Wednesday, May 20, 2015


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New England Conservatory Jazz Faculty Members
Jason Moran, Miguel Zenón and Dave Holland

Plus NEC Graduate & Board of Visitors Member Regina Carter
And Former NEC Prep Student Mary Halvorson

Winners of 2015 JJA Jazz Awards for Musical Achievement

New England Conservatory Jazz Studies Department faculty members Jason Moran, Miguel Zenón and Dave Holland have won 2015 JJA Jazz Awards for Musical Achievement from the Jazz Journalists Association. Other NEC affiliated winners include Regina Carter, who graduated from NEC in 1982 and is a member of the school’s Board of Visitors, and Mary Halvorson, who attended NEC Prep in 1998.
Dave Holland
Miguel Zenón
Jason Moran
Moran was selected as Musician of the Year, Zenón as Alto Saxophonist of the Year and Holland earned recognition in two categories: Record of the Year for his CD with Kenny Barron titled The Art of Conversation (Impulse!), and Trio or Duo of the Year for his duo with Kenny Barron.  Carter was chosen in the category of Violinist/Violist/Cellist of the Year and Halvorson is Guitarist of the Year.

Jazz Awards winners are determined through open nominations and direct voting by professional journalist members of the Jazz Journalists Associations.  Winners will be celebrated at a party June 16 at The Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City.  This is the 19th annual JJA Jazz Awards presentation.

NEC’s Jazz Studies Department was the first fully accredited jazz studies program at a music conservatory. The brainchild of Gunther Schuller, who moved quickly to incorporate jazz into the curriculum when he became President of the Conservatory in 1967, the Jazz Studies faculty has included six MacArthur "genius" grant recipients (three currently teaching) and four NEA Jazz Masters, and alumni that reads like a who’s who of jazz. Now in its 44th year, the program has spawned numerous Grammy winning composers and performers. As Mike West writes in JazzTimes: “NEC’s jazz studies department is among the most acclaimed and successful in the world; so says the roster of visionary artists that have comprised both its faculty and alumni.”  The program currently has 98 students; 54 undergraduate and 44 graduate students from 14 countries.

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Joanne Tatham...out of my dreams

Year: 2015

Style: Jazz Vocal

Label: Cafe Pacific Records

Musicians: Joanne Tatham - vocals; Tamir Hendelman - piano; John Clayton - bass; Peter Erskine - drums; Marcel Camargo - guitar; Jamieson Trotter - piano; Lyman Medeiros - bass; Mike Shapiro - drums; Bob Sheppard - alto saxophone;

CD Review: Joanne Tatham sings with the crystal-clear, insistent zest of a nocturnal whip-poor-will, and the interpretive acumen of a tested balladeer. She confidently illuminates and advances America's original art form: Jazz. Tatham also reflects much of the aesthetic appeal that radiated from such iconic jazz vocalists as Lady Day and the First Lady of Song to Peggy Lee and Julie London.. On her new CD: Joanne Tatham - out of my dreams, she brings versatility, formidable 'chops' and a discerning eye for detail as she expertly blends color, mood and tempo with the awesome talents of a musical 'dream team'; and up jumps, an 'out of this world,' dazzling recording date.

Tatham's keen eye for detail and penchant for excellence are revealed in the peerless talent of her band mates; and the venerated composers she reads. On this date, she helps to uncork sizzling rhythmic brews utilizing two world-class rhythm sections; nothing is left to chance. Alternating on piano, are two contrasting masters; Tamir Hendelman, the award-winning, modern interpreter of the jazz standard; and the gritty, timeless Jamieson "Jamo" Trotter from the "University of the Street." Cementing essential structural integrity, are sublime bassists; John Clayton and Lyman Medeiros, while impeccable time keeping and forward propulsion become the province of irrepressible percussionists, Peter Erskine and Mike Shapiro; adding exotic rhythmic color from the 'Brazil you've never heard,' is guitarist Marcel Camargo. Immaculately fitted melody, harmony and spontaneous improvisation are served up by saxophonist Bob Sheppard in the style befitting a 'worldwide, multi-woodwind, performer, recording artist and jazz musician.'

With this coterie of talented professionals at her disposal, and a flawless vocal technique for added elevation, Tatham rockets through the opening track, McCoy Tyner & Sammy Cahn's (You Taught My Heart To Sing), with the high flying verve of a trapeze artist firmly tethered to the Getz-like melodic line "sound" and Turrentine-esque edgy, soulful confection flowing out of Bob Sheppard's saxophone; deploying profound depths of trust, and confidence which Taham brings naturally to her art; grist that energizes her graceful straddle of multiple music genres with stylistic authority; from the cutting edge jazz music of Tyner and Herbie Hancock; the Brazilian influence of the legendary Antonio Carlos Jobim; to the evocative show music of Rodgers & Hammerstein and Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim.

Tatham transforms the luxury of two working rhythm sections into an opportunity to showcase her artistic versatility, and imposing interpretive command of the lyric. She selects Grammy Award singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson's 1967 (Without Him) as the perfect vehicle to marry such a communion; exploring a tortured side of 60s classic rock; sensuously reprising Antonio Carlos Jobim's passionate (Vivo Sonhando); and working through the wonderment in Jon Lucien's breathtaking (You're Sensational); each song brilliantly authenticated by a 'Streets of LA' percussive junket, featuring pianist Jamieson Trotter, bassist Lyman Medeiros, drummer Mike Shapiro and guitarist Marcel Camargo.

Even after Tatham demystifies the story in the lyric, she drills further to suppressed levels of depths that reveal a song's natural emotional place: Herbie Hancock's (Double Life (Tell Me a Bedtime Story)) and (In a Lonely Place), Marilyn Harris & Mark Winkler's biting ode to the foibles of celebrity; each song succumbs to Tatham's indomitable search for artistic honesty and simplicity of expression: ornamenting these bracing emotive excursions are John Clayton's rounded, melodic bass figures, Tamir Hendleman's keyboard modernism, and the alternating rhythmic dynamism of drummers Peter Erskine and Mike Shapiro.

But behind Joanne Tatham's "quintessential big-city girl, wry, no-nonsense" persona, there silently lurks a pithy, musician's sense of humor, with a savvy for the well-timed punch line that surfaces in Dave Frishberg's off-the-floor, acerbic gem (Too Long in LA). Who else but a Joanne Tatham may work "Rush Limbaugh," "Xanax" and "deleted expletive" into the body of a lyric and make it all mordantly hip: hip enough that a witty canonization of blocked traffic arteries populating Los Angeles may well be the "sleeper" of the album.

Tatham nails everything in place though, with the title track: Rodgers & Hammerstein's (Out Of My Dreams) from the award-winning musical "Oklahoma"; evidence that there is much more musicianship, modernism and moxie to recommend "out of my dreams," as one of the most exhilarating jazz vocal CDs of 2015; from a singer whose songs breathe deeply; fully; and who takes the listener inside all the wonderful musical hangouts created within the 'spaces.'; a singer who understands that getting the best out of her dreams demands working with the most accomplished "Dream Team" that 'dreams' can conjure up.

Track Listing: You Taught My Heart To Sing; Without Him (Without Her); Devil May Care; Vivo Sonhando; Cool; Double Life (Tell Me a Bedtime Story); Detour Ahead; Too Long in LA; You're Sensational; In a Lonely Place; Out Of My Dreams.

Produced by Mark Winkler

Engineered and Mixed by Talley Sherwood at Tritone Recording Studio
Mastered by Ron Boustead

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

CD Review: Wadada Leo Smith - Heart's Reflections.

Year: 2011

Style: Jazz/Improvisation

Label: Cuneform Rune

Musicians: Wadada Leo Smith - trumpet, electric trumpet; Michael Gregory - electric guitars; Pheeroan akLaff - drums; Brandon Ross - electric guitar; John Lindberg - acoustic bass, electric acoustic bass; Skuli Sverrisson - electric bass. 6-string bass; Angelica Sanchez - acoustic piano, Wurlitzer electric piano; Josh Gerowitz - electric guitar; Lamar Smith - electric guitar; Stephanie Smith - violin; Casey Anderson - alto saxophone; Casey Butler - tenor saxophone; Mark Trayle - laptop; Charlie Burgin - laptop.

Trumpeter/composer/improviser: Wadada Leo Smith
Photo courtesy:
CD Review: Wadada Leo Smith seems to have a lot in common with the late Miles Davis. His music is transformative, and he appears to be uncompromisingly determined about selecting the best musicians for his band; he eschews musical cliches. Like 'electric Miles' he has positioned himself firmly on the cutting edge of jazz improvisation as a genre changer, being able 'to hear up there,' and endeavouring to play 'what's not there!'  His artistic output is prodigious, amassing a lions share of awards and accolades. His music is imbued with fetching spirituality. Those who make a living digesting these things, say that he is also a damn good trumpet player.

His new CD release (two discs): "Heart's Reflections" further cements his living legacy.

It is instructive to review the accomplishments of the players on this date, in order to appreciate fully the wide ranging artistic power and musical innovation of the ensemble. The band has 14 musicians, including Smith. Immediately, this presents challenges of control (egos and otherwise), and cohesion for any leader. Smith acquits himself marvelously and simply by demonstrating great confidence in the muscular rhythm section of Pheeroan akLadd (drums), John Lindberg (acoustic bass, electric acoustic bass), Skuli Sverrison (electric bass, 6-string bass) and Angelica Sanchez (acoustic piano, Wurlitzer electric piano), affording it more than adequate space to anchor the band with a concentrated beat that furrows an opening, funky groove on several of the tracks, extending a galactic, textured weave for the electric guitars of Michael Gregory, Brandon Ross, Josh Gerowitz, and Lamar Smith to paint, pound, strut, sizzle, and burn with the abandon of an invading electronic army (Don Cherry's Electric Sonic Garden; The Majestic Way; The Shaykh; Certainty; Ritual Purity and Love, Part II; The Well: From Bitter to Fresh Sweet Water; Leroy Jenkins's Air Steps).

Drummer Pheeroan akLaff comes to the band by way of scintillating work with avant garde personage, pianist Cecil Taylor, is regarded as a sensitive colorist, who uses dynamics skillfully, possesses an intuitive sense of orchestration, and brings the funk!

Bassist John Lindberg is a co-founder of the String Trio of New York. He has worked with improvising luminaries Albert Mangelsdorff, Ed Thigpen, Susie Ibarra, Karl Berger, John Carter, Kevin Norton and Roswell Rudd. Skuli Sverrisson, like Lindberg, has also worked with venerates of the free jazz world, Derek Bailey, Lou Reed, Jon Hassel, David Svlvian, Arto Lindsey and is known for his work with composers Ryuichi Sakamoto, Johann Johannson, and Hildur Gudnadottir. Sverrisson has been awarded 5 Icelamic Music Awards, including Album of the Year for Seria in 2006.

Pianist/composer Angelica Sanchez studied Composition and Jazz at Arizona State University, was a 2008 recipient of the French/American Chamber Music American Grant and the 2011 Rockefeller Brothers Pocantico artist residency. She has worked with Paul Motian, Ralph Alessi, Susie Ibarra, Tim Berne, Mario Pavone, Reggie Nicholson and numerous others.

Electric guitarist/composer/singer/songwriter Brandon Ross has worked/recorded with Cassandra Wilson, Henry Threadgill, Tony Williams, Bill Frisell, Archie Shepp, Myra Melford, and countless others. He co-leads the avant power trio, Harriet Tubman, with bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer JT Lewis. "Brandon Ross...combines the linear facility and originality of joyous Late-era Pat Martino with the sheer decibels of Sharrock and the liquid whammy-bar articulations of Alan Holdsworth. (Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times June '07)

Electric guitarist Michael Gregory, a New Haven, Connecticut native, was mentored during his artistic nascence by Wadada Leo Smith. Later Gregory became involved with improvising luminaries, Jay Hoggard, Dwight Andrews, Jeff Fuller, Pheeroan akLaff. He has toured Europe and played with Oliver Lake, trumpeter Baikaida Carroll, and recorded with Bija, Black Saint, and improvising Artists and Artisa.

Electric guitarist/composer/improviser/educator Josh Gerowitz is from Los Angeles, California. He has performed with Mark Tribe, Vinny Golia, The Brotet, The Cabeza De Vaca Arcestra, The New Century Players, Michael Pisaro and others. He leads his ensembles The Gerowitz Quintet and Slabubnik.

Violinist/composer/performer/sound artist Stephanie Cheng Smith is a multi-media artist, she is a graduate of the University of Chicago and is working on an MFA in Experimental Sound Practices and Integrated Media at California Institute of Arts. She is a recipient of several grants, including: California Institute of the Arts Interdisciplinary Grant (2010); California Institute of the Herb Alpert School of Music Grant (2010); California Institute of the Arts Ahmanson Grant (2010); and the Cultural Affairs and Illinois Arts Council Grant (2008).

Alto saxophonist/composer/improviser/ Casey Anderson lives and teaches in Los Angeles, California. He has performed with Jason Kahn, Ulrich Krieger, MKM, Fomoudou Don Moye, Michael Pisaro, and The Dog Star Orchestra. His residencies, performances and exhibitions include the Walker Art Center (MN), MOCA - Los Angeles (CA), ISSUE Project Room (NY), STEIM (NL), Atlantic Center for the Arts (FL), and Mass MOCA (MA).

Multi-instrumentalist Casey Butler (alto saxophone, guitar, bass, keyboards, flute, gamelan), originally from San Diego, California, with degrees in music from UC Berkeley and CalArts. He has studied with Eddie Gale, John Tchicai. He is a student of the spiritual potency of John Coltrane's music. He performs in Los Angeles with the Improvising Composers United (ICU) 9,000,000 B. C., The Amazing Feelings, and his own Reflective Myth Unit.

Mark Trayle is a San Jose, California native. He has studied composition at the University of Oregon with Homer Keller and at Mills College in Oakland, California with Robert Ashley, David Behrman and David Rosenbloom. He is a musician and sound artist that works with a variety of media including live electronic music, improvisation, installations and compositions for chamber music. He has composed a number of pieces for acoustic instruments with electronics. His music has been the subject of articles in Strumenti Musicali and Virtual (Italy), Keyboard, and "Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century" (Grove/Atlantic). He has recorded for Artifact, Atavistic Records, CRI, Creative Sources, Inial, Los Angeles River, Electra/Nonesuch and Tzadik.

Charlie Burgin is a multi-instrumentalist/composer/hip-hop producer. His music is composed with the help of custom designed software, hardware, and modified instruments producing electronic drumming, scratching, and multiple music interfaces. He is currently studying Music Technology in the MTIID programs at the California Institute of the Arts with Martjin Zwartijes and Ajay Kapur. He has completed two complete albums, hip-hop influenced "Freak Beat" and IDM influenced "Unknown." He is working on his third.

Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith leader/trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist/composer/improviser has been active in creative contemporary music for over forty years. His systematic music language Ankhrasmation is significant in his development as an artist and educator. (Biography)

Wadada Leo Smith's Oraganic Heart's Reflections is awe-inspiring, candidly raw music, with a formidable, determined electric attitude, that must make Charles Augustin de Coulomb antic in his grave. It is a sustained lightning strike of world energy, descending on a groove, toting a beat, connected to human feeling. Apart from the infectious beat, Smith's music gains automatic attention because of the sheer complexity and mixture of instrumental sounds out of which his trumpet flows like Armstrong's, the first time trombonist Jack Teagarden heard him; playing from the mist-shrouded deck of a Mississippi River boat, " a God." (Don Cherry's Electric Sonic Garden).

Generally, the band is an eclectic mix of musical tastes with a mercurial emotional character; it can be busy, enigmatic, yet full of cool surprises. It can growl fiercely like a pride of hungry lions during a feeding frenzy, plead with a human voice, or it can go 'way, way out' (Toni Morrison: The Black Hole) with Smith in the lead pushing with clear, streaking high register wails; and as it demonstrates on (Larry Jenkins's Air Steps); becoming an epicenter of  insanity that Sanchez's piano attempts to keep under control with a repeating melodic mantra that draws in Smith's even, sane trumpet, expanding the movement to a passionate funk anthem that materializes a fantastic Michael Gregory electric guitar solo, staking out territory with the devastating beauty and authority of a Hendrix; then, through sheer technical aplomb and dominant assertiveness, he guides the stunned ensemble to deserved respite; receiving a unified instrumental, brassy salute from the band to end the piece. This is the band at its best!

Braided into the band's organic mastication of sound and stirring electronics, intriguing shades of darkness inhabit it's collective personality; curiously propitious and engaging like an infinite, suspended, barren moonscape; impaling sensation with the eerie sound of silence rising out of the sparse, tenuous pianism of Angela Sanchez, and blended with John Lindberg's searching, measured bass (The Dhikr of Radiant Hearts, Part 2). The ensemble's cimmerian interweave is ultimately infused with intricate, organic, modernity and adventurous creativity from Mark Trayle (laptop), Stephanie Smith (violin) and Charlie Burgin (laptop) arranging itself into the Jekyll and Hyde-like (Ritual Purity and Love).

Though Smith incorporates ultra freedom, muscular innovation, and daring spontaneity in his compositional approach, there is an underlying indomitable spirit and 'spirituality', that pervades his music. It is this spirit that adapted the intellectual genius of Ellington, Miles and Monk to absorb 'the rules;' gave them the courage to 'break them all,' and equipped each with the conviction to give voice to the 'inner self.'  This is the spirit that springs from the fecund imagination of  Wadada Leo Smith, lives in his music, and shines in the depth less wonder and bracing simplicity of his compositions (The Dhikr of Radiant Hearts, Part 1 & 2; Spiritual Wayfarers). There is also heard flowing, bluesy lyricism from Smith's trumpet (The Majestic Way), and pungent funk steaming out of the 'mash of sounds' (Smith) from the pots of rhythms peppered by drummer Pheeroan akLaff, bassists Skuli Sverrisson and John Lindberg (Ritual Purity and Love, Part 2).

In terms of innovation, vision, and forward thinking, Wadada Leo Smith's Organic: Heart's Reflections 2011 appears to show striking artistic parallels with Miles Davis' 1948 landmark (now classic) album "Birth of the Cool." Both are nonpareil trumpeters fronting large ensembles, consisting of young, versatile, cutting-edge musicians, hungry to explore new territory; and each with strong leadership qualities. Davis' Nonette was never reassembled to  record more albums, for reasons that had nothing to do with the music, and more to do with logistics. Hopefully, Smith will remain beyond classification and continue to reprise the free music of this exceptionally exciting band.

Track listing: Disc 1: Don Cherry's Electric Sonic Garden; The Dhikr of Radiant Hearts, Part 1; The Dhikr of Radiant Hearts, Part 2; The Majestic Way; The Shaykh, as Far as Humaythira; Spiritual Wayfarers; Certainty; Ritual Purity and Love, Part 1; Ritual Purity and Love, Part 2;

Disc 2: Silsila; The Well: From Bitter to Fresh Sweet Water, Part 1; The Well: From Bitter to Fresh Sweet Water, Part 2; Toni Morrison: The Black Hole; Leroy Jenkins's Air Step.

Recorded and mixed at Firehouse 12 Recording Studio, New Haven CT.
Engineer: Nick Lloyd
Tracking Assistant: Doug DiCrosta
Overdub Engineer: Clay Chaplin, Herb Alpert's School of Music
                             California Institute of the Arts, Valencia CA
Mixed by Nick Lloyd, Michael Gregory and Wadada Leo Smith
Mastered by Gene Paul at G & J Audio, Union City NJ
Mastering Assistant: Jamie Polaski

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

FLOATING - Fred Hersch Trio

Year: 2014

Style: Jazz

Label: Palmetto Records

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

CD Review: The first appealing sensations rising from "FLOATING - Fred Hersch Trio" are the 'deep space' clarity, crispness and fathomless stillness of the recording quality. In addition, the Steinway's ( the house piano at Oktaven) Aliquot strings produce the tone and sonority whose importance pianist Jimmy Rowles impressed upon Hersch. For this session the Steinway was prepared and tuned by Arlan Harris, a leader in the field of Concert Services and Piano Consulting. Critical details that permit Hersch and the trio to luxuriate in an elastic recording vastness, and extract a work of uncommon exquisiteness, sustained through scintillating technique.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assistant Engineer and Editor Ryan Streber

Mastered by Mark Wilder at Battery Studios, NYC

Fred Hersch plays the Steinway Piano


Monday, April 13, 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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra: Christmas Time is Here.

Year: 2012

Style: Christmas Jazz

Label: Knoxjazz

Musicians: Mark Tucker - alto sax, flute (1,5, 8, 11); Tim Green - alto sax, (6, 9, 10, 12); David King - alto sax, flute; Greg Tardy - tenor sax, clarinet; William Boyd - tenor sax, clarinet; Tom Johnson - baritone sax, bass clarinet.

Michael Wyatt, Stewart Cox, Michael Spirko, Tom Fox, Vance Thompson - trumpets.

Tom Lundberg, Don Hough, Chris MacTavish, Brad McDougall - trombones.

Robert Owen, Jeffrey Whaley, Mark Harrell, Mitzi Hall - french horns.

Sandra MacMorran - tuba.

Bill Swann - piano; Dan Trudell - Hammond B-3 organ; Rusty Holloway - bass; Keith Brown - drums; Bob Adamcik - aux. percussion.

Jill Andrews - vocals (4);

Church Street United Methodist Choir - Tim Ward, Director.
Community Evangelistic Presbyterian Church Choir - John Johnson, Director.
Kellie Jolie - additional vocals.

Arrangements and Conducting: Vance Thompson.
Assistant Conductor: Alan Wyatt.

CD Review: The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra: "Christmas Time is Here" is the kind of recording that surfaces the genuine joy of the Christmas Season, and conversely, sadly reminds us that the phenomenon of unsolicited peace, goodwill, and love for all mankind visits but one time each year; unfortunately.

Nevertheless, The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, flaunting a cadre of 17 of East Tennessee's elite professional musicians, with outstanding help from tenor saxophonist Gregory Tardy, alto saxophonist Tim Green, Hammond B-3 organist Dan Trudell; the magnificent gospel choirs of Church Street United Methodist Church and Community Evangelistic Presbyterian Church, have stylishly turned out a rich collection of 12 of the finest traditional Christmas songs and carols decked out in the gorgeous colors of the blues; the exotic rhythms of samba and bossa nova; the joyous veneration of gospel and spiritual; and the unrelenting, profoundly affecting, swing of jazz. Music that can be played and enjoyed in any month of the year from the pens of such esteemed composers as; Tchaikovsky, Walter Kent, Jule Styne/Sammy Kahn; Ralph Blane/Hugh Martin; Noel Regney/Gloria Shayne Baker and Vince Guaraldi.

"Christmas Time is Here" steals awake like a serene morning dawn on the wings of Ralph Blane/Hugh Martin's (Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas), streaming gracefully out on the entrancing tone of Greg Tardy's tenor saxophone. And what better than Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn's (Let It Snow) to draw you deeper into the spirit of the season on Bill Swann's beckoning, sultry piano chords; meanwhile trombonists Don Hough and Tom Lundberg add a warmth to the wide open sound of the brass section, which Bill "Splanky" Swann diffuses with a witty reprise of the understated, ring-tone piano signature of 'The Kid From Red Bank.'

The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra
The first brisk winds of the coming 'swing' (Deck The Halls: Traditional) come bopping out of Russ Holloway's bass, Swann's hip piano, and Tardy's brilliant, streaming, tenor sax sound colors. Later, those winds reach gale force when Tardy's tenor, Tim Green's alto sax and the exquisite rhythm section featuring Swann's now ultra-cool, trademark, repeating piano patterns, Keith Brown's impeccable time keeping, and Rusty Holloway's mellow bass team up on Vance Thompson's electrifying, 'Benny Golson-Killer Joe-like' arrangement of Walter Kent's popular (I'll Be Home For Christmas), securely embroidered into a durable fabric of harmony and rhythm, pressed in place by Tom Johnson's sturdy, tree-trunk, baritone sax sound.

A rare, cherished, anticipated seasonal libation is offered in perfectly suited, crystal beauty from vocalist Jill Andrews (O Little Town of Bethlehem: Traditional). Van Thompson's arrangement is sensitive and masterful, as is his flugel horn solo, throughout the fetching, subtle contrast he paints in juxtaposing  his lilting, samba flavored interval against Andrews' seductive, sustaining voice that renewed the reverence and somber prayer-like adjuration laid bare in the verse.

The organ, an instrument that has dominated the 'sound of church,' and has maintained its vaunted residency almost without challenge over time, unsurprisingly plays a conspicuous role in the 'Jazz  Christmas Theater' of these Knoxville Jazz Players. And it is Don Trudell's Hammond B-3 that creates riveting, nontraditional grooves as he leans into (Go Tell It On The Mountain: Traditional)- don't let that funereal, pious, church-inspired intro fool you- he coats this musical treat with enough indigo to plaster a blue horizon end-to-end; William Boyd's tenor sax, and Keith Brown's 'rhythm-a-thing' drumming then move in to pin your ears back with the precision of a nail gun . Showing a mischievious inclination for unbridled swing, Trudell and the B-3 proceed to attack Noel Regney/Gloria Shayne Baker's (Do You Hear What I Hear) and (A Not-So Silent Night: Traditional) with a menacing vibrancy, and compelling rhythmic urgency that would have elicited spirited "high-fives" from James Oscar Smith.

Trudell's infectious B-3 by now had managed to infect all sections of the band like a tenacious Summer virus, and what they did to Pyotr Tchaikovsky's noble (Russian Dance) fit (tongue in Cheek), Ella Fitzgerald's immortal description of her inimitable version of "Mack The Knife": Berlin 1960 "...Bobby Darin made a 'record' we're making a 'wreck'..." But Ella swung in classic style then, as do the Knoxville jazz Orchestra and Tchaikovsky now; with an intensity and power not heard since the William "Count" Basie Orchestra's atomic version of "Jumpin' At The Woodside."

Christmas has a way of bestowing indescribable, sublime, divine moments to be treasured, and added to its experience as enduring themes for nostalgia. The inclusion of Vince Guaraldi's pensive, vulnerable title track (Christmas Time is Here), in this sense, seems to embody the collective spirit and character of the band within the simplicity and relentless subtlety of Bill Swann's piano, which by its mood, is transformed into a gentle approach to the threshold of the album's climax and finale, where Gospel and the Spiritual join in stirring choral jubilation (Children Go Where I Send Thee: Traditional), inspired by Chris Potter's quartet arrangement from "Traveling Mercies." It is begun by the choir from Church Street United Methodist in Knoxville in "high church" (Vance Thompson) style under the direction of Tim Ward, and the arrangement is closed " a Gospel style" (Vance Thompson) with a choral section from the Community Evangelistic Presbyterian Church, under the direction of John Jackson.

The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra: "Christmas Time is Here" is a performance of jazz music that can be enjoyed during any season. Since it is a collection of Christmas songs, carols and traditional music, it makes a perfect gift for any music lover. The packaging and graphic design are sensational, thanks to Thomas HeflinGraphic Designer; Mischa GoldmanSession Photographer; Eric Smith - Concert Photos.

The person intent on buying "Christmas Time is Here" for themselves should buy two copies. One will be completely worn out over "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Track Listing: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas; Let It Snow; Deck The Halls; O Little Town Of Bethlehem; Go Tell It On The Mountain; I'll Be Home For Christmas; Do You Hear What I Hear; Russian Dance; Jingle Bells; A Not-So Silent Night; Christmas Time Is Here; Children Go Where I Send Thee.

Produced by: Vance Thompson.

Recorded and Edited by Mischa Goldman at Weird Monkey Studios, Knoxville, Tennessee.
Production Assistants: Ben Ryerkerk and Chris Jerger.
Mixing Engineer: Matt Coleman.
Mix Supervisor: Bob Katz.
Mixed at Digital Domain Studio B, Orlando, Florida.
Mastered by Bob Katz at Digital Domain, Orlando, Florida.

This CD is dedicated to the memory of  Bill Scarlett.

ESPN Scores & Stats.