Three different trios, three varied approaches, and all three fascinating to explore!
It's been over six years since Nicole Mitchell (flutes, electronics), Tomeka Reid (cello), and Mike Reed (drums, percussion) recorded "Artifacts" for 482 Music. The album was a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the AACM, the Chicago, IL-based organization that all three are members of. The delightful album featured compositions by original members of the organization plus one by later member, guitarist Jeff Parker. Ms. Mitchell, Ms. Reid, and Mr. Reed have all been very busy in the intervening years with the ladies joining the expanded Art Ensemble of Chicago while the drummer recorded AEC's Roscoe Mitchell. They have also continued to play in their own various ensembles.
The trio has taken the name "Artifacts". Their new album, "...and then there's this" (Astral Spirits) features seven works by the band members plus one each by Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell. The music is, by turns, funky, earthy, improvisational, quiet, devotional, and emotionally rich. Drummer Reed's "Pleasure Palace" opens the program on a dancing beat and raucous cello before Ms. Mitchell's tears her way through the melody. "A. F. (dedicated to Alvin Fielder)" is a group piece built off the distorted flute sounds, the rhythm from the cowbell, and the hard-edge cello lines. The track and several others should remind the listener of the 1970s ensemble Air (Henry Threadgill, bassist Fred Hopkins, and drummer Steve McCall). Ms. Reid shines on Ms. Mitchell's "Blessed", showing the influence of Abdul Wadud on her bluesy pizzicato lines.
There's a large amount of aural variety on these tracks. The cellist's "In Response To" swings with abandon featuring hearty solos from the trio while her "Song For Helena" is a stunning ballad, the rich tone of the flute meshing with the full-toned arco cello before the drummer sets a gentle pace with his brushes for Ms. Mitchell's graceful solo. Muhal's "Soprano Song" jumps out over the solid rhythm section, the flute leaping atop the propulsive rhythms.
The program closes with the "get down funky" rhythms of Roscoe Mitchell's "No Side Effects" – while Mr. Reed keeps the song the grooving, Ms. Mitchell and Ms. Reid dance around each other. Te music gets pretty "sweaty" in just 2:27. "...and then there's this" is a delight from start to finish. In just 39 minutes, Artifacts trio will make smile many times, maybe even get up and dance as well. Kudos to Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid, and Mike Reed for creating one of the finest albums of the past several years!
Guitarist Lionel Loueke hails from Benin in West Africa and first came to the United States in the mid-1990s. Since completing his studies at the Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA) and the Thelonious Monk Institute (Los Angeles, CA), he has been one of the busiest musicians on the planet. Not only did he co-found the trio Gilfema but also worked and recorded with Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette, Terence Blanchard, Esperanza Spalding, Dave Holland, and Gretchen Parlato (and many others) plus he's recorded nine albums under his own name.
In 2017, Loueke went into the studio under the auspices of Newville Records to record an album of standards with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland. Released in 2018 as vinyl-only, the recording (with three extra tracks) has now been issued on CD and as a download by Sounderscore. The label, owned by bassist (and Gilfema member) Massimo Biolcati, hired David Darlington to do the mixing and mastering; the sound quality is suberb! The 11-song program features two tunes each by John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk as well as pieces by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Henry Mancini, Hoagy Carmichael, Richard Rodgers, Bernice Peterke ("Close Your Eyes"), and Johnny Green ("Body and Soul"). At times, the music sounds like a tribute to Jim Hall but the unpredictability of many of the arrangements plus the freewheeling rhythm section puts the album in a class by itself.
Check out the Caribbean-inspired "Skylark", the percussive guitar playing the melody over bass counterpoint and playful percussion; the long fade reminiscent of Charles Lloyd's "Forest Flower". There's an atmospheric take of "Moon River" with minimal drum backing as well as a lovely reading of "Body and Soul" –– Rogers's resonating bass accompaniment and Harland's hand drumming serve to set off the lyrical guitar playing. The trio swing the daylights out of the album opener, "Footprints" followed several tracks later with a delightful romp through "Blue Monk".
Come to "Close Your Eyes" for the strong guitar work of Lionel Loueke but chances are very good you'll really get into the inventive and fun playing of Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland. O, what sounds await the eager listener –– dig in, dive in, and enjoy!
Alto saxophonist and composer Aakash Mittal, born in Texas to a New Delhi native father and Nebraska-born mother, is a busy writer, educator, traveler, and musician. His journeys has taken him throughout the United States, India, Mexico, and elsewhere. Mittal has won many commissions as well as fellowships, recorded with Amir elSaffar, Dennis Gonzalez, and Ravish Momin plus he has self-released four recordings as a leader. He leads various groups including a Quartet and now the Awaz Trio. The latter ensemble includes Miles Okazaki (guitars) and Rajna Swaminathan (mrudangam and kinjara).
That trio has just issued its debut album. "Nocturne" (self-released); the program includes the five-part title track, a three-part "Street Music", and an "Opening". The 82-second "Opening" starts with a lecturer speaking about oral tradition then Ms. Swaminathan enters; the warbling alto sax line and expressive guitar play a short melody that leads directly into "Nocturne I" –– the music for the album is based on Mittal's journey to Kolkata, India, to study Hindustani evening and night ragas. One can hear the influence of raga music in Mittal's linear phrasing while both guitar and murdangam (often spelled "mridangam") add the rhythmic base. After that short piece fades (2:34), a field recording begins with hand-held percussion dancing through the speakers; the musicians do a short interpretation before the street musicians reenter.
As the album sweeps along, one can hear how the sounds of the Indian city influences the music. While the title suite is more lyrical, it's not a typical Western classical nocturne but certainly a fine illustration of a warm evening in Kolkata or Mumbai. "Nocturne IV" is a quiet three-way conversation, like three friends walking at 3 a.m. through the city streets. There are moments of dissonance but, mostly, the piece draws the listener in and leads through unfamiliar yet friendly territory. Okazaki's solo shines while the often-quiet percussion follows the path of the melody. The last section of the suite ("V") jumps from the very start, featuring great accompaniment, powerful interactions, and a rippling saxophone solo that bounces atop the guitar's lower notes and the rapid-fire drumming. Mittal's playing is alive, swift melodic phrases blended with short fragments.
The album closes with the high-powered "Street Music III" with just the trio playing the music of the parade band moving through the streets. Mittal's melody is locked in with the percussion and the guitar chords, moving decisively and powerfully to the close. When you listen to "Nocturne", you need to stow away your "Western Music" ears and surrender to a music that ties with serious roots in an ancient culture and the lively madness of contemporary life. Aakash Mittal has composed a number of pieces about Indian street life for previous albums; yet, these acoustic pieces illustrate how he has grown as composer, interpreter, musician, and human being.
Over the decades of his career, Steve Coleman, alto saxophonist, composer, conceptualist, MacArthur Fellow, has taken his curiosity far afield, creating music that blends rhythm and melody in ways that are hypnotic and highly appealing. The Chicago, IL, native has absorbed the musical lessons of Charlie Parker, the live lessons of fellow alto player Bunky Green, and tenor master Von Freeman, what he learned in the bands of Cecil Taylor, Sam Rivers, and Dave Holland (to name but three) and created music whose home is in the African Diaspora and the streets of American cities. Since signing with Pi Recordings in 2010, Coleman has issued six albums that feature several different-sized ensembles. His main musical vehicle is Five Elements, an ensemble that now features Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet) and the amazing rhythm section of Anthony Tidd (electric bass) and Sean Rickman (drums).
In 2018, Pi released "Live at the Village Vanguard Volume I: the Embedded Sets", and two-CD set recorded in May of 2017. That album featured a fifth Fifth Element, guitarist Miles Okazaki. 12 months later, the band returned to the Vanguard with the spoken word genius Kokayi in the place of the guitar. 11 songs from that three-night stay can now be heard on Coleman's seventh album for the label "Live at the Village Vanguard Volume II (Mdw Ntr)". The combination of the vocals and instrumental voices is, at times, astonishing as Kokayi is right on the rhythm, interacting with Coleman and Finlayson's melody lines, Tidd's thunderous yet melodic bass lines, and Rickman's powerful, conversational, drums. Coleman's alto leads the way but everybody's voice is heard. Finlayson has developed into an excellent front-line partner; whether the piece is totally improvised (such as disc #1's "Unit Fractions" or Bunky Green's "Little Girl I'll Miss You"), the trumpeter builds delightful solos off of the leader's rapid-fire solo phrases. Another highlight of the Green piece is Kokayi's interaction with the leader's alto.
Thanks to the rhythm section, this music is always moving. Not only do Tidd and Rickman act as the foundation but they both, at times, interact with the soloists. Because Coleman builds these pieces around shapes and symbolism (from Egyptian hieroglyphics), the melodies the sax and trumpet create often sound static but the bassist and drummer keep the music interesting. Kokayi is often the spark plug –– his social commentary on "Pad Thai –– Mdw Ntr" locks in with the bass line and the solid drumming and making one leap out of their seat!
Happily, there's no let up on disc 2. In fact, "Rumble Young Man, Rumble" may be the best cut on the entire album. Not only is the rapid-fire groove irresistible but Kokayi's lyrics have moments of sheer hilarity (something to do with "bichon frieses in the jungle with labradoodles") as well as social commentary about how dangerous walking the streets is for young Black men as well as the description of a boxing match. All the while, Rickman is a thundering presence; like rush hour in downtown Manhattan, there's no escaping his presence. (Notice how Coleman uses the repeated 12-note phrase of the song as the opening salvo of "Khet & Kaba" and variations of the same for the melody).
"Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Live at the Village Vanguard Vol. II (Mdw Ntr)" is powerful modern music. Steve Coleman utilizes ancient codes and artwork to create explorations of 21st Century Black Music that is as intelligent as it is funky.
Here's the afore-mentioned "Rumble Young Man, Rumble":
Pianist and composer Matthew Shipp is one of the busiest musicians you'll ever meet. Even though he has cut down his live appearances (as did the pandemic), he records with his own group, co-leads other ensembles, and appears on other people's recordings. When he records a solo piano album, one can hear a dizzying number of musical references, from 20th Century Classical music to avant-garde jazz to blues to, by his own admittance, the influences of Bud Powell and Bill Evans. Critics and reviewers call it jazz but that word is not quite right –– you can call it Black creative music or just music.
His new album, "Codebreaker" comes to us via TAO Form, the label started last year by drummer (and Shipp collaborator) Whit Dickey. 11 songs spread across 45 minutes, all but one under five minutes. The music blends melody, rhythm, hypnotic phrases, introspective moments, and more into a mesmerizing program. Recorded in late July of 2020 in Brooklyn NY's Park West Studios, Shipp creates a world all his own –– this is not background music but a program to explore from beginning to end. There is a science-fiction motif to several of the song titles, e.g "Letter From the Galaxy", Raygun", and "Stomp To the Galaxy". Yet, the pianist has a sly edge in not giving away any real hint through the names. What is enjoyable is how the music can shift in a heartbeat or stop your heart with its gentle quality; the "blues stomp" that shows up in "Green Man" and the lyrical tenderness of "Suspended".
Find a comfortable chair, put on "Codebreaker", and let the sounds wash over you as well as enter your soul. If you are a fan of the recorded music of Matthew Shipp, you know to do that. If you are new to his music, you become the person in the album's title, exploring the piano language he creates on eleven pieces. Don't hurry to crack any codes, just take in these sounds, these luminous creations, and enjoy.
For more information, go to www.akamu.net/shipp.htm. To purchase the album, go to
Slowly but surely, the "live music scene" is opening up, especially here in my native Connecticut. Here are three artists with new albums gracing music venues this weekend.
Mary LaRose, life partner and music collaborator of saxophonist/ clarinetist Jeff Lederer, has a new album project arriving on October 7. "Out Here" (little (i) music) takes the music of Eric Dolphy (clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto saxophone), adds lyrics by Ms. LaRose, new arrangements by Mr. Lederer as well as poems by Hallie Lederer and Patricia Donegan, and gives all that to a dynamic quintet of musicians to support, innovate, explore, interpret, and more. What a fine band –– Mr. Lederer (clarinet, bass clarinet), Tomeka Reid (cello), Patricia Brennan (vibraphone, electronics), Nick Dunston (bass), and Matt Wilson (drums –– they perform nine songs from across Dolphy's discography. The arrangements allow one to hear the influences of the blues, be bop, and classical music that permeated the Master's music.
The album opens with a delightful take of "Gazzelloni", Dolphy's tribute to the Italian flutist and teacher Severino Gazzelloni (1919-1992) who gave numerous lessons to many artists over the decades including the composer. The introduction is a particular delight with Ms. LaRose and drummer Wilson having a playful conversation. "Out There" has a positive message and a propulsive melody. Ms. LaRose sings with the cello, bass, and the vibes in unison with her. There is no tempo yet the music leaps forward on the strength of the instruments and voice. Trombonist Jimmy Bosch, percussionist Bobby Sanabria, and vocalist Maya Rose Lederer join the band for the Afro-Cuban inflected take of Sonny Simmons/ Prince Lasha's "Music Matador". Note hoe Ms. Reid's cellist interacts with the voice as does the trombone. The show has the quality of a "show stopper"!
Parade drums lead the way into "Out to Lunch" – listen to how the tempos shift under Lederer's clarinet solo as if the vibes were going one way, the cello another, and the drums yet another while the bass keeps the structure intact. "Love Me", a melody by Victor Young with lyrics by Ned Washington and Bing Crosby, is a duet between the Ms. LaRose's playful voice and the swooping phrases of the bass clarinet.
"Out Here" closes with Mal Waldron's "Warm Canto" which the pianist/ composer recorded with Dolphy for his 1961 album "The Quest". Ms. LaRose reads the Patricia Donegan's poem "Lover's Wish" supported by Wilson's fine brushes work, Ms. Brennan's electronically enhanced vibes, and Ms. Reid's expressive cello. In the middle, the clarinet trio of Isaiah Johnson, Cameron Jones, and Mr. Lederer carry on a lively conversation. It's the perfect ending for a delight-filled album that not only contains surprises but also soothes the soul. Mary LaRose is quite the adventurous artist and, while she has only released five albums over the past two decades (she has also recorded with her husband), each album is required listening.
On August 16, 2020, Jeff Lederer invited his friends Jamie Saft (organ, piano), Matt Wilson (drums, percussion), and Steve Swallow (electric bass) to record eight original compositions based on the saxophonist's study of the book "The Heart of Buddha's Teaching" by Thich Nahat Hanh. And, because of the extensive COVID-19 protocols being enforced at the time, the quartet was going to record the session outdoors. They did just that in between the hit-or-miss summer showers. The ensemble, known as Sunwatcher from the title of Mr. Lederer's 2011 Jazzheads release that featured Saft and Wilson plus bassist Buster Williams, creates a powerful sound pushed forward by the insistent drums and Mr. Swallow's amazing bass work. "Eightfold Path" (little (i) music) is a guide to living a good life with the music serving as a guide to immerse one's self into the sound. Tunes such as "Right Speech" and "Right Livelihood" make one want to dance and sound great coming out of a car's speakers driving down the road.
Every time I encounter Steve Swallow's bass, I realize how much he fills the bottom and how melodic he is. Note how bluesy and fundamental he is on "Right Action" and how integral his counterpoint is behind the acoustic piano and tenor sax solos on "Right Effort". Mr. Swallow connects with the New Orleans-tinged drums on "Right Action" playing a three-note figure similar to that of the "Acknowledgement" movement of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme". Saft's righteously funky organ playing stands out on that track as well. In an interview I conducted with Mr. Lederer and Mary LaRose, I asked if "Right Resolve" was based on the chugging rhythm of Elton John's "Bennie and The Jets" –– the composer claimed "no" but Ms. LaRose laughed and said "Told you!" Certainly the chord structure is different but.....Saft's solo roars while Wilson's drums crush beneath him.
While the music is noisy at times, there are also several lovely ballads. The gospel-tinged melody of "Right View", played together then in counterpoint by Mr. Lederer and Mr. Swallow, has wonderful cymbal work and rich, sustained, organ chords. Mr. Saft's long solo adds intensity to the piece and is followed by a sweet Swallow solo. The afore-mentioned "Right Effort" and the album closer "Right Mindfulness" finds the organist on acoustic piano. The latter track features long sustained bass notes, a handsome tenor solo, and Mr. Wilson on hand-held percussion. Notice how all four musicians are essential to the music moving forward even as they create a meditative sound.
"Eightfold Path" is Jeff Lederer at his best. Yes, he still plays with a ferocity that sounds as if his saxophone will explode but he also displays a softer, more melodic, side that fits the message of the album. Great band, good music –– sure sounds like they had a delightful day in the park!
Vocalist Judy Wexler, born and still lives in Los Angeles, CA, is a person who loves tell a story with each song she sings. Her new album "Back To The Garden" (released in June of this year on her Jewel City Jazz) illustrates how the songs of 1960s, pieces written by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Stephen Stills, Sandy Denny, and others, have great resonance for this third decade of the 21st Century. With a band that features pianist and arranger Jeff Colella, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Gabe Davis, drummer Steve Hass, a string quartet, and more guests, Ms. Wexler comes at these tunes with a jazz sensibility and an well-developed ear for harmony while the arrangements by Collela (with two from Josh Nelson) open the songs up without losing their essential qualities. I imagine that anyone who "grew up" with these songs (as I did) will bring a myriad memories to his or her listening experience.
Despite the album's title, that Joni Mitchell song is not in the program but "Big Yellow Taxi" is. The melody is propelled by a funky piano phrase. Danny Janklow's alto sax fills serve as a smart counterpoint to the vocal plus delightful backing vocals (the tune's co-arranger Erin Bentlage) will make you smile. In the midst of their Brill Building years, Gerry Goffin and Carole King composed "Up On The Roof" and the homage to star gazing in New York City was a best seller for The Drifters during the Holiday season of 1962. Collela's arrangement and far-ranging piano solo brings Bruce Hornsby to mind. "For What It's Worth", composed by Stills for the Buffalo Springfield, became a rallying cry for protesters around the escalating Vietnam War. Koonse's sharp-edged solo, accompanied by the militaristic drums, is a highlight as is Ms. Bentlage's backing vocals.
Mr. Dylan gets two songs, the political broadside "The Times They Are A'Changin'" (1964) and the sweet lullaby "Forever Young", a song the composer recorded twice for his 1974 album "Planet Waves" (featuring The Band). The former song is just as relevant now as it was nearly six decades ago while the latter is one of the sweetest and straight-forward set of lyrics in Mr. Dylan's oeuvre. Ms. Wexler and Jeff Collela don't take liberties with these songs; instead, they make sure you hear the lyrics. Violinist Sara Caswell
makes an appearance on "Forever Young" wrapping her velvety phrases around Koonse's guitar lines and the sweet-sounding background voices.
The album closes appropriately with "Who Knows Where The Time Goes" –– the late Sandy Denny composed and recorded the song with Fairport Convention in 1969 but it was Judy Collins whose 1968 version became the title of her third album. This lovely arrangement by Josh Nelson features a splendid trumpet solo from Jay Jennings as well as a heartfelt vocal. Nelson also arranged "American Tune" (listen below) that utilizes a string trio that underscore Ms. Wexler's emotional vocal.
When you listen to "Back To The Garden", make sure to notice that this is not a nostalgic trip or even a tribute album: instead, notice how Judy Wexler remind us all of the power of music to be relevant over decades and generations and how jazz artists were listeners first and interpreters second, introducing great songs to new audiences. Subtle, swinging, soothing, fun, this album is a true delight!
Judy Wexler will be performing this album and more on Saturday October 9 at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme CT. Accompanying her will be Jim Ridl (piano), Bill Moring (bass), and Tim Horner (drums). For ticket information, go to www.eventbrite.com/e/judy-wexler-tickets-165027442523.
Here's Ms. Wexler's take on Paul Simon's "American Tune":