Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Heiner Stadler Brains On Fire Labor Records Lab 2012

Street Date 02/28/12

An avante-gard sonic mind melting experience.

Brains on Fire is normally the end result of most conversations with my father but here we have the title as an apt indication of where this enormous sound scape of virtuosity can take not only the musicians but the listener as well. A warning label should be places on the recording, "not ipod friendly."

Pianist and composer Heiner Stadler is not a familiar name as say Anthony Braxton or Carla Bley but his contributions are on equal footing if not elevated as compared to some content to continue milking the post-Coltrane free jazz experience. "No Exercise" opens this musical behemoth on disc one featuring a then 24 year old Jimmy Owens. Reggie Workman's bass introduction sets the mood for an organic yet diverse piece with interconnecting paths of reinvented form and functionality. A controlled sonic but oddly accessible fury commands attention. Roughly translated - a 12 tone row gone blues wild! A smoking large ensemble kicks off "Bea's Flat" which is a long forgotten orchestral based piece by pianist Russ Freeman. Originally written for Chet Baker, Stadler transforms this into a vast free jazz opus and shows a skill full adaption of changing meter and harmonics on the fly while allowing the musicians the freedom to literally work without a net.

Moving from disc one to disc two finds a slightly less avant-garde approach and instead a swing that is challenging and inventive. "Love In The Air" is beatnik free jazz on steroids featuring former Coltrane bassist Reggie Workman and a then virtually unknown 23 year old Dee Dee Bridgewater. "The Fugue No. 2" takes the more traditional form and pushes past the conventional and reinvents the form to fit the function of the sextet and their performance. If that even begins to make sense then you appreciate the title Brains on Fire...

Nuance is a term you will probably never see in a review of Stadler's work. Stadler's work and especially Brains on Fire is about as subtle as a car crash but in a good way. For a musician to accept and only work within a given form is to resign yourself to musical mediocrity no matter which idiom you find yourself. Heiner Stadler pushes the musical boundaries of convention to challenge his own creativity as well as the artists without ever disrespecting either. Complacency is a musical cancer and Stadler's dynamic reinvention of conventional forms is a cure.

Brains on Fire was recorded between 1966 and 1974 and while it is not for the musical faint of heart, it is music that can attack the listener both on a visceral as well as cerebral level. The music does not ask for your undivided attention, it demands it. 

Tracks: No Exercise; Three Problems; Heidi; Bea's Flat; Love In The Middle Of The Air; U.C.S.; All Tones; The Fugue No. 2 (take 1/original master).

Personnel: Jimmy Owens: trumpet (1,2); Tyrone Washington: tenor saxophone (1), flute (2,3,4)  Garnett Brown: trombone(1,4 on disc 2); Heiner Stadler: piano (1-5 disc one): Reggie Workman: bass( 1-5 disc one & 2 disc two); Brian Blake: drums (1); Lenny White: drums (2-4 disc one); Dee Dee Bridgewater: vocals(2 disc two); Joe Farrell: tenor saxophone (4 disc two); Don Friedman: piano (3 disc four ); Barre Phillips: bass (3 disc 4); Joe Chambers: drums (3 disc 4); The Big Band of the North German Radio Station conducted by Dieter Glawischnig and featuring: Manfred Schoof: cornet; Gerd Dudek: tenor saxophone; Albert Mangelsdorgg: trombone; Wolfgang Dauner: piano; Lucas Lindholm: bass; Tony Inzalaco: drums (1 disc two). 

As always special thanks to Jim Eigo at Jazz Promo Services

Peter Appleyard and The Jazz Giant 1974 Lost Sessions Linus Ent.

Normally "lost session" recordings have not been so much lost as they are carefully if not intentionally misplaced left overs from the musical cutting room floor. Peter Appleyard and The Jazz Giants is literally a live recording session with one of Benny Goodman's best bands. The recording took place at RCA studios during the course of one evening with the session beginning at 11 and wrapping up at 3 am.

Swing is indeed the king yet the session opens with an "Ellington Medley" performed with all the style, sophistication and flair one would expect with Hank Jones at the piano and Zoot Sims on tenor saxophone. There is a warm resonant sound quality and ambiance of a late night in a Manhattan jazz club. Appleyard has included bits of studio dialog between tunes adding a unique musical character to this special date. "Tangerine" opens with the effervescent swing of Appleyard who is quickly joined by Sims and trombonist Urbie Green with an infectious if not blistering swing where the beat is indeed aimed at the feet. "You Go To My Head" is a beautiful blues infused ballad with a subtle undercurrent of swing thanks to the incomparable rhythm section rounded out with Slam Stewart on bass and Mel Lewis on drums.

The Lost Sessions are far more than bits and pieces of a long forgotten release. Instead, Peter Appleyard presents the listener with a fleeting moment in time when a group of musicians gathered together to celebrate each other as well as their music. Peter Appleyard and his lyrical swing on vibes traveled the world as a member of Benny Goodman's jazz sextet. Appleyard had the chance to play with members of Goodman's band at Ontario Place Forum in 1974. Fortunately Appleyard had the wisdom to roll tape of this incredible band so aptly named "The Jazz Giants."

The Lost 1974 Sessions is far more than jazz nostalgia but instead a treasured jazz artifact showcasing one of Canada's most celebrated jazz musicians in a most fitting fashion. Appleyard has spent close to 70 years in music and released 21 albums including this gem. Recordings such as this are normally feast or famine and should always carry the warning label of "caveat emptor."

Peter Appleyard and The Jazz Giants present a jazz feast! Dig in!

Tracks: Ellington Medley; After You've Gone; Tangerine; You Don't Know What Love Is; But Beautiful; You Go To My Head; Indiana; A Smooth One; Dancing On The Ceiling; Bonus Tracks & Out Takes. 

Personnel: Peter Appleyard: vibes' Hank Jones: piano; Zoot Sims: sax; Slam Stewart: bass; Bobby Hackett: cornet; Mel Lewis: drums; Urbie Green: trombone.

A classic You Tube video of Peter Appleyard.


Monday, January 30, 2012

The October Trio New Dream Songlines 2012

Terms or genre labels such as free jazz or avant-garde emerged as a crutch for writers that either had no clue as to where the artist was coming from musically and...they had to call it something!

From Wikipedia:

There is no universally accepted definition of free jazz, and any proposed definition is complicated by many musicians in other styles drawing on free jazz, or free jazz sometimes blending with other genres. Many musicians also tend to reject efforts at classification, regarding them as useless or unduly limiting.

Long story short...Just play.

New Dream finds The October Trio with an amazing organic sound coupled with the subtle nuance of a hip hop rhythmic groove added just for flavor. With six original compositions and a delightful Bjork cover not to mention an eclectic Dirty Projectors riff with the tune "Imagine It." This is an open ended sound artfully mixed with a post modern vibe that is worth a listen! Perhaps not free jazz by definition, and since there is no real definition simply focus on the creativity. New Dream while having a warm yet earthy open ended sound has a distinct musical maturity all its own. While saxophonist Evan Artzen hails from the more straight ahead scene, drummer Dan Gaucher and bassist Josh Cole are more in tune with contemporary music from all genres helping to add great texture and depth to the musical melting pot.

"Do Your Thing" opens with an Ornette Coleman like vibe from saxophonist Evan Arntzen. A middle eastern flow of shifting harmonic development supported with the finesse of bassist Josh Cole and drummer Dan Gaucher. The stated goal or intent of New Dream is to showcase new music that is bright, aggressive and contains emotional depth. The title track "New Dream" is the best example of the trio's intent. A tune opening with the subtle rhythmic funk of bassist Cole develops into a three dimensional layered lyrical flow of ideas. "Potential Bog" kicks off with a slow smoldering vibe, a deep bass groove and the organic sound of Arntzen's clarinet give the tune a nice little pop and adds to a subtle dynamic tension.

New Dream captures the artistic intent with a mature sound that contains bits of controlled sonic fury and deep eclectic melody while remaining surprisingly accessible. Instead of putting an artistic mission statement in a pen to paper format, The October Trio simply plays.

From Evan Arntzen's singular articulated lines to the groove of Josh Cole and the finesse of Dan Gaucher, The October Trio succeeds in communicating their musical mission statement without words.
A unique trio sound that while occasionally dancing to the edge of the free jazz cliff, they never push the listener over the edge. An incredibly engaging and inventive release!

Tracks: 1983; Wide; Do Your Thing; New Dream; The Park; Imagine It; Potential Bog; You've Been Flirting Again.

Personnel: Evan Arntzen: tenor & soprano saxophone, clarinet; Dan Gaucher: drums; Josh Cole: bass.


Josh Levinson Chauncey Street Jlevrecords 2012

The motto at http://www.criticaljazz.com/ is "pushing musical buttons and musical boundaries." With a deep love for Latin and hard bop when the Josh Levinson Sextet showed up in the mailbox then I knew I had received tidings of great joy.

Long story short, if you dig Latin jazz and hard bop then Chauncey Street is guaranteed to make your musical back leg shake.

 Levinson is a first call trumpet player born in Brooklyn and currently teaching music to middle school students in the South Bronx. A hard groove with an infectious old school grasp of melody, the Josh Levinson Sextet serves up 11 original tunes that take one back to the classic Blue Note recordings of Freddie Hubbard. While danceable melodies and solid harmonic development permeate this recording there is an amazing lyrical drive where everyone gets the chance to display their prodigious talent.

"Chauncey Street" is the title track and where Levinson would hook up with the J train for rehearsals back in the 1990's. The hard charging swing of "Chauncey Street" reflects the atmosphere of a neighborhood brimming with vitality and uncertainty. "F' It" is another somewhat personal tune. Much like the title, Levinson goes for it and nails it cold! The chameleon like makeup of this number reflects Levinson's background from funk to a more straight ahead vibe. Offering up a diverse menu of musical flavors we have the Latin jazz number "Wired." The groove laid down on "Wired" is contagious with an incredibly tight head and a smoking solo from trombonist Noah Bless. "My Blues" was written for bassist Avishai Cohen and is one of the real highlights of this release with Kenny Shanker on tenor and a beat you feel with your feet. Peter Brendler on bass and drummer Brian Fishler anchor a stellar rhythm section along with pianist Jeb Patton. "My Blues" pushes the envelope on meter but never loses the straight ahead swing that is the back bone of this tune. "180 Degrees" is another smoker from Levinson this time with Mike Eckroth on piano and the collective ensemble shines yet again.

Chauncey Street is hard charging post bop knocked out of the park by some of New York's finest. A well thought out ebb and flow of this release does include a few slower tunes. "Rain" is a beautiful ballad that has some deceptive twists and turns reminiscent of some Tom Harrell compositions. Eleven rock solid originals, six of the best musicians in New York and a swing that goes right to your very soul. Levinson's keen sense of melody and harmonic progression keep this ensemble on an incredibly entertaining and accessible level that others simply can not match.

A virtually flawless release with the Josh Levinson Sextet on point at all times!

5 Stars!

Preview the release for yourself:

Tracks: Chauncey Street; F' It; Wired; Without Struggle; Rain; Heat; 10,9,8,7...; Avishai; My Blues; For Freddie; 180 Degrees.

Personnel: Josh Levinson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Brian Fishler: drums; Jeb Patton: piano; Mike Eckroth: piano (11); Peter Brendler: bass; Kenny Shanker: tenor and soprano saxophone; Noah Bless: trombone.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Kazhargan World Wonderful Times Dewey Records 2012

So I'm digging the cover art...

A nice warm sound that is earthy along with some interesting post modern riffs bordering on accessible free jazz only to discover the musicians involved in the project were never actually present in the same room at the time of the recording.

Enter Kazhargan World.

An international jazz collective from Russia, Germany and various areas within the United States of America. Artists in all genres have occasionally "phoned it in" using various electronic platforms with the end result being predictable and incredibly sterile.

Not this time...

The opening tune "Wonderful Times" has an intriguing swing with a subtle undercurrent of harmonic dynamic tension. A textured sound that brings an amazing sonic depth of field to the forefront. A tune that is a critics worst nightmare and guaranteed to have label executives perched on the nearest ledge as this eclectic ensemble artfully dodges any previously accepted sub-genre jazz has to offer.

Contemporary beatnik meets post modern free jazz?

"Kazhargan" is described in the press release and in this context as a word of open interpretation and an invitation for the listener to find the musical path of their choosing. "After Time" carries the cool post bop vibe of Miles Davis where trumpet virtuoso Han Peter Salentin tips his musical hat to the icon with a stellar muted trumpet and groove to match. Normally spoken word pieces that pop up in the jazz idiom are like nails down a chalk board for me but not here. The incredibly open ended sound, all most conceptual by nature is perfectly suited to the occasional spoken word piece by Cheryl Pyle. The zen like approach of Pyle captures the essence of the compositions perfectly. "Live Under Water" continues the Miles Davis ambient quality with Salentin's virtuoso like performance. The ebb and flow and effortless cohesion of this large ensemble takes on the feel of the more traditional working band while keeping in mind this recording is all done via the Internet. "Irene Was Here" is an expressive ballad and delightful lyrical gem featuring Pyle along with pianist Stan Z.

An overall warmth and accessibility permeates Kazhargan World. A world that is a unique and engaging both on a visceral and cerebral level. To achieve an organic base while pushing each individual voice to achieve their own special character under these highly formatted conditions is an amazing accomplishment. Kazhargan World takes the more free form approach and creates their own post modern hybrid that is a sweeping sound scape of lyrical and harmonic ingenuity. Each musician involved is deserving of high praise.  

More than a recording, Kazhargan World is a jazz experience that offers the unique opportunity to become a musical blank slate and then create your own world.

Tracks: Wonderful Times; Children Of The World; Mayan Prophecy; Other Constellations; After Time; Spirit of Discovery; Invisible Celebration; Live Under Water; My Motherland; Irene Was Here; All Day Rain; Cuban Snow.

Personnel: Stanislav Zaslavsky: piano; Hans Peter Salentin: trumpet; Cheryl Pyle: flute, poems & voice; Max Ridgway: guitar; Brian Mitchell Brody: saxophone; Tony Cimorosi: ns double bass; Sean O Bryan Smith: electric bass; Papa Z: drums & percussion.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jose Garcia Songs For A Lifetime Live 2012

Would it surprise you to know that Frank Sinatra did not consider himself a crooner nor was he exactly thrilled with the label itself? Jose Garcia fell into the roll of vocalist while seeking a singer for his Spanish guitar duet. Ultimately "if you want something done right do it yourself" came into play as Garcia began developing his vocal chops and now takes a gigantic musical roll of the dice with a live debut recording. Pay the winner! Songs For A Lifetime Live is a joyous celebration of the Great American Songbook not to mention a few well chosen Latin classics. Crooning gone global!

When this release reached my desk there was a cocked eyebrow on my part when the innocuous tag of crooner caught my eye and with an iconic set list it was clear Garcia not to mention his band had to be on point. There is a joyous swing to this release that is bordering on infectious. Garcia and the band work seamlessly and on equal musical footing avoiding all the self indulgent pitfalls most singers would hit immediately.

A great arrangement of the Cole Porter classic "I Get A Kick Out Of You" features pianist Carlos Rodgarman and an incredibly tight rhythm section with the ability to make this tune pop thanks to bassist Mike Paganini and drummer Pable Correa. Garcia's guitar talents are brought center stage with a beautiful and expressive opening to "Besame Mucho." The name of the game is swing and "All of Me" is a tune you hear with your feet! An ironically appropriate closer "This Could Be The Start of Something Big" is syncopated swing kicked up a notch. Garcia's vocals are perhaps best described as a delightful mix of Mel Torme and Tony Bennett but Garcia is far from a good vocalist doing some passable covers. Jose Garcia is an artist with passion and clearly displays the gift of connection with an audience.  

Jose Garcia has that cool tone to his vocals, the innate ability to swing and impeccable phrasing. Crooner is still a label that does not seem to adequately fit Garcia as he clearly proves his ability as an incredibly well rounded artist. Songs For A Lifetime Live is a rock solid and highly entertaining release and considering this is a debut then Garcia scores extra bonus points! Some people assume based on the word critic that a review has to revolve around the criticisms found on a release. Look under every rock and check every nook and cranny as you will come up empty!

Songs For A Lifetime Live is a solid winner!

To sample the release please use the cd baby link provided:

Tracks: I Get A Kick Out of You; The Shadow of Your Smile; Night and Day; I Left My Heart In San Francisco; Besame Mucho; I Wish You Love; All of Me; You Go To My Head; Sabor a mi; This Could Be The Start of Something Big.

Personnel: Jose Garcia: vocals & guitar; Carlos Rodgarman: piano; Mike Paganini: bass; Pablo Correa: drums.

Catching Up With Josh Nelson - The Discoveries Interview

Josh Nelson's Discoveries has received critical acclaim and made it on my "Best of" list so I wanted to share a little more about the release and a little more about Josh Nelson. Thanks to a killer publicist and the Internet I was able to catch up with Josh while on tour in Australia!

Discoveries has received rave reviews. How did jazz meets sci-fi come together?

J.N. - "I'm happy to hear that "Discoveries" has received a good response from
critics. I just want people to enjoy the music, that's all. These days, that doesn't necessarily mean copies are flying off the shelf. But that's obviously not why I make records. If I wanted to sell
records, I'd be trying to write rap hits or something.

On this record, even more so than my previous albums, I was looking to tell a story, with a clear thematic thread running through it. Having grown up watching classic 1950s and 60s movies like "First Men in the Moon", "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", and "The Time Machine", I wanted to create an album paying homage to early sci-fi writers and visionaries. Honestly, this project seemed a bit far-fetched, or perhaps too challenging, to tie early sci-fi concepts and imagery to instrumental jazz music. Composing to a visual element really became the touchstone for this album. As I wrote the tune "Dirigibles", I thought of floating airships hanging in the sky, and tried to sculpt the music to fit that image. The main rhythmic and melodic motifs of "Tesla Coil" came to me as I stood and watched the tesla coil at Griffith Park Observatory. "Jogging Day" was more of a personal 'discovery', and the melody and rhythm emerged as I went jogging one day in L.A."

Using science fiction as a creative springboard is certainly raising the compositional bar! Did the specific work/s influencing you allow the compositions to develop differently as compared to previous releases?

J.N. - Definitely. Having the thematic 'blueprint' with which to create the music allowed the music to unfold more as a story, rather than just a fairly random collection of material as on my previous albums. (one exception: "Let it Go" from 2007 did involve some theme-oriented ideas of showing emotional and relationship-related struggles through the music).

Was the instrumentation for Discoveries a direct influence of the more conceptualize theme?

 J.N. - Yes and no… to really get across the sci-fi idea, I could have used a theremin, more electronics/keyboards, processed drums perhaps. However, I still wanted this to be an acoustic jazz album; that's who I am!...I was also really inspired by Herbie Hancock's 1968-69 records "The
Prisoner" and "Speak Like a Child". He used a similar instrumentation on those albums (plus tenor sax). I've always wanted to write some music for bass clarinet, and this was the perfect record to try it on. The bass clarinet has such a beautiful tone and an amazing range. Brian Walsh is one of the top young guys playing it in LA. Alan Ferber has his own NYC big band and nonet records, and they are so inspiring to me; I feel very lucky he was able to join me (he also arranged "Jogging Day"). Dontae Winslow (trumpet/flugelhorn) is one of the top cats not only on horn but as a producer and composer.

Jazz is on life support. What's wrong? Have mass media platforms grown faster than the industry can handle or is it be due to the more instant gratification of more commercially oriented music?

J.N. - I don't really agree- to say 'jazz is on life support' only weakens the fact that it is, and has been for a while, a struggling genre (mostly fiscally speaking). This is an ongoing 21st century
discussion, and it's a bit frustrating to keep having it. I understand it's a concern, and we all know the reality that jazz is in a new phase. But that's fine. My father always told me, as I was getting
started in music, to "never worry about money or praise or accolades. Write and play from your heart always, and those things will come naturally." I try to live up to that every time I sit down at the piano. Look, jazz hasn't enjoyed any popularity since the 1920s-1960s. Then, it was popular music! No Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, etc. It's kind of sad to me that artists and labels now force-feed mostly just pop and rock into our collective musical experiences in America. As long as it's good music, I'm into it, and will support it. I hope other people use that filter when they select what music they buy and listen to. Jazz should be encouraged in young students as they develop musically. In the States, we don't really have any kind of academic influence from the jazz world, unless students and parents seek out private study. We're seeing a huge decline in financial support of music in schools around the country, and that's worrisome to me. I feel lucky to have gone to public school in the early-mid 1990s, when there was more reliable funding.

Who influences your work and what is the last disc you purchased?

J.N. - Shostakovich, Debussy, Ravel, film scores (Bernard Hermmann is my favorite),
Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Herbie Hancock, the Beach Boys, John Adams, Bill Evans, Mulgrew Miller, Maria Schneider...the list is long...! Last disc I purchased was saxophonist Walter Smith III's latest album. Also enjoying getting back to listening/buying vinyl. I just got a bunch of soundtracks (of which I'm a HUGE fan), including scores from Vertigo, Citizen Kane, North by Northwest, the Prize, the Sea Hawk.

Sincere thanks and appreciation to Josh Nelson for his time and extra special thanks to Michael Bloom Media Relations for making this interview happen!

The complete review:


Videos via You Tube

Triosence w/ Sara Gazarek Where Time Stands Still 2012

Triosence has spent over a decade building an impressive following in Germany, enter jazz detente as east meets west. When someone is referred to as "phoning it in" then you can pretty much assume that while the musical due diligence may have been technically handled the end result is a sonic flat line.

Not here...

Triosence reached out to Seattle native singer Sara Gazarek who literally began phoning in her collaborative efforts on this project to pianist Bernhard Schuler via the Internet. The end result of a lengthy collaboration are twelve original songs with a keen sense of lyrical direction, rich melodies and Gazarek's pristine vocals. The strong melodic qualities both lyrically and from an instrumental perspective combine a unique fusion of contemporary jazz, fusion and folk into a release with potentially unlimited crossover appeal.

Triosence is an accomplished ensemble from Germany whose musical stock has certainly been on the rise as is Gazarek's in the United States. Opening with the bouncy "I Can't Explain" there is an intoxicating swing that transcends the modern jazz having as a label executive friend would say "More hooks than a fisherman's hat." Guitarist Vitaliy Zolotov and pianist Bernhard Schuler toss in solos with a tasteful swing to add the perfect pop of vitality and keep the tune moving in infectious lyrical direction. "Summer Song" showcases drummer/percussionist Stephan Emig as one that swings hard while adding just the right amount of driving percussive finesse to another gem with lyrics by Gazarek. The beautiful acoustic ballad "You're My Spring" is a lyrical collaboration between Schuler and Gazarek and continues with a gorgeous ebb and flow enriched with the acoustic guitar of Frank Haunschild and the haunting bass of Ingo Senst. While a more modern contemporary vocal release there is a cinematic quality to "Only Friends" which is another stellar  combination of Schuler and Gazarek's talents and indeed a tune in search of a fine film. Lyrically driven music with emotionally charged harmonic twists and turns of a tune primarily acoustic in nature pushes creativity off the charts while remaining incredibly accessible. "Let It In" follows Schuler's belief  that harmonic complexities can be scaled back without compromising the beauty and depth of a work in an effort to touch someone. The title track "Where Time Stands Still" is a gorgeous ballad. Violinist Andria Chang adds additional texture and closes a release that revolves around subtle harmonics and textured melodies and reveals a little something new with each subsequent spin of the disc.

Triosence with Sara Gazarek is a magnificent release. While referred to as European jazz with an American accent, Where Time Stands Still is actually a critics worst nightmare as it can not be conveniently labeled  and I love that. The combination of Schuler and Gazarek is pure musical magic, a literally flawless release with endless possibilities. One of the 2012's very best.

A beautiful and touching hybrid of music, voice and textured nuance that is delivered flawlessly. 

5 stars!

Tracks: I Can't Explain; Summer Song; You're My Spring; Morning Star; Like The Wind; Only One Evening; Only Friends; Maybe There's A Princess Waiting; You'll See You; You Alone; Let It In; Where Time Stands Still.

Personnel: Bernhard Schuler: piano; Ingo Senst: bass; Stephan Emig: drums; Sara Gazarek: voice; Frank Haunschild: guitars; Vitaly Zolotov: guitars; Andria Chang: violin; Lara Muller: voice.

Very special thanks to Michael Bloom Media Relations for bringing this exquisite release to my attention!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Christian Tamburr Places 2011

A buoyant textured swing with straight ahead finesse and a silky smooth finish. Chrisitan Tamburr first came to my attention for his work with guitarist Hristo Vitchev, in fact Vitchev recommended this release for review. While the close knit if not occasionally fractured jazz community does try and take care of their own, personal recommendations can put the critic in dicey situations at times.

Not here.
 Christian Tamburr is my musical easy button.

Tamburr is joined by bassist John Shifflett, drummer Greg Wyser-Pratte and pianist Eric Reed. Places is decidedly old school but with an incredibly organic swing that transforms pop tunes such as "Eleanor Rigby" and the iconic standard "Body and  Soul" into a vibrant new sound for modern jazz. Places is aptly titled as nothing seems forced, there is a subtle ambient quality that allows the listener to take their own sonic journey to the destination of their choice. Tamburr's exquisite use of textures and his keen harmonic sense bring this quartet together in an amazing display of musical cohesion.

Covering a Beatles tune for any jazz artist can be the musical equivalent of tap dancing in a mine field as it either goes well or it goes horribly wrong. Tamburr's ability to pull off "Eleanor Rigby" with a deceptively wistful yet hypnotic groove confirms the true talent of an artist in placing their own mark on a classic without disrespecting the original or themselves. The Tamburr original and title track "Places" is an energetic display  through a slightly odd meter where the rhythm section pops along with pianist Reed. While a release of incredible diversity the ebb and flow is highlighted with the delightfully seductive Kenny Barron ballad "Phantoms." Another Tamburr penned number, "Chu's Blues" is a blistering romp anchored by bassist John Shifflett and drummer Greg Wyser-Pratte who both swing with incredible finesse especially when joined by pianist Reed. "Sailing Serenity" is another stellar tune from Tamburr. While the last thing jazz needs is another sub-genre, there is a peaceful serenity to the overall ambiance of this recording which has the term "Zen-bop" floating around in the back of my mind.

In a release that pays great respect to not only the Great American Songbook and John Lennon, Tamburr's originals are finely crafted tunes that could easily be mistaken for jazz standards now. Some incredible vibraphone releases dropped during 2011 and Places is easily one of the finest. Christian Tamburr is a prolific composer and a formidable instrumental force in modern jazz.

A virtually flawless release from cover art to the final note.

5 stars!

Tracks: Eleanor Rigby; Body and Soul; Sailing Serenity; Places; Phantoms; You and the Night and the Music; Flower Waltz; Chu's Blues; La Carretara.

Personnel: Christian Tamburr: vibraphone; John Shiflett: bass; Eric Reed: piano; Greg Wyser-Pratte: drums.

To sample the release:

Video courtesy of You Tube.

Catching Up With Kirk Whalum - The Romance Language Interview

Romance Language is more than a romantic walk on the smoother side of jazz. Romance Language is a groundbreaking look at the work of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman from 1963. Whalum makes this release a family affair with both his brother Kevin and uncle Hugh handling the vocal duties. Romance Language is a labor of love for Kirk Whalum as he sincerely appreciates his role as musical caretaker of this iconic work. Kirk Whalum was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us!

While the Whalum discography is steeped in diversity, to tackle John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is seemingly unheard of. More than a fitting Valentines Day release, Romance Language is a prime example that work such as Coltrane or perhaps Freddie Hubbard can translate to the more contemporary arena simply because of the great melodies. Where were you creatively in putting the Whalum voice on this legendary work?

"I approached this project with a genuine appreciation for how "sacred" the music is that we're handling. Now that I am the CEO of a museum ( Stax Museum of American Soul Music), I have a very good appreciation for the difference between "doing a cover" and "handling an artifact." But at the end of the day, I was convinced of a couple of things. First, we must be careful not to immortalize the music of one generation to the detriment of the next. We must not "close the cannon" on any one era in music because innovation is always waiting to be nurtured in the good soil of enthusiasm, support and educational opportunities. Second, I was emboldened to trust both my love for this music (of Coltrane / Hartman) and the God in me to be able to deliver at the very least a sincere and, with the help of amazing musicians, a very musical tribute in my own "key."

Were you the least bit intimidated in tackling the work of Coltrane?

"I am intimidated by just about everything I attempt to do as a musician. Standing behind me are Hank Crawford, Gene Ammons, Arnett Cobb, Wilton Felder, Ronnie Laws, Grover Washington...and many other saxophonists ( not the least of which would be 'Trane) whose sax cases I am not worthy to carry. But I am grateful to understand that they "looking at me" saying "you better play!"

I mentioned working with Kevin and Hugh "Peanuts" Whalum, does the family relationship spark the musical chemistry?

"Absolutely! I am enamored with my brother, uncle, son, nephews...musically speaking. And in other ways I am proud as a peacock of our four children. I learn something from all of them.

Would you like to see more contemporary artists try and bridge the gap to make old school become new cool again?

"Great question! I think that's one really cool thing to do. But it certainly isn't what should comprise the core of our endeavors. We need to be about innovating our own musical dreams and directions. We owe it to the next generation. My nephew really inspired me with that. He didn't waste time rehashing things in his debut CD. Very courageous move. And this should be the core of the next generation of instrumental greats."

Which saxophone players do you enjoy and who inspires you?

"My nephew Kenneth Whalum III, Soweto Kinch, Everette Harp and Eddie Daniels."

Kirk and brother Kevin Whalum courtesy of Rendezvous Music.
Photo credit to Evan Whalum

My advance review of Romance Language:

My sincere thanks to Kirk Whalum as he is currently busy with a hectic touring schedule, and  publicist Rick Scott for making this interview possible!

Romance Language streets 02/14/12! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ben Wendel Frame Sunnyside 2012

Street Date 02/28/12

Jazz musician are notorious musical nomads. Grammy nominated saxophonist/bassoonist/composer Ben Wendel has taken a career packed with collaborative efforts with artists from Gerald Clayton to Prince and releases a stunning work from an eclectic yet incredibly accessible foundation of an organic ambient quality few artists can match.

Frame is the end result of the creation of a suite from which three songs on this release originated. Having first become enthralled with Ben Wendel with his release ACT (Brooklyn Jazz Underground, 2009), the development of Wendel's talent is astonishing as Frame does not lend itself to any self imposed musical labels that most are all too familiar with.

Opening with the vibrant and harmonically driven "Chorale" there is a hypnotic use of syncopation which is the start of an incredibly organic pulse that drives not just this tune but the entire release. Gerald Clayton's appearance adds a nice musical depth of field especially with the duo arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma." Three different pianists are used on Frame which highlights Wendel's love of musical textures while never losing sight of a very natural ebb and flow that is captivating. A somewhat personal tune finds "Leaving" as a wistful take on Wendel's move from Los Angeles to Brooklyn and the anticipation of what may be on the horizon. Closing with "Julia" there is an obvious appreciation for classical music forms, a mysterious yet beautifully expansive piece bordering on cinematic in melody.

There is a methodical precision to Wendel's playing. No notes are wasted but instead linger in an open ended sonic exploratory of melody and expression seldom heard from other players today. Ben Wendel is a musical sponge, an organic byproduct of his own creative nature.

Frame is a musical snapshot of a creative moment in time for a prolific composer, unique instrumentalist and jazz visionary. Conventional labels to Wendel's music do not apply here nor should they. Ben Wendel is the epitome of the evolving artist and the future for jazz saxophone.

5 stars!

Tracks: Chorale; Clayland; Con Alma; Backbou; Jean and Renata; Blocks; Frame; Leaving; Julia.

Personnel: Ben Wendel: saxophones, bassoon & melodica; Gerald Clayton: piano ( 1,2,3); Tigran Hamasyan: piano (4,6,7); Nir Felder: guitar; Adam Benjamin: piano ( 1,4,6,7), fender rhodes (8,9); Ben Street: bass; Nate Wood: drums.

Clarence Milton Bekker Old Soul Concord 2012

Street Date 02/28/12

From street singer in Barcelona to a major label release via the Concord Music Group, Clarence Milton Bekker's story is of the musical improbable.

There is a quote by Sonny Rollins and to paraphrase:

"There is nothing new in music, everything is a derivative of itself."

My riff on Sonny Rollins is to be a champion of those artists with the chops to make old school turn into new cool and Clarence Bekker is the real deal!

A former editor would often caution me about giving musical frames of reference however with an artist that is relatively new to the spotlight, the musical frame of reference is a necessary evil. Imagine the vocals of a Huey Lewis pulling from classic rhythm and blues. Make no mistake, Bekker is far from a "sound-alike" as Bekker's talent can run the vocal table from a flat out nasty retro-funk of the Staple Singers sound  to doing his own thing on the iconic Sam and Dave "Hold On I'm Comin'." Producers Reggie McBride and Mark Johnson selected a special group of soul musicians with specific ties to the 1970's and early 80's period allowing Bekker to take a second look at some of the most powerful music of a generation that was originally crafted by such luminaries as Otis Redding and Sam and Dave.

The horn laden sound of "Any Other Way" sets the mood for a joyous romp of tunes that offer a little something for all tastes. The infectious funk of the Allen Toussaint number "Yes We Can" offers a positive message for a divisive world and allows Bekker's voice and impeccable timing to shine. The true musical test  comes when jumping into the Otis Redding classic, "Try a Little Tenderness." Bekker nails the Otis Redding tune in one take! "Shine On Me" is the lone original on this release but is of such high quality that were it not for a good working knowledge of this material, telling the difference between some iconic standards and Bekker's own contribution would be a tough task. "Hold On, I'm Coming" is the aptly chosen closing tune for the release, subtly announcing that a new voice with an eye for the future but a firm foundation in the musical roots of the past is on the horizon.

The American Idol vibe of finding that "next great singer" can be argued to a degree. Idol is an immensely entertaining show that does indeed shine a spotlight on some talent that would otherwise go unnoticed. Bekker is an exciting and dynamic singer, the vocal diamond in the rough that a show like Idol is built around and built for. The musical question of does the best singer ever win begs to be answered, and the answer is no. There is no question in Clarence Bekker's talent, determination and drive. The only question here is how high will the industry allow Bekker to fly? Consistency has long been a trademark of the Concord Music Group and Clarence Bekker fits the label and fills the need for new blood and great entertainment. Old Soul is a musical celebration not to be missed!

This is a review and a release that should be shared with a friend. Word of mouth has made a business and made more than one successful artist. Do not let Clarence Bekker slip past you! If you do not have any friends then tell a stranger about this one, you will be friends for life.

A powerful voice with great phrasing and flawless delivery.

5 stars.

A You Tube Video.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Johnathan Blake The Eleventh Hour Sunnyside 2012

Street Date 02/28/12

Good things come to those who wait. While you have to wait roughly a month for the release date, don't feel bad as Johnathan Blake waited well over two years to see this project come to light. Long story short, the wait for The Eleventh Hour is indeed time well spent.

The eleventh hour is a colloquial expression meaning "a time which is nearly too late".

Better late than never!

Blake is perhaps best known as the drummer for the Tom Harrell Quintet, arguably one of the finest quintets in the bop and post bop era of jazz. The musical resume of Blake extends to other musicians including David Sanchez, Russell Malone and the great Kenny Barron. For the uninitiated, Blake plays with the finesse of Paul Motian, the rhythmic feel of a Max Roach and the intensity of a Philly Jo Jones. Far more than a rhythmic timekeeper, Blake is a prolific instrumentalist and composer that captures a unique sound for this release with an all star cast including Jaleel Shaw, Ben Street, Robert Glasper, Tim Warfield and a special cameo from the incomparable Tom Harrell.

There is a retro yet subtle contemporary feel to this release, something warm and familiar yet fresh with vitality. Opening with "The Eleventh Hour" there is the old school rhodes sound played by Robert Glasper which is punctuated with horns, harmonica and the intricate subtleties of Blake's work in the pocket. The over looked composition from Tom Harrell "Blue News" features the man that blows more horn than anyone while Blake swings hard and here lies the secret to this magnificent recording. The Eleventh Hour is not a self indulgent "bash fest" typical of some drummers but instead the sound of the collective ensemble along with stellar arrangements pushing the music front and center allowing each artist a time to shine.

Two of the best tunes ( there are no bad tunes here ) include Blake's "Time to Kill" which is a lyrical gem featuring the wonderful Jaleel Shaw on alto saxophone. A keen harmonic development and a definite lyrical sense of purpose drive this tune to a level some players work decades to achieve. The second tune to jump out is the smoker "Of Things to Come" where Blake again swings like a beast but remains the glue binding this stellar ensemble together.

Johnathan Blake is one of the many reasons that I shy away from the technical review. A 12-tone row and a melody that is kicked up a notch and built on 4ths is essentially meaningless to anyone other than a seasoned musician. The bottom line is that with The Eleventh Hour, Johnathan Blake makes a dramatic musical statement as a performer and especially as a composer having written seven of the ten tunes on this release. Blake swings hard and firmly establishes himself in the upper eschelon of drummers working today. Johnathan Blake looks past the music to the sound of where post bop jazz is heading and creates a release of tremendous depth and lyrical character.

 A review that writes itself.

5 stars!

Tracks: The Eleventh Hour; Rio's Dream; Blue News; Dexter's Tune; Time To Kill; Of Things To Come; Freefall; No Left Turn; Clues; Canvas.

Personnel: Johnathan Blake: drums; Jaleel Shaw: alto saxophone (all tracks except 3,4,8 & 10); Mark Turner: tenor saxophone ( except track 5); Kevin Hays: piano, fender rhodes (all tracks except 1,5,6 & 10); Ben Street: bass.

Special Guests: Tom Harrell: trumpet, flugelhorn ( tracks 3 & 5); Gregoire Maret: harmonica ( 1,10); Robert Glasper: piano, fender rhodes (1,5 & 10); Tim Warfield: tenor saxophone (8).

Video via You Tube

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Monday, January 23, 2012

San Francisco Latin Jazz Society This Ahau Records 2012

Having read a review where a critic makes the incredibly myopic statement that Latin jazz is for dancing and romancing and after my anger stroke subsided, I explained in my review of the same work that if Latin jazz is to be stereotyped then one should own a truck to fully appreciate the subtleties of country music but only if you wanted to follow that derailed train of musical logic to a possible destination.

Without going into a lengthy history involving the roughly twenty countries, six imported styles and countless regional sub genres of Latin jazz let us keep things simple. When it comes to the San Francisco Latin Jazz Society take everything you knew or thought you knew about Latin jazz and become a blank slate.

"I'm going to give you a little advice. There's a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball." - Chevy Chase from Caddyshack.

The same advice holds true when listening to This, be the ball...

This, the latest release from the San Francisco Latin Jazz Society is a multi-cultural sonic exploratory transcending genres but with a smoldering Latin sub current churning just below the surface. Dancing, romancing and the stereotypical extended Latin jam session are pushed well aside in favor of an inventive and well defined style which revolves around textured rhythms and grooves for a retro yet incredibly contemporary ambient feel that pushes musical boundaries.

Opening with the title track "This" there is a harmonic ambiance broken with the a subtle free lyrical flow of rhythmic guitar and an organic pulse of percussion and horns. A free form lyrical Latin movement of sound and energy with an undulating pulse, a musical sense of purpose. "Mambo Psycheddic Blues" kicks off with a deep bass groove and is soon followed with Jim Gordon's more abstract horn work which adds tremendous lyrical depth and propels this tune to a new Latin flavored dimension. "Right Here" may fit more with what some consider traditional Latin jazz which includes punctuating rhythms and horns that are laid over a more free jazz approach including the smoldering guitar work of Scott Brown. Avant-garde yet incredibly accessible. An incredible fusion of post modern and Latin music into a unique Latin sub genre within the trademark San Francisco sound.

 The groove on This is undeniable within this sonic melting pot. Dancing and romancing? No...Instead the San Francisco Latin Jazz Society welcomes you to the land of rhythm and pleasure. A unique hybridization of Latin and free jazz where there the music successfully moves past the traditional if not self imposed limitations of a particular genre and create a unique experience where the listener is offered the opportunity to pull from a myriad of sounds and influences to see just where this musical destination may lead them.

An incredibly organic, original and orchestrated music force that transcends genres with ease.
Visceral and cerebral jazz for the mind and the soul!
The new voice for Latin Jazz.
A triumph!

Tracks: This; For Demian; Mambo Psycheddic Blues; Right Here; That; Amen.

Personnel: Alex Nunez: congas (2,4,5,6); Andy Woodhouse: bass; Jim Gordon: horns, keys, percussion; John Rodriguez: drums; Scott Brown: guitar, percussion.

Jaclyn Guillou To The City 2011

Female jazz singers are a dime a dozen. The special singers that move from vocalist to artist are rare. Jaclyn Guillou and her 2011 release To The City move to the more than memorable pile of discs on my desk all most immediately. Guillou is a wonderful singer/song writer from Vancouver British Columbia that is the vocal triple threat. More than ample chops, a great lyricist and the ability to combine these qualities into an authentic and sincere sense of artistry should place Guillou on the top of singers that deserve a second look if not that elusive if not forgotten major label deal.

Jaclyn Guillou is far more than the "pretty girl" doing her own riff on a set of jazz standards that have seen better days. There is an eclectic and somewhat quirky nature to the arrangements and Guillou's vocal phrasing is incredibly infectious. To The City is a fresh sound yet steeped in tradition where the music is not taking a back seat to Guillou's vocals, it is the perfect compliment to her vocals.

A somewhat personal recording, semi-autobiographical in nature allows Guillou to connect to her material especially "Sunny Sunday" which is a playful number setting the mood for an organic swing that seems to permeate this release. "Little Red Shoes" is the vocal version of the little black dress, a sexy little number that every female vocalist should have in her arsenal. Guillou and the band shine as they push the swing on "All or Nothing at All" and breathe new life into a timeless classic. The smoldering blues infused "Honey Blues" may showcase Guillou's style and phrasing as well as any tune on this release, problem being there are no bad tunes here. Musical frames of reference are sometimes dangerous and often unfair but the influences of a lyrical and vocal titan such as Lorraine Feather are hard to ignore.

A first call band along with some special guests round out To The City with just the right amount of texture. Guillou puts a slightly more organic contemporary jazz spin on music steeped in tradition and thus makes old school become new cool, the sign of a true artist. A musical gem to share with friends, in lieu of not having friends then tell a stranger and I promise you will be buddies for life!

5 stars!

Tracks: Sunny Sunday; To The City; Little Red Shoes; Hiding Town; California; All or Nothing at All; That's All ( featuring Denzal Sinclaire) ; Sweethearts In Love; Attends; Honey Blues; O Pato ( The Duck ); No Moon At All; Bonus Track; You Are.

Personnel: Rany Porter: piano; Tom Beckham: vibraphone; Michael Rush: bass; Joe Poole: drums.

With: Bruno Hubert: piano; Evan Arntzen: tenor sax, clarinet; Chris Davis: trumpet; Rod Murray: trombone; Raphael Geronimo: percussion.

Video One - That's All 
Video Two - California
Video Three - Little Red Shoes
Videos via You Tube

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Catching Up With Hristo Vitchev The Heartmony Interview Part 1

Hristo Vitchev may well be the best kept secret in music today. An artist of deep passion and uncompromising originality, it is my pleasure to share some of Vitchev's thoughts with you concerning his latest and arguably best release Heartmony and on the music business in general.

B.B. - Tell us about Heartmony. Your previous releases are inspired harmonic and lyrical magic but with Heartmony it is something that is from another emotional level, you have gone past playing from the heart or writing from your soul. Heartmony is though you are literally channeling emotions from a far deeper place that few people ever reach. For me it was an almost cathartic experience of hearing real instrumental emotion captured and then released. Can you touch on this?

H.V. - "First and foremost, I want to thank you Brent and all of the readers for taking the time and having the interest to find out a little more about my work and music! “Heartmony” is the 4th record I have released and definitely the one that took a slightly different path of creation. With my previous three albums, the creative process was to a degree very similar. It all started with a stimulation from a place, an emotion, a story, or a painting, etc… Then with the time spent conceptualizing and reflecting on such feelings the emotions grew stronger and stronger until they found their way into notes on paper, and later sounds on tape.  I would try to capture a melody first and then work on a supporting harmonic structure or vice versa. Of course, as any craftsmen, we musicians also can revisit and polish our initial expressions or works. So after the rough draft was finalized I will go and re-work certain passages and re-arrange things using the musical concepts I have studied in order to refine the material and make it ready for a release. However, this last stage in a way is divorced from the initial spontaneous feeling of the stimulation that lead to such expression and even though it makes the work more refined/sophisticated it also can sometimes take it into a different direction (away from the main source).

With “Heartmony” my intention was quite different. I have always been fascinated with harmony (the simultaneous combination of sounds) and the almost sacred effects that it can have on us. From day one that I picked up the guitar I was really amazed by the different relationships that notes could create when they were sounded together. Comparing this to my human experience, it was similar to how I lived through emotions; love, sadness, passion, joy, etc. It is not one identifiable feeling but a combination of hundreds in not thousands of feelings and emotions that I can feel at the same time when I’m in such a state. And so I wanted to capture this magic in sounds. Hence the name of the record – the Harmony of the heart – “HEARTMONY.”
I decided this time around to let the relationship of the notes of chords dictate the vibe, feeling, and evolution of each song. I will literally sit on the piano and start by finding a chord that really made my inner muse resonate. Then in an almost trance like manner, I will sound the chord over and over until my heart told me the chord should move to this next type of emotion/sound. No concept of style, presentation, etc. The music will simply become what it wants to be. This is how all the eleven songs evolved. The melodies of the songs simply became the highest notes of the particular voicings I was playing. In a way my brain was now removed from the song-writing process and my heart was making all the decisions. Once there was no other emotions left to express, I will simply finish the tune. On this record, there was no editing or arrangement done afterwards, it is simply left as it was composed. True, spontaneous, and direct. Then I reviewed the material and tried to figure out where can I insert the improvisational/jazz elements. Solos, interludes, etc. Not all songs called for that, and so there are a few tracks on the CD that don’t have any soloing in the classic jazz sense, and that is great – they don’t need to – the feeling was captured in a complete way without calling for anything else."

 B.B. -   The cover art is your work as well. Incredible oil paintings so which creation happens first? What influences your visual art and do you see that as a direct reflection of the music that is released with it?

H.V. - "Since very little I always had a fascination with drawing and painting, but I never took it seriously enough and never had any training on it. I simply paint once in a while as a hobby and as another outlet (other than music) to let some energy out. By no means have I considered myself a visual artist, but I sure enjoy it tremendously and have tons of fun doing it! When I first started recording my music I made it a point to also paint the covers of all my CDs because I thought that will be the most truthful and direct visual representation of the music presented on them. I will say that a lot of times when I get inspired to start a new project I will think of the story or idea behind the concept and then just for fun try to paint something that I feel captures these feelings for me. Most of the time, it ends up being the cover for the record. It is really bizarre. I’m the biggest fan of impressionism; both in music and visual art. I love presenting to the listener or viewer something that they can interpret and make their own, instead of telling them directly what it is that they have to hear and see. I find a very innocent and pure beauty in such interpretation."

B.B. -   Tell us about your book Between the Voicings: A New Approach to Chord Building for Guitarists" and what effect you think this has on developing an individual voice as no one sounds like you and you dont sound like anyone else - how does this effect your music?

H.V. - "In my upbringing as a guitarist and musician I spent a lot of times studying with piano players and also studying harmony on the piano. I also joke with friends that if I have to start all over again, I will most likely be a pianist and have a piano trio. I guess because of my love for harmony and chords the piano is a natural and logical choice of an instrument. You have ten fingers and quite a larger range than the guitar in terms of tone colors, whereas on the guitar you only have four fingers and quite a shorter tonal range. Because of my fascination with the piano, I spent a lot of time studying how pianist thing about harmony and some of the key concepts they use to capture extended and altered harmonies which I love so much. Then I took the time to figure out the most logical and comprehensive way in which some of these concepts can be adapted to the guitar as well as how such concepts could evolve differently on my instrument because of its construction. It was quite some fun putting together all the material for the book and I do believe it really changed the way I approach the instrument. I will definitely say that it gave me a broader harmonic approach."