Monday, February 19, 2024

Large Ensembles 2024 (Pt 1)

There are a slew of new Big Band albums coming in the next few months, a prospect that thrills me greatly –– here are two of the bests. 

Saxophonist, composer, and arranger Jeremy Rose, a native of Sydney, Australia, is creating quite a sound down under.  He leads or co-leads numerous groups but first came to critical notice as a member of The Vampires, a quartet he started in 2005 and that has released seven albums to date. Rose also leads a Quartet, a cooperative trio, Vazesh, that plays Persian-influenced music, another cooperative, Visions of Nar, that has Indian influences, Project Infinity, a fusion-music quartet, The Compass Quartet (four saxophones), has been a member of The Strides, a Reggae band, plus has composed for string quartets and chamber ensembles.  Many of the recordings are released on the saxophonist's Earshift Music label.   

In 2016, Rose formed the 17-member Earshift Orchestra. Its debut release, 2020's "Iron in the Blood", was based on Robert Hughes' "The Fatal Shore", a book that explored Australia's colonial history. The Orchestra was pared down to eight members for 2022's "Disruption! The Voice of Drums", a splendid project that posited drums as a force for change and healing.  Now, the composer turns his attention to "misinformation", "alternate facts", and the proliferation of "discordant truths", a sad fact about the world in the 21st Century. "Discordia" finds the EO back to 17-members plus the leader (soprano sax, bass clarinet) working nine Rose originals. Pushing and prodding the ensemble is the fine young Korean-Australian drummer Chloe Kim. In fact, the first sounds one hears in the program's opening minute is Ms. Kim's powerful rhythm setting the pace for "Vera Discordia (Part 1)"–– Watch and listen below to the thundering drums blending with the languid brass and reeds as they all combine to raise the temperature. 

As one settles in to the album, the composer's intentions become clearer.  Even as certain moments promise tranquility (listen to the piano solo on "Vera Discordia Pt. 2)"), the reeds and brass bark back or during the trumpet solo that follows, guitarist Hilary Geddes is chattering underneath.  The interactions are clear throughout even on the "freer" moments of "Floating Just Beyond Reach" or on the "pop music" sounds of "Bring Back The Nineties".  The slow ballad "Unverified Persona" features a powerful bass clarinet solo from Rose and his soprano spotlight on "Just For Laughs" displays the influence of Wayne Shorter.  The program closes with the very funky "Echo Chamber", a piece that shines the spotlight on the rhythm section with a delightful turn from guitarist Geddes, the electric piano work of Novak Manojlovic, the thumping electric bass of Jacques Emery, and Ms. Kim's "dancing" drums.  There's also a fine give-and-take from tenor saxophone and trombone plus a stunning buildup that leads to the final fade.  

It's a shame that the liner notes don't credit the reed and brass soloists but other than that, "Discordia" is a commanding work.  This is music that feels "alive", even in the studio, with an original approach to the "traditional" Big Band sound.  Listen closely; you might hear tinges of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and the work of Bob Brookmeyer and Jim McNeely.  No fake news here –– Jeremy Rose & the Earshift Orchestra is a force to be reckoned with. 

For more information, go to  To purchase this album anc check out more of Mr. Rose's fine discography, go to  Release date is Friday, March 1, 2024.  


TESSIE OVERMEYER, alto sax, HINANO FUJISAKI, alto sax, MICHAEL AVGENICOS, tenor sax, LACHLAN HAMILTON, tenor sax, NICK BOWD, baritone sax



CHLOE KIM, drums

JEREMY ROSE, conductor, soprano saxophone (track 6) and bass clarinet (track 3 and 8)

Watch the Band on "Vera Discordia (Pt 1)":

I first heard pianist, composer, arranger, and bandleader Neal Kirkwood in the 1990s on a series of releases (2 quartet, one octet) for the now-defunct Timescraper Records. Since moving to New York City from California in the early 1990s, he's worked with drummer Bobby Previte, bassist Lindsay Horner, the late saxophonist Pony Poindexter (1926-1988), and also accompanying vocalists Chris Connor, Abbey Lincoln, and Bobby McFerrin. Besides his multiple teaching gigs, Mr. Kirkwood also leads a number of various sized ensembles but currently his focus is on his 17-member Big Band.

The NKBB's debut recording is dubbed "Night City" (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records) –– if you look at the personnel list below, you should recognize many of the names. While the 12-song program does not have an over-arching theme, the music may remind some of walking through the "club district" of a big city and hearing all types of music spilling out into the street.  There's the playful nod to Fletcher Henderson and early Duke Ellington on "Paddy Harmon's Dreamland Ballroom", the handsome danceable melody dropping into a ballad for evocative solos from David Smith (trumpet) and Dan Block (clarinet). Bassist Jennifer Vincent's walking bass line leads the band into "Jim Knew"; listen below to all the textures the arranger supplies to the ensemble, from Diana Herold's vibraphone fills to the delightful drum work from Rob Garcia (a stalwart throughout) to the deep trombone lines to the frolicking solos from Andy Gravish (trumpet) and Bruce Williamson (alto saxophone).  

The title of the album comes from the handsome cover painting, the work of California-based artist Maurice Lapp (1925-2014).  The title track features trombonists Ed Neumeister and James Rogers (bass 'bone) as they travel through the urban night. In some ways, the music is reminiscent of the "Circe" chapter of James Joyce's "Ulysses" as the characters Stephen Daedalus and Leopold Bloom wander through "Nighttown".  The music is certainly not as thick as Joyce's language and the characters here are friends but the piece is quite evocative. Trombonist Art Baron is the featured soloist on the following track, "Alaskan Serenade", a work that the leader composed for Duke Ellington Orchestra trombonist Britt Woodman. The sounds are redolent of Mr. Ellington's music from the 1930s and 40s.  Ms. Herold overdubs marimba and vibraphone to introduce "Monolithic Attitude", the slowly unwinding melody giving way to a fast-paced interaction between the brass and reeds with the rhythm section.  Several melodies are introduced along the way before soprano saxophonist Matt Hong is off to the races with a delightful solo.  The different background voices adds into the background are great fun as well. Soon, various players to weave their solo lines around each other before the leader steps out for a raucous solo.

The program closes with "The Light of Birds", perhaps a tribute to the many species that sing through the year in Central Park (the song title is the last line of the poem "Birds, at Random" by Jacques PrĂ©vert –– read it here). The flute playing of Matt Hong and Adam Kolker stands out as does the "bird-song" arrangement of the song's opening and closing moments plus there is a fine piano solo from Mr. Kirkwood. 

There is an abundance for those listeners who choose to dive into the sounds of "Night City".  Composer and arranger Neal Kirkwood has been working on these songs and arrangements for many years but the recorded results sound fresh and alive.  The seductive arrangements, the intelligent melodies, the excellent solo work, all add up to a wonder-filled listening experience.  Dig in!

For more information, go to  You can purchase the album there! Release date is 2/23/24.


Saxes and Woodwinds:
Matt Hong
Bruce Williamson
Dan Block
Adam Kolker
Patience Higgins

Andy Gravish
Ron Horton
David Smith
James Zollar

Art Baron
Curtis Fowlkes
Ed Neumeister
James Rogers

Rhythm Section:
Neal Kirkwood, piano
Rob Garcia, drums
Jennifer Vincent, bass
Diana Herold, vibraphone

Hear the NK Big Band play "Jim Knew":

Friday, February 2, 2024

Piano Stories

 Here are two very different albums from pianists yet they share the need to tell stories through music. Most if not all of the stories are personal but, then again, for some of the us, the finest music is the mlost personal.

Elan Mehler may be best-known for his groundbreaking work with Newvelle Records as the creative head and co-producer. Mehler is also a fine pianist and has recorded 10 albums as a leader or co-leader, some released on Newvelle, others on Challenge Records, and Brownswood Records.  His newest release, "Trouble in Mind" (Sunnyside Records), is a solo recording made a month before the COVID-19 panic closed down the world in March 2020.  There's quite a story behind the album's existence (which you can read on the Bandcamp page linked below) but you should be able to tell from the first three tracks that the music was created in New Orleans. The rhythms that either permeate or are suggested on "In A Sentimental Way", "Esplanade Blues" (named for the recording studio), and "Alice's Wonderland" should lead your mind back to the work of Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton or recordings by Dr. John and Allen Toussaint.  Listen below to the Duke Ellington song and you can't help but hear in the pianist's left hand the sound of the Crescent City.

The 12-song program consists of four originals, three pieces by Duke Ellington, and one each from Richard Jones (the title track), Bill Frisell, Johnny Green & Edward Heyman, Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, and Charles Mingus ("Alice's Wonderland", first recorded by its composer in 1959).  The album has the sound and feel of a light-night/early morning set at a piano bar; the only thing is the audience reaction and clinking of glasses.  Much of this music is based in the blues and by design it's a melancholy program. Still there are moments where the joy of music overtakes the more wistful sounds; on the title track, Mehler pushes the "trouble" out. The original "Esplanade Blues" is a sly dance while another Mehler, "There at the Heart" is suffused with love.

"Trouble in Mind" has graced my CD player for several months and I never tire of sweet rhythms, rich melodies, and fine improvisations that Elan Mehler has created 53-minute program. Sit yourself down, let the music play, and enjoy.  

Here's the album opener, "n a Sentimental Mood":

Pianist and composer Lawrence Fields may be best-known for his work with saxophonist Joe Lovano in his Quartet or with Sound Prints, the Wayne Shorter-inspired Quintet co-led by Mr. Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas.  The St. Louis native has also worked and recorded with trumpeter Christian Scott, drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Jeff "Tain" Watts, and trumpeter Nicolas Payton (among many others).  One listen to Fields' debut album "To The Surface" (also the debut for the Wesseling, Germany-based Rhythm 'N' Flow Records) and you can hear why he's a great addition to any ensemble. He plays with wit, joy, power, plus he's quite melodic and quite percussive. There are a number of moments when his music brings the sound and feel of the late McCoy Tyner to mind.  Listen to the title track below, especially how the excellent rhythm section of drummer Corey Fonville (Nicolas Payton, Butcher Brown) and bassist Yasushi Nakamura (Joe Lovano, Cecile McLorin-Salvant) follow the pianist's every move and mood shift. 

It can be so much fun to hear a trio explore the ins-and-outs of material. The program opener, "Parachute" (all but one of the eight tracks are Fields' originals), take its to open up but when it does, the music has such great urgency.  The following "New Season Blues" includes a stunning unaccompanied piano solo in the middle of a rollicking performance.  I love the little nod to "When You Wish Upon a Star" in the opening and closing piano riff.  Later in the hour-long program, the trio creates a lovely ballad setting for Jules Styne/ Sammy Cahn classic "I Fall In Love Too Easily"; Nakamura's sweetly melodic bass solo opens the door to a handsome piano spot that displays Fields' generous melodicism.  

Photo: Sofia Hussein
The album closes with the hard-swinging "The Lookout"––all three musicians shine brightly throughout with creative takes on the rhythm and melody.  This is "can't sit still" creative music at its best, the powerful drums and thundering bass clearing a path for the pianist's flying fingers, the blend of muscular chords and rapid-fire single note lines shining brightly.  

"To The Surface" shines from the opening note to the closing seconds. Lawrence Fields proves with his musicianship and mature compositions that he is a fresh voice on the music scene.  With the assistance of the first-class rhythm section work of Corey Fonville and Yasushi Namamura, this recording should open many eyes and ears.  

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

Here's the title track: