Category Archives: Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

MUSIC BLAZING IN THE DARKNESS: TAL RONEN’S HOLY MOLY (JAY RATTMAN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO) at LITTLE BRANCH (April 13, 2015: PART ONE)

The string bassist / composer / arranger / good fellow TAL RONEN is not only all these heroic things, but he creates imaginative ensembles.  I’d heard of his HOLY MOLY when I was on the other coast — Christmas Eve and Christmas at Smalls — and had wanted to be there but couldn’t.  However, just a few nights ago I was able to visit the HOLY MOLY trio — Tal, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jay Rattman, clarinet — at Little Branch (22 Seventh Avenue South in New York City) for a late session of music.

Before we turn to the videos, which require a serious preface, here’s what Tal had to say when I asked him about this delicious ensemble:

Holy Moly has its start about three-four years ago, when Spike Wilner had me bring my band to play at Smalls on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, me being non-observing and so on. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to bring a band, since I keep pretty busy playing in other people’s bands, and band leading is a huge headache.  But I welcomed the challenge, and brought a group of great straight-ahead guys to play. It became a tradition, and I brought my band on those two nights the next year, and the following one. 

However, around last Christmas, I had a different idea. My mind has been brewing with a musical concept for a while. Plainly put, the concept can be described as “impressionist sketches on romantic themes.”  I have a special passion for the work of great American composers like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Hoagy Carmichael, who mix a romantic classical approach with the genuine feeling of American folk forms, the blues, roots music etc. I also have a special passion for the interpreters of what can be called the impressionist age in jazz, namely greats like Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Oscar Pettiford and my personal mentor, Frank Wess. I was looking for a way to have both my passions, undiluted. This led me to this great crew – Jon-Erik Kellso, Rossano, Jay, Steve Little and Tamar Korn. I decided to call it Holy Moly as an irreverent wink to the holiness of the holiday that was our birth. It also has a certain old timey ring to it which denotes our direction, and lastly, well, when you’re done hearing these guys, that would be your response.

HOLY MOLY! indeed.

I recorded eight videos at Little Branch, and present the first four below.  But there’s a catch.  Little Branch is a basement room, imitating the closeness of a speakeasy, and it is thus quite dark.  I seated myself three feet from the piano, clarinet, and string bass, set up my camera, opened the lens to its widest setting, and began to shoot — the camera recording complete darkness.  Good sound, but no visual whatsoever.  (My pal and video colleague Laura Wyman asked me if I had left the lens cap on.  No, for better or worse.)

There are a few small glimmers of candles in glasses, and in one of the videos someone took some photographs, so the flash weirdly illuminates the players, but otherwise these videos are the finest jazz radio you can imagine.  I found this terribly funny: better to have nothing to see and decent sound than the reverse — bright vistas and terrible noise.  (From long habit, I initially moved my camera and microphone to capture the musician soloing, but gave that up quickly as a whimsy, no more.)

And since people tell me they have trouble keeping up with JAZZ LIVES, these four long performances will give you an opportunity to turn up the volume, stack the dishwasher, groom the cat, pay a bill — whatever needs to be done.  If this weirdness is bothersome, I apologize.  I suspect I have created more than forty-five hundred videos so far on YouTube, so there might be something you haven’t yet seen.  I ask the pardon of those readers who find the blackness terrifying, also.  The music blazes gorgeously.

In case you haven’t been reading closely, there’s nothing to see here.  Keep moving . . .

Four classics:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND:

LIZA:

POOR BUTTERFLY:

The overall ambiance is of a Goodman small group, but it also reminded me of a Jerry Newman session with Tatum and Pettiford, Minton’s 1941 moved downtown and forward in time. I’d follow this group — or other Tal-creations — wherever they were.

May your happiness increase!

“PENSIVE AND SWEET AND WISE”: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE HONOR RODGERS and HART at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

Here are two more beautiful songs from the Rodgers and Hart evening that Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie created for us on March 17, 2015, at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street, my new basement shrine to lyricism. The tender duets Hilary and Ehud create for us are tremendously moving celebrations of love.  Love is in the lyrics, in the melody, and of course in the performances.

WAIT TILL YOU SEE HIM, a paean in three-quarter time to the lover who is announced but not yet tangible, frankly beyond the singer’s powers to describe adequately.  (If you haven’t felt this way, have you truly been in love?) Hilary’s second chorus is both vulnerable and triumphant, a marvel:

I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS is a song of revelation: I was wandering the universe, my internal chronograph not working . . . until I met you.  And now all feels right. It’s a song of delight in that moment when emotion and evidence come together, through love, to create a new aware being:

What a lovely time it was.  And sublime it was, too.  I’ve posted other performances from that night here — and I hope for more.  Singly or in tandem, Hilary and Ehud never fail to move me.

Hilary and Ehud wouldn’t mind my closing with a recording from January 12, 1956: Lester Young, Vic Dickenson, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson, Freddie Green, Gene Ramey, Jo Jones — doing TIME, a little faster.  Even the slightly untuned piano can’t make this any less of a masterpiece:

THIS JUST IN: Hilary and Ehud will be returning to Mezzrow on May 18, 2015.  Whether you’re in love or out, you owe it to yourself to hear and see this divine pair.

May your happiness increase!

“IT WAS THE SWEETEST MELODY”: TAL RONEN, MARK LOPEMAN, JAMES CHIRILLO at CASA MEZCAL (March 29, 2015)

Here are six lovely performances from a Sunday afternoon session at Casa Mezcal, March 29, 2015.  The three glorious understated melodists are Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Lopeman, tenor saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar.  To describe or anatomize this music, either by tracing the historical paths that got everyone to this point, or to analyze it as a musicologist would (someone’s surprising use of pedal ninths in bars 11-14) would be both silly and blasphemous. What we have here is beauty, and beauty needs no explanation for those ready to receive it.

One caveat: the room was rather crowded with happy people, so at the start of a few of the videos there is an apparent roar of conversation.  It quiets down as this exalted trio begins to work its magic.

IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING (appropriately):

WHO CARES?:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

WARM VALLEY:

I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART:

SOME OF THESE DAYS:


May your happiness increase!

“PUCKER UP AND BLOW!”: DANCING MICE, A DUCK WITH A BOWTIE, AND ENDEARING SONG (1955)

The pianist and composer Kris Tokarski, someone I both respect and like, started a discussion on Facebook on March 31, asking the question,

Facebook Survey: In your opinion, what makes a jazz singer, a jazz singer? Musically speaking what qualities/skills must they have? Is there a difference between singers who just sing tunes from the Great American Songbook (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and a “jazz” singer? Go!

The responses were intriguing — and although I find such questions ultimately not terribly “useful” as more than an excuse to air our deeply-held personal tastes, I couldn’t resist entering in. It gave me an excuse to utter the sacred name of Lee Wiley, for one thing.  But I soon retired and left the field to more eager debaters.

But Facebook — which can be terribly irritating and an unsubtle call to our worst instincts — is also a wondrous playground. The jazz scholar Steve Zalusky found and posted this kinescope of Cliff Edwards singing and playing GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE on the Mickey Mouse Club television show — in the Cliff Edwards Ukulele Ike Facebook group, and I love it.  A few cautionary remarks.  If you hate all things Disney, try to calm down for a few minutes, since a half-dozen of the songs from the early films are true classics. Aside from SOMEDAY MY PRINCE WILL COME (ideologically charged, I know, but such a beautiful melody) there’s WITH A SMILE AND A SONG (which Rebecca Kilgore has recorded memorably, for all time) and this one.

The description of this performance is:

“Cliff Edwards appearing on the Mickey Mouse Club Nov 15, 1955. Edwards is 60 here. He sings and plays tenor ukulele. With Clarence ‘Donald Duck’ Nash doing baby noises and Jose Oliveira (next to Cliff) playing guitar and keeping it jazzy. And the Mouseketeers!! See more of Jose Oliveria here:
http://youtu.be/7cIZdPkvyHs.”

And the performance itself:

This makes me perilously happy.  And I think it is both superb jazz singing, hilarious theatre, and ineradicable art.  If you think it is none of the above, I will still love you, but I don’t want to hear about it.

I wish all the parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts that I know would start playing this video for the Young Talent — think of a generation that 1) knows how to sing GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE, 2) subliminally absorbs the message that to think of others is a good thing, 3) perhaps begins to play the ukulele, 4) begins to speak like Donald Duck or do what Edwards called “eefin'” — his own brand of weird scat-singing.  We could transform the cosmos.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE GEORGE WASHINGTON ATE (December 4, 1783), EMILY ASHER AND FRIENDS SWING (March 28, 2015)

Fraunces Tavern

Fraunces Tavern is justly famous (it’s at 54 Pearl St, New York, and the phone is 212 968-1776) but I had never visited.  Even though I view Wikipedia with suspicion, this seems both detailed and accurate.  But I wasn’t visiting there this past Saturday afternoon to see where George and company bid each other farewell over dinner.  I confess that my idea of history is being in Louis and Lucille Armstrong’s turquoise kitchen in their house in Corona.

I was there because the trombonist / singer / composer Emily Asher has had a regular jazz brunch on Saturdays (1-4) and I had heard very good things about it, so I made my way down there to enjoy Emily, guitarist James Chirillo, string bassist / singer Sean Cronin, and a special guest.

I approached the first two sets as a civilian, drinking coffee (brought to me by a very sweet young waitperson), watching the ebb and flow of families, and digging the music.  Before I talk about the music, though, a digression.  I have a notebook when I go to any music, to write down information — song titles and the like — because I can’t always rely on my memory when I get home.  And I am a born eavesdropper and collector of things sweet and strange.

Here are a few samples.

While Emily’s Garden Party trio was playing, a large group of children was dancing in the adjacent room.  They were too young to know the Balboa, but they were having a fine time.

A man in his twenties looked at the band and said happily to his companion, “Oh, a little trombone action!” which was a good critical soundbite.

To my left sat a grandfatherly-looking man with what might have been a captain’s hat, surrounded by four or five pre-teenagers who might have not been his blood relations.  They were having a fine time, and he was talking with them about different subjects and eliciting their responses (as opposed to a monologue).  One subject was flags of the world, which I confess did not catch my attention.  But the subject that did was his grass-roots explanation of economics, which caught me because it had the enticing word CUPCAKES prominently featured.  Compressed, his explanation went something like this. “Everyone here likes cupcakes, and you can bake some and sell them for money and you hope to make a profit, and if they’re good cupcakes, then people are happy.  If you have a library, you don’t make any money, but the people who read the books get smarter and the whole society improves.”  I’m not sure that any of his acolytes were willing to give up the idea of cupcakes, but he was a sly and I hope effective economist.

Back to the music. It was tender, then it swung like mad.  STARS FELL ON ALABAMA, I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA, and LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING were dear and sweet.  Emily sang most fetchingly on VIRGINIA and SILVER; there was also heat on SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, SOME OF THESE DAYS, and a half-dozen others.  James Chirillo, the prince of swing, created a surrealistic masterpiece of a solo on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE that would have pleased Stuart Davis or Magritte; Sean Cronin swung both with and without the bow, slapped the bass in the best Al Morgan manner, and harmonized with Emily on WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP. And — something new – – Emily picked up an empty coffee cup and used it in the best Vic Dickenson manner to make new sounds.  I was very pleased to see this manifestation of Vickensonian ardor.

By the final set, I had had enough of being a civilian and unpacked tripod and camera.  (Could I disappoint JAZZ LIVES?  Certainly not.)  So here are four treats from that set — and you’ll notice a young fellow with a trumpet.  He’s known here and abroad as Bjorn Ingelstam; he played wonderfully when I first met him, and he’s even better now.  (And April 1 is his birthday.  Happiness to the Youngblood!)

BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU:

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

I WANT A LITTLE GIRL:

I know where I’ll be on some Saturdays to come.  You may notice that there is a hum of conversation, and I’ve often complained about this.  But the conversations I heard and overheard at Fraunces Tavern were sweetly reassuring, and I’d prefer them to the contemporary zombie glaze at the smartphone that I see too often.  (I am not alone in wincing at couples who go out for a meal and sit in silence, engrossed in their phones.)

George Washington never slept here: he would have been too busy putting ancient money in the tip jar. Or he would have been looking to see if there were any cupcakes on the menu or if they were simply theoretical ones.

May your happiness increase!

MY CREATIVE DOUBLE: “CURRENT RESIDENCE”

My name is not all that unusual, if Google is any indication. There’s me, then a Michael Steinman who’s a doctor, an authority on world government, an attorney, a provost, the deceased frontman for the band Inch, a realtor, an actor, a college dean, an author of a book on domestic abuse, a math teacher.  I gave up on the fourth page of the search because the apartment seemed crowded with ectoplasmic figures who were insisting that they were real and I wasn’t.

But I was greatly amused and pleased to encounter the Michael Steinman who is an appealing jazz trombonist and singer.  Born in Santa Clarita, California, this MS has lived and studied in Bloomington, Indiana, and now calls Six-Fours-les-Plage, France, home.  I was delighted — after the initial shock of seeing “my” name in print attached to another person — to meet this other (and talented) Michael here.

MS tbn w Alamel Giles

Michael, trombone, with Alamel Gilles

 

And the pleasure continues with Michael’s new CD, appropriately called CURRENT RESIDENCE.  It is an appealing blend: “traditional” repertoire with a charmingly quirky twist.  The songs would lead you to believe that the approach would be firmly grounded in early-jazz conventions: STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE / DARKTOWN STRUTTERS BALL / IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY? / AFTER YOU’VE GONE / ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET / BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN / I DIDDLE / JACK, YOU’RE DEAD / JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID / JUST A GIGOLO — but there are no straw hats, striped blazers, or sleeve garters here.  An unorthodox yet swinging instrumentation also helps the music be lively rather than formulaic.

What makes this CD special is a combination of a few things.  First, Michael is a splendid trombonist.  He doesn’t see the instrument as a way of spraying notes at a captive audience; he is a swinging melodist, a modern mainstreamer who doesn’t copy anyone.  He is also a really fine — and not ordinary — singer, someone who seems like a distant cousin of Mose Allison and one of the Everly Brothers (you can pick) without ever losing a jazz feel.  And the strolling players who accompany him (most often alto saxophone and a small quiet rhythm section) are on the same wavelength: thoughtful without being numb, enthusiastic without being raucous. Praise to his colleagues: Jonathan Soncasse, Willy Quiko, Lionel Pellister, Eric Merdiano, Gerard Murphy, Anne Carriere, Eric Fillou, Lorenzo Brignone, and Gabriel Charrier.

Here’s an auditory sample: 

Serious and ready for swing action

Serious and ready for swing action

I would have a listener begin at the end — a fitting tribute to quirkiness with its own reward — with a deeply tender reading of JUST A GIGOLO that begins with a smoothed down Monkish piano solo, then moves to trombone / piano, alto saxophone / piano, and finally vocal / piano — sweetly and sadly, more Crosby than Prima.  It’s one of those recorded musical performances that is shapely, quiet yet deep, and completely satisfying.

Here are more sound samples, and a way to make a purchase for the motivated among us.

michael-steinman-album-cover

The CD is also available through the usual sources — as a download on Amazon or iTunes, and at Michael’s website, herewhere the essay that accompanies the CD cover is both charming and candid.

This other MS has a future: his music is lively and full of feeling, and his CD sounds as if he knows the past but is not condemned to repeat it.  I recommend it highly, and would do so even if his name was not so melodious to my ears.

May your happiness increase!

TWO GALS FROM SOHO (Jan. 25, 2015)

What you’re about to see is true.  And I will testify to this under oath.  It happened at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on Sunday night, January 25, 2015, when The EarRegulars were nobly ensconced, as they should be.  (May they always be!)

That Sunday’s version of The EarRegulars was Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, bass saxophone; Attila Korb (our friend from Hungary) trombone.

Midway through the first set, the wise suggestion was made that Scott Robinson could play the lead on a selection of his choice.  I know that Scott is renowned for interstellar explorations of the most courageous kind, but he is also a deep loving melodist — and here is SLEEPY TIME GAL as proof:

(SLEEPY TIME GAL, if you are not familiar with it, would suggest a cozy woman, ready to curl up in bed — ideally with the singer cuddled alongside — ready for sweet dreams.  But the lyrics are different: the singer is a little concerned that his Gal never seems to want to come to bed at all before daybreak.  A very different scenario.)

This version, so sweet and tender, reminds me of an unissued Seger Ellis side from 1929 with accompaniment from Jack Purvis, apparently doubling trumpet and trombone — a rare masterpiece.  Even the faint annoying tinkling of someone’s smartphone a few barstools away in the beginning of this performance did not ruin the mood.

Later in the evening, musicians made the trip to the Shrine, and some of them had brought their instruments (physical and vocal).  The penultimate selection of that night was MY GAL SAL, and the guest artists were Charlie Caranicas, trumpet (seated on the barstool to my left, so you see only the bell of his horn, rising and falling like a heartbeat, but you know he’s there);  Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Will Reardon Anderson, alto sax.  And they romped:

(SAL, by the way, is much less complex than her SLEEPY TIME compatriot.  I can’t speak to SAL’s nocturnal rhythms, but she is a pal, dead on the level . . . someone who would pull your car out of a ditch if you asked her.)

The Ear Inn is a sacred place.  I hope you’ve been there and can continue to support this beauty.

May your happiness increase!