Wednesday, July 30, 2014

FEEL LIKE DANCING - The Jefferson Rose Band

Year: 2014

Style: Jazz (World)

Label: Self Produced

Musicians: Jefferson Rose - bass & musical director; Alex Kitchen - vocals; Naomi Siegel - trombone; Tobi Stone - Saxophone & flute; Aaron Walker-Loud - drums; Ahkeenu Musa - percussion; Cameron Brownfield - guitar.

Special Guests: Samantha Boshnack - trumpet (Tracks 2, 3, 6, 10); Leslie Kitchen - vocal harmonies (Tracks 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10); Mahamadou Koné - percussion (Tracks 1, 10) 

CD Review: If you should do an online search for the Jefferson Rose Band, you would be advised as follows: The,"Jefferson Rose Band is a tightly honed ensemble of world music players, bred in Seattle, Chicago and California, by way of Ghana, Spain, Louisiana and the Caribbean." 

World music surely, but more accurately, a 'music planet with several orbiting moons'; if you "Feel Like Dancing," this is what you want. 

The Jefferson Rose Band is a fantastic dance band in any world, or on any planet! 

Leader and bassist Jefferson Rose knows that an art form is always strongest at it roots, and one of the enduring and sustaining roots nourishing the ensemble's creative imagination is its Caribbean root: full-bodied percussion with granite-like rhythmic structural unity: its 'engine room.' It does not hurt to have a 'kick-ass' brass and wind section; and Jefferson Rose Band is "put away well" up front: trombonist Naomi Siegel, Tobi Stone, saxophone and flute, and trumpeter Samantha Boshnack. A group not randomly cobbled together, when judged by their 'tightly-honed' sound. 
Dance bands are important to growth in the universe of music. It is their business to know what people want and to satisfy them - on the spot. They are on a cutting edge that is not meant for the artistic faint of heart; where constant excitement reigns; dance and dancer are unified, and there is no time for second looks, or rehearsal: you either find the groove and mine it, or get weird looks, and bad vibes.

Every decade seems to have it's killer dance bands. During the 50s New York held sway at the Palladium on Broadway with the legendary mambo dance bands of Machito, Tito Rodriguez, and Tito Puente. The main influences on the music then were Afro-Cuban, and Caribbean, the foundation for what now is Latin Jazz. The heavy influence of  the 'blues' and African rhythms in Jazz and swing bands were next to turn dancers around, over, and upside down, on dance floors all over America, and there was no band that did it better than the Count Basie Band.

But while all this was happening, there was an island in the Caribbean, that serious practitioners of 'uninhibited dance,' and exotic adventure, who were worth their salt, flocked to: Trinidad; or to be more precise, Wrightson Road, the "52nd Street" for wicked dance bands in the Capitol, Port-of-Spain. "The Street" also was imaginatively named, "The Gaza Strip." The dance bands in the clubs on the Gaza Strip sizzled every night of the week; anyone who made this music scene, and discovered how swell the local rum went with coca cola, never forgot the experience, and was never the same again.

The Jefferson Rose Band
But this was the water's edge. In fact, the city and its environs were throbbing with explosive energy from hard-hitting, Latin American-influenced dance bands like: the John "Buddy" Williams Band, The Dutchy Brothers Band, Fitz Vaughn Bryan Band, Clarence Curvan Band, Cyril Diaz Band, Ron Berridge Band, Joey Lewis Band, Byron Lee & The Dragonaires, and others: creating a golden age of dance bands in Trinidad...and now it seems as though, the more time passes, and things change; the more they remain the same. Now is the time of the Jefferson Rose dance band, as that organic Caribbean root resurfaces, modern and concentrated with similarities in harmonic architecture, rhythm-specific structural integrity, and poetry. The Trinidad dance bands utilized changes in tempo, melody-rich arrangements, intricate changes of color, outstanding, attention-getting soloists, tight rhythm sections, with an intrepid guitarist to keep the band 'swayin' and rockin';  as does the JRB (Esperanza); benefiting from well executed melodic trombone and saxophone solos (there are others throughout the date) from Naomi Siegel, and Tobi Stone after Cameron Brownfield's blistering guitar opening dance salvo. Brownfield emerges as a guitarist possessing phenomenal 'chops'; his role in the JRB cannot be overstated. He ignites the band's rhythmic flame, and is unapologetically free in extending the harmonic reach of the percussion/rhythm section. Moreover, his fret command and versatility are crucial in making the intricate chromatic variations in Rose's writing appear seamless.

The transformative personality in the Trinidad dance bands was the 'poet,' much like Jefferson Rose, who is the resident poet in the Jefferson Rose band. The poet's motifs depicting social/political commentary and current events offered hope and inspiration and were usually interpreted by a 'calypsonian' utilizing a street-wise, accessible vernacular. Vocalist Alex Kitchen, who is equally in her element, beautifully in the moment, and provocative, interprets the lyric and handles all the changes, like a pro, in Spanish and English (El Juego; Tropical Winters) adding indispensable idiomatic accessibility to Rose's social commentary, hope and inspiration in (True), "You got to rise and shine/'s brutal out there, prices up, wages down/...we can make it if we, we can make it if we, get together by and by/ it don't go away if you're runnin' away from yourself/ got to take in what's around you/... you got to be always true to yourself."

Modernity comes naturally to JRB. The ensemble puts together exciting vocals, and tight harmonies with Mahamadou Koné's scorching percussion on the title track (Feel Like Dancing), and they effortlessly get all the way down into some torrid Jamaican reggae rhythms (Contribution) written by trombonist Naomi Siegel. She and the rest of the front line then conspire to dig a deep groove for serious body rockin' and jump dancin'

"Feel Like Dancing" is a bustling marketplace of diverse ethnic musicality; a kaleidoscope of color-filled imagery seen through the collective creative imagination of the Jefferson Rose Band. It is exciting music from a group this not hesitant about delving into rhythm-rich, color-fast African/European/American/Caribbean music genres at their deepest roots. These musicians are exceptionally talented: they keep the music fresh, and breathing, and the CD lives up to its title from start to finish.

The Jefferson Rose Band is a dance machine!

Track Listing: Esperanza; Feel Like Dancing; El Juego; Primavera en Barcelona; Tropical Winters; True; Anacortes; Set Me Free; Contribution; Palmera; Playa Cocles. 

Produced by: Jefferson Rose
Recorded and Mastered at: Studio Soli with Mell Dettmer
Mastered at: Nix Mastering

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Pianist/Composer/Bandleader, Horace Silver
Horace Silver saw, and heard the exciting, colorful Jimmy Lunceford Band play, one Sunday in Rowton Park, an amusement park in his hometown, Norwalk, Connecticut, and decided there and then: "That's for me. I want to be a musician." (Silver). He was eleven years old.

The great Horace Silver, born (Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silva) September 2, 1928. His father John Tavares Silva (later changed to 'Silver') was born in the Cape Verde Islands (off the coast of West Africa). He worked at the Norwalk Tire Company, in Norwalk, Connecticut. Silver's mother, Gertrude Silver, was born in New Canaan, Connecticut, and did domestic work for film and television actress Patsy Kelly, Hollywood stars Boris Karloff and Betty Davis, and author Ellery Queen. Horace Silver died on June 18, 2014 at age 85. He rose to become an authentic jazz giant.

If you did not know anything about jazz, had never heard it, or didn't like it, you could not stop yourself from loving Horace Silver's jazz music if you heard him play. That is how powerful his talent was. His music had the emotional character of a hypnotic encounter with a happy spirit.

Silver's story is compelling, inspiring, informative, and deserves to be told. He knows where many of the bodies in jazz are 'buried.' He enjoyed a long, successful career, and a great life; blessings that eluded many great jazz musicians. It seems they were here, and then they were gone. It is fair to say that Horace Silver was a quintessential survivor. A survivor that lived by a seminal piece of advice given to him by his mother when he was a young boy. She died when he was seven years old. Silver poured the love and dedication for the mother he lost as a child into his music, and engaged in a lifelong love affair with "Lady Music."

Horace Silver played piano and tenor saxophone throughout high school and continued into his twenties playing gigs around Connecticut: Norwalk, Newhaven, Hartford, Stamford, Greenwich; and in New York: West Chester County, Port Chester, White Plains, Tarrytown, and Mount Vernon. He stopped playing tenor saxophone after a jam session (1953) with tenor saxophonist Sonny Stitt at the Paradise Club in New York. Stitt "crucified" (Silver's quote) Silver. He put the tenor down for good, and concentrated solely on piano.

Silver's piano influence started with boogie-woogie, the blues, and included the styles of Art Tatum, from whom he also learned the art of quoting songs in his piano solos, Thelonious Monk, Teddy Wilson, Nat Cole, and Bud Powell. Silver also blended into his piano concepts the 'voicings' of Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. His piano style and composing are influenced by Latin music, Black Gospel music, symphonic music, Broadway show music and folk music. Silver's music always breathed easily, and smiled like he did; bright and arresting. Silver disclosed in his autobiography, "Let's Get To The Nitty Gritty," that he learned more about composing from Miles Davis than anyone else, and that the first two chords on "Nica's Dream" came from Miles.

Working with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz (circa 1947) got Horace Silver exposed to jazz clubs (gigs) in Philadelphia, and Chicago. He heard pianist/bandleader Sun Ra, violinist Stuff Smith, tenor saxophonists John Gilmore, Johnny Griffin, Clifford Jordan, Eddie Harris, and bassist Wilbur Ware. Silver would eventually meet his idol, tenor saxophonist Lester "Prez" Young, at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem in 1953. During these formative years, Silver endured many personal indignities from the police because he was a black jazz musician. It did not help that many of the jazz musicians he had to work with were known 'junkies' who brought pushers, hustlers, pimps and prostitutes to the jazz scene. All of this caused a brutal response from vice squads. Silver felt that the Philadelphia police were the toughest, most ruthless he encountered, and that the Philadelphia justice system was one of the most dishonest and corrupt. It was in Philadelphia that the police pulled over a car in which Silver was traveling with Art Blakey, his band boy Ahmed, who was a heroin 'mainliner,' and Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter's daughter, Janka, who was white. A search of the car turned up a loaded gun and shells that belonged to Blakey, and Benzedrine tablets belonging to Janka. Silver spent time in a city jail even though he was clean. His father bailed him out and got the charges dropped by paying off the judge. Through it all, Silver maintained a profound sense of dignity, integrity and maturity that underscored his determination and commitment to succeed as a jazz musician.

Silver saw first hand how heroin addiction methodical destroyed two towering jazz geniuses in their prime: alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, and bebop pianist Bud Powell. He recounted once seeing Parker so high on heroin that he (Parker) literally did not know where he was. Still Silver regarded Parker and pianist Art Tatum as super-geniuses. He thought also, that tenor saxophonist Lester Young and pianist/composer Thelonious Monk made the most selfless sacrifices for jazz music, that pianists Errol Garner, and Earl Hines had the strongest fingers on the keyboard, and that Art Blakey was one of jazz's greatest drummers. He credited Blakey with instilling in him that he should never bring his personal problems to the bandstand. Instead, to leave them at the door. Silver regarded Louis Armstrong as the best trumpet soloist, and Miles Davis as the most elegant, lyrical modernist and minimalist, for their time. He was convinced that Armstrong's significance could not be over stated because his influence extended beyond trumpet players, to all musicians in general, from pianist Earl Hines, to singer Billie Holiday, to composer/bandleader Duke Ellington. He concluded that no one could 'scat' like Ella Fitzgerald.
Horace Silver/Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers were formed in 1954, after Silver left Stan Getz, whom he regarded as "a hell of a musician," in spite of Getz's addiction to heroin. Silver joined Blue Note, and became an enduring Blue Note "Sun." He recorded for the label for almost three decades, was a witness to the laying of the foundations of bebop and hardbop, and toiled with Dizzy, Bird and Blakey to position cornerstones for both jazz genres. The story of Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers is an intriguing one: It starts with tenor saxophonist Lou Donaldson (who never became a Jazz Messenger).

Alfred Lion, a co-founder of Blue Note Records, heard Donaldson playing at a jam session at the Paradise Bar in New York, and engaged him to do a quartet session for Blue Note. Donaldson got Silver to play piano, and invited trumpeter Blue Mitchell to check out the group, and play on a few tracks (this is where Silver met Blue Mitchell). Silver completed two sessions with the quartet, and a third was planned, but Donaldson was unable to make the third session, so Silver proceeded to record three trio albums for Lion. Art Blakey played drums on all three trio sessions. Gene Ramey played bass on the first; Curly Russell played bass on the second, and Percy Heath played bass on the third. Lion then asked Silver for a fourth trio session. Silver decided to add horns for the fourth session, and brought in trumpeter Kenny Dorham, and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. Doug Watkins played bass, with Art Blakey on drums. The recording was released on 2 - 10 inch vinyl records under the name the Horace Silver Quintet. Later these recordings were compiled and released on a 12 inch vinyl as Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers. It contained such tunes as, "Doodlin'," "The Preacher," and "Room 608." It was out of these sessions in 1954-55 that the Jazz Messengers was born. The name "Jazz Messengers" probably originated with Art Blakey, since he had led a group called 'The Messengers' before he met Silver. Silver is emphatic that this was one of the 'greatest' groups he had the privilege of working with.

Unfortunately this particular Jazz Messengers band lasted only one and a half years. Silver left the band because every player in the band except bassist Doug Watkins, and himself, was addicted to drugs. Silver did not even smoke or drink. Everywhere they played, Silver said, they were checked for drugs by the vice squad. Players were chronically late to club dates. They often got sick on the bandstand. Some club owners refused to pay them. On many occasions, The Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, for whom Silver wrote, "Nica's Dream," would have to wire them money to pay out of town hotel bills so that they could get back to New York. When they were traveling she bought their uniforms and shoes.

Decidedly a tough beginning, but ultimately rewarding. By the time time Silver got done with his jazz career, he would have recorded with most of the giants, and more: Stan Getz, J. J.Johnson, Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson, Al Cohn, Lou Donaldson, Coleman Hawkins, Hank Mobley, Art Farmer, Terry Gibbs, Gigi Gryce, and Miles Davis. Also, Silver did work with a multitude of other jazz luminaries that was not recorded: John Coltrane was one of them.




Friday, July 18, 2014


"THE QUINTET" And beyond...

Horace Silver
Silver, always a seeker, put together "The Quintet" soon after he left the Jazz Messengers. He was twenty-seven years old. The first Horace Silver Quintet consisted of trumpeter Art Farmer, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, bassist Doug Watkins, drummer Arthur Taylor, and Silver. After one week, eighteen-year-old Louis Hayes, replaced Arthur Taylor on drums. Soon after, Art Farmer left the group because of a contractual obligation with Prestige Records, and Silver enlisted trumpeter Donald Byrd to replace Farmer. The quintet recorded "Six Pieces of Silver," and introduced "Señor Blues" which became a jazz Standard.

This quintet became something of a territory band; traveling to Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, and Washington. It also saw several interesting personnel changes. In 1958, it included Art Farmer on trumpet, Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone, Teddy Konick on bass, and Louis Hayes on drums. It recorded one album before breaking up: "Further Explorations." Eventually, trumpeter Blue Mitchell, and tenor saxophonist Junior Cook replaced Art Farmer and Hank Mobley. Drummer Louis Hayes left to join the Cannonball Adderley band, and was replaced by Roy Brooks. Finally, bassist Doug Watkins was replaced by Gene Taylor. "The Blue Mitchell, Junior Cook, Gene Taylor, Louis Hayes/Roy Brooks band was one of the best bands I ever had" (Horace Silver). They stayed together for six happy years, and were like family. The term 'funky' was used to describe their music. This is the 'cooking' band that recorded Horace Silver Quinter and Trio: "Finger Poppin'" and, Horace Silver Quintet and Trio: "Blowin' The Blues Away" in 1959. These two albums contained such potent Silver hardbop grooves as: "Finger Poppin'," "Juicy Lucy," "Come On Home," "Blowin' The Blues Away," "The St. Vitus Dance," "Peace," Sister Sadie," and "The Baghdad Blues." Silver was in his prime, and these two recordings top his 'best ever' list.

In the mid-sixties Silver broke up the Blue Mitchell-Junior Cook band and started working with several different musicians; tenor saxophonists Bennie Maupin & Joe Henderson, trumpeter Woody Shaw, and pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. In 1969 he assembled what he called his "kick ass" quintet with Randy Brecker on trumpet, tenor saxophonist Bennie Maupin, bassist John Williams, and Billy Cobham on drums. He also did something he had avoided all his life. He fell in love and got married to Barbara Jean Dove in New York. Silver continued to travel to play gigs. One gig in particular took him to Redondo Beach, California, he fell in love with the climate and decided to take his family there. By this time he and his wife had a son, Gregory Paul Silver.

After five years of marriage Silver and his wife divorced. He got interested in the study of metaphysics and spiritualism which he pursued to the end of his life. This led him to write and record: "The United States of Mind," a musical work in three parts featuring fine vocalist Andy Bey. It did not sell well, and went out of print quickly. However in 2004, Blue Note re-issued the complete work in a 2-CD set.

A series of recording projects kept Silver busy during the remainder of the 60s and 70s. A contract with Blue Note for 5 LPs, produced "Silver 'n Brass," "Silver 'n Wood," "Silver 'n Percussion," "Silver 'n Voices, and "Silver 'n  Strings." These are all out of print. But Silver pushed on. He formed his own production company: Silveto Productions Inc., of which Silveto Records and Emerald Records were part, and worked with Bill Cosby on an album: "Guides to Growing Up." After ten years, Silver was not able to get his production company off the ground, and threw in the towel, but did not dissolve Silveto Productions . He signed with Columbia Records for two albums: "It's Got to be Funky," and "Pencil Packin' Papa," and then with GRP/Impulse for two albums: "The Hardbop Grandpop," and, "A Prescription for the Blues." 

In the mid-eighties, important changes began to overtake Horace Silver. His father died (1986). The man for whom he had used a Brazilian rhythmic concept, and a Cape Verdean melodic concept to compose his best-selling song: "Song for My Father," which he introduced at the It Club in Los Angeles. Another noticeable change came in the dearth of talented young jazz musicians available for use in a Silver quintet. Silver's complaint was that most could read music well, but were lacking in harmonic competency. "They were lacking in improvisational skills. They couldn't get down with the chord changes. They played too many notes, and some of them were wrong. They played too long and didn't have much to say" (Horace Silver). Silver did not condemn music schools indiscriminately, he tempered his critique with an acknowledgement that the schools did provide excellent instruction with their emphasis on ensemble playing, and arranging. He argued though, that "jazz is basically improvisation" and schools did not seem to stress the need for good harmonic knowledge in order to improvise well. To this end, he has established the Horace Silver Foundation to give scholarships to deserving young pianists and composers.

As the nineties approached, Silver began to toy with the idea of taking a leave of absence from the music business. But he hung in and stuck it out. Instead, he decided to get off the road. He was tired of touring, but did not know how to stop. It was like a drug, and he had been doing it for a lifetime. Serendipitously, he found the doctrines and philosophies of mysticism and spiritualism appealing, and would embrace them with deep conviction to the end of his life. Suddenly, it seemed, he had time to 'hear' new music. It was coming from his dreams, and every aspect of day-to-day life. It was resurgent. His idea for a theatre work with choreographed dancers, singers, and a narrator, blossomed into "Rockin' With Rachmaninoff" which, with the assistance of then Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, and the L. A. Cultural Affairs Department, was staged on a Friday and Saturday night in June 1991. It received inspiring press reviews. Silver approached several large music companies to have "Rockin' With Rachmaninoff" recorded, including Columbia Records, Concord Records, Fantasy Records, and  GRP/Impulse Records. No one would talk to him, much less listen to his work. Eventually a small label: Bop City Records recorded the work, and it was released in 2001.

On the surface, the large record companies surely had collectively treated Horace Silver to a personal, and professional affront that was disrespectful. He had walked and played with jazz giants, enjoyed a stellar career; was a jazz master, an icon, minted in the truest traditions of the jazz idiom. An artist who gave his life to his art and had survived.  

He deserved to be heard. He had to be heard.

Instead they set him up to have his work bootlegged, pirated, and ripped-off. In reality, this was the ultimate insult to the memory of immortal jazz musicians with whose sagacious missive Silver was entrusted: Louis Armstrong, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Lady Day, Ella, Sarah, Carmen, and all the other jazz artists who, with indomitable spirit and genius, were instrumental in creating a music industry that still lives, and who collectively preserved and presented America with its 'only' original art form, on a silver platter, stained only with a noble patina of blood, sweat, and tears from their persecution over decades.

Horace Silver's final recording session "Jazz Has a Sense of Humor" (Verve), took place on December 17 and 18, 1998 at Avatar Studios, New York City, in a quintet setting. It featured Jimmy Greene, tenor, soprano saxophones; Ryan Kisor, trumpet; John Webber, bass; Willie Jones III, drums; and Horace Silver, piano. This was the only recording Silver did for the Verve label.

Silver's music life is the epitome of a hard fought, but successful jazz career. He became financially independent, was able to retire at will. His last days were spent in safety and security in his house in Malibu Beach, in sunny Southern California with its panoramic view of the Pacific. He had learned everything he could about the business of jazz from Alfred Lion at Blue Note Records. But where Silver really learned the jazz 'ropes' was during club dates and jam sessions at Minton's Playhouse, 206 W. 118th St. Harlem, New York; Birdland, 1678 Broadway, NYC; and the Paradise Club, in mid-town Manhattan, NYC. These venues is where some of the heaviest jazz artillery was forged for all time, and he used it all to his advantage. Horace Silver was always a 'clean,' scrupulous artist that never forgot his roots, and lived faithfully by the advice his mother passed down to him when he was a young boy: "Not to hang out with people of questionable character, but always to have a friendly hello and a handshake for them and then go on your way." (Gertrude Silver).

The End

Sources for this tribute to Horace Silver: Liner notes from several Horace Silver CDs and LPs.

"Let's Get To The Nitty Gritty" - The Autobiography Of Horace Silver.

Published by University of California Press.

Edited, with Afterword, by Phil Pastras.

Foreword by Joe Zawinul.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

FLOATING - Fred Hersch Trio

Year: 2014

Style: Jazz

Label: Palmetto Records

Musicians: Fred Hersch - piano; John Hébert - bass; Eric McPherson - drums/percussion

CD Review: The first appealing sensations rising from "FLOATING - Fred Hersch Trio" are the 'deep space' clarity, crispness and fathomless stillness of the recording quality. In addition, the Steinway's ( Fred Hersch's piano) Aliquot strings produce the tone and sonority whose importance pianist Jimmy Rowles impressed upon Hersch. Critical details that permit Hersch and the trio to luxuriate in an elastic recording vastness, and extract a work of uncommon exquisiteness, sustained through scintillating technique.

Hersch is a self-assured, thoughtful pianist able to communicate the language of 'musical styles' with poetic sophistication, and exactness of  harmonic syntax. It is tempting to describe Hersch as a modernist, and minimalist; undoubtedly though, he is a consequential force of pianistic clarity, coherence and imposing technique. He is always 'in the moment,' and incredibly honest.

Hersch's catalog on Palmetto is very diverse; Leaves of Grass, 2005; Fred Hersch Trio, Trio +2, 2003; In Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis, 2006. This latest offering from Fred Hersch Trio, is tribute-specific, and allows Hersch to focus as a leader/composer, it touches down on some of Hersch's more purposeful relationships with people and places, near and far. In the recent past, Hersch has done tributes to Jazz icons, Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk, and Duke Ellington: "FLOATING" is a touching retrospective detailed with acts of feeling reserved for celebration.

"FLOATING" is more than a random 'set' of tunes, it is specifically 'programmed' with a live concert, or club appearance in mind, a skill Hersch acquired from trumpet-flugelhorn player Art Farmer. The standard (You & The Night & The Music) written by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz which opens the date, and the Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Loewe ballad (If Ever I Should Leave You) which comes near the end of the date, demonstrate contrasting approaches which Hersch uses to 'get into' each piece. On the standard, his way in is rhythmic, and with the ballad his approach is lyrical and patient, preferring to let the lyric decide tempo, touch and force in a way that seems to echo Robert Goulet's definitive interpretation.

One of the important people in Fred Hersch's life is his mother, whom he celebrates in (West Virginia Rose). It is his shortest composition, but regal in simplicity; arresting not so much for what it says, as for what it does not. It guides the imagination to a profoundly spiritual realm to contemplate its own maternal image.

L-R McPherson, (d); Hébert, (b); Hersch, (p)
Hersch makes his playing rhythmically and harmonically engaging. He fills in a lot of details on the pace-changing (Home Fries) written in tribute to his long-standing, Louisiana-born, dulcet-toned bassist John Hébert, he makes a Bourbon Street, left hand Dr. John rhythmic connection, and ties it to spontaneous angularity for Eric McPherson's drums, and Hebert's bass to flirt with a subtle Louisiana zydeco beat.

Hersch is a staunch conceptualist and deft improviser to whom touch and tone are sacred. His chord selection on the title track (Floating) seems to reflect contentment stored in his concept of the emotional and logical strength of trust, whereas his conceptualization of the site-specific art installation on the Sea of Japan by Finnish artist Maaria Wirkkala (A Speech To The Sea) is treble-weighted, assertive and sparkles. Sensitivity of touch and unbroken solemnity in tone crown Hersch's elegy (Far Away) for talented Israeli jazz pianist, Shimrit Shoshan, who passed away at 29. The piece's tension is never released, it fades away like hope that has lost its urgency.

"FLOATING" ends with Thelonious Monk's 1952 composition (Let's Cool One). Melodically, by Monk's standards, it is one of his 'simpler' compositions. Hersch plays it from inside out, improvising with typical Monkish dissonance. Eric McPherson proves to be a quick and responsive drummer, anticipating the assortment of edges and speed in Hersch's thought-composing ideas.

Fred Hersch is a rare, exceptional pianist/composer/educator. In recognition of his musicianship, philanthropy, and indomitable intestinal fortitude, he has accumulated a wealth of awards and accolades. Hersch's voice is singular in that he plays like no one else. However, he is an artist molded from many influences, mentors, connections, and the passionate curiosity that some refer to as genius. When you listen to Fred Hersch, you are also listening to the entire village of pianists that 'raised' him: Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Earl Hines, Bill Evans, Errol Garner, Wynton Kelly, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Bud Powell, Teddy Wilson. As far as Hersch's 'touch' goes, Ahmad Jamal is a seminal influence. But he also listened to Joni Mitchell, James Taylor (60s & 70s), Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and the Motown Sound. Fred Hersch knows tons of tunes, and brings a lot to the table.

Track Listing: You & The Night & The Music; Floating; West Virginia Rose; Home Fries; Far Away; Arcata; A Speech To The Sea; Autumn Haze; If Ever I Would Leave You; Let's Cool One.

Produced by Fred Hersch
Executive Producers: Missi Callazzo & Robert John

Recorded and Mixed by James Farber at Oktaven Audio Yonkers, NY

Assistant Engineer and Editor Ryan Streber

Mastered by Mark Wilder at Battery Studios, NYC

Fred Hersch plays the Steinway Piano


Friday, June 27, 2014

HOLLY HOFMANN: LOW LIFE - The Alto Flute Project

Year: 2014

Style: Jazz

Label: CAPRI Records

Musicians: Holly Hofmann - alto flute; Mike Wofford - piano; John Clayton - bass; Jeff Hamilton - drums; Anthony Wilson - guitar

CD Review: You can count on Holly Hofmann to do the quality 'thing,' especially where music is concerned. "Along with Hubert Laws, Holly Hofmann is frankly the best jazz flute player today." - Phil Woods.

Hofmann is rigorously prepared, committed, honest, and has mastered her 'voices'; C flute, and the "finesse instrument" (Hofmann), alto flute, on which she delights in her newest CD release: Low Life. "Low Life" is an artistic best, that places Hofmann's goal of bringing the beauty of the alto flute onto a jazz album, in harmony with its emotive effect on her listening public, and her desire to understand the secret to the instrument's induced, visceral emotional affect.

Hofmann listens to hearts, and acts; an empathetic affinity that clearly extends out to her supporting musicians, whose compositional heartbeats resonate with her own, are amplified into original compositions by guitarist Anthony Wilson (Jack of Hearts), and heavyweight classical double bassist John Clayton (Touch of Fog; Cedar Would). Compositions by 40s bandleader Ray Noble, renowned film composer/conductor/pianist John Williams, hard-bop, influential pianist Mulgrew Miller, guitar phenom Pat Metheny, and Hoffman, cohere into an album of eclectic tastes, emotions, and colors.

But working with exciting musicians and extraordinary composers is normal for Hunter, since she hangs out on the cutting edge of the jazz genre. Certainly her last CD release: Mike Wofford/Holly Hofmann Quintet: Turn Signal - With special guest Terell Stafford (CAPRI Records; 2012) attests to this. The rhythm section on that date included Bob Thorsen, bass, and the drummer Richard Sellers. On "Low Life," bassist John Clayton replaces Thorsen, and Jeff Hamilton takes over the drummer's stool, with guitarist Anthony Wilson, and pianist Mike Wofford squaring up the rhythm section.

Hoffman's stated vision of something that "people can put on for a long drive, or while they make dinner,
 L-R  Hamilton (d);  Wofford (p); Hunter (flute);  Wilson (g); Clayton (b)

and still holds up as a jazz album"
appears in the beautiful, subtle tone of her C flute, and the structural integrity of her responsive, well-balanced rhythm section, led superbly by Wofford's commanding pianism. Hofmann's vision is further defined in the mellow tonal blend she achieves with Anthony Wilson's guitar on his opening, pace setting composition (Jack of Hearts). The vision is stilled as Hoffman appears clearly in the foreground, improvising with limpid, concise, thought-composing; setting the tone for the date and defining the group's prevailing approach.

In terms of bringing the 'beauty' of the alto flute onto a jazz album, bassist John  Clayton's composition (Touch The Fog) is a standout. Hofmann commissions the alto flute's melodic core to paint emotion into one of Nature's gossamer-light caresses, which Wofford's piano, and Clayton's down-reaching bass, deepen and extend.

Hofmann's desire to uncover the mysterious emotive power lurking in the alto flute, and why its voice reduces people to puddles, leads right up to Ray Noble's charming 1934 popular standard (The Very Thought of You). She exploits the song's recognizable, luxuriant melodic passages to remit the alto flute's tonal warmth and woody elegance. The rhythm section, seemingly aware of the alto flute's limited dynamic range, is reserved in response enhancing the sensitivity and depth of feeling in Hofmann's reed. Hofmann though, is far from hamstrung on the alto flute, she hooks up John Williams' (Make Me Rainbows) to a light-fantastic swing, and shows lots of soul in the reading of her original composition (Lumiere de la Vie).

Hofmann embeds some cool surprises in "Low Life." She and guitarist Anthony Wilson converse energetically with the rest of the rhythm section in fluent hard-bop on Clayton's (Cedar Would), a tribute to the late NEA Jazz Master, pianist Cedar Walton. No doubt a composition worked from many fabrics of Cedar Walton's mighty grooves: "Ugetsu," "Bolivia," "Midnight Waltz," "Mosaic," "Jacob's Ladder." But to emphasize her mastery of the hard-bop idiom, Hofmann raises her harmonic hemline high enough to reveal some funky, ballsy, alto flute chops on Mulgrew Miller's (Soul-Leo). (Soul-Leo) is a Miller masterpiece that is currently finding its way into the special reserve repertoire of top-flight jazz musicians, and is quickly closing in on 'jazz classic' status. Hofmann and her band of 'soul leos' burn through one of the most creative, singularly modernistic iterations of the lot. The rhythm section is awesome. John Clayton's bass is deep-throated, and as solid as they come. Pianist John Wofford puts the spirit of Mulgrew Miller out front and center; from his fingertips to his hard-bop soul, and drummer Jeff Hamilton's 'red sparkle' drums are fascinatingly nuanced; non ostentatious; nudging the ensemble forward with Tony Williams-esque polyrhythmic patterns, and precise time signatures; nailing down the tune's swirling chromatic changes; keeping it intoxicating and danceable, without skipping a single beat. 

This band sounds really stoked, and very "high on life."

Track Listing: Jack of Hearts; Touch The Fog; Grow (for Dick Oatts); Lumiere de la Vie; Cedar Would; The Very Thought of You; Make Me Rainbows; Soul-Leo; Farmer's Trust.

Produced by Thomas Burns and Mike Wofford
Recorded by Talley Sherwood - Tritone Studios
Mastered by David Glasser - Airshow Mastering, Boulder CO

John Clayton plays Pirastro "Evah" bass strings
Jeff Hamilton plays Crescent "Hammertone Series" cymbals, REMO drums and heads, Regal Tip Signature model sticks and brushes, and uses Hamilton stands.
Holly Hofmann is a Pearl Flutes Artist, and plays a Sankyo Prima alto flute.


Sunday, June 22, 2014


Year: 2014

Style: Jazz Vocal

Label: Blue Bend Records

Musicians: Danny Freyer - vocals; Evan Stone - drums; Matt Politano - piano; Roger Shew - bass; Jeff Elwood - saxophones.

Tony Guerro - trumpet (Tracks 1, 5, 11); Mark Visher - clarinet, Ben Devitt - trombone (Track 5)
Dannielle DeAndrea - background vocals (Tracks 1, 11); Phil Parlapiano - accordion (Track 9); Michelle Kim - violin; Bryan Gonzalez - viola; Suji Kang - cello; Ai Nihira - violin; Alira Strings arranged by Ryan Pryor & Evan Stone (Track 6).

CD Review: Jazz vocalist Danny Freyer is a composed artist with a commanding repertoire who puts a song across like a guy that's had his share of the vicissitudes of life, and love, but despite the changes, manages to keep his sense of humor, and the twinkle in his eye solidly intact; meaning of course, that Freyer is a forward-leaning, forward-looking musician, adept at running simulations of the future; anticipating, and delivering his punch lines with enviable timing. It is that impeccable timing, warmth, and savvy in putting together a swinging band, that solidly ground Freyer's debut CD: "Must Be Love,"

Freyer effortlessly straddles the musical divide between big band swing and bebop; resorting to versatility and experience in presenting a date that's exciting, challenging, and shows that he has big eyes and ears for songs that swing, and people who make them swing. Some of the most accomplished practitioners of this art include: Cole Porter, Harry Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Mack Gordon and Charlie Parker, all of whom feature prominently in Freyer's debut.This former New York rock 'n roller (now L.A.based) turned serious jazz vocalist, also adds a couple of his original compositions to the CD.

It does not take long for Sinatra's interpretive bebop concepts and phrasing, to influence Freyer's modernized reading of Walter Bishop and Jule Styne's 1949 popular song (Bop Goes My Heart). It happened in the after glow of Freyer's opening track; Mack Gordon and Harry Revel's (Goodnight My Love), that put the spotlight on a nostalgic Freyer crooning to a 'Pied Piper-like' quartet, while Tony Guerrero's trumpet remembers the days, and nights, when big band brass colorists like Billy Butterfield painted for all they were worth.

Freyer spreads charm, wit, and elegance disarmingly throughout his debut. (Lean Baby) a tune written in 1962 by Roy Alfred and bandleader Billy May, excites the witty side of the versatile Freyer, and infects the traditional jazz riffs served up from Mark Visher's clarinet, Ben Devitt's trombone, and Guererro's torrid trumpet. Freyer's unforced elegance in Hoagy Carmichael's immortal 1927 (Stardust) sustains its classic timelessness, whereas, (That Old Black Magic) written by Harry Arlen and Johnny Mercer is bathed in warm percussive colors, minted from the Stanley Black mold of elegant rhythm sections. Elegance turns exotic as Freyer dresses up Cole Porter's (Begin The Beguine) in a fresh, gently undulating rumba dress, swinging it 'nice and easy' with tony intonation, silvery at its contours; cajoling the lyric to join in the dance with Phil Parlapiano's accordion, and Matt Politano's sultry, introspective piano.

There is engaging charm in Freyer's swinging tribute to Charlie Parker (Yardbird Suite), a 1946 bebop standard inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014. With lyrics of profound wit, and impressive vocalese, Freyer shines as much as Jeff Elwood's tenor saxophone solo that begins with an aroma of  'The Scrapple From The Apple," confirms his bebop roots, and adds modernity to an already swinging affair with a 'newly arrived' hipness that fits Parker's classic mood perfectly. (Yardbird Suite) extends the bounds of Freyer's imposing repertoire, and showcases a thoughtful, mature, evolving talent.

Eventually discerning vocalists will succumb to strings. Here Danny Freyer acquits himself with certainty. (Promise Me You'll Remember) the 'shocking' Love Theme from The Godfather Part III, engages the Alira Strings: violinists Michelle Kim & Ai Nihira , Bryan Gonzalez's viola, and cellist Suji Kang to add classical parenthetic aesthetics to Freyer's ballad reading. Jeff Elwood's brooding tenor saxophone solo deepens and expands its pathos. Ellwood's tenor is clean, mellow, and melodic; effortless. He does not have to lean too far in any direction for his voice; it's his own.

Back in the "swingin'" 40s and 50s, there was one other jazz singer, a lot like Freyer, that had a lot of success with small combos and big swing bands, and made himself a legend. He worked hard to fill as many musical spaces as he could, Freyer and his small combo also worked hard to fill all the musical spaces needed to make this debut a success, and 'Slacksie O'Brien' who wrote the book on vocal swing, would have to rear back like a flame thrower to deliver a better performance than "Danny Freyer: Must Be Love."

Danny Freyer, Kurt Elling, and Harry Conick Jr. ought to exchange interesting pleasantries each time their career paths cross in the future.

Track Listing: Goodnight My Love; Bop Goes My Heart; That Old Black Magic; Yardbird Suite/Llet's Make Babies Baby; Lean Baby; Promise Me You'll Remember; Must Be Love Or Else I'm Drunk; Tanked As A Fish, Buzzed, Bombed And Blitzed; Begin The Beguine; Stardust; Goodnight My Love (Bonus Track).

Recorded at: Blue Bend Records, 409 N. Pacific Coast Highway #245, Redondo Beach CA 90277
Mastered by: Robert Hadley at The Mastering Lab  


Monday, June 16, 2014

Joe LoCascio and Woody Witt - Absinthe: the music of Billy Strayhorn

Year: 2014

Style: Jazz

Label: Blue Bamboo Music

Musicians: Joe LoCascio - piano; Woody Witt - tenor, alto, and soprano saxophones

CD Review: There aren't many plaudits left to attach to the musicianship of pianist Joe LoCascio and multi-instrumentalist Woody Witt, however, in selecting the music of Billy Strayhorn as a project for their latest jazz music collaboration: "Joe LoCascio and Woody Witt - Absinthe: the music of Billy Strayhorn," LoCascio and Witt bare the artistic integrity, sensitivity, veracity, tenacity and love that have made them elite musicians of choice for discriminating artists from Houston to Havana. Strayhorn's composing lyricism fundamentally separates him from Duke Ellington and captivates dedicated players as LoCascio and Witt like a fable. On the rotating planet of jazz music, the music of Billy Strayhorn is an ocean: magnificent, dominant, alert; vitalized by evolution; always courageously honest.

Strayhorn's was a deeply tortured soul, but nonetheless a beautiful soul, living in the artistic shadow of an elusive composer/compiler whom he privately called "Monster," yet Strayhorn's compositions are influential, enigmatic, sensitive and profound. He wrote over 300 arrangements and compositions for the Duke Ellington band. Without doubt Strayhorn was one of the most prolific composing geniuses in the history of jazz music. His "Take The 'A' Train' is one of the most universally recognizable tunes in jazz history, but his total composing contribution may never be fully known, and he may not receive the full scholarly recognition he deserves as one of the twentieth century's most venerated, and enduring jazz music composers.

He was gone too soon.

Pianist Joe LoCascio
LoCascio and Witt's inclusion of some of Strayhorn's rarely heard compositions (My Little Brown Book; Charpoy; Isfahan; Absinthe) hints at more than a casual understanding of, and appreciation for, the depth of the Strayhorn canon. These compositions, mostly from his early years (1940s), except (Isfahan-1966), attest to the imposing compositional voice at his command even then. (My Little Brown Book) written to the virtuosic capabilities of Johnny Hodges, his favorite soloist in the Ellington band, draws the focus LoCascio's piano, and Witt's alto saxophone to the unhurried, pleasure and pain that lived perennially at Strayhorn's fingertips. (Charpoy) conjugates into Strayhorn's maturing sense of musical form, and Witt's tenor saxophone reads the tune as the balladeer in Ben Webster might have, until classic Strayhorn surfaces from LoCascio's noteworthy piano coda.

Saxophonist Woody Witt
Strayhorn had also fallen deeply in love in the early 1940s, the controlled joy, and bittersweet emotions that he felt, are expressed across the harmonic spectrum of possibilities that he deployed in (Chelsea Bridge; A Flower is a Lovesome Thing; Lotus Blossom; Daydream), compositions that, in part, act as a release from the effects of an unsteady boyhood, and being openly gay in America in the 1940s. LoCascio's approach to (Chelsea Bridge) sees him refurbishing its Ravel-inspired classical linearity, whereas Witt's tenor extends the sensation of ache from deep within the melody.

Strayhorn's most sensitive composing neurons also fire brilliantly during (A Flower is a Lovesome Thing; Lotus Blossom; Daydream) and demonstrate his genius for placing his imposing orchestral palette at the beck and call of everyday phenomena; a flower, a daydream, loneliness, accurately describing the complexities and hues of each. LoCascio and Witt thoughtfully read each of these haunting, sensitive compositions with a profound understanding of the elusive joy within the lyric, and Strayhorn's desire to express it.

Like the green alcoholic drink 'Absinthe,' this tribute to Billy Strayhorn by pianist Joe LoCascio, and multi-instrumentalist Woody Witt, is a potent brew that is relaxing, exciting, and sums up the work. In the final analysis though, its finest moments and most sublime tribute to 'Strayhorn the artist,' are realized in the countering effect of Strayhorn's encompassing genius against the interfering, modifying, creative specter of Ellington. This "Absinthe" will be impossible to overshadow, deny credit, or ban.  

Track Listing: My Little Brown Book; Charpoy; A Flower is a Lovesome Thing; Rain Check; Chelsea Bridge; Lotus Blossom; Isfahan; Absinthe; Daydream.                  

All compositions by Billy Strayhorn, except "Daydream" which was composed by Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, and John La Touche.

Executive producer: Chris Cortez

Recorded at: Houston Community College
Mixed and mastered at: Blue Bamboo Music Studios, Humble TX

ESPN Scores & Stats.