Thursday, October 29, 2009

CDs of Note...

Various artists, Coming Together, (Inarhyme Records)
This is a very special recording, both for the emotional performances - and their inspiration. Saxophonist Brendan Romaneck was killed in an April 2005 traffic accident, two weeks after his 24th birthday and two months before this session was planned, with all tunes and arrangements set. It was to have been his recording debut as a leader.

His family decided to proceed with the session with pianist-producer Keith Javors, trumpeter Terell Stafford and bassist Delbert Felix and drummer John Davis. Javors, who taught Romaneck at the University of North Florida’s fine jazz program and also hired him for his own working band, recruited Chris Potter and Steve Wilson to split the saxophone duties.

Romaneck’s spirit lives on through this recording, as do his very fine compositions. The CD also included takes on three standards that he chose for the session: “My Shining Hour,” “Nancy With the Laughing Face” and “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” My favorites: Javors’ and Potter’s stirring performances on the gorgeous and robust “Dream Behind The Winter” and Wilson’s soprano sax take on “Killing Me Softly…”

Sachal Studios Orchestra, Lahore presents Take Five (Sachal Music)
Timing is everything, and in the 50th anniversary of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out recording, were treated to what may be the most unusual version of “Take Five” that you’ll ever hear. This take on the Paul Desmond tune features the Lahore, Pakistan-based Orchestra of Sachal Studios. This version fuses the tune with Indo-Pakistan classical instrumentation. It’s performed with sitar, tabla, sarod, Spanish guitars, percussion and an ample string section. The Spanish guitar tinge enhances the fusion here. This 5:42 CD single (plus a 3:12 radio mix) is an appetizer for a planned Jazz, Bossa Nova & Samba disc that also includes Jobim’s “Desafinado” and “The Girl from Ipanema,” as well as Erroll Garner’s classic composition “Misty.”

Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen, The Ache of Possibility (Di-Tone)
This is an interesting, genre-defying project - that sounds like the principals got caught in a vortex between jazz and folk concerts/festivals. The Ache of Possibility is the latest effort by Broadway singer Carpathia Jenkins and guitarist/songwriter Louis Rosen, whose biting lyrics contain more of a folk-style message than we usually hear in a jazz context. Parts are reminiscent of 1960’s Freedom Now Suite and and 1961’s The Real Ambassadors recordings. The title track lambastes America’s political climate post 9/11 but also celebrates the hope (“the ache of possibility”) offered by the Obama presidency. Rosen’s lyrics on “The Middle-Class (Used-To-Be) Blues” cleverly take a look at today’s economic mess - (“My shoes need soles / And my soul needs love / But my love needs money like a cold hand needs a glove” etc., etc., etc. It’s not all political. There are also tracks about love and redemption, four of which are poems by Nikki Giovanni that are set to music. The jazz elements in this ambitious project are very good as well. This is a November 10 release.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Is the pot calling the kettle black?

I got a chuckle today when reading a Web posting (Kenny G Steps Back Into the Spotlight) by AOL's PopEater entertainment news and celebrity gossip site about the Pied Piper of non-jazz saxophonists. It's an update on his career including work on a track ironically called "I'm Your Daddy" on alternate rock band Weeezer's latest album, Ratitude.

The saxophonist (I get a kick whenever the esteemed New York Times refers to him as "Mr. G" on second reference) also said he is working on an as-yet-untitled album that he hopes will move him in an R&B direction.

"I want more rhythm in my music," PopEater quotes him as saying. "I want my album to have a bit more tempo. Otherwise, I'm going to be lost in the huge smooth jazz array of saxophone players. Half of them don't even need to be making records."


That's a bit harsh from the player who can be considered their musical Daddy. His mega-platinum successes gave birth to a legion of saxophone smoothies.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jazz and folk intermingle – paying it forward

Louis Armstrong is credited with saying: "All music is folk music; I ain't never heard no horse sing a song." Another variation on the quote is “All music is folk music, because we're all just folk."Quotations aside, there are some interesting jazz-folk synergies at work this autumn.

Some may have been surprised when 90-year-old folk troubadour Pete Seeger was featured September 19 in a prime-time performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival. He got a standing ovation when he walked on stage at the festival’s Arena venue.
Yes indeed, this land is our land.

And on the afternoon of Sunday, December 6, Sonny Rollins will take to the stage at Tarrytown NY Music Hall with his band to perform a benefit concert. It will be Rollins’ first fund-raising performance for any cause… And the cause in this instance is the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater – an environment-focused vessel and nonprofit founded 40 years ago by singer Pete Seeger.

"Pete Seeger and I have the same heroes and beliefs. We are in the same family. He is my brother", says Rollins.

Besides brother, you say add neighbor. Rollins has called the Hudson Valley home since 1972.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

CDs of Note...

Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Detroit (Mack Avenue Records)
At a time when it seems difficult to keep a big band afloat, composer and arranger Gerald Wilson has the luxury of keeping two big bands on call, one in Los Angeles, the other in the Big Apple. He used the L.A. band to produce the cornerstone of this ambitious project. It’s a six-part suite written in honor of the Midwest city where he spent five of his musically formative years, from 1934 to 1939. Detroit was bustling and publicly integrated, and that to Mississippi native Wilson meant freedom.

Each of the six parts can stand alone quite admirably with great moods and the harmonically solid and imaginative writing for which Wilson excels. You can feel aspects of the city’s energy throughout. My favorites are the Latin-tinged “Before Motown” and the rippling blues, “The Detroit River.” There is top-notch soloing throughout the project by tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, trumpeter Sean Jones (a guest from the N.Y. band), trombonist Eric Jorgensen, guitarist Anthony Wilson (Gerald’s son) and violinist Yvette Devereaux, and by trumpeter Winston Byrd on “Miss Gretchen,” which Wilson wrote in honor of label owner and jazz patron Gretchen Valade. Wilson’s equally top-notch New York band recorded the two non-suite pieces, “Everywhere” and “Aram,” that close the disc.

Arturo Stable, Call (Origen Records)
Percussionist Arturo Stable and his bandmates have created a gem in Call, which blends the Afro-Cuban rhythms of his homeland with other strong influences from around the globe, but most notably the bebop tradition and intensity that remains the bedrock of jazz. His bandmates are Aruan Ortiz on piano, Edward Perez on bass, Javier Vercher on brass and reeds, and Francisco Mela on drums, with special guest Ian Izquierdo on violin on the title track. The music on all 10 originals is riveting and bubbles with beautiful energy and ideas. Favorite tracks: “Call,” “African Sunrise,” “Spider Web.” and “Old Memories,” which features a gorgeous piano solo by Ortiz.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Keeping the faith, growing the jazz faithful

There are examples here and there of jazz clubs, jazz festivals and jazz musicians doing their part to increase the audience and give the jazzfaithful an economic break in these difficult times. Some do it low key, some even anonymously.

Wynton Marsalis is doing his part. The trumpeter and Jazz at Lincoln Center artistic director will give back to his fans next mont when he opens the doors of Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center on November 29. Gratis.

According to a JALC news release , more than 100 fans will be invited to join Marsalis and his quintet. Free tickets will be distributed randomly to Wynton Marsalis e-newsletter subscribers. And one lucky grand prize winner will receive a two-night stay at the Mandarin Oriental, New York. Additional winners will receive invitations to the quintet's sound check, gift certificates to Gabriel's Bar & Restaurant and tours of Jazz at Lincoln Center's House of Swing. Fans can sign up for free and view full details and rules at

And what's Wynton's take on this?

"My fans have stuck with me through many styles of music - from modern burnout to standards to New Orleans music to baroque and beyond. They have embraced all of my bands - from small groups of various sizes to the big band, and they have celebrated the diverse personalities of those ensembles. My fans are of all nations and kinds, ages and beliefs. Every day, I recommit to creating a better music for their enjoyment.

"I strive to justify, through my work, the unwavering faith and trust they have shown through these years," he said. "At every performance and sometimes just in the streets, someone gives me the inspiration and confidence to become a better musician and person. It is a blessing."


Monday, October 12, 2009

When music meets science

In addition to their strong musical interests, John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood share interests in biology and science. The longtime bandmates melded those interests philosophically with their latest, and perhaps most ambitious project, The Radiolarians Series. It is named after the Radiolarian, a type of single-celled marine organism with a very intricate exoskeleton.

MMW took an organic, evolutionary approach to the tour and the recordings that have resulted in Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set, which is being released November 24th by Indirecto Records.

The Radiolarians Series was designed to move away from the traditional music-industry cycle of write/record/tour in a way that would keep their music fresh. Here's how the process worked:

MMW got together for brief writing retreats, performed only that new material on tour and recorded the material immediately after getting off the road. The band repeated that process three times while touring in different regions of the United States and South America. MMW and Indirecto Records released this music on three separate CDs that came out over the course of the past year.

Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set compiles Radiolarians I, II, and III in the same package - plus three previously unreleased bonus tracks; a special edition, high quality audio, double vinyl pressing of highlights from the three Radiolarians albums; a 10-track disc of remixed music featuring contributions from nine different DJs and producers; a previously unreleased 70-minute live album; and a Billy Martin-directed DVD feature film entitled Fly In A Bottle. That's quite an ambitious boxed set.

German biologist Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel’s beautiful Radiolarians drawings were featured on the covers of all three Radiolarians records - and were a visual inspiration for the trio’s music throughout the project. Haeckel is credited with discovering and naming thousands of new species and popularizing the studies of Charles Darwin in Germany during the late 1800s.

You can call this a musical salute to evolution... as Medeski, Martin and Wood pushed its music in new, experimental directions - energized by new challenges rather than tiring after 19 years together.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

CDs of Note...

Amanda Carr and the Kenny Hadley Big Band, Common Thread (Original Music)
This disc is terrific on a number of levels. It captures swinging singer Amanda Carr at her finest. It marks the hopeful rebirth of the Boston-based Kenny Hadley Big Band after a seven-year absence, featuring many of the area’s finest jazz soloists. And it shines new attention on more than a dozen great big band arrangements crafted for this unit and Carr’s pleasant and direct delivery. And there’s another bonus. They stay away from the so-called “tired tunes” in the Great American Songbook, choosing instead to bring freshness and introduce new ears to a lot of under-performed gems. My favorites -”Something Wonderful Happens in Summer,” “I Understand” and Irving Berlin’s “The Song is Ended (But the Melody Lingers On).” There’s also a wonderful instrumental showcase for trumpeter Rick Hammett, who arranged the rarely heard Dizzy Gillespie-Walter Fuller tune “I Waited for You.” (This is an October 20 release.)

Also worth noting: Carr and Hadley have started American Big Band Preservation Society, Inc., a pending 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is “to preserve and promote American big band music through the preservation and performance of the great American songbook with an emphasis on acquiring, preserving and making publicly available unpublished big band arrangements.” The Web site is: http://

Sharel Cassity, Relentless (JLP, Jazz Legacy Productions)
Iowa-born, Oklahoma City-raised, New York-based Sharel Cassity is a young alto sax player to keep both ears on. This second CD as a leader is a dandy. And its title describes Cassity’s approach to her music. She’s a skilled writer, bandleader and player, as shown on this sextet session with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, trombonist Michael Dease, pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer E.J. Strickland plus three guests on several tracks. The band is tight and the music is well-developed. My favorites: “Song of Those Who Seek” and “No Turning Back.” The latter is a high-flying bop tune with a blistering and memorable solos from Cassity and Pelt.

Robert Kyle, Bossalicious (Dark Delishious Music)
The breezy blend of the tenor saxophone and Brazil’s enchanting rhythms have captured our fancy ever since Stan Getz put his stamp on the combination that fueled the bossa nova craze. On this quartet project with guests on two tracks, Californian Robert Kyle adds his own contributions both as a player (tenor sax and flute primarily) and a writer adding kindred material that stands up well alongside his interpretations of works by Jobim (“Favela” and “A Felicidade”), Lobo, Barroso and others. Favorites: his own “Carolina,” “Inspiração” and “The Long Goodbye,” guitarist Roberto Montero’s “Bossa Pra Um Bom Dia”, as well as their intriguing bossa take on “Nature Boy.” There’s also a beautiful extended version of Dori Caymmi’s “Amazon River.”

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Summertime... and the competition is confusing"

Let's see if I can make sense of this. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has won the right to host the Summer Olympics in 2016, besting Chicago and other cities. That's fine and perhaps long overdue.

The Olympiad is scheduled in August 2016. As I understand it, when it is summer in Northern Hemisphere, it is supposed to be our equivalent of Winter south of the Equator. I can't imagine the equivalent - Boston or New York, for example, hosting the Summer Games in January.

But, hey, maybe I ponder the unponderables far too much.