Wednesday, September 21, 2016

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CD projects by A.G.N.Z., Aziza, Joe Mulholland and Ted Nash....

A.G.N.Z., ChanceMeeting, (Whaling City Sound)
This band of savvy jazz veterans came together for the first time on a club stage in Providence RI in July 2014 and discovered a great musical chemistry. So the four – guitarist Jay Azzolina, tenor saxophonist Dino Govoni, drummer Adam Nussbaum and bassist Dave Zinno – decided to schedule a studio date a few months later. This excellent modern take on jazz is the result. All four players brought in original compositions with a variety of moods – and these chance band mates find spirited common ground throughout. 

The band has a wonderful energetic groove, drawn from the same kind of experimental chemistry of the finest fusion groups. There is a strong emotional imprint of the late saxophonist Michael Brecker here. Govoni, a Boston-based reed player heavily influenced by the Brecker sound, first heard him live about 25 years ago at a gig on which Nussbaum was the drummer. Azzolina, for many years a neighbor of Brecker’s, used to jam with him informally in his basement on many an afternoon. Favorite tracks: Govoni’s poignant “Lament for Michael Brecker,” Azzolina’s high-flying “1 of 3” and Nussbaum’s teasing “My Maia.” Also dig the band’s playful back-and-forth on Govoni’s frisky “N.T.I.”

Aziza, Aziza (Dare2) 
The players in this modern jazz supergroup named their band after a mythical African god of inspiration. The quartet includes saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Eric Harland, who have worked with each other previously in a variety of contexts. Potter, for example, has been a regular member of Holland’s bands for two decades. Their eponymous recording debut in this grouping is a gem of varying moods. They show great creativity in exploring the two tunes apiece that each player brought in for development in the band’s distinctive sound. 

There is much to savor: the frisky energy of Loueke’s “Sleepless Night,” the multi-dimensional subtleties of Harland’s “Aquila,” and the conversational combination of Holland’s bass work and Potter’s soprano sax solo on Holland’s “Finding the Light,” and the Caribbean feel propelling Potter’s “Summer 15.” As his soloing shows throughout the project, and particularly on his own “Blue Sufi” and Holland’s “Walkin’ The Walk,” Potter seems to be emerging as a clear successor to Sonny Rollins as the most creative, forceful and versatile saxophonist in mainstream jazz. He’s  reached today’s upper echelon at the very least.

Joe Mulholland Trio, Runaway Train (Zoho)
Boston-based pianist and music educator Joe Mulholland doesn’t record often, but he does it well. His latest, a trio session featuring longtime band mates Bob Neiske (bass) and Bob Tamagni (drums), is a case in point. This both a swinging and cerebral jazz date, highlighted by Mulholland’s six original compositions and three covers of classics by Miles Davis, Jimmy Giuffre, and the songwriting  tandem of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. 

On the title track, Mulholland uses the chord changes from John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” to transform the standard 12-bar progression as the band rolls through this hard-driving blues. That contrasts with his cover of the Davis tune a teasing, languid exploration of “Nardis.” The Brazilian-tinged “The Same Sky” is a thing of beauty. “Summer Nights” showcases the beautiful playing of all three musicians. Mulholland’s “Phrenology” is a whimsical bebop romp.

Ted Nash Big Band, Presidential Suite (Eight Variations on Freedom) (Motéma) 
Two months before what may be the most pivotal U.S. presidential election in our lifetimes, saxophonist Ted Nash offers us a profound musical reminder about the values of freedom and democracy around the globe. His Presidential Suite, commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center, features eight compositions, plus a mood-setting overture) that he wrote to complement an equal number of the most profound presidential/national leadership speeches given ‘round the world. On disc one, the music follows the words that inspired it. Those speech excerpts are narrated by contemporary arts or political figures. They include former Sen. Joe Lieberman, author Deepak Chopra, former Ambassador Andrew Young, and actors Glenn Close and Sam Waterston. Disc two features just the music.

The material at the heart of the project includes JFK’s “Ask Not” speech, Nehru’s 1947 “Tryst with Destiny” speech, Franklin Roosevelt’s “The Four Freedoms” speech, Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches,” LBJ’s 1965 address to Congress on the equal voting rights, and Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech in Berlin in 1987. Two other gems include Myanmar political leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s “Freedom From Fear” essay, recast hear as “Water in Cupped Hands” – and read by Close; and the big band’s joyous musical take on Nelson Mandela’s first inaugural address as the first black president of South Africa. “The Time for the Healing of the Wounds” is a stunning work following Young’s narration of this 1994 speech.

Many of the band members, including Nash, are members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Soloists featured on the nine musical tracks include pianist Dan Nimmer, trumpeters Ryan Kisor, Greg Gisbert, Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Printup and Kenny Rampton, saxophonists Nash, Sherman Irby and Joe Temperley, and trombonist/vocalist Chris Crenshaw. 

 It’s a critical time to revisit the profound wisdom found in all of these celebrated words, which Nash describes as “timeless variations on freedom. It’s our privilege and responsibility as artists and as citizens to remind our leaders of what is important.”

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Looking Ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview (updated)

The 2016-17 jazz concert season soon will heat up - and continue through May, bolstered by the gradual arrival of the snowbirds. Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through November.

  • Friday, September 9 – Heat Latin Jazz Band, the Sidney & Berne Davis Arts Center, Fort Myers. 8 p.m.
    Herb Bruce
  • Monday, October 10 – Trombonist Herb Bruce’s Herbicide Jazz Band and the St. Petersburg-based O Som Do Jazz open the Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s 2016-2017 Artists Series with a double concert featuring mainstream/Dixieland and Latin jazz. Cultural Center of Charlotte County, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, October 15 – Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis's Quartet in concert. Center for the Performing Arts, Bonita Springs, 8 p.m.
  •  Wednesday, November 2 – Trumpeter Wallace Roney joins the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for the sextet’s  season-opening All That Jazz concert. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, November 3 – Watch the 2015 Oscar-winning Best Picture “Birdman” with Grammy-winning drummer Antonio Sanchez performing his score live, Straz Center, Tampa, 8 p.m.
    Valerie Gillespie
  • Saturday, November 12 – Saxophonist-singer Valerie Gillespie & trumpeter John DePaola perform the Music of Jazz Legends - Nat & Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota. 7:30 p.m.
  • Monday, November 14 – Pianist Jim Roberts’ Saxtet. Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Artists Series. Cultural Center of Charlotte County, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, November 16 – Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for an All That Jazz concert. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, November  17 – An Evening of Gypsy Jazz with Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, November 27 – The Dave Koz “smooth jazz” Christmas tour, with Jonathan Butler, Kenny Lattimore and singer Valerie Simpson. Hayes Hall, 7 p.m.

Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, Fandango in Sarasota, The Roadhouse and The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in Ft. Myers and, starting this month, The Side Door Jazz Club at Slate’s in Cape Coral, offer jazz steadily). A variety of “Jazz at Two” Friday matinee concerts sponsored all season by the Jazz Club of Sarasota also keep things swinging for jazz lovers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CD projects by Ken Fowser, the Eric Hargett trio, Kirk MacDonald, and Omar Sosa & Paolo Fresu.…

Ken Fowser, Standing Tall (Posi-Tone)
If you dug the funky grooves and unbridled swing of some of the great jazz quintets of the 1960s – think the Adderley Brothers and Horace Silver’s bands – chances are you’ll very much dig the contemporary tangent offered by tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser. His 2016 release Standing Tall is a gem. His exploration of a dozen original tunes is also a showcase for the chemistry and chops of his working band with trumpeter Josh Bruneau, pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Paul Gill and drummer Jason Tiemann. Favorite tracks: the title track, “Head Start,” the pensive “Filling in the Blanks,” the gorgeous ballad “Hanging On” and the McCoy Tyner’ish ”More For Red.” The closing track, “Somebody Got to Do It,” is loaded with Horace Silver swagger.

Eric Hargett Trio, Steppin’ Up (Whaling City Sound)
For a debut recording, saxophonist Eric Hargett has splendid company in his trio-mates, B-3 player Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Gerry Gibbs. With a bit more maturity as a player, he may even grow out of the tendency to over-play. Too often, it feels like he never took heed of Miles Davis’ wisdom that what you don’t play is even more important than what you do play. Occasionally, the notes pouring forth from his tenor or baritone sax carry the moment. How can you not want to burn trough a melody when there’s a searing B-3 solo right around the corner? Hargett rarely lets up. But he does rein it in substantially on two lovely ballads – “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and his own “Myra’s Song.” On the latter, Los Angeles-based Hargett also doubles on vibes. This is a young talent to keep an eye on.

Kirk MacDonald, Symmetry (Addo)
Toronto-based saxophonist Kirk MacDonald recorded this fine group in 2013 but the session initially was released just in Canada. Fortunately, Addo Records decided to distribute it internationally this year. MacDonald’s quintet includes trumpeter Tom Harrell, pianist Brian Dickinson, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Dennis Mackrel. For this, MacDonald’s 13th recording session as a leader, the saxophonist decided to write material that emerged from his conceptions of “symmetry” in music. The entire CD is quite powerful. The true gem is its longest exploration – a bubbling 9:36 take called “Mackrel’s Groove.”  This session is proof that quality jazz is timeless – and has an inherent freshness.

Omar Sosa & Paolo Fresu, Eros (Otá)
Pianist Omar Sosa and trumpeter Paolo Fresu have developed a most simpatico musical relationship. Their latest project is a suite of music that focuses on the facets and mysteries of love. While the session’s participants also include cellist Jacques Morelenbaum and Maghreb singer Natacha Atlas, plus Italy’s Alborada String Quartet, it is Fresu and Sosa whose musical personalities dominate. At times, their collaboration draws aural comparison to the electronic jazz that fascinated Miles Davis in the mid-to-late 1980s. Favorite tracks: Fresu’s compositions””Zeus’ Desires” and Eros Mediterraneo,” Sosa’s “La Llamada” and their exquisite instrumental cover of Peter Gabriel’s “What Lies Ahead.” This is a September 16 release

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Newport Jazz Festival delivers again (updated)

Even though it's the granddaddy of America's outdoor music festivals, the Newport Jazz Festival doesn't take that pedigree lightly. It keeps delivering terrific jazz - of all stripes - in a postcard-perfect setting that has a breathtaking view of Newport harbor.
Tierney Sutton

The 2016 edition, held last weekend (July 29-31), offered several new music premieres by Darcy James Argue's Secret Society big band, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline and Cuban saxophonist Yosvany Terry, among others.
Charles Lloyd

Kamasi Washington
It also brought first-time Newport appearances by pianist Monty Alexander's band (heck, he's only 72), the exquisite singer Tierney Sutton, the grooving New Orleans jam band Galactic, pianists Henry Butler, Sullivan Fortner and Rossano Sportiello, and saxophonist Kamasi Washington. There were more new delights, too numerous to mention.

Washington performed twice with his band, providing a Friday highlight on the main stage and a different set altogether on Sunday on the more-intimate tented Quad Stage. It was easy to hear why his debut recording, 2015's 3-CD The Epic ranked at the top of so many year-end critics polls. Four other stupendous sets: Henry Butler-Steven Bernstein and The Hot 9, the Joe Lovano-Chris Potter-Lionel Loueke-Eric Harland superband, Edmar Castaneda's World Ensemble, and the soulful jazz singer Gregory Porter.
Chick Corea

Pianist Chick Corea's Trilogy, with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, opened Friday's downtown Newport evening program at historic Newport Casino (the festival's birthplace in 1954), and performed again on Saturday at Fort Adams. McBride succeeds founder George Wein as the festival's artistic director beginning with 2017's programming.

Toshiko Akiyoshi
There were homecoming moments as well - none more poignant than Toshiko Akiyoshi's solo piano set on the indoor Storyville club stage - 60 years after making her Newport Jazz Festival debut while a student at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.

The weekend weather was hot and humid for the most part, after a Friday morning-early afternoon downpour decided to skip town far earlier - and faster than predicted. Saturday's program was sold out. 

This was the first time in at least 20 years that the festival had drawn 10,000 people to Fort Adams State Park, though the Newport Folk Festival has had daily sellouts for several years. Credit the July 30 sellout largely to an appearance by singer-pianist Norah Jones.

I'm sharing a few photos to whet your visual appetites. A more extensive variety of my images is posted at

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

An improved jazz deja vu

John Allmark
One of the great bonuses from returning to Rhode Island for the Newport Jazz Festival each summer is a chance to hear trumpeter John Allmark's extraordinary big band, The John Allmark Jazz Orchestra. For 16 years and counting, Allmark has kept Little Rhody's big band tradition alive - a tradition that began 49 years ago with the Duke Belaire Band. (It's just one year shy of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's golden Monday night run that began as the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra,)

This was my first opportunity to hear the band in its new home, The Met, a live music emporium in Pawtucket. The prior home, Bovi's Town Tavern, closed in late 2015. It had hosted big-band jazz on Monday nights for 48 years.
Jerry Vejmola solos

Bill Vint
The new venue is larger, feels much roomier, and has top-notch sound and lighting systems. In my view, those compensate for the coziness that Bovi's afforded the band and its loyal fans.

During last night's opening set, the wide-ranging repertoire included a bit of Ellington and Strayhorn, some Freddie Hubbard material and a few other gems. My clear favorite was the band's lush take on trumpeter Tom Harrell's gorgeous composition, "Sail Away." 
Bob Bowlby

Vinny Pagano
Lucky me. I get to go back the next two Mondays to hear this blend of some of Southern New England's finest jazz players.

Enjoy these visual souvenirs from the evening. 


The John Allmark Jazz Orchestra

Friday, July 22, 2016

A welcome addition to the Southwest Florida jazz (and blues) scene

There's a new slice of jazz heaven in the region. Slice is the operative word in the case of The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in downtown Fort Myers, where one night of jazz (Thursdays) shares the musical menu with two nights of blues (Fridays and Saturdays).

And what a Thursday night it turns out to be since the Bay Street venue added jazz to its mix in late June. The featured band usually includes trumpeter Dan Miller and tenor saxophonist Lew Del Gatto (a quarter-century "Saturday Night Live" band alumnus) plus a bassist and drummer.

Dan Miller
With Del Gatto vacationing in Scandinavia, the always engaging and highly talented trumpeter (a longtime Harry Connick Jr. and Maynard Ferguson sideman) was joined on Thursday, July 21 by tenor saxophonist Gerald Augustin, bassist Brandon Robertson and drummer Tony Vigilante. The quartet bopped its way through 11 jazz standards in its two sets, with each player bringing fresh nuances and a lot of creativity to the material.

In a rathskeller-styled room, with superb acoustics, Miller & Co. had an easy choice for the opener: Monk's "Straight, No Chaser." Favorite treatments included their blistering take on "What Is This Thing Called Love," an extensive workout of Nat Adderley's "Work Song" and Augustin's featured solo on the tenor classic "Body and Soul."

Brandon Robertson
Gerald Augustin
Miller dusted off two pop tunes that Miles Davis transformed into instrumental standards: "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Stella By Starlight." Robertson opened the latter tune with a pensive bowed bass melodic solo. Vigilante, a longtime Philly-based drummer who moved south a couple of years ago, had the night's
climactic solo on "Caravan."

It is great to see more and more fine talent gravitating to the area. Robertson, who sometimes subs in the Count Basie Orchestra, moved to Southwest Florida in June after earning a master's of music degree in jazz studies at Florida State University. He begins work in the fall as an adjunct professor running the jazz program at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Augustin, who started studying with Miller when he was 13, is a Fort Myers native who moved back to the area after several years on the L.A. music scene. 

The Barrel Room opened in late April as an annex to Twisted Vine Bistro. Owners Steve and Denise Hollister are Chicago-style blues lovers, hence the heavier dollop of blues programming. Kevin Blinkal manages the music room. 
Given the overlaps and historic association of jazz and blues, the Jazz Thursday program is a natural fit. Long may it prosper. And if last night's off-season packed house was any sign, it will.
Augustin, Vigilante, Robertson, Miller

Friday, July 8, 2016

Newport #Jazz Festival 2016: So many stages, so little time

Whether you prefer a musical smorgasbord – a bit of this, a smidgen of that, or prefer to camp out for a full set of a favorite artist – the 2016 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival has something for everyone. With more than 50 different groups scheduled to appear July 29-31, there can be a lot of ground to cover or filter through. Every jazz-related genre is covered, no matter your style preferences.

There are three outdoor stages at Fort Adams State Park and on Saturday and Sunday, there’s an intimate Storyville stage tucked inside a former yachting museum. This principally is a solo piano and small group showcase location that only holds about 100 people, so waiting lines are common.

Tierney Sutton
This year's traditional Friday night event downtown at the Newport Tennis Hall of Fame, the historic Newport Casino site that hosted George Wein’s first Newport festival back in 1954, features singer Gregory Porter’s band and pianist Chick Corea’s trio with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. Both groups are also on the Saturday menu at Fort Adams.

Edmar Castaneda
I’ll be at NJF this month for the 35th time in 36 years. I started covering the festival when Wein returned to Newport in 1981 after a 10-year absence. As a photographer on assignment, there are often mad dashes between stages. I’m used to it now, but return to savor more of an interesting set as time permits.

Here are some of the groups I most want to hear:

  • Corea’s spartan, high-energy trio. Chick turned 75 last month but has never slowed down. McBride and Blade add interesting personalities to the musical chemistry. Both have much to say as leaders or sidemen. (McBride also is succeeding Wein as the festival’s artistic director.)
  • Three Caribbean jazz-related bands: trumpeter Etienne Charles and Creole Soul (Friday), Monty Alexander’s Harlem-Kingston Express (Saturday) and Cuban-born saxophonist Yosvany Terry’s quintet (Sunday).
  • Singer Tierney Sutton’s “After Blue” Joni Mitchell Project with guitarist Serge Merlaud and cellist Mark Summer (a Turtle Island String Quartet co-founder who left that band last fall to pursue a solo career). Sutton has been a favorite vocal performer for decades, yet this is her Newport debut. Her Friday performance is long overdue. She's also guesting with The Hot Sardines on Saturday.
  • Los Angeles tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington. His triple-CD The Epic ranked as one of 2015’s top albums in virtually all critics polls. He and his band perform at Fort Adams on Friday and on Sunday.
  • Saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s group. (Friday). The hard-edged, versatile tenor player is always a treat to hear. This band is of particular interest, because it backed David Bowie on his epitaph recording project, Blackstar.
  • Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda’s World Ensemble. Due to his blend of musicality and enthusiasm, there may be no more exhilarating performer to witness in jazz (Saturday).
  • Saxophonist Chris Potter’s supergroup with bassist Dave Holland, guitarist Lionel Loueke and drummer Eric Harland (Sunday).
  • Pianists Sullivan Fortner, Henry Butler, Rossano Sportiello and Toshiko Akiyoshi.
Other mainstream treats will include pianist Kenny Barron’s trio and the venerable Heath Brothers (Friday) with saxophonist Jimmy Heath also guesting with the Rhode Island Music Educators Association student big band on Saturday morning). There’s also the prodigious pianist Joey Alexander, clarinetist Anat Cohen’s tentet and the John Scofield/Joe Lovano Sextet.

Besides Porter and Sutton, jazz vocals fans have the music of Jose James, Norah Jones, Angelique Kidjo and Lizz Wright to savor. 

Donny McCaslin
Chick Corea
Chris Potter
Check out the festival website to see the full roster of 2016 performers because there’s an abundance of riches.