Category Archives: Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

MASTERING THE ART OF HOT CUISINE: ENRICO TOMASSO and HIS RUG-CUTTERS at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 8, 2014)

It’s difficult for me to comprehend that one week ago (the time difference notwithstanding) I was at the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, held in the Village Hotel Newcastle, recording this performance.  I and others were having the time of our lives.

PLS-00003755-001Why is there a picture of a gravy boat on JAZZ LIVES?  All will be revealed.

This singular performance took place late in a set, led by Rico Tomasso, devoted to “the Duke’s men,” specifically the small-band recordings (with one 1930 exception) done between 1936 and 1939 under the leadership of Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, and Cootie Williams.

Cootie is responsible for this most delicate of compositions, AIN’T THE GRAVY GOOD? — which doubles as a culinary disquisition with platefuls of double-entendre implications.  To me, it’s also a late-Thirties take on a Twenties vaudeville song.  I can imagine it onstage sung by a team, one sitting at a table full of food, the other one in an apron . . . but I leave the staging to you.

As I mentioned, the leader of the set was noble and gregarious Enrico Tomasso — friends are invited to call him Rico — a wonderful trumpeter, singer, entertainer (that’s a compliment) and improviser.

He begins this number with one of the best explanations of the subtleties of plunger-muted trumpet that I’ve ever heard, and then moves on to the main course.

Rico is joined by Alistair Allan, trombone; Claus Jacobi, alto saxophone; Matthias Seuffert, clarinet and saxophones; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Henri Lemaire, guitar; Malcolm Sked, string bass; Richard Pite, drums:

Had this been the sole performance I had witnessed at Whitley Bay, I would have been more than satisfied.  But it wasn’t, and I came home with more than three hundred video-recordings.  Will I share them?  You can count on it.  I couldn’t attest to the quality of the gravy — we have to take Rico’s word for it — but the music was beyond delicious.  And there will be a 2015 Party . . . so plan ahead.  Details to follow as I know them.

May your happiness increase!

BRILLIANCE TIMES THREE (Part Two): TAL RONEN, MARK SHANE, DAN BLOCK at CASA MEZCAL (Oct. 26, 2014)

I was simply transported, I tell you.

The transporters were three eloquent yet casual musicians — Tal, string bass; Mark, piano; Dan, clarinet and tenor — at work and play in the pleasing surroundings of 88 Orchard Street, on the lower East Side of New York City, their creations captured by my camera on Sunday, October 26, 2014.

Here are the first four videos from that afternoon, which have lost none of their charm.  And four more, floating, lyrically Basie-style, making the air vibrate so sweetly.

I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU:

LINGER AWHILE:

YACHT CLUB SWING:

MOTEN SWING (with a brief camera malfunction during Tal’s solo where the camera suddenly got excited by the tin ceiling and had to be reminded of its proper function. I apologize for it, Tal):

For my first post, I wrote, “This is living synergy, a translucent acoustic orchestra. Such music blesses us,” and I think those words are even truer here.

May your happiness increase!

A GLORIOUS EVENING, PART THREE: TAMAR KORN, DENNIS LICHTMAN, MATT MUNISTERI, CRAIG VENTRESCO, MEREDITH AXELROD, JERRON PAXTON, TAL RONEN (JALOPY THEATRE, September 28, 2014)

By the end of this utterly satisfying musical evening (September 28, 2014) at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, the stage was filled with happy individualists — not a repeater pencil or copycat in sight. The cast of characters was Tamar Korn, vocal; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Craig Ventresco, guitar; Meredith Axelrod, vocal and ukulele; Jerron Paxton, piano; Tal Ronen, string bass.  I think that’s an accurate census of the people, not all of them appearing on each number, and some of them audible rather than visible.

In retrospect, it feels like a combination jam session – hootenanny – revival meeting – improvisational theatre piece. . . . unique and fulfilling. And even though those of us who have followed Tamar for the past five years or more know these songs (the first three: NEW YORK is a new favorite) the stage was alight with fresh energies.

For those who missed this glorious constellation of musical comets and asteroids, whether live or on video, here are the first two parts of this evening.

SUGAR BLUES:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (Ms. Korn in bliss, announced freely):

DO THE NEW YORK:

Rarely do I use the word “unforgettable” about an event I’ve attended, but this evening solidly fits that description.  Blessings on the artists and the generous people at Jalopy who made this evening happen.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGTIME IN SOHO (Part Two): JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BARRETT, CHRIS FLORY, JOEL FORBES at THE EAR INN (Sept. 14, 2014)

Here is the first part of a delightful swing interlude, scored for four masters, at the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on September 14, 2014.

The Masters were (and are) Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Chris Flory, guitar; Joel Forbes, string bass.  Here are the three remaining etudes from the set I recorded:

TOPSY (Eddie Durham’s irresistible minor rocker):

AS LONG AS I LIVE:

SWINGIN’ THE BLUES, which brings back the Famous Door and lives up to its name:

Great things happen at The Ear Inn on Sunday nights.  Here’s your proof.

May your happiness increase!

FIVE BEAUTIES FROM AN AFTERNOON AT CASA MEZCAL: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, EHUD ASHERIE (October 5, 2014)

I’ve written before about my new jazz oasis, Casa Mezcal, 88 Orchard Street, which has a Sunday jazz brunch from 1-4 PM with some of my friends (who also happen to be the finest players and singers in New York).  So far I’ve been there exactly twice, but it is now my Sunday-afternoon port of call.  It is a rare pleasure to see and hear music in daylight, to have interestingly non-formulaic Mexican food, and to encounter a gracious staff.  And then there’s good lighting for the videographer who eats my food.

Two Sundays ago, the trio led by string bassist Rob Adkins (a modest, endearing fellow who plays beautifully) was pianist Ehud Asherie and reedman Dan Block, two of my heroes. Ordinarily, the ethereal and always surprising Tamar Korn is in charge (as she was on October 19 — more about that in a future posting) but this afternoon was strictly instrumental, and beautifully so.

Here are five delicacies from that afternoon:

JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS, an early-afternoon romp:

HOW ABOUT YOU? — a song I associate with Judy Garland’s sweet early version.  And New York in October has been as warm as it might be in June:

MISTY, which requires a little explanation.  Most musicians I know loathe this song or play it with much reluctance.  Their reaction has nothing to do with Erroll Garner or with Johnny Mathis, but the song has been pulped by overexposure.  Listen, however, to the tender beauty Dan brings to this (after Ehud’s comic interlude ends):

DREAM, that Johnny Mercer classic, is usually taken as a sweet lullaby, but Dan reimagines it (with great flair) at a walking Basie tempo:

SHOE SHINE BOY was my request, since I’d heard Ehud playing the Lester solo as a swing exercise before the first set began:

I may be weary from trying to find parking, and I may get turned around on Delancey Street and have to ask for directions, but I plan to spend my Sunday afternoons at Casa Mezcal until further notice.  The music is fresh and lively (and so is the guacamole).  See you there!

May your happiness increase!

PERFECTLY CRAFTED: “PLAYGROUND” by the UNACCOUNTED FOUR

I am delighted to share with you the debut CD of an inspired quartet — the Unaccounted Four — a disc called (appropriately) PLAYGROUND, where the arranged passages are as brilliant as the improvisations, and the two kinds of expression dance beautifully through the disc.

playground_front

Menno plays cornet, wrote the arrangements, and composed three originals; David plays clarinet and tenor saxophone; Martien plays guitar; Joep is on string bass; Harrie ven de Woort plays the pianola on the closing track, a brief EXACTLY LIKE YOU.  The disc was recorded at the PIanola Museum in Amsterdam on four days in May 2014 — recorded superbly by bassist Joep.

The repertoire is a well-stirred offering of “classic” traditional jazz repertoire: STUMBLING, CHARLESTON, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, JUBILEE, EXACTLY LIKE YOU; beautiful pop songs: AUTUMN IN NEW YORK, JEANNINE (I DREAM OF LILAC TIME), ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM, LULLABY OF THE LEAVES; originals: WHAT THE FUGUE, UNGUJA, PLAYGROUND; unusual works by famous composers: Ellington’s REFLECTIONS IN D; Bechet’s LE VIEUX BATEAU; and Ravel’s SLEEPING BEAUTY.  Obviously this is a quartet with an imaginative reach.

A musical sample — the Four performing JUBILEE and LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

Here is Menno’s own note to the CD:

A few years ago, I wanted to have my own jazz quartet to play what is known as “classic jazz.” Besides being nice to listen to, I intended the quartet to be versatile, convenient and different. That is why I bypassed the usual format of horn + piano trio. Our instrumentation of two horns, guitar and bass allows for varied tone colors. The venues where we play don’t need to rent a piano, and we don’t have to help the drummer carry his equipment from the car. As for versatility, David Lukacs, Merien Oster and Joep Lumeij are excellent readers and improvisers. They are also great company to hang out with (convenience again).

Our repertoire dates from the 1920s and 30s. The earliest piece is the adaptation of Ravel’s Pavane de la belle au bois dormant (1912); the latest is Ellington’s Reflections in D (1953), not counting my own tunes. While writing the charts, I chose to frame the familiar (and not-so-familiar) tunes in a new setting, rather than following the original recordings. So, for better or worse, the Unaccounted Four sounds like no other band. I promise you will still recognize the melodies, though!

The recording was made at the Pianola Museum in Amsterdam by Joep Lumeij with only two microphones. Minimal editing and postprocessing was done (or indeed possible).

On the last track, Harrie van de Voort operated a pianola which belted out Exactly Like You while we joined in. It is the only completely improvised performance on this disc. Autumn in New York is at the other end of the spectrum with every note written out.

I hope you will enjoy the Unaccounted Four’s particular brand of chamber jazz.

Menno’s statement that the Unaccounted Four “sounds like no other band” is quite true.  If I heard them on the radio or on a Blindfold Test, I might not immediately recognize the players, but I wouldn’t mistake the band for anyone else. I think my response would be, “My goodness, that’s marvelous.  What or whom IS that?”

Some listeners may wonder, “If it doesn’t sound like any other band, will I like it?”  Fear not.  One could put the Four in the same league as the Braff-Barnes quartet at their most introspective, or the Brookmeyer-Jim Hall TRADITIONALISM REVISITED.  I think of the recordings Frankie Newton made with Mary Lou Williams, or I envision a more contemplative version of the 1938 Kansas City Six or the Kansas City Four.

But here the CD’s title, PLAYGROUND, is particularly apt. Imagine the entire history of melodic, swinging jazz as a large grassy field.  Over there, Bobby Hackett and Shorty Baker are talking about mouthpieces; in another corner, Lester Young, Gil Evans, and Miles Davis are lying on their backs staring at the sky.  Billy Strayhorn and Claude Thornhill are admiring blades of grass; Frank Trumbauer is introducing Bix Beiderbecke and Eddie Lang to Lennie Tristano and Oscar Pettiford; Tony Fruscella and Brew Moore are laughing at something witty Count Basie has said. Someone is humming ROYAL GARDEN BLUES at a medium tempo; another is whistling a solo from the Birth of the Cool sides.

You can continue this game at your leisure (it is good for insomniacs and people on long auto trips) but its whimsical nature explains PLAYGROUND’s particular sweet thoughtful appeal.

It is music to be savored: translucent yet dense tone-paintings, each three or four-minute musical interlude complete in itself, subtle, multi-layered, full of shadings and shifts.  The playing throughout is precise without being mannered, exuberant when needed but never loud — and happily quiet at other times. Impressionism rather than pugilism, although the result is warmly emotional.

Some CDs I immediately embrace, absorb, and apparently digest: I know their depths in a few hearings.  With PLAYGROUND, I’ve listened to it more than a half-dozen times, and each time I hear new aspects; it has the quiet resonance of a book of short stories, which one can keep rereading without ever being bored.

For me, it offers some of the most satisfying listening experiences I have had of late.

The CD can be downloaded or purchased from CDBaby, downloaded from iTunes or Amazon; or one can visit Menno’s own site here, listen to sound samples, and purchase the music from him.

Enjoy the PLAYGROUND.  You have spacious time to explore it.

May your happiness increase!

DOIN’ THE MIDTOWN LOWDOWN: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS ASCEND (October 22, 2014)

I don’t believe that the venue in itself makes the music — the 1938 Goodman band was spectacular before it had its date at Carnegie Hall — but certain meetings of music and place seem more than significant. Here’s one: Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers will be making their debut appearance at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola this coming Wednesday, October 22, 2014, for two sets — at 7:30 and 9:30 PM.

One edition of the Stompers, uncharacteristically outdoors in sunlight: Kevin Dorn, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins,Matt Musselman, Dennis Lichtman, Gordon Au, Molly Ryan, Tamar Korn

One edition of the Stompers, uncharacteristically outdoors in sunlight: Kevin Dorn, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins,Matt Musselman, Dennis Lichtman, Gordon Au, Molly Ryan, Tamar Korn

For this occasion, the Stompers are Gordon, trumpet, compositions, arrangements; Tamar Korn and Molly Ryan, vocals; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Nick Russo, guitar/banjo; Andrew Hall, bass; and Rob Garcia, drums.

I’ve been following the Stompers as often as I could for the last three years, and have enjoyed (and sometimes video-recorded) them in a variety of settings, from Cafe Carlyle to a Columbia University swing dance, downtown at the Cupping Room and at the Brooklyn mecca Radegast, even a vintage subway car.

But thanks to our friend and friend of hot music Misha Katsobashvili (who runs the New York  Hot Jazz Festival), the Stompers are now in even higher society — in terms of the jazz hierarchy.

The Stompers’ music is wide-ranging and quirky (both adjectives are meant as compliments) — from deepest “traditional jazz” repertoire to obscure pre-1945 pop tunes going all the way back to Gordon’s quizzical and gratifying originals, and unusual arrangements of familiar material, including forays into classical and light classical.  Because of this band, a number of singers have now taken WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND into their repertoires, and who else offers SHE’S A GREAT, GREAT GIRL?  Gordon is also deeply involved in revered Disney songs, which emerge out fresh and lively. Always surprising, never routine.

Here is the site to buy tickets for the October 22 shows.

Why not let yourself go . . . up to Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola this Wednesday?

May your happiness increase!