Thursday, March 23, 2023

Spring-ing Forward with Music

 

Violinist, composer, arranger, and educator Sam Bardfeld, a native of New York City, is comfortable in many different settings. He can play "free jazz", country music, folk, blues, swing jazz, Latin, and more.  He's worked with The Jazz Passengers, with Anthony Braxton's Trillium Orchestra, Vince Giordano's Nighthawks, Steven Bernstein's Millennium Orchestra, and Bruce Springsteen (and so many more).  His first album as a leader, "Taxidermy", came out in 1999 on CIMP Records; since then, his albums have appeared on Fresh Sounds New Talent (2004) and BJU Records (2017).  

Now, BJU has issued "Refuge". The album finds the leader in a musical conversation with pianist Jacob Sacks and drummer Michael Sarin (who's now appeared on three of his four releases). The seven-song program features five originals plus one each from Andrew Hill (the title track) and Mr. Springsteen ("Atlantic City").  The music is, at turns, playful, swinging, jazzy, noisy, rhythmic, lyrical and, believe me, never overstays its welcome. Whether it's the funky dancing drums underneath the violin solo on "On the Seat of Which" or Sacks' Monk-like piano on the opening "It Might Not Work" or the bluesy cake-walk strut of "Kick Me", this trio keeps the listener tapping toes, snapping fingers, and being by surprised by what's next.  The trio shines on "Atlantic City" (listen below) giving it the sonic of a Tom Waits ballad––yet one can not miss the heartbreak and emotion in the violin lines. The wistful piano lines and the soft brush work (although note the depth of the bass drum) beneath the soaring violin solo helps to soften the tension.

The album closes with a rousing version of the classic Andrew Hill tune (from his brilliant 1964 Blue Note Lp "Point of Departure"––the trio version here is slower and one hear the influence of Julius Hemphill's "The Hard Blues" on the arrangement. Sack's far-ranging solo stands out as does Sarin's hard-edged drum work. Near the end of the piece, Bardfeld quotes from a classic Paul Simon tune right after he imitates a police car siren.  It's delightfully off-putting, funny, and poignant at the same time.

"Refuge" is an album to get lost in with songs that speak to the listener in many different ways.  The musicianship of Sam Bardfeld, Jacob Sacks, and Michael Sarin is quite impressive plus the emotion they pour into these songs makes the program stand out. While the violinist is a very busy sideman, one hopes to see this Sam Bardfeld Trio bring this program into a concert space!

For more information, go to www.sambardfeld.com.  To purchase the new album, go to  https://sambardfeld.bandcamp.com/album/refuge.  

Hear "Atlantic City":



Drummer and composer Sanah Kadoura, born in the country of Lebanon and raised in Canada, has impressed many fellow musicians and listeners over the course of her young career. Since moving to New York City in the mid-2010s, she's played with pianist Kirk Lightsey, guitarist Ed Cherry, vibraphonist Joe Locke, trumpeter/pianist Nicholas Payton, the late Roy Hargrove, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, and so many others.  She's a member of the Canadian-based collective Ostara Project, whose 2022 debut album stood out for its creativity and musicianship, and self-released her first solo album "Hawk Eyes" in 2018 which featured, among others, guitarist Mark Whitfield and bassist James Genus.  Ms. Kadoura writes her own music, produces her sessions, and is poised to become an important musical voice over the coming decades. 

"Duality" (self-released) is Ms. Kadoura's new album and it's a winner from the opening note.  Her running mates include Stacy Dillard (soprano saxophone), Virginia MacDonald (clarinet), Rachel Therrien (flugelhorn, trumpet), Michael King (acoustic piano, Rhodes, organ), Jonathan Michel (acoustic and electric basses), and vocalist Joanna Majoko plus Parham Haghighi (vocals on three tracks) and Flavio Silva (electric guitar on one cut). One of the more fascinating is how often Ms. Kadoura uses two or more "voices" to express the song's thematic material––take "The Seer, The Soarer" (listen below) and how the soprano sax, clarinet, and flugelhorn state the theme and how the solos build off Michel's funky electric bass. On the title track, notice how the different instruments move around each after Dillard states the theme. Haghighi's vocal adds a Middle-Eastern touch before the soprano sax and clarinet solo together in conversation. Then, Ms. Majoko joins Haghighi for a repetition of the theme.  These textures are in contrast to each but not in conflict. The arranger is looking for textural diversity in her music.

Photo: Tieran Green
Later in the program, "Zaytoon" mines Ms. Kadoura's country of origin for a playful, dancing, intriguing, tune.  The rhythm section dances below the different soloists with Dillard's soprano sax and Ms. Therrien's flugelhorn building their solos off the traditional-sounding melody. The piece closes with Haghighi chanting the melody as Ms. Majoko and the soprano "scat" behind him.  

The album closes with "Rise", a contemporary r'n'b piece featuring Ms. Majoko's melismatic vocal (check out her vocal chorus overdubs) over a rock-solid drum and Michel's burbling bass lines plus the colors of the Rhodes.  Again, Stacy Dillard's soprano saxophone serves as a delightful counterpoint to the vocal.  at about 3/4s of the way through the tune, the band breaks into a section that sounds more like progressive rock; this features voices coming at the listener from all sides over the throbbing. It makes for a surprising ending to a consistently creative adventure.

"Duality" is filled with good, solid, well-played music, planned out enough to make each song stand on its own yet open enough to allow for impressive solo work by a top-notch ensemble.  One has to believe that Sanah Kadoura knows what she wants, what she can do, and, sooner than later, that the sky may be her only limit! Give a listen, a close listen!

For more information, go to https://sanahmusic.com/.  To hear more and purchase the album, go to  https://sanahkadoura.bandcamp.com/album/duality


Hear "The Seer, The Soarer":


Monday, March 6, 2023

Wayne Shorter Gave Us Lives

 

Photo: Robert Ashcroft



Wayne Shorter
(1933-2023) has been a musical presence in Creative Black Music since the late 1950s. Starting out his professional career with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson and then moving to Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers where he helped to shape the sound of Hard-Bop for five years before moving on to the Miles Davis Quintet for the balance of the 1960s and into the early days of 1970.  He and keyboard master Joe Zawinul formed Weather Report in 1970 initially as an avant-garde creative ensemble before turning to more earthly rhythms to become one of the more popular jazz-fusion ensembles in the mid-70s through the mid-1980s.  Shorter had started his solo recording career in 1960 with Vee-Jay Records before moving to Blue Note Records in 1964 and recorded over 10 albums that showed his growth as a composer, tenor and soprano saxophonist, and a leader.  

Photo: Christophe Simon
He moved to CBS/Sony as a member of Weather Report and, in 1975, as a leader with his stunning "Native Dancer", a collection of songs influenced by Brazilian music that featured, among others, Milton Nascimento and Herbie Hancock.  During the 70s and 80s (and beyond), he would add his saxophone to songs on albums created by Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Carlos Santana,  and Don Henley (among others). After leaving Weather Report in 1985, the saxophonist released three fusion albums for CBS between 1985-1988 but it was not until signing with Verve Records in 1994 and releasing the ambitious "High Life" that Shorter's career began the renaissance that would last for the rest of his creative life. 

In 2000, Mr. Shorter organized what turned out to his final, and arguably his best, working ensemble.  Danilo Perez (piano), John Patitucci (bass), and Brian Blade (drums) became an extension of the saxophonist's imagination and so in tune with his constant desire to be exploring that the group never rehearsed––they would get on stage and hit.  Over the years, the group would be augmented by orchestras and chamber ensembles, becoming the proving ground that would help lay the groundwork for "Iphigenia", the opera Mr. Shorter created with librettist esperanza spalding, set designer Frank Gehry (and the Quartet) that had its first full production (with the librettist in the lead role) in Boston, MA, in late 2021.  Considered (at that time) as a "work-in-progress"), the show went on to play in Washington, DC, Berkeley, CA, and Los Angeles, CA, working out many of the issues that beset the earliest productions.  
 
Though the physical presence that was Wayne Shorter has departed, those of us who loved his musical and artistic adventures have much to buoy our spirits, what with seven decades of compositions, recordings, and videos. We can still carry on our conversation with the questions his music posed. That need not be an internal dialogue as we have the possibility to teach other people about this most fascinating person.  

Watch the Quartet in action:




Friday, March 3, 2023

"....Soul Grown Deep Like The River"

 

Dr. Anthony Branker is quite an accomplished person with a list of achievements that would fill this page. I spoke to him in 2017 at the time Origin Records released "Beauty Within", his seventh album of original compositions (and six issued by the Seattle, WA-based label). At that time, he had recently stepped down as the head (and founder) of the Jazz Studies Program at Princeton––he currently is Adjunct Professor at the Mason Gross School of Music at Rutgers University. I am impressed by his ability to tell stories, truths about issues such as racism, equality, spirituality, and more, writing music that sounds familiar yet can be challenging, swings yet sings. The son of Caribbean immigrants, Dr. Branker once played his music (he was a trumpet player) in venues around the world. Dr. Branker has also conducted ensembles for Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis as well as orchestras in Israel, Germany, Japan, Estonia, and in the United States. 

His eighth album, "What Place Can Be For Us: A Suite In 10 Movements" (Origin), is the second recording with his Imagine ensemble, an octet built around guitarist Pete McCann, pianist Fabian Almazan, and bassist Linda May Han Oh plus Walter Smith III (tenor saxophone), Remy Le Boeuf (alto and soprano saxophones), Philip Dizack (trumpet, flugelhorn), Donald Edwards (drums), and on two tracks, Alison Crockett (vocal and spoken word). As you should be able to tell by the title, the themes of this new collection are inclusion, immigration, belonging, citizenship, and the never-ending racism that permeates the United States.  Ms. Crockett is featured on the opening track, "The Door of No Return", an episodic that blends the squalling guitar of Pete McCann, the telegraph notes from the piano, and the words of poet Beatriz Esmer. There is a powerful solo from Smith III as well as well as brilliant background arrangements.  The words hearken back to The Middle Passage (many more Black Africans were enslaved in Brazil than anywhere else on the American continent).  

Ms. Crockett returns for "I, Too, Sing America" from Langston Hughes 1926 collection "The Weary Blues".  It's a powerful work with fine piano work and a commanding solo from Smith III yet be sure to listen to how the alto sax and trumpet play a drone beneath the tenor sax and the heartfelt vocal. 

Elsewhere, there's the nervous energy of McCann's guitar solo and the wistful alto sax solo from Le Boeuf on "Indivisible", the melancholy reminiscence of "Sundown Town" with far-ranging solos from Almazan and Dizack, and the "prog-rock meets hard bop" riff on "Sanctuary City" and the crackling guitar of McCann and keening tenor sax.   


It's hard not to think of boats filled with refugees on "We Went Where Wind Took Us" but the music has more of a hopeful feel as well as fine solos from Ms. Oh and Almazan.  After a lovely solo piano introduction, "The Trail of Tears to Standing Rock" reminds us all of how the Andrew Jackson Presidency pushed Native Americans onto lands where their crops could not grow; not that succeeding US Presidents made the situation any better, creating reservations that keep them held down. Now when they fight the oil pipeline that will split their land up and subsequently cut them off from or contaminate their water supply, their protests still fall on deaf ears.  

As you should be able to tell, Dr. Anthony Branker does not shy away from controversy; instead he channels his concerns, beliefs, and his fears into music that often vibrates with urgency, compassion, commitment, and impressive musicianship.   Don't you shy away from  "What Place Can Be For Us: A Suite In 10 Movements"––instead, embrace its activism, its message, and its power.

For more information, go to www.anthonybranker.com/.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to

Here's the ensemble playing and presenting the words of poet Langston Hughes on "I, Too, Sing America":




Vocalist and educator Christine Correa came to the United States from her native Bombay, India, in 1979––she came to attend the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, which is where she met two people who became very important in her life, pianist Ran Blake and pianist Frank Carlberg who is a frequent collaborator as well as her husband.  Ms. Correa is currently on the faculties of Columbia University’s Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program, Teacher’s College at Columbia University and the New School as well as the Director of the Maine Jazz Camp. She's recorded five duo albums with Ran Blake, 10 albums (in groups of various sizes) with Mr. Carlberg, and, at least, a half-dozen with other artists but never an album under own name.

Until now.  "Just You Stand and Listen With Me" (Sunnyside Records) is a tribute to two recordings drummer Max Roach recorded with his then-wife, the vocalist Abbey Lincoln, 1961's "We Insist! Freedom Now Suite" (Candid Records) and "Percussion Bitter Suite" (Impulse! Records).  For her album, Ms. Correa utilizes the musical voices of Sam Newsome (soprano saxophone), Andrew Boudreau (piano), Kim Cass (bass), and Michael Sarin (drums).  The 11-song program opens with the opening cut from "We Insist!", "Driva' Man", a fiery slave song with lyrics by Oscar Brown, Jr.  Ms. Correa's vocal is underpinned by the strolling rhythm section bolstered by the angular piano chords. Newsome's soprano solo is soaring and free-wheeling while Sarin's narrative drums over the walking bass also stands out.

Brown, Jr. adapts Paul Lawrence Dunbar's poem "When Malindy Sings"––the poet wrote his piece in "original" dialect but this adaptation is no "Uncle Remus". The music really swings with kudos to Boudreau for a fine solo.  Ms. Lincoln wrote the words for "Mendacity"; her lyrics could have been written today. Here's an example; "The campaign trail winds on and on/In towns from coast to coast/The winner ain't the one who's straight/But he who lies the most." Sarin's drums are quite expressive while Newsome again serves as response to Ms. Correa's call. Listen below!


There's so much to take on this brilliant album. Ms. Correa's duet with drummer Sarin in the first 90 seconds of "All Africa" is a stunning introduction to the body of the song in which the vocals name various tribes of the African Continent. The soprano sax solo over the drums is powerful, very moving and expressive. The wordless vocals on "Tears for Johannesburg" speaks to the treatment of the oppressed black citizens under South Africa's apartheid regimes. The ensemble moves in and out of time throughout plus there are excellent solos from Newsome and bassist Cass.

The album closes with Brown, Jr./Roach's "Freedom Day", a piece that is, at times, frolicsome, free, impulsive, pulsing with urgency, and in the end, questioning if we are really "free" (certainly the Black population of the United States has rarely been truly free to be).   

From start to finish, "Just You Stand and Listen With Me" is quite powerful.  Christine Correa not only celebrates the amazing and controversial music of Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and Oscar Brown, Jr. but also asks questions about whether her adopted country–the United States–can ever truly be the place where "All Men (and Women) Are Created Equal".  

For more information, go to https://christinecorrea.com/. To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://sunnysiderecords.bandcamp.com/album/just-you-stand-and-listen-with-me-2

Hear Ms. Correa singing Abbey Lincoln's words on "Mendacity":