Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ben Goldberg with the help of Charlie Hunter finds his way back with "Go Home"

Ben Goldberg “Go Home” (Bag 001)

Denver raised clarinetist Ben Goldberg has been around the fringes of the jazz scene for sometime now. He has boldy explored the outer limits of the music with his “Klezmer Trio” and its Ashkenazi Jewish roots, deconstructing the music of Theolonius Monk with drummer Scott Amendola and bassist Devin Hoff on his album “Plays Monk” and working with the one-time Frisell sideman, rootsy drummer Kenny Wollesen in “Junk Genius”
On "Go Home" Goldberg has returned to a more earthy, syncopated blues based music for this most successful musical offering. Driven by the lowdown beats of Scott Amendola’s drumming, the sooty, raw playing of the amazing seven string guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter, the witty lyricism provided by trumpeter Ron Miles (also of Bill Frisell fame), ‘Goldberg’s pure toned clarinet and compositional creativity on this album never disappoints

The album combines studio music with live performances from a concert in California in 2009. The instrumentation is unique, with Goldberg’s airy clarinet showing influences of Steve Lacy’s exploratory soprano saxophone style. His sound also has deep roots in the ethnic folk music of the eastern European based Jewish Klezmer music, with some New Orleans Dixieland thrown in for good measure. It’s Hunter’s raw guitar work that really grabs your interest. His gutsy, rock-blues sound is strangely compatible with the more polished sounds of Goldberg and Miles. Amendola’s driving drums propels the group with his effective, low-down beat.

You can hear the incestuous influence of other progressive music and musicians in this collaboration. Besides the Frisell connection, I detect like sensibilities with some of the work of Ben Allison’s “Man Sized Safe” in Goldberg songs like “Wazee” and “Heads And Tails”. There is also the languishing funkiness similar to the music of the group “Slow Poke” with Michael Blake, David Tronzo, Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen in a song like “TGO” (each of these albums are highly recommended.)

“Roots and Branches” has influences from south of the border. On “Ethan’s Song” Hunter and Amendola’s intuitive interaction during a live performance is captured in all of its unfettered glory. The uplifting quality of Goldberg’s clarinet inspires a free spirited exchange between himself and Miles often punctuated with precise stops and starts that leave the audience on the edge of their seat. “Inevitable” is a cross breed of down home blues and Ashkenazi celebration music, a weird but effective acknowledgment of the universality of all folk driven music. Without going into the nuances of each of these songs the total album is unexpectedly delightful.

It is Hunter’s phenomenal ability to carry challenging bass lines, while at the same time punctuating the songs with his own special brand of blues drenched chords and raucous lead lines, that set this music apart. The groove Amendola and Hunter maintain is infectious and allows Goldberg and Miles the freedom to weave their brass and reed sounds into a magical patois that crosses multiple genres of influence in marvelous and inspired ways. Goldberg wisely sought to work with Hunter, intuitively understanding that the guitarists grounded, unvarnished playing could inspire the clarinetist, back from the fringe of his ethnic and world music explorations, to the get down “Go Home” comfort and joy of this roots based music.

Musicians: Ben Goldberg (clarinet): Charlie Hunter
(7 string guitar), Scott Amendola (drums); Ron Miles (Cornet, G Trumpet).

Recorded The Bunker Studio, Brooklyn, NY and ‘live” at Throckmorton Theater, Mill Valley, CA in 2009

Tracks: TGO; Wazee, Lace, Roots and Branches, Heads and Tails, Ethan’s Song, Inevitble, Isocceles, Reparation, Papermaker.

Bold indicates favorite tracks


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Truth Be Told" a review of Mark Egan's latest CD

CD:Mark Egan Truth Be Told/ (WT-8642)

Having once taken lessons from the legendary
Jaco Pastorius, Mark Egan has established his own reputation as one of the premier electric bassists working today.

Egan’s credentials range from his stints as a key member of the original Pat Metheny Group, to a thirteen-year tenure in the bass chair on the Gil Evans Orchestra. On Truth Be Told a> (WT-8642)Egan has assembled a formidable cast of musicians to help him explore the possibilities of his own compositional vision. The line up is impressive with Egan joined by the eclectic multi-reedist Bill Evans, the keyboard wizardry of Mitch Forman, the percussionist Roger Squitero and the tour de force drummer Vinnie Colaiuta.

The album combines elements of fusion, improvisational jazz and funk with a purposeful sense of groove throughout. Forman is particularly adept at incorporating an ample array of electronically synthesized sounds creating an airy, surreal feel that mesh beautifully with Egan’s fluid bass and Evans wispy saxophone solos. On first listen, the album veers into the area of being so smooth and listenable that you can almost dismiss it out of hand, but that would be a mistake. Closer consideration reveals the enjoyable nature of this well crafted music. There are some fine individual performances within these eleven songs, ten of which are Egan compositions. It is the persistent groove provided by Colaiuta and Egan that frees these musicians from any tendency to intellectualize this music. These guys are just having fun and it shows.

The funky “Frogs Legs”, brings me back to the early days of the Jeff Lorber Fusion's brand of electronic funk. "Gargoyle" and "Cafe Risque" both have the psychic blood of Weather Report running through their veins. "Gargoyle" features a driving repeating line that serpentine’s it’s way through the changes behind Forman’s electric piano and synthesizer. The title song “Truth Be Told” dangerously crosses into smooth jazz territory, a bit too predictable for me. It has a catchy electronic vamp combining bass, synthesizer and sax lines with a clever hook and an infectious beat. All the songs are driven by an undeniable tap your foot rhythm held together seamlessly by Forman, Egan and Colaiuta.

“Sea Saw” features a lyrical, Jaco-inspired bass solo by Egan, a whimsically soaring soprano solo by Evans and an impressive Colaiuta drum solo with a staggered off-beat flurry at the finale.

Forman’s “Shadow Play” is the one composition not composed by Egan on this album. Forman uses heavy synthesizer backing over Egan’s deeply evocative bass lines. Egan’s deft use of sustain is wonderfully effective. The notes just suspend beautifully. Forman’s bluesy piano solo midway is perhaps his best on the album, it leads into saxophonist Evans sensuous soprano solo that with Egan’s throbbing bass brings us to a fading climax wishing for more.

“Blue Launch” is a backbeat blues that Colaiuta’s fills with his wonderfully deep toned tom rolls and bass drum as the versatile Evans exercises his Maceo Parker chops on tenor.

Rhyme or Reason”, “Blue Rain”, “Pepe” and the sitar-like, mystical “After Thought” finish out this offering.

Truth Be Told , Mark Egan has put together an enjoyable, well played compilation of music. He manages to span the chasm between hard core fusion and easy listening contemporary jazz, while still maintaining his artistic integrity. While likely a little light for hard core fusion fans, I think the album works as a purposeful attempt at expanding the contemporary music audience.

Musicians: Mark Egan (fretted & fretless electric Bass); Bill Evans (Saxophones); Mitch Forman
(keyboards); Vinnie Colaiuta (drums); Roger Squitero (percussion)

Recorded June 15, 16 & 17, 2009 Avatar Studios, NYC.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

George Mraz and Friends at the Bohemian National Hall

Friday evening 7:30 pm February 26, 2010
Presented by The Dvorak American Heritage Association (DAHA)
at Bohemian National Hall 73rd St, NYC
George Mraz, Acoustic bass; Rich Perry , Tenor Saxophone and Joey Baron, Drums
Photos generously provided by R. Andrew Lepley

A little snow can paralyze the City, but I was pleasantly surprised that despite a white blanket the George Mraz show, scheduled at the Bohemian National Hall on 73rd St, went on as scheduled last Friday evening.

The Dvorak American Heritage Association presented this evening of music at the recently renovated Bohemian National Hall,a splendid memorial of sorts to the Czech classical composer Antonin Dvorak.

One might ask what ties this Czech composer, Antonin Dvorak, to the world of jazz? Dvorak had a residency in New York City for a scant three years from 1892 to 1895 as the director of the National Conservatory of Music. It was here that he wrote his famous Symphony #9 or New World Symphony, as it was known, where he incorporated themes of Negro spirituals and Native American music in what some believe to be his masterpiece. During this time, he briefly taught students Will Marion Cook and Rubin Goldmark. It was Cook who would in turn teach Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington and Goldmark who would briefly teach the iconic songwriter George Gershwin. These seemingly disparate influences show the true universality of music as a language that fords all barriers whether those barriers be ethnic, racial or socioeconomic.

On this snow bound evening the bassist George Mraz played one combined set of all original music. Mr. Mraz is a true treasure, having a technical virtuosity that makes him a first call player for many of the great names in jazz. Mr. Mraz’s ease of artistry, his joyful countenance and his smiling, self-effacing demeanor can be misleading. He is a serious musician with serious chops and can swing effortlessly from a four across the bar walking line to a beautifully emotive arco solo as the mood suits him. His tone is both warm and precise.

He was joined by the ever ebullient Joey Baron on drums and the subdued but rich tenor sound of Rich Perry on saxophone.

The trio played a total of ten songs with one short intermission. The set started with the sultry “Wisteria” and moved to a slow, melancholic ballad titled “For B.C.”, which Mr. Mraz said was a dedication to Bradley Cunningham, the former owner of Bradley’s a downtown piano bar at University Place and a late night musician’s hangout. The trio continued with the whimsical “Sponge Magic”,where Perry and Mraz played a duet before George played some of his arco magic, bowing beautifully on his custom Charton bass. Mraz never failed to find electricity in Baron’s antics, with Joey producing a myriad of textured sounds using brushes, sticks, cymbals, rims and when appropriate bare hands. The two of them had a connection that was both telepathic and demonstratively joyful, a highlight of the evening. “Pepper”, a composition dedicated to the late saxophonist Pepper Adams, allowed Perry some room to feature his lyrically rich, mellifluous sound that flows like warmed butter over hot toast.

Typical of Mraz’s penchant to shy away from the spotlight, he almost abandoned the idea of doing a solo bass piece, but with a little prompting from the audience he settled on a short Monrovian folk ballad. He mesmerized the audience and his fellow musicians with the depth of the feelings he could elicit with his sensitive pizzicato technique.

The set continued with the song “Unison” where Mraz played a fluid walking solo. The composition seemingly ended three times before the musicians finally decided to finish in unison. The set continued with a piece Mraz wrote for his daughter “Blues for Sarka” where Baron and Mraz showed an exceptional affinity. A bossa titled “Autumn Kisses” featured a Getzian sounding Perry on perhaps his finest work of the night. The final song of the evening was a composition born from Mraz’s days with guitarist John Abercrombie, titled “Strange” ,with its somewhat dark overtones, Mraz’s skillful use of sliding notes deftly accentuated the feel of the song.

It was a wonderful evening of Czech pride, as Mraz and company performed in the splendor of the Dvorak inspired Bohemian Hall. The bassist George Mraz made clear that he is not only a great jazz bassist but also a Czech national treasure.

An album of this original music has been recorded and will be released in the near future.