Tag Archives: Romanticism

MUSIC BLAZING IN THE DARKNESS: TAL RONEN’S HOLY MOLY (JAY RATTMAN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO) at LITTLE BRANCH (April 13, 2015: PART ONE)

The string bassist / composer / arranger / good fellow TAL RONEN is not only all these heroic things, but he creates imaginative ensembles.  I’d heard of his HOLY MOLY when I was on the other coast — Christmas Eve and Christmas at Smalls — and had wanted to be there but couldn’t.  However, just a few nights ago I was able to visit the HOLY MOLY trio — Tal, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jay Rattman, clarinet — at Little Branch (22 Seventh Avenue South in New York City) for a late session of music.

Before we turn to the videos, which require a serious preface, here’s what Tal had to say when I asked him about this delicious ensemble:

Holy Moly has its start about three-four years ago, when Spike Wilner had me bring my band to play at Smalls on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, me being non-observing and so on. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to bring a band, since I keep pretty busy playing in other people’s bands, and band leading is a huge headache.  But I welcomed the challenge, and brought a group of great straight-ahead guys to play. It became a tradition, and I brought my band on those two nights the next year, and the following one. 

However, around last Christmas, I had a different idea. My mind has been brewing with a musical concept for a while. Plainly put, the concept can be described as “impressionist sketches on romantic themes.”  I have a special passion for the work of great American composers like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Hoagy Carmichael, who mix a romantic classical approach with the genuine feeling of American folk forms, the blues, roots music etc. I also have a special passion for the interpreters of what can be called the impressionist age in jazz, namely greats like Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Oscar Pettiford and my personal mentor, Frank Wess. I was looking for a way to have both my passions, undiluted. This led me to this great crew – Jon-Erik Kellso, Rossano, Jay, Steve Little and Tamar Korn. I decided to call it Holy Moly as an irreverent wink to the holiness of the holiday that was our birth. It also has a certain old timey ring to it which denotes our direction, and lastly, well, when you’re done hearing these guys, that would be your response.

HOLY MOLY! indeed.

I recorded eight videos at Little Branch, and present the first four below.  But there’s a catch.  Little Branch is a basement room, imitating the closeness of a speakeasy, and it is thus quite dark.  I seated myself three feet from the piano, clarinet, and string bass, set up my camera, opened the lens to its widest setting, and began to shoot — the camera recording complete darkness.  Good sound, but no visual whatsoever.  (My pal and video colleague Laura Wyman asked me if I had left the lens cap on.  No, for better or worse.)

There are a few small glimmers of candles in glasses, and in one of the videos someone took some photographs, so the flash weirdly illuminates the players, but otherwise these videos are the finest jazz radio you can imagine.  I found this terribly funny: better to have nothing to see and decent sound than the reverse — bright vistas and terrible noise.  (From long habit, I initially moved my camera and microphone to capture the musician soloing, but gave that up quickly as a whimsy, no more.)

And since people tell me they have trouble keeping up with JAZZ LIVES, these four long performances will give you an opportunity to turn up the volume, stack the dishwasher, groom the cat, pay a bill — whatever needs to be done.  If this weirdness is bothersome, I apologize.  I suspect I have created more than forty-five hundred videos so far on YouTube, so there might be something you haven’t yet seen.  I ask the pardon of those readers who find the blackness terrifying, also.  The music blazes gorgeously.

In case you haven’t been reading closely, there’s nothing to see here.  Keep moving . . .

Four classics:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND:

LIZA:

POOR BUTTERFLY:

The overall ambiance is of a Goodman small group, but it also reminded me of a Jerry Newman session with Tatum and Pettiford, Minton’s 1941 moved downtown and forward in time. I’d follow this group — or other Tal-creations — wherever they were.

May your happiness increase!

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EXPLORING FROM THE OUTSIDE IN: LUCIANO TROJA, GIANCARLO MAZZÙ, BLAISE SIWULA at the CASA ITALIANA (April 29, 2013)

Here’s what I wrote in anticipation of the April 29 concert appearance of guitarist Giancarlo, pianist Luciano, and special guest saxophonist Blaise Siwula at New York University’s Casa Italiana.  I had expected wise, playful inquiries into jazz standards in the manner of Jimmy Rowles and Joe Pass, of Rowles and Al Cohn.  I wasn’t disappointed, but the music was at such a gloriously high level while seeming the most casual amused conversation amid friends.  And they usually began someplace far from an orthodox melody statement — but as if tentatively approaching the familiar from a distance — worked their way to the familiar.  I alternated between being moved and being ready to burst out laughing — not a bad combination.

Luciano began with a short solo piano tribute to the recently departed composer Earl Zindars (you know his compositions because of the love Bill Evans had for Zindars’ music): MOTHER OF EARL and ROSES FOR ANNIG.  (For a whole CD of such lovely music, look for Luciano’s AT HOME WITH ZINDARS):

Giancarlo — master of unusual tonalities, from the near-acoustic murmurings of a mandolin-strumming gondolier to the more familiar electric spectrum —  joined him for BUT NOT FOR ME:

SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE:

AUTUMN LEAVES:

A marvelously elliptical MY FUNNY VALENTINE for the trio:

Their transformation of BYE BYE BLACKBIRD:

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, their tribute to New York City:

As an encore, YOU AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC:

I have a new CD by the duo — recorded live at New York’s Metropolitan Room in 2012 — and I will report on its pleasures and queries soon.  I also gather that the duo has recorded a yet-unreleased CD of songs associated with Fred Astaire.  I can’t wait for that — I am sure it continues their playful, warm, even romantic explorations of those songs we think we know so well.

May your happiness increase!

TWO JAZZ NIGHTS (APRIL 2010)

My jazz friend Stompy Jones wrote to see if I was feeling well . . . he noted that blogging had slowed for a few days.  Never fear: I was on the prowl with a new video camera — whose fancy innards are still mysterious — to capture some Hot jazz.

On Wednesday, April 28, the Beloved and I went to that midtown oasis, Birdland, to catch the early evening set led by David Ostwald — his band being the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band, a group that will be celebrating its tenth anniversary in May.  This edition of the LACB had, in addition to David, Kevin Dorn, Ehud Asherie, Dan Block (on alto as well as clarinet), Wycliffe Gordon, and Gordon Au.  Here they perform a stately version of Fats Waller’s BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU, homage to Louis’s mid-Fifties tribute, SATCH PLAYS FATS:

And here’s a song no one sings anymore, for good reason — but Louis, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman and others found it good material to improvise on — SHINE or S-H-I-N-E, take your pick:

The next night, I went to Shanghai Jazz, David Niu’s cozy restaurant-with-music in Madison, New Jersey, to hear Dan Levinson’s Palomar Trio.  It was supposed to be Dan, pianist Mark Shane, and Kevin Dorn, but Kevin (rare for him) fell ill — with an able replacement found in young vibes wizard Matt Hoffmann, who began his career as a drummer.  Here’s the trio on A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT, recorded by both Billie Holiday and Johnny Hodges:

And a jaunty version of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

I offer two postscripts as evidence that sometimes the real fun happens off the bandstand with people who don’t play instruments or sing for a living. 

There was a time-honored tradition of musicians walking around the room, playing or singing softly at each table (for tips or for pleasure).  I was telling someone recently about hearing the trumpeter Louis Metcalfe do just this at Jimmy Ryan’s, moving from table to table, playing a medium-tempo soft ROSETTA, putting his Harmon-muted horn almost in my ear — a brief unforgettable experience. 

Birdland isn’t set up for “strolling violins,” but the Jazz Acupuncturist, Marcia Salter, paid us a visit between sets on Wednesday.  When the conversation turned for a moment away from music, I told Marcia that the Beloved’s back was hurting her.  Without so much as a “May I see your insurance card?” Marcia was showing both of us acupressure points to relieve pain.  It was a characteristically generous display (Marcia, of course, operates on the principle of “What would Louis do?”) and it’s the only time I’ve ever seen a medical house call in a jazz club.  Marcia’s hours, for the moment, are Wednesday from 5:30 – 7:15, but you can catch her at other venues. 

The next night, at Shanghai Jazz, I was seated next to the jazz enthusiast and amateur tenor saxophonist Ray Cerino, someone I haven’t seen in some time.  Midway during the evening, Dan asked the audience for requests, and Ray suggested MY FOOLISH HEART.  (Aside from being an all-around Good Fellow, he is also a Deep Romantic.)  Dan played it beautifully, and then Ray delivered a brief impromptu disquistion on the lyrics, the only man I’ve ever heard use the literary term “conceit” in a jazz club.  And Ray knew what he  meant!

Reasons to be thankful!