Tag Archives: Neal Miner

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!

KIHONG JANG: “THEY BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF MUSIC TO ME”

This young man creates wonderful music, free and easy as goldfish in a pond.

He’s Kihong Jang, a guitarist with a quiet compelling lyricism.  This post is to celebrate the release of his debut CD, out on Gut String Records.

And it’s delightful.  Before you read another syllable, listen to this:

Isn’t that delicious?

The session was recorded in late October 2018 — how very fresh! — and it features Kihong on the guitar you see here, JinJoo Yoo on piano, Neal Miner on string bass, Jimmy Wormworth on drums, performing YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF MUSIC TO ME / GOLDFISH, GOLDFISH! / FLAMINGO / LESLIE / GENEALOGY / GOLDFISH, GOLDFISH! in an alternate take.

FLAMINGO, LESLIE, and the title track are Kihong’s compositions; the others are by JinJoo, Kihong’s musical and life partner.  And for those who quail at a CD of “originals,” several of these compositions are clever improvisations on the harmonic and melodic structures of songs full of substance that don’t get explored that often, for instance HOME and YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME.  (Had someone been listening to George Wettling’s New Yorkers, recording for Keynote in 1944?  Or coincidence?)

Kihong is a deep feeling melodist, and every phrase he creates is paradoxical in that it is simultaneously terse and tender.  He has a classicist’s restraint: there isn’t an extraneous note; there are no runs up and down the fretboard just because he has practiced for years.  He is closer to Elizabeth Kenny than to Jimi Hendrix, and his clarity of intent is a blessing.  He takes his time, and he gets where he’s going.  His phrases have a careful, considered essence that goes hand in hand (pun intended) with serious emotion.  And ebullient swing.

The session is marvelously old-fashioned in its cheerful reverence for lyricism, but it doesn’t need to be dusted: it doesn’t reek of the Library or the Museum.  At points, the music reminds me most reassuringly of a previously unheard Fifties Clef session, but the fact that it was played and recorded last autumn is so hopeful.

I’m always fascinated by the ways musicians do and don’t reflect their personalities in their music.  In person, Kihong is just like his playing: modest, quiet but full of serious understanding.  He chooses his words in the way he selects his notes and phrases: he listens intently, he values silence as well as speaking, and when he has something to say it comes out of his clearly deep perceptions.

Kihong is a great ensemble player (the disc, although he is leader, is a truly egalitarian walk through the meadow) and there is ample space given to JinJoo, Neal, and Jimmy, to make their own eloquent statements in solo as well as members of the quartet.  I’ve written about JinJoo here and here, Jimmy (celebrated on film by Neal) here.  I’ve been celebrating Neal here as musician and composer since January 2011 (he appears in 79 posts!) so that should convey something of my admiration.

I want to write only that Kihong and friends make music.  Not music that insists, “I am important music!” but music that gently says, “I have two clementines in my pocket.  Would you like one?”  Listen and you will feel it.

And a jovial postscript — to send you on your way grinning.  As does the CD.

I asked JinJoo how she came up with the title “GOLDFISH! GOLDFISH!” for one of her compositions, and she told me, “At first, I wanted to call it as “Nostalgia”, but there’s already a tune by Fats Navarro with that title.
So I (almost) decided to name it ‘My Nostalgia’. (Not Fats’)… 😉

I was in Korea when Kihong asked my about song titles.

One day, I was having lunch with my mom and she started talking about some funny stories of my father and my uncle (they are twins) when they were young.  She told me some stories that she heard from my grandmother.  This one really cracked me up and I fell in love with it.

When my father and uncle were young, maybe 10, they lived in this small town called Jeon-ju.  My grandparents saved some money at that time (my grandfather was a teacher, so had a very stable income) and some people would borrow money from them.

One day, my grandmother figured out that one lady that she lent money before totally RAN AWAY, A–W–A–Y not even taking stuff from her house.  My grandma was really pissed off (because she really trusted her) and told my dad and uncle to GO TO THAT LADY’S HOUSE AND BRING ANYTHING THAT LOOKS PRECIOUS. And guess what? They brought goldfish from the pond that were swimming beautifully. (Some old houses in Korea had small ponds).
When they came back home EXTREMELY THRILLED, “Mom!! Mom!!! Look!!!! We brought goldfish!!!!”

Actually, what they really wanted to bring home was the lady’s DOG, but it was barking furiously so they gave up.  Later, they found out that that lady’s family really went completely broke. I could picture how excited my dad and uncle must have been when they found goldfish in the pond.  “Oh man, look! Goldfish!!! Goldfish!!”

And that’s how I came up with that title.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN LOVE COMES IN THE EAR: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, NEAL MINER (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, Sunday, June 10, 2018)

Readers of JAZZ LIVES know how deeply I and others treasure the Sunday-evening gatherings of kindred enlightened souls that take place at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.  Here is some joy from June 10, with the personnel listed above: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet and special mutations; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, reeds and brass cross-species permutations [translation: tenor saxophone, alto clarinet; miniature French horn]; Neal Miner, string bass.

The EarRegulars, June 10, 2018. Photograph by Neal Siegal.

Here are a few highlights, delights all.

Some Fats by way of Louis, BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU:

YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME (its beginning excised because of a collision between my camera and an eager patron):

Don Redman’s soulful plaint, GEE, BABY, AIN’T I  GOOD TO YOU?:

More Fats! I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING with Scott’s loping, tender solo reading of the verse:

See you at The Ear around 7 some sweet Sunday.  And save me a barstool.

May your happiness increase!