Monday, April 29, 2019

Spotlight on Antonio Sánchez

Hot House magazine has published my profile of drummer Antonio Sánchez in its May issue in conjunction with his week-long engagement at the Village Vanguard. He's scheduled to appear at the club May 7-12.

Antonio Sánchez

He's a fascinating musician, drawing increased attention for his long working relationship with guitarist Pat Metheny and his award-winning solo drums soundtrack to the movie Birdman.

Antonio had much to say about his musical journey, as well as the immigration issues that are in the headlines every day. Those issues are key ingredients in the music he makes with his band Migration.

You can read about it here

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Charlie Dennard, Five Play, Brandon Goldberg, Tom Harrell, Señor Groove, James Suggs and Dave Zinno …

Charlie Dennard, Deep Blue (Deneaux)
New Orleans-based Charlie Dennard knows quite a bit about travel. He has performed as a musical director for Cirque du Soleil shows that have brought him to more than a dozen countries over 15 years – and the keyboard ace is still at it. Deep Blue bubbles with a zest for travel, with musical imagery of strutting through New Orleans’ Garden District in weekend finery, coursing through a Middle Eastern desert or the urge to explore someplace still on one’s bucket list. The all-originals project features Dennard’s trio with bassist Max Moran and drummer Doug Belote on three tracks. Guitarist Brian Seeger co-wrote two tracks and is one of 11 collaborators who expand the band to a quartet, quintet or octet on the other compositions. The opener by the trio, “St. Charles Strut,” sets the travel tone with its sprightly second-line beat. It also makes it clear that Dennard learned much from mentor Ellis Marsalis about never overplaying. Dennard’s fourth CD is a gem from start to finish. [See my full review here.]

Five Play, Live From the Firehouse Stage (5Play) 
One of the fine offshoots of drummer Sherrie Maricle’s all-woman big band DIVA is the smaller ensembles drawn from its orchestra members. Such is the case with Five Play, a swinging, bopping quintet whose members have been working together for more than a decade. They include Maricle, pianist Tomoko Ohno, bassist Noriko Ueda, trumpeter Jami Dauber and saxophonist Janelle Reichman. This live session last October caught them in top form at the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage in Johnson City, NY. There are three covers: Duke Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me,” Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Nancy with the Laughing Face” and Jimmy McHugh’s “I Can’t Give You Everything But Love.” The rest are very, very fine originals. Favorite track: Five Play’s world-premiere performance of Ueda’s elegant gem “Uneven Pieces.”

Brandon Goldberg, Let’s Play! (independent)
Pianist Brandon Goldberg’s debut recording is quite something: a blend of his own distinct arrangements of six standards plus three original compositions. He understands the basics and nuances of making jazz – and swings like mad in the great company of his trio mates, bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer Donald Edwards. Tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland joins them on two tunes, the Monkish original “You Mean Me” and Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance.” 

Goldberg's twisting and turning reinterpretation of Lennon and McCartney’s Beatles hit “Blackbird” adds interesting new facets to its charming melody. He also put his own spin on the beautiful ballad “Angel Eyes.” Day by day, Goldberg finds ways to breathe new life into classic jazz material, including two Ellington hits, “Caravan” and “In a Sentimental Mood.” The latter is a solo piano treat. The South Florida resident was a month shy of his 12th birthday when this New York session was recorded in January 2018, and he turned 13 two months before it release this year. His age and his musical maturity are poles apart – and the jazz world is taking note in a big way. (His trio is on the bill for the Newport Jazz Festival this August).

Tom Harrell, Infinity (HighNote)
Trumpeter Tom Harrell has many decades under his belt as a superior trumpet player and peerless composer. His latest recording, Infinity, enhances his reputation as one of the finest melody makers on the jazz scene. This new quintet session teams him with tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, guitarist Charles Altura, bassist Ben Street and drummer Johnathan Blake. It’s a first-time combination of these players. Percussionist Adam Cruz joins them on one track. Favorite tracks: “Hope” and “The Isle.” Both tracks are among several that take inspiration from and give a melodic nod to Harrell’s partly-Irish ancestry.

Señor Groove, Little Havana (Zoho)
This project features the Miami-based Latin jazz band Señor Groove, previously known as the Mr. Groove Band, whose principal members are brothers Roddy and Tim Smith, on guitar and bass respectively, and drummer Marcelo Perez. The robust band also includes pianist Martin Bejerano and percussionist Murph Aucamp. They are joined on various tracks by special guests Ed Calle on tenor sax, Brian Lynch on trumpet and John Daversa on EWI. There’s also a robust string section on the lone cover here: a beautiful take on the traditional Cuban lullaby Drume Negrita, with vocals by Argentine singer Roxana Amed.

Tim Gordon’s flute work, riding over multiple layers of percussion, sets the tone on the exotic title track. Lynch and Calle team up with energetic horn work on “Linville Falls,” originally written as a bluegrass tune. But its full-bore Latin jazz treatment is something to behold. Andre Bernier adds more flavor on organ, supplementing Bejerano’s piano contributions. There is much to enjoy in this seven-track  tribute to the musical side of Miami’s Cuban neighborhood.

James Suggs, You’re Gonna Hear From Me (Arbors)
Thirty-something trumpeter James Suggs spent some time with ghost big bands, then on the cruise ship circuit and eight musically productive years in Argentina before settling in Florida’s Tampa Bay area five years ago. He’s developed into a first-call trumpeter with a glistening, creative sound, one whose debut recording as a leader was long overdue. You’re Gonna Hear From Me finds him in the splendid company of tenor saxophonist (and session producer) Houston Person, pianist Lafayette Harris, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash. 

The session includes a blend of Great American Songbook material, a few long-neglected jazz chestnuts, and three Suggs originals, plus one contribution from Person. Favorite tracks: their wistful take on the ballad “Laura,” the wistful “The Night We Called It a Day,” and Suggs’ original, “My Baby Kinda Sweet,” the latter fueled by Nash’s New Orleans second-line shuffle beat. Also not to be missed: the bluesy Duke Ellington piece “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream” and the closer, Suggs’ poignant solo trumpet version of the Andre Previn-penned title track.

Dave Zinno Unisphere, Stories Told (Whaling City Sound)
Bassist Dave Zinno’s second recording with his Unisphere band digs into the Brazilian side of jazz and adds that flavor and energy to other material as well. The band, co-founded with tenor saxophonist Mike Tucker, includes trumpeter Eric “Benny” Bloom, pianist Tim Ray and Rio-born drummer Rafael Barata. All nine tracks here are superb, including Ray’s clever rearrangement of Lennon and McCartney’s classic ballad “Michelle.” Favorite tracks: Unisphere’s performance on Tucker’s original “Requiem,” written in memory of his father; and the opener, their take on J.T. Meirelles’ samba jazz classic “Neurótico.” Interestingly, Barata played on J.T.’s 2005 recording of the tune on his final album, Esquema Novo.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The swinging art of the jazz trio - at its best

Pianist Marcus Roberts made clear his musical agenda right up front. "We believe that a jazz trio should not put you to sleep." And they certainly didn't at a Friday, April 19 concert at in downtown Fort Myers, FL. The event wrapped the 2018-19 jazz concert season at the Sidney & Berne Davis Arts Center.
Marcus Roberts

Roberts made sure his longtime trio mates, bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Jason Marsalis (the youngest brother in the musical clan from New Orleans), also got plentiful spotlights throughout the evening. Each player's ideas and instincts helped move the music's exploratory direction.

The first set was quite varied as they explored three Roberts original and four other gems from the jazz canon.The originals were "Cole After Midnight," his tip of the hat to Nat King Cole and Cole Porter; the hard-swinger "Perfect Timing"; and "Harvest Time" from his 1996 trio recording Time and Circumstance.

Roberts, Jordan
Rodney Jordan
Roberts and Jordan teamed up for a bass-and-piano duet on "Sweet Georgia Brown" and Jordan was in the spotlight later in the set with a beautiful exploration of "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise." 

Marsalis got a center-stage solo spotlight, playing just his snare drum, on an original piece called "The One Drum Band." At one point, he had seven different rhythms going. After a trio romp through Thelonious Monk's "Blues Five Spot," Roberts treated the audience to a delicate solo piano version of Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss."

Jason Marsalis
The second set was very different - and something quite daring for a jazz trio to pull off. Roberts & Co. performed each tune, in order, from John Coltrane's 1964 Impulse! recording Crescent. This meditative Coltrane suite consisted of the title track, "Wise One," "Bessie's Blues," "Lonnie's Lament" and "The Drum Thing," the latter another fine showcase for Marsalis. The band topped off the evening with an earlier Coltrane piece, the blues "Traneing In," from his 1958 studio album with the Red Garland Trio.

The evening was a lesson in how to draw in an audience with deeply varied individual and group dynamics: the music could shift from bold to the softest, lightest touch in a heartbeat, showcasing the material and the talents of its makers.
Marsalis, Jordan, Roberts
The Marcus Roberts Trio at SBDAC

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The other side of Marty Morell

Tampa-based Marty Morell is best known for his seven-year tenure as pianist Bill Evans' longest-serving drummer, from 1968 to 1975. He was in the house last season as the drummer in saxophonist Jeff Rupert's ensemble featuring singer Veronica Swift, but the Charlotte County Jazz Society's 2018-19 season finale on Monday, April 8 was the first local opportunity to hear him on vibes - and with a decidedly Latin flair.
Marty Morell

Morell came to Port Charlotte with the M&M Latin Jazz Ensemble, a septet that he co-leads with his wife, Michiko, a talented Japanese-born percussionist who also sings. On this night, she didn't sing nearly enough.

The percussion-rich ensemble also featured Rupert on tenor sax and flute, Richard Drexler on piano, Cuban-born Mauricio Rodriguez on bass, Omar Perdomo on congas and Dimas Sanchez on drums, the latter pair originally from Puerto Rico. Michiko played bongos and a gourd-like güiro, a Latin percussion staple that has exterior notches that when rubbed by a stick creates a ratchet sound.
Richard Drexler

Omar Perdomo, Mauricio Rodriguez
The band for the most part presented the cooler side of Latin jazz, with Morell's resonating and shimmering vibes riding over a poly-rhythmic cushion on tunes mostly from the Great American Songbook - or the mainstream jazz canon. They included "Night and Day," John Lewis's "Django" (from the Modern Jazz Quartet repertoire), "Midnight Sun," Mal Waldron's ballad "Soul Eyes" and Victor Young's "Delilah" from the movie score to "Samson and Delilah."

Highlights included:
  • Morell's take on a Bill Evans arrangement of "Goodbye," a poignant Gordon Jenkins tune that became Benny Goodman's closing theme for his big band broadcasts.
  • The band heating up on "The Day After Yesterday," one of two Morell originals shared this night with Rupert shifting to flute.
  • The band's Latin take on Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood." Rupert turned in a superb tenor sax solo here as the band transformed this classic into something exotic.
  • Jeff Rupert, Michiko Morell
  • Michiko's passionate vocals and güiro playing on the lone Latin tune in the program, the Cuban band Orquesta Aragon's classic "Son al Son." This gem also featured Rupert on flute. 
Vocals were featured only "Son al Son," which would have been far more effective had it been performed in the first set rather than after the intermission. The enthusiastic crowd response it drew also showed that there should have been more vocal numbers.

The ensemble only performed five tunes in each of the lengthy sets. As superb as the playing was, the extended solos given to each player in every arrangement slowed the evening considerably.

The concert drew a crowd of more than 300 to the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's William H. Wakeman III Theater.
Drexler, Rupert, Perdomo, Rodriguez, Michiko, Marty Morell, Sanchez

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Putting a tasty stamp on jazz classics

Billy Marcus
Pianist Billy Marcus headlined the South County Jazz Club's 2018-19 season-closing concert on Wednesday, April 4 in Venice FL. Marcus is blessed with savvy musicality and pyrotechnic piano chops - and his trio mates helped make the evening even more special. 

Mark Neuenschwander
Bassist Mark Neuenschwander is a longtime jazz educator who teaches in the Tampa Bay area and is a first-tier player. Marcus simply calls this blue-ribbon bassist "the Rock of Gibraltar." Dave Morgan is a triple threat. Besides tasty work at the drum kit, he was also featured on vibes and vocals.

The Great American Songbook, songs from a range of movies and jazz chestnuts were the raw material for their inventive explorations. Vintage material included Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" and W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." Marcus's romp through the latter burner was one of the evening's showcase moments at the Venice Art Center.

Another was his tour-de-force medley blending gems written by Michel Legrand, who died this year. They included "I Will Wait For You" and "The Theme From Summer of '42." Marcus also paid tribute to composer Andre Previn, who died in February, with "You're Gonna Hear From Me" from the soundtrack for the movie "Inside Daisy Clover."

Dave Morgan
In every instance, the trio found creative ways to put a personal stamp on the music. For example, they performed "A Beautiful Friendship" as a bossa nova. It featured Morgan on drums and vocals. An interesting footnote: this gem was written by Donald Kahn and Stanley Styne, the sons of songwriting giants Gus Kahn and Jule Styne.

Other material included Johnny Mandel's "Emily," Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Triste" and Bronislaw Kaper's "Invitation" (all featuring Morgan on vibes), "Let's Fall in Love," "I'm Old Fashioned," "My Foolish Heart," "On The Sunny Side of the Street" and "Corner Pocket." The latter was an ideal closer, for the band had this audience in its pocket all night long. 
Billy Marcus, Dick Hyman

Pianist Dick Hyman, who moved from New York to Venice many years ago, was in the house. Marcus was quick to quip: "If I had known Dick Hyman was going to be here tonight, I might have taken a couple of tranquilizers." If he felt any stress, he never showed it.

Marcus, Morgan, Neuenschwander

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Jazz Appreciation Month

April is Jazz Appreciation Month.

To me, that also means that this is also Jazz Fan Appreciation Month, because the listeners are a key ingredient at every performance - inspiring players to reach for something extra.

Throughout April, I‘m offering a $10 discount on purchases of "Jazz in the Key of Light.” Many of the images are from jazz events in Boston and Newport. Many were taken during my long tenure at UPI, where I was jazz columnist for nearly 20 years.

This is limited-edition hardcover photography book retails at $59.95. During April, it’s yours for $49.95 plus $4 shipping to points in the U.S. Shipping to points outside the US will require a separate surcharge.

Each book ordered will be signed - and inscribed to whomever you wish upon request.

This discounted offer only is available right here through my blog, not through Amazon. Click on the “Buy Now” button beneath the book cover for a direct, instant order.

And since it is Jazz Appreciation Month, be sure to give some of your favorite recordings some fresh listens - and get out to support live music as your schedules permit.