Tag Archives: chamber jazz

QUIET EMOTION: JON-ERIK KELLSO, CHRIS FLORY, JOEL FORBES at SARAH’S WINE BAR (August 27, 2017)

On August 27, which seems like a long time ago, I drove up to Ridgefield, Connecticut, to spend an evening at this welcoming spot — Sarah’s Wine Bar, located upstairs at the fine restaurant called Bernard’s.  The food and service were both lovely, but I had more serious goals: Jon-Erik Kellso was playing, and Jon had with him Chris Flory and Joel Forbes.

They are three good reasons to venture out, and the music was exceedingly rewarding: thoughtful, quiet, deep, and swinging — performed in a quiet room to an attentive audience.

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

I WANT A LITTLE GIRL:

MOOD INDIGO:

In simple math, three times three equals a mere nine.  These performances prove that the end result is uncountable pleasure.  Thanks to Ken and Marcia Needleman for their kindnesses.

And THIS JUST IN: tonight, Sunday, October 22, from 8-11 PM, give or take a few moments, The EarRegulars will be at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) with two of the heroes above — Jon-Erik and Chris — as well as Aaron Johnson, reeds; Neal Miner, string bass.  To learn about all things Kellso-musical, you can join his mailing list.  As Monk wrote, Ask Me How.

May your happiness increase!

xxxxxx

THE JOANNA STERNBERG TRIO with DAN BLOCK and JOE COHN: PART ONE (Sunny’s, Brooklyn, New York City, September 8, 2016)

joanna-sternberg-sept-8-2016-poster

I will let Joanna Sternberg — ace string bassist, singer, composer, guitarist, whimsical visual artist — introduce her new trio for herself . . . eloquently and naturally, as she does all else:

I am so thrilled and emotionally levitated to be singing and playing double bass in a trio with Joe Cohn on guitar, and Dan Block on tenor saxophone and clarinet. They are two musicians who share the same rare trait: nothing separates their minds, hearts and souls from their respective instruments. They provide selfless services to music on a daily basis.

Dan and Joe love, live and breathe music, whether they are playing a gig or walking down the street.  Every note is treated with appropriate attention and care in the correct “spirit of the song.”  Dan’s rich and warm (yet bright) tone is complimented by Joe’s sensitive and lively sound, as they gracefully listen to each other and draw inspiration from each other’s rhythm and note choices.

My job is to be selfless while gleefully listening to (and reacting to) them, and lay down a bed (or a carpet) of sound for them to play on, making every note they play sound “right” whether they choose to stay in the traditional chordal progressions, or impose new harmonies which are always creative and soulful and true to the spirit of the song.

I am honored to be playing music with them, and we hope to perform multiple times a month. We share a love and appreciation for the music of Billy Strayhorn, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hart, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Ray Noble among many others.

We hope to release a record this year, and do a concert performing the music and arrangements from “Moody Marilyn Moore.” This is an album featuring Joe Cohn’s mother Marilyn Moore singing, and Al Cohn (Joe’s dad) on tenor saxophone (and arrangements.)

When I “play” music with Dan and Joe, it is a form of concentrated play. I am having a lot of fun, while trying my best to focus on serving the music properly. In order to do this, I have to conceal some of my excitement so that my playing is not exactly how I feel (which is a mixture of butterflies inside, and deep gratitude.)

I am usually smiling the entire time, unless it is a heart-wrenching ballad.

-Joanna Sternberg
www.joannasternberg.com

ON THE ALAMO:

A FOGGY DAY:

THREE LITTLE WORDS:

I’VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN (where Joanna takes her own decidedly un-Sinatra approach!):

More to come.  Finding this trio in their debut performance made the trip to Red Hook, Brooklyn (past the reach of the subway, any subway) rewarding.  And, yes, cabs go there.

May your happiness increase!

ANOTHER HIGHLIGHT OF 2015: THE DAWN LAMBETH TRIO (The Second Set, Concluded) at SAN DIEGO, NOVEMBER 28, 2015: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE

DAWN headshot

“Too good to ignore,” said Eddie Condon.  He didn’t live long enough to savor this trio — Dawn Lambeth, vocals; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet — but I feel his approving glance.  They appeared last November at the San Diego Jazz Fest (thanks to Hal Smith and Paul Daspit for such a marvel) and the music was glorious. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Here’s Part One; here’s Part Two; here’s Part Three.

And the closing five songs from the second set.

That tender request, relevant to all (not simply those in love), PLEASE BE KIND:

Walter Donaldson’s 1927 hit, MY BLUE HEAVEN:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, which I associate with Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, and Mildred Bailey:

CHLO-E (scored for cornet and piano) in  honor of Henry “Red” Allen:

And another Allen – J.C. Higginbotham classic (also performed much more respectably by Al Bowlly) ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON:

I don’t know whether this trio will be at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, but I have strong hopes.  Also for the NPR, PBS coverage; the continental tour; the merchandise; the DVD and CD . . .

May your happiness increase!

FOUR BY FOUR IN 4 / 4: “The Unaccounted Four,” Scheveningen, July 2015

I’ve written about the wondrous quartet, whimsically called THE UNACCOUNTED FOUR, as often as I could: here, herehereherehere. They make music that is both cerebral and welcoming.

The unusual proliferation of hyperlinks should indicate my enthusiasm, but a few words might help for those who would rather read than click.

Amsterdam, 11 januari 2015 – Gala van de verkiezing van de Amsterdammer van het Jaar in de Stadsschouwburg. Menno Daams’ Unaccounted Four brengt een muzikale ode aan de genomineerden. Foto: Mats van Soolingen

Menno Daams’ Unaccounted Four, Amsterdam.  Photograph by Mats van Soolingen.

The Unaccounted Four is a quartet of trumpet, clarinet / tenor, guitar, bass. Historically-minded readers will think of the Django-Rex Stewart session, the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet, and in our century, the EarRegulars.  And all of those connections would be valid, although the U 4 leans more to the pensive than the combative, with echoes of the Alec Wilder Octet.

The U 4 is swinging, melodic, deeply thoughtful and playful all at once.  And they have understood something about time as well — and I don’t mean simply a swinging flexible 4 / 4.  If modern physics — and modern art — have helped us understand that time is more a field than a series of beads on a string, the U 4 enacts that easy flexibility in the most charming ways.  In their playing, hot jazz and The Birth of the Cool sit at the same table; Charlie Parker and Charlie Holmes go to the same reed repairman, and Miles smiles warmly at Louis.

Did I say that they have a wonderful CD, called PLAYGROUND?  They do. One could hear some of it here.  And here.

PLAYGROUND

For visual as well as auditory proof of this band’s happy approach to music and to our hearts, here are four videos from a July 2015 performance.

Nothing UNDECIDED here — sparkling chamber jazz that makes this familiar song sound exactly like new:

Then, Ravel’s SLEEPING BEAUTY:

James P. Johnson’s SNOWY MORNING BLUES:

And Bix’s IN THE DARK:

Endearing lyricism is what I call it.

Now, I can’t make it out of the country for next Wednesday, but the U 4 will be playing a gig then.  More room for you!  Details here and here.

May your happiness increase!

LIGHTLY AND POLITELY: THE SPEAKEASY QUARTET

If THE SPEAKEASY QUARTET is new to you, you might conclude that it was a vocal group, or a faux-Twenties ensemble, heavy on costume and affectation. Happily, you’d be misinformed:

Sounds very nice, doesn’t it?

A friend, knowing of my delighted reverence for the playing of jazz cellist Mike Karoub (with the Royal Garden Trio and most recently in James Dapogny’s hot string ensemble) said, “Karoub is an integral part of this quartet.  Have you heard them?”  Thus, the Speakeasy Quartet — originally a trio, formed in 2009 by rhythm guitarist — tenor rhythm guitarist — Hugh Leal, with Karoub, soprano saxophonist Ray Manzerolle, and pianist Mike Karloff.

They are unusual but they are also rewarding — mere novelty in music doesn’t win me over.  The odd instrumentation in itself would mean little if the players weren’t lyrical and swinging, which they are.  Ray Manzerolle is new to me, but I am glad to know him.  Often the soprano saxophone becomes at best an assertive instrument, at worst an assault weapon.  Ray has a delightfully centered tone, a sweet but not sugary tone, and a lightness of approach that reminds me happily of (still with us and playing) Robert Sage Wilber.  I know Ray, like Bob, draws inspiration from Bechet, but he does not adopt Bechet’s violent romanticism — and volume.

Pianist Mike Karloff is a quiet but essential member of the quartet, offering lilting melodic lines, subtle harmonic support and a modern Hines / Wilson commentary and comping.  Hugh Leal’s tenor guitar — the instrument of Eddie Condon and a young Marty Grosz — offers airy but strong support and a wonderful light swing.  He’s been playing since 1970, and his pulse never falters.

I think Karoub is one of the great multi-taskers: a swinging rhythm player without the ponderousness one sometimes finds in traditional string bass, then adding a wondrous light eloquence on swinging bowed cello. Think of Casals sneaking uptown to take lessons from Milt Hinton, and you have Karoub.  The Quartet’s sound is, be definition, silken and airy, but it’s not effete: they swing, and they swing effectively.

The group’s repertoire is a mixture of Bechet-associated classics — PREMIER BAL, EGYPTIAN FANTASY, INDIAN SUMMER — three very pleasing Manzerolle originals — TAKE ME UPTOWN TO DOWNTOWN, A LETTER FROM BECHET, CAFE ROYALE — and jazz classics covering a wide range — THE MOOCHE, EAST ST. LOUIS TOODLE-OO, JUBILEE, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, WILLIE THE WEEPER, WILD MAN BLUES.

Here’s the group’s Facebook page.  And their website, where you can hear more sound samples from the  CD.

The first pressing of the Speakeasy Quartet is sold out, but there is a special limited second run: the price is $18.00 including postage.  Send checks made out to Hugh Leal — to Hugh Leal, P.O. Box 681, Detroit, MI 48231.  And Hugh tells me that the second SEQ CD is coming out at the end of this June.

And here’s another taste — sweetly sad instead of frolicsome, Gordon Jenkins’ BLUE PRELUDE:

May your happiness increase!

THE CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY OF LOWER STOCKTON STREET: PROFESSORS GROSZ, OAKLEY, and VENTRESCO (August 17, 2014: Part Two)

This music gives me such pleasure that I am reposting both halves of the performance, and my original prelude:
A long time ago, when I was a college student listening to string trios, quartets, and quintets, I was told that the great groups were Thibaud-Cortot-Casals, the Budapest Quartet and Friends, the Guarneri Quartet (whom I saw several times in concert). But while I was learning my Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, Mozart, Dvorak, and others, I was getting deeper into small-group jazz.  And it occurred to me often that the inspired interplay I heard in the “Trout” or the “American” was no different from a record of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett boogieing their way through a blues, or the Edmond Hall Celeste Quartet, the Goodman Trio, Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, the Basie rhythm section.  And in person I saw Soprano Summit, Al and Zoot, Bobby and Vic, the Braff-Barnes Quartet, the EarRegulars, and many others.
All this is long prelude to say that inspiring chamber music takes many forms. In jazz, it is always incredibly uplifting to see a very small group of musicians do two or three things at once — create communal variations out of their shared knowledge and conventions AND go their own brave ways. Courage, joy, playfulness, and beauty.
Here is some very recent evidence that stirring chamber-jazz sessions are happening all around us, with some of the finest players.  This one brought together East and West — East being Professor Grosz (Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia) and West being Professors Oakley and Ventresco from the San Francisco Bay Area.  No music stands, just swing and on-the-spot frolicking. Acoustic splendor, with two very different approaches to the guitar — in solo and accompaniment — and with Leon’s very heartfelt cornet shining a light for us all to follow. (Highlights from the 2014 Marty Grosz West Coast Tour, for the historians in the audience.)
SONG OF THE WANDERER:
SHOE SHINE BOY:
I’M CONFESSIN’:
JOE LOUIS STOMP:
CRAIG’s LOWDOWN BLUES:
And here are three more performances from the second half.  The sky had grown darker outside and thus the interior lighting needed help.  The visual image is less sharp but the music remains exquisite.
S’WONDERFUL:
A very mellow KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW:
FROM MONDAY ON, a sweet conversation all the way through, with Mister Grosz bursting in to song:
May your happiness increase!

THE CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY OF LOWER STOCKTON STREET: PROFESSORS GROSZ, OAKLEY, and VENTRESCO (August 17, 2014: Part One)

A long time ago, when I was a college student listening to string trios, quartets, and quintets, I was told that the great groups were Thibaud-Cortot-Casals, the Budapest Quartet and Friends, the Guarneri Quartet (whom I saw several times in concert). But while I was learning my Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, Mozart, Dvorak, and others, I was getting deeper into small-group jazz.  And it occurred to me often that the inspired interplay I heard in the “Trout” or the “American” was no different from a record of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett boogieing their way through a blues, or the Edmond Hall Celeste Quartet, the Goodman Trio, Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, the Basie rhythm section.  And in person I saw Soprano Summit, Al and Zoot, Bobby and Vic, the Braff-Barnes Quartet, the EarRegulars, and many others.
All this is long prelude to say that inspiring chamber music takes many forms. In jazz, it is always incredibly uplifting to see a very small group of musicians do two or three things at once — create communal variations out of their shared knowledge and conventions AND go their own brave ways. Courage, joy, playfulness, and beauty.
Here is some very recent evidence that stirring chamber-jazz sessions are happening all around us, with some of the finest players.  This one brought together East and West — East being Professor Grosz (Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia) and West being Professors Oakley and Ventresco from the San Francisco Bay Area.  No music stands, just swing and on-the-spot frolicking. Acoustic splendor, with two very different approaches to the guitar — in solo and accompaniment — and with Leon’s very heartfelt cornet shining a light for us all to follow. (Highlights from the 2014 Marty Grosz West Coast Tour, for the historians in the audience.)
SONG OF THE WANDERER:
SHOE SHINE BOY:
I’M CONFESSIN’:
JOE LOUIS STOMP:
CRAIG’s LOWDOWN BLUES:
Three more performances from the second half (after a quiet intermission) will be offered in the near future.
May your happiness increase!

WARM LYRICISM: NEAL MINER, ALEX HOFFMAN, PHIL STEWART at SMALLS (Sept. 7, 2012)

Neal Miner always makes memorable music and travels in fine company, whether he’s alongside Michael Kanan, jamming with the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, or leading a group at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York) as he did last Friday, September 7, 2012.

The music Neal, saxophonist Alex Hoffman, and drummer Phil Stewart made that night had a warm lyricism and an easy swing at its heart — subtle but powerfully affecting melodic improvisations.  I call it eloquent, casually unaffected chamber jazz, inspired musical conversations — an art not learned in schools but through deep study and experience.

Variations on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?

Variations on IDAHO:

DREAMS OF YOU:

DEAR OLD STOCKHOLM:

BLUES FOR C SHARPE (with the great pianist Ehud Asherie joining in, to my left — felt and heard although not seen):

NIGHT OWLS (based on LULLABY OF THE LEAVES):

MELANCHOLY BABY:

FROM THE HIGH LINE (based on INDIAN SUMMER):

THESE FOOLISH THINGS / BLUES FOR C SHARPE:

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY 2012: THE EARREGULARS: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, JOHN ALLRED, FRANK TATE: “I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES”

I present a paradox.

How could a song that has an essential misery as its theme, where the singer asserts his / her right to be depressed, make us feel so uplifted?  I don’t fully understand the philosophical twists and turns of the question, but when the EarRegulars and the Atlanta Jazz Party intersect with Harold Arlen’s wistful I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, the impossible not only becomes plausible but it swings.

Here they are — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Frank Tate, string bass — princes of the realm, creating hot chamber music, exalted and gutty at the same time:

I think what the EarRegulars do here is nothing short of magical, or (if you prefer) as it is written in the Talmud, “What’s not to like?”

And let us assume, for a moment, that you didn’t make it to the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party.  Dry those tears.  There will be a 2013!  And until that lucky day, the EarRegulars appear — in a variety of mystical guises — at The Ear Inn in Soho, New York City, at 326 Spring Street, every Sunday from 8-11 PM.

May your happiness increase.

CHRIS BERGSON / NEAL MINER: THE MAKING OF “PLAY DATE”

Neal Miner is one of the quiet heroes of this music — an eloquent yet understated, subtle player who’s also a fine composer and a superb videographer.  Here he’s teamed with Boston guitarist / singer Chris Bergson for a mix of casual reminiscence, THESE FOOLISH THINGS, and more.  Think Pettiford meets Boston blues, sweet acoustic swing visits Ray Charles.  I admire the little video here and can’t wait for the actual CD to come out — it promises to be great music:

What beautiful sounds!

BEAUTY IN THE CORNER: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and NEAL MINER (Jan. 25, 2012)

Harold Ross, who edited THE NEW YORKER, once wrote, “Talent doesn’t care where it resides.”  I think of jazz improvisation as a secret beautiful art.  Although the players are happy to have a receptive audience, often the audience’s inattention matters not at all, for the players are creating something that we happen to eavesdrop on. 

This was the feeling that the Beloved and I had listening to pianist Rossano Sportiello and string bassist Neal Miner last Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, at Sofia’s Ristorante (211 West 46th Street).  I had originally entertained thoughts of going there as a civilian — an ordinary listener with nothing more complicated in his hands than his drink, but the music was so quietly eloquent that I started videotaping and then asked permission of Rossano and Neal when they took a breather.

Photograph by Lorna Sass. All rights reserved. Copyright 2012.

Listening to Rossano, one hears his delicate touch, his rhythms (romping or subtle), his orchestral sense of the piano balanced with crystal-clear lines, his unerring ear for what Coleman Hawkins called “the choice notes.”  And Neal Miner embodies swinging persuasiveness.  Bass players usually get less attention than people with shiny horns.  Understandable in a way: the bass is in the lowest register and it stands to the rear of the background.  But the horn players I know admire the shape and scope of Neal’s lines and would be delighted to have invented them. 

On some of these performances, the audience is somewhat interactive.  You’ll hear someone’s comment when Rossano began to play a dreamy Liszt piece, “What is this, classical music?”  Yes, sir.  Classical and classic in the best senses of the words.  And rather than be annoyed at the people who chatted while the music was being created, I would simply hope that they went home subliminally elated by the fine loving sounds.  Maybe, with luck, someone might think, “At that bar there’s really nice background music . . . ” 

Early in the evening, a breezy optimism prevailed — even in the face of current economic reality, as the duo swung into THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE:

A Basie improvisation on I GOT RHYTHM changes that began as JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE and then went its own merry ways:

Indecision was never so pleasantly propulsive as in this UNDECIDED:

And the unexpected high point of the two sets — Liszt’s CONSOLATION # 3 in Db . . . a sweet musing exploration . . . then Rossano took a breath and turned the corner with Neal — uptown — to STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:

And this set concluded with Tadd Dameron’s GOOD BAIT:

Talent, taking up temporary residence on 46th Street.  Beauty in the corner.  Much to be thankful for.

HAVE YOU HEARD?

Upon hearing the news, Chloe Lang (the West Coast JAZZ LIVES mascot) was suddenly wide awake and wanted to know more!

What news?

How about a new CD compilation of live recordings  featuring pianist Ray Skjelbred and hot cornetist Jim Goodwin from Port Costa, CA gigs?  The CD is called — simply — RAY SKJELBRED ABD JIM GOODWIN / RECORDED LIVE IN PORT COSTA, and it’s issued on Ray’s own label, “Orangapoid,” number 104.  All the music was recorded at the Bull Valley Inn.

So far it’s available only at Ray’s gigs — which is a good thing: you get to see him and take this home, too! — but I wonder if he would be willing to sell it to those not likely to get to the West Coast soon.  Postage and packing are a nuisance, but you could ask — sweetly — at http://www.rayskjelbred.com.

Lovely songs: SLEEPY TIME GAL, PLEASE BE KIND, THE DAY YOU CAME ALONG, RUSSIAN LULLABY, THE RIVER’S TAKING CARE OF ME, LAZY BONES, EVERYONE SAYS “I LOVE YOU,” CHARLESTON, TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE, BLACK AND TAN FANTASY, SWEET SUE, MY DADDY ROCKS ME, LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY, HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON?

You’ll notice some lovely ballads and rhythm ballads, early Ellingtonia, rocking dance music, nods to the Marx Brothers, Red Allen, Bing Crosby, Fats Waller, the blues, Bill Robinson . . . good bones, as they say!

The players — of course Ray and Jim, but also Mike Duffy, string bass; Tom Keats, rhythm guitar; Brett Runkle, washboard, Lueder Ohlwein, banjo; Dan Barrett, trombone; John “Butch” Smith, soprano sax; Norvin Armstrong, piano.  Ray sings — wonderfully — on EVERYONE and IN A GREAT BIG WAY.

What’s so special about this disc, all sixty-nine minutes of it?

This is the kind of music that great jazz players create for themselves when there is a congenial audience or none at all: relaxed, swinging, small intense masterpieces of hot architecture where the second chorus builds in elegantly rough-hewn ways upon the first.  It’s the kind of music that rarely makes it whole into the recording studio — and since the Bull Valley Inn is no longer anyone’s music mecca (we drove serendipitously through Port Costa in the summer of 2011: it looked like the set for a Western that hadn’t been completed) . . . . and since Jim is dead, this CD is priceless evidence of days gone by.  And the past leaps to life in our speakers!

Even Chloe thought so.

For Goodwin in searing hot form, here’s the Sunset Music Company from 1979 romping through I NEVER KNEW with

The band was led by banjoist Ohlwein, with Goodwin, Barrett, clarinetist Bill Carter (temporarily filling in for John Smith), bassist Mike Fay, drummer Jeff Hamilton: every one of their recordings on Dan’s BLUE SWING FINE RECORDINGS is worth hearing.

And in case you’ve never seen or heard the eloquent Mr. Skjelbred, here’s a sample, TISHOMINGO BLUES, recorded by Rae Ann Berry in 2009:

Imagine them together — musing, cracking private musical jokes, digging deep into the songs they are playing.  Heart-stirring music from the first note to the last.

P.S.  I count myself very lucky: having met and / or heard Barrett, Hamilton, Smith, Fay, Carter. Norvin Armstrong – – – and I’ll get to shake Ray Skjelbred’s hand at the Jazz Bash by the Bay this March 2.  Wow!

“DELICIOUS!”: THE DAVID LUKACS TRIO

Ruby Braff wasn’t terribly interested in food . . . but one of his prime words of praise was DELICIOUS.  And it came into my mind in the first few seconds of these performances by tenor saxophonist David Lukacs,tenor saxophone; Henk Sprenger, guitar; Uli Glaszmann, string bass — recorded on November 13, 2011, in the Theatre De Meerpaal, Dronten, the Netherlands.

Here they make something positively translucent out of Victor Herbert’s INDIAN SUMMER:

And a collection of jazz standards beginning with the witty, twisty Fifties anthem, BERNIE’S TUNE, before moving to a limpid clarinet reading of YOU TURNED THE TABLES ON ME,and a bit of BESAME MUCHO (the Swing Era is back!), a touch of INDIAN SUMMER, a mournful glance at SEPTEMBER SONG, a sniff at CLARINET MARMALADE, and some FLYING HOME to get us there.

Every note’s beautifully in place, but nothing’s chilly or over-intellectualized.  This swinging trio reminds me greatly of Lucky Thompson / Oscar Pettiford / Skeeter Best or — in this century — the nifty playing of Americans Chris Madsen, Andy Brown, Dan Elfland, Joe Policastro.  I first encountered David (through the magic of YouTube) as a member of the Menno Daams small band, and was instantly won over.  I hope there are more videos of this group, and a CD, and a concert tour . . . world stardom, riches beyond the dreams of avarice . . . they deserve it and more!  (I’m ready!)

EXACTLY LIKE THIS! (“KATIE AND THE LOST BOYS,” December 6, 2011)

Initially, I thought the band name was misleading — even though I understood the reference to PETER PAN.  Clint Baker (heard here on clarinet and trumpet) and Jason Vanderford (banjo) seem like the least-lost-fellows in the cosmos . . . they never miss a beat!  But I accept the title on behalf of Katie Cavera, who certainly provokes lovely thoughts whether she’s playing, singing, or just sitting down in front of her breakfast . . .and she surely can fly (no need for the feathers)!

We owe thanks to the musicians and to Alisa Clancy — whose December 6, 2011, end-of-the-year party at her “Jazz on the Hill” class at San Mateo Community College we’re now enjoying.  And of course we owe thanks to Rae Ann Berry, who took her camera, tripod, and enthusiasm to capture this music for us.

Exactly like this, exactly like them, EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

When some people might ask, “Should I reveal / exactly how I feel?” we might be tempted to say, “Gee, I’ve got to run.  Will you look at that time?” — but this group can reveal its feelings all they like . . . play it till 2051:

Katie sings I WISH I COULD SHIMMY LIKE MY SISTER KATE — beautifully, as always.  Some of you may be troubled by the postmodern aspect of this — isn’t Katie Cavera our Sister Kate?  How can she sing about herself in the third person?  Don’t let these metafictional trifles ruin your pleasure:

And here’s Clint to tell us all about Al Capone, Johnny Dodds, and a hat — tales worth spinning — as prelude to a lovely rendition of SARATOGA SWING:

Another one of Miss Cavera’s signature numbers, that paean to erotic activity — time’s a-wasting!  We’re burning moonlight here!  Ah, DO SOMETHING:

And a version of JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE (in two tempos) that’s full of feeling and personal significance, as Clint explains:

We’ll close with another vision of Paradise — did J.M. Barrie know this one? — called AVALON:

Exactly!

DEEP HARMONY: JOEL PRESS and MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (October 20, 2011)

Here is the introduction I wrote for my first posting about a wonderful evening of intimate, powerful improvisation created by these two great players.  (You can hear the music at https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/soul-searching-joel-press-and-michael-kanan-at-smalls-oct-20-2011/).

I told both Michael Kanan (piano) and Joel Press (tenor and soprano saxophones) that I had been waiting a few years to hear them perform as a duo. I knew that they had done this informally for twenty-five years in their respective studios and even appeared in public (probably in the Boston area) but I had always heard them in less intimate settings. Last Thursday, October 20, 2011, I had my chance, and the music was memorable.

Michael is younger than Joel, whom he met when he was only seventeen or eighteen, and he looks up to the saxophonist with love and reverence — as a great melodic improviser, someone full of surprises, able to create new things on the most familiar standard. But Joel, for his part, says he keeps learning from Michael — and hearing the depths and subtleties of Michael’s playing, it’s no hyperbole.

It would be very easy to skate over the surface of these familiar songs, but these two players know what it is to listen, to respond, to improvise. It’s lovely to witness the deep, playful interchanges of artists so attuned to one another yet so able to take off on small experimental impulses. Their friendship and telepathy imbue every note, every phrase.

Here’s the second, magical set.

Monk, cryptic and irresistible as ever — WELL, YOU NEEDN’T:

Michael offered the verse of YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO — with great tenderness:

SCRAPPLE FROM THE APPLE — fattening but delicious:

ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE, with a sweet Lestorian bounce:

It was dark inside and outside, perhaps leading Joel to think of the Bud Powell – Sonny Still variations on THESE FOOLISH THINGS called SUNSET:

GET OUT OF TOWN — swinging, rather than abruptly dismissive:

A searching improvisation based on OUT OF NOWHERE:

Something funky and delightful — RED TOP.  Smalls doesn’t sell food, but I thought I could smell spareribs:

They ended the evening — reluctant to stop playing — while waiting for the next band to arrive — with an impromptu yet heartfelt BODY AND SOUL:

I have it on good authority that Joel will be back in New York this coming month (November 2011) and for more news about Michael, check this out:

https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/michael-kanan-and-friends-are-throwing-a-party-nov-6-2011/

SOUL / SEARCHING: JOEL PRESS and MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (Oct. 20, 2011)

I told both Michael Kanan (piano) and Joel Press (tenor and soprano saxophones) that I had been waiting a few years to hear them perform as a duo.  I knew that they had done this informally for twenty-five years in their respective studios and even appeared in public (probably in the Boston area) but I had always heard them in less intimate settings.  Last Thursday, October 20, 2011, I had my chance, and the music was memorable.

Michael is younger than Joel, whom he met when he was only seventeen or eighteen, and he looks up to the saxophonist with love and reverence — as a great melodic improviser, someone full of surprises, able to create new things on the most familiar standard.  But Joel, for his part, says he keeps learning from Michael — and hearing the depths and subtleties of Michael’s playing, it’s no hyperbole.

It would be very easy to skate over the surface of these familiar songs, but these two players know what it is to listen, to respond, to improvise.  It’s lovely to witness the deep, playful interchanges of artists so attuned to one another yet so able to take off on small experimental impulses.  Their friendship and telepathy imbue every note, every phrase.

Here is the first set of this magical evening at Smalls (138 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City).

And this posting is especially for RDR, without whom it would have taken me much longer to hear and meet Joel and Michael . . .

GONE WITH THE WIND always makes me think of Ben Webster and Art Tatum, not a bad pair of heroic ancestors:

HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU? is both Joel’s whimsical memory of Steve Lacy, who would ask him this question as a greeting (the soprano saxophone is notoriously unforgiving) and an improvisation on I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU:

A very lovely yet intense DON’T BLAME ME:

Truer words were never spoken: I HEAR A RHAPSODY:

SOMEBODY LOVES ME, the Gershwin standard (now right years old) that Joel begins, solo:

For Lester and Billie, in loving swing memory, FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

And a cheerful LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (at such a pretty tempo) to close off the first set:

More to come!

NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND (Dec. 19, 2010)

This isn’t about Dostoevsky or his grim-pre-existential narrator.

No, the subject is much happier and equally profound. 

I had learned from trumpeter Gordon Au that there would be a below-ground wingding on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010: he and the Grand Street Stompers would play an hour’s gig down on the subway platform, the F train at Second Avenue for those taking notes.  Even better, they would be joined by New York City swing dancers in vintage attire.  Then, everyone would board an antique subway train (circa 1960 with yellow / blue rattan seats), do a round-trip out to Queens and make way for a second train trip. 

I could only take the vintage subway a few stops uptown, but I did capture the vivid action on the platform.  The Grand Street Stompers began as a trio — Gordon, Pete Anderson on clarinet, Rob Adkins on bass — but soon became a quartet when guitarist Mikey Freedom Hart arrived.

Their first number was a nicely rocking / sentimental BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA, perhaps a homage to Louis, who began his concerts with this sweet old song for nearly twenty-five years:

Then, in the first acknowledgment of the season, IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS in two tempos, the dancers dipping and whirling even in the confined space (everyone was fully aware that overdramatic dancing would take them and us too close to the edges of the platform):

An unusual (and brave) choice for the context, Hoagy Carmichael’s NEW ORLEANS, with Gordon growling passionately, Rob bowing in the best old-New-Orleans manner:

SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN (the song that made J. Fred Coots financially secure forever) here sounds as if BLUE MONK was not far in the background — it’s really a good, simplistic Thirties song:

I don’t know if Fats Waller ever took the subway, but he would have been pleased by this pretty — although brief — version of his 1929 hit AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Finally, the pop lexicon’s version of the primal scene — Freudian or out of PEYTON PLACE? — I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS.  Let’s hope it was Daddy in the red suit, shall we?

I delighted in the lovely playing of the quartet, the delicious incongruity of the music and the setting — but the real pleasure was in watching the dancers reflect the music in their bodies, singly and in pairs, switching off, having a fine time.  Lynn Redmile, who appears in the beginning of the last video (to the right), promised she would tell me the names of the spirited and agile dancers we so admire here.  

The Home of Happy Feet for the price of a Metrocard swipe — !

HANNA, PHIL, AND STEFAN: “TENOR MADNESS” (Feb. 2010)

Singer Hanna Richardson is understated yet compelling (and a swinger on the electric tenor guitar); her husband, bassist Phil Flanigan, is a player Whitney Balliett thought had some of Jimmy Blanton’s “Listen!” quality about him.  Here they are joined in concert by the nimble French pianist Stefan Vasnier, who has a good deal of Nat Cole’s precise gaiety in his work:

Here’s an intent but easy-rocking THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU:

And a little-known song (the only version I know is Mildred Bailey’s) about that intriguing creature, the intoxicating nerd — WHAT HAVE YOU GOT THAT GETS ME?:

And as a finale (Hanna says she couldn’t resist it) the late-Thirties epic with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, SHOW YOUR LINEN, MISS RICHARDSON:

These three performances come from the folkswaggoner channel on YouTube: well worth a second and third look!  (I see that they’ve just posted a swinging, witty HE AIN’T GOT RHYTHM . . . perhaps there’ll be even more to come.)

JUST PERFECT, THANK YOU

As a long-time jazz listener, I find myself mentally editing and revising many recordings (silently, without moving my lips).  “Tempo’s too fast for that song, “”That side would have been even better if the tempo had stayed steady,” or “Why couldn’t he have taken just one more chorus?”  Since the musicians can’t hear my silent amending and since the recordings remain their essential character, I think I am permitted this fussy but harmless pastime.  Fruitless, of course, but amusing exercises in alternate-universe construction that serious readers of fiction know well: every close reader is by definition an unpaid and unheard editor.  

But there are some jazz recordings no one could improve on.  Here are two flawless sides.     

This music was issued on a non-commercial V-Disc (“V” stands for Victory) recorded during the Second World War especially for the men and women in the armed forces.  The musicians gave their services for free; the sessions were supervised by (among others) George T. Simon; the discs were 12″ rather than the usual 10″, allowing for blessedly longer performances.  And many sessions took place after midnight, when the musicians had finished their gigs, lending them a certain looseness; as well, the recording companies gave up their usual restrictions, so that musicians under contract to one label were free to cross over from the land of, say, Victor, into Decca. 

This October 1943 session was led by Teddy Wilson (itself a near-guarantee of success); it is a quartet taken from his working sextet, which would have also included Benny Morton (trombone) and Johnny Williams or Al Hall (bass).  Perhaps those men were tired after a night’s work; perhaps they didn’t want to record without getting paid.  But as much as I revere Morton and Williams or Hall, the men who remained made irreplaceable music. 

What follows is a series of impressionistic notes on the music: keen listeners will hear much more as they immerse themselves in the music, as I’ve been doing for thirty-five years. 

The four voices are powerful ones — Wilson, Sidney Catlett, Ed Hall, and Joe Thomas — but this quartet is not a display of clashing ego.  Of the four, Thomas is least known, but his work here is deeply moving. 

After the little end-of-tune flourish that brings on Wilson’s (scripted) introduction, his harmonically-deep, crystalline lines and embellishments float over Sidney’s steady brush tread (forceful but not loud.  I think of the padding of a large animal in slippers).  Wilson’s second chorus is pushed forward by a Catlett accent early on; the two men dance above and around the chords and rhythm. 

In the third chorus, Hall joins them: as much as I admire the Goodman Trio, how unfortunate that this group never was asked to record — Hall’s tonal variations are beyond notating, in their own world. 

Thomas’s entry, clipped but mobile, provokes Catlett into tap-dance figures.  No one’s ever matched Joe’s tone, velvet with strength beneath it, the slight quavers and variations making it a human voice.  The annunciatory figure midway through his chorus is a trademark, those repeated notes looking backwards to 1927 Louis and forward to a yet-unrecorded Ruby Braff.  (Thomas was Frank Newton’s favorite trumpet player, a fact I can’t over-emphasize.)  He seems to stay close to the melody, but the little slurs and hesitations, the dancing emphases of particular notes are masterful, the result of a lifetime spent quietly embellishing the written music, making it entirely personal. 

And then Sidney comes on.  The sound of his brushwork is slightly muffled and muddied by the 78 surface, but his figures are joyous, especially his double-timing, the closing cymbal splashes.  Try to listen to his solo and remain absolutely still: hard, if not impossible! 

Then the ensemble plays (with everyone facing in the same direction, not breathing hard) a variation on the melody — something taken for granted well before the official birth of bop — with a jammed bridge in the middle.  Notice how Catlett and Wilson ornament and encourage the line that the two horns share.  And the side concludes with a little jam session finish (Sidney urging everyone on) with Thomas recalling the “Shoot the likker to me, John boy,” that was already a familiar convention perhaps eight years before. 

Incidentally, the swing players had discovered HOW HIGH THE MOON as early as 1940: Roy Eldridge and Benny Carter, guest stars on a Fred Rich Vocalion session in that year, improvise on it.

As delightful as I find HOW HIGH THE MOON, the masterpiece –subtler, sorrowing — is RUSSIAN LULLABY.  Berlin’s melody was already familiar, and I wonder what thoughts of the Russian Front might have been going through the heads of these four players, what political or global subtext. 

Often LULLABY is taken briskly, but this version is true to its title.  After Wilson’s introduction, Joe essays the melody: if he had recorded nothing else than this statement, I’d hail his unique trumpet voice: his tone, his vibrato, his use of space, his pacing.  Hall sings quietly behind him — but that soaring, melancholy bridge is a creation that is both of the trumpet and transcending it.  I hear the passion of an aria in those eight bars, with little self-dramatization.   

Wilson, following him, is serious, his lines restating and reshaping.  (Some listeners find Wilson’s arpeggios and runs so distracting that they miss out on his melodic invention: he was a superb composer-at-the-keyboard, and his solo lines, transcribed for a horn, would seem even more stunning.  Not accidentally, he learned a great deal about melodic embellishment and solo construction from his stint in Louis Armstrong’s 1933 band.) 

Keeping Wilson’s mood, Catlett plays very quietly, although you know he’s there.  Hall’s approach is more forceful and Catlett follows suit. 

Then . . . a drum solo?  At this tempo?  Most drummers would have found it hard to be as relaxed, as restrained.  He quietly paddles along in between the horns’ staccato reduction of the melody, making it clear that he is a serious servant of the rhythm, the time, devoted to the sound of the band — until he moves to double-time figures and two cymbal accents.  Music like this is deceptively simple: a casual listener might think it is easy to play in this manner, but how wrong that mild condescension would be!  Wilson and Catlett join forces for a momentary interlude before the horns return — Joe, sorrowing deep inside himself, Hall soaring. 

How marvelous that we have these two sides! 

Thanks to vdiscdaddy for posting them on YouTube; his channel is full of music worth hearing that has been hidden from us.  Thanks of a larger sort to Wilson, Thomas, Hall, and Catlett — brilliant creators who knew how to bring their individual selves together to create something brilliant, immortal.  And I don’t use the word “immortal” casually.

P.S.  I first heard these sides thanks to the late Ed Beach, and then savored them on an Italian bootleg lp on the Ariston label, THE V-DISC.  In 1990, they came out on CD — with an incomplete alternate take of RUSSIAN LULLABY — on the Vintage Jazz Classics label (TEDDY WILSON: CENTRAL AVENUE BLUES, VJC 1013-2), a production that brought together, although not face to face, John Fell, Doug Pomeroy, and Lloyd Rauch.  I don’t think a copy of that CD would be easy to find today, though.

THREE BY THREE AT WHITLEY BAY (July 11, 2010)

Originally I thought of calling this post COULDN’T BE BETTER, but I decided to be less emphatic.  Still, I am a devout and devoted admirer of the Hot Jazz Trio, one of the few aggregations on this planet that not only lives up to their billing but usually transcends it. 

Who are (or is?) the Hot Jazz Trio?  The simple answer is Bent Persson, trumpet, cornet, mellophone, and even vocals; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone and masterful master of ceremonies; Jacob Ullberger, banjo, guitar, and more. 

These three musicians are Swedish, but they don’t get together that frquently for gigs, because they don’t all live nearby.  So what I have in my mind and ears is a wondrous CD on the Kenneth label, titled HOT JAZZ TRIO, their 2009 performance at Whitley Bay, and their briefer one this year.  That’s not enough, but it will have to do for the moment.

The three videos below tell the story of a versatile jazz ensemble, who (collectively and singly) are able to get inside the skins of Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers, Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, the Ellington orchestra of the late Thirties and early Forties, Bix Beiderbecke and his Gang.  They aren’t trying to “play old records live,” but they do bring those noble ghosts into the room and make them welcome.

Here’s their AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, both energized and focused:

And in the name of good Middle East relations, they summon up not only an amusing period piece (LENA suggested EGYPTIAN ELLA and more) but also the ODJB and all that vaguely exotic splendor of the beginning of the last century — in LENA FROM PALESTEENA:

And, because everyone needs a little more disposable income, here’s BEAU KOO JACK — in honor of Louis, Earl, and Don Redman:

Live, lively, and more — the Hot Jazz Trio!

HARRY ALLEN and EHUD ASHERIE at CHAUTAUQUA 2010

This very inspired duo — Harry on tenor, Ehud on piano — took the stage early on at Jazz at Chautauqua and left a deep impression.  Although their play looks casual, they reach memorable heights — whether they are handling the twists and turns of PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ like a pair of gliding skiers, or turning SOME OTHER SPRING into a rueful ode. 

Some duos are an exhibition of two very ego-driven selves who happen — sometimes under duress — to occupy the same space.  Harry and Ehud listen seriously to each other, and their duo becomes more than the two men standing on a much larger stage.  Ehud’s spikiness plays off Harry’s creamy tone; they complement rather than collide.  A witty telepathy governs their interplay.  Even the people trotting to and fro with full plates were grinning at what they were hearing.

For Mr. Berlin, Mr. Astaire, and Miss Rogers — ISN’T IT A LOVELY DAY?  Who could say anything but “Yes”?  Hear Harry’s purring, yearning sound; admire Ehud’s most sympathetic commentary: adding up to a lovely quiet seriousness with not one superfluous note:

Ehud loves James P. Johnson, and here the duo takes that lovely ballad IF IF COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT (or “ONE HOUR” for those in a hurry) at a surprising clip — a young Bud Powell has entered the room.  But there’s a sterling precedent for this kind of audacity: think of Bill Basie and his little band riding high on SHOE SHINE BOY in 1936.  Midway through the exultant performance, you’ll have to remind yourself that this is a duo, not the Blue Note Jazzmen:

THE LITTLE THINGS THAT MEAN SO MUCH was the song Teddy Wilson used as the theme for his short-lived big band.  And as Ehud says, it’s so true — not only for this kind of heartfelt chamber jazz, where every nuance counts — but as a life-motto:

PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ is virtuosic but never exhibitionistic:

And, to close, a sweetly sad SOME OTHER SPRING, with memories of Lady Day:

Jazz, stripped down to its essential selves, with no distractions!

DEEP SONGS AT THE EAR (Sept. 26, 2010)

It was another elevating night at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street). 

Nothing could spoil the collective merriment — not the fact that the subways were perversely unpredictable, not the untrained owner with the overeager dog who knocked over a beer and nearly ruined one of Jon-Erik Kellso’s antique mutes, never meant for a lager-bath. 

No, when Jon-Erik, Scott Robinson (tenor and soprano this time), Matt Munisteri, and Pat O’Leary join forces, it’s a delightful and always surprising musical encounter.  And (later on) they were joined by Bob Barnard (trumpet), who’s always inventive.

But the highlights for me were the imaginative musical conversations that the quartet and quintet embarked on — each player having his say but deeply listening to what his peers were doing and being inspired by it. 

Bear in mind that these are highlights — for those of you seated at home, savoring this experience, it’s only a shadow of what really goes on at The Ear Inn. 

After an energetic I DOUBLE DARE YOU, the EarRegulars chose something that has now become mildly unusual — the pretty Ray Noble ballad THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS played at a slightly faster tempo, reminiscent of what Ruby Braff might have done with this lyrical melody:

LIPS like those need a good long time:

Jon-Erik handed off the trumpet chair to Bob, who dove right in to a Louis-inspired CHINATOWN MY CHINATOWN, with Scott, Matt, and Pat in truly hot pursuit:

Music for two trumpets!  Jon-Erik called for “a rocking blues,” and Bob stayed on for a lengthy BEALE STREET BLUES:

Making BEALE STREET talk:

Irving Berlin’s sweet A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY got a swinging exploration:

SLEEPY TIME GAL began with a lavish reading of the melody and became even more lovely:

Isham Jones’s ON THE ALAMO gave the quartet a chance to stretch out and explore:

Too good to draw to a close too quickly:

What lovely songs!