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   

Monday, October 17, 2022

Two Drummers Who Lead, Think, Tell Stories, and Play

Photo: Jim Levitt

Ernesto Cervini is a multi-faceted person; not only does he play drums, piano, and clarinet but he also arranges, composes, is a publicist for numerous Canadian artists plus he teaches.  And, apparently is an avid reader. His sister Amy (she of Duchess trio and solo albums) recommended he read the books of Louise Penny, the Canadian author best known for her series of mystery novels featuring the detective inspector Armand Gamache where much of the action is set in the fictional village of Three Pines, Quebec.  Each one of the characters is finely drawn, their stories are often riveting, and the hero, while somewhat flawed, is wise and quite intelligent.

Cervini, the composer, was much taken by the series (up to 18 books now with the November 2022 publication of "A World of Curiosities") and decided to put his impressions into music. The result, "Joy" (TPR Music), is a fascinating melting pot of styles as the drummer creates portraits of the major characters utilizing 16  musician and vocalists (see the list below), some of who only appear on one tracks, others as many as seven.  The programs ranges from the impressionistic opening track, "Three Pines", a work that features three vocalists and atmospheric guitar over acoustic bass and drums to the slow blues of "Myrna" that features the smoky tenor saxophone of Kelly Jefferson and the fine acoustic bass of Artie Roth.  Pianist Adrian Farrugia, bassist Dan Fortin, and Cervini shine on "Sandalwood and Rosewater" (if one gets close to Gamache, that's what they smell). Then there's the quirky blues of "Ruth's Rosa" (Ruth is a poet, Rosa is her profane duck), a tune on which clarinetist Virginia Macdonald plays the former and trumpeter Jim Lewis the latter while Cervini creates clatter underneath their call-and-response.  Even more fun is the "hot" swing of "Surprised by Joy" (listen below) with its thematic bow to Keith Jarrett's "The Windup" and smashing solos by Farrugia and Jefferson!

Photo: Justin Van Leeuwen
There are two solo performances in the program. First is "Clara", a villager who is an artist and she is aurally "painted" by alto saxophonist Tara Davidson and the second is Farrugia's solo piano portrait of the artist's husband "Peter Morrow". These characters  have a troubled relationship and one can hear a touch of dissonance in their musical portraits.  In another portrait, Cervini's lively brush work supports Ms. Davidson and her husband, trombonist William Carn, as they create a genial portrait of "Oliver & Gabri", the owners of the village's Bistro and Bed & Breakfast.  

If you haven't read the books, you should still seek out "Joy"; the music is lively, heartwarming, tender, swinging, mysterious, and filled with fine melodies and great performances.  Ernesto Cervini, who is a fine drummer, shows off his "composerly" side and it works like a charm.  As a fan of Ms. Penny's book series, I'm delighted with this excellent collection of portraits of characters I've come to admire and look forward to reading about!

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

Here's the opening track "Three Pines":

Felicity Williams , Emilie-Claire Barlow, Amy Cervini, Alex Samaras  - Vocals, 
Virginia MacDonald – Clarinet, Tara Davidson – Alto Saxophone, Luis Deniz – Alto Saxophone, Kelly Jefferson - Tenor, Soprano Saxophones, 
Jim Lewis – Trumpet, William Carn – Trombone, 
Adrean Farrugia – Piano,
Don Scott – Guitar, 
Dan Fortin - Acoustic Bass, Artie Roth - Acoustic Bass, Rich Brown - Electric Bass,
EC – Drums, compositions, arrangements

Drummer-composer Mark Guiliana wears many hats as a musician including leader, sideman, composer, arranger, and collaborator.  He's worked with David Bowie, Brad Mehldau, Dave Douglas, Donny McCaslin, Lionel Loueke, and Gretchen Parlato among others.  Over the course of nine albums as a leader, he's integrated electronics with acoustic music, created dance music , and played straight-ahead jazz.  His 10th album, and first for Edition Records, is "The Sound of Listening" and features his "jazz" quartet composed of Shai Maestro (piano, mellotron, ampli-celeste, Fender Rhodes), Jason Rigby (tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute), and Chris Morrissey (acoustic bass) while the leader not only plays drums and composed all the pieces but also contributes synths, percussion, and drum programming.

Guiliana the composer asks the listener to look inside him-or-herself and to really think and feel how music can move you, can make you a better person, and even heal you. The program opens with "A Path To Bliss", a lovely ballad introduced by Maestro's acoustic piano and electronics; slowly but surely, the bass and tenor sax enter and the melody continues to rise until Rigby plays a short solo on bass clarinet.  The layers of reeds and keys soon are underpinned by Guiliana dancing over the drums and cymbals. That powerful piece leads to "The Most Important Question" which opens on a tenor and a bass pedal point. The piano joins the melody before the bassist steps out for a short statement. The music speeds up but keeps fluctuating to different voices in the lead. The intensity draws the listener in as do the insistent rhythms. 

Photo: John Watson
Interspersed amidst the 10 songs are four shorter  compositions, two of which are fully "electronic" pieces, the longest (2:37) being the title track. One of the other short works, "A Way of Looking", blends acoustic and electronic sounds yet it's the handsome melody that catches your ears. One of the other "shorties", "Practicing Silence", has a loping bass line played on piano while Maestro and Morrissey play the gentle yet compelling melody. 

The program closes with "Continuation", an African-inspired work that builds off of shaken percussion and prepared piano (that sounds like kalimba).   All the members of the group get to play the melody, the sensuous phrases snaking over the galloping rhythms.  All of a sudden, Maestro's piano steps out front (the solo sounds overdubbed)––Rigby comes back to state the melody before everyone drops out and the percussion takes the piece and the album to its conclusion. What remains in your mind is just how joyful a piece of music you just heard.  

"The Sound of Listening" draws you in on its blend of rhythm, melody, and emotions.  Mark Guiliana and company mix it up and keeps one's interest throughout.   Dig in and really listen!

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

Hear "Under The Influence":

Monday, October 3, 2022

The Recuperation Playlist (Part Three)

The final installment of what could easily called the best new releases of the past three months and among the best of 2022.

Photo: Stephen Hawk
Bassist and composer Noah Garabedian is not only a well-educated musician (with degrees from UCLA and NYU) but also quite busy. He has worked with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Kris Davis, drummer extraordinaire Jeff "Tain" Watts, and guitarist Nir Felder. He co-leads a trio with saxophonist Caleb Wheeler Curtis and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza (they have two recordings) and has released two albums as a leader, 2014's "Big Butter and the Eggmen" (BJU Records) and 2020's "Where Fables Meet" (self-released through Bandcamp).  Since before the Pandemic, Garabedian has been working with the rhythm section of Carmen Staaf (piano) and Jimmy Macbride (drums). They appear on the 2020 album along with bassist's tenor saxophonist brother Raffi.  Both albums are well exploring because the musicianship and the compositions are top-notch.

For his third album "Consider The Stars Beneath Us" (Outside In Music), Ms. Staaf and Mr. Macbride are back along with saxophonist Dayna Stephens (tenor and soprano) plus producer Samuel Adams (effects, programming, Moog Minitaur, and Juno JU-06A).  What stands out for this listener is the strength of the compositions, the great work of the band, and the depth of the sound. Garabedian's bass is front and center in the mix yet everyone else is so clear. Listen to the Weather Report-influenced "Salt Point"––under headphones, the music is so immediate and alive. Through speakers in the room, the music seems to fill every space but is not as intrusive as it is joyous and welcome. 

The blend of playful tunes and softer, more introspective, music pulls the listener. The blend of quiet tenor sax, classically-inspired piano fills, and full-throated bass push the opening "RR" with Macbride's active yet softer drumming pushing the music forward. One might look at the title "Expectation. Regret." and think this piece might be introspective as well.  But there is a quiet fire in the rhythm section that gives Stephens the cushion to build an impressive solo. The combination of the thick-toned bass lines and powerful piano work of Ms. Staaf makes the music jump. The pianist channels her inner McCoy Tyner on the closing track "Alice", producing a stunning solo.  Stephens expressive soprano sax pairs with the percussive piano to dance through the theme of "Petty Thieves" that then opens to a formidable bass solo.  "Shackelton's Cocoa" follows and it's a mischievous blend of blues and tango–the music is not a joke and builds to an impressive conversation between the four musicians.

Producer Adams layers electronics on several tracks; his most impressive work can be heard on "Pendulum for NG", a tune he wrote for the bassist. It's a strong piece especially for the fine tenor sax solo and the melodic strength of the rhythm section.  The synth sounds are, mostly, subtle and hardly intrusive.

"Consider the Stars Beneath Us" is a splendid album, filled with  with excellent compositions and fine playing.  Having listened numerous times over the past several months, this album fills this listener with joy and, like the best music, gives me hope.

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

Hear "Salt Point":

Five years ago, tenor saxophonist and composer Chet Doxas released "Rich In Symbols" (Ropeadope Records), a collection of compositions inspired by artworks from New York City artists of the 1980s. The saxophonist spent hours in galleries looking at the pictures, writing down melodic fragments and other thoughts. The resulting album was a powerful statement that mixed different genres of music and sounds, subtly capturing both the energy of the art and the composer's musical interpretations.  You can listen by going to

"Rich in Symbols II" (Justin Time Records) carries the subtitle "The Group of Seven, Tom Thomson and Emily Carr"; this time, Doxas spent time investigating artists from his native Canada (he's a native of Montreal, Quebec). Because all of the works are outdoor scenes, Doxas also created "field recordings" for the tracks that places the music (and the paintings) outside the galleries.  The rhythm section of Zach Lober (bass) and Eric Doob (drums) return from the first recording and the group is filled out by Jacob Sacks (piano, mellotron) and Joe Grass (pedal steel, guitar, banjo).  Like the earlier album, there are seven tracks but, for the most part, the newer pieces are longer and episodic in composition.  The impressionistic quality of the music and the performances allows for great variety in sounds––the music escapes from any specific genre and offers the listener a fascinating aural experience.

Photo: William Geddes

The first piece that really drew me into the project is "The Jack Pine". The longest piece in the program (13:04), the music also seems to travel the farthest. From the faint bell sounds (processed guitar and piano) plus a scratchy saxophone (as if recorded through a telephone), the music moves slowly like the wind blowing through the lonesome tree as depicted by Tom Thomson's painting (the artist lived from 1877-1917). Once Sacks picks up the melody on piano, the music begins to move forward with Doxas picking up the theme.  Suddenly, the rhythm section, sans piano, falls into a swing rhythm for a far-ranging pedal steel solo (reminds this listener of the playing of Susan Alcorn)–as the intensity picks up, the piece goes rubato and Doxas takes the lead. A quiet resolution to his solo leads to a gentle piano statement that reintroduces the theme and the cut closes on the gentle sounds of the opening seconds. Upon multiple listens, it strikes this listener that the melody hearkens back to music of the artist's time.  And the "airiness" as well as the noise places the subject outdoors in a cold and windy landscape.

Emily Carr
There is a playful quality that emerges from "Tree Trunk", the song based on the painting by Emily Carr (1871-1945).  The music takes almost three minutes to emerge but when Doob drops into a "thumping" beat and Grass strums the banjo, Doxas (on clarinet) introduces the delightful melody. Shadowed by the bassist, the leader keeps dancing over the rhythm that is influenced by the work of Steve Reich. 

"House of Yprés", based on the painting (one of two on the album) by A.Y. Jackson (1882-1874) that the artist created while in France during World War I. Depicting a bombed-out house, the piece also features poet Sam Roberts reading an original work over the stark musical landscape.  

The final track, "The Front of Winter" which is based on a painting by J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932),  is a stunning "tone-poem", a handsome evocation of a snowy landscape on a winter morning. The blend of Doxas's rich tenor sound with the crisp piano lines, floating pedal steel sounds, thick yet melodic bass work, and the active brushes dancing around on the drum kit, is soulful, joyous, and reverential at the same time, a perfect close to a wonder-filled program.

"Rich In Symbols II" is an album you need to live with for a while. Much of the music is deliberate as if you are with Chet Doxas as he "sketches" his idea in the company of the paintings.  This is not a program concerned with technical brilliance but with helping you see and hear how one art form influences another as well as how the musician's interactions with the outside (natural) world can create concepts in the creator's inner world.  A glorious program that deserves your attention!

For more information, go to To hear more of the album and to purchase the music, go to
Hear "House of Yprés":