Thursday, January 21, 2021

Yiddish Books, Songs, & Dances


 For the past 24+ years, I have hosted "N'Shoma" on radio station WMRD-AM1150 (Middletown, CT), simulcast on WLIS-1420Am (Old Saybrook, CT).  When the show debuted on the first Sunday in November 1996, I walked into the station with 20 albums and 15 CDs.  With a few exceptions, most of the recordings were by members of the 1970s-80s "Klezmer Revival".   Besides Andy Statman and The Klematics, I owned several albums by the Boston, MA-based Klezmer Conservatory Band. Organized in 1979 by educator, ethnomusicologist and multi-instrumentalist Hankus Netsky (pictured above, a graduate of and long-time faculty member of the New England Conservatory), the ensemble (which has ranged between nine and 14 members) began appearing up and down the East Coast. Their debut album, "Yiddish Renaissance", was issued in 1981 and they have since appeared on 17 other recordings and compilations. In 1995, the KCB joined forces with The Klezmatics (co-founded by former member Frank London), Brave Old World, and the Andy Statman Klezmer Orchestra to support Israeli-born classical violinist Itzhak Perlman in his project exploring Klezmer titled "In The Fiddler's House" (EMI Classics/ Angel Records). The KCB's relationship with Maestro Perlman continues to this day!

Photo: Matt Cavanaugh (The Boston Globe)

Around the same as the KCB formed, a student of Yiddish Literature named Aaron Lansky founded the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA. Located on the edge of the campus of Hampshire College, Lansky and his staff began to collect books written in Yiddish –– in fact, the Center has since expanded to house over a million books (!) as well as digitizing 12,000, making these books available to scholars and interested readers around the world.  As the YBC expanded, they made room for author talks, concerts, plays, movie series, and more. 

The KCB and The YBC will celebrate their respective 40th anniversaries this Sunday afternoon–– the press release is below –– on Sunday morning at 11 am, I'll play an interview with Hankus Netsky on "N'Shoma" to whet your appetite even more to join that afternoon's ZOOM event. 


On Sunday, 
January 24 at 2 p.m. EST, The Yiddish Book Center looks back on the history and evolution of the Yiddish revival with The Klezmer Conservatory Band and the Yiddish Book Center:  Forty Years in Yiddishland, a video special celebrating the 40th anniversary of these two enduring institutions pivotal in spearheading the unprecedented international resurgence of Yiddish culture.  The event is free and open to the public. It will be presented via Zoom and will stream live on the Yiddish Book Center's Facebook page. To reserve a virtual seat in the Zoom audience—which will allow you to submit questions—registration is required:
https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_DayizEJ1TxyKDUPqV8fVrQ

The broadcast will feature KCB founder and director, New England Conservatory Contemporary Improvisation Department Co-chair and former Yiddish Book Center vice president for education Netsky and Lansky, the Center’s founder and president. It will include an historical overview of the band’s history along with video concert footage from over the years, including excerpts from acclaimed productions including “A Jumpin’ Night in the Garden of Eden” (1986), “The Fool and the Flying Ship” with Robin Williams (1991), and two PBS Great Performances Specials, “In the Fiddler’s House” with Itzhak Perlman (1997) and “Rejoice" (2014) featuring the KCB along with Perlman and Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. The program will present Netsky and Lansky in conversation with L.A. Times and NPR film critic Ken Turan, along with tribute greetings from well-known KCB collaborators, including Itzhak Perlman and Joel Grey.  

The Klezmer Conservatory Band and the Yiddish Book Center: Forty Years in Yiddishland will explore how forty years of activism has assured Yiddish literature and music an enduring place not only in the world of Jewish culture but among the world's most cherished cultural traditions. This event is co-sponsored by KlezKanada, Golden Land Concerts & Connections, Yiddish New York, Center for Traditional Music and Dance, the American Society for Jewish Music, Boston Workers Circle, Boston’s Jewish Arts Collaborative (JARTS), and National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. The program is made possible in part with the generous support of Peter D. Mark in loving memory of Eugene L. Mark.
 


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Sunnyside of the Stream (Pt 1)

Upon graduating from Ohio State University in 1986, pianist and composer Russ Lossing moved to New York City. Over the decades, he has played and recorded with drummer Paul Motian, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, saxophonists Loren Stillman and John O'Gallagher plus many others.  As a leader, he has recorded for HATOLOGY, Clean Feed, Fresh Sound, and Sunnyside Records.  His music, while influenced by Thelonious Monk, Andrew Hill, and the afore-mentioned Motian, is wide open, leaving plenty of room for his collaborators to speak their own piece.

"Metamorphism" (Sunnyside Records), though recorded in 2017, sounds fresh and timeless.  Joined by Stillman (alto and soprano saxophones), John Hébert (bass), and Michael Sarin (drums) –– all long-time associates –– most of Lossing's eight original pieces flow with serenity from one to another. Yet, there is intensity in how the musicians move towards and away from each other, how the solos rise up and make the listener aware that the music is not about technique but has emotional depth.  The program opens with a percussive piano figure leading the rhythm section in with each musician playing elements of the melody.  When the alto sax and piano play the main theme, one hears a Middle Eastern-influenced melody. Notice how the rhythm section stops and starts, how they create a dialogue with the piano and sax, especially during the solos. 

Photo: Clara Pereira
The title track, the longest on the recording at 12:25, is dedicated to Paul Motian.  The sparse opening moments recall Lossing's long relationship to the late drummer-composer, the piano presenting the melody before the bass and drums enter. Stillman plays soprano sax here, his long tones rising above the spare accompaniment.  Slowly, steadily, the intensity ramps up with Lossing and Stillman weaving mini-rhapsodies around each other. Listen below to how the melody is moved back out front in the last moments of the performance.  There are moments that the music reminds this listener of the Keith Jarrett American Quartet on the 1970s - 80s (of which the late Mr. Motian was a member).

Photo: Chris Drukker
Another longer track (9:31), "Blue Horizon", is dedicated to Andrew Hill.  The music moves slowly, has a mysterious feel, yet one feels you can hear the band communicating with each other.  The shortest track (2:35), "Pileatus", serves as a spotlight for Sarin's powerful, melodic, drums.  The melody is percussive with the bass, piano, and soprano sax playing in unison. The funky "June Jig" dances forward on the drums and Hébert's rich bass work.  Lossing sits out during the alto solo so one can really hear how Stillman interacts with Sarin and how the bassist complements them. "Canto 24" closes the album; again all four musicians state the theme before the solo section is a series of encounters, responses, reactions, and counterpoint.  As the music moves forward, the quartet is responding to each other in such an organic fashion.

"Metamorphism" is an adventurous collection of pieces that never boils over nor lapses into cliches.  The listener can hear how comfortable the musicians are with each other, allowing themselves to be continually challenged by the compositions of Russ Lossing.  There's little clutter in the sound, the articulated piano notes stand out as do all the "voices" of the quartet.  This album deserves to be listened all the way through each time to appreciate the beauty and the humanity the music contains. 

For more information, go to www.russlossing.com.  To purchase the album, go to https://russlossing.bandcamp.com/album/metamorphism.

Here's the title track:




Born in France but raised in Brazil, bassist and composer Gui Duvignau has led a fascinating life. His first musical interest was "heavy metal" but he soon discovered the bass work of Ron Carter (with the "classic" Miles Davis Quintet), Jimmy Garrison (with the John Coltrane Quartet), Jaco Pastorious, and Charles Mingus.  He also explored the delights of Brazilian composers and performers.  The bassist moved to the United States to attend the Berklee College of Music and on to Portugal and Paris, France for several years.  While living there, the bassist co-led an ensemble with vocalist Sofia Ribeiro; they released an album, "Porto", is 2010. His debut as a leader, "Fissura", was also recorded in France (2014) and issued on a Brazilian label in 2016.  Duvignau then moved to New York City to study at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.  There he met Argentinean-born pianist Santiago Leibson who introduced him to drummer Jeff Hirshfield and they created a trio.  
 
His American debut, "3, 5, 8" (Sunnyside Records),  features Leibson and Hirschfield plus, on several tracks, Billy Drewes (tenor saxophone) and German guitarist Elias Meister.  The nine-song program, all composed by the leader, opens with two trio tracks, "Volta" and "'2'".  The former is a ballad with a folk-like melody, moving forward in the style of the late Paul Motian.  Leibson's rippling piano lines rise above the counterpoint of the bass and the conversational drums.  Duvignau leads the way on the latter tune, also one with a folk-like melody, that turns towards swing especially during the delightful piano solo.  Later in the program, the lovely ballad "Une Pensée Pour Paris", is notable for the melodic bass solo, Leibson's emotional piano phrases, and Hirschfield's artistic brushwork.  The delightful "Vem Logo!" ("Coming Soon") is a sweet romp for the trio. Opening with a strong bass solo, the pianist follows with a solo built on a chordal progression that is continually and melodically mutating.  

Photo: Thibault Della Gaspera
Drewes and Meister first join the trio on the atmospheric ballad "Yerevan".  The piece, composed for the bassist's girlfriend, pushes forward on the insistent bass and piano with both the saxophone and guitar echoing the melody line.  Near the close of the tune, Drewes creates a fiery solo with Meister's distorted guitar and the pianist's flowing lines serving as counterpoint.  "Minas", inspired by Duvignau's first home in Brazil, opens with a handsome bass solo –– after a quiet start, Leibson leads the band into a samba rhythm over which the saxophonist creates a powerful, driving, solo. The bassist composed the dancing "Detuned for Drewes" to tap into the saxophonist's playful side and the quartet get into a sweet groove.  Meister stands out on the raucous, blues-drenched, ballad "Somewhat", showing the influences of Ben Monder and Bill Frisell. His guitar lines sting, roar, and moan opening the door for a hard-edged tenor sax solo.  

"3, 5, 8" serves as a delightful introduction to the musical worlds of bassist and composer Gui Duvignau.  While the music he created for his fellow musicians gives the leader plenty of opportunities to solo, he all also leaves room for everyone else to shine.  And they do!  With music this good, one is excited to see where the bassist goes from here.  

To learn more, go to www.guiduvignau.com.  Go to https://sunnysiderecords.bandcamp.com/album/3-5-8 to hear one track and to purchase this music. 


Friday, January 15, 2021

Maria Schneider Writes for Frank Kimbrough

Fans of the pianist Frank Kimbrough and people who knew him, loved his music, appreciated his teaching as well as how he instantly made you feel at ease while talking to him (even if it was the first time, read this missive from Maria Schneider.

Photo: Dave Kaufman


With deepest sadness I’m writing you all to say that our beloved friend, pianist, collaborator, Frank Kimbrough, passed away on December 30th.  It’s been a shock to so many.  Critic Nate Chinen’s obituary described Frank’s mastery perfectly: "a pianist of unerring taste and touch, a composer drawn to flowing ethereality, and an improviser steeped in the art of epiphany.”


Many of you have experienced his transcendent improvised introductions in concert – every intro entirely unique with spellbinding beauty, creativity, assuredness and fearlessness.  His art thrived on that vulnerable razor edge of the moment.  Frank’s own gorgeous recordings include: Solstice, Play, Rumors, Air, and the astounding box set, Monk’s Dreams (recording every Monk tune).  You can purchase those CDs of his and more, and they are all available on Spotify as well.   


Frank didn’t own a cellphone.  He practiced music walking in the park.  He prioritized his life around the things he felt truly important.  He had a heart of gold.  I would like to be more like Frank.

A revered and devoted teacher at Juilliard, Frank loved his students – I mean LOVED his students. So, there’s no better way to keep his legacy alive than through "The Frank Kimbrough Jazz Scholarship" being instated at Juilliard.  If you’d wish to make a tax-deductible contribution it can be done in several ways:

1. Online contribution: Go to https://giving.juilliard.edu.  Select designation ‘Juilliard Scholarship Fund’ and make sure to note in the comments, “Frank Kimbrough Jazz Scholarship.” 
2. For credit card contributions by phone, simply call: 917-834-4552.
3. Mail contribution:  Checks payable to The Juilliard School (with “Frank Kimbrough Jazz Scholarship” written in the memo line) can be sent to: 
      The Juilliard School 
      Attn: Mary Yeatts, Associate Director of Major Gifts 
      60 Lincoln Center Plaza
      New York NY 10023
4. Contributions by bank transfer (securities and wire transfers) 
Contact: Mary Yeatts, Associate Director of Major Gifts, Development Department: 
      Email: myeatts@juilliard.edu 
      Phone: 917-834-4552
5. For any questions at all, contact Mary Yeatts, myeatts@juilliard.edu.  Again, it’s very important to make sure your gift is earmarked to the Frank Kimbrough Jazz Scholarship.

We’ve kept our special video up on the front page of www.mariaschneider.com that we made as we missed this year’s Jazz Standard Thanksgiving week.  There’s beautiful footage of Frank in the video.  Frank was the first person to tell me about the Jazz Standard when it opened way back when, and it was he who encouraged me to try to book the band there.  Covid circumstances have forced the Standard’s closing.  As memories from that room abound, so many of them have Frank at the center.  Those musical and very cherished moments of camaraderie are golden for me and for the band, and I know for so many of you as well.  After the club announced its closing, Frank wrote to me and to the band: “If there's anyone on Earth that can make this joint come back, it's Danny Meyer.  Let's be grateful for all the Standard did for us individually and as a band, and hope for the best going forward - never say die, say damn, and keep on keepin' on.  I love you all, and hope to see you soon - Best, FK.”  

We love you, Frank.

Love and good things to you all in this new year.  Keep on keepin’ on.  

Maria



Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Let's Swing In This New Year!


Photo: A Yatskevich
Posi-Tone Records co-owner and A&R man Marc Free loves music that swings, songs based on good melodies with rhythm sections that can play any style, and front-line musicians with strong voices.  Over the past several, Free has been organizing ensembles made up of musicians who record for the label plus newer artists. The material is often a blend of new and old tunes, many of which appear on other Posi-Tone albums as well as the occasional jazz "standard." Three years ago this month, the label released the first album by New Faces, a sextet featuring Roxy Coss, Josh Lawrence, Behn Gillece, Theo Hill, Peter Brendler, and Vinny Sperrazza, all of whom have issued albums on Posi-Tone.   Now Free has chosen six more musicians –– Caili O'Doherty (pictured above, piano), Brandon Lee (trumpet, flugelhorn), Markus Howell (alto saxophone, flute), Nicole Glover (tenor sax), Adi Myerson (bass), and Cory Cox (drums) –– as the new faces of the group.

"New Sounds" is this group's debut and, like its predecessor, it's a soulful romp through the world of "straight-ahead jazz."  Also like its predecessor, the band is composed of top-notch soloists. Ms. O'Doherty, whose 2015 album "Padme" was quite impressive, is a stalwart throughout.  The Israeli-native Ms. Myerson is a powerful, foundational, bassist whose solos are melodic gems.  Ms. Glover has worked with Esperanza Spalding plus recorded with pianist George Colligan, has developed into a powerful soloist while Howell, a graduate of Michigan State University (where he studied with trombonist Michael Dease), has a sweet tone on alto sax.  Brandon Lee and Cory Cox were both raised in Houston, TX; the former has taught at his alma mater (the Juilliard School) and the University of North Carolina/ Greensboro while the drummer has toured with the Dave Brubeck Quartet where he teaches private lessons and leads workshops.

Photo: A. Yatskevich
Trumpeter Lee's (pictured left) "Shades of Brown" kicks off the 10-song program.  It's a medium-tempo blues, the composer leads the saxophones in and plays the melody as the reeds harmonize.  Cox's dancing cymbals are a highlight, especially during the trumpet solo. Note how the bass and piano lock in under the alto solo; the drums and bass lock in as Ms. O'Doherty steps out. Ms. Meyerson contributes two sweet ballads. "Afloat" possesses a gentle flow and a fine melody which the trumpet and alto sax states while the tenor sax plays counterpoint.  Ms. Glover steps right into her solo followed by a generous piano turn.  The bassist (pictured below) also composed "Hold My Heart", a song that may remind some of the writing of Robbie Robertson (listen to the chords changes and the descending bass line in the verse).  


Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Other than two tunes from vibraphonist Gillece and one from bassist Brendler, the rest of the tracks are originals from the newer Faces.  Howell's rollicking "Second Wind" features a thunderous drum solo while Ms. Glover's "Blues for Tangiers" is a lowdown blues ballad; the composer creates quite a strong statement while Howell and Lee have quite a call-and-response with the tenor in the following chorus.  Ms. O'Doherty's "Runaway" is also a blues ballad, this one with overtones of Charles Mingus. The piano solo is powerful as is the trumpet spot that follows.

"New Sounds" stands out for the quality of both the compositions and the musicianship.  The first edition of New Faces did a number of live dates (ahhh...the good old nights) and one hopes to see this group in action. In the meantime, start this year on a good foot and get lost in these "New Sounds."  

To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://newfacesjazz.bandcamp.com/.

Here's the lovely ballad "Afloat":




A strong case can be made for clarinetist and composer Phil Nimmons as "the father of Canadian Jazz." The native of British Columbia, Nimmons was born in 1923 in British Colombia and started college as a pre-Med major.  He decided to follow his passion for music to the Juilliard School in New York City and then to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  He formed Nimmons 'N' Nine in 1953, a group that would eventually tour throughout his native country and beyond for the next 27 years. Perhaps his most famous work, "The Atlantic Suite" (credited to Nimmons 'N' Nine Plus Six), was issued by Sackville Records in 1974, winning numerous awards. Before that, the group had recorded for RCA-Victor and Verve.  After Nimmons ended the group, he toured and recorded with small ensembles plus dedicated himself to teaching at the University of Toronto. He retired from teaching at the age of 96 and remains in good health.

His grandson Sean Nimmons (piano, Fender Rhodes) has put together an eight-member ensemble comprised of former students, colleagues, and friends of his grandfather, dubbing the octet The Nimmons Tribute.  The group's self-released debut album, "Volume I –– To The Nth", recreates songs from throughout the elder Nimmons career plus adds one piece by Sean.  What a fine band –– Kevin Turcotte (trumpet, flugelhorn), Tara Davidson (alto + soprano saxophones, clarinet), William Carn (trombone), Mike Murley (tenor saxophone), Perry White (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet), Jon Maharaj (bass), and Ethan Ardelli (drums) –– each one active on the Canadian scene.  The album was recorded during the pandemic yet the music reflects the composer and musicians belief that music is the best way to fight through the pain, boredom, and fear of the current times.

The program kicks off with "Nufsicisum" which, read back to front, is composer Nimmons philosophy on his choice of his path through life.  The easy swing of the rhythm section points to the influences of West Coast (US) Jazz with a generous hint of Duke Ellington/ Billy Strayhorn in the melodies and arrangements. "The Atlantic Suite" is represented by "Harbours", another easy swinging tune graced by the fine alto work of Ms. Davidson and grandson Sean's gentle Rhodes work. When everybody jumps in for a stroll through the verse, the ensemble sounds twice its size. Ardelli gets a fairly "hot" solo before the Rhodes solo calms down the proceedings in time for Turcotte's trumpet to begin ramping up the temperature.

Sean (pictured left) dedicates "Rista's Vista" to his grandfather; Rista is the elder Nimmons middle name. The piece jumps along thanks to the solid work of Maharaj and the fine drumming and cymbal work of Ardelli.  The lovely ballad "Holly" (composed for Nimmons daughter) opens with the melody played by White on bass clarinet. The second verse goes to Ms. Davidson's soprano sax and she yields to all the brass and reeds expanding the melody as well as the harmonies.  Ardelli's smart stick work enlivens "Sands of Time", an episodic piece that features fine solos from the pianist and Mike Murley.   

"Volume I..." closes with "Liëse", another lovely ballad that adds Drew Jurecka (violin, viola) and Lydia Munchinsly (cello) while subtracting the reeds and brass.  The music has a cinematic quality plus features solos from the pianist and bassist, a handsome way to end an album that pays tribute to a master of melody.

This "Tribute to Nimmons" is a good introduction to the music of Phil Nimmons and should lead one to explore the music he recorded over his long career. What one gets on the album project spearheaded by his grandson Sean Nimmons-Paterson is more than a testimonial; it's a reminder that this American music crosses borders with ease, capturing musicians and composers, allowing them the freedom to use myriad influences and make something new.  

For more information, go to https://www.nimmonstribute.ca/.  

To hear the album plus purchase it, go to

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Joys of the Duo + The Rhythms Lead the Guitarist

We have more time to listen to music and it's such a relief from the headlines snd baseless accusations that fill the air every day in the United States.

Nearly twenty years have passed since alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón recorded his debut album as a leader ("Looking Forward" was issued in 2002 on Fresh Sound New Talent –– the personnel included, among others, bassist Hans Glawischnig and pianist Luis Perdomo, both of whom are still members of his Quartet (drummer Henry Cole joined in 2007).  Over that time, Zenón has matured greatly as a composer, arranger, and saxophonist. His love of the music from his homeland of Puerto Rico has been evident throughout his discography, exposing many listeners to both the folk music and the popular songs that spans many generations.

In September of 2020, Zenón and Perdomo recorded a concert in the New York City venue the Jazz Gallery that was presented online in November.  Both musicians felt that the music was so good that the concert should be shared with a larger audience. "El Arte Del Bolero" (Miel Music) features six songs, all taken from the Puerto Rican songbook of the 1940s-70s.  Richly melodic, the program flows forward on the strength of classic Puerto Rican songs, Perdomo's delightful accompaniment and Zenón's singing saxophone.  When you listen to the opening "Como Fue", it's easy to get lost in the flowing melody lines, the fine piano work, and the emotional performance.  "Alma Adentro" is not only a song that the saxophonist's loved growing up but also served as the title track of a large ensemble album Zenón released in 2011. The unaccompanied alto sax intro sets the stage for a stunning reading of the piece.  How both musicians use the occasional silence to create tension is quite amazing. 

Photo: Noah Shaye
The music on "El Arte Del Bolero" is perfect for late afternoon and evening listening –– you might even want to twirl your partner around the room. The Venezuelan-born Perdomo brought "Ese Hastio" to the session; it's a piece he first heard on a Ray Barretto album ("Rican-Construction" from 1979).  The piece features an excellent sax solo, one that covers a wide range of the alto but never loses touch with the melody. The pianist creates a rapturous solo, so rich in melodic lines and possibilities.  

The album goes from one beautiful moment to the next.  "La Vidas es un Sueño" ("Life is a Dream"), composed by the Cuban-born guitarist and composer Arsenio Rodriguez (1911-1970).  The melody line may remind some of Nat King Cole's classic "Mona Lisa" –– this version expands upon the ballad with fine, emotionally rich, solos.  

Photo: Nick Carter
Every time I listen to this music, it makes me smile.  Such a pleasure to listen to Miguel Zenón and Luis Perdomo interpret this music, making it their own while keeping in mind how these songs are an integral part of the Latin American culture, the building blocks for the music one hears today from the Caribbean as well as Central and Latin America.  "El Arte Del Bolero" will enrich your listening life and help you through darker times.

For more information and to purchase the music, go to https://miguelzenon.bandcamp.com/album/el-arte-del-bolero



Guitarist, composer, painter, and educator, Gabriel Vicéns has been playing and studying music since he was 12. Born and raised just outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico, he heard all sorts of music, from his island's native "folklorico" to alternative rock to "pop" music to classical.  Vicéns studied at the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, taught music at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, and then moved to the United States where he earned a Masters of Music degree from Queens College (NYC).  Currently, he's studying for a Doctorate of Musical Arts from Stony Brook University in the program currently run by trombonist Ray Anderson and Daria Semegen. Vicéns is also an accomplished painter, continuing his studies in New York City with Pat Lipsky.  Besides jazz, the guitarist also composes classical music, working with Carlos Cabrer and Lois V. Vierk.  

Vicéns, who has played and recorded with artists such as drummer Henry Cole, David Sanchez, Luis Perdomo, Miguel Zenón, and Rudy Royston, has issued two albums as a leader: 2011's "Point In Time" and 2015's "Days" (the latter released on Greg Osby's Inner Circle Music).  His third recording is imminent (1/15/21). Co-produced by Zenón, "The Way We Are Created" (Inner Circle) finds the guitarist leading a sextet that includes Glenn Zaleski (piano), Rick Rosato (bass), E.J. Strickland (drums), Roman Filiú (alto saxophone), and Victor Pablo (percussion including barril de bomba and panderos de plena).   While previous recordings featured percussion, the music for the new CD was written from the rhythms up.  The program is exciting, rolling forward on the playing of both Pablo and Strickland as well as the enticing melodies Vicéns created for the various folkloric rhythms.  

The shadows of John Abercrombie and early Pat Metheny easily hang over the tone of Vicéns's guitar while the melodies he writes blend myriad influences. The episodic title track opens the album with a blend of American funk (Strickland's drumming is truly in-the-pocket) and the subtle bomba rhythms of Pablo –– it took a few listens to pick out the latter percussionist but note how embellishes the playing of his rhythm section partner.  The leader really digs into his solo, alternately dancing with the rhythm section and pushing against them. Filiú's solo is more abstract as it bounces off the strong chordal work of Zaleski.  Strickland solos (it's quite powerful) before the sextet heads back to the opening theme.

Highlights include the short hand drum - guitar duet "Caribeno y Pensador", an intimate interaction with melodic guitar fragments over a steady rhythm, which leads into the high-powered "The Upcoming."  Zaleski adds a low-end repetitive melody line before Vicéns and Filiú enter to state the theme.  The pianist takes the first solo, dancing with the rhythms and setting the stage for the powerful alto sax solo. The propulsive "A City of Many Mysteries" not only highlights how creatively Pablo and Strickland interact but also features some thick, foundational, bass lines from Rosato plus more strong solos. Pablo steps forward on "Retorno", telling a percussion story over the chiming guitar chords.  The drums not only "talk" but are also insistently rhythmical.  The piece fades into the final track, "The Mystery of S.T.", a rollicking work with a call-and-response theme (guitar and alto sax), rapid fire riffs from Vicéns and Filiú, and splendid drumming plus percussion shaking the speakers.    

The temptation to talk about every track is hard to ignore but you should go to https://gabrielvicens.bandcamp.com/album/the-way-we-are-created and listen to the title track (also check the "live" version from 2017 below).  That should whet your appetite for all of "The Way We Are Created" –– Gabriel Vicéns has created a thoughtful, exciting, and powerful program, music that should sound and feel quite fine in a live setting (whenever that may come around again).  In the meantime, dive headfirst into this delightful disk! 

For more information about this impressive young artist, go to www.gabrielvicens.com/.  

Here's the live take of the opening album track –– the sextet features Vicéns and Filiú plus pianist Sam Harris, bassist Ricky Rodriguez, drummer Rudy Royston, and percussionist Markus Schwartz.  



Friday, January 1, 2021

New Year, New Life

 

Guitarist and composer Peter Leitch, born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1944, had a busy career, first in his native country and then in the United States. Since the 1970s, he performed alongside the likes of Red Norvo, Kenny Wheeler, Woody Shaw, Gary Bartz, Jaki Byard, Oscar Peterson, and many more.  Since he went out on his own in the early 1980s, Leitch has issued 19 albums as a leader or co-leader plus he appeared as. a sideman on over a dozen recordings. In 2012, he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.  His prospects were grim until he met Dr. Maxim Kreditor who performed a life-saving operation. The surgery did cause nerve damage (not unexpected) which ended Leitch's playing career; his mind and pencil, however, remain sharp resulting in album #20, "New Life" (Jazz House Records) credited to Peter Leitch's New Life Orchestra.  The 17-song, two CD-set is presented as if each disk represented one set.


You can see the personnel by looking at the album jacket. It's a blend of prominent New York City big band veterans (for instance,  saxophonists Steve Wilson and Dave Pietro sit near each other in the Maria Schneider Orchestra) while the  British guitarist Phil Robson sits in for the composer.  Befitting its title, many of the songs are upbeat. Much of this music "swings" as well thanks to the work of pianist Peter Zak, bassist Yoshi Waki, and drummer Joe Strasser.  It's basically a 12-member ensemble with guests (Chad Coe who adds acoustic guitar on four cuts while Dennis James plays arco bass on five songs); the music may remind some of the work of Gerald Wilson or Bob Florence.  Leitch, always a melodic player, gives his musicians excellent palettes to paint upon.  

CD 1 opens with "Mood For Max" composed for and dedicated to Dr. Maxim Kreditor, the NYC-based cancer specialist, swings right out of the gate not unlike a Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra piece  with the melody shared by the trumpets and reeds, especially the fine flute work of Tim Harrison. Solos by Bill Mobley (trumpet), Steve Wilson (alto sax), and pianist Zak.  The playful "Sorta, Kinda" walks in on the strength of bassist Waki, flautist Harrison, and trombonist Max Seigel.   The bluesy piece features fine solos from guitarist Robson, alto saxophonist Wilson, and Duane Eubanks (trumpet).  Leitch creates a lovely arrangement of Thelonious Monk's classic ballad "'Round Midnight."  After the handsome unaccompanied electric guitar intro, the Orchestra strolls lightly through the melody before a solo each from Robson and Eubanks.  Dig the modified samba that closes the piece.  CD 1 closes on two strong pieces, the medium-tempo ballad "Brilliant Blue, Modified Blue" before moving into the episodic "Fulton Street Suite."  After a powerful ballad theme to open the "..Suite", Strasser produces a speaker rattling solo that soon moves into an uptempo"shout" complete with solos from the guitarist, saxophonists Wilson and Levy plus pianist Zak.  

Highlights of CD 2 include the exhilarating opening track "Exhilaration"; powered by Strasser's strong drumming and Waki's foundational bass lines, the music dances on the delightful solos.  The composer creates a powerful blues dance on his tribute to "Clifford Jordan" which not only strong sectional writing but also fine solos from Levy (tenor sax) and baritone saxophonist Carl Maraghi. That's followed by the Charles Mingus-inspired "Ballad for Charles Davis."  Fine solos from Levy (tenor sax) and Robson are the centerpieces of this tribute to the baritone saxophonist Davis. Look for the short (2:15) "Tutwiler 2001", a bluesy vignette centered around Coe's acoustic guitar but that also includes excellent writing for the brass.  Coe contributes strumming chords (a la Freddie Green) on the blues-soaked closing track "The Long Walk Home." The Count Basie influence also shows up in Leitch's sectional writing behind the multiple solos but don't miss the delightful interaction between the bass trombone, bass, and flute right before Waki's solo.  

Need a positive way to start the New Year. Look no further than "New Life" as it sparkles, jumps, soothes, and makes you nod your head while you snap your fingers.  The two-CD, 17-song program that the Peter Leitch New Life Orchestra presents stays away from politics, current events, and tragedies (save for "Tutwiler 2001" the Mississippi town in which Emmett Till was brutally murdered but also was recognized in 2001 as "the place where the blues was born"); this album serves as a musical balm, as a celebration of survival not just for Peter Leitch but for all those who listen. Take a break and just enjoy this "New Life".  

For more information, go to peterleitch.com

Enjoy "Sorta, Kinda": 
 


Personnel:

Peter Leitch: compositions, arrangements, conducting

Duane Eubanks:  trumpet
Bill Mobley:  trumpet, flugelhorn
Tim Harrison: flute
Steve Wilson: alto and soprano saxophones on 10 tracks
Dave Pietro: alto and soprano saxophones on 8 tracks
Jed Levy: tenor saxophone, flute and alto flute
Carl Maraghi: baritone saxophone and bass clarinet
Matt Haviland: trombone
Max Seigel: bass trombone
Phil Robson: electric guitar
Chad Coe: acoustic guitar on 4 tracks
Peter Zak: piano
Yoshi Waki: acoustic bass
Dennis James: arco bass on 5 tracks
Joe Strasser:  drums