Tuesday, May 31, 2022

What I'm Listening To (1)

Pianist and composer David Virelles, born and raised in Cuba, moved to Canada in the early 2000s at the behest of musician. Jane Bunnett. While attending college, he recorded with the flutist and came into contact with saxophonist Steve Coleman. On the strength of a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. Virelles moved to New York City to study with Henry Threadgill, going on to record with the saxophonist/ composer as well as artists such as Mr. Coleman, Chris Potter, Paul Motian, Wadada Leo Smith, Mark Turner, and many others. As a leader, he's recorded for both ECM and Pi Recordings.

It's on the latter label where you'll find "Nuna", a 16-track, mostly solo (percussionist Julio Barretto appears on three of the tracks), extravaganza. Unlike his previous Pi recording (the digital-only "Transformación del Arcoiris"), Virelles plays acoustic piano throughout save for the opening "Spacetime" on which he adds the percussion instrument marimbula.  The music ranges from Cuban folk melodies to melodic excursions to rhythmic fantasies to free-form improvisations to trance-like journeys. Composed and recorded during the pandemic, the music flows like a giant stream from start to finish. And that's the best way to listen––start with "Spacetime" and don't stop until the ringing chords of "Casa" fade away.  It's quite a musical adventure, one that never overstays its welcome and is so rewarding. 

"Nuna", like all of the music David Virelles has created as a solo artist, is fascinating.  His formal training as well as his study of Black Music from playing with so many fine creators, has expanded his vision so that the pianist cannot be pigeon-holed into one genre. Nor should he be. Open your ears and mind, dear listener, and you will be rewarded.

To find out more about the pianist, go to www.davidvirelles.com.

To hear more and to purchase "Nuna", go to https://davidvirelles.bandcamp.com/album/nuna.  There's even a 4-song bonus EP available on the pianist's Bandcamp page (https://davidvirelles.bandcamp.com/album/nuna-bonus-tracks). 

Hear "Ghost Town": 

Photo: Frank Schemann
Born in Oakland, CA, in February 1955, tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist David Murray seemed to come fully formed on the Black Music scene in the mid-1970s.  Before moving to New York City, he had played with pianist Horace Tapscott. Before being one of the four co-founders of the World Saxophone Quartet in 1977, he released three Lps in 1976 including the brilliant "Flowers for Albert" (India Navigation Records) and the equally powerful Trio recording "Low Class Conspiracy" (Adelphi Records).  He was prolific through the 1980s and 90s with a series of splendid Octet recordings on Black Saint and quartet dates on DIW plus his work with the WSQ. Murray was never tied to one genre––he could play "free", "in the pocket", in intimate duo sessions, with a big band, in different Caribbean "modes", rearranging the Grateful Dead music for big band and more.

In 2020, the saxophonist created his BRAVE NEW WORLD TRIO (pictured above) with bassist Brad Jones and drummer Hamid Drake. The results of their collaboration can now be heard on "Seriana Promethea" (Intakt Records).  The title track opens the eight-song program on a surprisingly and delightfully funky note with Jones' powerful bass lines and Drake's dancing drums underneath the happy-go-lucky bass clarinet lines. The next track, "Necktar", ups the ante with hard-edged rhythms,  swinging and solid bass lines while the leader romps on tenor sax.  "Metouka Sheli (Ballad for Adrienne)" is a soulful ballad that brings to mind the trio Air (with Henry Threadgill, Fred Hopkins, and Steve McCall) especially in Murray's fluttering tone and how the rhythm section moves through the piece.  The album's sole cover tune is "If You Want Me to Stay", a 1973 hot for Sly & The Family Stone––the trio pushes the rhythm forward harder than the original but dig how Jones captures the insistent feel of the bass lines.  Drake kicks with abandon while the tenor saxophone shouts and "testifies".  

The album closes "Am Gone Get Some", a rollicking jaunt pushed by the drums underneath the far-ranging "walking" bass and the leader's scampering tenor solo.  The liner notes reported that the trio recorded in Zurich, Switzerland, after a series of European gigs and it really shows in the group's tightness, support, and desire to push each other further.  No cliches here, no "comping" to fill out the songs, just three musicians at their height of their powers having a great time making music.  I look forward to more experiences from David Murray and his BRAVE NEW WORLD TRIO––in the meantime, "Seriana Promethea" is a true delight!

For more information and to purchase the album, go to https://intaktrec.bandcamp.com/album/seriana-promethea-2

Here's the title track:

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Digital Side of Newvelle Recoirds

 Over the past year, the vinyl-only, subscription series, record label Newvelle Records has been issuing digital versions of albums from its first four "seasons".  While the digital releases go a long way to capture the impressive "sounds" of the Lps, one does not get the brilliant art work that accompanies each package. Nevertheless, the lesser expensive alternative is a great way for music lovers to learn about the great work that Artistic Director Elan Mehler and engineer Marc Urselli of NYC's East Side Sound are capturing.  

Noah Preminger has two releases on the label including "Some Other Time" released in Season One (2015).  It's a ballads album that features the tenor saxophonist playing alongside guitarist Ben Monder, bassist John Pattitucci, and drummer Billy Hart.  This is not a typical standards collection; yes, there are pieces from Billy Strayhorn "My Little Brown Book"), Duke Ellington ("Melancholia"), Victor Young ("A Ghost of a Chance"), and Jimmy Campbell's "Try a Little Tenderness" but there's also Bob Dylan's "Boot of Spanish Leather", "Porcelain" from The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and "Una Limosnita por Amor de Dios ("An Alm for the Love of God") composed by guitarist Agustín Barrios Mangoré (1885-1944).  Preminger contributes "Semenzato", a piece that is not only quite melodic but features a great bass solo plus the saxophonist's strong give-and-take with Hart. 

There's a touch of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster in Preminger's tone on pieces such as "Ghost of a Chance" that also features splendid bass playing and smart brushes work. That breathy and bluesy sax sound permeates the Leonard Bernstein piece that gives the album its name.  Here, the interactions of all four musicians stand out with kudos to the wonderful rhythm guitar of Monder plus the high-energy saxophone coda. The guitarist's "atmospheric" sound is a delightful foil to Preminger's attack––note how Monder weaves in and out of the melody on the opening of "Melancholia" as well as his "ringing" chords behind the bass solo.

"Some Other Time" is a timeless set of music. How impressive is this quartet of contemporary musicians that they can take material that is over 70 years old and mix it with much newer works and the results are so ageless. This album is a welcome addition to growing discography of Noah Preminger, a series of fascinating and adventurous musical experiences.  

For more information, go to www.noahpreminger.com. To hear more and to purchase the album, go to  https://noahpreminger.bandcamp.com/album/some-other-time

Hear "A Ghost of a Chance":

From Newvelle's Season 3 comes "Half Light", an impressive and imagistic collection of pieces created by tenor saxophonist and composer Andy Zimmerman. Based in Chicago, IL, he doesn't have a big discography but is involved in an on-going project with his father, award-winning storyteller Jack Zimmerman. The saxophonist also appears on the first Newvelle release, Frank Kimbrough's "Meantime".  His release finds him in the company of pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Matt Penman, and trumpeter Dave Douglas.  There are moments throughout the 11-song program when it feels like all four are playing melody. One rarely hears Douglas as a sideman these days but he's an excellent second "voice" in much of this music––he stands out on "Sunset and The Mockingbird" (a Duke Ellington piece from "The Queen's Suite") especially on his interactions with the leader. Although the liner notes calls these pieces "sketches", the music shines.  Zimmerman's pellucid sound has a lightness akin to alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. There are no wasted notes, no need to impress with long, technically amazing solos–the melody, the story, is all.

There are no weak moments on the album. Whether the song is a shimmering musical poem ("The Bay Area"–listen below), an aural painting ("Clearing"–watch below), celebrating a sweet melody with a Latin feel in the rhythm ("Lena's Dance"), or reimagining George Gershwin's soulful ballad ("Bess You Is My Woman Now"), Andy Zimmerman and company play with love, conviction, joy, respect, and an understanding that music can do many things for listeners including offer solace in bitter times. "Half Life" is a gem and will offer you, as it has for me, a creative respite.

For more information, go to www.andyzimmermanmusic.com. To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://newvellerecords.bandcamp.com/album/half-light.

Here's "The Bay Area":

Watch the quartet in the studio:


Pianist Billy Lester is not well-known in the great big music world yet that should stop from checking out "From Scratch" his album that appeared in Newvelle's Season 4. Joining him in this 14-song program are bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Matt Wilson.  The Lp version contains nine songs while the digital release adds four more songs and one alternate take.  All standards, this music is anything but standard.  The piano is front-and-center throughout while Reid offers delightful counterpoint and Wilson is the engine that can and does gleefully swing or gently strolls through the music.  Listen below to the 1917 James F, Hanley classic "Back Home In Indiana"–the piano, bass, and drums lock in from the start and never let go.  The same can be said for Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" in that the Trio "hits it" from the onset and never lets go.

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Lester, who studied with Sal Mosca (a Lenny Tristano disciple), has a bright sound as well as witty take on approaching on performing a tune often splintering the original melody and building his solo out of those melodic and/or rhythmic splinters. There's a dollop of Thelonious Monk on the previously unreleased "These Foolish Things" and traces of Duke Ellington in the opening minutes of the piano solo "Darn That Dream" which later has a playful stride section.  That's the joy of this music––Billy Lester can play what he wants when he wants and no two versions of any song in his repertoire can be subtly (or even not-so-subtly) changed each time he sits at a piano.  Check out "From Scratch" for a musical adventure par excellence.

For more information, go to www.billylestermusic.com. To hear more and to purchase the music, go to 

Here's the swinging "Back Home in Indiana":

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

A Sonic Taste of "Thisness" + Classic "Thatness"


In 2015, guitarist, composer, and conceptualist Miles Okazaki built a new ensemble which, ultimately, took its name Trickster from its 2017 eponymous debut Pi Recordings. Utilizing the brilliant rhythm section, bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman, from Steve Coleman's Five Elements plus pianist Craig Taborn (replaced in 2018 by Matt Mitchell).  The music couldn't help but be affected by the guitarist's many appearances with Coleman's group. But, the music has matured.

Okazaki's latest album with the quartet, "Thisness" (Pi Recordings), has a different feel from its three predecessors. Besides piano, Mitchell plays Fender Rhodes and Prophet–6 synthesizer and the four original pieces are the longest (all between 9:27 and 10:04). The song titles were adapted from the Sun Ra poem "The Far Off Place"; the music does have an exploratory feel throughout. Also, to get the full effect of the music, listen through headphones or in a room with really sensitive speakers. There is a lot going on over the course of these songs, overdubs of several guitars and keyboards that one will want to hear to get the full sonic picture.  The mix of the thick bass tones, the powerful percussion, the strong piano chords, and Okazaki's fascinating acoustic and electric guitar work keeps one's interest throughout.  The music feels "in the moment", spontaneous each time you listen.

"In Some Far Off Place" opens the album in subdued fashion. This listener is reminded of several ballads of Jimi Hendrix (as well as John Lennon's "Julia" later on) in the early moments as the leader's overdubbed guitars move gracefully through the aural landscape. Listen closely, there are wordless vocals that show up now and then.  Halfway through, the music changes direction, becoming more rhythmical (noticeable in the guitar solo and work of the rhythm section. Synth washes can be heard and then the tempo picks up with much more urgency. It's never overwhelming even as the guitars move around in the mix. The various trails of the music intersect as the band moves forward––kick back, enjoy the journey.

Musical magic can be heard on each track. The rock-solid rhythms beneath the guitar and rippling piano phrases on "Years in Space", the song powered by Tidd's hard-hitting bass lines clearing the path for the soloists while Rickman hits the snare, it pops! "I'll Build a World" literally jumps off the starting line but pay attention to the calming Fender Rhodes underneath the rapid-fire melody lines.  As the piece develops, the pace slows for a moment for a piano solo while Rickman (listed as co-writer) dances beneath.  Halfway through, the drummer instigates a musical call-and-response with the guitar and piano––such an invigorating interaction.

"And wait for you" truly kicks in on the strength of the funkified drums and pumping bass lines. The electric guitar and Fender Rhodes dance atop Tidd's solo phrases until Okazaki plays a rhythm figure that could easily have been created by Nile Rodgers (Chic) or Leo Nocentelli (The Meters).  The guitar solo moves back and forth into the groove until music changes directions for an acoustic piano solo that turns into an interaction between guitar phrases from several overdubbed guitars. 

"Thisness" is an album to play on repeat. Not only does the music sound alive but also, on subsequent listens, one begins to understand the pathways in these compositions. This music is never static; like a river, its current can be swift but the eddies are enthralling. Miles Okazaki continues to mature as a composer and musician while the Trickster ensemble is a wonderful vehicle for both his playing and conceptual adventures.

For more information, go to www.milesokazaki.com.  To hear more and purchase "Thisness" and other albums with this ensemble, go to https://milesokazaki.bandcamp.com/album/thisness

Hear Miles Okazaki & Trickster perform "I'll Build a World":

1970 was quite the year for Soft Machine. The trio of Mike Ratledge (Hohner pianet, Lowrey Holiday Deluxe organ), Robert Wyatt (drums, vocals), and Hugh Hopper (electric bass) continued its move towards electric jazz-fusion by adding Elton Dean (alto saxophone, saxello) and Lynn Dobson (soprano and tenor saxophones, flute, harmonica, vocals) as well as, for a very short time in late 1969, trombonist Marc Charig (as far as I know, there are no live recordings with him).  The new quintet's music sounded influenced as much by Miles Davis's move towards fusion on "In A Silent Way" as by American composer Terry Riley's mixture of electric instruments and improvisation on "A Rainbow in Curved Air". 

There are a slew of bootleg "live" albums of the band in 1970 but now Cuneiform Records has officially released "Facelift France and Holland". Both sets, the first recorded on January 17, 1970 at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, the second on March 2, 1970, at the Théâtre de la Musique in Paris, feature the Quintet in full flower. Both the CD and vinyl versions have the full video of the later show. The 2-CD + DVD and the 2-Lp + DVD (this package won't be available until 12/31/2022) as well as the digital version are programmed with the March concert first.  The later show is longer (71:15) than the earlier one (44:36) but fans won't mind.  The sound quality on the January concert recording is fairly impressive (editing at the end of the first track is sloppy though) while the March show sounds a bit more distant at times (CD buyers get a third disc with a previously unreleased soundboard recording of the March program.

As for the music, four of the songs played in these concerts would appear on the Soft Machine's Columbia Records June 1970 debut "Third".  Those tracks include "Facelift", "Slightly All The Time", "Moon In June", and "Out-Bloody-Rageous".  The older album's "Facelift" does feature the Quintet as it was recorded on January 4, 1970, two weeks before the Paris concert version.  It's fun to hear the bigger group. Both Dobson and Dean play with abandon as does Wyatt. While his playful vocals would soon disappear from the band's repertoire as would he the following year. He was the right drummer for this music bringing the zany yet rhythmically strong performances this music called for.  The sounds that Ratledge gets out of the organ are often other-worldly, blending well with the soprano sax and the saxello (a Bb soprano sax). Hopper's electric bass lines help the music from flying totally out of control while his "fuzz" bass really thickens the sounds,.

Pieces such as "Mousetrap" and "Eammon Andrews" blend jazz and rock while the afore-mentioned "Facelift" and "Slightly All the Time" are prime examples of "electric jazz".  If you are curious about this most fertile time of jazz-fusion, "Facelift France and Holland" gives a particular English take. The Soft Machine would go on to influence distinctively British bands like Hatfield & The North, National Health, and Gilgamesh. Wyatt started Matching Mole after his departure continuing to mine his unique vocal style to adventurous music.  Ratledge, Hopper, and Dean would add drummer John Marshall, guitarist Allan Holdsworth, and reeds/keyboard player Karl Jenkins who would take over the group in 1976.   Still, this fascinating release illustrates just how impressive an ensemble the group was in 1970. 

The group still exists with Marshall on the drums, Holdsworth's replacement John Etheridge, young reeds player Theo Travis, and the newest member bassist Fred Thelonious Baker who joined in January 202 (replacing Roy Babbington who had replaced Hopper in the mid-1970s).  To find out more and get a history of the band, go to www.softmachine.org

For more information and to purchase "Facelift France and Holland", go to  https://cuneiformrecords.bandcamp.com/album/facelift-france-and-holland-3.

Here's a taste of "Moon in June" recorded 01/17/70 in The Netherlands: