Thursday, October 13, 2022

The Ari Hoenig Trio w Gilad Hekselman and Matt Penman : Bringing Some High Wattage to Portland

The Ari Hoenig Trio: Gilad Hekselman, Matt Penman & Ari Hoenig 

Monday, October 10, 2022, was my first exposure to Portland’s live jazz music scene since moving here from the Atlanta area. The venue was a friendly, intimate, well-appointed supper club called 1905. The brainchild of the owner Aaron Barnes, a former high school band teacher turned restaurateur/bartender, 1905 is tucked in the Mississippi section of Portland and may well be, as Downbeat magazine once proclaimed, “one of the world’s top jazz venues.”  All I can attest to is that it is certainly an important place to listen to and support fine jazz in Portland. 1905 opened its doors in 2015 as a pizzeria/Italian restaurant/bar that eventually catered to live jazz music performances. The venue seats close to fifty attendees within the building and as the weather permits, there is an added generous covered outdoor seating section that is open to the bandstand. 

My visit to 1905 was sparked by the chance to see the top-notch, NY-based band The Ari Hoenig Trio. We attended the early first set which kicked off at a little after six pm. The trio was an impressive group, an international flavored potpourri, led by the forty-eight-year-old, Philadelphia-born, polyrhythmic drumming whirlwind Ari Hoenig, the fleet-fingered Israeli-born guitarist Gilad Hekselman and progressive New Zealand-born bassist Matt Penman. These master musicians have been at the forefront of a new generation of talented improvisers that honor the tradition of jazz while blazing new trails of interpretation within the broad scope that encompasses this genre. 

It was an electric performance from the start. The group took little time to warm up as they started with “Boplicity” from Hoenig’s 2018 album NY Standard. The composition was written by Cleo Henry and Gil Evans for Miles Davis's 1957 classic Birth of Cool. From the slow simmer of the thoughtful cool jazz original, the trio stirred the music into a boiling cauldron of energy led by the drummer’s exuberant brush playing, reminiscent of Jeff Hamilton’s brush mastery. There is a joy in Hoenig’s playing that makes you just get swept up by his infectious enthusiasm and creative trap work. Hekselman’s facile guitar lines were successively quicker and more serpentine path from the theme. Penman’s warm upright anchored the bottom beautifully. This group was ready to thrill.

Ari Hoenig 

The set followed with Hoenig’s beautiful composition “Anymore” which was on his album Connor’s Days. Hoenig has been known to sing and play piano on this but here he simply led the group with a polyrhythmic beat that was mind-blowing. Hekselman explored the harmonic possibilities of the song to great effect and Penman offered a probing bass solo. This is creative music at its best.

After some ardent applause from the attentive audience, the trio embarked on the classic Ray Noble tune “Cherokee,” an Indian love song. The song’s structure was used as the basis of the more incendiary version “Ko-Ko” by saxophone master Charlie Parker. The energized approach made the song into a virtual demonstration of virtuosity and speed. Here the trio took the song and made it a showcase of Hekselman’s guitar prowess. Gilad is a beautiful player who creates mercurial lines at impressive speed and without any degradation of clean precision. Deceivingly, his improvisational skill seems to make it look almost effortless. Hoenig and Penman provided the guitarist with unrelenting propulsion and polyrhythmic time shifts to make it all work like a precision timepiece. The song produced a predictably arousing response from the audience.


Ari finally took up the microphone to introduce the group to the audience who responded with grateful applause. He introduced the next selection of the set, a dedication to the pianist/composer Billy Childs, titled “Child’s Prey” which is on Ari’s latest release Golden Treasures. I am a big fan of Child’s work, so it is always of interest to listen to a song that is written with another artist in mind.  The composition has an undulating opening that was originally recorded with pianist Gadi Lehavi on Golden Treasures following the slithery course that Hoenig creates and is reminiscent of some of Child’s own work. On this night Hekselman’s guitar was the defining instrument that laid down the path and he did so with phenomenal aplomb. Penman took his turn with a potent solo that showed just how facile he is on the upright. The song features a sustained ostinato section where the music is repeated, creating a background drone where Hoenig’s drums produce an agitated whirlpool of percussive sound effects. His arms and legs are like swirling dervishes of momentum and rhythmic invention.  A tireless fusillade of percussive variation. The performance was just outstanding.

Gilad Hekselman

The group returned with “Guernsey St Gooseneck,” a rhythmic groove of a composition by Hoenig. The song has Penman and Hoenig maintaining the groove which becomes amazingly catchy. Looking around the place, I saw most of the audience, including me, bouncing their heads to this infectiously repeating groove. With the beat established it left Hekselman with the task of creating some counterpoint and diversity. The guitarist established loops on his guitar that maintained different ascending lines upon which he added variations and improvisational harmonies.

Matt Penman

Never one to leave a beat at a simple 4/4, Hoenig and Penman would occasionally change the rhythm up. I’m not one who can always identify the proper time being used but the group did so without losing the audience or each other. A crowd pleaser.

The closing composition of the set was brief and another Hoenig ballad, “For Tracy,” a song he wrote for his wife from his Connor’sDays album. This sensitive composition featured Hekselman’s gorgeous guitar voicings and showed that this trio was indeed capable of emotive music on demand.  


I had previously seen bassist Matt Penman’s work with Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, and Eric Harland in
James Farm. He is also a member of the influential SF Jazz Collective with Miguel Zenon and David Sanchez and is in pianist Aaron Goldberg’s trio. I first heard Gilad Hekselman’s guitar work on his 2018 album Ask For Chaos. Besides this trio with Hoenig, he has his own quartet with saxophonist Mark Turner, Joe Martin, and Marcus Gilmore. The real discovery for me was drummer Ari Hoenig. I had heard of him and knew he was an accomplished drummer/composer, who had played with pianist luminaries like Jean Michel-Pilc, Tigran Hamasayan, and Kenny Werner, but I had never really heard him play and his performance at 1905 exceeded all my expectations. He is a vibrant, personable musician who, when I spoke to him, told me some of his influences include drummers Ralph Peterson and Brian Blade among others. 

Ari Hoenig is an impressive musician, and the trio is certainly a band that you should make an effort to see if possible. The trio is on tour and will return to Smalls in NYC on Oct 17th before they move to the European leg of this tour starting in England, playing in  Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, and Paris, France before returning to Smalls on Nov 21st

Monday, August 22, 2022

EEE Eubanks-Evans Experience Two Like Minds Create Together


Two Philadelphia musicians, separated by an almost generation of age, have nonetheless found themselves linked by a foundation in music that emerges, in part, from their shared Philly experience. 

Guitar wizard Kevin Eubanks is a member of a jazz family that includes his two brothers, younger Duane a trumpeter, and elder brother Robin an established trombonist. Eubanks attended Berklee and has worked with drummer Art Blakey, saxophonist Sam Rivers, and bassist Dave Holland. The guitarist made his presence known more widely to the public when he became the musical director of the band of the Tonight Late Show and the subsequent Jay Leno Show from 1995-2010.  

Orrin Evans attended Rutgers, worked with drummer Ralph Peterson, saxophonist Bobby Watson, soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome, and studied with master pianist Kenny Barron. He has made his mark with his work with the quartet TarBaby, his Grammy-nominated Captain Black Big Band, and increasing his exposure to a wider audience by replacing leaving pianist Ethan Iverson for a time with The Bad Plus.

These two created a dynamic duo for this album and titled it the Eubanks Evans Experience. The synergy here becomes apparent from the opening cut “Novice Bounce,” a Eubanks composition from his debut album Guitarist from 1983. This groove starts with some delicate guitar work and some precisely accompanied piano work that demonstrates just how in-tune these two can be. Like two joyously dancing fairies in an enchanted forest, there is a magical air to this one. The group morphs it into a more soulful endeavor with Evans' syncopated piano. Eubanks guitar increases the funk quotient without ever losing the sensitivity. His slithery guitar work shows a commanding articulation and an inherent flare that are impressive.

One of the most beautiful interpretations from the duo takes a soul/funk, some may say smooth jazz, hit from trumpeter Tom Browne from 1980 titled “Dreams of Loving You.”  Eubanks and Evans reimagine this as a dreamy haunting ballad. Evans introduces this with a sensitive statement of the catchy and moving melody. Eubanks is the star here with his deft modulating guitar sound that emerges from Evans’ entry with an almost eerie Theremin-like sounding line that eeks with longing and pathos. This one is just beautiful.

The two break it up with a blues/funk-drenched collaboration “I Don’t Know” that raises the temperature of the proceedings up a couple of notches. Eubanks guitar is slippery and gut-busting and Evans’ piano takes on the feel of a barrel-house honk-tonk. The two get into it and play off each other’s ideas telepathically in a way that flows spontaneously.

“As They Ran Out of Biscuits” is a free-style collaboration that seems to be built by establishing a groove and then taking the improvisations to where they may go. This is probably the least structured and most adventurous of the set. This will not be everyone’s cup of tea but there is a real joy to absorb the active fluid collaboration going on here.

Orrin Evans composed the next ballad “Dawn Marie” for his wife. Eubanks opens the song with his own creative lead before the two enter this fetching melody. Evans plays beautifully here. There is obviously a deep connection with the loving sentiment that Evans intends to convey with this composition, and his touch and feel speak volumes. Eubanks is a master of using his electronics on his guitar to enhance his instrument’s effect. Here, his control is spookily modulated, perfectly aligning his sound to the mood intended.

The last two cuts of this album “Variations on the Battle” and Variations on Adoration” were both apparently recorded live at Chris’s Jazz Café in their hometown of Philadelphia. The two use two songs Evans’ “Half the Bottle” from his album #knowishalfthebattle of 2016 and Eubanks's “Adoration” from his album Zen Food from 2010 as the armatures upon which to improvise and expand. In the longer “Variations on the Battle” Eubanks exhibits a fusionist approach. His lines bloom in front of you as he gestates his ideas in an organic process that compliments over Evans' fertile backdrop. These two are brain-linked when playing so there is no hesitation, no awkward transitions they simply follow each other intuitively.

The shorter “Variations on Adoration” has a more melodic identity and Eubanks gently finger picks the entry as Evans creates lush pianistic lines. There is an exploratory feel to this composition as the two find a pulsating path to follow here, one that has a heartbeat of its own.

Eubanks Evans Experience is just that an experience; one that requires attention, one that requires awareness of nuance, and the ability to appreciate the true creative excellence of these two marvelous musicians. I will be looking forward to more from these two.

 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Recollections of past experiences :The Michael Wollny Trio: Ghosts


Michael Wollny Trio: Ghosts ACT 9956-2

Michael Wollny and his trio have recently released their latest album, Ghosts, on ACT recordsThe album reunites the German pianist with the progressive American bassist Tim Lefebvre and the spatial percussionist Eric Shaefer. Together these three made quite an impressive debut on their first outing together in the 2013 title Weltentraum. The album set a high-water mark in the pianist’s career and established Wollny with this trio as a creative force that could conjure up a body of music that could excite and intoxicate the listener. Wollny describes the trio’s unique simpatico, "The three of us are aligned in a special, inexplicable way. It‘s hard to describe but the effect is massive."

Tim Lefebdre, Michael Wollny & Eric Shaefer (photo credit Gregor Hohenberg)

Wollny develops inspiration for his musical adventures utilizing off-beat themes. In Weltentraum, the album was based on night songs or dreams. In Ghosts, Wollny describes his concept of how some songs are possessed by spirits, spirits of remembrance. "As an improviser, you often find that it‘s not the compositions themselves you‘re playing, but your own memories of them. And as these memories come back to you in the moment…” On Ghosts, the artist chose a diverse selection of songs, each with a distinct memory for him that personalizes his interpretation of them. There is a logic to the way Wollny cleverly links all these compositions by what he views as their unifying factors. Lost love, forgotten love, loss of simplicity, sentimental recollections, yearning, fragility, sadness, these are the ghosts that linger in the music long after.  The album includes Gershwin’s bittersweet  “I Loves You Porgy,” a traditional Irish folk song “She Moved Through the Fair,” Shubert’s "Erlkönig," Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’ “Hand of God”, Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Way,” Paul Giovanni’s “Willow’s Song,” from the horror movie Wicker Man,  Timber Timbres’ “Beat the Drum Slowly” and “Ghosts” by David Sylvian, along with two of Wollny’s own theme derived compositions “Hauntalogy” and “Monsters Never Breathe.”

The trio offers a dynamism that is quite captivating, with the music making its musical impact in tight, often brief, precisely executed cuts. Wollny‘s piano sets the tone establishing ostinato grooves or fleet arpeggios that carry you with energy and authority. Lefebvre’s bass bellows with facile, vibrant lines that carry the pulse with a sometimes-tempestuous quality; especially impressive is his lead-in to “Hand of God.” Check out the loping lines of Lefebvre’s bass on Wollny’s “Monsters Never Breathe.”  Shaefer’s drums can wrap the sound in a cirrus-like whisp of atmosphere or erupt with a cauldron-like boil of intensity.

Wollny has assembled an excellent trio that can take long familiar compositions and re-imagine them in new and surprising ways. Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy” erupts with drive before stating the beautiful melody with passion. There is a poignancy to this song and these three interpret in a contemporary way, creating a drive that never erases the sentiment. Shubert’s "Erlkönig" is modernized by the group into a new century. How would Ellington have imagined his “In a Sentimental Way” being played so barely and in such an expansive, cadenced way? Perhaps the Irish folk song “In a Sentimental Way” retains the most melodicism in the set while still being brought forward in the group’s own inimitable way. Timber Timbre’s “Beat the Drum” features shimmering cymbals by Schaefer and a cadenced piano line by Wollny, as Lefebvre’s bass pulses with a heartbeat consistency.

Take a listen to this album and see if you too are not drawn into the dynamic, entrancing world these three musicians create with Ghosts


Unfortunately, I couldn't find any videos of this new music, but here is the same group from their 2015 performance at the Jazz Baltica. Enjoy!


Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Music to Transcendence :Chris Dingman's "Journeys Vol 1"


Chris Dingman: Journeys Vol 1 Inner Iniative Arts Inc.
Not all music is designed to make you dance, to bring a smile to your face, or rock you out with reckless abandon. Music can pull at your emotional strings and elicit an amicable response, or it can energize activism or foment anger when it portrays injustice or a shameful human condition. Music can bring us together or at times it can divide us like a cleaver. Some music is meditative, ethereal, rhythmically drone-like or tonally expansive to create a path to awaken the most spiritual side of our inner psyches or to help heal.

Musician/educator Chris Dingman had a life changing experience in 2018. His father Joe was suffering from what became a terminal complication from cardiac Amyloidosis. Chris offered a musical gift for his father, five hours of spatially soothing music, created specifically to ease the father’s suffering. Before transitioning, the father uncharacteristically told his son “A miracle has happened through this music. It has transformed me over and over again. It has made me stronger, made me want to live life again.” This emotional experience changed the artist’s perception of just how powerful music could be and altered his solo approach to his instrument.

Vibraphonist Chris Dingman has been on my radar since I first caught his delicate and creative work with a quintet at Firehouse 12 in New Haven back in 2010. Since then, I have followed this talented artist as his musical horizons seem to expand exponentially in every passing year. His debut was Waking Dreams with his quintet from 2011. Then came The Subliminal and the Sublime, again his quintet, which I named one of the best releases of 2015. This was followed by his trio on Embrace in 2020, of which I wrote “a stunning treasure of musical tastes, senses, and sounds." His deeply personal solo album to his father Peace followed in 2021.

Dingman’s work is strongly influenced by the tradition of the vibraphone as an instrument in jazz. As a percussionist, he has also absorbed elements of South Indian, Western African, Korean and Brazilian music in his eclectic playing. He was born in San Jose, California, and studied music at Wesleyan with artist/educators like vibraphonist Jay Hoggard and multi-reed/composer Anthony Braxton. I also hear the airy, tubular approach that marks the vibraphonist work of Gary Burton in much of Dingman’s playing. 

Dingman was selected to participate in the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at USCLA in 2005 where he spent two years working with such luminaries as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Terrence Blanchard. He has studied with jazz masters like bassist Rob Carter and Jimmy Health and has collaborated with some of the most progressive and innovative artists in the music today, including altoist Steve Lehman, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and percussionist/multi-instrumentalist Tyshawn Sorey. The man has cred.

On Journeys Vol 1, Dingman creates five, non-symphonic, what I think of as tone poems. They evoke an atmosphere, a landscape, an occurrence, a path, or an immersion into a sensory state. These experiences the artist is aurally capturing are named by their titles. “Silently Beneath the Waves,” Light Your Way,” “Hope-Rebirth,” “The Long Road,” and “Refracted Light.” Each piece is performed solo by Dingman using his skill, his creativity and his resonating vibraphone.

On the fifteen-minute “Silently Beneath the Waves,” Dingman creates a swirling, liquid environment that surrounds you. A womb-like, amniotic fluid-type protective hollow of space and peace. As a listener, if you release your mind, absorb the eddies Dingman creates with his soothing, repetitive, sometimes cascading resonant tones, it can sweep you away, transport you into a sensory world that connects to a primal part of your being.

Chris Dingman (photo credit unknown)

On “Light Your Way” Dingman’s playing sometimes takes on the tone of a mbira (pronounced m-Bee-ra) a Zimbabwe-originated instrument that creates a drone-like, meditative sound by plucking metal tines over a hollowed wood board or resonator. The pedal tone drone he employs creates the base on top of which he improvises a secondary harmony line. In the African Shona people tradition, the instrument is used to summon ancestral spirits. Dingman’s music has become transformational. His experience with healing and the spiritual effects discovered during his father’s illness has changed his musical direction and focus.

mbira

On his “Hope-rebirth,” Dingman utilizes the higher register of his instrument to express lightness, spritely elements that have their own effervescence. The artist creates a whirl of notes that seem to be set free, open, released. They rise like emancipated angelic beings from the firma, transversing space and elevating to the next level.

“The Long Road” could be described as Dingman’s aural representation of our journey in life from birth to transition. We are created, we find our way, we discover, we make choices, we love, we lose, and through it all we are on a long  road that hopefully leads us to enlightenment. The artist’s musical choices are hopeful, the road rises, the path may be arduous, but it can lead to a higher state.


“Refracted Light” is an immersive experience, an aural translation of a visual experience. Like we experience joy or awe when we see the refraction or bending of light in a sunset or a sunrise, or we visit the prismatic dispersion of white light into the refracted colors of a rainbow. This is an experience that Dingman's music  points out how we should pay attention to its fleeting beauty.


Enjoy this transcending music https://chrisdingman.bandcamp.com/album/journeys-vol-1


Monday, February 7, 2022

How Hip Can You Be About "You"? The latest by Giacomo Gates.

You : Giacomo Gates : Savant SCD 2189

Baritone vocalist Giacomo Gates has just released his latest album You on the Savant label with an accomplished backing trio that includes the pianist Tim Ray, the bassist John Lockwood and the drummer Jim Lattini. Gates trained ear allows him to reinterpret music often overlooked or underappreciated by others. His inherent musicality and a unique hip approach to vocalizing lyrics allow this vocalist/storyteller to mine the hidden gold in the songs he chooses to sing. 

Gates has previously released albums that follow a theme, like his The Revolution Will Be Jazz: The Songs of Gil Scott-Heron from 2011, Miles Tones: Giacomo Gates Sings the Music of Miles Davis from 2013, and What Time Is It from 2017. In each case Gates’ keen intuition to reimagine the thematic music shows how a tuned-in artist can expand one’s perception of the meaning of these classic compositions.  

On You, Gates has chosen eighteen different compositions, most under three minutes in duration, to weave the thematic essence of this album- songs that emphasize someone else, someone whose significance is animated by the singer’s delivery, someone who is familiar, one who the listener knows, or even someone like You.

Gates baritone is a warm, resonant instrument that he employs with an unpretentious sense of cool. His voice engulfs you with a revelation that this is a  knowing person. He has perceived wisdom in his voice that seems to come from a place where life has been lived and foibles have been experienced. Like a wizened sage who has been there and done that.

Gates sings the words of telling stories penned by songwriting team artists like Bob Russell and Duke Ellington, Ned Washington and Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, Johnny Mercer and Jimmy Van Heusen, Coleman Hawkins and Thelonius Monk, and even Lucky Thompson to name just a few. These are all well-worn compositions that have been visited by others before, but Gates’ delivery and the banter he creates inside this music offers a fresh perspective, a clarity to the listener about the nuances embedded in this music. Listen to Giacomo Gates singing and you're taking a course in life with Socrates or maybe more likely Lenny Bruce. To this, Gates vocal approach is a passing of the musical baton that he carries from some of his vocalist heroes like Babs Gonzales, Jon Henricks, Mark Murphy, and Eddie Jefferson.

Giacomo Gates (photo by R. Miriello)

The album opens with a swinging “Exactly Like You” and Gates weaves multiple songs into the jazz pastiche he creates including elements of Ellington’s “Take the A Train,” Michel Legrand’s “Watch What Happens,” and even Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema.” Only a musical history student like Gates can skillfully link into being these disparate approaches so seamlessly?

Storytelling is what this music is all about and Gates expertly personalizes his delivery on his improvised intro to “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” worth the price of admission by itself.

Check out the hip “With Plenty of Money and You” and dig the walking bass line from John Lockwood. There is always a knowing commentary in Gates' delivery, with his tongue-in-cheek humor that puts a smile on your face, he relates how bright love could be if only he had money.

The Ellingtonian “I Didn’t Know About You” is a classic torch ballad that Gates brands with his own brand of soul. Just wonderful to hear this song so well brought to life with just the right amount of sincerity.

If you appreciate the judiciously used skill of scatting (using the voice to imitate an improvising instrument like a saxophone) then check out Gates’ on “The Nearness of You.”  His voice flows like a slick skiff’s hull through a calm sea, seamless.

Another delight on this wonderful album is Billy Eckstine’s luscious “I Want to Talk About You,” with a beautiful piano solo by Tim Ray. The sensitive “PS I Love You” is a classic Johnny Mercer torch song that demonstrates just how deep Gates’ understanding is of the meaning behind the words of this love song. The swinging “Are You Havin' Any Fun” is just joyous fun. Mercer’s “I Remember You” is a Gates must hear, with some of the trio’s best in the groove moments, and don’t forget drummer Lattini’s deft use of the rim on this one. Don’t’ miss “Everything But You” and allow yourself to be transported to a Harlem nightclub back in jazzes hey day.  

“You’ve Changed” is the perfect vehicle for the raconteur Giacomo to speak to his audience, captivate them with his smoky voice, and relate an unspeakable intimacy that almost grabs you by the shoulders through the speakers. Listening to Giacomo is like sitting at a bar with him while he sings to you about his life’s woes. As personal as it gets. Don’t miss the whole band on “I’ve Got News for You” or some of Gates’ best blues on Lucky Thompson’s “You Never Miss the Water ‘Till the Well Runs Dry.”

I have to admit I am a big fan of Giacomo Gates. No other singer on the scene today comes close to him in his milieu. Like a cool breeze on your face as you stroll on a warm sandy beach, Gates singing on You is one of those treasures that epitomizes the simple but finer things in life. The compositions are classic, the delivery is hip, the sensitivity is poignant, or just plain fun. So sit back, put up your feet and enjoy this musical journey.