Tag Archives: Joel Press

“LOVE THEM MADLY”: KANAN, FOSTER, & ARNEDO TRIO PLAYS ELLINGTON AND STRAYHORN

Some music you have to work hard to embrace, and many listeners relish the labor.  But other music, no less subtle or rewarding, opens its arms to you in the first four bars.  A new CD by Michael Kanan, piano; Dee Jay Foster, string bass; Guillem Arnedo, drums, is a wonderful example of love made audible.

If these names are new to you, please put down whatever you’re attempting to multi-task (on or with) and listen to this leisurely reading of ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE from a live performance in 2017:

This trio also knows how to relax, thus, that rarity, a picture of jazz musicians taking their ease outdoors:

You might know that Michael Kanan is one of JAZZ LIVES’ heroes, not only in this country, but internationally.  And the lineage is very pleasing: the saxophone master Joel Press introduced me to Michael, and (aurally) Michael introduced me to Guillem and Dee Jay.  For the past decade, Michael spends part of each summer as artist-in-residence at the Begues Jazz Camp, where he’s forged deep musical relationships with these two musical intuitives.  The CD came out of a series of concerts the trio did.  As Michael says, “There is space, swing, surprises and lots of love. We have tried to capture the spontaneity of the moment in time – a good conversation between the three of us.”

Instead of the usual liner notes, the CD offers splendid artwork by Maria Pichel, who combines bright colors and delicacy to mirror the music within.  So here are a few (unsolicited) lines from me.

The late Roswell Rudd told me in 2012, “Playing your personality is what this music is all about. . . . You know, this is a music where you are playing off other people, and you really have to be listening and responding and respecting and complementing what’s going on around you.”

The personalities that come through so clearly here are gentle and intense at once: musicians inspired by the originals but aware that reverent innovation is the only tribute.  The magnificent Ellington and Strayhorn compositions are an indelible offering.  They aren’t obscure or at least they shouldn’t be, and that asks contemporary artists the question, “All right — what are you going to say about these pieces?”

One approach is reverence taken all the way: a 2018 piano trio could do its best to replicate Ellington, Blanton, Greer, or Strayhorn, Wendell Marshall, Woodyard.  Conversely, the improvisers could take the originals and, after one reasonably polite chorus, jump into outer space, perhaps never to return.  The Kanan, Foster, Arnedo trio modifies these extremes by creating statements showing their affection for the strong melodies, harmonies, rhythms — but they know that “playing their personalities” is what Ellington and Strayhorn did, and would approve of.  So the CD is a series of sweet variations on themes, where (to borrow from Teddy Wilson), “it’s the little things that mean so much.”

In the quiet world of this CD, even a slight tempo change means that listeners have found themselves in a new space, as if you’d come home to find that your partner had repainted the light-gray living room walls a gray with a blue undertone.

What I hear on this disc is the confident playful assurance of musicians who know each other well, are respectful but also relaxed and brave.  Michael, Dee Jay, and Guillem are melodists who work together in kind fraternal fashion, so the lead gets passed around, one player moves into the spotlight and the others are happy for him to shine.  No cliches; no showboating; no tedious quoting; no formulaic playing or threadbare trademarks; the total absence of post-modern irony; no sense that swing is out of date.

The result is a series of sustained explorations that are full of sweet surprises: the wonderful swinging assertiveness with which C JAM BLUES starts; the touching coda to ISFAHAN; the slightly faster tempo for I LET A SONG that neatly contradicts the self-pitying lyrics; the exposition of LOTUS BLOSSOM would make anyone want to listen with bowed head, and the slightly altered rhythmic pulse that follows made me hear it as if for the first time; JOHNNY COME LATELY is perfect dance music — I defy anyone to stay motionless, even if the dance is happy nodding one’s head in time; Michael’s solo ALL TOO SOON is half-lullaby, half question yearning to be answered; the faster-than-expected I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT reminds me happily of Fifties Jo Jones with Ray and Tommy Bryant, for the trio’s swing is light yet insistent, and the rocking mood continues on through LOVE YOU MADLY; DAY DREAM, the concluding track, also seems a series of questions, some of them with answers.

I would tell any listener, “Play the disc over again, after you’ve let it settle in your mind, take up a comfortable space in your heart.  Play it for people who have ears.  Let them share the pleasure, the loving inquisitiveness.”

Because I have admired Michael’s playing for some time, I might have over-emphasized his contribution, but Dee Jay and Guillem are the equal of anyone with a more famous name, whether Elder or Youngblood: they play their instruments with honor and grace, avoiding the excesses that lesser players fall into.  Forget the snide jokes about bass solos; Dee Jay’s phrases are deft and logical, his time and intonation superb; Guillem, for his part, has such a swinging variety of sounds throughout his kit that he is marvelously orchestral without ever being overwhelming. The beautiful recorded sound, thanks to David Cassamitjana, is reassuringly warm and clear, putting us there, which is where we want to be.

You can hear the music here, on Spotify or iTunes, or purchase that endearing archaic object, an actual physical disc by clicking on “TIENDA” at the same site.

Even if you have as complete an Ellington-Strayhorn collection as possible, this is an essential disc: warm, candid, and gratifying.

And if you’d like to hear more from Michael, Dee Jay, and Guillem in a different but quite uplifting context, visit here also.

May your happiness increase!

THE JOEL PRESS QUARTET at SMALLS: MICHAEL KANAN, LEE HUDSON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA (July 3, 2016): PART TWO

It’s been a true privilege to hear, converse with, and video-record the inventive and durable saxophonist Joel Press for the last five years (and since I met Michael Kanan through Joel, it has been a double blessing).  Of course, the person behind all of this was the irreplaceable Robert D. Rusch of CADENCE, a true benefactor.

Joel was most recently playing a gig in New York City on July 3, 2016, at Smalls — with a quartet of Michael, piano; Lee Hudson, string bass; Fukushi Tanaka, drums.

JOEL by Herb Snitzer

Here are five evocative performances from that evening: GONE WITH THE WIND, SOFTLY AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE, FOOLIN’ MYSELF, NOSTALGIA, and YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME.

And — by popular demand — four more delights: BLUES, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?. BODY AND SOUL, IT’S YOU OR NO ONE.  Please note that every note has substance and emotional meaning, and the quartet makes even the most familiar line or standard seem lively and poignant.

BLUES:

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?:

BODY AND SOUL:

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

Thank you, Joel, Michael, Lee, Fukushi, and Smalls.  We are in your debt.

May your happiness increase!

THE JOEL PRESS QUARTET at SMALLS: MICHAEL KANAN, LEE HUDSON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA (July 3, 2016): PART ONE

I’ve been fortunate enough to know, hear, and admire the Swing Explorer — saxophonist Joel Press — for a decade now.  It happened, as many good things do, utterly by surprise, but through the quiet guidance of a good friend.  The good friend is Robert D. Rusch, the creator of CADENCE, that rare thing, a candid jazz magazine.  In 2006, I was reviewing CDs for CADENCE, and one called HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU? arrived in the mail — with this cover portrait (by Herb Snitzer) of a man I’d not known:

JOEL by Herb SnitzerI was moved and delighted by Joel’s easy yet searching approach to melody and swing: new and yet affectionately connected to the great traditions.  To explore Joel’s many worlds, one place to start would be here.

A decade later, more or less, we found ourselves in friendly proximity: Joel on the bandstand at Smalls, me with a video camera as close as I could get without posing a fire hazard.  The other members of this compact inventive ensemble are Michael Kanan, piano; Lee Hudson, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums.

Here’s a still photograph of that world, taken for us by Chihiro Tainaka, with the back of my head accurately and mercilessly rendered for posterity.  Two seats to my left is the warm and thoughtful Maya Press, beaming love at her father.JOEL PRESS Smalls 7 3 16 Chihiro Tainaka

But you can’t play a picture, any more than you can eat the recipe.  So — with Joel’s approval — I present five performances from that night at Smalls, with some more to follow.  His soft tone, love of melody, and caressing swing are still gloriously intact, and his colleagues on the bandstand are the most subtly intuitive conversationalists one could want.

GONE WITH THE WIND:

SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE:

FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

NOSTALGIA:

YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

I wanted to call this blogpost PRESS ONE FOR SWING.  Now you know why. More to come.

May your happiness increase!

BRIGHTENING THE CORNER: JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, NEAL MINER at MEZZROW: PART TWO (July 26, 2015)

Joel Press

When I heard that Joel Press, tenor saxophone; Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass, were going to be playing a late-evening session at one of the two jazz shrines of West Tenth Street, Mezzrow, I got down there early to soak it all in — poems in music from three great lyrical poets.  Here are some highlights of the first part of the evening.

Joel, Michael, and Neal tell us, without words, that melody matters, that the old songs are memorable, and that one can sing beautifully through one’s instrument in a community of friends.

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU:

GHOST OF A CHANCE:

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

Joel has absorbed the whole tradition of jazz but stays current, exploring worlds while swinging, always sounding like himself.  Michael and Neal are the best guides to the opened universe of sounds that I know.

May your happiness increase!

BRIGHTENING THE CORNER: JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, NEAL MINER at MEZZROW: PART ONE (July 26, 2015)

When I heard that Joel Press, tenor saxophone; Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass, were going to be playing a late-evening session at one of the two jazz shrines of West Tenth Street, Mezzrow, I got down there early to soak it all in — poems in music from three great lyrical poets.

Here are some highlights, and I do not use that word lightly.

Joel, Michael, and Neal tell us, without words, that melody matters, that the old songs are memorable, and that one can sing beautifully through one’s instrument in a community of friends.

THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU:

ALL OF ME:

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE:

FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

AS LONG AS I LIVE:

LAST EXIT:

Another assortment of beauties to come in the near future.  The hymn BRIGHTEN THE CORNER WHERE YOU ARE speaks to our responsibility to do good, to be loving — at a moment’s notice — no matter how secular the surroundings.  Mezzrow, seen through the constricting lens of my camera, might be dark, but the music is touchingly bright.

May your happiness increase!

WITH ELEGANT TENDERNESS: MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER at MEZZROW, MARCH 23, 2015 (Part One)

Pianist Michael Kanan is one of my heroes, someone whose musical and aesthetic instincts I trust without question.  I met him through the most respected saxophonist Joel Press, and once I’d heard Michael play a chorus I knew I was in the presence of a deep yet light-hearted sensibility.  He can be eloquent and touching but he never sells emotion to an audience in capital letters; he is witty but never comedic, and he has perfect taste without being fussy.  Michael also is a splendid compass needle pointing to the finest players and singers.  So when I read some time back that Michael was leading a session at Mezzrow, I sent in my money and was there about ninety minutes before it began (listening to the splendid guitarist John Merrill) to be sure I’d get to sit in the proper place.

Michael brought with him Neal Miner, that peerless string bassist and composer, and someone new to me, the lyrical and sure-footed guitarist Greg Ruggiero. Here’s the first part of the music they made that evening: graceful yet deep, intensely melodic but never heavy-handed.  Some viewers might think, “What can you do in 2015 with two venerable standards and a blues?”  I will say only, “Observe and marvel.”

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (which starts in another direction — and I could be content with the first chorus alone):

Neal Miner’s BLUES OKURA:

BODY AND SOUL:

It was an astonishing evening at Mezzrow, but so far I’ve had no other kind there.  I’ll be back there for sure on April 14th to hear Barbara Rosene and Ehud Asherie — another special night to come.

And I promise you more performances from the exalted Kanan – Miner – Ruggiero ensemble.

May your happiness increase!

WARM MELODIC EXPLORATIONS: JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, BOOTS MALESON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (Dec. 20, 2013)

The masterful Joel Press created a wonderful musical evening at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street) at the end of my 2013 stay in New York City — a first portion posted here. Joel had Michael Kanan, piano; Boots Maleson, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums, along for some soulful melodic explorations, which bow to Masters Lester and Thelonious along the way.

THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU, which jumps right in:

JUST YOU, JUST ME:

ALL OF ME:

In honor of Don Byas and Slam Stewart in 1945, a duet for tenor saxophone and string bass on INDIANA:

SOPHISTICATED LADY:

Music to warm the heart and melt the snows.

May your happiness increase!

DECLARATIONS OF LOVE: JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, BOOTS MALESON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (Dec. 20, 2013)

Some “contemporary creative improvised music,” sounds to me as if players are creating auditory versions of Kandinsky angularities.  Let us remember always how the tenor saxophone, when played by a Master, can croon and purr and woo and seduce: groovy love.

Two sweet examples below come from an evening at Smalls — December 20, 2013 — with a quartet led by tenor Master Joel Press, with piano Master Michael Kanan, string bass Master Boots Maleson, and percussion Master Fukushi Tainaka. The tempo for the first is yearning rapture (“Oh, how my life would be transformed if I could call you mine.”) and the second is the delighted excitation of things perhaps best imagined rather than verbalized (“Wow!”).

IF I HAD YOU:

YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

Declarations of love, not only to specific people who may or may not have been in the audience or on the planet, but to Ike Quebec, Eddie Miller, Lester Young, Art Tatum, Jimmy Rowles, and a host of others who well deserve our love and reverence.

More to come.

May your happiness increase!

APRIL IS THE COOLEST MONTH, or NEW YORK JOYS (2013)

Every time I get ready to declare, “OK, I will spend the rest of my life happily in California,” New York crooks a dainty finger at me and whispers, “Not so fast, fellow.  I have something for you.”

ny skyline

These are some of the musicians I was able to see, hear, and video during April 2013 — an incomplete list, in chronological order:

Svetlana Shmulyian, Tom Dempsey, Rob Garcia, Asako Takasaki, Michael Kanan, Michael Petrosino, Joel Press, Sean Smith, Tardo Hammer, Steve Little, Hilary Gardner, Ehud Asherie, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, James Chirillo, Brian Nalepka, Dan Block, Danny Tobias, Matt Munisteri, Neal Miner, Catherine Russell, Jon-Erik Kellso, Lee Hudson, Lena Bloch, Frank Carlberg, Dave Miller, Billy Mintz, Daryl Sherman, Scott Robinson, Harvie S, Jeff Barnhart, Gordon Au, John Gill, Ian Frenkel, Lew Green, Marianne Solivan, Mark McLean, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Raphael McGregor, Skip Krevens, Andrew Hall, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Pat O’Leary, Andy Brown, Giancarlo Massu, Luciano Troja, Rossano Sportiello, Randy Sandke, Harry Allen, Dennis Mackrel, Joel Forbes.

And I saw them at the Back Room Speakeasy, the Metropolitan Room, Smalls, the Bickford Theatre, the Ear Inn, Symphony Space, the Finaldn Center, Jazz at Kitano, Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Jalopy Theatre, Casa Italiana, and Zankel Recital Hall.

T.S. Eliot had it wrong.  Just another average jazz-month in New York.

P.S.  This isn’t to slight my California heroes, nay nay — among them Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Dawson, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, Kally Price, Leon Oakley, Mal Sharpe, Tom Schmidt, John Reynolds, Melissa Collard, Ari Munkres, GAUCHO, PANIQUE, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, JasonVanderford, Bill Reinhart, Dan Barrett . . . .

May your happiness increase.

FIVE LESSONS IN SWING: JOEL PRESS, TARDO HAMMER, SEAN SMITH, STEVE LITTLE at SMALLS (April 6, 2013)

Saxophone master Joel Press has decided to spend his time in New York City, and that’s very good news.  He’s an original — a soft-voiced player who can growl and moan in the best Southwestern tradition (even when it has been assimilated through Boston) but often prefers to ride the rhythm, uttering tender, looping lines.  While remaining himself, he encompasses the whole tradition — with nods to Sonny Rollins and Bud Freeman, to Herschel Evans and Lester Young.

A few weeks ago, Joel led a wonderful quartet at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village) with Tardo Hammer on piano; Sean Smith, string bass; Steve Little, drums.

THAT OLD FEELING:

THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

LOVER MAN:

Bb BLUES:

New York is lucky to have you back, Joel.  Thanks for the beautiful floating sounds!

May your happiness increase.

JOEL PRESS HAS NEW STORIES — AND NEW YORK STORIES — FOR US

The event didn’t make the mainstream media.  The few print journals devoted to improvised music didn’t report it.  And the “jazz critics” online and off were quite taciturn about it.  But it seems important to note that the surprising saxophonist (tenor and soprano) Joel Press, formerly commuting back and forth between Newton, Massachusetts, and New York City . . . has come to NYC to stay.  Or, as they used to say, “for the nonce.”

If you haven’t heard Joel Press, you could ask pianist Michael Kanan about him. Or perhaps saxophonist Lena Bloch, pianist Spike Wilner, or a dozen other NYC jazz luminaries.  Or you could take the cyber-shortcut and observe this:

Joel’s a creative player with his own sweetly energized internal swing machine, making his own way through the most endearing features of the tradition without being anyone’s repeater pencil or (to use an archaic objective correlative) sheet of carbon paper.  He enjoys standards, ballads, jump blues, and more.  Although he’s been on the scene for more than thirty-two bars, he is no relic, but a vigorous searcher.  He hears rhapsodies and offers them to us.

The good news is more resonant than the fact that Joel now has a new address.  He’s brought his horns, his energy, and his delight in melody with him.  And you can hear it all this coming Saturday (April 6, 2013) at Smalls — 183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York) beginning at 7:30 PM.  Joel will be encouraged and supported by three of the finest: Tardo Hammer, piano; Sean Smith, bass; Steve Little, drums.

“Good deal!” to quote Sidney Catlett.

May your happiness increase.

TRANSLUCENT EXPLORATIONS: LENA BLOCH QUARTET at SOMETHIN’ JAZZ (April 29, 2012)

I first met the tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch in fast company — alongside Joel Press, Brad Linde, Ted Brown, Michael Kanan.  And I was impressed immediately by her expertise and willingness to explore the unknown, what Sam Parkins called “precision and abandon.”

I haven’t managed to make it to as many of Lena’s gigs as I would like, but I made a special effort to get to this one: at a new club, Somethin’ Jazz (very nice!) on East 52nd Street between Second and Third Avenues, a ten-dollar cover and a ten-dollar minimum, with a new group for Lena — guitarist Dave Miller, drummer Billy Mintz, and bassist Putter Smith.  (With this group, she will be recording her debut CD, UNFOREHEARD.)  On the final two performances of this evening, pianist Roberta Piket sat in, most eloquently.

The music created wasn’t a reheating of the familiar.  In fact, the first two selections were floating inquiries rather than boxed-in statements of formulas, and I felt that the musicians had embarked on improvisational journeys even when the chord structures beneath the performances were familiar.  Lena guided the group but was also a gentle participant who didn’t demand the prerogatives of A Leader.  Each song embodied a gentle communal awareness, with a crucial openness-to-experience that we could feel.

Much of my pleasure was also in encountering musicians I had not known well if at all before this evening.  I had heard Putter Smith on several recordings, and musicians whose opinions I respect had spoken most fervently of him, but I was not prepared for the variety of sonorities he created, the sweet validity of his sound.  Dave Miller, bless him, didn’t feel compelled to fill space with notes and runs.  I could feel him thinking, quietly, “What might I add here?  Perhaps it could be a lovely silence.”

Billy Mintz is a revelation.  My drumming heroes of the past and present keep time, create colors, and drive the band forward — all noble aspirations.  Although Billy is intuitively connected to the rhythms that the band might float on, he is never mechanical, never content to create predictable patterns.  He struck me most strongly as thinking of what color, what texture, would best fit the situation — making it happen and then moving on to something new, never entrapping himself or the band.  He is soft-spoken and intent in person, equally so at the drums.  Like Dave and Putter, he is poetic without being showy, generous yet spare.

All I will say about Roberta Piket is that I want to hear her play more and again: she has a great deal of technique and accuracy, but it never dominates her music.  Her soloing and accompaniment were elegant but not fussy; she added so much without calling attention to herself.

Lena was free and brave, questing towards something whose name she might not have known, but getting somewhere satisfying — whether humming almost in a whisper, echoing the songs of a mythological bird, or showing that she, too, could follow the Tristano – Konitz – Marsh – Brown path without being hemmed in by its rules and obligations.

At the end of the evening, I felt as if I had witnessed art both translucent and powerful, with echoes of Lester Young and Brahms, of Eastern meditation and collective invention: strong but never harsh, sweetly fulfilling in its desire to ask questions without worrying about conclusions.

Some of my more “traditionally-minded” readers might think this music more open-ended than they would like . . . and they are free, as always, to recall Chaucer’s gentle encouragement to choose another page.  But if they embrace the bravery that animates the jazz they so love, I invite them to choose a performance based on “familiar chord changes” and start there.  I predict that open-hearted listening will make their hearts more light and more full.

Here is the music that made me write the elated words you have, I hope, read.

Lena’s questing original, 33:

Billy’s BEAUTIFUL YOU:

Ted Brown’s FEATHER BED (based on the chord changes of YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO):

Lena’s mournful reharmonization of STAR EYES — making it both deep and surprising:

MARSHMALLOW (based on CHEROKEE — by Warne Marsh with the bridge written by Lee Konitz:

Dave Miller’s deep searching RUBATO:

Roberta Piket joined in for Lena’s own HI LEE (based on HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN):

And Lena concluded the evening’s explorations with SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE (written by Mr. Konitz but not titled by him — based on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?):

These musicians take us with them on their voyages.  I am exceedingly grateful.

May your happiness increase.

GENEROSITIES: OUR FRIEND IN JAZZ, LENA BLOCH

The superb tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch is ready to make her first CD in May 2012 with Dave Miller, Cameron Brown, and Billy Mintz.  If you haven’t heard Lena play, the company she keeps should indicate her worth: Mal Waldron, Joe Lovano, Johnny Griffin, Ted Brown, Michael Kanan, Evgeny Sivtsov, Kenny Werner, Brad Linde, Joel Press . . .

To learn more about Lena’s history, her compositions — to hear and see her play — click here.

Here she is in May 2011 in duet with Evgeny on EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME:

I am delighted that she is finally going to allow her music to be heard beyond YouTube videos and club dates.  But such enterprises need a little help from friends . . .

In another world, Lena would be the happy recipient of a substantial government grant — but such things aren’t easy to come by in 2012, especially if you are “a foreign artist without a home country.”

So she has begun the most modest campaign on Kickstarter — to raise $2000 for the disc.  (I’ve never seen a campaign that started with contributions of five dollars — something that speaks to Lena’s essential modesty and humility.)  As always with Kickstarter, there are a variety of “rewards,” depending on how much one can contribute to the project.  All the money will go to pay the musicians, for studio time, mixing and mastering costs.  (Did I say that the CD has the clever title of UNFOREHEARD?)

The contributions are being handled through Amazon, so no one will be charged anything until the deadline, which is May 13.  At 2 AM, to be exact.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/813167235/lena-bloch-debut-cd-unforeheard?ref=live

The CD will feature improvising — individual and collective — on themes and freely . . . and it will be dedicated to Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh.

Lena Bloch and her music — what she is creating now and what she will create — deserve your attention and support.

May your happiness increase.

LENA BLOCH, VLADIMIR SHAFRANOV, PUTTER SMITH, MARK FERBER — in NEW YORK!

I don’t know when and where I first encountered the superb saxophonist Lena Bloch: perhaps she sat in at one of the Michael Kanan – Ted Brown – Joel Press gigs at Sofia’s?  and I recall her joining Brad Linde on the stand — happily!  However, she impressed me there as someone with a gentle lyricism and a pulsing inventiveness.  And Lena surrounds herself with equally surprising players who aren’t as well known as their music would deserve.  So I humbly suggest you take note of Lena’s two gigs at the end of this month and the start of the next.  You’ll go out into the winter night feeling warmed by the music she and her friends create.

Lena’s not the only reason to don your scarf (if this unpredictable weather requires it): another is pianist Vladimir Shafranov, who lived and worked in New York City more than a decade ago — with associations with George Coleman, Clifford Jordan, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Foster, George Mraz, Cecil McBee, Idris Muhammad, and many others.  The January 2012 HOT HOUSE describes him as “sinfully underrated.”

Here are two examples of Vladimir, improvising on familiar material: Watch him dance through HOW ABOUT YOU?

and a lyrical but harmonically deep WARM VALLEY:

Lena, Vladimir, and the fine bassist Putter Smith will be performing at Smalls Jazz Club on Monday, January 30, Monday, at 7 pm.  And on Thursday, February 2, they will be at the Kitano Hotel (joined by drummer Mark Ferber) at 8 and 10 PM.  Smalls has a music charge of $20 — for which one can stay all night, and the Kitano requires a $15 minimum spent on beverages or food.  Reservations are strongly suggested at the Kitano, so call 212 885 7119 ti assure yourself a space.

And if the name Lena Bloch is new to you, you might want to listen to this, where she and pianist Evgeny Svitsov make winding paths through EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME (recorded in May 2011):

She’s a special player, and she attracts others who think and feel deeply.

JOEL PRESS and SPIKE WILNER and DWAYNE CLEMONS at SMALLS (Nov. 17, 2011)

It’s always a delight when reedman Joel Press comes to town, and he proved that once again in his duets with pianist Spike Wilner at Smalls (West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) on November 17, 2011.

I’ve admired Joel’s playing for some time — first on record, then live — his soulful way of exploring a melody without being tied to familiar harmonic patterns . . . but he never loses the thread.  And although he denies this (“How could a Jewish boy from Brooklyn sound like a Southwest tenor player?”) he has deep roots not only in Lester but in Herschel and that moaning saxophone sound.

Spike was a mature player when I first heard him perhaps six years ago — lithe, swinging, witty, surprising — but now he sounds like a pianistic version of 1957 Coleman Hawkins: he knows the risks and rewards of throwing away the polite rulebook of jazz-school-piano and he often sounds like someone who has decided to let his deepest impulses guide him — without a life vest — and those impulses take him and us to wonderful surprising places.

Both players, also, have a fine sense of the past: Joel lives in 2011 but sneaks glances back at 1944 and 1956, and Spike is always playing / playing with walking tenths and stride bass patterns (as well as hilarious glances at the Swing repertoire, such as I FOUND A NEW BABY seen out of the corner of his eye).

Here are two performances — complex, surging but delicate — by this duo, a pair of masterful conversationalists who point the way for each other and for us at every turn.

A strong-willed reading of IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

An improvisation on OUT OF NOWHERE:

Spike and Joel invited trumpeter Dwayne Clemons up to join them for a leisurely look at Sonny Rollins’ BLUE SEVEN — both forward-looking and affectionately Basie-flavored.  At times I thought I was listening to Nat Cole, Illinois Jacquet, and Harry Edison time=traveled to Greenwich Village, Autumn 2011.  And that’s a compliment, even though none of the players had any desire to imitate anything:

This is one version of what improvisation is supposed to sound like!

THE (POSSIBLY REVERSIBLE) DECLINE OF THE WEST (Nov. 18, 2011)

Last night, on my way to Smalls to hear Joel Press and Spike Wilner, I walked past a Greenwich Village bar / restaurant that was advertising JAZZ on its sandwich board outside.  This was exciting news, and I was hopeful and curious.  I ventured in and listened for ten minutes.  It seemed to be a good-natured jam session — trumpet, saxophone, guitar, drums, with one of the horns occasionally sitting at the piano and chording when not taking a solo.  It was pleasing to see that the players were a diversified little group.  They finished their improvisation on some mildly familiar changes and launched into the very pretty ballad POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS.

The guitarist was more than competent, but his volume was high, and it seemed as if he couldn’t wait to begin playing double-time.  The drummer had a pair of wire brushes (a great thing) but was out of synch with the rest of the group — so busily accenting phrases that the time was often lost; the saxophonist had a pleasant tone but was offering a mix of famous Bird licks; the trumpeter didn’t seem to realize that he was playing a love song.

I sighed, and thought (not for the first time) that I want a second business card — in addition to the JAZZ LIVES ones now fluttering through the universe.  It wouldn’t advertise anything, but would make two moral statements:

BRING BACK MEDIUM TEMPO

REMEMBER BEN WEBSTER

Does this sound like a good idea?  I could leave them on music stands . . . .

P.S.  Then I went to hear Spike and Joel — fellows who know these things deep in their souls, so all was well.

DEEP HARMONY: JOEL PRESS and MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (October 20, 2011)

Here is the introduction I wrote for my first posting about a wonderful evening of intimate, powerful improvisation created by these two great players.  (You can hear the music at https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/soul-searching-joel-press-and-michael-kanan-at-smalls-oct-20-2011/).

I told both Michael Kanan (piano) and Joel Press (tenor and soprano saxophones) that I had been waiting a few years to hear them perform as a duo. I knew that they had done this informally for twenty-five years in their respective studios and even appeared in public (probably in the Boston area) but I had always heard them in less intimate settings. Last Thursday, October 20, 2011, I had my chance, and the music was memorable.

Michael is younger than Joel, whom he met when he was only seventeen or eighteen, and he looks up to the saxophonist with love and reverence — as a great melodic improviser, someone full of surprises, able to create new things on the most familiar standard. But Joel, for his part, says he keeps learning from Michael — and hearing the depths and subtleties of Michael’s playing, it’s no hyperbole.

It would be very easy to skate over the surface of these familiar songs, but these two players know what it is to listen, to respond, to improvise. It’s lovely to witness the deep, playful interchanges of artists so attuned to one another yet so able to take off on small experimental impulses. Their friendship and telepathy imbue every note, every phrase.

Here’s the second, magical set.

Monk, cryptic and irresistible as ever — WELL, YOU NEEDN’T:

Michael offered the verse of YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO — with great tenderness:

SCRAPPLE FROM THE APPLE — fattening but delicious:

ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE, with a sweet Lestorian bounce:

It was dark inside and outside, perhaps leading Joel to think of the Bud Powell – Sonny Still variations on THESE FOOLISH THINGS called SUNSET:

GET OUT OF TOWN — swinging, rather than abruptly dismissive:

A searching improvisation based on OUT OF NOWHERE:

Something funky and delightful — RED TOP.  Smalls doesn’t sell food, but I thought I could smell spareribs:

They ended the evening — reluctant to stop playing — while waiting for the next band to arrive — with an impromptu yet heartfelt BODY AND SOUL:

I have it on good authority that Joel will be back in New York this coming month (November 2011) and for more news about Michael, check this out:

https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/michael-kanan-and-friends-are-throwing-a-party-nov-6-2011/

SOUL / SEARCHING: JOEL PRESS and MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (Oct. 20, 2011)

I told both Michael Kanan (piano) and Joel Press (tenor and soprano saxophones) that I had been waiting a few years to hear them perform as a duo.  I knew that they had done this informally for twenty-five years in their respective studios and even appeared in public (probably in the Boston area) but I had always heard them in less intimate settings.  Last Thursday, October 20, 2011, I had my chance, and the music was memorable.

Michael is younger than Joel, whom he met when he was only seventeen or eighteen, and he looks up to the saxophonist with love and reverence — as a great melodic improviser, someone full of surprises, able to create new things on the most familiar standard.  But Joel, for his part, says he keeps learning from Michael — and hearing the depths and subtleties of Michael’s playing, it’s no hyperbole.

It would be very easy to skate over the surface of these familiar songs, but these two players know what it is to listen, to respond, to improvise.  It’s lovely to witness the deep, playful interchanges of artists so attuned to one another yet so able to take off on small experimental impulses.  Their friendship and telepathy imbue every note, every phrase.

Here is the first set of this magical evening at Smalls (138 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City).

And this posting is especially for RDR, without whom it would have taken me much longer to hear and meet Joel and Michael . . .

GONE WITH THE WIND always makes me think of Ben Webster and Art Tatum, not a bad pair of heroic ancestors:

HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU? is both Joel’s whimsical memory of Steve Lacy, who would ask him this question as a greeting (the soprano saxophone is notoriously unforgiving) and an improvisation on I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU:

A very lovely yet intense DON’T BLAME ME:

Truer words were never spoken: I HEAR A RHAPSODY:

SOMEBODY LOVES ME, the Gershwin standard (now right years old) that Joel begins, solo:

For Lester and Billie, in loving swing memory, FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

And a cheerful LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (at such a pretty tempo) to close off the first set:

More to come!

FLOATING LYRICISM: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, CLINT BAKER, CHRIS DAWSON, MARTY EGGERS, KATIE CAVERA, HAL SMITH at SWEET AND HOT 2011 (Sept. 5, 2011)

The renowned jazz reedman Joel Press made a point last night at Smalls, in between-set conversation, of praising the clarinetist Tim Laughlin — someone whom I hadn’t heard in person before the Sweet and Hot Music Festival this last September.  And I agreed, enthusiastically.

“Tonation and phrasing” is how Louis described the ideal: that the sound coming out of someone’s horn, the audible beauty of someone’s vocal sound, is as important as the notes played.  Music, said Eddie Condon, should come in the ear like honey.  Tim understands that so well and puts it into practice: the simplest melody statement gleams.  And as for “phrasing,” he’s a master at taking his time, making space so that those notes resonate in our ears and hearts.  Not surprisingly, his partners in the band are great lyrical players.  I’ve praised them before and this time will let the music speak for itself — and will only, as Yeats wrote, murmur name upon name: Connie Jones, cornet and sky-architecture; Clint Baker, trombone and funk; Chris Dawson, piano and elegance; Katie Cavera, guitar and automatic transmission; Marty Eggers, string bass and solid rock; Hal Smith, drums and sound-sculptures.  And late in this set they were visited by the slippery and thoughtful trombonist Russ Phillips. 

Oh, play those things!

They began the set with a nice easy version of SHINE — a song looked on with some disapproval for its lyrics, but once you move the difficult words aside, the melody rings beautifully.  It’s one of those classic-but-neglected songs I could hear much more often:

Then a real surprise — Tim loves pretty melodies, which is appropriate, so he called for IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD, which rises to sweet splendor early on:

If you think only of the lyrics, I CRIED FOR YOU strikes a more unhappy note, but jazz players and singers have been ignoring its potantial vindictiveness since the middle Thirties — as the band does here:

Then came one of the high points of the festival — Connie Jones’ absolutely heartfelt performance of a song Louis Jordan recorded, NEW ORLEANS AND A RUSTY OLD HORN, which sums up a good deal of Connie’s love for that city, the music, and how they intertwine.  It’s also a song Connie recorded with Tim on their latest CD (visit http://www.timlaughlin.com. for the details):

Russ Phillips came onstage (always something to celebrate) and the band swung out into the old Berlin favorite, ALL BY MYSELF:

And they ended the set with a good old good one, evoking what Louis would have called a street parade in his home town, HIGH SOCIETY:

Here’s a bit of what they call laginappe — something extra and extra-special — as they call it in New Orleans: a Connie Jones / Tim Laughlin / Corey Gemme / John Sheridan / Richard Simon / Frank DiVito gift from the last set of Sweet and Hot: MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE (listen closely to Connie’s generous, pensive obbligatos to Corey’s lead):

I’m very sorry that these are the last videos of the Laughlin – Jones band I have from Sweet and Hot 2011, but thrilled to be able to share them with you.  This band — almost identical except that Bob Havens will be playing trombone — will be featured at the San Diego Dixieland Festival this coming November.  Maybe Clint (who will be playing with two other bands at that festival — trumpet with Grand Dominion and tuba with the Yerba Buena Stompers — will come and make himself to home with Tim and Connie, too.  I’ll be there.

JUST SAY YES: JOEL PRESS and SPIKE WILNER at SMALLS (July 7, 2011)

Joel Press (tenor and soprano saxophone) and Spike Wilner (piano) created life-affirming music at Smalls (138 West 10th Street, New York City) on July 7, 2011.  Joel and Spike had played together once before, but this was their first official performance — and we hope it’s the first of many. 

Both Joel and Spike love to create energetically rollicking melodies — theirs is true playfulness.  And the ideas that come from one are heard and bounced back by the other.  Although Joel says he’s only a Boston boy, I hear a true Southwestern depth of feeling in his playing, with Herschel Evans sitting alongside Lester Young and Charlie Parker . . . although what comes out is unmistakably Joel, from those mobile knees on up.  I first heard Spike six yers ago and admired his playing — orchestral but incisive, making space for Cliff Jackson and Bud Powell.  Now, in 2011, he has grown so much more into himself, with a joyous inventiveness that inspires both Joel and hearers from the first note. 

See and hear for yourself!

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

For Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, and Lester Young, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA taken at a hilariously brisk tempo — are we in Beijing already, Captain?

A GHOST OF A CHANCE, explicitly for Lester:

Charlie Parker’s DEWEY SQUARE, complete with geo-historical commentary by Joel:

I REMEMBER YOU, with a lovely rubato beginning:

BLUES IN B FLAT:

THREE LITTLE WORDS:

Fats Navarro’s line on OUT OF NOWHERE changes, NOSTALGIA:

Finally, YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM:

Thanks to Joel and Spike for such joyous surprises, and to Doug Panero and Louise Farrell for just the right kind of moral support!

JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, TAL RONEN, STEVE LITTLE at FAT CAT (July 5, 2011)

FAT CAT (located at 75 Christopher Street in New York City, just off Seventh Avenue South) is, at first glance, an odd place to hear rewarding jazz.

You climb down a steep staircase, meet up with someone who asks for proof of age and three dollars, stamps your hand with a blue-ink drawing of a grinning feline, and you turn a corner . . . into what resembles a Fifties rec room at a huge scale.  Past a bar (with an intriguing selection of beers on tap — I had Old Speckled Hen, a UK favorite — and wines) into a large basement filled with chess tables, billiard tables, ping pong tables, foosball tables, shuffleboard, and more.  In fact, one of Fat Cat’s two sites asserts proudly that it is “NYC’s best-equipped gaming center” and  “best pool hall.”

It’s far from dreary and ominous — perhaps a youthful Minnesota Fats and Eddie Felson might be doing battle here — on my most recent trip to Fat Cat, two young couples were playing pool with more enthusiasm than skill.  There is a good deal of late-adolescent shouting when someone makes a great shot or a disastrous move, but it’s all cheerful.  (One night, behind me was a chili-cookoff, or so it seemed, with aluminum tins of chili for a birthday party, a cake, and a long version of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU.)  And I understand that it is jammed at 1:30 AM.

Here’s the “gaming site” for the skeptical:

http://www.fatcatmusic.org/gaming.html

What the youngbloods at their Scrabble boards might not know is that Fat Cat is a secret jazz hangout as well.  How do the names Frank Wess, Ned Goold, Terry Waldo, Grant Stewart, Ehud Asherie, Corin Stiggall, Alex Hoffman — and more —  sound to you?

The other Fat Cat website has all the musical information you need:

http://www.fatcatmusic.org/

On Tuesday, July 5, a quartet gathered (there are soft couches — the sort of furniture it is difficult to leap up from) in a smaller quadrant not far from the bar.  The corner was dark in portions, gleefully lit in primary colors near the back.  A large sign announcing FEATRING _______________ and HIS ORCHESTRA (approximately, with the leader’s name never filled in) hangs over the proceedings.

But even given the shouts of joy or disdain from the players (not at all critical comments on the music), the quartet accomplished great things and brought wonderful lilting sounds to Fat Cat.

The players?

On tenor and soprano saxophone, the whimsical monument, the Swing Explorer, Joel Press . . . . making his own way, often sideways, in the great singing saxophone tradition bounded on one end by Eddie Miller and on the other by Steve Lacy.  Although Joel says it’s impossible for him, given his origins, I hear a deep Southwestern moan and lope in his playing.  He bounces when he plays, and you would hear the bounce with your eyes closed.  His sound is tender yet burry: I thought of a favorite rough blanket, cozy but assertive, as he glides from one idea to the next.  Lester Young peeks in approvingly over Joel’s shoulder, although Joel is much more than a purveyor of Prez-isms.

Pianist Michael Kanan never does the expected, yet when his notes and pauses have settled in, they seem exactly right — with the epigrammatic power and amusement of a Nat Cole, a Jimmy Rowles — although he, too, covers the entire spectrum from Willie the Lion Smith to Ray Bryant and Red Garland.  Michael makes wonderful sound-clusters come out of the piano: rippling trills and tremolos, single-note stabs, chords that seem lopsided but fit just right.  He and Joel float on a wave of loving respect, and several songs feature a sweetly chatty interlude, where ideas are tossed back and forth in polite yet eager conversation.

I hadn’t met Tal Ronen before, although I’d admired his work on a variety of CDs.  And I was delighted by the big warm sound he got — even when tuning his bass.  His pulse was absolutely right, although never obtrusive, and his solo lines were worthy of being transcribed.  Although some players bridle at being compared with the Great Dead, Tal made me think — many times during the evening — of both George Duvivier and Paul Chambers.

Steve Little and Joel go back a long way — and this session was a reunion of sorts after a thirty-year hiatus.  Steve’s gently prodding drums make a band sound better, and his movement around his set (from brushes on the snare to a variety of cymbal strokes) leave us enlivened rather than somnolent.  Hear how deeply he pays attention to what’s going on within the band — but never letting his commentaries obscure the other players.

Some highlights:

Charlie Parker’s DEWEY SQUARE, a New York landmark as well as a musical statement:

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — in the best Kansas City tradition — turned the corner into MOTEN SWING before it finshed.  Here’s the first Kanan – Press chat, too:

Joel named his variation on the chords of OUT OF NOWHERE “LAST EXIT” in honor of Warne Marsh, who died onstage while playing his own improvisation on the same changes:

LOVER MAN, for Billie Holiday and Ram Ramirez:

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, taken at an easy romantic trot, was a real pleasure:

INDIANA was the occasion for another Press – Kanan conversation:

Joel turned to his soprano sax for Thelonious Monk’s improvisation on LADY BE GOOD chord changes, which Monk called HACKENSACK:

And Joel closed the two sets with an easy Bb blues — the line, written by Sonny Rollins (but reaching back many generations before him) was called RELAXIN’, and it was an apt title:

Beauty and fervor and whimsy in the darkness.

JOEL PRESS COMES TO NEW YORK! (July 2011)

Short notice: the splendid saxophonist Joel Press is paying a brief visit to New York City.  As always, he will be creating bouncing riffs and casually eloquent, speaking melodic lines.  I think of his metaphysical street address as the corner of Swing and Lyricism.

Joel has three performances planned — with fine musical friends, as always.  Joel will be playing duets with the wonderful pianist Spike Wilner at SMALLS, 183 W 10th Street @ 7th Avenue South on Thursday, July 7th.  Their set begins at 7:30.  They will be followed by the Jeff Williams Quintet.

Sunday, July 3rd, 1:30 AM (if you’re awake) Joel, the cherished pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Tal Ronen, drummer Steve Little, will be playing at FAT CAT, 75 Chistopher Street @ 7th Avenue.

Tuesday, July 5th, at 7PM,  the same quartet will be at FAT CAT, 75 Chistopher Street @ 7th Avenue.

Carpe Press, JAZZ LIVES readers!