Tag Archives: Gordon Webster

HETTY KATE IS COMING TO NEW YORK! (January 21, 2014)

Don’t read.  Listen!

I might be slightly late to the party, but I admire the Australian swing singer HETTY KATE immensely, and I wrote about her music here six months ago. Both of the discs I heard — a romping collaboration with pianist Gordon Webster and hip New York friends, and a dark swoony collection of love ballads — were superb.  She is a genuine singer who knows the music, has a pleasing voice, can swing, and is not in the copying business.

I am delighted (and surprised) to be able to report that Hetty and Gordon are coming to New York City to celebrate their CD release (the celebration takes the form of a swing dance party, naturally) at DROM NYC (85 Avenue A, 646-791-4244).  The doors open at 6:30; the music is from 7:00 – 9:00. You can purchase tickets here — and the DROM package also includes a choice of Mediterranean dinner options . . . worth checking out, as dancing can build up a tremendous appetite.

I’ll be there for the music.  And if you hold to Larkin’s Law, which suggests that if X were any good you would have heard of X already, well, it’s time to drop that ancient restrictive view of the world.  The concert is produced by Misha Katsobashvili and Gordon Webster — a solid guarantee that fine music is going to be on the menu.  See you there!

May your happiness increase!

COMING RIGHT UP! NEW YORK HOT JAZZ STAGE at NEW YORK WINTER JAZZFEST (Friday /Saturday, January 9 – 10, 2015)

I can’t be there.  But this is one sure way to combat post-holiday ennui and January chills: a compact yet intense hot jazz fiesta with some of the best contemporary traditional (that’s not an oxymoron) players and singers.

MISHA

It will take place at the Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street, New York City, which has “excellent acoustics and uninterrupted hardwood floors” for dancing, which is encouraged. Here are the details:

“Note that passes are available only for the entire festival, which gives each “marathon” ticketholder access to all the acts throughout the neighborhood, if you care to venue-hop. Or stay with us and enjoy 5 hot jazz bands per night, from roughly 6 PM – midnight. (Detailed schedule below.) $35 per night, or $55 for the full weekend.

Friday, Jan 9:

6:15 – Cynthia Sayer’s Joyride Band
7:30 – Jon Weber – ragtime and stride piano
8:45 – Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo with Jason Anick
10:00 – Gordon Webster Sextet with Brianna Thomas

Note: at 12:45am, Bria Skonberg Quintet will be at Zinc Bar, 82 West 3rd St., and this set is included in your pass.

Saturday, Jan. 10:

6:15 – The Ladybugs
7:30 – Dan Levinson’s Gotham SophistiCats w/ Molly Ryan & Blind Boy Paxton
8:45 – Stephane Wrembel
10:00 – Catherine Russell
11:05 – David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band

Ticket options and general info here.

PLEASE READ CAREFULLY:

*This is a general admission, standing- (and dancing-) room event.

*Tickets are NOT available solely for the NY Hot Jazz Stage. There are only full-festival passes for the day/weekend/combo Winter Jazzfest. A festival pass grants admission to all Jazzfest venues. Each venue is subject to space limitations and admittance is granted on a first-come, first-served basis.

*The festival check-in is at Judson Church, which is several blocks away from Greenwich House Music School.”

For more information, you may also visit and browse here.

I understand that some enthusiasts’ budgets might be strained with holiday expenses.  But $35 for one night or $55 for two will seem less daunting when one considers — simple math — that if you wanted to see / hear any of these artists perform live for sixty to seventy-five minutes, it would cost more than the prices here (about six dollars a set for one night, less than five dollars a set for the whole package).  It’s cheaper than a new winter coat, and the glow should take you all the way to spring.

May your happiness increase!

 

NAOMI AND HER HANDSOME DEVILS

I first met Naomi Uyama in a downtown New York music club five years ago. Soon, we adjourned to the sidewalk.

It’s less melodramatic or noir than it appears.  The club was Banjo Jim’s — ‘way down yonder on Avenue C — where a variety of jazz-folk-dance groups appeared in 2009. The most famous was the Cangelosi Cards, in their original manifestation, featuring among others Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Marcus Milius, Cassidy Holden, Gordon Webster, Kevin Dorn. Tamar, who has always admired the Boswell Sisters, got together with singers Naomi and Mimi Terris to perform some Boswell numbers as “The Three Diamonds.” On one cold night, the three singers joined forces on the sidewalk to serenade myself, Jim and Grace Balantic, and unaware passers-by with a Boswell hot chorus of EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY. Tamar has recorded on her own, as has Mimi, but I and others have been waiting for Naomi to record, to share her sweet swing with the world. And the disc is delightful.

NAOMI

The first thing one notices about the disc is its authentic swing feel courtesy of players who have a deep affection for a late-Basie rhythmic surge and melodic ingenuity: Jake Sanders, guitar; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Jared Engel, string bass; Jeremy Noller, drums, and a two-person frontline of Adrian Cunningham, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Matt Musselman, trombone.  The band is neither over-rehearsed or overly casual; they provoke regular movements of the listener’s head, torso, and limbs.  (I can attest to this.)  They aren’t busily copying the sound of classic recordings; they are swinging out in fine style. I heard echoes of Illinois Jacquet and Al Grey, of a Buddy Tate band uptown or a Forties Jay McShann small group, of Tiny Grimes and Sir Charles Thompson — those players who swung as reliably as breathing. The band never gets in Naomi’s way, and they make happy music for dancers, riffing as if to the manner born.

But this might seem to ignore Naomi, which would be unthinkable. She came to jazz through lindy hop, which means her rhythm has a cheerful bounce to it, even on slower numbers. But she knows well that making music is more than beating a solid 4/4 so that the dancers know where one is. Naomi is an effective melodist, not tied to the paper but eminently respectful of the melodies we know. Her improvisations tend to be subtle, but when she breaks loose (trading scat phrases with the horns on MARIE) she never puts a foot wrong. (MARIE, incidentally, is the fastest track on the disc — 223 beats per minute — and it never seems rushed. I approve that Naomi and her Handsome Devils understand the beautiful shadings possible within medium-tempo rocking music.)

Naomi’s voice is a pleasure in itself — no rough edges, with a wide palette of timbres, but perfectly focused and with an effective phrase-ending vibrato. She doesn’t sound like someone who has spent her life memorizing Ella, Billie, or a dozen others; she sounds, rather, like someone who has fallen in love with the repertoire and decided to sing it, as if she were a bird bursting into song. In swingtime, of course. On Lil Johnson’s seductive encouragement, TAKE IT EASY, GREASY, she does her own version of a Mae West meow, but she doesn’t go in for effects and tricks. Her phrases fall in the right places, and she sounds natural — not always the case among musicians offering milkless milk and silkless silk in the name of Swing.

And I had a small epiphany while listening to this CD. A front-line of trombone and reed (mostly tenor) is hardly unusual, and it became even less so from the middle Forties onwards, but it makes complete aesthetic sense here, because the spare instrumentation (two horns, powerful yet light rhythm section) gives Naomi the room she needs to be the graceful and memorable trumpet player of this little band. Think, perhaps, of Buck Clayton: sweet, inventive, bluesy, creating wonderful phrases on the simplest material, and the place Naomi has made for herself in the band seems clear and inevitable.

The songs also suggest a wider knowledge of the Swing repertoire than is usual: Basie is represented not with a Joe Williams blues, but with the 1938 GLORIANNA, and the Dorsey MARIE is an evocation rather than a small-band copy. There are blues — I KNOW HOW TO DO IT and the aforementioned TAKE IT EASY, GREASY — as well as classic pop standards that feel fresh: I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, ONE HOUR, LOVER, COME BACK TO ME, AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY, GOODY GOODY, IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY, WHAM, and THIS CAN’T BE LOVE.

The disc offers nothing but good music, never ironic or post-modern, neither copying nor satirizing, just beautifully crafted melodic Swing.  Welcome, Naomi — with your Handsome Devils alongside. On with the dance!

Now, some bits of information. You can find Naomi on Facebook here; the band has its own page here. To buy the disc (or a download), visit here, where you also can hear samples of the songs. To hear complete songs, visit here. Naomi and a version of her Devils can be found on YouTube, and here is her channel. Enough data for anyone: listen to the music and you’ll be convinced.

May your happiness increase!

WELCOME, HETTY KATE!

Hetty Kate and Gordon Webster

Hetty Kate and Gordon Webster

I am delighted to introduce the fine singer Hetty Kate. To those who already know her, let this be a repeat embrace and celebration.  Hetty does all the right things, without straining or undue drama.  Her voice is clear and penetrating; her diction beautiful without being “learned” (she has a conversational ease); she swings; she subtly but affectingly improvises; she understand the lyrics; she embellishes and ornaments but never obliterates the melody. She respects the great singers of the past and present but never climbs in to the tomb and closes the door.

I delight in the two new CDs she has presented to us, in her sweet light-hearted approach.  When she decides to snap out a lyric, the results are explosively good (hear her FROST ON THE MOON).  She sounds as if she is merely singing the song, but we know that such casualness is true art.

Hetty is international in the best way: based in Melbourne, Australia, she recorded one CD on a New York City trip — enjoying the company of fine local musicians including Gordon Webster, piano; Dan Levinson, reeds; Mike Davis, trumpet, Cassidy Holden, guitar (now of New Orleans, but I knew him first as a string bassist with the Cangelosi Cards), Kevin Congleton, drums; Rob Adkins, string bass; Joseph Wiggan, tap dancing (wonderfully on Shoo Fly Pie); Adrien Chevalier, violin (Besame Mucho); Adam Brisbin, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; and a quartet of additional horns on the final track to make a rocking big band, Nadje Noordhuis, Jay Rattman, Michael Webster, Mike Fahie.  The truly international trombonist Shannon Barnett (Australia / New York / Germany) also pays a call.  The result is irresistible, one of those CDs I wanted to play again right away as soon as it ended.

The CD is called GORDON WEBSTER MEETS HETTY KATE, and the equality of the title is mirrored in the music, with a nice balance between singer and band.  The soloists tell us stories; Gordon’s wonderfully off-center piano is always a deep pleasure, and the sound — thanks to Michael Perez-Cisneros — is rich, exquisite.

GORDON HETTY

Hetty told me, “I really let my imagination go a little with the song list, and love digging out tunes that aren’t played too much,” thus, Button Up Your Overcoat / Blitzkrieg Baby / Peek-a-boo / Shoo Fly Pie & Apple Pan Dowdy / How D’ya Like To Love Me? / Eight, Nine & Ten / There’s Frost On The Moon / Busy Line /  Sweet Lover No More / I Wanna Be Around / Hard Hearted Hannah / Bésame Mucho / I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City.

Two songs were unfamiliar charmers, so I asked her about their origins.  Here’s what Hetty wrote:

I first heard Peek-A-Boo on a .. wait for it.. Dove advertisement (probably on You Tube), where they’d used the song as the soundtrack to a story about how women are always so self conscious about their looks, and don’t like being photographed – but when they are children they have no shame about this and just dance and ham for the camera.. a little message about trying to be confident and see the beauty in us all! So the song was a cute one.. I fell immediately in love with it and with some research found the vocalist, Rose Murphy, the “chee chee girl” and also added her other famous song ‘Busy Line’ to the album. She was quite an extraordinary performer and pianist, and now I’m a big fan. 

There are so many wonderful singers who don’t get much of a ‘look in’ because of Ella / Billie / Peggy / Anita and so forth – I feel that not only am I getting a benefit from discovering these other singers, but their memory can be kept alive a little too! Audrey Morris sang ‘How D’Ya Like To Love Me’ and she was an extraordinary talent as well (Bob Hope also famously sang that song) Sweet Lover and I Wanna Be Around were given to me on a mix tape by a good friend with a Blossom Dearie obsession and her approach to two rather evil songs was of course cute as a button – at the time I was going through some romantic challenges of my own, and I love to sing about the darker side of love as well as its light and sparkling hopefulness!

There’s Frost On The Moon was also given to me — Chick Webb’s band with Ella Fitzgerald (very young) and I believe Louis Jordan – and again, the lyrics were an immediate drawcard as well as the melody. The band in the studio had a great time with this one! I think it’s our favourite!

A lot of my family are writers, and as well as being drawn to the melody of a tune, I am always entranced by a clever turn of phrase, and with this album being able to match clever songs with some great dance tempos and arrangements by Gordon I was in heaven!! 

Had Hetty recorded only this CD, I would be heralding her as a reassuringly professional new talent. But there’s more. DIM ALL THE LIGHTS is an entrancing collection of “vintage love songs” associated with Peggy Lee, June Christy, and Julie London: The Thrill Is Gone / In the Still of the Night / Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered / Answer Me, My Love / Why Don’t You Do Right? / Cry Me A River / Something Cool / Wives and Lovers / I Get Along Without You Very Well.  Hetty is accompanied by a spare but beautiful quartet of Sam Keevers, piano; James Sherlock, guitar; Ben Robertson, string bass; Danny Farugia, drums.

HETTY DIM ALL THE LIGHTS

The temptation for a singer, choosing these songs so strongly associated with these majestic artists, would be either to copy or to go in the other direction — vary the tempo, add odd rhythmic backgrounds, and the like. Hetty does neither: I am sure that the voices of the Great Foremothers are echoing in her head, but she treats each song as its own new script, and takes her time, inventing a new, lifelike way to sing it.  No maudlin swooning, no pounding drums, no melodramatic rubato.  Just effective singing: I’d put her version of BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, and BEWILDERED up against anyone’s. Understated, apparently cool, but with real passion coming through.

I believe Hetty has been singing professionally only since 2006, but she is a real treasure.  No fakery — no little-girl cute, no look-at-me-I’m-so-hip / punk / sexy here at all.  Just good music, intelligently interpreted and always swinging. And don’t let the gorgeous cover shot prejudice you against the elegant Ms. Kate: her CDs are about her voice, not her hair or her beautiful dress.

Here is Hetty’s Facebook page, and here is the website for the CD with Gordon.  Both discs are on iTunes.  Visit here and enjoy one-minute sound bites; visit the ABC site to purchase DIM ALL THE LIGHTS, and here to purchase the CD with Gordon — which is also available at CDBaby. (I know — life is complicated, especially for those of us used to dropping in at our local record stores and coming home with some new or old treasure.  But Hetty’s CDs are worth the digging.)

It’s a critical commonplace to welcome the new artist at the start of “a brilliant career” to come.  In Hetty Kate’s case, she is already singing brilliantly — a young artist with a mature, engaging sensibility.

May your happiness increase!

WHILE IT’S HOT: TWO CONCERTS, COMING SOON

I revere the jazz Past: the recordings, the actual men and women, their stories, their holy artifacts.

But I would not want this art form to become a museum, where we can only hear the Great Dead People.

So I encourage my friends to seek out occasions where we can live in the present moment: hearing living men and women play and sing their own versions of this lovely music right in front of us. It’s an experience different and deeper than listening to the Electrobeam Gennett you just got on eBay, although I am not making fun of that pleasure, not at all.

Enjoying the present makes me think of fish and chips, which I will explain below.  Trust me, it’s relevant.

The two concerts I am reminding you all about are put on by the Sidney Bechet Society in New York City. Were I there, I would be there. They take place on Monday, at 7:15 (a nice serene early hour) at Symphony Space at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street.

Monday, April 21, is the second “Jam Session of the Millenium,” led by our own Dan Levinson:

SBS.April.Show.Flier.V6 (Neal Siegal)

If you’re one of those Jazz Lovers who wonders, “Who are these kids and are they any good?” you and your skepticism are in luck — because someone (thank you, Anonymous Person) recorded the first Jam Session of the Millennium in its entirety.  Consider this!

Monday, May 19, is a tribute concert in honor of Mat Domber, who made so much good music possible for all of us (along with his wonderful wife Rachel, still with us) on Arbors Records from the late Eighties onwards.  The audience of jazz listeners thanks him as do the musicians — and some of them gather onstage to say it with music: Randy Sandke, Wycliffe Gordon, Anat Cohen, Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Warren Vache, Joel Forbes, Rebecca Kilgore, Ed Metz, Rossano Sportiello, Harry Allen, John Allred, Rajiv Jayaweera, and Bob Wilber!

Tickets are $35 (students $10) ahttp://youtu.be/TfKz2nIok-Qnd the Symphony Space contact information is 212.864.5400 / www.symphonyspace.org.

Fish and chips, Michael?”

Yes.  In one of my favorite Irish novels of the last few decades, THE VAN, by Roddy Doyle, two fellows open a mobile fish and chips “cooker” out of an old van — a very funny and touching novel.  But one of their selling points is a sign that says TODAY’S CHIPS TODAY. Get this music while it’s HOT.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ COMES UP TOMS RIVER (Wednesdays at 8)

To survive and prosper, jazz needs musicians — wise and heartfelt — and audiences who have the same qualities.  But it also needs venues and promoters who will make it possible for musicians to improvise where people can hear them. We’ve had Norman Granz; George Wein is still with us.  But a new face has entered the scene, with characteristic enthusiasm.  Ricky Riccardi, whom we know and love as Louis Armstrong scholar and archivist, writer and blogger, pianist and enthusiast — has begun producing a series of concerts in Toms River, New Jersey, that begins this Wednesday at 8 with a concert by Mona’s Hot Four: Dennis Lichtman, Jared Engel, Gordon Webster, Nick Russo — AND — Tamar Korn.  Future concerts will present Dan Levinson, Mike Davis, Kevin Dorn, Molly Ryan, and others.  For information, click here.  For video evidence of just how wonderful Mona’s Hot Four (this time with guests) is, try here.

Toms River, New Jersey, isn’t noted reverently in the jazz histories as the Cradle or even the Bassinet of Jazz.  But things will change!

May your happiness increase!

MEET MIMI TERRIS, WHO SINGS BEAUTIFULLY

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I first encountered Mimi Terris late in 2008, a sweetly humble young singer who joined Tamar Korn and the Cangelosi Cards at the Lower East Side music spot Banjo Jim’s.  With Naomi Uyama, the three songbirds stood out on the sidewalk on a cold night and serenaded me, Jim and Grace Balantic with an a cappella Boswell Sisters chorus.  It might have been SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT, and we were thrilled. Tamar, Mimi, and Naomi are immortalized on a few videos on YouTube, and the EP CD of “The Three Diamonds”.

Now, Mimi has released her debut CD: it is just wonderful throughout. It’s not simply the winning purity of her voice; it’s the depth of her emotions and the wide range of her musical affections — from gutty Bessie Smith to floating sweet lyricisms.  She can be as light as Beverly Kenney or Blossom Dearie, but she isn’t limited by any one approach. Mimi is classically trained, but she doesn’t sound like Helen Traubel “trying to swing.”  Swing comes naturally to her, but so does beautiful enunciation, convincing phrasing, a deep love of both the original melody and the lyrics.

Here she is, with friends, deep in the purple dusk of twilight time:

The CD, THEY SAY ITS SPRING, is just as delicious.  On it, Mimi is joined by pianist Gordon Webster and bassist Cassidy Holden with visits from guitarist Jacob Fischer and trumpeter Peter Marrott on THEY SAY IT’S SPRING / WEST END BLUES / EN SADAN NATT SOM DENNA (an instantly memorable Swedish pop song from the Thirties) / IT WON’T BE YOU / LILAC WINE / I GOT IT BAD / ROCKIN’ CHAIR / LOVER, COME BACK TO ME / STAR DUST / ALICE.

Listening to it, a dozen times, I thought of Eddie Condon’s praise of Lee Wiley: “She just sings the melody.  No tricks.”  But Mimi’s delicate, reverberating art — deeply simple — is even better than the absence of melodrama.  Although young, she sounds like a mature artist, offering her love of the songs to us.

Mimi’s Facebook page is here; her website is here; to hear music samples or download the CD, visit here.

May your happiness increase!

GO WEST (into NEW JERSEY) FOR JAZZ!

New Jersey

Even with my much-used GPS glued to the windshield, I get lost easily while driving; certain neurons must not be speaking kindly to one another.  So for several years, the thought of “driving to Brooklyn” was stressful.  But I have gotten more brave.  Now. . . to the next summit . . . conquering New Jersey!

But what is life without live jazz?

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to hear Mark Shane — Prince of Pianists — sit down at a baby grand piano and saunter through four choruses of IF I COULD BE WITH YOU.  I am going to see Mark and Catherine Russell (and Matt Munisteri, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block, and some rhythmic gents) on Monday, April 15 at Symphony Space . . . but that concert, one I am looking forward to with eagerness, seemed a long way off.  Here are the details.

I had to do something!

Full of jazz-flavored courage, I made the necessary arrangements, checked in with my cardiologist, informed the authorities.  I will be driving from Long Island to the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, New Jersey, this coming Monday, April 8, to see and hear cornetist / trombonist Randy Reinhart lead a small band (small in numbers only): Mark, piano; James Chirillo, guitar; Brian Nalepka (back in the saddle again!) on string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Here’s the needed information:

The Bickford Theatre/Morris Museum: On Columbia Turnpike/Road (County Road 510) at the corner of Normandy Heights Road, east of downtown Morristown. Near Interstate 287 and the Route 24 expressway. This is a 300-seat hall with generous parking on site. Wheelchair access. Weeknight concerts are one long set (8 to 9:30 PM). Tickets are generally $15 in advance, but $18 at the door. Tickets may be purchased via credit card over the phone by calling the box office at (973) 971-3706. The box office can also provide information, directions or a simple “jazz map.”

To keep up with future events, email Jazzevents@aol.com and let them know you’d like to be in the loop — for concerts featuring the Midiri Brothers, Danny Tobias, Bria Skonberg, Dennis Lichtman, Dan Levinson, Molly Ryan, Neville Dickie, Emily Asher, Bucky PIzzarelli, Frank Vignola, Vinny Raniolo, Jon-Erik Kellso, Ehud Asherie, Peter and Will Anderson, Gordon Webster, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra and more.

May your happiness increase.

IN THE MAIN STREAM: THE MORGANVILLE FOUR (DAN LEVINSON, BRIA SKONBERG, NICKI PARROTT, GORDON WEBSTER)

You have to like a CD whose cover puts the players — at their ease — in a Rousseau painting.

Morganville Four

But the charms of this disc go deeper than the cover, because the music is stylish and lovely.  The CD appeals in so many ways.

For one, it is Mainstream jazz of a kind not always encountered in recordings and performances.  Although the four players are often spotted at “traditional” “jazz” events — whatever the words in quotation marks mean these days — this is a session that celebrates the music, affectionate, melodic, with rhythmic lilt.  No tricks, no gimmicks, just feeling and mastery.

For another, the cost-conscious almost-purchaser can know that (s)he is getting good value.  Although this is billed as a FOUR, it is one of those magician’s tricks — a quartet that seems infinitely expandable.

Consider: two men, two women; two singers, four instrumentalists, string bass, piano, trumpet, clarinet, C- melody sax, tenor sax (with friends stopping by to offer the appropriate percussion).  I grew weary just typing (or is it “keyboarding”?) all of that.

And the four players / singers are marvelously first-rate jazz stars who know how to blend, to be supportive, to create delicious ensemble traceries.  Dan Levinson plays all those reeds; Bria Skonberg the trumpet; Gordon Webster, the piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass — and Bria and Nicki sing, together and singly.

I couldn’t fit that foursome in my car, but their expansive music fills the room very sweetly.  And that music!  I call it “Mainstream,” thanks to Stanley Dance, and although I distrust all of those boxes and labels — the critical blurt we call  DixietradNewOrleansbigbandbeboprevivalisthardbopswingretrofreenewthing — “Mainstream” still has a good deal of validity.  You’ll know it when you hear it, and only obsessive classifiers will say, “Is this hot jazz or cool?”  “Is that modern or traditional?”  “Is that a terrifying be-bop phrase I just heard?”

What is immediately audible on this disc is a deep love of melodic improvisation over swinging rhythms, with lyricism allied to an unhackneyed harmonic awareness.  To put it another way, although there are Twenties tunes here — THE ONE I LOVE and I WISH I COULD SHIMMY LIKE MY SISTER KATE — the approach is free and friendly, detached from the shackles of convention and cliche, but not attempting to “freshen up the old stuff.”  No striped vests but nothing self-consciously esoteric, either.

The spirit I imagined most frequently as the spiritual overseer of this music was Ruby Braff: lyrical, surprising, imaginative, someone who made great creative use of “unorthodox” combinations.  (No drums, no trombone — just four pals floating along happily down the Main Stream of jazz.)  And there’s a certain witty lightness animating everything but we are always in touch with the deep feeling beneath the notes.

The CD has all the right elements: a variety of songs and approaches (essential to make it into a concert rather than a test of stoic endurance); lovely recorded sound, thanks to Peter Karl; nifty liner notes from Will Friedwald and Jon Hill.  The latter fellow deserves truckloads of credit: the M4 played at a private party of his in 2011, and he thought, “Wow, let’s make a record!”  And he did.  (You can find Jon to congratulate and thank him at Jazz_Rules@yahoo.com.)

I’d buy / play this CD for someone worried about THE DEATH OF JAZZ or THE VANISHING AUDIENCE.  I’d also be delighted to play it for someone who looks at me quizzically when I suggest that “my” music is not rooted in KIND OF BLUE.

You can check out the CD in all the usual places.  Hear samples here.

May your happiness increase.

JUST THREE-QUARTERS OF AN HOUR OF LOVE WITH MONA’S HOT FOUR AND GUESTS (“THE ‘TUESDAYS AT MONA’S’ ALL-STAR JAM BAND”) at the ROCKLAND MUSIC HALL (Dec. 11, 2012)

Although my spiritual persuasions lead me in other directions, here is the Official JAZZ LIVES 20 13 Christmas Gift: forty-five minutes in jazz heaven.

That Elysium was found at the Rockland Music Hall (Allen Street, the East Village, New York City) on Dec. 11, 2012 — when Mona’s Hot Four (plus many stellar friends) took to the small stage to celebrate their CD / DVD release.  You can read about the CD / DVD here: in the words of Stuff Smith and Mitchell Parish, it’s wonderful.

Mona’s Hot Four appears every Tuesday night at Mona’s on Avenue B and Thirteenth Street; they begin their ecstatic festivities close to midnight and continue until 4 AM or so.  So this early-evening set was a treat for nine-to-fivers like myself (and my pals Ricky Riccardi and Ben Flood, who felt as I do about the music).  And through the kindness of MH4, I was allowed to record the proceedings and share them with you.

The core unit is Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Gordon Webster, piano; Jared Engel, string bass; Nick Russo, guitar / banjo.

And they began with the Sidney Bechet song, CHANT IN THE NIGHT:

Then Dennis invited Gordon Au, trumpet; Emily Asher, trombone; Jerron Paxton, vocal / banjo to join in for CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

Miss Tamar Korn came along for a vocal duet with Jerron on SUGAR BLUES:

David McKay became the sole vocalist for a Nat Cole-inflected WHEN I GROWN TOO OLD TO DREAM:

And the scene shifted: Dennis, Gordon, and Nick remained, but Molly Ryan, Vocal; Rob Adkins, string bass; Chris St. Hilaire, snare drum; Mike Davis, cornet replaced their august friends for WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO:

And to close — a vocal trio of Tamar, Molly, Margi Gianquinto sang DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME with help from Bob Curtis, clarinet:

If that isn’t three-quarters of an hour of love, I don’t know.

After you’ve watched these free-to-all videos a dozen times and told your pals, I urge you (if you can) to get down to Mona’s for a late-night swing session.  If  you can’t do that, the urge is transmuted . . . pick up several copies of the CD / DVD, which is just as sweet and far more riotous.  Art can’t live on love alone, can it?

May your happiness increase.

AN ECSTATIC EXPERIENCE NOT TO BE MISSED: MONA’S HOT FOUR AND FRIENDS! (Tuesday, December 11, 2012: Rockwood Music Hall, New York City)

With all due respect to every other gig, concert, club date that I have agitated for in the past few posts, I feel that if you miss this one . . . well, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY.

Can I be any less subtle?

Because I have a day gig that starts rather early, I have been to Mona’s, the long narrow rectangular club in the Extreme East Village (that’s Greenwich Village, New York City) exactly twice.  Once I had a very good time listening to the band, and the second time it was already so crowded that I couldn’t squeeze myself in.  But the Tuesday-late-night / early-Wednesday morning jam sessions are legendary.  They feature a band called MONA’S HOT FOUR — Dennis Lichman, clarinet; Gordon Webster, piano; Jared Engel, string bass; Nick Russo, guitar / banjo.  But everyone who’s anyone in the New York hot jazz scene has made an appearance at Mona’s, and the immense joy / hilarity / heat have become mythic.

For those of you saying, “I can’t go to a weekday gig that starts after 11 PM,” I sympathize.  But Dennis Lichtman is riding to the rescue on behalf of people who have to go to work and people who couldn’t shoehorn themselves into Mona’s.

373476_425493184180758_1542308782_n

On Tuesday, December 11, 2012:  Mona’s Hot Four will be having a CD/DVD release party / concert / ecstatic gathering at Rockwood Music Hall (Allen and Houston Streets in the East Village) at 8 PM, continuing until 9:15.

The Hot Four will be there with special guests: Tamar Korn, Emily Asher, Gordon Au, Mike Davis, and many more great musicians.   Admission is $10.

Those who don’t have to be awake early on Wednesday may continue the celebration after the show at Mona’s (Avenue B between 14th & 15th Street, beginning at 11 PM and going until 3:30 AM at the least.

Now, just in case you might be wondering, “How does Michael get to be so sure that an ecstatic jazz experience awaits those voyagers bold enough to get themselves to Allen and Houston Streets?”  I have been listening over and over to the CD while driving to work and everywhere else.  And the other drivers are, I am sure, more than a little puzzled at the man in the aging Toyota who is grinning and laughing and pounding the steering wheel in swingtime.

If the music at the Rockwood Music Hall is anywhere as elating as the CD, it will be a seventy-five minute set to remember, to tell the imaginary grandchildren.  Here’s some information about the CD, which contains these tracks: MY BLUE HEAVEN / CHANT IN THE NIGHT / TIGER RAG / WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO / LAZY RIVER / FIDGETY FEET / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / AVALON / SUGAR BLUES / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.

In addition to MH4, there are guest appearances from Emily Asher, Ehud Asherie, Gordon Au, Bob Curtis, Mike Davis, Jim Fryer, J. Walter Hawkes, Tamar Korn, David Langlois, Dan Levinson, David McKay, Andrew Nemr, Jerron Paxton, Nathan Pick, Molly Ryan, Bria Skonberg, Dave Speranza, Chris St. Hilaire, and Miss Tess.

All I can say is that these recorded performances rank easily with the best music I have heard in New York City since I ventured out of my cocoon in May 2004.  I am still grinning at the sounds stuck happily in my memory from this CD.

And there’s more — a professionally-done DVD documentary (slightly less than twenty minutes) about the scene at Mona’s.  I have held off watching this on my computer because it will be shown on December 11.

The Beloved, a few years ago, taught me something about “non-violent communication,” which is a soulful way of expressing yourself without pushing your wishes on anyone.  So rather than saying, “If you miss this, you’re nuts,” or “You should go to this gig if you want some extra added pleasure,” I will say only, “Would you be willing to consider the idea of this evening?  I think it will make you very happy.”  And I do.  My idea of absolute bliss, of course, is this: attend Rockland Music Hall.  Buy CD / DVDs in plural, keep one, give the rest as gifts, support the music and the musicians who do so much for us.

Here’s the Facebook link.  Look for me there (and say “Hello!” after).

And if you live far away or are tied to some responsibility on Dec. 11, you can order the CD / DVD package here.

May your happiness increase.

FACES, VOICES, PAGES

The first song is famous — and someone loved and played this sheet music:

Mildred even autographed another copy:

I couldn’t find any evidence that Mildred had ever recorded this song, but for those of you who don’t know it, here’s a sultry 2011 version by Tamar Korn with Mona’s Hot Four: Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Gordon Webster, piano; Nick Russo, guitar; Rob Adkins, bass:

A Young-Washington-Wiley team effort, new to me:

A little online research led to Ted FioRito’s recording of this song (vocal chorus by Muzzy Marcelino) — http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x9ywcs_ted-fiorito-his-orchestra-i-d-be-te_music — not the most distinguished Victor Young creation.

But now, as you go through your errands, you might be able to hear / imagine Mildred singing DELTA and Lee assure us of her essential honesty.

May your happiness increase.

EMILY ASHER’S DREAMS TAKE US ALOFT

Something good.  And about time!  It’s trombonist / singer / composer / arranger / bandleader Emily Asher’s debut CD, sweetly titled DREAMS MAY TAKE YOU.

Along with Emily, you will hear Wycliffe Gordon, on sousaphone and trombone; Bria Skonberg, trumpet, vocal; Philip Dizack, trumpet; Dan Levinson, tenor sax, clarinet; William Anderson, alto sax; Nick Russo, guitar, banjo; Gordon Webster, piano; Kelly Friesen, bass; Rob Adkins, bass; Kevin Dorn, drums; Rob Garcia, drums.  For those of you familiar with the hot New York scene, those names are a guarantee of fine swinging inventive jazz.

Much of the repertoire would appear to be “good old good ones,” including SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET and SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, but the CD is anything but by-the-numbers.  Emily is more than a fine trombonist and a sweetly winning singer: she is an imaginative musician, so the CD doesn’t bog down in the same thing; every track is its own vignette.

It begins with a romping version of ORY’S CREOLE TROMBONE, which Emily delivers with a fine gutty fervor (and her own version of a trombone cadenza).  The soloists share Emily’s high-flying enthusiasm, and the rhythm sections couldn’t be better.  So the chestnuts have a delightful 2012 Condonite bounce and looseness.  The CD’s title comes from an Asher original — by Emily’s father — called LULLABY FOR A LITTLE ONE, on which Miss Asher sings with winsome charm.  (And she knows when to leave an audience wanting more: the LULLABY is a delicious cameo, slightly over two minutes.)  It’s followed by a New Orleans “second line” version of CHANGES MADE, which would cause the sedentary to start dancing.  The original SWEET PEA is part cowboy-ballad, part rocking barcarolle, with touches of Fifties West Coast cool arranging.  HEY, LOOK ME OVER is Emily’s childhood party piece — which begins in an easy waltz-time before morphing into sleek swing — that won me over when I saw her do it (with apt choreography) at Radegast.  A streamlined EMPEROR NORTON’S HUNCH has shed all its two-beat trappings, and bursts forth gracefully.  SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET features the duet stylings of Asher and Skonberg — neatly warbling the hip variations I associate with John Birks Gillespie — before the ensemble gives way to a piano / trombone duet.  Emily’s original GREAT BIG WALL will be the only song you know (I would guess) that mixes Latin rhythms and Middle Eastern tonalities.  Successfully, I must add.  YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE begins with a slide guitar / trombone duet and then blossoms, lyrically.  MUSKRAT RAMBLE begins with the Hot Five introduction and rocks from the first note (not too slow, not too fast, either) — with a splendidly tapping drum solo by Kevin Dorn in the middle.  SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, taken at a brisk clip, is another trombone-piano outing, very delicate in its earnestness, with a straight-from-the-shoulder vocal by Emily, taking the lyrics with a gentle seriousness that would have pleased its creator.  And the disc ends with LIMEHOUSE BLUES, a version that had the energy of the World’s Greatest Jazz Band of fabled memory.

Nothing’s dull or forced on this CD: it’s one of those rare creations where you want to play it over again when it ends.

I couldn’t attend Emily’s May 29 CD release party at Radegast — a true Garden Party, I hear — but the CD is its own jubilant party.  You can purchase one here — either as a digital download or a physical CD.

And the GP will be strolling around the New Jersey Jazz Society’s JAZZFEST on Saturday, June 16, which begins at noon and ends at 9 PM.  And when Emily and company need a rest, you can hear Jon Burr,  Lynn Stein, Andy Farber’s Swing Mavens featuring Champian Fulton, the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra, the Tony DeSare trio, Eddie Monteiro, Swingadelic, and more.  Tickets can be ordered at 908.273.7827 or online at http://www.njjs.org.

Look out, world: here she comes!

May your happiness increase.

STEPHANE SEVA PAYS US A VISIT! (Nov. 26-30, 2010)

I first encountered the swinging percussionist Stephane Seva on pianist Olivier Lancelot’s CD (“Lancelot and his Chevaliers”).  Although some washboardists can be heavy and overly assertive, Stephane had a light, tapping sound, and an irresistible beat.  He’s on two new, rewarding CDs.

But first — here’s Stephane in the setting most would have encountered him, as an integral part of the quartet PARIS WASHBOARD (captured by Jeff Guyot for YouTube), with trombonist Daniel Barda, clarinetist Alain Marquet, and pianist Christian Azzi, performing ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE:

Stephane is in fine form on the quartet’s latest CD, LIVE IN MONSEGUR (which features Barda, Marquet, and pianist Louis Mazetier), recorded live on July 4, 2009 — at a festival titled “Les 24 heures de Swing.” 

It’s on the Black and Blue label (BB 708.2) and begins in high gear with a romping MINOR DRAG — followed by SQUEEZE ME, DINAH, KEEP YOUR TEMPER, ROCKIN’ CHAIR, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, CARAVAN, SWEET LORRAINE (with witty lyrics in French about the song itself, crooned by Stephane), and MAPLE LEAF RAG. 

Although Fats Waller avoided trombone in his Rhythm, Paris Washboard has the cheerful stomp and swagger of the Waller group. 

There’s more! 

Stephane hasn’t wanted the washboard to be identified exclusively with Twenties jazz and with revivalist bands, so he has performed with a variety of jazz players.  And the results, surprising and delightful, can be heard on another CD (on his own label — STEF 001 — with an unusual quartet, SWING ONDULE. 

It follows Paris Washboard’s format: piano (Ludovic de Preissac), trombone (Eric Fauconnier), clarinet (Stephane Chausse), Stephane on washboard and vocals, and guest saxophonist Eric Seva.  The CD is teasingly brief — fourtracks only — MINOR’S MOOD, CHEVAUCHEE A BOP-CITY, SWEET LORRAINE (vocal by Stephane), WASHBOARD WIGGLES.  The first two are originals by the pianist; the last track a famous composition of Tiny Parham’s. 

What distinguishes the group and the CD from its more traditional cousins is their gleeful breadth of influences.  In the first few minutes (at a rocking tempo) I thought of the Raymond Scott Quintette, Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano, late swing and early bop . . . all flying by most joyously.  This CD cries out for Blindfold Testing across the civilized world.  The appropriate reaction would be, “I don’t know who they are, but they’re superb!” 

BUT WAIT!  THERE’S MORE!

Stephane is coming to New York for the last week of November, and will be doing four gigs.  Here are the details:

DOC SCANLON’S PAN-ATLANTIC SWINGSTERS with Stephane Seva:

Friday, Nov. 26, 2010:  Poughkeepsie Tennis Club
135 South Hamilton St., Poughkeepsie, New York
Tickets/Info: (845) 454-2571 benasilber@verizon.net
www.hudsonvalleydance.org

Saturday, Nov. 27:  “DAISY BAKER’S” (10 PM – 1 AM):  33 Second Street, Troy, New York  (518) 266-9200  http://www.daisybakers.com

Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010: Swing 46, New York City
349 W. 46th Street between 8th & 9th Avenues                              

Tuesday, Nov. 30:  The Bickford Theatre, Morristown, New Jersey 8 PM:       New York Washboard Band: Stéphane Séva, wasnboard and vocals; Dan Levinson, clarinet; Gordon Webster, piano; Matt Musselman, trombone.  

To keep up with Stephane’s comings and goings, and his debut on CD as a singer (paying heartfelt tribute to Sinatra and Ray Charles) visit www.stephaneseva.com. and http://www.myspace.com/stephaneseva.

YES! NEW MUSIC FROM THE CANGELOSI CARDS

The Cangelosi Cards provoke enthusiastic affirmations wherever they go. 

And recently they’ve gone as far as I can imagine — to the House of Blues and Jazz in Shanghai, China for a three-month residency.  They’re returning for gigs between October 22 and November 4, including a stint at the Nanjing Jazz Festival,  October 22nd-28th. The group will also make a four-city tour including Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. 

I am cheered by their widening circle of friends.  But for those of us who can’t drop everything and follow the Cards to China, there’s new musical evidence to savor.

When I first heard the Cards at Banjo Jim’s some years ago, I was moved by their swinging momentum and deep feeling — unaffected sentiment with a rocking pulse.  The singular instrumental voices always sounded like a conversation — intimate yet fervent — that I was privileged to eavesdrop on.  When Tamar Korn began to sing, the experience became otherworldly, music coming from what Yeats called “the deep heart’s core.” 

Tamar and the band loved the music of the Boswell Sisters — not only the beautiful repertoire and hot solos but the vocal harmonies and sophisticated arrangements.  I saw Tamar and her sweetly singing friends Naomi Uyama and Mimi Terris create their own variations on the Boswell repertoire.  I remember their acapella rendition of MOONGLOW performed on the sidewalk outside Banjo Jim’s brought me to tears. 

Now that experience has taken tangible shape, for Tamar, Mimi, and Naomi,  as “The Three Diamonds,” have recorded a mini-CD of three selections backed by the Cards (Gordon Webster, Dennis Lichtman, Jake Sanders, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, and Marcus Milius). 

It’s extraordinary music — connected by a celestial theme: STARDUST, MOONGLOW, and the lesser-known WHEN MY BLUE MOON TURNS TO GOLD AGAIN.  The EP will be available at the Cards’ shows and can be purchased online at www.losmusicosviajeros.net for $3 plus shipping.

And since the Cards are back in New York City for a moment, they can be experienced at Harefield Road, where, to quote Jake, they’re “inviting a bunch of folks out this Sunday, some good friends-fine players from other groups.”  Harefield Road is on Metropolitan between Graham and Humboldt in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the third stop on the L.  The Cards will play from 5 to 9. 

Members of the band will also be playing at MOTO (http://www.cafe-moto.com) on Friday nights from 9 to midnight. 

And they will also be presented in concert by the New Jersey Jazz Society — at the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, New Jersey, on October 11.  The concert begins at 8 PM: tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door.  The Bickford Theatre/Morris Museum: On Columbia Turnpike/Road (County Road 510) at the corner of Normandy Heights Road, east of downtown Morristown.    The hall is near Interstate 287 and the Route 24 Expressway.  It seats 300 and there’s ample on-site parking and wheelchair access.  Weeknight concerts are one long set (8 to 9:30 PM).  Tickets may be purchased via credit card over the phone by calling the box office at (973) 971-3706.  The box office can also provide information and directions, or email Jazzevents@aol.com.

TEA WITH THE CARDS (Nov. 16, 2009)

As I’ve written, the downtown haunt Banjo Jim’s (Avenue C and 9th Street) in New York City offers the possibility for ecstatic musical experiences when the Cangelosi Cards take the floor.  Literally, it is the floor, since there is no demarcation between the audience, the dancers, and the band . . . which is perhaps as it should be. 

I visited the Cards one week ago at their Monday-night gig and captured their first exuberant performance of WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, featuring Tamar Korn, singing and percussive effects; Jake Sanders, guitar; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and mandolin; Matt Musselman, trombone; Marcus Milius, harmonica; Gordon Webster, piano; Cassidy Holden, bass.  No drums, none needed. 

I sat as close to the band as I could.  Although I’ve always approved of the synchronicity between the Cards and the dancers, this night — as the video shows — I had reason to feel imperiled by the substantial yet graceful, wildly swinging couple dancing.  I’m no swing-dance aficionado, so I wouldn’t presume to evaluate their performance, but they were so close to me that I feared a flying elbow or arcing sneaker.  Fortunately, I had room enough to cower in my seat, averting any collisions, but I hope my readers appreciate the raw courage my videography demands!  

What a marvel this band is — their effervescent swing, the jazz-battle that Matt and Dennis get into, and Tamar’s luminous voice floating above it all.  And all this on the first tune of the night!

The two still photographs — made eerie and lovely by the light at the rear of the bandstand — were taken before the Cards began to play.

SUNSET: LEROY “SAM” PARKINS

Leroy “Sam” Parkins, clarinetist, raconteur, and enthusiastic friend of this blog, died in Israel on November 18, 2009: he was 83. 

Sam loved beautiful photographs, so I offer this sunset, taken from a window on the Upper West Side, in his memory.

I am an unabashed jazz matchmaker: I tried to get Whitney Balliett to hear Kevin Dorn, but Whitney died before it could happen.  But I succeeded in getting Sam to jam with the Cangelosi Cards — only once, alas — but I captured a set with my Flip video camera. 

That was February 2, 2009, at Banjo Jim’s — and Sam had a wonderful time amidst Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Dennis Lichtman, Karl Meyer, Marcus Milius, Gordon Webster, and Cassidy Holden. 

Thank you, Sam, and farewell —

EXTRA! THE CANGELOSI CARDS CD

newsboy2Thanks to Eve Polich, I learned that the Cangelosi Cards debut CD was not only finished but on sale.  I’d been thinking about this disc since Tamar Korn had said that the Cards were making their first-ever formal recording.   

But at the same time, bringing this extraordinary group into a recording studio made me anxious.  The Cards create an ecstatic spectacle whenever they perform.  Even if there isn’t a whole line of dancers in front of the band, the music makes everyone bond joyously, and the band climbs higher and higher. 

I’ve been at recording sessions, observing the most experienced professionals, and I know the effect that even the most congenial studio can have on creative improvisers.  Everyone plays splendidly, but there is the chilling effect of being watched too closely, of having your every breath recorded — literally — for posterity.  It’s a rare band that’s totally relaxed in the studio, and most musicians seem exhausted at the end of the session, relieved that it’s over, vaguely dissatisfied with the results.  I wondered if the artificial environment of the recording studio would cause the Cards to lose some of their exquisite energies?   

I need not have worried.  Yes, there’s no crowd audible on the CD, and the absence of enthusiastic noise took a few minutes to get used to.  But the music comes through more clearly than it ever does in live performance.  I hear nuances of timbre in solo and ensemble that I would only have sensed in a club.  And the Cards seem not at all intimidated by the microphones, the weight of being captured for immortality.  From the first notes of MY BLUE HEAVEN, the Cards rock — without strain or tension, but with a graceful intensity.  The rhythm section is splendidly easy; the front-line players show off their distinctive voices and timbres.  Subtle, convincing little arrangements, too.  As we’ve seen, the Cards are full of surprises: no performance is predictable, although there is none of that irritating seeking-after-novelty that distinguishes lesser groups.  You’ll hear a persuasive, irresistible swing that gives way to tender ballad playing, in their characteristically varied repertoire — hinting at Billie Holiday and Jimmie Rodgers, to mention only two names. 

Tamar’s voice is, as always, a delight — and in this form, I can hear textures that a club audience might have over-ridden.  She sings sweetly, growls the blues, becomes her own trumpet / hi-hat cymbal, and yodels — her focused but expansive vocal instrument responding to every nuance of the music.  And I truly admire the witty trombone playing of Musselman, Lichtman’s fluent clarinet and eloquent mandolin work, Milius’s forceful harmonica solos, Meyer’s perfectly poised violin playing, Sanders’ solid rhythm playing and eloquent lines, Holden’s deep-down bass support, and Webster’s nimble, searching piano.  The Cards would have been welcome on Fifty-Second Street in its glory days: hear the rocking momentum they create on IDA, as well as the Victorian delicacy of TREASURES UNTOLD.       

And, although it seems paradoxical, the disc isn’t too long.  Many CDs are filled to the brim with twenty similar performances, making listening to them somewhat exhausting.  The eight selections here are a wonderfully satisfying banquet.     

The details?  The CD is available for $10 from La Compania de Musicos Viajeros (www.losmusicosviajeros.net) 718-744-7391; email is correspondence@losmusicosviajeros.net.  Obviously, the ideal way to buy it is to pick up several copies at a Cards appearance.  Why “several copies”?  They make ideal gifts;  they will be collectors’ items; they help fund this irreplaceable band.  But you already have figured that out.  I heard rumblings that it would be possible to download the music from the site, but you’d have to check there.

The disc is called THE CANGELOSI CARDS: CLINTON STREET RECORDINGS.  My Blue Heaven / It’s Like Reaching For The Moon / Blue Yodel No. 2 / Ida, Sweet As Apple Cider / September Song / Puttin’ On The Ritz / Treasures Untold / The Anniversary Song.  It features the full octet: Jake Sanders, guitar; Tamar Korn, vocals; Cassidy Holden, bass; Matt Musselman, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and mandolin; Marcus Millius, harmonica; Karl Meyer, violin; Gordon Webster, piano.

It delights me — and I can’t wait until the next one!

A JAZZ HOLIDAY! (February 2009)

No, this post isn’t about Benny Goodman’s 1928 recording — although that record does deserve to be celebrated.  Rather, it’s about a jazz immersion because of what my college calls “Presidents’ Week” — the Monday holiday stretching into a full week to follow the public school calendar.

What that means for me (and the Beloved) is a wonderful chance to hear four live jazz sessions.

Sunday night I went to the Ear Inn, newly lit and full of people celebrating that they, too, didn’t have to get up early the next morning.  The EarRegulars were there in stellar form: Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, with their inspiring friends Scott Robinson and Greg Cohen.  I was sitting three feet from Greg’s bass, and it was a transforming experience: the rhythm shot through me all night long.  And Scott — the mysterious shape-changer of jazz, who finds a new self whenever he picks up a different horn — was in a happy groove from the opening notes of WEARY BLUES.  (Scott had brought his tenor, a cornet — I couldn’t see if it was his fabled echo cornet) and his sopranino sax.  In the second set, Rachelle Garniez sat in with her Hohner claviola, Ted G (we couldn’t figure out his last name) brought his Maccaferri guitar, and Lucy, sixteen years old, sat in on trumpet.  As they used to say in the society pages of small-town newspapers, “a good time was had by all.”

Last night I went to Banjo Jim’s to catch a return appearance of the Cangelosi Cards with their guest star Sam Parkins, who had brought “his Klarinette.”  If you want to get the flavor of that evening, I’ve posted clips from their last jam session on “LIGHTNING IN THE DARKNESS.”  It was a smaller hand of Cards — Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Karl Meyer, Marcus Millius, Gordon Webster, and Cassidy Holden (who uses gut strings on his bass — as the great players of the Swing Era did).  The joint rocked: Tamar sang the blues and ALL OF ME; the Cards turned into a gypsy /tango band with NUAGES, MINOR SWING, and their own line on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.  Heady stuff!

Tonight, the Beloved and I are going to the 8 PM show at Iridium to hear Barbara Rosene and her New Yorkers.  Enough said!  Barbara will sparkle and move us, and the New Yorkers include Jon-Erik, Michael Hashim, Conal Fowkes, Matt Szemela, Doug Largent, and Kevin Dorn — fine players and fine friends.

And (if that weren’t enough) we’re going downtown on Thursday for the 36th Anniversary HIGHLIGHTS IN JAZZ concert, featuring David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (or the Gully Low Jazz Band, what you will) — Jon-Erik, Wycliffe Gordon, Anat Cohen, Mark Shane, David himself, and Kevin Dorn.  Jack Kleinsinger’s concerts are always models of jazz generosity, and this one includes a pair of raw recruits named Joe Wilder and Dick Hyman.

Yes, I still have to grade two more sets of student essays, but I would call this A JAZZ HOLIDAY.  Wouldn’t you?  And I haven’t even mentioned the Gully Low Jazz Band’s regular Birdland gig on Wednesday and a midday solo piano outing for Hyman at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in midtown.

New Yorkers are lucky to live in this time and place, the economy notwithstanding.  Go and hear some live jazz, even if you don’t have the week off.

CANGELOSI CARDS: LIGHTNING IN THE DARKNESS

Often, when the Beloved and I go to a wonderful restaurant the second time, hoping to repeat the delicious experiences, Disappointment is one of the specials, on or off the menu.  What was blissful now seems formulaic; the shine is off of everything.

So I am thrilled to report that I dared the Fates and went back to Banjo Jim’s last night to repeat the experience of one week earlier — seeing the Cangelosi Cards perform on a Monday night.

And I brought a friend: the clarinetist and reed explorer / jazz scholar / memoirist Leroy “Sam” Parkins, whose words you’ve been reading in these pages.

Or, rather, he couldn’t stay away.  He had seen my January 30 posting about the Cards: CANGELOSI CARDS: SWEET SATORI! and wondered what they were like in person, and if he should bring his “Klarinette.”  I gave him encouraging answers to both questions.  The result was that Sam sat next to me right in front of the band for the first four songs (you’ll see them below) transfixed.  In fact, if you listen closely, you’ll hear an astonished man’s voice commenting on what’s going on in a kind of jazz rapture.

Tamar and Jake were happy to meet him and delighted with the idea that he wanted to sit in once the band got itself into its groove.

The Cards began as a band-within-the-band (a neat trick for such a compact touring ensemble) in Hot Club style.  Tamar Korn stood at our left, and you’ll see Karl Meyer on violin, Marcus Millius on harmonica, Jake Sanders on guitar, and Cassidy Holden on bass, pizzicato and arco both.  Everyone was in splendid form, with solo honors often going to Jake and Cassidy, both of whom soloed at greater length than I had heard them do a week ago.

The set began unusually with a soulful rendition of I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, one of those songs (like GOODNIGHT, SWEETHEART) I expect bands to play at the end of the night, the close of the gig.  Here it was a wistful jumping-off place, quite remarkable.

Then, another piece associated with farewells (what was going through everyone’s mind?): AFTER YOU’VE GONE.

Gordon Webster, pianist of note, came in just in time to join the Cards on EXACTLY LIKE YOU — which I think of as ‘ZACKLY — and he was more than welcome.

Another admonitory song (in the “you’d better watch your step” mode) followed: SOME OF THESE DAYS.

Next to me, Sam alternated between rapture and impatience — this, after all, is truly his music, the sounds he grew up with.  Ever the instigator, I suggested he politely let everyone see that his clarinet was assembled, the reed properly moist and seated happily in the ligature . . . and it worked.  He was invited to the bandstand (an illusion at Banjo Jim’s) and, even better, the estimable trombonist Matt Musselman and Dennis Lichtman (usually on clarinet but initially doubling mandolin with great style and skill) came in.

Once the front line (actually leaning against the back wall and window) had settled itself in and introductions had been accomplished, someone asked Sam if he knew IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE.  This courtesy made me smile: it’s graciousness of the highest order when the members of the band want to make sure that the newcomer is comfortable with their repertoire.  But it was a kindness that Sam didn’t need, as he smiled gently and said that it was the first song he had learned to play as a young man in the Thirties.  He has an innate gleeful sense of his environment, and he let them know how pleased he was that they had chosen something that was in his very capillaries.)

And did they swing out.  Catch Matt grinning while Sam plays, and notice that although Tamar has taken her inspiration from Fats Waller’s recording (always a good idea!) that her scat singing goes deep inside.  It’s plaintive and nearly primitive, reaching back before recordings.

After a sweet, long MOONGLOW and a deep-down TISHOMINGO BLUES (not visible here because so many eager, expert dancers — including the nimbly stomping Mimi Terris — obscured Flip’s view), the Cards decided to end their set with another surprise.  Eddie Cantor’s theme, IDA, SWEET AS APPLE CIDER, is almost always done at a medium tempo.  Red Nichols took it very slowly; Eddie Condon (twenty years later) repeated the same wonderful idea (Pee Wee Russell in charge, both times).  But I’d really never heard it done as a stomp — which it is here. (Incidentally, all the percussive accents you hear in these clips are Tamar’s inventions.)

When this set was over, I was both elated and drained.  I had said I would stay for the second one, but I ended up taking my leave by saying to Tamar, “I’m full!  I don’t need to hear any more music,” and I happily drove home, thinking about the experience — which is at once jazz, country, Hot Club stomp, and music with a timeless yearning delicacy.  And a good deal of my pleasure is that Flip and I can share essential portions of it with you.

It just might be that the Cards are a pleasure we can go back to again and again with no diminuition of joy or insight.  At least I can testify that their brand of heartfelt, romping lightning struck twice — in the same place, no less.

CANGELOSI CARDS: SWEET SATORI!

bamjo-jims

Because of a much-appreciated friendly email nudge from Jim Balantic, the Beloved and I (with Flip tagging along) wended our way down to Banjo Jim’s last Monday night.

Banjo Jim’s sits at the corner of Ninth Street and Avenue C.  The area feels much like the mysterious East but it was worth the trip.  The club is a small squarish room with tables, stools, and a bar (the latter presided over by the cheerfully expert “Banjo” Lisa).  Banjo Jim’s is a neighborhood hangout, and it offers a dazzling variety of groups who play for the tip basket.

The crowd is mostly younger people, which I find encouraging, and even when the chat level gets high, they get reverently quiet when the band begins a ballad or they sense something unusual is happening.  (And, when feelings run high, there’s a good deal of fervent jitterbugging and even slow-motion tangoing in front of the band.)

Of course the club has a website: www.banjojims.com., and a MySpace page:  www.myspace.com/banjojims — everyone seems to have a MySpace page except the Beloved and myself.  (Flip isn’t telling.)

We were there because of the regular Monday night gig of the Cangelosi Cards, that musical cornucopia, and Jim’s news that their splendid singer Tamar Korn had been working on Boswell Sisters-inspired repertoire with two other harmonizing women.

And — this is no small matter — Tamar had graciously agreed to do some of the new trio material in the band’s first set (their gig ordinarily runs from 9 PM to 2:30 AM) so that the nine-to-fivers could hear some of it before their ancient eyelids began to sag.  I was especially grateful to her for this kindness, because my clock radio makes itself known four mornings a week at 5:45 AM.

When we arrived, we were met on the sidewalk by Jim and his wife Grace and a beaming Tamar; Tamar and I talked happily until our faces began to grow numb from the cold.  We spoke of the Boswell Sisters, and how their vocal arrangements seemed to have the same intense purity of chamber music — to be revered, but also to be improvised on in a personal style.  Tamar said that she and her two friends — Mimi Terris and Naomi Uyama — found that they could do instant improvisation in the style they loved on songs the Boswells had never recorded, which suggests that they have moved well beyond imitative groups, and there have been a few.  (Copying the Boswell Sisters, incidentally, is not at all easy to do.)

Inside, a young band, calling itself “The Scandinavian Half Breeds,” no fooling, was plunking away.  That foursome, offered surrealistic gypsy swing, some Thirties songs, and some lopsided yet earnest singing. The Scandinavians have a CD for sale — a mere five dollars — and they also have a MySpace page with audio samples: www.myspace.com/scandinavianhalfbreeds.

But they were what my people call a forshpeits — an appetizer, an amuse-bouche before the entree.

The Cards were at full strength: in addition to Tamar, they had Marcus Millius on harmonica, Karl Meyer on violin, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Jake Sanders on guitar (he set tempos and routines as well), Cassidy Holden on string bass, Matt Musselman on trombone, and Gordon Webster on piano.

Here’s some of what Flip, that tidy little fellow, captured.  I have to point out that Banjo Jim’s isn’t a movie set, so that people walk in front of Flip (he’s used to it) and there were couples gyrating in front of the lens.  These clips offer atmospheric cinema verite of a particularly unbuttoned sort, but I think it’s in keeping with the spirit of the club and the Cards, who are more like an ecstatic travelling ceremony than a formal orchestra.  And that’s high praise.

Here’s a wonderful rocking version of “I Ain’t Got Nobody”:

In the name of accuracy, I have to say it begins in darkness — but soon your eyes make out the nimble fingers of Jake Sanders playing his National steel guitar in the wonderful manner I associate with the West Coast genius Craig Ventresco.  Then it starts to rock, and rock hard.  This is the kind of music that great improvisers of any kind make when no one is paying attention, when they are blissfully playing for themselves.  And the dancers!  Tamar couldn’t keep still at the beginning, and the whole room was swaying, although Flip couldn’t take his little monocular self away from the band.  (He’s a fan.  Now it can be told.)

The Cards decided to slow the tempo down — and Tamar explored a truly lovely ballad, “It’s Like Reaching For the Moon,”  which most people know, if at all, through Billie’s version.  Examined closely, the song is a rather simple motif, repeated, and the lyrics aren’t exactly Larry Hart.  (Charlie Levenson, jazz man-about-town, was sitting next to me, and he kept muttering ecstatically, “I love this song.  This is my favorite song!” so perhaps I am being too harsh.)  But what lifts it above the ordinary is Tamar’s singing — full of genuine yearning.  We believe her, as do the Cards.

After two songs about unfulfilled love, even at different tempos, it was time to explore another dramatic situation, and the Cards turned to Irving Berlin’s satiric Socialism (like “Slummin’ On Park Avenue,” it has a sharp political subtext).  Catch the weaving, seductive tempo they choose, and admire Matt’s wicked trombone playing:

Then it was time for what Jim had promised: Tamar, Mimi Terris, and Naomi Uyama got together on the tiny bandstand (this is one of those clubs where nothing delineates the end of the Audience and the beginning of the Stage, which is a truly good thing in this case) for “Moonglow,” which was properly ethereal.  These girls have it:

We were glowing!  The set ended with another loving consideration of meteorological phenomena, “Stardust,” which Tamar said she “learned from the music,” but clearly she, Naomi, and Mimi are well beyond the notes on the page, into some beautifully mystical realm:

When the Cards’ set was over, it was around 11:30 — time for the aging wage-slaves to find their cars and drive home.  But there was more!

As we were getting ready to go, Tamar said there was one more Boswell Sisters piece that she, Mimi, and Naomi had been working on.  They planned to perform it much later on but knew we would want to hear it.  Would we mind waiting for them?  Jim, Grace, and I looked at each other, grinned, wrapped our coats a little tighter, and waited on Avenue C.  In a few minutes, the Girl Trio came out (as an unrequested surrogate parent, I checked that their coats were properly buttoned up).

The trio positioned themselves in front of us on Ninth Street, and began a most unearthly beautiful a cappella rendition of the Sisters’ radio theme, “Shout, Sister, Shout.”  As you may remember, that’s a moody slow-drag, all about how singing the right way has Satan on the run.  (Would that this were the case.)  Their voices were pure and low-down at the same time, soulful and intense.  I listened, transfixed.

In an odd way, it was as close to being a royal patron of the arts as I will ever be — with Mozart playing his new piece near the dinner table to give the guests a little night music.  It was eerie, lovely, and awe-inspiring. . . as if Beauty had slipped her arms around me while I stood out in the cold.

Listening to live jazz is, with luck, a series of special moments when a listener feels that Something Rare is taking place, and it often is.  But it’s even rarer for a musician or musicians to create such tender intimacy that the listener feels, “They are playing this song just for me.”

Even though I knew it was an illusion, I felt that way while Lee Wiley sang in her 1972 farewell concert in Carnegie Hall, and I remember a much more personal example.  Once, Stu Zimny and I went to hear Roy Eldridge at Jimmy Ryan’s — this would have been the same year.  Ryan’s was an inhospitable place for college kids who wanted to make their bottle of Miller High Life (awful beer even at $2.50 a bottle) last for hours.  Roy must have been playing another gig, so his place was taken by the veteran Louis Metcalf, who had played with King Oliver and Duke Ellington in the Twenties.  He was a far less electrifying player than Roy, but one moment cannot be erased.  On a medium-tempo “Rosetta,” Metcalf put his Harmon mute (the stem still attached) in his horn and went from table to table, playing a half-chorus here and there, six inches from our ears.  I can no longer remember the shape of his solo or the contours of the melodic paraphrase, but the experience — jazz at the closest possible range — gave me delighted chills then and I can see it now.

This version of “Shout, Sister,Shout,” girlish and earnest, graceful and disembodied — their three voices harmonizing as if in the middle of the darkness — was even more electrifying.  As I drove home, shaken and levitated, I thought, “I might have died and never heard this.  My God, I am lucky!”

To experience something of the same repertoire — although I can’t promise that you will have a private serenade on the sidewalk — be sure to follow the Cards wherever they go.  If you judge musicians by the quality of their formal wear, the Cards seem loose and casual, but the musical experiences they offer you won’t encounter elsewhere.  Blazing enlightenment is possible if you’re listening closely.

OUR OWN FOUR-DAY NYC JAZZ FESTIVAL

oaxaca-10-08-jazz-11-08-079

This remarkable weekend began on Friday night (November 7) at the New York Historical Society on Central Park West, with a free one-hour concert featuring bassist-singer-composer Jay Leonhart, amidst what the MC introduced, somewhat oddly, as “rising stars” Wycliffe Gordon, trombone and vocals, Ted Rosenthal, piano, and Alvin Atkinson, drums. The program mixed several Richard Rodgers classics, “Shall We Dance,” “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” Bernstein’s “Cool,” with two Leonhart originals and a closing romp through “Lester Leaps In.”  Rosenthal sparkled; Atkinson swung.

But the high point of the evening was an exploration of what Leonhart called “a jazz prayer,” “Body and Soul.”  That 1930 song can be a problem for musicians, as it has been played so nobly by so many: Coleman Hawkins, Louis, Bird in his first flights, Duke and Blanton, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Lucky Thompson, Sonny Rollins, Billie Holiday, the Benny Goodman Trio, etc.   This performance began with Leonhart’s arco solo and then reached heights with Wycliffe’s plunger-muted, stately exploration of the theme.  Wycliffe knows full well how to honor a melody rather than simply leaping into variations on chord changes).  Waggling his plunger in and out, he mixed growls and moans, naughty comedy and deep sighs, as if Tricky Sam Nanton or Vic Dickenson was playing a hymn.  The solo ended all too soon.

oaxaca-10-08-jazz-11-08-062

Not only was the concert free, but the museum was open to all, so the Beloved and I wandered through lovely landscape paintings.  Future Fridays at the NYHS (all beginning at 6:30 PM) will feature The Western Wind (a contemporary classical vocal sextet) on November 14, on the 21, guitarists from the Manhattan School of Music (teachers and proteges); Cheryl B. Engelhardt and Oscar Rodriguez (guitar) on December 5, jazz again on December 12, with Jeb Patton, David Wong, and Tootie Heath, and ending with Latin music on the 19th from the Samuel Torres Group.

We rested on Saturday to prepare ourselves for the exuberances to come.

Sunday afternoon found us at Sweet Rhythm on Seventh Avenue South for the third gathering of Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends: this time bassist Kelly Friesen, drummer Andrew Swann, pianist Rossano Sportiello, and reedman Peter Reardon-Anderson, doubling tenor and clarinet.  Hyperbole is a dangerous thing, but I came away from these two sets thinking that I had heard the most exciting jazz in years.

I so admire Jon-Erik’s ability to shape an ad hoc ensemble into a cohesive one, and he did it through the two sets, creating jazz that was of this time and place, looking back to New Orleans and collective improvisation, forward to contemporary “Mainstream” solos.  If I kept thinking of Keynote Records 1943-46, perhaps that’s because those jubilant performances kept being evoked on the stand at Sweet Rhythm.  Rossano strode and glided, sometimes in a Basie mood (appropriately) on “Doggin’ Around” and “Topsy”; Kelly took the glories of Milt Hinton (powerful rhythm, a huge tone, beautiful arco work on “All Too Soon”) and made them his own, and Andrew Swann, slyly grinning, added Sidney Catlett and Cliff Leeman to his swinging progenitors.  Anderson, twenty-one years old, is someone we can greet at the beginning of a brilliant career (to quote Emerson on Whitman): Zoot Sims and Ed Hall stand in back of his graceful, energetic playing.  Basie got honored, but so did Bing and Louis in “I Surrender, Dear,” and Kellso reminded us that not only is he playing marvelously but he is a first-rate composer: his line on “Linger Awhile” was a memorable hide-and-seek creation.  We cheered this band, and with good reason.

oaxaca-10-08-jazz-11-08-0641

And the room was full of Jazz Friends who didn’t get up on the bandstand: Bill and Sonya Dunham, Jim and Grace Balantic, Nina Favara, Lawri Moore, Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  A righteous congregation!

And the five portraits you see here — from the top, Jon-Erik, Rossano, Kelly, Andrew, and Peter — come from this gig, courtesy of Lorna Sass, jazz photographer.

Perhaps I am a jazz glutton, but those two sets weren’t enough: I walked downtown to the Ear Inn to soak up one more set by the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik, Chris Flory on guitar, Greg Cohen on bass, and Michael Blake on tenor, someone entirely new to me.  (He and Jon-Erik go ‘way back, although they hadn’t played together in years.)  Blake is exceedingly amiable, so we found ourselves chatting at the bar — about small towns near Victoria (Souk for one) and Pee Wee Russell, about the odd and gratifying ways people come to jazz, about Lucky Thompson and jazz clarinet.  Then it was time for the EarRegulars to hit, and they surely did — from a “Blue Skies” that became “In Walked Bud,” to Blake’s feature on (what else?) “Body and Soul.”  Here, backed by the wonderfully sensitive duo of Chris and Greg, he broke the theme into fragments, speculating on their possibilities, becoming harmonically bolder with a tone that ranged from purring to rasping (some echoes of Lacy), exploring the range of his instrument in a delicate, earnest, probing way.  It was a masterful performance, and I am particularly delighted to encounter such brave creativity from a player I didn’t know before.

oaxaca-10-08-jazz-11-08-0661

Of course, the near-collisions of beauty and contemporary weirdness never fail to amaze.  I was sitting at the bar at the Ear, welcomed there by Victor, who knows more jazz than most critics.  At the bar, to my left, three and sometimes four people were facing away from the band, hunched over their Black Berry or Black Berries, their iPhones, what have you.  Electronically glowing tiny screens, blue and white, shone throughout the club.  I too am a techno-addict — but why go to a bar to check your BlackBerry and ignore the live art being created not five feet away?  To treat Kellso, Blake, Flory, and Cohen as background music seems oblivious or rude.

Monday there was work — but that is always a finite obligation, even when it looms inescapably — but soon I was back in Manhattan, drawn inexorably with the Beloved to Banjo Jim’s (Avenue C and Ninth Street) to hear two groups in one night.  Banjo Jim’s seems ideal — small, congenial, a private neighborhood bar full of young people listening to the music, a real blessing.

The first group was full of old friends — Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective.  This incarnation included Charlie Caranicas on cornet, Michael Hashim on alto sax, J. Walter Hawkes on trombone and vocal, Jesse Gelber on piano, Kevin on drums.  Kevin kicked things off with a romping “I Want To Be Happy,” explicitly summoning up the 1972 New School concert where Gene Krupa, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood — someone named Eddie Condon in charge — showed what could be done with that simple line.  (I was at that concert, too.)  J. Walter Hawkes, one of my favorite unsung singers, did his wonderful, yearning “Rose Room.”  Barbara Rosene sat in for a thoughtful “Pennies From Heaven,” complete with the fairy-tale verse, and the proceedings closed with a hot “China Boy.”

And then — as if it that hadn’t been enough — the Cangelosi Cards took the stand.  They are the stuff of local legend and they deserve every accolade.  A loosely-arranged ensemble: Jake Sanders on acoustic guitar, Marcus Milius on harmonica, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Gordon Webster on piano, Karl Meyer on violin, Cassidy Holden on bass.  They are all fine players, better than many with larger reputations.  I thought I heard a drummer but saw no one at the trap set: later I found out that their singer, Tamar Korn, has a remarkable vocabulary of clicks, hisses, and swishes — she fooled me and she swung.  The group has a Django-and-Stephane flavor, but they are not prisoners of that sound, that chugging rhythm, that repertoire.  They began with “Douce Ambiance,” moved to Harry Barris’s “It Was So Beautiful,” and then Eddie Durham’s “Topsy.”

Early on in the set, it became clear that this band has a devoted following — not just of listeners, but of dancers, who threw themselves into making the music physically three-dimensional in a limited space.  Wonderful inspired on-the-spot choreography added to the occasion, an exultant Happening.

Then Tamar Korn got up to sing — she is so petite that I hadn’t quite seen her, because I was seated at the back of the small square room.  But I heard her, and her five songs are still vibrating in my mind as I write this.  Without attempting to be mysterious in any way (she is friendly and open) she is someone unusual.  Rumor has it that she hails from California, but I secretly believe she is not from our planetary system.  When I’ve suggested this to her, she laughs . . . but doesn’t deny it.

Tamar’s singing is focused, experimental, powerful.  In her performance of “Avalon,” she began by singing the lyrics clearly, with emotion but not ever “acting,” then shifted into a wordless line, high long held notes in harmony with the horns, as if she were Adelaide Hall or a soprano saxophone, then did two choruses of the most evocative scat-singing I’ve ever heard (it went beyond Leo Watson into pure sound) and then came back to the lyrics.

Her voice is small but not narrow, her range impressive.  What I find most exhilirating is the freedom of her approach: I hear old-time country music (not, I must add, “country and western,” but real roots music), blues and bluegrass, the parlor soprano essaying light classics, opera, yodeling, swing — and pure sound.  She never appears to be singing a song in any formulaic way.  Rather, she is a vessel through whom the force of music passes: she is embraced by the emotions, the notes, the words.

And when the Cards invited their friends — that is, Charlie Caranicas, Michael Hashim, and Jesse Gelber — to join them for “Milenberg Joys,” “I’m Confessin’,” and “Avalon,” it was as close to soul-stirring ritual in a New York club as I can remember.  The room vibrated; the dancers threw their hands in the air, people stood up to see better, the music expressed intense joy.  I don’t know whether Margaret Mead had rhythm in her feet, but she would have recognized what went on at Banjo Jim’s.

oaxaca-10-08-jazz-11-08-0741

I hope to have video, thanks to Flip, to post shortly.  Tune in again!  (And another weekend is coming soon . . . tempus fugit isn’t so terrifying when there are glories like this to look forward to.)

Only in New York, I am sure.

All photographs by Lorna Sass, copyright 2008.