Thursday, April 29, 2021

More Sounds for Spring

There's been quite a crop of new releases since the beginning of the year –– here are three more worth your attention. 

Photo: Richmond Lam
CODE Quartet was formed in 2017 and includes Christine Jensen (alto and soprano saxophones), Lex French (trumpet), Adrian Vedady (bass), and Jim Doxas (drums).  On the surface, the obvious influence is Ornette Coleman and the band he lead on his historic Atlantic Records albums in the late 1950s and early 60s.  Without a chordal instrument, the rhythm section has to be quite strong while the front line concerns itself with the melodies, harmonies, and interplay.  Everyone in the band save for drummer Doxas contributes, at least, two compositions (trumpeter French composer three) plus there's a fascinating version of the Medieval Christian hymn (credited to J.S.Bach) "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" (which listeners may recognize is the melody for Paul Simon's "American Tune").

The Quartet's debut album "Genealogy" (Justin Time Music) opens with French's blues-soaked "Tipsy" –– you can hear the influence of the song Otis Blackwell's "Fever" in the bass line as well as in the "cool feel" of the tune).  There are excellent solos all around but do play attention to what Doxas is playing throughout the track.  The drummer's interactions, sly fills, powerful drive, os the key element in moving the music forward.  He adds depth to Vedady's "Watching It All Slip Away" and a solid rock to Ms. Jensen's "Wind Up", connecting with the bassist on the latter track to add fire underneath the soloists.  The title tracks reminds this listener of "One For Eric", a piece that drummer Jack DeJohnette composed for his Special Edition group. The song here , composed by Ms. Jensen, is a rapid-fire piece with strong solos and thunderous drums.

The more you listen, the more you realize just how good this band plays as a unit.  They listen and respond, compose for each other's strengths, pushing the music to sound original instead of a copy of the original Coleman sound.  The albums closes with two delightful tracks, Ms. Jensen's frolicking "Day Moon" and French's Caribbean-influenced "Beach Community". The former jumps out of the speakers on the strength of the rhythm section while the latter grooves a la "St. Thomas".  The alto sax and trumpet wrap the melody around each other and then dance on into the solos.  The music almost falls apart but Vedady's rock-solid bass lines keeps it all together. 

The music on "Genealogy" feels so alive, probably sounds great in person. You'll feel good after spending these 52 minutes with the CODE Quartet –– dive right in!

For more information, go to

Here's "Tipsy" live:

Photo: Bryan Lasky
Saxophonist, composer, arranger, and yoga teacher Pat Donaher is a native of Boston, MA, where he lives now after a time in New York City.  A graduate of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, he has played with guitarist Brad Shepik, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, Maria Schneider, dave Liebman, and many others.  Upon his return to Boston, he studied with Bob Brookmeyer and has recorded three albums as a leader.

His fourth recording, "Occasionally" (self-released), features a stellar sextet composed of the alto saxophonist, drummer Allison Miller, bassist Tony Scherr, pianist Carmen Staaf, guitarist Tim Watson, and trumpeter Jason Palmer. Recorded last August in the midst of the pandemic, the brightness, originality, and joyful aspects of the music serves as a panacea to the stress of the lockdown.  All nine songs have well-thought out melodies with harmonies and counterpoint galore.  Plus, Donaher's arrangements are also top-notch.

The album opener, "Wedding Day (for Luke and Jen)" (composed for his brother's wedding), starts in an elegant fashion and has a melody line with echoes of Aaron Copland.  While the rhythm section builds the foundation, the guitarist, leader, and Ms. Staaf each get a solo with Donaher's standing out.  "Whoosh/ Ooomph" follows. After a solo saxophone (with effects) introduction, Ms. Miller drops into a modified "Second Line" beat with Watson's funky guitar riff introducing the melody played by sax and trumpet together and separately.  Solos by Watson, Donaher, and the drummer add to the joyful feel of the music.  Later in the program, "Bouncin' Off The Walls (Pandemic Practice)" is an up-tempo account of feeling most musicians have had the past 14 months. The airy yet nervous rhythm section work leaves plenty of room for excellent solos from the leader, Palmer, and Ms. Miller.  

Another standout track is "Black Suits, White Smoke (for Brian)" –– the song features a fine opening melody until Donaher's singing alto steps out for a long and emotionally rich solo, the rhythm section building in intensity beneath him before cooling down for a splendid piano solo. Listen to Scheer and Ms. Miller underneath; they are active without being intrusive and that sets the stage for the guitarist to add his colors.  Palmer's trumpet solo helps to raise the heat but the music never boils over.

"Occasionally" closes with "Warm and Fuzzy (for Everybody)", a rubato epilogue that encapsulates the listening experience reminding us that melody and interplay are what the album is about.  This recording will please those people who love intelligent and smartly-constructed melodies in creative music as well as those who enjoy excellent solo turns.  Pat Donaher has found a good balance on this recording, an album that shines from start to finish.

For more information, go to  To hear the music and to purchase "Occasionally", go to  

Here's the title track:

Cellist Christopher Hoffman is, perhaps, best known for his work in several ensembles led by Henry Threadgill: Zooid, Double Up, and 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg.   He's also performed and recorded with the Anat Cohen Tentet, James Brandon Lewis's Red Lily Quintet, and Rudy Royston's Flatbed Buggy.  He's issued several albums, one with the Silver Cord Quintet that features saxophonist Tony Malaby, pianist Kris Davis, and others plus a larger ensemble called Company of Selves which features vocalist Christine Courtin and Frank LoCrasto on keys.  Listening to his music, he is generous with solo time for the band members. 

His new album, "Asp Nimbus", is his first for the Brooklyn, NY-based Out of Your Head Records.  The album, recorded in January 2020, features a quartet composed of the cellist/ composer with Bryan Carrott (vibraphone), Rahsaan Carter (bass), and Craig Weinrib (drums), all of whom, save the bassist, have played with Threadgill.  The music, like that of fellow Zooid member Liberty Ellman (guitarist), shows the influence of the 2021 NEA Jazz Master, especially in the lengthy melody lines, the headlong rush of the rhythm, and the intelligent interplay.  Hoffman composed all nine pieces and does an impressive job of making sure each instrument is integral to the success.  Carrott's playing is exemplary throughout, his ability to integrate his lines with the rest of the band as well as to create powerful solos is a delight to hear.

Another Threadgill ensemble alum, pianist David Virelles, shows up on the lively "Dylan George".  The opening solo section is actually a "give-and-take" with the leader which takes place over the skittish rhythm section.  Everyone slows down for the impressionistic vibes solo, Virelles's piano quietly contributing with counterpoint created by Hoffman's pizzicato cello.  The title track opens with Hoffman and Carter plucking out lines before Carrott comes in with the melody.  The gentle opening on "Non-submersible" is notable for the handsome bowed cello melody. Hoffman plays a support role during Carter's high-energy solo; still, the performance maintains its cool throughout (plus another delightful vibes solo).   

The album closes with "The Heights of Spectacle", opening with a bass solo over a gentle Middle-Eastern rhythm.  Hoffman (pizzicato) and Carrott introduce the melody before the cellist steps out for his plucked solo. Again, the rhythm section keeps it cool right through to the abrupt finish.  

"Asp Nimbus" is both original and accessible music, an album that eschews genre for a celebration of melody and rhythm.  The interplay stands out, the solos are strong and often lyrical, and Christopher Hoffman builds off the foundations he was introduced to by Henry Threadgill –– this is music that is adventurous and entertaining!

For more information, go to  To hear more music and to purchase the album (note: the vinyl copy of the album is due in July), go to

Here's "Discretionary" –– video by Christopher Hoffman:

Monday, April 26, 2021

History In the Present Tense

 For the first 2/3rds (or so) of the 20th Century, Black Creative Music was concerned with "today"or "looking to tomorrow, to a better day". With the passing of John Coltrane, the music seemed, in the public eye, to stall only to be rejuvenated the following decade by the work of Chicago's AACM but soon retreated again under the onslaught of new, more commercial, developments such as hip-hop and rap, as well as the rise of the Neo-Conservatives.  Still, many artists in the 21st Century have figured out how to keep one foot in the past, the other in the present, and an eye to the future.

Over the past decade+, tenor saxophonist, composer, and poet James Brandon Lewis has been receiving more and more attention for his creative approaches to Black Music.  He's issued six albums as a leader, two co-lead with drummer/ mbira player Chad Taylor, and is one of the co-founders of the poetry/ music/ performance art ensemble Heroes Are Gang Leaders.  His tone on tenor saxophone hearkens back to John Coltrane and Archie Shepp but his music takes its directions form artists such as Henry Threadgill, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Julius Hemphill, and Oliver Lake.  After graduating from Howard University in 2006, the Buffalo, NY, native spent several years in Colorado playing gospel music. Lewis did his graduate work at CalArts, studying with Charlie Haden and Wadada Leo Smith (and others) before moving to New York City in 2012.  There, he began playing with pianist Marilyn Crispell, vibraphonist Karl Berger, pianist Eri Yamamoto, and fellow tenor saxophonist Charle Gayle.  His debut CD, "Moments", was self-released in 2010; since then, he's released two albums on Okeh Music, one each on BNS Records and Intakt Music, and, in 2019, Relative Pitch released "An Unruly Manifesto". 

His new album, "Jesup Wagon" (Tao Forms), was recorded during the pandemic and tells the story of Dr. George Washington Carver (1864-1943). Born in the South before the end of the Civil War, Dr. Carver went on study at Iowa State Agricultural College and started at Tuskegee University in Alabama in 1896 becoming the Director of the Agricultural Experimentation Station the following year. Most people know of the work he did with peanuts but he also found over 100 uses for sweet potatoes but was also an artist (the album cover is his painting), a musician (he played piano and accordion), and was an early environmentalist.  Dr. Carver believed that science and art worked hand-in-hand to create a fuller human being. When Lewis was a young student, he was very interested in Science and wrote a paper on Dr. Carver. With the release of the new album, Lewis can not only celebrate the life of an amazing person but also give the listener a bigger picture of his accomplishments.

The album takes its name from from the movable science Experiment Station that Dr. Carver designed in 1906 (pictured left) as a mobile school to help poor Black farmers in Alabama.  Because the vehicle was loaded down, the station moved quite slowly. Still, it moved through the countryside helping as many people as possible.  To tell this story and to have resonate with the sounds of the Deep South, Lewis populates his songs with the sounds of the Red Lily Quintet, a group composed of Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Chad Taylor (drums, mbira), William Parker (bass, gimbri - which is a three-string bass lute), and Chris Hoffman (cello).  This music may remind one of Julius Hemphill's "Dogon A.D." or some of the pieces Henry Threadgill composed for Air and his Sextett.  

The title song opens the album – in fact, Lewis opens the album unaccompanied playing a blues melody, blatting out low notes, squealing now and then. The band enters and we are dancing forward on the hard blues of Knuffke's cornet. Pay attention to the rhythm section, to the plucked cello and thumping bass and, especially to the raucous, hard dancing drums. Parker's gimbri plays a 4-note figure that leads in the drums, cowbell, and hand percussion plus Hoffman's cello for "Lowlands of Sorrow". The song, named for the conditions Dr. Carver found when he arrived at the fields that the sharecroppers used to grow what they could under adverse conditions. Lewis's tumultuous tenor spars with the crisp sounds of the cornet –– their "conversation" over the roiling rhythm section drive the piece to its quiet conclusion. 

This powerful music rarely lets up. From the fugue-like opening of "Arachis" which leads to a rumbling free-blowing mid-section to the dancing rhythms of "Fallen Flowers" (Hoffman's bowed then plucked solo over just drums and bass stands out) to the relentless drive of "Experiment Station", Taylor pushes the band from his drum seat while Lewis's tenor sax roars, Knuffke's cornet crackles, Hoffman's cello shines in counterpoint, and Parker's bass holds the proceedings together.  

Put simply, "Jesup Wagon" is a great album, certainly one of the best releases in the past 18 months. Not only does James Brandon Lewis weave a compelling narrative about the genius that was Dr George Washington Carver but also subtly reminds the listener of the hardships Black people had in the United States through the first half of the 20th Century (and beyond).  Another highlight of the album package is the excellent and comprehensive essay from author Robin D. G. Kelley. This music of the Red Lily Quintet will certainly challenge you but the rewards are great.

For more information, go to  To listen to and purchase "Jesup Wagon", go to

Photo: Irina Rozovsky
Dan Blake (tenor and soprano saxophones), like many of his contemporaries, is a multi-faceted composer. He has recorded and released three albums is the jazz genre plus has composed for the contemporary classical Mivos Quartet as well as a Chamber Orchestra and done several soundtracks for short films.  He studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and Tufts University (working n two degrees simultaneously.  Among the people he studied music with was Steve Lacy, Danilo Perez, Robert Dick, and composer Tania Leon.  He has played and recorded with percussionist Rogerio Boccato, Anthony Braxton, Esperanza Spalding, and keyboard artist Leo Genovese.

His fourth album (second for Sunnyside Records), "Da Fé", features Carmen Staaf (piano, Fender Rhodes), Dmitri Ishenko (acoustic and electric basses), and Jeff Williams (drums) plus Leo Genovese (synths, electric keyboards, Fender Rhodes, acoustic piano).  While Blake's 2016 Sunnyside release "The Digging", was basically a trio album (bassist Ishenko and drummer Eric Harland) that had a "freer" sound, "Da Fé" covers a wider swath of musical territory owing to the work of John Coltrane in the 60s and Wayne Shorter in the 80s through the present day.  Pieces such as "Fish in Puddles" and "Cry In The East" feature strong piano work from Ms. Staaf and the impressive, open-ended, drumming of Williams.  The solid rhythm section gives the Blake's soprano plenty of support to express its feeling of freedom, of soaring through cloudless skies. The addition of Genovese's slippery synth work on "...Puddles" and Blake's overdubbed sopranos during the last 90 seconds adds more heft.

The opening of "Dr. Armchair" explodes with shards of sound from the piano and soprano before Blake and Ms. Staff play the melody.  While the rhythm section keeps a steady beat, the front line go on wild ride.  They move back to and away from melody led by the crashing phrases of the pianist.  Then the song just stops.  There's an urgency to the tenor saxophone on "The Grifter"; as Ms. Staff moves into her solo, the bassist and drummer settle down but the pianist soon pushes to intense interactions.  The tenor solo stays fairly straight-ahead and delightfully melodic until the end when Genovese's synths swoop and the overdubbed tenor .  Blake's overdubbed tenors introduce "The Cliff (Waat)" playing a repetitive figure while the rhythm section push against him and finally join in the fragmented melody.  Soon, several tenors saxes are soloing as is Ms. Staaf while the bass and drums thunder below.  Ishenko's short bass solo quiets the piece down but not for long.

Photo: Christopher Drukker
The title track ("Da Fé" translate to "of faith") rolls in on a steady pulse with Genovese's synths burbling out of the right and left speakers while Blake's soprano chase them in and out of the mix.  Slowly but steadily the piece takes shape especially on the entry of the acoustic piano.  The Shorter influence is quite evident here not so much in the sounds of the soprano sax but with the chattering synthesizers and the long, angular, melody that is played throughout the first half of the 6:30 piece until when Blake takes off on a rambunctious solo shadowed by his recorded loops.  

The "Epilogue – It Heals Itself" is more than an afterthought but a full-throated (Blake on several sopranos and tenors) prayer for a better world.  While the quartet recorded before the Pandemic, both Leo Genovese and Dan Blake spent a day each in the studio adding and overdubbing, filling out the sound changing the density of the music but not the intentions. "Da Fé" illustrates how the saxophonist and composer has matured, how his writing has developed, and how his ideas/ beliefs are clearer to the listener.  Give a listen, give more –– enjoy!

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

Listen to the title track:

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Life, Loss, Wisdom, Moving Inward & Forward

How do our personal experiences affect the music we make, the music we listen to?  Can one truly describe those experiences through music?  I believe most of us would say yes.  

Photo: Steven Shreiber
In early 2019, composer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu was in the midst of creating a long-form composition/ performance work, "Zero Grasses".  She was in Japan on a research mission for the project when she received an email to tell her that her 78-year father had died in his sleep.  Needless to say, Ms. Shyu returned home  and, as she and her mother were cleaning out her father's closet, they found her childhood diaries.  That discovery changed the arc of her project (which debuted in October 2019) –– the importance of living one's life, the racism in our society, how the Music industry treats women, and more became the subject of her songs. As did the Pandemic and the death of Breonna Taylor in the months before finishing her new album.

"Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses" (Pi Recordings) is the result of two studio sessions (January 11, 2019 and August 11-12, 2020).  Accompanying Ms. Shyu (who plays percussion, piano, Taiwanese moon lute, Japanese biwa) is Jade Tongue which consists of Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Mat Maneri (viola), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums), the same quartet that appeared on her 2015 Pi Recording "Sounds and Cries of the World" (Maneri, Morgan, and Weiss also appear on 2017's "Song of Silver Geese"). The album (her eighth) opens with the 4-part, nine minute "Living's a Gift"; the lyrics for the piece were composed by choir students (grades 6-8) from the MS 51 William Alexander Middle School in Brooklyn, NY.  The songs speak on the strangeness of living in the Pandemic. Listening to how Ms. Shyu multi-tracks her voice and how the quartet move along with her, never playing over here but as partners.  

She writes and sings about her Father's loss on the somber, dark, "Body of Tears".  How Ms. Shyu uses her voice to portray shock and sorrow as well as the matter-of-fact quality of the email notifying of her Father's death.  Meanwhile, the trumpet shouts, the viola wails until the music calms a bit at the close.  "Lament for Breonna Taylor" starts with quiet percussion into a couplet from a poem by pianist Armen Nahlbandian.  Soon, one hears long notes from Morgan (bowed bass), Maneri, and Akinmusire before the piano plays chords.  As the music rises slowly in intensity, Ms. Shyu sings lyrics from two different interviews with Ms.Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer.  That piece melts into Ms. Shyu's "The Human Colour", a jazzy ballad about hope and how even in war, we are more like than dissimilar. 

Photo: Marco Giugliarelli

"When I Have Power" utilizes an incident related in the composer's teen years when she was called a "chink". Her 15-years old self does not understand, the music created behind her goes from "free-form" into rhythms from Timor-Leste and Ms. Shyu breaks into a chant which emboldens her and she says she will change the world.  The final two tracks, "With Eyes Closed You See All" and "Life As You Envision", speak to lessons learned with the passing of her father. The gentle interactions of the musicians on the former serve as a counterpoint to the piano-driven melody under the vocal.  Ms. Shyu leads the group playing a trance-like melody on biwa (see picture above). As she sings on love and loss, Akinmusire often plays long tones until the final verse when he and the music becomes turbulent.

The best way to experience "Zero Grasses" Ritual for the Losses" is to play it over and over.  This is not "conventional" music; instead, Jen Shyu shatters genres yet stays true to the folk traditions that underlie her incredible music. Her voice is so supple, easily changing timbre but never sacrificing emotion.  This is music that adheres itself to your soul and to your heart!

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

Here's a video introduction to the album:

Photo: Tae Cimarosti
Pianist Masabumi Kikuchi (1939-2015), the Japanese native, played with so many great American Jazz artists over the 40+ years of his career (from Billy Harper to Gary Peacock to Paul Motian to Gil Evans). 18 months before he died, Kikuchi entered Klavierhaus in New York City and recorded the sessions that comprise his new album.  "Hanamichi" is the first recording to be released on Red Hook Records and is the last session "Poo", as Kikuchi was affectionately called, recorded. It's his fifth solo piano album and quite unlike others in that producer Sun Chung pushed him to play "songs" instead of mostly improvising in the studio.

The 42-minute program opens with "Ramona", a Mabel Wayne composition from 1928, that the pianist slows down.  Like his friend and associate Paul Motian, Kikuchi never rushes his way through a ballad. After a formless opening, the pianist lovingly moves into the melody, relishing each note. "Summertime" follows –– it, too, opens ever-so-slowly but the pianist dives into the George Gershwin melody and, like the previous track, is in no hurry.  It's the longest track –– 11:23 –– never bogs down or becomes boring. A meditation on the classic, the music is comfortable and comforting.  There are two versions of "My Favorite Things"; "I" opens in a wistful mood then notes begin falling like rain, splintering the melody into fragments, never returning to the melody.  The feel of Erik Satie inhabits "II" at the onset before the pianist drops into a deliberate yet stunning reading of the melody.  Kikuchi creates a new melody after the first verse, never in a hurry, relying on the sustain of heavy chords to move the music forward. 

Photo: Hiroyuki Ito
The final two tracks include the aptly-titled "Improvisation" and the pianist's tune for his daughter "Little Abi."  The former rumbles forward in the style of Matthew Shipp and Cecil Taylor.  Kikuchi does not startle one with terrific technique but displays how one create melody out of dissonant phrases and how, when he slows down, the music gently comes together.  "...Abi" is a piece the pianist recorded several times but first on a trio date led by drummer Elvin Jones.  While it seemed in later years that Kikuchi would just improvise throughout his concerts, he always returned to this song.  It's "pretty" without being saccharine, a slow, pensive, memory of a young child who captivated the artist, innocent and gentle.  

If "Hanamichi" leads you to discover more music by Masabumi Kikuchi, you will be richly rewarded. If you are already a fan, you will be pleased that the pianist continued exploring up to the end of his life.  This is music out of the ordinary and you should let yourself surrender to its whimsical beauty. 

For more information, go to  For an in-depth conversation conducted by Ethan Iverson in 2012, go to

Canadian-born vibraphonist Dan McCarthy has been a mainstay on the North American jazz scene for over two decades. Before moving to the United States, he played with artists such as drummer Ted Warren, vocalist Laila Biali, guitarist Lorne Lofsky, and drummer Terry Clarke.  After his move to the States, McCarthy played alongside and/or with bassist Steve Swallow, guitarist Ben Monder, saxophonist Myron Walden, and drummer Gerald Cleaver plus many more.  He's recorded and self-released several albums (which you can find at Bandcamp –– plus two albums released by the Seattle, WA- based label Origin Records.  

His new album, "A Place Where Once We Lived", was recorded in February of 2019 the day before McCarthy moved back to Toronto (and three months before his second Origin release "City Abstract", a musical tribute to Gary Burton, featuring his Canadian quartet).  A trio date with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston, "A Place...." sparkles with ideas, excellent musicianship, intelligent interactions, and strong solos from all.  The first sounds you hear at the onset of "Sonder" is Morgan's rich bass tones anticipating the ballad that follows.  The full-sounding vibes mesh well with bass sound. Royston plays with subtle power as he links his "swing" with Morgan's ambling phrases.  One can hear the influence of Burton but the music is reminiscent of Pat Metheny's debut on ECM "Bright Sized Life."  Pieces such as "Trail Marker" and "Desert Roads" have an airiness that allows the music to breathe plus they seem to encourage and suggest lyrics or poems. 

There are three "Short Stories" in the 11-song program.  None are over 1:24 and each seems like an introduction yet all stand nicely on the own.  The first, "A Short Story About Birds", has a slow melody for bass and vibes but also one hears Royston's "nervous" fills.   Next is  "A Short Story About Distance" with its hypnotic vibes and drum opening, and the melody played by Morgan's bass.  The third and shortest (54 seconds), "A Short Story About Quiet", seems to hover in the sound space as if waiting for the next track "Go Berserk" to erupt.  While the trio never really gets loud, the urgency and intensity of the music is palpable.  

The ballads McCarthy composes stand out for their emotional power as well as their musical intelligence.  The title track spotlights Morgan as he leads the tune in and takes a richly melodic solo near the close (his work beneath the vibraphonist's solo is also impressive.  "Somber Sleep" moves gently with moments where the musicians are in conversation with each other (note how Royston's splendid brush work interacts with the melody and how McCarthy's vibes in the middle of the piece sound like a marimba).  "I'm Your Pal" (listen below) features more fine brush work, yet another melodic bass solo, and a jazzy vibes solo that reverberates gently through the soundscape.

"A Place Where We Once Lived" closes with "Goodnight Sweet Cat", another handsome ballad.  Once again, the conversation between vibes and bass is the heart of the song while the ever-so-gentle drumming of Royston puts a fine frame around the piece.  With this sessions and these songs, Dan McCarthy says "goodbye" to the United States in the nicest fashion.  The music on this album does not point to any one era or genre but is just that –– music. Good music. Honest music.  Music that just asks you to listen, to submerge under the sounds and come out refreshed. 

For more information, go to  To hear more and to purchase this and other Dan McCarthy albums, go to

Here's "I'm Your Pal":

Friday, April 16, 2021

Preview of Coming Distractions – Large Ensemble Edition

Most readers of this blog know just how much I love Large Ensemble Music. In the next four weeks, there will be, at least, five new Big Band albums released (plus one already issued that I just received) and each one is worth exploring. This post does not have reviews per se but, hopefully, will whet your appetite to check these out.

Singer and actor Rubén Blades, born in Panama, made his recording debut on 1970 on Fania Records singing in front of the Pete Rodriguez Orquesta.  Since then, he has appeared on numerous recordings as a leader or co-leader (nearly 40) –– he's also appeared in 40 movies plus had/ has recurring roles on several television series.  He's also been active politically.  On April 16, Blades can be heard with Roberto Delgado & Orquesta on "SALSWING" (Rubén Blades Productions), his third album with this band over the past six years; this is the first of the three that contains English vocals.  Looking at the cover, you can see the myriad influences on Blades and the musicians in the Orquesta.  He's in excellent voice here, even "crooning" a la Frank Sinatra at times, and the musicianship of the large ensemble is top-notch.

To find out more, go to

Here's Blades & the Band live from 2018:

"Virtual Birdland" (ZOHO Records) is the latest album from Arturo O'Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ALJO created an "Emergency Fund" for freelance musicians whose livelihood had ground to a halt, and also began a weekly stream of full-length concerts called "Virtual Birdland".  You can see the concert streams on YouTube.  For those streams and the album, all of the musicians and guests were recorded in their homes (throughout the world). Same thing for the album where all the musicians' contributions were mixed together in Kuwait by engineer Amin Farid Abdal. The music sounds live, lively, filled with smart arrangements and great solos.  The various guests, who include saxophonist Paquito D' Rivera, French-American vocalist Malika Zarra, Kuwaiti guitarist and vocalist Ghazi Faisal Al-Mulaifi, and Kuwaiti percussion ensemble Boom Diwan.  You'll won't be able to keep yourself from dancing to this music!  The album, released on April 9, is basically the "Best of" the weekly concert series.

Here's a way to contribute to the latest fundraiser, "Sustain The Groove", organized by Afro Latin Jazz Alliance of New York:

Here's the "album release" video:

On April 19, Chronograph Records of Canada will issue "Saskatchewan Suite", a powerful new recording by the Saskatchewan All Star Big Band.  The 21-member ensemble, composed of musicians born or raised or currently living in the Province, was organized to play this "Suite" by the Regina Jazz Society who recruited composer, arranger, and pianist Fred Stride to write a musical history of the Canadian Province, from its days as a part of the lands of the First Nations, then the influx of immigrants, surviving the harsh winters and so much more. Many of the players are known beyond the Canadian border.  The music was recorded live in front of an enthusiastic audience.

To find out more, go to

Here's an overview:

Actress Glenn Close and saxophonist/ composer Ted Nash have a fascinating new collaboration that they recorded with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and special guests Amy Irving, Wayne Brady, Matthew Stevenson, and the saxophonist's son Eli.  "Transformation" (Tiger Turn - issued on May 7) tells stories of change, most times personal but also communal. Recorded live in concert just weeks before the COVID pandemic shut down venues around the globe, the stories are powerful, the music never gets in the way of the words, and the Wayne Brady piece (which he wrote and performed) will change your opinion of him forever! The Orchestra, as usual, plays with power and grace with solos from many members sprinkled throughout the 11-song program.

Here are the two principals talking about the project:

Over the past decade, drummer/ composer/ conceptualist Ulysses Owens Jr. has been busy as a leader and sideman.  Now, he's released his first Big Band album––"Soul Conversations" (Outside In Music) blends blues, swing, bebop, pop music, hard bop, and more into a delightful 73-minute adventure. Recorded over three nights in concert at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the 17-piece ensemble is filled with fine young players from the New York City area plus several veterans (for example, trombonist and associate co-producer Michael Dease) as well as several guests (including vibraphonist Stefon Harris). There are moments when the Band roars with excitement as well as quieter passages that are emotionally rich. The album hits the stores and online on May 7.

For more information, go to

Here's the delightful opening track:

Also on May 7, the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra, Richard Gillis director, releases its fourth album. "Twisting Ways" (self-released) combines compositions by David Braid (piano) and Phillip Côté with the four-part title track featuring lyrics by Dr. Lee Tsang. The composers share writing credits on the title track while each contribute one more piece (Braid's "Lydian Sky" also features lyrics by Dr. Tsang while Côté's "Fleur Variation" shines a spotlight on vibraphonist Stephan Bauer).  This is powerful music, well-executed, and brimming with invention.

For more information, go to

Here's the album trailer:

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Voices of Beauty, of Dreams, of Hopes

There's something so appealing about music from Latin America; whether it's the rhythms, the "Romance Language" lyrics, or the expansive melodies, how the music gets to one's emotional core. 

Photo: Lauren Desberg
Gretchen Parlato made quite a splash on the contemporary scene in the mid-2000s, her alto voice with a nasal edge moving easily through lyrics, her wordless vocals rising easily over rhythm sections, and her ability to mesh with other voices. Ms. Parlato has recorded with Becca Stevens, Esperanza Spalding, Terence Blanchard, Lionel Loueke, Terri Lyne Carrington, David Binney, and many others.  Six years ago, she have birth to a son and began a sabbatical from singing with a few exceptions to record with the trio Tillery (Ms. Stevens and Rebecca Martin), saxophonist Dayna Stephens, vibraphonist Joel Ross, the New West Guitar Group, and drummer Nate Smith.  

Ms. Parlato signed to Edition Records last year and now issued her debut for the label (and fifth as a leader).  "Flor" features original music, several delightful covers, and a reimagining of J.S. Bach's "Cello Suite No. 1: Minuet I/II”.  The album opens with "É Preciso Perdoar", a Brazilian song made famous in 1973 by João Gilberto (composed by Carlos Coqueijo and Alcyvando Luz) –– the track also introduces Ms. Parlato's tremendous trio that features guitarist Marcel Camargo, percussionist Léo Costa, and cellist Artyom Manukyan.  Both the guitar and cello serve as counterpoint to the vocals (in both English and Portuguese). The gentle flow is a mood-changer, stripping away one's burdens.  Gerald Clayton joins the band (on Fender Rhodes) for a sweet version of Anita Baker's "Sweet Love".  Listen to how the pervasive rhythms sweep the vocalist off her feet and she flies delightfully through the piece.

Photo: Lauren Desberg
Several songs speak to the wonders of parenthood.  "What Does a Lion Say" (composed by Chris Morrissey) finds the singer in her son's bedroom near the end of the day, interacting and showing love. Manukyan's cello tone is rich, full-toned, while Camargo's guitar (he also plays what sounds like a bandolim, a mandolin) creates sweet textures.  Husband Mark Guiliana can be heard laying down the dancing beat on "Wonderful", which also features a children's chorus (including their son Marley) plus the leader's overdubbed harmonies.  Ms. Parlato's lyrics serve as a prayer, to teach about love, self-realization, and gratitude.  

Photo: Lauren Desberg
The brilliant arrangement of Bach's "Cello Suite No. 1: Minuet I/II” opens with Ms. Parlato singing solo.  Camargo enters 100 seconds into the piece playing in tandem with the wordless vocal.  There's a short statement from the bandolim, then the cello enters playing in tandem plus the percussion and trap set. Close your eyes and let the music wash over you, its beauty stunning and revivifying.  Airto Moreira joins Ms. Parlato and the trio for "Roy Allen", a tribute to the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove (that he composed for his 1995 album "Family"). The 79-year old Moreira brings a lot of his percussive arsenal as well as his playful voice.  The leader sticks to the melody while Camargo plays several short solos, all the while the percussion creates a wonderland of sound.

"Flor" is a welcome return to the spotlight for Gretchen Parlato. She sounds refreshed, renewed, ready to continue to explore and mine the many veins in the world of music. We are the lucky recipients of her adventures.

For more information, go to  To hear more of "Flor" and to purchase the delightful album, go to

Give a listen to Ms. Parlato's take of the Anita Baker's song:

Photo: Rafael Piñeros
Vocalist and composer Roxana Amed, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, has been on the international music scene for nearly two decades.  I first became aware of her upon her the 2013  album, "La Sombra de Su Sombra", a duo date based on the poetry of Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-72) she recorded with pianist Frank Carlberg (with contributions from Christine Correa).  She 's issued six albums as a leader or co-leader since 2004.  Since moving to the United States in 2013, Ms. Amed has worked with Guillermo Klein, Emilio Solla, vocalist Sofia Rei, and pianist Andre Mehmari.  

Her new album, "Ontology" (Sony Music/ Latin), should open the eyes and ears fo many people. Ms. Amed produced the album, as well as having composed or co-composed 12 of the 14 tracks.  She sings in both Spanish and English, plays tribute to Wayne Shorter ("wrote the lyrics for his "Virgo") and Miles Davis (re-arranging the trumpeter's "Blue and Green" with Cassandra Wilson's evocative lyrics).  She adds lyrics to Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera's " Danza de la Moza Donosa", creating a lovely ballad then turns to wordless vocal for his "Danza Del Viejo Bojero".  On the first song, it's just her and pianist Martin Bejerano; on the second, the two add the thunderous drums of Rodolfo Zúñiga and the music flies forward not unlike Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk."  The playful interactions of the voice, keys, and drums

The pianist is featured throughout the program while Zúñiga shares the drum duty with Ludwig Afonso (the former on three tracks, the latter on six tracks). Also featured throughout the album is tenor saxophonist Mark Small (eight songs), bassists Edward Perez (three songs), Carlos De Rosa (two songs), and Lowell Ringel (three songs), plus guitarists Tim Jago (two songs) and Aaron Lebos (one song). Ms. Amed mostly keeps her voice front and center; she's quite articulate in both Spanish and English as well as dramatic but she keeps her emotions under control. Nothing seems forced or rushed. The title track features piano, saxophone, and voice with Berejano's solo far-ranging while Small adds bluesy phrases behind the vocalist.  Kendall Moore (who teaches at Sam Houston State University in Texas and plays trombone) composed, "Peaceful", a sweet ballad with Small's tenor in conversation with Jago's electric guitar. Notice how the tenor sax often shadows the voice, adding depth to her long notes.

There is so much music to explore here. Shorter's "Virgo" features strong performances from the leader, Small, and, especially, Berejano (pictured left).  While the tenor sax sounds wrap sensuously around the voice, the piano is, at times, lyrical, introspective, forthright, as it follows the storyline.  The pianist's tune "Chacarera Para La Mano Izquerida" ("folk dance for the left hand") is driven by the exciting work of bassist Perez and drummer Afonso as well as the composer's dancing piano.  Ms. Amed's joins in on the fun, letting her voice stretch for the higher notes. The pianist also contributed the up-tempo "El Regreso" ("The Return") which has traces of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" –– Berejano sets the pace throughout while Perez and Afonso push the music forward. 

"Ontology" closes with "Winter", an original (sung in English). The words speak of the stillness of the season, of the inevitability of loss, how the cold attacks the body, how we wait for "the winter to tear our eyes/ to break our bones".  Just voice and piano.  Berejano's solo is stunning, emotionally powerful, and Ms. Amed understands how the darker, colder, time of the year turns us inward, to protect ourselves in all ways.  There is a lot of music over the 73 minutes of "Ontology", much to listen to, much to absorb, yet the album does not feel too long.  You want to inhabit these worlds that Roxana Amed and the musicians create, you want to linger a while in these songs and you should.  Find this album – the music shines!

For more information, go to

Here's a taste:

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

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  To hear more and purchase the album, go to.

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  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to  

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