Friday, September 21, 2012

Dumpster Diving: Ada Rovatti, a $2 Gem

Okay, so it wasn't dumpster diving exactly. It was sorting through boxes and boxes of bargain discs at my local record store, which sometimes pays off with little gems. (Anyone like Blake Shelton? I saw at least three of his CDs among the piles.]

Product DetailsPhoto of Ada RovattiI picked up this CD, "Airbop" (Apria Records 2005) by Ada Rovatti to look at. Why? First, the cover shows her with a tenor sax and I love the sound of a good tenor sax. Second, among the players listed on the back cover two were well known to me as outstanding straight jazz players, Dave Kikoski on piano and Ed Howard on  bass. Good sign -- as I have said on earlier blogs, check the line up if you don't know the name. Good sidemen don't generally play with anyone, and if they think Ada Rovatti is worth playing with then who am I to argue. So then I opened the jewel box to see what it said inside and low and behold, there were guest players, specifically in this case Randy Brecker on trumpet/flugelhorn on four tracks and Bob Mintzer on bass clarinet on one track (and I have already said I am a sucker for bass clarinet).

Now it was really interesting, so I put it on the CD player in the store, and presto, this is a really good piece of solid modern bop music. And Ada Rovatti plays with a really nice big tenor sound. Randy Brecker swings like mad on his four tracks, especially "Choose Your Life", and Mintzer is solid on "2-Bros." with a nice bass clarinet solo. The set consists of 8 pieces composed and arranged by Rovatti, plus one lovely rendering of "My Shining Hour", a Harold Arlen composition on which Rovatti plays a very expressive, smooth soprano sax. Her play here is subdued and lilting, and Kikowski comes in early with a similarly subdued improvised solo that captures the beauty of the song. The  two blow the song away, and demonstrate the virtuosity of Rovatti on a song that everyone knows. Her compositions are effective and great pieces for her playing partners to open up on, and her own mastery of the two saxes on her various solos, runs up and down the notes, and unison play makes this a standout recording. Worth hearing and probably a bargain as well if you look.

Who is Ada Rovatti and what else has she played on? That was my next question after hearing this CD so here are some notes from her on-line biography. Ada Rovatti is an Italian saxophonist from Pavia who began playing piano at an early age and only at the end of high school picked the saxophone as her main instrument. She studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston,  moved to Paris, where she played with many artists, and then returned to New York. She has performed with Les Paul, John McLaughlin, Randy Brecker, Bob Mintzer, Victor Bailey, Miroslav Vitous, Joanne Brackeen, and many others.

Product DetailsUnder The Hat by Ada Rovatti coverHer first recording as a leader was “Under The Hat”, and “Airbop” is her second release. She also appears on Randy Brecker's “34 th N Lex” (ESC Records 2003) and on John McLaughlin's “Industrial Zen” (Verve Fontana 2006). In 2009 she released “Green Factor”, which I have not heard but is described as a unique recording with a melting pot of irish/celtic/jazz/fusion influences with strong harmonies and sophisticated arrangements. She also has a band, Elephunk, with whom she has recorded as well.  

Rovatti is married to Randy Brecker and plays with his quintet.  A review from a recent tour (Jeff Nania, Metroland Newspaper, March 8, 2012) said the following:

Rovatti was endearingly referred to as “the secret weapon” by her husband and bandleader, Brecker. Her tenor sound is often dark and mysterious, but can be soulful and bluesy, or cutting and edgy. This is in contrast to her tone on the soprano, which is round and beautiful without any of the annoying edge that is so often associated with that instrument, and which even more well-known proponents of the instrument fall prey to. The interplay between Brecker and Rovatti came off with ease. They know how to accompany each other, and their interplay is truly conversational. The most original composition of the evening was Rovatti’s tune “Stuntman,” which came to a false ending, and the crowd started applauding before the group went into a 14/8 groove. Rovatti played soprano on this one, and although Brecker played the melody on trumpet, he picked up the flugelhorn for the solo.

In addition to her musical expertise Ada appeared in the movie ‘Mona Lisa Smile’ featuring Julia Roberts.

[NOTE: There are an awful lot of husband and wife jazz teams around that play some awesome music in addition to these two. Off the top of my head,  I can quickly think of Renee Rosnes and Bill Charlap, George Colligan and Kerry Politzer (Jan 9), Mike DeRubbo and Lauren Sevian (Feb 14), Geri Allen and Wallace Roney. (The dates indicate a blog post reference.)

Readers are welcome to provide more.

Try it, You May Like It: Music Inside and Out, Joe Alterman and Nik Bartsch

I like to make an effort to characterize the music I write about using adjectives or categories that are descriptive enough to give readers a sense of what to expect.

Sometimes I say music is "inside" or "down the middle" or "like a classic Blue Note sound", and hope that creates an image for readers. That music in my mind stresses melody, gentle harmonies, standards, and gentle improvisations.

Sometimes I say music is angular, full of dissonance, less about melody than rhythms and melodies than the sounds themselves, and use words like modern or abstract or improvisational. I hope that creates a clear image of fractals and free improvisations.

And then there are the shadings -- music that is based on melodies and standards but with some modern creativity, interesting improvisations, or unusual instrumentation; music that is a bit outside but not too far;  chamber jazz, that stresses colorations and gentle harmonies; or music that is totally abstract or improvised but not in an angular and dissonant way.

I do this so those who want to try new artists or new sounds have an inkling of what thay will be getting. This post covers two polar opposites in sound (to me). I hope it illustrates my thinking in action in this post,  which is to get people to pick up and listen to a new artist, Joe Alterman; pick up some new CDs by well known artists (David Hazeltine, George Cables, Harold Mabern); or to try some experimental music, go out on a limb and listen to Nik Bartsch's Ronin.

So, who is Joe Alterman, what is his music about, and will you like him? Joe Alterman is a young pianist from Atlanta who moved to New York and studied music at N.Y.U. , graduating in 2012. He says he grew up with the piano jazz greats on LPs at his home -- Garland, Jamal, Garner, Peterson, Jones and others. He worked hard to first incorporate their sounds and then to discern what made them special so he could take those lessons into his own sound. He is currently continuing with his Master's Degree at NYU, and learning from respected teachers like Jean Michel-Pilc, John Scofield, Joe Lovano and others, as well as playing at the many clubs around the city.

He has performed all over New York as well as abroad, and in 2009 recorded his first CD, "Piano Tracks Volume 1" (Self-produced 2009), a set of five standards and five originals with a true "Blue Note" fifties feel. I was lucky enought to read a bit about it then and picked it up right after it was issued.  Only 21 at the time, the CD is incredible for the maturity demonstrated, tand he sensibilities of never rushing notes and letting tunes breathe (He cites Ahmad Jamal as his hero).  He demonstrates quite a range in his play -- a bit of stride, block chording, and a strong melodic flow and swing beat. His originals include some soul-jazz, some balladry, and merge perfectly with the classics. His band is Scott Glazer on bass and Justin Varnes on drums, except for the song "First Night Home," on which it is Sam Sellinger on bass and Tiffany Chang on drums.

His second CD, "Give Me the Simple Life" (Mile High 2012) has just appeared and is a real testament to Alterman's taste, jazz interests, and abilities, and is a classic straight-ahead set that is extremely impressive. As band mates he has chosen Ahmad Jamal's rhythm section of James Cammack on bass and Herlin Riley on drums; and then he has added the classic round tones of tenor saxman Houston Person for four songs. "Georgia on My Mind" is the opener, with Person on tenor, and it is played at a faster pace than usual with a bluesier sensibility that really cooks. Moving into "Give Me the Simple Life", Alterman immediately demonstrates how well he has absorbed the music and teachings of his predessessors with a bouncy, playful and altogether charming take on the piece. This continues throughout the recording, whether covering classics like "Time After Time" with the trio or "Blue Moon" with the quartet or his own composition, "The First Night Home" with Person blowing strong. 

Alterman is solid and respectful of his roots but not necessarily a unique voice at this point, which is not to demean what is a great record that I easily recommend. He has the knowedge of what is most meaningful in the jazz tradition and a solid musical vision of who he is. His touch is reminiscent of Garland or Jones, he works carefully with his cohorts and truly listens and works with them, and has created a really lively, spirited and swinging CD. He is a young guy working to expand his vocabulary to bring the standard sound to the new century.
Product Details
Product DetailsProduct DetailsYou can see how much Alterman fits in with the classic pianists of the 50s and 60s as well as those who are still playing today like Cedar Walton or Junior Mance by considering his CD alongside three new releases by David Hazeltine, Harold Mabern, and George Cables. All three, while breaking no new ground, provide nice additions to their discographies with these recordings: Hazeltine's "The New Classic Trio" (Sharp Nine 2012), with George Mraz and Joe Farnsworth; Mabern's "Mr. Lucky" (High Note 2012) with Eric Alexander on tenor, John Webber on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums; and Cables' "My Muse" (High Note 2012) with Essiet Essiet on bass and Victor Lewis on drums.

In each case you know what you are going to get --- great melodies, expressive pianism and tight trios, and in the case of Mabern some lyrical saxophone play from Eric Alexander. No surprises, just great music, some standards, some less played songs from classic composers, and some original works. These gentlemen are the direct successors to Garland, Peterson, Kelly, et al, and in the case of Mabern and Cables, go all the way back to the 60s for their starts, but they are never dull as they constantly find simple ways to freshen the music with modest changes in voicings, chord choices, tempos, and improvistions. All are welcome additions to anyone's collection.  

So all four "down the middle" CDs are great, but I encourage you to start with Alterman, the new kid on the block, who represents the bridge from the past to at least one path for jazz's future.

Now lets step outside. There are all sorts of ways to do this. Just outside are those like Jarrett, Bollani, Pieranunzi, Bley, and Mehldau, those who are deeply rooted in the conventions of the piano trio, play the melodies in their songs' heads (when not doing free composition) but are more improvisational than those who play down the middle. One can follow the formidable modernists led by Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran, or Matthew Shipp, who can play both just outside the box, way outside the box, and anywhere in between as they reinvent the language of jazz for the classic piano trio but still retain the structures. One can go towards the European chamber jazz sensibilities of Bobo Stenson, Marcin Wasilewski, Anat Fort, Ketil Bjornstad, and others whose play emphasize moods and colorations over traditional jazz rhythms and beats.  Or there are the European trios following in the footsteps of E.S.T., like Helge Lien, Michael Wollny [em], and the modernists using today's pop like Bad Plus and the Curios.

Or, one can really step far outside, at least in this blogger's opinion, and create something altogether new, unusual and almost beyond category, which is where I placed The Necks, The Portico Quartet, and Nik Bartsch's Ronin in my post of  May 14.

Product DetailsToday I have two additions to the Bartsch discography -- two pre-ECM CDs that I picked up in Europe, "Aer" (Ronin Rhythm Records 2006) and "Live" (Ronin Rhythm Records 2006), both of which fall right into the paradigm for their later work. I also wanted to write about Bartsch because shortly there will be another live disc, this one coming out on ECM later this month that I wanted readers to be aware of.

Product DetailsI like Ronin a lot but recognize it is a very distintive sound and probably pretty polarizing -- I doubt there is a middle ground here between I love them and I hate them. The music is not based on melodies, barely on rhythms, and only loosely on harmonies. It is really based instead on the atmosphere that the band creates, the colorations that they achieve, and the overall mood they set. The music is called Zen-funk by Bartsch, the composer and pianist for the group; and Ritual Groove Music, a single aesthetic vision that attempts to get maximum effect by minium needs -- another definition of what the band is about. Their influences come from funk, classical music, eastern ritual music, et al. and the music itself consists of very few phrases and motifs, which are continually combined and layered in new ways. There is unity in all of the compositions, in the way the instruments are attacked, the phrasing, and the integration of the sounds. The mood is always mellow, the sound never harsh or discordant, but the music is very different.

This is a significant sonic challenge for the listener who is looking for interesting experiences. "Aer", is a studio album and includes six Moduls, as all of Ronin's tunes are titled. It also includes Sha on bass clarinet and alto sax for the first time with the group, although he is subsequently on all of the ECM CDs. Sha adds significant texture to the sound and a second melodic instrument, along with the piano, and is particularly effective in addressing the moods that the band is seeking. The "Live" album is also interesting. Here there is no woodwind and the band is really a trio of piano/rhodes, and drums/percussion. Still the sounds are fascinating, the slow changing patterns arresting, and the moods shift as textures and colors come and go, intensify or retreat, etc.

Ronin makes a lot out of very little, and achieves its goal of creating a zen-like mood and modern ritualistic groove. This is still a piano trio, but as far from the straight and narrow as one can conceivably go. The music is soothing, the sounds are never harsh or discordant, but still this is for the adventerous listener. I find it fascinating, and when I want mellow, a perfect setting matching the mood. These two discs are easily worth the investment to those who like Bartsch or want to experience "Ritual Groove Music." But you can start with the easier to find ECM recordings and still understand what his music is like.

Think about it -- there are so many facets to jazz to listen to, to accept or reject. But listening is the only way to find out, and exploring the pathway to discovery. I hope readers will take the time to listen to these CDs and others and decide for themselves -- do I like inside or out, or both? Should I buy an established artist or a new voice? Try the sound clips, the You Tube videos, and then the CDs if you think you might like the music. It doesn't take a lot of time and effort, and the payoff may be great.

Good luck to all.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Back to My Roots: New Releases from Beyond the World of Jazz

My roots go back to the sixties, to the Jefferson Airplane and other San Francisco bands (anyone remember Moby Grape?), to the Beatles of course and all that followed them, and to the folk scene from Dylan, Baez and onward; and I still buy plenty of CDs in those genre.

Every so often I like to note new releases by the elder statespersons I still love (see earlier posts on Joe Cocker and Leonard Cohen), as well as some of the practitioners of the sound who came afterwards,  because, just like me, I am sure there are many of you reading this who were there as well. But only when the CDs are worth recommending, at least to my ears (sorry Paul McCartney -- "Kisses on the Bottom" was fluff, nice but fluff; sorry Neil Young but "Americana" was too raucous; Ricki Lee Jones, sorry but it was just too bleak; sorry Brian but the Beachboys don't have it anymore).

So, in the last few months, I highly recommend:

Product DetailsJudy Collins "Bohemian": She has always been number one in my folky heart, whther singing tradtional folk songs, Broadway, Dylan, Cohen, or her own songs. On this disc she has a lot of music from her traditional folk roots, from other fine writers who have been around the block, and her own compositions, and her voice is once more pure beauty.

Product DetailsTedeschi and Trucks Band "Everybody's Talkin' (Live): I am in love with the husky bluesy voice of Susan Tedeschi and have all her solo Cds. It is she who makes this band glow for me. Trucks and company may be terrific at wailing the blues and playing their instruments, and they are, but it is Tedeschi that makes this the great album it is for me. Pure joy, pure energy on every track.

Product DetailsBob Dylan "Tempest": Can't leave it off but I can't call it the masterpiece that others do. I like it, I like the late Dylan, but I still am living in the past with the old music and the old voice. Still, I think "Titanic" is right there as a classic and will live on forever.

Product DetailsMark Knopfler "Privateering ": I always liked Dire Straits, but once Knopfler began his solo career I don't believe he has written or performed a bad song. This two-disc recording is right up there once again. His soothing voice and manner are fabulous, and his songs about everyday folks are the UK equivalent of Springsteen. Just great, simply great.

Product DetailsRita Wilson  This is the "oddball" recording here. I almost feel silly putting this in the list, but the actress Rita Wilson, wife of Tom Hanks, can sing and sing well. She knows well enough not to overdo it, so the charm here is simplicity in the arrangements and her voice coupled with those great singles we all remember like "All I Have To Do", "Cherish" ,"You Were On My Mind", "River" -- its all about memories and associations (no pun intended). Terrifically fun, fluffy stuff but better than McCartney. I love the mood it puts me in.

Product DetailsLoudon Wainright III   Wainright has always been the oddball humorist -- remember "Dead Skunk" or "Hometown Team"? -- and the humor is still present, but more directed to the ironies of a life well lived if messy, to aging and even ruminations on death. Done with the Wainwright style of simple tunes well played and well sung, and very much a laid back performance in a traditional folky style. Its generational for some of us and hits close to the heart.

Product DetailsNanci Griffith  The Texas songbird shines, with her beautiful twangy voice expressing her cares and woes on 12 beautifully crafted songs about difficulties, about anger, about things that slip away and things that explode. Sung with loving care, the simple tunes are memorable.

Product DetailsShawn Colvin  Another in the line of great folk/country singers who really lays it on the line in her compositions and lyrics. Colvin has had a tough live as revealed in her biography, and her outpourings here are touching to hear. The simple production is perfect for these songs and accentuate the beauty and passion of the music and Colvin's voice.

Product DetailsMary Chapin-Carpenter  We never miss the opportunity to see her live and are never disappointed. Saw her twice this year, the second time in concert with Colvin, and the two were overwhelming. My wife often talks about seeing Chapin-Carpenter in small clubs in D.C. and knowing even then she was a star. The new disc is lovely with expressive and poignant songs and lyrics and of course her beautiful voice.

And coming up soon:

Judy Collins "Live at the Metropolitan" : This isn't here yet, but it was broadcast on PBS, and will be a killer CD when it comes out, a fifty year retrospective of Collins work, some guest appearances, and some good natured banter. Watch for it next month.

Product DetailsLucy Kaplansky "Reunion"  Kaplansky is another natural sucessor in the line from Collins and Baez and others, a singer songwriter of great passion with compositions that can make you mood soar or can break your heart. We never fail to see her live when she is around. As they like to say on "American Idol", she could sing the songbook and it would be exquisite. Here she is going to sing about her life, her heritage, and her family. Cannot wait -- heard a couple of the new tunes at the last concert and they were beautiful. Mother's Day is going to bring tears to your eyes.  

Jacques Schwarz-Bart: A Sax Worth Hearing

Jacques Schwarz-Bart has been a mysterious player for me for a while. A player with about a half dozen CDs issued on European labels as a leader, and a host of credits as a sideman, including for Jackie Terrasson and Ari Hoenig on CDs I had never really heard enough of his music to get a feel for his play. However, I was able to pick up his latest CD in Europe, "The Art of Dreaming" (Aztec Musique 2012). In part I did so due to name recognition of Schwarz-Bart and the chance to finally hear him as a leader, but also because I really like his pianist on the outing, Baptiste Trotignon and trusted that that combination, along with Thomas Bramerie on bass and Hans Van Oosterhout on drums (another familiar player) would provide me with some good sounds.

And I am glad to have taken the chance, as this is an outing filled with some powerfully written and improvised, mid-tempo songs that reflect the title and the philosophy of the music. As Schwarz-Bart writes, he was seeking to emulate the philosophy of Carlos Castaneda, to "stay awake with dremaing, in order to travel to paralll worlds and have a better understanding of human potential." Schwarz-Bart compares this to his effort as a musician to dream while awake and playing; his quest is to share his dreams through his music with his playing partners and to transmit them to audience.

And he succeeds quiet nicely with this 10 piece set, composed entirely by himself and his band, partly as written composition and partly as group improvisation, the true expression of the inner thoughts of the musicians. The pieces flow organically from one to the next at mid-tempo speeds, and the effect is to acheive almost the dream-like state of mind the group seeks if one listens in the same way. the group's chemistry is strong and unified, and the concept of leader is blurred by their wornderful contributions. From the opener "Blues Jonjon" and its lyrical groove through the moody "Moods", lyrical "Emile", and delicate "Voir" we are taken on a voyage of outstanding composition, impressionistic dreams, and flowing harmonics that lift the listeners spirits and evoke the dream stae that Schwarz-Bart was seeking.

My understanding is that this will be avialable soon in the U.S. so watch for it. It is a lovely sonic trip.

Two Down the Middle For You

Picked up two great CDs yesterday that are both really worth hearing and both grounded solidly in the tradition of hard bop and swing.

The first is drummer Winard Harper's "Coexist" (Jazz Legacy Productions (JLP) 2012) with his sextet, called the Jeli Posse. The word jeli is West African and reflects Harper's interest in African traditions and in particular African drumming. A jeli, sometimes called a griot, is a storyteller, praise singer, poet and musician -- the repository of oral history for his community. Harper is that, a musician consumed with the history of jazz drumming as well as the traditions of African drumming, and he is equally strong on the drum set as well as on the West African balafon, a marimba-like instrument. His influences are many -- the JLP website lists Clifford Brown, Max Roach, Jackie McLean, Cannonball Adderley, Dr. Billy Taylor, Art Blakey and Billy Higgins but there are many others he has learned from and played with during his career. For example, Harper's first major playing date was with Dexter Gordon in 1982, and shortly thereafter he played with Johnny Griffin.

The African influence over this CD can be heard on selected pieces through the drumset and use of some african rhythm instruments, but in truth this CD hews most closely to the Blue Note tradition on the 50s, with its selection of songs, playing styles, groupings and composition. And what a group this is, a roster of some of the best and brightest new talent. Bruce Harper plays trumpet and flugelhorn, Jovan Alexandre is on tenor, Michael Dease is on trombone, Roy Assaf on piano, Stephen Porter handles bass, and three musicians handle percussion, bongos, talking drums, and ddjembe --- Abdou Mboup, Alioune Faye, and Jean Marie. And then there are the guests, the best known being Frank Wess on flute for a wonderfully romantic take on "In a Sentimental Mood", and Sharel Cassity, the young and upcoming sax player. Picking highlights is difficult, but the soulful piano and muted trumpet on "Amazing Grace" is transformative, and "Jeli Posse" a rhythmic wonder. And I cannot keep from bopping and smiling in my seat when I hear the romp through "Hard Times." Whether new song or old, the group cooks together to produce wonderful results, with outstanding soloing by each player and tight ensemble play.  This is one for those steeped in the traditions of Art Blakely and his Jazz Messengers an all the rest of the hard bop sounds of the 50s and 60s.

Even more traditional are the sounds of Harry Allen and Scott Hamilton on "'Round Midnight" (Challenge Records 2012). No challenges to the ear here, just some beautiful play by two of the most traditional saxaphonists of our times, backed by the equally traditional play of Rossano Sportiello, a young pianist from Italy who has been making a name for himself recently on Arbors (and to me a man who is a dead ringer for the young Robin Williams); Joel Forbes on bass; and Chuck Riggs on drums. Whether playing in unison or trading solos, the two sax players are terrific, with large roounded tones, thoughtful improvisations, and a lot of toe-tapping beats. Take "Flight of the Foo Birds" , a bouncy mid-tempo romp that sets a smile on the face, or the standard "My Melancholy Baby" which harkens back to the days of swing with the ensemble play, rhythmic timekeeping of the bass and drums, and light touch of Sportiello, who has many a fine solo herein. These are men who are following in the grand traditions of their predecessors, which to some may sound boring, but could never be so in the hands of these masters. Ballads and mid-tempo romps, the players find new phrases to liven the action, and are bringing along Sportiello as a first rate up and coming traditionalist as well. Hamilton and Allen are a reincarmation of the days of Al and Zoot, Johnny and Eddie "Lockjaw", and Sonny and Gene. A masterpiece of traditional jazz.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fresh Sound New Talent 2: Some More Good Music

As I promised, here are five more FSNT CDs I picked up that are all worth listening to. Let's start today wit h two familiar names.

Product DetailsIn 2008, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire was just breaking onto the scene in the U.S., and was still three years from his breakthrough CD from 2011 "When the Heart Emerges Glistening" (Blue Note Records 2011), which was on multiple top ten lists for last year and is a wonderfully moving recording. He did, however, demonstrate already his outstanding command of the trumpet as well as his skills as a composer on the 10 piece recording, "Prelude: To Cora" (Fresh Sound/New Talent). The disc also demonstrated how, at a young age, he was already viewed by other  jazz musicians, as he was supported by a group of emerging young players: Aaron Parks, himself a relative newcomer who was just hitting it big with "Invisible Cinema" on Blue Note that year, Joe Sanders on bass, who was to emrge this year with the wonderful "Introducing Joe Sanders" (Criss Cross 2012), Justin Brown on drums, Chris Dingman on vibes, and Walter Smith III, who a;lready had a number of recordings as leader on tenor sax. 
The music is uniformly excellent and worth hearing for all of the players and to hear the emrgence of Akinmusire in particular, who waas on the custp of stardoom.

Product DetailsHere's one where the well-known, at least in the U. S., player is listed second in a duet partnership. "Equilibrium" (Fresh Sound/New Talent 2012) is a duo partnership between pianist Kritjan Randalu and guitarist Ben Monder. Monder has become a go-to guitarist in the past few years, with his progressive style as a leader on Sunnyside and as a sideman for Theo Bleckmann, Bill McHenry, and others. You might be picking up the disc to here Mponder, but it is Randalu who is the star, a pianist who should have a much bigger audience in the U.S. and one who I have listened to for a while on two outstanding outings.

Product DetailsGrupa Janke Randalu has one CD to my knowledge, "Live" (Our Distribution 2008). I don't know exactly where I got it, but it is well worth finding if you can. It is a duo with Bodek Janke on drums, and an eye opener. It begins with an extended piece by Randalu "Confidance" and confidence is what the two demonstrate in their keen listening to each other and driving music.  Standards like "All the Things You Are" get a terrific reworking into a modern but recognizable setting, with "If  I Were a Bell" startingwith a major drum solo leading to a vigorous playing of the song. Elsewhere, the two blend classic peices with improvisations, touch on eastern sounds, and genreally provide an exciting hour of music.

Product DetailsRandalu himself has a few discs on European labels and I have "Confidance" (Finetone 2002); again I cannot recall how I found it but it is a wonderful solo piano workout that gives Randalu a chance to show all of his facets -- modern impressionism and improvisation, full on jazz, and other touches a spread throughout this attractive disc.

Which brings us back to the FSNT duo with Monder, which is simply an outstanding outpouring of sympathetic players trading leads and support on Randalu's originals, three fully improvised pieces, and "Milestones" and "All the Things You Are." This is one to find; the two players are outstanding and the interpretations are rendered beautifully across all sorts of tempos and moods.

Product DetailsOne to the three last recordings. Vincent Bourgeyx, who I did know from previous work, is a pianist in a trio with Pierre Boussaguet on bass and Andre Ceccarelli on drums on "Hip" (Fresh Start/New Talent 2012). Ceccareilli is a veteran with some nice work on CamJazz, including one as leader, while the other  two are young up and comers. Bourgeyx has a beautiful feel for the poetic possiblities of the piano and expresses it in some originals and a host of standards including one of my favorites, "I'll Be Seeing You" that just exudes warmth and longing to me. Bourgeyx is special, as is this disc, a worthy follow-up to "Again", an earlier outing on FSNT(2007) with Matt Penman and Ari Hoenig (and again, sometimes it is the company you keep that skeaks volumes). This is for those who like standards with a bit of a modern twist and some originality, not purely down the middle but close by.

Product DetailsTwo complete mysteries to me turned out to be very nice, modernistic piano with shades of the classical, chamber jazz, and standards. The Albert Bover Trio with Bover on piano, Chris Higgins on bass, and Jorge Rossi on drums plays a very nice set on "Esmuc Blues" (Fresh Sound/New Talent 2001). J.S. Bach's "Aria" opens and closes the set with a lovely trio, with the piano supported by the subtle colorations of the bass and drums. And that pretty much says how this group plays -- delicately with lovely colors and interpretations, exressive renderinigs of classics like "I Fall in Love Too Esily", and compositions that blend into this easily listenable and lyrical set. This again is a nice listen for those who want to step a bit out of the box but still wnat to hear melodies and lyrical play. I am not sure where Bover is now as his discography on ends with one more disc, but it is a disappointment not to hear more from him.

El pes de les balances (2-CD Set)And lastly, a two disc set of solo pieces from Sergi Sirvent entitled "El Pes de les Balances" (Fresh Sound/New Talent 2010). Disc one consists of written music, while disc two is called "Improvisacions", and Sirvent handles both with aplomb. This is his third FSNT recording and it is a fine one, with Sirvent able to demonstrate a wide range of emotions, tempos, and origins for his music. This is chamber jazz almost at its purest. There are nine set pieces on Disc 1 including a four part suite which is the title song, and all are done at mid-tempo with plenty of expression and touch.  Disc 2 is very much in the mode of a Keith Jarrett concert, or similar freely improvised CDs by Paul Bley and Steffano Bollani on ECM. Fifteen short pieces are presented and each is a little jewel for the listener. This is music that sets a contemplative mood for listeners, a set of peaceful beauty that perhaps is too long for a single sitting, but wonderful nonetheless. By the way, don't let the cover put you off; it is strange but the music is not.

Get To Know: The Helge Lien Trio

This is an interesting piano trio, led by Helge Lien on piano, Frode Berg on bass, and Knut Aalefjær on drums, whose third major CD, "Kattenslager"   (Ozella 2012) will be released shortly, following "Natsukashii" in 2011 and "Hello Troll" in 2008, also on Ozella, a German record label.

Norway has a major  jazz tradition and this trio just adds to the range of voices from there. They balance jazz traditions, classic backgrounds, and the new European modernism/chamber jazz sensibilities into a mix that can only be called their own. They are one of the handful of European trios that find roots in these traditions and in the sounds that many associate beginning with E.S.T. and being practiced by Marcin Wasilewski, RGG, and others, although they are much more about original compositions than combining them with reimaging pop songs. Relatively unkown in the U.S., they have six albums to their name, the last three on Ozella that are easily obtainable, and have won major awards for thier work in Germany.

KattenslagerHelge Lien has a distinctive sound that uses a lot of short phrases and open spaces, that provides imressionistic snippets to dwell on, and that relies on a great deal of subtlety with his partners, who provide modest coloration to the tone poems that make up this chamber jazz. The sound is lyrical though not necessarily contained in continuous melodies or long legato passages; and the sound requires one to listen to subtleties and distinct moods. When the music is moving at mid-tempo speeds, it does not swing in the traditional sense, with the movement more created by the use of tempo variations in rubato passages. Working with classic-impressionistic patterns and rhythmical-melodic jazz, this trio’s range and depth of feeling is growing with each release. It is this use of elastic time and improvisation that distinguishes the group as tied to European models rather than those of its American counterparts. 

The new CD, "Katenslager" is more of an outing for Lien, with frankly little input from the bass and drums as on previous CDs. This makes the CD no less wonderful to hear, and the compositions follow the framework discussed above --- a mix of classical and chamber jazz music with some jazz elements -- but in this case the emphasis has shifted to a more impressionistic set of pieces led by Lien, who plays a fantastic piano here with all sorts of range in emotions and play. Lien uses space to great purpose, on many pieces setting off short bursts of melody that allow the phrases to sink in. "Furulokk" is a particularly good example, where Lien plays short, staccato lines as if he is just thinking them up as he goes along, with major pauses as if considering where to go next. Still, the piece holds together beautifully, and legator runs interspersed with the short bursts serve to unify this piece, which relies almost entirely on the right hand. In contract, a number of pieces has significant left hand parts, in some cases like "Knyl Og Kann" these left hand notes can sound ominous as they are rolled in a thunderous undertone and propel the music forward. In "Kattinslager", the title piece, it is hard to determine if the piece opens with a strong accoustic bass line or a piano bass line, but gradually the piano bass hand emerges in a modernized boodie woogie-like setting that moves the piece along. Lien plays inside the piano at times as well, as on "Grusviavanderer" a moody outing that opens the CD rather unusually with heavy thrumming from the bass lines and only occasional tinkles of the right hand on the piano keys themselves. 

NatsukashiiThe CD ends more delicately than it begins, with "Oy", a quiet pastoral piece of exquisite chamber jazz for solo piano, preceded by "Ur" a moody, eerie outing for piano as well that is delicate, unrushed, and thoughtful.

HelloTroll.jpgThis outing is leans more to the maniplation of sound and space and away from some of the more melodic outpourings of the two previous albums, but in doing so it links all of the pieces as a wonderfully thoughtful and impressionistic whole. It never plays at more than a slow to mid-tempo speed, it has no distinctive pieces that interpret modern pop songs like e.s.t and others, there are no electronics or overdubbings. and it creaates a single fascinating ambience. It is for those who like European chamber jazz, ECM recordings, and slow and thoughtful piano trios, and for those folks this and the previous two CDs by Helge Lien should not be overlooked.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fresh Sound/New Talent...New CDs from Barcelona

As I noted previously, I was in Barcelona on vacation and while the biggest store, Jazz Messengers was closed, I did find a number of small stores along with FNAC, that had some very nice jazz sections. I picked up a large number of CDs, some of which I talked about in the previous post, and of them eleven were from the Fresh Sound/ New Talent stable of Jordi Pujol, which while not impossible to get here in the U.S. were certainly cheaper (and had no shipping charge either) Of the eleven, several are from artists who have achieved greater notoriety since, and the remainder are truly the works of some fresh and wonderful new talent, in some cases fronting some better known sidemen.

I did well in my selecting and am enjoying all eleven entries, whether I knew the artists first or felt that the combination of players, instruments, and songs would probably appeal to me. A bit of guesswork is always fun an a great way to open the world of jazz even wider to my ears.

Without further ado, the discs:

Product DetailsProduct DetailsJesse Stacken has recently be lauded for his 2011 disc "Bagatelles for Trio" (Fresh Sound/New Talent 2011) in several periodicals and on-line reviews, and it is indeed a very charming, melodic effort consisting of 13 individual bagatelles with Eivind Opsvik on bass an Jeff Davis on drums. But prior to this CD, he recorded another, "Magnolia" (Fresh Sound/New Talent 2009) with the same trio. Seven more lilting and delightful melodies for those who like this type of quiet introspective music from a piano trio.

Product DetailsMoving on, the drummer Jeff Davis has a new CD on the label, "Leaf House" (Fresh Sound/New Talent), also a piano trio, with Eivind Opsvik again on bass but with Russ Lossing on piano. Great disc, but the compositions by Davis, who wrote all eight tracks, are somewhat more angular and unusual than those of Stacken. "Transitional Whales" spends its first eight minutes with the bass and drums sounding a lot like a ship at sea, later joined by the piano with some hard hitting free improvisations for example; this is not music for the faint of heart. On my scale of looking at piano, from the straight forward sounds say of Oscar Peterson or Red Garland to the free experimentation of Matthew Shipp, this leans heavily in Shipp's direction. It appeals to me, but my tastes for piano music are pretty broad.

Product DetailsProduct DetailsMoving onward, Russ Lossing from the Jeff Davis disc is the next player to discuss. Lossing has most recently put out a disc in honor of Paul Motian called "Drum Music" (Sunnyside 2012) and it is contains wonderfully subtle solo piano versions of Motian's compositions. But here I have a disc by Lossing called "Phrase 6" (Fresh Sound/New Talent 2004), a piano trio with John Hebert on bass and Jeff Williams on drums.  Once again we are back on a more melodic turf, though the music is still further outside of the standards box, and Lossing allows plenty of opportunities for his partners' soloing efforts. Together though, songs like "Koan" and "Virgil" stand out as musical poetry. "Dexterity" by Charlie Parker is taken at a mid-tempo and is a standout way to conclude the disc, with Lossing intro ducting some real complexities to the piece before it concludes. The disc is lovely but definitely outside the standards box, melodic but modern, with a lot of nice bass and drum soloing throughout.

Product DetailsNow for an interlude, let's cover a few discs very close to being traditional standards trios. Rick Germanson, who has become much more widely known since "You Tell Me" (Fresh Sound/New Talent 2005) shakes up some standards and some originals with Gerald Cannon on bass and veteran Ralph Peterson on drums. "It Was a Very Good Year", the Sinatra classic, begins with a bombastic introduction played by piano and drums, breaks into a latin version of the melody, and then opens up to a terrific piano improvisation by Germanson. "Angel Eyes" is played dreamily, as it should be, with great emotion and tenderness, and has a lovely section where the bass takes over. Other highlights are Germanson's own "Erika's Endeavor", and the closing solo "Born to Be Blue." Germanson writes tunes that with time could mature into standards, and treats standards such that even as he opens them up one never loses the theme. His closer is fantastic and demonstrates everything he brings to this outing. First rate music.

Product DetailsProduct DetailsHelen Sung is another who has in the past two years or so produced a couple of outstanding mainstream CDs that I have covered previously, and whose "Helenistique" (Fresh Start/New Talent 2005) with veterans Derrick Hodge on bass and Lewis Nash on drums is a nice outing demonstrating Sung's early mastery of different sounds -- bop, ragtime, swing, stride, et al -- as she rearranges and plays standards and well known tunes like "Sweet and Low", "Cottontail", "Where or When" and  "Bye Ya". Sung seems to be experimenting and finding her own narrative voice on this disc as she plays through all the different styles, so that while it might not be her mature voice it is a wonderful disc to listen to. I wouldn't want to have missed it nor should most jazz buffs. "Where or When" with its bowed bass is a classy rendition of the song and bravura performance for Hodge, and "Willow Weep for Me" a lovely mid-tempo outing for Sung.

Product DetailsMoving along, Perico Sambeat is an alto sax player who also contributes a couple of pieces on flute and soprano sax to "Jindungo"(Fresh Sound/New Talent 1997). This is an oldie and Sambeat is a new name to me, but it was his backing trio that caught my attention and my Euros -- Bruce Barth on piano, and Mario and Jordi Rossy respectively on bass and drums. With that trio I figured to be in good company for some nice soft latin jazz and I was correct. The group spins nine pieces, all but two by Sambeat or Barth, and the ambience is gentle, relaxed, and lovely. Sambeat has a lovely tone on the alto and avoids any harshness in his upper register, and Barth is given a lot of room to stretch out. "Evidence", the Monk tune, swings effortlessly for Sambeat, as does the whole recording. This is an absolutely first rate outing.

Five more to come in another post, including a couple of familiar names. Fresh Sound/New Talent offers some first rate play by a lot of artists we all know, in some cases their early recordings but in other cases new recordings of folks who may not have a record deal, or are playing in unusual settings. Jordi Pujol was featured at a while back and his interest in producing new sounds is clear, even as he is sometimes criticized for the reissues of old jazz on his Fresh Sounds label. Check it out, it is a first rate feature.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Back with More by Ketil Bjornstad

A few blogs back (July) I extolled the virtues of Ketil Bjornstad's "Floating" (Emarcy/Universal 2006) which, according to his liner notes, was also his first recording in a classic piano-bass-drums trio, with Palle Danielsson and Marilyn Mazur respectively.

Ketil Bjørnstad - Rainbow SessionsIn Berlin, I discovered yet another non-ECM Bjornstad CD, "The Rainbow" (Emarcy/Universal 2009), described a solo piano excerpts from the 3CD set Rainbow sessions, which I have yet to track down. According to the liner notes, the three original albums each had different atmospheres due to the different studios and/or pianos. This recording of 16 pieces focused on these issues and the balance obtained from the sessions to produce what the musician and producer felt is a unified whole. 
Interestingly, despite the identification of this work as solo piano, there are a number of pieces with very subtle bass and drum lines, some coloring and some providing an underlying rhythm. The CD is not all low key chamber jazz, and the rhythms and tempos are varied enough to provide plenty of interest and surprises. "The Woman on the Pier" is particularly entrancing, with a steady beat of tom-toms (or bongos) and delicate sound of bells or tambourine that provide a pervasive latin feel to the beautiful tune. For "The Rainbow" the drum and bass provide a wash of colors and feelings underpinning the tune, occasional rising up to drive the melody along. Still, most of the pieces are solo and live up to the beauty of Bjornstad's other works, particularly "Solace", "Fanny Xiang (The Sleeping Child", and "Psalm."  Subtle beauty abounds. 

I laid out Bjornstad's background and overall discography in the earlier post in July, which will not be repeated here. What will be repeated are those statements concerning his playing and composing, which once again is exquisite. To paraphrase from my earlier blog, this is another in a long line of flowing, meditative, and serene works that characterize Bjornstad's chamber jazz. 

Fantastic. I hope someday to report on the three disc set. 

I'm Back...with More Music from Europe

I took far more time away from this blog than I expected to, so I have a lot of thoughts rumbling around in my head, including picking up again on the Italian Jazz scene. I visited music stores in Berlin and in Barcelona (alas, Jazz Messengers was closed for August) and picked up a lot of European label stuff; and also picked up a lot of new things at home, so there is a lot of music to talk about.

Today, a piano soloist, a piano/bass duo, and a piano trio.

Agusti Fernandez plays the solo piano on "El Laberint de la Memoria" (2001, Mbari Musica) and plays it with great soul. Fernandez is one of the most important jazz pianists and free jazz explorers in Spain, and posses a unique and powerful style combining jazz, classical, and spanish folk music. He has recorded as a leader since 1987, and in 2003 was the first Spanish musician to record on ECM, with the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, with whom he has worked since 2002. He has played with a truly international pantheon of great players like Marilyn Crispell, Evan Parker, William Parker, Joe Morris, Mats Gustafsson, and many others. A prolific musician, he has recorded over 50 CDs to date.

The CD title means "The Labrynith of Memory", and the music is based upon the Spanish classical music of the 20th century that was a part of Fernandez' classical training. Impressionistic and emotional pieces flow from his fingers, expressing the essence, as he says, of the Spanish composers de Falla, Albeniz, and others. He enriches the music with his own free jazz experience and braids the sketches into 14 pieces. Elegant and flowing, this is a wonderful set that truly sets forth his memories of classic Spanish pieces according to his own tremendous pianism.

Copland, Marc / Schlappi, Daniel - Essentials CD Cover ArtDaniel Schlappi is a Swiss bassist, born in 1968, whose latest CD, "Essentials" (CATWALK 2012), is a duo with a well known if under-appreciated pianist, American Marc Copland. Interspersed with 8 pieces named "Essential"1 through 8 are a number of standards and other pieces by the likes of Ellington, Ornette Coleman, Jerome Kern, Nat Adderley, and Miles Davis. "Solar" opens with Copland comping behind Schlappi's lead on the melody, then joining in as the two weave back and forth between melody and accompanist. Taken at a moderate pace, it is a lovely, romantic interpretation of the popular song. "Never Let Me Go" and "My Romance" drip with the same expressiveness and interwoven sounds between the two; this is CD that relaxes like a glass of wine and good book. The eight improvised "Essentials" maintain the same feeling, with Schlappi able to more fully explore the full range of his fingerboard and demonstrate his exemplary tone, which really shines on "The Face of the Bass", the most uptempo of the 17 pieces.  Copland has always played at this pace, as exemplified by his recent work on Pirouet, so those interested in this CD should have a good idea of what to expect. Even "Work Song" by Nat Adderley is taken slowly, and with a very different, luxurious and legato feeling that changes the whole picture of this popular song.  Nice music by a great pairing of players.  

Finally, the trio, lead by Inaki Sandoval, and the CD, "Sausolito" (AYVA Music 2005). With Horacio Fumero on bass and Peer Wyboris on drums, this was his first of three CDs, and features 7 originals and 3 covers -- "Smilin' Eyes" by Stefan Karlsson, "'Round Midnight" and "My One and Only Love." Sandoval is one of the leading Spanish jazz pianists and resides in Barcelona. I first became aware of him as a pianist in 2011 as he teamed with Eddie Gomez and Billy Hart on Gomez's CD "Miracieolos" (2011, Bebyne Records), another really great trio disc to find and listen to. Sandoval is the director of the Jazz Department at the Liceu Conservatory. Unlike the first two discs described in this blog, which are laid back outings of subtleties and romance,  this one has a stronger and more pervasive forward propulsion led by the brushwork of Wyboris and walking bass lines of Fumero. The pianist himself has a light touch that moves quickly up and down the keyboard, and he too keeps the beat moving with his consistent left hand. "Sausolito" is a breezy upbeat tune that will have the toes tapping; "Smilin' Eyes" follows with an expert opening solo on bass leading to a touching melody. "Te Imaginas" is full of shifting moods and imaginative lines and is a tour de force for Sandoval the composer. I could listen to "'Round Midnight" and "My One and Only Love" all day and Sandoval adds two more beautiful versions to the repertoire, the latter done solo to conclude a really great CD.