Tag Archives: Meredith Axelrod

SPLENDIDLY GENUINE: “MORE OF THAT,” JACOB ZIMMERMAN and his PALS

This is not really a post about shopping, but since shopping is one of the experiences held in common by so many of us, it works as metaphor.  A dozen years ago, if I thought I needed a new shirt, I would have headed to The Mall, where I could gaze at two dozen machine-made shirts, identical except for size and perhaps color.  The plenitude was a reassuring reminder that we live in the Land of Too Much, and often I bought more than I needed.

As my clothing style became more personal, the racks of identical product no longer charmed.  I began to go thrift-shopping for the quest for unique pleasures.  Surprise was the rule, even among the inexplicable proliferation of plaid shirts (why?). I would spot something thirty shirts away, move towards it as if magnetized, and might have a small breath-taking experience.  “That’s for me!  I could wear that!  That looks like it belongs to me!”

Illustration by Jesse Rimler

Such impassioned bonding happens with music also: I was two minutes into the first track of a new CD — its cover above — and my mental soundtrack alternated between, “Oh, my goodness, this is wonderful!” and the more defensive, “You’re not getting this CD away from me.”  And then,addressing the invisible JAZZ LIVES audience, “You need to hear this,” I thought.

“This” is the debut CD of Jacob Zimmerman and his Pals called MORE OF  THAT, and to use my own catchphrase, it has increased my happiness tremendously.

The cover drawing, which I love, by Jesse Rimler, says much about the cheerful light-heartedness of the enterprise.  Why has this twenty-first century Nipper got his head in a protective cone?  Has he been biting himself?  Is the cone a visual joke about the morning-glory horn?  Is this the canine version of cupping a hand behind your ear to hear your singing better?  All I know is that this dog is reverently attentive.  You’ll understand why.

Here is Jacob’s website, and you can read about his musical associations here.

I had heard Jacob’s name bandied about most admiringly a few years ago; he appeared in front of me in the Soho murk of The Ear Inn and was splendidly gracious.  He’d also received the equivalent of the Legion of Honor: he was gigging with Ray Skjelbred.  But even these brightly-colored bits of praise did not prepare me for how good this CD is.

The overall ambiance is deep Minton’s 1941, Keynote, and Savoy Records sessions, that wonderful period of music where “swing” and “bop” cuddled together, swinging but not harmonically or rhythmically constrained.  And although Jacob and Pals have the recorded evidence firmly in their ears and hearts, and under their fingers as well, this is not Cryogenic Jazz or Swing Taxidermy (with apologies to Nipper’s grandchild on the cover).

As a leader, Jacob is wonderfully imaginative without being self-consciously clever (“Didja hear what the band did there?  Didja?”)  Each performance has a nifty arrangement that enhances the song rather than drawing attention from it — you could start with the title tune, MORE OF THAT, which Jacob told me is based on MACK THE KNIFE, “MORITAT,” so you’ll get the joke — which begins from elements so simple, almost monochromatic, and then builds.  Each arrangement makes full use of dynamics (many passages on this CD are soft — what a thing!), there’s some dark Ellingtonia and some rocking neo-Basie.  And each song is full of delightful sensations: when I get through listening to BALLIN’ THE JACK (a song often unintentionally brutalized) I think, “That’s under three minutes? How fulfilling.”  So the Pals are a friendly egalitarian organization with everyone getting chances to shine.

A few words about the compositions.  SIR CHARLES is Ray’s homage to our hero Sir Charles Thompson; Jacob says RADIATOR “was composed as a feature for Ray and was inspired by the Earl Hines record “Piano Man.” It’s based on “Shine.”  SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY “is a feature for bassist Matt Weiner and pays homage to the record of that tune by Lester Young and Slam Stewart.”  “FIRST THURSDAY is based on”Sunday.” My monthly gig at the jazz club “Egan’s Ballard Jam House” has happened every first Thursday for over 5 years.” And SCULPT-A-SPHERE “is based on “Nice Work If You Can Get It”…I tried to imagine what it would be like if Thelonious Monk and Lester Young wrote a tune together.”

Before I get deeper into the whirlpool of praise, some data.  Jacob plays alto and clarinet (more about that in a minute), aided immeasurably by: Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar; Ray Skjelbred, piano; D’Vonne Lewis, drums; Cole Schuster, guitar; Christian Pincock, trombone; Meredith Axelrod brings voice and guitar to the final track.  And the compositions: RADIATOR / SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY / FIRST THURSDAY / SONG OF THE ISLANDS / BLUE GUAIAC BLUES / BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES / IN A SHANTY IN OLD SHANTY TOWN / MORE OF THAT / BALLIN’ THE JACK / BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? / SCULPT-A-SPHERE / I AIN’T GOT NOBODY.  All immensely tasty, none crowding its neighbor.

This being the twenty-first century, many saxophonists live in a post-Parker era, which works for some. But Jacob has deeply understood that there are other sounds one can draw upon while playing that bent metal tube: a mix of Pete Brown (without the over-emphatic pulse), Hilton Jefferson (rhapsodic but tempered), and Lee Konitz (dry but not puckering the palate).  On clarinet, he suggests Barney Bigard but with none of the Master’s reproducible swoops and dives: all pleasing to the ear.

Because I have strongly defined tastes, I often listen to music with an editor’s ear, “Well, they’re dragging a little there.”  “I would have picked a brighter tempo.”  “Why only one chorus?” and other mind-debris that may be a waste of energy.  I don’t do that with MORE OF THAT, and (imagine a drumroll and cymbal crash) I love this CD so fervently that I will launch the JAZZ LIVES GUARANTEE.  Buy the disc.  Keep the jiffybag it came in.  Play it twice.  If you’re not swept away, write to me at swingyoucats@gmail.com, send me the CD and I’ll refund your money and postage.  I don’t think I will be reeling from a tsunami of mail, and should some people (inexplicably) not warm to this disc, I’ll have extra copies to give away.

You heard it here first.

May your happiness increase!

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A MEDITATION ON THE INACCESSIBLE: RAY SKJELBRED at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 27, 2015)

Ray Skjelbred is a sculptor of sound and rhythm, transforming popular song and the blues in ways that surprise and delight. Here, he’s at the keyboard at the San Diego Jazz Fest, offering us magic that is both whimsical and deep.  The original text for his rumination is a bouncy Walter Donaldson song from 1929, REACHING FOR SOMEONE (AND NOT FINDING ANYONE THERE), a situation we’ve all encountered.  The song was a hit in 1929, and many will know the quicker-paced Whiteman and Trumbauer versions.

REACHING FOR SOMEONE

Thanks to the inventive singer-guitarist Meredith Axelrod, a friend of JAZZ LIVES, Ray was inspired to play this song at a much more melancholy tempo, appropriate to the situation the lyrics describe, and the result is lovely and haunting:

I hope that all that you desire is accessible, if not now, then someday soon.

May your happiness increase!

ARE YOU LOST?: CRAIG VENTRESCO and JOANNA STERNBERG TEACH THE LESSON (July 26, 2015)

NY map

I’ve known Deacon Craig Ventresco for more than a decade now, and learned a great deal from his moral teachings at Bar Tabac, the Cajun, and other pulpits on both coasts.

CRAIG

But I’d never heard him deliver such a serious sermon on the dangers of being destabilized in the cosmos as I did on Sunday, July 26, 2015, at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street (that’s the Lower East Side of New York City).  In his stern peroration, he was supported nobly by another great teacher, Joanna Sternberg (to be precise, Craig plays guitar and sings; Joanna accompanies him on the string bass).  In their efforts to uplift the community, they are assisted by members of the congregation Tamar Korn and Meredith Axelrod.  Heed the words of Deacon Ventresco.  Take them to heart:

The song was a 1908 hit for Bert Williams, composed by Chris Smith and Cecil Mack:

RIGHT CHURCH BUT THE WRONG PEW 1908Given the ubiquity of the GPS and the smartphone, to say nothing of those antiquities, paper maps . . . don’t let this happen to you.  And — if a less serious moral statement of mine may be permitted — I think Craig should sing more often. He has noble stories to impart to us.

May your happiness increase!

A GLORIOUS EVENING, PART THREE: TAMAR KORN, DENNIS LICHTMAN, MATT MUNISTERI, CRAIG VENTRESCO, MEREDITH AXELROD, JERRON PAXTON, TAL RONEN (JALOPY THEATRE, September 28, 2014)

By the end of this utterly satisfying musical evening (September 28, 2014) at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, the stage was filled with happy individualists — not a repeater pencil or copycat in sight. The cast of characters was Tamar Korn, vocal; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Craig Ventresco, guitar; Meredith Axelrod, vocal and ukulele; Jerron Paxton, piano; Tal Ronen, string bass.  I think that’s an accurate census of the people, not all of them appearing on each number, and some of them audible rather than visible.

In retrospect, it feels like a combination jam session – hootenanny – revival meeting – improvisational theatre piece. . . . unique and fulfilling. And even though those of us who have followed Tamar for the past five years or more know these songs (the first three: NEW YORK is a new favorite) the stage was alight with fresh energies.

For those who missed this glorious constellation of musical comets and asteroids, whether live or on video, here are the first two parts of this evening.

SUGAR BLUES:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (Ms. Korn in bliss, announced freely):

DO THE NEW YORK:

Rarely do I use the word “unforgettable” about an event I’ve attended, but this evening solidly fits that description.  Blessings on the artists and the generous people at Jalopy who made this evening happen.

May your happiness increase!

A GLORIOUS EVENING, PART TWO: DENNIS LICHTMAN, MATT MUNISTERI, TAMAR KORN (JALOPY THEATRE, September 28, 2014)

This is the second portion of a Saturday night performance at the Jalopy Theatre, one of those musical evenings I don’t think I will ever forget, featuring Craig Ventresco, Meredith Axelrod, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Matt Munisteri, Jerron Paxton, and Tal Ronen.

Here are some highlights of the first set.

And here are six more magical performances by Dennis, Tamar, and Matt in varying combinations.  No posturing, just deep feeling for the particular idiom of each song,great unaffected expertise, a sweet intensity.

Hoagy Carmichael’s SKYLARK:

Irving Berlin’s RUSSIAN LULLABY:

Willard Robison’s WE’LL HAVE A NEW HOME IN THE MORNING:

RISONHA (by Luperce Miranda, the Brazilian mandolinist and composer, 1904-1977):

TIME CHANGES EVERYTHING (from Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys):

SO BLUE (a gem by De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson 1927):

WHAT’S THE USE OF LIVING WITHOUT LOVE? (thanks to a late King Oliver record):

Part Three will be arriving soon.

May your happiness increase!

DOWN-HOME EBULLIENCE! THE FIRST SET: MEREDITH AXELROD, CRAIG VENTRESCO, TAMAR KORN, JERRON PAXTON, MATT MUNISTERI at JALOPY (Sept. 28, 2014)

One test of any artistic expression is how long it lingers in our selves after we’ve experienced it.  What follows has been my mental soundtrack for some time now, and its effect hasn’t diminished.

On September 28, 2014, Doug Pomeroy (my guide to uncharted Brooklyn) and I made the trek to the Jalopy Theatre ay 315 Columbia Street to see a double bill of Meredith Axelrod, vocal / guitar / ukulele; Craig Ventresco, guitar // the BRAIN CLOUD with Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Tamar Korn, vocal; Matt Munisteri, guitar; special guests Jerron Paxton, vocal, piano, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass.

It was a memorable evening, and revisiting these performances continues to make me immensely happy.  But Jalopy is a place where good things happen.  See their website for the schedule of events.  (And see this wonderful evidence from 2011, as well as this 2013 bouquet of sounds.)

Here are some highlights from the first set of September 28.

Craig and Meredith in duet on SILVER BELL — from darkness to light:

Meredith singing to Craig’s guitar — RED LIPS, KISS MY BLUES AWAY:

Tamar, Meredith, and Craig performing WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND (a song brought back into twenty-first century repertoire by the intrepid Gordon Au, I believe):

An jubilant extravaganza on LONESOME AND SORRY, featuring Meredith, Craig, Tamar, Jerron, and Matt, and two verses:

The same players essayed SOME OF THESE DAYS although Matt was now seated in the audience — to my immediate right, which was friendly:

This joyous music — so playful — reminds me of what might happen in someone’s living room.  Wit is bubbling beneath the surface at all times. But you’d have to have the very best musical guests imaginable, people of this sensibility who can be absolutely full of good energy while performing the saddest songs.  (The lyrics of LONESOME AND SORRY are especially desolate, those of SOME OF THESE DAYS sorrowful with an angry undercurrent, but how delighted these performances are!)

The second set — with Dennis and Tal joining in — was unforgettable.  And it will be shared here as well.

May your happiness increase!

AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE OF BEAUTY: CRAIG VENTRESCO at CAFE DIVINE (JULY 30, 2014)

If creativity received appropriate recognition, guitarist and musical scholar Craig Ventresco would have received a MacArthur genius grant for his work in American vernacular musics by now.

He isn’t as well known as he should be, but the people who know him value him for his singular devotion to art that would otherwise be lost, forgotten, discarded.

Craig doesn’t simply dream of vanished worlds, nor does he simply amass evidence of them. He brings them to life, playing rags, blues, stomps, hymns, marches, tangos, a slow drag or two — the melodic and rhythmic life force of an America gone by. You might find Craig in some small San Francisco eatery or more ambitious restaurant, making his way through the lovely popular music of a hundred years ago — often to people who wouldn’t know Will Marion Cook from William H. Tyers — but when the listeners pay attention, they are moved by the “old music” that sounds so good. (Sometimes he is joined by singer / guitarist Meredith Axelrod, who operates on the same principles.)

Here, Craig plays his own variations on James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE:

And a ragtime slow drag (circa 1901-3) called PEACEFUL HENRY:

These selections were recorded at Cafe Divine (1600 Stockton Street, North Beach, San Framcisco) on July 30, 2014, and they only hint at what Craig offers us so consistently with so little fanfare.

Thank you, Craig.

PEACEFUL HENRY

 May your happiness increase!