Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Holiday Season Greetings

Here are a few holiday favorites by some all time great artists.  Please enjoy and
Happy Holidays to all my friends and family!


Michael Franks: Let it Snow



Bill Evans : Santa's Coming to Town



Lou Rawls and Diane Reeves : Baby Its Cold Outside



Bob Dorough and Miles Davis Sextet : Blue Xmas



John McLaughlin : Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel:



John Coltrane Quartet : Greensleeves



Thelonious Monk : A Merrier Christmas:  & Dianne Reeves



Dexter Gordon : The Christmas Song



Oscar Peterson : A Child is Born



Joe Pass : White Christmas



Dave Brubeck : Silent Night



Billy Eckstine : Christmas Eve



Jimmy Smith : The Christmas Song



Modern Jazz Quartet with Orchestra : England's Carol



Dave Brubeck and Gerry Muligan : Santa Claus is Coming To Town



Shirley Horn : Winter Wonderland


Ray Charles : rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer



Chick Corea : What Child is This



Christian McBride : Deck the Halls



Vince Guaraldi Trio : Linus and Lucy



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My Picks of the Best New Jazz for 2013


This year was a particularly fertile year for new, contemporary music by young composers. If the music has to be categorized at all it probably falls into that all encompassing genre we call " jazz.," a label that many consider too limiting. It was also a year when some of the more seasoned players brought their "A" game to the studio with predictably satisfying results.

 I personally have an affinity for a good melody,  good rhythm and lyricism and yet sometimes good music may lack an identifiable melody or contain rhythmic diversity that is so complex that it can only be  savored by a mathematically attuned brain. Music can be so arrhythmic as to cause  the internal rhythms of our bodies to react as if we are mainlining adrenaline. Some music is so atonal and dissonant that it can strain credibility with the listener, mimicking purposeful cacophony, but yet bringing with it a sense of expression, creativity  and occasionally a  sense of majesty. Acknowledging that it is all part of artistic expression, not everyone will find all the choices to be to their liking, but one thing is for sure they are all worthy of consideration. To paraphrase Duke Ellington's famous tome there are just two kinds of music, good music and the other kind. I believe these selections all fall into the good category. So go out and listen and support these talented artists.

With that in mind I offer my picks for the best of Jazz's New Music in  2013. My apologies to those fine offerings that I didn't have a chance to listen to this year and are necessarily excluded from my list.


My List of the best of Jazz for 2013


In no particular order:

Brian Landrus' Kaliedescope: Mirage, Blueland Records



Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran: Hagar's Song, ECM

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John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet: September, Cunneiform Records



Jan Ira Bloom: Sixteen Sunsets, Outline Records


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John Wirtz: Tourist, John Wirtz Music




The Jamie Baum Septet: In This Life, Sunnyside Records


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John Escreet: Sabotage and Celebration




Rudresh Mahanthappa's : Gamak, ACT Records


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Cecile McLoren Savant: Woman Child, Mack Avenue Records




Steve Gadd Band: Gadditude, BFM


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Geri Allen: Grand River Crossings, Motema




Steve Turre: The Bones of Art, High Note Records


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Dave Douglas Quintet: Be Still, Greenleaf Music




Christian McBride+ Inside Straight: People Music, Mack Avenue


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Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge: River Runs, MAMA Records




Ethan Iverson/Lee Konitz: Costumes Are Mandatory, High Note


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Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet: Wistawa, ECM




Antonio Sanchez: New Life, CamJazz




Michael Blanco: No Time Like the Present, Cognitive Dissonance
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Jonathan Kreisberg: One, NFN




Antonio Adolfo: Finas Misturas, AAM

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David Weiss & Point of Departure: Venture Inward, Positone

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Aaron Diehl, The Bespoke Man's Narrative, Mack Avenue



Joe Lovano Us Five: Cross Culture,  Blue Note

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Eddie Daniels & Roger Kellaway; Live in Santa Fe, Duke at the Roadhouse, IPO

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Will Calhoun: Life in This World, Motema

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John Hollenbeck: Songs I Like A Lot, Sunnyside



Honorable Mentions:

Amir El Saffar: Alchemy, Pi Recordings
Jonathan Finlayson: Moment & The Message, Pi Recordings
Eric Hoffbauer: American Grace, Creative Nation Music
Adam Rudolph's Go Organic Orchestra: Sonic Mandela
Frank Wess: Magic 101, IPO Recordings
Dave Holland Quartet: Prism, Dare2 Records
Bill Frisell, Big Sur, Okeh
Giacomo Gates: Miles Tones: Savant Records
Nicole Mitchell & Ice Crystals: Aquarius, Delmark
Tim Berne: Snakeoil, ECM
Jameo Brown: Transcendence, Motema
Christian McBride Trio: Out There, Mack Avenue

Best Historical Releases:

Volker Kreigel, Lost Tapes Mainz 1963-69, Jazz Haus
Modern Jazz Quartet: Lost Tapes, Gremany 1956-58, Jazz Haus
George Shearing: At Home, Jazzknight Records
Oscar Pettiford, The Lost Tapes Germany 1958-59, JazzHaus

Friday, November 29, 2013

John Escreet Challenges the Senses with"Sabotage and Celebration"


Sabotage and Celebration WR4634 2013
                                         
John Escreet is a twenty-nine year old pianist originally hailing from Doncaster, England who has resided stateside since 2006. He studied at the Manhattan School of Music with the pianists Kenny Baron and Jason Moran. His album Consequences from 2008 was hailed by the New York Times’ Nate Chinen as
“a highly accomplished debut.” Mr. Escreet, now living in Brooklyn, has become an increasingly omnipresent part of the progressive music scene in New York. Besides leading his own groups, he can be heard in the piano chair on Jamie Baum’s fine new release In This Life and on  Alchemy  with  the progressive Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir El Saffar. I have been intrigued by the pianist's rapid development.


Mr. Escreet’s  Sabotage and Celebration is a complex and intriguing album that showcases the young pianist's increasing maturation as a composer. Like his playing, the album challenges the senses. It has moments of majestic, lyrical beauty, like the expansive “He Who Dares” and the melodic “Laura Angela,” as well as stretches of difficult, discordant free improvisations, like the aptly titled songs “Sabotage and Consequences,” “The Decapitator” or the jagged “Animal Style.” Oftentimes these elements are woven into the same composition creating jarring juxtapositions. Mr. Escreet's musical vocabulary is effective, creating aural images that relay ideas that he is trying to express. Harsh jabs at the piano, squealing honks of the saxophone or piercing squeals of a trumpet have all been used by Mr. Escreet to make his point. On this album he also deftly orchestrates both string and brass sections that create dramatic backdrops for his more expansive compositions, like “Beyond Your Wildest Dreams” and the aforementioned “He Who Dares.” The music swells organically creating a atmospheric surround  that allows for the eruptive solos and taut ensemble playing to soar.

Throughout it all, Escreet’s formidable technique as a pianist is allowed to blossom. He agilely creates passages that range from single note ruminations to explosive bursts. His effective use of the synchronous and dueling voices of saxophonists of David Binney and Chris Potter on “He Who Dares” create a magical interlude. Escreet can play with extraordinary beauty, resplendent with crescendos of sound that belie a classical background. Make no mistake about it, Mr. Escreet wishes to challenge the boundaries of the music he creates with an approach that seems to have one foot in the lyrical and one foot in the abstract. While I struggle with some of the ear assaulting dissonance of the abstract parts of his music at times,
as he continues in his maturation process, I find myself being able to appreciate his efforts more and more. On Sabotage and Celebration Mr. Escreet creates moments of magic that are all too rarely found in a great deal of modern jazz and for this he is an artist to be watched closely.

Personnel: John Escreet, piano, Fender Rhodes, Harpsichord;  David Binney, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone track 7; Chris Potter, tenor saxophone; Matt Brewer, bass, Jim Black, drums. Adam Rodgers, guitar track7; String Section : Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Annette Homann, violin; Hannah Levinson, Viola; Mariel Roberts, cello; Garth Stevenson, double bass; Brass Section: Shane Endsley, trumpet; Josh Rosemena, trombone. Vocals Louis Cole , Genevieve Artadi, Nina Greiger track 7.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Freddy Cole and Hilary Kole perform "Perfect Pairs" Series in Stamford' Palace Theatre

PERFECT PAIRS : Freddy Cole and Hilary Kole 
PLAY THE STAMFORD PALACE THEATRE NOVEMBER 13, 2013


Freddy Cole photo Clay Walker 2007
Hilary Kole photo Bill Westmoreland
















In a continuing effort to establish Stamford's beautiful Palace Theatre, as a serious venue competing for New York caliber entertainment, Darien resident and Stamford Center of the Arts board member, Lynn DiMenna had a revelation. If one entertainer could thrill an audience, why not try to pair artists in a synergistic way, doubling the chance for an interesting evening of music and entertainment. The Perfect Pairs series attempts to do just that and has been running at the Palace Theatre this fall season. 

DiMenna, herself a cabaret singer. was able to lure name talent to participate in this venture and fashion her vision into a reality. The series, started on September 7, 2013 bringing together the accomplished stride pianist/vocalist Judy Carmichael with the cabaret performer Steve Ross who the NY Times called "the suavest of all male cabaret performers." The second of four planned pairings occurred on October 18, 2013 when the Palace showcased vocalist/comedienne Christine Pedi and pianist/singer Johnny Rodgers. The two premiered their new show "Hearthrobs and Bombshells of the Movies," a time capsule spanning from 1920's through the present day, that celebrates the sophisticated men and ladies of the movies and the music they sang.
The program continues on Wednesday evening, November 13th, when the series will feature two entertainers that offer exciting possibilities, the singers Freddy Cole and Hilary Kole. 
Lynn DiMenna and Freddy Cole photo courtesy of Lynn. DiMenna


The veteran crooner/pianist Freddy Cole is a true master of the art of storytelling, and despite his personal distaste for labels, he is a standard bearer for the tradition of the great male jazz singers that have come before him. The lineage includes his brother Nat, Bing Crosby, Billy Eckstine, Frank Sinatra and Johnny Hartman to name a few.

Having grown up in a musical family and in the shadows of his famous older brother Nat "King" Cole, Freddy would not be deterred from a musical career of his own. He studied music at Julliard, receiving a master's degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. Now in his eighty-first year, his resonant baritone is still silken. He has a burnished warm tone with a refined delivery that has been honed over his years as a journeyman musician. His sensuous voice conjures up images of scotch, cigarettes, impeccably tailored threads and late nights with beautiful ladies clinging to your arms. When one hears Mr. Cole sing there is no mistaking the lineage, but he has taken great pains to create his own authentic style. A style  more in keeping with the phrasing and savior faire of Billy Eckstine, his self-professed greatest influence.

After years of leading the life of a working musician with moderate commercial success and over twenty albums as a leader, Mr. Cole's career had a rebirth starting in the late eighties. As he related to me in a recent interview, he was attending church in NY with his niece when a sermon struck him as particularly pertinent to his own situation. "It kind of touched me. I started going to try to right myself. You know going down the path..." "I was doing okay, I was playing around town, but I was on the same road. I was just going round and round in circles...  "You know there is an old saying 'If you don't know where your going you can take any road.' "Until you can get to where your peers respect what you do, that is when you are making progress." One day "When I was playing at Bradley's this one night, who came in but Carmen McRae, Betty Carter, George Coleman, you name it. You know, I said to myself they're all coming to see me! Never knowing that they respected what I did." That was about 1989. 

Since then Freddy has made some great recordings, culminating in his 2011 Grammy nominated album Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B in the category of "Best Jazz Vocal Album." Other fine and recent offerings include Talk to Me from 2011 and his latest This and That from this year.



As Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune so aptly wrote about a recent performance of the Cole quartet in the Second City " You simply don't encounter phrasing as seemingly nonchalant yet polished as this very often anymore." It is Mr. Cole's ability to make the storytelling so natural and to combine it with a superb sense of musicality and rhythm that makes him a treasure not to be missed. 

The chanteuse Hillary Kole brings her own special appeal. The young and beautiful Ms. Kole is a mysterious mix. Having been one of the youngest artists to have played the Rainbow Room-she was twenty-one when she got a one and one half year gig at this elegantly fabled venue singing in front of the Steven Scott Orchestra. Kole went on to perform a cabaret show based on the music of Frank Sinatra titled Our Sinatra at the famed Algonquin hotel. Later she and her group added an extended run at The Blue Angel. She was just about done with this project when the show landed a gig at the iconic jazz club Birdland. Her extended stay at the club led to an unlikely romance with the owner Gianni Valenti. Valenti introduced her to Oscar Peterson, who was playing what proved to be his last run at the club. It was here that she had the rare opportunity to play with Peterson's group on at least one occasion. Her debut album Haunted Heart was produced by guitarist John Pizzarelli and released in 2009 with esteemed radio host Jonathan Schwartz commenting in the liner notes "Her future is solid. Trust me on this."





She followed this up with her Cd You Are There, a series of duets that Valenti produced, pairing her with some of the best pianists in jazz. Hilary's clear vocals were heard on a series of standards with accompaniment by the likes of Dave Brubeck, Hank Jones, Michel Le Grand and Cedar Walton to name a few. It was on this album that she first worked with Freddy Cole. The two recorded the Jimmy Van Heusen song "It's Always You" in September of 2006.
Ms. Kole has since left Birdland and Mr. Valenti behind, but she continues to perform with one foot in cabaret and one foot in jazz. 

It should prove to be an interesting evening when the two meet once again on the Palace's Harman Stage for this "Perfect Pairs" performance. Mr. Cole's band of Randy Napoleon on guitar, Elias Bailey on bass and Curtis Boyd on drums should make for solid accompaniment for the two singers.  


Mr. Cole, the consummate professional, will undoubtedly be able to reach into his war chest of over five thousand songs to find ones most suitable for the occasion.  Ms. Kole will likely have to adapt on the fly, using her jazz chops as there will be no prearranged set list. Freddy prefers to "read" his audience before choosing the songs he will play on the bandstand on any given night. As he said when we spoke "Fortunately it is jazz music so it gives us a chance to do several things."  Ms Kole has a wonderful voice and an equally elegant stage presence. Her years of experience on the bandstands will undoubtedly help her navigate Mr. Cole's penchant for unpredictability.

It is music in the making that makes the "Perfect Pairs" series such an exciting concept. Two seemingly disparate entertainers coming together using the universal language of music and the extemporaneous nature of jazz as their common thread. It should make for an interesting evening of great entertainment. For more information on the show click here.

For a link to my full interview with Mr. Cole click here.





Friday, November 8, 2013

An Interview with Singer/Pianist Freddy Cole

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE SINGER/PIANIST FREDDY COLE 
NOVEMBER 7, 2013
Freddy Cole photo by Clay Walker

  • The singer/pianist Freddy Cole is a national treasure and at eighty-one years young he is still a masterful entertainer. He will be playing in a duet series with the singer Hilary Kole titled "Perfect Pairs" at the Palace Theatre in Stamford, CT on November 13, 2013. I was fortunate to be able to do an interview with Mr. Cole in preparation for an article on the show. Here is a transcript of that phone interview which was taken on November 7, 2013 :


NOJ: When did you first realize you wanted to make a career in music?

FC: You know, I never really thought about it. I never really distinguished between doing it or not because I have played the piano since I was five years old. So, I have always been involved with music. I was just fortunate enough for it to happen to me.

NOJ: You were in a musical family and were exposed to some of the most iconic figures in jazz history at an early age.

FC: That's true. Yeah that's true.

NOJ: Who left the greatest impression on you and what instance can you recall had the greatest impact?

FC: I don't know. To pick out one would be kind of difficult, I have had wonderful experiences with Billy Eckstine, He was such a wonderful man. I played golf with him and went out for drinks with him, you know after I got old enough. I guess "B" would be the person I would have to choose.

NOJ: You had a great song you wrote "I'm Not My Brother I'm Me" which pretty much addresses the difficulty of living in the shadow of an iconic figure like your brother Nat ("King" Cole) and finding your own way. When do you feel the public was willing to accept you as an artist on your own terms?

FC: One time, I guess it '88 or '89, I was playing in NY and my niece and I went to church the next day- you know Natalie's younger sister- and I heard a sermon that kind of touched me. I started off going to try to right myself, you know going down the path of... in fact there is an old saying that Papa used to say " If you don't know where you are going , any road will take you there."  You know? (Laughing)

NOJ: Yeah, I get it.

FC: Exactly. I was doing okay. I was playing around town, but I was on the same road. I was just going round and round  in circles. Until you can get to where your peers respect what you do, that is when you are making progress. When I was playing at Bradley's this one night, who comes in but Carmen McRae, Betty Carter, George Coleman you name it. You know I said to myself, 'They're all coming to see me.' Never knowing that they respected me, what I did.

NOJ: When was this, about 1989?

FC: Yeah.

NOJ: according to John di Martino, who has worked with you and arranged and played on several of your albums, you have one of the most extensive repertoire's in the industry to draw from, but you never make a set list before a show. Is this true?

FC: Yes,  that's right. ..(John) has worked with me and is a great, great, player.

NOJ: How do you spontaneously choose what your going to play for any particular show?

FC: I don't know. It's hard to explain, 'cause I just zero in on the it as I do the first song and then from there it's like boom, boom, boom ...you know.

NOJ: So it's a visceral thing? You feel the audience and feel what they are looking for and then...

FC: Yeah, its like all in the presentation, You have to present (properly) what you do.

NOJ: How do you look at lyrics when you sing a song?

FC: They tell a certain story. They tell a story about what you are talking about in the song. Some songs you like because of the chord changes or the melody, some songs you like because of the lyrics. You know when it's a great song you get them both together.

NOJ: One of your contemporaries, Tony Bennett, likes to pick songs ( with lyrics) that mean something to him.

FC: Exactly. I don't do anything that I don't like. Anything you hear me do, you know I like it.
I like some (songs) better than others, but I don't do any songs that I feel I have to butter up or doctor it up. No, I don't do that.

NOJ: You mentioned Billy Eckstine.You did a great album dedicated to him titled
Freddy Cole sings Mr. B  from 2010, which was nominated for a Grammy award in 2011 in the
category of "Best Jazz Vocal Album." Congratulations. What was it about Mr."B"and his music that still endures?

FC: He was so musical and he was a classy person. It is so hard to talk about him, he did so many things right. His selection of songs was impeccable. You know during that era nobody recorded more than "B" my brother Nat, Ella ( Fitzgerald) and Frank Sinatra . Those four people recorded more than anyone.
Their music still stands.

NOJ: In reading about Billy Eckstine, he apparently credited Russ Columbo and Bing Crosby as two of his influences.

FC: Bing Crosby was a fantastic musician. People don't realize how great he was. His choice of songs, he did everything. There wasn't anything he couldn't do that was the same way "B" was.

NOJ: Where Crosby or Columbo too early to be an influence on you?

FC: I liked some of their songs. I listened to everything. I liked some of the songs that they did.
Some great tunes came out of there.

NOJ: You have developed a vocal style that is so naturally conversational and yet so intrinsically musical that it mesmerizes your audiences. Is this a result of playing gigs where the audience was not always attentive and you needed to grab them or did it just come naturally?

FC: (Laughing) well it's a little bit of both. I learned how to do this from watching and listening to Brazilian singers. I used to go to Brazil, I had a couple of hit records down in Brazil and I had a chance to meet and play with a lot of great musicians. They have a lot of great musicians down there who sadly will never be known up here. One thing always got me was the way they could really grab an audience. Elise Regina was a master at that. She was beautiful and she could sing, oh man! Maria Bethania was another.

NOJ: You have over twenty albums as a leader, starting with The Joke's On Me from 1952 all the way to your most recent album This and That. Do you have any favorites?

FC: Well, I like This and That.

NOJ: You will be playing a duet with the vocalist Hilary Kole at the Stamford Center for the Arts Palace Theatre on November 13, 2013. What do you have planned for this gig?

FC: I have no idea. I recorded with Hilary once before " It's Always You" (from Hilary's You Are There album of 2010), so I am sure we will do that one and what else I don't know.

NOJ: One of the interesting parts of the "Perfect Pairs" series at the Palace is that it brings together two artists from different backgrounds, usually jazz and cabaret. Ms. Kole has worked in cabaret and she also worked at Birdland and the Rainbow Room and you have a repertoire that includes a generous helping of Broadway tunes. Is this a common ground that you might explore?

FC: I don't know, not until I talk to her. I have to speak with her and see what direction she would like to go with and what we could do together. Fortunately it's jazz music so it gives us a chance to do several things.

NOJ: What are the commonalities between jazz and cabaret?

FC: I am a firm believer in (not labeling)...people always have to have a title for something. Why can't they just let it be music. Or good music. Why does it have to be "Urban Contemporary Adult Music?" What is that? The "Nearness of You" or "Body And Soul" are the same I don't care what you playing at.
It's like Stevie Wonder's "Sunshine of My Life," that's music.I'm not putting any kind of music down, but why does it have to have a title? You have to say, oh this is a singer, he's this or she's that....I totally disagree with that.

NOJ: I guess when we writers try to describe and differentiate the many styles we hear we tend to use words to compare and to label,seemingly for clarity.

FC: Well they (writers) messed up a lot of careers with that. Some people try to fit in to whatever
(category) it is they say and if you keep bouncing around, not doing what your capable of doing or of what you can do best, well that is what you should do. Try to worry about your presentation, about doing that
(properly) instead of worrying about...oh, I 'm in Texas so I'd better do a Country & Western song. Or, oh I'm in California so I got to do a cool jazz song. That's crazy!

NOJ: But even guys like Sonny Rollins did a Western album (Sonny Rollins Way Out West from 1959)
that was successful.

FC: You why he did it? It was because it made sense musically.

NOJ: Ray Charles was another artist that would crossover into different areas to widen his audiences.

FC: Well Ray wasn't doing anything different than what he was doing all his life. You go all the way back to his first thing and hey he wasn't doing anything different.

NOJ: Will you be playing with your regular quartet at the Palace show?

FC: Yes. Randy Napoleon on guitar, Elias Bailey on bass and Curtis Boyd on drums.

NOJ: Does Randy do some arranging for you?

FC: He has been arranging some of my material on the last two Cd's and he is doing a nice job.

NOJ: I understand your son Lionel is a talented musician and musical director in his own right?

FC: Yeah, he is a very fine musician. He is living in Australia now. He got married and he is living over there and is as busy as a one-armed paperhanger.

NOJ: It must be tough having him so far away?

FC: Yeah, I don't get a chance to see him and my two grand kids much. That's tough but you got to do what you got to do.

NOJ: Thanks so much Freddy for  graciously spending this time to answer our questions. I look forward to seeing at you the Palace Theatre show on November 13, 2013.







Sunday, October 20, 2013

John di Martino's Trio "Turnaround": A Master Accompanist Shines in the Spotlight

John di Martino photo by Ralph A. Miriello  2013
The composer/pianist John di Martino has a reputation among vocalists in the know. The word is if you have a project and want to do something special, get this guy to arrange and play on your record. His well-deserved reputation for being the consummate accompanist/arranger comes from a deep and abiding love and respect for the lyric of a good song.  A superb technician, John’s training with two pianists Jimmie Amadie and  Lennie Tristano, and later briefly with the saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, gave him a deep rooted sense of  time, space and the judicious use of notes. But it was listening to vocalists that his mother would play for him as a youngster in Philadelphia that made him deeply sensitive to the lyrics and the emotional impact they could have on a song. Tristanto would make di Martino sing the solo parts of great horn players to learn phrasing, the key to emotional content. It was a lesson that stuck .

John took his talent and his love of lyric and found work in the then thriving Atlantic City casino scene of the nineteen eighties, where his trio became the house band for the now defunct Golden Nugget. He found himself playing behind a myriad of performers from Billy Eckstine to Keely Smith, sometimes backing the vaudevillian shtick of a comedian like Milton Berle or comping for R & B singer Chico DeBarge. Through it all he cultured a journeyman’s attitude, learning by necessity to play various kinds of music as the situation demanded. Instead of coping an attitude, judging  the music for its lack of complexity or creativity, he made it his practice to extract different values from each musical experience no matter how mundane. His love of Latin and Afro-Cuban music and his ability to absorb its rhythmic nuances landed him extended gigs in the bands of percussionist Ray Barretto and later the drummer Bobby Sanabria.  As the word spread about this unassuming pianist who could deftly make any singer sound better, di Martino became a sought after partner by vocalists, especially jazz vocalists. He has worked with Billy Eckstine, Jon Hendricks, Janice Segal, Giacomo Gates, Freddy Cole, Gloria Lynne  and Grady Tate to name a few. So it was with great curiosity that I decided to listen and review one of John’s recent works, this time as a leader on Turnaround  his recent cd  from 2012.


John di Martino Trio Turnaround KD10017
Turnaround is a piano trio album consisting of thirteen songs, mostly under-recorded gems that John believes are fertile material for further exploration. The trio is as tight and interactive as there is in jazz, with bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Alvin Atkinson providing superbly intuitive accompaniment and support.  For a musician who is often found on the sidelines of somebody else's project, John’s out front playing on Turnaround  is a revelation.

On the title tune, Ornette Coleman’s “Turnaround,” di Martino  plays the staccato theme with a touch of McCoy Tyner percussiveness and a fluidity that is impressive . Despite the Blues roots of this song, John  creates an outpouring of ideas that never cease to surprise and often stirs in the listener an emotional response. Atkinson’s gentle stick and rim work is sublime and Kozlov’s plump bass lines suspend in the air like billowy cumulus clouds hanging on a blue horizon creating a cohesive sound.

On the neglected , depression- era Jay Gorney composition, “Brother Can You Spare A Dime” John and his trio set off on a loosey- goosey jaunt reminiscent of the brilliant Hampton Hawes trio of the mid-nineteen fifties. The trio of Hampton Hawes on piano, Red Mitchell on bass and Chuck Thompson on drums, could make the music flow with an unvarnished honesty and supple  buoyancy that was unmatched creating magic. The carefree, inhibition to swing that Kozolv, Atkinson and di Martino demonstrate here is not easily achieved. The interactivity of this group is impressive, they create their own kind of magic. Boris Koslov’s walking bass lines echo some of Red Mitchell’s work and Atkinson’s brushes subtly maintain that steady, unerring swing with deceptive ease .Like Hawes, Di Martino’s playing emits an air of joyfulness that is genuine.

Mr. di Martino has a library of unheralded songs that he likes to draw from and one such piece is the soulful    “The Sun Died” from the Ray Charles repertoire. This bittersweet shuffle is made all the more poignant by Koslov’s mournful bass lines and John’s piquant keyboard work. The album features two Billy Strayhorn tunes. On “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing ” Mr. di Martino transforms Strayhorn’s lament to a more uplifting tale with his use of Brazilian rhythms. John’s washboard-liker ostinato piano lines in the lower register are perfectly counterpointed by Atkinson’s regimentally cadenced snare and cymbal work.  The song sways its way in a genteel dance of sorts, as Mr. di Martino’s rhythmic piano lines pitter-patter across the melody line. Eventually Mr. Atkinson is given a chance to stir things up with a brief but potent string of poly rhythms ending in a abrupt climax.

Another unearthed lost gem is “Moon and Sand.” John ‘s sensitive playing exemplifies  the beauty of this tender ballad.  Di Martino and Kozlov have a special chemistry playing off each other’s ideas, made possible by John’s knack for inspired arrangements. You can hear snippets of different vaguely familiar songs in John’s playing, the man is steeped in the history.  He meanders through  lines of a song each time  like he is rediscovering anew.

On Eddie Harris’s “Cold Duck Time” John captures the flavor of Harris’ funky style, with touches of the Ramsey Lewis sound surfacing in his playing. This is just plain get-down fun and has you nodding your head to the beat.  What becomes apparent is the versatility of John’s playing. He is a chameleon of sorts who has the ability to adapt to a variety of styles while retaining his own voice, but at its core his music possess an underlying sense of enjoyment, the man revels in playing music.

John taps into the Richard Rodgers songbook with “If I Loved You” and “Falling in Love With You”  giving both song's tender treatments. He also does a  stirringly l inventive turn on the movie theme to “Black Orpheus.”

The more contemporary Stevie Wonder composition titled “I Can’t Help It,” is turned sideways by arranging the song using a Latin rumba rhythm.  The composition features a fleet bass solo by Kozlov and the soft touch of Atkinson on toms and snare.
John di Martino and Bassist Ed Howard
photo by Ralph A. Miriello  2013

The album ends with other Strayhorn tune “Passion Flower” played as a somber dirge with Atkinson’s muffled toms recreating an Ellington-era sound. Di Martino’s piano is particularly romantic in its approach and. Kozlov’s arco bass solo is achingly evocative. “Sweet Pea” would approve.


With Turnaround, The John di Martino Trio establishes itself as a force to be reckoned with and John’s stature  as a superb pianist and arranger is further cemented  adding to his already confirmed credentials as one of the business’ best accompanist. 


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mr. Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet Play the Music of "September" at Firehouse 12

The Claudia Qunitet
On this past Friday evening at the Firehouse 12, in New Haven, CT- easily Connecticut's premier venue for modern jazz- the outre modern drummer/composer John Hollenbeck and his Claudia Quintet charmed an astute audience with his unique musical vision. Hollenebeck is a truly gifted drummer with an inquisitive nature, but it is his combined notated and improvised compositions that straddle the boundaries of music and aural art.
As a student of the great Bob Brookmeyer, who he credits as one of the most important influences in his life, he carries on a thirst for composition for and arrangement of multiple instrumentation and the sounds it can produce.

As is his custom, Hollenbeck often uses the month of September as a time to take up an artist residency in remote places. There he uses the quiet time to write and compose new work. His latest album is titled September and it is a compilation of music that John created during his latest residency last September. Each song is titled with a date in September related to their conception and a more informative subtitle.

Drummers have often reached beyond the traditional drum kit to supplement their sound and Hollenbeck is no exception, developing an array of techniques that allow him to produce sounds that expand his aural palette. With the Claudia Quintet he has found like-minded band mates that can take it a step further, adding complimentary timbres, colors, and tones to his own array of percussive techiques and poly-rhythmic beats. Of his latest work September Hollenbeck says " I am especially interested in how, through the simple non-violent act of composition, one can help oneself become a better person, deppen one's connection to humanity, and create work that can soothe and heal." As a composer, the sounds of Matt Moran's vibraphone, Red Wierenger's accordion, Chris Speeds reeds and ChrisTordini's bass add pliable voices that serve Hollenbeck's compositional purpose. Despite Mr. Hollenbeck's serious demeanor there is a bit of a tongue in cheek feeling to some of the things he uses to convey his musical message. A humanity that shines through the purposefulness. 



Chris Speed and John Hollenbeck 
photo by Ralph A. Miriello c 2103
The set started out in silence as Mr. Moran and Mr. Speed set the contemplative tone of the first number titled "September 17th"  subtitled "The Loop Song." Mr. Moran's hollow, tremelo-filled sounds mesh in chamber music-like fashion with Mr. Speed's darting,woody clarinet evoking a free dance ensemble. Eventually Mr. Weirenga's accordion enters squeezing each chord in perfect harmony as Mr. Hollenbeck scrapes the sides of his cymbals creating eerie accents. Hollenbeck eventually changes the serene mood by introducing a steady rhythm with Mr. Tordini and by interjecting some of his looped vocal overdubs ( this one repeating the word "Hindsight"). Mr. Hollenbeck has a series of pre-recorded loops at the ready, some of them echoing sounds like sirens, most of phrases stolen from news announcements or historical speeches, all adding penetratingly to his musical message.  

John explains that whenever he reflects on September he almost always harkens back to tragedy of September 11, 2001 and so he wanted to create a album of songs that somehow represented the more uplifting remembrances 
he has of September. A restorative work.

John took to the microphone explaining the next composition, a dedication to his friend and the pianist Jason Moran, whose email tagline is lemons. The tune is appropriately titled "September 18th- Lemons." John starts out with a driving rhythm that serves as the background for a repeating, serpentine line combining the sounds of Speed on tenor, Weirenga's accordion and Moran's vibes. Hollenbeck eventually changes the beat, slowing it down to a marching-like cadence that has his fellow instrumentalists lending sporadic accents. The sound decays like a dormant space craft losing orbit and descending into the open abyss. The time shifts in this song are quite dramatic, yet Hollenbeck navigates them with consummate skill. He utilizes chains and paper on his drums to create a cacophony of disruptive and unusual sounds. Speed's tenor solos over a eerie dirge that Hollenbeck, Moran, Tordini and Weirenga build to a intense conclusion. 

Hollenbeck starts the next composition titled "September 29, 1936- Me Warn You" with pounding mallets over taught toms. Looped segments of FDR's voice from the his Democratic National Convention speech of that year are deftly added to the mix creating a surreal awareness of a message. This piece is more akin to performance art than traditional melody based music. The musicians key off of the repeated spoken lines and the cadence of FDR's words define the melody and the rhythm of the piece. Matt Moran, using violin bows against the sides of his vibraphone's bars, creates his own unique droning sound. With his wild mane of light hair, Moran looks like Christopher Lloyd's mad scientist from the movie  "Back to the Future," and vibraphonist can play frenetically at times in a whirling dervish kind of way. 
Matt Moran photo by Ralph A. Miriello c 2013
The most moving piece of this set was the composition titled "September 22- Love is It's Own Eternity "  This peaceful ballad had a languishing quality accentuated by Weirenga's droning accordion and Moran's lingering tubular sound. Bassist Tordini provided a penetrating bass solo that hovered over this floating cloud of a song. Hollenbeck played brushes to perfection and Speed's tenor was subtle and subdued lulling the audience with its beauty and sensitivity.

Hollenbeck decided to go back to his earlier repertoire for a song titled "Flock," composed at a time he was doing a residency in Scotland. John took to the piano, pounding out singular notes in a rhythmic pattern that is then picked up by his fellow musicians. Much like the lead goose leads a flock, calling out to his fellow travelers, giving them direction, the band is guided musically by Mr. Hollenbeck's lead sounds. If you closed your eyes you could see the formation of downy birds flying over the horizon.

Red Weirenger, Chris Tordini and Chris Speed
photo by Ralph A. Miriello c 2103
The final song of the first set was titled "September 9th- Wayne Phase," a song inspired by the saxophonist Wayne Shorter, but clearly not Shorter-esque in sound. Weirneger's droning accordion moans as Moran's vibes track the melody over Hollenbeck's snare rolls. John's poly-rhythms create the backdrop for a series of solos. Weirneger solos, first creating a sound that combined with Hollenebeck's frenetic traps present the aura of a runaway calliope. The repeated melody line is broken with a series of sounds that emanate from the players in a controlled but free-like exhibition of coordinated frenzy.

A high-light of the album, which was disappointingly not played during the first set,  is the haunting "September 12th- The Coping Song" written the day after the attacks on the Trade Center Towers when Mr. Hollenbeck was in residency in upstate NY. This chamber music-like piece utilizes the beautiful sustained tones of the accordion, the resonant sound of the clarinet and the lingering, hollow sound of the vibes to great effect. The ostinato that Mr. Hollenbeck creates is at once somber and up-lifting,developing a sense of promise and expectation out of a cloud of disbelief and shock. 

Mr. Hollenbeck's vision of September is one of hope and creativity.
He has a unique mind that can envision sounds from various real life situations and compose them into accurate statements of the human condition. At times the beauty of his music offers us a glimpse into the magnificent possibilities. 





Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Cassandra Wilson Kicks Off the New Season at The Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase, N.Y. September 28, 2013



Cassandra Wilson has been touted as one of the finest jazz vocalists of her generation. At the heart of it all she is a Mississippi girl who was raised in Jackson and absorbed some of the area’s Delta blues tradition into her soul. Coincidentally, Ms. Wilson was also affected by the contemporary sounds of the folk and rock music of her generation. Like any inspired innovator, she found a way to introduce songs she grew up with into her repertoire. Songs by artists like Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and even the Monkees, reworking them into minor masterpieces of a hybrid sound that is pure Cassandra Wilson. She possesses a voluptuous contralto voice that she has honed into a marvelously supple instrument. She can alter timbre and tone with precision and purpose. Her relaxed, conversational delivery is more folk/blues than jazz-like, but yet she is an improviser at heart retaining a jazz sensibility in her music. She is a stylist more than a traditional singer, bringing her own unique interpretation to songs that we thought we knew. Sometimes, after hearing her versions, we realize that we really didn't have a clue. For all intents and purposes she defies categorization.
Cassandra Wilson and Band at PAC SUNY 

On this the opening evening of the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College’s 2013-2014 season,  Ms. Wilson was joined by her latest band members. Her musical director, the Swiss chromatic harmonica player Gregoire Maret, the pianist Jon  Cowherd, the bassist Lonnie Plaxico, the guitarist Brandon Ross and the French percussionist Mino Cinelu opened the show with a soulful but sweet instrumental .

After the opening warm-up from the band Ms. Wilson walked on the stage to enthusiastic applause. She started the set with a Delta blues inspired song featuring the sparse but effective solo guitar work of Brandon Ross.  Ross has the patience and skill to slowly build ever increasingly interesting fragments of a song from what seems, at first, like randomly selected notes. His twangy lines emerge revealing the barest hint of an identifiable rhythm allowing long spaces for bent, scratchy notes to simmer in the air like the smell of cooked greens on a hot stove.  You can feel of the blues emanate from the body of his steel guitar as he introduces Charlie Patton’s “Saddle up my Pony.” Chromatic harmonica player and musical director Gregoire Marmet took up a bass line on a large mouth organ that emanated low register sounds like a reedy old pump organ. Ms Wilson’s deliberately paced contralto reading of the lines added the final touches to this blues classic.

The second selection was the title song from her latest CD Another Country.  The song has a swaying rhythm that is provided by finger picking by Ross, a walking bass line by Plaxico, some hand percussion by Cinelu and some harmonica accents by Marmet.  Mr. Marmet is an accomplished chromatic player who has a sweet sound that lacks the growl of a real blues player-more Toots than Stevie. Ms. Wilson’s husky voice easily modulates in a cadence that mimics the song’s rhythmic sway.

Twenty years ago Ms. Wilson released her first Blue Note album titled Blue Light Till Dawn, so appropriately she played Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey”  from that CD. In many ways Ms. Wilson’s languid delivery takes all the yearning sentiment out of the Irishman’s originally touching version. The re-working, while certainly her own interpretation,  is just a bit too listless, devoid of the earnest soulful energy that Mr. Morrison so deftly gave to the original. Mr. Marmet’s  sickeningly sweet harmonica only accentuates the divide relegating the song into schmaltz, Mr. Plaxico’s buzzing arco bass at the coda a bit gimmicky.

Ms. Wilson’s willingness to cross artificially created musical boundaries is part of her appeal. It may not always be a successful endeavor but she certainly has the fortitude to try to expand her musical palette. Mr. Cowherd and Mr. Plaxico started the next song “Angola” with an ostinato piano/bass line with a distinctive samba-like rhythm that seemed to energize Mr. Cinelu on hand drums. Ms. Wilson clapped her hands and slithered  around the stage to the beat as she sang in Portuguese. When Mr. Cinelu harmonized with her voice it was quite pleasing. Ms. Wilson took a cabasa out of Cinelu’s hands and the two had the audience clapping in time.  Mr. Cinelu exhibited an animated exuberance that grew in intensity as the rhythm  section of Plaxico, Ross and Cowherd  pushed the  pace. Mr. Cinelu exhibited a poly rhythmic finale that had the audience cheering.

In a demonstration of where Ms. Wilson’s re-workings of a song are most effective, the most poignant part of the evening was when Ms. Wilson and Mr. Ross played the Jimmy Webb classic “Witchita Lineman” from her album Belly of the Sun.  Here Ms. Wilson’s purposefully slow and deliberate take accentuated the poignancy of Webb’s simple lyrics to perfection. The hushed audience was mesmerized and Mr. Marret’s saccharine sound was able to punctuate the mood to perfection.

In speaking about her musical upbringing in a recent NPR interview Ms. Wilson said “I still love the piano, but the guitar is my heart.”  On “Red Guitar,”  from her latest CD Another Country, Ms.Wilson picked up a red telecaster-like electric guitar and sang. There is little need for her to play with such an able guitarist as Mr. Ross doing all the heavy lifting here, but it is a homecoming of sorts for Ms. Wilson. It was her early folk/rock/blues playing in coffee houses and such, often self-accompanied on guitar, where she learned to nuances of her voice and formed the essence of her style, so it was nice to here her return to this less produced format. The audience agreed.

Mr. Cowherd’s sensitive side was heard on an unnamed  instrumental duet between him and Mr. Maret. Mr. Cowherd can play beautifully and his unassuming demeanor belies his talent. Mr. Maret seemed to thrive in the pairing, not over playing, simply adding sparse contrapuntal accents that matched Mr. Cowherd’s chords perfectly.

Ms. Wilson’s successful integration of pop songs into her vernacular is probably best demonstrated by her re imagining of the Monkee’s hit “ The Last Train to Clarksville,” which she first covered on her Grammy award winning album New Moon Daughter from 1996. On this version she proved that she can continue to make otherwise generic songs into her own minor masterpieces.  Mr. Cowherd was particularly soulful on this one and Mr. Plaxico was rock steady throughout. She left the stage as Mr. Maret and the band took the song out.

After a standing ovation Ms. Wilson returned to the stage and appropriately ended the set with a blues. Mr. Ross , who never left the stage-tuning his guitar throughout the applause, led off with his pungent guitar lines that slowly but surely develop into a four bar blues line. The band builds this slow-cooker in stages as each instrument enters adding more fuel to this simmering fire. Ms. Wilson’s smoky alto is center stage as she walks us through the Son House lyrics of “Death House.” Ms.  Wilson first did this song on her New Moon Daughter Album and it is the authentic pathos of her singing on this song that firmly establishes her as a true blues artist of major import. On this evening however, after a few verses of Ms. Wilson’s heart wrenching vocals, (which we could have used more of), the band took the song as a vehicle for extended improvisation by Mr. Maret.  Despite the crowd’s applause during Mr. Maret’s endless solo, as a harmonica player myself, I am particularly sensitive to the effectiveness of a harp in music and especially within the blues idiom. For me, Mr. Maret’s indulgence detracted from the performance. I would have preferred fewer choruses with a bending diatonic harp for this song in keeping with the blues tradition, but that is just a personal preference. More importantly, as musical director, Mr. Maret, no matter how talented a player, must realize and that using the harmonica sparingly is the most prudent course. On this point perhaps Mr. Ross, whose judicious use of space on his guitar is exemplary, could be his guide. Ms. Wilson’s voice is the feature here and she did not disappoint, although it would have been nice to hear more of her and a little less of her band. Despite a generally pleasing performance, it was a bit disconcerting that to me that at times it seemed as if the band was featured more than the headliner.

The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College has a fabulously eclectic season planned for this year. Its schedule can be found at here.






Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Trombone Heaven on Steve Turre's The Bones of Art:


Steve Turre The Bones of Art High Note HCD 7251
For over thirty years Art Blakey was as influential a band leader as there was in jazz. From 1947 until his death in 1991, his group the Jazz Messengers was a university of jazz  for young and talented musicians. Many of these young lions would later become some of the period’s most influential players of the genre.  Steve Turre was one of the few musicians who played trombone with Blakey and can be heard on Blakey’s 1973 album Anthenaga  along with then members Cedar Walton and Woody Shaw.  His experience with Blakey left a lasting impression on the young trombonist and his latest album, The Bones of Art, is as much a dedication to the late band leader as it is a celebration of the diversity of expression available on his instrument, the trombone.  Steve used the Blakey connection to realize his dream of fronting a band with three trombone voices leading the way. He assembled fellow Blakey trombone alumni Steve Davis, Frank Lacy and Robin Eubanks to contribute their individual signature sounds along with pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Willie Jones III .

The Bones of Art may well be the best trombone featured  album since the seminal collaborations made by Kai Winding and JJ Johnson on albums like their 1960 The Great Kai and JJ. The album starts off with a dedication to trombone legend Slide Hampton, “Slide’s Ride” is a driving, hard bop smoker that features the three synchronous trombones of Davis, Lacy and Turre demonstrating the true meaning of simpatico. Pianist Xavier Davis sounds like a young McCoy Tyner before the solos start. Listening to the three voices with their nuanced interpretations is most interesting. Turre leads off with a boisterous medium register solo that has a growly gusto, Davis’ solo is more billowy, blissfully floating with a light airiness. Lacy’s sound is the most raucous of the three with his slurring streams clustered with a quick-cadenced ease. The rhythm section provides the torrid pace with Peter Washington and Willie Jones III keeping the exquisite time. Slide would be proud.

Steve Turre’s ballad “Blue and Brown” is homage to Lawrence Brown who was Duke Ellington’s first trombonist. A sweet Basie-like piano solo by Davis and a wonderfully buoyant bass solo by Washington are two features of this slow waltz. The three trombone voices meld together like three pats of butter in a hot pan in a display of magical harmony that leads to a nostalgic sounding pixie-plunger solo by Turre;  a subtle piece to be savored like the sip of a fine brandy.

Trombonist Frank Lacy’s “Settegast Strut” is a piece of music that lends itself perfectly to the powerful
sound of the three ‘bones in synchronous harmony. Lacy’s big, gutsy growl is on majestic display for three choruses, as he demonstrates his amazing control of this expressive instrument. He slides through a range of ascending notes that sends shivers down your spine and then bellows out some low notes that seem almost bottomless. Turre adds a couple choruses of his own that squeeze out some of his own ideas on the music. All the while Willie Jones III punctuates with his crashing cymbals at just the right times and Davis’s flowing piano crescendos smooth out the lines in between and at the coda.

Part of the fun of this album is listening to all the devices and styles these guys can produce from their bag of tricks. “Bird’s Bones” is Steve Davis’ composition dedicated to Charlie Parker.  This bop inspired song starts out with Davis on open horn, Lacy on a cup mute with its distinctively “tinny” sound and Turre on metal straight mute. Davis solos first with an open horn,Turre is up next with a distinctive handmade wooden mute that has a bit of a muffled sound. After a brief piano solo by Davis, Lacy plays with a squeaky sounding Harmon mute followed by a short bass solo by Washington and then a few choruses of Willie Jones soloing between breaks as the song ends.

Peter Washington’s galloping bass opens the scene on Turre’s  “Sunset” as the three trombones- one open, one with a plunger and one with a mute- play the opening line in a lazy, almost dreamy way.  But the song has a sauntering swing that inspires the playful spirit of these players. Lacy takes the first solo with an open horn that seems to awaken to the rhythm in an uplifting way. Turre uses his plunger to create a more playful swing with his screeches and slurs paving the way for a piano solo by Davis. Davis tickles the ivories with a spirited playful touch. Steve Davis plays a warm, bellowing solo with an open horn, letting some of his notes linger in the air like ripe figs on a tree, delicious. The trio use bucket mutes for the finale as they close languidly to the ostinato bass line.

On Turre’s “4 & 9”, a reference to the alternating time signatures 4/4 and 9/4 used in this song, we are treated to another trombone master and Blakey alumnus, Robin Eubanks. Eubanks is a master of odd meters and Turre’s tune is tailor made for this man’s specialty. Pianist Xavier Davis puts some funk into the tune using the Fender Rhodes and guest bassist Kenny Davis adds his own brand electric bad ass.
Turre navigates through the meter changes with accomplished aplomb on his open horn, then Eubanks takes it to another level. He bursts unto the scene with a solo that is both spirited and soulful  as he traverses the changes with a smoothness that belies their complexity.

“Fuller Beauty” is a modal ballad that is dedicated to trombonist Curtis Fuller who played with Turre in the Blakey band. This one is gorgeously expressive. Turre plays a heartfelt open solo that finds him at his most sensitive. The pianist Davis also finds a warm, sensitive side to his playing here, with Steve Davis and Frank Lacy playing harmonically rich supporting parts. Jones and Washington anchor this ballad with subtle surety.

Kevin Eubanks “Shorter Blu” is a dually dedicated to the saxophonist Wayne Shorter, another Blakey alumnus, and to Blakey  himself, whose Muslim nickname was Blu.  Here all four trombones act in concert on this unusual piece of music. After a rising piano solo by Davis, Eubanks opens with a, shifting, zigzag-like solo. Turre takes a turn with a Harmon muted solo and then Lacy takes his own gruff solo before the ensemble all enter in a free-spirited jam that colors the song to the coda.

The gutsiest song on the album is Turre’s “Julian’s Blues”. This low-down dirty blues is dedicated to trombonist Julian Priester, whose approach to harmony in such bands as Sun Ra’s Arkestra impressed Turre. The ensemble plays this blues with solidarity of soul. Solos start with Lacy laying down his raspiest solo, setting the tone for the down and dirty mood. Steve Davis plays a gentler, rounder solo that contrasts nicely with how Lacy left him. Pianist Davis plays with economy and still manages to make his point felt.  Turre comes in with a stone lined cup on his horn, creating a distant sound, that he trades off with bassist Peter Washington before the ensemble ends with Lacy having the last grimy word.

The finale is a Latin flavored Steve Davis song titled “Daylight” and like daylight it is a fitting uplifting ending to this wonderfully expressive album.  On this one the three bones and superb rhythm  section are joined by percussionist Pedro Martinez who adds to the sway with his congas and some conch shell playing by Turre.


For those who love trombone, a great vibe and good music Steve Turre’s  The Bones of Art  offers a feast of sounds and expressiveness that is second to none.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Steve Gadd sets the groove with "Gadditude"



The drummer Steve Gadd has been on my radar ever since I became aware of a super group formed back in the mid-seventies called Stuff. The band was formed by bassist Gordon Edwards and was made up of some of New York City's finest session players. The band included Edwards on bass, Richard Tee on keyboards, Cornell Dupree and Eric Gale on guitars and at first Chris Parker on drums, but soon Steve Gadd became the mainstay drummer of the group. Stuff  had a soulful, funky sound that was driven by Gadd's propulsive in the pocket groove.Working with a who's who in popular music and jazz, from Carly Simon and Eric Clapton to Chick Corea and Jim Hall, Steve Gadd's work was ubiquitous throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties. It was in 1975 where Steve' distinctive drum and bugle style was heard on the intro to Paul Simon's mega-hit "Fifty ways to Leave Your Lover." My personal Steve Gadd piece da resistance came in 1977, on Steely Dan's fabulous Aja.  On this pop/jazz masterpiece, Gadd's inimitable syncopated drum work in concert with Wayne Shorter's soaring saxophone solo, especially in his explosive work at the coda, cemented his reputation as a drummer of extraordinary skill, inventiveness and unerring rhythmic drive.

On Gadd's latest release, unfortunately titled Gadditude ( Who thinks up these names?),  the drummer is joined by his band mates Larry Goldings on keyboards, Michael Landau on guitars, Walt Fowler on trumpet and Jimmy Johnson on bass. Individually these guys are superb musicians. Together they have toured as the back up band for James Taylor for several years and on this album their empathetic and exceptional cohesiveness is joyfully on display.

The opening track, Michael Landau's "Africa," is a wonderfully expressive vibe, featuring Landau's wavy guitar lines, Larry Goldings, modulating organ, Jimmy Johnson's walking bass line and Gadd's understated snare shuffle. Together they create a hypnotic, unmistakably hip groove that allows Walt Fowler to play a Miles-like circa Bitches Brew muted trumpet over the top. Very mesmerizing and expertly played

On Larry Goldings tune "Ask Me" Gadd uses his signature marching snare to pilot this dreamy, slow ballad.
Goldings switches from organ to the wispier sound of the Fender Rhodes for this expressive piece. Walt Fowler's uses the warm tone of his flugelhorn in this song that recalls some of Art Farmer's later work. Guitarist Landau has a penchant for interjecting beautifully lingering notes that bend and hang in the air like anguished cries.

The group takes to Keith Jarrett's "Country" like putting on a pair of old, familiar shoes. The 3/4 shuffle created by Gadd's brushes with Johnson's slender bass lines, and Golding's gospel-like Wurlitizer work gives the well known song a solemn  and reverential sound.  Walt Fowler's trumpet work is like a ray of sunshine streaming into the chapel windows on a Sunday morning, beautiful and uplifting. Landau's distinctive country treatment on guitar is full of feeling and soul.

I have always found keyboardist Larry Goldings to be a creative well spring. On his "Cavaliero" the staccato vamp is carried by Gadd's relentlessly cadenced snare and bass drum work while Goldings plays punctuatedorgan lines. It is Landau's Ventures-like guitar sound that dominates the song, with its twangy West Coast reverb in clever contrast to Goldings blues dominated B3 growl and Fowler's Herb Alpert-like trumpet treatment on the chorus that makes for great fun and a stirring arrangement.
The funky "Green Foam" is a classic organ trio based blues that is reminiscent of some Booker T & TheMGs or Junior Wells with a direct bow of the hat to Sonny Boy Williamson's "Good Morning Little School Girl." The tune shifts to a slow smoldering blues mid-song, with some gutsy soulful guitar work by Landau that is especially tasty.

Abdullah Ibrahim's "The Mountain" is given a sauntering groove by the understated Gadd, allowing Landau and Goldings beautiful interplay to shine through. Landau's guitar sound is so fluid and slinky, at times reminding me of Dire Straights Mark Knoffler here. Larry Goldings is a superb accompanist who knows the right sound to elicit from his myriad of keyboard options at any given time.

Landau's "Who Knows Blues" is another shuffle with a down home feel. Fowler uses the muted trumpet and Golding's pulses on the Hammond B3 with Gadd and Johnson providing the backbeat. Landau takes a slow, deliberate solo that drips with the sound of Gadd's old Stuff band mate Cornell Dupree. A funky Crescent City inspired groove.

On another Keith Jarrett tune "The Wind Up", the group lets loose and has some fun. The tune opens up full speed ahead with Fowler and Landau matching lines as Gadd, Johnson and Goldings create the groove.
Johnson's bulbous bass lines are big and round as the group takes flight. Landau's guitar solo is particularly infectious as he swirls his way through the viscous groove in liquid fashion. Fowler solos over the top in a bright and punctuated style. It is Gadd and Goldings that keep this vibe going with gusto. Goldings uses the B3 to beautiful effect playing soulfully within the rhythmic lines to perfection. Steve Gadd is at his most precocious as his pointillistic playing finishes the piece. The band is heard to laugh at the end of the piece like relieved riders after a particularly harrowing amusement park ride. These guys obviously  had a lot of fun making this music and it shows.

Radiohead's spacey "Scatterbrain" finishes this rewarding album in ethereal style. The sound created by the group floats as Walt Fowler's horn soars above the atmospheric groove.

This album grows on you each time you play it. Put it on your cd player or Ipod and simply sit back and enjoy. Steve Gadd's staid, subtle performance throughout is a testament to his ability to let the music speak for itself with a total lack of hubris.