Saturday, October 31, 2020

Jacam Manricks | "Samadhi"

Saxophonist and composer Jacám Manricks marks his arrival as a full-fledged auteur on the splendid Samadhi, available on his own Manricks Music Records. Already an accomplished composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, and improviser, Manricks’s sixth album adds recording, engineering, producing, and mixing to his overflowing skill set. Thus it stands as a vision entirely of the leader’s own making—albeit with input from his high-caliber colleagues, pianist Joe Gilman, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Clarence Penn. 

Samadhi is a Sanskrit term that refers to a state of heightened, holistic focus that allows for communion with the divine. Manricks uses that title not to announce his achieving it, but his goal of reaching it: “Getting to that state of intense concentration where everything else disappears around you and only the music exists,” as he explains in the liner notes. The wide spectrum of creative mastery he deploys on the album reflects that goal. 

So does the music on display. Samadhi’s eight tracks (seven Manricks originals, with one improvised collaboration between the saxophonist and Gilman) feature a remarkable range of ideas and emotions, from the paradoxically bright yet tense opener “Formula One,” to the ruminative title track, to the playful “Common Tone” and the mysterious “Ethereal.” The range of textures and timbres is also formidable; Manricks plays alto, tenor, and soprano saxophones as well as clarinet and bass clarinet, flute and alto flute, and MIDI strings (for which he wrote the orchestrations). 

Of course, part of Samadhi’s purpose, Manricks says, is to allow him to flex these polymathic muscles. “It’s not just the horn anymore. It’s about me as a composer and orchestrator. It’s about what sort of environments I’m putting myself in and how I’m orchestrating colors within that. … ultimately trying to make something beautiful with rhythms and pitches”. 

“I’m wearing so many hats,” he adds. “This is the culmination of a lot of things for me, and I’m extremely proud of Samadhi.”

Jacám Manricks was born in 1976 in Brisbane, Australia, the child of two classical musicians in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra—and the grandson of a celebrated Portuguese jazz saxophonist and clarinetist, and a Sri Lankan concert pianist. As a boy, Jacám quickly began finding a niche in this musical family, immersing himself in his father’s jazz records and in his parents’ concert performances. He began learning to play the piano at age five and the saxophone at age nine. 

After receiving a degree in music performance (classical and jazz saxophone) from the Queensland Conservatorium, Manricks began making his way in the Sydney music scene before moving to New York in 2001 to study at William Paterson University. He earned a master’s degree in composition there, then a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the Manhattan School of Music in 2007. 

While at the Manhattan School, he composed and premiered a large-scale work, “Chromatic Suite for Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra,” for the school’s 90th birthday celebration. Its combination of classical and jazz traditions presaged Manricks’s 2009 debut album, Labyrinth, which blended a chamber orchestra with a venturesome jazz quintet. Trigonometry followed in 2010, then Cloud Nine in 2012, Chamber Jazz in 2016, and GilManricks in 2017. Each received international acclaim. 

One could say that Manricks, with 16 international tours as a leader and countless credits as a sideman, has also graduated from the “real school,” particularly during his 13 years in New York working for luminaries such as Jeff “Tain” Watts, Tyshawn Sorey, and Elio Villafranca, to name a few. 

Relocating to Sacramento, California, in 2014, Manricks spent five years teaching at the nearby University of California, Davis, working as a member of Sacramento’s Capital Jazz Project, running his own super sax style ensemble (Super Saxto) and leading his own 19-piece big band (Jacám Manricks Orchestra). Meanwhile, Manricks also learned the ins and outs of sound engineering, using that knowledge to build his own home studio where Samadhi was recorded and mixed.

Jacam Manricks Concert

“2020 has been rough,” says Manricks. “The pandemic is hitting the performing arts hard with prospects for safe public gatherings more than ever remote. The loss of artistically enriching events, which typically uplift and create our communities, imposes a cultural deficiency impacting the quality of life for all, including those working outside the arts industry. Therefore, it has never before been more important that artists create and where necessary find new ways to share our work. For me, this means producing new music and providing access to it through any means I can. 

“In late June,” he adds, “I was bedridden for two weeks with COVID, quarantined in my son’s bedroom while my family remained safely at bay. During the entire shutdown and especially while quarantined, I’ve had more time to reflect on life, my personal goals, music and how it enriches our lives. One thing that became abundantly clear was that focused listening to music—the kind you do with your eyes shut—is an incredibly healing experience. Using your ears and mind to escape, meditating to music in search of beauty, we can find solace, inspiration, and a refreshed state of mind. Samadhi is being released during the shutdown for this purpose primarily. Go forth and find solace in this music.” 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Randy Brecker & Eric Marienthal Join Forces For Some Double Dealin’

What do you get when you pair two visionaries who happen to be kindred spirits? You get an ace in the hole! Multi Grammy award-winners trumpeter/flugelhornist Randy Brecker and saxophonist Eric Marienthal and deliver ten thrilling originals on their anticipated Shanachie Entertainment debut Double Dealin’. It’s all aboveboard on Double Dealin’ as Brecker and Marienthal opt not to follow suit but rather let the spirit of the moment be their guide as they draw some wild cards and the blur boundaries between traditional and contemporary jazz. Randy Brecker, who was a key player in numerous ground-breaking fusion bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears and Larry Coryell’s The Eleventh House, states “Duke Ellington said ‘There are only two kinds of music, good and bad' and we both love the latter!” Double Dealin’ marks Brecker and Marienthal’s first co-led recording. Danny Weiss, Shanachie Entertainment VP Of Jazz A&R says, “This album is a rarity - funky and brilliant at the same time. One plus one equals five with these two jazz giants.” 

Brecker and Marienthal have built careers being musician’s musicians. Randy Brecker has remained at the forefront of creative music for over six decades collaborating with everyone from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, The Brecker Brothers (with his late tenor titan brother, Michael Brecker), Bruce Springsteen, Parliament/Funkadelic and Steely Dan. Saxophonist Eric Marienthal’s equally impressive career has allowed him to captivate audiences alongside everyone from Chick Corea’s Elektric Band, Patti Austin, Lee Ritenour, Elton John, Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder, among others. Longtime comrades on and off the stage, Marienthal and Brecker credit one thing for bringing them together. “Pizza” exclaims Brecker who won a Grammy this year for his album with the NDR Big Band. Laughing he adds, “We dig each other's playing and personalities. We also like each other’s families. Eric and I have played together many times throughout the years with different ensembles including Jeff Lorber, The GRP Big Band and always 'clicked' as a section, so we were long overdue in doing a project together.” Marienthel adds, “Yes, definitely pizza! Besides being one of the world’s great musicians and trumpet players, Randy is a very open and cool guy. Getting to play with Randy is like getting to make a pizza with Mario Batali! You just know that no matter what you do it’s going to end up being great.” 

Bringing Double Dealin’ to fruition was a bi-coastal affair as both musicians created from their own home based studios with Brecker in Long Island and Marienthal in Los Angeles. The duo sent files back and forth to one another and Brecker even admits that his attire for some of the session was PJs. “When the pandemic hit the mixing phase was about to begin,” recalls Marienthal who is the musical director of both the Blue Note At Sea Cruise and The Smooth Jazz Cruise. “I have to say it was a welcome distraction to deep dive into this music.” Double Dealin’ unites the dynamic duo with keyboardist and producer George Whitty, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl. “George Whitty is one of the very best musicians and record producers out there,” comments Marienthal. “Dave Weckl and John Patitucci are longtime bandmates of mine with the Chick Corea Elektric Band and good friends. Their playing on this record is exceptional and really put the icing on the cake!”

The thrilling ten-track album opens with the first single and title track. All bets are off as Brecker and Marienthal get down to business on this funky and free wheeling ditty that sets the tone for the joyous excursion ahead. The composition “Three Deuces,” takes us out for a bluesy cruise while “Fast Lane” shift gears for a high-octane affair propelled by Dave Weckl’s driving rhythms. Double Dealin’ also features tender moments like the gorgeous ballad “Mine The Fire,” penned by Marienthal and Whitty in memory of guitarist and friend Chuck Loeb. “Chuck was one of my closest friends,” reflects Marienthal, who appears on Loeb’s last two Shanachie recordings Bridges (Co-led by Marienthal) and Unspoken. In 2018, Marienthal organized and played a star-studded memorial concert at the Berks Jazz Fest for Loeb that featured Brecker among numerous others. Brecker who has long had an affinity for Brazilian music offers “Sambop,” where Samba rhythms and Bebop harmonies joyously collide. Brecker’s no-holds barred track “You Ga (Ta Give It),” is a delight as he and Marienthal create maximum firepower from the opening note to the exhilarating end. Eric Marienthal and George Whitty’s intriguing and intensely beautiful “True North” lends itself to some memorable interplay and soloing including that of bassist John Patitucci. It’s all about the groove on “The Hipster,” while the meandering and percussive “Jetlagged” takes us down a totally different path. Double Dealin’ comes to a finale with “Habañero,” which lives up to its name offering the perfect combination of hot and cool that leaves you wanting more.

Randy Brecker concludes, “Double Dealin’ is uplifting and filled with great vibes and fun beats. I hope it takes everyone's mind off our current problems and I hope people just groove with it and forget about everything else for a while!” Eric Marienthal adds, “This record has a particularly uplifting feel which is a good thing for the times we’re in right now. I know I feel better when I listen to it!”

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Mary Halvorson issues new Code Girl release Artlessly Falling

Recently hailed as “NYC’s least-predictable improviser” by Howard Mandel, guitarist-composer Mary Halvorson now emerges as one of the city’s least-predictable songwriters. Her forthcoming release Artlessly Falling – available via Firehouse 12 Records on October 30, 2020, two weeks after Halvorson’s 40th birthday – expands and evolves Code Girl, the Brooklyn-based artist’s critically-acclaimed project featured on the cover of DownBeat in June 2018.

Bonding form and fragmentation, Artlessly Falling traces eight poetic forms – from Haibun to Villanelle – through new music and diverse thematic material. “This approach was different because it challenged me to shape the music within the framework of various pre-existing poetic forms,” says Halvorson, who penned each poem, often engaging specific meter and rhyme schemes, before composing the music.

Co-produced by Halvorson, Nick Lloyd and David Breskin, the album features longtime creative associates Amirtha Kidambi on vocals, Michael Formanek on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums, alongside new collaborators Adam O’Farrill on trumpet and María Grand on tenor saxophone and vocals, plus a very special guest vocalist – the legendary British musician Robert Wyatt – whose music has provided layered inspiration for Halvorson over the years. 

“Robert is one of my heroes,” she says. “It’s such a big deal to me that he was open to singing on this record, because his music has been an enormous influence on Code Girl, and just about everything else I’ve done. I wrote the three tracks he sings on specifically for him, and I was floored by the grace and brilliance with which he approached this music. It was a dream come true.”

Halvorson’s unbound improvising stretches from searing lines buoyed by a quickfire-response rhythm section to intimate storytelling through her signature pitch-bending sound. Her choices teem with intention and discomfort. Formanek’s sensitivity, harmonic depth and varied textural expression hallmark the enormity of his presence on the record. Complementing the album’s fierce spontaneity, the addition of vocal performances from Wyatt and Grand serves Halvorson’s appetite for orchestral experimenting. Different vocal textures and techniques offer near-endless sound permutations she explores from one track to the next.

“I loved that María was able to both sing and play saxophone on the record. It’s a unique doubling. The new context allowed me the flexibility of having two voices and one horn, sometimes two horns and one voice.”

Opening in harmonic restlessness, “Lemon Trees” features Wyatt’s poignant delivery of lyrics Halvorson wrote in Tanka form, drawing their inspiration from select words of novelist Lawrence Osborne. The song also spotlights melodic, ruminating solos from O’Farrill and Fujiwara, both of whom provide endless creative statements and thoughtful responses throughout the recording.

Some content material emerges explicitly, as on “Last-Minute Smears” whose Found Poem context highlights moments from Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 testimony in front of the US Senate. As she watched in real time, Halvorson found herself scrawling fragments of his 45-minute speech, which became the lyrics. “It was so dramatic,” she says. “I kept thinking, ‘Did he really say that?’ I wanted the music to have a mournful tone, which was entirely absent from his testimony.” Other messaging remains artfully obscured. The cyclical nature of “Walls and Roses,” a Pantoum, suggests a kind of slow, pervading crisis, but Halvorson is eager to allow listeners to find their own interpretations of certain tracks, a nod to the name Code Girl. “Not everyone is going to connect to the lyrics in the same way,” she says. “Some of them have multiple meanings, or a meaning that’s private to me. I like using language with the aim of having that flexibility.”

Throughout the recording, lyrics tend to align with composed music, prompting the improvising to happen in the spaces between – though not exclusively. The title track’s form, Sestina, proved trickiest for Halvorson to craft, ultimately serving as a context for through-improvisation. “Everyone is improvising throughout,” says Halvorson, including Kidambi whose soaring, deliberate vocals stretch each lyric – often literally – interpreting the music around her spontaneous intention. 

Halvorson had never attempted writing within the strict guidelines of a Sestina. Encouraged by Breskin – himself, a published poet – she rose to the form’s myriad challenges. “‘Artlessly Falling’ took me months to write,” she says. “It had so many drafts, and it changed significantly as it went along. It was like solving a Rubik’s cube.” Surprisingly, when she finished the final draft, the music emerged quickly. “It’s almost like the form itself inspired music,” says Halvorson. “A lot of these forms are inherently musical – the Sestina traces back to 12th century troubadours.”

Artlessly Falling’s release date aligning close to Halvorson’s 40th birthday proved a happy coincidence. With each release, she gains greater perspective on her own playing and mysteries of the music. “Poetry and music are similar in that there’s a lot to be gained from more than one reading or listening,” she says.

Guitarist-composer Mary Halvorson has been described as “a singular talent” (Lloyd Sachs, JazzTimes) and “one of the most exciting and original guitarists in jazz – or otherwise” (Steve Dollar, Wall Street Journal). In recent DownBeat Critics Polls, Halvorson has received awards for guitarist, rising star jazz artist and rising star composer of the year. In 2019 she received a MacArthur Fellowship award. Halvorson has released a series of critically-acclaimed albums on the Firehouse 12 label, including Dragon’s Head (2008), her trio debut featuring bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith, that would expand into a quintet with trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon on Saturn Sings (2010) and Bending Bridges (2012), a septet with tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and trombonist Jacob Garchik on Illusionary Sea (2014), and finally an octet with pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn on Away With You (2016). Most recently, she debuted Code Girl (2018). Over the past decade, Halvorson has worked with such diverse musicians as Tim Berne, Anthony Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum, John Dieterich, Trevor Dunn, Bill Frisell, Ingrid Laubrock, Jason Moran, Joe Morris, Tom Rainey, Jessica Pavone, Tomeka Reid, Marc Ribot and John Zorn. She is also part of several collaborative projects, including longstanding trio Thumbscrew with Michael Formanek and Tomas Fujiwara. 

Ben Rosenblum Nebula Project : Kites and Strings

Ben Rosenblum doesn't just invite a diverse array of influences into his music. While his projects reflect his potent and deeply rooted point of view, the pianist, accordionist, composer and arranger positively thrives on a thrum of contrasting approaches. With Kites and Strings, his third album as a leader and the debut of the Ben Rosenblum Nebula Project, he's convened an exceptionally vivid cast of collaborators and provided them with a program of arrestingly beautiful pieces. The album is the work of an artist who's found that his voice contains multitudes. Regularly employed by some of jazz's most revered masters, Rosenblum has already established a national profile as bandleader by logging thousands of miles on the road, playing some 100 gigs annually with his trio at clubs, theaters, schools and community centers, and relishing the opportunity to bring jazz into communities where fellow musicians rarely play. 

Kites and Strings features some of the most exciting young players on the New York scene including trumpeter Wayne Tucker, guitarist Rafael Rosa, Jasper Dutz on tenor sax and bass clarinet, bassist Marty Jaffe, and drummer Ben Zweig, with vibraphonist Jake Chapman, trombonist Sam Chess and pianist Jeremy Corren expanding the sextet on several tracks. "These are all great jazz musicians who are steeped in the music's history, and they all have very different approaches to the music," he says. "My bandleader heroes often worked like that. Think of Astor Piazzolla's Tango: Zero Hour when he put together a traditional tango violinist, a rock-influenced electric guitarist, and a jazz pianist. I love seeing the way people's different styles play off of each other and combine into something beautiful and unique."

Encompassing rock and klezmer, Latin American rhythms and Bulgarian harmonies, Kites and Strings marks a major leap for Rosenblum as a composer/arranger. He gained widespread notice with his 2017 debut Instead (One Trick Dog), a confident trio session featuring drum legend Billy Hart and bass master Curtis Lundy that earned four stars from DownBeat Magazine. After holding his own with two revered improvisers he followed up in 2018 with River City (One Trick Dog), a trio with his rapidly rising contemporaries bassist Kanoa Mendenhall and drummer Ben Zweig. Kites and Strings introduces Rosenblum as a composer/arranger with a capacious palette of textures and voicings and firm command of form. The project also establishes him as the newest member of a small, extraordinary keyboard cadre made up of players equally expressive on piano and accordion, a talent-laden club that includes Gary Versace, Sam Reider, Rob Reich, and Rio de Janeiro-born Vitor Gonçalves, who's a particular source of inspiration for Rosenblum.

The new album gathers together compositions Rosenblum's been developing over the past decade, opening with "Cedar Place," a hat tip to the inestimable pianist/composer Cedar Walton. The propulsive bass line and one-chord vamp section bring to mind the deceptively simple elegance and forceful swing of Walton's standard "Bolivia." The buoyant title track bobs and weaves with a 7/4 pulse inspired by the effortlessness of odd-meter feels in Venezuelan merengue or Bulgarian hora, evoking the celebratory meter with interwoven lines by accordion, trumpet and vibes. The accordion also figures prominently in "Motif From Brahms (op. 98)," which borrows a dozen bars directly from the titular composer before some gorgeous piano work by Jeremy Corren (who's been heard recently with vibraphonist Joel Ross).

Rosenblum originally intended "Fight or Flight" for the violinist Benjamin Sutin's klezmer jazz combo Klazz-Ma-Tazz, and the piece just keeps adding diverting attractions after the circus-like accordion figure, with a snapping trumpet fanfare and distortion-tinged guitar solo. Another highlight is Rosenblum's gorgeously orchestrated arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere," which recalls Lee Morgan's rendition on the trumpeter's posthumously released album, Standards. Corren digs into the bittersweet melody. "I knew Jeremy would shine on this," Rosenblum says. "I love his playing on more melodic pieces. His voice leadings are unlike anyone else, and his supportive accompaniment frees me up to play the melody on accordion."

Rosenblum turns Neil Young's elegiac "Philadelphia" into an arresting jazz ballad, and gives the band an angular blues to stretch out on with "Laughing On the Inside."  The album closes with Rosenblum's arrangement of "Izpoved," a piece he distilled from the beloved recording Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares Vol. 2. Featuring Jasper Dutz's thick, sinuous bass clarinet work, the piece captures the haunting, otherworldly quality of the all-women Bulgarian vocal ensemble.

In many ways Rosenblum's welcoming aesthetic reflects his cosmopolitan upbringing in New York City. A Gotham native born on March 29, 1993, he earned a BA in philosophy from Columbia University while also studying piano at Juilliard in a joint degree program. But before he was out of high school he'd connected with his first mentor, esteemed Israeli-born pianist Roy Assaf. Knowing that the most essential jazz education is acquired on the bandstand, Assaf connected Rosenblum with first-call drummer Winard Harper who was just starting a new jam session in Jersey City to bring jazz back into his home community. "He had a small budget so he got young musicians like me for the house band, and that ended up being an incredible experience," Rosenblum says. Assaf also connected him with veteran vocalist Deborah Davis, a veritable New York institution, who took him under her wing "and taught me so many tunes and how to accompany a singer," he recalls.

Davis recommended Rosenblum to bassist Curtis Lundy, who became another invaluable mentor, "somebody who provided tough love in a way that was great for my development," he says. "I needed to hear about getting my left hand together and being rhythmically solid, how to lead a piano trio, the importance of listening to certain recordings. I've been so fortunate in getting to play with these masters. I also received some beautiful instruction from Bruce Barth at Columbia and Frank Kimbrough at Juilliard. I continue to learn the most playing with other people. I'm surrounded with great young musicians who are never shy about telling me if they hear something different."

Nebula showcases a dazzling cross section of rising New York talent. Trumpeter Wayne Tucker, who delivers consistently crackling work throughout Kites and Strings, has been touring with vocalist Cyrille Aimée recently. He and Puerto Rican guitarist Rafael Rosa, who's part of the brilliant wave of Latin American musicians transforming the New York scene, are a few years older than Rosenblum and were shaped by a different peer group. "Wayne has a ton of experience in jazz and also in the R&B/hip hop world, and he's bringing in that musical attitude. His swing is more laid back. I love pairing him with Jasper, who studied with Walter Smith III and is more classically minded. He's got a deep relationship with the bass clarinet. I love how different they are, yet how committed they are to the blend."

The group is built upon Rosenblum's working trio with bassist Marty Jaffe and drummer Ben Zweig, whom Rosenblum has toured with throughout the United States and internationally for several years. They are a highly sympathetic unit that renders any time signature with a relaxed flow. "I love playing with them so much," he says. "They're willing to be as adventurous musically as I want to be. I've never been a hyper-specialist. I want to explore a lot of different styles. The two of them have such a deep knowledge of traditional jazz and hard bop and how to swing, but they're willing to spend the hours to learn about, say, Brazilian music in a deep way."

Best known as a highly adaptable pianist, Rosenblum started to focus on the accordion about five years ago. He studied with Vitor Gonçalves, and the dearth of jazz accordion players meant that he "received opportunities that really pushed me to get better on the instrument," he says, like touring around Europe with New York-based Croatian jazz vocalist Astrid Kuljanic. A weekly Manhattan gig with her band featuring the great Brazilian percussionist Rogério Boccato allowed him to begin to fully explore the instrument and start thinking about it compositionally. "The accordion introduced me to all kinds of international styles – South American, klezmer, Romanian, and Irish music," he says. "I subbed in the pit for Fiddler On the Roof, which really got my accordion chops up. It's always a work in progress, and I'm having a great time with it."

The pleasure the musicians take in each other's company comes through bright and clear on Kites and Strings. It's like one of those famous New York parties where you never know who's going to walk through the door or what's going to happen next. And you're invited.

New Music Releases: Modern Jazz Classics Volume Two, Blundetto, Cinephonic

Modern Jazz Dance Classics Volume Two Compiled By Jeff The Fish

A great assortment of funky jazzy cuts from recent years – a stunning package that shows just how much the love of jazz on the dancefloor has exploded in the contemporary underground – in ways that are so different than the modes of decades back! Yes, there was a time when "jazz" on a dance track meant a lame sax solo or stolen sample from the 70s – but things really evolved past that, to a whole generation of artists who've really re-embraced live instrumentation mixed with clubbier rhythms – pushing things way way past the more familiar jazz funk sounds of back in the day! In other words, these cuts are new, but also resonate with some vintage elements – very fresh, and exploding with new ideas and very groovy sounds – titles that include "Finding Common Ground" by Mario Cruz, "Catfish Sandwich" by Brian Charette, "Yggdrasil" by PJS, "Theme From Quartet" by Fox Capture Plan, "Another Brick In The Wall" by Wildcard, "Falling In Love With Love" by Niki Haris, "Lisbon" by Markpaulnorton, "Gotta Be Free" by Nina Mya, "K's Dream" by Yusuke Shima, "San Gogo Fu" by Caroxfa, "Fly" by Nicole Banks, and "Jungle" by Shahin Novrasli. ~ Dusty Groove

Blundetto | "Good Good Things"

The title might seem familiar – given that Blundetto's first album was called Bad Bad Things – but this record really shows a strong evolution of his sound over the ten years since that release – the shifting sense of sound between hip hop, global roots, and more dynamic elements – sounding even better here than on any previous records! Blundetto works with production help from Blackjoy – in a mode that might have been born in hip hop studio techniques, but which here has much more of a French post-colonial vibe – wrapping together different global elements, soulful expressions, and jazzy flourishes with effortless ease – into a style that's completely his own overall. Titles include "Fly High", "Pais Azucar", "Barcelona", "Sunday In The Club", "Feel The Cold", "Bingi", "Menina Mulher Da Pele Preta", "Antiguas", and "Mo'Dinero".  ~ Dusty Groove

Cinephonic | "Les Paradis Artificiels"

A nice little record that lives up to the name of the group – a record that's maybe jazz at the core, but served up in very cinematic ways – very much the spirit of the dark, moody image pictured on the cover! This isn't chase, crime, or cop music – but instead maybe the sounds you'd hear on the journey home after the battle – slow funk in the rhythms, peppered with great work on vibes, piano, and mellotron from Pierre Chretien – who also wrote, arranged, and produced the whole record too! Most tunes have a nice light melody over heavier drums and percussion on the bottom – never too over the top, but well-paced in a way that really makes this one stand out from the pack. Titles include "Les Corbeaux", "Eveil De La Cite", "Aube Sur La Ville", "Fleurs De Bitume", "Le Petit Cimetiere", "Apres Le Deluge", and "Illusions Perdues".  ~ Dusty Groove

New Music Releases: Mammal Hands, The Royal Bopsters, Etuk Ubong

Mammal Hands | "Captured Spirits"

Maybe the strongest record so far from Mammal Hands – a set that really has the group growing in their sense of tone and color, and in the unique timing they bring to their tunes! The group is a trio, but not in a mode that you might be guessing – because next to the piano of Nick Smart, and drums of Jesse Barrett, there's also a range of instruments from Jordan Smart – tenor, soprano sax, bass clarinet, and electronics – all used in these shifting ways with the really fresh rhythms from Barrett, and these flowing chains of acoustic piano soul from Smart – cresting, dipping, turning, and soaring with a really majestic sensibility! Titles include "Floating World", "Spiral Stair", "Ithaca", "Chaser", "Late Bloomer", "Riddle", "Rhizome", "Shoreless", and "Versus Shapes". ~ Dusty Groove

The Royal Bopsters | "Party Of Four"

Party of Four, the sophomore release from renowned vocal jazz quartet The Royal Bopsters is a twelve-track cornucopia of delightful and sophisticated harmonic treasures that celebrate both the proud history and the bright future of vocal jazz. A master class in the art of vocal jazz and vocalese, Party of Four demonstrates the dazzling possibilities of four voices coming together as one. Bopsters Amy London, Dylan Pramuk, Pete McGuinness, and the late Holli Ross (to whom the album is dedicated) are joined by guest lead vocalists, NEA Jazz Master Sheila Jordan (91 years young) who delivers a delightful rendition of "Lucky to Be Me" and NEA Jazz Master Bob Dorough, whose humorous recording of his classic "Baby, You Should Know It" became one of his final recordings when he sadly passed in 2018. Six-time GRAMMY®-winning bassist Christian McBride also guests on two strong tracks.

Etuk Ubong | "Night Dreamer Direct To Disc Sessions"

Trumpeter Etuk Ubong leads a mighty heavy combo here – a righteous group that mixes together Nigerian roots and spiritual jazz – a blend that's very different than anything we've ever heard before – and which maybe puts Ubong's music in the same territory as some of the South African jazz greats from decades past! Ubong's not afraid to sing with the group, too – and alternates between his instrument and occasional vocals in a lineup that has lots of percussion and drums at the core – with added horns, bass, and a bit of keyboards – plus guest vocals from Bahghi Yemane – whose style is a nice contrast to Ubong's. The main focus is on righteous grooves and soaring solos – bold trumpet lines over some fast modal rhythms, on titles that include "Mass Corruption", "Spiritual Change", "Purpose Of Creation", "African Struggle", and "Africa Today". ~ Dusty Groove

Monday, October 26, 2020

John Finbury | "Quatro"

John Finbury's new album "Quatro" premieres new music with broad Latin American and Spanish influences, mixed and matched in an unorthodox fashion.

Alternating vocal and instrumental tracks, the album was produced by Latin Grammy winner Emilio D. Miler, and features Magos Herrera on vocals, Chano Domínguez on piano, John Patitucci on bass, and Antonio Sánchez on drums.

Recorded over two sessions in New York in 2019, "Quatro" is both a celebration of cultural diversity and immigration, and a condemnation of those who seek restriction based upon prejudice.

The album opener, "Llegará El Día" ("The Day Will Come"), is a "Freedom Song" and a fierce assertion of the album's concept, with influences of Peruvian Festejo and Mexican Huapango. The lyrics, penned by producer D. Miler, knit a poetic landscape with references to Mexican iconography and to someone, unnamed, who will soon disappear.

The pianist offers a solo cadenza to present the first instrumental, "Independence Day", Finbury's take on Spanish Flamenco, specifically Bulería. With John Patitucci on electric bass, the trio flies high, with Chano taking more solo spots throughout the song.

"La Madre De Todos Los Errores" ("The Mother Of All Mistakes") features an intricate melody delivered with passion by Magos, which develops over a driving bass ostinato. The lyrics, written by Roxana Amed, are directed at someone whose assumptions and narcissism overlook the beauty that lies in the details which shape identity.

"All The Way To The End", featuring lyrics by Patty Brayden, is a sultry Son-Bolero dance around the pledge of eternal love, sung in English with Spanish Flamenco ornaments. Chano Dominguez's solo enters, piercing and playful, becoming the other ‘tease' in this conversation. When the song appears to be over, a final section emerges featuring a melancholic vocalise in exquisite interplay with the band.

A solo acoustic bass cadenza resolves into an a capella vocal, and so "Comenzar" ("To Begin (again)" ) is born. With lyrics penned by Magos Herrera herself, the song is a homage to our capacity to reinvent ourselves and find new beginnings within the same story. The music displays influences of Argentine Zamba, and other folkloric music from the Andes that share similar rhythms.

Reminiscent of old school dance halls "Salón Jardín" ("Garden Ballroom"), is the trios's take on a slow Bolero, fertile territory for an outstanding acoustic bass solo by John Patitucci. Chano Domínguez's reprise of the melody is so personal that it feels like a solo in its own right.

Antonio Sánchez's solo cadenza at the beginning of "Romp" feels like a disruption of the smooth tone set by the previous track… and it isn't the last one!

A clave-based, New Orleans Second Line groove takes shape, a musical reminder that the South of the United States was once part of the same melting pot as the Spanish Antilles. "Romp" is the jam after the party, when musicians and a few lucky guests blend together in a celebration of togetherness.

John Finbury redefines his being American, not just as a native of the United States, but as a citizen of the Americas. His music on QUATRO often defies strict stylistic classifications, and finds unity in organic, intense renditions by a world-class band.

Make no mistake: "Quatro" is a political statement; a musical and poetic expression of freedom and the power of collaboration to contradict the fiction that those who are different should remain apart.

Though written and recorded before the world was stunned by a pandemic that has hindered our ability to gather and celebrate, "Quatro" presents a musical meeting place that strives to bridge that distance, and convey the certainty that we are better together.

Junk Magic | "Compass Confusion"

For more than a decade, Junk Magic has been honing a collective sound that relies on individual ex- pressions, imagination and subversion. Appearing first as a 2004 album title under pianist-composer Craig Taborn’s name, Junk Magic has transitioned into a sonic identity comprising electronic sound design, production techniques and elements of improvised music.

Compass Confusion – issued October 30 on Pyroclastic Records – presents a holographic snapshot of the Junk Magic sound. “Everything is warped by something else,” says Taborn, who serves as album com- poser and producer. “You’re still trying to capture things ‘in a moment,’ in a certain sense. But then also, because of how the process works, you’re not. There’s a lot of time to craft things after the fact.”

Compass Confusion features Chris Speed on saxophone, Erik Fratzke on bass, Mat Maneri on viola, Da- vid King on drums and Taborn on piano, keyboards and synthesizer. Together, they disarticulate boundaries that imply separation of live music and digital production. “I don’t really view using creative methods in ambient techniques as a ‘different side’ of musical expression,” says Taborn. “It’s all the same expression. But this album is definitely leaning in to the production process as opposed to relying more heavily on the live playing.”

Compositional and textural layers, as well as pacing and extended ebb and flow, emerge intentionally throughout the recording. The artists honor space. They harness movement through time. Using methods that challenge perception and embrace subversion, they develop sound narratives unique to each track that create a story arc across the entire album. The interplay’s the thing. “Laser Beaming Hearts” introduces a cast of characters, layering and mingling their identities, not only through sound design but melody.

“Whenever I hear a melody, it really does set up an identity, a character,” says Taborn, who seeks, at times, to subvert a character’s initial impact by elevating a textural element or an ambience. Often, that relationship inverts. First conjuring an ocean inside a seashell alongside echoing heartbeats, “Dream and Guess” soon moves into a new melody — beautiful, mysterious and primed for sonic disruption.

Rather than disorient — despite its title — the album constantly reorients the listener. Many tracks, including “The Science of Why Devils Smell Like Sulfur,” feature sound chambers, through which the artists freely move. Within these chambers, textures layer, flicker, persist, and stories develop; sound collage may enhance as melody recedes. “There are different methods of attending compositionally,” says Taborn. “If I were writing a traditional tune, it would be melody and some chord changes; if I were writing a hip hop track, I would focus more on beats, loops and sound design; ifI were writing strictly ambient music, I would focus on the sound relationships, how the shapes are evolving with certain sonic elements. On a lot of these pieces, I’m really playing with the foreground and background of all those things.”

While Taborn’s process serves a fixed vision, his approach preserves spontaneity. He populates each chamber by listening and responding to what he hears. “Each tune kind of has a radically different process,” he says. “I do think about narrative, because it moves through time, but it’s the narrative of these sound worlds, moving between them.”

The artists entered sessions in Minneapolis and Brooklyn knowing each studio hit would be one step of the process. Most of the album’s construction would come together away from mics and amps. Still, Taborn asserts an aesthetic throughout Compass Confusion that reflects his expansive foundation in live, improvised music. Deep admiration for hip hop and EDM production techniques notwithstanding, Taborn seeks to preserve solo performances artists throw down in the studio. “To a large extent, what you hear is what people played in the order that they played it,” he says. “I don’t cut up performances. And that’s not an ethos, it’s just an aesthetic. I’m not cutting up a drum solo and making loops, but I’m doing other things that might trick you into thinking it’s looped.”

Mixed and mastered in Taborn’s native Minneapolis by Brett Bullion (The Bad Plus) and Huntley Miller (Bon Iver, Kassa Overall), respectively, Compass Confusion presents a confluence of expressions within a collective sound. “We’re improvisers,” says Taborn. “While a lot of this material is written, there’s so much improvising in the playing. Even in my approach to making tracks, making beats in the studio, it’s still improvisational. You’re working on things in the moment.”

Junk Magic, over the years, has featured countless acclaimed artist-composers, including Craig Taborn, Chris Speed, Erik Fratzke, Mat Maneri, Aaron Stewart, Mark Turner and David King (The Bad Plus). Bonding improvisational aesthetic with digital production and electronic music tech- niques, the project ethos challenges existing perceptions of sound design. A 2004 self-titled release gar- nered praise from Pitchfork, PopMatters and All About Jazz, which acknowledged the sound’s “stagger- ing futuristic potential.” Anticipated followup Compass Confusion, released on Pyroclastic Records, positions Junk Magic on the rolling crest of acoustic wave expansion.

Pianist-composer Kris Davis founded Pyroclastic Records in 2016 to serve the release of her acclaimed recordings Duopoly and Octopus with the goal of growing the label into a thriving platform that would serve like-minded, cutting-edge artists. In 2019, Davis launched a nonprofit to support those artists whose expression flourishes beyond the commercial sphere. By supporting their creative efforts and ensuring distribution of their work, Pyroclastic empowers emerging and established artists — including Cory Smythe, Ben Goldberg, Chris Lightcap, Angelica Sanchez and Marilyn Crispell, Nate Wooley, Eric Revis and Craig Taborn — to continue challenging conventional genre-labeling within their fields. Pyroclastic also seeks to galvanize and grow a creative community, offering young artists new opportunities, supporting diversity and expanding the audience for noncommercial art. 

Pianist Emmet Cohen To Release "Future Stride"

The sound of stride piano vividly evokes scenes from the past: the roaring nightclubs of 1920s Harlem, the raucous birth pangs of jazz’s nascent years, the gymnastic burlesques of risk-taking silent movie madcaps. But in the music of pianist/composer Emmet Cohen, the past is always present, if not venturing with sly turns into an open-eared future as we enter into a new iteration of the roaring 20s.

On his latest album, Cohen revisits one of the music’s earliest forms without a trace of quaintness or throwback pastiche by meticulously covering the genre’s lexicon spanning the past century and melding its context with “modern” music. With Future Stride, due out January 29, 2021 via Mack Avenue Records, he instead finds the immediacy in a stylistic approach that can speak volumes to modern listeners open to recognizing its thrilling vitality.

The new album comes following Cohen's win at the 2019 American Pianists Awards. He received a cash prize and two years of career advancement and support valued at over $100,000, making this one of the most coveted prizes in the music world and the largest for American jazz pianists. Cohen's recording contract with Mack Avenue Music Group was a part of the prize from the American Pianists Association as well. Cohen joins illustrious past winners including Sullivan Fortner, Aaron Diehl, Dan Tepfer, Aaron Parks and Adam Birnbaum, among esteemed others.

Though he’s made a point of connecting with masters from the past throughout his still-young career, Cohen pointedly invites a group of his peers to realize this project, including his longtime rhythm section partners, bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole, along with two of modern jazz’s most progressive voices, trumpeter Marquis Hill and saxophonist Melissa Aldana.

“I find that all great art can be considered modern,” Cohen explains. “Whenever you listen to Stravinsky or watch Stanley Kubrick, when you read Shakespeare or look at Picasso, it remains the most modern, genius art that you can find. It allows people in every time period to feel and experience the same emotions relevant to the period that they live in. For me, stride piano belongs in that category; the music of Art Tatum and Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines and Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith has implications that can affect people today in a very deep manner.”

In that sense, the music of Future Stride viscerally connects our century’s second decade with the last, dissipating the mists of time that shroud the era of early jazz. For anyone who might relegate the music’s pioneers to some antiquated past, Cohen makes a bracing argument from the outset with “Symphonic Raps,” a piece that Louis Armstrong recorded with the Carroll Dickerson Orchestra in the late 1920s and has been rarely, if ever, revived since. The trio’s breakneck rendition ensures there’s no dust left on the tune, which Cohen likens to “a hip-hop groove. That tune sums up how our trio communicates joy.”

The mood shifts drastically with the album’s second track, Cohen’s haunting original “Reflections at Dusk,” with the pianist’s shimmering keys underlying the aching melody essayed by Hill and Aldana. Cohen wrote the piece while contemplating a series of personal changes that had affected his own life in the months leading up to a global pandemic altering everyone’s lives. “I had started to take a lot of time for reflection even before the world stopped,” he says. “I think everyone is going through some version of that now, finally taking advantage of the chance to stop and listen to their own voices and thoughts. This piece is about taking time for yourself, which can be very difficult sometimes.”

The beloved drummer Lawrence “Lo” Leathers, who died tragically in June 2019, is given a deeply felt farewell on “Toast to Lo.” Leathers had been an influential figure in the lives of all the members of the quintet, Cohen recalls. “We miss him very dearly. He became like the mayor anywhere he went; he knew everyone. He reminded me of a jazz musician from the past. Russell and I played our first gig ever in Paris with him, and we watched as he even became the jazz mayor of Paris. We saw him cultivate his outlook on the world, which was one of power, beauty, and equality.”

The title track – written by Cohen and Poole – provides Cohen’s own contribution to the stride tradition, with the pianist engaging in a time-warping dialogue with his triomates, embodying the concept of the album in daring and spirited fashion. The classic Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen ballad “Second Time Around” makes a similar point from a very different perspective, tapping into a timeless emotion with a profound tenderness. “Dardanella” is something of a rite of passage for stride pianists; with a wide breadth of pianists throughout history having put their own twist on the oft-recorded tune. Cohen foregoes the usual solo approach to take it for a lilting spin with the trio all contributing to its sparkling vivacity.

Cohen wrote “You Already Know,” a tune quickly achieving newfound standard status, shortly after moving to New York City, and the quintet’s version captures his wide-eyed response to the city’s hectic pace. Duke Ellington wrote “Pitter Panther Patter” as a showcase for his Orchestra’s mighty bassist, Jimmy Blanton, and Cohen uses it to similar ends, shining a well-deserved spotlight on Russell Hall’s agile talents. The Rodgers and Hart standard “My Heart Stood Still” was a last-minute call as the session neared its end, allowing the trio to show off its breezy but scintillating camaraderie. The album ends with another Cohen original, “Little Angel,” a tale of heartbreak brilliantly illustrated by Hill’s gorgeous, hushed melodicism.

Where Future Stride began with a piece revived from nearly a century ago, it ends with a tune that explicitly points to the future, with a supple R&B influence that colors much of Cohen’s original music but has become one bold path for modern jazz to explore. The fact that a listener would be hard-pressed to point to one or the other of those poles as more “old-fashioned” or more “forward-looking” makes Cohen’s point more eloquently than words ever could: if emotion is conveyed from musician to listener, that emotion lives in the eternal now and the sound is always past, present and future.

New Music Releases: Nicole Mitchell & Moor Mother, Spontaneous Groovin’ Combustion, The Society Hill Orchestra

Nicole Mitchell & Moor Mother | "Offering: Live At Le Guess Who"

Nicole Mitchell is an artist who made us sit up and say "wow" when we first saw her perform on the south side of Chicago 25 years ago – and she continues to make us express the same sort of surprise as the years go on – ever shifting her music, changing her focus, and continuing to get involved with really creative projects like this! The record is part of Mitchell's new sense of cosmic exploration – and features Nicole on flute and electronics, working alongside a lot more electronics from Moor Mother, who also delivers spoken passages on the album's all long tracks – which maybe make the whole thing come across like some Afro-Futurist blend of jazz, spoken word, and science fiction music – something that must have been amazing to see when it was performed live for this recording. Titles include "Up Out Of The Ugly", "Vultures Laughing", and "Prototype Eve". ~ Dusty Groove

Spontaneous Groovin’ Combustion | "Spontaneous Groovin’ Combustion"

While fans of Spontaneous Groovin’ Combustion chomp at the bit for the perfectly named urban jazz fusion ensemble’s debut album – due in February 2021 – group leader and saxophonist Warren Keller (a one-time NYC rocker) whips up a hypnotic, freewheeling blast of cool melodic funk on “Double Deuces,” their gem of a fourth single. The track builds slowly from a soulful atmospheric simmer, alternating Keller’s punchy sax lines and improvisations with Luigi Pistillo’s crisp, crackling electric guitar and incorporating colorful flute and vibes harmonies as the tune shines brightly and inspires excitement!

The Society Hill Orchestra | "Revisit Philly Classics"

There has been a long running tradition in soul music regarding the area of Philadelphia and its surrounding towns. The "Philly Soul" sound has never really gone away – certain vocalists or bands may come and go, but it seems like someone is always there to take their place and carry on the tradition. One of the organizations still carrying the torch has been one that has seemingly never faded away - the best way to describe it is not as an organization, but rather an institution, and that tireless entity is known as Society Hill Records - named after the historic neighborhood in Center City Philadelphia. Today, after all the years of great music that has emanated from the label, artists old and new carry on the great tradition with music that has never strayed far from the source. On the new compilation, The Society Hill Orchestra Revisit Philly Classics, that promise is glaringly evident. Led by the first family of Philly Soul, the Ingram Family band - that has played on so many Philly soul hits for decades, is once again at the helm of this new project. Together with the Society Hill Orchestra are artists/friends that are faithfully carrying on the tradition such as Benny Barksdale, Donnie Tatum, Mary Harris, Sugarbear, TRU, Baxter and Jimmy Lee, and the music sounds as fresh today as it did over 40 years ago. Producer Butch Ingram has picked some of the biggest hits of Philly soul music over the decades and once again proves the vitality of this genre of music will live on for decades to come.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

New Music Releases: Cosmic Vibrations featuring Dwight Trible, Ilya Serov, Peven Everett

Cosmic Vibrations featuring Dwight Trible | "Pathways & Passages"

A great spiritual jazz group – one put together at the suggestion of Dwight Trible, and which features his amazing vocals as the cornerstone! The group have some sonic roots in the past, but also embrace some of the newer freedoms of the current spiritual jazz scene – modes that would be right at home in both the world of London's Brownswood Records, or Chicago's International Anthem – really moving past the obvious, and in ways that have Trible's vocals maybe sounding more righteous and important than ever before! Dwight's as much a poet as he is a singer – and gets superb accompaniment here from Derf Reklaw on congas and flute, Pablo Calogero on tenor and flutes, Christopher Garcia on indigenous percussion, and Breeze Smith on percussion, drums, and loops. There's a very deep sonic texture to the whole album – one that's echoed by the cover image – a dark tapestry of sound from which the voice, flute, and tenor especially soar out – on titles that include "Nature's Vision", "Blue Skies", "How Long", "Motherless Child", "Water Flow", "Movin On", "Olbap", and "Tragedy Escapes". CD features bonus tracks – including "Passages", "Some Other Time", and "May The Weak Become Strong". ~ Dusty Groove

Ilya Serov | "Chillin'"

Shifting into Smooth Jazz from his classical roots and career establishing standards and big band recordings, trumpeter Ilya Serov’s new single “Chillin’” offers a sensual, laid back escape from the harsh COVID-19 era realities via a breezy, breathy muted horn melody, easy flowing groove and chillaxed keyboards courtesy of Greg Manning. While showcasing his melodic jazz, R&B and neo-soul flow and modeling the way great tracks and videos can be created under social distancing protocols, Serov’s deeper vision is to create music that offers hope, joy and a fresh mindset embracing a whole new way of living. ~

Peven Everett | "Kaleidoscope"

The title's a great one, as the rich talents of Peven Everett always present us with such a strong range of shifting shapes and sounds in soul music – grooves that draw from his work in jazz and house, but which always come across with so much more overall! The tunes are simple, but so effective – sometimes stripped down to their core, but reshaped by the presence of Peven – a singer who, if the world had any sense of justices, would have been one of the biggest soul stars of the 21st Century! Yet it's also pretty nice that a record like this can be a secret between a select few – those of us who've always seen Everett's genius, and have supported him over the years – with a record like this as a reward. Titles include "Man Like Me", "The Easy Life", "World Love II", "The Sexy 1", "Never Give It Up", and "Back In II It". ~ Dusty Groove

New Music Releases: Ron King, Studio One 007, Herb Partlow

Ron King | "Downtown Mama"

If you dig Rick Braun, you’ll welcome veteran trumpeter Ron King’s picture-perfect Smooth Jazz debut album Downtown Mama with open arms ready to sway and groove. Drawing on a decades-long resume filled with everyone from Frank Sinatra and Marvin Gaye to David Benoit and Jeff Lorber, King and producer Paul Brown fire up the old school, soul-jazz cool and the stylish horn textures while keeping the silk and funk (and a touch of fiery big band energy) flowing. King complements his bright infectious originals with colorful twists on classics by David Sanborn and The Rolling Stones! ~

Studio One 007 | "Licensed To Ska – James Bond & Other Film Soundtracks & TV Themes" 

A very cool take on the sound of Studio One – a package of late 60s themes from James Bond films and other soundtrack sources! The mix is maybe not that surprising, given the use of Jamaican music early on in the series – as part of the Dr No soundtrack – and maybe that global moment of understanding helped the groups back home in Kingston to reach for the skies with material like this! The whole thing is a fascinating document of two strands of Brit culture in these post-colonial years – with titles that include "James Bond Danger Man" by The Soul Brothers, "Pussy Galore" by Lee Perry & The Wailers, "Mr Flint" by The Soul Brothers, "Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" by The Soul Brothers, "Hang Em High" by Jackie Mittoo, "From Russia With Love" by Roland Alphonso & The Studio One Orchestra, "Ball Of Fire" by The Skatalites, and "James Bond Girl" by The Soul Brothers. ~ Dusty Groove

Herb Partlow | "Next Level"

Five years after promising us a sultry and funky Digital Future, multi-instrumentalist (piano, keys, bass, drums) and all-around music industry veteran Herb Partlow takes his game to the Next Level with the release of this innovative collection of deep grooves and smooth flows. Partlow generates jazz for a new generation with a proprietary blend of funk, hip hop and contemporary jazz. This creative artist knows how to harness today's hottest vibes to compose and produce attention-grabbing music that he releases on his own Superb Muzic label. Take your evening chill session and weekend soundtrack to the Next Level with this atmospheric, Smooth Jazz gem. Music for our modern times! ~

New Music Releases: Carlos Nino & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Anders Holst, Jeff Parker

Carlos Nino & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson | "Chicago Waves"

A record that's a bit of a dream come true for us at Dusty Groove – a set that features two of our favorite contemporary musicians, recording at a unique venue in our fair city – with a vibe that makes the record one of the best we've ever heard from the pair! Carlos Nino was one of the first of the new generation of spiritual jazz musicians – playing in such modes when it seemed like most others had forgotten them – and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson was a frequent partner in those days, and has risen to have a great legacy of his own, both as a performer and arranger for larger projects! The setting here is spare, but has all the majesty of the best work from either musician – as Miguel plays a five string violin, expanded with lots of live effects – and Nino plays a variety of percussion, while also triggering larger soundscapes too – all with a very organic vibe, as the whole thing was recorded live at Chicago's Co-Prosperity Sphere. The album features one long suite, divided into eight sections – the last of which is the beautiful "Chicago Waves". ~ Dusty Groove

Anders Holt | "Endlessly"

After a way too long nine-year recording hiatus, Swedish born, NYC based singer/songwriter Anders Holst brings his sensually romantic vibes and poetic juice back to Smooth Jazz with his inspiring new album Endlessley. While elegantly produced by Grammy Award winner Gordon Chambers, with beguiling string arrangements and soaring backing vocals, the pop/soul/jazz oriented collection is grounded by a live ensemble featuring keyboardist Shedrick Mitchell, guitarist Sherrod Barnes, and saxophonists Peck Almond and Andreas “Pastorn” Andersson. Holst muses on various aspects of love via inviting originals and spirited re-imaginings of Kem’s “Heaven,” a delicious duet with Sy Smith on George Michael's "Cowboys and Angels," as well as paying homage to Stevie Wonder in an intimate, string-laden rendition of "All I Do." ~

Jeff Parker | "Suite For Max Brown"

Mindblowing music from Jeff Parker – sounds that we always knew were part of his core, but which have maybe taken most of his career to emerge! This album follows beautifully from Jeff's previous album for International Anthem – and like that one, it's an explosion of new and old ideas at once – jazz elements with soul currents, all put together with a complexity that lives up to Parker's long legacy in music, but which also has an organic appeal that makes the whole thing come together with effortless ease! There's plenty of sophistication in the sound, but it also sneaks in with lots of grooves that Jeff never had before – including some funky currents that come from Parker's work on keyboards, drums, and samples in addition to his usual guitar – and added drums from Jamire Williams and Makaya McCraven. Titles include "Lydian Etc", "Build A Nest", "Del Rio", "3 For L", "Fusion Swirl", "After The Rain", and "Max Brown". ~ Dusty Groove

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

New Music Releases: Michael O’Neil Quartet, Alex Churchill , The San Gabriel 7 / Femi Knight

Michael O’Neil Quartet |"And Then It Rained"

And The It Rained, the fifth and newest release by reed master Michael O’Neill, is a beautiful compilation of original compositions brought to life by some of the best musical talent around. O’Neill, who is a mainstay on the San Francisco Bay Area jazz scene, is a creative improviser with a warm, robust sound. He has been composing for many years, but this is the first recording featuring his original compositions. O’Neill’s music has an expressive quality, as if each note were a song lyric that told a story. His compositions have that same quality. O’Neill’s considerable technical prowess helps deliver the strong emotional impressions evoked in this unique musical montage. Personnel: Michael O’Neill, tenor, alto, soprano saxes, clarinet / Michael Bluestein, piano / Dan Feiszli, bass / Jason Lewis, drummer.

Alex Churchill |"Best Of Me"

Smooth Jazz Kiwi alert! Eleven years and countless international performances after winning “Most Outstanding Young Musician” at the New Zealand Youth Jazz Competition, Auckland born saxophonist Alex Churchill breaks ground in the genre with a hypnotic, silky and simmering funky twist on Anthony Hamilton’s 2013 hit “Best of Me.” Vibing dynamically with and improvising off the cool, crisp guitar of New Zealand sensation and longtime collaborator Andrea Lisa, Churchill underscores his vibrant up-tempo take with a reminder to always give our best to each other (especially to strangers) and truly embrace each moment. ~

The San Gabriel 7 / Femi Knight | "Red Dress"

The San Gabriel 7 is a group that has been flying under the radar for far too long. The band has been gigging around Southern California since its inception in 2006 and is now releasing Red Dress, their tenth album. Chris Gordon, the album’s producer, says, “The group has grown and changed over the years, and we felt it was time to bring our music to a larger audience outside of the region.” The musicians on Red Dress each have a long list of professional credits playing with some of the biggest names in the music business. Their newest album features singer, songwriter, keyboardist, and voiceover actor Femi Knight, AKA Dawn Bishop. Knight is perhaps best known for her long association with Sergio Mendes. Red Dress features seven songs composed by Knight and two live performances of Knight and the SG7 recorded at the Cal Tech Jazz Festival. There is real synergy between Dave Cushman’s fun and engaging arrangements and The San Gabriel 7, a high energy band of top-notch players. Knight has a smooth, flexible, and warm voice, and the music on Red Dress is swinging and suffused with toe-tapping funkiness, aided and abetted by Knight’s intelligent, sensitive lyrics.

New Music Releases: Alan Braufman, Anteloper (Jaimie Branch & Jason Nazary), The Smooth Jazz Alley

Alan Braufman | "Fire Still Burns"

A long-overdue second album from Alan Braufman – maybe not the most familiar name in jazz, but a reed player who gave the world one fantastic album on India Navigation back in the 70s – and who now finally returns as a leader for this equally great second set! Braufman plays alto and flute – and the whole thing has this bold, soaring sort of energy – maybe even more spiritually forceful than Alan's classic album, thanks in part to an excellent group who bristle with dynamic vibes throughout – always on the edge of going farther out, but also nicely together too. Other players include Cooper Moore on piano, James Brandon Lewis on tenor, Ken Filiano on bass, and Andrew Drury on drums – with a bit of percussion at times from Michael Wimberly. Titles include "Creation", "Alone Again", "The Fire Still Burns", "Home", and "No Floor No Ceiling". ~ Dusty Groove

Anteloper (Jaimie Branch & Jason Nazary) | "Tour Beats Vol 1"

Mindblowing sounds from Anteloper – a great side project from trumpeter Jaimie Branch, and one that lets her open up with lots of the more electronic sides of her spirit! The set's a collaboration with Jason Nazary – who adds in acoustic drums plus a host of electronics and effects – echoed by Branch, who blows her usual strong lead on trumpet upfront, but also works electronic magic too – so that the duo are creating in the best mix of live instrumentation, processing, and editing that have made the International Anthem label such a powerhouse in new waves of jazz in recent years. The work's not unlike some of the recent projects of trumpeter Rob Mazurek – who, not surprisingly, provides notes on the record – which includes the tracks "Bubble Under", "Isotope 420", "Soledad Sabateur", and "Radar Radio". ~ Dusty Groove

The Smooth Jazz Alley | "Let's Ride"

As Bay Area groovemeisters keyboardist Marco Montoya and founding guitarist Stan Evans imagined their infectious, soul-piercing vibe back in 2016, you never know what you’re going to find grooving down The Smooth Jazz Alley! With drummer/producer Kevin Lewis taking over for Evans as co-leader, the ensemble’s second album Let’s Ride is chock full of tasty R&B cool, sultry light funk and dynamic, soaring key and sax duality created by Montoya and guest Smooth Jazz sax stars Greg Vail, Eric Marienthal and Andy Snitzer. Complementing Evans’ still formidable electric guitar are feisty licks by Carlyle Barriteau, Matt Godina and Joel Del Rosario. ~

Friday, October 16, 2020

Benjamin Koppel with Jazz Masters | "The Art of the Quartet & "Ultimate Soul & Jazz Revue"

Acclaimed Danish saxophonist Benjamin Koppel showcases his versatility and virtuosity on two distinctly different releases for the Unit Records label. While the 2CD set The Art of the Quartet finds the alto sax star engaging in freewheeling musical dialogues and executing thoroughly composed pieces with top American jazz luminaries Kenny Werner on piano, Scott Colley on bass and the great Jack DeJohnette on drums, Ultimate Soul & Jazz Revue (also a 2CD set) has him throwing down with authority on familiar funk and R&B anthems alongside two American music icons in trumpeter Randy Brecker and legendary drummer Bernard Purdie. Whether searching in uninhibited fashion and navigating heady compositional waters with his fellow intrepid improvisers on The Art of the Quartet or testifying to the power of groove on Ultimate Soul & Jazz Revue, Koppel handles both worlds with equal aplomb. 

The extraordinary lineup featured on The Art of the Quartet came about through some longstanding musical hookups that Koppel had fostered through his celebrated career. He and Werner met in 2007 at an all-star event that Koppel put together to celebrate Danish drummer Alex Riel's 50 years in music. They further explored their chemistry together on 2008's At Ease, which featured Koppel playing alongside fellow alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, and in 2009 they recorded their duo album Walden, with music inspired by Henry David Thoreau. Since then they have toured extensively in both US and Europe and have recorded a dozen albums together. Scott Colley, known from his work with Carmen McRae, Herbie Hancock, Jim Hall and the supergroup Hudson (consisting of guitar great John Scofield, Medeski, Martin & Wood keyboardist John Medeski and drummer extraordinaire DeJohnette), is also a member of the Koppel-Colley-Blade Collective formed in 2012 with Benjamin and top drummer Brian Blade. "Scott and I met in 2009 at my annual Summer Jazz festival when I put together a quintet with him, Kenny Werner, John Abercrombie and Al Foster," said Benjamin. "Scott and I instantly became very good friends and have worked frequently on many different projects since then, including a duo album we made. Scott is a great spirit, an amazing player and composer." 

It was Werner who recruited DeJohnette for The Art of the Quartet. As Koppel recalled, "After hearing some of the music, Jack wanted to join as an equal partner in the project. He even recommended the studio, Clubhouse in Rhinebeck, which is very close to where he lives near Woodstock. We all had a very good feeling about recording at the Clubhouse. Everybody brought music and we had a ball working together over three or four days." 

CD 1 is bookended by the daring collective improvisations, "Free I" and "Free II," each of which travels from searching, rubato introspection to turbulent freebop paced by DeJohnette's whirlwind drumming and Colley's insistent pulse. Koppel's exchanges with Werner here are both provocative and highly conversational. "Since we had all worked together before in different configurations, we felt that we really knew each other well, so it felt really natural for us to go into the studio without any directives at all and just invent together, create from a mutual understanding. And since we are all composers, everybody was simply composing right there on the spot. We didn't have to talk about anything up front." 

Koppel's sparse and gently introspective "Bells of Beliefs" was inspired by an orchestral piece by György Ligeti. "A very little spot in this piece had a certain bell-vibe to it and the sound stuck with me," he explained. "I went home and composed 'Bells of Beliefs' in a minute. "At the session, Jack heard my demo of this tune and he was super excited and wanted to postpone the recording of this particular song in order to drive back to his house and pick up a very special set of bells that he had just been given prior to our session. And his playing on those bells is amazing!" With DeJohnette's bells, Colley's bowed bass and Werner's sparse tinkling setting a peaceful tone, Koppel summons up a depthful Trane-like vibe on this pensive piece.

Koppel addresses his own near-sightedness on the gently droning "Night Seeing," which unfolds gracefully and gradually before segueing to an exploratory drums-alto breakdown at the 6-minute mark. Regarding the title, the composer said, "It's inspired by the thought of us as human beings too often not comprehending, not seeing what is going on right around us. Too often we don't see climate change at night, we don't see racism unless it is recorded on film. But at the same time I didn't want this music to be a lecture in any way. No raised index fingers, but hopefully just inspiration." 

They revive a buoyant DeJohnette Special Edition piece from the '80s, "Ahmad the Terrible" (from 1984's Album Album) and deliver Werner's delicate through-composed piece "Follow" with conviction. "It's a typical Kenny piece in that it really demands of the musicians that they explore a certain vibe in both themselves and in their collaboration. And that certain vibe is set with Kenny's quite simple but nonetheless really deep composition."  

Werner's "Iago," a moving number in honor of Brazilian composer Weber Iago, is a brilliant showcase for Koppel's spirited virtuosity while the pianist's "Ballad for Trane" carries a loping swing feel and has Benjamin blowing over the top in ecstatic fashion. As Koppel explained, "Kenny wrote this tune many years ago after listening to some bootleg Coltrane recordings through a whole night. This tune really sets off a great path of exploring and tributing Trane, without having to try to play or sound like him at all. But just the feeling, the changes, the melody are very connected to Trane's huge musical wisdom." 

They deliver a faithful reading of the standard "If I Should Lose You," which has Colley and DeJohnette each stepping out for show-stopping solos. "When playing standards, it feels natural to me to approach them freely, maybe a bit in the tradition of Lee Konitz," said Koppel, "although I also love to just dive into a good melody and more or less stay with it." Then they revel in Colley's striking rubato number "Americana," which Koppel said, "pointed the group in an obvious wide-open-spaces direction where there is room for everyone, both musically and spiritually." 

The gestalt quartet next jumps on DeJohnette's hard driving, energetic "One on One" with abandon. "Jack is obviously both a great drummer and pianist, but also a great composer," said Koppel. "This piece immediately set the four of us in a creative and powerful mode, where we take turns leading, pushing or commenting on grounds of the theme. One thing that really struck us all when recording this track was the power of omission. What we leave out, don't play, choose not to react to all makes a conceptual and open-minded piece like this really come to life. Everyone keeps challenging and surprising the others while taking responsibility for both the theme and the composition and track as a whole." 

They settle into Werner's peaceful hymn-like closer, "Sada," with uncommon delicacy. "This is one of Kenny most beautiful and long-lasting compositions, based on a chant from his ashram. It contains so much love, hope and yearning, while at the same time confronting each one of us with the sorrows of our lives. But it is a piece of light and thoughtfulness, almost meditational at times. It is one of Kenny's pieces that we have played live the most." 

On the Ultimate Soul & Jazz Revue, the saxophonist returns to his roots. "A great part of the record collection in my childhood was American gospel music (Golden Gate Quartet, Mahalia Jackson, Staple Singers) and soul music (Aretha, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye), which is what I listened to the most when I was a kid, besides the Beatles," he recalled. "My sister Marie and I began playing concerts at various cafés in Copenhagen when I was 14 and she was 17 and our repertoire was mainly soul standards. So soul music in various forms is a great part of my musical DNA and something I always return to." 

Recorded live at Betty Nansen Theatre in Copenhagen during the 2019 edition of Koppel's Summer Jazz Festival, Ultimate Soul & Jazz Revue features Benjamin, Brecker, Colley and Purdie backed by top Danish musicians in keyboardist Jacob Christoffersen, Hammond organist Dan Hemmer, percussionist Jacob Andersen and guitarist Søren Heller, an impressive newcomer on the Scandinavian music scene. Together they come out of the gate with intensity on a ferocious version of Buddy Miles' 1970 tune "Them Changes" (famous recorded by Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys at their historic 1970 Fillmore East show in New York City). From there they expertly blend jazz and funk on a Fender Rhodes-fueled rendition of Dizzy Gillespie's Afro-Cuban classic "Manteca" before moving on to the slyly funky "Hammond Street," one of three Koppel originals of the set. Brecker and Koppel play tight unisons on the head here, rekindling some of the Brecker Brothers vibe, before Benjamin breaks loose for some virtuosic double-timing over Purdie's chugging groove. "I love to play with Randy," said Koppel. "The first time we shared a mic was on a session with a Danish piano player, which I co-produced in New York in 1999. And since then we fortunately have had the opportunity to work quite a few times together in different settings, among them in Kenny Werner's Quintet (with Scott and Antonio Sanchez). Randy is so easy to play with. His sound, time and inventiveness are beyond virtuoso and his generosity and curiosity as a musician ever-inspiring.                                                   

They capture the perfect '70s vibe on a rendition of Curtis Mayfield's anthemic 1970 hit song, "Move on Up," then conjure up an appealing Crusaders-type crossover vibe on Koppel's "Feel the Burn" (which he dedicates to Bernard Purdie). Benjamin's sister, singer Marie Carmen Koppel, next tackles Aretha Franklin's "Respect" with all the gusto and earthy intent of a real-deal soul diva. "We went to New York City together in January 1994 (I was 19, she was 23) to experience the city, to hear music, to study, to explore. I eventually went home but she stayed for two years, becoming the first European (maybe even the first white girl) to become a part of the Brooklyn Fountain Church of Christ, where she sang in the choir and as a soloist with a bunch of amazing gospel singers and musicians." Marie's gospel influence definitely comes out on her interpretation of "Respect."

Koppel's noirish "Con Alma and Sax" is a haunting ballad with some expressive playing by the leader while their instrumental rendition of King Floyd's 1970 soul staple, "Groove Me," is perfectly anchored by Purdie's signature backbeat and Colley's deeply resonant, funky upright basslines. Koppel delivers some alto testifying on a funky version of Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing," which has Purdie unleashing on his kit over a mesmerizing ostinato near the end of that epic 10-minute rendition. Koppel also wails with impunity over a soul-jazz take on The Carpenter's 1970 hit, "Close to You."  

Their Summer Jazz set closes on a funky note with a organ-fueled rendition of Sly & The Family Stone's 1968 classic, "Sing a Simple Song," that has Koppel channeling his inner David Sanborn, Hemmer offering a greasy B-3 solo and Randy reverting to his Brecker Brothers swagger on his trumpet solo. Said the elder Brecker brother of this Soul & Jazz Revue gig, "I had just come from a week of Billy Cobham gigs which were just great, but his music is very involved with odd tempos and a lot of metric modulation and many, many notes (!), so this gig with Benjamin and Purdie at the heart of it was a lot of fun. I hadn't played with Bernard in years. He was on my first record, Score, back in 1969 and back in the day we did a million sessions together, where he would set up 'Pretty Purdie' signs around his drums with his phone number on it - the technology of the day. So it was like a homecoming to play with him at this festival and he sounded great with Scott Colley on bass. They really locked it up. And Benjamin, who arranged all of the tunes and wrote some, was, as always, outstanding." 

The grandson of famous Danish classic composer Herman D. Koppel and the son of musician and composer Anders Koppel, co-founder of the '60s rock group Savage Rose, Benjamin Koppel is one of the most outstanding musicians of his generation. Originally a drummer, inspired by Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, he switched to saxophone at age 13. "My first inspirations when I began playing saxophone were Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter and Earl Bostic," he explained. "Then came Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins, Ben Webster (whom I am named after - my father used to play with him in the early 1970s) and Coleman Hawkins. And then Cannonball and Trane." Koppel made his recording debut as a leader in 1993 with The Benjamin Koppel Quartet at age 18. The following year he came to New York and studied with Paquito D'Rivera. Koppel has been the most productive, in-demand and far-reaching Scandinavian musician of his generation, appearing on more than 50 recordings with such noteworthy players as Phil Woods, Jim Hall, Joe Lovano, Daniel Humair, Palle Danielsson, Alex Riel, Paul Bley, Miroslav Vitous, Inger Dam Jensen, Michala Petri, Chano Dominguez, Charlie Mariano, Portinho, David Sanchez and Sheryl Crow.  

In 2000, Koppel formed his own independent record label, Cowbell Music, and since 2009 has been the organizer of Summer Jazz and Winter Jazz, two popular independent music festivals that take place in the Danish capital of Copenhagen. Koppel has received numerous awards and honors, including the Palæ Bars Jazz Prize, the Jacob Gade Prize and the Holstebro Music Prize. In 2011, he was named Knight of France, Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres for his musical work. He was also a jazz radio host, producing more than 200 programs for National Danish Radio.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...