Friday, February 25, 2022

Telling Her Stories In the Time of Pandemic


Photo: Kimberley M. Wang
It's been over a decade since pianist and composer Marta Sánchez came to the United States from her native Spain. In her hometown of Madrid, Ms. Sánchez had not only studied classical piano but also filmmaking.   She received a Fulbright Scholarship in 2011 to study at New York University, earning a Master's Degree in jazz piano performance.  Around the same time, she organized a quintet featuring two saxophonists (one being Cuban-born tenor saxophonist Román Filiú whom she had met when he was studying in Madrid––in fact, they moved to the US around the same time), bass, and drums.  Over the course of four years (2015-2019), her quintet recorded three albums for the Spanish-based Fresh Sound New Talent label, garnering a slew of excellent reviews and performances through the Americas and overseas.  Then the pandemic hit. In the midst of the international emergency, Ms. Sánchez's mother passed away.  Then in 2021, the pianist received a second grant from the MacDowell Colony (her first came in 2017) and was able to spend time to compose and begin to workshop new material.  

The results of her productive use of the "down" time can be heard on "SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum)", the fourth album by Ms. Sánchez's Quintet and her first for Whirlwind Recordings.  With the exception of Filiú (who is heard on this recording on tenor saxophone, unlike the previous three where he played alto sax), this is a new group. The rhythm section includes bassist Rahsaan Carter and drummer Allen Mednard while the alto seat is filled by Alex LoRe. Mednard replaces Daniel Dor and one can hear the difference from the get-go. Dor is really a painter on the drum kit, with a artistic touch on the cymbals while Mednard pushes more, responding to soloists with more power.  Carter is not only a fine foundational player but he also has an excellent ear for counterpoint. The composer has consistently showed a fondness for writing melody lines for two saxophonists that are melodic with counterpoint, the two instrumentalists conversing in song.

Photo: YouTube
The music shines throughout the nine-song (all originals) program.  The shifting rhythms, with influences from Spain and Black American Music, set up a dynamic tension with the melodies that show aspects of 19th and 20th Century classical music (especially, to this listener's ears, Albéniz and Rodrigo) with tinges of flamenco and other contemporary influences. Yet, pieces such as the title track and "The Eternal Stillness" stand out for their inventiveness (Mednard's "hip hop" drums really shines on the latter tune). "December 11th" (the date that Ms. Sánchez's mother died) has a theme that is probing and a piano solo that that blends emotion and introspection with the desire to move beyond tragedy.  

The one exception to the Quintet tracks is "Marivi", a lovely ballad dedicated to the pianist's mother.  LoRe and Filiú sit out and we hear the the piano, bass, and drums plus the voice and guitar of Camila Meza, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and the subtle synth work of Charlotte Greve.  The blend of the clear tones and articulation of Ms. Meza with Akinmusire's cool, subtle, sound plus the foundational piano chords  and gentle support of Carter and Mednard paints a picture with shades of love, longing, and regret for the physical separation.

"SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum)" is alive with singable melodies and active rhythms.  Filiú's move to tenor continues his saxophone mastery; he takes many melodic chances in his solos and it's exciting to hear where he goes (case in point, "If You Could Create It"). LoRe's alto playing continues to impress. One can hear the influence of classical saxophone when he plays in the higher ranges of the alto. noticeable on "The Hard Balance" and the afore-mentioned "The Eternal Stillness".  Carter's solo on that track stands out for his power, his melodic ear, and for his interactions with Mednard.

Photo: Antonio Porcar
Ms. Sánchez plays with purpose throughout. Her work beneath the soloists gives them a strong foundation plus it frees Carter and Mednard to push, to pull, to prod, and, at times, to dance.  There are moments this writer hears Andrew Hill in her supportive playing, in her chordal choices.  Her solos throughout sparkle even in introspection––"If You Could Create It" has both a dancing feel and an introspective side and the pianists moves easily over the bass and drums.  Listen to how she sets up the opening track "The Unconquered Vulnerable Areas", moving from the rippling figures into a bass line that she shares with Carter and then into her chordal support of the soloists.  She never intrudes but she does guide.  

Considering she started out quite strong with her first Quintet album in 2015, Marta Sánchez has continued to grow as a composer, arranger, and pianist.  Her music and the excellent muisicians who help create it make you sit up and pay attention.  Spend time with "SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum)" and, chances are very good, you will return time and again to savor its rich colors, vibrant and emotional melodies, and its rhythmic delights.  

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

Here's the opening track:

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

From Outside to Inside


Pianist, composer, and musical lightning rod Cecil Taylor left New York City in 1970 to spend several years in academia.  Taylor was in the forefront of new Black Creative music breaking borders as he integrated numerous musical genres in his bubbling cauldron of creativity. But, for various reasons, he had played in concert in several years.  John Coltrane had died in 1967, Miles Davis soon turned towards fusion, and rock music had eroded any popularity jazz had attained in the early part of the tumultuous decade. Taylor went off to teach at the University of Wisconsin and to Antioch College (in Ohio), a job that gave him to compose everyday.  He returned to New York City in November 1973 and presented a concert at Town Hall –– the evening featured two performances by his quartet –– Jimmy Lyons (alto saxophone), Sirone (formerly Norris Jones, on bass), and Andrew Cyrille (drums) –– plus a tour-de-force solo piano piece.

In 1974, Taylor's Unit Core Records released "Spring of Two Blue-Js", an Lp with the two versions of the title piece (one solo, one with the quartet).  Both pieces are available again on the digital-only "Cecil Taylor: The Complete, Legendary, Live Return Concert at The Town Hall, NYC, November 4 1973" (Oblivion Records) –– however, now one gets to hear the opening set never before released, the 88-minute "Autumn/Parade".  The extensive (and fascinating) liner notes will tell you much about the people who captured the concert in its entirety, about Taylor's career, and reprints the original program.  However, it's the discovery of the unreleased material that is the revelation. Taylor devotees will not be surprised by the ferocity of the music or the relentless attack of saxophonist Lyons; if one thinks only of this music assaults your ears and mind, pay attention to the quieter moments, to how the music develops from melodic statements, how the rhythm section not only supports but remains in dialogue throughout.  

Photo: Fred McDarrah/Getty Images
If you listen closely to the pianist, you will hear how his propulsive lines have logic and rhythm built in that serve as the foundation for Lyons to rise above.  Under headphones, one can also hear how integral Cyrille is to the music––he's not cowed by nor trying to catch up to Taylor or Lyons but is right there with them. Yes, it is overwhelming to sit through "Autumn/Parade". While there are several respites in the sonic attack, curious first-time listeners should start with "Spring of Two Blue-Js" (solo piano) moving on the Quartet version before diving into nearly relentless tsunami that is the newly discovered material.

"Cecil Taylor: The Complete, Legendary, Live Return Concert at The Town Hall, NYC, November 4 1973" is a truly amazing document. Think of the context. Late 1973, the Watergate Scandal is about to break into the news, the Vietnam War was 16 months away from its conclusion, and jazz had disappeared from "commercial" airwaves.  Does this music reflect its time?  The splintered melodies, the headlong rushes forward, the rhythmic push/pull, and the furious shouting in the center of the audio maelstrom, all add up to answer the question. 

For more information, go to – Fred Seibert is the owner of Oblivion Records.

Here are the first 10 minutes of "Autumn Parade":

Photo: Shaban Athuman
Since 2013, saxophonist and composer Javon Jackson has been the Director of the Jackie McLean Jazz Studies Division of the Hartt School at the University of Hartford (CT) as well as a Professor of Jazz saxophone.  Since he started, Jackson has brought numerous Black thinkers, writers, and artists to campus including Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez, and Nikki Giovanni (pictured with Professor Jackson).  After the poet received an Honorary Degree at a campus event, they heard music playing in the auditorium by Hank Jones and Charlie Haden (a gospel piece from their 1994 collaboration "Steal Away"). The poet went home and two days later wrote to Ms. Giovanni asking of she would pick out 10 gospel tunes for his next album.

The poet complied and the results can be heard on "The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni" (Solid Jackson Records).  Jackson gathered his "touring" quartet –– bassist David Williams, pianist Jeremy Manasia, and drummer McClenty Hunter –– and they recorded the repertoire suggested by Ms. Giovanni. Recognizable tunes such as "Sometimes I Fell Like a Motherless Child", "Swing Low Sweet Chariot", "Mary Had a Baby, Yes Lord", and "Wade In The Water" share space with less often recorded spirituals such as "I Opened My Mouth to the Lord" , "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian", and the deeply soulful "I've Been Buked".  "Wade In The Water" features Ms, Giovanni's poem "A Very Simple Wish" (see below) spoken by Christina Green.  Many of these pieces remind this listener of the ballad work of the classic John Coltrane Quartet, especially when Jackson rises above Manasia'a powerful piano chords, Williams solid, functional, bass lines, and Hunter's thoughtful yet powerful drum kit play. The Quartet does not force the music into strange places; instead, they play it fairly straight with a few delightful exceptions. "Swing Low..." takes its rhythms from Sonny Rollins classic "St. Thomas" while the album opener "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel" is a sprightly blues shuffle replete with a drum solo.  The ensemble does a wonderful delivering the spirit on the ballad "I've Been Buked" while the saxophonist and pianist sans rhythm section shine on "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian". 

Photo: Shaban Athuman
The one non-gospel is "Night Song"––composed by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams for the 1964 Broadway musical "Golden Boy". Sammy Davis Jr. performed the piece in the play and it was almost immediately recorded by Sara Vaughan, Andy Bey & The Bey Sisters, and by Nina Simone. Ms. Giovanni was good friends with Ms. Simone and she suggested the song for this album.  Halfway through the band's performance, the poet becomes the lead singer (her recorded debut) and the song takes on even more gravitas. 

During the nearly two years of the pandemic, more and more people have turned to religion and spirituality. Many people also turned to music to stave off their fears and soothe their soul.  With "The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni", Javon Jackson has turned inward and interprets these songs through his love and understanding of where jazz has taken its influences. He and his fellow musicians play with soul and joy; with Nikki Giovanni's help, this album is a subtle yet swinging delight!

For more information, go to  

Here's "Wade in the Water":

Nikki Giovanni

"A Very Simple Wish"

i want to write an image
like a log-cabin quilt pattern
and stretch it across all the lonely
people who just don’t fit in
we might make a world
if i do that

i want to boil a stew
with all the leftover folk
whose bodies are full
of empty lives
we might feed a world
if i do that

twice in our lives
we need direction
when we are young and innocent
when we are old and cynical
but since the old refused
to discipline us
we now refuse
to discipline them
which is a contemptuous way
for us to respond
to each other

i’m always surprised
that it’s easier to stick
a gun in someone’s face
or a knife in someone’s back
than to touch skin to skin
anyone whom we like

i should imagine if nature holds true
one day we will lose our hands
since we do no work nor make
any love
if nature is true
we shall lose our eyes
since we cannot even now distinguish
the good from the evil

i should imagine we shall lose our souls
since we have so blatantly put them up
for sale and glutted the marketplace
thereby depressing the price

i wonder why we don’t love
not some people way on
the other side of the world with strange
customs and habits
not some folk from whom we were sold
hundreds of years ago
but people who look like us
who think like us
who want to love us why
don’t we love them

i want to make a quilt
of all the patches and find
one long strong pole
to lift it up

i’ve a mind to build
a new world

want to play

(printed in "The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni 1968-1998" published 2007 Willam Morrow.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Short, Sweet, & Hot!

When I first started collecting 45 rpm "singles" back in the 1960s, every once in a while, one of my favorite artists would drop a four-song 45. Those packages were extremely popular in Great Britain. Nowadays, the "industry" still insists calling a CD with 3, 4. or 5 cuts, an "EP" –– go figure!

Photo: David Crow
Saxophonist, composer, and educator Rudresh Mahanthappa first organized the Hero Trio with bassist François Moutin and drummer Rudy Royston in 2019 with their debut CD released in June of 2020 by Whirlwind Recordings. Needless to say, the pandemic put an end to the Trio's tour plan for that year and, as it turns out, the next year as well.  Undeterred, Mahanthappa brought the rhythm section into the studio in November of 2021 and they laid the tracks for their next release, an EP titled "Animal Crossing". Like the debut, the material comes from myriad sources –– in this instance, the four tracks include pieces by Pat Metheny, Chuck Mangione, George Michael, and Kazumi Totaka. Who is Kazumi Tokata?  He's the composer of the recording's title track which is the theme for a popular video game that the leader's young children have played a lot since the beginning of the pandemic. 

If you know the band's debut recording, you understand this is a band that loves to hit hard, loves to push each other, and to have great fun. The title track leaps out of the speakers but, to the song's credit and the band's sensitivities, they don't mess with the "sweet" video game melody.  When they get to Mahanthappa's solo, the music takes off. Moutin's powerful and melodic bass lines, often in counterpoint to the saxophonist's phrases, plus Royston's frenetic dancing all around his kit is a real treat. The trio tears into Metheny's "Missouri Uncompromised" (from the guitarist's debut ECM album "Bright Size Life") –– they don't ignore the handsome melody yet it's such a treat to hear what the rhythm section does throughout the piece.  Mangione's "Give It All You Got" (from the flugelhornist's 1980 "Fun and Games" Lp), is rearranged from its original "funky" take and has more of a ballad feel.  Excellent solos from the leader and the bassist stand out.  

Photo: David Crow
The final track is a rapid-fire, wild ride, through George Michael's "Faith".  While Mahanthappa plays the melody, listen below to what Moutin and Royston are doing.  The bassist plays very quickly yet maintains his melodic counterpoint while Royston brings the "thunder".  The shortest piece of the four at 4:29, the music still amazes for the trio's ability to be so powerful and still respect the melody.

"Animal Crossing", the EP, is a blast.  The Rudresh Mahanthappa Hero Trio certainly can fly but also knows how to glide.  When the world reopens, make sure to go see them (they're touring in Europe in March).  Their music just might save the world!

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

Have some "Faith":

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Trios of Threes plus A Four (Feb '22)


Saxophonist, composer, and educator Adam Larson, born in Normal, IL, now lives and works in Kansas City at the University of Missouri/KC.  After graduating from the Manhattan School of Music (Bachelor's and Master's degrees), he stayed in New York City leading his own ensembles and recording five albums for labels such as Inner Circle Music, Ropeadope Records, and on his own label. They showed him as a fine soloist and a good writer –– he also played a slew of gigs as a sideman with various leaders.

Larson makes his debut on Outside In Music leading a trio that features bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Dana Hall.  "With Love From Chicago" contains 10 pieces, three by the leader, four by bassist Sommers, and one each by Thelonious Monk, Chicago-based tenor saxophonist John Wojciechowski, and J. Russel Robinson.  What stands on initial listenings is how "tight" and "loose" the group interactions are, how delightfully melodic bassist Sommers can be, how powerful drummer Hall (plus he can swing mightily), and how comfortable the leader is being challenged by his rhythm section.  The album opens with Larson's "Angolan Babysitter" –– Hall's polyrhythmic attack pushes the saxophonist to play with abandon but make sure to listen to how Sommers bounces his melodic phrases off the drums.  Sommers' bluesy "The Time You Forgot You Knew" has a handsome melody with strong counterpoint from the composer all underpinned by the drummer's headlong push forward. 

The Trio does a sprightly reading of Monk's "We See", playing with the time signature, breaking up the melody, playing with the piece ways that the composer would probably enjoy. J. Russel Robinson's "Portrait of Jenny" (a hit for the Nat "King" Cole Orchestra in 1949) is an oft-recorded standard; here, the Trio plays the tune oh-so-slowly with Hall's brushes and Sommers melodic bass lines supporting the heart-felt performance of the melody.  

"With Love From Chicago" is one of those musical experiences that would sound great in a club but, thanks to engineer Ken Christianson at Pro Musica in Chicago, the music leaps out of the speakers and into the room. At times under headphones, it feels like you're in the midst of the recording studio between the drums and bass –– their music hits you in the chest.  The saxophonist responds by absorbing the "hit" and pouring its intensity into his solo forays. This is the first trio recording Adam Larson has released; his exciting thematic explorations and his powerful musicianship plus the joyful, intense, musical, rhythmical playing of Clark Sommers and Dana Hall makes one hope this is the first of many collaborations!

For more information, go to  

Hear the opening track:

Photo: Matt Baker
Pianist, composer, and educator Pete Malinverni, a native of Niagara Falls, New York, moved southeast to NYC in the 1980s where he is the midst of a long and very busy career. He has played alongside the last drummer Mel Lewis, saxophonists Joe Lovano and  Steve Wilson, and vocalist Karen Allyson (among others).  The pianist has issued 16 albums as a leader plus appeared on many more. He's also plays in religious settings at the Devoe Street Baptist Church in Brooklyn (Minister of Music for eighteen years), the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY (Pianist and Conductor) and the Pound Ridge Community Church (Director of Music. He is now the Chair of Jazz Studies at Purchase College/ State University of New York.

The pianist's latest album is "On The Town –– Pete Malinverni Plays the Music of Leonard Bernstein" (Planet Arts Recordings) and it's a delight from start to finish.  Malinverni first met the Maestro when the pianist had a solo gig at Bradley's in New York City and Bernstein (1918-90) walked in. Malinverni started playing the composer's "Lucky To Be Me" from the 194e4 musical "On The Town".  Bernstein was thrilled and struck up a conversation which tickled the younger musician so much. Still, it took nearly 30 years for Malinverni to play a program dedicated to the composer's music.  he did just that in 2018 as part of Bernstein's Centennial Birthday celebration for a program that featured a larger ensemble with four reeds.  For "On The Town", the pianist is playing with one of his closest associates, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, as well as drummer Jeff Hamilton

Photo: Matt Baker
The 10-song program features nine Bernstein piece plus Malinverni's "A Night on The Town" that closes the album.  The pianist picked songs associated with the composer's as well his own adapted home, New York City. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the album's opener is "New York, New York" from the joyous "On The Town".  Okegwo and Hamilton swing with a purpose while Malinverni romps through the melody like a pair of sailors on shore leave.  There's a lovely version of "Somewhere" which, after the handsome solo piano opening, takes on a bluesy persona.  The happy-go-lucky feel of "I Feel Pretty" not only highlights the melody but also plays up the girlish enthusiasm of Maria who sings the tune in "West Side Story". Note the fine contrapuntal bass lines and the delightful swing of the drums.  Hamilton states the melody (and some) in the opening moments of "Cool" and then the trio romps forward.  There's a feel of Paul Desmond's feel of "Take Five" throughout the trio's rendition of "Some Other Time" (from "On The Town") and more blues in that 1944 show's heartfelt ballad "Lonely Town". 

Throughout the album, one gets to bask in the glow of the sounds from pianist Pete Malinverni. Even when creating a solo, he creates melodic variations on the music of Leonard Bernstein.  The pianist's original at the end of the program may remind some listener of the trio music of Herbie Nichols but you also traces of the person Malinverni is celebrating.  "On The Town" will make you tap your feet, smile widely, and even sing along and that's very "cool".

For more information, go to  

Hear "New York, New York":

Bassist and composer Luke Stewart, who splits his time between Washington, D.C. and New York City, is one of the busiest creative musicians currently catching the attention of critics and listeners around the US and the world. He leads various groups including the Exposure Quintet and is an integral member of Invisible Entanglements as well as Heroes Are Gang Leaders plus he's worked with saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, Moor Mother, and guitarist Anthony Pirog.  His latest project, Luke Stewart's Silt Trio, features drummer Chad Taylor and tenor saxophonist Brian Settles.  

The trio's debut album, "The Bottom" (Cuneiform Records), may remind some of the work saxophonist/ flutist Henry Threadgill created with bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall in trio Air.  Not so much in the playing styles of the musicians but in how the trio approaches the music as a three-way conversation, how melodies arise from rhythmic patterns, and how solos develop from inside the music. The opening "Reminiscence" is hypnotic minimalism at its sweetest; built off of Taylor's repetitive pattern played on the mbira, Stewart's bass lines bounce off that pattern while Settles enters playing a melody of long tones in the higher (alto) range of his tenor.  Other pieces develop slowly, especially in the cases of "Angles" and "Circles", both group improvisation. The former tune, the longest on the program at 11:39, rises up out of a short melodic saxophone phrase which gives way to Stewart's bowed bass alongside Taylor's chattering drum. The piece moves slowly forward until it finally falls into a rhythm with less than 90 seconds to go.  "Circles" is just the opposite; a fiery romp that does not let up for a second until right it comes to a close at 3:04.

Taylor and Stewart lock in on "Roots", creating hypnotic and powerful waves of rhythm for Settles to ride atop. The driving rhythm is infectious but never overwhelms the more sublime tenor sax sounds. Yet, the performance keeps driving forward even as the music slows to its finish.

"The Bottom" closes on a bluesy "Dream House". its easy-rolling tempo created by Taylor's tap-dancing brushes.  Settles initially plays in a whimsical style (apropos of the rhythm) but opens up as his solo unwinds. Pay attention to Stewart's powerful contrapuntal lines which feed off both the sax and drums as well as his melodic solo supported by the gentle shuffling drums.  

With the creation of his Silt Trio and the release of "The Bottom", bassist, composer, and conceptualist Luke Stewart shows yet another side to his ever-maturing explorations into Black Creative Music.  He approached the album as he would a live set; you should as well. Sit back, listen deeply, and enjoy the ride.

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

Here's a taste of "Roots":


Drummer Taru Alexander is the son of tenor saxophonist Roland Alexander (1935-2006) who, thanks to his father, has been playing music since he was three years old. The younger Alexander had a slew of mentors, studying with drummers such as Walter Perkins and Andre Strobert at the age of nine. He joined his father's band at 13, studied at the La Guardia Music & Art High School with Justin DiCioccio (later of the Manhattan School of Music), and made his recording debut on Soul Note Records (at the age of 16) with the Fred Ho Afro-Asian Ensemble.  The drummer went on to play with pianist Rodney Kendrick, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, saxophonists Michael Marcus, Salim Washington, and Kenny Garrett, and many more.

"Echoes of the Masters" (Sunnyside Records) looks to be Taru Alexander's second recording as a leader. He's organized a top-notch quartet including James Hurt (piano), Antoine Roney (tenor saxophone), Rahsaan Carter (acoustic bass), and, on one track, vocalist Hanka G.  Ms. G (who leads a quartet that features Alexander on drums) provides lyrics and her powerful voice to the Thelonious Monk/ Coleman Hawkins classic "I Mean You"; the band builds off her energetic style, pushed by the leader to create short, sweet, and succinct solos. Not surprisingly, there are two pieces by the senior Alexander including the exuberant "Change Up" that opens the six-song program and "Kojo Time" whose opening notes sound like "reveille".  The latter tune features a powerful statement from Roney pushed by the thunderous drums and Carter's splendid dancing bass lines. Hurt follows, riding the waves from beneath him to create a stunning solo.  The bassist and then the drummer solo next –– the piece never loses its steam as both players dig deeply.

Roney shines again on the quartet's dancing take of McCoy Tyner's "Peresina", the polyrhythmic approach of the leader really pushing the soloist.  Alexander is quite active but never intrusive reminding this listener of Billy Higgins, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and Rudy Royston.  His understanding of dynamic tension shines throughout the album but none more exemplary than on the high octane drive of "Deception". From the pen of bassist Buster Williams, the rhythm section sets a furious pace and both Roney and Hurt respond positively.  

Wayne Shorter's "Pinocchio" closes the program. First recorded by Miles Davis for his "Nefertiti" album, pianist Hurt opens the track with a short, introspective, solo before the rest of the band jumps in with a pace akin to "Deception".  Pay close attention to how Alexander converses with the soloists, egging them onward with his powerful, enthusiastic, percussion.

Recorded in July of 2020 (in the first full wave of the pandemic), "Echoes of the Masters" is a brave musical shout-out to the healing power of music. While the program times out at under 36 minutes, the results are quite satisfying and makes one hope that this is the beginning of a fruitful period for drummer/ bandleader Taru Alexander.

For more information, go to  You can listen to and purchase the album by going to

Here's "Deception" (turn it up loud!):

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Book & Music


Phil Freeman, the editor and producer of the web zine "Burning Ambulance" as well as the label of the same name, started writing "Ugly Beauty: Jazz in the 21st Century" (zerO Books) in the midst of the pandemic. It was at a time when no one was quite sure when life would return to normal and we could go out to clubs and concerts, galleries, movie theaters, restaurants, concerts, etc.  What Freeman has produced in the 250-page book is more than a retrospective of the first two decades of the 2000s but a powerful reminder that Black American music (jazz, if you'd rather) continues to be be relevant even as major labels and news outlets debate the music genre's death.  Freeman writes about innovators, about musicians from around the world and in the United States. he reminds the reader that the music has always reached out beyond the borders proscribed by producers, critics, and record companies that need to slap recognizable labels on music. Within the pages, you'll find short profiles of 42 different artists mostly written after viewing the musicians in concert and speaking with them. The lineup ranges from Jeremy Pelt to Mary Halvorson to Shabaka Hutchings to Theo Croker to Matana Roberts and on. If you have ever read "Burning Ambulance" and listened to Freeman's podcast of the same name, you know that the author loves the music, respects the artists, asks probing questions and never patronizes the artists or their repertoire. 

Best of all, "Ugly Beauty" makes one want to listen to the music the musicians have made and chances are good even you are familiar with the material, you'll hear it with "new ears".  Phil Freeman undoubtedly  respects the history of jazz (listen to his podcast) but he is even more interested as to where the music is coming from and where it's going to go.  

To find out more, go to  

Photo: Sylvian Gripoix
For his eighth album as a leader for ACT Records, soprano saxophonist and composer Emile Parisien has assembled an incredible sextet  of internationally acclaimed musicians. From the United States is Theo Croker (trumpet) plus the rhythm section of Joe Martin (bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums), from Italy and the Republic of Congo is Roberto Negro (piano), and from France is Manu Codjia (guitar) –– the album, "Louise", features nine tracks, five composed by Parisien and one each from Codjia, Croker, Negro, and the late Joe Zawinul (after the keyboard master passed in 2007, Parisien played in The Syndicate, a large ensemble comprised of many members of the Zawinul Syndicate). The saxophonist also created an ensemble in 2017 with his frequent musical partner Vincent Peirani called File Under Zawinul, an eight-piece group (also featuring guitarist guitarist Codjia) to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the keyboardist's passing.

The influence of Zawinul can be hear through the many and varied textures of sounds as well as the occasional poly-rhythmic attack that dominated much of the composer's uptempo music. "Madagascar", the one non-original on "Louise", opens quietly with Croker and Parisien wrapping lines around each other before the rhythm section kicks in and one hears the twisty-turny melody lines that Zawinul loved to write. Listen to the interplay of Negro with the front line and how Waits and Martin push the music forward.  

The program is filled with highlights. The leader's three-part, 15 minute+, "Memento" opens as a ballad for trumpet and soprano sax with guitar, bass, and drums adding textures. As "Part 1" moves forward, the music picks up in intensity, with a roaring guitar solo that carries the piece into "Part II" as Negro's piano moves forward alone. His solo lines ripple outwards until the band reenters, the drums leading the way in a playful fashion. Parisien and Croker state the melody up until the start of "Part III" when the rhythm section jumps forward pulling Croker's growling trumpet along.  There are a pair of quick stops for a rapid-fire phrase and then the pianist takes the lead as the rhythm section breaks down and in and out of the fiery pace. The leader then enters with a solo that starts slowly but quickly picks the pace as the bass and drums threaten to burst out beneath the soprano sax.  

Photo: Samuel Kirszenbaum
Two ballads stand out. The first is Negro's "Il Giorno Della Civetta (The Day of the Owl") – taking its name from a 1968 crime drama (released in the US as "Mafia"), the ballad slowly moves forward with atmospheric guitar, muted trumpet, and throbbing drums. Croker's solo is sad, introspective, while the saxophone, guitar, and piano weave flowing phrases behind him. The trumpeter's composition "Prayer 4 Peace" closes the program, his simple yet heartfelt melody rising over the shimmering backdrop of guitar and piano, bass counterpoint, and rolling drums. Reminiscent of Zawinul's "In a Silent Way", the intensity rises as Croker and Parisien continually repeat the lovely melody with the latter moving out from and back to the melody. Listen on repeat as the music draws you in to its complex yet peaceful world.

"Louise", recorded in January of 2021 in Amiens, France in the midst of the pandemic, is music that will excite and ultimately satisfy your soul. The Emile Parisien Sextet is quite a unit, bringing worlds of influences and sounds to these nine pieces, taking the listener on an amazing ride of melodies and rhythms. Join in!

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Here's the rollicking "Jojo":