Monday, November 19, 2018
It seems like it's been forever since I've had a great organ jazz trio in for review. These jazz genres tend to arrive in waves, and the season for Hammond B-3s must have passed many months ago. But now that there's snow on the ground, this type of jazz is so warm and welcoming--and like magic, the sun came out today once I started listening to Dr.B! Mike Bogle's to blame, and so is that exclamation mark.
Bogle is known primarily as a Texas-based jazz pianist, trombonist and singer, but Mr. B! is his tribute to the B-3, a relaxed and laid-back set with just the right amount of playfulness in the groove. Bogle has teamed with guitarist Rich McClure and drummer Ivan Torres, and while the latter two are actually quite energetic in their approach, it's the Hammond that acts as a musical varnish, a smooth coat of easiness that permeates every track. Moving from piano to B-3 might not sound like a huge leap, but there's an art to adding the unique Hammond textures, those steady growls and flourishes that seem almost impossible to recreate on other types of keyboards. Bogle gets this, and his B-3 is a magical combination of smoothness and light.
Bogle's worked with the best, including Doc Severinsen (who is still cooking at age 91), Jaco Pastorius and Burt Bacharach. He's also a former member of the One O'Clock Lab Band from the University of North Texas. He did all this as a trombonist and pianist, however, so that makes his B-3 "debut" a bit surprising. He's such a confident and distinctive player, especially when it comes to his mastery of the bass pedals. It shouldn't come as a surprise since Bogle plays in so many different ensembles--an experimental rock group, a Caribbean jazz quartet and a big band. He's perhaps most famous for his solo piano recordings, which include everything from Joplin to Gershwin to Brubeck.
Even Bogle's vocals are fun and intriguing. Despite his Texas roots, Bogle's voice is straight out of New Orleans, sometimes bouncing off a Tom Waits half-speak and sometimes reaching deep into a blues baritone. On the last of these five extended jams, an original named "Walkin'," Bogle tells the story of a mystery man walking through unfamiliar neighborhoods and finally coming to the conclusion that it's better to "keep walkin' by." This is an apt metaphor for Bogle's musical prowess, that he can approach something new and walk with a confidence that can carry him safely through the night.
Sunday, November 18, 2018
Here's another report from the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. This one covers ListenUp, a Colorado audio dealer, and their skill at taming the sound in four different exhibit rooms. You can read it here at Part-Time Audiophile.
I just returned from San Diego, where I covered the North American debut of a $250,000 amplifier (more on that soon), and now I'm staring out the window and watching it snow like a mofo. So here's another RMAF show report to warm you up--this one covering the room from my friends at Fidelis Music Systems. You can read it here at Part-Time Audiophile.
Friday, November 16, 2018
Here's another RMAF show report covering a big, big system--this one including a brand I haven't heard in ages (Vandersteen). You can read it here on Part-Time Audiophile.
Thursday, November 15, 2018
Here's one more RMAF show report for today, about another room that sounded absolutely killer. You can read it here at Part-Time Audiophile.
I know, that's a rather dry and technical sounding title for this Rocky Mountain Audio Fest show report, but just look at those Jeff Rowland Design Group amps and preamps. Why do you care about the title? Please read it here on Part-Time Audiophile.
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Here's another one of my Capital Audiofest show reports for Part-Time Audiophile, yet this one is a bit different because it didn't take place in an exhibit room--it happened in a corridor at the hotel! You can read about it here.
Tuesday, November 13, 2018
This delightful EP, just six songs clocking in around 25 minutes, is from yet another talented woman singer who has established a memorable and exciting jazz style in a very eventful 2018. The difference with Lauren Henderson, however, is that she's gone off on a pop tangent which allows her to show off her writing and arranging skills as it applies to her experiences. There are certainly jazz elements here, but Henderson also uses soul and R&B to reflect her multi-cultural background (Panama, Montserrat and other Caribbean locales) in the same way Sade did twenty-five years ago. This is Henderson's fourth album, but the first one comprised of her original songs. That makes Riptide a very personal project, one about her loves and relationships and her very interesting history.
Henderson's story highlights the intelligence behind her approach--her father was a dean at MIT, her mother was a VP at Fidelity Investments and she's currently earning an MBA at Wheaton College. She wants to start her own record label, "a small, boutique company that will maximize profits for the artists." This says a lot about her drive and focus, but her music shows another side of her personality--the romantic and vulnerable side. Her deep, rich voice is relaxed enough to create an aura of retrospection, that she's been through a lot and she's changed because of it but that's not going to stop her from doing what she wants to do. It's an interesting dichotomy, the driven and the winsome.
Another review, included in the liner notes, states that Henderson has "a special knack for being cutting edge and retro at the same time." This is a fair observation since she sounds decidedly adventurous, but I'm not sure if she's modern as much as just original. She has a way of vacillating between English and Spanish in songs such as the opening "Amame," a flow that's easy and distinctive and very, very charming. She's also backed up by a seemingly simple trio--keyboard player Chris Pattishall, bassist Eric England and drummer Joe Saylor--but they are so versatile that each track has a very distinct sound that suggests either more musicians, or at least different ones.
This is a quiet, thoughtful album that still has a playful beat and plenty of excitement. Henderson's low growl is like an embrace--it settles you down and yet keeps you engaged and ready for what's next. There's one rather glaring flaw in the album, and that it's way too short. I know, I know...it's an EP, dammit. The final song, the upbeat and catchy "Slow Control," has a piano riff that will stick in your head all day. When the song stops, it's suddenly all over and that piano keeps going on and on in your mind. Riptide flies by so quickly--Henderson's the party guest you don't want to leave, so you hide her car keys. Perhaps she'll stick around longer next time, because she really is good company.
Man, I love '70s receivers. At the Capital Audiofest, local hi-fi repair and restoration specialists Just Audio put up an exhibit that gave me goosebumps! You can read about it here at Part-Time Audiophile.
My latest Rocky Mountain Audio Fest show report for Part-Time Audiophile covers Falcon Acoustics and their continued manufacturing of the legendary LS3/5a monitor. You can read it here.
Monday, November 12, 2018
My latest show report from the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest concerns Bob Sattin and his company, Bob's Devices. Bob makes step-up transformers for low-output phono cartridges--some of the best in the business. You can read about it here, at Part-Time Audiophile.
Sunday, November 11, 2018
Just had my third show report of the day published in Part-Time Audiophile. This one is from the Capital Audiofest last week, where i finally got to listen to the very cool gear from BorderPatrol and Volti Audio. You can read it here.
Wow, two show reports in Part-Time Audiophile in one day! That's because we're trying to get the RMAF coverage finished so we can start posting more from the Capital Audiofest. This report is on the Gershman Acoustics room, awesome products from warm and friendly people! You can read it here.
Here's another one of my show reports from the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest--this one about a system that definitely offers bang for the buck, punches above its weight and all the other cliches we audiophiles use. You can read it here.
Wow, I've been plagiarized. I guess I'm a little honored that someone would want to copy my blog reviews, but I'm not so happy about this guy trying to charge artists and publicists $100 for "coverage." It's also creepy that this guy, whose name is Simon Something-or-Other, backdates his reviews so it looks like I'm copying him.
This is all on a website called JazzBluesNews.Space. Here is my review of Adam Price's House Ghosts, which I wrote on October 18, and here is his review which is dated October 11--even though it just appeared within the last couple of days.
I've had two publicists contact me about this guy--evidently he's been doing this a long time and the jazz scene hates him. Then again, this is the internet and all sorts of shenanigans are going on every day. Should I worry about this? Should I sue him? Should I blast him through social media? Or should I just let this bottom-feeder swim away?
Saturday, November 10, 2018
Yesterday it snowed here in Upstate New York for the first time this year, and this morning it was only 25 degrees when I walked my schnauzer Lucy. It's a perfect day, in other words, for a big fat chunk of Brazilian jazz. Alexandra Jackson, who is originally from Atlanta, has spent her life diving deep into Brazilian music after earning a degree in Jazz Studies at the University of Miami. She's also fond of American jazz and soul, including sub-genres such as Neo Soul and London Soul Jazz. All of the music she loves is represented on this 2-CD set, but it's the Brazilian themes that flows gently through Legacy & Alchemy and brings the sun out to warm the frozen ground.
This was a huge project for Jackson--she recorded these tracks in Atlanta, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, New York City, London and Chicago with more than 150 musicians. While she's known for her prowess as a singer and songwriter, she really wanted to pay tribute to her favorite performers such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gilberto Gil, Oscar Castro-Neves, Caetano Veloso, Carlinhos Brown and many more. She also wanted to throw in other jazz and pop influences, everyone from Lionel Richie ("Our Time Now") to Curtis King. Here's something interesting--she's also integrated performances from Miles Davis and Al Jarreau, along with Jobim and Castro-Neves, all sadly gone, into these songs. What's even more poignant is that Legacy & Alchemy includes the last two recordings from Rod Temperton, the producer who also wrote "Thriller," and the final two performances of Samba singer Dona Ivone Lara.
The title of this album becomes clearer when you consider the scope of the project--legacy, of course, refers to all the great performers, past and present, who guided this album. The alchemy comes from mixing all of these styles into one and having it come out as a unique whole. As I mentioned before, the Brazilian influences are the strongest and most constant--a few tracks such as "Our Time Now" stray from the formula--but there is a very modern and polished approach to this album that might be a product of the pop, jazz and acid jazz influences. With 150 musicians participating, not all at once of course, there is a tendency for bigness here. Jackson enlists the help of large ensembles, such as The Bossa Nova Noites Orquestra, to accomplish this. It's not quite Brazilian big band jazz, but it is lavish at times.
That's okay. Jackson clearly wanted to do something substantial in this tribute, and she's succeeded. The liner notes state that 2018 is the 60th anniversary of Bossa Nova, last year was the 100th anniversary of Samba, and just the year before that we celebrated Rio at the Summer Olympic Games. Over the last year I've reviewed a lot of Brazilian jazz, but we all know that this isn't some ephemeral trend. The music of Brazil has been with us for many decades, long before even Gilberto/Getz. We listen to it because it's warm and sunny. It's the perfect tonic for getting through another winter.
Here's my latest show report from the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest--this one covers the fantastic speakers from GamuT of Denmark and another unusual speaker from Larsen of Sweden. You can read it here.
Friday, November 9, 2018
I must have Japanese music on my mind, especially since this past week I've tumbled in head-first into the Haruomi Hoson reissues for my next Deep End column for Part-Time Audiophile. Shijin isn't Japanese music, however--it's something called "post-bop" from a quartet of gifted jazz musicians who have taken this name, part of Japanese folklore (it refers to the four guardians of west, east, north and south), to describe this adventurous journey into a strange and unique mix of fusion, free jazz and funk.
Saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart, drummer Stephane Gallard, keyboardist Malcolm Braff and bassist Laurent David have specialized in mastering a more international interpretation of different jazz idioms over the years, and they are all gifted soloists, so that gives Shijin a wild, exploratory feel that uses unusual time signatures to strike at will. The sound is anything but disjointed, however, since the grooves are so strong and catchy. Schwartz-Bart is from Guadelope in the Caribbean, Gallard is from Belgium, Braff is from Brazil and Davis is from France, and those influences are up front. Yet this quartet blends perfectly together even amid the daring solo work, and the blend is far more accessible that you'd think.
This is beefy, swinging music, esoteric and yet whimsical in its themes. "Afro Bear," for example, follows a bear's adventures in the woods, and "New Neighborhood" is based on folk melodies that are deconstructed so that each musician can adopt a unique tempo that magically converges into a completely new whole. "The Edgewater Hotel" is one of my favorites--it pays tribute to the Seattle hotel where the Beatles once played. The ideas are endlessly creative yet challenging--this is perfect for fusion jazz fans who love to solve mysteries of how and when and why.
These original compositions are beautifully recorded, which makes it easy to assemble and organize these fascinating ideas. The rhythm section is warm and welcoming, especially Galland's inventive percussion which changes moods every minute or so. Schwarz-Bart, for lack of a better term, is the leader--his passionate sax casts a beacon on the unknown whenever the band commits to an enthralling groove and plays the tune straight. He occasionally stands back and lets Braff's rolling piano provide the momentum, but for most of the way the horn is doing the talking such as in the manic but evocative "Discomania" which slides easily through the '70s. Braff lets it rip on the Rhodes in a very impressive performance, yet the sax provides the exclamation points. This is very much the work of four brave musicians, however, guardians of a horizon that is approaching quickly.
Thursday, November 8, 2018
This new album comes from an unusual "trio" consisting of guitar (Rizzo), bass (Wild) and vocals (Krebs)--Rizzo himself explains that there's "no dedicated timekeeper," and that has "allowed the three of us to find each other's pulse." I'm sure this isn't a totally unique ensemble, since I'm confident I can find plenty of female vocal recordings where the singer is accompanied by bass and electric guitar. What makes Trio WoRK, well...work as an original venture is Kreb's distinctive voice.
She's described as an actor and theater improviser--her name sounds familiar to me for some reason--so she doesn't have that classic female jazz voice. Instead, she's adept at inflection, of infusing emotions and meaning into every line. Her singing voice is lovely and soothing in a slightly unorthodox way, split between a sultry jazz delivery and a storyteller's knack for keeping the listener engaged. I'm not suggesting she's outside the world of jazz, since she's performed for many years at her "jazz salon," ThemeScene, where she leads the Susan Krebs Chamber Band. But she does straddle two worlds when she sings, and that is what helps to make her distinctive.
While she sounds like the very center of Trio WoRK (note that the name of this trio is a play on the three's initials), she does know how to step back and share the stage with her two cohorts. I've always found bass and guitar duos to be very soothing and relaxing, and Wild and Rizzo know how to counter Krebs' dramatic readings with more than a touch of honey. Rizzo can alternate between electric jazz guitar and an acoustic Flamenco style in a seamless way--differentiating between the two fluid approaches becomes almost an afterthought. Wild, on the other hand, is one of those bassists who is so strong on melody that he's often the one who's defining the themes and carrying them through the song.
All three work together as one, and yet each one plays with the sort of confidence that comes from years of experience. Trio WoRK isn't bound to tradition, even when they're covering standards such as "My Foolish Heart," "I'm So Lonesome" and even "Eleanor Rigby," which turns out to be Rizzo's turn to shine and show off some remarkable technique. It's clear, however, that they've traveled a long way to be able to dance around the edges of jazz and still leave no doubt to their devotion. This is a quiet, gentle jazz album, partially due to the lack of percussion, but at the same time it's exciting because the drama is unvarnished and honest.
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
With a title like Coffee Gold Sugar Cane, I keep thinking that bassist Flavio Lira has forgotten to include something about Cuban cigars. That's just me, of course, since he's included everything else in his new album--most notably a fusion of Brazilian, Colombian and Cuban jazz styles which are wrapped up in a sleek, modern veneer. Lira has been living and playing in New York City and Boston for many years, but his Brazilian roots are obvious in this album and it's clear that he's paying tribute to all of the wonderful music that has influenced him throughout his life.
As a bassist, it's interesting to see how Lira propels his arrangements into such an exciting overall sound. I've heard similar albums that are led by drummers or horn players, and it's remarkably clear who's leading the band. Lira is a fantastic bassist, quick and always searching for the most musical note, but his arrangements include such a diverse cast of performers that you suddenly realize it's not all about him. Just look at the diverse instrumentation in this mix of originals and standards: pandeiro, caxixi, cajon, kanjira, tantan, repique de mao, surdo, cavaco and bambo leguero jump right in with all types of electronic keyboards, horns, woodwinds and vibes. You'd expect a lot of percussion with this type of jazz, but it's obvious Lira wants to introduce you to all these exotic sounds and love them as much as he does.
If it seems like this album might be a little busy, it's not. Everyone isn't playing at the same time, after all. Lira is judicious in the way he populates each arrangement, and that results in a very warm yet focused sound. Yes, that also means he's able to freely explore all these genres and bring a multitude of different flavors to the table. He succeeds because he's so in tune with the folk traditions of each type of jazz, even if he's placing them in contemporary contexts.
What really makes Coffee Gold Sugar Cane stand out from other Latin and Caribbean jazz albums is the supreme sense of love that seems to flow through the tracks. These jazz genres are usually happy affairs, full of joy and a vivacious sense of celebration. You can imagine everyone smiling as they play. But Lira is doing something beyond that--he's sharing the ideas and memories that make him happy, and he's gathered his best friends, people who are a big part of his life outside the studios and stages, and he's suddenly turned to you and invited you to join. If you decide to bring some Cuban cigars along for the others, that's up to you.
Tuesday, November 6, 2018
Drummer Rudy Royston's newest album, Flatbed Buggy, is designed to "evoke memories of [his] bucolic youth" in Texas--the cover and title suggest a music more akin to Americana than the purer forms of jazz. Royston's vision, however, is more sophisticated than all that imagery suggests. He has assembled a quintet that is unusual enough to stray away from jazz traditions, such as Gary Versace's accordion and Hank Roberts' cello, but the straightforward elements--Joe Martin's bass and John Ellis' bass clarinet and saxes--provide such a strong foundation that this album becomes more than just childhood memories. It becomes a journey that chronicles a lifetime of musical education.
This is an unusual jazz album, with warmth and a pixie heart, a little dusty on the surfaces but very stable and reliable. The Texas of Royston's youth provides plenty of flavor here, with Versace and Roberts adding just a touch of zydeco and bluegrass accents. Roberts' cello is unusually versatile in songs such as in the title track, where he slides into the higher registers and he starts to mimic a front porch fiddle. Royston is another of those drummer-leaders I've been talking about lately--he directs his quintet with momentum that never ebbs, with a flawless energy that brings out the tiniest details of his vision while coaxing a sense of unity. "I wanted us all to be constantly playing," Royston explains. "I wanted us all to orchestrate or color or have a little input regardless of who is soloing."
I find this music to be enormously appealing, perhaps because it reminds me of my favorite jazz album of all time--Sonny Rollins' Way Out West. Rollins adopted western-style themes in his compositions, especially in regards to Shelly Manne's use of wooden blocks and cowbells. That trio wasn't playing country music or Americana as much as a vivid new form of jazz that added an unusually descriptive language to standard jazz themes. Royston uses that same subtlety to infuse these original compositions with, well, originality.
In other words, Flatbed Buggy has a heart of pure jazz even if it lives in a more rustic past. Royston's ideas are painted on unvarnished wood rather than the bricks of a building in the big city, and its steady and thoughtful pace keeps these memories faithful even when the band gets dynamic and inventive. Another unusual influence on these complex cadences are brief interludes such as "Dirty Stetson," "Hold My Mule" and "I Guess It's Time to Go." These little vignettes are direct and to the point--they describe scenes that are fleeting but still contain bold flavors that bleed into the major songs. That's just one more way in which Flatbed Buggy will stick with you, the same way Texas stuck with Rudy Royston.
Monday, November 5, 2018
My latest music review for Positive Feedback, the ORG Music reissue of Dave Brubeck's 1966 classic Time In, is now live. You can read it here.
Here's my first show report from the Capital Audiofest this past weekend. This article focuses on the huge Von Schweikert/VAC/Esoteric room from Atlanta dealer The Audio Company, and how their roughly 1.5 million dollar system blew my mind and helped me to re-define the purpose of ultra high-end audio. You can read it here.
Thursday, November 1, 2018
It seems like I just returned from the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver, and now I have to drive down to Rockville, Maryland for the next audio show--the Capital Audiofest. I've never attended this show before, which will be interesting since I once lived in the Washington DC area for many years. CAF is a smaller show, about 80 exhibit rooms, which will make it fairly laid back and relaxed.
I'll be covering the show for Part-Time Audiophile, so stay tuned for links to show coverage.
Here's another show report from the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, this time from the Soundsmith room where Peter Ledermann was showing off an entire system of Soundsmith's excellent products. You can read it here.