Tag Archives: Smalls

DAN BLOCK AND HIS MÖBIUS TRAVELERS at SMALLS, PART THREE (February 3, 2017): DAN BLOCK, GODWIN LOUIS, ADAM BIRNBAUM, JENNIFER VINCENT, ALVESTER GARNETT

I offer here the final segment of a glorious evening that also happened to be Dan Block’s birthday.  But rather than waiting for cake and gift cards, Dan bestowed presents on us.

The Mobius Travelers (my band name, not Dan’s) are Dan Block, clarinet and tenor; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums, who convened for an ecstatic musical evening at Smalls (West Tenth Street, New York City) on February 3, 2017. The imaginative premise: revitalize obscure Swing Era compositions and arrangements by (among others) Mary Lou Williams, Benny Carter, Billy Moore, Fletcher Henderson, Edgar Sampson.

Here are the selections performed earlier in the evening, and some words in addition.

Now, the three closing performances — full of juice and surprises.

CANCER, from Mary Lou’s “ZODIAC SUITE”:

PUDDIN’ HEAD SERENADE, Mary Lou’s creation for the Andy Kirk band:

And to close, Benny Carter’s BLUES IN MY HEART, that segues into a let’s-celebrate-the-leader HAPPY BIRTHDAY, a riotous ending to a memorable evening.

May your happiness increase!

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DAN BLOCK AND HIS MÖBIUS TRAVELERS at SMALLS, PART TWO (February 3, 2017): DAN BLOCK, GODWIN LOUIS, ADAM BIRNBAUM, JENNIFER VINCENT, ALVESTER GARNETT

I will indulge myself in a slight repetition of the first part of this blogpost, which you can read and hear here.  It explains the beautiful image above.

Dan Block, one of the most consistently inspired creators I know, respects the music of the Swing Era and knows it deeply, but has chosen his own path through these two polarities. It’s hard to explain verbally, but it works in the same way the Möbius strip does: one reveres the original but opens it up innovatively (the artists we respect now were in some way all radical innovators) before returning home to the Palace of Swing. Dan and his comrades: Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums, did this ten times at an ecstatic musical evening at Smalls on February 3.

The three performances I’d already posted were HARLEM CONGO, NIGHTFALL, and BUGS PARADE.  And here are four more uplifting explorations.  I thought these performances were explosions of sensory pleasure when I heard and recorded them on the spot; they reveal more each time I listen.

Mary Lou Williams’ WALKIN’ AND SWINGIN’:

And the 1934 Henderson romp, which I think featured Red Allen, among others:

Edgar Sampson’s BLUE LOU:

and, finally, for this segment, a masterful reconsideration of DON’T BE THAT WAY that, to me, owes more to Lester’s 1938 solo than to any big-band (possibly industrial) version:

A wonderful musical intelligence and deep feeling here, for which I am immensely grateful.

May your happiness increase!

DAN BLOCK AND HIS MÖBIUS TRAVELERS at SMALLS, PART ONE (February 3, 2017): DAN BLOCK, GODWIN LOUIS, ADAM BIRNBAUM, JENNIFER VINCENT, ALVESTER GARNETT

mobius_strip

Photograph by David Benbennick, c/o Wikipedia

The image above is of a Möbius strip: it has only one side and you keep traveling around it without beginning or end.  You could look it up, as Ring Lardner wrote. It is artifact, concept, and metaphor all in one.

How does this relate to music?  First, a sample: BUGS PARADE, composition and arrangement by Billy Moore, recorded by the 1940 Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra:

It’s 2017.  How would a group of living musicians deal with this work of art?  One approach would be to attempt to reproduce it exactly: transcribe the recording, rehearse it with a select group of musicians — the same number and instrumentation — so that one could hear it live.  Hard work with often beautiful results.  Another approach — at the other end of the spectrum — would be to shatter the original through mockery, to draw an unflattering caricature of the original.

Dan Block, one of the most consistently inspired creators I know, respects the music of the Swing Era and knows it deeply, but has chosen his own path through these two polarities.  It’s hard to explain verbally, but it works in the same way the Möbius strip does: one reveres the original but opens it up innovatively (the artists we respect now were in some way all radical innovators) before returning home to the Palace of Swing.  Dan and his comrades: Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums, did this ten times at an ecstatic musical evening at Smalls on February 3.  Here are three glorious examples — which also stretch the boundaries of the 78 rpm disc above.

HARLEM CONGO, associated with Chick Webb:

Benny Carter’s lovely NIGHTFALL:

And, yes, the aforementioned BUGS PARADE:

You will notice I haven’t said anything about the players or the performances. This band is explosively energized and deeply lyrical, often at the same time.

A postscript: I hope no one feels compelled in the name of red-label Columbias and sunburst Deccas to write in, “I like the originals better.”  Consider that Dan’s reinventions are meant to honor the original lively and lyrical spirits of these Thirties recordings: otherwise why spend the time creating his own tributes? They are not desecrations in any way.

A more cheerful postscript, Dr. Eugenia Chang’s Möbius bagel and lox:

May your happiness increase!

THE JOEL PRESS QUARTET at SMALLS: MICHAEL KANAN, LEE HUDSON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA (July 3, 2016): PART TWO

It’s been a true privilege to hear, converse with, and video-record the inventive and durable saxophonist Joel Press for the last five years (and since I met Michael Kanan through Joel, it has been a double blessing).  Of course, the person behind all of this was the irreplaceable Robert D. Rusch of CADENCE, a true benefactor.

Joel was most recently playing a gig in New York City on July 3, 2016, at Smalls — with a quartet of Michael, piano; Lee Hudson, string bass; Fukushi Tanaka, drums.

JOEL by Herb Snitzer

Here are five evocative performances from that evening: GONE WITH THE WIND, SOFTLY AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE, FOOLIN’ MYSELF, NOSTALGIA, and YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME.

And — by popular demand — four more delights: BLUES, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?. BODY AND SOUL, IT’S YOU OR NO ONE.  Please note that every note has substance and emotional meaning, and the quartet makes even the most familiar line or standard seem lively and poignant.

BLUES:

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?:

BODY AND SOUL:

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

Thank you, Joel, Michael, Lee, Fukushi, and Smalls.  We are in your debt.

May your happiness increase!

THE JOEL PRESS QUARTET at SMALLS: MICHAEL KANAN, LEE HUDSON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA (July 3, 2016): PART ONE

I’ve been fortunate enough to know, hear, and admire the Swing Explorer — saxophonist Joel Press — for a decade now.  It happened, as many good things do, utterly by surprise, but through the quiet guidance of a good friend.  The good friend is Robert D. Rusch, the creator of CADENCE, that rare thing, a candid jazz magazine.  In 2006, I was reviewing CDs for CADENCE, and one called HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU? arrived in the mail — with this cover portrait (by Herb Snitzer) of a man I’d not known:

JOEL by Herb SnitzerI was moved and delighted by Joel’s easy yet searching approach to melody and swing: new and yet affectionately connected to the great traditions.  To explore Joel’s many worlds, one place to start would be here.

A decade later, more or less, we found ourselves in friendly proximity: Joel on the bandstand at Smalls, me with a video camera as close as I could get without posing a fire hazard.  The other members of this compact inventive ensemble are Michael Kanan, piano; Lee Hudson, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums.

Here’s a still photograph of that world, taken for us by Chihiro Tainaka, with the back of my head accurately and mercilessly rendered for posterity.  Two seats to my left is the warm and thoughtful Maya Press, beaming love at her father.JOEL PRESS Smalls 7 3 16 Chihiro Tainaka

But you can’t play a picture, any more than you can eat the recipe.  So — with Joel’s approval — I present five performances from that night at Smalls, with some more to follow.  His soft tone, love of melody, and caressing swing are still gloriously intact, and his colleagues on the bandstand are the most subtly intuitive conversationalists one could want.

GONE WITH THE WIND:

SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE:

FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

NOSTALGIA:

YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

I wanted to call this blogpost PRESS ONE FOR SWING.  Now you know why. More to come.

May your happiness increase!

AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (Part Two): TAL RONEN’S HOLY MOLY at SMALLS, DECEMBER 24, 2015

Where were you last Christmas Eve?  (I leave a long pause here for the JAZZ LIVES audience to reflect on their answers.)  I was at Smalls, on West Tenth Street in New York City, in the wise and joyous care of this fellow — the imaginative and lively musician and thinker Tal Ronen.

Tal Ronen by Lynn Redmile

Tal Ronen by Lynn Redmile

Here is the first part of that delightful evening concert, featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, Rossano Sportiello, Jay Rattman, Tal, Steve Little, and Tamar Korn — an authentic down-home New York City all-star lineup.  And the highlights of the second half.

SWEET SUE:

I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET:

THE SONG IS ENDED:

BLUE SKIES:

(and here is another — quite brief — Korn / Kellso version of this Irving Berlin classic)

DEEP NIGHT:

In a world that seems defined by haste (to where? to what?), private annoyance becoming public hostility . . . it’s wonderful to see Tal, Jon-Erik, Jay, Rossano, Steve, Tamar, and their heartfelt colleagues  spreading love, joy, and kindness in swing.

And a postscript: WHY does this band assemble only on Christmas Eve?  Don’t we need spiritual uplift in the other eleven months?  Club-owners, festival promoters, concert bookers, take heed.

May your happiness increase!

AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (Part One): TAL RONEN’S HOLY MOLY at SMALLS (Dec. 24, 2015)

Tal Ronen by Lynn Redmile

Tal Ronen by Lynn Redmile

This is the first of two parts of a wonderful musical event that took place on Christmas Eve 2015 — the inspiration of string bassist / composer / arranger Tal Ronen, who explains it all:

Holy Moly had 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 bandleading is a huge headache.  But I welcomed the challenge, and brought a group of great straight-ahead guys to play.  It became sort of a tradition, and I brought my band on those two nights the next year, and the following one.

However, 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, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jay Rattman, reeds; Steve Little, drums; Tamar Korn, vocals.

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.

Irving Berlin

I will point out that much of the evening’s repertoire came from Irving Berlin, which is always a treat.  On a personal note, I haven’t spent Christmas in New York in years, and when I was at the other side of the continent, I always thought wistfully of the good sounds Tal and Company were creating at Smalls.  I’m thrilled I was able to be there in 2015.  And if you wonder why it took me so long to download this, it was a combination of technical factors and legal ones.  All settled now.  Enjoy.

WHITE CHRISTMAS:

HAPPY FEET:

SUNSHINE:

ALWAYS:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Now I know where I’ll be spending Christmas Eve 2016.  But you might want to know that there was a substantial line outside Smalls for this event in 2015, so make plans to get there extra early.

May your happiness increase!