Friday, July 21, 2017

Large Ensemble late July '17 (Part One)

In September of 1963, Duke Ellington and his Orchestra began a State Department of the Middle East, Turkey, India, and various other cities and countries in the region.  When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22 of that year, the tour was abruptly cancelled and the large ensemble returned home.  Yet, Elington and his musical partner Billy Strayhorn began composing music inspired by the journey.  It was December 19th, 1966 that the band entered the RCA Victor studios in New York City to record the nine tracks that made up the oddly-titled "The Far East Suite" released in June 1967, just a few weeks after Strayhorn passed away from cancer.

Nearly five decades later, the Balkan Brass jazz band known as Slavic Soul Party! decided to perform the Suite in its entirety. In July of 2016, the band released "Slavic Soul Party! Plays Duke Ellington's Far East Suite" (Ropeadope Records) - the nonet, composed of John Carlson and Kenny Warren (trumpets), Matt Musselman and Tim Vaughn (trombones), Ron Caswell (tuba), Peter Hess (saxophones, clarinet), Peter Stan (accordion), Chris Stromquist (snare, percussion) and leader Matt Moran (tapan, goč, bubanj - all hand-held drums) - plays the program in the order of the original album.  One of the joys of the works of Ellington and Strayhorn (especially from the 1940s forward) is how adaptable much of it is.  Slavic Soul Party makes sure you hear all the great melodies and then put its signature percussive fire under the music.  "Tourist Point of View" rushes out of the gates at top speed, Moran and Stromquist pushing the rest of the band to play with great fire.  Kudos to Caswell's tuba work as he is impressive throughout.  With five brass and only one reed player, accordionist (well, that's an instrument with reeds!) Stan is an important voice providing depth  and flair. The funky take of "Bluebird of Delhi" (imagine James Brown letting his band loose) has great work from Hess (on clarinet)  on a smart arrangement by Moran.

Thanks to the work of trumpeter Carlson, there's a drunken swagger to "Ifashan" while Hess's baritone plays sweetly on "Agra" while the band staggers just a bit (on purpose) before hitting its stride halfway through. "Mount Harissa" opens with a fine trumpet (Warren?) reading of the melody (listen for Caswell's sustained low notes) - after a short unaccompanied trumpet statement, the band kicks into a raucous dance beat and the trumpeter continues forward.  Even more of a party is the high-energy performance of "Blue Pepper"; you can just see the Brass band dancing through the streets. Stan gets the spotlight on "Amad" with an opening solo that goes from an imitation of a a steam train to high-intensity lines interspersed with drones. When the rest of the band kicks in, the trombones blare, the trumpets blast, the tuba lays down a hardy beat, the drums pound away (Hess, on alto, joins the trumpets on the melody) and the piece flies along. Watch for the interchange of brass and reeds with the accordion na minute before the "Bali Hai" finish.

Duke Ellington purists might be scared away but this rendition of "Far East Suite" is full of spice and fire. It is impossible to sit still through the up-tempo songs and even the ballads have a touch of spunk. Somehow, I missed reviewing the "Slavic Soul Party Plays Duke Ellington's Far East Suite" upon its release late last summer.  If you have yet to discover this delightful album, check it out.  It's pure joy!

Here's "Blue Pepper":


Composer and arranger Brett Gold took a long route to creating his New York Jazz Orchestra and recording his self-releaseddebut album "Dreaming Big." Though he had played trombone through high school, his double-major in college was History and Film Studies.  Gold then earned his law degrees, concentrating on international and corporate tax law.  He continued working but started his return to music in the 1990s and then, in 2004, began studying with the album producer Pete McGuiness and David Berger (among others) and soon became involved with the BMI Jazz Composers  Workshop where he was mentored by Jim McNeely, Mike Holober, and Mike Abene.  Over his time there, he developed the compositions and arrangements heard on his album.

A glance at the personnel and you'll see members of the Maria Schneider Orchestra, the Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra, and the Tony Kadleck Big Band.  As one might expect from a debut, the composer shows his comfort in wiring for different styles but, to his credit, the album never becomes a simple "blowing session." Only one of the 11 tracks has more than two soloists and five have just one.  That leads one to believe that Gold wrote for specific players in the manner of Duke Ellington, Bob Brookmeyer, Gil Evans, Ms. Schneider, and several others. Perhaps the best part of this album is that, even though the program runs nearly 72 minutes, the music is always involving, with melodies that capture your mind and heart, emotionally rich solos, and, on several tracks, great forward motion.

That "forward motion" is quite evident on the opener, "Pumpkinhead, P.I."  Yes, there's a bit of stop-and-start but the band really romps under the hardy tenor solo of Charles Pillow.  There are also several tracks that exude joy. "Lullaby for Lily" was composed shortly after the arrival of the composer's daughter.  After a high-stepping opening, the music slows for a sweet soprano sax solo from Mark Vinci who later trades lies with trumpeter Scott Wendholt.  Whereas "Stella's Waltz" was composed to honor the marriage of Gold's father and stepmother.  One can see the couple whirling around the floor dancing to the sweet melody as it passes from section to section. William Shakespeare devotees will be pleased to see the song title "Exit, Pursued By A Bear" as it was one of the few stage directions the Bard ever wrote. The subtitle, "Slow Drag Blues", could be the real title as the song is a vehicle for a jocular trombone solo from Bruce Eidem and a short, sweet Phil Palombi bass solo.  Pay attention to how the various musicians also have a playful role, especially the flutes, bass clarinet, and bass trombone right at the end.

Two of the pieces have a connection to the Middle East.  "Al-Andalus" (which refers to Spain during the Muslim rule from the eighth Century until 1492) bounces along on a beat that has the feel of Gil Evans-Miles Davis and "Sketches of Spain".  Kudos to trumpeter Jon Owens for a great and wide-ranging solo.  The final track on the album, "Nakba", is the longest (11:30) and the most political. The word is Arabic  and translate to "catastrophe" is the term that Arabs use to describe the 1948 war after the partition of Palestine created the state of Israel.  The "voice" of the song is Tim Ries on soprano sax  but pay attention to the great work of the various sections. The flowing melodies  from the reeds, the intense rhythm work, the sharp sound of the brass (and occasional "air-raid" warnings), the occasional "alarm-like" sounds from the piano, all that and more draws the listener into the conflict in and outside of the music. Powerful music, indeed.

"Dreaming Big" is certainly the modus operandi for composer and arranger Brett Gold.  He's put his heart, soul, money, brains, creativity, and more into this project; this is music that deserves to be heard. Lord knows if this is a band that will ever tour but, if they do, I would not hesitate to buy a ticket.

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

Personnel:

Jon Owens: trumpet, flugelhorn; James de la Garza: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dylan Schwab: trumpet, flugelhorn; Scott Wendholt: trumpet, flugelhorn; 
Mark Vinci: alto, soprano sax, clarinet, flute; Matt Hong: alto sax, clarinet, flute; Dave Riekenberg: tenor sax, clarinet; Tim Ries: tenor, soprano sax, flute, clarinet (3, 5-7, 11); Charles Pillow: tenor, soprano sax, clarinet (1, 2, 4, 8-10); Frank Basile: baritone sax, bass clarinet; 
Bruce Eidem: trombone; John Allred: trombone; Bob Suttmann: trombone; Jeff Nelson: bass trombone; 
Ted Kooshian: piano; 
Sebastian Noelle: guitar (3, 5, 6, 7); 
Phil Palombi: bass; 
Scott Neumann: drums.

Here's a track:



Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Two by Ms. Iversen & Isamu McGregor's Second

Bassist and composer Anne Mette Iversen has graced us with two new albums featuring new music for two separate ensembles. Since the Danish-born Ms. Iversen now splits her time between New York City and Berlin, Germany, she also now leads two groups.  "Round Trip" (BJU Records) features her NYC Quartet + 1, an ensemble that features John Ellis (tenor saxophone), Danny Grissett (piano), and Otis Brown III (drums and cymbals), all of whom have worked with the bassist since 2006. The "+ 1" is Swedish trombonist Peter Dahlgren who joined the band before its 2014 recording "So Many Roads" but who also appeared on Ms. Iversen's 2004 debut recording, "On The Other Side."

mueller 2016
While the majority of Ms. Iversen's albums have an underlying or unifying theme, "Round Trip" strikes this listener a set of songs she write for these musicians to have fun with, to play with, and give their all.  She certainly knows their strengths and gives them wings.  The overall sound has the feel and drive of Dave Holland's Quintet, the group with Robin Eubanks, Chris Potter, Billy Kilson, and vibraphonist Steve Nelson.  The ensemble play, the manner in which Ellis and Dahlgren play the "heads", the drive of the drums, and Ms. Iversen unwavering guidance from the bass chair - the only difference is piano instead of vibes. Also, Ms. Iversen prefers to be part of the ensemble rather than a soloist; that certainly frees up Brown III to play spark plug underneath the soloists, egging them on and reacting to what they are doing.

If one really listens, the construction of these songs is very impressive. They are logical, linear, with plenty of dynamic variation and also all have well-defined melodies.  Listen how "Lines and Circles" builds from the circular piano melody that opens the piece and the counterpoint the bassist adds a few seconds in. The main melody, played now by saxophone and trombone with piano and cymbals as counterpoint, begins to lift the piece. The solos push away from the theme, the rhythm section expands its vocabulary, and the song takes flight.  The composer's preference is that the saxophone and trombone carry the lead. There's a smart call-and-response at the onset of "Scala" that leads to a bass solo (one of the few on the disk).  The playful forward motion of the title track with the bass and trombone laying down the initial rhythm (with saxophone counterpoint) opens to a short piano section and back again to the intro before Grissett dances ahead with Brown III in hot pursuit.

Bass Musician Magazine
The album has two impressive ballads. The quiet, so slow, "Wiinstedt's View" opens with a lovely introduction from Ellis sans accompaniment before the ensemble enters with the handsome, blues-soaked melody (played by saxophone and trombone).  "The Ballad That Would Not Be" has a classical feel, from the opening melody to the bass counterpoint.  Two minutes in, the sax, trombone, and bass change the melody but not the melodic and harmonic counterpoint. When the drums and piano enter, the piece changes yet again, now with more urgency and emotion in the melody.

"Round Trip" is a joyous journey performed by a band that enjoys each other's company shepherded by a composer who loves what these musicians sound like as they travel the byways of her compositions. Anne Mette Iversen is a fine player and an even better composer. Her songs are intelligent without being stuffy, playful, and give the listener much to chew on.

Here's the high-energy "Segue":




CD #2 comes from the Ternion Quartet, an ensemble Ms. Iversen in Berlin and features Silke Eberhard (alto saxophone), Geoffrey De Masure (tenor and bass trombone), and Roland Schneider (drums, percussion), all three veterans of the European jazz scene (the drummer did spend nearly two decades in New York before moving back to Berlin in 2008).  Ms. Eberhard may be the most "famous" having issued numerous albums with her Trio, Quartett, and duos with pianists Dave Burrell and Aki Takase.  The group also takes its cue from Dave Holland, thanks to the open-ended feel of certain tracks as well as the powerful forward motion. One can also hear the influence of Charles Mingus plus Ornette Coleman.  Without a chordal instrument, Ms. Iversen has more of a "starring" role. Yes, she is the foundation of the majority of tracks but steps out as a soloist more with this ensemble.

Dieter Düvelmeyer photo
These songs stretch out more than those on "Round Trip." Ms. Iversen does not skimp on the melodic content and, if anything, the compositions are even more linear than on the Quartet +1 album. Pieces such as "A Cygnet's Eunoia", "Ataxaria On My Mind", and "Eburnine" have main themes on which both the sax and trombone share the melody lines (you might also want to look up the meanings of certain words).  Ms. Eberhard's solos throughout are rich with ideas, her clean tones evoking the sounds of Steve Wilson and Steve Coleman.  She smoothly navigates the head of "Escapade #7" and is a good foil for the deep tones of De Masure's bass trombone.  The trombonist, when he employs multiphonics, will remind some of the late Albert Mangelsdorff, but he too has a smoothness. His phrases are quirkier than his front line partner but he also adds depth to the sound. Listen how he blends with the bowed bass at the beginning of "Solus", the prettiest ballad on the album and, then, really digs deep for his solo. His intro to "Debacled Debate" is gritty and takes its direction from both New Orleans "gutbucket" and the afore-mentioned Mr. Mangelsdorff.

Dieter Düvelmeyer photo
Schneider, who is a member of pianist Anat Fort's Trio, plays delightfully throughout.  His work underneath soloists is often fiery and interactive.  His brush work is exemplary - check out "Postludium #2" and listen to how sparely both he and Ms. Iversen play in support of the soloists.  Schneider drives a mean tempo on "Trio One" showing the influences of both Elvin Jones and Ed Blackwell.

"Ternion Quartet" is both the name of the ensemble and the album.  It's actually a joke as well; the definition of "ternion" is a "group of three".  Honestly, Anne Mette Iversen gives the description of the music in her short liner notes.  "There is an element of total freedom and there is an element of chance and risk-taking. Anything and everything goes."  The result is good listening from beginning to end.

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

Take a listen:


Isamu McGregor is a young (27) pianist and keyboard artist who, like many of his contemporaries, moves easily fro jazz to world music to pop music.  His "high-profile gigs with bassist Richard Bona, saxophonist Sadao Watanabe, and vocalist Colbie Caillat have taken him around the world.  He has maintained his trio with electric bassist Evan Marien and drummer Gene Coye for over six years; their closeness is quite evident on McGregor's new and second album "Resonance" (Ghost Note Records).  Seven cuts, clocking in at 57 minutes, cover a lot of musical territory. On the opening track, "The Dreamer", McGregor plays acoustic and electric piano plus synthesizers, moving around his arsenal with ease and creativity.

While all three musicians are technically impressive, this music is not all about prowess.  The episodic nature of most of the pieces emphasizes that McGregor wants to connect with his audience on an emotional.  Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake joins the trio for "Relentless" and, while the title is an apt description for how the four musicians play, there are also moments of grace and beauty.  Come plays with great fire but pay close attention to the deep bass notes and the leader's powerful chordal work.  "The Drifter" opens with the buzzing sound of Bennie Maupin's bass clarinet but he soon moves on to play the melody with just the electric piano on support.  The rhythm section enters quietly. After the handsome bass clarinet solo, McGregor moves in on acoustic piano playing a delightfully meandering solo.  The piece begins to pick up in intensity during the solo and, soon, Mr. Maupin reenters and the trio steps aside, save for the pianist, for his quiet solo.  The bass clarinet dominates the final four minutes of the piece that has now taken on an impressionistic tone.

Friend and former bandmate Deen Anbar joins the trio for the funky, Weather Report-inspired, "Thor vs James Brown" (great title) - the first half of the track lopes along but then Coye lays down a frantic pace, McGregor plays a hypnotic Fender Rhodes rhythm and the guitarist begins a furious and raucous solo.  When the bass enters, it's "pedal to the metal" and the music "burns" all the way to the finish line.

In the middle of the program, there is a lovely solo feature for the leader.  "Because" is the shortest cut on the album (5:18) and it may take a moment before you realize it's the John Lennon ballad from "Abbey Road" - McGregor cuts right to the emotional heart of the song, embellishing the melody with classical chords with, at times, dramatic flourishes that do not overwhelm but underscore the story in the unheard lyrics.

"Resonance" is a mature work from a young artist who looks to be on his way to a long and productive career.  Some listeners may have issues with the electronics but the colors the various keyboards bring to the music helps to create a larger bouquet.  Isamu McGregor is a hard name to forget; his powerful music for trio and guests will resonate in your ears and mind for a good long time as well.

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Friend in Need, Indeed

Growing up in the mid-1960s, I was swept away by the British Invasion, the musical of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pretty Things, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix (ironically an American who went to England and became a star), Stevie Winwood, and so on.  The ironic part, of course, is that these musicians were inspired by Black artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Smoky Robinson, Eddie Boyd, Sonny Boy Williamson I and II, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and so many more.  With the exception of Messrs. Robinson and Berry, few of those artists made the "pop" charts and most were working outside of music when the British enthusiasts started shouting their respect on 45s and Lps.

All through our high school years, Peter Parcek (pictured left) and I listened to a lot of music together.  He lived across the street and there were days we would spend holed up in his room listening to records, he following on guitar and me fumbling around on harmonica.  It was Peter who egged me on, telling me to slow down Paul Butterfield and Little Walter albums to figure what those harmonica geniuses were playing.  Took me a while but I became somewhat fluent, enough so that my playing was not embarrassing and could do alright.  Peter never stopped practicing, working in different groups, playing with great speed and dexterity but also a growing understanding of the "soul fires" one can wring out of a guitar.

As the years went by, most of our friends went off to school, got jobs that unrelated to music, and stopped playing.  Peter stuck to guitar, moved to Great Britain and came back some time later playing better and faster than ever.  Slowly but surely, he built a career as a musician, as a sideman/leader with pianist Pinetop Perkins, living in the Boston, MA area.  He sold instruments, worked as a school counselor, but always played, always with a vision to have his own band.

Though he did not record his debut as a bandleader until 2010, Peter had a built a solid reputation in clubs throughout New England and elsewhere.  His 2011 EP, "Pledging My Time", is a tribute to Bob Dylan with three songs from the 1960s plus "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'", a blues Dylan recorded in 2009 with lyrics by Robert Hunter.

Now, Peter Parcek is working on a new recording, one that finds him in the company of Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) and the legendary keyboard man Spooner Oldham.  He is conducting an Indiegogo campaign to finance the finishing of the project.  Check out his story and music at www.peterparcekband.com.

Here's the Indiegogo page:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Play, Play, Explore & Play Some More

The best way for me to help you understand just how attractive and seductive the music on "One Minute Later" is to me, don't read on yet just listen to the opening track.



This is the fifth album by guitarist and composer Diego Barber, the fourth to appear on Sunnyside Records, and each is a revelation.  Barber, who hails from the Canary Islands (a Spanish archipelago off the northwestern coast of Africa), puts himself into musical situations that explore his fascination with sound, rhythm, and melody.  For his new recording, he is joined in the studio by the rhythm section of Ben Williams (bass) and Eric Harland (drums) plus the amazing young percussionist Alejandro Coello who adds marimba, vibraphone, tympani, gongs, crotales, tam-tam and kalimba to the proceedings. 


The clean, clear sound allows the listener to listen to how the musicians interact. Whether it's the "Mrs. Robinson"-like groove of "Dilar River" or the dancing grooves of "Big House", the music invites you in.  Even though Barber plays acoustic guitar throughout the album, the intensity with which he leads the band stands out.  Harland is such a "joyous" and, yes, "busy" (at times) drummer, his groove infectious that one can't help but smile. Williams is the foundation on the album; at times, he seems buried under the sound but, if you pay attention, his solid work helps push the music forward.  There are moments throughout when it seems like the quartet is a percussion ensemble, rumbling along or steaming ahead.  There's also pieces such as "Atlas" where the melody dances atop the powerful rhythms supplied by Harland and amplified by Coello's percussion array (one can hear marimba, vibes, crotales, and the tympani as the piece flows forward). Beauty exists here as well. The splendid solo guitar ballad that closes the album, "Elvira Maria", is a sound portrait of love, dedicated to the guitarist's girlfriend.  


The music bears the inspiration of the Spanish province of Granada (southern Spain along the Mediterranean sea). Several of the tracks bear the name of mountains ("Mulhacen" and "Veletas's Peak") while the album title refers to a passage from the Federico Garcia Lorca's "Poet in New York."  The music also bears witness to Diego Barber's intense search for expression through his music and his interactions.  He is the leader of the group but is also a member; he doesn't play over Harland, Williams, and Coello but with them and, in the long run, that's what's so attractive about the recording for this listener.  Getting lost in the music, putting aside the day-to-day annoyances as the morning sun streams in the windows, "One Minute Later" lifts the spirit ever-so-sweetly.  Diego Barber is a technically impressive guitarist but its the heart in his music that really stands out.

For more information and more sound clips, go to sunnysidezone.com/album/one-minute-later.  

Here's one more track to enjoy:





A glance at the cover of the new album from pianist, composer, and educator Laszlo Gardony tells you all you need to know.  "Serious Play (Solo Piano)" is his 13th release as a leader and third solo album.  If you have ever met the pianist and seen/heard him play, you know the intensity in which he brings to performance and music. That intense nature has a "fun" side, a leaning towards the blues as well as a powerful percussive attack that can leave listeners breathless, But Laszlo Gardony also has a gentle side, one that also exposes his loved for jazz, blues, and classical music. Sound engineer Paul Wickliffe captures that spirit, that power, wonderfully on this recording.


Opening with a powerful, gospel-inflected, reading of "Georgia On My Mind", the music easily draws one in.  The power in the piece is in how Gardony gets to the emotional center of the music, gives the listener time to reflect on that, and then opens up, ever-so-gently. There are a few moments when this listener imagined the pianist hushing a crowd at a "rent party"with the "deep blues" feeling in his playing.  Next up is John Coltrane's ballad "Naima" - even as Gardony caresses the melody, one can hear the power building in the chords coming from his left hand. As he enters the solo, one can hear the influence of McCoy Tyner in his performance.  The "power" builds,, the rhythm of the music is suspended, the notes cascade from the speakers in torrents; at one point, I had to stop the CD to go answer the phone. I reentered the music at the place where the album stopped and, when it started up again, it felt as if I had been dropped into a Steve Reich performance, the percussive nature of the piano, the static bass notes, and the circular melody lines hinting of the composer's work from the 1970s and 80s. Before the piece comes its close, the pianist returns to the melody bathing it now in sounds not unlike the minimalism of Erik Satie.


Those two tracks take up over 33% of the 39-minute program.  The title track comes next, a powerful original composition with chords that remind this listener, at times, of Peter Townsend's "Pinball Wizard" interpreted by Bruce Hornsby.  And so, if you enjoy solo piano, I leave you to discover the rest for yourself.  Laszlo Gardony is wonderfully imaginative, his music conjuring up images of busy urban thoroughfares, starry nights in the woods of New England, of hushed audiences in a concert hall, and so much more. The program closes with "Over The Rainbow", a song which one could see appealing to a young pianist sitting in a practice room in the Bela Bartok Conservatory in Budapest, Hungary, dreaming of new worlds to explore. "Serious Play" does in essence, in fact, and in deed, describe this lovely album down to its resonating final chord.

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

Here's the title track:

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Music on the Mountain In the Hills This Weekend

In the summertime throughout the state, live music moves outdoors and out of the city.  Music Mountain, located in Lakeville, CT, (or, as we "staties" call it, "up in the Hills", the Litchfield Hills) has been presenting chamber music concerts each summer since 1930.  Gordon Hall, built by Sears Roebuck, is the centerpiece of the grounds, a concert hall (now air-conditioned) that seats 335 people and is said to have one of the finer sound systems in the state.

This summer, in addition to a full schedule of Sunday afternoon classical music concerts, the venue is presenting a "jazz series" and, judging by the lineup, there's going to be a lot of great music "up in the Hills."  This Saturday (7/15), bassist-composer Alexis Cuadrado will perform alongside vocalist Claudia Acuña and pianist Pablo Vergara in a concert that will feature songs from Latin American and Spanish composers as well as a healthy dose of music from the bassist's brilliant 2013 project "A Lorca Soundscape" (Sunnyside Records). That album, plus 2011's "Noneto Ibérico" and 2016's "Poètica", are among my favorite recordings of this decade, a trilogy that spans the influence of Catalan music (in particular, Flamenco), an immigrant's impressions of the United States in a crazy time, and the contemporary poetry of Spaniards adopting to a new home.  

The intimacy of the "Lorca" music, originally recorded with a quintet plus vocalist, translates well to bass, voice, and piano.  The delicacy and strength of Ms. Acuña's delivery is perfect for the stories in the poetry of the lyrics, written in the whirlwind nine months that the great Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) spent in North America between June of 1929 and March 1930.

The music begins at 6:30 p.m.  For more information, go to musicmountain.org/category/concerts/ or call 860-824-7126.  Future Saturday shows include the Anouman Gypsy Jazz Quartet (7/22), the Alan Ferber Nonet (7/29), the Ben Kono Group (8/05). Ryan Keberle & Catharsis (8/12), Todd Marcus Quintet (8/19), and Michael Berkeley "Broadway" (8/26). 

Here'a a piece from "A Lorca Soundscape":

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Four Bags in 3/4 Time + Tom Waits In Other Hands


The first time I saw and heard The Four Bags, I admit to laughing a lot during the band's first set.  Seriously, a band that could interpret the Beach Boys and Kurt Weill in the same set, changing tempos at will, swinging the heck out of an accordion, upsetting tradition without burning it in effigy, and do all that in one set, I was hooked.  In the band's 18 years, there has only been one change in personnel; original members Brian Drye (trombone), Mike McGinnis (clarinet), and Sean Moran (guitar) were joined by Jacob Garchik (who took over accordion duties in 2004 from original member Tom Aldrich.  Since all four members are so busy, they don't get together often, meaning have a new album to dig into is a real treat.

"Waltz" (NCM East) is the Bags's fifth album and is a fanciful program of waltzes from different traditions. Opening with a delightful take of "El Caballo Bayo", from the pens of Carlos Gardel (1890-1935) and Francisco Brancatti (1890-1980), the music starts out in a hurry but soon slowed down into a "sweet" reading of the melody.  Then, it's back to the bounce before dropping back into a slow "drag" for a boozy trombone.  Trust me - it sounds better than it reads.  "Puerta Del Principe", a piece by flamenco guitarist Manolo Sanlucar (born 1943) has a lovely melody and a smart arrangement that allows all voices to be heard as well as a strong solo from Moran.

Each Bag-man contributed, at least, one original composition.  The pieces range from Drye's handsome round "Runaway Waltz" (with hints of West African guitar in Moran's sound) to Garchik's "merry-go-round" sound on "Waltz of the Jacobs" - one can imagine well-dressed people swirling around a ballroom at times during the song.   Moran's "Invisible Waltz" has a sweet melody that opens to short statements from each member.  There is a touch of melancholy in the deliberate pace and sound of the piece. The cinematic quality of McGinnis's "Vaults Dumb 'Ore" brings to mind Nino Rota's music; listen to how the melody is passed around the ensemble and the short moments of harmony.  Drye's "G Is For Geezus" has a generous touch of gospel in its theme and presentation, becoming quite the "revival meeting" romp in the solo section.

Sprinkled through the program are three short remixes by Curtis Hasselbring of "Les Valse Des As" (a piece credited to G. Jacques) plus the album closes with a Garchik arrangement (derangement might be a better word) of the piece that sounds as if it was recorded in the 1920s.  True to the spirit of The Four Bags, "Waltz" is playful, adventurous, generous, and musical.  There is humor in these grooves but listen for the melodies as they will make you smile more often than not.

For more information, go to thefourbags.com.

Here's one of the originals:


T'would be easy to write that Innocent When You Dream is a Tom Waits cover band without vocals and leave it at that.  While artists have been recording Waits's tunes for several decades, especially the ballads, few if any "play" with them. With a career that spans nearly five decades and a sound like no one else, it's fun to see what fresh ears can do.  Led by Aaron Schragge (Dragon Mouth trumpet, shakuhachi), the sextet - Jonathan Lindhorst (tenor saxophone), Ryan Butler (electric guitar), Dan Fortin (acoustic bass), Nico Dann (drums), and Joe Grass (pedal steel on eight of the 11 tracks that make up "Dirt In The Ground" (self-released) - delves deeply into the blues and folk elements that have been ever-present in Tom Waits since his recording debut in 1973.  "Ol' 55" appeared on that album ("Closing Time" on Elektra) and here it's a country lament with the tenor on lead (Shragge only plays on the "head") while the pedal steel plays sorrowful keening riffs in the background and, as well, during his solo.

The title track features Shragge playing the melody and solo on shakuhachi (Japanese flute).  The sound is entrancing, perfect for the bluesy quality of the sound and also affecting how the tenor and guitars sound (long notes that slowly fade away). There is also a dream-like quality to "The Briar and the Rose" with the flute again in the lead. The music moves so slowly, molasses-like , that it serves as a lullaby.  Like so many of these songs, the melody is so well-drawn that the sextet can take its time. The group gives a loving reading of "In the Neighborhood", a paean to a hardscrabble side of town.  There's a melodic bass solo plus a sentimental, but not treacly, trumpet reading of the melody. "You Can Never Hold Back Spring" is played with such love; listen to the blend of guitars beneath the trumpet melody and the short saxophone solo plus the active yet restrained rhythm section.  It's not easy to play this slow and have so much soul but IWYD pull it off with aplomb.

There is also plenty of the "swamp blues" funk that Waits created on albums such as "Swordfish Trombones" (1983), "Rain Dogs" (1985), "Bone Machine" (1992), and "Mule Variations" (1999).  The opening track, "Chicago", feel like a Paul Butterfield Blues Band cut from the 1960s, the insistent beat and hard-edged guitar. Shragge's trumpet and Lindenhorst's tenor ride the wave, poking at the beat and pushing back against the rhythm. The influence of the classic "James Brown beat" enlivens "Down In The Hole" and Lindenhorst jumps on it for all he's worth.  Add Ryan Butler's raucous guitar solo and one can't help but dance. "Temptation" is a slinky "cha-cha" with Shragge caressing the melody while Lindenhorst plays a bit of rhythm in the background.  "Anywhere I Lay My Head" finds the trumpeter coming on like a  country preacher while the rest of the sextet support his exhortations.

Aaron Shragge was part of the first version of the group Innocent When You Dream and its 2010 self-titled debut.  For "Dirt On The Ground". he organized a new band with the same focus, to celebrate the music of Tom Waits.  The earlier recording is quite good as well but the newer one has a bit more fire, a bunch more blues, and a touch of sass.  If you are a fan of Mr. Waits, you'll find much to enjoy.

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

Here's one of the ballads:

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Catching Up (July '17 Version)

downtownmusic.net
Preparing to review trumpeter Kenny Warren's debut album for Whirlwind Recordings, I discovered he is indeed one busy musician.  The Colorado native has issued several recordings called "Laila & Smitty" that is true "Americana" in that the music blends a plethora of influences.  Warren is a member of the Balkan/Gypsy Funk band Slavic Soul Party as well as Brian Plunka's Arabic Jazz ensemble Nashaz.  Spending time listening to Warren in these different settings, one can hear that the trumpeter has no fear of stretching his boundaries while remaining true to his sound.  He's as comfortable appearing in duos with pianist Bobby Avey and saxophonist Tony Malaby as he is with being part of the Angela Morris & Anna Webber Big Band.

The new recording, "Thank You For Coming to Life", features his working Quartet of JP Schlegelmilch (piano), Noah Garabedian (bass), and Satoshi Takeishi (drums).  Actually, listening to the material Warren has supplied his ensemble with, let's call this unit his "playing" band.  Longtime friend and schoolmate Schlegelmilch plays here with great power as well as with subtlety, helping to frame the compositions.  Hearing Takeishi drive the band is such a treat as it gives Garabedian room to move, to follow the pianist or play off what the soloist is doing.  The material is multidirectional, the songs episodic, with plenty of room for the players to stretch out, and the joy is they never outstay their welcome.

"Stones Change" opens with trumpet only introducing and one can already hear the rhythmic possibilities.  All four musicians play the melody before the piece moves out in the piano solo; listen to his deftly Schlegelmilch (formerly with Old Time Musketry) handles the variable rhythms beneath.  Then Warren and Garabedian only play the theme before the rest of the band returns and the trumpeter moves into his high-flying solo. The drummer really kicks the piece forward and, when the foursome returned to the thematic material one hear the Bertolt Brecht influence on the melody line.

The magic continues on "Huge Knees", which, at 12:09, is the longest track on the album.  Starts out on fire then shifts into an impressionistic "free" section for the piano solos. Note the active and attractive bass work and his the band quietly supports the solo. The intensity picks up under the trumpet solo but closes quietly leading into a fine bass spotlight.  Accompanied by the pianist and quiet percussionist, Garabedian gets to the heart of the melody. The final three minutes changes direction and intensity several times, dizzying at times yet delightful always.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about how pianist Tal Cohen's "Gentle Giants" recording reminded me so much of Wynton Marsalis's "Black Codes From The Underground"; not in its sound as much as its attack and the musicians fresh take on the "tradition."  Here as well. It's in Kenny Warren's willingness to really explore the "heart" in each song, to avoid cliche, and to treat this as a recording of a "working band" and not a "star turn." The deeper you get into the album and the music, one hears the playfulness of Clifford Brown as well as the seriousness of Booker Little.  Whether it's the New Orleans rhythms of "Cheese Greater" , the somber ballad "Iransaurus Rex", or the handsome, medium-tempo, melodic closer, "Every Moment Is Born Lives and Dies", every thing about this music is real, honest, and enjoyable. The Kenny Warren Quartet "Thank You For Coming to Life" does truly come to "life"; take this music into your life!

For more information, go to kennywarren.tumblr.com/bio.

Here's the Quartet in action with the opening track:


The music that bassist and composer Eric Revis creates is often complex, often challenging, confrontational, and endlessly rewarding. For his new Clean Feed album, "Sing Me Some Cry", he works with a like-minded quartet including Kris Davis (piano). Ken Vandermark (tenor saxophone, clarinet) and Chad Taylor (drums) all of whom he has recorded with before but never in this formation. The bassist has a big yet clean tone, is melodic in his approach to how he he frames each composition, and also creates challenging landscapes for his ensemble.  The music is, at times, fairly "free", and never dull.


The title track opens the album, an eerie sampled voice and a short bass phrase. Slowly, Revis's longer phrases introduce the percussion, then Vandermark's clarinet and Ms. Davis's active piano fills conjure up images of storms blowing through open windows.  Scattered sounds move in and out of the spectrum, not necessarily scaring the listener but letting us know we are in a different world (or, at least, different part of the world.  "Good Company" follows, opening with Taylor's powerful as well as musical drum solo.  He lays down a modified "Bo Diddley" beat and Ms. Davis riffs atop each until Vandermark (on tenor) introduces the melody.  The sax is shadowed by the bass until the rhythm settles into a funky rumble. The long piano solo includes sly references to Thelonious Monk and Eddie Palmieri.  The tenor sax, over a rollicking and raucous rhythm section (save for Revis who keeps the music going forward), is delightfully powerful.

Uptonbass.com
There's so much to enjoy here, from the terrific drumming of Taylor (listen to how he leads and supports on "PT 44") to how Ms. Davis utilizes the entire piano inside and out (plunking away on "Obliogo" or creating a sonic and funky playground on "Rumples", a piece by guitarist Adam Rogers). For all the hard-edged music, there is also moments of controlled quiet.  "Solstice...The Girls (Max & Xixi)", yet another piece that rolls in, though this time gently, on the African rhythms from Taylor's drums, accentuated by Revis plucking way down on the bass. Vandermark's sensuous clarinet through the rhythm with Ms. Davis's piano interjections. There's a haiku quality to the piece.  Vandermark's muscular nor carries on quite a conversation with the drums on "Drunkard's Lullaby" (talk about staggered rhythms) - the playful change of tempos do not make this "lullaby" any more restful.

Jazzspeaks.org
The closing track, "Glyph", opens with a statement from the bass and the distant sound of Ms. Davis rolling around the keys and Vandermark adding pithy counterpoint. They rise into the foreground and then fall back (save for the piano), all the while Revis continues to build his solo. The bassist finishes his solo all by himself, there's a short silence, and the group falls into a quiet ballad, led by Ms. Davis's sparkling piano. Once Vandermark enters, he plays a plaintive melody on tenor and the piece comes to a gentle close.

"Sing Me Some Cry" keeps the listener alert, paying attention because one is never quite sure where this music will.  Four master musicians, master improvisors, all doing their best to create a unified statement through the ever-maturing music of Eric Revis.  Unified yes, yet exploratory as well, melodic and rhythmically rich, this album is a keeper!

For more information, go to cleanfeed-records.com/product/sing-me-some-cry/.

Here's "Rumples" - hold on to your speakers!



One of the joys of listening to new recordings is having your expectations thrown out with the bath water (so to speak).  "Mannequins" (Skirl Records) is the work of drummer, vibraphonist, and composer Kate Gentile, a native of Buffalo, NY,  who has been part of the busy New York City music scene since her move there in 2011.  In the past half-decade, Ms. Gentile has worked Anthony Braxton, Marty Ehrlich, John Zorn, and many others.  The quartet that gives the album its name includes Jeremy Viner (tenor sax, clarinet), Adam Hopkins (bass), and long-time collaborator Matt Mitchell (piano, Prophet 6, electronics). One can hear the influence of Henry Threadgill and Tim Berne in the linear and episodic nature of the longer pieces yet one also hears the rhythmic influence of the composer/drummer John Hollenbeck.  The thematic pattern at the onset of "SSGF" subtly combines Western and Asian Indian influences.  Mitchell picks up on that in the opening moments of his solo, then you notice the entire time he's playing is an interaction with the drummer.

The playful nature of the six short pieces (all under three minute with two barely 60 seconds long) that are interspersed throughout the program allow us to hear the drummer as a sound manipulator. For example, "hammergaze" features the leaders on various percussion instruments filtered through the Prophet 6 while "sear" is a melodic fragment with bowed bass, a short melodic passage, and percussive sounds. "xenomorphic" is multi-tracked bass with bowed bass in the middle surrounded by by three or four versions of the same fragmented melody.  Two of the short pieces, "cardiac logic" and "stars covered in metal" would seem candidates for The Claudia Quintet with the latter track very much n the vein King Crimson.  "Full Lucid" opens with a forceful tenor sax solo then percussion joins in. When Mitchell's keyboards enter, they create a trance-like background that soon becomes the foreground - near the end, the rest of the quartet enters with a melody playing it out to the close.

The dramatic use of sonic space is a vital element of the album. Pieces such as "unreasonable optimism" constantly change shape and intensity levels, sounding like free improvisation.  When you listen again, you hear that there are melodic "triggers" that push the musicians in a new direction.  It's a compositional and arrangement tool that minimalists such as Steve Reich in that you do not feel the music shifting but, like the constant flow of a river, this music is ever-shifting. "wrack" lurches forward on the power of Mitchell's left hand in tandem with Hopkins bass line, both pushed by the insistent drumming.  Viner digs into his tenor solo, his lines scurrying over the rhythms then notice how the drums and bass move freely below the piano solo without the music losing direction. One imagines that this music is even more powerful in a concert setting.

There's nearly 73 minutes of music on "Mannequins" and, considering how closely one should listen, there are times when that seems overwhelming. But when the listener goes back, she/he hears more, the patterns become clearer, the brilliance of the shifting rhythms stand out (excellent sound quality) and you realize how much of a true group effort this is.  Kate Gentile is no genteel drummer - that's fine. She is an exciting composer and musician to pay attention to now and for years (and projects) to come.

For more information, go to kategentile.com.

Give a listen: