Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Quartet Fusion (Canadian Version)

Peripheral Vision, the Toronto-based quartet, came together in 2008 to play original music built from melody, featuring intuitive interactions,  and expanded through improvisation.  The band –– Don Scott (electric and acoustic guitars), Michael Herring (acoustic bass), Trevor Hogg (tenor saxophone), and Nick Fraser (drums, percussion) –– are all busy players on the ever-expanding Canadian scene. Scott, who has played alongside David Binney and Dave Douglas (among others), leads his own trio and is also a member of Idioteque, a Radiohead-cover band. Herring also leads several bands including Vertigo (with David Binney, Scott, and Fraser) plus has worked with pianist David Braid, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Ken Vandermark (plus others).  Fraser is also quite busy with his own groups plus working with a great cross-section of musicians from all genres, including saxophonists Quinsin Nachoff, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, and Tony Malaby plus bassist William Parker and trumpeter Lina Allemano. Hogg leads his own band, works with guitarist Harley Card, saxophonist Tara Davidson, and pianist Braid as well.

Since the band's inception, Scott and Herring have been the principal composers.  They both know the strengths of each band member and their compositions play to that as well as pushing them to continue to grow.  Album #5 is a two-disk set: "Irrational Revelation and Mutual Humiliation" (self-released), is the third consecutive Peripheral Vision album to be co-produced by the composers with Jean Martin (drummer and former member of pianist D.D Jackson's Trio) and the first to feature other musicians (see list below). While the extra "voices" fill out the sound, it does not take away from the group interactions.  The first album's centerpiece is Herring's "Reconciliation Suite", a nearly 14-minute suite composed after the death of bassist's grandfather. The story behind the music not only deals with reconciliation in families (especially multi-faith families) but also the role of Canadian citizens and artists to deal with how that country deals with members The First Nation and immigrants.  It's an extremely powerful work, deserving of multiple listens to grasp its complete message. The music rocks, roars, soars, whispers, sings, and cries

The 14-song, 88+-minute, album is loaded with excellent music. Pieces such as "For Kent Monkman" (Herring) swings with great intensity while "Man vs Zafu" is a fascinating take on a relationship the composer (Herring) has with his Yoga mat. The bassist's "Brooklyn Bearded" is a funky response to a gig composer Herring saw in that borough – Fraser's dancing drums will delight you and make you move.  Scott's "Title Crisis" is a response to the untitled songs the guitarist/ composer would bring to sessions and have the band give them ridiculous names. The sound manipulation on Hogg's tenor sax during his solo gives him an eerie feel but Fraser's powerful drum accompaniment pushes the music forward.  "N12" refers to an eviction notice Scott received as Toronto was gentrifying his neighborhood – the subsequent "dislocation" gave birth to this song in which the composer displays both anxiety and calmness.  Scott's studies with drummer-composer John Hollenbeck laid the ground work for "Schleudern" (German for "spin" or "fling"), a piece that sonically refers to the teacher's Claudia Quintet (thanks to the work of guest Michael Davidson's vibraphone!)

"Irrational Revelation and Mutual Humiliation" refers to the title of each of the 2-CDs in this set and I'll leave up to you to decide what or if there is a difference between the two.  What you do get when you truly listen is music that is intelligent, smartly orchestrated, witty, muscular, and emotionally powerful.  On initial hearing, one may pick out connections to the music of John Abercrombie, Pat Metheny, and the afore-mentioned John Hollenbeck; yet Peripheral Vision is, after 12 years, its own entity with music that stands out for the quality of its compositions and splendid musicianship.

For more information, go to peripheralvisionmusic.com.  To listen to more of this album and check out the Quartet's entire discography, go to https://peripheralvision.bandcamp.com.

Here's the opening track:


Trevor Hogg - tenor saxophone 
Don Scott - guitar 
Michael Herring - bass 
Nick Fraser - drums 

Michael Davidson - vibraphone (eight tracks) 
Craig Harley - organ, Fender Rhodes (five tracks) 
Chris Pruden - Prophet 6 (six tracks)
Jean Martin - organ bass, synth programming (two tracks) 

Songs of Tales is a truly trans-Canadian group in that each member of the quartet lives in a different location.  Petr Cancura (tenor saxophone, keyboards) resides in Ottawa, Gordon Grdina (guitars, oud, bass) in Vancouver BC, Jesse Zubot (violin, synth, bass, congas) on Vancouver Island, and Jean Martin (drums, electronics, vibraphone) in Toronto.  Zubot and Martin (who co-produces the quartet Peripheral Vision) are both members of throat singer Tanya Tagaq's Trio while Grdina leads several groups (he has released or been featured on, at least four albums that have come out in the first five months of 2020).  Cancura is currently the Program Director of the Ottawa Jazz Festival and a member of the Canadian quartet Way North (with bassist Michael Herring, drummer Richie Barshay, and trumpeter Rebecca Henessey) – he also is an accomplished mandolin player and a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music.

The band's debut album, "Life Is a Gong Show" (released on Cancura's labels Roots2Boots Records), displays the myriad influences on the musicians.  With the exception of Charles Mingus's "Moanin'", all the songs were composed by band members (save for Martin) but each member had a hand in the arrangements and the sonic environments.  The Mingus tune opens with video game machine sound effects before Cancura's overdubbed saxophones and Grdina's electric guitar play the melody.  Martin's thumping drums sets the pace, the guitar takes on a raucous tone as the synth tones dance for one speaker to the next and back. The tenor solo is a bit frantic and shells to bump up the intensity even more.

What is evident throughout the program is how much fun the band is having creating this music and overturning one's expectations.  The super-funky "Burning Bright" with simultaneous solos from violin, tenor sax, and guitar while Martin kicks so hard sounds like an inverted jig while "Cinema" (composed by Cancura) is a "down-home" blues tune.  The sax and violin moan the melody while the electric guitar growls behind atop the drummer's solid beat. "Awake" is handsome ballad with a mournful melody, powerful work from Grdina and more fine tenor playing.  A solemn oud opens Grdina's "Jojis" which explodes seconds later into a raucous tour-de-force (similar to the sounds Ken Vandermark created on his early quartet albums). The following track, "Cluster" (also composed by Grdina), opens very quietly, no discernible rhythm, rattling percussion, plucked oud and violin, until the violin, and saxophone play the melody.

The final two tracks on the album, "Sideways" and "Mary Go Round", are both Cancura (pictured left) compositions, both as different as day and night. The former sports a dancing melody line, repeated over and over through the first two minutes until the music breaks down and becomes a series of long tones out of which rhythmic conga beat bring the listener back to the repetitive melody. The latter piece  opens as if a orchestra was tuning up, quietly and slowly moving forward out of rhythm. Disparate sounds filter in and out, long violin tones, hint of marimba, and a melody line trying to emerge.  All of a sudden, acoustic guitar and violin introduces a plaintive time with quiet explosions and counterpoint from tenor saxophone. It's a lovely close to a fascinating program.

In these odd days, "Life Is a Gong Show" is an apt title for the daily machinations of beleaguered people. Even though Songs of Tales recorded the album months before the shutdown, this noisy, contemplative, crackling, rhythmical, and fun music feels just right.  Call it jazz, call it fusion, world music but let these 11 tracks seep into your brain and enjoy!

For more information, go to https://roots2boot.com/life-is-a-gong-show.

Time to listen:

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Esperanza & Fred: Great Music for a Good Cause!

Over his career, pianist and composer Fred Hersch has performed and recorded in the duo setting many times with partners such as Jay Clayton, Norma Winstone, Bill Frisell, Anat Cohen, Jane Ira Bloom, and more.  Up until this year, he's been holding an annual Duo Invitation Series in New York City (at The Jazz Standard with select dates at The Village Vanguard and Jazz at Lincoln Center).  Since the pandemic struck the United States, Mr. Hersch and his fellow musicians have been "sheltering" at home but that has not stopped from beginning a video series of daily (for a while) and weekly "living room" shows (which started daily on Facebook and is now weekly on Patreon – to subscribe, go to www.patreon.com/fredhersch).

This week and through the end of June, you can hear and purchase "Esperanza Spalding & Fred Hersch: Live at The Village Vanguard".  Recorded in October of 2018, this five-song program carries the subtitle "Rough Mix EP" and is being made available exclusively on Bandcamp (link below).  On the site, the artists tell you that "all proceeds benefiting the Jazz Foundation of America and the organization’s efforts to assist members of the jazz community impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic." 

It's a delightful program –– the material includes one Fred Hersch original ("Dream of Monk"), "Loro" (Egberto Gismonti), "But Not For Me" (George & Ira Gershwin), "Some Other Time" (Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne), and the album's centerpiece, a hilarious take on "Girl Talk" (composed by Neal Hefti and Bobby Troup, made famous by Julie London –– watch Troup's video on YouTube for a comparison ). Ms. Spalding is in excellent voice and her sense of humor is evident throughout right through the dancing version of Gismonti's tune. As for Mr. Hersch, he proved years ago that he's a wonderful accompanist and he, too, is in "excellent voice."  

Music for a good cause?  Absolutely!  Good music??  No! No? Great music! Fun music! If you're not in a good mood after listening to "Esperanza Spalding & Fred Hersch: Live at The Village Vanguard", our prayers go out to you!

Go to https://esperanzaspaldingfredhersch.bandcamp.com and help these two artists help support the jazz community in this time of real need.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Drums, Reeds, Strings, and more

The trio of Adam Rudolph (percussion, voice, chordal instruments), Ralph M. Jones (reeds, wooden flutes, voice), and Hamid Drake (percussion, voice), have played together for many years in various ensembles. Rudolph and Drake first met in 1969 going on to work with jazz groups in the Mid-West while Jones and Rudolph met in 1974 and had a long relationship/ friendship with reed master/ educator Yusef Lateef.  Jones has been a member of Rudolph's Go: Organic Orchestra since its inception two decades while Drake has played and recorded with the other two musicians as part of Rudolph's Moving Pictures ensemble. They've got history.

Several years ago, the three musicians formed the Karuna Trio. "Karuna" is a Sanskrit word for "compassionate action" and is related to the work of reiki (compassionate healing) –– in Buddhist traditions, the word simply translates to "compassion").  If one approaches the music the Trio makes on its second recording, "Imaginary Archipelago" ( as actions for healing, it may give you a better idea of what the ensemble attempts to do with its music.  Yes, the music can be considered mystical but it's also timeless while, through the use of electronics and editing, quite contemporary.  There are moments throughout the 67-minute program (11 separate tracks) that are cacophonous but the music never erupts into pure noise.  It may remind some of Dr. Lateef's sonic experiments as well as Miles Davis's post "Bitches Brew" period (1970-74).

If you allow the music on "Imaginary Archipelago" to overtake your senses, the experience will serve to help you through these and any frightful times.  The music that Karuna Trio creates is not about technique but has everything to do with interactions, to rhythms, to drones, to creating sounds as prayer, to allowing the imagination free range to express itself. You do need to know the names of songs or who plays what, you just need to surrender to the sound. My favorite time to listen to this album is in the early moments of daylight with the birds outside our windows singing for the sunshine. As the music plays, the bird's songs join in as the chorus to the drums and reeds.  Give this form of peace a chance!

For more information, go to https://metarecords.com/karuna-ensemble.html.  To listen to and purchase this album, go to https://drakejonesrudolphkaruna.bandcamp.com/album/imaginary-archipelago-2.

Here's a sonic glimpse into the Trio's music:

Photo: Vince Segalia
In 2017, saxophonist, flutist, and bass clarinetist Brian Landrus released "Generations" on his own BlueLand Records label –– he wrote all the music and arrangements for a 25-member large ensemble that included am eight-member string section. It was and is a major accomplishment in the now 42-year old musician's career, the ninth recording in his nearly two-decade career which started on 2007 with his debut album "Forward", a self-produced album issued on Cadence Jazz Records.  Since 2010, Landrus has issued all his music on BlueLand and, pretty much, has gone his own way. How does one follow up that highly acclaimed album?

His new recording, "For Now", is the second straight Landrus album co-produced by Robert Livingston Aldridge (the classical composer and Professor at Rutgers University who also helped on arrangements); this time, he's joined by Herschel Garfein who worked with pianist Fred Hersch on "My Coma Dreams" and who is also a composer plus is on the faculty of the Steinhardt School of Music at New York University.

Landrus has organized quite the ensemble to play this 14-song program (11 originals, two from Thelonious Monk, and "Invitation" by Bronislaw Kaper)––the nine musicians include the afore-mentioned Mr. Hersch, Billy Hart (the fourth time the drummer has recorded with the reed player), Drew Gress (bass), Michael Rodriguez (trumpet) plus a four-piece string section composed of violinists Sara Caswell and Joyce Hammann, violist Lois Martin, and cellist Jody Redhage-Ferber.  Instead of a "concept" album, Landrus has put together a program that shows his wide-angle approach to composing and arranging. The date kicks off with a swinger, "The Signs", which has a sharp theme that opens up to delightful solos from Rodriguez, Hersch, and Landrus (baritone sax).  Make sure to pay attention to what the rhythm section brings to the song.  Hart kicks and splashes cymbals, getting deep in the groove while Gress keeps the music together.

There are a number of delightful tracks on the album. "Clarity in Time" is a handsome ballad that features eight of the nine musicians (the trumpeter sits this one out). Landrus's baritone sax leads the way; his tone and attack may remind some of Harry Carney, or even tenor giant Ben Webster, plus the piano solo is rich and endearing.  Hart leads the quintet into "J.J." and Landrus leaps out of the thematic section with a hearty solo followed by a dancing trumpet solo.  The drummer really prods the soloists forward. "For Whom I Imagined" opens with the string quartet before the bass clarinet plus Hart's splendid cymbal and drumset play move the piece forward. Landrus overdubs a second bass clarinet as well a terrific flute solo.  The standard "Invitation" belongs to the strings and baritone sax for the opening prologues before the rhythm section enters and the music jumps forward. Listen closely to the interaction of the strings and sax before the latter steps out for a lively solo. The string arrangement on "Her Smile" adds such a sparkling to the baritone solo; Ms. Caswell steps out for a delightful solo followed by a string quintet break (Gress joins them).  To top it off, Billy Hart kicks the bottom out with glee! His work on the next track, "The Wait", really shines as well (no surprise the veteran drummer is a treat throughout the program).

The two Monk tunes also stand out.  "'Round Midnight" is Landrus alone on bass clarinet.  His breathy tone and circular lines in and around the classic melody as well as the performance is short (2:46) makes the piece sweeter. Hersch joins Landrus (baritone) for "Ruby My Dear" – the two take their time to work through the melody and then their two-way conversation is quite harmonious, closing the program in a introspective blue mood.

Brian Landrus shouldn't and doesn't feel the need to top his previous album.  Because he did not fall victim to the "to this" syndrome, "For Now" strikes this listener as the equal of "Generations", looser, more open, with the airy string arrangements helping this production stand out. Filled with delightful music played by an excellent ensemble, this album will brighten your life!

For more information, go to brianlandrus.com.

Here's a taste:

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Preview of a Fascinating Collection

Photo: J Andrews/ WSJ
Later this year, bassist, composer, arranger, bandleader, and conceptualist William Parker will release a 10-album set.  Titled "Migration of Silence Into and Out of The Tone World" and released on Parker's Centering label, each disc features different artists, many with vocals, playing the bassist's iconoclastic "world" music.  Long-time listeners will recognize a number of the collaborators (such as vocalists Kyoko Kitamura, Ellen Christi, and Fay Victor, vibraphonist Matt Moran, pianist Eri Yamamoto, percussionist Hamid Drake and others.  Parker not only plays bass on most of the album but also guembri (a three-string instrument from Africa with the range of a bass), muted trumpet, plus percussion and wind instruments.    

To whet one's appetite (and with a plea to contribute to help bring the project to light), Parker has issued "Trencadis", an online release through Bandcamp.  The name of the compilation comes from Catalan and means "bits and pieces of broken tiles and chinaware glues together to make type of mosaic" (the cover painting gives one that idea).  Go to williamparker.bandcamp.com/album/trencadis-a-selection-from-migration-of-silence-into-and-out-of-the-tone-world where you can listen to one track from each album and then make a donation to support the box set's release.  If you are a long-time fan of Parker's music, you know the universal range of his music.  If you've not check out his music ever, this sampler is a taste of his overall oeuvre.  Either way, this music is powerful, contemporary, timeless, and emotionally powerful.

Here's the track that features Ms. Christi, Jalulu-Kalvert Nelson (trumpet), Mr. Parker (bass, percussion, bells, synth), and the voice of James Baldwin:

Friday, May 15, 2020

Moving Forward (Three Quintets)

Photo: Dave Stapleton
Saxophonist and composer Tineke Postma (alto and soprano saxes) has returned to recording after a six year sabbatical. Not that she wasn't active: Ms. Postma became a mother while continuing to play and write, emerging in late 2018 to perform at The Kennedy Center Honors during its tribute to Wayne Shorter. In December of that year, she gathered the musicians she had been rehearsing with –– Dan Weiss (drums), Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Kris Davis (piano), and Matt Brewer (acoustic and electric bass) –– and recorded "Freya", her debut album for Edition Records.

In Frisian and Norse mythology, Freya is the goddess of creation, love, and fertility.  The title track has a lively melody pushed forward by the lively work of Weiss and Brewer (electric bass). One fo the hallmarks of the entire program is how "open" the rhythms are; the drummer is free to move around while the bassist often the foundation. Yet there are times, especially on "Aspasia and Pericles", the two respond to the soloists and the music floats. Aspasia was Pericles's partner in all things but marriage as she was not born in Athens. Listen to the interactions on this piece as all five musicians are having a conversation through the second half of the song.  "Geri's Print" is dedicated to the late pianist Geri Allen whom Ms. Postma and recorded and performed with. Again the interactions of soprano sax and trumpet are exhilarating while Ms. Davis's piano displays her originality, in fact her biggest tribute to Ms. Allen is just being herself as the late pianist was throughout her career.

Photo: Dave Stapleton
"Juno Lucina" celebrates a Roman Goddess of Childbirth who was also a ruler of the heavens. After a bit of stop and start from the bass and drums, the alto sax and trumpet read the tricky theme.  Ms. Davis comes in at the opening of the trumpet solo (Alessi plays splendidly throughout) with angular chords pushing against the rhythm section while responding to the soloists.  There's a sense of urgency throughout, none more so than during the powerful piano solo.

"Freya" also includes two short "Interludes", a pair of gives-and-takes of trumpet and soprano saxes.The first is comprised of short phrases that lead to longer tones by the end of its 84-second run. "#2" is 10 seconds shorter, a bit more introspective but still a conversation. The piece closes there album on an up note leaving the listener expecting and wanting more.

Tineke Postma makes us pay attention, makes us hear those mysterious spaces where composition and improvisation are blurred as well as what occurs when musicians are allowed to interact freely and respectfully. "Freya" is an album one can listen to two, three, four, times back-to-back and discover something new with each listen.

For more information, go to www.tinekepostma.com.  To listen and purchase the album, go to https://tinekepostma.bandcamp.com/album/freya.

Listen to the musical story of "Aspasia and Pericles":

Bassist, composer, and arranger Anne Mette Iversen, now a resident of Berlin, Germany, first organized her "American" Quartet in 2002 when she was a resident of Brooklyn, NY.  Tee original members –– John Ellis (tenor and soprano saxophone), Danny Grissett (piano), and Otis Brown III (drums and cymbals) –– are still there. The "+1" that now is appended to the group's monicker is Swedish trombonist Peter Dahlgren who first recorded with the bassist on her 2014 "So Many Roads", an album that featured the Quartet +1 plus a string quartet.

"Racing The Butterfly" (BJU Records) is the ensemble's first album in three years. The album takes its name from an encounter Ms. Iversen had with a curious butterfly as she was running through a field of lavender on a dirt road in the French region of Provence. The butterfly flew alongside for a while then dipped and swirled around her head, racing forward, dropping back.  As the composer describes the experience "It was the fun, the enjoyment, the playfulness and lightness that was so beautiful and which nature displayed so naturally, that made me feel that I really ought to celebrate those sides of life more than I have previously done in my music." And, you can hear the effects of her experience throughout the 49-minute program.  Listen to the title track below to hear her playful musical take on that run through the fields. As an added experience, Ms. Iversen later discovered a poem from Günter Grass from his 1967 collection "Augesfraght" (Questioned Out) titled "Tour de France" that reads: "When the leading bunch/ were overtaken/ by a brimstone butterfly/ many cyclists gave up the race." 

Among the many highlights is the two-part "Parallel Flying" that runs over 11 minutes altogether. "Part 1" is a lovely, introspective, ballad rumination while "Part 2" hits the ground running after the melodic piano opening. Brown III and Ms. Iversen lock into the high-flying groove giving the front line a strong foundation to create three dancing solos.  Later in the program is the short (69 seconds) "Butterfly Interlude" that displays the drummer's delightful cymbal and snare work and leads in to the delightful "Dancing Butterflies" – Ellis's soprano sax dips and swirls around the piano lines as the drums acts as the breeze pushing him forward.  Grissett's solo is also quite joyous, floating along, flirting with the rhythm section, having the time of his life.  The bluesy, hard-driving, "Cluster", kicks hard featuring strong solos from Ellis (tenor sax), Dahlgren, and muscular romp from Brown III.

Photo: Dieter Duvelmeyer
"Racing a Butterfly" closes with another fine ballad. this one titled "Butterflies Too."  The blend of the handsome melody, the tenor sax with Dahlgren's smooth trombone sound, Grissett's intelligent piano work, and the supportive background, all come together for a splendid close to a fine, creative, program.  Since her first albums in the first decade of the new millennium, Anne Mette Iversen has continually shown herself to be a creative composer and arranger.  Her Quartet +1 makes this music come alive; their long-time association as a band makes this new album of Ms. Iversen her most passionate and delightful small group recording.

Fir more information, go to www.annemetteiversen.com.  To listen and purchase the album, go to https://annemetteiversen.bandcamp.com/album/racing-a-butterfly.

Listen to the title track:

There is not a lot of biographical information available about pianist and composer Hayoung Lyou, a native of Seoul, Korea,  but her musical pedigree is impressive. She attended Berklee College of Music and graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music. Ms. Lyou, who now lives in New York City, has studied with Ran Blake, Hal Crook, Helen Sung, Joanne Brackeen, Jason Moran, and Ethan Iverson.   For her debut album, she organized a quintet featuring her piano, bassist Simón Willson, drummer Dayeon Seok, and two reed players, Jasper Dutz (alto saxophone, clarinets) and Jacob Shulman (tenor saxophone). Her original music is not only influenced by the artists she has studied with but also the writing of Hermann Hesse (1877-1962), whose 1919 book "Demian" is extremely popular in her native land, and psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961), especially hs theory of "animus" (the personification of male tendencies in a woman).

All that and more serves as the foundation of "Metamorphosis" (Endectomorph Music), Ms. Lyou's debut album.  The program consists of 11 original pieces by the pianist including four pairs of songs, the first three of which are followed by short works all titled "Animus".  These pieces, numbered "I", "II", and "III", do have a harder edge and, in the instance of the longest one,  "II", which clocks in at 1:30, and is a roiling alto sax solo over the churning rhythm section. The title track opens with dark and sparse piano chords (reminiscent of Ran Blake) but the alto and tenor saxophones bring a different light to the ballad. Seok's drums are quite dramatic in the opening two minutes before he moves in to keeping the rhythm flowing.  The unaccompanied piano solo also is quite dramatic as it rolls forward

"Night Person" opens up with a quick allusion to "Giant Steps" before dropping into a groove that may remind some of Wayne Shorter. There's an airiness in the saxophones' interaction that soon gives way to an intensity as the rhythm section pushes them forward.  The majestic piano chords and powerful drumming of "Busan" pay tribute to the arrival of 14,000 North Korean children in South Korea's second-largest city in the midst of the Korean and how they use their wits to survive. The singing quality of the saxophones imbues the music with youthful voices.  The song inspired by Hesse's book "Demian" has a gentle melody played by the tenor sax and clarinet over a rhythm that sounds influenced by the music of Burt Bacharach.  The piano solo near the close of the piece, featuring fine bass counterpart from Willson, is quite melodic and impressionistic.

The two closing tracks include the lovely and classically inspired solo piano work "Solitude" plus the lilting, joyous, "A Sunny Day at Yankee Stadium". The latter piece, played sans reeds, is a delightful jaunt through the ballpark, the dancing piano phrases interspersed with full chords while the bass and drums keep the music light and delightful.  "Metamorphosis" introduces most of the listening world to the music of Hayoung Lyou. Her playing is impressive, the band serves her intentions well, and compositions are filled with delightful turns of phrases and changes in direction.  A formidable debut for an artist who looks to have a great future.

For more information, go to www.endectomorph.com/metamorphosis.html. To hear more and/or purchase the album, go to https://hayounglyou.bandcamp.com/releases.

Here's the title track:

Monday, May 11, 2020

Getting Together & Letting Grow

Composer, arranger, and reed player Mike McGinnis has built quite a fascinating career. With gigs alongside Anthony Braxton, Yo La Tengo, Alice Coltrane and son Ravi plus playing in the pit band of the Broadway musical "Fela!" (among others), he's shown his versatility.  As a leader or co-leader, he's recorded with The Four Bags, OK|OK, in a trio setting with pianist Art Lande and bassist Steve Swallow for two albums on Sunnyside Records, with an octet playing original music influenced by Filipino-American painter MuKha, and led a dectet playing the music of Bill Smith.

His latest musical adventure, "Time Is Thicker", is the debut album on McGinnis's new label Open Stream Music. It's a delightful program composed of five in-studio jams, three standards, and  "Abnegation" by the late bassist Bob Bowen (1965-2010). McGinnis, who plays clarinet throughout (elsewhere he plays bass clarinet, soprano and baritone saxophones), organized the group with fellow Brooklyn-ites drummer Vinnie Sperrazza and bassist Elias Bailey, both of whom get equal billing on the cover. The drummer has worked with the leader before (as well as with trumpeter John McNeil, Stew & The Negro Problem, cellist Hank Roberts, and in the groups Landline plus Curtis/ Garebedian/ Sperrezza.   The bassist is best known for his work with vocalists Freddy Cole and Rene Marie –– he first "hit the road" at the age 19 with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra under the direction of Buddy Morrow.

The music runs the gamut from exciting trio collaborations such as the opening "Get In The Car" which runs right out the gate on the power of Bailey's galloping bass lines to a swinging take of the Lerner/ Lane classic "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever."  There are several impressionistic pieces; "Low Bow Prelude" is bowed bass and clarinet that leans towards 20th Century classical minimalism whereas as "Bow Legged Releve" is a livelier interaction with the three voices gleefully weaving in and around each other. Bowen's ballad "Abnegation" is a lovely stroll with Sperrazza's brushes quietly in the background, Bailey's bass serving as counterpoint, and McGinnis's clarinet singing the handsome melody –– one can hear a hint of Jimmy Giuffre's music in this and other interactions on the album.  Listen to below to the delightful take on "Tin Tin Deo"; the piece dances out for over eight minutes but never loses its lively character.  McGinnis creates a splendid long solo as the rhythm section moves from its relentless pace into shorter shuffle paces.

"Time Is Thicker" closes as it opened, with a romp. This time, it's Cole Porter's "Just One Of Those Things" that the trio kick into high gear.  Sperrazza gets to play with the rhythm while Bailey's walking...running...bass lines keeps the piece from spinning off its axis.  There is a brief moment in the clarinet solo when McGinnis conjures up the spirits of Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman.  Pull a chair and get acquainted with the sounds of Mike McGinnis, Elias Bailey, and Vinnie Sperrazza – your head will be in a better place when you do.

For more information, go to www.mikemcginnis.com. To purchase the album, go to https://openstreammusic.bandcamp.com/album/time-is-thicker.

Here's the Chano Pozo/ Gil Fuller classic:

Photo: Jimmy Katz
Alto saxophonist and composer Michael Thomas has been a busy musician since moving to New York City in 201l. His debut album was issued later that year. He's performed with drummer Dafnis Prieto, fellow saxophonist Miguel Zenón, and trumpeters Nicolas Payton and Etienne Charles.  Since 2015, he and bassist/ composer Edward Perez have led the Terraza Big Band – the ensemble's 2019 delightful debut album "One Day Wonder" was issued on Outside In Music.  In 2018, Thomas joined the faculty of the Jackie McLean Jazz Institute at the University of Hartford's Hartt School of Music.  He currently leads a quartet featuring bassist Hans Glawischnig, trumpeter Jason Palmer, and drummer Johnathan Blake. That ensemble recorded its debut album at The Jazz Gallery in New York City on August 14 and 15, 2019.  Recorded by Jimmy Katz, the two-record set, "Event Horizon", has just been issued on Katz's Giant Step Arts, the label he co-owns with his wife Dena.

The recording, released as a two-disk set, features nine pieces composed by Thomas plus a "Bass Intro" and a "Drum Intro" – there's also a "Sax Intro" that leads off Disk two (since it's Thomas playing, he gets the credit for the "composition").  The fullness group pieces are all over 8:40 seconds with two above 13:50.  What stands out on initial listenings is the stamina of the rhythm section. Glawischnig is a melodic bassist so his lines are often moving while Blake is quite an active drummer.  After a few more "deep listens", one begins to hear the different pieces and how the solos grow naturally from melodies.  There are moments when the more energetic tracks bring to mind the music of the classic John Coltrane Quartet, especially the long saxophone solos that continue to explore the many variations in the structure of the original composition. Palmer is one of the premiere contemporary trumpeters; while he can play "fiery", his solos are witty, even danceable (listen to "Dr. Teeth" to see what I mean), and he engages fully with the rhythm section each he picks up his horn.

You can hear the influence of Coltrane (as well as Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell) on the unaccompanied "Sax Intro" –– the circular lines resemble allegro lines from a classical composition. Those phrases Thomas plays show up again during his muscular solo on the song that follows. "Chant" is one of the more powerful pieces on a program of powerful songs. Again, the trumpet solo tamps down the volume but not the interactions. Both Blake and Glawischnig stand out for their creative support of the soloists.  The closing two minutes of the 14-minute track is a drum solo over cascading lines by the saxophone, trumpet, and bass. One can imagine the audience jumping out of their seats last the amazing climax.

"Event Horizon" is an album that will grow the more you listen.  While there are plenty of long solos from Thomas and Jason Palmer, make sure to pay attention to the songs. There are no quick hooks the leap into the solos. Instead, pieces like "Underground", "Drift", "Framework", and the title track take their time to their time to develop and each member of the quartet is integral to  making sure the listener understands the structure, melody, and harmony the composer puts into each composition. In these pandemic days, I found listening to this album by Michael Thomas while taking a long walk made me appreciate this substantive music even more. Take a deep breath and dive in!

For more information, go to www.michaelthomasjazz.com.  You can listen to and purchase the album at https://michaelthomasjazz.bandcamp.com/album/event-horizon.

Here's the quartet in action:

Photo: Roberto Cifarelli
Bassist and composer Omer Avital came to the United States from his native Israel in 1992 and immediately started working with artists such as Roy Haynes, Kenny Garrett, and Jimmy Cobb (plus many more).  He became part of the scene at Smalls Jazz Club, recorded a series of albums for the Fresh Sound New Talent, toured the globe with Third World Love, a quartet that also featured trumpeter Avishai Cohen (that group recorded four albums), and so much more.  He moved back to Israel in 2002 for three years to study, returning to Brooklyn in 2005.  Since then, he has recorded and toured with numerous artists from classical, world music, and jazz.  He's a powerful bassist, with a great ear for melody as well as percussion.

In 2016, the bassist formed Qantar with four young Israeli ex-patriates who had emigrated to the United States to expand their musical knowledge and opportunities to play. With Avital as the leader and main composer, the musicians –– Asaf Yuria (tenor and soprano saxophones), Alexander Levin (tenor saxophone), Eden Ladin (piano), and Ofri Nehemya (drums) –– have begun to record on their own and perform in numerous groups around the NYC area.  As Omer Avital Qantar, they have just issued their second album, "New York Paradox", on the bassist's Zamzama Records.  The quintet's self-titled 2018 debut album displayed a band with its roots in both Middle-Eastern rhythms and the hard-bop of people such as Art Blakey and John Coltrane.

The new album is all that and more. The blend of the two saxophones, Ladin's exploratory piano, Nehemya's powerful and exciting drummer, and Avital's splendid musicianship and compositions, makes for a program that one would love to hear in a club setting.  Actually, that's not a surprising reaction as the quintet recorded in Avital's Brooklyn recording & performance space Wilson Live.  The opening track, "Shabazi", blows out of the speakers at a pace that will take your breath.  There's a hint of McCoy Tyner in the powerful piano lines while the intertwined tenors pour out the riffs.  Avital and Nehemya set an incredible pace and there are delightful solos from Yuria and Levin plus a driving drum explosion over the repetitive piano and bass figures.

The soulful "Zohar Smiles", a ballad that highlights the sparkling soprano sax of Yuria as well as a strong, soulful, turn by Levin plus powerful chords from the piano.  "Just Like The River Flows" blends a Middle-Eastern flavored melody line with Nehemya's dancing drums.  The whirling dervish soprano sax solo over powerful drums and the driving tenor solo near the end makes the track stand out.  "Today's Blues" is a flat-out swinger that has a bit of that Blakey/ Jazz Messenger feel.  "C'est Clair" has that feel as well but is "cooler" and has more of a blues feel that the previous track.

"Bushwick After Dark" closes the album with even more of that blues feel of "...Clair."  But there's also a raucous quality to the tenor solos. The seductive sound of the bass and drums underneath allows the soloists to let their imaginations roam.  Avital steps out as well – his melodic and playful solo is the perfect embodiment of the entire band's attitude.  Serious fun indeed

"New York Paradox" is the sound of a "working" band having a terrific time playing.  Once these crazy days pass, you are well-advised to check out Omer Avital Qantar at a performance space near you.  Until then, the band's exciting, inviting, new album will more than whet your appetite.

For more information, go to www.omeravital.com. To purchase the album, go to https://omeravital.bandcamp.com/album/quantar-new-york-paradox.

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Powers That Be (solo piano & legendary songwriter)

Matthew Shipp is an artist who always has gone his own way.  His frequent collaborations with artists such as saxophonist David S. Ware, bassist William Parker, saxophonist Ivo Perelman, and others plus his dozens of albums in various sized-ensembles for labels such as ESP-Disk, Thirsty Ear, Hat Hut, CJR, and others, offer adventurous listeners journeys to exotic places and powerful sounds.  He's recorded 10 solo albums through his career; Shipp does not necessarily change the way he plays but one can really hear his active and exciting left hand, the lower registers often creating the storms and incessant rhythmic fire that excites the listener.

"The Piano Equation" is the pianist's debut album for Tao Forms, the brand-new company formed by Shipp's former drummer Whit Dickey (who he has known since 1992).  The 11 pieces are exploratory in nature, that illustrate where the artist was on May 22, 2019, in a mental and physical space where melody, rhythm, harmony, abstractions, drones, and fiery solos exist, often within the same piece.  The majority of the material come in under five minutes but the listener is never cheated.  Pieces such as "Land of the Secrets" and "Tone Pocket" are piano explorations that contain rich melodic passages; the former has the feel of a song written for a movie while the latter vena in a similar fashion before Shipp builds the intensity.  The blues permeates the opening minutes of "Vortex Factor"––there's a short section when the left hand captures the power of "Fats" Waller and another where you hear a tinge of Cecil Taylor.

One cannot picture Matthew Shipp being anyone but himself.  He has long pushed against borders, labels, eschewed cliches and easy listening. Yet, as he has matured and continued to master his instrument, the pianist, composer, and conceptualists has truly become his own person. Don't bother putting a label on this music––"Vortex Equation" is Matthew Shipp in, arguably, one of the finest albums he has ever created.

For more information, go to www.akamu.net/shipp.htm.

Here's a track to whet your appetite:

Pianist John Di Martino has fashioned and long and exciting career as both a sideman and leader.  Born in Philadelphia, PA, he studied with hometown legend Jimmy Amadie and with Lennie Tristano. He has recorded and toured with artists such as Ray Barretto, Freddie Cole, Houston Person, Nicki Parrott, Bobby Sanabria, and others while issuing numerous albums for the Japanese Venus label and several others.

For his latest album, "Passion Flower" (Gemini Music/ Sunnyside), he toured to the music of Billy Strayhorn while assembling a group that includes bassist Boris Kozlov, drummer Lewis Nash, and tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander plus one notable vocal contribution from Raul Midón.

It's no surprise that Di Martino chose Strayhorn's music as both the musician and the great composer (1915-1967) share a penchant for melody.  Strayhorn, whose association with Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, is well-documented, was plucked out of Pittsburgh after Maestro Ellington heard his songs, many of which seemed as if they were made for his Orchestra without sounding truly "Duke-ish". Even though one made heard the majority of these songs many times played by many different artists, it's fun to spend an hour in the company of these musicians and songs.  Midón does a splendid job on "Lush Life" and the trio (Alexander sits this one out) elegantly frames his voice so that one cannot help but hear the pathos in the lyrics.

There is a great amount of swing to be heard here.  Right out of the gate, "Johnny Come Lately" dances its way into your ears.  The quartet dances through "Isfahan (Elf)" which includes a most melodic turn by Kozlov. It's such a treat to listen to the rhythm section throughout the album but especially here in support of the soloists.  Alexander lays into his spot, showing his blues chops and delight in dancing with the accompanists.  His tenor attack on "U.M.M.G." catches the anxiety of the song's composer as he is being treated for cancer. Yet, the song has such an exciting forward motion even when Kozlov steps out over the active brush work of Nash and the distant saxophone.  "Blood Count" follows, a dark emotional ballad––in fact, one of Strayhorn's last compositions which he finished in the hospital––that features Alexander and Di Martino only. The tenor solo is stunning, powerful, yet lyrical.  Tunes that have recorded hundreds, if not thousands of times, such as "Chelsea Bridge" and "Take The A Train" still stand tall as the musicians imbue the music with such spirit and emotion. The former retains its impressionistic feel while the latter opens with a driving duo of saxophone and drums.  When the rest of the band enters, the music goes racing down the tracks.

The final three tracks all reference flowers in their titles.  "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing", one of Strayhorn's earlier works, is a piece for solo piano; the emotional richness of Di Martino's performance is breathtaking.  "Absinthe (Lament for An Orchid)" has such a mysterious feel with its subtle medium-tempo dance, almost a tango.  The album closes with "Lotus Blossom", another solo performance by the leader.  An older Strayhorn tune, another one that had several titles before the composer settled on its final name, was an Ellington favorite. Originally written for Johnny Hodges, the piece has a classical feel without hewing to one style. Here, it is a perfect choice to close the program as it reminds the listener once again what a melodic composer Billy Strayhorn and why his music never goes out of style.

One may pass on "Passion Flower" but do so at your own loss.  John Di Martino and his cohorts create a program that may seem familiar yet is so passionate, emotionally rich, lively, and heartfelt that Billy Strayhorn's songs come to life.  Listen and learn!

For more information, go to johndimartino.com.  To purchase the album, go to sunnysiderecords.bandcamp.com/album/passion-flower-the-music-of-billy-strayhorn.

Here's the delightful opening track:

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Hard Blues and Heroes

I don't exactly remember the first time heard I heard "The Hard Blues", a gutbucket tune informed by the Texas blues saxophonist and composer Julius Hemphill grew up with, the gigs he played as a young man, and the "free" music he discovered in St. Louis, MO as a founder and member of the Black Artists Group, a short-lived collective similar to the AACM of Chicago. But, the song, recorded in 1972 and not released until 1975 on the Lp "Coon Bidness" (later reissued on Arista/ Freedom as "Reflections"), enters your brain and takes you away into a world that sounds familiar and strange at the same time.  Cellist Abdul Wadud plucking away while drummer Philip Wilson keeps a steady beat create a steady bottom as the alto saxophonist s well as the trumpeter Baikida Carroll read the rollicking theme.  The piece, as you will hear below, opens up and breaks down to long, urgent, solos but rarely loses that hard-edged bottom.

If you do not know anything about the music and life of Julius Hemphill (1938-1995), click here!

Listen here:

No piece of music gave me shivers the way that piece did and, truly,  still does.  On May 1, Bandcamp donated all their profits from sales to the artists whose albums they sell and I discovered Heroes Are Gang Leaders, a music and poetry collective that first came to life in 2014 when poet Thomas Sayers Ellis and tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis created a group to celebrate the life and writings of Amiri Baraka.  The ensemble, which ranges from 10 - 15 members (depending on the whims of the leaders and the particular music, have recorded five albums since the ensemble debuted including an albums that featured Lydia Lunch, poet Anne Waldman, and guitarist Thurston Moore.  The ensemble's latest "Artificial Happiness Button", was released in March of this year on Ropeadope Records (the group's debut on that label).

The second track on the album, "Mista Sippy", is the closest piece of music I found that rocks me the way that "The Hard Blues" does .  There's a lot going on between the blues "licks" the musicians lay down and the various poems, spoken word, and song on top of the beat.  The lyrics deal with lynching, drinking, the addictions of drug and drink plus how they're affected by poverty, racial disparities in the South and around the United States, and much more.  The piece runs over 13 minutes and the sounds grab you by the throat without letting go. The music below the panoply of voices pushes, prods, swells and ebbs.  Just listen –– the lyrics are quite raw at times –– but do listen.

Personnel on this track:

James Brandon Lewis, Tenor Sax 
Luke Stewart, Bass 
Janice Lowe, Keyboards 
Melanie Dyer, Viola 
Brandon Moses, Guitar 
Heru Shabaka-ra, Trumpet 
Warren “Trae” Crudup, Drums 
Devin Brahja Waldman, Alto Sax 
Janice Lowe, Lead Vocals 
Nettie Chickering, Vocals 
Poem by Thomas Sayers Ellis 
Poem Support by Crystal Good, Randall Horton, Bonita Penn and Christian Black 
No Land, Voice 
Matthew Alexander, George Wallace Reenactment (Song Intro) 
Anonymous woman talking about lynching recorded by Thomas Sayers Ellis at Amtrak Station, Tampa, Florida, September 22, 2016 
Background Vocals 
Janice Lowe 
James Brandon Lewis 
Crystal Good 

To find out more this fascinating artists collective, go to https://heroesaregangleaders.com.  To buy their music, go to https://heroesaregangleaders.bandcamp.com.