Monday, July 31, 2023
Wednesday, July 26, 2023
|Dominic Miller: Absinthe: ECM
The guitarist Dominic Miller has been a session musician with such groups as The Pretenders and Phil Collins amongst others. He has been an important collaborator with the singer/bassist/songwriter Sting who he has toured with since 1991. He co-wrote the musician's hit song "Shape of My Heart" which was released in 1993. The talented guitarist also recorded a classical album focused on the music of Bach, Beethoven, and Edward Elgar titled Shapes in 2003.
In 2019, he released an album titled Absinthe on ECM Records. Absinthe is an alcoholic drink made up of wormwood, green anise, sweet fennel, and medicinal herbs. It was famously in fashion among artists and writers in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The drink purportedly had psychoactive and hallucinogenic properties that supposedly were one of the factors that made the creative Impressionistic era so vital The drink was used by notable artists, musicians, and writers including Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Erik Satie, Edgar Allan Poe and Pablo Picasso The drink's effects were so malaligned that it was banned in many countries for a period.
Miller's point of reference to Absinthe is his personal acknowledgment of the creative aspects that the drink was supposed to have to have inspired the artists and writers of the Impressionist age, particularly the French Impressionists.
Miller is a sensitive, facile guitarist. He uses his guitar like a paintbrush in the hands of a landscape master, coloring the music with warmth and meaning in a most emotive way. He is found playing both steel and nylon stringed guitars and enlists the talented Bandoneon player Santiago Arias as his perfect foil. The two demonstrate an eery sense of intuition in complimenting each other's musical ideas. Miller's keyboardist Mike Lindup creates atmospheric settings that give the music an otherworldly sound. Nicholas Fiszman provides some anchored bass work and the drum master Manu Katché adds his own touches of percussive magic to the mix.
| Mike Lindup, Santiago Arias, Dominic Miller, Manu Katché, Nicolas Fiszman
(Photo credit: Gildas Boclé)
The music is beautiful and creates a sense of tranquility that acts like a palliative to whatever maybe be pressing on your mind. I've found myself replaying this album several times and each time I play it, I am transported into a state of peace and contentment. Not a small achievement.
There are ten Miller compositions Absinthe, Mixed Blessing, Verveine, La Petite Reine, Christiana, Etudé, Bicycle, Ombu, Tenébres, and Saint Vincent.
The album starts off with the title track "Absinthe," which opens with Miller's nylon string work, Katche's shimmering cymbals, and Arias's swelling bandoneon sound. At the two-minute fifteen-second mark the music morphs into a dynamic, drum-driven vibe that grabs you with a sophisticated funk. Arias's bandoneon pulses with a voice-like expression. Lindup's eerie keyboard work tantalizes the senses like a Siren drawing Odysseus to the rocks. Katche's drum and Fiszman's bass keep the pulse true and the music vibrates to the beat of your sympathetic heartbeat.
There are romantic guitar/bandoneon duets with subtle brushwork by Katché and airy keyboard work by Lindup like on "Mixed Blessings." It's got a Parisian-like feel to it and you find yourself transported, sipping an espresso on the Rue Montogueill with a special someone as you listen to Miller's music.
The short "Verveine" has a melancholic sound to it. Fiszman's bass booms with authority. "La Petite Reine" has a repetitive tom-tom percussion line over which Miller's guitar lays a filigreed line of floating finger-picked strings. "Christiana" is a conversational song that has Arias' moaning bandoneon laying out human-like sighs as Miller's guitar has almost Sitar-like expressiveness and Katché's percussive work is a marvel of intuition.
"Etudé" has a Tango-like quality to it and with Tango, there is always dance. The beat is created by the repetitive lines by Miller, Lindup's ostinato work, Fiszman's bass, and Katché's metronomic trap work. To make my point, the album released a video with dancing on it and you can see for yourself how danceable it is.
"Bicycle" is music in motion. There is a traveling feel to this one. Miller sets it in motion with his facile guitar finger-picking, Arias's swelling bandoneon lines, Katche's roiling drum work, and Fiszman's bass maintain the pulse as Lindup adds the color. Just a delightful aural representation of riding a bike on a pastoral road somewhere in the country.
The album ends with "Ombu" with some impressive syncopated drum work by Katché, the slow sauntering "Tenébres" and the vibrant"Saint Vincent," with Miller's quick-paced rhythmic guitar work setting the stage for Aria's probing bandoneon lines over the rhythm sections driving pulse. Dominic Miller's Absinthe is a delight.
Friday, July 7, 2023
Baritone Sax Ace Claire Daly offers a trip back to 52nd Street on Vu Vu for Frances w George Garzone
Baritone saxophonist Claire Daly released her latest album VuVu for Frances on July 7, 2023. It is a dual saxophone session that makes you feel like you have been transported by a time machine to a night, sometime in the past, represented by the light-filled cover photograph of a vibrant night of jazz on the scene of 52nd Street in New York. 52 Street between 5 Avenue and 7 Avenue – known for both its clubs and bustling street life – was an active entertainment district northeast of Times Square for thirty years between the late 1930s and the 1960s. Daly, along with her cohort tenor titan George Garzone, take us through a splendid aural remembrance of that time, that feel, that glamour and that sound. The band is composed of Daly and Garzone on the front line, with veteran musical artists Jon Davis on piano, Dave Hofstra on bass, and David F. Gibson on drums.
The album is a homage of sorts to Frances, purportedly Frances Ballantyne, a longtime New Yorker friend of Daly, who is now over ninety years of age. In her prime, Frances was a spirited patron of the many clubs that offered a diverse selection of entertainment in all of its permutations. She could see top-notch comedy or racy Burlesque at places like Leon and Eddies and the showier Club Samoa. Some places featured Dixieland and swing could be danced to at clubs like Kelly’s Stable and “21”. The Onyx, the Three Deuces, and the original Birdland, which was on Broadway just south of 52nd Street, specialized in more progressive music like bebop and later R & B. The degradation of the area was spurred on by real estate development pressures, illicit drug use, prostitution and Father Time led “The Street” to its eventual demise.
On Vu Vu for Frances, Daly is concentrating on the music and the jazz scene. A scene where you could hear the vibe, the energy, the Vu Vu wafting onto the street like a kind of tempting ambrosia luring you into the clubs. That music, that street made Frances a lifelong fan. It also inspired Daly and the band members, who have all met Frances over the years at some of their gigs, to play for her. A personal Valentine.
Daly has a long relationship and friendship with Garzone and the two seem to be perfect foils to bring these songs to life. The thirteen songs are standards, but the key to this effort is to deliver them authentically to the spirit of this music and to the time when it flourished. Daly certainly made good on that goal. The album swings open with Daly’s big brassy bari sound on ”All the Way” stating the melody and is then smoothly countered by Garzone’s sultry tenor. These two bring great personality to the music and the rhythm section keeps it swinging with a nice piano solo by Davis to boot. I can just imagine Frances dancing to this one.
The album is filled with gems like the brash Charles Llyod tune “Sweet Georgia Bright” which finds Daly blasting some expressive lines that just percolate with fury and Garzone offers his own enthusiastic response. “Fools Rush In” is a slower, romantically languishing piece that offers some nice burlesque-like backing work by David F. Gibson on drums, a Basie Band veteran, and some deep walking bass lines by Dave Hofstra.
Off to the races on “People Will Say We’re in Love” a Rodgers and Hammerstein song from the musical “Oklahoma” with Garzone staring this one off before Daly comes in with one of her more exuberant solos. Just the perfect inspiration for Garzone to come up with his own inventive counter, and Gibson and Hofstra get to play their own rhythmic duel with verve.
Not to be without its humor, Daly enters with her boisterous baritone interpretation of the old Rogers and Hammerstein ditty from the soundtrack of Sound of the Music, “The Lonely Goatherd.” The band is juiced by this one and the music inspires a section that features some wild mouse-like playing first pushed on by a Davis solo with Gibson and Hofstra percolating. Garzone then starts a wild session of screeching and free-blowing tenor answered with equally boisterous responses by Daly’s raucous baritone all prodded on by fiercely driven explosive drum work by Gibson.
The sultry Ellington/Bigard song “Mood Indigo” is a joy as it takes you back to another era. Although the original recording featured clarinet work by Jimmy Hamilton leading the music, here sans the clarinet are Daly/Garzone/Davis/Hofstra and Gibson taking on the personalities of Harry Carney/Paul Gonzalez/ Ellington/Wendell Marshall and Sonny Greer from the Ellington band at the time.
The remainder of the album features Ellington’s “Warm Valley” joined with “What Am I Here For.” We have a surprising Daly vocal on little-known Steve Kuhn composition called “Hold Out Your Hand.” There is Charlie Parker/Miles Davis's bebop composition titled “Half-Nelson.” The Hagen/Rodgers evocative classic “Harlem Nocturne” is another Frances favorite and opens with Daly’s slow, expressive baritone stating the melody. The pace quickens at the chorus and then becomes a splendid piano feature by Jon Davis, whose cascading lines are simply gorgeous. Bandleader Ray Nobles’ “The Very Thought of You” is another old-time favorite and Daly and bassist Hofstra on bow open this one in a uniquely moving way. “The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers” is another Steve Kuhn/Seila Jordan song and features the only electric piano by Davis on the album and is probably the most post-bop, contemporary song on this album. Daly and Garzone rise to this untraveled song’s verve and give it a modern feel that may almost be too contemporary for Frances’ taste. The finale is Rogers and Hart musical song “Manhattan” from the 1925 revue “Garrick Gaieties” and has been sung by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Trome to The Supremes. This one swings, with some nice solo work by Davis, Garzone, and Daly, and the rhythm section of Hofstra and Gibson keeping the time impeccably.
Take Claire Daly’s Vu Vu for Frances out for a spin for yourself and get ready to feel like you’ve been transported to Frances Ballantyne’s world of music and the lights on 52nd Street.
Wednesday, July 5, 2023
Atlanta-based pianist Joe Alterman will release his latest album "Joe Alterman Plays Les McCann: Big Mo and Little Joe" this August. The talented thirty-four-year-old pianist continues on his quest to preserve, honor, and contemporize the music created by some of jazz music's often overlooked elders of the last era.
Alterman has an affable persona that along with his considerable pianistic skills just bubbles with joy and enthusiasm. He attended school at NYU, achieving a BA and Master's in jazz piano from 2007-2012. Along the way, Alterman never lost sight of the tradition. He befriended artists like Ramsey Lewis, Houston Person, Ahmad Jamal, Hank Jones, and Jimmy Heath, carefully listening and where possible acquiring mentor-like relationships that served to inspire and influence his own musical growth. He also credits his invaluable teacher/student relationship with the keyboard artist Don Friedman who took him under his veteran wing at NYU.
On this album, Alterman has chosen to honor another of his mentors. Les McCann is a blues/soul-based pianist/singer that is known for his trio piano work. One record "Stormy Blues" from 1962 features the young vocalist Lou Rawls and is a classic. McCann's epic work with the saxophonist Eddie Harris generated the protest bellwether "Compared to What."
Alterman befriended the wheelchair-bound McCann (the pianist suffered a stroke in 1995) when he opened for the artist at the Blue Note in 2012 and the two continued the conversation ever since.
Alterman thought McCann's compositions needed to be revisited and get the respect he thought they deserved. From this dedicated belief comes the new album Joe Alterman Plays Les McCann: Big Mo and Little Joe where Little Joe chooses ten of McCann's ( Big Mo’s) less-known compositions and the finale is a ballad that Alterman co-wrote with McCann. Alterman is ably backed by Kevin Smith on bass and Justin Chesarek on drums, two of ATL’s serious journeymen musicians, and the trio shows they can certainly swing.
Alterman is a technically efficient player who utilizes an array of pianistic skills that include brilliant glissando runs, gospel-inspired get-downs, barrelhouse honky-tonk, shivering tremolos, to earthy blues riffs. Alterman always abides by some advice given to him by master pianist Ahmad Jamal who once told him “Technique without soul is meaningless.” The man oozes with soul and his genuine joy when playing makes listening to him infectiously uplifting.
The music includes music from many of McCann’s different
phases the house-raising “Gone on and Get That Church,” the funky “Someday
We’ll Meet Again,” the rousing “Could Be,” The Erroll Garner-like “The
Strangler,” the Gospel inspired “Beaux J Poo Boo,” “Samia” a ballad from the
McAnn/Harris electric days, the disco driven “Ruby Jubilation” from McCann’s
1977 Music Lets Me Be, the groovin’ “It’s You,” the achingly moving “Dorene
Don’t Cry,” McCann’s swinging tribute to his father “Big Jim,” and the poignant
co-written ballad “Don’t Forget to Love Yourself.”
Monday, July 3, 2023
|Ralph Alessi w /John Hebert and Mark Ferber at 1905 Portland June 29, 2023
The lyrical and expressive trumpet artist Ralph Alessi brought the latest configuration of his quartet to Portland's 1905 this past Thursday evening. Alessi is one of those hybrid players whose music references many different strains, from classical, to avant-garde, to post-bop jazz to pop influences like Stevie Wonder. Alessi is from a musical family. His mother Maria was in the opera chorus and his father Joseph Sr. was the lead trumpeter in the Metropolitan Opera. Brother Joseph Jr. is the principal trombonist at the NY Philharmonic and is world-class on his instrument. Alessi himself is a respected educator who founded the School of Improvisational Music in Brooklyn, NY and has taught at Eastman School of Music, NYU, and the NE Conservatory to name a few.
At the Portland gig, Alessi brought along three more familiar artists. The talented Canadian pianist Andy Milne, who studied with master pianist Oscar Peterson, is a veteran of the Steve Coleman M-Base days where he met Alessi in the 1990s and has played with him on Imaginary Friends.
The loosely-limbed, propulsive drummer Mark Ferber, is a fixture in the downtown NY jazz scene and has recorded with Alessi since 2008. The new guy to the group this evening was the kinetic bassist John Hébert. Hébert hails originally from New Orleans, studied under Rufus Reid, and has worked with stellar artists from pianist Andrew Hill to multi-reed player Dave Liebman along the way.
Alessi oftentimes is seen in a dual horn frontline, most usually manned by long-time friend saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, like on his Imaginary Friends album of 2019. But on this evening, the superb trumpeter found his foil to trade harmonic ideas in the often surprisingly inventive pianistic work of Milne and the rousingly dynamic bass work of Hébert. This group had an empathetic cohesion that spanned the spectrum of artistic expression through the evening.
The music was vibrant, at times very impressionistic, all notated on sheets that seem a well-learned habit from Alessi's classical influence. The written score was more like an armature upon which Alessi's gorgeous command of the trumpet is used to create his hybrid style of music.
The Allessi compositions, that I was able to catch the names of, were "First Dawn," which featured a wildly dynamic bass solo by Hébert. Hysteria is often considered a "Hysterical Hysterics," was a jagged, avant-garde style piece that utilized more sonic explorations than lyricism. Ferber adds a particularly exciting drum solo. "Planet Jumping," leads off with Hébert's bass creating a metronomic line. Alessi's trumpet explores some beautiful lyrics expansions and Milne's Monk-like pianistic work is a treat. "Migratory Party" is a gorgeously expressive piece from Its Always Now. The finale "Fun Room" from Imaginary Friends opens with the Hébert/Ferber section setting up the rhythmic tone and features Alessi using a plunger on his horn, extending the aural field into a more varied sonic landscape that just sweeps you into it.