Tag Archives: lyricism

CARPE DIEM, YOU CATS: DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JOSH DUNN, TAL RONEN (Cafe Bohemia, 11.21.19)

Many jazz fans are seriously prone to excessive nostalgicizing (see E.A. Robinson’s “Minniver Cheevy”) and I wonder why this music that we love is such a stimulus.  How many classical-music devotees dream, “I wish I were having dinner with the Esterhazys tonight so I could hear Joe Haydn’s new piece”?  I am sure sports aficionados imagine themselves at the Polo Grounds or another fabled place for the moment when ____ hit his home run.

But in my experience, those who love jazz are always saying, wistfully, “I wish I could go back to hear the Goldkette band / Fifty-Second Street / Louis at the Vendome Theatre / the Fargo dance date / Bird and Diz at Billy Berg’s,” or a thousand other part-forlorn wishes.  To be fair, I too would like to have been in the studio when COMES JAZZ was recorded, or the 1932 Bennie Moten session in Camden.

But sometimes such yearning for the past obscures the very much accessible glories of the present.  (I see this in those fans so busy making love to their recordings that they never go to a club to hear live jazz, which is their loss.)  Yes, many of our heroes will play or sing no more.  But THE GOLDEN ERA IS NOW and it always has been NOW.  And NOW turns into THEN right before our eyes, so get with it!

Here’s proof: more music from a life-enhancing evening at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York — November 21, 2019 — with Danny Tobias, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Josh Dunn, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass.

I’ve already posted several beauties from this gig here and here.

And now . . . .

LINGER AWHILE:

BLUE ROOM (at a wonderful tempo, cool but lively):

MY HONEY’S LOVING ARMS (with the obligatory Irish-American reference):

MY MELANCHOLY BABY:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE, so very tender:

and finally, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

I want to hear this band again — such peerless soloists and ensemble players — could that happen?  I hope so.

May your happiness increase!

 

A WELCOMING ART: The MICHAEL KANAN TRIO (GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER)

Perhaps because I began my immersion in music in the last century with musicians who sent warmth through the speaker and in person, some “contemporary jazz” or “innovative music” seems forbidding, austere.  It looks at me suspiciously and asks, “Are you musically erudite enough to be allowed to listen to what is being created?” suggesting that I am metaphysically too short to ride the esoteric roller coaster.  But not the music Michael Kanan creates.

Pianist and composer Michael Kanan does not aim for the esoteric, although his art is consistently subtle.  He delights in song, in melodic improvisation, in swing.  His music says, “Let’s have a nice time.  Please come in!” and the most severe postmodernists gently thaw out after a chorus or two.  His playfulness is balanced by deep feeling, each note and chord carefully chosen but floating on emotion.  Jimmie Rowles stands in back of him, and Lester Young in back of both.  If you’ve been following this blog, Michael’s appeared often since 2010, when I first met him through his friend, the masterful reedman Joel Press.

Michael appears worldwide in many settings, but in New York City he is often happily onstage with Greg Ruggiero, guitar, and Neal Miner, string bass, his “brothers in rhythm.”  That splendid trio will be appearing at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street on December 27 and 28, sets at 7:30 and 9:00 PM.

But this post isn’t simply a gig advertisement.  In summer 2019, Michael, Greg, and Neal performed for an attentive audience at the now-vanished 75 Club, and those performances can now be savored here at Michael’s YouTube channel.  And here!

Ellington’s PIE EYE’S BLUES:

Michael’s own FOR JIMMY SCOTT:

His lovely THE PEARL DREAMS OF THE OCEAN:

The frisky POPCORN:

and a sweet MY IDEAL, where the trio sends Richard Whiting their love:

If you’re not close enough to Mezzrow to make this gig, you can have the trio at home with not much effort: they recorded their debut CD, IN THIS MOMENT, not long ago — also recorded live at that club.  The CD’s lovely art is by Anne Watkins, and you can read my review of the music here.

However you encounter Michael, Greg, and Neal, don’t deny yourself the pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

IN PERFECT ALIGNMENT (Part Two): DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JOSH DUNN, TAL RONEN at CAFE BOHEMIA (11.21.19)

November 21, 2019 might have been an unremarkable day and night for some of us — leaving aside that it is Coleman Hawkins’ birthday — but at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City, the stars were wonderfully in alignment when Danny Tobias, trumpet / Eb alto horn, Dan Block, clarinet / tenor, Josh Dunn, guitar, and Tal Ronen took the stage.

As James Chirillo says, “Music was made,” and we dare not underestimate the importance of that.

Not just formulaic “music,” but eloquent, swinging, lyrical playing in solo and ensemble, as you can hear in their BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL I’ve already posted here.

Those who take improvised music casually don’t realize the combination of skill, emotion, restraint, and individuality that is at its heart, where musicians create a model community for a few hours.

I hear an intelligent graciousness, where no one musician wants to be powerful at the expense of the others, where collective generosity is the goal, playing “for the comfort of the band,” as Baby Dodds described it — but when a solo opportunity comes along, each musician must be ready to speak their piece, share their distinct voice.  Too much ego and the band squabbles; too little ego and you have watery oatmeal for the ears.

That such music as you hear here and elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES exists is, to me, frankly miraculous.  Five glowing memorable examples of this holy art follow.  And if these sounds remind anyone of a small Count Basie group (you can add the sounds of Jo Jones in your head, if you care to) that would be fine also.

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

DIGA DIGA DOO:

LADY BE GOOD:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

MY GAL SAL:

May your happiness increase!

LIGHT-HEARTED MELODIC DANCES: ALEX LEVIN TRIO, “A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE” (ALEX LEVIN, PHIL ROWAN, BEN CLINESS)

I gravitate towards music that welcomes me in.  I approve of melodies.  I even love them, and I love those that I remember.  There!  I’ve said it.

And the pianist Alex Levin has the same affectionate relations with song: he’s not a prisoner of the written notes, but he respects what the composer has created, and his own original compositions have the gamboling pleasure of the great songs that some of us still hum in the car or in the grocery-store line.

I first heard (and heard of) Alex almost a decade ago, when he released his first CD, which I liked a great deal: you can read my review here.

And I like Alex’s new CD even more.

Here’s what I wrote, offhandedly, after hearing only two or three tracks through my computer’s speakers.

Some ninety years ago, jazz began to position itself as the delinquent of music.  In opposition to all those sweet bands with violins, playing the melody in harmony, tied to the notes in front of them, jazz took a puff on its Marlboro, abruptly stood up from its seat (frightening the kittens) and made unpredictable sounds.  That was HOT, a spiritual barrage against the apparent dullness of SWEET.  And jazz listeners followed the narrow often unmarked ideological path: think of all those 78s whose grooves remain black, shiny, unplayed except for the eight bars of Bix or Purvis or Jack.  Sweet was for Aunt Martha; hot was for rebellious enlightened  outsiders.  It created a pervasive false dichotomy: if you could hear the melody, was it true improvisation? 

And — to oversimplify (because Bird and Trane could play melodically with great art) jazz aimed at abstraction, sharp edges and magical paths into the labyrinth.  Thus, so many listeners tell themselves and others that they don’t understand jazz, as if  it became a subject one had to study for to pass the final.

But the great players and singers knew and still know that melody is at the heart of any musical expression, and that “sweetness” was, in itself, a goal rather than a trap.  Think of Lester Young, “I don’t like a whole lot of noise — trumpets and trombones…I’m looking for something soft. It’s got to be sweetness, man, you dig?”

It is in this spirit of an apparent conservatism that becomes radical that I commend to you Alex Levin’s new trio CD, A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE, where the trio does more than glue themselves to the written notes, but they treat melodies with love and respect . . . the result being quietly affecting swing playing of the highest order.  Some might not be able to hear the lights and shadows, preferring instead the sounds of the piano dropped to the street below, but that would be their loss.

Because readers are sometimes hurried, you can hear samples, download the music, or purchase a CD here.  And I caution the unwary listener to not jump to conclusions: “It sounds too easy,” for as that great master of contemporary jazz, Ovid, was fond of saying, ars est celare artem [he recorded it for Clef], which Monk transposed into “Simple ain’t easy.”

Now back to our regularly scheduled basket of prose.

I left off there, because Life (the hussy) interfered, with her racket of parking tickets, laundry, dinner, recycling, and more — make your own list.  But I came back and listened to the CD in a sitting, my enthusiasm just as strong.

Some facts.  Alex, who has a light touch on a well-recorded piano, is accompanied — in the truest sense of the word — by the fine string bassist Phil Rowan and drummer Ben Cliness.  And they have the ease, intuitive comfort, and wit one would expect from a working band: they catch each other’s signals without having to be told to turn the page.  incidentally, I’ve seen a review of this CD calling it “modern” and “clever.”  I can’t argue with those terms, but to me it seems “heartfelt” and “playful,” which qualities are audible.

Alex has divided the repertoire on this disc between standards that, for the most part, got their greatest exposure in the Fifties: the title track (which, for those of us over fifty, has a yearning nostalgia — rather like THE THINGS WE DID LAST SUMMER — even though my adolescence came later), SURREY WITH THE FRINGE ON TOP, THE BEST THING FOR YOU (Would Be Me), WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? and I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR — which, for the purists in the audience, is a much older composition, but I would guess most memorably allied with jazz because of Sonny Rollins (although Annie Ross, Marian McPartland, and others returned to it).

And of course one could say, “There are a million piano trio recordings that draw on Rodgers, Berlin, Porter, and Kern,” but the other five tracks — all Levin originals — SWEETS, THE JETSETTERS, BLUES FOR WYNTON K., AT LEAST WE’RE TOGETHER, STROLLING THROUGH YONKERS — are strong jazz compositions on their own, with one foot delicately poised in the past, Alex not trying to hide that his heart belongs to 1956 Prestige, but moving around happily in this century.  His songs ARE songs rather than lines over slightly modified chord progressions; they have the breath of life rather than the aroma of the Xerox machine.

Convinced?  It’s music that befriends the listener, which is sometimes rare.  Hear for yourself here, and then download or purchase, as the spirit moves you.

May your happiness increase!

A YOUNGBLOOD SERENADE: GUILLERMO PERATA and FERNANDO MONTARDIT (June 14, 2019)

These Youngbloods give me hope — people who make lovely music and have a long way to go before asking for the senior discount at the movies.  They are Guillermo Perata, cornet, and Fernando Montardit, guitar: here making merry and making art on the Goldkette-associated pop tune, HOOSIER SWEETHEART at an informal duo session of June 14, 2019.

You’ll also notice (when you listen) that they don’t treat this 1927 song as a holy relic of the Roaring Twenties, but, rather, as a piece of music to improvise on, with lyricism, swing, and a deep love for the melody:

This approach (think Louis, Hackett, Braff, Vache, Tobias, Kellso, Gordon and Justin Au, Caparone in the brass line; think Reuss and Grosz on guitar) never gets old.

I understand that Guillermo and Fernando will be visiting New York City and then New Orleans in the first half of August.  I haven’t seen Fernando in a few years, and I look forward to meeting Guillermo.  They are real, and the music they make is both tangible and memorable.

May your happiness increase!

IN THIS MOMENT: MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (live at Mezzrow, New York City)

Cover art by Anne Watkins

“The more I read the papers, the less I comprehend,” wrote Ira Gershwin, lines so poignant to me. But heartfelt creative music is an antidote to darkness. Some tell us that a postmodern world demands abstract sound, sharp-edged art. I prefer song, music that can dance as a response to sorrow, melodies rueful in the face of hard realities. Song never grows old, and the artists on this disc understand and enact this truth. Michael Kanan, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar;  Neal Miner, string bass, trust the melodies they create, and they respect the composers’ craft while making the most familiar material glisten.  Their music balances feeling and technique, and their collective energies embrace the listener.

I first met Michael Kanan in 2010 through the good offices of the Swing Lion of Boston, Joel Press, and I was immediately tickled and moved by Michael’s sly sweet approach to the piano and to song. Like a master Japanese brush-painter, he implies, he hints, he whispers thoughts we need to hear, his phrases nudging us into surprises that gratify, his pauses and silences eloquent breaths. A little later, I heard Neal and Greg, each a great swinging lyricist, each creating singular melodic epigraphs no matter the context. The trio is the embodiment of fraternal love and understanding; the laughter the three friends share before they begin to play bubbles through the night’s performances. Michael, Neal, and Greg are quietly compelling soloists but they play for the comfort of the band. They know that music doesn’t have to abrade to catch our attention, that a two-chorus solo might be all that’s needed. Their music is never immodest or coarse; it never says LOOK AT US. And they offer us an airy grace; rueful melodies never become maudlin or heavy. When I hear this trio play, I go home feeling as if I’d been dipped in some sweet elixir, not available online.

I began by noting — through Ira Gershwin’s praise of lasting love — that there are experiences, like candid graceful music, that go beyond comprehension, that move into our hearts and stay there.  This disc captures three masters of the art, offering all they feel and all they have learned to us.  It is in the moment and of a particular moment, but it becomes timeless.

Here is a sample of what this trio does so well:

And here one can buy or download or sample, then purchase the music.  Ideally, one could go where Michael is playing and press money into his hand, completing a circle of artist and grateful audience.  But however you find your way to these sounds, they will uplift.

May your happiness increase!

KIHONG JANG: “THEY BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF MUSIC TO ME”

This young man creates wonderful music, free and easy as goldfish in a pond.

He’s Kihong Jang, a guitarist with a quiet compelling lyricism.  This post is to celebrate the release of his debut CD, out on Gut String Records.

And it’s delightful.  Before you read another syllable, listen to this:

Isn’t that delicious?

The session was recorded in late October 2018 — how very fresh! — and it features Kihong on the guitar you see here, JinJoo Yoo on piano, Neal Miner on string bass, Jimmy Wormworth on drums, performing YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF MUSIC TO ME / GOLDFISH, GOLDFISH! / FLAMINGO / LESLIE / GENEALOGY / GOLDFISH, GOLDFISH! in an alternate take.

FLAMINGO, LESLIE, and the title track are Kihong’s compositions; the others are by JinJoo, Kihong’s musical and life partner.  And for those who quail at a CD of “originals,” several of these compositions are clever improvisations on the harmonic and melodic structures of songs full of substance that don’t get explored that often, for instance HOME and YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME.  (Had someone been listening to George Wettling’s New Yorkers, recording for Keynote in 1944?  Or coincidence?)

Kihong is a deep feeling melodist, and every phrase he creates is paradoxical in that it is simultaneously terse and tender.  He has a classicist’s restraint: there isn’t an extraneous note; there are no runs up and down the fretboard just because he has practiced for years.  He is closer to Elizabeth Kenny than to Jimi Hendrix, and his clarity of intent is a blessing.  He takes his time, and he gets where he’s going.  His phrases have a careful, considered essence that goes hand in hand (pun intended) with serious emotion.  And ebullient swing.

The session is marvelously old-fashioned in its cheerful reverence for lyricism, but it doesn’t need to be dusted: it doesn’t reek of the Library or the Museum.  At points, the music reminds me most reassuringly of a previously unheard Fifties Clef session, but the fact that it was played and recorded last autumn is so hopeful.

I’m always fascinated by the ways musicians do and don’t reflect their personalities in their music.  In person, Kihong is just like his playing: modest, quiet but full of serious understanding.  He chooses his words in the way he selects his notes and phrases: he listens intently, he values silence as well as speaking, and when he has something to say it comes out of his clearly deep perceptions.

Kihong is a great ensemble player (the disc, although he is leader, is a truly egalitarian walk through the meadow) and there is ample space given to JinJoo, Neal, and Jimmy, to make their own eloquent statements in solo as well as members of the quartet.  I’ve written about JinJoo here and here, Jimmy (celebrated on film by Neal) here.  I’ve been celebrating Neal here as musician and composer since January 2011 (he appears in 79 posts!) so that should convey something of my admiration.

I want to write only that Kihong and friends make music.  Not music that insists, “I am important music!” but music that gently says, “I have two clementines in my pocket.  Would you like one?”  Listen and you will feel it.

And a jovial postscript — to send you on your way grinning.  As does the CD.

I asked JinJoo how she came up with the title “GOLDFISH! GOLDFISH!” for one of her compositions, and she told me, “At first, I wanted to call it as “Nostalgia”, but there’s already a tune by Fats Navarro with that title.
So I (almost) decided to name it ‘My Nostalgia’. (Not Fats’)… 😉

I was in Korea when Kihong asked my about song titles.

One day, I was having lunch with my mom and she started talking about some funny stories of my father and my uncle (they are twins) when they were young.  She told me some stories that she heard from my grandmother.  This one really cracked me up and I fell in love with it.

When my father and uncle were young, maybe 10, they lived in this small town called Jeon-ju.  My grandparents saved some money at that time (my grandfather was a teacher, so had a very stable income) and some people would borrow money from them.

One day, my grandmother figured out that one lady that she lent money before totally RAN AWAY, A–W–A–Y not even taking stuff from her house.  My grandma was really pissed off (because she really trusted her) and told my dad and uncle to GO TO THAT LADY’S HOUSE AND BRING ANYTHING THAT LOOKS PRECIOUS. And guess what? They brought goldfish from the pond that were swimming beautifully. (Some old houses in Korea had small ponds).
When they came back home EXTREMELY THRILLED, “Mom!! Mom!!! Look!!!! We brought goldfish!!!!”

Actually, what they really wanted to bring home was the lady’s DOG, but it was barking furiously so they gave up.  Later, they found out that that lady’s family really went completely broke. I could picture how excited my dad and uncle must have been when they found goldfish in the pond.  “Oh man, look! Goldfish!!! Goldfish!!”

And that’s how I came up with that title.

May your happiness increase!