Tag Archives: Lennie Tristano

FEATHERY MUSIC, GENTLE QUESTIONS: LENA BLOCH

I’ve always heard that attorneys only ask questions to which they know the answers. I have nothing against them individually or as a group, but this seems like a closed loop of an endeavor.  The tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch is on a more inspiring track: she asks questions for which there might be no simple answer, no single answer.  Asking the question is the purpose and the rewarding result. I have been admiring her musical inquiries as often as possible during the last few years our paths have intersected in New York City, and have seen her as a very authentic player — someone devoted to melodic explorations that, while gentle, have weight and seriousness to balance off their soaring possibilities.

ajazz bloch

Lena has a wonderful new CD, FEATHERY — it’s her debut CD as a leader, and as you read this it will be available, as a physical CD or as downloads, with sound samples, hereShould you prefer to voyage up the Amazon, you can ask your own questions and purchase a copy here. It’s on Thirteenth Note Records, and Lena’s curious, inventive colleagues are drummer Billy Mintz, string bassist Cameron Brown, guitarist Dave Miller.

Knowing can easily be confused with wisdom. Lena Bloch, Dave Miller, Cameron Brown, and Billy Mintz are deeply aware that real wisdom is in the tireless asking of questions, not an irritable straining to come up with the one right answer.  Their willingness to inquire, this gentle wondering, informs their music.   Rather than treat this grouping of players and voices as it usually is done (ensemble line, solos, drum fours, ensemble), they often take the opportunity to ask questions of the music itself.

The music created by these four artists is far more subtle and affecting than hearing another jazz quartet working its own variations on Playing What We Already Know.  The art – for let us call it by its right name – is feathery-light and durable.  I hear Lester Young and Brahms, sorrows and exultations, Eastern meditation and collective invention.

The music is strong and sweet, dense and welcoming.  The musicians have sensations to share with us, secrets made tangible, their language too deep for words.

Lena Bloch does not announce herself as courageous, and I think she would start giggling if you told her this was the case.  But she surely is.  Her artistic courage is not a matter of being big, bold, and loud. She approaches the music with tender reverence.  But she is not afraid to venture into new spaces in pursuit of beauty.  Her models and mentors  knew that the cosmos could be dark and terrifying, but the only human response to the void was to speak, through playing and composing, know how to keep terrors at bay.  I will fill the air with floating sounds. I will be brave enough to say WHO IS OUT THERE? I will soar above on feathers of melody.

Lena’s friends and colleagues on this disc are equally inspired. They trust themselves, and their loving energy comes through in every note sounded.  They fly happily. No sun dares to melt their wings.

And the music on this disc continues to resonate once the disc has concluded.  Billy, Dave, and Cameron are great painters of sound. They listen to their hearts; they listen to their instruments; they listen to each other. They create a world where Beauty is not only possible, but inevitable. Their sounds will guide us into the darkness and into the light.  Hear them, and be uplifted.

I’m not the only one who admires Lena’s questing spirit and FEATHERY: here is Dan McCleneghan’s review in All About Jazz.

Once you’ve visited Lena’s website and seen more of the videos there, once you’ve heard FEATHERY, you could attend a quartet gig at the most convivial of spaces, The Drawing Room, on 56 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn, New York: Sunday, March 30, at 7:30, and the group will be Lena, Putter Smith, string bass; Dave Miller, and Billy Mintz.

Whatever ways you can, find and find out more about Lena Bloch.

May your happiness increase!

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WHEN THE COMMON LANGUAGE IS SOPHISTICATED SWING: TED BROWN / BRAD LINDE: “TWO OF A KIND”

One of the nicest aspects of the jazz brother-and-sisterhood is that music eradicates many barriers less enlightened people mistakenly construct.  When Louis Armstrong arrived in a foreign country whose language he couldn’t speak, the band playing STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE at the airport told him that everyone knew what to say and how to say it.

Jazz critics construct Schools and Sects, so that people under thirty are supposed to play one way, people over seventy another.  But the musicians don’t care about this, and jazz has always had a lovely cross-generational mentoring going on, where the Old Dudes (or the Elders of the Tribe or the Sages) took on the Youngbloods (or the Future Elders or the Kids) to make sure the music would go on in the right loving way.  In theory, the Jazz Parents look after the Young’uns, but the affectionate connection works both ways: sometimes younger players bring back the Elders (Eva Taylor, Sippie Wallace, Jabbo Smith) from their possibly comfortable retirement, find them gigs, make sure that the audience knows that the Elders aren’t dead and can still swing out.  When the partnership works — and it usually does — everyone feels good, especially the listeners.

One of the most rewarding examples of this has been the side-by-side swing partnership of tenor saxophonists Ted Brown (now 85) and Brad Linde (now 33), which I have followed and documented in a variety of live appearances in New York City, the most recent being a wonderful evening organized by Brad at The Drawing Room in Brooklyn in December 2012, to celebrate Ted’s birthday.

TED AND BRAD coverAnother celebration is the new CD by Ted and Brad — TWO OF A KIND (Bleebop Records # 1202).  It reminds me of the Satchel Paige line about age: it was all about mind over matter, and if you didn’t mind it didn’t matter.  Or words to that effect.  If you closed your eyes while listening to this delightful CD, you wouldn’t hear Elder and Younger, you wouldn’t hear Master and Student.  You would hear two jazz friends, colleagues, taking their own ways on sweetly swinging parallel paths to a common goal — beautiful arching melodies, interesting harmonic twists, and subtle rhythmic play.  And the material is both familiar and fresh — Ted’s original lines that twist and turn over known and time-tested chord structures: SMOG EYES, SLIPPIN’ AND SLIDIN, and his new tribute to Lester, PRESERVATION, and Lester’s blues line POUND CAKE.  Warne Marsh, Lennie Tristano, and Lee Konitz are happily in evidence here as well, with Warne’s BACKGROUND MUSIC, the theme from Tschaikovsky’s Opus 142 that Ted and Warne recorded together on a classic session, Konitz’s LENNIE’S, and the indestructible MY MELANCHOLY BABY and BODY AND SOUL.

It’s a delightful CD — on philosophical grounds of music transcending artificial definitions and barriers — beautifully recorded, full of feeling and sweet energy.  No abrupt shocks to the nervous system, no straining after novelty — just evocations of a world where melody, harmony, and swing rhythms have so much to offer us.  Thank you Brad, Ted, Tom, Michael, Don, and Tony.

Visit Ted’s website here; Brad’s here.

I was originally considering titling this post BEAUTIFULLY OLD-SCHOOL, but realized that not all of my readers would take that as a compliment.  I don’t mean that TWO OF A KIND consciously tries to make it sound as if life had come to a graceful halt in 1956, but if one heard this CD playing from another room, one might think it was a newly discovered classic Verve, Vanguard, or Contemporary Records issue — because of the great ease and fluency with which the players approach the material and intuitively understand their roles in an ensemble.  The young players — although not known to me — are just splendid, as individualists and as a cohesive rhythm section.  Michael Kramer, guitar; Dan Roberts, piano; Tom Baldwin, string bass; Tony Martucci, drums, work together as if to the late-swing / timeless-Mainstream manner born, and if I heard sweet subtle evocations of Mel Lewis, Ray Brown, Tal Farlow, and Jimmie Rowles, no one would blame me.

If you have never heard Ted and Brad together, here they are at The Drawing Room — playing BROADWAY with Michael Kanan, piano; Murray Wall, string bass; Taro Okamoto, drums.  Sweet swing, gentle urgencies, messages to send throughout the universe.

May your happiness increase.

RICH AND SPACIOUS: “POUND CAKE”: KIRK KNUFFKE, TED BROWN, JOHN HEBERT, MATT WILSON

One of the pleasures of the year just ended was meeting and hearing cornetist Kirk Knuffke for the first time.  This happened at a December 2012 concert for tenor saxophonist Ted Brown’s eighty-fifth birthday, but the pleasure of Kirk’s music has continued long after the concert ended — through his recording session with Ted, issued as POUND CAKE on Steeplechase Records.

POUND CAKE Kirk KnuffkeOn this CD, Kirk and Ted are joined by two other subtly eloquent players, string bassist John Hebert and drummer Matt Wilson.  It is a spare but richly resonant quartet of equally musical voices in deep conversation. A number of the compositions are Ted’s — BLIMEY, DIG IT, JAZZ OF TWO CITIES, SLIPPIN’ AND SLIDIN’, FEATHER BED, JAZZ OF TWO CITIES, but they are heard afresh. Tristano’s LENNIES, two of Kirk’s originals, SWIVEL and ARRIVE, sit neatly next to the classic GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU? and the Lester Young blues which gives this CD its name (“pound cake,” in Lester’s slang, was your girlfriend).

It’s hard to describe the music, except to say that it dramatizes in sweet ways the continuum of improvised music of the last hundred years: at times I thought of Lester Young’s Keynote quartet with Sidney Catlett, then the early Mulligan quartet, all the way up to Ornette and Don Cherry.  Seamless, personal, and flowing.

Good-natured music without being trivial or jokey: listening to the title track, I thought that these four players had managed to summon up Lester’s ebullience and sadness — parallel and simultaneous — without smudging either expression.  I had already known how lyrical Ted was and is, but encountering the other players on this CD is a real pleasure.  Matt Wilson now belongs to the expanding category of “modern” drummers who make beautiful sounds, who are incapable of being tedious or formulaic.  Every touch of the stick or brush brings joy.  John Hebert is both a powerful eloquent soloist and an old-fashioned string bassist in the great tradition who, like a swing Atlas, can hold the globe on his shoulders.  But Kirk . . .ah, Mr.Knuffke!  I have admired cornet players all my life: Bobby Hackett and Ruby Braff first — sweet sound-painters.  Kirk eschews the broad strokes that some other brass players love in favor of a sweet apparent indirection that is (whisper this) always on target.  His notes seem like the dots in an impressionist painting; the listener wonders, “What does he have in mind?  Where is he going?” and then, two minutes later, we hear that the sly Mr. Knuffke has created an entire world of sound for us while appearing to be simply ambling.

Here’s a sample of Kirk, Ted, Matt, and bassist Chris Lightcap from that wonderfully illuminating concert in December 2012:

DIG IT.  I do; you will.

May your happiness increase.

GENEROSITIES OF SOUND: CELEBRATING TED BROWN (Part Three) — with BOB ARTHURS, JON EASTON, JOE SOLOMON, BARBARA MERJAN at Somethin’ Jazz Club, Dec. 13, 2012

This is the third set of video performances celebrating the ongoing achievement of tenor saxophonist / composer Ted Brown — who turned eighty-five in December 2012.  Here, Ted was the featured attraction with his friend, trumpeter / vocalist Bob Arthurs, at Somethin’ Jazz Club  (212 East 52nd Street, 3rd Floor, New York City).  Aiding and abetting most nobly were Barbara Merjan (drums); Joe Solomon (string bass); Jon Easton (piano).

The music made that night was “modern,” lyrical, swinging, and sweet — as if Lester Young and Harry “Sweets” Edison had taken their wisdom and delight in sound into this century.  This isn’t to say that anyone on the stand was imitating the departed masters — but the living players honored the great tradition of melodic improvisations, lighter-than-air and memorable at the same time.

The evening began with a delightful exploration of YARDBIRD SUITE:

Ted’s SMOG EYES (a wry celebration of the hazards of Southern California in the Fifties):

A soulful LOVER MAN:

Bob is emerging as a singer as well as a singing trumpeter — hear him make his own path through FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

Lennie Tristano’s song and address, 317 EAST 32nd STREET:

A cheerful MY MELANCHOLY BABY, sung by Mr. Arthurs:

BODY AND SOUL — a feature for Ted, Joe, and Barbara:

Warne Marsh’s BACKGROUND MUSIC, with swing to the foreground:

May your happiness increase.

GENEROSITIES OF SOUND: CELEBRATING TED BROWN (Part Two: December 2, 2012)

This is the second part of a triple tribute to the tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, someone I admire immensely — for his quiet lyricism, his floating melodic improvisations that seem to come directly from his heart through the bell of his horn.

And Ted — soft-spoken, reticent, not a man to call attention to himself — reversed the usual practice in December 2012 when it came to celebrating his eighty-fifth birthday.  Instead of sitting at a table surrounded by people who love and admire him, opening gifts and receiving congratulations, Ted gave us presents — as you will see and hear below.

This is conclusion of a divinely inspired evening at Michael Kanan’s Brooklyn studio, The Drawing Room (December 2); the third part will document an evening at Somethin’ Jazz (December 13) where Ted was joined by the energetically lyrical trumpeter Bob Arthurs.  At The Drawing Room, Ted performed with tenor saxophonist Brad Linde and Michael Kanan as guiding spirits.  For once, I will leave all commentary aside: Ted’s music really speaks deeply for itself, a mixture of lightness and deep feeling — conscious spiritual homage to Lester Young.

The first part of that concert can be seen  here — with beautiful playing from Murray Wall, Taro Okamoto, Sarah Hughes, Kirk Knuffke, Chris Lightcap;, Matt Wilson.

More!  With new friends joining in — the other musicians sitting and admiring.

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE (Ted, Brad Linde, Sarah Hughes, reeds; Michael Kanan, piano; Putter Smith, string bass; Hyland Harris, drums):

LENNIE’S (Ted, Brad, Ethan Iverson, piano; Kirk Knuffke, cornet; Putter Smith, Hyland Harris):

THESE FOOLISH THINGS (just perfect — Ted, Ethan Iverson — whose idea it was to call a ballad — Putter Smith, Hyland Harris):

POUND CAKE (a Lester Young blues line in G: Ted, Brad, Ethan Iverson, Murray Wall, Taro Okamoto):

YARDBIRD SUITE (Ted, Brad, Michael Kanan, Will Caviness, trumpet; Murray Wall, Taro Okamoto):

What astonishing music!  Happy birthday, Mr. Brown — with more music and more birthdays to come.

POUND CAKE Kirk Knuffke

TWO OF A KIND Brad LindeTed has released two new compact discs: one, TWO OF A KIND Bleebop 1202, pairs him with Brad; POUND CAKE, Steeplechase 31749, puts him alongside Kirk and Matt.  I will have more to say about these discs in 2013, but you don’t need my permission to venture boldly into ownenership.  Delicious airs!

And for some of my more “traditionally-minded” readers wd to back away from this “modern” jazz . . . . listen deeply and you will hear Lester and Jo Jones — their swing, their lightness — brought into this century by warm gentle improvising men and women.

Thanks to the spirits — Lester, Jo, Lennie, Bird — and to the people in the room: Hyland and Ben, Stephanie and Lena . . . as well as to the heroes making the music.  They all have made The Drawing Room a holy place.

May your happiness increase.

TENDER QUESTIONS: LENA BLOCH, DAN TEPFER, DAVE MILLER, BILLY MINTZ at THE FIREHOUSE SPACE (Dec. 9, 2012)

A chilly damp December night in Brooklyn — but The Firehouse Space was warmed by the inquiring music of Lena Bloch, tenor saxophone; Dan Tepfer, piano; Dave Miller, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums.

Rather than treat this grouping of players and voices in a traditional way (ensemble line, solos, drum fours, ensemble), Lena, Dan, Dave, and Billy approached this set as an opportunity to ask questions of the music, to sweetly probe the possibilities of four improvisers on the same stand.  So the music seemed a series of inquiries and hypothetical questions given substance: “What would happen if you and I conversed in this manner for a time?”

And the results were deeply rewarding.  It was a privilege to be there and equally a privilege to be able to share this music with you.  If you expect the expected, the brave explorations of this quartet may surprise . . . but their respect for the music comes through in every note and rest, every solo and improvised colloquy.

The enigmatic title of Lena’s composition, HIGH POINT OF FLAT HILLS, has an intriguing explanation.  You’ll have to ask her at her next gig (January 31, 2013):

Variations on OUT OF NOWHERE:

The occasionally mournful reharmonization of the familiar STAR EYES:

The sweet, searching question: HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?:

Lena’s own 33:

Improvisations on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE / SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE (which Lee Konitz tells everyone was not his title):

Testing the waters, taking chances gently, experimenting with new combinations, flavors, textures, essences . . . .

May your happiness increase.

GENEROSITIES OF SOUND: CELEBRATING TED BROWN (Part One: December 2, 2012)

I admire the tenor saxophonist Ted Brown immensely — for his quiet lyricism, his floating melodic improvisations that seem to come directly from his heart through the bell of his horn.

And Ted — soft-spoken, reticent, not a man to call attention to himself — reversed the usual practice in December 2012 when it came to celebrating his eighty-fifth birthday.  Instead of sitting at a table surrounded by people who love and admire him, opening gifts and receiving congratulations, Ted gave us presents — as you will see and hear below.

This is the first of a three-part series celebrating Ted: the first two parts will present a divinely inspired evening at Michael Kanan’s Brooklyn studio, The Drawing Room (December 2); the third part will document an evening at Somethin’ Jazz (December 13) where Ted was joined by the energetically lyrical trumpeter Bob Arthurs.

Here’s the first part: music performed at The Drawing Room with tenor saxophonist Brad Linde and Michael Kanan as guiding spirits alongside Ted.  For once, I will leave all commentary aside: Ted’s music really speaks deeply for itself, a mixture of lightness and deep feeling — conscious spiritual homage to Lester Young.

BROADWAY features Ted, Brad Linde, Michael Kanan, Murray Wall (string bass), Taro Okamoto (drums):

SMOG EYES adds alto saxophonist Sarah Hughes for a famous original line of Ted’s:

MY MELANCHOLY BABY was an amusing choice, given the broad smiles in the room:

317 EAST 32nd STREET belongs to Lennie Tristano — his line on OUT OF NOWHERE chord changes:

A second set paired Ted with the wonderful cornetist Kirk Knuffke, Chris Lightcap (dtring bass);, Matt Wilson (drums).  It was my first in-person introduction to Kirk and Matt, and I am still amazed, three weeks later.

They began with BLIMEY (on the chords of LIMEHOUSE BLUES):

Then, three more famous Brown original lines — FEATHER BED:

DIG IT:

JAZZ OF TWO CITIES:

Michael and Brad joined in for SLIPPIN’ AND SLIDIN’ (on the chords of I FOUND A NEW BABY):’

What astonishing music!  Happy birthday, Mr. Brown — with more music and more birthdays to come.

POUND CAKE Kirk Knuffke

And for those who are inspired by these videos to want TWO OF A KIND Brad Lindesomething musical they can carry around, Ted has released two new compact discs: one, TWO OF A KIND Bleebop 1202, pairs him with Brad; POUND CAKE, Steeplechase 31749, puts him alongside Kirk and Matt.  I will have more to say about these discs in 2013, but you don’t need my permission to venture boldly into ownership.  Delicious airs!

And for some of my more “traditionally-minded” readers who might be inclined to back away from this “modern” jazz . . . . listen deeply and you will hear Lester and Jo Jones — their swing, their lightness — brought into this century by warm gentle improvising men and women.

Thanks to the spirits — Lester, Jo, Lennie, Bird — and to the people in the room: Hyland and Ben, Stephanie and Lena . . . as well as to the heroes making the music.

May your happiness increase.