Tag Archives: technology

PETER ECKLUND’S MUSICAL WORLDS: “BLUE SUITCASE”

I was first captivated by Peter Ecklund’s music before there were compact discs.  In 1987, his bright cornet sounds came leaping out of the speaker as soon as I began to play KEEPERS OF THE FLAME, a Marty Grosz record (Stomp Off).  Then I bought and treasured PETER ECKLUND AND HIS MELODY MAKERS — now happily reissued on CD as HORN OF PLENTY (Classic Jazz).   

But wait!  There’s more.  Let me break into this discography / memoir and add a soundtrack: click on  http://www.peterecklundmusic.com/ for a charming musical background — Peter and friends playing his compositions and a few standard tunes. 

That’s better, isn’t it?

Here’s something even more encouraging: a new Peter Ecklund CD, called BLUE SUITCASE.  It’s available at CDBaby as a download or disc: (http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/PeterEcklund2) — for the ultimate musical experience, you can buy a copy from him at a gig.

Marianne Mangan, formerly a roving correspondent for JAZZ LIVES, wrote the pitch-perfect notes for BLUE SUITCASE:

Peter Ecklund is a conjurer, a creator of musical moods that span time, place and idioms. In this collection of jazz/pop eclectica, a combination of Ecklund originals and reinterpreted/rearranged standards, he evokes eras and emotions with a startling clairvoyance: you never heard it before, you never heard it THAT way before, but it feels exactly right.

And he does it with a unique methodology: the careful construct of skilled instrumentalists engineered to play as one with MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) files, all filtered through the operating system of an Apple computer. The result is BLUE SUITCASEa technologically-assisted artistic vision, in every instance as musically astute as a dozen bands specific to their bookings.

Take these revamped staples of early jazz: the once-rollicking romp San is a moody retro-tech visit to the dark continent, returned to sunny refrain by way of ukulele and clarinet. Dinah is hot as ever in a cooler sort of way, and technically brilliant in the hands of Ecklund and Block. The Broadway stalwart This Can’t Be Love here becomes an accordion-accented fugue for engaging trumpet and flugelhorn choruses, a succession of muted and open-horn improvs.

On the lead-off non-original (but hardly un-original) in this set, secrets are exchanged between triangle, trumpet, accordion and ukulele. Old Madeira Waltz lulls with its laconic delivery and intrigues with its mysterious tone.

Now witness Ecklund the composer as time-traveler in Tail Fins—top-down breezy, at once sweet and bittersweet—and so perfectly 1950s that the millennial stress starts to seep from your pores. Watching the World Go By takes you to the ’60s as surely as these boots are made for walking (and those doomsday disco riffs preceding a cheerful trumpet lead and plaintive vocal are precisely the mixmaster magic so prevalent throughout).

Or timeless as a silver screen legend, when a well-played saw (yes, saw) evokes the angel-voiced end of a Warner Brothers’ melodrama with the propulsive melody of an Italian cinema score. Add a jazz-baby chorus, a vaguely yokel vocal incanting film star infatuation, and finish with a brassy Hollywood fanfare: a Love Sawng for the ages.

Finally, the ‘meter-medley’, a quartet of varied pleasures in celebrated
time signatures.  For swingers…From gruff fiddle licks through jaunty conversational exchanges, the aptly named
Texas Shuffle never loses its
irrepressible rhythmic bounce.  For classicists…As the horns and accordion elaborate on
Lazy Ragtime’s filigreed rhythms they are underpinned not by alternating bass notes and chords but arpeggiating strings. Of course.
For sweethearts…A lovely, questioning melody and orchestral
changes of venue turn the classic slow-slow-quick-quick into a folk
sonatina with every variation of strain and instrument: a courtyard in
England, a forest in Eastern Europe, a ballroom in New York.
Horn, accordion,
Foxtrot. Romance.  For everybody…The gentle thesis of Waltz for a Song is stated in muted brass, spun out open-voiced against a circular undercurrent, then returning home—as all good waltzes do—with straightforward yet intense exposition. BLUE SUITCASE meets the most iconic dance of all, and the benefits are mutual.

What more could anyone want?  Peter Ecklund — on cornet, trumpet, fluegelhorn, ukulele, whistling (he’s a master), composing and creating just-right musical backgrounds. (And where many CDs labor under the weight of their creator’s narrowly intense artistic vision — where the result is seventy-five minutes of the same thing — this one is a tasting menu of surprises.)

And a word about that suitcase.  If you’d asked me in other circumstances for my feelings about having a splendid jazz soloist accompanied by something technological, I would have become anxious.  I’ve heard too many CDs where (perhaps for budgetary reasons) the “strings” come out of a box, and they bear the same relation to actual strings as dehydrated soup mix does to soup. 

But Peter Ecklund’s imaginative efforts here aren’t an attempt to offer imitations at reduced prices.  Rather, Peter’s backgrounds and melodies that come out of the Blue Suitcase are evocative additions, swirling around the human players and singers: this CD is a ticket inside his imaginations, and that’s a wonderful gift.  Besides, it makes me think of a famous Louis Armstrong anecdote.  Someone had asked him (off the record), “Louis, how do you stand playing with bands where the musicians are well below your level?” And he’s supposed to have replied, “You start relying on other musicians and it’s too bad for you!”  Peter’s surrounded himself with first-rate players on this CD: among them Dan Block, Will Holshouser, Andrew Guterman, Joel Eckhaus, Melody Federer, Christine Balfa, Murray Wall, Gary Burke, Marty Laster, and Matt Munisteri.  And the BLUE SUITCASE, a most magical piece of luggage, by Peter’s side for these wonderful journeys.   

And — not incidentally — New Yorkers and intrepid travelers can now see Peter in person in a variety of settings: visit his site to see his current gigs, which include stints with the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s Tavern, with Terry Waldo’s Gotham Jazz Band at Fat Cat, with the Stan Rubin trio featuring Herb Gardner at Charley O’s, with the Stan Rubin band at Swing 46, with the Gotham Jazzmen at the Greenwich Village Bistro.  Peter, incidentally, is memorably inventive in person, even when his luggage is in his apartment. 

To paraphrase Linus, “Happiness is a full gig calendar!”  Details here: http://www.peterecklundmusic.com/?section=calendar — and you can join Peter’s email list to be kept up to date on these happenings.

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OUR OWN FOUR-DAY NYC JAZZ FESTIVAL

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This remarkable weekend began on Friday night (November 7) at the New York Historical Society on Central Park West, with a free one-hour concert featuring bassist-singer-composer Jay Leonhart, amidst what the MC introduced, somewhat oddly, as “rising stars” Wycliffe Gordon, trombone and vocals, Ted Rosenthal, piano, and Alvin Atkinson, drums. The program mixed several Richard Rodgers classics, “Shall We Dance,” “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” Bernstein’s “Cool,” with two Leonhart originals and a closing romp through “Lester Leaps In.”  Rosenthal sparkled; Atkinson swung.

But the high point of the evening was an exploration of what Leonhart called “a jazz prayer,” “Body and Soul.”  That 1930 song can be a problem for musicians, as it has been played so nobly by so many: Coleman Hawkins, Louis, Bird in his first flights, Duke and Blanton, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Lucky Thompson, Sonny Rollins, Billie Holiday, the Benny Goodman Trio, etc.   This performance began with Leonhart’s arco solo and then reached heights with Wycliffe’s plunger-muted, stately exploration of the theme.  Wycliffe knows full well how to honor a melody rather than simply leaping into variations on chord changes).  Waggling his plunger in and out, he mixed growls and moans, naughty comedy and deep sighs, as if Tricky Sam Nanton or Vic Dickenson was playing a hymn.  The solo ended all too soon.

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Not only was the concert free, but the museum was open to all, so the Beloved and I wandered through lovely landscape paintings.  Future Fridays at the NYHS (all beginning at 6:30 PM) will feature The Western Wind (a contemporary classical vocal sextet) on November 14, on the 21, guitarists from the Manhattan School of Music (teachers and proteges); Cheryl B. Engelhardt and Oscar Rodriguez (guitar) on December 5, jazz again on December 12, with Jeb Patton, David Wong, and Tootie Heath, and ending with Latin music on the 19th from the Samuel Torres Group.

We rested on Saturday to prepare ourselves for the exuberances to come.

Sunday afternoon found us at Sweet Rhythm on Seventh Avenue South for the third gathering of Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends: this time bassist Kelly Friesen, drummer Andrew Swann, pianist Rossano Sportiello, and reedman Peter Reardon-Anderson, doubling tenor and clarinet.  Hyperbole is a dangerous thing, but I came away from these two sets thinking that I had heard the most exciting jazz in years.

I so admire Jon-Erik’s ability to shape an ad hoc ensemble into a cohesive one, and he did it through the two sets, creating jazz that was of this time and place, looking back to New Orleans and collective improvisation, forward to contemporary “Mainstream” solos.  If I kept thinking of Keynote Records 1943-46, perhaps that’s because those jubilant performances kept being evoked on the stand at Sweet Rhythm.  Rossano strode and glided, sometimes in a Basie mood (appropriately) on “Doggin’ Around” and “Topsy”; Kelly took the glories of Milt Hinton (powerful rhythm, a huge tone, beautiful arco work on “All Too Soon”) and made them his own, and Andrew Swann, slyly grinning, added Sidney Catlett and Cliff Leeman to his swinging progenitors.  Anderson, twenty-one years old, is someone we can greet at the beginning of a brilliant career (to quote Emerson on Whitman): Zoot Sims and Ed Hall stand in back of his graceful, energetic playing.  Basie got honored, but so did Bing and Louis in “I Surrender, Dear,” and Kellso reminded us that not only is he playing marvelously but he is a first-rate composer: his line on “Linger Awhile” was a memorable hide-and-seek creation.  We cheered this band, and with good reason.

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And the room was full of Jazz Friends who didn’t get up on the bandstand: Bill and Sonya Dunham, Jim and Grace Balantic, Nina Favara, Lawri Moore, Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  A righteous congregation!

And the five portraits you see here — from the top, Jon-Erik, Rossano, Kelly, Andrew, and Peter — come from this gig, courtesy of Lorna Sass, jazz photographer.

Perhaps I am a jazz glutton, but those two sets weren’t enough: I walked downtown to the Ear Inn to soak up one more set by the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik, Chris Flory on guitar, Greg Cohen on bass, and Michael Blake on tenor, someone entirely new to me.  (He and Jon-Erik go ‘way back, although they hadn’t played together in years.)  Blake is exceedingly amiable, so we found ourselves chatting at the bar — about small towns near Victoria (Souk for one) and Pee Wee Russell, about the odd and gratifying ways people come to jazz, about Lucky Thompson and jazz clarinet.  Then it was time for the EarRegulars to hit, and they surely did — from a “Blue Skies” that became “In Walked Bud,” to Blake’s feature on (what else?) “Body and Soul.”  Here, backed by the wonderfully sensitive duo of Chris and Greg, he broke the theme into fragments, speculating on their possibilities, becoming harmonically bolder with a tone that ranged from purring to rasping (some echoes of Lacy), exploring the range of his instrument in a delicate, earnest, probing way.  It was a masterful performance, and I am particularly delighted to encounter such brave creativity from a player I didn’t know before.

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Of course, the near-collisions of beauty and contemporary weirdness never fail to amaze.  I was sitting at the bar at the Ear, welcomed there by Victor, who knows more jazz than most critics.  At the bar, to my left, three and sometimes four people were facing away from the band, hunched over their Black Berry or Black Berries, their iPhones, what have you.  Electronically glowing tiny screens, blue and white, shone throughout the club.  I too am a techno-addict — but why go to a bar to check your BlackBerry and ignore the live art being created not five feet away?  To treat Kellso, Blake, Flory, and Cohen as background music seems oblivious or rude.

Monday there was work — but that is always a finite obligation, even when it looms inescapably — but soon I was back in Manhattan, drawn inexorably with the Beloved to Banjo Jim’s (Avenue C and Ninth Street) to hear two groups in one night.  Banjo Jim’s seems ideal — small, congenial, a private neighborhood bar full of young people listening to the music, a real blessing.

The first group was full of old friends — Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective.  This incarnation included Charlie Caranicas on cornet, Michael Hashim on alto sax, J. Walter Hawkes on trombone and vocal, Jesse Gelber on piano, Kevin on drums.  Kevin kicked things off with a romping “I Want To Be Happy,” explicitly summoning up the 1972 New School concert where Gene Krupa, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood — someone named Eddie Condon in charge — showed what could be done with that simple line.  (I was at that concert, too.)  J. Walter Hawkes, one of my favorite unsung singers, did his wonderful, yearning “Rose Room.”  Barbara Rosene sat in for a thoughtful “Pennies From Heaven,” complete with the fairy-tale verse, and the proceedings closed with a hot “China Boy.”

And then — as if it that hadn’t been enough — the Cangelosi Cards took the stand.  They are the stuff of local legend and they deserve every accolade.  A loosely-arranged ensemble: Jake Sanders on acoustic guitar, Marcus Milius on harmonica, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Gordon Webster on piano, Karl Meyer on violin, Cassidy Holden on bass.  They are all fine players, better than many with larger reputations.  I thought I heard a drummer but saw no one at the trap set: later I found out that their singer, Tamar Korn, has a remarkable vocabulary of clicks, hisses, and swishes — she fooled me and she swung.  The group has a Django-and-Stephane flavor, but they are not prisoners of that sound, that chugging rhythm, that repertoire.  They began with “Douce Ambiance,” moved to Harry Barris’s “It Was So Beautiful,” and then Eddie Durham’s “Topsy.”

Early on in the set, it became clear that this band has a devoted following — not just of listeners, but of dancers, who threw themselves into making the music physically three-dimensional in a limited space.  Wonderful inspired on-the-spot choreography added to the occasion, an exultant Happening.

Then Tamar Korn got up to sing — she is so petite that I hadn’t quite seen her, because I was seated at the back of the small square room.  But I heard her, and her five songs are still vibrating in my mind as I write this.  Without attempting to be mysterious in any way (she is friendly and open) she is someone unusual.  Rumor has it that she hails from California, but I secretly believe she is not from our planetary system.  When I’ve suggested this to her, she laughs . . . but doesn’t deny it.

Tamar’s singing is focused, experimental, powerful.  In her performance of “Avalon,” she began by singing the lyrics clearly, with emotion but not ever “acting,” then shifted into a wordless line, high long held notes in harmony with the horns, as if she were Adelaide Hall or a soprano saxophone, then did two choruses of the most evocative scat-singing I’ve ever heard (it went beyond Leo Watson into pure sound) and then came back to the lyrics.

Her voice is small but not narrow, her range impressive.  What I find most exhilirating is the freedom of her approach: I hear old-time country music (not, I must add, “country and western,” but real roots music), blues and bluegrass, the parlor soprano essaying light classics, opera, yodeling, swing — and pure sound.  She never appears to be singing a song in any formulaic way.  Rather, she is a vessel through whom the force of music passes: she is embraced by the emotions, the notes, the words.

And when the Cards invited their friends — that is, Charlie Caranicas, Michael Hashim, and Jesse Gelber — to join them for “Milenberg Joys,” “I’m Confessin’,” and “Avalon,” it was as close to soul-stirring ritual in a New York club as I can remember.  The room vibrated; the dancers threw their hands in the air, people stood up to see better, the music expressed intense joy.  I don’t know whether Margaret Mead had rhythm in her feet, but she would have recognized what went on at Banjo Jim’s.

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I hope to have video, thanks to Flip, to post shortly.  Tune in again!  (And another weekend is coming soon . . . tempus fugit isn’t so terrifying when there are glories like this to look forward to.)

Only in New York, I am sure.

All photographs by Lorna Sass, copyright 2008.

I, PODIUS

I didn’t want an iPod.

There, I’ve said it.  It must have been my perverse snobbery, my badly-concealed elitism.  I made fun of the millions of people who had little white earbud phones in their ears and (for the most part) dreamy vapid expressions.  I’d see them on the subway, where the clamor coming through those earbuds was audible over the roar of the C train.  Did I fear that if I bought an iPod my musical tastes would become like theirs?  I don’t know.

I kept doing this even when Kevin Dorn, my spiritual guide in many things, said, mildly, that he had the 1940 Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans session on his iPod and could thus listen to “Prince of Wails” whenever he liked.  Even that failed to move me.  Now I am not an unregenerate Luddite: I am addicted to email, and would rather hear 1929 Ellington on CD than on a V- Victor.  But still I resisted.

However, I can’t be separated from the music I love for any length of time.  I’ve brought compact discs to Ireland, to Germany, to Mexico, to Sicily.  Take me away from my jazz library and I start fidgeting because I can’t hear Teddy Bunn sing and play “Blues Without Words.”  So when the Beloved and I went away this summer, the physical manifestation of this urge was a heavy shopping bag of discs in the back of the car.  Did I play them all?  Of course not.  It was exceedingly comforting to know that they were there, but I knew that this was not a good solution to the anticipated deprivation.  (It was the aesthetic equivalent of having five dozen cans of black beans in the kitchen cabinets so that you will never run out.)

At some point, I began, reluctantly and grudgingly, to think about an iPod.  Even when the Beloved insisted on buying it for me as a premature-birthday present, I was still worried, even suspicious.  Part of the dread was, of course, provoked by the mythology that Apple and other firms have created, making a simple purchase seem unfathomable, mystical.  I stared at the online displays, feeling overwhelmed and ignorant.  Did I want a New Generation iPod, a Classic, a Nano?  Finally, I gave in and asked the people who know these things by heart — my sweet-natured students, for whom Technology is a first language.  To their credit, even if it seemed to them that Grandpa was asking about which skateboard to buy, they didn’t snicker but entered eagerly into the game of Teaching Their Professor.  Emboldened, I bought a black Classic and plunged headfirst into the world of iTunes, and syncing.

The result?  Had you seen me on the Long Island Rail Road last night, sleepy and disarranged, with a dreamy vapid look on my face, you might have noticed the white earbuds nearly falling out of my ears (they fit poorly).  But I was twenty feet underwater in my own version of bliss: Mildred Bailey singing “Little High Chairman,” a Buck Clayton Jam Session, Louis playing “Muggles.”  Is there a moral?  I doubt it.  But pick your own cliche: 1) You can teach an old dog new tricks, or 2) Better late than never, if late isn’t too late.