Tag Archives: Frank Basile

WARM SWINGING MODERNISM: “RAISE FOUR” and FRANK BASILE: FÉLIX LEMERLE, DAN WEISSELBERG, MIKE CAMACHO (Cafe Bohemia, November 15, 2019)


More pleasures from Cafe Bohemia — to no one’s surprise.

RAISE FOUR is a compact, adventurous yet melodic jazz group co-led by guitarist Félix Lemerle and string bassist Dan Y von Weisselberg, with drummer Doron Tirosh and pianist Iftah Kary. For their November 15 appearance, Mike Camacho played drums and Frank Basile was added on baritone saxophone.  (And when you see my videos, do not be alarmed: no member of the band suffers from chlorophyll excess.)

When I’d asked Félix about the group’s name, he told me, “RAISE FOUR is a Thelonious Monk composition, and it has to do with the augmented fourth of a chord (a typical sound of bebop music, also known as its enharmonic equivalent, the flatted fifth). As our repertoire focuses on original music and the compositions of bebop and hard bop composers from the 40s and 50s, it seemed like an appropriate title.”

Dan Y von Weisselberg, photograph by John Herr.

To my ears, many groups exploring harmonically sophisticated music affect a self-conscious angularity, tacitly declaring, “Hey, we’re modern!” — which sometimes feels like trying to hug someone with sharp elbows.  RAISE FOUR is not an aural candy bar, but its innovations welcome us in, inviting us to follow melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic twists and turns.  Underneath it all is a sustaining lyricism: hear the long lines Felix and Dan create, for one thing.  Whatever jazz-category-name you might append to their improvisations is not important: the result is far from the formulaic “hard bop.” RAISE FOUR balances elegant cool modernism and warm emotion.

Here are some highlights from that evening:

Harold Arlen’s THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME:

Félix’s DAHLKA (its subject portrayed in characteristic splendor below):

and now that you are no longer dazzled by ears and tail, here’s the music.  What happened at 6:40 I no longer remember, but it was clearly my fault:

Thad Jones’ LADY LUCK:

Elmo Hope’s MOE’S BLUFF:

Félix’s PACHA CHERI, named (with a twist) for someone much admired:

Duke Pearson’s MINOR LEAGUE, with Will Anderson, alto saxophone, and Tamir Hochman, tenor saxophone, added:

RAISE FOUR is a pleasure: follow them here.  I will — and not just on Facebook.

May your happiness increase!

ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF GOOD SURPRISES: THE MICHAEL BANK SEPTET at SHRINE (August 1, 2017)

I first encountered the pianist-composer Michael Bank sometime in late 2004 or early 2005, at a Basque restaurant called BAR TABAC in Park Slope, Brooklyn, when he was pianist in a little band that had some of my — now lasting — friends in it: Kevin Dorn, Craig Ventresco, Jesse Gelber, among others.  When I heard Michael play — evoking Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller, and his own original thinking — I was impressed, and when he introduced the band’s version of ALL OF ME by quoting Teddy from PRES AND TEDDY, I went over to him at the set break and said, having introduced myself, “Excuse me, what the hell was that intro figure you did on ALL OF ME?” and we established its provenance (I am afraid I showed off by telling him I’d gotten Teddy’s autograph on that album) and I knew he was someone to pay attention to.

But I knew only a fraction of the totality of Michael Bank, and my admiration grew when I heard him lead his Septet.  The official press release calls this band “a four-horn group in the mainstream jazz tradition,” but that is a serious understatement.  For this gig, the Septet is Tony Speranza, trumpet;  John Ludlow, alto saxophone; Matt Haviland, trombone; Frank Basile, baritone saxophone; Ben Rubens, string bass;  the esteemed Steve Little, once again playing a set of drums not his own, with one happy exception being a beautiful snare drum lent for this gig by our friend Kelly Friesen.

Michael is an intriguing composer of originals that sound, at first, familiar, but then take their own twists and turns: not into dissonance, but into surprising melodies and voicings.  I think of his compositions as beginning in the 1951-55 Johnny Hodges band book and then deciding to move around by visiting Jaki Byard (a model and mentor to Michael), and going their own ways.  What underpins all of this is Michael’s delighted commitment to a rocking swing motion rooted in Ellingtonian momentum.  The Septet’s modernism is curious and amiable; the dissonances or unusual voicings do not treat the audience unkindly.  One could dance to this band, and that impulse comes from the Septet’s roots as a backing band for The Silver Belles, a veteran tap dance troupe. But like Ellington, Michael sees the beauty in simple forms: he loves the blues and how they can be asked to soar; he doesn’t find the Past something to be rejected but he conceives of ancient inspirations in his own ways.

Having taken the wrong subway line (Michael suggested that this post should be called TAKE THE 2 TRAIN, which amused me but would require too much explanation) I went up hill and down dale to be at this one-hour gig at the Shrine Music Venue at 134th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, but I was seriously rewarded for my aerobics with music that balances lightness and density.

Here are four extended highlights of this all-too-brief gig:

FALL AND RISE:

THE AZTEC TWO-STEP, which is its own kind of choreography:

Jaki Byard’s ONE NOTE:

TAKE THE “A” TRAIN:

I know it is hard to keep a band together without regular gigs, but I certainly think that Michael’s Septet is eminently worthy of a comfortable venue, a nice piano.  If you swing it, they will come.  Or perhaps.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE BLISS BLOSSOMS: THE EARREGULARS and FRIENDS at THE EAR INN (September 16, 2012): JON-ERIK KELLSO, HARRY ALLEN, NEAL MINER, CHRIS FLORY, DOUG FINKE, DAN BLOCK, DANNY TOBIAS, ALEX HOFFMAN, ELI PREMINGER, PETE ANDERSON, WILL ANDERSON

The Ear Inn, as I have been pointing out for a number of years, is the place to be on a Sunday night in New York City.  When you come to 326 Spring Street in Soho, sometime between 8 and 11, you will hear wondrous music, subtle and exuberant.

A few Sundays ago, on September 16, 2012, the EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar.  That group in itself deserves a WOW!

Doug Finke joined the original quartet for ROSETTA.  And it was never too close for comfort:

(A word about Doug, who isn’t as well known as he should be in East Coast circles.  I knew his work from three CDs by the Independence Hall Jazz Band — spectacular sessions featuring Jon-Erik, Duke Heitger, Paul Asaro, Dan Barrett, Orange Kellin, Vince Giordano, Scott Anthony, Chris Tyle — and I met Doug in person last March at Dixieland Monterey (the Jazz Bash by the Bay) where he appeared with Bob Schulz, Ray Skjelbred, Kim Cusack, and Hal Smith . . . a man is known by the company he keeps!  But with Doug it is more than being able to travel in fast musical company: notice the easy way he has his own luxuriant style, having absorbed all kinds of jazz to sound entirely and happily like himself.)

The Fantastic Five did their own variations on Romberg’s lament, LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

After a brief break for nourishment, the Original Four took the stand (a figure of speech at The Ear Inn) for a leisurely, I might even say “lingering” version of LINGER AWHILE.  Savor the beautiful solos and the way each solo leads into the next — this is a band of individualists who know all there is to know about Swing Synergy.  This performance is a living lesson in craft, courage, and heart.

I think it takes a lifetime to learn how to play music like this; aren’t we lucky that these players and their friends share their masteries with us?

I would have been very happy to listen to what you’ve heard far into Monday morning . . . but my friends who play instruments wanted to add their voices to this swing splendor.  Jon-Erik invited Dan Tobias (cornet) and Dan Block (tenor saxophone) to join the party for IF DREAMS COME TRUE, and they did.  The dreams, I mean:

Jon-Erik is a witty observer of the lives around him — so in honor of the Jewish New Year (where families dip apple slices in honey at Rosh Hashonah dinner for a sweet new year to come), he called for the Woody Herman line, APPLE HONEY — with amused reverence for customs and how they can be honored in swing.  The soloists are Harry; Will Anderson (alto); Dan Tobias; Pete Anderson (tenor); Jon-Erik; Alex Hoffman (tenor); Dan Block (tenor); Chris Flory (guitar, remembering Tiny Grimes at the start);   Neal Miner (string bass) — backed by hilariously appropriate riffs:

Jon-Erik temporarily retired from the field and turned matters over to Eli Preminger, the hot trumpet man from Israel . . . and Doug Finke returned for I FOUND A NEW BABY, with Dan Block and Harry Allen in conversation, Will and Pete Anderson showing brotherly love, Dan Tobias and Eli having a swing chat before Alex and Chris speak up.  Then it’s every tub on its own bottom (with Neal being epigrammatic on the bridge):

And if that wasn’t enough, some blues to close out the night — the YELLOW DOG BLUES, thirteen minutes and fifteen seconds of hot bliss:

“My goodness!” to quote Dan Barrett.

I don’t know of another place on the planet where such collective exultation takes place on a weekly basis . . . . thank you, gentlemen, for making this joy possible (and for allowing me to spread the healing vibrations to people who live far away).

P.S.  I must also say that what and how a band plays is in some small measure determined by their audience.  It is entirely possible, and sometimes necessary, for musicians to ignore the loud or distracting people in front of them . . . in fact, if musicians got distracted from their life-purpose by the couple at the table near the window, they wouldn’t last very long in this business.  But I digress.  At the Ear Inn that night, there were many musicians and deep listeners in the audience, and I am sure this made the atmosphere even more special: Gary Foster, Frank Basile, Ben Flood [players!] and Lynn Redmile, Shelley Finke, Nan Irwin, Claiborne Ray, Marcia Salter [listeners!].

P.P.S.  After five years of fairly steady attendance at The Ear, I feel that it is a beautifully special place in my world.  It’s where I go to wash away the dust of everyday life, to get my aesthetic vitamins, to get my batteries charged.

This may be too personal for some of my readers, but I write openly that 326 Spring Street on Sundays from 8-11 is my synagogue, my church, my mosque, my sacred space, my place of worship.  I go there to get uplifted, to witness and participate once again in individual and collective Joy.  I go there to learn so much about beauty and generosity.

I wish that everyone who vibrates as I do could go there and be inspired.

And I do not overstate a word here.

May your happiness increase.