Saturday, June 29, 2013

Vacation Time

Jazz All Year RoundBeginning Monday I will be away, taking a vacation in Montreal and going to the Jazz Fest there, one of the biggest in the world. So far I have bought tickets for four of the biggest events, but I am sure there will be many others to attend once I get there. I have tickets for:
  • Steve Kuhn with Steve Swallow and Joey Barron
  • Vijay Iyer Duo
  • Madeline Peyroux
  • Enrico Pieranunzi
Cannot wait, particularly to see my all-time favorite pianist Pieranunzi.

Massive Wrap-up Time!

Help! I've fallen behind and I can't catch up! I have collected a ton of CDs this past month that I have listened to, in almost all cases appreciated, and have not posted about. It's been a busy month for work and travel, plus my office moved as well so there was packing, unpacking, and setting up  that took time.

But that is not why you are reading this. So on to a bunch of CDs.

Product DetailsKikowski, Carpenter, Novak, and Sheppard "From the Hip" (BFM Jazz 2013) -- This a recording of alive perfornace in 206, largely unrehearsed, which fuels the energy and creatiity that oozes from this CD. Respectively the players listed above are the pianist, bassist, drummer, and sax player, and each shines during the perfomrance. Straight ahead, wonderful jazz. And despite how many times you have heard "Star Eyes", How Deep is the Ocean" or "Autumn Leaves", you won't be disappointed by this group's intensity, creativity and originality on those and all of the other pieces.

Product DetailsIro Haarla Sextet "Kolibri" (TUM 2013) -- The sextet is Iro Haarla on piano, Verneri Pohjola on trumpet, Jari Hongisto on trombone, Kari Heinila on woodwinds, Ulf Krokfors on bass, and Markku Ounaskari on drums. Haarla is familiar to me from her  two ECM recordings "Northbound" and Vespers" and has that lovely northern European sensibility that she brings her to seven original pieces. The arangements can be lush at times and free flowing, at other times a bit angular and free, and they are always interesting to hear. The interplay among the six players is interesting as they weave in and out of each others lines, and create unusual pairings of sound. The songs are sometimes inspired by the sound of birds, and thus three are names "Nightjar", "Kolibri" (hummingbird) and "Legend of the Cranes". Each piece is almost a mini-suite, with a number of separate and distintive parts making up the whole, and coonstantly challenging the listener and each other to visualize the tale being told. "Kolibri" and "Spirit Bear" are especially wonderful but the entire CD shines as a work of impresionistic jazz. Not for those who like straight-ahead music and a clear melody and rhythm; this is for those who like modern abstract works nad impressionistic jazz. A very fine recording.

Dominick Farinacci Quartet "Say It" (Pony Canyon 2013) -- Not sure why it is labelled a quartet when it actually is a quintet of Farinacci on trumpet, Ira Sullivan on soprano and tenor sax,  Adam Birnbaum on piano, Ben Wolfe on bass and Carmen Intorre on drums. Farinacci released a really nice CD,  "Dawn of Goodbye" (E One 2011), that was reminiscient of the work of Chet Baker and his first CD here in the U.S., but he has recorded many CDs for the Japanese market, which loves standards and straight-ahead jazz. This is precisely that, with some beautiful sounds from both Farinacci and Sullivan, a Chicago veteran with a long list of accomplished CDs as a leader and sideman. There are some up tempo bop songs, some originals by Farinacci and Sullivan, but the heart of the CD is in songs like "Say It", Just in Time" and "Black Orpheus". This is an outstanding if a bit pricy ($23.00 via Eastwind Imports) set of ballads, bop and swing that will please those who love the straight ahead sound reminiscient of the old blue not bands of the 50's.

Junior Mance Trio +One, "Yesterdays" (Pony Canyon 2013) -- Junior Mance always makes beautiful music, and with Chip Jackson on bass and Jackie Williams on drums this is a potent trio on songs like "Willow Weep for Me", Yesterdays", Georgia on my Mind", and "Blue Monk". But the pop is deleivered by the "And One" added for this CD in the person of Eric Alexander on tenor sax who takes the beauty and depth of Mance's trio one step beynd. Just an amazing outing that is only on the Japanese label Pony Canyon, this is another $23.00 CD that is actually worth the extra bucks to hear. Masterful, pleasurable, potent, and perfect music.

One Up FrontJon Davis Trio, "Beauty and the Blues" (Venus Records 2013) and John Davis "One Up Front: (Positone 2013)--  Wow, two great CDs in one calendar year for Davis, one releaswed in the U.S. by Positone and the other released in Japan by Venus Records. As would be expected based on the labels, both are largely straight-ahead, down the middle jazz trio recordings, with the CD on Positone, "One Up Front" being the more adventurous of the two with three originals by Davis and some bolder improvisations. On "One Up Front" the band includes Joris Teepe on bass and Shinnosuke Takahashi on drums. For "Beauty and the Blues" it's Ed Howard on bass and Tim Gorner on drums. In both cases you will love the music if you love great piano trios playing great music.

Product DetailsRalph Alessi and Fred Hersh "Only Many" (CamJazz 2013) -- Interesting, unusual, captivating, and sucessful. The music is largely improvised, with the two plaers working in and out of each others lines, sometimes more sucessfully than other times, so it is not an even trip from start to finish. In fact the music begins a bit harshly with "Ride" but then it settles in nicely as it goes along. The improvisation on Monk's "San Francisco Holiday" is a whole new look at his music and the two expand the theme and stretch it to places where it basically disappears into the vapors. This is very expressionistic music of the modern abstract kind, which hits the mark far more than it misses. I recommend it for those who like a bit of the experimental and unknown in their music. Alessi is generally an outside player while most of Hersh's work is inside the box, so this is quite a departure, and an interesting one, for Hersch.

Image of Bobby AveyBobby Avey "Be Not So Long to Speak" (Minsi Ridge 2013) -- I read a review about this on one of the blogs and purchased it, and am sure glad I did. Avey composed all but two of the songs, "P.Y.T" by Ingram and Jones and the classic "Stardust" by Hoagy Carmichael. Avey is quite a composer at a young age and his songs shine with creativity and soul. The music has long and beautiful melodies as well as wonderful, captivating and creative improvisations throughout. Avey has a beautiful touch on the keys, from light running lines to large chordal sections, and he uses his dynamics to tell his story. I think you can tell I was captivated by the music and have a very high regard for this CD. Its modern mainstream music, generally within the box but with a great deal of lovely new melodies and  improvisations. Highly recommended for those who wnat to venture away from the standards a bit as well as those who love the modern mainstream style.

Product DetailsAngela Davis "The Art of the Melody" (Self-produced 2013) -- The title says it, this is a quartet that is all about grabbing a melody, playing it and then playing with it. Davis is a young saxophonist joined here by Chris Ziemba on piano, Linda Oh on basss, and Rajiv Jayaweera on drums. The set of nine songs a varied -- three originals by Davis, "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin, "Crazy She Calls Me",  some Boz Scaggs and Tom Waits, and even the traditional "Annie Laurie". The group sounds great and Davis has a nice rich sound on her saxes that allows the music to flow beatifully from her to the hands of Ziemba on piano and Oh on bass. Nice nice music, nice grouping, and something worth listening to. Mainstream jazz but an unusual set that makes it special.

Product DetailsHush Point "Hush Point" (Sunnyside 2013) -- The star players in "Hush Point" are John McNeil on trumpet and Jeremy Udden on alto sax, along with Aryeh Kobrinsky on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. This is very low key music, very quiet and pretty laid back. Meditative music for a quiet evening.

Product DetailsMulgrew Miller "Solo" (Space Time Recordings 2010) -- The passing of Mulgrew Miller was the passing of one of the truly great musicians of our era, a pianist of incredible touch, dynamics and flow on everything he did, whether it was the recent outing with the Kluver Big Band that I posted on a while back, his trios on MaxJazz, and his work with Wingspan. Anything he touched was golden. I saw this CD a while back before his passing. It is European and though it was released in 2010 its was the first  time I stumbled across it. Miller didn't record solo much, so this is a rare outing, a live recording from a night in Paris. Oh to have been there; this is masterful and emotional and now even more of a treasure to have. The songs are classics ---"Jordu", "Con Alma", Yardbird Suite", "Body and Soul", "Giant Steps", and more. This is a golden moment -- find it, buy it, and enjoy every second.

That's enough to digest for now, but I still have a pile to go. Great music is everywhere. Find it and listen.

Keith Fiala and his Nonet

I was at Sally's Place (190 Main Street, Westport CT 06880 (203-454-0303)) this morning catching up on this and that when a gentleman came in with a poster and bunch of CDs for Keith Fiala "Messages from the Other Side" (Self-produced 2013) and a bit of back story on Fiala and the music.

The music has a big band sound played by a nonet-- three brass, two woodwinds, piano, bass, guitar and drums. On two pieces there are vocals, but these are pretty forgettable compared the rest of the CD, which is very good.
fiala album cover 
So who is Keith Fiala? He's a trumpet player and educator born in  Des Moines, Iowa, and now in Austin, Texas.  He is a founding member of and performer with the R&B group Memphis Train Revue and has toured the world performing with his mentor, the legendary Maynard Ferguson.  Fiala teaches at the Austin School of Music and holds the position of Trumpet Teacher at Temple College, where he performs as Lead Trumpet in the Temple Jazz Orchestra.  Fiala has played with Arturo Sandoval, Gordon Goodwin, Randy Brecker, The Temptations, Brian Lynch, Allen Vizzutti, Bill Watrous and many others.

Messages from the Other Side mixes a nice big band sound with a bit of smooth jazz/jazz-rock mixed in, particularly where the guitar and Rhodes come to the front. The jazz standards have a glow of originality to them, with some especially nice solo work from Fiala, who hits those high notes on the trumpet like his mentor Ferguson; and Bob Sundberg on the alto, tenor and flute.  The standards are “Body and Soul,” “But Beautiful,” and “People” and have a spark of originality and excitement emanating from some nice arrangements as well as the full-throated sound of the band.  Sundberg wrote three of the songs on the CD, which are the more modern jazz-rock “Get Bent,” “E.B.,” and “Lauderdale" and are also peppy and enjoyable.  Finally, the band does a really nice job on Elton John/Bernie Taupin's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" , on which Fiala's solo work emulates and honors his mentor Ferguson. I do need to say that the two vocal pieces left me cold, but with eight tuneful tracks without them this nonet is impressive.

Keith Fiala - Trumpet PlayerI am not sure that this CD is widely distributed but I know that Sally will take and order over the phone and send it to you free if you call for it from her. If you like the sound of a nonet/small big band then you should take a listen. 


Thursday, June 20, 2013

They're Magic!

Product DetailsSublime is the word that comes to mind when I listened to Frank Wess on "Magic 101" (IPO 2013), just released. Seven memorable tunes including "Say it Isn't So", "The Very Thought of You", "Come Rain or Come Shine", seven chances to hear this veteran of seven decades playing so smoothly and comfortably with a swing sound out of the 40s and 50s. At 89 at the time of the recording, music like this doesn't get any better. And no slouches in his band -- Kenny Barron on piano, Kenny Davis on bass, and Winard Harper on drums. Relaxed and unhurried, this is a gem.

Product DetailsAnd at the same time I also received Duke Ellington, "The Duke at Fargo 1940: Special 60th Anniversary Edition" (Storyville 2013), another masterwork of 45 live songs on 2 CDs. Recorded with permission by two local amateurs but not for commercial use, the recordings were made with professional portable disc recording equipment using three mikes, and didn't appear until 1976, and now again cleaned and remastered for Storyville. It's a great record of a great band at work, and chronicles them playing their complete sets that night. It gives a real sense of the times, and what magic it must have been in Fargo to have this great band come to town. Some of the names in the band -- Rex Stewart on cornet, Ray Nance on trumpet, Barney Bigard on clarinet and tenor, Johnny Hodges on also and soprano and clarinet, Ben Webster on tenor and clarinet, Harry Carney on baritone and clarinet, Jimmy Blanton on bass, and of course The Duke on piano. Nicely recorded and remarkably clear and balanced, it's a second gem with all the great songs from the band's repetoire.  

Product DetailsAnd a third CD for the list of great music by veterans that I have received recently, Oscar Pettiford, "Lost Tapes: Germany 1958/1959 (Jazzhaus 2013), another in a series of recordings that were collected and archived by SWR in Germany and which date back to 1949. Reportedly there are 3000 hours of unpublished music, and to date there have been about a half a dozen "lost tapes" put onto CDs in the past two years. This one is from five dates with mostly European jazz stars and is beautifully recorded. It captures a sound that recalls the period of transition from swing to bebop, and Pettiford's bass and role in that transition. Pettiford's bass play demonstrates the new sound as he takes some great solos, is constantly playing complex measures and walking parts behind the band, and generally shows how the bass player can step out and shine rather than simply being a beat counter. Some swing, a little bop, and some magical movement from his deep and resonant tone on such songs as "But Not for Me", "Yesterdays", and "All the Things You Are" among the 16 tunes here. And a special treat is the beautiful full soprano sax play of the under-appreciated Lucky Thompson heard here on "Sophisticated Lady." Rolf Kuhn's clarinet is another highlight as he and Pettiford play a great duet on "A Smooth One", and as he stays on for another three tunes. Other knockout players include Hans Koller on tenor sax, particularly with a great turn on "O.P.", his own composition, on which Kuhn also shines; and the inestimable Kenny Clarke holding down the drum spot on the final four tunes. Tragically, Pettiford died only a year later in a car accident, leaving everyone to wonder where he would have taken the bass as jazz moved strongly into a new period.

Memories abound with these three recordings which I strongly recommend.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A name to Remember: Ryan Cohan

Product DetailsRyan Cohan has a new CD called "The River" (Motema 2013). The music flows from his experiences in Eastern Africa with his quartet in 2008. He connects the 14 piece set with six segments called "River" with the river symbolizing for him the constant motion, changing patterns, and essence of jazz. His exposure to new rhythmic patterns, African instruments, and the overall cultures of Rwanda, Congo, Zimbabwe, and Congo inspired these compositions, which describe his journey and the ever changing landscape of his visit. 

Product DetailsCohan, 42, is from Chicago and is a graduate of the DePaul School of Music (1993). He has performed as a session pianist with Freddie Hubbard, Regina Carter, and Milt Hinton, and was a protege of Ramsey Lewis, who has recorded many of Cohan's compositions. He first came to my attention with his recording "Another Look" (Motema 2010), a straight ahead recording of nine original compositions alongside two covers including a very energetic romp through "Caravan." The band included Joe Locke on vibes, Geof Bradfield on saxes and bass clarinet, Lorin Cohen on bass, Kobie Watkins on drums and Steve Kroon on percussion. The arrangements pop with energy and his solos and improvisations are full of life and imagination. It's straight ahead jazz that stands out from the crowd with its rich ensemble play.

Product DetailsThe next CD I found was "One Sky" (Motema 2007) which predates "Another Look". It has eleven tracks including five that made up the extended work "One Sky: Tome Poems for Humanity." The writing here is a bit more adventerous and impressionistic with shades of Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea, particularly in the extended suite, but the overall CD is east to listen to and retains the energy and bright sounds from the previous outing. The sextet for this outing includes James Cammack or Larry Cohen on bass, Geof Bradfield on soprano and tenor saxes and bass clarinet;  Bob Sheppard on flutes, soprano and tenor saxes;  Kobie Watkins on drums, and Ruben Alvarez on shekere. Cohan's solo play on "Lush Life" is a really fine demonstration of Cohan's abundant playing skills to go with his excellent compositional abilities.

In looking over his profile on his website,  there are two early CDs by Cohan that I have not heard called "Here and Now" (Sirocco 2001) and "Real World".

RCQ in Zmbabwe"The River", his latest, is a departure from his usual western jazz style and is simply outstanding. Cohan has written and arranged fourteen pieces that capture the spirit of his trip, the sights and sounds of East Africa, and the rhythms and melodies of the music and instruments he heard. The band includes Bradfield, Cohen and Watkins once more, along with John Wojciechowski on tenor and soprano saxes and flutes, Tito Carrillo on trumpet and flugelhorn,  and Samuel Torres on percussion.

Ryan performing iwth sextet at Skidmore College July 2006The pieces are linked by the ever evolving  "River", a mini-suite of short pieces (one to about three minutes) in six parts sprinkled throughout the set and serving as an introduction as well as a coda. The suite has six subtitles -- Departure, Dark Horizon, Aftermath, Beautiful Land, Connection and Coming Home. The first, "Departure" is a solo piano piece that traces the start of the journey using a simple tune in a standard "western" style. Later parts of  "River" have other members playing short solos/duets -- two soprano saxes for "Dark Horizon", the flugelhorn for "Aftermath", bass for "Beautiful Land", drums and percussion for "Connection", and finally everyone for "Coming Home", a truly uplifting and spirited ending to the set.    

"River: Departure" is a lovely start, and is immediately followed by "Call and Response", a chance for each instrument to introduce itself using the same theme as from the introduction. A nice musical way to get everyone involved, it is simple and effective as it transitions the CD to the African continent. The intensity grows during the piece, Watkins' drumming takes a firmer grip on the rhythms, and everyone plays in unison.

The other pieces are equally compelling. Once "Call and Response" is done, we are in Africa and the rhytyms and harmonies, along with the use of African percussion insturments, states that clearly. "Arrival" is driven by the drums and percussion, with the soprano sax leading the theme with the support of the others. As the song grows, the others join in but the piece is really a triumph for the soprano (either Wojciechowski or Bradfield) and later Cohan on his piano part/lead. The tie between the Eastern African and Latin Caribbean beat is very clear, and the spirit of this energetic song is jubilant.  Action and adventure are evident in the next piece "Storm Rising" and the band captures the conflicts nicely in a rather free middle sextion of the piece, followed by a driving solo from Cohan and then a back and forth exchange between the trumpet, saxes, and others including a very strong part from the percussion section. "Foresaken" is a tour de force for the trumpet of Carrilo, playing a tune full of emotional stress, intense feelings, and finally sadness as it closes. "Brother Fifi" follows with a more uplifting piece and a chance for the bass to shine, along with Cohan's piano and the flute of Wojciechowski.  Later, "Kampala Moon" is a beautiful ode to the moon that captures the spirit of the nightime sky over Uganda. And "Last Night at The Mannenberg" is a lively, toe tapping piece that engages the full band in a spirited, joyful ending. 

Marvelous music that must be heard. Jazz with an Afro-Latin jazz beat that is distinctive and uplifing played by a full-throated ensemble. Ryan Cohan is a name to watch as his music continues to evolve.  

Two Pianos from Capri Records

I recently listened to a couple of very nice CDs from Capri Records featuring the piano.

Product DetailsThe first is from Mike Wofford, "It's Personal" (Capri 2013), a set of a dozen pieces on solo piano selected for the deep impressions they have made on Wofford over the years.

Wofford is not widely know to the general listening public but should be. Although he has lead a number of sessions for CDs, including several with flautist Holly Hoffman, his wife, he is best known for accompanying some great singers, including Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, and playing with the likes of Benny Carter, James Moody, and Shelly Manne among countless others.

Wofford wrote three of the songs in the set, "It's Personal" for his wife Holly Hoffman; "Cole Porter" in recognition of the songwriter's brilliance with a tune and a lyric; and "Spin" a very catchy tune that has no specific dedication stated. These three pieces demonstrate the taste, style and virtuousity of the pianist, who works largely in the mainstream pocket throughout. With regard to his influences, he has selected the haunting "Little Melonae" by Jackie McLean, an expressive "The Eighth Veil" by Ellington/Strayhorn, "I Waited for You" by Dizzy Gillespie and Gil Fuller that he dedicates to Jimmy Rowles and Ellis Larkins, and three others including compositions by Gigi Gryce, Earl Hines and a fabulous melding of two distinct songs titled "Once in a Lifetime" by Anthony Newly and Talking Heads respectively.

Nice laid back, creatively played piano music.

Product Details
Chip Stephens Trio, "Relevancy" (Capri 2013) is also a very nice, mainstream outing, this time done by a trio including Stephens on piano, Dennis Carroll on bass, and Joel Spencer on drums. Eight pieces here that capture a very high energy band with wide range of tastes. The CD starts right in with the high energy of "Syndrome" by Carla Bley, a wildly fun romp around the keyboard with strong support from the other two members of the band. At times the piano play is quite percussive in the manner of McCoyTyner and Mulgrew Miller, at others lyrical and soaring. A great opener that leads into a more romantic and very pretty reading of "Like Someone in Love" wherein Stephens demonstrates his ability to derive great feeling from the melody and his interpretation and improvisations. "Somewhere Before the End" is a nice blues melody written by Stephens, and "C Hip's Blues" is another by Stephens, a nice uptempo bluesy piece that at ten minutes allows the band to stretch out and play with all sorts of melodies and dynamics.

This is a young group of players that I hope I hear more from in coming years.

Alex Wilson Trio: "Alex Wilson Trio"

Product DetailsI recently read about this CD,  "Alex Wilson Trio" (AWCD 2013) by the Alex Wilson Trio , purchased it, and I am duly impressed by its energy, its breadth of influences, and its musicianship. It's outstanding.  

Looking up some background on Wilson, I found that this is his ninth recording but his first in a piano trio format. Wilson is a native of the U.K. but was raised in Sierra Leone, the UK, Austria and Switzerland. After receiving a degree in Electronics from the University of York, he went on to a career as a jazz pianist and worked with such artists as Courtney Pine, Wynton Marsalis, and Hugh Masekela. His first recording as a leader was Anglo Cubano (Candid Records 1999), followed by two more recordings on Candid -- Afro Saxon in 2001 and R&B Latino in 2002.  He won the Rising Star award at the 2001 BBC Jazz Awards. and has since gone on to record six more CDs on his own label. His international background has sparked his musical interests, and all of his work has a distinct afro-latin base. Besides playing and recording, Wilson is an accomplished producer and arranger as well as an educator in the Department of Music at the University of Nottingham. 

Afro-SaxonAs his first piano trio recording, this CD is a new direction for Wilson, but one that still draws heavily on his wide range of musical tastes and experiences. It's an exciting statement of his interests which melds Caribbean, Latin American, and West African music with the Western jazz heritage to create a statement on the universality of jazz.  His partners in the trio are David Mantovani on bass, and  either Frank Tontoh or Tristan Banks on drums (This was a recording taken from two live shows).

The set of nine tunes begins with the uplifting "Fly", a song dedicated to Steve Winwood, who played it on his own recording "Nine Lives." Its a beaqutiful and positive start with its punchy latin beat and major chords. It sparkles with drive and brio, and features some outstanding drumming on the part of Tontoh. "Kalisz" follows and recalls the band's performance at the International Jazz Festival there. It is another solid, driving song that is lifted by a lyrical melody, some bright piano play and a ferocious drum solo. These dscriptions really apply throughout the set, a demonstration of virtuousity by each member. The third piece, "Remercier Les Travailleurs" is derived from a Malian folk melody and is handled with grace and a lighter touch and then builds dramatically to a soaring finish. "Solar", the Miles Davis tune, is taken as a Cuban danzon and is one of the prettiest versions I have heard; it inlcudes a lovely solo part for Mantovani on the bass. Another song from West Africa, in this case Ghana, "Jasmina" is another uplifting celebratory joy, with a solid and pulsing beat driving along a catchy melody. All three members have outstanding solo parts. 

Finally, there is one western standard on the CD, "What is this Thing Called Love" and it too is a joy to hear. and a nice finishing piece for the set. In the same vein as the rest of the CD, it is bouncy, cheerful, and driven by a strong and steady beat. The piano part is light and airy and bounces along tunefully, with some outrageously good flights in mid-song. As the CD closer, it provides an outstanding climax to the nine piece set.
Salsa Veritas 
This standard piano trio does amazing things with the music, bringing all sorts of influences to play in a very cohesive, straight-ahead performance that is not to be missed. This is one of the more distinctive sounding mainstream trios that I have heard, and certainly one of the most energetic.  An hour of first class music.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Wadada Smith and TUMO: "Occupy the World"

Product DetailsAt the end of the year I posted that one thing I wanted to do was to try and expand my listening horizons, or at least listen to some things a bit out of my zone to better understand the music. This was in reference to seveal top-rated CDs by reviewers last year, one of which was Wadada Leo Smith's "Ten Freedom Summers." (Cunieform 2012)

Product DetailsI have received a copy of Wadada Leo Smith's latest, coming out this month, "Occupy the World" (TUM 2013) and have given it a number of serious listens during the past few weeks. This is Wadada Leo Smith with TUMO, a large group that includes a long list of Finnish players on woodwinds, strings, brass, and percussion. Among the names I recognize from my European collection are Verneri Pohjola on trumpet, Juhani Aaltonen on flutes, Iro Haarla on harp, and Stefan Pasborg on drums, all of whom have produced some very interesting modern european jazz in recent years. the CDs come in an exquisite package featuring some really nice artwork, a very important informative booklet, and some great pictures of the band and Smith.

This a a combination of lyrical passages of great unison and sound along with other passages of knotty, avant garde play. The music conforms to the compositional methods of Smith that he describes in a very comprehensive and interesting booklet. "When I compose I do not change the tonality of the instruments...through transposition in order to have their musical properties realized in a designed C spectrum." Simply put, this means there is a large amount of dissonance at times depending on the composition of the instruments and their keys; for Smith this keeps from limiting the sonic quality of the music. For him it opens up the sonic field and the creativity of the players to realize the music themselves and play in or out of harmony. It brings individual psychic energy to the compositions, the ability of the musicians to define the work from their individual sensibilities within Smith's overall construct.

With regard  to rhythm, here too he does not work within traditional structures. His rhythms are not based on specific tempi, but rather "through a proportional structuring of the music's geometrical forms." Lines have proportions to others, but as I understand it within the lines the tempi are free choices by the players.

Taken together, Smith's compositions are allowed to breathe freely to unleash the creative energies of the orchestra as well as of those listening. Undertanding what is being sought makes it easier to understand what is being played, but section by section when I listen to the music it does not make some parts any easier on the ears, though it does make them more understandable. And that in turn makes it much more listenable than going in blindly, which is how most of us likely approach free/avant garde compostions.

So knowing the sonics, what about the intent? This is a CD based upon the Occupy Movement from 2011 to the present and the freedom and energy that it has unleashed on the world. It is about diversity, courage, a larger notion of unity and freedom, and of hope for the future. Each piece is fully described in the booklet -- the name of the composition, the sections of the piece and the players. Smith elaborates on his choices and intent thorughout each one.

In the end I am finding more and more small gems within the larger constructs each time I listen, and finding a fuller understanding of those sections that at first sound more like noise than composition. Sections of "Mount Kilimangaro" for example are spritely with strings and flutes, but then abruptly followed by a passage of dissonant string play and foreboding percussion. However, taken as a whole one can see the compositions as stories, as a sonic backdrop to a visual in one's mind of a hike up Kilimangaro. Smith's trumpet play on "Crossing on a Southern Road" is crystaline, pure, and emphatic, played over some unusual and other-worldly sounding parts within the orchestra in support. Together it becomes a very moving passage in the 25 minute piece, which also inlcudes some moving string parts.

In the end, I think I can best describe this as a challenging listen but one that rewards the prepared mind. Not a CD to put on for pure enjoyment, but not unenjoyable either. It's like going to the movies -- some are designed for pure enjoyment and pleasure, some for thought and reflection. This one's for thought and reflection.

Paul Gabriel and the Blues

Here's one you'll have to seek out, but when you do I think you'll be blown away by the blues music of Paul Gabriel on "What's The Chance" (Blue Dutchess 2013). This is pretty authentic stuff, 13 compositions by Gabriel himself that hearken back to work of his predessessors.
PG_Cover-01.jpgI am not a blues expert and cannot cite all of the antecedents that are represented here. My blues roots originated not with the pioneers but rather with the music of the late 60s. so my roots are in bands like the Electric Flag, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The "Super Session" recording and subsequent music of Mike Bloomfield, Eric Clapton with and without Cream, mid-period B.B. King, and Johnny Winter. And I hear a lot of that music in this set.

It doesn't hurt that Gabriel, who demonstrates himself to be not only a super vocalist with range and style but also a solid composer and lyricist, has a couple of aces in the hole in Duke Robillard on guitar and Mark Naftalin, of Butterfield fame, on piano to go along with a solid band that includes organ, saxes, trumpet, bass and drums in varying combinations. Oh, and Gabriel plays a pretty mean guitar to boot.

59lpresize2.jpgThe opener "Old Time Ball" is an up-tempo blues that immediately reminded me of the work of the Electric Flag on their initial outing. Full-voiced, mid-tempo,  soulful blues singing backed by greasy guitars, saxes et al, it says immediately that this is a set to be reckoned with, the real thing in modern dress. It immediately got my toes tapping.  Robillard on second solo lights it up -- no wonder he is out on the road with Bob Dylan at present. Next we go mid-tempo with a real bluesy, soulful "Ride, Ride, Ride" which is lit by the outstanding play of the band, and establishes Gabriel's vocal range.  

"328 Chauncy Street" is all instrumental and all-world, with solos from Robillard and Gabriel on the guitars, and a really fine solo from Bruce Bears on organ. And by the way, what fictional family lived on Chauncey Street? (answer buried below). "Baby I Wish" returns to a soulful mournful mid-tempo blues with Gabriel's lyrics backed by the full band and in particular the sax section and Bears on organ.

"Devil's Daughter" is a stripped down, accoustic blues that would fit beautifully into Eric Clapton's "Unplugged" set. It's a great mid-tempo shuffle blues, and besides the sculpted voice of Gabriel includes Mark Naftalin on upright piano. Catch the B.B. King vibes on "All that Time Gone" with Robillard wailing on his guitar, or a really soulful slow blues on "Roomful of Blues" with its outstanding tenor solo by Rich Lataille with Bears on organ, and finally the quiet two person blues of "Fine At'Tire" -- Gabriel singing and Naftalin on the piano.

This is a wow CD. It's on a small label, "Blue Dutchess", which is the imprint of Duke Robillard, and hopefully it will get lots of radio play to find a wider audience. In the meantime, listen to a masterly recording and tell your friends about it. If you are into guitars check out his website and gallery of guitars.

Oh -- The Kramdens

A Straight Flush: Five of a Kind

I have purchased an overwhelming number of CDs lately, and even a few downloads where artists only produced digitally, and so, without further ado here are five of a kind, a straight flush, a wonderful set of five:

Product Details
Colin Vallon Trio, Les Ombres (Unit Records 2004) is a predessessor to Vallon's recent outing, "Rruga" (ECM 2011). I sought it out after listening to the ECM set once again and wondering how he came to be there. This CD establishes his credentials very markedly; it is already very ECM-like -- lyrical, generally pastoral in mood and quiet in dynamics, and it features a lot of interplay among the trio members. The others are Patrice Moret on bass and Julian Sartorius on drums. There are a few pieces taken at a slightly more breezy tempo and tone, but the overall statement is relaxed and quite lovely.  

Product Details
Nicole Mitchell's Ice Crystal "Aquarius" (Delmark 2013) is a quintet including Mitchell on flute, Jason Adasiewicz on vibes, Joshua Abrams on bass, Frank Rosaly on drums, and on one piece Calvin Gantt with spoken word. The combination of flute and vibes gives this a very light, confectionary feel, but the songs are acually very complex and shared freely among the partners. Modern jazz of the highest quality with some avant sprinkled in, it's a spiritually uplifting and energetic outing.

Product DetailsAnother uplifting and spirited recording comes once more from Miguel Zenon as he continues to merge his latin and jazz roots in his music. "Oye!!! Live in Puerto Rico" ( Miel Music 2013) is a wonderfully toe-tapping, body swaying set of seven songs, five by Zenon and one each by Tito Puente and Sivio rodriguez. Puente's "Oye Como Va" which many of us know from Carlos Santana's recording, is a 14:32 minute celebration of latin jazz, punctuated by a soaring and lyrical alto sax and outstanding percussion from Tony Escapa on drums and Reynaldo De Jesus on percussion. The fourth member of "The Rhythm Collective" as the group is called is Aldemar Valentin on bass. Fantastic music led by the showmanship of Zenon.

Product DetailsAlso in the Latin Jazz vein is the new one from Luis Perdomo, "Links" (Criss Cross 2013), with Miguel Zenon on alto, Dwayne Burno on bass, and Rodney Green on drums. Perdomo needs more recognition -- his string of piano music in trio and quartet is unsurpassed for energy, lyricism, and invention. Here he and Zenon, two masters of the form,  really get it together to produce some amazing high energy music from a variety of sources. Perdomo's own "Crossmind Dreams" is an adventure in lyricisn and beauty, Zenon's "Paco" a high energy romp. Burno and Green have a composition each, and they contribute in a big way to the movement and  spirit of the CD. Another sterling outing for Perdomo, as well as Zenon.

Product DetailsFinally, a solid mainstrem modern outing froom Michael Dease, a young trombonist building a very strong resume, "Coming Home" (Cleft 2013) features Dease with an all-star cast:  Renee Rosnes on piano, Steve Wilson on saxes, Christian McBride on bass, and Ulysses Owens Jr. on drums. Each a leader, each a player who therefore knows about interations among the whole and how to create a "sound". And what a sound this is. Dease has total control over the trombone --- his sound is deep and burnished; his notes can come rapidly, wonderfully soulful and legato, smooth or greasy, or any other way called for; and his recognition of the interplay with his mates is impeccable as each is given plenty of space to shine. Good old mainstream jazz by a steallr cast. Fabulous.

So five CDs to try from a range of different places -- trios, quartets, quintets; modern lyricism and impressionism, mainstream jazz, and latin jazz; and horns, brass, piano, drums and percussion galore. Take your pick, they are all great.