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).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Westchester Jazz Orchestra’s Season Opening Concert featuring Joe Lovano

The WJO Concert with Special Guest Joe Lovano :

September 24, 2011 at Irvington Town Hall Theater, Irvington , NY

Two Saturday’s ago, in the sleepy town of Irvington, NY,  the Westchester Jazz Orchestra kicked off their 2011 season with a very special guest, the eminent saxophonist Joe Lovano. The Westchester Jazz Orchestra is a rotating group of talented, working musicians, who carry on the tradition of big band jazz orchestras. The group is a non profit whose executive director Emily Tabin works tirelessly to sustain this wonderful musical resource for the benefit of County residents, as well as anyone else who follows their concert schedule.
The artistic director is Mike Holober, who directed the orchestra on this particular evening and also arranged the music for three of the nine scheduled pieces for this performance. Mr. Holober has  recorded as a sideman and leader on many recordings. Mr. Holober is a pianist/composer who teaches Jazz Studies at City College in NY and is a Associate Guest conductor for the wonderful HR Big Band of Frankfurt, Germany.

The evening started off with a brief conversation with the saxophonist Mr. Lovano moderated by the WJO’s Mr. Holober. Joe recalled his upbringing in a musical family in Cleveland, Ohio where he started playing around the age of five or six years old. He described his years of education at the Berklee School of Music in Boston where he met many of his musical contemporaries. He spoke of paying his dues as a sideman with organ based groups playing on what he called the “chittlin’ circuit” behind the likes of Dr. Lonnie Smith and Brother Jack McDuff. He recalled formative years playing in the big bands of Woody Herman and the Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis Village Vanguard Orchestra, that he acknowledged were incubators for his developing sound. Joe has a special relationship with the WJO as he has been on the advisory board since the formation in 2003.

Joe Lovano taking questions with director Mike Holober
When the discussion was open to the audience for questions, unexpectedly, the widow of late saxophonist Stan Getz, Monica Getz, rose to speak. She relayed to the audience and to Mr. Lovano how much Joe's playing reminded her of her husband Stan’s playing. Despite Mr. Lovano’s success, he retains a genuine air of humility and this unsolicited comparison to an icon was a bit disarming for him. Lovano’s sound, which at times can be tonally like Getz, has an exploratory approach more strongly influenced by Coltrane than by 'the Sound". When asked about his participation in this big band Mr. Lovano said he was favorably disposed to all types of musical settings, especially those where he finds some inspiration from his fellow musicians. On this evening the WJO was featuring some of Lovano’s own musical compositions, as well as some songs that were especially relevant to his repertoire of recorded work.
After a brief intermission the orchestra took the stage and the show began with a Peter McGuiness arrangement of Herbie Hancock’s classic “Maiden Voyage”. This piece is featured on the WJO’s latest cd “Maiden Voyage Suite” recently released in August of this year. The song is the perfect vehicle for the orchestra as the brass and reeds were deftly made to ebb and flow behind the memorable melody line. David Brandom offered a beautifully airy soprano saxophone solo and trumpeter extraordinaire Marvin Stamm offered a impeccably flawless solo of his own on flugelhorn. Mr. Stamm’s playing alone is worth the price of admission to this fine orchestra.

The saxophone section of the WJO
The band’s second piece was a Bob Brookmeyer arrangement titled "American Express". The cascade of horns in this piece is signature Brookmeyer and the WJO played it like it was written for them. John Riley’s propulsive drums and Harvie S’s pulsing bass carried the rhythm throughout. A low register solo by tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama tops off the number.

Joe Lovano enters from stage right to play on the Mike Holober arrangement of Joe’s own composition “His Dreams”, a song Joe wrote about his father’s aspirations for his young son. It is immediately apparent that Joe commands the stage with his warm  full bodied tenor. The band is engaged giving it they’re all and ffollowing intently during Joe’s solos. It is especially interesting to watch the saxophonists immerse themselves in the inventiveness and quality of Joe’s solo runs. He is clearly admired. Joe, in turn, lays out during Ted Rosenthal’s exceptionally pretty piano solo. He is equally energized watching the rhythm section of Harvie S on upright bass and John Riley on drums as they push the song along.

The second Lovano composition is  “Fort Worth”, arranged by WJO trumpeter Tony Kadlek. After a brassy introduction, we hear Joe taking on a cadence that reminds me a little of Ornette Coleman. A rousing trombone solo by Mark Patterson blisters and gets bassist Harvie S playing with abandon. Sensing the energy Mr. Lovano picked up the pace with his own incendiary solo that has him turning shades of scarlet as he flutters through rapid runs all over the register of his horn. The band punctuates the breaks behind him and the song ends powerfully over John Riley’s splashing cymbals as Lovano and Riley call and respond in a duel of ideas.
Joe Lovano with the WJO
After a brief intermission the second set begins with an arrangement by trumpeter TimHagans on Lovano’s  “The Dawn of Time”. Hagans is a formidable trumpeter in his own right who is a modern day proponent of the fusion era Miles Davis atmospheric sound. He also is a talented arranged/composer. A beautiful Johnny Hodges-like saxophone solo by Jason Rigby is a highlight of this song.

The next selection was another Herbie Hancock song arranged by Mike Holober “ Survival of the Fittest” which featured a stirring high register solo by trumpeter Tim Hagans, who was sitting in for Scott Wendholt. Hagans performance was an unexpected treat as the man can soar at almost any pace. Contrastingly, saxophonist Jason Rigby offered a smooth, deep register solo on tenor as Harvie and John drove the rhythm hard. The orchestra seamlessly transitioned to another classic Hancock song  “Dolphin Dance”, this one arranged by the absent Tony Kadleck. Lovano’s fellow vanguard orchestra alumnus, saxophonist Ralph Lalama gave his most impressive solo of the night on this memorable melody. Mr. Stamm was again featured on a moving flugelhorn solo.On this particular song you could really hear how magically the sound of these seventeen individual players was organically transformed into a single coherent voice, the true tell of a great big band. Players like trombonists Larry Farrell, George Flynn and Bruce Eidem; trumpet players like Jon Owens (substituting for Tony Kadleck) and Craig Johnson; saxophonists Marc Phaneuf (substituting for Jay Brandford) and Ed Xiques along with those mentioned previously all create this unified sound that is the WJO.

The last two songs were two of Mr. Lovano’s “ Birds of Springtime Gone By”, arranged by Jason Rigby and “Hot Shot” arranged by director Mike Holober.
On “Birds” Mr. Lovano and Mr. Hagans each had solos on their respective instruments before they volleyed with each other in an interesting exchange of high energy.

On “Hot Shot” Mr. Lovano took flight on a high register solo. The encore was Thad Jones’s “The Interloper” which featured solos by Joe Lovano, Ralph Lalama and a excellent piano solo by Ted Rosenthal.

All in all it was an auspicious opening night for the WJO and a harbinger of what to expect for this upcoming season. Seeing Mr. Lovano perform in such good company was a real treat. If you love big band music you must make it your business to see one of the upcoming performance that the WJO will be performing this year. The next scheduled show is at SUNY in Middletown, NY on November 19, 2011 with another show scheduled in Irvington for December 3rd.  

The WJO Regulars are Musicians: Trumpets: Tony Kadlek, Craig Johnson, Marvin Stamm, Scott Wendholt: trombones, Larry Farrell, Keith O'Quinn, Bruce Eidem, George Flynn; Saxophones: Jay Brandford, David Brandom, Ralph Lalama, Jason Rigby, Ed Xiques;  Piano: Ted Rosenthal; Bass Harvie S; Drums, Andy Watson; Conductor/director MikeHolober.