Thursday, May 30, 2013

Giovanni Guidi Trio: City of Broken Dreams

The Giovanni Guidi Trio,  "City of Broken Dreams" (ECM 2013) is absolutely magnificent. It is definitely bound for my shortlist as one of my favorites for 2013.

Product DetailsI expect this will be Guidi's breakout CD for recognition here in the States, but one should know that he has a string of accomplished CDs dating back to his debut release, "Indian Summer" (CamJazz 2007), a stunning quartet set with Dan Kinzelman on sax and clarinet, Francesco Poticelli on bass, and Joao Lobo on drums. It was then that I began wathing the career of this 28 year old pianist.
Product DetailsGuidi is not one to stand pat with his music, and has demonstrated a willingness to experiment with his sound palette, composing for trio, quartet, and larger ensembles. "The House Beyond This One" (CamJazz 2008) was another rich quartet outing, while "Tomorrow Never Knows (Venus 2006) was a trio outing featuring 13 original miniatures. And then there was "The Unknown Rebel Band" (CamJazz 2009), a tentet, which has a whole different outlook with its larger sounds and textures, and bigger dynamics. Guidi's piano is less distinctive within the ensemble when compared to the rest, although the band is terrific and the melodies are full of dynamic playing. He returned to a smaller format for "We Don't Live Here Anymore" (CamJazz 2011), a quintet featuring trombonist Gianluca Petrella and sax player Michael Blake.  Guidi also figured prominently on "Rava on the Dance Floor" (ECM 2013) and "Tribe" (ECM 2011), the latter also with Enrico Rava; and has played on several recordings by Petrella and Fabrizio Sferra, both outstanding players in Italy on trombone and drums respectively   

Product DetailsOn this latest release Lobo returns on drums, but the bass player is Thomas Morgan, who has had a string of outstanding recordings with Craig Taborn (Chants"), Tomasz Stanko ("Wislawa"), Dan Tepfer ("Five Pedals Deep") and others.  From the outset, with the lovely title song "City of Broken Dreams", the stage is set for what is a first rate, lyrical and moving piano trio album. Guidi is strong throughout the set, and Morgan demonstrates his own strength many times as he is given a lot of space to work with by composer Guidi. Morgan stands out for example on the second piece "Leonie" with a stronly plucked and deep tone, but also with his own reflective play as he explores the melody set by Guidi.

fotoThe narrative throughout has this same deeply moving and lyrical sensibility. All thre players stand out. Morgan develops shining improvisations around Guidi's melodies and provides point/counter-point responses to Guidi's piano at other times. On "Just One More Time" Guidi's pianism sparkles with his light and rapid touch and cascading notes, while Morgan again has a masterful solo. Lobo is a great percussionist who has clearly learned from Motian and others how to provide interesting coloration while quietly moving the music along as needed with a light touch on his cymbals and drum foot.

Product DetailsIt's hard to single out any one song for praise as all are deserving. The  pensive "Forbidden Zone" reflects the more serious side of Guidi's composing; it's a slowly played song full of rich deep tones from the piano and bass with minimal but effective support from Lobo. This same quiet strength is later revisited with the lovely and thoughtful "The Way People Live." And in a change of mood, "No Other Possibility" is a more modern and somewhat more jagged tune that offers a nice change of pace right in the middle of the set.

Finally, in the end the set is bookended by a variation on the title song, privoviding another chance to hear the absolutely riveting pianism of Guidi as the song builds into a very moving expression of this composer and pianist's great abilities.

Fantastic music that shouldn't be overlooked. Guidi is a young pianist on the rise. Catch the wave.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Six Quick Hits

Product DetailsWrapping up notes on a lot of CDs that are sitting on my desk. Not included are the big releases that you will read about elsewhere.  Dave Brubeck and Tony Bennett, Joshua Redman, Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio, Michel Camilo, and Christian McBride all have CDs out or out momentarily. I have heard each and can recommend any of them.

But what of the ones that are not getting as much publicity, that are not necessarily by "name brand" musicians. Here is a small list of those that I am enjoying:

Neil Cowley Trio, "Live at Montreux 2012 (Eagle Music 2013): Live music by a really interesting modern piano trio from the U.K. All original music, modern approach, great energy. First class modern jazz.

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Omar Sosa, "Eggun" (Ota Records 2013): Sosa is an outstanding pianist with a series of great CDs. This one is called the Afri-Lectric Experience, but the electronic portions are really very subtle and non-intrusive to what is a terrific piece of accoustical music. Commissioned as a tribute to "Kind of Blue" the all original music has the same quiet, mellow feeling and spirit of the original. Forget the labels and enjoy the music.

Product DetailsWill Calhoun, "Life in This World" (Motema 2013): Calhoun hits a home run on this CD as leader. The ecclectic Calhoun on drums is joined by a stellar cast --- Mary Cary on piano, Ron Carter on bass, Charnett Moffett on bass, Donald Harrison on saxes, Wallace Roney on trumpet are the most notable names joining in the fun. It's modern mainstream music that covers a range of sounds over several originals as well as covers of such tunes as "Naima", "Evidence" and "Love for Sale". Solid music, lots of great soloists, and several electric moments. 

Product DetailsCarsten Dahl, "Solo Piano: Dreamchild" (Storyville 2013): Dahl has been written about here on several occasions. He is a creative composer who has written 10 songs here called "Dreamchild #1 -#10". Each is a minature tone poem of beautiful measured lyricism. Quiet introspection. 

Product DetailsJustin Robinson, "In the Spur of the Moment" (WJ3 Records 2013): This is one of those CDs I bought based on the label and the contributing band members. The label WJ3 is Willie Jones' label, and Jones is an accomplished drummer who has a string of very good CDs himself. Here is plays in support of Robinson on alto sax, and is joined by Larry Willis on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, and Roy Hargrove on trumpet. With that cast I figured this had to be good and it is. Robinson is strong on the alto on songs by Monk, Coltrane, Parker and others, and the band cooks. Great debut.

SFJazz Collective, "Wonder" the Songs of Stevie Wonder" (SFJazz 2013): The SFJazz Collective takes one composer each yeaar to study. The band members arrange one song from the artist's songbook and write their own songs in the artist's style. In the past they have studied Coltrane, Tyner, Silver, Coleman, Monk and last year Stevie Wonder. In addition to the annual CD produced already for Wonder's music, this is a set of eight of his songs from a live performance at New York University. Arrangements were by band members Miguel Zenon (alto), Stefon Harris (vibes), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Matt Penman (bass), Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Mark Turner (tenor), Eric Harland (drums), and Edward Simon (piano), the eight musicians who comprise the current roster. A very accomplished little big band and another big time production.

Buckets of great new music lately, and more to come.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Noah Preminger "Haymaker"

Product DetailsI continue to push out my backlog with  this short post. Noah Preminger is a young tenor sax player who hit a home run with his first major recording "Before the Rain" (Palmetto 2011) which I included as one of my favorites for 2011. I have also inlcuded him in posts as a notable sideman for CDs by The Rob Garcia 4 and Dan Cray. His sound, his expressive play, and his compositional skills impressed me greatly then, and even more so now with his new release.

Product DetailsIf he hit a home run previously, this time it is a haymaker. And that is the name of the new CD, "Haymaker" (Palmetto 2013), with Preminger on tenor and Ben Monder on guitar, Matt Pavolka on bass, and Colin Stranahan on drums. There are seven originals, six by the leader and one by Monder, and three other songs inlcuding "Tomorrow" from the play "Annie".  Preminger writes beautifully; his compositions are creative modern jazz, somewhere between the mainstream nad the impressionistic styles. The lines are long and lyrical, his tenor controlled whether the sounds called for are mellow or soaring into the upper registers, and the songs interesting if not easily hummable. "Morgantown", an upbeat starter, features a solo drum set midway into the piece that demonstrates Stranahan's capabilities, sandwiched between the modern post bop melody created by Monder. "My Blues for You" is a mid-tempo tune that is supported by Monder playing a counter melody to Preminger's tenor, and the very quiet support of the bass and drums. It's a lovely piece that gives Preminger the chance to display his respect for the tenor tradition with a ripe and round tone and expressive play. Monder gets his chance to demonstrate his chops midway through and creates a really nice, laid back section of his own.

"Haymaker" moves the group a bit off center with a less melodic, more impressionistic opening line from Preminger, which is followed by sections that are more like a tone poem. Once again Preminger displays great control over his instrument as it ranges across the registers and as his emotions range as well between mellow and energetic. Not a song that is hummable but one that is captivating for lovers of modern mainstream jazz.

Skipping ahead, "Tomorrow" is a revelation. Played slowly, the beauty of the melody really shines through. The song has a chance to breathe, as it starts with a solo from Preminger that contains only hints of the melody at first and then slowly coalesces as the rest of the band joins in. It is quite restrained and lovely, this pace allows the group to really bring out the beauty of the tune and longing in the lyrics. Monder plays a lovely little counter melody behind the round clean sound of the tenor.

And so it continues, a nicely paced set that displays the skills of each player. Monder and Preminger play a lovely duet to open "15,000", another mellow and mid tempo original tune and my favorite of the set. After the opening, the piece has some of the most beautiful and soulful play of the set. Both players have outstanding solos that caress the song, and the bass and drum support is capable and restrained in providing the extra punch until the drum gets a solo toward the end of the piece, and even that solo is moderated to fit. "Stir My Soul" follows in the same vein with a quiet, mid-tempo melody played by Preminger with the support of the others. A bass lead for Stranahan, backed by Monder, is a nice little tour de force for the bassist.

When the CD ends with the short "Motif Attractif", which is an absolutely gorgeous little tune played very slowly and quietly with great feeling, one realizes that Preminger has barely scratched the surface of his talents as a player and composer. With this CD he should be stepping into the spotlight, and deservedly so.

Shopping the Used Bins Again

One of my favorite perks from travelling is the chance to visit local record stores and particularly those which sell used CDS. I just returned from a short business trip to the LA area which allowed me to stop in at Amoeba Records in Hollywood once again. And for the fun of it, here is what I came back with:

Product DetailsMarcus Roberts, "The Truth is Spoken Here" (Novus/BMG 1999) ($ 1.99): A beautiful CD that I somehow had missed from Roberts repetoire, it features his piano backed by Elvin Jones on drums, Reginald Veal on bass, Wynton Marsalis on trumpet, Charlie Rouse or Todd Williams on tenor sax. There are also some solo tracks by Roberts. That is one outstanding band and they live up to their names on pieces like "Single Petal of a Rose", "Blue Monk", and "In a Mellow Tone", alongside five Roberts originals. Love this music. 

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Sherman Irby, "Full Circle" (Blue Note 1997) ($1.00): Hard to know why Irby records so infrequently. Only six recordings as leader since this debut disk in 1997; his last one "Live at the Otto Club" (Black Warrior 2010)  is an energized outing that is in my collection, so I picked this up immediately. And what a price. It's 10 hard driving classic Blue Note songs played by a wailing Irby on alto, backed by James Hurt on piano, Eric Revis on bass, and Dana Murray on drums. Charlie Persip drums on one song. Two songs from others -- "Wee" by Todd Dameron and "Giant Steps" from Coltrane -- and 8 penned by Irby make up the hard charging set. The alto is played very energetically and in its upper register a lot, so you have to like that sound to enjoy the recording.

Product DetailsFred Hersch, "Red Square Blue (Angel 1993) ($4.99): I didn't even know that this was in his discography, jazz impressions of famous Russian classical composers -- Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Mussorgsky, and others. Hersch has a full band behind him -- James Newton on flute, Toots Thielemans on harmonica, Phil Woods on alto and clarinet, Erik Friedlander on cello, Steve LaSpina on bass, and James Hirshfield on drums. I don't know what more to say than it is lovely, creative, and soothing.

Product DetailsZoot Sims et al, "The Four Brothers....Together Again" (RCA 1957) ($4.99): A reprise of the original "Four Brothers" CDs of Getz and Jimmy Giuffre, the name a tribute to the Woody Herman Herd in which they all played as the sax section, this time the reunion is Zoot Sims Al Cohn, Herb Steward, and Serge Chaloff, backed by Elliott Lawrence on piano, Buddy Jones on bass, and Don Lamond on drums. This was Serge Chaloff's last recording due to declining health, and at times his part was played by Charlie O'Kane. Great straight ahead 1950s blowing session. Nothing more needs to be said.

Product DetailsGonzalo Rubalcaba "Solo" (Blue Note 2006) ($2.99): Don't know how I missed this one as well, as I am a big fan of Rubalcaba. As it says, it's solo piano on fifteen songs that include standards like "Besame Mucho" and "Here's That Rainy Day", and a range of styles and tempos from lullabyes to toe-tapping latinate beats, and everything in between. Its a lovely display of Rubalcaba's control of the piano, touch, and range.

On vinyl:

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Charlie Watts Big Band, "Live at Fulham Town Hall" (Columbia 1986) ($ 7.99): This is a small treasure that I found, the Rolling Stones drummer leading his big band, which will join his Ronnie Scott set with the big band from 2004. Watts came up as a jazz player before moving into the blues and then rock and roll, and always kept his interests and skills up regarding jazz. He pulled together one stellar band for this recording --  among them, Peter King on alto sax, Evan Parker and Courtney Pine on tenor, Stan Tracey on Piano, and surprise -- Jack Bruce (Cream, Blind Faith) on bass. Tracey is a living legend, and King and Pine are very active leaders still.  Songs like  "Moonglow" and "Scrapple from the Apple"  feature vibes and two basses respectively, and swing classics like  "Stompin' at the Savoy," "Lester Leaps In," "Robbins Nest" and "Flying Home" have the excitement and energy of a traditional big band.  

And two CDs for my vintage rock collection:

Product DetailsThe Allman Brothers, "Live at Fillmore East" ((Polydor 1971) ($ 6.99): I have the original LPs, but never had the CDs, so this makes it more convenient to listen. This was a constant in the dorm back in my college years, when it came out I was a junior.

Product DetailsThe Flying Burrito Brothers, "The Guilded Palace" and "Burrito Deluxe" (A&M 1997) ($9.99): I had New Rider of the Purple Sage, "Workingman's Dead" and "American Beauty", Gram Parsons and a few others in the Country Rock style, but for some reason no Flying Burritos. This corrects the gap.

Nothing Small About These Four Recordings

Big Jazz on SmallsLIVE
Spike Wilner, the impresario of Smalls Jazz Club, has done it again. From the riches of the live performances there night after night, he has plucked four sets and produced them, with the artists, for four marvelous new CDs. If you cannot be at Smalls to hear the music live, and have not yet signed up to see live performances every night on your computer, then this is the next best thing. The sound on each is great, the balance among the instruments wonderful, and the background noises that are there are subdued but give one a sense of being in the room. This makes 40 CDs now in the Smalls catalogue. For those interested in some more background, see the interview with Wilner on the blog site "All About Jazz" dated April 23, 2012 entitled "Big Jazz on SmallsLIVE."  

Harold Mabern - CoverFirst up is the veteran pianist Harold Mabern, with Joe Farnsworth on drums and John Webber on bass. Harold Mabern Trio "Live at Smalls" (SmallLIVE 2013) features a 77 year old pianist who has never gotten the full recognition he deserves for his catalogue of work but who is one of the truly outstanding veterans of this era, alongside, for example, a luminary like Kenny Barron. He dropped from the radar in the 90s and early 2000s when most of his catalogue was released on Japanese labels (and they are great CDs if you want to get them), but has come back strongly in the U.S. recently with "Mr Lucky" (High Note 2012) and now this outing. Seven tracks fill the CD with the kind of good old fashioned, driving mainstream jazz sound, sometimes straight ahead, sometimes soulful, sometimes bluesy, and always entertaining.  They stretch out on some rousing great tunes like "I'm Walking" and the "Road Song," boogie on "Boogie for Al McShann", and do up "Sesame Street" very cleverly. First rate music from a first rate trio.
Joe Magnarelli - CoverThe next  CD is led by Joe Magnarelli, a veteran trumpet player with a catalogue of seven recordings as a leader, beginning in 1995 with "Why Not?" (Criss Cross 1995) on which he worked with Renee Rosnes, Eric Alexander, and Peter and Kenny Washington. That's a heck of a start and is indicative of the on-going quality of this mainstream trumpeter's work. With his first six CDs on the foreign label Criss Cross, he still is getting better knows to the U.S. audience with his last CD on Reservoir and now this one on SmallsLIVE. Hopefully more people will get to hear and appreciate his work. Here, on Joe Magnarelli, "Live at Smalls" (SmallsLIVE 2013), he brings to the club Mulgrew Miller on piano, Jason Brown on drums and Duane Burno on bass.  The group balances some new material with a few classics. "Ruby, My Dear" and "My Ideal" stand out as Mulgrew Miller, a personal favorite, gets some time to stretch out alongside Magnarelli, who himself plays with wonderful control and emotional balance on the songs. They tear it up pretty well too when they want. All in all a nicely balanced set, both sonically between the instruments and muscially with the choices.
Alex Sipiagin - CoverAlex Sipiagin, "Live at Smalls" (SmallsLIVE 2013) is next up. Sipiagin is a 46 year old trumpeter from Russia, relocated to the U.S. in the 1990s. He has 12 recordings since 1998, most on Criss Cross, so he too is establishing himself with the U.S. audience. He has worked with many name players on these recordings inlcuding Chris Potter, David Binney, Craig Taborn, Antonio Sanchez, Mulgrew Miller, Seamus Blake, and David Kikowski. He plays modern hard bop music, a little less traditional than the pure mainstream, but very exciting to hear. His regular partners Binney, Potter, and Sanchez, are all conversant in that style, and together they have produced a number of outstanding recordings. Here he is working with Blake and Kikowski along with Lage Lund on guitar, Boris Koslov on bass and Nate Smith on drums. This all-star cast is tight, as many have been a part of Sipiagin's band for a while, and the addition of guitarist Lund is a brilliant choice that stretches the band's harmonies and the level of excitement even further. With five songs only, each is ten or more minutes, which allows a lot of stretching out, improvisation, and interplay that often one only gets live. This is another lively set with lots to hear -- lots of interesting combinations, dynamic changes, and improvisations. This modern mainstream set is a dynamic listen.
Will Vinson - CoverFinally, there is young British saxophonist Will Vinson, "Live at Smalls" (SmallsLIVE 2013) playing with Lage Lund on guitar, Aaron Parks on piano, Matt Brewer in bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. Vinson has a recent outing, his second, called "Stockhom Syndrome" (Criss Cross 2012) with Lund and Parks that is impressive, as is this live outing.  This is a youthful band of up and coming leaders. Lund had an earlier outing as a leader on SmallsLIVE, which was terrific, and Aaron Parks is a  young pianist who produced one of the outstanding debut albums in recent years, "Invisible Cinema" (Blue Note 2008), was a co-leader with James Farm, "James Farm (Nonesuch 2011), and has recorded as a sideman with players like Terrance Blanchard, Francesco Cafiso, Gretchen Parlato, Ferenc Nemeth, Christian Scoot, and Ambrose Akinmusire.   I've posted about Parks four times in the past, both as a leader and sideman, and have always been enthused about his work. This is a set of seven songs, highlighted for me by Benny Golson's "Stablemates" and "Morning Glory". But perhaps another tune tells you about the group and the leadership of Vinson -- it's called "Swagger."

A top notch set of four live sets -- wish I had been there, but at least I can watch via Smalls' amazing back catalogue available to view on-line to members. And membership is very inexpensive for what you get, which includes live music every night, so check it out on the website.

Flying First Class

Not really first class, but the music through my headphones was. I listened to four new piano recordings, three hours and forty-five minutes of beautiful music. Three piano trios and one solo piano recording.  Each one is easily recommended.

Product DetailsThe Eri Yamamoto Trio, "Firefly" (AUM 2013) was the first in line. Yamamoto is a fixture on the New York jazz scene, with multiple recordings, most recently on AUM Fidelity; a regular gig at Arthur's Tavern since 2000 with her long-standing trio; a record of international accomplishments with other fine artists; but a reputation that seems hidden to the general jazz listening public. I wrote an extensive post about the trio on April 18th last year, and this is the first CD that they have made since. It has all the characteristics of its predesessors -- creative melodies and varied tempos, expressive language communication between the three partners, some quiet reflection, some eplosions of sound. Modern impressionistic music by a veteran trio; "Memory-Dance" and "Echo" are beautiful meditations, "A Few Words" and "Heart" energized creativity. It all adds up to a wonderfully diverse and comfortable listening experience.
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Bill Cunliffe Trio "River Edge, New Jersey" (Azica 2013) mixes six Cunliffe originals with two classics -- "You the Night and the Music" and "The Girl from Ipanema" -- and some modern music from Bjork and Harry Nilsson into a worderfully diverse and set by this verteran trio. Cunliffe on piano is a 57 year old veteran who recorded his first CD as a leader in 1993, and since then has over a dozen releases. He has interpreted old and new before -- one CD was interpretations of Paul Simon, another a tribute to Bud Powell. The trio -- Martin Wind on bass and Tim Horner on drums -- play in a modern mainstream style and do it with class and taste. This is a wonderful straght-ahead CD.

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Marc Cary, "For the Love of Abbey" (Motema 2013) solos on this set of 14 songs dedicated to Abbey Lincoln, with whom he played for 12 years, following his working assocaition with Betty Carter first. Eight of thehe pieces are from Lincoln's songbook and they are majestically played by Cary with a great deal of emotion and drama. The songs cover the full range of emotion Lincoln put into her songs, from hushed quiet to soaring delivery, always keeping close to the melodies but with a great deal of thought and interpretation added. this is a terrific set of music with a freshness brought to the songs by Cary's wonderful delivery. It includes a nice booklet describing the music and thought that went into this recording as well.

Product DetailsFinally the last and most surprising one of all, Emily Bear, "Diversity" (Concord 2013). Emily Bear is an 11 year old prodigy, another in the line of them that includes such notables as Grace Kelly, Eldar,  and overseas Francesco Cafiso. But for each of these players, who have continued to develop their talents and abilities and sound, there are others who have fallen back. I have no clue which way Emiy Bear will go, but when Quincy Jones is her producer and mentor, when her drummer is Francisco Mela who is a wonderful leader in his own right, then it's worth taking notice of this release. And its a very nice release, twelve compositions by Bear (add that to the mix!) that plumb a range of sounds and styles, that are each concise but allow for nice interpretations and improvisations by the band members, and that flow with emotions well beyond the feelings I would expect from an eleven year old, and you have a CD to hear and a musician to follow. Nice modern mainstream music.

These four CDs made for a nice, relaxing flight, and should make for a nice time for piano trio lovers.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Two New Ones From Satoko Fujii

Satoko Fujii is a prolific pianist from Japan who has led over 20 different groups over the past two decades since her initial venture as a leader, 1996's duo with Paul Bley "Something About Water (Libra 1996)"

Fujii was born in Tokyo in 1958 and began playing piano at four. She was classically trained and turned to jazz at age 20, continuing her studies at Boston’s Berklee College of Music in the mid 1980s, and then after six years in Japan, at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she learned from modernists like George Russell, Cecil McBee, and Paul Bley.

As a composer of modern music she is not one whose style is easily pinned down in a few words, nor can one simply describe her as a leader and leave it there, since she has led  such a range of ensembles: Orchestra Tokyo Big Band, Ma-Do quartet, the Min-Yoh Ensemble, Satoko Fujii Four with husband a trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, a number of piano trios, Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York, and many other combinations. Her music has a wide range of sounds, moods, and instruments, such that each group brings its own imprimature to the settings, and such that Fujii has different compositional objectives for each. She therefore can only be viewed as a wildly diverse and spectacularly creative soul, one whose music never compromises her vision for each of her outings.

This is not to say that I universally like everything Fujii produces, which would be difficult given her output of nearly 100 sessions as a leader with such an array of talents.  As an international musician with feet in New York, Berlin, Tokyo, and across the globe,  her music spans blends all forms of jazz with classical music, rock, and traditional Japanese music into a singular style of her own. It's hard to get a handle on her works and to describe them fully, as they are mercurial, shifting rapidly in tempo, dynamics, and mood; and she can hit the extremes from composed lyrical music to truly avant garde music in a heartbeat. Her  music is sometimes composed jazz with improvisations, sometimes free jazz with all that that suggests. With each new recording or new band, she explores new aspects of her art. I put together a list of  adjectives that came to mind as I listened: 
  • adventerous
  • playful
  • articulate
  • delicate
  • dynamic
  • tempestuous
  • explosive
  • intense
  • pensive
  • challenging
  • eerie
  • lyrical
Satoko Fujii New Trio: Spring StormQuiet the list. It demonstrates the extremes within the recordings-- delicate and explosive, tempestuous and lyrical, intense and pensive, and so on.  
This post describes two new CDs:  "Spring Storm" (Libra 2013) by the Satoko Fujii New Trio, with Todd Nicholson on bass and Takashi Itani on drums; and " Time Stands Still" (Libra 2013) by the Satoko Fujii Ma-Do featuring husband Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Fujii on piano, Akira Horikoshi on drums, and the late Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass. With the passing of Koreyasu, whom the music pivoted upon in Fujii's compositional eyes, this will be the last recording of the Mah-Do.

This is not music for everyone. It is challenging, it can be intense, and it is certainly not traditional. It's right out there on the edge of my Oscar-Shipp piano trio scale (see post of April 22), and is tright there on the edge. It reminds me of Shipp, but also Paul Bley, Myra Melford, or Marilyn Crispell when they are also playing at the edge; that is to say, when they are not playing in the ECM or Trio M mode. This is avant garde, highly individualistic and impressionistic music, heavy on the drama and emotions as expressed through the three instruments working with and against each other.
"Spring Storm" is the perfect title for the music on track one of the CD of the same name. The song begins slowly with some ominous sounds as the storm approaches, it builds as the storm arrives, and then it explodes with the heavy drum set and cymbals like thunder and lightening, the tinkling of piano keys and chimes like raindrops, and the fiery continuation of the piano theme. It is always harmonic, never dissonant, and smoothly melodic even as the storm roars all around, a sense that we are safe inside watching. And then it tapers down, the crashing subsides, the rain slows, and the music ends. Brilliant. As the CD continues each song has its nugget of beauty and originality, like the opening bass leading to a wonderous piano melody for "Convection" ,backed by a variety of sounds from the drummer; the speedy delivery and lovely bass interlude on "Fuki"; or the light and lovely sound of "Whirlwind" after so much tempestuous play.

Product DetailsI am not as fond of the Mah-Do work "Time Stands Still." which is a bit harder, a bit more avant garde. It begins with the squealing and sawing of strings and until the very lovely and clean trumpet solo begins after 3 1/2 minutes Track 1 is difficult for me. There is a very nice and fiery piano section as well, but the entire piece was a bit edgy for my taste. This pattern repeats in subsequent pieces, and at times there is the added sound of a growling and spitting trumpet.

And yet there are also lovely and lyrical parts by the piano and trumpet in the same pieces. I have to highlight "Set the Clock Back" as a more restful piece with each soloist having a really lovely and lyrical part to play, and the absolutely riveting and beautiful "Time Stands Still" that closes the set in a quiet and meditative way and which includes a lovely parting arco part by Koreyasu.  This CD is more difficult but offers many beautiful sections along with some definitely interesting dynamic interplay by the four musicians.

Fujii continues to be a fascinating and individualistic musician and composer who's work certainly demands attention.   

Monday, May 6, 2013

Looking Behind the Name: Moz Trio (Who?)

I was noodling thorugh various musicians the other day looking to see what they were up to and when I might see another CD from them. One I very much would like to hear from again soon is Zoe Rahman, the Britsh/Bengali pianist from the U. K., winner of the MOBO Jazz Award in 2012, and the subject of my post of January 29, 2012 in which I discussed her background and discography, concluding with her last CD "Kindred Spirits" ( Manushi Records 2012). That disc also appeared on my best of the year list for 2012 later.

Anyway, in looking at her website I stumbled upon a reference to the MOZ Trio, so I hit that link and was led to this CD "Sparkling Water, Please" (Oh Yeah Records 2013), a trio recording from Sweden with Gothenburg-based musicians Martina and Owe Almgren on drums and bass guitar respectively. I also came across the description as "contemporary jazz with Nordic light and Bengali heat" and while I am not sure of that description, I would call it modern piano trio music of the highest caliber played by three clearly sympathetic individuals having a really good time.

While this is described as a set among equals, Rahman is really out front for much of the time and provides everything I want to hear from her. At times she plays with fire, at others with a light and elicate touch, but she always displays the expressive and lyrical touch that I associate with her. I have a set list but no information on whether the music is all a product of the band members or not and if so if the music was collectively written. I am not sure either how much is  composed and how much is improvised.

But what I do know is that it is all lovely. "Sparkling Water, Please" is driven by Rahman, but has plenty of space for Owe to take his bows on the bass and for Martina to guide the rhythms from her drum set. It asparkles with Rahman's light touch on the keys and a buoyant melody played at nice relaxed pace and dynamic level.

"Back", the second piece, is a slower tune led by the bass with piano support at first. The tempo increases with the entry of the drums and Zoe takes over with a bouncier version of the melody, which she trades back and forth with Owe on bass. Very skillful give and take; when one leads the other plays an outstanding counter-melody underneath. The tune speeds up more and more and the dexterity of the players is breath-taking.

And so it continues, one lovely piece after another displaying virtuosity on all three instruments. Lots of long lyrical play and controlled dynamics thorughout, but Rahman always shines thorugh for me. The romanticism of "April Sun" is stunning. Her lines and expresive play on "Crystal Clear", her bouncy tune on "For a Change" or her quiet impressions on "Host", each is a small jewel.

This is a CD worth having, and is a lot more than just a stop gap until she leads another. It is a real gem.

Two Weeks Have Passed and Lot Has Come In

I am falling behind with my posts again and after today will be out of pocket for several days, so here is a round-up of a lot of new things I am listening to.

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Edward Simon Trio, "Live in New York at the Jazz Standard" (Sunnyside 2013): Not enough attention is given to the trio of Simon, John Patitucci and Brian Blade and the CDs they have released on Sunnyside over the past few years. This is another smashing display of lyricism, unity, and invention over five extended pieces, including three by Simon and a particularly nice take on "Giant Steps." A real winner here, and pick up their older sets on Sunnyside as well (Unicity (2006), Poesia (2009)). 

Product DetailsAllison Miller's Boom Tic Boom, "No Morphine No Lilies" (Foxhaven Records 2013): A wildly energetic outing with some special players beside Miller on drums -- Jenny Scheinman on violin, Todd Sickafoose on bass, and Myra Melford on piano, with several other guests in spots. The group plays with a lot of energy, Miller provides a steady pulse from the back, and Melford is particularly engaging on this set of 11 sometimes challenging pieces. Goes over the edge a couple of times for my taste, but mostly represents a lot of modern originality, playfulness, and joyful moments. Take a chance.

Product DetailsBomata "Aromes d'Ailleurs" (Mam 2013): A French Canadian trio of Jean Felix Mailloux on bass, Guillaume Bourque on clarinet and bass clarinet, and Patrick Graham on drums, with support from pianist Jerome Beaulieu on piano on two peices and additional percussion on others. This is a soothing outing featuring the clear and mellow lower registersof the clarinets over some nice rhythmic play from the bass and percussion, alwyas taken at a moderate pace and dynamic. Many of the pieces are named for spices and flavorings -- cumin, sesame, saffron, jasmine, cardamon -- and others have names like "At the Park" and "White Night" which are expressive of the delicate flavors that the band produces. Really pretty modern impressionism.

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J. D, Allen continues his run of impressive outings, this time it's "Grace" (Savant 2013). Unlike his last couple of CDs, this one includes a piano, played here by Eldar, in addition to Dezron Douglas on bass and Jonathan Barber on drums. With two melodic instruments in front the music is more layered and richer, with Allen's play continuing to be mellow and inventive on an entirely original set. "Chagall", "Pole Star" and "Selah" are particular standouts, but hte entire set is worth hearing. Modern mainstream.

Product DetailsDayna Stephens is another young tenor with a big, rich sound, and he demonstrates it on his new release, "The Nepenthetic Place" (Sunnyside 2013). He too has an outstanding cast with him -- Taylor Eigsti on piano, Joe Sanders on bass, Justin Brown on drums, Ambrose Akinamusire on trumpet, Jaleel Shaw on alto, and Gretchen Parlato singing on two pieces. An amazing group of outstanding young leaders, the group dynamic is fantastic and the pieces tight and original. Ten pieces, eight by Stephens, "But Beautiful" by Jimmy Van Heusen (with Parlato) and "Impressions" by John Coltrane. A bunch of young masters on top of their game playing modern mainstream music with a bit of an edge.

Product DetailsMark Lockheart is from the U.K. and has put together a septet to interpret six pieces associated with Ellington and five originals on "Ellington in Anticipation" (Subtone Records 2012). Some folks like their Ellington pure and won't like these takes, but I enjoy hearing new interpretations that are like these, not too far from the originals but with a little modern spiciness, new harmonizations, and interesting combinations among the players. Lockheart plays the tenor sax and is joined by Finn Peters on alto and flute, James Allsopp on clarinets, Emma Smith on violin, Liam Noble on piano, Tom Herbert on bass, and Sebastian Rochford on drums.  I am a sucker for Noble and Allsopp and they don't disappoint, but then again nobody here does. Very nice set and well within the modern mainstream in terms of harmonies, lyricism and the like. Really worth hearing.

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Speaking of tributes, another nice one is "The Man Who Never Sleeps: The Music of Charles Mingus" (Woodville Records 2012), another British combo inlcuding Arnie Somogyi on bass, Alan Barnes on saxes, Mark Edwards on piano, Tone Kofi on saxes, Jeremy Pace on trombone, and Clark Tracey on drums. These are some of the U.K.'s finest, and they combine to present eight Mingus tunes with elan. Modern mainstream sounds at their best driven by the strong bass leadership of Somogyi and thebeat ofTracey's kit. Barnes is a knockout as always on the tenor, and Kofi adds a nice bottom on the baritone.

Product DetailsJim Rotondi's trumpet and flugelhorn seldom disappoint and how could they when he is playing with Eric Alexander as his partner on the tenor. Along with Renator Chicco on organ and Bernd Reiter on drums, the quartet hits it hard on "Hard Hittin' at the Bird's Eye" (Sharp Nine 2013), a live set from Basel, Switzerland. Wit the organ in heavy support of the two leaders, the music has the right edge, with a bluesy sound, particularly on "Cry Me a River" and the opener "Summit Meeting." For those who sometimes criticize Alexander for being too mellow and mainstream, this is a chance for him to stretch it out and blow the heck out of the tunes. Rotondi calls the group The Loop, and hopefully this is not the last we will hear of them. A mainstream delight, even for one like me who often shies away from organ trios.  

Even briefer:

Product DetailsBoyd Lee Dunlop, "Lake Reflections" (CD Baby 2012): The story was widely written about a couple of years back, how Boyd Lee Dunlop , 85 year old brother of Frank Dunlop, was found in a nursing home in Buffalo by a videographer who got a friend to produce him. this is his second CD and a remarkable one -- the improvisations are at once beautiful and majestic at times,  with little sprinkles of stirring anthems and classical pieces along the way. Fantastic reflections and impressions delight the ear.

Product DetailsDarcy James Argue's Secret Society"Brooklyn Babylon" (New Amsterdam Records 2013): Stirring music originally performed for a multi-media event, this is an original suite of music for big band that should be listened to as a whole to feel the dramatic impact, to hear Brooklyn being built by pneumatic drills and hammers, to hear the cacophony of the streets, the sounds of transportation, and the growth of the city all represented by the ensemble's play. Intertwined are outstanding soloists along the way to relish, like Ingrid Jensen and John Ellis. A fantastic sophomore CD.