Monday, November 22, 2021

Just the Child in Me

Photo: Peter Gannushkin
It's nearly impossible not to like Joe Fiedler the person. The Pittsburgh, PA, native has a quick sense of humor, is curious about lots of different things, and is a hard worker.  Joe Fiedler the trombonist is a top-notch player who has shared stages with musicians and groups that range from Eddie Palmieri to Maria Schneider, Anthony Braxton to The Four Tops, and beyond.  The trombonist also played in numerous Broadway pit bands including the entire run of Lin-Manuel Miranda's "In the Heights" as well as the soundtrack for the recent movie production of the play.  Since 2009, Joe Fielder has been the music director for "Sesame Street", arranging, orchestrating, and conducting the eight-piece orchestra. On top of all that, he leads an eponymous trio, the all-brass quartet known as Big Sackbut, and the quintet Open Sesame.  

In February of 2019, Fiedler's Multiphonics Music label issued the album "Open Sesame", a 17-song collection 15 of which were from the children's show along with two group improvisations. And, what a group –– joining the trombonist was Jeff Lederer (soprano and tenor saxes), Sean Conly (electric bass), and Michael Sarin (drums) plus special guest Steven Bernstein (trumpet, slide trumpet). The same group, now with Mr. Bernstein as a full-time member, and Conly on mostly acoustic bass), is back for "Fuzzy and Blue" (Multiphonics). Also in the mix for two songs is vocalist Miles Griffith. 13 songs including one three-song suite and two-song medley make up the program with over half the songs credited to Joe Raposo who was the first music director on the "...Street".

Photo: Peter Gannushkin
Chances are good you'll recognize a number of these melodies whether you sat with your children or grandchildren watching the show or you grew up parked in front of PBS in the morning.  The proceedings open where they should with Raposo's "ABC-DEF-GHI" with Conly's bouncy bass line leading the quintet in with a funky Caribbean beat.  Lederer leads the way on soprano while the horns play rhythmic fills and harmonies.  The trombone stands in for Kermit the Frog for the initial run-through of "Bein' Green" then shares the verse with the soprano sax and trumpet.  The solos are quite enjoyable especially the leader's.  Later in the program, one can hear the Palmieri influence on the conga-line inspired "One of These Things."  Note how Conly's electric bass is the counterpoint on both the trombone and trumpet solos.

Miles Griffith shows up on Fiedler's "I Am Somebody" which features original lyrics by Reverend William H. Borders –– In 1972,  Reverend Jesse Jackson led a group of young people on the show in a call-and-response.  Here, the leader provides a funky tune for the vocalist to scat and dance upon while the quartet rocks. Griffith returns on the delightful combination of "I Love Trash" with "C is for Cookie"; Griffith's vocals are such fun, playful, constricting his voice to sound like Oscar the Grouch (he who lives in a trash can) and Cookie Monster (whose name tells of his reason for living).  There's a fun interaction for Griffith and the trombonist before the songs comes to a close.

You do not need to know the music of "Sesame Street" to enjoy the musical shenanigans of "Fuzzy and Blue".  The sound is full and bright, the beats are irresistible (Michael Sarin's drumming stands out throughout the album), the solos playful yet sincere, and the arrangements full of wit and just the right touch of wise-guy!  Joe Fiedler and Open Sesame are just the right antidote to seasonal doldrums –– if this music does not make you smile, tap your feet, or laugh out loud, best to rediscover the "kid" in you.

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

Here's a taste:

Friday, November 19, 2021

The Majesty of Chicago and An Exemplary Trio

Photo: Dominick Huber

TUM Records continues its recorded celebration of Wadada Leo Smith in his 80th year on this plane of existence with two new albums.  Earlier this year, the Finnish label issued the solo three-disk set "Trumpet" plus a duo-trio three disk set "Sacred Ceremonies" that featured the trumpeter in musical conversations with maser percussionist Milford Graves and bassist Bill Laswell. Both albums are filled with captivating performances, sonic poems, a multiplicity of ideas, and a musical language that leads to new possibilities in an ever-changing world.

One can say the same about the two recordings TUM is releasing a month before Wadada's birthday (which is December 18). The first, "The Chicago Symphonies", consists of four separate works, "Gold - No. 1", "Diamond – No. 2", "Pearl - No. 3", and "Sapphire - No. 4: The Presidents and Their Visions for America" performed by the Great Lakes Quartet.  "Nos. 1 -3" features Wadada with Jack DeJohnette (drums), Henry Threadgill (alto saxophone, flute), and John Lindberg (bass) while "No. 4" has Jonathon Haffner (alto and soprano saxophones) instead of Mr. Threadgill.  The first three symphonies are dedicated to particular musicians that the composer met when he moved to Chicago in 1967 after five years in the Army.  Wadada joined the AACM where he met Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton,  Amina Claudine Meyers, Leroy Jenkins, Joseph Jarman, and Mr. Threadgill plus many others –– all these were expanding the possibilities of Black Music; many of them still do. 

Photo: Dominick Huber
Of all the myriad albums Wadada has issued in the past decade+, "Chicago Symphonies" bears witness to the influence of the people he came in contact with.  It's nearly impossible to hit the highlights as every track stands out but know this –– these are master musicians at play.  Mr. Threadgill's tart alto saxophone or the rounds tones of his flutes stand out while Mr. DeJohnette deftly drops into musical conversations with his three compatriots, playing with a freedom that not only displays his creativity but how intelligently he shapes each piece.  Mr. Lindberg's thick, often cello-like, bass tones and creative lines not only offer a sense of structure but he also shows he can step forward with his sparkling arco (bowed) bass work.  Wadada's trumpet pierces through the pieces while his muted work bears witness to the influences of Lester Bowie and Miles Davis. 

Photo: Dominick Huber
"Symphony No. 4: The Presidents..." is dedicated to Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama.  The text from "The Gettysburg Address" and President Obama's "Speech at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches" are included with the physical albums and can also be found on the TUM website (address below). The six-part piece was recorded in 2018, over three years after the other Symphonies. As with the works dedicated to the many Chicago musicians, there are moments of urgency, joy, darkness, and unity that touch the mind and soul of the listener.  The emotion that one feels just reading the texts and the titles of the movements help to prepare the listener for the depth and breadth and, yes, the emotional strength of these musical performances. 

The music and stories of "Chicago Symphonies" will keep you captivated throughout the four albums and all 165 minutes of music. Wadada Leo Smith's Great Lakes Quartet is in splendid form with the "Fourth Symphony" serving as this listener's introduction to saxophonist Jonathon Haffner (hope to hear much more) whose first gig with the GLQ was in 2017.  Listen closely!

Here's the opening movement of the "Golden Symphony" dedicated to Amina Claudine Myers:

Photo: R.I Sutherland-Cohen
Album # two, "A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday", has Wadada in a trio setting with Mr. DeJohnette and Vijay Iyer (piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B-3, electronics).  Mr. Iyer first played with the trumpeter over 20 years ago; the pianist understands how Wadada's music moves, his role in shaping the pieces, and how to "converse" in the composer's unique musical language.  An interesting aspect to this program is that all three of the participants contributed compositions: there is even one totally improvised piece.  The music is lively, dramatic, at times stunning, and always on the move.

The title track opens the album (do listen below): it's a fascinating journey, from the four minute drum solo that develops over the first four minutes to the rousing three-way conversation in the middle of the nearly 12-minute piece to the emotional "blues" of the final 90 seconds.  An atmospheric Rhodes piano is heard at the onset of Mr. Iyer's "Deep Time No. 1".  If you listen closely, the voice of Malcolm X's speech "By All Means Necessary" can be heard (at times, electronically altered) while the trio moves around led by Wadada's muted trumpet, the soft piano chords and Mr. DeJohnette's rapid-fire trips around his cymbals. There are moments when the track suggests the influence of Miles Davis circa "Filles de Kilimanjaro" and "In a Silent Way".

Photo: Maurice Robertson
The other three tracks include "The A.D. Opera: A Long Vision with Imagination, Creativity, and Fire, a Dance Opera" (dedicated to pianist, composer, and Wadada collaborator Anthony Davis), Mr. DeJohnette's affecting "Song for World Forgiveness" (wonderful musical interaction), and the trio improvisation "Rocket" that closes the album.  That final cut hearkens back to "Yo Miles!", Wadada's electric project with guitarist Henry Kaiser. Here's the Hammond organ leading the raucous trumpet and the frisky beat of the drums.  It's quite a finish to quite an album.

The cooperative trio of Wadada Leo Smith, Jack DeJohnette, and Vijay Iyer recorded "A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday" on November 22, 2016 just three days short of its release date of 11/19/21.  Yet, the music sounds contemporary, fresh, and brimming with intelligence, wit, and an animated sense of adventure.  One could not ask for more (other than a second recording and a tour from this trio)!

Dig into the title track:

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Five by Twos

Photo: John Rogers
Believe it or not, the duo of Dan Weiss (drums) and Miles Okazaki (guitar) has been together for 25 years playing with other musicians in various combinations; saxophonist and composer Ohad Talmor just issued his latest album "Mise en Place" (Intakt Records) with the duo serving as his musical partners. Both Weiss and Okazaki were commissioned to compose pieces for their duo by John Zorn's Stone Commissioning Series in early 2020; only the guitarist's eight-part "The Memory Palace" received its performance debut (2/26/2020). The drummer's debut of "Middlegame" was set for late March but was postponed due to the pandemic. 

Now Cygnus Recordings has issued the two suites on CD, digital download, and as a two-Lp set.  Aptly titled "Music for Drums and Guitar", the music is a fascinating amalgam of the two musicians various interests and how they communicate in sound.  Okazaki's 36-minute piece,  has moments of sly funky beats, throbbing grooves, flourishes of folk and classical influences, prog-rock and more. Plus there's a feeling of playfulness that inhabits pieces such as "Part II" and "Part IV" –– the guitarist digs in to the groove Weiss lays down and the dance forward.  The melody of "Part VII" is long but flows atop a river of percussion that builds in intensity until a flurry of guitar notes rain down on the frenetic drums.  "Part VIII" closes the suite slowly at first but the circular guitar riff begins to expand –– note how the snare echoes the rapid-fire guitar riffs. As the performance builds to a fiery climax, Okazaki steps on the "fuzz' pedal and the proceedings explode right up to the final chord.

Photo: John Rogers
Weiss's seven-part suite "Middlegame" displays all of his strengths without the music turning into a mere display of technique. First and foremost, not only does the drummer "swing", he is quite a melodic player. Note how "Parts I and II" set up the template for the rest of the work.  Weiss leads the guitarist in, all the while creating rhythms that have power and depth.  "Part III" finds the drums up front with Okazaki as the support and melodic foil. By the last 90 seconds of the piece, the guitarist is locked into the beat, his percussive lines in step with Weiss. The longest piece in the suite and on the album (12:52), "Part V", is also driven by the rhythms with the guitarist being the "foundation" while Weiss steps up.  The drummer moves in and around the guitar switching from swinging the beat to being "conversational" on his kit.  

Dig deeply into "Music for Drums and Guitar" and you will find a world of endless possibilities.  As stated above, Dan Weiss and Miles Okazaki have history together so they know each other's strengths.  There are no 'dead" spots in this program; instead, the music continues to move forward, slowly down now and then to contemplate textures and introspective interactions.  There's much to discover!!

For more information, go to To purchase the album, CD, or digital download, go to

Here's "Part II" from each suite:


The duo of Mary Halvorson (guitar, effects) and Sylvie Courvoisier (piano) first recorded together on 2017's "Crop Circle" (Relative Pitch Records), a collection of tracks that highlighted each musicians strengths as well as how they intuitively move through both composed and improvised material.  In June of this year, the duo got back together and recorded the 12 tracks that make up the two musicians second album and debut for Pyroclastic Records.  "Search for the Disappeared Hour" features five pieces composed by the guitarist, four by the pianist, and three improvisations.  The music draws in the listener while also challenging one's expectations. 

Ms. Halvorson's "Golden Proportion" opens the program; the opening melody is played by the guitar supported by powerful piano chords and rippling runs. On occasion, the musicians venture outside the stated rhythm yet never lose sight of the main thrust of the music.  Listen carefully and, right before the end, you'll hear a quote from Beethoven.  The pianist's "Mind Out of Time" finds Ms. Halvorson experimenting with sounds from the guitar while Ms. Courvoisier plays a dark, 20th Century style classical background.  The guitarist's "Bent Yellow" has a piano rhythm that references the music of Robin Holcomb; note how both musicians move in and out of blues patterns from the middle of the track forward. there are splashes of humor, the playful interactions of the duo creating a lightness that's hard to ignore. 

Photo: Self-portrait
Among the many delights on the recording is how the duo frame melodies so that they stand out. "Gates & Passes" is a ballad that builds up from the opening long melody into a long, dissonant, guitar solo. Note how Ms. Courvoisier never changes her pace or mood building her solo off the song's handsome chord structure. "Party Dress", an impromptu piece by the duo, has such a gentle feel even with the extended reverb on the guitar. "The album's closing piece, "Blizzard Rings", is also an improvisation that sounds like a dream, one in which someone is in a room full of wind-up toys –– the piano and guitar move in and around each other through to the soft finish.

"Searching for the Disappeared Hour" is quite an aural adventure through the creative minds of Mary Halvorson and Sylvie Courvoisier. If you are a fan of the two musicians, the music will delight and surprise you; if you are new to their explorations, keep an open mind and notice how the duo feeds off each others ideas, energy, and melodies.  

Here's the opening track:

Photo: Steve Mullensky
Does the end of Daylight Savings Time get you down?  Knowing that the evening starts earlier and the night lasts longer truly bother you?  My prescription for surviving the next several months is a healthy dose of "Reconvexo". No, it's not a new drug like the ones you might see on the nightly newscasts –– it's actually the new Anzic recording by the duo of Anat Cohen (clarinet, bass clarinet, voice) and Marcello Gonçalves (7-string guitar, voice). Recorded in January of 2020 while the duo was quarantined in Rio de Janiero, the nine-song program features songs from the Música Popular Brasileira songbook.  Their debut collaboration, "Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos", came out in 2017 so this time, they decided to play songs by some of Brazil's most popular composers.  

The album opens with the title track. Composed by Caetano Veloso for his sister Maria Bethânia for a 1989 album, the song has been covered by a slew of artists.  It's a bright melody that Ms. Cohen exults in while Gonçalves provides not only support but a percussive drive that pushes the song forward. Veloso and Milton Nascimento co-wrote "Paula e Bebeto", an episodic piece where the guitar and clarinets (Ms. Cohen overdubs bass clarinet) share the melody before the pace slows down for a lovely clarinet solo. The brightness of the guitar is expertly recorded so that you marvel at the brilliant accompaniment and how the piece moves organically.  Nascimento had his hand in composing two other songs on the album; he composed the words for Fernando Brant's lovely "Maria, Maria" which comes from a 1978 album about the legacy of slavery in Brazil while "Ânima" (composed with Zé Renato) is the title track for the singer's 1982 album.  The performance is truly beautiful with a melody that sounds like birds singing on a Spring morning. 

Other composers included in the program are Dori Caymmi, Gilberto Gil, the team of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa, the 19th Century Venezulean composer Heraclio Hernandez, and the team of Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright.  "Never Dreamed You's Leave in Summer" is the tune that closes the album –– the sparkling arrangement of the Wright/ Wonder song does not sound out of place in this delightful collection.

"Reconvexo" is splendid from start-to-finish, sounding lovely at any time of day (early morning as the sun rises works for me) –– the duo of Anat Cohen and Marcello Gonçalves has created a delight-filled alternative to moping and negativity. One should feel cleansed after listening to this music!

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

Here's "Ânima":

Photo: Whitney George
There is something soothing about two steel-string guitarists playing through their way through a set of songs that makes you long for sitting around a fire soaking in the sounds.  Cameron Mizell and Charlie Rauh have played together for a number of years but never like they have over the eight-plus months it took the duo to record its second album, "Local Folklore" (Destiny Records).  Both players contributed five songs to the program and both recorded in their own studios.  Despite the "remote" recording, this music sounds bright, collaborative, highly melodic and harmonic with a wistful quality permeating the songs.  Mizell and Ruah are busy leaders on their own yet when they come together, their musical conversations feel like a respite from the road, a quiet evening lost in melody and stories.

That's what "Local Folklore" is, a melody-laden journey into the heart.  Mizell's title song leads off the program on a uptempo note,, the strumming guitars setting the pace for the well-crafted melody and the fine, articulate, solos that follow. Rauh's "Petey & Kyle" follows with its Beatles-like melody just begging for words.  Yet, you can tell this is a story of two friends walking through life together   Still, Mizell's pieces also have stories connected to them whether. When you just sit and listen, you probably know people who the guitarists describe with their instruments and melodies.

Mizell switches to electric on several tracks mostly for the sustain and effects that add atmosphere and an orchestral feel to pieces such as Rauh's "A Forgiving Sort of Place" and lovely "Arolen".   The sounds are not intrusive; instead they add a sense of shimmering light off a mountain lake to the songs.  On he album closing "On Sundays I Walk Alone", the overdubbed electric plays both rhythm and the theme while Rauh's acoustic plays counterpoint.

"Local Folklore" is music for early in the morning and late in the evening.  The melodies are soothing, the musicianship impressive, a cooperative journey into the human heart and soul.  Cameron Mizell and Charlie Rauh may have had to curtail their "live" shows in the pandemic but, judging by the quality of their new album, both musicians made good use of their time.  

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

Here's the sweet "Greenwood Waltz":