Saturday, January 21, 2017

Seattle Pianist Bill Anschell's : "Rumbler"

The pianist Bill Anschell was surprisingly self-taught, he subsequently studied at Oberlin College and Wesleyan under some influential teachers. After receiving his master's degree he came to Atlanta in 1989 as the jazz coordinator for the Southern Arts Federation. He eventually formed an internationally syndicated radio show “Jazz South” and became steeped in the Atlanta jazz scene, with his trio performing at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games and the Atlanta Montreux Jazz Festival.

Bill Anschell photo credit unknown
The work of the now Seattle based pianist Bill Anschell is new to me and it was with a no anticipation that I found myself being drawn in by his latest album Rumbler. Anschell starts it off with his own quirky rendition of Monk’s “Misterioso,” which combines elements of Monk’s angular style with Anschell’s own unique interpretative bent. Anschell’s core rhythm section is made up of Chris Symer on bass and Jose Martinez on drums. After a sparse single note piano and saxophone presentation of the dissonant melody line, with tenor being manned by Richard (not Richie) Cole, Anschell takes the tune into modernity, injecting Brian Monroney’s electric guitar, bass and drums pounding out a booming, brash counter-melody to the ascending and descending lines of the composition. The tune then turns into a Monroney led blues ballad, but only for a brief stint, before the group jumps time signature once again. This time, backed by a Symer walking bass line, Anschell offers an inspired piano solo. The band changes time again to provide Cole a gutsy tenor solo. If you think there is a lot going on here, you’d be right, but it all comes together remarkably well and during this brief a little over seven-minute trip we get some fabulously stirring music.

“Dark Wind” is an Anschell composition derived from the Afro-Peruvian lando, a dance originated musical style. The alto flute of Hans Teuber adds to its soft undulating rhythm. The breezy tune carries you in its sway enhanced by Jeff Busch’s percussion. “Captive Light” is another Anschell composition written in 5/4 time that seems to gets lost in its own beauty, as Teuber plays a very Desmond-esque sounding tenor.

The band returns to more adventurous music with the cadenced strut of “MBK,” a reference to a food court in Thailand. Monroney’s echoing electric guitar rips in raw and Martinez’s traps march the music along with peacock pride.  Anschell’s piano solo is interestingly “out” while still being “in” as the band creates the atmospheric canvas on which to paint. Symer’s bass is a constant grounding bar for this kinetic group. This one rocks.

“No You Go,” is another Anschell composition with a catchy, albeit modal line that the band navigates with precision and unity. Anschell’s solo piano work is fluid and interesting. Symer’s bass solo is quick and clean. Martinez gets a chance to show off a little with some extended trap, tom and cymbal work that is rhythmic without being too flashy.

Anschell and his trio take on an often-neglected Lennon & McCartney standard “For No One.” The song is given a swinging and contemporary treatment that makes you re-appreciate the lasting melody and its possibilities.

The “Rumbler” is brooding, pensive song that features the longing soprano of Jeff Coffin (of Dave Mathews and Flecktone’s fame), floating over Symer’s pedal point bass lines and Martinez’s delicate cymbal based time. Anschell sets the mood with his piano solo before Coffin goes off into an extended soprano solo that soars over the proceedings like a hawk in flight.  Anschell and his rhythm section get to take this one out at the coda with a sense of bravado.

The album continues with “39F”, an easy, samba inspired swinger, that again features Hans Teuber on alto saxophone. “Heisenberg’s Fugue State,” is a reference to the main character, a meth cooking schoolteacher, on the series “Breaking Bad. This one reunites guitarist Monroney with the group, but his time on acoustic guitar. “The Dreaded ‘E’ Word” gets back to more of what I like to hear from this band, a pulsing swinger with rhythmic diversity and Monroney returning to his jagged guitar work and Anschell getting to explore some of his more out of the box ideas.

The cd ends with Duke Ellington’s “Reflections in D,” a pensive and moving solo piano exploration .

Anschell’s playing is contemporary, sometimes pretty, but he has a mischievous, exploratory side that occasionally comes out in his playing and when he has the right players with him, as he does on several of these cuts, he is someone who has something to say.

Friday, January 13, 2017

More Things Baritone

Bruce Johnstone
As a follow up to my recent article Twenty-Five Great Baritone Saxophone Performances, I received some feedback from a few astute followers. The educator/arranger and saxophonist Bill Kirchner sent me a email after seeing a link to my post on Doug Ramsey Rifftides blog. Bill mentioned some fine baritone saxophone work from Clarence Hutchenrider who played with the Casa Loma Orchestra on a record titled Stompin' Around back in 1933. He thought I should include this performance in such a compilation. Unfortunately the link that had the recording on it was subsequently pulled from YouTube.

Bill also thought that I had inadvertently not given saxophonist Genn Wilson the recognition he deserved as a superlative improvisor. Glenn has played with the great Bob Belden's orchestra along with Bill and others. So in an effort to correct the record here is a YouTube of Glenn playing Sam Jones' "Bittersweet" at a festival in Illinois in 2014>


Saxophonist Dave Anderson had two more that I missed, one is the great Scott Robinson, on baritone for a change, on Bob Brookmeyer's album  Celebration  featured on a tune titled "Remembering."

Maynard Ferguson's baritone beast, Bruce Johnstone, whom I egregiously neglected to mention all together, is another talent on the big horn who should be included, Here he is performing back in 1974 with Maynard live on "Got the Spirit."

Hopefully this sets the record straight.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Twenty-five great jazz baritone saxophone performances

Ronnie Cuber
The cumbersome and often unwieldy baritone saxophone has long been relegated to the position of a shadowy stepchild to its more grandiloquent brothers, the tenor and alto saxophones, in jazz music. A low register behemoth that requires voluminous breath, careful control and formidable stamina, it has been used primarily in jazz orchestras to produce those low resonant notes that bring the bottom end to life in modern jazz orchestra arrangements.

Prominently used in the great jazz orchestras of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, the baritone saxophone was played by the great Harry Carney in the Ellington band and by Jack Washington in the Basie band. Carney, with his incredible use of circular breathing and his pure uncluttered tone, is widely recognized as having been a pioneer on the instrument, bringing the baritone out of the obscurity of the saxophone section and into the limelight as a solo instrument. Using Carney and to a lesser extent Washington as inspiration, baritone players started to experiment with the versatility of this instrument.

In the forties and fifties Serge Chaloff pioneered the bebop sound on the big horn with his solo work and as one of the infamous “Four Brothers” saxophone section in Woody Herman’s Second Herd. Saxophonist Leo Parker continued this path finding his niche playing a boppish, blues inspired horn and Cecil Payne was known for the warmth and heartiness of his sound which was partially inspired by his work with Dizzy Gillespie. The diametrically opposed styles of the cool school innovator Gerry Mulligan and the fleet, hearty work of Pepper Adams brought the baritone front and center and undoubtedly inspired the next generation of players.

The instrument has gone through a dramatic metamorphosis in the hands of avant-garde players like Hamiett Blueitt, impressionistic players like John Surman and Colin Stenson, and free players like Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson. But the tradition has been revered, expanded and enhanced by such great hard bop, modernistic players including the incendiry Ronnie Cuber, Nick Brignola, Dennis DiBlasio, the remarkable James Carter, Xavier Richardeau and the modern master Gary Smulyan. Meanwhile the future looks bright with young stars like Alain Cuper, the creative  Brian Landrus, Claire Daly, Frank Basile, Lauren Sevian and Jason Marshall.

Since the instrument has been such an important part of the saxophone sections of so many great bands over the years, it is important not to forget those players who have made such an important contribution to this music on this instrument, while never seeing the spotlight. Many of their work is timelessly hidden in the seamless perfection of the band’s signature sound, a sound of a saxophone section as a singular voice. Some have done double duty on baritone and other reed instruments. So let’s’ not forget the work of the previously mentioned Jack Washington who worked with Basie; Charlie Fowlkes, who played in the bands of Arnett Cobb, Lionel Hampton and Count Basie; Ernie Caceres, who at times played with Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman; Laurdine “Pat” Patrick who played with John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and spent forty years in Sun Ra’s Arkestra; Haywood Henry who played with the Esrkine Hawkins band; Glen Wilson, who teaches and has toured with Buddy Rich and the Bob Belden Ensemble;  Jack Nimitz, who played with Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Oliver Nelson and Herbie Mann; Danny Bank who played in Artie Shaw's, Oliver Nelson's and countless other bands and was heard on numerous studio sessions. Carl Maraghi who played with “Doc” Severinsen’s Band and presnetly works in Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society band. Ed Xiques who has played in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band and is not a part of the Westchester Jazz Orchestra and George Barrow, who played with Oliver Nelson’s orchestra. Other great multi-instrumentalists that double regularly on the baritone as part of their reed work include the inimitable Scott Robinson with Maria Schneider’s Orchestra, avant-garde multi-instrumentalist Vinnie Golia and  the versatile Howard Johnson whose principal instrument is Tuba.

A big thank you goes out to Andrew Hadro and his which was a invaluable resource for this article and all things baritone saxophone.

Here are my top twenty-five greatest jazz baritone saxophone solos in roughly chronological order:

Where it all started, the master:

Harry Carney: Live in Copenhagen Denmark with the Duke Ellington Orchestra (1965-1971): “Sophisticated Lady”

Serge Chaloff: from Blue Serge 1956 with LeRoy Vinegar (b), Sonny Clark (p), Philly Joe Jones (dr)
“All the Things You Are”

Lars Gullin: with Rune Ofwerman (p), Bengt Carlson(b), Nils-Bertil Dahlander (dr)  1957
 “Lover Man”

Jerome Richardson: from Roamin’ with Richardson 1959 with  Richard Wyands (p), George Tucker (b), Charlie Persip (dr) " I Never Knew" 

Leo Parker: from the album Rollin' with Leo with Dave Burns (trp), Bill Swindell ( ts).Johnny Acea (p), Al Lucas (b) Wilbert Hogan (dr) from 1961 " Bad Girl"

Gerry Mulligan: with Paul Desmond (as), Wendell Marshall (b), Connie Kay (dr) 1962 from
Two of a Mind,  “Stardust”

Sahib Shihab: from And All Those Cats, from 1965 with Francy Boland (p), Jimmy Woode (b), Kenny Clarke (dr), Fats Sadi (bongos & vibes), Joe Harris (perc) “Bohemia After Dark”

Sahib Shihab & Cecil Payne: with the Dizzy Gillespie Reunion Band in Copenhagen, Denmark 1968  “Ray’s Idea”

Pepper Adams: Live in Baltimore September 1969 with Duke Pearson, Richard Davis Mel Lewis and Richard Williams.: “Billie’s Bounce”

John Surman: from Extrapolation  1969 with John McLaughlin (g), Brian Odgers (b),
Tony Oxley (dr)

Hamiet Bluiett : live with the Charles Mingus Band in Nov 1972 Berlin, Germany with Joe Gardner (tr), John Foster (p), Charles Mingus (b) and Roy Brooks (dr). “Peggy’s Blue Skylight”

Cecil Payne: Live in NYC  at Jack Klinesingers Jazz Tribute to Charlie Parker 1973 with Ted Dunbar (g), Richard Davis (b) and Roy Haynes (dr) “Koko”

Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker Band live at Carnegie Hall 1974 : w Bob James (p), John Scofield (g), Ron Carter(b), Dave Samuels (vib), Harvey Mason (dr) “Bernie’s Tune

Gerry Mulligan: with the Charles Mingus Band w Charles Mingus(b), George Adams (ts), Don Pullen (p), Jack Walrath (trpt), Benny Bailey (trpt, and Dannie Richmond (dr) live at Montreux 1975 “Take the A  Train”

Nick Brignola and Pepper Adams : from Baritone Madness  1977 with Dave Holland (b), Derek Smith (p), Roy Haynes (dr) “Donna Lee.”

Roger Rosenberg: live with the Bob Mintzer Big Band live in Berlin 1987 and in Pittsburgh, PA
in 2014

Joe Temperley :with the Buck Clayton Orchestra 1988 “Angel in Blue”

Nick Brignola: from What it Takes 1990 with Randy Brecker (tr), Kenny Baron (p), Rufus Reid (b), Dick Berk (dr) “Star Eyes”

Ronnie Cuber: on Mingus Big Band 93: Nostalgia in Times Square ; “Moanin' ”

James Carter: on the Real Quiet Storm 1995 with Craig Taborn(p): “Round Midnight”

Mats Gustafsson from Catapult 2005  “The Light”

Jason Marshall: Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival June 2010, with All McClean (ts), Dan Thouin (p), Adam Vedady( b), John Fraboni (d) : “Cherokee”

Brian Landrus: from The Deep Below from 2015 : “The Fly”

Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufield : from Never Were the Way She Was  2015 "Won't Be a Thing to Become."

Gary Smulyan: live at the Le Ducs de Lombards, fall of 2016 “Laura”

If your intoa smaller instrument check out my twenty-five great jazz flute performances by clicking here.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Spirit of Churchill Grounds lives as Julie Dexter Sings in the New Year at Decatur's Mason Tavern

Julie Dexter
On July 31,2016 Atlanta’s longest running jazz club, Churchill Grounds, shuttered its doors with a final concert at its downtown location adjacent to the Fox Theater. For many it was a shocking reminder of how fragile the economic existence of community based institutions and artistic venues can be. CG was the love child of its owner, Sam Yi, who nurtured the art form we call jazz and fostered a sense of community within and outside of its walls. Jazz musicians found a home at Yi’s little club for close to twenty years. Musicians and fans alike could congregate, socialize, listen to each other, learn, laugh, cry, improvise, entertain and be a part of something bigger than themselves. The club also had its hard-core fans, those who don’t necessarily play the music, but love it just the same and want to preserve this most original of American art forms for future generations. The club was a way station for young, up and coming musicians who found a space where they were given a chance to test their mettle, experiment with new ideas and sometimes get the rare opportunity to play with some of the music’s luminaries and elder statesmen. When Churchill Grounds closed, it was like a gaping hole was torn out of the heart of the Atlanta jazz community.

The good news is that since the closing Mr. Yi has been fervently working on finding a new location to reopen Churchill Grounds. It was recently announced that Yi has come to an agreement with Beacon Atlanta developer Phillipe Pellerin, to open a new Churchill Grounds jazz club in the soon to be revitalized Grant Park development. This is a twenty million dollar, mixed use, inner city development project that will take time to come to full fruition, but Yi is hopeful that the new club will be ready in a year. In the meantime, Yi has been setting up “pop up” jazz concerts in a local Decatur eatery, the Mason Tavern. For the last four Thursday evenings, the Tavern has hosted some of Atlanta’s finest jazz musicians, all pulled together by local trumpeter/producer Terrence Harper and curated by Yi. The shows have been a fabulous success drawing an ever-increasing audience to the Tavern on Thursday nights after 9 pm.

Appropriately, New Year’s Eve was the perfect chance to offer a jazz inspired celebration to usher in 2017 at the Mason Tavern. The Tavern offered music after dinner with a special performance by British born, Atlanta based vocalist Julie Dexter and a trio. Ms. Dexter, an established artist who has released seven albums to date, has a smooth, soulful voice that easily traverses the most difficult of jazz changes with an instrumentally based scat style.

The trio was made up of pianist Alex Williams on electric keyboards, drummer Jonathan Mills and bassist Steve Brown. They started the set warming up the crowd with Chick Corea’s “Windows” and then followed that by a Joe Henderson classic “Recorda Me.” Pianist William’s got to stretch out nicely on some of the changes on these two gems from the jazz anthology. Bassist Williams showed some animated pizzicato and drummer Mills established the solid groove.

Julie Dexter, Steve brown and Alex Williams, Jonathan Mills is playing drums
Ms. Dexter came out to what appeared to be a full house. She started her set with the 1926 Henderson/Dixon classic “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Ms. Dexter has a captivating voice that can easily grasp an otherwise rambunctious audience’s attention with her beguiling delivery and buoyant stage presence. She can scat with an instrumentalist’s sensibility and makes it all seem deceptively easy. Bassist Brown added a nice Arco bass solo to this one.  Ms. Dexter continued with swinging version of “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” which she sang with a raucous blues sensibility, showing deft inflections and a soulful earnestness in her voice.

Ms. Dexter continued the set with Mongo Santamaria’s rhythmically driven “Afro Blue,” followed by “The Meaning of My Love,”  which seemed to lose the band at times and then into “The Nearness of You.” Perhaps her most moving performance came with her rendition of “Willow Weep for Me.” Her ability to reach into the lugubrious lyric and make it her own was worth the price of admission. A vocalist of extraordinary elasticity, M. Dexter offered her own version of the serpentine Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson composition “Four.”  A song made famous by Miles Davis; the lyrics were written and sung by the great vocalese master Jon Hendricks. Ms. Dexter, an obvious student of Hendricks, successfully demonstrated her own vocal dexterity on this challenging composition.

As the witching hour approached Ms. Dexter did an abbreviated version of the classic “My Favorite Things”, a Broadway tune from The Sound of Music that was made famous in the jazz lexicon by the saxophonist John Coltrane. She scatted her way into a countdown to the New Year in true jazz style as we all toasted to a hopeful and healthful New Year.

Once again jazz lives and breathes in the Atlanta area with the help of flame keepers like Sam Yi. While we wait for the new Churchill Grounds to open its doors next year in Grant Park, it’s nice to know that for the foreseeable future Yi continues to bring this live music to the Mason Tavern on Claremont Road in Decatur every Thursday night after 9 pm. 

Check her sing "Softly as the Morning Sunrise" from the show: