Friday, September 15, 2017

The Hazelrigg Brothers Take on the New American Songbook: "Songs We Like"

The Hazelrigg Brothers Songs We Like

For those who think that the Great American songbook is limited to the works of Porter, Berlin, Gershwin, Kahn, et al, then they are stuck in a time warp. While there is no denying the durability and constant source of inspiration that canon has produced, many of us grew up with our own Great American songbook, forged from the music and lyrics of rock, soul and pop music of the sixties and seventies. It is no surprise that contemporary jazz musicians are finding many of these gems, songs that still hold an appeal to younger audiences born years after they were first played, to be a news source of inspiration and interesting vehicles for improvisation. Songs We Like, a recent release from the Hazelrigg Brothers, is a case in point.

Following in the footsteps of artists like the Bad Plus or Brad Mehldau, and more ambitious outings like John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet, pianist George Hazelrigg and brother bassist Geoff Hazelrigg along with the intuitive drummer John O’Reilly, Jr. have offered a thoroughly entertaining set of nine contemporary readings of some songs that seem to lend themselves naturally to creative interpretation in the jazz trio format.  

The compositions are as interesting as they are challenging. People who know the music well, often come to the music with expectations of how it should sound, but for the most part the Hazelriggs have managed to re-imagine these songs with enough fealty to the originals to satisfy even the most rabid purist. I found myself gleefully singing along with many of the tracks.

The songs run the gamut; chamber-rock from Jethro Tull, electric blues from Jimi Hendrix, Reggae-tinged pop from Men at Work, rock-jazz fusion from Steely Dan and contemporary pop from Sting; two from hard-metal rockers Led Zeppelin and one each from the classical composers Bela Bartok and Johann Fischer, makeup the slections.
The repertoire is fresh and played in an inspired impressionistic way. Jethro Tull’s “Living in The Past,” with Geoff’s dancing bass line introduction peppered with some rhythmically delicious tom work by drummer Reilly leads the way.

The Australian group “Men at Work,” whose reggae-inspired beats captivated the airways in the seventies, is represented by lead singer Colin Hay’s “Catch a Star.” The trio captures a stripped-down feel of the song, while carrying on a dynamic conversation amongst themselves. The only thing that is missing is the Australian’s haunting voice.

The music of Jimi Hendrix, long an inspiration to generations, is represented here by the psychedelia inspired “If 6 Was 9.” Who could expect to top the guitarist’s electronic wizardry or the sheer power of his dazzling virtuosity, but the Hazelrigg’s wisely do not attempt either. They strip the repeating bass line to its rhythmic, heart-throbbing core. The song is rendered as the three-chord blues it is, with some improvisational forays: an interesting off-to-the-races break, a featured drum solo of restrained polyphony and some weaving bass lines make for this interesting take on a Hendrix classic.

Bartok’s magisterial “Evening in the Country” features some animated, articulate pianowork by brother George, shimmering cymbal work by the understated Reilly and the buoyant bass of brother Geoff.

The piano opening on Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone,” is immediately recognizable and although the music cannot be expected to be as explosive as the metallic, heavy guitar-drum-centric original, the trio still pulls it off admirably with some excellent piano work by brother George building to a satisfying climax in a rumble of sound and fury.

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s music, the music of Steely Dan, is perhaps the music most easily adaptable to the jazz piano trio format and here on their “King of the World” it fits these guys like a glove. Isn’t this the way it was always played?

The trio returns to the classical realm with Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer’s “Passacaglia, from the Daughters of Zeus, Urania,” a pastoral composition that somehow gives the brothers a chance to show how classics can be modernly molded to fit the program without seeming at all out of place.

Sting’s “Spirit in the Material World” is played allegro with bassist Geoff adding some walking bass lines and some brief Arco accents.  O’Reilly has a sixth sense as to what works when these two intuitive brothers build a head of steam.

The set ends with another Led Zeppelin composition, “What Is and What Should Never Be.”  The trio treating this as a slow shuffle.

Songs We Like is an engaging recording that never strays too far away from the basic melodies that made these songs from the sixties and seventies so likeable and memorable in the first place. What the Hazelrigg Brothers and Mr. O’Reilly have shown is that they can also be the springboard for some inventive re-interpretation.   

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Matt Wilson's "Honey and Salt" : Music to the Poetry of Carl Sandburg

Matt Wilson's Honey and Salt

On his latest release Honey and Salt, the ebullient drummer Matt Wilson has created a suite of music that invigorates the bare, stoic verse of one of America’s great poets, Carl Sandburg. Wilson spells out his connections to this scribe in the liner notes; both are Mid-Westerners, both are of Swedish descent and Wilson was born just one town over from Sandburg’s birthplace of Galesburg, Illinois.  Besides the geographic ties, the eclectic drummer had a distant familial relationship with the poet that goes back three generations. Wilson has been fascinated by the poet’s work since his college days when he did a term paper on Sandburg and surprisingly discovered the man’s interest in jazz music.

But merging two artforms is always a tricky proposition. While jazz and poetry have always shared common ground, mixing the two can be problematic. Those wanting to hear the unvarnished words of the poet might be off-put by the intrusion of a musician’s interpretation; those more interested in the musician’s vision may miss the message within the poem.

Wilson has managed to walk the tightrope here. With Honey and Salt  he has created a masterful suite of music that both honors the verity within the poetry of Sandburg and at the same time enriches the experience of hearing the verse by pairing it with his wonderfully complimentary music.  

The Cd starts with Sandburg’s tome about a man eating a bowl of soup. The sixty-three-word poem, “Soup,” opens with a slow tempo blues beat. The unassuming voice of guitarist Dawn Thomson sings or speaks the poet’s words while tracing Wilson’s undulating melody-line. Wilson and bassist Martin Wind create an easy shuffle, with Wilson occasionally injecting a hint of frivolity into his playing, by adding  some kick-boom-bang accents at key points. Cornetist Ron Miles and multi-reed player Jeff Lederer weave a serpentine line in unison throughout, as Thomson plays some ragged guitar lines over the top.

As usual, Wilson’s energetic playing is the driving force behind the whole album. The man always exudes a sense of vibrancy and joy in every beat of his drum and every splash of his cymbal. He brings a range of emotions to all eighteen of the poems, each made musical here. The poems are all culled from “The Complete Works of Carl Sandburg” published in 1970, and the trap master counts two signed first edition copies of the book as prized possessions.

Wilson enlisted a coterie of jazzers to participate in this project, interestingly not as musicians, but as readers. Bassist Christian McBride bellows a reading of Sandburg’s “Anywhere and Everywhere People.”

I especially enjoyed Wilson’s sensuous music on “Night Stuff” which featured the deep-toned bass clarinet of Lederer and the Grace Slick-sounding voice of Thomson.

Guitarist John Scofield gives a coy reading to the playful “We Must Be Polite” which Wilson propels with a New Orleans’-style shuffle and features a honking, squeaking solo by the versatile Lederer. 

“Prairie Barn” is read by Lederer, which Wilson treats like the piece of Americana it is, with its solitary, softly played guitar lines strummed over the drummer’s percussive wind chime effect.

The comedic actor Jack Black, an honorary jazzer by virtue of his marriage to the late bassist Charlie Haden’s daughter, reads on “Snatch of Sliphorn Jazz,. The locked interplay between the soprano saxophone of Lederer and Wilson’s multi-timbered traps and toms are an album highlight.

“Paper II” is the poem Wilson treats in the most straight-ahead jazz manner. Guitarist Bill Frisell, somewhat tentatively without his gutisr in hand, reads the verse over Thomson’s comping guitar chords. Lederer and Miles offer a distinctively Blue Note-era sounding frontline treatment on this gritty blues. Wind’s walking bass line is like a bulkhead of stability and Lederer pours it on in an impressive display of raw tenor inventiveness.

The raspy baritone of bassist Rufus Reid is heard reading the lines of Sandburg’s “Trafficker,” a grim vision of a rather desperately unsuccessful woman of the night. Wilson uses his wispy brushes as Wind walks and a muted Miles sets the seamy night scene.

The short poem “Paper I” features the voice of saxophonist Joe Lovano, once again over the comping guitar chords of Thomson. Lovano’s  cool cadence and slick inflections lend a perfect hipster vibe to the verse “Are you a writer or a wrapper?”  One could almost substitute the word “rapper” for the poem’s “wrapper” and for modern day listeners there would be a whole new meaning.

Besides Wilson’s own reading of “As Wave Follows Wave,” the last reader is the composer Carla Bley, enlisted to read “To Know Silence Perfectly.” As a composer, Bley knows the effectiveness that silence-the space between the notes- can play in creating an effective musical statement. Wilson chooses his sparse sounds judiciously; Lederer on what sounds like a bass clarinet, Miles' nuanced open cornet, Thomson’s strummed guitar and Wind’s acoustic bass notes in an almost chamber-like arrangement. A perfectly complimentary musical message that coincide with the poet’s prescient words."To know silence perfectly is to know music."

The album ends with the joyous “Daybreak.” In Wilson’s typically upbeat manner, the drummer plays another New Orleans’ inspired shuffle, this one a Jambalaya of intertwining clarinet and cornet lines dancing to the infectious rhythm of a New Orleans march, as Thompson and backing vocals dance off into dawn.

Wilson’s lifelong admiration for the poet Carl Sandburg has now been codified with Honey And Salt, a genuine musical expression of appreciation. Carl Sandburg is an American treasure. With Honey and Salt Wilson has created a great new way for us to re-discover the poetry of this master of American verse. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Twenty-five + Great Jazz/Blues Organ Performances

The Hammond B3 is a beast of an instrument and the jazz-organ-trio format is a staple of the jazz idiom.

Tracings its origins back to a wind driven instrument-compressed air being pushed through multiple length tubes to sound various notes-the pipe-organ made its way into western religious ceremonies in the eighth century when Charlemagne installed one in his chapel in Aachen. For centuries since, the organ has been the musical instrument of choice in churches, temples and synagogues.
Laurens Hammond

Then came along came Laurens Hammond. Hammond was a mechanical engineer and he developed a patent in 1934 for an “electrical musical instrument” that was based on using tonewheel generators to produce sounds. His goal was to offer a cheaper alternative to the pipe organ for churches and places of worship and he succeeded with the introduction of his Hammond model A console organ in 1935. The low cost, much more compact electric organ was wildly successful and by the end of the nineteen thirty’s Hammond was producing two hundred of these organs a month. It wasn’t until 1954 that the B3, the prominent instrument used in jazz organ trios, was introduced by Hammond. The B3 added an additional percussive harmonic feature and its popularity with jazz and progressive rock artists was legendary, especially when paired with the rotating Leslie speaker system which produced a warbling, tremelo sound. The B3 model was modified in 1967 and has gone through numerous electronic iterations including a new XB3 that was made by Hammond-Suzuki and purportedly faithfully simulates the original tonewheel sound through electronics, but the original tonewheel generator B3 had a distinctive sound and feel and is the model most prized by aficionados.
The Hammon B3 Organ

It is speculation, but I suspect  that it wasn’t until organists, in predominantly Black churches, found themselves trying to musically simulate some of the fiery rhetoric and gospel sway of their preachers, that the instrument began to take on its powerfully soulful, danceable feel. The B3 would eventually be brought out of the church and into secular world and become a staple of the jazz tradition.

This list of twenty-five + great jazz/blues organ performances is an attempt to honor and celebrate some of the beautiful, soulful, swinging, adventurous music that has been made using the Hammond B3 organ. It is chronological staring with Waller and ending with Charette, but it easily could have been more inclusive given enough space and time. Some artists deserve more than one feature because of their exceptional body of work ( Jimmy Smith and Larry Young each have two selections), but space didn’t allow for additional selections. There will undoubtedly be some musicians who are missing entirely from the list and deserve to be included and for that I apologize.This is a very subjective list and lists by their nature are stupid ( as listmaker and jazz pianist/blogger Ethan Iverson has said), but somehow we are compelled to compile them, if only to ellicit some kind of response. and hopefully subsequent discussion.   subjective and I have limited space. Many thanks go to Mathew Kaminski the organist for the Atlanta Braves and a hullva fine jazzz organist himself, for his astute input. So for better or worse here is my list of twenty-five + great jazz/blues organ performances.

The organ tradition in jazz, is said to have started with Thomas “Fats” Waller, his playing steeped in gospel and intermingled with stride. The music had a certain bounce to it, a calliope sounding celebration. It was played on an Estey pipe organ, so it doesn't technically belong in a list of B3 performances, but it is the germ from which all subsequent jazz organ performances grew. So for historical reference, here is a sample from a 1927 recording of Waller at Trinity Church Studios in Camden, NJ.

Thomas “Fats” Waller: 1927 on the Estey Pipe Organ Camden, New Jersey “Stompin’ the Bug” 3min 39 secs

Using an organ was also seen by the club owners as a cheaper alternative  to the expense of hiring a seventeen-piece big band.

With its combined use of chorus and single line notes, the organ could create a bigger, broader sound. A deft technician could use creative positioning of his draw bars to mimic other instruments. It was like having a band in a box. Here Count Basie uses his organ technique to play his “KC Organ Blues” with his band reduced quintet.

1.       William James “Count” Basie: “K C Organ Blues” from the 1954 release Count Basie Sextet with Paul Quinchette (tenor), Freddie Green (gtr), Gene Ramey (bass), Buddy Rich (drms).    2min 52 secs

The innovators of the jazz organ trio sound could be heard percolating by the nineteen fifties with the formation of an influential jazz organ trio under the keyboard artistry of William Starthem “Wild Bill “Davis as heard on his 1957 release “Wild Blues.”

2.       . “Wild Bill” Davis: “Wild Blues” originally released as a single in 1957 with Wally Richardson (gtr) and unknown drummer                                                      2min 16 secs

By the late nineteen fifties Hollywood was already being influenced by the alluring sound of the jazz organ and one of my first exposures to a jazz style organ was on Henry Mancini’s arrangements for the silky Blake Edwards TV series Mr. Lucky from 1959. While technically not a traditional jazz or even a B3 performance ( the organ used was a Wurlitzer Theater Organ,) Mancini did intorduce the organ's lush, jazzy possibilities to a wider audience. I know it had a lasting effect on me. Here we hear Mancini’s deft use of studio musician Buddy Cole on this unforgettable tune.

3.       Buddy Cole: Wurlitzer Theater Organ on “Mr. Lucky from the 1960 album” Music from Mr. Lucky by Henry Mancini and his Orchestra.  2 min 2secs

In the fifties, on a parallel course to Wild Bill Davis in pioneering the use of the organ in the jazz trio format, was Missouri born Milton Brent “Milt” Buckner. Buckner is credited with developing the parallel chords style. Here he is heard playing with guitarist Kenny Burrell. The use of a guitarist as the other voice in the jazz organ trio became a popular format for the form.

4.       Milt Buckner: “Mighty High” from his album from 1960 Mighty High with Kenny Burrell 9gtr) Joe Benjamin (bass), Maurice Sinclaire (drms)              2 min 48 secs

Undoubtedly one of the most influential of all the Hammond B3 practitioners was “The Monster,” James Oscar “Jimmy” Smith. He switched to organ after hearing Wild Bill Davis in 1954. By 1956 he was offered a recording contract with Alfred Lion’s Blue Note Label after the impresario heard him in a Philadelphia club. Smith developed his own distinctive setting on the pull bars and along his percussive attack, this technique became known as the Jimmy Smith signature sound. He was also a facile improviser and was adept as using his bass pedals to simulate the sound of a walking string bass. Here is an early example of Smith’s indelible sound.

5.       Jimmy “The Monster” Smith: “The Sermon” from the 1959 album The Sermon with Lee Morgan(trpt), Kenny Burrell (gtr), Art Blakey (drms), Lou Donaldson (alto), Tina Brooks (tenor)
 20m 12 secs.

"Organ Grinder Swing" from the 1965 album Organ Grinder Swing with Kenny Burell (gtr) and Grady Tate (drms) 2 min 10 secs features Smith in his prime.

Smith was touring in Europe when German guitarist Paulo Morello asked him what it was like to work with such famous guitarist like Wes Montgomery, George Benson and Pat Martino. Smith was quoted as telling Morello “Listen man-I teach guitar.”   In fact, Smith played with many of the most notable jazz guitarists of his time including the aforementioned, Montgomery, Benson, Morello and Martino as well as Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and other fine players. He also played with horn players like Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan and Tina Brooks.

After Jimmy Smith, there were whole legions of players who were undeniably influenced by his style on the B3. While many took on their own unique sound leaning more on soul, blues or funk, it wasn’t until Larry Young that the organ was taken into a completely different and more modern direction. Here are some of my remaining choices for most memorable performances on the instrument all the way into the modern day.

6.       James Harrell “Jimmy” McGriff: “All About My Girl” from MG Blues 1962    drummer unknown                                                                                           3min 54 secs

7.       “Brother” Jack McDuff :  “That’s A Goodun” from the 1963 album Live with George Benson (gtr),         Red Holloway (tenor). Joe Dukes (drms).   8min 16 sec

Don Patterson had arguably some of the most memorable performances on the B3, I choose this one.

8.       Don Patterson: “Hip Cake Walk” from the 1964 album Hip Cake Walk with Leonard Houston (tenor), Billy James (drms).                                                 16 min 40 sec

9.       Larry Young: aka Khalid Yasin “Luny Tune” on Grant Green’s 1964 Talkin’ About! With Grant Green (gtr), Elvin Jones (drms).     7 min 43 secs
Later on his brilliant 1966 album Unity with Elvin Jones (drms) "Monk's Dream."

10.   Richard “Groove” Holmes: “Misty” from the 1965 release Soul Message with George Randall (gtr) and Jimmie Smith (drms).  6min 1 sec 

11.   Shirley Scott : “Rapid Shave” from Queen of the Organ  live at the Front Room, Newark, NJ 1965.  with Stanley Turrentine (tenor), Bob Cranshaw (bs), Otis Finch (drms).   8 min 23 secs

12.   Charles “The Mighty Burner” Earland: “More Today Than Yesterday” from Black Talk  1969 with Melvin Sparks (gtr), Idris Muhammad (drms), Buddy Caldwell (congas), Houston Person ( tenor), Virgil Jones (trmpt).                             11 min 12sec 

The next selection is my tip of the hat to the whole generation of prog rockers that took up the mantle of the B3. While not truly jazz players, they did make the organ a memorable part of the music of the sixties, seventies and beyond. Lee Michaels played one of the best, most animated Blues organ solos I have ever heard “live.” He just rocked the house on that B3 and his playing was more traditionally rooted in the B3 jazz /blues sound, so I have used him as a surrogate for all those guys who rocked the B3. That list includes Keith Emerson, Jon Lord, Rod Argent, Brian Auger, Stevie Winwood, Greg Allman, Greg Rolei, Rick Wakeman, Booker T. Jones, Billy Preston, Mark Stien, Ray Manzarek, Garth Hudson, Mathew Fisher and Al Kooper.

13.   Lee Michaels “Stormy Monday” Blues from Lee Michaels 1969 with “Frosty” Bartholomew                     Eugene Frost-Smith   5 min 15secs

For many United States B3 followers the French organist Eddie Louiss will be a new name and many thanks to Noah Baerman at for pointing this fine artist out to me.

14.   Eddy Louiss: “Bohemia After Dark” from the 1972 album Bohemia After Dark with Jimmy Gourley (gtr), Guy Pederson (bass), Kenny Clarke (drms).   5min 53 secs

15.   Joey DeFrancesco: “Work Songfrom the 1993 Live at the Five Spot with Robert Landham (alto),  Paul Bollenback (gtr), Byron “Wookie” Landham (drms), Grover Washington Jr. (tenor), Jim Henry (trmpt). 9 min 33 secs

16.   Larry Goldings: “The Acrobat” from Peter Bernstein’s 1998 Earthtones with Peter Berntstein (gtr) and Bill Stewart (drms).     9 min 59 secs

17.   Barbara Dennerlein and Rhoda “Barefoot Lady” Scott : “Nova” from a live performance in Switzerland in 2002 with Felix Simtaine (drms).  8min 22 secs

18.   Sam Yahel: “Truth and Beauty” from his 2005 album Truth and Beauty with Joshua Redman (tenor) and Brian Blade (drms.)       7min 59 secs

19.   Pat Bianchi: “Theme for Ernie” from his 2006 album East Coast Roots with Mark Whitfield (grt), Bryon Landham (drms)

20.   Vince “The Prince” Seneri: “Overdrive” from the 2007 album The Prince’s Groove with Randy Brecker (trpt), Paul Bollenback (gtr), Gary Fritz (perc), Buddy Williams (drms).   4 min 33 secs

21.   Tony Monaco: “S’About” from his 2008 album Tony Monaco Live at the Orbit Room  with Ted Quinlan (gtr), Vito Rezza (drms).    11 min 49 secs

22.   Dr. Lonnie Smith: “A Matterapat” from his Up!  from 2009 with Peter Bernstein (gtr), Donald Harrison (alto), Herlin Riley (drms).                             6min 47 secs 

23.   Mike LeDonne: “Bopsolete” from his 2010 release The Groover with Eric Alexander (tenor), Peter Bernstein (gtr), Joe Farnsworth (drms).   6 min 5 secs

24.    Jared Gold: “Shadowboxing” from his 2013 release Intuition with Dave Stryker (gtr) and McCLenty    Hunter (drms).                   5 min 5 secs

25.   Brian Charette: “Aiight!!” from 2014 release Square_One with Yotam Silberstein (gtr) and Mark Ferber (drms).      3 min 23 secs

Lest we forget anyone not mentioned above. honorable mentions go out to John Medeski, Will Blades, Big John Patton, Greg Allman, Clare Fischer, Peter Levin, Radam Schwartz,  Hank Marr, Reuben Wilson, Leon Spencer Jr., Lou Bennett, Johnny Hammond Smith, T. Lavitz, Dave Seibel, Robert Walter, Neal Evans, Gary Versace, Don Pullen and Booker T. Jones and all the other  prog rock B3 players that were mentioned above.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Trumpeter/ Composer Tim Hagans and the NDR Big Band bring renewed life to the films of John Cassavetes with his "Faces Under the Influence"

Tim Hagans and the NRD Big Band: Faces Under the Influence 

An artist always gleans inspiration from life, whether it be by personal interaction with others, by careful observation of the world around him, or sometimes, by being touched by the work of another artist. For the musician Tim Hagans, his love of cinema and his love of the work of the independent film-maker John Cassavetes, became a source of musical inspiration. The culmination is his new album: 

It’s not such a stretch to imagine two fiercely independent spirits, Cassavetes and Hagans, eventually finding some common ground. Cassavetes was known as an accomplished television and film actor- his work can be seen in both Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and in Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen, two nominally famous productions. As a filmmaker, Cassavetes wrote, directed and produced twelve independent films from 1959 through 1986. His most well received films are Faces from 1968, for which he was nominated for an Academy award for best screen play, and A Woman Under the Influence, a film that garnered him a Best Director nomination by the Academy Award Committee in 1974.

Hagans takes the main characters from six of Cassavetes’ films and composes six compositions that represent some notable characteristics of each of these character’s film persona.  The seventh and final composition is a tribute to the director himself and is a musical representation of Cassavetes’ passion for cinema as realized in his acting, writing and directing. To achieve this artistic goal, Hagans has teamed up with the NDR Big Band-a world class institution from Hamburg, Germany that he has worked with before- writing the music, playing on much of it and conducting it all.

The first composition is titled “Leila” and comes from the lead character in Cassavetes’ directorial debut from 1959, the film Shadows. This was a landmark of independent film-making, as it broached the then taboo subject of  interracial relationships, set in the Beat generation of the late nineteen fifties.
Hagan’s starts the film noir score of “Leila” with a sensuous alto saxophone solo by Fiete Felsch. The music has some wonderful interplay between guitarist Stephan Diez, bassist Ingmar Heller and drumming phenom Jukkis Uotila. Hagans utilizes a broad spectrum of tones to create the moody, Beat-era sound of cool. A sleek evocative score that has elements of transcendent beauty and aching poignancy.

“Richard Forst” is the main character from Cassavetes’ film Faces, a middle-aged husband who suddenly finds himself dissatisfied with his married life and seeks a divorce as the easy answer to his problems. Hagans allows the big brass sound of his orchestra to send out a powerful blaring intro that bespeaks of a sudden realization, an awakening. Hagans clarion trumpet solo is powerful, but purposefully waivers a bit, just like Forst whose initial bravado gives way to doubt and confusion. Hagans reaches the high registers effortlessly and slurs his notes with a masterfully controlled legato. The composition features some accomplished bass work by Heller, who breezily walks through the middle section solo, and in counterpoint to Edgar Herzog’s bass clarinet and Dan Gottshall’s rambunctious trombone work, before the swing comes back into the mix and tenor man Lutz Buchner is given a chance to blow.

The composition “Harry, Archie & Gus” is a reference to the three main characters of Cassavetes’ film Husbands from 1970. These are three middle-aged men who just lost a friend unexpectedly to death. Realizing their own mortality, they try desperately to recapture their fading youth. Hagans starts the raucous music appropriately with three musical voices playing off each other; Klaus Heidenreich on trombone, Claus Stotter on flugelhorn and Fiete Felsch on alto. The three seemingly trying to stay connected, but each following his own path, as demonstrated by their differing solo approaches. Meanwhile drummer Uotila, bassist Heller and guitarist Diez provide solid rhythmic backing until the whole band is reunited in brash harmony before Hagans introduces a brief cadenza that features the sparse, sensitive piano of Vladyslav Sendecki.

“Seymour Moskowitz” is one of the main characters in the film Minnie and Moskowitz, an unlikely love story between a lovelorn museum director and a parking lot attendant. Hagans uses a rock inspired driving rhythm with power chords provided by guitarist Dietz, with Hagans playing a series of frenzied trumpet lines. The whole band eventually joins the in the driving progression until Hagans relieves the tension with a short melodic horn-led break in the action. Christof Lauer provides a tenor solo of varying intensity as the band continues its march onward. The music takes another break in the action to allow the creativity of percussionist Marcio Doctor to shine. Hagans conducts the band through a series of escalating counterpoints that bring the action to another peak before the whole band shouts out, presumably a line from the film, “Baby, I think about you so much that I forget to go to the bathroom.”  The band has another short break where guitar, bass and drums carry on a nice shuffle over which Hagans plays a penetrating muted trumpet solo that is very reminiscent of Miles Bitches Brew sound.

Tim Hagans ( photo credit unknown)
“Mabel Longhetti” was the desperately tragic figure in Cassavetes’ Woman Under the Influence, and Hagans knows precisely how to evoke a bewildered melancholy that surely must have been part of this character’s psyche.  Hagans uses some breezy flute, clarinet and bass clarinet work by Felsch, Peter Bolete and Herzog to great effect, but it’s Sendecki ‘s perceptive piano solo that really sets this wistful stage. It’s as if Mabel is in a web of melancholic introspection that she can’t see her way out of. When the entire band swells up and plays this gorgeous melody, the orchestra acts in a unified voice, a glimpse of a life outside of oneself. Sendecki gets another chance to play with resplendent creativity on the next passage where he is shrewdly accompanied by Heller’s booming bass and Utopia’s airy brush and stick work. Hagans again builds the tension to a peak before reprising to Sendecki’s piano with an accompanying flute and woodwind chorus. This leads to the whole band finishing on a peacefully resolution. Sendecki’s solo piano finishes up this piece with two measure solo reprise.

The intro of “Cosmo Vitelli,” the protagonist from Cassavetes’ quirky The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, is a deep-toned, ominous chorus of horns, the prominent voice being Herzog’s looming bass clarinet. Guitarist Diez plays a disjointed, abstract solo on electric guitar that fades into an echoed dispersion. Hagans enters the second movement with a strangled-like sounding, muted trumpet as the band plays the repeating motif. Altoist Peter Bolte offers a squeaking high register solo that cries of frenzy. This band, under Hagans’ direction, is switchblade responsive, tonally diverse and mesh voices like the gears in a fine swiss movement.

The final composition is Hagan’s homage to the director, his passion and his dedication to a fiercely independent creative vision, titled “John Cassavetes”. Hagans is no stranger to this mantra. His music has consistently shown a penchant to chart its own course. Hagans runs his brass and woodwinds through complex passages that brim with vitality. He directs the band into a straight ahead swing at about the two-minute mark, soaring on his open trumpet like a caged bird set free to fly. Guitarist Diez always seems to be on the verge of breaking out into a raucous fusion solo as he, Hagans and Uotila let loose-a brash rumble that for me represents Cassavetes’ independent spirit. As is his habit, Hagans builds up the furor and then relaxes the tension as he brings you back with a tonally rich moderation in intensity. 

Throughout the album the NDR Big Band responds to the chicanery of his compositional twists and turns with the precision of the rack and pinion steering on a fine sports car. Hagans is a superb and fiery trumpet player and with Faces Under the Influence a Jazz Tribute to John Cassavetes, he has also proven himself to be a formidable composer in the big band format. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"Layers of the City" : Ben Allison and Think Free

Ben Allison and Think Free Layers of the City

The bassist/composer Ben Allison is a rare breed, a multi-dimensional force. He has both the command of his instrument and the talent to write meaningful contributions to the jazz canon. His compositional acumen is inspired in part by his openness to explore popular and contemporary musical ideas and incorporate those ideas into his own brand of improvisational music. He is a dedicated educator, teaching at the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music as an adjunct professor since 1996. His discography as a leader of now twelve releases, is a timeline of artistic development and experimentation. He is an in-demand sideman and has been recently heard on pianist Pete Malinevrni's  fine album Heaven. In his trio with guitarist Steve Cardenas and saxophonist Ted Nash, he has explored the music of Jim Hall and Jimmy Giuffre on Quiet RevolutionAll the while he has been a steadfast voice for the music; a founding member of the Jazz Composer’s Collective and its Artistic Director for its thirteen-year span; a prominent advocate for artist’s rights and now President of the New York Chapter of the Recording Academy, the sponsors of the Grammy Awards. He is also a record producer with his own label Sonic Camera records.

With such a busy and prolific schedule, it is encouraging to see that Allison has released a new album with his group Think Free, titled Layers of the City, which includes longtime collaborator Steve Cardenas on guitar, fellow Collective member Frank Kimbrough on piano, the lyrical trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and the tasteful drummer Allan Mednard. The album contains six original Allison compositions and one group free improvisation.  This album was made possible by a successful Pledge Music campaign that Allison started sometime back in November of 2016. It is noteworthy that more and more talented artists have found, through their followers, an egalitarian source of economic support that permits them the freedom to pursue their artistic goals-a promising development.

The music is distinctively modern, sometimes brash, sometimes atmospheric, with Allison favoring jazz-styled melodies over drone-like rhythms. The opener “Magic Number” is a re-working of a John McLaughlin song, a favorite of mine, originally titled “Argen’s Bag” and latter re-named “Follow Your Heart.” Allison’s bass lines are full and plump as he pulses the 11/8 blues based riff. Pelt’s viscous trumpet lines hang in the air like billowy clouds of spun cotton candy suspended in space. Cardenas’s guitar sings along with slinky lines and delicately picked harmonics and Kimbrough and Mednard play with sublime sparseness. A fine modern re-imagining of a song originally aired in 1972.  

“Enter the Dragon,” an eight-minute lead up to an eruption, begins with Kimbrough brushing piano strings before Allison’s bouncy pizzicato bass line introduces the rhythmic drive for the tune, over Mednard’s cadenced traps. Pelt and Cardenas play a weaving unison melody line that includes careful comping by Kimbrough, crystalizing over a few choruses before going into a repeating bridge. The sound is reminiscent of Allison’s “Man Sized Safe Group,” with Pelt taking on the role previously played by Ron Horton. After repeating the original melody and returning to a second bridge, the song abruptly morphs into a roiling, free-wheeling rumble of sounds driven by Kimbrough’s frantic piano, Allison’s churning bass and Mednard’s pounding drums. Pelt and Cardenas are slowly re-introduced into the fray, lightly maintaining the melody behind this musical riot. The front line returns once again to the tension building chorus where Pelt is given solo reign to blow over the boiling brew created by the other four-his soaring trumpet offering a blistering cadenza until fading out at the coda.

The eerie “Ghost Ship” is a cinematic composition that features Pelt’s airy, trumpet suspensions over Allison’s strong walking basslines- the armature on which all else is built. Kimbrough and Cardenas are both masters of subtle comping, adding delicate harmonies to this sparse piece. The passages of silence, where Allison’s plump bass notes are the lonely sound, are deliciously evocative. Mednard’s gossamery use of cymbals and snare are perfectly complimentary to the overall feel.

The title song “Layers of the City”-a reference to the diversity of New York City, Allison’s home in recent years- is a rhythmically, descending series of notes with a distinctively middle eastern feel to it.  Once again Allison’s leading bass lines are the driving force. Cardenas, Kimbrough and Pelt all meld their voices so well as to create the illusion one multi-toned instrument- the multi-ethnic rhythmic driven cacophony of the urban landscape of New York City. Allison, Mednard and Cardenas create a rhythmic force that has some roots in the power rock trios of old, with Cardenas offering a more nuanced guitar solo that is less crammed with notes and more steeped in flavor.

“The Detective’s Wife” is a thoroughly enjoyable Allison composition that again has a cinematic quality and can easily become a vehicle for future explorations.  The song is reminiscent of the music of Henry Mancini’s marvelous Pink Panther. Could this be a reference to Inspector Clouseau’s wife? Pianist Frank Kimbrough shines here with some of his most inspired playing, a tour de force. Trumpeter Pelt’s slithery muted horn is equally stirring. Bassist Allison allows himself a chance to extend out the theme in his own inimitable way with a playfully elastic solo that just dances to its own muse.

Allison’s fine 2008 release Little Things that Run the World was the album that introduced me to this remarkable musician and I have been satisfyingly following him ever since. “Blowback” is a re-work of the song originally performed on that album. Allison’s clever uses of throbbing bass lines that carry the tune through is again on display here. His heartbeat style gives a lifeforce to his music that makes it palpitate with possibilities. Here this lifeforce gives rise to some creative solos, first by Cardenas and then by Pelt.

The closing tune is a collective collaboration that borders on free improvisation titled “Get Me Offa This Thing.” With Cardenas and Kimbrough using string harmonics and Pelt using electronic augmentation of his trumpet, the song has an atmospheric feel. This is an exploration into sonic landscapes with Allison’s bass being the only anchoring voice.

As Allison once said, the idea behind the name of his company Sonic Camera Records is to capture a snapshot in time of the music an artist is creating in the present. As with any searching artist, Allison is not content to remain comfortably in a pocket. His present offering Layers of the City is just one more snapshot into his artistic development both as a band leader and more importantly as a composer.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Denny Zeitlin and George Marsh take you on an Electro/Acoustic "Expedition"

Denny Zeitlin & George Marsh Expedition Duo Electro-Acoustic Improvisations
There is a wonderfully free-flowing spirit to the new Denny Zeitlin & George Marsh CD Expedition. The music percolates like water from a newly tapped spring. It has an organic slipstream feel to it that comes from these two brilliant musicians capturing themselves exploring totally “in the moment” improvisations. Script-less forays into the possibilities; Zeitlin’s electro-acoustic keyboard artistry paired with Marsh’s intuitively complimentary percussive accentuation.

As the pianist writes in his liner notes, he has been toying and exploring with electronic instrumentation, integrating it into jazz, classical, funk, rock and free-form since the late sixties. Although considered by many to be one of the finest jazz pianists of his generation, Zeitlin is no stranger to the world of the synthesizer and electronic sounds.  His pioneer work with the then state of the art Prophet analog synthesizer, can be heard on his music for the 1978 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, (the composer’s only film score) which incorporated his dramatic symphony orchestra score with electronic sounds.

Here is a taste of that evocatively eerie soundtrack:

After an over thirty-year hiatus, Zeitlin’s fascination with the instrumentation and the technological improvements that have been made in the equipment, piqued his curiosity again. His fascination with orchestral arrangements was driven by his desire to have control over the expansive palette of tones, colors and textures that an orchestra can provide, and was realized to some degree in his1978 film score. But what if with the new technology, one could more easily control all those tones, colors, textures and sounds, by yourself, from a set of keyboards, some hardware and a computer? Zeitlin did just that in 2013. With an upgrade of equipment, he recorded his solo electro/acoustic recording titled Both/And. Then in a nod to minimal collaboration, Zeitlin rejoined with drummer/percussionist George Marsh, an alumnus of his old trio days, and the two released Riding the Moment, a duo electro/acoustic recording in 2015. 

Expedition is a continuation of that collaboration. The two seem to have developed such an intuitive sense of where each other is going that they overcome the obstacle of having to perform this “spontaneous composition,” as Zeitlin calls it, from the isolation of two separate recording booths with no visual contact.

There is no description of this music that can do it justice. You should just sit back and listen to it unfold and see where it takes you. Some of the songs like “Shards of Blue” or the beautiful “One Song” have a form that you can recognize; the briefest of melodies that you can follow. But for the most part listening to Expedition is like immersing yourself into another dimensional experience. 

Zeitlin conjures a treasure trove of exotic sounds; sounds that elicit haunting Gregorian chant-like voices, alien harpsichords, robotic oscillations, tin-can vibraphones, space-born calliopes, Pan flutes, ogre-like bass lines, majestic pipe organs and muted plectral sounds. But as always, his starkly beautiful piano anchors the music to this world in a brilliantly humanistic way. Like two minds fused at the cerebral cortex, Marsh and Zeitlin seem to be able to intuit each other’s thoughts; Marsh gently prodding the pianist ever so slightly. The percussionist offering shimmering cymbals, softly brushed snares, roiling rolls and a general sense of rhythmic surety that propels this music.

The music at its very best evokes a sense of wonder and delight. It also has a spiritual side to it, especially when Zeitlin’s poignant piano comes into play, the sound of human spirit juxtaposed so touchingly against the mechanistic, electronic swirls that he creates around it. 

Click on the link below to hear one of the songs from the album titled “Geysers”

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Brian Charette's "Kurrent" : Futuristic Circuit Bent Organ Trio

Brian Charette's Kurrent

Having grown up in the golden era of the soulful, hard-bop jazz organ trio, I have particularly fond memories of hearing this style of music that was so prevelant in the sixties and early seventies, when almost every lounge on the east coast had a B3 on its stage. Jimmy Smith, Don Patterson, Charles Earland and Jack McDuff were but a few of the names that created some memorable sounds on their B3's with those rotating Leslie speakers. But the basic sound of the organ trio has barely changed since Larry Young started to move in a new more progressive Coltrane-inspired direction in the seventies, before his untimely dealth. Now along comes Brian Charette.

Keyboard artist Brain Charette originally hails from Meriden, CT, where he was influenced to play the piano at an early age by his mother, herself an excellent pianist. He studied music at the University of CT where he received his BA and toured Europe as a working musician. He was drawn to the culture and jazz scene in Prague and lived in the Czech Republic for a time. As early as age seventeen, Charrette was working with jazz legends like Houston Person and Lou Donaldson. He took up the organ more seriously in the 1990s when he was finding more work playing organ than playing piano. For the past several years he has made the East Village of New York City his home and he can be often seen in New York accompanying other artists whenever an organist is required.  His keyboard skills have been recognized and utilized by such top tier pop artist as Chaka Khan, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon.

On his latest self-released album Kǘrrent, Charette is joined by guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Jordan Young. Reportedly, the trio has been working on this original music for the last two years and it shows by the groups tight and intuitive interaction. Charette has labeled the group a “futuristic circuit bent organ trio,” with the intention of preserving the core tradition of the organ-guitar-drums jazz-trio format and extending it into modernity with the addition of electronics and by conceiving more contemporary compositions.

The group starts off with “Doll Fin,” a catchy rythmically driven song, with Charette providing a driving bass line,(presumably with his B3 foot pedals or on a loop), then inserting a mechanistic, almost robotic sounding ostinato keyboard line. You can almost imagine the cool efficiency of an assembly-line of robotic arms working in musical unison. Monder’s guitar lines enter and eventually morph into a ripping, more distorted solo as Young provides skillfully placed crashes and splashes. Charette returns with a more traditional sounding B3 solo before reprising his robotic synth work and Monder’s repeating guitar lines. The song ends in a flurry by Young as Charette and Monder play a unison, electronic drone that decays at the finale. Welcome to the future of organ trios.

Kurrent: Jordan Young, Ben Monder & Brian Charette
Other songs that employ a more traditional organ trio sound include the bouncy “Time Changes” and the memorable ballad “Honeymoon Phase,” although Charette manages to include a synthetic harpsichord and some spacey electronic accents at the end of “Time Changes.” 

Charette and company always keep the music moving and the keyboardist is quite adept at using his Hammond pull bars to create just the right sound. Monder shows a beautiful harmonic sense in his deft accompaniments and Young is equally atuned to the group effort.

“Mano Y Mano” features some vocoder tempered vocals and some raw guitar work by Monder. The otherwise atmospheric “Shooby’s Riff” contains a strange repeated, electronically altered vocal riff that is indecipherable to my ears and that breaks the mood and rhythm of the song. There is a sci-fi element to this one that conjures up images of space travelers encountering looped transmissions from alien life.

There are three, short “Intermezzos;” small musical vignettes that seem like free improvisations that use electronically altered, textural interplay between keyboard, guitar, voice and drums.

The synth and organ driven “Conquistador” is like a musical journey to places that seem at once familiar and at the same time strangely foreign. Juxtaposing sounds that combine the weird and fanciful with the exotic, Charette and company are able to transport you into a Lucas-like world reminiscent of the bizarre alien bar scene from the original Star Wars.  Back to the Future indeed.

The futuristically funky “5th Base” is a driving vamp that allows Monder to shred a little with a nasty, distorted sound that pierces through your flesh. Charette has obviously been influenced Larry Young’s forward thinking style, but he has also been influenced by some of the synth masters of years gone by, as I hear elements of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman in his playing on this wild electronic jaunt.

There is a Minuet quality to the opening of “The Shape of Green,” Charette and Monder trading lines in a formal dance of notes behind the cadenced traps of Young. Eventually the song breaks into a repeating vamp, then opens up to a Monder guitar solo that pierces through clouds of electronic sounds that rainmaker Charette conjures up like a weather shaman.

The finale is a song titled “Catfish Sandwich,” and has a Monkish sounding line to it. This leads to an adrenaline driven electronic disco beat. Monder lets loose as Charette and Young provide the rhythmic drive. Charette changes over to the traditional B3 sound and the trio starts to percolate as he plays some of the most inspired straight organ soloing on the album. The intensity builds to a frenzy at the coda with Young providing a bombardment of traps, toms and cymbals to the end.

By mastering the myriad of possibilities that can be produced on a Hammond B3, incorporating synthesized and electronic effects tastefully and utilizing inventive arrangements, Charette, Monder and Young have managed to create a hybrid jazz-organ-trio sound that rockets into the future. Their music just might be the natural heir apparent to the progressive legacy of organist Larry Young.