Tag Archives: Tom Waits

“POPS!”: JOE POLICASTRO TRIO (DAVE MILLER, MIKEL AVERY, with guests ANDY BROWN, ANDY PRATT)

I am seriously out of touch with the pop culture of my generation.  Wake me at 4 AM, ask me for ten facts about Lester Young, and I can do it.  But Neil Young? Sorry.  There’s only so much space left on my internal hard drive, and if I choose to devote it to alternate takes of Sally Gooding with Teddy Wilson, go ahead and laugh.

When I received a copy of the fine Chicago bassist Joe Policastro’s new CD, below, I immediately thought that it would be related to Louis Armstrong.

JOE POLICASTRO 2016_pops cover

But once I started to listen, I was happy to have been wrong, since the music here is wonderful, an antidote to crabby narrowness.  Hear for yourself — the trio of Joe, the fine guitarist Dave Miller (whom I’ve admired — alongside Lena Bloch — in a variety of New York City surroundings), and the listening drummer Mikel Avery — working on the Sixties pop classic WIVES AND LOVERS here.  (I had that 45 single — by Jack Jones — in 1963 0r 4.)

Here’s Joe.  The music he creates is not as somber as this portrait:

JOE POLICASTRO

And Joe’s website.

I would like to see this CD in wide circulation, because the improvisations are so delightful.  Many of us have an unshakable fondness for certain songs — whether on their own terms, or because of sentimental associations — and we often want to hear jazz musicians improvise on just those songs.  I won’t enter into the needless argument whether Strayhorn is better than Porter or whether either of them is better than “those kids” Stevie Wonder and Prince.  Truly, once we brush away our associations, a strong melody is appealing, no matter who wrote it or when.  Think of Clark Terry and friends jamming on the FLINTSTONES theme.

So I dream of being in a car with a few Official Jazz Fans whose allegiances are clearly defined — let us say early Basie, 1960 Duke, Norvo-Farlow-Mingus, and so on, and playing this CD without identifying it.  And when the quibbling breaks out from the back, “Hey, Michael, that sounds good!  Who is it?  Let me have the CD sleeve so I can stop listening closely to the music and make judgments based on my reactions to people’s names, players and composers both!  I’ve got a little conceptual box right here!” I could politely say, “Please.  Just listen to the music and tell me what you think.  Life is only a Blindfold Test for people who want to be Blindfolded.”

I think they would come to the consensus that the music was superb, as I already have.  And then we could discuss players.  “That’s Joe Policastro!  What a fine bassist he is — I’ve seen and heard him with Andy Brown and Petra van Nuis.  He sings on his instrument.  And Dave Miller, full of surprise: I admired his work with Lena Bloch some time back.  That drummer Mikel is really swinging and paying attention.  And Andy twice — Brown and Pratt.  Where can I get this disc?”

Of course, some of the imaginary jazz fans in my car might recognize a few of the pop classics.  I know they would admire the gleeful, heartfelt transformations that Joe’s trio creates.

This disc would be an absolute hit with people who knew the pop originals but were ready to say how they didn’t like jazz, couldn’t listen to it, didn’t understand what “those people” were doing up there without any music stands.

For the record, the songs are WIVES AND LOVERS (Bachrach) / HARVEST MOON (Neil Young) / CREEPIN’ (Stevie Wonder) / WAVE OF MUTILATION (The Pixies) / MORE THAN A WOMAN (Bee Gees) / PRINCE MEDLEY: CONDITION OF THE HEART and DIAMONDS AND PEARLS / ME AND MRS. JONES (Billy Paul) / US AND THEM (Pink Floyd) / TAKE IT WITH ME (Tom Waits) / DRIVE (The Cars).

This session isn’t rock-pop played by jazz people in safe ways — for old folks who don’t want to be disturbed (i.e., wedding band music for those with delicate sensibilities).  There’s a good deal of inspired exploration, guitar sounds that made me think of TWIN PEAKS, energetic percussion.  No one would snooze through this disc: it’s not the twenty-first century version of THE HOLLYRIDGE STRINGS PLAY THE BEATLES.

POPS! is engaging inventive music.  And we’ll never have too much of that.

May your happiness increase!

“CITY OF TIMBRES”: TOM McDERMOTT / AURORA NEALAND

McDermott-and-Nealand

Pianist / composer McDermott and singer / reed wizard Nealand released a new duo — with friends — CD in 2015.  It should be well-known for its imaginative reach, its willingness to experiment without being self-conscious.  When I first began to listen to it, I thought, “Wow, that’s alive!  And that’s unusual,” both compliments.  I also realized that it was dense music — each track a small composed world of sounds and feelings — unlike many CDs now produced which nestle nicely in the listener’s hand.  So it’s taken me some time to write this, because one doesn’t absorb CITY OF TIMBRES all at once.  Any CD that begins with a brief, haunting interlude for piano and overdubbed wordless vocals is surely not going to be more-of-the-same . . . but for those easily scared-off, it soon modulates into a wonderfully idiomatic duet on MOANIN’ LOW . . . Hoagy’s NEW ORLEANS with French lyrics, a musing solo piano etude in 3/4, Aurora’s contemporary opus, MEMORY MADE AND MISTOOK, choro, blues, a nod to Bechet’s Haitian recordings, and more.  It can’t be summarized easily, but the overall result is an engaging mixture of soaring reed eloquence, wry and compelling singing, rollicking or pensive piano . . . all combined in sharp, savory, unpredictable ways.  And those web-searchers who want their music in quarter-teaspoon “sound samples” might search in vain.  Buy the disc / take a risk!

Here are Tom’s comments on the music, from his website.

My CD with Aurora Nealand, “City of Timbres” will be out this week, and I am thrilled. As promised in the liner notes, here is info on each of the songs. Thanks for reading and listening!

1) Aleman Remixeada. This piece began its life as a slow habanera -”Tango Aleman”- on the CD, “The Crave,” and a souped-up disklavier version was used on the same disc as a hidden track. I took this disklavier version to Aurora and she enthusiastically agreed to sing a new melody I wrote on top, very slow-moving as a counterweight to the frenzied piano. The result is spooky. Written originally for my good friend Gabriela Aleman, it translates in Spanish and Portuguese as “Remixed German”!

2) Moanin’ Low. A minor jazz standard that’s been done by Billie Holiday and others. This piece perfectly shows off the duality of Aurora’s vocals: whispery soft one minute and howling like a banshee, or Ethel Merman, or perhaps both, the next. We get to play lots of fun rhythmic games too; the slow stride feel gives us plenty of space for that.

3) Make Me a Pallet on the Floor. Also called “Atlanta Blues,” this is one of two New Orleans standard on the disc. I do my best James Booker 8-to-the-bar impersonation, and Aurora puts some Pres Hall clarinet on top of it. And sings with that verve of hers.

4) La Nouvelle Orleans. I had recorded this as a duet with singer Sarah Quintana, and done nothing with it. Pulled it off the shelf, added a little accordion dust from Aurora and voila! A little side trip to the other side of the water, and a different take on the great Hoagy Carmichael.

5) Casa Denise. Aurora and I both have the Brazilian choro bug. This is one of my originals, first recorded on the “Choro do Norte” CD with six players from New Orleans and Rio, then reprised on my Van Dyke Parks McD best-of compilation, “Bamboula.” Michael Skinkus, used elsewhere for Cuban spice, plays the Brazilian pandeiro here.

6) A Valsa Entre Quartos. Another original, and the only piano solo here. Originally called “iPhone Waltz,” since I recorded and transmitted it that way initially, it begins in C minor and ends in C# Minor. ”Waltz in Two Keys” or “Bitonal Waltz” were too dry for potential titles. So I came up with the metaphor, “A Waltz Between Rooms.” Then it occurred to me that this could qualify as a Valsa Brasileira, a Brazilian Waltz, so I sent it to my friend and Brazilian music scholar Alexandre Dias who pronounced it indeed a Valsa Brasileira, but not a choro valsa: an MPB valsa a la Chico Buarque or Tom Jobim. I’ll take it.

This title was created around the time my mother passed; and as I think of passing as moving from one space to another, I think my Mom may have helped me with this—I’m not good with metaphors!

7) Memory Made and Mistook. We follow my only solo with Aurora’s only solo: an original sonic extravaganza that builds from a vocal-with-accordion riff to a huge pop/rock climax. She had this in her recorded-but-not-released bag of tracks and I’m really happy to have it here.

8) Picture in a Frame. A Tom Waits tune from his fantastic CD, “Mule Variations.” That disc’s combination of savagery followed by beautiful sentimentality has made a big impact on me. Aurora in whispery mode mainly; she was going to add accordion but had to hit the road so I filled the void with a synthesized pad and things worked out fine.

9) Tropical Mood. Also known as Tropical Moon, (and we spell it both ways on the album), this is a driving instrumental from Sidney Bechet’s early jazz-caribbean fusion LP “Haitian Moods.” Michael Skinkus on several instruments here.

10) Opulence. A French waltz that Aurora and I recorded initially on my cd “New Orleans Duets.” It has the multi- thematic form I love in choros, rags, marches, musettes: AABBACCA or some variation thereof.

11) La Ultima Noche Que Pase Contigo. A song I first heard when the Jesuits played it for me circa 1974. A Cuban tune made famous by a Mexican bolero group, Los Panchos, with Eydie Gorme. I haven’t sung on disc since the LP era; this is the Spanish vocal debut for both Aurora and I.

12) Four Hands are Louder Than Two. Aurora laid down the piano choruses, then I went to work with cowbell, toy piano, cinquillo vs tresillo, boat whistle and a lot of synthesizer. Deep fun for me.

13) Mississippi Dreamboat. Track 12 ends with a boat whistle, and here the boat comes in. It was Aurora’s idea for me to play the slow movement of Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata as accompaniment. Fender Rhodes added for the solo.

14) Visions of Saint Lucia. This is my first attempt at writing a French West Indies tune, in this case a mazurk, the Creolized mazurka. Once again, I like the ambiguity of the title; I put it out there to help me get to that part of the world quicker.

20 seconds after the final notes, there’s a snippet from a 1944 private 78 my Mom recorded: a few seconds of a piano reduction of the Grieg Piano Concerto. So the album begins with the habanera, the root rhythm of New Orleans music, and ends with my mom, the root rhythm of moi.

I hope this helps! Take care, McD

Details about ordering CITY OF TIMBRES or Tom’s other recordings, here.

May your happiness increase!

A REMARKABLE MUSICAL FAMILY

Before you read a word of mine, I urge you to set aside fourteen minutes (multi-tasking discouraged) and enjoy this performance of SWEET SUE and GEORGIA CABIN by Evan Arntzen, reeds / vocal; his grandfather Lloyd Arntzen, reeds / vocal; his brother Arnt Arntzen, guitar / vocal; James Meger, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar; Benji Bohannon, drums. Recorded at the Vancouver 2013 Jazz Band Ball by Bill Schneider.

There have been some families in jazz but it’s a fairly uncommon phenomenon; in this century I can think of the Marsalis clan, then an A B C — Au, Baker, and Caparone — and I am sure my readers will tell me of others I am unintentionally slighting.  But the Arntzen dynasty is truly impressive. (I’ve heard Evan at close range a number of times, and his talent is no fluke.)

The occasion for this celebration is my listening to two fairly recent CDs, both cheerfully swinging without tricks — and they both suggest that the Arntzens have are a musically functional family. (I’m old-fashioned enough to be in favor of families that not only don’t hate each other, but that create something supportive and lasting.)

The first CD, BLACKSTICK, offers a sweet story as well as authentic hot jazz.

BLACKSTICK

This CD is an expression of gratitude to Grandpa Lloyd Arntzen, who taught Evan and Arnt, as children, not only musical fundamentals but gave them a deep love of melodic improvisation and hot jazz.  And the best part of the CD is that it is not an elegy or eulogy — but that Lloyd plays and sings (even a Tom Waits paean to New Orleans) throughout the disc.  Aside from Evan, Lloyd, and Arnt, the  other musicians are Jennifer Hodge, string bass, Dan Ogilvie, guitar; Benji Bohannon, drums.  The sound of the music is comfortable, too: what could be better than recording it — with only two microphones — in Lloyd’s “basement rec. room,” where it all began?  The music is a happy and free evocation of the Apex Club Orchestra, Sidney Bechet with and without Mezz Mezzrow, and even Soprano Summit: moving from gentle serenades to ferocious swing.  Here you can hear the CD and — if you are so moved — purchase an actual copy or downloads.

INTRO BROS ARNTZEN

The second CD, cleverly titled INTRODUCING THE BROTHERS ARNTZEN, is just that, a compact but winning introduction to their musical world — which features not only a good deal of expert instrumental interplay but almost as much delightful harmony singing.

BROS ARNTZEN photo

The CD isn’t slick or slickly produced: it sounds most gratifyingly like the music dear friends might make in their living room for the enjoyment of a small group of like-minded people.  (It is properly advertised on the cover as MUSIC FOR DANCING.)

I am not a fan of manufactured country-and-western music, but this disc has a lovely “roots” flavor to it . . . and when I was only on the second track, a stomping VIPER MAD, which was followed by a truly touching HOME, I was convinced.  Jennifer Hodge is back on string bass, and Andrew Millar plays drums most effectively. Evan sticks to the clarinet, Arnt to the banjo, but this foursome creates a rich sound.  As before, you may hear / purchase here.

The Brothers aren’t entirely down-home antiquarians: they have their own fraternal Facebook page.  They have already brought a good deal of restorative music and good emotions into my world: welcome them into yours.

May your happiness increase!

HILARY GARDNER SINGS: “THE GREAT CITY”

The-Great-City

In a city full of stirring, individualistic jazz singers, I invite you to welcome Hilary Gardner to the great stage.

This isn’t to presume her a new discovery — hardly!  But her debut CD is powerful, vivid, and emotionally varied.

She can sing, in short.

If you go immediately here (her homepage), two things will catch your attention.  One is the praise of Hilary written by Twyla Tharp — someone who knows music deeply.  The other is the sound of Hilary singing AUTUMN IN NEW YORK.

Delve a little deeper into her homepage (click on “music”) and you can hear more.

What I hear in THE GREAT CITY is a singer in full command of her lovely vocal instrument.  Hilary has a mature awareness of the bonding and bending that goes on between singer, melody, and words.  She offers us no melodrama, no vocal acrobatics; she honors the notes and the syllables, but she is not constrained by them.

She has chosen to retell the stories that the songs embody, each song a different story.  I hear an elegant restraint lit from within by feeling and understanding.  Hilary is wise enough to let the song carry her, wise enough to have absorbed great singers and instrumentalists, but especially wise enough to be herself.  No Billie, no Betty, no Sarah, no . . . .

The CD is a ripe pleasure — each track its own vignette, so the listener never feels bored by sameness or startled by rough jumps of subject and mood.  Hilary’s range is broad: there are the beautiful AUTUMN IN NEW YORK (verse and two choruses), WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG, a jaunty BROOKLYN BRIDGE, and a swaying YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS.

But her imagination doesn’t limit itself to “the Classics of the Great American Songbook,” and she reaches for Leonard Cohen, Nellie McKay, Tom Waits, and Joni Mitchell, making this CD an appealing anthology of short tales.

Hilary also has a deep awareness of the music’s foundations — without turning the disc into a repertory project.  So her accompanists (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) include Tatum Greenblatt, trumpet; Jason Marshall, tenor saxophone, Jon Cowherd, organ; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Elias Bailey, string bass; Jerome Jennings, drums, and the invaluable Ehud Asherie, piano.  Often the prevailing mood is neo-Basie.  Could that be wrong?

It’s a wonderful debut from an artist who offers us a great deal.  And I predict she will continue to delight us.

If you live in the tri-state area, the news is even more exciting.  Hilary and Ehud will be performing in duet at Smalls (183 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York) on Sunday, April 7, beginning at 7:30.  Details here.  I am looking forward to it . . . please leave a few seats for me in the front row!

May your happiness increase.