Friday, November 30, 2018
Vinyl Anachronist #124 is now live at Perfect Sound Forever. This one is my annual wrap-up, with awards for best vinyl releases, turntables and more! You can read it here.
Thursday, November 29, 2018
My latest review for Positive Feedback, the ORG reissue of the 1988 Shirley Horn album Softly, is now live. You can read it here.
This latest show report from the Capital Audiofest concerns a little speaker that kicked a lot of butt--the KEF Reference 1. You can read it here at Part-Time Audiophile.
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Another day, another show report from the 2018 Capital Audiofest about a big system that blew my mind. This one featured Bricasti and Tidal Audio, and you can read it here at Part-Time Audiophile.
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
"I am privileged to have spent my life studying world music cultures," begins Dr. Paul Austerlitz on the liner notes for his new album, Water Prayer for Bass Clarinet, and that sets everything up perfectly. Austerlitz, who plays a variety of instruments, has focused squarely on the wonderful, under-represented bass clarinet and how it can slide effortlessly into a number of jazz styles--especially when those genres are specific to a certain geography. A mix of originals and arrangements of originals, this album makes a brilliant case for this beautifully textured instrument, this enormous brute with a kind spirit and a big heart.
From the very first time I heard a bass clarinet sing--I have no idea about the when and where--I loved it. There are some musical instruments that have such a warm and forgiving timbre, and this woodwind has some of the same affable characteristics as the bassoon and contrabassoon, such as range. But the bass clarinet, despite its size, also has that playful tone of the smaller clarinets, a keen sense of swing that encourages everyone else on stage to keep up. By the time this album is over, you'll have a new affection for this instrument--and I think that's what Dr. Austerlitz had in mind the whole time.
Most of these arrangements dive straight in, jazz-wise. Austerlitz is cunning in the way he brings those world music cultures into the mix. The influences are deep and tricky, everything from Haitian "Rara" ("Rara Indivisible") to Finnish folk music ("Finnish Waltz") to Jimi Hendrix' guitar ("Funk-Ay-Be-Sea"). Nigeria, Romania and Cuba are also represented--so much of this man's interesting and rich life winds up on the stage, surrounded by fellow musicians with equally strong instincts and diverse tastes.
This is about jazz, the bass clarinet and world music, and the precise points where they intersect in the universe, and that makes this an album that may prompt you to explore these different forms so that you can learn while you listen. Most of all, this is about the love of a voice, a distinct tone that isn't quite heard enough. This recording sounds fabulous, which means it's very informative in the way it lays out the core bass clarinet sound, its range, what it's capable of doing. I love recordings like this. It's more than education, it's about opening up new parts of your brain and filling it with splendid noises that make your life more interesting.
Pay Your Dues Fondue. Hand Rolled Drum Rug with Perspiration Reduction. Finger Snap Peas with Second Hand Emulsion. Mixed Sorbets with Freshly Grated Cymbal Stand Felts. These are the menu selections for drummer Bill Stewart's new trio recording. Along with bassist Larry Grenadier and tenor sax player Walter Smith III, Stewart has created a sly take on three jazz guys hammering it out and improvising like madmen. I want to call Band Menu an exercise in free jazz, but it is far too coherent to be called anything else than pure be-bop, perhaps minus the theme-improv-theme structure. Let's face it, this is highly listenable stuff, defined by its freedom but also carried by a quiet dedication to melody that turns out to be quite subversive.
Stewart is obviously an original jazz drummer. He's able to extract an encyclopedia of noise from his kit, and he isn't afraid to wander--it's been a long time since I've heard a wood block strike sound so inventive. He has a definite "I can do anything I want to" vibe, and each of these compositions are led by his curiosity, mated to a bad attitude. That's what makes this recording different than most--it's as if these guys don't care what you think. Either you get in the car or you miss out on the time of your life. Step on it.
The wry humor here isn't just confined to the menu. The songs wear the ideas on their lapels, the most obvious being "F U Donald." There's also "Hair and Teeth," "Good Goat" and "Think Before You Think." Here's the tricky question, however--does this humor invade the actual music? That's hard to determine since these are jazz instrumentals, played with poise and skill. There aren't any obvious clues, such as pennywhistles or other Spike Jonesian conceits. But I think that attitude, and the way these three brandish it, is comedy of the highest order and meant to entertain the few.
It keeps coming back to this sublime sense of obstinance, this growing sense that Stewart, Grenadier and Smith are telling jokes just to see if you can get them, to see if you are hip, to see if you're "jazz" enough. There's nothing goofy or trivial about Band Menu, just a gloriously layered amusement wrapped up in stunning, serious performances.
As for me, I'll take the Wilted Recording Contract Salad.
Here's another show report from the Capital Audiofest, this one concerning a new speaker driver technology that sounded quite wonderful. You can read about it here at Part-Time Audiophile.
Monday, November 26, 2018
Which city is the "Old City"? If you're hung up on the answer to this question while listening to the Julian Gerstin Sextet's new album, you might be missing the point. That's the first thing I did. I looked at the cover, I checked the liner notes, and I came up empty. The simple truth is that "the Old City" is a state of mind, an "imaginary locale." Percussionist Julian Gerstin wanted the title to reflect a certain state of mind, a distant place where the pace is slower and the history is richer. He's borrowed primarily from Afro-Cuban genres of jazz to create a sound that is both relaxed and filled with exciting rhythms.
Gerstin's sextet also includes clarinet player Anna Patton, horn player Don Anderson, pianist Eugene Uman, bassist Wes Brown and drummer Ben James, and he enlists many guest stars such as violinist Lissa Schneckenburger and guitarist Keith Murphy to broaden the scope of these originals. This sounds like a busy ensemble, heavy on horn and polyrhythms, and you wouldn't be far off with that assessment. But the surprising things about The Old City is the air and the space around all these musicians. Gerstin's arrangements are clean and straightforward, as uncluttered as an empty bus station. This allows the melodies to leap forward and reveal their worldly influences--not only Cuba but Columbia and the Balkans and even Iran.
These exotic tinges are usually introduced by Gerstin himself. He uses percussion instruments from all over the world to play Cuban music, adding another layer of intrigue. That's partially due to the focus on Afro-Cuban traditions, since Gerstin has studies in places such as Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. He's successful at this blending of influences because he knows them so well, and he knows where they intersect. He also a sanguine drummer, light with his touch, so while you marvel at the speed of his fingers on drum heads, you're leaning forward into the music instead of backwards.
This is a fantastic set, full of the requisite amount of energy needed for Latin and Caribbean jazz. But you'll walk away from The Old City thinking about Gerstin's light touch on percussion. It dances along nearly every second like a charismatic actor who's in every scene of a movie. It's unusual that he's not the lead character but someone working hard in the background to inspire everyone else on stage. His arms must get tired. That said, you never get tired of his presence, and you'll miss him when the record is over and he stops playing.
There's a difference between nostalgia and finding yourself somewhere you haven't been in a long time. The Odd Dogs, a group of jazz fusion musicians from Los Angeles, do come from another time, a period in jazz history when everything broke loose and intrepid musicians gathered up the pieces, scooping up bits of rock and funk and plugging everything into a wall outlet. The old jazz tropes weren't exactly discarded--they became important ingredients in a very new recipe. I was but a kid when this happened, back when Al Di Meola and Weather Report and others were creating a new sound that attracted a new generation of fans, ones that grew up on experimental rock in the '60s and '70s and were already prepped for entry into this musical frontier.
The Odd Dogs aren't a throwback to the first wave of jazz fusion, but they will remind you of the best stuff from the past. This quintet--guitarist Jeff Miley, bassist Steve Billman, saxophonist/keyboardist Andy Suzuki, drummer Ralph Humphrey and percussionist Billy Hulting--are creating a new type of fusion that belongs squarely in 2018. You can hear those old fusion strains ducking in and out of these tracks, just bumping up against classic Santana, Zappa or even Chicago, but you can also hear the oh-so-modern influence of math rock. We're not talking about the unusual time signatures, of which there are many, but rather the lean and clean aesthetic that's more contemporary.
The Odd Dogs were originally thought of as a "power trio," formed by longtime friends Billman and Miley. I'm glad they expanded a bit since it's the unique textures that make Beneath the Surface so intriguing. The quintet is able to shift moods effortlessly--one song will be a total shred, aggressive and mean, and the next will dial back the snarl and be far more easygoing than any fusion song from the late '70s and early '80s. These five men are versatile beyond belief--there are even a few stray moments when they play straight jazz and they do it exceptionally well.
Another plus is the extraordinary sound quality of this recording. It's clean and yet natural--you'll never dig deeper into an electric bass guitar than you will here. This is the type of fun, dynamic fusion recording that's also strong on detail, with one little moment after another creating distinct visions and ideas. The Odd Dogs are a natural extension of that fascinating music that appeared thirty or forty years ago, so different and yet so appealing. If you're a big fan of fusion and you're still obsessing over Heavy Weather, this album will take you back and make you smile.
Here's another show report from the Capital Audiofest, this one on Amphion's new range of loudspeakers. You can read it here at Part-Time Audiophile.
Sunday, November 25, 2018
We've just completed our coverage of the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest at Part-Time Audiophile, so I've just put up my wrap-up of the show and my overall impressions. You can read it here.
Here's another show report from the 2018 Capital Audiofest, this one concerning a controversy about the sonic signature of one of my favorite speakers in the world--the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary. You can read it here at Part-Time Audiophile.
Saturday, November 24, 2018
This show report from the Capital Audiofest discusses a truly wild, innovative little $54,000 box that might portend a change in the future of audio. You can read it here at Part-Time Audiophile.
Friday, November 23, 2018
Here's another show report from the Capital Audiofest on a frigid Black Friday (it hit zero degrees Fahrenheit overnight here in Rochester, so I ain't leaving the house!). This one takes me back to my days in Texas, where it does not get anywhere this cold. You can read it here at Part-Time Audiophile.
Thursday, November 22, 2018
Here's another Capital Audiofest report to read while you're getting ready to pass out from all the turkey. This one is about two impressive brands I've never heard before--Spatial Audio and LTA. You can read it here at Part-Time Audiophile.
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Yes, I got to spend a few days in San Diego this week and yes, it was warm and sunny. When I left Rochester on Wednesday morning it was snowing, the first real accumulation of the year. When I came back home on Saturday morning there was about a foot of snow on the ground. Over the last few days, that snow has continued to fall. Winter is here, all too suddenly it seems, and that means introspective music takes on a new and appropriate quality that for me is quite special. There's a window right next to my desk in my office where I can watch it snow--all while listening to music. That's what I'm doing right now, listening to a thoughtful duet between flute and piano.
Flutist Elsa Nilsson and pianist Jon Cowherd have been playing together in New York City clubs for the last three or four years, and they've developed that dry and plaintive style that reminds me so much of New England in the winter, or at least what I imagine it to be since Upstate New York is something quite different. Perhaps it's Nilsson's flute that creates this plain-spoken mood--like soprano sax player Jane Ira Bloom, Nilsson has a matter-of-fact Yankee tone that reflects an attitude of enduring, of getting things done in challenging conditions. It's that same vague feeling you get from listening to Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas, a sense that everything is going to be okay because we've been here for generations and nothing bad has happened so far but yeah, it's really cold out there today.
This is not to imply that Nilsson's flute is conventional or boring. She's actually quite loose with her playing and frequently dives into moments of pure inspiration and fantasy. "She believes there is a space to be found in music that gives us the freedom to be exactly who we are," the liner notes explain, "with no pretending and no hiding." That permits this Swedish-American flutist to "play just how she feels," which leads to some interesting choices when it comes to manipulating the sound coming out of her flute.
Cowherd's piano takes on a slight lushness that acts as a counterpoint to Nilsson. He's the melodic one, sticking to lyricism in the face of Nilsson's adventurous approach. He's careful and precise when doling out emotion, another possibly stereotypical Yankee conceit, but this reticence occasionally sprints out of the room when Nilsson sits back and lets her partner take over. He plays with understated power and energy, and that gives this duo a strength, the same kind of stamina that can get you through the winter, a whole season of staring out the window while thinking about everything.
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.