Tag Archives: Thirteenth Note Records

DOMESTIC HARMONY: PIKET PLAYS MINTZ

Popular culture tells us that we fall in love with other people based on how they look when getting in or out of the shower. That may be built into our genes: how well will this future partner carry on the race? But I think that lasting love relationships are built on admiration and respect more than hip-to-waist ratio, and a new CD by pianist Roberta Piket, devoted to composer Billy Mintz, is heart-warming proof:  

I first encountered Billy on a recording, in his more familiar role: a jazz percussionist who is devoted to exploring not only rhythms but sounds and timbres.  When I first got to see and hear him, on a session, perhaps eight years ago, led by saxophonist-composer Lena Bloch, I was deeply moved by Billy’s drumming.  He has infinite curiosity and patience: I remember a solo he took on a session that was not the usual “fountain of noise” (an apt Whitney Balliett phrase) but a quiet extended exploration on a minimalist drum kit: as if he were sending thoughts to us by tapping and pausing. 

Perhaps at that same gig, someone sitting at the end of the table, listening and watching closely, was invited to sit in and turned out to be a pianist of great subtlety and depth: that was Roberta.  I was — there’s no other word but “fulfilled” — by their music, and they were very gracious to me, singly and together.  And I learned, to my delight, that they were a happily married couple: how fortunate, how apt.  I’ve encountered them in the years that followed, and have always been rewarded by their music and their gentle selves.

Art by Tom Fedro.

When I heard the music from the YouTube video above, I was delighted, and DOMESTIC HARMONY is a consistent pleasure.  The virtues Billy brings to his drum set are also evident in his compositions, and the pleasures of Roberta’s playing both enhance and are enhanced by them.  I keep coming back to this CD, because it exemplifies what music is and can be: pensive, lively, mournful, full of surprises.  And utterly cliche-free: sweetly melodic, a series of explorations where both composer and performer invite us in, welcome us to their worlds.  The compositions are GHOST SANCTUARY / BEAUTIFUL YOU / LOOKING DOWN AT THE STARS / SHMEAR / FLIGHT / DESTINY / YOUR TOUCH / BLINDS EYE / UGLY BEAUTIFUL / CANNONBALL.  Roberta plays on all of them, but on DESTINY (to which Billy wrote words as well as music) she sings — ardently and genuinely.

Roberta Piket – Domestic Harmony: Piket Plays Mintz

Click on the box above to hear sound samples, purchase, download DOMESTIC HARMONY: I urge you to take the time to contemplate its beauties.

I like paradoxes, so I can only say that this disc is seriously tender, tenderly serious.  And to know that it is a birthday gift from Roberta to Billy and thus to us is quite wonderful.  And (it makes a difference) the disc is beautifully recorded, and Roberta’s liner notes tell us a great deal without telling us what is their shared medicine cabinet.

It’s a truly rewarding effort: what love sounds like — the durable kind that lasts long after the shower is over.  

May your happiness increase!

NOT ONLY BUT ALSO: ROBERTA PIKET, “WEST COAST TRIO”

When I taught freshman composition, some of my best students had grown up speaking a language not English.  They were often far more perceptive than the local talent whose radius of exploration was fifty miles. But the “ESL” crew occasionally had trouble with English idioms that native speakers take for granted.  One, memorably, was “not only but also,” and perhaps its apparent negation becoming affirmation was too much to digest at first.

While I was listening to pianist-composer Roberta Piket’s new CD, WEST COAST TRIO, the expression came back as a perfect way to describe her work, a great compliment.

If you don’t know Roberta’s work, you will want to scamper ahead to the video to hear it; she is also, not surprisingly, quietly eloquent about how she perceives what she does, and where she’s come from: here is a recent interview.

But to the music: in a landscape of artists who equate modernism with abstraction, Roberta always remembers that the heart of music is song, so her work, even when she is exploring, is always melodic and soulful, free from cliche, welcoming us in.  And whatever meter or tempo she chooses, her music has the pulse of a heartbeat.  To some, swinging improvisation is no longer relevant.  From the first measures of MENTOR, the first song on the disc, I was bobbing my head: for me, very good evidence of enjoyment.  The result can be innovative or technically sophisticated, but it’s mobile and warm, never chilly.

Here is the behind-the-scenes look at the session, extremely valuable because not only does it provide a tasting menu of the music, but also we see and hear Roberta speaking about it:

and here you can listen to longer samples of the music, download it, or purchase the actual disc — the last of which I recommend because Thirteenth Note Records’ products are superb, and Bob Bernotas’ liner notes equally so.

One of the other things to love about this CD is it shows off Roberta’s wide range of musical affections: standards by Legrand, Rodgers, and Donaldson (MY BUDDY is aimed right at our hearts), compositions by Shearing, Corea, Hicks, and two originals by Roberta.  Beautiful recorded sound and beautiful playing by Joe La Barbera, drums; Darek Olszkiewicz, string bass, with telling cameo appearances by Larry Koonse, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums.  There’s great variety: some performances seem dreamy, musing; others are superb dance music.

When I’d played the disc the first time, I wanted to hear it again.  You will, too.

May your happiness increase!

LIGHTLY ASKING DEEP QUESTIONS: BILLY MINTZ QUARTET

When it comes to jazz drumming, I’ve always loved the flow of the rhythms, but I’ve even more deeply gravitated towards sounds, to melodists — Baby Dodds, Kaiser Marshall, Walter Johnson, Kaiser Marshall, George Stafford, Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, Zutty Singleton, George Wettling, Jo Jones, Sidney Catlett, Jake Hanna, Mike Burgevin, Kevin Dorn, Hal Smith, Jeff Hamilton, Clint Baker.  And, more recently, musicians I’ve come to think of as sound-painters: Hyland Harris, Ali Jackson, Eliot Zigmund, Matt Wilson, and Billy Mintz.

BIlly Mintz is a fascinating creative force because he is not only a splendidly rewarding player — inventing and arranging sounds in new, impressionistic patterns that stand on their own next to the best improvisations of any contemporary jazz improviser — but his compositions have flavor, depth, and scope.  His music is curious — peering behind the curtains — rather than formulaic or aggressive.

I’ve heard some of Billy’s compositions explored on live sessions with a a variety of musicians, including saxophonist Lena Bloch.  Here is one of my favorites, HAUNTED, recorded by the composer and pianist Roberta Piket in Austria, earlier in 2013:

I am pleased to tell you that there is now an entire CD of Billy’s compositions issued by Thirteenth Note Records . . . played not only by the composer, but by pianist / singer Roberta Piket; John Gross, tenor saxophone; Putter Smith, string bass.

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Don’t let the somber cover picture fool you: beneath that hat and shades, Billy’s eyes gleam and his heart is lively.

The songs (a few have gained wide recognition) are BEAUTIFUL YOU / FLIGHT / DIT / DESTINY (Roberta, vocal) / HAUNTED / SHMEAR / CANNONBALL / BEAUTIFUL / UGLY BEAUTIFUL / RELENT / RETRIBUTION / AFTER RETRIBUTION.

Their titles speak to Billy’s poetic, inquiring sensibility.  His music doesn’t provide pat answers; rather it asks questions: “What is play?  What is sadness?  Where might we be going?  Must it always be the same thing? Who says what is beautiful?  Would you care to join me?” and others of equal weight.

The music on this quartet CD isn’t abrasive or abusive: Billy, John, Roberta, and Putter love melody, but they also love to experiment with the traditional shapes of the improvising quartet — so instruments have amiable conversations, echoing or sweetly correcting one another; duos and solos spring up within compositions; balances shift within the piece.  Each song seems both new and composed, inventive and inevitable, and the procession from one piece to another on the disc is cumulative.  This CD is not the traditional melody-statement / solos / drum fours / melody-statement, and that’s all to the good.  No explorations, no surprises!

Here you can read more about Billy and hear samples from the CD: inquiring readers and hearers will be rewarded.  You can find out more at Thirteenth Note Records as well.

May your happiness increase!