Tuesday, December 26, 2023




This was another year when historical gems from the world of jazz were discovered, thoughtfully curated, and sonically improved where possible before being released to a dedicated and anxious audience of fans. The producers of many of these important releases dedicate time, effort, and expertise to make these often-overlooked recordings into wonderful keepsakes. They assemble rewarding windows into the lives and music of some of the art's most revered jazz artists as they went about their workmanlike business of creating and performing music often in live performances. These releases were, at times, recorded without the knowledge of the performers for personal use by fans for posterity, or maybe for reasons that deemed them unworthy of being commercially released. They capture the artists and their bands in an unlacquered, unrehearsed, at times rough but often brilliant process of spontaneous creation. The releases can be released in both vinyl and CD/digital formats and the packaging can be miniature pieces of art that include beautiful booklets that accompany the music. They have detailed track listings and compositional notes, rare photographs of the artists, authoritative recollections from writers and interviews of musicians of note, essays from producers, band members, and associated jazz aficionados that can put the recording into a historical perspective with inside knowledge. A veritable treasure chest of jazz information for the fan.

I have received several releases from this year that are worth notice. Here are a few of my favorite releases that I can recommend.

Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah: Released September 15, 2023, by Luaka Boo Records. This is a new boxed set of a remastered version of the original recording of the same name from 1977 including two never-before-released performances of his "Harvest Time." Made with Sander's permission.

For those who have always been influenced by Pharoah's playing and his connection to the spiritual, this recording is a window into some of his most inspired work from that time.  You can really let the vibe of his music take you to a special place.

Pharoah Sanders, Tenor Saxophone, Percussion and Vocals; Bedria Sanders, Harmonium; Steve Neil, Bass; Tisziji Munoz, Guitar; Greg Bandy, Drums: Clifton "Jiggs" Chase, Keyboards; Lawrence Killian, Percussion. 

John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy: Evenings at the Village Gate: Impulse Records released July 2023. 

These are various cuts from Coltrane's quintet with Eric Dolphy and their live performances recorded at New York City's Village Gate during the group's stay at the club in August of 1961. In the spring of that year, Trane had released his popular "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music, but by summertime, he had signed with Impulse, a new record label, and he was already less moved to follow the path of commercial success. His alignment with Dolphy was a short-lived one, but you can hear that these two were heading in similarly expansive directions. It's an important link in the chain of Trane's musical evolution that should not be missed and there are rare photos and some illuminating comments from saxophonist Branford Marsalis and jazz journalist Ashley Kahn. The sound quality is not as bright or definitive as we would like- it was recorded with a single ribbon microphone that was hung over the band as a test for the club's recently updated sound system- but it's hard to fault any chance we get to hear these guys in their prime exploring to create new directions.

John Coltrane, soprano and tenor saxophones; Eric Dolphy, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and flute: Art Davis, double bass; McCoy Tyner, piano; Reggie Workman, double bass; Elvin Jones, drums. 

Bill Evans: Treasures: Solo, Trio & Orchestra Recordings from Denmark (1965-1969): Elemental Music, released 

Treasure is an appropriate name for this gem of a compilation from Bill Evans in his solo, trio, and orchestra format. It shows the different ways Evans adapts his playing to match the diverse settings and changing bandmates. Besides offering several beautiful solo performances, it's just a treat to hear Evans and his liberating approach as he plays with three distinct trios; one with European master Neils-Henning Orstead Pedersen on bass and the drummaster Alan Dawson; one with Pedersen and Danish drummer Alex Reil; and one with his long-time bassist compatriot Eddie Gomez and sometime trio drummer Marty Morell. The two CD box set includes thirty-eight selections, some multiple takes on his well-explored standards like Waltz for Debbie and Time Remembered. Evan's work in front of the Royal Danish Orchestra features some empathetic arranging and conducting by the Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg. This must-have set is produced by Zev Feldman who continues to surprise and delight with his informative well-written notes and the high quality and diversity of his releases.

Bill Evans Trio:  CD1,  1-3 Evans, piano; Neils-Henning Orsted Pedersen, bass; Alan Dawson Drums:

Bill Evans Trio:  CD1,  4-8 Evans, piano;Neils-Henning Orsted Pedersen, bass; Alex Reil, Drums; 

Bill Evans Trio: CD 1, 9-14  Evans, Piano: Eddie Gomez, bass: Marty Morell drums with the Royal Danish Symphony Orchestra & The Danish Radio Big Band w/ Palle Mikkelborg Trumpet/arranger/Conductor

Bill Evans Solo and Trio :  CD 2, 1-16

Wes Montgomery/Wynton Kelly Trio: Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings: Resonance Records, released November 2023

The gentlemen at Resonance have once again unearthed and released a 2 CD  jewel of a record. Guitarist wizard Wes Montgomery performed at the New York City jazz club the Half Note in 1965 with the Wynton Kelly Trio. The trio included Kelly on piano, Jimmy Cobb on drums, and a rotating bass chair that featured Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Larry Ridley, and Herman Wright on various nights on bass. At the time, the music was broadcast over the radio by host Alan Grant on his "Portraits in Jazz" series. The originally released album Smokin' at the Half Note is an iconic Montgomery album that features the trio on a night with Chambers on bass and was released in 1965. It was recorded live at the club in June of 1965, but Verve producer Creed Taylor re-recorded the takes of three of the songs ("Unit 7", Four on Six" and "What's New") for the album again in September at Rudy Van Gelder's Studio in NJ.  This album features seventeen songs all recorded live at the Half Note and with the four different bassists. Because it has been restored and preserved from the original dates this release is a more detailed chance to hear Wes and the trio perform in all their glory. Great interviews with Bassist Ron Carter, guitarist Bill Frisell, and Mike Stern, and bassist Marcus Miller just add to the experience. The Producers George Klabin, Zev Feldman, and Richard Seidel should all be commended for such a memorable put-together snapshot of jazz guitar history. 

Amhad Jamal: Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1968 The third in a series of brilliant releases from the pianist Amhad Jamal and his varying trios are titled Emerald City Nights and are curated by the seemingly never-sleeping producer Zev Feldman.  The series covers live performances recorded at Charlie Puzzo's Seattle Jazz Club The Penthouse from 1963 through 1968 and to say that these recently released gems are priceless is an understatement. It's nice to know that Producer Zev Feldman got the now-passed pianist -the master musician left us on April 16, 2023, at the age of ninety-to give him his blessing to release these recordings from the Penthouse's archives. The album includes Jamal on piano, bassist Jamil Nasser, and drummer Frank Gant.  The two previous releases found Jamal with additional players like Richard Evans on bass and drummers Chuck Lampkin and Vernal Fournier on drums on various cuts. When you listen to the three 2 CD albums in succession you are treated to a time capsule glimpse into a period from Jamal's working development. I'm especially pleased that each album stands by itself with no song being repeated between the six-disc set of selections! On the latest release you get to hear Jamal's mind working through his own interpretations of such classics as Earl Garner's "Misty," Jobim's Corcovado" Mande;'s "Emily" and Henry Mancini's "Mr. Lucky." It's like having your own Jamal piano trio in your living room.

Some other worthy historically rewarding releases this past year include:

Steve Davis Meets Hank Jones Vol 1 on Smoke Records Recorded 2008. It may be the last recording made with the great pianist and includes Steve Davis' soulful trombone and sympathetic bass work by Peter Washington. 

Kenny Wheeler: Gnu High from 1975 is a reissue on ECM Records of the original recording. This three-song album, although the 21-minute "Heyoke"  feels more like multiple explorations in one, includes the enigmatic Canadian trumpeter and a stellar supporting group that includes Keith Jarrett on piano, Dave Holland on bass, and Jack De Johnette on drums. Jarrett is expansive and Wheeler a tonal delight.

Dave Brubeck Quartet Live from the Northwest 1959: Brubeck Editions:
This live recording finds the iconic group in their prime at Multnomah Jazz Club and Clark College, both in the Portland, Oregon area. The personnel includes leader Dave Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond as his alto saxophone foil, a particularly lively Eugene Wright on bass, and the inimitable Joe Morello on drums. The group is a joy to hear as they are one of the earliest jazz groups to have approached the then poorly serviced college audience where they toured extensively and became country-wide popular.

Chet Baker: Blue Room: The 1979 Vara Studio Sessions in Holland: Jazz Detective Records. Recorded on two dates for the KRO radio jazz program Nine O'Clock Jazz in the Netherlands. The 2-CD set predominantly features a whispery Baker on horn and voice along with pianist Phil Markowitz, Jean-Louis Rassinfosse on bass, and Charles Rice on drums. There are also a few songs where Baker is accompanied by Fran Elsen on piano, Victor Kaihatu on bass, and Eric Ineke on drums. Relaxed session that adds a little more depth to Baker's discography from his European days.

Thursday, December 7, 2023




Wow, another year has passed again! Time flies, but for those of us who listen to hundreds of offerings in a year, it is the time to look back, reevaluate, and identify those recordings that we feel should be recognized as being among the best of this past year. In my case, that is predominantly in jazz music and its myriad of styles. The music can be cross-genre, world or ethnically-influenced, chamber-type jazz, Latin-infused, modern, traditional, big band, straight ahead, post-bop, blues-oriented, ambient, progressive, or just originally out there in a new exploratory mode. It should never be boring, predictable, or performed without consummate ability and determined effort. Have no doubt that those who have rung the "jazz is dead" bell are not keeping up with the incredible advances and astounding creativity that can be found in today's jazz and beyond music. This music should inspire listeners to enjoy sitting back and exploring the artistry through multiple listens even in these hyperactive times. Music can evoke excitement, inspiration, and kinetic movement. It can get the blood pumping, pull at the heartstrings, and at times provide the listener with an unexplainable magical connection with the musicians. 

My hope is that this thoughtful compilation can open up the reader/listener to some of these new and exciting artists and their music, and inspire them to offer their support to these musicians by purchasing their recordings.

This is a purely subjective compilation of favorites and certainly, these selections are somewhat limited to the new and reissued music that I had the privilege of being exposed to over the past year as a reviewer. I don't believe in rating music in some kind of ascending or descending order of hierarchy. The music is just so diverse. The artistic approaches used are so unique, even in a particular genre, that any attempt to choose the "best," in my opinion, is an exercise in futility. My list for 2023 is, therefore, in no particular order of excellence. There was a great deal of listening and an enormous amount of effort putting this together, and it was a lot of fun. I hope you all find this music inspiring, creative, and as enjoyable and expansive as I do. I will list my favorite Historical Reissues of importance in a subsequent post. Have a great holiday and enjoy this splendid year in creative music.

Billy Childs: The Winds of Change: Mack Avenue Records

Splendid piano trio/quartet work inspired by film noir and growing up as a youth in LA. 

Billy Childs (p), Scott Coley(b), Brian Blade (drms) guest Ambrose Akinmusire (trmpt)

Nick Finzer: Dreams, Visions, Illusions: Outside in Music

Inventive ensemble music led by Finzer's ideas and trombone.

w/Nick Finzer (trmb), Lucas Pino (t sax, bass clarinet). Alex Wintz (g)
Glenn Zaleski (p), Dave Baron (b), Jimmy MacBride (drms) 

Kenny Barron: The Source: Artwork Records  

Superb mastery in the solo piano format.

Kenny Barron, solo piano

Tyshawn Sorey Trio: Continuing: PI Records

The drummer slows the music down to great effect.

Tyshawn Sorey (drms), Aaron Diehl (p) Matt Brewer (b)

Rudy Royston & Flatbed Buggy: Day  Greenleaf Music

Americana music at its best.

Rudy Royston (drms), John Ellis (bass clarinet), Hank Roberts(cello),
Gary Versace (accord), Joe Martin (b)

John Scofield: Uncle John's Band: ECM Records

Guitar master and his trio reinterpret some new classics.

John Scofield (g), Vincente Archer (b) Bill Stewart (drms)

Chris Potter: Got The Keys to the Kingdom: Live at the Village Vanguard: Edition Records

Incendiary saxophone and his group light up the stage at the classic venue.

Chris Potter (ts),  Craig Taborn (p), Scott Colley (b), Marcus Gillmore (drms) 

Gretchen Parlato & Lionel Loueke: Lean In : Editon Records

Enchanting vocals backed by world sounds and infective rhythms.

Gretchen Parlatp (voice/perc), Lionel Loueke (guitar/perc), Mark Giuliana (drms),
Burniss Travis (elec bass), Marley Guiliana (Voice 3,6 & 12), Lisa Loueke (voice 3)

Steve Lehman & Orchestra National De Jazz: Ex Machina: PI records

Avant-garde orchestration of impressionist music with electronics.

Steve Lehman (alto sax/composition/electronics), guest artists Jonathan Finlayson (trpt), Chris Dingman (vibes), the Orchestra National De Jazz under the direction of Fredric Maurin (composition).

Ralph Towner: At First Light: ECM Records

Superlative solo guitar exploring some old favorites and some originals.

Ralph Towner solo ( classic and acoustic guitar) 

Sullivan Fortner: Solo Game: Artwork records

One of the most talented young pianists performs a solo album of great sensitivity and invention.

Sullivan Fortner (solo piano) 

Brad Turner Quintet: The Magnificent: Cellar Music group

A top-notch outing by this Canadian trumpet player and his talented group that includes an homage to flugelhornist Thad Jones.

Brad Turner (trmpt/piano), Cory Weeds (ts), Peter Bernstein (g), Neil Swainton (b), Quincy Davis (drms)

Denny Zeitlin: Crazy Rhythm: Exploring George Gershwin:
Sunnyside Records

This pianist has never failed to find his own unique and inspired ways to reimagine some of the canon's classic gems. Gershwin as you never heard quite like this.

Denny Zeitlin: (live solo piano)

Michael Blake: Dance With The Mystic Bliss: PM Records

A saxophonist who used the passing of his mother,, who was a dancer and a singer, as an inspiration to create and perform this uplifting and optimistic music.

Michael Blake (ts,sop sax, flute, alto fl, composer), Guilherme Monteiro (elec g), Mauro Refosco (per & marimba), Skye Steele (violin, rabeca, gonji), Chris Hoffman (cello), Michael Bates (b).

Champian Fulton: Meet Me at Birdland: Champion Records

A talented pianist/vocalist who brings joy to her live performance at Birdland.

Champian Fulton (voice/piano), Hide Tanaka (b), Fukuski Tainaka (drms)

Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band: Kings Highway: Stoner Hill Records

This band creates cinematic vignettes that are gorgeously executed with melodicity, polyrhythmic drive, sometimes fusion tilting, and spectral artistry.

Brian Blade(composer/drms), Jon Cowherd ( piano/synth/composer), Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar/ elect effects), Myron Walden (alto sax and bass Clarinet), Melvin Butler (tenor sax), Chris Thomas (b)

Chuck Owens with the WDR Big Band: Renderings: Mama Records

A composer/arranger who always finds a way to make beautiful music with a big band. 

Chuck Owens (comp/arranger), The WDR Big Band w guest artist Sara Caswell (v)

Art Hirahara: Echo Canyon: Positone Records

An upcoming pianist who plays beautifully with intuitively responsive partners on this wonderful album.

Art Hirahara (p), Boris Kozlov (b) Rudy Royston (drms)

Ryan Keberle & Collectiv Do Brasil: Considerando: Alternate Side Records

The trombonist and his cohort's wonderful modern take on Brazilian music.

Ryan Keberle (trmb), Felip[e Silveira (p), Paulinho Vicente (drms), Felipe Brisola (b)

Pat Metheny: Dream Box:  Modern Records/BMG 

A solo guitar album from a master.

Pat Metheny: Solo guitar with overdubs  "I Always Fall in Love Too Easily"

Sammy Figueroa: Searching for a Memory: Ashe Records

Reclaiming a link to the music of his father Charles Figueroa a one-time famous romantic Latin singer whom his son Sammy didn't know well. 

Sammy Figueroa (per, voice), Gonzalo Rubalcaba (p), Aymée Nuviola (vocals), Miguel Zenón (a sax) John Daversa (trmpt), Felipe Lamolgia (sax), Magalys Herrera (flute), Ricardo Rodriguez (b), Munir Hossn (multi inst) 

Loren Stillman: Time and Again: Sunnyside Records

A powerful modern voice on the saxophone that is influenced by his heroes Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz but has created his own unique style. 

Loren Stillman (ts), Drew Gress (b), Mark Ferber (drms)

Nicole Zuraitis: How Love Begins: Outside in Music

A fresh voice that knows how to deliver a good melody.

Nicole Zuraitis (vocal/piano), Gilad Henkselman (g), Maya Kronfeld (org/Rhodes), Dan Pugh (drms) Christian McBride (b), Billy Kilson (drms) Thana Alexa/Julia Adamy (backup vocals on 2)

Ambrose Akinmusire: Owl Song: Nonesuch Records

The enigmatic trumpeter, who often finds there is more with less in playing his instrument, has camaraderie with the way owls seem to be more quiet observers in this otherwise rapid, frenetic world of oversaturation.

Ambrose Akinmusire (trmpt), Bill Frisell (g), Herlin Riley (drms)

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Dynamic Maximum Tension: Nonesuch Records

Using admiration for people like architect/futurist Buckminster Fuller, code buster/AI conceptualist Alan Turing, and sassy actress/satirist Mae West, composer/arranger Darcy James Argue creates a new suite of music for his Secret Society orchestra.

Darcy James Arge (composer/arranger/conductor), Dave Pietro (a sax), Rob Wilkerson (a sax), Sam Saigursky (a sax), John Ellis (t sax, Bass clar), Carl Maraghi (bar sax) Seneca Black (trmpt), Liesl Whitaker (trmpt), Matt Holman (trmpt), Nadje Noordhuis (trmpt) Ingrid Jensen (trmpt), Brandon Lee (trmpt), Mike Fahie (trombone), Ryan Keberle (trombone), Jacob Garchik (trombone), Jennifer Wharton ( bass tromb), Sebastian Noelle (g), Adam Birnbaum (p), Matt Clohesy (b), Jon Wilan (drms), Sara Caswell (viol), Hardanger d'Amore (viol), Cecile McLorin Savant (vocals)

Mark Turner Quartet: Live at the Village Vanguard: Giant Steps Arts

Distinctive saxophonist and his quartet captured live at the famous NYC club.

Mark Turner (tenor sax/composer), Jason Palmer (trmpt), Joe Martin (b), Jonathan Pinson (drms)

Claire Daly w/George Garzone: Vu Vu for Frances: Self Produced

Claire Daly (bari sax), George Garzone (ten sax), Jon Davis (p), Dave Hofstra (b),
David F. Gibson (drms)

A nostalgic but modern-sounding trip back to the days in NYC when 53rd Street was the jazz hangout for such fans as Frances, a ninety-year-old fan of Daly's to whom the album is dedicated.

Jim Snidero featuring Kurt Rosenwinkel: Far, Far Away: Live at the Deer Head Inn: Savant Records

This intuitive, well-polished rhythm section propels this live recording giving plenty of room for brilliant interactions to develop between the altoist, the guest guitarist, and the pianist.

Jim Snidero (a sax), Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar/electronics), Orrin Evans (p), Peter Washington (b), Joe Farnsworth (drums)

Geri Allen & Kurt Rosenwinkel: A Lovesome Thing: Motema Music

A magical and memorable one-time collaboration between the sensitive pianist and the enigmatic guitarist captured live at the Philharmonie de Paris in 2012.

John Ellis Quartet: Bizet: Carmen in Jazz: Blue Room Music

The prolific multi-reedist and his quartet tackles the music of Carmen, an opera written by  Georges Bizet in the 1800s, and gives the music a jazz and at times New Orleans-like treatment that is inventive and quite enjoyable.

John Ellis (saxophones and bass clarinet(, Gary Versace (p), Reuben Rogers (b) Jason Marsalis (drms)

Cecile McLorin Savant: Melusine: Nonesuch Records

The chanteuse mixes five originals and interpretations of nine other traditional songs most sung in southern French, Haitian Kreyol, and English by this talented, always surprising talent. 

Cecile McLorin Savant (vocals), Sullivan Fortner (p) Weedie Braimah (Djembe), Aaron Diehl (p), Luques Curtis (b), Paul Sikivie (b), Kyle Poole(drms), Obed Calvaire (drms) Lawrence Leathers (drms)

Langren, Wollny, Danielsson, Haffner: 4 Wheel Drive II; ACT Music

A European supergroup plays their own take on popular music by Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins. Billy Joel and their own originals. 

Nils Langren(trombone/vocals), Michael Wollny (p), Lars Danielsson (baa/cello), Wolfgang Haffner (drms) 

Michael Dease: Swing Low: Positone Records

The phenomenal trombone artist and educator picks up the baritone saxophone to show he is not a one-trick pony and can swing on the big saxophone. 

Michael Dease (bari sax), Ingrid Jensen (trmpt), Art Hirahara (p), Boris Kozlov (b), Rudy Royston (drms) Altin Sencalar (trombone 7,8, 10) 

Miguel Zenón and Luis Perdomo: El Arte Del Bolero Vol 2 : Meil Music

Zenon's alto meets with Perdomo's piano in this follow-up duo recording of Latin American Boleros reimagined from a jazz point of view.

Miguel Zenón (alto sax) Luis Perdomo (piano)

J.D. Simo Trio: Songs from the House of Grease: Self-Produced

A roots guitar player who crosses the lines between blues with jazz and greasy blues.

J.D. Simo ( /vocal, vox, guitar), Todd Bolden (vocal, bass), Adam Abrashoff (drms)

Rachel Ekroth: Humanoid: Sam First Records

This talented composer/pianist/vocalist brings her potent quartet to LA's latest jazz club. The album is recorded live and the audience approves.

Rachel Ekroth (piano/composer), Andrew Renfroe (guitar), Billy Mohler (b), Tina Raymond (drms)

Blue Cranes: My Only Secret: Butcher Records

A West Coast, Portland-based group that has been together since 2004. They like to meld elements of post-bop jazz with challenging compositions that sometimes avoid definitive structure, can have rock influences, and create vibrant impressions.

Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone, keys, percussion), Joe Cunningham (tenor saxophone, keys, percussion), Rebecca Sanborn (keyboards), Jon Shaw (bass)
Ji Tanzer (drums)

Joshua Redman w/ Gabrielle Cavassa: Where Are We: Blue Note Records 

The tenor master and his group explore new music with a talented new vocalist.

Joshua Redman (t sax), Gabrielle Cavassa (vocals), Aaron Parks (p0, Joe Sanders (b), Peter Bernstein (g), Kurt Rosenwinkel (g), Joel Ross ( vibes), Nicholas Payton (trmpt)

Walter Smith III: Return to Casual: Blue Note Records

A powerful album from an ever-growing voice on tenor saxophone and a new energetic group.

Walter Smith III (t sax) Kendrick Scott (drms), Taylor Eigsti: (Piano/Rhodes), Matt Stevens: (g) Harish Raghavan: (b)

Rob Luft: Dahab Days: Edition Records

A British guitarist who offers an original aerial sound with strings playing his own compositions, as well as his takes on music by Ellington, and Aphex Twins.

Rob Luft (guitar and composer), Joe Wright (t sax), Joe Webb (piano/organ), Tom McCreedle (b), Corrie Dick (drms), Alice Zawadzki (voice/violin), Byron Watson (trmpt), Steve Buckley (alto sax and penny whistle)

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Pianist Rachel Ekroth and her Quartet live at LA's Sam First Jazz Club

Rachel Ekroth Humanoid Live at Sam First's 

Pianist/vocalist/composer Rachel Ekroth released her latest album Humanoid this year. It is an impressive 'live' capture of Ekroth's group's two-night performance at Los Angeles' jazz club Sam First's in Oct of 2022. The music is performed with professionalism and sincerity and there is a palpable appreciation from the audience that recognizes they are listening to a group that meshes well and enjoys making music together.  

My first exposure to Ekroth was in 2022 when she released a fresh, electronically augmented, and creatively different album titled The Garden with saxophonist Donnie McCaslin, bassist Tim Lefebre,  Christian Euman on drums, Andrew Krasilnikov on soprano sax, Austin White on modular synth, and Nir Felder on guitar. It featured Ekroth on piano and an array of electronic keyboards playing a contemporary mix of artistically conceived soundscapes; sonic explorations that follow Ekroth's imaginations. Although heard sparingly, Ekroth also adds her own hypnotic, Portishead-like, trip-hop vocal to boot. I chose the album as one of the year's best and it was rightly nominated for a Grammy in the contemporary instrumental category.

On Humanoid  Ekroth has chosen to leave both her voice and the electronics behind this time and concentrate on a more acoustic, distinctively modern jazz-oriented approach to express her musical ideas at her LA  gig. 

There are definitely jazz strands in this woman's DNA. Ekroth plays piano here with her well-matched bandmates Andrew Renfroe on guitar, Billy Mohler on bass, and Tina Raymond on drums. The musical selections include four Ekroth compositions, two of which "Vines" and "Under a Fig" are reprised from The Garden.  The other songs include Duke Ellington's "Fleurette Africaine," Bill Frisell's "Strange Meeting," bandmate Billy Mohler's "Evolution," and my favorite Carla Bley's "Lawns." The two new Ekroth offerings from this live recording are "Mind"  and the title cut "Humanoid."

"Humanoid" starts with a jaunty bass line by Mohler, augmented by Raymond's cadenced drums and some synchronous lines nicely matched by Renfroe and Ekroth in unison. It then expands into some airy guitar lines that show Renfroe's silky, echoed explorations in all their splendor. Ekroth's piano takes center stage as she shows an intuitive sense of direction with her improvisational expansions. Her playing is not linear but includes jaunts and turns, small atonal lines that seem to be off course before they are magically melded into logical conclusions. 

The band again exquisitely employs synchronous playing to lay out the opening lines of "Mind." Mohler's bass line has a staccato feel to it and the syncopated groove gives Ekroth the background upon which to improvise. Raymond thoughtfully adds well-placed percussive embellishments that keep the sustained pulse from being repetitive.

It was certainly a timely choice to include Carla Bley's memorable composition "Lawns." "Bley's music and career have been an inspiration to any aspiring composer like Ekroth and it shows here. The sauntering feel of this contemplative jewel is captured so well by the band. Renfroe's guitar solos first and in his succinct, uncluttered approach emanates the inclusive, joyous feel that the song evokes. Ekroth's piano follows and her emotive improvisation produces a cascading set of descending lines that wrap you up like a blanket of warmth and joy.

"Under A Fig Tree" has a repeating opening line that is laid down by Mohler and Ekroth before Renfroe's probing guitar produces an eerie melodic statement. There is a cinematic feel to this one. Ekroth and Renfroe play off each other in a more free-formed exchange that grows in ever-increasing intensity.  Mohler's bass maintains a pulse and Raymond's drum work adds impressionistic accents to the mix. The return to the eerie melodic statement serves almost as a coda to a soundtrack from a macabre Hitchcock film.

The inclusion of the less-known Ellington compositions like "Fleurette Africaine" is a statement of confidence from Ekroth. Ellington first released it in his 1962 album Money Jungle.  Besides reverence for the history of the music, it also shows a spirit of adventure for tackling this in her own way. Mohler's bass lays down a throbbing line as Ekroth pianistically searches through the possibilities of expression about this Flower of Africa-themed ode. This is certainly a fit and effective tribute to the master, Ellington.

"Evolution" opens with a Fleet, burnished bass intro by Mohler that resonates with a woody warmth before he creates an ostinato line that sets up the group. Ekroth's piano attack is darting, stabbing, and percussive. Renfroe sits this one out, but Raymond offers an explosive solo that percolates.

Bill Frisell's "Strange Meeting" is originally from his 1985 album Rambler, although he has reprised the tune on at least two other albums. A good theme can always be an inspiration for future interpretations.  The mysterious melody evokes an almost unexpected encounter with someone or something or maybe an extraterrestrial. The music's unsettling line draws you in like a viewer of a Rod Serling episode. Ekroth's group brings the music to life with their own unique interpretations of the impressionistic scene. Raymond's drum work here is particularly inspired. 

The closing song on this album is Ekroth's "Vines," which opens with an abstract intro from her piano. Mohler's bass pulses with a sustained hum as Ekroth explores before letting loose in a more patterned expansion. Like vines left to their own devices, the music spreads, clings for support, and propagates into a larger entity. Mohler and Raymond create a whirl before Renfroe enters the scene with his own guitar-centric thoughts. Mohler gets his strings to hum with agitated vibrations before the group ends in a faded coda.  

Rachel Ekroth and her band delivered a creative evening of well-played, intelligent music and the audience responded in knowing appreciation.  Ekroth is a talent that is clearly growing as a composer and we look forward to hearing more from this artist.


Monday, October 9, 2023

The Dynamic Trio of Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart Impress at Portland's 1905 Jazz Club

Peter Bernstein, Larry Goldings Bill Stewart

The dynamic organ/guitar/drum trio of Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, and Bill Stewart graced the stage of Portland's 1905 for two nights on October 3 & 4th. I was fortunate to attend the early set on the Wednesday show. Anytime you can see this trio live it is a special occasion. The New York Times Nate Chinen once said "Two of the best organ trios of the last decade have featured the same three players. Technically speaking, it’s just one group, variously billed ... Consisting of Mr. Goldings on organ, Mr. Bernstein on guitar, and Bill Stewart on drums..." High praise for this trio that never seems to be a hyperbolic claim and it certainly more than lived up to the expectations on this evening at the 1905, which always seems to get top-notch talent.

These guys have known each other since 1989 and their first recording titled Intimacy of the Blues was released in 1991. That's a thirty-two-year run- an impressive feat by any measure! While the members have, as both leaders and collaborators, followed many diverse projects with other musicians, their loyalty to each other is a lasting testimony to the true friendship and magical chemistry that these men have when they sit down and make music.

Larry Goldings is a talented keyboard artist who originally hailed from Boston. He studied classical piano as a youth and attended the Eastman School of Music. He moved to NYC in 1986 and attended the New School. At various times, Goldings studied with Ran Blake, Keith Jarrett, Jaki Byard, and Fred Hersch. In 1988 Goldings started to develop his B3 organ sound at a regular trio gig he procured at Augies' Jazz Bar (presently Smoke) in NYC with Bernstein and Stewart, and the rest is history. 

Goldings' distinctive sound is often compared to the enigmatic approach of Larry Young on the B3 and he credits the pianist Dave McKenna, a master of the left-hand bass line, as an inspiration for his own bass line abilities on the B3's foot pedals. His unique approach to the instrument made his services in demand as a sideman for various artists in the worlds of pop, rock, Brazilian, R&B, alternative, as well as jazz. Goldings has collaborated with the likes of John Scofield, Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, and Pat Metheny, along with popular artists like Beck, Tracy Chapman, Norah Jones, and Rickie Lee Jones.

Peter Bernstein is a native of NYC. He attended classes at Rutgers and the New School. He studied guitar with Ted Dunbar and piano with Kenny Barron. He was twenty-three when he was offered a spot to perform at the JVC Jazz Festival by guitarist Jim Hall in 1990. Bernstein has performed with Brad Mehldau, Jimmy Cobb, Lee Konitz, Eric Alexander, Joshua Redman, and Dr. Lonnie Smith to name a few.   

The drummer Bill Stewart was raised in the midwest in Des Moines, Iowa. He was largely self-taught but attended William Patterson College under the direction of bassist Rufus Reid. There he studied drums under one-time Bill Evans drummer Eliot Zigmund and Horacee Arnold. After moving to NYC, he joined guitarist John Scofield's Quartet and Goldings and Bernstein in the trio. Stewart has collaborated with Joe Lovano, Chris Potter, Dave Holland, Larry Grenadier, Steve Wilson, Pat Martino, and other notables.

On this set, the trio warmed up the audience with a melodically rich classic, Gus Arnheim's  "Sweet and Lovely." Opening with Bernstein's toasty-sounding hollow-bodied guitar, which has a burnished, Wes Montgomery-like tone. Goldings enters, adding his Leslie speaker-armed B3 to the mix with his eerie ability to utilize his instrument's modulating powers to swell and ebb in simpatico collaboration. Stewart's penchant for melodicism on his skins and cymbals carries the rhythm with poise. These guys have a rapport that is almost telepathic, a sensory experience that makes you believe they have learned to tap the creative ether and can evoke that common mind space almost at will. 

After playing a pretty, new composition by Stewart titled "Turquoise," Goldings' takes the mic and dons his alter ego personality- a dry, tongue-in-cheek humorist  who uses subtle sarcasm to introduce or maybe not the next tune, Goldings' own composition "Mr. Meagles." Meagles is a character from Dickens' novel Little Dorrit, which to be honest, I have never read, so I can't assume to know why Goldings called this one by that name. To my knowledge, the song was first heard in 2014 on the trios recording Ramshakle Serenade. Goldings activates a small electronic device that slightly synthesizes/modulates the sound of his Hammond B3. The music has an ostinato-based groove established by Berstein's guitar and Goldings' organ. It's a slow-building simmer that has a stealth-like funk to it. Bernstein's probing, warm guitar sets the melody line and Goldings' pulse-like keyboard work sets the groove, all propelled by Stewart's creative cymbal and trap work. When Goldings does solo he always fastidiously maintains the bass line while exploring the harmonic possibilities using creativity and alternate voicings. Stewart's roiling drum solo is another treat to behold. This song keeps the audience bopping their heads to the infectious beat.

The group picks up the pace with a Gary Bartz song "Libra" that they recently included in their latest Smoke Records release Perpetual Pendulum.  Stewart starts out this one with a repeating, stabbing snare and bass drum line before Berstein's guitar and Goldings' organ play a swift, synchronous counter line that sets up the tension in this song. Goldings' bass lines are rhythmic and in the groove while he accentuates Bernstein's lead guitar lines brilliantly. Berstein fills with fleet single lines and well-placed chordal accents like a master impressionist. Like a freed bird, Bernstein releases a flow of ideas that are exhilarating. When the keyboard wizard takes his turn out front he offers a series of swirling, swelling, and modulating lines that drive this one into a frenzy of joyous and inspired excitement. Not to be left behind, Stewart explodes in a carefully controlled solo that is beautifully melodic and intuitive.

The group follows these two smokers with Bernstein's gorgeous take on the Ralph Rainer ballad "Easy Living" which the guitarist originally played with organist Melvyn Rhymes in 2009. There is nothing like a melody so expertly executed and explored by three so in-tune musicians. The classic Burt Bacharach song "This Guys In Love With You" was originally recorded and made popular by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in 1968. It's always nice to be an old favorite reimagined in a modern way and these guys took this gem and made it their own. The set ended with a Peter Bernstein catchy composition "Jive Coffee" originally recorded on his album Signs of Life from 2090 and re-released on his All Too Real (Live) from 2017. This swaying, joyful song has Bernstein/Goldings/Stewart finding their groove, allowing the song to inspire a free, exquisite interaction of expression that left the audience joyful and grateful. 

If you have the opportunity to see these guys you will not be disappointed.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Tyshawn Sorey's Trio: "Continuing" w/ Aaron Diehl and Matt Brewer

Tyshawn Sorey Trio : Continuing- Pi Recordings

The drummer/composer/arranger Tyshawn Sorey never ceases to impress. This time his trio of Aaron Diehl on piano and Matt Brewer on bass released Continuing on Pi Recordings at the end of June and it takes a deliberate, thoughtful, sometimes slow simmer approach to make its artistic point. Sorey has one of the most creative musical minds out there today. He seems to reinforce this notion with each of his successive releases like this one on the heels of his 2022  highly acclaimed Mesmerism and The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism

On Continuing, Sorey and his bandmates take three songs culled from the canon of some recently passed masters' artwork. Wayne Shorter's "Reincarnation Blues" was first heard on Art Blakey's 1962 Buhaina's Delight,  pianist Ahmad Jamal's "Selertus"first heard life on Jamal's 1958 release Portfolio of Ahmad Jamal, and  "In What Direction Are You Headed" from Sorey's mentor Harold Mabern, to whom this album is dedicated. The one outlier is the Earl K. Brent/Matt Dennis classic "Angel Eyes," which was from the 1953 film Jennifer where Dennis, the songwriter, played piano and performed it for the first time. The song later became part of the canon when it was picked up by jazz artists like Dave Brubeck, Jim Hall, Gene Ammons, and Chris Conner to name a few. 

What is beautiful about this album is the care and extended time that these terrifically sympathetic musicians take to develop their expressive musical interpretations of these gems.

Starting with Shorter's "Reincarnation Blues," the trio takes this hard bop tune and gives it a slow blues saunter of a rhythm with a metronomic feel. The music is brilliantly walked by Brewer and cadenced to perfection by Sorey. Diehl's slowly developed harmonic ideas are explorative and spare, but yet never lack in grabbing your attention. At about the 3:58 mark, Brewer offers a probing bass solo that is responded to by Sorey's selective percussive responses. The group punctuates the music with a sense of increased intensity at the 7:07 min mark. They raise the heat dynamically as Diehl's piano erupts with a gush of notes, Sorey's drum work percolates with intention, and Brewer's bass pulses like a throbbing organ.  There is an alloy-like quality to the way these three musicians interact, almost like being fused on the neurological level.

With Jamal's "Seletrtus," we find Sorey and Brewer creating a march-like cadence that sets the tone. Diehl chordally sets a line that has Brewer responding with an alternative take on his buoyant bass. The trio keeps the repeated line like a backdrop to some exploratory bass work by Brewer and syncopated lines by Sorey. Diehl ascends the line with climbing chord work that urges Sorey and Brewer to increase the pace. Sorey's drum work is incredible, a multi-tonal,  kinetic feast of rhythmic invention. Diehl's work is resplendent carrying the music over the magically enticing rhythmic feast. 

Sorey's "Angel Eyes" is a veritable reinvention of this classic. It simply captivates you. The pace is slow, real slow, and languishing, like an instrumental being given a provocative Shirley Horn treatment, and no less effective than her unique way of making a song all her own. Brewer is given high marks for being able to keep this lazy pace without ever losing the time. Diehl spells out the melody with precise notes that just hang like gorgeously ripe grapes on a fall-season vineyard arbor. Sorey judiciously uses his cymbals to great effect, tickling rhythm from subtle, swirling sounds. These guys bring new possibilities as to how you might listen to this song. Wordless music that speaks volumes. It's like a love affair with this melody. They carry it for almost fourteen intentional minutes and they make you believe that you maybe never really heard this song the way it was supposed to be played before.

Harold Mabern's "In What Direction Are You Headed" is a gospel-inspired, soul-drenched finger-snapping song. Brewer lays a circular line that holds down the vamp. Diehl lays out a wandering pianistic exploration. Sorey's rotating drum work is overflowing with vibrancy and drive. The music has an organic life of all its own offering tinkling piano keys that just float, staccato rolling bass lines that circle like a clock mechanism, and built on a relentless flurry of percussion that just drives this anthem throughout.

The Tyshawn Sorey Trio's Continuing is certainly worth several listens to appreciate just how rewarding reimagined music can be in the right hands.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz Deliver Beautifully Eclectic Music to 1905 Jazz in Portland

Keith Ganz and Kate McGarry (photo credit Ralph A. Miriello)

The gifted vocalist Kate McGarry and her guitarist husband Keith Ganz had a one-night, two-set performance at Portland's 1905 Jazz Club on August 15, 2023. The two artists reside in Durham, North Carolina so it was a treat to see them at the first set at 1905 on this leg of their west coast tour. 

McGarry is a three-time (2009,2019,2021) Grammy Nominee who has made her mark singing with elegance and superb expressivity all her own. Over the years McGarry's craft has found her performing on such revered stages as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. She lights up the stage of such jazz venues as Birdland in NYC, The Velvet Note in Atlanta, hear at 1905 and after this at Sam First in Los Angeles. She has been featured at jazz festivals like the Newport Jazz Festival, Jazz Baltica, and the Berlin Jazz Fest to name a few.

Guitarist Keith Ganz is himself a talented Grammy nominee. His subtle, thoughtful fretboard work provides the perfect accompaniment and at times the timely rhythmic/harmonic inspiration to McGarry's vocal explorations. Watching these two interpret familiar and more obscure compositions becomes a rewarding journey into an artist's creative use of expression. What's so refreshing is that they are not hamstrung by a repertoire that is shackled by genre or style. 

The set opened with Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" a song from the singer's second album Mercy Streets and released in 2005. Originally, the song was made famous by Judy Collins. It was inspired by Mitchell's neighborhood in the Chelsea section of New York City and is bursting with imagery. Certainly a folk classic, McGarry's voice is the perfect instrument, clear and vibrant, with a knack for storytelling that is effervescent with child-like excitement and awe. She and Ganz don't just play it straight. The vocalist punctuates the imagery in the lyrics with her own vitality. McGarry's instrument is so flexible, so pliant that she probes limits to the music that you maybe never thought could be applied here, revitalizing it and making it her own.

The second song they performed was a campy Isham Jones & Gus Khan composition from 1924 "It Had to Be You."  McGarry can be wonderfully coquettish, animated, and expressive when it suits her, and on this one, she made the tune all her own. She is a master of using tone and phrasing to make whatever song she sings distinct.

Ganz's guitar work was precise, fluid and warm throughout. After an expressive take on Leonard Cohen's "Anthem", the two performed a song by Paul Curreri titled "God Moves on the City." Ganz used a capo to change the open stringing and his fleet fingerpicking in the higher register rang through like chimes swept by the wind.  McGarry's breathy voice whispered the lyrics like a storyline folktale direct from the Americana tradition. She has an amazing ability to draw you into the story she is telling like she is living it there before you. A transcendental treat for the entire crowd.

Keith Ganz 

These musicians have telepathic rapport and they next tackled Jerome Kern's "Nobody Else But You," which McGarry recorded on her 2014 album The Target. This shuffling tune featured a glissando of high notes from McGarry and some quick, pert lines from Ganz that allowed McGarry to skat in unison with her partner's guitar lines. There were no charts, just an embedded familiarity with each other's improvisational inclinations, and sometimes, judging by their facial expressions, they playfully surprised each other, extending the well-worn boundaries beyond what may be expected.

Ganz's composition "Snow Picnic" was originally written for one of his earlier bands. McGarry loved its pace and challenging multiple key changes and she included it in her 2005 release Mercy Streets. In the intro, McGarry traces the serpentine guitar lines with her voice. The song morphs into a Brazilian-inspired rhythm where she sings the lyrics in Portuguese. Music is an international treasure and it's all so inspiring to hear how world savvy these artists can be in their music. 

McGarry has used poems as inspiration for writing songs for them before. This night she chose one that I was not familiar with and missed the title of, but I remember her plaintive voice uttering the line with moving sincerity as she sang the lyrics facing Ganz "My dear, can I be more kind." 

Keith Ganz and Kate McGarry 

The duo changed the mood, digging into the songbook and coming up with their own vibrant take on the Duke Ellington classic from 1939 "In A Mellow Tone." McGarry's voice adapts to the feel of the music and Ganz's guitar masterfully embellishes the music with his subtly sensitive fretboard work. 

Another anthem, Bob Dylan's classic "The Times They Are A-Changin'," was brilliantly offered with McGarry's plaintive voice being paced by Ganz's rhythmic guitar work. This song still has a sustained appeal to the audience. They relate to the song's hopeful message only reinforced by a skilled interpreter like McGarry. 

The audience was filled with vocalists who came to see this master ply her trade so admirably and they requested that the two reprise her smoky take of the Neil Hefti song Girl Talk from her 2012 album of the same name.  McGarry and Ganz didn't disappoint, and even sans Gary Versace's soulful organ accompaniment, the two did a splendid job of digging deep and bringing out the blues in this classic torcher.

This is my third time seeing McGarry and Ganz live and they never fail to make a trip to see them well worth the effort. Their repertoire is impressive and as eclectic as the mind can make it. Few artists can take a song, reimagine it and astonish you with unique interpretations that are so real and inspired. If you get a chance to catch them live don't miss the opportunity.