Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My list of best of Jazz 2011

My list of some of the best Jazz in 2011

The year 2011 was an inspirational year. I was privileged to listen to, and in some cases experience “live”, some of the best and most varied musical performances that I have seen in many a year. With all the discussion of jazz dying and the graying and shrinking of the jazz audience, what I have personally witnessed is that this improvisational music that we paint with the expansive brush we call “jazz” is flourishing and experiencing a renaissance of creativity that is nothing short of breath taking.

People love lists and fans often relish in picking their favorites. Often people revel in finding their choices being validated by inclusion in lists made by critics at the end of the year. But music is subjective and there will always be room for outliers in taste. This year I am going to list my picks for the best music I have heard this year, trying to be as inclusive as possible for the deserving music that has been created. I stress some very worthy albums will undoubtedly be missing from my list simply because I  haven’t had the opportunity to listen to them, but of the many I have listened to these are some of my favorites.

Contemporary big band music had a  resurgence
this year.Ninety–three year old Gerald Wilson had 
an exquisite offering  with his brilliant “Legacy” .
(See you tube video here)
Another big band album that could equally be placed in  the best of Latin Jazz  category  was the cooking Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Bobby Sanabria and their marvelous
 "Tito Puente Masterworks Live" . This band of young artists just keeps getting better and better. 

The Westchester Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Mike Holber is certainly a seasoned group. This year they offered their take on the music of Herbie Hancock on their "Maiden Voyage Suite".  I was fortunate enough to catch this polished orchestra "live" this year,, with the powerhouse tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano as a guest soloist. This is a talent packed group of professional musicians who take playing tight arrangements and turn it into an art form.

Another fine "live" performance was the spectacular mulit-media show  composed and conducted by the talented D'arcy James Argue and illustrated by the artist Danijel Zezelj titled "Brooklyn Babylon".
 (see video here).

Trumpeters offered some compelling music this year. One of my  favorites included the fresh sound of the young Ambrose Akinmusire  and his quintet on his impressive  "When the Heart Emerges Glistening".  (see video here).

"The Talented Mr.Pelt" was a showcase of fine contemporary music by trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and his fine quintet. Pelt has a matured tone that is wonderful to behold.

The electric Tim Hagans demonstrated his compositional acumen as well as his instrumental virtuosity on his 
 " The Moon is Waiting".  Under appreciated guitarist  
Vic Juris was a standout on this outing. I caught Tim live at the WJO show where he was featured in a piece with saxophonist Joe Lovano on a song he arranged for the orchestra .

The trumpeter Tom Harrell came to the table with his own  quintet on his ethereal  "The Time of The Sun" . 

With so many fine pianist offerings this year it was a daunting task to pick and choose a handfull. In the solo category Denny Zeitlin's remarkable "Labyrinth" , brilliantly recorded live at Ernie Shelton's house in California, was a standout. Denny's performance with drummer Matt Wilson and bassist extraordinaire Buster Williams at the Kitano this fall was a wonderful display of mature but daring virtuosity  that I was fortunate enough to attend..

The pianist Michael Cain's release, simply titled "Solo", was a unique combination of solo acoustic piano and electronics that I found intriguing. His "Prayer"  is an evocatively spiritual piece of music that is very meditative. ( see video here)

A delicious duet was served in Italy by masters Chick Corea  and Stefano Bollani. Titled "Orvieto"this demonstration of magical interplay was recorded live at the Umbria Winter Jazz Festival in 2010.

The pianist Benny Green, who was schooled  with stints in bands led by Ray Brown, Art Blakey and Freddie Hubbard to name a few,  blew my socks off with his swinging album "Source" a pianistic joy.

Two terrific trio recordings by pianists Sam Yahel with his 
 "From Sun to Sun" 

and Ted Rosenthal's
"Out of this World"  were both strong outings in a crowded field of exemplary performances. (see video here)

The pianists Aaron Goldberg and composer/pianist Guillermo Klein, ably assisted by drumming phenon Eric Harland and bassist Matt Penman,.produced one of my favorite albums of the year "Bienestan. a musical trip to an imaginary country of the same name. I was able to see them perform this enchanting music "live" at the the Jazz Standard with the fabulous altoist Miguel Zenon,  who was also featured on the album. The live performance did not disappoint with the hypnotic original composition "Human Nature" capturing my attention.
(listen here)

At the wonderful Caramoor festival this year Joshua Redman's
new super group, which featured Aaron Parks on piano, Matt Penman on bass and the ubiquitous Eric Harland on drums, blew away the audience. There self titled album James Farm features original music composed by each of these talented players and is another must listen. ( see video here)

Alto saxophonist David Binney composed an unusual  suite of cinematic-like music titled "Graylen Epicenter" featuring some of today's most hip musicians on the New York jazz scene.
New York based tenor saxophonist Donnie McCaslin introduced the dynamic
"Perpetual Motion"   and caught my ear earlier this year.

Bassists were fully engaged this year with some creative outings.Ben Allison continues to show a rare ability to create new music by deconstructing contemporary songs from recent times and presenting them in  new and exciting ways. Allison's  Action-Refraction was inspired by  the music of composers as varied as Neil Young, P.J.Harvey, Thelonious Monk  and Donny Hathaway. ( see video here)

Bassist Sean Smith had a quiet and joyful gem with his album "Trust" , with notable support from guitarist John Hart and a superb outing by the saxophonist John Ellis.

The ubiquitous Christian McBride had a busy year with his big band performance at the Caramoor festival being a real crowd pleaser. This big band music was released as "The Good Feeling" , but his recent release "Conversations with Christian"  was the real McBride standout to me. It showcased his  virtuoso playing in some really intimate musical conversations with various artists. His duets  with the astute Dr.Billy Taylor on the composition "Spiritual" and the marvelous  Hank Jones on the song "Alone Together" , both recently passed giants of this music, were pure gold. A  duet with the soulful guitarist Russell Malone on "Sister Rosa"  demonstrated why Mr.Malone is a first call guitarist of exquisite taste. 

Bassist Jay Anderson  and fellow members of the band named BANN, drummer Adam Nussbaum , saxophonist Seamus Blake and guitarist Oz Noy, produced and played on an quirky but satisfying album from earlier in the year titled 
"As you Like".  I especially enjoyed their re-creation of the David Crosby tune "Guinnevere". (see video here)

Guitarist Jonathan Kriesberg came out with a fusion infused album that I really grooved on titled "Shadowless". It featured some impressive playing and composition by the talented guitarist and some penetrating saxophone by Will Vinson. Just listen to the lead track 
"Twenty-one" and you will be hooked. (see video here)

"Gladwell" by guitarist Julian Lage offers a musical journey, this time through a fictional town of the same name. Lage weaves a convincing picture of this place, its people and the vibes he experiences there. It is a fascinating musical trip worth taking the time to experience it through Gage's talented fingers.

The so called "Third Stream" of music  as described by Gunther Schuller was alive this year with a beautiful offerring from Carlos Franzetti and his wife Allison Brewster Franzetti titled "Alborada". It combined elements of  classical and South American folk music with the music of contemporary jazz artists like Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans and Milton Nascimento.

Drummers had some important offerings this year with special mention of Eric Harland's work on Bienestan and James Farm. I was fortunate enough to see Mark Guiliana's kinetic drum work when he played an unrehearsed electronic set of pure improvisation with pianist Brad Mehldau at Tony Falco's club The Falcon in Marlboro, .NY. back in September
( see video here) . 

The drummer Ralph Peterson had a take no prisoners offering titled  
"Outer Reaches" that featured organist Pat Bianchi and  absolutely shredding guitar solos by Dave Fiuczynski on Woody Shaw's "Zoltan" and John McLaughlin's "Spectrum". Also checkout Peterson's version of the Christmas classic "We Three Kings".

Drummer Adam Cruz had an auspicious year. I caught him recently with the talented saxophonist Chris Potter and the amazing John Patitucci at Smoke in NYC. Cruz released his latest "Milestone" and indeed it was just that. With a brilliant supporting cast that included the aforementioned Potter, along with fellow saxophonists Miguel Zenon and Steve Wilson, guitarist Steve Cardenas, pianist  Edward Simon and  bassist Ben Street this one packs a punch.

Vocalists that piqued my interest this year Giacomo Gates fine tribute to the late Gil Scott Heron titled 
"The Revolution Will Be Jazz".  With Gates successfully pulling off some of the poet's most poignant music.

Gretchen Parlatto was again impressive with her latest
album "The Lost and Found" where her wispy voice continues to defy convention. Taylor Eigsti's piano work was inspired.

Two artists who were new to me this year were the violinist Majid Khaliq with his impressive "Basilisk" , a surprisingly stirring
 album from a rising talent.
(see video here)

A second surprise was the discovery of the talented saxophonist from Utah, Chaise Baird on his impressive debut album "Crosscurrent".
For those who question Jazz in Utah? Check this kid out.

Two recently recieved albums that deserve honorable mentions are the baritone saxophonist Brian Landrus' "Traverse"  and Canadian trombonist William Carn's 
"Run Stop Run"

So there you have it, my exhaustive list of the best I have heard in jazz this year.I am sure some will scratch their heads in confusion, others will nod in agreement and others will be pleasantly surprised,  but one thing is for sure jazz is alive and thriving in 2011 and I for one predict that based on the trend 2012 will be an even better year for this music we call "jazz".

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Denny Zeitlin with Buster Williams and Matt Wilson at The Kitano: November 19, 2011


Denny Zeitlin’s Trio with Buster Williams and Matt Wilson 
 the Kitano, NYC November19, 2011

Perched on the mezzanine level just above the lobby of the posh Kitano hotel on Park at 38th Street is a music room of extraordinary intimacy. Affectionately known as Gino’s living room, promoter Gino Moratti has been bringing top-notch jazz to the Kitano since 2006. On Friday November 18th the venue featured two sets of solo piano by the superlative pianist Denny Zeiltin, featuring songs from his recent cd "Labyrinth"
 and on Saturday November 19, 2011, the Kitano featured Mr. Zeitlin in a trio format with the iconic
Buster Williams on bass and the effervescent
Matt Wilson on drums. I was fortunate enough to be able to catch most of the first set and all of the second set Saturday. It is rare to get to see Mr.Zeitlin in New York as he resides in California where this Renaissance man practices psychiatry and teaches at the University of California in San Franciso. The superlative rhythm section of Williams and Wilson is no stranger to Zeitlin. The three have been playing on and off for ten years and Zeitlin’s 2009 Sunnyside release “Trio in Concert” is a testament to their obvious chemistry. If the way a working trio functions is in some respects analogous to the way we function in life,then Zeitlin is the cerebral mind, Wilson is the joyful spirit and Williams is the pulsing heartbeat and soul of this entity. Each is a virtuoso in his own right and they all have characteristics that blur such simplistic boundaries.

The first set included a tender ballad “Wishing on the Moon”, a Zeitlin composition, that featured the pianist’s deeply probing technique. Zeitlin can take you from sensitive passages that he renders with a gossamer touch to daring explorations that bring you to the brink of precipice, without ever letting you fall over the edge.  A rousing rendition of John Coltrane’s homage to bassist Paul Chambers “Mr.P.C.” had Zeitlin’s playing arpeggios at dazzling speed. The song featured the bass of Buster Williams who produced a simply gorgeous tone that resonated through the entire room tantamount to the peaceful solemnity of a Tibetian gong. Mr.Williams is a master of his instrument who can add great poignancy by simply bending or sliding down to his notes and sustaining them as they decay to silence. Drummer Wilson is astutely attune to the needs of the music as he seamlessly changes from brushes to sticks, from clashing hi hat, to shimmering cymbal.

Another Zeitlin composition “The We of Us” was written for the pianist’s wife. Here Zeitlin demonstrates an extraordinary ability to play on the highest register with crystal clarity of sound and precise intonation. The trio does an amazingly dynamic version of Julie Styne’s “As Long as There is Music”. The intuitive interplay is a marvel to behold as the group collectively create a swell of intensity that has the crowd mesmerized, eventually yielding to a fading coda that is accentuated by Buster’s lingering bass line.

As if being a world class jazz pianist and working psychiatrist and educator weren't enough, Zeitlin is also an avid mountain biker. He spoke of Moab, Utah as the inspiration of his next composition titled “Slick Rock”. This composition is by far the most unorthodox of the repertoire. Here the pianist and his cohorts create an array of atmospheric sounds as Zeitlin reaches into the cavity of the piano using mallets to play the strings. Mr. Williams rubs the side of his thumb against his bass strings adding tension to the eerie sound as Mr. Wilson adds further agitation by using apiece of chain to rub against his cymbal. The audience is lulled into the peaceful solitude of the surroundings when suddenly Zeitlin hurls them into a spiraling musical journey filled with frantic twists and turns. You can feel the imaginary bike careening down jagged hills, precariously avoiding boulders and divots in a pianistic free fall. The pace subsides as Zeitlin becomes more ruminative; Wilson employs a weirdly eerie wooden flute that he somehow uses against his the face of his drumhead and Williams bows in decidedly ominous way. Watching Wilson here I am reminded of an excitable young boy with a chest full of  wonderful toys. The drummer has an effervescent joyfulness that is palpable and he finds percussive magic in a variety of unorthodox devices which he skillfully weaves into patterns of dynamic tension and surprise. I was watching Zeitlin and Williams looking at Wilson at various times during his solo on this piece and I was reminded of a You Tube that I saw of a beaming Charlie Parker watching an equally playful young Buddy Rich, as the drummer displayed his rhythmic prowess (click here for that video). Wilson is that good!

The second set started off with the “The Night Has 1000/10000 Eyes”. Bassist Williams creates a funky vamp that has the whole audience bobbing their heads.Buster can create a mood that few bassists can summon so successfully. Zeitlin inspired by the heartbeat-like rhythm lets loose with some of his most free flowing playing of the night.

The trio played a charming version of what sounded like the “Child's Play”, a double time version of Sonny Rollins "Oleo"  based loosely on the changes of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”, Cole Porter’s “I Love You” and Jimmy Van Heusen's “I Could Have Told You”. The set ended with bassist Dave Freisen’s composition “Signs and Wonders” and after a rousing ovation the encore was Zeitlin's own “Just Passing By”.

For lovers of piano jazz trios it was one of those very special evenings. Zeitlin is an innovator par excel lance with few peers. His trio with the great Buster Williams and the exciting Matt Wilson is one of the finest trios working in jazz today.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Brooklyn Babylon" at The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College, October 22, 2011

Brooklyn Babylon

A collaborative multi-media presentation by the composer

Darcy James Argue and his Secret Society Orchestra

and the Graphic Artist Danijel Zezelj.

Previewed on October 22, 2011 at

The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College

The multi-media performance Brooklyn Babylon

The Borough of Brooklyn has become a melting pot of all things artistic. My  son, a twenty-five year old writer/editor, has made Brooklyn his adopted home. He was marveling recently that so many modern day masters of contemporary writing, regularly give readings of their work around town. I often find myself reviewing music of inspiring depth and boundless energy emanating from a variety of great musicians living and recording in Brooklyn. Consequently their is a "live" music scene in many parts of the Borough. A friend's son produces meticulously crafted, industrial design inspired furniture and sculpture somewhere in a converted factory in Red Hook. These are but a few examples of the artistic vibrancy of this city. Perhaps it is the relative affordability that draws economically challenged artists, but I suspect it is also a sense of community that is Brooklyn that fosters and nourishes a collective artistic soul that is drawn to this Borough in the shadow of New York City.

So it was no surprise to see Brooklyn itself as the  source of inspiration for an exciting new multi-media work by two artists, themselves immigrants, who have made Brooklyn their home. "Brooklyn Babylon" is the brainchild of a graphic artist and animator from Croatia and a Canadian musical composer from Vancouver, British Columbia. The work was commissioned by the 
Brooklyn Academy of Music for its 2011 Next Wave Festival.
It combines Danijel Zezelj's animation and “live” painting with
Darcy James Argue’s carefully orchestrated musical score to tell the story of the not so mythical  Brooklyn Babylon. The story unfolds with Lev, an immigrant master carpenter who creates beautiful carousels that feature his masterfully carved animals. Lev unexpectedly finds himself realizing the dream of having his work recognized,in this case by city officials, as he is chosen to build a carousel to top off a colossal new tower planned to be built in downtown. The tower has its supporters and its detractors as this modern day edifice has the prospect of turning Brooklyn into a Metropolis.The implicit growth that comes with such ambitious expansion plans threatens to  undermine the precious close-knit neighborhood feeling, the very soul of the community that has nurtured Lev's own artistic development.

The story unfolds right before your eyes as Mr. Zezelj’s sweeping animation is flashed across a large screen behind the orchestra. Bold streaks of black and white form, graphic comic-like images of a bustling neighborhood. Part Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"  and part Bob Kane's "Gotham", Zelzelj's images are modern and yet nostalgic. We see the growing tower and the ominous shadow that it casts on the surrounding neighborhoods. As Lev builds his beautiful carousel, he questions his own involvement in the project. As these scenes unfold overhead,Mr. Argue’s Secret Society Orchestra creates the sounds that breathes life into Mr.Zezelj's  images. To add to the spontaneity of the experience there is a scaffold set above the orchestra, just below the animation screen, where Mr.Zezelj, using rollers and brushes, creates a continuously changing scene in a dazzling exhibit of “live” painting.
Producer Beth Morrison, Composer Darcy James Argue, Artist Danijle Zezlej

Mr. Argue’s orchestra is a eighteen-piece marvel of multi-instrumental versatility. Theatrically having his musicians entering the stage from all directions, he abandons the regimentation of seating all the brass in one line and all the reeds in another. Mr. Argue’s set-up spreads the stage of the Performing Arts theater with a semi-circular array of musicians who remain  standing in working class attire throughout.The experience creates a wonderful sense of immersion with visual and audible sensory stimulation working in tandem to help present the story. There is a marvelous sense of involvement in the creative process as you see the musicians change instruments to create the precise sound Mr.Argue has orchestrated.
Mr.Argue conducting his Secret Society Orchestra
Over the past year Mr. Argue was apparently cloistered at the
MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, a nationally recognized retreat that affords artists a peaceful, bucolic setting in which to create enduring works of imagination. It is here where he wrote the majority of his score for 
“Brooklyn Babylon”. Using Mr.Zezelj’s animation and sketches Mr. Argue composed this compelling piece of music to help tell the story. Mr. Argue chose  a team of dedicated and talented musicians to make this demanding project work. It is their collective voice that allows him the flexibility to create the multi-phonic textures so critical to his work. Mr. Argue employed sounds seldom heard together but perfectly suited to his purpose. Whether it was the euphonium of Mr. Fahie, the contra bass clarinet of Mr. Sinton, the piccolo of Mr.Von Kleist, the melodica of Mr. Webster, the acoustic guitar or Mr. Noelle, the gutsy tenor of John Ellis or the soaring trumpet of Ingrid Jensen to name a few,  the music is awash in sounds that are carefully crafted to produce the desired effects in perfect concert with Mr. Zezelj’s fleeting images.

The result is a dramatic piece of music that tells a story that is near and dear to the artistic hearts of Mr. Argue, Mr. Zezelj and I suspect many of the musicians who give it life. A story about the vulnerability of fragile, artistically friendly neighborhoods that are the creative lifeblood of the artists who live there. It deals with the conflicts that come from wanting to have your art accepted and being able to enjoy the fruits of your labor, while at the same time retaining your artistic integrity. The end result is an impressive narrative that offers visual splendor and musical majesty of the type not often experienced, a tour de force.Mr.Zezelj's "live" painting gives the performance a kinetic quality that keeps you engaged. At the end of the performance Mr.Zezelj blackens out his own creation- a final demonstration of the impermanence of art and metaphorically of the fragility of his precious Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Having in recent months seen three vastly different large ensembles - The Christian McBride Big Band, The Westchester Jazz Orchestra and now the Secret Society- it is safe to say that large ensemble composition, orchestration and arrangement are all having a welcome resurgence. The expanded palette of colors that can be used with a big band is only limited by the creative mind of the composer. After his auspicious debut album"Infernal Machines"  from 2009  and now with "Brooklyn Babylon," Mr.Argue proves that he is a fertile force indeed.

Artists: Darcy James Argue,composer and conductor; Danijel Zezelj, Animation and live painting; Erica Von Kleist, Piccolo, flute, alto flute, alto sax, soprano sax; Rob Wilkerson, flute, clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax; Sam Sadigursky, flute, clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax; John Ellis, clarinet, tenor sax; Josh Stinton, clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, baritone sax; Seneca Black, trumpet, flugelhorn; Tom Goehring, trumpet, flugelhorn; Matt Holman, trumpet, flugelhorn; Nadje Noorhuis, trumpet, flugelhorn; Ingrid Jensen, trumpet, flugelhorn; Mike Fahie, trombone, euphonium; Noah Bless, trombone;
James Hirschfeld, trombone tuba; Jennifer Wharton, bass trombone, tuba; Sebastian Noelle, acoustic and electric guitar; Gordon Webster piano, electric piano, melodica; Matt Clohesy, contrabass, electric bass; Shawn Baltazor, drums and percussion.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review of Tim Hagans “The Moon is Waiting”

Palmetto Records
Recorded March 3rd& 4th 2011 at Maggie’s Farm, PA.
For the last several years, the trumpeter Tim Hagans has been a ubiquitous force on the modern jazz scene, both as a powerful voice on his instrument and as a talented composer and arranger. Recently, at the season’s opener for the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, Mr. Hagans was seen putting those skills to work. As a featured soloist, his high-energy volley with the guest saxophonist Joe Lovano was a highlight of the evening’s performance. His deft arrangement of Lovano’s “The Dawn of Time” demonstrated his talent for thinking beyond the boundaries of his own instrument.

His collaboration with the pianist Marc Copeland on “Alone Together” was a sensitive collaboration that showed rare intuitive interplay. Check out their wonderfully evocative “You Don’t Know What Love Is” .

“The Avatar Sessions” from 2009, found the trumpeter collaborating with a who’s who of jazz, including the saxophonists George Garzone and Dave Liebman, fellow trumpeters Dan Johansson and Randy Brecker, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Peter Erskine, as well as the Norrbotten Big Band from Sweden. This ambitious project featured a modern score of great breadth written and arranged by Hagans. One of his songs “Box of Cannoli” from this session, dedicated to Frank Foster, earned him a 2011 Grammy nomination for best Instrumental song.
On his latest release 
“The Moon is Waiting”, the bassist Rufus Reid, the guitarist Vic Juris and the drummer Jukkis Uotila join Hagans in this deceptively free session.  As with Avatar, the album is made up of all original Hagans’ compositions. They span the spectrum of styles, this time in a quartet format. The colorful cover art by Peter Josyph compliments the overall experience of this noteworthy album.There should also be an ex-claimer for those who maybe unprepared to seek adventure! This is high energy music is played with a structured abandon that may be unsettling for those who love strictly melodic forms. It is also the product of an expansive and creative musical force. Caveat emptor.

Hagans explores the jagged recesses of Ornette Coleman's influence on his music with  "Ornette's Waking Dream Of A Woman". Guitarist Juris creates a chicane filled solo complimented by his exceptional ability to alter the sounds emanating from his guitar to great effect. Reed and Uotila form a powerfully propulsive rhythm section as Hagans skies ona high energy romp. It is the Hagans-Uotila link that seems to propel the music to the outer limits of its possibilities. As Tim states in the liner notes of Uotila "He creates the most incredible wave  you can ride like a surfer."

On the title track "The Moon is Waiting" we are given  choruses of  what seems to be a prelude that lead to an unreachable resolution . Accentuated by a fusillade of cymbals, toms, modulated guitar chords,and slurred bass notes; Hagans screeches, triple tongues and howls above it all pushing the limits of his horn. It is as if the moon has seduced him into a Werewolf-like transformation.

On the ruminative "Get Outside" , Rufus Reid plays a repeating line that is the basis of the tune. Uotila plays some isolated piano lines as Hagans' horn and Juris' guitar have an obscure musical conversation. Juris has a seemingly endless bag of electronic sounds he can produce at will. Reid, Utolia and Juris finally break into a rock-like, power chord driven finale that ends with a muted Hagans slurring his way to silence.

"First Jazz" is a hard driving tune that features some beautifully crafted guitar work by Vic Juris. The man is an unpretentious magic box of ideas and creativity. Reid's driving bass is prominent as Hagans  sponaneously creates a flowing, uninterrupted barrage of bopish notes, deftly complimented by Uotila's forceful  traps work.

The funky "Boo"is resurrected with Juris and Reid from the "Avatar"  sessions. The catchy tune is a perfect vehicle for bassist Reid to pluck some soulful bass lines. Hagans is inspired to howl into his trumpet producing an eerie, whirling, scream-like sound. Juris spins an inspired solo that has Frisellian twangs while retaining its own uniqueness. The tune ends in a Hagans' guttural howl..

"What I'll Tell Her Tonight" is sensitive, guitar featured ballad that is initially played by Juris accompanied with just bass and brushes. Juris's notes are the epitome of tasteful lyricism. Reid provides subtle warm tones before a muted Hagans joins the fray.Tim's penchant for high register atmospherics gives way to the more lyrical side of his playing on this beautiful melody. 

"Wailing Trees"  is a dedication to the trumpet player Tomasz Stanko,  a proponent of free protest music in his own country Poland during the 70's. Hagans sound is very reminiscence of Stanko's music. The song was developed in Stanko's style as a protest to the outrageous lack of action Hagans witnessed during the early days of hurricane Katrina. Here the Hagans-Juris interplay is forceful. The outrage is channeled  into a frenzy of notes by Hagans. Juris modulates his guitar and Uotila creates a torrent of wind and sweeping propulsion with his drum set. 

The album closes with "Things Happen in a Convertible" ,a sauntering, hard bop tune with some poignant interludes that features Hagans at some of his most lyrical. Reid's beautiful bass solo and a flowing guitar solo by Juris seem to be the source of his inspiration.

Hagans is a force to be reckoned with. A no compromise musician who likes to push the envelope,work dangerously and expand the possibilities of his music leaving any hint of a comfort zone in his wake.

Musicians: Tim Hagans,trumpet/composer; Vic Juris,electric guitar;Rufus Reid, Acoustic bass; Jukkis Uotila, drums & piano.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Martha Reeves with Mel Brown and Friends at Jimmy Mak’s in Portland , Oregon October 13, 2011

Jimmy Mak's Portland, Oregon

 Last week I got a chance to visit my son and his lovely wife in their adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon. Besides the obvious joy of seeing them in their own environment, it gave me an opportunity to visit yet another jazz club. Jimmy Mak’s is purportedly listed by Downbeat magazine as "One of the world's top 100 places to hear jazz." With the club’s credentials clearly established, I wanted to experience this Pacific Coast bastion of fine jazz for myself. After reviewing the club’s schedule and wanting to bring the kids to something that they could more easily relate to, we settled on the Thursday night show.

Miss Martha Reeves is by all accounts the original queen of the Motown sound, a sound made famous by Motown’s savvy founder BerryGordy. It was the early sixties and young blues and jazz singer Martha Lavaille and her group the Del Phis cut their first record, a rather forgettable song “I’ll Have to Let Him Go”. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were born. Her first hit was  “Come and Get These Memories” and soon the group was producing a chain of memorable hits that defined a generation of young promise. We all can remember her most famous songs “Heat Wave”, “Nowhere to Run”, “Jimmy Mack” , “I’m Ready for Love” and “Dancing in the Streets”. These songs span generations, as later artists including, Phil Collins, Linda Ronstadt, Van Halen, Mick Jagger and David Bowie have all paid homage by recording these very same songs to a whole new era of younger listeners. 

Miss Martha Reeves

We made our way to the Pearl district of Portland, a rehabbed factory district that has created a renaissance with the influx of fine restaurants, coffee shops, brew pubs and music venues like Jimmy Mak’s. On this Thursday night the club featured two shows and the early show was completely sold out. We came back for the second show and were able to get good seats in this well-appointed club. Jimmy Mak’s offers reserved seating and general admission. The twenty dollar cover charge was reasonable and the seating was comfortable with good views of the spacious stage from almost every vantage. We had eaten elsewhere while waiting for the start of the second set, so we didn’t get a chance to sample the food but I did have the opportunity of enjoying a generous glass of single malt Talisker which was moderately priced.

Jimmy Mak’s has a long standing relationship with drummer and Portland native Mel Brown. It is his residency at the club that seems to be a drawing card for traveling musicians to play the Jimmy Mak stage. Mr. Brown is a veteran of the Motown sound having played with Diana Ross and the Supremes as well as Miss Reeves in the heyday of Motown music’s popularity. He has also played with jazz mainstays like bassist LeRoy Vinnegar. Mr. Brown is the magnet that draws the talent from the Portland musical scene. On this night the dapper and affable Mr. Brown assembled a ten piece band to play back-up to Miss Reeves.
Drummer Mel Brown
Miss Reeves was decked out in a shimmering gown and strut herself from the start to the finish of her demanding power driven set.  She is the consummate performer and despite her age, she recently turned seventy, she has full vocal power and most of her range. The set started off with “So Many Memories”
and the crowd, a pleasant mix of  older and younger patrons, responded to her energy immediately. On the classic “Nowhere to Run” the band offered her almost symphonic support as the horn section played their synchronous parts with gusto and Mr. Brown and his rhythm section pushed the song along. It’s almost impossible not to sing along to this iconic tune and as I panned the audience many where up clapping and singing. She continued the set with “Love Makes Me Do Foolish Things”  where she demonstrated she can still summon her falsetto to the highest of peaks. She took a break from the  mainstays of her repertoire to do a medley of songs based on a bossa rhythm.  The medley included pieces of the Jobim  song “The Girl from Ipanema” , the Tony Hatch song made famous by Petula Clark “Call Me” and the Burt Bacharach classic “The Look of Love”

Martha Reeves with Mel Brown and band
Perhaps her most stirring ballad of the evening was a blues that she dedicated to her father, who she recalled was a sewer pipe layer. The song “Watch Your Back” offered a nice exchange between guitarist Dan Balmer and Miss Reeves, whose delivery was amazingly strong and soulful.

The classic “Heat Wave” had the entire audience on their feet. It was interesting to watch a beaming Mr. Brown as he was obviously enjoying himself, recollecting his history on this very song with Miss Reeves. Miss Reeves did a tribute to Billie Holiday singing “God Bless the Child” and then she finished the set with a rousing rendition of the Motown anthem “Dancing in the Streets". The song featured some fine solos by trombonist Stan Bock, saxophonist Renato Caranto and an organ solo from local keyboardist Louis Pain.

The evening was a resounding success. My son, his wife and clearly everyone in the audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Jimmy Mak’s is a Portland treasure and deserving of its status as one of the 100 top places to see jazz . Miss Reeves is one of those ageless performers whose music seems to transcend generations. The feel good sustenance the music delivers is a direct result of the joy that she and her fellow musicians radiate while playing it. 

Musicians: Martha Reeves, vocals; Al McKinney piano and musical director; Mel Brown, drums; Dan Balmer guitar; Stan Bock, trombone; Renato Caranto, saxophone; Derrick Sims, trumpet; Louis Pain, keyboards; Curtis Craft, percussion; electric bass and. baritone sax (players unknown).