Tag Archives: Cameron Brown

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!

THE WORLDS OF JIMMY MAZZY (SARAH’S WINE BAR, August 28, 2016)

I had heard a great deal about the lyric troubadour Jimmy Mazzy (also a wonderful banjo player, raconteur, songhound, and more) but had never encountered him in person until late August.  It was a phenomenal experience. No, it was two phenomenal experiences.

Photograph thanks to New England Traditional Jazz Plus, http://www.nejazz.com

Photograph thanks to New England Traditional Jazz Plus, http://www.nejazz.com

Jimmy was part of the Sarah Spencer Quartet: Sarah, tenor saxophone and vocals; Bill Sinclair, piano; Art Hovey, string bass and tuba — playing a gig at the wonderful Sarah’s Wine Bar in Ridgefield, Connecticut.  (Facebook calls Sarah’s a “pizza place,” which is like calling the Mona Lisa a smiling lady.)  More about Sarah’s below.

And more about the saxophone-playing / singing Sarah Spencer  in a future blogpost, with appropriate audio-visuals.

Sometimes the finest music is created when it appears no one is paying attention: the live recordings, the music that’s captured while the engineers are setting up or in between takes (WAITIN’ FOR BENNY and LOTUS BLOSSOM are two sterling examples that come to mind).  In a few instances, I’ve brought my camera to the soundcheck or to the rehearsal because the “We’re just running this through” ambiance is a loose friendly one — shirtsleeves and microphone-adjusting rather than the musicians’ awareness of tables of expectant listeners. In that spirit, I offer Jimmy’s seriously passionate version of Lonnie Johnson’s TOMORROW NIGHT.

I think you see and feel what I mean about Jimmy as a passionate singer / actor / troubadour.  If a maiden had Jimmy beneath her balcony, serenading like this, she would know that he was offering his whole heart to her with no restraint and no artifice yet great subtle powerful art.  Those of us in the audience who aren’t maidens and perhaps lack a balcony can hear it too.

But Jimmy is a sly jester as well — totally in control of his audience (even though there’s a long, drawn-out “Ooooooh, no!” from Carrie Mazzy, Jimmy’s wife, at the start of this anthropological exegesis):

Jimmy Mazzy, two of a kind.  And more.  Irreplaceable.

And there will be more from this session.  Now, some words about the delightful locale: Sarah’s Wine Bar in Ridgefield, Connecticut, features world-class jazz music on the last Sunday of every month.  But that’s not the whole story: Ken and Marcia Needleman are deeply devoted to the art form, and they’ve been presenting it in style since 2009.  Ken is a guitar student of Howard Alden’s, and he decided that he wanted to bring top jazz musicians to perform in an intimate setting (with excellent food and fine acoustics).  They found kindred spirits in Sarah and Bernard Bouissou, restaurateur and chef of Bernard’s, one floor below the wine bar.

Thus the Jazz Masters Series began in February 2009, and I’ll mention only a double handful of the musicians who have played and sung to enthusiastic audiences: Howard Alden, Bucky Pizzarelli, Gene Bertoncini, Dick Hyman, Rossano Sportiello, Mark Shane, Frank Wess, Scott Robinson, Harry Allen, Warren Vache, Ken Peplowski, Dan Levinson, Jon-Erik Kellso, Rufus Reid, Jay Leonhart, Cameron Brown, Matt Wilson, Akira Tana, Joe LaBarbera, Mike Mainieri, Cyrille Aimee, Karrin Allyson.

The food critic who writes JAZZ LIVES wants to point out that the food was wonderful and the presentation delightful.  Sarah’s Wine Bar would be a destination spot if the only music was the humming heard in the kitchen.

But right now I want to hear Jimmy sing TOMORROW NIGHT again.

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!

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.  

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.