Thursday, September 24, 2020
Live @ Maureen's Jazz Cellar Marvin Stamm, Mike Holober, Mike McGuirk and Dennis Mackrel
It is always a pleasure when a group of musicians possesses that “special sauce," that complementary talent, awareness, and ability to align their individual efforts and perform as one beautifully purposeful unit. It is even more conducive to success when you get a chance to play/record in a welcoming, intimate setting in front of a knowledgeable and appreciative audience. This happened this past December, pre-Covid, in the unassuming jazz venue Maureen’s Jazz Cellar, located on the west side bank of the Hudson River, in the town of Nyack, NY.
The group is comprised of the trumpeter/flugelhornist Marvin Stamm, the pianist Mike Holober, upright bassist Mike McGuirk and the drummer Dennis Mackrel. They brought their alchemy and recorded this new album simply titled Live @ Maureen’s Jazz Cellar. The music recorded, is a collection of five thoughtful and modernly navigated jazz gems from composers like Horace Silver, Bill Evans, Bronislau Kaper and Jerome Kern, and includes two gorgeous originals written by the pianist, Mike Holober.
|Dennis Mackrel, Mike McGuirk, Mike Holober, and Marvin Stamm|
My exposure to the trumpeter/flugelhornist Marvin Stamm goes back to the early eighties when I first saw him playing as a guest artist with the house band- drummer Billy LaVorgna and the English pianist Derek Smith- at a little now-defunct club called the Foxes Liar in Hackensack, N.J. Stamm always impressed me with his fluid facility, his sensuous tone, especially on the flugelhorn, and his unerring melodic and harmonic sense. Years later I heard him with pianist Billy Mays’ The Inventions Trio, which included cellist Alisa Horn on a marvelous album titled Fantasy from 2007. This was a musical hybrid, a chamber/jazz crossover, that brought out Stamm’s facile expressiveness, utilizing a classically inspired approach that meshed beautifully with the Mays' piano and Horn's cello.
I discovered the pianist/composer/arranger Mike Holober in 2010, when I attended some big band performances that he conducted with the Westchester Jazz Orchestra. Besides iconic guest artists, the dynamic big band included Marvin Stamm in the trumpet section among a group of NYC's notable section musicians. Apparently, Stamm and Holober’s work together on the WJO sparked a friendship and the two became close collaborators. Holober’s growing stature as a big band composer/big band arranger was recently acknowledged when his Gotham Jazz Orchestra’s release Hiding Out, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2019.
When similar minds, like Stamm and Holober, collaborate over a sustained period and the chemistry is right, a musical empathy develops and a complimentary creative approach to music becomes almost second nature. The two went about enlisting solid and intuitively responsive rhythm section partners to form a working quartet. The drummer Dennis Mackrel and the bassist Mike McGuirk are under the radar journeymen musicians that fit superbly, expanding the conversational possibilities of this potent group.
In the opening cut, listen to how Holober’s smart intro to Horace Silver’s “Out of the Night Came You,” sets the table beautifully before the group slips into the swinging melody. Stamm’s flugelhorn has a warm, welcoming tone and he plays with a fluid inventiveness that surprises and holds your attention. The group never loses the drive carried by McGuirk’s plump bass lines and Mackrel’s sure rhythmic propulsion.
Bassist McGuirk opens with an intriguing pizzicato solo bass lead-in to Bronislau Kaper’s exotic-sounding “Invitation.” Stamm takes this haunting melody to a new level of sensitivity. It is simply magical to listen to this master horn player take you down the rabbit hole of harmonic possibilities. Holober is similarly engaging with his own explorations of the composition’s captivating moods. McGuirk offers a fleet journey on a poignant bass solo and the music is advanced by a swirling, rhythmic drive by the trap master Mackrel. Almost fifteen minutes of marvelously played music that by itself is worth the price of admission.
On Holober original “Dear Virginia,” a pensive, touching ballad that features some of the pianist’s most expressive work, the interaction between the pianist and both Stamm and McGuirk’s artful contributions, raise cooperative playing to a new level.
“Morning Hope,” another Holober original, musically builds from tranquility to expectation. Mackrel’s subtle drum work is like a symphony of rhythms, perfectly suited to accompany whoever is soloing, while always steadfastly propelling the music forward. Holober raises the level with a rewarding and touching solo.
A rousing rhythmic treatment on Jerome Kern’s jewel “All the Things You Are” keeps this well-worn song fresh and interesting. Solos by Holober, Stamm, and McGuirk are all top-notch and raised again by an impressive drum solo featuring Mackrel’s graceful skills.
Holober’s opening to Horace Silver’s tranquil “Peace” is masterful and moving. His piano work is elegant in songs like this, songs with a message that deserves a player who can be creative and still maintain the composer’s intention. Stamm’s impressionistic flugelhorn lines follow exploring the genuine pathos that flows through this music. His horn also offers a yearning hopefulness to the message that peace can in fact be attained, which in today’s day is a powerful aspiration.
The set ends with the more rambunctious Bill Evans’ funky “Funkallero,” one of the few times Evans took up the electric piano. Mackrel’s drums set the pace with a boisterous drum entrance. The members robustly trade ideas with an overall feel of gusto. Maintaining the song's drive, Holober plays with an aggressive attack, Stamm’s horn is at his most excitable and jubilant, McGuirk gives a plucky bass solo and Mackrel lets loose with his own punctuated drum highlight. The crowd at Maureen’s are left with unfettered appreciation, offering enthusiastic applause.
If you, like me, miss that “live” experience then get Live @ Maureen's Jazz Cellar and play it till your heart's delight, its the next best thing to being there.
Follow this link to hear the group play "invitation"
Saturday, August 22, 2020
|The Ice Siren by John Ellis and Andy Bragen|
|John Ellis When the World Was Young|
The Ice Siren requires a more expansive set of skills and saxophonist Ellis and his score is impressive and effective. The story partially draws from the eeriness of a surreal nightmare, the relentless anxiety realized with a lost romance and the sorcery of being contacted by an otherworldly specter, yet maintaining an almost perverse sense of humor throughout it all. It is like a fractured musical fairy tale conceived by a mind that might very well have been Tim Burton's, but it is Ellis and Bragen's macabre and funny creation.
A project like this also has the added reward of employing multiple skilled musicians which is an increasingly difficult achievement in this socially dividing era.
Thursday, July 30, 2020
|John di Martino Passion Flower: The Music of Billy Strayhorn Sunnyside SSC 4114|
John’s playing incorporates superb sensitivity, admirable facility, and an assured poise that allows him to extract the best qualities of the soul and spirit of these fine compositions. Di Martino sums up his approach to playing, I “surrender to the ecstasy of making music… if I can feel that joy then I can also transfer that joy to the audience!”
Strayhorn’s work is a cache of gems. With John’s imagination and his attuned band of tenorist Eric Alexander, bassist Boris Kozlov, drummer Lewis Nash and vocalist Raul Midón, these memorable compositions are reimagined and revitalized in new and surprisingly delightful ways.
Di Martino’s musical skills permit him to “shapeshift,” - seamlessly adapting his playing to the requirements of the music at hand. No wonder he developed such chameleon abilities as he has found himself playing and arranging for such diverse talents as Houston Person, James Moody, Kenny Burrell, Jack Sheldon, David “Fat Head” Newman, George Mraz and Joe Lovano.
Over the years he has become a sought after accompanist and arranger for such proven vocalists as Billy Eckstein, Giacomo Gates, Janis Siegel, Grady Tate, Gloria Lynn, and Freddy Cole. His inherent street-wise affinity for Latin music was refined by his stint with Panamanian flutist Marisco Smith. He later toured with Latin percussionist and bandleader Ray Barretto’s New World Spirit Big Band for several years. and continues that love for Latin music, continuing his present work with the distinguished clarinetist master Paquito D’Rivera.
|Billy Strayhorn photo credit unknown|
|John Di Martino photo by The Cuban Bridge|
Di Martino smarty employs Alexander’s Getzian tone to bring out the sheer forlornness that the music evokes, and the tenorist plays with impressive emotion and depth. Pairing these two musicians on this aching composition is a testimony to their affinity. Hopefully, this collaboration will be explored in the near future. The performance is one of the cd’s highlights, with Di Martino and Alexander together, artfully extracting some of the essences of Strayhorn’s most empathetic music.
Sunday, July 12, 2020
|Jason Palmer The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella GSA 004|
|Rembrandt's A Lady and a Gentleman in Black|
|Degas: La Sortie de Pesage|
|Rembrandt The Storm at the Sea of Galilee|
|Vermeer The Concert|
Thursday, June 18, 2020
|Dave Stryker with Bob Mintzer and the WDR Big Band Blue Soul Strikezone 8820|
Monday, May 18, 2020
|Sirkis/Bialas IQ: Our New World Moonjune MJR099|
|Asaf Sirkis and Sywia Bialas|
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
|Jerry Bergonzi Trio: Nearly Blue Savant SCD 2180|
Friday, May 8, 2020
|Chris Dingman Embrace|
Embrace is a composition oriented album. Dingman's pared-down group created its own challenge. The limited tonal palette of the vibraphone as the sole lead instrument in the trio necessitated his instrument's voice becoming more prominent, carrying the melodies, and simultaneously, at times, offering rhythmic support. His astute band members provided a dynamic interaction, using Oh’s full sounding bass and Keiper’s airy drum work to drive the music and serve as complementary textures to Dingman's reverberating, tubular voice. The trio works in sync marvelously, well-matched and keen to each other's interactions and to Dingman's compositions.
“Forgive/Embrace” is a composition based on a kora-inspired line that came from Dingman’s studies with Toumani Diabate. Diabate is a kora master-a West African gourd and skin constructed, harp-like stringed instrument. The sounds created from this type of instrument are drone-like and can be spellbinding.
Dingman modulates the reverberation on his instrument masterfully, letting his hollow, floating sound hang in the air as he deftly plays both rhythm and melody. Oh’s bass lines are vibrant and communicative. Her bass carries the music so well in combination with Dingman’s chiming lines that the two seem to be mentally tethered. This is my first exposure to drummer Tim Keiper, who has worked with David Bryne. His trap work complements brilliantly, both utilizing intuition and subtlety, and his skills perfectly match to Dingman’s compositional needs.
Dingman has obviously used his exposure to several of these West African artists for inspiration, but he always finds a creative way to incorporate the essence of their musical style into his own re-imagination of their music. He uses his melodic and improvisational skills to instill his own sense of beauty in his compositions and performs them in a skillful, modern jazz-chamber style. I found the sources intriguing, original, and compelling, and Dingman has thankfully opened my eyes to some of these amazing world music creators.
“Goddess” is particularly rhythmic with a driving beat that features Dingman’s buoyant vibes dance to over Keiper’s cadenced drums. Dingman’s mallet work here is impressively quick and yet he always maintains a warm, radiant ripple of tone that hovers over the rhythm like a bilious cloud of joy.
“Folly of Progress” has its own mechanistic tempo, like an automated frenzy of bell driven machinery that never seems to relax, driven by unyielding production. The album also includes “Find A Way,” with some impressive bass work by Oh, “The Opening + Mudita,” “HiJinks and Wizardry,” and “Steps on the Path all worthy of your attention.
Thursday, February 6, 2020
|Guiseppe Paradiso Meridian 71 Metropolitan Sketches|
The Italian born drummer, Giuseppe Paradiso, is a young artist whose second album Metropolitan Sketches will be released on February 12, 2020. He is another product of the Berklee School of Music experience. Classically trained first in Italy at the Conservatory of N. Piccinni in Bari, he expanded his repertoire by attending numerous jazz seminars and music competitions in both Italy and France. He won a four-year scholarship to Berklee and graduated the institution magna cum laude 2011. His trajectory included attending seminars that exposed him to world-class players/educators including Teri Lynne Carrington, Ron Carter, Antonio Sanchez, Peter Erskine, and Elvin Jones to name a few.
On Metropolitan Sketches, the drummer presents and performs seven of his compositions and one arrangement of Puccini, with bonus tracks that offer two alternate takes, and you can hear the multi-culturalism in his music. The band, Meridian 71, is comprised of members that are truly representative of their internationally diverse backgrounds. Besides Paradiso's Italian roots, the group includes the Senegalese griot and percussionist Malick Ngom, the 'Turkish pianist and educator Utar Artun, Finnish born and Middle Eastern and East African influenced guitarist and oud player Jussi Reijonen, Massachusetts born saxophonist and educator Mark Zaleski, fretless electric bassist Galen Willett and guest appearances by local musicians, trumpeter Phil Grenadier and guitarist Phil Sargent.
The music is creative and starts off in a driving, progressive vibe reminiscent of Weather Report on the composition titled "Nomvula" which means "Mother of Rain." The music features a punctuated and jarring percussion-driven opening that morphs into a more melodic sway over modulating Reijonen guitar chords and some effective percussion accents. Zaleski's punctuating sax parts grab you by the throat and pianistic lines by Artun soften the attack. The music shifts time and builds tension effectively by using ostinato piano and throbbing bass lines that allow Paradiso and Ngom to make a rhythmically potent statement.
"Spring" is a beautifully melodic stroll through a musical wildflower garden; spring in bloom. The song features some sensitive guitar work by Sargent or Reijonei (not sure which), powerfully focused and resonant bass lines by Willett and delicate accompanying by Artun on a Rhodes. Phil Grenadier's gorgeous trumpet sound soars transcendently over the verdant background like a bird resplendently letting his wings catch the wind in a joyous celebration of the season.
"Tuntkah" (The Nomad King) is a musical potpourri of voices that meld together brilliantly in a middle eastern-inspired procession. Zaleski and Grenadier join voices in sympathetic unison and separate at times harmonically and in solo, as the rhythm section of bass, piano and drums keep the motion sauntering forward. The music has a hypnotic serpentine motion to it, accentuated by the creative electronic guitar work, perhaps by Sargent, creating and exploring with otherworldy taste and Grenadier's trumpet in counterpoint. These guys are never lacking for musical inventiveness and this one is captivating with the cornucopia of sounds employed so effectively. The song ends with the interjected sounds of a departing subway on the tracks.
The third of Paradiso's suite is titled "A Partial Life Story," which starts off with again adds sounds seemingly from a busy landing at a train station. The music is sensitively played by Artun's piano before the music's pace is increased by Paradiso's drums and an excitable and eerie snake-charming soprano by Zaleski adding to the tension to an apex.
"Casamance" is an energetic composition by Paradiso and Ngom that features the two percussionists displaying their poly-rhythmic simpatico.
Classically grounded, "Lucevan le Stelle," is an emotive Puccini composition arranged by Paradiso and features Zaleski's soprano in counterpoint to Artun's piano, Willett's bass, and Grenadier's trumpet. The music is searching, probing and adventurous in the liberated arrangement.
The title track "Metropolitan Sketches," is a cooker and returns to another Weather Report inspired funk/fusion style. Willet's bass leads with a facile, distinctively funky opening. Electronically augmented guitar lines by Reijonen lay down the rhythmic carpet and Zaleski's alto plays over it with a deliberately anxious authority. Artun has his most frenetic piano solo with percussive use of two-handed block chording, as Paradiso, Ngom, and Willett fortify the drive with synchronized power. The music pulses with energy and the world music-inspired rhythmic creativity by Ngom at the coda is a treat. These guys are a band that surprise and deserve to be followed.
The album ends with two alternative and intriguing takes on previously played songs. The romantic "Spring," features Grenadier on muted trumpet and "Lucevan le Stelle," with a more organic sounding Zaleski soprano and an even more experimental free take by the group. Both alternates show the band's creative nature, a willingness to explore multiple concepts to achieve the right feel.