist and composer Marshall Gilkes (pronounced Jillks) firs picked up his instrument––actually his father's 'bone––when his dad was playing with the Air Force band, the Falconaires.  The younger Gilkes went on to study both jazz and classical music at the Juilliard School in New York City.  He has worked with numerous large ensembles including Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and currently performs with the Maria Schneider Orchestra as well as performing with Barbra Streisand and Richard Bona.
As a leader, Gilkes has issued five albums, the previous two with the WDR Big Band with whom he performed from 2010-2013. Album #six, "Waiting To Continue" (self-released), finds him in a trio setting with bassist Yasushi Nakamura (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums). The group was originally scheduled to record in April of this year but no studios were open. Gilkes heard that the Bunker Studio in Brooklyn was reopening in July so he called the rhythm section who were ready and willing.  In the studio, everyone wore masks when not playing and they were quite separated.  The trombonist fed the musicians so there was little downtime.  The results are a delightful mix of styles and melodies with both Penn and Nakamura really part of the creative process.    

As for the music, the program is all originals. Some of the pieces swings like mad such as the rollicking "Taconic Turns" (New Yorkers and other drivers will tell you that the Taconic Parkway is not for the faint of heart. "Archie's Theme" is along the same lines although the melody flows a bit smoother. Penn drives this piece with abandon, navigating the composer's dynamics and tempo changes with grace and subtle power.  The title song opens the album; five overdubbed trombones create a chorale for the leader to play the lovely melody.  Gilkes restates the theme with just the bassist before Penn enters with his sweet brush and cymbal work.  After the trio floats through the tune, the trombone chorale closes the piece.  There is a hint of Ms. Schneider's "natural" music in the writing for the trombones.

CD back cover
The trombone chorale returns for "Anya's Tune", a sweet ballad composed for Gilkes's wife.  While the ballad gently strolls forward, the extra brass appear at various times throughout the pice while the rhythm section creates a gentle cushion.  "Cora's Tune", composed for his daughter, is more playful, especially in its juxtaposition of the lovely melody and the playful drums.  Nakamura's thick bass tones ring out beneath the melody.  

"Waiting To Continue" closes with "New Normal". Like the opening title track, this song was composed during the pandemic. The music is not morbid or sad but playful (especially Penn's playful drumming) and hopeful, perhaps dreaming when the venues will open around the world so that music as rich as what Marshall Gilkes and company have recorded here can be played "live" to attentive listeners.  Climb into this program with open ears and it will make you smile, maybe even feel better about the survival of the creative musician.

For more information, go to  To hear more and purchase this fine music, go to  
Here's the title track:

Our "plus 1" for this post is the delightful new recording by the trio of Mário Laginha (piano), Julian Argüelles (soprano and tenor saxophone), and Helge Andreas Norbakken (percussion) a.k.a. the L.A.N. Trio.  "Atlântico" (Edition Records) is the Trio's second album, the first being 2017's "Setembro" for the same label.  Whereas the debut album contained 10 tunes, eight of which were composed by the pianist, the new one is more democratic with four by Lahgina, four by Argüelles, two co-created by Norbakken with the pianist and two more by the drummer with the saxophonist.

The new album gets off to a playful start with the pianist's "Jaamm Rek". There's more than a slab of funk propelled forward by Norbakken's thunderous drums.  Laginha creates a circular piano riff that Argüelle's powerful tenor sax frolics atop.  The pianist also penned the following track, "Caes a Solta" (Free Dogs?) which is a much sweeter song than the title implies. Argüelles creates a lovely soprano sax solo as does the composer while the percussionist shakes and rattles beneath them. Norbakken gets composing credits on the three "Improviso" pieces as well for the highly melodic "La Graziela" which he co-wrote with the saxophonist.  They also created the first of the "Improvisos"during which the soprano saxophone is accompanied by powerful sounds of drums and hand percussion.

The opening of Laginha's "Juroom" hearkens back to Keith Jarrett's "The Windup", especially in its spiky, percussive, melody line––on this tune, Norbakken pounds away beside the pulsating rhythms created by the pianist while Argüelles's raspy soprano sax solo rises above the hypnotic fray. The saxophonist's "The Three J's"; opening with a long unaccompanied piano solo,, the drummer enters with a solid rhythm that eventually leads to the composer's handsome tenor sax.  Listen to the colors the rhythm section creates as Argüelles climbs through his solo."

The program closes with the pianist's "Silencio", a gentle ballad with a most fascinating percussion backing. Throughout the album, Norbakken creates stunning backdrops and rhythms. It's obvious he's not playing a traditional trap set (check the photo––no snare drum but definitely floor toms, hand drums, cymbals, and various shakers) so the music moves in unexpected directions. He's certainly the "heartbeat" of the group while the saxophonist and pianist often glide through the melodies and improvisation.  

Kudos to Mário LaginhaJulian Argüelles, and Helge Andreas Norbakken for creating the delightful and optimistic sounds of "Atlântico".  Their first album, at times, seems more structured (although there are some delightful uptempo pieces), this music is often looser, airier; they sound more like a collective, one in which all ideas are welcome. They're probably great fun in concert!  Sit yourself down and surrender to the joyous sounds.

Here's the delightful "Juróom":

Friday, November 27, 2020

Maria Schneider Orchestra Weekend

Photo: Dina Regine (2014)


The Maria Schneider Orchestra premieres some never-before-seen videos from their 2019 Jazz Standard Thanksgiving run along with recording footage from their latest album "Data Lords". For the first time ever, Maria and several members of her Orchestra will reunite for some post-Thanksgiving camaraderie.
TUNE IN: Friday, November 27th at 7:30 p.m. EST 
via or on Facebook
Streamable at your leisure through Monday, November 30th at 12 noon EST.

“We are heart-broken to miss our annual Thanksgiving the Jazz Standard,” says Ms. Schneider.  “So this year we are coming to you, with never-before-seen videos and more. Before you tune in, to bring in the smells and tastes of the room, perhaps order out a little barbecue (Blue Smoke is my favorite!), turn the lights down low, light a candle, and let us transport you, first to the Jazz Standard with a videos from our July & Nov. 2019 performances. Marie Le Claire is also editing her fabulous never-seen video (outtakes from our new recording "Data Lords") to bring you inside of our recording session. At the end, you'll see the band reunite on Zoom to talk about music, life, to laugh or cry, and to tell you how much we miss you!”

From Nov. 27th-30th, 35% of all sales of recordings and downloads at will go to the musicians in the band, and 100% of “Additional Support” given at point of purchase will go to the musicians. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Looking Back, Thinking Forward

 I usually use this space on Thanksgiving Day to write about the state of the world and how music can help us through hard times, giving us hope for a better world.  This year, I am going to forgo my editorializing––chances are good you're talking about the world at your dinner table and/or on ZOOM calls with the family.  You don't need me to go through that.  I just wish you the best and hope that this is a time of good health and quiet reflection.

In the meantime, this month brings a number of fascinating "historical" albums, some with music not released before by Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans Trio 1968, and Wolfgang Lackerschmid/ Chet Baker Quintet with Larry Coryell, Buster Williams, and Tony Williams––let us take a look.

Not surprisingly, there are two new releases from those inquisitive and quite thorough folks at Resonance Records (both vinyl packages will be available on Record Store Day/ Black Friday November 27).  The story behind "Sonny Rollins: Rollins In Holland" is smartly recounted in the 100-page booklet included in the two-CD and three-Lp Vinyl packages which include interviews with the three musicians who create the musical magic. There are great interviews with the person who uncovered the Dutch radio recordings that are the first four tracks on the program. There are also two tracks from a gig at the Go-Go Club in Loosdrecht in The Netherlands on May 5, 1967 (the same day that the radio program was recorded at lunch time).  The largest chunk of playing time belongs to five tracks recorded two days earlier in Arnheim, The Netherlands.

Mr. Rollins is in fine form throughout although he seems reined on the 30-minute radio program. He gives equal time to his rhythm section––bassist Ruud Jacobs and drummer Han Bennink––none of the four tracks are longer than seven minutes. Both of the sidemen were considered the finest players on their instruments in the country and were thrilled to be working with the saxophone legend. Bennink, 25 years old at the time, had already joined the Instant Composers Pool but had absorbed the playing of Kenny Clarke and Max Roach before falling under the spell of Sunny Murray.  The drummer, along with the 29-year old Jacobs, had worked together as a unit numerous backing American musicians such as Wes Montgomery, Johnny Griffin, and Ben Webster. Both loved the records that Mr. Rollins had made in the 1950s, especially the trio sessions for Blue Note and Riverside Records. 

Photo courtesy of Michael Maggid
Fans of this recordings, especially "Freedom Suite" and "Live at The Village Vanguard", will love the Arnheim tracks. The sound under headphones is quite good (kudos go to label head George Klabin and Fran Gala for their splendid sound restoration) as you can really hear riding the powerful work on the rhythm section on pieces such as "Four" and "Three Little Words".  There are moments where the sound fades but the trio never does. Mr. Rollins, two months away from losing his good friend John Coltrane and a year away from a six-year recording sabbatical, sounds as if he's having great fun, especially on the live cuts. Jacobs, whose 29th birthday fell on the first day of recording, and Bennink plays with abandon, which is just what Dr. Rollins hoped for. .

There have been bootleg recordings from these live dates circulating around the world for over five decades.  Zev Feldman and Resonance Records have put together a splendid package with plenty of photographs from the days was in The Netherlands plus the interviews are a true pleasure to read.  And, much of this music is sublime. "Live In Holland" adds yet another shining example of how great Sonny Rollins sounds in concert––have fun counting all the quotes from other songs he throws in, especially in the last 10 minutes of "Four". 

Check out this overview from Resonance:

Up until 2016, the only recorded instance of the Bill Evans Trio with Eddie Gomez (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums) was the GRAMMY Award-winning Verve Lp "Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival."  Four years ago, Resonance Records released "Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest", a studio album the Trio recorded the same week as their Montreux Festival appearance. One year later, the label released "Another Time: The Hilversum Concert", a live concert recorded in the studios of the Netherlands Radio Union (NRU) a week after Montreux.  Both albums showed the Trio at the height of their creative abilities. The group then spent a month in residence at Ronnie Scott's in London.  DeJohnette told Zev Feldman at Resonance Records he had recordings he had made at the time but the sound was fair at best.  Feldman initially passed on the tapes, hoping to find other enthusiasts who may have taped a show or two.

The story of how the drummer and the label executive discovered a glitch in the playback, fixed it, and the magic of the music was revealed is told in the 44-page booklet that accompanies "Bill Evans: Live at Ronnie Scott's".  The 2-CD, 2-Lp, arrives just in time for Record Store Day November 27 and if this 20-song program (in the form of two sets) doesn't warm your tired bones, nothing will. The band sounds so together, so relaxed, and so ready to stretch out that their musicality shines through.  There are few surprises in the choice of repertoire but pieces such as "Alfie", "Waltz for Debby", the two versions of "Emily" (from the pen of Johnny Mandel), "Someday My Prince Will Come", and "'Round Midnight" sparkle with delightful solos and interactions, smart harmonies and delicate musicianship.  The one rarity is "For Heaven's Sake", a song composed by Don Meyers, Elise Bretton and Sherman Edwards for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra in 1948 but made famous by Billie Holiday in 1958 on her "Lady In Satin" album (the last released in her lifetime).  Evans first recorded the piece on "Evans 64" with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian and once again in December 1968 at The Village Vanguard with DeJohnette's replacement Marty Morell (released on "The Secret Sessions 1966-1975" assembled from tapes recorded without permission by Evans super-fan Mike Harris.  

To my ears, "Live at Ronnie Scott's" is the best representation of the creative work of bassist Eddie Gomez of the now-four albums from this Trio. His amazing melodic sense stands out and you can really hear how he inspires the pianist and drummer.  Yes, I know that there seems to be several thousand Bill Evans albums on the market but you do not need to be a completist to enjoy "Bill Evans: Live at Ronnie Scott's"; you need to love music that is emotional and melodically rich with many moments of rhythmic swing.  Thanks go to Jack DeJohnette for preserving the tapes and Resonance Records for persevering to bring this splendid music to light!

Here's the mini-documentary from Resonance featuring Zev Feldman, Brian Priestley, Jack DeJohnette (interviewed by Chick Corea), and Chevy Chase: 

Photo: Hans Kumpf
Vibraphonist Wolfgang Lackerschmid and trumpeter/ vocalist Chet Baker first began playing in the late 1970s.  They recorded a duo album for the vibraphonist's own Sandra label and, in the aftermath, Baker invited Lackerschmid to be a member of the trumpeter's touring group.  Guitarist Larry Coryell saw the duo play at a Festival in Austria (where Coryell was playing with saxophonist Sonny Rollins) and suggested they play together.  Baker's agent liked the idea and floated the idea of adding a rhythm section which turned out to be the brothers in name only, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Tony Williams

The five musicians went into a Stuttgart, Germany, studio and created "Quintet Sessions 1979" to be released on Sandra.  Thanks to D.O.T. Time Records, the album has a new life in the 21st Century.  The six pieces (the seventh and eighth tracks are a rehearsal and the other an alternate take) include two composed by the guitarist, one each from the Williamses and Lackersachmid plus a lovely take of Jimmy Van Heusen's "Here's That Rainy Day."  Everyone respects Baker's limited technique; still he rises to the occasion throughout with a handsome tone and his fine sense of melody. He only sings on one track, a sweet wordless vocal on Lackerschmid's "Balzwaltz" (but not on the alternate take).  Bassist Williams stands out in the mix, his melodic solos and intelligent counterpoint meshes well with the rest of the group. Listen to how the bassist wraps his thick notes around the lighter trumpet tones without overwhelming Baker.  

The quintet creates a pleasing swing on Buster William's "Toku Do" with solid solos from Baker, Coryell (who is a stalwart throughout the program), the composer, and strong work from the drum set.  There's a funky feel to the opening of Tony Williams's "Mr. Biko" which then drops into a loping swing. The drummer rarely lets loose but his cymbal work is delightful.  The Caribbean/ French feel of the guitarist's "Rue Gregoire Du Tour" shows the influence of Burt Bacharach; one half-expects Dionne Warwick to step out and vocalize.  Instead, we get melodic solos from Baker, the composer (his trademark blazing solos replaced by a fine melodic sense), Lackerschmid, and the bassist.

"Wolfgang Lackerschmid/ Chet Baker: Quintet Sessions 1979" sounds a bit undercooked at times––perhaps it's the addition of two extra tracks that helps to create that illusion. Yet, there is enough good playing on this album, especially from Buster Williams and Larry Coryell, to recommend that you give it a listen.  You can do just that by going to where you can also get more information and purchase the recording.  

Here's a track to check out while you're reading: