Thursday, June 18, 2020

"Blue Soul" : Dave Stryker with Bob Mintzer and the WDR Big Band

Dave Stryker with Bob Mintzer and the WDR Big Band Blue Soul  Strikezone 8820

If you are a fan of dynamic music played by an inspired guitarist/composer, a masterful saxophonist/arranger and a formidable European Big Band that just really brings it to the table, then you will love Dave Stryker’s latest Blue Soul

Dave Stryker is one of the leading guitarists on the scene with a distinctive guitar sound that meshes the jazz tradition of Wes Montgomery and the Funk and Soul of Grant Green. The man can play and as a ubiquitous producer he is often recording with his own trio of stalwart bandmates, Jared Gold on organ and McClenty Hunter on drums, and recently included Steve Nelson or Stefon Harris on vibes and Mayra Casales on percussion.

This most recent release comes as a fresh breath of air in these stressful times, offering spirit, joy, great arrangements, and top-notch talent on this swinging gem. Stryker and saxophone/arranger Bob Mintzer, of the Yellowjackets' fame, has come together with the WDR Big Band and created a most enjoyable jaunt through some fabulous music. The nine songs are well chosen and include “What’s Going On” and “Trouble Man,” from the Marvin Gaye repertoire, Jimmy Webb’s prized “Wichita Lineman,” Prince’s “When Doves Cry” and Stanley Turrentine’s “Stan’s Shuffle” all worth the price of admission. Mintzer adds his own composition “Aha,” and Stryker includes his compositions “Came to Believe,” the funky “Blues Strut,” and one of my favorites “Shadowboxing.” 

The music pulses and explodes and there are great solo performances by Stryker on guitar throughout, Mintzer on saxophone wails impressively on “Aha,” “Blues Strut,” and “Stan’s Strut” and there are notable contributions from organist Billy Test, especially on “Trouble Man”  and "Blues Strut."  Altoists Karolina Strassmeyer and Johan Horlen and tenorist Paul Heller all add featured solos. Trombonist Andy Hunter shines on “Wichita Lineman” and drummer Hans Dekker, besides masterfully anchoring this band, is given some space to creatively spice up Stryker’s “Shadowboxing” at the coda. The WDR Big Band hails from Cologne in Germany and was formed in 1946. I have heard this group fronted by some of the best musicians in jazz and they always deliver with professionalism and vigor.

Dave Stryker has been on a creative roll with his successful series of Eight Track recordings-simply tapping some of Soul, Pop and Rock music ’s best era- reimangined these songs into some modern compositions that retain the original’s appeal. Blue Soul, now utilizing the expanded aural canvas that a big band like the WDR Big Band provides, under Mintzer and Stryker with Jarred Gold’s deft arrangements, can be simply too good to miss.  Grab this one and have a blast.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Awaiting "Our New World" the Sirkis/Bialas I Q

Sirkis/Bialas IQ: Our New World Moonjune MJR099

The Sirkis/Bialas I Q (International Quartet) is an impressive, global-based group, employing expressive creativity, virtuosity, and international folk-music influences to infuse their music making it authentic and visceral. 

On their latest Our New Earth, the leader and composer, Israeli percussionist Asaf Sirkis employs a variety of instrumentation (Crotales, Manjira and a Frame drum) and rhythmic vocal techniques including Konnakol (a southern Indian vocalized percussion technique.) to bring in a Middle Eastern and Southern Indian taste to his music.

Asaf Sirkis and Sywia Bialas

The co-leader, Polish vocalist Sylwia Bialas, wrote five of the compositions here and has a beautiful vocal instrument that she controls with skilled aplomb and elastic pliability. She has an impressive range and a well-developed sense of timing, dynamics, and presence.

British keyboard player Frank Harrison attended Berklee on scholarship and demonstrates his accomplished ability as an inventive soloist as well as an intuitively strong accompaniest.

Bassist Kevin Glasgow is an impressive six-string electric bassist who can anchor complex rhythms and is especially expressive in the upper register with his fluid lines that are very guitar-like.

This two-disc offering is stylistically packaged and displays beautiful cover artwork. Produced by Leonardo Pavkovic's progressive Moonjune records, the cd is musically teeming with creativity and optimism. There is an unabashed romantic hopefulness to this album and as Sirkis has explained they wanted “ …to reflect the change and turmoil that are happening globally right now…” and to use their music to “…express the wish that when all the madness subsides we will have a better place to live in…”Our New Earth.”

The original compositions are more like musical excursions where these four gifted musicians paint a hopeful horizon employing gorgeous sonic colors and simpatico interaction. The music swirls, elevating and mystifying the listener, utilizing deft orchestrations, beguiling vocalizations, and draws on a wellspring of rhythmic variations of international flavor.

There are classical, sometimes chamber-jazz elements to this music, albeit string-less. Harrison’s splendid pianistic creations are captivating and Bialas’ acrobatic vocalizations trace melodic lines precisely. Glasgow’s bass work also adds a burnished timbre and a fleet facility that compliments the songs with another component of interest.  Bialas sings predominantly in Polish, evoking a pure and transcendental quality to her voice. Undoubtedly Eastern European in lineage, her vocalizations to me, nonetheless evoke how Brazilian Flora Purim vocalized her work with Chick Corea back in the early seventies. Sirkis is an accomplished fusion drummer who can be bombastic, here he restrains himself, creating more subtle rhythms and provides a floating backdrop that accents the music beautifully with taste and sonic variety. 

Bialas’ high-pitched yipping on the opening of her “Rooting” from “The Earth Suite” has an almost primitive, indigenous-like feel both intriguing and skillful. Sirkis’ uses rythmic-driven vocalization-Konnakol, over his droll-like use of the Manjira on “Our New Earth,” and in conjunction with Bialas captures the essence of a southern Indian meditation-like music.

The album is like a suite and deserves being heard as a unified concept. The music includes Sirkis’ “Land of Oblivion,” with lyrics by Bialas “Letter to A.,”      "Our New World,” “The Message from the Blue Bird,” "The Spooky Action at A Distance” and “Picture from a Polish Wood.” Bialas’ compositions included the aforementioned “Rooting,” “If Pegasus Had One Wing,” “Reminiscence, ”Chiaroscuro, and ”Nocturnity.”  

There is much to hear, to savor,and to enjoy on Our New Earth so pick this one up and enjoy the possibilities.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Jerry Bergonzi's " Nearly Blue" Making the standards his own.

Jerry Bergonzi Trio: Nearly Blue Savant SCD 2180

The tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi has released his latest album Nearly Blue on producer Barney Field’s Savant label and he once again proves that a passion for the standards imbued with enough personal creativity can make those songs your own. I have been following this iconoclastic, force of energy tenorist since I first reviewed his album Three for All back in 2010. I was impressed with his strong voicing and unusual, unpredictable harmonic approach to the music. He has a unique sound that is all his own and I found myself looking forward to his subsequent releases covering his Rigarmaroll in 2015 and Spotlight on Standards in 2016, both superb outings.

The Boston based musician came to note back in the early nineteen seventies, eventually holding the saxophone chair with Dave Brubeck’s quartet from 1979-1982, recording nine albums with this consequential pianist.

If someone can be labeled as a musician’s musician, then Bergonzi’s reputation, both in the industry and amongst his peers, is worthy of such an esteemed moniker. When Jerry Bergonzi ventures out of Boston to share his tenor magic, it is an event that most of the cognoscenti can’t resist to pass up. My astute colleague from the Chicago Tribune, Howard Reich, was dutifully impressed by Bergonzi’s rare performance in the Windy City back in 2019 and he noted that “…the saxophonist really ought to return to Chicago before another 40 years go by.”  No doubt his sentiment is shared countrywide.

The musician has followed his own path, cultivated a poignantly aggressive attack, and developed an uncompromising harmonic approach that is all his own. Bergonzi has dedicated a great deal of his last thirty-plus years educating, creating instructional guides that document his take on the art of improvisation. His work at the New England Conservatory of Music started in the nineteen-eighties, where he became a full professor and where he continues to teach. Working continuously in his Boston hometown as well as touring as a leader and a sideman, Bergonzi also teaches private lessons, and has run masterclasses at Berklee, Eastman, North Texas State University as well as institutions in Paris, Spain, Australia, Finland, and Sweden to name a few. Because he has maintained true to his own path, his influence amongst notable rising saxophonists is noteworthy.

Nearly Blue, is a compilation of songs that include seven iconic standards and three of the saxophonist's originals. His trio includes the intuitive bandmates, B3 organist Renato Chicco and his long term drummer Andrea Michelutti. 

“I just adore the melodies of these tunes.”  Bergonzi offered. He has an affinity to inject new and inventive approaches to these well-traveled compositions. His dynamic horn is like a shot of resuscitating oxygen providing a burst of welcomed vitality to these ageless but much-played standards.

The opening song, Rogers and Hammerstein “It Might As Well Be Spring,”  finds Chicco's  B3 moaning and throbbing organically as the drums precisely accent and maintain a swinging pace. Bergonzi’s muscular tenor punctuates the melody in his own inimitable way. The saxophonist never loses the essence of the material, always creating unpredictable paths through the structure of the composition. His sound is commanding and confident, whether he runs jagged, penetrating lines or develops rapid cascades of linked notes. His surprising ideas barrel from his horn like a torrent of liquid energy splashing against the jagged rocks of a cataract.

John Coltrane’s “Countdown,” is a normally a quick-paced standard that ascends and descends like an exercise up and down stairs. It is played here in a more medium tempo. The opening line is introduced by Chicco’s pulsing organ. Bergonzi’s tenor loosely navigates this song's direction, employing a slightly skewed direction, redefining the progression in slightly altered patterns. His tenor is confident but more jagged, the musical equivalent of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker character choreographically descending and ascending the steep city alley steps in the movie. The motion is irregular, but purposeful, up and down at will and played with panache and bravado.

“How About You” has a boisterous hop to it and Bergonzi’s horn is fast, enthusiastic, filled with fusillades of notes. Maintaining the pace and feel of the melody, he takes you on a journey that transports you,  punctuated occasionally by high register leaps from his saxophone. Michelutti drives the piercing swing and Chicco offers an interesting Larry Young inspired organ solo. 

Bergonzi's original, the clarion “Tectonic Plates,” was originally played on his Three for All from 2010. Is this a powerful declaration of the saxophonist’s admiration for enormous changes in nature that often occur without our awareness?  In fact, the music mimics shifting plates in a song’s harmony and features some of the saxophonists' most probing and reverential playing. 

“Nearly Blue,” is the second original composition.  A sauntering quirky shuffle by Michelutti generates just enough of the blues essence to provide the trio with a familiar base on which to build Bergonzi’s expanding harmonic explorations. Swirling lines of notes and layered levels of musical ideas seem to erupt from this man’s horn at will. It is like traveling with a seasoned explorer on a quest. Chicco’s B3 solo is especially warm and swells with emotion and authority.

Kaper and Washington’s classic “On Green Dolphin Street” is played at a more robust pace. It is such a treat to hear this trio respond so splendidly to the leaders' turbocharged approach to this song. Bergonzi creates a vortex of notes enhancing the melody and re-imagining the feeling that you are familiar with from this song. Here the energy and enthusiasm of the trio erupt, magnetizing the listener. The transformation of this song is inspired, and like water to a parched traveler reaching a welcoming oasis in the desert, their creativity sustains and re-invigorates this treasure.

If you like a well-played, moving ballad, Cart T. Fischer’s “We’ll Be Together Again” is just a gem in the hands of this tenor titan. He plays the melody straight, but with a copious amount of feeling and style, embellishing the coda with an exciting cadenza.

The album  includes another Bergonzi's original “While You Were Out,” Gershwin’s playful “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” and an energized ballad “Laura,” with some sassy B3 work and some inspired saxophone improvisation. This is an extremely enjoyable album that is a must for any jazz fan who appreciates an inventive saxophonist and his trio at the top of their game.

Friday, May 8, 2020

"Embrace" : A Vital Breath of Music from Chris Dingman and his Trio

Chris Dingman Embrace

The imaginative, vibraphonist Chris Dingman released his latest creation, Embrace, on March 6, 2020. This nine-composition, musically vibrant album by Dingman and his simpatico trio of bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Tim Keiper veritably debuted as the eye of the hurricane known as world pandemic virus Covid-19 struck hard in the musician’s residing metropolitan New York City area. In these times of stress, uncertainty, and fear, it is precisely the reinvigorating qualities of sensitively rendered, emotionally honest and expertly executed music like Dingman’s that in fifty-four minutes can revive your tranquility and elevate your spirits. It is like a beautiful, vital breath of inspiration in these trying times.

I first heard Dingman’s work back in 2015 when he gathered a potent sextet and released his brilliant, five-part suite, The Subliminal and the Sublime. The album was perceptibly created to musically capture the elegance and splendor of nature and its wonders. Dingman musically admired the sublime majesty of the great Redwoods to the gentle undulations of a flowing stream, marveled at the subliminal shifts like the barely perceptible motion of Tectonic plates, to the whirling galaxy of light created by swarming fireflies at night in the woods. The album caught my attention, and I called it an “aural feast” that should be savored and named it as one of 2015’s best of jazz in the Huffington Post.

As with the previous offering, The Subliminal and the Sublime, Dingman's latest, Embrace, was made possible by a grant by the Inner Arts Initiative, part of the Chamber Music of America. It is so vital that critical groups like this still do their part to support promising and creative musicians and allow them the means to produce worthwhile work.

Embrace is a composition oriented album. Dingman's pared-down group created its own challenge. The limited tonal palette of the vibraphone as the sole lead instrument in the trio necessitated his instrument's voice becoming more prominent, carrying the melodies, and simultaneously, at times, offering rhythmic support. His astute band members provided a dynamic interaction, using Oh’s full sounding bass and Keiper’s airy drum work to drive the music and serve as complementary textures to Dingman's reverberating, tubular voice. The trio works in sync marvelously, well-matched and keen to each other's interactions and to Dingman's compositions.

Dingman acknowledges his playing of the vibes to be stylistically most influenced by the late vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. Other exposures when he studied at Wesleyan included Avant-garde saxophonist Anthony Braxton and fellow vibraphonist Jay Hoggard. The strong melodic, sometimes ethereal work that Dingman produces has incorporated elements of technique that follow the style of vibraphonist Gary Burton’s more melodic and atmospheric work. Over the past ten years, Dingman’s musical interests have been strongly influenced by the West African music of Mande, Wassoulou, and the desert of Mali areas.

In this album, the composition “Ali” is a gorgeous song dedicated to the hypnotic grooves of Ali Farka Toure, the late Malian singer and blues/folk guitarist. The song starts out with Dingman playing a gentle, effervescent ostinato pattern that has floating, captivating pace and intriguing emotional attraction before accented by skillful percussive patterning by Keiper and a subtly anchoring bass line by Oh.

“Inner Child” has a buoyant, playful sound that the musician offers as a healing song that embraces parts of himself that he often ignores. Bassist Linda May Han Oh, an in-demand bassist who tours with Pat Metheny's group, offers a potent, beautifully minimalist solo that compliments the vibraphonist’s ebulliently featured chiming lines as Keiper delicately splashes his cymbals.

“Forgive/Embrace” is a composition based on a kora-inspired line that came from Dingman’s studies with Toumani Diabate. Diabate is a kora master-a West African gourd and skin constructed, harp-like stringed instrument. The sounds created from this type of instrument are drone-like and can be spellbinding.

Dingman modulates the reverberation on his instrument masterfully, letting his hollow, floating sound hang in the air as he deftly plays both rhythm and melody. Oh’s bass lines are vibrant and communicative. Her bass carries the music so well in combination with Dingman’s chiming lines that the two seem to be mentally tethered. This is my first exposure to drummer Tim Keiper, who has worked with David Bryne. His trap work complements brilliantly, both utilizing intuition and subtlety, and his skills perfectly match to Dingman’s compositional needs.

 “Goddess” and “Folly of Progress” are credited by Dingman as being inspired by Oumou Sangare’s music. The fifty-two-year-old, Grammy Award-winning Mali Wassoulou vocalist has a strong voice, is a social activist, and known as “The Songbird of Wassoulu.”  If you are inquisitive and like to follow these world music rabbits down the hole, you can search them out, listen to their artistry, and experience a rewardingly different horizon of music.

Dingman has obviously used his exposure to several of these West African artists for inspiration, but he always finds a creative way to incorporate the essence of their musical style into his own re-imagination of their music. He uses his melodic and improvisational skills to instill his own sense of beauty in his compositions and performs them in a skillful, modern jazz-chamber style. I found the sources intriguing, original, and compelling, and Dingman has thankfully opened my eyes to some of these amazing world music creators. 

“Goddess” is particularly rhythmic with a driving beat that features Dingman’s buoyant vibes dance to over Keiper’s cadenced drums.  Dingman’s mallet work here is impressively quick and yet he always maintains a warm, radiant ripple of tone that hovers over the rhythm like a bilious cloud of joy.

“Folly of Progress” has its own mechanistic tempo, like an automated frenzy of bell driven machinery that never seems to relax, driven by unyielding production. The album also includes “Find A Way,” with some impressive bass work by Oh, “The Opening + Mudita,” “HiJinks and Wizardry,” and “Steps on the Path all worthy of your attention.

Embrace is a stunning treasure of musical tastes, senses, and sounds. Chris Dingman conceived and composed this set of transforming music that swells with its own world influences while retaining this talented artist’s distinct identity. The music has elements of Chamber music, modern jazz, and world music seamlessly transformed into the man's penchant for creating another tonally beautiful "aural feast."  Chris Dingman is a formidable vibraphonist, but he has once again found unique and unusual influences to develop his own growing mastery of compositional excellence. Take the time to absorb this music. This one deserves your attention.  

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Multi-Cutural Inspiration : Giuseppe Paridiso's Median 71 "Metropolitan Sketches"

Guiseppe Paradiso Meridian 71 Metropolitan Sketches 
The Berklee School of Music, a veritable mecca for progressive music education, has transformed  Boston into an important, melting pot of musical multi-culturalism. Musicians attend the school to expose themselves to a nurturing environment that provides a talented and often legendary faculty, and the opportunity to play with and measure themselves against talented peers from around the world. The system has proven to be one of the most successful proving grounds for many of the jazz world's most progressive artists.

The Italian born drummer, Giuseppe Paradiso, is a young artist whose second album Metropolitan Sketches will be released on February 12, 2020. He is another product of the Berklee School of Music experience. Classically trained first in  Italy at the Conservatory of N. Piccinni in Bari, he expanded his repertoire by attending numerous jazz seminars and music competitions in both Italy and France. He won a four-year scholarship to Berklee and graduated the institution magna cum laude 2011. His trajectory included attending seminars that exposed him to world-class players/educators including Teri Lynne Carrington, Ron Carter, Antonio Sanchez, Peter Erskine, and Elvin Jones to name a few.

On Metropolitan Sketchesthe drummer presents and performs seven of his compositions and one arrangement of Puccini, with bonus tracks that offer two alternate takes, and you can hear the multi-culturalism in his music. The band, Meridian 71, is comprised of members that are truly representative of their internationally diverse backgrounds. Besides Paradiso's Italian roots, the group includes the Senegalese griot and percussionist Malick Ngom,  the 'Turkish pianist and educator Utar Artun, Finnish born and Middle Eastern and East African influenced guitarist and oud player Jussi Reijonen, Massachusetts born saxophonist and educator Mark Zaleski, fretless electric bassist Galen Willett and guest appearances by local musicians, trumpeter Phil Grenadier and guitarist Phil Sargent.

The music is creative and starts off in a driving, progressive vibe reminiscent of Weather Report on the composition titled "Nomvula" which means "Mother of Rain." The music features a punctuated and jarring percussion-driven opening that morphs into a more melodic sway over modulating Reijonen guitar chords and some effective percussion accents.  Zaleski's punctuating sax parts grab you by the throat and pianistic lines by Artun soften the attack. The music shifts time and builds tension effectively by using ostinato piano and throbbing bass lines that allow Paradiso and Ngom to make a rhythmically potent statement.

"Spring" is a beautifully melodic stroll through a musical wildflower garden; spring in bloom. The song features some sensitive guitar work by Sargent or Reijonei (not sure which), powerfully focused and resonant bass lines by Willett and delicate accompanying by Artun on a Rhodes. Phil Grenadier's gorgeous trumpet sound soars transcendently over the verdant background like a bird resplendently letting his wings catch the wind in a joyous celebration of the season.
Giuseppe Paradiso 
Paradiso includes a three composition suite of music that musically represents the ethnic vagabond gypsy heritage of the drummer's mother.  The first piece "Introduction to Tuntkah"  is a rhythmic depiction of a caravan with all its cacophonous sounds and relentless drone of motion as creatively depicted by the interwoven drums and percussion employed so effectively by Paradiso.

"Tuntkah" (The Nomad King) is a  musical potpourri of voices that meld together brilliantly in a middle eastern-inspired procession. Zaleski and Grenadier join voices in sympathetic unison and separate at times harmonically and in solo, as the rhythm section of bass, piano and drums keep the motion sauntering forward. The music has a hypnotic serpentine motion to it, accentuated by the creative electronic guitar work, perhaps by Sargent, creating and exploring with otherworldy taste and Grenadier's trumpet in counterpoint. These guys are never lacking for musical inventiveness and this one is captivating with the cornucopia of sounds employed so effectively. The song ends with the interjected sounds of a departing subway on the tracks.

The third of Paradiso's suite is titled "A Partial Life Story," which starts off with again adds sounds seemingly from a busy landing at a train station. The music is sensitively played by Artun's piano before the music's pace is increased by Paradiso's drums and an excitable and eerie snake-charming soprano by Zaleski adding to the tension to an apex.

"Casamance" is an energetic composition by Paradiso and Ngom that features the two percussionists displaying their poly-rhythmic simpatico.

Classically grounded, "Lucevan le Stelle," is an emotive Puccini composition arranged by Paradiso and features Zaleski's soprano in counterpoint to Artun's piano, Willett's bass, and Grenadier's trumpet. The music is searching, probing and adventurous in the liberated arrangement.

The title track "Metropolitan Sketches," is a cooker and returns to another Weather Report inspired funk/fusion style. Willet's bass leads with a facile, distinctively funky opening. Electronically augmented guitar lines by Reijonen lay down the rhythmic carpet and Zaleski's alto plays over it with a deliberately anxious authority. Artun has his most frenetic piano solo with percussive use of two-handed block chording, as Paradiso, Ngom, and Willett fortify the drive with synchronized power. The music pulses with energy and the world music-inspired rhythmic creativity by Ngom at the coda is a treat. These guys are a band that surprise and deserve to be followed.

The album ends with two alternative and intriguing takes on previously played songs. The romantic "Spring,"  features Grenadier on muted trumpet and "Lucevan le Stelle," with a more organic sounding Zaleski soprano and an even more experimental free take by the group. Both alternates show the band's creative nature, a willingness to explore multiple concepts to achieve the right feel.


Friday, January 31, 2020

Jonathan Kreisberg's "Capturing Spirits-JKQ Live" Germany 2019

Jonathan Kreisberg Capturing Spirits- JKQ Live 
Jonathan Kreisberg is a gifted, post-hardbop guitarist who possesses a distinctive modern tone, blazing facility, and an intriguing sense of melodic and harmonic imagination that can captivate the listener's attention.

Originally from New York, Kreisberg grew up in a household with a great and varied music collection, from John Coltrane to John Williams to the Who and the superband Cream. Kreisberg moved to Miami at the age of ten where he attended the New World School of Arts. After graduating, he received a scholarship to The University of Miami, held the guitar chair on the school's Concert Jazz Band, and got an opportunity to play with the likes of Michael Brecker and Joe Henderson. His early band, The Third Wish, was a progressive rock band that, by his own account, was "...coming up with new textures and being communicative while still playing intense musically."

In the early nineteen-nineties, Kreisberg returned to his native New York and reevaluated his goals as a professional musician. He concentrated on the importance of melody and harmony and honed his instrumental skills by working with a diverse array of talented jazz artists, including vibraphonist Joe Locke, saxophone legend Lee Konitz, drummer Bill Stewart, pianist/organist Gary Versace, and bassist Larry Grenadier to name a few. Jazz and blues B3 master Dr. Lonnie Smith, who had been with guitarist George Benson earlier, was impressed by Kreisberg's jazz vocabulary and offered the young guitarist a seat in his touring trio. It has been a valuable multi-year association. Currently, leading his own group, Kreisberg established his most recent quartet, which musicians pianist Martin Bejerano,  bassist Matt Clohesy, and drummer Colin Stranahan.

Martin Berjerano, Jonathan Kreisberg, Colin Stranahan and Matt Clohesy (photo credit unknown)
I have been following Jonathan Kreisberg's work since being impressed by his exciting fusion-infused album Shadowless, a cd which I named as one of my Notes on Jazz's Best of Jazz in 2011. Kreisberg expanded his goals in 2013 by recording a moving solo album titled One. In 2018, the guitarist released a  gorgeous collaboration with the Brazilian nylon string guitarist Nelson Varas on their spectacular Kreisberg Meets Varas.

Capturing the Spirits is the guitarist's first "live" recording, and in the hustle of touring, the band members became unaware that they were being taped at a show at the Jazz Schmiede in Dusseldorf Germany on March 15, 2019. Unhampered by the pressure of being "on" for a recording, the spontaneity and free-flowing energy of the group was palpably captured. The inspired music was partially a reaction to the enthusiasm of the crowd, but make no mistake, these guys are acutely aligned, driven by a unified internal desire to stretch and expand their improvisational creativity, and they execute organically like a singular cohesive entity.

The album captures seven songs, six of which are penned by Kreisberg. There is no lack of interest in this guitarist's compositional inventiveness or his tactile artistry which seems to expand with every passing year. The cd starts off with Kreisberg creating ascending guitar lines on "The Lift," which features some driving ostinato piano lines by Berjerano and the pulsing rhythm from the groove-creating duo of Clohesy and Stranahan. The music has a propulsive, fusion-like DNA. Kreisberg's precise, mercurial lines, swirl by in a flash, directionally elevating you into the ozone, offering a wellspring of ideas along the way. The music is complex and swift, employs altering rhythms, modulating tension and release, and never fails to reach its destination.

"Trust Fall" has Kreisberg leading this swinger in front of Stranahan's beautifully paced drums and Clohesy's firmly anchored bass lines. The notes flow out of the guitarist's warm-toned, hollowed-body Gibson like hot maple syrup cascading on to anxiously waiting pancakes. Bejerano offers a beautiful piano solo that just accentuates the melodicism of his approach.

Jonathan Kreisberg ( photo credit unknown)
The ballad "Everything Needs Something" starts off with Stranahan's metronomic drum lines setting the sauntering pace. Kreisberg plays the repeating melody line with sensitivity ala Jim Hall before Clohesy provides a burnish-toned bass solo that struts along, punctuating lines with confidence for several measures. Kreisberg's ES-175 Gibson is his go-to guitar, but on-demand he can modify his sound with electronics that expand his palette of available musical colors. Here, he uses a synth-style device with volume control, that allows him to explore more modern sounds to great effect. Like some other modernists, Kreisberg sparingly uses electronics to create a very clever tonal transition that bridges the cutting edge to the traditional.

"Relativity" has a Pat Metheny feel in the song's melody, drive, and in the attack and tone of Kreisberg's guitar. He modulates his sound to increase tonal interest and he has an impressive ability to stack blisteringly played arpeggios into lush layers of sound, folding them into each other, draping over the sustained melody. It's a sensuous approach that reminds me of layering cloud-like, whisked milk onto a steaming rich, dark espresso. Berjarano's piano work here is dynamic, inventive and cascading in response. Stranahan's roiling drum work follows the music with unfailing aplomb, power, and originality, as Cloheshy's bass impressively anchors the repeating line.

Kreisberg's "Know You Before" is a gorgeous ballad that plays like a romantic waltz. You can almost see a movie scene of two lovers blissfully dancing to the music in a cloud-filled courtyard. Kreisberg's compositional talent is quite fetching and original. The guitarist's melodicism and attack have certainly been touched by predecessors like guitarists Jim Hall and Pat Metheny, but he has his own style and sound, a sound that brings in layers of his prog-rock influences, as he deftly balances the modern with the traditional.

"Wild Animals That We've Seen" was first recorded on Kreisberg's Wave Upon Wave from 2014. This composition opens with a solo guitar intro that erupts with ideas before the main, modal-driven melody opens up. Berjerano's playing is explosive, impressive and recalls the intensity of a McCoy Tyner approach. When Kriesberg enters the picture he shreds with speed, confidence, and determination. Stranahan's drums never stop, volcanic and punctuated with fearless accents and boiling muscularity.

The cd closes with the Johnny Green classic "Body And Soul," the guitarist opening the song at his most sensitive. Kriesberg plays unaccompanied, sans effects, and explores the gentle harmonic possibilities of this memorable melody before the band enters the music. Clohesy's bass tone is beautiful, full, warm and carries a slow, languishing pace before he offers a soulful, pensive solo. Stranahan's brushes are gossamer-like with sensitivity. Kreisberg's imagination explores unexpected harmonic trails, interestingly interpreting the music without completely abandoning the familiar melody. How can a group take a revered classic and find a way to modernize it with artistry while retaining its essence? This group can and they brilliantly make it their own.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Bassist Richie Goods' "My Left Hand Man'" A Tribute to a Mentor

Richie Goods and The Goods Project A Tribute to Mulgrew Miller "My Left Hand"
Being associated with a generous and talented mentor can be a powerful impetus to your own creative development and musical maturity. Bassist Richie Goods' latest album My left hand man, is a tribute to Goods' mentor, the late great pianist Mulgrew Miller, who Goods recorded and toured with for nine years.

Miller, an astute educator, was the Director of Jazz Studies at William Patterson College in New Jersey from 2005 until his untimely death in 2013, from a stroke. Miller, a gifted composer, often encouraged younger musicians under his influence while quietly creating his own musical legacy. I recall seeing Miller as a surprise guest on a Kenny Garrett gig at the Iridium in NYC (most likely in 2012). I marveled at the reverence and respect that the pianist's simple presence incited among the musicians who were present. Saxophonist Garrett's then pianist, Venezuelan born Benito Gonzalez, relinquished his piano seat and happily stood behind Miller mesmerized, marveling and absorbing Miller's developed pianistic approach and refined touch. Mulgrew Miller's influence on and stature amongst the jazz community was self-evident.

Mulgrew Miller (photo credit unknown)
Goods openly acknowledges the important exposure that he received working with Miller, but the bassist was also active in his own development. After graduating from Berklee in Boston, the Pittsburgh native moved to New York where he studied with two of the most respected bass players in jazz, Ray Brown and Ron Carter. Goods increased his exposure to the music's legacy by working with artists as diverse as Lenny White, The Headhunters, Vincent Herring and Milt Jackson. His talent as a jazz/funk master opened up opportunities to work with renowned popular artists like Sting, Chris Botti, Whitney Houston, and Alicia Keys.

My left hand man is a compilation of ten songs, nine of which Goods selected from the Mulgrew Miller repertoire. The songs were chosen for their suitability to the way Goods and his group likes to play. They like lots of energy infused with elements of  R and B; Soul, Fusion, Funk and Jazz, all integrated to attract a wider audience. The Goods Project personnel certainly deliver on that promise. This outing includes the Atlanta based drummer Lil John Roberts, two pianists- Shedrick Mitchell and Mike King, two guitarists-Tariqh Akoni and David Rosenthal, percussionists Danny Sadownick and Rafael Pereira, violinist/violist Amy Schroeder, cellist Felix Umansky and include guest appearances by chromatic harmonica ace Gregoire Maret, singer Jean Baylor and vibraphonist Chien Chein Lu.

The music is vibrant and energized as the potent rhythm section Goods and Roberts keep the pace always explosive and surging. The drums-driven "Eastern Joy Dance" starts off the set with some serpentine guitar lines by Akoni and some creative piano work by King. The always probing and vibrant bass lines of Goods lead the action.

Goods composition "The Left Hand Man," derives from a name that the bassist received from Miller and features a warm, soulful acoustic bass solo.  Goods creates fluid and punctuated lines that establish an unaccompanied rhythm in just over a minute before he transitions into Miller's "Know Wonder," which is arranged in a more fusion style. Keyboard artist Mitchell offers cascading pianistic lines that spill over the rhythm-driven pulse, and  Rosenthal's inventive electric guitar solo keeps this one quick and interesting.

"Second Thoughts," has an atmospheric, almost Lonnie Liston Smith style feeling, featuring Jean Baylor's wordless vocals. Mitchell's Rhodes and organ work are definitely astral-traveling as Akoni's guitar comps along into the ozone and Baylor's angelic vocalizations set the tone.

""Farewell To Dogma" spans the musical influences of soul, R and B, rock, and jazz.  Maret's aching chromatic harmonica sets the high expressive mark and adds to the other instrumental voices that improvise over Goods pulsing basslines and Roberts' throbbing drums.

"The Sage," is played at a languishing pace, its genetics derived more from the blues than from jazz. Akoni's guitar spells out the repeating melody line,  joined in unison with King's piano for emphasis. Goods delivers a full-throated bass solo that features his quick flexible pizzicato technique and an engaging tone, as Robert's tom-work creates a rhythmic blanket.

"Dreaming" opens with Roberts' rhythmic drumming accompanied by Sadownick's tribal percussive accompaniment. The music has a distinct Afro-Cuban feel and Goods finds bass lines that are vibrant but anchored. Mitchell's piano and Lu's vibraphone effectively mesh lines within the song, the two tonally distinct instruments adding interest. Mitchell's swift piano and Akoni's guitar lines dart in and out adding accents.

"Song of Darnell" and "Saud's Run" were orchestrated to include the strings of Umansky's cello and Schroeder's violin featuring Geoff Keezer's lush string arrangements. On the cinematic "Song of Darnell" the contrast to Rosenthal's melodic guitar work is expansive, gorgeous and nicely featured against the swelling and ebbing accompaniment of the strings. King's flowing pianistic improvisations are another highlight and Roberts ends with some explosive drum work at the coda.

"Saud's Run," a song more driven by a funky feel, utilizes the strings more to accent the rhythm and create an ostinato drive. Roberts' drum pulse has a distinctive cardiac afib pace.

The album ends with "The Sequel," a nice hard bop groove, and features Goods' burnished acoustic upright bass. King is an impressive player that utilizes a reservoir of intriguing pianistic improvisational ideas while never losing the swing. Akoni's guitar is soulful and Goods keeps the whole groove anchored and directional.

Richie Goods and his Goods Project band have taken Mulgrew Miller's music, absorbed it and re-imagined it into the bassist's own vision. The vibe may be less traditional than you might expect, but the music is played with respect and love and is modernized and energized with an unfailing groove.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

"Between Two Worlds": Jeff Denson, Romain Pilon and Brain Blade

Jeff Denson, Romain Pilon, and Brian Blade: Between Two Worlds Ridgeway Records
When you think of great jazz trios, you most likely recall piano trios, groups that encourage empathetic interaction and strive to function as one organically unified entity. Groups like Bill Evans trio with Scott La Faro and Paul Motian or Keith Jarrett's trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette come to mind.

 In Greek mythology, the  Cerberus  (Three-headed dog with snake tail) and the Chimera ( a combination of the lion, goat, and snake ) were three-headed creatures that incorporated the physical appearances of multiple animals, had three different brains, and at times displayed distinct personalities, but when faced with a single task, the creature would manage to sublimate the three distinct characters within itself and function as a unified being.

Much like the creatures of Greek mythology, in music, when you sublimate yourself as a musician to the unified purpose of the trio, three distinct voices can be alloyed into one coherent and organic voice without sacrificing the individual's identity. In the case of the trio of guitarist Romain Pilon,  double bassist Jeff Denson and drummer Brian Blades on their latest Between Two World, we are treated to three unique and creative musicians who are so in sync that they reach that magical space in music where the trio becomes almost mythical. The music includes ten compositions, five by Pilon and five by Denson.

Denson and Pilon have known each other for twenty years since they both attended Berklee back in the late nineteen-nineties. Drummer Blade first met Denson when the two played on Joel Harrison's Spirit House Band in 2017 and they too have remained connected. The album Between Two Worlds was the culmination of  Denson and Pilon trying to record together and enlisting the ubiquitous, in-demand drummer Blade for the project. It was a dream come true.

The album music is melodic and contemplative. Pilon composed "Sucre," "En Trois Temps," "Generation," "Madrid" and "Azur." Denson's originals on the album include "Song of a Solitary Crow," "Nostalgic Farewell," "Listen Up," "Lost and Found" and "Between Two Worlds."

"Sucré" opens the album up with Pilon's gentle and musical guitar, Denson's floating basslines and Blades precise drums. Pilon and Denson respond well to each other's moves and to Blades's subtle rhymic direction. It's especially rewarding to hear how Denson and Blade coordinate their lines seamlessly as Pilon solos. The music ebbs and flows with grace and fluidity.

"Song of a Solitary Crow" is a gorgeously pensive, cadenced sound that hints at the feel of a solitary outlook's perspective. Pilon's guitar is always sensitive, but he also modulates his sound with Frisell-like echo effects in one section. Denson's bass moves from contemplative to jaunty as Blades accents lightly, guiding without ever overpowering the music.

"En Trois Temps" ( In Three Phases) is a gentle waltz that features some of Denson's more buoyant bass solos. His double bass has a warm, articulate and rich sound that is quite appealing. Blade's drum choices are always unexpected, and he magnificently accompanies the music with subtle aplomb. Pilon's guitar at times recalls the gracious mellifluence of John Abercrombie.

"Génération" is a Pilon composition that features some of the album's most free-flowing three-way communication. It shifts timing and creates sections that seem like the music is being spontaneously improvised, three aligned minds leading each other, discovering new directions as they emerge. Pilon's guitar lines are the most adventurous here.

As the title sounds, "Nostalgic Farewell" is a romantic melody that beautifully projects one of life's poignant memories of saying goodbye to a loved one. Denson's bass solo is particularly moving and Blade's accompaniment on gentle brushes is as sensitive as the moving melody deserves.

"Listen Up" opens with a roiling Blade's drum solo that sets the tone for this shifting, jagged composition. The music moves very freely and is the most abstract of the album. Denson's bass punctuates his notes, as Pilon runs up and down the fretboard. Blade keeps the frenetic tune propelled brilliantly and the trio responds to rapid changing directions in time. This one is impressive.

"Madrid" returns the group to a more melodic path. I love the interplay here. Denson's bass is large and exuberant. Pilon's guitar lays out the melodic direction. Blade's drum work is so subtle and fine as to almost be gossamer-like.

"Lost and Found," a Denson composition, has a jaunty pace that features Denson's astute walking double bass as Pilon's guitar lays out the melody and Blade keeps the locomotion silkily moving forward. Denson's creative bass solo is nicely accompanied by Pilon's comping chord work and Blades restrained trap work. This one grabs your mind.

Denson's title cut "Between Two Worlds" is an atmospheric composition that features Denson's bowed bass work that captures mystery and yearning. Pilon and Blade leave the spotlight on  Denon here and rightfully so, but Pilon's deft guitar lines and Blade's splendid drum work here makes this one an enchanting voyage between two worlds.

"Azur" is the closing, bluesy composition on this surprising album. Pilon's guitar is so melodic and he always plays with confidence and panache. Denson's bass is stedfastly melodic and rhythmic, a lighthouse whose beaming light can fluidly traverse across the atmosphere without ever losing sight of where he grounded. Brian Blade and his uncanny ability to musically create the perfect percussive accompaniment is just a delight,

As Jeff Denson has stated "Playing music is a deeply spiritual experience for me-it is sacred. When it is pure it can be like traveling without moving-a gateway to another world of reality."  
We could all use some spiritual experiences. Give this record a chance and maybe you, like me, will be transported into another and better world of reality.