Tag Archives: MEZZROW

BEAUTY AS AN ANSWER TO FEAR: BARBARA ROSENE and JON DAVIS at MEZZROW, CONTINUED (12.8.19)

Even the most obliviously optimistic among us have to admit that we live in dark times, however one defines that phrase.  I don’t know if there are sure-fire ways of making fear vanish permanently, but I do know that being able to focus on light and beauty is at least a temporary cure.  And the lovely thing about recorded music is that one can return to it over and over.  Side effects may include a brightening of one’s psychic vistas.  Go ahead, operate heavy machinery.

In that spirit, here is another installment of the magic that Barbara Rosene and Jon Davis created on December 8, 2019, at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street.  I first encountered Barbara fifteen years ago when her repertoire often seemed to delve into the perky,  the sassy, the naughty.

As we all have changed, her approach has deepened: she sings of the eternal truths: not just of a desirable man who is six feel of tangible goodness, but of the courage it takes to fall in love and risk failure; the hopes one has for the future; immersions in feeling no matter what the odds.  She is braver and wiser, and although I was immediately struck by the beauty of her voice when I first heard her, it is immensely more beautiful now.

You can marvel at it  yourself in these four performances.  They won’t make the news go away, but they will give you space to have lovely clear thoughts of the best acts we are capable of as loving beings, brave enough to live tenderly.

FOOLS RUSH IN:

IT HAD TO BE YOU:

TIME AFTER TIME:

ON A CLEAR DAY:

In this brand-new era of Social Distancing, Barbara is its very opposite.  Even if she sang six to eight feet away from you, you would feel her warmth and her deep understanding of lyrics and melody.  And there is no Distance between her, the songs, and our hearts.

May your happiness increase!  

JUST ADD ADULTHOOD AND STIR: BARBARA ROSENE and JON DAVIS at MEZZROW (December 8, 2019)

Anyone can buy tubes of paint and a canvas at the art supplies store; anyone can buy a blank journal at the bookstore.  But there’s so much work, contemplation and self-contemplation that must take place before one can become even a fledgling painter or writer.  Some divinely talented children create marvels while their driver’s licenses are still new, but I admire those artists whose life-maturity shines through their work.

To me, this is especially true in jazz singing.  Anyone can learn the lyrics, learn the melody (from the paper or from hallowed recordings) but what then?  Does the singer really understand the meanings of the words and the meanings under the meanings?  The finest singers make me feel what it’s like to be dancing cheek to cheek, to be old-fashioned, to make emotional commitments — not only to the imaginary love-object, but to the song, to the songwriters, to the audience.

Barbara Rosene is just one of those artists I admire: she is Growed Up, and it’s  not a matter of numbers on her passport: when she sings, I know that she knows what she’s singing about, whether it’s fidelity to an ideal, devotion to beauty, or the hope of fulfillment.  Barbara and Jon Davis put on a true master’s class in creating art one evening some months ago at Mezzrow. Here is the example I posted last December: how very touching (even for someone like me, who recoils at every fragment of musical holiday cheer)!

And more.  Admire, at your leisure, the deep beauties of Barbara’s voice — but better still are the messages she sends us, complex, easy, and aimed straight at our hearts.  And Jon (whom I hadn’t known earlier) is the best partner, enhancing the mood, serving the song rather than saying “Here I am! Look at me!” at every turn — although his solos show off his adult virtuosity as well.

You will find it nearly impossible to locate DREAMSVILLE by using Waze, but Barbara and Jon know where it’s located:

and another adult song, thanks to Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer:

And here Barbara dramatizes hope and the fragility of hope:

Love comes to the rescue, delightfully:

and a wistful yet triumphant Rodgers and Hart opus:

I think it’s lovely to experience Barbara, going her own sweet way.  And I trust you know she is also an artist on canvas, her paintings as distinctive as her song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty is still very much possible: so reassuring.

May your happiness increase!

“I’M WISE TO ALL THOSE TRICKS YOU PLAYED ON ME”: LUCY YEGHIAZARYAN SINGS AT MEZZROW (Stefan Vasnier, Vincent Dupont, Greg Ruggiero: January 28, 2020)

I admire the art of Lucy Yeghiazaryan — learn more here — and I am not alone.

Here are two more wonderful performances by Lucy, with pianist Stefan Vasnier, string bassist Vincent Dupont, and guitarist Greg Ruggiero — created at Mezzrow on her late-Tuesday set, January 28, 2020.  (If you missed her passionate PRISONER OF LOVE, here is that remarkable experience.)

“Happiness writes in white ink on a white page,” says Henry de Montherlant, and the ache of failed love has been a fertile subject for songwriters — much more than the Twenties’ optimism of “My baby and me are getting married in June.”

In PRISONER OF LOVE, the singer speaks of being “too weak to break the chains that bind me,” where the jail term sounds like a life sentence.  THE GENTLEMAN IS A DOPE, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, music by Richard Rodgers, from the 1947 show ALLEGRO, has a much more arch premise, mixing yearning and derision: the one I adore is too stupid to notice my love:

That lover is still stuck in mid-passion, but the protagonist of I’M GONNA LOCK MY HEART (AND THROW AWAY THE KEY) aims a declaration of independence right at the faithless, treacherous partner, in this 1938 Jimmy Eaton-Terry Shand song associated with Billie Holiday:

Thankfully, Lucy and friends are gigging here and there (“follow her on Facebook,” as they say) but the next Mezzrow appearance will be Tuesday, February 25.  I plan to be there, perhaps at that same second table on the left.

May your happiness increase!

“I HAVE A ROMANTIC SIDE”: LUCY YEGHIAZARYAN SINGS OF PASSION (STEFAN VASNIER, VINCE DUPONT, GREG RUGGIERO, Mezzrow, January 28, 2020)

Lucy Yeghiazaryan was celebrating her birthday at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street at the very end of January.  She turned 29 on the 29th, a gentle embrace of the spheres.  But don’t let her youth fool you into thinking she is merely skating along on the surface of her songs: she feels the music. . . . when she sings of passions, it doesn’t sound as if she’s texting us a message.  And she doesn’t stand at an ironic distance from the song and view it skeptically as an ancient artifact.

Lucy at Mezzrow 1.28.20. Photograph by Jon De Lucia.

At her performance, she created many little worlds, inhabited by cats and rabbits, with plates of mashed potatoes, among other bits of set design, but her intense yet controlled reading of PRISONER OF LOVE left me open-mouthed (and, no, that wasn’t my sneeze you’ll hear).  I associate this highly-charged song with Russ Columbo, Perry Como, and Lester Young — his 1956 recording remains a touchstone for me — but Lucy gently moved into the song and made it completely hers, with lovely accompaniment from Stefan Vasnier, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Vince Dupont, string bass.  Join me in the experience:

I’ve written about Lucy here recently, but you can expect to see more of her work on this blog.  And you should bask in the emotional experiences she creates — some salty, some tender, some playful — first-hand. Or if you live far from her gigging orbit, her first CD is available here and all the usual places. (Thanks to Matt Rivera for making this encounter not only possible but inevitable.)

She’s the real thing.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE SONGS ARE JUST AROUND THE CORNER — VALENTINE’S DAY 2020 with YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN

You can figure out from the banner above what I’m suggesting as a way to spend a Friday evening with someone you’re fond of.  To borrow from James Chirillo, music will be made: Yaala and Michael have a wonderful playful sensibility; they are a special musical pair. 

Their most recent engagement was at Mezzrow last December, and here is some delicious evidence.  I present the remainder of their Mezzrow performance for your delectation, amorous or simply aesthetic.

MORE THAN YOU KNOW:

YESTERDAYS:

After the JEOPARDY theme, an Alec Wilder classic:

I LOVE PARIS:

I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT:

The closing medley: AUTUMN IN NEW YORK, I COULD WRITE A BOOK, and FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE:

I hope your February 14th plans include this emotionally lively music by Yaala and Michael.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR FEBRUARY FOURTEENTH! –YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN PERFORM LOVE SONGS FOR US

This post, Janus-like, looks forward and backward.

Forward?  I want to alert you to a Valentine’s Day love-offering that’s special, a way to be bathed in the sounds of love.  Yaala Ballin, voice, and Michael Kanan, piano, will present songs of love on February 14, 7-9 PM, at St. John’s in the Village (Eleventh Street) with tickets a very loving $10.

It’s a gently interactive event as well.  No, not a sing-along.  But when ticket-buyers enter, they will be handed a list of perhaps fifty songs, classic ones, given a slip of paper and asked to mark down the titles or numbers of two songs they would like to hear.  And these little papers, selected at random, will be the music performed that evening.  I’ve seen this in action (more about that below) and it’s fun.  Details — if you need more — are here, and you can buy tickets through Eventbrite or take your chances that this won’t be sold out (which would be unromantic for you and your Ideal, wouldn’t it?).

Backward?  Yaala and Michael have already performed “the Great American Songbook, Requested,” at St. John’s in the Village last October, and I captured their performances here.  In December, they took their little show — sweet and impish — to Mezzrow, and here  are some delights from that evening.  I have left in Yaala’s inspired introductions because they are so very charming.

Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan at Mezzrow, Dec.11, 2019, by Naama Gheber.

IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME:

MANHATTAN:

BUT NOT FOR ME:

SO IN LOVE:

CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ THAT MAN:

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD:

LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING (one of my requests that night):

BLUE SKIES:

I should point out that although both Yaala and Michael treat their material tenderly, they are improvisers, so I could not get tired of their explorations of these deep songs.  I will follow them “while breath lasts,” as a friend used to say.

Here are more auditory blossoms from Mezzrow.  Listen and be glad, and make plans for Valentine’s Day . . . in the name of love.  And if you don’t have a partner for that evening, buy a ticket as an act of self-love, an activity that many people scant themselves in.  And when I was at St. John’s for the October concert, I noticed some elegantly-dressed people by themselves . . . so who knows what could happen?  Be brave and join us.

May your happiness increase!

“LOVE SAID ‘HELLO!'”: YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN at MEZZROW (December 11, 2019)

Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan at Mezzrow, by Naama Gheber.

My friends and musical heroes, Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan, returned to Mezzrow on December 11, 2019, for another evening of glorious songs, selected by the audience, as Yaala explains in the second video.  They call this “show of surprises” “The Great American Songbook, Requested,” and it is a consistent offering of joys.

But first, the Gershwins’ LOVE WALKED IN:

and for those new to Yaala and Michael’s playful plan-and-not-plan for their evening, Yaala explains it all while Michael quietly explores I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

THE MAN I LOVE has been performed so often that when someone launches into it I feel a little world-weary, “Oh, not that again.”  But I find this version completely compelling and emotionally plausible.  It is their teamwork, Michael’s palette of colors and textures, Yaala’s playful but deep speech-cadences.  Their performance has emotional ardor but is never “dramatic” for the sake of drama:

On with the dance, the dance of affection shared– Berlin’s CHEEK TO CHEEK, so beautifully begun and continued.  But first, Yaala tells a tale:

STAIRWAY TO THE STARS, Matty Malneck and Frank Signorelli, full of hope.  Please savor Michael’s solo chorus, his light and shadows:

The Gershwins’ OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY:

and Ellington’s I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART:

This is only the first part of a completely satisfying evening — with fourteen more songs delicately and ardently reinvented for us.  If you missed this December tasting menu, don’t despair: Yaala and Michael will be performing again for Valentine’s Day at St. John’s in the Village on Eleventh Street: details to come.

May your happiness increase!

“HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS”: BARBARA ROSENE and JON DAVIS at MEZZROW (Dec. 8, 2019)

Barbara Rosene puts her heart into her songs.

She continues to be a great singer — not only because of her gorgeous resonant supple voice, but because she knows what the lyrics mean, phrases them so that we feel them too.  No tricks, no melodrama, no “acting,” just heartfelt communication.  And her art is so touching because she so beautifully conceals the hard work beneath it.

You can see and hear it in this lovely performance, with pianist Jon Davis, recorded at Mezzrow on December 8, 2019.

And here , thanks to Terry Gross and NPR, is the story of how Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine came to write this song for Judy Garland in 1944.

I will have more performances from Barbara’s recent Mezzrow appearance to share with you in future.  And, should you be wondering who painted the quirky portrait of that club and its inhabitants, it is the painter Barbara Rosene — who also has her own beautiful styles — from jazz clubs to starlit scenes to beloved pets to abstracts.

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!

BRIGHT SPARKS, DEEP SHADOWS: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, TAL RONEN at MEZZROW (Sept. 16, 2019)

This sign is catnip to me and to other cats — so much so that we were standing in line (in a drizzle) outside of Mezzrow long before the Powers would open the door.  But our perseverance was well rewarded, that night of September 16, when Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Tal Ronen, string bass, got together for a vibrant imaginative session.  Here are a few highlights.

Rossano’s musical beverage, TEA FOR TWO:

Honoring Fathahood, MONDAY DATE:

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE (featuring Tal):

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, echoing not only Fats but also Ruby and Ralph:

Rossano’s marriage of Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and Fred Chopin, in SHOE SHINE BOY / Waltz, Opus 69, No. 1:

And Jon-Erik’s suggestion that we not leave, STICK AROUND:

Brilliant solo voices, rewarding thoughtful ensemble interplay.  Yes, it happened.

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!

THE RIGHT TIME: The GREG RUGGIERO TRIO (MURRAY WALL, STEVE LITTLE) at MEZZROW, October 1, 2018

The three serious-looking fellows below (from left, Murray Wall, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Greg Ruggiero, guitar) make wonderful music.  Greg’s new trio CD, IT’S ABOUT TIME, gentle explorations of great standards, is proof enough (read more here).

From left. Murray Wall, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Greg Ruggiero, guitar. Photograph by Gabriele Donati.

To celebrate the new CD, Greg, Steve, and Murray had a lovely session at Mezzrow (163 West Tenth Street, New York City) on October 1 of this year.  As befits a trio’s numerology, here are three selections showing the compact unhurried lyricism this group creates.  They know how to swing, how to leave space, how to play pretty, to create phrases to ring in the air: masters of their sonorous craft.

GONE WITH THE WIND:

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE:

We could easily grow accustomed to this trio.

May your happiness increase!

BEYOND METAPHOR, GLORIOUS ART: “WE TWO” (DMITRY BAEVSKY and JEB PATTON)

The New Yorker‘s Whitney Balliett conveyed so much detail and feeling through poetic metaphor.  I’ve always been inspired by his approach, which seems still so much more fresh and open than the usual writing about music.

When this new CD, a duet by alto saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky and pianist Jeb Patton, called “WE TWO,” arrived, it delighted me, and I tried to write about it in Balliett fashion without success.  Were Jeb and Dmitry puppies chasing each other around the room?  Race-car drivers?  Olympic athletes?  Birds singing in the mist?  Nothing seemed appropriate, so I stopped.

I’m also suspicious of the venerable tradition of comparing living musicians to Ancestors, so I have tried to resist calling name after name, from Dave McKenna and Zoot Sims to Nat Cole and Lester Young to Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins — you get the idea.  Listeners with memories may amuse themselves by “Wow, he sounds like ________ here,” but many musicians would be delighted to find themselves compared to Patton and Baevsky.

Consider this:

To me, that is both reassuringly “old-fashioned” and dazzlingly in the here-and-now.  I played the CD for a friend, who said, musingly, when it was over, “I didn’t know they still made records like this.”  We agreed that it was intimate and tender (EASY TO LOVE and DON’T LET THE SUN CATCH YOU CRYING) and dazzlingly acrobatic (THE SERPENT’S TOOTH) — each track completely satisfying in itself, their arrangement a wonderful work of art.

Through the sometimes dubious marvel of technology, here are two wonders:

and this:

Improvised duet playing requires a surgeon’s skill and a child’s exuberance; I hear Jake Hanna growling, “Pay attention or you’re dead!”  There’s no place to hide; passion and care must go hand in hand.  On this disc, through several playings and replayings, I hear a wondrous marriage of intelligence and feeling: the skill that makes anything Dmitry and Jeb able to be create rewarding realizations in sound, the precision that makes for exactness at any tempo the place from which they start, and the deep emotional range that makes this duo masters of any song they attempt, whether a dreamy ballad or a high-speed slalom.  And they enhance the original melodies rather than discard them.  Spiritually connected, they shine as individuals and we get to hear their wonderful synergy, where 1 + 1 = much more than 3.

You can order an autographed copy of the CD here; if you prefer the digital download, visit here.  And — if the glaciers and polar bears don’t come down the street, you could catch the duo on tour, ending up at Mezzrow on December 7 and 8.  You could buy CDs there, but who could hold out that long?

May your happiness increase!

HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE: “THE LATE SET”

This new CD doesn’t have a false note in it, just tremendously satisfying music.

I don’t recall the first time I heard Hilary Gardner sing, with or without Ehud Asherie’s accompaniment, but I was smitten — in a nice legal Platonic way — by the blending of her tender, expressive voice and his elegant, sometimes raucous piano.  Singular individualists, they combine in wonderful synergy, and this CD expertly reproduces what it’s like to hear marvelous improvisations in a small club full of attentive, sympathetic listeners, leaning forward to catch every nuance.  The sound is spectacularly fine — by which I mean natural, and you don’t have to leave your house to “be there.”  (Although seeing them at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street has been one of my great pleasures for a few years.)

Both Hilary and Ehud are splendid connoisseurs of the best songs, and this recital shows off their sensitivity to fine melodies and telling lyrics: SHADOW WALTZ by Al Dubin and Harry Warren; SWEET AND SLOW by the same two masters in a completely different mood; the very sad Rodgers and Hart A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL; the ancient but still lively AFTER YOU’VE GONE with the never-heard second chorus; I NEVER HAS SEEN SNOW, by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote; Irving Berlin’s immensely touching I USED TO BE COLOR BLIND; the wicked EVERYTHING I’VE GOT, again by Hart and Rodgers; the sweet command to MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, by Adolph Green, Betty Comden, and Jule Styne; the wistful SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, by John Jacob Loeb and Carmen Lombardo.

Song-scholars will find connections to Fred Astaire, Diane Keaton, Arthur Godfrey, Sophie Tucker, Lee Wiley, Fats Waller, Busby Berkeley, and two dozen others, but this is not a CD of homages to the Ancestors nor to their recordings.  Although the majority of the songs are enshrined in “the Great American Songbook,” this CD isn’t an exercise in reverential mummification.  No, the magic that Hilary and Ehud bring to these possibly venerable pages is to sing and play the songs for real — asking the questions, “What meaning might be found here?  What feelings can we share with you?”  And, ultimately, “Why are these songs so affecting in themselves?”

I’ve celebrated Ehud a great deal on this blog: his ability to create a Frolick all by himself, evoking both Bud Powell and Francois Rilhac, his touch precise but warm, his marvelous ability to think of anything and then to play it, his eye for the perfect swinging epigram a master archer’s.

Hilary was a wonderfully complete singer when I first heard her.  She has outdone herself here.  I find myself reaching for adjectives: is her voice “warm,” “creamy,” “light,” “rich”?  Then I give up, because it sounds as if I am a blindfolded contestant on a cooking show assessing a pound cake.

In plain English: she swings, she understands the lyrics, she improvises splendidly but without theatricality, and when she descends into a song, even if it’s one she’s sung a hundred times before, she comes to the surface, immensely naturally, showing us something we’ve never thought of before.  She’s witty but not clever; emotive but not melodramatic, tender but not maudlin.  Her approach is warm, delicate, unhurried.

When Hilary and Ehud did a brief tour of the Pacific Northwest not long ago, they visited KNKX, did an interview about the CD, and performed three songs in the studio — SWEET AND SLOW, I NEVER HAS SEEN SNOW, and AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  Here‘s the link to watch the videos and hear the interview.

You can find THE LATE SET at iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and the Anzic Records site.  I urge you to find and purchase a physical disc, because one of the great pleasures — hidden inside — is Hilary’s own pitch-perfect evocation of “the late set” in what I presume is a New York City jazz club.

This is extraordinary music.  How delightful that it exists in this century.

May your happiness increase!

AFTER HOURS AT MEZZROW (September 3, 2017): JOHN MERRILL, DANNY TOBIAS, JOE LEPORE

I’ve been listening to the fine understated guitarist John Merrill for a few years now, almost always at the West Tenth Street shrine Mezzrow.  We’ve talked of capturing him on video when the cosmic forces were properly aligned, and they were on the evening of September 3, 2017, for what is billed as “after hours.”  In deference to people like myself who are — as Jo Jones termed us, I think dismissively — “nine to fivers,” the set started at eleven o’clock (after two wonderful sets by a Tad Shull trio, which you may admire here).

John had with him Danny Tobias, trumpet, and Joe Lepore, string bass.  They created two performances that are, for me, Instant Classics.

I SURRENDER, DEAR:

CHEEK TO CHEEK:

I look forward to another appearance by this trio.  Who knows, I could take off a Monday . . .

May your happiness increase!

“RADICAL SWING TRIO”: TAD SHULL, ROB SCHNEIDERMAN, PAUL GILL at MEZZROW (September 3, 2017): THE SECOND SET

On September 3, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Mezzrow, that shrine for fascinating rhythms and floating melodies, to hear two sets by tenor saxophonist Tad Shull, pianist Rob Schneiderman, and string bassist Paul Gill.  Ted called the group his “Radical Swing Trio,” which to him means a return to the roots: strong melodies, logical emotive improvisations, lovely ballads.  And, as I said the first time, don’t be put off by “Radical”: this trio would have been forward-looking but comfortable in the fabled New York jazz past, although they are far from being archaeologists.  Listen, and be delighted.

Here ‘s their first set.

Tad began the second set with Dizzy Gillespie’s onomatopoetic OO-BOP-SH’BAM from 1946:

Harold Arlen’s lovely ballad, OUT OF THIS WORLD, with Latinate roots:

Tadd Dameron’s GNID — one of those whimsical titles invented in the recording studio (I would guess) for an endearing melody:

The gorgeous ballad by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, only sixteen bars, which in some way belongs to the youthful Sinatra — I FALL IN LOVE TOO EASILY:

Wayne Shorter’s BLACK NILE:

And the justly famous blues line (think of Miles, Lucky Thompson, Gene Ammons), WALKIN’:

Very rewarding music — in the tradition but original and lively.

May your happiness increase!

DESIRE (SUPPRESSED) and PASSION (SECRET), THEN and NOW

Does popular art follow high art, or the reverse, or are the coincidences simply coincidental?  In 1915, Susan Glaspell and George Cram Cook premiered a play, SUPPRESSED DESIRES; 1924, Eugene O’Neill’s DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS; 1929, Dali’s THE ACCOMODATIONS OF DESIRE.  PASSION had always been part of the cultural vocabulary, so no need to search out appearances in the Twenties.  A graduate student in early modernist popular culture would probably trace some of this to Havelock Ellis, Theodoor Hendrik Van de Velde, and others writing for a curious public.  I don’t doubt that Dr. Freud is behind all this in some way, also.

I know that the stereotypical idea of pop songwriters is cigar-smoking fellows looking to make money off the latest craze, but it is possible that some of those brilliant tunesmiths read something in the paper besides the sports pages.  Make what you will of the synchronicity or the coincidence, these two songs, HE’S MY SECRET PASSION and MY SUPPRESSED DESIRE enjoyed some fame in that year, the second creation even featured in a film where I would think little was suppressed.

I’ve known MY SUPPRESSED DESIRE for years through the Bing Crosby – Harry Barris – Al Rinker recording, a series of small hot comedic playlets unfolding one after another:

Bing’s “Tell it!” at 1:35 is a favorite moment, and I like the way the recording morphs through moods and tempos — a whole stage show in miniature, with the introduction coming around as the conclusion, and the rocking intensity of Bing’s last bridge.

Here’s a very pleasing Goldkette-styled version by Abe Lyman’s California Orchestra:

There are several excellent contemporary dance band versions of this song — by Coon-Sanders Nighthawks, Verne Buck, and Lud Gluskin — which I leave to you to find on YouTube, because for me the Rhythm Boys’ version blots all the others out.

Now (thanks to Jonathan David Holmes) I have a new recording of HE’S MY SECRET PASSION by The Four Bright Sparks, my favorite new band name, to share with you.  I find the instrumental combination of clarinet, xylophone, guitar, drums, and piano entrancing, and Queenie Leonard’s slightly emphatic singing is also charming.  Discographer Tom Lord sniffs, “The above was a studio group but they played straight dance music and nearly never featured hot solo work,” a classic example of jazz-snobbery:

And here is Marion Harris’ impossibly tender reading of PASSION:

Showing that passion has living validity in this century also, Barbara Rosene and friends (among others, Conal Fowkes, Michael Hashim, Pete Martinez, Brian Nalepka, and Craig Ventresco) in 2007:

Barbara, Conal Fowkes, and Danny Tobias will be performing at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street in New York City on June 13.  Her shows are always delightful, and, yes, attendance will be taken.

Attentive textual explicators will note that these are not the same song at all: the singer of PASSION is wistful and hopeful that an introduction can be arranged and great things will result, where the singer of SUPPRESSED notes accurately that the Object of Desire belongs to someone else, which is an entirely different situation.  But these recordings and the songs are atypically cheerful — no one is lamenting that the opportunity has passed forever.  For listeners, we hope for the best: gratified passion, reciprocated desire.

May your happiness increase!

REBECCA KILGORE’S WISTFUL HEART (Mezzrow, January 18, 2017)

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Great artists make the familiar magically alive. Many of us have seen the film THE WIZARD OF OZ, perhaps as children, so the score is well-known. But at the beginning of 2017, January 18, to be precise, Rebecca Kilgore (accompanied by the imaginative Ehud Asherie) imbued the Harold Arlen – Yip Harburg song IF I ONLY HAD A HEART with yearning depths of feeling I’d never experienced before.

Rebecca said that she was inspired by the performance of the late Susannah McCorkle, but this is no copy of Susannah: it is a wistful journey all its own.  And it shows, in case anyone needed reminding, that Ms. Kilgore’s heart is large and generous.  I think she is singing better than ever; judge for yourselves.

(A word about that intrusive microphone stand: I knew it was there but didn’t feel right whispering between songs, “Could you move that stand out of the way?”  My error.  Close your eyes and listen.)

The Kilgore magic — heartfelt in many moods — is also evident on her most recent CD for Arbors Records, a duet with the splendid pianist Bernd Lhotzky, THIS AND THAT.  Here ‘s the link to purchase a copy or several.  I’ve been listening to Rebecca for years, and I think that this CD captures her voice and spirit perhaps better than any other release.  And that is saying a great deal.

this-and-that

I was honored to write a few words for this release.

You know those moments in conversation when communication truly works, so that simple words carry deeper meaning – when speaker and hearer get one another? This communion can happen when musicians who live their art deeply create a heartfelt kinship. This CD captures fifteen such lovely interludes created by a most empathic pair.

While we trot along in the nature preserve of song, Rebecca and Bernd point out rare flowers and wild asparagus we would otherwise have missed. Consider the song most familiar to you on this disc. Marvel at how fresh they make it. The opening phrases of SWEET AND LOVELY are a splendid example. Study Bernd’s solo interlude before the chorus of THE BEST THING FOR YOU, and Rebecca’s transformations of the repeated words in DO DO DO into something lively and elastic. Thanks to technology, you are free to play I’M SHOOTING HIGH twelve times in a row. It’s restorative, better than the reproachful Fitbit around your wrist. I remain entranced by the way these two turn the tick-tock-tick of the verse into the free and soaring chorus.

Listening and re-listening, I ask myself, “How do they know how to do that most exquisite wiggle right there?” One answer is that Bernd and Rebecca have spent their lives hard at work but also joyously at play in the music they love. So each song becomes a fully realized lyrical playlet, a three-minute world of feeling and swing. Some of the songs bubble with optimism and hope, an antidote to the day’s news. Others, somber and mournful, remind us that art transforms sorrow into something more. We feel the beauty of the lament, the sound of yearning.

I haven’t tried to explicate this music, since words can’t ever explain the sensations of the first bite of ripe fruit. But I am delighted and awed by what Rebecca and Bernd offer here. Who could want a sweeter surprise? Better yet, fifteen sweet surprises.

Rebecca knows the way into our hearts.  We welcome her in.

May your happiness increase!

HOD O’BRIEN’S MELODIES

HOD JP

Hod O’Brien, who left this earthy realm this year, was both taciturn and soft-spoken: I would lean forward to catch a few words. But at the piano keyboard, he was quietly eloquent, offering his own lyrical caress to every song.

Here are a few more performances by Hod and bassist Daryl Johns that I recorded at Mezzrow on March 19, 2016.

BLUE BOSSA:

ALONG CAME BETTY:

RAY’S IDEA:

I HEAR A RHAPSODY:

Thank you, Hod, for letting us eavesdrop on your rhapsodies.  We miss you.

May your happiness increase!

HERE’S THE MELODY: HOD O’BRIEN (1936-2016)

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Pianist, composer, bandleader Hod O’Brien left the planet on November 20, 2016, at 80, having been dueling with cancer for some time. Illness made him shy, reticent, unwilling to talk about himself — but wanting to shine the spotlight on wife Stephanie Nakasian and daughter Veronica Swift, both singers.

Although Hod was heralded as a bebop pianist, I thought of him more as a great melodist.  Even when he was illuminating songs with altered chords, the melody was never far away.  Here he is, at Mezzrow, on March 19, 2016 — eight months before his death — with the young bassist Daryl Johns.  You’ll understand what I mean about Hod’s deep melodic streak, and the way he cherishes any lyrical composition.  Thank you, Hod, for making beauty for us so generously.

YOURS IS MY HEART ALONE:

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU:

ASK ME NOW:

and the sorrowfully appropriate ALL TOO SOON.

I captured Hod at other gigs here and here in 2015 and here in 2016 — performances that show off his gently propulsive lyricism.

May your happiness increase!

LYRICAL SWING: HOD O’BRIEN and DARYL JOHNS at MEZZROW (March 19, 2016)

HOD JP

At this Mezzrow gig in New York City, a few months ago, the wonderful pianist Hod O’Brien had laryngitis.  But his winding melodies, his ingenious harmonies, and easy swing had their own powerful voices.  He was accompanied — in the simplest meaning of that overused word, which to me suggests a companion at one’s side — by a string bassist I’d never met before, the very youthful Daryl Johns, who will impress you as he did me.

Here are five explorations of that art form, lyrical swing improvisation.

SAVE YOUR LOVE FOR ME (Hod pointed out that this was originally done by Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley, but he felt the tune in a more Basie fashion):

EV’RYTHING I LOVE:

TADD’S DELIGHT (for Mister Dameron):

and two classics —

I CAN’T GET STARTED:

TANGERINE:

Much more to come from this session.  And when I saw Hod in June, he had his voice back.

May your happiness increase!

A DOUBLE ORDER OF EXUBERANCE: MICHAEL HASHIM / EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW (May 17, 2016)

Michael Hashim, June 2016

Michael Hashim, June 2016.  Photograph by Tara O’Grady.

About three weeks ago, singer Barbara Rosene and pianist Ehud Asherie delighted us with an evening of music at Mezzrow; early on they were joined by the reed wizard Michael Hashim.  I have become used to hear Michael doubling on alto and soprano saxophones — our mutually pleasing acquaintanceship goes back to very late 2004 or early 2005.  But that night, coming from a gig playing for NYU graduation ceremonies, he brought his tenor saxophone along.  If you’ve never met Michael, he is an absolute virtuoso (and someone deeply interested in a scholarly way in many artistic endeavors that don’t have reeds in them).

HASHIM tenor

Ehud Asherie is simply one of the finest pianists of this or any other jazz era, as a soloist or a wonderfully subtle accompanist.  But I think this is the first opportunity I’ve had to observe and record Ehud and Michael as a duo.  And the results, although too brief, are spectacular.

Ehud portrait

A dazzling CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

And a campanologist’s delight, RING DEM BELLS:

Thank you, Michael and Ehud.  Give this duo a gig!  A CD!  A weekly gig . . . !

May your happiness increase!