Saturday, December 24, 2022

Of These I Sing (Part 2)

You should think of "OTIS Pt 2" as the other albums that could have been in "Part 1" save for the space and attention span (mine).  I love this music and the genuine creativity of the musicians makes me hope for a future that is bright and welcoming for our successors.

Fergus McCreadie – "Forest Floor" (Edition Records) – This is the third album from Scottish pianist McCreadie, the third to feature his trio of bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson. All are busy on the growing Jazz scene in Scotland (and beyond) but when they come together to play McCreadie's music, magic happens! The pianist has become even more melodic in the past several years; though he can still play with exquisite technique, the pianist and the rhythm section are concentrating on telling stories and delivering messages in their music. One can still hear the influence of Highland reels, at times, and that is a welcome delight!

Listen to "The Unfurrowed Field":

Vadim Neselovskyi – "Odesa: a Musical Walk Through a Legendary City" – (Sunnyside Records) – Speaking of stories, four months after Russia invaded Ukraine (February 2022), pianist, composer, and educator Neselovskyi released this tribute to the city where he was born and raised (moving to Germany at the age of 17).  One can not help but write that emotional pull of the terrible war (and the horrific stories we have heard and seen) gives this music heft––still, this is a tribute to the vibrant country where the pianist spent his formative years, to the family and friends he left behind, and to his desire that the country remain free. Since the album's release, Neselovskyi has toured extensively raising money to help refugees and the displaced within the country.  

Walk down the "Potemkin Stairs":

Andrew Cyrille, William Parker, & Enrico Rava"2 Blues for Cecil" (TUM Records) – This release was a delightful surprise when it was issued in late January.  These three masters play tribute to pianist and composer Cecil Taylor, not be imitating him or covering his music but by demonstrating how the rhythmic innovations and startling melodic explorations can be interpreted so magically.  Messrs. Cyrille and Rava (both born in 1939) sound great together and Mr. Parker (13 years their junior) keeps them on their musical toes.   All three contribute compositions and there are four improvised plus a sweet version of "My Funny Valentine".

Here's "Ballerina":

Clark Sommers Lens – "Intertwine" (Outside In Music) – Bassist Sommers is often the glue in the various sideman projects he takes part––on his own, he shows a fine ear for melody, for allowing his music to breathe, and for giving his bandmates the room to create.  There is a lot of music on "Intertwine" so let it roll through your brain and soon it will find its way to your heart. While I find the ballads most rewarding, there are several hard-edged pieces that sound great turned up loud! Great playing from the leader and from Chris Madsen (tenor sax), Geof Bradfield (bass clarinet, soprano and tenor saxes), Matt Gold (guitar), and Dana Hall (drums). 

Here's "Second Guess":

Ernesto Cervini – "Joy" (TPR) – Drummer, composer, arranger, and publicist Cervini is a fan of the mysteries of Canadian author Louise Penny. And, for good reason. She writes mysteries where the lead character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, spend many days and nights in the fictional town of Three Pines, Quebec, solving complicated murders and discovering just how magical a place it can be.  The drummer has created a fascinating suite of music featuring members of Turboprop, Tune Town, and Tetrahedron, groups that he leads or co-leads. Also, there are a number of guests, all who work to describe the characters who inhabit the town as well as the Chief Inspector and two of his closest associates. It's a smart idea that covers a lot of musical and literary territory!

Blues inspired by duck?  Listen here to "Ruth's Rosa":

David Murray Brave New World Trio – "Seriana Promethia" (Intakt Records) – Murray, who excels on bass clarinet and tenor, remains vital well into his seventh decade. This "power trio" date on Intakt features bassist Brad Jones and drummer Hamid Drake playing music that swings, rock, whispers, squalls, and, at times, that you can dance to.  The music on this album, all originals from Murray, is neither dated nor imitative but vital, exciting, and impressive. There's not a wasted note in this program only music that will challenge, soothe, and ultimately remind you of the power and grace of Black American Music.

Dance to the funky title track:

James Brandon Lewis Quartet – "Live: Molecular Systematic Music" (Intakt Records) – Bassist Jones (see directly above) is also a member of saxophonist and composer Lewis's "Molecular Music" Quartet.  Along with Lewis and Jones are pianist Aruan Ortiz and drummer Chad Taylor.  This double CD set was recorded on the opening night (May 15) of the ensemble's 2021 European tour, the first time the group had played together since they recorded the second album, "Codes of Being" (released in October of 2021).  The excitement and enthusiasm of the musicians is palpable; the fiery playing may remind some of John Coltrane's classic Quartet but these songs display Lewis's growing maturity as a songwriter and a leader.  He is quickly becoming a major voice as a musician, composer, and storyteller.

Hear "Of First Importance":

Art Hirahara – "Verdant Valley" (Posi-Tone Records) - Pianist and composer Hirahara is an impressive pianist (also plays organ on occasion) and has developed into a top-notch composer.  His work for producer Marc Free and Posi-Tone Records (now eight albums as a leader and more as a sideman) sparkles with creativity and swings lustily with a softer side that is often lyrical and poetic. Joined here by bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Rudy Royston with saxophonist/ flutist Donny McCaslin showing up on over half the tracks, the album jumps out of the speakers with a joy and intensity second to none. This is another recording that will make you glad to be alive in this day and age!

Hear "Zero Hour":

Dave Douglas Quintet – "Songs of Ascent: Book 1 – Degrees" (Greenleaf Music) – Mr. Douglas and his "Be Still" Quintet––Jon Irabagon (saxophones), Matt Mitchell (piano), Linda May Han Oh (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums)––created these musical interpretations of Old Testament Psalms in a unique. The leader played all his parts, sent those of to Mr. Irabagon who played his parts and passed them on to Mr. Mitchell and so on.  To these ears, this music is alive, feeling like the Quintet is playing together in a studio. That's a tribute to the composer's vision and the great talents of the ensemble.  

There's a "Book 2" that is only available to subscribers of Greenleaf Music.  Believe me, it's worth the investment! Go to and find out more.

Listen to "Lift Up My Eyes":

Pablo Ablanedo – "Chistreza" (Newvelle Records Digital) – The folks at Newvelle Records have begun this year to release digital versions of the high quality vinyl albums that have captured listeners attention over the past six years.  "Chistreza" is a gem from pianist-composer Ablanedo featuring the band he recorded his debut album with over 20 years before. What a band––violinist Jenny Scheinman, saxophonists Chris Cheek, Jerome Sabbagh, and Anat Cohen (clarinet only), trumpeter Diego Urcola, guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Fernando Huergo, and drummer Franco Pinna (with saxophonist Daniel Ian Smith on two tracks. Best of all, the original compositions are well-drawn, the arrangements sharp, and the soloists impressive.

Listen here to "La Señal":


Yes, Virginia, there is a "Part 3" coming soon!

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Of These I Sing (Part 1)

 It's that time of year when critics and reviewers create their "Best-of" lists. I am no different but I look at this group of recordings as music that informs, changes, and enhances my life and teaching. Here is the group of albums from the past year that helped me through illnesses, sadness, joy, and much change.

Miguel Zenón - "Musica De las Américas" (Miel Music) – It's no secret how much I admire the music and work of Miguel Zenón. With his long-time ensemble, composed of Luis Perdomo (piano), drummer Henry Cole, and Hans Glawischnig (bass and truly the "glue" of the band). This new album celebrates the music of Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, showing how various elements have entered into the music of the United States (and beyond).  Along with the latest album by rapper Bad Bunny ("Un Verano Sin Ti"), whose music celebrates the rhythms that inspire reggaeton, the album has deep grooves, evocative melodies, and the inventive musicianship one has come to expect from Señor Zenón and company. Percussionists Paoli Mejías, Victor Emmanueli, Daniel Díaz, and the five member Los Pleneros de La Cresta each appear on one track during the eight-song program. 

Enjoy the fiery "Opresión y Revolución ":

Wadada Leo Smith w/ Pheroan akLaff, Andrew Cyrille, Han Bennink, and Jack DeJohnette - "The Emerald Duets" (TUM Records) – Trumpeter, composer, conceptualist, historian, and philosopher Wadada Leo Smith celebrated his 80th birthday on December 18, 2021 (meaning he just turned 81 yesterday, as I write this). The Finnish-label TUM Records celebrated that momentous occasion by issuing two multi-disc box sets by Mr. Smith, the seven-CD "String Quartets: Nos. 1-12" and the five-CD "The Emerald Duets". Both are amazing but I expect it will take many more months to truly take in the scope of the string music. Whereas five albums with drummers captured me immediately.  All the sessions stand out (this is the first time Mr. Smith played with Mr. Bennink) but the two CDs feature Mr. DeJohnette, a long-time musical compatriot. The drummer plays piano as well as percussion; it's not hard to fall under the spell of this music.

Marta Sanchez - "SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum") (Whirlwind Recordings) – Pianist and composer Sanchez had a tumultuous time during the Pandemic as her mother passed early on.  She found time to write new music for her group – saxophonists Roman Filiu and Alex LoRe, bassist Rashaan Carter, and drummer Allen Mednard – and it's her most mature and realized program. The music sings throughout the album plus there are fine solos from all involved. Subtle, emotional, and intelligent, "SAAM" draws from myriad influences, is never imitative, and draws in the listener on the strength of the melodies.  One track, "Marivi", features Ms Sanchez, Mr. Carter, and Mr. Mednard with Camilla Meza (vocal, guitar), Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), and Charlotte Greve (synths).

Listen to "Dear Worthiness":

Tyshawn Sorey Trio + 1 (with Greg Osby) - "The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism" (Pi Recordings) -  Another impressive year for drummer, composer, and educator Sorey, filled with debuts, impressive gigs, and two great albums. This live three-album set of standards, jazz classics, and more, is a splendid exploration of melody, improvisation, and interplay featuring Mr. Sorey with the impressive pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Dana Hall, and the very welcome alto saxophonist Greg Osby. Three long sets (75 + minutes) yet the music never gets dull or stale because the musicians are free of any expectations other than play the melody, improvise, and follow your creative flow. The week before I wrote about the album, I listened to, at least, one set a day, especially on my daily walk.  The addition of Mr. Osby, whose musicianship is impressive throughout, is such a delight!

Hear "Solar":

Noam Lemish – "12" (TPR Records) – This album, from the pianist, composer, and educator Noam Lemish, was one of the more impressive releases of the last six weeks. The Israeli-born, American-educated, and Canadian resident, had recorded several albums with oudist Amos Hoffman, duets with percussionist (and one of his teachers) George Marsh, plus several solo piano explorations.  Here, he leads a 12-piece ensemble comprised of many fine Canadian musicians, supplying them with fine, often episodic, pieces with impressive arrangements. There's humor, pathos, wit, and emotion throughout the album (one of the initial releases on Three Pines Records, a new Canadian label led by Amy and Ernesto Cervini). This album gets better each time I listen––give it a whirl!

Here's the delightful "Beethoven's 7th Visit to Romania":

PUBLIQuartet – "What Is American" (Bright Shiny Things) – I don't write about classical music very much but this album (plus the Johnny Gandelsman album in Part 2) truly caught my attention. The PUBLIQs––violinists Curtis Stewart and Janina Norpoth, violist Nick Revel, and cellist Hamilton Berry––often blend European and American classical music but also have a expressive modernist bent.  One of the group's ongoing projects, dubbed "Mind| The| Gap|", features arrangements of music by Nina Simone, Ornette Coleman, Tina Turner, Ida Cox, Alice Coltrane, and others into stew that really alters the way you listen to a string quartet.  This album features music by Antonin Dvorák, Vijay Iyer, Roscoe Mitchell, Rhiannon Giddens, and others––it certainly does make you think about "what is American"! 

Give a listen to "Improvisations on "Law Years" and "Street Woman" (composed by Ornette Coleman):

Trish Clowes – "A View With a Room" (Greenleaf Music) – Composer and saxophonist (tenor and soprano) Trish Clowes signed with Dave Douglas's Greenleaf Music this year and gifted listeners with "A View With a Room".  Featuring her long-time band My Iris––guitarist Chris Montague, pianist and organist Ross Stanley, and drummer James Maddren––the music may, at times, remind you a bit of the quieter music of Jimmy Guiffre but, to this listener, Ms. Clowes has really created her own sound. The band interaction is impressive and the music makes you want to return to the album often.  They have not toured the US yet––if they do, I would recommend you spend a night in their company.

Here's the delightful "Amber":

SomiZenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba (Salon Africana) – The vocalist and composer Somi has truly blossomed into a world-class artist, celebrating the sound of the African continent even as she updates it.  Here, she pays tribute to the great Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), creating one of the most uplifting programs you will ever hear. In fact, Somi also created a play, "Dreaming Zenzile", around Ms. Makeba that debuted off-Broadway earlier in 2022. The album sounds so good, with such delicious rhythms, attractive vocals, and an impressive guest list including Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Angelique Kidjo, amd Gregory Porter (listen below) plus others.  World music at its best–give a listen.

Here's the sensuous "Strawberries" featuring Gregory Porter:

Kate Wyatt – "Artifact" (Self-released) – The Montreal, Canada-based pianist Kate Wyatt, a native of British Columbia, has been active on the creative music in her native country for over two decades. "Artifact" is her debut recording as a leader and well worth the wait. Featuring drummer Jim Doxas, bassist Adrian Vedady (her husband), and trumpeter Lex French (on the Music Faculty of McGill University) the quartet explores this music with vigor, sensitivity, and emotional depth.  Ms. Wyatt is a fine player but always makes sure you hear the other members of the group.  One can hear a nod in the direction of the Kenny Wheeler, as much in the "open" sound and wit in the composition as well as in Dr. French's trumpet work.  Impressive debut and one hopes there's more coming soon.

Listen to the lovely "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing":

Sachal Vasandani with Romain Collin – "Still Life" (Edition Records) - This is the second collaboration for the vocalist with pianist Collin––like its 2021 predecessor "Midnight Shelter" (also on Edition Records), these performances are intimate, often spare, quiet, yet with an emotional intensity that draws in the listener from the beginning and does not let go until the last note fades. In fact, each time I listened, I played the album all the way through.  When I spoke to the duo this past summer, they said that Mr. Vasandani stood right next to the piano during the recording session––the intimacy of the recording process translate to the music. Such a smart selection of tunes, from folk music to jazz standards to "pop" tunes to originals. Late night or early morning, this music is a comforting friend..

Listen to the emotional and heartbreaking "(I) Can't Make You Love Me":

Part 2 will come soon!

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Piano Trios Separated by 58 years!

 Piano trios––piano, bass, and drums––have been a constant of American music since the 1940s, catching fire in the 1950s with the work of Ahmad Jamal (see below), Oscar Peterson, Hank Jones, Bud Powell, Bill Evans, and so on. They remain popular today thanks to the artistry of Jason Moran, Matthew Shipp, Brad Mehldau, Tord Gustavsen, Fergus McCreadie, and others including the gentleman below.

Pianist and composer Laszlo Gardony first recorded with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel in 2003 and five times since. Their sixth recording, the appropriately-titled "Close Connection" (Sunnyside Records),  accentuates the musicians' relationship on and off the bandstand. The trio reconvened in early 2022 after nearly two years of inactivity due to the COVID pandemic.  Professor Gardony (he's on the faculty of Berklee College of Music and Harvard University) brought in six original pieces and the Trio created another six collectively in the studio. 

One of the most enjoyable facets of Gardony's music is how rhythmical many of his pieces are. The program opens with "Irrepressible", which roars out of the speakers with a melody inspired by Bela Bartok, Eastern European folk music, and the hard-edge funky swing of Chick Corea.  The pianist grew up in Hungary listening to Progressive Rock (Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, Genesis, Can) which one can hear in "Strong Minds" but this listener hears a touch of Black Sabbath in the "heavier" sections. The New Orleans roll of "Cedar Tree Dance" displays the danceability of this music––influenced by Black music, the Trio never lose the infectious feeling (listen to the piano under the bass solo).  "Times of Discord" builds off an eight-note descending piano rolling forward on Israel's powerful drumming and Lockwood's mighty bass lines. The drummer switches to the kalimba (African thumb piano) and hand percussion while Gardony picks up the melodica for the hypnotic "Savanna Sunrise", a gentle piece built upon simple phrases.

Photo: Chris Drukker
Six of the last eight tracks on the album are group improvisations. They are a varied and often fascinating collection of ideas, rhythms, and interactions.  Ranging from the tender, Abdullah Ibrahim-like, "Everybody Needs a Home" (a nod to bassist Lockwood's native land of South Africa) to the lovely, meditative, "Hopeful Vision" to the quiet interactions of "All that Remains" to the fiery "Night Run" (check out the swinging rhythm section plus the nod to the opening melody of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring") to the album closer "Cold Earth" (a rumination of the state of the world featuring splendid arco bass work), the music stands as a testament to the friendship of the Trio, to their fertile musical imaginations, and their intelligent interactions.

"Close Connection" will make you sit up and listen. Laszlo Gardony, along with Yoron Israel and John Lockwood, has created music that shines in the darkness that seems to envelop our world. Recorded as the pandemic still had its tight grip on this country and abroad, this music, even with several darker moments, brims with hope, joy, and fun!

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

Hear "Strong Minds":

Photo: Ross Archives
Looking for the perfect gift for the "jazzhead" on your Holiday shopping list, look no further "Emerald City Nights : Live at The Penthouse", two 2-CD sets from pianist Ahmad Jamal. The sets are the first releases on producer-historian Zev Feldman's new Jazz Detective label.  Feldman has built quite a reputation for discovering never-before-released music from the 1950s and 60s and releasing intelligently package albums for Resonance Records (he's also worked on several archival releases for Blue Note).  His work not only features music but also interviews with many of the musicians involved in each project as well as with writers, presenters, and others who give great insight on each project. 

The first two CDs from the Seattle, Washington nightclub, are subtitled "1963-1964" and feature one session recorded in June of 1963 while the other has selections from March 28 and April 2 1964. The 1963 date features Mr. Jamal with bassist Richard Evans and drummer Chuck Lampkin; opening with the lively and truly swinging "Johnny One Note" from the 1937 Rodgers & Hart musical "Babe In Arms".  One can help but notice the flexible yet solid rhythm section giving the pianist lots of space to dance. Because the bassist and drummer are not sideman but partners in the creative process. Yes, the pianist selects the material but the music is continually reshaped on the bandstand and in the studio by all three.  Bassist Evans composed "Minor Adjustments", a classically-inspired work that shows how graceful both he and the pianist can play.  The highlight of this first Trio set is the high-energy "Squatty Roo"––the blistering pace allows Mr. Jamal to play both minimalistic and also let loose.  He throws quotes from several songs in his fiery solo.  

Bassist Evans is gone by the two 1964 sessions of CD 2, replaced by the gracious sounds of Jamil Nasser. The set starts with "Bogota", a handsome piece by the departed bassist that, to these ears, builds on the mood of the pianist's biggest "hit" "Poinciana".  Other highlights include the sweet unaccompanied piano opening to the 1960s "pop" tune "Lollipops & Roses" plus the gospel-infused "Keep On Keeping On" (also composed by Richard Evans).  The latter tune, recorded a week later, breaks out into a lively jam with Mr. Jamal's displaying his blues chops. On the next cut, "Minor Moods", stays in the blues mood albeit in waltz tempo–this time, his two-handed solo pushes against the bass and drums until he dances away; when he adds in several long escapades up and down the keyboard, it's hard not to smile.  Lampkin's brushes blend so well with the melodic moves of both Mr. Jamal and Nasser. The bassist and drummer both get to solo to appreciative responses by the leader.

The booklet that accompanies the package includes interviews with Mr. Jamal, with Marshall Chess (whose Argo label released a number of seminal Lps by the pianist), with Ramsey Lewis, Hiromi, and a long history of the pianist and review of the album's performances written by reviewer/critic Eugene Holley, Jr.  

Here's "Tangerine" with the 1964 Trio of Mr. Jamal, bassist Jamil Nasser, and drummer Chuck Lampkin:

The second double-Lp and CD set begins in March 1965 with the same trio that appeared the previous year.  Like the 1963 set, the album opens with a Rodgers & Hart song; this time, it's "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" from the 1939 musical "Too Many Girls". After a fairly formal-sounding opening, the rhythm section breaks into a brisk tempo and Mr. Jamal creates an incredible solo. Far and away, the longest track on either package (15:07), there are solos by Lampkin and Nasser and nary a dull moment. Just when you think the song is about to end, the Trio slows the tempo down and plays a sweet take on the melody before a short drum solo helps take the tune out. The other three songs on the first CD/Lp were composed by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse and all from their 1964 show "The Roar of the Greasepaint––the Smell of the Crowd".  Mr. Jamal caresses the melody of "Who Can I Turn To" but the next track, recorded seven nights later, "My First Love Song", toggles between an medium-tempo ballad and a swing beat.   The Trio's take on "Feeling Good" is a deep-blues with the hint of Middle Eastern tempos. There's a sly musical reference to the music of Herbie Hancock near the close of the piano.

CD/Lp 2 opens with two tracks from late October 1965. Drummer Vernal Fournier replaces Lampkin for these cuts including "Concern", a bluesy Jamal original that swings with a purpose.  The playful solo features a slew of song "quotes", a quiet section then a bass solo, a drum solo, then back to Mr. Jamal for more "play". "Like Someone in Love" opens with an expansive unaccompanied piano solo that, when the rhythm section comes in, there's pedal point bass and quiet drums while the pianist quotes the opening melody from "The Sound of Music".  When the Trio breaks into a swing mode, Mr. Jamal creates yet another playful solo. 

The last three tracks come from September 1966; Frank Gant is now the drummer and the Trio hits the ground running with the Bronislaw Kaper classic "Invitation". The sound quality on these cuts is crisper, louder, yet the Trio still swing the pieces with abandon (Mr. Jamal even strums the piano strings!). Next up is the tune most people associate with Ahmad Jamal, "Poinciana". First recorded for his 1958 album "Live at The Pershing", the hypnotic rhythms and two-handed piano approach has mesmerized audience for over six decades.  The version here does not stray much from the original save for the playful piano solo.  The set closes with Benny Golson's "Whisper Not"––dig the Fats Waller-inspired solo piano opening before the Trio jumps into a high-powered romp featuring a jaunty piano excursion. The music fades out at around 2:40 just as the leader seems to heading into another solo.  

The accompanying booklet features another fine essay by Eugene Holley, Jr, a repeat of the statements by Feldman, Mr. Jamal, and Marshall Chess plus essays from Kenny Barron, Jon Batiste, and Aaron Diehl.  All told, "Emerald City Nights: Live at The Penthouse" is a gem that should not be missed.  There is a promise of a third CD in 2023––what a treasure! If you have ever wondered why pianist Ahmad Jamal, now 92 and retired from performing, is held in such high regard, just listen to these two great recordings!

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

Here's Mr. Jamal's 1966 Trio with bassist Nasser and drummer Frank Gant on the classic "Poinciana":

Monday, November 28, 2022

1 X 12 = Captivating Music

Here's one of my favorite albums of Autumn 2022.

Photo: Dahlia Katz
Pianist-composer-educator Noam Lemish, born in the United States, grew up in Israel, came back to the US for college, and now teaches at York University in Toronto, Canada, has created quite an intriguing musical career.  He studied and recorded with master percussionist George Marsh as well as contemporary classical composer/pianist W. A. Mathieu. The pianist has also recorded with Israeli oud player Amos Hoffman and is the co-leader of the Israeli-Iranian Musical Initiative (I=I).  His original music combines myriad influences, is intelligent and heartfelt and, up until this year, usually in a small setting (save for I=I).

His latest album, "Twelve" (TPR Records), features a 12-member ensemble (13 on one track) that includes an impressive lineup of Canada's most exciting musicians. The six original pieces, all but two over 11 minutes, not surprisingly cover a wider swath of music of musical territory. One can hear the influence of Maria Schneider on the first track, "Song for Lia";  it's in the expansive melody, the use of wordless vocals, in how the solos (alto saxophonist Allison Au and guitarist Ted Quinlan) rise up out of the section playing, and the active but never intrusive rhythm section.  "The Nagila Mayster" is playful, rhythmically active, with intriguing call-and-response, and fine vibraphone work from Michael Davidson.  Listen below how the music evolves over 14 minutes, how Lemish arranges the various "voices" in the ensemble, slowly building the intensity, and not afraid to stop and start. After a slow and majestic "chorale" led by the brass augmented by the vibes, the tempo jumps up , slows down, and leads to the leader's delightful piano solo.

Photo: Dahlia Katz
There are four more excellent pieces including the enchanting "Beethoven's 7th Visit to Romania"––that's quite a title yet the song is based on the theme from the Second Movement of the composer's "Seventh Symphony".  Besides the splendid melody, there's a lovely 13-voice choir, and a hardy trumpet (Jim Lewis) and tenor saxophone (Kelly Jefferson) duet. "Between Utopia and Destruction" draws its inspiration from two different Russian-Jewish melodies, one of which "Der Verter Un Di Shtern" dates back to World War II and was recently rediscovered in the Ukraine.  The two folk melodies are well-drawn and serve as stepping stones for powerful solos from both the leader (there are moments when the music swings in an Ellington mode) and soprano saxophonist Jefferson (several interesting tempo changes and returns to the melody during this section).

If you're like me and enjoy adventurous large ensemble music, go find "Twelve". Noam Lemish has created one of 2022's most delight-filled recordings.  The playing is crisp, the arrangements intelligent and thoughtful, and the melodies all stand out.  One cannot ask for more from an album other than one more like this, please!

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

Enjoy "The Nagila Mayster":

Songs and personnel:
  1. Song for Lia 

  2. The Nagila Mayster 

  3. Beethoven’s 7th Visit to Romania 

  4. Steals on Steeles 

  5. Between Utopia and Destruction 

  6. Rebirth  

Noam Lemish - piano & compositions
Terry Promane - musical director
Kevin Turcotte - trumpet & flugelhorn
Jim Lewis - trumpet & flugelhorn
Allison Au - alto saxophone
Mike Murley - tenor saxophone & soprano saxophone (2,3)
Kelly Jefferson - tenor saxophone & soprano saxophone (5)
William Carn - trombone
Karl Silveira - trombone
Laura Swankey - vocals (1, 2)
Ted Quinlan - guitar
Michael Davidson - vibraphone (2, 3, 4, 6)
Justin Gray - double bass
Derek Gray - drums & percussion

Choir ("Beethoven’s 7th Visit to Romania"): Michelle De Palma, Sanja Dejanovic, Aliyah Guthrie, Yuval Jarus Hakak, Alexandra Kapogiannis, Allison Long, Dulce Martinez, Sarvi Seivani, Nitish Sharma, Marie Tossios, Jackson Welchner, Yulina Wong, Samira Yeo

All compositions & arrangements by Noam Lemish (ASCAP)

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Quartet Joys

 Since the beginning of November, Connecticut has been blessed with a delightful week of Indian Summer (soon to depart in favor of the chill of late Autumn).  The balmy temps (68-77) have allowed this writer to walk every day and to listen to music as I dodge the remaining leaves. The two albums have been in rotation each day!

Earlier this year, drummer and composer Tyshawn Sorey issued a trio album––"Mesmerism" featured bassist Matt Brewer and the splendid young pianist Aaron Diehl on an exciting and thoughtful exploration of "standards".  In early March of this year, Sorey brought Diehl, bassist Russell Hall (Joey Alexander), and special guest Greg Osby (alto saxophone) to New York City's The Jazz Gallery for a five-night engagement. The band did not rehearse and, pretty much, chose the music on the bandstand.  And, they recorded every set!

The results can be heard on "The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism", a fantastic three-CD package from Pi Recordings. The 19-tracks are split up into three sets, each album approximately 75 minutes long. Five of the tracks are repeated in subsequent sets (Mr. Osby's "Please Stand By", Ornette Coleman's "Mob Job", Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now", Johnny Green's "Out of Nowhere", and "Three Little Words" composed in 1930 by Harry Ruby and lyricist Bert Kalmar).  It's truly a delight to hear where these four players go with the music.  The "Set 1" take of "Three Little Words" starts with a long, impressionistic, piano solo, so slow and gentle that it takes a moment before you the drums and bass have entered. Mr. Osby plays with the melody as if rolling a fine wine across his palette. Slowly and steadily, the alto solo builds with the insistence of the rhythm section. The leader, who does not solo on the set, engages in conversations with the other musicians.  Diehl paints a fascinating solo first with the introspection he showed at the onset of the track and it becomes great fun to hear where he takes the piece goosed forward by Sorey and shadowed by Hall whose solo later in the track is quite playful and percussive.

If you love improvisatory music, there is not a dull moment in this music. There's the beauty of Andrew Hill's "Ashes" (which Mr. Osby first recorded in 2000 on his "The Invisible Hand" album that featured the composer plus guitarist Jim Hall) as well as the saxophonist's unaccompanied introduction to Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge"––listen below and notice the playful background work of bassist Hall and the beautiful work of Diehl. The pianist, at times, reminds this listener of Jaki Byard as well as Mr. Hill. The Trio + 1 swings mightily on both versions of "Mob Job" with the bass and drums leading the way. The second take of "Out of Nowhere" (originally recorded by Bing Crosby in 1931) opens with an expansive solo piano meditation before Mr. Osby enters with over the rippling piano, whispering cymbals, and bass counterpoint.  At the five-minute mark, the band kicks into a higher gear (but not out of control) with the alto and piano in conversation while the rhythm section dances about in support.

Photo: Jonathan Chimene
Every time one digs into the music of "The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism", he or she can get carried away at the inventiveness of Tyshawn Sorey, Aaron Diehl, Russell Hall, and Greg Osby. The playfulness of the musicians on tracks such as "Jitterbug Waltz" (the track where one hears the inspiration of Jaki Byard in Diehl's piano solo) and the rip-roaring "Solar" is infectious and you can only imagine what is what being in the audience (unless you were). There are moments in each set where this quartet has the energy of the classic John Coltrane Quartet of the early-to-mid 1960s, the group with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones. It's truly a delight to hear Greg Osby play with such imagination, power, and so melodically. Treat yourself to this great album!

For more imagination, go to To hear more and buy this stunning set, go to
Here's the Trio + Mr. Osby on Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge":

Clarinetist Anat Cohen first assembled the three musicians who would join her to form Quartetinho (pronounced "quar-te-Chin-yo and meaning "little quartet") before the pandemic stopped the world in its tracks.  James Shipp (vibraphone, glockenspiel, analog synth, percussion), Vitor Gonçalves (piano, accordion, Fender Rhodes), and Tal Mashiach (acoustic bass, guitar) join Ms. Cohen (who also plays bass clarinet) for their self-titled debut album (Anzic Records).  If you have followed the clarinetist's career, you know that she has had a long love affair with Brazilian music, recording with guitarist Marcello Gonçalves as well as Trio Brasileiro and the Choro Ensemble.  

For its debut album, the "little quartet" treats the audience to an 11-song program that includes original pieces from the leader, Shipp, and Mashiach plus two pieces by Egberto Gismonti and one each from Antonio Carlos Jobim, the contemporary Brazilian composer Maria Do Carmo Barbosa De Melo (the lively "Boa Tarde Povo"), and Antonin Dvorāk's "Going Home".  The smashing arrangement of the last tune listed features accordion, vibes, bowed bass, and bass clarinet––it's a beautiful arrangement which during Ms. Cohen's solo takes a turn towards the blues.  Shipp's solo also takes the "blues route" with his sweetly expressed lines over the supportive bass and accordion swells.  Mashiach's "The Old Guitar" is a lovely ballad that leaves solo space for the leader as well as Gonçalves' sweet accordion sounds. The album opener, Shipp's "Baroquen Spirit", starts slowly with just clarinet, vibes, and a synth drone––the melody blends an Americana feel with a touch of classical music.

Photo: Shervin Lainez
That first track leads directly into Egberto Gismonti's lyrical "Palhaço"––there are moments during Ms. Cohen's solo that, thanks to the bass line, piano chords, and the dancing vibes, the music resembles a Joni Mitchell song.  Also check the splendid piano solo (with Mashiach's supportive bass) that leads to the close of the piece. The other Gismonti piece, "Frevo", jumps atop the rippling clarinet and piano melody before the clarinetist takes a sly solo over Shipp's delightful percussion and the throbbing bass notes. The piano solo is also a treat.

Ms. Cohen contributes three originals to the program.  "Birdie" is a melancholy melody played over a medium tempo with the Fender Rhodes offering shimmering chords (see the video below).  Next up is "Canon" which starts with a richly melodic bass solo (there's a touch of flamenco in Mashiach's playing). The bassist then articulates the handsome melody supported by Shipp's vibes. Ms. Cohen joins on bass clarinet while Gonçalves joins on piano.  "Louisiana" pops right along on the thick bass notes, the dancing piano chords, and the "jump-blues" in the vibes solo.  Everybody solos but at 3:30, the music hardly overstays its welcome.

The album closes on Mashiach's "Vivi and Zaco" which he introduces on 7-string guitar. The accordion and vibes enters when the guitarist expands on the heartfelt melody. The piece has a lovely flow that often speeds up and slows down at the end of the verse.  Before the piece ends, everyone has shared the melody line.  It's a sweet close to an elegant group of songs. 

"Quartetinho" is yet another jewel in the crown Anat Cohen is creating with her music.  Her heart is so enmeshed in her music and her love for playing shines through every performance.  With this quartet, culled from her Tentet, she has given listeners yet another reason to listen deeply.  

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

Here's the Quartet live in the studio playing "Birdie":

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Playing, Praying, & Time Passages

Two very different projects are reviewed below; initially, what is interesting is how both projects dealt with time. 

Over the course of 2018-9, pianist, composer, and educator Noah Baerman spent a lot of time and energy putting together a project to honor his former student and collaborator Claire Randall who died in 2016 as a result of domestic violence.  That project, "Love Right", is a 17-song program featuring dozens of vocalists and musicians with as many styles of music as songs.  At the final recording session in late September 2019, producer Baerman found himself with two hours of unused studio time.  He and long-time collaborator, bassist Henry Lugo, put together a seven-song program; 90 minutes later, they had "Alter Ego" (RMI Records). 

What stands out in this music is the obvious communication between the two friends and how the music makes one feel so comfortable and never bored.  It's a fascinating septet of songs ranging from the opening "My Romance" (from Richard Rodgers and Lorenzo Hart) to the title track (composed by one of Baerman's influences, the late James Williams) to two pieces associated with Duke Ellington (Juan Tizol's "Caravan" and the great bandleader's "Prelude to a Kiss").  There is no feeling of being rushed or any intent to dazzle the listener with show of technical bravado––no, these songs make one listen closely, to absorb the handsome melodies and/or tap your feet. One. cam sense the duo is stretching out, having fun, shaking off the stress caused by the scope and intense emotions of the "Love Right" project.  

One can hear the blues influence of another one of the pianist's influences, Phineas Newborn, Jr. in pieces such as "Prelude..." and the funky take of Stevie Wonder's "Creepin'"(listen below).  Lugo, who has developed over the past decade into an excellent and melodic soloist, is solid and playful throughout (his "dancing" solo on "My Romance" is a highlight). 

The program closes with Tom Waits "I Want You" (a piece composed in 1971 but not released for over a decade) and it'a a delightful choice.  The music blends gospel and "pop" influences giving the duo the opportunity to expand upon the original ballad, imbuing the music with a hopeful feel.

"Alter Ego" is a lovely portrait of two friends doing what they love to do, playing music in the moment, and hoping to soothe frayed souls.  Noah Baerman and Henry Lugo have created a little gem that sounds good any time of day, any day of the year.  

For more information and to purchase the album, go to

Hear the duo go "Creepin'":

Over the three-plus decades of trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas's career, he has led several notable ensembles ranging from the Tiny Bell Trio to Charms of the Night Sky to the "Magic Triangle" quartet to Keystone to the first Quintet (including Donny McCaslin, Uri Caine, James Genus, and Clarence Penn) to Brass Ecstasy to Sound Prints (the quintet he co-leads with Joe Lovano. In 2011, Douglas organized a new Quintet with saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Rudy Royston when he wrote and arranged the music for "Be Still", a group of hymns and folk songs the trumpeter played for his mother's funeral (the resulting album featured the vocals of Aoife O'Donovan). In 2015, the Quintet released "Brazen Heart", a collection of originals tunes and two hymns dedicated to the trumpeter's older brother Damon who had passed earlier that year. 

While creating the music that became the album "Secular Psalms" (released in April of this year), Douglas was also reading the 15 Psalms that make up "Songs of Ascents", a series of prayers sung by Jewish pilgrims on their way to the temple in Jerusalem on the three "Pilgrimage" holidays (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot).  The trumpeter was so moved that he began writing a new program of music that he thought would be perfect for the new Quintet (now a decade old). Once he had all the music, the world was in the early stages of the Pandemic. So, starting in May of 2020, Douglas recorded all his parts (including solos); he then sent the pieces to Irabagon (tenor, soprano, and soprillo saxes) for his contributions. From there, the music went to pianist Mitchell, then to Ms. Oh for her bass parts, and to Royston for his percussive touches. Once the drummer finished, the tapes returned to Douglas and engineer Tyler McDiarmid (who also mixed and mastered the project)

It's amazing how alive and collaborative this album sounds. For the project, titled "Songs of Ascent: Book 1 – Degrees" (Greenleaf Music), Douglas has created such splendid melodies while his musical partners on these journeys play with such sensitivity and intelligence that the music jumps out of the speakers (as if the band was in the same studio and not separated by distance and time––the project took over 12 months to complete).  Listen below to "Peace Within Your Walls"; note the well-constructed melody, the brilliant interactions of the trumpet and tenor saxophone, and listen to how the rhythm section is supportive and inventive. 

Photo: John Abbott
And the music has fire as well. The album opener, "Never Let Me Go" (the one composition not based on one of the Psalms), introduces the inspired interaction that comes from the musicians being comfortable with each and willing to challenge each other. "A Fowler's Snare" smokes from the opening note, hinting at being a free-for-all with a rollicking melody played by everyone save for Royston.  Both Douglas and Irabagon solo as the rhythm section threatens to fall apart. Ms. Oh's bass solo pulls the music together for a moment before launches back into the theme. "Lift Up My Eyes" moves from its "playing a scale" opening into a twisting and roiling exhibition of power. The final track, "Mouths Full of Joy", has a similar opening (listen to the fiery drumming), before the leader steps out for a hard-edged solo supported by Mitchell's angular piano chords. Irabagon's tenor spot is playful as Royston takes apart the rhythm.  Mitchell steps out next as the drums seem to explode beneath him while Ms. Oh keeps the the rhythm section from flying away. 

"Songs of Ascent" Book 1 – Degrees" stands out as yet another musical triumph for Dave Douglas. Even if you don't know the story behind the recording, this project is so alive, so musical, so collaborative, so fascinating.  Besides the leader, every other member of the Quintet is a leader in her and his right yet they come together as a coherent musical unit, supporting and stimulating each other. The Dave Douglas Quintet will be touring Europe in early 2023 and one hopes those live shows are archived for all of us to hear the five musicians sound playing this music together on stage. In the meantime, find this recording and dig in.

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

Hear "Peace Within Your Walls":

There is a "Book 2 - Steps", eight more Douglas originals written for the Quintet and the music is just as impressive. However, the only way to listen to the album is to become a subscriber to Greenleaf Music. There are three tiers to choose ranging from $75 to $175–each level gives you access to all the recordings on the label through as well as special "live sets", alternate takes, and unreleased material.  The more you spend the more perks you get.  There is also access to monthly "Subscribers Sessions", right now on ZOOM only, in which you can meet and interact with musicians who record for the label and special segments of Douglas's "A Noise From The Deep" podcast now in its 10th year of interviews. 

As a subscriber myself, it's well worth the investment–you get access to some of the most fascinating music being released today. To find out more, go to