Thursday, April 8, 2021

Springing and Swinging!

One of the joys of Spring (for some of us) is opening the windows, sitting outside, and listening to music. Here are three viable candidates for backyard (or indoor) enjoyment. 

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Saxophonist, flutist, composer, and arranger Alexa Tarantino is a busy musician. She plays with DIVA! Jazz Orchestra, with Arturo O'Farrill & His Latin- Jazz Orchestra, with the Steven Feifke Big Band, with vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, and others.  Ms. Tarantino is adept on soprano and alto saxophones, flute, alto flute, and clarinet who serves her well in her various musical assignments. She's also an educator serving on the Faculty of Jazz at Lincoln Center as well as the founder and director of the Rockport Jazz Workshop (Rockport, Ma).  Posi-Tone Records producer Marc Free has posited Ms. Tarantino in his "curated" groups such as Lioness, Works for Me, and Something Blue plus paired her with baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian.  She's issued two CDs as a leader for Posi-Tone and has been a featured soloist in several ensembles.


The third album under her name, "Firefly", finds the young lady in the company of Behn Gillece (vibraphone), Art Hirahara (piano, Fender Rhodes), Boris Kozlov (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums and percussion).  The four gentlemen are Free's choice for his "Lockdown" group as they have became (along with drummer Donald Edwards) his rhythm section during the pandemic recording sessions.   All but two of the 12 tracks on the disk are originals by the leader and group members with a pair of Wayne Shorter tunes ("Iris"and "Lady Day") filling out the program. The album opens with the pianist's "Spider's Dance", a medium-tempo tune with a sweet melody for alto sax and the comforting vibes providing a soft cushion for the song. Gillece contributes the next piece, "Mindful Moments" which finds the leader on flute and Hirahara on Rhodes.  There's a gentle quality to both of these tracks with the latter rising on the easy push from the bass and drums plus the sweet combination of Rhodes, vibes and flute.

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Ms. Tarantino's piece, "Daybreak", has the funky feel of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" with the insistent nature of the Motown classic.  Kozlov and Royston do a fine of job of making sure the music has a groove and always moves forward.  "Surge Capacity" leaps out of the speakers on top of rapid "walking" bass lines and frolicking drums. Ms. Tarantino and pianist Hirahara really get fired-up when it's their time to solo plus they enter into a delightful "trading fours" with Royston before all is said and done.  Rhodes and bass introduce the powerful "Rootless Ruthlessness"; when the band enters, the music scurries forward propelled by the rampaging drums and Kozlov's furious bass lines.  When the alto sax solo begins, the band has dropped into slow-motion with Royston all over his drums, Hirahara running his hands up and down the Rhodes, and the bassist sending urgent musical messages. Soon, the music is at break-neck speed and rushing to its climax.  

Ms. Tarantino caresses Wayne Shorter's melody on "Lady Day", the lovely ballad evoking Billie Holiday's unique way of presenting a melody.  Kozlov's lovely bowed bass solo is a highlight as is the leader's ever-so-sweet alto solo.  Shorter's "Iris" is a also a ballad for alto sax and features an impressionistic piano solo, lovely colors from Gillece, and the intelligent work of the bassist and drummer.

 "Firefly" closes with "The Firefly Code", another medium-tempo piece that is dedicated to the resilience of people as well as musicians since the pandemic began.  The sound of the flute supported by the vibes feels comforting plus there is a surprising drum solo that raises the intensity level; listen for the "surprise" ending!  Overall, "Firefly" is an aural treat on which Alexa Tarantino shares the spotlight with her four-piece band. She is generous in sharing the spotlight, the songs do not dawdle with only a pair over six minutes, and the sound quality is clear and cool.  Enjoy! 

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

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
A month before Ms. Tarantino's September 2020 recording sessions, Behn Gillece took Messrs. Royston, Kozlov, and Hirahara into the studios to record the 10 tracks that make up his fourth Posi-Tone album "Still Doing Our Thing".  The vibraphonist contributed seven originals to the program, several of which have titles that reference the musician's issues with the pandemic. Songs such as "Back to Abnormal", "Don't Despair", "Going On Well", the title track, and Royston's "Glad to Be Back" carry titles that illustrate how these musicians are dealing with having their lives turned upside down. Yet, the overall feeling one gets listening to this music is the joy the musicians have for being able to get together and play.  


One of the most impressive aspects of Gillece's compositions is that while the music does not seem complex, the pieces are well-organized, have strong melodies and rhythmic fire, and are ripe fodder for soloists.  Take the opening track, "Extraction".  The composer introduces the melody; the rhythm section with Hirahara on Rhodes set a wicked pace and the vibraphonist takes off.  Chances are you'll dig the solo but do pay attention how Kozlov and Royston set the torrid pace while the pianist lays down the chordal structure.  The next track, "Rattles", has a similar opening but this time Hirahara and Gillece share the melody while the beat is decidedly funky.  Both the pianist (acoustic) and the leader share the solo space feeding off each other's lines.  The rhythm section is relentless during the solos, pushing, shoving even, as the intensity level rises to the boiling point.

Among the other highlights is the leader's lovely ballad, "Blue Sojourn", which shows the influence of Billy Strayhorn.  The song is a duet for vibes and piano and includes an emotional and lovely solo from Hirahara.  There's plenty of space in the vibes solo giving the notes time to breathe. Kozlov's "Outnumbered" finds the bassist going "electric" supported by the pulsating chords from the Rhodes.  The piece may remind some of Chick Corea's Return To Forever especially in Kozlov's throbbing bass, Royston's "attack-mode" drumming, and the incredible forward motion.  Tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover joins the trio (Royston sits out) for Hirahara's "Event Horizon", her lighter attack a pleasing contrast to the flowing yet percussive piano and vibes.   

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
The album closes with Gillece's soulful musical plea, "Don't Despair".  The ballad has a handsome melody played by the leader and Kozlov (electric bass).  Hirahara is back on Rhodes, the lighter sound of the keyboard meshing well with the rounder bass tones (listen to the excellent music the bassist is creating) and Gillece's soothing vibes chords.  

It's good to know that Behn Gillece, his compatriots, and producer Marc Free are "Still Doing Our Thing".  This music has the power to pull listeners out of their doldrums, giving us hope for when we can get out and see/ hear music in person.  In the meantime, open the windows and let this music flow!

For more information, go to www.behngillece.com.  To hear more and purchase the album, go to. https://behngillece.bandcamp.com/album/still-doing-our-thing

Give a listen to the closing cut:




Saxophonist, educator, and radio show host Tom Tallitsch never fails to impress when it comes to making music, having a great cohort of musicians, and swinging with abandon.  If one has to classify his music, it comes out of the flow of the late 1950s through the mid-1960s Blue Note/Prestige Records sounds.  Much of the music kicks hard but rarely boils over.  Yes, there is a hint of John Coltrane's emotional style in the tenor saxophonist's phrasing and an urgency in his uptempo piece that show the influences of Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, and Jackie McLean.  He's not a zealot for any particular style but Tallitsch has a melodic streak a mile wide making his songs stand out for their emotional strength and, yes, the fire that comes from really exploring his repertoire.

Earlier this year, Tallitsch issued his 11th album as a leader, "Message", the fourth release on his TT Productions label. Featuring his working band of Mike Kennedy (guitar), Neil Podgurski (piano), Matthew Parish (bass), and Dan Monaghan (drums), the program features nine original pieces by the leader.  The album opens with the appropriately-titled "Let's Go!" which jumps out from the first note and does not relax for seven-plus minutes. Fueled by the thick piano chords, a romping bass, and rock-steady drums, Tallitsch takes the first solo flying over the rhythm section with glee.  Kennedy displays touches of Herb Ellis and John Pizzarelli in his lively spot while you hear hints of McCoy Tyner in Podgurski's lively solo.  Parish's short yet powerful solo leads to the everybody "trading 4's" with Monaghan.  

The leader switches to soprano sax for the medium tempo "Bubble". Meshing his sound with the guitarist on the melody, the tune feels a breath of fresh after a long winter (and the album was recorded in January 2020!)  "Dusk" is a bluesy ballad with Tallitsch's tenor sketching the melody. Podgurski, who works with the Capt. Black Big Band and drummer Chad Taylor's Trio, creates an impressionistic solo supported by the melodic bass and steady drumming. Listen to what guitarist Kennedy adds in the background especially during the leader's delightful solo. Then, there's "Mablestates", a lovely reconstruction/ tribute of and to Benny Golson's classic "Stablemates."  Golson first recorded the piece in 1958 with his Philadelphians; Tallitsch's loving remake is also performed by musicians active in the Philly jazz scene. There's a "cool" feel to the tune and, once again, the leader's sax plays the melody in tandem with the guitar.  

The album's final two tracks are like day and night.  "In The Weeds" is a powerful, hard-bop, filled with fiery work in the rhythm section and strong solos from piano, tenor sax, and guitar. There is a clever change near the end that should make you smile.  "Moon" closes the album, a ballad that is takes its time to unfold. The richness in Tallitsch's tenor sound stands out, an emotional highpoint on the album.  The guitar solo starts quietly before picking up in intensity but Kennedy knows when to back off so as not to upset the gentler nature of the ballad.

This "Message" is clear –– Tom Tallitsch and company make human music, not trying to overwhelm you with technique but reminding us all that there is room in this music for melody, for rhythm, and for intelligent interplay. Give a listen!

For more information, go to www.tomtallitsch.com.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to  https://tomtallitsch.bandcamp.com/album/message.  

Here's the band in the studio recording the opening track:



Friday, April 2, 2021

The Joys of Spring (Pt 2 – Large Ensemble Edition)

During the pandemic, we have gotten used to seeing and hearing small group performances.  But, here are two classy large ensemble recordings that captured my attention and imagination.

Photo: Hyemi Kim
Originally from South Korea (now living in New York City) composer and arranger Jiyhe Lee came to the United States in 2011 to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. In her native land, Ms. Lee had been a fairly popular "indie pop" singer –– within her first year at Berklee, she won the school's prestigious Duke Ellington Prize (she won it again the next year). Over the past decade, Ms. Lee has won numerous awards and commissions, worked with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Her self-released debut album, "April", came out in 2017 and received glowing reviews from the Jazz press.  The pieces on that recording were based on Ms. Lee's  response to a tragedy; the Korean ferry Sewol, which sank en route from Incheon to Jeju, claiming the lives of 304 innocent passengers, most of whom were teenage children. You should listen to her conversation with Jason Crane of "The Jazz Session" as it gives an excellent picture of the composer's career, influences, and more –– go to www.thejazzsession.com/2021/02/17/the-jazz-session-545-jihye-lee/ and pay attention.

Her new album, "Daring Mind" (Motema Music), is a dazzling display of original music, savvy arrangements, and excellent musicianship.  Album one featured Boston-based musicians while this is a NewYork-centric ensemble as befits her move to the City after graduation in 2015.  What stands out throughout the nine-song program are the strong melodies, the excellent section writing, and the emotional strength.  Pieces such as the opener, "Relentless Mind", and "I Dare You" have such a conversational feel with the reeds jousting with the brass and the soloist Quinsin Nachoff (tenor sax) getting both support and push back from underneath on the latter cut. On the former track, it's the rhythm section that pushes the piece forward during the exciting Sean Jones trumpet solo (his playing is  impressive throughout the program) and Alan Ferber's trombone dance.  Listen near the end of the track when the sections interact with drummer Mark Ferber. 

Ben Kono's alto sax leads the way into "Unshakable Mind", a ballad whose lovely opening melody is carried by the reeds until the brass and martial drums enter, causing the piece to turn dark. The insistent rhythmic pulse has the fell of Ravel's "Bolero" but there is much more shading here, quiet moments when bassist Evan Gregor and guitarist Sebastian Noelle carry on a conversation built upon the melody.  Kono returns again later in the piece to create a splendid solo as the intensity inevitably ratchets up to an amazing close.  

There is not a weak track on the album.  "Struggle Gives You Strength" has the feel of a soulful ballad from Burt Bacharach with hints of Aretha Franklin as well as Ashford & Simpson.  The sectional writing is exceptional as their phrases move upwards throughout the first half of Jone's trumpet solo.  "Revived Mind" has a lilting melody, with a traditional feel, played by the flutes and piccolos. The song moves forward over a soulful rhythm with the trombones responding to the trumpets and flute. Trombonist Mike Fahie solos over the rhythm, although it has not changed, feels more South African.  Listen to how the bass trombone and bass clarinet dance on the bottom while the sections sway behind the soloist.  "Why Is That" opens as a torch-y blues tune with going to the reeds and trumpets. The trombones enter and, a moment later, the music gets even more playful.  There are moments where everybody swings –– suddenly, the piece goes into double-time for a fine alto sax solo from Rob Wilkerson.  Jones's solo also starts in double time as the sections converse while the trumpeter proclaims for all the world to hear.

The album closes on a ballad, "GB", that is another spotlight for trumpeter Jones.  After he leads the song in, the reeds share the melody line.  There's a quick transition, with the low brass adding darker colors to the piece while the trumpets and reeds play powerful phrases.  The middle of the song to Jones and the responsive yet supportive piano of Adam Birnbaum . As the trumpet solo continues, the sections reenter pushing Jones to an exciting climax.  When the music continues, two alto saxophones play the melody, the baritone counterpoint, while the brass play long tones. Jones reenters, rising above the sections as the music winds down.  Its a stunning close to a dramatic work.

"Daring Mind" is a musical triumph. In just two recording, Jihye Lee has proven herself to be a mature composer and arranger, creating music that engages both the musicians and the listeners. And one does want to go back and listen because one cannot hear just how well-crafted and played this music is on initial contact.  Spend time with this music because the joy emanating from the sounds will create joy in and around you.   

For more information, go to https://jihyemusic.com/. To hear more and purchase "Daring Mind", go to https://jihyeleeorchestra.bandcamp.com/.  

Here's the band in action in the studio:


Personnel:

Ben Kono: Alto Saxophone
Rob Wilkerson: Alto Saxophone
Quinsin Nachoff: Tenor Saxophone
Jeremy Powell: Tenor Saxophone
Brian Pareschi: Trumpet
Sean Jones: Trumpet
John Lake: Trumpet
Alex Norris: Trumpet
Mike Fahie: Trombone
Alan Ferber: Trombone
Nick Grinder: Trombone 
Mark Patterson: Trombone (replaces N Grinder on two tracks )
Jennifer Wharton: Trombone
Adam Birnbaum: Piano (six tracks)
Haeun Joo: Piano (three tracks)
Sebastian Noelle: Electric Guitar
Evan Gregor: Double Bass
Mark Ferber: Drums


Photo: Chris Lee
I first heard pianist Steve Feifke play in the intimate confines of The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown, CT.  He was part of a quartet with saxophonist Chad Lefkowicz-Brown, drummer Jimmy Macbride, and  bassist Raviv Markowitz.  The group of friends had gotten together to stretch their musical wings and they certainly filled the venue with exciting sounds as well as youthful exuberance.  Feifke, a graduate of New England Conservatory of Music Preparatory School, New York University, and Manhattan School of Music, is busy as a performer, lecturer, composer, arranger, and orchestrator.  Even though he is yet to turn 30 (he will on June 29 of this year), his list of credits is quite impressive. His works have been commissioned by the Mingus Big Band, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra (to name but three), he's written music for televisions shows such as "Animaniacs", "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee", and TruTV's "Impractical Jokers". Feifke has performed or recorded with artists such as Randy Brecker, Chad LB, Veronica Swift, and Ulysses Owens Jr.   His debut as a leader, "Peace In Time", was self-released in 2015 and served to show Feifke's skill as a composer and pianist.

"Kinetic" (Outside In Music) is Feifke's fourth album as a leader or co-leader. Besides "Peace In Time", he co-led a date with trumpeter/ vocalist Benny Benack III, a Christmas EP with his Big Band.  There's also a Big Band date from 2019 titled "Prologue" that is only available through Feifke's website (when you download the mp3s, the folder bears the name "The Story Begins" - go figure).  Featuring a similar lineup, the program is totally different, more "standards", but still quite exciting music.  The new album starts off with the title track, a roaring fast-paced original that has tinges of McCoy Tyner in both the arrangement and the leader's rollicking solo spot. Trumpeter Gabriel King Medd is up next and he sparkles before giving way to drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. –– it's his only appearance on the album and he makes the most of driving the band as well as soloing with abandon.

You'll notice that the energy level of this band is quite high. "Unveiling of a Mirror" starts in a relaxed mode but as soon as the soloists hit, the band, powered by drummer Joe Peri and excellent section play, goes for broke.  Even "The Sphinx", which starts in a sultry manner has moments that really rock especially in the first part of saxophonist Lucas Pino's long, delightful, solo.  Powered by drummer Jimmy Macbride, the music grabs ahold and never lets go. Veronica Swift joins the band on the true ballad, "Until The Real Thing Comes Along", a song that beens recorded Erskine Hawkins, Andy Kirk & His Mighty Clouds of Joy, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, even Rod Stewart.  Feifke envelops Ms. Swift in mellow tones from the reeds and brass, strummed guitar a la Freddy Green, tinkling piano, and swishing cymbal splashes.  Kudos to all involved as they treat the song and its lyrics (which is credited to five different writers) with respect.

Ms. Swift returns later in the program for a bluesy take on "On The Street Where You Live" –– she sings it fairly straight but the band takes more of a 1940s Duke Ellington approach. In the middle of the second verse, the groove gets smoother, the sections play it cool, and the music careers forward. Solos by Robert Edwards (trombone) and Andrew Gutaukas (bass clarinet) liven up the tune.  Feifke supplies a fascinating arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "Nica's Dream", giving the tune a Latin feel. Both Benack III and the leader play strong solos, especially Fiefke who gets into quite a conversation with Macbride.  "Midnight Beat" offers the ensemble the opportunity to get funky and they do.  Bassist Chmielinski "gets down" with the funky rhythm guitar and "fatback" drums while Alexa Tarantino plays a singing solo that twists and turns above the rampaging rhythms.

A lovely and short chorale of brass and reeds introduces the final track, aptly titled "Closure."   The ballad has a heartfelt melody played by Sam Dillon (tenor sax)whose muscular yet melodic slo fils the middle section of the tune.  Again, the section writing stands out in its orchestral sound as they support Dillon as well as returning to the melody several times.  

For "Kinetic", Steven Feifke takes sounds and songs that feel familiar (some of them are) and shapes then so they sound new, fresh, and alive.  Many of the musicians in the Steven Feifke Big Band are the leader's contemporaries, younger musicians on the cusp of greater popularity who already play with great presence and creativity.  Very strong effort that bodes well for the future.

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

Here's the Band in the studio with Ms. Swift:




Personnel:

Andrew Gould - Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute

Alexa Tarantino  - Alto Saxophone, Flute

Lucas Pino - Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute

Sam Dillon - Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute

Andrew Gutauskas - Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinet

Alex LoRe - Alto saxophone (for Ms.Tarantino on "The Sphinx")

Max Darche, John Lake, Benny Benack III, and Gabriel King Medd: Trumpet, Flugelhorn

Robert Edwards, Jeffery Miller, and Armando Vergara - Trombone 

Jennifer Wharton - Bass Trombone

Alex Wintz - Guitar

Steven Feifke - Piano, Composition, Conducting, Arrangements and Orchestrations

Dan Chmielinski - Bass

Jimmy Macbride - Drums on six tracks

Joe Peri - Drums on "Unveiling of a Mirror"

Bryan Carter - Drums on two tracks

Guests: 

Ulysses Owens Jr - Drums on title track

Veronica Swift - Voice on two tracks 


Saturday, March 27, 2021

What We Remember, What We Forget, What We Learn

 I am finishing this post the day before the Holiday of Passover, a Jewish Holiday that falls in the Spring of the year. The Holiday commemorates the exodus from Egypt when the Jews were slaves to Pharaoh. The Holiday celebrates the rebirth of the land after Winter ends, when baby animals begin to populate the farmyards and crops are planter.  At the communal/ family dinner, the story of the exodus is told to remind Jews that once they were slaves in the land of Egypt and to remember to tell that story every year. The retelling serves as a reminder and a warning, making sure we remember that communities can suffer when the members go silent.  

POLIN Polish Museum of the History of Polish Jews opened its doors on April 19, 2013.  Located in Warsaw, Poland, on the site of the Polish Ghetto in World War II, the Museum is a major in the rebirth of Jewish Culture, the restoration of Jewish Memory, and a reminder of the role of Jews in Poland over the past 1,000+ years. Musicians such as the late Tomasz Stanko, John Zorn, the JACK Quartet, and more have been invited to perform and/ or commissioned to create music for the Museum's concert series. Music was an important aspect of Jewish life over the centuries and continued even as the Jews were forced in ghettoes around the country.


In 2015, composer and percussionist Lukas Ligeti served as the Artist-in-Residence at POLIN.  The program he created took its direction from the interviews he conducted with a group of Polish citizens ages 20 to 98, asking not only about Jewish life in Warsaw during their lifetimes but also to sing songs they remembered. The composer and collator took the melodies and the rhythms from the spoken word interviews and fed them to a quartet of musicians and a vocalist –– the objective was for the performers to continue the conversations, expand upon the ideas, melodies, and sounds they heard through the headphones.  The concert took place in the Museum on November 29 of 2015. The next day, Ligeti and the musicians convened in the Music Studio of Radio Warsaw. The results of that day in the studio can be heard on "That Which Has Emerged...That Which Will Remain..." (subtitled "Of Apocalypses and Dreamscapes") and has been released this year of Col Legno Music. 

Photo: Bartosz Górka
Ligeti's ensemble includes Pawel Szamburski (clarinet), Patryck Zakrocki (violin, viola, mbira), Mikolaj Palosz (cello), Wojtek Kurek (drums, synthesizer), and Barbara Kinga Majewska (soprano) with the composer on electronics.  The studio recording opens with a thump and then a chorus of voices fills the speakers.  The sentence fragments whiz by for a moment before one hears the musicians and Ms. Kajewska wordless vocal. You can pick words out of the babble such as "My mother" or "My grandmother" as well as Polish phrases –– the sudden thump of the drums silences all and the program moves forward.

Photo: Bartosz Górka
Slowly, melodies begin to take shape, live and manipulated, until a traditional Klezmer melody ("Saposhkelekh") rises out of the percussion, clarinet, cello, viola and voice; in fact a chorus of voices move in and out of the sound spectrum. The wail of clarinet, the moan of the cello, martial drumming, al bring to mind images of occupation, of forced marches, amplified by the speeches that push the music to the sides of the sound spectrum.  Later in the continuous flow of music, an older male voice sings "Belz, Mayn Shtetele Belz", the song written for a 1930s Yiddish theater production.  The simple melody pictures life in the Romanian town before the First World War, before the Soviet occupation, before life was disrupted and people (and their culture)  disappeared. (Notice Ms.Majewska's counterpoint and the ghostly male choir in the background).  The section with the opening prayer of the Sabbath, "Shalom Aleichem" and an explosion of sound from the drummer. The songs, secular and religious, all point to memory, dedication, and hope.

What all this means to the listener may depend on your history. Did you have family in Eastern Europe?  How did they live before World War II?  Did they survive?  Were they forced into boxcars and shipped to concentration camps?  Did they help Jews hide?  Did they flee the cities to the countryside? If you did not live in Poland or have relatives who did, does this program still have power?  No ethnicity is exempt from intolerance. The pogroms of Eastern Europe are directly related to ethnic cleansing in Southeast Asia and on the African continent. Didn't the slave traders try to erase culture of Africans in the boats that plied the seas to South America and the Caribbean?  

Lukas Ligeti's purpose just may be to remind us that not all the voices are eternally silenced. If one person survives and remembers the cities, the people, the melodies, perhaps we can rebuild or recreate memory?  We will never banish hate nor jealousy nor ignorance but that does mean we should not try.  As stated above, the program presented on "That Which Has Remained...That Which Will Emerge..." is one continuous 45-minute presentation separated on disk to help one hear how the piece segues.  But, it does not make sense to point and click on specific segments; listen all the way through, go back and listen again, become familiar with the pieces and how they develop, how the voices move in and out as do the instruments, how "folk" songs melt into interpretations only to disappear and return in a new form.  Listen as the musicians, playing a rapid rhythm, begin to fade in the final moments, and we are left with voices, electronically distorted, that slowly disappear.  We are left with fragments, which is how most memories work –– we cannot comprehend all we heard in 44:46 seconds, just snatches of phrases, of songs, and of sounds.  Lukas Ligeti makes us think, and think hard, about the past, how it affects the present-day, and how, as we remember and we learn more, what our future might be.  

To learn more, go to www.lukasligeti.com.  To hear more about the artist's residency and project, go to

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Joys of Spring (Part 1)

Lots and lots of new music to absorb and enjoy. This is the beginning of a series of short reviews of new release.

Photo: Volha Talatynik
Organist, composer, pianist, and arranger Brian Charette has kept himself busy during the pandemic making videos of his songs surrounded by keyboards in his apartment. When I spoke to him last year, he was waiting for SteepleChase Records to release his third recording with his "reeds" sextet.  "Power From the Air" has just been issued and it's well worth the wait.  Charette plays organ throughout, composed eight of the 10 tracks, is joined by drummer Brian Fishler in the rhythm section; the "Air" comes from Ital Kriss (flute), Mike DiRubbo (alto saxophone), Karel Ruzicka (bass clarinet), and Kenny Brooks (tenor saxophone).

If you are familiar with the organist's music, you know that he likes to "swing" but also can be very funky.  His piece "As If To Say" rolls forward on a burbling organ bass line before dropping into a hard-bop free-for-all. The saxes and flute play a trance-like repetitive line while the organ introduces the melody.  The solos are short but powerful.  That's followed by Earle Hagen's classic "Harlem Nocturne" –– dig the slight dissonance in the reeds arrangement. The four-piece section really dig into the bluesiness of the piece yet also take a slight "free" turn before Charette's restating of the theme. The other "standard" is Ray Noble's "Cherokee" which jumps delightfully with the reeds playing a slightly altered arrangement of the main theme.  The leader takes a splendid joyride through the changes with Fishler's dancing drums as his co-pilot. Ruzicka dances through his solo followed by DiRubbo, Brooks, and Kriss – they make time to "trade 4s" with Fishler.  

Photo: Volha Talatnick
The melody for the funky and soulful "Want" is shared by the reeds before the drummer gets "down and dirty for the organ solo.  Back to the original rhythm for Kriss's delightful flute solo, DiRubbo's funky spotlight, Brooks short but pithy solo that leads into Ruzicka's tour-de-force that srars low in the bass clarinet's range and rises throughout. The album closes with "Low Tide", the only track other than "Harlem Nocturne" that has a ballad feel. There's a lot going on in this piece and the music builds in intensity throughout right up to the drums-fueled ending.

"Power In The Air" is yet another feather in the chapeau of Brian Charette.  The performances bristle with energy and creativity, the organ work is strong, and the drumming contains an energetic snap.  Give this album several close listens and it will work its way into your soul and your feet.  

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

Here's the ensemble live in 2019 from Dizzy's @ Lincoln Center in February 2019:



The trio of Kelly Jefferson (tenor and soprano saxophones), Artie Roth (acoustic bass), and Ernesto Cervini (drums, percussion, bass clarinet), a.k.a. TuneTown, are three of the busiest and creative musicians on the contemporary Canadian scene.  Together since 2016, the trio released its debut in late Summer of 2019.  That recording displayed myriad influences as well as the trio's delight in creating its own sound.  By the time that album was issued, they had already recorded their follow-up. 


"Entering Utopia" (Three Pine Records) follows a similar format with originals from both Cervini and Roth, several group improvisations, and two standards.  All three musicians are leaders, all are excellent musicians and improvisors, so this music breathes with excitement and adventure.  The opener "Hello, Today" opens with Cervini hand-held percussion followed by a bluesy theme from Jefferson.  When Roth joins, the drummer turns to the drums set, kicking his bandmates forward. Everybody solos but the last half of the track show hows closely the musicians listen to each other. Cervini's "Layla Tov" ("Good Morning" or "Good Night" in Hebrew) opens with the bass and tenor sax holding one note while Cervini plays a melody on glockenspiel.  The bassist introduces the main melody which Jefferson then picks up on soprano. Roth's solo is quite melodic with just brushes-on-snare for accompaniment.  The soprano solo that follows is emotionally rich, melodic, and heartfelt.  Interspersed through the piece are the sounds of the drummer's family at the beach (the baby's infectious laughter is contagious).

Charlie Parker's "Cheryl" opens with a slow bass solo but soon the trio step out with Jefferson's tenor rising above the rampaging rhythm section.  Cervini's "Billyish" is a good companion piece, it's boppish head leading to a thundering drum solo before Jefferson's tenor steps out. Roth's thick bass sound gives the other two players a strong foundation to get creative.  "Flood, Deluge" is the longest of four group improvisations on the album –– Roth's droning then frantic arco bass sounds spark his companions to create their own paths in the song's maze-like construction. The bassist's "Memories Remain" is a lovely ballad during which the tenor sax and bass intertwine the melody through the opening several minutes.  Roth's highly melodic bass solo is supported by quiet brushes work and Jefferson's breathy tenor notes.  The bass counterpoint behind Jefferson's lovely solo is stunning (and pay attention to how the drummer also gets in on the melody.

Roth's short (30 seconds) multi-tracked bass feature, titled "Looking Glass", serves as an introduction to "Blue Gardenia", the album's final track.  Composed in 1953 by Lester Lee and Bob Russell for the Fritz Lang movie of the same name, the piece was performed by Nat "King" Cole. Several years later, Dinah Washington had a big hit with the song, so big that he became one of her "signature songs" through to the end of her career (1963).  Cervini plays the melody on bass clarinet with Roth's strummed bass as the only accompaniment until Jefferson enters on tenor to play harmony and counterpoint. The two reeds wind around each other throughout with Roth creating a comfortable cushion for their tuneful interactions.

"Entering Utopia" is a delightful musical vacation trip. Our three tour guides play with fervor, emotion, and plenty of joy plus the sound of the performances is powerful, clean, and clear.  TuneTown is an apropos name for this fine trio!

For more information, go to tunetownjazz.com.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to. https://tunetownjazz.bandcamp.com/album/entering-utopia

Here's the trio performing "Billyish":




Pianist and composer Paul Bedal is another one of the fascinating artists that reside in Chicago.  After earning his undergraduate degree in Studio Music and Jazz Performance from the University of Miami, he returned to the Windy City to earn his Master's Degree in Film Composition form Columbia College Chicago.  He's co-led a band with saxophonist Caroline Davis, played and recorded with trumpeter Paul Dietrich as well as bassist Matt Ulery. The pianist issued his debut CD, "Chatter", in 2014, a quintet date featuring Ms. Davis and bassist Ulery. Bedal has since signed with the Chicago label BACE Records and issued another quintet album (2018's "Mirrors") plus his first album (2019's "In Reverse") with the quartet of Ulery, alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella and drummer Charles Rumback

The same lineup returned to the studio in January of 2020 to create Bedal's new recording on BACE, "Cerulean Stars."  The pianist certainly created this music for these musicians with each of the seven compositions playing to their strength.  Both Rumback and Mazzarella have been on the Chicago scene for over a decade and are often heard in "freer" music settings.  Ulery, who is known for his excellent writing for large and small ensembles, is a "foundational" bassist, more concerned with keeping the beat steady and creating a solid bottom. Still, on the opening track "Iris", his counterpoint during the solos is a highlight. The saxophonist leans more in a melodic direction throughout the album yet there are moments, such as during his solo on "Panorama", when he rides the powerful drums and moves away from the melody. That melody, by the way, is quite well-drawn, giving the pianist a great base to create an impressive solo.  Speaking of impressive melodies, the title track comes in on a dancing alto sax song (carries a trace of Randy Newman) then moves forward into Mazzarella's solo with a bounce in rhythm section.  Pay attention to the leader's intelligent fills and short runs underneath then hear how they inform his enchanting solo.  

I have been listening to this music as well as Bedal's previous quartet album on my daily walks. There are moments when the music reminds me of Herbie Hancock's mid-60s Blue Note Lps (post "Watermelon Man") –– you can hear the resemblance in the flow of the material, in how the members of the quartet interact, and the movement of the rhythm section.  As a soloist, Bedal leans more towards Keith Jarrett, Fred Hersch, and occasionally, Bill Evans.  The combination of melody and rhythm on pieces such as "Summer Fade" and "Citrine" offers so much possibility that one would love to hear the band play live. 

"Cerulean Stars" closes with "Free" –– the piece begins slowly and solemnly, in rubato, picks up somewhat in intensity during the sax solo but the rippling piano figure lead the listener to a soft close. This album is a joy from start to finish –– Paul Bedal is a mature composer with his ears attuned to his musicians and not to what's popular or hip. Not to say this music is "square"; no, instead from the opening moments, these songs enter the long and, hopefully, timeless river of Creative American Music, music that is always loving back and forward but never static.

For more information, go to www.paulbedal.com.  To hear more and to purchase Paul Bedal's music, go to https://paulbedal.bandcamp.com/album/cerulean-stars.  

Here's a video of the title track:



Friday, March 12, 2021

Speaking In Other Languages


At first, listeners may be put off by the sounds of "Facets" (Pi Recordings), the new album from the fertile imagination of tenor saxophonist and composer Hafez Modirzadeh. Those of us who live in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, basically north of the Equator, are used to the 12-tone scale whereas elsewhere in the world, you will hear alternative scales, microtones, and more.  Often, those sounds puzzle us, sound dissonant (they are, to our ears), and just plain wrong. Yet, stay with what Modirzadeh is doing, listen all the way through, and then go back again.

Take a moment to go to https://hafezmodirzadeh.bandcamp.com/track/ask-me-now and listen to a track. 

Chances are good your curiosity will lead you to consult the liner notes by the time you reach the second or third piece.  For the 18 songs on "Facets", Modirzadeh has retuned eight specific pitches on the piano. Those changes alter the resonances of the piano but allows the composer and  performers (pianists Craig Taborn, Kris Davis, and Tyshawn Sorey play on six tracks each) to create music that grabs our attention and never lets go.  There are two songs from Thelonious Monk ("Pannonica" and "Ask Me Now" -  listen above) and "Facet 34 Defracted" deconstructs both songs in one piece.  "Facet 32 Pearl" is based on "Variation No. 25" from J.S. Bach's"Goldberg Variations".  Both Taborn and Sorey play an improvisation and both tracks fit into the scope of Modirzadeh's visions.  

Do take the time to bathe in these sounds.  Pieces such as "Facet 31 Wake" (Ms. Davis playing solo) is emotionally as it mesmerizing while "Flow Facet" (Ms. Davis solo again) feels like hypnotic Southeast Asian marimba, Chinese folk music, and a touch of boogie-woogie in the left hand. The keening tenor sax creates creates a wordless prayer with the piano (Ms. Davis) on "Facet 28 Nora" while the following track,"Facet 29 Night" is a duo for tenor sax and Sorey's sparse piano chords.  The latter track also has a dream-like quality, creating a slow-moving set of mental pictures.  Taborn and Modirzadeh create a stop-and-start feel from the outset of "Facet 35 Ode B'kongofon" –– after a moment, the fluttering tenor sax solo flows over the stumbling rhythm.  Quiet piano chords (Taborn) usher in the saxophonist on "Facet 39 Mato Paha", a slow-moving tribute to a geological formation in South Dakota (the mountain's name comes from the Lakota tribe and translates to "Bear Butte"). Neither musician hurries, both the trance-like melody to resonate, to sink in.

The music on "Facets" is slow, at times meditative and trance-like, yet the deliberate tempi allow you time to digest and get accustomed to the sounds. Hafez Modirzadeh had previously used retunings on his 2112 Pi album "Post-Chromodal Out!", tying it closer to the Persian melodies of his ancestors than he does here by employing different instrumentation.  Both albums are fascinating and both are unique!

For more information, go to https://pirecordings.com/artists/hafez-modirzadeh/


Speaking of creating one's own language, saxophonist, trumpeter, composer, and conceptualist Ornette Coleman (1930-2015) hit the ground running in the late 1950s and did not stop once in his long career.  Not only did the Texas-born Coleman change saxophone language but also how different rhythms can be utilized in acoustic and electric music.  Saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón was first introduced to Coleman's music as a teenage student in his native Puerto Rico.  Later, as a member of the SF Jazz Collective, the ensemble created its inaugural program and tour (in 2004!) around the music of Coleman (arranged by Gil Goldstein). Yet, Zenón remains curious about the music and how it relates to the music he creates as well as the sound of his saxophone.


In May of 2019, Zenón assembled a quartet of musicians that he knew but who had never recorded together for a Coleman 91st Birthday Celebration in Basel, Switzerland.  Joining the alto saxophonist was tenor saxophonist Ariel Bringuez (Cuba), bassist Demian Cabaud (Argentina), and Jordi Rossy (Catalan).  Without much rehearsal, the band took the stage and the results can be heard of "Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman" (Miel Music).  Instead of picking really familiar tunes, such as the oft-recorded "Lonely Woman" and "Una Muy Bonita", the quartet explores "Giggin'" (from 1959's "Tomorrow Is The Question", Coleman's second Lp), "Dee Dee" (from 1966's "At The Golden Circle Stockholm"), "Free" (from 1960's "Change of the Century"), "Street Woman" and the title track (from 1972's "Science Fiction"), "Tribes of New York" (from a 2016 release of unissued tracks from the 1960s Atlantic sessions), and "Toy Dance" (from 1968's "New York Is Now").  

Photo: Chris Sweda 2016
The quartet have a ball with this music,  getting in to the joy of playing Coleman's playful melodies while creating solos that rise out of the pieces organically.  Check out "Free" –– I've not heard Bringuez before but he brings the fire as he and Zenón literally fly over the frantic rhythm section.  "Giggin'" blends the joy of bebop with the blues; Zenón sounds like he's having a blast as he dances his way through a four-minute solo.  Bringuez, who has worked with pianist Chuco Valdes and guitarist Hugo Fernandez, also solos with abandon. The title track opens with a short but powerful bass solo before the quartet lays down the melody. Their approach is reminiscent to that of the Atlantic Records Coleman Lps of the early 1960s. Cabaud, who has worked with the Lee Konitz-Ohad Talmor Big Band and vocalist Sara Serpa (among others) gets a longer spotlight right after the initial verse. Both the alto and tenor solos have tinges of flamenco music as well as moments of "free blowing". 

Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo 2015
The only ballad on the album, "Broken Shadows", shines from the opening moment. The interaction of the saxophonists (Zenón's keening tone and Bringuez's deep "blue" notes), the splendid bowed bass, and Rossy's intelligent cymbal coloring, all blend into a splendid performance. 

"Law Years" closes with the medley of "Toy Dance/ Street Woman". The opening chorus and the subsequent solos swing with delight.  After a short drum break, the saxophonists return to the opening melody go right into "Street Woman". This song has a darker feel and the rhythms more forceful. Bringuez's solo has a great sense of urgency and provides the power for Rossy's thumping drum solo.  The waves of energy that come at you from the speakers as the pieces powers to is close makes you at to go right back to the beginning.  Even as the various vaccines bring relief to millions of people all around the world, it might be number of years before musicians get to have a gig as loose and freewheeling as Miguel Zenón did on this May night in 2019.  Pour a drink, turn down the lights, turn up the volume, and enjoy!

For more information and to purchase the recording, go to https://miguelzenon.bandcamp.com/album/law-years-the-music-of-ornette-coleman.

Here's the title track:






Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Composers Updated: Mary Lou Williams and Charles Mingus

Pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981), born in Georgia and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, came of age in the flowering time of Black Music and the development of Jazz.  The child prodigy began playing at the age of four and, by the time she was 10, Ms. Williams was playing private parties for wealthy White clientele.  In the 1930s (and beyond), her arrangements for artists such as And Kirk and the Clouds of Joy, Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Lunceford, Cab Calloway, and many others thrust her into the spotlight. She moved to New York City at the onset of World War II and began a steady gig at the Cafe Society Downtown in 1943. She mentored artists such as Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and Tadd Dameron. She went on to perform her own music, popular as well as sacred music, until her passing in 1981. To find out more, go to ratical.org/MaryLouWilliams/MLWbio.html

In 1945, Ms. Williams had a weekly radio program on WNEW-AM in New York City.  For 12 consecutive weeks, she produced a song based on one of the signs of the Zodiac.  Having read a book on astrology, her songs celebrated musicians she knew born under each of the signs. She first recorded the "Zodiac Suite" in 1945 with her trio of Al Lucas (bass) and Jack "The Bear" Parker –– she went on to arrange the piece for an 18-member big band plus arranging three sections for the New York Philharmonic and piano soloist (Ms. Williams). This is the first instance of Jazz meeting the Symphony.  Over the years, other artists such as Dave Douglas, John Hicks and Geri Allen, have recorded the "Suite" or specific pieces of it.

For his debut album, pianist and arranger Chris Pattishall has taken the 12 Williams compositions, arranged them for quintet, and with the help of producer and sound designer Rafiq Bhatia, created "Zodiac" (Self-released).  Joining the pianist is Riley Mulherkar (trumpet), Ruben Fox (tenor and soprano saxophone), Marty Jaffe (acoustic bass), and Jamison Ross (drums, percussion).  If you listen to Ms. Williams recording, you'll hear that many of these pieces are multi-sectioned, often stopping for a few seconds of silence before moving forward in a different direction, sometimes coming back to the original melody. Pattishall's arrangements use that approach plus he creates space for the trumpet and sax.  On the opening "Taurus", the pianist quietly introduces the piece with tolling piano chords before Murherkar and Fox take the melody forward ever-so-slowly.  The mood changes as the entire band plays the melody up to to the amplified trumpet solo. In the pianist's bio, one discovers Pattishall's love of Surrealism and, with the help fo Bhatia, several of the pieces use modified sounds to tell its stories.  

There is a lot of fascinating music on this album.  "Scorpio" has such an arresting Latin-esque rhythm that stops at the end of the first verse for an odd bit of electronica. When the piece returns, there's a new boppish rhythm for a fun tenor sax solo. The stops-and-starts introduce new approaches to the song and each one is delightful. A martial drumbeat introduces "Leo", the melody sounds like a fanfare while the rhythm section tries to break the piece open.  "Aquarius" has such a fun melody played by the trumpet with piano counterpoint. Fox's soprano sax adds a lighter voice to the mix plus play attention to how Ross and Jaffe play so much melody.

The album closes with "Aries" with its pleasing bebop feel but notice how Pattishall chooses to move the melody forward. Hang in until the end of the piece because it is as jarring musically as it is surprising.  

"Zodiac" is an impressive debut.  Chris Pattishall and his cohorts take this music of Mary Lou Williams, music composed and recorded over three-quarters of a century ago.  The quintet plus producer Rafiq Bhatia make the music and the ideas contained within come alive.  If this project makes listeners go back and discover Ms.Williams vast array of recordings and arrangements, that's great. The album also heralds the emergence of a fine young talent!

For more information and to purchase the album, go to chrispattishall.bandcamp.com/album/zodiac.

Here's "Aries":





As a composer, bassist, activist, and entrepreneur, Charles Mingus had few equals.  From the late 1940s through until his death in 1979, he produced music and made proclamations that challenged, provoked, and entertained a large audience.  He performed with Lionel Hampton, and/or recorded with Charlie Parker, J.J. Johnson, Langston Hughes, and with Max Roach and Duke Ellington on the acclaimed 1962 Lp "Money Jungle".  He issues over 50 albums in his lifetime on labels such as Atlantic, United Artists, Columbia Records, Savoy, his own Debut Records, and others.  His music took on social causes even as it was satirical plus many of his ballads are so well written that have been recorded by many other artists.  

"I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag––the White Flag" (Sunnyside Records) is an album of solo piano readings of 10 Charles Minus songs plus one by John Coltrane. It's the first time I have heard Stephanie Nilles, a native of Illinois who has issued six other albums since 2008, mostly on her own label. In December of 2019, Ms. Nilles traveled to Bremen, Germany, to record at the same studio where Mingus made his final recording with Eric Dolphy before the latter musician died.  The music is as much of an indictment of its time as it is of today, recorded in the months after the murders of Breonna Taylor and Quawan Charles. The album takes its title from comments Mingus made as he was evicted from a New York City loft – check it out by going to www.openculture.com/2012/08/charles_mingus_evicted_in_1966_film.html

The opening track of "I Pledge Allegiance...." is "Fables of Faubus", a work she had previously recorded in a duo setting with a bassist in 2011.  The 1957 piece is dedicated to the outrageous racist behavior of the then-Governor of Arkansas Orville Faubus who had sent out the National Guard to prevent the Court-ordered integration of the Little Rock schools.  In Ms. Nilles hands (and voice), the performance is a concerto, with excerpts of spirituals, a motif by  Shostakovich, "Yankee Doodle Dandy", and "Lift Every Voice and Song" interspersed with the pianist's solo extrapolations. Unless you have studied United States history, especially the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, the piece may not speak to you but think of the events around  election 2020 and its aftermath.  Those listeners who know should be mighty impressed by the scope of this 13-minute performance.  The music was composed at a time was also a time when the music was not separate from the Movement but a major part of it.

Through the course of the album, one hears so many creative approaches to Mingus's works. The pianist creates a meditative approach for the oft-recorded "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat", taking her time, enunciating each note of the melody. The solo section has traces of Bill Evans, Erik Satie, and Myra Melford in Ms. Nilles phrasing.  The jittery piano chords at the opening of "Free Cell Block F, 'Tis Nazi U.S.A." lead into a rollicking, circus-like, reading of the piece.  There are touches of cabaret, of tango, of Stephen Sondheim during this performance. The ethereal opening of "Peggy's Blue Skylight" leads to the most beautiful moments on the recording.  The pianist doesn't rush, caresses the melody lines, lets us hear all the notes, and still paints a picture that stands out.

Ms. Nilles sings on several of the tracks besides the opening "Fables..."  Her voice has hints of Blossom Dearie as if filtered through Bessie Smith, especially on "Devil Blues". Her piano on the track certainly goes deep, with splashes of Jelly Roll Morton, Memphis Slim, and James Booker. There's also deep blues on "Oh Lord, Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me" –– dig her sparse left hand, rolling chordal accompaniment to her far-flung, adventurous right hand. Even with the sarcastic title, the music never falls into parody.

The program closes with Coltrane's "Alabama" –– the song, written in response to the September 15, 1963, bombing of a church in Birmingham that left four young girls dead, has the feel of a funeral procession but not a dirge.  The composer, a father of three boys and step-father to his second wife Alice's daughter, was horrified by the event and listened closely to the eulogy delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King. Ms. Nilles treat the piece with great respect, with quiet, tolling, chords and later with rumbling chords, also adding a verse from the Irish folk tune "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair".  It's s stunning finish to a superb album.

"I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag––the White Flag" deserves –– no, demands –– to be listened to in one marathon "sitting".  Stephanie Nilles reminds us of the power inherent in the music of Charles Mingus, of the anger transposed into music, of the years fighting oppression, of damning critical response yet surviving with one's hope intact.  Go, find this album, and best you let it "get hit in your soul."  

To find out more about the pianist, go to www.stephanienilles.com/. 

Click on the link below to hear one of the great Mingus tunes: