Wednesday, October 27, 2021

New Music from 5 and from 1

 

Photo: Milo Bosh
Over the decades of his career, Steve Coleman, alto saxophonist, composer, conceptualist, MacArthur Fellow, has taken his curiosity far afield, creating music that blends rhythm and melody in ways that are hypnotic and highly appealing. The Chicago, IL, native has absorbed the musical lessons of Charlie Parker, the live lessons of fellow alto player Bunky Green, and tenor master Von Freeman, what he learned in the bands of Cecil Taylor, Sam Rivers, and Dave Holland (to name but three) and created music whose home is in the African Diaspora and the streets of American cities. Since signing with Pi Recordings in 2010, Coleman has issued six albums that feature several different-sized ensembles.  His main musical vehicle is Five Elements, an ensemble that now features Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet) and the amazing rhythm section of Anthony Tidd (electric bass) and Sean Rickman (drums).   

In 2018, Pi released "Live at the Village Vanguard Volume I: the Embedded Sets", and two-CD set recorded in May of 2017. That album featured a fifth Fifth Element, guitarist Miles Okazaki.  12 months later, the band returned to the Vanguard with the spoken word genius Kokayi in the place of the guitar.  11 songs from that three-night stay can now be heard on Coleman's seventh album for the label "Live at the Village Vanguard Volume II (Mdw Ntr)".  The combination of the vocals and instrumental voices is, at times, astonishing as Kokayi is right on the rhythm, interacting with Coleman and Finlayson's melody lines, Tidd's thunderous yet melodic bass lines, and Rickman's powerful, conversational, drums.  Coleman's alto leads the way but everybody's voice is heard.  Finlayson has developed into an excellent front-line partner; whether the piece is totally improvised (such as disc #1's "Unit Fractions" or Bunky Green's "Little Girl I'll Miss You"), the trumpeter builds delightful solos off of the leader's rapid-fire solo phrases.  Another highlight of the Green piece is Kokayi's interaction with the leader's alto. 

Thanks to the rhythm section, this music is always moving. Not only do Tidd and Rickman act as the foundation but they both, at times, interact with the soloists.  Because Coleman builds these pieces around shapes and symbolism (from Egyptian hieroglyphics), the melodies the sax and trumpet create often sound static but the bassist and drummer keep the music interesting. Kokayi is often the spark plug –– his social commentary on "Pad Thai –– Mdw Ntr" locks in with the bass line and the solid drumming and making one leap out of their seat!

Happily, there's no let up on disc 2. In fact, "Rumble Young Man, Rumble" may be the best cut on the entire album.  Not only is the rapid-fire groove irresistible but Kokayi's lyrics have moments of sheer hilarity (something to do with "bichon frieses in the jungle with labradoodles") as well as social commentary about how dangerous walking the streets is for young Black men as well as the description of a boxing match.   All the while, Rickman is a thundering presence; like rush hour in downtown Manhattan, there's no escaping his presence. (Notice how Coleman uses the repeated 12-note phrase of the song as the opening salvo of "Khet & Kaba" and variations of the same for the melody).  

"Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Live at the Village Vanguard Vol. II (Mdw Ntr)" is powerful modern music.  Steve Coleman utilizes ancient codes and artwork to create explorations of 21st Century Black Music that is as intelligent as it is funky.  

For more information, go to https://m-base.com/.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://stevecoleman.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-the-village-vanguard-volume-ii-mdw-ntr

Here's the afore-mentioned "Rumble Young Man, Rumble":




Pianist and composer Matthew Shipp is one of the busiest musicians you'll ever meet. Even though he has cut down his live appearances (as did the pandemic), he records with his own group, co-leads other ensembles, and appears on other people's recordings.  When he records a solo piano album, one can hear a dizzying number of musical references, from 20th Century Classical music to avant-garde jazz to blues to, by his own admittance, the influences of Bud Powell and Bill Evans.  Critics and reviewers call it jazz but that word is not quite right –– you can call it Black creative music or just music. 


His new album, "Codebreaker" comes to us via TAO Form, the label started last year by drummer (and Shipp collaborator) Whit Dickey.  11 songs spread across 45 minutes, all but one under five minutes.  The music blends melody, rhythm, hypnotic phrases, introspective moments, and more into a mesmerizing program.  Recorded in late July of 2020 in Brooklyn NY's Park West Studios, Shipp creates a world all his own –– this is not background music but a program to explore from beginning to end. There is a science-fiction motif to several of the song titles, e.g "Letter From the Galaxy", Raygun", and "Stomp To the Galaxy".  Yet, the pianist has a sly edge in not giving away any real hint through the names. What is enjoyable is how the music can shift in a heartbeat or stop your heart with its gentle quality; the "blues stomp" that shows up in "Green Man" and the lyrical tenderness of "Suspended". 

Find a comfortable chair, put on "Codebreaker", and let the sounds wash over you as well as enter your soul.  If you are a fan of the recorded music of Matthew Shipp, you know to do that. If you are new to his music, you become the person in the album's title, exploring the piano language he creates on eleven pieces. Don't hurry to crack any codes, just take in these sounds, these luminous creations, and enjoy.

For more information, go to www.akamu.net/shipp.htm.  To purchase the album, go to 

Here's "Spiderweb":

Thursday, October 7, 2021

New Albums & Gigs in CT

 Slowly but surely, the "live music scene" is opening up, especially here in my native Connecticut.  Here are three artists with new albums gracing music venues this weekend. 

Mary LaRose, life partner and music collaborator of saxophonist/ clarinetist Jeff Lederer, has a new album project arriving on October 7.  "Out Here" (little (i) music) takes the music of Eric Dolphy (clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto saxophone), adds lyrics by Ms. LaRose, new arrangements by Mr. Lederer as well as poems by Hallie Lederer and Patricia Donegan, and gives all that to a dynamic quintet of musicians to support, innovate, explore, interpret, and more.  What a fine band –– Mr. Lederer (clarinet, bass clarinet), Tomeka Reid (cello), Patricia Brennan (vibraphone, electronics), Nick Dunston (bass), and Matt Wilson (drums –– they perform nine songs from across Dolphy's discography.  The arrangements allow one to hear the influences of the blues, be bop, and classical music that permeated the Master's music.

The album opens with a delightful take of "Gazzelloni", Dolphy's tribute to the Italian flutist and teacher Severino Gazzelloni (1919-1992) who gave numerous lessons to many artists over the decades including the composer.  The introduction is a particular delight with Ms. LaRose and drummer Wilson having a playful conversation.  "Out There" has a positive message and a propulsive melody.  Ms. LaRose sings with the cello, bass, and the vibes in unison with her.  There is no tempo yet the music leaps forward on the strength of the instruments and voice. Trombonist Jimmy Bosch, percussionist Bobby Sanabria, and vocalist Maya Rose Lederer join the band for the Afro-Cuban inflected take of Sonny Simmons/ Prince Lasha's "Music Matador". Note hoe Ms. Reid's cellist interacts with the voice as does the trombone.  The show has the quality of a "show stopper"!

Parade drums lead the way into "Out to Lunch" – listen to how the tempos shift under Lederer's clarinet solo as if the vibes were going one way, the cello another, and the drums yet another while the bass keeps the structure intact.  "Love Me", a melody by Victor Young with lyrics by Ned Washington and Bing Crosby, is a duet between the Ms. LaRose's playful voice and the swooping phrases of the bass clarinet.  

"Out Here" closes with Mal Waldron's "Warm Canto" which the pianist/ composer recorded with Dolphy for his 1961 album "The Quest".  Ms. LaRose reads the Patricia Donegan's poem "Lover's Wish" supported by Wilson's fine brushes work, Ms. Brennan's electronically enhanced vibes, and Ms. Reid's expressive cello.  In the middle, the clarinet trio of Isaiah Johnson, Cameron Jones, and Mr. Lederer carry on a lively conversation.  It's the perfect ending for a delight-filled album that not only contains surprises but also soothes the soul.  Mary LaRose is quite the adventurous artist and, while she has only released five albums over the past two decades (she has also recorded with her husband), each album is required listening.

To purchase the album, go to https://littleimusic.bandcamp.com/album/out-here.  

Here's the delightful take of Dolphy's "Gazzelloni":


Mary LaRose will celebrate the release of "Out Here" on Friday 10/7 leading a quintet that includes Ms. Brennan, Matt Wilson, Mr. Lederer , and Michael Formanek in the bass chair.   For ticket information, go to http://firehouse12.com/performance-calendar/2021/10/8/mary-larose-ensemble. The event is in-person as well as streamed.  



On August 16, 2020, Jeff Lederer invited his friends Jamie Saft (organ, piano), Matt Wilson (drums, percussion), and Steve Swallow (electric bass) to record eight original compositions based on the saxophonist's study of the book "The Heart of Buddha's Teaching" by Thich Nahat Hanh. And, because of the extensive COVID-19 protocols being enforced at the time, the quartet was going to record the session outdoors.  They did just that in between the hit-or-miss summer showers.  The ensemble, known as Sunwatcher from the title of Mr. Lederer's 2011 Jazzheads release that featured Saft and Wilson plus bassist Buster Williams, creates a powerful sound pushed forward by the insistent drums and Mr. Swallow's amazing bass work.  "Eightfold Path" (little (i) music) is a guide to living a good life with the music serving as a guide to immerse one's self into the sound. Tunes such as "Right Speech" and "Right Livelihood" make one want to dance and sound great coming out of a car's speakers driving down the road.

Every time I encounter Steve Swallow's bass, I realize how much he fills the bottom and how melodic he is. Note how bluesy and fundamental he is on "Right Action" and how integral his counterpoint is behind the acoustic piano and tenor sax solos on "Right Effort".  Mr. Swallow connects with the New Orleans-tinged drums on "Right Action" playing a three-note figure similar to that of the  "Acknowledgement" movement of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme".  Saft's righteously funky organ playing stands out on that track as well.  In an interview I conducted with Mr. Lederer and Mary LaRose, I asked if "Right Resolve" was based on the chugging rhythm of Elton John's "Bennie and The Jets" –– the composer claimed "no" but Ms. LaRose laughed and said "Told you!" Certainly the chord structure is different but.....Saft's solo roars while Wilson's drums crush beneath him.  

While the music is noisy at times, there are also several lovely ballads.  The gospel-tinged melody of "Right View", played together then in counterpoint by Mr. Lederer and Mr. Swallow, has wonderful cymbal work and rich, sustained, organ chords.  Mr. Saft's long solo adds intensity to the piece and is followed by a sweet Swallow solo. The afore-mentioned "Right Effort" and the album closer "Right Mindfulness" finds the organist on acoustic piano. The latter track features long sustained bass notes, a handsome tenor solo, and Mr. Wilson on hand-held percussion. Notice how all four musicians are essential to the music moving forward even as they create a meditative sound.

"Eightfold Path" is Jeff Lederer at his best. Yes, he still plays with a ferocity that sounds as if his saxophone will explode but he also displays a softer, more melodic, side that fits the message of the album. Great band, good music –– sure sounds like they had a delightful day in the park!

For more information, go to www.littleimusic.com/about.  To purchase the album and other releases from little (i) music, go to https://littleimusic.bandcamp.com/album/eightfold-path

Here's "Right Action":





Vocalist Judy Wexler, born and still lives in Los Angeles, CA, is a person who loves tell a story with each song she sings.  Her new album "Back To The Garden" (released in June of this year on her Jewel City Jazz) illustrates how the songs of 1960s, pieces written by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Stephen Stills, Sandy Denny, and others, have great resonance for this third decade of the 21st Century. With a band that features pianist and arranger Jeff Colella, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Gabe Davis, drummer Steve Hass, a string quartet, and more guests, Ms. Wexler comes at these tunes with a jazz sensibility and an well-developed ear for harmony while the arrangements by Collela (with two from Josh Nelson) open the songs up without losing their essential qualities.  I imagine that anyone who "grew up" with these songs (as I did) will bring a myriad memories to his or her listening experience.  



Despite the album's title, that Joni Mitchell song is not in the program but "Big Yellow Taxi" is. The melody is propelled by a funky piano phrase. Danny Janklow's alto sax fills serve as a smart counterpoint to the vocal plus delightful backing vocals (the tune's co-arranger Erin Bentlage) will make you smile.  In the midst of their Brill Building years, Gerry Goffin and Carole King composed "Up On The Roof" and the homage to star gazing in New York City was a best seller for The Drifters during the Holiday season of 1962.  Collela's arrangement and far-ranging piano solo brings Bruce Hornsby to mind.  "For What It's Worth", composed by Stills for the Buffalo Springfield, became a rallying cry for protesters around the escalating Vietnam War.  Koonse's sharp-edged solo, accompanied by the militaristic drums, is a highlight as is Ms. Bentlage's backing vocals.  

Mr. Dylan gets two songs, the political broadside "The Times They Are A'Changin'" (1964) and the sweet lullaby "Forever Young", a song the composer recorded twice for his 1974 album "Planet Waves" (featuring The Band). The former song is just as relevant now as it was nearly six decades ago while the latter is one of the sweetest and straight-forward set of lyrics in Mr. Dylan's oeuvre.  Ms. Wexler and Jeff Collela don't take liberties with these songs; instead, they make sure you hear the lyrics. Violinist Sara Caswell
makes an appearance on "Forever Young" wrapping her velvety phrases around Koonse's guitar lines and the sweet-sounding background voices.

The album closes appropriately with "Who Knows Where The Time Goes" –– the late Sandy Denny composed and recorded the song with Fairport Convention in 1969 but it was Judy Collins whose 1968 version became the title of her third album.  This lovely arrangement by Josh Nelson features a splendid trumpet solo from Jay Jennings as well as a heartfelt vocal. Nelson also arranged "American Tune" (listen below) that utilizes a string trio that underscore Ms. Wexler's emotional vocal.  

When you listen to "Back To The Garden", make sure to notice that this is not a nostalgic trip or even a tribute album: instead, notice how Judy Wexler remind us all of the power of music to be relevant over decades and generations and how jazz artists were listeners first and interpreters second, introducing great songs to new audiences.  Subtle, swinging, soothing, fun, this album is a true delight!

For more information, go to https://judywexler.com/. To hear more and to purchase the album/ download, go to https://judywexler.bandcamp.com/album/back-to-the-garden.

Judy Wexler will be performing this album and more on Saturday October 9 at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme CT.  Accompanying her will be Jim Ridl (piano), Bill Moring (bass), and Tim Horner (drums).  For ticket information, go to www.eventbrite.com/e/judy-wexler-tickets-165027442523


Here's Ms. Wexler's take on Paul Simon's "American Tune":


Monday, September 27, 2021

Quintet & Big Band with Jared Schonig Leading!

 

Drummer and composer Jared Schonig is the exemplar of the 21st Century musician. Not only does he write music but he also plays in Broadway pit bands ("Color Purple", "Moulin Rouge: The Musical"). Schonig has worked or recorded with artists ranging from Fred Hersch to the 8-Bit Big Band, from Amy Cervini to Darcy James Argue & The Secret Society, and others plus is a Private Lessons Instructor  The drummer has toured with Kristen Chenowith, Kurt Elling, the New York Voices, Cynthia Erivo, Duchess and Laila Biali.  He is one of the co-leaders of The Wee Trio with bassist Dan Loomis and vibraphonist James Westfall.   

Earlier in 2021, Schonig self-released the three-song EP, "112 Project", featuring three different trios recorded remotely during the Pandemic.  Now, Anzic Records has released the exciting and ambitious "Two Takes, Volumes 1 & 2".  "Volume 1: The Quintet" features eight original compositions by the drummer plus a short "Intro to White Out" and three "Drum Interludes" played by the dynamic quintet of Schonig, bassist Matt Clohesy, pianist Luis Perdomo, alto saxophonist Godwin Lewis, and trumpeter Marquis Hill. Perhaps the best words to describe the program is "smoking hot" with the occasional foray into ballad territory.  The musicians play with great emotional fire throughout and Schonig's compositions are well-shaped, thoughtful, and often fiery. "Intro to White Out" opens the album with...well...a drum soliloquy leading directly into the first full track.  "White Out" leaps from the speakers moving forward on the "hot" drums and the rapid-fire melody line played by the sax and trumpet.  Louis takes the opening solo, laying down an energetic gauntlet for Hill to follow.  Perdomo quietly 'comps" until his solo that races along atop the twin engines of Clohesy and Schonig. 

Photo: Amy Schonig
Highlights abound throughout the program.  The sly, funky, "Climb" builds off the "tick-tock" clicking from the leader's drums with dynamic work from the bassist plus a splendid piano solo from Perdomo, a smoky interlude from Hill that erupts into flames creating a jumping off point from Louis's sweet solo. "Eight Twenty" also contains a slinky, soulful, rhythm as well as a handsome, singable, melody that offers the musicians the opportunity to weave in and around each other as well as the space for Louis, Hill, and Perdomo to create melodic solos. The pianst, Schonig, and Clohesy lay down quite a sneaky yet funky pace on "Sabotage" then drop into a hard-bop 4/4 for the solos.  

Photo: Leonardo Mascaro
The program also includes two fine ballads.  "Tig Mack" opens  with just bass and trumpet before Clohesy lays down a lovely circular line that the heartfelt melody rides upon. Perdomo emerges from the theme with a sweet solo that slowly picks up in intensity without boiling over.  The album closes with "Gibbs St." with its whirlwind melody line played by sax and trumpet over a simple but blues-influenced rhythm section. Louis and Hill "converse" through the middle of the song before leading the band back to the opening two-part theme.  There are traces of Dave Holland's fine ballad "Conference of the Birds" in the chordal accompaniment –– whether it's intentional or not, it's a lovely sound. 

"Two Takes, Volume 1" is rich in melodic material, ripe with strong solos, and excellent accompaniment.   Jared Schonig set a sumptuous table for his musical partners and the listener gets to partake in the feast!

Enjoy the energy of "White Out"

:



"Volume 2: Big Band" takes Schonig's Quintet material, distributes each piece (not the "Intro" or "Drum Preludes") to a different arranger (see the list below), and reimagines the songs in a big band setting.  Recorded in several different sessions (with varying personnel), the music often crackles with excitement led by the powerful drumming of the leader/ composer.  Ms. Hazama's arrangement of "Sabotage" leads off the program; it's a "speaker-shaker" with delightful solos from Quinson Nachoff (tenor sax) and Brian Pareschi (trumpet), as well as Schonig's thundering attack on his kit.  Jim McNeely does the honors of arranging "White Out" giving the skittish melody line to the muted brass and a unnamed flutist.  What follows is an exciting dialogue between the reeds and the brass before the opening theme is repeated, this time with the trumpets unmuted and adding the trombone.  Powerful solos from Troy Roberts (tenor sax) and trumpeter Scott Wendholt. Yes, there is a drum solo: this time, the brass and reeds begin by sparring with Schonig then framing his fills.  

Photo: Amy Schonig
Co-producer Mike Holober's contribution is his arrangement of "Climb": built off the simple "tick-tick" of the drums, here the reeds and brass shine on the thematic material. Charles Pillow
creates a quiet alto sax solo over the shimmering rhythm guitar (Nil Felder) and atop the pulsating Fender Rhodes work of Adam Birnbaum. Jason Rigby starts his tenor sax solo over Felder's clicking rhythm guitar and Schonig's "conversational" drums.  "Tig Mack" stands out for the adventurous nature of Darcy James Argue's smashing arrangement: how he uses the high reeds and brass in the background to swell up over the other horns a la Steve Reich.  The rhythm section behind Felder's excellent solo reminds this listener of Talking Heads circa 1980-85.  

Like "Volume 1: Quintet",  the program ends with "Gibbs St."  Brian Krock created the arrangement, maintaining the "Conference of the Birds"-feel in the rhythm section but not as pronounced as the Quintet take.  Felder creates another fine solo as does electric bassist Ike Sturm.  There's also an exciting tenor sax solo from McCaslin that invigorates the track –– listen to how subtly Krock adds the reeds and brass until they are roaring and then falling back.up until the final minute during which the music slowly fades on Sturm's bass melody.   

"Two Takes, Volume 2: Big Band" is as compelling and intriguing as the Quintet volume.  All eight arrangers put their unique spin on the music Jared Schonig composed for this project without sacrificing the intent and integrity of the drummer's works.  Both albums are worth investigating and owning. Great sounds that will brighten your attitude and your day!

For information about the leader, go to www.jaredschonig.com.  To hear more and to purchase the recording, go to https://jaredschonig.bandcamp.com/album/two-takes-vol-2-big-band

Here's the intriguing "Tig Mack":



aboutArrangers:  Alan Ferber, Jim McNeely, Mike Holober, Miho Hazama, Darcy James Argue, Laurence Hobgood, Brian Krock, and John Daversa.

credits

Personnel:
Reeds: Jon Gordon, Charles Pillow, Dave Pietro, Ben Kono, Donny McCaslin, Donny McCaslin, Troy Roberts, Quinson Nachoff, Carl Maraghi

Trumpets: Tony Kadleck, Jon Owens, Brian Pareschi, Jonathan Powell, Scott Wendholt

Trombones: Michael Davis, Marshall Gilkes, Keith O’Quinn, Alan Ferber, Jeff Nelson

Bass (acoustic and electric): Ike Sturm, Matt Clohesy, and Dan Loomis
Piano: Adam Birnbaum, David Cook
Guitar: Nir Felder
Drums: Jared Schonig
Conducted by Matt Holman

Friday, September 24, 2021

Delight-filled Saxophone, Piano, & Bass

 

Canadian-born (Montreal, Quebec) Chet Doxas plays tenor saxophone, composes, plays in bands with his drummer brother Jim, and has co-leads the quartet Riverside with trumpeter Dave Douglas.  He has played alongside Carla Bley, Rufus Wainwright, the late John Abrecrombie, and Maria Schneider (to name just four) and plays in the Brooklyn, NY-based quartet LandLine.  He's got a "classic" tenor saxophone sound meaning one hear the influences of Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Jimmy Giuffre, and others.

Doxas was on tour with Ms. Bley and her partner, bassist Steve Swallow, when they suggested he take one month each per composition for a project he was creating. As the songs took shape, the saxophonist kept hearing a drummer-less trio in his head.  He recruited bassist Thomas Morgan and pianist Ethan Iverson and, in September of 2019, they recorded the program that one can hear on Doxas's new Whirlwind recording "You Can't Take It With You".  The results are fascinating, playful, adventurous, melodic, and highly interactive.  

The title track leads off the album; the first sounds you hear are Morgan's richly melodic bass lines (at times, the melody one hears sounds like the "Sesame Street Theme" before the piano and tenor enter. The music settles in to a bluesy groove which the pianist jumps in and plays a delightful, playful, Thelonious Monk-inspired solo.  When the leader comes in for his solo, he starts with fluttering lines that sound Middle-Eastern before diving into a playful solo filled with circular lines, jabs, and feints. Watch out for the false endings.

"Lodestar (for Lester Young)" has a bouncy riff played by sax and bass while the pianist plays inside his instrument creating all sorts of dissonant tones before decided turn towards melody.  Doxas's long-held tenor notes connects the song to the next one, "Cheryl and George". Dedicated to the saxophonist's mother and father, the song starts with the tenor leading the way before Doxas and Iverson play together while Morgan solos.  After a short break, the trio comes back in and improvise in and around each other.

There's plenty to enjoy here.  "The Twelve Foot Blues" (inspired by Mark Twain) is another playful tune whose rhythm has a New Orleans-feel in its danceable bounce.  "Soapbox" was built on the rhythms of the speech patterns of late-night politicos.  Doxas not only creates melodic lines, he also "speaks" through his sax.  "All The Roads" is inspired by a speech by the late Fred Rogers; the music is contemplative asking the listener to think of all the people "who have helped to shape you."  

The program closes with "View From a Bird."  Composed in response to viewing a painting by Joan Miró (see left), there is a formality yet playful that hints at the influence of Ms. Bley's writing.  Iverson's piano lines have a classical feel while Morgan plays counterpoint off the pianist's left hand.  As the tenor solo flies above his partners, he does come back to land. The piano solo is delightful (is that James P. Johnson we hear for four bars?)

You can take "You Can't It With You" with you as a recording but make sure to sit and contemplate on what you have heard before going back and listening again. It's obvious Chet Doxas put a lot of thought and work into these 10 pieces, that he chose the right musical partners, and that they too worked hard to make this music sound so good, so effortless, so alive.  

For more information, go to www.chetdoxas.com. To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://chetdoxas-whirlwind.bandcamp.com/album/you-cant-take-it-with-you

Hear "View From a Bird":

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Just Like That


Photo: NEA
Henry Threadgill, composer, arranger, saxophonist, flutist, 2021 NEA Jazz Master, and Pulitzer Prize winner (2016), and bandleader, is in the midst of an amazing career.  An early initiate into the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), he has steadfastly gone his own way for the past five-plus decades.  Mr. Threadgill has led numerous ensembles of varying sizes but the longest running of them all is Zooid. The quintet –– Mr. Threadgill, Liberty Ellman (guitar, mixing and mastering), Jose Davila (tuba, trombone), Christopher Hoffmann (cello), and Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums) –– has had a fairly stable lineup since 2001 when Pi Recordings issued the ensemble's debut album "Up Popped the Two Lips".  At that time, Dafnis Prieto was the drummer and Dana Leong the cellist. Kavee joined for 2009's "This Brings Us To, Vol. 1", an album that also featured Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass guitar. Cellist Hoffman joined for 2012's "Tomorrow Sunny/ The Revelry, SPP" playing alongside Takeishi whose departure created the current lineup. The group's 2015 album, "In For a Penny, In For a Pound", led to Mr. Threadgill receiving the Pulitzer for music.

Now there is "Poof", five new originals from Mr. Threadgill, all of which contain the unique Zooid sound. In a recent WBGO podcast during which hosts Nate Chinen and Greg Bryant picked six albums to pay attention to this Autumn, Chinen said that "Zooid sounds like no other band on the planet."  Absolutely right –– it's also true that none of the ensembles Mr. Threadgill has organized over his career has sounded alike or like anything else.  There is no mistaking the leader's tart tone, long phrases, short riffs, and his ability to climb in and out of the flow.  The composer blurs the lines between composition and improvisation so that one flows into the other throughout any given song.  Ellman's mix is so clear that even when everyone is playing at the same time, you hear voice clearly.  

Mr. Threadgill's use of space, silence, and sonic juxtaposition is just so impressive.  When the guitarist goes into his solo on "Poof on Street Called Straight", everyone else drops out. When the ensemble returns, the alto sax leads the way with cello, guitar, and tuba playing counterpoint.  Davila switches to trombone on "Beneath The Bottom" and he too gets an unaccompanied solo.  The deliberate pace of the early part of the song continues for more than half of the piece until the group breaks into a quicker tempo for the continuation of Davila's solo.  Hoffman plucks out the bass line, Kavee locks in with him, and the piece takes on a modern "funky" feel.

Zooid 2015
"Poof" closes with "Now and Then", an uptempo mover and shaker during which Mr. Threadgill's piercing alto sound is only hear for the five seconds at the onset of the song and again for the last 30 seconds. In between, the quartet, led by Ellman's rollicking guitar, Davila's dancing tuba, and Hoffmann's cello counterpoint, take a high-energy aural journey.  Quite impressive.

Honestly, either you surrender to the amazing music of Henry Threadgill or you tip-toe around it. He asks a lot of his musicians and of his audience.  "Poof" is the best Henry Threadgill album since the last one and we are excited to see and hear where this Music Master goes next!

For more information, go to www.arts.gov/honors/jazz/henry-threadgill.  To purchase this and other albums by Zooid as well as other Henry Threadgill recordings, go to
https://henrythreadgill.bandcamp.com/album/poof.


Hear "Beneath the Bottom":


Saturday, September 18, 2021

Masters at Play + A Pleasing Surprise


Over the past seven years, saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman has been touring and recording with his Expansions quintet. The group –– Matt Vashlishan (alto sax, flute, clarinet, EWI), Bobby Avey (piano, electric piano, synth), Tony Marino (acoustic bass), and Alex Ritz (drums, frame drum) –– is extremely versatile with each musicians having impressive credentials. I had the joy of seeing the group live at The Side Door Jazz Club in CT and their interactions along with Mr. Liebman's compositions (this was around the time of the release of the band's fourth album for Whaling City Records, "Earth" in late 2019) made for compelling listening.  


Mr. Liebman & Expansions fifth album is "Selflessness: The Music of John Coltrane" –– it's their first for Dot Time Records and continues the saxophonist's decades-long quest to investigate and to reinvigorate the music produced in the last eight years of Coltrane's life (1959-1967).  The nine-song program opens with with "Mr. Day" (from "Coltrane Plays the Blues"): here, the quintet ups the tempo and the front line dances away. Vashlishan goes first with a fiery alto solo which leads to a really funky piano romp over the rampaging drums. Mr. Liebman enters, his soprano sax solo (he only plays soprano on this album plus one track with wooden flute) starting in a cool vein before Ritz's fiery drums push him to dig in. A lively frame drum intro sets an Andulausian atmosphere to "Ole" before the wooden flute, clarinet, and electric piano push the music into a trance-like feel.  Marino's foundational bass line moves the reeds and piano to address the theme. Avey's synth solo sounds more like a guitar until his phrases remind one of the work Chick Corea produced with the electric Return to Forever.  Both Mr. Liebman and Vashlishan's solos have a Middle-Eastern tinge. 

As you move through the program, you stop making comparisons and bask in the excellent music.  "Peace On Earth" is a stunning reminder that John Coltrane could produce the loveliest of musical prayers while "Compassion" echoed the composer's embrace of meditation practices. On the Expansions version, the soprano sax weaves its way through fields of electronic sounds (EWI and synths) while the rhythm section keeps a steady rhythm for all to ride atop.  The album's title track opens with an Eastern feel before the rhythm section create a start-stop that gives the bottom a Hip Hop feel with the soprano and alto saxes move in and around each other which becomes a call-and-response. Avey's acoustic piano solo has touches of classical, Bud Powell, thundering chords, and more.

Photo: Ray Cho/studio MYEL
One of the bigger surprises is the quintet's take on "My Favorite Things".  After a lovely solo piano intro, the band enters in a rapid-paced 4/4 beat with the piano, alto, and soprano addressing the theme.  Vashlishan takes the first solo over the driving rhythm section (no piano) –– Mr. Liebman is next over the responsive bass and drums, Avey churning out solid chords as the intensity builds.  The energy emanating from the speakers is exhilarating.  

"Selflessness" closes with a reverential take of "Dear Lord".  After a powerful prayer-like bowed bass introduction, flute (Vashlishan) and soprano sax present the theme over a soft synth wash, bass, and the "pitter-patter" of the drums. It's the perfect finishing touch to an album that grows stronger upon each listen and leaves one wanting more. Dave Liebman Expansions does more than pay tribute to John Coltrane; they illustrate how alive with possibility his music continues to be and do it all without resorting to imitation. They give this music new wings.  You'll also notice that while Dave Liebman is the leader, this quintet is truly a cooperative, allowing all voices to be heard.  

Dot Times Records released "Selflessness" on September 3 and Mr. Liebman celebrated his 75th birthday on the following day.  May he live long and play on!

For more information, go to https://davidliebman.com/home/groups/expansions-dave-liebman-group/.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to  https://dottimerecords.bandcamp.com/album/selflessness

Here's the ensemble's fascinating take on "My Favorite Things":



It's been two decades since Kate McGarry released her first album.  Much has happened in that time, some sad, a lot good.  Ms. McGarry has worked with Fred Hersch, in John Hollenbeck's Big Band alongside Theo Bleckmann, in the vocal quartet known as MOSS, left New York City for North Carolina with her partner (life and musical) guitarist/ arranger Keith Ganz. Besides her debut album (reissued in 2003 by Palmetto Records), she's recorded six more albums as a leader or co-leader (with Ganz).  Each one covers a lot of musical territory, has an atmosphere all its own, and illustrates just how splendid a vocalist Ms. McGarry is.  It's been three years since she, Ganz, and keyboardist Gary Versace crowd-funded and issued "The Subject Tonight is Love".  At the time, I spoke with her and she said that they recorded a lot of material and it might show up as another album.


Now there is a new album. "What To Wear in the Dark" (Resilience Music) is credited to the "Kate McGarry  + Keith Ganz Ensemble (featuring cornetist Ron Miles & Gary Versace)".  Five of the 10 tracks were recorded in May of 2017, the same sessions that produced the previous album. The group becomes a quintet with the addition of drummer Obed Calvaire. Four tracks were recorded in March of 2020 without Miles and, this time, the rhythm section is Sean Smith (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums). One other track, "On the Road To Find Out", composed by Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) for his 1970 Lp "Tea For The Tillerman", was  recorded in March 2021 at the individual musician's home; besides Ms. McGarry and Ganz, that ensemble features Erin Bentlage (vocals, vocal arrangement), Becca Stevens (vocal, charango), Michelle Willis (vocals, Wurlitzer), Christian Euman (drums), and James Shipp (brushes, pandiero). 

Photo: David Goddard
Ms. McGarry arranged the opening track, the Howard Dietz/ Arthur Schwartz classic "Dancing In The Dark". Versace's accordion creates a waltz tempo while the vocalist digs into the lyrics. Miles' cornet accompanies her vocal improvisation while Calvaire's brushes dance over the drums.  The song sets the stage for a surprising program, one that includes Donald Fagen & Walter Becker's "Barrytown", a lovely, emotional, expansive, take of Joni Mitchell's oft-recorded "Both Sides Now", and a playful stroll through Paul Simon's "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)", complete with bubbly Wurlitzer electric piano and a low-key cornet solo that is the essence of "groovy" and "gritty".  The opening of that last track features an except from pianist-author Hal Galper's "A Touring Musician" –– Ms. McGarry rushes her way through the description of how tough it is for working musicians on all levels of popularity to find and make their way. After a breathless climax, she and the quintet break into "Slow down, you move too fast".  And don't we all feel that's the way is.  The "groove" is irresistible as is Ron Miles' delightful solo.

There's plenty to love on this album.  The lovely trio (vocal, guitar, and organ) take on "Desperado" which has the feel of a James Taylor piece as well as that stunning version of "Both Sides Now". That latter track is one of Joni Mitchell's most-recorded pieces yet just listen to how Ms McGarry weaves her way through the words. The whisper-soft brush work of Clarence Penn and wonderfully melodic bass work of Sean Smith build a soft foundation for Versace's impressionistic piano and Ganz's quiet acoustic guitar lines.  Ganz's smart re-arrangement of George Harrison's "Here Comes The Sun" revolves around the the galaxies of melody, acoustic and electric guitar, the throbbing rhythm section, and Versace's burbling organ (listen below –– does the organ sound like Rod Argent's iHammond B-3 in The Zombies "Time of the Season" to you?)

The team of Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz is proving to be a formidable one; "What To Wear in the Dark" has so much to offer a listener in search of songs that touch the heart, the mind, and the feet (several of these tunes will make you want to dance, in the dark and in the light!) Add to that the fine musicianship of Gary Versace and Ron Miles as well as the other musicians and voices that are on the recording and you have an unforgettable musical experience.

For more information, go to https://katemcgarry.com/.  

Hear "Here Comes The Sun":




Photo: Jean Levac/Ottawa Citizen
Vocalist and educator Sheila Jordan is, to quote many aficionados, a "jazz singer's Jazz Singer."  After growing up in the coal-mining country of Pennsylvania, she discovered Charlie Parker, found her way back to her birthplace, Detroit MI, where Ms. Jordan worked with numerous Black musicians. After performing with a jazz vocal trio, she moved to New York City where she married Parker's pianist Duke Jordan.  It was believed that she made her recording debut with George Russell as well as a brilliant 1963 Blue Note Lp, "Portrait of Sheila", a session that featured guitarist Barry Galbraith, bassist Steve Swallow, and drummer Denzil Best.  There was no immediate follow-up; in fact it was 15 years until her SteepleChase recording "Sheila" with bassist Arild Andersen. She's gone on the record numerous albums including a series of dates with pianist Steve Kuhn as well as duos with bassist Harvey S.


Imagine everyone's surprise when Capri Records issued "Comes Love: Lost Session 1960".  Recorded in June of 1960 on tje long defunct with an unnamed piano trio (at the time, Ms. Jordan had been working with pianist Johnny Knapp but no information from this session exists), the 11 standards find the vocalist in full voice, her great control, phrasing, and ability to make a song hers right in place.  None of the songs appear on the Blue Note album but you can hear all the elements that would be the mature Sheila Jordan. She and the trio dance their way through the 98 seconds of "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Don't Got The Swing), her scatting and vocal style hinting at Ella Fitzgerald. "I'll Take Romance" also swings delightfully; the vocalist doesn't take many liberties with the melody but her voice is so youthful and the song satisfies.

Ms. Jordan 1953
The ballads are worth the price of admission. Whether it's the opening track, "I'm The Track", the dark-tinged "Ballad of the Sad Young Men", Billie Holiday's bittersweet "Don't Explain" (you can hear the composer's influence on Ms. Jordan's performance), the wistful "These Foolish Things", or the impressionistic "Glad to Be Unhappy", her enunciation, the sympathetic rhythm section, and the vocalist's conviction draw the listener and you realize this album is a true treat.  

The final track, the swinging "They Can't Take That Away From Me", illustrates many of Ms. Jordan's performance style that remains 61 years later. She can be sassy, she can break your heart, but Sheila Jordan always make the listener feel she's singing just to him or her.  Great find and kudos to Capri Records for buying the rights to release "Come Love". 

For more information, go to www.sheilajordanjazz.com.  

Give a listen to the opening track:


Saturday, September 11, 2021

Quiet Voices and Endless Pathways

 

As I write this, it's nine months since pianist, educator, and composer Frank Kimbrough passed.  In that time, he has been memorialized in magazines and blogs, feted by his peers and students as well having 60 of his compositions recorded by Newvelle Records, a digital-release only featuring 67 musicians in multiple groupings.   Kimbrough himself recorded in many smaller group settings, solo, duos, trios, quartets, plus sat in the piano chair of the Maria Schneider Orchestra for over 25 years, multiple tours, and eight albums.  The North Carolina-native always played with thought, wit, intelligence, and a subtle swing that supported his bandmates and kept the attention of the audience. He could play "out" without making one feel as if the music was spinning off into infinity.

Sunnyside has just issued "Ancestors", a trio session recorded in 2017 featuring the pianist with cornetist Kirk Knuffke and bassist Masa Kamaguchi performing 11 pieces.  Seven are Kimbrough compositions, two are credited to the pianist and Knuffke, with one by the cornetist and Yamaguchi plus one by Kimbrough's wife Maryanne De Prophetis.  It's hard to be objective as I knew Frank for over two decades, having chatted with him on the phone, at gigs, and via email. He was always friendly, always willing to answer a question about the music.  Listening to him play solo was a treat; there were the pianistic influences of Paul Bley, Keith Jarrett, and a touch of Thelonious Monk yet he was not beholden to them, especially as his writing and playing matured. Kimbrough was never afraid to revisit his older compositions when he was playing with a new lineup.

Approach this music early in the morning when your defenses are down. Much of the music is contemplative, moving at a ballad tempo . For instance, "Air" moves at slow, slow, pace, Knuffke seemingly whispering out the melody as Kamaguchi plucks and plays short lines. Meanwhile, it's the piano that builds the foundation of the song. During his solo, Kimbrough uses space and the sustain pedal to create melodic lines that seem like clouds scattering across the sky. "Jimmy G" (dedicated to reed master Jimmy Giuffre) has the feel of Monk in the easy rolling piano lines as well as a bluesy, Chet Baker, feel from the cornet. The piano solo also mines the blues vein with just the right amount of grit before the bass solo kicks the heat up a notch.  Every piece is worth exploring again and again –– even the two+ minute corner-piano percussion duo "Eyes" stands out for Knuffke's playful improvisation over the percussive sound of Kimbrough thumping on the side of the piano.  

"Ancestors" can also be a worthwhile late evening spin, a musical after-dinner drink that soothes the wrinkles of the day. Frank Kimbrough is gone from this plane of existence but he left a strong musical legacy that will move you as well as entertain you.

For more information, go to www.juilliard.edu/news/148001/frank-kimbrough-1956-2020-memoriam. To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://frankkimbrough.bandcamp.com/

Here's the title track:

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

August Recommendations

Zacc Harris is a MInneapolis, MN-based guitarist and composer who is active as a leader, co-leader (Atlantic Quartet), sideman, and educator.  His sextet, the Zacc Harris Group, has just issued its second album, "Small Wonders" for Shifting Paradigm Records. The ZHG consists of the leader (electric guitar, compositions), Brandon Wozniak (tenor sax), Bryan Nichols (piano), Chris Bates (bass), JT Bates (drums), and the newest member John Raymond (trumpet, flugelhorn) who joined some years after the debut album. On initial listenings, one can hear the influences of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays; when one digs deeper, you can hear the "openness" of the late Kenny Wheeler's sound as well.  Pieces such as "Sundials"(listen below) and "Civil Dawn" bear witness to those influences (splendid trumpet work on the latter plus a stunning unaccompanied piano solo) while "A Beautiful Life" with its tender melody, point to new directions.  Nichols's piano work is integral to keeping the music flowing throughout the album.  Raymond's flugelhorn stands out on "Glass Houses" as does Wozniak's tenor sax stroll through the gardens created by the rhythm section.  Meanwhile, the rhythm section burns red-hot on the hard-bop romp "The Void" plus create a New Orleans-groove on "Apple Jacks".  The latter tune opens up so the tenor and trumpet can have a sweet exchange and the guitarist have a series of playful interactions with the rhythm section.

The nine-song program closes with the lovely ballad "Maya's Song". Dedicated to Harris's daughter, the music feels as if it was composed while the guitarist was watching his daughter sleeping, imagining her dreams, and hoping for a peaceful future. The piano accompaniment is a perfect counterpoint to the leader's lines. Nichols's solo also has a dream-like quality accentuated by the quiet brushwork and simple yet effective bass lines.

"Small Wonders" is big on melody, intelligent arrangements, and powerful as well as thoughtful solos.  Check out the Zacc Harris Group ––much to enjoy!

For more information, go to www.zaccharris.com. To purchase the album, go to https://shiftingparadigmrecords.bandcamp.com/album/small-wonders.  

Listen to "Sundials":

 


There is not a lot of information on the webpage of guitarist and composer Chris Olson, who along with bassist Chris Bates and drummer Jay Epstein make up the trio know as Framework. Their new album, "Cognitive Dissonances", is the trio's first for Shifting Paradigm and its first recording in over a decade.  Featuring 11 Olson originals, the music covers a wide swath of musical territory. Opening and closing with two takes of "New Anthem", the attentive listener can hear how the trio develops material. Version one refers a bit to Jimi Hendrix in the opening seconds and then falls into the melody Americans sing at the ballparks, stadiums, hockey rinks, and elsewhere.  Bowed bass and splashing percussion support the melody, played mostly using chords by the guitar. The "alternate take" that closes the program is fairly similar, not as noisy but still played somewhat like a dirge.


In between those two tracks is a fascinating collections that spotlight the excellent group communication, Olson's fine melodies, and his spirited guitar playing. Bates and Epstein are right in there with the guitarist, pushing and prodding him needs be or strictly building the foundation to frame his melodies and improvisations.  "Hitchens" rolls forward with guitars coming out of both sides of the speakers while the melody is in the middle of the sound spectrum.  "Dawkins" gives bassist Bates a chance to step out and he leads the group forward on the strength of his thick tone and melodic prowess.  There's a wistful quality to the guitar work on the ballad "Changes We Can Believe In" but a bit of grunginess makes its way into Olson's guitar tone before the bass solo returns to the opening feel.  

Framework can swing ("Bluetrois"), can deliver a delightfully melodic waltz ("Pre-Conceived Notion"), and they can create aural waterfalls ("Tortured Thoughts") –– some of the song titles don't necessarily easily fit the songs but the trio's musicality will win you over.  "Cognitive Dissonance" does not describe how good and ultimately satisfying this music is (well, it does go a long way to describe the mood of "New Anthem"). Titles aside, this is quite an enjoyable album!

For some information, go to www.chrisolsonmusic.com. To purchase the album, go to  https://shiftingparadigmrecords.bandcamp.com/album/cognitive-dissonance

Hear the opening "New Anthem":

 


Many musicians used the pandemic to create new work, to hone new skills, and to find new ways to express themselves in a most uncomfortable.  It's possible Scott Reeves (valve trombone, alto flugelhorn, electronics) did all those things but he also went through his archives. When he did, Reeves listened with fresh ears to a 2005 live gig he recorded at City of College of New York with Russ Spiegel (guitar), Mike Holober (piano, electric piano), Howard Britz (bass), and Andy Watson (drums).  Now, pleased by the overall quality of the musicianship and sound, the musician/ composer passed
the tapes on to his label, Origin Records, and they released the album as "The Alchemist".  The music does not at all sound dated –– in fact, the music feels fresh and often exciting.  One can hear a link from several pieces to the music Miles Davis created for "Nefertiti" and "Filles de Kilimanjaro". 

The Davis influence is evident on the opener, "New Bamboo".  The ringing tones of the Fender Rhodes mixed with the electronically altered trombone also hearkens back to Herbie Hancock's later Blue Note recordings.  Reeves switches to alto flugelhorn, Holober to acoustic piano, for "Shapeshifter", a medium tempo flowing piece that includes a potent drum solo. "Without a Trace" is a lovely ballad with a soft melody played by guitar and trombone. The leader's solo is wistful, as if you can hear him ruminating about a person who has gone.  Spiegel produces a handsome solo but pay attention to howe Holober, on acoustic piano, responds.  Britz, who is also an accomplished pianist, plays a short yet melodic solo.  "Remembrances" is another fine ballad with fine solos from Reeves (flugelhorn), Spiegel, and Holober.  "The title track grooves atop the percolating electric piano and the raucous drums. Trombone and guitar play the head that opens to Holober's playful solo and a hard-edged trombone spot.  

That playfulness is also evident on the funky take of the standard "All or Nothing at All". The feel modulates from funk to straight-ahead and back to funk.  It's a delight hearing the Quintet playing around.  That's true throughout "The Alchemist" –– Scott Reeves and company sound like they having such a great time and the audience shows its appreciation for every solo and song!  

For more information, go to www.creativejazz.com/.  To hear more music and to purchase the album, go to https://scottreeves.bandcamp.com/album/the-alchemist.  


Here's the title track: