Monday, August 24, 2020

Revealing Stories & Prevailing Winds

Photo: John Marolakos
In the months that have passed since "Dialogues on Race, Vol. I" (self-released) was initially supposed to be issued (March 17, 2020), so much has happened that speaks to the topic. The two-disk set is an expansive treatise on race relations in the United States told using music, spoken word, and poetry composed and curated by bassist Gregg August.  COVID-19 came to this country, with people of color being affected more than others, then the discovery of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Brionna Taylor plus the televised execution of George Floyd, and the continuation of a brutally bitter and divisive Presidential campaign. The United States has been violently shaken and those tremors continue.

Depending on which song you listen to, you might think this album is a celebration of Black Culture, of the music that inspires the 21 musicians to play from the heart.  And, it is. Whether it be the somber opening of the first track "Sherbet (just to be certain that doubt stays on our side of the fence)" which breaks into a raucous dance to the swinging middle section of "I Rise" (based on the Maya Angelou poem of the same name) to the dancing rhythms of the final three tracks.  "Sweet Words on Race" (based on a poem by Langston Hughes) is a Latin-flavored "shout" tune,  the foppish "The Bird Leaps" (inspired by Ms. Angelou's "The Caged Bird Sings"), and the most-hands-on-deck jump tune "Blues Finale", this music would not sound like it does without the inspiration of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charles Mingus, Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis, Chico and Arturo O'Farrill, and other musical giants.  The pieces mentioned and several others in the 12-song program speak to the power created by this music, how the music takes one out of the everyday and makes your body move.

Photo: Kaelen Burkett
The centerpiece of the album is the commemoration of the life and death of Emmett Till (the 65th anniversary of his death is 8/28/20) plus the celebration of the work his mother Mamie Till Mobley (1921-2003) did throughout her life to shed life on his torture and lynching. There are three "statements" of "Your Only Child": "First Statement" features Frank Lacy singing an excerpt from Marilyn Nelson's "A Wreath for Emmett Till" ("Sonnet V" - read here) while "Second Statement" is a bass solo from the leader, and the "Third Statement" features the seven string players, tenor saxophonist JD Allen, and the voice of Shelly Washington singing the Nelson excerpt. The track that precedes "Third Statement" features the voice of Ms. Mobley––the music is solemn, her voice electronically altered, but the words sear into your brain as it describes when the bereaved mother saw when she opened the coffin.  Her words are graphic, stunning, and serves to remind one that the kind of treatment her 14-year old son received has been happening to Black people since their forced arrival in the United States.

There is plenty of music to be heard when listening to "Dialogues on Race, Vol. I" but you really have to read and listen to the words. Music should entertain us, we often listen to block out the b.s. When you look back at music, no matter what country, no matter what time, composers and performers strove to tell stories and educate their audience (especially music created by the lower and middle classes). The music of Gregg August reflects the sounds of a movement sparked 160 years ago by Frederick Douglass (and his love the possibilities of the Constitution of the United States), stoked by the likes of Zora Neale Houston, Langston Hughes, Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, Marilyn Nelson, and today by Claudia Rankine, Colson Whitehead, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi and many more.  Timely music for unseemly times––listen and pay attention.

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

Here's the powerful "Letter to America"( based on a poem by Fransisco Alarcón):


John Ellis, soprano saxophone
Bruce Williams, alto saxophone
JD Allen, tenor saxophone
Ken Thomson, bass clarinet
John Bailey, trumpet / flugelhorn
Rafi Malkiel, trombone / euphonium
Marcus Rojas, tuba
Luis Perdomo, piano
Gregg August, bass / composer
Donald Edwards, drums
Mauricio Herrera, congas / shekeréb / castanets (tracks 1, 2, 3, 10)
Frank Lacy, vocals (tracks 3 and 12)
Shelley Washington, vocals (track 9)
Forest VanDyke, vocals (track 7)
Leah Asher, violin (track 9)
Lena Vidulich, violin (track 9)
Yuri Namkung, violin (track 9)
Johnna Wu, violin (track 9)
Wendy Richman, viola (track 9)
Brian Zenone, viola (track 9)
Madeline Lafayette, cello (track 9)
Wayne Smith, narrator (track 2)

Photo: Eric Antoniou
Vocalist, composer, pianist, and reed player, Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, born and raised in Turkey, began his piano studies with his father when he was very young––in fact, he gave his initial piano recitals at the age of 5.  Later on, after his studies with Turkish pianist and composer Aydin Esin, Sanlikol came to the United States to study at the Berklee College of Music where he came in contact with Herb Pomeroy plus went on to work with artists such as Bob Brookmeyer, Billy Cobham, Anat Cohen, Antonio Sanchez, and Dave Liebman. Plus, he created his own label, Dünya Productions, to document his music and other work.  It was NEA Jazz Master Liebman who, in 2017, commissioned Sanlikol to create a piece for his soprano saxophone and large ensemble.

The commission has resulted in "The Rise Up; Stories of Strife, Struggle, and Inspiration" (Dünya), credited to Mehmet Ali Sanlikol & Whatsnext? Featuring Dave Liebman. The music, composed and arranged by Sanlikol, posits the soprano saxophonist in he midst of a 22-piece orchestra (see personnel below). The program features three three-part "Suites", each telling its own story. Suite #1,"Rumi", the "pen name" of 13th Century Sufi  poet Mevlana Celaleddin, opens with a traditional song ("The Sun of Tabriz") that features the ney flute followed by Mr. Liebman's soprano that leads into "A Vicious Murder", the darbuka drum ushering the sections in (a hint of Gil Evans "Sketches of Spain" sounds in the brass and reeds plus a lovely reading of the time by the oboe of Mary Cicconnetti) that opens in a whirling dervish of a soprano sax solo.  The final section, "Rumi's Solitude", takes a deliberate pace with the traditional flute and soprano playing in unison before various voices within the ensemble share the melody. After a handsome soprano solo, everyone drops out as the composer steps up to sing a plaintive melody based on a Rumi poem.  This coda is deeply emotional and highly effective.

The second suite, "Sephardim", is named for the Jews expelled from Spain in during the Inquisition but taken in by the Ottomans where the two cultures began a long and fruitful collaboration.  The combination of Middle-Eastern rhythms with a traditional  Sephardic/ Ladino melody is introduced in the first movement, "Spain, 1492" celebrating the time Jews lived and flourished on the Iberian Peninsula while the next section, "Temmuz" ("July" in Turkish) has a martial beat over which the sections play a recurring pattern of phrases.  The various "voices" rising up out of the ensemble speaks to the urgency of those fleeing Spain on their way to a new home. As the piece continues, the focus changes to illustrate the sounds the refugees heard as they entered the Turkish territories including the Muslim call to prayer. The final section, "A New Land, A New Music", combines the traditional Ladino music heard earlier with the oud and percussion showing how various elements can create new sounds.

The third and final suite is titled "Sinan", the story of an Orthodox Christian boy who was abducted by the Ottomans early in the 16th Century––he adopts the Muslim faith and becomes an architect for several of the world's finest mosques.  One hears a male choir singing the "Kyrie Eleison" but as the voices chant, a marching band enters playing a somber traditional melody, the blare of the reeds and the dissonance of the horns giving the music a dark feel. The next section, titled "Rise Thru The Barracks", swings heartily not unlike a Duke Ellington piece with a rollicking solo from Mr. Liebman. The suite and the album ends with a sweet ballad, "The Owl Song", that builds like one of Maria Schneider compositions until the horns and brass are caressing the melody and the harmony, culminating in a call-and-response with the soprano saxophonist.  The music is forceful but not frantic, more about the melody than the rhythm.

"The Rise Up" is such a fascinating journey, a splendid mixture, with a such a panoply of sounds as well as melodies based on traditional music.  Mehmet Ali Sanlikol played to his strengths as a musician, composer, and arranger, giving Dave Liebman an excellent showcase for his powerful, musical, soprano saxophone. The ensemble, Whatsnext?, features a large number of Boston-area musicians who play with power and elegance.  The stories on this album are timeless and speak to the truths of human existence.  Give this music a good listen!

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


Mehmet Ali Sanlikol - voice, ney, zurna, ud
Dave Liebman - soprano saxophone
Mary Cicconnetti - oboe, English horn
Rick Stone - alto + soprano saxophones, flute
Mark Zaleski - alto saxophone
Rick DiMuzio - tenor saxophone, clarinet
Aaron Henry - tenor saxophone, clarinet
Melanie Howell Brooks - baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Rebekah Lorenz - French horn
Mike Peipman, Jeff Claassen, Sam Dechenne, and Jerry Sabatini - trumpet, flugelhorn
Bulut Gülen, Chris Gagne, and Bob Pilkington - trombones
Angel Subero - bass trombone
Bill Lowe - tuba
Utar Artun - piano
Fernando Huego - bass
Bertram Lehmann. drums, tam tam
George Lernis - percussion
Five voice choir led by Spyridon Antonpoulos

Ken Schaphorst - conductor

Here's "A Vicious Murder" from the "Rumi" suite:

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Summertime Hues Part II––the Quartet Version

Trumpeter Diego Urcola (born in Buenos Aires, Argentina) and alto saxophonist/ clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera (born in Havana, Cuba) have been friends and musician partners forever three decades. Besides performing in Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos and with pianist Enrico Pieranunzi, Urcola has been in several of his friend's touring ensembles and has recorded with him several times. Urcola was invited to a South American festival several years ago to present a tribute to Gerry Mulligan's classic quartet with trumpeter Chet Baker: he immediately call D'Rivera and the seeds for the recording below were planted and have now come to fruition.

"El Duelo" (Paquito Records/ Sunnyside Records) is credited to the Diego Urcola Quartet featuring Paqutio D'Rivera.  The rhythm section features the excellent drummer Eric Doob (Ryan Keberle's Catharsis) and young New Zealand-born bassist Hamish Smith (Terraza 7 Big Band).  The 15-track, 77-minute, program features three original pieces by the trumpeter p,us works from the likes of Thelonious Monk, Guillermo Klein, Gerry Mulligan, Wayne Shorter, Dizzy Gillespie, and others. What you hear from the opening song, the title track (composed by Klein–listen below), is a band having the best of times over the course of two days at Bacque Recording Studios in New Jersey.  Listen to how the rhythm section challenges the front line, how Urcola and D'Rivera mesh their sounds then try to outdo each other when soloing.

Photo: Jimmy Balkavicius
There is so much good stuff to hear here. The lively Ornette Coleman classic "Una May Bonita" opens with Smith strumming his bass before the band enters. Doob's delightful drumming more than nods to the playing of the late Ed Blackwell while D'Rivera's playful sets the pace for Urcola's powerful spot.  The trumpeter (pictured left) switches to flugelhorn for the lovely "I Know, Don't Know How"–with D'Rivera on clarinet, the quartet sashays forth.  Urcola's muted trumpet plays the melody on Astor Piazzolla's emotionally rich "Libertango".  D'Rivera first enters playing percussive counterpoint before the trumpeter creates an impressive solo. Smith introduces Kenny Wheeler's "Foxy Trot" with a fine unaccompanied: when the rest of the band, the music jumps

The program ends on a high note with three jazz "standards, Dizzy's "Con Alma", Benny Golson's "Stablemates", and Mr. Monk's "Bye-Ya."  The first track is taken a brisk pace with robust solos from the front line while Mr. Golson's piece dances in like a Latin ballad but a quick one. More flugelhorn and clarinet playing give the piece a robust feel.  The final tune brings the album full circle with the quartet hitting on all cylinders.  D'Rivera's alto solo is a treat––he plays with the energy of a person 50 years younger but the wisdom of an elder statesman.

"El Duelo" s a true delight.  The energy level never flags, the rhythm section pushes both Diego Urcola and Paquito D'Rivera with fire knowing the good friends are more than up to the challenge. And the slower pieces, such as Willy Gonzalez's lovely "Pekin", have an airy feeling.  I can picture producer Luis Bacque trying to choose the tracks for the album and giving up as each of the 15 cuts is with listening to time and again. Open the windows, turn up the music, and smile!

For more information, go to  The album will be released on September 18, 2020, and can be pre-purchased by going to

Here's the title track:

Photo: J B Milot
In a time when new artists are struggling even harder to be heard, one comes across an album that captures your attention and won't let go.  Drummer Raphaël Pannier, born and raised in Paris, France, came to the United States as an 18-year old to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where he came into contact with Terri Lyne Carrington, Ralph Peterson, Jr., Dave Samuels and many others. Upon graduation, he met and toured with pianist Emil Afrasiyab who was leading a group that played a fusion of jazz and the traditional music of Azerbaijan.  In 2015, Pannier continued his studies at the Manhattan School of Musisc studying with drummer John Riley as well as doing independent studies with saxophonist Mark Turner and trumpeter Alex Sipiagin.  The drummer has earned several awards while performing with saxophonist Steve Wilson, pianist Bob James, guitarist Lage Lund, bassist François Moutin, and pianist Aaron Goldberg.

The last two musicians listed above appear on Pannier's debut as a leader "Faune" (French Paradox).  Joining them is alto saxophonist/ music director Miguel Zenón and, on three tracks, classical pianist Giorgi Mikadze (who hails from Tilibisi, Republic of Georgia, and whose music bends classical, folk and jazz). The album opens with Ornette Coleman's classic "Lonely Woman", a song that has been recorded hundreds, if not thousands of times. It's a treat to hear Zenón's richly emotive reading of the theme but pay attention to where the four musicians take the music (listen below). This is what creative musicians do: they listen to each, suggest different directions, feeding each others imaginations so that a tune as often-recorded as this, sounds fresh and makes you want to bathe in its creativity time and again.

Photo: JB Milot
The three "classical" pieces include Messiaen's "Le Baiser de l'Enfant Jesus", Ravel's "Forlane", and Pannier's "Monkey Puzzle Tree".  Each piece has its own pleasure.  Messiaen's composition is simply gorgeous.  The trio of Zenón, Mikadze, and Pannier caress the melody, the drummer skipping from cymbal to cymbal and onto the kit as the pianist supports the saxophonist's handsome phrasing.  Zenón sits out the Ravel piece while Moutin is added to the mix as well as the presence of electronic effects (on the piano)––the bassist is wonderfully melodic, often playing the melody alongside the pianist.  The drummer's original piece closes the album (with sax, bass, and piano). The impressionistic melody dances forward until Pannier introduces a dancing beat and Zenón solos over the quartet.

There's much more music on "Faune" including a rousing performance of Wayne Shorter's "ESP"––Goldberg's exciting intro sets the pace for the quartet but what initially stands out is how introspective the saxophonist and pianist sound in the thematic section while the rhythm section dances underneath them. Goldberg's subsequent solo is a gem while Zenón is so delightfully playful it should make you smile.

Raphaël Pannier does not use his debut album as a leader to show what a great soloist he is. Instead he creates an ensemble–the Raphaël Pannier Quartet–and, with the help of Miguel Zenón and the contributions of the talented musical partners, the music sings with originality, creativity, and joy.

To find out more, go to The album will be released on September 18 2020. It will be available on iTunes plus you can pre-order by going to

Here is the excellent interpretation of the Ornette Coleman song:

Monday, August 17, 2020

Summertime Hues (Part 1)

Life has been busy around this reviewer's household and different communities but that does not stop (thankfully) the new releases coming through the mail or the ether.  This column starts a series of shorter reviews of recordings that arrived over the past few months.

Saxophonist, composer, and arranger Quinsin Nachoff is no stranger to utilizing strings in his compositions and performances––in fact, his 2006 debut "Magic Numbers" (Songlines) featured his quartet paired with a string quartet. Violinist Nathalie Bonin played on that project as well as on 2008's "Horizons Ensemble" so she asked her fellow Canadian (she's from Montreal while Nachoff is from Toronto) to write her a concerto.  It took the composer a number of years but the piece was first workshopped in 2014 and then recorded in 2018.  Nachoff decided to collect his classical or classically-inspired works on one album. The results, three different pieces, can be heard on "Pivotal Arc", released this month (August 2020) on Whirlwind Recordings.

The "Violin Concerto" is in three parts, nearly 46 minutes long and features all the musicians listed below save for the composer. Very much in the traditional form but quite non-traditional orchestration, the music features Ms. Bonin's striking and powerful playing throughout but one cannot ignore the work of the Molinari String Quartet as well as the rhythm section of Michael Davidson (vibraphone), Mark Helias (bass), and Satoshi Takeishi (drums, percussion) plus the colorful reeds and brass (kudos to bass trombonist Bob Ellis for his strong low tones).  In his research, the composer paid close attention to a number of 20th Century composers, among them Alban Berg, Igor Stravinsky, Kurt Weill, and others but one also hears folk, jazz, and African elements in the rhythms.

Photo: Evan Shay
The 16+ minute "String Quartet" was commissioned by and is performed by the Montreal, Quebec, Canada-based Molinari Quartet. This music is brash like the Concerto but with even more allusions to the experimentation of 20th Century classical composers.  Through-composed, there are moments in each of the movements that feel "free', as if the musicians were "cueing" each other to make quick shifts in intensity.

The 15-minute title track closes the album opening with a powerful bowed bass solo from Helias.  Ms. Bonin plays the first theme, joined first by the string and then the composer on tenor saxophone.  Various voices move in and out but pay close attention to impressive and, at times, playful percussion of Takeishi.  The brashness of the earlier pieces is replaced by an airiness, a sense of swing instead of flow: listen to the sections float around above the tenor solo and how, as the intensity picks up, for just an instance, so does the tempo.  Ms. Bonin returns closer to the end, the storminess of the middle section is not replaced by a lengthy melody shared by several instruments until the bowed bass returns to take the piece to its gentle conclusion.

As an album, "Pivotal Arc" serves to show the world the versatility and maturity of the composer Quinsin Nachoff.  Listeners might prefer to listen to the "Violin Concerto" in its entirety then come back at a later time to listen to the "String Quartet" and the title track.  There's a lot happening in this music and you really want to pay close attention to hear the richness of the melodies, the excellent musicianship, and the powerful work of violinist Nathalie Bonin. One of this year's more fascinating releases, "Pivotal Arc" is worth your time.

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

Here's the "Second Movement" of composer Nachoff's "Violin Concerto", Natalie Bonin, violin soloist:


Nathalie Bonin - violin soloist 

Molinari String Quartet: 
Olga Ranzenhofer - violin I 
Antoine Bareil - violin II 
Frédéric Lambert - viola 
Pierre - Alain Bouvrette - cello 

Quinsin Nachoff - tenor saxophone, composer 

JC Sanford - conductor  
Michael Davidson - vibraphone 
Mark Helias - bass 
Satoshi Takeishi - drums, percussion 
Jean-Pierre Zanella - piccolo, flute, clarinet, soprano sax 
Yvan Belleau - clarinet, tenor saxophone 
Brent Besner - bass clarinet 
Jocelyn Couture - trumpet I 
Bill Mahar - trumpet II 
David Grott - trombone 
Bob Ellis - bass trombone 

Photo: Brian Cohen
Bassist and composer Michael Formanek has been in ears of creative music listeners for nearly five decades. He first came to critical attention when he joined drummer Tony Williams's ensemble and has gone on to play with Freddie Hubbard, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Fred Hersch, Jane Ira Bloom, Marty Ehrlich, Harold Danko, Tim Berne, and a host of others. Currently, he is one/third of the cooperative trio Thumbscrew with guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. He's recorded for ENJA Records, Screwgun, Intakt Records, and ECM, the label that issued "The Distance" by his amazing Ensemble Kolossus. His latest release is the third in a trio of albums that bassist Adam Hopkins issued in July and August of this year on his Out of Your Head Records label. All of the albums (the others include bassist Nick Dunston in a quintet setting and saxophonist Anna Webber's Quartet) were recorded live under less-than-ideal conditions or "Untamed" as the label has written on each release).

Formanek's contribution is "Pre-Apocalyptic": recorded in 2014 (but the artist is not sure where), the music, all tracks composed by the bassist, features Tim Berne (alto saxophone), Craig Taborn (piano), and Gerald Cleaver (drums), the same group that recorded his first two albums for ECM in 2010 and 2012––in fact, five of the seven songs come those albums, one from Ensemble Kolossus, and one newer work.  This quartet lives and breathes the music with the ability to stop and start without a dropped note, play complicated melody lines, and all solo with creativity.  Because the four musicians had worked together so often by the time of this gig, their familiarity with the music gives them license to push it forward.  And they do!

The album opens with "Pong", a melody built of repeated three-note phrases which shift in to a circular five-note phrase.  Then Berne and Taborn take off soloing in and around each other, both building off the intensity of Formanek and Cleaver. The bassist leads off the expansive (14:07) "Rising Tensions and Awesome Lights" with a long solo, melodic and percussive, before dropping into a walking bass line while the saxophone and piano work through the melody.  Taborn's wide-ranging powerful, and exciting solo leads into Berne's exploratory jaunt supported by throbbing bass hand-held percussion.  The other 14-minute track, "Intro and Real Action", starts quietly before Cleaver takes over for a lengthy solo that builds in intensity but drops back into a quiet mode for Berne to begin his statement.  There's a bluesy feel in many of his short phrases but he soon begins to interact with the other musicians, making the music louder. Yet, the music never boils over.  This Quartet may have been the first of Formanek's groups to perform "The Distance"––it's such a lovely ballad with an excellent solo from Berne, strong counterpoint from the composer, and excellent colors created by the pianist and drummer.

"Pre-Apocalyptic" overcomes its supposed "lo-fi" beginnings, hence a tip of the hat to mixing and mastering engineer Nathaniel Morgan for making this music sound so alive.  Michael Formanek has always been an impressive musician plus he is also one of the better composers in Creative American Music.  At times noisy, at others subtle, this album documents a quartet at the height of its power. Let these sounds move you!

For more information about the bassist, go to To listen to more songs and purchase the recording ($1.00 of every sale goes to Black Lives Matter), go to

Here's a lengthy piece from the album:

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Songs We Sing, Songs We Play

Photo: Mercedes Jelinek
John Hollenbeck, a composer, arranger, bandleader, drummer, percussionist, Professor, and now a label owner (more below), received a commission in 2010 from the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and began a project he called "Songs I Like a Lot"(Sunnyside Records).  He enlisted vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckmann plus pianist Gary Versace. The album was issued in 2011 featuring songs by Jimmy Webb, Ornette Coleman, Queen, and more.  Four years later, the entourage reassembled (Uri Caine taking over the piano choir for all but one track) and issued "Songs We Like a Lot" (also Sunnyside). That album included songs by Burt Bacharach/ Hal David, Cyndi Lauper, and others including two Hollenbeck originals. At that time, Hollenbeck said that the project would be a trilogy with fans around the world sending in suggestions for the final installment.

For this album, Ms. McGarry and Mr.Bleckmann built a list of the Top 20 vote getters and, without the drummer's input, chose seven songs.  Not surprisingly, the new album is titled "Songs You Like a Lot" and is issued on Hollenbeck's newly-formed Flexatonic Records label (available through Bandcamp with all profits going to Black Lives Matter).  Everyone is back with Versace on all eight tracks. The eight-song program (one Hollenbeck original) ranges from the traditional folk song "Down To The River to Pray" to The Bee Gee's "How Deep Is Your Love" plus James Taylor's "Fire and Rain", "Pure Imagination" (from the original "Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory" movie, and a fascinating deconstruction of the Brain Wilson classic "God Only Knows", titled here "Knows Only God."

Starting with The Beach Boys tune (that closes the album), Hollenbeck the arranger switches sentences around, speeds up the tempo, uses Versace's organ to shadow the vocals, and the reeds and brass for fluttering colors, powerful blasts, and thumping beats.  On initial listens, the song is off-putting but subsequent listens unveil brilliant new harmonies and reveals the emotions. The fiery ending is a gas.  The performance is truly a tour-de-force!

Photo: Bill Douthart
No matter how you feel about The Bee Gees, Hollenbeck reinvents "How Deep Is Your Love" with the reeds playing Steve Reich-like figures along with the guitar. Both vocalists embrace the melody and lyrics with great emotion but never overdue. Ms. McGarry and Mr. Bleckmann sing one of the choruses in unison, the latter's falsetto absolutely beautiful.  Steffen Webber's powerful tenor saxophone solo kicks the band up a notch.  The lone trumpet of Axel Schlosser kicks off Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up", sounding like a tribute to the composer's songs for Genesis.  When the voices come in (Ms. McGarry has the Gabriel part while Mr. Bleckmann takes the place of Kate Bush), the song changes directions. Note the lovely deep brass and organ plus the sweet soprano sax right before the soulful/ gospel section sung by Ms. McGarry.  The ending is a hoot, a "revival meeting" powered by the playful electric bass of Hans Glawischnig and the repetitive "Don't Give Up."

The opening track, the traditional "Down to The River...", is a piece you will play over and over.  There is so much going on yet the piece never feels cluttered. Listen for the vocal harmonies, the fine solos (acoustic bass, piano, and Martin Scales on guitar), how the melody and background changes each time through the simple homily/ verse culminating in full band sound that resembles the Shaker Hymn rearranged by Aaron Copland for his "Appalachian Spring."

Each album in the trilogy, all available digitally through Flexatonic Records (link is below), is filled with intelligent arrangements, brilliant vocals, impeccable musicianship, and the overall emotion that music, whether familiar or not, can bring the listener a sense of wonder, feelings of joy, and hope for better times.  Kudos to John Hollenbeck, brava to Kate McGarry, Theo Bleckmann, Gary Versace, and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band––savor all these sounds.

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

Here's the Peter Gabriel song:


John Hollenbeck composer, arranger, conductor 

Theo Bleckmann · voice 
Kate McGarry · voice 
Gary Versace · piano, organ 

Frankfurt Radio Big Band 

Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn · alto/soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute 
Oliver Leicht · alto/soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, piccolo 
Ben Kraef · tenor/soprano saxophone, flute 
Steffen Weber · tenor/soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, alto flute 
Rainer Heute · bari/bass saxophone, Bb/bass/contra-bass clarinet, flute 

Frank Wellert · trumpet/flugelhorn 
Thomas Vogel · trumpet/flugelhorn 
Martin Auer · trumpet/flugelhorn 
Axel Schlosser · trumpet/flugelhorn 

Christian Jaksjø · trombone 
Felix Fromm · trombone 
Shannon Barnett · trombone 
Manfred Honetschläger · bass trombone 

Martin Scales · guitar 
Hans Glawischnig · bass 
Jean Paul Höchstädter · drums 
Special guest: Claus Kiesselbach · mallet percussion, timpani 

Photo: D'Addario Woodwinds
Massachusetts native, saxophonist, flutist, composer, arranger, and educator Dave Pietro moved to New York City in 1987. Over the past 33 years, he has worked with the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Darcy James Argue Secret Society, and spent 1994-2016 as the lead alto saxophonist in the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra. His list of sideman gigs ranges from jazz acts to pop/ rock singers to studying and performing East Indian music with tabla master Sandip Burman.  Pietro has issued seven CDs as a leader, the most recent "New Road: Iowa Memoirs" crowd-financed through ArtistShare. For that album, he convened a group that included Alex Sipiagin (trumpet, flugelhorn), Gary Versace (piano), Johannes Weidenmueller (bass), and Johnathan Blake (drums) with perciusionist Rogerio Boccato contributing on percussion.

Those same musicians, plus trombonist Ryan Keberle, reconvened in June of 2019 to record Prieto's new ArtistShare album "Hypersphere."  The title refers to multi-dimensional sphere of four or more dimensions––if you are curious, click here.  These musicians are all first-class improvisors and Prieto writes to their strengths.  But, this is not merely a "blowing" album. The leader writes intelligent, well-constructed, melodies with smart harmonies plus the music often gives the rhythm section the opportunity to determine the flow. Listen to how he makes the six or seven piece ensemble (Boccato appears on six of the nine tracks while Keberle plays on five) sound like a 10 or 12 piece band with his fine voicings and overlapping melodies on many of the themes.  When he and Sipiagin blend their voices (as they do on the title track and on "Incandescent"), the songs remind this writer somewhat of the Andrew Hill especially on his 1999 Palmetto album "Dusk".  Blake, who now plays alongside the saxophonist, Versace, and Keberle in the Maria Schneider aggregation, is a powerhouse throughout the recording.  Just listen to how he and Weidenmueller combine to push the ensemble forward on "Quantum Entanglement" as well as on the opening track "Kakistocracy."

Photo: Jimmy & Dena Katz
The opening of "Boulder Snowfall" features overdubbed flute. Following the intro, Pietro takes off on a long, delightful, solo that uses the song's melody as a touchstone. Versace's richly melodic solo starts as a duet with bassist Weidenmueller that soon adds Blake to the mix––the three rides the rhythmic waves for several minutes.  The chiming sounds of an electric piano leads the ensemble into "Tales of Mendacity" which is a musical comment on the attack on truth going on all around us.  The blend of Blake's martial drumming and the gently chiming electric piano underneath Pietro's flowing solo is a highlight of the first half leading into Sipiagin's dancing solo.

The album closes with "Orison", an archaic word for "prayer".  After a handsome solo bass intro,
Boccato's bells and hand percussion plus Blakes's exploration around the drum kit underpin the lovely three-way melody.  Keberle steps into his short, yet, heartfelt solo, joined half-way through in conversation by Sipiagin's flugelhorn––Pietro on soprano sax and Versace's acoustic piano join the those voices until the four parts join together in melody while the drums create a righteous storm.

"Hypersphere" is intelligent, often powerful, music, an album that blends strong compositions with excellent musicianship without sounding technical or emotionless.  Dave Pietro, the composer, is responding to the world around, to the crazy shifts in politics and, in hindsight, in global health, reminding us we are stronger when working together than standing apart.

For more information, go to To purchase the album, go to or to

Listen to the evocative ballad "Boulder Snowfall":

Friday, August 7, 2020

Live Singer, Songwriter, and Large Ensemble

Photo: TEDxNew York
Somi, vocalist, musician, composer, and activist, is a first generation daughter of a couple who came to the United States from Rwanda and Uganda. Over the past decade, she has released four albums, toured the world and is the founder of "Salon Africana", an arts agency that celebrates the arts from the African continent. What audiences have discovered over the years is an artist with a wonderful voice, a fine lyricist who tells stories that touch on current issues as well as issues that touch on Africa and on the role of women in society.

Her new recording (her debut on her own label), "Holy Room: Somi Live at Alte Oper" (Salon Africana/ hr Big Band), pairs the singer with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band for a live concert. John Beasley did all the arrangements for the 15-member ensemble plus two of Somi's touring band, pianist Toru Dodo and guitarist Hervé Samb.  All the compositions come from the vocalist except "Alien" (written by Sting as "Englishman in New York" with new lyrics by Somi) and "Lady Revisited" (written by Fela Kuti as "Lady" with new new lyrics). Eight more songs come from Somi's two most recent albums, while one is a piece from 2007.  Right from the opening, this music is enchanting, rhythmically exciting, with soaring vocals, stunning ballads, and intelligent arrangements for the Big Band.

The 92-minute (two disk) concert program opens with "Kadiatou the Beautiful". Originally recorded for the 2017 "Petite Afrique" album (OKeh Records), the songs starts as a meditation before the African rhythms kick in and guitarist Samb breaks out into a powerful solo. Kudos to the Big Band's rhythm section, bassist Hans Glaswischnig (acoustic and electric basses) and Jean Paul Höchstäder (drums) for creating such deep beats.  Listen to them push the vocalist on "Black Enough" while the band wails in the background. Dodo's electric piano solo roils on top of the band.  "Ankara Sundays" (from 2014's "The Lagos Music Salon", also released on OKeh) features a splendid Beasley arrangement which, at times, has a Maria Schneider feel.  Somi's vocal is stunning as she inhabits the soul of a woman dreaming a way through her present life.  Samb's evocative guitar is the only accompaniment at the onset of "Like Dakar"––the reeds lead the band in and the songs drops into a sensuous rhythm thanks to the bass and drums. Listen to how the vocalist accompanies the guitar solo as if she was a part of the reed section.

Disk 2 opens with "Alien", Christian Jaksjö's amplified trombone leading the song in.  Somi tailors the lyrics that speaks to her experiences in the City ("I'm a legal alien/ I'm an African in New York") singing from the viewpoint of a taxi driver.  Listen to the various voices accompany the trombone solo, blowing like a wind through the caverns of Manhattan.  Dodo's classically inspired solo introduces "Two Dollar Day" (from "The Lagos Music Salon"), an impressive story of a young Nigerian widower trying to bring home enough money to feed her hungry children. We look at her from the outside, not knowing her name but realizing "her days are numbered."  "Look away, look away, if you dare" cries the vocalist before Samb's blues-soaked solo.  The guitarist has a long, unaccompanied, introduction to "Ingele" (from Somi's 2007's "Red Soil in My Eyes") is melodic and percussive as is the song that follows.  The vocalist plays with the title and adds others words but mostly utilizes her voice to interact with the band.  Samb and baritone saxophonist Rainier Huete create fiery solos over the rampaging band before Somi's voice, accompanied only by Hochstäder's fiery drumming brings the song to a close.

Photo: hr Big Band
The album closes the lovely "Holy Room", a prayer that, similar to the Old Testament's "Song of Songs" in the way the words are a love song to her religion, to her God. Yes, there is a sensuality to the song but it's not lurid, sexy, or suggestive––the music is gentle, the vocal is lovely, and the arrangement handsome and supportive. Samb's guitar solo flows like birds dancing on the wind, the rhythm section  pushing but gently with the low reeds in the background.  

"Holy Room", the album, is a treat for tired ears and minds.  It gets noisy at times but this is a joyful noise.  The lyrics are sometimes sad but the vocalist never sounds as if she has given up hope. John Beasley does excellent work here as does the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. While one may view this program as a reassessment of her earlier work, Somi gives her all to her art so this music sounds fresh, relevant, contemporary, and refreshing.   Such an excellent recording is worth your full attention!  

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

Here's an exciting track:

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

America The Dutiful & The Beauty-filled

Hard to ignore in the midst of the pandemic the fact that 2020 is a Presidential Election year with the one, arguably, the most fraught since 1860.  Regina Carter has put together a new ensemble, dubbed it the Freedom Band, and, tougher, they create "Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground" (Tiger Turn/eOne).  Ms. Carter (Michigan) joins with bassist, percussionist, and co-producer Kabir Sehgal (Georgia), trumpeter, arranger and co-producer John Daversa (Florida), drummer Harvey Mason (Kansas), pianist Jon Batiste (Louisiana), and bassist Alexis Cuadrado and tenor saxophonist Brian Gorrell (on four tracks) ––Doug Davis and Harvey Mason, Jr also serve as co-producers––to create a musical journey through a number of US states that will loom large in the coming election.

Along the way, the listener stops for a swinging take on "Georgia On My Mind", a bouncy reading of "Rocky Mountain High", a playful "You Are My Sunshine" kicked off with a sweet, minor-key flourish from pianist Batiste.  Ms. Carter pays tribute to Michigan and, especially, Detroit with a lovely ballad reading of "Dancing In The Streets" (originally released by Berry Gordy in 1964 to help quell the various riots occurring in large American cities: strangely enough, the song was also used by protesters to complain about police brutality and more). Daversa introduces "Swanee River" which also gets a bluesy ballad treatment featuring his delightful trumpet work as some fine "down home" fiddle from the leader. "Swanee" (the river) is a adapted name from the "Suwanee" River that runs from Georgia through Florida.

Right in the middle of the program is short, unaccompanied, performance by Ms. Carter on the traditional "We Shall Overcome"––that's one of the only tracks one could consider "political" in nature along with the violinist's spoken plea to make sure and vote. That seems sad to comprehend for this writer who was taught by his parents that voting, like living in a democracy, is not a right to take lightly.

There are delightful musical treks through "Pennsylvania" and Wisconsin (the off-kilter take of the old football fight song "On Wisconsin").  The album closes with a short (but sweet) tribute to "Faygo", a soft drink made in Detroit. MI.  It's a fascinating way to close this often light-hearted journey but reminds one that so much of this music could be considered nostalgic. The underlying message is that we can rearrange and change the plentiful wrongs in the United States by paying attention to our communities and states, working together, speaking and listening to each other, and voting.  You can hum these tunes while marching, while writing to your Congress people, and in the voting booth.

For more information, go to

Hear Ms. Carter and the Freedom Band's take on "Georgia On My Mind":

Photo: Christopher Georgia
Biophilia Records is the right home for the duo Endless Field. Bassist/ composer Ike Sturm and guitarist/ composer Jesse Lewis makes music that celebrates the richness of the outdoors, the myriad stars, moons, and constellations that fill the nighttime sky. The record label, the brainchild of pianist Fabian Almazan, produces no CDs; the music is available as download only but they do create a lovely Origami-inspired recording jacket for notes, photos, and more. The jacket is produced from all recycled materials using plant-based inks.

The duo's third album bears the title "Alive In The Wilderness" and truly lives up to its name. The duo recorded outdoors in Utah with engineers Dana Nielsen and Phillip Broussard, Jr. working with equipment using only solar power. The videos created for the project by Christopher Georgia and Brandon Sargeant also use solar-powered equipment.  On many of the tracks, one can hearing running water from streams and brooks, animals and birds in the background, wind flowing past the microphones, and more. All the outdoor noises helps one concentrate on the music which, with few exceptions, is quite contemplative. Therefore, it should as no surprise this music is about calm, about nature, about one's place in the environment, about evaluation and re-evaluation, about peace, and about creativity.

The music may be best experienced on the porch in early morning and/or early evening. Play the program all the way through (55 minutes), enjoying the melodies, the interplay, the deep tones of Sturm's bass and the clean tones of Lewis's steel-string guitar. Enjoy the surprises along the way––there's the funky, percussive, "Zim" (listen below), the throbbing sound of "Fire", the classically inspired "Heart", the folky joy of "Dance of the Bee", the hard-driving "Moon", and the iridescent "Prayer for the Earth."

Such delightful music!  "Alive In the Wilderness" is just that––alive with many possibilities, joys, and discoveries. Endless Field continues to explore the endless possibilities of acoustic music and we are the beneficiaries.

For more information, go to  Purchase the music at

Here's the lively, percussive, and melodic "Zim":

Here's the video trailer: