Tag Archives: Neal Miner

FOR REAL: “ALONG THE WAY”: SAM TAYLOR QUARTET with guest LARRY McKENNA (JEB PATTON, NEAL MINER, PETE VAN NOSTRAND)

I alphabetize my CDs by artist (with shelves for the unclassifiable) so that young tenor saxophonist Sam Taylor’s two discs — one from 2015, MY FUTURE JUST PASSED, and the new one, ALONG THE WAY (both for the Cellar Live label) sit comfortably between Eva Taylor and Jack Teagarden.  And everyone’s happy, because those three musicians place great emphasis on clear, personal delivery of melodies, staying true to the composers’ intention, no matter how intriguing the harmony might become.

If you know the work of Sam, Larry, Jeb, Neal, and Pete, I need say no more: swinging lyricism, never formulaic.  But perhaps young Mr. Taylor is new to you. Prepare to be delighted.  Here’s a taste of ALONG THE WAY:

Sam Taylor is a young man according to the calendar, but already a mature artist with a deep feeling for his art.

A friend encouraged me to listen to his first CD, MY FUTURE JUST PASSED — even given the dark title (it’s a wonderful song from 1930) and I was fascinated — as I wrote here.  Sam is that rare player willing to take his time to sing his own song.  And songs meant more to him than dots on the page or the secret knowledge of harmonies, bent and stretched: they are narratives of feeling, even with their words unstated.  In 2015, I was fortunate enough to see and hear Sam live a few times — one of which I documented here.

I knew about the most respected Larry McKenna, now 80, the splendid player based in Philadelphia, so when Sam told me that his next project would be with Larry, I was excited.  And as you have heard from the clip above, it is not following any two-tenor formula.

No “En garde!” and certainly not “Gentlemen, start your engines!”  No cutting, no bloodletting — rather a deep dear brotherly conversation between two players who know the true center of their music.  It isn’t even the Young Man and the Venerable Sage: rather, it sounds as if Sam and Larry have transcended the clock and the decades to be fraternal, sweetly discoursing on common themes.

And those themes are memorable ones.  The asterisk indicates those selections on which Sam and Larry play: MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY* / FATS FLATS* / ON THE TRAIL / WHERE ARE YOU? / PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE / THE CLOSE  THINGS (a McKenna original)* / THERE’S NO YOU* / WILD IS LOVE* / I WANT MORE.  Although there are several uptempo performances, the overall mood is mellow — which is not to say dozy or “Easy Listening,” but a lovely pensive swing feel.

Listen to some excerpts here — about ninety seconds taken from each track, surely enough to whet a listener’s appetite.  Incidentally, if you wonder “Who’s playing now?” I confess with amusement that at first I didn’t know . . . even though I have heard both players, Sam live and Larry on record and video.  But as I thought of it, it seemed more evidence of musical brotherhood than anything else: two lyrical players in the same groove.  Sam plays the melody on MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY with Larry weaving beautiful lines behind him, and he solos first; on FATS FLATS Sam goes first; on THERE’S NO YOU,  Larry plays the bridge and solos first; Larry solos second on I WANT MORE.

And listeners who are truly listening will have delighted in this rhythm section AND in the beautiful recorded sound.  Sam’s notes are a wonderful heartfelt tribute to Larry and to Sam’s first teacher — who steered him towards Bird and McKenna, wise choices.

Some people with long memories and substantial record collections may be saying to themselves, “I hear Zoot and Al!  I hear Lucky Thompson!  I hear Sonny!”

Me, I hear Taylor and McKenna, and am thankful for them and for this CD.

Here is the best place to purchase a disc or download (at quite surprisingly low prices) and to support the Cellar Live label.  Buy some copies (note the plural!) so that we can have a Volume Two.

May your happiness increase!

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SAM BRAYSHER – MICHAEL KANAN: “GOLDEN EARRINGS”

First, please watch this.  And since it’s less than two minutes, give it your complete attention.  I assure you that you will feel well-repaid:

I first began listening to GOLDEN EARRINGS, a series of duets between alto saxophonist Sam and pianist Michael, a few months ago.  I was entranced, yet I found it difficult to write about this delicately profound music, perhaps because I was trying to use the ordinary language of music criticism to describe phenomena that would be better analogized as moments in nature: the red-gold maple leaf I saw on the sidewalk, the blackbird eating a bit of fruit in the branches of the tree outside my window.

There’s nothing strange about GOLDEN EARRINGS: it’s just that the music these two create is air-borne, resonant, full of feeling and quiet splendors. Think of quietly heartfelt conversations without words between two great artists.

And this:

Coming down to earth, perhaps, here are Sam’s own words — excerpted from an article by Phil Hewitt:

I grew up in Dereham, Norfolk and played the saxophone in school and also in the Norwich Students’ Jazz Orchestra. I gradually became more interested in jazz through my teenage years and went to study jazz saxophone at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama when I was 18 in 2007. Since graduating I’ve been freelancing in London and doing a fairly wide range of jazz gigs. I met Michael on my first trip to New York in 2014 although I already knew his playing from a few records. I’m a big fan of his playing: he’s incredibly tasteful and has a beautiful touch. He is melodic, swinging and really plays what he hears. I think we like a lot of the same musicians: Lester Young, Charlie Parker, musicians from the Tristano school, Hank Jones, Ahmed Jamal, Thelonious Monk. Michael is also incredibly nice, generous and encouraging. We kept in touch and we played a bit informally when he was in London a few times in 2015 on tour with Jane Monheit. I then took part in a summer school run by Jorge Rossy near Barcelona, which Michael teaches on every year alongside people like Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath, Ben Street, Chris Cheek and Peter Bernstein. So after all that I felt like I knew him quite well, and decided to ask him to do a duo recording with me. I really like playing in small combos like duos and trios, and I know Michael does too: you can have a more focused, conversational musical interaction, and I enjoy the challenge of keeping the texture varied despite the limited instrumentation. The recording process itself was fairly old school: just a few microphones in a room with a nice acoustic and a nice piano (Michael’s own The Drawing Room in Brooklyn, New York), one quick rehearsal and no edits. The repertoire is mostly slightly lesser-known tunes from the Great American Songbook and jazz canon – including compositions by Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Victor Young, Nat King Cole and Irving Berlin – plus there’s one original composition by me. I really enjoy digging a bit deeper and trying to find tunes to interpret which are slightly off the beaten track, and Michael is a real expert on the American Songbook in particular, so it was great to utilise his knowledge in that respect. It was fantastic to play with someone of Michael’s calibre. He’s played with people like Jane Monheit, Jimmy Scott, Peter Bernstein, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ted Brown . . . .

The music was both recorded and photographed by the eminently gifted Neal Miner — whom most of us knew as a superlative string bassist.  When I received a copy of the CD (released on Jordi Pujol’s FRESH SOUND NEW TALENT label) and wanted to let you all know about it, I asked Sam if he would share his notes on the music, because they were like the music: gentle, focused, and intuitive.

Like most jazz musicians of my generation, I have been introduced to this type of repertoire through listening to and playing jazz, rather than by growing up with it as pop music in the way that, say, Sonny Rollins would have done. However, I have become increasingly interested in the songs themselves. Rollins playing “If Ever I Would Leave You” is amazing, but it is also fascinating to hear the Lerner and Loewe song in its (very different) original form. (I am referring more to American Songbook songs here, rather than compositions by the likes of Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington, which have obviously always existed as jazz performances).

By listening to original recordings, learning lyrics and consulting published sheet music, I have tried to access the ‘composer’s intention’ – something that Michael Kanan, an expert in this area, talks about. We tried to use this as our starting point for interpretation and improvisation, rather than existing jazz versions.

I feel very fortunate to have recorded with Michael. His wonderful playing is plain to hear, but he was also incredibly generous and encouraging throughout the entire process of making this album.

Our approach to recording was fairly old fashioned: just three microphones in a room with a nice piano; no headphones and no edits. Neal Miner took care of all this, and his kind and positive presence in the studio made the whole thing a lot easier.

Thank you for listening to this music. I hope you enjoy it.

Dancing In The Dark: Michael takes the melody while I play a countermelody partly derived from the sheet music and the dramatic orchestral arrangement that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse dance to in the film The Band Wagon.

Cardboard: the melodies that Bird writes are incredible; he is perhaps undervalued as a composer. Michael and I solo together. Some of his lines here are so hip!

Irving Berlin Waltz Medley: three beautifully simple songs. Michael plays a moving solo rendition of “Always”, which Berlin wrote as a wedding present for his wife. Hank Mobley’s Soul Station contains the classic version of “Remember”. I love that recording but the song in its original form is almost an entirely different composition.

BSP: the one original composition here, this is a contrafact (a new melody written over an existing chord sequence) based on Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale”. It was written a few years ago when I was particularly interested in the music of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. The melody is heard at the end.

All Too Soon: originally recorded as an instrumental by the classic Blanton-Webster edition of the Ellington band, this ballad was later given lyrics by Carl Sigman.

In Love In Vain: I love the original version from the film Centennial Summer. We begin with Kern’s verse and end with a coda that is sung in the film but does not appear in the sheet music I have for this. Perhaps it was added by the film’s orchestrators? So much for getting to the composer’s original intention!

The Scene Is Clean: there are a few mysterious corners in this tune from the pen of Tadd Dameron, the great bebop composer, and this is probably the most harmonically dense composition to feature here. The version on Clifford Brown & Max Roach at Basin Street is fantastic.

Beautiful Moons Ago: I don’t know many other Nat ‘King’ Cole originals, but this is a lovely, sad song by one of my favourite pianists and singers (co-written by Oscar Moore, the guitarist in his trio). I don’t think it is very well known.

Golden Earrings: another selection from a film, this mystical, haunting song was a hit for Peggy Lee. Victor Young’s harmony is quite classical at certain points.

Way Down Yonder In New Orleans: if this tune is played nowadays it tends to be by traditional jazz or Dixieland bands, but I’m a fan of it. The form is an unusual length and it contains a harmonic surprise towards the end. This take features more joint soloing and we finish by playing Lester Young’s masterful 1938 solo in unison.

Thanks:
Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, Jordi Pujol, Walter Fischbacher, John Rogers and Mariano Gil for their invaluable help and expertise. London friends who helped by playing through the material with me before the recording, lending their ears afterwards and by offering general advice: Helena Kay, Will Arnold-Forster, Gabriel Latchin, Matt Robinson, Nick Costley-White and Rob Barron. All my teachers over the years. Special thanks to Mum and Dad, Lois and Nana.

Sam Braysher, September 2016.

And here’s another aural delicacy:

I think the listeners’ temptation is to find a box into which the vibrations can conveniently fit.  Does the box say TRISTANO, KONITZ-MARSH, PRES, ROWLES-COHN?  But I think we should put such boxes out for the recycling people to pick up.

This music is a wonderful series of wise tender explorations by two artists so much in tune with each other and with the songs.  So plain, so elegantly simple, so deeply felt, it resists categorizations.  And that’s how it should be — but so rarely is.

My only objection — and I am only in part facetious — is that the format of the CD encourages us to continue at a medium tempo from performance to performance. I would have been happier if this disc had been issued on five 12″ 78 discs, so that at the close of a song I or any other listener would have to get up, turn the disc over, or put the needle back to the beginning.  The sounds are nearly translucent; they shimmer with feeling and intelligence.

Sam’s website is here; his Facebook page here.  New Yorkers have the immense privilege of seeing Michael on a fairly regular basis, and that’s one of the pleasures of living here.

May your happiness increase!

THEY’RE SWELL: MARIEL BILDSTEN and GREG RUGGIERO at TURNSTYLE, October 17, 2017

Wonderful synergy.  One . . .

Mariel Bildsten. Photograph by Jeff Drolette.

plus one . . . .

Greg Ruggiero

makes up a musical organization much more expansive than a duo.

But who knew that such glorious music flourished underground? Most Tuesdays, trombonist Mariel Bildsten leads a small group — quite compact, because it’s a duo: here she is with guitarist Greg Ruggiero, both playing splendidly in “Turnstyle,” a subway-mall attached to the “A” at Columbus Circle in New York City, on October 17, 2017.

Greg I’ve known and admired for some time because of his beautiful playing with, among others, Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, and Sam Taylor.  But I first encountered Mariel at Turnstyle this autumn, and was delighted.

A small digression: here you can learn about all the eateries at Turnstyle, and get some basic orientation about how to get there.  It’s easier the second time.

These are easy to listen to, right now.

THOU SWELL:

I SURRENDER, DEAR:

Here is Greg’s website, and here is Mariel’s.  And — for more up-to-date news — find them on Facebook here (Greg) and here (Mariel).

When Dostoevsky wrote NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND, he didn’t have anything quite so uplifting in mind.

May your happiness increase!

A SUMMER NIGHT, EIGHT YEARS AGO (June 7, 2009)

Good times, fine sounds.  the calendar says they’re gone; we know they aren’t.

The Ear Inn has been host to gatherings of joyous insight on Sunday nights since July 2007, and I think I was there for the second gathering of The EarRegulars — who may not have been named just yet (Jon-Erik Kellso, Howard Alden, Frank Tate): I was converted rapidly, although going to work with an early teaching schedule has made me at times a lax postulant.

Here’s a delightful interlude from the summer of 2009: SOME OF THESE DAYS, played so buoyantly by Matt Munisteri, guitar; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass.  And the final minutes of this — with Duke evoking another New Orleans boy who made good — give me chills of the best sort:

You don’t need to climb the Himalayas for spiritual uplift: visit the Ear Inn on Sunday nights; your pilgrimage requires only the C or the 1 train or perhaps an automobile . . . see you there sometime soon!  In the interim, watch, hear, and marvel.

May your happiness increase

THE SUPERMOON IS GONE. THE GLOW REMAINS.

In the middle of November 2016, we were closer to the moon than we had been since 1948 . . . and we won’t be this close again for a long time, making that huge orb in the sky something to remember.  I hope my readers were able to glance up, whether through their windows or, better, being out in the mystical moist night air, to see this wonder for themselves.  Here is a shot of a Supermoon over Rio de Janeiro.

super-moon-3

The Supermoon made me think of all the music and poetry associated with lunar ecstasies, all the love songs: GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON, MOON SONG, WHEN THE MOON COMES OVER THE MOUNTAIN, MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU — a very long list.  We love the moon because she is mutable, that is, ever changing, and she reminds us to cling to what brings us joy, because we know that it’s all rapidly moving towards us and away and towards us again. And a phenomenon like the Supermoon reminds us, I hope, of the possibility of joy in our lives.

Of course this post is based in a memorable performance of a memorable song. But first, a four-bar prelude.

Video fetishists, with long lenses and wide-open apertures, will find what follows visually inferior to my best work. I bought my first video camera (a treacherous Sony with many whims) in 2008, and started bringing it to gigs soon after. That camera was not the most sophisticated, so both image and sound are slightly dull.

But not the music, which has an on-the-spot compositional beauty.

Sunday night at The Ear Inn — where the great lunar worshippers gather — with The EarRegulars: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Duke Heitger, trumpet; guests Tamar Korn, vocal; Dan Block, clarinet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone.

“I’ll always remember / That Moonglow gave me you.”  What could be nicer?

May your happiness increase!

WHEN LOVE LASTS: YAALA BALLIN and ARI ROLAND (2015)

Songwriters have always done well with the sudden romantic infatuation, the blinding green flash “across a crowded room.”  “And all at once I owned the earth and sky.”  But love that lasts when such mind-altering experiences have grown familiar is much more rarely a subject.  Oh, there’s WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE, but MAGGIE is no longer around to appreciate the encomium; there’s THE FOLKS WHO LIVE ON THE HILL, but that couple is also apparently fairly sedentary.

THEN I'LL BE TIRED OF YOU

The song that I think of with great affection is the 1934 THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU, music by Arthur Schwartz, lyrics by Yip Harburg.  I heard it first in a rather irreverent version by Fats Waller (when the song was new) and later by Vic Dickenson and Joe Thomas — instrumental but deeply fervent.  The simple melody is memorable (Joe delighted in those repeated notes) yet for me what makes it complete is Harburg’s witty conceit: rather than attempt to revitalize “I will always love you,” he turns it on its head in the conditional: “I’ll weary of you when these improbable events happen, but not a second before.” High fidelity, and long-playing, too.

YAALA

Here’s a deliciously intimate version by the fine young singer Yaala Ballin and string bassist Ari Roland, recorded in December 2015 at The Drawing Room (video by the very gifted Neal Miner):

Even better than this video is the news that Yaala and Ari will be singing and playing on Sunday, June 19, at the pastoral hour of 3:30, at The Drawing Room (56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn — right near a subway!)  Here are the details of that event.  And later on that same June 19, Lena Bloch, Russ Lossing, Cameron Brown, and Billy Mintz (the FEATHERY quartet) will be creating and improvising . . . from 7 PM on.

May your happiness increase!

PEARLS OF SOUND: MICHAEL KANAN at CARNEGIE HALL (March 30, 2016)

MICHAEL KANAN concert

When I first heard the pianist Michael Kanan play, I was astonished by his quiet lyricism, his gentle wit, his ability to construct something orchestral and memorable out of the simplest materials.  Like his heroes Jimmy Rowles and Hank Jones, he is a poetic player.  That doesn’t mean, in Michael’s case, that prettiness outweighs substance.  His playing has a stealthy power, an impressive integrity. But it does mean that he is one of the questers in search of beauty, believing that beauty can transform the world, making its sharp edges smooth, its harsh contours welcoming.

Michael and very eminent friends will be appearing at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, March 30 (8-10 PM).  The friends are singer Jane Monheit, guitarist Greg Ruggiero, string bassist Neal Miner.  For those who like to have the route mapped out before they get in the car,  the format of the concert will be solo piano for several songs, then a duo set with Jane, intermission, a trio set with Neal and Greg, and at the end Jane will join the trio.

And the concert is another in a noble tradition, as Michael explained to me, “My teacher of 16 years, Sophia Rosoff, began the Abby Whiteside Foundation as a means of keeping alive the work of her teacher Abby Whiteside. Every year the foundation presents four concerts of pianists who have worked with Ms. Rosoff. This year’s series features two classical pianists and two jazz pianists (myself and Jacob Sacks). All four of us have studied extensively with Sophia and have taken her work in completely different directions. Past performers in the Whiteside Piano Series include Barry Harris, Fred Hersch, Ethan Iverson, and Pete Malinverni.”

Here’s some captivating musical evidence: Michael, Greg, and Neal, performing Michael’s THE PEARL (recorded at Mezzrow on March 23, 2015):

and Ellington’s THE MOOCHE:

Again, the necessary details.  Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, 57th Street at 7th Avenue.  Wednesday, March 30, 8-10 PM.  Tickets: $35 ($15 for  students / seniors) — on sale now at Carnegie Hall box office, (212) 247-7800.  More information at www.abbywhiteside.org and www.carnegiehall.org.

I will be there, but obviously without a camera: so I’d encourage those who love subtle music to make a pilgrimage to Weill Recital Hall for that evening.

May your happiness increase!