Tag Archives: Eliot Zigmund

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.

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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!

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ABIGAIL RICCARDS: HER HEART IS IN HER SONG

Two years ago, the pianist Michael Kanan invited me to hear and video his duo-recital with the singer Abigail Riccards, who was moving from New York to Chicago.  I had not heard of Abigail, but Michael’s endorsement of any artist is an unshakable statement of the artist’s deep value.  I was immediately impressed with Abby’s steady pace, her wise understanding of lyrics, her ability to evoke feelings in us with even the most familiar song, and her light-hearted swing.

Here they are with a prayerful ALL THE WAY: you’ll get the idea of what so struck me, and everyone else listening — the warmth, openness, intelligence, and empathy of Abigail’s singing.

I’ve been waiting for a CD that would show Abigail at her best, and EVERY LITTLE STAR is it.

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Co-produced by Jane Monheit and Abigail herself, it is a consistent delight.  Some of that is due to the musicians she asked to join her: Michael on piano, Peter Bernstein, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums.  Some of it is due to the sprightly mix of songs Abigail has chosen: old favorites made new — I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR / SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN / IF I HAD YOU / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN / A SLEEPIN’ BEE / I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / SMILE / BYE BYE BLACKBIRD / WALTZ FOR DEBBY — and an original by Jeannie Tanner, ENDLESS JOY, and Joni Mitchell’s CIRCLE GAME (a duet for Abigail and Jane).

But this isn’t another program of a youthful singer offering up songs everyone knows in predictable ways.  You will quickly admire the easy, conversational way Abigail delivers the lyrics — words uttered as if the thoughts were hers — and her sweet improvisations, which shed light on the song rather than superimposing her ego on the composer’s.  Her generous spirit comes through in the substantial space she gives to Michael, Neal, Peter, and Eliot — so that when she returns after their instrumental interludes, it is as if she is now being carried triumphantly on their shoulders.

The tempos chosen are also deliciously insightful: ballads never drag and the quicker songs don’t rush.  Little arranging touches raise each performance well above the familiar: a wordless prelude to IF I HAD YOU; a nifty beginning to HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?; the way Abigail and Jane intertwine on CIRCLE GAME; the tender way she and the band approach I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU; the bouncing scat chorus with which she begins I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE before shifting to another key. . .

My current favorites — instant classics! — are a Riccards / Kanan duet of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN that begins with an slow rubato reading of the verse, then slowly tumbles into the chorus . . . where we hear singer and pianist discovering this 1929 classic as if for the first time.  I couldn’t immediately place where I had heard such intimacy before, then it hit me — the Fifties duets of Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins.  The same qualities are evident throughout A SLEEPIN’ BEE, a Riccards / Kanan duet.  And in the Riccards / Bernstein SMILE, tender and rueful without being melancholic.

On the dozen songs that make up this varied program, Abigail Riccards proves herself not only a splendidly intuitive singer, but an artist who is the equal of the fine improvising instrumentalists around her.

Now, hearing this, you could choose to explore the banquet of live performances Abigail Riccards has on YouTube, and I wouldn’t blame you a bit.  But I would urge you to take the leap forward into purchasing this CD here.  All CD sales go to ArtStrides (a nonprofit program for special needs and financially disadvantaged children) so you benefit them by your generosity and you benefit yourself by having this music to listen to often.  

May your happiness increase!

“BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP”: MUSIC FOR ADULTS (TOM DEMPSEY, TIM FERGUSON, JOEL FRAHM, ELIOT ZIGMUND)

I’m embarrassed to write that I had never heard of guitarist Tom Dempsey or string bassist Tim Ferguson before opening the latest mailer that held their new CD — a quartet with saxophonist Joel Frahm and percussionist Eliot Zigmund.

I should have taken notice of Tom and Tim by this time — they are active New York performers, with credits including Jim Hall, Mel Torme, Don Friedman, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra . . . and many more.  But now I want to make up for my omission.

BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is a splendidly fine disc, and I might have put it on the pile because I didn’t know two of the four players.  What a mistake that would have been!  I receive many CDs — and many, well-intentioned endeavors (often self-produced and paid for by the artist) do not sustain themselves.  Some are formulaic: “Let’s play just like ______” or consciously anti-formulaic (which becomes its own cage): “Here are my six lengthy free-form original compositions.”

Not this one!

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BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is devoted to lyrical, easeful exploration of melody, harmony, and rhythm.  It’s not Easy Listening for elderly recluses, nor is it self-conscious Innovation.

These four players understand something basic about music: the truth that we need Beauty, and Beauty never gets old.  Yes, Tal Farlow (for instance) played AUTUMN IN NEW YORK memorably in 1957, but that doesn’t mean that Duke’s melody is now forever used up.  One might as well say, “Oh, the sunrise bores me,” or “I’m so tired of this (wo)man I love embracing me.”  Do that, and you’re beyond recovery.

BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is not just about reverential playing of standards — by Randy Weston, Monk, Thad Jones — because the quartet stretches out and has fun on several originals.  IT’S TRUE is an engaging group conversation that ebbs and flows over six minutes; CAKEWALK begins as a funky Second Line outing and expands before returning to its roots as delicious dance music.  TED’S GROOVE is both groovy and uncliched, hummable swinging jazz.  Although I knew Joel from his work with Spike Wilner’s Planet Jazz and many other ensembles; Eliot Zigmund from sessions with Michael Kanan at Sofia’s — they play magnificently, but so do Tim and Tom.

It’s beautifully recorded, with plain-spoken but deep liner notes written by the two fellows.

You can visit Tom’s website and hear excerpts from this CD here or Tim’s    here to learn more about their backgrounds, their associations with other players.  But most importantly, if you are in New York, you will want to search them out.  I think that hearing them in tandem or in other contexts would be delightful — and you could say, “JAZZ LIVES sent me,” and buy copies of BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP directly from the artists.  What could be nicer?  As for me, I’m keeping this one!

P.S.  Why MUSIC FOR ADULTS in my title?  There’s no barely-clad beautiful young thing on the cover; this isn’t advertised as Music To Make Out By.  To me, “adults” have outgrown barrages of virtuosity (“shredding”) for its own sake, yet they want something more than another bouncy rendition of a classic from Django’s book.  BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP will please everyone with grown-up ears . . . people who have removed the earbuds long enough to listen.

May your happiness increase.

LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING

It’s the title of a very pretty and optimistic 1920 show tune . . .

but it’s also a well-kept New York City secret — a serene below-stairs room in a 150-year old Tribeca brownstone.  The room is cozy — it holds fewer than 100 people — but it’s not cramped; there’s room for a first-rate piano and top-flight jazz improvisation. There is a menu of small plates and a very adventurous selection of cocktails.

The SILVER LINING is located at 75 Murray Street (between Greenwich and West Broadway): their phone is 212-513-1234; the website is thttp://silverliningbar.com/

I heard about Silver Lining first through the most reputable sources — the musicians themselves — who talked of a lovely room conducive to great playing.

And the musicians?  If you check the website, you’ll see fine and familiar names: Dan Block, Dan Aran, Ehud Asherie, Larry Ham, Jon-Erik Kellso, Ray Gallon, Ned Goold, Chris Flory, Sacha Perry, Eliot Zigmund, Jon Burr, Steve Ash, Spike Wilner.

The musicians are booked by Vito Dieterle — a splendid jazz player himself (a floating tenor saxophonist whose work I admired when he was playing alongside Claire Daly in Joel Forrester’s small group) — so I know things are going to go well.

Look for the Silver Lining!

MICHAEL KANAN and FRIENDS (Sept. 1, 2011)

You don’t ordinarily think of special things happening on Thursday — Friday morning work looms — but September 1, 2011, will be a special night for beautiful improvisations in New York City.  If you can get to 211 West 46th Street between 7 and 11:30, you will hear some splendid music.

The occasion is another one of Michael Kanan’s beautiful piano evenings, taking place at Sofia’s!  Michael, Larry Ham, Tardo Hammer, and Pete Malniverni will be alternating at the keyboard for the entire evening — ably supported by Lee Hudson, bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums.

From those names, you know that lyrical explorations of melody, of songs newly reconsidered and ones you haven’t heard in a long time, will be the consistent subject.  All the pianists on this bill are friends; they have their own deep ways of exploring music without falling back on the usual post-bop cliches, and they are players who easily get to the heart of a song.

Michael is not only a subtle man at the keyboard; he has a subtle architectural way with musical evenings.  Rather than organize his friends into possibly lengthy solo showcases, he makes these Sofia’s evenings a series of small surprises, a tumbling cornucopia of musical gifts.  Each of the four pianists will perform two songs and then get off the piano bench for his colleague.  The result is not only a night of bright moments and subtle contrasts, but each of the players, in his own way, reflects what he’s just heard — so the evening is much more than one improvisation after another, it takes on its own shimmering shape — as if you’d eaten a wonderful layered multi-course meal, seen a moving three-act play.  It’s a chamber concert of the finest kind for jazz listeners.

Sofia’s is at 221 W. 46th Street, NYC (between Broadway and Eighth Ave): no cover, no minimum, just quiet jazz mastery.

COMING SOON: PETE MALINVERNI’S “INVISIBLE CITIES” Smalls, Feb. 4/5, 2011

Pete Malinverni is an inventive pianist and composer — someone I have had the good fortunte to hear and meet recently.  (My jubilation was initially mixed with sadness that I hadn’t had the pleasure twenty years earlier, but such things are beyond our powers to change.) 

Pete is hardly overexposed at New York City gigs, so I encourage my readers who can to visit Smalls on Friday, February 4, and/or Saturday, February 5, 2011 — both nights at around 10 PM and 11:30 PM — to see Pete and a quartet of high-level improvisers create paths to and through his “Invisible Cities.”

The “Invisible Cities” project showcases new arrangements of familiar compositions about cities — such as I LOVE PARIS and CHICAGO — as well as Pete’s own compositions.  His friends on the bandstand will be Scott Wendholt, trumpet; Rich Perry, tenor saxophone; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums.  Smalls is located at 138 West Tenth Street in New York City, just off Seventh Avenue South (a minute away from the subway stop for Christopher Street / Sheridan Square on the #1): it costs twenty dollars at the door to enter and stay for hours.  There’s a well-stocked and well-staffed bar, and (if you’re lucky) a beautiful Maine Coon cat, Minnow, will wander in and around.

REMEMBER: ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!  PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW!

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PETE MALINVERNI: “A BEAUTIFUL THING”

Photograph by Abigail Feldman

Pianist Pete Malinverni has a serious exterior — he’s tall and broad-shouldered and his black eyeglasses define his face.  But that’s only a facade.  Even though I’ve only met him twice, I see that his character is both spiritual and wildly playful: he has an impish, puppylike delight in the sensations around him. 

And it comes through in his music.  That playful creativity is happily on display on his latest CD, A BEAUTIFUL THING!  (Saranac Records 1009). 

The title refers to an original piece dedicated to his parents who are embarking on their fifty-eighth year of contented matrimony.

The CD is a trio effort — Pete is joined by old friends and jazz masters Lee Hudson, bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums.

Now, I know that there are more than enough piano trios on the market implicitly clamoring for a listener’s attention.  But Pete, Lee, and Eliot are masters of the form — they achieve a delicious synergy from the start, harmoniously. 

And the music is perfectly varied (most CDs grow burdensome because the artists tend to cram in too much of the same thing at once): this disc moves from multi-theme originals which recall piano and compositional styles across the jazz spectrum to lovely, pensive ballads (A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME), spirituals (GO DOWN, MOSES), standards (LA VIE EN ROSE and SWEET AND LOVELY) handled with sensitivity and originality.  His compositions aren’t paper-thin superimpositions on familiar chord changes: EVOCATIVE and IN THE GARDEN OF THE ETERNAL OPTIMIST have their own identities: ringing lines and small musical surprises throughout.  And the trio knows what it is to swing.   

When many jazz CDs by a variety of players turn out to be more-of-the-same, Pete’s new disc is a satisfying experience.  Check out his website, www.petemalinverni.com., for the beautiful details.