Tag Archives: Smalls

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO LARRY McKENNA! (Part Two): LARRY McKENNA, SAM TAYLOR, STEVE ASH, NEAL MINER, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (June 23, 2019)

Larry McKenna got to the gig early, as did I and many others who knew what gorgeous music we were about to hear, created right in front of us.  He and Sam Taylor, both on tenor saxophone; Steve Ash, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums, made castles of sound for us — two sets’ worth.  And for those who live by clocks and calendars, Larry turned 82 on July 21, 2019.  He’s not “spry”: he is in full flower right now.  Consider the blossoming evidence of the first set at Smalls here.

Before the gig. Photograph by Melissa Gilstrap.

(Incidentally, Larry and Danny Tobias have a little concert date on Sunday, September 21, at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey — details here.)

Now, for the second set at Smalls — beautiful playing by everyone!

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE (as they used to say, “from the movie of the same name):

The lovely THERE’S NO YOU (hear a delighted woman in the audience say, “Oh, yeah!” once the melody registers):

The durable swing standard ROSETTA, which gives Sam a very touching opportunity to tell about his early and sustained connection with Larry:

MORE THAN YOU KNOW, a feature for Sam:

And to close, another song associated with Earl Hines [and Louis Armstrong and Lester Young!] its title a sweet reminder of the bonds we forge, YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

The sounds of this evening were completely gratifying, but what got to me — and you can see it in the videos — were the smiles on the musicians’ faces (echoed on the faces of people near me), expressions of  gratitude, joy, and pride — what an honor it was to be there and, to hear the artistry, to feel the delight.  How rare, how wonderful.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO LARRY McKENNA! (Part One): LARRY McKENNA, SAM TAYLOR, STEVE ASH, NEAL MINER, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (June 23, 2019)

Today, July 21, 2019, the wonderful tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna turns 82.  Pause, please, to consider that.

Here is music that Larry and friends created, at Smalls in New York City, when he was a mere 81.  The friends are Sam Taylor, tenor saxophone; Steve Ash, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums.

This is the first set of two: savor the energetic singing quality Larry offers us and how it inspires not only the audience but the other players.

Before the gig. Photograph by Melissa Gilstrap.

YOU’RE IT (Larry’s original, based on IT’S YOU OR NO ONE):

a less-morose version of YOU’VE CHANGED:

and my request, THESE FOOLISH THINGS — with Steve’s lovely introduction:

FATS FLATS (or BARRY’S BOP) which closed the first set:

Thanks of course to Sam Taylor, whose idea this session was, and to Fukushi, Steve, and Neal.  Thanks also to Melissa Gilstrap, Liz Waytkus, Joe McDonough, and John Herr.

When we have music like this to be nourished by, who needs cake or wrapping paper?  Every note is a celebration of our collective lives.

May your happiness increase!

“THAT AMAZING MUSIC”: PHILLIP JOHNSTON and the SILENT SIX at SMALLS (November 27, 2018)

Phillip Johnston and friends create music that’s unpredictable but rooted, surprising but deeply immersed in his own versions of the jazz tradition.  I had the good fortune to sit right in front of his Silent Six (a whimsical monicker) at Smalls in Greenwich Village last November, and can share with you a number of wonderful highlights.

He began the evening by discussing his recent joyous study of the music of the Twenties and Thirties, focusing on Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Don Redman, and you will hear compositions by Louis and the Duke below, elevated by the same exploratory imaginative spirit that animated their creators.  (Sometimes we forget that POTATO HEAD BLUES was a brand-new tune in 1927, rather than a hallowed artifact of Hot.)

Phillip described the compositions and arrangements of that period as “that amazing music,” completely modern, larger than categories.  Hearing the Silent Six, you realize that he is also (without being immodest) describing what it does in this century.

The Silent Six is Phillip Johnston. soprano and alto saxophone; Joe Fiedler, trombone; Mike Hashim, baritone saxophone; Neal Kirkwood, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums. Philip originally formed the NYC-based Six to perform live in WORDLESS!, his multi-media film/music/lecture collaboration with Pulitzer-Prize winning illustrator and graphic art historian Art Spiegelman that had its 2013 debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and continues to tour worldwide.

And now for some music from Smalls.  Attentive listeners will hear deep roots: blues, shuffles, variations on familiar harmonic patterns, all performed with vigor, looseness, and wit — over irresistible dance rhythms, the result a series of surprises that immediately become comfortable.

Louis Armstrong’s POTATO HEAD BLUES:

Ellington’s AWFUL SAD:

Phillip’s DUCKET’S GOT A WHOLE IN IT (identified as a “deep shuffle”):

and his own LATER:

Phillip’s HOFSTRA’S DILEMMA (for stalwart string bassist Dave):

TEMPORARY BLINDNESS:

PLANETELLA ROCK:

Phillip also has two new CDs for us — DIGGIN’ BONES and THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED.  You can read reviews of them here.  Learn more / buy DIGGIN’ BONES here; for more about ACHMED, visit here.

This post is for Maurice Kessler, gig-friend extraordinaire.

May your happiness increase!

 

HIP LYRICISM: AI MURAKAMI Quartet live at Smalls (August 26, 2018): AI MURAKAMI, GRANT STEWART, MICHAEL KANAN, PAUL GILL

I first encountered the splendid drummer Ai Murakami when a copy of her debut CD came into my hands.  Her playing impressed me deeply — not only the sounds she created at the drum set, but the ways in which her melodic impulses shaped the quartet’s performance.  And I wrote about the CD here.

When Ai and friends they take the stage at Smalls on Sundays, they are characterized as “bebop” players.  But for me, bebop is a music of sharp turns and occasional hard edges.  Ai’s imagination makes bebop a little softer, more cushiony.  I don’t mean limp, but she created an encouraging space for lyrical, arching melodic lines from any or all of the players.  And she adores melodic material, whether it’s by Jerome Kern or it’s a racing late-Forties line.

Here are some delightful performances from the Sunday afternoon at Smalls, August 26, 2018 — where Ai is joined by Paul Gill, string bass; Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone; Michael Kanan, piano.  Four melodic, exploring heroes.

Richard Rodgers’ FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE (who can hear this without hearing Larry Hart’s vingary lyrics?):

Irving Berlin’s wonderful THE BEST THING FOR YOU:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (once known as LITTLE BUTTERCUP) so tenderly introduced by Michael:

Tadd Dameron’s THE SCENE IS CLEAN:

Jerome Kern’s I’M OLD-FASHIONED, beginning with a lovely piano solo:

Finally, Bud Powell’s WAIL:

I think that the people who watch, savor, and learn from these videos understand the principles on which I operate, but I would like to make one explicit.  My gratitude to these and other musicians for allowing me to video their performances and share the results — for free — with a larger audience.  A great gracious kindness on their part.

May your happiness increase!

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!

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!

BLOSSOMING UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (Dec. 27, 2015): JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, TERRY WALDO, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, DANIEL GLASS

violets

A good deal of inspiring music blossoms underground — I think of Mezzrow, and Smalls, and Fat Cat, that paradise of unusual pleasures: hot jazz, creative swing, a variety of games, soft couches from which one might never rise, and youngbloods having fun, playing games, coming in, out, and around.

Pianist / singer / composer / scholar Terry Waldo leads his Gotham City Band there most Sundays from about 5:45 to 7-something, two sets.  On Sunday, December 27, 2015, he had a particularly illustrious crew: aside from Terry on piano, there was John Gill, banjo / vocal; Brian Nalepka, bass / vocal; Daniel Glass, drums; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano saxophone / vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone . . . thus the music was loose, expert, and  gratifying.  Here are several highlights of that late-afternoon session:

RHYTHM KING:

APRIL SHOWERS (where Brian reminds us that Spring is always on the way):

HAPPY FEET (vocal Evan):

WOLVERINE BLUES:

ACE IN THE HOLE (vocal John):

WILLIE  THE WEEPER:

All of the musicians in this edition of the Gotham City Band were well-known to me, many of them for over a decade, but the new fellow, Daniel Glass, is a stunning ensemble and solo drummer: he listens, he swings, and he has a whole peaceful arsenal of appropriate sounds.  JAZZ LIVES readers may know him better than I did, but he is someone special, and I will write more about his various enterprises in future.

Right now, I am going to think of violets descending from the sky, a lovely image.

May your happiness increase!

MIKE LIPSKIN and EVAN ARNTZEN at SMALLS, PART TWO (December 8, 2015)

Mike Lipskin

Here are the first five videos from that evening.

Photograph by Tim Cheeney

Photograph by Tim Cheeney

and here’s what I said about the music from that night:

There’s so much lyrical life in the melodies of the twentieth century, when they are explored by masters of improvisation. This was proven throughout a delightful evening at Smalls (West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) by piano master Mike Lipskin and reed master Evan Arntzen. Here are five masterful performances from that night, December 8, 2015. And I believe that this was the first time Mike and Evan had played together in duet: talk about deep swing empathy. It’s easy to hear and admire such lyricism and their wise exploration of the varied ways to improvise melodically at medium tempos.

And a second portion of lyrical swing:

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

BLUE SKIES:

WHERE ARE YOU?:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:

We’re crazy ’bout this duo’s music.  Come back, come back.

May your happiness increase!

MIKE LIPSKIN and EVAN ARNTZEN at SMALLS, PART ONE (December 8, 2015)

Mike Lipskin

There’s so much lyrical life in the melodies of the twentieth century, when they are explored by masters of improvisation.  This was proven throughout a delightful evening at Smalls (West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) by piano master Mike Lipskin and reed master Evan Arntzen.  Here are five masterful performances from that night, December 8, 2015.  And I believe that this was the first time Mike and Evan had played together in duet: talk about deep swing empathy.  It’s easy to hear and admire such lyricism and their wise exploration of the varied ways to improvise melodically at medium tempos.

Photograph by Tim Cheeney

Photograph by Tim Cheeney

EAST OF THE SUN:

BLUE ROOM:

OUT OF NOWHERE:

LINGER AWHILE:

SNOWY MORNING BLUES (Mike’s solo exploration of James P. Johnson’s piece while Evan listens intently):

Five more casual yet expert masterpieces will appear soon.  Thank you, gentlemen.

May your happiness increase!

BRIGHTENING THE CORNER: JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, NEAL MINER at MEZZROW: PART TWO (July 26, 2015)

Joel Press

When I heard that Joel Press, tenor saxophone; Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass, were going to be playing a late-evening session at one of the two jazz shrines of West Tenth Street, Mezzrow, I got down there early to soak it all in — poems in music from three great lyrical poets.  Here are some highlights of the first part of the evening.

Joel, Michael, and Neal tell us, without words, that melody matters, that the old songs are memorable, and that one can sing beautifully through one’s instrument in a community of friends.

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU:

GHOST OF A CHANCE:

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

Joel has absorbed the whole tradition of jazz but stays current, exploring worlds while swinging, always sounding like himself.  Michael and Neal are the best guides to the opened universe of sounds that I know.

May your happiness increase!

HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW: BEAUTY IN THE NOW (September 29, 2015)

 

MEZZROW door

Singer Hilary Gardner and pianist Ehud Asherie have created consistently gratifying music on their appearances — most recently at Mezzrow (163 West Tenth Street, New York City, just east of Seventh Avenue South).  I offer evidence below.

That’s cheering news to say the least.  But the best news is that they are returning for two performances on Tuesday, September 29, 2015:  shows at 7:30 and 9 PM, $20 music charge for each show. You can buy tickets here, and I urge you to do so promptly, because Mezzrow is a small space.  (That’s a wonderful thing, by the way: it is the ideal of New York City jazz clubs, with apologies to the others.)

Now, here’s the evidence.  Most recently, Ehud and Hilary appeared at Mezzrow in May 2015, gloriously:  here.  And in March of the same year: here.

I first heard Hilary and Ehud in duet at Smalls in April 2013 — which seems so long ago that the videos are in black and white: here.

As you can see and hear, their repertoire stretches back to the early collaborations of Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, and forward to the present. But the beauty they create is always NOW.  And you might consider immersing yourself in it, if you can, before it becomes the THEN.  See you there.

May your happiness increase!

THE RETURN of MIKE and MIKE (LIPSKIN and HASHIM, Smalls, April 28, 2015)

Jazz thrives on individuality.  The Ancestors always emphasized that a musician’s sound had to be as personal as a voice, instantly recognizable. Ben Webster spent the early part of his career trying to sound like Coleman Hawkins — a necessary stage in the development — then he realized it was time to be Ben Webster.

Two staunch individualists, happily thriving and playing, are swing piano master / singer / composer Mike Lipskin and saxophone master (here on alto and soprano) Mike Hashim.  And here are five beauties from their most recent New York City duo-recital, performed for an attentive international audience at Smalls on West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village.

I could have called this post THREE SLOW, TWO ROMPING, but you’ll discern such qualities for yourself as you watch and listen.

James P. Johnson’s wistful love poem, ONE HOUR:

Billy Strayhorn’s reverie, DAY DREAM:

I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU, that lovely ballad, has nearly vanished from the jazz repertoire.  I’m glad that Mike and Mike have good memories:

For Bix and the Louisiana Sugar Babes, an affirmation, THOU SWELL:

And for Fats.  The history’s inaccurate but the music is on course. CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS:

Thank you, gentlemen!  Come back soon.

May your happiness increase!

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!

THE TRUE SPARK: MARIANNE SOLIVAN’S NEW CD

MARIANNE SOLIVAN

Thanks to the splendid pianist Michael Kanan, I am very proud that I was captivated by the singer Marianne Solivan as far back as the spring of 2011. Here are Ms. Solivan and Mr. Kanan in performance then:

Notice her delicate intensity, her strength of conviction — authentic rather than put-on-for-effect — her witty tenderness, her elastic yet perfectly respectful phrasing . . . Marianne is a model of joyously inventive improvisatory singing, her sweet candor transforming any song.

Her belief in the lyrics, her immersion in the emotions of the song, her courageous yet friendly bending of the original melodic line — all of these virtues make her singing entrancing.

Here is a later Solivan-Kanan medley about enduring romance:

I followed Marianne to a number of gigs at Smalls and Iridium in those years, and I continue to take pleasure in her first CD, PRISONER OF LOVE.  Here is the title track (a song I love, thanks at first to Lester Young and Russ Columbo):

You might not initially notice that the “new” verse, perfectly appropriate and deeply felt, is Marianne’s own composition — which points to another talent.

Hearing these venerable songs, treated as if they were new, one might be tempted to assign Marianne her own little cubbyhole: “She sings the Great American Songbook with a twist.”  But she is and does more than that.  (Although I have heard her perform Annie Ross’ TWISTED, which may count for something in the imagined taxonomy.)

SPARK

This year, she created and produced her second CD, SPARK (Hipnotic Records) — compelling yet light on its feet.  Here’s a video that will give you a taste of the disc’s riches.  One of the songs is THE HUMDRUM BLUES, but nothing about this effort is in the least monotonous.

Although I’ve heard Marianne favor dark, pensive songs, SPARK is lively and energized.  She has power, but it’s never being wielded against an audience.

SPARK starts off immediately at a high level — with the title song, which Marianne created, words and music.  Unlike many singer-songwriters, she is not attempting to fit words and notes into a conventional box.  Her songs sound much more like conversations with an audience — or the listeners — or someone being wooed.  Her lyrics might use conventional phrases, but they are always arranged in new ways, without formal reliance on end-rhymes.

The song SPARK depicts the heady beginning of a romance; FIRST DESIRE (Marianne’s setting for the Lorca poem) is a rumination, full of images and evocations, music and lyrics evoking exalted states.  IF I WERE TO LOVE YOU is a paean to love’s magic in the natural world, although voiced in the subjunctive.  ON A CLEAR NIGHT meditates on a love affair tenuously balanced between past happiness and present erosion. THE DOVE, a collaboration between Marianne and pianist Xavier Davis, seems a twisting, intense carpe diem — don’t neglect love!  Marianne’s compositions do not reveal themselves immediately, but each re-examination offers new levels of emotion and intelligence.

The other songs on this disc are wonderfully varied. There’s Oscar Brown, Jr.’s sharp-edged HUMDRUM BLUES (which has a touch of hope if one gets through the complaints of the lyrics); Francesca Blumenthal’s darkly ambivalent THE LIES OF HANDSOME MEN.

Marianne also gives her own singular transformation to songs associated with others: the sardonic modern folk song TENDER AS A ROSE (Abbey Lincoln), which sits somewhere between an unwritten PORGY AND BESS song and FRANKIE AND JOHNNY; I WANNA BE AROUND (Tony Bennett) which has a violent swinging energy, suggesting that Marianne could be dangerous if crossed, although she’d never diminish her rhythmic energy in the midst of taking revenge; a very brisk THIS IS NEW, rescued from those singers who have turned it into a moony dirge in opposition to the exultant lyrics.  Ruben Blades’ EL CANTANTE (THE SINGER) is beautifully sung in Spanish — truly evocative — and Marianne explains the lyrics in part in the video.

Singing Loesser’s WHAT ARE YOU DOING NEW YEAR’S EVE? she rescues this song and brings a tender sweetness to the title — making the question vibrant yet fragile.  OOH, WHAT’CHA DOIN’ TO ME, by Timmie Rogers, is a Forties trifle that offers Marianne the opportunity to play — she never copies Billie, early or late, but I think of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO as the only parallel to Marianne’s evident delight.

SPARK is buoyed by Marianne’s joy in the music, but also by the evident joy in the studio, as Marianne and her working band take pleasure in creating together. They are Xavier Davis, piano; Matthew Parrish, string bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums.  The instrumental settings are fresh: one never thinks of “singer plus rhythm trio,” but rather of four musicians on an equal footing.  The CD is splendidly recorded by Joe Marciano and Max Ross, with excellent liner notes by drummer Lewis Nash.

SPARK is never formulaic, but it is not oddly or whimsically “innovative” in offputting ways.  Marianne’s inventiveness is refreshing throughout, but her music will not scare anyone off.  She always sounds like herself, which is delightfully reassuring.  I am happy to experience her blossoming creativity, and I look forward to more surprises.

SPARK is available in all the old familiar places: CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, but I suggest you begin your investigation here — you can learn more about Marianne, keep up with her schedule, perhaps take a class with her (she is a most respected and beloved teacher of singers), and more.

Here and here are Facebook pages where you’ll find Marianne . . . but the best way to experience her magic is to buy her CDs and meet her at a gig.  Whichever comes first or is more convenient is the one I recommend to you.  Don’t wait until she is booked into huge concert halls and the security prevents your getting close to the stage . . . catch her now.

May your happiness increase!

THE MIGHTY MEZZ: A NEW NYC JAZZ CLUB OPENS (September 3, 2014)

MEZZROW club

Spike Wilner, pianist, clubowner, and a true Disciple of Swing, has another bold idea: a new New York City jazz club that presents genuine improvised music in kind settings.

Simple facts first: the club opens on September 3, 2014.  It will thrive in the basement of 163 West 1oth Street, steps away from the happily thriving SMALLS, co-piloted by Spike and Mitch Borden.  (For those who worry about such things, both clubs are a few minutes’ walk from the Christopher Street / Sheridan Square station on the Seventh Avenue subway line. And it’s a calm area to be in.)

The club is a “piano room,” which is a term that needs a little explanation.  I don’t mean a “piano bar,” where people accost the pianist at close range and insist (s)he play songs whose title they half know, or where sing-alongs explode like small wildfires — with much the same result.  No.

Once upon a time, New York City had a number of such rooms, usually small, with well-tuned pianos where solos and duos were what you came to hear.  I saw Jimmy Rowles at Bradley’s, Ellis Larkins and Al Hall at Gregory’s.  Although horn players might sit in, these rooms were meant for thoughtful improvisation. In this century, where patrons have a hard time keeping still, paying attention, turning their phones off, Spike’s determination to make such a spot possible is a beautiful and courageous act — in a city that prides itself on having every kind of entertainment and enlightenment in profusion, his new club is a rarity if not a solitary gem.  (Yes, there is the Knickerbocker, and thankfully so, but that large room is a different species entirely.)

MEzz, James P. Johnson, Hughes Panassie, Tommy Ladnier at the Victor studios

MEzz, James P. Johnson, Hughes Panassie, Tommy Ladnier at the Victor studios

Spike has named the club for one of his musical heroes, the clarinetist / saxophonist / organizer / man with plans Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow. Mezzrow was a fascinating figure, someone whose deep-hued nearly-surrealistic autobiography REALLY THE BLUES made a profound impression on me when my sister gave it to me as a birthday gift (I was, I think, 14).  The dream of this century and the preceding one is “You can be anything you want to be if you only want it fiercely enough,” and Mezz — in his own way — exemplified that romantic notion.  Mezz was a White Jewish Chicago kid (those identifiers are important to the story) who was so entranced by the Black music he heard that he knew that was what he wanted to play.  More importantly, he knew that “that” was the person he wanted to be, the life he wanted to lead.

So, although he was never a great musician, he became a friend to Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Tommy Ladnier; he heard and hung around Bix, Joe Oliver, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, and the rest.  He organized record dates with Teddy Bunn, Bechet, Hot Lips Page, Chick Webb, Frank Newton, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Benny Carter, J.C. Higginbotham, Sidney Catlett, Art Hodes, George Wettling, Zutty Singleton, and more.  He was deeply involved in a near-religious crusade to offer marijuana as a more healthy alternative to whiskey or hard drugs.

And he crossed the color line early and without pretense.  In an era when having mixed-race record sessions was rare, Mezzrow (like Eddie Condon) pushed this idea forward with historic results.  He led a band, the Disciples of Swing, where “white” and “colored” musicians played together.  And more seriously, he identified as Black — marrying a woman of color, and taking his convictions into everyday life.

I think (although I could be presuming here) that this latter figure — the man so deeply committed to a music and the ideas behind it: community, equality, creativity — is the man Spike honors by naming this new club MEZZROW.

Here is the club’s website, where you can learn more about it — the schedule, ticketing, about Mezz himself, and more. I don’t know when I’ll make my first visit, but since I see my friends Rebecca Kilgore, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello, Michael Kanan, Scott Robinson, Neal Miner . . . I expect to be there often, and it may well be a deeply needed oasis of quiet creativity in New York. And https://www.facebook.com/mezzrowclub is the club’s Facebook page.

Blessings on you, Spike.

May your happiness increase!

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!

WARM MELODIC EXPLORATIONS: JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, BOOTS MALESON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (Dec. 20, 2013)

The masterful Joel Press created a wonderful musical evening at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street) at the end of my 2013 stay in New York City — a first portion posted here. Joel had Michael Kanan, piano; Boots Maleson, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums, along for some soulful melodic explorations, which bow to Masters Lester and Thelonious along the way.

THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU, which jumps right in:

JUST YOU, JUST ME:

ALL OF ME:

In honor of Don Byas and Slam Stewart in 1945, a duet for tenor saxophone and string bass on INDIANA:

SOPHISTICATED LADY:

Music to warm the heart and melt the snows.

May your happiness increase!