Sunday, July 4, 2021

"All Without Words: Variations inspired by Loren": A Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra by Justin Morell w John Daversa

ALL WITHOUT WORDS variations inspired by Loren : Justin Morell and John Daversa and Jazz Orchestra

A special album was released this past April and it is a thoughtful and moving piece of music that deserves your careful attention. All Without Words variations inspired by Loren is a brilliant representation of the nonverbal sounds that a father, Justin Morell, carefully listened to and recorded of his autistic son Loren. From what I have read, Loren has been unable to verbalize since the age of three and he is presently sixteen.  It was one of those continuing attempts that a parent of an autistic child may take to broaden their understanding of how to connect with a child who cannot communicate in traditional verbal ways.

Commissioned by the trumpet master and educator John Daversa who is the chair of studio and jazz music at University of Miami’s Frost School, Morell used his recordings of his son as the launching point to create this dynamic concerto for trumpet and orchestra.  Daversa encouraged Morrell to expand his musical palette on this project and the work incorporates the sounds of a full string orchestra, a jazz quartet, guest artists and an eight-piece choir to create his aural panorama as seen from his son’s eyes. Morell is an accomplished jazz guitarist as well as a formidable orchestrator, composer, and arranger. His previous work includes his well-received Concerto for Guitar and Jazz Orchestra featuring Adam Rogers which was released in early 2019. He is currently teaching as an assistant professor at Lebanon Valley College in Anniston, PA.

The album is a twelve-piece concerto that, independent of the source of its inspiration, stands on its own as a gorgeous and impressive piece of work. Morell skillfully expands on the melody that he was able to harvest from his son’s voicings. He uses the compliant and expressive trumpet lead voice of Daversa and the magnificently arranged orchestra to musically open a universe into his son’s experience. A universe that was previously not well understood. The pieces are representations of an autistic’s world and become more understandable to the uninitiated by their titles. Compositions include “Loren’s Theme” the melodic  basis of the entire work, “Searching but Never Finding,” “Two Steps Forward,” “Seeing for the First Time,” “The Urgency of Every Moment,” “Invisible Things,” “Walking in Our Own Footsteps- The Circle Game,” ”The Smallest Thing,” “A Day Is Forever-Like Any Other,” “Three Roads Diverged,” Learning Simply to Be,” and “It’s Enough to Be Here, Now.”  

Justin Morell ( photo credit unknown)

This album is a suite that should be listened to in its entirety. Some pieces may identify with you more than others. These are the impressions that were evoked by my repeated listening.

The opening piece “Loren’s Theme” is perhaps closest to Morell’s original source melodically and swells with anticipation. “Searching but Never Finding” has a tension that is accentuated by the group’s building ostinato theme under Daversa’s high register searching trumpet. “Two Steps Forward” utilizes an orchestral and rhythmic section cadence that simulates the upward motion of moving ahead in strides. Daversa’s horn leads you in successful steps.  “The Urgency of Every Moment” is an aural feast of excitement and anxiousness, brilliantly projected by Daversa’s anxious, shrill sounding horn. “Invisible Things” opens orchestrally in an ethereal way, like you are entering a cloud and are surrounded by celestial voices.  “Walking in Our Own Footsteps -The Circle Game” is like a beautiful and joyful waltz. “The Smallest Thing” is like a revelation. The orchestra swells, ebbing and flowing with gorgeous use of horns and strings as Daversa’s subdued trumpet seems to discover unknown things with a cautious curiosity. The orchestra edges him on with patient prodding that lays out a path. The music has moments of majesty and poignancy accentuated by warm and achingly moving string section work. The metronomic opening of “A Day Is Forever-Like Any Other” is paced by drummer David Chiverton’s time locked pace on the rim. The strings hum in synch as Daversa awakens to the repetition of another day like any other. This is familiar territory repeated like a loop of life that never seems to change but awaits to be revisited. “Three Roads Diverged” open joyfully with a repeating string section counterpointed by a probing, darting horn section part. The music is grand and again features Daversa’s lead trumpet navigating the journey laid out by the orchestra.

John Daversa (photo credit unknown)

Daversa is an extremely creative artist who uses his trumpet as an expressive voice that he has employed throughout with aplomb and sensitivity. Morell’s magical arrangements for orchestra is quite impressive. He evokes a cornucopia of textures, rhythmic interest and aural beauty. “Learning Simply to Be” is obviously a task that often takes most of us a lifetime of conscious practice if ever achievable.  One can only imagine how an autistic person, who may have more than their share of challenges, can master this simple but essential state of mind.  Morell’s music is nonetheless hopeful and swells with a joyful sense of possibility. The finale is titled “It’s Enough to Be Here, Now,” a proclamation of what we all should take to heart.

Morell’s composing and arranging on this suite is beautiful, thoughtful, and evocative of what it might be like to live like a person with autism. I am reminded of University of South Florida Professor Chuck Owen’s great work from 2013 River Runs: A Concert for Jazz Guitar, Saxophone and Orchestra, which was also an evocative work that used similar orchestration. That one created a brilliant aural painting of the composer’s impressions of rafting on a tumultuously running river. Likewise, Morell has been equally successful. With All Without Words variations inspired by Loren, Morell has been able to creatively breach the gap between the difficulties of autism and those of us who do not have to deal with this spectral disorder. He has used his son’s singing and soundings, otherwise alien to many of us, as a vehicle  to explore the various challenges and experiences that a person on the spectrum may face, and he has successfully used his music to promote understanding and for that we must all be thankful. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Hungarian Guitarist Gabor Lesko's : "Earthway"

Gabor Lesko: Earthway 
The progressive guitarist Gabor Lesko has released his eighth album as a leader titled Earthway on the Creativity’s Paradise Music label and it will certainly appeal to many listeners on multiple levels. 

Lesko is a resident of Milan in Italy and is of Hungarian descent. He was educated in classical guitar, piano, and orchestration in Europe and studied at Berklee for a year in 1988. Along the way, he also studied briefly with guitarists Joe Diorio, Robben Ford and Frank Gambale. He is especially known as an accomplished acoustic guitarist, and he has incorporated his formidable fingerpicking skills in a unique way to his facile fusion/prog rock/jazz work on electric guitar.

Earthway is a project that found its genesis in Lesko’s need to continue to create, even though the pandemic effects of Covid 19 made playing with others or for audiences almost impossible. Lesko decided to write or resurrect- the title composition was written twenty years ago- eight compositions and re-imagine them for this interesting and creative album. Along with his formidable skills at acoustic and electric guitars, as well as piano and electric keyboard, Lesko wanted to bring together some talented musicians to realize this project. He had a long-standing friendship with saxophonist Eric Marienthal, who was able to enlist drummers Dave Weck. Other musicians used here include drummers Marco Fuliano, Sophie Alloway, Eugenio Mori and Gergo Borlai and bassists Jimmy Haslip, Hadrien Feraud and Federico Malaman. The Milwaukee Brass Ensemble directed by Eric Marienthal was used on two cuts and vocalist Guido Block sang on one song. 

Amazingly, most of the work was done in multiple studios at a distance when personal contact was not practical.  My biggest beef with this fine album is the lack of liner notes or identification of the many fine musicians that play on the various songs. How can you rightfully recognize the artists who contribute?  I can only identify a few from reading some recent interviews that discuss the album and hint at who plays where. This can be a bit maddening.

Gabor Lesko ( photo credit unknown)

The titled track “Earthway” opens the album with Lesko using atmospheric electronics on synth, accompanied by Block’s vocal improvisations and a pulsing electric bass line, most likely by Hadrien Feraud. Dave Weckl’s propelling drums build the excitement. Lesko offers deft and emotionally driven solos on electric and acoustic guitar that just stir the pot with passion. This is an orchestrated song that uses Block’s ethereal vocals. Weckl’s drive, Lesko’s piano accompaniment, and fleet guitar work to take on a Metheny-like feel to this gem.  

The music always changes the mood with the fusion driven “Fiesta” utilizing a (maybe Jimmy Haslip) bassline and Tower of Power-like brass section with horns by the Milwaukie Brass that introduces a funky element to this song. Large elastic bass lines and a soaring, electronically enhanced soprano saxophone solo by Marienthal take flight. Lesko’s fusion inspired electric guitar solo is here reminds me a little of Lee Ritenour, erupting with power and fast arpeggios

The ever-ascending ballad “Still Here for You” has a prog-rock feel that features some of Lesko’s impressive electric guitar work. This artist can be a little chameleon-like in his playing. He has an uncanny ability to morph his sound as the purpose serves him. He is definitely not a one-trick pony.

On the ballad “Igor” we find Lesko going back to employing the piano and acoustic guitar. He is aware of pace and the diversity of tone that makes this album never predictable. This composition gorgeously states the melody and uses the variation of tones employing Marienthal’s soprano, Lesko's own beautiful piano, and  acoustic guitar to explore tone.

Taking you to another place, “Gently Obsessive” is probably the gentlest song on the album, with piano and acoustic guitar by Lesko on a folk-like waltz. But don’t be lulled, Lesko’s delicate fingerpicking yields halfway through this song to a scorching electric solo that raises the temperature by a few Centigrade before returning you back.

Never one to let the music languish, Lesko comes back with the funk/fusion composition “Push It.” The arrangement is by the young English musician Sophie Alloway who plays drums here. Bassist Feraud makes his bass punctuate the music with presence and Lesko plays piano, synthesizer and utilizes a string accompaniment to make this pop. Lesko’s guitar is never too far from the mix and here he expertly makes his presence known with his versatile finger-picked-like facility on his electric Schecter Custom shop Strat. He can make his instrument sear. Alloway’s drum finale is explosive and noteworthy.

“Mickey Mouse Loves Jazz” is a straight-ahead jazz that features Weckl pushing the pace and Marienthal adding a soprano solo. The bass work is anchored but not sure who is in this chair. Lesko’s guitar tone is a little different again and flows effortlessly, creating fluid arpeggios that simply bloom like flowers in a Spring morning.

The finale is the more atmospheric orchestrated piece “Air (Lost Key Part Two)” which uses dynamic synthesized background that sets the scene for Lesko’s guitar to take flight. The bass and piano play in sync and it has a cinematic sense to this music. Lesko has impressively orchestrated synthesized strings, horns, and piano to paint an aural landscape upon which he overlays his guitar solo figures that create this ambitious visual.

Master musician Gabor Lesko has been busy creating Earthway and he has produced a marvelous piece of music that shows his facility for composition, arranging, and a virtuosity that takes you in rewarding and unexpected directions. 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Canadian guitarist Lorne Lofsky: This Song is New

This Song is New Lorne Lofsky Modica Music 

The excitement about searching for and listening to new music is that if you explore enough, you can find out about some talented artists who have somehow flown under your radar. My recent discovery of the Canadian guitarist Lorne Lofsky is a case in point. A talented artist who prefers to eschew the use of electronic enhancements to modify his beautiful, melodic tone, he instead uses a precise, thoughtful exploratory approach and a warm, fluid attack that speaks volumes to his uncluttered expressivity. The now sixty-seven-year-old Lofsky is based in the cosmopolitan city of Toronto, where he is acknowledged as a sought-after educator at both York University and Humber College where he teaches.

Lorne Lofsky ( photo credit unnown)

Lofsky’s guitar sensitivity was employed by trumpeter Chet Baker and he toured with saxophonist Pat LaBarbera in 1983. Lofsky worked with guitar legend Ed Bickert from 1983-1991, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and he was part of pianist icon Oscar Peterson’s touring quartet from 1994-1996. Since the early 1980’s Lofsky and expressive saxophonist Kirk MacDonald worked as a local quartet and on his latest release This Song is New, they are joined by their intuitive rhythm section of bassist Kiernan Overs and drummer Barry Romberg. This recording is the first release of music from Lofsky as a leader in over twenty-plus years. After listening to this great album my only comment is what took him so long? 

The session was originally envisioned as a workout of new material that the guitarist had brought to try out in the studio with friends. Luckily the tape was running, and the decision was made to release the recording of this intimate and enjoyable session.

The music includes seven selections, five are Lofsty originals and two are the guitarist’s reimagining’s of standards like “Seven Steps,” a creative take on the Miles Davis/Victor Feldman composition from 1963 “Seven Steps to Heaven,” and Benny Golson’s “Stable Mates” which Lofsky dresses up as a Bossa.

“Seven Steps” is given a jaunty rhythmic treatment and provides the platform to display the intuitive simpatico that MacDonald and Lofsky have developed after years of working together. Bassist Overs and drummer Romberg go faithfully along keeping the pace. I especially like Romberg’s rumbling drum solo and Overs lingering last note at the end.

The gorgeous ballad “The Time Being,” is an ethereal piece that sidesteps the moniker of “straight-ahead” jazz and demonstrates the ever-exploring nature of the guitarist’s work for finding alternative ways of looking at music. He calls this “…a snapshot of where your at in your personal/musical life.” It is pensive, evocative of self-discovery and his guitar deceptively sounds at times more like a comping pianist.

“Live at the Apollo,” which is musically related to John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” finds a beautiful interaction between Overs and Lofsky, as Romberg percolates in the background. The guitarist offers a creative and silvery solo that teems with ideas and fluidity. MacDonald offers a Trane-inspired run on his horn that bristles, derivative but not imitative. Loving to create a play on words with his composition’s titles, Lofsky here refers to a juxtaposition of the famous Harlem Music venue The Apollo and Neil Armstrong’s famous “…step for mankind” trip from the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

 “This Song is New” uses an unnoticeable change in key through the melody statement which some may say was derived from another song “This Song is You,” but the guitarist assures any comparison to the two is totally coincidental. The slowly sauntering rhythm is carried by Overs buoyant basslines and Romberg’s shuffling brushwork. Lofsky and MacDonald are especially melodic on this and the group creates a warm feeling that wraps you like a quilt in front of a wood-burning fireplace; just cozy.

Following his penchant for creating pun-like titles, “An Alterior Motif” fits Lofsky’s tendency toward tongue-in-cheek. The music utilizes alternate harmonies throughout and there is a tension that builds up in MacDonald’s angular saxophone work and Lofsky’s subtle comping. This is one is a thinking man’s delve into unusual musical possibilities and deserves attention.

Perhaps the most interesting of the compositions is “Evans from Lennie,” which honors Tristano’s penchant for harmonic freedom and rhythmic variation. Lofsky was playing with the music of “Pennies from Heaven” when writing this one and was reminded of the work of Tristano acolytes Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz. Lofsky actually studied briefly with Konitz. The multiple influences here include Tristano's angular approach, MacDonald’s Konitz-like saxophone statement, and Lofsky’s melodic guitar work that spans the gap between bebop and modern jazz, much like Tristano and Bill Evans did with their piano work. This one takes some deep listening to fully appreciate the nuances that Lofsky and friends achieve here.

The finale is a Bossa treatment of Benny Golson’s standard “Stable Mates,” which is like seeing your lady out on the town in an unfamiliar but spectacular new outfit. You know her, but she looks and sounds so different. The rhythmic variation enlivens the well-traveled tune with some vibrancy. Lofsky says, playing in different time signatures has become more familiar over the years, and he employs the time changes effectively in his compositions. 

Take some time, listen to and absorb Lorne Lofsky's This Song is New and you will be rewarded by this beautiful and expertly executed session.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Taking the higher path "Upstream" by Alex Sipiagin


The Russian trumpeter Alex Sipiagin releases a new album titled Upstream, on May 7th and this fine offering is propulsive, modernly melodic, and superbly played.

Sipiagin contributes five impressive compositions for this record and his bandmates add three others along with one gorgeous Wayne Shorter ballad for good measure. Posi-Tone producer Marc Free continues to reveal an uncanny talent to identify distinctive players and match them up with like-minded musicians to great success. On Upstream, Sipiagin is joined by pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Rudy Royston and together these guys can elevate your heart rate with excitement, dazzle your mind with their taste or pull at your heartstrings with poignancy.  

Trumpet legend Randy Brecker said "...there is a full spectrum of many moods and emotions on this great album..." " of his best many excellent albums."

This album is simply a joy, and if you're like me, it will be on auto replay on your both headphones and your iPhone.

Alex Sipiagin is one of those first-call trumpet players that if you do not recognize his name, you have certainly heard his work before. Since his arrival from his native Russia in 1991, Sipiagin’s distinctive, precise and melodic sensibilities have been heard in the orchestra’s trumpet sections for Gil Evans, Swiss Composer George Gruntz’s Concert Jazz Band, bassist Dave Holland’s Octet and Big Bands, Michael Brecker’s award-winning Quindectet and Conrad Herwig’s Latin Side Orchestras. Alex has been a member of the great Mingus Big Band since 1996, and I last saw him in that great band almost two years ago at the Jazz Standard.

Despite being often seen as a first-call orchestra trumpet section voice, Alex has worked extensively as a leader, with seventeen other releases since 1998. He is a founding member of the group Opus 5, which includes Seamus Blake (s), David Kikoski (p), Boris Kozlov (b) and Donald Edwards(dr).

The title Upstream refers to Alex’s desire to maintain “intensity and desire” in his artistic life. Consequently, he likes to go against the current and swim upstream of the fray. This album is Sipiagin’s artistic representation of that never-ending search. 

The opener “Call” is the artist’s expression of an overflow of emotions that sometimes just happens as if by a force of nature outside of your control. An explosion of expression as Sipiagin’s trumpet is like a clarion call that bubbles with emotive and powerful bursts. The group responds with equal energy and well-controlled sympathetic kineticism. 

The pianist Art Hirahara’s beautiful “Echo Canyon” allows the listener’s elevated pulse to take a breath for a moment. The music has a more pensive feel, with Sipiagin using the warmer sound of Flugelhorn to great effect, playing out front of his bandmate’s sensitive accompaniment. Hirahara’s piano solo is splendid and Sipiagin reaches some gorgeous high register notes that just soar. 

Alex’s “Sight” has a switchback, complex pattern that is brilliantly executed by this formidable rhythm section. Hirahara plays on what sounds like a Rhodes piano and offers an airy solo. Sipiagin’s trumpet is focused, precise, and always melodic. Sipiagin’s compositions musically inspire and are advanced both harmonically and melodically and yet executed with aplomb and taste. 

Another of the leader’s compositions is the scorching “SipaTham” which is an acronym of the first letters of Alex and his wife Mellissa Tham’s last names. There is a volcanic eruption of expression in these songs. Like “Sight”, “SipaTham” were both created when artistic creativity was being quarantined from all normal outside world activity by the pandemic. Sipiagin successfully used the time to compose and it shows how his energy was being redirected into this amazing music. His bandmates undoubtedly felt that being able to tap into this music’s energy would be cathartic for them when this was finally recorded, and it shows. Alex’s playing is on fire, and the group is on a mission. Hirahara and Kozlov are in beautiful sync and Rudy Royston’s drum work is particularly propulsive and takes you to a new level of involvement. This one is special.

Boris Kozlov is a top-notch bassist who I have had the privilege of seeing play in several different settings. Here Alex takes Boris’ composition “Magic Square” on a fusion take that features Hirahara’s searching Rhodes, Kozlov’s electric bass, and Sipiagin’s tart muted trumpet. Royston’s drum work is spectacular and erupts with a flurry of syncopation that overflows like an overheated cauldron.

Sipiagin’s “Rain” is a sensitive ballad that was inspired by waiting for a loved one to be released from a hospital while it was relentlessly raining. It is these moments, being unprepared and being subjected to live’s uncertainties, that can provide inspiration. Sipiagin’s trumpet is played beautifully on this and you can feel his release of angst, the sincerity in his expression of thanks, and the mastery of his command that allows him to gorgeously express those feelings.

“Shura” is another Kozlov composition that is played in 6/8 as requested by Alex and was written in humor and named for the trumpeter by his nickname. I can’t get enough of Alex’s facility and clear tone. Many people play the trumpet well, but few with such authority and joy. Royston’s drums fill up the song copiously, especially at the coda, and Kozlov and Hirahara accompany brilliantly.

Wayne Shorter’s “Miyako” is a gorgeous ballad and Sipiagin’s flugelhorn simply needs to be heard to be appreciated. Kozlov’s bass solo is fluid and eloquent. Royston’s cymbal and tom work are impressive. 

The title song “Upstream” returns to the energy level previously offered in the  Sipiagin compositions covered earlier n this album. According to the artist’s notes, some of the melodies in “Upstream” were inspired by a Russian folk song. The folk song was in turn inspired by a painting by Ilya Repin titled “Barge Haulers on the Volga,” which depicts exhausted workers depleted by the strenuous work and the heat of the sun. 

"Upstream" is a quick-moving song featuring Sipiagin’s declarative trumpet, Hirahara’s melodic Rhodes, Kozlov’s probing bass, and Royston’s roiling drum work. The heat rises-the energy level is driven into overdrive activity-lead by Sipiagin’s piercing high register work. Royston’s drum solo is like a whirlwind of percussion inventiveness and worth the price of admission.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Infectious Groove: The Steve Band at Blue Note Tokyo

Steve Gadd Band at Blue Note Tokyo Dec 2019 BFM Jazz 621 834 676 2

There is no escaping the infectious shuffle that the now seventy-six-year young drummer Steve Gadd offers on the grooving opener “Where’s Earth” from his latest album Steve Gadd Band Live at Blue Note Toyko. What better groove masters can the legendary trap artisan employ to make some enjoyable music on a spectacular evening in Japan in Dec of 2019? The album is impeccably recorded for posterity by Junto Fukuhara of Blue Note Toyko and mixed effectively by Steve and his son Giancarlo.

The album features veteran bassist Jimmy Johnson, trumpet stylist Walt Fowler, and the multi-keyboard artist Kevin Hays joined with drummer Gadd. Add the intrepid David Spinoza, who more than ably fills the guitar slinger-seat usually occupied by the impressive Michael Landau who couldn't make this trip and you have this band. These guys are just loving the vibe, feeding off the audience’s respectful attention and reverential applause. In turn, these guys offer an impressive display of confidence, simpatico, skill, and poise. The group finds a line, skillfully plowed by a Gadd-created furrow. They plant seeds, germs of ideas, with the inherent DNA of one part creative improvisation, one part irresistible biorhythm.

Despite being the drummer’s gig, Gadd rarely showboats. On Spinozza’s sweet composition, “Doesn’t She Know By Now,” the groove is like poetry, a sustained slide between Johnson’s walking bass and Gadd’s cadenced traps, cowbell, and toms. The song features some searching flugelhorn work by Fowler and aerial-sounding Rhodes work by Hays, but it is Spinozza’s soulful guitar that seals the deal on this one. The man wears this song like a favorite, well-worn shirt. He has an inherent comfortable ability to find such soulful lines that just sweep you into his musical vortex. Here his guitar work floats over the fretboard with such unfettered loose style and impeccable taste.  

Spinozza’s studio work has been an integral part of many of the era’s most memorable songs. His guitar can be heard on albums released by Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, John Lennon, and James Taylor to name just a few. His short but potent solo on Dr. John’s 1973 hit “Right Place Wrong Time” is like a guidepost to notable funky guitar solos of the past nearly fifty years. It’s a pleasure to hear Spinozza’s distinctive fretwork add a special voice added to this great band’s core.

“Timpanogos” is a Fowler Latin/Caribbean-inspired composition with Johnson’s buoyant bass and Gadd’s percolating beat. Fowler’s trumpet solo is gorgeous and Spinozza’s guitar lines are precise and emotive. Kevin Hays offers a beautiful keyboard solo that just floats like a billowy cloud over a tranquil aquamarine bay. Pour yourself one of those cool umbrella drinks and sit back and enjoy.

There is always room for the blues on a set like this, especially with such responsive artists. “Hidden Drive” features Hays on some inspired honkytonk piano and Johnson’s fat bass lines anchor the strut on top of Gadd’s snare and hi-hat-driven timekeeping. Fowler’s muted trumpet adds a soulful inflection and Spinozza’s guitar is a master class on his expressive authority of this genre.

The surprising voice of Kevin Hays is the feature on his soulful “Walk with Me.” This is a get-down type song and Fowler’s clarion trumpet works is in lead here. Gadd’s beat is particularly out front on this, with his definitive ability to create a commanding groove driven by his imagination, utilizing his kit to all its possibilities.

On Jimmy Johnson’s “One Point Five,” the group interacts more in synchronous sections. Gadd offers a roiling drum solo that starts at the 3:12 min mark and just brims over with intention and inventiveness. Gadd's improvisation is spurred on by his bandmates accenting the breaks in the music’s paced breaks and leaving no doubt who is commander of this group.

One of Gadd’s favorite songs, "Way Back Home," is a composition by Wilton Felder, the saxophonist/bassist of the Crusaders. Gadd first played this song back in the ’70s with the supergroup Stuff. The drummer here utilizes brushes. He and Giancarlo purposefully highlight them and Johnson’s bass in the mix to get the feel the drummer is looking to feature. There is some intuitive conversational action between Spinozza’s twangy guitar and Johnson’s bass that is a treat and Hays adds some nice honkytonk piano work toward the coda.

Guitarist Michael Landau’s influence is never far from this band’s psyche and here they play his “Rat Race” to great effect. Johnson’s bass lines are so funky, and Gadd’s shuffle habit-forming, you can’t get enough. Hays is back on Rhodes and it is so rewarding to see how well-suited this talented pianist's playing enhances this group's sound. Fowler’s accents, here on mute, are always timely placed and expressive. Spinozza never fails to offer his own stamp here. He releases some exciting guitar work that just elevates the music to a new level of urgency. Put on some earphones and absorb this. Guitar creativity to be savored.

The set ends with Bob Dylan’s bluesy “Watching the River Flow” sung well and with real emotion by Hays. The group just goes with the shuffle here and it is a happy ending to a fabulous night of music. 

There is no denying that listening to these guys play such uplifting and grooving music on Steve Gadd Band At Blue Note Tokyo is a delight not to be missed and rest assured the trap master  Steve Gadd has not lost a scintilla of his groove. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Experience the fusion and groove of SHIJIN - Theory Of Everything

Shijin : Theory of Everything : Alter-Nativ Records

If you have a passion for interesting and challenging music that has elements of complexity that doesn’t totally lose you in its own labyrinthian constructions, then you owe yourself a listen to Shijin’s second and latest album Theory of Everything This international group has substantially the same personnel as the original group featured on their debut album SHIJIN released back in 2018. The saxophonist, originally Jacques Schwartz-Bart who was raised in Guadalupe, has been replaced on this album with the fortuitous addition, multi-horn artist Stephane Guillaume from France.

The group is captained by the electric bassist and composer Laurent David whose probing basslines set the bearing and heartbeat of the group. All the members are listed as co-composers of all the songs on this album. As record producer David says in his press release “All interactions, harmonies, rhythms, and melodies generated arise from the energy of the void!”  

Take the leadoff song “Mystery of the White Dwarf” which is introduced by the ostinato bass of David, the pulsing percussion of Belgium drummer Stephane Galland and supported brilliantly by the lead duo of Brazilian Malcolm Braff’s acoustic and electric piano work and the fluid saxophone musings of Guillaume. These guys meld their sounds together in sympathetic and adventurous ways. This is explorative fusion with an inherent groove.

“Unexpected Discovery” opens with a repeating bass line that creates the setting for a more ruminative adventure, an aural mind journey. David’s bass lines ring out like a traveler’s beacon in the darkness. Guillaume flawlessly doubles on tenor and flute. His flute lines dance like a nymph in a gauzy dream. Gallard’s cymbals shimmer and he offers a brief but effective syncopated drum accompaniment.

No matter how this group mixes up the melody they always anchor the music in some rhythmic continuum. On “Golden Age” Braff’s electronic keyboard adds an atmospheric element and David’s bass solo is a digging excursion over’s Gallard’s drum work.

The powerfully driven “Implosion” is a testament to how well these skilled musicians can come together as a potent vehicle for expression. Braff’s piano work explores with passion and creativity. Guillaume’s tenor wails and the rhythm section of David and Gallard is pure syncopated propulsion.

The group returns to a more reflective approach to “Time Travel” one of the more melodic compositions of the album and one of my favorites.  Braff’s piano solo work is given time to explore, and he delivers with a flourishing touch that sometimes morphs into a more percussive approach. The pace quickens and Guillaume offers a serpentine soprano solo that creates tonal variety and excitement here. He also adds the lower sonorous tones of a bass clarinet that he overdubs. This group knows how to skillfully use the aural tone palette available to them from these talented musicians and they can certainly build on a groove.

“Separating Circle” finds Gallard playing a duet with himself displaying a rhythmic sophistication that is a joy.  

“You Are Here” features the Rhodes and CP-70 keyboard work of Braff and Guillaume returning to an expanded work on tenor, skillfully overdubbing flute in parts.  

The final composition of the album is titled “Curved Wrinkles” and starts off with some tinkling piano notes, a funky bassline and a strong backbeat. Guillaume is on tenor and he and Braff trade lines as the rhythm section keep the pace.

If you enjoy pulsing, probing, and excellently played fusion based music then Shijin’s Theory of Everything is sure to please.

Monday, March 8, 2021

UMA ELMO: The Entrancing Music of Jakob Bro with Arve Hendricken and Jorge Rossy

Jacob Bro, Arve Hendriksen and Jorge Rossy:Uma Elmo ECM 2702

The Danish guitarist Jakob Bro has a new album that was released in February and titled Uma Elmo, on the ECM label. The unusual name is the union of the two middle names of his young sons- seven-year-old Dagny Uma and seven-month-old Oswald Elmo. The guitarist used precious downtime, between his newborn child’s naps, to write some of the compositions for this latest release. The beautiful ebb and flow of the music undoubtedly partially inspired by his intimate and homebound exposure to his young sons. Like most artists, he was unable to tour and perform due to restrictions created by the global pandemic. The unexpected opportunity to be more present for his two sons became creatively inspiring.  

I was peripherally acquainted with Jakob Bro’s playing, initially listening to his measured but effective work as a member of the late Polish trumpeter Thomaz Stanko’s group on his striking album Dark Eyes from 2009. With a little research and an enjoyable delve into more of Bro’s available music, I found the now forty-two-year-old guitarist’s work entrancing, thoughtful, and mesmerizingly beautiful.  Bro’s guitar work evokes ethereal elements reminiscent of John Abercrombie’s playing, crossed with the sustained, filigreed fingering that at times summons a comparison to Bill Frisell’s work. But to be fair Bro’s playing is more minimalist, not directly derivative of either, and all his own.

Jakob Bro has had an impressive career that has exposed him to a cadre of stellar musicians. One can only imagine how this exposure has had on the guitarist’s musical development.  The iconic drummer Paul Motian had a penchant for utilizing good guitarists. Besides enlisting Frisell and Kurt Rosenwinkel on different projects. Bro and Steve Cardenas became part of the late drummer’s second edition of his Electric Bebop Band from 2002 through 2005. In 2006 Jakob was part of Motian’s Garden of Eden, released in 2006, where Motian three-guitar battery including Bro, Cardenas, and Ben Monder along with saxophonists Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby and bassist Jerome Harris.

In 2009, Bro lead and provided the compositions for another date with Motian, Frisell, bassist Ben Street and featuring the alto legend Lee Konitz, titled Balladeering, which was part of a Trilogy project.  Bro’s compositions seemed to inspire a different element to Konitz’s improvising that the master enjoyed, and Konitz subsequently worked on two other Bro Trilogy releases, the drumless Time from 2011 and  December Song from 2013 which included pianist Craig Taborn.

The guitarist’s ECM debut album titled Gefion, was released in 2015 as a trio project with American bassist Thomas Morgan and the legendary Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen. He later released a second album Streams with bassist Morgan and the equally intuitive American drummer Joey Baron.  This trio was well-matched, toured extensively, and released another album Bay of Rainbows in 2018.  


This latest album Uma Elmo includes eight Bro compositions and again utilizes the trio format. This music taps the Spanish drummer Jorge Rossy, whose reputation with pianist Brad Mehldau’s famous trio precedes him, and the Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen, a new name to me.

If you can put a tag on Jakob Bro’s compositional tendencies, you might be inclined to listen to what Lee Konitz once said: “It’s not folk, it’s not jazz it’s not pop music, it’s not funk, it’s just Balladeering…”  To me, the one element that Konitz omitted was the mesmerizing beauty of Bro’s music. The guitarist was originally trained on the trumpet before switching to the guitar when he discovered Jimi Hendrix. His music can employ voice-like phrasings that may well have been influenced by his exposure to trumpet. His music can be very meditative, atmospheric, and beautiful.

Bro’s gossamer-like “Reconstructing a Dream” is a composition that the guitarist wrote and recorded in New York, now thirteen years ago, with Paul Motian, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Ben Street. It is a gossamer, wispy composition that floats in the air like a phantom, an elusive memory that you might have while trying to recall a dream.  Bro’s burbling, almost wind-chime evoking guitar work, sets the mood with a soft-spoken repeating sustain. Hendriksen’s emotive piccolo trumpet searches the depths of the mind with a probing, Pan-like, voice that hovers like a cloud, and Rossy’s intuitive percussive accompaniment is nothing short of poetic.

“To Stanko” is a dedication to the late, Polish trumpeter Thomaz Stanko, who Bro played and toured with for five years. Stanko’s ability to evoke so much with so little was his trademark approach and his influence on Bro is palpable. Here Rossy opens with a sparse rolling tom intro before Bro’s lyrical finger-picked melody is introduced. Henriksen’s trumpet is delicate and flowing, more meandering than Stanko’s sparse style, but played with remarkable sensitivity. His playing honors the memory of the master’s approach without mimicry.

While attending Berklee in 1998, Bro composed “Beautiful Song” as a task presented to him by his then-teacher, saxophonist George Garzone. The exercise required the guitarist to compose a song with a complicated atonal line. He must abandon specific time, rhythm, or melody and still manage to make a musical statement. Bro creates a gauzy, undefinable backdrop on which trumpeter Hendriksen and percussionist Rossy conduct an asymmetrical conversation, responding to each other’s improvisation.

“Morning Song” was originally an unnamed composition that the trio started playing every morning at the studio in Lugano. Producer Manfred Eichner took it upon himself to appropriately name it “Morning Song.”  The cd ends with a second variation of this slowly unfolding musical representation of being gently pulled into the new day. Bro has an unassuming presence in all his compositions. His approach is to set the barest of musical stages, an almost Stanko-like minimalism identifying his fretwork, establishing a mood and beauty. Bro utilizes some sparse electronics to create an unobtrusive palette that allows Hendriksen and Rossy to explore their musical relationships. The music allows interaction and inspires the trio's improvisational possibilities.  The music appears incredibly simple but the result is remarkably lush and moving.

As a pandemic, stay-home parent, Bro found himself having more time with his two young children and inevitably became engaged with housework inspiring his composition “Housework."  Hendriksen’s deep-toned trumpet has an almost saxophone-like flutter at the opening. Rossy’s precisely placed percussive accents respond, at times creating unexpected bird-like sounds that are hard to identify. Bro’s guitar opens with a lyrical line in contrast to his partners. The music has a busy feel that captures the mundane domestic chores represented here. There is a great deal of creative license used here by these musicians and to really appreciate it you have to emerge yourself in it with no expectations.

When Jakob Bro played with the veteran Lee Konitz, he noticed the altoist always had a curious mind. Despite his age, Konitz was incessantly trying to understand where a musician might get inspiration for a composition. One day while playing the album “Balladeering,” at his apartment, Lee noticed how a black pigeon landed on his windowsill and listened to the entire album before flying off.  Konitz, always the joker, called Bro up to let him know that he now understood that the guitarist’s music appealed to the black pigeons, and then hung up laughing. Bro thought it only apt to name a composition in honor of Konitz’s observation and thus “Music for Black Pigeons.”  The three musicians, who had never played before this session, were able to demonstrate an amazingly telepathic interaction. Bro’s ethereal guitar lines, Rossy’s sparse toms and shimmering cymbal work, and Hendriksen’s hauntingly searching trumpet lines meld like a sorcerer’s amalgam of continuity.

Composed almost twenty years ago, “Sound Flower” is revisited by this new trio and is a song that is dear to the guitarist's heart. Hendriksen’s piccolo trumpet is a new sound to me, and sometimes almost feels like you are hearing a flute. This artist has an eerie talent of capturing tonal moods that he needs for each moment, defying what you might otherwise expect to hear from a trumpet. Bro creates an electronic fabric of sound, a kinetic aura and Rossy is so tasteful you almost miss the subtly of his fine playing.

The last song is “Slaraffenland,” written by Bro in 1999, and originally performed on a European tour by the then young Bro as a member of Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band. The band included his luminary Motian and fellow guitarists, Monder, Rosenwinkel, and Cardenas, plus saxophonists Malaby and Cheek and bassist Harris.  It was a heady time for Bro, many talented voices were at hand. Here he revisits this composition and makes it more personal with the trio format. Bro opens the short piece with a few harmonic notes resonating with sustain to decay. Hendriksen’s delicate trumpet pierces the gauze and states the melody charmingly, almost hesitantly, but beautifully. Bro and Hendriksen match notes like brothers in sync before Bro’s filigreed finger work accompany the trumpeter’s solo to an apex.  There is deceivingly folk-like simplicity to this song that belies the depth and heartfelt feeling this song can evoke.

Jakob Bro's Uma Elmo will engage and entrance anyone who believes that music can be thoughtfully created and beautifully executed using nuance and passion.