Tag Archives: Lennie Tristano

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.

Advertisements

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.

JAZZ FOR SVETLANA: BOB ARTHURS / STEVE LAMATTINA

SvetlanaTheoretically, if you were to attempt to fit trumpeter Bob Arthurs into one of those categories jazz writers love so well, he would be a “cool” trumpeter.  Bob has played alongside Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Sal Mosca, Ted Brown, Warren Vache, Larry Coryell, Bucky Pizzarelli, Chuck Wayne, Tal Farlow, and many others.  He knows and likes the music of Lennie Tristano.

I can envision some of you turning over the leaf and choosing another page, to paraphrase Chaucer; others might be going to another room to, shall we say, put on a sweater.

But be calm: frigidity is not on the menu, for Bob is an appealing warm trumpeter.

He doesn’t look back to the Thirties (more to the Fifties) but his approach is gently melodic rather than a clinical exploration of extended harmonies, and although he is on good terms with sixteenth and thirty-second notes, he does not careen through a chorus in the manner of virtuosic beboppers.

In fact, when I was listening to Bob a few nights ago at Somethin’ Jazz, leading a quintet that featured the esteemed tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, it clicked into my head.  A resemblance — not an imitation, but a shading.

I know that some musicians dislike being compared to the great dead figures, and I understand that: we all, in Yeats’ words, want to be loved for ourselves alone, but I took a chance and said to Bob, “I just realized.  If Ted is Lester Young, his own version of Lester, then you are Harry Edison.  Perhaps?”  And Bob looked pleased and said I had given him a great compliment.  I meant it.  Not the beep-beep-beep self-parodying Sweets, but the agile swinger, the to-the-point melodic player whose lines had the snap of epigrams.

You will hear and see more from that evening at Somethin’ Jazz.

But I have something more tangible for JAZZ LIVES — an actual compact disc of an intimate jazz session — trumpet and guitar and two vocals — that is sweet, to the point, and very rewarding.

Without being in the least “antique” or “repertory,” Bob and guitarist Steve LaMattina create wonderful jazz that is reminiscent of a Sweets Edison – Charlie Byrd record date for Norman Granz or Carl Jefferson.  Easy, melodic, dense with feeling but not with flurries — nothing artificial.  The songs are easy medium-tempo explorations . . . but no one will doze off: HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN / ALL OF ME* / BIRKS’ WORKS / I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU* / NIGHT IN TUNISIA / LONNIE’S BLUES / STELLAR PROBE / MELANCHOLY SERENADE / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.  Bob plays softly but with intensity (often muted) and Steve provides swinging supportive counterpoint.  And his singing on two numbers is easy, heartfelt, inventive without being showy: musicians who put down their horns often are wonderful singers (Zoot Sims walking through I CAN’T GET STARTED, for one) and Bob fits right in.

And the story behind the CD is fittingly sweet.  I’ll let Bob tell it:

The making of our new album, “Jazz for Svetlana,” was a labor of love. The guitarist Steve LaMattina and I have been playing together off and on for about ten years.  Our good friend Svetlana, who is a wonderful classical pianist, really loved hearing Steve and I play as a duo.  She also kept telling her husband Yuri how much she loved our music.  Yuri decided to give her a very special birthday present.  He called me one day and said that he would like to produce a duo album of Steve and myself.  All he wanted out of it was the first CD to give to Svetlana for her birthday.  After that he said we could promote and sell the album wherever and however we wanted.  So here we are. The CD has been well received by everyone who got an advance copy.  It was a pleasure to record, and I’m happy to say that Svetlana loved her birthday present.

A present by a loving husband to his musical wife turns out to be a substantial present to us — one that won’t be worn out in a year.

Here is Bob’s website, with the smiling fellow greeting you.  At the top left, you can click on the appropriate icon and hear some music, so you will know I am not inventing what is not there.

And here is the link to CD Baby to hear brief excerpts from the songs and — I hope — purchase the CD.

May your happiness increase.

“J’AIMERAIS UN CD” [one by JEAN FRANCOIS BONNEL’S NEW QUARTET]

That’s French, and it means “I would like a CD.”  Your pronunciation doesn’t matter, but your comprehension of those words in this context will bring pleasure.

JAZZ LIVES hasn’t suddenly turned into Swing Berlitz, but those French words are your passport to Paradise, as Sidney Bechet would say.  Paradise is defined as a wholly new CD — and wholly new kind of CD — by the Master, Jean-Francois Bonnel.  Before I explain in words, perhaps some excerpts from the music would be even better.

Here are two audible hors d’oeuvres: Tasty Sample One and Two.

Now, a little history.  I had heard Jean-Francois Bonnel on a variety of vinyl and CD issues, playing reeds alongside some of the greatest hot musicians — standing out but never over-assertively.

But I still was unprepared for his intense swing and lyrical improvisations — on clarinet, on tenor, on cornet — when I first heard him at the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival in 2009.  He could wail a gutty blues in the spirit of Johnny Dodds, swing out like Kenny Davern, create a tenor ballad that sounded much like Don Byas, play cornet in the best Keynote manner.  His inventiveness seemed limitless.

Finding myself in the hotel elevator with him one evening at a later Whitley Bay weekend, I intruded on his solitude (he is a very quiet man in person) and said, “Monsieur Bonnel, you are a master!”  (He looked embarrassed.)  “You play with wonderful bands — but I hope someday that you will make a CD with just a rhythm section.”  He smiled and said, “Perhaps someday,” the elevator opened, and he was saved from yet another fan who Wanted Something.  I think he was relieved that the elevator only goes three flights in the Village Newcastle.

I thought little of the incident — aside from thinking I should restrain my impulses somewhat — but then I found myself the lucky owner of a new Jean-Francois Bonnel CD where he led a quartet.  It’s all I had hoped for.  I can’t take credit for the inspiration, but the music is joyously on target.

Bonnel flies on clarinet — reminding me of his idol Davern in his late Arbors period, with a lovely clear tone and a fluid but restrained conception.  He doesn’t aim for the highest notes on the instrument to prove it can be done, and unlike Davern, his solos — although logical — are never a series of predictable motives strung together.  The repertoire is extensive — the familiar NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU (recalling Braff and Louis) and Bob Wilber’s take on LIMEHOUSE BLUES, WEQUASSET WAIL, but there are surprises in the middle, among them Ornette Coleman’s THE BLESSING.

The young musicians on this date are all new to me — in fact, they are Bonnel’s students and proteges — but there is no sense of Gulliver among the Liliputians.  Felix Hunot, guitar, Olivier Lalauze, string bass, and Stephane “Zef” Richard, drums, sound like mature players, able to follow Bonnel’s twisting lines or to work beautifully as soloists and as a cohesive rhythm section.  And as a bonus, Claire Marlange sings with subtlety and feeling (in French) on J’AI MARRE DE L’AMOUR (Fud Livingston’s I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE —  happily, the French lyrics keep “frigidaire”) and SI J’ETAIS UNE CIGARETTE.  KARY’S TRANSE and RONNIE’S TUNE (a romp on I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS) are very Tristano-like, from its tumbling unison line to the way the solos overlap one another.  Like Ruby Braff, Bonnel has a fine varied awareness of the possibilities of the smallest group — using duets as a way of breaking up the potential monotony of head-solo-jammed ensemble.  PLEASE, for instance, pairs clarinet and bass most effectively.  LENA FROM PALESTEENA builds in intensity; THE BLESSING. in Bonnel’s hands, is lyrical rather than angular, a series of musings opening out of one another to form a performance that would have pleased Pee Wee Russell in his last decade; Davern’s LAMENT starts calmly but takes on echoes of a funeral procession; WEQUASSET WAIL sprints from start to finish.  The result is a thoroughly varied and delightful hour of music.

To purchase a copy of this CD, you could encounter M. Bonnel and his New Quartet at one of their gigs in France, or you can click here.  Or ici, if you prefer.

Que votre bonheur augmente.