Monday, June 28, 2021

Mario Pavone Legacy Stories (Pt 2) + Joel Frahm Digs In

In late February of 2021, bassist and composer Mario Pavone enters a studio in Tampa, FL, to record an album with his son Michael (guitar), Mike DiRubbo (alto saxophone), and long-time associate Michael Sarin (drums).  The bassist knew he was losing his long battle with cancer plus he had been deeply saddened by the 2020 loss of his granddaughter Isabella. Pavone organized a book of new compositions, sent them to trumpeter/ arranger Dave Ballou to prepare for a recording session. The bassist and arranger agreed that the pieces would be recorded by two different quartets, the first with the three Michaels and the second (recorded four weeks later)with Pavone's Dialect Trio (pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Tyshawn Sorey with Ballou as guest performer), an album titled "Blue Vertical" and released by Out of Our Heads Records (my review is here).  

"Isabella" (Clean Feed Records), like "Blue Vertical", is a powerful collection of original pieces filled with strong melodies and excellent musicianship.  Most Pavone fans will buy both albums and compare them yet each stands on its own merits.  Michael Pavone has had a busy sideman career playing with the likes of saxophonist Dewey Redman and and vocalist Bobby McFerrin; the only album that I can find where he is the leader is a 2001 Trio date with his father and drummer Marcello Pellitteri that appeared on Playscape Recordings.  His sound is clean, not unlike, at times, John Abercrombie and his father's close friend Michael Musillami–– check him out on "2/3rds Radial", you'll hear the former while on the hard-rocking "Philosophy Series", there is the influence of the latter. Saxophonist DiRubbo has also worked and recorded with the bassist in numerous occasion; his bright sound and rapid-fire lines enlighten pieces such as "Good Treble" and "Twardzik". 

As for Michael Sarin, he and bassist Pavone have a relationship that stretches back three decades to the drummer's debut with the Thomas Chapin Trio.  He really shines on all these pieces, driving hard when needs be or supporting with his whisper-soft brushes work (check him out on the title track).  You can hear how he leaves room for the bass –– if you have listened to any of Pavone's recordings, you know what a powerful and creative player he is. There is no diminution in his bass work on either album but he is more present in the mix on "Isabella" and that could be due to the fact the guitar is quieter than the piano on "Blue Vertical".  

"Isabella" is a delightful collection with great playing and subtle, witty, interplay from Mario Pavone and the three Michaels.  If you already own "Blue Vertical" which has a similar program, it's educational as well as entertaining to listen to both recordings.  Since his passing, I have been listening to the many and varied recordings from Mario Pavone's career and these two final albums are right up there with his best efforts.

For more information, go to  To hear more tracks and to purchase the recording, go to

Hear "Philosophy Series":

Saxophonist Joel Frahm, a graduate of the prestigious Hall High School Jazz Program in West Hartford, has a delightful career playing alongside bassist Ben Allison, fellow Hall High grad Brad Mehldau, Andrew Hill, Betty Carter, Matt Wilson, Dafnis Prieto (in his Big Band), and so many more.  He joined drummer Ernesto Cervini's Quartet in 2008 and is also a member of Cervini's sextet Turboprop.  Frahm has not released an album as a leader since 2011's "Live at Small's", a quartet date with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. His new album, "The Bright Side" (Anzic Records), came about after a Turboprop workshop in Toronto, Canada, when Cervini and bassist Dan Loomis decided to book gigs with the saxophonist as a trio

The new recording, recorded in 2019, consists of original works,  seven from the leader, two from Loomis, and one from Cervini. The 10-song program opens with Frahm's "Blow Poppa Joe" which jumps right out of the gate with powerful tenor sax work (a la Sonny Rollins), thunderous drums, and splendid counterpoint from the bass. The first two notes of the next track, "Waiting for Benny", sound like we're in for an old television theme song ("The Andy Griffith Show") but quickly moves into a medium-paced romp over which Frahm's tenor soars, dances, his phrases twisting and turning with glee.  There's also a delightful bass solo (Loomis can be quite melodic in the spotlight) over Cervini's whispering brush work. The drummer then "trades 4s" with his mates. The leader brings out his soprano sax for Loomis's "Silk Road", an emotionally rich ballad with a mysterious feel, gentle playing, and, again, intelligent interplay. There's a moment in the final 90 seconds when it sounds as if the music is turning in a "free" direction before the soprano tamps down the intensity.  The bassist's other contribution is the hard-bopping "X Friends", a smoker with delightful solos from Frahm and the drummer. 

Cervini contributes "The Beautiful Mystery" which is truly a beautiful ballad, moves ever-so-slowly but never drags. Opening with Loomis's rich bass overtones, the saxophonist enter with the somber melody while the composer moves around the cymbals and floor tom.  Again, listen for the bass counterpoint as it is quite impressive.

If you have ever seen Joel Frahm live in person, you know he's got quite the sense of humor. The title track closes the album, its rhythm patterns based on Lou Reed's delightful groove on his "Walk on the Wild Side".  The rhythm section dances right along with the soulful sax riffs.

"The Bright Side" has many "bright moments" throughout as the program displays the saxophonist's joyful sound.  Over the years, he's developed into a fine composer and soloist. And he's quite "in the groove" with Dan Loomis and Ernesto Cervini who he has played with for over a decade.  Sit down, pour a cool glass of your favorite libation, and allow this fine album 
to lift your soul!

For more information, go to  

Dig the title track:

Friday, June 18, 2021

Mario Pavone "Legacy Stories"

Photo: Steve Sussman
As these words appear on the page, it's five weeks since Mario Pavone passed (May 15, 2021) after a multi-year, multi-episode, fight with cancer.  Bassist, composer, and educator (he was closely involved with the Litchfield Jazz Camp), he had a long career working alongside creative artists, most notably Bill Dixon, Anthony Braxton, Paul Bley, and Thomas Chapin. After Chapin's death in 1998, Mr. Pavone became a leader – he had already begun recording his own music back in 1979 on labels such as Alacra, New World/Crosscurrents, and Knitting Factory. From 2002-2017, the bassist recorded 13 albums (as a leader or co-leader for his good friend Michael Musillami's Playscape Recordings; he also did the artwork for many of the label's releases. When queried about his writing, he told me his pieces were "composed from the bass upwards" and, when you listen closely, you hear how the rhythm section always participates in the melody.  His music is propulsive, even fierce at times but always with a melodic center.

Last time we spoke in person (three years ago at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, CT –– he was a concert attendee not a player), he was thrilled about his latest Trio.  He loved writing for and playing alongside pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Tyshawn Sorey.  He felt that they brought the ferocity and emotional balance that his new compositions called for.  They first recorded as a unit on 2015's "Blue Dialect" (Clean Feed Records) and followed that with 2019's "Philosophy" (Clean Feed).

2020 was a very tough year for the bassist. His cancer had returned plus his 23-year old granddaughter Isabella died. Mr. Pavone poured himself into his music writing enough material for two albums, two groups.  In late February, he went into the studio with his son Michael (guitar), Mike DiRubbo (alto saxophone), and Michael Sarin (drummer who was the third member of the Thomas Chapin Trio) and recorded an album for Clean Feed ("Isabella", to be released later this month). Four weeks after that session (3/25-26/21), he went into the studio with Mitchell, Sorey, and trumpeter/ arranger Dave Ballou (who served as arranger for "Isabella" as well) and recorded "Blue Vertical" (Out of Your Heads Records).  Credited to the Dialect Trio + 1, the nine-song program sounds full of life, jammed with melodies, rhythmic twists-and-turns, powerful solos, and Mr. Pavone's trademark propulsive. forward motion. He never looked back, making the music for the time and the future.

Photo: Maurice D. Robertson
The addition of Ballou's excellent trumpet work to the Trio fired the composer's imagination. Pieces such as the opener "Twardzik" and "Good Treble" show his versatility and wit; the former features a delightful solo, with notes tumbling out of the horn and onto the rumbling rhythm section while the latter dances ahead on a Latin-tinged rhythm, the muted trumpet locking in with the piano for the melody. Ballou's solo over the jagged rhythm exudes swagger and a New Orleans-like frisson opening the door for Mitchell's rippling lines over Sorey's mighty drums.  "Isabella" shows the bassist at his best, his counterpoint to the melody setting the tenor for the solos.  The pianist's impressionistic lines connect with the bass lines, creating a duet that is ethereal.  Ballou's muted trumpet joins that conversation, his long tones supported by the whispering cymbals. Sorey's whip-snapping drums at the onset of "Legacy Stories" set the pace for an exciting performance (note how the bass and drums fall into a "swing" rhythm right before the piano solo).

Photo: Victoria Lindsey
The album closes with "Face Music", the composer's percussive plucked notes and the tolling piano chords wrapping around the somber trumpet melody.  The music moves slowly, tentatively but with purpose until Sorey's rapid-fire high-hat dance pushes the trumpet solo higher and, eventually, the piano and bass join the mix.  The piece closes on Mitchell's abrupt note with the expectation that there was more to be said.  

Mario Pavone lives on in his music and the fact that people will continue to explore his oeuvre, perhaps even recording pieces from his repertoire, gives this writer great hope.  If you are not familiar with his music, know that from his earliest recordings as a leader to "Blue Vertical", Mario Pavone led from the heart.  

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

Hear "Philosophy Series":

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Summer Reading List

When I was first got interested into digging deeply into Black Music in the late 1970s, a friend recommended I read "Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews" (Da Capo Press), a collection written by drummer Arthur Taylor. Taylor (1929-1995) had a long and busy career working and/ or recording with artists such Coleman Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, Gene Ammons, Red Garland, Gigi Gryce, Jackie McLean, and John Coltrane.  Between 1968-1972, Taylor compiled the conversations that make up his book; musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Art Blakey, Carmen McRae, Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, Betty Carter, and others. Taylor's insightful questions pulled no punches and while many of the answers may have shocked White audiences, they gave great insights into the lives of these musicians.  In the decades since its publication, I have rarely encountered a book like "Notes and Tones".  

Photo: Gari Garalalde
Earlier this year, trumpeter, composer, and educator Jeremy Pelt released his latest album "GRIOT: THIS IS IMPORTANT!"  The recording not only featured music but also spoken word excerpts from interviews Pelt had conducted with Larry Willis, J.D.Allen, Harold Mabern, Bertha Hope, Ambrose Akinmusire, Paul West, Rene Marie, and Warren Smith.  The words the listener hears give real insights into the life of modern musicians, new and old veterans, trying to make a living doing what they love.

At just about the same time, Pelt self-published "GRIOT: Examining the Lives of Jazz's Great Storytellers, Vol. I".  The book is only available from the author's website and I can tell you from personal experience that the shipping is fairly quick, at least in the U.S.  The book contains interviews with the people from the album (except the late Mr. Mabern who will appear in "Vol. II") plus Robert Glasper, Terri Lyne Carrington, Lewis Nash, Greg Hutchinson, Dr. Eddie Henderson, Justin Robinson, and Wynton Marsalis.  The book is similar to "Notes and Tones" as are the responses. While Black Music has changed in the four-plus decades, issues with racism, musicians rights, how poorly people and record labels treat the artist, and much more.  If you only know these people through their music, you should be fascinated by who they are are human beings.   

For more information, go to  

The day before my wife and I left for vacation, I received "Guitar Talk: Conversations with Visionary Players" (Terra Nova Press), a collection of interviews guitarist Joel Harrison (pictured left) conducted with his contemporaries. 26 different players, ranging from Ralph Towner to Pat Metheny to Michael Gregory Jackson to Ben Monder to Liberty Ellman to Mary Halvorson to Ava Mendoza and so many more. At the end, the author includes a "Catalogue of the Missing", a long list of guitarists who Harrison says the reader should give as much attention to as the ones who are in the book. 

The book is available at, from traditional book stores, and various online sources. Harrison has also released an album of the same name that features duos with Ben Monder, Steve Cardenas, Pete McCann, David Gilmore, and electric bass innovator Steve Swallow. That recording is the first for Harrison's new label Alternative Guitar Summit Recordings. Check it out  at 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Drums, Chanting, Vodou, & Ches Smith

Photo: Mimi Chakarova
When drummer, percussionist, and composer Ches Smith lived in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2000, one of his gigs was to accompany a Haitian dance class. He soon moved to NewYork City where he began to play and record with guitarists Mary Halvorson, Nels Cline, and Marc Ribot plus saxophonists Tim Berne, John Zorn, and Darius Jones.  Smith also began to immerse himself in Haitian music, picking up several mentors along the way and began to incorporate the various rhythms in his music.  In 2015, he went into the studio with pianist Matt Mitchell and master percussionists Daniel Brevil and Markus Schwartz to record an album of instrumentals and chants under the monicker of We All Break.  Issued only on Bandcamp, the album received very little publicity.

We All Break has expanded to twice its original size with the addition of vocalist Sirene Dantor Rene, acoustic bassist Nick Dunston, drummer/ vocalist Fanfan Jean-Guy Rene, and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón.  The octet's new album, "Path of Seven Colors" (Pyroclastic Records), expands upon the ideas of the debut album (included at no extra cost if you purchase the CD –– you should do that because it's one of the loveliest packages on the market today).  One can know hear how Smith and company are able to be more melodic and more experimental.  From the opening minutes of the first track "Woule Poe Mwen" ("Roll it for Me") when the hand percussion and rolling piano lines usher in the lead singer and vocal responses, you hear the more traditional Haitian music. Whereas the first voice you hear on the following track "Here's The Light" is Miguel Zenon's expressive alto saxophone. The male and female leads tell their story with the choir gently ululating in response.  The saxophonist's expansive solo over the poly-rhythmic piano, bass, and drums not only channels the voices but also the spirit of traditional music

Photo: YouTube
Four of the eight tracks are over nine minutes and are episodic in that they incorporate several melodies and rhythms. "Leaves Arrive" (9:39) with Ms. Dantour leading the chorus in a chant praising the great forest and the spirit over minimalist accompaniment.  The rhythm picks up led by the voices and clapping hands. When the voices depart, Zenón and Dunston lead the melody in; both solo over the powerful drumming aided by Mitchell's percussive piano lines. "Lord of Healing" (13:36) is the longest track. Mitchell quietly leads in the melody, Daniel Brevil takes over, first singing by himself and then joined by the choir.  There's a long section for solos –– Mitchell and Zenón create impressive improvisations over the drums and bass (Dunston is described in the liner notes as the "fifth drummer" – he's all that and a melodic powerhouse as well) and the music becomes more exciting and intense. 
Daniel Brevil and Ches Smith
The music rolls forward throughout the album. The program is a delightful hybrid, asking the listener to accept the traditional songs with the modern themes of Ches Smith's original music.  And it works very well.  The vocals, with deep roots in the tradition,  help to "ground" the music, giving the musicians the freedom to explore. When you listen to the title track, the piano opening is modern and angular but when the drums enter, the music, with its blend of ancient and contemporary, feels timeless (Mitchell's solo work is stunning throughout).  

"Path of Seven Colors" is an absorbing, exciting, musical adventure.  Blending the spiritual and community aspects of Vodou music with Black American music and concepts Ches Smith & We All Break has surprised the listener and soothed him/her at the same time.  Go, get lost in the amazing aural adventure.

For more information about the leader, go to www.chessmith.comBobby Sanabria just published an excellent overview and has a link to the documentary film by Mimi Chakarova on the WBGO-FM website –– go to

Hear "Here's the Light":

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Words and Music From Death Row

Received this email from Bandcamp this morning (the narrator is Adam O'Farrill):

“I'm very proud to share with you all a new piece written in collaboration with the beautiful soul and human being that is Keith Lamar. Mr. Lamar has been wrongfully incarcerated in the State of Ohio for almost three deuces, and has spent a majority of that time in solitary confinement, despite maintaining and proving his innocence in the ensuing years. He is scheduled to be executed on November 16th, 2023. 

Against all of these odds, Keith recorded these powerful words of anguish, resilience, and ultimately love- all while behind prison walls. I'm deeply humbled that he shared his story with me and allowed me to find a way to thread music into it, especially since he's an avid jazz listener. 

I hope you enjoy, and please donate to Keith's legal fund at 

Go to to find out more and purchase the music.


Patricia Brennan- vibraphone
Xavier Del Castillo- tenor saxophone
Albert Marques- piano
Adam O'Farrill- trumpet
Zack O'Farrill- drums
Walter Stinson- bass 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Large Ensemble: Joy, Tears, Concepts & Changes

 Ahhhh....the sounds of the modern Big Band.  The stories on these two albums will touch your heart and the rhythms just might shake the foundations of your house.

Actress Glenn Close and saxophonist/ composer Ted Nash first met when the actress hosted the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra after the ensemble had played a show near her home in Maine.  Ms. Close appeared on Nash's 2016 "Presidential Suite" (Motema Music) reading the words of Aung San Suu Kyi, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs for the country of Myanmar. They now have a fascinating new collaboration 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) tells stories of change, most times personal but also communal. As Nash writes in the liner notes, "Transformation is the highest expression of change" while Ms. Close says "I wanted to create an experience from which people are comforted, but also inspired, to discover their true humanity".  

Recorded live in concert at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall just weeks before the COVID pandemic shut down venues around the globe, the pieces include texts by Ted Hughes (excerpt from "Tales from Ovid"), Conrad Aiken ("Preludes from Memnon"), Judith Clarke ("One Among Many"), Matthew Stevenson ("Rising Out of Hatred"), Wayne Brady ("A Piece by the Angriest Black Man in America; or, How I Learned to Forgive Myself for Being a Black Man in America"), E.O. Wilson ("Wisdom of the Humanities"), Tony Kushner ("Reaching the Tropopause" from "Angels in America"), and Eli Nash ("Dear Dad/ Letter").   Of the 11 tracks in the program, three have a musical response as a separate track while the rest have the responses built into the performances.
The opening piece, "Creation, Part I", utilizes the words written by Hughes, to reframe the opening section of Genesis in the Old Testament.  Ms. Brady and Brady tell the story while the band responses with alto saxophonist Sherman Irby and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis translate the words into music. Note the splendid backgrounds created by drummer Obed Calvaire and pianist Dan Nimmer. "Part II" comes in on an irresistible with the sections playing before trombonist Chris Crenshaw and baritone saxophonist Paul Nedzela solo over the rhythm section. 

Next up is "Dear Dad/ Letter". Eli Nash tells his story of feeling awkward in his body and desires. After making the decision to "transgender", the younger Nash struggled with how to tell his family.  The letter, read without anger or fear but with love and honesty, is surrounded by the long chords from the different sections with the elder Nash's soprano sax soaring above the music and words.  The composer's musical response follows: the piece has an expansive melody, the orchestra creates a full background while the soprano sax plays a solo that exudes emotion, confidence, and love.

Among the other "transformations" is the story of Judith Clarke who gets paroled after 38 years in prison. Amy Irving's fine reading of Ms. Clarke's words is full of wonder, regret, and gratitude. Matthew Stevenson tells his story of meeting fellow college student Derek Black who, at the time, was a Neo-Nazi. Inviting Black to Friday night dinner (after Shabbat services) much to the dismay of his friends, Stevenson and Black find common ground by meeting many different people, people from different faiths and beliefs. Eventually, Black stepped away from his family's embrace of racist and anti-Semitic views.  

Wayne Brady (pictured left) takes center stage for his "Angriest Black in America" –– the words may be rated R but the story, so well-written, comes on like a rap piece, at times, with humor mixed into the incident in which Brady is told he's too Black (in much less flattering terms).  He has such a negative reaction to being surrounded by people who tell Black jokes that he begins to hate himself.  Listen to how the Orchestra support the narrator (bassist Carlos Henriquez plays a modified version of Jimmy Garrison's foundational bass line from the "Acknowledgement" movement of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme").

There's more – the concert runs 78 minutes – and that is for you to uncover and discover.  First listen to "Transformations" for the words, for the stories, for the excellent narrations; then return for the music. Listen to how the music supports the words, strengthening them, echo them, and respond to the emotions, be it anger, joy, fear, or acceptance.  The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra shines playing this music by one its long-time members, Ted Nash. The soloists are uniformly excellent (always great to hear Wynton rise to his powers) while the rhythm section plays at its usual high standard throughout.  Kudos to Glenn Close for helping to bringing this project to life and to Wayne Brady for his excellent work!  As the world slowly reopens, embrace these stories and see if you can be brave as these people.

For more information, go to

Hear the opening "Creation, Part I":



Woodwinds: Sherman Irby (lead), Marc Phaneuf, Victor Goines, Mark Lopeman, Paul Nedzela

Trumpets: Ryan Kisor (lead), Tatum Greenblatt, Marcus Printup, Wynton Marsalis

Trombones: Vincent Gardner (lead), Christopher Crenshaw, Elliot Mason

Rhythm Section:
Dan Nimmer, piano; 
Carlos Henriquez, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums 

Trumpeter Tim Hagans (born 1954, Dayton, Ohio) has taken his horn and his music around the world. He first came to critical notice in the 1970s in the big bands of Stan Kenton and Woody Herman before heading over to Sweden where he played with Dexter Gordon, Thad Jones, and others. It was Jones who encouraged the young Hagans to compose for large ensembles.  Even after moving back to the United States in the 1980s, he served as music director and composer-in-residence for the Sweden-based Norbotten Big Band (1996-2010) and has been involved with the NDR BigBand (Hamburg Radio Jazz Orchestra) since 2000.  As a soloist, Hagans absorbed the musical and stylistic influences of Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and the afore-mentioned Thad Jones plus John Coltrane. He recorded a number of small group recordings for Blue Note Records and SteepleChase as well as appearing on recordings by Bob Belden, Maria Schneider, Joe Lovano, arranger Mark Masters, the Yellowjackets, and others. 

Hagans latest adventure with the NDR BigBand, "A Conversation" (Waiting Moon Records), is a five-part Suite ("Movements I-V") –– for the program, the Band members are not grouped by sections but into four separate "ensembles" (the composer/ arranger calls them "divisions" and it's based on "sonics" and "emotions"; see "Personnel" below).  On first listen, one can not pick out the separation but there are moments throughout where you can hear Hagans concept at work.  Because of his long association with NDR, he composes to the musicians' strength; their familiarity with his ideas, how he arranges, his expectations, all that and more means they will and can go anywhere he wants to.  

"Movement I" opens with various voices communicating across the sound spectrum. When the rhythm section enters, the music picks up speed; yet there is still the various instruments talking to and over each other. Six minutes in, pianist Vladyslav Sendecki steps out above the ensemble and begins a long, absorbing, solo with the collective ensemble playing counterpoint, pushing him, or creating a wash of sound.  As "I" fades on long notes, that sound introduces "Movement II" which then breaks into different voices crossing the spectrum a la the opening of Gershwin's "An American in Paris" albeit more disjointed.  The main melody is slow, stately, sans rhythm section, that slowly gives way to a lovely bass clarinet solo by Daniel Buch.  He stays close to the melody as the percussion, guitar, and piano fill in the background. As Buch catches fire, the music picks up in intensity until the full Band reenters playing a swaggering melody that soon steps aside for what sounds like a coda of long tones but instead leads to a bass solo from Ingmar Heller that goes right to the close of the movement. 

Photo: Michele Brangwengen
You get the idea. This music is hardly static, often changing directions yet making sure individual voices stand out.  After a solo trumpet introduction (one of the three pieces Hagans plays on) "Movement IV" turns into a dark blues that, at times, shimmies and struts its way for four minutes until percussionist Marcio Doctor helps "lighten" the mood and change the "groove" for a delightful alto saxophone solo from Fiete Felsch. The gentle habanera rhythm that opens "Movement V" moves sinuously beneath the Aaron Copland-like melody.  The muted trumpet solo (by Hagans) brings to mind the sound of Miles Davis on "Sketches of Spain" – that mood continues the middle of the piece when the music changes direction and mood, becoming a bouncy rhythm to support the fine solo from trombonist Klaus Heidenreich. As that solo comes to a close, the rhythm slows down, all the different "voices" enter, split apart then coalesce into a powerful climax and a soft coda.

"A Conversation" is splendid music, covering a wide swath of musical territory, never sounding cliched, the pieces played with feeling, emotion, and, at times, great fire.  Kudos to Tim Hagans and to his compatriots at the NDR BigBand – this music sings, swings, rocks, and soothes, human interaction at its best.

For more information, go to  To purchase this recording and more, go to  

Hear the opening "Movement":


TIM HAGANS, composer, arranger, conductor, trumpet (solos on Movements III, IV, & V)

Ensemble I:
FIETE FELSCH, lead alto saxophone, flute (solo Movement IV) 
FRANK DELLE, tenor saxophone, clarinet 
INGOLF BURKHARDT, trumpet, flugelhorn 
STEVE WISEMAN, trumpet, flugelhorn 
CLAUS STÖTTER, trumpet, flugelhorn (solo Movement III) 
KLAUS HEIDENREICH, trombone (solo Movement V) 

Ensemble II: 
PETER BOLTE, alto & soprano saxophone (solo Movement III) 
STEPHAN MEINBERG, trumpet, flugelhorn (solo Movement III) 
DAN GOTTSHALL, lead trombone (solo Movement III) 
DANIEL BUCH, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet (solo Movement II & III) 

Ensemble III: 
CHRISTOF LAUER, tenor saxophone 
THORSTEN BENKENSTEIN, lead trumpet, flugelhorn 
STEFAN LOTTERMAN, trombone (solo Movement III) 
INGO LAHME, bass trombone 

Ensemble IV 
ED HARRIS, guitar 
INGMAR HELLER, acoustic bass (solo Movement II) 
VLADYSLAV SENDECKI, piano (solo Movement I) 
MARCIO DOCTOR, percussion (solo Movement IV) 

Friday, June 4, 2021

June Roundup: Gems, Keepsakes, & Fun (Pt 1)

Time to write about music thats been filling our house with good sounds this Spring:

Photo: Alan Nihigian
Drummer, trumpeter, composer, historian, educator, and mentor Ralph Peterson Jr. passed away on March 1 of this year after a long battle with cancer.  He arrived on the jazz scene in the late 1980s as a member of the Blue Note "Young Lions" group Out of the Blue but soon was making albums as a leader.  He had apprenticed at the side of drummer/mentor Art Blakey and was able to channel the explosive qualities of the older musician to create his own sound. Over the decades, Peterson proved to one of the finest "ballad" players –– when I saw him in person, most audience members were impressed by his ability to drive a band with great power but I loved to hear him play soft as a whisper.  Over the past decade, Peterson moved between his own groups as well as leading the Messengers Legacy Band which featured members of Blakey's Jazz Messengers.  He also taught up-and-coming musicians at Berklee College. 

"Raise Up Off Me" (ONYX) is being billed as Ralph Peterson's final album as a leader.  Recorded in December 2020 (less than three months before his passing), the program finds him in the company of the Curtis Brothers –– Zaccai (piano, keyboards) and Luques (bass) –– plus guests Eguie Castrillo (conga, timbale, cymbal, and cowbell on one track) and Jazzmeia Horn (vocals on three tracks).  The title track opens the album, a group improv featuring the leader on various percussion instruments plus Zaccai on both acoustic and electric pianos.  The music is reminiscent of Herbie Hancock's more exploratory of the late 1960s. "Right to Live" (composition by Peterson) features his fiery percussion pushed to the max by the powerful piano and foundational bass work.  It's no surprise that the Curtis Brothers became the basis for "Triangular III" and "IV"; you remember the initial "Triangular" with pianist Geri Allen and bassist Essiet Essiet.  Both Ms. Allen and Zaccai Curtis knew how to play Peterson's opfetn-complicated music.  

The 12-song CD (13 if you buy the "download") is loaded with delightful music.  The trio's take on Bud Powell's "Bouncin' With Bud" is playful with excellent interplay among the trio; note the angular "bounce" of the theme and the conversation between the piano and drums during Zaccai's solo. "Blue Hughes", a piece that the drummer composed for Out of the Blue, adds Mr. Castrillo to the mix. The percussion stew that sizzles up from the rhythm section sounds like an orchestra unto itself, really kicking the piano solo forward.  

Photo: Emmanuel Afolabi
Ms. Horn first shows up on Peterson's lovely ballad "Tears I Cannot Hide".  Her voice, often at the top of her natural range, is soulful and honest while the trio supports with a musical cushion. Pay attention to the drummer and how he uses space, his subtle cymbal work as well.  The musicians dance delightfully beneath Ms. Horn's voice on John Hick's "Naima's Love Song" –– Peterson rocks the rhythm, especially under the smashing piano solo. The drummer also contributes a splendid trumpet solo and accompaniment.  The vocalist's third contribution (the "bonus track" for the download) is a rollicking take of Betty Carter's "Please Do Something".  The three musicians each solo with the drummer "trading 8's" with the vocalist's splendid scat singing. She drops out and Peterson takes over for a rhythmic treat!

If "Raise Up Off Me" is to be Ralph Peterson Jr's final album, he certainly goes out on a high note (a major bunch of them in fact).  If you are listening to hear if the drummer is weak or has slowed down, you won't hear anything like that. Neither does one hear sadness, pity, or anger.  Joy is the sound emanating from the speakers. Ralph Peterson Jr dealt with numerous issues during too-short lifetime but his music was his strength, his refuge, his contribution to making the world a better place! What a man, what a man!

To learn more about the artist, go to     To buy the album, go to

Hear "The Right to Live":

Photo: John Abbott
Jennifer Wharton, a native of Pittsburg, CA, is called a "low brass specialist'. Best known for her work with Darcy James Argue's Secret Society and many other large ensemble, her bass trombone playing is noted for its power and her fine ensemble work. Ms. Wharton also has worked in the pit bands in Broadway productions of "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical", "Porgy & Bess", "9 to 5", and others.  Several years, the trombonist decided to give her instrument top billing and formed Bonegasm, a septet with four trombones – yes, a whole section – and a rhythm section.  The 'bone players include Ms. Wharton, her husband John Fedchock, Nate Mayland, and Mark Ferber; aiding and abetting them are Michael Eckroth (piano, Fender Rhodes), Evan Gregor (bass), and Don Peretz (drums). The group's self-titled debut appeared on Sunnyside Records in February 2019. The album's liner notes by Jim McNeely played up the name as well as the originality of an artist creating new music for jazz trombone as well as putting the instrument front and center

While the debut is good fun, album # 2 "Not a Novelty" (Sunnyside) is, in many ways, even stronger. That could be because by the time the septet entered the studios, it was September 2020, right in the midst of the pandemic.  No one in the band was working regularly, venues had closed down, the theaters on Broadway and beyond silenced; save for teaching students on ZOOM, there were no gigs.  Opening with Eckroth's "BonGasmo", the band (with Samuel Torres irrepressible percussion joining) plays with abandon including soloist Mayland.  There are only two other originals by band members in the program. Instead there is an eclectic collection of pieces from composers such as Remy LaBouef, Tori Amos, Chris Cheek, Ayn Inserto, Carmen Staaf, Manuel Valera, and Chris Cornell (the former leader of Soundgarden now deceased).  

Photo: John Abbott
The Cornell tune, "The Day I Tried to Live", features a "grunge metal" arrangement by Darcy James Argue and a Tom Waits-influenced vocal by 
Kurt Elling. He and Ms. Wharton solo together with the vocalist imitating a 'bone player with a cup mute.  Ms. Amos's "Twinkle", arranged by Fedchock, is a lovely ballad; spreading the brass around the sound spectrum and giving them sweet harmonies to play while he solos, the music moves forward gently gaining in intensity. Torres shows up once more for the rollicking take of Valera's "La Otra Mano" even getting a solo after both Ferber and Eckroth shake the rafters.  "Blue Salt", by Ayn Inserto, features a rocking bass line (doubled on piano) plus a splendid solo from Ms. Wharton and her husband over several different rhythms.  

Mark Ferber's "Blue Salts" is definitely a blues, down and somewhat dirty (especially the swagger from the 'bones). Ms. Wharton takes her solo low down while bassist Gregor solos with the band responding in kind.  There's even a Frank Zappa feel to the "march" that closes the piece.

No truer words than "Not a Novelty" as the trombonists take center stage and acquit themselves magnificently.  The basic difference between the first and second Bonegasm album is that while the material is just as good it's the arrangements that feel stronger.  Jennifer Wharton should be proud of this album and this group –– she gets to work and play with her husband and with her friends. Hopefully, the band will get to play in front of live audiences.

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Hear the opening track: