Tag Archives: Mark Sherman

JOYOUSLY CONNECTED: “BLOCK PARTY,” featuring DAN BLOCK, ROB BLOCK, NEAL CAINE, TADATAKA UNNO, AARON KIMMEL

Dan Block, Rob Adkins, Ehud Asherie at Casa Mezcal, October 25, 2015

Dan Block is high on my list of heroes — lyrical, inventive, quirky, passionate, expert, warm.  I could go on, but it would just be prose.  Better than prose is his new CD, BLOCK PARTY: A SAINT LOUIS CONNECTION (Miles High Records) which features him on tenor saxophone and clarinet alongside his very talented brother Rob, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass; Tadataka Unno, piano; Aaron Kimmel, drums.  And the subtitle?  Dan, Rob, and Neal are from the Mound City.  And it’s even more of a family affair: Dan’s daughter Emma did the artwork and photography; cousin Joe Schwab (of Euclid Records) wrote the liner note.  If you want further evidence of the eminences involved here, Andy Farber and Mark Sherman produced the session; Bill Moss was involved in the mastering.

Dan does so many things well — no, splendidly — that it would be foolish to expect that a CD of his would be monochromatic, although listeners will not feel an artificial reaching after “innovation” from one track to another.  But he brings a deeply felt intelligence to his music; his range is wide.  Consider the song list: DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE, JAMES (which I associate with Marty Grosz and British dance bands of the Thirties); NO, NO, NO (by the little-known songwriter Phil Springer, who wrote SANTA BABY and HOW LITTLE WE KNOW — read about Springer here); LIGHT BLUE and SMOKE SIGNAL (unhackneyed jazz classics by Monk and Gigi Gryce, respectively); WONDERFUL ONE (by Ferde Grofe, 1922); CHANGES (Walter Donaldson, both associated with Paul Whiteman, the latter with Bix and Bing); BY THE FIRESIDE (a gorgeous Ray Noble melody); OPTION CLICK (Block’s own response to modern technology); THERE AIN’T NO LAND LIKE DIXIELAND (associated with Bix and Tram); IT WAS WRITTEN IN THE STARS (lovely Harold Arlen).

The song list might seem homage to Dan’s many working associations, from Twenties recreations to free-blowing contemporary jazz, but all of the performances are at heart  melodic, curiously inquiring of the music, treating the originals with love but not as museum pieces.  Dan’s spacious imagination does not pop compositions into stylistic cubbyholes (“This goes in the Hank Mobley section; this goes in the Harmony Records file”): the music is animated by affection and ease.

Although I’ve heard and admired Rob Block in person several times in New York, this is a wonderful re-introduction to his lyrical, swinging selves.  Like brother Dan, he is technically fluent, yet his phrases breathe and his solos have logical shapes.  He plays the guitar; it doesn’t play him.  Listen to the fraternal joy on WONDERFUL ONE, for one example.  The members of the rhythm section are spectacularly good in duo and trio and as soloists: I found myself listening to several tracks a second and third time to savor what they were doing, memorably uplifting.

As a player, Dan is . . . what superlatives do I write here?  He respects melodies but also adores surprises; he never plays a predictable phrase but takes us on his journeys — which are quietly thrilling.  I’ve known him as clarinetist, saxophonist, even trumpeter, pianist, and singer, for almost fifteen years now, and a Dan Block performance is something I cherish.  The casual but expert arrangements on this CD are also great gifts to us.  No piece goes predictably from ensemble to solos to ensemble; each performance contains splendid little landscapes, as solos give way to duets.  The result is often elegant but never slick.  I’ve been playing and replaying this disc, always with delight.  I would even suggest that listeners begin at the end, with the touching duet for the brothers Block on IT WAS WRITTEN IN THE STARS.  Obviously the title is true.

If you know Dan’s work, you will find this disc exceedingly rewarding; if he’s new to you, I guarantee you will have found a new hero.  BLOCK PARTY can be found here and here (with sound samples).

May your happiness increase!

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DAN BLOCK and FRIENDS: NEW YORK DUETS (January 10, 2013)

Dan Block’s new CD — a series of duets (and one trio), called DUALITY, is a truly rewarding series of uplifting improvisations — not surprising, considering Dan’s vivid imaginations. Here’s what I wrote about it in September 2012.

And Dan has scheduled a live performance to celebrate the CD release and to make more music — on Thursday, January 10, at 8 PM at Zebulon Sound and Light, 223 West 28th St (3nd floor) 212 695 8081. Dan will once again be collaborating with Ted Rosenthall on piano, Chris Haney on bass, Saul Rubin and Paul Meyers on guitar, Tim Horner on drums, and Mark Sherman on vibraphone.  Admission is $10.

I will still be at the other side of the continent when all this fascinating exploration is taking place . . . so save your quarters, find the other glove, put on your down coat, and make a beeline to Zebulon Sound and Light.  It’s what I would do . . .

May your happiness increase.

DAN BLOCK’S NEW WORLDS: “DUALITY”

As a player expertly able to fit himself into many kinds of music, Dan Block has added his own flavorings to many sessions led by others.  But his finest accomplishments may be the four CDs under his own name: AROUND THE BLOCK (1999); DAN BLOCK PLAYS IZZY BALINE a.k.a. IRVING BERLIN (2004); ALMOST MODERN (2006); FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE: THE MUSIC OF DUKE ELLINGTON (2010).  Each of these discs is the result of deep thinking, superb musicianship, intense feeling, wit, and a pungently lively imagination.

The newest one, DUALITY, is a frankly astonishing presentation of duet performances.

On it, Dan plays tenor and baritone saxophones, Albert system clarinet and bass clarinet, among his friends and peers: Catherine Russell (vocal), Ted Rosenthal (piano), Matt Munisteri (guitar), Mark Sherman (vibraphone), Lee Hudson (string bass), Scott Robinson (reeds), Rossano Sportiello (piano), Paul Meyers (guitar), Saul Rubin (guitar), Tim Horner (drums).

The repertoire Dan has chosen ranges from Ellington, Gershwin, Styne, Beiderbecke, Kern, Dameron, from a sweetly ancient pop song to Brazilian chorino to Shostakovich.  Each piece and each performance has its own logic and splendor.  The music is varied but not self-indulgent; it is beautiful but never merely pretty.

Because creativity is intensely difficult, many experienced improvisers have a series of learned gestures appropriate to the situation they find themselves.  “You want me to fit into a 1929 big band?  OK, I’ll put on that hat.  Back a torch singer?  Can do.  It’s atonal time?  Let me rummage in my case for my special atonal galoshes.”  Dan Block never plays by-the-numbers: rather, in the best spirit, he makes it up as he goes along, adapting himself to the circumstances and adapting the circumstances to himself.

DUALITY is a beautiful representation of the many worlds Dan Block creates for us.  Each of the eleven performances has the depth of feeling and intelligence one would find in a moving one-act play.  The disc becomes a series of gratifying voyages to lands we might have thought we knew — with new beauties revealed to us on the first hearing and on subsequent visits.  There is the bouncing curiosity of THE JAZZ SAMBA, the playful conversational jousting of PITTER PANTHER PATTER, the yearning of IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW, the water-pistol fight of LYRIC WALTZ, the shimmering melancholy of IN THE DARK . . . and so much more.

I always think it nearly rude to write, “Go here.  Buy this.  Put everything else down and listen.”  But in the case of DUALITY, I feel myself entirely justified.  Dan Block has created music that resonates long after the disc has come to a stop.  A brave explorer, he takes us along on his quests.

You can hear excerpts and purchas DUALITY here and here — and visit Dan’s own site here.

May your happiness increase. 

A BLOCK PARTY! (Dec. 12, 2010)

For some readers, a block party may summon up images of neighbors having a good time in the street, eating barbecue and drinking beer, the children running around, perhaps fireworks . . .

That sounds fine to me, but somewhat complicated.  My idea of a Block Party is any place where Dan Block plays.  In this case, it was the Brooklyn Lyceum last Sunday night, December 12, 2010.

Although many listeners have associated Dan with older Jazz styles, his range goes far beyond the Ben Pollack BASHFUL BABY or the Basie LOUISIANA.  He always creates splendid melodies, and he always swings — but occasionally we get to hear his questing spirit, which is a rewarding thing.  It happened during the second set at the Lyceum: where he was joined by vibraphonist Mark Sherman, guitarist James Chirillo, pianist Michael Kanan (three colleagues on his superb new CD of Ellington / Strayhorn music, FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE), trombonist Ryan Keberle, bassist Jennifer Vincent, and ex-Ellingtonian drummer Steve Little.  ( I hadn’t heard either Ryan or Jennifer before, and I was profoundly impressed.  Listen for yourself.)

Because the audience was congenial — many friends of the players filling the room — Dan chose to have “an open rehearsal” on an original song of his, later explained as OUT OF TOUCH (not a reference to the moody piece we heard unforld in front of us):

Then to more familiar Ellingtonia — (YOU’RE JUST A) KISSING BUG, which rocked:

Looking for something to blow on, Dan entertained suggestions from the band before choosing Bud Powell’s CELIA:

And the set closed with MOUNT HARISSA, from Ellington’s FAR EAST SUITE:

Wonderful, inquisitive, exploratory jazz — with nothing hackneyed or formulaic — worthy of Dan Block, which is high praise.

A postscript: That Sunday, I had heard one set at The Ear Inn — wondrous music from Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Randy Reinhart, and Joel Forbes — then raced over to Brooklyn . . . which remains somewhat uncharted for me.  I wasn’t assisted by rain, and a perverse GPS who (that?) urged me to make an illegal left turn or go into the Holland Tunnel.  But prevail I did, and I even found a legal parking space.  The young man in charge of things at the Brooklyn Lyceum was as pleasant as could be and we chatted amiably while I was waiting for the first set to conclude.  On the way out at the end, I heard those words that make lives like mine worth living, “We have some free bagels.  Would you like them?  Otherwise they’re going to be thrown out.”  Dan Block AND free bagels?  Could anyone even imagine a better evening?  (Or five happy breakfasts in the next week, for that matter . . . )

I WISH I WERE TWINS (For Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010)

Only hypothetically.  Think of the grocery bill doubled, the attendant clutter in the apartment if there were two of me . . . and so on.  But this coming Sunday night (December 12, 2010) I have two gigs I badly want to go to — and videorecord — and the only way to hear them both from start to finish is by way of Frank Loesser’s song.

The first gig is (not surprisingly) a special edition of The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) which runs from 8-11.  Jon-Erik Kellso will be doing that remarkable thing, sharing the stage with one of his trumpet-playing pals, the esteemed Randy Reinhart.  Matt Munisteri and Joel Forbes will be doing what they do wonderfully on guitar and bass.  I swear on a stack of Adrian Rollini autographs that Huge Fun is in the offing.

But wait!  There’s more!

Dan Block and Friends are playing the lovely (and sometimes little-known) music of Ellington and Strayhorn that night at the Brooklyn Lyceum — 227 Fourth Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.  But the good news is that there are two sets, one at 9 and the other at 10:30.  Dan will be joined by Lee Hudson, bass; James Chirillo, guitar; Michael Kanan, piano; Tom Melito, drums; Mark Sherman, vibes.  Admission is $10. 

So I have a plan: the first set at The Ear, offer a libation to Phillup DeBucket, get in the car, reposition the GPS on the windshield, and drive to Brooklyn.  It gets my blood moving even thinking about it.  No need to be twins here.  I hope to see some of the faithful at either / both gigs: you’ll recognize me by my intent look, my videocamera, my tripod, and my delight at being alive to hear and witness such wonderful events.

P.S.  If you don’t know Fats Waller’s recording of Frank Loesser’s I WISH I WERE TWINS, you haven’t lived.  Then there’s Red Allen’s.  And Marty Grosz’s.  The world is not only wide but delightful . . .

ANDY FARBER: MAKING BEAUTIFUL SOUNDS

Having a large jazz orchestra in this century has often posed challenges besides the economic ones. 

Many “big bands” get formed only for special occasions and are thus not well-rehearsed.  Then there’s the matter of repertoire: should a band made up of improvising jazz players go into the past or boldly plunge into the future, however one defines it?  Or should such an orchestra bridge Past and Present — not an easy thing: it means more than letting the saxophone soloist play GIANT STEPS licks in the middle of A STRING OF PEARLS. 

Saxophonist Andy Farber has found his own answer to these questions.  He’s worked with all kinds and sizes of ensembles comfortably.  But his own orchestra has found its own path that pays homage to the past without being anyone’s ghost band — in a way that’s both reassuring and innovative.

Here’s what Andy told Alvester Garnett, who not only plays wonderful big band drums but also wrote fine liner notes (!): “The goal of this record is to focus on the emotional and spiritual element of large group ensemble playing.  I feel like there is a great amount of nuance in this band, ao conscious effort in playing pretty, shaping lines, playing parts as if it were a solo.”  Does that give you a sense of the silken textures Andy and his Orchestra have created?

You don’t have to take it on faith.  The band sounds wonderful — and its overall sound is not heavy or ponderous, nor does it make you wonder what all the players in the band are doing (some “big bands” quickly break down into soloist-plus-rhythm that you wonder if the other players have gotten off the bandstand to check their email — not here). 

And the names of the players will tell you a great deal.  Andy himself is a fine solo player (as I hope you’ve seen in my videos of him sitting in at The Ear Inn): here he’s joined by Dan Block, Chuck Wilson, Jay Brandford, Marc Phaneuf, Kurt Bacher, saxes (with a special guest appearance by Jerry Dodgion); Brian Pareschi, Irv Grossman, Kenny Rampton, and Alex Norris are the trumpets; Art Baron, Harvey Tibbs, Wayne Goodman, Max Seigel the trombones; Bob Grillo plays guitar; Mark Sherman, vibraphone; Kenny Ascher, piano; Jennifer Vincent, bass; Alvester Garnett, drums.  And there is some hip vocalizing from the Prince of Hip, Jon Hendricks and his Singers.

The repertoire includes the happily familiar (BODY AND SOUL, MIDNIGHT, THE STARS AND YOU, THE MAN I LOVE, SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, JACK THE BELLBOY) and Andy’s witty, swinging originals (SPACE SUIT, BOMBERS, IT IS WHAT IT IS, and SHORT YARN) — and more.  All sinuously played, with a delight in sound rather than volume, texture rather than speed. 

If someone were to ask me the honorably weary question, “Are the big bands ever coming back?” I would play them this CD.  This band has no need to return: it is most reassuringly here. 

The CD is on BWR (Black Warrior Records) and can be found at better record stores everywhere?  Well, not quite — but it is available online through a number of sites and (of course) from Andy when you see him playing, which I urge you to do.

CADENCE, RESOUNDING

I’ve mentioned CADENCE Magazine often — but perhaps not often enough — in these pages.  It has a brand-new website, http://www.cadencemagazine.com., which I urge you to visit. 

Candor requires that I say I have written reviews for the magazine for a number of years.  But I would applaud CADENCE even if they had never encouraged me to have my say.  It is the only honest jazz magazine I know . . . which sounds both irascible and contentious, but is true.  I recall that CODA did not accept advertising, but it is now defunct. 

All the other jazz journals I am aware of accept, encourage, and perhaps solicit advertising, and it is hard to imagine the situation where a reviewer might be allowed to say that the new CD by the Blenheim Palace Hot Boys was terrible if the BPHB had paid for an ad on the facing page. 

CADENCE has advertising, it is true, but it is kept to a separate section in the way that the new puppy might be kept in the kitchen.  And — as a reviewer — I have always been asked to tell the truth, and if the truth was impolitely stated, no one suggested that I could benefit from a course in good manners. 

Editor Bob Rusch is one of the great men in support of creative improvised music, and some of the most rewarding discs I know have emerged precisely because he has put his money where his beliefs are.  All this is long prelude to my happily drawing your attention to the site — as a way of encouraging you to consider subscribing to the magazine. 

My most traditionally-minded readers will at first think that the names they see in the sample pages are obscure, but (for instance) vibraphonist Mark Sherman is on Dan Block’s splendid new Ellington CD . . . and everyone is obscure to someone.  I have written about the most delightfully old-fashioned New Orleans jazz in CADENCE’s pages, so even before I wrote for the magazine, I was a happy reader. 

Check it out!