Tag Archives: Dave Miller

THE BEST SEATS IN THE HOUSE: JOE POLICASTRO TRIO, “SCREEN SOUNDS”

I’ve always been fascinated by the music filmmakers used, detached from the films themselves.  Get those actors, children, animals, props out of the way: remove the dialogue, let us hear the sounds.

The very imaginative and lyrical string bassist Joe Policastro has created a new CD, SCREEN SOUNDS, that is more than gratifying.  With Joe are guitarist Dave Miller and drummer Mikel Avery, and their music is as good as any film that holds viewers spellbound.

You can tell from the cover — serious and whimsical at the same time — that this is no trip back to the Fifties, LEROY HOLMES AND HIS ORCHESTRA (or the 101 Strings) PLAY MOVIE  THEMES, but neither is it MUSIC TO TORMENT YOUR HOUSEMATES WHO DISLIKE JAZZ.

This project is a happily inventive — and I would say audacious — creative enterprise.  It’s not nostalgia, although the themes from famous films and television shows are initially recognizable.  But the trio thoughtfully “re-imagines” the original music which is, in most cases, evocative.  Audacious?  For one thing, the original music was almost always scored for larger ensembles, so that reinventing it for this trio is both ingenious and loving (you’ll note that “irony,” or deconstruction is not their purpose).  “We put such a personal stamp on it [the original material] that these things belong to us” stands as a meaningful comment in the video above.

Here is the trio’s fascinating look-from-the-inside-out at the theme from YOJIMBO, as thoughtful and deep as a film on its own, mixing lyricism and strangeness (and that’s a compliment):

YOJIMBO’s dark brooding is, however, not the one musical theme of the CD. EVERYBODY’S TALKIN’ mixes melancholy and swing, sweetness and forward motion: the end result seriously danceable.  But it’s not pandering to an imagined audience in any way: even when the Trio is respectfully sounding out the melody, theirs is not cocktail music for the reception: you have to provide your own hors d’oeuvres.  (You’ll want to.)  The theme from THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS has its own dramatic arc, but it’s not like anything that came out of anyone’s television on a weekday afternoon.  COOL HAND LUKE is surprisingly light-hearted (it works its way into a shuffle) helping me imagine an alternative screenplay where the convicts form a band and get paroled to gig.

I’ll stop here (although I am writing this blog having listened to the CD several times with great pleasure) so that you can find out the lyrical pleasures of this imaginative travelogue for yourselves.  Popcorn optional.  You’re on your own.

Here you can preview and purchase the CD; here you can see and hear their version of the theme from THE KIDS IN THE HALL and find out where the Trio will be performing next.

May your happiness increase!

“POPS!”: JOE POLICASTRO TRIO (DAVE MILLER, MIKEL AVERY, with guests ANDY BROWN, ANDY PRATT)

I am seriously out of touch with the pop culture of my generation.  Wake me at 4 AM, ask me for ten facts about Lester Young, and I can do it.  But Neil Young? Sorry.  There’s only so much space left on my internal hard drive, and if I choose to devote it to alternate takes of Sally Gooding with Teddy Wilson, go ahead and laugh.

When I received a copy of the fine Chicago bassist Joe Policastro’s new CD, below, I immediately thought that it would be related to Louis Armstrong.

JOE POLICASTRO 2016_pops cover

But once I started to listen, I was happy to have been wrong, since the music here is wonderful, an antidote to crabby narrowness.  Hear for yourself — the trio of Joe, the fine guitarist Dave Miller (whom I’ve admired — alongside Lena Bloch — in a variety of New York City surroundings), and the listening drummer Mikel Avery — working on the Sixties pop classic WIVES AND LOVERS here.  (I had that 45 single — by Jack Jones — in 1963 0r 4.)

Here’s Joe.  The music he creates is not as somber as this portrait:

JOE POLICASTRO

And Joe’s website.

I would like to see this CD in wide circulation, because the improvisations are so delightful.  Many of us have an unshakable fondness for certain songs — whether on their own terms, or because of sentimental associations — and we often want to hear jazz musicians improvise on just those songs.  I won’t enter into the needless argument whether Strayhorn is better than Porter or whether either of them is better than “those kids” Stevie Wonder and Prince.  Truly, once we brush away our associations, a strong melody is appealing, no matter who wrote it or when.  Think of Clark Terry and friends jamming on the FLINTSTONES theme.

So I dream of being in a car with a few Official Jazz Fans whose allegiances are clearly defined — let us say early Basie, 1960 Duke, Norvo-Farlow-Mingus, and so on, and playing this CD without identifying it.  And when the quibbling breaks out from the back, “Hey, Michael, that sounds good!  Who is it?  Let me have the CD sleeve so I can stop listening closely to the music and make judgments based on my reactions to people’s names, players and composers both!  I’ve got a little conceptual box right here!” I could politely say, “Please.  Just listen to the music and tell me what you think.  Life is only a Blindfold Test for people who want to be Blindfolded.”

I think they would come to the consensus that the music was superb, as I already have.  And then we could discuss players.  “That’s Joe Policastro!  What a fine bassist he is — I’ve seen and heard him with Andy Brown and Petra van Nuis.  He sings on his instrument.  And Dave Miller, full of surprise: I admired his work with Lena Bloch some time back.  That drummer Mikel is really swinging and paying attention.  And Andy twice — Brown and Pratt.  Where can I get this disc?”

Of course, some of the imaginary jazz fans in my car might recognize a few of the pop classics.  I know they would admire the gleeful, heartfelt transformations that Joe’s trio creates.

This disc would be an absolute hit with people who knew the pop originals but were ready to say how they didn’t like jazz, couldn’t listen to it, didn’t understand what “those people” were doing up there without any music stands.

For the record, the songs are WIVES AND LOVERS (Bachrach) / HARVEST MOON (Neil Young) / CREEPIN’ (Stevie Wonder) / WAVE OF MUTILATION (The Pixies) / MORE THAN A WOMAN (Bee Gees) / PRINCE MEDLEY: CONDITION OF THE HEART and DIAMONDS AND PEARLS / ME AND MRS. JONES (Billy Paul) / US AND THEM (Pink Floyd) / TAKE IT WITH ME (Tom Waits) / DRIVE (The Cars).

This session isn’t rock-pop played by jazz people in safe ways — for old folks who don’t want to be disturbed (i.e., wedding band music for those with delicate sensibilities).  There’s a good deal of inspired exploration, guitar sounds that made me think of TWIN PEAKS, energetic percussion.  No one would snooze through this disc: it’s not the twenty-first century version of THE HOLLYRIDGE STRINGS PLAY THE BEATLES.

POPS! is engaging inventive music.  And we’ll never have too much of that.

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!

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.

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.