Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Nussbaum, Anderson & Noy: 3/4 of the group Bann Play the Turning Point Cafe

The Turning Point Cafe in Piermont , NY
photo by Ralph A. Miriello c 2011
Twenty-six miles from New York City in the charming little village of Piermont, NY., is the home of the  Turning Point cafe and restaurant. The town picturesquely sits at the edge of  a wide section of the Hudson river and  in the shadow of the Tappan Zee Bridge in Rockland County, New York. Owner John McEvoy, has a penchant for blues, folk rock and "shit kicking" music and he has been bringing national and local acts to this area for the last thirty-five years. For the last three seasons McEvoy  has been collaborating with jazz saxophonist & promoter John Richmond to bring top notch jazz to this intimate music venue, mostly on Monday and Sunday nights.
Oz Noy, Adam Nussbaum & Jay Anderson of BANN
 by  Ralph A. Miriello  c 2011

This past Sunday, I made my way across the bridge to see the trioof drummer Adam Nussbaum, bassist Jay Anderson and electric guitarist Oz Noy perform. Together with tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, they make up the group BANN
( an acronyn for their last names Blake, Anderson, Nussbaum and Noy.). I recently reviewed their most recent offering  "As You Like", recorded at Anderson's Mountain Rest Studio in nearby New Paltz, NY and thought it was a top notch effort. (check out my review by clicking here).

I have seen drummer Adam Nussbaum perform before with guitarist John Abercrombie, with whom he regularly works. He is a drummer's drummer who always seems to have a coterie of other fellow players who come out to see him perform. He is a muscular, animated drummer with a firm attack and a keen sense of time. He is deft with brushes and uses his cymbals tastefully. Nussbaum is originally from Norwalk, CT and  has worked with John Scofield, Dave Liebman and James Moody to name a few.

Adam Nussbaum
photo by Ralph A. Miriello c 2011
Jay Anderson is the consummate journeyman bassist. His resume includes stints with Maria Schneider's award wining "Sky Blue" orchestra, singer/songwriter Michael Franks, the late great saxophonist Michael Brecker and Crusaders pianist Joe Sample as well being a first call  sideman for many other musicians. He can keep impeccable time or produce poignant solos with his facile technique.

Jay Anderson
phtoto by Ralph A. Miriello c 2011
Israeli born guitarist Oz Noy is the youngster in the group and the wild card in the deck. His playing is an odd amalgam of jazz, rock, funk and blues. His slant on the music always comes from a contemporary point of view. He crosses between genres with ease. He is an exciting player who doesn't play conventionally. His  excursions can be  surprisingly brilliant or conversely  leave you and  his fellow players scratching their heads. Besides working with Adam and Jay in BANN, he has played with super drummers Dave Wekl, Vinnie Colaiuta and Anton Fig along with bassists Will Lee and James Genus in his own power trios.

The group started their set at the Turning Point with an unusual take on the Jerome Kern classic "All the Things You Are", one my favorite cuts from their recent album. Noy uses an array of electronic devices to supplement his guitar sound and he modulated through the changes as Nussbaum used subtle brush strokes and soft traps with Anderson gently loping on his bass. The result was an old standard that  took on a new and contemporary sound.

The group included the  Thelonious  Monk's tune "Evidence" as a starting point for its exploration into staccato syncopation. The trio was able to negotiate the jagged starts and stops of the tune with a loose precision as Noy lead the way and Anderson and Nussbaum followed the chicane of changes in joyful tandem.  You could see these guys were having some fun.

Jay Anderson's decidedly western sounding "At Sundown" , also from the latest album, is a classic piece of Americana inspired music. Here Noy skillfully employs a glass slide to create the sound reminiscent of a pedal steel guitar. Using his brushes once again, Nussbaum animatedly hushes his cymbals at precise breaks in the music to great effect. Anderson's bass is warm and inviting, as Noy's guitar sounds like it is taking a page from the Bill Frisell play book.

Oz Noy
photo by Ralph A. Miriello c 2011

Noy's "Hot Peas and Butter"  found the guitarist getting  into some adventurous improvisation with a line from Jimi Hendix's " Third Stone from the Sun" figuring prominently during part of his solo. The band seemed a bit afloat on this one.

The group broke for a brief intermission and came back with a crowd pleasing Nussbaum blues titled "Sherwood Baby", with  Noy and Anderson both playing soulful solos.

Almost immediately after this blues, Noy started to  noodle on a lick from the melody "If I Only Had A Brain"from the  musical the Wizard of Oz. . His angular approach was immediately picked up on by his fellow band mates to the delight of the crowd. I am not sure if this was a part of the planned repertoire. It seemed more like a spontaneous response to a fleeting riff and it was fun to watch it develop.This is what makes "live", in the moment music so special.

In what was perhaps my favorite performance of the night, the trio did a wonderful ballad version of
John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" at a slow, sauntering pace that allowed for some beautiful solo moments from the three musicians. Anderson was particularly poignant on his bass solo.

The final three tunes were Monk's "Straight No Chaser"; Noy's catchy "Minor Shuffle" which could easily become a it's own minor classic and a finale of Miles Davis "All Blues" with tenor saxophonist John Richmond sitting in for the last song.

It was a great evening of music and the Turning Point cafe is a wonderful venue that will hopefully continue to provide another needed place for great jazz to be experienced.

This article is also posted on The Huffington Post at

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Suspend Some Time and Take a Trip Through Julian Lage's “Gladwell”

Julian Lage "Gladwell"
Decca Records B0015502-02

Recorded at WBGH Studios, Boston, Ma
August 12th , 13th  & 14th  2010 September 29, 2010 and December 10 & 11th 2010

You have entered a world where time and space are suspended; a world, mysterious and forgotten as created in the mind of guitarist Julian Lage. You have entered the imaginary town of Gladwell. In this town all the instrumental voices are aural representations of the unique residents of this metaphorically magical place.

Using this town as his canvas, Lage creates a musical vignette that captures the sights, sounds and feel of this wholly imaginary place- a compilation of sorts that is made up of people, musical influences and experiences that he and his fellow musicians hold dear.

From the decidedly western sounding “233 Butler” which Lage impeccably plucks on a 1934  guitar built by R.A. Mango, the album has a rooted  Americana feel. A layered percussion solo by Tupac Mantilla is laced with voice overs, sighing cello and an array of unidentifiable percussive elements.

Tupac Mantilla
“Margaret” is a particularly evocative ballad that Lage wrote for friend and fellow Berklee guitarist/composer Margaret Glaspy. Lage employs tenor lines by Dan Blake and cello accompaniment by Aristides Rivas to create this compelling piece of music that somehow has undertones suggestive of  Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden’s “Beyond the Missouri Sky” from 1997 . 

Beyond The Missouri Sky (Short Stories) 

Lage includes three improvised guitar pieces in the album, which he plays on a vintage 1926 Martin
00-28. On the first “ Point the Way” Lage over dubs three parts into an interesting quilt of sounds that he codifies in a brief two minute twelve seconds. The second piece, “Cathedral” ,is the equally short but delicate chamber piece that employs the unique resonance of the vintage Martin guitar. The final improvised/ overdubbed guitar piece is 
“Listen Darkly” which is the most frenetic of the three.

“However” is written by saxophonist Dan Blake and has a distinctively a rhythmic drive created by Mantilla’s effective use of drums and shimmering cymbals. Lage has a distinctive sound that lies somewhere between Metheny and Frisell without being too much like either of them.

Saxophonist Dan Blake

The classic “Freight Train” is played in a un-garnished, straight ahead almost reverential way, with Lage’s virtuosity and passion shinning delightfully through.

On “Listening Walk” we find Mantilla, Roeder and Lage create the bustle of a crowded train station. Lage uses a finger picked ostinato that sets the stage for Blake and Rivas to introduce the backing melody line, that simulates the loudspeaker announcements at the imaginary Gladwell’s train station. Mantilla and Lage have a great affinity as the two play off each other like two familiar friends walking through their imaginary town. 


“Cocoon” is a gossamer tune that is laden with both melancholy and timelessness. Aurally it depicts the sacred place, the sanctuary that all destinations like Gladwell invariably have.

The seminal standard “Autumn Leaves” was reportedly played by Lage in a living room-like environment created in the studio. Here he played for the exclusive enjoyment of his band mates who were all seated in a half circle on the floor around him. It is a rare glimpse of the fine guitarist playing solo for the enjoyment and under the direct scrutiny of his fellow musicians.

“Iowa Taken” is another fine example of the precise interplay that Mantilla, bassist Jorge Roeder and Lage have developed. Roeder provides some interesting and fluid bass lines during his solo. There is a fascinating draw to Lage’s creative process of building his musical vignettes, employing changes in direction, time and alternating between repeating lines and dancing single line adventures. 

Bassist Jorge Roeder

The final piece on the album is “Telegram” which, according to the liner notes, borrows from the tune
“Red Prairie Dawn” and is a jaunting, joyful down home piece of Americana in the finest tradition. Lage picks his way on a vintage 1932 Gibson L-5 here and saxophonist Dan Blake soars on this one.

Julian Lage and company have astutely orchestrated this entertaining travelogue through his imaginary Gladwell and it is a trip worthy of multiple visits.

Musicians: Julian Lage (guitars); Dan Blake (saxophones); Aristides Rivas (cello); Jorge Roeder (bass); Tupac Mantilla ( drums and percussion)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gil Scott Heron: Poet, Musician, Troubadour of Truth Dies in NYC at age 62

Gil Scott Heron (April 1, 1949 – May 27, 2011)

The Revolution Will Not Be TelevisedSmall Talk At 125Th And LenoxIn a world bereft of really meaningful socially and politically charged music, we learn of the passing of a great poet, a troubadour of truth, Gil Scott Heron. Mr. Scott Heron was reported to have been in St. Luke's hospital in NYC when he succumbed to some as yet unannounced health issues,sometime of Friday May 27, 2011 at the age of 62. 
Who will take his place?

Mr. Scott Heron was a visionary poet who used his raspy, gravel-like voice in combination with soulful, jazzy musical elements to bring his social and political commentary to light. His voice could seethe with anger and sarcasm or could be used to elicit great pathos depending on what he was trying to communicate. In an interview from 2008, when asked to define a poet he said a poet is "...someone who uses words to communicate more than just ordinary conversation. We (poets)  use it (poetry) to communicate ideas that we think people need to know."  For his part Mr. Scott Heron certainly did just that.

Though his success was never mainstream, for those who did happen to listen, he provided some valuable insights, often holding up a  less than flattering mirror to our collective conscience. His music came to light in the late sixties and early seventies starting with his debut album "Small Talk at 125th Street and Lenox". He was also a published author with the release of his " The Vulture and The Nigger Factory" in 1970 and cited the poet Langston Hughes as an early influence.

 The Vulture and the Nigger Factory
His music and poetry concentrated on social commentary and political injustice as seen from a Black man's perspective. He was loud, controversial, with an acerbic wit that used sarcasm to great effect.  He became a poster child for black militancy during this era, as his approach was bold, unafraid and "in your face." "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"  was a call to action that leveled criticism across the board  with shots at overt consumerism, social injustice, political chicanery and the complacency that he found in his own people. 

Winter In America His brilliant  "Winter in America" from his album of the same name, is a soul searching look at some of the less admirable aspects of American history and a decidedly pessimistic lament about the loss of real leadership.  Perhaps his most frequently played song on  radio was  
"The Bottle",  a single from this 1974  album. It  was an indictment of the devastating effects of alcohol abuse set to soulful jazz based music played with his long time collaborator the flautist/pianist  Brian Jackson. Scott Heron's vocals were delivered in a combined singing/talk-like style that predates rap and consequently he is often credited with being one of rap's major influences. 
   BridgesReflectionsIts Your World
No matter what subject he tackled he did so with a style and wit that was hard to ignore. His "Whitey on The Moonwas his acerbic look at the juxtaposition of a nation that could put a man on the moon but was still struggling  with the realities of poverty. He was a passionate anti-nuclear advocate and he made his point on his chilling "We Almost Lost Detroit", a clarion call to reconsider the use of nuclear energy and it's inherent dangers. He played this at the  
No Nukes concert in Madison Square Garden in 1979.

His political commentary was stinging with his "H20Gate Blues" roasting President Nixon's Watergate debacle and his"B Movie" ,a clever reference to the then President Reagan's former movie career,  a powerful metaphor for what he saw as an "acting" president. Whether you agreed or disagreed with his sentiments he was a skillful wordsmith and a powerful advocate for his cause. He often said what others wish they had and he did so with a cool style and an unmistakeably distinctive voice that had an inherent musicality. 
Despite some well documented drug and medical problems, Scott Heron had made a recent comeback of sorts with his 2010 release  " I'm New Here" and the single" Me and The Devil"  
I'm New Herewhich introduced the erascible poet to a whole new generation. Reportedly he was taken ill during a recent European trip and was eventually brought to St. Luke's hospital in New York City where he passed on Friday.With his passing the world of music and poetry has certainly suffered a terrible loss.

A memorial service has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday June 2 at Riverside Church; there will also be a public viewing from 6-9 p.m. at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home at 81st Street and Madison Avenue.