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":

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