Tag Archives: Peter Bernstein

A NEW CD: PETER BERNSTEIN, SOLO GUITAR, LIVE AT SMALLS

If you know jazz guitar in its truest sense, the news of a new Peter Bernstein solo CD is cause for delight, especially because it is his first solo recording. If he is new to you, I offer some evidence of his way with beauty:

(Recorded 2012 with pianist Michael Kanan at the Drawing Room, Brooklyn, New York.)

I don’t know at what point the guitar became the most popular instrument in the world — surely it has been so for the last half-century and more.  It looks easy: all the notes are visible, laid out in logical ways; there is nothing to blow into, no reeds to fuss over, but the neophyte finds out in the first half-hour that the guitar is a trap for the unwary.  Yes, one can walk up and down one string at a time; one can move simple chord patterns up and down the fretboard, but making music from the guitar — beautiful music — is a far more treacherous affair.

Peter Bernstein has long since become a Master of that instrument, and a Master of sweetly elongated melodies.  He doesn’t affect a hard-edged tone; he doesn’t need many notes to show us how vigorously he has practiced his scales; his solos don’t leave us exhausted.  Rather, he has a sweet, temperate sound on the instrument, but it’s not aural wallpaper: his notes ring and chime; his chords shimmer.  On this disc, he explores medium-tempo classics and ballads in a leisurely manner, but his approach is full of surprises: he plays orchestrally, so that a single-line statement will be punctuated by pulsing, mobile chords, with harmonies that offer new ways of hearing the familiar. At the end of a Bernstein performance of the most familiar song, one feels it has been revisited lovingly, its virtues shining, its faults (if it has any) tenderly concealed.

A Bernstein solo at first seems like a collection of delicate traceries, an iridescent spiderweb in the sunlight.  Then you realize that although his playing is easy to listen to, it is never Easy Listening, a lullaby for the half-conscious listener.  Heard attentively, one realizes that Bernstein’s delicacy is based on assurance and strength — a strength that isn’t expressed in volume or power, velocity or granitic chord-clusters, but a certainty: he is exploring but never indecisive, never tentative.  One listens to a small symphony unfolding, chorus after chorus, building structurally from note to note, phrase to phrase, until the whole improvisation has its own shining three-dimensional shape.

BERNSTEIN cover

The CD was not a thing of splices and patches, not created in the laboratory of the recording studio, but performed “live” in front of a quiet audience at Smalls (183 West 10th Street) in downtown Manhattan on October 16 and 17, 2012. The songs are a deliciously melodic mix: DJANGO / I LOVE YOU / CREPUSCLE WITH NELLIE / PANNONICA / STAR EYES / YESTERDAYS / DON’T BLAME ME / GIANT STEPS / WISE ONE / THE TENDER TRAP / TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS / AUTUMN IN NEW YORK / GONE WITH THE WIND / PUT YOUR DREAMS AWAY — a welcome emphasis on medium-tempo saunters and deep romantic ballads.  Even if you feel you’ve heard these songs a thousand times, you will make room in your memory for these new interpretations.

The disc is well-recorded, with empathic notes by pianist Spike Wilner . . . and I believe that profits from its sale benefit not only Peter but the club itself, a small quirky landmark of the world jazz scene.  It is an honor to hear Peter Bernstein go his own way as he does on this CD.

All albums (I believe the label has issued forty so far) are currently available through iTunes, Amazon (CD only), HDtracks (high-resolution) and at www.smallsjazzclub.com.

May your happiness increase!

ABIGAIL RICCARDS: HER HEART IS IN HER SONG

Two years ago, the pianist Michael Kanan invited me to hear and video his duo-recital with the singer Abigail Riccards, who was moving from New York to Chicago.  I had not heard of Abigail, but Michael’s endorsement of any artist is an unshakable statement of the artist’s deep value.  I was immediately impressed with Abby’s steady pace, her wise understanding of lyrics, her ability to evoke feelings in us with even the most familiar song, and her light-hearted swing.

Here they are with a prayerful ALL THE WAY: you’ll get the idea of what so struck me, and everyone else listening — the warmth, openness, intelligence, and empathy of Abigail’s singing.

I’ve been waiting for a CD that would show Abigail at her best, and EVERY LITTLE STAR is it.

abigailriccard_everylittlestar_cmb

Co-produced by Jane Monheit and Abigail herself, it is a consistent delight.  Some of that is due to the musicians she asked to join her: Michael on piano, Peter Bernstein, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums.  Some of it is due to the sprightly mix of songs Abigail has chosen: old favorites made new — I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR / SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN / IF I HAD YOU / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN / A SLEEPIN’ BEE / I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / SMILE / BYE BYE BLACKBIRD / WALTZ FOR DEBBY — and an original by Jeannie Tanner, ENDLESS JOY, and Joni Mitchell’s CIRCLE GAME (a duet for Abigail and Jane).

But this isn’t another program of a youthful singer offering up songs everyone knows in predictable ways.  You will quickly admire the easy, conversational way Abigail delivers the lyrics — words uttered as if the thoughts were hers — and her sweet improvisations, which shed light on the song rather than superimposing her ego on the composer’s.  Her generous spirit comes through in the substantial space she gives to Michael, Neal, Peter, and Eliot — so that when she returns after their instrumental interludes, it is as if she is now being carried triumphantly on their shoulders.

The tempos chosen are also deliciously insightful: ballads never drag and the quicker songs don’t rush.  Little arranging touches raise each performance well above the familiar: a wordless prelude to IF I HAD YOU; a nifty beginning to HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?; the way Abigail and Jane intertwine on CIRCLE GAME; the tender way she and the band approach I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU; the bouncing scat chorus with which she begins I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE before shifting to another key. . .

My current favorites — instant classics! — are a Riccards / Kanan duet of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN that begins with an slow rubato reading of the verse, then slowly tumbles into the chorus . . . where we hear singer and pianist discovering this 1929 classic as if for the first time.  I couldn’t immediately place where I had heard such intimacy before, then it hit me — the Fifties duets of Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins.  The same qualities are evident throughout A SLEEPIN’ BEE, a Riccards / Kanan duet.  And in the Riccards / Bernstein SMILE, tender and rueful without being melancholic.

On the dozen songs that make up this varied program, Abigail Riccards proves herself not only a splendidly intuitive singer, but an artist who is the equal of the fine improvising instrumentalists around her.

Now, hearing this, you could choose to explore the banquet of live performances Abigail Riccards has on YouTube, and I wouldn’t blame you a bit.  But I would urge you to take the leap forward into purchasing this CD here.  All CD sales go to ArtStrides (a nonprofit program for special needs and financially disadvantaged children) so you benefit them by your generosity and you benefit yourself by having this music to listen to often.  

May your happiness increase!

MAGICAL SOUNDS: PETER BERNSTEIN and MICHAEL KANAN — PLAYING at THE STONE (Dec. 9, 2012)

All of a sudden Beauty sneaks up on us . . . so don’t miss out.  Guitarist Peter Bernstein and pianist Michael Kanan will be playing in duet on Sunday, December 9, 2012, at The Stone (in the East Village, New York City) — Avenue C and 2nd Street.  One set only at 10 PM, and to keep things symmetrical, the admission price is $10.

Bernstein and Kanan are subtle lyric poets, masters of tone and shading — but they never get bogged down in pretty sounds.  Rather, one hears a beautiful river with many sweet currents, flowing over luminous semi-precious stones.

Here are Michael and Peter exploring EMBRACEABLE YOU in The Drawing Room last February:

Without being too unsubtle, may I point out that gigs like this are not all that frequent . . . and they bring intense pleasure.

May your happiness increase.

MARIANNE SOLIVAN: IN BLOOM

I did not know the singer Marianne Solivan before hearing her at Smalls last year (in duet with Michael Kanan).  I was a believer — convinced of her artistry — a few minutes into the first song.

Her debut CD, PRISONER OF LOVE, is just out — perhaps timed to coincide with the end of winter.

It is a wonderfully accurate representation of what she creates in performance, and I do not say that casually about many recorded works.

If you find the disc’s title is off-putting, I will reassure you: Marianne Solivan is a brave, free artist — a prisoner of nothing, as far as I can see.  In fact, she has written her own powerful verse to the title song, evidence of talents beyond her singing voice.  On this disc, Marianne embraces a wide variety of emotions and textures in her work without being bound to any one of them.

Through intuition, taste, and experience, Marianne has avoided the traps that catch eager “jazz singers.”  She surrenders herself to the song, both lyrics and melody, rather than insisting that the song bend itself to her will.  This is not to say that she is excessively respectful, bound by the written manuscript, quarter note by quarter note.  No.  In fact, she takes her own liberties — subtly reshaping the original melody and words as she goes — but her little bends and pauses, elevations and turns, leave me with the feeling that I have heard, for example, a reading of I GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY that is what composer and lyricist aspired to create.  She is just that successful in her sweet inventions.

Although Marianne never “sings like a horn player,” shorthand for someone pretending that written melody, cadence, and lyrics are to be tossed around vigorously, she does remind me of horn players — of late Lester and mid-period Ben, of Jimmy Rowles and early Miles.  The singers who stand behind her are (among others) Sinatra and Betty Carter, but she has managed to make her own path around the intense pathos of one and the sharp dismissive edginess of the other.

And what Marianne does with the lyrics is uniquely rewarding.  If you consider a sheet of music and lyrics, the words and syllables are often tied so tightly to individual notes that to sing them as written would be like reading a Keats sonnet, accenting every other syllable up and down to a metronome — thus obliterating meaning rather than enhancing it.  Marianne doesn’t “speak” her lines — her voice, cello-rich and powerful, will not be ignored — but she gives the lyrics a speech-like naturalness, as if she were discovering the words and the sentiments for the first time.  Great acting without an actor’s artifice: no self-pity, no drowning in pathos.

PRISONER OF LOVE is illuminated from within by intelligence, restraint, and headlong emotion.  Marianne’s producer is the fine jazz trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who appears on one track; she and he have the best taste in musical colleagues, including Michael Kanan, Christian McBride (showing himself a fine writer in addition), Peter Bernstein, Xavier Davis, Ben Wolfe, Johnathan Blake.  The musicians are enthusiastic but never get in Marianne’s way: indeed, the eleven selections seem like a series of small playlets, of perfectly poised improvisatory conversations.

Here is a video memento of that evening at Smalls when I first heard Marianne — listen closely to her witty, amused, romantic recasting of THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL, where she is sometimes intimate, sometimes annunciatory:

As much as I admire that performance from July 2011, I can hear that Marianne has matured in the half-year since then . . . so imagine her at even higher levels of grace and casual splendor.

To hear her — only a few days ago — both singing and talking to John Schaefer of WNYC, click here.

Marianne’s CD is available at Amazon (for antiquarians like me who prefer the tangible disc and sleeve) and at iTunes for those who believe that music can be sped invisibly through the air: click here for the Amazon link.

And the best news is that the remarkable Miss Solivan will be performing in the next few months not only in New York City, but in Boston and Washington, D.C.  To learn all, visit her website here.

I am most excited about another duet performance that she and Michael Kanan will be creating — delicate magic in our ears — at Michael’s studio, “The Drawing Room,” a large, quiet, white-curtained room with a fine piano.  It’s at 70 Willoughby Street (# 2A, one flight up and follow signs on your left) in downtown Brooklyn — between Lawrence Street and Bridge Street, this coming Saturday, March 24, 2012.  There will be two sets, beginning at 7:30 PM.  And, since space is limited (seating for 50!) I recommend that you let Michael (at mpkanan@gmail.com) or Marianne (at her website) know that you will be there.   Admission is only $10, and there will be a cash wine bar.  Even for people like myself who are moderately challenged by Brooklyn, The Drawing Room is not difficult to get to: a variety of subway lines graciously come there:   N,R,Q,B,F,A,C,E, 2,3,4,& 5 trains.

Marianne says, “Working in duo with Michael has been one of the most inspiring and challenging experiences in my life.  I love the feeling of flight that I have with him in a song.  I get so many musical ideas from him and I am challenged to be creative and honest.  The feeling is amazing, I enjoy every minute of making music with him.  We will be playing some songs from my new CD, Prisoner of Love, as well as some of our other favorites.  Breathing new life into melodies that will never get old.   I hope you can come out and share this with us.”

May your happiness increase.

“DU HOLDE KUNST”: MICHAEL KANAN and PETER BERNSTEIN at THE DRAWING ROOM (Feb. 12, 2012)

Last Sunday, February 12, 2012, I was privileged to be one of a hushed audience witnessing deeply moving improvisations.  The explorations were created by pianist Michael Kanan and guitarist Peter Bernstein, and these duets took place at Michael’s new venue, “The Drawing Room,” 70 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn, New York.*

I don’t use “Du holde Kunst” — a phrase by Franz von Schober that begins Schubert’s “An die Musik” — “To (the Art) of Music” — lightly.  I knew “holde” as “holy,” although others translate it as “lovely,” “gracious,” “hallowed.”  The source material for the duo improvisations was clearly secular — themes by Van Heusen, Gershwin, Arlen, and others.  But it was clear from the first notes played by either man that we were in the presence of something far from the ordinary.  The audience heard it; you will too.

The music enacted a wonderful paradox: two individualists, each going his own way but intuitively connecting, commenting — creating a synergy that was more than simply adding one instrumental voice to another.  Peter and Michael both spun out clear, translucent lines — but their combination had an orchestral density, although never loud or overly assertive.

Although their approach was serious, even reverent, they are truly playful musicians — you will hear many in-jokes and commentaries, puckish exchanges that made audience members around me smile.

Hear, savor, admire.

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU

COME RAIN OR COME SHINE

EMBRACEABLE YOU

YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM

SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

*The Drawing Room is a large quiet airy room with a fine piano and breathing space.  Michael plans to have events like this one several times a month; the admission price was only $10; I found parking, and the subway stop is just a few hundred feet away.

MARK IT DOWN: MICHAEL KANAN and PETER BERNSTEIN in DUET (February 12, 2012)

I don’t know if 2.12.2012 has special numerological significance, but it promises to be a remarkable date in creative improvised music . . .

A large claim, you say.

But when pianist Michael Kanan and guitarist Peter Bernstein announce that they will be creating music in Michael’s quiet new Drawing Room studio in Brooklyn, that’s special — an event to make people change their original plans, as I did.

The studio, called “The Drawing Room,” is located at 70 Willoughby Street #2A, Brooklyn, New York

Michael writes, “This will be our third duo performance.  We’ll improvise together on standards and jazz tunes.  The Drawing Room (with its exceptional Steinway grand) is the perfect listening room to hear an intimate performance like this.”

$10 admission

The Drawing Room is easily accessible by the A, C, F, B, Q, R, 2, 3, 4, and 5 trains: less than 30 minutes from midtown Manhattan.   For information/directions, contact Michael Kanan on Facebook, or at mpkanan@earthlink.net

For those who have never heard Michael and Peter improvise, I offer one performance captured by my camera at Smalls Jazz Club on March 31, 2011 — LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

OUR IDEAL: MICHAEL KANAN and PETER BERNSTEIN at SMALLS (March 31, 2011)

Pianist Michael Kanan and guitarist Peter Bernstein created great beauty at Smalls (183 Tenth Street) last Thursday night. 

They are both intuitively gracious players, so the two chordal instruments (each its own orchestra) never collided, never seemed to overpower each other.  It was a sweet dance, a conversation, rather than a cutting contest — with lovely sonorities.  Michael and Peter decided at the start of the night to alternate song choices: one of them would begin a song and the other would fall in — a delightfully playful collaboration.   

The music they made was harmonically and emotionally deep yet it felt translucent, open. 

Hear MY IDEAL or the second set’s BALLAD MEDLEY.  Brad Linde, sitting next to me for a few numbers before going off to his own gig with Ted Brown, thought of Bill Evans and Jim Hall.  I thought of the Pablo duet of Jimmy Rowles and Joe Pass, CHECKMATE, of Tatum and Debussy, of a reverence for melody and harmony.  But to burden this music with words would be wrong.  Listen!

THE NEARNESS OF YOU:

YESTERDAYS:

MY IDEAL:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

PANNONICA:

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

NOBODY ELSE BUT ME:

BALLADS (Gone With The Wind, Too Late Now, Moonlight in Vermont):

DEWEY SQUARE:

An honor, a privilege to hear this music!