Friday, December 4, 2020

Notes on Jazz : Best of Jazz 2020

The year 2020 will go down as a stressful, disappointing, and even a dangerous year for this country. Since March and the outbreak of Covid 19-undoubtedly the worst viral pandemic since the Spanish Flu took the world to its knees back in 1918- society has been endangered, quarantined, and generally stifled from any semblance of normality. It has also been an ugly and trying time. A time where we witnessed a string of racially motivated deaths that created reactive multi-racial protests demanding responsibility. These events stirred up intermittent riots across the country that vented frustration, destroyed property, and conjured up the appearance of a loss of law and order. It was a mess of a year.

Through it all, we have had to adapt to a world that demanded severely restrained travel and social intercourse. Work has been relegated to remote digital contact. These restrictions have economically beggared many previously active and engaged artists. Live concerts have been veritably obliterated. Many venues that allowed social connection between musicians, music, and their public have been stymied. Even the most natural of things for musicians, shedding, collaborating with peers, or performing for audiences,have become relegated to video engagements or zoom collaborations. Despite all these formidable physical and monetary obstacles, artists and musicians have found a way to still create, record, and share their endeavors with us, enriching our lives and bringing the light of creativity and passion to all us in these otherwise difficult times.

As the year is rapidly starting to close I am proud to have had the opportunity to carefully listen to, marvel, and enjoy the works of many artists, some new to me and others reliable masters who continue to create amazing work.

Here are my picks, in no particular order, for some of the best of jazz for 2020 The selections come from diverse categories that include Big Band and large ensemble jazz works, modern small jazz groups, chamber/theatrical jazz, Latin/Brazilian jazz, vocal jazz, and notable historical releases for jazz in 2020. As with any list of favorites, these are purely subjective choices, and they do not include many fine albums that for one reason or another I have not personally had the opportunity to listen to in the past year.  Where possible, I have included links to sample music from the albums selected. Check these musicians out, listen, and enjoy.

Best of Jazz 2020: Big Band Music

John Hollenbeck with Kate McGarry, Theo Bleckmann, Gary Versace and The Frankfurt Radio Big Band: Song You Like A Lot: Flexatonic Records

Maria Schneider and Orchestra: Data Lords: Artists Share

Dave Stryker with Bob Mintzer and the WDR Big Band: Blue SoulStrikezone Records

John Beasley: Monk’estra plays John Beasley: Mack Avenue Records

The Ed Palmero Big Band: The Great Un-American Songbook Vol III:

 Sky Cat Records



Gregg August: Dialogues on Race Vol 1: Self-Produced

Smaller  Jazz Groups 2020:

Jerry Bergonzi with Renato Chicco and Andrea Michelutti: Nearly Blue: Savant Records

Jeff Cosgrove with Jeff Lederer and John Medeski: History Gets Ahead of the Story: Grizzley Music

Wolfgang Musthspiel with Scott Colley and Brian Blade: Angular Blues: ECM

Grégoire Maret with Romain Collin and Bill Frisell: Americana:

 Act Music

Brian Landrus: For Now: Blueland Records

Ricardo Grilli: 1962: Tone Rogue Records


John Scofield w Bill Stewart and Steve Swallow: Swallow Tales: ECM

Aaron Parks Little Big III: Dreams of A Mechanical Man: Ropeadope Records

Dayna Stephens Trio w Ben Street and Eric Harland: Liberty: Contagious Music



Eric Revis: Slipknots Through a Looking Glass: Pyroclastic Records



Chamber Jazz/ Jazz Opera 2020:

Ryan Keberle, Frank Woeste, Vincent Courtois: Reverso The Melodic Line: Outhere Music


Juliet Kurtzman and Pete Malinverni: Candlelight Love in the Time of Cholera: Self-Produced


John Ellis and Andy Bragen: The Ice Siren: Parade Light Records


Best Debut Jazz Album 2020:

Raphael Pannier Quartet: Faune: French Paradox


Best Jazz Vocal Album 2020:

Somi w John Beasley and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band: Holy Room Live at Alte Oper:


Best Latin Jazz Alum 2020:

Chico Pinheiro: City of Dreams: Buriti Records


Best Historical Albums Released in 2020:

Thelonious Monk Quartet: Monk: Palo Alto Live from 1968: Impulse Records

Bill Evans with Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette: Bill Evans Live at Ronnie Scott’s July 1968: Resonance Records

Nat King Cole: Hittin’ the Ramp, The Early Years 1936-1945: Resonance records


Further worthy recordings your consideration from 2020:

Aaron Diehl w Paul Skivie and Gregory Hutchinson: The Vagabond: Mack Avenue Records

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Hero Trio: Whirlwind Records

Chick Corea w Christian McBride and Brian Blade: Trilogy 2:Concord Records

Edgar Djangirov: Rhapsodize: Twelve Tone Resonance

Steve Cardenas: Blue Has a Range: Sunnyside Records

Amina Figarova Edition 113: Persistence: AmFi Records

Kenny Barron, Dave Holland  Trio w Jonathan Balke: Without Deception: Dare 2 Records

Marvin Stamm and Mike Holober: Live @ Maureen’s Jazz Cellar: Big Miles Music

Denny Zeitlin Trio: Denny Zeitlin Live at Mezzrow: Sunnyside Records

Martin Wind, Philip Catherine & Ack Van Rooyen: White Noise: Laika Records

Rez Abbasi w Neil Alexander and Michael Sarin: Django Shift: Whirlwind records

Chris Dingman: Embrace: Inner Arts Initiative

Jason Palmer: The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella: Giant Step Arts

John DiMartino: Passion Flower: The Music of Billy Strayhorn: Sunnyside Records

Thana Alexa: Ona: Self-Produced

Sirkis/Bialis IQ: Our New World: MoonJune records

Dave Douglas: Dizzy Atmosphere Dizzy at Zero Gravity: Greenleaf Music

Marcin Wasilewski Trio w Joe Lovano: Artic Riff: ECM

Keb’ Mo’: Oklahoma: Concord Records (Blues)

Craig Taborn: Junk Magic- Compass Confusion : Pyroclastic Records

Jeff Hamilton Trio: Catch Me if You Can: Capri

Guiseppe Paradiso Meridian 71: Metropolitan Sketches: Self-Produced

Friday, November 27, 2020

Arranger/Composer/Drummer John Hollenbeck's Imaginative "Song's You Like A Lot"


John Hollenbeck's Songs You Like A Lot 

The prolific composer/arranger/drummer John Hollenbeck released his adventurous Songs You Like A Lot back in August of this year. This album is the third in a trilogy that includes his Songs That I Like A Lot released in 2013 and Songs ThatWe Like A Lot from 2016. 

The project initially had Hollenbeck taking some of his favorite songs from the popular music of his youth and re-imagining them. The second album followed with songs that were assembled from favorites by his collaborators and this final album selected compositions culled from an online vote by listeners

In each case, Hollenbeck orchestrates the chosen songs using themes, varying rhythmic dynamics, and tonal texture, all possible using a creatively arranged big band. He employs the talented, Germany-based, Frankfurt Radio Big Band and a core group of collaborators. These include the sensitive and flexible vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckmann, who he used on all three albums, along with the intuitive pianist/organist Gary Versace, who was on two of the albums, and the pianist Uri  Caine who was used on the second album.

I first attended a performance of Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet in New Haven’s Firehouse 12 back in 2013 when he was touring the music of his wonderful original music album September which I reviewed (here) for the Huffington Post. I was so impressed with the creativity and passion of this composer/drummer that I kept him on my radar, listening when possible and later reviewing The Quintet’s 2016 release Super Petite-(here) , a suite of Hollenbeck originals drawn from daily life experiences.

John Hollenbeck ( photo by Mercedes Jelinek)

The big band format requires another set of skills. Hollenbeck, who acknowledges Bob Brookmeyer as one of his most important influences, has certainly taken his mentor's arranging acumen and expanded his teachings into his own expressive methodology. 

Hollenbeck queries “Why arrange popular Songs? Is it still a ‘pop’ song if it wasn’t popular?” His ear has a radar-like acuity. He can key in on some of the most subtle nuances in this music. These subtleties are woven into the compositions that are almost subliminal to most, certainly not in the forefront. Hollenbeck uses his imaginative rethinking of these compositions to magnifying the nuances, which he uses to instigate discovery, evoke surprise, and awaken delight in the receptive listener. The old familiarity of the enjoyed song is still preserved but recharged and illuminated by the musician's creative process.

On the previous albums, the music featured composers as diverse as Jimmy Webb to Pete Seeger, Cyndi Lauper to Imogene Heap, and Burt Bacharach to Ornette Coleman.  On Songs You Like A Lot, Hollenbeck was more restricted by the material. having to choose the compositions from a plethora of listener selections, some of which he admitted to not necessarily liking himself.

“Down by the River to Pray” is a moving folk hymn, made famous by Pete Seeger, that was especially meaningful to vocalist Kate McGarrywho opens the plaintive song with her transcendent lead vocal accompanied by Theo Bleckmann’s apt harmony. Glawschnig’s bass lines also add a notable musical reverence. Hollenbeck’s arrangement gets energized by Versace’s drone-like piano that mesmerizes you to the religiously resurrecting coda.

The music of Joni Mitchell has always been a wellspring of inspiration for artists and here Hollenbeck’s re-imagination of “Blue” from the 1971 album of the same name is revelatory. The arranger uses Versace’s creative organ adventures and the floating sound of Oliver Leicht’s clarinet in a dancing duo that repurposes and uplifts the piano solo in Mitchell’s original intro. Bleckmann’s haunting voice is heard singing these introspective lyrics. The song remains familiar, and the orchestration expands on the sentiment without overpowering it. The twinkling piano, soaring clarinet lines, and Beckmann’s vocals are all perfectly meshed. reinforcing just how personally exposing Mitchell’s music could be.

On James Taylor’s classic rock/folk “Fire and Rain,” Glawischnig opens with a plucky bass solo intro as the band’s horns modulate in unison. Hollenbeck always likes to modify expectations. Here he cleverly changes the gender that will sing this song and uses Kate McGarry’s crystalline female voice to full effect on the memorable lyrics. The arranger matches McGarry's higher-pitched tone dynamically with the deeper sound of trombonist Christian Jaksjo and the vocal/instrument pairing works brilliantly.

Invention is used by the arranger on the Bee Gees “How Deep is the Love,” which has a nice tenor saxophone solo by Steffen Weber and some inspired choirlike vocals by McGarry and Bleckmann.

Newly and Briscoe’s wonderful Willie Wonka theme song “Pure Imagination” finds Gary Versace’s lurid musical ideas laying out the theme on the piano. He uses a slightly dissonant intro as the band swells like bilious clouds in the background. The theme is transformed into a quest for a world of envisioned possibilities, with Bleckmann’s voice captures the mood, as the band creates the aural background. Hollenbeck’s arranging is cinematic and elegant. Versace’s playing is magically mystical, ethereal and Bleckmann’s voice transcendent.

Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” opens with a clarion trumpet lead-in by Alex Schlosser. Hollenbeck employs his progressive jazz/rock influences and drives the music with a pulsing band and the driving drums of Jean-Paul Hochstadter. Hollenbeck explores the song’s possibilities with an array of musical devices that include rhythmic variations, tonal diversity, and texturing. The arranger ends the song with a cadenced, drone-like repetition of the refrain “Don’t Give Up.”

Hollenbeck includes one original “Kindness,” a hymn-like composition that features McGarry’s expressive voice and the lyrics of the poet Naomi Shihab Nye. “Before you know what kindness is, you must lose things…”

The closing composition “Knows Only God” is a take on Brian Wilson’s song “God Only Knows” from the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album from 1966. Paul McCartney has said that ““God Only Knows” is one of the few songs that reduces me to tears… It's really just a love song, but it is brilliantly done.” 

Theo Bleckmann opens Hollenbeck’s take on this composition using a repeated, rhythmic vocal pattern of Wilson’s opening lyrics. This is Hollenbeck’s chant-like interpretation of Wilson’s proclamation of love and frustrations. McGarry leads the second verse and she and Bleckmann join in sympathetic harmony. These two have are just so sympathetically connected by song. The arrangement directs the band to build-up the proclamation, and I daresay, emphasize the ambivalence of love. Hollenbeck has certainly obscured the sweetness of Wilson’s original sentiment, he has another vision. In the place of sweet love, the musician has injected a dynamism to the music that is more representative of the uncertainty, the ebb and flow of love.

John’s Song’s You Like A Lot has been recently nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Large Jazz Ensemble which will be held in Jan 2021. It is a thoroughly enjoyable and an often-brilliant album.  We wish him the best!

Thursday, November 12, 2020

"Candlelight" time during the pandemic: Juliet Kurtzman and Pete Malinverni

Candlelight  Love in the Time of Cholera 
Juliet Kurtzman and Pete Malinverni

There is a sense of anticipation when I attend a performance by or listen to a new album from the pianist/educator Pete Malinverni. I have had the good fortune to have met this gifted musician on several occasions, mostly at his entertaining jazz afternoons at the Pound Ridge Community Church in New York, when I lived in nearby Connecticut.  I even had the chance to do an illuminating interview with the pianist around the time of the release of his album A Beautiful Thing in 2013. 

Malinverni is one of those rare musicians that exudes an aura of authenticity, wonder, and joy when he plays, and he seems to have found an important validity, a spirituality, a faith that sustains him through music. As he has said, “Music to me is the voice of God…” 

At SUNY Purchase, where he is the Director of Jazz Studies, Pete has been instrumental as an educator and mentor, inspiring a growing group of up and coming musicians.

On his latest album Candlelight, Love in the Time of Cholera, Malinverni is joined by the violinist Juliet Kurtzman, a new name to me. She is a classically trained violinist from Houston who has performed as a soloist with the Houston Symphony, studied at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and joined the Luzern Orchestra in Switzerland as first violinist.

The duo presents a musical hybrid, an amalgam blending classical chamber sensibilities with jazz colorations arranged and accompanied by Malinverni on piano and featuring the gorgeous sensitivity of Kurtzman’s emotive violin. 

In the liner notes, Malinverni relates, “In times of upheaval- war, pestilence, heartbreak-there are things we turn for solace and enlightenment. Love, passion, and living for others…allowing us to reach beyond ourselves, confidently face adversity, and find the good.”

Candlelight, Love in the Time of Cholerain no small part, is inspired by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's romantic story. The book celebrates lovesickness that is likened to having cholera. The yearning endures despite half of a century of love being unrequited. Today we are faced with our own pandemic; a viral scourge that has immobilized our daily lives and stymied our personal contacts. It has cramped our creativity, erased our civility and trust, and tested our resolve. But creativity cannot be forever thwarted. Matching up the seemingly disparate elements, structured classical and improvisational jazz, these two artists demonstrate the universality of music and the joy that it can bring as an elixir of hope to get us through these trying times.

The Argentinian music of the tango is beautifully expressed throughout the album.  Malinverni’s opening “Pulcinella” is modern and vibrant. Gardel’s moving but more traditional “Por Una Cabeza” finds Kurtzman the most expressive and sensitive. Malinverni’s “Love in the Time of Cholera” is a luscious delight, a musical aperitif you can envision enjoying leisurely, listening on an unrushed afternoon in a verdant garden café with someone you love.  

It is Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion” that is perhaps the most tender and moving collaboration on the album. Kurtzman’s playing is sensitive and sweeping. Admittedly, the violinist misses the gutsy bravado of a jazz master like a Grappelli, but don’t sell her short when it comes to being able to pull your emotional strings and grab you with her poignancy and tone. Pizzolla would have been pleased. Malinvenri’s supple piano solo is a treasure of sensitivity and creative engagement on a human level.

“Body and Soul” is a classic jazz standard that was made famous by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Malinverni opens with a creative, slightly dissonant piano intro before Kurtzman’s moving violin uses the Coleman saxophone solo for inspiration. Pete’s piano work here is the most expressive as he sets the rhythm in stride-like accompaniment.  

Leon "Bix" Beiderbecke ( Photo credit Unknown)

Malinverni’s take on Bix Beiderbecke’s compositions caught my attention. Even though Beiderbecke was primarily known as a cornetist, all the songs included on this album were written and played by him on piano, with the exception of ‘Davenport Blues.”

 I first heard “In A Mist” from a Freddie Hubbard album Sky Dive from 1972 and always found the music to be intriguing. The music has been described as a cross between Debussy and Ellington. Malinverni’s arrangement features Kurtzman’s violin navigating the interesting changes with aplomb and some amount of bravado that the composition encourages. The music radiates a sense of Debussy-like grace and calm and these two artists are skillfully faithful to this in their playing. 

“Candlelights” is a warm, jaunty melody and a touching vehicle for Kurtzman and Malinverni to demonstrate their simpatico communicating skills. All of Bix’s music comes from the late twenties or early thirties, he died at the early age of twenty-eight, and there is a reverence to the music while still allowing for some modernizing in Malinverni’s deft arrangements.

“In the Dark,” (a song that master pianist Dick Hyman did a fabulous job with it in 2008 also finds this duo skillfully synchronizing their lines like two artists conjoined to Bix’s gorgeous melody. The most raucous tune, “Davenport Blues,” has the most predictable form and probably finds Kurtzman most pressed to adapt her classical style on this true blues song. Malinverni's jazz history allows him to immediately adjust his playing to suit the down to earth style that the tune demands. “Flashes” is the final Beiderbecke composition on the cd and has a gracious melody that the two musicians seem to demonstrate some real intuitive simpatico in their playing.

Set aside the fifty-four minutes it takes to listen through Candlelight, Love in the Time of Cholera and allow yourself the leisure to really enjoy the artistry, the joy, the love, and the precious relaxation that Kurtzman and Malinverni have offered to us all as the answer to these stressful times.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Martin Wind's "White Noise" w Philip Catherine and Ack Van Rooyten : A Sound Oasis.

White Noise Martin Wind, Philip Catherine & Ack Van Rooyen, Laika Records

There is a beautiful warmth and sonorous resonance to the work of bassist Martin Wind. I have heard Wind’s playing musically enrich work performed with saxophonist Scott Robinson, the drummer Matt Wilson, the guitarist Ulf Meyer and the pianists' Bill Cunliffe and Bill Mays. The soloist/accompaniest has composed, played, and recorded on over ten of his own leader /co-leader releases including Get It (2010), the orchestral Turn Out the Stars, Music Written and Inspired by Bill Evans (2014), and Light Blue (2018). 

Flensburg, Germany born Wind graduated from the Cologne Music Conservatory in 1995 where he studied with orchestral bassist Wolfgang Guettler. He placed 3rd in that year’s Thelonious Monk Bass Competition in Washington. At the age of seventeen, Wind was exposed to the work of Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine in a duo with the iconic Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørstead Pederson on their album The Viking and the Dane’s bass work left a lasting impression. Wind came to the US in 1996 where continued studies at NYU earning a Master’s degree in jazz performance and composition. His bass work has a distinctive orchestral influence. His large, warm sound and inherent sense of rhythm deftly anchor any work that he performs, and he can employ a gorgeous arco technique at will. 

Philip Catherine, Ack Van Rooyen and MArtin Wind

Wind realized his wish to play with the respected guitarist Catherine in 2013 when the duo recorded their first album the duo New Folks. The latest release White Noise is an attempt by Wind to create a “Kind of sound oasis.” His goal “In a world where silence is becoming more and of a luxury, I wanted to create a little acoustic opposite pole.” The album succeeds and it is in no small part due to his two seasoned bandmates. Wind is the youngest of this trio at fifty-two, with Catherine at a sprite seventy-seven and Van Rooyen as the elder master at the age of ninety! 

Wind opens a Kenny Wheeler composition “Canter” with a vibrating arco opening that resonates with overtones and emanates with a visceral yearning. A gorgeous melody, Catherine’s gentle touch, and Van Rooyen’s mellow-toned flugelhorn lead the listener to this magical world of calm and beauty, as Wind sustains the gentle rhythm of a canter. A rewarding respite to another world of tranquility and beauty. 

Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love” captures a nostalgic time when a good song and some swing could take you to a less strenuous time. Van Rooyen's horn is mellow and bubbly, and Catherine’s guitar adds some offbeat licks that surprise. Wind’s bass solo is buoyant, cheerful, and swinging. 

Wind wrote the title song “White Noise” with his bandmates in mind. Catherine utilizes some subtle and effective echo and electronics to create the opening that leads you into this unknown territory. The music has an ethereal ECM feel to it with Van Rooyen's searching horn work floating over the soft accompaniment of his bandmates. Catherine’s guitar work here reminds me of some of guitarist John Abercrombie’s atmospheric outings. Despite being able to lose yourself in the clouds that these guys create, you never lose the beauty of the melody that sustains you throughout. 

Van Heusen and Burke’s standard “But Beautiful” is one of two duo features on the album with Catherine and Wind taking it slow and demonstrating a sense of familiar simpatico. Catherine’s playing is just beautiful and a modicum of artistry.

“The Dream” is a moving ballad that Wind wrote for his first meeting with guitarist Pat Metheny when they played together at Jazz Baltica in 2003. Catherine’s gorgeous strumming and Van Rooyen’s plaintive horn work are at top form and Wind’s plucky bass solo work is superb.

Ack Van Rooyen's composition “Autumn Bugle” is a searching, blues-based ballad that features the Dutchman’s warm tone and Catherine’s sensitive accompaniment. I’ve not heard this artist before, but the man's articulation and expressive emotional delivery are especially noteworthy. In the liner notes Wind called Van Rooyen an angel and the nonagenarian jokingly admits to being maybe an aging angel.

Wind wrote the “Genius and a Saint” for a friend and fellow bassist Bob Bowen who had sadly been the victim of a fatal bicycle accident. There is a somber, deliberate sense to this tune initially. Soon Catherine and Wind change the feel enlivening it with more hopeful approach. Catherine's inventive approach offers strumming his guitar like a mandolin, adds some rapid arpeggios, utilizes some beautiful fingered chording, and includes some modulated volume. Wind buoys the rhythm with a more aggressive pace that energizes the mood behind Catherine's expressive adventures.

Wind opens up with a bellowing bass solo on Styne and Kahn’s poignant standard “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” Van Rooyen's flugelhorn spells out the melody before Catherine’s guitar harmonizes the music with his own improvised ideas to end the set.

Van Rooyen and Catherine have lived through a period of time that has given them a sage's perspective of history's vagaries. With Wind, these gentlemen lend their maturity and sensitivity to this project with this music and their artistry. Martin Wind’s White Noise is a welcomed celebration of music that soothes, entertains, and delights in today’s age of uncertainty and tension.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Jeff Cosgrove's "History Get's Ahead of The Story": The Music of William Parker


Jeff Cosgrove's History Gets Ahead of The Story Grizzley Music 

My familiarity with the work of the prolific free-jazz bassist and composer William Parker is admittedly limited. When I heard some of Parker’s compositions recently assembled and so enthusiastically played by drummer Jeff Cosgrove and his bandmates, organist John Medeski and saxophonist Jeff Lederer on his latest cd History Gets Ahead of the Story, I was both impressed and intrigued. I had to find out more about this bassist who The Village Voice once claimed as “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time.”

Double bassist William Parker is now sixty-eight years old and has had a career of many creatively inspired musical endeavors. The double bassist/composer has recorded over forty albums as a leader and a countless number of important collaborations with other artists. Parker’s fierce attack and unfailing pulse, whether using his arco or pizzicato technique, is a constant source of grounding stability. His exploratory expressiveness and willingness to promote a collaborative approach keeps his music both fresh and interesting.

Parker studied with such bass luminaries as Richard Davis, Jimmy Garrison and Wilbur Ware. Over his career, he has contributed his artistry to the music of pianists Cecil Taylor, Craig Taborn, and Mathew Shipp. He has worked with the trumpeter Don Cherry and saxophonists Dave S. Ware, Anthony Braxton and Peter Brotzmann to name a few. Parker created an impressive repertoire of original music and has penned several books. His artistic breadth is diverse and inclusive, utilizing crossbreeding aspects of spiritualism, world music, dance, opera, blues, gospel, soul, jazz, free jazz, and poetry as elements into some of his inventive musical creations.

Jeff Cosgrove (photo credit unknown)

The apt textualist, Jeff Cosgrove, a generational disciple of the Paul Motian’s school of percussion, has played with bassist Parker in a contemporary trio with the pianist Mathew Shipp. Their first album was Alternating Current from 2014 and the last album from the trio was Near Disaster from Feb 2019. With this history in mind, it was only fitting that Cosgrove would choose seven compositions from Parker’s repertoire to both pay homage to the bassist/composer’s influence and to use these songs as a vehicle to explore the possibilities.  To my delight, Parker’s music not only provides inspiration to these adventurous musicians, but the band skillfully manages to somewhat make it their own.

Jeff Lederer ( photo credit unknown)

The group is notably without a bass and the only bottom anchor here is provided sparingly by Medeski’s left foot on the B3.  Song’s like the bluesy opener “O’neals Porch” seems to be tailored to raise the spirits with Medeski’s probing organ,  Lederer’s frolicking saxophone, and Cosgrove’s delicate percussive pace.

The gospel-inspired “Corn Meal Dance” employs a churchly sound from Medeski’s organ and a roiling rhythmic treatment from Cosgrove. Lederer, whose saxophone prowess is a marvel, seems to wail like a possessed preacher wailing to the heavens from his pulpit.

John Medeski ( photo credit unknown)

"Gospel Flowers” is one of two Lederer compositions on the album. This blues-based song has a memorable, lightly swinging melody. Medeski always seems able to find a way to liberate his B3 playing from expected pathways, often bringing excitement to the musical journey. The music elevates you, as Cosgrove’s subtle and textured accompaniment maintains your altitude. Lederer rides the airways with a strong powerful tone and mellifluous sonority, as he also accents the music with more piercing dissonance that claws back to some of Parker’s free jazz roots.

“Little Bird” is a playful musical spar originally on William Parker’s Petit Oiseau from 2008, and here features Lederer on flute, Medeski on keys, and Cosgrove on drums. The music is joyous, invigorating and a testament to these three gentlemen's ability to create a musical conversation that just captivates the listener. Cosgrove offers a short solo that demonstrates his astute percussive inventiveness. There is a Dolphy like feel to Lederer’s flute work here that seems to be a tip of the hat to the music’s history.

 “Ghost,” the only composition on this album by Cosgrove, creates an otherworld-like mood. Here using a modulating organ, splashing cymbals, soft toms and a resonant clarinet, the band creatively conjures up the presence of a looming specter.

Parker’s “Moon” is just a delight. The music is jaunty and joyful. Lederer plays a soprano lead that grabs you with its prance-like feel and brash proclamations. Medeski’s organ lightly keeps the rhythmic drive going as Cosgrove lays down a roiling flow of percussive accents.

“Things Fall Apart” is a free-flowing exchange that has no perceivable melody and is an improvisational banter between the three musicians.

“Wood Flute Song” comes from Parker’s 2005 album Sound Unity and Cosgrove open with a short drum introduction. Lederer and Medeski enter in, one with a muted left-footed bass line and the other with a robust clarinet.  When Medeski takes a solo on the organ he is accompanied by circular drum work by Cosgrove giving the music a buoyant and enlivened flow.

Lederer’s gorgeous “Purcell’s Lament” opens with an impassioned Soprano intro that is accented by Cosgrove’s delicate cymbals and toms. Medeski’s swelling organ adds to the ballad’s moving feel. The music seems to bloom in front of you like a flower that opens on an inviting spring morning. Lederer can evoke spirituality in his playing that reminds me of some of Pharoah Sander’s work of time past.

The album ends with Parker’s jaunty “Harlem” from his 2005 Sound Unity. Medeski, Lederer and Cosgrove coordinate brilliantly, tracing each other’s lines -tenor, organ and drums-like a synchronized swim team’s motion at an Olympic competition. There is a beauty as to how well these three moves in each other’s space.  The three separate instruments are handily utilized to operate as one breathing entity, three minds meeting as one impressive expression of the music. Take the time to hear this work and to enjoy the inventive music of William Parker.


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Bassist Eric Revis: "Slipknots Through A Looking Glass'"


Eric Revis Slipknots Through a Looking Glass Pyroclastic Records PR09

The bassist Eric Revis has been known as an integral part of Brandford Marsalis’ Quartet since 1997. He has also worked with musically diverse musicians spanning from the progressive pianist Jason Moran, to the avant-garde drummer Andrew Cyrille, the unique vocalist Betty Carter and the iconoclastic guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. In 2017 Revis received a grant from The Rockefeller Foundation where he spent some time in the Kykuit estate writing. The contemplative time this grant allowed Revis, produced these eleven compositions on his latest release Slipknots Through a Looking Glasswhere he utilizes an unusual approach to composition. 

Revis develops a collection of what he calls "sparse" musical possibilities, as he likens them to an archipelago of "islands,"  that he then presents to his band as a range of ideas that have to be navigated through. He hard scripts some of the music, but he also allows impressionistic, free collaborating by his bandmates. He encourages extemporaneous developments that emerge from his unwritten concepts emphasizing textures, colors and rhythmic variation. The band includes Revis on Bass, Kris Davis on piano, Bill McHenry on tenor saxophone, Darius Jones on alto saxophone and Chad Taylor on drums and Mbira (African thumb piano) and Justin Faulkner on drums (tracks 1 and 3.)

Revis is approaching this music as a journey into unexplored territory. There are almost no traditional melodies per se. The album is dedicated to recently fallen jazz artists Ellis Marsalis, Henry Grimes, Lee Konitz and Wallace Roney, and to Junius Taylor the late Professor Emeritus of Physics at Morgan State University.

The album includes a three-part take on his lead composition, “Slipknots Through A Looking Glass,” where he is predominantly playing solo pizzicato bass utilizing textures ( I hear what seems to be overdubbing of low volume higher-pitched arco lines in the background) and deeply burnished tones that follow a rhythmic path. There is some purposeful magic in Revis’ choice of his title's reference to slipknots. The album’s art cover features a series of duotone photos by Sam Ekwurtzel that depict various wood knots leading you to consider the relationship of the wood knots with Revis’ music. But a slipknot is generally referring to a tied rope knot similar but distinct to a noose knot. It is used to allow the rope to slip through the knot itself and in sailing it is sometimes used as a stop knot. The dichotomy between wood and rope knots is confusing. But Revis makes the incongruity more mind-bending by the title's addition of the idea of seeing a slipknot in a looking glass or mirror. Is the slipknot there or is it a figment of your imagination?  Revis is not telling his listener. He cleverly sets up this music as a mystery that doesn’t follow traditional paths or conventional forms for that matter. No matter how attentive, your musical attention is sometimes slipping through the knot he creates.

Many of the songs have their own characteristics. Opener “Baby Renfro” has a jagged feel and features the full band with Faulkner on punchy drums and a unified front line.

“SpÆ” is a mystical sounding, spontaneously driven piece with Davis’ dreamy piano, Taylor’s rhythmic Mbira and some arco bows on bass. The music is like an excursion through an impressionistic jungle of the future.

“Ear & Three Fifths Compromise” has a moody, thriller-like sound with Faulkner and Revis keeping the drone-like rhythm. The two saxophones meander with McHenry and Jones playing in counterpoint to each other as Davis’ piano adds delicate pianistic accents.  

“Shutter” has an angularly disturbing feel that features harshly blown, schizophrenia saxophone lines and frantic piano lines as Taylor and Revis maintain a jagged rhythmic pulse. 

“ProByte” is one of the more classically inspired, melodic pieces on the album. The music features Davis playing the piano strings harp-like at the opening. The saxophones play harmonically together as Taylor offers a syncopated drum backdrop and Revis adds a plump, firm bass line.  Davis skillfully accentuates with shimmering lines that flow over the music. The music ends with a repeated melodic line that fades to a memory at the coda.

“House of Leaves,” a free-formed piece of spontaneous concepts, is opened by a conversation between Taylor’s drums and Revis’ bass.  Davis and the saxophonists add textural interest to the music as the two build upon their communication.

“When I Become Nothing” is a short ballad with some of the friendliest qualities to the casual listener. A simple relatable melody that finds each player meshing their arts beautifully and playing with delicate sensitivity, establishing a peaceful, almost hymnlike sense of presence.

“Vimen” opens with Revis rapidly manipulating his strings to create an unsettling rasp of sound. He and Taylor join in an energetic transfer of ideas that seem to have no defined direction. Davis joins the fray with her own off-kilter pianistic energy and dissonant accents. The three create a whirlwind of tumult and furry that is then joined by the two saxophonists in a boiling brew of unsettling freneticism.  Not for the lighthearted.

The bassist has proven he has all the skills he needs to play some of the best of music and some of the most challenging as well. With Slipknots Through a Looking Glass bassist Eric Revis has explored the outer edges of impressionistic music that surely challenges and for the open-minded delight the listener.

Here is a link to some of his music on Bandcamp.