Tag Archives: Tal Ronen

GET READY FOR THE BIG PARADE: “COUNTERMELODY”: EVAN ARNTZEN with CHARLIE HALLORAN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MIKE DAVIS, ARNT ARNTZEN, DALTON RIDENHOUR, TAL RONEN, MARK McLEAN, CATHERINE RUSSELL (October 2-3, 2020)

Many compact discs are like visits to a new restaurant with a tasting menu. The listener has course after course brought to them, and with luck, every dish is not only delightful in itself but part of a larger experience. And one makes a mental note to go back and bring friends. Sometimes, of course, one beckons to the waitperson and says, “Please, can we skip ahead? I’m not happy with this. If you’d just bring me the flourless chocolate cake and the check, that would be great.” And the CD goes into that purgatory between give-to-a-friend-or-the-thrift-store-or keep-for-the-moment-but-not-forever.

The new CD, COUNTERMELODY (Dot Time Records), by Evan Arntzen and esteemed friends, isn’t a meal: it’s a brightly-colored, many-sided journey. Details here and here if the names above have already convinced you.

Before you read a word more, two samples which will reveal much and reward more:

SOLITARITY, by Evan:

and MUSKRAT RAMBLE, sung by Catherine Russell:

Although the terms “old” and “new” are dangerously weighted and too binary, COUNTERMELODY is a shining showcase for “old” music (nearly a hundred years old) played as “new,” and “new” music that passionately embraces “old” traditions. SOLITARITY is delightfully weird — that’s a compliment — but it also sounds so much like a New Orleans funeral, mournful and exultant at once. And to borrow from Billy Wilder, each of the musicians here has a face, a vivid, glowing singularity — a set of big voices, and I don’t simply mean Catherine Russell’s combination of trumpet and cello and full orchestra. Speaking of singers, Evan’s vocal rendition of GEORGIA CABIN is perfectly dreamy. I don’t want him to put down his horns, but he could do a lovely vocal album.

But back to the journey I was describing. The CD begins with a half-dozen “traditional” songs — MUSKRAT RAMBLE, 18th STREET STRUT, CAMP MEETING BLUES, GEORGIA CABIN, PUT ‘EM DOWN BLUES, and WHEN ERASTUS PLAYS HIS OLD KAZOO. Connoisseurs will check off the homages to Ory, Moten, Oliver, Bechet, Louis, and Dodds. But these are not formulaic choices. They come from a deep immersion in the repertoire and a desire to do the music homage in its full glory, not in the eleven tunes that everyone plays. The performances are totally energized but also respectful of the original outlines of the songs and of performance practice. The ensembles are strong (having two trumpets who can kitten-tussle in mid-air is a great thing) and the solos fierce or fiercely tender.

Then, SMILES, usually played and sung with a certain amount of sentimentality, whether it’s by Charles La Vere or Chick Bullock: the musical equivalent of a 1925 Valentine’s postcard, cherubs and hearts crowding in. But not here:

That’s two minutes and thirty-four seconds of exuberance. My initial reaction was “WHAT?!” But I was properly smiling as Evan and Charlie chased each other around the backyard, twin five-year olds who have eaten too much Halloween candy. Honoring the innovators implies a certain amount of possibly-disrespectful but loving innovation: the result is immensely restorative. While my nerve endings were still tingling, I had the rare pleasure of hearing Catherine Russell sing IF YOU WERE MINE as no one, including Billie, ever sang it, complete with the verse, which I’d never heard. A properly churchy DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE follows, then originals by Halloran, Kellso, Benny Green, and Evan . . . and the disc concludes with two brief cylinder recordings of AFTER YOU’VE GONE and MUSKRAT RAMBLE, created by the band and the master of hot archaisms, Colin Hancock.

After that, I wanted a glass of ice water, and, after a pause, to play COUNTERMELODY again, and tell my friends, as I am doing here.

So don’t be the last one on your block to walk around humming and grinning because of COUNTERMELODY. You can receive it in its lovely package (fine notes by producer Scout Opatut) or digitally, here or here.

Postscript: someone said of me, with an edge, “Michael only writes good reviews,” to which I responded, when I heard, “I only review good music.” COUNTERMELODY is over the moon and beyond the beyonds in that way.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR KINDS OF RADIANCE: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN ALLRED, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN at CAFE BOHEMIA (January 16, 2020)

Before darkness fell, there was light. And although the stage lighting was sometimes an unusual deep red, one of the places where it shone brightly was the basement of 15 Barrow Street in New York City, Cafe Bohemia.

Here’s a glowing example: radiance created with unaffected skill by Tal Ronen, string bass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. Heroes of mine.

But first . . . their choice of material is not the usual, but A SHANTY IN OLD SHANTY TOWN — one of those popular songs given new life by improvisers. On YouTube, you can find Ted Lewis’ 1932 let-no-heartstring-be-untugged version, the 1940 Johnny Long hit (where the band sings vaguely-hip glee club lyrics) and there’s also a Soundie. But many deep listeners will know it from recordings by Edmond Hall and Coleman Hawkins, then Red Allen and George Lewis and on and on. The harmonies are not the usual, with many traps for the unwary.

The lyrics, not heard here, are a Depression-era fiction (1932) where the speaker rhapsodizes about his decrepit home in the poorest section of town, but inside there’s a “queen / with a silvery crown,” whom I take to be Ma. Another version of “We’re incredibly poor but we’re happy,” which I suspect kept Americans from rioting. Cultural historians are invited to do their best.

I thought “shanty” came from Gaelic, but it’s French Canadian. The shanty on the cover of the sheet music is really rather attractive, with electric wires visible. Even though there’s erosion, it would be listed high on Zillow.

Here’s the luminous performance by these four, shining their particular light:

I am very sentimental about performances like these: without fuss or fanfare, musicians taking little stages in New York City to illuminate the darkness and uplift us. We didn’t know (or at least I didn’t) that it was all going to stop in March. But I see glimmerings and rumblings of new life. For one thing, directly related to the joys above, Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars will be playing outside the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City) on Sunday, May 2, 2021, from 1 to 3:30. I expect that our friend Phillip (“the Bucket”) will also be in attendance.

To keep your spirits high, here is a recording that I think few know — a soaring, Louis-inspired version of SHANTY, from 1938, by Willie Lewis and his Entertainers, recorded in Holland, featuring Herman Chittison, piano; Frank “Big Boy” Goudie, clarinet; Bill Coleman, vocal and trumpet — giving that tumble-down shack wings:

Those New York days and nights will come again and are starting to happen . . . .

May your happiness increase!

HIS SENTIMENTAL MOOD: JOHN ALLRED, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN (Cafe Bohemia, January 16, 2020)

I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time when we say, “Stop!  That’s enough beauty!” and certainly this recent period is not one of those times.

John Allred, Duke Heitger, Ehud Asherie, 2009

So I offer a vivid example: Duke Ellington’s IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD played with great feeling and virtuosity by John Allred, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass — at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, on a Thursday night, January 16, 2020. 

The fellow introducing the performance and then leaving the stand to enjoy it better is Jon-Erik Kellso, who knows a good deal about the creation of beauty.

Allred’s magnificence is that he makes those pieces of greased metal sing heartfelt memorable songs.  And the string section of Munisteri and Ronen is glorious also.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERS OF DOWNTOWN GROOVE: JOHN ALLRED, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN (Cafe Bohemia, January 16, 2020)

Here’s a beautiful sustained lesson in how to Groove, taught by four past Masters: Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Tal Ronen, string bass.  Their classroom was Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, on January 16, 2020.  The text for this class was Vincent Youmans’ SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY.

With these four in control, it’s ALWAYS, not SOMETIMES.

May your happiness increase!

JOSH DUNN: MELODY MAN’S DREAM

Photograph by Jessica Keener Photography.

In the past fifteen years of being an involved observer in New York City, I’ve met many musicians.  Sometimes the circles I travel in are both small and reassuring.  But every so often I’ll come to a gig and there will be someone setting up whose face is unfamiliar, and I will introduce myself, then sit back and be ready to take in the new sounds.  More often than not, the experience is a delightful surprise, so much so that I might go up to the person after the set and say, my enthusiasm barely restrained, “You sound wonderful.  Where on earth did you come from?”

That was my experience with young guitarist Josh Dunn, whom I hope many of you have met in person as well as through videos — mine and his own.  And when he said, “Tasmania,” I had to ask him again. “What?” “Tasmania.” And it finally sunk in — that he had traveled over ten thousand miles (sixteen thousand kilometers) to arrive here, bearing sweet inventive melodies and irresistible swing.

I first met and heard Josh at Cafe Bohemia on November 21, 2019 — where he was quite comfortable in the fastest musical company New York City has to offer: Tal Ronen, string bass; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn.  Hear how he fits right in and elevates the proceedings on LADY BE GOOD:

and a few months later, I had another opportunity to admire Josh’s steady rhythmic pulse, his intuitive grasp of the right harmonies (those chiming chords), and the way his single-string lines never seem glib but always offer refreshing ways to get from expected point A to point B.  Here, again — on the last night I visited New York City — he fit right in with the best of them: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Sean Cronin, string bass:

And he understands the guitar’s honored and venerable role as a small orchestra, where a masterful player has to keep melody, harmony, and rhythm going on what George Van Eps called “lap piano.”  Here’s a wonderful solo by Josh on a Duke Ellington- Barney Bigard composition, A LULL AT DAWN:

I’m inspired by how much music Josh makes ring in the air.  But this video of THE GLORY OF LOVE stops abruptly — so be warned — it’s almost painful.  I think, “I want to hear more!”:

Because I was impressed by Josh as a player — the evidence is here and on YouTube — and as a person (he’s soft-spoken, witty in an offhand way, and quite modest . . . he’s thrilled to be on the stand with these heroes) I suggested we do an email interview so that more people could get to know him.  The results:

I come from an incredibly supportive, but non-musical family background. My family are mostly in medical/health-related fields, and as middle child I felt compelled to get as far away from that as possible, hence traditional jazz guitar. I told my folks I wanted to pick up guitar when I was about 7, I can’t recall if there was any reasoning behind this except that guitars looked cool. I still think they look cool.

For its size, Tasmania is an incredibly vibrant place for the creative arts, including music. I am really grateful that I had opportunities to grow up there, and play with and learn from such terrific musicians. My first guitar teacher in Tasmania, Steve Gadd, introduced me to a lot of the music styles I still listen to, practice, and perform now. However, Tassie is such a small community, and it’s hard to find opportunities to make a living playing music when you live on tiny island at the bottom of the world, especially in a somewhat niche style like traditional jazz.

I grew up listening to jazz and the more I learnt about the music and its history, the more I started to gravitate towards New York. I didn’t initially see myself living here (it’s about as far removed from rural Tasmania in lifestyle and environment as you can find) but in 2013 I received a grant to travel and study in the US for three months, and halfway through I arrived in New York and immediately changed my plans so I could spend the rest of the trip exploring the city. As someone who has learnt this music from afar, it was so exciting to experience jazz as a living music and culture, and it made me want to come and learn more. So from there I applied for the Fulbright and that provided the impetus to move to the US and play music.

An interlude from reading: Josh plays SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES:

So a big part of my informal jazz education before coming to New York was watching the Jazz Lives videos on YouTube, particularly the Sunday nights at the Ear Inn with Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri and Company. It was how I learnt a lot of the repertoire, and discovered how this music was actually being played by contemporary musicians today.

Matt’s one of my musical heroes, so when I knew I’d be visiting NYC, I contacted him out of the blue and asked for a lesson. We emailed a little but somehow never quite managed to confirm a time, and I only had a few days left in NYC. So I took the drastic action of working out what approximate neighborhood he lived in from an allusion to a particular local venue in an online interview, and then just spent the afternoon wandering around that part of Brooklyn with a guitar, hoping for the best. Somehow it worked, I ran into him on the street, and we had our lesson, and it was only recently that we talked about how creepy it was to be approached on the block where he lived by a stranger from the other side of the world wanting a guitar lesson. It’s probably commonplace for Matt now, but I get the feeling that in 2013 it was a novel experience him.

You asked me for unusual NYC gig stories — I was hired for a mystery gig a few years back by a singer I didn’t know, I was just given an address, a dress code and a time, and it ended up being a private party hosted by a well known Hollywood actor. Which, as someone who’s only experience with that world was watching rented films while growing up in rural Tasmania, was a bit of culture shock for me.

I have no lofty ambitions of fame or fortune in music (but I admire those that do). The thing I have spent most of my life doing is playing guitar, usually by myself in my bedroom, but also with some of my favorite people in front of an audience. Since moving to the US I’ve somehow been able to turn that into something I get paid to do most nights of the week. So I want to keep learning and honing my craft as a musician, and also to continue making good music with good people. More recently I’ve started keeping a list of notes on my phone whenever I have the thought of “I wish someone had told me that a few years ago,” so maybe down the track I’ll be more involved in teaching in some form, but my main goal is to be in New York playing music.

More recently I’ve been enjoying the challenge of making solo jazz guitar an interesting thing to listen to for people who aren’t solo jazz guitarists. I could see myself pursuing this avenue too.

If you asked me for a compact embodiment of Beauty, as it happens now, I might very well reach for this:

Or if you asked me to define Collective Joy.  You don’t see Josh until three minutes’ in, but you certainly hear what he adds is the real thing, and then:

I’ll leave with this.  At one of the Cafe Bohemia gigs, I talked with a musician who’d dropped by to admire the band, and I said, “How about that Josh Dunn?” His reaction was immediate and emphatic, “We’re not letting him leave New York any time soon!”  My thoughts exactly.

Thank you, Josh, for improving the air.

May your happiness increase!

MULTI-COLORED SOUNDS: EVAN ARNTZEN, BEN PATERSON, TAL RONEN, DARRIAN DOUGLAS, ALBANIE FALLETTA at CAFE BOHEMIA, January 23, 2020

Evan Arntzen, photograph by Tim Cheeney

Evan Arntzen, once the new fellow from out of town, continues to delight and amaze.  He and his gifted friends did it again last Thursday, January 23, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York.  Those friends are Darrian Douglas, drums; Tal Ronen, string bass; Ben Paterson, Fender Rhodes; Albanie Falletta, guest vocal.

Here are four lovely highlights from that evening.

Harold Arlen’s BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:

Spencer Williams’ I FOUND A NEW BABY, with a nod to Lester:

Wingy Manone’s STRANGE BLUES (but come closer and don’t be afraid):

Arlen’s I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, which Albanie does so well:

Suggestions for pleasure?  Come to Cafe Bohemia for more good sounds; follow these musicians for more of the same.

May your happiness increase!

“ASSES IN SEATS” AND THE JAZZ ECOSYSTEM

Here’s something comfortable, enticing, seductive.

It’s not my living room, I assure you: too neat, no CDs.

Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Andrew Swann, drums.  “Sweet Rhythm,” October 26, 2008, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Shane, piano; Dan Block, tenor sax.  “Casa Mezcal,” October 26, 2014, I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU:

(This is not a post about numerology or the significance of October 26 in jazz.)

Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Clint Baker, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  “Sweet and Hot Music Festival,”  September 5, 2011, TOGETHER:

Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs: Ray, piano, composer; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass, Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Sacramento Music Festival,” May 25, 2014, BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES:

I will explain.

“Sweet Rhythm” was once “Sweet Basil,” a restaurant-with-jazz or the reverse, in New York City.  Now it is just a restaurant.  “Casa Mezcal,” across the street from the Tenement Museum, also offered jazz as well as food.  Now, only food.  The two California festivals depicted above are only memories now.  (I could have included the Cajun, Bourbon Street, Roth’s Steakhouse, Banjo Jim’s, the Garage, the Bombay Club, Jazz at Chautauqua, and perhaps a dozen other vacancies in the cosmos — in my time, which isn’t the whole history of the music.)  Jazz clubs become apartments, drugstores, dormitories, nail salons.  Or what was once a jazz bar now has karaoke night and game night.

That’s not difficult to take in.  Everything changes.  “Things are tough all over,” as my father said.

But I’ve included the chair and ottoman because so many jazz listeners prefer the comforts of home to live music, and thus, venues collapse and are not replaced.

The expression I’ve heard from festival producers is the blunt ASSES IN SEATS. It presumes that other body parts are attached to the asses, of course.  But it’s simple economics.  When a club owner looks out at the landscape of empty chairs and tables with napkins undisturbed, when there are more musicians on the stage than there are people in the audience, you can imagine the mental cogitations that result.  This has nothing to do with musical or artistic quality — I’ve heard terrible music played to filled rooms, and once in a New York club I was the audience (let that sink in) — not even me, myself, and I — for the first few songs by a peerless band.  And if you think that musicians are a substantial part of the club budget, it isn’t so: a world-famous jazz musician told me once of being paid sixty dollars for three hours’ work, and some of my favorite musicians go from fifty-and-seventy-five dollar gigs, or they play “for the door.”

And as an aside, if you go to a club and sit through two sets with your three-or-five dollar Coke or well drink or standard beer, you are subsidizing neither the club or the music.  Festival economics are different, but even the price of the ticket will not keep huge enterprises solvent.  I hear, “Oh, the audience for jazz is aging and dying,” and the numbers prove that true, but I think inertia is a stronger factor than mortality, with a side dish of complacency.  And people who study the swing-dance scene say that what I am writing about here is also true for younger fans / dancers.

So before you say to someone, “I’m really a devoted jazz fan,” or proudly wear the piano-keyboard suspenders, or get into arguments on Facebook over some cherished premise, ask yourself, “How active is my commitment to this music?  When was the last time I supported it with my wallet and my person?”

I do not write these words from the summit of moral perfection.  I could have gone to two gigs tonight but chose to stay home and write this blog.  And I do not go to every gig I could . . . energy and health preclude that.  And I am also guilty, if you will, in providing musical nourishment for viewers through technology, so that some people can live through YouTube.  I admit both of these things, but on the average I go to more jazz gigs than some other people; I eat and drink and tip at the jazz clubs; I publicize the music here and elsewhere.

But you.  Do you take the music for granted, like air and water?  Do you assume it will go on forever even if you never come out of your burrow and say hello to it, that other people will keep supporting it?  Do you say, “I must get there someday!” and not put wheels under that wish?  Mind you, there are exceptions.  Not everyone lives close enough to live music; not everyone is well-financed, energetic, or healthy.  But if you can go and you don’t, then to me you have lost the right to complain about clubs closing, your favorite band disbanding, your beloved festival becoming extinct. Jazz is a living organism, thus it needs nourishment that you, and only you, can provide.  Inhaling Spotify won’t keep it alive, nor will complaining about how your fellow citizens are too foolish to appreciate it.

If you say you love jazz, you have to get your ass out of your chair at regular intervals and put it in another chair, somewhere public, where living musicians are playing and singing.  Or you can stay home and watch it wither.

May your happiness increase!

CARPE DIEM, YOU CATS: DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JOSH DUNN, TAL RONEN (Cafe Bohemia, 11.21.19)

Many jazz fans are seriously prone to excessive nostalgicizing (see E.A. Robinson’s “Minniver Cheevy”) and I wonder why this music that we love is such a stimulus.  How many classical-music devotees dream, “I wish I were having dinner with the Esterhazys tonight so I could hear Joe Haydn’s new piece”?  I am sure sports aficionados imagine themselves at the Polo Grounds or another fabled place for the moment when ____ hit his home run.

But in my experience, those who love jazz are always saying, wistfully, “I wish I could go back to hear the Goldkette band / Fifty-Second Street / Louis at the Vendome Theatre / the Fargo dance date / Bird and Diz at Billy Berg’s,” or a thousand other part-forlorn wishes.  To be fair, I too would like to have been in the studio when COMES JAZZ was recorded, or the 1932 Bennie Moten session in Camden.

But sometimes such yearning for the past obscures the very much accessible glories of the present.  (I see this in those fans so busy making love to their recordings that they never go to a club to hear live jazz, which is their loss.)  Yes, many of our heroes will play or sing no more.  But THE GOLDEN ERA IS NOW and it always has been NOW.  And NOW turns into THEN right before our eyes, so get with it!

Here’s proof: more music from a life-enhancing evening at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York — November 21, 2019 — with Danny Tobias, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Josh Dunn, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass.

I’ve already posted several beauties from this gig here and here.

And now . . . .

LINGER AWHILE:

BLUE ROOM (at a wonderful tempo, cool but lively):

MY HONEY’S LOVING ARMS (with the obligatory Irish-American reference):

MY MELANCHOLY BABY:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE, so very tender:

and finally, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

I want to hear this band again — such peerless soloists and ensemble players — could that happen?  I hope so.

May your happiness increase!

 

IN PERFECT ALIGNMENT (Part Two): DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JOSH DUNN, TAL RONEN at CAFE BOHEMIA (11.21.19)

November 21, 2019 might have been an unremarkable day and night for some of us — leaving aside that it is Coleman Hawkins’ birthday — but at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City, the stars were wonderfully in alignment when Danny Tobias, trumpet / Eb alto horn, Dan Block, clarinet / tenor, Josh Dunn, guitar, and Tal Ronen took the stage.

As James Chirillo says, “Music was made,” and we dare not underestimate the importance of that.

Not just formulaic “music,” but eloquent, swinging, lyrical playing in solo and ensemble, as you can hear in their BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL I’ve already posted here.

Those who take improvised music casually don’t realize the combination of skill, emotion, restraint, and individuality that is at its heart, where musicians create a model community for a few hours.

I hear an intelligent graciousness, where no one musician wants to be powerful at the expense of the others, where collective generosity is the goal, playing “for the comfort of the band,” as Baby Dodds described it — but when a solo opportunity comes along, each musician must be ready to speak their piece, share their distinct voice.  Too much ego and the band squabbles; too little ego and you have watery oatmeal for the ears.

That such music as you hear here and elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES exists is, to me, frankly miraculous.  Five glowing memorable examples of this holy art follow.  And if these sounds remind anyone of a small Count Basie group (you can add the sounds of Jo Jones in your head, if you care to) that would be fine also.

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

DIGA DIGA DOO:

LADY BE GOOD:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

MY GAL SAL:

May your happiness increase!

DEEP FEELINGS, QUIET SWING: DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JOSH DUNN, TAL RONEN at CAFE BOHEMIA (November 21, 2019)

Beauty doesn’t ever have to raise its voice.

Here is some beauty for us  — by Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Josh Dunn, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. They created this quiet marvel and many others on November 21, 2019, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, one flight down, a place where beauty is invited to make itself comfortable on a regular basis.

BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL always makes me think of Herschel Evans, so much a part of the 1938-9 Basie band.  His short life is a model to us — not that we should die so young, but that we should make beauty, make its creation our goal, and thus be remembered decades after we are no longer on the planet.  You could substitute “love” for “beauty” and still be right.

(I also think of Ruby Braff and Sammy Margolis, but they are another story — although branches from the same lyrical tree.)

Thanks to Danny Tobias, Dan Block, Josh Dunn, and Tal Ronen — people who send us love notes of the best kind — and to Christine Santelli and Mike Zieleniewski, who make evenings like this at Cafe Bohemia possible.

May your happiness increase!

BILLIE AND BLUES at THE CAFE BOHEMIA PREQUEL (Part Two): MARA KAYE, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, EVAN ARNTZEN, BRIAN NALEPKA (Sept. 26, 2019)

Before there was this — the official opening of Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, one flight down — on October 17, 2019:

there was this, a warm-up for the club, a “soft opening” on September 26:

Glorious music from Mara Kaye, singing with the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band — totally acoustic — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass.  I posted other performances from that evening, here — but here are seven more beauties for your consideration, mixing blues by Memphis Minnie, the Smith ladies, and of course Lady Day.

Mara, of course, is herself, which is a damned good thing.

FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

I GOT TO MAKE A CHANGE:

WANTS CAKE WHEN I’M HUNGRY:

ARKANSAS BLUES:

YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW:

TOO LATE:

A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT:

Now, even more good news.  Cafe Bohemia is perking along beautifully — on November 21, I was there for a wonderful quartet session by Danny Tobias, Dan Block, Josh Dunn (new to me and a wonder), and Tal Ronen.  “Beyond the beyonds!” as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says.  And on the 22nd, I heard and admired Ricky Alexander, Adam Moezinia, Daniel Duke, and Chris Gelb, with a glorious appearance by Dan Block for two numbers.  All night, every Monday, my dear young hero Matt “Fat Cat” Rivera, who knows things but is not compelled to flatten people with facts, spins wondrous 78 rpm discs of the real stuff, and he reappears before and after sets on Thursdays.  The HOT CLUB, you know.

And on December 5, our Mara will be celebrating her birthday at Cafe Bohemia, so if you weren’t there for the prequel, you can make up for it in the near future.

It will be a birthday party where Mara and friends give us presents, you know.

Here is the Cafe’s Facebook page, and here is their website.

May your happiness increase!

BRIGHT SPARKS, DEEP SHADOWS: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, TAL RONEN at MEZZROW (Sept. 16, 2019)

This sign is catnip to me and to other cats — so much so that we were standing in line (in a drizzle) outside of Mezzrow long before the Powers would open the door.  But our perseverance was well rewarded, that night of September 16, when Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Tal Ronen, string bass, got together for a vibrant imaginative session.  Here are a few highlights.

Rossano’s musical beverage, TEA FOR TWO:

Honoring Fathahood, MONDAY DATE:

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE (featuring Tal):

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, echoing not only Fats but also Ruby and Ralph:

Rossano’s marriage of Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and Fred Chopin, in SHOE SHINE BOY / Waltz, Opus 69, No. 1:

And Jon-Erik’s suggestion that we not leave, STICK AROUND:

Brilliant solo voices, rewarding thoughtful ensemble interplay.  Yes, it happened.

May your happiness increase!

GEORGE WETTLING’S MANY SELVES

Some artists are too big to fit into one designated category or title: drummer George Wettling is one of them, even though his name is left out of many histories of the music, and when he is mentioned, it is as a “Dixieland” musician or one of “Eddie Condon’s barefoot mob,” both designations either condescending or arcane at this remove.  He was one of those players whose energies went to the band, so I think he was often taken for granted — but replace Wettling in any situation with a lesser drummer, and the change is immediately not only heard but felt.  I proudly say that I was listening to Wettling on records in my childhood, and continue to do so with pleasure. Consider this one.  I know it’s difficult to put Jack Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, and Joe Thomas to one side, but listen to Wettling’s drumming: intuitive, thoughtful, joyous, propulsive without being narcissistic:

Here is a post I created ten years ago, with more evidence of Wettling’s flexible, uplifting playing.  And here‘s another — with more video and audio. Wettling was quite the painter — a student and disciple of Stuart Davis — as explained  here, beautifully, by Hank O’Neal, in 2017.

But the occasion for this post is something new and wonderful — a living lesson in what Wettling DID, offered to us by the wonderful musician (and dear friend) Kevin Dorn, whose bright light is always visible in the night sky:

I had the immense good fortune of hearing Kevin swing out last night with a stellar band led by Evan Arntzen at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (Evan, Kevin, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mara Kaye, Harvey Tibbs, Rossano Sportiello, Adam Brisbin, Tal Ronen) and in the best Wettling tradition, he sounded like himself without having to try hard to do so.

May your happiness increase!

YOU CAN CURE YOUR ILLS

What do artists do?  Some show us the world as it is.  Others help us dream of what it might be.  I put the Russian refugee Israel Baline — Irving Berlin to you — in the second group.  His songs often depict a world where love and joy are possible, even inevitable.

He wrote of “a land that’s free for you and me.”  Of course, another immigrant. And a Jew. If he came here today, would he be welcomed?

He understood that humans need music and words, beautifully allied, to get closer to joy for ourselves and to offer it to others.

Doctor Berlin prescribed this in 1928, and it is still good advice: regular doses of spiritual phototropism.

sunshine-irving-berlin-rare-antique-original-sheet

Nick Lucas, vocal and guitar:

 

Whispering Jack Smith’s subversively swinging version:

And something much more recent, from Tal Ronen’s Holy Moly at Smalls, December 24, 2015, with Tamar Korn, Tal, Steve Little, Rossano Sportiello, Jon-Erik Kellso, Jay Rattman:

Everything that grows, and that includes people in front of their computers, needs sunshine to thrive, something more than Vitamin D: we need sunshine in our souls.  I offer Berlin’s music and these three bright performances as bright rays streaming through the window.

Nourish your own soul in the sunshine, but don’t block anyone’s else’s view.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE GARDEN, WHERE MELODIES GROW: FELIX LEMERLE, MURRAY WALL, DORON TIROSH, with YARDEN PAZ and YOAV TRIFMAN (Part Two): Sunday, August 21, 2016

It was an immense pleasure to be part of this experience with Felix Lemerle, Murray Wall, and Doron Tirosh, if only from behind the camera, and the first part has been met with a great deal of enthusiasm, I think properly.

FELIX photograph

Here’s the second: four more performances by Felix Lemerle, guitar; Murray Wall, string bass; Doron Tirosh, with guests Yarden Paz, alto saxophone, and Yoav Trifman, on the closing MARMADUKE.

Four more beauties:

Murray Wall’s brilliant, gentle exploration of I GOT IT BAD (with a dropped piece of cutlery early in the first chorus — for once, not my fault):

One of my favorite rhythm ballads — I hear Joe Thomas singing and playing it — IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

An extraordinary song, which Felix thanks Tal Ronen for, DEEP NIGHT:

And a closing Charlie Parker line, with Youngbloods Yarden Paz, alto saxophone, and Yoav Trifman, trombone, joining in, MARMADUKE:

I look forward to the surprises Felix Lemerle and friends will bring next time.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE GARDEN, WHERE MELODIES GROW: FELIX LEMERLE, MURRAY WALL, DORON TIROSH (Part One): Sunday, August 21, 2016

FELIX photograph

Young Felix Lemerle — guitarist, teacher, composer — swings easily and with a natural grace, has a deep repertoire of memorable songs, has a real respect for melody and interesting harmonies that don’t distort the original, and gets a lovely sound from his guitar.  He’s not a reactionary who’s devoted his life to copying old records, so he sounds happily like himself, and in his hands the guitar is an electrified wooden sculpture that beams love to us.  And his playing breathes, as he creates a graceful balance between sound and silence. You can find out more about Felix here.

I had my first-ever opportunity to hear him on the closing performance at The Ear Inn on Sunday, August 20, but he was playing on a guitar not his own (an obstacle to most musicians, although I would not have known this through what I heard).  I asked Felix — who is as gracious a being as he is a player — to let me know when he had a gig of his own.  And a week later, he played an afternoon session at Romagna Ready 2 Go on Bleecker Street in New York’s Greenwich Village — the food and ambiance were lovely — with sensitive, intuitive musicians: drummer Doron Tirosh and the wonderful bassist Murray Wall.  And two guests, in the second part.

A few words about Murray and about Doron.  Murray is soft-spoken and light-hearted, but his music resonates long after he has packed his bass.  His playing reminds me of Jonathan Swift’s definition of the ideal writing style: “the natural words in the natural order.” In Murray’s soft, wise playing, there is a floating cushion of exquisite notes, fascinating harmonies, and fine time.  He never plays an ugly note or phrase.

I had known nothing of Doron except for the few words of praise from Felix. And I confess that youthful drummers new to me arouse anxiety. I become Worried Elder: “Young man, are you planning to strike that ride cymbal with those wooden sticks?  Why, and how, and how often?”  But Doron and I bonded over dehydration and exhaustion, and I knew he came in peace.  When he began to play, my spirits rose even higher, because he is a melodic drummer in the great tradition of the Masters, of Dodds, Singleton, and Catlett.  Before each number, Felix would tell Doron the name of the song, and I could see from their expressions that they knew the melody and the lyrics as well.

One anecdote says worlds about Felix.  After I heard him play one song at the Ear Inn and was greatly impressed, I went on Facebook (it is 2016, after all) and said so . . . and the musicians who responded with enthusiasm nearly shut Facebook down.

Here are four very rewarding performances from the first half of the afternoon. Four more will follow.

HOW ABOUT YOU?:

I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET:

LULLABY IN RHYTHM:

WILL YOU STILL BE MINE?:

(Felix thanks the very fine Tal Ronen for introducing him to BASKET and to DEEP NIGHT, which will appear in the sequel.  We thank Tal, too, here at JAZZ LIVES.)

Now that you’ve seen the videos, you understand that I do not overpraise Felix, Doron, or Murray.  And the horticultural reference of my title might become clearer, since the back room of the restaurant, their “garden,” has a glass roof — charming, even when I would look up and see the rain.  I know the plants were happier and bushier when the trio had finished than they’d been at the start. Music does that, especially music of this caliber.

May your happiness increase!

HE’S A HERO OF MINE

Who’s that?  Why, the pianist, arranger, and occasional singer Mark Shane.

SHANE

I’d heard Mark on records and bootleg concert tapes going back to the late Eighties, but didn’t get to meet him until 2004.  And I was astonished.  He’s quiet; he doesn’t rely on volume or pyrotechnics, but he swings beautifully.  (He is A Stride Monster, but it’s not his only claim to our hearts.)  His playing is thoughtful, delicate, without being stiff or effete.  Right now, you are most likely to hear Mark as pianist and musical director for that force of nature, Catherine Russell.

But I thought a few minutes of Shane-beauty would help us keep perspective in these troubled times.

Here he is at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party, lovingly making his way through BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL, a hymn of praise and grief for Herschel Evans:

And, a year later, Mark’s stylish romp on MOONGLOW — always melodic, ticking away like a swing clock, with beautiful voicings and subtly varied embellishments:

Please notice how much the musicians onstage (Messrs. Chirillo, Weatherly, and Dorn) are appreciating it as well.  That says a great deal.

Here’s Mark with Tal Ronen and Dan Block — thinking about Fats and his Rhythm — playing YACHT CLUB SWING:

and another salute to gorgeous melody, Mark and Terry Blaine performing SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON in 2015:

“Don’t be shy,” says Terry.  And I’m not shy about my absolute admiration for Mister Shane.  Here is his website, where you can hear and learn more from this master.

May your happiness increase!

MELLOW / NOIR: DANNY TOBIAS, EVAN ARNTZEN, CHRIS FLORY, TAL RONEN at THE EAR INN (February 21, 2016)

The Ear Inn is its own shaded little world, but on Sunday nights even more so.

EAR INN sign

Between eight and eleven PM, all schedules subject to change, the EarRegulars turn 326 Spring Street in Soho into a cozy embodiment (note I didn’t say re-enactment) of Fifty-Second Street.  Ordinarily the EarRegulars are led, and courageously so, by Jon-Erik Kellso, but when Jon’s away, the cats still play. On Sunday, February 21, the felines were Danny Tobias, cornet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / tenor; Chris Flory, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass.  They swung most mellowly.

Because of an idiosyncracy in the lighting, or perhaps an idiosyncracy in the camera (or its owner) I experimented with the videos I’d shot and found they looked much better in atmospheric black and white.  I wanted to warn people so that they wouldn’t think they’d wandered into a land where Rod Serling was the tour guide.  There is also an incomplete video below . . . for reasons non-musical that I will explain.

That being said . . . .

BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME?:

DOIN’ THE NEW LOWDOWN:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

I FOUND A NEW BABY (very mellow, very groovy):

SHINE (here in truncated form, the first three minutes, an aesthetic choice made necessary by three maidens, bearing full glasses, who collided with me and my camera.  You can imagine the rest):

ALL MY LIFE:

ONE HOUR:

The building that houses The Ear Inn is a Historic Landmark.  Even if it weren’t about to celebrate its 200th anniversary next year, the music and good spirits would make this true.

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!

MORE SWING BELOW STAIRS: TAL RONEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JAY RATTMAN, KEVIN DORN, and TAMAR KORN at FAT CAT (Sept. 30, 2015)

FAT CAT interior

Here‘s the first part of this posting — four delicious songs from a quartet gig held in the basement funhouse that we know as Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York) on September 30, 2015: the music-makers are Tal Ronen, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jay Rattman, saxophone and clarinet; Kevin Dorn, drums — and guest magician Tamar Korn offering two Irving Berlin classics at the end of this post.

Fat-Cat

The rarely played (but haunting) DEEP NIGHT:

LIZA:

And Miss Korn paid us a visit, in 3/4 time, with ALWAYS:

BLUE SKIES:

What a band.

May your happiness increase!

SWING BELOW STAIRS: TAL RONEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JAY RATTMAN, KEVIN DORN at FAT CAT (Sept. 30, 2015)

Fat-Cat

Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, New York City) is a cavernous basement space notable for a bar, pool tables, chess sets, ping pong, other kinds of games, and an enthusiastic — often cheerfully vocal — young crowd.  Since it costs three dollars to enter and have your hand stamped with a feline silhouette (I always respectfully decline), it is happily frolicsome down there.  That is a gentle way of saying — for the members of the JAZZ LIVES audience who insist that music be played in reverent silence — that there is an audible background of human conversation and occasionally shouts and yelps of what I hope is pleasure.  Once the music begins, it is easy to concentrate on the jazz, so don’t quail and panic. Unless, of course, you’d rather.  Imagine yourself invited to a large party full of happy people where you can listen to a wonderful New York City jazz quartet for free.

FAT CAT interior

Generously, the kind and wise management also offers jazz of all kinds, from Terry Waldo’s happily loose Gotham City Jazz Band to much more modern experiments.

One of the happiest times I’ve had at Fat Cat was very recent — September 30, 2015 — and a delightful long set by the Tal Ronen Quartet.  Tal is a great string bassist but he’s also a fine catalyst: he puts together excellent groups of people who like and listen to one another.  This Quartet (with a special surprise guest at the end) was special: Jay Rattman, saxophone and clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums.  And here’s the first half of what they played.  And sung:

Frank Foster’s SHINY STOCKINGS:

A seasonal AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY:

JUST IN TIME:

More to come.  And the Fat Cat music schedule is available here, with appearances by a wide variety of fine jazz players, from George Braith to Ehud Asherie to Billy Kaye and Harold Mabern . . .

May your happiness increase!