Friday, April 5, 2024

Saxophones A'Plenty (Part Two) – Three Quartets

This post features three quartets led by tenor saxophonists who double on other reeds, two that  have the same type of lineup –– saxophone, piano, bass, and drums (same drummer on both albums) –– and one that substitutes guitar for piano.

Photo: Dave Stapleton
Chris Potter signed with Edition Records in 2019 and each one of his five releases show a different side.  Last year's "Got the Keys to the Kingdom" was recorded live at The Village Vanguard and featured Potter with Craig Taborn (piano), Scott Colley (bass), and Marcus Gilmore (drums).  His latest album, "Eagle's Point", is also a quartet date but with a totally different lineup –– Brad Mehldau (piano), John Patitucci (bass), and Brian Blade (drums). Just seeing those names should be enough to make one purchase the album or, at the very least, listen to it.  You should because it's good music and great fun.

"Dream of Home" gently opens the eight-song program but as soon as the leader begins to solo, the proceedings heat up. The bassist and drummer spent two+ decades with Wayne Shorter's last Quartet and they absolutely know how to support, how to push the soloists, and how much to add.  Patitucci's handsome bass opening (such a lovely tone!) leads the band into "Cloud Message". Potter's tenor playing so assured, his notes so articulate even as he flies through a solo. Throughout the album, Mehldau not only plays with authority (is that Bud Powell showing through on his solos) but also his comping is so delightfully post-bop.  Listen below to the title track –– the music is playful, slightly funky (check out the song's chorus), and the rhythm section is so "tight yet loose".  

Photo montage: Dave Stapleton
Among the the highlights is the African-influenced tune "Indigo IIdiko" which finds the leader on bass clarinet. There's such a melodious feel to Potter's tone as well as splendid solos by Patitucci and Mehldau with the latter reminding this listener of Keith Jarrett's work with the Charles Lloyd Quartet.  Potter switches to tenor sax for his solo which moves the piece more towards the mainstream.  "Aria for Anna" finds Potter on soprano sax where his lovely tone is perfect for the ballad where the only other instrument for 2/3rds of the song is the piano.  Mehldau, one of the best at painting pictures through melody, is the perfect match for the leader's soaring solo. It's easy to miss the bass and drums when they enter but they add just the right colors.

The album closes with "Horizon Dance", a piece with rhythms that incorporate South American influences.  The bassist is at his best here interacting with the saxophonist, playing off his riffs while the drummer gleefully dances. Mehldau keeps up the heat with his own spicy solo. Blade gets a moment to "strut his stuff" before the Quartet returns to the opening theme to close the program.

"Eagle's Point" is yet another feather in the expansive cap that is the career of Chris Potter. The majority of the music and musicianship exudes joy with nary a false note.  Listen up! Good music is infectious.

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

Here's the title track:

I am a long-time fan of the music of Charles Lloyd; he rarely disappoints with his music. While I receive many recordings to review from publicists, Blue Note releases rarely show up so I buy them. Once I heard tracks from Mr. Lloyd's new album, there was no way I could ignore the music.  The 15-song, 91-minute album, features a quartet with veteran Jason Moran (piano), Larry Grenadier (bass), and newcomer Brian Blade (drums) 

"The Sky Will Be There Tomorrow" is the 86-year old Lloyd's 51st album and first studio date since 2017.  He's always favored the quartet setting although he's been more adventurous with lineups since joining Blue Note nearly a decade ago. The energy that emanates from this recording is powerfully positive whether the music is meditative (as on the opening "Defiant, Tender Warrior" or the ballad "The Ghost of Lady Day"), fiery (as on the tenor-piano take of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" where the duo take the piece "out" is a flurry of Gospel chords) or rhythmically adventurous (as on the flute-driven "Booker's Garden" and the playful "Monk's Dance"). Listen below to the last track listed in the previous sentence. After a powerfully rollicking intro by Moran, the rest of the band enters and the piece takes off.  Blade certainly can swing while Grenadier is both melodic and pulsating.

One should listen to this album in its entirety each time. There are so many masterful moments.  The fire that Mr. Lloyd creates in his sparring with Blade and then Moran on the opening several minutes of the title track is one as is the piano solo on the same track. The beauty and open feeling of "Balm in Gilead" is lovely as is the long, exploratory, gentle "Cape to Cairo" near the close of Side 4 or disc 2.  

By the time you reach the final track, "Defiant Reprise; Homeward Dove", the music should have changed you. Here are four master musicians led by a person who moved from his hometown, Memphis TN, to Los Angeles in 1956, starting a career that has spanned nearly seven decades, a musician who has recorded numerous standout recordings with musicians from around the world.  Listen closely, listen deeply –– the rewards are endless!

For more information, go to  The link to his music is there as well as his 2024 tour schedule and more.

Here's "Monk's Dance":

Photo: William Brown
Saxophonist and composer Dayna Stephens has a new Quartet and a new album.  Since his 2015 kidney transplant, Stephens has issued five albums as a leader, a fusion album underneath the name of Pluto Juice, and appeared as a sideman on numerous albums including releases by Linda May Han Oh, Johannes Wallman, Massimo Biolcati, and Ethan Iverson & the Umbria Jazz Orchestra (among others).  It's easy to understand why he's so popular as his sound on tenor is full but never over-blown, his soprano playing is melodic and not shrill, and his ever-maturing work on EWI humanizes the electronic instrument.

For his new "working" ensemble, the atmospheric sounds of young guitarist Emmanuel Michael (born in South Dakota to Ugandan and South Sudanese parents) stand out alongside the rhythm section of Kanoa Mendenhall (bass), and Jongkuk Kim (drums). Stephens first met the guitarist in 2022 when Michael was a student at Manhattan School of Music and a member of his ensemble. This ensemble went into a New York City studio in May of 2023 and recorded "Closer Than You Think", Stephens' first album for Cory Weeds Cellar Live Records.  It's Michael's sweet guitar one hears first as it leads the band in on his composition  "Bubbly".  Listen below to how easily the rhythm section creates a flow for the leader's tenor sax and the guitar.  This is one of several times on the 11-song program that this music is reminiscent of the collaboration of Charles Lloyd with guitarist John Abercrombie.  

Photo: William Brown
Like Mr. Lloyd, this music often has an "open" feel.  The way that Ms. Mendenhall and Kim move under the music allows both the leader and guitarist to go on lengthy solo journeys.  "The Nomad" (the first of three pieces composed by Stephens) is a delightful sonic experience –– just sit back and get lost in the music. "Scrutiny" (another of Stephens' pieces) is more frenetic pushed hard by Kim's powerful drumming.  Wayne Shorter's "E.S.P." adds producer Jeremy Pelt's trumpet to the Quartet. The funky undertow allows the soloists to move freely around the melody with Michael's guitar work raising the temperature of the music.  The guitarist's other composition, "Placate", may remind some of songs by Bill Frisell, especially the work he created alongside Joe Lovano and the late Paul Motian –– Stephens' solo has a gentle quality as it moves effortlessly over the rhythm section and guitar counterpoint.

Near the close of the program, the band plays pianist Julian Shore's gentle bossa-nova "Back Home".  It's here that the leader switches to EWI; before his enchanting solo, bassist Mendenhall creates a melodic solo of his own with Michael's finger-picked acoustic guitar moving dancing beneath him.  The program ends with "Placate (reprise)", first a duet for guitar and bass, closing with Stephens' tenor leading the way to a gentle finish.

The more I listen to "Closer Than We Think", the more I enjoy the interactions of the quartet, the breadth of the material (including pieces by pianist David Berkman and Ms. Mendenhall's appealing "Te" with the leader on soprano sax), and how it's easy to fall under its spell.  Dayna Stephens continues his growth as a musician and interpreter as well as very good judge of talent.  Get lost in these grooves – you will better for the adventure!
For more information, go to To hear more and to buy the album, go to

Here's the opening track, "Bubbly":

Monday, March 25, 2024

Saxophones A'Plenty (Part One)

Over the last several months, I have received a slew of excellent albums that feature the saxophonist as a leader or co-leader.  Here are the three of the best.  

In March of 2022, Argentinean-born saxophonist and composer Julieta Eugenio's debut Trio album. "Jump", was issued on Greenleaf Music.  Backed by Hartford, CT-born Jonathan Barber (drums) and Hartford-area resident Matt Dwonszyk (bass), the music displayed the leader's melodic tendencies and softer tones on the tenor. Even better, the rhythm section joined in the conversation, making the music come alive.  Ms. Eugenio composes music that leaves plenty of space for her compatriots to display their talents –– overall, a solid effort that made one wish for more.

Now we have "Stay", her second release on her own label, Christalyn Records.  With the exception of two duets with Leo Genovese playing Fender Rhodes, the new recording features Messrs. Barber and Dwonszyk.  The two years between recording dates shows a band that has gelled even more through numerous gigs. Listen below to the title track.  Dwonszyk's bass sets the pace pushed ahead by Barber's drums while the leader paints a handsome and somewhat mysterious canvas with her Middle-Eastern sounding melodies that dance out of the tenor.  "Trapped" follows with its modified samba beat and various tempo shifts. The vocal quality of the tenor sax meshes well with the bassist's counterpoint. One can hear a tinge of Charles Lloyd in Ms. Eugenio's sweet tone.  One hears it in "Sunday Stranger" as well plus even a touch of Lester Young in the saxophonist's melodic bent.

Photo: Alexx Duvall
There are four duets, each carrying the title "Breath" ("I-IV"), scattered through the 10-song program. The first two feature Genovese; "1" opens with solo tenor before the Rhodes enters and the music takes on the feels of a walk through a rain forest.  "II" starts in a more stately manner with a classical feel and maintaining that throughout the piece. "III" and "IV" feature Ms. Eugenio in musical dialogue with Barber. The former track finds the tenor dancing atop the African-inspired drum while the latter cut dances to a darker beat. It's more sensuous, a touch of Persian rhythms for the whisper-soft tenor to improvise over.

Before "Breath IV" closes the album, Ms. Eugenio and the rhythm section dig into Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady".  After a lovely unaccompanied tenor saxophone opening, the piece becomes a sweet, slow, ballad. Here you hear a touch of Ben Webster in the saxophonist's sound. Barber's brushes, at times, sound like gentle sighs while the melodic bass accompaniment pushes the saxophonist to dig deeper during her long improvisation.  The bass solo features short snippets of several other Ellington melodies before Ms. Eugenio returns on the bridge and then to a sweet final verse and cadenza.

"Stay" is an excellent leap forward for Julieta Eugenio.  Her debut Trio release introduced the world to her sound and ideas while the new album allows her more freedom of movement. Kudos to both Jonathan Barber and Matt Dwonszyk for their splendid work.  If you like saxophone-led trios that simmer instead of burn, that favor well-developed melodies instead of long solo-filled tunes,  take an extended dive into "Stay". 

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

Here's the title track:

In November of 2022, tenor saxophonist and composer Willie Morris went into a Brooklyn, New York, studio and recorded his debut album as a leader. Aptly named "Conversation Starter", the album was released on Posi-Tone Records to positive reviews.  Less than three months later, he returned to the same studio (Acoustic Recording) to record "Attentive Listening" for Posi-Tone. Alto saxophonist and flutist Patrick Cornelius plus pianist Jon Davis return from the first session while bassist Boris Kozlov takes the place of Adi Meyerson and Rudy Royston takes over the drum chair from E.J. Strickland.  The first five tracks of the 10-song program are Morris originals while both Cornelius and Davis provide two pieces each and Kenny Dorham's "La Mesha" (composed by the trumpeter for Joe Henderson's 1963 album "Page One") is a lovely ballad.  Morris, a native of St. Louis, MO, now on the faculty of his alma mater The Juilliard School in New York City, is a perfect fit for producer Marc Free's label as he can swing like crazy plus is a strong writer.  

The program opens with the John Coltrane-inspired "Water Fountain of Youth".  The rhythm section sets a fiery pace (Davis channels McCoy Tyner in his powerful chordal work) and after a quick reading of the theme, Morris takes off on a powerful solo –– to his credit, his sound leans more to the afore-mentioned Joe Henderson than "Trane".  Cornelius (on alto) and Davis follow both riding the waves of energy produced by Kozlov and Royston.  Instead of continuing in the no-holds-barred mode, "Terminal Lucidity" follows; it's a contemplative ballad that takes its time to work through the main theme. The leader's solo is introspective and so melodic. Pianist Davis follows for a short yet rich solo before the reeds return to the main theme.  Listen below to "The Imitation Game" to hear how the quintet handles a hard-bop tune.  Love how the bass and drums leap out of the speakers setting a "wicked" pace. The soloists have such a great time matching their energy to the rhythm section. It all makes the music snap, crackle, and pop! 

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Later on in the program, Davis's "Moving Right Along" balances between two tempos during the opening thematic section before Cornelius's lively alto leads way into the solos. Morris follows, at first tamping down the energy of his enthusiastic predecessor before he catches fire which leads to a sparkling piano solo over Royston's rollicking drum work.  Cornelius switches to alto flute for  his piece "Leaving Paradise".  It's a lovely bossa nova with opportunities for delightful solos from Davis and Morris (displaying more than a hint of Stan Getz in his fine solo).  "Et Tu, Caribou?", also from Cornelius, bounces like one of the mid-1940s Charlie Parker cuts that earned so much fame. The composer leads the solo parade with a swinging romp before Morris enters ––  he sounds as if he's having time of his life dancing over the changes.  Davis follows with his own romp. There's room for Royston to strut his own stuff before the theme returns.

The album closes with Davis's "Daly Minor Blues" for two. The solo piano opening is so fine and introduces Morris who plays the main melody with the pianist.  The tenor solo opens with the gravitas of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster before Morris takes flight.  The composer plays a modified "barrelhouse"-style solo that is quite witty. Then, the two musicians take the tune out bring this most delightful program to a gentle close.

"Attentive Listening" calls for just that. Pay attention to what Willie Morris and this fine band are playing for a most satisfying experience. 

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

Dive into "The Imitation Game":

Here's an intriguing grouping, a trio led by Dan Weiss (drums, compositions) and featuring Miguel Zenón (alto saxophone) and Matt Mitchell (piano). For Weiss's new album, "Even Odds" (Cygnus Recordings), the drummer composed six of the 20 pieces with the remainder being created from snippets of solo drum pieces that he recorded and his bandmates soloed over.  Because the leader has such "big ears", this music goes in multiple directions. The opening piece, "It Is What It Is", jumps out of the gate like a trimmed-down but sped-up version of Keith Jarrett's "The Windup" (from his 1974 recording "Belonging" with Jan Garbarek, Jon Christensen, and Palle Danielsson). The music has a reckless abandon feel yet never loses its way (which is amazing because there are moments when the three musicians are soloing at the same time).

Listen below to hear how the trio navigates through "The Children of Uvalde".  It's a mournful tune dedicated to the victims and survivors of the 2022 school shooting in their small Texas town.  Zenón plays one of the most powerful, emotionally moving, solos of his career followed by an impressive and evocative Mitchell solo. The program features pieces named for drummers such as "Bu" (a shortened version of Art Blakey's Buhaina nickname) and "Max Roach" (self-explanatory) plus "Nusrat" (for Pakistani singer Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan).  There's the occasional drum solo ("Recover the Mindset", "Too Many Outs", and "Bribes and Ultimatums") but really the focus is on the trio.  That the three musicians could create such impressive sounds from the sketches of rhythms Weiss created is also most impressive.  Tracks such as "Runner-Runner" and "Nineteen to the Dozen", though short (56 seconds and 1:13), sound through-composed. 

This is such an interesting sonic journey, one that never runs out of ideas or surprises. "Fathers and Daughters" is another lovely ballad, more like a lullaby, with such quiet percussion, an introspective alto sax solo, and and folk-like piano chords.  "Conversing With Stillness" starts off in a hurry but slows down into a very slow pace not unlike certain piano works by Erik Satie. The afore-mentioned "Nusrat" brings the program to a close. There is a real bounce in both the alto saxophonist's melodic lines and Weiss's dancing drums yet note the shimmering piano background, sounding like a summer downpour. Such a positive close to a fascinating collection of pieces.

"Even Odds" takes its time to grow on the listener. It's not really background music; if you pay attention, the richness of the ideas, melodies, and rhythms that Dan Weiss creates with more than a little help from his friends Matt Mitchell and Miguel Zenón, is worth exploring time and again.  

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

Listen closely to "The Children of Uvalde":

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Large Ensemble 2024 (Part 2): Melody Stands Out + Monk Inspires

Three more large ensemble recordings, each with its own outstanding qualities. 

Several years ago, I interviewed trombonist and composer Marshall Gilkes upon the release of his 2022 album, "Cyclic Matters".  In the midst of the discussion, he mentioned he had back in Germany to record a new  album with the WDR Big Band, the 17-piece ensemble in Cologne Germany.  He had spent four years (2010-13) in the trombone section –– the month after his stint was up, the Band invited him back for a "farewell concert" which resulted in the 2015 album, "Köln", a 10-song program that soared from the opening moment. The album won a GRAMMY nomination and led to the 2018 follow-up, "Always Forward".  Gilkes told me that he writes to the strength of each member of the band and that they love how his arrangements make them sound.  Upon receiving the invitation to create a third program for the WDR, Gilkes thought about all that had happened in the world since his 2017 trip that produced the second album.  The Pandemic, wars, democracies under siege, yet music and the arts still manages to thrive, to grow, to bring people together, to bend into new shapes for people to explore.

The results of Gilkes' thinking and writing can be heard on "LifeSongs" (WDR/ Alternate Side Records).  To these ears, it's the high point of the composer/ arranger's work with the Big Band.  The music is rich with melody and possibilities, the section arrangements often sing brightly, and the soloists are on the top of their game.  This music has soul, has heart, and imagination at its center.  The opening "Fresh Start" is just that!  A rollicking, Gospel-like melody and arrangement, with the leader's trombone in front but the real joy can be found in the interaction of soloists and the various sections.  "Back in the Groove" follows, a healthy portion of latge 60s-early 70s soul music in the melody and response over a thunderous rhythm section. Alto saxophonist Jonas Hörlen builds his solo off the main melody, riding the powerful piano of Billy Test, the solid bass of John Goldsby, and the slamming drums of Hans Dekker.  The proceedings cool down for the piano solo but Test moves quickly into overdrive with a joyous romp with the brass and reeds "testifying" right alongside him.

Listen to "Cora's Tune" below.  Pay attention to how Gilkes structures the melody, creates his fine solo, and how he utilizes the WDR sections to add excitement, and then creates a lovely trombone chorale in the midst of the piece.  Yet the music does not sit still, it changes, evolves, swings, and soars to its conclusion. Several tracks later, vocalist Sabeth Pérez joins the Band for a sweet take on the traditional lullaby "All The Pretty Horses". One can hear the influence of Maria Schneider (Gilkes is a long-time member of the MSO) in the arrangement. 

Delights abound in this program. "Middle Ground" follows, opening with a Brass chorale b efore picking up steam. The influences of Blues and Gospel can be hear in the melody lines as well as the section writing.  In the middle of the piece, the trombones take off into an exciting Latin rhythm, the sound splayting across the spectrum. The band kicks in and the 'bones trade 4s until the entire ensemble dances back into the melody, fading intoi the background for a return to Brass chorale. Then, it's into "San Filtro",  a multi-sectioned piece that, at times, reminds this listener of Chick Corea's "My Spanish Heart".  The leader's trombone is front-and-center throughout whether playing the main melody, soloing, or leading yet another splendid brass chorale.  You'll want to shout "hurrah" at the bravura closing section.

And there's more. I would be remiss not to mention the lovely version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "This Nearly Was Mine" (from "South Pacific").  The song serves as a vehicle for an exquisite flugelhorn solo from Andy Haderer.  Those of you who buy the digital version (link below) get two more tracks, an extra 14 minutes of music (including the stomping "Taconic Turns").  No matter which version you purchase, "LifeSongs" is a soul satisfying, emotionally rich, and musically delightful program.  Marshall Gilkes truly shines in this setting as do his friends in the WDR Big Band –– if you dig Big Band, jump on this!

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


Marshall Gilkes composer, arranger, trombone, conductor

Johan Hörlén • alto saxophone, flute, clarinet Pascal Bartoszak • alto saxophone, flute, clarinet,
Ben Fitzpatrick • tenor saxophone, clarinet, Paul Heller • tenor saxophone, clarinet
Jens Neufang • baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Andy Haderer • trumpet, piccolo trumpet, flugelhorn, Wim Both • trumpet, flugelhorn
Rob Bruynen • trumpet, flugelhorn, Ruud Breuls • trumpet, flugelhorn
Ludwig Nuss • trombone, Raphael Klemm • trombone, Peter Hedrich • trombone
Andy Hunter • trombone (one track)
Mattis Cederberg • bass trombone, tuba
John Goldsby • bass 
Billy Test • piano 
Hans Dekker • drums
Sabeth Pérez • vocals on "All the Pretty Horses"

Give a listen to "Cora's Tune":

As a special treat, here's the video for "Sugar Rush", the final track on the CD:

On his first two Big Band recordings (2019's "Assembly of Shadows" and 2021's "Architecture of Storms"), saxophonist, composer, and arranger Remy Le Boeuf showed a pleasing knack for well-defined melodies, smart arrangements, and for creating space for soloists to interact with the music and the musicians.  There were moments, especially on the second release, that the music had a "pop music" sensibility, with melodies that cried out for lyrics (one song did have a guest vocalist) –– nothing seemed "dumbed down" for mass consumption but the songs sounded like they could have fit easily into contemporary radio airplay.

On his third Big Band effort (the ensemble has taken on the name of its first album: Assembly of Shadows), "Heartland Radio" (SoundSpore Records), the title track opens the album with a decided backbeat and a hummable melody (ah, but the glorious section harmonies!).  Listen below to "Stop & Go" –– the rhythm section plays beats reminiscent of the work by the British band New Order but the main melody and chorus would not sound out of place on a Gamble & Huff production of the 1970s.  The music also sounds great pouring out of car speakers when one is driving down the road (this writer's prerogative), especially guest guitarist Max Light's solo.  "New Beginnings" bears traces of the work of Burt Bacharach; one can his influence on the handsome melody and arrangements, in the tempo changes, and in the great trumpet solo (uncredited).  

Vocalist Julia Easterlin joins the group for "Barbara" (lyrics by poet Sara Pirkle). The Bacharach influence can be felt a bit here as well but Le Boeuf's arrangement is all his own (his section writing is splendid).  The leader also created an arrangement for "Little Song"; composed by trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis for her Newvelle Records album "Full Circle", the melody is a rich blend of sadness and longing that is emphasized here by the sweeping brass lines and gueat Danielle Wertz's wordless vocal.  The leader's alto saxophine is out in front through the middle of the track, his solo soaring like a bird freed in the wild.  

"Heartland Radio" (so named for the leader's journey across the United States to Denver, Colorado, where he is now on the music faculty of the University of Denver) comes to a close with "Walking on Water". There's a gospel feel to the both the melody and arrangements as well as a powerful saxophone solo with the gentle alto sax coda bringing the listener to the final long chord. Remy LeBoeuf said that the music on the album was inspired by the sounds he heard driving to his destination. These excellent sounds attest to the fact that the composer/ arranger had a fertile and thriving imagination. 

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


Gregory Robbins – conductor

Julia Easterlin (vocal on one track)
Danielle Wertz (vocal on one track)

Remy Le Boeuf / Alto Sax, Flute, Alto Flute
Alejandro Aviles / Flute, Alto Sax
Lucas Pino / Tenor Sax, Clarinet
John Lowery / Tenor Sax, Clarinet
Carl Maraghi / Bari Sax, Bass Clarinet

Tony Kadleck, Tony Glausi, Philip Dizack,  Mike Rodriguez

Mike Fahie, Alan Ferber, Javier Nero
Jennifer Wharton (bass trombone)

Alex Goodman
Max Light (one track)

Martha Kato

Dan Montgomery

Peter Kronreif

Pascal Le Boeuf (first two tracks)

Get into the groove with "Stop & Go":

Pianist, composer, arranger, and now conductor Frank Carlberg has spent the better part of his life engrossed in and studying the music and recordings of Thelonious Monk.  Many of his recordings are inspired by and feature music of the composer –– in 2019, Carlberg put together his Large Ensemble to record and issue "Monk Dreams, Hallucinations and Nightmares" on his Red Piano Records label. I loved that album and love it even more now. Carlberg has the knack of making Monk's music sound fresh and contemporary while still shoeing respect for the composer.

Now we have "Elegy for Thelonious" (Sunnyside Records). I have an image of Carlberg in his room slicing up pieces of Monk tunes, pinning particular phrases to the wall, and creating original arrangements around.  In the recording studio, he places the fragments, his arrangements, and some sections he composed in front of the musicians and says "Let's play!"  And they do.  That's not to say that recording is unfocused or cacophonous. Not at all.  What it is is fun, creative adventures taking on the guise of fun.  What a band Carlberg has in front of him.  Besides the impressive arrangements and re-arrangements, the secret weapon in this music is drummer Michael Sarin. Throughout the seven-song program, he's the linchpin as well as the glue that keeps the Ensemble from descending into chaos.  Listen below to "Spooky Rift We Pat", an engaging mashup of "Tea For Two" and Monk's "Skippy". Christine Correa leads off with a deconstruction of a verse from the standard; then the ensemble enters and we're off to the races. After a playful solo from tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker and a lively diversion with trumpeter David Adewumi, the whole ensemble returns and different voices rise out of the din. All the while, Sarin is driving the bus, making sure no one loses their way.

The fun continues on "Out of Steam", a funky tune replete with synth washes from Leo Genovese and vocals from the leader's daughter Priya Carlberg.  The different figures the leader has the reeds and brass play behind the powerful alto sax solo from Nathan Reising stand out because they are often brash and bratty.  

The centerpiece of the recording is the title track. The music is not so solemn as there's muted trumpet squawks and clarinet trills behind Ms. Correa's recitation of poet Yusef Komunyakaa's "Elegy for Thelonious". A few moments later, the two vocalists sing the chorus from the hymn "Abide with Me" (a piece – composed by 19th Century English church organist William H. Monk, no relation, which the American Mr. Monk recorded on 1957's "Monk's Music").  Along the way, there are fine solos from trombonist Brian Drye, cornettist Kirk Knuffke, and Jeremy Udden on lyricon.  The music gets cluttered by the end of the vocals but the brass exclamations and solid drumming keeps the music on keel.  

Every one of the seven tracks on "Elegy for Thelonious" is worth writing about – for instance, Hery Paz's solo on "Brake Tune" is stunning as is trumpeter John Carlson's smoking take on "Wrinkle on Trinkle". The Frank Carlberg Ensemble is filled with great musicians, great soloists, and Carlberg gives them plenty of room to shine while his section writing is exemplary throughout.  I mentioned drummer Michael Sarin earlier but his rhythm section partner, bassist Kim Cass, deserves similar kudos. What a treat!!

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


Frank Carlberg - conductor, composer
Sam Hoyt, John Carlson, David Adewumi - trumpet
Kirk Knuffke – cornet
Brian Drye, Chris Washburne, Tyler Bonilla, Max Seigel - trombone
Nathan Reising, Jeremy Udden, Adam Tolker, Hery Paz, Andrew Hadro - woodwinds
Leo Genovese - piano, keyboards
Kim Cass - bass
Michael Sarin - drums
Christine Correa, Priya Carlberg - voice

Take a listen to "Spooky Rift We Pat":

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Three for All, All for Three (Piano Trios)

 There are weeks when all I want is music that challenges me, confronts my belief systems, and pushes at my expectations. Then, there are times I want my music that comforts, wraps its warm sound around me, has rhythms that make my feet move, and makes me laugh. Here are two trio albums that fit easily into the latter description with a little bit of the former.

Yes! Trio –– Ali Jackson (drums), Omer Avital (bass), and Aaron Goldberg (drums) –– has been a working band for nearly two decades. Yet, each member is so busy with his own group or as sidemen that they rarely get together. When they do, creative sparks fly!  Their debut album, released as "Yes" under all three names on Sunnyside Records in 2012, lays out their modus operandi. The songs are often blues-based, usually quite melodic as well as rhythmical, and their repertoire blends originals and standards.  The sound quality on the recordings is such that no one instrument is mixed above any other and the listener feels as if he or she is the middle of the band.

In 2019, the ensemble, now known as Yes! Trio, move to the French Jazz & People label to release "Groove du Jour", a delightful collection that often made one feel like dancing.  Just in time for the change of seasons, here's the band's third album "Spring Sings" (Jazz & People) –– if at first and second, the formula works really well, why change it?  Drummer Jackson composed six of the 10 songs on the program while bassist Avital added two plus plus there are two engaging takes on two recognizable standards.  "The Best is Yet to Come" (from Carolyn Leigh and Cy Coleman) swings with glee propelled by the thumping bass and dancing drums.  Goldberg's solo is as irrepressible as Jackson's "groove".  Irving Berlin's "How Deep is the Ocean" has a Caribbean "St. Thomas" feel in the playful drumming. Goldberg and Avital engage in a pleasing give-and-take before the the drummer heads off on a 4/4 rhythm with the bass. The bass solo is so deliciously melodic using the melody to jump into various adventures.  There's also an engaging "marching band" solo from the drummer before the song comes to its eventul conclusion.

The title track (composed by Jackson) opens the album. Quietly, the piece moves forward on strummed bass chords and martial drums while the pianist plays the sweet melody. Goldberg then joins with Avital's bowed bass to present a second melody; the powerful bass solo alludes to Igor Stravinky's "The Rite of Spring".  Listen below to Avital's "Sheikh Ali" (a play on words celebrating his rhythm section partner) to hear how well this Trio support and respond, how their conversation is so musical. The drummer returns the compliment on his "Omeration" –– all three play the theme before the pianist dances away on a lively solo.  Of course, Avital gets the spotlight as well. He is so articulate in the bass's higher register not unlike a cellist.  Then, the group "trades 4s" so that Jasckson gets to "play" as well. The program closes with Jackson's "Fivin" with its generous New Orleans rhythms (such funky tambourine), dancing melody lines, and, for a special treat for close listeners, the pianist's nod to John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" 40 second before the song ends.

I am mightily tempted to play Yes! Trio's three albums back-to-back; after all, one can truly not get enough of this band's splendid interplay, charming sense of playfulness, and its embrace of melody and rhythm.  Ali Jackson, Aaron Goldberg, and Omer Avital are good friends, great musicians, and the music they make can charm a listener in so many ways.  Put on this album and listen deeply –– I dare you to sit still and not crack a smile.  

To find out more and to purchase the album, go to

Take a listen to "Sheikh Ali":

The trio of Rodrigo Recabarren (drums), Pablo Menares (bass), and Yago Yazquez (piano) consists of two natives of Chile and one from Galicia, Spain.  The music on their second album "Familia" (Greenleaf Music–– the trio's 2017 album "Desde la Lluvia" was recorded and initially released in Chile)
reflects not only the musicians' roots but also their immersion into Black American music.  The nine tracks, all originals, often uses rhythms that "dance" rather than "swing" with melodies that suggest folk tunes.  The music is conversational and, on occasion, fiery but articulate and emotionally rich.

The program opens with "Santiago"; composed by the drummer, the music salutes his (and Menares's hometown) in melody and especially in rhythm. Listen below to how Vazquez caresses the melody supported by the warm bass sounds and the composer's martial drums (not unlike Brazilian "parade" drumming). With the rhythm section churning below, the piano solo is richly melodic. Vazguez's lovely "Terra" follows. The interaction between piano and bass is often stunning. Menares has a melodic streak a mile wide –– it shows in his works with vocalists Claudia Acuna and Camila Meza as well as with saxophonist Melissa Aldana. The bassist contributes "Viaje"; the opening melody suggests Milton Nascimento's "Ponta de Areia" plus there's a nod to that song's melody early in the piano solo.  Recabarren's haunting ballad "Lazo" finds him on brushes at the onset as Vazquez explores the melody. The drummer switches to sticks during the opening piano solo and back to brushes for the final verse.  

Vazquez's "Anninovo" moves seductively atop the rippling bass lines and the dancing drums.  The piano solo not only dances but also rings with short melodic phrases. Menares solos as well; he, too, is a wealth of melody but also reflects the rhythmic elements of the pianist's original melody.  The pianist's "Minho" is a ballad with a touch of Cole Porter in the melody and chords. His solo reflects a feeling of melancholy as well as a nod to Duke Ellington's "(In My) Solitude". 

"Familia" closes with the bassist's "Después De Todo".  The slower tempo allows for the listener to appreciate the handsome melody.  The piano solo ripples forward, a blend of long single-note runs and short chordal inserts. The music slows down with 95 seconds remaining for a coda that blends blues, longing, and a touch of sadness.  Sweet yet also haunting.

Rodrigo Recabarren, Pablo Menares, and Yago Vazquez have taken their myriad influences and experiences creating a program that not only reminds us how international Black American music is but also how that music benefits from the addition of elements from other cultures.  Isn't that how the music first came to be, a fusion of African, European, and South American elements.  The trio certainly sounds like a "Familia" and their sophomore album is quite the positive listening experience.. 

For more information, go to  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to (where you will also see a link to their debut release). 

Hear the opening track "Santiago":

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 Prévert –– 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":