Tag Archives: Putter Smith

MAKING MELODY COME ALIVE: TED BROWN, ETHAN IVERSON, PUTTER SMITH, HYLAND HARRIS (December 2, 2012)

Listening to Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett is reported as saying, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come so alive?”  I don’t know if Bobby and tenor saxophonist / poet Ted Brown ever encountered each other, but my guess is that Hackett would have said or thought much the same thing.  And, somewhere, Lester Young approves.

The video below comes from a celebration of Ted’s eighty-fifth birthday party at Michael Kanan’s studio, The Drawing Room, then at 70 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn.  (It’s now at #56.)  The song, THESE FOOLISH THINGS; the performers, Ted, Ethan Iverson, piano; Putter Smith, string bass; Hyland Harris, drums.  Melody reigns here — but softly, with deep feeling, almost in whispers.  The heart never needs to shout its truths.

On Saturday, December 3, 2016, Ted will be celebrating his eighty-ninth birthday at The Drawing Room from 7-11 with friends including the fine saxophonist Brad Linde; guitarist Aaron Quinn; drummer Jeff Brown, and other surprises.  Here is the Facebook event page.

This will be special.  But please leave me a seat.

May your happiness increase!

WARM CONVERSATIONS IN MUSIC: JON DE LUCIA / PUTTER SMITH / TATSUYA SAKURAI at OLIVIER BISTRO (May 9, 2016)

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

I’ve only met the altoist / clarinetist / flautist / composer Jon De Lucia this year, but I have been delighted and astonished by his subtle warm talent.  The first opportunity I had to experience his floating improvisations was his April 15 graduate recital at City College, which you too can experience here (where Jon is joined by Greg Ruggiero, Aidan O’Donnell, Steve Little, and Ray Gallon).

I wanted to hear more, so I asked Jon if I could come video him at a regular Brooklyn gig at Olivier Bistro (469 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, very close to the F train for people who know and respect such things) and he said I could — thus, this quartet of videos from his performances on May 9. On three of them, Jon’s partner in soulful dialogue is the most revered Putter Smith, string bass; on MOHAWK, that blues we know from the late Dizzy and Bird session, they are joined by the youthful guitarist Tatsuya Sakurai, to great effect.  (Ordinarily Jon’s duet partner is the wonderfully lyrical Greg Ruggiero — a duo I hope to capture soon.)

Thinking of Billie, YOU’VE CHANGED:

The question no one asked that night, WHO CARES?:

The aforementioned Bird / Dizzy blues, with Tatsuya along for the fun of the explorations:

And a statement of fidelity, “forsaking all others” in 4 / 4, IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

What lovely intimate music.

And a non-musical postscript: the food at Olivier Bistro was wonderful, the service likewise (look for kind Annette!): I look forward to returning to enjoy more.

May your happiness increase!

FEATHERY MUSIC, GENTLE QUESTIONS: LENA BLOCH

I’ve always heard that attorneys only ask questions to which they know the answers. I have nothing against them individually or as a group, but this seems like a closed loop of an endeavor.  The tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch is on a more inspiring track: she asks questions for which there might be no simple answer, no single answer.  Asking the question is the purpose and the rewarding result. I have been admiring her musical inquiries as often as possible during the last few years our paths have intersected in New York City, and have seen her as a very authentic player — someone devoted to melodic explorations that, while gentle, have weight and seriousness to balance off their soaring possibilities.

ajazz bloch

Lena has a wonderful new CD, FEATHERY — it’s her debut CD as a leader, and as you read this it will be available, as a physical CD or as downloads, with sound samples, hereShould you prefer to voyage up the Amazon, you can ask your own questions and purchase a copy here. It’s on Thirteenth Note Records, and Lena’s curious, inventive colleagues are drummer Billy Mintz, string bassist Cameron Brown, guitarist Dave Miller.

Knowing can easily be confused with wisdom. Lena Bloch, Dave Miller, Cameron Brown, and Billy Mintz are deeply aware that real wisdom is in the tireless asking of questions, not an irritable straining to come up with the one right answer.  Their willingness to inquire, this gentle wondering, informs their music.   Rather than treat this grouping of players and voices as it usually is done (ensemble line, solos, drum fours, ensemble), they often take the opportunity to ask questions of the music itself.

The music created by these four artists is far more subtle and affecting than hearing another jazz quartet working its own variations on Playing What We Already Know.  The art – for let us call it by its right name – is feathery-light and durable.  I hear Lester Young and Brahms, sorrows and exultations, Eastern meditation and collective invention.

The music is strong and sweet, dense and welcoming.  The musicians have sensations to share with us, secrets made tangible, their language too deep for words.

Lena Bloch does not announce herself as courageous, and I think she would start giggling if you told her this was the case.  But she surely is.  Her artistic courage is not a matter of being big, bold, and loud. She approaches the music with tender reverence.  But she is not afraid to venture into new spaces in pursuit of beauty.  Her models and mentors  knew that the cosmos could be dark and terrifying, but the only human response to the void was to speak, through playing and composing, know how to keep terrors at bay.  I will fill the air with floating sounds. I will be brave enough to say WHO IS OUT THERE? I will soar above on feathers of melody.

Lena’s friends and colleagues on this disc are equally inspired. They trust themselves, and their loving energy comes through in every note sounded.  They fly happily. No sun dares to melt their wings.

And the music on this disc continues to resonate once the disc has concluded.  Billy, Dave, and Cameron are great painters of sound. They listen to their hearts; they listen to their instruments; they listen to each other. They create a world where Beauty is not only possible, but inevitable. Their sounds will guide us into the darkness and into the light.  Hear them, and be uplifted.

I’m not the only one who admires Lena’s questing spirit and FEATHERY: here is Dan McCleneghan’s review in All About Jazz.

Once you’ve visited Lena’s website and seen more of the videos there, once you’ve heard FEATHERY, you could attend a quartet gig at the most convivial of spaces, The Drawing Room, on 56 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn, New York: Sunday, March 30, at 7:30, and the group will be Lena, Putter Smith, string bass; Dave Miller, and Billy Mintz.

Whatever ways you can, find and find out more about Lena Bloch.

May your happiness increase!

LIGHTLY ASKING DEEP QUESTIONS: BILLY MINTZ QUARTET

When it comes to jazz drumming, I’ve always loved the flow of the rhythms, but I’ve even more deeply gravitated towards sounds, to melodists — Baby Dodds, Kaiser Marshall, Walter Johnson, Kaiser Marshall, George Stafford, Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, Zutty Singleton, George Wettling, Jo Jones, Sidney Catlett, Jake Hanna, Mike Burgevin, Kevin Dorn, Hal Smith, Jeff Hamilton, Clint Baker.  And, more recently, musicians I’ve come to think of as sound-painters: Hyland Harris, Ali Jackson, Eliot Zigmund, Matt Wilson, and Billy Mintz.

BIlly Mintz is a fascinating creative force because he is not only a splendidly rewarding player — inventing and arranging sounds in new, impressionistic patterns that stand on their own next to the best improvisations of any contemporary jazz improviser — but his compositions have flavor, depth, and scope.  His music is curious — peering behind the curtains — rather than formulaic or aggressive.

I’ve heard some of Billy’s compositions explored on live sessions with a a variety of musicians, including saxophonist Lena Bloch.  Here is one of my favorites, HAUNTED, recorded by the composer and pianist Roberta Piket in Austria, earlier in 2013:

I am pleased to tell you that there is now an entire CD of Billy’s compositions issued by Thirteenth Note Records . . . played not only by the composer, but by pianist / singer Roberta Piket; John Gross, tenor saxophone; Putter Smith, string bass.

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Don’t let the somber cover picture fool you: beneath that hat and shades, Billy’s eyes gleam and his heart is lively.

The songs (a few have gained wide recognition) are BEAUTIFUL YOU / FLIGHT / DIT / DESTINY (Roberta, vocal) / HAUNTED / SHMEAR / CANNONBALL / BEAUTIFUL / UGLY BEAUTIFUL / RELENT / RETRIBUTION / AFTER RETRIBUTION.

Their titles speak to Billy’s poetic, inquiring sensibility.  His music doesn’t provide pat answers; rather it asks questions: “What is play?  What is sadness?  Where might we be going?  Must it always be the same thing? Who says what is beautiful?  Would you care to join me?” and others of equal weight.

The music on this quartet CD isn’t abrasive or abusive: Billy, John, Roberta, and Putter love melody, but they also love to experiment with the traditional shapes of the improvising quartet — so instruments have amiable conversations, echoing or sweetly correcting one another; duos and solos spring up within compositions; balances shift within the piece.  Each song seems both new and composed, inventive and inevitable, and the procession from one piece to another on the disc is cumulative.  This CD is not the traditional melody-statement / solos / drum fours / melody-statement, and that’s all to the good.  No explorations, no surprises!

Here you can read more about Billy and hear samples from the CD: inquiring readers and hearers will be rewarded.  You can find out more at Thirteenth Note Records as well.

May your happiness increase!

ROBERTA PIKET, “SOLO”: SWEET PUNGENCY

Although others have justly celebrated her, I was unaware of pianist Roberta Piket until she sat in on a Lena Bloch gig at Somethin’ Jazz at the end of April 2012.  Then I heard the lovely, inquiring sounds that she made: she appears on the final two performances here.

ROBERTA PIKET Solo

I am even more impressed by her latest CD, called simply SOLO.

My early introductions to solo piano were, not surprisingly, based in swing: Waller, Wilson, James P., Hines, Williams, Tatum, and their modern descendants — players who appropriately viewed the instrument as orchestral, who balanced right-hand lines against continuous, sometimes forceful harmonic / rhythmic playing in the bass.  I still admire the Mainstream piano that encompasses both Nat Cole and Bud Powell, but I no longer feel deprived if I listen to a solo pianist who approaches the instrument in a more expressive way, freeing both hands from their traditional roles.  To me, James P. Johnson’s IF DREAMS COME TRUE, Wilson’s DON’T BLAME ME, Tatum’s POOR BUTTERFLY, and almost anything by Jimmie Rowles scale the heights. But I know there are fresh fields and pastures new beyond those splendid achievements.  And players who are willing to explore can often take us on quite rewarding journeys.

Roberta Piket is on her own quest — although she notes that SOLO was, in some ways, a return to her own comfort zone.  But within that zone she both explores and provides comfort for us.  For one thing, her choices of repertoire are ingenious and varied: Arthur Schwartz, Monk, Strayhorn – Ellington, Bruno Martino, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Chick Corea, Marian McPartland, and Frederick Piket.

Her work surprises — but not for novelty’s sake alone — and whose variety of approaches is intuitively matched to the material she has chosen.  Some solo artists have one basic approach, which they vary slightly when moving from a ballad to a more assertive piece, but the narrowness of the single approach quickly becomes familiar and even tiresome.  SOLO feels more like a comprehensive but free exploration of very different materials — without strain or pretension, the result feels like the most original of suites, a series of improvised meditations, statements, and dances based on strikingly chosen compositions.

The first evidence of Piket’s deep understanding of line and space, of shade and light, comes almost immediately on the CD, as she approaches the repeated notes of I SEE YOUR FACE BEFORE ME with a serious tenderness reminiscent of a Satie piece, an emotion that echoes in its own way in the final piece.  (I hope Jonathan Schwartz has been able to hear this: it is more than touching.)

Then, as soon as the listener has been sweetly and perhaps ruefully lulled, two strong, almost vigorous improvisations on Monk themes follow.  Many pianists have reduced Monk to a handful of by-the-numbers dissonances; not Piket, who uses his melodic material as a starting point rather than attempting to show that, she, too, can “sound Monkish.”

Lovely songs by Strayhorn (SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR) and McPartland (IN THE DAYS OF OUR LOVE) are treated with sincerity and reverence, but Piket does far more than simply play the familiar melody and chords: her voicings, her touch, illuminate from within.  ESTATE shows off Piket’s easy versatility, as she places the melody in the bass and ornaments in the treble during the performance.  Roberta’s precise power and energetic technique are shown in the uptempo original CLAUDE’S CLAWED, Shorter’s NEFERTITI, and Corea’s LITHA — at times powerful investigations that bridge post-bop jazz and modern classical, at times a series of unanswered questions.

The disc ends as it began, with tenderness — Sam Rivers’ BEATRICE,  an easy swinger that seems light-hearted without losing its essential serious affection.  And there’s a prize.  I didn’t know about Roberta’s father, Viennese-born composer Frederick Piket (whose life and work is examined here).  Although he wrote much “serious” music — secular and religious — IMPROVISATION BLUE is a lovely “popular” song I kept returning to: its melody is haunting without being morose, and I imagined it scored for the Claude Thornhill band in a Gil Evans chart.  It should have been.

SOLO begins sweetly and tenderly and ends the same way — with vigorous questioning and exploring of various kinds in the middle.  Roberta is an eloquent creator who takes chances but is true to her internal compass, whichever way it might point for a particular performance.

You can hear some of SOLO at Roberta’s website and at CDBaby.

On Facebook: Roberta Piket’s Music and Roberta Piket.

And this January 31, you will be able to hear Roberta, the inspiring percussionist Billy Mintz (he and Roberta are husband and wife, a neat match), celebrating tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch’s birthday — with bassist Putter Smith and legendary saxophonist John Gross.  Fine Israeli food and wine are part of the party at the East End Temple.  Tickets are $18 in advance, $22 at the door; $15 for students: click here to join the fun.

May your happiness increase.

GENEROSITIES OF SOUND: CELEBRATING TED BROWN (Part Two: December 2, 2012)

This is the second part of a triple tribute to the tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, someone I admire immensely — for his quiet lyricism, his floating melodic improvisations that seem to come directly from his heart through the bell of his horn.

And Ted — soft-spoken, reticent, not a man to call attention to himself — reversed the usual practice in December 2012 when it came to celebrating his eighty-fifth birthday.  Instead of sitting at a table surrounded by people who love and admire him, opening gifts and receiving congratulations, Ted gave us presents — as you will see and hear below.

This is conclusion of a divinely inspired evening at Michael Kanan’s Brooklyn studio, The Drawing Room (December 2); the third part will document an evening at Somethin’ Jazz (December 13) where Ted was joined by the energetically lyrical trumpeter Bob Arthurs.  At The Drawing Room, Ted performed with tenor saxophonist Brad Linde and Michael Kanan as guiding spirits.  For once, I will leave all commentary aside: Ted’s music really speaks deeply for itself, a mixture of lightness and deep feeling — conscious spiritual homage to Lester Young.

The first part of that concert can be seen  here — with beautiful playing from Murray Wall, Taro Okamoto, Sarah Hughes, Kirk Knuffke, Chris Lightcap;, Matt Wilson.

More!  With new friends joining in — the other musicians sitting and admiring.

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE (Ted, Brad Linde, Sarah Hughes, reeds; Michael Kanan, piano; Putter Smith, string bass; Hyland Harris, drums):

LENNIE’S (Ted, Brad, Ethan Iverson, piano; Kirk Knuffke, cornet; Putter Smith, Hyland Harris):

THESE FOOLISH THINGS (just perfect — Ted, Ethan Iverson — whose idea it was to call a ballad — Putter Smith, Hyland Harris):

POUND CAKE (a Lester Young blues line in G: Ted, Brad, Ethan Iverson, Murray Wall, Taro Okamoto):

YARDBIRD SUITE (Ted, Brad, Michael Kanan, Will Caviness, trumpet; Murray Wall, Taro Okamoto):

What astonishing music!  Happy birthday, Mr. Brown — with more music and more birthdays to come.

POUND CAKE Kirk Knuffke

TWO OF A KIND Brad LindeTed has released two new compact discs: one, TWO OF A KIND Bleebop 1202, pairs him with Brad; POUND CAKE, Steeplechase 31749, puts him alongside Kirk and Matt.  I will have more to say about these discs in 2013, but you don’t need my permission to venture boldly into ownenership.  Delicious airs!

And for some of my more “traditionally-minded” readers wd to back away from this “modern” jazz . . . . listen deeply and you will hear Lester and Jo Jones — their swing, their lightness — brought into this century by warm gentle improvising men and women.

Thanks to the spirits — Lester, Jo, Lennie, Bird — and to the people in the room: Hyland and Ben, Stephanie and Lena . . . as well as to the heroes making the music.  They all have made The Drawing Room a holy place.

May your happiness increase.

FOR THE CHILDREN: “THESE FOOLISH THINGS” (TED BROWN, ETHAN IVERSON, PUTTER SMITH, HYLAND HARRIS at THE DRAWING ROOM, December 2, 2012)

This is for the children.

This is for ALL the children.  The ones who grow up to be adults.  The ones who never get the chance to do so.  This is for the children we are, for the children we cover up with adult garb.

THESE FOOLISH THINGS REMIND ME OF YOU — played by Ted Brown, tenor saxophone (celebrating his eighty-fifth birthday); Ethan Iverson (who said, “Can we play a ballad?”  Bless you, Ethan); Putter Smith, string bass; Hyland Harris, drums.

Their hearts beat as one as they go down their personal paths.  They make music to elate us, to make us weep, to remember the lost, to feel hope.

Please offer this music to your friends — those who grieve, those who have no time to grieve, those whose hearts may someday be light.

May your happiness increase.