Saturday, July 31, 2021

Meeting Shawn Maxwell

On our recent trip to Chicago, I had the opportunities to interview saxophonists/ composers Sam Pilnick (posted here) and Shawn Maxwell (pictured left). Up until the days before we had lunch and chatted over a leisurely two hours, I did not know much about Mr. Maxwell or his music.  I have a friend who has played his music on the radio but I had not listened to an entire album.  Before we left home, "Expectation & Experience" (CoraStreet Records/ Jazzline) arrived in my in-box.  Our conversation began with a discussion of creating an album during lockdown, especially an album that spoke to the health of a nation and of the artists whose music chronicles everyday life.

17 songs, none longer than 4:18 with five below two minutes and four under three, each with a different lineup –– "Breathe" pairs Maxwell (alto sax) with pianist Brenda Earle Stokes and was inspired by the footage of George Floyd's murder while the following track, "A Change of Climate", finds the leader on soprano sax with Paul Abella on cajon and tambourine. The lockdown gave the saxophonist ample time to reflect on the world and help amplify the belief that a musician's role in society is not just to entertain but to inform, to help illuminate the road to change.  "No Peace Without Justice" blends the wordless vocals of Keri Johnsrud and John Stafford with soprano sax and the acoustic guitar of Craig Elliot; the tune and the spirit of the music was inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. 

There are several songs relating to the loss of work for musicians. "The Show Can't Go On" features Maxwell conversing on alto sax (left and right channels) propelled forward by the drums of Ernie Adams while the following track "Empty Stage" is a short but powerful alto sax solo sans accompaniment.  

The composer also wrote a pair of tributes to friends: "J.C. Jones" celebrates the life of a person who meant a lot to Maxwell over the years while "Quiet House" is a ballad honoring the memory of Evon House Thompson, a gospel-singing friend of the saxophonist. The latter tune has a "virtual strings" arrangement by guitarist Zvonmir Tot

Every musician on "Expectation & Experience" (the album takes its name from the first and last tracks) was recorded alone at home or in a studio.  Yet, the music does not sound disjointed –– instead, this group of musical haikus allows Shawn Maxwell to air his political and personal views while entertaining the listeners. Many of the albums released in the past few months were recorded either before or during the pandemic: pay attention to the ones in the latter category (like this one) and you'll hear musicians working and playing through the issues of the day.

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

Here's "J.C. Jones":

While you are on Mr. Maxwell's Bandcamp page, you'll see "Millstream", an album with his band recorded before the pandemic and scheduled to be his debut release for Jazzline.  Maxwell plays alto and soprano saxophones with Collin Clauson (Rhodes, acoustic piano, Wurlitzer), Jeremiah Hunt (bass), and Phil Beale (drums) plus, on two cuts, Chad McCullough (trumpet, flugelhorn).  While the pandemic album was often an acoustic project, Clauson's keys and the dancing drums gives this music more of a "fusion" feel. Several tunes are quite funky such as the hard-hitting "Squared Circle" and "Sold Separately".  McCullough's trumpet blends nicely with Maxwell's soprano sax on the smartly played "Front Walk Over"" note how the two musicians come together and then go int a call-and-response before soloing simultaneously. 

Go to Shawn Maxwell's Bandcamp page, give a listen, and make up your own mind. What stands out for this listener is the witty melodies and fine musicianship.  

I'd also like to thank Shawn Maxwell for taking the time to sit and talk to me –– we had never met but he was generous with his time and information and I look forward to catching up with his again the next time we're visiting.

Here's the Quartet in action on "Ravage Eject" with the album's bassist Hunt replaced by Michael Barton –– the performance was recorded just a few days before the world went into lockdown:

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Open Skies & Illuminations

Photo: Sara Pettinella
Pianist and composer Art Hirahara is a deft pianist, technically and emotionally strong, an excellent composer, and can traverse genres with ease and wit.  Since moving to NewYork City in the early 2000s, the pianist has worked alongside vocalists Rosanna Vitro, Stacey Kent, and Freddie Cole, with the late saxophonist/conceptualist Fred Ho as well as drummer royal hartigan, and violinist Jenny Scheinman (among many).  Over the course of five albums for Posi-Tone Records, Hirahara has audibly demonstrated his growth as a composer, telling stories through his melodies and use of rhythmic movement.

His sixth album for Posi-Tone, "Open Sky", features the dynamic rhythm section of bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Rudy Royston plus contributions saxophonist (tenor and soprano) Nicole Glover and vibraphonist Behn Gilecce.  The title track features Gilecce and sounds influenced by Charles Lloyd's "Forest Flower" and the percussive stylings of McCoy Tyner.  The four musicians move as one, spurred on by the leader's rhapsodic and bell-like piano sound.  Ms. Glover's tenor sax takes the lead on "Mia Bella", a lovely ballad, her tender phrases moving in and around the fine piano accompaniment.  She returns on soprano for the Latin-esque "Weathered the Storm" –– the track dances forward on the delightful drumming (listen to how Royston pushes the piano to really "groove"). 

The bassist contributes "Não Tão Azul"; based on the changes to A.C. Jobim's "Triste", the melody feels Brazilian even as the rhythm section move in and out of a Tropicalia feel.  Quite funky, thanks to Royston's sweet barrage.  The drummer's contribution, the ballad "Sunday Morning", has a touch of Gospel, a tinge of Philly Soul, and impressive communication between the musicians.  Kozlov blends melodic lines and deep notes underneath the melody until his handsome solo –– he has such a splendid tone!

Photo: Pablo Reyes
While the leader did pen nine of the 13 tracks on the disk, one should make note of the two "standards".  "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" gets a jaunty uptempo reading that hints at Earl "Fatha" Hines and Art Tatum. "Empathy", from the pen of Duke Pearson, jumps from the opening chordal construction that Hirahara returns to throughout the piece.  The interaction of the trio is such a delight with the rhythm section responding to growing intensity of the piano solo. The other solo piece on the program, "Peony", is a Hirahara composition yet sounds might have been composed by Duke Ellington.   

The sky's the limit with "Open Sky", yet one more exemplary display of the talent of Art Hirahara.  His songs surround the listener, leading he/she in for an hour of delightful songs, fine musicianship, and, like the title, a sound that makes one to sit outdoors and let the breeze brush your shoulders as the music moves forward.  

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

Here's the opening track, inspired by the protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, "Groundswell":

Photo: Dave Stapleton
I must admit to not hearing any of the albums of the group Slowly Rolling Camera before the trio's new recording "Where the Street Leads" (Edition Records) arrived.  The brainchild of Dave Stapleton (Fender Rhodes, piano, Moog), Deri Roberts (electronics), and Elliot Bennett (drums), the music obliterates genres on each song.  There are dance beats, swirling string sections, and excellent contributions from guests Mark Lockheart (soprano and tenor saxophones), Stuart McCallum (guitar), Jasper Høiby (double bass), Verneri Pojhola (trumpet), Chris Potter (tenor saxophone), and a stunning performance from vocalist Sachal Vasandani.  

"You Are the Truth" opens the eight-song program with the melody first played by Stapleton then shared by the strings. Bennett really pushes the song forward, with his insistent "trip-hop" drums.  When Stapleton steps out with a distorted Fender Rhodes reiteration of the melody, it might remind some of the Soft Machine's Mike Ratledge's Fender work.  As you listen to the following tune, the title track, you realize the the pianist composes the material with short melodic phrases repeated throughout each piece until the soloists step forward. On "Where the Street Leads", McCallum goes first and steps aside for Lockheart's soprano solo which hearkens back to the work that Wayne Shorter did with Weather Report.  The solos move easily over the swirling background.

Adding the voice of vocalist Vasandani is a stroke of genius.  The medium-tempo ballad "Illuminate" puts his voice in the midst of the keyboards and Bennett's active drums.  In the last 90 seconds, McCallum steps out with an emotional solo with the addition of the vocalists repeating "Who are you...who are you...can you do this?" over the middle of the guitar phrases.  

Chris Potter is featured on "Feels Like Fiction", joining the song two minutes with a strong tenor spotlight. McCallum also solos with the strings shimmering all around him (Stapleton's string arrangements for the eight-member ensemble are often dazzling and alway supportive). Lockheart steps out on soprano for a short statement before the Morse-code like keyboard notes bring the piece to a close.

"Where the Streets Lead" closes with "A Force for Good" with Verneri Pojhola's breathy trumpet lines supported by the circular keyboard phrases and the rising lines of the strings that then begin to soar as Lockheart's soprano swoops and dives around them.  The piece closes with gentle piano lines under the the trumpet which soon fades as the music slowly comes to its end.

Slowly Rolling Camera makes music that is too powerful to be called New Age, too funky to be Jazz, too jazzy to be Funk, and too acoustic to be called Electronica –– So, what is it?  Who cares what you call it.  Just sit and let the sounds flow over you, get lost in the repetitive keyboard phrases, move your feet to the often-dancing drums. And enjoy!

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

Here's the title track:

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Mr. Parker's Trios

Photo: Peter Gannushkin

Earlier this year, AUM Fidelity released "Migrations of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World", a massive yet splendid 10-album set of original music composed and arranged by bassist-composer William Parker.  10 separate groups, 91 tracks, 594 minutes of music, which takes down to ingest, ruminate upon, and understand.  Like the recent works of Wadada Leo Smith and Anthony Braxton (also multiple disk sets), Mr. Parker's music is telling stories, narratives that blend tradition, history, and are very much a reflection of the present day. In the weeks leading to the Pandemic shutdown, the bassist recorded two albums that continue the exploration that his earlier albums began.

Both new releases are trio dates. "Painter's Winter" features the leader on bass, trombonium, and shakuhachi, Daniel Carter (trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet, and flute) and Hamid Drake (drums).  The program opens with the hard-driving "Groove 77" led by Mr. Parker's thick bass lines, Drake's funky yet creative drumming, and Carter's muted trumpet lines.  The rhythm section, mixed up high, is in sharp contrast to the thoughtful trumpet throughout.  The title tracks opens with Mr. Parker on trombonium (a smaller, curved, trombone), Carter's flowing flute, and Drake's spare yet conversational drums.  The intensity of the flute and brass interaction picks up and the music begins to bounce as the drummer gets into conversation.  The listener can sit back and revel in the deep sounds.

Carter's smooth-toned alto leads the way on "Happiness" with the bassist, at times, playing counterpoint and Drake right/ tight in the groove. The music slows down for a frantic arco bass solo but afterwards picks up in speed. The introspective is in stark contrast to Drake's dance around the drum set and Mr. Parker's occasional walking bass line.  "Painted Scarf" pairs clarinet and shakahuchi with, at the onset, very quiet or little percussion. Over the 10:49, Drake pushes his bandmates by creating a Native American rhythm which ratchets up the intensity.  "A Curley Russell" closes the program; Mr. Parker dedicates the piece to the late "Curley" Russell, the "be-bop era" bassist who played with Tadd Dameron, Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, and Bud Powell (among others).  Carter's lively alto sax leads the way with the bassist's thick tones helping to fill the bottom.  Drake creates a rollicking drum solo which lights a fire under the saxophonist who then creates his most impassioned solo on the disk. After the delightful bass solo, the trio takes the song out in a spirited fashion.

"Painter's Winter" is an album to savor, to sit back and let the sound wash over you time and again.  William Parker, Daniel Carter, and Hamid Drake have history, as they say, know each other well, and sound as if they are having a great time –– you will as well!

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

This is "Painter's Winter":

"Mayan Space Station" posits Mr. Parker in the studio with guitarist Ava Mendoza and drummer Gerald Cleaver.  With Ms. Mendoza's highly amplified sound, one could easily call this group a "power trio".  Mr. Parker's locks in with the drummer and this music often has an irrepressible groove.  It's hard to sit still listening to "Domingo"; notice how the guitarist creates a sound and attack not unlike that of Nels Cline but one also hears traces of Tom Verlaine (Television) and blues great Michael Bloomfield (when he played with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band on "East-West"). Mr. Parker's infectious groove jumpstarts "Rocas Rojas" with Cleaver diving right in, moving about his drum kit in glee, Ms. Mendoza wailing and shredding above.  The title track opens in the spirited fashion of Arthur Blythe's "Down San Diego Way" with Cleaver's drums (he's using brushes, no less) and percussion paired with Mr. Parker's solid four-note bass runs. Ms. Mendoza jumps in, roaring in musical approval until the 4 minute mark, slows down for a moment, and picks up her sonic attack. The guitarist steps out of the spotlight halfway through the 14:42 track to make way for the raucous bowed bass solo over Cleaver's crashing cymbals and snappy snare.  

"Canyons of Light" is a rubato piece with tremendous cymbal and cowbell work, shimmering/ furious arco bass, and long tones and moans from the guitar. As Ms. Mendoza goes into "attack mode", the rhythm section continue to thrash around beneath. There is a hint of a steady rhythm as the piece fades down at the 10-minute mark.  It's a challenging piece of music that stands out for its aural expressions and passionate musicianship.

Photo: Peter Drukker
The album closes with "The Wall Tumbles Down", another hard-edged piece with a irresistible groove. Ms. Mendoza's chordal romp over a guitar drone gives way to a solo that builds up from a simple riff into a bluesy wailing spotlight.  One can hear the influence of Vernon Reid and Sonny Sharrock especially later in the piece when she loops police sirens. The loops don't disappear until the last minute of the piece. Perhaps, these are the walls of racism, sexism,, and intolerance: nevertheless, it's a powerful finish to an album of powerful moods and sounds.

"Mayan Space Station" is music that demands to be played loud, windows open to the world. William Parker wants to touch the world, wants to help people get out of the doldrums and away from the fears that come blasting out of our televisions, radios, and "smart" phones.  Kudos to Ava Mendoza and Gerald Cleaver for their contributions to this most appealing recording. 

To purchase the album and see more of William Parker's catalogue on AUM Fidelity, go to

Hear the opening track, "Tabasco":

Monday, July 19, 2021

Historical Recordings That Bring Joy & Generate Excitement

Photo: Mark Sheldon
Trumpeter Roy Hargrove (1969-2018) and pianist Mulgrew Miller (1955-2013) are both Southern musicians who died far too young.  Hargrove, a native of Waco, TX, who came of musical age in Dallas, and Miller, a native of Greenwood, MI, who moved to Memphis, TN, to attend college, were both considered masters of their respective instruments. The trumpeter was still a teenager when he came to the attention of Wynton Marsalis who had him come onstage at a concert. He attended Berklee College of Music then transferred to the New School in New York City.  He was soon signed to a recording contract with his debut album released on Novus in 1990. Like many creative jazz musicians, Hargrove's musical world spanned numerous genres including jazz, Latin jazz, r'n'b, Hip Hop, and more – he played on genre-bending albums by Common and D'Angelo plus led and recorded with the Rh Factor, whose funk albums were great for dancing.

Photo: Jean-Francois Laberine
Early in his career, Miller played in bands led by Mercer Ellington, Woody Shaw, Art Blakey, Tony Williams, and Betty Carter – talk about learning the history of Black Music from the inside and the innovators.  He went to lead several different sized ensembles, from his Trio to Wingspan, a quintet that released several albums of original material, to his great duos with fellow pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen.  Miller was also Director of Jazz Studies and Performance at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, a position he led up until his passing on May 29, 2013.  

Now, the world is blessed with the arrival "Roy Hargrove Mulgrew Miller - In Harmony" (Resonance Records), a two-Lp, Two-CD, set that features selections from two duo concerts: the first, recorded in New York City on January 25, 2006, and the second at Lafayette College in Easton, PA in November 9, 2007.   All but one of the 13 tracks are "standards" from composers and performers such as Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Benny Golson, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Blue Mitchell, plus five more that come from movies and Broadway. Both sets on the album were unrehearsed, the New York City show due to a blizzard that only left time for the musicians to reach the venue before stepping on stage. But, the duo's professionalism and love for playing stands out, making the set a true joy. 

This music should be savored. Yes, I understand that many of these songs have been recorded hundreds, perhaps thousands, of time, yet Miller and Hargrove make them shiny and new. CD One opens with Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love" – taken at a brisk tempo, the duo brings the song onto the dance floor (go ahead, listen to the pianist's left hand and try to sit still).  Same for Bronislaw Kaper's "Invitation"; there are so many versions of this song yet notice how the two musicians bring it to life with the dazzling rhythm work of Miller and Hargrove's far-ranging solo. Miller's Memphis roots show up best in his left hand.  "Monk's Dream" opens in a "straight-ahead" vein but during the trumpet solo, the pianist momentarily moves into a stride mode which shows up again during the duo's give-and-take in the last two minutes.  

The ballads really stand out.  The Mack Gordon/Harry Warren-penned "This Is Always" finds Hargrove on flugelhorn. He absolutely caresses the melody and at the end, produces a show-stopping coda (how he utilizes silence to make the listener hang on every note is so impressive). He takes a similar approach on "I Remember Clifford" with a coda that's lovely not sappy, and just the right length. 

The final two tracks, "Blues for Mr. Hill" (composed by Hargrove) and Dizzy Gillespie's "Ow!" close the program in a splendid fashion.  On the former, the trumpeter gets "down" and raises back up again while the pianist's accompaniment is solid "Gospel". When Miller steps out on his own, one can hear traces of Otis Spann, Memphis Slim, and Phineas Newborn, Jr.  Not surprisingly, the final track is a playful "bopper". Miller's piano beneath the trumpet solo (which is playful as can be) is a Jazz "history" lesson. And his solo – you will say "Ow!" as the pianist dances up and down the keys.

Resonance Records does its usual great job on the notes with a history of the two musicians written by Ted Panken plus appreciations from Sonny Rollins, Christian McBride, Common, Jon Batiste, Karriem
Riggins, Ambrose Akinmusire, Keyon Harrold, Chris Botti, Eddie Henderson, Robert Glasper, Victor Lewis, Sean Jones, Kenny Barron, and George Cables.  Pull over a chair, dim the lights, turn up the volume (but don't blast it), and let this music transport you.  "Roy Hargrove Mulgrew Miller - In Harmony" is a gem that shines with creativity and the sheer joy of playing music! 

Listen and enjoy "Blues For Mr. Hill":


Photo: Francis Woolf/Blue Note
Drummer, composer, and conceptualist Roy Brooks (1938-2005) hailed from Detroit, MI, a city that produced numerous jazz greats. He had an career which, in his early days, found him on the bandstand with Yusef Lateef and Horace Silver. The drummer moved to New York City in his Silver days and once he left that group, freelanced with numerous artists such as Charles McPherson, Dexter Gordon, and Charles Mingus (among others). In the late 1960s, Brooks led several groups and recorded several albums; a few years later, he joined Max Roach's drum ensemble M'Boom, remaining a member until 1986.  Due to erratic behavior caused by bi-polar disorder, Brook's career came to a standstill as he was arrested on several occasions, spending time in prison.  Yet, at the height of his creative life, his music and vision pushed the envelope of creative music.

Reel-to-Real Recordings has just issued "Understanding", a two-CD recorded live at The Famous Ballroom in Baltimore, MD, on November 1, 1970.  Besides the leader (drums, percussion, saw), the Quintet included Carlos Garnett (tenor saxophone), Harold Mabern (piano), Cecil McBee (bass), and the fiery trumpet of Woody Shaw. The two+ hours program includes two originals by Brooks plus one each by Shaw, Garnett, Miles Davis, and "Billie's Bounce" from Charlie Parker. The first things you'll notice while listening to "Prelude to Understanding" which is the second track on CD one (the first is a short "Introduction"), is Brook's percussive "toys" and Shaw's blistering trumpet. Shaw, seven weeks shy of his 26th birthday, is on fire throughout the program; the first time you hear his "sound", he's tearing the speakers apart. Brooks is spurred by Shaw's approach so, during the lengthy solo, he's keeping right up with the trumpeter.  McBee holds down the fort while Mabern "comps" a la McCoy Tyner.  Shaw's solo lasts over 11 minutes, has several climaxes, and is a stunning show of his creativity.  Mabern follows with a delightful romp, very much influenced by the afore-mentioned Tyner with a few blues-influenced phrases that display his Memphis, TN, upbringing.  Garnett sits this one out but both McBee and the leader solo, the latter beginning playing a bowed saw!

Photo: Tom Copi
After "Prelude..." comes Brooks's "Understanding", a tune whose rhythm and melody is comparable to that of Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage".  The first solo goes to Shaw (pictured left) and he starts as if he's aiming to blow the roof of the Ballroom off. He does take it down a notch or two for the majority of his spot. Garnett is next and one can't help but hear his sonic resemblance to John Coltrane (in the latter saxophonist's Impulse! days).  The Panamanian-born saxophonist moves easily from flowing melodic lines to raucous roars.  The band then tears into a fast-paced rendition of the Parker tune.  Garnett's gets the first solo, proceeding like a getaway car as the drummer chases him around the bandstand.  Shaw follows flying high over the crashing cymbals (Brooks keeps the time perfectly throughout on his ride cymbal). After Mabern's rollicking solo, the trumpet and sax "trade 4s" then "2s" with the leader for several minutes before everyone steps back and gives the drummer spotlight until the fiery close to the first set and disc.  

Photo: H Nolan
CD 2 contains three tracks: the 23-minute Shaw composition "Zoltan", the 32:26 Garnett song "Taurus Woman", and Miles Davis "The Theme", the shortest song in the program at 4:32. The energy does not flag on these tracks and the music continues to jump out of the speakers.  For those of you who love high-energy live music, "Understanding" will make you smile.  You can hear the influence of Max Roach and Elvin Jones in leader Roy Brooks's thunderous performance.  Kudos to co-producers Cory Weeds (Cellar Live Records) and Zev Feldman (Resonance Records) plus a standing ovation to Chris Gestrin for the sound restoration.  You'll learn a lot from the 36-page booklet which features an overview of Roy Brooks story by the great Detroit journalist Mark Stryker plus interviews with Carlos Garnett, Cecil McBee, Reggie Workman, and Louis Hayes as well as remembrances written by Jahra Michelle McKinley, Executive Director of the Detroit Sound Conservancy and journalist Herb Boyd, a lifetime friend of Roy Brooks. All proceeds from the sale of the albums will go to the Sound Conservancy in honor of the drummer.  

Hear "Prelude to Understanding":  

Friday, July 16, 2021

Remembering Frank Kimbrough With Song & Much Love

 Look at this list:

Addison Frei, Alexa Tarantino, Alexis Cuadrado, Allan Chase, Allan Mednard 

Ben Allison, Ben Monder, Ben Rosenblum, Ben Wolfe, Billy Drummond

Clarence Penn, Craig Taborn

Dan Tepfer, Dave Douglas, Dave Treut , Dezron Douglas, Donny McCaslin, Douglas Marriner

Elan Mehler, Elio Villafranca, Evan Harris 

Francisco Mela, Fred Hersch 

Gary Versace, Glenn Zaleski 

Helen Sung

Immanuel Wilkins, Isaiah J. Thompson

Jacob Sacks, Jay Anderson, Jeff Cosgrove, Jeff Hirshfield, Jeff Williams, Jesse Neuman

Joe Lovano, Joel Wenhardt, John Hébert 

Kirk Knuffke

Martin Wind, Marty Jaffe, Matt Wilson, Micah Thomas, Michael Blake, Michael Formanek

Noah Halpern, Noah Preminger 

Olivia Chindamo

Patrick Cornelius

Rich Perry, Rich Rosenzweig, Riley Mulherkar, Rob Jost, Ron Horton, Rufus Reid

Ryan Keberle

Samora Pinderhughes, Satoshi Takeishi, Scott Robinson, Scott Spivak, Sean Mason

Steve Cardenas, Steve Wilson

Ted Nash, Tim Horner, Todd Neufeld, Tony Moreno, & Tony Scherr 

What do they have in common?

This person:


Pianist, composer, arranger, and educator Frank Kimbrough, who died on December 30, 2020, is who.  Kimbrough, who was born in North Carolina, settled in New York City in 1981 and slowly, steadily, built his career as a first-class soloist and accompanist, first came to critical exposure when he joined the Jazz Composers Collective in 1991 (co-founded by bassist Ben Allison with trumpeter Ron Horton, saxophonists Ted Nash and Michael Blake).  Two years later, Kimbrough took over the piano chair in  the Maria Schneider Orchestra, staying there until his untimely passing. 

(From the Press Release): (On July 16), Newvelle Records is releasing  "KIMBROUGH", a collection of 61 original compositions by jazz artist and educator Frank Kimbrough, who passed away in December 2020. Featuring tributes from 67 of Frank’s former bandmates, students, and friends across multiple generations, "KIMBROUGH" was recorded over three and a half days in New York as the musical world began reawakening in May 2021. All proceeds from this definitive collection of Frank’s music, available on high-quality digital download on Bandcamp, will benefit the Frank Kimbrough Jazz Scholarship at The Juilliard School.

“Frank was a genuine ‘musician’s musician’ whose talent as a player, composer, and teacher fueled generations of artists in the New York jazz community,” said Elan Mehler, cofounder and artistic director of Newvelle Records, and a student of Frank’s at New York University in the 1990s. “There is something miraculous about attracting 67 world-class artists together in a studio, just as the world began emerging from the pandemic. Only someone of Frank’s impact could inspire such an ambitious project.”

The album, available on Bandcamp for $20.00 and streaming everywhere, was recorded and mixed by Marc Urselli on May 10-14, 2021 at EastSide Sound, mastered by Colin Bryson at The Bunker Studios, and produced by Elan Mehler. All songs were written by Frank Kimbrough, Kimbrough Music BMI.  Executive produced by Maitland Jones, Jim Harvey, Steve Satterfield, Matt Steinfeld and JC Morisseau.

What's fascinating about this project is that, in several ways, the album mirrors one of Frank Kimbrough's final recording projects, "Monk Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk" (Sunnyside Records).  The album features Scott Robinson, Rufus Reid, and Billy Drummond – those musicians all appear on the Newvelle recording and the program is all Frank Kimbrough songs. Go listen, pay tribute, and help support his teaching legacy.  

For more information, to listen and to purchase the album, go to

Here's the opening track, "The Call".  The musicians include Scott Robinson (tenor saxophone), Allan Chase (alto saxophone), Riley Mulherkar (trumpet), Ryan Keberle (trombone), Samora Pinderhughes (piano), Ben Wolfe (bass), and Jeff Hirschfield (drums).

Monday, July 12, 2021

Outer Space & Inner Spaces

While visiting family in Chicago last month (6/21), I took the opportunity to meet (on separate occasions) with musicians Sam Pilnick (pictured left) and Shawn Maxwell.  Both are saxophonists and composers with Pilnick just beginning his career and Maxwell twenty+ years into his (my next post will feature his two new releases).  The younger musician teaches middle-school Band in a Chicago suburb and has been performing with various ensembles since moving to the city four years ago. One of those groups is the Sam Pilnick Nonet Project featuring himself on tenor saxophone and eight of his close musical friends. He composes pieces that play to each member's strength and his debut recording is a fine example of that

"The Adler Suite" (Outside In Music) started its life when the composer served as a chaperone on a school trip to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.  Not only was Pilnick impressed by the architecture (see photo below) but was fascinated by the many displays that spoke of man's quest to discover what's beyond the sky. Each time he returned to the Planetarium, Pilnick would take notes and begin composing themes about different aspects of exploration.  The first three solo trumpet notes of the opening track, "Squawk Box", leads one to believe that the piece is a rewrite of Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra"; the piece soon moves into a harmonic adventure that invites in the nonet.  The composer-arranger uses variations on those three notes throughout the first several minutes before a short bowed bass solo opens the music up to the reeds, brass, and piano creating musical universe. Pianist Meghan Stahl creates an introspective solo that is fllwed by an excellent bass clarinet solo from Ted Hogarth. In case you wondered, the title of the piece comes from the apparatus NASA would place in an astronaut's home so the family could hear the communications between those in outer space and Mission Control. 

The Adler Planetarium
The Nonet then jumps into "Star Launch", a bebop-inspired romp that features a saxophone conversation between Max Bessesen (alto) and the leader's tenor.  The interaction of two stars revolving around each other until they merge is the basis of "Revolving Twins" – you'll hear how the sections move around each other, how the rhythm section push them together and pull apart. "House of the Massives (Pismis-24)" rocks from the opening notes and is based on a photograph of a star system and the amazing colors one sees. The music also reflects the composer's love of rock music yet listen to how he moves the reeds and brass around each other. Powerful solos from Bessesen, guitarist Ben Cruz, and the leader give even more urgency to the music.

The album closes with "Expanding Universe" which feeds into "Falling Backwards".  The first track has no set tempo but moves forward on the rich section work with Bessesen's alto leading the way.  The intensity builds (thanks to drummer Matthew Smalligan) until it is broken by the eerie guitar scratches, bowed bass, and Pilnick's tenor playing the melody line until silence; then, the piano, bass, and drums set a driving rhythm for the latter piece which is based on the space capsule's reentry into Earth's atmosphere and gravity.  The tenor solo over a changing rhythmic landscape highlights the various emotions one must feel coming home. Trombonist Euan Edmonds strong solo statement over the horns and thunderous rhythm section echoes the final, fiery, descent before the parachutes open and the capsule splashes into the ocean.

"The Adler Suite" is a delight-filled debut from Sam Pilnick.  This labor of love is highly personal yet resonates with those who dream of seeing stars, traveling to other planets, and exploring the vast universe. The Nonet plays with verve and emotion, sharing the composer's Planetarium dreams.  Listen with open ears and open mind; you'll find this journey quite exciting!

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


Sam Pilnick – tenor saxophone, compositions
Max Bessesen – alto saxophone
Ted Hogarth – baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Emily Kuhn – trumpet
Euan Edmonds – trombone
Ben Cruz – guitar
Meghan Stagl – piano
Ben Dillinger – bass
Matthew Smalligan – drums

Hear "Revolving Twins":

Photo: Yoel Levy
Nine years have passed since I last heard the music of pianist Ari Erev.  Born, raised, and still living in Israel, he's been studying and playing jazz since the age of 17. He's worked alongside many Israeli musicians including bassist Tal Ronen, percussionist Gilad Dobrecky, and vocalist Ayelet Rose Gottlieb (now living in Canada).  He's also recorded with saxophonists Joel Frahm and Yuval Cohen (brother of Anat and trumpeter Avishai). In addition to his Trio work, his Nocturno quartet explores the music of Central and South America as well as Cuba.  Erev has recorded five albums as a leader, the latest being "Close to Home" (self-released).

Instead of celebrating exploring outer space or new worlds on this planet, composer' pianist writes about the places and people he loves, about his community, celebrating life in the midst of continuous strife.  Joining Erev is bassist Assaf Hakimi and drummer Gasper Bertoncelj plus guests Yuval Cohen (soprano sax on five tracks), Hadar Noiberg (flute on two tracks), and Gilad Dobrecky (percussion on eight tracks). The 73+ minute program features nine originals plus one piece each by Keith Jarrett, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Israeli rock star Efraim Shamir, Brazilian composer/ conductor Debora Gurgel, and Paul Simon.  The album opens with the leader's "Israeli Story", an uptempo samba featuring Ms. Noiberg's lyrical flute work. Dobrecky and Bertoncelj combine with the bassist to create a bouncy rhythm for the soloists to play upon.  There is a similar feel to the following track "Playground" although this time it's Cohen's delightful soprano sax leading the way.

Photo: Gangi N all that jazz
Ms. Gurgel's "Para Sempre (Forever)" also utilizes a samba on which the composer places a fine melody. Erev leads the way with a heartfelt reading of the main melody. The pianist builds his solo off the melody lines moving back and forth like watching a leaf dancing in the wind. Shamir's "Shi'ur Moledet (Homeland Class)" opens with a classically-inspired melody played only by piano and bass (excellent counterpoint) until Dobrecky joins 1/3rd of the way into the piece.  Listen closely to the interaction between bass and piano as it supplies the forward motion. Ms. Hoiberg and Cohen combine to present the melody on Erev's "Afar (for Tal)" but the first solo goes to bassist full-toned acoustic bass.  Then the flute and soprano improvise together, wrapping the lines around each other and occasionally moving back to the melody until the leader steps out for a finely-constructed solo.  

The last three tracks begin with A C Jobim's "Olha Maria", a lovely ballad on which the pianist caresses the circular melody with just bass and percussion in support.  Following that is Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" – the drums and percussion percolate below the piano playing the melody as the bass dances in company with Erev's left hand.  The pianist, as is his style, stays close to the melody throughout his solo. He captures the bluesy quality of the original. Hakimi switches to electric bass for the final track, Erev's "Po (Here)", while Cohen's soprano is featured on the melody. He's in the higher register throughout the tune; there's a delightful piano solo that leads back to Cohen whose solo stays close to the melody. The sax and piano tease each other as the rhythm section guide them to a gentle finish.

"Close To Home" is the most personal of the albums Ari Erev has released. The leader, the rhythm section, and the guests all have reverence for melody and Brazilian rhythms so the music rarely gets noisy. Many of the songs wrap around the listener like a comfortable blanket, a hug that serves as a balm in troubled times.  Some make you want to dance.  All of them sound really good!

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

Hear "Falling In Place" (with Yuval Cohen):

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Mr. Braxton Requests....

Reed master, composer, arranger, conceptualist, and interpreter Anthony Braxton is soft-spoken, gentle, and delightfully scholarly. However, when he composes new works or interprets "standards", he is fearless. Mr. Braxton has two new major projects that have just been released; the first is a 12-disk set of original pieces composed for sextet, septet, and nonet using his ZIM Musical System, the other a 13-CD set of standards recorded on a European tour in early 2020 utilizing a trio based in Great Britain. 

Photo: Michael G. Stewart
Honestly, the best way to understand the original music of Anthony Braxton is to read his liner notes.  At times, they seem fantastical but his words do explain how his music is composed and how it can be played.  "12 Comp (ZIM) 2017" (Firehouse 12 Records) features 12 album length compositions recorded in four different venues  ranging from Wake Forest University (North Carolina) to Firehouse 12 Studios (New Haven, CT) to Montreal, Quebec, to Café Oto (London, England). ZIM music is based in "Gradient Logics" including "it gets faster or slower", "Friendships in time", "A Change of Goals" as well as a "Five Part Decision Construct...Unique to ZIM Territories."  Needless to say, there is a lot going on yet this music rarely feels cluttered (unless it's supposed to).  And the music is played by musicians who have either studied with Mr. Braxton or have played his music often. Also, like all music, it's about relationships of musicians with each other, of instruments responding to and supporting each other. In the final analysis, do you need to understand what the author is saying to enjoy the experience?  Mr. Braxton's music has always counted on the listener who is willing to dive in, to reject pre-conceptions, and to make up his or her mind.  It is easy to walk away shaking your head. The song titles (see the cover photo below) don't help, don't tell you what to think, and that's a good thing.

Note there are no drums, there is no percussion, no piano or string bass in the personnel (listed below). Dan Peck's tuba and Tomeka Reid's cello rarely create a foundation; instead they are both part of the conversation.  No matter the size of the ensemble, the instruments come in and go out of the sound spectrum. Besides Peck and Ms. Reid, Adam Matlock's accordion really adds a fascinating voice to the mix.  Taylor Ho Bynum's sound is quite recognizable especially when he steps out front. The addition of two harpists creates different and lighter shades throughout but also provide a percussive feel to several pieces.

Mr. Braxton plays numerous reeds throughout as both a member of the ensemble and a lead voice which is voice is prominently featured on each disk; but, so is Matlock's, Bynum's, Peck's, and others. Those familiar with the music Anthony Braxton creates know to expect the unexpected –– those unfamiliar with the majority of his work, do not expect a "jazz" album.  Just listen and make up your own mind.

To hear the music and to purchase the set, go to

Anthony Braxton - reeds, compositions
Taylor Ho Bynum - brass
Dan Peck - tuba
Jacquline Kerrod - harp
Shelley Burgon - harp (on "Compositions 402, 412, 408-410")
Tomeka Reid - cello (on "Compositions 402, 408-410, 413-416")
Adam Matlock - accordion, aerophones (all tracks except "Composition 402")
Jean Cook - violin ("Compositions 418-420") 
Stephanie Richards - trumpet ("Compositions 
Ingrid Laubrock - saxophones (
"Compositions 418-420")
Brandee Younger - harp ("Compositions 
Miriam Overlach - harp (
"Compositions 418-420")

Look and listen to "Composition 409":

Photo: Fabio Lugaro
Mr. Braxton has always a tender spot for "standards" and he has recorded a number of albums, usually in a quartet format to display that affection.  Between January 15 and 25/2020, the latest Standards Quartet did a quick tour of the European Continent playing in Warsaw, Poland, Wels, Austria, and London, England.  Mr. Braxton limited his reed arsenal to sopranino, soprano, and alto saxophones, sharing the stage with three British musicians including pianist Alexander Hawkins, bassist Neil Charles, and drummer Stephen Davis. Each date was recorded; New Braxton House Records has just issued "Quartet (Standards) 2020", a 13-CD set featuring 67 performances and no tune repeated! This batch of songs includes pieces from John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Cole Porter, Burt Bacharach, Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck, Andrew Hill, and others as well as the theme songs from the movie "High Noon" and television's "The Carol Burnett Show", plus four songs from Paul Simon.

Yes, that Paul Simon.  Mr. Braxton and Mr. Hawkins interpret "Old Friends" as an alto sax - piano duo.  While the saxophonist captures the pathos in the melody, the pianist waxes rhapsodic and the disparity in approaches works nicely. There's a fairly straight-ahead reading of "59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)"; as hard as Hawkins tried to push Braxton a bit further out, the leader stays mostly in a lyrical vein.  If you know the tune, you won't be turned away by this rendition. The alto saxophonist displays his blues chops on "Still Crazy After All These Years".  The Quartet go a bit "free", a lot gospel, and kick it into higher gear a la a Prayer Meeting.  Hawkins' frenetic piano solo changes the mood and mode on "Bridge Over Troubles Water" yet Mr. Braxton makes certain that the soulful melody is heard at the opening and the close. 

Photo: Edu Hawkins
Over the course of the 67-song program, there are many highlights and I do not want to spoil the delight of any listener hearing this music for the first time.  Among my favorites?  Duke Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss" is both melodic and adventurous with strong solos from the leader (on alto) and Hawkins but also pay attention to the delightful bass counterpoint and the dancing drums.  If you need a chuckle, the opening of "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad, Wolf" has a child-like sopranino melody that leads to a humorous give-and-take with all four musicians stopping and starting (as if they were playing hide-and-seek.  The ensemble's take on Paul Desmond's "Take Ten" moves away from the "cool" take the composer recorded in 1963 and gives it a John Coltrane Quartet feel with driving piano chords and a thunderous rhythm section. Thelonious Monk's "Off Minor" is also fun and adventurous as is "Pannonica" especially when Mr. Braxton's soprano sax joins bassist Charles in the opening moments.

Photo: Edu Hawkins
Given the live recording milieu (although one never hears an audience response),  it's not surprising there are moments that do not hang together but those are few and far between.  Overall, "Quartet (Standards) 2020" will give you many hours of listening enjoyment. Neil Charles and Stephen Davis are excellent throughout, Alexander Hawkins displays how he is an exciting, inventive, and supportive pianist, and the 74-year old Anthony Braxton sounds as if he is having such a great time.  Yes, 13 CDs is a lot but you do not have to listen to all 67 cuts, all 11 1/2+ hours, in one sitting. Unless, of course, you're that kind of Anthony Braxton fan.  This is a great package to set on "random play" and see what comes up.  It's captivating to hear Mr. Braxton play "in the tradition" especially as he has been instrumental (no pun intended) in expanding the universe of Creative Music.  Go ahead, dive in!


Anthony Braxton - saxophones
Alexander Hawkins - piano
Neil Charles - bass
Stephen Davis - drums

To hear more and purchase the set, go to To find out more about the amazing world of Mr. Braxton and the work of the Tri-Centric Foundation, go to  

Hear "Out of Nowhere":

Monday, July 5, 2021

A Duo & A Trio

Photo: Josephine Zeitlin
Pianist Denny Zeitlin first became interested in synthesizers in the early 1970s and used them extensively in 1978 when created the soundtrack for the first remake of "Invasion of the Body-Snatchers".  He has used them now and again over the decades, upgrading his equipment along – in 2013, the good Doctor (he's a practicing psychiatrist) reunited with drummer George Marsh who he has known since joining Zeitlin's Trio in the late 1960s. The percussionist, who moved from the East Coast to the West in 1968, may be best known for his work with mandolinist David Grisman, the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, Mose Allison, and so many more.  He set his drums up in Zeitlin's studio and the duo began to play electric-acoustic acoustic improvisations. In 2015, Sunnyside Records released the duo's first album, "Riding the Moment" followed in 2017 by "Expedition." 

"Telepathy" (Sunnyside) is an apt title for their third album.  Taken from sessions over a five-year period (pre-Pandemic), the 14-track, 76+ minute, program is an aural funhouse. Zeitlin, who continually upgrades his keyboard setup, blends his grand piano with numerous synths, hardware, and electronic keyboards –– meanwhile, Marsh plays his acoustic drum, adding percussion every now and then.  There is no script, no sheet music, and, believe it or not, the vast majority of these tracks are first takes.  For those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 70s, you can imagine Zeitlin sitting in the middle of the studio surrounded by his numerous "toys". He easily moves from one to another; listen to the joyful "Highlands", the track that opens the proceedings. It's a funky jig complete with acoustic piano, keyboard bass, various synths and dancing drums. Several minutes in, all but the drums drop out and Zeitlin begins what sounds like a guitar solo (no, it's a keyboard patch).  

In the space of one song, one might think he/ she is listening to Chick Corea or Keith Emerson or Joe Zawinul.  Zeitlin has his own sound and is always searching. Listen to the duo romp on "Quicksilver" (dig the pianist's left hand in the first minute as well Marsh's delightful brushes work in the next minute. Thunderous drums and rumbling piano chords open "Black Hole" before the music goes in different directions. In the middle of "Moonflower", a "virtual choir" rises out of the rhythm section and it seems so right.  "If Only" is an atmospheric ballad-cum-conversation played by synths and drums while "The Ascent" has, at times, a frenzied feel that is alleviated by the hypnotic piano melody in the middle. As the music rolls forward, the pianist moves freely between keyboards that hints at a full breakout but the listener hears a gentle finish. The program closes with a bow to the halcyon days and nights of San Francisco in the 1960s with the hard rocking "Fillmore Dreams" with wailing synth "guitar" and thundering drums as well as a taste of the blues.  

It's easy to get totally wrapped up in the many and varied keyboard sounds but do pay attention to Marsh's inventive drum work.  Even though the two musicians cannot see each other due to the way the studio is set up, the music never gets "lost" or bogged down in repetition.  Because these pieces are improvised, there are many moments the listener feels like he is in the middle of the telepathic action.  Yes, "Telepathy" is the correct title for this album but it could easily be called "Great Fun" or "The Sandbox Sessions".  Denny Zeitlin and George Marsh keep your attention throughout the album by letting their the minds free to wander the sonic universe.  Feeling stress?  Put this music on good and loud; your housemate and/or neighbors might complain but you can't help but feel good as the music dances around you.

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

Hear the delight-filled opening track:


I have known bassist Joe Fonda for over four decades.  He lived in my hometown for a number of years, often played at local venues, produces a yearly show (an Improvisors Forum) with The Buttonwood Tree (Middletown, CT), and has toured the nationally and internationally with so many different artists ranging from Barry Altschul to Anthony Braxton to Billy Bang to Jaimoe (of The Allman Brothers Band) to Michael Musillami to Satoko Fujii.  He leads or co-leads a number of ensembles and, before the pandemic, was one of the busiest musicians in the Creative Music world.

Fonda has performed and recorded with pianist Carlo Morena for over three decades producing four albums with either Jeff Hirschfield or George Schuller on drums. under the name Step In Trio (from a 2000 album of the same name). In March of 2019, Fonda and Morena came to Firehouse 12 in New Haven, CT, with drummer Felix Lecaros Herrera as the third member of the trio.  The dChilean native also works with saxophonist Eden Bareket and has recorded with guitarist Nicolás Vera. The result of the New Haven gig is "Voila la Tendresse" (Not Two Records). The seven song, 70+ minute, program is filled with intuitive playing and intelligent interplay, emotional depth, and really fine compositions (all but one by the pianist).  Because Morena and Fonda have such a long and rich history plus they entrust Herrera with being the foundation each song, this Trio sounds anything but "typical". 

The title track opens the album on a lyrical note, the piano melody pushed forward by the dynamic drumming and bass counterpoint.  The bassist gets the first solo, a delightful statement that is both lyrical and percussive supported by the driving drums and piano.  There is a touch of dissonance at the onset of Morena's long solo – there is such power and excitement as the Trio ramps up the intensity (at times like Keith Jarrett's work with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian).  About 10 minutes in, Morena's left hand drops into a modified "boogie-woogie"; Fonda and Herrera follow happily and the groove is irrepressible right to the final seconds (Morena tosses in a few choice Thelonious Monk quotes in the final moments).

Photo: Guido Nardi
Fonda opens "Japan" with a long solo that gain blends lyrical and percussive with a hypnotic feel at times. Four+ minutes in, the pianist and drummer enter pushing the music into a Bill Evans-style atmosphere with a gentle stop & start in the rhythm; yet, notice how the music moves into a different area more related to the rhythmic pulses of the piece than an Evans improvisation.  Rumbling piano and bluesy bass licks introduce "Dog With No Name",  tune that moves from Gershwin-style flourishes to raucous blues to bass solos short and long. a swinging piano romp  that gets a bit off-center by the powerful drumming. The one non-original is "I Love Music" composed in 1974 by Emil Boyd – it's a sweet solo piano piece that carrie a lot of emotion.

The program comes to its close with "Chorale", a piece that builds slowly from the piano-bass-brushes opening into a powerful piano solo that pushes the rhythm, especially Lecaros Herrera (pictured) to lock in with Morena for a thunderous climax. Still, it's the pianist who puts the song and the album to bed with a short series of light-fingered descending lines.

Step InCarlo Morena, Joe Fonda, and Felix Lecaros Herrera – have produced an excellent alum in "Voila la Tendresse".  The music engages the Trio which, in turn, captivates the audience.  Powerful, lyrical, rhythmic, emotional music that deserves your close attention – highly recommended!

To purchase the album, go to  For more information about the bassist and his many projects, go to

Give a listen to "Japan":