Tag Archives: Planet Jazz

“BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP”: MUSIC FOR ADULTS (TOM DEMPSEY, TIM FERGUSON, JOEL FRAHM, ELIOT ZIGMUND)

I’m embarrassed to write that I had never heard of guitarist Tom Dempsey or string bassist Tim Ferguson before opening the latest mailer that held their new CD — a quartet with saxophonist Joel Frahm and percussionist Eliot Zigmund.

I should have taken notice of Tom and Tim by this time — they are active New York performers, with credits including Jim Hall, Mel Torme, Don Friedman, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra . . . and many more.  But now I want to make up for my omission.

BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is a splendidly fine disc, and I might have put it on the pile because I didn’t know two of the four players.  What a mistake that would have been!  I receive many CDs — and many, well-intentioned endeavors (often self-produced and paid for by the artist) do not sustain themselves.  Some are formulaic: “Let’s play just like ______” or consciously anti-formulaic (which becomes its own cage): “Here are my six lengthy free-form original compositions.”

Not this one!

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BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is devoted to lyrical, easeful exploration of melody, harmony, and rhythm.  It’s not Easy Listening for elderly recluses, nor is it self-conscious Innovation.

These four players understand something basic about music: the truth that we need Beauty, and Beauty never gets old.  Yes, Tal Farlow (for instance) played AUTUMN IN NEW YORK memorably in 1957, but that doesn’t mean that Duke’s melody is now forever used up.  One might as well say, “Oh, the sunrise bores me,” or “I’m so tired of this (wo)man I love embracing me.”  Do that, and you’re beyond recovery.

BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is not just about reverential playing of standards — by Randy Weston, Monk, Thad Jones — because the quartet stretches out and has fun on several originals.  IT’S TRUE is an engaging group conversation that ebbs and flows over six minutes; CAKEWALK begins as a funky Second Line outing and expands before returning to its roots as delicious dance music.  TED’S GROOVE is both groovy and uncliched, hummable swinging jazz.  Although I knew Joel from his work with Spike Wilner’s Planet Jazz and many other ensembles; Eliot Zigmund from sessions with Michael Kanan at Sofia’s — they play magnificently, but so do Tim and Tom.

It’s beautifully recorded, with plain-spoken but deep liner notes written by the two fellows.

You can visit Tom’s website and hear excerpts from this CD here or Tim’s    here to learn more about their backgrounds, their associations with other players.  But most importantly, if you are in New York, you will want to search them out.  I think that hearing them in tandem or in other contexts would be delightful — and you could say, “JAZZ LIVES sent me,” and buy copies of BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP directly from the artists.  What could be nicer?  As for me, I’m keeping this one!

P.S.  Why MUSIC FOR ADULTS in my title?  There’s no barely-clad beautiful young thing on the cover; this isn’t advertised as Music To Make Out By.  To me, “adults” have outgrown barrages of virtuosity (“shredding”) for its own sake, yet they want something more than another bouncy rendition of a classic from Django’s book.  BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP will please everyone with grown-up ears . . . people who have removed the earbuds long enough to listen.

May your happiness increase.

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BRIGHT SHADOWS: SPIKE AND MIKE at SMALLS (April 19, 2012)

“Spike and Mike” isn’t a new buddy film, a cable sitcom about two pets on the run, or a box of candy.  It’s the colloquial title that pianist Spike Wilner and saxophonist Michael Hashim accept as their own . . . also the title of a song Mike wrote to play in duet with Spike.  I learned all of this from the front row of Smalls, that congenial jazz club at 183 West Tenth Street, on April 19, 2012.

I’ve heard and admired both players for seven or eight years now: Spike in solo, duo, and with his own PLANET JAZZ; Mike in bands as superficially different as Kevin Dorn’s The Big 72 (once known as the Traditional Jazz Collective) and the Microscopic Septet.  To my ears, they are splendidly united in their playful idiosyncracies; each is a master of his instrument who closes his eyes and steps off into the unknown, trusting himself and listening to his colleague.  And they are friends, which comes through.  When I was at Smalls the week before this duet and asked Spike if I could come and record his duets with Mike, his instant response was, “Oh, I love that guy!”  And if you watch the videos closely, you’ll see Hashim grinning back at Wilner every time the saxophone is out of his mouth.  As a duo, they listen intently — making for the most gratifying play, where Earl Bostic and Nat Cole go off to interstellar space.

The program (mostly chosen by Mike) steered away from twice-baked chestnuts, leaning seriously — and beautifully — on Billy Strayhorn.  You’ll hear and see his explanatory introductions, so eloquent as to make my explanations superfluous.  But I have to point out that this program began with not one, but two romance-influenced questions.

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE (OR DON’T YOU CARE TO KNOW?):

SPIKE AND MIKE (an improvisation on the changes of TOPSY):

FLAMINGO:

Kurt Weill’s THIS IS NEW (which I had known only from the Lee Wiley recording on RCA Victor):

A Strayhorn duo — first, the very rare LAMENT FOR AN ORCHID (Absinthe) :

and the slightly more familiar JOHNNY COME LATELY:

BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? (sadly, almost as relevant in 2012 as 1932):

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY:

MOON MIST:

THE LATE, LATE SHOW (courtesy of Dakota Staton):

Jobim’s very soulful DINDI:

As Mike says, “It’s a waltz.  It’s our biggest hit!”  What else but LOTUS BLOSSOM:

Romping on RHYTHM changes: STEEPLECHASE:

May your happiness increase.