Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beaten to the Punch: Zoe Rahman

I was going to write about Zoe Rahman, whose new release "Kindred Spirits" (2012 Manushi Records) has just been released, but was beaten to the punch not once, not twice, but three times this week. So first, let me post the e-mail addresses with reviews of the new disc since anything I write would at this point be duplicative, and then I will continue with a bit about the artist and the four previous recordings that I  recommend highly. The links:

 In the US you can get her recordings on CDBaby.

So who is Zoe Rahman, and why is she basically unknown in the US? She is first and foremost an incredibly talented and expressive pianist. She is the daughter of a Bengali father and English mother, is from the UK, and studied classical piano at the Royal Academy of Music, music at Oxford University and jazz performance at Berklee College of Music.
One of Rahman's main inspirations is JoAnne Brackeen, who is on the faculty at Berklee and taught her there. There is much of Brackeen's emotional strength and innovative playing in Rahman. I suggest readers who do not know Brakeen should, and should listen to her recordings as well. "Keyed In" (Columbia 1979), with Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette, is a particular favorite of mine that I bought on vinyl when it first appeared. It may be tough to find, so try "Pink Elephant Magic" or "Popsicle Illusion" on Arkadia (1999 and 2000 respectively), which should be easier to locate, and her solo performance "Live at Maybeck" (Concord 1989).

Returning to Rahman, who celebrated her 41st birthday last week, she has firmly established herself as a star on the contemporary jazz scene in the UK. Her individual style melds classical music with jazz, western and eastern musical traditions, and a very diverse musical taste. She is an imaginative player, and though I have never seen her live, her recordings and You Tube clips display a fiery passion and exhuberance for her music.

Zoe Rahman : The CynicHer first recording was "The Cynic" (Manushi Records 2001), with Jeremy Brown on bass and Winston Clifford on drums. All of the compositions were by Rahman herself, a remarkable acheivement in itself, but made more so by the sheer quality of the music, with its strong attack reminiscent of Brackeen and McCoy Tyner, her strong melodic sense and use of varied rhythms within each song, and he improvisations that never stray too far from the basic structure and chords of the melody.

Zoe Rahman : Melting PotHer second album, "Melting Pot", with Gene Calderazzo on drums and Oli Hayhurst on bass, was nominated in 2006 for the Nationwide Mercury Prize in the UK, and it won ‘Jazz Album of the Year’ at the UK’s first Parliamentary Jazz Awards. Of note on this CD is that the landscape is broadened to include her brother, clarinetist Idris Rahman, on Muchhe Jaoa Dinguli, the last track and only one not written by Rahman. The piece features a more eastern ambiance, heightened by the inclusion of Adriano Adewale Itauna on the udu (an African hand drum) along with the lilting sound of the clarinet. "Melting Pot" steps up both the intensity of the play as well as the intricacy of Rahman's composing talents, as well as the mixing of Western and Eastern musical traditions. A highlight is "Red Flower", perhaps the loveliest of all her songs to date, which is played at a slow, liquid pace with a more controlled touch and longer legato passages.

Zoe Rahman : LiveHer third disc was recorded live and simply called "Live", and once again features her brother on clarinet on "Muche Jaoa Dinguli", as well as on "Ha Gente Aqui". On the latter, the clarinet play is freer, with a stronger attacking quality which moves the pieces a bit more outside toward a free jazz sensibility. The clarinet is more pensive and sinuous on  "Muche Jaoa Dinguli", which brings down the energy as it flows towards a quieter, more pensive place. Overall, the attack and play is far freer on "Live", and the comparison to McCoy Tyner far stronger on several pieces, where Rahman uses some complex chordal structures. Rahman composed only one of the songs here, "Last Note", instead interpreting two pieces each by Abdullah Ibrahim and Joanne Brackeen, as well as a Phineas Newborn and others. "Live" showcases the interplay of her trio with Calderazzo and Hayhurst, and the haunting clarinet of her brother.

Product DetailsHer fourth album, "Where Rivers Meet", is collaboration with her brother as they explore music from their Bengali heritage. The album teams the two Rahmans with the rest of her trio as well as vocalists Arnob and Gaurob, violinist Samy Bishai and percussionist Kuljit Bhamra. The resulting Anglo-Asian music is very different than each of the previous works, but striking in its vision and melding of the two cultures.

Five albums over 11 years, each unique and each compelling, and each tremendously lyrical and expressive. The blending of all of Rahman's influences, the passionate playing, and intricacies explored between her piano and each of her partners, make each a true pleasure to listen to. To me, the influences that are strongest are those of Brackeen, Tyner, and Ibrahim, all strong players who balance an attacking style with a strong sense of melody and harmony, and whose trios might be characterized as being "encounters of the second kind" -- e.g. in a category with not only her influences but also other contemporaries like Brad Mehldau and John Law, and one step removed from the straight-ahead jazz trios of Red Garland, Wynton Kelly and so many others.

I cannot wait to hear the new disc when it arrives.

Friday, January 27, 2012

And Another One Bites the Dust: Bleecker Bob's Golden Oldies

The other day I wrote about the Melody Record Shop in D.C. going out of business after 34 years. Well, today in the New York Times there is an article that yet another long standing record store is going out of business, Bleecker Bob's Golden Oldies, which opened in 1968 as Village Oldies in Greenwich Village.   And while it is not necessarily a jazz place, it is still sad to see yet another record store going under. This one after 43 years in business.

The link is:

So next time you are about to download a disc, or order it from Amazon, remember, every time we lose a store we lose a little more of our history, a little more of the opportunity to learn from others, and a little more of the vitality of our downtowns.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Get to Know: Aaron Goldberg

Aaron Goldberg is one of the young, extremely talented pianists who I hope will be recognized as such this year with the recent releases of two absolutely compelling recordings, "Bienestan", with Guillermo Klein in 2011, and "Yes", just out this month and featuring Goldberg with Ali Jackson on drums and Omer Avital on bass.

Goldberg is a Bostonian and began his jazz education in high school under the tutelage of  Bob Sinicrope and Jerry Bergonzi, the latter in particular a well known recording artist on saxophone with High Note Records. Goldberg graduated from Harvard in 1996, and also took a year of training at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He relocated to New York after school, and worked and toured with such notables as Joshua Redman, Wynton Marsalis, Nicholas Payton,  Stefon Harris, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra among others. He also began working with, and then recording as a co-leader with the trio OAM, a collaboration with Avital and Marc Miralta on drums.

The OAM Trio: (L to R)Omer Avital, Marc Miralta and Aaron Goldberg
                             TRIO OAM: Avital, Miralta, and Goldberg

He really came to the fore with his first Sunnyside recording, "Worlds", in 2006, followed in 2010 by "Home", also on Sunnyside. Both featured Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland on bass and drums respectively, with guests -- Mark Turner on "Home" and Kurt Rosenwinkel and Luciana Souza on "Worlds." Both discs reflect the soul and expression that Goldberg brings to his work, as well as his compositional abilities. His piano playing is rich with the nuarnces of his touch -- light and dexterious at times, deep and percussive at others. But at all times, the beauty of the melodies are foremost in each track, as well as the interplay among the members of the trio and guest solosts. These two discs set the stage for what I think are two tremendous recordings.

CD cover: Home"Bienestan" (Sunnyside 2011), unlike the previous two entries in his discography, is a collaborative venture -- Goldberg is a co-leader with Klein, there are other remarkable players --Miguel Zenon, Matt Penman, Chris Cheek, and Eric Harland. Goldberg is the starring pianist, while the compositions and arrangements were done by Klein, who plays Fender Rhodes keyboard as a complementary instrument to the piano.  On some tracks Miguel Zenón and Chris Cheek complement the work of Goldberg and Klein, weaving lovely background harmonies around the keyboard players, but also taking a number of  vibrant solos. When the entire ensemble plays, with Matt Penman on bass and Eric Harland on drums, the dynamism of the team and of the compositional work by Klein intensifies, with rhythmic changes and  shifting leads. Goldberg's technical abilities are clear on the two versions of the  Brazilian classic "Manhà de Carnaval" (Morning of Carnival), with his expressive play, light touch and  oustanding speed and dexterity.  Meanwhile, Klein's compositions are always finding the romanticism within each song, always with a trace of his Argentinian roots.  

"Yes" is a straight trio outing, with Omer Avital and Ali Jackson, friends with whom Goldberg has played with since school. Their rapport is felt intantaneously on Abdullah Ibrahim's Maraba Blue"when the first track starts with the bass and drums followed by a very quiet piano. The three interwoven instruments play  the song slowly and quietly throughout, with waves of small cresendos and a very nice bluesy, gospel feel. The piece ends as it began, with the drums and bass gradually taking the trio out. Other compositions by Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Mercer Ellington, and Eli Degibri, are interspersed with compositions by Avital and Jackson. The balance of the three players is impressive, and though the piano clearly takes most of the melodic leads, there are ample times when the other two instruments come to the front ("Yes").  The blues are never far away, and when the music starts swinging, the intensity and joyous interplay coupled with outstanding lyricism and melodic play will bring a smile to any listener's face. This is some of the best straight-ahead piano trio music I have heard for some time -- never overplayed, no great fireworks but plenty of expression, always tight and modulated,  plenty of room for each player to be featured -- the music is outstanding throughout.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dave Holland and Pepe Habichuela

Dave Holland and Pepe Habichela
Dare2Rrecords 2010

And what hands they are. The master of the upright bass and lesser (in the U.S.)master of the flamenco guitar get together for one of the loveliest sets of music in Holland's long discography. Holland's notes indicate they first played together in 2007 in Granada and Malaga, and Holland fell in love with the music and its expressssion of the life and history of Habichela's people. The music evolved with the addition of Pepe's son, Josemi Carmona, more concerts in 2008 and 2009, and final a trip to the studio to play the music that was "like growing a tree. It requires care and patience but at a certain time it will eventually bear blossom and then fruit."

This recording is the culmination of that process, and a reflection of Holland and Habicuela's passion for the music and the people. There is a lot more history to the Carmona family (Habichuela is part of that clan. Habichuela is a nickname meaning beans), and many generations of flamenco guitar players. Joining Pepe and Josemi are Carlos Carmona on guitar, Juan Carmona on cajon and percussion, and Israel Porrina on cajon and percussion.

The music is exquisite, delicate yet lively and strongly played. The are no great bursts or fanfare although there is a lot of fire and energy throughout, particularly in the rhumbas and fandangos, contrasted by lovely, tender songs taken andante with great expressive play on all parts. The clarity of the recording is such that one hears the plucking of the bass and guitar strings, which adds to the immediacy of the playing. Eight of the tracks are strictly flamenco forms in a modern setting, and two, "The Whirling Dervish" and "Joyride" are jazz compositions of Holland. The music fuses traditional flamenco and modern jazz beautifully, in a recording that will appeal to jazz, flamenco, and world music listeners. What comes across is the love of music and sharing with each other is a truly joyous recording. 

A must for lovers of the flamenco guitar, and for the virtuosity of Dave Holland in a different setting.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Another One Bites the Dust: Melody Records Washington D.C.

Every year I come to Washington D.C. for a transportation conference at the Washington Hilton, and every year I make a pilgrimage to the Melody Record shop, a short ways down Connecticut Avenue from the hotel. So imagine my surprise and the sadness that enveloped me when I got there today to a sign in the window that said "closing sale" "all items 20 percent off".

The Melody Record shop is no ordinary place. It was voted best of Washington D.C. by the Washingtonian readers, and has consistently been reviewed highly by customers on various on-line sites. But the same on-line access also is what killed the store after 34 year in business. Melody Records is a family run business, and after 34 years the impact of downloads and streaming music, of internet purchases and Spotify finally killed the business.

The sadness that enveloped me is hard to describe. Even though I was an infrequent visitor, I looked forward every year to finding something new and different in the jazz section, which was nicely curated and featured not only hits but the out of the ordinary recordings I like. Today, for example I picked up two Steeplecahse discs, a label that is here in the States but not often easy to find.

I mourn for the independent record stores, the independent book shops, and what we are losing -- the conversations with staff and customers, the chance to open the mind to new discoveries, the chance to take a chance on something that the experienced local merchant recommends. In the past few months I have been at several independent stores -- Wazoo Records in Ann Arbor, the Jazz Record Center in New York City, Sally's in Westport CT, J/R Records in NYC, Rockaway Records in LA come to mind -- and I can only hope each can survive the changes in music buying habits. Some, like the Jazz Record Center and Sally's are run by long-time experts and historians in jazz and other music; others specialize in selling used music.  All are the repository of jazz (and other genres) history, of stories the clubs in New York, of nights in the clubs with the players ,etc. When these stores close, we lose a little more of ourselves. I feel like I lost a friend today.

Here is to the survivors. Please patronize their stores for new music, old music, new and old vinyl; and soak up some of the stories, the pictures on the walls, and the information that these true music lovers have for us. Running a music store today is clearly a labor of love and we should embrace these stores and their owners.



Melody Record Shop will be closing its doors in the winter of 2012.
While we wish that we could continue indefinitely, technology, the internet and the economy has taken its toll, and we have concluded, unfortunately, that it is not possible to survive in this environment. 

We are a family owned business and it has been our privilege getting to know many of you so well over the past 34 years.  We nurtured Melody, in much the same way that we raised our children, with tender loving care.  We watched our store mature and grow, from vinyl, to 8 tracks, cassettes, CDs, and back to vinyl!  We kept pace as VHS evolved to DVD.

For those of you who have shopped with us forever, we are eternally grateful.  We worked so hard to help you locate that hard to find album, special order that specific CD or DVD, choose just that right song and be the first to have the new release from that favorite artist.  We hope that our efforts have helped to bring wonderful music into your lives.  Over the years, many celebrities and politicians have stopped by our store.  As exciting as this was, it was just as important to us to serve the one time customer who needed a quick purchase. 

To our devoted employees, we cannot thank you enough!  You shared our mission, finding each customer, exceptionally important.  We know that your efforts helped us survive the impact of the Internet on music for as long as we did.  

We are sad to say goodbye as Melody was not just a store; it was a community where customers shared the joy and magic of great music.  We are not merely closing an icon of Dupont Circle; we are saying farewell to so many good friends.

With so much gratitude for your commitment all these years,
Suzy and Jack

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Why Don't More People Know Lynne Arriale?

Peach LynneI just don't think Lynne Arriale gets nearly the attention she should given her long-standing career leading piano trios (with Jay Anderson, bass, and Steve Davis, drums) and lately with a trio plus trumpet (Randy Brecker) or saxophone (Bill McHenry). Not to mention her glowing blue eyes and beautiful red hair which captivate a room, not to mention captivating this writer on the one occassion that I actually met her. In March, she will have her first solo recording, on the Motema label.

From her biography on her website: Lynne’s affinity for music and specifically the piano was evident early on, but well outside a jazz context. Arriale grew up in Milwaukee, and discovered the keyboard at age 3 when given a plastic toy piano, and “never stopped.” She studied classical music, earning a master’s degree before turning to jazz. “I may have heard an hour of it before that, and I didn’t get it,” she recently told Jazz Times. “But I didn’t know it was improvised music. I didn’t have a clue.” She won the 1993 Great American Piano Competition, and launched her long-term touring and recording collaboration with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Steve Davis.

A Long Road Home CD coverBefore her new solo disc hits the streets this spring on the Motema label, a short tour through her discography is in order.

Long Road Home
TCB Records 1997

This was actually her fourth release, following three on the hard to find DMP label.  In this early recording, she clearly demonstrates a couple of things: she has a feel for expression and reharmonization and creativity, particularly in the ballads, and a lovely sense of melody and interplay with her bass and drum partners. And second, she already shows a flair for writing, with her songs "Will O' the Wisp" and  "The Dove". She was clearly a fresh, new voice on the scene.   
Melody CD cover 

TCB Records 1999

Throughout her discography, the term melody is probably the singlemost thread tying all of Arriale's work together, whether it is a melody she is intrepreting or one she has written. The title here is an expression of the player, who consistently finds the melody but surprises us with her range of expression, her free improvisations and reharmonizations, and overarching it all, a beautiful touch and oneness with the keyboard that brings our the emotional content of the music. Already an exquisite player, here she clearly expresses her feeling of freedom at the keyboard with her interpretation of a classic like "It Ain't Necessarily So" and her own "Forgotten Ones."

Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival
TCB Records 2000

Live at Montreux CD coverThis is a great listen, with the energy of a live performance pushing the trio into more expressive and energetic play than even on the recordings. There are two marvelous originals by Arriale -- "With Words Unspoken and Calypso" -- and some Monk, Miles Davis, and other standards. All in all a nice recording that raises the bar once more for Arriale.

Product DetailsTCB Records 2002

I suppose it gets tiring to hear me speak highly of each recording, but in truth each is a pleasure to hear. But with this disc, I feel a real step up in the emotional playing and expression of sheer joy from Arriale, as well as a new found pleasure in reworking and re-energizing some standards. The disc jumps right in with an amazing take on "America" from West Side Story, a recording of great eneregy and appeal. But of all Arriale's songs and interpretations, both before and after this disc, it is "Mountain of the Night" by Abdullah Ibrahim that gets me every time. To me this is the culmination of Arriales's spirit captured in a moving ballad, with an emotional range and expressive play that captures everything I feel about her music. It has movement, emotion, energy, spirit, and passion, and lifts the heart each time it is played.  

Product DetailsTCB Records 2003

Arrials continues her growth, extending her interpretations further, and playing more impressionistically during her improvised passages. Too, she returns here to a mix of covers and her own compositions, with "Arise", a beautiful ballad, and the lively "Esperanza" among them. "American Woman", a 60s rock song from the Guess Who, is played smartly as a blues. She demonstrates a more bluesy interpretation of some of the other selections as well and a freer hand that captivates as her expressiveness grows and changes with each song.

Come Together
TCB 2004
Product Details
Arriale wrote six of the nine pieces on this disc, which makes it even more reflective of her feelings, expressiveness, and direction as a pianist. And the three covers are great -- "Come Together", "Iko Iko", and "Red is the Rose" -- with Arriale creating interpretations that effectively make them hers as a jazz pianist, setting a high bar for others who wish to follow. And her originals merge her jazz sensibilities with her clasical training, so that some are burners like "Sunburst" and others contemplative pieces like "Twilight." He ballads are wonderfully painted and relaxed, and the whole set is another step up in expressive piano trio play.

Product DetailsMotema Records 2006

Live is her first disc on Motema and second live from Montreux, and it brings together the great combination of songs from the past several discs and the energy and trio interplay best heard live, and in this case seen live on an accompanying DVD. The disc has some highlight moments, including "Mountains of the Night", "Iko Iko" and "Come Together", but the whole disc swings, particularly the closing "Bemsha Swing". Uplifting music that brings out the best of the group's interplay and creativity. For the first time, one gets to watch Arriale's nimble fingers and use of the entire keyboard, and the expression and energy she puts into every note she plays. Melodies dominate, but their interpretations are glorious in extended versions of the songs, especially the eleven plus minutes of "Mountains of the Night." Simply the best of the best to this listener.

Nuance: The Bennett Studio Sessions
Product DetailsMotema 2009

Now the truth -- I prefer Arriale in a trio setting, and probably in a solo setting when that comes out. I enjoy hearing her out front interpreting the music, twisting the melodies and harmonizations and pulling out new impressions and expressions of standards and her own songs.

But I also know that artists need to expand, to try new ways of expression, and in that respect not become stale by only playing in one mode. So just as Oscar did, or Bill, or all the greats, Lynne here has made some changes, most notably bringing in Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn. She also has a new bass, veteran George Mraz and drummer Antony Pincotti.  To me this is an okay recording, very nice melodies, split six for Arriale and five from others, and some nice interplay between the two melodic instruments, at times seeming to push each other to extra heights of expression and interpretation. But to this listener, the brassy trumpet is not a warm enough instrument to blend well in this setting with these expressive songs; the flugelhorn, when used, is a better choice. There is a good deal of melodic invention and great range of expression among the songs, and clearly some stretching out in less constrained patterns, but overall it does not reach out to me the way her previous trio work does.

Motema 2010

ConvergenceWhile also not a trio recording, Convergence catches me much more in its blending of sounds, pushing outward with the use of some interesting accents placed by Omer Avital on bass, and possibly him on the oud (unidentified oud player), and by drummer Pincotti, along with the lovely round tenor voice of Bill McHenry. The "Dance of the Rain" is an exceptionally interesting piece from Arriale, and a demonstration of the wider and wider net she is casting out in the world for the music she is writing. Arriale's play on Sting's "Sister Moon" and the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun' are lots of fun, but the outstanding interpretation is "Paint it Black" by the Rolling Stones, a jagged, energetic romp. A little blues ("Element"), a little rock, some original ballads, an Irish jig ("Convergence"), are all handled nimbly by a master pianist and her band.

In summary, nine recordings since 1997, many of them outstanding, from a singular interpreter and music writer, and I still think that Lynne Arriale is sadly unknown by many jazz listeners. Her choices, her interpretations, and her bandmates are superb, and her sense of melody and and her clasical training keep within the so called "box" for the less adventerous, while establishing her as an original for those looking for something new.  When the names Mehldau, Corea, Jarrett, et al are bandied about, Arriale should be bandied about with them. Listen and love!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Listening to: Joe Cocker "Hard Knocks" 2012

Joe Cocker
"Hard Knocks"
429 Records 2012
Joe Cocker: Hard Knocks

"One day you're goin' to look back and see it all happened so fast" from the song "The Fall" captures all that one needs to know about what this recording, the music, and the great Joe Cocker are all about today. Powerful lyrics and powerful but more controlled voice carry a disc that recalls lifes ups and downs, and where we are today. A lot of the roughness has been sandpapered off his voice, and certainly there are a lot of mellow songs, but  there is a nice range of songs, from the power rocker "Hard Knocks" that opens the disc and demonstrates that Joe still has it, to the lovely balladic song "So It Goes". Songs of life, songs of the battles, the changes that we all go  through -- "people come and then they this really all there is?" No one knows so we go on, and Cocker does beautifully in this heartfelt, reflective recording. A great closing "Forever Changed" builds to a nice guitar solo and releases some of the inner Cocker, but then gently subsides, concluding that "I'll remian forever changed." Lovely ending.

It's music that traces the arc of life, and  it talks well to those of us from the Woodstock generation. This is a must for those of us who basically have grown up in parallel with Joe. At age 67, he still has it, with more depth, more feelings, but a lot less of the wild rasp in a controlled performance that may disappoint some.

To me this is a must for Cocker fans. Now I can't wait to hear 77 year old Leonard Cohen's "Old Ideas" next week.

Get to Know: Rob Garcia

Two musicians who have recently gotten a lot of press with great  discs in 2011 --  Dan Tepfer (see January 4 entry herein) and Noah Preminger ("Before the Rain" Palmetto 2011) -- support leader Rob Garcia on two BJU (Brooklyn Jazz Underground) label discs. These would be considered advanced post bop CDs with a lot of free play, but they hold close to melody and harmony with the nice tenor sound from Preminger and the solid grounding of Dan Tepfer.  The disc features nice group dynamics and strong underlying pulse courtesy of Garcia. ROB GARCIA : drummer & composer

Rob Garcia 4
BJU Records Product Details2009

This is a fun disc with the song titles related to flowering plants. It begines with a jaunty tune,  "Joe-Pye Weed" that demonstrates the strength of the group as a single unit having fun playing together. Preminger plays wonderful tenor on "Seasons of Stone," working with Garcia, Tepfer and Chris Lightcap (bass) in important, colorful support roles. Garcia stands out with prominent poly-rhythms on "Vortex," which also features colorful tenor playing and intense group play.  There's only one standard on Perennial, "Cherokee", which is nicely adapted to the group's punchy style.  


Rob Garcia 4
The Drop and the Ocean
BJU Records

Product DetailsThis is another adventurous recording of post-bop music sprinkled with some free/avant garde playing, again retaining the melodic approach to each piece. Garcia's music is very adventurous and the players grasp it with a verve that is clearly felt when listening. John Herbert replaces Lightcap on bass, with Tepfer and Preminger reprising their roles. The album is titled after the Sufi concept, which deals with the human experience as an individual (the drop), and the path to surrendering to something bigger (the ocean). Garcia explains further, “I was very inspired by this concept when a friend first brought it to me. She explained how we can try to hold so tightly to our individuality when we can let go and become the ocean. The CD opens with a pulsating song, “Will”, referring to the will of the individual, followed by “Boundaries”, which is about listening to what your higher-self is telling you in those challenging moments and acting upon it”. Garcia includes three drum improvisations as interludes, “Flash #1, #2, and 3#” which are intended to reflect on how short and precious our time here is. There is a lovely ballad, “Lost By Morning” , and later “The Return” is about “returning to our true selves, a process and an event that can happen countless times in our lives,” explains Garcia. Preminger plays some lovely piano on the disc, both inside the melodies as well as on several free-flow sections withthe team in great quartet play.The band brings out  individual soloing as well as their creative collaborative skills, their ability to interact, to play off of one anothers' ideas and to meld into a cohesive unit.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Listen to: Sophie Milman

In the Moonlight
Sophie Milman
EntertainmentOne Records

I heard a lot of really nice discs last years by female jazz vocalists, many of which got tremendous play in magazines and blogs, and several of whom made a slew of top ten charts at the end of the year. From what I recall, the most talked about and well-reviewed recordings were those of Gretchen Parlato ("The Lost and Found"), Tierney Sutton ("American Road"), and Karrin Allison (Round Midnight). I am a big fan of the latter two, particularly the wonder, wistful "Round Midnight." 

I would add Sophie Millman to the group of outstanding singers , with her latest disc "In the Moonlight" continuing a string of outstanding recordings, including "Take Love Easy" and "Make Someone Happy.
Born in Russia, raised for much of her childhood in Israel, and then relocated to Canada in the early 1990s, Sophie Milman is a true international star. She began singing to her father's recordings at a very young age, with a particular fondness for Mahalia Jackson, and later icons such as Ella Fitzgerald and Stevie Wonder. She was raised on the jazz greats, the American Songbook, musicals, and of course pop music, and she brings it all to her music with  her own sound. Her voice is wonderfully expressive, pulling great emotion from her treatment of each word in a lyric, and highly flexible. She slides in and out of the music, and ranges from the smokey and sultry to the pure and crystalline.

Given her flexibility and expressiveness, it is no wonder she is willing to take on a range of sources on "In the Moonlight." From the songbook comes Gershwin's "Do It Again" and Weill's "Speak Low", from musical theater a lovely rendition of "Till There Was You", and from the world of art music and streets of Paris Serge Gainsbourg's "C'est Petit Reins" sung in french with a great accordion accompanist. Complementing the generally mid-tempo arrangements is  "No More Blues", by Jobim and Hendricks which closes out the set with a lively bossa nova. And contrasting the older material, which also includes two by the Duke, is "So Sorry", by fellow Canadian Feist,  a singer/songwriter/rocker seldom thought of in the jazz idiom.

The album waas produced with some amazing sidemen, along with some very well placed, sotto voice strings on selected songs. The supporting musicians include Kevin Hays, piano; Larry Grenadier, bass; Lewis Nash, drums; Gerald Clayton, piano; Julian Lage, guitar; Gil Goldstein, accordion; Randy Brecker, flugelhorn; and Chris Potter, tenor sax; plus others on selected songs.

Regardless of what she is singing -- ballads, classics, bossas -- her intimate vocal delivery makes every track a winner on this, her fourth disc.   The music sounds almost like a live date, with a freshsness and swing that brings out the best in this young and upcoming singer. Highly recommended.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Two Smokin' Tenors: Dave O'Higgins and Eric Alexander

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Get to Know: Gwilym Simcock

In the United Kingdom, 30 year old pianist Gwilym Simcock is a musical voice to be reckoned with, and yet in the United States it appears he is barely known. After listening to even one of his recordings and in some cases perhaps only one of his tracks, one need not read all the superlatives to understand the magnitude of his accomplishments at such a young age. Simply put, Gwilym Simcock is not just one of the most gifted pianists and imaginative composers on the British scene, but on the world scene.  His discs moves easily between classical music, which is his training, and jazz, and he inhabits both worlds so easily that his music has already been compared to some of the great pianists today --  Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett Gonzalo Rubalcaba (Dave Kane, Cadence USA). His abilities are dazzling, his compositions engaging and exciting at times, mellow and subtle at others. According to Simcock, his influences include jazz legends Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and John Taylor and classical composers Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky.
Blues Vignette .
His formal education includes Trinity College of Music (London), Chetham’s School of Music (Manchester) – where he studied classical piano, French horn and composition -- and the Royal Academy of Music (London) where he graduated from the jazz course with first class honours and the coveted 'Principal's Prize' for outstanding achievement.

My first exposure to Simcock was the double album "Blues Vignette (Basho Records 2009), as captivating an introduction to an artist as one can imagine. Over two discs he moves effortlessly between classical and jazz moods, in solos, duos with cello, trios, written music and improvisations, upbeat tempos and moving classical pieces. He opens right away with "Little People", a lovely tune with the fluidity of a Bill Evans or Red Garland.  The title tune is a very bluesy number which brings a swinging rhythm to the party, thus displaying on one disc the full range of Simcock's playing. Think of the distance between a swinging Gershwin tune "Nice Work If You Can Get It," and the classicism of his duo for cello and piano. CD2 is equally outstanding.

The first listen to this album was overwhelming. Hearing it clarifies why Simcock has been called  the most important new pianist on the British scene.  At age 28, his maturity, compositional abilities, arrangements were already the full package.   

Cover (Good Days At Schloss Elmau:Gwilym Simcock)Perception by Gwilym SimcockAnd yet there is so much more to listen to. As soon I could, I went back into his discography for other examples of his playing and purchased several more discs.  

Simcock's first exposure as leader was entitled “Perception” (Basho Records 2007) . It featured a sextet with Stan Sulzmann (saxophones), John Parricelli (guitar), Phil Donkin (bass), Martin France (drums) and Ben Bryant (percussion), and  was nominated for Best Album in the BBC Jazz Awards 2008. An auspicious start , it only hinted at the pleasures of his next two recordings as leader, "Blues Vignette" as discussed, and "Good Days At Schloss Elmau."

Good Days at Schloss Elmau (ACT 2011) is a solo concert of original compositions that is just magnificent. He varies widely between upbeat rhythms and ethereal, dreamlike set pieces. His lyricism is unmistakable, his harmonies wonderfully arranged, and the technical quality of the recording pristine. This is exciting, joyful music that will lift any listen's heart, and stands up to the best of Mehldau, Jarrett, and other great solo pianists.  

Product DetailsSimcock also has several excellent albums as a sideman. He began recording a few years prior to his first disc as leader, and there are some exeptional examples of his interplay in other settings. He has been a member of Accoutic Triangle, with bassist Malcom Creese and Tim Garland on wind instruments, playing piano and even French horn on "Resonance" (Audio B 2006) and "Catalyst" (Audio B 2008). The trio blends modern and chamber jazz to great effect on some very nice recordings.  

The Impossible GentlemenMore recently, he worked  as a sideman to saxophonist Julian Arguelles on Momenta (Basho Records 2009), and with the quartet The Impossible Gentlemen (Basho 2011) with Mike Walker on guitar, Adam Nussbaum on drums, and Steve Swallow on bass.  "The Impossible Gentlemen" is by far the most upbeat and propulsive recording of Simcock's career to date, a bit more outside than the other ercordings, and with any luck at all there will be more CDs of this quartet to come.  
MomentaFor an artist so young, Simcock has racked up a staggering array of accomplishments, but these recordings demonstrate that he deserves the accolades being heaped upon him. There can only be more great things to come; in the meantime hopefully listeners in the United States will catch up with this marvelous talent.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Get to Know: Minsarah

Minsarah, Jazz Trio from IsraelBlurring the Lines
Blurring The Lines
Enja (2010)

Minsarah is an acoustic trio consisting of pianist Florian Weber from Germany, bassist Jeff Denson from San Diego, and drummer Ziv Ravitz from Israel. They demonstrate a range of stylistic influences -- blending avant garde, free jazz play with more mainstream post-bop trio work, allowing for some mid-eastern influences to come forward in some songs, and rapidly shifting tonalities and rhythms within their pieces. This is jazz at its best, when its practitioners develop a unique style built upon the vast body of work that has come before.

"Blurring the Lines” (Enja 2010)  is the second trio recording from the group, the first being "Minsarah" (Enja 2006).  The nine songs, seven of them originals written by group members, exhibit a great deal of dynamic shifting even within a single song, from loud to soft, frenetic to meditative, legato to staccato.  Weber in particular is like an expressionist painter, with tremendous changes from arco bass to light, smooth pianistic sections followed by raggedy ones, but all eventually feeling integrated into a fully realized composition. There is clearly a group ethos at work here as melody and color work together hand in hand, with subtle accents under melodies, the passing of melodies between bass and piano and between form and abstraction, all adding up to a recording that is abstract and angular at times and  at other times close to chamber jazz with wonderful legato sections played by piano and arco bass.

Highlighting some of the songs on the disc, it begins with " Three Sided Coin", which starts with a  simple melody and group interplay, building as it goes in complexity and speed before returning to the opening melody. Be aware: on this and several other songs there is a distinct amount of singing a la Keith Jarrett behind the music, but certainly not enough to be a distraction. "Alone Together" was written by Schwartz and Dietz, and is one of two songs not written by the group members. Its familiar melody is played in several styles but always recognizable. The first section finds the group strongly attacking the notes, playing in a jarring rhythm before the song settles in to a more conventional speed and sound. The song is a wonderful show of Weber's piano dexterity.  The well-titled "Points of View" begins with a lovely legato melody with the piano playing over an arco bass. It shifts speeds to a rapidly fingered portion which demostrates the delicacy and lyrical play of  the trio; bass and piano then play a slower section  that gradually increases in speed and urgency.  Finally, the piano concludes with a rapid passage of outstanding pianism. All these points of view come in a song that is just under  six minutes long. "Lazy Afternoon" is another nicely named piece that starts out slowly with a minor key bass passage with drum and piano accents, and is a quiet and contemplative song of great beauty. The final song, "1994" finishes with an upbeat, almost anthemic piano driven melody.

This is not music for those seeking "piano trios encounters of the first kind", as described in the post of January 4, 2012, credit to Peter Hum. But at the same time, it is not music that is too far out for those seeking some adventuresome trio music -- the songs never get so far out as to reach total atonality and chaos, and hold together beautifully as they combine expressionism with fine melodic play. I would label this perhaps as "an encounter of the second kind", and hope that people will take some time to listen.

ENDNOTE: Deep LeeThe group has also done two quartets with Lee Konitz. The first "Deep Lee" was recorded in 2007.  The second was Lee Konitz New Quartet, "Live at the Village Vanguard" (Enja 2010). 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Smalls Jazz Club On-line: Why the Hubub?

On December 28th I blogged about Smalls Jazz Club, how much I enjoyed being there over the holidays, and also about the terrific idea of streaming the live shows for those of us who cannot be there regularly.

Tonight I noticed on the club's facebook site that there seems to be some controversy about the streaming live concept, and frankly am floored:

  • I don't think anyone is stealing the music, particularly since the archives can be viewed but not downloaded. And if they are stealing it, they are probably too cheap to come to the club anyway, and represent only a tiny part of the audience.
  • On line I see support from Mike LeDonne, Orrin Evans, and other musicians who  realize that this will only increase their exposure and down the line, hopefully their revenues from CDs, live shows around the world, etc. I don't think they are concerned that they are losing the revenues from that night's show at Smalls.
  • I saw responses on Small's Facebook page from Canada, France, Germany, and all over the U.S. appreciating the opportunity  to watch the shows live, and to see artists they might never see. I saw only a handful of folks who had other thoughts, like the guy who claims he no longer is going to his local clubs as much, or the guy who says he can still do downloads.
There seems to be some disagremeent whether there is any bad press or bad-mouthing of Smalls or Spike out there. It appears that those who were at the conference in NY this past week heard an overwhelming majority of positive reactions, and Spike had one musician cancel on him.

I reiterate what I said in December: This is a tremendously forward thinking idea that can bring jazz to those who cannot get to the clubs. It will expose players that people don't know well enough to those who choose to enroll. And it is not being done to line Spike's pockets, as many, many musicians have noted on line. From Mike LeDonne:

"Bottom line is we all know and trust Spike. He's not just some guy who owns a club. He's one of us so go ahead Spike. Break new ground bro."

From Spike:

"My decision to go to a membership basis for our web stream was because I was up against a wall financially with the club. We are at our capacity earnings-wise with mounting costs. Our web stream offers us an opportunity to receive support world-wide so that Smalls can continue into the future. People who are my friends know my intentions and trust me to do the right thing. Revenue from the stream is going to go directly to subsidizing the club and increasing the bread for the musicians. I am also creating an emergency relief fund for musicians in need. That already came into play last week for a musician who was in trouble - ask Aaron Diehl or Wycliffe Gordon if you want to know about that situation."

And it is being done for a pittance. For $20.00 I can see shows for a full year; that is basically a ridiculous discount. 365 nights of music for 5 grande lattes at Starbucks, or for the price of two movie tickets, or for the price of a single CD.

So here is what should you do:
  • First, if you haven't taken advantage of this offer, please do.
  • Second, if there is anyone who is actually reading this blog please go on the Smalls Facebook site and tell him you support this effort. And any other sites you think would help the cause.
  • Three, please go to your local clubs, and to Smalls when you get a chance. The streaming is great, but there is still nothing better than being there live, feeling the energy in the room, and being a part of the live experience. 
  • Four, buy the CDs from Smalls Live. they are a great listen.
Without this financial support, Smalls could go the way of many other clubs and shut down its doors, and then we all lose. The other day the NYTimes had an article about Nicholle Mitchell moving to San Diego, and one of the reasons cited in addition to the steady gig at the University there was that two of her favorite clubs in Chicago closed their doors last year. Let's not let it happen here, at Small's or at any other club. Support the music in person when you can, and on-line when you cannot.

Thank you.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Who Knew? Pharoah Sanders: Welcome to Love

Pharoah Sanders
Product DetailsWelcome to Love

Pharoah Sanders: Tenor and Soprano Sax
Bill Henderson: Piano
Eccleston Wainright, Jr.:  Drums
Stafford James:  Piano

One of the objectives of this blog is to introduce listener's to new names and faces, but also to do the same for possibly overlooked gems. It's fun to find that recording that you would never have expected to listen to, and end up loving it This CD by Pharoah Sanders fits the bill. I hope others reading this will feel the same way and pick it up.

I always associated Sanders with free jazz, with an abrasive keening saxophone sound, and an agressive approach to his music. I knew he was highly regarded and revered for his expressionistic, nearly anarchic play. He was in John Coltrane's late 1960s group as it moved into free jazz. Their music was almost a complete rejection of traditional jazz concepts, favoring  a teeming, irregularly structured, mixture of sound for sound's sake. Sanders created music that relied heavily distortions of both pitch and tonal quality, following in the footsteps of Albert Ayler. The hallmarks of his playing at that time were naked aggression and unrestrained passion. I never thought I would buy one of his CDs.

What I had not realized was that after his work with Coltrane, Sanders explored another, somewhat gentler appraoch to his music, while retaining his passion and intensity. The apogee of this approach is this 1991 release "Welcome to Love". It features lovely ballads played with great attention to the melodies, with a lovely round and full saxophone sound generally not associated with Sanders. There is a moving version of "My One and Only Love" that parallels Coltrane's' version on his album "Ballads", which this recording resembles. Other highlights are "Nancy (with the Laughing Face)" and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams". The rhythm section is pianistWilliam Henderson, bassist Stafford James and drummer Eccleston Wainwright, all of whom take the same restrained approach to the music.

Altogether, the work is one of great expression and sensitivity. This is a lovely disc for anyone who likes ballads, straight ahead quartet play, and the lovely full sound of the tenor saxophone. Don't judge a disc by its cover or you will miss an opportunity to listen  to a wonderful set.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Get to Know: Laura Dreyer

Free Flying Bird

Laura Dreyer (2011)
Free Flying Bird
Piloo Records/Sony Music Latin

Laura Dreyer's new disc "Free Flying Bird" first came to me over the speakers at J and R Records in Manhattan as I was browsing through the bins looking for interesting finds. I found a few, but the most interesting find of all was Dreyer's disc, with its infectious latin rhythms and outstanding playing.

The cover information in the wrapped package provided nothing further than her picture holding an alto, the titles of her songs  and the fact that she had written all but one of them. The production is by Piloo Records, and Sony Music Latin is also listed as a producer, which clearly defines the overall mood of the music.  No other information told which of the many woodwinds she was playing or if there were others involved, and nothing on the other players.

But just from the energy I heard in the music, the interplay among the players, and the sheer joy the disc radiated I picked up a copy.

The recording starts with a medium tempo alto-led piece, "Free Flying Bird". After a lengthy opening, Dreyer moves into a lovely free flowing section backed by the drums and piano playing tastfully in the background. The alto break leads into a light and lively piano section, again backed by the simple drumming with bass and guitar support. As the piano fades out, the alto re-enters and takes the piece home carrying the melody home.

Dreyer immediately shifts on the second track "The Ouzo Bossa Nova" to the alto flute, a lovely instrument, light and more mellow than the flute, and provides a really nice bossa sound backed by very subtle rhythms from the bass, piano, and drums. The piano interlude is relaxed, played in the middle register with simple single notes and runs, at which point one feels the swaying of the ocean breezes just as the alto flute re-enters with its wonderful, delicate melody. The beat is enforced only by the light tapping of the sticks on the rim and a soft pedal beat, perfect for supporting this light and lifting song.

Another shift and a return to the alto saxaphone for the third song "The Scarab", and then the flute in the fourth "Paixao Louca". Dreyer is clearly a master of many instruments, with a soft polished tone perfect for capturing the relaxed latin mood of the entire project. The rounded alto flute tone is never harsh, the legato notes carry the listener along, and the support from the other players is rendered perfectly -- not over-powering but ever-present to maintain the feel.

A new instrument is introduced on the fifth track, "Palhco", the soprano sax, handled just as nicely as all the others, never harsh despite the higher register sound, always lilting, and beautifully legato, carrying us along on another wonderful melody, this one courtesy of Egberto Gismonti. The track is played at a more languid pace than the preceding pieces, and a gentle cello, violin, and viola backing enhances this more contemplative piece. A lovely interlude with just piano and strings comes near the end.

The remaining four tracks maintain the same feeling, with Dreyer playing the alto sax on two, the soprano sax on one, and the flute on one. All in all a remarkable, mature performance, unified by the consistent tempos, latin beat, and backing of a very nice restrained rhythm section.

So who is Laura Dreyer and who are her bandmates?  According to her biography, she is a native of the San Francisco Bay area, and has been a longtime member of the New York jazz scene. Her compositions fuse elements of jazz, funk and rock with a Brazilian flair, and she succeeds nicely here in creating a contemporary palette with multiple textures. She has played at the Kennedy Center's "Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival", and has played clubs throughout New York. She has one previous disc "Mysterious Encounter". She has played with a number of latin bands and performed at the Rio 2010 Copafest. She has played alto and tenor, the latter not heard here, with Billy Taylor, Rufus Reid, Walter Bishop and others. She studied at the Berklee College of Music, and was a founding member of the big band DIVA, with whom she played for six years.

As for her bandmates, her supporting cast is outstanding, led by the husband and wife team of Kerry Politzer on piano and George Colligan on drums. George of course is best known as a pianist, but has recorded before on drums behind others including Politzer. Others include Jane Getter on guitar, Zoran Jakovcic on violin and viola, Brina Snow on cello, Klaus Mueller on keyboards, Noah Bless on trombone, and Portinho on drums.