Tag Archives: Neal Miner

WE LOVE LUCY YEGHIAZARYAN

I know my title must seem excessive, but what if it’s true? The young singer Lucy Yeghiazaryan has got it, and I’ve experienced it both on recording and in live performance. And if you think I am oddly subjective, you could also ask Greg Ruggiero or Michael Kanan, people whose opinion about singers is certainly trustworthy.  Here’s a sample, from recent performances with Greg, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums:

and another standard:

Admire how much music she and her three esteemed colleagues pack into such short spaces (each of these performances could fit on one side of a 78 rpm recording, for the readers who understand that yardstick).  She does everything well and with panache: she’s on pitch, her diction is splendid, she swings (!), her scat is not a series of formulaic ba-ba-ba‘s, her second choruses are not identical to her first, she lands on pitch, and . . . perhaps most important, she sends a message of ebullient joy.  Not only is she having a good time, but she wants us to have one as well, and I don’t mean attempting to reach us by eccentric vocalizing or tricks, but by singing.  Louis would say she has “more ingredients,” but they are subtly part of her recipe.

Here’s a soulful I WISH I KNEW (with Greg; Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone; Daniel Duke, string bass; Steve Williams, drums) where her voice has the quiet intensity of a great jazz soloist while she honors melody and lyrics:

Dramatic without dramatizing, as you hear.  Here’s something from Fats:

The first fourteen seconds of that performance are delicious and what follows is no letdown.  Lucy performs “old songs” with affection, not condescension; her phrasing is witty but gentle.  She knows what the lyrics mean — the emotional script beneath the words — and although she’s absorbed the Great Singers, she’s not selling us musical knock-offs from a folding table on the street.  (“Hey, gitcha Ella here!  I gotta new Sarah, and some Anita just came in.  No, all out of Billie.  Come back Thursday.”)

You don’t need many more words from me.  Her virtues are charming and consistently audible.  And the good thing — for New Yorkers and other fortunate denizens — is that she’s performing often in a variety of contexts. Follow her on Facebook here; on the Smalls website, read a brief biography — she comes from someplace more distant even than Red Hook — and see her in performance. 

But the best thing is to see her live (and buy the CD after).  At the end of 2019, my dear friend Matt Rivera got me in to meet and hear Lucy at a fund-raiser in New Jersey.  Her two brief sets were models of professional performance that wasn’t so rehearsed as to be stale.  She chose fitting tempos, interacted beautifully with the band, spoke to the audience with deft politeness, knew her material perfectly but improvised freely within it . . . in short, she was a delight.

So, even though I have retired from teaching, I can still assign homework, and yours is to go see Lucy, before the ticket prices become too high, and you can tell your provincial friends that you discovered her.  It can be our secret.

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!

MODERN ROMANCES IN JAZZ, WITH A LEMON SLICE: “CHARLES RUGGIERO AND HILARY GARDNER PLAY THE MUSIC OF THE BIRD AND THE BEE”

I will begin at an oblique angle.  One of my heroes is trumpeter Spike Mackintosh, fiercely devoted to the music he embodied.  Spike believed that the only jazz to be listened to was recorded between 1928-34.  I admire that devotion, but confining oneself to a narrow — even though pearly — segment of art would be stifling.  So I commend a new CD (Smalls Live SLoo61) of songs I’d never heard before by a duo entirely new to me.

Hilary Gardner by Shervin Lainez

Singer Hilary Gardner adores Rodgers and Hart but also knows theirs is not the only love music we might vibrate to.  When she asked if I’d like to hear this CD, she cautioned that I might not like it.  True, I don’t “like” it: I embrace it.

And before I ask you to read one more word, here is a song from the CD:

Although I still grow weepy when I hear Charles La Vere’s 1935 I’D RATHER BE WITH YOU, this I find entrancing.  The song is a collection of half-sentences that coalesce into an emotional mosaic, a synergy larger than the apparent fragments.  And the other seven songs on this disc are small novellas in jazz.

When I first heard the CD, the image that kept recurring was “Warm heart and sharp elbows,” and I think it’s true.  Or a cake recipe where the expected sweetness is cut by a cup of lemon juice.  I may be older than the perceived audience for The Bird & The Bee, and I am usually very suspicious of new additions to the words-and-music I treasure, but I feel that this music not only sounds pleasantly surprising, but the lyrics express the modern world with snap, tenderness, and glee.  It could be the successor to all the songs I have taken to my heart from the Twenties onwards — intelligent additions and modifications to the world of love as seen by Porter and Hart and Gershwin, Wilder, Robison, and many others.

What strikes me now and did when I first listened to the CD is not the apparent “audacity” of the project — “My goodness, Mabel, jazz people recording non-jazz material!  Heavens!”  It’s neither incongruous nor is it a gambit to make money from bridging two disparate audiences (think: BASIE’S BEATLE BAG) but the delight is how seamless the result is, as if I and others had really been waiting for four wonderful creative improvisers to record this music.  And, by the way, the back of the sleeve has a gracious appreciative note from Inara George, one half of the musical duo, about this CD.

It is not only the original songs I admire, their mixtures of affection and wryness, their romance and realism, but the performances.  They are great songs not only to improvise on but to hear unadorned, even without lyrics.  I have admired Neal Miner for a long time, but the trio he forms with Charles Ruggiero, drums, and Jeremy Manasia, piano, is just superb: they mesh but remain distinctly individuals.  And Hilary comes through with great subtlety, gentleness, and wit: as if here she’d found the real nourishment to express herself afresh.  I should also add that the recording is lovely: the way we usually hear artists in a club, through amplifiers, microphones, and the club’s sound system is coarse by comparison.

The CD gleams in every way and will continue to do so.   And it’s available in all the usual places and ways.  (Hilariously, Amazon notes it is “Explicit” because the second song uses the F-word.  Oh, save me from such filth!  How very naughty.  But I digress.)  Buy it, I suggest.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO LARRY McKENNA! (Part Two): LARRY McKENNA, SAM TAYLOR, STEVE ASH, NEAL MINER, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (June 23, 2019)

Larry McKenna got to the gig early, as did I and many others who knew what gorgeous music we were about to hear, created right in front of us.  He and Sam Taylor, both on tenor saxophone; Steve Ash, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums, made castles of sound for us — two sets’ worth.  And for those who live by clocks and calendars, Larry turned 82 on July 21, 2019.  He’s not “spry”: he is in full flower right now.  Consider the blossoming evidence of the first set at Smalls here.

Before the gig. Photograph by Melissa Gilstrap.

(Incidentally, Larry and Danny Tobias have a little concert date on Sunday, September 21, at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey — details here.)

Now, for the second set at Smalls — beautiful playing by everyone!

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE (as they used to say, “from the movie of the same name):

The lovely THERE’S NO YOU (hear a delighted woman in the audience say, “Oh, yeah!” once the melody registers):

The durable swing standard ROSETTA, which gives Sam a very touching opportunity to tell about his early and sustained connection with Larry:

MORE THAN YOU KNOW, a feature for Sam:

And to close, another song associated with Earl Hines [and Louis Armstrong and Lester Young!] its title a sweet reminder of the bonds we forge, YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

The sounds of this evening were completely gratifying, but what got to me — and you can see it in the videos — were the smiles on the musicians’ faces (echoed on the faces of people near me), expressions of  gratitude, joy, and pride — what an honor it was to be there and, to hear the artistry, to feel the delight.  How rare, how wonderful.

May your happiness increase!

YOUNGBLOODS FOR LOUIS: GUILLERMO PERATA, FERNANDO MONTARDIT, JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, NEAL MINER at THE EAR INN (August 4, 2019)

A piece of paper says that Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901, instead of the July 4, 1900, he always claimed.  In this, I take the testimony of his mother, who called him her “firecracker baby,” as prime.  And I will argue this point until no more copies of WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD can be found.  Of course, he deserves every birthday celebration one can imagine, ideally 365 of them every year. 

But just yesterday, at the Ear Inn, on 326 Spring Street, there was a little celebration in the proper spirit.  Louis loved the South — which he would have defined as his native Louisiana — but he would have been very happy to greet two musicians from that region, more or less (Mexico City and Buenos Aires): cornetist Guillermo Perata and guitarist Fernando Montardit, who sat in with the EarRegulars — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, reeds and F-trumpet, and Neal Miner, string bass — on a properly celebratory SWING THAT MUSIC.  And they all do:

Louis smiles his approval.  I hope you do, also.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO LARRY McKENNA! (Part One): LARRY McKENNA, SAM TAYLOR, STEVE ASH, NEAL MINER, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (June 23, 2019)

Today, July 21, 2019, the wonderful tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna turns 82.  Pause, please, to consider that.

Here is music that Larry and friends created, at Smalls in New York City, when he was a mere 81.  The friends are Sam Taylor, tenor saxophone; Steve Ash, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums.

This is the first set of two: savor the energetic singing quality Larry offers us and how it inspires not only the audience but the other players.

Before the gig. Photograph by Melissa Gilstrap.

YOU’RE IT (Larry’s original, based on IT’S YOU OR NO ONE):

a less-morose version of YOU’VE CHANGED:

and my request, THESE FOOLISH THINGS — with Steve’s lovely introduction:

FATS FLATS (or BARRY’S BOP) which closed the first set:

Thanks of course to Sam Taylor, whose idea this session was, and to Fukushi, Steve, and Neal.  Thanks also to Melissa Gilstrap, Liz Waytkus, Joe McDonough, and John Herr.

When we have music like this to be nourished by, who needs cake or wrapping paper?  Every note is a celebration of our collective lives.

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!