Thursday, July 11, 2019

Scott Robinson: The Man in the reed hat: Tenormore

Scott Robinson sporting his reed hat Tenormore

It’s satisfying to see the multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson receiving increasing recognition for his artful and often adventurous playing. His versatility and proficiency on a variety of over three hundred instruments in his curated personal instrument cache is nothing short of a herculean achievement. His collection includes a battery of multi-sized and keyed woodwinds, an array of brass horns and an assortment of musical oddities. Some of the rarest are his contrabass saxophone (reportedly only one of twenty playable units in existence), his bass Marimba and his extraterrestrial sounding Theremin. Despite his notoriety of having the curiosity of a mad scientist, Scott is an expert who can deploy any number of breath and tonal techniques to serve his musical muse.  His expertise on the woodwinds has kept him most in demand by other musical composers and big band arrangers. Like any indispensable musician whose presence is crucial to the whole sound, he anchors the woodwind group in such estimable big bands as the notable Maria Schneider Orchestra, The Mingus Big Band, The Vanguard Big Band and even had an appearance with the Sun Rah Arkestra to name a few. Let’s face it, Robinson is one of those players that define the concept of being a virtuoso.

In recent years, Robinson has often been sought after for his impressive ability on the baritone saxophone but make no mistake it is the tenor saxophone that is this man’s first musical love.  Just to make the point, Robinson came out recently with an album that exclusively features his work on his vintage circa 1924 silver Conn tenor. The album titled Tenormore, is a joyful collection of five adventurous Robinson compositions, four standards that are brilliantly imagined and one Americana-styled ballad by bassist Martin Wind. Besides his compatriot Wind on bass, Robinson is ably joined by the accomplished pianist Helen Sung on piano and B3 organ, longtime associate and journeyman drummer Dennis Mackrel and on one song joined by his classically trained wife Sharon on flute.

It opens with a soulful a version of Lennon-McCartney’s “And I Love Her,” deliciously played with feeling by an artist who admits “I’m not a Beatles fan.” A four-note melody was stuck in his mind before he discovered it was from this Beatles song. Like being given a sign from his psyche, Robinson became determined to capture his thoughts on this music.  At the end of a long session, after all the other musicians had left, Robinson recorded the song in one take. He played it unaccompanied, squeezing every expression possible from his, by then, split reed.  Robinson’s take is a re imagination of this 1964 song in a way that elevates the once pop tune into an expressive declaration of earnest love.

Robinson’s compositions include a probing, eleven-bar blues titled “Tenor Eleven” where the tenor man’s effortless facility on his horn is apparent. He guides us through an improvisational path around the changes, the path is sometimes daring, unpredictable, but like a competent shepherd he never loses those who trust his lead. Near the coda, Robinson’s declaratory saxophone stirs a brief but excited give and take exchange with drummer Mackrel, whose intuitive trap work makes him Robinson’s perfect foil.

Standards worth exploring are Scott’s emotive, slow-paced version of “Put on a Happy Face,” from the Broadway and film show Bye Bye Birdie.  Scott’s distinctively slow and baleful approach chooses to project the sentiment of the composition from the place of sadness. His playing is heartfelt and simply exquisite.

“The Good Life,” originally sung by Tony Bennett in 1963, opens with an adventurous improvisational section that doesn’t give away the tune’s identity. Robinson loves keeping the audience in the dark until Scott’s sensitive saxophone introduces the melody.  Wind’s solo on bass is an exceptionally artful addition.

Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You” was first released in 1938, but here Robinson’s modern approach opens it with a funky bass line by Wind and some soulful modulating B3 work by Sung and some back beat trap work by Mackrel. Scott’s saxophone is soulful at times gritty but always joyful and inspired.

“Morning Star” is a happy, fluid, swinger that Robinson wrote for his wife Sharon as a Valentine’s gift. Pianist Sung’s keyboard work on this is beautiful and exceptionally buoyant, as Wind’s bass walks with authority and a bit of attitude. Robinson’s saxophone is distinctive and flawless.

“Tenor Twelve” is an F blues that Robinson originally released in 1988 on his album Winds of Change. Like the mad scientist never satisfied with stasis, he is always looking to improve his creations and so Robinson rewrote this tune for this date and by his inkling, made it better. With an exceptionally beautiful and swinging piano solo, Sung makes it clear that she is a pianist whose sensitivity and technique are not to be ignored. Like the inside works of a precision 
timepiece, this rhythm team of Wind and Mackrel percolates never losing a beat.

Martin Wind’s soulful “Rainy River” is introduced by Sung’s gospel inspired B3. Robinson explores the emotional depths of this revival-like composition with his breathy attack that captures his vintage saxophone’s beautiful depth of tone. He restricts himself to the melody, no improvising here, but he extracts the music’s emotional sentiment utilizing the instruments full range and soars into the higher register for effect.  

 “The Weaver” is composition dedicated to Robinson’s father David. It starts with a recording from his father reading one of his poems at Scott and Sharon’s wedding back in 2001. Sharon attended Boston Conservatory and is a classically trained flautist. Scott followed his own jazz muse at Berklee.  Here the song is both a description of the poem’s theme as well as a woven mixture of two musical themes and thus the name “The Weaver.”  Scott’s saxophone weaves beautifully with Sharon’s flute as the music follows a five, seven, five pattern that mimics the syllabic structure of a haiku. Scott’s ability to aurally notate his intellectual intentions so precisely is a delight. Wind’s strong bass line is structural to the song.

“Tenormore” is the title of the album and the final cut on the cd. A complex piece that has rhythmically challenging changes that could easily astound other less qualified band-mates.  Listen carefully to Robinson’s precise intonation, uncanny ability to utilize the full register of the instrument flawlessly and to send the listener to uncharted territories, sometimes on the fly! Sung’s feverish piano explorations are equally impressive.  Wind and Mackrel adapt to Scott’s inspired direction, never losing their rhythmic anchor, no matter how far out the adventurer takes the show. This group is a well-oiled machine that is up to any challenge this master throws their way, what a fitting present as this man recently reached his sixtieth birthday. Happy Birthday Scott!!!

Back in 2010, Scott and I had an exchange over my contention that some jazz was more accessible than others and consequently accessibility might lead to expanding the audience to jazz. His take was that adventurous music could be just as accessible to anyone who was open enough to give it a serious listen. I have come to agree with him as this album Tenormore surely confirms. You can read that conversation by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Still killin' it: Randy Brecker Rocks and the NDR Big Band:

Randy Brecker Rocks Big Band Piloo Records PR010

I had the pleasure of interviewing the trumpeter/composer Randy Brecker back in August of 2016, at the time for a Hot House magazine cover article, and I published a much more extensive interview on this blog. The conversation was open, enlightening and often filled with humorous recollections from Brecker’s years of experiences as an in demand professional musician. You can read this  interview by linking to it here.

In April of 2017, I was lucky enough to meet Brecker when he came to Atlanta. He was a featured performer at the Rialto Theater. Brecker participated in musical workshops at Georgia State University’s Music Department, at the invitation of fellow trumpeter Gordon Vernick, musical coordinator of jazz studies at G.S.U.

Besides having a formidable musical history that spans over fifty years, Randy Brecker is an exquisite player. He was often one of the first call trumpet players for studio work in New York in the late nineteen sixties. A creative, confident,  jovial and surprisingly approachable individual, you cannot miss this man’s enthusiasm for the music when you meet him.  During his visit in Atlanta, he graciously agreed to perform with local trumpeter/bandleader Joe Gransden and his seventeen-piece big band at the club CafĂ© 290 in Sandy Springs one evening. The event was memorable, especially when Vernick, Gransden and Brecker exchanged trumpet lines mano a mano style, as the Gransden  big band cooked enthusiastically behind Brecker.

Randy Brecker

It is now three years since my original interview and the seventy-three-year-old Brecker is continuing to add to his musical legacy. His latest record, RandyBrecker Rocks & NDR Big Band is another example of this man’s seemingly unlimited wellspring of musical enthusiasm and creativity.  The record includes nine cuts, all written by Brecker, each a return to his musical heritage. 

The opener “First Tune of the Set” was a song that he used to open their concerts when he toured with his brother Michael in the Brecker Brothers Band. The NDR Big Band sets the driving charge of the music. Music that identifies much of Randy’s style beautifully and with his unfettered passion. Brecker’s opening trumpet solo is energetic, powerful and stratospheric. Alto saxophonist Fiete Felsch offers his own equally ardent solo that is impressive. Vladislav Sendecki sets the tone electronically on his synthesizer with a Jan Hammer inspired keyboard solo that is from another planet. Rock on!

“Adina” is a composition that Randy wrote for his saxophonist/wife Ada Rovatti. The music has a lighter, breezier feel. The trumpeter offers a distinctly lyrical flugelhorn solo. Rovatti introduces her own floating soprano solo that drifts loosely over the pulsing band. Arranger Jorg Keller knows his band and compliments Brecker’s music with his own tight horn section work.

The funky “Squids” from the Brecker Brothers 1977 album Don’t Stop the Music is treated here in a distinctively more contemporary way. The NDR Band create an electronic funk feel with synthesizer and amplified horns. Brecker’s trumpet soars with electronic augmentation as he penetrates the music with an urgency of high-pitched trills and fast glissandi to a frenzy. A nice solo by tenor man Frank Delle offers a musical change in pace, and the horn section provides a steady throb that authenticates the funk.

Brecker was once a member of Jaco Pastorius’ Word of Mouth band in the 1980’s and in 2001 he wrote “Pastoral,” a beautiful melody as a tribute to the bassist’s memory. Rovatti opens with a burnished tenor solo. Brecker’s flugelhorn is gorgeously warm, as he draws out the emotion with a poignancy that cannot be simply written into the music. The band plays this song with acute awareness of how special this is to their guest. There is an especially inspired bass clarinet feature by Bjorn Berger, but it is Brecker’s unfailing sensitivity that makes this one special.

If you prefer the sound of a boppish-like band, creating a finger-snapping melody, than “The Dipshit” will make you snap your fingers and move your feet. The song also serves as a reunion of two old Brecker Brothers Band members. Brecker’s trumpet penetrates the ozone level with intensity and altoist David Sanborn- not to be undone - lights up the scene entering the music like a man on fire. A blazing sound that raises the temperature with a heavy dose of urgency that ignites the band. These guys are cooking here as they feel the groove to the music and respond with gusto. 

The album includes some impressive, guitar-sounding synthesizer by Sendecki on Brecker’s “Above and Below.”  Brecker’s trumpet is never short of any inspired improvisational ideas, as his solo on this one demonstrates. Rovatti can wail her tenor with the best of them and yet she always has a sensitive side to her playing. This is some of Rovatti's most inspired playing on the album. Wolfgang Haffner has a precise drum solo on this, and the band is tight and powerful. A real tribute to the legacy of the Brecker Brothers Band  .

There is always room for a ballad, and here “Sozinho” provides a nice change of pace. This one features Randy’s mellifluous flugelhorn where he is at his lyrical best. Pianist Sendecki is a deft accompanist as well as a creative soloist of his own right.

The title song “Rocks,” combines a talented, well-oiled big band with the intense, impassioned solos from commensurate improvisers, Randy Brecker and David Sanborn. The music is quick-paced and incendiary. Listen to the charged solo that emerges from the alto of Sanborn. He is driven to heights by this constantly nudging group who just want to rock. Brecker’s trumpet is always probing, always reaching past what seems to be possible with this instrument.

The final composition “Threesome,” from the BBB’s 1981 album “Straphangin’” is another reunion of former band mates, Sanborn and Brecker. It is inspired by it’s  blues and gospel roots. Brecker utilizes the mute on his trumpet to great effect and creates a New Orlean’s style solo that howls. The format suits Sanborn’s penchant for the blues, as his alto is at home wailing out the notes of this revival style song. Guitarist Bruno Muller offers a tart solo that meets the songs’ sentiment nicely. This high energy European assembly, the NDR Big Band and their arranger Jorg Achim Keller, have embraced this music and though it will always be Randy Brecker's music, for this outing, the band has made it their own. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Altoist Jim Snidero Explores "Waves of Calm"

Waves of Calm Jim Snidero Savant SCD2176
It’s satisfying to experience the perceptible growth and burgeoning maturity of a musician. With altoist Jim Snidero, the progression of his playing should be no surprise. His pedigree is peppered with valuable exposures to legends, talented colleagues and pricelessly diverse experiences. Snidero has studied with the inimitable master altoist Phil Woods. His work with stalwart organist Jack McDuff was formative. Snidero served as a band member on some legendary work he did playing with Frank Sinatra. He performed in the esteemed University of Texas One O’clock Lab Band, played with the Latin legend Eddie Palmieri, was a member of the powerful Mingus Big Band and played with a plethora of fine musicians. His musical history is a testament to a determined musician who always strides to expose himself to formative experiences. He has also been a dedicated educator and has codified his musical philosophy and technique in his teaching and his Jazz Conception books.

Snidero has always looked to collaborate with equally inspired musicians on his recordings as a leader and his latest album Waves of Calm is no exception. The album will charm and entertain and will not disappoint even after repeated playing. The music features the talented, warm-toned trumpeter Jeremy Pelt who has established a fluid rapport with the saxophonist. Snidero searched out and commissioned the progressive pianist Orrin Evans to work collaboratively on this personally important project. He anchored the group with the tasteful bassist Nat Reeves and the impressive drummer Jonathan Barber.

The music is creative, poignant and impressionistic. The album is inspired by Jim’s vivid memory of the struggles that his father Micro endured with advanced Parkinson’s disease. 

“Waves of Calm,” the title composition, is a musical representation of the search to reach a state of calm over oneself. Jim’s waves of calm are a musician’s attempt to create tranquility to replace the uncontrollable, often wracking aspects of the Parkinsons. The music is trance-like, ethereal and floating. Snidero’s saxophone is facile, poignant and brimming with emotion here and Orrin Evans’ touch is intuitively sensitive and on mark. The astute rhythm section accompanies with subtlety and taste. The simple song is powerfully appealing because of its admirable equilibrium.  

Snidero’s teams up with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt on four of the album’s eight songs. The Freddie Hubbard inspired “Truth,” has a fusion-era-like sound that is accented by some tasty overdubbed Rhodes work by Evan’s. The sounds the pianist evoke on his electric keyboard echo similar work that dominated some of the best jazz of the seventies from some of the best players of that era. Pelt’s horn has a warm, deliberate tone as he journeys fearlessly around the music.  Snidero’s alto is bright, angular and veracious as the group navigates this moody piece with conviction, making it their own.

Jim Snidero photo by Earl & Sedor

On Snidero’s “Visions” the complex, opening rhythm is almost elusive until Barber’s active trap work establishes the quirky signature. The celestial-like Rhodes work of Evans create a bilious background for Snider’s probing alto to explore over. Pelt’s piercing trumpet goes high to accentuate the extremity of having an almost hallucinogenic vision. Barber’s creative trap work at the coda is a pulsing, syncopated treat.  Evans’ work on the Fender Rhodes keyboard is a delight throughout and often reminiscent of Chick Corea’s work from Creed Taylor’s CTI label classics. He again revisits that sound on another Snidero composition “Estuary” which reunites the Pelt/Snidero front line, again working their intuitive magic as a unified duo. Reeves masterful presence on bass and Barber’s steady beat on drums assures the group never loses the pulse of the music no matter how serpentine the path.

Some of Snidero’s most sensitive playing occurs on several ballads that warm up the mood and establish the heart of this impressive album. The emotional “Old Folks” features some splendid acoustic piano work by Evans and impeccable rhythm by Reeves. Snidero’s alto reveals his mastery of a tonal excellence that is just gorgeous to behold and moving to listen to.

 “I Fall in Love Too Easily, is another classic ballad made famous by Chet Baker and Frank Sinatra amongst others, and may just be my personal favorite cover on the album.  Snidero plays the sentiment with authority and his horn is filled  with emotion and warmth. Orrin Evans takes a brief but equally sensitive solo that just resets the music returning it back to Snidero to close it off definitively with his ardent alto.

The melancholic ballad “If I Had You” features Jim’s alto resonating with the song’s melodic feeling and seems to tonally be a direct link to his inspiration of his one-time teacher, Phil Woods.

The more up-tempo “Dad Song” returns to the front line of Pelt and Snidero. Another Snidero penned song that owes lineage to  some of the best music of the Blue Note years that celebrated some great front lines of trumpet and saxophone. Snidero’s alto’s articulation is precise and Pelt’s trumpet returns to his burnished beauty. 

Waves of Calm firmly establishes Jim Snidero's formidable talent as a player, acumen as an effective composer and deft intuition as leader who surrounds himself with complimentary bandmates. Don't miss this one.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Vocalist Kate Reid shows some backbone and style on "The Heart Already Knows"

Kate Reid :The Heart Already Knows 

Despite a plethora of female jazz vocalists who release albums on any given week, rarely do I hear what I consider to be a voice that catches my ear, a voice clearly distinguishable from a sea of pedestrian singers out there desperately trying to gain recognition. To separate themselves from the pack, many singers hire top name musicians or employ lush orchestrations to give them credibility or to hide their vocal deficiencies. Along comes Kate Reid. I have never heard of her and admit to picking up her latest cd The Heart Already Knows with a bit of skepticism. Yes, she employed some of the most accomplished musicians to accompany her on this outing, but instead of hiding behind their virtuosity or employing a big band with over the top arrangements, she daringly chooses to lay herself bare, performing in a series of duets with just her voice and either a piano or guitar accompaniment. There is no hiding in this format. You either have the goods or you don’t. Kate Reid’s The Heart Already Knows shows she is the real deal. Clearly, she chose her collaborators wisely, bringing in some of the cream of the crop to accompany her. Pianists Fred Hersch and Taylor Eigsti or guitarists Paul Meyers, Romero Lubambo and Larry Koonse all contribute admirably to the effort, but it is Kate Reid who shines.

Reid hails from the Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio and received her bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies from Western Michigan University. She continued her education at the University of Miami where she received a masters and eventually a Doctor of Music Arts.  She moved to Los Angeles and continued as an educator, teaching music and voice at Cypress College also working with her own quartet around the LA area. She became a sought-after studio and session musician lending her voice to several notable films, network television soundtracks and commercials. She is presently a Director of Jazz Vocal Performance and Associate Professor of jazz voice at the Frost School of Music at her alma mater University of Miami. The woman clearly has the goods.

With such an esteemed career in the studio and academia it’s no wonder why many of us haven’t heard of her at the national level.  With her latest release, The Heart Already Knows, that should change.

Reid’s voice is smooth, sultry with a Julie London-like intimate quality, especially in this very pared down duet format. It’s as if she is singing to you personally. Her tone is warm, her delivery is polished, and she modulates between notes with effortless ease.  

The songs are not your usual fare, more contemporary than the run of the mill standards from the Great American Songbook, but they have their own charm and certainly suit her voice.  She sings Strayhorn’s “Something to Live For” like a wizened storyteller and with tender poignancy, accompanied by Paul Taylor’s nimble guitar. Taylor’s guitar accompaniment also shines on the Ellington Blues “Just a Lucky So and So” where Reid’s velvety voice floats on top of the melody like a dollop of ice cream on a root beer float.

The masterful guitarist Larry Koonse’s weaves his magic on “Confessin’” laying down the perfect backdrop for Reid to soulfully scat to the melody. Reid also uses Koonse’s filigreed guitar work on Joni Mitchell’s “Two Grey Rooms.” Koonse plays the chord changes on an acoustic guitar and overdubs some superb harmony lines on a western-tinged electric guitar. Reid’s voice is clear and impassioned by the Mitchell lyrics and at times, although her voice has a lower timber, she almost sounds like Joni.

The pianist Fred Hersch can be heard accompanying Reid on the haunting Billie Holiday song “No More” which she sings with her own sense of pathos. He also accompanies Reid on a song sung by Nina Simone “If I Should Lose You” which is done with an up tempo beat and again on Hersch’s own languid composition “Lazin’ Around.”

The Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo lends his exquisite mastery and gives Fred Hersch’s” Endless Stars” a samba beat. Reid sings the Norma Winestone lyrics with an easy lilt. Later the two return on the Ivan Lins’ composition “Minds of Their Own” with lyrics by producer Peter Eldridge.

Perhaps the most synergistic combination on the album is Reid with the pianist Taylor Eigsti on the Peter Eldridge song “Busy Being Blue.”  Reid’s voice rings with a sense of having lived the lyrics and Eigsti’s accompaniment is perceptive and lyrical. Reid’s delivery is so natural and unforced that it draws you into the melancholy of the song without ever becoming maudlin. Eigsti also accompanies Reid’s on the James Taylor classic “Secret of Life.”

As Producer Peter Eldridge says in the liner notes, the duet “…concept could either send chills down your spine or reveal a backbone you never knew you had.” I think its safe to say that with The Heart Already Knows, vocalist Kate Reid 's backbone is alive and well. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mike DiRubbo Quartet live at Smalls; Patience pays

Mike DiRubbo Quartet Live at Smalls  Sl-0058
The alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo has been on the verge of a breakout for some time.  The now forty-eight-year-old alto saxophonist has a clean, biting sound. One is reminded of one of his mentors, the late Jackie McLean. DiRubbo began his musical studies on clarinet and eventually moved to his instrument of choice, the alto, when he was twelve.  A life changing experience with the Mitchell-Ruff group while he was still in high school convinced him that music was his life’s calling. After high school, DiRubbo studied at McLean’s Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford in his home state of Connecticut. McLean saw something in the young man’s playing that reminded him of himself. The master’s intuition has proven to be prophetic.  DiRubbo graduated from Hartt in 1992 and after working for a couple of years with local musicians in Connecticut, he eventually made his way to the Mecca of jazz, New York City, in 1997.

DiRubbo has sharpened his skills on the whetstone of gigging with some of New York’s premier jazz players like Al Foster, Jimmy Cobb, Harold Mabern, Eddie Henderson, John Hicks, Peter Washington and Carl Allen to name a few. His hard work has paid off giving him a distinctive hard-edged sound that both honors the tradition and launches the music into the era of modernity.  The critics have noticed. DiRubbo has been a nominee for Downbeat’s Rising Star on Alto Saxophone for the last six years running.

He has worked extensively as a sideman on albums led by modern artists like  trombonist Steve Davis, keyboardist Brian Charette, trumpeter Jim Rotondi and bassist Mario Pavone. The altoist has released several albums as a leader and started his own record label, Ksanti in 2011. Ksanti means “patience” in Sanskrit and with such an impressive resume and his latest release, Mike DiRubbo Quartet Live at Smalls, that patience may finally be rewarded with the accompanying recognition that he so richly deserves.

As the title implies this is a “live’ recording, capturing the moment of spontaneity and excitement that happens when a group is in sync and spurred on by an appreciative audience. This release is very current having been recorded at Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village in December of 2017. The group is stellar. Pianist Brian Charette sheds his organ and synthesizers for a night of acoustic piano and the results are impressive. The rhythm section of Ugonna Okegwo and Jonkuk Kim keep the energy high and pulsing.  Smalls, ans an intimate, basement club that has a capacity of sixty, is the perfect venue to listen to and appreciate a group like this. You get a chance to get upfront and personal with the band. A chance to listen and watch undistracted as DiRubbo and his group explore the possibilities of the compositions that they play.

The music is straight-ahead post-Coltrane, hard-bop and it is delivered with a raw edged authenticity that captures your attention. All the songs are written by DiRubbo- the one exception is John Abercrombie’s beautiful ballad “As it Stands,” and to be fair ,“Pent-Up Steps” is a take on Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”

From the driving opening bars of “Hope” you get the sense that this is going to be a special set of music. There is a Coltrane intensity and DiRubbo’s horn, at times almost sounds like a tenor; sharp, sometimes ragged, ripping through the lines like a serrated knife through crusty bread.Okegwo’s pulsating bass lines lead the way.Charette’s piano comps are thoughtful and measured and he offers a shimmering solo of cascading notes. Drummer Kim is a bundle of cacophony that keeps the proceedings percolating just to the brink of a boil.

“Details” uses a repeating rhythmic motif over which DiRubbo’s alto blows, first stating the line and then exploring its modal possibilities. You can hear the strong influence of his mentor Jackie McLean here. His notes are articulated like short staccato stabs, often accentuated with snare drum jabs by drummer Kim. When the altoist goes off, his cutting sound connects longer runs of notes played with a force that implies urgency. Charette takes an inspired solo that features a flow of notes that pour from his keyboard like the water of rushing stream before setting up for a pensive bass solo by Okewgo. As the song closes DiRubbo reaches the higher register with intense wailing sounds that are reminiscent of some of Pharoah Sanders’ plaintive cries.

The cd continues with “A Blues.”  The song has a swinging feel and each musician takes a turn in the solo spotlight. Okewgo’s bass is strong and pulsing and Charette's musings hold your interest with an economy of notes and some nice tremolo effects. DiRubbo’s alto is sinewy, his facility always at the ready to produce a flurry of notes when the mood suits him, or he will dynamically leave some space when effective.

“Moving In” is a soulful, ruminative ballad that features some of DiRubbo’s most sensitive playing. The rhythm section holds down the waltz-like pace as the altoist is given a chance to wander around the melody expressing a variety of ideas that all have an emotional appeal. His horn pleading in its tone and phrasing. Okwego’s bass is robust, dancing around the rhythm in a free-spirited prance that is loose but never loses the tempo.

“Pent-up Steps” is a derivative of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and shows the group in top form. DiRubbo’s alto navigates the changes with a slipstream ease. Gushes of sound come pouring out of his horn in deluge of ideas, building in intensity, surging with screeching, high-register notes at the apex of his solo. The rhythm section keeps the pace and defines the changes.  Pianist Charette artfully offers a series of beautifully executed ascending and descending runs. Drummer Kim, given his chance to shine, produces a polyphony of beats accented by some shimmering cymbal work, before the group heads for the exit at the coda.

The late guitarist John Abercrombie had a way of composing endearing music that often had a touch of introspective melancholy to it.  It’s no wonder that the group rises to the occasion and delivers one of their most memorable performances on his composition “As it Stands.” DiRubbo’s alto is particularly moving, his tone and attack delivering the pensive, moody feel with great insight and authentic feeling. Charette’s poignant solo is a highlight and Okwego’s bass sings with its own sense of deeply felt emotion.

The final song of the cd is “Archangel.” DiRubbo uses the thumping beat of Okwego’s bass, the roiling drums of Kim and the deftly placed comp chords of Charette to go off in an intense, ‘sheets of sound’ deluge of notes on his horn.
As the record memorializes,this is a group that thrives in the intimate setting of a club like Smalls. The chemistry is potent and DiRubbo delivers a set of  powerful music that relishes intensity while still leaving room for the sensitivity that a good ballad requires.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Tony Bennett mesmerizes at Atlanta’ Symphony Hall July 24, 2018

On a warm Tuesday night, at Atlanta’s beautiful Symphony Hall, a beloved figure of American music entertained an adoring audience. The maestro, Tony Bennett, quickly approaching his ninety-second birthday in August, embodied what is meant by the Mack Gordon lyrics “You Make Me Feel So Young.” Energized by the sold-out crowd, many who came to pay homage to a lifetime of over sixty years of epic performance art, Bennett entered the stage to a standing ovation and to the music of Michel Legrand’s marvelous “Watch What Happens.”  The place was charged. The symbiotic relationship between the warm and humble crooner and his audience was palpable. This exchange of energy is the very elixir that keeps the man vibrant, relevant and endearing. He is loved and adored, and he absorbs this tremendous outpour with rare humility and grace, which makes us love him even more.
His voice started with a raspy, slightly gravelly tone and a somewhat diminished range, but what he now lacks in vocal acuity he more than makes up with in his profound understanding of how to deliver a lyric. He is a consummate storyteller who captivates your imagination with his rich embellishment of its meaning. Take his wonderful rendition of the Gordon Jenkins classic “This is All I Ask.”  The lyrics now so much more relevant for a man in his nineties then when he first sang it back in 1963 at the age of forty-three. “As I approach the prime of my life, I find I have the time of my life, learning to enjoy at my leisure all the simple pleasures. And so, I happily concede, this is all I ask, this is all I need.”  The audience responded with a spontaneous round of applause as he sang these words to life.
In a conversation with Marc Meyers on his blog Jazz Wax in 2017, Bennett explained the importance of his relationship with the audience.

"I listen to the audience and feel their enthusiasm. Then I go along with that. I feel their spirit. I'm reacting to what's happening out there, and that's how the show becomes a reality. Once I know the audience is enjoying me, that they love what I'm doing, I'll do something different in response. It's almost as if we're having a conversation in the dark."

Bennett’s vitality was remarkable. Throughout the one-hour performance he never sat once, only occasionally leaning on the piano.  He walked erectly and with confidence, occasionally circling his bandmates and pointing to them, generously sharing the spotlight, encouraging the audience to shower his fellow musicians with applause. The band was made up of guitarist Gray Sargent, pianist Tom Rainier, bassist Marshall Wood and drummer Harold Jones. Since Bennett admittedly doesn’t prepare specific endings for the songs he elects to sing, the band must be capable of responding instantly to his flights of improvisation, which they did for the most part seamlessly.

Bennett and company ran through the Great American Songbook, swinging with Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” done in double time. A master of timing and dynamics, Bennett switched to the Ellington classic “In My Solitude,” where he first sang with restrained aplomb. He skillfully built the tension along the way until the coda, where he surprised many with an explosive ending that he belted out with affirmation, much to the delight of the crowd.

He ran through the repertoire, with most songs timing in at the radio-friendly three-minute mark. The songs included “It Amazes Me,” “Steppin’ Out with My Baby,” “But Beautiful,” “Our Love is Here to Stay,” “My Foolish Heart,” and “Because of You.”  Bennett proceeded with a short medley that included Hank Williams “Cold, Cold Heart,” one of his early hits “Rags to Riches” and his classic “Who Can I Turn To,” which has long been a staple of his repertoire. The music continued with “Just in Time” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and was followed by “The Good Life” which found the singer shouting the words “Wake Up, kiss the good life goodbye” in a powerful display of passion and bravado. It was almost as if he the wise nonagenarian was shaking the audience by the lapels, imploring them to enjoy the life they have every minute of every day. His fans responded several times during the evening to give Bennett a standing ovation. The unspoken question in everyone’s mind was “How can this guy still do what he does at such a high level?” The answer- It’s all about the love. The love Bennett has for his craft, the love his audience showers on him because of his honest integrity and warmth and the love of the music that seems eternal in its message, especially when delivered by one of the all-time masters of the art of singing.

The program continued with “The Music Never Ends” which was decidedly appropriate for this tireless performer. Guitarist Sargent moved centerstage to do a moving duo with Bennett on the Johnny Mandel standard “The Shadow of Your Smile” from the 1964 movie The Sandpiper which had the crowd salivating for more.  Bennett was warmed by the rapturous response and so he mined some more of his treasure trove continuing with Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life” and then giving the audience what they were all waiting for, his signature song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” which despite his diminishing range he pulled off with an amazing display of sheer will and polish. Sensing his audience was peaking, the master showman continued with “Who Cares” before finishing for the finale “Fly Me to the Moon.”  His voice carrying the seventeen hundred seat hall even without the aid of a microphone.

Bennett embraced himself in a demonstrative gesture, showing his deep appreciation for his audience, throwing them hugs and kisses, raising his hand upward in solidarity, basking in the adulation and was almost hesitant to finally leave the stage. But as he has once opined, timing is an important part of entertaining.  

"Know when to get off. You can't stay out there too long. You have to be aware when you've done enough. That often happens at the high point of an audience's reaction during the evening. When I hear that moment, I often say to myself  'I can't get a stronger reaction than this.' I usually leave soon after, on that high note."

Mr. Bennett, with all due respect, you can never stay too long in my book.

Here is one of my favorite Bennett collaborations with the great pianist Bill Evans from 1976. It's just timeless.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Interwoven Guitar Mastery of "Kreisberg meets Veras"

Nelson Veras and Jonathan Kreisberg: Kreisberg Meets Veras NFM 0005

There have been some stellar guitar collaborations over the years; some come to mind- Coryell and McLaughlin, Herb Ellis and Joe Pass, Jim Hall and Pat Metheny and John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner to name just a few. The latest duo of note is Jonathan Kreisberg and Nelson Veras as heard on their latest release Kreisberg meets Veras. These two are a revelation. They have a interwoven sound that is remarkably attune to each other's instincts. A collaboration that deserves further exploration.

Born in New York City, Jonathan Kreisberg studied at the University of Miami from 1990-1994. He returned to his hometown in 1998 after playing an assortment of musical genres mostly centered on prog-rock and jazz fusion.  He immersed himself into the more traditional aspects of jazz guitar, eschewing his Stratocaster in favor of the rounder, mellower sound of a Gibson hollow bodied guitar. He built up his chops finding work with artists like drummer Lenny White, saxophonist Joel Frahm and organist Dr. Lonnie Smith. He also formed a trio with drummer Ari Hoenig and bassist Johannes Weidenmueller. I first caught wind of this guitarist after hearing his album Shadowless from 2010 and later his solo album One from 2013, both excellent outings.

Brazilian guitarist Nelson Veras is new to me. He was apparently “discovered” by Pat Metheny when the then adolescent had moved from his native Salvador de Bahia, Brazil to France. Veras playing is rooted in the lilting Brazilian guitar-style of Joao Gilberto with a touch of Baden Powell’s fleet fingering.

Kreisberg plays electric guitar and Veras plays nylon stringed guitar so the two sounds are tonally complimentary, never clashing with each other.“Lina Rising” is a marvelously layered composition by Kreisberg that allows these two string-masters to dance with each other in a delicate but swaying movement. It is thoroughly enjoyable to listen to the two exchange vastly different ideas on the same theme.

“Until You Know” has a faint hint of gypsy-jazz guitar feel to it. The two play synchronous lines with effortless ease. Kreisberg’s lines are particularly fluid, complex and harmonically aggressive and Veras comps behind him with polished aplomb. When Veras solos, his warmer sound is precise and a bit more romantic in its approach.

The third Kresiberg original, “Every Person is a Story,” is dreamlike gemstone. Kreisberg’s guitar is made to sound like a harp descended from heaven. Played with exquisite sensitivity, it shimmers with a beauty that is hard not to be moved by.

The duo continues with some more familiar compositions like Monk’s “Bye-Yah,” a twisted exchange of ideas around the quirky Monk melody. Veras’ solo is particularly inventive with unexpected chicanery.  

Milton Nasciemento’s “Milagre Dos Pleixes” is right in Veras’ wheelhouse. He sets the scene with a miniature intro of classically inspired six-string beauty. The two guitarists latch onto the filigreed melody with some gorgeous finger-picked lines by Veras before Kreisberg launches into a dazzling saxophone-like solo that soars with inspiration.

Charlie Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” is probably one of the most played jazz standards in the canon and for good reason, it is a nostalgic homage to a passed master, Lester Young. The two guitarists play it with appropriate reverence. Veras takes the first solo and simply plays so beautifully and with so much feeling that you can’t help but be moved. When Kreisberg solos, he adds crescendos of notes that descend from the air-like fresh fallen snow, lingering for just a second before evaporating into the atmosphere.

Chick Corea’s classic “Windows,” perfect vehicle for the two guitarists, features a quick paced and changing rhythm that  is the ideal backdrop on which to improvise. The exchange never reaches the fever pitch of say the Coryell/McLaughlin duel on the album Spaces, but then these two seem more content to seamlessly integrate the music of their respective instruments into a coherent whole rather than make a show of speed for speed’s sake.

The final cut on this fine album is an obscure Wayne Shorter composition “Face on The Barroom Floor.”  The piece is played at a slow deliberate tempo to allow the nuances of the two guitarist’s interplay to be fully appreciated. Veras lays down the beautiful chordal accompaniment as Kriesberg’s electric guitar simply takes us on a flight of fantasy. Toward the end, Kriesberg introduces a modulating electric sound on his guitar that is otherworldly, fading out at the coda like a sighing last breadth.

Jonathan Kreisberg and Nelson Veras are two of the finest contemporary guitarists on the scene today. Kreisberg meets Veras is an excellent guitar duo album that is destined to become a part of every serious guitarist’s treasured musical library.