Friday, June 30, 2023

Moving With the Times

 

I have been impressed with the music and the saxophone playing of Alex LoRe since 2014 when his debut album, "Dream House", was issued on Greg Osby's Inner Circle Music label. When Allen Mednard replaced Colin Stranahan at the drum set for 2019's "Karol" (issued on Challenge Records), the quartet (also featuring pianist Glenn Zaleski and bassist Desmond White) became known as Alex LoRe & Weirdear.  The alto saxophonist and composer, originally from Tarpon Springs, Florida, graduated from the New England Conservatory and earned a Master's Degree from the Manhattan School of Music.  Currently, he's a member of pianist Maria Sanchez's Quintet and has played with Lucas Pino's No Net Nonet. LoRe has also authored two instruction books, the latest being  "The Goldberg Variations for Saxophone Duets, Trios, & Quartets".  During the Pandemic, he upload numerous videos of how he was working on playing JS Bach that are fascinating to watch and listen to.

One can hear a classical influence on several pieces that appear on "Evening Will Find Itself", LoRe's fourth album as a leader and his first for Whirlwind Recordings. Pieces such as "Underground and Back" plus "Silent Ship" feature melody lines that have solid structure and melodic flow. The former track has a formality that loosens as the soloists (bass, piano, and alto sax) push the piece out. Great bow work from bassist Desmond White.  The 10-song program features the same band as "Karol" and they work together like a fine-oiled machine (without ever sounding uninspired). "Stripes" opens the album with an opening melody over the rubato rhythm section. The piece opens for an exciting alto sax solo and a splendid turn from Zaleski.  White and Mednard really push the music forward without disappearing into chaos.  The following track, "Face Unseen" is softer, moving on the gentle brush work and counterpoint of the bass.  Note how LoRe's alto moves easily into the higher register of his horn where. at times, it sounds like a soprano sax. 

"Green" pays tribute to one of the saxophonist's most important teachers, Bunky Green.  Here, the rampaging rhythms push LoRe to display not only his technical prowess but the genuine lyricism that his teacher possessed throughout his career. Mednard's interactions with both the saxophonist and Zaleski during their solos is a delight (do watch the video below to see how the drummer responds in the studio).  

There are three shorter (under three minutes) that carry the title "Radiance".  They make up half of the final six tracks. Despite their relative brevity, each one contains a complete statement and improvisations.  "I" stands out for the piano/sax interactions while "II" features Zaleski pushing the proceedings, an introductory solo from Mednard, and then LoRe enters by playing his own take with variations on the piano theme.  "III" closes the album; slower, the saxophone theme is a variation on "I" and "II" that drops away for a bass solo over a funky drum pattern.  The piano reenters to comp through the end of the bass solo that leads to LoRe's restatement of the theme.  

The music on "Evening Will Find Itself" doesn't just jump right out at you but beckons the listener to enter the proceedings and surrender to the sounds.  Alex LoRe sounds fully in control and his original material is the richest of his still-growing career.  The musicians of Weirdear shine brightly as partners––not just a back-up group–– in this endeavor.  It will be interesting to hear how these songs expand and develop as the quartet tours this year. In the meantime, take a close, deep, listen as the rewards are plentiful.

For more information, go to https://alexlore.com/.  To hear more and purchase the album, go to  https://alexlore-whirlwind.bandcamp.com/album/evening-will-find-itself

Here's a taste of "Fauxlosophy":




Watch Weirdear in the studio:



Monday, June 26, 2023

Large Ensemble: Roots Music

Composer, arranger, trumpeter, and educator Daniel Hersog seemingly burst onto the jazz scene with the release of his debut Large Ensemble album "Night Devoid of Stars" (Cellar Music). Of course, nobody just appears on the "scene"––Hersog, a native of Victoria, British Columbia, is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, and, as a trumpeter, has played throughout North America with artists such as drummer Terry Clarke, trumpeter Brad Turner, the Vancouver Legacy Jazz Orchestra, and the Jaelem Bhate Orchestra (with whom he recorded two albums).  Hersog is currently on the faculty of Capilano University in Vancouver, BC, where he is an Academic Coordinator and Instructor in the Jazz Studies Program plus leads a trumpet ensemble.


Now, the second album from the Daniel Hersog Jazz Orchestra has dropped.  "Open Spaces: Folk Songs Reimagined" (Cellar Music) states its mission in the title.  The majority of the pieces come from traditional musics of Canada and the United States interspersed with pieces by Gordon Lightfoot and Bob Dylan plus several Hersog originals. The ensemble (listed below) is composed of musicians from both countries as well as classmates (Noah Preminger and Kim Cass) and instructors (Frank Carlberg and Brad Turner), many of whom appear on the first CD.  The addition of reed master Scott Robinson and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel gives Hersog a bigger palette to work with and he does so liberally. The 10-song program opens with the late Mr. Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"––Preminger's hard-edged tenor solo represents the blowing winds and Carlberg's piano the roiling waves while Dan Weiss's drums are the sound of the boat splitting apart. That's followed by a rousing coda leading into Hersog's imaginative take on Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In the Wind".  Titled "How Many Roads", there's a flowing guitar solo over the responsive reeds and supportive brass.  The reeds and brass play a "call-and-response" with the piano before Carlberg digs into his solo over the rough and tumble bass and drums.

After a stately introduction, "Shenandoah" becomes a beautiful ballad featuring an amazing baritone sax solo from Scott Robinson. Heartfelt, emotional, melodic, the listener is transported out of the crazy world by the stunning and brilliant arrangement that supports him (kudos to Carlberg as well) and the simple yet generous melody.  Robinson returns to the spotlight on "Rentrer" but not until after Cass's lovely solo bass introduction and Carlberg plays the rambling theme which, in turn, leads into Rosenwinkel's short but sweet solo.  Robinson's baritone solo goes deep and then swoops to the higher register of the big instrument. The final two minutes of the piece features the sections swirling around the guitar, rising like the murmuration of starlings before the the abstract finish.

Photo: Robert Iannone
Other highlights include the playful "I Hear", a piece that opens with the ensemble "barking" at other until Weiss falls into an up-tempo rhythm for a hard-edged tenor solo before the tempo changes abruptly into a Fellini soundtrack interspersed with a swing beat for Ben Kono's fine clarinet spot. The longest track on the album (11:10), the playful tune makes room for a sharp and humorous romp for trumpeter Turner. Later in the program, the Hersog original "Sarracenia Purpurea" (named for a Pitcher Plant that grows in marshes and bogs) starts off on fire but quiets down for Robinson's baritone solo which slowly and steadily picks up in intensity as the rhythm section pushes him to dig in. Soon, the brass and reeds begin to color behind him before everyone frolics around the drums as the music arrives at its rousing finish.  

The album closes with a sweet reading of "Red River Valley" (for all its connections to Cowboy movies, the song actually was composed in Canada during the 1870s). After a pretty introduction, Rosenwinkel's guitar joins the brass and reeds to play the theme. After a second verse and a striking variation played by the Orchestra, the guitarist plays the melody once more and then plays his striking solo.  Even sweeter, the entire ensemble sings two choruses before the ensemble plays the melody before the lovely crescendo that ends the piece and the album. 

You will hear the influences of many large ensemble arrangers and composers in the music of the Daniel Hersog Jazz Orchestra but the leader's vision plus eloquent arrangements for this ensemble are clear and truly his own.  "Open Spaces: Folk Songs Reimagined" grew out of the composer/arranger's need to move his music forward after a successful debut as well as to adapt to the changes in his life (teaching and marriage).  There are interpretations of beauty and breaths of humor (and occasional chaos) throughout the album; the music flourishes on the collective work of this fine group of instrumentalists.  Do sit and listen––the rewards are abounding!

For more information, go to www.danielhersog.com.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://danielhersogjazzorchestra.bandcamp.com/album/open-spaces-folk-songs-reimagined.

Personnel:

Daniel Hersog- Conductor

Ben Kono- Oboe, Soprano Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet
Ben Henriques – Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Clarinet
Noah Preminger- Tenor Saxophone
Tom Keenlyside- Flute, Alto Flute, Piccolo, Tenor Saxophone
Scott Robinson- Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Flute

Michael Kim- Trumpet and Flugelhorn
Brad Turner- Trumpet and Flugelhorn
Derry Byrne- Trumpet and Flugelhorn
Jocelyn Waugh- Trumpet and Flugelhorn

Jeremy Berkman- Trombone
Jim Hopson- Trombone, Euphonium
Andrew Porrier- Trombone
Sharman King- Bass Trombone

Kurt Rosenwinkel- Guitar
Frank Carlberg- Piano
Kim Cass- Bass
Dan Weiss- Drums


Listen here to "Jib Set":




Here's the DHJO in the studio:



Friday, June 23, 2023

The Sounds of 8 Hands Playing

 

Although best known for his work in saxophonist Noah Preminger's Quartet, guitarist and composer Max Light is just now climbing into the spotlight.  His debut album, "Herplusme" (Red Piano Records), was a trio date recorded in 2018 but not issued until February 2020, just a month before the COVID-19 Pandemic shut the door on touring musicians (and the rest of us).  He'd already recorded two live albums with trumpeter Jason Palmer, two studio albums with Preminger's ensemble, and albums with Yong Lee, Kevin Sun, Chris McCarthy, and others. Last year, SteepleChase Records released "Songs We Love", a collection of 14 tunes (mostly standards old and new) performed by Preminger and Light––it's well worth seeking out for the delightful conversations the two musicians over the course of 65 minutes. When producer and label owner Nils Winther offered Light the opportunity to record his second album as a leader, it was obvious from the get-go the guitarist would reach out to Preminger.

In fact, the new album, "Henceforth", is the Noah Preminger Quartet (bassist Kim Cass and drummer Dan Weiss fill out the lineup) recording a program of Light originals save for the tenor saxophonist's "High or Booze" that closes the recording.  One can hear that this is a "working ensemble" as the band has no trouble making each song sound fresh and alive.  The album opens with "Barney and Sid", a medium piece that has a touch of funk in its rhythm and angular melodic lines.  After an unaccompanied guitar opening statement, and feeding off  the band plays through the theme and then into the tenor sax solo.  Preminger has the time and the talent to truly develop his solo, working up a sweat over several minutes. Light is next, picking up on the energy of the previous solo and feeding off the insistent rhythms.  

The title track is next. The rhythm lopes along giving the piece an "Americana" feel.  As the four musicians move through the theme, the music picks up in intensity (pushed by the thrashing drums) before moving back to the gentle lope (listen below).  Check out how both Cass and Weiss move in and out of the foundation as Light builds his intense solo.  The bass solo is impressive for its power, its playfulness, and melodic flourishes.  Later in the program, "Animals", originally composed as an assignment in college, is a mature ballad––the guitar solo flows like a mountain stream while the rhythm section offers gentle support (Weiss on brushes, Cass playing counterpoint).  "Half Marathon", so named for the John Coltrane piece "26-2" that influenced it, gives Light the opportunity to strut his stuff before Preminger jumps into the high-speed dance.  

"High or Booze" is the final track. It has a strong, well-developed, melody (no mere blues, this) that leaves room for an emotionally rich tenor sax solo and a fiery guitar spot (it's a joy listening to the rhythm section interact with the soloists and each other.

Listen to "Henceforth" several times before passing judgement.  Max Light has created an excellent quartet recording filled with substantial melodies and spirited playing.  Having listened to Noah Preminger live and onstage for the past 14 years, it's a joy to hear how he has matured as a musician to the point of possessing his own sound.  Kim Cass and Dan Weiss are excellent throughout (no surprise there). A major step forward for young Mr. Light!

For more information, go to www.maxlightguitar.com.  

Take a listen to the title track:



Thursday, June 22, 2023

Large Ensemble Music: Oh, Canadian

 

Composer, arranger, and trombonist is the brainchild behind the Composers Collective Big Band, a 19-member ensemble based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  In existence since 2005, the CCBB was created to shine a spotlight on Canadian composers through commissions and concerts. Those performances also serve to highlight the variety of great musicians that work and teach in the Province.  Surprisingly, the ensemble's only recording is a four-track release from 2017.

2023 brings "The Toronto Project" (self-released); Overton commissioned eight composers (including himself and three over members of the CCBB) to create music about the city where they work and play.  Each song is introduced by a different sound effect representing a different form of transportation (train, subway, walking, bus, automobile––the airport is notable for its absence) that takes the listener to different parts of Toronto (the current population of the Greater Metro area is well over six million).  The first full track is "West Toronto Ode"––composed by Cuban-born tres player and vocalist Pablosky Rosales, the piece dances in on the joyous sounds of flutes swirling around the composer's tres powered by the solid electric bass of Luther Gray and frolicking drum work of Jeff Halischuk.  

Photo: Daniel Cybulskie
Other locations include St. Clair West which is where composer and trombonist Tom Richards goes in "Non-Sequitur" and leader Overton's journey to Chinatown in "Spadina" (splendid soprano sax work from Ms. Davidson and guest artist Amely Zhou who plays erhu, the Chinese "spike fiddle").   Composer and bandleader Chelsea McBride takes us "Inside the Toy Factory" which must be quite the swinging judging by the play-filled romp the band goes in (dig the funk below the trombone solo).  Bassist Gray's "Interweave" pays tribute to the city's large Indian population––joined by tabla drummer Ravi Naimpally, the CCBB explores the magical music that flutters and swirls through the composition. 

The last musical piece before the train takes you and the album home is "Transit".  Composed by saxophonist Shirantha Beddage, the high-powered track could easily have influenced by the composer have been at the top of the CN Tower looking down at the hustle-and-bustle of the city below. The horn and reed interjections behind the rampaging drum solo certainly give one the feeling that the city never goes to sleep.

Take a trip with the Composers Collective Big Band on "The Toronto Project".  Leader Christian Overton and the band move easily through the fifth largest city in North America touching down in and paying musical tribute to areas big and small.  They certainly make it inviting.

For more information, go to www.christianovertonmusic.com/ccbb.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://thecomposerscollectivebigband.bandcamp.com/album/the-toronto-project

Personnel:

Christian Overton - Musical Director & Trombone

Woodwinds: Tara Davidson (as, ss, fl), Chris Roberts (as, cl, fl), Paul Metcalfe (ts, cl, fl), Jared Welsh (ts, cl, fl), Marcus Ali (bs, bc, fl)

Trumpet & Flugelhorn: Jason Logue (lead), John Pittman, Brian O’Kane, John MacLeod

Trombone: William Carn, Tom Richards, Pat Blanchard, Karl Silveira, Sylvain Bedard (bass tbn)

Electric Guitar: Erik Patterson 

Piano & Keyboard: Carissa Neufeld 

Acoustic & Electric Bass: Justin Gray 

Drums: Jeff Halischuk

Featuring Special Guests: Pablosky Rosales (Tres), Les Alt (Flute), Amely Zhou (Erhu), Maya Killtron (voice), Jonathan Kay (Tenor Sax), Andrew Kay (Alto Sax), Ravi Naimpally (Tabla) 


Give a listen to "Non-Sequitur":




The Nimmons Tribute, a nonet based in Toronto, Ontario, is a project that pays tribute to the work of Canadian Jazz Master Phil Nimmons. Mr. Nimmons, who turned 100 years old on June 3rd of this year, is considered to be the "Dean of Canadian Jazz" not only for his long career as a recording artists but also for the nearly five decades he taught in the Jazz Studies at the University of Toronto. Though he's not well-known in the US, Mr. Nimmons has won numerous awards for his contributions to music and education including the Order of Canada and Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.

In 2020, the Nimmons Tribute issued "Volume 1To The Nth"––the group, organized by Sean Nimmons (his grandson and award-winning composer in his own right), is back with "Volume 2Generational", eight tracks included six new arrangements the grandson created from the great body of work his grandfather created.  The nonet, composed of Kevin Turcotte (trumpet, flugelhorn), Tara Davidson (alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet), Mike Murley (tenor sax), Alex Dean (baritone sax, bass clarinet), William Carn (trombone), Jon Maharaj (bass), Ethan Ardelli (drums), Heather Bambrick (vocals), and the younger Nimmons (piano, Fender Rhodes), are all integral members of the Canadian jazz scene.  The spotlight is rightly on the music.  The album opener, "Arf", bursts out of the gates with an arrangement thats makes the eight musicians like a true big band. Excellent solos from Dean (baritone), Turcotte (trumpet), and drummer Ardelli raise the temperature exponentially.  

Ms. Davidson's evocative soprano saxophone takes the lead on "Islands", a lovely ballad drawn from, arguably, the elder Nimmons most famous work, "The Atlantic Suite".  The arrangement gives the music an Ellingtonian feel. The oft-recorded "Under a Tree" opens with the theme first stated by Dean's bass clarinet before it opens to the entire octet.  Turcotte's bluesy flugelhorn takes the first lead, opening over a loping rhythm section before the rest of the group colors behind him. Murley steps out next producing a lively and richly emotional solo.  The delightful "Carey Dance" (from "Suite P.E.I") displays a Scottish influence before the band swings out for solos from Nimmons (piano), Murley, and Ardelli before a lively restatement of the original theme for all.

The younger Nimmons (pictured left) contributes two new pieces to the program. The winsome ballad "Bella Shores" features fine work from Turcotte (flugelhorn) and Ms. Davidson (soprano sax) and they continue to converse separately and together throughout the tune. The other contribution, the title track, is also a ballad that spotlights Carn's trombone, Ms. Davidson's alto, Turcotte's trumpet, and Murley's tenor before making room for a short but richly melodic bass solo.  

"Generational" closes with "Night Night Smiley", a ballad the elder Nimmons composed for his 2001 album "Sands of Time".  Yes, it's a lullaby, sung gently by Heather Bambrick then she steps aside for for short solos from Maharaj, Carn, Ms. Davidson (alto sax), Turcotte (trumpet), Dean (bass clarinet), and Murley (tenor sax) before Ms. Bambrick returns to put the song and "Volume 2" to bed.  What the album and the Nimmons Tribute ensemble reminds us how timeless the music of Phil Nimmons–his songs have been speaking to the hearts and souls of Canada for nearly seven decades.  

To find out more, go to www.nimmonstribute.ca/. To find out more about the life and music of Phil Nimmons, go to www.philnimmons.ca/. To purchase the recording, go to  https://nimmonstribute.bandcamp.com/album/generational.


Personnel:

Kevin Turcotte - trumpet, flugelhorn
Tara Davidson - alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet
Mike Murley - tenor saxophone
William Carn - trombone
Alex Dean - baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Sean Nimmons - piano, Fender Rhodes
Jon Maharaj - bass
Ethan Ardelli - drums
Heather Bambrick - vocals on one track


The program opens with"Arf":



Monday, June 19, 2023

Juneteenth Music

 This, from Bandcamp.com:

On June 19 (from midnight (PT) June 19 to midnight (PT) June 20), we’ll hold our annual Juneteenth fundraiser, where we donate 100% of our share of sales* to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to support their ongoing efforts to promote racial justice through litigation, advocacy, and public education.

This annual fundraiser is part of our larger, ongoing commitment to racial equity, and we’ll continue to promote diversity and opportunity through our mission to support artists, the products we develop, those we promote through the Bandcamp Daily and Bandcamp Radio, how we work together as a team, who and how we hire, and our relationships with organizations local to our Oakland space (some of which we’ve highlighted below).

We hope you’ll help us spread the word about the upcoming fundraiser, and thank you for being a part of the Bandcamp community!

Ethan Diamond
CEO & Co-Founder of Bandcamp

Here's a few suggestions:



Trombonist/tubaist, composer, and educator Bill Lowe has created this work partially based on Jean Toomer's groundbreaking 1923 novel "Cane" as well as a musical biography.  The program also includes compositions from Frank Foster whose Big Band the trombonist performed with months after moving to New York City and Bill Barron who was not only a fine composer but a Professor of Music at Wesleyan University when Lowe was a Visiting Artist-in-Residence (Author's note: Professor Lowe taught in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program and was my first teacher when I went there to get my Master's Degree). For this album, Lowe organized the Signifyin' Natives Ensemble featuring Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn), Hafez Modirzadeh (alto saxophone, percussion), Luther Gray (drums), Ken Filiano (bass), Kevin Harris (piano), and the impressive young vocalist Naledi Masilo.  

Here's "Karintha" one of the three tracks from the "Cane Suite":


Go to https://billlowe.bandcamp.com/album/sweet-cane to hear more and purchase the album.

Here are several more suggestions (both of which I purchased):


The Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra – "60 Years" (self-released) – This, hopefully, is the first of numerous retrospectives of the six decades of music created by the PAPA, founded in Los Angeles. CA, by pianist and composer Horace Tapscott. It's a great story of perseverance, creativity, promise, and self-determination.

Listen to "The Ballad of Deadwood Dick" recorded in 1995:



Go to https://panafrikanpeoplesarkestra.bandcamp.com/album/60-years to find out more and to purchase the album.



James Brandon Lewis/Red Lily Quintet – "Jesup Wagon" (TAO Forms) – This impressive album has been out for several years and should be in everyone's collection. Based on the life and work of American botanist George Washington Carver, tenor saxophonist Lewis created the music with an impressive ensemble including long-time associate Chad Taylor (drums, mbira), Kirk Knuffke (cornet), William Parker (bass, gimbri), and Chris Hoffman (cello).  Powerful story, powerful music!

Listen to "Fallen Flowers":




Saturday, June 17, 2023

Ms.Oh and the Future

 

Photo: Shervin Lainez
Before the pandemic, bassist and composer Linda May Han Oh was a very busy person, not just working on her own projects but also performing and/or recording with Pat Metheny, drummer Johnathan Blake, Vijay Iyer as well as with her husband, pianist Fabian Almazan (plus a number of other recording sessions).  Then, the world closed down in March of 2020 and the gigging stopped.  Ms. Oh and Mr. Almazan moved to Perth, Australia, (where the bassist was raised and retains citizenship) to have their first child. The time spent with their baby gave Ms. Oh the time to think her role as a musician in a splintered world, what was important to her, and how could her music has a positive effect on the dialogue swirling around divisive issues such as health-care, climate change, war, and other issues. The music can also be heard as a meditation on time, how we use ours and how time is ever-moving as it moves us.


Upon their return to the United States, put together a quintet that features her husband, drummer Obed Calvaire, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, and vocalist Sara Serpa.  They entered Brooklyn Recording on June 13 2022 with 10 new original works.  "The Glass Hours" is powered by the powerful melodies, exciting rhythms, and the spirited interactions of the quintet.  Opening with "Circles", the theme is addressed by the wordless vocal, tenor sax, and the potent bass while the pianist and drummer push the music forward. Pay close attention to the rhythm section––Calvaire plays with great presence throughout but especially under the soloists. The handsome bass solo that opens "Chimera" gives way to a thunderous piano solo supported by the drums and bass––that falls into a sense of stasis as the voice, sax, bass, and piano play circular figures while Calvaire dances through his solo.


Photo: Shervin Lainez
"Jus Ad Bellum" is a rubato ballad that addresses man's need to go to war. Ms. Serpa's passionate vocal is underpinned by the war-like drums and scurrying piano lines. The tenor sticks close to the vocal until the forceful bass solo.  The layered voices (including Ms. Oh's) during the drum spot remind this listener of the work of Steve Reich. Watch the video below of "The Imperative", see how the band listen and respond to each other, and note the fluidity in Ms. Oh's bass lines––she is so melodic as well as percussive.  Everyone contributes, each with their own cogent statement as well as their work in the ensemble. 


This material can be thorny, the sound thick at times but the music never falls apart. Notice how the excellent mix (Dave Darlington) ensures that the listener is in the midst of the band, that no one instrument is lost in the crisp sound, Not only is Ms. Oh the foundation of the music but she's the main driver (that frees up Calvaire to respond to the soloists and be part of the melody).  Mr. Almazan benefits from this as well with how he plays underneath the ensemble and how he approaches his own solos (he's certainly one of the most fluid of musicians).  And Ms. Serpa? Because the majority of the time she's singing, there are no words, just syllables. On a piece such as "Phosphorus", she teams with Turner to not only present the melody but also weave their lines in and around each other.  On this track, Ms. Oh's switches to electric bass, dancing along with her husband on the energetic piano solo. 

"The Glass Hours" closes with "Hatchling" (which one imagines is dedicated to her son)––Ms. Oh is on electric bass again so it's the sax, voice, and piano that present the melody then break it into melodic fragments.  The piece moves into a long rubato section before the piano and voice build off the bounce of the bass and drums to playfully strut and dance to the close!  

Linda May Han Oh has become one of the most sought-after bassists in the world. With good reason; how she articulates her notes and her melodic development within a song can be dizzying at times, yet she never overplays or, better, never "showboats".  This album, her sixth, is worth diving into deeply1

For more information, go to https://lindamayhanoh.com/.  To hear more and purchase the album, go to  https://lindamayhanoh.bandcamp.com/album/the-glass-hours

Here's the opening track, "Circles":



Watch the group in the studio perform "The Imperative":



Monday, June 12, 2023

Large Ensembles & Real Life, Pt 2: Learning about & From the Past

 

When one thinks of the early years of Jazz, we think of New Orleans (before the brothels were closed), Chicago (especially after Prohibition was announced), and New York City (where many of the major record labels were located).  However, a case can be made (and has been–see below) for Richmond, Indiana, especially after the establishment of Gennett Records. The brainchild of three sons of an Italian immigrant family, Gennett managed to record King Oliver and Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, and Hoagy Carmichael all before the end of the 1920s.  Recording conditions were not the best (the studio was located near a very busy railroad bridge) but much of the music was stellar. 

Nearly three decades after Gennett finally closed its doors (they had stopped recording jazz, blues, etc. in the Depression), trumpeter Mark Buselli and trombonist/ arranger Brent Wallarab organized the Buselli/Wallarab Jazz Orchestra in Bloomington, IN, in 1994 before moving its base of operations to Indianapolis several years later.  Since its inception, the BWJO has recorded seven albums including two tributes to the composer and educator David Baker and one dedicated to Hoagy Carmichael.  When working on the latter album, Wallarab decided to begin research on Gennett Records and the amazing lineup of artists that passed through its doors from 1918 through the 1920s.  Wallarab, who received immeasurable training working as a transcriptionist of early Big Band music for the Smithsonian Institute of Jazz in Washington, D.C., had no desire to re-record the Gennett "classics"––instead, he used the originals as the blueprint for a modern take of what is, arguably, timeless music.

For the ensemble's eighth album, Wallarab created "The Gennett Suite" (Patois Records), a two-CD set that features four "Movements", 11 songs, that utilizes 11 songs from the 1920s records of Louis Armstrong with Joe "King" Oliver, Leon "Bix" Beiderbecke, Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton, and Hoagland "Hoagy" Carmichael.  The "Suite" opens with "Movement 1: Royal Blue", a 17-minute that features the two-part "Tin Roof Blues"––powered by the deep bass tones of Jeremy Allen and the powerful drumming of Sean Dobbin, Wallarab dresses the melody made famous by "King" Oliver's Creole Jazz Band in elegant washes of brass and reeds then leaves room for fine solos from Ned Boyd (baritone saxophone on "Part 1") and Tom Walsh (tenor sax on "Part 2").  You can hear tinges of Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, and Thad Jones in the feisty sectional writing.  After the solo, the piece morphs into "The Chime Blues", notable for a number of reasons including the fact that 1923 session was the first recorded example of a Louis Armstrong solo. BWJO take on the tune includes excellent solos from Scott Belck (flugelhorn), Greg Ward (soprano sax), and co-leader Buselli (trumpet). The latter two soloists trade "8s" before the entire band struts to the close. "Dippermouth Blues" follows with a frisky New Orleans strut and the melody played by the trumpet section.  Trombonist Andrew Danforth steps out for a playful solo with the reeds in sweet support. Tenor saxophonist Todd Williams follows; his fine solo opens with just the drums in support but, as he powers forward, the trombones riff behind him. The ensemble dances forward to the close where pianist Allen plays the song's main riff in the style of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue". 

Photo: Greg Reynolds
"Movement 2: Blues Faux Bix" includes "Davenport Blues", "The Jazz Me Blues", and "Wolverine Blues" plus a short unaccompanied bass solo right before the final cut.  "Davenport.." is a spotlight for Buselli's smooth, sweet, flugelhorn solo–he gets the chance to stretch out and does so with great style.  The tempo picks up for "Jazz Me..." with the trumpets introducing the melody supported by responses from the reeds and trombones.  Amanda Gardier (alto sax) gets the first solo navigating several tempo changes before the rhythm section kicks the tune into a higher gear.  Pianist Luke Gillespie steps out next with a spirited solo stepping aside for a rollicking spot from trumpeter Belck. After Allen's bass "Interlude", he introduces "Wolverine Blues" (composed by Jelly Roll Morton but recorded for Gennett by Bix) which opens a slower blues before Dobbin kicks the ensemble in––the same soloists plus Allen are in the spotlight on this track as the previous cut Belck taking the first solo, M. Gardier next, then Allen, and finally Gillespie who jumps in.  Such sweet sounds!!

The second disc includes "Movement 3: Hoagland" and "Movement 4: Mr. Jelly Roll". Among the highlights is the stunning rendition of "Stardust"––listen below to how Wallarab's arrangement makes the oft-recorded "chestnut" sound new; on top of that, there is a terrific alto sax solo from Greg Ward. Tom Walsh's alto flute work on the theme also stands out. As the the music moves forward, one hears a touch of Maria Schneider's sound in the sectional writing behind Ward's solo.

A rousing reading of Morton's "Grandpa's Spells" brings the program to its close but not before Walsh and trumpeter John Raymond deliver vigorous solos. Be sure to the power of the rhythm section as they set the pace and support the band.

There have already been a slew of fine large ensemble recordings issued in 2023 but none better than "The Gennett Suite" by the Buselli/Wallarab Jazz Orchestra.  The music the project is based on may now be 100 years old but the formidable and highly enjoyable arrangements plus the overall excellence of the soloists makes the songs spark and sparkle.  There is an detailed booklet that comes with the CD set that tells the stories behind the labels, artists, and songs.  Find this album––this is music that's good for the soul!

For more information, go to https://bwjazzorchestra.com/.  For an overview of Gennett Records and the world around Richmond, IN, in the pre-and post-World War I years, go to www.pbs.org/video/the-music-makers-of-gennett-records-gnqhpd/.

Personnel:

Brent Wallarab – arranger, conductor

Reeds:
Greg Ward – soprano and alto sax
Amanda Gardler – alto sax
Tom Walsh – tenor sax and flute
Todd Williams – tenor sax
Ned Boyd – baritone sax

Trumpets:
Clark Hunt – lead trumpet
Jeff Conrad – lead trumpet on "Stardust"
Scott Belck – trumpet and flugelhorn
Mark Buselli – trumpet and flugelhorn
John Raymond – trumpet
Jeff Parker – trumpet on "Chime Blues"

Trombones:
Tom Coffman – lead trombone
Andrew Danforth – trombone
Demondrae Thurman – trombone
Rich Dole – bass trombone

Rhythm Section:
Luke Gillespie – piano
Jeremy Allen – bass
Sean Dobbins –  drums

Listen to this beautiful arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael's classic "Stardust":


Thursday, June 8, 2023

Hard & Heart to Know Where


Photo: Matt Griffiths
It's been over a decade since I saw and heard vocalist, composer, broadcaster, and journalist Nicky Schrire in a duo concert with pianist Gerald Clayton. She has just released "Space and Time", a album of duos with Clayton, Gil Goldstein, and Fabian Almazan.  The intimacy of the duo performances worked well in concert.  But soon, Ms. Schrire moved from New York City to London, England, then to Capetown, South Africa, finally settling several years ago in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  Along the way, she composed a project for cello, guitar, and voice as well as a yet-unrecorded String Quartet. Upon moving to Canada, she began a weekly program for Toronto's JAZZ-FM.91 ("The Bright North"). When Jason Crane took a sabbatical from his excellent podcast 'The Jazz Session", Ms. Schrire took over for the 14th season. Now, she curates the "Mothers-in-Jazz" series for "The London Jazz News", an online Jazz zine that she has contributed for over a decade. 

But no jazz-based music on record for Ms. Schrire until now.  Anzic Records has just issued "Nowhere Girl", a collection of 11 songs, mostly all original. To help her translate these songs, she and producer Oded Lev-Ari gathered an excellent rhythm section composed of pianist Chris Donnelly, bassist Dan Fortin, and drummer Ernesto Cervini (who record and tour together as Myriad3) plus guest appearances from Tara Davidson (alto and soprano saxophone on four tracks), Laila Biali (vocal on one track), and Julio Siguaque (electric guitar on one track).  What stands out for this listener is how comfortable Ms. Schrire sounds, even as her songs talk of wandering the world (the title track), missing a songwriting partner ("Traveler"), or a lovely ode to her parent ("Father"). Donnelly's accompaniment is splendid throughout while Fortin and Cervini not only create finely-wrought backgrounds but they also can dance, sway, and even whisper when the song calls for it.

Many of these song defy genre. The lovely "A Morning" is a finely etched poem set to a handsome melody (listen for the swirling piano "raindrops" behind the wordless vocal in the middle....sounds Elizabethan). "In Paris" is both a lovely walk through the City of Lights in the morning and also a tribute to Joni Mitchell's "Free Man in Paris"––Ms. Davidson's lovely soprano channels Wayne Shorter, her lovely tone surrounding Ms. Schrire's vocal in the next-to-the-last verse. On "Closer to the Source", the singer adds her own lyrics to the lilting melody by the South African composer Bheki Mseleku (1955-2008)–Ms. Schrire slows the tempo a bit but one still feels that bright bounce associated with South African music. Donnelly shines here as does Ms. Davidson on soprano.  The song serves as a tribute to the composer and to the comfort the singer when she returns (such an interesting juxtaposition Mseleku wrote the tune as he lived in exile in London).  

"Nowhere Girl" ends with the delightful, whirling, rhythmical treat "My Love"...no, not the Paul McCartney song but a "party tune" dedicated to Capetown.  The trio plus Ms. Davidson play with great joy but it's the clicking, overdubbed, guitar (played by Julio Sigauque, a musician from Mozambique who Ms. Schrire met when both studied at the University of Capetown) that sets the pace.  It's an upbeat close to a really fine recording. When you sit down to listen, you'll hear how Lev-Ari deftly overdubs the vocalist on numerous occasions during the album.  Also, Laila Biali joins her voice to Ms. Schrire's on the lovely and heartbreaking take of Kate & Anna McGarrigle's  "Heart Like a Wheel". 

Many hurrahs to Nicky Schrire for taking her time to create this album and for putting together such an excellent cast of supporting friends/musicians.  Such good music deserves to be heard––then this  "Nowhere Girl" will have a place...in your heart and soul!

For more information, go to www.nickyschrire.com.  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to https://nickyschrire.bandcamp.com/album/nowhere-girl
 

Hear "Traveler":




Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Henry Threadgill, Book & Music – "You're Going to Have to Serve Your Time"

If memory serves correctly, I first encountered the music of Henry Threadgill in Cutler's Record Shop in New Haven, CT, on seeing the first Air Lp, "Air Song" (Why Not Records imported from Japan), on the Jazz "New Releases" section of the wall.  Intrigued, I discovered that the trio (saxophonist, flutist, and composer Threadgill, bassist Fred Hopkins, and drummer Steve McCall) hailed from Chicago and were members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). By this time, I had heard the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, and Muhal Richard Abrams, fascinated as well as puzzled by this music that often eschewed typical jazz forms to look for new sounds and mixtures.

Photo: John Rogers
Threadgill, like a good number of his contemporaries, had served in the Armed Forces and come back to a changed United States. The Vietnam War was still raging, President Nixon had alienated a good portion of the country, and the inner city neighborhoods in major cities across the US had never recovered from the riots that had occurred before and after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.  What some people heard as anger in this hybrid form of Black Music was really a major advancement in approaches to composition and improvisation by many Black composers and musicians.  By the mid-1970s, many AACM musicians had been to Europe but came back to move to New York City.  

Henry Threadgill tells his story in his new memoir "Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music" (Penguin Random House). Written with Brent Hayes Edwards, the composer/musicians takes the reader through his early years with bows to many members of his family and the various neighborhoods he lived in.  We learn of his voracious appetite for learning and how he slowly but steadily learned piano, saxophone, and flute as well as to learn how to compose. Threadgill certainly played many different styles of music, from Gospel to R'n'B to Jazz to funk as so on but was open to classical music. He also was quite curious, fixating on learning how to fly and making people disappear, neither of which he was successful at.  His time in the Armed Forces, especially the months he spent in Vietnam were harrowing but taught him much about the world, about community, and so much more.  Coming back to Chicago and to the AACM pushed him to create his own music just as his contemporaries were doing (and many still do).  We read of how he created Air with Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall as well as the groups that followed.  

I was lucky enough to experience Air, hubkapaphone (that's a story unto itself) and all, in concert in Battell Chapel in New Haven.  It was the Summer after Nessa Records of Chicago had issued "Air Time", the trio's first American release.  The music moved in multiple directions with melodies coming from all three musicians, rhythms stopping and starting seemingly at will––McCall was an amazing percussionist, Hopkins a brilliant bassist with a true melodic bent, and Threadgill's tart alto sax sound pushed and pulled at the fabric of the material.  One can still echoes of that sound in the music Threadgill creates today.

That said, the book illuminates how the composer organizes his groups, how he mixes and matches disparate sounds, how he's more fascinated by "flow" than by "rhythm", how he and his groups deconstruct and rebuild the compositions throughout every performance.  Henry Threadgill is more interested in performance than recording, fascinated by how the musicians he plays with and/or conducts deal with time and with the flow of the intervals inside the music.  When you return to listen to any one of his myriad recordings after reading this book, you'll hear his music with different ears, hearing the "architecture" of each song as well as the influence of the blues on the Sextett albums, the world music components of the Make a Move ensemble, and how ZOOID mixes composition and improvisation so that one can not tell where one starts and the other ends. 

In a year that has seen new biographies of Sonny Rollins and Chick Webb. "Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music" is a "must-read" for music lovers.  The book goes a long way to shed light on the continually creative mind of Henry Threadgill, never dwelling on either awards or disappointments but telling a story that displays great humanity in spite of any and all roadblocks.  

 

In addition to the new book, there is a new Threadgill album.  "The Other One" (Pi Recordings), recorded live in May of 2022 at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn, NY, features the 12-member Henry Threadgill Ensemble composed of musicians who are members of ZOOID, the Double Up Ensemble, and several newcomers to the Threadgill universe.  The ensemble plays "Of Valence", a three-movement composition influenced by percussionist Milford Graves' study of the human heartbeat and its integration into music.  "Movements I" and "III" are broken into nine sections with the ninth being the "Finale" (in both).  Meanwhile "Movement II" is 16:24 long with distinct sections but not broken up like the others.  Even though the instrumentation is different than any other of his groups, you can the various trademarks of the Threadgill oeuvre: the long, winding, melody lines, the deep tones of tuba and cello for the bottom, rhythms that suggest swing, blues, African music, and more.  What's different is the short sections that curtail long solos but do listen to how the composer/conductor moves the sounds through the band and how they come together.

Photo: Jeenah Moon/NYTimes
Listen to "The Other One" all the way through because that will help bring the music into focus. There's an excerpt below but it's like reading a short quote from a long book. Listening to music, especially "concert" music, is usually a cumulative experience. We remember moments of the pieces, the emotions we felt, perhaps an impressive solo or the rhythms that made us tap our feet.  All three "Movements" of "Of Valence" start quietly before other instruments are added. The composer does that to pique our interest––where will the music go next, who's taking the next solo, etc.?  There are many moments of strong musicianship here from violinist Sara Caswell, clarinetist Noah Becker, pianist David Virelles, percussionist Craig Weinrib, and the bravura of work of Jose Davila (tuba) and Christopher Hoffman (cello).  That's not to discount the work of the others (all personnel listed below).  The Henry Threadgill Ensemble, its leader, and his music shines brightly on "The Other One"! 

For more information including listening to and purchasing this music, go to  https://henrythreadgill.bandcamp.com/album/the-other-one

Personnel:

Henry Threadgill – composer & conductor
Alfredo Colón Рalto saxophone
Noah Becker – alto saxophone, clarinet
Peyton Pleninger – tenor saxophone
Craig Weinrib – percussion, electronics
Sara Caswell – violin
Stephanie Griffin – viola
Mariel Roberts – cello
Christopher Hoffman – cello
Jose Davila – tuba
David Virelles – piano
Sara Schoenbeck – bassoon
Adam Cordero – bassoon


Here's a taste of "The Other One":