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:

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