Friday, December 27, 2019

The Beguiling Sound of Rozina Pátkai : Taladim

Rozina Patkai Taladim (self-produced)
There is a Hungarian vocalist, Rozina Patkai, that I recently listened to for the first time on her latest release Taladimand I must admit that I found her voice gentle and beguiling. Patkai has been an educator and you can see her fascination with moving poetry on this recording.

Patkai is supported by a creative and talented group that includes tenor and soprano artist Janos Aved, who also plays piano; acoustic guitarist Istan Toth Jr.; cellist Ditta Rohmann; Andras Des, who provides acoustic and electronic percussion and her husband Marton Fenyvesi, who plays synth bass and creatively arranges the music.

The rhythms employed are an amalgam of progressive styles that include acoustic folk music, electronic accents, avant-garde chamber music and at times is strongly influenced by a lilting Brazilian Bossa style and don't forget the Hungarian folk music tradition.

Toth's delicate guitar, the airy McCandless-inspired soprano of Aved, an achingly moving cello work by Rohmann, and the deft rhythmic use of percussion and electronic augmentation by Des and Fenyvesi create clever and modern music that incorporates literary poetry. The music comes alive with Patkai's voice and delivery. The album has thirteen songs, poems that include Patakai, Fenyvesi's and other band mates musical transformations. Poets that offer inspiration for this music include T.S. Eliot, William Blake, Jane Tyson Clement, Gyula Juhasz, Fernando Pessoa. Federico Gracia Lorca and Caetano Veloso.

Rozina Patkai (photo credit-unknown)
Some of the highlights that capture my attention include Lorelei, Sea Song, Poe-Me As Maos Nos Ombros and the delightful Joao Donato's A Ra. The music, at times,  creates a Middle Eastern-like drone that can be mesmerizing. Patkai's voice, especially on a beautiful ballad like Juhasz's Szerelem, which she sings in Hungarian, is so movingly sung that it can be a rapturous experience.

For anyone looking for a new experience in cross-genre music that is sure to move, seize you and take you prisoner than Rozina Patkai's Taladim will not disappoint.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Notes on Jazz Best of Jazz 2019

The year is almost over and Notes on Jazz has traditionally reflected on the plethora of jazz that we have been privileged to listen to, and in most cases enjoyed, from so many talented musicians. Many have been expanding the genre, pushing the envelope, being adventurous. Others have simply honed their practice, refined their focus, played with diverse bandmates to challenge and trailblazed their own paths, often to our delight. Every year there is always something spectacular to enjoy and this year's crop of splendid music was no different.

My choices are my own personal preferences. If I have somehow left out one of your favorite artists, or missed fantastic artists whose work was missed by my list, that's just the way the chips fall.  Chances are I just never got the opportunity to listen to every deserving musician's work that was released this year.

My selections for this year are listed in no particular order below- taste is always a subjective thing-I have included a video of the music so you can decide what suits your own taste. I have included three main categories: Best Jazz Vocal Album, Best Latin Jazz Album, Best Jazz Albums, Best Reissue or Historical Jazz Albums and Thirty other really great jazz albums that deserve to be mentioned.

One last request, in the spirit of this giving season, all these musicians and the many not here listed, contribute a great deal of love and enjoyment to the listening world. We are all very fortunate to have such a talented, vibrant and creative art form in this country. It is a genre that is always reinventing the music and it is magical. If we all would like to see this music continue healthily, we all have to support these artists by listening, purchasing their music and attending their performances. Without our financial support, a musician's life is often financially impossible to sustain without great difficulty. Let's all do our part to support the arts so they can continue to enrich our lives.

I have linked each of the albums listed to locations where these worthwhile albums can be purchased or streamed.

Happy holidays!

My Choice for Best Jazz Vocal Album 2019 : 
Sara Gazarek: Thirsty Ghost ( Self Produced)

My Choice for Best Latin Jazz Album 2019:

Miguel Zenon: Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera ( Miel Music)

My Choices for Best Jazz Albums for 2019 (listed in no particular order)

Bob Sheppard:  The Fine Line (Challenge Records) 

Randy Brecker and the NDR Big Band: Rocks  (Jazz Line Distribution)

Mike Holober and the Gotham Big Band: Hiding Out (Zoho Music)

Scott Robinson: Tenormore 
(Arbors Records)

Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan: Epistrophy ( Live at the Village Vanguard 2016) 

The Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul  
(Okeh/Sony Masterworks)

Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain Chris Potter: Good Hope (Edition Records)

Ethan Iverson Quartet with Tom Harrell: Common Practice  (ECM)

Ahmad Jamal: Ballades (Jazz Village/Jazzbook Records) 

Amina Figarova: Road to the Sun 
(BA Records)

My Three Top Choices for Best of Jazz Reissues or Historical Issues in 2019: 

Eric Dolphy Musical Prophet (Resonance Records)

Louis Armstrong: Louis Armstrong: Live in Europe  (Dot Time Records)

 Johnny Griffin & Eddie Lockjaw Davis: "Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis Quintet: Ow! Live at the Penthouse (Reel to Reel)

Here are thirty other worthy jazz albums that surely cover as diverse a selection of tastes as possible and should be worth your time discovering and enjoying for many years to come. Enjoy 

George Garzone, Peter Erskine, Alan Pasqua, Darek Oles: 3 Nights in LA (Fuzzy Music)

Linda May Han Oh: Aventurine (Biophilia Records)

Ben Monder: Day After Day: (Sunnyside Records)

Denny Zeitlin: Remembering Miles (Sunnyside Records)  

Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: The Hope I Hold (Greenleaf Music)

Mark Wingfield & Gary Husband: Tor and Vale (Moonjune Records)

Dave Bass w/ Ted Nash: No Boundaries (Whaling City Sound)

Jim Robitaille Group: A View from Within: (Whaling City Sound)

Amendola & Blades: Everybody Wins (Royal Potato Family)

Alicia Olatuja: Intuition: Songs from the Minds of Women: (Resilience Music)

Peter Hand Big Band: Hand Painted Dream: (Savant Records)

Henrik Meurkens: Cobb's Pocket (In + Out Records)

Lynne Arriale Trio: Give US These Days:(Challenge Records)

Marc Copland Trio: And I Love Her: (Illusions/Mirage) 

Helen Riley: Personal Optimism: (Mack Avenue Records)

Mark Winkler: I'm with You: Mark Winkler Sings Bobby Troupe (Cafe Pacific Records)

Typical Sisters: Hungry Ghost: (Outside Music)

Michael Dease: Never More Here: (Positone Records)

Roberto Magris Sextet Featuring Ira Sullivan: Sun Stone (JMood Records)

Laura Antonioli: The Constant Passage of Time ( Origins Music)

Robben Ford & Bill Evans: The Sun Room (EAR Music)

Yotam Silberstein: Future Memories: (Jazz& People)

Mark Turner: Mark Turner meets Gary Foster: (ECM)

Dave Wilson Quartet: One Night at Chris' : (Dave Wilson Music)

Dave Stryker: Dave Stryker: Eight Track III (Strikezone Records)

Nicholas Meir World Group: Peaceful (MGP Records)

Adam Larson Band: Listen With Your Eyes ( Ropeadope Records)

Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow, Bobby Previte; You Don't Know The Life: (Rare Noise Records)

Andres Vial, Derzon Douglas, Eric McPherson: Gang of Three (Chromatic Audio)

Friday, November 29, 2019

"Hand Painted Dream": Music from guitarist/arranger Peter Hand and his Big Band

Hand Painted Dream: The Peter Hand Big Band Savant SCD 2175

The guitarist Peter Hand has once again assembled an impressive group of East coast session musicians for his recently released new big band album HandPainted Dream, and the music is tastefully orchestrated, skillfully selected and marvelously played.

Peter Hand, an eloquent jazz guitarist with a mellow tone, was immersed in the blues early in his musical career. He cut his teeth playing guitar with bassist Jerome Arnold, a onetime sideman with blues legends like Howlin’ Wolf and Paul Butterfield. While attending Binghamton University for pre-med studies, Hand began taking note of the brass sections that added a distinctive power to the music of great performers like James Brown. 

Horn-driven music fascinated the guitarist and he wanted to understand the secrets of writing for bigger bands. He attended courses at City College and the Manhattan School of Music, concentrating on skills like counterpoint, music notation, harmony, and orchestration. Hand got the jazz bug and eventually pursued courses in jazz, particularly big band music, and attended Berklee in Boston where he absorbed big band composing and arranging. After a two-year stint playing music and living in the Caribbean, Hand returned to New York and concentrated his work as a sideman and arranger for veteran jazz artists that included George Coleman, Carmen Lundy, Lee Konitz, Ralph Lalama and Victor Jones.

In 2002 Hand helped co-found the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, a vibrant big band made up of some of east coast jazz's premier horn and reed players. The band has remained vibrant but Hand left there after just a year. In 2005, Hand formed his own big band and by 2009 released a well-received Savant cd featuring tenor man Houston Person -The Peter Hand Big Band Featuring Houston Person – The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute to Harold Arlen. In 2014 Hand and his sixteen-piece big band released another acclaimed cd Out of Hand.

Peter Hand ( photo credit unknown)
On this latest release, Hand Painted Dream, Hand and his big band play nine compositions, four of which he composed, all of which he arranged

The cd opens with a flurry of traps by drummer Steve Johns. There is a feeling here that evokes the explosive entrances made famous by big band drummers like Gene Krupa, Sonny Greer or Buddy Rich. In many ways, Hand's big band arrangements have one foot into the history of big band music and one foot moving the genre to more modern ground. You hear the pulsing bass of Harvie S in the background before Hand has his horns erupt in delightfully arranged unison. Potent solos by altoist Bruce Williams, trumpet master Valery Ponomarev, and pianist James Weidman all add to this Charlie Parker cooker “Yardbird Suite.” The guitarist matches notes with the well-meshed horn section before adding a melodic, smoothly executed solo of his own near the coda.

Hand's breezy “Island of the Heart” features a tenor solo by multi-reedist Don Braden and an expressive trumpet solo by John Bailey. Hand evokes a Caribbean sound that lulls you into kicking back, grabbing a tropical drink with one of those umbrellas floating above the rim and enjoying this sublime music. 

Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now” is a beautiful, slow tempo ballad, accented by Hand’s sensitive guitar work at the opening. The song features the fetching voice of Camille Thurman and the clear, high-register tone of trumpeter Eddie Allen. Hand’s arrangement is lush and soulful, and his accompaniment with Thurman's voice is precise and understated. Thurman has a powerful and impressive voice, as she easily modulates through the lyrics with agility and grace. Hand’s sensitive guitar solo is warmly melodic.

Randy Weston’s “Berkshire Blues” has a casual swing that features Don Braden’s gentle flute, a rousing trombone solo James Burton III and veteran Ralph Lalama's forceful tenor solo. Hand has proven his ability to arrange skillfully for his musicians. He chooses specific charts that can accentuate their talents and masterfully composes sectional charts that allow his band to artfully build on a theme.

Another Caribbean inspired tune composed by Hand is titled “Calypsiana.” It has a swaying feel that was inspired by Hand’s stay in St. Thomas. On this piece, vocalist Thurman plays a boisterous tenor solo and Hand stirs things up with his own brand of island breeze guitar, before Johns adds a roiling drum feature.

The titled composition “Hand Painted Dream,” is a gorgeous miniature gem. The arranger utilizes a romantic string arrangement- played by the Secret String Quartet (Cornelius Dufallo, violin; Lev Zhurbin, viola; Yves Dharamraj, Cello; violinist Jennifer Choi) conducted by Joshua Shneider- giving the piece a distinctive, modern, chamber crossover sound. The strings accentuate the complex lines, as Hand has deftly combined them with Weidman’s deft piano and his woodwind and brass sections. The song features a poignant tenor saxophone solo by Braden and Hand’s multi-layered arrangement even includes a noted, albeit brief, trombone solo (maybe John Mosca) toward the end. 

Hand's composition, the Brazilian inspired “Brazilian Emerald,” features a serpentine solo by Allen on trumpet, Jay Brandford provides a nice alto solo and an understated guitar solo by the composer. 

Hand's other composition, “Once Upon A Time,” has a more lilting sound that seems to be grounded in big bands sounds heard from an era past. The band's section playing is beautiful and lush. The group is skillfully arranged, magically melding sixteen pieces into a uniform voice. John Bailey’s flugelhorn and trumpet work is notable. Hand’s seasoned tone is steady, warm and inviting and these traits always seem to somehow be absorbed into the sound of his band. 

The finale is a minor blues medley of John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C. / Cousin Mary,” both songs from Coltrane’s seminal album Giant Steps. Like the opening Parker song “Yardbird Suite,” this well-liked classic is invigorating music that gets the band members juices flowing. The drive is established by Harvie S's throbbing bass line and the entire band plays the melody line in unison and in harmony. In a series of consecutive solos we here how each player inspires the following soloist. The band features a deep-throated, raspy and robust solo by baritone saxophonist Kenny Berger. Bruce Williams follows with an angular, boppish alto solo that wails. Valery Ponomarev claims his own territory with an authoritative and pointed trumpet solo before tenor master Ralph Lalama raises the stakes as he makes his own definitive statement on the theme. Peter Hand’s guitar is understated and warm and the stalwart drummer Steve Johns adds a little heat with a short but succinct rhythmic explosion near the closing. Good stuff.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

A fascinating read. Music: A Subversive History by Ted Gioia.

Ted Goia's Music: A Subversive History 

Author/critic/jazz pianist Ted Gioia’s latest book. Music: A Subversive History, is a close to five-hundred-page, rigorously researched, travelogue through the history of music and its often subversive origins. If you are a musician, love music, or are a music-history buff, this is a book that should be on your bookshelf.

Gioia has written eleven non-fiction books (The History of Jazz, How to Listen to Jazz, Love Songs: The Hidden History.…) and is a graduate of Stanford and Oxford. He is a recorded jazz pianist and has established himself as a respected music historian and writer, as well a social commentator. In the 1980s Gioia helped develop Stanford’s Jazz Studies Program and served on the faculty alongside artist-in-residence saxophonist Stan Getz for several years. Between 2007-2010 he manned the successful web music portal and blog (where I first worked for Ted as a contributor) and Gioia has been published in many of this countries most prestigious periodicals and newspapers (New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, Salon, The Guardian, Los Angels Review of Books, The Atlantic Monthly etc.)

In Music:The Subversive History, Gioia describes the symbiosis between the early hunter/gatherer and later pastoral societies with the animal world. In these earliest of connections between human hunters and animal prey, there developed a ceremonial process that used music to sanctify the hunt, honor the animal victims for the sustenance  they provided and, in some way, ritualized the necessary brutality of the act of the kill. Music has always been inescapably connected to violence, but it was also bound to a sacred ritual that demonstarted appreciation. It is not surprising that the earliest humans created rudimentary instruments from parts of their life-giving prey. The earliest instruments were developed from animal bones (flutes & mallets), skins (drumheads), and gut (strings), purposefully linking the tribe and its musical expression to the animals and to everyday life experiences of survival, community and ceremony.

Gioia introduces readers to a well-studied selection of characters throughout the book-from Pythogoras to Sid Vicious, from Duke Ellington to Elvis Presley, from Beethoven to Bob Dylan. In some ways these artisans affect the perception and direction of the music of their time. 

Gioia postulates that music has two genders- feminine music that concentrates on love, fertility, sex, trance, magic and unity, and masculine music that centers on discipline, order, nationalism, violence, camaraderie and maintaining power.

One of the earliest documented creators of the feminine side of music can be traced back to the ancient Greek lyrical poet Sappho (630-570 BC), from the island of Lesbos, who reportedly wrote over 10,000 lines of poetry (only a fraction of which have been recovered.) Her poems, which were innovative and uniquely explored individual identity, were presumably sung while accompanied by a lyre (an early string instrument), and the themes of her poems, that have been documented, centered on family, desire, jealousy and love. These may well have been the earliest written ‘love’ songs.
Author Ted Gioia (photo credit unknown)
By contrast,Gioia notes that the Greek poet Pindar, who resided in Thebes (518-438 BC), wrote poems from a strictly masculine point of view. Despite the popularity of Sappho’s lyrical poetry, certain factions of Greek society were more readily willing to memorialize the stoic aspects of life, warfare and strength, in their poetry and music. Pindar’s lyrical poetry, especially his Victory Odes, fit this requirement. These works were danced to and  accompanied by song and lyre to memorialize valiant behavior, male athleticism, military camaraderie and victories in war. These two approaches to this early music represent the dichotomy that Gioia emphasizes. The magical connection between humanity and music through the centuries has always been deployed to promote competing philosophies to the masses. 

Gioia’s musical journey is thorough and exhaustive. He touches on music in ancient Greece with Pythagoras’ mathematical approach to scientifically defining music as being pivotal. He traces music through Mesopotamia, Egypt, Confucian China and the Renaissance. He identifies organized religion's influence on music, a role that often twarted bawdy, socially lower class music that was not specifically centered on praise to the diety. He discusses Gregorian chant and classically composed religious Mass music. Gioia mentions the disruptive effects of English minstrels and troubadours, the emergence of European tonal Classical music and even progressive 12 Tone Classical music. In America and across the globe, the author touches on the development of multiple genres; New Orleans’s jazz, Mississippi blues, Swing Jazz, Be Bop, Motown, Folk, Soul, The British Rock Invasion, Punk, New Wave, Glam Rock, Country, Outlaw Rock, Grunge, Hip-Hop, Electronic Dance Music and Rap to name a few.

The book has an enormous scope spanning over four thousand years of history. Gioia's research is impressive and backed up by his extensive employment of footnotes and meticulously sourced information. The sources include sociological and historical works that go far beyond the normal musical references. Having read several of Gioia’s books, I am always engaged with his research, intrigued by his contentions, amused by his humor and come away more informed.   
Gioia’s work unearths the sociological concept that innovation and change in music is almost always sourced from the lower economic classes of society. He identifies the restless common and disenfranchised, the outsiders of society who repeatedly introduce new music, lyrics and ideas that push the envelop of acceptable social norms at any given stage in history. This disruptive element occurs throughout history- the minstrels, the bluesmen, the jazzers, classicists, the folk singers, the rock and rollers, the be-boppers, the punks, the avant garders, the rappers- all face vigorous resistance and sometimes outright censor. Eventually,  Gioia points out that no matter what is originally seen in music as outrageous, unharmonious, outside of the established rules or too disruptive to the existing order, changes are generally assimilated into the society in some measure and are morphed into a part of the new standard. In many cases, the acceptance of change in music is often created by artistic innovation, spurred by discontent with social injustice (Bob Dylan), personal discontent (Kurt Cobain) or motivated by the simple desire to make oneself different (David Bowie). But as Gioia points out, these shifts in music are often diluted, commercialized and shamelessly exploited by shrewd entrepreneurs whose sole goal is to profit from the artists innovation.

Gioia doesn't shy away from the fight between the musician and the music business, which  has continued to diminish the value of the musical artist’s compensation. Sadly, modern web-based streaming of music has accelerated the dilution of the earning power of the artist. If Gioia’s history of music documents anything, it has validated the concept that music’s inherent appeal is like a powerful aphrodisiac. It attracts listeners, excites,soothes, rallies, mesmerizes, romances, enrages, nationalizes and entertains its audience. it is truly a gift. But the shameless commoditization of the music has predominantly worked against the artist and only for big businesses benefit. It is an unsustainable paradigm for the working musician/ artist and must correct.

It may require a revolution, an organized protest amongst artists, to unite all musicians to a common goal, value and equity. Cleary music offers numerous societal values far beyond purely economic factors, but if music becomes only about the money, then the real living, breathing, innovating and innovating musicians, who will not be able to sustain themselves under the current economic policies may go extinct. The prospect of the future music being manufactured by cheaper, algorithmically driven, artificial intelligence developed, Pythagorean math-generated music machines will come to pass and music will have lost its most important element, humanity. I for one hope that I will never live to see that day.