Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A swinging intersect of science and jazz


Scientific research and anecdotal evidence have made it clear that music can be a healing force. That intersection music and science is a two-way street. Look no further than Tampa-based jazz pianist John C. O’Leary III, who has composed music that is inspired by science. In this case, it reflects aspects of his research as neuroscientist.

This Mexican-born performer has had a hybrid educational life. He attended the University of South Florida where he studied tuba, jazz piano and biochemistry. He graduated with a B.A. in jazz piano performance, a minor in tuba performance, and an honors thesis in biochemistry. He then earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience. For his doctoral dissertation, he researched a group of proteins termed “chaperones” and their effects on the development of neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s, and stress-related psychiatric diseases. 

John O'Leary
Ultimately, his love of jazz piano shifted his career track. He’s the pianist in the fine Tampa Bay Area-based trio La Lucha, which also includes bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman. But O’Leary’s interest in neuroscience inspired his 2018 solo recording project, CRISPR (Gamma Rhythm Music), which bridges his twin interests.

The repeating melody that runs through the title track, with slight variations, acknowledges the impact of CRISPR, an acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.”  These DNA base pairs are found many forms of bacteria. CRISPR technology is used to destroy viruses and otherwise improve health through gene editing. O’Leary said he considers it the most significant scientific development in this new century.

Another composition, “Polymorphism,” is built around the idea that a shift of just one note can make a dramatic change the feeling of a piece of music, just as a change in one protein in the body can have major consequences on one’s health. His blues, “Gamma Frequency,” reflects the research that exposure to gamma rays can impact goal-oriented behavior.

The afternoon’s tour-de-force was his composition “Edna Welsch.” The instrumental was commissioned by a grandchild to remember and capture the inner beauty of a woman who died from Alzheimer’s  It began as light and upbeat, then grew progressively darker and brooding, before resolving with an ending segment that, while a bit different from the opening, had a sense of peace and beauty.

“The opening melody expresses her young, vibrant life,” O’Leary said, “then it becomes more angular and depressing, and in its final stage, she has moved on to the next life.” A listener could also interpret the ending as resolving with the memories that friends and relatives retain of her vibrant years.

O’Leary shared his science-and-music perspective on June 15, at the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s Medical Grand Rounds lecture series. Several times a year, the medical forum focuses on different aspects of the links between music and medicine.

The prior evening, La Lucha performed at JD’s Bistro in Port Charlotte, performing originals and jazz standards flavored with the band’s adventurous touches. One gem, “Cheek to Cheek,” opened with the standard melody before O’Leary inserted Latin clave and blues interludes.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

CDs of Note - Short Takes


This singers unlimited edition takes a look at new CDs by Tony Adamo, Laurie Antonioli, Nancy Kelly, the Tierney Sutton Band and Judy Wexler .…

Tony Adamo, Was Out Jazz Zone Mad (Ropeadope)

No single adjective quite sums up the essence of Tony Adamo, though he tries with his own “hipspokenword” descriptive. He’s a beat poet. hipster and a bit of a musicologist rolled into one. He sounds like he was born a few decades too late to savor the vintage bopping atmosphere he sings and talks about with authority in much of his material. Adamo digs the 1950s and ‘60s – capturing the mood of the times, and other things, on his latest recording, Was Out Jazz Zone Mad. Along the way, he improvises about the likes of saxophonist Joe Henderson, bluesman B.B. King, trumpeter Eddie Gale and singer Leon Thomas, as well of the times that resulted in the “Birth of the Cool.” On “Too Funky to Flush,” he also revels in the atmosphere – and food – of New Orleans. This jazz and funk odyssey finds him in fine musical company, including drummers Mike Clark and Lenny White, B-3 player Mike LeDonne, Tower of Power keyboard player Roger Smith, percussionist Bill Summers, pianist Michael Wolff, guitarist Jack Wilkins, saxophonist Donald Harrison and trumpeter Tim Ouimette, among others, on various tracks. Ya dig?

Laurie Antonioli, The Constant Passage of Time (Origin)

Singer Laurie Antonioli has a gem here, one that reveals the many facets of her musical talent. She’s got perfect pitch, the ability to immerse herself into the band she works with (a musician whose instrument is her voice), and she’s a superb lyricist. This long-time educator chairs the vocal program at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley. Antonioli and her band-mates put fresh spins on a wide variety of source material including Sheryl Crow’s “Riverwide,” Neil Young’s more intense “”Don’t Let it Bring You Down,” and several Joni Mitchell pieces: “Love” and a medley of two other Mitchell tunes, “Harry’s House” and “The Arrangement.”
Favorite tracks: the Crow and Young tunes, and several collaborations for which Antonioli wrote beautiful lyrics. They include “Layla” (a piece by guitarist Nguyen Le originally titled “Bee”), “Highway” and “Moonbirds,” both of which she co-wrote with German saxophonist Johannes Enders, and Paul Nagle’s “And So It Is” (originally titled ”As Is”). Antonioni’s band includes reed player Sheldon Brown, guitarist Dave MacNab, pianist Matt Clark, bassist Dan Feiszli and drummer Jason Lewis. All contribute much to the project, with MacNab soaring on his axe.

Nancy Kelly, Remembering Mark Murphy (SubCat)

The late Mark Murphy was a jazz singer like no other – his delivery digging deep, soaring and swooping as he found his own rhythmic and melodic essences in a song. He also was a fine lyricist when so inspired. Nancy Kelly selected 10 tracks from Murphy’s extensive repertoire to celebrate his legacy. She puts her own breezy stamp on that material with a talented band that included pianist and producer John DiMartino, alto saxophonist Bobby Militello, guitarists Paul Bollenback, Steve Brown and Paul Meyers, bassists Ed Howard and Peter Mack, and drummer Carmen Intorre Jr. Randy Brecker joined the band for three tracks on which he also played trumpet on Murphy’s recordings: Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” (with lyrics by Murphy), “Vera Cruz” and “Body and Soul.” Favorite gems include two tracks for which Murphy penned lyrics: “”Song for the Geese” and Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments. This beauty stands out for its homage to Murphy, and for Kelly’s beautiful updates with her talented band.

Tierney Sutton Band, ScreenPlay (BFM Jazz)

Singer Tierney Sutton is no stranger to the intersection of music and film. She recorded one song on the soundtrack for 2003’s The Cooler, and she and her excellent band wrote and recorded the soundtrack for 2016’s Clint Eastwood-directed film Sully. That movies-and-music affinity has come to full blossom on the Tierney Sutton Band’s latest recording, ScreenPlay. Digging through 80 years of American cinema, Sutton & Co. put their own artful stamp on 15 movie songs. All five members of the band – Sutton, pianist Christian Jacob, bassists Kevin Axt and Trey Henry, and drummer Ray Brinker – contributed carefully crafted arrangements that revealed new and interesting facets in this material.

Five tunes, including the opener, Michel Legrand’s “The Windmills of Your Mind,” feature lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Alan Bergman joined Sutton for a vocal duet on his classic “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” Guitarist Serge Merlaud also joined on that one, as well as “I’ve Got No Strings” from Pinocchio and “It Might Be You” from Tootsie. “Windmills” is propelled by Brinker’s exotic, windmill-like brush pattern. Other favorite tracks include their update to Paul Simon’s “The Sounds of Silence” from The Graduate and a clever Latin 5/4 burner on “You’re the One That I Want,” one of two featured tracks from Grease. The most innovative are the band’s beautiful mash-up of “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and “Calling You” from Baghdad CafĂ©, and Axt and Henry’s two-bass romp through “If I Only Had a Brain” from The Wizard of Oz. Sutton is an exquisite top-tier vocalist who immerses herself in the band atmosphere. Because of it, there’s so much to like here.

Judy Wexler, Crowded Heart (Jewel City Jazz)

The finest songs in the Great American Songbook and vintage jazz canon contain carefully crafted lyrics speaking to the human experience with wit and/or wisdom. Singer Judy Wexler used her latest project, Crowded Heart, to share newer material of that same high standard. Its 10 songs were developed by modern-day jazz singers and instrumentalists. There’s quite a stylistic range here, blended into a cohesive song palette by Wexler, pianist and co-producer Alan Pasqua, and their fine Southern California  band. It includes reed players Josh Johnson and Bob Sheppard, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oles, drummer Steve Hass, percussionist Aaron Serafty and cellist Stefanie Fife.

Danish singer Sinne Eeg wrote the title track with lyrics by Mads Mathias. Those bittersweet lyrics refer to the end of an affair with a married man. Other standout tracks: Luciana Souza’s stunning samba “Circus Life” about life in today’s fast lane; Gregory Porter’s “Painted on Canvas"; Richard Galliano and Kurt Elling’s “Parisian Heartbreak” featuring Pasqua on melodica; Rene Marie’s sultry “Take My Breath Away”; the Fred Hersch-Norma Winstone collaboration “Stars”; and Pasqua’s “And We Will Fly,” with lyrics by Elling and Phillip Gladston. The latter is a beautiful showcase for Koonse’s guitar artistry. Wexler and Pasqua have done today’s jazz listeners a great service by artfully opening doors to material with which you may not have been familiar – or haven’t spent enough time savoring.