Tag Archives: Andy Farber

JOYOUSLY CONNECTED: “BLOCK PARTY,” featuring DAN BLOCK, ROB BLOCK, NEAL CAINE, TADATAKA UNNO, AARON KIMMEL

Dan Block, Rob Adkins, Ehud Asherie at Casa Mezcal, October 25, 2015

Dan Block is high on my list of heroes — lyrical, inventive, quirky, passionate, expert, warm.  I could go on, but it would just be prose.  Better than prose is his new CD, BLOCK PARTY: A SAINT LOUIS CONNECTION (Miles High Records) which features him on tenor saxophone and clarinet alongside his very talented brother Rob, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass; Tadataka Unno, piano; Aaron Kimmel, drums.  And the subtitle?  Dan, Rob, and Neal are from the Mound City.  And it’s even more of a family affair: Dan’s daughter Emma did the artwork and photography; cousin Joe Schwab (of Euclid Records) wrote the liner note.  If you want further evidence of the eminences involved here, Andy Farber and Mark Sherman produced the session; Bill Moss was involved in the mastering.

Dan does so many things well — no, splendidly — that it would be foolish to expect that a CD of his would be monochromatic, although listeners will not feel an artificial reaching after “innovation” from one track to another.  But he brings a deeply felt intelligence to his music; his range is wide.  Consider the song list: DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE, JAMES (which I associate with Marty Grosz and British dance bands of the Thirties); NO, NO, NO (by the little-known songwriter Phil Springer, who wrote SANTA BABY and HOW LITTLE WE KNOW — read about Springer here); LIGHT BLUE and SMOKE SIGNAL (unhackneyed jazz classics by Monk and Gigi Gryce, respectively); WONDERFUL ONE (by Ferde Grofe, 1922); CHANGES (Walter Donaldson, both associated with Paul Whiteman, the latter with Bix and Bing); BY THE FIRESIDE (a gorgeous Ray Noble melody); OPTION CLICK (Block’s own response to modern technology); THERE AIN’T NO LAND LIKE DIXIELAND (associated with Bix and Tram); IT WAS WRITTEN IN THE STARS (lovely Harold Arlen).

The song list might seem homage to Dan’s many working associations, from Twenties recreations to free-blowing contemporary jazz, but all of the performances are at heart  melodic, curiously inquiring of the music, treating the originals with love but not as museum pieces.  Dan’s spacious imagination does not pop compositions into stylistic cubbyholes (“This goes in the Hank Mobley section; this goes in the Harmony Records file”): the music is animated by affection and ease.

Although I’ve heard and admired Rob Block in person several times in New York, this is a wonderful re-introduction to his lyrical, swinging selves.  Like brother Dan, he is technically fluent, yet his phrases breathe and his solos have logical shapes.  He plays the guitar; it doesn’t play him.  Listen to the fraternal joy on WONDERFUL ONE, for one example.  The members of the rhythm section are spectacularly good in duo and trio and as soloists: I found myself listening to several tracks a second and third time to savor what they were doing, memorably uplifting.

As a player, Dan is . . . what superlatives do I write here?  He respects melodies but also adores surprises; he never plays a predictable phrase but takes us on his journeys — which are quietly thrilling.  I’ve known him as clarinetist, saxophonist, even trumpeter, pianist, and singer, for almost fifteen years now, and a Dan Block performance is something I cherish.  The casual but expert arrangements on this CD are also great gifts to us.  No piece goes predictably from ensemble to solos to ensemble; each performance contains splendid little landscapes, as solos give way to duets.  The result is often elegant but never slick.  I’ve been playing and replaying this disc, always with delight.  I would even suggest that listeners begin at the end, with the touching duet for the brothers Block on IT WAS WRITTEN IN THE STARS.  Obviously the title is true.

If you know Dan’s work, you will find this disc exceedingly rewarding; if he’s new to you, I guarantee you will have found a new hero.  BLOCK PARTY can be found here and here (with sound samples).

May your happiness increase!

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CATHERINE RUSSELL BRINGS IT BACK, INDEED

We’re glad that there is a Catherine Russell, and she’s generously offered us another delicious helping of the heartfelt swing she and her colleagues create — in a new CD, called BRING IT BACK:

CATHERINE RUSSELL: BRING IT BACK (Jazz Village JVS 97001) Bring it Back; I’m Shooting High; I Let A Song Go out of My Heart; You Got To Swing and Sway; Aged and Mellow; the Darktown Strutters’ Ball; Lucille; You’ve Got Me Under Your Thumb; After the Lights Go Down Low; I’m Sticking With You Baby; Strange As It Seems; Public Melody Number One; I Cover The Waterfront.

Catherine Russell is a marvel: a great star and entertainer who gives herself utterly to the music, the rhythm, the words, and the emotions. She could have been a true rival for any of the great singers of the past, but she sounds utterly like herself.

She doesn’t have a gravelly voice or carry a handkerchief, but she embodies the warm, vibrant spirit of Louis Armstrong. That isn’t surprising, because her parents were Armstrong’s long-time pianist and musical director Luis Russell and singer / bassist Carline Ray.

BRING IT BACK continues her series of energized yet subtle CDs that draw on little-known tunes from an earlier era (composers from her father to Fats Waller, Harold Arlen, Jimmy McHugh, and Ida Cox) and blues-based material associated with Esther Phillips, Al Hibbler, Wynonie Harris and Little Willie John. The disc is emotionally satisfying, because Russell proves herself an adult who brings a consistent understanding to the emotions of each song. When the CD is over, it seems as if it’s just begun — and that’s not a matter of timing but of our pleasure: we want to hear more!

Russell’s voice is a pleasure in itself, with a high clear cornet-like attack when she chooses to croon an optimistic love song or romp through a swing fiesta such as SWING AND SWAY or PUBLIC MELODY. (At times she sounds like Ray Nance. Is there a higher compliment?) She takes on the dark rasp of a tenor saxophone when she sings the blues: Ben Webster, feeling low-down and grouchy, awakened too early.

Whatever the material or tempo, her intonation and time are splendid; no faux-Holiday lingering behind the beat for her. Russell’s energy comes through whole on BRING IT BACK, just as audiences worldwide have seen her dancing around the stage, a woman giving herself to rhythm.

On this disc, she is surrounded by a limber medium-sized band of New York swing stars: Mark Shane, piano; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Andy Farber, Dan Block, Mark Lopeman, reeds; Lee Hudson, string bass; Mark McLean, drums; Brian Pareschi, trumpet; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Glenn Patscha, Hammond B-3 organ. The band evokes but doesn’t copy swing and rhythm and blues from the last century, encouraging Russell to be inspired, never derivative. The CD moves from jitterbug extravaganzas to dark midnight blues without a letup. I found myself playing my favorite tracks over and over.

Louis would be proud.

May your happiness increase!

THREE MOODS, NO WAITING: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ANDY FARBER, CHRIS FLORY, MICHAEL KARN, DAVE GROSS, GARY FOSTER (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, September 8, 2013)

This trio of selections from another memorable Sunday-night party at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) reminds us again of a great band’s ability to move freely around in a variety of tempos, and of the beauties of melodic improvisation.

Tempo: in the last thirty years, the speed at which familiar jazz material is approached has steadily accelerated, until (to my ears) some groups have only two speeds, Fast and Faster (with an occasional ballad or slithering mood piece / blues).  The EarRegulars are intimately familiar with the glories of Medium Tempo and Rhythm Ballads.

Melody: although the musicians may chat delightedly about the harmonic feats of daring accomplished during a solo, most of us warm to the sweet melodies we know.  This doesn’t mean that they have to be replicated precisely according to the sheet music, but it does mean that BODY AND SOUL, for example, is more than a shift from one key center to another.

That’s enough aesthetic sermonizing for anyone.  To the music — which proves once again that classic standards still have enough resilience to be fascinating material for improvisers in this century — three songs written before Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term.

The players are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Chris Flory, electric guitar; Michael Karn, string bass:

A romp on TEA FOR TWO:

A very sweetly evocative slither through LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

With Dave Gross, acoustic guitar, and Gary Foster, wirebrushes on paper “tablecloth,” the band took it easy on ROSE ROOM (a sweetly pastoral song in its first incarnation):

You’ve never been to The Ear Inn for a Sunday-night Frolic?  They begin about 8 PM and end sometime shortly after 11.  And they’re memorable — larger than my videos, even in HD, can contain.  (These sessions have been going on for six years now, which makes them a New York institution — but plan to show up before the EarRegulars celebrate their tenth, or their twenty-fifth anniversary.  In New York, even monuments have a habit of disappearing.  Ask any New Yorker.)

May your happiness increase!

CATHERINE RUSSELL SWINGS IN (M)ANY LANGUAGE(S)!

Hearing Catherine Russell, I am always reminded of Eddie Durham’s sentence in praise of Ed Hall: “He didn’t know how not to swing!”

And when you put Catherine in front of a hot band — the evidence follows immediately! — the effect is happily seismic.

Here she is at the 22nd International Bohém Ragtime & Jazz Festival in Kecskemét, Hungary, singing EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (the arrangement is by Andy Farber and Attila Korb) with the Hungarian Bohém Ragtime Jazz Band . . . József Lebanov, trumpet; Attila Korb, trombone; Zoltán Mátrai, reeds; Tamás Ittzés, piano; György Mátrai, guitar; József Török, string bass; Alfréd Falusi, drums.  Recorded March 23, 2013.  More information: bohemragtime and catherinerussell.

Here Catherine ventures into Hungarian melody and lyrics.  True, she has to put on her glasses, but she does such a nice job — her singing comes from the heart!  The band is almost the same, but Tamás Ittzés switches to violin, with Miklós Lázár alongside him.  The song is “miért szerettem bele magába,” which I believe translates to WHY I FELL IN LOVE, and it’s a neat rhythm ballad.  Can’t you hear Louis or Fats doing it, around 1936?  (I am sure that one of my readers can tell us all more about this composition by Mihály Eisemann and László Szilágyi.

And some wonderful swing dancing, too.

For those who wish to sing along, the lyrics are:

Mért szerettem bele magába? Gondolkodom, de már hiába.

Bármi rosszul esik, a szív beleesik egy ilyen kis hibába.

Ki gondolta volna előre, hogy ez lesz a végén belőle?

Máris odavagyok, majdnem belehalok, mi lesz ebből jövőre?

Ez egy olyan dolog, amin muszáj zokogni,

E sok közül éppen magát kellett kifogni.

Mért szerettem bele magába? Gondolkodom, de már hiába.

Bármi rosszul esik, a szív beleesik egy ilyen kis hibába.

Catherine Russell is a star — wherever we find her!

And that reminds me.  If you don’t see yourself as going to Hungary in the next two weeks, or you have mislaid your passport, swing relief is in sight.  Catherine will be appearing with a beautifully hot band on Monday, April 15, 2013, at a concert given by the Sidney Bechet Society.

RussellApril15_PC

That, as Keats said, is all you need to know.  See you there!

May your happiness increase.

EMILY ASHER’S DREAMS TAKE US ALOFT

Something good.  And about time!  It’s trombonist / singer / composer / arranger / bandleader Emily Asher’s debut CD, sweetly titled DREAMS MAY TAKE YOU.

Along with Emily, you will hear Wycliffe Gordon, on sousaphone and trombone; Bria Skonberg, trumpet, vocal; Philip Dizack, trumpet; Dan Levinson, tenor sax, clarinet; William Anderson, alto sax; Nick Russo, guitar, banjo; Gordon Webster, piano; Kelly Friesen, bass; Rob Adkins, bass; Kevin Dorn, drums; Rob Garcia, drums.  For those of you familiar with the hot New York scene, those names are a guarantee of fine swinging inventive jazz.

Much of the repertoire would appear to be “good old good ones,” including SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET and SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, but the CD is anything but by-the-numbers.  Emily is more than a fine trombonist and a sweetly winning singer: she is an imaginative musician, so the CD doesn’t bog down in the same thing; every track is its own vignette.

It begins with a romping version of ORY’S CREOLE TROMBONE, which Emily delivers with a fine gutty fervor (and her own version of a trombone cadenza).  The soloists share Emily’s high-flying enthusiasm, and the rhythm sections couldn’t be better.  So the chestnuts have a delightful 2012 Condonite bounce and looseness.  The CD’s title comes from an Asher original — by Emily’s father — called LULLABY FOR A LITTLE ONE, on which Miss Asher sings with winsome charm.  (And she knows when to leave an audience wanting more: the LULLABY is a delicious cameo, slightly over two minutes.)  It’s followed by a New Orleans “second line” version of CHANGES MADE, which would cause the sedentary to start dancing.  The original SWEET PEA is part cowboy-ballad, part rocking barcarolle, with touches of Fifties West Coast cool arranging.  HEY, LOOK ME OVER is Emily’s childhood party piece — which begins in an easy waltz-time before morphing into sleek swing — that won me over when I saw her do it (with apt choreography) at Radegast.  A streamlined EMPEROR NORTON’S HUNCH has shed all its two-beat trappings, and bursts forth gracefully.  SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET features the duet stylings of Asher and Skonberg — neatly warbling the hip variations I associate with John Birks Gillespie — before the ensemble gives way to a piano / trombone duet.  Emily’s original GREAT BIG WALL will be the only song you know (I would guess) that mixes Latin rhythms and Middle Eastern tonalities.  Successfully, I must add.  YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE begins with a slide guitar / trombone duet and then blossoms, lyrically.  MUSKRAT RAMBLE begins with the Hot Five introduction and rocks from the first note (not too slow, not too fast, either) — with a splendidly tapping drum solo by Kevin Dorn in the middle.  SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, taken at a brisk clip, is another trombone-piano outing, very delicate in its earnestness, with a straight-from-the-shoulder vocal by Emily, taking the lyrics with a gentle seriousness that would have pleased its creator.  And the disc ends with LIMEHOUSE BLUES, a version that had the energy of the World’s Greatest Jazz Band of fabled memory.

Nothing’s dull or forced on this CD: it’s one of those rare creations where you want to play it over again when it ends.

I couldn’t attend Emily’s May 29 CD release party at Radegast — a true Garden Party, I hear — but the CD is its own jubilant party.  You can purchase one here — either as a digital download or a physical CD.

And the GP will be strolling around the New Jersey Jazz Society’s JAZZFEST on Saturday, June 16, which begins at noon and ends at 9 PM.  And when Emily and company need a rest, you can hear Jon Burr,  Lynn Stein, Andy Farber’s Swing Mavens featuring Champian Fulton, the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra, the Tony DeSare trio, Eddie Monteiro, Swingadelic, and more.  Tickets can be ordered at 908.273.7827 or online at http://www.njjs.org.

Look out, world: here she comes!

May your happiness increase.

ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES: ANDY FARBER’S SEXTET at SMALLS (May 5, 2012)

Saxophonist / composer / arranger / bandleader Andy Farber looked at me quizzically when I told him I was calling this blogpost ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES, but I’m sticking by it.

In this exhilarating session at Smalls (May 5. 2012), he casually proposed that we move the birthplace of jazz some eleven hundred  miles north and east (New Orleans to Detroit, according to Google Maps), and the energies that his Sextet generated were powerful and lovely.  Andy’s originals are meaningful — not just wanderings or new lines over very familiar chord changes.  He also gave some very pleasing attention to the compositions that his uncle, Mitchell Farber (more about him below**) — wrote for Donald Byrd.

The players were Andy, alto and tenor saxophones; Dominick Farinacci, trumpet; Vincent Gardner, trombone; Xavier Davis, piano; Michael Karn, string bass; Ali Jackson, drums.  The rhythm section was delicious — three players listening to one another and to the horns.  I reserve my highest praise for Ali Jackson, who absolutely lifted me out of my seat through his wit, animation, and enthusiasm.  Had I not been anchored to my video camera, I would have been standing and cheering.  You’ll see why (especially on RECIPROCITY).  On both horns, Andy managed to offer a neat lyricism (with Pete Brown / Ben / Rollins grittiness) but he kept reaching forward to suggest phrases that were absolutely new but once heard, entirely comfortable.  Dominick can nimbly maneuver in the manner of Clifford Brown, but I also heard Harry Edison and Clark Terry — as well as a sweet yearning pathos on PENSIVE LEANING.  I knew Vincent Gardner from his intermittent appearances with David Ostwald at Birdland, and he did occasionally reach back into his own version of J.C. Higginbotham’s insistence, but more usually he took a rhythmic or melodic phrase and turned it up and down, delighting in it, having a wonderful time playing.

It is an extraordinary band, caught live, fresh, and vigorous in what I think is an extraordinary performance.

Andy began by calling WEST OF THE PECOS, a composition by altoist Sonny Red [Kyner]:

Then he tried out a new piece — a premiere! — with a title that has variant spellings, CHOTCHKES (meaning “trivial little things,” or “gewgaws” in Yiddish) — music for a hard-bop Tevye, perhaps:

Next, the blues!  But not the ordinary kind — no, this is a thirteen-bar blues in Eb minor, written by Mitchell Farber.  I think it has a distinct Middle Eastern flavor as well — illuminated from within by Vincent’s questions and implorings:

The first set closed with another of Andy’s originals, ROUTE 9A NORTH — the road you take to get to his house, although he didn’t provide more specific directions:

When the band returned, Andy pointed them into his own SCHMOOZEFEST, whose title is, I hope, self-explanatory (with fiery drumming from Ali).  Is it my fault that the opening motive reminds me of CARNIVAL IN CAROLINE?:

Mitchell Farber named EL DORADO for the Cadillac, not the far-off land, and wrote it for Donald Byrd.  Notice Michael’s double-stopping behind Andy, and the way these soulful performances come to resemble small symphonies, with a lyrical outing from Dominick.  You’ll hear Andy say that he and the band had decided that jazz really was born in Detroit.  A new idea, but the music certainly validated it for me:

Then, an absolute high point — not just for this session but perhaps for my recent years of live jazz experience — the eighteen-minute RECIPROCITY, delightfully propelled by Ali.  Mister Jackson is joyously ebullient, not afraid to be loud, but every accent and knocking-at-the-door has meaning and pleasure surrounding it.  I was watching his face — mobile, pleased, surprised, and thought, “He’s writing the punchlines to the jokes other players in the band start.”*  What Ali and Vincent create together is marvelous, and that’s not to take anything away from a wondrous Dominick – Michael duet.  Hear and see for yourself:

And Andy closed this glorious session with his own — quite relevant — question, OLIVE OR TWIST? (I didn’t get the pun until sometime today and that’s because Ricky Riccardi pointed it out to me):

If you don’t know why I proposed ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES as a title, your assignment is to go back and listen / watch very closely one more time.  The hints are this: 1) Detroit, and 2) if there’s ever an electrical outage in New York, I’m going to call Andy and ask him to get the guys together.  Wow!

May your happiness increase.

*A few more words about my new hero, Mr. Jackson.  At the end of the second set, I caught him for a moment — he was still wearing his hand-tied neat bowtie — and said, “I’m going to write a blogpost about this and put up the videos.  What do you think of this title: ‘ALI JACKSON COULD SWING THE DEAD BUT I HOPE HE NEVER HAS TO’?  And it amused him, too.  I also said, ‘My heroes are Sidney Catlett and . . . ‘ and before I could name anyone else, he said, most enthusiastically, ‘Mine too!'”  More than any other drummer I’ve heard these days, he suggests what it might have been like to sit eight feet in front of Big Sid — which is a splendid thing.

**About Mitchell Farber, from his nephew — the brilliant player who leads this Sextet.   “Mitchell Farber is my uncle, my father’s kid brother born in 1944.  He was a jazz saxophonist in high school where he spent his summers at jazz camp with people like Randy Brecker, Dave Sanborn, and Vinnie Ruggerio (the late drummer from upstate New York who was a Philly Joe Jones disciple).  Mitch met Donald Byrd at a summer jazz camp and worked with him on and off from the mid 1960s through the late ’70s. Donald recorded two of his tunes, “Eldorado” on Blackjack BLP 4259 (1967) and “The Uptowner” BST 84319 (1969).  In the 1960s, Mitch began to lean toward composition and studied with George Russell and Nadia Boulanger at Fontainebleau.  Mitch wrote and produced albums for Jackie McLean, Red Garland, Mark Murphy, Morgana King, Richie Cole, Pepper Adams, Walter Bishop Jr., and many others.  Some of his credits may be found here.  (Ignore the credits for guitar as that is another “Mitch Farber,” a guitarist in Florida.)   Mitch began a career in TV commercial underscore and jingle writing that lasted from the early 70s through the late 80s. He also wrote and/or orchestrated film scores with no credit or the wrong credit.   In the late 1990s he began teaching music is Ridgefield CT where he’s in his last year.   He recorded on album under his own name for Muse Records in 1983.”

Obviously someone we should know!  Talent, thy name is Farber.

TONIGHT, TONIGHT! (May 4, 2012)

To anyone who grouses about jazz being moribund, I would offer these bits of late-breaking evidence.  Perhaps only New Yorkers will be able to take advantage of these beauties, but they exist and are heartening. 

Tonight, from 5-7, the wonderful pianist / composer Michael Bank (a student of life and of Jaki Byard) will be leading a septet — his Big 7 — at Somethin’ Jazz at 212 East 52nd Street between Second and Third Avenues.  Michael tells me that the fare will be originals — which I look forward to!

And I am going to get in a cab and rush from the Upper East Side to Greenwich Village, to Smalls (183 West 10th Street) to hear the always-gratifying saxophonist Andy Farber lead a sextet: Dominick Farinacci, Vincent Gardner, Xavier Davis, Michael Karn and Ali Jackson. “New music and some older stuff that my uncle Mitch wrote for Donald Byrd and Jackie McLean.”

I can’t wait.  Come join me!

May your happiness increase.