Monday, September 29, 2014

Louis Sclavis Quartet: Silk and Salt Melodies

Product DetailsAfter all this time, I just feel like posting quickly today on this wonderfully diverse recording from ECM, "Silk and Salt Melodies"out tomorrow September 30th. Louis Sclavis on clarinet and bass clarinet, Gilles Coronado on guitar, Benjamin Moussay on piano and keyboards, and Keyvan Chemirani on percussion play nine pieces of beautifully arranged and integrated melodies which build in intensity as the recording proceeds through them. After an opening set of four moderate tempo pieces, the "Dance of the Horses"  steps up the tempo with increasing passion, culminating in a fevered piano part by Chemirani over pulsating hand drums. Sclavis follows with some beautiful, full bodied clarinet play on a mischievous "Amando's Rhumba", with lots of pauses, tempo changes, and questions buried among the lines. The intensity moves up a notch with "Cortege" and "Dust and Dogs", with a distinctly eastern flair provided by the sinuous clarinet and percussion parts. Lots of storytelling in these songs, lots of mystery and adventure as the instruments play off of each other with jumps and pauses and tempo shifts.  Outstanding music.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


March has brought me a plethora of new and inviting music, on a wide range of labels from countries near and far. It's time to attack some of them.

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Sara Serpa has had a string of special releases in the past few years, and in February 2013 I wrote glowingly about her duet with Ran Blake, "Aurora" (Clean Feed 2012) and noted her earlier "Camera Obscura" (CD Baby 2010), also with Blake. At the time I noted that Serpa is hardly a classic jazz singer, so do not expect that. But she is a wonderfully eclectic singer with a simple voice that is wonderfully reassuring. Here on her newest release, with husband Andre Matos on guitar and bass, "Primavera" (Inner Circle Music 2014) they have composed twelve of 14 pieces.  The arrangements are once more simple and sparse, just the duo on most pieces, with some guest appearances including a lovely soprano sax solo on one piece by Greg Osby,  blending beautifully with her clear voice, range and dynamic patterns.  The words to describe the pieces are mellifluous, swaying, seductive, and soothing. Some pieces are in Portuguese, some in English, and some are wordless, but all wash over you with a calming effect. It's hard to say much more, these are such lovely little melodies that connect with Serpa's heritage at times, and with contemporary music at others. A tour de force. 

Courage Music: The Ellen Rowe Quintet

Ellen Rowe Quintet, "Courage Music" (PKO Records 2014) is a terrific set of ten modern jazz pieces, eight of which were written by Rowe, and the others by Ingrid Jensen and Cole Porter. Ingrid Jensen joins pianist and composer Rowe on trumpet and flugelhorn, with the others Andrew Bishop on tenor sax and clarinet, Kurt Krahnke on bass, and Pete Siers on drums. Paul Ferguson joins on the final piece, playing trombone; and the University of Michigan Chamber Jazz Ensemble plays on the tune "And Miles to Go (Part 2)". Rowe is an accomplished pianist, composer, and educator at the University of Michigan (GO BLUE!) who has worked with performers like Kenny Wheeler, John Clayton, and Tom Harrell, among others. The beauty in this recording rests with the wonderful compositions and arrangements by Rowe, which create some lovely layering and textures throughout. The harmonic pallet and the colorations form each performer serve Rowe well in bringing energy and light to her songs. The songs are each distinct, some very impressionistic and others hewing closer to the mainstream jazz tradition. All have a deep beauty that is a joy to listen to.  
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Tim Hegarty, "Tribute" (Miles High Records 2014) is a straight-ahead, full-bodied set of ten songs played by a quintet of Hegarty on tenor and soprano saxes, Mark Sherman on vibes, Kenny Barron on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, and Carl Allen on drums. With a group like that there is no reason to say much more of course; suffice it to say these are classic jazz tunes from Hegarty's teachers, some who he worked with and others who taught him through their recordings. Jimmy Heath, George Coleman, Monk, Coltrane and Bird are all mentioned in the notes. This is a robust, energetic CD that swings boldly on songs like Heath's "Gingerbread Boy", Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge" and Coleman's "Amsterdam After Dark." Hegarty own contributions fit the form beautifully on this wonderful example of up to date mainstream jazz. 

Three down, many more to go for March. What a month! 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Down the Middle

Haven't really touched on mainstream jazz much lately, not since the Smoke Sessions CDs for Harold Mabern and Vincent Herring. So here's a group of four recent purchases that have tickled my fancy and caught my ear. All are highly recommended.

Product DetailsWhat can be more mainstream or better than Oscar Peterson and Ben Webster, "During this Time" (Art of the Groove 2014), especially when Peterson's trio includes Tony Inzalaco on percussion and the inestimable Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (NHOP) on bass. this set was taken a live recording at the 84th NDR Jazz Workshop in December of 1972, sadly just a few months before Webster passed away in Amsterdam. It's a nice set, well-recorded and featuring both a CD and DVD of the event. The songs include "Perdido", "For All We Know", "Cotton Tail" and "In a Mellow Tone" among others, and if Webster's sound is just a tad less dynamic than on earlier sets, he is still great, while Peterson is as good as ever and NHOP excels.

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Scott Hamilton Quartet, "Dean Street Nights" (Woodville Records 2014) is a live showcase from Pizza Express in London and features John Pearce on piano, Dave Green on bass, and Steve Brown on drums. Hamilton's play is from the direct line of which Webster was one of the kings; his sound is large, mellow, and unforced, and his roots are and always have been in the mainstream tradition. The seven pieces attest to his love of the standards, featuring "Cherokee, "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most", and "Sweet and Lovely" among them, but the two real standouts are "Jitterbug Waltz" and Hamilton's own "Zoot's Blues", an homage to another of Hamilton's iconic heroes.

Sticking with the saxophones, there's a new one from one of the young lions -- Javon Jackson, "Expression" (Smoke Sessions 2014), a third live performance and another outstanding set. Jackson has incredible support here from Orrin Evans on piano, Corcoran Holt on bass, and McClenty Hunter on drums. Smoke is a great setting for jazz and that comes through in the excellent sound, the dynamic play, and grateful audience response to this set of ten songs. Jackson is strong on a set of standards, covers from some great jazz players like Wayne Shorter and George Cables, and five of his own tunes. His ballad to his late cousin "Lelia" is a standout, but then so are tunes like "88 Strong" dedicated to McCoy Tyner as well as the standard "When I Fall in Love." The Smoke Sessions label is producing some standout live jazz -- this is the third this year, with another set for April under the leadership of David Hazeltine.

Product DetailsBruce Barth, "Daybreak" (Savant 2014) is another hit in a long line of hits for the veteran pianist. His group includes Steve Nelson on vibes, Terell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn, Vincente Archer on bass, and Montez Coleman on drums. Barth compose 7 of the 10 pieces and the others are "Triste" by Jobim, "In the Still of the Night" by Cole Porter, and "So Tender" by Keith Jarrett. Stafford and Barth are unaccompanied on "So Tender" and luxuriate in the beautiful melody. The trio of Barth, Archer, and Coleman impress on the Jobim opener, and Nelson and Barth are special on "In the Still of the Night" which opens with a bouncy lead from Nelson. But that's just three pieces, the remaining 7 each have their moments in the sun as well.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Juhani Aaltonen "To Future Memories" (Tum 2014)

Product DetailsJuhani Aaltonen "To Future Memories" (Tum 2014) is a lovely set of music packaged beautifully in a tri-fold sleeve, with great art and a substantial booklet about the music and the artists. The packaging continues a long streak for TUM of beautiful presentations and is almost worth the price alone. The subtitle is "The Music of Antti Hytti", Hytti being a Finnish composer and bassist, and many of these pieces were created for movies or short films during the 1980s and 90s. Aaltonen played on the original scores and here is working with these pieces in a wholly new way as a tribute.

Aaltonen was born in 1935 and is a legendary player in Finland with a long discography. The group is made up of Aaltonen on tenor saxophone, flute and bass flute; Iro Haarla on piano; bassists Ulf Krokfors and Ville Herrala; Reino Laine on drums; and Tatu Ronkko on percussion.

"Reminiscence" begins with a drumbeat and then a slow and lovingly played saxophone melody over accompaniment of the piano, bass, and percussion.  Aaltonen's improvisations begin as long flowing and lovely lines, gradually building in intensity and emotion with concurrent increases by the drums and cymbals until the music becomes freer and a bit strident. The percussion finally takes center stage with a solo of about a minute, after which the saxophone returns to its more mellow opening sound and the entire group settles back once more until the end is reached. While the middle section gets pretty intense and free, the overall composition is interesting and rest of the tune very nice.

"Kukunor" is a quieter piece that begins with the piano stating the melody, followed by the delicacy of Aaltonen's flute over the piano and the barest of brushing from the percussion. Taken at a slow and stately pace this is simply a beautiful song. Back and forth between the flute, piano, and bass, all supported by the whisper of the percussion, the piece is a quiet mediation on beauty.

"To Future Memories" opens with a bass solo and the quietest of support from the others, until at the two minute mark the saxophone slowly enters with an elegant melody line accompanied as well by some very interesting coloration by the percussionist. The melody is played quietly and flows very delicately and slowly over the other parts. At the five minute mark the piano takes over  with its own delicate and lovely turn with the melody line over the bass and drums/percussion. Finally the saxophone rejoins and the entire ensemble delicately takes the piece to the end.

"Hilsi" features Aaltonen on the bass flute, a deep and resonant sound that creates a sense of muted elegence as this song opens. Again, it is a very slowly paced piece played quietly over quiet support by the drums and percussion. The tempo gradually picks up and the flute moves into its higher registers as the intensity builds and the notes get shorter and more rapid. The drumming increases the intensity of the piece along with the faster play of the flute during this middle section, and the bass plays a rapid series of notes underneath. the mellow feeling is replaced by a more anxious one, until finally the piece settles back with some nice rounded bass tones and a return to the flutes lower register and longer notes.

"Ursula" opens with a naked sax solo for half of the 3 minute piece (the shortest on the CD. The rest are about 7 to 9 minutes), and then is accompanied by some the piano comping. It's the shortest and simplest of the pieces and quite pretty. It is followed by "All the Birds", which opens with a somber piano meditation of about two minutes, after which the saxophone joins the piece and the piano begins comping. It is another slowly evolving piece of great emotion and beauty, played at a slow and elegant tempo. At about the midpoint both players fade out and there is a quiet bass solo with a hint of support from the percussion that gradually ends as the saxophone and piano re-enter and the entire ensemble brings the piece to a close.

"Haze" is the final piece and a more strident and somewhat more intense trip. Aaltonen's pace picks up throughout the piece, the dynamics grow in intensity, and the mellow sound of his instrument changes to a more strident tone. It is a harder listen than what has come before, not only played at a brisk tempo but also with less unity among the players. This is impressionism bordering on the avant garde.

Overall I was enraptured by this CD, one that I was unsure of when I began. The first and last pieces have some more difficult sections in them, compared to the gentleness of the impressionistic pieces between, but the overall CD is quite remarkable and a nice tribute to the compositions of Antti Hytti. This is for those who have an adventurous spirit.

Get to Know: Leslie Pintchik

Pianist Leslie Pintchik is about to release her fourth CD, "In the Nature of Things" (Pinch Hard 2014) this month, a set of eight modern mainstream jazz pieces that she wrote along with one standard "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face". I've been a fan since her first release in 2004, and this is another in a series of excellent performances from Pintchik and her group. 

Pintchik has an interesting biography. Before embarking on her musical career she taught English Lit at Columbia University, and received a Master of Philosophy degree in 17th Century English Literature. Her interest in music blossomed afterwards and she began her career with a stint with bassist Red Mitchell at the legendary club Bradley's on University Place in Greenwich Village. From that point forward she was committed to her jazz career and formed a trio with Scott Hardy on bass and Michael Sarin or Satoshi Takeishi on drums. All three -- Hardy, Sarin, and Takeishi -- appear on this CD, along with trumpet and flugelhorn player Ron Horton and Steve Wilson on saxophones. Wilson also arranged the horns on the six pieces on which they appear. 

The first CD from the trio (without Sarin) was "So Glad to Be Here" (Ambient Records 2004), a set of 11 pieces, seven by Pintchik along with three covers-- "All the Things You Are", "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song" and "We See" -- plus one original by bassist Hardy. The covers are played with a uniqueness that indicated Pintchik's already original writing, with the first done with a latin beat and the second a group encounter of great intensity and color. Her own songs are wide ranging in character, and the percussion of Takeishi certainly enhances the mood of each. This is a great opening salvo for her career. 

"Quartets" (Ambient Records 2007) came next and in addition to the trio added sax player Wilson for one quartet, and shifted Takeishi to percussion and added Mark Dodge on drums for the other. There are nine pieces, five by Pintchik, highlighted by a somber, slow version of "Happy Days Are Here Again" by the Dodge quartet, and the contrasting light and airy "Over Easy" and "Private Moments", originals by Pintchik featuring the lilting sounds of Wilson's saxes. The CD is fairly restrained but nonetheless captivating, and speaks to Pintchik's impressionistic writing and growing sonic palette. 

The third CD is "We're Here to Listen" (Pintch Hard 2010) with Hardy, Takeishi, and Hodge. Pintchik is up to six originals here, and interesting cover versions of "Blowin' in the Wind"  and "For All We Know". This is the most relaxed and laid back of the first three outings, with a number of nice mid-tempo songs played very simply and elegantly by Pintchik, particularly "Completely" and "For All We Know". Very nice music, elegant ind interesting melodies,  but perhaps a bit too mellow given what has come before. 

The newest CD, "In the Nature of Things" returns the group to a more rounded menu of songs and is a stronger CD, in fact the strongest one yet by Pintchik. The variety of moods, tempi, and dynamics is enhanced by the inclusion of Horton and Wilson on six of the tunes, with arrangements as previously noted by Wilson. Pintchik states the melodies in her songs and uses the horns to provide counter punches, as on the strongly grooved and bouncy "I'd Turn Back if I Were You", or for counter-melodies on several others, which deepens the context and emotional strength of the music. Pintchik has grown as a composer and has a gift for writing in various forms so there are mid-tempo ballads, uptempo swings, New Orleans sounds, latin, and blues sprinkled in the nine compositions, with only one standard this time, a beautifully and delicately rendered "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face". "Sparkle" is one example of the mid-tempo swing and provides plenty of room for each player to solo, while "Terse Tune" is a minor blues" with a simple melody that grows in power and climaxes with dueling horns, drums, and percussion. "Ripe" and "Ready" are latinate tunes with flowing melodies and rich harmonies, and in the case of the former a wonderfully soothing flugelhorn solo by Horton. 

This is an outstanding addition to Pintchik's discography and one for fans of the modern mainstream.

Finally, for those in the NY area, Pintchik and her group are regulars around Manhattan at various clubs, and will be performing at a CD release concert at Jazz at  Kitano on Friday April 25th. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Four Pianos

The beginning of 2014 has brought an incredible number of wonderful CDs to my attention so it's time to start posting about some of them. Today, four really nice piano works. 

Omar Sosa "Senses" (Ota 2014) continues a nice run of outings by the pianist on his own label, including "Calma" (Ota 2011) which I listed among my favorites of 2011; his duo with Paolo FresuAlma (Ota 2012, a mellow pairing of piano and trumpet sounds which paints a nice picture; and "Eggun: The Afro-Lectric Experience" (Ota Records 2013), a fine latin-tinged recording in various combinations of six players featuring Sosa on keyboards, Joo Krauson trumpet and Peter Apfelbaum on saxes; with additional support on various tracks by Lionel Louke on guitar and a number of other guitarists and percussionists. 

Product Details"Senses" is a set of 16 solo piano pieces, largely improvised. The pieces are very quiet and restful, tinged with some sadness, but more beautiful than melancholy. Sosa brings his Cuban roots into the equation in his subtle harmonies. These are peaceful meditations that will thrill you with their individual beauty. 

Product DetailsContinuing with meditations and impressionistic piano playing, Kaja Draksler "The Lives of Many Others (Clean Feed 2014) is a solo piano recording made at the Ljubljana Jazz Festival in 2013. The music here is more abstract than Sosa's and incorporates a broader palette of dynamics and harmonies. This 27 year old Slovenian has a discography dating to 2008 and has performed both solo and with her Acropolis Quintet, and uses both her classical and jazz training to produce some wonderfully diverse meditations that also incorporate folk melodies from her  home. In New York she studied privately with two of the best piano innovators today,  Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran. Great stuff.

Product DetailsThe Danny Fox Trio had a great first release with "The One Constant" (Songlines 2011) and their new CD is equally good,  "Wide Eyed" (Hot Cup Records 2014). The trio is Danny Fox on piano, Chris Van Voorst Van Beest on bass, and Max Goldman on drums. This too is a set of impressionistic pieces that move modern trios into more innovative settings, using unusual rhythms and harmonies over rather nice melodies. The music is a blend of modern mainstream and chamber jazz.  The  tightness of the group and their interplay is a product of their working together since 2008 and each player has plenty of time to improvise within the structure of the 11 tunes, all by Fox. My only complaint -- As much as I like Edvard Munch I am not crazy about the cover art, but what a minor quibble for such interesting and invigorating music.

front cover 600x600 200x200 Piano trio encounters of the Torontonian kind (Mike Downes, Matt Newton, Gerry Shatford CDs reviewed)Now here's a cover I can get behind, Gerry Shatford Trio "When I Sat Down to Play the Piano" (Self Produced 2014). A Canadian pianist, Shatford is joined by Neil Swainson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums. This set is evidently an outgrowth of his masters thesis for York University in Toronto. It uses traditional jazz building blocks in unusual ways, combining the rhythms and harmonies with streams from the more modern and impressionistic jazz of chamber music and the abstract. there are blues here, some boppish pieces, and even some ragtime sprinkled around. But all of these strands are used in the service of Shatford's unique tunes. Its a high spirit CD full of very individualistic and unique melodies and one that deserves attention.

Four unique piano CDs, from the U.S., Slovenian, Cuba, and Canada. Jazz is certainly international and here are four wonderful excursions for the listener.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra Strikes Again

Product DetailsAt the end of last year I posted about "Rhapsody in Blue Live", Scottish National Jazz Orchestra featuring Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock (Spartacus Records 2009), an absolutely knockout recording of creativity that presents the piece as you've never heard it before. 

Product DetailsThey're back again with "American Adventure" (Spartacus Records 2013) this time augmenting Tommy Smith on tenor sax (and as leader) and the 14 piece orchestra with a stellar group of American jazz players: Mike Stern on guitar, Clarence Penn on drums, Donny McCaslin on flute and tenor, Joe Locke on vibes, Dave Liebman on soprano sax, David Kikowski on piano, Joel Frahm on tenor, Bill Evans on tenor, Kurt Elling singing on one track, Michael Dease on trombone, and Randy Brecker on trumpet. The recording was made last June at the Avatar Stuidios in Brooklyn while the Orchestra was touring in the U.S. and Canada for the first time. 

It is an elegant set of seven pieces arranged to maximize the contributions of these stellar players, a set that includes Mingus' "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love", the piece that Elling appears on; Wayne Shorter's "Yes or Know", a great arrangement for the horns and an energetic feature for Joe Locke and SNJO drummer Alyn Cosker;  rhapsodic and delicate play on Coltrane's "Dear Lord" featuring David Kikoski and Randy Brecker; a high wire romp on Shorter's "Pinocchio" featuring Michael Dease, Joel Frahm, and Clarence Penn; and the elegant Chick Corea's "Quartet No. 1 (part 2)" for Bill Evans and David Kikoski. 

As with the earlier "Rhapsody In Blue" it is the combination of the inviting arrangements, virtuosity of the players, and the energy they produce that makes the set memorable. Seriously creative music with too many great solo parts to enumerate. 

Product DetailsNote: For those who do not know Tommy Smith, he is an internationally known tenor sax player with a long list of accomplishments, both leading the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra as well as playing on many other significant CDs, including most recently Arild Andersen's "Mira" (ECM 2013), a beautiful and rewarding set that shows him in a very different but equally beautiful mood. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Piano Beauty

Two new piano-based CDs that I received this past week and am enjoying immensely.

Antonio Zambrini and Rita Marcotulli, "La Concersazione" (Abeat 2013) is just that, a conversation between two outstanding pianists that has it all -- dynamic play, beautiful melodies, passion and romance -- in a set of eleven pieces, two of which are solos, one each by Marcotulli and Zambrini. Neither pianist is well known here in the U.S., having mostly recorded on European labels not easily purchased here.

I bought this CD because I have recently discovered Marcotulli (b 1959, Rome), first as the pianist on the Sal Nistico recording "Empty Room" (RED 1988) and subsequently with Dewey Redman "In London" (Palmetto 1996). In looking into her background and catalogue I found that she has a long record of working with outstanding players like Enrico Rava, Joe Henderson, Joe Lovano, Kenny Wheeler, and Pat Metheny; and impressive discography with some of them and as a leader. I  purchased and am enjoying "The Woman Next Door" (Label Bleu 1998) and her recording from Jazz Italiano in 2009.

Antonio Zambrini (b Milan) is a new name for me, a pianist who has recorded on Splasc(H) and Abeat since 1998 and has a listing of about a dozen CDs in that time. Among others, Zambrini has performed with Lee Konitz, Enrico Rava, Hamid Drake, and Ben Allison. 

Zambrini is a well-known composer whose works have been recorded by the likes of Lee Konitz, Stefano Bollani, and John Law, and he contributed six originals to this recording. Marcotulli solos on one song that she composed, and the remaining four include a solo by Zambrini on "Giant Steps", and the duo playing "Beatriz" by Edu Lobo and Chico de Hollanda, "Canto Triste" also by Lobo but with Vinicius De Moraes, "and "Here's to that Rainy Day" by Jimmy Van Heusen. 

The entire program is delicious to hear, passionate and lyrical, at times Latin-inflected, and always beautiful. The reading of "Giant Steps" is one highlight, a reading different from any I have listened to before, but there are many others on which the two are totally in sync and playing from their hearts. This is gorgeous music and highly recommended.  Time for me to sample other CDs by Zambrini. 

The second recording will not be released until April and I do not have a picture of it to show, but I cannot wait that long to praise it and recommend it highly to you when it appears. The North, "Slow Down (This isn't the Mainland)" (Dowsett Records 2014) is simply one of the best piano trio recordings I have come across in the past year or so. The group is Romain Collin on piano, Shawn Conley on bass, and Abe Lagrimas Jr. on drums. I have the fabulous 2012 CD by Collin "The Calling" (Palmetto 2012) and this is equally good if not even better. It features four tracks by Collin, two by Conley, and and four covers. 

The North - Romain Collin, Shawn Conley and Abe Lagrimas, Jr.
This is one of these recordings where I run out of adjectives to describe the music and find myself repeating the same ones -- lyrical, melodious, elegant, flowing, controlled, et al. It also features a true partnership among the players, with each critical to the total sound, and each having significant lead parts that drive a particular song or section of a song. Right from the first song, "Great  Ocean Road" which was written by Collin it's clear this is going to be an exceptionally beautiful recording. The opening has a dreamy  piano meoldy playing over a pressing snare drum, and then goes into a beautiful and impressionistic tune that gradually picks up in tempo and dynamics, then cuts and returns to the opening bars at it closes. It's a great opener that shows all of the group's qualities -- great lyrical flowing songs tightly played by a collective, a range of emotional settings, and quality play on each instrument. From that point on we have "Slow Down" also by Collin, a simple melody elegantly played at mid-tempo with a strong and interesting drum support and a solid moving bass line; Chick Corea's "Humpty Dumpty" with the bass stepping out and bowing some strong lines; a lovely and flowing ""Dowsett Avenue" again by Collin; a very Monkish Monk piece "Light Blue" with a great bass solo; a hauntingly beautiful "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan; and then a wow finish with Collin's quiet and romantic "Stay With Me" which is a solo piece for just the piano that left me wanting more. 



Saturday, February 15, 2014

Diego Barber and Craig Taborn: Tales

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Fantastic CD that took me quite a while to find for some unknown reason. Diego Barber, guitarist, and Craig Taborn, pianist playing four extended songs written by Barber on "Tales" (Sunnyside 2013). Starts out with a hypnotic 27:36 piece entitled "Killian's Mountains" that contains long and lovely solo passages by each of them along with intricate duets. Riveting music, catch Taborn's delicate and haunting solo at the nine minute mark for example, which roles into an equally stirring guitar passage from Barber. Lots of little gems all along the way on this engaging CD. Had I had it in 2013 it would have been among my top selections for the year.

Friday, February 14, 2014

With Apologies to Harvie S

I have heard from the wonderful bass player Harvie S and must apologize for incorrectly spelling his name in my end of year countdown post. Here is the corrected record, which I have changed in the original post as well: 

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  • The Aperturistic Trio, "Truth and Actuality" (Inner Circle Music 2013): James Weidman on piano, Steve Williams on drums, and on bass Harvie S provide a nice set of modern jazz music in a classic piano trio. 
But as long as we are on the subject of Harvie S, let me point out a few more outstanding CDs in my collection:

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  • Harvie S, "Texas Rumba" (Zoho 2004) as the title indicates is an upbeat melding of jazz and latin dance music, played by an outstanding cast -- Daniel Kelly on piano, Gregory Rivkin on trumpet, Scott Avedon on saxes, and Renato Thomas and Adam Weber on percussion. Lively creative compositions by the leader abound, along with his ensemble's special interpretation of "Monk's Mood." 
  • Harvie S with Kenny Barron, "Now Was the Time"  (Savant 2008) is an absolutely riveting duo session with stellar veterans weaving in and around each other, leading and supporting throughout a set of standards like "Body and Soul", and with a special bass solo of "Chelsea Bridge". This one's a classic. 
  • Harvie S and Kenny Barron,  "Witchcraft" (Savant 2013 ) . The first session was great, and twice is sheer ecstasy. Barron and S get together once again with another ten songs full of great showmanship, emotion, and rhythm. This one's a bit more eclectic in the selections, drawing from standards for "Witchcraft", from Stevie Wonder for "Creepin'", and from the latin playbook for "Sonia Braga". A second classic duo recording. 
  • Sheila Jordan and Harvie S,  "Yesterdays" (High Note 2012). An NEA Jazz Master singer, a veteran bassist, and great music add up to a great session, recorded in 1990 but not issued until much later. Fantastic song selection, great players, great CD. A Fats Waller medley, a Fred Astaire medley, and so much more. 
And those are just recordings in the last decade. In fact Harvie S' recordings as leader go back to 1982 with some under his full name Harvey Swartz, and number in the dozens. Under Harvie Swartz, I encourage you to look for "In a Different Light" (Blue Moon  1990), an early set pairing him with several guitarists including John Scofield, Gene Bertoncini, and Mike Stern. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Duo Magic from ACT

Lacrima ChristiACT records produces great CDs, many of which I have talked about, most recently the Simcock and Goloubev duo from Schloss Elmau. Over this year they will be producing a series called "Duo Art" featuring outstanding European artists like pianist Joachim Kuhn, bassist Martin Wind, guitarist Phillip Catherine, bassist George Mraz, and pianist Yaron Herman, among many others.

In advance of some of these recordings and to highlight the quality of ACT's previous ones, the company has produced a two CD set, "Duo Art -- Creating Magic" (ACT 2014), a compilation of 24 songs from a range of musicians and CDs. Included among them are outstanding performances such as a piano duet "Tears for Esbjorn" by Iiro Rantala and Michael Wollny from "Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic", a glorious CD I posted about last year; "Lover Man" from Heinz Sauer on tenor sax and Joachim Kuhn on piano from "If (Blue" Then (Blue)"; and "Up on a Fir Tree" from "Together Again" featuring George Mraz on bass and Emil Viklicky on piano. That's a small sample of what is offered but a great way to sample from the outstanding artists and CDs that ACT has recorded; other names are Danilo Rea on piano, Flavio Boltro on trumpet, Lars Danielsson on bass, Paolo Fresu on trumpet, Ulf Wakenius on guitar, and many others.

I recommend this as a way of hearing some  lesser known -- at least in the U.S.-- but highly talented Europeans playing some absolutely wonderful music.

The Smoke Sessions

The Smoke Sessions Records label features live performances of some of the most exciting mainstream jazz players on the New York scene, recorded at Smoke, the club on Broadway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The first two recordings have been released, with two to follow in the next couple of months, and bother are distinguished sets.

The first of the two released was Harold Mabern, "Right On Time" (Smoke Sessions 2013) from a live set last March. It features Mabern with John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, the same trio that recorded the equally excellent "Live at Smalls (Smalls Live 2013) last year. As I noted then, Mabern is a 77 year old pianist who has only in the past couple of years gotten the recognition he deserves for his catalogue of work as an outstanding veteran of this era. He had dropped from the radar in the 90s and early 2000s when most of his catalogue was released on Japanese labels t them), but has come back strongly in the U.S. with "Mr Lucky" (High Note 2012), the Smalls Live recording and now this outing. this time there are 11 straight ahead, sometimes soulful, sometimes bluesy, and always entertaining cuts.  Among them are "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", "My Favorite Things", "The Nearness of You", and a rousing "Cherokee" as the finisher. More first rate music from this trio.

The second CD is Vincent Herring, "The Uptown Shuffle" (Smoke Sessions 2013) recorded live at the club last April. Herring has a long list of CDs as a leader dating back to 1989; and session man, including a rousing "battle" with Eric Alexander, also from Smoke --- "Friendly Fire (High Note 2012); and several with the recently passed Cedar Walton that are standout sessions. Here his quartet includes Cyrus Chesnut on piano, Brandi Disterheft on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums. Farnsworth and Chesnut are veterans, and Disterheft a newcomer who has impressed with two recent CDs as a leader. All three are charming on the recording with Farnsworth especially standing out from the drum set. Songs like "Love Walked In" and "Polka Dot and Moonbeams" are putty in Herring's hands, and are surrounded by several other covers and also two Herring originals and one by Chesnut that fit seamlessly into this well rounded set. A second standout.

Expect good things from this label, things you really should go hear live when you can. Coming next -- one by Javon Jackson, another by David Hazeltine

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Piano Elegance

Four elegant pianists have blessed us with three wonderful recordings in the past couple of weeks, a great way to kick off 2014.

Product DetailsBeginning with the solo recording, the veteran British pianist John Taylor once more has produced a lush, reflective, and refined recording "In Two Minds" (CamJazz 2014). Taylor begins the CD with the self-penned "Ambleside Suite" in three parts, wrote several other pieces, and uses two by Kenny Wheeler, a similarly minded trumpeter, and "Reflections in D" by Duke Ellington. I've written before about Taylor (4/11/13, 5/29/12 and others), not only as a leader but also on works by John Surman, Anders Jormin, Wheeler, Charlie Haden, and Peter Erskine to name a few. The music is the definition of elegance, with lush melodies and harmonies, and mixes his classical and jazz instincts effortlessly. Another first rate outing for Taylor.

Product DetailsNext a duo, Gwilym Simcock and Yuri Goloubev, on piano and bass respectively, on "Duo Art: Reverie at Schloss Elmau" (ACT 2014). Simcock is a personal favorite, another British pianist mixing classical and jazz training. I have written extensively on Simcock in the past including a posting on his discography in  January 2012, and later about his solo outing on this same piano at Schloss Elmau. The sound from this setting on this and other recordings is wonderfully rich and adds to the aural experience on these pieces written by the two artists. Once again the mixture of classicism and jazz stands out on this wonderful recording.

Product DetailsNext up, is a trio recording in a more traditional mainstream mode, George Cables "Icons and Influences" (High Note 2014). His partners here are Dezron Douglas on bass and Victor Lewis on drums. The title says it all -- this is a songbook dedicated to those who Cables looked up to and who influenced his playing and conception of the music. there's "Cedar Walton", the title of the first piece, featuring tight synchronicity among the players, a nice uptempo opener that speaks to both pianist's roles as leader and sideman through the years. Then there is a beautiful, heartfelt elegy for Mulgrew Miller " Farewell Mulgrew", tips of the hat to Duke Ellington, Bill Evans and Benny Golson through use of their tunes, in all twelve mainstream compositions from the heart. It's a great trip through Cables' jazz influences, a lovely set of songs that demonstrate Cables' sensitivity and grace at the keyboard.

Product DetailsFinally, there is Edward Simon "Venezuelan Suite" (Sunnyside 2014) which excels as it extends the reach of Simon's music from his previous outings. This a new direction for the accomplished pianist who as a leader and as a member of the SFJazz Collective has already had a long string of excellent CDs demonstrating both his facility at the keyboard and his excellence in composition. While the first two recordings above combined jazz and classical music, this CD combines jazz with the rhythms and sounds of Simon's native country, and does so with a larger band with richer tonalities and timbres. Joining Simon are saxophonist Mark Turner,  John Ellis on bass clarinet, drummer Adam Cruz,  Roberto Koch on bass, Marco Granados on flute, Leonardo Granados on maracas, percussionist Luis Quintero and Jorge Glem on cuatro, the string instrument that is Venezuela’s national instrument.  Edmar Castaneda guests on one track on harp. The suite is composed of four tunes named after Venezuelan cities -- Barinas, Caracas, Merida, and Maracaibo; the final piece is "El Diablo Suelto" written by Heraclio Fernandez in 1888 and updated for this performance. The music is expansive, with a range of solos and ensemble sections, catchy beats, lilting melodies, and rich harmonies. The flute and cuatro in particular lend the music a special vibe that enriches the entire program. And Ellis' bass clarinet stands out on "Caracas". It's an enchanting set, a feast for the ears with it variety and pacing, and with the richness of the melodies and interplay among the many voices. Outstanding.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Quick Hits: Four Down the Middle

Four great listens, all straight ahead jazz featuring small groups. One from 2012, two from 2013, and one from 2014.

Product DetailsPaul Carr, "Standard Domain" ((PCJ 2012) features the D.C. area tenor sax man with a dynamite crew -- Michael Bowie on bass, Terell Stafford on trumpet, Lewis Nash on drums, and Joey Calderazzo on piano. The group plays the heck out of seven classics and one composition by Carr and another by Calderazzo. Even if you don't know Carr, and I hope many of you do from his previous four CDs, you have to believe that anyone playing with this crew, and formerly with Mulgrew Miller on piano, has to be a player of consummate skills, and he is. The tempos are generally upbeat, Carr burns through the upbeat songs and caresses the ballads. The group provides a high level of improvisation and creativity on such songs as "Cheek to Cheek", "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" and "Till There Was You". 

Product DetailsAt the end of 2013 came a new one from Cory Weeds "Let's Go" (Cellar Live 2013), another in a long line of excellent jazz CDs from that label and club, and it is good to know that though the club has recently closed Weeds intendeds to keep producing Cellar Live recordings. This one features his tenor sax along with Steve Davis on trombone, Tilden Webb on piano, Ken Lister on bass, and Jesse Cahill on drums. While only Davis may be familiar to many, the other members of the group are long-standing artists from the Northwest U.S. and Canada with a nice record of accomplishment. Together the group fires up with a set of nine songs split between compositions from the group and a couple of covers. This is a recording from the band's tour of the U.S. and Canada and has that live energy and tight feeling one gets from a working band. Great fun that night at Smoke.

Product DetailsJohn Marshall Sextett "Marshall Plays Hazeltine" (Organic Music 2013) is another live recording, this from the 2012  "Generations Jazz Festival" in Switzerland. It features Marshall on trumpet, David Hazeltine on piano, Grant Stewart on tenor sax, Johan Horlen on alto sax, Peter Washington on bass, and Louis Hayes on drums. Another group of impeccable players, another set of outstanding music. As advertised, Hazeltine wrote a couple of the compositions, with the remaining numbers including such standards as "I Should Care", What Kind of Fool Am I?", and Monk's "Reflections". John Marshall has a nice quiet, burnished tone which he melds seamlessly with the others, rarely stepping out or showboating, and is supported by some equally rounded play from the saxes. Hayes keeps the group up to speed and adds the right level of excitement to the mix, while Hazeltine as always plays immaculately. First class music.
Product Details
Steve Davis "For Real" (Positone 2014) gets the year off to a great start with eight originals by Davis and one by his pianist, Larry Willis. Besides Willlis and Davis, the players are Abraham Burton on tenor sax, Nat Reeves on bass, and Billy Williams on drums. The quintet lights it up on the imaginative compositions, and Davis continues his long streak of consistently good recordings with this one.

Follow the Leader

Time for another round of follow the leader. Not knowing the name Ozan Musluoglu,  I decide to purchase his CD based on the supporting cast. The CD is his second, Ozan Musluoglu "40th Day" (Equinox Music 2011). 

Ozan Musluoglu | 40th Day (feat. Jeremy Pelt, Jd Allen, Danny Grissett & Darrell Green)
Musluoglu is a bassist of Turkish descent who was born and raised in Germany, and then attended the Bilgi University Music program in Istanbul on full scholarship beginning in 2001. He has an extensive resume of performances with names such as Marcus Miller, Roy Hargrove, Eric Reed and many others. Also, as bassist of the group Athena from 2003-2008, he recorded albums and toured nationally and internationally, including representing Turkey in the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest where they placed 4th.

In 2009 he released his first CD "Coincidence" (Recbyjazz 2009), with a group of players from Istanbul including drummer Ferit Oman. His latest, " My Best Friends are Pianists" (Equinox Music 2012) is a tribute to the "My Best Friends Series" of Ray Brown, who is one of Musluoglu's greatest idols, and features twelve Turksh pianists on twelve pieces. His CDs are all available through CDBaby.

While Musluoglu's other CDs feature a host of Turkish players, this particular CD finds him in the company of four American jazz players of note and thus is an appealing way to discover the music of Musluoglu. The four are Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, JD Allen on tenor sax, Danny Grissett on piano, and Darrell Green on drums, an all-start grouping of first class leaders in their own right.

All seven compositions are by Musluoglu, who dedicated the music to his departed grandmother, who was his biggest supporter.  "Requiem for K.C" and "40th Day" are beautifully crafted melodies crafted in her honor, the first featuring beautiful unison play from Allen and Pelt, the latter an uplifting waltz. Elsewhere the energy abounds in songs like "Fake Promises" and the swinging closer, "Panic." I'm a big supporter of the work of Grissett and here he does not disappoint with a number of ear catching solos and a lot of supporting rhythms for the others.

It's first rate modern jazz with nice melodies, intricate harmonies and a steady rhythm section featuring Musluoglu and Green. Recommended for those who like the modern mainstream.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dawn of Midi: "Dysnomia"

A dwarf planet, Eris, larger than Pluto. Its moon, Dysnomia, from the Greek "lawlessness". A CD, Dawn of Midi, "Dysnomia" (Thirsty Ear 2013). A black and white cover, an abstract drawing -- Dysnomia surrounded by a vortex of moving lines? A black hole with the same surroundings?
Dawn of Midi: Dysnomia
All very abstract and mysterious, a suggestive of the music inside, which is equally mysterious, sinuous, and abstract. Nine all-acoustic pieces created by the Dawn of Midi band members Israni and Belyamani -- Qasim Naqvi on drums, Aakaash Israni on bass, and Amino Belyamani on piano. Is it scripted or free, or both? Not sure at first but as the music evolves it must be tightly scripted to have such integration. Is is music? -- not sure there either. There is a beat, there are rhythms, and there are repeated motifs, but there are no melodies, no real harmonies.

It is also captivating, unusually so, it's addictive, and it is strange. It's a piano trio format but in no way does that describe it, in fact it only will confuse. It's a minimalist tableau of sound and rhythm, seemingly disorderly but in fact very tightly held among the three players, who clearly have composed or at least scripted the elements. The elements start out, they repeat and grow, they evolve, they morph into other sounds and rhythms. It's actually quite gentle and restrained in tone and texture and yet a strong beat is omnipresent to drive the music and engage the listener.

Product DetailsProduct DetailsUltimately, to me it has two antecedents, both of whom I like and have posted on before, and both of whom are equally unusual, modernist bands:  Nik Bartsch's Ronin and The Necks. Very much in the same genre of sound, of experimentation with sound, of slowly evolving figures, and meditative passages. For those with a taste for the unusual.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Reaching into the Archives

Last week I did some noodling through the archives reading up on various musicians that I hadn't thought about in a long time, wondering about their careers and output. I ended up with three recordings.

Then And Now
First up was Grover Washington Jr.  What I remember about him was first and foremost was that he was identified with the crossover movement to a more pop sounding jazz, not necessarily smooth jazz but rather an amalgam of rhythm and blues, pop, jazz, and soul. He tragically died while still in his prime at age 56 in 1999. As his contemporary sound became more popular, somehow it was as if jazz listeners wrote him off as too smooth, too polished, and too pop, overlooking his significant talent on multiple wind instruments and in particular his skills with the soprano sax. In fact, he came up out of strong jazz roots, trained first by his father, a jazz saxophonist himself, and later with Charles Earland as a sideman on Prestige. He was hardly soft, and his CD "Then and Now" (Columbia 1988) makes that abundantly clear. This is a straight-ahead set of eight songs played with a crackerjack set of sidemen -- either Tommy Flanagan or Herbie Hancock on piano;  Russian Igor Butman on tenor sax; Grady Tate, Miguel Fuentes or Marvin "Smitty" Smith on drums; Gerald Veasley on bass; and Richard Steaker on guitar. Hancock burns on "Blues for D.P." a  Ron Carter tune, while Flanagan is elegant on "In a Sentimental Mood" accompanying a wonderful Washington on alto. Elsewhere Washington is lovely on the tenor, particularly on "Lullaby for Shana Bly", his own composition, and as always plays a strong soprano on three tunes including "Stella by Starlight." It's a nice straight-ahead jazz set by a group of very talented musicians. First rate.

Product DetailsNext, I was curious about the career of Chuck Mangione, whose big hit "Feels So Good" was ubiquitous in the mid-80s on jazz and pop radio, and who was generally categorized as a lightweight player of melodic, upbeat, and simplistic compositions; another in the line of crossover jazz-pop stars who opened the door for smooth jazz. First off, I happen to have liked Mangione's music, which was easy to listen to and enjoy. At the time I hardly considered whether it was or was not jazz, or whether it was a sellout to popular music. Today I still like the music, but I was curious about Mangione's background and his roots in jazz. What I found was interesting. He and brother Gap, a keyboard player, were trained at the Eastman school in Rochester and began their careers strongly in the bop tradition, fronting a quintet called the Jazz Brothers; and Mangione played in the Art Blakey band from 1965-67 as well as the big bands earlier  of Woody Herman and Maynard Ferguson. There are CDs still available that demonstrate the skills of the brothers in the world of bop and post bop, notably their first recording under Cannonball Adderley's Riverside label, "The Jazz Brothers" (Riverside 1960) which is still available on the OJC label. The sextet in this case was Chuck Mangione on trumpet, Gap Mangione on piano, Larry Combs on alto sax, Sal Nistico on tenor sax, Bill Saunders on bass, and Ron McCurdy on drums. This is a first class, standard recording for it's day, six youngsters going on to big things. McCurdy would go on to Adderley's quintet and Nistico to Woody Herman's Herd and then to a fine but shortened career as a leader. Mangione's trumpet is clear and controlled, Gap's piano playing fluid, but it is Nistico whose sound really stands out and shapes the music along side Chuck. Most of the music was written by band members, with the standard "Secret Love" by Sammy Fain included in the set. this is very solid stuff, and Mangione and his band went on to produce several more mainstream recordings between 1960 and 1962, after which Chuck played for a while as a sideman in the aforementioned bands before returning as a leader with the softer sound of a flugelhorn and his new direction in music that kicked into high gear in the early 1970s with "Feels So Good." So did he sell out to commercialism moving with the times from jazz to pop? It really doesn't matter, does it, as he has left a fine set of music for both tastes.

Product DetailsAnd finally a word about Sal Nistico, a very talented tenor sax player whose career tragically ended at age 53, and whose recordings are largely ignored today. Nistico was a member of some great bands, beginning with the Mangione's in the early 60s and then with Woody Herman's Herd and Count Basie's band in the 60s and 70s. He also freelanced with players such as Don Ellis and Buddy Rich, and was a leader on several occasions with his own bands. "Heavyweights" (Jazzland 1961) was his first recording as a leader, and is combined with his second, "Comin' On Up" (Riverside 1962) on a CD released on Milestone in 2002 simply called "Heavyweights" with all 13 songs from both sets.  On the first set he recorded with Nat Adderley on cornet, Barry Harris on piano, Sam Jones on bass, and Walter Perkins on drums, a crew largely from the Cannonball Adderley band. On the second set it is Sal Amico on trumpet, Barry Harris on piano, Bob Cranshaw, on bass, and Vinnie Ruggiero on drums. If you are known by the company you keep, then Nistico was clearly a fine musician, which is borne out by the music. Hot stuff worth finding.

It's pretty interesting and enlightening strolling through the past, and it produces some nice music and a better understanding of the players who have shaped jazz tastes through the decades. Other times I have written about forgotten players from the 50s or 60s, this time it's about under-appreciated talents from the 70s and 80s whose record has been dulled by general antipathy towards their popular recordings. Always intriguing pouring over the histories.