Friday, April 4, 2014

Roberta Gambarini...a striking, gorgeous thrush with gilt-edged intonation.

Jazz singer Roberta Gambarini and James Moody
Italian jazz singer, Roberta Gambarini, appeared at Yoshi's Jazz Club, San Francisco (one of the best Jazz clubs in the world: Her words), with Roy Hargrove's young and exciting quartet, for five extraordinary, and memorable evenings of jazz, March 26 - 30, 2014. The engagement had to be something of  challenge for this Turin native. A challenge, which in retrospect, she met with grace, charm and sublime professionalism having developed an extensive performance repertoire working with a plethora of rhythm sections throughout her career.

Originally, the date was billed as, "Roy Hargrove Quintet Residency, GRAMMY winning trumpeter returns for five nights!" but Hargrove came down with a medical emergency and had to sit out the engagement. However, the show went on, with Gambarini stepping in stylishly to fill the void, and lead this exceptional band through five nights of exquisite, eclectic jazz moments, in the process exhibiting a level of talent that has won over venerated pianist Hank Jones, and impelled him to proclaim her as the "best new jazz vocalist to come along in fifty years."

As happens when the best laid plans go awry, mice and man must improvise. Not surprisingly, this jazz engagement was filled with many bright moments and good swinging jazz. I've had Roberta Gambarini on my radar since I heard her on a local jazz station (KCSM 91.1FM) from the campus of the College of San Mateo, near San Francisco. I caught her doing an uptempo version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's, "No More Blues" and I immediately got a 'jones' for the unpretentious, honest, confident way she sang, and swung.

Roberta Gambarini did some pretty heavy lifting on opening night; a San Francisco Tuesday night that was rainy and blustery. Yet she filled the house with considerable warmth and joy, with her astute selection of ballads, jazz standards, popular songs, and the 'blues.' She became increasingly accessible, and familiar as the night wore on.

Appearing in a simple, yet stunning, white, strapless, form-fitting evening dress, she sang in Portuguese, French, Spanish and English; and she got wonderful support for Hargrove's quartet, with whom she enjoys great rapport. The rhythm section, pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist Ameen Saleem, and drummer Quincy Phillips over achieved in power and appropriate nuance, backing up Justin Robinson's fire-breathing alto saxophone, to give Gambarini all she needed to mesmerize, and captivate the crowd like a pied piper. Their up tempo tunes had a funky edge, and an off-the-floor, spontaneous originality that was supernatural, and rare.

Gambarini opened the evening singing (Monk's Prayer) a cappella, a technique at which she is demonstrably adept. In this instance, it served to profile the limpid elegance and commanding vocal range she typifies; and as a preface to a ("Moodys Groove") swinging tribute for the late jazz saxophonist extraordinaire, James Moody who appeared as special guest on her 2006 critically acclaimed CD: "Easy To Love," and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Quickly, she jumped all over Gillespie's arrangement of the Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields jazz standard "On The Sunny Side of The Street," taken from Gillespie's1957 album "Sonny Side Up," which featured colossal saxophonists, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins and Dizzy's trade mark trumpet. Gambarini's vocalese chops ignited a lot of excitement when she executed the three classic original horn solos with frightening accuracy.

Gambarini primed a well-balanced performance with music from a variety of the top twentieth-century composers and lyricists of popular music; George & Ira Gershwin; Cole Porter; Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart; Ellington & Strayhorn; Antonio Carlos Jobim; Frank Sinatra and others. She revisited her 2006 CD: Easy To Love for five of the dozen or so, songs she sang. She dusted off, and put her personal interpretation on two Gershwin tunes that have become important works in The Great American Songbook; the ballad (Someone To Watch Over Me), and the popular song (Embraceable You), selflessly sharing the spotlight with pianist Sullivan Fortner, and his keyboard that flowed with brilliant, feather-light touches of elegance; perfectly complementing Gambarini's exquisite reading of the lyric. Fortner's strainless approach to swing seems to parallel the inimitable technique of bebop pianist Sonny Clark in articulation, form and color, but Fortner's touch is understandably more progressive.Gambarini described his pianism as 'incredible.'   

Gambarini likes medleys, and she strings them together tastefully, and expertly, as she did with (This Masquerade), Leon Russell's 1972 hit; (The Thrill is Gone) a 'blues' and (I'm a Fool to Want You) a ballad written by Frank Sinatra in 1951...a song not heard much these days. But Gambarini also likes to swing, and knows how, as she dug into her 2006 CD: "Easy to Love" for the title track written by Cole Porter; Antonio Carlos Jobim's (No More Blues/Chega de Saudade) the song that started the bossa nova craze, and (Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)), one of Billie Holiday's staples. She swung them all. Justin Robinson's alto was all grit, edge and speed, clearing out space for the rhythm section of Fortner (piano), Ameen Saleem (bass), and Quincy Phillips (drums) to surround her with a deftly manicured ring of searing rhythmic patterns.

Gambarini comes prepared, not only to sing, but to give something extra to her audience, this makes her concerts memorable and describes the passion she feels for jazz, and those who make jazz what it is. Her knowledge of jazz, and jazz history is encyclopedic. Who else remembers clearly, and bothers to look back earnestly, at one of Duke Ellington's late 50s Newport Jazz Concerts when Ozzie Bailey, a jazz singer who sang ballads as slow "as a drip of pine resin," sang one chorus of Billy Strayhorn's (Rocks In My Bed)...and can reprise it accurately for the audience? Roberta Gambarini...that's who!  The room also learned that the tune (Summer/Estate), which she also sang, and that, Joao Gilberto made a world-wide hit, is not Brazilian, but was written by an Italian, Bruno Martino.

Occasionally, during a concert, an artist may be lucky to deliver a 'show stopper'; that sweet moment when all the hearts and breathing in the room stop; and no one knows for sure what the next move should be...there is usually a pregnant pause, followed by patrons 'losing it,' some applaud loudly; raucously; others whistle, scream, and holler; many too overcome to respond, just remain glued and quiet. Gambarini came as close to a 'glued and quiet' show stopper, as was possible, when she put all of her heart and soul into the Benny Carter/Sammy Cahn classic jazz standard (Only Trust Your Heart), another one of the tunes from her 2006 CD "Easy To Love."

It is easy to love Roberta Gambarini, the talented artist and person, and the weight of knowing that this show was nearing it end was palpable . She must have felt the sad vibe in the room, because she reserved Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's (Lover) as her finale. 'Lover' was the hardest swung tune of the night, somewhere in the din, Quincy Phillips got out of his cage, and his drums almost walked off the stage without him. It was enough to stop any rainy night dead in its tracks!

Roberta Gambarini is forever reaching for that artistic brass ring...she seems to get closer with each performance. She specializes in painting beautiful vignettes of color into the introductions to her songs, which she then expands across the tapestry of her music. Roberta Gambarini is a master painter; a striking gorgeous thrush with gilt-edged intonation.


Earlier in the evening, Gambarini had said that Cuban-born, eleven-time GRAMMY winner, multi-instrumentalist, Paquito D'Rivera was flying in from New York the following day (March 27) to join Gambarini and the quintet to complete the engagement.

I knew that I had to return to hear D'Rivera and Gambarini together..!

Next: Pacquito D'Rivera makes the S. F. scene!

Paquito D'Rivera Makes The San Francisco Scene At Yoshi's Jazz Club, With Singer Roberta Gambarini.

Multi-instrumentalist  Paquito D'Rivera
Well, I returned to Yoshi's Jazz Club in San Francisco on Friday Night, March 28, 2014 to hear Cuban multi-instrumentalist (alto saxophone, clarinet, soprano saxophone) Paquito D'Rivera in concert with singer Roberta Gambarini and the Roy Hargrove quartet. Gambarini unhesitatingly averred D'Rivera's stature as 'the maestro'; an eminence that remains grounded in humility, humor and sophisticated enlightenment; and revealed in the virtuosic playing of the many music genres (Brazilian, Classical, Bebop, Latin Jazz, Latin/Caribbean) at his command. D'Rivera's presence was especially timely because of his 2014 GRAMMY Award for Best Latin Jazz Album: "SONG FOR MAURA," "...a love song to the memory of the beautiful Maura, my mother" (D'Rivera).

Jazz Singer Roberta Gambarini
The Friday evening concert attracted a full house, (the weather was spectacular). The band opened with an instrumental uptempo burner to warm the room, and to prepare the scene for Gambarini's entrance; and enter she did, beaming in an elegant, off-the-hook, strapless, black evening dress; 'silky-smooth' on the eyes, perfectly poised anatomically for her opening offering; Benny Carter's (When Lights Are Low) backed with stellar alto work from Justin Robinson. Robinson has warp speed, agility, and precision over the alto's full register. But when he wraps his horn around a melody, as he did on Carter's most popular song, there are not many modern alto players that come close to his dexterity, interpretive acumen, and flow. He and Gambarini concocted a potent mix of intimidating sex appeal, and raw, unbridled, muscular blowin'.

Gambarini introduced Paquito D'Rivera to an appreciative audience with an air approaching reverence. She, singing in Portuguese, and the eleven-time GRAMMY winner then took off on Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova precursor (Chega de Saudade/No More Blues), like two active kids enjoying the warmth of summer, frolicking on a beach at Ipanema. D'Rivera impressive facility on his horn was immediate, and showered the room in warm, exotic color, as he and Gambarini traded phrases the way front line horn players trade 'fours.' Everyone now understood why Gambarini called D'Rivera 'the maestro.' He embraces the 'melody,' does not play his reed or horns loudly, and his pacing is faultless. With these simple, but telling effects in place, Gambarini capitalized on a deeper, more assorted palette of colors to explore, which she exploited magnificently during the remainder of the evening.

Gambarini did not have to take the emotional temperature of the room before introducing her next selection (Oblivion/J'oublie), written by Astor Piazzolla. But she did pique their interests by uttering the key words "love" and "Paris." Two magical words that anticipate images of hedonistic adventure and romance, although, in this case, the anticipation eventuated into a realization of 'love lost in Paris,' flawlessly described by Gambarini in the language of romance and love: French. " (...mon bateau part, s'en va, quelque part/les gens se separent, j'oublie, j'oublie/ A boat leaves, goes away/People are parting, I forget, I forget). D'Rivera's clarinet highlighted the emotional theme of the song, against an aching, cimmerian background of despondency emerging from the measured chords of Fortner's piano, Ameen's bass, and Phillips' purposeful drum beat; offering a collaborative representation of the versatility of the ensemble.                                                                                                                                                
Oblivion's immediate legacy was a mood of heightened expectation and palpable anticipation which quickly dissipated once D'Rivera announced the next tune, the very exciting (Song For Mauda), the title track from his 2014 GRAMMY award-winning CD for Best Latin Jazz Album, which he played on alto in uptempo Latin/Caribbean style, and is a dedication to his mother's memory, an invitation to dance, that set the stage for a deep musical bow to Dizzy Gillespie, an important backer for D'Rivera when he first arrived in New York from Cuba. The tune (A Night In Inglewood), a slow bossa nova, bore a close rhythmic resemblance to Dizzy's "Night In Tunisia" with sumptuous scatterings of "Salt Peanuts" for added flavor, displaying infectious humor throughout.

Next, D'Rivera took the quartet, Gambarini, and the audience on a colorful and emotional tour of his Latin jazz soul, playing beautifully and articulately, intricately retracing musical paths imprinted with the classic work of the masters with images and quotes from Moises Simon's Cuban "street seller's cry" (El Manicero/Peanut Vendor), or Zequinha de Abreu's (Tico Tico). Again D'Rivera's approach was quiet, Clear. His images, parries and riffs emerging gracefully from the register of the alto, as his fingers danced over the keys in a lover's caress. Delicate. Keen. Fluid. A 'maestro' describing an enduring musical culture, as only a maestro is able.

Gambarini and the quartet released the room from its sweet reverie, with Harry "Sweets" Edison & Jon Hendricks' swinging (Centerpiece), but the die was could not possibly get any better during the remainder of the show...not even with another go 'round of (On The Sunny Side of The Street).

Roberta Gambarini and Paquito D'Rivera both possess very open personalities that exude confidence, and genuine camaraderie, qualities that draw audiences in, establishing trust and keen anticipation. Their serendipitous appearance on stage together at Yoshi's Jazz Club, San Francisco transcended the stimulating power of 'the jazz concert.' It made itself into an event that committed music lovers should not have missed.   

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Trumpeter Roy Hargrove - "The Night of the Jewel-Studded Glove"

I can't quite recall if I read somewhere, or heard it said, that trumpeter Roy Hargrove was the 21st Century incarnation of Miles Dewey Davis III. So, to satisfy my own curiosity, I went to see him perform at Yoshi's Jazz Club in San Francisco on Sunday, January 15, 2012.

Jazz Trumpeter Roy Hargrove
He does have a similar, young Davis, chiseled, welterweight, physical build. He visibly exudes cool Milesian confidence and authority in his playing; and the signature Davis mannerism - though not as overtly as Miles -of turning away from the audience, but not his back, when he is not playing his trumpet. He does however, acknowledge applause. His soloing technique is smooth, thoughtful and crisply coherent. Like Davis, he builds his solos with a keen sense of force, logical lyricism and searching clarity; not ending them unimaginatively by prematurely finishing his phrases. But...he eschews the early ultra-conservative Davis' riveting, consistent, 'on stage', sartorial elegance, though on this night, he managed to demonstrate enough sparkling theatre to upstage both "The Prince of Darkness,"and "The King of Pop," when he emerged on the bandstand wearing a single, jewel-studded glove, with flashing multi-color lighted fingertips on his right hand. His suit was exquisitely tailored to fit his svelte frame, and his wrap-around sunglasses were vintage Miles.

The band for this appearance - a quintet - consisted of Justin Robinson - alto saxophone; Sullivan Fortner - piano; Ameen Saleem - bass; Quincy Phillips - drums; Roy Hargrove - trumpet/flugelhorn.

Alto saxophonist Justin Robinson
Hargrove managed to attract a full house for his Sunday Night show, mainly because he is such a draw in the San Francisco Bay Area, and on this occasion, probably because the following day, Monday, January 16, was Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. He opened the 8pm show with Peter de Rose and Bert Shefter's beautiful ballad (The Lamp Is Low). Hargrove took the first solo on open trumpet, blowing carefully and eloquently as blue lights on the fingertips of his bejeweled right hand glove undulated eerily in the club's dim light as he manipulated the valves on the horn. I am not sure if I would describe the effect as distracting or a spectacle, however seeing it for the first time, it seemed, well...strange! Hargrove soon turned the stage over to alto saxophonist Justin Robinson, walked over the the right end of the stage and was seen transfixed, sequencing the glove's fingertip lights through a series of red/green/blue colors...uummm interesting, but still strange!

Anyway, I turned my attention over to Robinson's alto saxophone, and I became transfixed by his speed and dexterity moving through the registers. Though impressed by his playing, my personal opinion then, and throughout the remainder of the program during solos, and duets with Hargrove, was that the tenor saxophone would have been a better tonal fit, because the tenor's burnished sound hangs better in a large room, and in this instance, I thought the tenor saxophone combined with Hargrove's rounded, smooth flugelhorn would produce a deeper, more intimate sound and feel: but I do admit a strong bias towards the tenor and tenor players!

Pianist Sullivan Fortner
The quintet continued its tune-up on Duke Pearson's (Is That So), which featured an excellent duet between Hargrove and Robinson, leading into pianist Cedar Walton's hard-bop (Hindsight), with Hargrove now showing great confidence in his dynamite rhythm section, as they took off into the night like worked up kids at a Saturday night fish fry. The other significant events in this set saw Hargrove finally dispensing with the now 'famous jeweled glove,' and settling the audience into a new zone of wonderment and comfort by changing to his flugelhorn, on which he is nakedly stellar. The quintet hit its stride, shifted its focus, and fired up James Williams' (Alter Ego), with Hargrove becoming more daring in his approach, creating more space for Robinson's alto, letting him go as far out as he wanted, but not hesitating to ease him back from the ledge with cool, coherent lyrical oversight. Bassist Ameen Saleem, reacting with a deep understanding of the conversations taking place within the group, became a dominant force during this segment reaching down deep, for a well-rounded, melodic beat that accommodated a particularly energized polyrhythmic exchange between drummer Quincy Phillips and pianist Sullivan Fortner, punctuated and accented by Fortner's marvelously understated, harmonic vignettes that stilled the capacity crowd and resulted in one of the most sustained applause moments of the evening.

Pivoting perfectly from hard-bop to Jimmy Dorsey's lush standard (I'm So Glad There Is You, (In This World of Ordinary People)) showing the quintet's collective mastery at changing moods, or tempos, without anxiety or sacrificing form, and simultaneously providing a window for an intimate look into the artistic and professional relationship between Hargrove and his exceptional pianist Sullivan Fortner : two consummate performers joined at the heart, relating through a magical ether; communicating by subtle nuance with clarity and unambiguous dedication; and harvesting a vast crop of musical ideas planted during their youth.

Bassist Ameen Saleem
Turning back to the awesome alto 'chops' of Justin Robinson for his take on an uptempo version of Bronislau Kaper's (Invitation), developed into a serious rhythmic chase between him and drummer Quincy Phillips. Phillips is best appreciated as a very efficient, supporting element within the context of the rhythm section as a unit. Though not as rhythmically complex or sonically overpowering in his playing, as say, Blakey, or Elvin Jones, he does have blurring hand speed and a propulsive drive that was licking hungrily at the flames from Robinson's alto saxophone, until Hargrove, displaying an uncanny sense of timing and cool, took control, and saw everyone home safely and soundly. (Invitation) turned in to the most sizzling tune of the show, and everyone felt its heat.

Drummer Quincy Phillips

To end the evening, Hargrove and the group treated the audience to an extended groove of blues, funk and gospel, laced with subtle humor and a dizzying array of quotes with an agility that made them difficult to categorize or identify. Hargrove is without doubt one of the most important, young jazz trumpeters on the contemporary jazz scene. He shares some common traits with Miles Davis, not Davis' 'Harmon mute, Heim mouthpiece, close to the microphone voice,' but some of his style. He is electrifying, exciting, well trained, traveled, and super accomplished on both trumpet and flugelhorn, his repertoire is vast, he respects his musicians, gives them all the space they need (Like Miles gave Coltrane) and knows a thing or two about dressing.

There is a certain urbane cachet that informs Hargrove's performances, and the choices he makes of music, musicians, and composers. Simply put, he has a knack for selecting winners and gems. The guy has class, no doubt: he closed out the evening by descending from the stage, and strolling among the audience as he and Justin Robinson blew their horns until they reached the exit; the rhythm section remained on the stage playing; after a few moments, the drummer put away his sticks and quietly departed; seconds later, the bassist carefully laid his instrument down, leaving the pianist with the honor of playing the definitive note of the evening that cleared the deck, and the room. This was the cleanest, most orderly exit of a group of musicians from a bandstand I have witnessed.

No one asked for an encore! It was that cool! 

Watch Roy Hargrove play "Invitation"

Sunday, September 29, 2013


Year: 2013

Style: Jazz

Label: Cobra Basement

Musicians: Billie Davies - drums; Daniel Coffeng - guitar; Adam Levy - bass

CD Review: On the first anniversary of her last CD release: The Billie Davies Trio - All About Love (Cobra Basement: 2012), 'lifelong natural musician' drummer Billie Davies has released another unimpeachable work: BILLIE DAVIES - 12 VOLT. Whereas, All About Love featured some of the music of venerated composers, including Victor Young, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Mongo Santamaria, 12 VOLT features exclusively original compositions of Billie Davies, revealing yet another formidable creative talent in Davies' impressive artistic arsenal; making this an important CD for Davies, since it adds the crucial tyne of 'composer/arranger' to her sterling artistic fork, augmenting fearless innovation, and superlative drumming technique.

For 12 VOLT, Davies employs again the trio setting, but with a significant change in players. On All About Love, Tom Bone Ralls appeared on trombone, and Oliver Steinberg played bass. Now guitarist Daniel Coffeng supplants Bone Ralls, and bassist Adam Levy takes the place of Steinberg. Davies describes 12 VOLT as an ode to Manitas De Plata, the renowned French-born gypsy guitar master, Django Reinhardt, considered the king of gypsy guitarists., and "all Gypsies, Tsiganes, Manouche and Bohemians all over the world," sure to stir wide appeal, and escalating excitement among her expanding music public.

In 12 VOLT, Davies' trio presents a collection of musical images of the world of  the Gypsy in portraits of untouched natural beauty, as well as its untouchable rugged other side, seen in the fierce pride and passion of a  forgotten, invisible people, and their way of living; heard in the inspiring Gypsy Flamenco music; felt in the fiery guitar, the dancers' movements and expressions; a mountain of vital culture that demands an odyssey to experience; and Davies went, with her 12-VOLT 'Band on the Run"; no APBs, like the McCartney & Wings 1973 model, but free-spirited bohemians that "... went everywhere the wind was blowing..." (Davies), like (Collioure) with its bewitching European artists' light captured in uncomplicated droplets of color from Daniel Coppeng's guitar, and the easy-listening resonance of Davies' polyrhythmic exchanges.

Davies' other signature contribution to the date, beyond drumming ability, and creative energy, is a remarkable facility to remain unhurried, not irrationally exuberant, but attentive to pristine artistic environments, so as not to provoke uneven corruption or distracting, grainy, biases in the fine textures, natural colors, and flowing sequences of sights and sounds she sees, hears and plays back with impeccable sonic balance, and an almost reverential cadence (Meeting Manitas).

Davies' selection of guitarist Daniel Coffeng, and bassist Adam Levy for this project is noteworthy in its astuteness. Coffeng brings extraordinary facility for transition and energetic flow to avant jazz improvisation (12 VOLT) with an extended, progressive, detailed solo, alternating between jazz and rock, but always clear and precise, like the sounds of crickets at night time. Coffeng's musical experience is deeply rooted in music cultures which reach into jazz, blues, soul, reggae, through to classical, rock, Eastern music, Latin American and West African music.

L - R: bassist Adam Levy; drummer Billie Davies; guitarist Daniel Coffeng

Adam Levy is a well prepared and  accomplished upright bass player. His mom was "feeding him boogie woogie piano in their home at a very early age." He gets tons of experience from his brother, Mike, who Levy says is a prodigy on bass. Levy pursued a Jazz degree at the University of South Florida where he studied upright bass. He puts his bona fides in play with a superbly conversant passage depicting peacefulness and harmony, never bitter, (Grapes, Plums and Tomatoes) during exchanges with Davies' expressive drums, and Coffeng's descriptive guitarreviving the intimate stories of Gypsies toiling in the fields; their loves, lives, prides and passions, against the unending rhythmic drumbeat of moving hands and feet. These two talented players bring to the date, a collective of experience that compliments, and fuels Davies' dauntless search for fertile creative ground to express the varied, but complex experiences unique to her posit as the cutting-edge artist in Neo-Humanistic Expressionist Jazz (Les Landes; Tango for Patti).

But Gypsies can swing too (Gypsy), because Django, "The King" taught them how. They listened, and never forgot. Now sadness, anger, and disappointment are anathema to them: Davies' vivid drumming, Coffeng's uplifting guitar, and Levy's unassailable bass notes, all say so in the precise rhythmic footprints that revisit musical paths Davies traveled while living, and loving the gypsy life all over the South of Europe; footprints now leading toward exciting, unexplored, far-reaching musical frontier space for her muse to continue that restless, relentless quest to create and give musical ears and voice to what is not there...yet! 

Track Listing: Collioure; Meeting Manitas; 12 Volt; Les Landes; Tango for Patti; Grapes, Plums and Tomatoes; Gypsy; La Sieste.

Recorded at The Bedrock Room at Bedrock L. A. in Echo Park
Recording Engineer: Eric Rennaker
Recording & Sound Technology/Engineering Management: Mike Davies
Mixing: Mike Davies, Billie Davies, Daniel Coffeng
Mastering: John Vestman at Vestman Mastering in HD format
All Photos by Inez Lewis



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fred Hersch and Julian Lage - Free Flying

Year: 2013

Style: Jazz

Label: Palmetto Records

Musicians: Fred Hersch - piano; Julian Lage - guitar

CD Review: Fred Hersch and Julian Lage (Large) CD: "Free Flying" is intriguing, and arresting, as much for what they play, as not. Much of it centered in approach and influence. Hersch, a very brave musician, is on record, as going to great lengths to distance himself from his main jazz piano influence, Bill Evans, who is widely regarded as one of the most authoritative and influential performers in jazz piano. Nevertheless, Hersch managed still to be a shining star early in his career, playing with jazz luminaries, tenor saxophonists Stan Getz, and Joe Henderson; and during the 80s holding his own at Bradley's (closed in 1996) on University Place, Greenwich Village, NYC, where esteemed pianists like Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, and Jimmy Rowles 'hung out' and held court.

Lage's case is also interesting, and spans provocative, eclectic jazz hyperlinks. He cites as early influences, blues guitarist  T-bone Walker, the pioneer/ innovator of the 'jump blues,' and blues rock musician Stevie Ray Vaughn, and that's as far as any influence from these two greats goes, unless you count that both Vaughn and Lage are adherents of reliance on the pentatonic scale for composing. Lage learned the scale before he could tie his shoes. It gets more complex. In a 2009 interview in Jazz Journal with Mark Gilbert, Lage disclosed that his interest in jazz "was a consequence of my developing guitar technique. You learn the blues stuff and then you want to develop and it's natural to learn to improvise in a more multi-dimensional way...Now I listen to very little jazz."

So, is "Free Flying" a jazz record? Not in a pure sense, even though it certainly includes parts that is jazz. Overall, it does have a distinct classical orientation; is composed for a small group (a duet); and is "the music of friends." This describes it as a form of chamber music. But it is not 'conventional' moldy fig chamber music, this is the high-altitude, free flying kind. On Lage's guitar it is a brand with a sense of Jim Hall; of not being boxed in, or labeled as a promoter of any particular period of jazz music in general; wedded to innovative emotional honesty from influential bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice, along with the blending of bluegrass and jazz achieved by guitarists Pat Metheny, John Carlini, Doc Watson, mandolinist David Grisman; and complimented with the technical proficiency of banjo impresario, Bela Fleck"Free Flying" is boundary-pushing music, concocted to turn heads, and intoxicate more than a few music lovers.

L - R: Pianist Fred Hersch & Guitarist Julian Lage

Lage reveals a telling, subconscious recurrent trademark to his music as the CD opens (Song Without Words #4 Duet). He plays his warm-toned, Linda Manzer Blue Note Archtop guitar noticeably 'softly', with an intimacy begun at age 11; a technique ascribed to the influence of motion picture music composer Bernard Hermann that effects sonic penetration from a distance with clarity in the context of unrelated activity (noise). The piece has a classical feel which Hersch's piano exploits fully; Lage's guitar introduction is not ostentatious, but with a lucidity and nearness that compliments Hersch's approach with block chord appeal. Lage's own approach is graceful, mature, and promise-filled; there is not the slightest suggestion that he might be in over his head, instead his music remains compatible with any sound or color, inviting the sense that Lage 'feels' the guitar, more than 'plays' it, and is convinced that the guitar "shouldn't be louder than I can talk" (Lage) (Beatrice; Song Without Words #3; Stealthiness).

Hersch is considered to be one of the most fecund and acclaimed solo jazz pianists of his generation, whose compositions remain an integral part of his live concerts. He includes seven of his original compositions in Free Flying, recorded live at Jazz At Kitano, NY, where audience presence and reaction add a feeling of unforced intimacy, in-the-moment authenticity, and accessibility. His changes in approach attract through freshness, modernity, and boundless verve; bluesy, lyrical and melodic (Down Home); solemnly contemplative and moving (Heartland). But his quest to 'distance himself' from the influence of pianist Bill Evans is successful to a point, specifically his lines are not as long, melodic, or unhurried as Evans', his left hand voicings are less sparse, and his creative ideas for touch and accent are not as subtle. But the almost telepathic sense of reciprocity and communal musical independence which he shares with Lage, along with an exquisite economy of expression are vintage Bill Evans ( Free Flying; Gravity's Pull). 
The date closes with Thelonious Monk's classic 1963 composition (Monk's Dream), undoubtedly the most familiar tune, in jazz terms, performed in duet. It is the selection that expresses the joie de vivre inherent in the jazz repertoire of the two players, and is dressed up for this occasion with Monk's classic dissonance in sparkling, dancing, colors that show a deep respect for Monk's memory, and his legacy. Lage demonstrates his absorption of the jazz language with an astute, yet humorous reading of  the classic, and the inclusion, though brief, of a quote from Monk's "Little Rootie Tootie," near the end of the tune, proving again, that free flying genius, rooted in rigor, discipline, and driven interest, can't help but produce its best.

Track Listing: Song Without Words #4: Duet; Down Home; Heartland; Free Flying; Beatrice; Song Without Words #3: Tango; Stealthiness; Gravity's Pull; Monk's Dream.

Recorded by Tyler McDairmid & Geoffrey Countryman
Mixed and Mastered by A.T. Michael McDonald at ALGORHYTHMS, Brooklyn, NY

Produced by Fred Hersch & Julian Lage
Executive Producers Missi Callazo & Robert John

Fred Hersch plays the STEINWAY PIANO

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ken Peplowski - Maybe September

Year: 2013

Style: Jazz

Label: Capri Records

Musicians: Ken Peplowski - clarinet, tenor saxphone; Ted Rosenthal - piano; Martin Wind - bass; Matt Wilson - drums

CD Review: Apart from containing an impressive, entertaining assortment of  jazz music of venerated composers such as Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Harry Warren, Percy Faith and others played in the traditions of Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, clarinetists Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and pianists, Teddy Wilson, and Billy Taylor, Ken Peplowski's latest musical offering: "Maybe September." also engages the senses for what might double as an exciting, nocturnal, musical stroll along New York City's 52nd Street, circa 1940s, when acknowledged jazz giants held court there. A time, and place, where melody, harmony, dense rhythm, and exciting swing, hung thick in the sweet night air like fruit.

Peplowski has his own stories to tell, and a particular narrative to communicate, but his work is endowed with enough gorgeous space suitable for accommodating curious, healthy, nostalgia. Nostalgia, like a stroll, is a personal thing, it seems to just happen, as one is drawn into its encircling orbit of energy. It commences from no particular starting point. But once it starts, it's magic. Peplowski's draws us in with a warm melodic sound that could be heard across a room (Always a Bridesmaid), much like a young tenor sensation named Stan Getz, who was influenced by Lester Young, and played in the mid forties at The Spotlite Club, 56 W 52nd Street. Percussive rhythmic patterns, and dynamic accents are supplied by drummer Matt Wilson; trademarks of a burgeoning star named Max Roach; and completing the section is a Ted Rosenthal piano that deeply reflects the compelling swing taction of the great Teddy Wilson.
Ken Peplowske

From here Peplowski takes us inside the small clubs, and dives dotting the strip, their names in flashing multi-color neon reflecting off the clean 'rides' parked in long, easy lines on each side of the street. Peplowski, clarinet in hand, escorts us into The Famous Door at 66 West 52nd Street to take in the wondrous improvisations of the great swing clarinetist, Pee Wee Russell; logical, graceful, elegant (Now and Then There's) A Fool Such As I. We step briskly out into the night, and enter the Half Note Club at 52 W 52nd Street, Peplowski in the lead, with bassist Martin Wind, to hear the beautifully open, clean sound of Ben Webster, and also Oscar Pettiford, one of the initial bass players to undertake the bebop medium (Caroline, No).

Pianist Ken Rosenthal
And then, with a twinkle in his eyes, and a quickened gait, Peplowski seeks out the prominent, flourishing, Onyx Club at 57 W 52nd Street, to bring us into the domain of "Prez," the quintessential tenor player, Lester Young, whose vibrato-free, melodic approach, emphasized non-chord tones that added lustrous color to his lines (Main Stem), and as I listened to Ted Rosenthal's keyboard attack, I heard the distinctively incisive, escalating, bluesy approach of Wynton Kelly, but Kelly had not reached 'the street' yet. He was just starting out.

Bassist Martin Wind
Our nocturnal stroll ends at the 3 Deuces, 72 W 52nd Street, with Peplowski's dark tone, and breathy harmonic improvisations, shaping the contours of ''The Hawk," Coleman Hawkins, on the title track (Maybe September). A quick hop onto the "A" train with Peplowski, puts us in Harlem at the famous Savoy Ballroom on Lenox Avenue, between 140th and 141st Streets, to gawk at Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson and Krupa. Lionel Hampton had not joined the band yet. The group reprised two numbers reminiscent of the 'King of Swing,' the easy swinging (Moon Ray), and the warmly nostalgic (I'll String Along With You).

Drummer Matt Wilson
Tony Bennett is alleged to have told Peplowski once, "you're a helluva singer." Coming from Bennett, this is a helluva compliment, since Peplowski is primarily an instrumentalist. Luckily, Peplowski has included in "Maybe September" a triptych of selections to prove this very point (All Alone by the Telephone; Romanza; Without Her).

As much as it seems these days, that it 'maybe September' for the kind of jazz that once was heard, and played, on 52nd Street during the great 40s, Ken Peplowski proves unequivocally, with this date, that there is no time like now, to revisit those golden moments in jazz history, and enthusiastically immerse ourselves in their deep, indestructible traditions.

Track Listing: All Alone by the Telephone; Moon Ray; Always a Bridesmaid; (Now and Then There's) A Fool Such As I; Romanza; Caroline, No; For No One; I'll String Along With You; Main Stem; Maybe September; Without Her.

Produced by Thomas Burns and Ken Peplowski
Recorded and Mastered by Malcom Addley
Recorded at Avatar Studios, New York, NY

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Griffith Hiltz Trio - This Is What You Get...

Year: 2013

Style: Jazz

Label: G H T

Musicians: Johnny Griffith - alto/tenor saxophones & bass clarinet; Nathan Hiltz - electrical guitar & bass pedals; Sly Juhas - drums.

CD Review: A jazz group flaunting a CD, that iterates from 'jump'; "this is what you get," is either trafficking in unshakable moxie, or else considers the concept of 'Saint Nick and Rudolph,' trite, and have decided to take matters into their own hands. Happily, the former fairly describes a sustaining ingredient in the gritty jazz music played by the Griffith Hiltz Trio. Furthermore, GHT shrewdly subscribes to the popular notion that big things usually arrive in small packages, in this case, a vibrant, raunchy package of original music called: "This Is What You Get." Forward-leaning, nail-biting jazz, addressed with bold innovation, excitement and originality; delivered by a trio of brazen musicians with boundless talent, and genre-spiraling ideas. Hardly the types of cats you'd observe in the 'musical gym' ambling around, sneaking peeks at themselves in the mirrors lining the walls.

Putting honest spit and shine to the awareness that good jazz always will be appealing, the Griffith Hiltz Trio find a dynamic 'collective voice' that departs from the mainstream to establish a sonic footprint of melody, harmony, and form, more redolent of a well-honed sextet; a more accurate descriptor, in light of Johnny Griffith's fearsome multi-instrumental dexterity, plus Nathan Hiltz's electric guitar wizardry, and simultaneous 'sleight of foot' bass pedals; and the indispensable purveyor of precise timing, drummer Sly Juhas. A group of seekers unified by a cooperative of extraordinary composing skills, forged into a solid brand intent on establishing singular cutting edge status.

Saxophonist Johnny Griffith displays 'chops' that drive the trio with animated vivacity, and an 'on the move' agility that does not see him cinched in cramped tonal corners. His sound is free, limpid; not disheveled in an 'overhead bin of sound and technique' under construction. Griffith, like another restless, master painter called "Miles," 'does not buy polish' either, he understands, and relishes the indispensable, dirty edges/parts music must have, that over time, indelibly outline 'the classic.' Griffith uncorks this musical aqua vitae from his tenor and splashes it all over the date's opening track (Strawman). Nathan Hiltz reacts with 'fleet of foot' bass pedals to undergird Griffith's improvising avalanche, at the same working up a potent brew of versatility, flexibility, and technical proficiency on electric guitar, seasoning his solo with a Bela Fleck-sounding banjitar (cross between banjo/guitar) run, that makes the tune more memorable, and listenable, each time you hear it.

L - R: Johnny Griffith - tenor/alto saxes & bass clarinet
Nathan Hiltz - electrical guitar & bass pedals
Sly Juhas - drums
The intense fire and excitement normally ignited by the group, make it easy to overlook the architecture of dynamism and skill built into their compositions. On (The Kuleshascope), a tune honoring Canadian composer/pianist/conductor/educator Gary Kulesha, Griffith's fertile imagination feeds his imposing technical proficiency on tenor, nourishing a portentous, noir opening and ending, that fit snugly around a virile, stinging, off-the-top, Joe Henderson-esque solo. Griffith is at his brawny best on tenor, or alto, when he stretches out just ahead of the rhythm section and builds sonic intensity with jackhammer-like rapidity, and bionic accuracy (This Is What You Get).

Nathan Hiltz is an astonishing musician with a freakish ability to play complex electrical rhythm guitar, solo without strain or hesitancy, and simultaneously inculcate infectious bass pedals swing into his performing repertoire. He paints with startling, emotive colors, which range far and wide across genres. Versatile and multi-talented fall short as descriptions of the talents he brings to the date. Starting with his reprise of the 'Stax Sound' (For Otis), painted in soulful Memphis rhythm and blues; his brisk bright moments of modernity on the jazzy (MGM); the intense post-bop rap session with Griffith's alto saxophone on the Ornette Coleman-inspired (Steppin' Out); and the use of a simple guitar strum to put a busy 'edge' around the title track (This Is What You Get), making another tune memorable; listenable; danceable.

Then, like a magnet dropped in a tub of thumb tacks, energy and drive coalesce with uptempo excitement (Bone Arm). The rhythm section falls into a fat, deep, languid, groove etched out by Hiltz's hip-swaying, James Oscar Smith-like undulating bass pedal figures, Juhas' impeccable time signatures, and Griffith's smokin', ballsy tenor; finding space, catching the corners, and playing dirty; the funk was up to his neck.

When class is not contrived, but shows itself naturally, simply because it was there in the first place, the realm of the consummate professional is realized. This is how the Griffith Hilts Trio takes its final bow; with a breathtaking, poignant exploration of (The Rainbow Connection) seen through Griffith's virtuosic bass clarinet, and Hiltz's patient, sensitive guitar accompaniment. A delectable musical dessert, capping a meal prepared by gourmet chefs.

The Griffith Hiltz Trio, is a band, first and foremost, of first rate musicians/composers. Their approach to jazz music is daring, innovative, modern. They respectfully eschew the mainstream, in favor of bending the genre almost to breaking point, and letting their inner selves come through. Their music possesses a subtle power, and true grit that emerge with the inspiration gained from the influences of Ellington, through Ornette Coleman, and Otis Redding to Black Sabbath. So, this is what you get. Hold on. Now is the time. It may be a long wonderful ride.

Track Listing: Strawman; The Kuleshascope; For Otis; MGM; Steppin' Out; Bone Arm; Port Hillford Railway; This Is What You Get; The Rainbow Connection; Movie Theme II - Condor and Squid.

Produced by; Hawksley Workman

Engineered by: Stew Crookes       

ESPN Scores & Stats.