Thursday, August 29, 2019

"The Hope I Hold": Ryan Keberle & Catharsis

Ryan Keberle & Catharsis The Hope I Hold Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1072

Ryan Keberle has been steadily earning a well-deserved reputation as a splendid trombonist. He has won the Downbeat’s rising star award for his work on his instrument and has contributed his talents on projects by popular mainstream artists like David Bowie and Alicia Keyes. He is a valued member of the brass section of the prestigious, Grammy winning Maria Schneider’s Orchestra and worked with jazz traditionalist Wynton Marsalis, Brazilian composer Ivan Lins and the forward-thinking composer/arranger Darcy James Argue to name a few. His work as an educator has included numerous improvisational trombone seminars in many prominent music schools and he has directed the jazz program at Hunter College since 2004.

Ryan Keberle 

Keberle’s most progressive and inspired work has been recorded since he started his group Catharsis in 2012. Keberle’s Catharsis has included, at various times, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, guitar/vocalist Camila Meza, bassist Jorge Roeder, multi-reedist Scott Robinson and drummer Eric Doob.

The word Catharsis means purification; the processing of releasing and therefore providing relief of strong or repressed emotions. Unfortunately, in today’s world, “strong or repressed emotions” often include a fair share of hatred and fear, but Keberle and Catharsis use their music as a vehicle to promote and accentuate the positive. Their music offers sensitivity and creativity, using music as a path to enlightenment. Their music has espoused the importance of love and hope even when faced with prevailing negative forces. Over several albums, the group has offered a positive mantra that promotes inclusion, represented by the band’s diverse ethnicity and celebrated by their ability to create such a strong cohesiveness, as witnessed by the  joy that is overwhelmingly apparent in their music.

On the latest recording The Hope I Hold, Keberle’s artistry is inherently bonded to his socially altruistic message. “The Hope I Hold Suite” is inspired by his admiration for Langston Hughes searing 1935 poem “America Will Be.”  I’ve re-read the full poem (you can read it here) and recognize that, despite a passage of over eighty years, the aspirations often committed to have still been stubbornly elusive to an  unconsciously large portion of our population.
Keberle’s message restlessly refuses to accept the inevitability of a failed dream. His hope, like a North Star, is a beacon that leads us to continue to strive for universal rights and equitable equality. Keberle admirably believes the realization of this dream can only be found through truth, love and inspired music. I'm with him on this.

The group is amazingly empathetic, melding their individual musical personalities into a unified sounding symphony. The first four songs are all part of a "The Hope I Hold" suite that honors the Hughes poem. Not just an exemplary trombonist, Keberle is an accomplished pianist who opens the set with an elegant tingling simulation of clanking chains on “Tangled in the Ancient Endless Chains.” He plays some airy Fender Rhodes as Reoder’s booming bass paces the rising melody and the music grows in intensity. Camila Meza’s haunting wordless voice finds a compatriot with Scott Robinson’s responsive tenor and Doob’s splashing cymbals and exploding toms. Meza’s voice is interpretative and moving. She beautifully vocalizes Hughes' verse, the fourth paragraph of his poem, and brilliantly adapts the lyrics to the music with only slight word substitutions to make it work for her. Robinson’s soaring tenor is uplifting and hopeful, Meza’s electric guitar solo follows, lending another color to this aural watercolor that offers promise.

Left to Right Jorge Roeder, Eric Doob, Camila Meza, Ryan Kebrle and Scott Robinson,
Earshot Jazz Festival ( photo credit unknown)
Keberle’s emotive trombone opens “Despite the Dream.” He and Meza’s guitar match notes and sounds before her plaintive wordless voice is joined with Robinson’s tenderly searching tenor in a three-instrument conversation. Meza’s voice adds lyrics, vocal backups are included by Keberle and Roeder, as the rhythm section of Doob and Roeder establish the swaying pace. Robinson’s tenor is a joy on the bridge and Keberle’s trombone is like a force of emotion and expressiveness, artful. The music retains an orchestration that is positive and inspiring.

“America Will Be,” the third song in the four-song suite, starts out with a dirge-like feel. Eventually the music elevates to a stirring apex with Keberle’s probing trombone, Robinson’s atmospheric tenor, Meza’s spidery guitar, Roeder’s booming bass and Doob’s militarily cadenced drums. The years together have tempered these musicians into a precise, empathetic and responsive ensemble. The composition has, at times, a solemn feeling, but hope and defiance is also present and Hughes’ words “O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, and yet I swear this oath-America will be.”  Meza’s melodic voice singing the defining statement both codifies existing disappointment but also demands realization of the promised dream.

“Fooled and Pushed Apart” is a dynamic, fluid song that utilizes a driving rhythm section of Roeder and Doob, a responsive front line of Robinson and Keberle and a tantalizing, Flora Purim-like wordless performance by Meza. Keberle’s composition has a modern, Blue Note-era feel to it and it just bristles with precision, excitement and vibrancy. Keberle’s trombone has a liquid bellow to it and his intonation is flawless.  Robinson’s tenor artfully darts around Keberle’s trombone adding subtle and effective accompaniment that seem improvised on the spot. Upon multiple listens you find more and more things to like about this one.

“Campinas” features Keberle’s trombone accompanied by his overdubbed Rhodes. Jorge Roeder’s voice offers a wordless opening over his own electric bass lines and Doob’s cadenced drums, which seem to be the one constant in this song. Meza and Roeder weave their wordless voices expertly as Keberle adds his spacey Korg Minlogue accents and Meza’s guitar eventually adds another voice to the mix.

The second part of the album features three drum-less Catharsis trio songs. Keberle, Meza and Roeder take on a Latin vibe. The program includes “Para Volar” a buoyant Latin song sung and composed by Meza and accompanied by her guitar, Keberle’s trombone and Roeder’s bass. Meza’s voice always has a joyous sound to it as she sings the lyrics in Spanish and Keberle’s trombone takes on a warm, Latin feel.

The beautiful “Peering” is written by bassist Roeder and features Keberle’s trombone, Meza’s guitar and wordless voice and Roeder’s looping bass. Meza sings precisely in sync to her own guitar. Keberle compliments her emotively on trombone. The three musicians who have played together for the past seven years have developed an undeniable musical telepathy that can’t fail to impress. 

“Zamba de Lozano” is a folk-like composition by Manuel Jose Castillo and Gustavo Leguizamon has a slow, romantic flow to it with Meza’s guitar and voice, Roeder’s and Keberle’s accompanying vocals and Keberle’s trombone.

“Becoming the Water” is uplifting composition of hope by Keberle and Mansta Miro and reprises the song from previous Catharsis album Find the Common, Shine a Light but this time without Michael Rodriguez’s trumpet.

The finale is titled “Epilogue/Make America Again” is the final composition and a bit of a reprise of the previous song “America Will Be” restating the sentiments. The song features Meza’s electric guitar, Keberle’s electric piano and trombone, Roeder’s bass, Doob’s drums and Scott Robinson’s tenor. The music has the cadence of a march with the ensemble raising the sound and tension to a peak of excitement before allowing the music to calm and settle, with Meza’s tactile voice resubmitting the moving Hughes words at the coda to great effect.

Ryan Keberle continues to show his progression as a serious composer, a deft leader and a brilliant instrumentalist whose music is always passionate, moving and timely. Keberle and Catharsis have progressed their musical mission with The Hope I Hold, and hopefully their music and message will inspire listeners  who aspire to achieve a better world for all of us.

Monday, August 26, 2019

"Heartbeat" from Jelena Jovovic: A Gift of Love

Heartbeat Jelena Jovovic

It is always a joy when you surprisingly come across an album from someone who you have never heard of before. Perhaps they are from a geographically different place, a place like Serbia. Maybe their music piques your interest and stirs that something inside you that makes you want to listen again and again. Maybe this is someone you should be aware of, to pay attention to. Jelena Jovović is just that kind of musician. A Serbian vocalist whose new album Heartbeat is precisely the kind of gem-in-the-rough that makes exploring new and unknown music such a joy and worth all the effort.

Jelena Jovovic

Ms.  Jovović s career included studies at University of Arts in Graz, Austria, a masters from University of Arts in Belgrade, Serbia and a professorship at Music School of Stankovic in Belgrade, where she presently teaches. While living in South Africa, she established a vocal curriculum at Cape Town University and Pretoria Tech School of Music. She has played with American artists like saxophonist Bob Mover, veteran drummer Steve Williams and bassist/composer/arranger Chuck Israels.

On Heartbeat, we find out just how sonorous Ms. Jovović ’s voice can be. There is a beautiful flow to her intonation, a hip sense of modulation, an art carefully developed by years of studying with some of jazzes best vocal interpreters. Vocal masters who have an instrumental approach to the voice like Mark Murphy, Sheila Jordan, Jay Clayton and Andy Bey. Jovović has precise control, impeccable timing and an astute sense of taste in her choices of the music to record. Modern music from composer/artists like Wayne Shorter’s “Witch Hunt”, which Jovović’s voice and her talented Serbian band make it their own. Pianist Vasil Hadzimanov’s sprite Rhodes work, Rastko Obradovic’s probing tenor solo and Milan Nikolic’s vibrant double bass solo all make this a winning cd right out of the gate.

Jelena Jovoic and some members of her band

Hadzimanov’s gorgeous piano introduction and accompaniment on the Bruneti folk song ballad “Paladin” and Jovović’s incandescent vocals are a real treat to anyone who loves a sensitive song delivered with an unforced authenticity and fervor.

Modern jazz meets ancient Balkan music with Oleg Kireyev’s haunting Tater throat singing that opens Jovović’s nimble and funky “The Countless Stars.” Listen to the flawless modulation of her voice toward the coda, simply masterful.

The title song ‘Heartbeat” is another Jovović composition that expresses the singer’s upbeat approach to the universe and her sentiment that love can resonate with the world over anything. Another soulful tenor saxophone solo by Obradovic compliments Jovović’s flexible vocals.

“Bubu’s Song” is a bouncing, bright song that Jovović’s created for her daughter Sara and features some tubular vibes by Milos Branisavljevic that interacts seamlessly with Jovović’s elastic scatting.

“Sweet Music” is a deeply emotionally sung composition that memorializes the importance of music in the singer’s life and soul. A moving trumpet solo by Stjepko Gut communicates intuitively with Jovović’s emotive voice. Hadzimanov’s empathetic piano accompaniment seems to be hard-wired to Jovović’s vocal explorations.

Claus Raible’s “Little Freddie Steps” is referred in the liner notes as a boogaloo and has a definitive groove to it and perhaps my least favorite song on the album.

“Time is Here” is another Jovović  composition that she sings in both English and a beguiling French. An airy soprano solo by Obradovic and some ethereal Rhodes work by Hadzimanov make this special. The liner notes refer to Joni Mitchell’s work on “Mingus” and I can certainly hear the influences from Ms. Mitchell in Jovović’s approach, although the voice is all Jovović’s.

“Mad in Heaven”, daringly morphs from one time to another and Jovović’s lyrics about gender relations is played using a distinctively staccato approach. Jovovic is clearly no one trick pony with her music and her stylistic varriations.

Don Grolnick wrote and played his song “Pools” when he was in the progressive group “Steps Ahead.” Jovović’s deft understanding of this modern, angular music comes through with Jovović’s smart arrangement and the facile execution by her impressive band on this neglected gem from 1985.

Jelena Jovović’s is a surprising delight. A multi-talented vocal talent from Serbia. whose music simply validates the universality of this music we call jazz. Let’s face it we can all use a dose of love from such a gift like Heartbeat.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Sliding "Across Oceans" : Ross Hammond and Poly Varghese

Ross Hammond and Poly Vaghese  Across Oceans
There is a recently released album by a Sacramento, CA based resonator guitarist Ross Hammond and the Indian Mohem Veena player Poly Varghese and if you like your music played without a net you owe it to yourself to experience this vibrant collaboration.

The cd is aptly titled Across Ocean. You might expect the music from these two culturally diverse musicians to be oceans apart as the title suggests, but in actuality these string masters have found a strong, aurally rooted commonality in the music they spontaneously created in these five musical mantras.

The Mohen Veena is an instrument built around a Hawaiian guitar. An expressive, drone producing, Southern Indian inspired slide guitar that was modified and created by the Indian master Vishna Mohan Bhatt. Bhatt taught and was mentor to the musician Poly Varghese, who has become quite proficient at this unique instrument and is also an experimental theater actor.

Mohen Veena

I have followed the Californian based Ross Hammond for a while and he is a master of the soulful, Americana sound of the steel resonator guitar that is used predominantly in country, bluegrass and blues music. These two met at a concert in Sacramento and were inspired to play together, explore their common love of improvisation and use the expressive use of the slide over strings to make their music.

Ross Hammond (photo credit unknown)

The songs are impromptu elaborations that bring out the best of these creative artists. They establish a symbiotic connection when they play together; a mood created when the vibe is right, and the music is flowing.  The titles include “The First Glimpse of the Morning,” “Rashmon Blues,” Global Blues,” “For Mary Oliver” and “Across Oceans.”  The music has a spiritual element to it. Two instruments that can lead you on an unexpected journey of exploration and wonder, if you let yourself be absorbed by it.

The opener “The First Glimpse of the Morning” is a musical representation of dawn accentuated by the duel sounds of the two slide masters. The men listen intently, sometimes providing background, sometimes introducing a new direction. The intensity of their instruments rise in anticipation like the radiance of the morning sun.  The blue-based tunes like “Rashmon Blues” and “Global Blues” seem to provide the basis for the most exciting, loose improvisational excursions from both these players.  Hammond’s resonator has a warm, melodic tone and Varghese’s Mohenn Veena offers a higher pitched, drone-based sound that creates a spiritual chant-like undertone to the music.

Well respected American poet Mary Oliver recently passed at the age of eighty-three in Florida in January of 2019. Hammond’s “For Mary Oliver” is a dedication to the poet whose work was a helpful inspiration to the guitarist. The song is a mournful combination of Hammond’s modulating slide work and Varghese’s cascading, sitar-like explorations. 

 “Across Oceans” is a wonderfully peaceful song with Hammond playing a delicate finger-picked guitar and some bottle slide. Varghese finds his way into some country-inspired slide guitar sound on his Mohen Veena. The music is a fusion; two identities that merge from two cultures Indian and American. Hammond and Varghese create an inspiring conversation, trading ideas, leading each other into new and exciting musical directions, and they take us willingly along with them.

There is another element to this music. Ross Hammond and Poly Varghese are two travelers from different worlds, from Across Oceans, who have found a bond in their music and in their cultural differences. If we all could learn this simple lesson of inclusion there is no doubt that this would be a lot better world to live in.

You can listen to and buy his album by clicking here.

Ross Hammond on Resonator Guitar "Codes"

Poly Varghese: 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Musical Magic while "Hiding Out" Mike Holober and The Gotham Jazz Orchestra

Mike Holober:The Gotham Jazz Orchestra Hiding Out  Zoho  ZM201906

The pianist/composer/arranger/educator Mike Holober is a man of many gifts. His guiding leadership has been a quiet but effective force behind some creative and moving big band projects in the last several years. You may not be aware of his work, but that’s barely an excuse to miss this man’s excellent and modern contributions to the world of music. 

Holober is a classically trained pianist whose career in jazz started to emerge in 1986 when he moved to New York.  He began building a reputation as a pianist and arranger when working with the talented baritone saxophonist Nick Brigola in the late 90’s. His talent as a serious chart master is respected among his peers. Mike was the Director/Conductor of the Westchester Jazz Orchestra (WJO) for over six years where he wrote and arranged for artists as renowned as Joe Lovano, Kate McGarry, John Scofield and Randy Brecker, to name a few. I was fortunate enough to catch him and this band for several impressive performances when I lived in CT and I was immediately interested in this man's trajectory.

He has also been invited to write and conduct esteemed European big Bands like the HR Big Band and the WDR Big Band, where he wrote, arranged and conducted for noted artists like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Al Foster, Billy Cobham and Miguel Zenon. Mr.  Holober also served as the Associate Director of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop with Director Jim McNeely for several years. He has maintained a working quintet whose debut album Canyon was released in 2003, and his big band The Gotham Jazz Orchestra (GJO) first recording Thought Trains is from 1996 but was finally released in 2004. Mr. Holober teaches at Manhattan School of Music and is a full professor at the City College of New York.

Mike’s latest release from the GJO is a meaty, two-disc project titled Hiding Out and will be released on Zoho Records on August 9, 2019. The album includes an arrangement of the Antonio Carlos Jobim composition “Carminhos Cruzados,” which Mike re imagined as a vehicle for virtuoso trumpeter Marvin Stamm,  two suites “Flow”, commissioned by the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, and the “Hiding Out” suite commissioned by The Philadelphia Museum of Art. As with many of Mike’s modern projects, his Gotham Jazz Orchestra is made up of a group of first call musicians based out of the New York area.  The “Hiding Out” suite was crafted at a 20,000- acre ranch in northeastern Wyoming with a view of the snow-capped Big Horn Mountains. The “Flow” suite was penned at the famed MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where artists liked Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein found a wellspring of inspiration at the bucolic setting.
Mike Holober (photo credit unknown)
Holober has often seen his work as a balancing act between his love of outdoors and his passion for creating music. It’s not surprising that these two suites balance the excitement and awe of nature with the urbanity and exuberance of the life of a New York based jazz musician.

There is a lot to listen to and absorb. “Rumble,” originally written for the US Army Jazz Nights in 2008,  opens the first cd and is  named for an isolated lake in the Sierra Nevada. The stream of sounds that emerge from this taut machine pulse and probe like a unified aqueous body in motion.  Holober guides his group with precision, but like an impressionistic painter, he allows for the band to have its own organic aspiration, its own distinct vitality. Like a painter, Holober loves to introduce colors to his palette, like the fusion-dated sound of  his Rhodes, Jon Gordon’s piquant alto and Jesse Lewis’ shredding electric guitar work too. The result is a thoroughly modern piece that just gets more enjoyable  the more you listen to it.

Movement one of “Flow” is titled “Tears of Clouds” and opens with a peaceful section that builds upon a wavy, undulating rhythmic feel. Holober piano and rhythm section creates a repeating motif that simulates the sound of falling water in a slow but persistent drip. The searching, urgent tenor saxophone of Jason Rigby is the sole voice that is featured above the band, as Holober’s arrangement allows the band to employ deft use of tension and release.  

“Opalescence” opens with Marvin Stamm’s clarion trumpet as the band plays the almost liturgical sounding music behind him. Stamm is a master of tone and expression and Holober’s song utilizes his strengths beautifully. Mid song, Stamm changes to the more mellow flugelhorn and Holober’s piano accompaniment is superb and expressive. As the pace changes, the vibrant bass of John Herbert beautifully anchors the song with a firm pulse.

“Interlude” is a short but potent composition that features what feels like a spiritual Native American inspired solo on penny whistle by Ben Kono. There is an authentic Americana feel ( in a true sense) to this peaceful song that transitions into a more urban inspired composition “Harlem” with the saxophone solo by altoist Billy Drews and joined by bassist Herbert and drummer Mark Ferber. The arrangement has a more traditional, almost Ellingtonian- inspired big band feel; full of swing and energy. Trumpeter Scott Wendholt offers a high energy, upper register solo that raises this one. Holober utilizes a series of rhythmic changes during the composition. He effectively employs the explosive drums of Ferber and the booming bass line of Herbert as the foundation to allow the big band to pulse using well timed sectional accents. About three quarters through, Holober’s piano shifts from lyrical to driving and this sends the band into a more excited fury, allowing several band members to break out in featured solos that erupt with passion.

The title of this suite “Hiding Out” has a dual meaning. Despite his respected reputation, the musician feels that he has previously “hidden” in a way by concentrating his musical skills  as a sideman, an arranger for others and an educator.  Holober also likens the title “Hiding Out” to his frequent escape to the reinvigorating environs of natural beauty and majesty-places that allow him to concentrate on creation.

Conductor Mike Holober (photo credit unknown)

“It Was Just the Wind” is perhaps the most adventurous composition of the suite. In many respects “Hiding Out” is the most recent effort by Holober to enrich the world of music by composing with his own personal vision in mind. The suite is bold, authoritative and imaginative. He and his band are consummately able to bring his vision to life. The introduction, with its serene use of woodwinds, supported by the more brilliant tones of the brass section on “Prelude,” is the perfect entre to the suite.  The probing “Compelled” carries the music forward, featuring Holober’s gentle and cadenced piano-his deft arrangements drift sections of spectacular sound into and out of the music with ebbs and flows of his music. Steve Cardenas, a superb guitarist, adds a modern, textural but lyrical solo that floats over the musical atmosphere created.  “Four Haiku” is a short piece that utilizes brilliant sectional harmonies creating a feel of majesty and reverence.   “Interlude” is our chance to hear solo pianist Holober weave a beautiful lyrical melody that is moving and just simply gorgeous.

Holober opening the piece with an exploring solo that morphs into a rhythmically driving pulse led by Herbert and Ferber.  The music escalates its sense of urgency with each bar, the brass and woodwinds melting into a unified wall of multi-timbered sounds. Soloists like altoist Jon Gordon and tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker bring persuasive individual improvisational voices into the forefront. Composer Holober fearlessly adds elements of fusion and Brazilian rhythms into the song, increasing the pace on his tubular sounding Fender Rhodes. This band responds to the adventure with true excellence and marvelous sectional precision.  The eighteen minute song ends with some soaring ethereal guitar by Cardenas and explosively roiling drums by Ferber, as this incendiary band brings the music to new heights at the coda. This is a modern big band at its best.

This two disc set closes with two takes of Jobim’s romantic “Carminhos Cruzados” which Holober has re-imagined for his band and for trumpeter Marvin Stamm. The lilting music is accented by the exquisite tone of Stamm’s gorgeous flugelhorn. You can’t help but be drawn in by the motion this music instills in your body. It’s like listening to a love song that caresses you with Stamm’s horn and is accentuated by Holober’s potently orchestrated band.

Here is a link to one of the new album's songs.

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 Café 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.