Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gretchen Parlato whispers to you " In A Dream"

The wispy voice of Gretchen Parlato whispers its way into your head and refuses to leave. Despite her muted, intimate approach to singing she somehow manages to capture your attention with precise intonation, a hushed toned sensuality and an astute sense of timing and space. You’ll find yourself straining to hear more. She shows an instrumentalist’s sensibility with the material she chooses to record, with compositions by Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Theolonius Monk in her repertoire.

I first heard her haunting voice on alto saxophonist Justin Vasquez’s “Triptych”, a fine release from last year. Parlato was a stand out on the title cut where she utilizes her voice not so much as a lead vocal but as another instrument. She has an uncanny rhythmic sense and reminds me of a young Flora Purim in the early Return to Forever days.

On her second album “In A Dream” she has aligned herself with fine musicians who help her through the difficult waters of headlining her own group. She wisely reunites with the talented and sympathetic Aaron Parks on keyboards. Along with the fine guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke is Derrick Hodge on bass and the kinetic Kendrick Scott on drums.

Her take on “I Can’t Help It”, the Stevie Wonder composition, has her singing and vocalizing behind the percussive vocal dynamics of Loueke as he accompanies her on voice and guitar. The pure, unadorned treatment of the production is especially refreshing as it allows her voice to stand brilliantly on its own.

Behind the machine-like brush work of Scott on snare, Parlato takes the words of “Within Me” and makes them her own in a display of subdued poise. Her hushed, bedroom voiced approach can sometimes seem affected but her timing is impeccable and she is pitch perfect.

On the Herbie Hancock/Bennie Maupin composition “Butterfly” her lithe vocals work seamlessly with Loueke’s vocal pops, clicks and guitar chords, once again proving these two are of similar musical spirit. Her deft use of space between words creates anticipation. Wayne Shorter’s “ESP” finds Parks playing Fender Rhodes, while Loueke matches Parlato’s percussive scat-like improvisations with his guitar licks.

For the non-jazz audience her unique rendition of an old SWV hit “ Weak” is sure to please. With a catchy backbeat and the spacey sounds of Parks on Fender Rhodes, Parlato delivers the lyrics to this pop song with a breathy sensuality that is particularly captivating.

The title track, a Robert Glasper composition “ In A Dream”, with its somnambulistic melody and swaying electric piano and organ comps by Aaron Parks finds Parlato’s dreamy, lacelike vocals at their best. It is this song that is perhaps most indicative of what sets this singer apart. Parlato is a captivating stylist whose interpretive skills embody an appreciation of the music that goes well beyond simply singing. In addition to an expressive vocal instrument, she seems to be able to immerse herself into the music and become one with it.

If used to excess her hushed delivery may wear thin, but for now “ In A Dream” stands alone as a thoroughly enjoyable departure from the crowded fare offered by most female vocalists.

Artist: Gretchen Parlato

CD: In A Dream (OSD –CD-107)

Musicians: Gretchen Parlato (voice); Lionel Loueke (guitar and voice); Aaron Parks (keyboards); Derrick Hodge (acoustic and electric bass); Kendrick Scott (drums & percussion).

Recorded: Recorded September 16, 2008 Kampo Studios & December 17th & 18th, 2008 at Legacy Recording, New York.

Track listing: I Can’t Help It; Within Me; Butterfly; In A Dream; Doralice; Turning Into Blue: E.S.P.; Azure; On the Other Side; Weak.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Loren Stillmans' "Winter Fruits" :Dry Ice in an Alto

Loren Stillman is a London born alto saxophonist who is now residing in Brooklyn, NY.
In 2002 he was a semi-finalist in the Theolonius Monk Saxophone Competition. He has played with a myriad of master jazz musicians including Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, John Abercrombie and has studied with Lee Konitz and Dave Liebman.

Loren Stillman’s new release “Winter Fruits” is a compilation of eight songs that together demonstrate a modernist approach to improvisational music, where melody and chord changes are for the most part abandoned. In lieu of such traditional forms, the music uses a combination of orchestrated and free journeys into the creation of a musical atmosphere where the artist interaction create a flowing, unpredictable conversation with the listener more or less along for the ride. For this effort Stillman brings together the skills of organ master Gary Versace, guitarist Nate Radley and drummer/composer Ted Poor, collectively known as Bad Touch.

In promotional material sent by his publicist, I was struck by a comment attributed to the guitarist John Abercrombie. Supposedly Abercrombie compared the young Stillman, his band mate in the group Jackalope, to a young Lee Konitz on steroids. Certainly Stillman’s chilled delivery, lack of vibrato and deliberative cadence are derivative of Konitz’s cool sound. Abercrombie is another obvious influential force in this music. The album is reminiscent of some of the ethereal collaborations that Abercrombie has done with the British multi-instrumentalist John Surman.

The entire album flows in an enjoyable manner that seems organically connected with the voices of Stillman, Radley, Poor and Versace darting in and out in a precise but relaxed manner. The album is best listened to as a suite in one sitting. Stillman’s use of long, deliberate, laid-back lines of improvisation are quite effective. His tone is pure and never abrasive. He rarely uses screeches or harsh accents., although there is sometimes a hint of breathiness in his delivery. When he does emphasis a passage it is usually with a overflowing continuity of thought which pours from his alto like the dense white clouds of condensation that pour from melting dry ice.

The precision of the group is most impressive on “Muted Dreams” with its delicate and exquisitely executed passages of luminescent sound. Stillman’s extended runs are particularly impressive in their tonal beauty and flawless fluidity. “Skin” is another fine composition where the group easily navigates complex, synchronous lines in a fusion-like manner but with a more refined approach that concentrates on tone in addition to speed.

“With You” is one of the more melodic pieces on the album with Radley and Versace showing some nice interplay. Poor predominantly uses cymbals with some accents on toms and snares. When Versace delves into his solo there is no discernable time except for a pulsing, throb-like cadence. Throughout it all Poor somehow manages to create the illusion of the barest of rhythms. Radley’s re-entry after Versace’s solo is beautifully seamless. Stillman returns with some of his most lyrical playing.

The Abercrombie influence is especially apparent on the airy Radley guitar lines of “Man of Mystery”. Versace’s versatile command of his arsenal of sounds is complimentary throughout. He modulates his volume and like a chameleon changes tonal colors at precise moments to add emphasis.

“Winter Fruits” is perhaps the most choppy, darting composition on the album It ends with a repeating bass line by Versace that is the backdrop for some truly free improvisational ramblings by Radley, Stillman and Versace while Poor pounds and crashes relentlessly behind.

“Puffy” is a slow, reflective piece that allows Stillman to show the most lyrical and sensitive side to his playing. Radley intertwines floating guitar riffs between Stillman’s thoughts as Versace church-like organ creates an air of somber seriousness.

“Winter Fruits” represents an evolutionary step in the refinement of a very promising young alto saxophonist who plays his horn with the confidence of a seasoned bartender delivering the perfect chilled martini.

Artist: Loren Stillman

CD: Winter Fruits (PIT 3042)

Musicians: Loren Stillman (alto saxophone); Gary Versace (organ); Nate Ridley (guitar);
Ted Poor (drums).

Recorded: Recorded July 4th & 5th Bennett Studios, New Jersey

Track listing: Muted Dreams; Skin; Man of Mystery; With You; Like A Magic Kiss; A Song to Be Played; Winter Fruits; Puffy. Highlighted tracks are favorites.

All compositions by Loren Stillman except Muted Dream & Winter Fruit by Ted Poor.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chicago Mike Reed's "About Us"

Artist: Mike Reed’s People, Places & Things

CD: About Us ( 482 Music-1068)

Musicians: Mike Reed (drums); Greg Ward (alto saxophone); Tim Haldeman (tenor saxophone); Jason Roebke (bass); David Boykin (Tenor on track 4); Jeb Bishop (trombone on track 6); Jeff Parker(guitar on track 10).

Recorded: Recorded Feb –March 2009 Chicago, IL

Being from New York I am not familiar with the Chicago jazz scene, so it was with some interest that I put on my headphones to listen to the new Mike Reed offering “About Us”. Reed’s latest effort finds him joined by fellow People, Places & Things members Greg Ward on Alto, Tim Haldeman on tenor and Jason Roebke on bass. Together with guests tenor saxophonist David Boykin, trombonist Jeb Bishop and guitarist Jeff Parker, they play what Reed describes as a sampling of what is the best of the current developments in Chicago improvised music.

Much of the music borders on free jazz and is influenced by Ornette Coleman and his piano-less groups. While well played and competently arranged there was only a few times I found myself checking out the title of the tunes.

“VS #1”, a Ward composition offered a walking bass line with a jaunty dual saxophone intro that starts like the theme to a detective story. Ward is given room to improvise over Reed and Roebke’s bouncing rhythm. About three and half minutes into the music the rhythm section drops out and allows Ward the chance to solo in a probing and introspective way. He eventually builds full circle, returning to the song’s intro line. “Big and Fine” is a fun Boykin composition. The composer plays tenor in a burlesque inspired style that is quite raucous and a departure from most of the material on the album.

The Reed composition “The Next Time You Are Near” is a languishing ballad that makes great use of the precise synchronized playing by saxophonists Ward and Haldeman. These guys have undoubtedly played together for some time. Their breathy, tonally husky treatment of the repeating melody line implies pathos. Ward’s playing is particularly moving. Reed’s padded drumbeats are perfectly muted. He saunters at a leisurely pace providing the background for the two saxophonists to weave their sounds in some of the best interplay on the album.

Guitarist Jeff Parker offers a composition that has a catchy melody line. Reed and especially Roebke seem to enjoy playing to this upbeat, in-the-pocket style tune. Solos by Parker and Ward give this song vitality, with Ward playing some nice changes ranging from hushed tones to controlled flurries. Reed, for his part, deftly moves from subtle to in your face as the song demands.

Track listing: It’s Enough; VS#1; About Us; Big & Fine; The Next Time You Are Near; Big Stubby; Flat Companion; First Reading : Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians; Under the Influence of lunar Objects; Days Fly By. Highlighted tracks are favorites.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review of George Colligan's "Come Together"

Artist: George Colligan

CD: Come Together (Sunnyside SSC-1226)

Musicians: George Colligan (piano); Boris Kozlov (acoustic and electric bass); Donald Edwards (drums)

Recorded: Recorded November 5, 2008 Tedesco Studios, Paramus, NJ

All compositions by George Colligan except “Come Together” by Lennon/McCartney; and “The Shadow of Your Smile” by Mandel/Webster.

Despite actively recording since 1996, I first heard George Colligan as a sideman on the fine Jamie Baum release “Solace” from 2007.His harmonic sensibilities were imaginative and unpredictable even in the subdued chamber jazz setting of Baum’s wonderfully expressive compositions.

His work on guitarist Greg Skaff’s 2008 release "East Harlem Skyline” showed he is equally comfortable on the Hammond B3.

Seeing him in person with Baum’s Septet at Joe’s Pub it was obvious that his unbridled energy was itching to break out on his own. He released “Runaway” as a leader last year and though it offered a glimpse of his potential, especially on “End of A Dynasty” it fell short of my expectations.

The new release “Come Together” is a thoroughly enjoyable addition to his musical repertoire. Colligan and fellow band mates, Boris Koslov on bass and Donald Edwards on drums, were former members of the Mingus Big Band and the Mingus Dynasty. Their empathetic musical interaction is a result of these years together.

Colligan’s treatment of the Lennon/McCartney classic “Come Together” is not just another jazz rendition of a popular song. He infuses the Beatles classic with soulful funk and blues. Colligan’s driving cascade of notes and Koslov’s probing electric bass take the memorable melody line to new heights of exploration. Koslov is especially impressive with his rapid-fire Wooten-like bass runs. His deft and accomplished playing on both acoustic and electric bass was a revelation.

With the exception of the title tune and the standard “Shadow of Your Smile”, a standout that Colligan plays in a sauntering and wonderfully free swinging manner, all the compositions on the album are originals. On the tempestuous “Venom”, a staccato piece that the trio plays at a relatively fast clip, the energy is palpable. Eventually they engage the afterburner by double timing the last chorus in a ripping finale that smokes. “Have No Fear” is another hard driving song that exudes megawatts of energy as Colligan plays block chords up and down the keyboard. Koslov takes a penetrating solo on acoustic bass and Edwards keeps impeccable time. “Lift” is a crescendo building composition that explores elements of fusion, where Koslov’s electric bass is featured.

Colligan’s playing is explosive with his musical ideas erupting like molten lava from his volcanic keyboard. He has more than a passing deference to Tyner, especially in “To the Wall” which has moments of being eerily like a driving young McCoy with his powerful, percussive, chordally based playing.

His two ballads “ So Sad I Had to Laugh” and “Open Your Heart” show a reflective side to Colligan. The former is particularly poignant, including deft brushwork by Edwards and a wonderfully expressive exchange by Koslov and Colligan including some subtle arco work by Koslov at the coda.

On “Open Your Heart” Colligan plays classically inspired flourishes as Koslov demonstrates his emotive abilities on electric bass. Just when you think the song is treading on a predicable path Colligan suprises, as he so often does, with some of the most moving and nuanced improvisations on the album. With something for everyone, this expansive and approachable offering will undoubtedly add to George Colligan's growing reputation as a pianist and a composer with something to say.

Track Listing: Come Together; Venom; Have No Fear; So Sad I Had to Laugh; Reaction; The Shadow of Your Smile; Lift; Open Your Heart; To The Wall; Uncharted Territory.Favorite Tracks are highlighted.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Matt Wilson Quartet Live at Firehouse 12, New Haven

Review of The Matt Wilson Quartet
September 25, 2009 at Firehouse 12, New Haven, CT

Tucked away in the Ninth Square district of downtown New Haven , CT is a jazz music venue that offers an intimate setting in acoustically superb surroundings. The Firehouse 12 is the brainchild of Yale alumnus Nick Lloyd. Four years ago Mr. Lloyd took a dilapidated old firehouse and with the help of acoustical engineer John Storyck (who also consulted on Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland studio) and local architect Gary Organschi created what may be the premier studio and performing space for jazz and alternative music in New England. You can tell that the space was designed with music as it’s top priority. Where many jazz clubs are relegated to lower level spaces, with angular walls and sharp edges, usually because the space is more affordable, here the studio and performance space are pre-eminently positioned on the first floor with the bar and lounge residing on the basement level. The glass walled, sound proofed control room features a large format analog control board with up to twenty four-track 2” analog recording tape capability. The adjacent performance space is organically designed with bamboo flooring and gently curved maple/birch veneered plywood ceiling. Behind the generous performance stage, an undulating wall of bent plywood panels ensures that the sound has no harsh surfaces on which to ricochet. The performance area is designed with no parallel surfaces in the space. The result is a chic; intimate setting that provides a comfortable environment for the audience while retaining demonstrable audio integrity.

On this evening the Matt Wilson Quartet played songs from their most recent Palmetto release “That’s Gonna Leave a Mark”. As the title implies Mr. Wilson has a wry sense of humor that comes across in his music. His quartet included the alto saxophonist and bass clarinetist Andrew D’Angello, the tenor and soprano saxophonist Jeff Lederer, Chris Lightcap on contra bass and of course Mr. Wilson on drums and assorted percussion.

From the outset it was obvious that the audience was going in for a wild ride. The set started out with Mr. D’Angelo’s “Ambrose Ditty” which had the two saxophonists playing blisteringly explosive runs of notes in unison and in counterpoint.
Mr. D’Angelo’s alto solo was crisp, jagged and unrelenting as he paced the stage with a feverish outpouring of energy. Mr. Lederer played in a more subdued, melodic manner and seemed to intuitively weave his sound into and around what Mr. D’Angelo was playing. Lightcap’s pulsing bass and Wilson’s propulsive drums drove the music to its conclusion.

Mr. Wilson plays drums with an unvarnished joy. He still possesses that magical wonderment of a young boy, who on Christmas morning runs down the stairs to find a shiny new drum set under the tree and can’t wait to play it. In Mr. Wilson’s case the boy would be an immediate prodigy.

On “Searchlight” he started playing his toms and snares with what appeared to be a child’s beanbag starfish with jingle bells on each of its points. As he patted the bag on his drumheads he created this rhythmic sound that was both purposeful and playful. The song conjured up images of a Middle Eastern bazaar with D’Angelo’s bass clarinet and Lederer’s soprano saxophone adding to the story telling like feel of the music. The woodwinds built to a loud crescendo before deftly lowering to a soft refrain that ended with Wilson playing chimes and Lederer’s soprano shrieks.

“Don’t Blame Me” was an interesting venture into time and space. Played at a deliberately pondering pace. The time between Lightcap’s successive bass notes suspended them in surreal slow motion. This exercise in restraint allowed Mr. Lederer a chance to explore tonal quality on his tenor rather than on the quantity of notes played. He offered breathy, sustained notes that he held to perfection as he anticipated the lagging rhythm of Lightcap’s next pluck and Wilson’s next brush stroke.

“Rear Control” is another D’Angelo composition featuring Mr. Lederer playing clarinet and Mr. D’Angelo on bass clarinet. The combined woodwinds play to an almost funky backbeat from Wilson and Lightcap. The sounds they create could be used as the soundtrack for a hip cartoon. The song breaks time often with Wilson punctuating the breaks with rolls, crashes and rim shots. When clarinetist Lederer improvises on its quirky theme it is with a playful reckless abandon feel to it. D’Angelo’s bass clarinet sounds a little Dolphy-like as he muses more thoughtfully through his lower octave solo. Wilson’s humor is always present.

On “That’s Gonna Leave A Mark”, the title tune from the Quartet’s latest album, we find Mr. Wilson starting off with a series of drum rolls as both Mr. Lederer and Mr. D’ Angelo play cacophonous bursts of atonal notes simultaneously on tenor and alto respectively. The song progresses with a free-jazz spirit that is an obvious tip of the hat to the influence of Mr. Ornette Coleman. Mr. D’Angelo is particularly frenetic on this number. He sways back and forth bursting into an energetic display of unrestrained and powerful screeches and wails. Mr. D’Angelo has been fighting a cancerous brain tumor for the better part of this past year and while he is now miraculously cancer free, this humbling experience has undoubtedly had an effect. His cathartic playing reveals a renewed intensity that somehow acknowledges life’s fragility and impermanence. According to Mr. D’Angelo’s blog, this appearance in New Haven was the last of his tenure with Mr. Wilson’s Quartet, an association that has spanned fifteen years. As he wrote, it was time for a change and a time to release the old. As part of his ongoing, life changing experience Mr. D’ Angelo will be climbing to base camp one on Mt. Everest in Tibet during October. We certainly wish him well. His explosive sound will be missed.

On Mr. Wilson’s hymn-like “Come and Find the Quiet Center” we were treated to the mellow and reverential sound of this wonderfully evocative melody. While Mr. Wilson played ever so lightly on brushes, Mr. Lightcap gave a stirring bass solo that was accompanied by the subdued but woody sounds of Mr. D’Angelo’s bass clarinet. Mr. Lederer’s soulful tenor bellowed with the hallelujah appeal of a fire and brimstone preacher calling on his flock to give praise.

Mr. Wilson’s special brand of music is both entertaining and challenging offering those who experience it a chance to stretch their musical boundaries without going into totally alien territory. With his innate humor, formidable talents and unbridled joy Mr. Wilson gently guides us as un-jostled passengers into the new musical landscapes of his compositions.