Monday, September 29, 2014

Louis Sclavis Quartet: Silk and Salt Melodies

Product DetailsAfter all this time, I just feel like posting quickly today on this wonderfully diverse recording from ECM, "Silk and Salt Melodies"out tomorrow September 30th. Louis Sclavis on clarinet and bass clarinet, Gilles Coronado on guitar, Benjamin Moussay on piano and keyboards, and Keyvan Chemirani on percussion play nine pieces of beautifully arranged and integrated melodies which build in intensity as the recording proceeds through them. After an opening set of four moderate tempo pieces, the "Dance of the Horses"  steps up the tempo with increasing passion, culminating in a fevered piano part by Chemirani over pulsating hand drums. Sclavis follows with some beautiful, full bodied clarinet play on a mischievous "Amando's Rhumba", with lots of pauses, tempo changes, and questions buried among the lines. The intensity moves up a notch with "Cortege" and "Dust and Dogs", with a distinctly eastern flair provided by the sinuous clarinet and percussion parts. Lots of storytelling in these songs, lots of mystery and adventure as the instruments play off of each other with jumps and pauses and tempo shifts.  Outstanding music.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


March has brought me a plethora of new and inviting music, on a wide range of labels from countries near and far. It's time to attack some of them.

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Sara Serpa has had a string of special releases in the past few years, and in February 2013 I wrote glowingly about her duet with Ran Blake, "Aurora" (Clean Feed 2012) and noted her earlier "Camera Obscura" (CD Baby 2010), also with Blake. At the time I noted that Serpa is hardly a classic jazz singer, so do not expect that. But she is a wonderfully eclectic singer with a simple voice that is wonderfully reassuring. Here on her newest release, with husband Andre Matos on guitar and bass, "Primavera" (Inner Circle Music 2014) they have composed twelve of 14 pieces.  The arrangements are once more simple and sparse, just the duo on most pieces, with some guest appearances including a lovely soprano sax solo on one piece by Greg Osby,  blending beautifully with her clear voice, range and dynamic patterns.  The words to describe the pieces are mellifluous, swaying, seductive, and soothing. Some pieces are in Portuguese, some in English, and some are wordless, but all wash over you with a calming effect. It's hard to say much more, these are such lovely little melodies that connect with Serpa's heritage at times, and with contemporary music at others. A tour de force. 

Courage Music: The Ellen Rowe Quintet

Ellen Rowe Quintet, "Courage Music" (PKO Records 2014) is a terrific set of ten modern jazz pieces, eight of which were written by Rowe, and the others by Ingrid Jensen and Cole Porter. Ingrid Jensen joins pianist and composer Rowe on trumpet and flugelhorn, with the others Andrew Bishop on tenor sax and clarinet, Kurt Krahnke on bass, and Pete Siers on drums. Paul Ferguson joins on the final piece, playing trombone; and the University of Michigan Chamber Jazz Ensemble plays on the tune "And Miles to Go (Part 2)". Rowe is an accomplished pianist, composer, and educator at the University of Michigan (GO BLUE!) who has worked with performers like Kenny Wheeler, John Clayton, and Tom Harrell, among others. The beauty in this recording rests with the wonderful compositions and arrangements by Rowe, which create some lovely layering and textures throughout. The harmonic pallet and the colorations form each performer serve Rowe well in bringing energy and light to her songs. The songs are each distinct, some very impressionistic and others hewing closer to the mainstream jazz tradition. All have a deep beauty that is a joy to listen to.  
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Tim Hegarty, "Tribute" (Miles High Records 2014) is a straight-ahead, full-bodied set of ten songs played by a quintet of Hegarty on tenor and soprano saxes, Mark Sherman on vibes, Kenny Barron on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, and Carl Allen on drums. With a group like that there is no reason to say much more of course; suffice it to say these are classic jazz tunes from Hegarty's teachers, some who he worked with and others who taught him through their recordings. Jimmy Heath, George Coleman, Monk, Coltrane and Bird are all mentioned in the notes. This is a robust, energetic CD that swings boldly on songs like Heath's "Gingerbread Boy", Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge" and Coleman's "Amsterdam After Dark." Hegarty own contributions fit the form beautifully on this wonderful example of up to date mainstream jazz. 

Three down, many more to go for March. What a month! 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Down the Middle

Haven't really touched on mainstream jazz much lately, not since the Smoke Sessions CDs for Harold Mabern and Vincent Herring. So here's a group of four recent purchases that have tickled my fancy and caught my ear. All are highly recommended.

Product DetailsWhat can be more mainstream or better than Oscar Peterson and Ben Webster, "During this Time" (Art of the Groove 2014), especially when Peterson's trio includes Tony Inzalaco on percussion and the inestimable Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (NHOP) on bass. this set was taken a live recording at the 84th NDR Jazz Workshop in December of 1972, sadly just a few months before Webster passed away in Amsterdam. It's a nice set, well-recorded and featuring both a CD and DVD of the event. The songs include "Perdido", "For All We Know", "Cotton Tail" and "In a Mellow Tone" among others, and if Webster's sound is just a tad less dynamic than on earlier sets, he is still great, while Peterson is as good as ever and NHOP excels.

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Scott Hamilton Quartet, "Dean Street Nights" (Woodville Records 2014) is a live showcase from Pizza Express in London and features John Pearce on piano, Dave Green on bass, and Steve Brown on drums. Hamilton's play is from the direct line of which Webster was one of the kings; his sound is large, mellow, and unforced, and his roots are and always have been in the mainstream tradition. The seven pieces attest to his love of the standards, featuring "Cherokee, "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most", and "Sweet and Lovely" among them, but the two real standouts are "Jitterbug Waltz" and Hamilton's own "Zoot's Blues", an homage to another of Hamilton's iconic heroes.

Sticking with the saxophones, there's a new one from one of the young lions -- Javon Jackson, "Expression" (Smoke Sessions 2014), a third live performance and another outstanding set. Jackson has incredible support here from Orrin Evans on piano, Corcoran Holt on bass, and McClenty Hunter on drums. Smoke is a great setting for jazz and that comes through in the excellent sound, the dynamic play, and grateful audience response to this set of ten songs. Jackson is strong on a set of standards, covers from some great jazz players like Wayne Shorter and George Cables, and five of his own tunes. His ballad to his late cousin "Lelia" is a standout, but then so are tunes like "88 Strong" dedicated to McCoy Tyner as well as the standard "When I Fall in Love." The Smoke Sessions label is producing some standout live jazz -- this is the third this year, with another set for April under the leadership of David Hazeltine.

Product DetailsBruce Barth, "Daybreak" (Savant 2014) is another hit in a long line of hits for the veteran pianist. His group includes Steve Nelson on vibes, Terell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn, Vincente Archer on bass, and Montez Coleman on drums. Barth compose 7 of the 10 pieces and the others are "Triste" by Jobim, "In the Still of the Night" by Cole Porter, and "So Tender" by Keith Jarrett. Stafford and Barth are unaccompanied on "So Tender" and luxuriate in the beautiful melody. The trio of Barth, Archer, and Coleman impress on the Jobim opener, and Nelson and Barth are special on "In the Still of the Night" which opens with a bouncy lead from Nelson. But that's just three pieces, the remaining 7 each have their moments in the sun as well.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Juhani Aaltonen "To Future Memories" (Tum 2014)

Product DetailsJuhani Aaltonen "To Future Memories" (Tum 2014) is a lovely set of music packaged beautifully in a tri-fold sleeve, with great art and a substantial booklet about the music and the artists. The packaging continues a long streak for TUM of beautiful presentations and is almost worth the price alone. The subtitle is "The Music of Antti Hytti", Hytti being a Finnish composer and bassist, and many of these pieces were created for movies or short films during the 1980s and 90s. Aaltonen played on the original scores and here is working with these pieces in a wholly new way as a tribute.

Aaltonen was born in 1935 and is a legendary player in Finland with a long discography. The group is made up of Aaltonen on tenor saxophone, flute and bass flute; Iro Haarla on piano; bassists Ulf Krokfors and Ville Herrala; Reino Laine on drums; and Tatu Ronkko on percussion.

"Reminiscence" begins with a drumbeat and then a slow and lovingly played saxophone melody over accompaniment of the piano, bass, and percussion.  Aaltonen's improvisations begin as long flowing and lovely lines, gradually building in intensity and emotion with concurrent increases by the drums and cymbals until the music becomes freer and a bit strident. The percussion finally takes center stage with a solo of about a minute, after which the saxophone returns to its more mellow opening sound and the entire group settles back once more until the end is reached. While the middle section gets pretty intense and free, the overall composition is interesting and rest of the tune very nice.

"Kukunor" is a quieter piece that begins with the piano stating the melody, followed by the delicacy of Aaltonen's flute over the piano and the barest of brushing from the percussion. Taken at a slow and stately pace this is simply a beautiful song. Back and forth between the flute, piano, and bass, all supported by the whisper of the percussion, the piece is a quiet mediation on beauty.

"To Future Memories" opens with a bass solo and the quietest of support from the others, until at the two minute mark the saxophone slowly enters with an elegant melody line accompanied as well by some very interesting coloration by the percussionist. The melody is played quietly and flows very delicately and slowly over the other parts. At the five minute mark the piano takes over  with its own delicate and lovely turn with the melody line over the bass and drums/percussion. Finally the saxophone rejoins and the entire ensemble delicately takes the piece to the end.

"Hilsi" features Aaltonen on the bass flute, a deep and resonant sound that creates a sense of muted elegence as this song opens. Again, it is a very slowly paced piece played quietly over quiet support by the drums and percussion. The tempo gradually picks up and the flute moves into its higher registers as the intensity builds and the notes get shorter and more rapid. The drumming increases the intensity of the piece along with the faster play of the flute during this middle section, and the bass plays a rapid series of notes underneath. the mellow feeling is replaced by a more anxious one, until finally the piece settles back with some nice rounded bass tones and a return to the flutes lower register and longer notes.

"Ursula" opens with a naked sax solo for half of the 3 minute piece (the shortest on the CD. The rest are about 7 to 9 minutes), and then is accompanied by some the piano comping. It's the shortest and simplest of the pieces and quite pretty. It is followed by "All the Birds", which opens with a somber piano meditation of about two minutes, after which the saxophone joins the piece and the piano begins comping. It is another slowly evolving piece of great emotion and beauty, played at a slow and elegant tempo. At about the midpoint both players fade out and there is a quiet bass solo with a hint of support from the percussion that gradually ends as the saxophone and piano re-enter and the entire ensemble brings the piece to a close.

"Haze" is the final piece and a more strident and somewhat more intense trip. Aaltonen's pace picks up throughout the piece, the dynamics grow in intensity, and the mellow sound of his instrument changes to a more strident tone. It is a harder listen than what has come before, not only played at a brisk tempo but also with less unity among the players. This is impressionism bordering on the avant garde.

Overall I was enraptured by this CD, one that I was unsure of when I began. The first and last pieces have some more difficult sections in them, compared to the gentleness of the impressionistic pieces between, but the overall CD is quite remarkable and a nice tribute to the compositions of Antti Hytti. This is for those who have an adventurous spirit.

Get to Know: Leslie Pintchik

Pianist Leslie Pintchik is about to release her fourth CD, "In the Nature of Things" (Pinch Hard 2014) this month, a set of eight modern mainstream jazz pieces that she wrote along with one standard "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face". I've been a fan since her first release in 2004, and this is another in a series of excellent performances from Pintchik and her group. 

Pintchik has an interesting biography. Before embarking on her musical career she taught English Lit at Columbia University, and received a Master of Philosophy degree in 17th Century English Literature. Her interest in music blossomed afterwards and she began her career with a stint with bassist Red Mitchell at the legendary club Bradley's on University Place in Greenwich Village. From that point forward she was committed to her jazz career and formed a trio with Scott Hardy on bass and Michael Sarin or Satoshi Takeishi on drums. All three -- Hardy, Sarin, and Takeishi -- appear on this CD, along with trumpet and flugelhorn player Ron Horton and Steve Wilson on saxophones. Wilson also arranged the horns on the six pieces on which they appear. 

The first CD from the trio (without Sarin) was "So Glad to Be Here" (Ambient Records 2004), a set of 11 pieces, seven by Pintchik along with three covers-- "All the Things You Are", "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song" and "We See" -- plus one original by bassist Hardy. The covers are played with a uniqueness that indicated Pintchik's already original writing, with the first done with a latin beat and the second a group encounter of great intensity and color. Her own songs are wide ranging in character, and the percussion of Takeishi certainly enhances the mood of each. This is a great opening salvo for her career. 

"Quartets" (Ambient Records 2007) came next and in addition to the trio added sax player Wilson for one quartet, and shifted Takeishi to percussion and added Mark Dodge on drums for the other. There are nine pieces, five by Pintchik, highlighted by a somber, slow version of "Happy Days Are Here Again" by the Dodge quartet, and the contrasting light and airy "Over Easy" and "Private Moments", originals by Pintchik featuring the lilting sounds of Wilson's saxes. The CD is fairly restrained but nonetheless captivating, and speaks to Pintchik's impressionistic writing and growing sonic palette. 

The third CD is "We're Here to Listen" (Pintch Hard 2010) with Hardy, Takeishi, and Hodge. Pintchik is up to six originals here, and interesting cover versions of "Blowin' in the Wind"  and "For All We Know". This is the most relaxed and laid back of the first three outings, with a number of nice mid-tempo songs played very simply and elegantly by Pintchik, particularly "Completely" and "For All We Know". Very nice music, elegant ind interesting melodies,  but perhaps a bit too mellow given what has come before. 

The newest CD, "In the Nature of Things" returns the group to a more rounded menu of songs and is a stronger CD, in fact the strongest one yet by Pintchik. The variety of moods, tempi, and dynamics is enhanced by the inclusion of Horton and Wilson on six of the tunes, with arrangements as previously noted by Wilson. Pintchik states the melodies in her songs and uses the horns to provide counter punches, as on the strongly grooved and bouncy "I'd Turn Back if I Were You", or for counter-melodies on several others, which deepens the context and emotional strength of the music. Pintchik has grown as a composer and has a gift for writing in various forms so there are mid-tempo ballads, uptempo swings, New Orleans sounds, latin, and blues sprinkled in the nine compositions, with only one standard this time, a beautifully and delicately rendered "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face". "Sparkle" is one example of the mid-tempo swing and provides plenty of room for each player to solo, while "Terse Tune" is a minor blues" with a simple melody that grows in power and climaxes with dueling horns, drums, and percussion. "Ripe" and "Ready" are latinate tunes with flowing melodies and rich harmonies, and in the case of the former a wonderfully soothing flugelhorn solo by Horton. 

This is an outstanding addition to Pintchik's discography and one for fans of the modern mainstream.

Finally, for those in the NY area, Pintchik and her group are regulars around Manhattan at various clubs, and will be performing at a CD release concert at Jazz at  Kitano on Friday April 25th. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Four Pianos

The beginning of 2014 has brought an incredible number of wonderful CDs to my attention so it's time to start posting about some of them. Today, four really nice piano works. 

Omar Sosa "Senses" (Ota 2014) continues a nice run of outings by the pianist on his own label, including "Calma" (Ota 2011) which I listed among my favorites of 2011; his duo with Paolo FresuAlma (Ota 2012, a mellow pairing of piano and trumpet sounds which paints a nice picture; and "Eggun: The Afro-Lectric Experience" (Ota Records 2013), a fine latin-tinged recording in various combinations of six players featuring Sosa on keyboards, Joo Krauson trumpet and Peter Apfelbaum on saxes; with additional support on various tracks by Lionel Louke on guitar and a number of other guitarists and percussionists. 

Product Details"Senses" is a set of 16 solo piano pieces, largely improvised. The pieces are very quiet and restful, tinged with some sadness, but more beautiful than melancholy. Sosa brings his Cuban roots into the equation in his subtle harmonies. These are peaceful meditations that will thrill you with their individual beauty. 

Product DetailsContinuing with meditations and impressionistic piano playing, Kaja Draksler "The Lives of Many Others (Clean Feed 2014) is a solo piano recording made at the Ljubljana Jazz Festival in 2013. The music here is more abstract than Sosa's and incorporates a broader palette of dynamics and harmonies. This 27 year old Slovenian has a discography dating to 2008 and has performed both solo and with her Acropolis Quintet, and uses both her classical and jazz training to produce some wonderfully diverse meditations that also incorporate folk melodies from her  home. In New York she studied privately with two of the best piano innovators today,  Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran. Great stuff.

Product DetailsThe Danny Fox Trio had a great first release with "The One Constant" (Songlines 2011) and their new CD is equally good,  "Wide Eyed" (Hot Cup Records 2014). The trio is Danny Fox on piano, Chris Van Voorst Van Beest on bass, and Max Goldman on drums. This too is a set of impressionistic pieces that move modern trios into more innovative settings, using unusual rhythms and harmonies over rather nice melodies. The music is a blend of modern mainstream and chamber jazz.  The  tightness of the group and their interplay is a product of their working together since 2008 and each player has plenty of time to improvise within the structure of the 11 tunes, all by Fox. My only complaint -- As much as I like Edvard Munch I am not crazy about the cover art, but what a minor quibble for such interesting and invigorating music.

front cover 600x600 200x200 Piano trio encounters of the Torontonian kind (Mike Downes, Matt Newton, Gerry Shatford CDs reviewed)Now here's a cover I can get behind, Gerry Shatford Trio "When I Sat Down to Play the Piano" (Self Produced 2014). A Canadian pianist, Shatford is joined by Neil Swainson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums. This set is evidently an outgrowth of his masters thesis for York University in Toronto. It uses traditional jazz building blocks in unusual ways, combining the rhythms and harmonies with streams from the more modern and impressionistic jazz of chamber music and the abstract. there are blues here, some boppish pieces, and even some ragtime sprinkled around. But all of these strands are used in the service of Shatford's unique tunes. Its a high spirit CD full of very individualistic and unique melodies and one that deserves attention.

Four unique piano CDs, from the U.S., Slovenian, Cuba, and Canada. Jazz is certainly international and here are four wonderful excursions for the listener.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra Strikes Again

Product DetailsAt the end of last year I posted about "Rhapsody in Blue Live", Scottish National Jazz Orchestra featuring Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock (Spartacus Records 2009), an absolutely knockout recording of creativity that presents the piece as you've never heard it before. 

Product DetailsThey're back again with "American Adventure" (Spartacus Records 2013) this time augmenting Tommy Smith on tenor sax (and as leader) and the 14 piece orchestra with a stellar group of American jazz players: Mike Stern on guitar, Clarence Penn on drums, Donny McCaslin on flute and tenor, Joe Locke on vibes, Dave Liebman on soprano sax, David Kikowski on piano, Joel Frahm on tenor, Bill Evans on tenor, Kurt Elling singing on one track, Michael Dease on trombone, and Randy Brecker on trumpet. The recording was made last June at the Avatar Stuidios in Brooklyn while the Orchestra was touring in the U.S. and Canada for the first time. 

It is an elegant set of seven pieces arranged to maximize the contributions of these stellar players, a set that includes Mingus' "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love", the piece that Elling appears on; Wayne Shorter's "Yes or Know", a great arrangement for the horns and an energetic feature for Joe Locke and SNJO drummer Alyn Cosker;  rhapsodic and delicate play on Coltrane's "Dear Lord" featuring David Kikoski and Randy Brecker; a high wire romp on Shorter's "Pinocchio" featuring Michael Dease, Joel Frahm, and Clarence Penn; and the elegant Chick Corea's "Quartet No. 1 (part 2)" for Bill Evans and David Kikoski. 

As with the earlier "Rhapsody In Blue" it is the combination of the inviting arrangements, virtuosity of the players, and the energy they produce that makes the set memorable. Seriously creative music with too many great solo parts to enumerate. 

Product DetailsNote: For those who do not know Tommy Smith, he is an internationally known tenor sax player with a long list of accomplishments, both leading the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra as well as playing on many other significant CDs, including most recently Arild Andersen's "Mira" (ECM 2013), a beautiful and rewarding set that shows him in a very different but equally beautiful mood.