Thursday, October 19, 2017

Saffron Ensemble's "Will You" Exploring the Poem's of Rumi

Saffron Ensemble: Will You ?


The Iranian singer Katayoun Goudarzi has been absorbed in Persian poetry for the last thirty years. She has made her native poetry an integral part of her life, studying diligently to be true to the linguistic as well as lyrical integrity of the writings that she either recites or sings.

Of the nine albums she has recorded since 2006, five have concentrated on one poet, the 13th century Sufi Poet Rumi. The sentiment expressed so emotionally in this poet’s work seem to transcend time, language and culture. Universal themes of love, longing and loss are all dealt with in an emotionally ringing manner.

Saffron Ensemble: Tim Ries, Shujaat Khan, Katayoun Goudarzi and Kevin Hays

On her latest recording, Will You? she is once again joined by the sitar master Shujaat Khan, the muti-reed artist Tim Ries, the jazz pianist Kevin Hays and the table player Dibyanka Chatterjeu. Together they call themselves Saffron Ensemble.

The album features Gourdarzi’s expressive voice in recitation of the spoken word and singing the verse to the music.

As for the music, pianist Kevin Hays provides one composition, “Sweet Caroline,” to the program, while the rest of the songs are provided by the sitarist Shujaat Khan.


Saffron Ensemble

Khan’s process of composition: “I come up with the skeleton of the tunes, but that’s really what we build from. We converse to make this music. It’s never the same interpretation, the same sound, the same song twice.” The recording was done in one sitting without retakes to make it as spontaneous as possible and it has that feeling that comes from inspiration; bubbling creativity that can be so fleeting.

The music has a world-music feel to it and incorporates elements of both middle-eastern and Indian motifs with some jazz-like improvisations.

The drone-like twang of Khan’s sitar is a constant presence throughout. A stabilizer that offers a landscape on which the other artists add their colors.

It is Gourdarzi’s haunting voice that gives the performance it’s soul. Her voice soars, quivers, uses guttural sounds, voice modulation and employs a crystalline tone. The result is a heart-wrenching, mysterious and exotic rendering of Rumi’s poems in Persian. The only thing that is missing for me is the English translation of the verse.

The two western musicians seem to find their place in this decidedly eastern musical offering. Multi-reedist Tim Ries’s lead in soprano solo at the beginning of “Don’t” is especially noteworthy. Pianist Kevin Hays provides fluttering notes with a keenly attuned ear.

Dibyanka Chatterjeu’s ever present tablas play off Khan’s sitar with an assured constancy.

Hays’ beautiful “Sweet Caroline” is played as a trio piece. It is the only song whose melodic content is easily identifiable; played without verse or vocals. Khan adds delicate sitar accompaniment here and Chatterjeu keeps the time as Hays offers his own inspired pianistic reading of his thoughful composition.

The inspired and melodic chanting voice of Khan can be heard opening the contemplative “A Thread” and later, on “The Void.”

Gourdarzi’s soft-spoken voice draws you in like any good storyteller. Even without knowing the meaning of the words you are moved by the expressiveness of her voice and delivery. Ries has a stirring tenor solo on “A Thread” that adds to the trancelike feeling of this song.


More of a world music album than a jazz album, Will You? includes ten inspired songs that, if you allow yourself the pleasure, can be thoroughly engrossing.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Pharoah Sanders Quartet taps into the Spiritual at the Rialto in Atlanta



William Henderson(p);  Pharoah Sanders (ts); Nat Reeves (b) and Jason Brown (drms) at the Rialto Center 

Last night at the Georgia State University Rialto Center for the Arts here in Atlanta, a nearly sold out crowd came to hear a jazz legend. The spiritual saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and his quartet entered the Rialto stage to a standing ovation from a respectful crowd.  The blue dashiki-clad Sanders, now seventy-seven, wore a simple turned-around cap and his signature chin strap beard now snowy white. His movement was a bit less spritely then in years past as he hobbled onto the stage.

Sanders is one of the fathers of the avant-garde and free jazz movements of the nineteen sixties. His name is in the pantheon of free and avant-garde players like trumpeter Don Cherry, saxophonists Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, John Tchicai and Archie Shepp and the pianist Cecil Taylor. But it was his association with futurist Sun Ra that brought him his moniker and the idea that he could freely express himself on his horn.  

Pharoah Sanders at sound check photo credit  James B. Ellison Jr.

Originally born Ferrell Sanders in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1940, it was Ra – himself born Herman Blount - who gave Sanders the new name Pharoah in the early sixties, when the young man was struggling to survive in New York City. His later association with the saxophonist John Coltrane would mark another turning point in Sanders’ career. The two can be heard on Coltrane’s Ascension, a pivotal album for the saxophone giant as well as eight other albums spanning the years 1965-1967. The relationship was symbiotic; Sanders long, emotional, overblown, often dissonant solos influencing Coltrane’s later playing and Coltrane’s spiritual quest influencing Sanders future musical direction.

In 1966 Sanders signed with the Impulse label and released his startling debut Tauhid. For me, Tauhid was a defining moment. More than any other music I had ever listened to, this album and Sanders’ playing could transport me into a state of transcendental bliss. It was a nuclear experience. I loved music but never thought it could transcend time and space. I thought it was my little secret but I soon found out that the music had the same effect on many others.

Sanders followed Tauhid with a series of spiritually uplifting albums and collaborations. His work on Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidanada and his own albums Karma and Thembi all followed eastern dominated musical and spiritual themes. His discography lists over thirty albums as a leader and countless performances as a collaborator.

I was anxious to attend his performance at the Rialto, and see if this seventy-seven- year-old icon could still bring that energy and emotional involvement to the music as I remembered it. 

Sanders’ band included his pianist William Henderson who first recorded with Sanders in 1983 and Hart School of Music educator/bassist Nat Reeves who often works with alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett. The program originally called for the drummer Joe Farnsworth to be on the bandstand, but the drummer Jason Brown was brought in due to last-minute scheduling changes.

The set started off with bassist Reeves offering a bowed introduction to Coltrane’s “After the Rain,” from Coltrane’s Impressions album of 1966. Sanders’ evoking the meditative reflection with great tone and warmth. Drummer Brown using his soft mallets to make his cymbals shimmer.

The program went into a quicker paced Coltrane tune which I couldn’t identify but sounded like it was from the Giant Steps period. Here the band did the heavy lifting as they would do for most of the evening, as Sanders shuffled off stage after a brief but powerful solo. It was hard to tell if the septuagenarian was having difficulty standing as he moved very slowly on and off stage, his gait showing signs of a pronounced limp. His playing was brief, often only a few measures per song. Gone were the powerful overblows and the extended ventures into deep space, explorations that could last twenty minutes. Despite the brevity, when he took up his horn Sanders showed he still possessed that same command of tone and raw emotional vitality that earmarked his earlier work, even if it came with a more subdued physical power. Quality not quantity ruled the proceedings on this night.

His take on Coltrane’s “Naima” was a highlight, playing the emotional ballad with sublime sensitivity, occasionally adding some fluttering notes but with no dissonance. The saxophonist has shown a rare ability to channel something that goes beyond simple music and for a few moments he did so on "After the Rain" and “Naima.”

Pharoah Sanders photo by James B. Ellison Jr.

As the program progressed Sanders took a few opportunities to edge on drummer Jason Brown who seemed to be trying his best to hold his own in these unfamiliar waters.

On his own compositions, especially “The Creator has a Master Plan” and the encore “Ose Re Re” you could see the saxophonist became animated. He moved across the stage in a dance-like strut that belied his age. Sanders is one of those artist that feeds off his audience and he encouraged the crowd to chant along with him and make his “Creator has a Master Plan” into a communal experience. I found myself among those who willingly obliged.

Pianist Henderson chaired the group with a subdued refinement, playing some stirring passages that at times sounded very Tyner-esque. His ability to maintain lush fills or that drone effect that so often accompanied some of Sanders’ more spiritual music was impressive.  Reeves adapted his bass to the songs at hand using both pizzicato and arco techniques, keeping the sometimes-frantic beat pulsing or simply maintaining a sustained buzz. Brown did his best to maintain the swing, occasionally letting loose with a barrage of bombastic that seemed to appeal to the crowd.

At an after show gathering, I was able to get the taciturn Sanders to sign a copy of Tauhid that I had brought with me; my own personal highlight. Surrounded by his family this gentle, unassuming man proved a gracious artist who took the time to sign artifacts and take pictures with his adoring fans.

We are rarely given a chance to bear witness to a musician of the caliber and importance of Pharoah Sanders. He is one of those jazz masters that should be revered for his lasting contributions to the music and for his dedication to enriching our lives with his very spiritual offerings. The Georgia State University Rialto Center for the Arts its director Leslie Gordon and its jazz advisor Dr. Gordon Vernick should be applauded bringing Mr. Sanders to Atlanta. For anyone who has not yet seen him play live, what on earth are you waiting for?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Alan Broadbent's "Developing Story" : A Tour de Force of Jazz meets Strings

Alan Broadbent's Developing Story 
The New Zealand born pianist Alan Broadbent has a long and storied career as a jazz man having played with the likes of Woody Herman, Chet Baker and Charlie Haden. But it is his orchestral accompaniment work with singers Natalie Cole and then with Shirley Horn and Haden that garnered him two Grammy awards. 

He is currently singer Dianna Krall’s musical director and has arranged and conducted strings for the Eagles Glenn Frey After Hours album and for Paul McCartney’s Kisses from the Bottom with the London Symphony Orchestra. The man is no stranger to using the magic a fully engaged orchestra can bring to a recording.

Broadbent, now seventy, has been intrigued by a song he has had in his head since the early 1970s and the theme to that song emerges in three movements on his latest album Developing Story, released at the end of June of this year. 

Alan Broadbent’s love of some jazz standards is also on display as he deftly arranges Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now”, Bill Evans’ “Blue in Green”, Miles Davis’ “Milestones” and John Coltrane’s “Naima” as well as his own “Lady in the Lake” and “Children of Lima” on this gorgeous album. 

Wanting the music to be true to its roots, he approached the music from a jazz trio point of view hoping that he could arrange a symphony orchestra around that core musical feeling. Jazz and Classical have been strange bedfellows over the years with some attempts to combine the two falling far short of their intended goal. Broadbent may be the perfect scribe to join the two in harmonious marriage.The trio is a superb one that includes Broadbent on piano, Harvie S on bass and Peter Erskine on drums and the orchestra he envelopes the music with is the London Metropolitan Orchestra under his masterful direction.

All three movements of Broadbent’s “The Developing Song” are cinematic masterpieces with gorgeous piano lines by Broadbent and swelling string orchestrations that carry you away in this haunting melody. MVT II is a slow waltz based on the same theme with the trio more in prominence and the orchestra brass and woodwinds providing some magical moments of suspense and grandeur. MVT III initially launches the song into more of a swing-like feel, Erksine’s feathery brushes leading the way, before a shimmering drum solo leads to some towering brass that soar majestically like Roman horns announcing the entrance of a conquering hero. The music just sweeps you away.

Broadbent’s take on the jazz standards is equally as royal in its scope; his piano leads the way embellishing the melodies with lush orchestrations that are like miniature masterpieces of their own construction. To describe the nuances of his arrangements would do them a disservice, they are meant to be lavishly enjoyed; played on headphones with a glass of fine red wine or a dram of aged bourbon by your side. This is the good life in all its musical splendor.

His arrangement of “Naima” is particularly luscious, a filigreed take on Coltrane’s ode to his first wife. Woodwinds dance to Broadbent’s call like wood sprites in a magical forest. He summons a gush of wind created by his marvelously arranged strings and boisterous brass. Like a master weaver he spins another world within the song structure.   

“Blue in Green” is another treat to hear as Broadbent envisions it in all its stringed and French-horned glory. The pianist in him loves the sparse beauty of this Evan’s melody, while the arranger in him hears layers upon layers of possibilities in this melancholic song.


Broadbent’s unique arrangement of “Milestones” is like Gil Evans on steroids. The remaining songs are all gorgeous arranged and magnificently played. It may have taken the maestro nearly fifty years to get to realize his Developing Story but we are all the richer for him having finally completed this tour de force.



Saturday, October 7, 2017

'Bone Power: Michael Davis' "Hip-Bone Big Band"

Michael Davis: Hip-Bone Big Band


Every so often, a cd falls through the cracks; I either don’t get to it in a timely manner or I miss it completely. I make it a goal to generally try to listen to everything that is sent to me, but sometimes even though the spirit is willing my execution falls short of my intentions.

So it was with this one. I just discovered trombonist Michael Davis’s release Hip-Bone Big Band buried beneath my pile, and although it was recorded and released back in August of 2016, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give a passing acknowledgement to this fine album after finally getting to take a listen.

At fifty-six years of age, Davis is a clinician, an educator and a sought-after trombonist, having had stints in the big bands of Buddy Rich, Bob Mintzer, and Woody Herman and having toured with the Rolling Stones to name just a few. On Hip-Bone Big Band, this accomplished musician proves he is also a top-notch arranger/composer, presenting nine original and three re-imagined songs that just burst with one of the most energized, vibrant big band sounds being recorded today. Davis proves there certainly is power in them there 'bones.

Davis knows the strengths of the musicians in his ensemble- on this recording all top-tier New York session musicians. The group jabs, swells, growls and explodes in dexterous unison and deft counterpoint, resulting in a powerful wall of sound that just blows you away. Waves of multi-layered frequencies are meticulously arranged, carefully orchestrated to sound like one powerful unified voice, and with a rock-solid rhythm section of Andy Ezrin on piano, David FInck on bass, Will Kennedy and Jared Schonig on drums, the music never fails to swing.

His orchestrations allow several soloists an opportunity to launch into their own individualized improvisations and the results can be stirring, but it is the ensemble work that is most impressive to me. Big bands can be like an untamed beast, powerful and unwieldy, but Davis seems to have the acumen of a lion tamer. His arrangements harness the energy without ever dissipating the raw power.

With a name like Hip-Bone Big Band, you’d expect some of the best solos spots would be offered to the who’s who of trombonists playing for Davis and indeed they are. The featured artists include Conrad Herwig, Bill Reichenbach, Bob McChesney, Andy Martin, Marshall Gilkes, Nick Finzer, Jeff Nelson, Michael Dease and Davis himself.

Davis does leave a little space for the saxophones and trumpets to have their say. We get some engaging solos from Scott Wendholt on trumpet, tenor men Bob Malach and the alto master Dick Oatts. Andy Snitzer’s tenor feature on “Walk Like the Guy” is especially evocative.

The selections are mostly swingers that allow the band to inhale and exhale in synchronous and syncopated respiration. This band has the lungs of a trained Olympic athlete and it is exhilarating to hear.  You can tell these guys were enjoying themselves because they seem to convey a cocky attitude in their section work, a confident bluster that blares through your headset. Songs like “Butter Ball,” “Zaq Attack,” “Walk Like the Guy” “Giant” and the pulsing “San Jose” demonstrate just how in sync these guys can be under Davis’ direction.

Not that the band can’t summon its emotional side; just take a listen to the moodily played “Sentimental” or the sauntering “Fog City” where Davis offers a particularly emotionally charged solo.

“Trombone Institute of Technology” is a bare study in multi-voicing of instruments without the aid of a rhythm section and “CRB’s 76 Trombones” is a buoyant play on the old Music Man classic.


With this bone-centric band, Hip-Bone Big Band Davis has created a thunderous sound that anyone who enjoys the genre should find immensely appealing.

The musicians; Saxophonists: Dick Oats,ato;David Mann, alto; Bob Malach, tenor;Andy Snitzer,tenor; Charles Pillow, tenro; Roger Rosenberg, baritone;
Trumpet/Flugelhorns: Nick Marchione, Jim Hyner, Tony KAdleck, Scott Wendholt, Zaq DAvis. Trombones/  Bass trombones: Micahel Davis, Marshall Gilkes, Nick Finzer, Keith O'Quinn, Conrad Herwig, Bob McChesney, Andy Martin, Birch Johnson; Michael Dease, Amy Salo, Jeff Nelson; George Flynn, Bill Reichenbach.
Rythm Section: Andy Ezrin, piano: David FInck, bass; Will Kennedy, drums; Jared Schonig, drums.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Joyous Feel of Guitarist Dave Stryker on "Strykin' Ahead"

Dave Stryker Strykin' Ahead
Sometimes when you just do what you do so well you can be taken for granted. Guitarist Dave Stryker has been around now plying his trade like a journeyman for nearly forty-years. During his maturation, the Omaha born guitarist did a two-year apprenticeship with the organist Brother Jack McDuff, and then worked a ten-year stint with the saxophone giant Stanley Turrentine. With twenty-eight recordings as a leader under his belt, you’d think he would be better known. His last three recordings Eight Track, Messin’ with Mr. T and Eight Track II,  and his work with the under-the-radar saxophonist Steve Slagle, have all received critical acclaim. People are starting to notice just how good Stryker is. The guitar icon Pat Metheny said about Stryker “…he just gets better and better with one of the most joyous feels around.” 

This summer, I had the opportunity to see Stryker as he played with the bassist Nilson Matta in Bar Harbor, ME on a program titled Samba Meets Jazz.  He struck me as a subtle, accomplished player, not prone to showing off technical prowess, who was well versed in all styles and whose fluid playing did indeed exude a sense of joyous exuberance

Dave Stryker photo Ralph A. Miriello 2017

On his latest Strykin’Ahead the guitarist redeploys the musicians that he used so successfully on his Eight Track II album. The group includes Jared Gold on organ, McClenty Hunter on drums and Steve Nelson on vibraphone. Boy can these guys make magic together.

From the cascading opener Stryker’s “Shadowboxing” to the beautifully realized version of Wayne Shorter’s classic “Footprints,” the arrangements and execution are nuanced and superb. Stryker knows the strengths of his fellow bandmates and he employs them with a deft precision. Nelson’s use of space and Gold’s light touch on the B3 are both exemplary.  Stryker’s playing, almost non-chalant, is never flashy, always so confident and subdued that it can seem deceptively simple. But rest assured it is full of imagination. Hunter is that rare trapmaster who has  dynamic propulsion, big ears and exquisite taste.

Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower” is given a brushed Bossa beat by Hunter, with Gold’s bass lines pulsing the music forward. Nelson and Stryker are musical soul-mates; both artisans in their ability to say so much with less.

Stryker shines on another of his originals “Strykin’ Ahead,” the fleet intro- Nelson, Gold and Stryker all playing the rapid opening line with cool precision.  With the gurgling pace provided by the driving Hunter, Stryker’s notes just fall from the guitarist’s fretboard like raindrops from a cloud. There is a stream of consciousness feel to the way he attacks his notes, a consistency that produces a smooth organic flow. When this group gets into a groove their cohesiveness  is a pure delight.

With guitarists, there is always room for a blues and on “Blues Down Deep” we get a little window into where it all began for Stryker. No flash here, just an economy of notes played with a sustained sense of emotional depth, following in the footsteps of some of his idols. Gold has a marvelous control of his B3,  producing sounds that are juicy with pathos and Nelson’s vibes resonate with bluesy authenticity.

The remainder of the set includes Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring,” the Broadway hit “Who Can I Turn To” -where Stryker uses some Montgomery-like octave work-, and Parker’s tangled “Donna Lee,” which Stryker conforms to his slipstream style of playing.


 Strykin’ Ahead is an immensely satisfying album that should firmly establish Dave Stryker into the elite ranks of jazz guitarists working today.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Atlanta Drummer Dave Potter's "You Already Know"

Dave Potter You Already Know  Summit #705
The Atlanta based drummer, Dave Potter, has recently released an album, You Already Know, on Summit Records, and this auspicious debut is making its way up the jazz charts. On this album he proves he has absorbed the tradition and developed a powerful sense of swing that he carries to any band that he plays with.  

Potter, a graduate from Florida State University’s Jazz Studies program, studied with the pianist Marcus Roberts. After graduating in 2005 he was chosen to work in The Louis Armstrong Quintet at The University of New Orleans, but his stay in Louisiana was cut short when hurricane Katrina hit the Crescent City. In 2006 he was awarded a scholarship to prestigious Julliard School of Music to continue his studies, but instead chose to return to his alma mater to get his master’s degree, which he completed in 2008.

Along the way Potter has enjoyed working closely with Roberts, a mentor, both at school and in the pianist’s working trio. The drummer caught the discerning eye of Robert's drummer/percussionist Jason Marsalis and Potter began working and touring with him in 2009. Since Marsalis began playing the vibraphone more regularly, Potter has taken over the drum chair and can be heard on two of Marsalis’ recordings Music Update and 21st Century Trad Band.

On You Already Know, Potter has chosen to use three distinct rhythm sections, each made up a stellar cast of musicians, that in concert realize his musical vision. The ease with which he adapts to these three different bands is a testimony to his versatility as accomplished drummer. He molds himself to the need of whatever group he is in.

The program opens with Wayne Shorter’s “Night Dreamer,” manned by Jason Marsalis on vibraphone, Will Goble on bass and pianist Austin Johnson; essentially the Jason Marsalis Vibe Quartet working band. Potter and Goble lock into a bubbling rhythmic groove as Marsalis’ and then Johnson are featured over the changes. Potter can be heard erupting when needed or gently pulsing forward as the music requires.

On Marcus Roberts’ hard-charging “Country by Choice” Potter’s explosive drums are joined by Roberts on piano, bassist Rodney Jordan and the front line of Miguel Alvarado on tenor and Darren English on trumpet. The incendiary Nashville based Alvarado launches into an impressive barrage of fiery lines in his open salvo and Roberts dazzling keyboard work is equally exciting. Bassist Jordan’s solo, pulses on adrenaline and Potter’s drums percolate like bubbling lava in a caldera. This one cooks.

Potter wisely takes the temperature down a notch with the 1927 pop classic “My Blue Heaven.” Marsalis, Johnson and Gobles airing out the music on this bouncy stroll through memory lane. Potters easy shuffle in lock step with Gobles walking bass.

Potter injects some of his own compositional acumen into the mix with “Ratio Man.” This line-up includes pianist Louis Heriveaux, the bassist Craig Shaw and a returning Alvarado on soprano saxophone. Heriveaux is the one to listen to here as he spins serpentine lines through the maze of rhythmic changes provided by Shaw and Potter.

The same band returns to the more traditional straight-ahead jazz tackling Benny Golson’s classic “Whisper Not,” with the front line of Alvarado on tenor and Andy Sioberg on trumpet. Heriveaux’s sparse comping is a delight and his solos revelatory without any flash. Soiberg’s trumpet a bit tentative to my ears and Alvarado lays back for the most part.

The same group tackles Bobby Watson’s “Beatitudes” later on in the album. Heriveaux, again shines on a shimmering solo and Potter allows himself a brief roiling drum solo over the repeating drone of the two horns.

On Monk’s “Played Twice” Potter returns with Marsalis, Goble and Johnson to attack this quirky tune. The in-sync intuition of this group is apparent as they navigate Monk’s musical chicanery with practiced ease. Johnson’s piano is light and fluid, no doubt strongly influenced by Marsalis’ equally effervescent vibraphone style. Through it all Potter finds a way to add his own accents-stabs, splashes and rolls- at complimentary points.

Bassist Rodney Jordan’s plucky bass opens Potter’s “I’m Going to Heaven and You A’int” a lowdown dirty blues that features Jordan and pianist Roberts showing some soulful playing. Potter’s work here is restrained, a ghostly timekeeper, allowing these two masters to wring the emotional guts out of this song.

Potter returns with another original “Puppet Master” with Roberts, Jordan, Alvarado and English back. English, a promising talent on the trumpet, draws first blood. His solo a combination of bright jabs and slinky slurs. Listen to how well this group interacts; Alvarado’s deep-throated tenor solo sets out a line of notes that Robert’s quickly picks up; the tenor and piano finding common grounds for discussion. When Alvarado erupts it ignites Potter to respond with his own pyrotechnics in true simpatico.

Marsalis’ “Bells of Ascona,” the most evocative song on the album, is a hauntingly beautiful composition that features Marsalis’ tubular vibes ringing like the Church Bells they evoke. Johnson’s piano solo is particularly sensitive. Potter is all brush here and the group is for the most part reverent until Marsalis interjects an excerpt from a Christmas Carol partway through his solo, lightening it up for a brief second.


“Last Tune” is an under two-minute vocal summation by Potter, where he introduces the names of his bandmates while the group plays on in the background.  

Here is a video of Dave with The Jason Marsalis Quartet: