Tag Archives: Evan Christopher

GAME OF TONES: TWO BEAUTIES FROM JAY RATTMAN, SCOTT ROBINSON, CHRIS FLORY, PAT O’LEARY at THE EAR INN (May 20, 2019)

For nearly twelve years, The Ear Inn has been my Sunday-night shrine (that’s 326 Spring Street in New York City, via the 1 or the C) because of the EarRegulars’ sublime residency.

Two Sundays ago, Jon-Erik Kellso was in New Orleans, making records (I use the archaic term) with Evan Christopher, but the band that Scott Robinson — on tenor saxophone, contrabass taragota, and trumpet — assembled for the night of May 20, 2019, was stellar: Jay Rattman on clarinet and alto saxophone; Chris Flory on guitar; Pat O’Leary on string bass.  It was less crowded than usual at The Ear, because (I am told) it was the last episode of GAME OF THRONES.  Hence my title.

Beauty paid a visit to 326 Spring Street when this quartet of masters created melodies than floated in the darkness.

And the usual caveats: yes, there are people chatting over their drinks, the image is quite dark at points, and my camera wobbles occasionally because The Ear is not the place to bring a tripod . . . but even the most finicky viewer should be able, through closed eyes, be transported by the Tones: subtle rejoicing scored for four instruments on two rhythm ballads — sweet and slow music with a definite pulse.

Art?  Yes, today:

If you don’t think that performance lives up to Berlin’s title, we must politely but vehemently disagree.  And this 1945 classic by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon is up in the same clouds:

Jay, Scott, Chris, and Pat made loveliness tangible.  As they always do.

May your happiness increase!

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BECKY MAILS IT! (BRYAN SHAW, DAN BARRETT, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, JOEL FORBES, EDDIE ERICKSON, JEFF HAMILTON)

Rebecca Kilgore is coming to New York in April 2019 to sing, uplift, and to teach.  In case you need to be reminded of her magic and the music she engenders in her fellow musicians, here’s a sunny example — with Jeff Hamilton, drums; Joel Forbes, string bass; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Bryan Shaw, trumpet.  This swing miracle took place some years back (March 5, 2011) at Dixieland Monterey:

Communication is essential, even when you’re writing the letter to yourself in lieu of one you’re hoping to get.  And everyone on that stand knows how to send a heartfelt message Express Mail right to our hearts.

The dear Ms. Kilgore is coming east for the best reasons.  Hark!

Here is the link to the Facebook page, and you can see the website listed in the advertisement above.  April seems a long time away, but enterprises such as this fill up early, so don’t wait for the crocuses to burst through the ground.  Rather than sending yourself a letter, make yourself a gift of enrolling.

May your happiness increase!

“THE DIME NOTES” ADD UP TO HOT JAZZ PLEASURE

Before you ask the pressing question, please look under D: Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary defines “dime note” as a ten-dollar bill.

It’s also the name of a rocking, utterly satisfying new band.  Cab would approve.

As the Elders used to say, “Here’s what I’m talkin’ about!“:

THE DIME NOTES are Andrew Oliver, piano; David Horniblow, clarinet; Dave Kelbie, guitar; Tom Wheatley, string bass.  And you can get a good idea of where their hearts lie by their chosen repertoire; ORIGINAL JELLY ROLL BLUES, ALABAMY BOUND, AUNT HAGAR’S CHILDREN’S BLUES, BLACK STICK BLUES, THE PEARLS, T’AIN’T CLEAN, SI TU VOIS MA MERE, THE CAMEL WALK, THE CRAVE, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, OLE MISS, TURTLE TWIST, WHAT A DREAM.  The first thing one notices is the presence of Morton, then Bechet, a few “jazz classics” with associations to Fats, W. C. Handy, and then compositions nobody plays: what band is delving into the Boyd Senter repertoire these days?  There’s also an original composition by Andrew, OTIS STOMP, “inspired by a small Oregon town called Otis Junction,” as Evan Christopher’s lavish liner notes tell us.

But a tune list is just that: some lesser bands would take this one and create something admiring yet completely dessicated.  Heroic, admiring copies of venerable 78s in twenty-first century sound.  That line of work can be a great pleasure, in person and on record, but THE DIME NOTES have come to play, which they do splendidly, with heartfelt understanding of all the music that has come before them and what its open possibilities are right now.

And here’s the secret of this engaging little group (a quartet that will not make you lonesome for a cornet, trombone, or drums): THEY SWING.  Let that sink in. Some groups that have given their study and energy to the music of the Twenties and early Thirties seem to have made it a point of honor to keep the rhythmic styles of the great innovators as they were, as if the way the music propelled itself in 1937 would be an insult to a composition first performed fifteen years earlier.  I don’t mean that this band plays hot jazz with a side dish of Dizzy, Bird, and Al Haig — but they do know that Count Basie walked the earth and improved it seriously.  So THE DIME NOTES benefit not only from the magnificent playing of each of the four instrumentalists, but they understand how to work together as a supple, rocking small ensemble.  To me, they are the Guarnieri Quartet of Hot.

They can swagger and soar and make it seem as if the disc in the player — the player itself — is about to take off and rocket around the room.  But they can also be tender and quiet, deeply lyrical, sorrowing, when the song calls for it.  And the disc is certified gimmick-free: no jokes, no tricks played on the listener.

This band is frankly irresistible.

And I’ve read somewhere that The Dime Notes are the only band I know to have its (their?) own chocolate bar, on sale in Whole Foods in the UK.  Until that commodity crosses my path, my hand, or my lips, I will content myself with their sounds.  Here you can buy their CD, or their “vinyl,” and see a video of them in performance.  Better than chocolate.  Longer-lasting.

May your happiness increase!

TOKARSKI’S NIGHTINGALE (AND OTHER RARE SPECIES)

Although I’ve only met the young pianist / composer Kris Tokarski a few brief times in person, I admire him as a remarkable musician with great wit, warmth, flexibility, and swing.

Kris Tokarski. Photograph by Scott Myers.

Kris Tokarski. Photograph by Scott Myers.

About sixteen months ago, Kris made his first CD as a leader, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM — a delightful musical collation with Kris among his friends and peers James Evans, Evan Christopher, and Benji Bohannon.  Here’s what I wrote about Kris (with music samples) in April 2014.

Although Kris’ musical and emotional range is substantial, he is a great subtle player of older music with the right feeling — without being hemmed in by written manuscript, older recordings, or restrictive stylistic conventions.  Here is a recent video-recording Kris did especially for JAZZ LIVES — at home and informally — of Joseph Lamb’s RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE:

Notice his lovely touch, his gentle approach.  Would you like to hear more? That is easily accomplished.

Kris, photographed by Don Keller, in front of Jelly's house, Frenchmen and Robertson Streets, New Orleans

Kris, photographed by Don Keller, in front of Jelly’s house, Frenchmen and Robertson Streets, New Orleans

In March of this year, Kris, Hal Smith, drums, and Cassidy Holden, string bass, went into the GHB Studios in New Orleans to create a CD that would consider classic rags from a Mortonian perspective, with performances modeled on Jelly’s own evocations as well as songs known to be familiar during his career but not recorded.  The compositions are Pastime Rag #3 / Heliotrope Bouquet / Kinklets / Peacherine Rag / Elite Syncopations / Ragtime Nightingale / Grace And Beauty / Please Say You Will / Sunflower Slow Drag / Swipesy / Magnetic Rag / The Easy Winners / Cataract Rag / St. Louis Rag.  If you understand the concept, the CD is a magnificent invention; if you’ve never heard the Morton Library of Congress recordings, the CD will please just as deeply.

I was delighted to be asked to write the liner notes.  Here’s what I said:

SOFT, SWEET, PLENTY RHYTHM

In 1972, I had several opportunities to marvel at Eubie Blake, then nearing ninety.  He would play MEMORIES OF YOU, TROUBLESOME IVORIES, STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER, or CHARLESTON RAG, but he always concluded with a virtuosic display and a triumphant shout, “That’s RAGTIME!” It certainly was, but the music was more than notes on the page; it was shaped by the personality and experiences of its creator. Jazz improvisation is never pure (thank goodness): it’s all subliminal osmosis and hybridization.  Eubie’s ragtime was broad-minded: it cuddled up with stride, eight-to-the-bar, orchestral flourishes owing as much to Rachmaninoff as Joplin. 

I’ve heard many musicians approach the ragtime repertoire according to their spirit animal.  Some storm through a rag as if preparing for a martial arts tournament.  Others play it with reverent rigidity, the way a child in an antique shop sits tensely on the chair to which he’s been affixed.  This CD presents one, two, and three musicians embodying a radical idea: “Let’s play the music with joy and attention to detail, and whatever happens, it will be good.”     

On this CD, Jelly Roll Morton’s proud, playful New Orleans spirit is strong, although Kris Tokarski wisely avoids the Morton caricature: lesser pianists turn Morton into a large papier-mache figure at the keyboard. 

Kris’s playing is, as always, warm and delicate but you know there is stomping power beneath the surface. I admire his beautiful touch, the logic of his phrases, but he’s never so precise as to be chilly.  Kris animates the rags, reminding us that ragtime is swinging syncopated dance music: pastoral but not effete.

Masterful playing by Cassidy Holden and Hal Smith makes this a genuine trio, democratic and empathic.  Hear the low woody propulsive sound Cassidy gets (the right notes, the right changes, a wonderful pulse) as well as his cellolike clarity.  Hal’s playing appears uncomplicated, but it takes decades of devoted playing to know what to leave out, what sounds to make, how and when to make them.  I thought occasionally of Minor Hall and Tommy Benford, but most often of Hal.

These performances aren’t “recreations” of some imagined past, but neither are they free-form improvisations on the harmonies.  I hear echoes of the jungle (ANIMULE BALL) in CATARACT RAG, the Spanish tinge in MAGNETIC RAG.  But each song sounds like a movement in a dance suite – with echoes of marches, quadrilles, and street parades. PLEASE SAY YOU WILL moves so deliciously from waltz to a gently swinging rhythm ballad with a few closing moments of stomp (as Morton did on MY GAL SAL).  ST. LOUIS RAG – in the words of Jake Hanna – starts swinging from the beginning.  GRACE AND BEAUTY shows off this trio’s many virtues: they don’t get louder or faster, but you know the train is moving on the right track and it will arrive on time. 

SUNFLOWER SLOW DRAG is a history of the first decades of jazz, as it progresses from a tender, almost shy start to a romp.

We owe this session to Hal Smith, not only a master percussionist but a jazz scholar and detective.  He had long been fascinated by Morton’s transformations of famous ragtime pieces, and wondered how other rags would sound if played in Jelly’s style.  He knew that Kris would be perfect for the project, making the performances vibrant, not dusty.  Hal put together a list of rags that might have been played in New Orleans between 1900 and 1917 – and after swapping music and recordings, this wonderful group was ready – not for the river, but for the studio.  Thank you, Kris, Hal, Cassidy, for opening the magic toybox and offering us so much joy.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Or perhaps I have.

To purchase the CD, visit here. Or if you encounter Kris at a gig, I am sure he will be happy to arrange a mutually satisfying transaction.

And I am looking for several chances to enjoy Kris and friends in the coming months.  His trio — with Hal Smith and Tim Laughlin (yes, you did read that correctly!) — is a highlight of the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado at the end of July; the “Hot Classicism” trio of Kris, Hal, and Andy Schumm will also appear at the 2016 Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans.

May your happiness increase!

A SECOND EAR-RING: JON-ERIK KELLSO and The EarRegulars: MATT MUNISTERI, EVAN CHRISTOPHER, KERRY LEWIS (on JAZZOLOGY)

The EarRegulars have come out with a second CD, and it’s delicious, even before one unwraps the package: the ingenious cover art is by Cecile McLorin Salvant:

EARREGULARS CD Jazzology

The first EarRegular CD featured Kellso, Munisteri, Scott Robinson, and Greg Cohen:

EarReg 1 CD

The splendid new disc features a New York / New Orleans hybrid: Kellso, trumpet; Munisteri,guitar / vocal; Evan Christopher, clarinet, and Kerry Lewis, string bass.  And they groove spectacularly.

And here are the notes that someone enthusiastic wrote:

I am proud to have followed The EarRegulars with delight, rapt attentiveness, and recording devices, since they first began to transform the cosmos on Sunday, June 17, 2007, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City). They’ve been consistently inspiring, a twenty-first century version of Fifty-Second Street many blocks to the south. (My only problem with The EarRegulars is that I can’t decide if they IS or ARE, for reasons beyond the grammatical.)

They are a Marvel of Nature, an expansive sonic orchestra that masquerades as a tidy improvising quartet. They model democracy in swingtime, where each of the four players is audible, recognizable, playfully sharing musical heart-truths. In their native habitat, they are small enough to fit in a New York corner (The Ear Inn is a compact place), where they reverberate not loudly but mightily. Their mailing address is the intersection of Translucence and Stomp, just off Lyrical.

And although the Official Jazz Historians try to force music into restrictive boxes, The EarRegulars create timeless and limitless music, joyous lyrical improvising. One hears the Ancestors (who are grinning) but this band is a triumph of the Here and Now. They cavort in the present moment rather than offering shelf-stable, freeze-dried jazz repertory. Their musical conversation is collaborative joy: one hears four creative individuals, easily amused, sweetly competitive, extending each others’ thoughts, capping each others’ jokes.

The pleasure, not only mine, of witnessing The EarRegulars live, Sunday after glorious Sunday, has been the feeling, “This is the way I imagine musicians play when all distractions and tensions are removed, when the ideal audience fully understands them, when they are surrounded by love, free to express themselves fully. What a blessing this is.” This bicoastal version of the band offers its leader, Jon-Erik Kellso, and his inspiring colleague, Matt Munisteri, alongside New Orleans heroes Evan Christopher and Kerry Lewis. Their sounds need no explication, merely your most fervent close listening. Each track has beauties it reveals on the third hearing, the twentieth, their approach a beautiful oxymoron, a delicate ferocity. And their flexible, playful approach reminds me of what Ruby Braff would do with any gathering of musicians: scatter them on the floor like puzzle pieces and reassemble them in surprising, fluid ways. So this quartet becomes a series of trios, duos, and solos, never predictable, never the Same Old Thing of ensemble-solos-ensemble. And the sounds!

The repertoire is gorgeously uplifting. Even though I have heard The EarRegulars take the most familiar song and make it new, this CD is full of delights. Jon-Erik’s OUT OF THE GATE has to be the soundtrack for an animated film, LITTLE JAZZ! — where superhero Roy Eldridge vanquishes the enemies of Swing. His EARREGULARITY (something to be sought out, not feared) is a 2015 ragtime dance. Evan’s SURRENDER BLUE is so touching! I hear it as lullaby superimposed on love song, the most tender music imaginable. The other songs have wondrous associations: the Casa Loma Orchestra, Benny Carter, the Hot Five, Ivie and Duke, Louis and Papa Joe, Fate Marable . . . all memorable but rare.

I think of these sounds as healing defense against the wounding clamor of the world, reminders that the cosmos will welcome us. Start with IN THE LAND OF BEGINNING AGAIN – sung so soulfully by Matt – and you will agree. I am honored to live in a time and place where such joy is not only possible but freely offered. Bless The EarRegulars and may they prosper. Forever.

Although I find it inconceivable that anyone encountering JAZZ LIVES would be unfamiliar with the EarRegulars, here they are — at least three-fourths of the latest combination — onstage at the Louisiana Music Factory.

BLUES IN MY HEART:

IN THE LAND OF BEGINNING AGAIN (vocal Matt):

Of course, you can purchase the disc from Jon-Erik at The Ear Inn or at other gigs, or visit here.  It is on Amazon as a download, and probably iTunes.  And available direct from Jazzology and Louisiana Music Factory.

Here’s a song direct from the CD — a poignant version of SMOKE RINGS — but do the right thing and help support the art and the artists by buying it:

One way to get a double dose of this joy is to visit Symphony Space at Broadway at 95th Street in New York City on November 2, 2015, at 7:15 PM  for the Sidney Bechet Society’s season finale, “Ear Inn, Uptown!” which will feature Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Christopher, Matt Munisteri, singer Brianna Thomas, and others in a jam session saluting the jazz scene at The Ear Inn, the city’s oldest bar.  Tickets $30 in advance via mailorder from the Society, and $35 at the box office: Peter Norton Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, New York, NY 10025.  (212) 864-5400.

May your happiness increase!

A STEAMBOAT, HOT JAZZ, THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER, A STEAM CALLIOPE, STRIDE PIANO, THE BLUES, and FRIENDS (September 18-20, 2015)

My title is, to me, the best one-line description of the Steamboat Stomp — happening in New Orleans, on the Steamboat Natchez, from September 18-20, 2015.

640_steamboat-natchez-new-orleans-reviews

Some of the performers who will be on the boat are Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stompers, Steve Pistorius, Evan Christopher, Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, Solid Harmony, Yerba Buena Stompers, Miss Ida Blue, New Orleans Classic Jazz Orchestra, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Debbie Fagnano on the steam calliope, and more.

The schedule is here, and I can see myself fretting over it on the plane ride.  “If I see X now, I can’t see Y.  But I can see Y the next day.”  Jazz fest calculus, or perhaps chess.  But it’s always delightful to have more than one can handle rather than having long stretches of time.  However, on the Natchez, it’s entirely delightful to cruise up and down the Mississippi.  If one ignores the oil rigs outside, one can think of Huckleberry Finn.  Or, better, Fate Marable.

Here  is another site (the Stomp’s Facebook page) that offers different perspectives.

Finally, the hard facts one needs to know: prices, tickets, packages, reservations.

But here’s the best evidence, taken from the 2013 Stomp.

The official Jelly Roll Morton anthem of this carnival of joy:

Yes, you’ll have to pay something to board the Natchez, but your dollars will feel like dimes:

The way you’ll feel as soon as the music begins:

As Justin Wilson used to say, “I guarantee it!”

May your happiness increase!

SOLITUDE, AND THEN SOME: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, HOWARD ALDEN, FRANK TATE (ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY, September 19, 2014)

SOLITUDE Columbia

Four of my New York heroes — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, clarinet, tenor saxophone, taragoto, cornet; Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass — onstage at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party, playing a most famous Ellington composition that, oddly enough, doesn’t get played that much, SOLITUDE, with great eloquence and  simplicity, in front of that rarest of things, a hushed, attentive audience:

No fancy arrangements, just beautiful solos and ensemble playing.

SOLITUDE Victor

Then, time for a Frolic on SOME OF THESE DAYS, which starts as a brass extravaganza and then builds:

SOME OF THESE DAYS

Quite amazing, I think, and I’ve been following these four musicians for more than a decade now.  This is just a small sample of what characteristically takes place at the Allegheny Jazz Party, a quiet spectacular of a weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. To have this experience for yourself, you might want to visit here to find out about the Party, taking place this September 10-13, 2015.

And . . . . Jon and Matt Munisteri and a cast of wonderful characters have just released their second CD as “The EarRegulars”: the first also features Scott Robinson and Greg Cohen; the latest one (on Jazzology Records) features Evan Christopher and Kerry Lewis.  Delightful music.

May your happiness increase!