Monthly Archives: September 2013

DAVIDE BRILLANTE: FROM BOLOGNA TO NEW YORK, BRINGING SWEET SOUNDS

One of the loveliest aspects of our odd cyber-life is the experience of meeting someone face-to-face — a person known up to that point only as words or sounds on a screen — and finding that the person is even more rewarding than the original simulacrum.  In brief, “Isn’t it great when your Facebook friends are even more friendly in person?”

Guitarist Davide Brillante, from Bologna, is a shining example.  He and his wife Monica — whom I met in Brooklyn a few weeks ago — are sweet, generous people.  And although I had known Davide’s subtle guitar playing from YouTube videos, it wasn’t until I asked him to sit down and play some solos for me (for us, for JAZZ LIVES) that I saw how his gentle, inquiring soul comes right through the strings and notes.

Here are three touching performances.  And a word before the viewer jumps in.  Many of us are accustomed to fingerboard-burning guitar virtuosi who skitter all over like supercharged alien life forms.  Their playing is both astonishing and exhausting.

Davide Brillante, although he can play with splendid speed and crisp articulation, is seriously in love with melody and its possibilities.  So he will — on purpose — begin his performance as if he’s shyly meeting the song for the first time (introducing himself to the timid young woman across the dance floor at the sophomore prom) and gaining confidence in his ardent explorations.  His approach makes wonderful musical sense, and when I was through listening to these three performances, I thought, “Davide is a true romantic!” I think you’ll agree.

AFTER YOU’VE GONE (at a lovely leisurely tempo with a ruminative verse):

LET’S FALL IN LOVE:

ALONE TOGETHER:

Thank you, Davide.  Come back to New York soon!  Bring Monica, of course!

May your happiness increase!

SWINGING AT THE MUSEUM, 2013

One of my favorite small bands — THE UNACCOUNTED FOUR (!) with Menno Daams, trumpet; David Lukacs, reeds; Martien Oster, guitar; Joep Lumeij, bass — recorded in Amsterdam at the Pianolamuseum.  JUBILEE and LULLABY OF THE LEAVES.

Fine sounds!

May your happiness increase!

“LET ME HEAR THAT MUSIC!”

It’s all true.

This morning, I was driving across Manhattan to see the Beloved. Predictably, I was stuck in congealing traffic.  I did what I often do (since the weather was fine and I wasn’t going anywhere fast) — put a new jazz CD in the player, opened my window, and turned up the sound.  I assure you, should you worry, that my aging car’s sound system can do no harm to my or anyone else’s eardrums.

As I inched forward, I saw a man on foot — what Chaucer might have described as a mendicant, someone in search of alms — going from car to car, peaceably. He was not intoxicated, untidy, or threatening. When he was several cars away, I reached into my trousers pocket to find a dollar to give him.  When he came to my car window, I offered him the dollar, and said, “Here you are, my man,” and he took the bill and thanked me.

But then something quite unexpected happened.  He heard the music (a hot rendition of LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME by Bryan Shaw’s Hot Shots — a glorious new Arbors CD featuring Dan Barrett, Evan Arntzen, Ehud Asherie, Brad Roth, John Dominquez, Jeff Hamilton) and his face changed — from casual to intent.

That’s Dixieland!” he cried.  “Let me hear that music!

I turned up the volume and we listened, together, happily, for another half-chorus before the drivers in back of me grew restive.  He was smiling.  So was I.

Music, surely, has charms.  At the end of his day, the dollar I gave him is faceless, without personality: the minute or so of hot jazz we shared might have a much more lasting — and salutary — effect.

Postscript: Since I abhor the names and styles and categories under which improvised music labors, I did not think it a useful expenditure of energy or love to be didactic, “No, my good man.  ‘Dixieland’ can be defined as . . . . . What we are listening to is small-band swing / contemporary traditional / Mainstream . . . .”  I leave that to others.

May your happiness increase!

ENERGY HEALING: THE BASIE METHOD

What’s the rush?  Where’s the fire?  To what are we racing?

I see people in gas station and grocery store lines who act as if they have the most important business to get to, and surely some of them do.  But they look furious, impatient.  They are shifting from foot to foot, checking their watches, astonished at those turtles in front of them who are blocking their clear path to the Egress.  Are they their own ambulances?

So much of our culture is based on Saving Time.  Doing Things Faster.  Being More Efficient.  Multi-tasking.  If you save three seconds here and two minutes there, it must be a great satisfaction.  But where do those moments go?  I dread the thought that the people racing around will have much more time to spend in some unhappy place, like the intensive care ward.

And occasionally the people whose pants seem to be afire are rude, heedless, self-destructive.  If you rush through a task, will it be done well?  Is the world a microwave oven?  Will the young man who roared out of the gas station this morning get home safely?  I pray that he does.

For years, I have been quoting my favorite-title-of-a-record-I-have-never-heard to people.  It was a Decca “Sepia Series” side (we know what that means) circa 1941-2.  The band?  Doctor Sausage and his Five Pork Chops. The composition?  TAKE IT EASY, GREASY (YOU STILL GOT A LONG WAY TO SLIDE).

Words to live by.

But the greasiness of that composition might seem repellent.  How about making a commitment to live your life in Count Basie time?  As fast as the tempo gets, Basie never seems to rush.  He’s never hurried.  He has a goal, but he knows that breathing steadily will get him and us there just the same.

And Lester Young knew that hurry was a truly bad idea, too.  Try taking it easy and see if your slide through life is less arduous.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, HOW I MISS YOU TONIGHT”: CHRIS TYLE’S SILVER LEAF JAZZ BAND

Here’s a beautiful performance by a group of players who truly know one way to create beautiful hot jazz . . . steady but rocking, sweet but intense.  The emotional temperature of the music rises, but the tempo doesn’t budge.  Each instrumental voice is clear, distinct, personal — combining to make a harmonious instrumental conversation.  It’s the sort of performance you can hear several times in a row and each time, happily, discover new delights.

The players?  Chris Tyle, cornet; Leon Oakley, cornet; John Gill, trombone; Mike Baird, clarinet; Steve Pistorius, piano; Clint Baker, banjo; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

Chris not only plays beautifully but he has a knack for assembling the best players and making them sound — at a record date or a concert — as if they have been working and touring for years.  The performance (a rarely heard Twenties pop song) evokes King Oliver and his bands, but copies nothing.

Now, you’ll notice that this isn’t one of my videos of this band at a festival, in a club, or in a concert hall.  If this band did have such a gig, I would be there as quickly as my job / bank balance would allow.  Is any festival promoter or jazz booker out there listening?  The NRA sign says WE DO OUR PART . . . why not? The title of this song is its own commentary, but that absence could be repaired without much difficulty, I think.

May your happiness increase!

HILARY GARDNER’S QUIET TRIUMPHS (Jazz at Kitano, September 25, 2013)

The Beloved and I went to see and hear the fine singer Hilary Gardner and her band last night at Jazz at Kitano: a wonderful seventy-minute performance.  Her musicians were impressive: Jason Marshall on tenor and soprano saxophone; Ehud Asherie on piano; Elias Bailey on string bass; Kevin Kanner on drums.

That instrumental quartet began the set with a leisurely but pushing I’VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE.  Quickly, we noticed Kanner’s boyish exuberance at the drums; Bailey’s steadiness; Asherie’s inventive ebullience, and Marshall — someone new to me but a splendid mix of Rollins and Southwestern passion (think of Buddy Tate).  I couldn’t predict where his phrases would land, but his lines had a speaking grace.

Hilary has been offering songs that celebrate (or delineate) life in New York, relating to her CD, THE GREAT CITY.  Often those songs have been dryly witty, salty glances at life-as-it-is-lived in Manhattan.  (There are very few songs about the boroughs, one notices.  Apologies to Staten Island and the Bronx, especially.)

She began with THE GREAT CITY, whose message isn’t the optimistic fraudulence of “If you can make it here . . . ”  Rather, the song suggests that one wants to keep a clear path to the exit at the same time one enters the Manhattan cosmos.  WHEELERS AND DEALERS had much of the same balsamic-vinegar flavor.

But there were love songs — Ronnell Bright’s cheerful SWEET PUMPKIN, the more subdued THIS LITTLE TOWN IS PARIS (associated with Beverly Kenney), the wry tale of an urban love that is transmitted but not received, SWEETHEART — sung by the imagined protagonist, who is moony over a male customer she waits on in the doughnut shop.  Another of Hilary’s creations was the love song to the lost world, WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG.  (For the first time, I thought that this song — in its possibly melodramatic verse and more familiar chorus — has a sideways kinship with JUST A GIGOLO.)

The performances I have briefly listed would act as convincing evidence that Hilary is a superb singer: her multi-colored voice, her unerring time, her fine but subtle dramatic sense, her wit, her swinging ability to let the song pour through her rather than insisting that the song sit behind her.

But the show had three triumphs where she outdid herself.  And the remarkable connection among those three performances was that they were all of “familiar” songs, which could in other hands have been formulaic, predictable, unsurprising.  Hilary didn’t “do” anything to these three songs to change them — the songs didn’t need it — but she embodied them with deep feeling, freshness, and ardor.  The first was, in honor of the season, ‘T’IS AUTUMN.  I love the song for its melody and its sentimental associations, but think the lyrics alternate between the touching, the almost too-cute, and the inept: “La-di-da, di-da-di-da,” to me, is a lyricist being sweetly unambitious.  But I love “the birds got together / to chirp about the weather,” with unshakable affection.  Hilary took the song at a slightly slower tempo, letting us hear its sweet whimsicality without a trace of contemporary irony. When she sang, “My holding you close really is no crime,” I thought I could see several men in the row in front of us lean forward hopefully, expectantly. They had fallen under her spell and the song’s.

Then, she essayed Dave Frishberg’s DO YOU MISS NEW YORK?  Frishberg’s songs are so remarkable in themselves, and many of us remember their composer singing them at the piano, so it is an act of courage for other singers to attempt them in his shadow.  Hilary’s version was only a shade slower than I might have expected (the better to let us savor Frishberg’s brilliant witty, wry poetry) but I have never heard a more poignant version.  The song came alive in all its rueful splendor, and it was as if I could hear both Frishberg (as composer) and Hilary (as enactor) discovering just how much they did miss New York, and that the loss was irreparable.

And the sly apex of this trio was Hilary’s sly take on YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS — with its satiric, punchy verse.  I’ve heard some singers deliver that song with the emphatic dismissiveness of someone slamming the door on an ex-lover or an unmasked pretender.  Hilary gave the song a bluesy, groovy slither — as if to say, “Look, pal.  Other people may not have noticed that you are really tofu masquerading as something else — but I know.”  Not angry or mocking, but amused.

I felt as if I had heard these three songs for the first time.  The audience didn’t stand and cheer (they only do that in the movies or for drum solos, I think) but they should have.

You will note that no videos accompany this posting.  I’d decided I wanted to enjoy the show, pretending to be more like my peers than someone peering through the viewfinder.  So you will have to find Hilary at one of her gigs for yourself!  Or you can purchase her CD.  Or you can find her at the next concert of the Sidney Bechet Society — Monday, October 14 — with Evan Christopher, Randy Reinhart, and other notables.

But don’t ignore the exceedingly talented Hilary Gardner.  If you catch on to her subtle beauties, then you can say, in Frishberg’s words, “Me, too.”

May your happiness increase!

AT PLAY IN SONG: MEREDITH AXELROD and TAMAR KORN at CAFE ATLAS (August 10, 2013)

Generous and expert, they filled the air with song.

Here are the final five magical explorations by two brave sweet improvisers, Meredith Axelrod and Tamar Korn, at San Francisco’s Cafe Atlas on August 10, 2013.

LONESOME AND SORRY:

I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING:

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP:

When I was finished watching and editing these videos for the blog, I kept thinking, “This isn’t the only kind of music I love, but it’s entirely real.  How lovely to see their pleasure, given freely to us.”

Two other notes.  The previous postings from this cheering afternoon of song can be found here and here.  The series of postings are, of course, for the Beloved, Confetta and Anatol, Louise and Jay.  They know why!

May your happiness increase!