Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Bassel & The Supernaturals | “Smoke & Mirrors”

Bassel & The Supernaturals are proud to announce the release of their third studio production, Smoke & Mirrors (LP), due out April 17, 2020. The Chicago based group tells the story of Bassel Almadani's experience as a first generation Syrian-American using soulful melodies, funk inspired grooves, and captivating lyrics regarding love, loss, and the war in Syria. The significance of April 17 also holds another meaning for Bassel as it marks Syrian Independence Day. In the midst of a revolution that has left over 12,000,000 civilians in need of humanitarian relief, the timing of the band’s release combined with Bassel’s global advocacy efforts to support the sustainability of immigrants & refugees reinforce a message of resilience and hope for their eventual independence.

Bassel & The Supernaturals broke out with their 2017 debut album Elements, which earned them critical praise from Noisey, Huffington Post, Associated Press, Reuters, Al Jazeera, Now This, PRI The World, Paste, and many others. The album also led to their involvement in the nationally-acclaimed SXSW 2017 showcase 'ContraBanned: #MusicUnites' featuring artists from the diaspora of countries targeted by the travel ban. The momentum for the band continued by inking a digital distribution deal with Six Degrees Records, one of the most prominent imprints for international music. The band has also been touring heavily, with over 300 performances since 2016 on stages including SXSW, The John F. Kennedy Center, Summerfest, and Millennium Park. They have also supported many internationally touring artists such as Youssou N'Dour, Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, Emancipator, The Dandy Warhols, and Sinkane. The group works closely with organizations on events and residencies that raise awareness and promote the sustainability of immigrants and refugees . This caught the attention of ArcArtists, who specializes in booking multi-faceted events with arts presenters across the world.

Life on the road is not always what it seems. Bassel explains, “Smoke & Mirrors is inspired by the false glamour that surrounds touring artists. We’ve played over 300 shows across North America since 2016 — from packed theaters to clubs where the soundcheck had more fans than the 4-hour set that followed. We’ve made friends with countless pets, couches, and floors. We’ve also lost close friends and family along the way. Music brought us together, and creates infinite meaning in our lives — but it doesn’t always cover rent.” He adds, “As social and cultural leaders, artists are expected to demonstrate strength and persistence in the wake of the challenges associated with working in the entertainment industry. Battles with mental and physical health tend to fall to the wayside along the way, using “the grind” and other coping mechanisms to push through the darkness.”

The nine tracks on the album engineered by GRAMMY-nominated Jeff Breakey and produced by the band’s guitarist Brandon Hunt strike a fine balance between up-tempo, energized funk and downtempo, melodically rich soul, while keeping it all cohesive. The 12” vinyl record reflects this contrast between side A to side B. On side A, the up-tempo of “Calculated Love” kicks off the album as a groove-packed anthem celebrating the raw and sometimes ordinary version of love that is typically left out of television and film. “Stepping Back In Time,” the second single released from the album is an energized protest track that was featured on Spotify’s All Funked Up playlist, driving over 200,000 streams since its debut. “Aleppo” is the third single that dropped, an uplifting disco & funk inspired track celebrating the heritage of the oldest continuously civilized city on the Earth. Bassel sings about his family’s city in Arabic for the first time, and the lyrics were prepared with his father’s help during a phone conversation that can be heard subtly in the mix at its beginning. Traditional “tarab” style vocals follow to close out the track courtesy of Arab-American vocalist Ashukur. The title track “Smoke” dismantles the myth of glamour often surrounding touring artists. The music video will be released on March 6, 2020.

Side B dives in with “Skipping Heartbeats,” showcasing the soulful R&B styles of the band. This song looks at the frontman’s journey into marriage and his persistence in “weathering the storm” through cultural differences and life changing tragedies. The tempest in “Skipping Heartbeats” flows into a full immersion into the water on “Relay,” where the singer relives his adolescent experience as a competitive swimmer. “Black Water” acts as a powerful follow up – a cinematic, dark ballad based on a dream where Bassel visits Aleppo and confronts the infamous Queiq River behind his grandmother’s home. Smoke & Mirrors closes with “Mistakes,” an open admission of self-deprecation and substance use as a coping mechanism through anxiety and depression.

What makes this release so special to Bassel & The Supernaturals is its honesty. Bassel details, “the approach on this record is very direct - from screaming ‘fuck your wall’ to opening up about substance use acting as a crutch for many of us. We’ve seen so many friends and family members impacted by drug abuse and mental illness, and it’s a taboo subject for most of us. Especially as one who identifies himself as Muslim and Arab-American, it’s something I’ve skated around in the past. I’ve learned to embrace who I am and my shortcomings, and I’ll do whatever I can to create safe spaces for others to do the same.” He concludes, “We explored a lot of territory on this album, yet it feels like our most authentic recording to date.”

Fabiano do Nascimento | Prelúdio

Prelúdio is the third album Now-Again Records will issue from the thrilling, young Brasilian guitarist Fabiano do Nascimento. Produced by Mario Caldato, Jr. and Luther Russell and engineered and mixed by Caldato and Jason Hiller, this album features do Nascimento’s longtime drummer Ricardo “Tiki” Pasillas. It will be released in June 2020

It is the first album of solely do Nascimento’s own compositions and, like his previous albums Dança dos Tempos and Tempo dos Mestres, follows folkloric Brasilian music, Brasilian jazz, bossa-nova and samba as experienced through the mind and able fingers of an expansive musician, combing the heady ‘60s and ‘70s experimentalism of Hermeto Pascoal and Baden Powell with the childlike elegance of music played and passed down by native Brasilians for generations.

Do Nascimento was born into a musical family, from lineage that stretches back to his great-grand-father Ladario Teixeira, a blind saxophonist who contributed to the re-creation of the instrument by adding more keys to the older incarnation of the instrument in the early 20th century. He was born in Rio de Janeiro and grew up there and in Sao Paulo, where he found inspiration in his uncle, the late Lúcio Nascimento, bassist and composer in Leny Andrade’s band Bom de Três.

While he came from a musical pedigree, he’s largely self-taught, largely in the service of an overarching mission to showcase the folkloric music of his home country as he continue to develop possibilities for language of the guitar itself. His studies ramped up after he moved to Los Angeles in 2001. His first champion was Aloe Blacc, who worked with do Nascimento over the years, including his work on his debut album Shine Through for Stones Throw Records. His collaborators now include Madlib, multi-instrumentalist Sam Gandel, Innovative Leisure chanteuse Claude Fontaine and legendary Brasilian percussionist, bandleader, songwriter and catalyst Airto Moreira.

Moreiera states that Nascimento is “Brazilian but (his mind is) from a place in Brazil that is not common.” Fortunately, we still have some musicians who like to play music and who like to touch the instrument and who like that energy! You see, because that’s the most important thing in music. The energy. That’s why I love to play live. And that’s why I’m playing with Fabiano.”

First Ever Music Video for Miles Davis' "Boplicity" Released

The first-ever music video for Miles Davis’ “Boplicity” has been released today by Blue Note/UMe. The new video was created by animator/director Thomas Jarrett and produced by Dreambear. Today’s “Boplicity” video debut follows the September 27, 2019 release of the first-ever music video for Davis’ “Moon Dreams.” Both tracks are featured on the acclaimed Miles Davis collection, The Complete Birth of the Cool, released June 7, 2019 by Blue Note/UMe.

Watch the music video for Miles Davis’ “Boplicity”: https://lnk.to/MilesDavisYouTube
Watch the music video for Miles Davis’ “Moon Dreams”: https://lnk.to/MoonDreams

Available in 2LP vinyl, CD, and digital formats, The Complete Birth of the Cool chronicles the brief yet monumental importance of the Miles Davis Nonet. Honoring the 70th anniversary of the initial Birth of the Cool sessions, the deep-dive collection presents together all the music created by this collective, including the twelve sides they recorded in 1949/’50 and the ensemble’s only extant live recordings, recorded at the Royal Roost. The Complete Birth of the Cool has drawn widespread praise; Pitchfork awarded it a rare perfect 10 review score, calling it “exquisite and essential.”

GRID | “Decomposing Force”

GRID, the experimental trio of Matt Nelson (Battle Trance; Elder Ones) on saxophone, Tim Dahl (Child Abuse; Lydia Lunch Retrovirus) on bass, and Nick Podgurski (New Firmament; Feast of the Epiphany) on drums, have returned to NNA Tapes for the release of their colossal sophomore album, Decomposing Force.

Recorded live in one room with no overdubs and mixed to 1/2 inch tape, GRID builds off of their earth-rattling self-titled debut. Decomposing Force relies on the composite sound of Nelson, Dahl, and Podgurski interacting and reacting to each individual as well as their combined output—the continual flowing-in of individual and agglomeration serves to add dimension to the blackness and possibility of GRID’s musical ecosystem. With Dahl’s bass-amp angled directly into the microphone Nelson uses for his saxophone, the improvisational sounds of the entire band are fed through Nelson’s pedals and monitor to create a continuously interactive and variable feedback loop that comes to define the visceral immensity of GRID’s soundscapes. This combines with a mutual willingness to evenly shoulder the weight of composition. There is no showcasing of any single player in this amorphous system. The impact of what is created shall be carried by all. 

Remaining beyond strict categorization, GRID’s crushing dissonance is an amalgamation of each member’s background in free-jazz and improvisational music, as well as Doom-Metal, Noise, and Ambient influences. The resistance towards classification and familiarity leaves listeners in an environment negotiable only by feel. Musically synthesizing and re-synthesizing in each moment, GRID’s cyclical transmission of sound and energy continually develops expressive, hyperactive, protean textures that brutally and masterfully navigate through the dense, heavy atmosphere of Decomposing Force with vigorous dynamism. 

“Brutal Kings” is a short, claustrophobic passageway of bristles and thorns—each instrument and each note are distinctly and singularly piercing. The cacophonous “Nythynge” violently builds and releases tension as the band moves through passages of imposing, jagged musical discourse. The playing loosens and the tempo slows to an enveloping trudge on the thick, sludgy “The Weight of Literacy.” Then “Cold Seep” closes the album in a chilled, unsettling ambiance more expansive than anything that precedes it, leaving the impression that you’ve only explored but one tiny corner of GRID’s world. 

Built on the tenets of weight, difficulty, challenge, collaboration, and adaptability, GRID constructs and confronts the oppressive dark—not with transcendent opposition but with an embrace, diving deeper in as a way through. Decomposing Force is sonic catharsis of the highest and harshest caliber.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Pasquale Grasso | “Solo Masterpieces”

Sony Masterworks has announced the latest addition to Pasquale Grasso’s digital showcase series, Solo Masterpieces. The series – which includes the 2019 releases Solo Standards, Vol. 1, Solo Ballads, Vol. 1, Solo Monk and Solo Holiday – all emphasize the guitar virtuoso as he displays his intensive studies of the guitar masters, both bebop and classical. Solo Masterpieces represents the first full length member of the digital series; as a compilation it acts as both a retrospective of the previous albums and also an insight to a handful of previously-unreleased tunes from the upcoming 2020 EP releases. Additional 2020 releases include Grasso exploring the works of Duke Ellington, Bud Powell, and a celebration of the centennial of Charlie Parker.

With Solo Masterpieces, Grasso has gathered music from each of his first solo guitar EPs and melded them. The result is a masterful collection that allows audiences to revel in Grasso’s previous work whilst simultaneously creating an air of excitement for the music yet to be released. The series, which has received critical acclaim thus far, marks a turning point into the new decade and Solo Masterpieces is the encapsulation of the majesty within the music. 

Many serious guitar heads have been hip to Grasso for a while now and are aware of his jaw-dropping online performance videos and his early career triumphs. In 2015, he won the Wes Montgomery International Jazz Guitar Competition in New York City, taking home a $5,000 prize and performing with guitar legend Pat Martino’s organ trio. His Sony Masterworks series showcases his sweeping abilities in the most intimate setting possible. “Playing solo guitar is a very intimate experience for me, forcing me to find my own way of improvising on my favorite songs while directly facing the challenges that the guitar presents,” said Grasso.

The series acts as a study in the world of infinite possibilities held within a single instrument. “The key is always to try to find what works on your instrument, which is why studying classical guitar was so influential on how I hear music,” Grasso explains. “When playing classical guitar, it’s like you’re a little orchestra by yourself – you can sound like violin, cello, brass, etc. And technically, it has allowed me to develop original ways of playing my left and right hands independently while also trying to represent the bass and rhythm, with one note leading to the next."

“The fact is, growing up, other than the great Charlie Christian, I never really listened much to guitarists. It was usually pianists. In particular, when playing solo guitar, my initial inspiration came when I was seven years old, listening to the greats Art Tatum, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk. What always amazed me was that although they were playing alone, I felt I could hear the entire band with them.”

Orrin Evans And The Captain Black Big Band | "The Intangible Between"

If it takes a village to raise a child, as the proverb says, then it certainly takes at least that much to nurture a big band. Pianist and bandleader Orrin Evans has long used “The Village” to refer not only to his family-like cohort of fellow musicians in the Captain Black Big Band, but also to the extended family of fans, supporters and inspirations that have carried the ensemble to a Grammy nomination and its status as one of the most thrilling and revered ensembles in modern jazz.

The Village truly came together to create The Intangible Between, the fourth release by the Captain Black Big Band. Due out May 1 via Smoke Sessions Records, the album was created in the celebratory, communal environment that Evans excels in conjuring. While the recording took place in New York’s hallowed Sear Sound, the atmosphere became transformed from a recording studio into a backyard barbecue.

Evans invited a host of collaborators, stocked the place with food, and threw a party that imbued the music with a vibrant sense of warmth and comfort – while still exalting in the band’s trademark tightrope-walking vigor. In the true spirit of the music, Evans entered the studio with a carefully devised blueprint, down to spreadsheets listing the musicians planned for any given tune – and then left room for spontaneity to take over when it would.

“I’ve always wanted to do a project like this,” Evans says. “Where I ask all my friends to get together, there’s food in the room, and everybody just comes on in and records. There was definitely a plan, but there was also the element of just getting together and playing. That’s what this record is about to me.”

That approach leads to a wealth of unexpected and alchemical moments, ranging from Sean Jones’ exquisite flugelhorn solo on Todd Bashore’s arrangement of the standard “A Time For Love” to the hurly-burly of four bassists (including Evans’ Tarbaby triomate Eric Revis, making his Captain Black debut) and two drummers crowding into Josh Lawrence’s sharp-shouldered arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Off Minor.”

Featuring both taut, keenly focused ensemble playing and raucous, spirited soloing, The Intangible Between reflects the ever-growing chemistry of the core ensemble while celebrating Evans’ open-door policy toward collaborators new and old. The rotating cast of players, while maintaining the more compact scale introduced on the band’s last album, the Grammy-nominated Presence, also features first-time members alongside veterans that joined the ranks in its earliest days and special guests whose collaborations with Evans stretch back over many years and diverse groups. The recording also marks Evans’ first substantial contribution to the band’s book as an arranger, a duty previously delegated largely to his chief sidemen or derived spontaneously by the ensemble.

“Our first two records featured more of my compositions but arranged by people in the band,” Evans recalls. “The third record highlighted music by David Gibson, Troy Roberts, John Raymond and Josh Lawrence; but this is the first record where I’ve really arranged... We’ve been together 10 years, but this is really the first time [the band has] sat down and said, ‘Ok, these are Orrin’s arrangements, and it’s a different school.’”

The title, according to Evans, refers to an elusive decision point, that sense of stepping off a ledge into the unknown that comes with taking risks and setting a new course. With the overdue success he’s achieved in recent years – topping the “Rising Star” category for pianists in the DownBeat critics poll, garnering his first New York Times feature, the awards and praise garlanding his Captain Black albums, the increased focus that accompanied joining The Bad Plus – has come both opportunities and disappointments.

“This record is just about going for it, taking those projects you’ve been dreaming about and just making them happen,” he says. “The industry constantly tells you to wait, but for how long? Why not just do it now?”

In part, that impetus was fueled by Evan’s career trajectory, but he was also compelled by the sobering loss of two of his peers: trumpeter Roy Hargrove and drummer Lawrence “Lo” Leathers, both of whom are paid tribute on The Intangible Between. “There are things that I wished I had said to both of them,” Evans reflects. “Nothing major, just the little things that you think you’ll be able to say the next time you see someone. But you just don’t know. You really have to deal with the intangible, the space between whether you’re going to do something or not.”

Leathers receives a tender farewell from the full band on Evans’ own “I’m So Glad I Got To Know You,” written in the immediate aftermath of the drummer’s shocking and unexpected death. The band’s version of “Into Dawn,” arranged by trombonist David Gibson, is both a brilliant rendition of a gorgeous Hargrove composition and a typical piece of Orrin Evans audaciousness.

Gibson, Lawrence, Bashore and trombonist Stafford Hunter have all been key lieutenants in the big band from its early days, supplying arrangements or, in Evans’ words, “being all-around partners in crimes and filling in the blanks whenever there are any.”

Gibson attributes the band’s growth and success to “the paternal spirit that inspired its birth. Orrin has created an environment that encourages all to take risks in pursuit of spontaneous and authentic musical conversations. He cajoles, inspires, and supports the group from behind the piano or in the dressing room. The company of musicians he's invited to the party is comprised of those willing to participate in a grand trust exercise that I find to be very uncommon in a big band setting… Every musician is committed to supporting the pursuit of honest moments of music; our truth.”

The source of the term The Intangible Between is “Love Poem,” a short piece that Evans commissioned from John “Doc” Holiday, a retired teacher and mentor that the pianist met in a local Philadelphia watering hole. On Evans’ arrangement of Andrew Hill’s “Tough Love,” The Village’s recitation of that piece is paired with Evans’ own reading of “Yo! Bum Rushing the Door,” a poem by his brother Todd, aka Son of Black. Along with his original pieces “That Too” and “I’m So Glad I Got To Know You” and a version of “This Little Light of Mine” originally arranged for the WDR Big Band in Germany.

From trumpeter Sean Jones, with whom Evans has played for well over a decade, to bassist Dylan Reis, a young bass protégé, to bandmates making strides in the jazz scene after being nurtured by Evans early in their career in Philly and beyond – drummers Anwar Marshall and Mark Whitfield Jr., saxophonists Immanuel Wilkins, Troy Roberts and Caleb Wheeler Curtis, and bassist Luques Curtis, among others – The Village speaks with a loud, unified and infectious voice throughout The Intangible Between.

“It really matters when you know you have a tight-knit circle, and that you can rely on your circle for whatever you need,” Evans says. “The Village is a unit of people that you can trust and that love you. It’s an open door to the possibilities of knowing that you’re part of something for the greater good.”

Falkner Evans | Marbles

Pianist and composer Falkner Evans convenes a brilliant all-star band to breathe vivid life into his compositions on Marbles.

There’s a victorious sense of “winner takes all” implied in the phrase “all the marbles.” That may not be what pianist and composer Falkner Evans had in mind when he christened his captivating new album Marbles, but the notion fits nonetheless. With this intriguing and spirited set, Evans has managed to assemble an all-star band that still works together with the camaraderie and chemistry of a road-tested unit; his writing for the three-horn frontline balances the flexibility of a small group with the harmonic richness of a big band; his brilliant original compositions offer the surprises of the new paired with the familiarity that comes from such indelible melodies. 

Due out April 17, 2020 on Consolidated Artists Productions (CAP), Marbles carries forward the compositional evolution that Evans last displayed on his 2011 release The Point of the Moon. Where the pianist’s first three releases featured his trio, The Point of the Moon widened his scope to include trumpet and saxophone. Marbles expands the palette even further; returning are drummer Matt Wilson (a constant throughout Evans’ discography), bassist Belden Bullock (who joined the trio on 2007’s Arc) and trumpeter Ron Horton, whose experience writing arrangements for Andrew Hill helped color the music for Evans’ band. New to the ensemble are saxophonists Michael Blake and Ted Nash, with vibraphonist Steve Nelson as a special guest on three tunes. 

“I wanted to bring together the best musicians that I could think of, but I wanted them to sound like a band,” Evans stresses. “All of these guys are so in-demand that working around their schedules was a challenge, but I didn’t want this to sound like we were all just thrown together. I wanted the music to feel like it was second nature.” 

It’s a testament to Evans’ gifts as a composer and bandleader that he was able to achieve that goal. Just take a listen to the album’s closing piece, a brief rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be,” which is the album’s sole non-original composition. More a snapshot than a full-fledged performance of the piece, the joyful number puts the band’s playfulness on full display, while a quick quip form Nelson, a Wilson rimshot, and a gale of collective laughter show off how quickly the band jibed, despite blending members who have been friends for decades with those meeting for the first time in the studio. 

“I love these guys a lot,” Evans says. “We’ve all become really good friends. I’m so pleased that everybody was able to do this. It was an experience.” 

The listening experience is equally warm and generous, well making up for the nine-year wait between releases. In the interim Evans has kept busy with a variety of projects, more often than not working in solo or duo situations in the clubs near his Greenwich Village home. But in his mind’s ear he kept hearing something larger, richer, more complex.  

“I was just hearing all of these harmonies,” he says. “It’s interesting: as great as it can be, two horns sounds like two horns. With three horns you can do so much more with the orchestration. That was the basic inspiration for this album.” 

The unique blend of the intimate and the orchestral provided by the instrumentation seems a natural outgrowth of Evans’ singular voice on the piano. Throughout Marbles, the bandleader displays an elegant yet dynamic touch, rich with evocative, alluring harmonies that entice listeners with sonic mysteries to explore. Each of Evans’ solos speaks eloquently in the distinctive language of his deftly tailored compositions, unfolding with the grace and economy of a compelling storyteller. 

Navigating the simmering rhythms of the title track, Blake uncoils a tense, probing solo that builds with a pressure-cooker intensity without ever quite boiling over. That sensation is carried forward into Evans’ taut turn, which spins dazzling filigree from minimal material with the craftsmanship of a master weaver, all the while parrying Wilson’s rollicking jabs and barbs, held aloft with a juggler’s gravity-defying skills.


The album opens with the alluring sway of “Pina,” dedicated to the esteemed German choreographer Pina Bausch and inspired by filmmaker Wim Wenders’ remarkable 3D documentary of the same name. Evans’ composition is something of an imaginary offering to the late dancer, in whose intricate footsteps the pianist, Bullock and Nash (on flute) seem to nimbly follow on their solos. 

From simple, mild beginnings to increasing urbanity and complexity, the gentle but firm swing of “Civilization” echoes the arc of societal evolution. The introspective “Sing Alone” is ushered in by a dazzling, crystalline solo introduction by the leader, while the shifting tempos of “Global News” reflects the hectic unpredictability of the news cycle. Nelson comes to fore on the sun-dappled “Hidden Gem,” his vibes rippling like concentric waves on still water.  

The turbulent angularity of “This From That” occupies a middle ground between Mingus and Monk, contrasted with the gleeful spirit of “Mbegu.” Something about the piece reminded its composer of Henry Mancini’s classic “Baby Elephant Walk,” which suggested its title – the name of a pachyderm that Evans and his wife sponsor. “Dear West Village” is a love letter to Evans’ neighborhood of more than two decades and its still-thriving straightahead scene, a place where the tune itself would fit right in.  

Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Falkner Evans is a New York-based jazz pianist with an eclectic musical background. A third cousin to iconic author William Faulkner, Evans grew up on classic 60s rock and R&B before getting hooked on jazz in high school, then garnered his first professional experience playing with famed western swing band Asleep At The Wheel for four years. He moved to New York City in 1985 and quickly became involved in the busy scene, recruiting Cecil McBee and Matt Wilson for his leader debut, Level Playing Field. Two more trio dates followed before Evans expanded his horizons in 2011 for the quintet outing The Point of the Moon.


Matthew Whitaker – Now Hear This

Though he’s still only 18 years old, multi-instrumentalist Matthew Whitaker has come a long way to get where he is today, overcoming adversity and dedicating countless hours to honing his craft. With his declarative label debut Now Hear This, Whitaker announced himself as a major new voice on jazz piano, organ, and a wide range of keyboard instruments.

Now Hear This teams Whitaker with a stellar all-star band featuring guitarist Dave Stryker, bassist Yunior Terry, drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., and percussionist Sammy Figueroa. Keyboard great Marc Cary and flutist Gabrielle Garo also make special guest appearances. The album was overseen by GRAMMY® Award-winning producer Brian Bacchus, who has worked closely with the likes of Gregory Porter, Norah Jones, Randy Weston and Sullivan Fortner, among others.

But it’s Whitaker that commands the spotlight, evidencing a bold and confident sense of swing and a wide-ranging palette that spans straight-ahead jazz and hard bop to R&B and Latin influences. Supplementing his virtuoso piano skills with soulful Hammond organ and coloristic synthesizers, Whitaker leaves any “prodigy” stigma far behind on this stunner of an album.

Whitaker’s distinctive voice would be captivating under any circumstances, but the obstacles that he’s had to overcome in his young life make Now Hear This all the more breathtaking. He was born three months premature in 2001, weighing less than two pounds and able to fit in the palm of his father’s hand. The newborn was given less than a 50% chance of surviving; the oxygen that he was given by doctors allowed him to live but cost him his sight.

Blindness proved no obstacle to playing music, however, and Whitaker displayed preternatural talents from the first moment he touched a keyboard. As a blind African-American piano prodigy, comparisons to Stevie Wonder were inevitable. Meaningfully, Wonder himself gave the younger keyboard wizard his imprimatur when he invited Whitaker to open for him during his induction into the Apollo Theater Hall of Fame. In 2016 Whitaker returned to that legendary stage, this time performing Wonder’s classic “I Wish” for FOX TV’s revival of Showtime at the Apollo.

But Whitaker never set out to be a Stevie Wonder clone, and while the soul icon is a definite influence Whitaker can rattle off a long list of indelible influences that leans heavily towards jazz giants like McCoy Tyner, Barry Harris, Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. His gifts have been recognized by a number of jazz luminaries who have provided crucial mentorship, including Cary, Christian McBride, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Regina Carter, Jon Batiste, Roy Ayers and Jason Moran, among others.

His musical path was set at the age of seven when his father dialed into a jazz station on the car radio one day. “Ever since then it’s been my favorite genre of music to play and listen to,” Whitaker says with obvious enthusiasm. “Unlike other styles of music where you play what’s on a sheet of paper or play just like a recording, with jazz you have the ability to be free with the music and improvise. You can really do you.”

Now Hear This is a perfect summation of Whitaker’s evolution to date. He’s enjoyed a remarkable career already, receiving the Harlem Stage Emerging Artist Award and the Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award among other honors. His promise has only begun to be fulfilled, as he prepares to wrap up his first year at Juilliard, where he made history as the first blind undergraduate student to join Juilliard's Jazz Study program.

Jason Palmer | The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella

Inventive trumpeter and composer Jason Palmer unveils a remarkable new suite inspired by the history-making 1990 art theft at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Sometime during the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves entered Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum disguised as police officers, exiting 81 minutes later with 13 works of art by some of the greatest painters of all time. Three decades later, the frames that once held those artworks still hang empty. The still unsolved heist remains the biggest art theft in the history of the world. 

Trumpeter and composer Jason Palmer has been fascinated by this remarkable mystery since he moved to Boston in 1997 to study at New England Conservatory. To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the theft, and in part to shine a renewed spotlight on the crime in the hopes of unearthing some clue to the artworks’ whereabouts, Palmer composed his brilliant new suite dedicated to the missing pieces.  

Palmer’s dozen compositions, one for each piece stolen (a pair of related Degas sketches are combined in one homage), ignite masterful performances by the composer’s outstanding ensemble, featuring influential saxophonist Mark Turner along with rapidly rising star Joel Ross on vibraphone, drummer Kendrick Scott and bassist Edward Perez. 

The album was recorded last May during a unique performance in the breathtaking Harold S. Vanderbilt Penthouse of the InterContinental New York Barclay, generously donated by the hotel for this occasion. On March 18, 2020, the results of that magical night will be released as The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella, thanks to the groundbreaking non-profit Giant Step Arts led by noted photographer and recording engineer Jimmy Katz.  Katz founded Giant Step Arts to create such once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for artists, freeing them from the usual demands of record label and sales chart expectations. 

The Concert marks Palmer’s second outing via Giant Step Arts. His highly-acclaimed Rhyme and Reason was the inaugural release for Katz’s fledgling organization. “I’m really fortunate to work with Jimmy,” Palmer says. “It’s the first time I’ve released music myself, so I’m learning so much about how that works, and I’ve sold a lot more records than I ever thought I would.” 

The audacious heist at the Gardner Museum, which included works valued at more than $500 million by artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, and Degas, is a captivating story on its own. But in the disappearance of this priceless art, Palmer discovered a metaphor for the lack of respect for art and creativity in the modern world. “I found a congruence between the idea of these specific works being physically lost and art in general not being appreciated in society,” he explained. “I think there’s some kind of celestial relationship between making music inspired by works that are lost in hopes of having the art that I produce not be so lost on society.” 

Palmer’s compositions take myriad approaches to translating the missing works into music. Working from images of the stolen art, he drew inspiration for some of the pieces from the content of the source material. “Christ in a Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” for instance, responds to Rembrandt’s painting of a tempest-tossed voyage with a rollicking, turbulent 15/8 groove. The same artist’s shadow-shrouded “A Lady and Gentleman in Black” spurred him to concoct a raucously funky melody using only the black keys of the piano. 

Others inspired a more abstract approach, such as “An Ancient Chinese Gu,” taken from a bronze vessel used to drink wine during rituals in the Shang and Zhou dynasties. The gu’s flaring, trumpet-like mouth evoked a clarion horn melody, inflected by a melody inspired by Chinese folk traditions in reference to the object’s provenance. 



Sunday, April 26, 2020

The M-tet | Total Nonstop Action!

Growth is a slippery slope for musicians. Once you’ve become established for a sound and style, the expectation to adhere to what put you where you are looms overhead at every writing session, rehearsal and show. Purists for Meters-style funk would probably scoff at a band suddenly rolling out Yamaha DX-7s and double neck guitars, no matter how stank the groove. But then there’s the musician’s inner itch for exploration, experimentation and expansion that keeps the process that much more exciting at a time where most of us won’t reach higher tax brackets through music. The incentive to keep going is growth. But perhaps the most difficult feat is straddling the line - to grow and build upon a trademark sound while managing to not alienate a core audience. Bay Area funk quartet, The M-Tet, manage to pull off the ever elusive option C on their sophomore long-player, Total NonStop Action. 

Lead single “Gotta Be With You” kicks off the affair, and after an opening drum break from Michael Reed - who was gracious enough to let me use his vintage Ludwig set on a recent gig I played with Ben Pirani’s band and The M-Tet in Oakland - it’s evident that The M-Tet has already expanded upon the late ‘60s-era Booker T/Meters influence of their debut LP. The melodies are more polished and the production more elaborate, but without losing the grease. “You Should See The Other Guy,” my personal favorite track on the album, incorporates a mean, driving shuffle, while Joe Baer Magnant’s driving guitar tone and Gary Pitman’s hair-raising chords evoke some of the grittier early ‘70s blues-rock in only a hair above two minutes. Speaking of blues, “That Old Hammond Organ” introduces a slinky 12/8 groove ripe for a soul soliloquy with Pitman conducting the sermon. “What’s Left To Give” gives us sweetness with groove, while “Pinch Hitter” brings the horns - in particular the big baritone sax - to the party for a hip-shaking nod to the world of Dyke & The Blazers and a look at the band’s wide range of soul influences. 

Fans of The M-Tet’s debut (2017’s Long Play) need not fret over the more varied terrain, though. They cover the reliable bread and butter funk with syncopated, Hammond and guitar-driven nuggets like “Katrin’s Deli” and let Reed flex on the kit with the nasty second single, “Ray Ban, Pt. 2” - ripe with beautifully nerve-pinching guitar Sound F/X recorded live to tape. But “VAMP, Oakland” manages to merge ol’ reliable with something new: The M-Tet’s trademark quartet funk with layers of percussion, courtesy of Jungle Fire/Sure Fire Soul Ensemble’s own Steve Haney.  

Regardless of the variations in style, groove and mojo, the driving force of the rhythm section is the glue that gives the virtuosity of Magnant and Pitman a nice canvas to throw down. Bassist Chris Lujan drives the bus, tastefully flexing when it fits but never intruding on the groove, while Reed’s right foot and left hand have a discussion that greasily (is that a word?) stitches it all together.

Overall, Total NonStop Action is just that - a relentless ride through funk and soul that ebbs and flows though different influences, but never slows down. And an example of staying true to an overall aesthetic without being a facsimile.



Bobby Previte, Jamie Saft, Nels Cline | Music From the Early 21st Century

When future generations listen back to the sounds of this still young millennium, what music will remain to define the era? Master improvisers Bobby Previte, Jamie Saft and Nels Cline make their bid for immortality with Music From the Early 21st Century, their venturesome new album on RareNoiseRecords.

While hardly representative of the hits streaming through the Bluetooth ether these days, Music From the Early 21st Century is nonetheless aptly titled, colliding its threads of musical history leading up to the very moment of its explosive creation. The album, captured live during a brief tour of the Northeastern U.S. in early 2019, is essentially a freely improvised organ trio set. But filtered through the lens of these three encyclopedically eclectic masters, it morphs continually from one prismatic hybrid of styles to another throughout its ten carefully curated pieces.

"Fundamentally, it's based around the classic organ trio formation - drums, Hammond organ and guitar," Saft explains. "But it just blows up the language to so many different universes. We can draw from any direction. There are so many different genres and sonic spaces interacting even within a single tune, which is very much a function of the mastery of Bobby Previte and Nels Cline. The album title to me really speaks to the breadth of the music."

The cover image speaks to the concept behind the music: known as the Hubble Legacy Field, the breathtaking photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope captures the earliest image yet of our universe, revealing nascent galaxies at a moment just a little more than half a billion years after the Big Bang. The awe-inspiring notion of witnessing the birth of everything we know, still evident in our modern reality, echoes the musical evolutions that ripple through the trio's creations.

The track titles are a bit more toungue-in-cheek; just like the music itself, each word or phrase is one, from "Totes" to "Occession" to "Parkour" to "Machine Learning," that would be utter nonsense to a 20th century reader. Previte chuckles at the thought. "I've been thinking about this, especially as I get older: who knows what the meaning of what one does becomes later? I thought this title would put the music in a context that makes sense, because it's incontrovertible that this is music from the early 21st century. That allows the music to have no baggage except the time period in which it was made. I also thought after the fact that it would be hilarious if, a hundred years from now, someone googles - or whatever the equivalent of Google will be then - 'music from the early 21st century,' and this record comes up."

Somewhat surprisingly, given not only the profound chemistry evinced on these spontaneous compositions but the parallel paths they've travelled for decades, Music From the Early 21st Century marks the first time that Cline has played with Saft and his first time working with Previte in an improvisatory context. While Saft and Previte share a decades-long relationship, Cline and Previte had only recently joined forces for the first time in two of the drummer's projects: "Terminals," a set of concertos in which they played separately as soloists with Sō Percussion; and "Rhapsody," a stunning song cycle on which Cline atypically played acoustic guitar.

"I really wanted to improvise with Nels for a change, to really just play," Previte says. "What he brought to this trio is pretty humbling and impressive. A lot of guitar players are masters of electronics, so they're great sonic players but can't really play a blues. Then of course there are many players that are the opposite, who really understand harmony and form. Nels is that rare animal knows how to do all those things, and because he has such a deep understanding of all the building blocks that go into music, he can bring that into his electronics. I'm flabbergasted at what he played on this record."

While on the tour, a brief jaunt through Upstate New York and Central Pennsylvania last spring, the triomates bonded over their shared passions for a wide swathe of music, which often manifested in a listening game of "Stump Nels" that would then lead to cover songs in that night's concert. None of those songs, which included classic rock favorites like The Zombies' "She's Not There" and Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter," are included on the album, but the influence of that common ground bleeds into the music they crafted on the spot.

"We definitely have a lot of shared influences and obsessions," Cline says. "Bobby's idea of incredible fun was to play me these songs that he was obsessed with, and in a way I think that became a template for where the trio could go. At the risk of sounding irreverent or ironic, which is not my intention, this is kind of a jam band. That's become a term that no longer adequately defines what I mean, but that's essentially what we're doing."

If that's the case, then Music From the Early 21st Century is jamming of a supremely high order. From the monolithic howl of "Photobomb," opening the album by diving directly into the deep end, to the closing Krautrock pulse of "Flash Mob," the improvisations conjured by the trio never for a moment lose focus, vitality or urgency. In part that's due to the expert curation of Previte, who unearthed the standout moments from hours of recordings, and to the brilliant live recording and mastering of Saft and longtime collaborator Vin Cin of New York's Electric Plant studio; but at its core, it's due to the inventive spirit of these three uncanny virtuosos.

Track to track, it soon becomes clear that there's no limit to the terrain that this band can explore. "Paywall" bridges hard rock and dub, while Saft's brisk walking bassline on "Parkour"  spurs Cline to channel his best Sonny Sharrock skronk. "The Extreme Present" offers a mutant take on 60s soul, while "Totes" immerses the listener in a psychedelic haze. "Occession" is 14 minutes of grinding, spiraling noise abstraction, "The New Weird" ten minutes of hypnotic spiritual jazz. The cyborg churn of "Machine Learning" is followed by the transcendent ecstasy of "Woke." 

"This band was an accident," shrugs Previte with a laugh. "Which is sometimes the best way to make a band. I like to play compositions too, but the music one writes has to be better than the music one can improvise, and if you've improvised for many years that music can be spontaneous and exciting and deep. It can visit countries that one could never write down in one's wildest imagination. Once the three of us got together it was obvious that this band discovered a territory that has not been well explored."

While modesty prevents Saft from touting his own abilities, his comments on his partners can easily be extended to include the visionary keyboardist, who here spotlights his exploratory skills on Hammond organ, Minimoog and Fender Rhodes. "Both of these musicians have the absolute broadest language to draw from when they improvise, but neither one of them ever puts things there for some agenda. There is no agenda; there's trust, mutual friendship, respect and love, so you're hearing the conversation that we're having about those things. It's just a joy to play with those guys."

Robin McKelle | Alterations

Robin McKelle has released her new album Alterations. Vocalist Robin McKelle delves into the catalogue of some of the most celebrated women of song, interpreting these masterworks through the lens of the jazz idiom.  On Alterations, McKelle follows in a long tradition of female song interpreters, lending her sultry vocal stylings to classics by a diverse list of female innovators including Dolly Parton, Sade, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Janis Joplin, Carol King, Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, and Lana Del Ray.  McKelle is joined on this release by a group of consummate musicians including co-producer, pianist and arranger Shedrick Mitchell, acoustic and electric bassist Richie Goods, drummer Charles Haynes, guitarist Nir Felder.  In addition, esteemed saxophonist Keith Loftis is featured on McKelle's sole original composition on this release, "Head High"; and renowned trumpeter Marquis Hill is featured on Lana Del Rey's "Born to Die".  The first single from Alterations, McKelle's rendition of Sade's "No Ordinary Love", will be released in late January. Alterations will be released on Doxie Records and distributed and marketed by the Orchard.

In the making of the album, most of McKelle's vocal tracks used on this final recording were takes she sang live with the band.  On the recording process, McKelle notes "The energy and connection with the musicians was so powerful. They lifted me up and made it feel effortless. I've never felt so confident in the studio."  The energy and connection of the album overall is palpable; stunning interplay is displayed throughout each track. Shedrick Mitchell was responsible for translating McKelle's visions for each of these tracks into arrangements for this prodigious grouping of musicians to perform.  McKelle notes "Mitchell really understood my vision and did a fabulous job helping to make the arrangements come alive. We fused jazz, soul, r&b, blues and rock all while keeping a continuity in the music."

The album begins with McKelle's re-imagining of Winehouse's "Back to Black".  A gentle latin rhythm drives this track forward; Mckelle's voice soars over Mitchell's masterful accompaniment.  The album continues with McKelle's soulful take on Adele's "Rolling in the Deep", the band uses this song as a vehicle to explore the reflective lyrics with a wonderful, moody reharmonization.  Guitarist Nir Felder takes a stellar solo over these changes. The album proceeds with McKelle's original composition "Head High", the artist's tribute to the female singers and writers who came before her. "It's about the power that the female singer has. To move people with her lyric and song. To be fearless. To touch people's emotions. To make change" notes McKelle.  Consummate saxophonist Keith Loftis is featured on this track.

McKelle's delivers a spirited, bluesy rendition of Dolly Parton's classic "Jolene", a celebration of the lyrics in a  decidedly different context than the original 1974 release by Parton which earned her a GRAMMY® for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.  "No Ordinary Love" is McKelle's rendition of Sade's classic R&B composition.  McKelle's fiery latin-tinged arrangement of this song emphasizes the ensemble's fantastic sense of dynamics and interplay.  McKelle's voice ignites the track and is met with an impassioned solo from Felder. The album ends with a duo performance of Carole King's classic "You've Got a Friend".  McKelle and Mitchell converse over King's lyrics, delivering the song's tenderness with her signature warmth and strength.

The songs on Alterations are diverse in tone and mood. The desperation of Del Ray's "Born to Die"; The exuberance of Parton's "Jolene".  McKelle transitions seamlessly between the emotions of every song. And makes each one her own.  To McKelle, alteration is all. As the artist notes "when you create change, you create space for something to shift in the world and in yourself.  As an artist. And as a human. And that is a change for the good."

Aruán Ortiz with Andrew Cyrille and Mauricio Herrera - Inside Rhythmic Falls

Aruán Ortiz has long dreamt of making an album that would evoke “a cascade of rhythms going over me, almost dragging me to fall.” This feeling of being overtaken by rhythm is one he knows well, having spent his first 23 years in Cuba. Born in 1973, Ortiz grew up in a working-class family in the city of Santiago de Cuba in the island’s southeastern province, Oriente – the cradle of Afro-Cuban music and a veritable “vortex of rhythm,” as he recalls. To walk to school each morning was to hear “a global symphony”: the blare of radios, the sounds of musicians practicing and people talking and laughing at loud volumes in their apartments, whose windows were always open to the street.

Ortiz captures the symphony of everyday life in Oriente on his arresting new album, Inside Rhythmic Falls. It draws richly upon the changüí, a style of guitar-and-drum music created by slaves in the sugar cane refineries of the early 19th century, fusing the Spanish canción with Bantu percussion; and the tumba francesa, a genre introduced by slaves from Haiti. But rather than copy these styles in some literal sense, Ortiz deconstructs, reconfigures, and distills them: inconspicuous and yet ever present, they supply the music with its deeper frequencies, its spectral force. The luminous surface of Ortiz’s playing conceals a teeming density of references and allusions, or, in his words, “hidden voices.” 

Afro-Cuban music was always marked by such voices - hidden, as Ortiz points out, for reasons of existential necessity: slaves were forced to “express their identity through, and underneath, the master’s cultural aesthetic.” The enigmatic air of Ortiz’s art, the way it suggests the repressed, the clandestine and the fugitive, owes something to his Afro-Cuban heritage. But it also reflects his passion for artistic modernism, his commitment to “abstracting” (a favorite word of his) the vernacular and transforming it into a new expressive language. In this he is an heir not only of European composers like Bartok, Stravinsky and Ligeti, whom he studied at a conservatory in Tarragona, but of Cuban composer-pianists of the 19th and 20th century, such as Manuel Saumell and Ignacio Cervantes, both students of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and Ernesto Lecuona, a protégé of Ravel. And he is very much in the line of composer-pianists such as Thelonious Monk, Herbie Nichols, Cecil Taylor, Andrew Hill, and his teacher and AACM founder Muhal Richard Abrams, pioneers of the African-American jazz avant-garde. 

But why limit ourselves to musical references? Ortiz certainly doesn’t, and his understanding of his work has also been profoundly shaped by study of Nicolás Guillén, an Afro-Cuban practitioner of poesía negra; the novelist Alejo Carpentier, one of the leading figures of the Latin American boom and the author of a major monograph on Cuban music; and, above all, the outstanding painter Wilfredo Lam, an artist of black and Chinese origins who created a uniquely Cuban version of Cubism. Indeed, Ortiz’s superb 2017 solo album Cuban Cubism – the most immediate precursor, he points out, to the sound-world of Inside Rhythmic Falls – can be heard as a tribute to Lam’s influence.   

In his classic 1953 novel The Lost Steps, Carpentier writes of a Latin American composer plagued by a creative impasse in New York who travels to a remote village in a South American jungle. There, “far from concert halls, manifestoes, the unspeakable boredom of art polemics,” he experiences the “marvelous real,” the magical nature of Latin American reality, and finds himself “inventing music with an ease that astounded…To the relentless sound of the rain, I wrote with feverish impatience, as though driven by an inner demon.” Ortiz wrote the music on Inside Rhythmic Falls in New York, but he did extensive research on Cuban Haitian rhythms and Afro-Cuban religion, and made a number of trips back home, traveling to villages in the woods and attending performances by local dancers, percussionists and singers. This album is very much, to borrow Aimé Césaire's phrase, “the notebook of a return to the native land.” 

“I think of myself as a storyteller,” Ortiz says, “and each of the album’s ten tracks tells a story about Oriente province.” The first, “Lucero Mundo,” is a poem addressed to a Elegguá, a god in Santeria, hailing the arrival of the Bantus from the Kingdom of Congo. Marléne Ramírez-Cancio recites the poem with fierce authority. She is then echoed, at canonic intervals, by Ortiz, in a softer, mellifluous voice, and the spoken word/singer artist Emeline Michel, who repeat her incantation with rhythmic accompaniment from the drummer Andrew Cyrille and the percussionist Mauricio Herrera. “It’s an offering to my ancestors, using the words as rhythm to create this sense of something circular, a vortex.” The austerity of “Lucero Mundo,” hypnotic in its circulatory, calls to mind Carpentier’s hero in The Lost Steps, who is “striving for a musical expression that should come from the unadorned word, from the word prior to the music.” 

Words matter to Ortiz, whose titles are indicative of his desire to honor his native province. The slow, meditative piece “Cantos y ñáñigos,” for example, refers to members of a men’s fraternity known as the Abakuá, an Afro-Cuban secret society; another track elegizes “Argeliers’ disciple,” a somewhat cryptic allusion to the anthropologist Argeliers Léon’s protégé Danilo Orozco, a specialist on the music of Oriente, whose lectures Ortiz attended. 

It doesn’t hurt to know the background of these titles, but it’s not a requirement: the music speaks for itself, plunging us deep inside the rhythmic interplay of Ortiz, Cyrille and Herrera. Cyrille, who at 80 years of age is enjoying a late-career renaissance, spent a decade as the drummer in Cecil Taylor’s great “unit,” and his enthralling call-and-response with Ortiz often recalls his celebrated collaborations with Taylor. “I wanted his freshness, his in-the-moment energy,” Ortiz says. “He has this incredible range of dynamics, and an ability to anticipate exactly what part of the piano I’m gravitating to. Because he knows where you’re moving, he knows how to move in the drums at the same time.” Ortiz, who is part-Haitian on his father’s side, also suspected that Cyrille’s Haitian roots would help them to “merge our knowledge and our styles.” 

To get a sense of just how right Ortiz and Cyrille sound together, listen to the album’s boppish fourth track, “Golden Voice” (the title alludes to the nickname of the great changüí singer Carlos Borromeo Planche, known as Cambrón). Ortiz begins in the upper register of the piano, and Cyrille in the lower register of the toms. By the end, they’ve switched places, turning the entire piece upside-down. This delightful inversion grew out of the serendipity, and synergy, of improvisation, not from any plan. 

As Cecil Taylor said, “Rhythm is life…the space of time danced through,” and inside rhythmic falls everyone is possessed by the dance, both leading and following. On “Marímbula's Mood,” Herrera plucks a slightly ominous beat on the marímbula (a musical box used in changüí), and Ortiz accompanies him with spare, slinky commentary. “Sacred Codes” (the second part of the title track) features a percussion orchestra of sorts, with Ortiz covering the strings of the piano with musical paper and turning the surface of the instrument into a drum. 

“The experience of the marvelous presupposes a certain faith,” Carpentier wrote. “Those who do not believe in saints cannot cure themselves with saintly miracles.” But when music is this glorious, it has the power not just to conjure spirits but to inspire belief and help us experience the marvelous. Or, as Carpentier also put it, the marvelous real.  

http://www.aruan-ortiz.com


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Newly Restored and Expanded Editions of Errol Garner’s Critically Acclaimed Octave Remastered Series | The Final Four Releases

The Octave Remastered Series – a historic year-long, 12-album project featuring newly restored and expanded editions of classic Erroll Garner releases from the 1960s and 1970s – announces the final four releases to wrap up the series: Feeling Is Believing (March 20), Gemini (April 17), Magician (May 15), Gershwin & Kern (June 12).

Each album contains a newly discovered unreleased bonus track. The first eight titles in the series – Dreamstreet, Closeup in Swing, One World Concert, A New Kind of Love, A Night at the Movies, Campus Concert, That’s My Kick, Up in Erroll’s Room – were released to critical acclaim.

The master tapes for all 12 albums in the series were transferred and restored using the Plangent playback system. Employing a wideband tape head, preamp and DSP package to capture and track the original recorder’s ultrasonic bias remnant, the Plangent Process removes the wow and flutter and FM/IM distortion from the recorded audio. This returns the listener to the original session experience, bringing to life Garner’s incomparable performances of his own compositions, as well as classic works from the jazz canon.

Album Notes:


Feeling Is Believing | March 20
Recorded at the tail end of 1969 with a cast of new collaborators, this album is a prime showcase of Erroll Garner’s two greatest strengths: his ability to completely reinvent well known songs, and his endlessly creative facility as a composer of original music. From his sultry “The Loving Touch” to the Afrofuturistic “Mood Island,” Garner’s originality again proves boundless.

Gemini | April 17
A more fitting title for this album does not exist. It is yet another example of just how well Erroll Garner knew and understood himself and his music. Perhaps his greatest talent was an ability to distill and communicate precisely who he was at any given moment. Here we find him perfectly embodying the definition of his sun sign. Whatever your views on astrology might be, all that is left to do is listen.


Magician | May 15
The selections Garner committed to tape in the fall of 1973 include what may be some of his best original compositions, alongside a series of timeless contemporary takes on American Songbook classics. Though it would turn out to be the final studio album of his life, it makes clear that Garner was continuing to innovate on his distinctly individualistic style, and surely would have for decades to come.

Gershwin & Kern | June 12
In his original 1976 liner notes, concert impresario George Wein concluded fittingly, “To put it simply, Erroll Garner is a great musical genius.” On this final album released during Garner’s life, he shows yet again his complete mastery of his instrument and his unmatched ability to interpret songs and make them his own. This newly restored album includes a previously unreleased Garner original, worthy of the two composers to which this album is dedicated.


The newly minted bonus tracks in the series are all Garner originals, eight of the 12 being previously unreleased compositions. “It’s truly shocking, and one of the greatest joys of this work, to find these fully realized tunes just sitting there on tape,” says Peter Lockhart, senior producer of the Octave Remastered Series.

One of the most prolific composers and performers in the history of jazz, as well as a courageous advocate for African American artistic freedom through the ownership and control over his own works. Garner is a legend among jazz pianists. His unique approach melds bebop and swing influences into a unique, unrivaled mastery. 

Garner is also a notable figure in popular music history for the hard-won precedents he set for artistic freedom that still stand today. In 1959, because he had rights of approval on what was released, Garner successfully sued Columbia Records to remove an album they had released without his permission. 

His victory was the first of its kind for any American artist in the music industry. Garner and his manager, Martha Glaser, subsequently founded and launched Octave Records, whose 12 releases make up the Octave Remastered Series. 

Erroll Garner was a rare musician who was equally adored and respected by peers and devoted fans alike. He and his art were best summed up by the late trumpeter Clark Terry: “The man was complete. He could do it all.”

One of the most prolific composers and performers in the history of jazz, as well as a courageous advocate for African-American empowerment and artistic freedom, Garner is a legend among jazz pianists. His unique approach melds bebop and swing influences into a unique, unrivaled mastery.

In addition to his brilliant keyboard artistry, Garner is also a notable figure in popular music history for the hard-won precedents he set for artistic freedom that still stand today. In 1959, because he had rights of approval on what was released, Garner successfully sued Columbia Records to remove an album they had released without his permission.

His victory was the first of its kind for any American artist in the music industry. Garner and his manager, Martha Glaser, subsequently founded and launched Octave Records, whose 12 releases make up the Octave Remastered Series.

Erroll Garner was a rare musician who was equally adored and respected by peers and devoted fans alike. He and his art were best summed up by the late trumpeter Clark Terry: “The man was complete. He could do it all.” 

Christian Sands | “Be Water”

It can be overwhelming to realize how much water surrounds us, affects us and impacts our lives. It’s an element vital to survival yet can be utterly devastating; it can be placid and beautiful or torrential and violent. It’s ubiquitous – flowing at the turn of a faucet, comprising 70% of our own bodies – yet somehow intangible, able to change form or assume the shape of its surroundings.

On his stunning new album, Be Water, pianist Christian Sands takes inspiration from water’s tranquility and power and muses on the possibilities offered by echoing its fluidity and malleability. Through ten gorgeous and thrilling pieces, Sands alternately conjures the serenity of a sun-dappled lake and the drama of a relentless thunderstorm. Just embarking on his 30s, Sands has already enjoyed a remarkable career trajectory, touring and recording with Christian McBride’s Inside Straight and Trio, as well as collaborating with the likes of Gregory Porter and Ulysses Owens.

The vividly expressionistic recording finds Sands with his core trio of longtime bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Clarence Penn, with brilliant contributions from guitarist Marvin Sewell, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, trumpeter Sean Jones and trombonist Steve Davis. On one piece the ensemble is also supplemented by a string quartet featuring Sara Caswell, Tomoko Akaboshi, Benni von Gutzeit and Eleanor Norton.

Due out May 22, Be Water is Sands’ fourth release (including a five-track digital-only EP as an extension of his debut album Reach) for Mack Avenue Music Group. The album takes its title from the philosophy of martial arts master and movie star Bruce Lee (by way of screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, who distilled his thoughts for the screen). Lee’s voice appears on both halves of Sands’ title track offering this profound advice: “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup; you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle... Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” (Bruce Lee inspirational quote)

Lee was an early idol for Sands, who grew up watching his classic films with his father and skillfully studied a variety of martial arts himself – until the notion of breaking boards and cinder blocks with his hands seemed ill-advised for a promising young pianist. Lee’s teachings re-entered Sands’ thoughts during his two-year residency with Jazz at Lincoln Center in Shanghai, China, which opened up new worlds of culture and philosophy to him. Those pursuits led him to the writings of Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan on the mysticism of sound and music.

“I was trying to practice being more open, more free, more flexible than I usually am,” Sands explains. “Through that I started to have this awareness of just how much water was all around me. As I was touring it seemed to be raining every day; I actually had to change a few dates because of a hurricane. I even started seeing a new doctor who told me I needed to drink more water [laughs]. It seemed to be some kind of a divine message to pay attention to water.”

In case the pianist wasn’t receiving that message, it was delivered in an even more direct and moving form one day following a performance in Hawaii. “I was driving back to the airport and had a little bit of time to kill,” Sands recalls. “We decided to stop along the way at this very beautiful park. We were sitting by the water and a huge sea turtle swam slowly up to me. He came very close and peeked his head out as if to say, ‘This is the essence of what you need to be writing about.’”

Point taken, Sands began composing his most wide-ranging and ambitious set of compositions to date. The introductory track takes form gradually, with the glacial pace and implacable momentum of a rising tide. The simple sounds of lapping waves flow into a dawning melody on arco bass, slowly but forcefully surging to a gripping crescendo as more instrumentalists join in. The piece was modeled on the impactful openings of another of Sands’ major influences, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino.

The rollicking “Sonar” takes the concept of navigating via sound as a metaphor for the way in which we relate to our surroundings, echoing off of and situating ourselves within a larger picture. Lee’s words usher in the chorale-like “Be Water I,” with its interwoven horn lines over Penn’s shifting tempos. Its companion piece, “Be Water II,” is an elegant dance between the trio and the string quartet, arranged by Sands’ Manhattan School of Music classmate Miho Hazama.

Propelled by Penn’s driving rhythm, “Crash” depicts the impact of waves on the shore, or the collisions among people. The scintillating “Drive” peers within, imagining personal ambition with the unstoppable force of the ocean and summoning ferocious solos from Strickland and Sewell. The amorphous “Steam” finds water taking its most elusive form, evaporating into thin air before one’s very eyes; the piece offers the trio at its most abstract yet always maintaining a perfect tension between its three diverging and reconvening poles.

The cyclical nature of water, its ability to flow staggering distances or gather in the clouds only to fall back to earth, sparked the choice of the album’s sole non-original, a gospel-tinged take on Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” (originally recorded by the supergroup Blind Faith). The wistful pairing of Sewell’s luxuriant guitar and Sands’ evanescent touch evoke the calmness of a wave-free lake on “Still.” The fanfare-like “Outro” playfully reverses the “Intro,” ending the album on a cinematically celebratory note.

The music of Be Water flows with the mesmerizing tranquility and awesome power of its namesake. On his most conceptually ambitious album to date, Christian Sands takes heed of Bruce Lee’s wisdom and truly allows his creativity to transform and assume a dazzling variety of forms.

Christian Sands • Be Water
Mack Avenue Records · Release Date: May 22, 2020


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