Tag Archives: Billy Mintz

DOMESTIC HARMONY: PIKET PLAYS MINTZ

Popular culture tells us that we fall in love with other people based on how they look when getting in or out of the shower. That may be built into our genes: how well will this future partner carry on the race? But I think that lasting love relationships are built on admiration and respect more than hip-to-waist ratio, and a new CD by pianist Roberta Piket, devoted to composer Billy Mintz, is heart-warming proof:  

I first encountered Billy on a recording, in his more familiar role: a jazz percussionist who is devoted to exploring not only rhythms but sounds and timbres.  When I first got to see and hear him, on a session, perhaps eight years ago, led by saxophonist-composer Lena Bloch, I was deeply moved by Billy’s drumming.  He has infinite curiosity and patience: I remember a solo he took on a session that was not the usual “fountain of noise” (an apt Whitney Balliett phrase) but a quiet extended exploration on a minimalist drum kit: as if he were sending thoughts to us by tapping and pausing. 

Perhaps at that same gig, someone sitting at the end of the table, listening and watching closely, was invited to sit in and turned out to be a pianist of great subtlety and depth: that was Roberta.  I was — there’s no other word but “fulfilled” — by their music, and they were very gracious to me, singly and together.  And I learned, to my delight, that they were a happily married couple: how fortunate, how apt.  I’ve encountered them in the years that followed, and have always been rewarded by their music and their gentle selves.

Art by Tom Fedro.

When I heard the music from the YouTube video above, I was delighted, and DOMESTIC HARMONY is a consistent pleasure.  The virtues Billy brings to his drum set are also evident in his compositions, and the pleasures of Roberta’s playing both enhance and are enhanced by them.  I keep coming back to this CD, because it exemplifies what music is and can be: pensive, lively, mournful, full of surprises.  And utterly cliche-free: sweetly melodic, a series of explorations where both composer and performer invite us in, welcome us to their worlds.  The compositions are GHOST SANCTUARY / BEAUTIFUL YOU / LOOKING DOWN AT THE STARS / SHMEAR / FLIGHT / DESTINY / YOUR TOUCH / BLINDS EYE / UGLY BEAUTIFUL / CANNONBALL.  Roberta plays on all of them, but on DESTINY (to which Billy wrote words as well as music) she sings — ardently and genuinely.

Roberta Piket – Domestic Harmony: Piket Plays Mintz

Click on the box above to hear sound samples, purchase, download DOMESTIC HARMONY: I urge you to take the time to contemplate its beauties.

I like paradoxes, so I can only say that this disc is seriously tender, tenderly serious.  And to know that it is a birthday gift from Roberta to Billy and thus to us is quite wonderful.  And (it makes a difference) the disc is beautifully recorded, and Roberta’s liner notes tell us a great deal without telling us what is their shared medicine cabinet.

It’s a truly rewarding effort: what love sounds like — the durable kind that lasts long after the shower is over.  

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC IN THE MAKING: “SONGS OF YEARNING AND HOPE” (LENA BLOCH, CAMERON BROWN, RUSS LOSSING, BILLY MINTZ)

I’ve known and admired the saxophonist-composer Lena Bloch for almost a decade now, and respect her musical integrity.

I’ve been very selective about using JAZZ LIVES as a platform to advertise Kickstarter projects, but Lena’s new CD — as of yet unrecorded — with her FEATHERY quartet, Cameron Brown, Billy Mintz, and Russ Lossing, is eminently worthy of your consideration.

FEATHERY, from left, Cameron Brown, Lena Bloch, Russ Lossing, and Billy Mintz

FEATHERY is planning a new CD, which will be called ROSE OF LIFTA.  Here’s what Lena has to say about the project:

The idea of this project came to my mind when I was reading the poem by Iman Annab “Climbing Rose Of Lifta,” about the pain of separation from one’s homeland, intense yearning and strong hope of return. Deeply moved by this poem, I wrote a piece “Rose Of Lifta” and later on several other compositions, dedicated to those who had to leave their homes and loved ones, becoming refugees and expatriates. My ensemble colleagues understood me emotionally and musically, and we added several more pieces written by Russ Lossing. It will be an album of a string of compositions, different in mood and color, but unified by a continuous narrative of longing for home. Our approach, the ways to interpret the compositions developed organically during our performances, and after one year of working on the material, we now ready to record it and simply can’t wait! Our recording will again be done in one room, without headphones or booths, The sound engineer that has been working with us is Paul Wickliffe (Skyline Productions), whose work Dan Morgenstern describes as the following: “There is a fifth member of this group, Paul Wickliffe, who recorded, mixed and mastered the music–and the term “mastered” has seldom been more appropriate. The special sound of this group has been perfectly captured, each voice crystal clear, yet reflecting the music’s collective essence.” We are very thrilled to be working with Paul again, he is a wizard who can create the most intimate listening experience.

As JAZZ LIVES readers know, producing a CD is costly.  There are almost no record companies in existence that can bankroll musicians, so most if not all musicians are forced to do it themselves.  So this project has spawned a Kickstarter page — FEATHERY needs to raise $8000 in the next three weeks, more or less, to create this CD.  I’ve contributed, by the way.  And I hope you will look into this worthy endeavor.

May your happiness increase!

NOT ONLY BUT ALSO: ROBERTA PIKET, “WEST COAST TRIO”

When I taught freshman composition, some of my best students had grown up speaking a language not English.  They were often far more perceptive than the local talent whose radius of exploration was fifty miles. But the “ESL” crew occasionally had trouble with English idioms that native speakers take for granted.  One, memorably, was “not only but also,” and perhaps its apparent negation becoming affirmation was too much to digest at first.

While I was listening to pianist-composer Roberta Piket’s new CD, WEST COAST TRIO, the expression came back as a perfect way to describe her work, a great compliment.

If you don’t know Roberta’s work, you will want to scamper ahead to the video to hear it; she is also, not surprisingly, quietly eloquent about how she perceives what she does, and where she’s come from: here is a recent interview.

But to the music: in a landscape of artists who equate modernism with abstraction, Roberta always remembers that the heart of music is song, so her work, even when she is exploring, is always melodic and soulful, free from cliche, welcoming us in.  And whatever meter or tempo she chooses, her music has the pulse of a heartbeat.  To some, swinging improvisation is no longer relevant.  From the first measures of MENTOR, the first song on the disc, I was bobbing my head: for me, very good evidence of enjoyment.  The result can be innovative or technically sophisticated, but it’s mobile and warm, never chilly.

Here is the behind-the-scenes look at the session, extremely valuable because not only does it provide a tasting menu of the music, but also we see and hear Roberta speaking about it:

and here you can listen to longer samples of the music, download it, or purchase the actual disc — the last of which I recommend because Thirteenth Note Records’ products are superb, and Bob Bernotas’ liner notes equally so.

One of the other things to love about this CD is it shows off Roberta’s wide range of musical affections: standards by Legrand, Rodgers, and Donaldson (MY BUDDY is aimed right at our hearts), compositions by Shearing, Corea, Hicks, and two originals by Roberta.  Beautiful recorded sound and beautiful playing by Joe La Barbera, drums; Darek Olszkiewicz, string bass, with telling cameo appearances by Larry Koonse, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums.  There’s great variety: some performances seem dreamy, musing; others are superb dance music.

When I’d played the disc the first time, I wanted to hear it again.  You will, too.

May your happiness increase!

I DON’T QUITE KNOW WHAT IT IS, BUT IT SOUNDS LOVELY: JON DE LUCIA, “AS THE RIVER SINGS”

As someone used to listening to jazz — first a narrow slice, then broadening and deepening — like most listeners, I am familiar with what I am familiar with.  I appreciate known melodies, improvised on in a variety of ways, as well as beautiful sounds, and I am not too embarrassed by my occasional inability or unwillingness to appreciate what others call jazz.  Sometimes, though, I hear something different, created by musicians I respect, and I am emotionally drawn to it.  I take it seriously and try to figure out “what it is,” and sometimes fail.  But in this case, my ears and my emotions tell me that the music is beautiful and worthy, even though I don’t quite know what to call it.  (Categorization can get ugly, as if I was trying to wear the jeans I wore ten years ago.)

I met the saxophonist / clarinetist Jon De Lucia in 2016, and have followed him to several gigs — in an intimate restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn; a few sessions at Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s beautiful Drawing Room; most recently to Sir D’s Lounge, also in Brooklyn.  Jon asked me if I’d like to hear the music on his new CD release, AS THE RIVER SINGS, recorded in 2014.  I listened to some of it online and said yes.  On this disc of twelve compositions by Jon, he plays alto saxophone, clarinet, Sruti Box, alto clarinet, flute; he’s joined by Greg Ruggiero, electric guitar; Chris Tordini, string bass; Tommy Crane, drums.

as-the-river-sings-cover

Before you read on, you can listen to a few selections here.  Wisely, I think, Jon has not provided a programmatic narrative of what the music is “about,” so we are free to hear.  Each track seems part of a larger suite of dance melodies, or dancing ones.  I hear Irish keening and island rhythms; the dancing underpinnings also reminded me of Anglo-American pop/dance music of the second half of the last century.  Without being a self-conscious rhythmic travelogue, the suite moves gracefully from rhythmic idiom to rhythmic idiom, encouraging the listener to feel, to muse, to sway.  Floating melodies, chiming sounds, music that one can listen to in many ways and be moved by it.

The quartet is delightfully egalitarian, so melodies and patterns are passed around and the variety is always entertaining.  Jon is a virtuoso who knows the wonders of restraint.  His tone is rewarding in itself — I think of the coinage that Darl Bundren, in a William Faulkner novel, uses to describe the ideal temperature for the water he is about to drink, “warmish-cool,” to describe Jon’s playing and his approach to his instruments and our ears.  His melodies and improvisations gently have something to tell us, but they are subtle, never banging loudly on our door.  And they sink in to our consciousness in quietly memorable ways.

I write this not only to point JAZZ LIVES’ readers towards some rewarding music on disc, but to announce the CD release show at Cornelia St. Cafe on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.  Jon and Greg Ruggiero, Sean Smith, and Billy Mintz — all heroes! will play two sets, at 8 and 9:30.  The Facebook event page is here.  And the salient details are that there is a $10 cover; reservations are recommended; Cornelia St. Underground, 29 Cornelia St., near West 4th St in Manhattan.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN LOVE LASTS: YAALA BALLIN and ARI ROLAND (2015)

Songwriters have always done well with the sudden romantic infatuation, the blinding green flash “across a crowded room.”  “And all at once I owned the earth and sky.”  But love that lasts when such mind-altering experiences have grown familiar is much more rarely a subject.  Oh, there’s WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE, but MAGGIE is no longer around to appreciate the encomium; there’s THE FOLKS WHO LIVE ON THE HILL, but that couple is also apparently fairly sedentary.

THEN I'LL BE TIRED OF YOU

The song that I think of with great affection is the 1934 THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU, music by Arthur Schwartz, lyrics by Yip Harburg.  I heard it first in a rather irreverent version by Fats Waller (when the song was new) and later by Vic Dickenson and Joe Thomas — instrumental but deeply fervent.  The simple melody is memorable (Joe delighted in those repeated notes) yet for me what makes it complete is Harburg’s witty conceit: rather than attempt to revitalize “I will always love you,” he turns it on its head in the conditional: “I’ll weary of you when these improbable events happen, but not a second before.” High fidelity, and long-playing, too.

YAALA

Here’s a deliciously intimate version by the fine young singer Yaala Ballin and string bassist Ari Roland, recorded in December 2015 at The Drawing Room (video by the very gifted Neal Miner):

Even better than this video is the news that Yaala and Ari will be singing and playing on Sunday, June 19, at the pastoral hour of 3:30, at The Drawing Room (56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn — right near a subway!)  Here are the details of that event.  And later on that same June 19, Lena Bloch, Russ Lossing, Cameron Brown, and Billy Mintz (the FEATHERY quartet) will be creating and improvising . . . from 7 PM on.

May your happiness increase!

DREAMY EXCURSIONS: LENA BLOCH, RUSS LOSSING, CAMERON BROWN, BILLY MINTZ at SPECTRUM (October 2, 2014)

Most of the music I have gravitated to for the past fifty years has been built on a series of structures and conventions — the thirty-two bar chorus, 4/4, certain harmonic progressions, the known melodies or their reinventions, ensemble choruses leading to solos and the reverse.  I cherish these things.  I can still happily settle in for a medium-tempo Bb blues, a consideration of BODY AND SOUL or perhaps LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.

The music that tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch and her friends create seems, on first hearing, to be residing in another borough.  It has a forward motion, but sometimes seems suspended in glowing collective introspection.  It asks questions but does not worry about answering them.  It dreamily proceeds forward through variations on the melody, the harmonies, the rhythm.  One cannot predict its course — at times it feels as if the musicians are making small inquiring motions towards an end that they have not yet sighted, as if they were gently and piously excavating a sacred landscape, delicate spoonfuls at a time — but the result is both emotionally involved and emotionally satisfying.  At times, it feels like the music of IF, which promises to arrive at WHEN.

Because I first encountered Lena and a series of very esteemed friends in more traditional contexts, inquiring deeper into familiar chord changes in Tristano-inspired fashion, I trust her to get me to places I would not have ordinarily visited, and her explorations never disappoint.

Here are five performances from an evening at Spectrum (a lovely upstairs music studio on Ludlow Street in downtown Manhattan) which I recorded on October 2, 2014.  Lena’s colleagues are pianist Russ Lossing, string bassist Cameron Brown, drummer Billy Mintz — brave explorers and serious instant composers all.

Lena composed the first four selections; the closing one is by Russ.

YUSEF:

MUNIR:

HIGH POINT:

TWO OCEANS OF MADNESS:

SONG ALONG THE WAY:

This music is worth more than a casual listening.  Dreamlike, beautifully strange moments open themselves to the listener.

May your happiness increase!

FEATHERY MUSIC, GENTLE QUESTIONS: LENA BLOCH

I’ve always heard that attorneys only ask questions to which they know the answers. I have nothing against them individually or as a group, but this seems like a closed loop of an endeavor.  The tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch is on a more inspiring track: she asks questions for which there might be no simple answer, no single answer.  Asking the question is the purpose and the rewarding result. I have been admiring her musical inquiries as often as possible during the last few years our paths have intersected in New York City, and have seen her as a very authentic player — someone devoted to melodic explorations that, while gentle, have weight and seriousness to balance off their soaring possibilities.

ajazz bloch

Lena has a wonderful new CD, FEATHERY — it’s her debut CD as a leader, and as you read this it will be available, as a physical CD or as downloads, with sound samples, hereShould you prefer to voyage up the Amazon, you can ask your own questions and purchase a copy here. It’s on Thirteenth Note Records, and Lena’s curious, inventive colleagues are drummer Billy Mintz, string bassist Cameron Brown, guitarist Dave Miller.

Knowing can easily be confused with wisdom. Lena Bloch, Dave Miller, Cameron Brown, and Billy Mintz are deeply aware that real wisdom is in the tireless asking of questions, not an irritable straining to come up with the one right answer.  Their willingness to inquire, this gentle wondering, informs their music.   Rather than treat this grouping of players and voices as it usually is done (ensemble line, solos, drum fours, ensemble), they often take the opportunity to ask questions of the music itself.

The music created by these four artists is far more subtle and affecting than hearing another jazz quartet working its own variations on Playing What We Already Know.  The art – for let us call it by its right name – is feathery-light and durable.  I hear Lester Young and Brahms, sorrows and exultations, Eastern meditation and collective invention.

The music is strong and sweet, dense and welcoming.  The musicians have sensations to share with us, secrets made tangible, their language too deep for words.

Lena Bloch does not announce herself as courageous, and I think she would start giggling if you told her this was the case.  But she surely is.  Her artistic courage is not a matter of being big, bold, and loud. She approaches the music with tender reverence.  But she is not afraid to venture into new spaces in pursuit of beauty.  Her models and mentors  knew that the cosmos could be dark and terrifying, but the only human response to the void was to speak, through playing and composing, know how to keep terrors at bay.  I will fill the air with floating sounds. I will be brave enough to say WHO IS OUT THERE? I will soar above on feathers of melody.

Lena’s friends and colleagues on this disc are equally inspired. They trust themselves, and their loving energy comes through in every note sounded.  They fly happily. No sun dares to melt their wings.

And the music on this disc continues to resonate once the disc has concluded.  Billy, Dave, and Cameron are great painters of sound. They listen to their hearts; they listen to their instruments; they listen to each other. They create a world where Beauty is not only possible, but inevitable. Their sounds will guide us into the darkness and into the light.  Hear them, and be uplifted.

I’m not the only one who admires Lena’s questing spirit and FEATHERY: here is Dan McCleneghan’s review in All About Jazz.

Once you’ve visited Lena’s website and seen more of the videos there, once you’ve heard FEATHERY, you could attend a quartet gig at the most convivial of spaces, The Drawing Room, on 56 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn, New York: Sunday, March 30, at 7:30, and the group will be Lena, Putter Smith, string bass; Dave Miller, and Billy Mintz.

Whatever ways you can, find and find out more about Lena Bloch.

May your happiness increase!

LIGHTLY ASKING DEEP QUESTIONS: BILLY MINTZ QUARTET

When it comes to jazz drumming, I’ve always loved the flow of the rhythms, but I’ve even more deeply gravitated towards sounds, to melodists — Baby Dodds, Kaiser Marshall, Walter Johnson, Kaiser Marshall, George Stafford, Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, Zutty Singleton, George Wettling, Jo Jones, Sidney Catlett, Jake Hanna, Mike Burgevin, Kevin Dorn, Hal Smith, Jeff Hamilton, Clint Baker.  And, more recently, musicians I’ve come to think of as sound-painters: Hyland Harris, Ali Jackson, Eliot Zigmund, Matt Wilson, and Billy Mintz.

BIlly Mintz is a fascinating creative force because he is not only a splendidly rewarding player — inventing and arranging sounds in new, impressionistic patterns that stand on their own next to the best improvisations of any contemporary jazz improviser — but his compositions have flavor, depth, and scope.  His music is curious — peering behind the curtains — rather than formulaic or aggressive.

I’ve heard some of Billy’s compositions explored on live sessions with a a variety of musicians, including saxophonist Lena Bloch.  Here is one of my favorites, HAUNTED, recorded by the composer and pianist Roberta Piket in Austria, earlier in 2013:

I am pleased to tell you that there is now an entire CD of Billy’s compositions issued by Thirteenth Note Records . . . played not only by the composer, but by pianist / singer Roberta Piket; John Gross, tenor saxophone; Putter Smith, string bass.

??????????

Don’t let the somber cover picture fool you: beneath that hat and shades, Billy’s eyes gleam and his heart is lively.

The songs (a few have gained wide recognition) are BEAUTIFUL YOU / FLIGHT / DIT / DESTINY (Roberta, vocal) / HAUNTED / SHMEAR / CANNONBALL / BEAUTIFUL / UGLY BEAUTIFUL / RELENT / RETRIBUTION / AFTER RETRIBUTION.

Their titles speak to Billy’s poetic, inquiring sensibility.  His music doesn’t provide pat answers; rather it asks questions: “What is play?  What is sadness?  Where might we be going?  Must it always be the same thing? Who says what is beautiful?  Would you care to join me?” and others of equal weight.

The music on this quartet CD isn’t abrasive or abusive: Billy, John, Roberta, and Putter love melody, but they also love to experiment with the traditional shapes of the improvising quartet — so instruments have amiable conversations, echoing or sweetly correcting one another; duos and solos spring up within compositions; balances shift within the piece.  Each song seems both new and composed, inventive and inevitable, and the procession from one piece to another on the disc is cumulative.  This CD is not the traditional melody-statement / solos / drum fours / melody-statement, and that’s all to the good.  No explorations, no surprises!

Here you can read more about Billy and hear samples from the CD: inquiring readers and hearers will be rewarded.  You can find out more at Thirteenth Note Records as well.

May your happiness increase!

APRIL IS THE COOLEST MONTH, or NEW YORK JOYS (2013)

Every time I get ready to declare, “OK, I will spend the rest of my life happily in California,” New York crooks a dainty finger at me and whispers, “Not so fast, fellow.  I have something for you.”

ny skyline

These are some of the musicians I was able to see, hear, and video during April 2013 — an incomplete list, in chronological order:

Svetlana Shmulyian, Tom Dempsey, Rob Garcia, Asako Takasaki, Michael Kanan, Michael Petrosino, Joel Press, Sean Smith, Tardo Hammer, Steve Little, Hilary Gardner, Ehud Asherie, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, James Chirillo, Brian Nalepka, Dan Block, Danny Tobias, Matt Munisteri, Neal Miner, Catherine Russell, Jon-Erik Kellso, Lee Hudson, Lena Bloch, Frank Carlberg, Dave Miller, Billy Mintz, Daryl Sherman, Scott Robinson, Harvie S, Jeff Barnhart, Gordon Au, John Gill, Ian Frenkel, Lew Green, Marianne Solivan, Mark McLean, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Raphael McGregor, Skip Krevens, Andrew Hall, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Pat O’Leary, Andy Brown, Giancarlo Massu, Luciano Troja, Rossano Sportiello, Randy Sandke, Harry Allen, Dennis Mackrel, Joel Forbes.

And I saw them at the Back Room Speakeasy, the Metropolitan Room, Smalls, the Bickford Theatre, the Ear Inn, Symphony Space, the Finaldn Center, Jazz at Kitano, Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Jalopy Theatre, Casa Italiana, and Zankel Recital Hall.

T.S. Eliot had it wrong.  Just another average jazz-month in New York.

P.S.  This isn’t to slight my California heroes, nay nay — among them Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Dawson, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, Kally Price, Leon Oakley, Mal Sharpe, Tom Schmidt, John Reynolds, Melissa Collard, Ari Munkres, GAUCHO, PANIQUE, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, JasonVanderford, Bill Reinhart, Dan Barrett . . . .

May your happiness increase.

GLIDING ALOFT: LENA BLOCH, FRANK CARLBERG, DAVE MILLER, BILLY MINTZ at The Finland Center (April 13, 2013)

Sometimes the best music presents us with the answers: This is how it is, and this is how it should be.  Other musical explorations seem to ask Beethoven’s question: Must it be?  Or perhaps What lies beyond?

The quartet of musicians who enlarged our horizons on April 13, 2013, at the Finland Center, asked the latter question — sweetly, not abrasively — and let us compose our own answers.  They are Lena Bloch, tenor saxophone; Frank Carlberg, keyboard; Billy Mintz, drums; Dave Miller, guitar.

I invite you to join their inquiries, to allow their music to lift you aloft.

Monk’s WE SEE:

Lena’s HIGH POINT:

Billy’s FLIGHT:

Berlin’s series of questions, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?:

Ted Brown’s FEATHER BED:

Lena’s TWO OCEANS OF MADNESS:

Dave’s RUBATO:

And the concert ended ALL TOO SOON:

All of these fine vibrations were created by these four eminent courageous players . . . but we also thank Janna Rehnstrom of the Finland Center Foundation for giving this music a home — for establishing a regular concert series here, at the Salmagundi Club, 47 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York — details here.

May your happiness increase.

OH, HOW SHE CAN IMPROVISE! (DARYL SHERMAN, April 18 / LENA BLOCH, April 17)

Maybe it’s the jazz emergence of SPRING IS HERE . . . but I’ve never seen a month in New York City so crammed with enticing opportunities to see and hear great improvisers.

Two gigs in the near future feature women instrumentalists (one of them sings, too!) in different parts of Manhattan.  As a prelude to the May showing of THE GIRLS IN THE BAND, how about some intriguing gender-neutral swing?

The uniquely playful singer / pianist Daryl Sherman will be performing at the Kitano on Thursday, April 18 — with the inquisitive Scott Robinson on reeds or brass or some combination, and Harvie S on string bass.  I know the bill of fare will be a nicely-cooked assortment of swing tunes, pretty ballads, obscure but deserving songs, witty and energized.

daryl_at_kitano_web (1)

A day earlier, (Wednesday, April 17) tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch will be performing at the Salmagundi Club (Finland Center) at 47 Fifth Avenue, beginning at 8 PM in the bar.  Lena will be joined by Dave Miller, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums, and the exceptional pianist / composer Frank Carlberg.  It’s billed as an International Jazz Quartet, accurately:

This international jazz quartet is a project on interactive, spontaneous, freshly performed compositional activity, where all four band members are featured as soloists and composers.  

Originally a native of Helsinki, Finland, Frank Carlberg has been involved in many crossover projects throughout the years. Some of his most notable collaborations have included performances and recordings with Steve Lacy, Bob Brookmeyer, and Kenny Wheeler. He has been commissioned to write music for big bands, small ensembles, symphony orchestras as well as modern dance companies. Carlberg also serves on the faculty at New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music.

Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door — and can be purchased here.

Two adjacent evenings of intriguing music — joyous, exploratory, gratifying.  Make a date!

May your happiness increase.

ROBERTA AND BILLY GO EXPLORING: “SIDES, COLORS”: ROBERTA PIKET / BILLY MINTZ

Anyone who’s ever been in the same room with pianist / singer / composer Roberta Piket and drummer / percussionist / composer Billy Mintz would sense the deep emotional connection between them — a good thing, since they are married, quite happily.  But the connection is also musical.  I’ve seen it in performances in the last two years, and their 2011 CD, SIDES, COLORS, is deep proof of how well-suited they are for each other, and for us.

robertapiket

Wisely, this CD is structured as a traditional vinyl record was — two sides with six songs apiece.  And although the listener doesn’t have to get up and flip the disc, the sense of two complementary musical worlds is strong.

The disc begins sweetly and serenely with Roberta gently presenting the melody of Bill Evans’ LAURIE for us.  Soon, bass (eloquently played by Johannes Weidenmueller) and quiet drums join in — but a surprise awaits as with the gentle stirrings of a string quartet and several purring horns.  (Real musicians, I might add — not conjured up on a synthesizer keyboard.)  Is it jazz, or modern classical, Third Stream, or evocative dance music?  I gave up wondering about categories early on in the CD and simply allowed myself to be swept along by the shadings and timbres.

Billy’s brushes — quietly symphonic — bring on the Broadway standard MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, then Roberta adds her single-note piano lines.  (I was already happy, mind you.)  Clear, contemporary music, harmonically sophisticated, but firmly rooted in Basie, Pettiford, Jo Jones.  And it subtly builds — not just in volume, but in densities, as the three lines intertwine, before settling back down to earth in a taciturn yet swinging final chorus, with a few witty small dissonances in — like spices — to remind us that we are in the land of surprises.

Roberta begins BILLY’S BALLAD in the most pensive way — letting the music speak its piece in its own time — a most leisurely yet searching exploration.  Then, a pause, and she begins the theme again, but with the most tender support and counterpoint from the string and horn ensemble.  I didn’t think, “Oh, this is jazz-piano-with-strings”; rather, I thought of Dvorak — deep yet translucent beauty.  Roberta is responsible for all the string and horn arrangements — but this one, wine-rich, is Billy’s.

MY FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS (dedicated to Sam Rivers) opens with dark woody sounds from Johannes . . . and then the gorgeous strings come on.  Neither sentimental nor abrasive, carefully delineating the traditional melody but with edges and depths.  Roberta’s solo improvisation follows; Billy adds his own voices as the piano’s exploration goes onwards . . . with strings and horns making what had been simple lines multi-dimensional, powerful, assertive, no longer serene.  But the performance has a compositional arc — coming back to a hymnlike reading of the melody for piano and strings after a dramatic climax in sound.

The venerable IF I LOVED YOU — from CAROUSEL — is revealed to us from new angles; the tempo is elastic rather than held down by the waltz (as Billy’s brushes make their own quiet patterns behind Roberta’s reverent melody and revamped harmonies).  What was reverent becomes more free, even abstract, as the horns add their own commentary and Roberta brings her pure, focused voice to the lyrics — honoring the intent of the lyrics while elongating and recomposing phrases.  She is at once girlish and adventurous: a model improvising singer . . . then taking fragments of melody and holding them to the light.

Tapping cymbals and stern piano chords begin EMPTY HOUSE.  A pause, then the horns outline a melody line, as if delineating a space through serious strokes of a brush, before Roberta joins them.  I sense that this is a meditation on two minor chords, but the spare material never seems thin.  And the four-and-a-half minutes is over too soon.

The imagined SIDE TWO begins with Billy’s SHMEAR — the emotional opposite of the pensive, spacious EMPTY HOUSE.  Not simply the musical evocation of an area of cream cheese, it vacillates between a nearly violent piano trio and a meditative piano solo passage . . . with the roles switching around among the three players.  Quiet gives way to conversation and back to quiet again.

IDY’S SONG AND DANCE (in two parts) begins with a solo meditation by Roberta on electric piano — simple but with its own searching groove . . . then moves to the longer DANCE in 5/4.  (You can see the video for the second track — a boisterous dance piece — with its own little domestic comedy — below.)

Billy’s RELENT changes the timbre of the trio — with Roberta exploring on organ over rapid-fire lines from Billy and Johannes.  UGLY BEAUTIFUL (again by Billy) returns to piano – string bass – drums, with improvisations that work off the song’s stark contours.  And the CD closes with Roberta’s DEGREE ABSOLUTE — her evocation of the famed television series THE PRISONER, where escape is impossible and rebellion thwarted — but, happily, the music isn’t as bleak as the inspiration for it.  In fact, the serene solo that begins the final track leads us back to LAURIE, which is another testimony to SIDES, COLORS being a work larger than the individual tracks.

Here let me credit the musicians by name — besides Roberta and Billy and bassist Johannes Weidenmueller; string players Fung Chern Hwei, Mikyung Kim, Charisa Rouse, Jeremy Harman; horn / reed players David Smith, Charles Pillow, Anders Bostrom, Sam Sadigursky.  The cover art is by Billy; graphic design by Roberta — and the whole effort is beautifully recorded by Michael Marciano.

Rather than being formulaic — solos / head / solos or some variation, or “free-form,” this CD is exemplary in its compositional intelligence.  The music never seems “written down,” yet each performance has its own larger shape — one that relates to the other compositions.  And the music is given many chances to breathe.  Hear, for example, the pauses on EMPTY HOUSE — music for a film not yet completed, I think.  The listener becomes part of the exploration, wondering, anticipating, delighting.

Here you can hear samples and purchase the CD (it’s also available for download on iTunes).  And here you can watch Roberta and Billy in action — recording this CD.  Here, they improvise in time and space.  And don’t despair: love conquers all!  (As it should.)

May your happiness increase.

ROBERTA PIKET, “SOLO”: SWEET PUNGENCY

Although others have justly celebrated her, I was unaware of pianist Roberta Piket until she sat in on a Lena Bloch gig at Somethin’ Jazz at the end of April 2012.  Then I heard the lovely, inquiring sounds that she made: she appears on the final two performances here.

ROBERTA PIKET Solo

I am even more impressed by her latest CD, called simply SOLO.

My early introductions to solo piano were, not surprisingly, based in swing: Waller, Wilson, James P., Hines, Williams, Tatum, and their modern descendants — players who appropriately viewed the instrument as orchestral, who balanced right-hand lines against continuous, sometimes forceful harmonic / rhythmic playing in the bass.  I still admire the Mainstream piano that encompasses both Nat Cole and Bud Powell, but I no longer feel deprived if I listen to a solo pianist who approaches the instrument in a more expressive way, freeing both hands from their traditional roles.  To me, James P. Johnson’s IF DREAMS COME TRUE, Wilson’s DON’T BLAME ME, Tatum’s POOR BUTTERFLY, and almost anything by Jimmie Rowles scale the heights. But I know there are fresh fields and pastures new beyond those splendid achievements.  And players who are willing to explore can often take us on quite rewarding journeys.

Roberta Piket is on her own quest — although she notes that SOLO was, in some ways, a return to her own comfort zone.  But within that zone she both explores and provides comfort for us.  For one thing, her choices of repertoire are ingenious and varied: Arthur Schwartz, Monk, Strayhorn – Ellington, Bruno Martino, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Chick Corea, Marian McPartland, and Frederick Piket.

Her work surprises — but not for novelty’s sake alone — and whose variety of approaches is intuitively matched to the material she has chosen.  Some solo artists have one basic approach, which they vary slightly when moving from a ballad to a more assertive piece, but the narrowness of the single approach quickly becomes familiar and even tiresome.  SOLO feels more like a comprehensive but free exploration of very different materials — without strain or pretension, the result feels like the most original of suites, a series of improvised meditations, statements, and dances based on strikingly chosen compositions.

The first evidence of Piket’s deep understanding of line and space, of shade and light, comes almost immediately on the CD, as she approaches the repeated notes of I SEE YOUR FACE BEFORE ME with a serious tenderness reminiscent of a Satie piece, an emotion that echoes in its own way in the final piece.  (I hope Jonathan Schwartz has been able to hear this: it is more than touching.)

Then, as soon as the listener has been sweetly and perhaps ruefully lulled, two strong, almost vigorous improvisations on Monk themes follow.  Many pianists have reduced Monk to a handful of by-the-numbers dissonances; not Piket, who uses his melodic material as a starting point rather than attempting to show that, she, too, can “sound Monkish.”

Lovely songs by Strayhorn (SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR) and McPartland (IN THE DAYS OF OUR LOVE) are treated with sincerity and reverence, but Piket does far more than simply play the familiar melody and chords: her voicings, her touch, illuminate from within.  ESTATE shows off Piket’s easy versatility, as she places the melody in the bass and ornaments in the treble during the performance.  Roberta’s precise power and energetic technique are shown in the uptempo original CLAUDE’S CLAWED, Shorter’s NEFERTITI, and Corea’s LITHA — at times powerful investigations that bridge post-bop jazz and modern classical, at times a series of unanswered questions.

The disc ends as it began, with tenderness — Sam Rivers’ BEATRICE,  an easy swinger that seems light-hearted without losing its essential serious affection.  And there’s a prize.  I didn’t know about Roberta’s father, Viennese-born composer Frederick Piket (whose life and work is examined here).  Although he wrote much “serious” music — secular and religious — IMPROVISATION BLUE is a lovely “popular” song I kept returning to: its melody is haunting without being morose, and I imagined it scored for the Claude Thornhill band in a Gil Evans chart.  It should have been.

SOLO begins sweetly and tenderly and ends the same way — with vigorous questioning and exploring of various kinds in the middle.  Roberta is an eloquent creator who takes chances but is true to her internal compass, whichever way it might point for a particular performance.

You can hear some of SOLO at Roberta’s website and at CDBaby.

On Facebook: Roberta Piket’s Music and Roberta Piket.

And this January 31, you will be able to hear Roberta, the inspiring percussionist Billy Mintz (he and Roberta are husband and wife, a neat match), celebrating tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch’s birthday — with bassist Putter Smith and legendary saxophonist John Gross.  Fine Israeli food and wine are part of the party at the East End Temple.  Tickets are $18 in advance, $22 at the door; $15 for students: click here to join the fun.

May your happiness increase.

TENDER QUESTIONS: LENA BLOCH, DAN TEPFER, DAVE MILLER, BILLY MINTZ at THE FIREHOUSE SPACE (Dec. 9, 2012)

A chilly damp December night in Brooklyn — but The Firehouse Space was warmed by the inquiring music of Lena Bloch, tenor saxophone; Dan Tepfer, piano; Dave Miller, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums.

Rather than treat this grouping of players and voices in a traditional way (ensemble line, solos, drum fours, ensemble), Lena, Dan, Dave, and Billy approached this set as an opportunity to ask questions of the music, to sweetly probe the possibilities of four improvisers on the same stand.  So the music seemed a series of inquiries and hypothetical questions given substance: “What would happen if you and I conversed in this manner for a time?”

And the results were deeply rewarding.  It was a privilege to be there and equally a privilege to be able to share this music with you.  If you expect the expected, the brave explorations of this quartet may surprise . . . but their respect for the music comes through in every note and rest, every solo and improvised colloquy.

The enigmatic title of Lena’s composition, HIGH POINT OF FLAT HILLS, has an intriguing explanation.  You’ll have to ask her at her next gig (January 31, 2013):

Variations on OUT OF NOWHERE:

The occasionally mournful reharmonization of the familiar STAR EYES:

The sweet, searching question: HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?:

Lena’s own 33:

Improvisations on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE / SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE (which Lee Konitz tells everyone was not his title):

Testing the waters, taking chances gently, experimenting with new combinations, flavors, textures, essences . . . .

May your happiness increase.

ROSES IN DECEMBER: TED BROWN, THE EARREGULARS GO NORTH, LENA BLOCH (December 2 / December 9 / December 13, 2012)

“Mark it down.”

Rather than spending your energies on Black Friday hysteria, how about some inspired music?

The memorable tenor saxophonist / composer Ted Brown will be celebrating his eighty-fifth birtthday in December . . . in the best possible way, avoiding the sheet cake and M&Ms but choosing instead to give us all thoughtful, sweet-natured lessons on what improvisation is all about.  Two gatherings deserve your attention.

One — on Sunday, December 2, will take place at Michael Kanan’s serene studio in Brooklyn, The Drawing Room, on Willoughby Street.  The musical gathering will also celebrate the release of two new Ted Brown CDs — POUND CAKE, with cornetist Kirk Knuffke, and TWO OF A KIND with reedman Brad Linde.  The gala starts at 7:30 PM; admission is a mere $10, and the location is 70 Willoughby Street, # 2A.  Also appearing will be Matt Wilson, Murray Wall, Taro Okamoto, Sarah Hughes, Michael Kramer, Michael Kanan, and special guests.  Here’s the Facebook event page.

Cornetist Kirk Knuffke is someone new to me — but as you’ll hear, he has a deep lyricism reminiscent of Tony Fruscella.  With pianist Jesse Stacken, he explores Ellington’s SUNSET AND THE MOCKINGBIRD:

Two — On Thursday, December 13, the eloquent trumpeter Bob Arthurs will be hosting a continuation of the party for Ted — with Ted himself — at Somethin’ Jazz Club 212 East 52nd Street, third floor, from 7 to 9 PM.  The Facebook event page is here.  Joining Ted and Bob will be Jon Easton, piano; Joe Solomon, bass; Barbara Merjan, drums.

Here are Ted and Michael Kanan in duet at the Kitano (January 12, 2011) creating a tender, searching PRISONER OF LOVE:

Moving right along, in swing time . . .

For those who find it difficult to be at The Ear Inn on a Sunday night (a problem I have never been troubled by), the EarRegulars are playing a rare off-site gig on Sunday, December 9 — at 2 PM at the Rockland Center for the Arts.  This edition of the EarRegulars will have Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (the co-founders); Pete Martinez, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass.  Not to be missed!  Details / reservations as noted above.

Here’s a near-match: the EarRegulars in 2011, playing RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE  joyously — Kellso, Munisteri, Martinez, and bassist Greg Cohen:

On that same Sunday, the coolly intent, always swinging tenorist Lena Bloch will be playing at the Firehouse Space in Brooklyn, with Dan Tepfer, piano; Dave Miller, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums.  The gig starts at 8 PM, and the Space is at 246 Frost Street in Brooklyn, New York: more details here.

Here’s Lena with Dave Miller, Putter Smith, and Billy Mintz from 2012 — appropriately playing Ted Brown’s FEATHER BED:
I would like to be at all four of these gigs and will do my best — but my presence and my video camera (when permitted) can’t fill the room or the tip jar — is that sufficiently subtle? — so I hope friends of the music will join me to celebrate these happy occasions.
May your happiness increase.

TRIO EXPLORATIONS in BROOKLYN: LENA BLOCH, DAVE MILLER, BILLY MINTZ (Sunday, June 10, 2012)

I won’t be able to attend this gig — for which I am sorry — so I expect a goodly number of eager JAZZ LIVES readers will make up for my absence.  I can assure you that the music will be rewarding.

Sunday, June 10th Underground Works at Sycamore is proud to present Lena Bloch, Billy Mintz, Dave Miller, in TRIO IMPROVISATIONS.   

Born in Moscow, Russia, Lena Bloch has traveled the world since 1990, performing as a bandleader in Germany, Holland, Italy, Slovenia, and the United States. She has been active on the New York jazz scene since 2008, performing with musicians like George Schuller, Cameron Brown, Scott Wendholt, Sumi Tonooka, Roberta Piket, Bertha Hope, Vishnu Wood, Michael Kanan, Putter Smith…  With her international cultural background and early classical training, Lena is working towards a truly unique style.  Her trio with two outstanding musicians, Dave Miller and Billy Mintz, presents freely-improvised, original and jazz standard-based material, Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, and Ted Brown’s compositions. Sets are at 8:30 and 10, with a $10 suggested donation (all proceeds go to the performers).  Sycamore is located at 1118 Cortelyou Rd., Ditmas Park, Brooklyn.

This is what I had to say about the most recent performance by Lena, Dave, Putter Smith, Roberta Piket, and Billy I witnessed: “I felt as if I had witnessed art both translucent and powerful, with echoes of Lester Young and Brahms, of Eastern meditation and collective invention: strong but never harsh, sweetly fulfilling in its desire to ask questions without worrying about conclusions.”

Here’s proof — Lena’s reharmonization of STAR EYES, pensive, beautiful, mobile:

May your happiness increase.  

TRANSLUCENT EXPLORATIONS: LENA BLOCH QUARTET at SOMETHIN’ JAZZ (April 29, 2012)

I first met the tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch in fast company — alongside Joel Press, Brad Linde, Ted Brown, Michael Kanan.  And I was impressed immediately by her expertise and willingness to explore the unknown, what Sam Parkins called “precision and abandon.”

I haven’t managed to make it to as many of Lena’s gigs as I would like, but I made a special effort to get to this one: at a new club, Somethin’ Jazz (very nice!) on East 52nd Street between Second and Third Avenues, a ten-dollar cover and a ten-dollar minimum, with a new group for Lena — guitarist Dave Miller, drummer Billy Mintz, and bassist Putter Smith.  (With this group, she will be recording her debut CD, UNFOREHEARD.)  On the final two performances of this evening, pianist Roberta Piket sat in, most eloquently.

The music created wasn’t a reheating of the familiar.  In fact, the first two selections were floating inquiries rather than boxed-in statements of formulas, and I felt that the musicians had embarked on improvisational journeys even when the chord structures beneath the performances were familiar.  Lena guided the group but was also a gentle participant who didn’t demand the prerogatives of A Leader.  Each song embodied a gentle communal awareness, with a crucial openness-to-experience that we could feel.

Much of my pleasure was also in encountering musicians I had not known well if at all before this evening.  I had heard Putter Smith on several recordings, and musicians whose opinions I respect had spoken most fervently of him, but I was not prepared for the variety of sonorities he created, the sweet validity of his sound.  Dave Miller, bless him, didn’t feel compelled to fill space with notes and runs.  I could feel him thinking, quietly, “What might I add here?  Perhaps it could be a lovely silence.”

Billy Mintz is a revelation.  My drumming heroes of the past and present keep time, create colors, and drive the band forward — all noble aspirations.  Although Billy is intuitively connected to the rhythms that the band might float on, he is never mechanical, never content to create predictable patterns.  He struck me most strongly as thinking of what color, what texture, would best fit the situation — making it happen and then moving on to something new, never entrapping himself or the band.  He is soft-spoken and intent in person, equally so at the drums.  Like Dave and Putter, he is poetic without being showy, generous yet spare.

All I will say about Roberta Piket is that I want to hear her play more and again: she has a great deal of technique and accuracy, but it never dominates her music.  Her soloing and accompaniment were elegant but not fussy; she added so much without calling attention to herself.

Lena was free and brave, questing towards something whose name she might not have known, but getting somewhere satisfying — whether humming almost in a whisper, echoing the songs of a mythological bird, or showing that she, too, could follow the Tristano – Konitz – Marsh – Brown path without being hemmed in by its rules and obligations.

At the end of the evening, I felt as if I had witnessed art both translucent and powerful, with echoes of Lester Young and Brahms, of Eastern meditation and collective invention: strong but never harsh, sweetly fulfilling in its desire to ask questions without worrying about conclusions.

Some of my more “traditionally-minded” readers might think this music more open-ended than they would like . . . and they are free, as always, to recall Chaucer’s gentle encouragement to choose another page.  But if they embrace the bravery that animates the jazz they so love, I invite them to choose a performance based on “familiar chord changes” and start there.  I predict that open-hearted listening will make their hearts more light and more full.

Here is the music that made me write the elated words you have, I hope, read.

Lena’s questing original, 33:

Billy’s BEAUTIFUL YOU:

Ted Brown’s FEATHER BED (based on the chord changes of YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO):

Lena’s mournful reharmonization of STAR EYES — making it both deep and surprising:

MARSHMALLOW (based on CHEROKEE — by Warne Marsh with the bridge written by Lee Konitz:

Dave Miller’s deep searching RUBATO:

Roberta Piket joined in for Lena’s own HI LEE (based on HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN):

And Lena concluded the evening’s explorations with SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE (written by Mr. Konitz but not titled by him — based on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?):

These musicians take us with them on their voyages.  I am exceedingly grateful.

May your happiness increase.

GENEROSITIES: OUR FRIEND IN JAZZ, LENA BLOCH

The superb tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch is ready to make her first CD in May 2012 with Dave Miller, Cameron Brown, and Billy Mintz.  If you haven’t heard Lena play, the company she keeps should indicate her worth: Mal Waldron, Joe Lovano, Johnny Griffin, Ted Brown, Michael Kanan, Evgeny Sivtsov, Kenny Werner, Brad Linde, Joel Press . . .

To learn more about Lena’s history, her compositions — to hear and see her play — click here.

Here she is in May 2011 in duet with Evgeny on EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME:

I am delighted that she is finally going to allow her music to be heard beyond YouTube videos and club dates.  But such enterprises need a little help from friends . . .

In another world, Lena would be the happy recipient of a substantial government grant — but such things aren’t easy to come by in 2012, especially if you are “a foreign artist without a home country.”

So she has begun the most modest campaign on Kickstarter — to raise $2000 for the disc.  (I’ve never seen a campaign that started with contributions of five dollars — something that speaks to Lena’s essential modesty and humility.)  As always with Kickstarter, there are a variety of “rewards,” depending on how much one can contribute to the project.  All the money will go to pay the musicians, for studio time, mixing and mastering costs.  (Did I say that the CD has the clever title of UNFOREHEARD?)

The contributions are being handled through Amazon, so no one will be charged anything until the deadline, which is May 13.  At 2 AM, to be exact.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/813167235/lena-bloch-debut-cd-unforeheard?ref=live

The CD will feature improvising — individual and collective — on themes and freely . . . and it will be dedicated to Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh.

Lena Bloch and her music — what she is creating now and what she will create — deserve your attention and support.

May your happiness increase.