Thursday, October 20, 2016

3 X 2s (October 16 edition)

Pianist and composer Nick Sanders met saxophonist and composer Logan Strosahl 10 years ago when both were students at the New England Conservatory  of Music in Boston.  Sanders' Trio has issued two acclaimed CDs on Sunnyside Records and served as the rhythm section for Strosahl's 2015 debut for the label.

"Janus" (Sunnyside) finds the duo in a playful mode playing program that includes classical works from 14th Century France, a work each from Thelonious Monk and Hoagy Carmichael, the standard "Old Folks", pieces from Messiaen and Couperin, plus several originals.  Both musicians keep melody foremost even on up-tempo pieces such as "Be-Bop Tune", an original credited to both of them.  Strosahl's title composition finds him swinging a la Lee Konitz as Sander's struts below him. The Monk tune, "Thelonious", also jumps with glee with Sanders backing work a mash-up of various 20th Century styles, from boogie to swing to mainstream and on.  The tenor solo rises up from the melody and takes off on a sprightly romp.

"Mazurka", also composed by the saxophonist, is an off-center waltz, plenty of stops and starts plus a splendid melody that both musicians play.  Strosahl overdubs alto and tenor for the opening section of "Rose, Liz, Printemps, Verdure" composed by Guillaume  de Machaut, a medieval composer and poet from France.  The interplay of piano and saxophone, especially in the closing minute as they both move through the melody contrapuntally, is such a delight.  Messiaen's "Selections from Vingt Regards Sur L'Enfant Jesus" is darker yet more expansive, Strosahl's tenor solo, gruff at times and sweet at others, moves through the thick piano chords.

"Stardust" features a "floating" piano accompaniment to Strosahl's breathy tenor, sounding like both Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. The solos are so gentle, hewing close to the melody, with genuine emotion as opposed to schmaltz.  That leads into the album closer, the delightful "Les Amusemens" from François Couperin. The lovely baroque melody (the composer wrote in the late 17th and early decades of the 18th Centuries) has an intoxicating forward motion and the musicians play it with grace.

"Janus" is an album that reminds one that good music is ageless and that musicians who approach with open minds and ears (and plenty of talent) can make it sound new again.  Nick Sanders and Logan Strosahl are that kind of musicians and this album does feel fresh and alive.  Buy a copy for yourself and give this recording as a gift because the music is so compelling and joyous.

For more information, go to or

Here's a link to the album page:

Janus by Nick Sanders & Logan Strosahl

As one of those listeners who came to age in the post-John Coltrane era and the early years of the AACM, one would hear a number of recordings featuring drums and saxophones.  Andrew Cyrille (born 1939) was right in the midst of that musical revolution working and recording with fellow drummer Milford Graves, with vibraphonist Walt Dickerson and, most notably, pianist Cecil Taylor.  It's easy to hear Mr. Cyrille as a descendant of Max Roach although his most famous teacher was the great "Philly" Joe Jones.  Both Jones and Roach were "story-telling" drummers, musicians who could most certainly keep time but also added so much to the thematic sections of songs and beneath the soloists.

The drummer and composer, who turns 77 in November, remains busy not only with his own groups but also as a member of Trio 3, an ensemble with Oliver Lake and bassist Reggie Workman.  He has two albums this month, one with his Quartet on ECM and "Proximity" (Sunnyside), an adventurous duo recording with tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry.  The date grew out of a June 2014 Village Vanguard gig featuring McHenry's Quartet - the drummer and the leader played one night as a duo and had such a great time (as did the audience) that they went into the studio 5 months later.  The results will remind older aficionados of those halcyon days of the 1970s and serve to educate younger listeners to the power of two.

Four of the 11 tracks are improvisations, two (including the title track) are Cyrille originals, and there is one each from drummer Don Moye and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams.  Both men play with poise, joy, fire, and create a program that resonates.  McHenry, 33 years younger than his musical partner, is one of those musicians who fits into almost any musical setting.  His solos have a wonderful logic, even as they dance around the rhythms.  He never forces anything and, when you pay attention, one hears a big, full, tone but a light attack.  As for Mr. Cyrille, he never wastes a sound or a beat.  His time is impeccable, he both leads and follows, he can be forceful as well as make the listener lean forward to hear his sounds.

Without going into specific songs, you should just start at the beginning and listen all the way through.  There is plenty of music, strong melodies, spicy solos, and splendid dialogues throughout.  Andrew Cyrille and Bill McHenry create musical magicians and "Proxmity" is a treat for sore ears.

Here is a link to the title track:

If ever an album needed a video of the performance, "Duet" by pianist Satoko Fuji and bassist Joe Fonda (Long Song Records) is one. Not that the music the duo performs is not strong on its own but it would be enhanced by watching the musicians playing and interacting.  Personally, I have seen Mr. Fonda play numerous times  and there are few people I have seen who are as "one with their instrument" as he.  If you listen closely to this recording, you can hear him breathe and occasionally sing.

This is a recording of the first time Ms. Fujii and the bassist ever met and played together.  They certainly knew each other's works and sense of adventure so it comes as little surprise that this performance goes in so many directions and never loses it's focus.  The first cut, "Paul Bley", is 37:32 seconds of powerful music, with both musicians really digging in, pushing each other to go deeper, to take musical chances - the closing moments are simply beautiful.  The second track, "JSN", adds the pianist's husband Natsuki Tamura on amplified trumpet to the duo.  Also totally improvised, it's a meditative piece, moving out of its rubato interaction of trumpet and bass into a poetic piano melody supported by the full bass tones.  The trumpeter plays quiet bells in the background and slowly the intensity rises with the insistent piano pushing the others to raise the volume.  Later on, Ms. Fujii plays inside the piano as her husband creates a sonic storm and Mr. Fonda moves to flute. The piece fades out at just over 11 minutes.

Satoko Fujii and Joe Fonda meet for the first time yet their mature and and adventuresome musical interactions sound as if they have been together on the bandstand for decades. Because both musicians have long careers creating challenging and rewarding performances, they trust each other to be "free" and honest.  For more information, go to

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Super(b) Groups Live & On Record

The Firehouse 12 Fall 2016 Concert Series rolls along in fine fashion; this week (10/20), the big wooden door opens to welcome the Claudia Quintet. The Quintet, now in its 20th year, has been the main vehicle for the music of drummer John Hollenbeck. The lineup - Chris Speed (reeds), Drew Gress (bass), and Matt Moran (vibraphone) - has had only one change in its existence and that's when Red Wierenga replaced accordionist Ted Reichman six years ago. Chris Tordini has subbed for Gress on several tours and also appeared on four of the 10 tracks on 2013's "September" CD.

The music CQ creates has so much to offer the listener, whether one like melodies or percussion driven music, minimalism or incredible interactions.  All that and more will on display in the Elm City  performance venue. The group is touring in support of its latest Cuneiform CD, "Super Petite", a collection of shorter tunes (only one of the eight tracks is over six minutes.

Claudia Quintet plays two sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. (separate admission charges) - for more information, go to or call 203-785-0468.

Here's the band with a tune from the new recording:

Here's a "super" group if ever there one existed.  Bassist Dave Holland, drummer Eric Harland, guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke plus saxophonist (tenor and soprano) Chris Potter first got together in the summer of 2015 and had so much fun on tour that the bassist brought the quartet into Sear Sound in September of that year.  The results of the two-day session can be heard on "Aziza" now released on Holland's Dare2 Records.

During that tour, everyone contributed songs to the playlist and the CD presents eight of them, two by each musician. The program opens with Loueke's "Aziza Dance" (from whence the group got its name - read how here), a funky ditty introduced by the guitarist's percussive riffs, Holland's deep bass notes, and Harland's nasty 4/4 drums (the music hearkens to back to Herbie Hancock's Headhunters "Chameleon.")  The drummer pushes the piece right along, allowing his rhythm section to keep the time while he fits about under the soloists.  Potter's piece "Summer 15" rolls lightly above the "St. Thomas"-like rhythms created by his three partners. His soprano sax phrases dance delightfully over the Island sounds. After Loueke's lilting spot, Potter moves over to tenor and does another type of dance, still swaying but with a bit more muscle.

Aziza balances its more powerful tendencies with a softer side that is equally attractive.  "Walkin' The Walk" feels more like a stroll in the late afternoon sunlight and the bassist, who also composed the piece, takes the opening solo before Potter gives the piece a bit more punch as does Harland on his powerful solo.  His piece "Aquila" opens as a ballad yet picks up speed and intensity as its rolls along.

Potter's other contribution, "Blue Sufi", is the longest work of the 74+ minute program, clocking in at 13:40.  After a wondrous tenor sax "call to prayer" introduction, the rest of the group enters and the piece evolves into an uptempo adventure with melodic and rhythmic links to South Indian music.  Again, it's Holland's powerful foundation that opens up Harland's robust drumming. There are moments in Loueke's chord-laden solo that may remind some of the work of Sandy Bull (1941-2001) and, all of a sudden, the solo (the guitarist employs an organ-like tone throughout the song.  You'll love the interaction of Potter and Harland during the tenor solo as well how Holland's bass spotlight builds off the saxophone melody and the powerful underlying rhythm.

This splendid album closes with Loueke's rip-roaring "Sleepless Night"; from the opening guitar and drum interaction that leads to the guitarist's overdubbed vocal rendition of the melody to his squalling call-and-response with Potter, the song careers forward but never loses its focus.  Harland's rabble-rousing drums take the album out on a raucous yet satisfying series of high notes.

Aziza will be touring through the United States and Europe from mid-October through mid-November in support of the its debut album.  Go to to find out more.  If you can't get to any of the dates, get the album, turn it up loud and bask in its musical glory.  This recording is a delightful panacea to the venomous election cycle in the United States and the horrific news from elsewhere.  Great sounds from four players who give their all, having fun while exploding genres.

Here's the opening track:

Sunday, October 9, 2016

"...This Land is Our Land" Outside and In

American music is filled with iconoclasts and storytellers as well as hacks and posers. Wadada Leo Smith belongs to the initial group listed above, having created some of the most fascinating music of the past 5 decades.  His trumpet sound hearkens back to Buddy Bolden and Louis Armstrong, a bright sound that often rises above his ensembles.

His latest adventure, "America's National Parks" (Cuneiform Records), is a poetic look at the United States through the land it preserves, one of its greatest rivers, a multi-national and racial port city, and an African-American musicologist who worked to preserve the "folk" music of the country. The 98-minute double album features Smith's Golden Quintet of Anthony Davis (piano), John Lindberg (bass), and its newest members, drummer Pheeroan akLaff and cellist Ashley Walters.
The program opens with "New Orleans: The National Culture Park 1718" - the date is important as that was the year the city was founded by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienvelle. akLaff's drums are quite prominent in the mix, perhaps reminding some of a funeral procession but also this serve to remind the listener of the importance of the drum in both African and African-American society.  In this piece, the drums often serve to change the mood, play counter-melody, and to push the band forward.  "Eileen Jackson Southern, 1920-2002: A Literary National Park" is dedicated to one of the pioneers of musicology (find our more by going to The music is elegiac, quiet, muted trumpet, yet picks up in intensity as the interactions move forward.
Other compositions pay tribute to Yosemite National Park, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, YellowstoneNational Park all circa 1890 plus the 31-minute plus "The Mississippi River: Dark and Deep Dreams Flow the River - a National Memorial Park circa 5000 B.C."  The final composition is the first piece on the second disk and demands that you listen all the way through.  The opening 10+ minutes move at a pace not unlike a Morton Feldman composition;  then one hears blues phrases creep into the bass lines but the piece still has a languid tempo.  At the halfway mark, the band fall into that earlier blues line, the drums really pushing the trumpeter forward.  Several minutes later, Mr. Lindberg and Mr. Davis solo over the frenetic drumming and the pulsing cello. The group drops out for an unaccompanied cello solo and, then one by one, the other musicians return and the piece returns to the pace of the opening 1/3rd but with more intensity.

The release of "America's National Parks" coincides with the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Parks Systems and Wadada Leo Smith's 75th birthday (in December).  The last five years have been among the most productive and rewarding time of the trumpeter and composer's life. Like a National Park, Wadada Leo Smith is one-of-a-kind, an amazing son of the Mississippi Delta  who has created his own musical system, has celebrated his elders while creating his own lasting compositions, and who has traveled the world, collecting and synthesizing the many sounds he has heard and continues to hear.  In his own words,  this new collection of compositions and performances illustrates that "My focus is on the spiritual and psychological dimensions of the idea of setting aside reserves for common property of the American citizens: those who have passed on before, those who are here in the present, and those who will come in the future." This music celebrates people, cities, nature, rivers, canyons, and, through performances, the art it inspires.

For more information, go to and to

Here's a taste of the opening track:

"Moving Still" (Pi Recordings) is the second album from trumpeter and composer Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense.  The quintet, named for a chess move, features guitarist Miles Okazaki, pianist Matt Mitchell (who seems to be ubiquitous at the moment), bassist John Hébert (also very busy), and drummer Craig Weinrib - only Okazaki was featured on Finlayson's 2013 debut "Moment and the Message" (also on Pi).

Finlayson, who first came to notice at the age of 17 playing in saxophonist and conceptualist Steve Coleman's ensembles at the turn of the new Millennium, is also a busy musician, working with guitarist Mary Halvorson, Steve Lehman, Muhal Richard Abrams and others.  His original music incorporates many different styles and you will go crazy looking for his influences as he has well on his way to his own "sound."

photo by Scott Benedict
One will notice the urgency in much of these performances.  Even though the opening three tracks start with unaccompanied statements (by Okazaki, Weinrib, and Mitchell respectively), the music builds in intensity on each track, creating a palpable sense of tension.  "All of the Pieces", at 11:16 the longest track, opens the album and, initially belongs to the guitarist with the leader only playing the "head" before Okazaki steps out. He then gives way to Mitchell whose wonderful splintered melodic lines lead to a classically-inspired journey. It's not until the 5-minute mark that Finlayson takes his solo.  He builds it off the original melody (the guitarist and pianist playing counterpoint), continuing to refer to the phrases but moving away at the same time.  Pounding drums then a funky beat give "Flank and Center" its direction with its percussive melody line split between piano and trumpet while the guitar offers a counterpoint. The clarity of each instrument stands out; the throbbing, deep, bass notes, the splashing cymbals, the roiling piano, the "clicking" guitar phrases, all support a forceful trumpet solo.

The urgency of the early cuts is evident in "Cap vs. Nim" but there is a more "open" feel in the rhythm section and a more melodic approach in Mitchell's impressive piano accompaniment.  Only in the latter stages of the trumpet solo does one notice the tension has risen. "Between Moves" opens with a guitar and bass duo, Okazaki strumming and picking while Hébert solos.  Mitchell enters in support, with his bass notes setting the pace for the rest of the song.  The bowed bass and piano continue with long tones as Finlayson enters and builds upon the piano chords. His solo moves easily over the band, often referring to and musically commenting on what is being played beneath him.

Everett McCourt image
The album closes with "Folk Song", the closest this program comes to a ballad.   The other track over 10 minutes (10:48 to be precise), the music unfolds from the opening trumpet melody with a gentle insistence.  Again, one can hear each member of the quintet quite clearly, the rhythm section pushing the soloists forward while Mitchell and Okazaki add commentary beneath.  The pianist's quiet single-note runs and then solid chords support the guitar solo without overshadowing his circular phrases.  After a restatement of the opening theme, Weinrib steps out over the thick low notes of both piano and bass, raising the heat in the music, bringing the album to an exciting finish.  The musicians refer to the opening melody but now there is power and fire in the quintet.

"Moving Still" is an apt title to this album, especially as the music continues to reverberate after the final note is played. With a majority of the titles referring to chess, it puts the listener on notice to listen to how the band "moves" through the music and how the music moves through and out of the quintet.  Jonathan Finlayson is more of a crafty than slick soloist while his compositions blend melody and rhythm (that's the Steve Coleman influence), interactions and solos, in the most fascinating.  This group must be great fun to watch and listen to in a club or concert setting.  In the meantime, this recording is a real treasure.

For more information, go to or

Here's a chess-inspired track:

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Duo Live, Duos Recorded, Live Music + This Week's Picks

Busy week for live music and very busy week for new recordings.  Here is, at least, one event that ties performance and CD together.  Pianist and composer Kris Davis comes to New Haven this Friday to perform two sets with fellow pianist Craig Taborn in the acoustically delightful Firehouse 12, 45 Orange Street.  On the same day and on her own label, Ms. Davis releases an album of duets titled "Duopoly" (Pyroclastic Records), that features the pianist in musical conversation with not only Mr. Taborn but also Bill Frisell (guitar), Julian Lage (guitar), Angelina Sanchez (piano), Billy Drummond (drums), Marcus Gilmore (drums), Tim Berne (alto saxophone), and Don Byron (clarinet). Sharp-eyed readers will realize how important "Two" is to the project in that 1) - it's an album of duos, 2) - she plays 2 pieces with each musician, and 3) - out of the 16 tracks, there are two that are "standards."  More about that below.

This performance marks the fifth time Ms. Davis has appeared in the Elm City venue and the sixth for Mr. Taborn.  Both are intelligent improvisors, without fear, and can follow any path at the drop of a beat. All of which says they are fearless.  Both lead busy lives as band leaders - Ms. Davis with her trio as well as with Paradoxical Frog while Mr. Taborn also leads a trio - and both have impressive "sideman" credentials.

The Davis-Taborn duo will play two sets, with the first starting at 8:30 p.m., the second at 10 p.m.  For ticket information, go to or call 203-785-0468. To find out more about Ms. Davis and her musical endeavors, go to

"Duopoly" is an series of conversations between the musicians.  Ms. Davis composed five of the initial duos with one each by Ms. Sanchez, Thelonious Monk, and Duke Ellington.  The other eight tracks are improvisations, each with the title of the musician the pianist is paired with and, in a circular twist (if that's possible), goes in the opposite order as the composed performances (Bill Frisell plays on track #1 and #16, Julian Lage on #2 and #15, and so on). The project pairs Ms. Davis with musicians she had played with but  never recorded with as well as with others she had, in her own words, "only admired".

The optimum approach to this music is to just sit back and listen.  As knowledgable listeners, we have expectations of each musician on this album, all of whom have recorded in groups small and large.  We cannot help but be judgmental yet the fun of the recording is not only the compositions that Ms. Davis creates for each person but also how they interact in the improvisations.  For instance, Mr. Drummond sounds just a bit tentative as they move through the opening moments of Monk's "Eronel" but he gets into the spirit of the duo by first following the pianist's lead then pushing her forward. The duo's improvisation piece builds off Ms. Davis's left hand and Drummond's increasingly powerful floor tom rhythm pattern. Marcus Gilmore gets into the spirit quicker, perhaps from his experiences with Vijay Iyer. His improvisation with the pianist has more sizzle and power, seeming too short at 3:34.  "Trip Dance For Tim" is one of the more powerful works in the program, the throbbing piano chords supporting Berne's pointillistic forays into the upper range of the alto sax.  Their "improv" features the saxophonist creating a percussive pattern on the keys of the saxophone and a breathy lead-in to his squealing, mewling, solo in a fiery interaction.

The four tracks with Ms. Sanchez and Mr. Taborn cover a lot of territory with the former's "Beneath the Leaves" featuring a stubborn melody but a flowing yet angular solo.  The quiet "improv" with the latter pianist stand out for its quiet poetry, a musical haiku in the midst of odes. "Surf Curl" combines a percussive, nervous, piano figure with the stately steel-string guitar of Lage.  As the piece continues, he plays longer lines; listen as the piano figures moves from the lower half to the upper keys, the result being Lage occasionally strumming a chord.  It's quite a treat to hear Bill Frisell in a "free-er" mode, hearkening back to his work with John Zorn and Paul Motian. Not that he goes wild but listen as he wraps his country-style riffs around the impressionistic circular piano phrase in the opening half of "Prairie Eyes" before the pianist moves into a more Americana mode.  Their improv closes the album in a dream-like collection of single-note piano fills and long guitar tones, slowly easing to a quiet close.

Kris Davis and producer David Breskin also filmed the proceedings which is included in the CD package.  Watching the musicians obviously gives you a better feel for their interactions and it's educational to observe the creative process.  "Duopoly" is an aural adventure for the mind that gives one fresh insights into the ever-expanding imagination of its creator and her compatriots.

For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:


Meanwhile, The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme continues its string of impressive weekends of music.  On Friday (9/30), pianist and composer Hector Martignon comes to the Shore Line venue with his band, Foreign Affair.  The Colombian-born leader has studied and recorded a number of different styles of music ranging from classical to Afro-Latin to Caribbean to Brazilian and more.  The band he's bringing include two percussionist, Mino Cinelu and Samuel Torres, both amazing players, plus bassist Rudyck Vidal and vibraphonist Christos Rafalides.

Foreign Affair takes the stage at 8:30 p.m. and will play two sets. For more information, go to  To learn more about Mr. Martignon, go to

October begins on Saturday night and what better way to usher in the new month than with the Jeremy Pelt New Quintet.  Pelt, a trumpeter, composer, and educator (currently on the faculty at the University of Hartford/Hartt School,) remains one of the busiest musicians on the planet (go to his website and check out the "Appearances" page. His latest High Note CD, "#Jive Culture", is a return to acoustic jazz and features legendary bassist Ron Carter as well as pianist Danny Grissett and drummer Billy Drummond.

Mr. Pelt's new band includes the splendid bassist Vicente Archer, the fine young pianist Victor Gould, percussionist Jacqueline Acevedo, and Hartford-born drummer Jonathan Barber.  One should expect that the uptempo pieces will crackle with excitement while the ballads will be emotionally strong.  For ticket information and reservations, call 860-434-0886.  To learn more about the trumpet player, go to


Four years ago, Sam Sadigursky created a series of compositions that the acclaimed classical clarinetist Marianne Gythfeldt recorded as "25 Etudes for Solo Clarinet, Book 1."   Issued on the reed player's Bandcamp page, the short pieces were created for advanced musicians.  (He has since produced two additional books of compositions for clarinet.)

Sadigursky, who is a member of numerous groups but most notably Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, has just issued (for download only) "Five Movements for Solo Clarinet" - this time, the composer plays his music and the five track/20-minute adventure moves from the Easter European flavored "Diasporas" with its combination of long and short tones, playful phrases mixed with series of "stops-and-goes" to the classically flavored "Short Stories" and its circular lines to the Baroque-feel of "Dance On" and its alluring melody.  There are also two pieces under 1:25.  "Express Train" is a rush of melody as is the rollicking "Jazz Hands", the latter being as close to "jump classical" (if that's a viable term) as one could get.

Sam Sadigursky may be best known for his various "Words Projects" plus his delightful 2015 "Follow The Stick" album but he's been seriously working on his composing for clarinet. "Five Movements for Solo Clarinet" won't cost you very much money - go to to make your purchase.  Let the music play all the way through and then listen again.  There is much music, plenty of ideas and impressive melodies, in this 20-minute adventure.  This is not just for clarinet aficionados (though they should enjoy the sounds) but also for people who savor music that is bold, thoughtful, and, at times, charming.

To find out more, go to
Guitarist and composer Gene Ess, a native of Tokyo, Japan, who is now a resident of New York City, has been an active musician for over three decades. After graduating from the Berklee College of Music, he began working with drummer Rashied Ali (with whom he recorded one album) and going on to work with bassists Lonnie Plaxico and Reggie Workman as well as with Archie Shepp. His first CD under his own name, "Sunrise Falling", was issued in 2003 on the ANP label. Since the 2005 release of "Sandbox and Sanctum", Ess has issuing his music on his own label, Simp Records. He has employed such great musicians as Donny McCaslin, Tyshawn Sorey, David Berkman, John Escreet, and vocalist Nicki Parrott.

His new recording, "Absurdist Theater", is his third collaboration with vocalist and librettist Thana Alexa and second with  Clarence Penn on the drums. Rounding out the rhythm section is pianist Manuel Valera and bassist Yasushi Nakamura.  Ms. Alexa is an excellent foil for the guitar not just for her lyrics to his original composition (this album has eight) but also for her wordless vocals that wend their way through several songs.  Valera's rich solos and strong chordal backgrounds on tracks such as "Kunai" and "Out of the Ashes" really fill the sound spectrum yet leave room for Ess's flowing guitar solos.  The pianist's bell-like electric piano tones introduce "Torii" which drops into a Santana-like romp with the guitarist and vocalist on the main melody.  Both Ms. Alexa and the leader deliver powerful solos over the rampaging drums and thick electric bass lines. (see the video below). "Dejala Que Pasa" is a fascinating ballad, powerful drumming over rippling piano, synthesizer swells (played by Ess), and Ms. Alexa's lovely vocal which, despite the title, is all in English.

Among the highlights of this recording is the trio piece "Forkball (For Ornette)", which opens with just bass and drums before Penn joins during the opening statement of the theme.   The piece changes tempo several times before dropping into a brisk "walking line" for the fine solo.  The final track, "Upward and Onward", has a faster tempo and the quintet, pushed along by the splendid work of the rhythm section, concocts quite a heady brew.

"Absurdist Theater" is a fascinating recording, a continuation of the  journey that Gene Ess, his guitar, and his ensembles have been taking since he set out on his own.  It's grit, melody, swing, power, and the fine voice of Thana Alexa.  The album is a journey adventurous audiences should enjoy.

For more information, go to

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Billy's Brilliance - All Hart Big Band

Billy "Jabali" Hart, drummer and composer extraordinaire, turns 76 this November and remains one of the busiest musicians in the world. He leads his own Quartet, is a member of The Cookers, reunited with Dave Leibman every now and then in Quest, records and plays with numerous artists plus keeps up a busy teaching schedule.  Over the decades, he has toured and recorded with Miles Davis, Eddie Harris, Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, Shirley Horn, and a host of others musicians famous or on their way up.

Mr. Hart, according to numerous sources, has only recorded with a big band once (Mingus Dynastry) and did record as a member of Lee Konitz's Nonet but never his own music. Until now, that is.

The Swiss-born Christophe Schweizer, trombonist, composer, and arranger, first played with the drummer when he first came to study in New York City in the early 1990s. Schweizer decided it was time that Mr. Hart have his music played with a big band and not just any big band but the WDR Big Band. Based in Köln, Germany, the WDR came into existence in the late 1940s as Germany was beginning to rebuild itself and the radio was the main source of news and entertainment. First as an off-shoot of the NWDR Band based in Hamburg, the Köln band started to as a "dance band" with as many as 35 musicians, including a full string section. It was not until 1982 that the WDR became the jazz big band we know today.  The ensemble keeps a busy performing schedule, hasa very popular Facebook page (replete with live concert footage - go to - and is one of the most accomplished groups in the world (Album personnel listed below.)

The new album, "The Broader Picture" (ENJA/Yellowbird), is nearly 80 minutes long although it feels like half that length. The program features eight originals chosen from Mr. Hart's growing repertoire played an 18-piece band that includes the composer at the drums.  Schweizer's arrangements often keep the drums front and center while the sections react to and "color" Mr. Hart's contributions.  Surprisingly, the opening track "Teule's Redemption" (first recorded with Quest and then on "Oceans of Time" (1997 - Arabesque Records) and now on the new album by The Cookers, begins with an unaccompanied bass solo (John Goldsby) - he's soon joined by his rhythm section partner and, little by little, the sections come in. The early part of the piece sounds as if the big band is tuning up or, actually, "revving its engines" ready to let loose.

If you do not know the music the drummer has created over the decades, this album is a wonderful overview.  The handsome media-tempoed ballad "Layla-Joy" was first recorded on Mr. Hart's exciting 1977 debut as a leader ("Enhance" on the A&M/Horizon label) while the bouncy "Naaj" and powerful "Reneda" come from his second release, 1988's "Rah" (on the Gramavision label). These versions have a contemporary feel with arrangements that open to fine solos with sectional writing that may remind some of Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer, and Jim McNeely.  There is no clutter even when the music "roars" which one hears on the opening track, on "Tolli's Dance", and the afore-mentioned "Reneda."  Echoes of Maria Schneider's atmospheric sound move through the lovely "Lullaby For Imke", especially during the splendid alto flute solo of Johan Hörlen.

There is no need to analyze each and every track. Suffice to say, if you like modern big band music, "The Broader Picture" will satisfy your needs.  If you are a fan of Billy Hart and wonder what his music would sound like if the palette was expanded, you will be quite pleased by how Christophe Schweizer has approached this music and how he employs the WDR Big Band.  In a year of superlative recordings, "The Broader Picture" stands out.  Give this music the time it deserves and demands; enjoyment will ensue!

The musicians on the album: Wim Both, Rob Bruyne, Andy Haderer, Rudd Breuls, and John Marshall (trumpet and flugelhorn); Ludwig Nuss, Andy Hunter, and Raphael Klemm (trombone) with Matthis Cederberg (bass trombone, tuba); Johan Hörlen, Karolina Strassmeyer, Paul Heller, Olivier Peters, and Jens Neufang (saxophones, flute, piccolo, clarinet, bass clarinet, and contra-alto clarinet); the rhythm section consists of Frank Chastenier (piano), Paul Shigihara (guitars), John Goldsby (acoustic bass), and Billy Hart (drums, compositions).  Christophe Schweizer did all the arrangements and conducted the WDR Big Band. The album will be released on September 30, 2016.

Here's the trailer:

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Fall Calls + Fine Music

Scott Friedlander photo

The Firehouse 12 Fall Concert Series began last week (yes, it was still officially summertime) and continues this Friday September 23 (the first full day of Autumn) with the Taylor Ho Bynum 7-tette. This ensemble, featuring Bill Lowe (tuba, bass trombone), Ken Filiano (bass, electronics), Nicole Mitchell (flute), Tomeka Reid (cello), Jim Hobbs (alto saxophone), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums), is an offshoot of the cornetist's Plus-Tet that has a brand new album coming next week recorded earlier this year in front of a live audience (most of whom contributed to a campaign to support the album).  This will be THBynum's first gig in the Elm City since that evening.
If you've seen Bynum's groups in action, you'll know to expect the unexpected, from avant-garde to Latin-flavored romps to straight-ahead swing and more, often within the same piece.  The interaction of loud and soft, high sounds and low tones, the various groups-within-the-group, is great fun for listeners who love the challenge that this music presents.

There are two sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. (separate admission for both) - and you can find out more by going to or calling 203-785-0468.  To fond out more about Mr. Bynum and his projects, go to

c/o JazzTimes

Two more great nights of music at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme. On Friday evening (9/23), the Brubeck Brothers (bassist and trombonist Chris and drummer Daniel) bring their Quartet to the venue.  The group has been in existence over four decades but quite active since their father Dave passed in 2012. Not only do they play Dad's music but also are both fine composers (as our brothers Matt - cello - and Darius - piano) in their own right.

Joining Chris and Daniel onstage will be Mike DiMicco (guitar) and Chuck Lamb (piano).  The group's repertoire covers a wide swath of American music (no surprise considering its heritage) and will surprise and please with its variety.  Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the music starts an hour later.  For tickets and more information, go to

Saturday night, the Door opens (actually re-opens) for the Freddie Hendrix Quartet. The trumpeter is back, almost a year to the day he last performed at the venue but it's been quite a busy year.  Not only was his debut album issued on Sunnyside Records this January but he has also performed with the George Gee Swing Orchestra plus the Big Bands of Christian McBride, Jimmy Heath, Caleb Brumley plus the Vanguard Orchestra, Arturo O'Farrill's Latin-Jazz Orchestra and the David Gibson Quintet (plus dozens of other gigs).

Hendrix is a delightful player, swings with glee, and has a sweet tone (listen below).  His regular touring group includes Brandon McCune (piano), Chris Berger (bass), and Chris Beck (drums).  Music begins at 8:30 p.m.  For more information, call 860-434-0886.  To learn more about the drummer, his web address is

Click on the link to hear the title track of his debut album:

Jersey Cat by Freddie Hendrix

Bassist, arranger, and composer Matt Ulery, whose trio of critically acclaimed albums of Greenleaf music (issued from 2012-14) contained an often dazzling array of styles and musicians, continues that trend with his new album, "festival" (Woolgathering Records). Released on his own label, the recording is credited to Matt Ulery's Loom / Large and features two different ensembles, one his regular quintet (Loom), the other a 14-piece orchestra (Large, including violin soloist Zach Brock), performing three distinct programs.

The album opens with the only non-original composition on the album, an orchestral reading of Jimmy Rowles' classic "The Peacocks." Ulery's classy arrangement features Brock playing the melody and the major solo.  Ulery takes a short solo over the easy brush work of drummer Jon Deitmeyer (with the trombones adding a quiet chorus) before pianist Rob Clearfield steps out front for a moment before the Orchestra returns to the main melody. Large also appears on the following track, "Hubble", a wondrous journey through several changes in dynamics that also has intelligent use of the strings, reeds and brass, sending out melodic signals throughout the universe of the song.  The forceful 4/4 rhythm, the quiet interludes, strong solos from Clearfield and Brock, and the excellent arrangements for the sections makes this such an impressive work.

The remaining 13 tracks feature the bassist's quintet performing two quite different programs.  Besides Deitmeyer and Clearfield, Loom includes the splendid trumpeter Russ Johnson and clarinet work of Geof Bradfield. On the first six tracks, the ensemble dances and instrumentally sings its way through Ulery's melodic repertoire.  It's absorbing to hear  the emotionally powerful "A Family,  A Fair" with its rippling piano solo and the fascinating dialogue between the trumpet and clarinet near the end.  Listen to how Ulery employs all five "voices" on "Canopy", how the bass and drums also work the melody into their playing and how Clearfield's elemental piano chords holds the piece together.   Johnson's work is exemplary throughout, his clear, crisp, articulation ands how he glides through the registers on pieces such as "Middle West" (with the bass clarinet as counterpoint and support) plus his forceful yet flowing journey through "Ecliptic."

Geoff Hand/Chicago Tribune
The last five tracks are shorter, no less melodic, but with a distinct Americana feel.  Clearfield moves to pump organ while Ulery moves to tuba and adds his voice to "The Silence is Holding." There is a bit of Salvation Army Band as if imagined by Robbie Robertson feel to these tracks yet they have genuine power, often generous melodies and a gentle swing.  Johnson's growling trumpet enlivens "Horseshoe" while he and Bradfield (bass clarinet) have a fanciful dialogue through "Constituent."  Ulery gets to play some impressive bottom on the latter over the martial drumming of Dietmeyer.  The final track, "Slow It Down", sounds like a cross between "Edelweiss" (from "The Sound of Music") and a Shaker hymn.  It's a lovely, heartfelt, way to close this wide-ranging program, a gentle kiss on the cheek before you enter dreamland (or, perhaps, exit a land of dreams.)

Matt Ulery has created his own sound, hearing a confluence of sounds and styles unlike any contemporary composer.  It strikes this listener a decade and seven albums into his career that melody is his guiding principal and this his instruments are the people such as Jon Deitmeyer, Rob Clearfierld, Zach Brock, eighth blackbird, Marquis Hill (trumpet), Russ Johnson, and others who he interpret his wondrous messages.  "festival" is a treat, three albums on one disc, 74+ minutes, and well worth your time and attention.

To find out more, go to

Here's the Jimmy Rowles' masterwork:

From 1960 to the early days of the 2000s, pianist and vocalist Shirley Horn (1934-2005) was a captivating member of the music scene.  She recorded a slew of albums for labels such as SteepleChase, Mercury, and ABC-Paramount but it was move to Verve Records in 1987 that really brought her international recognition.  With her trio of bassist Charles Ables and drummer Steve Williams, she was a favorite of so many lovers of melody and swing.  An impressive pianist, it was her voice that attracted so many fans.  She rarely wasted a syllable plus each word carried a lot of weight - bless her, she knew how to swing and Ms. Horn could carry one away with her ballad.

All of that is apparent on "Shirley Horn: Live at the 4 Queens", an album recorded for broadcast in the long-departed Las Vegas nightclub for radio station KNPR.  Now brought to our attention by George Klabin and Zev Feldman for Resonance Records in a package that includes the company's usual group of essays from fans , critics, and participants. The program, recorded a year after she signed with Verve, opens and close with instrumentals that show one just how much fun Ms. Horn has with Ables and Williams as well as how fine an instrumentalist she was. Randy Weston's "Hi-Fly" swings in on solid chords and sprightly brush work.  There's a touch of Ellington and "Fats" Waller in her splendid solo.  The other non-vocal track is Oscar Peterson's "Blues For Big Scotia"  and the Trio has a delightful time swinging this up-tempo blues.

The seven vocal tracks range from Jobim's entrancing "Meditation" and samba-with-a-blues kick version (and vice versa)  of "The Boy From Ipanema" to a lengthy take on Rodgers & Hart's "Isn't It Romantic" that opens up for all three musicians to solo.  Ms. Horn was well-known for her ballads ad the two on this album do not disappoint.  "Lover Man" moves quite slowly, reminding us that the song is a real blues lament.  There's a hint of Billie Holiday in her vocal but pay attention to how Ms. Horn's frames and comments on her vocal.  Lil and Louis Armstrong's "Just for a Thrill" is the other ballad in this set and the performance is indescribably delicious (and there's a touch Mr. Armstrong's signature "growl" at the onset of the song).  Words cannot do justice - you must hear it for yourself.

Do just that - listen to "Live at The 4 Queens".  Think of this polished musician, vocalist, and entertainer, a polished, professional, and talented person in the midst of what was known as "Sin City" at the time.  Wherever she was, Shirley Horn was herself, no one else, and we are all the luckier for the time she was here, for the many albums she recorded and all those fine gigs in clubs, concert halls, and auditoriums.

For more information, go to  Here's a good overview of Ms. Horn's career - go to

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Two Saxophonists, One Night in CT + Guitarist's Shining Hour

The Fall 2016 Concert Season at Firehouse 12 begins this Friday (9/16) with an appearance by the Ben Wendel Group.  The tenor saxophonist, bassoonist, and composer may be best known for his work with Kneebody; he appeared at the Elm City venue three times including in a duet with pianist Dan Tepfer, as part of Linda Oh's Sun Pictures group, and with his friends in Kneebody.  He's a busy musician and producer - I saw him recently subbing for Donny McCaslin in Maria Schneider's Orchestra and he fit in nicely with the ensemble.

Wendell is touring on the strength of his new album (just came out last week) "What We Bring", his debut on Motéma Music after three releases on SunnySide Records.  The recording features Gerald Clayton (piano), Joe Sanders (bass), Henry Cole (drums, and, on two tracks, Nate Wood (percussion).  Clayton and Sanders will be along for the New Haven gig while Wood will man the drum set.

What a delight the music is on the new album. Six originals and two fascinating covers, one of Miles Davis's "Solar" (which closes the recording) and a lovely reading of "Doubt" by the duo known as Wye Oak. From the opening moments of "Amian", the quartet (and, in this instance, Wood) are firing on all cylinders.  Sanders and Cole (who is a member of Miguel Zenon's Quartet) set a throbbing rhythm while Clayton rumbles underneath.  During Wendel's solo, the pianist is silent while the tenor flies above the fray.  If you play close attention, you can hear the overdubbed reeds as well as the percussive piano.  The melody of "Fall" rises over a funky beat.  Clayton and Wendel share the melody and, at the end of the verse, they each take a quick solo turn.  Clayton takes off into a rollicking, dancing, solo - when the tenor, one hears a section that is reminiscent of Keith Jarrett's European Quartet (Jan Garbarek, Jon Christiansen, and Palle Danielson) from the 1970s.  One hears that in the opening of "Spring", in the sprightly melody line and how Clayton jumps into his solo over the active brushes and fundamental bass.

There's a hint of Caribbean rhythm on "Song Song" while the melody dances atop the bells and bouncing bass lines (acoustic bass and Clayton's left hand).  "Soli" charges out of the gate thanks to the forceful drumming yet it's quite a pleasure to hear how the four musicians vary the dynamics.  "Austin" is a such a pretty piece, the articulated piano lines and the breathy tenor create an atmosphere of gentle contemplation. Clayton is the perfect foil throughout the record, his choice of notes and chords serve the songs so well and his solos are so smart.  Because Sanders and Cole are so adept at creating the foundation for ever song, both the pianist and saxophonist are free to explore.

The splendid interpretation of "Solar" brings the album to a close on a rousing rhythm.  Just listen to how Cole pushes the piece away from its hard-bop roots and into new territory, one marked by the influence of hip hop.  "What We Bring" is modern music, celebrating the tradition as it expands its territory.  Ben Wendel has an expansive mind, attracting musicians to his vision who enjoy taking the music in unexpected and often exciting directions.  This album is a delight from start to finish.

For more information, go to  

Here's the Group in action:

The Ben Wendel Group plays 2 sets at Firehouse 12 with the first at 8:30 p.m. and the second (separate admission) at 10 p.m.  For more information, call 203-785-0468 or go to

As luck would have it, alto saxophonist, composer, and the newly appointed Director of Jazz at Princeton University, Rudresh Mahanthappa brings his Bird Calls quintet to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme on Friday night, performing his first set at the same time as Ben Wendel will be playing in New Haven.  Joining him will be three of the four musicians who recorded the 2015 ACT CD that gives the band its name; they include pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist François Moutin, and the impressive young trumpeter Adam O'Farrill.  Replacing drummer Rudy Royston will be Dan Weiss so there will be no loss in the powerful drive that propelled the band on the album.  The music, based on the leader's study of the music of alto saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker (the subtitle of the CD is "The Charlie Parker Project"), does not sound like it comes from the 1940s or 50s but has a modern sensibility. Parker always created new songs off the chords of older ones (he loved "I Got Rhythm" for example) and Mahanthappa does the same.  It's a smart approach, filled with great melodies and strong solos - this is quite a band.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the first notes should resound at 8:30.  For tickets and more information, go to or call 860-434-0886.  To learn more about Professor Mahanthappa, go to

Here's a short look at the album:

On Saturday night, The Side Door welcomes back the Clifton Anderson Sextet with saxophonist Antoine Roney.  The trombonist, best known for his work with his uncle, saxophonist Sonny Rollins, has always maintained a career as a leader, moreso over the past several years since his former employer has stopped playing concerts.

The music starts at 8:30 p.m.  Check the website for more information.

As the CDs pile up on my desk, one keeps rising to the top.  "1954" (Tone Rogue Records) is the second album for guitarist and composer Ricardo Grilli.  Grilli, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil. moved to New York City to study at NYU in its Music and Performing Arts Department (after studying at the Berklee College of Music).  He graduated in 2013, the same year he issued his debut album, "If On A Winter's Night A Traveler" (self-issued).  He's worked with pianist Jon Cowherd, saxophonists Chris Cheek and Chris Potter, and drummer EJ Strickland.  He's a melodic streak a mile wide and it's very evident on both his albums.

The new album features an impressive band including Aaron Parks (piano), Joe Martin (bass) and Eric Harland (drums).  The guitarist has supplied with nine originals pieces and, while you may hear a hint of Pat Metheny and Kurt Rosenwinkel every now and then, these compositions are mature, thoughtful, and filled with wonderful melodies.  Several of the cuts sound as if there should be a vocalist.  Pieces such as "Rings" and the elegant samba "Breathe"  are telling a story, one that the listener can get wrapped in. Gentle chords and simple yet effective hand drumming leads in "Rings" - nothing is rushed, the melodic bass lines underpinning the melody played by the leader and Parks, whose phrases rise over the guitar lines and loops. "Cosmonauts" has a classical feel with Martin's sweet solo right at the beginning as the piano plays quiet figures that lead into the melody, one that is effortless and poetic in nature. Harland helps to push the melody forward with his active work while his cymbals splash easily during the piano solo.

There are also moments when the music takes a harder turn.  The opening track "Arcturus" (possibly named for the red-giant star in the Boötes constellation) has a strong 4/4 feel in Harland's drums, a pulsating drive that one might hear on a Jeff Beck track (not the guitar sound, though).  "Vertigo" features a solid drum attack yet still has a well-turned melody.  Harland keeps up the intensity during the piano solo but does not overpower Parks.  Grilli feeds off the the drummer's energy and creates a ringing solo, filled with powerful phrases that rise and fall and rise again.  There's a "prog-rock" feel to the drums on "Radiance", a tune on which the sustain of the guitar notes give the song a fuller sound.   The program closes with "Pulse", a rapid-fire tune that has a hard-bop feel, flying on the scrambling drums and "running" bass lines.  Parks digs into his solo, urged on the forceful rhythm section and chunky guitar chords.

Get a copy of "1954" (it's released in early October) and let the sounds and melodies wash over you.  Don't look for influences, just listen and you'll hear a confident musician playing with a rhythm section that supports, pushes, and gives its all.  Notice the melodies - the majority are truly intelligent, well-drawn, and not flashy guitar riffs that lead to long solos.  Ricardo Grilli, remember that name. Judging by his 2 albums, he's a fine composer, a smart player, an excellent arranger, and, chances are good, he'll be making great music for a long time.

For more information, go to