Tag Archives: Ellington

“DANCING” WITH THE STARS — a/k/a ECHOES OF SWING: COLIN T. DAWSON, CHRIS HOPKINS, BERND LHOTZKY, OLIVER MEWES

 

ECHOES OF SWING

The wonderful quartet ECHOES OF SWING is often compared to the John Kirby Sextet, and with some justification.  They both create intricate lines; they turn corners adeptly at top speed; they like surprises; they often play with classical themes.  But I need to write a heresy here.  Stand back.

I think ECHOES OF SWING has well and truly outstripped its ancestor: they are satisfying in ways the Kirby group couldn’t have imagined.  There!  I’ve said it.

This quartet can be energized up to 11, but they are also capable of great yearning, quiet serenities.  And they like the groove (not even the slowest track drags) but don’t get stuck in it — each track has small jubilant surprises in it, and the CD never feels like an hour of the same thing, a salad that’s really a huge bowl of Swiss chard.

The four heroes at work are Colin T. Dawson, trumpet / vocal; Chris Hopkins, alto saxophone; Bernd Lhotzky, piano; Oliver Mewes, drums.  Chris, Colin, and Bernd have also contributed originals and arrangements.

And they have a new CD — called DANCING, appropriately.

Rarely do I quote from other people’s liner notes . . . but these tell the tale —

‘…a waltz through the history of jazz, an anthology which takes a wry look at the theme of dance in jazz, occasionally heading off at a tangent, and making some very surprising connections. It begins at the very beginning with Johann Sebastian Bach. A Gavotte from the English suite No. 6, a baroque dance, is transformed into a melodic platform for an effervescent drum feature. A journey through James P. Johnson’s ‘Charleston’ (‘straightened out’ into a modern jazz waltz), Scott Joplin’s ‘Ragtime Dance’, Cole Porter’s ‘Dream Dancing’, or Sidney Bechet’s ‘Premier Bal’ to Pixinguinha’s Brasilian Choro ‘Diplomata’, Bernd Lhotzky’s Cuban Bolero ‘Salir a la Luz’ or the exotic Ellington-like timbre of ‘Ballet Of The Dunes’ from Chris Hopkins. This is dance in jazz, but not as we know it. For a start, a third of the tracks are original compositions, and all of the remaining tunes have been not so much arranged, but more like given a complete and thorough overhaul. The older selections now possess a new ‘hipness’ and have been brought stylistically right up to the present day. This album presents the winning combination of flawless musicianship, a comprehensive knowledge of music history, good taste and judgement, and a sly sense of humour. Each of the tracks of “Dancing” communicates simultaneously and directly with the brain, the emotions and down to your feet. There is quite simply a very wide range of delights for the listener to enjoy.’

A few words more.  When I listen to EOS, I am always amazed by two things at once: the band’s nifty and expansive ensemble work, polished but not stiff.  It’s clear they rehearse, but rehearsal has not stifled their essential joyful spirits. And then there are the soloists.  If you don’t follow the band, the names of the four musicians may be slightly new to you, but they are sterling: Oliver is one of the finest drummers playing today — not an antiquarian, but a swinger who is so aware of the rollicking obligation to keep the other players afloat and make beautiful sounds.  Bernd is a lyrical hot expert orchestral player, but even when he plays one note, it has a splendid epigrammatic shape.  Colin is not only a fine hot trumpeter, lyrical or edgy as needed, but also a very warm persuasive singer, who moves us in his first eight bars.  And when Chris plays, I sense Benny Carter, Pete Brown, and Rudy Williams grinning: his sweet-tart tone, his blazing attack, his innate rhythmic energies are all memorable.

As a postscript, I have to apologize to the four gentlemen of EOS for taking so long to bring this disc to my readers’ attention.  I loved it instantly; I have played it two dozen times . . . but I was intimidated by its glowing vibrant variety. “What can I say about this except BUY IT NOW?”  But now’s the time.  It’s glorious. Here is the EOS CD page, and the Echoes Of Swing Facebook page. You can find the disc through iTunes and in all the old familiar places.

A working jazz band, these days, is a true marvel.  Echoes of Swing is a marvel well beyond that.

May your happiness increase!

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ENRAPTURE(D): KEN PEPLOWSKI, EHUD ASHERIE, MARTIN WIND, MATT WILSON

The works of art that move me the most combine and embody intelligence, warmth, playfulness, and love.  Ken Peplowski’s new CD, ENRAPTURE (Capri Records 74141), is a shining example of what I mean.

ENRAPTURE cover

Recorded slightly more than a year ago, this vivid and satisfying session is a portrait of a wonderful band — recorded as if at a gig but in splendid sound.  The band is a balanced, energetic, communal organism: four individuals who listen to and support each other — Ken on clarinet and tenor; Ehud Asherie, piano; Martin Wind, string bass; Matt Wilson, drums.

And the principles behind this CD are so simple, yet often neglected in this era of “projects” and “themes”.  I will let the writer of the elegant liner notes, Mr. Peplowski, explain: “[This CD is] my latest effort – a year or so of sifting through material, a year or so of playing with these great musicians, and very little time in the studio – we really wanted to approximate what we do in the clubs – this is us, in as close to a live setting as one could ask for in a recording environment – every song pretty much in one take – we weren’t going for a speed-recording record, we just like to capture the spontaneity and interplay of four people who enjoy making music together.”

If circumstances permitted there to be more working bands who could record sessions like this . . . but I digress.

Here’s a sonic sample — the title song of the session, composed by Herbie Nichols:

Even the casual listener will notice that this is a delightfully egalitarian melodic quartet: each player contributing an individual energy to the music, rather than a Star and a Rhythm Section.  Each of these players is obviously a Star but the prevailing atmosphere is a friendly communality — humility and eagerness mixed as a loving offering to the Music.

And what Music!  Although some “traditionalists” like to claim Peplowski as their own — after all, he’s recorded with tuba on the session — and then renounce him as a Dangerous Modernist, the truth is that he has a wide and delicious musical intelligence, one that embraces all kinds of music as long as it has a lively center.  So on this CD there are songs by Harry Warren, Bernard Hermann, Barry Manilow, Noel Coward, Ellington, Fats Waller, Lennon, Leslie Bricusse, and Peter Erskine.  There are touching ballads and ruminative introspections; there are quick, spiky ventures into apparently unknown territory; there is rollicking swing (as opposed to tributes to its fabled King — none of that here, please).

There is nothing self-conscious about the breadth of repertoire: it is a mark of an integrity that brushes away “styles and schools” in favor of deeply-felt but never pretentious creativity.  And although Peplowski can play his horns with incredible speed, vehemence, and precision, his is a mature sensibility that does not seek to impress listeners with flash.  Rather there is immense tenderness in his ballad playing, great intelligence and feeling throughout.  I stand in awe of Ehud’s solo and ensemble playing, and have listened to several tracks on this disc just to hear what chords he plays behind everyone else (wow, as we say); Martin’s bass playing is always tuneful, warm, and propulsive (catch him on WILLOW TREE); Matt is a splendidly melodic percussionist in the great tradition, one that extends past the expectations of jazz performance.  Together they are delicious.

If you want tangible reassurance that deep yet light-hearted beauty is being created and preserved in the name of Jazz (or Creative Improvised Music) as recently as last year, this is a CD to get — and savor and replay.  I’ve taken this long to write this review because I didn’t want to take the disc out of the car player.

It’s available at all the usual places, but I urge listeners to do the ancient act of purchasing the actual CD because Ken’s liner notes are wise and to the point, rather like their writer.

May your happiness increase!

NANCY ERICKSON’S SWEET SHARP MAGIC

Nancy Erickson

At the end of 2015, a friend suggested I listen to the singer Nancy Erickson, who had collaborated on and sung NEW YEAR’S EVE, appropriate to the season.  I did listen — several times — and was entranced, as you can read here.  Not only was it a well-constructed song, it was rare in celebrating devoted long-term emotional fidelity rather than the brief infatuation, the searing heartbreak.

And Nancy Erickson’s voice and vocal style made their own lasting impression:

Her voice is dark and rich but her approach breathes its own naturalness, so I never find myself listening purely to her “vocal instrument,” but rather the ways in which it conveys the emotional and musical message — now somber, now light-hearted, her diction always clear but never an elocution lesson, her pitch accurate without being mechanical.  She subtly improvises on melody, lyrics, and rhythmic patterns, but her embellishments light the way rather than dynamiting the original’s intent.

To me, she beautifully balances drama and subtlety, intensity and delicacy.  And this may seem an odd thing to write, but in this era of heightened artifice, Nancy comes across as a human being with great sensitivity, rather than someone attempting to act the part of a.h.b.w.g.s.

I closed my December post by writing that I eagerly looked forward to her new CD.  It came; I’ve listened to it multiple times; it’s wholly gratifying.  The cover alone will tell you that Nancy Erickson follows her own splendidly surprising impulses.  The “photography and compositing” is by Steve Korn, but I sense Nancy’s inspired whimsy here as well:

Nancy Erickson cover

I know: somewhere you might hear the muffled tinkle of a convention falling off the kitchen counter and smashing on the floor.  Isn’t an attractive woman singer supposed to be draped alluringly — on a divan, in a doorway, hair blowing out of a convertible — so that the Fifties male audience can purchase the cover without giving much thought to the art?  For me, I’ll take what looks like a giant goldfish suspended in mid-air, with Nancy patting it nicely (“Gooooood fish!”) any time as an alternative.  Inside the CD there’s another variation on the cover, offering surprise rather than pastoral complacencies.

But the witty cover would mean nothing if the music was dull, predictable, inept. Not to worry.  And if  you would like to jump ahead, here you can both listen and purchase.

Nancy’s songlist tells a good deal about her range and intelligent approach to the often-constricting “Great American Songbook”:  NEW YEAR’S EVE (which Nancy says is inspired by the story of her mother and father — another delightful change from the twenty-first century formula); WHILE STROLLING THROUGH THE PARK ONE DAY; IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE; PERDIDO; PRELUDE TO A KISS; SUMMER DAY (Nancy’s original); I JUST DROPPED BY TO SAY HELLO (a duet with Clipper Anderson); THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC; THE WHIPPOORWILL SONG (Nancy’s original); LA VIE EN ROSE.  Purcell, Ellington, Piaf — now there’s a heady mix.

Take the title song for an example.  WHILE STROLLING THROUGH THE PARK ONE DAY is quite venerable — 1884 — and thus both popular as a kind of Victorian love-anthem and the subject of parody in the best Chuck Jones manner.  Nancy offers her own angle on it — beginning with a percussive vocal vamp echoed by the rhythm section, then moving into a loose reading of the original lyrics (with “a pair of roguish eyes”).  But before we know it, we are in Nancy’s own sweetly hip romantic lyrics of the singer’s delight in a handsome fellow who has crossed her path at the fountain in the park.  Then an expert trombone solo over the crisply swinging rhythm section gives way to Nancy’s bridge (where she alternates her own lyrics and an imagined orchestral riff) — and the track returns to the original percussive pattern, stopping abruptly but well.  IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE marries Purcell to rocking boppish accompaniment (and a tenor saxophone solo that looks to the present but also back to Buddy Tate), and when Nancy tells us “Sing on!” we know the urging comes from her heart, to herself as well as to us.

PERDIDO and PRELUDE TO A KISS have been done and perhaps overdone — but Nancy’s version of the first is firmly and endearingly Fifties: is it a cha-cha? I don’t know, but the slightly goofy lyrics and the retro-rhythms work perfectly. PRELUDE starts on a high note — both emotionally and technically — and Nancy offers a reading that is classically lovely yet deeply felt.  SUMMER DAY seems like the best poetic folk opus — in a world where taste ruled, it would become a hit, both evocative and elusive.  The vocal duet on I JUST DROPPED BY TO SAY HELLO — for bassist / singer Clipper Anderson and Nancy — is not imitative, but it affectionately honors the great male / female pairings of popular song without “attempting to be” Louis and Ella, Ray and Betty, Billy and Sarah — the two singers splendidly convey the emotions of this tender, hopeful, rueful song.  What it says about me I don’t know, but I kept returning to this track.

THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC has often been buried under emotional hyperbole, but Nancy takes it lightly, at a conversational pace, savoring melody and lyrics but never in capital letters.  Her brief scat interlude in MAGIC seems entirely organic (and it’s expert) rather than an obligatory inclusion.  THE WHIPPOORWILL SONG seems to borrow some of its mournful nature from SAINT JAMES INFIRMARY, but that’s a worthy homage to a sad ancestor.  And the closing LA VIE EN ROSE is a touching, entirely affecting duet with bass — arco on the verse, pizzicato for the chorus.

Nancy’s musical colleagues are loving and wise players: they surround her with the best sounds.  I commend them: Darin Clendenin, piano; Clipper Anderson, string bass / vocal (7); Ken French, drums; Jay Thomas, flute, flugelhorn (4 and 6); David Marriott, trombone (2); Alexey Nikolaev, tenor (3 and 9); Jeff Busch, percussion (4 and 9); Jacqueline Tabor, vocals (9).

The CD avoids monotony by making sure adjacent tracks have enough spice, so that a performance with a trombone solo gives way to one with a tenor chorus, to one with flute.  Tempos, moods, and approaches change — but not so much that one feels a shock from track to track.

With this CD, I think Nancy Erickson deserves our very close attention as a fully-formed artist, one of our best contemporary singers — full of feeling, wit, affection, reverence for tradition and a thoroughly winning originality.

You can subscribe to Nancy’s YouTube channel here, but you will learn more about her here.  And even here.

May your happiness increase!

TIMME’S TREASURES, or THE BARON’S BOUNTY

Timme Rosenkrantz was born a Danish Baron, but he preferred to identify himself as “a little layman with an ear for music and a heart that beats for jazz.” Duke Ellington, no stranger to the nobility, called him “a very unselfish man who dedicated himself to the great musicians he loved and the music they played.”

A jazz fan on a lifelong pilgrimage, Timme arrived in New York City in 1934 and made dear friends of many musicians, writers, and critics.  His cheerfully light-hearted chronicle of those journeys has been published (translated and edited by Fradley Garner) as HARLEM JAZZ ADVENTURES: A EUROPEAN BARON’S MEMOIR, 1934-1969 (Scarecrow Press).

One of the most tantalizing sections of that book — full of lively anecdotes — is its discography of private recordings that Timme made between 1944 and 1946: a trove, including pianists Erroll Garner, Herman Chittison, Jimmy Jones, Billy Taylor, Ellington, a young Monk, Eddie Heywood, Willie “the Lion” Smith, hornmen Bill Coleman, Gene Sedric, Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, Charlie Shavers, Barney Bigard, Bobby Pratt, Jack Butler, Benny Harris, Vic Dickenson, bassists Slam Stewart and Oscar Pettiford, violinists Stuff Smith and Ray Perry, guitarists Bernard Addison and Zeb Julian, drummers George Wettling and Cliff Leeman . . .

A few of these recordings have been issued commercially (the best example being the Smith and Perry sides on Anthony Barnett’s ABFable label) and others less properly or in edited form.  I first heard some of the music Timme recorded through the collectors’ grapevine, on cassette, in the Eighties, and it still sounds magical, with musicians stretching out, free from the tension of the recording studio or the imposition of the producer’s “taste.”

You can hear more — although there’s only one private recording — of the music Timme cherished from sessions he produced at THE JAZZ BARON, a site devoted to him, his musical adventures, and the book.

But we are going to be able to peek behind the curtain that has kept those privately recorded sessions private . . . soon, because Storyville Records is issuing what I hope will be the first in a series, TIMME’S TREASURES.

TIMME'S TREASURES

I haven’t heard a copy yet, but I am eagerly looking forward to it. How about ten minutes of solo Monk from 1944 — a six-minute THESE FOOLISH THINGS and a four-minute ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT?  Or a quartet of Don Byas, Monk, Al Hall, and an unidentified drummer playing something called LET’S GO for another six?  Broadcast material featuring Stuff Smith, Frank Froeba, Byas, and Sidney Catlett?  More from Lucky Thompson, and a trio session for Jimmy Jones, bassists John Levy and Slam Stewart?

The liner notes are by Timme’s friends Dan Morgenstern and Fradley Garner. And the Storyville Records site will soon have more information about this exciting release.

Here’s a wonderful example — imperishable — of Timme’s taste: a duet for tenor saxophone (Don Byas) and string bass (Slam Stewart) recorded in concert in 1945:

May your happiness increase!

PRETTY / HOT: THE NICHOLS – DUFFEE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ ORCHESTRA: “ONE MORE TIME”: THE VINTAGE RECORDING PROJECT (October 29, 2012)

Here are some names you might know: Duke Heitger, Andy Schumm, Enrico Tomasso (trumpet); Alistair Allan, Kristoffer Kompen (trombone); Jean-Francois Bonnel, Stephane Gillot, Michael McQuaid, Matthias Seuffert (reeds); Keith Nichols (piano); Spats Langham (banjo, guitar, vocal); Malcolm Sked (string bass, sousaphone); Josh Duffee (drums).

These splendid musicians — from the UK, the US, Australia, and Europe, gathered in a small room on October 29, 2012 — the day after the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party had ended — for a recording session, now available on Paul Adams’ Lake Records (LACD321).  It is appropriately dedicated to Mike Durham, who did so much for so long for hot music and did not live to see this CD project completed.

NICHOLS-DUFFEE

Here’s a sample of what they did on that rainy day — the Jean Goldkette rouser, MY PRETTY GIRL:

For the rest, you’ll have to purchase the handsome CD package (which comes with two discs — mono and stereo) — glorious music played and recorded authentically.  The other selections are HOT AND BOTHERED / THE STAMPEDE / CHANT OF THE WEED / MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND / POTATO HEAD BLUES / EASE ON DOWN / UNDER THE SPELL OF THE BLUES / SKINNER’S SOCK / WHEN THE FOLKS HIGH UP DO THE MEAN LOWDOWN / MILENBERG JOYS / ONE MORE TIME / AWFUL SAD / JAZZNOCRACY.

JAZZ LIVES’ readers will of course note the homages to Ellington, Luis Russell, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Bing Crosby, Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong, Don Redman, the Dorsey Brothers, Coon-Sanders, Gus Arnheim, Jimmie Lunceford, and their glorious soloists.  Wonderful ensemble playing — exact without being stiff — and the pleasure these musicians had in playing this repertoire comes through on every note of the CD.  For information on this and other LAKE issues, click here.

(The music is also available in download form from the usual suspects — iTunes and Amazon.com, although I note with amusement that the latter purveyor has labeled one of the songs SKINNER’S SOCKS, which I suppose makes a certain kind of sense.)

It’s one of those joyous CDs that I always want to play at a substantial volume in my car, with the windows open — to let the joy and enlightenment bubble out, come what may.  And I like greatly the idea that the c0-leaders, Keith Nichols and Josh Duffee, are theoretically separated by decades and continents, but they are on the same path — hot and sweet music played joyously, accurately, and splendidly.

May your happiness increase!

IN ITS GLORY: THE ALDEN-BARRETT QUINTET at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 22, 2012)

Howard Alden, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone, cornet, arrangements, of course.  A working band is one of the great glories of jazz.  Although some prize the ideal of the jam session, where disparate musicians come together, elate and startle us, a group of players who have stood side by side for a period of time might create something more lasting.  Think of Soprano Summit, of Davern and Wellstood, of the Ruby Braff trios and quartets, the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet.  If you would like historical precedent, there’s the rapport that Bird and Diz developed or the Armstrong All-Stars.

The ABQ was nurtured by the friendship of its two California pals, then mentored even more by the aging but still very creative Buck Clayton.  It held together as a working (and recording) band for less time than it should have, but one of the delights of Jazz at Chautauqua was the ABQ reunions that its late founder Joe Boughton insisted on and made possible.  The charter members of the ABQ are Chuck Wilson, clarinet / alto; Frank Tate, string bass; Jackie Williams, drums — and in my delicious immersions at Jazz at Chautauqua beginning in 2004, I believe I saw an ABQ that was authentic in all but Jackie.  And it always swung — a neat mixture of stripped-down Ellington colors, Kirby-with-guts classicism, a Basie rock, a Kansas City Six swagger.

Here, from the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua, are two lengthy outings for this glorious band — Howard, Dan, Dan Block on alto and tenor, Frank Tate, Pete Siers.  The first is a Buck Clayton composition and arrangement: Buck had very good times in France, so IN A PARISIAN MOOD is groovy, hardly gloomy:

Then, a beautifully realized nod to Buck’s colleague Lester with LADY BE GOOD, explained carefully by Professor Barrett:

I dream of a world where working bands of this sleek swing persuasion could work as themselves.  We’re so fortunate that the ABQ can reassemble . . . too bad it seems to be only once a year.

May your happiness increase. 

SERENADES FROM SWEDEN: ANNA PAULINE ANDERSSON and MATTIAS NILSSON (March 28, 2012)

Beauty is a universal language.  It flourishes in our hearts.  So the fact that I and some JAZZ LIVES readers speak no Swedish will not impede anyone’s enjoyment of the soaring improvisations that follow.  And in these videos, a patient viewer will find in the introduction to #2 all the mysteries of song #1.  Trust me on this.

I had not heard of the singer Anna Pauline Andersson or her fiance, pianist Mattias Nilsson, before March 2012.  But when a friend told me they were coming to the United States for the first time — with plans for a free duet recital at the Church of Sweden in New York City — I became intrigued.  And when I saw their performances on YouTube, I was seriously impressed and moved.  Thus, on March 28, 2012, I and my video camera were in a place not usual for us — recording wondrous music, secular and sacred, all illuminated by the same delight in beauty and in communicating that beauty to us.  Anna Pauline’s voice caresses and soars; Mattias’ piano glitters and investigates.

They began the program with the melancholy Swedish folksong, EMMIGRANTVISA (VI SÅLDE VÅRAN HEMMAN), or SONG OF THE IMMIGRANTS, which describes the hard journey the Swedes had to undergo to get to New York.  Jung would have been pleased that some of the cadences coming out of the collective unconscious sound like ST. JAMES INFIRMARY:

Then, Evert Taube’s 1946 song describing the ocean (a natural thematic connection), SÅ SKIMRANDE VAR ALDRIG HAVET, which Anna Pauline translated as SUCH GLITTERING SEA:

In case the English-only types in the audience were getting restless, Anna and Mattias then turned to a song to celebrate what is their first visit to New York City — the lovely 1925 Rodgers and Hart MANHATTAN, performed with a proper urban lilt and humor:

From one classic to another: STAR DUST, sung and played with great empathy, making the most familiar song new:

LILLA IDAS SOMMARVISA is a  more recent Swedish song by Georg Riedel and Astrid Lindgren, from a 1973 film.  Anna Pauline remade its title into THE SUMMER SONG OF IDA — its message is clear in any language:

Anna didn’t treat the next song as a hymn, but Ellington’s I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT could have gotten in on its title alone:

Another version of exultation, sly and whimsical — TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE:

JAG HAR BOTT VID EN LANDSVÄG, written by Alvar Kraft and Charles Henry (pseud Karl Henrik Henrud) in 1939 — a song from the south of Sweden, where, Anna Pauline tells us, “the people are happy and voluptuous”; I believe the title translates to I GREW UP NEAR A COUNTRY ROAD:

BLOTT EN DAG, the Swedish hymn, (DAY BY DAY AND WITH EACH PASSING MOMENT), by Oscar Ahnfelt and Lina Sandell (1872):

I´LL FLY AWAY, by Albert E. Brumley (1929)

and the 1913 JAG VANTAR VID MIN MILA, which translates as I’M WAITING FOR A WANDERER:

And, as an encore (after Mattias’ confession!) there’s the 1956 jazz tune UNDERBART ÄR KORT, by Povel Ramel: its title translates to THE GOOD THINGS ARE TOO SHORT, which was true of this concert:

Thanks to Anna Pauline and Mattias, to Jack Anderssen, to Laurie Whitlock, and Eva Engman.  And although I don’t usually find myself in churches, this one is a beauty and everyone I encountered was more than gracious.

May your happiness increase.