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.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Renew your funk and soul with Amendola Vs Blades : "Everybody Wins"

Amendola Vs Blades Everybody Wins Royal Potato Family Records

If you want to groove to some creative organ and drums-driven vibes that will keep your body twitching and your face smiling, then Amendola Vs Blades Everybody Wins more than fits the bill. The drummer Scott Amendola and the keyboard artist Will Blades have been Bay area-based friends for years, since their first collaboration back in 2006. The two have been successfully producing music that fuses elements of jazz, funk, Latin, rock, soul and blues into a gumbo of pure fun.

The music is usually launched by Amendola’s driven trap work creating an infectious rhythmic direction that Blades further defines by laying down a foot-driven bass line on his B3 organ. The groove is almost trance-like, the armature upon which Blades builds and extends the music. Blades probes against the rhythm, using his organ and clavinet as a musical explorer, extending the repetition of the music, pumping and surging like a heartbeat exploding free of its confines. Amendola’s maintains the pace and allows his drums to erupt with timed bursts in response to Blades directions. Creating tension and excitement while always maintaining the lifeline that emanates from the groove is their modus operadi.

Will Blades and Scott Amendola ( photo credit unknown)
The songs include eight humorously titled jams, like funk driven “Hi-Lo,” the Afro-Cuban/electronica inspired “Cyrolette,” the New Orleans inspired ‘Fess Up’ (Before Ya Mess Up),” the experimental“Metropolian Hustle,” “ Wall Town,” “Hambella,” the title song “Everybody Wins,” and the closer “Fabulous Stupendous.”

On this album Blades and Amendola invited some guest artists that bring their own musical language into the mix. Jeff Parker’s (Tortoise) distinctive guitar work is heard to great effect on “Cyroette,” as is the tune’s namesake Cyro Baptista (Herbie Hancock) and his buoyant percussion.

The organ driven “’Fess Up” is a gritty, New Orlean’s inspired march that is a tribute to pianist Professor Longhair and features some of Amendola’s most rambunctious trap work.

Will Blades and Scott Amendola (photo credit unknown)
“Metropolian Hustle,” an psychedelic inspired electronic feast of sounds from outside of your brain, features an eerie, efx-driven saxophone by Skerik        (Garage A Trois). Blades adds synthesizer accents to the scene and the whole flight is other-worldly.

One of my favorite songs on the album is “Wall Town” which sounds a bit like a futuristic Latin jazz-inspired jam. Skerik’s saxophone, Blades’s on organ and a clavinet sounding like a vibraphone, Amedola’s roiling drums and a remarkably inspired guitar solo by Parker, that just takes you to strange but rewarding places, makes this a magically mesmerizing ride.

“Hambela” is a boogaloo that goes from a defined groove that morphs into a fractured Parker solo. The song suddenly changes time and has Amendola whirling in all directions creating a tumultuous windstorm of percussive paroxysm.

The title song “Everybody Wins” is a classic soulful organ blues and has some of Blades best keyboard work to my ears. These two remind me  a little of the old organ/drums duo of Lee Michaels and Frosty back in the late sixties. They can play with an unadorned simplicity, beauty and a deep respect for the tradition and that makes it just incredibly enjoyable.

The finale is Amendola’s “Fabulous: Stupendous” and includes some lush syth-strings by Rob Burger (Tin Hat.) Sherik’s saxophone and Parker’s guitar join with Blades keyboard, Baptista’s percussion and voice and Amendola’s drums and Wurlitzer to let this one develop. This lilting groove generates a joyful, loose and orchestrated sound that lifts your spirit.

If you have any blood pumping in your viens, then Amendola Vs Blades 
Everbody Wins  should be like a welcomed mainline injection into your 
groove center and reinvigorate any funk and soul that you have deep in your pysche.