Thursday, April 30, 2020

Finding Balance

Photo: Sara Pettinella
Art Hirahara is an impressive pianist for many reasons, especially for his love for melody and harmony as well as his ability to play many different styles of music. Not just "play" but his innate ability to fit his creativity into the work of so many artists. He has played with the fiery baritone saxophonist Fred Ho, with drummer  and conceptualist royal hartigan (in his quartet Blood Drum Spirit), been musical director for several vocalists, recorded with drummer Akira Tana, and saxophonists Don Braden plus Tom Tallitsch (and many more).  He's released five albums as a leader with the most recent four appearing on Posi-Tone Records –– Hirahara has also played on numerous albums for the label as a member of collective ensembles organized by label owner Marc Free and other artists albums.

"Balance Point" (Posi-Tone) is the pianist's sixth album and features him on solo piano (two tracks), in trio settings with Joe Martin (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums) plus five tracks with tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana.  All but one of the tunes come from Hirahara the exception being the lovely solo reading of Duke Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss."  In fact, the program opens with a solo piano work, "Mother's Son" –– the lovely ballad is soft, filled with emotion, and moves like a poem. That leads into the trio's take on the pianist's "Blessed Son, Mr. Weston", a piece dedicated to the late pianist Randy Weston. One can hints of the person being honored in the two-handed piano melody, in Royston's active rhythms, and Martin's fine bass work. Another delightful trio track is the sprightly "Had It Happened', a Hirahara original that sounds like a take on a Broadway classic.  You can hear the influences of many pianists in the leader's work. Before the piece closes with a restatement of the theme, there's a lively exchange between the drums, bass, and piano.

Photo: Sara Pettinella
Ms. Aldana joins the trio for the title track whose opening moments and melody line may remind some of Keith Jarrett's quartets from the 1970s and 80s.  The fullness of the piano chords and the explosive drumming under the saxophone solo has such an intense feel.  The saxophonist also enlivens the fascinating "Like Water"; at 8:02, it's the longest track with over half the time dedicated to the fiery tenor solo. Royston solos next in his usual impressive fashion.  "G-Yokoso" swings delightfully with splendid work all around from the four musicians.

Photo: Sara Pettinella
The album closes with "Lament for the Fallen", an original that pays tribute to the legends of jazz who created the myriad blueprints of the music. Pay close attention to the handsome melody (reminiscent of Carla Bley's work with the Liberation Music Orchestra) as well as the excellent percussion. The piece is through-composed save for the short coda, a lovely conclusion to a fine recording.

"Balance Point" illuminates the many talents of pianist and composer Art Hirahara.  He continues to mature as both a player and writer, willing to share the spotlight with his fellow musicians.  His work over the past nine years for Posi-Tone as a leader and a band member stands out on a label that has numerous excellent players.

For more information, go to

Here's the full Quartet on the title track:

I would be remiss if I did not mention that Art Hirahara splits the keyboard duties with Theo Hill on "One for 25", producer Marc Free's celebration of Posi-Tone's 25th anniversary.  Featuring nine members of the label's artists lineup (three saxophonists, two brass, two pianists, plus bass and drums), the program includes nine songs from different band members as well as one each from guitarist Amanda Monaco, vibraphonist Behn Gillece, and pianist John Chin.  Hirahara's contribution, "Where With All", is the final cut and has a lovely opening section for the reeds and brass sans rhythm section. When the rest of the band enters, the pianist takes off on a soulful journey with just bass and drums –– Royston solos next with the opening statement from the brass and reeds as his accompaniment. It's a lovely way to close out such a swinging session!

Also, Posi-Tone Records is now on Bandcamp!  Lots of great music, much of it swings with joy!!

Give a listen:


Farnell Newton - trumpet 
Patrick Cornelius - alto saxophone 
Diego Rivera - tenor saxophone 
Michael Dease - trombone 
Lauren Sevian - baritone saxophone (four tracks) 
Art Hirahara - piano (seven tracks)
Theo Hill - piano on four tracks & Rhodes on two others 
Boris Kozlov - bass 
Rudy Royston - drums 

Linsday Victoria Photography

Pianist, composer, educator, and podcaster Jen Allen issued her sophomore album as a leader in late February of this year, her first album in nine years.  Not that she hasn't been active –– she and fellow keyboardist Noah Baerman co-lead an ensemble Trio 149 plus they co-host a blog ("149 Sessions"), she currently serves on the faculties of Trinity College (Hartford CT) and Bennington College (VT), and is on the teaching faculty of the Litchfield Jazz Festival. Ms. Allen has also worked as a side person with numerous artists including bassist Ike Sturm, saxophonists Jimmy Greene, Don Braden, and Camille Thurman as well as bassist Nat Reeves.

The new recording, "Sifting Grace" (Outside In Music), features the pianist in a quartet setting with Kris Allen (alto and soprano saxophones), Marty Jaffe (bass), and Kush Abadey (drums).  The opening two tracks, "Blanket Statement" and the title cut, set the pace. The former jumps right into a fast-paced romp led by the piano and alto reading the melody in unison while Jaffe and Abadey set a delightful pace.  The latter opens with a lovely piano solo that leads the rest of the group in. The sax again plays the melody in unison with the piano before Ms. Allen takes the first solo.  The medium-paced rhythms may remind some of different pieces of Charles Lloyd and you should enjoy how the pianist dances over the buoyant bass lines and Abadey's active drums.

Other highlights include the delightful "Easy Peasey" with its playful melody, stop-start rhythm, and Kris Allen's handsome soprano sax playing.  The piano solo is both lilting and fun with a touch of romanticism. That romantic streak also pervades the opening piano statement and the fine soprano sax melody line of "Climbing Ivy", giving the piece the feel of a ballad played by the Branford Marsalis Quartet.  Fine solos from Jaffe and Mr. Allen while Abadey tells his side of the story beneath them.

Lindsay Victoria Photography
"Sifting Grace" closes with "Kurinji". Named for a flowering shrub in South India that only blossoms every 12 years, the song dances forward on the strength of the rhythm, featuring strong piano and alto sax solos but make sure to pay attention to Abadey's splendid traps playing near the close.

Hopefully, it won't be twelve years before Jen Allen releases her third album. This music has energy, emotion, passion, melody, and a touch of sassiness plus empathy that allows the listener to bathe in the sounds.  Enjoyable and thoughtful music for stressing times and for good times!

For more information, go to

Here's the title track:

Vocalist J D Walter has been in and around the contemporary for the better part of two decades but lately, he's been missing. Turns out he was dealing with several physical issues that included vocal cord surgery. An inventive singer and arranger, one can just imagine how the sabbatical must have affected him.  His new self-released project, "Dressed In a Song", shows renewed voice, vigor, and creativity.  He and co-producer Al Pryor (GRAMMY winner as co-producer of Cécile McLorin Salvant's "The Window") picked seven songs, six pianists (including Jim Ridl, Orrin Evans, Taylor Eigsti, Marc Cary, Jean-Michel Pilc, and Julius Rodriguez) plus bassist Ben Wolfe, drummer Oded Calvaire, and Becca Stevens (charango and backing vocals) on "The Last Muse".  

The title song opens the album – the piece is dedicated to the singer's mother, a musician who adopted Walter when he was just one year old.  Taylor Eigsti's rich piano chords support the loving words, drawing in the listener to the personal poem of love.  On the other side of the musical coin is the rapid-fire take of the classic "You Go To My Head". Composed in 1938 by J Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, before the end of the year, there were, at least, five separate recordings including ones by Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, and Fats Waller (the last three listed all sold very well).  Pianist Jim Ridl sets a powerful pace and Walter gies the piece a passionate reading that includes a lovely over-dubbed vocal chorus near the close.

The album also includes an absolutely smashing reading of Bacharach-David's "What the Word Needs Now" (hear it below). Arranged by accompanist and long-time friend Orrin Evans, the duo removes all the saccharine feel that the lyrics can have (in the hands of less-accomplished interpreters) and makes the song necessary in today's pandemic climate.  Meanwhile, "Brother John" is a Walter original dedicated to a friend who took his own life during the time the composer was preparing the songs for this album.  The piano accompaniment of Marc Cary is quite empathetic, rich on its own terms, not just supporting the lyrics and the singer but offering lovely counterpoint.

The lovely gospel tune "All Through The Night" closes the album – the liner notes say that five of the six pianists appear during this song, especially on the unedited version that comes with the download. It's a great way to close the album, a heartfelt spiritual that not only speaks to Walter's recent physical issues but to all the listeners who cannot escape life's tragedies small and large. The closing 90 seconds of the piece should not be missed, starting with the scat vocal and what follows.  A wonderful ending to a splendid recording.

There's not a weak track on "Dressed In a Song", each piece and all the pianists bringing something special to the visions set forth by J D Walter ("The Last Muse" is fascinating with Ms. Stevens voice and stringed instrument plus the rhythm section, Julius Rodriguez on piano).  Take your time, explore each song two, maybe three, times before moving to the next track. There is so much to absorb with Walter's wide-ranging voice, quite emotional but never over-the-top, and the impressive accompaniment.  Beauty in so many forms sounds so good, please listen to these songs.

For more information, go to  Purchase the album by going to

Here's Mr. Walter with Orrin Evans on the classic Bacharach-David tune:

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Sing The Songs of Drummers and Others

Coming to jazz through John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Dave Brubeck, I did not realize the import of organ trios until doing a deep dive into Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Richard "Groove" Holmes, and others in the mid-1970s.  One can understand the influence of gospel music on jazz when he hears a Hammond B-3 organ swelling its way through changes.

Drummer, composer, and devilish wit Jochen Rueckert has assembled a small group for his latest album "Stars and Garters" (self-released).  The basic band is drums, tenor saxophone (Chris Cheek), and organ (Brian Charette) with guest guitarists Jeff Miles (on three tracks) and Yotam Silberstein (on two tracks)

The 11-song program has its share of swingers, rockers, and ballads. Opening with the easy-grooving "Corey and Trevor" and then moving right into "Finger Finger", one might expect the album to be a late-night set at a downtown bar. Cheek plays with controlled abandon in the style of Hank Mobley, especially on the latter track. Silberstein joins the trio and bounces along atop the dancing drums.  Next the band (with Miles on guitar) rips into "Mind Parasite", a tune by Ryan Power –– it's a rip-roaring rocker that, at high volume, shakes the speakers to their core.  Of course, the next track, "Radioland", is a quiet, Latin-esque, medium-tempo treat with soft burbling organ, delight drumming on the toms, and a pleasing tenor solo.

The title track brings one right back to the 1950s and 60s organ trio. Charette keeps a steady bass line –– when he solos, he and Rueckert have a swinging interaction. They don't rush, don't settle for cliches, they just play.  In another unexpected move, the trio (plus Miles) interprets The Deftones' 1997 tune "My Own Summer", keeping the melody and chord structure but toning does the punk-rock mayhem save for the hard-edged guitar sounds.

"Stars and Garters" closes with one more cover.  "Cannonball" was a hit in the mid-1990s for The Breeders; The trio (plus Silberstein) capture the nervous quality of the original yet also make the piece swing like mad. Even if you don't know the original, this version is a lot of f-u-n!  And we all need a big dose of that these days...actually, just about any time.  Hats to Jochen Rueckert and his gang who knocked the album out in a couple of hours just this past March 5, before the world went into lockdown.

To find out more and to purchase, go to

Here's a swinger!:

Drummer Phil Haynes (pictured left) can be heard in a number of different groups, several of which he leads.  His saxophone trio with Dave Liebman as well as a duo with the NEA Jazz Master, Free Country (his radical and fascinating interpretations of Country songs), organ trios, and more plus solo drum programs, all point to a person for whom borders are meant to be crossed if not ignored all together.  Haynes also performs in a piano trio with bassist Drew Gress and pianist Steve Rudolph, an ensemble for whom melody and improvisation, swing and flow, are of the utmost important.

In 2009, the trio recorded its debut album under the three musicians names with the title "Day Dream".  That's now their collective name and their second album, "Originals" (CornerStore Jazz), is just that; 10 new compositions, four by Rudolph and three each by Gress and Haynes. The music and performances are reminiscent of the work of Bill Evans, Fred Hersch, and Frank Kimbrough.  What stands out is both the musicianship and the lyricism –– you can hum these melodies but the joy of the music is hearing how the trio interacts.  Solos grow intelligently out of the melody, easily flowing from composition to improvisation and back.  If you take your time to listen deeply, each song stands out.

There's the Evans-esque beauty of Rudolph's "Wedding Waltz" (listen to how Gress underlines the melody and Haynes color with his cymbals) as well as Gress's mysterious, hypnotic, "Afterwards" with its ascending then descending bass line over a steady 4/4 beat. One of Haynes's three contributions, "Spell", opens with a swinging brushes solo, dramatic piano chords as well as a bluesy bass line. Gress goes right through the melody into his solo and an impressive one it is.  He dances atop the funky rhythm turning the spotlight over to Rudolph who gets in the groove and does not let it go! The drummer also composed "Beloved Refracted" (listen below), a melody built on a two-handed piano theme and powerful interaction between Rudolph and Gress.

"Originals" closes with the bassist's "Let Fly", a bopping tune with both a bluesy feel and a delightful swing.  Day Dream will not put you to sleep –– instead, it's an album that you can listen to in one sitting and then listen again.  Steve Rudolph, Drew Gress, and Phil Haynes are a trio of equals and the music they create together is powerful, music with a heart!

Here's a taste:

Photo: Peter Gasnnushkin
Drummer, composer, and bandleader Chad Taylor (on the left) may be best-known as the co-founder (with trumpeter Rob Mazurek) of the Chicago Underground Duo. The Arizona native grew up in Chicago where he worked with Fred Anderson, Nicole Mitchell, Matana Roberts, Ken Vandermark, and so many others.  Currently, he's working in a duo setting with saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, in guitarist Marc Ribot's ensemble, with trumpeter Jaime Branch, saxophonist Avram Fefer, bass clarinetist Jason Stein, and others.  He's issued three albums under his own name including 2018's solo percussion album "Myths and Morals" (my review here).

Photo: Paul de Lucena
The drummer has a new trio that bears his name, featuring tenor saxophonist Brian Settles (Tomas Fujiwara, Michael Formanek, Jonathan Finlayson) and pianist Neil Podgurski (Tim Warfied, Captain Black Big Band).  The trio has just released its debut album,  "The Daily Biological" (Cuneiform Records) –– Taylor has known his bandmates since the 1990s but they did not coalesce as an ensemble until several years ago. Taylor had moved to Philadelphia four or five years back after splitting time between Chicago and New York City. The pianist has lived in Philly for over two decades while Settles has moved back to his native Washington D.C. so the band is not too far apart.

The album, composed of all originals pieces by the trio members, is startling, music that verges on "free" yet there are times when the beat is so powerful it feels as if the drums could knock you off your feet.  The opening track, "The Shepherd", roars out of the gate driven by Taylor's conversational drums, Settles' powerful tenor (he's the composer), and Podgurski's thunderous attack. Because the drums are so well-miked and up front in the mix and the pianist has such a strong left hand, one does not miss a bassist.  Depending on your speakers, the bass drum thump is quite noticeable.  The pianist's "Resistance" starts quietly, the piano chords and crisp cymbal sound leading to Settles and Podgurski reading the theme.  Settles stays with the poignant theme while the pianist takes a powerful solo with Taylor ramping up the intensity.  The trio calls down for just a second when the saxophonist begins his solo but soon he's being pushed by the drums and insistent piano.

Photo: Paul de Lucena
There is so much to enjoy in the hour+ recording.  "Birds, Leaves, Wind, Trees" is a delightfully impressionistic piece from Podgurski with the trio taking parts throughout.  Settles and Taylor argue like two birds fighting over a crust of bread, then Podguski joins with his notes dropping like rain on the leaves.  "Swamp" kicks butt in the opening moments, stopping for an unaccompanied tenor solo that blends longer lines with fluttering notes and silence. The pianist takes over, engaging in a rapid-fire dialogue with Taylor that builds in intensity until the composer Settles returns to join the pianist in the bass line while the drummer solos through to the fade.

Photo: Paul de Lucena
The final two tracks, penned by Taylor, include the thunderous "Recife", which opens with a muscular drum solo over a repetitive figure by the sax and piano. Then the pianist takes over for a short statement and Settles gets the final minute through to the fade. The program ends with the longest track, the 12-minute "Between Sound and Silence" –– the drummer has the opening minute to himself before Settles jumps in followed shortly by Podgurski.  The piano lines have a nervous feel prodded by the drums as the saxophonist struts and frets atop them.  The music quiets down, Podgurski's searching piano lines move the piece forward, heading towards silence, supported only by a distant rumble of floor toms. When the saxophonist returns, he plays a gentle, gospel-influenced melody, over the tolling piano.  Taylor returns, his drumming raising the intensity level but not pushing the emotions to the background.  The tolling piano continues while Settles searching and Taylor's shimmering cymbal create a stunning final 30 seconds.

"The Daily Biological", if you listen deeply, will change your idea of "power trios."  No over-amped guitars, fuzzy bass lines, no ponderous drums; instead, this is music teeming with ideas, interactions, inventive solos, intelligent writing, and more.  Such an auspicious recorded debut for the Chad Taylor Trio that one can just imagine how great they must sound in a live setting. In the meantime, find this album and let the music play. Play it loud!!

For more information, go to –– purchase the album by going to

Here's one of the great tracks:

Monday, April 20, 2020

Trumpet Stories Based on History (Distant Past & Recent)

Dave Douglas goes from strength to strength. The trumpeter, composer, label owner, podcast host (he's an excellent interviewer), and social activist, is a musical adventurer. He writes and records with numerous musicians, rarely releasing more than two or three albums with the same lineup. This allows him so much creativity, to have different voices and instruments interpret his music.  His "sound" is crisp, reminiscent of the "cleaner, clearer" styles of Clifford Brown and Booker Little.

His newest adventure is "Dizzy Atmosphere" (Greenleaf Music) Inspired by John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie, Douglas went into the studio with long-time associate Joey Baron (drums) plus four younger musicians including Fabian Almazan (piano), Matt Stevens (guitar), Carmen Rothwell (bass), and Dave Adewumi (trumpet). The program, seven Douglas originals and two Gillespie-penned gems, reminds one of the trumpeter's other tribute albums including 1990's "In Our Soul" (Mary Lou Williams), 1995's "In Our Lifetime" (Booker Little), and 1997's "Stargazer" (Wayne Shorter) –– each album included several songs by the artist plus a majority of Douglas compositions.  You can find the first and third albums by going to and the second at

Piet Mondrian (MOMA)
The album opens with "Mondrian", named for the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) who moved to New York City in 1938, spending the final six years of his life and career influenced by the sights and sounds of the city. The painting on the left, "Broadway Boogie-Woogie"captures the hustle-and-bustle of the wartime years.  Douglas's music moves in a powerful, if a bit, anxious manner building up from Almazan's left and Ms. Rothwell's foundational lines.   Gillespie was in the City at that time as well and this music captures his youthful vigor and sense of exploration. The second track offers a play on words: "Con Almazan" refers back to "Con Alma".  The Douglas variation features an excellent give-and-take for the two trumpets, a powerful guitar statement, a majestic piano solo, and adventurous work from the bassist and drummer.

 The two Gillespie pieces are right in the middle of the program.  "Manteca" (credited to Gillespie, Gil Fuller, and Chano Pozo) has an irresistible bounce, playful interactions between trumpets, guitars and piano, plus delightful solos from Douglas and Adewumi riding atop the groove.  "Pickin' The Cabbage" is purportedly Dizzys first published piece; recorded in 1940 by Cab Calloway's Orchestra , the ensemble where you could find the composer in the trumpet section at the time. It's a funky blues and, again, the two trumpeters have a great time playing off each other.  Ms. Rothwell and Baron provide quite a deep bottom plus the drummer gets a rousing solo.

Photo: Lawrence Sumulong
The three ballads on the program stand out as well. "See Me Now" finds the sextet moving slowly through the melody with the composer's muted trumpet in the lead. Note the melodicism of the piano in contrast to the quiet moaning of the guitar. The two trumpets open "Pacific" (the title may refer to how "peaceful" the music is) before Almazan moves gently, in an introspective manner, through the melody. The trumpets and guitar take over  moving contrapuntally through the next few minutes. Listening to Adewumi and Douglas playing in and around each other along with the waves of notes from the piano is a reminder that music can soften the blow of everyday life by challenging us to listen creatively.  The album closes with "We Pray", a handsome piece with a sweet trumpet melody, another fine piano solo, and excellent brush work from Baron. This piece as well as "Pacific" also appear on 2019's "Devotion", Douglas's album with Uri Caine and Andrew Cyrille.

Photo: Yousuf Karsh
"Dizzy Atmosphere" bears the subtitle "Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity", an apt title as older generations of musicians probably felt that Mr. Gillespie's entry on the music scene was an alien invasion. Yet, the title also reminds us that his music turned a lot of ears, his joie-de-vivre, his mentorship, his endless curiosity, and crackling trumpet sound changed our world for the better.  Dave Douglas taps into that wellspring of creativity and curiosity, fashioning sounds that serves as a reminder that creative music has often moved forward by looking back and digging deeper.

For more information, go to and/ or The album will be released on May 1, 2020 –– go to for purchase information.

Here's one of the two Dizzy tunes on the album:

Trumpeter, composer, and educator Ian Carey, born in Binghampton, NY, has lived-in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past two decades after studying in various places including in New York City (he attended the New School) where one of his teachers was Maria Schneider.  Carey is also a fine writer with occasional blog posts that are fun and educational (check an example out here).  He leads the Quintet + 1, an ensemble that has the same rhythm section since his 2006 5-piece group debut; pianist (acoustic and electric) Adam Schulman, bassist Fred Randolph, and the dynamic drummer Jon Arkin.  Saxophonist and flutist Evan Francis appears on the first three recordings with tenor saxophonist Kasey Knudsen becoming the + 1 on the third –– bass clarinetist Sheldon Brown replaced Francis for the fourth recording, 2016's "Interview Music".

The lineup remains the same for Carey's fifth release, "Fire In My Head (The Anxiety Suite)", his debut for Slow & Steady Records (the first four were released by the trumpeter's Kabocha Records). The "Suite" is comprised of five sections, each with individual themes yet connected to the whole in many ways.  Carey is a democratic leader, making sure everyone is heard, has their moments in the spotlight, but it's his way with arranging the pieces that truly stand out.  Listen below to "II: This Is Fine"; note how the brass and reeds share the melody, echoing each other, coming together then pushing apart, in and out, back and forth, while the rhythm section pushes the piece forward with abandon.  Schulman's solo is a hard-bop, single-note, romp followed by the leader's intense statement before bassist Randolph steps out.

Carey composed this music in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. In the album liner notes, he admits to struggling with anxiety throughout his life and that the issue was heightened by the events leading up to Election Day and its aftermath.  While there is a nervous undercurrent to this music, there is also a creative guide to surviving these times. "III: Thought Spirals" is an intelligently constructed piece that leaves room for through-writing, tempo changes, group interplay, solos, and even a short section for a trumpet and reeds sans accompaniment.  The "glue" on this track is Schulman's hypnotic Fender Rhodes drone that permeates the piece.

On earlier recordings, one could clearly hear Carey's influences from both the classical and jazz world.  Those have been folded into the mix plus the fact that the trumpeter had multiple opportunities to work with this group of musicians performing and refining the program gives the music a freshness.  Each voice is clearly delineated yet there is also a clear group "sound." "Fire In My Head (The Anxiety Suite)" was recorded before but is being released during the current global pandemic.  There are times when the density of the sound verges on overwhelming but there is also an undercurrent of hope in the "Suite".  Perhaps, that's because the final track, "V: Resistance", speaks to our ability to rise above the foolishness and. childish behavior of certain officials and do what's right for ourselves, our children, our community, and, inevitability, our country. Sheldon Brown's powerful solo on that track stands out as an expression of freedom.

"Fire In My Head (The Anxiety Suite)" is powerful music made all the more relevant in our current situation. This music will resonate long after the blows from the Coronavirus have been absorbed and (hopefully) eliminated.  The Ian Carey Quintet + 1 has thrown down the gauntlet; listener, start healing your self through creativity, confrontation, and reflection.

For more information, go to –– for purchase information, go to

Here's the second movement a.k.a . "This Is Fine":

Trumpeter and composer Ben Holmes, a native of Ithaca, NY, now lives in Brooklyn, NY.  He's studied Jewish Music, in particular Jewish music of the 20th Century with the emphasis on popular musicians such as clarinetist Dave Tarras plus trumpeters Ziggy Elman and Mannie Klein.  Holmes has co-led the Tarras Band with clarinetist Michael Winograd, co-leads a duo with accordionist Patrick Farrell and played with Vampire Weekend as well as Slavic Soul Party. As a leader, he's recorded a Trio album in 2012 and Quartet album (for Skirl Records) in 2015.

In 2019, Holmes appeared as part of a larger ensemble on Michael Winograd's "Kosher Style", one of the best klezmer albums of the past few years.  Now, he's released "Naked Lore" (Svejk Music/ Chant Records), a nine-song program of originals based on classic Jewish and Klezmer melodies. Joining the trumpeter is Brad Shepik (acoustic and electric guitars) and Shane Shanahan (percussion) –– the makeup of the band will remind close listeners of Dave Douglas's Tiny Bell Trio, an ensemble that Sheik played with as well.  But the music here has more of Middle-Eastern and Iberian Peninsula feel, with the hand percussion.  The Portuguese guitar adds a Mediterranean feel to "Swamplands Chusidl" but the funky rhythm Shanahan creates places the listener in Brooklyn. Holmes gets such a clear tone from his trumpet, a classical sound, yet the music does not feel stilted in any manner.

Pieces such as "The Sunbeast Emerges" (listener below), "Interlude on Avenue J", and "Two "Oh No!"s and an "Oh!", no "No!" have an urgency that jumps out of the speaker. Shanahan creates an insistence that pulls the trumpet and guitar, especially during Shepik's solo on the last track listed. "Interlude..." features more percussive excitement as the guitar and trumpet create a circular melody that is quite alluring.  "Invocation II/ The Dust of Unremembering" opens with a stunning solo trumpet statement that runs nearly three minutes. The second half of the six minute opens with Shepik playing a hypnotic guitar figure while Shanahan wails away on the frame drum. When Holmes reenters, he's playing muted trumpet and the music takes on an air of mystery.

The final two tracks include the soothing then raucous "First We Were Sad; Then We Danced" and the lovely medium-tempo "All Together".  "First..." tells you all you need to know right in the title while "All..." also starts slowly then picks up on the strength of the rollicking percussion.

"Naked Lore" should be considered one as of the albums involved in the "changing of the guard" in contemporary Jewish music. Listeners who love music well-played as well as challenging can find a home here in these melodies and rhythms. Ben Holmes is an exciting trumpeter, an excellent musician whose has found his soul in this music and makes you see and hear it as well.

For more information, go to To purchase the music, go to

Here's a taste of "The Sunbeast Emerges":

Monday, April 13, 2020

Music for When One Needs Healing

At a time when the entire world is on tenterhooks, tragedy strikes quickly and sharply. My sister died in the hospital on Wednesday the 8th, not from the virus scrubbing away at our communities but from complications with her heart. The worst part was not being able to visit her in her final hours as the facility was, and remains, on lockdown.

Mildred Rae (Mickey) Kamins, born January 28, 1943 – died April 8, 2020.

In the past, when a family member or close friend died, it's been the solo piano music of Keith Jarrett, the compositions of Erik Satie, or the "Cello Suites" of J.S. Bach (Yo-Yo Ma or Pablo Casals plus Johnny Gandelsman's brilliant adaptation of the pieces for violin) that I would turn to.  Last week, it was the new album from the trio Gilfema, an album I was preparing to review, that helped me get through.

Photo: Seiichi Niitsuma
The trio – Lionel Gilles Loueke (guitar, vocals), Ferenc Nemeth (drums, vocals) and Massimo Biolcati (acoustic and electric basses) – first met at The Berklee College of Music two decades ago. Several years later, all three went on to the (then) Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Los Angeles, CA.  Returning East to New York City, the trio wrote and performed music, signed to ObliqSound Records, releasing their eponymously-titled debut album in 2005.  "+ 2" followed in 2008 but when Loueke signed with Blue Note, the trio took his name, recording a series of albums while the guitarist toured with Herbie Hancock plus appeared on albums by Jack DeJohnette, Terence Blanchard, Esperanza Spalding, and many others.

"Three" (Sounderscore Records) is the trio's first "official group" album in 12 years and the musicians seemed as locked in and "free" as ever. The 13-song program builds off their ability to all be rhythm player as well as melodicists.  Check out the open track "Têkê", how the melody builds off the dancing high-hat and the burbling bass, the West African melody plucked out by the guitar, and then, the music takes off on the strength of the multi-tracked guitar.  Yes, it's Loueke's song, he's got the lead role, but this music needs the rhythm section to make it whole.  Hear what the trio does to Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" (see and hear below) –– the melody is first played by Biolcati (acoustic) before Loueke takes over. Yet, the guitarist is quite active in the opening minute.  The splendid percussion, the fundamental bass lines, all combine to keep one alert to how the trio makes this song its own.

Photo: Seiichi Niitsuma
Try sitting still during Nemeth's driving "Happiness" and while the drummer leads in "Algorythm and Blues" (co-written by Loueke and Biolcati).  The latter track's groove evokes The Meters and The Neville Brothers Band, so much so you expect to hear snatches of New Orleans patois sung in the background.  The guitarist and bassist also collaborated on the eminently danceable "Brio", the joyous West African groove sparked by Loueke's rippling guitar, Biolcati's bouncing bass lines, and the Caribbean-drum approach of Nemeth.

Photo: Seiichi Niitsuma
Loueke's "Dear J.L." is a spare ballad, with a long, flowing melody section, quiet percussion, and melodic bass accompaniment.  The guitar solo builds smartly off the melody and the electronic effects plus Loueke's soft vocal paint a gentle portrait. The album closes with Biolcati's "Until", his overdubbed bowed bass chordal drone under Loueke's processed guitar melody creating a impressionistic setting. The bassist solos first (over his bass choir) before he and the guitarist play counterpart over the drone and soft hand-held percussion.

Why is "Three" so therapeutic for this writer in his time of mourning and remembrance?  Maybe because my favorite music comes from the idea of dance, rhythms, pushing you, dragging you out of yourself –– Maybe it's the fact that Gilfema is a group made up of friends, musicians who have stayed in touch with each other, played regularly, and enjoy pushing their own boundaries. The joy I feel with Bach's "Cello Suites", the searching that created John Coltrane's " A Love Supreme", the gentle moments of Maria Schneider's "Sky Blue", all elements that also appear on "Three".  The right music at the right time and, if you are already in a good mood, this music will heighten that mood as well. Just sit and listen.

For more information plus to purchase, go to

Here's the trio's lovely the on the Jimi Hendrix ballad:

Friday, April 3, 2020

Speaking To All of Us

Photo: Anna Webber
Any album and/or concert Kurt Elling presents/ creates is an adventure.  The vocalist, songwriter, and poet came out of Chicago 25 years ago singing jazz, cognizant of the music's history in that city and this country, melding poetry with music, telling stories.  Sometimes those stories were based in the blues, other times in the vocalese style of Jon Hendricks and Eddie Jefferson, and there were songs of a political nature.  Most recently, he teamed up with Branford Marsalis for a pair of albums on Okeh Records, 2016's "Upward Spiral" with Marsalis's Quartet and the other under his own name "Questions"(2018).

Late last year, the vocalist signed with Great Britain's Edition Records – his debut album for the label, "Secrets Are The Best Stories", is credited to Kurt Elling, featuring Danilo Pérez. The fascinating program is a collection of melodies by the pianist Perez and others, including the opening two tracks composed by Jaco Pastorius plus pieces from Wayne Shorter, Vince Mendoza, and two tracks composed by vocalist Sidsel Endresen with music by Django Bates.  The program is one of the most intimate and least orchestrated of Elling's oeuvre, with Pérez on 10 of the 11 tracks; bassist Clark Sommers appears on five and percussionist Rogério Boccato on four (Johnathan Blake, Jr. plays on two songs while alto saxophonists Miguel Zenón, guitarist Chico Pinheiro, and percussionist Romån Dîaz each appear on one.

Photo: Anna Webber
The intimacy can be right from the onset: "The Fanfold Hawk (for Franz Wright)" utilizes a Pastroius melody, multi-tracked voices, and Sommers's expressive bass to tell its story and leads directly into "A Certain Continuum" (based on the late bassist's "Continuum")––on this track, Pérez, Blake, Jr., and Dîaz join Sommers to create a chugging rhythm.  The lengthy piano solo is quite handsome. Pérez wrote the music for "Gratitude (for Robert Bly)", the second song dedicated to an American poet.  The piano and voice are so excellently paired and, when Sommers and Bocato enter, the music moves away into an airy Latin groove.

Photo: Anna Webber
But the three songs that truly stand out are "Beloved (for Toni Morrison)", "Song of the Rio Grange (for Oscar and Valerie Martinez-Ramirez)", and "Rabo de Nube".  The first track is not only the longest on the program (9:32) but features the largest ensemble.  Zenón's keening alto saxophone moves around Elling's voice then echoes the vocal in the fast-paced middle section.  Blake, Jr., Boccato, and Sommers raise the intensity beneath the hard-edged piano.  The final tune mentioned is composed by Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodríguez and translates to "Tail of the Tornado." Yet, Elling and Pérez handle this song about a great wind coming to clean away sadnesses and ugliness, leaving behind hope.

As for "Song of the Rio Grange", listen and watch below knowing that the song is dedicated to the father and his daughter who died crossing the river from Mexico to the United States.  Just Elling's multi-tracked voice and the amazing sounds of the prepared piano––fascinating lyrics and emotionally powerful music.

"Secrets Are The Best Stories" is an amazing musical and lyrical journey.  Built upon the words and dramatic vocals of Kurt Elling and the powerful, lyrical, musicianship of Danilo Pérez, this music will resonate inside you, asking you to listen and take action, even as the world hunkers down in isolation. The power of music and the power of the pen make yet turn the world towards empathy.

For more information, go to  To purchase this album and check out more of the album's music, go to

Here's the most powerful track on the album:

Photo: Jimmy Katz
So much has been written in the last seven+ years about Jimmy Greene and his family's personal tragedy of losing his daughter Ana Grace in the December 2012 school shooting in Sandy Hook, CT.  To their credit, he and his wife Nelba Marquez-Greene have done so much since the to raise awareness about the issues of mental illness, gun laws, and more (check out The saxophonist (soprano and tenor) has continued to perform, record, and teach––he is currently Associate Professor of Music and Co-coordinator of Jazz Studies at Western Connecticut State University.  His two albums on Mack Avenue, 2014's "Beautiful Life" and 2017's "Flowers – Beautiful Life, Volume 2", have shown his development as a musician and composer, his tenor sound maturing into a brighter, fuller, tone while his soprano playing gets better, richer, cleaner, with every passing year.

His new Mack Avenue album, 'While Looking Up", is a reunion of sorts.  Each musician – Lage Lund (guitar), Reuben Rogers (bass), Stefon Harris (vibraphone, marimba), Kendrick Scott (drums), and Aaron Goldberg (piano, Fender Rhodes) – have recorded with Greene in the past (Goldberg appeared on the saxophonist's 2000 Criss Cross debut "Introducing Jimmy Greene").  The 10 song program features seven Greene originals plus three tracks by associated with other artists.  The album opens with Cole Porter's "So In Love" with Greene essaying the melody on soprano sax while the band (minus Harris) dance beneath him, especially during his lyrical solo.  Lund and Goldberg follow within solos of their own.  Greene and company refashion Whitney Houston's major hit "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" into a lovely ballad. Instead of the powerful dance rhythms of the original, one can truly hear the longing in the tenor saxophonist's phrasing of the melody. Be sure to notice the excellent brushes work from Scott and Rogers's melodic bass work. The stunning peformance of "Good Morning Heartache" (perhaps best know for Billy Holiday's 1946 recording) is one of the highlights of the album.  With Rogers and Scott creating a gentle cushion, Green's breathy tenor solo hearkens back to the sounds of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster without sounding like either musician.

Photo: Anna Webber
Harris only appears on two cuts but both are worth noting.  Greene's flute introduction (with overdubbed clarinet and bass clarinet) to "April 4th" leads the listener in to a lovely light samba. His lovely soprano playing is framed by Goldberg's gentle piano, the excellent rhythm section especially Scott's dancing drums. Harris steps out on vibraphone, raising the temperature of the piece and locking into the drums.  He plays marimba on "Always There", a higher energy Greene tune with an insistent feels to the guitar and piano plus great push forward from the bass and drums.  The tenor, marimba, guitar, and piano swap 4-bar phrases right up to the final 75 seconds when Scott steps out (and does he ever!)

The album comes to a close with the title track plus "A Simple Prayer."  The former jumps forward on a subtle funky rhythm and features fine solos from Lund, Greene (on tenor– listen to the rhythm section dance behind him), and Goldberg (a sweet lyrical turn).  The final song lives up to its name, a slow blues with more than a touch of gospel.  Goldberg's rich piano work, a fine bass solo, and Greene's powerful statement over Scott's muscular drumming pulls one into the music and you find yourself on the edge of your seat shaking your head.

"While Looking Up" is a much-needed boost for the soul. The friendship of the musicians, their willingness to push each other higher, and the fine program written and/or arranged by Jimmy Greene is filled with good songs and great playing.  Such positive vibes with brighten your day and your life!

For more information, go to

Here's the sweet-sounding "April 4th":

Trumpeter Kenny Warren grew up in Denver, CO, and moved to NewYork City in 2002 to study music at SUNY-Purchase.  Since graduation, he has played and recorded with many ensembles and people including Slavic Soul Party, Andy Biskin's 16 Tons, the Angela Morris & Anna Webber Big Band, and others.  Warren also leads the Americana group "Laila and Smitty" (musical sample below) who have released three recordings since 2014. His debut jazz album, a quartet date titled "Thank You For Coming to Life", was issued in 2017 on Whirlwind Recordings.

For his second Whirlwind release, "In The Heat", Warren composed seven pieces for his trumpet, bass (Matthias Pichler), and drums (Nathan Ellman-Bell).  There are few trumpet trio albums although bassist Linda May Han Oh's debut disk featured her in a trio setting with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and trumpeter/ cornetist Josh Baerman has recorded in several trio settings.  In many ways, this music sounds influenced by Henry Threadgill's writing for Air, not just for the intimate sound but also for how integral the bassist and drummer are to the development of the musical conversations.  There are also moments when the trumpeter's squeezed notes and sound remind this listener of Taylor Ho Bynum.

The music has an adventurous feel, often moving in surprising directions and pulling the listener along. In the course of any one of the songs, the trio takes off on an aural adventure.  Listen to the track below ("Pen In Hand"), to how Warren leads the bass and drums then immediately begins to play with the tempos, and then how playful their conversation becomes. The longest track, "Brain Phone Wired" (14:34), starts very slowly with the trumpet and the bass counterpoint taking their time to get into the body of the song. 2/3rds of the way through, the tempo picks up yet on can still hear how the three musicians are connected to each other rhythmically and melodically.  Even the shorter tracks, such as the three-minute closer "One Room In My Mind", says a lot in a short time.  The rhythm has a West African feel, the bass and drums locked in like Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell in Old and New Dreams with Warren dancing atop their joyful beat.

"In The Heat" is conversational, challenging, open, free (at times), quite rhythmic, an album to sit with  and let the sounds fill the room. Kenny Warren meets the challenge of the trio date with aplomb and joy.  Enjoy the ride!

For more information, go to  To purchase the recording and get evermore information, go to

Here's a track from the Trio:

And, as a special treat, here's the final track from "Laila and Smitty III" – the band features Warren (trumpet and vocals), Jeremiah Lockwood (guitars), Myk Lockwood (lap steel), Adam Hopkins (bass), and Carlo Costa (drums) :