Thursday, November 23, 2023

Thanksgiving Day 2024; Two Alto sax-Piano duos + One Quartet


Been absent from this blog for two months but not for a lack of great new albums but more so for being much too busy. Teaching coillege freshmen as I do is more fun than work; when you add to that the stresses of Middle East War and the horrors perpetrated in the name of freedom, music becomes a much-needed escape but writing does not seem to be enough.

Still, it's Thanksgiving Day in the United States, a day for remembering how lucky many of us are. We have a roof over our heads, food to eat, time to read, the ability to walk most streets without fear, heat in our domiciles, lights in our living areas, and, for some, vehicles to take us out into the country.  Today is a good day to get away from the bluster of candidates, especially who treat democracy as a toy to throw in the trash when it displeases, people who flaunt their wealth, shoot off their mouth, point fingers, and make promises to sweep personal freedoms under a big rug.  

Tomorrow, the news will still be bad, the bluster will return yet we have the power to make the world less of a scary place by celebrating and protecting our freedoms, by staring hate in the eyes until it blinks and slinks away. Set an example of doing good and maybe, just maybe others will join you. No matter their religion, gender, political persuasion, we should all understand compassion and how to practice compassionate caring.  Can't hurt to try––the music is always there to fall back onto.

Photo: Jimmy Katz
I've spent a lot of time recently falling back on the music of two saxophonists, Miguel Zenón and Andrew Rathbun. In the case of the former, he has two new duo albums, one with long-time Quartet member pianist Luis Perdomo (pictured left) and the other with friend and duo pianist Dan Tepfer (pictured below).   Perdomo came to the United States from his native Venezuela in 1993 and by the end of that decade, was playing in groups led by Ravi Coltrane and soon became as founding member of Zenón's Quartet.  The pianist and saxophonist both have a love for the folkloric and popular of their home countries (Zenón is from Puerto Rico), both have a love for melody as well as rhythmical variations, and both are brilliant improvisers.  The music created and arranged for the Quartet has travelled a wide swath of territory over the course of 10 albums, winning numerous awards and lavish praise from critics and reviewers around the world.

Six months into the Pandemic, the duo went into the Jazz Gallery in New York City and recorded a program of songs from the Bolero era, a musical style that began in Cuba in the 1890s and, during the 20th Century, spread throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.  Upon its January 2021 release, "El Arte Del Bolero" (Miel Music) was celebrated not only for its musicality but for its gentle persuasions and splendid playing.  Three years later, the duo reconvened in a recording studio with the expression "to play songs we know and love" (Zenón). "El Arte Del Bolero; Volume 2" expands upon its predecessor by expanding its repertoire with songs from Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela.  The seven-song program is a true delight, especially when the duo moves beyond the melody to create fascinating solos. Listen below to "Paula C.", to how how Zenón caresses the melody as Perdomo creates a quiet symphony beneath him.  As the alto saxophonist dances into solo, the pianist is so playful, whimsical at times, beneath the flowing sax but never losing the pulse.  "En La Soledad" (from the fertile mind of Puerto Rican composer Tito Rodriguez: 1923-73) may remind some John Coltrane's "Central Park West" especially due to the rubato feel.  It's a lovely ballad that kisses one's heart.

The album closes with "Silencio"; composed by legendary Puerto Rican songwriter Rafael Hernández (1892-1965), the rapid-fire music belies song title and flows forward on the delightful alto solo atop the dancing piano lines. When Perdomo steps out, you can hear a touch of the New Orleans "Spanish Tinge", especially in his delightful left hand.   

"El Arte Del Bolero" is a joy from start to finish. The duo of Miguel Zenón and Luis Perdomo reminds us once again of the great music created in the Caribbean and Latin America; they do so with style, grace, and love!

For more information and to purchase the recording, go to

Hear the duo play Rubén Blades' "Paula C.":

While the duo of Miguel Zenón and Dan Tepfer has not played together as long as the one reviewed above, these two musicians have improvised numerous times over the past decade-plus. Over two nights in June 2018, they got together at the Yamaha Artists Services in New York City and laid the tracks that make up their first album together. "Internal Melodies" (Main Door Music/self-released) combines the duo's love for spontaneous composition, pieces each composed for the occasion as well as a duo interpretation of "Fanfares" by György Ligeti and a sparkling take of "317 E 32nd St." by Lennie Tristano.

Tepfer is one of the more adventurous pianists of the 21st Century diving into the worlds of classical music, electronic music, and computer music. He's also  a great jazz pianist and, like Zenón, eschews labels. Together, they push each other to create music that is both mentally satisfying but also moves with grace and occasional rhythmic excitement.  The 12-song program opens with the short and totally improvised "Soundsheets" before they embark on the pianist's "The Thing and its Opposite"––after a particularly angular composed melody that the alto saxophonist reads with grace, Tepfer moves into a more ethereal mode. He steps aside and Zenón dances forward alone, phrases building on top of each other without losing sight of the original melody. They return together to the opening melody yet the music feels somewhat lighter. The pianist also composed the title track. The melody has a lightness to it, especially in how Zenón plays through it. Tepfer picks up on that with a solo that hints at Beethoven in how it unfolds gently, steadily building the intensity without overwhelming the mood.

Listen below to the saxophonist's "La Izquerida Latina Americana", to how Tepfer creates a martial rhythm with his left hand before Zenón introduces the melody.  There is a seriocomic feel to the music without falling too hard into either camp.  Zenón's "Centro de Gravedad" is a gentle ballad with a lilting melody line underscored by a mix of powerful chords and gentle piano trills. Tepfer's solo has a flamenco feel, his articulated notes giving the music a sense of drama.  The saxophonist also brought "La Libertad" to the duo; it, too, is a handsome ballad and both musicians create heartfelt solos. 

The album closes with the Tristano classic plus another spontaneous piece "Freedrum".  The former is a delightful romp, the duo bringing out the dancing quality of the rhythm and melody.  The final track combines Tepfer's piano "percussion" with Zenón's playful melody for a short but spirited finish to a wide-ranging program. "Internal Melodies" goes in many directions over the course of an hour but Dan Tepfer and Miguel Zenón never lose their way.  Their musical conversations can be serious or light-hearted; all told, this music is generous in spirit and a delight to listen to!

For more information and to purchase, go to

Hear the duo play Zenón's "La Izquerida Latina Americana":

Although alto saxophonist and composer Andrew Rathbun has been recording and touring since the late 1990s, he's still gets recognized a "Rising Star" in recent Downbeat Critics Polls. That's a nice honor but he has created music that needs to be heard by more people. The Toronto, Ontario, Canada native has recorded impressive music for labels such as Fresh Sounds New Talent Records, Origin, Centaur, and SteepleChase.  Along the way, he has collaborated with pianists Ran Blake, Jeremy Siskind, and Gary Versace, flugelhornist Kenny Wheeler, drummers Billy Hart, Michael Sarin, Bill Stewart, and Jeff Hirshfield, among others.  

What stands out for this listener is that, since his earliest recordings, Andrew Rathbun has been an excellent composer. He certainly can improvise as impressively as his contemporaries but telling a story with his music is just as important. For his latest SteepleChase recording, "Speed of Time", he's joined by Gary Versace (piano), John Hébert (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums).  While the majority of eight-song program was composed during the Pandemic, this music is written with these musicians in mind, as a group project.  The title track kicks off the album––it's got a funky rhythm, a well-drawn melody, and strong solos from the leader and the pianist.  Rathbun quickly dances away from the melody, creating a playful interaction with the rhythm section pushing up the intensity until Versace takes over building his far-ranging solo off Rainey's herky-jerky rhythms. 

Photo: Domenic Gladstone
The leader plays both tenor and soprano saxophones for the insistent up-tempo jaunt that is "Widen the Doorway".  Versace's solo, at the onset, keeps turning back on itself but soon bounces forward atop the insistent work of Hébert and Rainey. The leader's tenor solo opens unaccompanied and then he jumps upon the rhythm section. More reed overdubs on "Still a Thing"; this time, the soprano leads the way on the melody (although the solo is again on tenor) with the rhythm section creating quite a funky rhythm.  

The soprano is featured on the ballad "Wandering"––in the liner notes, Rathbun pays tribute to the late Wayne Shorter, particularly the "human cry" that the great musician often employed in his playing. There's a sense of urgency in the rhythm section but the deliberate pace never wavers. Excellent solos from pianist and bassist precede the leader's spotlight where Rathbun shows but never overdoes the Shorter influence.  More soprano can be heard on "Velocity Unknown", a fascinating piece in an odd time signature (9/4). Rainey's delicate cymbal dance decorates behind the opening bass solo. Rathbun enters two minutes with his own delicate sound. Every time you think the music will erupt, the quartet gathers themselves and continue their gentle journey forward. The power in this piece comes from Rathbun's powerful solo as well as Versace's impressive improvisation.

"Speed of Time" closes with "Tooth and Nail", an insistent work powered by the active drumming. The piece opens with short exposition from Rainey joined quickly by the tenor sax.  After the quartet push their way through that long introduction, the music jumps forward with the drums and bass stoking the fire for the impressive tenor and piano spots.  This particular track sounds even better at a higher volume, the drums shaking the speakers.

Andrew Rathbun keeps "rising", keeps getting better as a composer and musician––this album is yet another fine example of his musicality and creativity.

For more information, go to

Here's the title track:

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Chicago: Large Ensemble Dreams


Over the past two decades, bassist and composer Clark Sommers seems to have become ubiquitous. He's worked or still works with Kurt Elling, Typical Sister, Chicago Yestet, guitarist Jeff Parker, pianist Darrell Grant, and saxophonist Chris Madsen (among many others). There are really good reasons for his continued employment; not only is he a truly "foundational" bassist but also very melodic.  His composing "chops" are formidable as he has displayed on his two "solo" albums plus his work in the cooperative Ba(SH) Trio (with saxophonist Geof Bradfield and drummer Dana Hall) and with guitarist John McLean in their Quartet.  Like most musicians, the pandemic took him off the road for an extended period of time which gave him the opportunity to work on his composing and arranging skills in the wake of his attending at Master's Program at DePaul University. While there, he attended a Workshop led by the afore-mentioned Dana Hall. That workshop included writing and arranging for a 12-piece band and Sommers created several pieces for that group.

In his time away from touring, Sommers composed numerous pieces for his own 12-member ensemble that would include many of the people the bassist has worked with since moving to Chicago from the West Coast. Scroll down and look at the list of musicians; they are among the "cream of the crop" of the Windy City and the Midwest.  The results of Sommers' work can be heard on "Feast Ephemera" (Phrenology Music/self-released).  Nine songs, 71 minutes of music and not a dull moment to be heard.  Take your time to get into the program. You may notice how delightful the arrangements are or the smart original works that Sommers brought to the sessions. Perhaps it's the impressive solos that stand out for you or the fact that the leader does not take a solo.  On pieces such as "The Rider" and "Pedals", the textures of the horns and reeds as they swirl around the rhythm section as well as the soloists that surprise on first listen.  Also, notice how the section writing makes room for the solos.

Photo: Scott Hesse
Perhaps the most impressive aspect (to my ears) of this program is how the music does not really sound like any other modern large ensemble. The music swings a bit more than that of Maria Schneider and it is not as "spiky" and angular as the music of Darcy James Argue.  Like those two composers (and others like Duke Ellington, Bob Brookmeyer, Miho Hazama, and Jim McNeely), Sommers writes for these friends and musicians, knowing their strengths, their willingness to explore their roles within the music, and to stretch. Listen to "Cave Dweller" below; you'll hear the various voices, including piano, clarinet, flute, and saxophone introduce the opening melody before moving into the theme. Notice the powerful drumming and direction setting of Hall, the powerful bass notes (in step with and counterpoint to the piano accompaniment), all in service of the music.

Dig in to "Feast Ephemera", bask in the brightness of melodies and solos, drink in the sweetness of each performance.  As he showed listeners on 2022's "Intertwine" (Outside In Music) and 2017's "By A Thread" (Phrenology Music), Clark Sommers is an excellent composer, more interested in the arc of the musical stories he and the musicians are telling than in showing how technically fine a player he is.  Sit down and listen, listen deeply!

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

Explore the "Feast" with "The Cave Dweller":


Clark Sommers-compositions/arrangements & bass, 
Dana Hall-drums, 
Nick Mazzarella-alto saxophone, 
Geof Bradfield-bass clarinet, soprano & tenor saxophones, 
Chris Madsen-tenor saxophone, 
John Wojciechowski-C & alto flutes and alto saxophone,
Tito Carrillo, Russ Johnson-trumpet, 
Joel Adams, Andy Baker-trombone,
Stu Mindeman-piano/keyboards, 
Scott Hesse-guitar 

Friday, September 8, 2023

Tribute and Tributaries

In May of 2021, tenor saxophonist and composer James Brandon Lewis released "Jesup Wagon" on Tao Forms (AUM Fidelity). The music on the album told the inspirational story of George Washington Carver (1864-1943), agricultural scientist, inventor, and community organizer (the Southern farming communities). The recording introduced the world to the Red Lily Quintet. Composed of Lewis, Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Chris Hoffman (cello), William Parker (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums, percussion), the ensemble contains multitudes, playing with creativity, invention fire, and wit. The album made a slew of "Best of" lists later that year and deservedly so.

Lewis and the RLQ is back, this time album inspired by the saxophonist's grandmother.  "For Mahalia, With Love" (Tao Forms) is a nine-song program of spirituals made famous by Ms. Jackson (1911-1972) during the four+ decades she toured the United States and the world.  Many people point to the influence of Gospel music on the blues and "soul" music but certainly Black spirituals have influenced a multitude of artists from Louis Armstrong to Duke Ellington to John Coltrane to Archie Shepp to the wonderful albums of Hank Jones and Charlie Haden (there are plenty more).  Lewis and company lean more to the Coltrane type of "testifying" but unlike the 1965 classic "A Love Supreme", there is only one original work on "For Mahalia"–the program opens with "Sparrow", which includes the melody "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" (composed in 1905 by Charles H. Gabriel and Civilla D. Martin) and the leader's "Even the Sparrow".  

Smithsonian/Museum of African History
This music covers a wide swath of territory. From the fiery saxophone shouts on "Calvary" to the swinging final minutes of "Go Down Moses" to the hard-edged driving force of "Wade In The Water" to the joyous power of "Swing Low", this is music that celebrates Ms. Jackson's legacy and builds upon the lessons learned, the lives lost, and the freedoms gained (and now in jeopardy) over the last 400 years.  The music also builds off the messages in the music adapted from the teachings Blacks learned in their churches, the prayers of hope and freedom that flowed into and out of the music. Check out the sly grooves of "Elijah Rock", the splendid bass solo that opens the piece, the long rubato tenor/trumpet call-and-response, and the mid-song drop into tempo; if that does not makes you want to shout "Hallelujah" for its sweet blend of African, Swing, and Caribbean rhythms, I do not know what will

The Red Lily Quintet is an excellent ensemble and the music James Brandon Lewis creates and/or arranges for them gives each person room to move, to influence the direction, to add to the harmonies, to engage in the call-and-response, and more.  The saxophonist's interactions with Knuffke soar, shout praise, and dance on many of the pieces.  Parker and Taylor are...well....they are a rhythm section par excellence in that one creates the foundation and the other the flow plus the fire. There are times when Hoffman's cello gets covered but he's there, sometimes playing counterpoint to the melody, other times counterpoint to the bass lines.  

All told, "For Mahalia, With Love" is a great collection of songs for many and varied reasons, not the least of which is the the ensemble's powerful playing and the excellent settings created by James Brandon Lewis.  Do dip your feet into this mighty stream!

For more information, go to  To purchase the recording, go to  For a limited time, if you purchase the compact disk or vinyl versions of the album, you receive a second disk features Lewis leading the Lutoslawski Quartet in his chamber music piece "These Are Soulful Days", recorded live at its premiere performance in November 2021 at the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland.  

Revive your spirits with "Swing Low":

Photo: Brian Harkin/NYT
Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner has been collecting critical acclaim since he moved to New York City in the early 1990s.  One might say he has a "cool" tone" but you could also argue he's very much his own man.  In late 2019, Turner recorded "Return From the Stars" for ECM with a quartet featuring Jason Palmer (trumpet), long-time collaborator Joe Martin (acoustic bass), and the young, dynamic, drummer Jonathan Pinson.   That group was invited by photographer and label owner Jimmy Katz (Giant Step Arts) to take part in his label's new series. Titled "Modern Masters and New Horizons", the series is curated by Palmer and drummer Nasheet Waits and will include contributions from artists such as vibraphonist Chien Chien Lu, saxophonists Neta Ranaan and Ben Solomon, drummer Eric McPherson and others. 

The first release in the series "Live at The Village Vanguard" and features the Mark Turner Quartet, the same ensemble on the ECM album. Recorded over two nights in June of 2022, the 11-song, 2+ hours, program features material from the earlier studio recording, new pieces written specifically for this ensemble as well as older Turner originals.  What Katz the producer is get out of the artist's way and lets the band do what they do best–play.  Listen to "Return from the Stars" below to hear how tight the band is, how much they listen to each other, and how this music flows.  "Brother, Sister", first recorded in 2014 for ECM with a different quartet (save for Martin), opens with a long, poetic, powerful, solo tenor sax statement––the band comes in seemingly on tiptoes but pay attention to Pinson on the offbeat and Martin's swinging counterpoint.  Palmer gets a shorter unaccompanied solo before the the band reenters. Now the trumpet and sax play long tones while Martin solos.  Notice how the textures change as the music moves forward. 

The newest piece on the album, "Wasteland", is a fascinating ballad that also opens with an unaccompanied tenor sax solo––this time, one hears a plaintive cry, a sense of deep sorrow or, even, loss of hope that leads to a full group elegy. There are long bass notes, Pinson on his toms, a melody line for the sax and trumpet that starts in unison, moves away, and back but in counterpoint now.  When you listen to the song in total, you realize that not only is it an elegy but also serves as a vehicle for the drummer to create short solos in response to and seeming rejection of sorrow.

Photo: Jimmy & Dena Katz
"It's Not Alright With Me" is, at 18:36, the longest track on the album. The playfulness of the melody brings images of the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet. While the rhythms prances and struts, the band takes its time to move through the melody section.  Martin gets the first solo and it's a tour-de-force, quite melodic yet percussive, careering forward at breakneck speed. Turner's solo starts slowly but he rides the waves created by Pinson to create a masterful, hard-edged, dramatic solo.  

The oldest Turner song on the program, "Lennie Groove", is from the leader's second album, 1998's "In This World".  The piece has a nervous, almost jittery, melody line which does fall into a delightfully swinging "groove".  

"Live at The Village Vanguard" is yet another high water mark in Mark Turner's three decade career.  To me, the best to listen to this album is to sit back, put on headphones, pretend you're at one of the tables at the Vanguard, and let the music play.  There's so much music to listen to so take your time and let them play!

As of now, the best place to find out more about the album is to click on this link:  You can buy copies of the CD at Mark Turner's gigs and there will soon be a Bandcamp link to purchase digital copies. This page will be updated as soon as that happens

Here's the opening track, "Return From the Stars":

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Summer Shorts: Big Band Edition #1

 Plenty of Big Band/Large Ensemble have come my way this Summer––here's three of the best!

Arranger, conductor, composer, and educator Chuck Owen, with over four decades on the music scene, finally got to live a dream in late 2019 when he flew over to Germany to record with the WDR Big Band.  He was hoping to record new pieces with the ensemble but the sessions were moved up. Instead, he "reimagined" three of his original works, arranged three pieces by members of the WDRBB, and brought over arrangements of the Frank Sinatra/Tommy Dorsey classic "This Love of Mine" (1941) and Chick Corea's "Arabian Nights" (from 2007's "The Ultimate Adventure").  Over the course of the eight song, 73-minute, program, the music not surprisingly displays the talents of one of Europe's most accomplished ensembles but also the intelligent, witty, arrangements of Mr. Owen.

The sessions were recorded before and during the Pandemic. Ms. Caswell made the initial journey and is guest soloist on two of the tracks including the achingly lovely "Of Mystery and Beauty" composed by WDR alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmeyer.  Watch below and listen how Owen's arrangement moves the brass and reeds around the solos. Bassist John Goldsby's evocative "Fall Calls" has a lovely melody line shared by alto and trombone (Ms. Strassmeyer and Andy Hunter)––nothing is rushed and you can almost hear the autumn leaves pirouetting down from the tree.  The Big Band kicks good and hard on Mr. Owen's "...And Your Point Is?"–thanks to the presence of organist Billy Test, the tunes sounds somewhat like Jimmy Smith and his large ensemble recordings on Verve. 

While it turned out that the sessions that created "Renderings" were a hardship for those involved, the music triumphs.  If you are an aficionado of Big Bands, you already know how good the WDR Big Band can be––thanks to the top-notch material and excellent arrangements from Chuck Owen, the large ensemble is at the top of its game––go listen.

To learn more about Chuck Owen and this album, go to  Do go to to learn more about the great German Big Band. 

Here's "Of Mystery and Beauty" with guest Sara Caswell:

Boston, MA-based pianist and composer Mehmet Ali Sanlikol has never been one to shy away from his Turkish roots (born in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1974)–over the course of five albums released on DUNYA Records in the past nine years, he has shown an affinity to large ensembles (with one exception, his 2021 trio date "An Elegant Ritual"). His main vehicle is Whatsnext?, a sprawling 20-person group that includes a three-person percussion section made up of the finest musicians in the Boston area.  "Turkish Hipster: Tales From Swing to Psychedelic" (the title tells the listener what to expect) is quite the trip. With guest artists such as Anat Cohen (clarinet), Miguel Zenón (alto saxophone), and Antonio Sanchez (drums), the music expands to take in the styles and influences of those musicians, with the composer and arranger finding ways to tell all the stories contained in the compositions. 

Photo: Eric Antoniou
The program opens with "A Capoeira Turca (Baia Havasi)" which blends Turkish and Brazilian rhythms plus the expressive and joyful clarinet of Ms. Cohen. Listen below and see if you can keep still––it's downright funky. The most ambitious piece on the album follows; "Times of the Turtledove" takes its form from classic Turkish music yet drummer Bertram Lehmann and bassist Fernando Huergo give the piece a more modern sound in the first part of the episodic work. A lovely melody played by the leader on ney flute supported by a simple percussive pattern gives away to the brass section's strong melodic interpretation of the theme. Mr. Zenón plays as part of the ensemble early in the piece and does not move out for a solo until nearly 10 minutes has passed.  The rhythm section dances beneath him before the horns and brass swell up leading to a powerful finish to his musical story.  All three of the guests plus the leader are celebrated by rapper Raydar Ellis on "The Boston Beat",  a funky hiphop tune that pulsates out of the speakers.

"Turkish Hipster: Tales From Swing to Psychedelic" closes with the three-part 21-minute "'Abraham' Suite".  Featuring Mr. Sanchez, the story is based on the patriarch Abraham's story seen through the lens of Islam; the piece was commissioned for the Jaazar Festival in Switzerland and also recorded with an international lineup of musicians including drummer Billy Cobham.  The composer expanded the arrangement for this more orchestral lineup.  It's a powerful piece with excellent musicianship and an impassioned vocal for Mr. Sanlikol. 

This splendid recording illuminates the many and varied talents of Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, especially in how he marshals his musical troops to create a work of beauty, power, and a bit of sassiness, one that will resonate for years to come.  For more information, go to  

To purchase this and other recordings from Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, go to

Here's the delightful opening track (featuring Anat Cohen):

Dr. Javier Nero, trombonist, composer, and arranger, has an impressive CV, one that encompasses his education at the Juilliard School and the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. He has played and recorded with numerous large ensembles, played in Broadway pit bands, and worked with artists such as Veronica Swift, trumpeter Brian Lynch, and pianist Shelly Berg (among many others).  He is currently the lead trombone for the U.S. Army Blues, an 18-member Big Band that plays concerts throughout Washington D.C.  In 2020, Outside In Music released his debut Septet album––"Freedom" featured all original material, band members included bassist Dion Kerr (Nicholas Payton, Marcus Strickland), saxophonist Melvin Butler (Brian Blade), and pianist Tal Cohen (Terence Blanchard) as well as numerous guests including the afore-mentioned Messrs. Lynch and Berg plus vocalist Lauren Desberg.

For his second Outside In Music album, "Kemet (The Black Land)", the ensemble is now billed as the Javier Nero Jazz Orchestra, 18 musicians (plus guests) strong. Most of the musicians are members of the U.S. Army Blues with a number of guest artists including Randy Brecker (trumpet), Warren Wolf (vibraphone), Sean Jones (trumpet), and others. The nine-song, 74 minute, program covers a wide swath of musical territory from blues to swing to lovely R'nB ballads to World Music.  The playing is uniformly (no military pun intended) excellent and the occasional use of vocals add a fuller feel to tunes such "One Day", the lovely Brazilian/African-flavored "Reflections on the Dark, Tranquil Water", and the title track.  "Reflections..." stands out for many reasons including the well-crafted melody, the handsome piano solo (Josh Richman), and the leader's silky-smooth melodic solo.  The folky African feeling "One Day" rides in on the acoustic guitar of Michael Kramer that leads to Dr. Nero's aspirational lyrics. After a soaring flute solo (Daniel Dickinson), there is a fine Chris Burbank trumpet solo with the assembled voices swirling around him.  Perhaps the prettiest tune on the album is the impressionistic ballad "Just Let Go", a soulful ballad with a handsome trombone solo from the leader and impressive arrangement for the horns and reeds (clarinets add quite a lovely touch

Listen below to "Nostalgic Haiku", a soulful song with powerful brass and great solos from Messrs. Brecker and Wolf.  The rhythm section, especially electric bassist Regan Brough and drummer Kyle Swan, create a strong pulse while the arrangement opens to smart section behind the soloists second chorus.  

The digital edition of "Kemet (The Black Land)" features two bonus tracks (pushing the total time of the album to 87 minutes!). Cole Porter's "It's Alright With Me" features the sweet voice of Christie Dashiell, a rollicking piano solo from Richman, and the excellent trumpet spot for Sean Jones (he spars with the vocalist).  The album closes with McCoy Tyner's "Contemplation" (off of the pianist's 1967 Blue Note Lp "The Real McCoy").  The leader creates a sturdy solo before Sean Jones digs into his wide-ranging solo. Richman (who's quite active on the Philadelphia scene) again delivers a fine solo which leads to the song's end and the program's finish.

Take your time to savor the music on "Kemet (The Black Land)", listen to the arrangements, to the excellent section work, to the fine solos, and to the music.  Javier Nero has certainly put his heart and soul into this recording, gathering his musician friends to help tell all these stories.  There's a lot to here to contemplate as well as pieces that just ask to tap your feet or clap your hands.  Dr. Nero's music has expanded exponentially since his 2020 debut and one expects/hope he continues to mature as a composer, arranger, and musician.

To find out more, go to  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to

Here's "Nostalgic Haiku" (featuring guests Randy Brecker and Warren Wolf):

Monday, July 24, 2023

George, By Denny!


Dr. Dennis Zeitlin, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California/San Francisco and practicing Psychiatrist, is also Denny Zeitlin, pianist, composer, arranger, and improvisor––the latter has been playing and recording since the early 1960s when he was a Graduate Student at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, MD.  He continued his career and began teaching after moving to the West Coast.  The pianist recorded four LPs for Columbia from 1963-67, the first in a trio with bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Freddie Waits; other ensembles featured bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Jerry Granelli. In 1969, he met percussionist George Marsh (who, like Dr. Zeitlin, was born in Chicago) forming a trio with bassist Mel Graves. Together, they recorded two albums, one ("The Name of This Terrain") recorded in 1969 that was issued in 2022, and the other ("Expansion") issued in 1973––Dr. Zeitlin had added electronic keyboards and synthesizers to his repertoire and the musical results still sound fascinating.  In 1978, he composed the soundtrack to the first remake of "Invasion of the Body-Snatchers"; that immersive electronic experiment sent him back to the acoustic piano.

In the late-2000s, after issuing on labels such as Windham Hill, Palo Alto Jazz, Concord, and one smashing Trio session on the Japanese Venus label, Dr. Zeitlin began his association with Sunnyside Records. Since that time, he has released four Trio albums (featuring bassist Buster Williams and drummer Matt Wilson), three totally-improvised electronics-laden albums with George Marsh, and six solo piano albums (one of which, 2013's "Both/And", features electronics as well).  Album #14 for Sunnyside is "Crazy Rhythms: Exploring George Gershwin" (the Doctor's seventh solo album and third recorded at the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, CA).  The package includes 11 Gershwin works that range from "standards" to show tunes to one fascinating find (the lovely waltz "By Strauss").  Dr. Zeitlin chose these pieces several months before the December 2018 concert, playing through and with them. He then sat in the concert space in front of the audience and proceeded to play through the program following no set format and improvising, in his estimation, 95% of the concert.

What a treat this album is.  From the opening zither-like sound of "Summertime" to the playful "I Was Doing All Right" that closes the album, the music goes in many directions. In conversation with Dr. Zeitlin, I compared the improvisor to a person diving into the water, going deep down and coming back up to touch on the melody.  Right from the start, the music does not move the way one might expect; instead, these performances are an open door into the musician's creativity. While you sing along to "How Long Has This Been Going On?", the pianist changes the tempo now and then, creating a joyful solo. "Fascinating Rhythm" bounces forward yet there are moments when the two-handed approach sounds like a JS Bach exercise before swinging away on the power of right-hand single note runs.  Listen below to "The Man I Love"–is the opening a bow to fellow pianist McCoy Tyner's use of modal chords before the music dances away?

The three pieces from "Porgy and Bess"––"Bess You Is My Woman Now", "It Ain't Necessarily So", and "My Man's Gone Now"––could be an album on its own.  The pianistic explorations on each piece not only honor the melody but the "heart and soul" in each tune.  "Bess" is just gorgeous, emotionally rich and rewarding in numerous ways.  "It Ain't...." moves far from its melodic home for a powerful journey inside the questions at the heart of faith and beliefs, not settling for a laugh.  At nearly 13 minutes, "My Man's Gone Now" is, at times, an elegy, a celebration, and a angry fist waving at the heavens, a journey inward and out again with a renewed resilience. 

That's my take. "Crazy Rhythms: Exploring George Gershwin", if you are willing to give the music the time it deserves, is quite an album. Denny Zeitlin makes George Gershwin come alive, illuminating the universality of the composer's music as well as the joy (try and sit still listening to "S'Wonderful"). Pay attention and get lost; let this music take you away from the mundane, from the troubles, for the rewards are many!

For more information and to purchase the album, go to  To learn more about Dr. Denny Zeitlin, go to

Listen to "The Man I Love":

Friday, July 21, 2023

Summer Shorts: Living Music


Pianist and composer François Bourassa  has been a mainstay on the Montreal, Quebec, CA, jazz scene for nearly four decades. A graduate of McGill University, the pianist went to study with Fred Hersch, Miroslav Vitous, and George Russell at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, before returning to Canada where he formed his first "working" trio in the 1980s. In the early 2000s, he formed a quartet with bassist Guy Boisvert, Andre Leroux (tenor and soprano saxophones, flutes) joined in 2010, and Guilliame Pilote (drums) replaced original drummer Greg Ritchie late in the same decade.

"Swirl: Live at Piccolo" (Effendi Music), recorded live over two nights in July of 2022 at Montreal's Studio Piccolo, is the fifth album by the François Bourassa Quartet and the first since 2017's "Number 9".  The music, all original material penned by the leader, is, at turns, playful, solemn, contemplative, exciting, filled with sudden twists-and-turns and intelligent interactions. You can tell they are listening to each other. Take the episodic "Pooloop" that opens the program.  Sometimes it seems the wheels are coming off but the rhythm section never wavers. The title is a palindrome and there are moments the music has a circular feel.  Leroux's soprano sax is out for most of the second half of the 12-minute performance. He switches to flute for the next cut, "Prologue"–he is by himself for the opening two+ minutes. At times, it seems as if he is "mumbling" in the background and in a give-and-take with his louder self. Bourassa enters and the dialogue shifts towards the more dramatic and even more so when the rhythm section enters for the piano solo.  The piece moves inward for a bowed bass solo (while Bourassa plays a "dampened" bass. 

If you have never heard this band, I was reminded, at different times during the tracks, of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, of Eric Dolphy's "Out to Lunch" recording, and of the work Billy Hart is doing with his Quartet. The François Bourassa Quartet does not sound like those groups but they sail in waters that those other ensembles have traversed. Listen below to "Room 58" and make up your own mind. The six-song, 60-minute "Swirl" (apt title) compels the listener to pay attention not just because the musicians play with such fire and wit "Remous", the fifth track, is such a great example of that) but also because the the leader's originals gives each musician plenty of space to "be themselves" as well as a cohesive unit.  If you like Creative music, "Swirl: Live at Piccolo" will make you feel good!

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

Give a listen to "Room 58":

Thursday, July 13, 2023

A Voice for Love

Photo courtesy of BCM
Every once in a while, you pick a CD out of the stack on your desk, sit down to listen, and get transfixed. I know Nicole Zuraitis is a Connecticut native, that she has recorded several albums with her husband, drummer and composer Dan Pugach, is a member of Sonica (with Thana Alexa and bassist Julia Adamy), and has issued four albums as a leader since 2013.  Her fifth album is now out––"How Love Begins" (Outside In Music) began percolating in the vocalist, composer, and pianist's mind when she met bassist Christian McBride in 2018 and he said that "we should do something together".  It took them two a few years to reconnect; when she sent him a large amount of her newer material, he chose the 10 that make up the album. Ms. Zuraitis chose the musicians; besides her husband on drums and McBride on bass, there's Gilad Hekselman (guitar) and Maya Kronfeld (organ,Wurlitzer, Rhodes) with pianist David Cook (three tracks), drummer Billy Kilson (three tracks), and Sonica (one track).  

The program is divided into two parts, "Oil" and "Water", each section having five songs.  In conversation, Ms. Zuraitis said that the first section is really about "how love begins" while the second half is about "how love ends". What one notices on first listen is how strong a voice she has, how articulate she is in all registers, , and how flexible her voice can be.  Pay attention as well to her piano work. Her McCoy Tyner-esque chords beneath the guitar solo on "Reverie" are both powerful and percussive, locking in with the bass and drums (in this instance, Mr. Kilson).  "Travel", a track she composed with fellow vocalist Cyrille Aimée, features lyrics by the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay plus a lyrical guitar solo. It's just voice and guitar on "Let Me Love You", a bluesy plea.  The intimacy and humor of the performance is an aural treat.

The "Water" section opens with "Two Fish"; based on a Hebrew poem written by Dahlia Rabikovich, the open seconds of the tune sound like the intro to Leslie Bricusse's "My Kind of Girl" before heading out on its path. It's really a sweet love song with lovely fills from pianist Cook and bluesy responses from Hekselman.  The love affair begins falling apart on the soulful "Well Planned, Well Played" but the music is buoyed by the gospel organ work of Ms. Kronfeld and Hekselman's bent notes. Mr. McBride takes a short but melodic solo. The love affair is but over on "Like Dew", a slow, sorrowful, ballad in which Ms. Zuraitis's emotional vocal takes center stage but don't disregard her fine piano work.  The program ends with "To The Garden", a Carole King-like melody that is both a vocal treat (delightful overdubbed vocal "responses") and a heartfelt musical experience––if you buy the CD, the "hidden track" is the original "Save It For a Rainy Day" in which the singer realizes that love has totally been eclipsed by a consistent and insistent storm. 

Slowly, steadily, Nicole Zuraitis is making inroads as a singer, pianist, and especially as a composer.  "How Love Begins" is a smashing album, filled with fine songs, excellent musicianship, led by a vocalist whose voice is inviting, intimate, playful, and emotionally real. Give the album several full spins and see how good you'll feel bathed in these sweet sounds.

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

Here's "Let Me Love You":

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Solo Trumpeter

Hard to believe it's 16 years since Ambrose Akinmusire won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. That same year, he won the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition plus his debut album on Fresh Sound. In 2011, Akinmusire signed to Blue Note Records where he released five albums as a leader one as a member of the Blue Note All Stars. He's been a frequent guest artist appearing on albums by Jen Shyu, Me'shell Ndegeocello, guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel and Mary Halvorson, Jack DeJohnette, and many more. He's also has collaborated with Australian composer Michael Yezerski for two seasons on the soundtrack of the STARZ series "Blindspotting".  Earlier this month, Akinmusire was named the Artistic Director for the incoming class of 2025 of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz (formerly the Monk Institute) in Los Angeles, CA. 

Now, Ambrose Akinmusire is launching his own label, Origami Harvest. The first release is also Akinmusire's first solo album.  Titled "Beauty Is Enough", the 16 tracks were recorded in Paris inside the Church of St. Eustache (pictured below)––the trumpeter rented space within the building bringing sound engineer Julien Bassères along to capture the improvisations.  In an excellent interview with Nate Chinen for his SubStack blog, "The Gig", Akinmusire said "You know, the idea started from talking to Wadada and Roscoe, and them talking about the importance of having a solo record". (Sign up for "The Gig" as it is now Mr. Chinen's main vehicle for writing).  There's certainly a precedent for this album as there are numerous Creative Music solo trumpet albums including several excellent TUM releases by Wadada Leo Smith.  

As stated above, there are 16 tracks clocking in at just under 50 minutes. Only two are over four-minutes long and all are absorbing.  Solo albums tell a story––few of them are created to highlight technical brilliance––and "Beauty Is Enough" is filled with dedications, memories, and dreams.  Listener sit down, start on track one ("To Taymoor"), pay attention to the intimacy of the sound (and the resonance within the building), to how Akinmusire builds the piece up from the opening tones to a gentle melody, and the softness of his attack.  Other "dedication songs" include "Carvin" (for drummer Michael Carvin), "To Shabnam", and "To Cora Campbell" which closes the recording.  There are others tracks with names attached but also tracks such as the playful "Off the Ledge" (feels like madcap romp based on "Reveille") and "Achilles" which, to these ears, sounds like a chase scene in a cartoon.

Over the course of his career, Ambrose Akinmusire has made us listen to the power in his music, to his responses to the world around him that he translates into sounds and images. "Beauty Is Enough" feels more like a launching pad for future adventures than a summing up of where the trumpeter has already been. Listen and judge for yourself but do listen with an open mind.  

For more information and to purchase the recording, go to  For the trumpeter's history, go to  

Hear "Launchpad":

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Piano Trios: The Staying Power of the Blues + 40 Years Hence


Critics and reviewers were quite surprised and, ultimately, very pleased last July when drummer, composer, and conceptualist Tyshawn Sorey issued "Mesmerism" (Yeros7 Music––now reissued on Pi Recordings)), a piano trio album of four "standards" plus one piece each by Muhal Richard Abrams and Paul Motian.  Sorey had wanted to include pianist Aaron Diehl (Cecile McLorin Salvant) in a project plus long-time friend and collaborator, bassist Matt Brewer (SF Jazz Collective, Ambrose Akinmusire); this project was the exact right.  Later in 2022, Pi Recordings released "The Off Off Broadway Guide to Synergism", also a Trio album but with Russell Hall on bass and guest Greg Osby on alto saxophone. That triple (!) album is a must-listen.

Back to the Trio format on the new Pi Recordings album, "Continuing".  Bassist Brewer has returned so one should consider this to be the official follow-up to "Mesmerism".  The program consists of four tunes, one each by Wayne Shorter, Ahmad Jamal, and Harold Mabern (who had been a mentor to Sorey) plus the 1946 Matt Dennis/ Earl Brent classic "Angel Eyes".  The overall program reminds this listener of a smoky nightclub gig, the early morning third set, as the music is steeped in the blues and the musicians let the songs move at a leisurely pace (save for the closing cut).  Listen below to Mr. Shorter's "Reincarnation Blues" which he wrote for and recorded with Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers in 1961.  Sorey, Brewer, and Diehl create a slower take than the original. The piano solos are mighty impressive especially the dazzling second one (starting around 7:30 into the 10:25 cut).  Brewer's solo, earlier in the piece, rolls atop the drums displaying a handsome melodic side.

Photo: John Rogers
Diehl captures the spirit of the composer on Mr. Jamal's "Seleritus" (first recorded and released in 1959)––the longest track on the album (15:43), the interactions of the piano and bass are what first stands out. The more you listen, the bounce in the rhythms Sorey plays stand out more. What also is intriguing is that the piece never really resolves; instead, the music fades out with Diehl's percussive block chords.  "Angel Eyes" follows, proceeding gently over Brewer's chordal tones and Diehl's deliberate reading of the melody.  Sorey enters at the 3:09 mark of the 13+-minute track, playing as quietly and gently as he can (his brushes whisper on the cymbals).  Brewer's bass solo is a gem from start to finish as is Diehl's.  The airiness is this performance is dramatic but not forced.

"Continuing" goes out with a bang as the Trio gets funky on Harold Mabern's "In What Direction Are You Headed".  Originally recorded by Lee Morgan in 1971 for what turned to be "The Last Session".   By the middle of the song, one feels as if we are in midst of a church service as Brewer locks into a nine-note riff while Sorey "stomps" out the beat. They continue in their groove even as Diehl joins in on low and high notes. The pianist does reintroduce the theme right before the album makes its rousing exit.  

Pour yourself a libation, turn the lights down low, and listen as if the musicians were in your living room.  All in all, this Tyshawn Sorey Trio is a real knockout!! 

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

Here's the opening track:

Jazz artists, since the beginning of its move into the public eyes and ears, like to perform the popular music of the day.  Each generation of musicians looks to "pop music" to attract an audience and as a way to get those people to also listen to their original music.  This is a concept that works well in the piano trio format.  For its 2017 debut, the Hazelrigg Brothers, pianist George and bassist Geoff, whose main gig is designing, development, and manufacturing of high-end recording equipment, recorded "Songs We Like", a nine-song album of tunes  they grew up listening to including the Police's "Spirits In the Material World".  It should not come as a surprise that for their second Trio album (John O'Reilly, Jr is the drummer) that they would opt to record the entirety of the Police's 1983 "Synchronicity", that trio's fifth and final album.  That recording spawned several Top 10 hits including "King of Pain", "Wrapped Around Your Finger", and "Every Breath You Take".  

On "Synchronocity" An Interpretation of the Album by The Police" (Outer Marker Records), the Brothers play all the songs (even the cassette-only––those were the days––"bonus track") in the order they appear on the original Police Lp.  Because the majority of the original songs have such strong melodies (at least, the ones composed by bassist/ vocalist Sting do), the Trio do not try re-invent the (musical) wheel. Therefore, the excitement of the opening title track is evident here as well thanks to the powerful rhythms they create.  Geoff's bass is the lead instrument on the "Walking In Your Footsteps" and "Every Breath You Take"––the piano solo on the former tune has a tinge of the late Vince Guaraldi's sound while the latter builds dramatically from the opening until the bass reclaims the theme in the middle. 

The bassist also leads the trio into "King of Pain" which, to these ears, is the highlight of the album.  How the trio shares the melodic and rhythmic phrases and sections as well as the excellent dramatic movement of the melody stand out.  That's followed by the excellent take of "Wrapped Around Your Finger"––again, it's the subtle rhythmic moves of the bass and drums that draws the listener into the emotional richness and poetry of the piano parts.  

Some may argue that the Hazelrigg Brothers trio don't take many chances on their reinterpretation of The Police "Synchronicity" but, to their credit, they make Andy Summer's song "Mother" much more interesting replacing its manic vocal lines and by emphasizing the Kurt Weill aspects in the instrumental.  Overall, if you grew up with this music, you should enjoy this album. If you are new to the material, enjoy the songs with the finely-etched melody lines and the excellent musicianship that abounds on this heartfelt tribute. 

Here's a version of "Miss Gradenko" from 2015: