Tuesday, December 16, 2014

EZRA WEISS SEXTET - Before You Know It [Live In Portland]

Year: 2014

Style: Jazz


Musicians: Ezra Weiss - piano; Farnell Newton - trumpet; John Nastos - alto saxophone; Jon Shaw - bass; Christopher Brown - drums.

CD Review: The highly acclaimed pianist/composer/educator Ezra Weiss follows up his purposeful, groundbreaking jazz/big band CD: Ezra Weiss and the Rob Scheps Big Band- Our Path To This Moment (ROARK RECORDS, 2012), with his new equally dazzling and powerful live date: Ezra Weiss Sextet - Before You Know It [Live In Portland]: at the Ivories Jazz lounge October/December 2013, to be more precise.

Weiss, an inclusive and versatile pianist/arranger, much lionized by peers as a formidable jazz composer, has assembled a pride of young musical lions from the burgeoning Portland jazz scene and provided them with the kind of extended landscape for innovative exploration that brings into sharp focus the dynamism, skillful innovation and modernism of great sixties classic sextets: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and Horace Silver.

Weiss' compositional architecture for the sextet breathes openly and freely. Adequate space is deployed for soloists' statements to go full-tilt towards improvisational maturity; then 'way out' into bristling, invigorating modernity and versatility fueled by the unbridled power of trumpeter/educator Farnell Newton, "considered a young lion on the (Portland, Oregon) jazz scene...his name on a bill serves as a seal of freshness"(; alto saxophonist John Nastos, another young lion on the Portland jazz scene, a native of Portland, Oregon and multi-instrumentalist who has performed with a who's who of jazz luminaries from New York to Oregon. His most recent work has been with the Dianne Shuur touring band; and finally, tenor saxophonist Devin Phillips, a native of New Orleans who is credited with possessing "an intricate and rhythmically innovative sound." (Bio), has toured and recorded with Wynton Marsalis, Eddie Palmieri, the Headhunters, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and others.

The structural integrity of the rhythm section is shored up by Weiss' piano, bassist Jon Shaw, teacher/performer and another rising star on the Portland jazz scene, and drummer Christopher Brown's "mix of a swinging straight-ahead style and tight R&B grooves." (Willamette Week).

Ezra Weiss Sextet
Pace of performance is crucial in live concert settings: it augments mood and tempo. Ezra Weiss Sextet demonstrates a keen awareness of these appealing aesthetics with a careful setting of each (Winter Machine); an opening track bundled within indigo repeating patterns from Weiss' piano - a format effective in soliciting listener attention - and a smooth entry way for soloists, in this case the swinging clarity of John Nastos' alto saxophone, and the features of modernism outlined in Farwell Newton's trumpet. Newton, and Nastos then take the tempo up more than a few notches (The Crusher); leave no doubt about their significant improvisational prowess, and provide subtle hints of a musical firestorm looming in the works.

But first, a contribution of symmetry, balance and form to the sextet's performance arc is proffered via the charming, bluesy (Don't Need No Ticket); emerging cohesively out of the limpid depth of the sextet's collective creative imagination; then contiguously positioned against a complex, but familiar, forward-leaning arrangement of George & Ira Gershwin's 1937 jazz standard (A Foggy Day); itself a bridge to the nostalgic (Jessie's Song), an import from Weiss' 2012 CD: Our Path To This Moment. A moment that elevates the ambient musical temperature through Weiss' effective application of force, appealing keyboard runs and studied minimalism to assist Newton, Nastos and Phillips in building prolonged tension and climaxes into a challenging (The Five A.M. Strut); the front line horns go way out unobstructed, Jon Shaw's bass is super funky, and Weiss' piano soloing is crisp, coherent, logical and ultra-modern.

The first suggestion of an emotion-packed firestorm of sound from the Ezra Weiss Sextet about to bear down on the Ivories Jazz Lounge in Portland, Oregon, began with Weiss' unrelenting, brooding, sorrowful McCoy Tyner-esque piano prelude to John William Coltrane's powerful 1963 elegy (Alabama). Tenor saxophonist Devin Phillips' approach to the composition's bottomless sorrow is compassionate, even reverential, and deeply moving. Once the coincidence of reflection and understanding is achieved, the sextet moves deeper into the mystical recesses of Coltrane's endless spiritual universe; chaos advances stealthily out of Christopher Brown's smoldering drums, Jon Shaw's cimmerian bass figures, and Weiss' unyielding piano...but Phillips' tenor is indomitable and can't be denied; Coltrane's spiritual presence is overwhelming in  untamed beauty and strength from the majestic turbulence of his 'sheets of sounds'...and then, when time ultimately  stands still, the tenor's voice succumbs to a coda of resolution through a Trinity of harmony, tranquility and order.

The final selection, and the date's title track (Before You Know It), records the arc of the sextet's performance at its apogee; as a distant light which spells promise and hope; a dedication to Weiss' first born son . Its colors are bluesy, cool and soulful, with a touch of Gospel, and the emotional features of Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" a perfect tune to guide an audience down the final descent from an exquisite evening of jazz music played by master musicians.

EZRA WEISS SEXTET - Before You Know it [Live In Portland] further solidifies Weiss' bona fides as a premier jazz composer/pianist/arranger; adds significant real estate to his landscape of music possibilities, and suspends only a deep, wide sky to measure his artistic reach.

Track Listing: Winter Machine; The Crusher; Don't Need No Ticket; A Foggy Day; Jessie's Song; The Five A.M. Strut; Alabama; EZ Introduces The Band; Before You Know It.

Produced by Ezra Weiss
Recorded by Rick Gordon
Mixed and Mastered by Katsuhiko Naito

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Delfeayo Marsalis...The Last Southern Gentleman

Year: 2014

Style: Jazz

Label: Troubadour Jazz Records

Musicians: Delfeayo Marsalis - trombone; Ellis Marsalis - piano; John Clayton - bass; Marvin "Smitty" Smith - drums.

Additional tambourine/bass drum on "Sesame Street" by Herlin Riley

CD Review: "Delfeayo Marsalis - The Last Southern Gentleman" speaks low, sensual, musical poetry out of Marsalis' Bach 42-G trombone with a Bach 6 1/2AL Megatone, and emphatically puts that old feelin' in romance again. That errant feeling, so hard to nail down without full blown honesty and commitment, is fashioned out of the beautiful soundscape of the Great American Songbook and others, and adds enviable effulgence to Marsalis' burgeoning reputation as one of the premiere trombonists, composers and producers of jazz music today.

The CD opens with the Delfeayo Marsalis' mesmerizing, mellow-toned trombone, smoothly crooning his composition (The Secret Love Affair). Marsalis play with clarity, economy and superby balanced form reminiscent of Ellington's great trombonist  Lawrence Brown. But it is drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith who adroitly captures the senses; then transports them to an exotic destination where the 'bolero' is still danced by the light of the moon, and the prevailing mood is perfect for Ellis Marsalis' piano's subtle 'invitation' (Autumn Leaves) to enjoy superb piano stylings shaped from a life of hard working and teaching in jazz. Marsalis' contention being that, "jazz is not just about music - jazz is about life."  

"The Last Southern Gentleman" is a date that has what it takes to trigger a significant emotional event. Significant emotional events usually cause change - be careful with whom you are close, as you listen to the music; change is fickle. It may be good, or not. On the surface though, there is a harvest of 'good' that derives from this music, the musicians and the mission: Music played by a quartet of acknowledged jazz masters with a mission to " tribute to the humanity and humility at the center of the Southern lifestyle that birthed America's original music." (Delfeayo Marsalis). Music that is drawn from classic ballads and jazz standards of venerable composers and lyricists; tunes not heard much these days, but which jazz fans can never seem to get enough of. Of note are (I'm Confessin') Doc Daughtery/Ellis Reynolds/Al Neiburg's 1930 popular jazz standard, and Richard Whiting/Charles Daniels' 1928 popular song (She's Funny That Way) each played by the younger Marsalis with deep emotional reach, and the bracing simplicity of a swan song.

There are few musical highlight, not to be missed (Sesame Street Theme; If I Were a Bell; Speak Low). Delfeayo Marsalis' muted 'Sesame" work swings flawlessly and Ellis Marsalis' fingers are coated with rich 'Mississippi Delta mud and soul, while Herlin Riley and Smith add enough rhythm to rename the street; "Swing Street." Further on down the strip, 'Marsalis, bassist John Clayton and drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith cruise through a 'swingin', version' of Frank Loesser's 1959 standard "If I Were a Bell." Ellis Marsalis' elegant lyricism, modernity, and limpid spontaneous improvisation reach as high on the arc of performance for  modern jazz piano as William "Red" Garland's 1957 rendition which, up until now, may have been the definitive trio version, with Paul Chambers on bass, and Arthur Taylor on drums (Red Garland & Piano, Prestige 7086). In an all out assault on unbridled swing, the band literally torches and scorches Kurt Weill & Ogden Nash's 1943 jazz standard (Speak Low). Smith gets loose from the rhythm section on this burner, and pours enough high-octane polyrhythmic fuel on the proceedings to start a 5-alarmer. 

In the current jazz universe, the 'brand' Marsalis has an almost eponymous effect on the genre, and the significance of this prideful father/son collaborative cannot be overstated. Apart from its stated mission, it is a date that has something for every jazz enthusiast: nostalgia, romance, modernity; swing and good taste. Good taste as in the final track, Johnny Green/Edwin Heyman's 1933 popular song (I Cover The Waterfront). It's akin to the last ounce of Absinthe, Sazerac, or Hurricane cocktail respectfully left in the bottle for the patriarch to savor at his leisure. It is to remind him of the old times, the good times, and times yet to come.

Track Listing: The Secret Love Affair; Autumn Leaves; She's Funny That Way; Sesame Street; I'm Confessin; But Beautiful; Speak Low; Nancy; The Man With Two Left Feet; That Old Feeling; My Romance; If I Were A Bell; I Cover The Waterfront.

Executive Producer: Branford Marsalis
Executive Engineer: Patrick Smith
Assistant Engineers: Daryl Dickerson, Jacob Dennis & Charlie Bouis

Recorded at Cahuenga Pass Studios, Burbank CA
Mixed at Glenwood Place Studios, Burbank
Mastered by Patrick "Jat EQ" Smith at Pelican Sound.

John Clayton plays a bass bequeathed to him by the great Ray Brown
Marvin "Smitty" Smith plays Pearl Drums, Zildjian Cymbals, Remo Drumheads and Vater Percussion sticks and brushes.

Dedicated to the memory of pianist Mulgrew Miller. A great musician, classy individual & true Southern Gentleman.

Produced by Delfeayo Marsalis    

Monday, November 17, 2014


Year: 2014

Style: Jazz

Label: Dreamers Collective Records

Musicians: Ferenc Nemeth - drums; Attila Laszlo - guitar; Russell Ferrante - piano / keyboards; Jimmy Haslif - bass.

Special Guest on track 7, Charlie Horvath - vocal
Special Guest on track 9, Lara Bello - vocal

CD Review: In a silent, separate way, "BRIDGES of SOULS" connects Hungarian-born drummer Ferenc Nemeth and guitarist Attila Laszlo to the annals of jazz through exquisitely appointed avenues of influence and time. Nemeth's route chronicles seminal Western jazz associations from post-bop master keyboardist Herbie Hancock to premiere American composer, conductor, arranger Henry Mancini, and eventually conflates into an eclectic urban musical sprawl inhabited by contemporaries from pianist Aaron Goldberg to Tunisian-born Oud player/vocalist Dhafer Youssef. 

Laszlo's musical avenues of choice seem to be more Eastern-specific: jazz studies at Bartok Bela Conservatory of Music; forming the band "Kaszako" (1975); next came "Things" (1985) with saxophonist Tony Lakatos; a detour through lush post-bop territory of world warriors, trumpeter Randy Brecker, bassist Anthony Jackson, multi-instrumentalist James Moody to Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous, and Indian-born composer, singer, lyricist IlaiyaRaaja. 

Now the musical roads, avenues, promenades and boulevards traversed by Nemeth and Laszlo, co-join with a new path along which comes piano/keyboardist Russell Ferrante, adding an enduring classical feel to the date that blends evenly with bassist Jimmy Haslip's Jaco-like modernity. Vocalists Charlie Horvath and Lara Bello accentuate the lyrical outlines of a 'new' musical "Bridge of Souls." 

Ferenc Nemeth is a responsive drummer who plays with admirable restraint (Bridges of Souls; Dance) . He supports the band with an impeccable sense of timing nourished by 'good ears,' and quick off-the-floor critical thinking (It's Already That). Nemeth is especially adept at snugly fitting 'cool' percussive accents into free spaces in a solo that give its groove a unique harmonic ripple; a technique that further enhances the band's structural integrity; yet, he never over plays. He carries (Kenny Clark) power and drive, on demand, in both hands, but places nuance, class and precision in the upper echelon of his technique. Nemeth puts it all together on (Creep) accenting urgency to the lament in Laszlo's stunning guitar work, augmenting Jimmy Haslip's flowing, funky bass figures, and in the process presenting, in essence, a modern jazz drum clinic.

Laszlo is a master painter and prolific composer (Sounds of My Heart). His fret colors are elegant, subtly passionate and limpid (The Untouchable Number). His melodic line playing is soulful and honest at all levels, and one of his most poignant solos emerges from a perfect reading of the Lara Bello lyric to Nemeth's composition (alone). But he can swing sensuously, be appealing off the beat and sonically tantalizing (Downhill), a Laszlo composition also notable for a compelling Russell Ferrante piano solo, and an insightful update on the 5-string bass from Jimmy Haslip; always leaning forward technically; fiercely probing the deep well of spontaneous improvisation.

"BRIDGES of SOULS" is a total collaborative effort on the part of Nemeth and Laszlo, They share composing duties equally, and their collective narrative is balanced with excellent vocal contributions from the ageless-sounding Charlie Horvath (Alone), and lyricist Lara Bello (Little Heart). Horvath possesses a guiltless, mood-changing vocal delivery that recalls past 'gut-bucket' blues singers who put heart, soul and pain into every word they sang. Lara Bello is a wonderful find; fresh, innocent, with an 'old soul' hidden deep in the reading of her own lyric (Little Heart). She is Hepburn in "Gigi."

"FERENC NEMETH - ATTILA LASZLO: BRIDGES of SOULS" offers great jazz from a thoughtful, well organized ensemble. It is a jazz 'sleeper' of 2014; all the way up to the last track, Laszlo's emotive (Missing You) that seems to say 'so long,' in a deeply 'silent way'; late perhaps for a "Jazz Album of The Year" accolade, but definitely with enough on board talent and versatility, to make it one of the more appealing, sure to turn more than a few jazz heads around.

Track Listing: Bridges of Souls; Downhill; The Untouchable Number; It's Already That; Sounds of My Heart; Dance; Alone; Magic City; Little Heart; Creep; Missing You.

Produced by Ferenc Nemeth

Recorded in Los Angeles at Tritone Recording Studio
Engineer: Talley Sherwood
Mixing and Mastering: Rich Breen


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Django's Castle - Hank Marvin With Nunzio Mondia & Gary Taylor

Year: 2014

Style: Gypsy Jazz

Label: Mtm Music Pty Ltd.

Musicians: Hank Marvin - lead guitar; Nunzio Mundia - accordion; Gary Taylor - rhythm guitar; -Pete Jeavons - double bass (tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 10-14); Robbie Pisano - bass (tracks 5, 9); Matt Willis - bass (track 8).

CD Review: Sometime during the 1930s, immortal guitarist Django Reinhardt developed a devilish jazz genre called"gypsy jazz," it incorporated a prodigious swing that set the world of jazz guitar on fire. Reinhardt's technical proficiency on the instrument significantly influenced just about every guitarist that picked up the instrument after him: the list is too long to recall. There are famous guitarists from that list who are not hesitant about positioning Hank Marvin high up in the continuum of virtuosic guitarists that have succeeded Reinhardt; they include Jimmy Page, Brian May, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck and others.

On "Django's Castle" - Hank Marvin with Nunzio Mondia & Gary Taylor," the hot 'swing' in gypsy jazz gets a workout that brings it as close to being perfected as it was meant, and played by Reinhardt, Stephan Grappelli and the Hot Club of France. It burns with technical skill, precision, rhythmic structural integrity and fierce nostalgia. It is music that invades the feet, the head and the heart, in one fell swoop.

The date is studded with Reinhardt jazz standards and well-paced with classics from the American songbook. Marvin gets unbending support from highly accomplished accordionist Nunzio Mondia, whose list of  musical collaborators range from The Supremes to Monty Python. All around, in demand, rhythm guitarist Gary Taylor is a clear standout, providing assiduous, rhythmic, big band bounce and an inscrutable dance beat, while the richness of Pete Jeavons' double bass playing is hard to miss, and bassists Robbie Pisano (Si Tu Savais; Viper's Dream) and Matt Willis (Micro), get to strut their stuff on three awesome tracks.

Nunzio Mondia, accordion
In Django's Castle the 'king's' thing was unbridled swing,' For this return from the future, Marvin and his 'masters of the fret' and free reed aerophone leave nothing to chance at any tempo. The music has a bright emotional character, at times there's humor, and the players exhibit deep musical knowledge and versatility. Also, Marvin and Mondia pay keen tribute to the tradition of spontaneous improvisation that is at the heart of traditional and Gypsy jazz genres in quoting many popular songs in the bodies of their solos: Perez Prado's Latin hit "Patricia" is neatly quoted in Mondia's accordion solo on (Coquette) a 1928 jazz standard written by Johnny Green & Carmen Lombardo; Marvin's guitar finds ample space for a chunk of Rodgers & Hart's "Chicago" on Thomas "Fats" Waller's 1929 depression-era jazz standard (Honeysuckle Rose); Harry Warren & Mack Gordon's nationally recognized "Chattanooga Choo Choo" seems to whistle by in another Marvin guitar solo (Viper's Dream); and one can't miss the humor in Mondia's accordion quote of the Flintstones cartoon theme on Reinhardt's 1949 mega swinger (Micro); savory morsels that add to the music's suculence, and indicate the high level of professional camaraderie felt within the group.

Gary Taylor, guitar
Marvin's guitar playing is inspiring, influential across the ensemble and brings the 'meat' of Gypsy jazz swing to this musical feast. But he also has other voices: Les Paul's rock 'n roll swagger seems to undulate in the swing from his fret on Reinhardt's 1946 composition (Swingtime in Springtime). A blistering, all 'voices in the choir' attack on Reinhardt's most covered 1937 Gypsy jazz standard (Minor Swing), sees him joined in the shotgun seat by Mondia's formidably emotive accordion that seems to have endless possibilities, a distinctive timbre that makes music memorable and always entertains....two virtuosos tempting the heights on a 'swinging' music trapeze; winning each time.

Singers who can handle the ballad can usually sing anything. As an instrumentalist, Marvin certainly over achieves in this respect. His readings of the Turner Layton/Henry Creamer 1918 ballad-like (After You've Gone), (Si Tu Savais) with its Harry Lime,"Third Man Theme" nostalgic, noir-like patina, and the title track, Reinhardt's 1943 (Django's Castle) are all played with flawless romanticism and each releases a flow of delicate, but urgent emotions.

Call "Django's Castle - Hank Marvin With Nunzio Mondia & Gary Taylor" what you want, this is a CD of masterpieces. It is jazz music of the highest order: a potent 'jazz descarga' put on by exciting, humorous players who have honed their craft to a fine point of blistering virtuosity.

Track Listing: Swing 42; Swingtime In Springtime; Noto Swing; After You've Gone; Si Tu Savais; Honeysuckle Rose; Coquette; Micro; Viper's Dream; Django's Castle; Minor Swing; Swing Guitars; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; Belleville.

An MTM production
Recorded and mixed by Les Williams, Nivram Studios, Perth Western Australia, 2011
Mastered by Leon Zervos, Studios 301, Sydney Australia.

Friday, November 7, 2014

MIGUEL ZENON - Identities are Changeable

Year: 2014

Style: Latin Jazz

Label: miel MUSIC

Musicians: Miguel Zenón Quartet: Miguel Zenón - alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo - piano; Hans Glawischnig - bass; Henry Cole - drums.

"Identities" Big Band: Will Vinson, Michael Thomas - alto saxophones; Samir Zarif, John Ellis (solo on "Same Fight") - tenor saxophones; Chris Cheek - baritone saxophone; Mat Jodrel, Michael Rodriguez, Alex Norris, Jonathan Powell - trumpets; Ryan Keberle, Alan Ferber, Tim Albright (solo on "First Language") - trombones.

CD Review: "MIGUEL ZENON - Identities are Changeable" represents a boldly innovative examination of the concept of national identity with respect to the "Nuyorican experience." It is an intimate and powerful soundtrack to the shifting culture, and changing national identity of one of the largest populations of Puerto Ricans outside of Puerto Rico. Echoing out of the life experiences and eloquent testimonies of second and third generation New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent, it is distinct and riveting. Zenon, a native-born Puerto Rican, adds the weight of empiricism to this undertaking and provides unimpeachable sources with credible evidence to support his thesis: that identities are indeed changeable. Zenon's music compositions are steeped in jazz's highly original commodity: spontaneity, which readily qualifies his concepts as cutting edge, modern, " entirely new jazz language for the 21st century" - MacArthur Foundation; yet the cultures and identities he connects are as old as music itself. 

This is not the mambo, or stinging salsa - not to disparage these great, and enduring Latin music genres: Zenón however, is brought to jazz by an obsession over conceptualization and improvisation, and couches his music in the terms of folklore, classical, and the modern jazz idiom. Since this is a six-part song cycle, written to feature a quartet and twelve-piece large ensemble, each part must be evaluated and appreciated individually. The work, in toto, is undefinable, but deeply appealing stylistically as a result of Zenón's ability to solo over a diverse repertoire of songs and tempos; a residual of early influence by alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, that is blended with Coltrane-like spiritual conceptualizations and impressions.

It is the individuality of each piece that allows Zenón's compositions to be logical and to paint in 'living language' the colorful backgrounds of changing ideas, norms and national identities. As an example, in the overture the question of origin is asked (Where Are You From?), and answered by Patricia Zenón and Juan Flores against the excited, collective heart beat of Luis Perdomo's piano, Hans Glawishnig's bass and Henry Cole's drums. Patricia Zenón is born in the Bronx, New York of a Puerto Rican mother and father. Juan Flores is born in Alexandria, Virginia of a Hungarian mother and Puerto Rican father: the forming of an expanding diaspora is palpable in Miguel Zenón's writing and out of the driving brass; its bold, rhythmic sinews stretching through the Bronx; Manhattan; East Harlem ("El Barrio"); and on out to Hartford, Connecticut, Virginia and points beyond; energetic, colorful, always singularly exciting.

The contention that (Identities are Changeable) argues that it occurs in several ways: Third generation 'Nuyoricans' resolve the question of who they are by understanding that ideas are constantly changing; "you can be more than one cultural identity...but nevertheless, being Puerto Rican does matter, and should matter." The "crossing" of this logical pathway is also described in the band's reflection of the conviction; becoming more deep-throated in its swing, Chris Cheek's baritone saxophone adds a critical tonal link between the other horns and the rhythm section; simultaneously providing the sonic breadth and depth for a perfectly improvised, forward-leaning Zenón alto saxophone solo that evokes an inspired, spontaneous reaction from pianist Luis Perdomo; then, as the mood subsides, a prideful voice resolves the conflict of national identity at the root: "We don't say that we are Puerto Rican-Americans. We reject the hyphen. We are Puerto Ricans."

In this context, nostalgia seems inevitable: with "Nuyoricans" though, it is painless; as is the consideration of (My Home), which, without any argument, or second thought, is New York. (First Language) is comfortably and easily settled in the communication with elders: it is Spanish. In these regards, Zenón's writing and the ensemble's playing are respectfully sensitive; introspective, but never somber. The music of 'Latinos y Latinas,' seldom is.

Music helps to quantify the milestones and memorable moments that accrue to sustain a people's hopes and dreams. Nuyoricans are aware of, and understand the rich traditions of folkloric, Spanish and African in Puerto Rican music, even though they find themselves serendipitously influenced by musicians ranging in tastes from rock guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, to Puerto Rican salsa legends Héctor Lavoe and Willie Colon. By all accounts, music is a seminal link that Nuyoricans maintain to the deepest, most transformative traditions that shape cultural norms, construct national identities and ensure survivability. 

Zenón reveals his own sense of national pride in the climactic song (Through Culture and Tradition); a composition toting an overwhelming rising moment purchased from a purposeful, folkloric, rhythmic core, seasoned with hypnotic hip-hop cadences, and seared by mambo-specific vignettes from fiery brass. African drumming and the festive, celebratory feel of the Spanish contradanza serve to radiate a surreal power that can arrest a spirit, or move it. The collective song cycle/interviews reveal the vital relationship between the 'Nuyorican's' world of thought, beliefs, ideas, traditions, and its material counterpart: where they live, how they thrive, which social categories they participate in and inhabit with their beloved music. 

"Miguel Zenón - Identities are Changeable" is an exciting, compelling date. It is a wonderful outcome and return from the shock Zenón felt on meeting "second and third generation Puerto Ricans who were as connected to the traditions of their parents/grandparents and as proud to be Puerto Rican as the people I knew back home" (Miguel Zenón). It reveals Zenón as a serious artist with the ability to perceive an unopened door to art, and ask not only,"why?" But, "how come?".

Track Listing: ¿De Dónde Vienes? (Overture); Identities are Changeable; My Home; Same Fight; First Language; Second Generation Lullaby; Through Culture and Tradition; ¿De Dónde Vienes? (Outro)  

Recorded at: Systems Two, Brooklyn, NY by Max Ross
Additional recording at: The HR Studios, Frankfurt, Germany by Axel Gutzler
Mixed by: Brian Montgomery
Mastered by: Randy Merrill

Produced by Miguel Zenón
Associate producer - Robert Mailer Anderson

Thursday, November 6, 2014


Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon
As part of a West Coast tour to promote his latest CD: "MIGUEL ZENON - Identities are Changeable," Miguel Zenon and his quartet made a live appearance at the Addition, formerly Yoshi's Jazz Club, located at 1330 Fillmore St., San Francisco, on Thursday 14, November, 2014 at 8:00 p.m.  Apart from the launch of the new CD, It was an important gig on another count: This was Zenon's first appearance at the Addition, now San Francisco's "newest" first class Jazz Club. So things were lining up nicely: first class jazz club hosting first class jazz musician whose stellar reputation precedes him.

It had rained during the previous night and day; the effects of the tail end of a brief Fall storm were still being felt, and by evening The City was sultry, gray and cool. However, this did not prevent a zealous core of Zenon's many San Francisco Bay Area supporters from coming out to see and hear him. In retrospect, the crowd was perfect. As it turned out, over the evening's performance they unwittingly became, 'a special crowd.' They got to see 'a special Zenon' and come face-to-face with a solidly compact juggernaut of jazz, more concretely described as "The Miguel Zenon experience,' featuring Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, Eric Goode on drums and Zenon playing alto saxophone.

Prior knowledge of Miguel Zenon's affinity for representing concepts of "Bird's" stylistic influence and "Trane's" spiritualism in his (Zenon's) performance persona, barely prepares one for the startling impact of seeing him in a live setting. The experience is electric and visceral. Zenon's range of sound, power, sustained energy and improvising prowess, starkly recall the late, great tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin - the difference in choice of horns is academic; the constants being blinding talent, technique and will. Jazz's cognoscenti re-framed Griffin in superhero light, and renamed him "Volcano" and "The Little Giant"; each an artistic nom de guerre perfectly attributable to Zenon any given day or night.

It started out like any other of a million nights in jazz: the players strode easily on stage following their P. A. introduction, and after the briefest of moments for last minute stage adjustments, Eric Goode's drums began an urgent call of attention to the uptempo title track (Identities are Changeable), with its delicious, organized turbulence bursting from the rhythm section; and without a big band to account for (as on the CD) there was lots of space for Zenon's alto to work on the inside like a prize fighter well-schooled in the raw pugilism of the 'body attack.' This musical first-shot of Zenon's across the audience's bow was greeted with warm applause. Next came the composition "My Home," a slow, circular musical pursuit between Zenon's alto and Perdomo's piano that eventually drew Glawischnig's bass and Goode's drums into a dizzying elongated climax. The audience stirred more noticeably when the tune ended, and voices began to say things. Zenon seemed to sense an opportunity to break the audience down for a kill, the way Felix "Tito" Trinidad used to break down boxing opponents; skillfully and efficiently. 

Zenon paused for a few minutes to introduce the players, and to give the room some background history of the CD, but he quickly went back to the business at hand. Luis Perdomo's piano then stared the next session with an attention-getting, repeating pattern of notes to introduce (Through Culture and Tradition), a composition with complex, constantly changing time signatures that kept the audience in a constant state of anticipation and simultaneously in the throes of successive climaxes that kept building, one on the other. It is one of the most danceable pieces on the CD, and Goode's African-style drumming exchanges over piano and bass gave Zenon's antic alto the perfect soundscape to lure the room into a fever pitch that soon became punctuated with paroxysms of shrieks and applause...

Suddenly, in the middle a particularly scorching Zenon alto solo, as if on command, the entire room rose in unison; almost beside themselves; clapping hands; animated as one; Zenon had set the voodoo loose, and moved the crowd to the realm of totally 'free spirits'; he saw the whites of their eyes, and immediately kicked it into high gear; his lithe body becoming an extension of the pulsating, undulating alto saxophone; now a blur of rhythm and motion, in motion. Zenon could not stop if he wanted to, there was fire coming from his horn; the crowd was erupting; waitresses froze in place, and an usher parked near my table had trouble controlling himself...Zenon was blowin' them away; he went higher, and higher, and higher; longer, and longer...something serious had transpired, because when Zenon did pull back on his fire, and halted the onslaught, the air buzzed like lightning had struck it. "The Zenon Experience" had was real! 

Zenon had taken measure of their commitment and trust in him, and he had given back an intimate, passionate, exciting performance: he had taken them past the point of no return. No one would forget this night, or Zenon.

To complete the evening's performance, the band played two more pieces from the CD: (Second Generation Lullaby), remarkable for a down-reaching bass solo from Hans Glawischnig that drew out of Zenon's alto one of his most melodic and memorable offerings of the date; and the final selection of the evening (First Language) saw the quartet going out as it came in, on coherent, intense polyrhythmic drumming from Eric Goode, while the rest of the band focused in the moment, on giving the best of themselves to the end.

Zenon's creative spirit burns with a fierce flame that lights his path forward. He is excited about what he sees, and shows it. He may approximate welterweight in physical stature, but he's a hell of a welterweight! And when he whips out his alto saxophone to play, he turns into an authentic, bona fide...GIANT!

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Year: 2014

Style: Latin Jazz

Label: ALMA Records

Musicians: Eliana Cuevas - vocals; Jeremy Ledbetter - piano, melodica, keyboards, Fender Rhodes, mandolin, recorder, percussion; Mark Kelso - drums, percussion; Daniel Stone - percussion (1, 4, 8, 10); George Koller - bass (1, 5, 6, 8, 9); Ross MacIntyre - bass (3, 7); Rich Brown - bass (4, 10); Yoser Rodriguez - bass (2); Aquiles Báez - cuatro (5, 10); Manuel Rangel - maracas (5); Alexander Brown - flugelhorn (1); Luis Deniz - alto saxophone (3); Alexis Baró - trumpet (7); Paul Metcalfe - soprano saxophone (7); Chris Butcher - trombone (7); Diego Las Heras - drum programming (2); Aleksandar Gajic - violin (6); Jennifer Burford - violin (6); Ivan Ivanovich - viola (6); Mateusz Swoboda - cello (6); Leila Ledbetter - guest vocals (10). 

CD Review: Eliana Cuevas' fourth album "Espejo" (mirror) like her previous three (Cohesion: 2001; Ventura: 2004; Vidas: 2007) will no doubt be received with deserved critical acclaim. "Espejo" though, stands out as a resounding personal success for Cuevas. The challenges inherent in the daunting assignments of songwriter/poet/performer converge to produce a work of rare musical enjoyment and poetic achievement. 

Cuevas is supported by a coterie of excellent Latin jazz musicians from Venezuela and Toronto. Her contribution as the leading artist is amplified by the exquisite skills of pianist/arranger Jeremy Ledbetter. However it is Cuevas' songwriting, (Cuevas wrote lyrics and music for 9 of 10 tunes on CD), or more precisely, her poetry, which sets an undeniable performance standard that is "stylistically adventurous," terrifically entertaining, and sustained throughout the date.

Cuevas has a way of digging deeply into the smallest, most arresting moments of daily life to convey large truths (Nacera), "En medio de un aguacero/Salto un pájaro de rama en rama/Las nubles grises no lo apagan...Y no permiten ver a nadie /Sacian flores y frutos al caer." Her motifs and themes resound with palpable emotion, inspiration and longing (Estrellita), "Apuradito viene camimando/Siente una emoción/Que no le cabe en el corazón/Va tarareando y tatareando/Una nueva canción/él está lleno de inspiración." (En Un Pedacito De Tu Corazón), "Se acerca el día de tu partido/Y deseo que me lleves contigo/En un pedacito de tu corazón/Para que no olvides el amor que por ti siento."

Again and again, clear, memorable, concrete images spring from Cuevas' poems ( Nueva Vida), " I have spent one night on this earth/And already they have stolen everything/A stranger without family, without money, without documents/ I came with hopes of a new beginning, a new life/I do not have anyone/They have already stolen everything." The strong mirror motif that reflects some of the deepest images in Cuevas' creative imagination surfaces in (Agua, Cangrejo Y Sal), "Inspiring words come alone/Arriving in waves/Mirror opposite mirror/Lost in eternity/The road is long and I want to start/I have the energy and can't wait/Crab and salt water/Swimming among coral/Searching for what I alone can find/The mirror in the water reflects my silhouette/Still I follow the poet's path."

Cuevas' poetic prowess directly challenges her vocal abilities, but she knows her songs, and commands a singing style with no defects which she showcases on (El Tucusito) - written by husband Jeremy Ledbetter - with perfect intonation, death-defying pitch range, speed and tightly-knitted harmony; all cohering into a lustrous laudatory plumage befitting "Canada's emerging Latin music queen." (680 NEWS, Toronto).

As might be expected with such a complete performer, there are surprises and rising moments to savor; of note are Cuevas' innate ability to handle lush arrangements involving strings with sensitivity (Lamento), and yet seamlessly pivot towards Ledbetter's hard bop-ish, jazzy, progressive arrangement of (Agua, Cangrejo Y Sal) with trumpet, soprano saxophone, trombone and unified percussion in hot pursuit. But the most emotive and heart-tugging surprise comes at the end of the final track, complements of guest vocalist Leila Ledbetter...this deeply etched 'espejo - imagen'' of Eliana Cuevas will knock you off your feet - as will the rest of the CD.

Track Listing: Estrellita; En Un Pedacito De Tu Corazón; Nacerá; Llegó; El Tucusito; Lamento; Agua, Cangrejo Y Sal; Nueva Vida; Melancolía; Antito.

Produced and arranged by Jeremy Ledbetter

Executive Producer: Eliana Cuevas

Mastered by George Sears at: George Sears Sound

ESPN Scores & Stats.