Thursday, January 9, 2020

"Between Two Worlds": Jeff Denson, Romain Pilon and Brain Blade

Jeff Denson, Romain Pilon, and Brian Blade: Between Two Worlds Ridgeway Records
When you think of great jazz trios, you most likely recall piano trios, groups that encourage empathetic interaction and strive to function as one organically unified entity. Groups like Bill Evans trio with Scott La Faro and Paul Motian or Keith Jarrett's trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette come to mind.

 In Greek mythology, the  Cerberus  (Three-headed dog with snake tail) and the Chimera ( a combination of the lion, goat, and snake ) were three-headed creatures that incorporated the physical appearances of multiple animals, had three different brains, and at times displayed distinct personalities, but when faced with a single task, the creature would manage to sublimate the three distinct characters within itself and function as a unified being.

Much like the creatures of Greek mythology, in music, when you sublimate yourself as a musician to the unified purpose of the trio, three distinct voices can be alloyed into one coherent and organic voice without sacrificing the individual's identity. In the case of the trio of guitarist Romain Pilon,  double bassist Jeff Denson and drummer Brian Blades on their latest Between Two World, we are treated to three unique and creative musicians who are so in sync that they reach that magical space in music where the trio becomes almost mythical. The music includes ten compositions, five by Pilon and five by Denson.

Denson and Pilon have known each other for twenty years since they both attended Berklee back in the late nineteen-nineties. Drummer Blade first met Denson when the two played on Joel Harrison's Spirit House Band in 2017 and they too have remained connected. The album Between Two Worlds was the culmination of  Denson and Pilon trying to record together and enlisting the ubiquitous, in-demand drummer Blade for the project. It was a dream come true.

The album music is melodic and contemplative. Pilon composed "Sucre," "En Trois Temps," "Generation," "Madrid" and "Azur." Denson's originals on the album include "Song of a Solitary Crow," "Nostalgic Farewell," "Listen Up," "Lost and Found" and "Between Two Worlds."

"Sucré" opens the album up with Pilon's gentle and musical guitar, Denson's floating basslines and Blades precise drums. Pilon and Denson respond well to each other's moves and to Blades's subtle rhymic direction. It's especially rewarding to hear how Denson and Blade coordinate their lines seamlessly as Pilon solos. The music ebbs and flows with grace and fluidity.

"Song of a Solitary Crow" is a gorgeously pensive, cadenced sound that hints at the feel of a solitary outlook's perspective. Pilon's guitar is always sensitive, but he also modulates his sound with Frisell-like echo effects in one section. Denson's bass moves from contemplative to jaunty as Blades accents lightly, guiding without ever overpowering the music.

"En Trois Temps" ( In Three Phases) is a gentle waltz that features some of Denson's more buoyant bass solos. His double bass has a warm, articulate and rich sound that is quite appealing. Blade's drum choices are always unexpected, and he magnificently accompanies the music with subtle aplomb. Pilon's guitar at times recalls the gracious mellifluence of John Abercrombie.

"Génération" is a Pilon composition that features some of the album's most free-flowing three-way communication. It shifts timing and creates sections that seem like the music is being spontaneously improvised, three aligned minds leading each other, discovering new directions as they emerge. Pilon's guitar lines are the most adventurous here.

As the title sounds, "Nostalgic Farewell" is a romantic melody that beautifully projects one of life's poignant memories of saying goodbye to a loved one. Denson's bass solo is particularly moving and Blade's accompaniment on gentle brushes is as sensitive as the moving melody deserves.

"Listen Up" opens with a roiling Blade's drum solo that sets the tone for this shifting, jagged composition. The music moves very freely and is the most abstract of the album. Denson's bass punctuates his notes, as Pilon runs up and down the fretboard. Blade keeps the frenetic tune propelled brilliantly and the trio responds to rapid changing directions in time. This one is impressive.

"Madrid" returns the group to a more melodic path. I love the interplay here. Denson's bass is large and exuberant. Pilon's guitar lays out the melodic direction. Blade's drum work is so subtle and fine as to almost be gossamer-like.

"Lost and Found," a Denson composition, has a jaunty pace that features Denson's astute walking double bass as Pilon's guitar lays out the melody and Blade keeps the locomotion silkily moving forward. Denson's creative bass solo is nicely accompanied by Pilon's comping chord work and Blades restrained trap work. This one grabs your mind.

Denson's title cut "Between Two Worlds" is an atmospheric composition that features Denson's bowed bass work that captures mystery and yearning. Pilon and Blade leave the spotlight on  Denon here and rightfully so, but Pilon's deft guitar lines and Blade's splendid drum work here makes this one an enchanting voyage between two worlds.

"Azur" is the closing, bluesy composition on this surprising album. Pilon's guitar is so melodic and he always plays with confidence and panache. Denson's bass is stedfastly melodic and rhythmic, a lighthouse whose beaming light can fluidly traverse across the atmosphere without ever losing sight of where he grounded. Brian Blade and his uncanny ability to musically create the perfect percussive accompaniment is just a delight,

As Jeff Denson has stated "Playing music is a deeply spiritual experience for me-it is sacred. When it is pure it can be like traveling without moving-a gateway to another world of reality."  
We could all use some spiritual experiences. Give this record a chance and maybe you, like me, will be transported into another and better world of reality.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Beguiling Sound of Rozina Pátkai : Taladim

Rozina Patkai Taladim (self-produced)
There is a Hungarian vocalist, Rozina Patkai, that I recently listened to for the first time on her latest release Taladimand I must admit that I found her voice gentle and beguiling. Patkai has been an educator and you can see her fascination with moving poetry on this recording.

Patkai is supported by a creative and talented group that includes tenor and soprano artist Janos Aved, who also plays piano; acoustic guitarist Istan Toth Jr.; cellist Ditta Rohmann; Andras Des, who provides acoustic and electronic percussion and her husband Marton Fenyvesi, who plays synth bass and creatively arranges the music.

The rhythms employed are an amalgam of progressive styles that include acoustic folk music, electronic accents, avant-garde chamber music and at times is strongly influenced by a lilting Brazilian Bossa style and don't forget the Hungarian folk music tradition.

Toth's delicate guitar, the airy McCandless-inspired soprano of Aved, an achingly moving cello work by Rohmann, and the deft rhythmic use of percussion and electronic augmentation by Des and Fenyvesi create clever and modern music that incorporates literary poetry. The music comes alive with Patkai's voice and delivery. The album has thirteen songs, poems that include Patakai, Fenyvesi's and other band mates musical transformations. Poets that offer inspiration for this music include T.S. Eliot, William Blake, Jane Tyson Clement, Gyula Juhasz, Fernando Pessoa. Federico Gracia Lorca and Caetano Veloso.

Rozina Patkai (photo credit-unknown)
Some of the highlights that capture my attention include Lorelei, Sea Song, Poe-Me As Maos Nos Ombros and the delightful Joao Donato's A Ra. The music, at times,  creates a Middle Eastern-like drone that can be mesmerizing. Patkai's voice, especially on a beautiful ballad like Juhasz's Szerelem, which she sings in Hungarian, is so movingly sung that it can be a rapturous experience.

For anyone looking for a new experience in cross-genre music that is sure to move, seize you and take you prisoner than Rozina Patkai's Taladim will not disappoint.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Notes on Jazz Best of Jazz 2019

The year is almost over and Notes on Jazz has traditionally reflected on the plethora of jazz that we have been privileged to listen to, and in most cases enjoyed, from so many talented musicians. Many have been expanding the genre, pushing the envelope, being adventurous. Others have simply honed their practice, refined their focus, played with diverse bandmates to challenge and trailblazed their own paths, often to our delight. Every year there is always something spectacular to enjoy and this year's crop of splendid music was no different.

My choices are my own personal preferences. If I have somehow left out one of your favorite artists, or missed fantastic artists whose work was missed by my list, that's just the way the chips fall.  Chances are I just never got the opportunity to listen to every deserving musician's work that was released this year.

My selections for this year are listed in no particular order below- taste is always a subjective thing-I have included a video of the music so you can decide what suits your own taste. I have included three main categories: Best Jazz Vocal Album, Best Latin Jazz Album, Best Jazz Albums, Best Reissue or Historical Jazz Albums and Thirty other really great jazz albums that deserve to be mentioned.

One last request, in the spirit of this giving season, all these musicians and the many not here listed, contribute a great deal of love and enjoyment to the listening world. We are all very fortunate to have such a talented, vibrant and creative art form in this country. It is a genre that is always reinventing the music and it is magical. If we all would like to see this music continue healthily, we all have to support these artists by listening, purchasing their music and attending their performances. Without our financial support, a musician's life is often financially impossible to sustain without great difficulty. Let's all do our part to support the arts so they can continue to enrich our lives.

I have linked each of the albums listed to locations where these worthwhile albums can be purchased or streamed.

Happy holidays!

My Choice for Best Jazz Vocal Album 2019 : 
Sara Gazarek: Thirsty Ghost ( Self Produced)

My Choice for Best Latin Jazz Album 2019:

Miguel Zenon: Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera ( Miel Music)

My Choices for Best Jazz Albums for 2019 (listed in no particular order)

Bob Sheppard:  The Fine Line (Challenge Records) 

Randy Brecker and the NDR Big Band: Rocks  (Jazz Line Distribution)

Mike Holober and the Gotham Big Band: Hiding Out (Zoho Music)

Scott Robinson: Tenormore 
(Arbors Records)

Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan: Epistrophy ( Live at the Village Vanguard 2016) 

The Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul  
(Okeh/Sony Masterworks)

Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain Chris Potter: Good Hope (Edition Records)

Ethan Iverson Quartet with Tom Harrell: Common Practice  (ECM)

Ahmad Jamal: Ballades (Jazz Village/Jazzbook Records) 

Amina Figarova: Road to the Sun 
(BA Records)

My Three Top Choices for Best of Jazz Reissues or Historical Issues in 2019: 

Eric Dolphy Musical Prophet (Resonance Records)

Louis Armstrong: Louis Armstrong: Live in Europe  (Dot Time Records)

 Johnny Griffin & Eddie Lockjaw Davis: "Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis Quintet: Ow! Live at the Penthouse (Reel to Reel)

Here are thirty other worthy jazz albums that surely cover as diverse a selection of tastes as possible and should be worth your time discovering and enjoying for many years to come. Enjoy 

George Garzone, Peter Erskine, Alan Pasqua, Darek Oles: 3 Nights in LA (Fuzzy Music)

Linda May Han Oh: Aventurine (Biophilia Records)

Ben Monder: Day After Day: (Sunnyside Records)

Denny Zeitlin: Remembering Miles (Sunnyside Records)  

Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: The Hope I Hold (Greenleaf Music)

Mark Wingfield & Gary Husband: Tor and Vale (Moonjune Records)

Dave Bass w/ Ted Nash: No Boundaries (Whaling City Sound)

Jim Robitaille Group: A View from Within: (Whaling City Sound)

Amendola & Blades: Everybody Wins (Royal Potato Family)

Alicia Olatuja: Intuition: Songs from the Minds of Women: (Resilience Music)

Peter Hand Big Band: Hand Painted Dream: (Savant Records)

Henrik Meurkens: Cobb's Pocket (In + Out Records)

Lynne Arriale Trio: Give US These Days:(Challenge Records)

Marc Copland Trio: And I Love Her: (Illusions/Mirage) 

Helen Riley: Personal Optimism: (Mack Avenue Records)

Mark Winkler: I'm with You: Mark Winkler Sings Bobby Troupe (Cafe Pacific Records)

Typical Sisters: Hungry Ghost: (Outside Music)

Michael Dease: Never More Here: (Positone Records)

Roberto Magris Sextet Featuring Ira Sullivan: Sun Stone (JMood Records)

Laura Antonioli: The Constant Passage of Time ( Origins Music)

Robben Ford & Bill Evans: The Sun Room (EAR Music)

Yotam Silberstein: Future Memories: (Jazz& People)

Mark Turner: Mark Turner meets Gary Foster: (ECM)

Dave Wilson Quartet: One Night at Chris' : (Dave Wilson Music)

Dave Stryker: Dave Stryker: Eight Track III (Strikezone Records)

Nicholas Meir World Group: Peaceful (MGP Records)

Adam Larson Band: Listen With Your Eyes ( Ropeadope Records)

Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow, Bobby Previte; You Don't Know The Life: (Rare Noise Records)

Andres Vial, Derzon Douglas, Eric McPherson: Gang of Three (Chromatic Audio)

Friday, November 29, 2019

"Hand Painted Dream": Music from guitarist/arranger Peter Hand and his Big Band

Hand Painted Dream: The Peter Hand Big Band Savant SCD 2175

The guitarist Peter Hand has once again assembled an impressive group of East coast session musicians for his recently released new big band album HandPainted Dream, and the music is tastefully orchestrated, skillfully selected and marvelously played.

Peter Hand, an eloquent jazz guitarist with a mellow tone, was immersed in the blues early in his musical career. He cut his teeth playing guitar with bassist Jerome Arnold, a onetime sideman with blues legends like Howlin’ Wolf and Paul Butterfield. While attending Binghamton University for pre-med studies, Hand began taking note of the brass sections that added a distinctive power to the music of great performers like James Brown. 

Horn-driven music fascinated the guitarist and he wanted to understand the secrets of writing for bigger bands. He attended courses at City College and the Manhattan School of Music, concentrating on skills like counterpoint, music notation, harmony, and orchestration. Hand got the jazz bug and eventually pursued courses in jazz, particularly big band music, and attended Berklee in Boston where he absorbed big band composing and arranging. After a two-year stint playing music and living in the Caribbean, Hand returned to New York and concentrated his work as a sideman and arranger for veteran jazz artists that included George Coleman, Carmen Lundy, Lee Konitz, Ralph Lalama and Victor Jones.

In 2002 Hand helped co-found the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, a vibrant big band made up of some of east coast jazz's premier horn and reed players. The band has remained vibrant but Hand left there after just a year. In 2005, Hand formed his own big band and by 2009 released a well-received Savant cd featuring tenor man Houston Person -The Peter Hand Big Band Featuring Houston Person – The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute to Harold Arlen. In 2014 Hand and his sixteen-piece big band released another acclaimed cd Out of Hand.

Peter Hand ( photo credit unknown)
On this latest release, Hand Painted Dream, Hand and his big band play nine compositions, four of which he composed, all of which he arranged

The cd opens with a flurry of traps by drummer Steve Johns. There is a feeling here that evokes the explosive entrances made famous by big band drummers like Gene Krupa, Sonny Greer or Buddy Rich. In many ways, Hand's big band arrangements have one foot into the history of big band music and one foot moving the genre to more modern ground. You hear the pulsing bass of Harvie S in the background before Hand has his horns erupt in delightfully arranged unison. Potent solos by altoist Bruce Williams, trumpet master Valery Ponomarev, and pianist James Weidman all add to this Charlie Parker cooker “Yardbird Suite.” The guitarist matches notes with the well-meshed horn section before adding a melodic, smoothly executed solo of his own near the coda.

Hand's breezy “Island of the Heart” features a tenor solo by multi-reedist Don Braden and an expressive trumpet solo by John Bailey. Hand evokes a Caribbean sound that lulls you into kicking back, grabbing a tropical drink with one of those umbrellas floating above the rim and enjoying this sublime music. 

Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now” is a beautiful, slow tempo ballad, accented by Hand’s sensitive guitar work at the opening. The song features the fetching voice of Camille Thurman and the clear, high-register tone of trumpeter Eddie Allen. Hand’s arrangement is lush and soulful, and his accompaniment with Thurman's voice is precise and understated. Thurman has a powerful and impressive voice, as she easily modulates through the lyrics with agility and grace. Hand’s sensitive guitar solo is warmly melodic.

Randy Weston’s “Berkshire Blues” has a casual swing that features Don Braden’s gentle flute, a rousing trombone solo James Burton III and veteran Ralph Lalama's forceful tenor solo. Hand has proven his ability to arrange skillfully for his musicians. He chooses specific charts that can accentuate their talents and masterfully composes sectional charts that allow his band to artfully build on a theme.

Another Caribbean inspired tune composed by Hand is titled “Calypsiana.” It has a swaying feel that was inspired by Hand’s stay in St. Thomas. On this piece, vocalist Thurman plays a boisterous tenor solo and Hand stirs things up with his own brand of island breeze guitar, before Johns adds a roiling drum feature.

The titled composition “Hand Painted Dream,” is a gorgeous miniature gem. The arranger utilizes a romantic string arrangement- played by the Secret String Quartet (Cornelius Dufallo, violin; Lev Zhurbin, viola; Yves Dharamraj, Cello; violinist Jennifer Choi) conducted by Joshua Shneider- giving the piece a distinctive, modern, chamber crossover sound. The strings accentuate the complex lines, as Hand has deftly combined them with Weidman’s deft piano and his woodwind and brass sections. The song features a poignant tenor saxophone solo by Braden and Hand’s multi-layered arrangement even includes a noted, albeit brief, trombone solo (maybe John Mosca) toward the end. 

Hand's composition, the Brazilian inspired “Brazilian Emerald,” features a serpentine solo by Allen on trumpet, Jay Brandford provides a nice alto solo and an understated guitar solo by the composer. 

Hand's other composition, “Once Upon A Time,” has a more lilting sound that seems to be grounded in big bands sounds heard from an era past. The band's section playing is beautiful and lush. The group is skillfully arranged, magically melding sixteen pieces into a uniform voice. John Bailey’s flugelhorn and trumpet work is notable. Hand’s seasoned tone is steady, warm and inviting and these traits always seem to somehow be absorbed into the sound of his band. 

The finale is a minor blues medley of John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C. / Cousin Mary,” both songs from Coltrane’s seminal album Giant Steps. Like the opening Parker song “Yardbird Suite,” this well-liked classic is invigorating music that gets the band members juices flowing. The drive is established by Harvie S's throbbing bass line and the entire band plays the melody line in unison and in harmony. In a series of consecutive solos we here how each player inspires the following soloist. The band features a deep-throated, raspy and robust solo by baritone saxophonist Kenny Berger. Bruce Williams follows with an angular, boppish alto solo that wails. Valery Ponomarev claims his own territory with an authoritative and pointed trumpet solo before tenor master Ralph Lalama raises the stakes as he makes his own definitive statement on the theme. Peter Hand’s guitar is understated and warm and the stalwart drummer Steve Johns adds a little heat with a short but succinct rhythmic explosion near the closing. Good stuff.