Monday, October 31, 2011

Tim Hagans The Moon Is Waiting Palmetto 2011

A firm believer in the magic of cover art being able to tie a musical presentation together seems to take a slight beating with this release. Much like The Moon Is Waiting, there is a beautiful splash of color close to the middle but the edges are somewhat dark and disjointed. Even what is commonly referred to as free jazz follows some basic rules of form and function, the abstract paining pictured captures the dazzling sonic color pallet from which Hagans can paint but there simply is not enough here to judge a completed work.

Don't get me wrong, Tim Hagans can blow and musical credibility is certainly not an issue with veteran and highly regarded bassist Rufus Reid on board. The Moon Is Waiting opens with “Ornette’s Waking Dream of a Woman” and while laying down a nice if not suspenseful sounding groove, nothing ever really develops with Hagans not making an appearance till about a minute into the tune. “Get Outside” is yet another almost lifeless tune that is slow to develop and never actually builds up any sort of sonic sense of purpose. Perhaps the one saving grace would be the slightly funky if not oddly contemporary post bop groove laid out and down by Rufus Reid on “Boo.”  An entire release built around the brilliance of this tune alone would be a showcase for the entire ensemble. While guitarist Vic Juris and drummer Jukkis Uotila add depth and texture they add little else and more often than not are relegated to a true supporting cast roll adding to the somewhat lifeless sound that seems to permeate this recording. Rufus Reid saves the release from the overtly self indulgent and is the overall saving grace without question.

Tim Hagans style may be best referenced as some sort of musical happy place between Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis in terms of chops. If the idea was to present work that was to specifically be outside the accepted norms of form and functionality then mission accomplished. Consider Tim Hagans the Tim Tebow of jazz with the exception being Hagans has talent to burn and tremendous potential, Tebow - not so much.
A musical hodgepodge of seemingly random thoughts where only occasional flashes of brilliance by Hagans are displayed.

Additional coverage at

Track Listing: Ornette's Waking Dream of a Woman; The Moon is Waiting; Get Outside; First Jazz; Boo; What I'll Tell Her Tonight; Wailing Trees; Things Happen in a Convertible.

Personnel: Tim Hagans: trumpet; Vic Juris: guitar; Rufus Reid: bass; Jukkis Uotila: drums, piano.

Yuval Cohen Song Without Words Anzic Records 2010

Musical whimsy lacking substance turned inward quickly becomes the smoother side of jazz. Musical whimsy expressed with substance becomes organic food for soul, such is the case with Yuval Cohen and Song Without Words.

Song Without Words is a post bop sonic exploratory, a musical conversation between old friends where both evocative originals fuse with jazz standards and odd metered arrangement of the John Coltrane tune 26/2. There is an intended innocence that flows effortlessly throughout this release. From pianist Shai Maestro's "Nehama"  to the Hoagy Carmichael classic "Skylark" there is a free flowing independence of musical ideas, playing in the moment without concern for specific form or functionality.

"Bye Bye Blackbird" is a playful tune developing slowly and cautiously as Cohen and Maestro each put a delightful melodic spin on the piece until the full melody is revealed much later. "Skylark" is slowed down to a literal crawl, full of wistful expression and endearing melancholy, a tune played with great finesse and caring as is fitting this most iconic of standards.

Nature Song closes this release and is perhaps the perfect mirror image of the cover art. A tune of clarity that is simple yet expansive in thought but oddly accessible. Cohen and Maestro are symbiotic musical twins working in a cohesive musical presentation of intensity and transparency of ideas.

Yuval Cohen graduated the prestigious Berklee College of Music in 1996, in 2010 Yuval received his Masters in Composition from the Rubin Academy for Music and Dance in Jerusalem. Song Without Words is a beautiful testament to an artist bearing his soul for the world to see and doing so in a way that communicates the child like wonder with which he still views music today.

Personell: Yuval Cohen: soprano saxophone; Shai Maestro: piano.

Yuval tours extensively with the 3 Cohens as well as his own projects

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Catching Up With Erik Charlston Essentially Hermeto/The Interview!

Essentially Hermeto is one of the finest Brazilian based releases of the year! Having been lucky enough to catch up with Erik Charlston founder of JazzBrasil, what follows is our discussion on the release and his approach to the legendary Braziliam artist Hermeto Pascoal.

JazzBrasil is an all star ensemble from the New York scene, how did this group come together?

"I originally put this group together for this project, which grew out of a number of concerts I'd done of Brazilian music over the last few years. I'd worked with Mark on most of these programs and I'd also worked quite a bit with Ted. It really wasn't that hard to put this group together, as most players know Hermeto's music, but don't have the chance to play it that often. Everyone was really into it right away. Jay was up for it and Rogerio and Cafe' eat this music up. I'd like to broaden our Brazilian repertoire to include some of the other amazing composers from that part of the world and I'd also like to incorporate some original music into the group keeping the rhythmic language, however, always Brazilian."

How do you best describe Pascoal's work and your interpretation of such a prodigious catalog of music?

"In a way it's hard to describe his work because his output is so massive, but if I had to make a generalization, I would say his work really has no boundaries. What I mean by that is that everything is music to him. Bird calls, junk in the backyard or a broadcast of a soccer game - it doesn't matter. Its all music and he's orchestrated it all. This is one of his great characteristics: the gift of being able to bring the outer world into his inner world of music. There's a purely musical parallel to this as well. He's taken the outer world of jazz( and jazz was still foreign to a Brazilian of his generation) and brought that language into his inner world. When you consider how rich his inner world was to begin with ( I'm now thinking rhythmically), you see how much is going on in his music: rhythmically, harmonically, and culturally."

There are subtle nuances in this music that lend themselves better to large ensembles, Why?

"I think anytime you have really good music there are many ways to present it, and I know Hermeto's music can be very effective with smaller groups ( listen to Jovino Santos and Richard Boukas). Having said that, his music, being very rich and frequently having several voices happening at once, does work really well with a group large enough to bring those elements out, which is what we try to do. All the same, he writes beautiful melodies with beautiful chord changes over beautiful rhythms. How can you miss with that?"

As the Co-Chair of the percussion department at the Manhattan School of Music, is there a common misconception when it comes to Brazilian jazz or Latin jazz in general?

"At most schools these days, there is a healthy curiosity about music from different cultures. That makes sense when you look at the changing cultural demographics in our country. I know at MSM, we have a great Latin Big Band led by Bobby Sanabria, and Rogerio Boccato is teaching a popular class on Brazilian music. There are still a few exceptions, but as time goes by, I think you'll see most institutions come around as old misconceptions - due to lack of exposure to a given culture - disappear. Now can we just do the same in society at large? Plus, how can you not just love this music?  

Essentially Hermeto has a distinct groove, did your background as a professor ever get in the way of the obvious passion displayed here?

"I still have a hard time thinking of myself as a professor - we're all just playing music and I'm still learning so much. There's a lot of soul in Hermeto's music and I think it just comes out if you play what;s there. I don't know that it would be best described as academic, but I did put alot of thought into what tunes to play and how to present them. I did that when I drew up our set lists and we wound up liking them so much that this recording is basically our first set that we do on gigs. The tunes just complement each other and have a really nice flow and progression."

Finally - Tell us about the musical influences you experienced and what was the last CD you purchased?

"Man, influences are many. I started playing the drums as a kid because of the Beatles. My parents are very musical and my mother, who had an exceptional singing career, had me take percussion lessons with her colleague in the classical world ( Ed Poremba in Chicago). That put me on kind of a classical track, but I loved jazz and wound up working on everything - and still do! The blessing and curse of percussion is that every culture has its own drumming traditions and there are so many with amazing sounds that you'll never run out of inspiring things to work on - and you'll never learn everything you wanted to...The last CD I bought was "Ayombe! The Heart of Columbia's Musica Vallenata." Lots of passion, energy, blazing accordions - great music!"

I want to sincerely thank Erik along with his publicist Kim Smith and Sunnyside Records for bringing this release to my attention! My review link is below:

Eric Reed Something Beautiful WJ3 Records 2011

Music can be the purveyor of harsh truth, so can critics. To be honest, Reed's last release The Dancing Monk was a stellar work when one takes into account the number of pianists with the skills to approach a Thelonious Monk cover record can be counted on one hand. Something Beautiful is nice. A pleasant record with no real surprises that can easily and probably will be lost in the myriad of tremendous piano trio recordings that have been released this year.

That being said, honesty would be out the window if there was not an acknowledgement of a personal falling out with Reed close to a year ago, it happens and most critics have their own accounts of similar encounters with artists that have been less than favorable. Artists that are technical masters but soulless flat lines when it comes to real creativity i.e. doing an entire Monk record with only one original is not exactly pushing the envelope despite the fact it was a good recording. It was the easy way out.

Moving forward, Something Beautiful conveys what many Reed followers are all ready aware of being that Eric Reed is indeed a man of faith and of deep philosophical conviction no matter how misplaced this may be at times. What is somewhat troubling is that Reed contributed one original tune on The Dancing Monk while Something Beautiful includes two Reed compositions. Eric Reed is one of a handful of pianists whose compositional skills are equal to his prodigious talent and output while on the piano bench.

Something Beautiful has Reed with covers from Dave Brubeck, Irving Berlin and Billy Joel. Billy Joel? Joel's "Honesty" is reminiscent of something one might hear at a nice banquet hall or hotel lounge. Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" is technically proficient but lacking the innate soulful quality that Brubeck brings to the table. Eric Reed has the talent to play virtually any work with tremendous technical proficiency but on Something Beautiful, Reed seems to have taken a page from the Wynton Marsalis playbook of minimal soul which is why some of the tunes on this effort while "pretty" are in fact a bit of a let down. During my brief encounter with Reed his knowledge and appreciation of passionate swing was as sincere as is his talent is impressive. However translating a catalog that is fitting a gifted artist such as Reed seems to be a problem for whatever reason.

Something Beautiful is a decent piano trio but a tad self indulgent and somewhat forgettable. 

Looking for great piano jazz? Keep looking...Luckily Reed has a church gig to fall back on.
Tracks: Sun Out; In Your Own Sweet Way; Black Tables; How Deep Is The Ocean; I Still Believe In You; Lift Up Your Hands To The Lord; Mad About The Boy; Citadel; Honesty; Something Beautiful; If I Knew You.  

 Personnel: Eric Reed: piano; Reuben Rodgers: bass; Rodney Green: drums.

Stefano Battaglia Trio The River Of Anyder ECM 2011

The word "organic" is tossed around so much in reviews that the word begins to lose all meaning. However Stefano Battaglia set out to compose songs and dances with the idea that they might have been played on ancient instruments achieving a type of music before idiom presentation that allows Battaglia the opportunity to showcase a subtle yet rich broad base of compositional skill with his trio that may well be ECM's finest piano trio to date.

The River of Anyder flowed through Sir Thomas More's Utopia and it is from this somewhat eclectic literary base that Battaglia's minimalist presentation begins to take shape. Simple and subtle but with a richness of layered texture this oddly conceptualized work moves with an earthy lyrical quality as the tunes develop themselves in a natural harmonic progression.

This understated elegance and accessibility maintain a definite sonic spirit of purpose, at time cinematic in grandeur and at other times darker hues of spiritual introspection. The ebb and flow of The River of Anyder is captivating. The Milan born and classically trained Battaglia is complemented with the appropriate back drop of Salvatore Maiore on double bass and Roberto Dani on drums whose finesse along with the robust lyrical playing of Maiore elevate this release to a sublime place of beauty some artists work their entire career for and never achieve.

A special piano trio taking their place with other brilliant trios on the ECM label.

An epic work.

Tracks: Minas Tirith; The River of Anyder; Ararat Dance; Return to Bensalem; Nowhere Song; Sham-bha-lah; Bensalem; Anagoor; Ararat Prayer; Anywhere Song.

Personell: Stefano Battaglia: piano; Salvatore Maiore: double-bass; Roberto Dani: drums.

Shirley Crabbe Home 2011

Home is safe. Home is the security and comfort zone where one feels most welcome and at ease when going about their daily routine. Crabbe breaks out of her musical comfort zone with a release of inventive and engaging arrangements all while maintaining the security and ease of performance as though she were seasoned in years well beyond her current level of experience. Shirley Crabbe is back from a vocal injury that would have sidelined a lesser person to announce her presence with authority and jazz is a richer place for this sublime effort.

A infectious ease and effervescent swing shows up on "You Taught My Heart To Sing" where pianist Donald Vega is the perfect accompanist. Tenor saxophone great Houston Person joins Crabbe for two tunes "Strong Man" and "Lucky To Be Me" and it is Person's swing combined with some incredibly well thought out arrangements that make this record pop with vitality. An ebb and flow of style and elegance that captures compositions from the likes of George Gershwin and Carol King not to mention the music of McCoy Tyner and Sir Roland Hanna.

With Crabbe's voice the furthest thing from an issue here, the arrangements sparkle with some bordering on a more contemporary soul sound and others lending themselves to a slightly more abstract vocal styling but all giving Home a rich depth and texture missing from similar releases popping up this year. "Summertime" may be the strongest tune on this release with pianist Vega's solo dancing ever so close to the avant gard cliff without ever tossing the listener over the edge.

Home does not play it safe. Shirley Crabbe is adventurous, swinging and is certainly a name to remember!

A taste of Shirley Crabbe from 2008

Tracks: Lucky To Be Me; You Taught My Heart To Sing; Home; Seasons; Detour Ahead; Strong Man; Not While I'm Around; So Far Away; Summertime.

Personell: Shirley Crabbe: vocals; Jon Burr: bass; Alvester Garrett: drums; Dave Glasser: saxophone & flue; Matt Haviland: trombone; Brandon Lee: trumpet; Houston Person: tenor saxophone (1,6); Donald Vega: piano (2,9).

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mike Baggetta Quartet Source Material Fresh Sound 2011

Opening with a primal all most minimalist approach to his music, Mike Baggetta takes a thoughtful and evolving process to Source Material. An infectious melodic fusion of the avant garde with a more soulful post bop swing that creeps from ones speakers and effortlessly into your musical subconscious.

"Tonic" opens with the rhythmic punctuation of drummer George Schuller while saxophonist Jason Rigby plays with an intense and highly purposeful swing that as captivating as any tenor player on the scene today. Baggetta enters halfway through the opener with the same zen like quality of less is more with a definitive direction to his playing as well, meticulous yet adventurous and soulful. Bassist Eivind Opsvik ties the rhythm section together with patience and a keen walking harmonic sense that allows this quartet to play as one unified voice while exploring their improvisational focus.

The beautifully evocative "Nathan" is a ballad of stark and contrasting harmonics that fuse together beautifully. A beautiful ebb and flow of sonic texture cascades throughout this tune, an exploration of their musical sensibilities with Rigby and Baggetta playing as the others musical alter ego.

"Momentum" is a blistering exploration allowing both Baggetta and drummer George Schuller to stretch out with Schuller's finesse a perfect compliment to the adventurous explorations of Baggetta. "The Sky & The Sea" opens with a lyrically gorgeous bass solo by Opsvik which again highlights the less is more quality ironically opposed to the whole is greater than the sum of its parts feel that is captured here. 

As original and distinct a musical voice as one can find, Baggetta is charting his own unique and direct musical course by taking the road less traveled. Unlike performers that are mere derivatives of the post Pat Metheny school of the avant garde, Baggetta is now the one giving the lessons. Blessed with one of the more inventive melodic sensibilities of any guitarist today, Source Material is a master class for the six string enthusiast.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Marilyn Mazur Celestial Circle ECM 2011

The evocative cover art of Celestial Circle captures the spacious musical consciousness that is Marilyn Mazur's aptly titled release on ECM. While some may not be familiar with the work of the "Queen of Percussion" as she is sometimes  referred to, Mazur's resume boasts lengthy stays with both the legendary  Miles Davis and Jan Garabek groups for those that insist on musical credibility before proceeding further.

Mazur, brings a world music oriented percussion onslaught creating an ambiance that moves as gathering clouds between world music, free jazz, and a sonic impressionism that few could pull off with such technical perfection while remaining completely in the moment. Mazur and Josefine Cronholm handle the vocal duties and do solid work remaining both accessible and adding great texture to works such as "Your Eyes" and "Tour Song" while pianist John Taylor adds the harmonic balance necessary to tie this most eclectic of ensembles together. An interesting hyrbid of what New Age and post bop free jazz may have sounded like had an artist of Mazur's ability led the way.

There is a unique all most driving dynamic tension that pulls all the subtle nuances together into some abstract improvisation that shatters conventional boundaries of world, free jazz and the more noted European influences into that of a dramatic sonic tapestry. The earthy and organic power of Mazur's mastery over her everything but the kitchen sink percussion back drop is stunning in its simplicity yet bombastic in presentation. The rolling thunder of Mazur combined with the delicate interplay of  pianist John Taylor is exquisitely captured by producer Manfred Eicher. Bassist Anders Jormin serves as the glue that binds this textured blending of sounds into an exploration of creativity that is a trademark of ECM

Tracks: Your Eyes; Winterspell; Kildevaeld; Gentle Quest; Secret Crystals; Temple Chorus; Antilope Arabesque; Chosen Darkness; Among The Trees; Color Sprinkle; Tour Song; Drumrite; Oceanique; Transcending.

Personell: Marilyn Mazur: drums, percussion, voice; John Taylor: piano; Josefine Cronholm: voice; Anders Jormin: double-bass.

Photo credit Nicola Fassano

"Kickstarting" A Dream with Columbian jazz musician Carolina Calvache

This just in...Times are tough and getting tougher for jazz musicians.

Having done features on two members of Tom Harrell's Quintet that have used either "KickStarter" or a similar fundraising web site in an effort to help finance their upcoming projects, this is a story worth telling.


Simple. Whether you are known world wide such as Johnathan Blake or are just getting started like pianist Carolina Calvache, record companies only have so much money to go around. Just because you may have talent to burn does not mean that the record company can or will match it with money as they call it the record business for a reason.

Having "met" Carolina via bassist Luques Curtis of The Curtis Brother's and saw she was utilizing "Kickstarter" in the same fashion as tenor saxophone great Wayne Escoffery, she shared some thoughts with me concerning this project:

"What I want to share in my music is beauty, strong rhythm and melodic richness. I like melodies that make sense and have a flow, like lyrics.
you can go to my website and listen for more....
The musicians in the video are Hans Glawishing.( bass player of miguel Zenon) Ludwig Afonfo on drums( plays with Eldar), Michel Rodriguez on trumpet ( plays with Charlie Haden, Carla Bley, Cassandra Wilson, many others) Xavier Perez on tenor. I will have special guess Edmar Castañeda in 1 song, and another alto player too.
Some of the music has a rhythmic Colombian flavor, In fact I have arranged 2 Colombian songs that are part of the most important folk music in my country. " El Sotareño" ( with bambuco rhythm) and " Melodia triste" ( with pasillo rhythm)
I want to show to the world the beauty of Colombian melodies through the way I perceive music.
Some Colombian musicians could say ; This is not authentic Colombian music, because of the fusion with jazz and classical sound, and all that. But i am not trying to show how to play my Colombian rhythms..I am just trying to play this music in my personal way keeping some roots that I considered important to my approach to this music.
There will be also some ECM sounding tunes...ballads too.
In the line up there is Michael Rodriguez, who is such as strong improviser with a beautiful tone and strong rhythm. This is the reason what I chose him to play with me, his lines can not be more beautiful, energetic and lyrical!!"

Her KickStarter link:
Be Part of Colombian Pianist Carolina Calvache's FIRST ALBUM!!
The jazz community is a close knit group. Times are tough so if you could share this with others, Carolina would appreciate and it is how YOU can truly push the music forward!
If jazz is to survive it is up to each one of us to do what we can to help the genre. Record companies can not foot the bill based on talent alone. Everyone complains that artists have a right to be heard yet when N.P.R. was faced with a crisis that almost ended their run - did you help?
This is the chance to make a difference.

The Curtis Brothers Completion Of Proof Truth Revolution Records 2011

The Curtis Brothers  Completion Of Proof  Truth Revolution 2011

Drawing upon influences ranging from traditional bop to classical and even funk, The Curtis Brothers are making a musical name for themselves as one of the up and coming talents of swing in a seemingly swingless era. Legendary hard bop drummer Ralph Peterson Jr. calls The Curtis Brothers "the real deal." The classic undersell for what may be the future for traditional jazz. Artistic integrity along with a vibrant broad based sound catapults The Curtis Brothers to the head of the pack in charting a new course and raising the bar for others to follow with originality, sincerity and a deceidly personal swing all their own.

Completion of Proof is a roots oriented release, a pulsating hybrid of blues and swing drawn from an African-Caribbean "Big Easy" melting pot that allows this jazz gumbo to reduce down to a spicy and satisfying main course that is essentially absent in today's hard bop menu. A musical frame of reference could easily be made as Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers or the music of Jackie McLean music fast forwarded twenty five years later. Blakey and McClean's music, a more focused extension of a blues infused bop seems to have evolved into a sub-genre of its own with artists like The Curtis Brothers taking the baton and running with it.
The opening track "Protestor," inspired by the lone man that literally took on the entire Chinese army captures the bold rich horn laden sound reminiscent of the early days of the hard bop. Completion Of Proof was written to play to the strengths of the band and with Ralph Peterson Jr. driving this musical train. The band is firing on all cylinders, especially with "Manifest Destiny" and other originals that are captivating while embracing the originality and harmonic progression that seems less envogue today. The closing tune "Jazz Conspiracy" may sum up the feelings held by many artists and jazz journalists that the government of corporations especially in the entertainment community assume to play cultural gatekeeper for the rest of us while remaining a free flowing cash cow siphoning off their unsuspecting public with little accountability.
An all star line up has been assembled here to include Ralph Peterson Jr., Donald Harrison, and rising star Brian Lynch while brothers Luques (bass) and Zaccai (piano) chart a new course with all original material that is as inventive and engaging as anything currently available. All music here was recorded within one or two takes allowing for a warm, open and almost live studio sound that highlights the contributions of each band members furthering proving this chain is only as strong as its weakest link and their are simply no weak links here.
The Curtis Brothers are discovering their musical happy place somewhere between bop and hard bop with an originality and musical depth of field all their own. A journey for musical truth well worth taking.

Tracks: Protestor; Madison; The Onge; The Wrath; Mass Manipulation; Manifest Destiny; Sol Within; Jazz Conspiracy.

Personnel: Zaccai Curtis: piano; Luques Curtis: bass; Ralph Peterson: drums; Brian Lynch: trumpet; Donald Harrison: alto saxophone (1,2,3,7,8); Joe Ford: alto saxophone (4,5,6); Jimmy Greene (tenor saxophone 4,5,6); Pedro Martinez: bata (4,6) Rogerio Boccato: Brazilian percussion (5); Reinaldo De Jesus (7).

Special Thanks To Jordy At DL Media!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Joan Stiles Three Musicians Oo-Bla-Dee 2011

Joan Stiles  Three Musicians  Oo Bla Dee 2011

Having recently ranted about playing musical prospector in sifting through 20 independent artists to find perhaps three that were actually worth the time to write about, I am happy to report I have another gem.

While Joan Stiles is a pianist of tremendous talent, Stiles does what few major label artists seem to lack either the creativity or desire to do - she entertains and makes jazz dare I say it?  FUN!

This powerhouse trio with Joel Frahm on tenor saxophone and Matt Wilson on drums rip through a thoroughly engaging set of tunes ranging from "Everything's Coming Up Roses" with Stiles slightly avant garde arrangement to the Beatles "Can't Buy Me Love." What makes this release work so incredible well are three things; inventive arrangements that never border on the cheesy, an open all most live studio sound in the recording and a musical sense of humor with the chops to back it up. While the lack of a bass player does play some harmonic havoc with your mind initially, it allows Stiles ample room to hit the low end notes usually covered by the bassist while maintaining the normal harmonic duties one might expect the pianist to handle.

The "fun" is sprinkled throughout with an incredibly inventive "In the Sunshine of My Funny Valentine's Love" which is an infectious fusion of the classic Cream tune "Sunshine of Your Love" and the iconic Richard Rogers composition "My Funny Valentine" and while initially cringing when seeing this listed on the press release, it may be the best tune on the release. Frahm and Wilson seem perfectly suited for this project with the obvious ability to shift on the fly and follow the groove where ever it may take them. Obviously not lacking in confidence Stiles crushes two Thelonious Monk tunes, "Nutty" and "Introspection."

As far from the traditionally stuffy white noise some piano trios are putting out under the misguided notion that they hold the cultural keys to the kingdom, Stiles along with Frahm and Wilson swing hard and take no prisoners.

For the art lovers, Three Musicians is a direct reference to the Picaso painting of the same name. Only a jazz artist that is comfortable with who and where they are both personally and professionally can create such an unorthodox release as Three Musicians and pull it off with such technical proficiency as Joan Stiles.

Artistically gifted and technically proficient. Comfortable with who you are and where you are going.

We should all be so lucky.

Tracks: Everything's Coming Up Roses; In The Sunshine Of My Funny Valentine's Love; West End Boogie; You Don't Know What Love Is; Lucky To Be Me; All The Things You Are; Blood Count; O.W.; Introspection; Nutty; Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? / Can't Buy Me Love; Bebopicity.

Personnel: Joan Stiles: piano, arrangements; Joel Frahm: tenor saxophone, soprano (4); Matt Wilson: drums (except tracks 6,7,8)

Not from this particular release but a taste of Joan Stiles via You Tube

For More Information: and

Enrico Rava Quintet Tribe ECM 2011

Having long maintained that genius often reviews itself, Italian jazz legend  and elder statesman Enrico Rava releases Tribe finding this prolific trumpeter at the top of his lyrical game. A staunch disciple of the legendary Miles Davis, Rava has assembled a new quintet for a release of depth, texture and richness. Musical mystery unfolds with gorgeous ballads, some bursts of sonic fury and engaging solos all dancing close to the free jazz edge without ever pushing the listener over the sonic cliff.

Similar to the great Art Blakey, Rava's keen eye for talent has Giovanni Guidi whose incredible sensitivity and deft touch with a ballad seem tailor made for Rava's inventive lyrical style. Guidi gentle hand is at its finest on the ballad "Tears For Nada" and "Garbage Can Blues." In keeping with the spirit of keeping things fresh despite some tunes here over thirty years old, Rava enlists promising young bassist Gabriele Evangelista who along with veteran drummer Fabrizio Sferra round out a stellar rhythm section. The free jazz/avant garde setting is explored with "Cornettology" a fitting acknowledgement of the genius of Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and references Charlie Parker's "Ornithology", it is a front line dynamic tension with trombonist Gianluca Petrella that bridges the elusive gap between the more traditional European stamp of ECM with a more harmonically developed western post bop improvisational sound that Rava seems perfectly suited for. There is still a thoughtful introspective sound that occasionally borders on wistful melancholy but never morose. Tribe contains the variety necessary to spotlight one of Rava's better working groups including the delightful addition of Giacomo Ancillotto whose efforts are sprinkled through out this release adding great texture and the more organic quality that ECM and legendary producer Manfred Eicher have known for.

Since returning to ECM in 2003, Rava has made a subtle shift and found a musical sweet spot and in doing so is perhaps the consummate ECM artist. Enrico Rava is not attempting to define his sound by conventional critical means, Rava is instead exploring his sound with variety and a thoughtful subtly that has earned him the respect he so richly deserves. Breathing new life into tunes older than some band members and creating stunning new works, Tribe is the musical portrait of a artist still committed to creative enlightenment and the opportunity to share that gift with the world.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Catching Up With Michael Formanek! The Interview

The Rub And Spare Change has been a personal favorite since it's release (ECM, 2010). I was able to catch up with bassist Michael Formanek and ask a few questions about the next ECM release and music in general.

 What can you tell us about the new release you start recording in Dec.? What has it been like working with Manfred Eicher and will he be producing this project as well?

"The recording that I’m hoping to do in December will be another quartet recording with Tim Berne, Craig Taborn, and Gerald Cleaver. We still don’t have the date totally set, but if it doesn’t happen then it will be the same project a little later on, schedules permitting. So far I’ve only worked with Manfred on the mix of the last CD, as well as the sequencing, and mastering. The new recording will be the first time working with him at the recording stage. I’m really looking forward to collaborating on that level with him."

   The music scene seems to be lacking a certain "swing." Lots of young players straight out of Berklee that are all flash and minimal soul. Are some players today a tad academic in their approach? 

"I hate to over-generalize about what the scene has or doesn’t have. It has a lot of really good young musicians with a lot of good ideas. It’s also about as fragmented as you’d expect it to be in the current climate. And yes, it is academic at times, but that doesn’t mean that the people playing it aren’t passionate about what they do. It just means that they’re approaching the music from that perspective because they think that it’s going to get them where they want to go with it, or because they haven’t yet found another approach that works for them. This stuff doesn’t necessarily happen at 25 years old. Ultimately the cream will rise to the top, but in the mean time the jazz writers will continue to tell us what’s good and what isn’t."

    The Rub and The Spare Charge is incredibly organic yet very vivid in its presentation. Do you compose with an over-riding theme for a project or is it broken down into smaller components and worked from there?

"It depends. With this band the over riding theme is, “don’t get in the way of the music!” I set and structure what I think needs to be, and I try and leave alone what doesn’t."

    The economy is questionable but jazz has struggled for years in pre-recorded sales. Whats wrong? People talk about Internet radio as the new platform but if people are not buying the product to begin with then a change in platform does not seem to be the logical answer. 

"I agree that there is a major disconnect with that idea. What are they going to put on the Internet radio stations when people can no longer make high quality recordings. The main disconnect is that people have been led down a path that the electronic devices are all you have to buy, and then everything else is free. The way this has impacted me the most is that I’m making a lot fewer recordings, at least with other people, than I did the past. And from what I’ve seen, there are a whole lot more people downloading the recordings that I have made without buying them."

You have done a great deal of work with saxophonist Tim Berne and there is an obvious chemistry there. What makes working with Tim so special?

"I love working with Tim for a lot of reasons, primarily though it’s because he takes my music seriously and plays the shit out of it. He’s the best sideman I’ve ever worked with, and puts most of the jazz “sidemen”, myself included, to shame by the dedication he approaches each project with. He also makes me laugh, and likes to drink whiskey."

From a compositional standpoint are there any bassist that you have drawn influence from and do you listen to anyone else while preparing a new project?

"There aren’t too many bassists who have influenced me as a composer, but Mingus would have to be at the top of the list. Maybe he’s the only one on that list, or at least I can’t think of any others at the moment. There are a lot of bassists who are composers, that have also influenced me, but that’s a different question. I do listen to some music when I’m preparing a new project, but I’m pretty selective. It’s either old music – Art Tatum, Ellington, Gesualdo, or something that just catches my attention. I really like what I’ve heard so far of Tyshawn Sorey’s Oblique CD.  I also love Craig Taborn solo CD, Avenging Angel."

Special Thanks to Michael and his publicist for making this happen!
Top Photo Credit Scott Friedlander 2008

Yotam Brasil Jazz Legacy Productions 2011

An Israeli guitarist living in New York and playing Brazilian music.

Only in America!

The sophomore release for Israeli guitarist Yotam Silberstein embraces some of the finest music from Brazil's greatest composers with the warm and free flowing improvisational style of a rising star. Joined by label co-founder, producer and bassist John Lee what is immediately evident is that Jazz Legacy Productions will take their time with a release and get it right.

An engaging post bop swing that you feel with your feet grabs you as Yotam takes center stage immediately. "Influencia do Jazz" swings with pianist David Feldman and drummer Vanderlei Pereira adding a melodic lyricism and rhythmic punctuation respectively while John Lee anchors one of the better rhythm sections attacking Brazilian music. "Doce De Coco" gives new meaning to the phrase technically proficient and artistically gifted as both qualities are transposed to a clean and fluid style that is infectious. 

Only 30, Yotam has made a name for himself as one of the premier guitarists on the highly competitive New York jazz scene. Having never been one to believe length of time at anything much less music goes hand in hand with competency, Yotam has paid his dues and the end result will now further establish this incredible artist as a swinging six string force to be reckoned with. 

Joined by special guests including Brazilian great Claudio Roditi and Toninho Horta, musical credibility and respect is served up without question. The legendary Paquito D' Rivera on clarinet adds an organic warmth to  "Saudade Da Bahia." Two of many stellar moments on this release include the heartfelt and gorgeous "Pra Dizer Adeus" followed by the closer "Samba da Minha Terra" with Horta's acoustic guitar.

Originally this release was not "planned" in the strictest sense of the word. According to Yotam, Brasil was the end result of musicians simply enjoying their work and not until playback did the realization hit that perhaps this was something special. While a release heavy on Antonio Carlos Jobim, Yotam has the skills to pull it off with ease! Yotam's own composition "Nocturno" was written to pay homage to all the great Brazilian composers and is a perfect fit with the electric guitar of Yotam playing opposite Horta's acoustic guitar adding dramatic depth and texture to this release.

Something special indeed, Yotam's spin on these Brazilian classics are engaging, creative and improvisational magic. Having reviewed anywhere from 10 to 15 releases that are interpretations of Brazilian music, this release goes in the memorable pile and is hopefully a hint of what is to come.

Tracks: Influencia do Jazz; Doce De Coco; Falando de Amor; Saudade Da Bahia; Antigua; Nocturno; Piano Na Mangueira; Eu te Amo; O Barquinho; Pra Dizer Adeus; Samba da Minha Terra.

Personell: Yotam: guitars, bandolim, vocals; David Feldman: piano; John Lee: acoustic bass guitar; Vanderlei Pereira: drums & percussion; Sharel Cassity: alto flute & clarinet ( 3,5,6,8,9); Paquito D'Rivera: clarinet(4,8); Roy Hargrove: flugelhorn (3,5,6,9); Toninho Horta: acoustic guitar (6,10); Claudio Roditi: flugelhorn (6,8).

Special Thanks To Amy At DL Media!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Duduke Da Fonseca Trio Plays Toninho Horta Zoho 2011

Duduka Da Fonseca Trio
Plays Toninho Horta

Street Date 11/08/11

Recorded in 2009, Brazilian drummer Duduka Da Fonseca releases an impressive follow up to his Latin Grammy-nominated "Brazilian Trio - Forests" project(Zoho,  2009), here Da Fonseca's trio takes on the work of perhaps the leading living Brazilian singer-songwriter and guitarist, Toninho Horta. The presentation of Horta's work is expansive yet introspective lyricism oddly ironic after the elimination of the Latin Grammy category from the Grammy awards. Da Fonseca was a Grammy nominee for his first solo release "Samba Jazz Fantasia" (Anzic, 2002).

Da Fonseca displays the rhythmic firepower that is his trademark on "Aqui, Oh!" with a subtle yet gentle undercurrent of harmonic movement prodivded by pianist David Feldman with bassist Guto Wirtti bridging the gap between Da Fonseca and Feldman forming a distinctive swing and motion that capture the essence of one of Brazil's finest.

Having met Feldman and Wirttis on a previous recording session and with the obvious chemistry the musical light bulb went off in Da Fonseca's head to approach Horta's work with the same effervescent spirit that Horta is known for. "Bicycle Ride" captures the lyrical swing of Horta with bassist Wirtti stretching out with the support of Da Fonseca and Feldman. The gorgeous "Moonstone" may be the highlight of the release showing the depth of feeling and expression most trios work for their entire career but never pull off with this type of subtle elegance and charm. "Francisca" is another lyrical gem built around a tight groove and the innate ability of three musicians to communicate among themselves as one harmonious thought.

Da Fonseca sets the trio up for success by allowing all three the necessary room for individual expression while keeping the tunes fresh, inventive and above all swinging! Having fallen in love with Da Fonseca as part of the Rufus Reid Trio Outfront, Da Fonseca's trio is a force to be reckoned with be it Latin or any other genre one could name.

From Da Fonseca's rich history with the bossa nova to performing on over 200 releases with artists such as Tom Harrell, Gerry Mulligan and Joe Henderson, Da Fonseca's interpretations of Horta's work show the true genius of an artist. No matter what category or label you attempt to pin on Da Fonseca, it will always swing!

Tracks: Aqui, Oh!; Bicycle Ride; Moonstone; Francisca; Aquelas Coisas Todas; De Ton Pra Tom; Waiting For Angela; Luisa; Retrato Do Gato.

Personnel: Duduka Da Fonseca: drums; David Feldman: piano; Guto Wirtti: bass.

A taste of both Da Fonseca ( from earlier this year ) via You Tube
Trio da Paz: Romero Lobamdo: acoustic guitar; Nilson Matta: bass; Dudka Da Fonseca: drums.

Special Thanks to Jim Eigo at Jazz Promo Services

Monday, October 24, 2011

Oscar Peñas From Now On bju records 2011

"Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."
Sometimes you just need to get away... Oscar Peñas lives the musical irony that he felt the need to leave his native Spain and come to what is fast becoming the epicenter of global jazz in order to compose for From Now On. While indeed a musical melting pot of a variety of cultures and influences, it is an introspective reflection on his own cultural heritage that transforms From Now On into such an intoxicating work.  

There is an unmistakable fluidity of motion behind the compositions of Peñas, whether it be the classical trained style which he incorporates so effortlessly on the nylon string guitar or the influences of the eclectic musicians he surrounds himself with on this release. Peñas has taken his own path with modern jazz while incorporating subtle infusions of flamenco as well as Argentinean and Cuban influences in a sensuous smoldering burn of lyrical melodies where guitarist and composer play as one.

Perhaps the most engaging aspect of From Now On would be the freedom with which each member of this ensemble is able to leave their own indelible mark without ever distracting from the original intent of the compositions. Moto Fukushima is a musical chameleon perfectly blending his six string electric bass with the acoustic guitar of Peñas. Saxophonist Dan Blake, who may be best described as Ornette Coleman First Blood Part Two plays with unabashed freedom yet never overpowering. Drummer Richie Barsay whose immense knowledge of Brazilian music plays with a subtle and tasteful support adding a vibrant energy and swing to the mix.

Two special guests include drummer Franco Pinna from Peñas working trio and the legendary Gil Goldstein  who assisted in the pioneering work of fusing jazz and flamenco. Goldstein is featured on the title track "From Now On" and his accordion again makes an appearance on "Julia" which while dedicated to Peñas late cousin has an optimistic energy that seems to encapsulate a celebratory view of life and perhaps the spirit of the Big Apple. The Brazilian influence is unmistakable with "Choro n.1 (Corpo) and "Choro n.2 (Corpo).

Oscar Peñas is a musical artist painting from a bold sonic color palette while striking a balance between the organic and vibrant sounds from his native Barcelona to those of arguably the jazz mecca of the world.

A unique fusion of sound and vision that never borders on the tired or self indulgent but instead simmers to a slow boil of energy with a rich texture that Peñas can rightfully lay claim to as his own distinct voice.

Tracks: Contiumm; Choro n.1 (Corpo); From Now On; Samuel Smith; Encuentro; Choro n.2 (Corpo); Julia; Adeu.

Personell: Oscar Peñas: nylon string guitar, electric guitar (1&8); Dan Blake: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone (5); Moto Fukushima: six string electric bass; Richie Barshay: drums and percussion, pandeiro (2).
Special Guests: Gil Goldstein: accordion (3&7), piano (4); Franco Pinna: bombo leguero (3).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Erik Charlston JazzBrasil Essentially Hermeto Sunnyside 2011

Essentially Hermeto is a brilliant look at Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal. JazzBrasil led by Erik Charlston on vibraphone and marimba, takes on the complexity of one of Brazil's finest composers and turns the work of Hermeto Pascoal into a sonic sound scape of beauty and soaring energy all while paying fitting tribute to this Brazilian master.

Pascoal first captured the spot light in the United States with his performance on the Miles Davis release Live-Evil (Columbia,1971). Davis later referred to Pascoal as "the most impressive musician in the world." The talents of Pascoal gained wider recognition while working with fellow Brazilians Airto Moreira and Flora Purim but his prodigious talent for orchestration and improvisation have been captured at their best with this stunning homage paid by Erik Charlston and his JazzBrasil sextet.

An incredibly rich and organic display of Brazilian rhythms with a more sophisticated straight-ahead harmonic progression finds Charlston and JazzBrasil firing on all cylinders. Hermeto Pascoal's music is not easily duplicated in the traditional sense, due to the subtle nuances and intricacies it is instead interpreted and to do so takes great ability and the innate gift of free improvisation without falling off the avaunt gard cliff.

Charlston takes on this musical challenge with an underlying swing and infectious groove that attacks the visceral as well as the cerebral. "Vale da Ribeira" is a lite and breezy tune where saxophonist Ted Nash and pianist Mark Soskin both shine capturing the pulse and heartbeat of this unique Brazilian sound. "Hermeto" is a gorgeous bossa/samba easily identifiable as part of the cultural backdrop while the spacious vibe arrangement that leads in captures the imagination as sonic wind chimes on a beautiful Brazilian day at the beach. "Viva o Rio de Janeiro" is the perfect tune for the sextet to stretch out and end what is more than fitting homage to a Brazilian legend but a celebration of a joyous musical life.

Aside from Charlston's flawless performance and interpretation of Pascoal's work it is Jay Anderson on bass and Brazilian percussionists Rogerio Boccato and the legendary Cafe' that anchor this rhythmic feast and allow this recording to present something new with each subsequent spin of the disc. "Frevo Rasgado" was composed by the incredible Egberto Gismonti and fits in well alongside "Paraiba" which was written by Humberto Teixeira and Luiz Gonzaga.

A virtually flawless release both in presentation and authenticity, Erik Charlston and JazzBrasil perfectly capture the feeling, spontaneity and soul stirring groove that makes Hermeto Pascoal's music timeless.

Tracks: Vale da Ribeira; Rebulico; Santo Antonio; Essa Foi Demais; Hermeto; Paraiba; Frevo Rasgado; Viva o Rio de Janeiro.

Personell: Erik Charlston: vibes, marimba, vocals (6); Ted Nash: saxophone, flute, clarinet; Mark Soskin: piano; Jay Anderson: bass; Rogerio Boccato: percussion; Cafe': percussion.

For more information on Erik Charlson:

Catching Up With Claire Daly - The Mary Joyce Project Interview

As the year slowly comes to a close I wanted to go back and highlight some Independent releases of note. Traditional yet quirky and eclectic - The Mary Joyce Project is one of the better releases of 2011. The complete review can be accessed below:

Claire Daly was gracious enough to field some questions concerning this stellar release:

Tell us about The Mary Joyce Project, and it's rather compelling back story:

"I met Mary Joyce when I was very young - she visited us in Yonkers - but i had kind of forgotten about her until my cousin published her journal a few years ago. I finished the book and thought "I have to write music for her".   I took my cousin to Alaska (she'd lived there and was close to Mary). We visited her stomping grounds and drove some of the Alcan Highway (which Mary Pioneered some of).  It was breathtaking and I learned alot about her personally and her trip from people that knew her.  She was a real character and committed to living her life in a free style.  It occurred to me she was very much an improvised life and she became a huge hero to me.  
Her mother had committed suicide when she was young and she grew up in my father's family.  He said she was like a sister to him, and I was close to him (he died in '77) so the emotional connection has something to do with that."

As a saxophone player myself, I can count the number of female baritone players I have met on one hand. How did the baritone become your weapon of choice?

"a girl playing bari:?  I never think about it - I was just born this way.  I figure it's something for other people to think about!  Played one note on that horn and knew it was my voice. (I'd played alto/tenor first)   I do know it can look weird to some, but I've been doing it so long, it's a non-issue.  I mean, how do you identify yourself?  Do we really walk around thinking "I'm blah blah blah and blah?  Playing baritone is just what I do.  Would somebody say "I'm a white male doctor"? or "I'm a "male journalist"?  Probably not - it seems weird to be identified by gender. {unless one is dating! :-}"  * editors note - i had to go through alto to get to tenor so I identify completely!

The sound, at times is incredibly different; sort of Gerry mulligan meets Dave Matthews while on the way to a Bobby McFerrin did the sound or the creative spin for this outing occur?

"Thanks for the sound compliment!  I love your image of my sound.  Of course, I did nothing to change it for this, I just played me.  I'm delighted with your description!  One thing I'll say about my sound is that I spend alot of time on it.  I think you can know all the theory in the world, but if your sound is crappy, no one will want to hear you.  {BTW, I don't know NEAR all the theory in the world.}  What Steve and I wanted to do w/ the sound of the project, was create something with depth and variety, but that could be accessible to anyone - not just hard core jazz fans.  We set out to make good music, that captured some of what we felt were aspects of Mary's courageous life.  Napoleon added a nice twist to the sound, too.  Unconventional."

How bad is the economy effecting you as a musician and are there any ideas you have in terms of making "the business" of jazz a better place?

"On the economy:   Hmmmm...I have always made so little money, that personally, I don't feel that different.  The smart thing I've done is kept my overhead low and stayed out of debt.  You'd be shocked at what I've lived on.  Funny thing is, though, that I REALLY don't feel deprived.  You pay a price for this life, but it's been good to me in so many ways, it's worth it.  
I guess I also have a belief that it's up to me to keep inventing ways to contribute and/or "give back".  I wish I had smart solutions to the MASSIVE problems I see in the world, but I've got to act locally!  I have a place to practice and play in NYC, so I'm starting up "combos" of young musicians, so they have a place to come together and jam and experience this music.  It's in conjunction with the Litchfield Jazz Camp, where I've taught for 11 years.  We're calling it "Litchfield in New York".  We start tomorrow!  (Oct 14).  I will try and get the band booked more around the country, as I think the accessible factor will help get jazz to people that haven't been exposed to it much. I believe that jazz makes the world a better place.  Another goal of mine is to hip more people to Mary Joyce, as I think she was a wonderful and quirky American pioneer." 

Back to the release...this incredibly inventive yet highly traditional sound you have on this record; is this for the record or is this where you are as an artist?

"The sound is just exactly where I'm at at this time.  I'm happy to funk out on a vamp or to play straight ahead or to pull anything out of the hat that is just "Good music."