Monday, December 18, 2023

Gift Ideas of the Digital Variety

Not a very clever headline but both these new recordings are worth sharing with friends and fans of creative music!

Photo: Clara Pereira
Truth be told, I've known trumpeter, composer, and arranger Ron Horton for nearly three decades. I first heard his playing as a member of the Jazz Composer's Collective and absolutely loved his 2002 Fresh Sound New Talent recording "Subtextures" (still do––check it out, the sounds are timeless, exciting, and quite adventurous).  We've chatted a few times, most recently in 2021 upon the release of the Newvelle Records collection "Kimbrough", organized by label co-head Elan Mehler upon the death of his former teacher and friend, the pianist Frank Kimbrough.  Horton and Kimbrough were both charter members of the JCC as well as great friends.  Both musicians were aficionados of the music of Andrew Hill (1931-2007)––in fact, Horton helped the older man put together a sextet and material for "Dusk" which was released by Palmetto Records in 2000 as well as 2002's Big Band recording "A Beautiful Day", also on Palmetto. After Andrew Hill passed, Horton continued to play the composer's music in his various groups, including a Dectet and Sextet.

In 2016, the trumpeter brought the Sextet––pianist Kimbrough, alto saxophonist John O'Gallagher, tenor saxophonist Marc Mommaas, bassist Dean Johnson, and drummer Tim Horner (alto saxophoniust and bass clarinetist Marty Ehrlich replaces O'Gallagher on five of the 13 tracks)––into Systems Two studios in Brooklyn, NY.  Newvelle Records usually only releases albums that they record but after hearing this music, Mehler said 
he most definitely release this music.  "A Prayer for Andrew" is a two Lp-set (also available as a digital download) that features seven Hill pieces and six Horton originals.  If you love music that pushes at borders, that roils from the inside out at times or can gently put you in a positive frame of mind, this recording is for you.  It's so good to hear more music from Kimbrough who died suddenly on December 30, 2020.  Listen to how he rolls his solo on Horton's "Home" or how he sets such a torrid pace on Hill's "15-8".  

Photo: Jimmy Katz
Scroll down and listen to the band drive through "Venture Inward", first recorded in 1968 by Hill for his "Grass Roots" album (Blue Note).  The solos, while short, have such power without losing direction.  Andrew Hill's music often flirted with free tempi yet kept moving forward, looking ahead, seeking. Check out "Dusk", a tune with an irresistible bounce to hear how the composer (in this instance, Mr. Hill), plays with the listener's expectations, blending melody and solos in such a whimsical fashion.  The program closes with "Belleza #1" (off of Hill's  2002 Big Band date, a lovely ballad that opens with a fine bass solo that opens up to Marty Ehrlich's handsome bass clarinet spot followed by a lovely piano solo (much of it unaccompanied).  Mommaas leads the rhythm section back in with a breathy, emotional, tenor solo.  He continues to improvise while the rest of the group play the theme. Such a gentle finish to a splendid album.

"A Prayer For Andrew" is not considered a "tribute album" by Ron Horton or his collaborators. His various groups have not only played this music for many years, they also have lived inside it. The spirit of Andrew Hill can be felt strongly when the band plays these songs––it is music that defies genres whie it sings to all of us.

For more information and to purchase the album, go to for vinyl and/or to for digital.

Listen to "Venture Inward":

Guitarist and composer Anthony Pirog is an ambitious musician who is one of the more adventurous musicians on the modern scene. He rarely if ever repeats himself and sets a new challenge with each project.  Several years ago, the guitarist reached out to fellow players and asked them to create an "ambient" track that he would then improvise over. Many he asked were friends but he also "reached" for and received music from Andy Summers (The Police) and Brandon Ross.  The results can be heard on "The Nepenthe Series: Volume I" (Otherly Love Records).  Even if you are familiar with the guitarist's earlier recordings, chances are good you'll be surprised by these nine tracks.  Because this is an ambient setting, the music is not concerned with "shredding" or technical proficiency; instead, Pirog and partners have created a soundtrack that stands apart from any you may have encountered.

Webster's Dictionary defines nepenthe as "a potion used by the ancients to induce forgetfulness of pain or sorrow" and "something capable of causing oblivion of grief or suffering"––still, this music challenges both the creators and the listener to pay attention and to get lost in the sounds. The program opens with "Aurora" created by John Frusciante (of The Red Hot Chili Peppers); the music floats atop a low-note drone with tones that swell and shrink and electronic "raindrops" back in the mix.  Summers contributes "Inflorescence". The handsome melody Pirog creates over the shimmering guitars and quiet chords has an emotional pull unlike anything else on the album.  In comparison, "Night Winds" (created by Wendy Eisenberg) has a thunderstorm of white noise and static plus a chilling melody line that never resolves. Pirog adds distorted guitar that maintains the mood.

Listen below "Ripples of Light", the track that closes the album. Nels Cline's drones serve as an antithesis to Ms. Eisenberg's darker music. In fact, this music often floats and you can't really separate what each guitarist brings to the music. Why should you?  Just sit back, close your eyes, be surprised, be calmed, and forget the craziness of the world around you.  Creativity takes many shapes on "The Nepenthe Series: Vol. I" so grab your headphones, dim the lights, and explore the possibilities.

For more information and to purchase the recording, go to

Hear Anthony Pirog with Nels Cline on "Ripples of Light":

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