Thursday, October 18, 2012

Get to Know: Yaron Herman

I listened to a fair amount of music while in the air during the last week, and one artist's new CD stood out for me. Plus he is somebody that people should know about, a great young talent really just coming into his own. 
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Yaron Herman has a new CD out, "Alter Ego" (ACT 2012), his second on ACT and third on a major label, the other being on Sunnyside. Herman is another in a long line of young and highly talented Israeli jazz players. He was born in Tel Aviv in 1981, and started to learn piano relatively late, at sixteen.  Two years later, he already was accomplished enough to win the junior talent prize at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, and to begin performing in Israel. At nineteen he left for Boston and the Berklee School, but instead of enrolling he moved onto Paris, where he remains today. His first recording was made in 2002 for the small Sketch Label. 
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It was in 2007 that he really hit his stride and established himself with his recording "A Time for Everything" (Laborie 2007), with Matt Brewer on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The CD was released to outstanding reviews in France; Herman and friends demonstrate an energetic and witty way with a mix of pop songs by Bjork and Brittany Spears, and add one more wonderful interpretation of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah".  Herman also demonstrates a skill for composition with his own songs, as del as an ability to meld the disparate genres of pop, jazz, and classical music into a creative and exciting outing. 
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Herman moved quickly into the forefront of the European jazz scene at that point, and his next CD, "Muse" (Sunnyside 2009) was on a larger and well-established label and gained wider distribution, including his introduction to the U.S. The CD is an inventive, expressive and cohesive effort with Cleaver and Brewer again. Herman shows his versatility by opening with a classically based original, the title song "Muse", followed by a vigorous rendition of "Con Alma." The music is inventive, with a very spirited and emotional "Vertigo", more angular than most of his compositions, and also some wonderfully lyrical songs like "Perpetua" and his lovely solo on "Lu Yehi." The disc closes with another classically-colored song, "Rina Balle" on which there is a nice background provided by a string quartet.  The music is fun, it is stimulating, and though Herman has been compared to Jarrett, Bley and others, it is fully original. Inspiring music that captures the spirit of the modern piano trio but is not too far out of the mainstream. 
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Herman moves to another label for the next outing, "Follow the White Rabbit" (ACT 2011), with bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Tommy Crane. ACT has been building a reputation as the new ECM and features a stable of very interesting young players, including Bad Plus, Gwilym Simcock, and Carsten Dahl among many, many others.  The title is a reference to Alice in Wonderland, and Herman is inviting us down his rabbit hole into his colorful and dramatic musical world. This is a trip worth taking, with a rich melange of songs that move across all genres, blurring distinctions between them. Herman is adventurous, as he showed in previous outings and here he is no different. This is a joyful and innovative experience made up of 14 songs, most by Herman, but also including "Heart Shaped Box."  Originals like "Follow the White Rabbit" and "Aladin's Psychedelic Lamp" are whimsical, energetic jazz romps, while "The Mountain in G Minor" and "Ein Gedi" demonstrate a richness that brings in classical and middle eastern traditional touches. Herman's confidence is clearly growing as he moves with liquid hands through the music.  Great stuff and still within the sweet spot for most listener's, be they fans of standards trios or of true new modernists. 

"Alter Ego" (ACT 2012) is Herman's latest, and the one I was listening closely to in the air. It is immediately evident that this is a different recording, although I am not sure it is completely showing an alter ego to what has come before. Rather it is an evolution in sound, as Herman is using more instruments to bring other voices into the mix. So on this recording he is joined by Stephane Kerecki on bass and Zvi Ravitz (who has his own new CD out) on drums, and then Emile Parisien on tenor and soprano saxes and Logan Richardson on alto. He wrote eleven of the thirteen songs, the exceptions a folk song and the Israeli national anthem "Hatikva." which is played with a passion and expressive set of improvisations that increase the beauty of its melody and message. "Atlas and Axis" opens the disc with a piano solo, but almost immediately Herman brings in all the other instruments to build his composition, increase the intensity of the music, and give full rein to his instincts to create a beautiful and rich sonic experience that we have not heard before in the trio setting. There is a great deal of passion throughout this recording as the players all get involved with these lyrical and often driving melodies. Ravitz is masterful in coloring the music while propelling it forward creating energy and intensity.

The music is different here, although there are many sections where the trio sound dominates. The horns, however, bring more strength to the music, so for example "Mojo" is far more intense with Kerecki's powerful bass, Ravitz's drum grooves, and the lively sounds of the saxes providing a middle eastern groove to the song. The song gets to the point where the chatter is intense, the joy explosive for both the players and the listener. "Mechanical Brothers" is a very modern and angular piece led by the two sax players, with a great deal of undertone from the rhythm players. "From Afar" a lovely and enrgetic piece that rests on the fluttering tones of the alto coupled with the piano while the second sax plays a lilting line over the top is a very free and modern piece. The CD has its share of quiet moments with expressive piano pieces like "Your Eyes" or those with a mellow sax line like "La Confusion Sexuelle Des Papillons" and "Madeliene" which are reminders of the beauty of Herman's piano technique and creative and passionate compositional skills. And the folk piece "Ukolebavka/Wiegenlied" is a quiet song with a strong melody line, and two nice solos from the bass and from the soprano sax, sounding here almost fluete-like. Herman plays throughout underneath with a moving and expressive secondary melody that makes this piece a flat out beauty.

I like this CD very much. It is very different than those that came before, much more of a creative modern jazz CD. It took a bit more time to get into it having been so used to Herman's trio CDs but that was a wonderful investment, as this is music that will grow on you, that opens Herman's creative impulses to new sounds and experiences, and hints at greater things to come. Do not come in expecting a trio CD with select sax parts -- this is an ensemble at play and often loosely structured. I would say this is not a CD for everyone and those who lean to the standards will find this to be a looser and less structured set than they might like. But for others this is one heck of a CD that Herman adds to his discography.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Visit Backstreet Records, Fredericton and St. John New Brunswick

Backstreet Records

Just in from a really nice time at Backstreet Records here in Fredericton. Located in the heart of the city's historic district, Backstreet Records is a good old fashioned record store -- independent, funky, friendly, and loaded with interesting stuff. Had that good old fashioned feel to it with handwritten signs, mixed bins of new and used CDs and records, oops vinyls (or maybe the used should be called records and the new vinyls). Up a flight of stairs and into wonderland -- posters, music, newspapers -- "Exclaim" as I understand it is a free national paper on all types of music that I will be looking through later -- and a chance to spend an hour or so with jazz, the blues, singer-songwriters, folk, any genre save classical seemed to be there, in vinyl or CD. And they produce a blog that they use to update folks on new music, concerts and festivals, etc. -

Founded in St. John in 1980, with the Fredericton store opened in 1988, Backstreet Records appears to have a nice little business going and does not appear to be going anywhere soon, especially now with the return of vinyl as a valued medium, particularly among teens and college kids moving away from all downloads. According to Eric, the store manager, vinyl is now making up somewhere in the area of 2./3 of all sales, be it new vinyl or old records. This parallels the experiences I have seen across the country, and is a good sign for the viability of some of those stores we all worry about. And while I am at it, I have to note that Eric was great to talk with, an eclectic listener who knew a lot about most any genre we discussed. His take on jazz in the area is that most of the people who come in to buy it are looking for the classics or new releases by the well-known, so the store stocks "Kind of Blue", "Giant Steps" etc. But I still found things from Ornette Coleman, Carla Bley, Myra Melford, Ken Vandermark, and others of the free and avant garde movements that tells me there are others out there too who come here with an open mind. So while jazz is a small part of the store, it is any interesting and ecclectic collection.

As you know from my previous posts, I don't leave a store without picking up some CDs, and in this case I left with five at nice prices -- two jazz, two singer-songwriter, and one classic rock. We listened the two jazz CDs while I browsed and while we talked, so I can safely report on both.

Global Warming "Global Warming" (Fantasy, 1998) finds Sonny Rollins playing beautifully with a lot of depth and richness coming from his tenor sax as he addresses his concerns for  environmental issues through his music. He wrote four of the songs, using the calypso beat that made "St. Thomas" such a standard, for the title track "Global Warming". His other compositions are "Mother Nature's Blues," "Echo-Side Blues," and "Clear Cut Boogie." The group hits their groove as well on "Island Lady" and Gerswin's "Change Partners." The music is even livelier when his quartet becomes a sextet on " Island Lady", "Global Warming" and Clear-Cut Boogie", with nephew Clifton Anderson lighting it up on trombone.

Product DetailsThe other piece of jazz is Joe Lovano's "Flights of Fancy" (Blue Note 2001) which is sub-titled trio fascination edition two. On it, Lovano plays with four different trios, Cameron Brown and  Idris Muhammad, Billy Drews and Joey Baron, Toots Theilman and Kenny Werner, or Dave Douglas and Mark Dresser. Thus we have very different trios and sounds on this CD, with Lovano playing a wide range of instruments across them --- tenor, alto, alto clarinet, soprano sax, bass clarinet, C-melody sax, gongs and percussion, and drums. A highlight from my first listen were "I'll Remember April" with Thielmanns and Werner and Lovano on tenor, but I am sure there are many others to hear. A quote from sums it up well: 

... Lovano's "trio fascination" has deep roots, and the music on this record is a cumulative and probably near-exhaustive survey of his abilities within the form. One only need contrast "Hot Shot" or "Flights of Fancy" or the obscure McCoy Tyner ballad "Aisha" with modernist, offbeat abstractions like "Amber" and "Amsterdam" by trio four, or "Off and Runnin'" by trio two, to get an idea of Lovano's artistic range.

Should be a cool listen to get into.

And the three non-jazz CDs:

"Sing the Delta" (Flariella Records 2012) by Iris DeMent, a brand new recording and her first since 2004. She has always been a greeat folk/country sing-songwriter and I expect good things from this new release.

Live at Amoeba
Sing the Delta"Live at Amoeba" (Dine Alone Records 2012) by The Civil Wars, an eight song CD that I understand was issued for Record Day this year. This folk/pop team hit is big last year with "Barton Hollow"  (Sensibility Records 2011) but may be even better known now that they recorded a song with
Taylor Swift, "Safe and Sound," which was part of the score for The Hunger Games. 

With the BeatlesFinally, I could not leave The Beatles historic disc "With The Beatles" (Parlophone 1963) behind when it was only $6.99. This is the British release, which only arrived in the U.S. later in life, so even if I have all the songs it is still a CD I do not have in the collection.

So that's it, a fine trip to Fredericton and a nice store for music lovers to hang out. And do not ever forget, Leonard Cohen started his 2009-10 right here in Fredericton, a concert immortalized on an EP that was produced for Record Day. That alone tells me this is a hip place for music.

Monday, October 15, 2012

When in Canada, Buy Canadian

Greetings from Fredericton, New Brunswick, where I am for three days for a transportation conference. Of course that also means poking around to find any record shops, and in this case there are a couple, one local shop and HMV. Because my luggage was lost until this afternoon, I have not gotten downtown yet, but did make it to HMV since my hotel is right by the mall (I booked late -- I would rather be in-town any time). Anyway, I went looking for the jazz section at HMV, which is small, but I did find what I was looking for, CDs from Canadian musicians that I don't have. That means no Diane Krall, Sophie Millman, Paul Bley, Oliver Jones, Cellar Live CDS, and in this case no Justin Time discs either. No Joni Mitchell, No Neil Young, no Guess Who....

For those who don't know it, Canada has a lively jazz scene in cities across the country, and plenty of fine players; not every Canadian comes to the U.S. to find success (By the way Kenny Wheeler is Canadian, but he went to the U.K.). Ottawa and Montreal sponsor two of the largest jazz festivals in North America each summer. To find out more about jazz in Canada, start by reading Peter Hum's jazz blog for the Ottawa Citizen; in it he has had many features on both young and established Canadian players and their CDs. Check out the Cellar Live web site for music and CDs from that venue in Vancouver; Justin Time is a big time label too. Recent reviews in All About Jazz and on other blogs have featured Harris Eisenstadt's new CD "Canada Day III", a sequel to two previous recordings. So there are many avenues for learning about some great music from just outside our U.S. borders. 

I bought only two CDs, one from someone everyone who knows jazz has heard of everywhere, and somebody who is well-known in Canada but has not yet hit it big in the U.S.

I picked up Oscar Peterson's recording "Canadiana Suite" (Polygram Records 1965, reissued by Limelight Records) for $ 5.00 CN, a CD I had never previously seen in the U.S. and one that apparently was only put on CD in the recent past. This is an interesting CD, which I have listened to a couple of times now and which is entirely reminiscent of most of his work with this trio, Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums. The group swings nicely throughout and Peterson displays his usual light touch and sensitivity to his mates, sharing the spotlight with them. But what makes this recording special is that Peterson wrote all eight of the songs, composing not being something generally associated with him. But this is a tribute to his native country, with songs that range from "Ballad to the East" through the cities -- "Place St Henri" or a great "Hogtown Blues" --  and out to the prairies on songs like "Blues of the Prairies" and "Wheatland." Be assured that wherever the trio is, the music is terrific.

These are not the usual standards or show tunes most associated with Peterson, sometimes pejoritively, but instead are a suite of lovely, original melodies played perfectly by one of the great trios in jazz history. All fans of Oscar should look for this recording.

The woman I did not know of, but whose voice impresses me, is Molly Johnson, and the disc is "Lucky" (Universal Music 2008). I looked up her biography and it is as follows. Born in Toronto, she has had formal musical training training at the National Ballet School of Canada and the Banff School of Fine Arts. She began as an alt-rock singer in the late 1980s and continued in that role through the 90s as well.  She finally returned to jazz at the end of the century, and has become one of Canada’s top jazz singers. In 2000 she released her first solo debut and has since recorded four more CDs, of which "Lucky" is the fourth of the five. I have had two listens to this disc as well.

LuckyJohnson has listened well to singers who have come before her, and her voice is original, with hints of her predecessors at times -- some have said Billie Holiday, Diana Krall and Erykah Badu; others hear Billie Holiday or Diana Washington. Essentially she is her own singer, with a distinctive voice that gives the many standards on this disc her own interpretation. From the opening torch song, "Whatever Lola Wants" to the mellow and haunting sounds of "Ode to Billie Joe" or the plaintive beauty of "I Loves You Porgy", Johnson does it all -- torch songs, blues, ballads, and swing. She doesn't imitate, she creates her sound on these classics, and the sound is good.  The arrangements are clean and simple, done by her bandmates --- Mike Downes (bass) arranged four songs, Mark McClean (drums and percussion) four songs, Phil Dwyer (piano & tenor sax) four songs.  Dwyer's tenor adds some wailing blues touches to several songs, which heightens the interest even further.

Vocalists are a personal thing, so it is hard to say whether Johnson would be universally enjoyed. But for those of us who do like it, then this recording provides some wonderful moments with some old friends.

So that's tonights wrap. Enjoy the music as always.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Stan Tracey: Two Masterful CDs

Back in January I wrote that Stan Tracey is one of the seminal jazz players in the U.K.  and discussed a few of his CDs, one of which was Ben Webster and Stan Tracey, "Soho Nights Volume 1" (Resteamed Records 2008).  At the time I said "This is one of many recordings at Ronnie Scott's and is just magnificent to hear, with the big round tones of Ben's tenor coupled with the smooth comping and soloing of Tracey." We are forunate to have another Tracey collaboration with Ben Webster, "Soho Nights Volume 2 (Resteamed Records 2012). 
Under Milkwood

Before talking about that recording, I want to talk about Tracey's "Under Milkwood: Jazz Suite" (Resteamed Records 2008), which was originally released in 1965 and is even considered today to be one ofTracey's crowning achievements. On that recording, Tracey is joined by Bobby Wellins on tenor saxophone, Jeff Clyne on bass, and Jackie Dougan on drums. It is the incredible interplay between Tracey's piano and the tenor saxophone of Bobby Wellins that really stands out on the recording, and many consider this to be Wellins' crowning achievement as well. Tracey's roots were in Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington, but he was beginning, with other U.K. players, to find his own voice, shifting from imitations of American bop and swing to original material. "Under Milkwood: Jazz Suite"  was really distinctive, writing by Tracey with its lean beauty and respect for the spirit of the play by Dylan Thomas. Wellins was often criticized at the time as a player slavishly copying the U.S. masters like Charley Parker, but in fact demonstrates here his originality and style to great effect. It is his restraint from over blowing, his lovely tone, his use of silences in his solos, and his ability to create variations of lightness and shade that distinguish him here. There are no endless streams of blowing, no rambling; the music is concise and demonstrates clearly the close relationship between Wellins and Tracey. 

"Cockle Row" opens the suite with a drum solo, a bouncing tenor line, and then the whole band playing a rather nice mid-tempo romp. Everyone solos, and everyone also supports each other when the entire group is playing. Wellins gets the opening lead, as he does for much of this CD, and demonstrates why he is still active and revered in the U.K. today as one of the pioneers of U.K. jazz. He demonstrate a light touch, round sound, and comfortable play. Tracey matches it with his solo and an equally nice touch and bounce. The drum set is omnipresent but not overbearing, and keeps everyone on tempo. Wellins is absolutely brilliant in his concept for "Starless and Black Bible" as his quiet tone floats above subdued piano chords to evoke the timelessness and atmosphere of Dylan Thomas' work.   This is the most restrained piece; otherwise, there are many solid boppish tunes worthy of any of the great combos, U.K. or U.S., of the time. There is a very nice opening piano line to "I Lost it in Nantucket", played in a lower octave and at first sounding like the start of the Adams family theme.  From there the song is Tracey's to play with, in an almost Monkish way, with simple touches, pauses, and openings for others to join in. "LLareggub" sees Wellins jumping into a nice uptempo song that is his feature until Tracy takes over midway with his own lively blues sound. "Under Milkwood" is a slow ballad for Tracey and Wellins to shine on with lovely long passages. It features lush playing, with nice restrained drum support tracing the tempo and adding little pops of coloring here and there. "A.M. Mayhem" has a lovely opening solo and then the entire group enters and takes a swinging approach to the song, with solid drum play and a moving bass line to give it its punch, its bounce. It is all Wellins to start, with Tracey comping nicely in support. Only after four minutes of swinging sax does Tracey takes over and then trades off to the drums and bass before the entire group takes it out.

Tracey's pianism varies in touch and tone with great virtuosity, and as with Wellins, he knows how to keep his solos short and concise even as he is creating great impressionistic swaths of sound. This is absolutely first rate, and should be a part of anyone's collection. It is not well-known to U.S. listeners so I hope those who are reading this will give it a try.

Ben Webster / Stan Tracey  - Soho Nights Vol 2Recorded live at Ronnie Scott's in 1964, "Soho Nights Volume 2" (Resteamed Records 2008) is a second set from tenor giant Ben Webster's appearances at the club, backed by Stan Tracey's 'in-house' trio. The quality of the sound captures the atmosphere of the club nicely, and the introduction and good night from Ronnie Scott add to the live feeling of the set. This is Vol 2, but it was actually recorded three years earlier than Vol 1, in 1964. 

The set is great. "Night in Tunisia" shows the high spirits and hijinks of the group, with Webster's sound more wailing than usual to match the original swinging upbeat feel of the song. The drumming and bass lines are equally forceful and rapidly advance the tempo and maintain the high spirited romp. The band demonstrates its flexibility as it switches over to the next piece "Chelsea Bridge", which is played as tenderly and richly as one has ever heard it. Webster sounds lovely and the band is quietly supportive of his play. Rarely does one hear a more sensitive backing by the piano as Tracey supplies here. The two play like they have been together for years, not as if they had just met, as is the case. "Over the Rainbow" is similarly beautiful, with Webster's legendary sound putting the longing and romance into the song that matches the original from a young Judy Garland in the movie. The band goes back to cooking with "Cotton Tail" and "The Theme", and clearly leaves the crowd in an upbeat mood.

Volume 2 is an exhuberent outing full of great play and unrestrained joy. Webster demonstrates his unerring sense for concise but beautiful improvisations, Tracey and his trio are terrific accompanists, and the whole thing must have been an incredible night for the club's patrons. Another winning CD.

Mulgrew is Back and I Am Mad About this CD!

Grew's TuneI am a mad Mulgrew Miller fan, with a large collection of his work in trios, solo, and with Wingspan, beginning with "Keys to the City" (Landmark 1985) right through to "Live at the Kennedy Center Volume 2" (MaxJazz 2007). His range on the keyboard, from the Tyneresque structures to the delicacy of his balladry is always impressive, and goes well with his taste in material, from standards to his own compositions.

So I am pleased to see that he has returned to recording once again as guest soloist with Kluver's Big Band on the CD "Grew's Tune" (Stunt 2012), which appeared this past summer to what appears to be little fanfare thus far.

This is a new setting for Miller, and adds yet another dimension to his discography. His trio out front -- himself with Morten Lund on drums and Morten Ramsbal on bass -- is powerful, and supported elegantly by an outstanding band of Danish jazz professionals under the leadership, for the last time before retirement, of Jens Kluver, conductor.

Kluver's Big Band started out in 1977 under the leadership of Jens Klüver. Since his retirement this past year, the band has now become the Aarhus Jazz Orchestra.  The Aarhus Jazz Orchestra is a professional big band with an international artistic level. It is based in Aarhus, Denmark, and has been sponsored by the Danish Arts Council since 1988, which was a great boost to the band’s success. Most of the repertoire is composed and/or arranged for the band, and many are the soloists, composers and arrangers who have provided their singular jazz expression to audiences and band members alike. Musicians like Thad Jones, Clark Terry, Joe Henderson, Abdullah Ibrahim, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Carmen Bradford, Deborah Brown, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano, Bob Mintzer, Byron Stripling and Kenny Werner have all performed with the band.

Kluver selected six of Miller's compositions and turned the arrangements over to three individuals, and the results are great. Too often soloists get swallowed up by the band behind them, but in this case Miller's trio is clearly front and center with outstanding turns on each piece. "Thinking Out Loud" gets the CD off to a great swinging start, and after Miller there is a wonderful tenor sax solo by Michael Bladt before the entire band swings like mad through the piece. There is no way to pick any single performance out as exceptional -- all of them have great solo features from Miller's trio and others from the band. On "Return Trip", the more mellow second piece, Miller takes the last solo after Jakob Buchanan on trumpet and Claus Waldlaw on tenor. "Samba D'Blue" is next and is a fun romp with a latin beat. Then "Grew's Tune" and "Hand in Hand", and finally there is Miller's lengthy opening solo on the last piece,  "When You Get There". Miller provides an outstanding, bluesy seven minutes of piano viruosity to start it, and it makes a great close to the live concert as the trombone of Stefan Ringrive picks up the same mid-tempo blues with Miller comping behind him, and then Miller returns to take it out with the full band for a rousing finish.

Glad to see that Miller is back on the scene and performing and recording  great stuff. This is a fabulous CD with great variety among the six songs, and those who generally shy away from big bands should have no reservations about adding it to their collection. First rate play all the way around, and plenty of Mulgrew at his best.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

So Much New Music!

Tons of good stuff in the last couple of months that I have not written about. Some big CDs from big names -- Brad Mehldau, Houston Person, Lee Konitz and friends, Anat Cohen, The Bad Plus just to name a few-- that I would recommend any time, but also a lot of CDs from some noteworthy but lesser known, or even in many cases unknown and new players. So without further ado, I have selected a few CDs from players you may have heard of to report on in this post, to be followed with others in succeeding days or weeks.

Product DetailsI'll start with two veterans, Marc Johnson and Eliane Elias, who have released an absolutely exquisite disc, "Swept Away" (ECM 2012). Johnson on bass and Elias on piano are accompanied by Joey Baron on drums and a very lyrical and somewhat subdued Joe Lovano on tenor saxophone. Eleven pieces of which ten are by Johnson and/or Elias, everyone lyrical and deeply moving, with stronger melodies and standard rhythms, and more richness than many might associate with ECM recordings. It kicks off right away with the title piece and, after the piano interoduces the song, a long and lovely solo passage by Johnson. the piece sets the mood of the disc -- romantic but not cloying, rich textures, and elegant. As a trio the group is great, and when Lovano joins in sublime. Lovano melds beautifully into the group sound, with a restrained, smooth tone. This is an elegant, must listen CD that will please anyone who likes the classic form and sound of a piano trio playing originals.  

click to enlargeNext, not new but new to me, and still pretty much down the middle with more well-known tunes, a European master of the bass, Mads Vinding, joins with two other masters of whom I recently wrote, Enrico Pieranunzi on piano and Alex Riel on drums for the CD "The Kingdom (Where Nobody Dies)" (Stunt 1997) and the trio delivers a bravura performance. This is not a CD with a lot of surprises or unusual touches, just one with three masters of their instruments playing some standards -- "Someday My Prince Will Come", "My Foolish Heart", "I Remember Clifford" -- and some Pieranunzi compositions with all of the class and grace one would expect from them. The three blend seemlessly and while Pieranunzi leads the compositions from his bench, watch for some nice soloing byVinding, particualry on "My Foolish Heart." Riel is subtle but always maintains firm control over the tempo from the back. Really wonderfully relaxing music, first rate.

Product DetailsRoberta Piket is a name well known in New York jazz circles, a veteran player and teacher and marvelous pianist with several recordings to her name. On her latest, "Solo" (Thirteenth Note Records 2012) she does just that, playing eleven pieces from a number of sources, including two she penned herself. Other compositions are by such luminaries as Thelonious Monk, Billy Strayhorn, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Marian McPartland, and Sam Rivers, and by the names alone it is clear that these solo explorations are wide ranging, from standards to free jazz. Piket makes the most of the compositions and opportunities, beginning first with a very subdued and beautiful playing of "I See Your Face Before Me," but not before she interduces it with the opening left-hand bass notes from Eric Satie's Gymnopedies. Monk affords her great flexibility for the next two pieces, one her own composition modelled upon the freedom he displayed in his work which allows her some free rein across the keyboard, some unusual harmonies and a range of dynamics; and one interpreting the classic "Monk's Dream" in a very gentle fashion. Assured, relaxed, and creative, Piket demonstrates a sense of restraint on some of the most beautiful compositions, like "Something to Live For" (Strayhorn) to allow the song to speak for itself; and a fertile mind for improvisation on others as she takes tunes such as "Nefertiti" (Shorter)  and "Litha" (Corea) to new places through her explorations. I have many of her earlier CDs, but this one stands out as she expands her vocabulary with this solo outing. Piket's explorations are marvelous and easy on the ears, never too much "in your face", making this a CD that can be appreciated by traditionalists as well as moernists alike.
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The next disc worth listening to definitely takes listeners out of the box and into the area of modern creative jazz. The duo of Michael Bisio (bass) and Matthew Shipp (pianist) jointly composed, or in some cases freely improvised, the seven pieces on this recording, "Floating Ice" (Relative Pitch Records 2012). Shipp is the better known of the two players and throughout his body of work has demonstrated his interest in exploration of sounds, both of his instrument as well as of duos, trios, and beyond. Melodies are more angular and shifting, rhythms varied, and the two freely combine soothing harmonies with dissonance within the same pieces. But both also demonstrate a keen ability to play together, to supporting one another, and to trading off solos effortlessly in search of their perfect sound. Interestingly, the liner notes do not distinguish written forms and improvisations, and simply describes the music as magic. Shipp jumps right in with "Floating Ice" a two handed exploration of the lower octaves of the piano with a lot of clustered chords under a running right hand melody line. There is no real tune here, just fantastically interesting blends, sometimes dissonant, sometimes harmonious, sometimes legato and gentle, and at other times heavily played and forte. Bisio takes over midway thorugh the piece and his bass solo is far from traditional but interesting as well. The music is really hard to describe accurately as it moves quickly from passage to passage, heavy hands to light touches, strong melodies to impressions, etc. Sometimes Shipp is too far out there for me --- his duet "Cosmic Lieder" (AUM Fidelity 2011) with Darius Jones is just one example that is too modern for my taste -- and sometimes his experimentation hits me right, like the recent "Elastic Aspects" (Thirsty Ear 2012) or "Art of the Improviser" (Thirsty Ear 2011), both trio CDs with  Bisio.  Here is one that hits the sweet spot for me -- experiemental, different, and yet structured enough to appeal to my sensibilities.

Finally, moving back towards the middle once more, we have Scott McLemore, an American ex-pat drummer living in Iceland, whose new CD is  "Remote Location" (Sunny Sky Records 2012) is a tribute to his various homes -- Virginia, New York, and Iceland. McLemore is accompanied by an all-star group of Icelanders, the best known of whom is Sunna Gunnlaugs on piano. The others are Oskar Gudjansson on tenor sax, Andres Thor on guitars, and Robert Porhallsson on bass. McLemore wrote all 11 pieces, which are very lovely, subdued impressionistic gems. I feel a great kinship to the music, not only because it is lovely, appealling music, but also becaause I feel a kinship to Charlottesville where my kids went to college ("Charlottesville" is the fifth track), to nearby New York City, and to Iceland, where we visited last year and expect to visit again soon. Just an unbelievable place of natural beauty, wonderful people, and amazing open space. McLemore captures all of our emotions about all of the places he cites with lovely melodies and great soloists. His own play is subdued but omnipresent as color, setting tempos, or creating accent points along the way. This is recomended to you as modern creative in-the-pocket jazz by a seamless quintet. And by the way, Iceland truly has an amazing jazz scene for such a tiny place, has an annual jazz festival that draws from Northern Europe in particular, and has a new concert hall that is magnificent.

So there we have it, five CDs of note, from the inside music of Vinding/Pieranunzi/Riel and of Johnson/Elias to the outside sounds of Bisio/Shipp. All very good, I hope you will try some and that you enjoy.

Monday, October 8, 2012

He's the Riel Thing: Alex Riel (Another Lesson in Looking Beyond the Leader too)

It's easy to use puns in the title of this post, as Riel does it with his album titles -- Get Riel, The Riel Thing, Riel Time, the Real Deal. But anyway you slice it, he is the real deal, an outstanding Danish drummer with a long history of recordings, a terrific pedigree of players he has worked with, an impressive discography, many awards..... and barely any visibility in the United States.

And frankly, I didn't have him on my radar until recently, certainly not as a leader, but once I did I went back and found that I do have many of his outings in support of some first rate leaders. From that point I went out and located a number of his CDs and am vastly impressed by them.

Riel is a musical icon overseas and particularly in Denmark, where a book on his life in music was published in 2010. It contains his musical journey Alex Riel book releasestarting with the little boy who listened to Louis Armstrong while drumming along on a scooter helmet, to the seasoned musician now regarded as one of the most influential European drummers of all time.

Alex Riel was born in 1940 in Copenhagen, Denmark. His career began in the mid-sixties as house drummer at the Club Montmartre with Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Tete Montoliu or Kenny Drew. He accompanied a wide range of visiting musicians such as Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, Kenny Dorham, Johnny Griffin, Don Byas, Donald Byrd, Brew Moore and Yusef Lateef; and recorded with many of them. In 1965 Alex Riel released his first recording as a leader, and was chosen as the "Danish Jazz Musician of the Year".  In 1965-66 Riel toured Europe as a member of the Bill Evans Trio.

Alex Riel has played as a sideman on several hundred jazz recordings with names such as Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Ben Webster, Kenny Dorham, Dexter Gordon, while increasingly recording as a leader with contemporary stars such as Jerry Bergonzi, Michael Brecker, Kenny Werner and Mike Stern.

His live recording "The Riel Deal" (1996)  received a Danish Grammy for “Best Jazz Recording of the Year”. He received another award, the "Django d'Or 2001" in the category “Master of Jazz”. For several years Alex Riel has played in piano trios led by Danish bass ace Mads Vinding with pianist Carsten Dahl.  In 2004 Alex formed his own trio with Danish bass Jesper Lundgaard and the young pianist Heine Hansen.

So, without further ado, here are the CDs I have purchased recently, with some comments, along with a few that I had in my collection with other leaders.   
alex riel"Get Real" (Cowbell Music 2008) features Riel on drums, with Kenny Werner on piano and Pierre Bussaguet on bass. Anything with Kenny Werner to me is going to be great, and this does not disappoint. The music is straight-forward but freshened by both Werner's inpired improvisations and Riel's command of the kit in setting out a solid platform as well as some clever use of the cymbals, brushes et al to create some interesting dynamics. Some standards like "Always" and "If I Should Lose You", some songs penned by the members of the trio, and one semi-classical diversion "Polovetsian Dance" by Borodin. All first takes, all inviting music.

alex riel"Riel Time" (Cowbell Music 2008) expands the trio concept, which has Riel and Werner at the core and the veteran Jesper Lundgaard on bass with the outstanding U.S. saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi. This is a live recording of the group and the enrgy lifts the music to even higher levels. The band plays a number of Bergonzi originals and the result is explosive music with a great sense of group interplay and dynamics. Very fresh music, perhaps a bit more outside because of the live setting and Bergonzi's writing, but truly energized and spell-binding.

Riel-Celebration"Celebration" (Stunt 2000) is a live recording at the Copenhagen Jazz House celebrating Riel's 60th birthday, and features the trio of Riel, Werner, and Lundgaard once again. This classic group covers a range of standards and a classical piece credited to J.S. Bach, "Siciliana." Songs like "In Your Own Sweet Way", "Bye Bye Blackbird", and "On Green Dolphin Street" get extended  play, allowing for not only great group interplay but also for extended extrapolations and improvisations of the tunes. Werner turns "Autumn Leaves" into a classical rondo for a while before returning to its jazz roots, a lovely piece of improvisation. Werner of course is the major player on the piano, but there are strong plucked and bowed solos from Lundgaard, and Riel is always there keeping time, maintaining the rhythms and supporting the others, and taking solos that are diverse in their use of the various elements of the kit. He takes a short but powerful solo during "Bye Bye Blackbird." Familiar tunes played by talents such as three men possess makes for a nice listen, even if there are no great surprises or new territories to be covered. Just a great jazz trio having a good time, and you will too.

Riel: Dsb Kino"Alex Riel  DSB Kino" (Stunt 1998) is a very special piece of upbeat, classic swing jazz featuring Harry "Sweets" Edison on trumpet along with the piano trio of Riel, Roger Kellaway on piano, and Mads Vinding on bass. Edison was 83 at the time of the recording but sounds strong throughout as the group tackles a set of classics like  "Ain't Misbehaven", "Lover Man" and Dizzy Gillespie's "Tour de Force" with terrific energy. This is the most upbeat of the CDs mentioned in this post. "Just Friends" opens the set with an uptempo swing tune and each player brings energy and bounce to the tune. Vindings bass solo, Kellaway's bouncy, light touch, and Riels strong pulse and short bursts make this a great opener. The promise is kept throughout as Edison leads on each tune with his classy trumpet play, generally followed by the classic touch of Kellaway and then Vinding. This disc is pure fun.  

Alex Riel clearly knows how to put a band together and how to lead it from the back, as he demonstrates on the discs above. You can hardly go wrong with masters like Werner, Kellaway, Vinding, Carsten Dahl, NHOP, and Lundgaard as your trio partners. And then throw in Edison, Bergonzi and on other discs a number of other notables including Michael Brecker, and you have an outstanding discography that needs more attention in the U.S. 

And for toppers, look at this list of CDs he has played on as a supporting member and realize that this is a small subset of his total works, being just some of those I have in my collection:  

  • Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen: Friends Forever (Sony 2005)
  • Jesper Thilo & The American Stars: vol 1 (Storyville 2005)
  • Jesper Thilo & The American Stars: vol 2 (Storyville 2005)
  • Dexter Gordon: Misty (SteepleChase 2004)
  • Johnny Griffin and the Great Danes (Stunt Records 2002)
  • Mads Vinding Trio: Six hands, Three Minds, One Heart (Stunt Records 2000)
  • Chet Baker:The Legacy (Enja 1987)
  • Herb Geller Orchestra: An American in Hamburg (Atlantic 1975)
  • Ben Webster Quartet: My Man (SteepleChase 1973) many more
  • Herb Geller Orchestra: Rhyme and Reason (Atlantic 1975)
With names like Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, and Johnny Griffin as leaders, not to mention the less well-known but wonderful Jesper Thilo CDs and the sounds of the veteran Herb Geller, it is a wonder that Alex Riel is not a household name around the world. For those who like straight jazz played by the best, try Alex Riel soon.

Italian Jazz: Roberto Gatto, The Man Behind the Kit

Rea, Sellani, Basso, Pieranunzi...the first four of my Italian series was begun during the summer, and has been on hiatus for quite a while.

Today, I am picking it up again with drummer extraordinaire Roberto Gatto, clearly the go to drummer for much of the past three decades among Italian jazz players. Gatto has an exhaustive list of leader discs, but even a greater number of CDs as the beat behind those great names listed above as well as many others. One clear reason for his position in the pantheon of drummers is his great flexibility -- he can get out in front and drive a band with the best of them, he can drop bombs when needed or back off and provide quiet but insistent support, or he can be a colorist playing whispering brushes and gentle sticks. He is adaptable to a range of music, as will be seen in the discography presented here, and he writes great tunes, be they lyrical romantic themes, jaunty  swing songs, or simple modern creative jazz.  I've yet to come across a disc with Gatto playing hat I have not enjoyed, whether as the leader or as a member of some awesome groups.

Gatto was born in Rome in October 1958, so he turns 54 this month. He began playing professionally  in 1975 with the Trio di Roma, a superstar group in the making with Danilo Rea on piano and Enzo Pietropaoli on bass. Since then, he has built a solid reputation and large portfolio playing all over the world. His own groups are characterized by the first class techniques of himself and his support players, along with a sterling ear for composition, for the subtleties of timbre, and by a warmth typical of his mediterranean roots.
Roberto Gatto is one interesting and original drummer and composer. A list of his collaborators is a who's who of jazz: as a sideman, he has played with Dave Liebman, Phil Woods, James Moody, Barney Wilen, Ronnie Cuber, Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano,  Curtis Fuller,  Cedar Walton, Tommy Flanagan, John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Zawinul, and Pat Metheny. As a leader he has recorded fifteen albums with many of the first names in Italian jazz: Enrico Pieranunzi, Franco D'Andrea, Stefano Bollani, Enrico Rava, Paolo Fresu, Rosario Giuliani, Gabriele Mirabassi among others.  
Of the 15 as leader, his first, which I do not have, was made in 1986 with Michael Brecker, "Note" (Gala 1986).  Heck of a way to start a recoding career. Of the remaining fourteen, I have  seven.
Product Details"Improvissi" (Gala 1989) was his third recording, with co-leader Danilo Rea on piano, and some quiet supporting strings in the background on selected tunes. I have already praised Rea in an earlier post, and here the outstanding pianist and drummer play an assortment of songs covering jazz interpretations of classical music, highlighted by "The Moldau" by Smetna and Debussy "La Lotta." As would be expected, Gatto provides a delacate touch on the disc, mostly colorations with brushes and light high hat work. There is one solo percussion piece on which Gatto gets to demonstrate his use of his complete kit, an interlude between the duets. This is not an essential disc to hear, but is a very lyrical and lovely set mostly notable for Rea's piano.
Roberto Gatto - Roberto Gatto Plays RugantiniGatto says in his liner notes to "Rugantino" (CAM Jazz 2001) that he had been struck in 1978 at age 20 by the music to the movie "Rugantino", which was composed by Armando Trovaioli. The popular folk-style music of the movie had stuck with him for years, and in 1999 he began to assemble a group to undertake this project, with the blessing of the composer himself. Working with the arranger Paolo Silverstri, he put together an amazing group from among the best Italy had to offer: Enrico Rava, Enrico Pieranunzi, Gabriele Mirabassi, Rosario Giuliani, Luca Bulgarelli, Gianluca Petrella and others came together with the Orchestra Roma Sinfonieta to create this masterwork. Opening with an overture, just as one would hear at a Broadway show, one immediately is drawn into the drama and emotions that infuse the entire score. Ravae and Pieranunzi are clearly the masters of their instruments, but the saxes of Giuliani, the trombone of Petrella and clarinets of Mirabassi, all leaders in their own right, are equally magnificent. This is Gatto's vision beautifully realized by world class players, and a delight to listen to for those who like the concept of a jazz score, with lots of ensemble play along with selected solos that jump from the speakers. Gatto here was the facilitator and while his drumming is omnipresnet setting time, pushing certain sections along, and coloring others, it is the entire band itself that is the star. Great music throughout, a tour de force of orchestral interplay. Should not be missed if this type of group and music is your cup of tea.
Traps"Traps" (CAM Jazz 2007) displays another facet of Gatto, as a composer of 9 of the 10 tracks on this disc. Gatto also has a chance to stand out more on this quartet disc, with Daniele Tittarelli on alto and soprano saxes, Luca Mannutza on piano, and Luca Bulgarelli on bass. Gatto demonstrates a passionate, nuanced, and lyrical style in his writing, which provides wonderful opportunities for his bandmates to shine, particularly Tittarelli on his alto sax. Gatto clearly also has a playful side, as demonstrated in the jaunty title tune. "Traps" is a terrifically upbeat bounce with a simple but very effective little tune captured first by the bright sound of the alto and later the piano. Gatto provides the timekeeping and uses his full arsenal with snares, toms, high hats and cymbals creating the movement that makes this an outsatnding, cheerful tune. Going back, the first two pieces, which precede "Traps", demonstrate the lyrical side of his writing, starting with long and lovely legato lines for  the piano and sax and gentle whispers from the drumset. Later Gatto's compositions "Octagonal" and "Monkish" are just that, a bit more angular or jagged, with appropriate spaces and jaunty melodic lines. This is an outstanding CDs of Gatto's work. 

That next CD is "The Music Next Door" (Emarcy  2009) and it is killer, with Tittarelli again on the saxes, Rosario Bonaccorso on bass, and two of the biggest shining stars in Italian jazz, Stefano Bollani on piano and Paolo Fresu on trumpet. The quintet clearly demonstrates the highest degree of musicianship possible. From their long relationships from many other ensembles and records, they also demonstrate their abilities to hear and complement each other, and demonstrate outstanding ensemble play.  The music is a bit livelier than "Traps", with Gatto's six originals more upbeat, giving him a greater opportunity to lead from the back. The group plays in the great tradition of quintets like this, with opening statements of the tunes followed by each player taking a turn on solos before a return to ensemble play. The tunes themselves are nicely composed, the harmonics easy on the ear and tuneful -- this is modern creative jazz with its legacy clearly steeped in tradition. Gatto is omnipresent setting the pace, coloring the tunes, or pushing the beat, but is never in your face -- he is never bombastic, and doens't need to prove his mettle by being out front. A great turn for everyone and terrific play by Fresu and Pieranunzi make this a must listen if you want to hear Gatto's conceptions at their best.

As noted above, Gatto clearly is part of the great tradition of drummers dating back into the 50s and 60s, and he demonstrates his debt to one of them with two tribute discs, "Remembering Shelly" (Albore Jazz 2009) and "Remembering Shelly 2" (Albore Jazz 2010).  Again using a "standard" quintet reflective of the groups of Shelly Manne, he has Giuseppe Bassi on bass, Luca Mannutza on piano, Max Ionata on sax, and Macro Tamburini on trumpet. Product DetailsThese are live recordings played at the same sessions, and include several songs that were from Manne's "book" along with a couple of Gatto orginals done in the same vein. These are two wonderfully upbeat, swinging bop discs, with Gatto's steady hand given full rein to play in the Manne/60s style. Strong leadership and timekeeping, steady high hat and bass drum set the tempo for terrific interpretations of "Nightingale", "Fan Tan", and Speak Low" for example could have been right out of the days of Shelly's Manne Hole, with unison play as well as solos by the trumpet and sax. This is A-One hard bop in a live setting, which adds to the electricity that can be felt throughout. Two great tributes that are not slavish to the past, but rather terrific interpretations thereof.

Finally, I cannot leave Gatto without noting that he has over 50 recordings as a side man as a contributor to many other fine CDs. Of note from my collection, I would list these:

  • Product DetailsEnrico Pieranunzi "Jazz Roads" (CAM Jazz 1980)
  • Tommaso, Rava Quartet "La Dolce Vita" (CAM Jazz 2000)  
  • Phil Woods "Embraceble You" (Philology 1988)
  • Rava, Fresu Quintet "Shades of Chet" (Via Veneto 1999)
  • Rava "The Words and the Days" (ECM 2005)
  • Bollani and Gatto, "Gershwin and More Live" (Philology 2006)