Friday, January 26, 2024

Confluence of the Basses

 Here we have three relatively new releases from three fine bassists and songwriters. This is powerful music that jumps out of the speakers and pulls the listener in.

"Ultraviolet" (Contagious Music) is the third album by the quartet of Billy Mohler (bass, compositions), Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet), Shane Endsley (trumpet), and Nate Wood (drums).  Like the previous two, the music is built upon the hardy interplay of bass and drums while the sax and trumpet often weave melodies around each other.  While this ensemble's shape is based on the classic Ornette Coleman lineup on the Atlantic Records he made with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and either Billy Higgins or Ed Blackwell, the short opening track "Matador" leads one to believe that the real influence in the music is Dave Holland's 1973 classic ECM recording "Conference of the Birds" (with Sam Rivers, Anthony Braxton, and Barry Altshul). You can hear it in the interactions on tracks such as "The Wait" and "Aberdeen" as well as in the short, free-form, "Disorder II" and "I".  Only one track exceeds five minutes and that's the closing "Reconstruction" (7:57) –– after an excellent bass intro, the well-designed melody opens to strong solos from Speed and Endsley. Even though Wood does not solo, his drums are upfront in the mix and you hear how he listens to and prods the soloists.

Photo: Jenny Rolapp
"Ultraviolet" stands out for numerous reasons (compositions, musicianship, great sound quality) but especially because the music sounds so alive.  Released in October 2023, it's one of the better releases of that year or any year!

For more information, go to To hear more of the bassist's fine music and to purchase the albums, go to

Here's the title track:

Bassist Ethan Philion released his second album "Gnosis" (Sunnyside Records) in October of 2023, just 13 months after his powerful debut "Meditations on Mingus". The earlier album featured a wonderful 10-person ensemble playing the bassist's rearrangements of eight classic Charles Mingus compositions. The new album features three stalwarts of the Chicago Creative Music scene including Greg Ward (alto saxophone), Dana Hall (drums), and Russ Johnson (trumpet).  The six-song program features five Philion originals and one Charles Mingus but what a track!  The quartet swings, soars, roars, and explores its way through "What Love", the older bassist's musical contraction of "What Is This Thing Called Love" and "You Don't Know What Love Is". First recorded on "Charles Mingus Presents Mingus" in 1960 with trumpeter Ted Curson, multi-reed artist Eric Dolphy, and drummer Danny Richmond, the free-wheeling performance set the tone for a number of jazz artists of the early-to-mid 60s.

If the classic Mingus Quartet is the influence for the shape and sound of Philion's ensemble, his original compositions stand out for how he writes pieces to the strength of his group, how the music music builds on tradition without sounding stuffy or imitative, and how the power in the rhythm section (Hall and Philion are a muscular duo!) gives the front line music to work with.  There are "kick butt" pieces such as the rollicking opener "The Boot" plus "Sheep Shank" and the exploratory "Comment Section".  For a much different feel, listen below to "Nostalgia".  Philion's bass opening sounds like rain falling on the windows which leads to Johnson's somber melody line.  Ward warbles in the background while Hall adds percussion sounds.  When the trumpet and sax complete the opening theme in unison, the music takes on the feel of its title.  The pure tone of the alto sax blends with high, finely-etched trumpet before Ward takes off on an excellent wide-ranging solo. The rhythm section picks on his energy and really pushes the music higher.

The title track closes the program. Starting slowly, the music agains gains power as as it struts fowards with the rhythm section feediong off the interwoven lines created by the sax and trumpet.  This is the kind of music that sounds so alive and you want to be in the room as it is being created. "Gnosis" should warm the hearts of listeners who love adventurous music, excellent soloists, and musicians who really listen and create!  With his first two albums, Ethan Philion has shown he is a musical force to be reckoned with.

To learn more and to purchase the album, go to

Here's "Nostalgia":

For his fourth album (and third for Sunnyside Records) as a leader, bassist and composer Gui Duvignau pared his group down to a trio and decided to record live.  "Live in Red Hook" finds him in the company of pianist Jacob Sacks and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell performing a program and nine originals plus one tune each by Ron Carter ("Eighty-One") and Baden Powell ("Deixa").  The trio deconstructs the Carter piece before diving into the recognizable melody while the lovely ballad by Powell gets the gentle touch.  The album opener "Idee Fixe" illustrates how the three musicians listen closely and interact and how comfortable they are with "opening up" the music.  Ellman-Bell really pushes Sacks' playful solo forward while the leader holds the center. Listen below to "Right? Wow!" for another example of the trio's playfulness and cat-like ability to instantly change directions.

Photo: Tatiana Kahvegian
Duvignau's composition are not only witty but also well-constructed.  "Miniature for Drums" has a gentle melody line that bass and piano keep repeating Ellman-Bell plays his cymbals and floor toms.   "One at a Time" has a Herbie Nichols-feel in the rising melody line –– the bassist is also quite melodic through the thematic sections, moving to a strong "walking" bass line while Sacks dances on piano.  The pianist also stands out on "Still Untitled" stating the melody with classical precision (with a slight sense of anarchy in the two-handed dance at times). The bass and drums happily play around through the solo, stopping, starting, bouncing, whispering, anything but playing it safe.     

The album closes with "Scriabingus" which reads like a skin ailment or what it really is, a piece influenced by two very different composers.  It gives the listener the opportunity to hear the leader create an impressive solo.  But, note how Sacks and Ellman-Bell acquit themselves in the service of the far-ranging composition.  "Live in Red Hook" was recorded over two nights in the Coffey Street Studios in Brooklyn –– if you are a fan of adventurous but not "free" music, you should dig into this new release from Guy Duvignau. It will bring a smile to your face and mind!

For more information and to purchase the album, go to

Give a listen to "Right? Wow!":

Thursday, January 4, 2024

The Music That Made 2023 Special (Pt 2) – Let's Hear it for the Ladies

 My original plan was not to isolate the recordings made by women into a separate post but these albums are so good that I could not resist. 

Jo Lawry – "Acrobats" (Whirlwind Recordings) –  What a real treat is this most delightful of Trio albums.  Here, Ms. Lawry's voice is supported, pushed, prodded, cushioned by the excellent playing of bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Allison Miller.  The title track, composed by fellow Australian Gian Slater, perfectly describes not only the lives of musicians in the 21st Century but also the exploratory nature of this program.  The majority of the program is made of "standards" but there is absolutely nothing standard about this album.  This listener found himself exclusively listening to the album over the course of a full week.  Never too late to take the leap into this album!!

For more information, go to Check out and/ or purchase the album by going to

Here's the Trio "Taking a Chance on Love":

Nicole Zuraitis – "How Love Begins" (OutsideIn Music) –  The genesis of singer, songwriter, and pianist Zuratis's fifth album as a leader was a meeting with bassist Christian McBride in 2018 who heard her playing in a New York City piano bar and said "we should do something together".  The results of the duo working out the details amidst the Pandemic slowdown are a pure delight. Ms. Zuraitis's vocal work is the most assured of her career and co-Producer McBride makes sure we also hear what a fine pianist she is.  With her husband Dan Pugach on drums, the sound is filled out by guitarist Gilad Hekselman, Maya Kronfeld on keys, and Mr. McBride's bass pushing the proceedings forward, this program is quite strong and quite listenable.

Listen to "Let Me Love You":

Magos Herrera – "Aire" (Sunnyside Records) – 2023 was the year this listener truly discovered the brilliant and adventurous Mexican-born vocalist Magos Herrera.  I had heard of her before but this year, a deeper dive was called for.  What a supple, emotional, and often stunning voice –– when she inhabits the song, you may not understand the words but, pay attention, you'll get the message.  Surrounded by her "working" trio of guitarist Vinicius Gomes, bassist Sam Minaie, and drummer Alex Kautz plus a slew of guests (including an "orchestra" conducted by Eric and Colin Jacobsen), this music sounds alive, full of possibility, aware of the sufferings of the heart but open to hope.  The 12-song program includes classic songs, originals, brilliant arrangements, and that marvelous voice.

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

Here's the title track:

Edward Simon, Featuring Magos Herrera – "Femeninas" (ArtistShare) – Right around the same date "Aire" was issued came the new ArtistShare project from pianist Edward Simon.  Subtitled "Songs of Latin American Women", the program is that and more. Ms. Herrera joins Simon, bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Adam Cruz, and percussionist Luis Quintero (plus guest Romero Lubambo playing guitar on several tracks) performing a 11-song program of works associated with Joyce Moreno (Brazil), Elizabeth (Chile), Chabuca Granda (Perú), Violetta Parra (Chile), Marta Valdés (Cuba), Rosa Passos (Brazil), and Georgina Hassan (Argentina).  The excellent arrangements, the splendid musicianship, and the wonderful vocals makes this a "project for the ages".  

For more information, go to

Watch Mr. Simon and Ms. Herrera perform two pieces from the "Femeninas" project:

Gretchen Parlato & Lionel Loueke – "Lean In" (Edition Records) – This is an intimate collection of songs from two fine musicians who have known each other several decades. Basically a duo album (there are several guest contributors) but the focus of the music is on the interplay of the voice and guitar. Both leaders brought music to the sessions yet the program feels and sounds organic.  Mr. Loueke's guitar work is superlative throughout as are Ms. Parlato's vocals –– it's amazing how rhythmical this music is, how percussive the guitar work can be, and how sweet the results are.  Let's hope this is just the first Editions Recording of this splendid duo.

For more information, go to

Listen to the delightfully sweet "Nonvignon":

Pt. 3 will include the rest of the list but, for now, there's much to explore here.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The Music that Made 2023 Special (Part 1)

 Last year was, overall, a great year for music and a stressful one for this writer. No need to go into details as my paucity of postings since the summer speaks volumes.  Nevertheless, there were numerous recordings that absolutely captivated my brain; the best of them are listed below (and in a subsequent posting).

Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra – "The Gennett Suite" (Patois Records) – Have to say this album captivated me from the opening notes to the final fade.  The BWJO tells the story of Bloomington, Indiana-based Gennett Records that, in the 1920s, was the first label to record King Oliver with Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, Bix Beiderbecke plus Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton.  Arranger Mark Wallarab does a splendid job making the music sound fresh (Carmichael's "Stardust" is a real gem) and the band, made up mostly of musicians from the Midwest, in particular Indianapolis and Chicago, plays with fervor, joy, and love.  Listen closely and you'll hear echoes of Duke Ellington, Chick Webb, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, and more; that makes sense as those artists and many others built their music around any and all of the artists featured on this album.

For more information, go to

Here's Joseph "King" Oliver's "Davenport Blues":

Anthony Branker & Imagine – "What Place Can Be For Us" (Origin Records) – As I wrote when the album was released "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."  Dr. Branker, currently on the Music Faculty of Rutgers University, continues to impress with his ability to blend music and story to illuminate the Black experience in America.  With a cracking band including Fabian Almazan (piano), Linda May Han Oh (bass), Pete McCann (guitars), Philip Dizack (trumpet), Walter Smith III (tenor sax), Remy Le Boeuf (alto and soprano saxes), Donald Edwards (drums), and the voice of Alison Crockett, Dr. Branker's music sparkles, shivers, roars, soothes, and shines throughout.  What he and the musicians should keep the involved listeners on their toes in this election.  

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

Here is "Sundown Town":

James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet – "For Mahalia, With Love" (Tao Forms) – Tenor saxophonist Lewis returns to the Red Lily Quintet –– Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Chris Hoffman (cello), William Parker (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums) –– the same group that recorded "Jesup Wagon", his tribute to Dr. George Washington Carver.  For this brilliant recording, Lewis not only pays tribute to the great 20th Century gospel artist but also to his grandmother who instilled the love of music into the young boy who was amazed by her love of the music.  Lewis and the RLQ do not play it safe, taking inspiration not only from the gospel material but from the power of improvisation as well as the work of Archie Shepp, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and other great tenor players who felt the fire emanating from the church music.  

For more information and to purchase the album, go to

Here's "Swing Low":

Rudy Royston Flatbed Buggy – "Day" (Greeenleaf Music) – The second gem to be recorded by drummer/ composer Royston and his simpatico ensemble composed of John Ellis (bass clarinet and clarinet), Hank Roberts (cello), Gary Versace (accordion), and Joe Martin (bass), the 10-song album is more of an "interior" album than the Quintet's 2018 debut. While still inspired by his childhood in Texas, the new album is built upon compositions that the drummer created during the pandemic with these musicians in mind. Whi]lew the music is quite impressive, the sound of this ensemble really stands out. Each instrument is distinct in the mix, each musician contributes to the success of the music, and it's a true joy to listen to these people play!  

For more information, go to

Listen to "Thank You for This Day":

Tyshawn Sorey Trio – "Continuing" (Pi Recordings) – Jazz piano trio fans, take notice –– here's an ensemble that has much to offer.  Drummer and conceptualist Sorey plays in so many types of settings that one might consider his albums with pianist Aaron Diehl and bassist Matt Brewer as a move back toward the mainstream. Who cares?  This is a fascinating program; four long performances of pieces by Ahmad Jamal, Harold Mabern, Wayne Shorter, and the classic standard "Angel Eyes" by Matt Dennis, each one with standout performances. Diehl shines throughout (gives this person a MacArthur Genius Grant so he can realize his full potential –– it certainly worked for Sorey) while Brewer and drummer are solid without being intrusive.  In fact, Sorey gives his bandmates plenty of solo space, rarely stepping out but always keeping the music moving forward.  The Mabern piece, "In What Direction Are You Headed", seriously kicks and is an excellent tribute to one of Sorey's mentors.  

Here's Mr. Shorter's "Reincarnation Blues":

More to follow!