Thursday, December 3, 2020

Two Pandemic Albums + One Pre-pandemic Album for Good Measure!

As 2020 mercifully (or mercilessly, depending on conditions where you live) crawls to a close, albums are being released that were recorded in the Spring and Summer of this most unusual year. Since live venues have been shuttered around the world, many musicians and ensembles lost a major portion of their income.  Some venues have reopened but, mostly, for streaming concerts; with the promise of several vaccines, one can only hope that Spring 2021 will be a renewed time for live music and theater.

In the meantime, multi-instrumentalist Chris Potter and trombonist Marshall Gilkes were able to create and record new music in the midst of the pandemic––a look at their respective albums is below as well as a fine new recording from L.A.N. Trio (recorded in November 2019).

Chris Potter, born on New Year's Day in 1971 in Chicago, IL, has fashioned quite a career.  He started playing saxophone at the age of 10 and began winning awards as well as garnering critical acclaim in his teenage years.  Although he won a scholarship to attend the New School in New York City, trumpeter Red Rodney invited Potter to join his band.  As he was learning the ins-and-outs of bebop, he was meeting musicians such as Ornette Coleman, playing in the horn section of Steely Dan, working with pianist Marian McPartland, drummer Paul Motian, trumpeter Dave Douglas, saxophonist David Binney, and his long association with bassist Dave Holland.  Since his 1993 Criss Cross debut, Potter has issued 20 albums as a leader and appeared on over 100 more.  Though he is mostly known as a tenor saxophonist, he plays soprano and alto saxes, clarinets, flutes, piano, electric keyboards, electric and acoustic guitar, and percussion (including drum set),
All of those instruments are on display on Potter's 22nd release "There Is a Tide" (Edition Records).  When the touring stopped, the musician began composing and, in May of this year, began assembling all the pieces for the new recording.  Over the course of six weeks (!), Potter played, arranged, and engineered the 10 songs that make up the 54-minute program.  In the promotional material that accompanies the album, the musician talks about all the limitations that recording at home can have including not having a "proper" studio environment.  If you did not read that comment or know the fact that Potter creates every sound you hear, chances are good you'll still be impressed by the results.  This music rocks, swings, soars, dances, excites, soothes, and sounds so good.  

Photo: Dave Stapleton
Although the artist was locked away in his recording area, the opening and closing songs on "...Tide" illustrates he's still in touch with the outside world.  The opening track, "I Had a Dream", can be understood as a response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and the protests that followed through the United States. Yet, the song has a lilting feel, its infectious rhythms seeming to give us hope as the soprano sax solo rises up in the mix.  The closing track, "New Live (In the Wake of Devastation)", has a more emotional pull.  One cannot "appeal" for change but must make an effort to live it.  The dramatic tenor sax solo leads to a fascinating orchestration featuring saxophones, clarinets, flutes, and keys while Potter uses guitars to push the rhythm.  

What stands out throughout the recording is the textured layers of sounds, the "sectional" arrangements, and the excellent melodies.   The dancing percussion and electric piano opening of "Mother of Waters" suggests Weather Report and its "Black Market" album while the funky "Rising Over You" channels the Brecker Brothers––dig Potter's rapid sax lines on either side of the sound spectrum plus his fine keyboard work.  "Rest Your Head" is a lovely ballad with excellent guitar work plus a melody line reminds this listener of Paul McCartney.  The clarinet solo is emotionally and melodically rich.  The following track, "As the Moon Ascends", blends flute, clarinet, and percussion in its opening minute into a fascinating mini-concerto before settling into a medium tempo in which multiple flutes introduce a handsome soprano sax solo.

"There is a Tide"is quite an impressive album; not just because Chris Potter plays all the instruments and plays them well but also because of the strength of the songs, the smart orchestrations, and the lively solos. Many creative music albums are recorded on the fly. Considering the amount of tracks Potter laid down in the six-week process, this project came together quickly.  Nevertheless, he is able to fill out the sound spectrum so the music has a richer, fuller, sound without sounding cluttered.   Sit down, relax, let these sounds roll through your mind––you'll be surprised and comforted by the joy this music contains.

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

Here's a taste:

Trombonist and composer Marshall Gilkes (pronounced Jillks) firs picked up his instrument––actually his father's 'bone––when his dad was playing with the Air Force band, the Falconaires.  The younger Gilkes went on to study both jazz and classical music at the Juilliard School in New York City.  He has worked with numerous large ensembles including Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and currently performs with the Maria Schneider Orchestra as well as performing with Barbra Streisand and Richard Bona.
As a leader, Gilkes has issued five albums, the previous two with the WDR Big Band with whom he performed from 2010-2013. Album #six, "Waiting To Continue" (self-released), finds him in a trio setting with bassist Yasushi Nakamura (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums). The group was originally scheduled to record in April of this year but no studios were open. Gilkes heard that the Bunker Studio in Brooklyn was reopening in July so he called the rhythm section who were ready and willing.  In the studio, everyone wore masks when not playing and they were quite separated.  The trombonist fed the musicians so there was little downtime.  The results are a delightful mix of styles and melodies with both Penn and Nakamura really part of the creative process.    

As for the music, the program is all originals. Some of the pieces swings like mad such as the rollicking "Taconic Turns" (New Yorkers and other drivers will tell you that the Taconic Parkway is not for the faint of heart. "Archie's Theme" is along the same lines although the melody flows a bit smoother. Penn drives this piece with abandon, navigating the composer's dynamics and tempo changes with grace and subtle power.  The title song opens the album; five overdubbed trombones create a chorale for the leader to play the lovely melody.  Gilkes restates the theme with just the bassist before Penn enters with his sweet brush and cymbal work.  After the trio floats through the tune, the trombone chorale closes the piece.  There is a hint of Ms. Schneider's "natural" music in the writing for the trombones.

CD back cover
The trombone chorale returns for "Anya's Tune", a sweet ballad composed for Gilkes's wife.  While the ballad gently strolls forward, the extra brass appear at various times throughout the pice while the rhythm section creates a gentle cushion.  "Cora's Tune", composed for his daughter, is more playful, especially in its juxtaposition of the lovely melody and the playful drums.  Nakamura's thick bass tones ring out beneath the melody.  

"Waiting To Continue" closes with "New Normal". Like the opening title track, this song was composed during the pandemic. The music is not morbid or sad but playful (especially Penn's playful drumming) and hopeful, perhaps dreaming when the venues will open around the world so that music as rich as what Marshall Gilkes and company have recorded here can be played "live" to attentive listeners.  Climb into this program with open ears and it will make you smile, maybe even feel better about the survival of the creative musician.

For more information, go to  To hear more and purchase this fine music, go to  
Here's the title track:

Our "plus 1" for this post is the delightful new recording by the trio of Mário Laginha (piano), Julian Argüelles (soprano and tenor saxophone), and Helge Andreas Norbakken (percussion) a.k.a. the L.A.N. Trio.  "Atlântico" (Edition Records) is the Trio's second album, the first being 2017's "Setembro" for the same label.  Whereas the debut album contained 10 tunes, eight of which were composed by the pianist, the new one is more democratic with four by Lahgina, four by Argüelles, two co-created by Norbakken with the pianist and two more by the drummer with the saxophonist.

The new album gets off to a playful start with the pianist's "Jaamm Rek". There's more than a slab of funk propelled forward by Norbakken's thunderous drums.  Laginha creates a circular piano riff that Argüelle's powerful tenor sax frolics atop.  The pianist also penned the following track, "Caes a Solta" (Free Dogs?) which is a much sweeter song than the title implies. Argüelles creates a lovely soprano sax solo as does the composer while the percussionist shakes and rattles beneath them. Norbakken gets composing credits on the three "Improviso" pieces as well for the highly melodic "La Graziela" which he co-wrote with the saxophonist.  They also created the first of the "Improvisos"during which the soprano saxophone is accompanied by powerful sounds of drums and hand percussion.

The opening of Laginha's "Juroom" hearkens back to Keith Jarrett's "The Windup", especially in its spiky, percussive, melody line––on this tune, Norbakken pounds away beside the pulsating rhythms created by the pianist while Argüelles's raspy soprano sax solo rises above the hypnotic fray. The saxophonist's "The Three J's"; opening with a long unaccompanied piano solo,, the drummer enters with a solid rhythm that eventually leads to the composer's handsome tenor sax.  Listen to the colors the rhythm section creates as Argüelles climbs through his solo."

The program closes with the pianist's "Silencio", a gentle ballad with a most fascinating percussion backing. Throughout the album, Norbakken creates stunning backdrops and rhythms. It's obvious he's not playing a traditional trap set (check the photo––no snare drum but definitely floor toms, hand drums, cymbals, and various shakers) so the music moves in unexpected directions. He's certainly the "heartbeat" of the group while the saxophonist and pianist often glide through the melodies and improvisation.  

Kudos to Mário LaginhaJulian Argüelles, and Helge Andreas Norbakken for creating the delightful and optimistic sounds of "Atlântico".  Their first album, at times, seems more structured (although there are some delightful uptempo pieces), this music is often looser, airier; they sound more like a collective, one in which all ideas are welcome. They're probably great fun in concert!  Sit yourself down and surrender to the joyous sounds.

Here's the delightful "Juróom":

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