Tag Archives: Ben Perowsky

A SUNNY BLUES IN F: THE FINALE TO “FOREVER WEIRD” (The Kitchen, December 9, 2017) featuring THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET, THE JAZZ PASSENGERS, and THE KAMIKAZE GROUND CREW

For the story behind this riotous explosion of joys, please visit part one and part two of JAZZ LIVES’ exclusive multi-media coverage, where I posted all of The Microscopic Septet’s set.  Very little could follow Dave Sewelson’s passionate singing of I GOT A RIGHT TO CRY, but saxophonist-visionary Phillip Johnston did not want us to go out into the snowy night feeling lachrymose.

He’d asked members of the other two bands, the Jazz Passengers and the Kamikaze Ground Crew, to hang around for the finale if they felt like it (and no one wanted to miss anything the Microscopic Septet was playing) so at the end, he assembled a giant “JATP-style” jam session on a blues in F he’d written, DON’T MIND IF I DO, for the three bands.

It was clear that if everyone took even twenty-four bars apiece, we would be at the Kitchen well past closing time, so the musicians quickly arranged to play solos in tandem, trade choruses or parts of choruses — a heartwarming reminder that improvisation is more than simply playing one’s instrument, and a delightful reminder of the great players of the Thirties and Forties who could create a whole short story in eight bars.

Here’s the result, first a few minutes of jovial rustling-around, which I think is priceless, then ten minutes of rocking cheerful collective improvisation:

and a lovely postscript, an appreciative review by “TG” in THE NEW YORK JAZZ RECORD:

What a gift to everyone at The Kitchen, which (with the permission of the three bands) I am now able to share with you.

May your happiness increase!

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DON’T MISS THIS: MATT MUNISTERI PLAYS WILLARD ROBISON at JOE’S PUB (July 10, 2012)

I know that I am not the only person who has been waiting for the first CD to document Matt Munisteri’s heartfelt study of composer Willard Robison’s music.  The disc is finally here — STILL RUNNIN’ ROUND IN THE WILDERNESS: THE LOST MUSIC OF WILLARD ROBISON, VOLUME ONE.  To listen to tracks from this disc, please click here.  But we now have an occasion where all the pieces come into delightful alignment: a CD release show at Joe’s Pub in New York City on July 10, 2012, beginning at 7:30 PM.  Matt will be joined by Matt Ray, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Danton Boller, bass; Mark McLean, drums.

I’ll have more to say about the CD itself — one of the most rewarding efforts I have on my shelves — but here’s Matt on Robison:

During the mid 1920′s Willard Robison was working as a pianist and arranger with many of the stars of the new jazz vanguard when he went into the studio and recorded a string of startling recordings which almost certainly made him the prototype for the American 20th century’s most abundant and everlasting artistic archetype: The singer/songwriter.  Before the deluge – before there was Hoagy, or Johnny Mercer, or Randy Newman, or Mose Allison, or Brian Wilson, or Van Dyke Parks – Willard Robison wrote, orchestrated, conducted, and sang his own utterly unclassifiable music and lyrics in a series of pioneering and timeless recordings between 1924 and 1930.  His songs told of odd rural loners, wild open landscapes, revival camp meetings, preachers, and the devil (always the devil) and employed a complex and surprising harmonic and melodic language which, while referencing the new jazz – along with classical, ragtime, blues, and even old time country music – emerged at once as a fully realized and completely original American voice.

Yet, in the years since 1930, and in the 42 years since Robison’s death, not one of these ground-breaking recordings has ever been re-issued after its initial release as a 78 record.  Robison is virtually alone among seminal and much-recorded American musical innovators: the LP era passed him by; the CD era passed him by; the digital download era has thus-far passed him by. As Robison slipped deeper into alcoholism and an increasingly itinerant life the big companies who owned his music subsequently shelved these strange “unmarketable” works to the vaults, where they remain to this day.  But this could soon change, and Matt Munisteri’s new CD “Still Runnin’ ‘Round in The Wilderness” may prove a catalyst for a long overdue interest in this timeless body of work.

Lauded for his fiery guitar chops, literate humor, and “pre-war heart” (The New Yorker), the likewise unclassifiable ace guitarist, singer, and songwriter, Matt Munisteri has spent over a decade hunting down, transcribing, and performing these lost masterworks, refracting them through his own individual prism of 20th century American music.  In the process he has not only finally brought these tunes to light, but has imbued them with an organic and riveting beauty in which jazz improvisation, folk traditions, and popular song co-mingle.

Matt Munisteri has worked with many notables across the jazz and roots-music spectrum, including Mark O’Connor, Steven Bernstein, Loudon Wainwright, Jenny Scheinman, “Little” Jimmy Scott, Catherine Russell, and Geoff Muldaur. His 2003 release “Love Story” won the number two slot in Amazon’s Best Jazz CDs of The Year.  Recognizing a rare kindred spirit, Munisteri became obsessed with Robison’s music around 2000, and the hunt for old 78s, worn tapes, acetates, and sheet music over the past decade has produced as many remarkable stories as the songs themselves tell.  With a crew of top NYC musicians he has re-imagined Robison’s songs, culled from their original recordings, as a body of work rightfully freed from the trappings of era or idiom.

The music was recorded live over two days, with all the musicians in a 15X18 foot room, with no isolation by John Kilgore – this is truly “Live” live, with nowhere to hide, and the resultant interplay among these master improvisers is the listener’s gain.  The musicians include: Matt Munisteri – guitar, vocals, banjo; Ben Perowsky – drums; Danton Boller – bass; Matt Ray – piano; Scott Robinson – C melody sax, clarinet; Jon-Erik Kellso – trumpet; Will Holshouser – accordion; Rachelle Garniez – guest vocals.

What Matt has done with and for Robison’s music is startlingly rewarding.  It would have been one thing for him to consider his role as musical archivist only: find the obscure sheet music and 78s, and present them, either as cleaned-up copies of the original discs OR as reverent recreations in 2012 by musicians interpreting Robison as if he were Dvorak.

That in itself would have been a splendid project, because listeners like myself would have been able to hear Robison songs they didn’t know (in addition to the “famous” ones: A COTTAGE FOR SALE; T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, T’AIN’T SO; LITTLE HIGH CHAIRMAN).  But Matt knows that archival reverence has its limitations, so both the CD and his live performances have successfully gotten at the heart of Robison’s music creatively.  Another artist’s deference to “the material” might have made it seem distant — museum pieces behind glass.  Munisteri’s Robison, imbued with the force of two strong personalities, comes into the room and demands our attention.  Now.

I know that “re-imagining” makes some listeners nervous: will the original music that they know be stretched out of shape by artists eager to impose their own personalities on it?  Will SUNSET CAFE STOMP reappear to a samba beat with sampling?

Matt’s imagination is deep but nothing of the sort has happened here.  What he has done is to present Robison’s music through his own lens — wry, soulful, amused, sad — presenting it by singing and playing, alone and with congenial musicians.  The result is a new window into a series of intriguing worlds, where ethical truths are offered with sly wit, where deep feelings have sharp edges.  The CD is masterful and repeated playings have only shown me its expanding vistas.  And I’ve learned so much about Robison from Matt’s incisive writing in the notes.

I propose that anyone who can go to the show and buy the CD: both will be rewarding experiences.  And if we send out the right sympathetic vibrations, perhaps Volume Two will follow soon.

May your happiness increase.

“WE ALL NEED GOOD MUSIC / TO STRAIGHTEN UP THE SOUL”: MATT MUNISTERI – WILLARD ROBISON (Barbes, Dec. 15, 2011)

Those lines come from Willard Robison’s THE DEVIL IS AFRAID OF MUSIC, and the sum up the experience I — and a receptive audience — had last night at Barbes in Brooklyn, New York.  Matt Munisteri sang and played both electric and acoustic guitars, aided by Danton Boller on string bass and Ben Perowsky on drums — with a late cameo appearance (two songs) by guitarist Julian Lage.

It was a lovely evening, and Matt both performed and reimagined a dozen of Robison’s songs perfectly — his singing a mix of tenderness and amusement, his playing a marvelous offering of textures: twangy notes and assertive dissonances, a rhythmic rocking whether the trio was in 2/4 or 4/4 — ranging from thunderous opening chords to lullabies.  Danton Boller was a swinging foundation, every note a pleasure in itself, whether he was creating chiming harmonies or walking the pulse.  And Perowsky was a perfect sound-receptor in the manner of Sonny Greer: what he heard, he echoed, he anticipated, he commented on — never losing the thread of the music.

I can’t wait for the Munisteri CD of Robisonia!

Last night, Matt began with one of Robison’s “syncopated sermons,” STILL RUNNIN’ ROUND IN THE WILDERNESS, which opened with minor-key vamping over Ben’s brushwork, then segued into a sweet but emphatic lesson about finding one’s life purpose by being aware of other people (always a pertinent message).

I’LL HAVE THE BLUES UNTIL I GET TO CALIFORNIA was a delicious mixture of optimism about the Golden State and a lover’s hope to be reunited.

Robison loved to quietly suggest to his listeners that they could find joy in being kinder human beings, but he had a satiric streak — one of his sly, naughty folktales is REVOLVING JONES (where one must listen very carefully to the verse to understand the chorus): Jones, before he dies, instructs his wife not to take a lover after he’s gone, or else he’ll turn over in his grave . . . and you can see where the song is headed.  With a wink, Matt delivered the tale of infidelities to his Brooklyn hearers.

Another piece of sweet Nature-worship was I HEARD A MOCKINGBIRD SINGING IN CALIFORNIA . . . which (not for the first time) led me to wonder just how much of the folk-poetry Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer are justly celebrated for comes straight from Robison.  MOONLIGHT, MISSISSIPPI had a couplet that Mercer would have been proud to write — describing the languorous cadences of speech in this “whistle-stop town,” the lyrics point out, “Like corn on the cob, it’s mighty sweet on the ear.”

Appeals for building funds never charmed me, but WE’LL HAVE A NEW HOME IN THE MORNING (anticipating Habitat for Humanity) was a rocking exhortation: we were ready to pick up hammer and nails and begin constructing something!

TRUTHFUL PARSON BROWN, the tale of a syncopating man of the cloth who swings the organ while telling his congregation what they need to know, “You’ll never get ahead if you try to keep your brother down,” was uplifting — and also reminiscent of music I’d never heard: Fats Waller said that his dream was to go out with a big band behind him and preach sermons.  He would have grinned so happily at the music I heard last night.

Many evenings of improvised music hit a peak and then trail off: this one climbed and soared.  Matt picked up his acoustic guitar for a solo trilogy (and I noted that Danton and Ben stayed there and listened admiringly) of three sweet songs I associate with Mildred Bailey: an instrumental chorus of OLD FOLKS, a deeply tender GUESS I’LL GO BACK HOME THIS SUMMER, and (what I think of as the evening’s masterpiece) a reading of LITTLE HIGH CHAIRMAN that was loving without being mawkish, amused without being in the least emotionally distant.

COUNTRY BOY BLUES was one of Robison’s satires — where the singer has been taken advantage of by an urban vamp, having let “a shoemaker’s daughter make a heel of me.”

Matt and Julian Lage had a good time with the closing songs — echoes of a Mississippi revival meeting in THE DEVIL IS AFRAID OF MUSIC and a reinvented T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO which began in funk territory before moving into the light.

It was a wonderful evening, with so much to admire in Robison: his earnestness and goodness of heart mixed with a Frishbergian sharpness and awareness of life’s little hypocrisies.  And then there was Mr. Munisteri, humming along with his solos, rocking the blues, creating sweet music throughout.  And he is a peerless singer, sincere or sly or both at the same time.

As I said, I can’t wait for the CD.  You might want to investigate Matt’s recorded output while you’re waiting, though . . . !