Tue, 26 April 2016
Brian Bromberg’s latest CD, Full Circle, truly lives up to his name. The long-time bass player has been virtually absent from the public for the past four years, as he recovers from a serious back injury the required extensive physical therapy. Now he returns to recorded music, not only playing his trademark piccolo bass (among the many he uses), but also playing drums, the instrument upon which he first cut his musical teeth.
Bromberg also takes the opportunity to finally play in a combo with his late father. His Dad – a talented drummer on the East Coast scene who left the big time behind after World War II – never played with Brian during his lifetime, but by overdubbing a bass line onto an old acetate recording, Bromberg finally makes a long-time dream of his come true on two tracks.
Bromberg is often grouped into the “smooth jazz sound”, despite lengthy time in the Stan Getz band in the past, The new CD is full of moments that move beyond any one genre, whether it is the Latin Jazz of “Havana Nights” (playfully subtitled “Havana Nagillah”), the straight-ahead sound of “Bernie’s Bop” or the funky cover of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” And as always, there is that piccolo bass, making Bromberg sound as if he were playing electric guitar with the best of them.
Podcast 532 is the first of two podcasts with bassist Bromberg. The first part of our conversation centers on his gear and sound, plus the stories behind the new album. Musical selections include “Jazz Me Blues”, “Bernie’s Bop” and “Havana Nights (Havana Nagillah).” The second part of our talk will appear later in the week and will focus on his earlier work and musical progress,
Direct download: Podcast_532_Pt_1_-_A_Conversation_with_Brian_Bromberg.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT
Sat, 23 April 2016
As an English major at Clark University (Class of '77) I spent many a fond moment with one of my favorite professors, Dr. Virginia Vaughan discussing the Immortal Bard, William Shakespeare. Although Shakespeare's birthdate is unknown, it is traditionally celebrated on April 23, St. George's Day. He was born 452 years ago today.
And whither, you might ask, does this great writer intersect with Jazz? Look no further than the 1964 album by Cleo Laine, Shakespeare and All That Jazz, arranged and written for her by her husband, Sir John Dankworth. Dankworth adapted sonnets and portions of the plays to create an artistically satisfying work. Many of the tunes are written by Dankworth, but he also picks from the Ellington-Strayhorn canon for "My Love is as a Fever (Sonnet 147)" a portion of the suite they composed entitled Such Sweet Thunder. Of particular interest are the tracks which feature Kenny Wheeler on trumpet.
For those interested in an updated take on this album, check out Christina Drapkin's version.
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT
Fri, 22 April 2016
One of the astounding things that we realize when we contemplate the musical legacy of Prince (1958-2016) is that while he passed away at the age of 57, he had written and recorded music since he was 17. Those forty years of wildly exciting, innovative, profane, uplifting music will be with us always, and we are once again left wondering what might have come as he continued his evolving career.
In December 2013, my wife Nancy and I had the chance to get as up close and personal with Prince as I had ever hoped. We had purchased tickets to see his concert at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut (Esperanza Spalding, opening act) and had possibly the most distant seats you could have in that arena. However, minutes before the show started, a representative of His Royal Purpleness came through the nosebleed seats and upgraded us to the second row. A miracle!
We spent that evening dancing to the hottest band I’ve ever seen. More than a dozen or more musicians filled the stage, from a choreographed horn section to a hard rock trio, always with Prince in the lead. If he left out a tune that I wanted to hear, I can’t recall it. The years of keeping a low profile had done nothing to slow Prince down; he looked remarkably youthful for his age, and his moves and grooves were as in step as ever. It was truly, as the band sang, a beautiful night.
And now, just as he was returning to relevance, he is gone. His song “Baltimore” released almost a year ago, was one of the few major musical artists’ comments on the unrest in the city and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. He had released two CDs since September 2015, and had been touring to rave reviews again.
As is the custom here at Straight No Chaser, non-jazz artists are celebrated or memorialized with a “Jazzin’ On…” podcast, featuring jazz artists performing their versions of his or her tunes. Past Podcasts like this include honoring Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Radiohead, George Harrison, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and more.
Podcast 533 is my tribute to Prince, featuring the following jazz artists and their versions of songs he wrote:
Peter Bernstein – “1999”
Herbie Hancock – “Thieves in the Temple”
Jimmy Scott – “Nothing Compares 2 U”
Fareed Haque/Mike Cain – “When 2 R in Love”
Bob Belden featuring Tsidii Le Loka – “Little Red Corvette”
Miles Davis – “Movie Star”
Joshua Redman – “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?”
Bob Belden featuring Tsidii Le Loka – “Purple Rain”
Fri, 22 April 2016
One of my favorite holidays is the celebration of the Jewish holiday of Passover As the first Seder is tonight, celebrating the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of the prophet Moses, I've gone into the category of music that was called "Negro Spirituals" when I was in school, and picked "Go Down Moses"
Versions of the song seem to go back to 1862, when it was called "Oh! Let My People Go (The Song of the Contrabands)". The openign verse was published by the Jubilee Singers in 1872. It's easy to see the coded message in the lyrics - "Israel" in the lyrics stands in for African-Americans oppressed by slavery and recism, and "Egypt" as their oppressors. The seminal recording of the song is likely Paul Robeson's version from 1958, which became a rallying cry for those fighting for civil rights in the American South.
Click here to listen to Louis Armstrong's version of the spiritual, taken from his Louis and the Good Book album. Armstrong recorded the song in February 1959 with Sy Oliver's Orchestra. Armstrong had jsut finished his popular Porgy & Bess album with Ella Fitzgerald, and entered the studio to record a series of spirituals and religious-tinged music. Among those in the band were Trummy Young on trombone, Hank D'Amico and Nicky Tagg on clarinet, Billy Kyle on piano and Barrett Deems on drums.
In Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong biographer Terry Teachout quotes an outspoken Armstrong as being a great friend of the Jewish people, who he felt gave him a break in his youth when his fellow African-Americans would not. He wore a Star of David around his neck for most of his life.
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00am EDT
Fri, 15 April 2016
The many musicians who are today identified as veterans of the “Smalls scene” of the 1990’s are truly coming of age. The influential Greenwich Village jazz club was the launching pad twenty plus years ago for some of the top improvisers and composers of today, including Jason Linder, Mark Turner, Avishai Cohen (both the trumpeter and the bassist), Kurt Rosenwinkel, Guillermo Klein, Omar Avital, Seamus Blake and Peter Bernstein. Daniel Freedman backed many of these players on drums and percussion, and with the release of Imagine That, he is firmly establishing himself as a leader and composer in his own right.
Born and raised in New York City to a musical family, in high school he studied with master drummers Max Roach, Billy Higgins and Vernel Fournier. Later, he traveled to study drumming in West Africa, Cuba and the Middle East, forging his own unique approach to drumming. Those who have enjoyed Freedman’s work as a member of Anat Cohen’s band or the collective Third World Love will find much to enjoy in his third CD under his own name.
Working with a dream band of Lionel Loueke, Lindner, Avital, and Gilmar Gomes, the sound of Imagine That is a wonderful mix of electric jazz, world beat and dance music. There is real joy in these tracks, whether from Linder’s shifting soundscapes, Loueke’s crying guitar or the percussive interplay of Avital, Freedman and Gomes. Add to it a guest vocal from Freedman’s former boss Angelique Kidjo, and Imagine That earns the wonder the encompasses its name in spades.
Podcast 531 is my conversation with Daniel Freedman, as we discuss the making of the CD, and his adventures playing with Anat Cohen, Third World Love and other members of the burgeoning Anzic label. Music selections from Imagine That include "Determined Soul", "Eastern Elegy" and "The Sisters Dance" plus "Lilia“ from Anat Cohen’s Luminosa and “The Immigrant's Anthem (Sad Song)“ from Third World Love’s CD Songs and Portraits.
Direct download: Podcast_531-_A_Conversation_with_Daniel_Freedman.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT
Tue, 12 April 2016
David Fiuczynski is not your typical guitar hero.
Usually playing his double-necked guitar – the lower fretted, the upper fretless – he is capable of making a roaring sound when he wants, but more often he is interested in microtonality. He writes and plays non-western scales that can have exponentially more notes and sounds than the classic 12 tone chromatic octave we all learned in school.
In 2012, RareNoise Records released a statement CD, Planet MicroJam that let us all listen in to what “Fuze” was doing at the Berklee College of Music, as director of its Planet MicroJam Institute. A year earlier, he had been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and had begun working on the project that eventually became Flam! Blam! Pan-Asian MicroJam! Inspired equally by the 20th century French classical composer Olivier Messiaen and innovative beat-maker J Dilla, the seven movements that make up the bulk of the CD allow him to craft an exciting musical statement that connects Messiaen’s birdcall compositions with J DIllas’s beats and field recordings ofl bird sounds, filtered through microtonal sounds recalling Gagaku, the ancient court music of Japan, and other Pan-Asian ingredients. This is not easy listening, but this is rewarding, and at times exciting, listening.
Fiuczynski is joined on his latest release by former Microjam Institute students Utar Artun on microtonal keyboard, Yazhi Guo on suona (Chinese oboe) and percussion, Helen Sherrah-Davies on violin, Jack Sherman on microtonal keyboard, Justin Schornstein on bass and Alex Bailey on drums. And in a reprise of their collaboration on Gamak a few years back, Rudresh Mahanthappa joins on three tracks with his alto sax.
Podcast 529 is my conversation with David Fiuczynski, where he explains his interest in microtonality, how Flam! Blam! came to be, and what he learns from his students at Berklee. Musical selections from the CD include “Flam”, “Loon-y Tunes”, “Oiseaux JDillique", and one tune that Mahanthappa played on, "UiraHappy Jam."
A CD release event for the album will take place at Shapeshifter Lab in New York with special guest Rudresh Mahanthappa on April 14.
Direct download: Podcast_529_-_A_Conversation_with_David_Fiuczynski.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:00am EDT
Mon, 11 April 2016
If you go to the New York Clubs, you’ve probably seen Tony Lustig capably filling the Baritone Sax chair in Big Bands lead by the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride, Arturo O'Farrill, Gerald Wilson and, George Gee, amongst others. The release of his quintet album, Taking Flight, allows us to see another side of this talented musician.
Lustig has wisely surrounded himself with top musicians, with whom he shares roots from his days at Michigan State and Julliard. The rhythm section - Samora Pinderhughes (piano), Ben Williams (bass), and Ulysses Owens (drums) – is rock steady, and allows the wide variety of tunes to swing, strut or funk along. The unusual pairing of Lustig’s bari (or sometimes bass clarinet) with Michael Dease’s trombone shows off the strong melodies Lustig has written with an entirely different sonic palette than the more traditional alto sax or trumpet.
Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, Tony was introduced to the world of music through the violin, but when his school failed to offer a strong music program, he took up the alto sax his sister had abandoned. Eventually, this lead to a transition from alto to baritone saxophone, spurred on by his love of the sound and music of Gerry Mulligan. Like so many other youngsters playing around Detroit over the past four decades he was mentored by, and played with, such local greats as the late Marcus Belgrave and Rodney Whitaker.
Podcast 528 is my conversation with Tony, as we talk about his writing style, how he hopes to expand jazz to a larger audience, and his current projects, which includes a Horn Band a la Chicago or Tower of Power with an Indie Rock flavor. Musical selections from Taking Flight include “Change is Comin’”, “Fraytown” (in honor of his hometown in the Detroit suburbs), “Prometheus” and “Burning Grease.”
Sun, 10 April 2016
In 2016, it is safe to say that there are jazz festivals, and then there are jazz festivals. Many events slap the word “jazz” in the title, even though the acts they are presenting may only peripherally have anything to do with jazz – Blues, R&B and Classic Soul headliners are all too common.
Other jazz festivals are narrow in their presenting scope – think the smooth jazz and soul jazz that gets presented each winter in the popular Berks Jazz Fest in Reading, Pennsylvania. There is nothing wrong with that festival – in fact, it gets bigger and better every year – but it does not present the kind of cross-section or overview that a modern jazz festival should have. And there is less curating at festivals as time goes on. To me, that means that the acts are those who are on tour and are making a stop at this particular venue, rather than acts that are coming specifically for this festival, to play especially themed shows, or to match up with new and different talent. Detroit has done this exceedingly well with their “Artist in Residence” program, bringing in a jazz giant to play in a number of different musical configurations and styles over four days.
Lastly, should the 2016 jazz festival be a weekend at a gated location – think Newport, Monterey, or Saratoga – or should it be let loose across multiple venues in a city, as in Burlington, Vermont, and to a lesser extent, Detroit?
I offer up the PDX Jazz Festival as perhaps the best of all worlds. The 13th annual festival, held in Portland, Oregon, just completed a highly successful ten plus days of entertainment in and around the City of Roses. The event showcases local talent as well as brings in world-caliber players. This year the thematic thread that ran through the festival was the 90thbirthday anniversary of John Coltrane, with curated events that honored his work. As a result, PDX presented the likes of Ravi Coltrane in “Universal Consciousness”, a tribute to his mother Alice Coltrane with bassist Reggie Workman, pianist Geri Allen, harpist Brandee Younger, and drummer Andrew Cyrille.; and Africa/Brass in concert under the direction of Portland Jazz Master Charles Gray, with featured solos by Coltrane.
The closing night of the festival may have shown what it does best - three contemporary saxophonists in “The Saxophone Summit Supreme” to play final odes to Coltrane, channeling the spirit of the early 2000s group Saxophone Summit. The collective covered multiple generations, including Jimmy Greene, Devin Phillips, and JD Allen, with backing piano by Orrin Evans.
Veteran publicist and jazz lover Don Lucoff is the artistic director of the PDX Jazz Festival, and it was a pleasure to pick his brain as to the ins and outs of curating a financially solvent event. Podcast 527 features our conversation and wrap-up of the festival. Musical selections include a track from Portland native Esperanza Spalding’s new CD, “Fear the Funk” and John Coltrane’s classic “Alabama”.
Direct download: Podcast_527_-_Wrapping_Up_the_Portland_Jazz_Festival_with_Don_Lucoff.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT
Mon, 4 April 2016
Leandro (Gato) Barbieri, a Grammy-winning Latin jazz saxophonist known as much for his wildly evolving styles as his trademark black fedora, died this weekend at the age of 83.
While Barbieri will likely be known by most music fans for his wildly instrumental score for the film "Last Tango in Paris,” or for his definitive version of Carlos Santana’s “Europa”, jazz fans may remember a more adventurous and avant-garde saxophonist.
While he recorded 35 albums, many that defied easy categorization, for me it was the incredibly fruitful period from 1965-1972 that made him special. Barbieri was a key performer and contributor to seminal work by Don Cherry, Carla Bley (Escalator Over the Hill), Charlie Haden (Liberation Music Orchestra), Gary Burton (A Genuine Tong Funeral) and the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra. That work, along with Last Tango in Paris, lead to his record deal with Impulse! Records in 1973, leading to his four “Chapter” recordings. Some of my favorite albums, these allowed him to deeply explore his Latin Roots, reimagining and reinterpreting the music and sounds through his modern saxophone.
While much of his remaining recorded output veered closer to smooth jazz, it was always deeply felt and had his trademark fiery solos. I had the pleasure of booking Gato in 2002 at the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz, just as he had begun a return from recording exile and health issues. Having difficulty with his sight and braving a rain-soaked stage, I took him by the elbow to the center of the stage, where he received rapturous applause. And then he played, and age, health, and time all fell away. It was a memorable performance by a memorable jazz man.
Click here to listen to Gato Barbieri circa November 5, 1972, courtesy of an unreleased ROIO on Big O World Wide It is a show from Berliner Jazztage in Berlin with a band lead by Gato on sax, Lonnie Liston Smith on keyboards, JF Jenny Clarke on bass, Mandrake on percussions, and Han Bennick on drums.
Category:general -- posted at: 10:33am EDT
Sun, 27 March 2016
The song of the day is Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade", performed by Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine and released on their 1957 album Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine Sing the Best of Irving Berlin. Although Vaughan had made many recordings with Eckstine, this was their only album together.
Writing a song about celebrating a Christian holiday was not an anomaly for the Jewish composer Berlin. Born in 1888 into a Russian Jewish family who came to New York City to escape religious persecution when he was five years old, Irving Berlin quickly shed his religious roots and fell in love with America. He became an American citizen when he was 29. "Patriotism was Irving Berlin's true religion," writes biographer Laurence Bergreen in As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin (1990).
Irving Berlin was "not a religious person," according to his daughter Mary Ellin. Relating the story of Irving's marriage to Ellin Mackay in 1926, whose devout father had a deep reluctance to welcome a "lower-class" Jew into the wealthy Catholic family.
Once they had children, Mrs. Berlin did try to keep up a minimal appearance of religious tradition. Mary Ellin writes that her unbelieving parents "had their first bad fight when my mother suggested raising me as a Catholic . . . ."
The Berlins had three daughters. "Both our parents," Mary Ellin recalls, "would pass down to their children the moral and ethical values common to all great religions; give us a sense of what was right and what was wrong; raise us not to be good Jews or good Catholics or good whatever else you might care to cite, but to be good (or try to be) human beings. . . . When we grew up, she said, we would be free to choose--if we knew what was best for us, the religion of our husband. . . . It wouldn't quite work out, when we 'grew up,' as my mother hoped. All three of us would share our father's agnosticism and sidestep our husband's faiths."
The man who wrote "White Christmas" actually hated Christmas. "Many years later," Mary Ellin writes, "when Christmas was celebrated irregularly in my parents' house, if at all, my mother said, almost casually, 'Oh, you know, I hated Christmas, we both hated Christmas. We only did it for you children.' "
Christmas, for Irving Berlin, was not a religious holiday: it was an American holiday. He simply needed a melody in 1940 for a show called Holiday Inn, an escapist "American way of life" musical (when all hell was breaking loose in Europe) which called for a song for each holiday. The words to "White Christmas" are not about the birth of a savior-god: they are about winter, the real reason for the season.
Read more about Irving Berlin, religion and patriotism here.
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00am EDT