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:

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