Friday, September 16, 2022

The Recuperation Playlist (Part Two)


Like many top-notch bass players, Chicago-based Clark Sommers is often first-call.  He has done numerous tours with vocalist Kurt Elling, with pianist Darrell Grant, the late tenor sax giant Von Freeman, vocalist Jeff Baker, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the 13-member Chicago Yestet, and guitarist Bobby Bloom (plus many others). For the past decade, the bassist has led the Ba(SH) Trio with saxophonist Geof Bradfield (tenor and soprano saxes plus bass clarinet) and drummer Dana Hall. That group has issued two excellent albums and Sommers' two compatriots are the foundation of the latest version of his Lens quintet. Sommers and Bradfield, along with drummer Kendrick Scott, guitarist Jeff Parker, and pianist/ organist Gary Versace released its first album, the self-titled "Lens", on eyes&ears Records in 2017. The quintet's second album, "Intertwine", is now out on Outside In Music now featuring guitarist Matt Gold, tenor saxophonist Chris Madsen, and drummer Hall.

Replacing the keyboards with the guitar acts to "open up" the sound of the quintet. The new album, which clocks in at nearly 74 minutes, never feels over-stuffed or sounds dull––instead, Sommers has composed music with strong melodies that gives the ensemble plenty of room to create cogent solos and for Hall to experiment underneath the solid foundations the leaders creates.  "Also Tomorrow" opens the 12-song program, the two tenor saxes combining to present the melody while the drums and bass play a skipping rhythm.  "James Marshall" follows and the title is a reference to James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix. You can hear the influence of the great guitarist in the structure of the song but Gold's solo certainly goes its own original way. There's a bluesy solo from Bradfield and exciting statement from Madsen that leads the piece to its powerful close.

Sommers the composer keeps one guessing as to what direction the next track are going to take.. There's the swinging hard-bop of "Second Guess", the lovely and mysterious modalities of "Ancient Voice" (where Bradfield's bass clarinet blends nicely with Madsen's tenor sax), the bluesy funk of "Weeks and Weeks" (where the handsome melody runs counter to the down-home feel of the rhythm section) which leads into "Invisible Arrow" that again has the open play feel of the earlier tracks.  

The up-tempo title tracks closes the program. Again, it's the skipping quality of the drums that gives the handsome melody the room to move and expand. The blend of soprano and tenor over Gold's rippling guitar lines is so attractive. The track also features a melodically rich solo from the leader and rousing call and response by the saxes that leads the piece and album to a gentle finish.

"Intertwine", for this listener, is an album that I start at the beginning, go to the end and start all over again. The bountiful melodies and rhythms wash through the room and, in the long run, are greatly rewarding.  Clark Sommers Lens is an ensemble that begs to be seen live so it can work its musical magic on an attentive and appreciative audience. In the meantime, this album is a true treat! 

To find out more, go to

Most modern music fans know Elan Mehler as co-producer and Artistic Director of Newvelle Records, the label that has been producing ultra-high quality vinyl albums in a subscription series since 2016.  There's much more than music––each package features impressive art work, informative liner notes, and more.  Most people don't know that Mehler is a fine pianist––the fifth" season featured Mehler in a musical conversation with trumpeter Dave Douglas and, in 2020, his duo album with vocalist Becca Stevens was issued as a "digital-only" release. 

This month, Newvelle issues a new quartet of albums under the name of "The Renewal Collection". Subscribers purchase four vinyl albums including new work from Mehler, saxophonist Michael Blake, saxophonist Dave Liebman, and trumpeter/ flugelhornist Nadje Noordhuis.  All four will be issued digitally one month at a time. The impetus for this collection is how music was able to soothe so many souls during the worst months of the Pandemic.  "There Is a Dance" finds Mehler in a trio conversation with acoustic bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Francisco Mela––if you love piano trios, this is worth your time.  While most people will point to Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett or Bud Powell as the most influential piano trios, this 13-song (the digital release has two more tracks than the vinyl) reminds this listener of the cooperative trio of Geri Allen, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian that recorded for Soul Note and DIW (Japan) in the late 1980s and 1990s.  

In his liner notes, the pianist writes that "I’ve spent my whole life with this music – listening to this music – practicing this music – relying on this music – struggling with this music – and – when it’s good – welcoming this music’s arrival from the quietest place in my heart." (There's much more to understand about this recording in the notes).  The music ranges from the sweet blues of "East Side Blues" to deep introspection of the title track to lovely gospel sounds of "When You Were Blind" to the Frank Kimbrough influence that permeates "The Shakes" to the lyrical "We Spin" to the Erik Satie gentleness of "Ruby D."  Scherr and Mela are the perfect partners––while neither solos, they listen intently to the pianist either following as Mehler moves through his solos or gently prodding him or just quietly interacting.  One of the aspects of this music that stands out is how articulate and musical Elan Mehler is.  

What might happen to the active listener as he or she goes deeper into "There Is a Dance" is that a sense of calm should spread through the body.  This music is not about technique, about swing, or volume; inevitably, it's about healing, about acceptance, about moving forward into a better state of being.  Power need not be about pushing someone away until they push back; it can also be about pulling one into a hug and giving thanks for being alive.  Elan Mehler may have struggled to bring this music to life but the results are life-affirming.  

For more information, go to  If you would rather the digital release, go to

Enjoy the gospel-blues of "When You Were Blind":

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The Recuperation Playlist (Part 1)

Life is often wild and crazy with all sorts of mayhem right outside your window, on your screens, and in your ears.  When the craziness moves indoors and becomes personal, one looks for escapes to give a sense of normalcy. We saw that in the pandemic where virtual concerts, streaming movies, and myriad television shows became even more of the "norm".  

On a personal level, my life got crazy this Summer with the need for Open Heart Surgery in July and, just this past week, contracting a case of COVID.  I thank the Doctors, Physicians Assistants, and nurses for their care over these past few months. I thank the higher powers for the music that has gotten me through the surgery, illness, and continued recuperation.

Haven't posted much but I have been listened to a lot of great music. Now, I plan to make several posts about the best of those albums (in no particular order).

As far as I am concerned, any new release by Miguel Zenón is cause for joy.  Since his debut album as a leader (in 2002), he has grown as a composer, arranger, and alto saxophonist. The native of San Juan, Puerto Rico also spent 14 seasons with the SF Jazz Collective and has recorded with a slew of artists from Kurt Elling to Charlie Haden to Fred Hersch to Antonio Sanchez and many more.  His long-tenured quartet includes pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole, all of whom save Cole (who joined the ensemble in 2006) is as impressive as any working group playing today!

His latest release on Miel Music, his 15th as a leader or co-leader, is "Musica De Las Americas", a recording that illustrates how "American music" is an on-going fusion of elements from all corners of the American continent (North, Central, South and the Caribbean) and is tied to the rhythms that traveled in slave ships from Africa but also to the indigenous tribes the Spanish discovered when they arrived in the 15th Century.  Zenón composed all the pieces, not only giving the listener a stunning listening experience but also infusing this music with history. For instance, the opening track "Tainos y Caribes", tells the tale of two indigenous tribes who live in peace in the Caribbean and northeastern South America respectively who were wiped out within several decades after the arrival of the Conquistadors.  The powerful music, built upon the the polyrhythmic attack of Cole plus the thunderous piano and thrumming bass, paints a portrait of vibrant societies. 

Photo: Jimmy Katz
Four of the eight tracks feature guest percussionists. The silky smooth "Navegando (Las Estrellas Nos Guian") adds the five-person Los Pleneros De La Cresta who add not only exciting rhythms but also vocals to the story of the Indigenous tribes that traveled the waters of the Caribbean and Atlantic in handmade boats following the stars.  Percussionist Paoli Mejias pairs with Cole to create a vibrant backdrop for the powerful "Opresión y Revolución" (listen below), which draws on elements of Haitian Voodoo music to tells its story of uprising and self-rule (though the Haitians have paid an extremely steep price ever since). Victor Emmanuelli brings the Bomba drum (barril) into "Bambula", a song that illustrates how the drum the song is named for created a rhythmic pattern that once can hear in musical styles of Cuba, the Caribbean, Central America, New Orleans, and today's reggaeton. "Antillano" closes the album, celebrating the Antilles with young conga master Daniel Diaz helping to propel the playful bounce and sway of the music. 

Throughout "Musicas De Las Americas", Miguel Zenón and the band play with fire, abandon, and joy.  They build off each other's lines and emotions to create music that stands out for its spontaneity, celebrating the many and varied cultures of the American continent.  This is music played by a band that deserves to be seen and heard in person––go to to find out more and see where this most accomplished ensembles is appearing.  You'll also see that the saxophonist is playing with other ensembles over the next few months, all of which looks exciting. If you don't get out to see them, this wonderful new album will brighten your life!

Here's the Quartet with percussionist Paoli Mejias on "Operesión y Revolución":

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Pianist and composer Pablo Ablanedo moved to the United States from his native Argentina in the early 1990s to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. After graduating, he stayed in the US forming an Octet in 1999 filled with New York City-based artists to play his original music.  Like his fellow Argentine Guillermo Klein, his music fuses influences from his homeland with the Black Creative Music he has come into contact over his 25+ years since moving. Over the course of four albums, Ablanedo has impressed listeners and reviewers with his ability to make music jumps with originality.

In 2019, Newvelle Records brought Ablanedo back into the studio with most of the musicians who helped to create his 2001 debut album "From Down There" for a follow-up.  The results, "Christeza", was issued as part of the label's Fifth Season and now is available as a download from the label's Bandcamp page (see below).  Take a look at the personnel––many have gone on in the two decades since uniting for the first album to have international careers as both leaders and sideman.  One thing that stands out for this listener is the immediacy of Ablandeo's compositions, whether it's the percussive ballad "La Señal" that opens the eight-song program (the digital version has a "bonus track") or the playful call-and-response of "Karmavaleando" or the gentle swaying of "Winter Variations" (note how the intensity picks up throughout the piece), the melodies and the rhythms are well-defined and build off each other.

While the compositions stand out, there is brilliant musicianship throughout as well. There's a touch of Thelonious Monk in Ablanedo's introduction to "Plaisantriste" which unwinds to a delightful clarinet solo from Anat Cohen. Do also listen to the smashing support of bassist Fernando Huergo, drummer Franco Pinna, and guitarist Ben Monder.  Ms. Cohen also stands out on "Ti Mi Do" as does violinist Jenny Scheinman. There's a tinge of Aaron Copland in the deliberate melody line and chords behind the front line and pay attention how the rest of the group enters behind the soloists.  The spotlight is on Ben Monder for "Bipolarious"––after the sharp-edged intro, the guitarist dances atop the ever-intensifying rhythm.  The title track has a mysterious, rubato, opening as if getting ready to go into "Sketches of Spain", especially when trumpeter Diego Urcola takes the lead; his long-held sparse notes keeps the mystery alive throughout the piece

The digital download closes "Christeza" with a rhythmic take on Kenny Dorham's "Una Mas". The brilliant rhythm section of Pinna and Huergo lead the way with tenor saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh (the only other member of the ensemble on the track) playing the theme as well as a powerful solo.  But, it's the bass and drums that makes this track stand out.  A delightful finish to a wonder-filled album. Pablo Ablanedo does not record very often but when he does, it's so rewarding to listen.  Kudos to the great band, to the composer, leader, and pianist, and to co-producers Elan Mehler and JC Morisseau for such fine modern music!

To find out more and to purchase the album, go to To find out more about the leader, go to

Hear "Karmavaleando": 


Pablo Ablanedo on piano, & compositions:
Anat Cohen on clarinet,
Jenny Scheinman on violin,
Chris Cheek on tenor and soprano saxophone,
Jerome Sabbagh on tenor and soprano saxophone, 
Diego Urcola on trumpet, 
Ben Monder on guitar, 
Fernando Huergo on electric bass, 
Franco Pinna on drums, 
Daniel Ian Smith on additional saxophones on "Karmavaleando" and "Bipolarious."

Friday, September 2, 2022

Mr. Iversen Composes & Performs

 The New England Conservatory in Boston, MA, just issued the video of Ethan Iverson premier performance of his first "Piano Sonata" which took place in Jordan Hall in the Spring of this year. Countless music fans know his work with The Bad Plus, dance aficionados know of his long association with choreographer Mark Morris, and then there is his excellent blog "Do The Math".  

Mr. Iverson has absorbed a myriad of influences during his time as a performer, composer, writer, and educator; you can hear some of those influences and much more in the video below! Enjoy!