Sunday, April 22, 2018

Utterly Enjoyable: Tessa Souter's "Night of Key Largo"

Tessa Souter Nights of Key Largo Venus 

I was recently sent a copy of Nights of Key Largo, an album from the vocalist Tessa Souter. The album was originally released on the Venus label in Japan in 2008 and was re-released here in the United States this year.

Ms. Souter is a London born singer who took to singing late after a successful career as a copy editor, a freelance journalist and a mother. She moved to the US in 1992 and attended the Manhattan School of Music meeting and later being mentored by the late great Mark Murphy for four years. She has also studied with the NEA master vocalist Sheila Jordan.

Ms. Souter’s work is marked by one of the most natural voices in jazz today. Her delivery is clean, honest and emotionally sincere. She has what musicians call great ears and a superb taste when choosing material to cover. She often finds inspiration in re-imagining songs that do not fall into the repertoire that is generally associated with jazz. Some splendid examples of this woman’s musical creativity include her flamenco-fused version of Cream’s “White Room” and her treatment of the Beatles classic “Eleanor Rigby” both from here 2009 album titled Obsession. She extended her musical boundaries venturing into a successful fusion of jazz, pop and classical on her fine 2012 album Beyond the Blue, putting her own lyrics to jazz versions of Beethoven, Rodrigo and Chopin. 

On Nights of Key Largo, Ms.  Souter, along with producers Tetsuo Hara and Todd Barkan, assembled an intuitive group of musicians to accompany her on this outing. The inimitable Kenny Werner on piano and I assume arrangements, bassist extraordinaire Jay Leonhart, guitarist Romaro Lubambo, saxophonist Joel Frahm and drummer Billy Drummond all add significantly to the overall success of this effort.

Souter again finds some hidden gems that other singers seem to miss. There is something for everyone who loves great music on this album. Notable compositions  include Ivan Lins romantic “The Island,” where Ms. Souter’s breezy vocal and Frahm’s mellow tenor wrap you in a sensuous blanket.

Van Morrison’s folk/jazz/blues classic “Moon Dance,” is given to a jaunty treatment featuring Leonhart’s buoyant bass. 

Lubambo’s lush guitar chording is the perfect complement to Souter’s liquid vocal on “So Many Stars.” 

Werner’s beautiful piano accompaniment on Bachrach’s “Look of Love” is just transcendent and Souter knows how to make the most of it with her unadorned approach. 

On the cinematic John Barry theme to James Bond “You Only Live Twice,” Souter’s voice floats over Lubambo’s gentle guitar picking.

The oft neglected Benny Carter composition “Key Largo” features Ms. Souter’s voice at it’s most sultry.  This is adult contemporary at its best. Werner is superlative and Leonhart and Drummond keep the walking time impeccably.

Lubambo’s delicate guitar and Drummond’s shimmering cymbals introduce the Mancini classic “Slow Hot Wind” before Souter comes in with her telling reading of the evocative lyrics, as Frahm offers a sensitive tenor solo.  

The album continues with the lovely “Moon and Sand,” “I’m Glad There is You” -with an exceptionally  swinging solo by Frahm- “All or Nothing at All”, “Morning of the Carnival” -with some beautiful arco work by Leonhart- and ending with John Lennon’s wistful and hopeful “Imagine.”

I've listened to this album several times now and it is utterly enjoyable. If her previous work hasn’t convinced you to pay attention to this fine vocalist than the re-release of this hidden gem Nights of Key Largo should be all you need to sit down, listen and enjoy the compelling sound of Tessa Souter.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Piano phenom Christian Sands graces the stage at Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta

Christian Sands, Eric Wheeler and Jerome Jennings at the Woodruff Arts Center

Last Saturday evening, those in the know attended the final concert of a three-part Emerging Jazz Icons series at the Richard Rich Theater in the Woodruff Arts Center here in Atlanta. The series was a symbiotic collaboration between the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, Georgia Public Radio and WABE and the Woodruff Arts Center that was meant to showcase three emerging talents in the jazz world by presenting them in concert to the citizens of Atlanta. By any measure the series was a fantastic success. If you were fortunate enough to catch any one of these three fine talents, your life was immeasurably changed for the better;each offering a new and exciting take on the jazz tradition.  

The series started back in November with the chanteuse Charnée Wade and continued in January with an appearance of the sensational Jazzmeia Horn (you can get my take on Ms. Horn’s concert by clicking here). The final show featured a piano trio led by the piano phenom Christian Sands.

I have been following Christian Sands since I first heard him as part of the Grammy nominated Christian McBride Trio. I caught this dynamic trio at a small nightclub in New York. While I expected nothing but a superlative performance from the virtuoso bassist McBride, it was the young firebrand pianist that most impressed me that evening four years ago. The twenty-nine year old Sands comes from a musical family based out of New Haven, CT  and he has ties to Atlanta on his Mother’s side of the family, as he made clear by announcing his mother was in the audience on this evening. Sands was mentored by the late pianist Billy Taylor and in addition to his former bandmate McBride, he considers the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, the saxophonist Kenny Garrett and the pianist Marcus Roberts as strong influences; their approach to the music starts with a deep and abiding respect for the tradition while still moving the music forward.

Christian Sands
On this night, Sands was accompanied by the bassist Eric Wheeler and the drummer Jerome Jennings. The group started the set with a composition by the pianist Eric Reed titled “The Swing in I.” Among the fine young pianists on the scene today, Sands and Aaron Diehl, are in my mind, two of the most respectful of the piano tradition.You can just hear it in their playing. 

On the opener, Sands played with a percussive intensity that had elements of McCoy Tyner’s style. The young man has tremendous velocity on the keyboard and so he naturally likes to strut his chops, astounding the audience with his facility, but make no mistake the man can swing with the best of them. He also knows dynamics and can play block chords ala George Shearing, which he incorporates into his repertoire with skillful aplomb.

The trio took their cue from Sands as he led them down various paths of rhythmic and harmonic diversity. Mr. Wheeler was particularly effective on the second selection, a Chick Corea composition titled “Humpty Dumpty,” and Jennings made the song explode with his rhythmic dynamics. This burner was for me a highlight of the evening. Mr. Sands has obviously been influenced by Corea’s work, what pianist hasn’t been in the last forty years? But Sands has big ears, and besides his ability to play with the facility of a Corea, his playing wove in elements of embellishers like Errol Garner and maybe even Hampton Hawes. His interplay with the powerful Jennings was particularly empathetic.

After the first two songs, Sands rose from his piano chair to address the audience. When he spoke, the was a sense of maturity and wit in his delivery. You could see that he has absorbed a great deal of the polish and affability that his former employer Christian McBride is famous for.  After introducing the titles of the songs previously played and naming his bandmates, the dapperly dressed Sands went back to his seat and began with his own composition “Reaching from the Sun” from his latest album Reach. The song had a Latin influenced beat and Wheeler was given a lengthy solo.Sands imparted a driving gospel sound to his playing as Jennings and Wheeler laid down an effective backbeat upon which Sands could explore.

On the next selection, Bassist Wheeler was given the stage for an extended less than melodic bass solo that I could have done without. Nonetheless it elicited shouts of approval from the crowd, who eventually started clapping along with him.  Sands and Jennings returned to support him bringing in some bluesy swing with Sands offering some colorful arpeggios that included some ragtime chording.

The pianist offered a beautifully filigreed intro to the Jackson 5 song “Never Can Say Goodbye” which gave the willing audience a chance to sing along to this familiar pop classic, once they finally caught a whiff of the melody. Sands started the song out slowly, but as the band continued to build momentum, first with a pizzicato bass solo by Wheller, he began building tension on his piano. He created a wave of sound using his uncanny ability to hold a seemingly endless sustained tremolo effect; his right hand producing a deluge of notes that washed over the song like a torrent from a broken dam. The trio developed a sustained groove over which Sands explored multiple harmonic possibilities, oftentimes with Jennings taking on an aggressive polyrhythmic role. The audience just roared with approval.

The set continued with another Sand’s original from his album titled “Oyeme” which the pianist said was inspired by his recent trip to Havana, Cuba. Sands started out with a clave-based rhythm over which Wheeler and Jennings ruminated. The song darted into and out of the rhythm as Sands danced all over his keyboard in an inspirational display of his grasp of hard-driving Latin music. Jennings showed how he was no stranger to the polyphonic rhythms of Afro-Cuban music, playing his own nearly three-minute solo of sustained rhythmic articulation. Sands has clearly absorbed the tradition of jazz piano in all its ethnic diversity.

The set closed with a ballad that Sands used as a vehicle for some his most impressive harmonic explorations of the evening. The young pianist showed signs of his mastery of stride, as the melody emerged from his musings on a song often associated with the late great Nate King Cole titled “Love.”  To watch this talented pianist explore the different styles that he can call on at will is quite impressive. I hear sounds of Tatum, Shearing, Garner, Tyner and even Teddy Wilson in this man’s playing and yet with all that influence there is something unique here that is all Christian Sands. Catch him if you can, you will be glad you did.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Art of Bill Frisell Live at City WInery in Atlanta

Thomas Morgan, Bill Frisell and Rudy Royston at Atlanta's City Winery
This past Wednesday night, April 4th, at Atlanta’s City Winery the world class guitarist and innovator Bill Frisell and his trio thrilled a nearly full house of faithful followers, aspiring guitarists and a few curious uninitiated listeners with an unforgettable night of music. The Winery can accommodate over three hundred in the confines of its comfortable, sonically pleasing wine cellar-like atmosphere. Frisell just released a fabulous solo album titled Music Is on the Okeh label on March 16, 2018.  On this night Frisell was joined by Thomas Morgan on upright bass and Rudy Royston on drums.

The now sixty-seven-year old Frisell has been playing his distinctive style of guitar for the better part of three decades. He signed to Manfred Eicher’s ECM label back in the early eighties and became the virtual house guitarist for the label. He has had long term associations with the eclectic experimental composer/saxophonist John Zorn from his early days in New York. In the early 2000’s he was a part of the influential drummer Paul Motian’s trio with saxophonist Joe Lovano. The list of collaborators he has worked with is a who’s who of the contemporary and avant-garde music world during the last quarter century. Along the way Frisell has developed his own unique sound- a mix of bluegrass, country, surfer rock, Americana, jazz, fusion and sophisticated electronics- that has made him one the most adventurous musicians and a sought-after collaborator. His work has been nominated for a Grammy on four occasions in 2005, 2009, 2016 and 2018 and he won once for Unspeakable in the Best Contemporary Jazz Album category for 2005.

The Guitarist Bill Frisell at Atlanta's City Winery 
Bill Frisell has the casual appearance of a disheveled, absent-minded professor, with his shock of white spiky hair, horn- rimmed glasses and his loosely fitting jacket and jeans. You could see this guy working part-time fixing motorcycles in a neighborhood garage or repairing old radios in his basement, but when he plugs in his Telecaster-style guitar and connects to  his array of electronic wizardry he becomes a master of the universe. The universe of the sound that he so deftly creates.

The guitarist started off with a series of harmonics, tones generated from his guitar that resonate with sympathetic frequencies. He is master of harnessing them to great effect and he used them to introduce the Henry Mancini classic “Moon River.”  The audience listened intently as he conjured up a delicate repeating motif on his guitar, looping it and then harmonizing to it. When the melody became apparent the crowd let out a collective sigh of acknowledgment.

One suspects that Frisell’s trio mates must have big ears to play with this man as his playing appears to be snatched from the ether, rather than firmly pre-planned. Morgan has been playing with Frisell since 2016 and they recently did a highly acclaimed duo release last year titled Small Town. Royston is a sought-after drummer whose work can be heard all over the gamut. His stylistic approach was first heard with Frisell on the guitarist’s 2010 Grammy nominated recording History Mystery. Together these three musicians showed just how empathetically connected three people can be, responding as Frisell utilized a series of surprising electronic embellishments to create cascading effects before transitioning into the familiar theme from the James Bond thriller “You Only Live Twice.”  He has a penchant for creatively using looping to allow him to create multiple layers of expression on a repeating motif.

Frisell’s repertoire often features movie soundtracks and on this evening besides the aforementioned “Moon River,” and the Bond theme “You Only Live Twice,” he later played another Bond theme from the movie “Goldfinger” to the delight of the audience. His surfer sounding guitar resonating clear, concise lines as the memorable melodies hung in the air like wisps of smoke from Bond’s lethal Beretta.  The man wastes no motion in his playing. He is a quiet leader that directs in an unobtrusive, firm but nuanced manner. Morgan’s bass is clear and resonant, and Royston is a master of delicate shading.

The group continued with a walking blues, which might have been Frisell’s “Winslow Homer,” which the guitarist played in his own fractured way, with Morgan and Royston each being featured on solos. The group went onto a more ethereal sounding piece, a rambling waltz that was reminiscent of the late John Abercrombie’s work. Interestingly Frisell was a highlight performer at a memorial concert held for the recently deceased guitarist at Brooklyn’s Roulette on March 26, 2018.

No jazz concert, although that is too restrictive of a title for Frisell's work, would be complete without at least one Thelonious Monk song. Frisell and company didn’t disappoint, doing their own take on the quirky “Epistrophy.”  Here the group was at its most intuitive, perhaps because of the familiarity of the song, but it was marvelous to watch the exquisite interplay, especially between Frisell and Royston who operates without bombast. The drummer created a jungle beat that added surprising rhythmic interest and an inherent sense of swing. Morgan had one of his most creative solos of the evening.

The real surprise of the evening  was Frisell’s marvelous take on the John McLaughlin classic “Arjen’s Bag.” Later renamed “Follow Your Heart,” from Mclaughlin’s 1969 album Extrapolation; Frisell played this on his own album, Ghost Town, from 2000. To hear Frisell’s take on this guitar classic some nearly fifty years later was a true treat, bringing me back to when guitar virtuosity was my idea of true greatness. The guitarist’s introduction cleverly hinted at the song before revealing his true intent. Royston played timely rim shots as Morgan plucked away creating the atmospheric feel of the song authentically. Frisell employed some distortion and echo to his guitar before he went into the song’s distinctive lead in. I had never heard anyone do this “live” and for me it was just so good to hear it played again with such creative energy and inspired tremolo and electronic effects.

The band continued with one of Frisell’s own compositions, this one played with phaser effects titled “it Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago” which is on his last release Small Town with Thomas Morgan. It is a song that has a nostalgic feel to it, one that you might hear coming from a guitarist, albeit a very good one, sitting on his front porch musing away the late afternoon. Frisell plays the sing-song line like the repeating verses of a melancholic nursey rhyme. His footboard of electronic wizardry produces sounds that at times mimic a harpsichord or perhaps a mandolin. Then he takes it to another level, accelerating the pace, developing it into a rhythmic jig of sorts, playing in a style that to my ears had native American elements to it, before returning to the main theme. An impressive display of what seem to be on the spot improvisation on a theme.

Transitioning into the theme from “Goldfinger,” Frisell recreated that echoed, twangy guitar on the John Barry composition that Shirley Bassey made famous. It was pure fun listening to this master explore this movie classic.

Frisell disengaged from his guitar and took to the stage, introducing his bandmates in his own inimitably folksy way. In a brief humorous interlude, he warned the audience of the excesses of eating locally made Maple Bacon ice cream, which he said gave him the sniffles.

After unrelenting applause, the band returned for an encore with what Frisell called his theme song, the Americana standard, “Oh Shenandoah.”  This poignant song, a lament from one that longs for a return to home, was the perfect vehicle for Frisell to spin his magic. His guitar took on multiple tones each one more expressive than the last as Morgan and Royston played the cadenced march like a mournful dirge. But Frisell is an optimist, and he skillfully transitioned from the somber Shenandoah into the uplifting Burt Bacharach composition “What the World Needs Now,” ending the show on an encouragingly upbeat note. The audience was completely taken by this wonderful performance. As a fellow audience member stated to me, Frisell takes you to another place.

The City Winery should be applauded for continuing to up its game, providing a comfortable, inviting and sonically pleasing venue and booking world class musicians like Bill Frisell to perform here in Atlanta. Hopefully people will respond accordingly and continue to support this premier music venue.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Many Facets of Bassist Martin Wind on his latest: " Light Blue"

Martin Wind Light Blue  Laika Records
Martin Wind is a classically trained bassist with impeccable tone and a polished arco technique. Consequently he has become an  in-demand sideman and sought after musical collaborator. His credits include his duo work with  guitar great Philip Catherine and current collaborations with fellow German and long time friend, guitarist Ulf Meyer. He is a member of the trios of vocalists Dena DeRosa and Anne Hampton Callaway; a member of the trios of pianists Bill Cunliffe, Ted Rosenthal, and Bill Mays  and a member of drummer Matt Wilson’s Arts and  Crafts Group. Wind has been a first-call session musician whose work can be heard on several films and if that wasn't enough he is educator on the faculty of both NYU and Hofstra Universities.

With all that work as a sideman, educator and collaborator, its hard to imagine him finding the time to both compose and lead his own group, but that’s exactly what this industrious bassist has done. His last album was an ambitious undertaking that re-imagined the work of Bill Evans. Titled Bring Out the Stars, the album featured Wind’s own quartet in concert with the Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana and was a joyous feast of sound.

On Wind’s latest release LightBlue, the bassist is joined by a stellar cast musicians including the clarinetist Anat Cohen, the multi-reed artist Scott Robinson, the trumpeter Ingrid Jensen,  the pianists Bill Cunliffe and Gary Versace, the vocalist Maucha Adnet and the drummers Matt Wilson and Duduka Fonseca. 

LightBlue is a revealing look into the versatility of this accomplished bassist and in the compositional inventiveness department it is anything but light. We are treated to ten original Wind compositions that show just how far he has come since his days of  studying composition and performance with such luminaries as Mike Richmond, Jim McNeely, Kenny Werner and Mike Holober.

The record is divided into two groups, the first half of the album, the more adventurous and daring of the two, utilizes keyboard artist Gary Versace, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, Scott Robinson on tenor, alto, taragota (A Hungarian instrument similar to a soprano saxophone but made of wood)  and bass saxophones, and drummer Matt Wilson, with clarinetist Cohen playing on just one cut. The second half of the album features Wind's more  Brazilian influenced, lyrical side. This lineup included clarinetist Cohen, Robinson on tenor, alto, bass saxophone and clarinet, pianist Bill Cunliffe, drummer Duduka Fonseca and the vocalist Maucha Adnet. Each side has its own distinct merits. 

The range of diversity in these compositions is quite impressive. Whether it be the opening bars of “While I’m Still Here,” with Versace’s wonderful cinematic sounding organ, or the raucous but jubilant “Power Chords,” with Wind’s rumbling bowing and Robinson’s bellowing bass saxophone solo creating a driving, almost metal-inspired sound, there is something here for almost anyone.

On his composition  “Rose,” the delightfully evocative taragota work of Scott Robinson is otherworldly and when played together with Jensen’s clarion trumpet, the group attains an admirable symbiosis.  Wind’s booming bass keeps the metronomic time whilevVersace dances intuitively between piano and organ. The music just cries out to be listened to, absorbed and enjoyed.

“Ten Minute Song” is a jaunty swinger that features the versatile Robinson’s wonderful bass saxophone work over Wilson’s shuffling brush strokes and Wind’s walking bass lines. A jabbing piano solo by Versace leads to a wispy Jensen trumpet solo and a reply by Cohen’s buoyant clarinet. Wilson offers his own playful solo before the group returns to a unified conclusion.

The often cold and dreary month “February” is represented here by a brooding ballad. Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen makes the most of the mood with a moving solo. Wind’s pizzicato intonation is remarkably precise and projects beautifully on his emotional solo. Versace’s tinkling piano musings  at the coda adds to the perfect ending.

Side two transitions into a more lyrical theme with the folk-inspired, “Genius and A Saint." Here the music features some of the best woodwind interplay I’ve heard in ages. The ubiquitous Cohen is a marvel on her instrument, but Robinson is an underappreciated master of the clarinet and he finds his harmonic groove in a graceful exchange with Cohen that can only be described as pure magic.

Brazilian vocalist Maucha Adnet lends her bossa authenticity to sing Wind’s breezy “Seven Steps to Rio.” Robinson creates a marvelous Getz-ian tenor sound clearly in the spirit of the master’s work with Jobim before putting his own spin on his solo. Cohen’s clarinet rises to new heights as Fonseca’s animated drums add some percussive accents to this catchy tune.

“A Sad Story” finds Wind’s emotive arco-playing merging with Cohens’s soulful clarinet opening this aching lament. Adnet’s voice is charged with the sorrow and regret that the lyrics portray.

“De Norte A Sul” (From North to South) finds Wind and Fonseca laying down a samba inspired beat and features darting solos by Cohen, a soulful vocal by Adnet and an inspired solo by pianist Bill Cunliffe.

Wind rediscovered this closing melody, “Longing,” while researching material for this album. Cohen’s signature woody sound floats over the changes in graceful communion with the backing rhythm. Wind’s bass is again featured on a pizzicato solo that is accompanied by Fonseca’s ever so light touch on his cymbal and by Cunliffe’s thoughtful chording. Adnet’s vocal stylings are splendid.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Renee Rosnes "Beloved of the Sky"

Renee Rosnes Beloved of the Sky Smoke SSR-1801

The stark cover art on pianist Renee (pronounced Ree Nee) Rosnes latest album Beloved of the Sky features a tall, spindly, yet singularly defiant pine standing in a field of stumps; remnants of its clear-cut brethren. The painting is titled Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky and was painted by Northwest Canadian artist named Emily Carr back in 1935 when the artist was sixty-five years old; some say at the peak of her creative powers.

The painting was the source of inspiration for another Pacific Northwest born and raised Canadian, the pianist Renee Rosnes, who at fifty-six is showing signs of entering her own peak of creative powers as an impressive instrumentalist, a formidable composer and a leader in her own right. She is joined by a powerhouse group of like-minded innovators including scarily talented multi-reed artist Chris Potter, the sublime vibraphonist Steve Nelson, stalwart bassist Peter Washington and driving drummer Lenny White.

I first heard Rosnes on a great JJ Johnson album titled Heroes from 1998 where her playing just blew me away. I’ve been a fan ever since. In a year where we  are finally celebrating the talented women in jazz, Rosnes is a clear leading lady in this genre.

Renee Rosnes (Photo credit unknown)
If you have any doubt about the creative forces bubbling out of this woman just listen to the driving opener titled “Elephant Dust,” a reference to an allergic reaction to petting a circus elephant.  The music is a supercharged composition that is utterly original, pinning you to your seat from the very start. Many songs have a powerful drive, but few challenge conventions so effectively with the marvelous use of fractured, staccato changes that Rosnes employs and which the group navigates with graceful aplomb. The irrepressible Potter’s frenetic lead tenor intertwining brilliantly with Rosnes piano and Nelson’s buoyant vibes as Washington and White lay down a roiling rumble. Rosnes can play with the best of them, her splendid solo just a sample of this woman’s chops. This song is a joy and one can just imagine how much fun the musicians had laying this breathless track down.

“Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky” is the most representative composition of Rosnes thoughtful rumination on the subject matter of Carr’s cover painting. Potter’s lilting soprano rises above Rosnes' resonating piano lines like the lone pine that stands in lonely defiance of its blighted surroundings. There is a somber grace here that has elements of classical music somehow woven with nativist underpinnings. Washington’s bass often providing a booming backdrop in concert with Rosnes piano.  When the pianist offers a brief solo it is a gorgeous interlude that bespeaks of the great natural beauty that is being so recklessly dismissed in the name of progress. Potters soprano solo soars on gossamer wings and Nelson’s tubular sound is reverential. An aural feast.

The album is filled with interesting music, often thematically connected by a sense of flow. “Mirror Image” was originally commissioned for the SF Jazz Collective of which Rosnes is a charter member. The song was composed as a feature for legendary vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and here features Steve Nelson and Chris Potter. Rosnes graceful composition is a series of shimmering reflections that ascend and descend with a fluidity that create the underpinning for the soloists to expand upon. Potter is particularly expansive on his tenor.

While recording this album, Rosnes must have been channeling the late Bobby Hutcherson, who she played with for more than twenty years. She takes a particularly reflective solo on the vibraphonist's delightful composition “Rosie.” Potter never seems to be short on ideas and once again his biting tenor steals the show, while Nelson’s reserved ringing tubes offer a warm counterpoint.

On Rosnes jet-fueled “Black Holes” we are treated to the rhythmic stylings of this powerful pianist. Drummer White is particularly potent here, but it is the dazzling interplay between Rosnes and Potter that is the highlight. Washington lays down some powerful bottom and White is propulsive while Rosnes ostinato prods an energetic exchange with Potter’s hair-raising tenor, bringing the music to new heights and a powerful coda.

The contemplative Rosnes composition “The Flame and the Lotus”  features the melody line played in unison by Potter’s tenor and Nelson’s vibes, as White plays his toms in a cadenced march. After a brief Nelson solo, Rosnes takes a solo that gives us a taste of her bluesy side. Potter gives another rousing solo before the group returns back to the original melody line.

“Rhythm of the River” is another Rosnes composition that has a distinctive samba pulse. The group sounding to me like early Return to Forever and Potter’s flute sounding eerily like the great Joe Farrell’s at times. 

Alec Wilder’s “The Winter of My Discontent” is a ballad that Rosnes plays with great sensitivity. The pianist first heard this brooding melody as a teenager sung by the vocalist Helen Merrill and accompanied by the pianist Dick Katz.  Potter takes a gorgeously plaintive solo and Peter Washington’s bass gets to the core of the emotional poignancy of this song with a masterful pizzicato solo.

The closer is a pure swinger, "Let the Rumpus Start," whose pulse is given its swagger by this fabulous rhythm section of Washington and White. Rosnes is remarkably adept at fitting in some bubbling lines on her piano while the crew percolate behind her. Potter is no stranger to letting loose in front of a swinging section and Washington’s facile bass is given a chance to strut his stuff. The song ends with White taking turns at different rhythmic variations.

Renee Rosnes’ Belovedof the Sky, which will be released on Smoke Records on April 6th,  is simply a superlative session that stimulates the senses on so many levels and provokes serious and rewarding listening for those willing to take the time.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

"Anat Cohen & Fred Hersch Live In Healdsburg": Simply Sublime

Anat Cohen & Fred Hersch Live in  Healdsburg  Anzic Records ANZ 0061

The clarinet is an instrument that harkens back to the early days of Dixieland, later becoming a prominent vehicle of expression in the swing era. Names like Barney Bigard, Sidney Bechet, Artie Shaw, Buddy DeFranco, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Bob Wilber and the king of swing Benny Goodman all brought the clarinet to the forefront of jazz in their respective eras. The instrument saw a resurgence in the hands of innovators like Jimmy Giuffre, Eric Dolphy, Ken Peplowski and Eddie Daniels in later years. These artists all have one thing in common, they are all men.

Today the preeminent practitioner of this wooden instrument is a petite Israeli woman named Anat Cohen. Not only has Cohen almost single-handedly resurrected an interest in this marvelously expressive instrument, she has shown that in the right hands the clarinet can be both modern and versatile. With Cohen the clarinet can more than hold its own as a dominant voice on the present-day jazz bandstand.  Her remarkable virtuosity and creativity have been duly recognized with her two recent Grammy nominations.

The pianist Fred Hersch has been long considered one of the most sensitive of players in jazz. He is said to play with a great romanticism, employing a superb touch. His deep immersion into what he is playing is often manifested by his expressive physical movements while playing, showing the depth of his  emotional connection to the music. The now sixty-two-year-old Hersch has a storied history, having shared the stage with icons like Art Farmer, Charlie Haden, Joe Henderson and Toots Thielemans to name just a few. He has had working trios under his own name since 1985 and has been nominated twelve times for a  Grammy award for his work.

Fred Hersch and Anat Cohen (photo credit unknown)
It is a rare treat when you get a chance to hear two such accomplished and nuanced musicians work together in a live setting. Hersch is no stranger to the duet format. In 1997 he recorded The Duo Album which featured a series of duets with Jim Hall, Kenny Barron, Lee Konitz, Tom Harrell, Gary Burton, Tommy Flanagan, Joe Lovano, Dianna Krall and Janis Siegel. But it is one thing to perform a single song as a duet and a whole different endeavor to record an entire album with another artist and no supporting rhythm section. The communication has got to be flawless and the intuition nearly telepathic. With Anat Cohen and Fred Hersch live in Healdsburg, which was released March 9, 2018 on Anzic Records, the two seemed to have accomplished this feat in spades.

The album was superbly recorded by Steve Moon at the Raven Performing Arts Theater in Healdsburg, CA on June 11, 2016. The music is simply sublime. The compositions covered included Hersch’s “A Lark,” “ Child’s Song,” and “Lee’s Dream,” Cohen’s “The Purple Piece,” and four classics,  Strayhorn’s “Isfahan,” Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” Waller’s “ “Jitterbug Waltz,” and Jimmy Rowles “The Peacocks.” The chemistry these two have is just combustible in a very positive way. Hersch is generally the lead off batter in this ball game with Cohen adding her considerable technique and aplomb in exquisite counterpoint.

On the opener “A Lark,” Hersch creates a, crystalline intro before Cohen sails onto the scene like the songbird in flight floating on thermals. The two have more than a conversation, their instruments embrace like two dancers in perfect unison; two bodies merging into one, no longer separated by space or time. The effect is quite moving, never a note out of place, never a swerve or misstep.

The two repeat this empathetic embrace throughout the program, dancing, swirling, playfully challenging each other, interchanging ideas in the moment, using the melodies of the songs as mere armatures upon which to spin magical interludes, to create unexpected conversations. Hersch’s piano is delicate, melodic and gorgeous.  Cohen’s clarinet is mellow, fluttering and warm-toned with moments of burnished luster. The audience is quietly enraptured, reverential to the art, it’s presence only made aware by a spontaneous eruption of applause at the end of each selection.

My favorite selections include the aforementioned “A Lark,” Cohen’s movingly played “The Purple Piece,” a jaunty rendition of Strayhorn’s “Isfahan” which Cohen plays with marvelous tonal purity and a lingering vibrato.

I’m particularly fond of Jimmy Rowles” The Peacocks” which maybe the tour de force of expression on this album. The two find the haunting song a wellspring of inspiration. Hersch with his delicately dancing notes and magically light touch and Cohen with her resonantly long lingering lines.  She shows her prodigious technique slurring with exquisite precision, hanging notes in the dense air like  deliciously ripened grapes off a vine. She exploits the hollow wooden timbre of her instrument to great effect.  The mood these two set is like walking you through an enchanted forest.

Fats Waller “Jitterbug Waltz” is delightfully playful. Hersch and Cohen obviously enjoy themselves reveling in the endless possibilities this spirited song can elicit. The two tease you with a little minuet of notes finding inventive ways to reimagine the Waller melody.

The program ends with a slow moody rendering of Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” with Cohen showing her most sensitive side, taking on the role that Barney Bigard invented with Ellington.

With a musical repertoire that should please anyone, Anat Cohen and Fred Hersch Live in Healdsburg is a musical masterpiece that will be enjoyed for the ages.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Alexis Cole's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To"

Alexis Cole's You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To Venus VHCD-1046

Full disclosure, I have been following the singer Alexis Cole for some time now. I first heard her when I lived back in the metro New York are and I caught her performing in a local Westchester venue after hearing her sing on a fabulous album I Carry Your Heart : Alexis Cole Sings the Music of Pepper Adams from 2012. The friends that I brought along at the time were so taken by her beguiling voice and charming, unassuming stage manner that they became instant fans and snapped up all of her recordings. At the same time they all wondered how such a fabulous singer had been running so low under the radar. I explained that Cole was serving her country as a member of the armed services for a stretch of six years, where she nonetheless continued to sing, fronting with the Army big band up at West Point. 

She was just getting her professional career started after attending undergraduate studies at William Patterson College and later at Queen’s College for graduate studies. I continued to follow her and saw her perform with the pianist Pete Malinverni at his Jazz Vespers series at the Pound Ridge Community Church, where he is musical director. She continued to impress me with her easy, unforced delivery and vocal acumen. I just loved her voice. By this time, she was snapped up by SUNY Purchase College as an instructor. 

Later that year, I was curating a jazz series for the Stamford Center for the Performing Arts in Stamford CT. I wanted her to be the lead off act for a new jazz series that we were piloting and she enthusiastically obliged bringing with her a fabulous group of musicians that included the guitarist Jack Wilkins, the bassist Andy McKee and the drummer Mike Clark. Predictably she was a big hit.

When I moved to the Atlanta area we stayed in touch via email and I was pleased when she asked me if I would write the liner notes for a Chesky Records project she was doing covering Paul Simon tunes. The album, which was titled Dazzling Blue from 2016, was a fine mix of Simon’s poetic music performed in a bare, roots-based style with Cole’s haunting vocals, Mark Peterson’s bass and Marvin Sewell’s guitar on most of the tracks. Cole was finally beginning to be noticed as the record climbed to 24 on the Billboard jazz charts.

The music on Cole’s latest album, You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To, was recorded back in 2010 at Avatar Studios in New York. Cole’s Japanese label, Venus, released the album in Japan in 2011. It was only available as an import before this year when the album was printed and released in the US. Lucky for us that the Japanese jazz fans didn't just keep this one to themselves, as this is a swinging session with Alexis in excellent form and her band offering inspired support behind her. 

The group is made up of many of the musicians that regularly perform at the upper West Side of Manhattan super club SMOKE. They include tenor star Eric Alexander, versatile trumpeter Jim Rotundi, masterful trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and ubiquitous drummer Joe Farnsworth. 

Alexis has one of those lilting voices that seems to float in the air. Her delivery is so effortless, so natural, so fluid as to bespeak of some innate talent that requires no sweat equity; but be assured she has honed her craft with many hours of diligent study and assiduous practice. She is s a serious student of the music and like many great singers she has trained herself to become an effective storyteller.

Alexis Cole

While in the past Cole has taken some material from more modern sources, on this one she has mined the reliable Great American Songbook.  Composers like Victor Young, Michel LeGrand, Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer, Julie Styne, Jerome Kern and of course Cole Porter have their work wonderfully represented by this talented songstress.

My favorite selections include the lead off Victor Young/Jay Livingston composition “Golden Earrings" where Ms. Cole starts out with a short, tasteful scat before introducing the lyrics out front of the three-horn section of Davis, Alexander and Rotundi and the swinging rhythm section of Hazeltine, Webber and Farnsworth. Rotundi’s muted trumpet meshes beautifully with Cole’s melodious voice, before Davis and then Alexander take turns soloing on this swinging piece. Webber’s big round bass leads the way as Farnsworth’s traps keep the time. Just listen to the ease with which Cole’s voice negotiates the lyrics through the changes, impressive.

The Michel Legrand composition, “I Will Wait For You,” is the perfect vehicle to showcase this lady’s wonderful instrument. After a scatted lead accompanied by a walking bass lead in that sets the tone, Cole starts off with the iconic lyrics. She has an astute sense of timing and her inflections are always subtle with no vocal theatrics. Alexander offers a sublime harmonizing tenor solo before the group plays in tight section style behind her; Cole’s years of experience playing in front of the Army Band has obviously paid dividends.

The highlight of Mancini and Mercers’ “Moon River” is a splendid tenor solo by the powerful Eric Alexander.

Another more obscure Young/Livingston composition “Delilah” finds Cole at her most expressive. Her introduction to this theatrical version of Biblically inspired Middle Eastern music is emblematic of her storytelling acumen. Her voice gently sways into the swing of the music as the horn section plays the evocative Alexander arrangement. Rotundi’s open bell trumpet solo is just magic. Farnsworth’s drum solo is punctuated with a synchronous chorus of Cole’s voice and the stellar horn section. Cole is simply hypnotic. Like a snake charmer’s Punghi transfixes a deadly Cobra into docility, Cole’s sultry vocal treatment captivates you like the Biblical Delilah subjugated the mighty Samson. The soporific beat adds to the enchanting effect.

“Alone Together” is played as a quick tempo swinger with some wonderful solo work by Davis. Rotundi, whose trumpet work on this album raises the entire program, makes a brilliantly succinct statement. Bassist John Webber's beat is always strong and omnipresent.

The poignant “You’ve Changed” is played like a slow ballad with Cole and company wrenching out all the emotion and pathos that this classic song of lament can muster. Listen to Rotundi’s solo on this and marvel at the man’s ability to play precisely what is needed and then listen to Cole’s crystalline voice at the coda. Just beautiful.

Other songs on the album include “Cry Me a River,” “A Beautiful Friendship,” “All the Things You Are,” “So in Love,” and the title song of the album “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.”

For those of you who crave to hear familiar standards played with modern, creative arrangements and featuring a fabulous singer backed by a great band, then look no further than Alexis Cole’s You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To. Believe me this is an album you’ll be glad to come home to.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Guitarist Robben Ford plays the Blues on "Made to Last"

Robben Ford's Made to Last Sweetwater Studios

When your in the right mood, there is nothing like listening to some Blues. The Blues has been recorded for nearly one hundred years and although it often relies on simple three chord progressions it can still powerfully stir the soul and get the blood temperature rising. 

Guitarist Robben Ford has been plying his trade for over fifty years. Although the saxophone was his first instrument, he picked up the guitar at the age of fourteen and never looked back. Ford is one of those rare guitarist that can’t be pigeon-holed by genre. He seems equally comfortable in the worlds of rock, jazz and blues. The five-time Grammy nominated musician is now  sixty-six year old and has collaborated and played with a who’s who of musicians in his career including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie. Charlie Haden, Larry Carlton, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, George Harrison and Kiss to name just a few.

Robben Ford (photo credit unknown)
He joined the electric jazz world of Miles Davis in 1986 at the Montreux Jazz Festival and was enlisted into saxophonist Tom Scott’s fusion band the LA Express in the nineteen seventies. His collaboration with the progressive crossover group The Yellowjackets started in the late seventies and he recorded two albums with them in 1981 and 1983. Despite his ability to traverse the different genres with great facility it is the Blues that seem to be closest to his heart. His playing is said to be strongly influenced by the guitarist Mike Bloomfield, but Ford has matured developing his own signature style. He started his career playing for Bluesman Charlie Musselwhite back in 1969 at the age of eighteen and recorded a live album with Blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon sometime later.

Fast forward to 2018 and on April 6th the guitarist/vocalist will release his latest Blues recording Made to Last. Ford is joined by the bassist Brad Allen, the drummer Wes Little, the rhythm guitarist Casey Wasner and Flecktones and Dave Mathews Band alumni, the versatile multi-reed artist Jeff Coffin.

From the opening power chords on Lightnin’ Hopkins “Good Times” Ford brings his tasty guitar and plaintive voice to vacuum you up into his orbit. The funky, synthesized saxophone of Coffin takes a few nasty licks of his own sounding like a chorus of horns, before Ford wails with his pungent, flowing guitar lines. The behind the beat drums of Little and the pulsing bass of Allen drive the song forward.

On the Willie Dixon classic “Crazy for My Baby” Ford’s voice leads the way as the rhythm section plays a rambling shuffle. Coffin’s raspy saxophone solo leads off before Ford plays a synthesized guitar solo, using the POG by Electro-Harmonix to create a double octave effect that has a unsettling feel to it, creating three notes at once.

Ford’s “Somebody’s Fool” is propelled by Wasner’s driving rhythm guitar, as Ford and Coffin take turns soloing. Ford’s guitar takes on a distinctively Southern rock tone as he pierces the changes with distinctive free flowing single note lines that perfectly punctuate the song. Coffin’s overdubbed saxophone almost sounds like a recreation of the Memphis Horns section.

On Lightnin’ Hopkins “Automobile Blues” we get the real Blues side of Ford. Again Coffin creates a backing horn section accompaniment that sounds as if three guys are playing it. Ford for his part is comfortably in his element on this slow cooker. His intonation is precise and liquid, and the rhythm section is firmly in the pocket. Coffin and Ford trade licks in a call and response that quivers with excitement. This one simmers.

The final song of this short but sweet cd is titled another Ford composition titled “the Champion” and here Ford switches to the trio of Dave Martin on bass and Nick D’Virgilio on drums. This is power trio stuff that harkens back to early Cream and yet it reminds a bit of the a late great  Roy Buchanan in its effectively raw simplicity. It's all Ford and his Gibson Les Paul guitar, with no vocals, just a straight ahead free-wheeling guitar jaunt.  Freed of the responsibility of singing, Ford’s lines seem even more unleashed and spontaneous than normal. Quite tasty.

For those who love great Blues guitar, Robben Ford’s Made to Last is no frills delight.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Julian Lage and Trio Debut His Latest Album "Modern Lore" at East Atlanta's The Earl

Julian Lage's Modern Lore Mack Avenue Records MAC 1131
On Tuesday March 1, 2018 at an East Atlanta club called The Earl, the guitarist Julian Lage brought his touring band of Jorge Roeder on bass and Eric Doob on drums in support of his latest release Modern Lore which was released on Mack Avenue Records on February 2, 2018.

The Earl has a neighborhood-like bar front room and a rear room that can reportedly accommodate up to two hundred and fifty standing patrons. It has a distinctively punk, rock and roll, maybe even shit-kicking country vibe. Lage apparently played there previously and liked the vibe so he returns this time with his trio.

Lage has made his reputation as a serious crossover guitarist who can play comfortably in many genres. From his work with progressive guitarists like Nels Cline of Wilco fame-they did an interesting album titled Room from 2013- or his contemporary folk/bluegrass music with singer/guitarist Chris Eldridge of the band Punch Brothers; or his jazz duo work with the pianist Fred Hersch; or his more “out” work with the avant-gardist John Zorn;  or his own lyrical guitar work on albums like Gladwell, World’s Fair and Arclight. He has found a niche in a zone that straddles country, folk, rock, jazz, bluegrass and American roots music all mixed up in his own neo-classical style. He joins a pantheon of artists that have followed similar paths, artists like Bela Fleck, David Grisman, Alison Krauss, Chris Thile and perhaps more closely, fellow guitarists Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. Like these other great musicians, he has prodigious technique and an inherent lyricism.

I introduced myself to the guitarist backstage before the show and he was extremely warm and engaging without a hint of pretension or self-importance. That’s quite impressive for a musician who has been lauded from an early age as a wunderkind.  At eight years old he was the subject of an Oscar nominated documentary Jules at Eight. By the age of nine he was playing live on stage with the likes of Carlos Santana trading licks on the acid rock “Maggot Brain.”  He was introduced to the world on record in 1999 at the age of eleven in a duo with mandolin virtuoso David Grisman on the song “Old Souls.”

The humble, now seasoned, thirty-year-old guitarist has always found inspiration from many different sources. On Modern Lore he seems to be mining his rock and country roots, lacing it with his filigreed guitar work and occasionally a smidgen of folksy twang to produce a very enjoyable suite of music.

On the band’s opener, which I believe was “Activate” from his album Arclight, Lage struck a distinctively rock posture on his Telecaster that warmed up the mostly twenty-something crowd. On the second selection, “Atlantic Limited,” Jorge Roeder led off the sauntering tune with his loping bass line (played on the album by Scott Colley). Lage’s guitar turned to a fractious power chord opening for “Roger the Dodger.” Lage’s ability to weave complex lines and to dazzle the audience with his fretboard facility was fully on display. He is an ebullient player, bouncing on the toes of his feet, raising his head skyward while he is playing in blissful community with his bandmates. You can just feel the energy surging through this guy’s body when he is playing. Doob, who replaces veteran drummer Kenny Wollesen from the album, was especially powerful with his roiling drum work as Lage and Roeder powered on.

Julian Lage
After a brief announcement naming the members of his group, Lage and company took off on the frenetic “Persian Rug,” a country cooker that is credited to Charlie Daniels and Gus Kahn and that Lage first recorded on his 2016 album Arclight. The amazing facility that this man has was quite impressive to see in person as his fingers flew across the fretboard like fluttering fireflies. The audience stood in awe and respect and gave the band a rousing ovation.

The next selection was the roots- based, Spike Hughes tune “Nocturne” also from Lage’s fine Arclight. Lage and group proved that they could work the dynamics of a song to perfection, building crescendos of sound to erupting apexes before abruptly changing direction with a purposeful time change or a hushed interlude.

The Julian Lage Trio w Jorge Roeder (b) and Eric Doob (dr)
Lage went right into an extended version of his wistful composition “40’s” from his solo album World’s Fair released in 2015. The song featured a powerful and lengthy probing bass solo by Roeder and an exploratory solo by Lage that went way outside the box before returning to the main theme of the song.  Toward the end of the song the three musicians created a mélange of free improvisations that somehow worked, tying it all together with an explosive Doob solo at the coda.

The group continued with “Splendor Riot” from the new album. Lage’s ability to play repeated lines in rapid succession flawlessly and his penchant for rapidly and repeatedly sliding into and out of notes is emblematic of his individualistic style. He played what appeared to be an old Fender Telecaster exclusively for this gig and his tone was often set in treble mode producing a fair amount of twang that he used to great effect.

“Whatever You Say, Henry,” again from the new album, featured Jorge Roeder on his acoustic bass, bending and plucking notes pizzicato as Lage strummed chords softly behind and a stick-less Doob used his bare hands to create a soft back beat. When Lage did take a solo, it had a country music feel until he started to play some quick lines that were from another world. At one point he strummed his guitar much like a banjo creating an unusual effect.

The evening continued with the experimental free sounding “Earth Science,” also from the new album. The three musicians trading ideas in a seemingly unbridled exchange of on the spot improvisational stream of consciousness.

After a lengthy abstract solo by Lage, he changed the mood entirely by introducing the familiar lyrical sounds of Sammy Fain’s classic “I’ll Be Seeing You.”  If there was any thought that Lage has left his jazz guitar tradition behind, then this left the purists satiated. It’s quite moving to listen to this master take a familiar song like this and embellish it in his own inimitable way. The only negative, Doob’s drums could have been a bit more sedate for my liking.

The finale was the lead off song from the new album and is titled “The Ramble.”

It was a near capacity crowd of approximately two hundred people, mostly young and receptive to Lage’s unique, genre-less style, a pastiche of multiple influences that somehow just works.  He is an engaging artist of immense talent and one who seems to be able to expand the audience for those who are curious and open minded about contemporary extemporaneously improvised music. He is an artist we all should continue to watch closely.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Drummer Adam Nussbaum's "The Lead Belly Project"

Adam Nussbaum's The Leadbelly Project Sunnyside Records SSC 1500

The drummer Adam Nussbaum is one of those journeyman percussionists whose grounded beat can be heard on over one hundred-seventy recordings. He has worked with the likes of John Abercrombie, Michael and Randy Brecker, Jerry Bergonzi, Steve Swallow and Carla Bley to name just a few.  I have always found his work to be interesting, if slightly under the radar, and was particularly impressed with his work in his band  BANN with saxophonist Seamus Blake, bassist Jay Anderson and guitarist Oz Noy from back in 2011.

As a youngster growing up in Norwalk. CT, Nussbaum became exposed to the music of the folk/blues artist Huddie William Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, from his parents record collection.  The music inspired young Nussbaum but as he says “…he listened, loved and forgot those old recordings.” It was a long time coming, but the drummer decided to assemble a group of like-minded musicians and dedicate a record to this legendary folk/blues artist, one who left such a lasting impression on him during his formative years. The Leadbelly Project is a project that honors the music of Americana as represented by the music of Ledbetter. There is a deeply authentic feeling that this music elicits and it is only enhanced by the musicianship and fervor that these four artists bring to this endeavor.

Adam Nussbaum
Recorded in Brooklyn in March of 2017, Nussbaum garnered the services of two guitarists, Steve Cardenas and  Nate Radley, and one saxophonist, Ohad Talmor. Led by Nussbaum’s agile drums, these guys re-invigorate the simple but powerfully moving blues/gospel based-folk music of Lead Belly. They inject their own sensibilities into the repertoire, contemporizing it and re-introducing this wonderful music to a whole new generation of listeners.

The album features seven songs composed by Ledbetter, two traditional songs “Green Corn” and “Good Night Irene” and two Nussbaum Originals “Insight, Enlight” and “Sure Would Baby.”
Just sit back and listen to these guys interact. It is a communal love fest for this fiercely original, American roots music and if you listen intently you will be transported to a simpler time.  

The dual voices of Radley and Cardenas seamlessly mesh through each other’s lines without ever clashing. Saxophonist Talmor plays with admirable restraint, favoring a dedication to tone and feeling over speed. Nussbaum is clearly the leader here, but not in an overtly, out-front sort of way. The veteran drummer chooses the tempos and sets the tone, building an armature upon which his proteges can further enhance. He leaves the group plenty of room to develop their own ideas and pushes and prods as the master rhythm maker he is.

From the opening saxophone refrain of Talmor on “Old Riley” you can hear this album is about imparting a “down home” feeling. The two guitarists dance around each other in complementary fashion as the drummer adds  splashes of color before the group gets into a cadenced march following Nussbaum’s brushed traps.

On “Green Corn” the musicians carry on a delicate conversation where each respond to the other’s brief statement. They eventually create a circular whirlwind of notes, the two guitarists almost indistinguishable as they play off  each other’s ideas, with Talmor and Nussbaum carry the melody to a tidy coda.

The slow sauntering “Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night) creates room for Cardenas and Radley to create a Frisellian atmosphere drenched in picked and strummed twang over a 5/4 beat.

There is head-bopping authenticity of the group’s “Bottle Up and Go” that makes it a real treat. Listen to Nussbaum’s dancing calliope of sounds as he works his kit to great effect. Talmor’s saxophone lazily lopes along in perfect harmony with the rest of the band. The guitar work is so integrated into the music that it’s hard for me to distinguish who is playing what here, but no matter it all sounds fluid and right.

The album continues with other Lead Belly classics like the rousing “Black Betty,” a funky sort of vamp with a nice solo by Cardenas;  the short, angularly played “Grey Goose” which has a sweet drum intro by Nussbaum, and the gospel-like “Bring Me A Little Water, Sylvie” which features some country-inspired guitar work  and some dreamy saxophone by Talmor.  The shaking “You Can’t Lose Me Cholly” is a joyful tune with Nussbaum adding a lot of color to the rambling song.

“Insight, Enlight” is a gentle gem. It starts with a light, finger-picked guitar intro that hangs in the air like the sound of a wind chime in a gentle breeze. Nussbaum’s shimmering cymbal work and the hauntingly tenor of Talmor stating the repeating melody line further enhance the solemnity of this beautiful miniature.

The easy shuffling of Nussbaum’s “Sure Would Baby," is a song Adam wrote for his wife and is just plain fun to listen to. You can hear the group take this one and make it their own.

The set closes with the classic “Good Night Irene.” Nussbaum opens with a tom-based drum intro that leads into the melody stated simply by Talmor’s tenor as the two guitarists weave their lines into a filigreed pattern.