Tag Archives: MEZZROW

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!

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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!