Tag Archives: Andy Farber

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Fifteen) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Someone asked me last week, “Michael, aren’t you tired of that Ear Inn series?” and I answered, “Not at all.  I’m doing it to keep my spirits up,” and then I added, to be less self-absorbed, “Our spirits.  When we can all go downtown to 326 Spring Street and hear the EarRegulars on a Sunday night, then perhaps this retrospective can take a vacation.  But not until then.”

Here‘s last Sunday’s pilgrimage, in case you were otherwise occupied (and heaven knows there is enough to occupy us).

Herewith and henceforth, some musical souvenirs of the fun that was created on May 2, 2010, by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Danton Boller, string bass.  It’s a smaller than usual bill of fare, but by this time I had purchased a camera that was less afraid of the dark, so you will see more.

THE MAN I LOVE, scored for trio: Messrs. Farber, Munisteri, and Boller:

Halt, miscreant!  SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

Variations on W.C. Handy, rechristened by me BEER STREET BLUES in honor of Jon-Erik’s mute:

and the concluding strains of BEER STREET BLUES:

Thank you, kind creative gentlemen.  I look forward to the night when what is now virtual becomes tangible.  Line up for hugs.

May your happiness increase!

 

 

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Fourteen) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Are you ready to join me on our Sunday pilgrimage to the Shrine of Sounds, where the EarRegulars and friends gambol and inspire?  I hope so.

Let us begin with music from the second set at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, on Sunday, April 25, 2010: Ben Webster’s line on IN A MELLOTONE, which was based on ROSE ROOM — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass — asking the musical question, DID YOU CALL HER TODAY?

and the second part, the length of a 10″ 78 rpm record:

Then, another hint of Ellingtonia — Johnny Hodges’ line on I GOT RHYTHM, called THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’ — which adds Danny Tobias, trumpet, and Andy Farber, tenor saxophone to the mix . . . for ten minutes:

because it would be cruel to leave out the final forty-five seconds, here they are:

Mr. Tobias calls his favorite tune, THIS CAN’T BE LOVE, where he’s joined by Andy Farber, Harry Allen, Matt Munisteri, and Jim Whitney, string bass:

A new constellation of brilliant friends plays COMES LOVE: Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Harry Allen, Andy Farber, Chris Flory, guitar, and Jim Whitney:

and we know LOVE takes its own time to . . . . arrive:

Finally, the song that always amuses me by its paradoxical nature when it’s the last tune of the night, LINGER AWHILE, a gift from Messrs. Kellso, Tobias, Allen, Farber, Flory, and Miner:

Joy.  And while we contemplate the joys of a decade ago, let us keep our eyes comfortably fixed on a future not yet realized, but one we hope for.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Twelve) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Pandemic-time moves so slowly and so rapidly at once.  Here we are.  September looms.  It’s Sunday again.  And you know where we spend our Sunday nights, whether in actuality or virtually: 326 Spring Street, New York City.  This is the twelfth post in my series, and for those of you who have missed a few, here is a link to the eleven sessions that have gone before.  Make yourself to home.

Let me guide you gently back to a wonderful night, April 18, 2010.

Hello, Benny!  AVALON, with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri,  electric guitar; Julian Lage, acoustic guitar; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Jon Burr,  bass:

How about ONE HOUR, even compressed, of joy?  (Ask Einstein’s grandma.)  Cornetist Marc Caparone joins the band.  Somewhere, Ruby Braff smiles:

Marc is in charge of WHISPERING, with Harvey Tibbs, Dan Block, clarinet,  Matt Munisteri, Jon Burr, Julian Lage:

PERDIDO, to start –Jon-Erik, with Marc Caparone, Harvey Tibbs, Dan Block, Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Julian Lage, Matt Munisteri, Jon Burr:

PERDIDO (concluded) .

THREE LITTLE WORDS (you can make up your own) with Jon-Erik, Marc, Harvey, Dan, Nick Hempton, alto saxophone; Andy, Matt, Julian, and Jon:

THREE LITTLE WORDS, concluded:

 

This wonderful long session — these videos capture the entire second set — is offered in the New York bagel spirit.  The Ear Inn doesn’t serve bagels, but in most bagel shops, when you order twelve, there’s “a baker’s dozen,” an extra.

For those of you who wrote in to inquire about her health, Ms. Jazz Lives Ear Inn is back, her tennis elbow and carpal tunnel quieted down by time off and some physical therapy.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Ten) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Ear ye!  Ear ye! 

You’ll notice that this photograph depicts a different young woman, listening intently.  My first model enjoyed the music but complained that her elbow was sore because of keeping that pose for nine weeks and she had to see her acupuncturist.  But she’s covered by the JAZZ LIVES health insurance plan, and she’ll be back soon.

And here is the doorway through which you can immerse yourself in the previous nine postings.

History: The Ear Inn in 1940, thanks to Kathy Barbieri:

Back to NOW, or the reachable past.

Being at The Ear Inn on a Sunday night is a kind of national holiday, although the calendar-makers haven’t gotten the idea yet.  But once in many Sundays it coincides with another holiday — in April 2010, it was also Easter Sunday, and the gallant celebrants took notice of this, musically.  They are Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Charlie Caranicas, trumpet; Pat O’Leary, string bass; Andy Farber, tenor saxophone, joins in for the closing number.  You’ll notice an affectionate bunny-and-[Irving] Berlin concentration of joyous energies.

I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET:

EASTER PARADE, of course:

RUSSIAN LULLABY, also for Mr. Baline:

Matt invited Ellington’s little bunny to stop in for a salad:

See you next Sunday!  And someday I hope to say those words with “at 326 Spring Street” attached.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Seven) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

For those even slightly late to the gig, here’s the roadmap: this is the seventh Sunday I have been celebrating those high points of civiliation, the Sunday-night sessions at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York City — the spiritual uplift provided by The EarRegulars.  We’ll wait while you catch up here.

Now, some more fine sounds from January 30, 2010, when the EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Block, reeds; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass / cello.  Here’s I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES:

CHINATOWN: Kellso, Munisteri, Block, O’Leary, with guest Frank Perowsky, clarinet:

I FOUND A NEW BABY (in two parts, thanks to 2010 technology) Kellso, Munisteri, Block, O’Leary — with guests Frank Perowsky and Anat Cohen, clarinet; Andy Farber, alto saxophone; Conal Fowkes, string bass:

I FOUND A NEW BABY, concluded:

RED TOP, Kellso, Munisteri, Block, O’Leary, Perowsky, Cohen, Farber, Fowkes:

RED TOP, concluded:

Until we meet again at the Sacred Grounds.  To hear Sacred Sounds, of course.

May your happiness increase!

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!

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.

CATHERINE RUSSELL WELCOMES US IN!

Photograph by Richard Conde

The Beloved and I were in the presence of magic at the Allen Room (Jazz at Lincoln Center) last night when singer Catherine Russell welcomed us in.

I don’t mean that she just began her show by saying, “I’m glad you are all here,” as artists usually tell an audience.

But from the first phrase of her opening song, I’M SHOOTING HIGH, she turned the Allen Room into something warm, making us feel both as if we were in her own magically cozy space.  Although she was stylishly dressed, in front of a ten-piece band, with the great New York street scene viewed from above, none of this distracted her from her great purpose: to lift us up through sweet swinging music.

She is such an expert performer that she made her art — clearly the result of great attention to detail — seem natural and intuitive, as if she and the band had just gotten together to have a good time.

Her delight in being with us was genuine.  When a couple, arriving late, made their way to their seats down front, Catherine beamed at them and said the most encouraging thing, “Welcome, welcome!” — and we relaxed even more, knowing that she meant it.

What she was welcoming us to was a musical evening of the most gratifying kind.  It was inspired by Louis Armstrong, for one, always a good start.  Most of the songs she and the band offered were connected to Louis, but she remained herself: no growl, no handkerchief, no mugging.  Rather she understood and demonstrated what Louis was all about — deep romance, great fun, rocking rhythm, daring improvisations.  Love, whether eager celebration or brokenhearted lament — was her theme.  And there was another man inspiring her performance: Louis’ friend, pianist, and musical director for many years: Luis Russell, who (by the way) happened to be Catherine’s father.  Pops and Daddy, if you will.

She drew most of her material from the great period of the Louis / Luis collaboration — 1935-42, the songs now collected on the great Louis Mosaic box set, so we got to exult with her for I’M SHOOTING HIGH (“Got my eye / On a star / In the sky”), dream along with I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, swing out on I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, mourn to I COVER THE WATERFRONT, laugh out loud to PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE.  Catherine’s vision of Louis reached back to the Twenties for STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, SUGAR FOOT STRUT (now, finally, I know what the lyrics are talking about!), and a romping EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY.

And it expanded to include BACK O’TOWN BLUES and LUCILLE, songs with which she had a very personal connection.  The first of those two — written by Louis and Luis — was the flip side of Louis’ 1956 hit, MACK THE KNIFE.  For some, that fact would be only a jazz-fiend’s winning Trivial Pursuit answer.  But for Catherine it was so much more.  The royalties from BACK O’TOWN BLUES enabled her parents, Luis and Carline Ray (Catherine’s mother had been in the audience for the first show) to purchase their first new car — a two-tone blue 1956 Mercury.  Even from row N, the Beloved and I could see how much that car had meant to the Russells from Catherine’s very warm retelling of the story.  And the very touching LUCILLE had been written by Luis in 1961 for Louis to try — a loving tribute to Lucille Wilson Armstrong . . . and, not incidentally, a beautiful song, now fully realized by Catherine.

She also showed her great emotional range in a dark reading of NO MORE, a sultry evocation of ROMANCE IN THE DARK, a hilarious I’M CHECKIN’ OUT, GOOM-BYE (evoking Abbey Lincoln, Lil Green, and Ivie Anderson, respectively).

Catherine is also an astonishing singer, if you haven’t guessed by now.  She has a perfectly placed voice, with power and depth but a kind of reedy intensity (she can sound like an alto saxophone but more often she reminded me of a whole reed section coming out of her long lithe frame).  Her sound is sweet yet pungent.  She has great dramatic intensity but she never seems as if she’s “acting.”  From somewhere inside the song, she lights the way, matching her readings of lyrics and melody exactly to the emotions . . . making familiar songs feel roomy and new.  And rhythm bubbles up through her — she was always in motion, rollicking around the stage, expertly dancing, embodying joy in person.

And the band was just as delightful: let me write their names here again to celebrate them: Matt Munisteri, Mark Shane, Lee Hudson, Mark McLean, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dave Brown, John Allred, Scott Robinson, Andy Farber, Dan Block.  New York’s finest!  Each one of them had something deliciously incisive to bring, from McLean’s saucepan-percussion reminding us of Zutty Singleton on SUGAR FOOT STRUT, Allred’s plunger-dialogue on GOOM-BYE, Scott Robinson’s soprano taragota on NEW CALL OF THE FREAKS (a whole surrealistic play in itself, with the horn section picking up their paper parts to read the unforgettable Dada poetry: “Stick out your can / here comes the garbage man. . . . “).  Kellso, once again, became the Upper West Side Louis, and Matt swung us into bliss — to say nothing of the eloquent gents of the sax section, Mister Brown to You, the reliable Hudson keeping it all together, Mark Shane pointing the way — Jess Stacy to Catherine’s Helen Ward.  The brilliant arrangements by Matt, Jon-Erik, and Andy gave us a rocking big band distilled to its essence.

The Beloved and I enjoyed every note.  We would be there tonight if we could.  If you can, stop reading this post right now and get a pair (or more) of tickets for the Saturday night shows — 7:30 or 9:30.  Or if that’s not possible, do what I did and buy Catherine’s latest CD, STRICTLY ROMANCIN’ — it has some of the same songs and almost the same band.

Miss Russell will welcome you in, too!

May your happiness increase.

COMES IN LIKE A LION, SWINGS OUT LIKE A CAT

We have delightful plans for this Friday night — March 30, 2012: we’ll be at the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center to hear the remarkable singer Catherine Russell and her all-star band:

Our Catherine’s pedigree is impeccable — daughter of pianist-composer-bandleader Luis Russell and string bassist-bandleader Carline Ray, she grew up with the music (how about childhood acquaintance with one Mister Armstrong?) and she keeps swinging with a big heart.   And her new program will not only connect with her CD, STRICTLY ROMANCIN’ but will focus on Louis and Luis — lifelong friends.  The concerts will take place on Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31, 2012, with two shows nightly (7:30 and 9:30), located on Broadway at 60th Street in New York City.

And Grammy-winner Miss Russell is wise enough to know that a great singer deserves a great band — with new arrangements.  The sterling fellows onstage will be  Matt Munisteri, guitar, arranger, musical director;  Mark Shane, piano;  Jon Erik-Kellso, trumpet, arranger;  John Allred, trombone;  Dan Block, saxophones, clarinet;  Andy Farber, saxophones, arranger; Lee Hudson, string bass;  Mark McLean, drums; Dave Brown, trumpet; Scott Robinson, whatever he likes.   For tickets visit the JALC Box Office at Broadway at 60th, or www.jalc.org — or call Center Charge at 212-721-6500.  The Beloved and I will be there — I’ll be making notes on a pad to tell you what happened . . . be sure to get there on your own!

BLISS! (The EarRegulars and Friends at The Ear Inn, March 18, 2012)

If you think my title is hyperbolic, I urge you to go immediately to the video performances below, recorded live at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on March 18, 2012.  The players were “The EarRegulars,” a small group originally founded by guitarist Matt Munisteri and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso.  Last Sunday, Matt was off making audible fireworks in Austin, Texas, so the personnel was Jon-Erik (on a surprisingly svelte Puje trumpet); Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Chris Flory, guitar; Neal Miner, bass.  And their friends: Alex Hoffman, tenor; Dan Block, alto saxophone.

Swing aristocrats, casually launching their sweet ideas into the unknown.  Stretching out, spreading joy, lighting up our souls.

Cole Porter’s WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? — at “Ben Webster tempo”:

A romping COQUETTE:

I was exhausted on Monday morning but thrilled that I had stayed for this set.  If there are any logicians and semanticists in the JAZZ LIVES readership, perhaps they can chew on this apparent paradox:

1) I don’t think anyone could improve on this music.

2) The EarRegulars — in their various guises — do this whenever they play.

Blessings on all the EarRegulars and their noble friends — an uplifting community where every tub is on its own bottom — a model for us all.

May your happiness increase.

FAST COMPANY at THE EAR INN (June 26, 2011)

The music played at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) this last Sunday night — June 26, 2011 — was inspiring.  And you won’t have to take my word for it.

The EarRegulars that night were a slightly different crew, although three of the four players were SemiRegulars: guitarist Chris Flory, tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, and trumpeter Charlie Caranicas.

The fourth player was new to me — bassist Corin Stiggall — but I can only reproach myself for not knowing his work before this: he is a find, indeed.  All I will say about Corin (you will hear the truth for yourself) is that he reminds me greatly of Oscar Pettiford — strong, steady, inventive, with his own deep sound, and he doesn’t think of his instrument as an overfed guitar.

Here’s the quartet on a truly exuberant reading of Billy Strayhorn’s early don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out, I’M CHECKING OUT, GOOM-BYE (the brisk tempo courtesy of Mr. Allen):

A little good blues?  Here’s JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID, celebrating the days when Lester played and Sidney Torin spoke on your AM radio:

For Rodgers and Hart, an enthusiastic, twining THIS CAN’T BE LOVE:

In the middle of the evening, the marvelous community of friends old and new — so often encountered these Sunday nights at The Ear — began to come together.  Earlier, trumpeter, dancer, and scientist Lucy Weinman came up to me and introduced her West Coast buddy, reed expert Chloe Feoranzo.  (Chloe has made two CDs already — the second in the company of serious players: Dan Barrett, Hal Smith, Chris Dawson, Bryan Shaw, Dave Koonse, Richard Simon*.  She’s no tyro, tentative and unsure.)

Chloe had brought her clarinet and was welcomed to the Ear Inn “bandstand” for PENNIES FROM HEAVEN.  Her bell-bright sound is a treat, as is her reluctance to go familiar ways.  Many clarinet players are tempted towards glibness — “I can play a fast run here, so why not?” — but Chloe seems to be thinking about what phrases she might create (without hesitating), her sound reminding me of Tony Scott, of early Jimmy Hamilton — with Teddy Wilson in 1941 — and now and again Lester on clarinet:

Friends came by — a whole reed section began to assemble.  Dan Block unpacked his alto saxophone.  Pete Anderson and Andy Farber brought their tenors.  And I felt as if I had been happily dropped into the middle of this: as you will see on the videos, Harry stood in front of me, as did Chloe; Dan was seated to my right on a barstool, Andy on the next one away, Pete diagonally across from me.  Reed rapture!

And although I am usually much more interested in the sound of my videos than the visual aspects, I was very happy to be able to capture Harry’s happiness, his eyes half-closed, while he listened to Chloe play.

How about that romping affirmation of joy, I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

A sweet IF I HAD YOU:

For the closer, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE with the Soho version of the Henderson / Hopkins riffs:

Incidentally, speaking of community, there were old friends and new at The Ear — among them man of music Doug, the inspiring singer Jewel, and Claiborne (the last a genuine movie star — catch her in PAGE ONE).

You’ve never been to The Ear Inn on a Sunday night, never heard the EarRegulars, never met Victor Villar-Hauser (a gentleman, a scholar, and a serious actor)?  Alas.

*Chloe’s second CD looks like this: I predict there will be many more!

TAMAS SITS IN (Nov, 23, 2010)

Visitors to this blog will already know Tamas Itzes as more than the director of the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band, the spirit behind twenty years of delightful jazz festivals in Hungary, and the inventor of “OhYeahDay,” covered in the previous posting. 

Tamas is also a swinging violinist and pianist.  And he and his friends visited New York City for a few jazz-filled days and nights. 

I caught up with Tamas and Co. at The Ear Inn and then at Club Cache, where he sat in with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks for two numbers.  (The Nighthawks were, along with Vince, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Ponella, Jim Fryer,Andy Stein, Ken Salvo, Arnie Kinsella, Andy Farber, Dan Block, and Dan Levinson.)

First, Tamas borrowed Andy Stein’s Stroh phono-violin to double the string section for SAY YES TODAY, a song originally performed by the Roger Wolfe Kahn band (composition by Walter Donaldson, arrangement by Arthur Schutt):

Then, in the last set, Tamas came up to play the piano for a swinging, loose version of Earl Hines’s ROSETTA:

Tamas, your visit here was too brief: do come again!  And for the complete and total path to enlightenment, without climbing mountains, visit http://www.myspace.com/VinceGiordanotheNighthawks.

FLOATING: A MASTER CLASS (The Ear Inn, Nov. 8, 2010)

NPR wasn’t there.  PBS was off covering something else.  Too bad for them.

But last Sunday night, The EarRegulars offered a master class at The Ear Inn.  Anyone could attend. 

Their subject?  Duke Ellington called it “bouncing buoyancy,” his definition for the irresistible levitation that swinging jazz could produce.  I call it floating — the deep mastery of rhythm, line, and invention that one hears in Louis, Lester, Benny Carter, Jack Teagarden, Jo Jones, Teddy Wilson, Sidney Catlett, and on and on. 

The audience at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street in Soho, New York City) may not have known what they were hearing, but I am sure it was absorbed osmotically into their very cells.   

And who are these masters, teaching by example?  The co-founders of The EarRegulars, Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, on trumpet and guitar, joined by bassist Neal Miner and someone I’d only heard about, tenor saxophonist Alex Hoffman, a young man who’s already playing splendidly.  (Look him up at http://www.alexhoffman.com.) 

Later in the evening a whole reed section dropped by, one by one: Andy Faber, tenor; Dan Block, alto; Pete Martinez, clarinet.

Here are a few highlights.  Check yourself to find that you’re still touching the chair seat:

I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU, that pretty rhythm ballad — most of us know it as “I TOOK A TRIP ON A TRAIN,” and so on:

MY WALKING STICK is a wonderful minor-rock with the best pedigree — an Irving Berlin song recorded once by Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers, then, forty years later, by Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins.  This version is the twenty-first century’s delightful continuation, with Professor Kellso walking with his plunger mute:

Another pretty song that rarely gets played is UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE — the ballad Frank Chace loved.  I know it from versions by Louis, Hawkins, and Connee Boswell, not a meek triumvirate:

Caffeine always helps focus and energize, as does this version of TEA FOR TWO, with Andy Farber joining in.  I don’t quite understand the initial standing-up-and-sitting-down, but perhaps it was The EarRegulars Remember Jimmie Lunceford:

How about some blues?  Better yet, how about a greasy Gene Ammons blues?  Here’s RED TOP, Dan Block leaping in (top right).  Matt Munisteri’s dark excavations made me think of Tiny Grimes, but Matt goes beyond the Master here:

And here’s the rocking conclusion:

Finally, those singers and players who take on HOW AM I TO KNOW often do it at the Billie Holiday Commodore tempo, stretching out the long notes.  But it works even better as a medium-tempo romper: Pete Martinez, seated on a barstool to my left, adds his particular tart flavorings:

And the final tasty minute and twenty-six seconds:

Seminars held every Sunday, 8 – 11 PM . . . no course prerequisites!

ANDY FARBER: MAKING BEAUTIFUL SOUNDS

Having a large jazz orchestra in this century has often posed challenges besides the economic ones. 

Many “big bands” get formed only for special occasions and are thus not well-rehearsed.  Then there’s the matter of repertoire: should a band made up of improvising jazz players go into the past or boldly plunge into the future, however one defines it?  Or should such an orchestra bridge Past and Present — not an easy thing: it means more than letting the saxophone soloist play GIANT STEPS licks in the middle of A STRING OF PEARLS. 

Saxophonist Andy Farber has found his own answer to these questions.  He’s worked with all kinds and sizes of ensembles comfortably.  But his own orchestra has found its own path that pays homage to the past without being anyone’s ghost band — in a way that’s both reassuring and innovative.

Here’s what Andy told Alvester Garnett, who not only plays wonderful big band drums but also wrote fine liner notes (!): “The goal of this record is to focus on the emotional and spiritual element of large group ensemble playing.  I feel like there is a great amount of nuance in this band, ao conscious effort in playing pretty, shaping lines, playing parts as if it were a solo.”  Does that give you a sense of the silken textures Andy and his Orchestra have created?

You don’t have to take it on faith.  The band sounds wonderful — and its overall sound is not heavy or ponderous, nor does it make you wonder what all the players in the band are doing (some “big bands” quickly break down into soloist-plus-rhythm that you wonder if the other players have gotten off the bandstand to check their email — not here). 

And the names of the players will tell you a great deal.  Andy himself is a fine solo player (as I hope you’ve seen in my videos of him sitting in at The Ear Inn): here he’s joined by Dan Block, Chuck Wilson, Jay Brandford, Marc Phaneuf, Kurt Bacher, saxes (with a special guest appearance by Jerry Dodgion); Brian Pareschi, Irv Grossman, Kenny Rampton, and Alex Norris are the trumpets; Art Baron, Harvey Tibbs, Wayne Goodman, Max Seigel the trombones; Bob Grillo plays guitar; Mark Sherman, vibraphone; Kenny Ascher, piano; Jennifer Vincent, bass; Alvester Garnett, drums.  And there is some hip vocalizing from the Prince of Hip, Jon Hendricks and his Singers.

The repertoire includes the happily familiar (BODY AND SOUL, MIDNIGHT, THE STARS AND YOU, THE MAN I LOVE, SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, JACK THE BELLBOY) and Andy’s witty, swinging originals (SPACE SUIT, BOMBERS, IT IS WHAT IT IS, and SHORT YARN) — and more.  All sinuously played, with a delight in sound rather than volume, texture rather than speed. 

If someone were to ask me the honorably weary question, “Are the big bands ever coming back?” I would play them this CD.  This band has no need to return: it is most reassuringly here. 

The CD is on BWR (Black Warrior Records) and can be found at better record stores everywhere?  Well, not quite — but it is available online through a number of sites and (of course) from Andy when you see him playing, which I urge you to do.

DAN BLOCK’S VIVID IMAGINATIONS

Dan Block is a peerless reed player, arranger, composer, bandleader.  A new CD captures his many imaginations whole.  The picture (by Dan’s daughter Emma) adorns the cover of his Ellington tribute, FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE. 

Tributes to Ellington, hoever well-intentioned, have often become self-limiting, even formulaic.  Some musicians try to duplicate the sound of famous recordings; others rely upon Duke’s hit songs; others nod to an Ellington line for a chorus and then go off on their own.  Dan Block’s way is his own.  No SATIN DOLL, no transcriptions.   Rather, the most familiar songs on this CD are OLD KING DOOJI and KISSING BUG.  (Ask anyone who admires Ellingtonian to hum DOOJI and you’ll see what I mean.)  The repertoire, although not consciously esoteric, encompasses both COTTON CLUB STOMP and SECOND LINE. 

Dan didn’t try to find musicians who could simulate Cootie, Blanton, Greer.  And while he can evoke Jimmy Hamilton, Webster, Gonsalves, Bigard, Hodges, he doesn’t ever shed his own identity.  Every track has its own sound — respectfully inventive.  So an Ellington composition from 1940 (MORNING GLORY) is treated as if it were timeless (which it is) material for melodic improvisation, but never imprisoned by its “period” and “genre.”

Duke’s compositions are deeply re-imagined: KISSING BUG, which leads off, has Dan wistfully playing the line — only after he has perched atop the rattling percussion of Renato Thoms, the drums of Brian Grice, the chiming vibes of Mark Sherman, alternating with 4 /4 sections where we hear James Chirillo’s guitar, Lee Hudson’s bass, Mike Kanan’s piano.  The rhythm section work throughout — in shifting permutations — is energized without being restrictively “modern” or “traditional.”  Although Dan is the only horn player on this CD, I never tired of his sounds or styles.     

I also noticed and applauded the natural sound of the sessions, for which I thank not only Dan but fellow saxophonist Andy Farber, who did the recording and shared mixing duties with Andrew Williams.  The players whose work I knew — James Chirillo, Pat O’Leary, Lee Hudson — sound beautifully and thoroughly realized.  The players who were new to me impress me thoroughly. 

Each track has its own suprises — a brief but wholly musical drum solo on BUG; an unaccompanied tenor cadenza on a musing NEW YORK CITY BLUES.  Dan understands that a slight shift of tempo (changing a ballad into a Fifties walk) makes a new composition although the notes seem the same. 

Dan has a searching lyricism, but he also loves to rock, as I see whenever he performs.  Not only does he vary his approach from performance to performance, but his horn (alto, tenor, a variety of clarinets, bass clarinet, and basset horn) without the result becoming gimmicky. 

The disc is full of marvels — but three in particular stand out.  One is THE BEAUTIFUL INDIANS (originally from 1947) that Dan makes into a shimmering impressionist painting through multi-tracking four reed voices (on as many instruments) — reed lines echo and intertwine, then hum and waft — all supported exquisitely by Hudson on bass and O’Leary on cello. 

Another is the ambling ballad medley of ALL HEART and CHANGE MY WAYS, a track combining duets for clarinet and piano, then alto sax and piano.  Mike Kanan is wondrously intuitive, his lines gliding from one beautiful voicing to the next. 

But I marvel the most at the pensive A PORTRAIT OF BERT WILLIAMS reconsidered at a slightly faster tempo as a four-minute chamber piece for Dan, bass clarinet; Chirillo, guitar; O’Leary, cello; Hudson, bass.  Imagine the Budapest Quartet playing Dvorak’s “American” Quartet / hybridized with the Basie rhythm section, with a touch of Lucky Thompson, Oscar Pettiford, and Skeeter Best . . . that would hint at this irresistible performance.  (Chirillo’s acoustic playing is both funky and delicate.)  This quartet returns for a sweetly lamenting ROCKS IN MY BED which reminds me of Jimmy Giuffre, Pee Wee Russell, and Danny Barker: you’ll understand when you hear it. 

But this disc is full of pleasures, some instantly apparent, some appearing only on repeated hearings.  The music honors Ellington but no one is subsumed into an already-established idea of “Ellingtonia.”  And the title says a great deal: Dan and friends play approach Ellington’s music by finding revelations within it.     

The disc costs $20.  To order yours, email its creator at BlockDan@aol.com.

COUNT ME IN (at THE EAR INN): June 13, 2010

None of the musicians at The Ear Inn last Sunday night consciously voiced the sentiment, “Hey, let’s put on a show of the music of Count Basie and his sidemen.”  That would have made the evening into a Tribute Concert.  Jon-Erik Kellso and Andy Farber didn’t go out of their way to adopt the mantles of Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, Lester Young, or Herschel Evans; Chris Flory didn’t offer Charlie Christian licks, and Neal Miner played himself rather than Walter Page or Oscar Pettiford. 

But for whatever happy reasons, the Basie spirit — light, floating, intense — was in the air, even without a piano or hi-hat cymbal.  I hear many rewarding echoes of the 1938 Kansas City Six in these performances, and I don’t know higher praise.  

The EarRegulars often begin by seeming to test a piece out, looking in its corners, considering its possibilities.  Someone plays the melody; the other horn hums an improvisation.  By the time the second ensemble chorus is done, they are ready!  Their ensemble momentum, solo building on solo and band choruses building, is extraordinary: there’s no exhibitionism, no excessively long solos, but this band rocks.   

Perhaps because some of the Ear Inn patrons bring their well-behaved dogs along, the EarRegulars offered DOGGIN’ AROUND:

I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW was taken far from its earliest incarnations in Jimmie Noone’s band:

Another evocation of Herschel and Buck is BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL, a song Ruby Braff played whenever he could:

And a pretty two-tenor feature (the invaluable Dan Block came in, and Fumi Tomita took Neal’s place) on THESE FOOLISH THINGS, a ballad I associate with Lester and Billie:

Swing, brothers, swing!

P.S.  This post is dedicated — in delight — to Peter Lind and Margareta Aberg Lind from Uppsala, Sweden, who visited with me at the set break and told me that they had found the Ear and The EarRegulars because of my blog-postings and videos.  Welcome, welcome!

HAPPY FEET (June 8, 2010)

I made my way to the second Tuesday-night appearance of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks (at Sofia’s in the Hotel Edison, 221 West 46th Street, from 8-11 PM Mondays and Tuesdays) and recorded this delightful vignette: HAPPY FEET.

Everyone associates this song with Paul Whiteman and Horace Henderson; on their records, it’s played at a seriously brisk tempo.  But there’s another contemporaneous version (1930, I think) that Leo Reisman and his Orchestra [with Eddy Duchin on piano!] recorded for Victor — at a groovy tempo, with a blistering growl solo by trumpeter Bubber Miley.  (I read recently on the very informative Bixography website that Miley was a favorite of Victor recording executive L.R. (“Loren”) Watson, who was so impressed by Bubber’s sound and ferocious heat that he insisted that bands — including Hoagy Carmichael’s — make room for a Miley solo on their recordings.)

Here, the Nighthawks are Alex Norris and Mike Ponella, trumpets; Jim Fryer, trombone; Dan Block, Will Anderson, and Andy Farber, reeds; Andy Stein, violin / baritone sax; Peter Yarin, piano; Vince himself on vocals, bass sax, tuba, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums and percussion. 

James Lake and Deirdre Towers are the elegant, energetic pair of dancers.  Give them a low-down beat and they begin dancing . . . !

Who wouldn’t be happy?