Monday, March 30, 2015


Year: 2015

Style: Free Jazz

Label: Hot Cup Records

Musicians: Jon Lundbom - guitar; Jon Irabagon - soprano saxophone; Bryan Murray - tenor and Balto! saxophones; Moppa Elliot - bass; Dan Monaghan - drums.

Justin Wood - alto saxophone, flute; Sam Kulik - trombone.

CD Review: There are more than enough accolades, and sublime observations attributed to the talents of Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord by legions of fans and pundits, to stretch a fair distance around the globe of free hard bop:

"Olympic-caliber guitar gymnastics" ('Downbeat');
"Intense, unpredictable, gorilla jazz" ('Something Else');
"Meticulously nuanced free jazz with a smoldering hard rock edge" - Brent Black, 'Bop-N-Jazz'; 
"Rocks out without leaning on jazz fusion as a crutch" - Mark Corotto, 'All About Jazz'; 
"One of the most important ensembles around today" ('Gapplegate')

But, Peggy Lee's penetrating query echoes back from the din, and looms large: "Is that all there is?

Hardly. Lundbom is a bona fide innovator/leader/musician in the free hard bop sub-genre. That stature comes with key responsibilities. To his credit, and in the mold of one of jazz music's most influential practitioners, he has formed his "first great quintet": a core of seasoned, mature artists, with a murderous, structural rhythmic integrity, that has been playing together in excess of a dozen years; a rare feat by contemporary standards.  

Lundbom is an inveterate seeker; artistically discerning; an astute composer, intently focused with burning creative energy: a highly accomplished guitarist with a finely calibrated sense of destiny who knows how he wants his music to sound; and is able get his creative imagination to respond in kind: qualities that beg another important question: Where is Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord's music going?

The latest Big Five Chord album, "Jeremiah" offers some exciting clues. This album is significant, in that, it includes, for the first time, specific chart arrangements contributed by artists from outside of the core quintet; master trombonist Sam Kulik (Lick Skillet; Wiccan Prayer Song Medley); and multi-instrumentalist Justin Wood's scrupulouscimmerian read (First Harvest); expanding the ensemble's creative reach; enhancing its repertoire; certainly creating more challenges for the standing quintet; adding more emotion and color to the band's character; and encouraging future collaborative forays into dimensions of bold, restless innovation.

To interpret the meaning in Big Five Chord's determined forward lean, a thoughtful probe of band's music catalog of hard-swinging free bop, and ultra-modern acid rock aggression is illuminating. It reveals a stunning continuum of bruising, unequaled, rock-hard free jazz from Lundbom's permanently fierce guitar performances; pushing the demons in improvisational spontaneity and addictive free expression out in the open with piercing clarity,

Big Five Chord's musical output is not only prodigious, but highly rebellious and modern: averaging new, original, cutting edge material (seven albums over the last dozen years); indicating an ensemble with strong roots, discipline; now, seriously developed 'chops,' and a long nurtured, matured vision of 'ultimate musical freedom.'

A vision that started with the band's 'mid-20ish' debut album (Big Five Chord, 2003), led by an impulsive, maverick (Lundbom), who left a Master's program at the Manhattan School of Music, after one semester to follow a dream rooted in "the grit of jazz...that romps, serenades...and rocks" (Jay Collins, 'One Final Note,' 2003). The band's follow up album ("All The Pretty Ponies," 2004) featured imposing muscularity and unrestrained attention to some of the 60s free jazz masters; Joe Henderson, Jackie MacLean, Eric Dolphy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Five years later, on ("Accomplish Jazz," 2009), Lundbom's vision focused noticeably on more genre defying and challenging music. Then came the raw, rumbling, far out ("Quavers!Quavers!Quavers!Quavers," 2011), constructing a deft bridge for the aggressive and iconoclastic ("No New Tunes," 2012); leading to the band's provocative 2-CD, Brooklyn epic ("Liverevil," 2014).

Big Five Chord's resultant, enduring performance arc achieved through an accumulation of ascending free jazz exploits, has now reached the apogee of improvisational creativity called ("Jeremiah," 2015)

"Jeremiah," is also Lundbom's mature lament about a profligate society; a prophetic invocation against its ultimate ruination; sustained throughout by raucous, turbulent, chaotic, dark, angular free hard bop jazz. How else can the terminal, weapons grade rock of the opening track (The Bottle) be explained? Where saxophonist Bryan Murray gets loose and plays like Ken Kesey's "Chief Bull Goose Looney" on the Frankensteinish Balto!

The Balto! delivers a Sonny Liston-like, pile driver sonic jab. It stuns. In Murray's hands it goes so far out that it becomes a blur of sound blasting through a rock wall of spontaneous improvisation; filling a tunnel of space, light and air just vacated by Lundbom's insane guitar and Jon Irabagon's screaming soprano saxophone; forcing a wall of sound to displace itself: nothing like Coltrane's 'wall of sound'; he created it; but Murray obliterates 'walls of sound'; treating sound like an uncontrolled petrified forest. Thanks though, to some formidably nuanced time keeping, and perfectly 'cool' rhythmic responses, master drummer Dan Monaghan's succeeds, against all odds, in preventing Murray from eventually killing himself by Balto!

"Jeremiah" is an extended 'literary work' with enough highlights to make it eminently memorable; most notable are Lundbom's near-coherent guitar ruminations on (Frog Eye); the exciting juxtaposition of improvisational styles between Bryan Murray's tenor and Justin Wood's alto, then Sam Kulik's trombone and Jon Irabagon's soprano sax (Scratch Ankle). There's also the big band effect and tumultuous climax of (Wiccan Prayer Song Medley); and finally (Screamer), on which Lundbom's guitar and the band cavort with the cutting edge angularity of musical sharks crunching 'big data': succinctly and emphatically summing up the date. 

What is there to Lundbom? He is "le monstre de free bop." He has firm control over power, influence, turbulence and chaos in free bop; urgent conditions starkly reflected in the fascinating and intimate effects of Lundbom's exploration through the rugged, undulating terrain of "Jeremiah's" improvisational line.

Where is Big Five Chord headed? Only the stream-of-consciousness riffs in the 'shadows' that extend beyond their music know. But fans and pundits can remain assured that, whatever the future, Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord will always be nakedly innovative and unpredictably explosive; but never dull.

Track Listing: The Bottle; Frog Eye; Scratch Ankle; First Harvest; Lick Skillet; Wiccan Prayer Song Medley; Screamer.

Produced by Jon Lundbom with Moppa Elliot for Hot Cup Records

Recorded and Mixed at FIREPLACE STUDIOS by Gabe Schwartz
Mastered by Seth Foster at STERLING SOUND

Friday, March 27, 2015

Poncho Sanchez: World Heavyweight Conguero Champion...

Poncho Sanchez: Photo courtesy of
Latin Jazz Music fever erupted at Yoshi's Jazz Club in San Francisco on May 21 - May 22 (2011), brought on by a visit from 'El Jefe' of the congueros - Poncho Sanchez, and his Latin Jazz Orchestra.

Of course, was in the house!

Latin Jazz is like a religion to the 'latinos y latinas' populating Northern California - San Francisco especially, and they turned out in droves to hear this Grammy Award winning master conguero and his churning band.

Poncho Sanchez was born in Laredo, Texas and grew up in Los Angeles, California. His musical influences are stoutly eclectic and include Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria, James Brown and Wilson Pickett. Sanchez's music is diffused through this rich tapestry of figures and outputs into a vortex of hot whirling colors with rhythms of dazzling ferocity.

Sanchez's drumming submerges itself sonorously deep beneath the band's instrumental harmonies, like a diver seeking pearls, then smoothly breaks to the surface with fists filled with rare gems that percussively decorate the ensemble's melodic structures, hanging in the air like fine jewelry on a beautiful Latina. He is Charles Mingus on Afro-Cuban drums: Impressively strong in fingers, wrists, forearms and shoulders; with stamina to match; the ability to attack the congas with a calculated, relentless fury and hand speed of a pugilist; forcing them to surrender all their vibrant sounds and rhythms with the force of an erupting volcano. Experts who know about these sorts of things, endearingly refer to Mr. Sanchez's drumming style as "sick."

The band includes: Rob Hardt - saxophone/flute: Ron Blaketrumpet/flugelhorn: Francisco Torrestrombone: David Torreskeyboards: Tony Banda - bass: George Ortiz - timbales: Joey De Leon - percussion: Poncho Sanchez - congas.

Sanchez and the gang came out of the gate like jets, with trumpeter Ron Blake, tenor saxophonist Rob Hardt and trombonist Francisco Torres breathing fire. Immediately, the sold out crowd got excited; quickly Sanchez took over on congas; the evening's mood was set: Excitement reigned.

Sanchez is a geat story-teller. On this occasion he talk about his apprenticeship in the great Cal Tjader Band, which began in 1975, and lasted for more than seven years. He spoke with deep reverence and respect for Tjader and told the audience that he was with him when he died in the Philippines in 1982.

This night was given over to musical tributes; gazing backward and looking forward; mixed in were sumptuous portions of pungent nostalgia mixed with peppery rhythms.

Sanchez took time for a look back and simultaneously forward with a tribute to the Latin jazz contributions of Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo, hinting at the focus of his next CD  which will feature guest trumpeter Terrence Blanchard. The band played "Tin Tin Deo," "Manteca" and "Con Alma," with sparkling trumpet work by Ron Blake, a superb conga drumming display by Sanchez, Joey DeLeon's wizardry on percussion, splashing intricate, striking colors on to the sheets of sound laid out by the horns, while pianist/musical director David Torres pounded the ivories like a modern day John Henry, driving golden chords securely into the pulsating tracks for this Latin jazz juggernaut to propel itself in any direction, at any speed and under any condition.

A cool dip into the 2010 Grammy nominated CD "Psychedelic Blues" brought out refreshing concoctions of Willie Bobo's soulful "I Don't Know" and the spicy "Fried Neckbones and Some Homefries." These Willie Bobo compositions are especially suited for the band and are performed in a languid, soulful, swaying strut that seem to take audiences by the hand and transport them to a time of carefree, easy joy. On this occasion, they also served as an artfully constructed bridge to the classic, uptempo Dizzy Gillespie composition, "Groovin' High," spiced and seasoned by the burning timbales of George Ortiz, and perfectly cooked with a searing Rob Hardt tenor solo.

This group of players engages in very hip 'call and response' musical conversations which are imbued with sophisticated street-wise idioms, and cryptically funneled through their instruments; you get a whiff of them from the musical vignettes they spontaneously create as each player is introduced by name to the audience. It's also funnier than hell!

They perform like a well-oiled machine; changing moods, tempos, colors and rhythms like an efficiently working super-charged transmission. They spun around in this fashion, mesmerizing the increasingly spell-bound crowd until they ran full force into the white hot salsa furnace of "Guaripumpe." This infectious heart-beater got the dancers on their feet, helped by some very sardonic, comic exhortations from bassist Tony Banda.

This is the moment that the band broke through, and Sanchez sensed it. He immediately invoked the spirit of the "Godfather of Soul," James Brown, and let loose a torrent of his 60's hits that drove the entire room into a frenzy of 'testifying' and shouting like repentant sinners searching for soul-cleansing salvation. This was intended to be the band's musical 'coup de grace'; to lead to a smooth exit. But the feverish crowd had smelled blood and called for more; they screamed that they were not taking "no" for an answer. So Mr. Sanchez and his band respectfully obliged and returned to the stage with Herbie Hancock's perennial crowd-pleaser, "Watermelon Man." It's sweet, hypnotic, thirst-quenching effect, eventually brought the patrons down to a swaying, controlled, uneventful finale.

The fire was extinguished; until next time!

Poncho Sanchez Orch: Watermelon Man

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Monty Alexander: Jazz Pianist Extraordinaire.

Pianist Monty Alexander
Yoshi's Jazz Night Club's artist relations/talent coordinator, and management, finally managed to align their musical stars correctly and persuaded jazz pianist, Monty Alexander and his quartet to take a detour from their busy touring schedule and make a stop at their San Francisco location for a one-night performance. These days the quartet goes by the name: The Harlem-Kingston Express. No doubt a reference to Alexander's New York-Jamaica musical roots. Anyhow, this exciting musical Express found its way to San Francisco on Wednesday, June 22, 2011 for an 8:00pm show that thrilled the large crowd of Alexander fans, literally out of their seats.

I wanted to see Monty Alexander live, but could never seem to find him in my neck of the woods. I heard a lot of his music on radio and on CDs, especially the work he did with the great bassist Ray Brown and I knew that he was a talented pianist. Moreover, he was from the island of Jamaica, as was another elite jazz pianist that I admired: The great Wynton Kelly. So I made the trip into the city to hear him perform with his quartet.

I must admit that the Monty Alexander Quartet exceeded my expectations. This 'Express' has tons of rhythmic energy and horse power, under its hood; I actually found myself giving them two standing ovations with the rest of the audience; and standing ovations are not casual for me. But the performance of the group was exhilarating, exciting, joyous, enlightening and filled with humor. I think that anyone who attended the show had  to come away feeling that they had been entertained by an outstanding group of musicians, and that Monty Alexander had matched his advance billing as a consummate professional jazz pianist, with a performance bordering on virtuoso.

It was a Wednesday evening, and a large crowd turned out for the show. I am sure this must have made the musicians feel really good about performing in San Francisco. 

Drummer Winard Harper
The first on stage was drummer Winard Harper, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, and whose influences include Max Roach, Art Blakey and Billy Higgins. He has played with jazz icons Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Betty Carter and is virtuosic on the drum, as well as the West African balafon (marimba).

Up next on stage was the ultra-versatile bassist Lorin Cohen from Chicago, Illinois, who has played extensively throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, The Middle East, and has been with Monty Alexander since 2005.

bassist Lorin Cohen
Photo courtesy:
Rounding out the quartet was the Grammy-award winning, self taught, multi-percussionist Bobby Thomas Jr., who was an original member of the legendary fusion rock band Weather Report and has performed along side David Sanborn, Stan Getz, Herby Mann and Jaco Pastorius

Percussionist Bobby Thomas Jr.
It is doubtful whether many in the audience were aware of the sheer artistic weight of musical talent confronting them; by the end of the evening, most were staggered, but thrilled by the power, force and rhythmic displacement of the Harlem-Kingston Express. 

The quartet got going with three "warm up" tunes. The first was a rhythm-rich, uptempo calypso tune that, in retrospect, set the tone for evening ; the second was a reggae-flavored number that got an excited reaction from the audience when Bobby Thomas' percussion and Winard Harper's drums got into a spirited rhythmic conversation. Alexander began to display his piano mastery in the third tune, eliciting murmurs from audience as they began to pick up on his wizardry. He dropped a number of recognizable quotes into his solo, one of which was the Jamaica folk hit "Banana Boat Song" that got a section of the crowd into a spontaneous sing-along. A bridge was now formed between quartet and audience; one became an extension of the other. The atmosphere in the room became looser; less reserved; joy broke through, shining like a harvest moon for the remainder of the evening.

Sensing a musical vein to be mined, the band dug deeper into their reggae bag and brought out Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry." Alexander's piano was like a musical intoxicant laced with a Bobby Thomas Jr. percussion and Lorin Cohen bass mix that made the room giddy. 

Alexander is accomplished in any music genre, he displayed this facility and introduced some variety into the program with a reprise of the 1953 Frank Sinatra hit "Young at Heart" which he performed in a style reminiscent of the legendary pianist Art Tatum; then he quietly changed styles to capture the magic of one of his pianistic influences, another legend: Nat "King" Cole.

Monty Alexander, could do no wrong, and he knew it!

He took a short break to have a conversation with the patrons. He recounted his emergence as a pianist working in the gangster-filled entertainment emporiums of Miami, Florida, where he was 'spotted' by the opportunistic New York restaurateur/entertainer, Jilly Rizzo, who brought him to the attention of singer Frank Sinatra. As associations do, especially in the entertainment industry, this new association led Alexander into the "inner sanctum" (his words) of jazz music icons, vibraharpist Milt Jackson and bassist Ray Brown. He spoke of his work with his friend, recording engineer, Todd Barken of the famous jazz club Keystone Corner (long closed), which used to be located in the North Beach section of San Francisco, and who now runs Dizzy's Coca Cola Jazz Club, at Lincoln Center in New York. Alexander is a very sociable, engaging and humorous individual, and the audience seemed to enjoy his retrospective account.

Returning to his piano, Monty Alexander showed that he is a rabid Frank Sinatra fan. Next he played "one for Sinatra." This 'one' was the Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn hit "Come Fly With Me," that Sinatra made his own; giving a mischievous wink, and a cool musical salute to "airline stewardesses" in the   friendly skies. He played it, as Sinatra sang it: Swingin'.

Alexander often brackets his tunes with introductions and endings that are masterpieces unto themselves; like the audience, the band seems spell bound, while they are intricately unveiled, as they did on the next tune, Hoagy Carmichael's heart stopper "In the Cool, Cool, Cool, of the Evening." The room literally let out an audible gasp as he artfully, nimbly, ambled the piano keyboard from end-to-end before he brought this tune to its final climax.

The Harlem-Kingston Express was on a roll now, they cruised over into the fast lane, let fly the 1925 pop tune, turned jazz classic, "Sweet Georgia Brown," and Bobby Thomas gave a stunning display of his talent as a 'percussive linguist.' At times, the rhythm patterns of his bongo drums were fluidly conversant with Alexander's piano,  stimulating and accentuating its colors; then he would switch to congas and boldly trade pungent broadsides with Winnard Harper's drums to bring a rocking rhythm to the surface; and like second nature, he'd search out the bass of Lorin Cohen and blend with it to add more body, bounce and swing to its voice. Thomas is a show by himself. His energy, stamina and hand strength seem unlimited. He pushed both bassist Cohen and drummer Harper into committing solo performances that in the end garnered "Sweet Georgia Brown" a standing ovation.

But the best was still to come. The band took a nostalgic look back with a medley of classic Jamaican folk songs, beginning with Irving Burgie's popular "Jamaica Farewell,"  a phenomenal hit in 1956 for Harry Belafonte; this segued into "Linstead Market" (Oh lawd! wat a night! wat a night! wat a saturday night!); a song maybe not so well known in the U. S., but a folk anthem in the Caribbean; this night Monty Alexander performed it with all its original richness and idiomatic appeal to rousing appreciation from the crowd. The medley was crowned with one of Alexander's compositions, "Love Song." Midway through this beautiful song, Laurin Cohen took an extended bass solo during which he turned the melody inside out and converted it masterfully, into Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." It was a virtuoso performance that took every one's breath away; including Cohen. Alexander's piano then took over, restated "Love Song," and ended it with the Scholz/Sampson soulful 60's pop hit "I Need Your Love" (Unchained Melody). This performance was greeted with the second standing ovation of the evening!

This was as good a place as any to end the show; and that is what Monty Alexander tried to do, but this crowd demanded an encore; so Alexander and the Harlem-Kingston Express returned to the stage for an encore...and what an encore it turned out to be!

Alexander introduced the encore by stating that he would play a tune that he used to hear played in churches during his childhood in Jamaica; but later discovered that it was almost an "anthem" in the United States. He took his seat at the piano; the band took their positions, and Alexander commenced to play something deliberately pious, and church like; something meant for the 'dear departed.' Although the music sounded familiar, I could not identify its title. But then he paused; and if ever there was a "pregnant pause," this was it! Suddenly all of Harlem and Kingston went into over-drive, and all "swingin', rockin'" hell broke loose! Then I recognized the tune as one I knew called "John Brown's Body." Later someone gave me the official name: It was Julia Ward Howe's 1861 American Civil War Hymn: "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." That rousing cry that goes "Glory, glory, hallelujah! was now being 'swung' and 'rocked' to the rafters like it has never been before, or ever will be again! When Alexander and the band were done scorching this "hymn," incredibly, they were given the loudest, longest ovation of the show, and their third standing ovation of the night.

This was a first for me;  jazz musicians being given a standing ovation for rocking out a hymn!

There was nothing more that the band could do to top this, even though Monty Alexander spent a few more minutes on stage entertaining the now buzzing crowd with his harmonica-keyboard. I suspect that the audience was spent; the band surely. Eventually, he just laid the small instrument aside and said "good night."

And what a 'good night' it was!


Poncho Sanchez..."Keeps His Word"

Poncho Sanchez & Terence Blanchard
Poncho Sanchez is a man of his word. On Saturday May 21, 2011, he announced during an appearance at Yoshi's Jazz Club in San Francisco, California, that his next project would be to produce a CD with trumpeter Terence Blanchard honoring jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, and percussionist, Chano Pozo; (see: And now less than a year later, he has returned to Yoshi's Jazz Club in Oakland, California, Blanchard in tow to deliver on his promise, present the work of his new CD: "Chano Y Dizzy," and add another 'musical championship belt' to his spectacular collection.

Saturday February 18, 2012 was a spectacular California day, it was bright and the temperature was almost perfect. It was still officially Winter, but it was more like Spring. By nightfall it had cooled significantly, but not to require serious Winter gear for outdoors. It seemed a perfect evening for checking out some good music, and Poncho Sanchez's Latin Jazz Orchestra's appearance at Yoshi's Oakland, California Jazz Club fit the bill delightfully. I opted for the late show (10:00pm), I figured everything ought to be nice and warm; all the kinks worked out; and real excitement in the air, built by the hard core Latin jazz fans like myself. I was right, by 8:30pm, a sizable number of patrons for the 10 o'clock show had already arrived. Everybody was excited. The women were gorgeous; the men were composed and cool. I mean, "the scene was clean."

Sanchez's concerts always jump off with something swinging and hot, featuring the blistering trumpet of Ron Blake. Tonight however, he chose a medium tempo number, but Blake still had space to fill with some burn and energy. The pianist got in a nice solo, I noticed that he was playing the upright grand piano, and not a synthesizer; this seemed to foster a cool feel to the atmosphere; even Sanchez was laid back on his congas. It was the first tune I assured myself, things would heat up soon enough.

Tonight, with Sanchez on congas, percussion, vocals, and trumpeter Terence Blanchard were, Francisco Torres, trombone; George Ortiz, timbales; Rob Hardt, tenor & alto saxophones; Ron Blake, trumpet. The always interesting, Tony Banda was not in his usual spot on bass, neither was regular pianist David Torres, and I did not hear the names of the players that took their places. Percussionist Joey DeLeon was not in the line up either. I wondered how this altered band would perform as they began their second tune of the show, with an over-the-shoulder look back to 1993 for a tune that first appeared on the album Bailar: A Night With Pancho Sanchez: Live, "Siempre Me Va Bien." Just as the alto saxophone was featured on that date, Rob Hardt stepped out front with his alto and blew a clean, body-swaying solo to which Francisco Torres attached an intense, searching trombone solo until Sanchez moved in, mixing percussive power and flight with the crowd's rising enthusiasm.

Poncho Sanchez must have been feeling especially good, he was delightfully talkative and engaging with the audience. Either that, or he was deliberately prolonging the feeling of suspense present in the room, because he decided to pay tribute to the great Tito Puente; but first, a story about him and Puente at the Watergate Hotel bar while attending an All Star Show at Kennedy Center, in Washington D. C. The story is too long to recount here, but I learned that Tito Puente never missed a gig; he was a real fun guy; was very generous to friends and acquaintances alike; he could definitely hold his own at the bar; said he did not need a lot of sleep; only an hour or so, and he was good to go; that was until he hit a bed, dressed in a tuxedo, or whatever he happened to be wearing; then it took an entire hotel staff to get him up. Trouble was, following this particular night, he missed an early morning airline flight, and had to pay $11,000.00 (ouch) for a special chartered flight to a gig on the Caribbean island of Barbados. But I figure, if you're heading to a beautiful, sun-drenched paradise, with white sandy beaches; water so blue, it looks almost emerald-green, and full of really cool, fun-loving  people: then maybe, it's worth $11,000.00 to get there. The tribute to Tito Puente consisted of a smoldering medley of "Oye Cayuco/Oye Mi Cha Cha Cha" that turned into Puente's infectious, monster hit "Oye Como Va." There is something about this tune that makes you want to dance the instant you hear it, but the club was packed, and there was no room to dance, you could almost hear the audience groan in desperation, and no matter how mellow Ron Blake's trumpet tried to make this hit sound, it was a losing battle; people started to dance at their tables: It was then that I realized the band had lost nothing in its altered state!

In retrospect, it is clear that Sanchez was craftily preparing the audience for trumpeter Terence Blanchard's eventual entrance, by mixing moods, tempos, keeping anticipation keenly alive with a vignette straight out of Jim Morrison and The Doors, "Light My Fire": "You know that it would be untrue/You know that I would be a liar/If I was to say to you/Girl, we couldn't get much higher." It was great, perfect, theatre:

Enter trumpeter Terence Blanchard to carry on the rich, vibrant tradition of cross pollinating the jazz idiom with Latin rhythms.

Sanchez artfully announced the young trumpeter's presence as the featured soloist on trumpeter Clifford Brown's classic 1954 composition "Daahoud." The front line horns of Blake, Hardt and Torres took the first chorus, and the pianist soloed while Blanchard stood like a quiet gentle giant; compact, solid, head movin' to the beat, diggin' the groove; getting the tempo down; listening with 'big ears.' Then he heard his 'space' approaching; pursed his lips; and in one quick movement, like a boxer seizing an 'opening,' he raised the trumpet and blew with such unbridled power, passion and feeling, that the audience literally gasped. Blanchard did not blow "Daahoud" again after this opening salvo, until the coda of the piece, when he joined the other horns: but that was enough; the audience knew a 'heavy' was up on stage, and he was 'down' with his horn.

Sanchez allowed everyone to collect themselves by selecting a 'bolero' for Blanchard: the tempo slowed and Blanchard blew with a nice, warm, burnished tone, nourished by cool power; hitting high notes with effortless clarity; never sacrificing form, structure, or feeling, and harvesting whispered excitement around the room.

Now it was time to engage the Latin jazz canon of the iconic John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie; the jazz musician who was not only one of the principal architects of bebop, but to quote Sanchez himself, Gillespie and Chano Pozo "were the pioneers of what is now known as Latin jazz." Gillespie's smooth "Con Alma" was featured; acknowledged as a tune that "incorporates aspects of bebop jazz and Latin rhythm, and is known for its frequent changes in key centers (occurring every two bars) while still maintaining a singable melody; and if Dizzy Gillespie wrote it, there would be shameless ventures into the trumpet's upper register, where Gillespie was a monarch of all he surveyed; once prompting a young Miles Davis to query Dizzy, why he (Miles) couldn't play like Gillespie. Dizzy's response: "because you don't 'hear' up there." Tonight, Blanchard not only was 'hearing up there,' he was also seeing a panorama of majestic peaks and valleys stretched out before him as far as his musical eye could see, and he was painting the picture in vivid, effulgent colors pouring out of his own "soul."

Eventually it was time to end the show, and Sanchez gave his "we have time for one more" spiel, and it was going to be some Salsa. The band burned through a tune called "Ven Morena" that contained some blazing exchanges between Blanchard and Ron Blake that almost set the place on fire, and was worth the price of admission by itself, as the rest of the band rocked underneath with a hypnotic rhythmic smoothness much like those sensational 50's days and nights when Puente, Machito and Tito Rodriguez reigned at the Palladium in New York City. When the fire was over, Sanchez and the band actually tried to walk of the stage and almost started a riot. They quickly thought it over, and returned to play the much called for 'encore'; so Sanchez dug deep into his 60's R&B bag and dug out Junior Walker & The All Stars crowd- pleaser, "Shotgun," complete with its mind-blowin' organ groove. The room roared and dancing broke out everywhere; around tables; in the aisles; and in any available space...but Sanchez gave them what they wanted for a solid 10 minutes or so, and then, and only then, was the band allowed to get off that stage...

Whatever else is said about Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Orchestra, his musical concepts, planning, implementation, and ultimate execution are brazenly impressive, and mark his band as one of the most trenchantly incisive and successful of the genre.

Listen to the band play Ernesto Lecuona's classic Afro-Cuban composition

Thursday, March 19, 2015

WORLD JUNK - Cameron Siegal & Friends

Year: 2015

Style: World Jazz

Label: Mola Mola Music

Musicians: Cameron Siegal - drums & percussion; Mark Russell - violin; Jorge Continentino - tenor saxophone, flute, pifano, percussion; Mia Gormandy - steel pan; Carlos Odria - guitar; Brendan Polk - piano; Zach Bartholomew - piano; Brandon Robertson - upright bass, percussion; Alex Mayweather - upright bass; Tyler Tolles, Eleanor LeClair - marimba, percussion; Tyler Lee, Brett Gardner - amglocken, crotales, tin cans, canjo, Tibetan Prayer Bowl, nipple gong.

CD Review: Cameron Siegal is a bold, young, innovative, advancing drummer/percussionist, composer/arranger and band leader. Siegal who is based in Portland, Oregon, has exploded on the Jazz/World Music scene with a resounding impact similar to that of wunderkind, "For Real Kid," hoops phenom Stephen "Steph" Curry; right now lighting up the NBA's (2015) basketball courts: dazzling, spectacular and winning: Observations soundly driven home in Siegal's debut CD release: "World Junk - Cameron Siegal & Friends".

Helping Siegal to fill in other pertinent artistic details is a "first-call" coterie of musicians with world-summit status: each a maverick; non-conforming, uncompromising; outliers toting a 'one of a kind,' visceral,  funk-dripping music. The kind of music that does not traffic in irrational exuberance; has no complex nuances to misunderstand, or cryptic meanings to get wrong. True to their 'code of conduct,' "World Junk" comes in mysterious-looking, but otherwise, nondescript packaging that exemplifies the universal warning mothers give to children: "Never judge a book by its cover.".

"World Junk" is a percussion-rich panoply of eclectic instrumental exotica with ties to places and rhythms stretching across the world's continents; from the Americas to Australia to Africa; played by talented, seasoned musicians, able to champion an inclusive palette; and color as "one" on a sound scape of shifting rhythms, harmonies and melodies.

Drummer/percussionist Cameron Siegal
Drummer, Siegal, is an intensely focused artist utilizing the media of rigorous musical education - Master of Music Degree from Florida State University in Tallahassee; drum set and improvisation with Rakalam Bob Moses at the New England Conservatory; and benefiting from powerful professional associations with the late West African Drum Master Wilbur "Baba Hamza" Davis, Balinese Gamelan specialist Dr. Michael Bakan, and venerated drummer/percussionist Obuamah Laud Addy.

Siegal is also a formidable composer and sensitive arranger; energetic in approach but not taxing to the imagination, or too far out to be baffling; (Amphibian Hymn); arranging a harmonic marriage between Mia Gormandy's exotic steel pan; shimmering with the indigenous colors of the Eastern Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago, and its forerunner; the ancient African marimba. Jorge Continentino's Brazilian pifano (flute) serenades the union, over a classical percussion of amglocken, crotales, the single string canjo, primitive tin cans, the gong-like Tibetan Prayer Bowl, and the nipple gong from Thailand; each implemented expertly by Tyler Lee and Brett Gardner; exhorting their inherent anachronistic elements to describe the enduring spiritualism in Siegal's art, that give deep perspective to his keen sense of need for environmental justice.

If nothing else, Siegal is his own 'walking, breathing instrument,' with a commitment to drums and percussion that moves beyond the banalities of execution, to the realm of 'a calling.' His playing on "World Junk" betrays an exceptional drummer/percussionist growing in talent and artistic stature, right before our ears; charting new, exciting conceptualizations of jazz, and the world of exotic funk that surrounds it; keeping jazz perennially fresh and profoundly exciting.

One of the more prominent voices in this exciting ensemble is Australian violin master Mark Russell, whose energetic, rock star violin turns the opening track (Do It) into an exuberant romp of wits with virtuoso guitarist Carlos Odria, Jorge Continetino's tough tenor, Matt Wessner's brawny baritone sax, and a funky, soulful piano that  spreads open space for Siegal's rocket-propelled drum set to give advance notice of his uncanny ability to accelerate with full power at will. Russell returns later with flautist Jorge Continentino, and Siegal's scorching percussion, to challenge dancers with a rollicking interpretation of his (Russell) composition (Cajun Blue).

Still, Siegal remains steadfastly grounded in the roots of modern jazz, reprising hard bop pianist McCoy Tyner's late 60s jazz classic (African Village) into an idiom of modern, funky, world music; much of it poured from the biting angularity of the band's swinging saxophone section.

Siegal and friends, tactfully sum up the date to a clear understanding of, and respect for, the narrative of influence and harmonic perspicacity of the immortal pianist/composer Thelonious Monk; and apportioned over time to contemporary, ascending musicians like himself. Siegal pays homage with a prized composition (Two is One). Deliberate or not, subtle pianistic references to Monk's early (Sugar Hill, NY) Caribbean music influences invade the rhythm; as well as reflections of Monk's signature, harmonic dissonance that distill from the churning horn section.

"World Junk - Cameron Siegal & Friends" is an eminently delicious and energy-driven power house of inclusive music styles played by musicians considered to be masters on their respective instruments. Their daring, creative, approach and spiritual concepts, affirm jazz music as the supreme all-inclusive art form able to create  "friends," musicians, and listeners in every corner of the world.

Track Listing: Do It; Warm Night, Blue Eyes; Amphibian Hymn; Cajan Blue; African Village; Two is One.

Recorded, Mixed and Mastered by Kris Kolp at Log Cabin Studio, Tallahassee FL

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tenor Saxophonist Branford Marsalis At Yoshi's San Francisco, California

Tenor saxophonist Branford Marsalis
The appearance of the Branford Marsalis Quartet at Yoshi's San Francisco, California Jazz Club (Sept. 21 - 25, 2011) was billed as, "An evening with one of the most innovative and forward-thinking jazz ensembles today." Oh yeah? Better be sure the health insurance is all paid up. It was more like five evenings with an 'innovative and forward-rolling earthquake.' Earthquakes are not unusual for the San Francisco Bay Area. This one was different: it had a name: "Branford." Usually names are reserved for hurricanes, but this was extraordinary. Richter had no number. By Saturday night (Sept. 24), uncontrolled mayhem and unabating turbulence had reached a level that rendered the establishment an undisputed danger zone.

Marsalis had brought to the carnage: Pianist Joey Calderazzo, a guy that really thinks ahead - in music light years; a twenty-year old drummer, Justin Faulkner, who has the drive and energy of a booster rocket, packaged with the pounding dexterity of Elvin Jones; and bassist Eric Revis; melodic, innovative, electrifying, modern and forward-thinking; reminiscent of Ellington's Jimmy Blanton, or a Charles "Buster" Williams.

The Quartet came onto the bandstand at 10:30 pm sharp, Marsalis in the lead. You have to be warned about Branford; apart from being a one-man seismic event, he's got a mordant sense of humor, and the unique ability to kill a whole room with one-liners. He likes sports, and is up to date, so your major sports teams had better be doing well when he blows into town, or he is going to have a field day, or night, laying on the 'dozens.' But there were no 'dozens' coming out of Marsalis' horn when he opened the show with the late, great jazz pianist Kenny Kirkland's composition "Steepian Faith." Kirkland had a longtime association with Marsalis as pianist in his band. He died in 1998 at age 43.

Pianist Joey Calderazzo
Marsalis created some temblors by starting out on soprano sax, on which he is extremely proficient, but on the tenor he is a monster, pure and simple. A portent of the looming major quake, appeared first in the antic, les doigts de l'homme (fleet fingered) piano of Joey Calderazzo, and the relentless, convulsive roar rising from Justin Faulkner's broiling drums.

The major quake hit at about 11:00 PM (PST); it had nothing to do with global warming as most might claim. It was directly centered at 1330 Fillmore Street in the city of San Francisco, California. It bent the Richter scale needle into a U-turn; and was an unequivocal consequence of severe rhythmic tectonic shifts accompanying a sustained, brute force, firestorm of sound, as the quartet entered the sacred spiritual domain of John William Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," and paid homage with its second and third movements: "Resolution" and "Pursuance." 

The hostile explosion of sounds from tenor saxophone, piano, bass, drums, and the gigantic displacement of wave, upon wave of kinetic energy was like a collision of massive musical galaxies; too intense to avoid; riveting the audience to their chairs; too beautiful to ignore; igniting paroxysms of prolonged applause; and never before seen or felt in this jazz emporium. When it ended, and the shaking stopped, the time was 11:40 PM (PST).

Bassist Eric Revis
The after shocks set in immediately. To avoid further structural damage, Marsalis entered the "blues" canon of Duke Ellington and selected the evergreen "Mood Indigo." It visibly brought the audience back from the edge of their seats and settled them snugly under the influence of Marsalis' tenor, reprising the flowing, melodic lyricism of Ben Webster, as Calderazzo's tinkling keys selectively, effectively teased the melody, like Ellington would, against the deeply grounded, articulate bass of Eric Revis, while twenty-year old drummer Justin Faulkner displayed the subtlety and astute judgement of a seasoned veteran, employing the brushes with sublime delicacy, mellowing the mood and painting the canvas deep "Indigo."

They followed "Mood Indigo" with another selection of similar mood and tempo, as if to give the audience another opportunity to appreciate the other sensitive side of this high-powered quartet, and to ease them toward the realization that they were coming to the final moments of a beautiful evening of superb jazz. Marsalis did not back announce the piece, and no one seemed to care.

But wait...

At the conclusion of this tune, the band left the stage signaling the end of show. The crowd gave them another standing ovation and made it known that they wanted an encore. The quartet had expended so much energy,  they couldn't have had much left in the tank. To everyone's astonishment, they returned. This time Branford Marsalis brought to the stage, a young man that he introduced as Anthony (Diamond), Last names were about to become inconsequential. What mattered was, slung around his neck was a glistening alto saxophone. Marsalis disclosed that he had been mentoring Anthony for about 4 years along the lines of playing jazz, jazz history, its icons, and that Anthony was now attending Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, on a full academic scholarship studying Quantum Physics. Marsalis turned to Anthony and casually asked: "So what are you doing now, your Masters?" Anthony replied coolly: "My Doctorate." Right then, the room sat up, and took a real hard look at this taciturn young man called Anthony, who's got a brain that won't quit; looks like a twenty-year old Dexter Gordon, though not quite as tall, and who wants to play his saxophone for a sold out crowd in Yoshi's San Francisco on a Saturday night. What other surprises could he have hidden under that cool, unassuming exterior?

The wait was not long...

The quartet launched into William Kennedy "Duke" Ellington's 1931 jazz standard "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing"), Marsalis powered up and took the first solo at thoroughbred speed, 'the kid' stood still, head down, sorta diggin' it. Marsalis reined in the fire, and turned the night over to 'young Dexter' with a cursory nod of his head.

Drummer Justin Faulkner
In the quantum moment it took the 'nod' to reach Anthony, something mystical transpired. He stepped out of that telephone booth, raised that 'Big S' to his lips, and took off in a single bound, leaping over all the tall buildings in the City; he took it, 'swung' it, 'rocked' it', 'be-bopped' it, 'swung' it some more, and fused it all with crimson fire out of his white hot alto saxophone; then he casually handed it over to Joey Calderazzo and Justin Faulkner; walked real easy to the back of the stage, and sat down quietly. The room erupted...but this was only the beginning! Calderazzo, Revis and Faulkner then burnt it to a crisp, Marsalis came for a second solo and almost caught the building on fire; then Anthony returned for his second solo, this time he was toting fire accelerant. He was serious about burning the joint down. The crowds' eyes reflected the collective joy felt for Anthony: happy that he could handle himself with such professional aplomb; and that they were present to see and be thrilled by this gifted, budding star; amazed at his ability to come in and put 'three in the back of the net' with authority, in the final ten minutes of the game. But the high wire act had to end. Eventually, Marsalis and Anthony teamed up, blew some solid contrapuntal lines and put the evening to bed. The audience erupted once more with a rousing, standing ovation.

Nobody called for an encore after that!

Caveat: If you hear that the Branford Marsalis Quartet is coming to your city, or town, to play jazz...Beware people! Beware! Buy insurance!

If you learn that Joey Calderazzo is making the gig to play piano...Think twice about it! Think twice!

If you read that Eric Revis will be bringing his bass...Don't do it! Make up an excuse! Don't do it!

And if anyone barely mentions, that Justin Faulkner will be in the drummer's chair...Run! Just run! As fast as you can!

Because a maelstrom of murderous, blast furnace, post be-bop torridness, brought on by gratuitous mayhem and uncontrollable chaos, will be unleashed on your senses; and you will never be the same again....

If you are in doubt: go see them!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

CD Review: Harry Allen - "Rhythm On The River"

Year: 2012

Style: Jazz

Label: Challenge Records

Musicians: Harry Allen - tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello - piano; Joel Forbes - bass; Chuck Riggs - drums; Warren Vache (Vah-shay) - cornet on  tracks 1, 4, 8, 11

CD Review: Rivers have always had a mystical way of capturing the imagination of poets, writers, composers and musicians. Their secrets, stories and memories create a unique flowing rhythm; a rhythm presciently described in the graceful, enlivening cadence of poet laureate Langston Hughes' 1920 immortal poem, "I've Known Rivers"; the written/spoken word trapping the grandeur, majesty and lasting effects of some of the world's great rivers; etching nature's aqueous magic indelibly into our collective consciousness for the ages. Jazz music is the perfect genre for exploring and extending the vibrant life force still found in the "secrets, songs, stories and memories" of rivers, and tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, along with a group of master musicians  give 'voice' to this reality with their inspiring musical offering: "Rhythm On The River."

The idea that gave birth to the concept of "Rhythm On The River" was sublime; but it is the experience, commitment and peerless artistry of the musicians that make it live. These musicians bring a very refined level of professionalism to the date and have produced a vintage recording of styles, moods and intimate feeling. In their collective backgrounds is chronicled an impressive accounting of the history of jazz spanning over seven decades. From Hoagy Carmichael's traditionally accented opening track (Riverboat Shuffle) to Grant Clark and Louis Silver's poignant lullaby (Sleepy River), nothing stands in the way of this date producing one of the most artistically satisfying, genre-consequential  CD's of 2012.  

Tenor saxophonist Harry Allen
A 'keen interpretive' sense is usually reserved for describing a vocalist's singular stylistic strength, but in the case of this group, it is apropos to apply the term to their collective sensitivity of the various composers' intent and mission as expressed in the lyrics. Tenor saxophonist Harry Allen displays an uncanny interpretive poignancy on Arthur Hamilton's bittersweet classic (Cry Me A River), reprising Julie London's benchmark luscious sultriness with a Coleman Hawkins-throated, full-bodied, breathy elegance. Allen is a tenor saxophonist for all seasons, he can swing with abandon as he does on the title track (Rhythm On The River) by Johnny Burke and James Monaco, matching stinging soloing wits with cornetist Warren Vache (Riverboat Shuffle) or driving the melody until it sweats with post-bop fever (Roll  On, Mississippi, Roll On), then in the fluid, eloquent tradition of Lester Young and Ben Webster, he engages his precise rhythm section, featuring Rossano Sportiello's nimble pianism, and serves up the soul-drenched Rogers and Hart evergreen (Down By The River) and the easy-swinging Robert Sour/ Una Mae Carlisle (Walking By The River).

Cornetist Warren Vache
A important tine in the ensemble's musical fork is Cornetist Warren Vache, who is described by his peers as "a swinging stylist, whose performances are beautiful, emotional and surprising." He counts among his seminal influences, trumpeters/cornetists Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Bobby Hackett, Fats Navarro, Tom Harrell and Ruby Braff. The 'Creme de la Creme' of twentieth century horn players. He boasts a variety of playing experience from polka and dixieland bands to jazz groups and large combos, buttressing the band with a stellar world-wide reputation as a free improvising large ensemble player. He has literally toured the world playing music, and has appeared in most major performance halls in the US. He plays with great imagination and enthusiasm on this CD; with the fiery brilliance and melodic clarity heard in Louis Armstrong's Hot Five/ Hot Seven canon coloring his playing on (Riverboat Shuffle). He leans towards Bobby Hackett's distinctive lyrical clarity (Lazy River; River Stay Away From My Door); but he instinctively peppers his phrases with beautiful, signature Armstrong flair and flight that make him the perfect fit for contrapuntal runs and searing exchanges with tenor saxophonist Harry Allen. But it is (Old Folks At Home (Swanee River)) that he reserves for a brief, touching, sensuously seductive appearance with Allen's equally emotional tenor saxophone. Regrettably it is the shortest track on the disc.

Pianist Rossano Sportiello
Pianist Rossano Sportiello's attack is cat's paw light (Cry Me A River), his solos cavort with the glittering, piercing, simplicity of shiny coins in a fountain (Rhythm On The River; Roll On, Mississippi, Roll On), effulgent with excellent backing from bassist Joel Forbes on Hoagy Carmichael's (Lazy River), each solo a testament to some special emotion or memory; each in its own way recording the passage of time with a patent weathered patina; collectively assembling a living montage made from dreams, desires and secret wishes; played by a pianist whose stated goal is "to play jazz and make it understandable to everybody. Most of all, I want to see people smiling and having fun." He makes an unambiguously eloquent case in this instance. Sportiello is a pianist that jazz pianist/educator Barry Harris extols as "the best stride piano player" he has ever heard. This is saying quite a lot, since it is certain that Mr. Harris also must have heard the original, giant stride players: James P. Johnson, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Fats Waller and Eubie Blake. After listening to Sportiello's playing on this date, it is easier to understand Barry Harris' assessment of his keyboard skills, especially when he strides and swings (Ready For The River).

Bassist Joel Forbes
The unsung heroes on the date are definitely, the internationally recognized master of the acoustic bass, Joel Forbes, and the highly regarded jazz drummer Chuck Riggs; both with profound understanding of the traditions of the idiom. Forbes is accredited with a number of recordings: Nicole Pasternak/ Ralph Lalama (1992); Dan Barrett: Moon Song (1995); Bryan Shaw: Night Owl (1995); The Joel Forbes Song Book (1996); Dan Barrett/Blue Swing: Blue Swing (1999); Dan Barrett: International Swing Party (2000); Wayne Escoffery Times Change (2001).

Drummer Chuck Riggs
Chuck Riggs has worked extensively with tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton going back as far as 1972. Riggs has appeared on over 30 albums for various labels and has appeared with trumpeters/cornetists Clark Terry and Ruby Braff, vocalists Maxine Sullivan and Roesmary Clooney, arranger/composer/saxophonist Al Cohn, guitarist Herb Ellis, clarinetist/bandleader Benny Goodman, double bassist Milt Hinton, pianist/bandleader Jay McShann, tenor saxophonists/clarinetists Flip Phillips and Buddy Tate along with many others. Both Riggs and Forbes bring tremendous talent and experience to the date and have performed with consummate professionalism, poise and patience. They have provided unobtrusive support and an indispensable, bedrock, rhythmic underpinning that enhance the high quality of the music.

The CD ends with Eric Ansell's charming lullaby (Sleepy River) played poignantly by Allen and Sportiello. It seems like the perfect mood to conjure up at the end of an exciting, enervating musical journey; walking alongside rivers; crying rivers of tears; listening to rivers roll on; begging rivers to stay away; and wondering what other 'secrets, stories, memories, songs and rhythms', they still hold.

Track Listing: Riverboat Shuffle; Cry Me A River; Rhythm On The River; Lazy River; Roll On, Mississippi, Roll On; Down By The River; Walking The River; River, Stay 'Way From My Door; Blue River; Weary River; Old Folks At Home (Swanee River); Ready For The River; Sleepy River.

Recorded engineer: Manfred Knoop
Assistant engineer: Chris Sulit
Mixed by Manfred Knoop & Chris Sulit

Executive Producer: Chris Ellis

A&R Challenge Records by Anne de Jong

ESPN Scores & Stats.