Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Taking the higher path "Upstream" by Alex Sipiagin


The Russian trumpeter Alex Sipiagin releases a new album titled Upstream, on May 7th and this fine offering is propulsive, modernly melodic, and superbly played.

Sipiagin contributes five impressive compositions for this record and his bandmates add three others along with one gorgeous Wayne Shorter ballad for good measure. Posi-Tone producer Marc Free continues to reveal an uncanny talent to identify distinctive players and match them up with like-minded musicians to great success. On Upstream, Sipiagin is joined by pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Rudy Royston and together these guys can elevate your heart rate with excitement, dazzle your mind with their taste or pull at your heartstrings with poignancy.  

Trumpet legend Randy Brecker said "...there is a full spectrum of many moods and emotions on this great album..." " of his best many excellent albums."

This album is simply a joy, and if you're like me, it will be on auto replay on your both headphones and your iPhone.

Alex Sipiagin is one of those first-call trumpet players that if you do not recognize his name, you have certainly heard his work before. Since his arrival from his native Russia in 1991, Sipiagin’s distinctive, precise and melodic sensibilities have been heard in the orchestra’s trumpet sections for Gil Evans, Swiss Composer George Gruntz’s Concert Jazz Band, bassist Dave Holland’s Octet and Big Bands, Michael Brecker’s award-winning Quindectet and Conrad Herwig’s Latin Side Orchestras. Alex has been a member of the great Mingus Big Band since 1996, and I last saw him in that great band almost two years ago at the Jazz Standard.

Despite being often seen as a first-call orchestra trumpet section voice, Alex has worked extensively as a leader, with seventeen other releases since 1998. He is a founding member of the group Opus 5, which includes Seamus Blake (s), David Kikoski (p), Boris Kozlov (b) and Donald Edwards(dr).

The title Upstream refers to Alex’s desire to maintain “intensity and desire” in his artistic life. Consequently, he likes to go against the current and swim upstream of the fray. This album is Sipiagin’s artistic representation of that never-ending search. 

The opener “Call” is the artist’s expression of an overflow of emotions that sometimes just happens as if by a force of nature outside of your control. An explosion of expression as Sipiagin’s trumpet is like a clarion call that bubbles with emotive and powerful bursts. The group responds with equal energy and well-controlled sympathetic kineticism. 

The pianist Art Hirahara’s beautiful “Echo Canyon” allows the listener’s elevated pulse to take a breath for a moment. The music has a more pensive feel, with Sipiagin using the warmer sound of Flugelhorn to great effect, playing out front of his bandmate’s sensitive accompaniment. Hirahara’s piano solo is splendid and Sipiagin reaches some gorgeous high register notes that just soar. 

Alex’s “Sight” has a switchback, complex pattern that is brilliantly executed by this formidable rhythm section. Hirahara plays on what sounds like a Rhodes piano and offers an airy solo. Sipiagin’s trumpet is focused, precise, and always melodic. Sipiagin’s compositions musically inspire and are advanced both harmonically and melodically and yet executed with aplomb and taste. 

Another of the leader’s compositions is the scorching “SipaTham” which is an acronym of the first letters of Alex and his wife Mellissa Tham’s last names. There is a volcanic eruption of expression in these songs. Like “Sight”, “SipaTham” were both created when artistic creativity was being quarantined from all normal outside world activity by the pandemic. Sipiagin successfully used the time to compose and it shows how his energy was being redirected into this amazing music. His bandmates undoubtedly felt that being able to tap into this music’s energy would be cathartic for them when this was finally recorded, and it shows. Alex’s playing is on fire, and the group is on a mission. Hirahara and Kozlov are in beautiful sync and Rudy Royston’s drum work is particularly propulsive and takes you to a new level of involvement. This one is special.

Boris Kozlov is a top-notch bassist who I have had the privilege of seeing play in several different settings. Here Alex takes Boris’ composition “Magic Square” on a fusion take that features Hirahara’s searching Rhodes, Kozlov’s electric bass, and Sipiagin’s tart muted trumpet. Royston’s drum work is spectacular and erupts with a flurry of syncopation that overflows like an overheated cauldron.

Sipiagin’s “Rain” is a sensitive ballad that was inspired by waiting for a loved one to be released from a hospital while it was relentlessly raining. It is these moments, being unprepared and being subjected to live’s uncertainties, that can provide inspiration. Sipiagin’s trumpet is played beautifully on this and you can feel his release of angst, the sincerity in his expression of thanks, and the mastery of his command that allows him to gorgeously express those feelings.

“Shura” is another Kozlov composition that is played in 6/8 as requested by Alex and was written in humor and named for the trumpeter by his nickname. I can’t get enough of Alex’s facility and clear tone. Many people play the trumpet well, but few with such authority and joy. Royston’s drums fill up the song copiously, especially at the coda, and Kozlov and Hirahara accompany brilliantly.

Wayne Shorter’s “Miyako” is a gorgeous ballad and Sipiagin’s flugelhorn simply needs to be heard to be appreciated. Kozlov’s bass solo is fluid and eloquent. Royston’s cymbal and tom work are impressive. 

The title song “Upstream” returns to the energy level previously offered in the  Sipiagin compositions covered earlier n this album. According to the artist’s notes, some of the melodies in “Upstream” were inspired by a Russian folk song. The folk song was in turn inspired by a painting by Ilya Repin titled “Barge Haulers on the Volga,” which depicts exhausted workers depleted by the strenuous work and the heat of the sun. 

"Upstream" is a quick-moving song featuring Sipiagin’s declarative trumpet, Hirahara’s melodic Rhodes, Kozlov’s probing bass, and Royston’s roiling drum work. The heat rises-the energy level is driven into overdrive activity-lead by Sipiagin’s piercing high register work. Royston’s drum solo is like a whirlwind of percussion inventiveness and worth the price of admission.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Infectious Groove: The Steve Band at Blue Note Tokyo

Steve Gadd Band at Blue Note Tokyo Dec 2019 BFM Jazz 621 834 676 2

There is no escaping the infectious shuffle that the now seventy-six-year young drummer Steve Gadd offers on the grooving opener “Where’s Earth” from his latest album Steve Gadd Band Live at Blue Note Toyko. What better groove masters can the legendary trap artisan employ to make some enjoyable music on a spectacular evening in Japan in Dec of 2019? The album is impeccably recorded for posterity by Junto Fukuhara of Blue Note Toyko and mixed effectively by Steve and his son Giancarlo.

The album features veteran bassist Jimmy Johnson, trumpet stylist Walt Fowler, and the multi-keyboard artist Kevin Hays joined with drummer Gadd. Add the intrepid David Spinoza, who more than ably fills the guitar slinger-seat usually occupied by the impressive Michael Landau who couldn't make this trip and you have this band. These guys are just loving the vibe, feeding off the audience’s respectful attention and reverential applause. In turn, these guys offer an impressive display of confidence, simpatico, skill, and poise. The group finds a line, skillfully plowed by a Gadd-created furrow. They plant seeds, germs of ideas, with the inherent DNA of one part creative improvisation, one part irresistible biorhythm.

Despite being the drummer’s gig, Gadd rarely showboats. On Spinozza’s sweet composition, “Doesn’t She Know By Now,” the groove is like poetry, a sustained slide between Johnson’s walking bass and Gadd’s cadenced traps, cowbell, and toms. The song features some searching flugelhorn work by Fowler and aerial-sounding Rhodes work by Hays, but it is Spinozza’s soulful guitar that seals the deal on this one. The man wears this song like a favorite, well-worn shirt. He has an inherent comfortable ability to find such soulful lines that just sweep you into his musical vortex. Here his guitar work floats over the fretboard with such unfettered loose style and impeccable taste.  

Spinozza’s studio work has been an integral part of many of the era’s most memorable songs. His guitar can be heard on albums released by Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, John Lennon, and James Taylor to name just a few. His short but potent solo on Dr. John’s 1973 hit “Right Place Wrong Time” is like a guidepost to notable funky guitar solos of the past nearly fifty years. It’s a pleasure to hear Spinozza’s distinctive fretwork add a special voice added to this great band’s core.

“Timpanogos” is a Fowler Latin/Caribbean-inspired composition with Johnson’s buoyant bass and Gadd’s percolating beat. Fowler’s trumpet solo is gorgeous and Spinozza’s guitar lines are precise and emotive. Kevin Hays offers a beautiful keyboard solo that just floats like a billowy cloud over a tranquil aquamarine bay. Pour yourself one of those cool umbrella drinks and sit back and enjoy.

There is always room for the blues on a set like this, especially with such responsive artists. “Hidden Drive” features Hays on some inspired honkytonk piano and Johnson’s fat bass lines anchor the strut on top of Gadd’s snare and hi-hat-driven timekeeping. Fowler’s muted trumpet adds a soulful inflection and Spinozza’s guitar is a master class on his expressive authority of this genre.

The surprising voice of Kevin Hays is the feature on his soulful “Walk with Me.” This is a get-down type song and Fowler’s clarion trumpet works is in lead here. Gadd’s beat is particularly out front on this, with his definitive ability to create a commanding groove driven by his imagination, utilizing his kit to all its possibilities.

On Jimmy Johnson’s “One Point Five,” the group interacts more in synchronous sections. Gadd offers a roiling drum solo that starts at the 3:12 min mark and just brims over with intention and inventiveness. Gadd's improvisation is spurred on by his bandmates accenting the breaks in the music’s paced breaks and leaving no doubt who is commander of this group.

One of Gadd’s favorite songs, "Way Back Home," is a composition by Wilton Felder, the saxophonist/bassist of the Crusaders. Gadd first played this song back in the ’70s with the supergroup Stuff. The drummer here utilizes brushes. He and Giancarlo purposefully highlight them and Johnson’s bass in the mix to get the feel the drummer is looking to feature. There is some intuitive conversational action between Spinozza’s twangy guitar and Johnson’s bass that is a treat and Hays adds some nice honkytonk piano work toward the coda.

Guitarist Michael Landau’s influence is never far from this band’s psyche and here they play his “Rat Race” to great effect. Johnson’s bass lines are so funky, and Gadd’s shuffle habit-forming, you can’t get enough. Hays is back on Rhodes and it is so rewarding to see how well-suited this talented pianist's playing enhances this group's sound. Fowler’s accents, here on mute, are always timely placed and expressive. Spinozza never fails to offer his own stamp here. He releases some exciting guitar work that just elevates the music to a new level of urgency. Put on some earphones and absorb this. Guitar creativity to be savored.

The set ends with Bob Dylan’s bluesy “Watching the River Flow” sung well and with real emotion by Hays. The group just goes with the shuffle here and it is a happy ending to a fabulous night of music. 

There is no denying that listening to these guys play such uplifting and grooving music on Steve Gadd Band At Blue Note Tokyo is a delight not to be missed and rest assured the trap master  Steve Gadd has not lost a scintilla of his groove. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Experience the fusion and groove of SHIJIN - Theory Of Everything

Shijin : Theory of Everything : Alter-Nativ Records

If you have a passion for interesting and challenging music that has elements of complexity that doesn’t totally lose you in its own labyrinthian constructions, then you owe yourself a listen to Shijin’s second and latest album Theory of Everything This international group has substantially the same personnel as the original group featured on their debut album SHIJIN released back in 2018. The saxophonist, originally Jacques Schwartz-Bart who was raised in Guadalupe, has been replaced on this album with the fortuitous addition, multi-horn artist Stephane Guillaume from France.

The group is captained by the electric bassist and composer Laurent David whose probing basslines set the bearing and heartbeat of the group. All the members are listed as co-composers of all the songs on this album. As record producer David says in his press release “All interactions, harmonies, rhythms, and melodies generated arise from the energy of the void!”  

Take the leadoff song “Mystery of the White Dwarf” which is introduced by the ostinato bass of David, the pulsing percussion of Belgium drummer Stephane Galland and supported brilliantly by the lead duo of Brazilian Malcolm Braff’s acoustic and electric piano work and the fluid saxophone musings of Guillaume. These guys meld their sounds together in sympathetic and adventurous ways. This is explorative fusion with an inherent groove.

“Unexpected Discovery” opens with a repeating bass line that creates the setting for a more ruminative adventure, an aural mind journey. David’s bass lines ring out like a traveler’s beacon in the darkness. Guillaume flawlessly doubles on tenor and flute. His flute lines dance like a nymph in a gauzy dream. Gallard’s cymbals shimmer and he offers a brief but effective syncopated drum accompaniment.

No matter how this group mixes up the melody they always anchor the music in some rhythmic continuum. On “Golden Age” Braff’s electronic keyboard adds an atmospheric element and David’s bass solo is a digging excursion over’s Gallard’s drum work.

The powerfully driven “Implosion” is a testament to how well these skilled musicians can come together as a potent vehicle for expression. Braff’s piano work explores with passion and creativity. Guillaume’s tenor wails and the rhythm section of David and Gallard is pure syncopated propulsion.

The group returns to a more reflective approach to “Time Travel” one of the more melodic compositions of the album and one of my favorites.  Braff’s piano solo work is given time to explore, and he delivers with a flourishing touch that sometimes morphs into a more percussive approach. The pace quickens and Guillaume offers a serpentine soprano solo that creates tonal variety and excitement here. He also adds the lower sonorous tones of a bass clarinet that he overdubs. This group knows how to skillfully use the aural tone palette available to them from these talented musicians and they can certainly build on a groove.

“Separating Circle” finds Gallard playing a duet with himself displaying a rhythmic sophistication that is a joy.  

“You Are Here” features the Rhodes and CP-70 keyboard work of Braff and Guillaume returning to an expanded work on tenor, skillfully overdubbing flute in parts.  

The final composition of the album is titled “Curved Wrinkles” and starts off with some tinkling piano notes, a funky bassline and a strong backbeat. Guillaume is on tenor and he and Braff trade lines as the rhythm section keep the pace.

If you enjoy pulsing, probing, and excellently played fusion based music then Shijin’s Theory of Everything is sure to please.

Monday, March 8, 2021

UMA ELMO: The Entrancing Music of Jakob Bro with Arve Hendricken and Jorge Rossy

Jacob Bro, Arve Hendriksen and Jorge Rossy:Uma Elmo ECM 2702

The Danish guitarist Jakob Bro has a new album that was released in February and titled Uma Elmo, on the ECM label. The unusual name is the union of the two middle names of his young sons- seven-year-old Dagny Uma and seven-month-old Oswald Elmo. The guitarist used precious downtime, between his newborn child’s naps, to write some of the compositions for this latest release. The beautiful ebb and flow of the music undoubtedly partially inspired by his intimate and homebound exposure to his young sons. Like most artists, he was unable to tour and perform due to restrictions created by the global pandemic. The unexpected opportunity to be more present for his two sons became creatively inspiring.  

I was peripherally acquainted with Jakob Bro’s playing, initially listening to his measured but effective work as a member of the late Polish trumpeter Thomaz Stanko’s group on his striking album Dark Eyes from 2009. With a little research and an enjoyable delve into more of Bro’s available music, I found the now forty-two-year-old guitarist’s work entrancing, thoughtful, and mesmerizingly beautiful.  Bro’s guitar work evokes ethereal elements reminiscent of John Abercrombie’s playing, crossed with the sustained, filigreed fingering that at times summons a comparison to Bill Frisell’s work. But to be fair Bro’s playing is more minimalist, not directly derivative of either, and all his own.

Jakob Bro has had an impressive career that has exposed him to a cadre of stellar musicians. One can only imagine how this exposure has had on the guitarist’s musical development.  The iconic drummer Paul Motian had a penchant for utilizing good guitarists. Besides enlisting Frisell and Kurt Rosenwinkel on different projects. Bro and Steve Cardenas became part of the late drummer’s second edition of his Electric Bebop Band from 2002 through 2005. In 2006 Jakob was part of Motian’s Garden of Eden, released in 2006, where Motian three-guitar battery including Bro, Cardenas, and Ben Monder along with saxophonists Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby and bassist Jerome Harris.

In 2009, Bro lead and provided the compositions for another date with Motian, Frisell, bassist Ben Street and featuring the alto legend Lee Konitz, titled Balladeering, which was part of a Trilogy project.  Bro’s compositions seemed to inspire a different element to Konitz’s improvising that the master enjoyed, and Konitz subsequently worked on two other Bro Trilogy releases, the drumless Time from 2011 and  December Song from 2013 which included pianist Craig Taborn.

The guitarist’s ECM debut album titled Gefion, was released in 2015 as a trio project with American bassist Thomas Morgan and the legendary Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen. He later released a second album Streams with bassist Morgan and the equally intuitive American drummer Joey Baron.  This trio was well-matched, toured extensively, and released another album Bay of Rainbows in 2018.  


This latest album Uma Elmo includes eight Bro compositions and again utilizes the trio format. This music taps the Spanish drummer Jorge Rossy, whose reputation with pianist Brad Mehldau’s famous trio precedes him, and the Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen, a new name to me.

If you can put a tag on Jakob Bro’s compositional tendencies, you might be inclined to listen to what Lee Konitz once said: “It’s not folk, it’s not jazz it’s not pop music, it’s not funk, it’s just Balladeering…”  To me, the one element that Konitz omitted was the mesmerizing beauty of Bro’s music. The guitarist was originally trained on the trumpet before switching to the guitar when he discovered Jimi Hendrix. His music can employ voice-like phrasings that may well have been influenced by his exposure to trumpet. His music can be very meditative, atmospheric, and beautiful.

Bro’s gossamer-like “Reconstructing a Dream” is a composition that the guitarist wrote and recorded in New York, now thirteen years ago, with Paul Motian, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Ben Street. It is a gossamer, wispy composition that floats in the air like a phantom, an elusive memory that you might have while trying to recall a dream.  Bro’s burbling, almost wind-chime evoking guitar work, sets the mood with a soft-spoken repeating sustain. Hendriksen’s emotive piccolo trumpet searches the depths of the mind with a probing, Pan-like, voice that hovers like a cloud, and Rossy’s intuitive percussive accompaniment is nothing short of poetic.

“To Stanko” is a dedication to the late, Polish trumpeter Thomaz Stanko, who Bro played and toured with for five years. Stanko’s ability to evoke so much with so little was his trademark approach and his influence on Bro is palpable. Here Rossy opens with a sparse rolling tom intro before Bro’s lyrical finger-picked melody is introduced. Henriksen’s trumpet is delicate and flowing, more meandering than Stanko’s sparse style, but played with remarkable sensitivity. His playing honors the memory of the master’s approach without mimicry.

While attending Berklee in 1998, Bro composed “Beautiful Song” as a task presented to him by his then-teacher, saxophonist George Garzone. The exercise required the guitarist to compose a song with a complicated atonal line. He must abandon specific time, rhythm, or melody and still manage to make a musical statement. Bro creates a gauzy, undefinable backdrop on which trumpeter Hendriksen and percussionist Rossy conduct an asymmetrical conversation, responding to each other’s improvisation.

“Morning Song” was originally an unnamed composition that the trio started playing every morning at the studio in Lugano. Producer Manfred Eichner took it upon himself to appropriately name it “Morning Song.”  The cd ends with a second variation of this slowly unfolding musical representation of being gently pulled into the new day. Bro has an unassuming presence in all his compositions. His approach is to set the barest of musical stages, an almost Stanko-like minimalism identifying his fretwork, establishing a mood and beauty. Bro utilizes some sparse electronics to create an unobtrusive palette that allows Hendriksen and Rossy to explore their musical relationships. The music allows interaction and inspires the trio's improvisational possibilities.  The music appears incredibly simple but the result is remarkably lush and moving.

As a pandemic, stay-home parent, Bro found himself having more time with his two young children and inevitably became engaged with housework inspiring his composition “Housework."  Hendriksen’s deep-toned trumpet has an almost saxophone-like flutter at the opening. Rossy’s precisely placed percussive accents respond, at times creating unexpected bird-like sounds that are hard to identify. Bro’s guitar opens with a lyrical line in contrast to his partners. The music has a busy feel that captures the mundane domestic chores represented here. There is a great deal of creative license used here by these musicians and to really appreciate it you have to emerge yourself in it with no expectations.

When Jakob Bro played with the veteran Lee Konitz, he noticed the altoist always had a curious mind. Despite his age, Konitz was incessantly trying to understand where a musician might get inspiration for a composition. One day while playing the album “Balladeering,” at his apartment, Lee noticed how a black pigeon landed on his windowsill and listened to the entire album before flying off.  Konitz, always the joker, called Bro up to let him know that he now understood that the guitarist’s music appealed to the black pigeons, and then hung up laughing. Bro thought it only apt to name a composition in honor of Konitz’s observation and thus “Music for Black Pigeons.”  The three musicians, who had never played before this session, were able to demonstrate an amazingly telepathic interaction. Bro’s ethereal guitar lines, Rossy’s sparse toms and shimmering cymbal work, and Hendriksen’s hauntingly searching trumpet lines meld like a sorcerer’s amalgam of continuity.

Composed almost twenty years ago, “Sound Flower” is revisited by this new trio and is a song that is dear to the guitarist's heart. Hendriksen’s piccolo trumpet is a new sound to me, and sometimes almost feels like you are hearing a flute. This artist has an eerie talent of capturing tonal moods that he needs for each moment, defying what you might otherwise expect to hear from a trumpet. Bro creates an electronic fabric of sound, a kinetic aura and Rossy is so tasteful you almost miss the subtly of his fine playing.

The last song is “Slaraffenland,” written by Bro in 1999, and originally performed on a European tour by the then young Bro as a member of Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band. The band included his luminary Motian and fellow guitarists, Monder, Rosenwinkel, and Cardenas, plus saxophonists Malaby and Cheek and bassist Harris.  It was a heady time for Bro, many talented voices were at hand. Here he revisits this composition and makes it more personal with the trio format. Bro opens the short piece with a few harmonic notes resonating with sustain to decay. Hendriksen’s delicate trumpet pierces the gauze and states the melody charmingly, almost hesitantly, but beautifully. Bro and Hendriksen match notes like brothers in sync before Bro’s filigreed finger work accompany the trumpeter’s solo to an apex.  There is deceivingly folk-like simplicity to this song that belies the depth and heartfelt feeling this song can evoke.

Jakob Bro's Uma Elmo will engage and entrance anyone who believes that music can be thoughtfully created and beautifully executed using nuance and passion.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Roseanna Vitro: A Superb Vocalist Reissues Her Debut "Listen Here" from 1982


Roseanna Vitro: Listen Here: Skyline Records 2001

In 1982, an unheralded vocalist, recorded a debut album with her soon to be husband, recording engineer Paul Wickliffe, at his Skyline Studios in New York City. The album was titled Listen Here and the singer’s name was Roseanna Vitro. The album was eventually released in 1985 and it featured the gorgeous, supple, and adventurous voice of Vitro accompanied by a stellar band that included pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Buster Williams and the drummer Ben Riley. The album also featured her mentor, Texas tenor Arnett Cobb on three cuts, percussion by Brazilian drummer Duduka Da Fonseca on two cuts, and pianist Bliss Rodriguez and guitarist Scott Hardy on one cut each.

After a varied and impressive career as both a performer and an educator, Vitro revisited her earlier work and decided that it might be the right time to reintroduce this album to another generation. In January of this year, the reissued album, Listen Here, almost forty years after it was recorded, is once again available. To a new generation of vocal jazz fans, as well as to some of us old aficionados who might have missed this vocalist’s past work, the album is a confirmation of how Roseanna Vitro’s body of work is an important wellspring to be explored, a rewarding slice of jazz vocal history.

Vitro has certainly led an interesting life. She was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1954 and had been introduced to music by her father John Vitro, a nightclub proprietor whose musical tastes favored Opera, and her mother Ruby, who was a member of a southern gospel singing group. Besides these influences, the environment was conducive to a young singing Vitro to become exposed to and assimilate the musical elements of the blues and the rural south’s hoedown music.

Roseanna Vitro ( photo credit unknown)
By the late sixties, Vitro traveled to Houston, Texas becoming attracted to rock and roll and in pursuit of a pop career. By the early seventies, she was introduced to a vocal instructor and musician, Ray Sullenger, who had worked with the Paul Whitman Orchestra and introduced her to jazz. This led Vitro into performing on the University of Houston’s jazz radio through the seventies. Her Houston experience led to a mentor relationship with Texan tenor saxophonist Arnett Cobb, who by the late seventies took Vitro to perform with him at a gig in New York at the Village Vanguard. Energized by that scene, Vitro moved to New York in 1980. Cobb’s guidance allowed her to share the stage with such important jazz figures as Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Mulgrew Miller, and Lionel Hampton, who took her to tour.

Arnett Cobb ( photo credit unknown)

There has never been grass growing under this energetic woman’s feet.  She studied opera, jazz, Brazilian music, Indian vocal techniques, and piano. She developed working relationships with pianists Fred Hersch, who arranged her Listen Here album and played on her A Quiet Place with clarinet/saxophonist Eddie Daniels in 1987. The pianist Kenny Werner worked on several of her other albums, including a Ray Charles tribute, Catchin’ Some Rays with saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman in 1997. She attracted the attention of TV host and jazz fan Steve Allen, who wrote the liner notes for this re-issue, and who produced a record of Vitro singing his music. Released in 1999 that album was titled The Times of My Life: The Music of Steve Allen.

Over her career. Vitro has released fourteen albums, including Conviction: Thoughts of Bill Evans with longtime Evans bassist Eddie Gomez in 2001. She received a Best of Jazz Vocal Album Grammy nomination in 2012 for her album The Music of Randy Newman.

This vibrant vocalist became an important vocal educator in 1995 as a Director of Jazz Studies at New Jersey City University and later at SUNY Purchase until she departed in 2002. The woman’s drive has been insatiable, as her publicist says Vitro is “passionate and spirited.”

Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, Ben Riley (photo credit unknown)

Vitro’s passion and spirit is obviously present in huge measures on her album Listen Here.  The music starts off with a Jobim song “No More Blues,” where her confident, elastic vocals float over the band’s vibrant rhythm and her impeccable timing is accentuated by a superb scat section.

On the classic 1938 popular song “You Go to My Head,” Vitro handles the dreamy love song with a fearless, almost musical theater-like audacity. She allows her voice to modulate effortlessly with the changes and the trio of Barron, Williams and Riley play with such authority and verve that the song just glows.

“Centerpiece” finds the honkytonk piano chair occupied by Bliss Rodriguez and features a barrelhouse solo by Texan tenor Arnett Cobb. Cobb’s gritty horn inspires Vitro to strut some of her own formidable blues credentials and gospel-influenced soul.

Duke Ellington’s “Love You Madly” is a swinging vehicle for Vitro and for the band to show off their musical harmoniousness. It is a joy to hear Cobb’s blustery saxophone and Vitro’s marvelously pliable instrument to converse in an inspired call and respond action that brims with joy. Hearing Barron’s fluent piano and William's buoyant bass lines make it only more appealing. Vitro returns with a liquid scat that impressively dances over the melody and Riley’s trap work expertly keeps unassumingly impeccable time.

Johnny Mandel’s gorgeous “A Time for Love,” is a splendid display of just how well the trio and Vitro can work such an emotive, show-like song. A song like this can be so memorably expressed by artists that feel the music’s meaning and create the right approach as a unit. This one is simply beautiful.

Dave Frishberg’s “Listen Here” is a story-tellers piece that allows Vitro to shine and making it her own with her gorgeous tone, flawless control, and her ability to emote authentic feelings that cannot be faked. Barron’s piano is just masterful and the two work the song with a simpatico that shines.

The balance of the album includes Jobim’s “This Happy Madness,” a samba like song that includes Hardy’s comping guitar and Vito’s airy vocal, Burke/Van Heusen’s uplifting “It Could Happen to You,” with a wailing tenor solo by Cobb, and a bubbly trap solo by Riley, “Easy Street” is humorously sung blues and features an elastic bass solo by Williams, the musical theater-like “Sometime Ago,” and the cheeky Rodgers/Hart “You Took Advantage of Me.”  

This sparkling album concludes with “Black Coffee,” a slow blues that Vitro sings with a fearless abandon that just brims with espresso-like caffeine and overflows with grit and sass. This last one is just the maraschino cherry on the top of this Vitro sundae that she and the boys served up to us back in 1982 and is gratefully back to thrill us again in 2020. If you love good jazz, blues, and popular music sung by a superb vocalist then Roseanna Vitro’s Listen Here will not disappoint.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Three Like-minded Souls : Jay Clayton, Frtitz Pauer & Ed Neumeister on "3 For the Road"


3 For the Road : Jay Clayton, Fritz Pauer & Ed Neumeister MeisteroMusic  0020 

Back in January of 2001 and June of 2002, now close to twenty years ago, three like spirits were teaching music in Austria at the University of Performing Arts in Graz and they got inspired. 

Vocalist Jay Clayton, pianist Fritz Pauer and trombonist Ed Neumeister decided to play and record some of their eclectic musical ideas and created this imaginative album. These are all pioneering explorers whose creative drive was to conceive and perform art and hopefully expand musical possibilities. As Clayton said in the liner notes her collaborators were known for playing "in and out."  It is sometimes rare to "feel" the empathetic energy that can flow between musicians as they join in an effort to create but not here. The listener has to suspend reality to some degree and go with the flow to appreciate the creative process going on right in front of them. This is just one of those serendipitous times when the stars were aligned and the music was exceptional. As Neumeister related "Magic in music, especially in improvisatory music, happens when everybody totally trusts each other so that the individuals merge into a separate living organism." 

The album is a snapshot in time of what these three like-minded souls were able to achieve as a trio back then. Fritz Pauer, the pianist who at this time was known as "the" avant-garde pianist in Austria and who in the sixties who had played with Booker Ervin, Art Farmer, and Dexter Gordon, died suddenly in July of 2012. It is a gift that Pauer's sensitive playing with these two musicians is preserved and released for posterity and for our endless enjoyment.

The album includes four compositions that were composed collectively and free-improvised by the group, The scatty  "Love is a Place," was inspired by an ee cummings poem. The conversational "Fun" is just that, a musical joy. The ethereal and expressive "Gobblers Nob" is a not miss gorgeous improvisation and one of my favorite tunes on the album.  "May I Go" and "Yak'n" finish off the experimental selections where piano, trombone and voice join to create a moving feast of musical expression. Clayton's voice is supple and expressive and Neumeister's animated trombone can evoke crying voices, gurgling slurs, or sighing expressiveness. Pauer's rubbing of the strings on his piano creates another tonal feature. The trio offers a wild ride on the percussive "Badadadat."  

For the more identifiable melody anchored listeners, Clayton's voice is gorgeously expressive in Mancini's "Two for the Road" and her almost musical cabaret-like take on Burke and Van Heusen's "It Could Happen to You"  is a treat.

Be open, explore, and take the time to enjoy and be swept up by the inventiveness and audaciousness of this mostly progressive music and these talented musicians on 3 For The Road.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Notes on Jazz : Best of Jazz 2020

The year 2020 will go down as a stressful, disappointing, and even a dangerous year for this country. Since March and the outbreak of Covid 19-undoubtedly the worst viral pandemic since the Spanish Flu took the world to its knees back in 1918- society has been endangered, quarantined, and generally stifled from any semblance of normality. It has also been an ugly and trying time. A time where we witnessed a string of racially motivated deaths that created reactive multi-racial protests demanding responsibility. These events stirred up intermittent riots across the country that vented frustration, destroyed property, and conjured up the appearance of a loss of law and order. It was a mess of a year.

Through it all, we have had to adapt to a world that demanded severely restrained travel and social intercourse. Work has been relegated to remote digital contact. These restrictions have economically beggared many previously active and engaged artists. Live concerts have been veritably obliterated. Many venues that allowed social connection between musicians, music, and their public have been stymied. Even the most natural of things for musicians, shedding, collaborating with peers, or performing for audiences,have become relegated to video engagements or zoom collaborations. Despite all these formidable physical and monetary obstacles, artists and musicians have found a way to still create, record, and share their endeavors with us, enriching our lives and bringing the light of creativity and passion to all us in these otherwise difficult times.

As the year is rapidly starting to close I am proud to have had the opportunity to carefully listen to, marvel, and enjoy the works of many artists, some new to me and others reliable masters who continue to create amazing work.

Here are my picks, in no particular order, for some of the best of jazz for 2020 The selections come from diverse categories that include Big Band and large ensemble jazz works, modern small jazz groups, chamber/theatrical jazz, Latin/Brazilian jazz, vocal jazz, and notable historical releases for jazz in 2020. As with any list of favorites, these are purely subjective choices, and they do not include many fine albums that for one reason or another I have not personally had the opportunity to listen to in the past year.  Where possible, I have included links to sample music from the albums selected. Check these musicians out, listen, and enjoy.

Best of Jazz 2020: Big Band Music

John Hollenbeck with Kate McGarry, Theo Bleckmann, Gary Versace and The Frankfurt Radio Big Band: Song You Like A Lot: Flexatonic Records

Maria Schneider and Orchestra: Data Lords: Artists Share

Dave Stryker with Bob Mintzer and the WDR Big Band: Blue SoulStrikezone Records

John Beasley: Monk’estra plays John Beasley: Mack Avenue Records

The Ed Palmero Big Band: The Great Un-American Songbook Vol III:

 Sky Cat Records



Gregg August: Dialogues on Race Vol 1: Self-Produced

Smaller  Jazz Groups 2020:

Jerry Bergonzi with Renato Chicco and Andrea Michelutti: Nearly Blue: Savant Records

Jeff Cosgrove with Jeff Lederer and John Medeski: History Gets Ahead of the Story: Grizzley Music

Wolfgang Musthspiel with Scott Colley and Brian Blade: Angular Blues: ECM

Grégoire Maret with Romain Collin and Bill Frisell: Americana:

 Act Music

Brian Landrus: For Now: Blueland Records

Ricardo Grilli: 1962: Tone Rogue Records


John Scofield w Bill Stewart and Steve Swallow: Swallow Tales: ECM

Aaron Parks Little Big III: Dreams of A Mechanical Man: Ropeadope Records

Dayna Stephens Trio w Ben Street and Eric Harland: Liberty: Contagious Music



Eric Revis: Slipknots Through a Looking Glass: Pyroclastic Records



Chamber Jazz/ Jazz Opera 2020:

Ryan Keberle, Frank Woeste, Vincent Courtois: Reverso The Melodic Line: Outhere Music


Juliet Kurtzman and Pete Malinverni: Candlelight Love in the Time of Cholera: Self-Produced


John Ellis and Andy Bragen: The Ice Siren: Parade Light Records


Best Debut Jazz Album 2020:

Raphael Pannier Quartet: Faune: French Paradox


Best Jazz Vocal Album 2020:

Somi w John Beasley and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band: Holy Room Live at Alte Oper:


Best Latin Jazz Alum 2020:

Chico Pinheiro: City of Dreams: Buriti Records


Best Historical Albums Released in 2020:

Thelonious Monk Quartet: Monk: Palo Alto Live from 1968: Impulse Records

Bill Evans with Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette: Bill Evans Live at Ronnie Scott’s July 1968: Resonance Records

Nat King Cole: Hittin’ the Ramp, The Early Years 1936-1945: Resonance records


Further worthy recordings your consideration from 2020:

Aaron Diehl w Paul Skivie and Gregory Hutchinson: The Vagabond: Mack Avenue Records

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Hero Trio: Whirlwind Records

Chick Corea w Christian McBride and Brian Blade: Trilogy 2:Concord Records

Edgar Djangirov: Rhapsodize: Twelve Tone Resonance

Steve Cardenas: Blue Has a Range: Sunnyside Records

Amina Figarova Edition 113: Persistence: AmFi Records

Kenny Barron, Dave Holland  Trio w Jonathan Balke: Without Deception: Dare 2 Records

Marvin Stamm and Mike Holober: Live @ Maureen’s Jazz Cellar: Big Miles Music

Denny Zeitlin Trio: Denny Zeitlin Live at Mezzrow: Sunnyside Records

Martin Wind, Philip Catherine & Ack Van Rooyen: White Noise: Laika Records

Rez Abbasi w Neil Alexander and Michael Sarin: Django Shift: Whirlwind records

Chris Dingman: Embrace: Inner Arts Initiative

Jason Palmer: The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella: Giant Step Arts

John DiMartino: Passion Flower: The Music of Billy Strayhorn: Sunnyside Records

Thana Alexa: Ona: Self-Produced

Sirkis/Bialis IQ: Our New World: MoonJune records

Dave Douglas: Dizzy Atmosphere Dizzy at Zero Gravity: Greenleaf Music

Marcin Wasilewski Trio w Joe Lovano: Artic Riff: ECM

Keb’ Mo’: Oklahoma: Concord Records (Blues)

Craig Taborn: Junk Magic- Compass Confusion : Pyroclastic Records

Jeff Hamilton Trio: Catch Me if You Can: Capri

Guiseppe Paradiso Meridian 71: Metropolitan Sketches: Self-Produced