Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Wide World of Music

When three world-class musicians come together, it can be for a "blowing" session or a serious project – Tabla master Zakir Hussain decided to create an ensemble to perform at SF Jazz, one than included bass master Dave Holland; the drummer also called several other people including saxophonist (soprano, alto, tenor) Chris Potter who has worked with the bassist in various projects for over two decades. Hussain's originally vision was for a septet which did do a pair of tours.  Then, he, Holland, and Potter played a number of dates and Crosscurrents Trio was created.

With a repertoire of original works from each member, the trio went into Sear Studio in New York City in September of 2018 and the results can be heard on "Good Hope" (Edition Records). What a sonic treat!  Hussain provides the fascinating rhythm while both Holland and Potter play melodies that lock into the rhythms and dance atop them.  Holland's "Lucky Seven" finds Potter's soprano saxophone leading the way but pay attention to how the bassist plays both counterpoint and rhythm.  Kudos to recording engineer Chris Allen for the clarity of the sound.  Capturing how the bass and tablas creat the various rhythm tracks makes the listener feel as if he or she is sitting in the middle of the trio.  Potter's "Island Sounds" is so easy-going you might miss the lovely bass tones and the burbling drums as you pay attention to the composer's hardy tenor solo.

"Suvarna", one of the two pieces penned by Hussain, opens with a long, lovely, bass solo.  Holland's touch and melodic sense is on full display. When the tablas and saxophone enter, the bassist joins the drummer in pushing the music forward.  Potter does not rush the melody or his solo, slowly building the intensity, his rich full tone adds an emotional touch to the piece.  The saxophonist penned the title track – it opens with a tenor sax and tablas dialogue before moving into quite a dancing rhythm.  Holland's bass acts, at times, as a rhythm guitar and his muscular solo is a highlight of the album.

Photo: Rungh Magazine
The album closes with Holland's "Mazad", a sweet tune that floats forward on the bassist's rhythm plus the lovely soprano sax melody. Listen to how Hussain holds back in the opening moments but then falls into dialogue with Holland during his solo.  Potter's solo has an intensity and power that energizes his partners yet, near the conclusion, the trio plays with a beauty that is breathtaking.

"Good Hope", an apropos name for music that brings such joy in times of anguish and fear, is an album that will both excite and calm down the avid listener. Crosscurrents TrioDave Holland, Zakir Hussain, and Chris Potter – are recognized as masters on their instruments yet they came together to make music, not to show how technically they can play.  Released in October of last year, the album made a large number of "Best of 2019" lists. Deservedly so, yet this music will still sound great decades from now!

For more information, go to

Here's the final track on the album:

Pianist James Hill is a rising star in his native Canada, playing in the Autobahn Trio and as a member of BABBADNOTGOOD (BBNG).  Drummer Ian Wright is also a member of Autobahn. Bassist Rich Brown not only leads his own groups but is also a producer – he's also played with saxophonists Steve Lehman and Rudresh Mahanthappa plus keyboardist Andy Milne's Dapp Theory.  Several years ago, Hill took a break from his various projects to visit Sáo Paulo, Brazil, to visit his partner's family who live in a section of the city known Higienópolis (translated as "healthy city"). While there, he wrote a lot of music and decided he wanted to record it with Wright and Brown.  All three had played together in the bassist's Abeng group and Hill felt his new music would work with these musicians.

The trio, known as Local Talent, has just issued its debut recording, "Higienópolis" and it appears on the pianist's Project Whatever Recordings label.  Hill plays an array of keyboards (acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, synths) with Brown sticking to electric bass.  The music blends ideas and sounds influenced by electric Chick Corea, Robert Glasper, Josef Zawinul, as well as British progressive rock of the 1970s and 80s, putting it all in a blender and coming up with music that is melodic, rhythmical, exciting, funky, and forward-thinking.  Listen to the track below; the thick sounds of the Rhodes and Wright's drums are underpinned by Brown's fluid bass lines.  His solo is quite melodic while the drums pound and Hill's various keyboards add color.

The album opens with the title track. There's a lot that goes on from the acoustic piano opening to the fluttering synths to the speedy mart drumming, stops and starts.  That's followed by "....Intro To", a short piano, synth, and drum rubato piece that builds up to a loud synth loop that stops suddenly when "The Silent Cry" begins with a handsome, classically inspired, piano melody begins.  The synth loop that closed the previous returns, the bass and drums enter. Hill moves into a piano solo with layers of synth adding colors.

The closing track, "Blue Rainbox", is a ballad that could have been influenced by Pink Floyd.  Staring with what sounds like a mellotron, Brown has an impressive, richly melodic, solo that takes up a portion of the piece. The piece begins to build up but, instead of reaching a resolution, the sound becomes compressed until the music stops.

Local Talent is a fascinating project, full of promise and concepts to be built upon. These three fine musicians have the ability to "grow" their music by taking the show to an audience, playing with the material, adding new ideas, creating more of a group sound. "Hiegenópolis" is certainly a strong start and worth exploring.

For more information, go to

Here's a taste of the trio's sounds:

Monday, January 27, 2020

Large Ensemble Music January 2020

Composer, arranger, and pianist Emilio Solla was born and raised in Argentina, has lived and worked in cities such as Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Spain, and, in 2006, relocated to New York City.  He's has composed works for small ensembles, for symphony orchestras, and has worked with artists such as Paquito D'Rivera, Arturo O'Farrill, and Edmar Castañeda.  Like many of his contemporaries, Solla's music has been influenced by Astor Piazzaolla but his travels have added many different layers to his music.  His earlier albums came out on Fresh Sound New Talent; since 2014, he's been issuing his own recordings on his  Avantango Records labels.

Solla's latest audio adventure is the first by his 17-piece Tango Jazz Orchestra.  Titled "Puertos: Music From International Waters", the eight original compositions pay tribute to port cities around the world. They ranges from the dancing tribute to Havana, Cuba ("Sol La, al Sol" - to La Habana) to New York City ("Four For Miles") to the suave yet exciting "Chacafrik" (in honor of Benguela, Angola).  Just about all the music is built from the drums up (kudos to Ferenc Nemeth for his creative contributions) and the section arrangements really favor long passages with fine harmonies and counterpoint.  Pay attention to how Solla moves the different sections through melodies; an excellent example is "Andan Luces" (to Cádiz) where the melody lines are played by the piano, reeds, and accordion. The various solos jump off from the melodies – in the middle of the piece, the rhythm section gets to shine with solos from bassist Pablo Aslan and a long one from the leader.

The lovely ballad "La Novena" (to Buenos Aires) has a gentle, swaying, tango rhythm played by the piano and bass (Nemeth is quiet the first two minutes) while the melody is shared by soprano and baritone saxophones. The flute accompaniment rises above the soloist while the horns sit below; that leads into a fine solo from Labro (on bandoneon).  That track is followed by "Buenos Aires Blues" but the rocking, hard-hitting, piece is actually dedicated to New Orleans, LA.  Each one of the soloists gets a different feel beneath his solo; the rhythm section is somewhat below Noah Bless's trombone spot but picks up the intensity when trumpeter Alex Norris steps forward.  After the sax section plays a boppish section, baritonist Terry Goss takes over and the music calms down. It's Aslan's bowed bass supporting Labro's delightful accordion solo.  Piano and drums return while Labro dances on. Nemeth takes the piece back to the intro and on to the end.

Edmar Castaneda's harp leads the way on "Allegrón" (to Cartagena) sharing the lead lines with the soprano saxophone of Alejandro Aviles. The harpist's duet with Franco Pinna (bombo legüero) is highly rhythmical – note the interactions of the sections that lead the way to the splendid soprano solo.

"Puertos: Music From International Waters" shimmers with excitement, both melodic and rhythmical, as well as beauty. The songs that Emilio Solla created for the Tango Jazz Orchestra (several that have been recorded in smaller ensembles) have room for each musician to shine and for the arrangements that pique the listener's interest and make you return time and again.  Do listen and listen closely – this album is definitely worth your time!

For more information, go to

Alejandro Aviles: soprano and alto saxophones, flutes; 
Todd Bashore: flutes and clarinet; 
Tim Armacost: tenor saxophone, alto flute and clarinet; 
John Ellis: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet and flute; 
Terry Goss: baritone saxophone and bass clarinet; 
Alex Norris: trumpet and flugelhorn; 
Jim Seeley: trumpet and flugelhorn; 
Jonathan Powell: trumpet and flugelhorn; 
Noah Bless: trombone; 
Mike Fahie: trombone; 
Eric Miller: trombone; 
James Rodgers: bass trombone; 
Julien Labro: bandoneon and accordion; 
Emilio Solla: piano and conducting; 
Pablo Aslan: bass; 
Ferenc Nemeth: drums. 
 Guests – 
Samuel Torres: congas (“So La Al Sol”); 
Arturo Prendez: percussion & Arturo O’Farrill: piano (“Llegara, Llegara, Llegara”);
Franco Pinna: bombo legüero & Edmar Castañeda: harp (“Allegron”).

Here's a track for your listening pleasure:

Two of the producers for Solla's album plus the one below are Kahbir Sehgal and Paul Averginos – they certainly have great ears!

Photo: Warren Le Fever

Joe McCarthy, drummer, educator, and band leader, organized the New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band when he moved to the Big Apple in 2008. He has taught at schools around the United States plus played with the several ensembles associated with the United States Naval Academy Band.  A graduate of the University of North Texas (famed for its large ensembles), McCarthy worked with numerous artists including Paquito D'Rivera, Slide Hampton,  Arturo O'Farrill, and Linda May Han Oh.  He's also published a book/DVD called "Joe McCarthy Afro Cuban Big Band Play-Along Series" that is used by several different University music programs.

The New York Alliance Afro Bop Big Band issued its debut album in 2008 on Heads Up Records with guest Dave Samuels (vibraphone, marimba) – at that time, the ensemble was known as the Afro Bop Alliance.  They added "Big Band" to the name on the ensemble's 2016 release "Revelations" that came out on McCarthy's own label.  ZOHO Records is the home of album #3 titled, simply "Upwards" and now they've added "New York" to the name.  A glance below at the personnel and you'll see that the band is made up of first-call NYC musicians.  The rhythm section is anchored by the leader, bassist Boris Kozlov (on electric much of the album), pianist Manuel Valera (who provided the two of the songs and several of the arrangements), and master percussionist Samuel Torres.  It is noticeable from the start that those four musicians who set the band in motion.

Listen below to "Caravan."  Torres and McCarthy create a dynamic opening in a call-and-response that sets the table for the delightful take on the Juan Tizol - Duke Ellington classic.  If the rhythms don't move you, the excellent solos and intelligent arrangement will have you moving your feet.  The band has great fun with Valera's arrangement of John Lewis's "Afternoon in Paris",  the percussion pushing the band as they put a bop feel on the Latin rhythms.

As Torres and McCarthy dig into a heady groove, Valera's "Isabelita" has a lovely melody with excellent section writing. Strong solos from the composer, Kozlov, and trumpeter Dave Smith push the piece forward.  "Five for Elvin", composed by vibraphonist Samuels for the large ensemble's first album, is a tour-de-force, effortlessly changing speeds and tempos, with more fine section work plus percussion that really moves along with Valera's dancing piano riffs.

The album closes with guitarist Vinny Valentino's emotional ballad "Positano."  Note how the brass and horns provide a sweet cushion for the melody and the guitar solo that follows.  Tenor saxophonist Ben Kono raises the intensity with a powerful yet still melodic solo followed by Kozlov's excellent acoustic bass solo.  "Upwards" is proof that when you give excellent musicians strong material and fine arrangements, they can make music that sings, soars, caresses, and, yes, dances.  Check out The New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band – the name is quite a mouthful but the music is mighty tasty!

For more information, go to


Saxophones:  Matt Hong, Kristy Norter, Ben Kono, Dave Riekenberg, Eden Bareket
Trombones:  Sara Jacovino, John Yao, Sam Blakeslee, Jen Hinkle
Trumpets:  Nick Marchione, Raul Agraz, Bryan Davis, Dave Smith
Manuel Valera (piano)                                                                                                                    Vinny Valentino (guitar)  
Boris Kozlov (acoustic & electric bass)
Samuel Torres (percussion)
Joe McCarthy (drums, leader)

Here's "Caravan":

Pianist, composer, and arranger Satoko Fujii first convened the Orchestra New York in 1996. At that time, the ensemble contained 15 members including the pianist.  For 2017's stunning "Fukushima", the group was pared down to 13 and Ms. Fujii replaced her piano with the guitar of Nels Cline.  The 2020 edition welcomes back original member saxophonist Briggan Kraus and subtracts trombonist Joey Sellers (also an original member).  What is always present on the Orchestra NY's recordings is the sense of adventure, the sounds that range from quiet contemplation to roaring madness but never collapsing into total anarchy.

The ONY's 11th release, "Entity" (Libra Records), features five originals from Ms. Fujii ranging in length from 10:08 to 16:17.  The composer's style has always brought together disparate sounds composed for strengths of the individual members while achieving an often startling group sound.  Ms. Fujii's pieces often feel like short stories, conversational, off-hand, more about the sound than the rhythm.  That said, it's the chattering drums of Ches Smith that opens the album on the title song. Listen to how she paints around his solo, how the "skronky" sound of Nels Cline is the perfect accompaniment as Smith dances around the cymbals.  The brass and reeds make quick appearances over the first four minutes, pushing and shouting at the guitar and drums until Smith kicks the piece into a funky beat picking up speed.  That lasts less than a minute before the drummer and guitarist go off on another conversational jag – when their comrades come back in, the music picks up speed again and Cline goes dashing/squalling off over the roar. It all stops save for one trombone then both trombones moving around each other in slow motion.  Yet, there's more; the trumpets, guitar, bass, and drums reenter then the reeds and the music explodes again, a roaring tenor saxophone attempting to be heard over the din.

"Flashback" opens with the entire ensemble at full volume (save for Cline who roars in and out), the brass and reeds sharing the theme for the first several minutes – then, the noise stops and is replaced by quiet sounds from muted trumpet and burbling bass.  The group moves in and out of the picture, getting loud, then dropping back to two voices interacting.  On first listen, one does not know what to expect. When you return to the music, you listen for how the different elements speak to the overall direction of the music. Yet, stop trying to make sense and just let the sounds enter you. For the first two pieces, that's not an easy experience – most listeners want order, logic, when they listen. Here, you have to create that order. The emotions are certainly here, you'll find them.

Photo: Peter Gannushkin
"Gounkaiku" is the album's longest track, a splendid sonic tour-de-force with a poetic opening section, fascinating interactions, strong solos, amazing work from bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Smith, with excellent section writing and execution. Like the other tracks, the song is episodic, moving from sections to full band to quiet sounds, to noise. Cline and Takeishi's guitar/ bass guitar noises and Smith's active percussion drive the final few minutes with separate voices stepping forward from the brass and reeds.

Photo: Bryan Murray
"Entity" invites the listener to dig in, to listen as Satoko Fujii moves the different pieces of her Orchestra New York through the mazes and open fields of the music. The various voices are often heard in duo, trio, quartet, settings, then full ensemble. Solos rise over and flit under the sections or stand alone. Written material and improvisation move effortlessly together, spin apart, come together again throughout the program.  Iridescent melodies, such as the opening moments of the final track "Everlasting", collide with meanderings of different soloists, keeping the listener off-guard time and again.  Like the world we all live, this music takes the beauty of a sunrise and mixes it with the chaos of human experiences, creating a musical experience that resonates long after the sounds have evaporated.

For more information, go to

Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krauss - alto sax
Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby - tenor sax
Andy Laster - baritone sax
Natsuki Tamura, Herb Robertson, Dave Ballou - trumpet
Curtis Hasselbring, Joe Fiedler - trombone
Nels Cline - guitar
Stomu Takeishi - bass
Ches Smith - drums

Here's the title track:

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

New Ideas for The New Decade

Photo: William Brown
Pianist and composer Theo Hill, a native of Albany NY, continues to mature with every gig and every recording.  A graduate of SUNY/ Purchase, he's been on the New York City scene for the past 16 years performed with numerous ensembles large and small. He's currently the pianist in the Mingus Big Band; thanks to his association with Posi-Tone Records, he has recorded with trombonist David Gibson, saxophonist Sam Dillon, and is a member of the sextet New Faces.  Hill has also recorded with trombonist Frank Lacy, trumpeter Josh Evans, and saxophonist T.K. Blue.  His 2014 recording debut as a leader was "Live at Smalls" featuring a quintet of saxophonists Dayna Stephens and Myron Walden plus bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Rodney Green.

"Reality Check" is Hill's third recording for Posi-Tone.  Featuring an excellent trio of young musicians including Joel Ross (vibraphone), Rashaan Carter (acoustic and electric bass), and Mark Whitfield Jr. (drums).  The 10-song program contains seven originals plus one each each from David Berkman, Stevie Wonder, and Mulgrew Miller.  What one notices on initial listening is the energy level of this music and how well the participants listen to each other as well as interact.  Opening with Berkman's "Blue Poles" (from the pianist's 2000 album "Communication Theory"), the focus is on melody, rhythm, and getting to the heart of the performance. While the rhythm section pushes the vibes and piano forward, the music does not settle into a groove even as Ross charges forward. Before you realize, Carter locks in Ross while Hill feeds them chords and Whitfield Jr. plays with abandon.  It takes a few seconds to notice how the rhythm section drops into a rapid-fire swing for Hill's delightful solo.

Besides acoustic piano, Hill plays Fender Rhodes as well as synthesizer on the album.  His creamy Rhodes sound atop the bubbling rhythm section on "Swell" is a delight while the string sounds produced by the synth on "Afrofuturism" does more than fill out the sound, helping to illustrate the title of the track (be sure to note Whitfield Jr.'s excellent drumming as well as Carter's fine bass accompaniment and counterpoint). After the delightful bass intro to "Aquanaut", the band kicks in to a hearty beat, not unlike pieces by McCoy Tyner (but a touch funkier).  The powerful forward motion of the piece has an urgent quality as do the solos by Hill and Ross.  The quartet's take on Mr. Wonder's "Superwoman" (more Rhodes and synths) is quite handsome – again, listen how the drummer "colors" the proceedings while the electric bass swims beneath the piano.

"Reality Check" also includes Mulgrew Miller's "Pressing The Issue"; the piece is a hard-hitting, high energy, track featuring fiery solos from Ross and Hill, one more track that brings McCoy Tyner to mind. The final tune, "Song of the Wind", is an attractive blend of Rhodes, synth, and vibes that gives the piece an ethereal feel.  Carter's bubbling base lines and Whitfield Jr.'s intelligent brushes leans towards a "fusion" feel yet the interactions are exciting while the solos are probing.  Theo Hill and company have created a soul-satisfying song experience, music with heart and soul as well as plenty of rhythmic fire.  Play it loud and often!

For more information, go to

Photo: Emra Islek
For the past decade+, bassist and composer Harish Raghavan has been the foundation of rhythm sections for artists such as Kurt Elling, Walter Smith III, Eric Harland, pianist Taylor Eigsti, and Ambrose Akinmusire (and others).  The native of Northbrook, IL (just north of Chicago) first studied drumming and took up the bass when he was 16.  He attended college at USC and studied with John Clayton and privately with Robert Hurst.  Upon moving to New York City in 2007, Raghavan started to work on a regular basis and continues to do to this day.

The bassist formed his first band in 2017 and wrote numerous compositions for a quintet.  He went into the studios in December of 2018 with Joel Ross (vibraphone), Micah Thomas (piano), Immanuel Wilkins (alto saxophone), and Kweku Sumbry (drums).  The results can be heard on "Calls For Action", the two-Lp/ one CD set issued in December of 2019 on Whirlwind Records.  While Raghavan is the leader and wrote all 15 of the pieces on the program, this is most certainly a group effort.  His interactions with drummer Sumbry (from Washington D.C.) are stimulating throughout – the bassist frees up up the young percussionist who pushes at the melody lines, interacts with the solos as the leader keeps the music moving forward (check out the lovely ballad "I'll Go and Come Back" for evidence of their work).

Photo: Emra Islek
Ross and Thomas tease out the melody of "Los Angeles" as the bassist strums accompaniment as the drummer dances around his cymbals. Wilkins, a native of the fertile Philadelphia, PA. scene, gets to state that melody. The ballad moves slowly, in a stately fashion, even as Sumbry threatens to explode.  The lovely piano and vibes accompaniment set the tone for Wilkins's handsome solo.  The generous support from the rhythm section pushes the vibraphonist and pianist to create counterpoint while the saxophonist keeps his cool and helps to calm the rest of the band. It's a gorgeous piece.

Then there are the pieces that tear the tops off one's speakers.  "Sangeet" starts quietly, alto sax and bass, stating the folk tune-like melod. As the quintet digs into the piece and Sumbry heats up, the group kicks into a higher gear and really begin a frantic dance.  "4560 Round Top" comes in on a rapid-fire circular melody presented by the front line while Raghavan and Sumbry play rhythms that have a South Indian feel. Listening to Ross dance above them is one of the many album highlights. Thomas and Sumbry combine to push the intensity even higher as the piece races to the finish line.  The drummer takes a long, passionate, solo at the opening of "Junior", setting the pace for a romp – the sax and vibes introduce the rhythmical melody line weaving in and around each other.  The thick bass lines and the skittering drums create a swirling storm never overwhelming those playing solos or melody lines.

It's amazing to read that Harish Raghavan and company created the 15-song, 70-minute, "Calls For Action" in one marathon session on December 15, 2018 – obviously, the group was ready. Such an impressive program, one that sounds great (you can really hear the deep notes of the leader's bass, especially on the three short solo pieces at the beginning, middle, and end of the album); the music also makes one wish to hear this youthful ensemble (all but the 37 year-old bassist are in their mid-20s) in person.  Kudos to engineers Joe Blaney (studio), Andy Taub (mix), and Dave Darlington (master) plus producer Walter Smith III for jobs well done.  Harish Raghavan may have been quite patient in waiting to record as a leader but the wait was well worth it.

For more information, go to

Check out "Los Angeles":

Photo: Aaron Winters
Saxophonist and composer Luke Norris, a native of Long Island, recently completed his studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY.  His first two EPs, both issued on Bandcamp, posit him as singer-songwriter playing guitar, drum machines, keyboards, and doing all the vocals.  Meeting guitarist Mike Baggetta as a summer music camp pushed Norris in a new direction and he began writing pieces that combine an acoustic trio (saxophone, bass, and drums) with electric guitar.  Baggetta'a use of looping and other electronic programs for guitar created a sound in the saxophonist's mind that is now realized on "Northernsong" (Ears&Eyes Records).

With the rhythm section of Tyrone Allen (bass) and Daniel Sunshine (drums) plus the guitarist's inventive playing pushes the eight-song program in often mesmerizing territories.  From the opening notes of the opening track, "Sketches in C", one hears music that takes Norris's interest in folk music and makes it move in unexpected ways.  The song has a long, handsome, melody played by tenor sax and guitar, while the bass and drums move freely underneath. Baggetta's shimmering guitar tones give the piece an ethereal feel, especially the quiet looped drone in the background. On the closing track, "Things Ending Begin Again",  the "nervous" drone beneath the lovely melody Norris writes for soprano sax and guitar is somewhat off-putting. Yet, the interaction of the quartet creates a melodic portrait that resonates long after the guitar sounds take the piece out.

The guitarist and rhythm section give Norris a comfortable cushion to go for a fascinating soprano sax adventure on "Bruising Stones."  Allen and Sunshine lock in with Baggetta and really push the piece forward.  When the guitarist creates his solo, the tempo becomes understated but picks up intensity as he creates his handsome solo. "Strong Heritage" is more raucous, Baggetta going for a harder tone yet when the leader (on tenor) starts his solo, the guitarist drops out for a moment, returning to underpin the solo with fiery chording. Baggetta then roars through his solo, Sunshine sounding on the drums as Allen unites with Norris to keep the song on its foundations.

Dig the rocking opening of "Excavate", the guitar and drums connecting once more to create a wall-of-sound.  The contrast with Norris's melodic tenor creates a tension that rarely lets up. The saxophonist leaps into the fray as the piece careers forward, as the rampaging drums and insistent guitar lines urge him on.  Yet. Norris and Allen return to the melody to bring the piece to a place where Baggetta's unaccompanied electric guitar can wind the music down.

"Northernsong" may frustrate some listeners who want their musical experience easily put into a genre or style. The addition of guitarist Mike Baggetta gives the music a more dynamic and wider range of sounds. The more Luke Norris can perform this music and begin to comprehend its myriad possibilities, the more roads he can explore in the future. With this release, he's definitely on his way.

For more information, go to  

Here's a track to whet your appetite:

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Jimmy Heath Passes

Photo: Linda Rosier
He seemed timeless, he seemed ageless, he always looked happy – Jimmy Heath, saxophonist and composer, passed today (1/19/2020) at the age of 93. His career spanned over seven decades, starting in Wilmington NC and in his hometown of Philadelphia, PA, and taking him around the country and the world.  Perhaps best known for his group with his brothers, bassist Percy (1923-2005) and drummer Albert "Tootie" (born 1935), it's hard to keep track of the many musicians he played with and/or composed for but the names include Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Milt Jackson, JJ Johnson, Warne Marsh, and the WDR Big Band plus many others.

Heath led small groups, had a delightful big band, gave countless workshops, and composed continuously.  Like many musicians who fell under the spell of Charlie "Yardbird" Parker in the late 1940s and early 50s, Heath was arrested for heroin possession and was himself a user.  A four-year jail term cured him of the addiction and he used his time off the "scene" wisely, composing, practicing, and playing.  Originally an alto player (he was called "Little Bird" for his sonic similarity to Parker), he switched to tenor in 1962 and picked up soprano as well as flute several years later.  Over the decades, Heath recorded for Riverside Records Xanadu Records, SteepleChase, CBS, Strata-East, and Jazz Legacy Productions (and others).

On a personal note, there was a time that every trip we went on to visit one of our daughters, the Heath Brothers were playing in a local club or concert venue.  Once at Chicago's Jazz Showcase, we arrived for the early show and our four family members were the only audience members.  Jimmy and "Tootie"talked with us for 15 minutes and then asked if they should start playing.  As soon as the Brothers plus pianist Jeb Patton and bassist David Wong started to play, more people wandered in but there were never more than 12 people in attendance.  Yet, the Quartet played as if there was a full house; in fact, they treated the audience to a full 60-minute set!  On our way out, we saw the crowd for the late set stretching down the block!

Jimmy Heath lived a good long life.  He not only composed jazz pieces but also ventured into the classical realm plus wrote an autobiography published in 2010 "I Walked With Giants."  To his credit, he always gave his full attention to the music and the audience, to his students, and to people who treated him fairly and honestly.  While his presence will certainly be missed, we have his long lifetime of music to enjoy!

Here is Mr. Heath with the WDR Big Band – he was six months shy of his 90th birthday when this was recorded:

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Pianist Also Rises

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme CT maintains an amazing schedule of top quality concerts, basically, 50-51weeks a year.  Manager Rich Martin and owner Ken Kitchings make the musicians feels at home and the intimate club setting means there is not a bad seat in the house. The sound system is excellent plus the piano is always in tune.  It's a wee bit off the "beaten path" but, once you have been there, you'll beat a path back. Along with Firehouse 12 in New Haven (open six months a year), The Side Door can satisfy even the fussiest of listeners.

On Saturday January 25, The Side Door welcomes pianist Larry Fuller and his Trio (bassist Vincent Dupont and drummer Jason Tiemann) for two sets that will undoubtedly swing – that's what Mr. Fuller does so well (although his ballads have plenty of heart).  Thanks to a suggestion from drummer Jeff Hamilton, he got a gig with vocalist Ernestine Anderson who liked him so much she made Fuller her musical director.  He then joined Hamilton's Trio and, in 2000, went on to play with legendary bassist Ray Brown; in fact, he was the final pianist to tour with him.  Several years after Brown's passing, Fuller joined guitarist John Pizzarelli's band where he was a mainstay from 2005-13.  Since then, he signed a contract with Capri Records who issued his Trio album in 2014.

In May of 2019, Capri issued "Overjoyed" featuring Fuller alongside drummer Lewis Nash and bassist Hassun Shakur. Listening to pieces such as the opener "Fried Pies" (from the pen of Wes Montgomery) and Fuller's own "The Mooch", one can tell that the pianist has absorbed the styles of Mulgrew Miller, Harold Mabern, and Phineas Newborn.  Check out Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" – Fuller caresses the lovely melody, finding the happiness that comes playing such a handsome song.  Make sure to check out Shakur's fine counterpoint and Nash's delightful cymbal work.  In keeping with the eclectic nature of the program, there is also a lovely reading of Ray Evans and Jay Livingston's "Mona Lisa" which was such a big tune for Nat "King" Cole.  Here as well, the pianist and the bassist mine the melody for rich interactions.

The program also includes a sparkling rendition of Ray Bryant's "Cubano Chant"; the trio hits the ground running and break into quite a fast pace. Another delightful track is the New Orleans-flavored take on "Got My Mojo Workin'" that closes the album.  The piece seems short at 4:37.  They could have played it twice and one would still want to dance along.  Joy indeed!

Photo: Parker Miles Blohm
"Overjoyed" also contains two solo pieces, both ballads.  First up is a lovely "stride piano" reading of George Gershwin's "How Long Has This Been Going On"; one hears a touch of Art Tatum and  Earl "Fatha" Hines in the sparkling runs Fuller creates to accentuate the melody.  "Never Let Me Go", the second cut composed by the team of Ray Evans and Jay Livingston (who remembers that the song was composed for the soundtrack of the 1956 movie "The Scarlet Hour" in which it was performed by Nat "King" Cole) – the music has heart and soul, an oasis of quiet in the midst of the uptempo music.

The album is a delight and well worth your time.  Find it at Amazon, iTunes, and other digital outlets as well as by going to

To buy tickets for the January 25 appearance of the Larry Fuller Trio at The Side Door, go to

To find out more about the pianist, go to

Here's the track from "Overjoyed" dedicated to the pianist's wife:

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Two Duos & One Quartet

For more than five decades, vocalist Norma Winstone, born in London, England, has been creating music in settings that range from big band to quintets to trios to duos. She may be best known for her association with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and pianist John Taylor (the trio recorded for ECM Records as Azimuth) plus her duo work with her former husband Taylor as well as with Fred Hersch.

While her marriage to Taylor did not last, their musical partnership was particularly active in the 1980s and 90s.  "In Concert" (Sunnyside Records) is a reissue of a August 1988 concert Ms. Winstone and Taylor made at the end of a summer teaching job in London. Originally released in 1999 on Britain's Enodoc Records, it's a splendid collection of songs the duo put together on the fly.  The program features songs by Leonard Bernstein, Steve Swallow, Egbeeto Gismonti, Ralph Towner, Thelonious Monk, Lionel Hampton, and one smashing piece  – "Coffee Time" –  with improvised vocals, hand percussion (Taylor on the piano), and audience hand clapping.  Half the songs have lyrics by Ms. Winstone such as Swallow's "Ladies in Mercedes" and a pair by Towner ("The Glide" and "Celeste").

Two of the many pleasures of the recording is just how articulate the vocals are and how excellent the piano accompaniment is.  "The Glide" (first recorded in 1984 by Oregon) is a playful conversation with Ms. Winstone rising to the top of her range and Taylor dancing beneath.  The medley of "Round Midnight" (with lyrics by Bernie Hanighen) and "Midnight Sun" (music by Lionel Hampton, lyrics by Johnny Mercer) is bluesy, playful (especially the pianist's musical reactions to the lyrics), and includes a powerful piano solo in the second half.

Other highlights include the lovely take on Gismonti's "Cafe" (first recorded in 1974 with Portuguese lyrics by the composer) – in the early moments of the track, you can hear intimations of Brazilian rhythms that break out later in the piece (after Taylor's wide-ranging solo).  The different tempos, the longing in the voice, the dancing piano, all mesh to make the performance a show-stopper.

The program concludes with Towner's "Celeste" (first recorded by the composer with Kenny Wheeler, pictured above with Ms. Winstone and Mr. Taylor). It's another ballad with an emotionally rich vocal; the way Ms. Winstone gives each word its own weight and importance is stunning, especially near the close of the song when the duo raises the intensity only to bring the piece to a close with a gentle line "'s so good to be home."  And, you believe it.

Despite the fact that "In Concert" was recorded in 1988, this music and the performance is timeless. Norma Winstone (MBE) & John Taylor make these songs come alive, each piece a world unto itself yet part of the whole.  Take your time to savor this experience – it is well worth your time!

For more information, go to

Here's the opening track (music by Maestro Bernstein with lyrics by Betty Comden & Adolph Green, from "On The Town"):

Vocalist Jay Clayton and percussionist Jerry Granelli first met in 1979 and began a musical relationship that has lasted ever since.  The drummer convinced her to move to Seattle, WA in 1982 to teach at Cornish College where the vocalist taught for two decades. They first recorded together in 1994 in a quartet setting with trombonist Julian Priester and bassist Gary Peacock followed in 2001 by two albums: one a quintet date for Sunnyside with saxophonist Gary Bartz, pianist George Cables, and bassist Anthony Cox and the other a duo date for Winter & Winter.

In 2014, Ms. Clayton ventured up to Halifax, Nova Scotia (where Mr. Granelli has lived since the early 1990s) – the duo entered Sonic Temple Studio and the results of their sonic adventures can be heard on "Alone Together" (Sunnyside Records).  The eight-song program ranges from dazzling improvised pieces like "Swing Thing" – that piece opens with the multi-layered voice pushing out a wordless vocal before the drummer steps in for his own solo statement – to a stunning take of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" (lyrics by Margo Guryan) to the opening and closing pieces set to poems by e.e. cummings.  Those two tracks, "Because It's Spring" and "Bells Too" (the words are the first four lines from "You shall above all things be glad..."

Each track has moments of magic. One hears two master musicians in conversation, enjoying each other's company, and exploring material that is is familiar or made up on-the-spot.  "Wild is The Wind" is a composition from Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington from the movie of the same name and originally recorded for the soundtrack by Johnny Mathis.  Nina Simone also had a popular version of the song. Yet, the duo here do their own thing; Ms. Clayton embraces the melody while Mr. Granelli dances quietly beneath her voice.  And, it's lovely.  "New Morning Blues", composed by Ms. Clayton, dances forward on the strength of her layered vocals and the drummer's splendid brush work.  When the sticks take the place of the brushes, the piece takes on a serious groove.

"Alone Together" may not be very long – barely 39 minutes – but there's so much to absorb that you'll return time and again.  The program serves as a reminder of just how creative both Jay Clayton and Jerry Granelli can be.  It would be quite a treat to see and hear them in person inhabiting an intimate stage as their music caresses and plays with one's soul.

For more information, go to (a site in need of updating) and to

Here's the opening track - the album will be released on 1/31/2020:

Composer, vocalist, and pianist Lauren Lee, who hails from the St. Louis, MO-area, issued an album in October of 2019.  "Windowsill" (eyes&ears Records).  She has been playing with her Space Jazz Trio in venues around New York City since the early 2010s as well with The Velocity Duo – you can find recordings by both ensembles on Bandcamp.  "Windowsill" features her in a quartet setting with Brad Mulholland (alto saxophone, flute, clarinet), Andy O'Neill (drums), and Marcos Varela (acoustic bass).  All the pieces are composed and arranged by Ms. Lee; one hears a "working" band who really listen to each other and help the leader interpret the music in an organic fashion. Intelligent overdubbing adds voices and extra reeds yet this music does not sound over-produced. Make sure to pay attention to the lyrics. Ms. Lee is a "truth teller" and not a person who appreciates b.s. from anyone.

A piece such as "Get Off Me" blends a handsome melody with words that tell a person to go away and stop making the narrator feeling shame instead of love or contentment.  "So Long" is a love song, a celebration of finding a person who is open, sharing, one who listens, who allows the narrator to take her time and explore new and surprising feelings.  The music is buoyant, including a wonderful "scat" solo as well as melodic bass solo plus a fine alto spot.   Ms. Lee moves to Fender Rhodes for "Peaks and Valleys" (and Mulholland to flute) for a celebration of the light from the sun. The piece is a gentle waltz that moves easily atop the melodic bass and dancing brush work.  Nobody rushes through the music and the piece unwinds naturally.

There is an experimental quality to the opening of "She Who Journeys" replete with wordless vocals and a reed section of overdubbed clarinets and flutes that leads to an alto sax solo.  Ms. Lee's voice returns and she scats along with her piano solo as the rhythm section pushes her forward.  The leader is generous with giving the musicians the opportunity to solo; they reward her trust by giving their all each time they step out.  The rubato opening of "Tomorrow is Coming" features wordless vocals, flute phrases that sometimes sound like birds bobbing and weaving in the sky while the rhythm section rumbles and keens underneath. Those several minutes of musical wandering underscores the message that Ms. Lee delivers over a slow ballad – she tells the listener that no matter how bad your life is today, "time will take your worries away."  The song describes a situation that all of us go through many times in our life, doing so gently and without lecturing.

"Windowsill" is a fascinating journey, adult music that makes one sit up and listen.  As much as one would love it, we all have troubles and desires – Lauren Lee approaches life as the opportunity to learn every day, creating music that stands out for its honesty and sonic clarity.  Do check it out!

For more information, go to

Here's the afore-mentioned "Get Off Me":