Tag Archives: Matt Szemela

NEW FAVORITES!

Since I am old-fashioned and like my recorded music in tangible form (no liner notes on a mp3 download) I surround myself with compact discs in arrangements both vertical and horizontal.  However, this post is not about Jazz Decor, but to celebrate three new discs that readers should know about.  And, even better, they are performances by living musicians, people you could actually see and hear in person. 

chasing_shadowsThe first is CHASING SHADOWS, by “Spats and his Rhythm Boys.”  (WVR 1005) “Spats,” of course, is singer / plectrist Spats Langham, who’s appeared on this site in a video clip.  On this disc, he’s accompanied by trumpeter Mike Durham, trombonist Paul Munnery, reed wizard Norman Field, Keith Nichols on piano and accordion, John Carstairs Hallam, string bass, Frans Sjostrom, bass sax, Nick Ward, drums, and Mike Piggott, violin.  The sessions were recorded in November 2008, and a glance at the tune listing will tell all: Spats and friends are thoroughly steeped in the “hot jazz with vocal refrain” of the late Twenties, extended forward into the late Thirties (from Cliff Edwards and Bing Crosby to Jimmy Rushing and Putney Dandridge): CRAZY WORDS, CRAZY TUNE / CHASING SHADOWS / I’M IN THE SEVENTH HEAVEN / CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS / HANG ON TO ME / ME AND THE MOON / ACCORDION JOE / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / BROWN BOTTLE BLUES / WHAT DO I CARE WHAT SOMEBODY SAID? / HALFWAY TO HEAVEN / SMILIN’ SAM / OH, IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN / HIAWATHA’S LULLABY / YOU DO THE DARNEDEST THINGS, BABY / SWING BRIDGE STOMP.

Like Barbara Rosene and a very few other singers, Spats isn’t trying to offer CD-quality imitations of the original recordings.  Rather, he gets inside the idiom, so that you hear the sound of the period, the rhythmic energy, the delicate ornamentations — but it’s all new.  And hugely entertaining!  He has a light tenor voice, but he has listened thoroughly to Crosby and post-Crosby as well.  On this disc, his singing is thoroughly integrated into a hot improvising ensemble.  I would have wanted this CD because of Sjostrom, Field, Nichols, and Ward — but the best surprise is the playing of trumpeter Mike Durham.  Many trumpeters are in love with the sheer power of their instrument; they shout and carry on.  Mike can, of course, do this capably — leading an ensemble majestically.  But his more usual mode of expression is tender, inquiring, almost pleading.  You need to hear him if you haven’t already!  And his composition SMILIN’ SAM (dedicated to his happy grandson) is a wonderful mood piece with Norman Field on bass clarinet — instantly memorable. 

For information about ordering this CD, visit http://uk.geocities.com/mdurham@btinternet.com/wjrk/recordings.htm.  By email, contact mikedurham_jazz@hotmail.com., or (the old-fashioned way) write to WVR Records at 60 Highbury, Newcatle upon Tyne, NE2 2LN. 

Ray Skjelbred CDI’ve been listening to pianist Ray Skjelbred and drummer Hal Smith for some time in a variety of settings — Ray, playing Frank Melrose songs or cowboy ballads, Hal, rocking every band he’s ever been with.  Ray’s new CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO (Jazzology Records, recorded August 2008), is a real winner, featuring delectable hot jazz from Ray, Hal, clarinetist Kim Cusack, guitarist Katie Cavera, and Clint Baker on a variety of songs, familiar and rare, each one with deep associations: OH, BABY (DON’T SAY NO, SAY “MAYBE”) / SUGAR / MY GALVESTON GAL / IT’S BEEN SO LONG / I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS / BULL FROG BLUES / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / IDOLIZING / I’LL BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS / FRIARS POINT SHUFFLE / DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL / SINCE MY BEST GAL TURNED ME DOWN / SHANGHAI HONEYMOON / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / UP A LAZY RIVER / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / AM I BLUE? / LAUGHING AT YOU / RING DEM BELLS.  This group knows how, through long playing experience, to approach each song on its own terms — wistful or fiery — and the down-home vocals by each member of the quintet are charming.  I have a special fondness for the repertoire of the early Red Allen Vocalions, and my hunger has been satisfied by this band’s versions of MY GALVESTON GAL and I’LL BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS.  (But it sure sounds good to me!)  This one’s available through Jazzology and perhaps other places online: for information, visit   http://www.jazzology.com/index.php.

GILL 3Finally, a sentimental favorite.  When I encountered guitarist / singer / multi-instrumentalist John Gill in a club in 2007, he casually told me that he was planning to record a tribute to Bing Crosby, focusing on the dreamy (and often swinging) repertoire of 1931-35.  As politely as I could, I beseeched John to let me be part of this project: Crosby is one of my heroes, and that period of Crosbyana is a consistent delight.  John, most graciously, invited me to the sessions and I ended up writing the notes for the CD, which was immensely rewarding.  The performances on this disc are sweet evocations with a pulsing jazz heart — accompaniment and solos by Jon-Erik Kellso (cornet and trumpet), Jim Fryer (trombone), Matt Munisteri (guitar and banjo), Orange Kellin, Dan Levinson, Marc Phaneuf (reeds), Conal Fowkes (piano), Kevin Dorn (drums), Brian Nalepka (bass and tuba), Andy Stein, Matt Szemela (violins).  The songs are beautiful and well-chosen: DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? / HAPPY-GO-LUCKY YOU / A FADED SUMMER LOVE / STAR DUST / I SURRENDER, DEAR / I FOUND A MILLION-DOLLAR BABY / IF I HAD YOU / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / STREET OF DREAMS / BABY – OH WHERE CAN YOU BE? / SWEET LEILANI – BLUE HAWAII / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / MUDDY WATER / I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE / PLEASE / WERE YOU SINCERE? / WHEN THE FOLKS HIGH UP DO THE MEAN LOW-DOWN / RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET / WHERE THE BLUE OF THE NIGHT MEETS THE GOLD OF THE DAY / JUST ONE MORE CHANCE / LEARN TO CROON / OUT OF NOWHERE.

I managed to make two of the three sessions, and when I walked into the first one and the band was running through DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? — well, I was transported.  John’s vocals are touching; the band is sensitive and danceable; the session is a priceless tribute.  The CD is available at a variety of online sources (Jazz By Mail, Worlds Records) but the nicest thing would be to buy a copy directly from John himself at a New York gig.  He’ll be happy to sign it, too.  (And he has enough material for another volume or two: I hope to hear him record RIDIN’ ROUND IN THE RAIN someday.)

P.S.  I know all about the economy, and if your restaurant has closed or you are looking for work, I apologize for suggesting that you buy things that are perhaps less essential than coffee or shoes.  But if you’re managing to limp along with some degree of optimism, if you’ve decided that your aging car can hold out another year or that you don’t really need a new suit to go with the others in the closet, then you might consider one or all of these new CDs.  For less than the cost of a prix-fixe dinner, they lift the spirits.

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BARBARA ROSENE at IRIDIUM, February 17, 2009: SWEET, HOT, and SOULFUL!

barbara-rosene-2003-cd1I first heard Barbara Rosene sing on a compact disc — the 2003 Stomp Off “Ev’rything’s Made For Love,” which I’d obtained serendipitously.  Bob Rusch of Cadence thought I would take pleasure in this music, and (as is often the case) he was splendidly correct. I loved the sounds — plural, not singular — of Barbara’s pure, clear voice, tenderly exploring the layers of feeling in a ballad, being naughty on a double-entendre Twenties song, or simply swinging her way exultantly through one of those unashamedly happy songs that used to be the fashion.  Although Barbara often sang obscure songs, she was more than an archivist delighting in artistic esoterica.

Some singers sing at the song, or, worse, they present it at a distance with ironic quotation marks around it.  Barbara immerses herself in the emotions of the lyrics and the melody, uniting herself with the song.  Although some of her material was peripherally connected to girl singers who chose to present themselves as Twenties Lolitas (little girls lispiing through the lyrics), Barbara is serious when her material is, riotous when the song calls for it.

In October 2004, I was in the audience for a late-night jam session at the Cajun, where Barbara, at someone’s request, got up and sang a touching FOOLS RUSH IN.  Later, I introduced myself to her as the Phantom Reviewer, and was delighted by her genuineness.  She and Kevin Dorn are close friends, so I began to see Barbara sing more often in a variety of places — from an Episcopal church in Hicksville, New York to an uptown club whose name I forget to the now-eradicated Jacques-Imo’s.

All of this is prelude to what the Beloved and I enjoyed last night: Barbara and her New Yorkers appearing at Iridium for two sets — an engagement I hope will be repeated soon and often.  She always surrounds herself with the best musicians, and the band last night was choice: Kevin on drums, Conal Fowkes on piano, Doug Largent on bass, Michael Hashim on alto and tenor, Matt Szemela on violin, and Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet.

The lovely thing about Barbara’s Iridium gig was that the room was packed with quietly appreciative people, many of whom knew each other, so it was like a reunion — or a party in someone’s large living room.  The Beloved and I sat at a table with the cheerful Joe and Carla Samolduski, the people responsible for Barbara’s appearances at “Cabaret Night” at the Hicksville church.  All that was missing was the basket of potato chips in front of us.

The music began with a positively rambunctious THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  When the gleeful dust had settled, Barbara chatted with the audience about her song choices.  She believes in what she sings: GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON is not just a series of words for her.  Matt Szemela added his sweet countrified violin to the ensemble, a wonderful bonus.  Acknowledging her debt to Annette Hanshaw, Barbara began a deeply serious (although rhythmically mobile) version of AM I BLUE.  Jon-Erik growled ominously behind her, and Michael Hashim explored the low register of his horn, reminding me of Ben Webster at his Fifties best.  The mood brightened dramatically when Barbara offered a chipper rendition of LOVABLE AND SWEET, composed by Oscar Levant, rhyming “nice man” and “iceman” for naughty reasons.  DEEP NIGHT, which Barbara dedicated to her late father, who loved the song, was a sultry tango.  Barbara is a gracious and generous leader, so she gave the band a chance to romp on I WONDER WHERE MY BABY IS TONIGHT, which featured a patented Hashim stop-time chorus and two jammed ensemble choruses, the first quiet, the second shouting.  A delicate IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER followed; during Michael’s solo, Barbara sat on the piano bench next to Conal, her eyes closed, rocking happily to the beat.  A brisk IT HAD TO BE YOU came next: Barbara sang the familiar lyrics as if the song was new, and Conal provided a rocking minimalist solo (Basie without the cliches), supported in high style by Doug and Kevin.

Readers familiar with this blog might be asking themselves, “Where was Flip all this time?”  “Struggling to get out of my pocket,” would be the answer.  Flip was thrilled to be at Iridium (it was his first time) and he wanted to get close to the stage, but I kept on trying to quiet him down.  People had the audacity to be sitting in front of us and their heads were in the way; Flip wriggled and jumped so vigorously that I thought the waitstaff were going to ask us to leave.

When it was clear that Barbara’s set was more than half over, I took Flip out of my pocket and aimed him at the stage — thinking that the Iridium staff would hardly eject us so close to the end.  (I was right.)  The result is that you are now able to see and hear some of what Barbara and her New Yorkers did so beautifully last night.

Here’s Irving Berlin’s melancholy SAY IT ISN’T SO, a fully realized dramatic performance without a hint of “acting”:

Barbara featured the band on AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, which offers wonderful hot solos and ensemble joys.  I especially love the trades between Doug and Kevin at the end, reminiscent of the playful jazz conversations Milt Hinton and Jo Jones had so memorably:

And something even more special: Barbara’s ukulele feature.  Faithful readers will know of my recent (and continuing) ukulele obsession — I’m still finding my way around the fingerboard.  But I was thrilled when Barbara unsheathed a soprano ukulele and put on her own one-woman show.  It’s not that she’s the East Coast version of Lyle Ritz (or at least not yet) but she encapsulates another world in her performance of KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW — as if we were sitting on the porch with her and she decided it was time for a little music.  It’s charming!  And her whistling is both casual and accomplished:

Finally, a rocking version of MY BLACKBIRDS ARE BLUEBIRDS NOW — one of several songs that exploited this avian metaphor.  I feel sorry for the poor blackbirds, who got a bad reputation as emblems of bad luck.  All because of that one flying terrorist who pecked off the housemaid’s nose, if I remember correctly?  Bluebirds are fine, of course — but the blackbirds swung.  Here’s Barbara and her New Yorkers:

Barbara says that she is trying to keep this music alive without turning into the guardian of a time capsule.  That’s a tall order, but she is doing it heroically every time she sings, and she did it splendidly last night.  I hope these homegrown video clips convey something of her special gifts.  She is The Real Thing.

A JAZZ HOLIDAY! (February 2009)

No, this post isn’t about Benny Goodman’s 1928 recording — although that record does deserve to be celebrated.  Rather, it’s about a jazz immersion because of what my college calls “Presidents’ Week” — the Monday holiday stretching into a full week to follow the public school calendar.

What that means for me (and the Beloved) is a wonderful chance to hear four live jazz sessions.

Sunday night I went to the Ear Inn, newly lit and full of people celebrating that they, too, didn’t have to get up early the next morning.  The EarRegulars were there in stellar form: Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, with their inspiring friends Scott Robinson and Greg Cohen.  I was sitting three feet from Greg’s bass, and it was a transforming experience: the rhythm shot through me all night long.  And Scott — the mysterious shape-changer of jazz, who finds a new self whenever he picks up a different horn — was in a happy groove from the opening notes of WEARY BLUES.  (Scott had brought his tenor, a cornet — I couldn’t see if it was his fabled echo cornet) and his sopranino sax.  In the second set, Rachelle Garniez sat in with her Hohner claviola, Ted G (we couldn’t figure out his last name) brought his Maccaferri guitar, and Lucy, sixteen years old, sat in on trumpet.  As they used to say in the society pages of small-town newspapers, “a good time was had by all.”

Last night I went to Banjo Jim’s to catch a return appearance of the Cangelosi Cards with their guest star Sam Parkins, who had brought “his Klarinette.”  If you want to get the flavor of that evening, I’ve posted clips from their last jam session on “LIGHTNING IN THE DARKNESS.”  It was a smaller hand of Cards — Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Karl Meyer, Marcus Millius, Gordon Webster, and Cassidy Holden (who uses gut strings on his bass — as the great players of the Swing Era did).  The joint rocked: Tamar sang the blues and ALL OF ME; the Cards turned into a gypsy /tango band with NUAGES, MINOR SWING, and their own line on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.  Heady stuff!

Tonight, the Beloved and I are going to the 8 PM show at Iridium to hear Barbara Rosene and her New Yorkers.  Enough said!  Barbara will sparkle and move us, and the New Yorkers include Jon-Erik, Michael Hashim, Conal Fowkes, Matt Szemela, Doug Largent, and Kevin Dorn — fine players and fine friends.

And (if that weren’t enough) we’re going downtown on Thursday for the 36th Anniversary HIGHLIGHTS IN JAZZ concert, featuring David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (or the Gully Low Jazz Band, what you will) — Jon-Erik, Wycliffe Gordon, Anat Cohen, Mark Shane, David himself, and Kevin Dorn.  Jack Kleinsinger’s concerts are always models of jazz generosity, and this one includes a pair of raw recruits named Joe Wilder and Dick Hyman.

Yes, I still have to grade two more sets of student essays, but I would call this A JAZZ HOLIDAY.  Wouldn’t you?  And I haven’t even mentioned the Gully Low Jazz Band’s regular Birdland gig on Wednesday and a midday solo piano outing for Hyman at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in midtown.

New Yorkers are lucky to live in this time and place, the economy notwithstanding.  Go and hear some live jazz, even if you don’t have the week off.

BARBARA ROSENE KNOWS HOW

barbara-roseneI was reading the February issue of Jazz Improv NY and saw, to my delight, that editor Eric Neumeyer had interviewed the wonderful singer Barbara Rosene.  That would be enough of a pleasure, but the following interchange is worth posting and publicizing.

Eric asked her “What advice do you have for aspiring singers who are trying to find their own unique voice and develop their craft?”

Barbara answered, “Please be natural!  Affectation and insincerity will catch up with you.  Do what thrills you.  Do what has meaning for you.  Anyone can get up and sing a song.  Figure out what the song is really about and then tell your own story through the song.”

That’s invaluable advice, not only for singers, but for instrumentalists.  And Barbara embodies it in her own work.  You can hear her delight in the songs on her CDs, but especially on her latest issue (Stomp Off 1442), “It Was Only A Sun Shower.”

barbara-rosene-sun-showerAnd Barbara will be appearing with her New Yorkers at Iridium (Broadway at 51st Street) for two shows  — 8 and 10 PM — on Tuesday, February 17.  Her all-star band will include Jon-Erik Kellso, Michael Hashim, Matt Szemela, Conal Fowkes, Doug Largent, and Kevin Dorn.