Thu, 31 October 2013
Frank Wess, a pioneering jazz flutist and tenor saxophonist, has died of kidney failure. He was 91 years old.
Born in Kansas City in 1922, Frank Wellington Wess moved to Washington D.C. with his family at age 13, in 1935. After graduating from Dunbar High School (where he was classmates with another D.C. jazz legend, Dr. Billy Taylor), Wess began playing in area big bands. He spent his military service playing saxophone and clarinet in the 17-piece U.S. Army band during World War II. Upon his discharge, Wess was hired by the Billy Eckstine band, then a great incubator of jazz talent; fellow band members included Miles Davis and Art Blakey. He also worked in bands led by Lucky Millinder and Bull Moose Jackson, at the same studying at D.C.'s Modern School of Music, where he earned a degree in flute.
In 1953 Wess joined Count Basie's band. It was his professional breakthrough, where he would become a high-profile ensemble player and soloist. While in Basie's band, Wess pioneered the use of the flute in jazz, becoming a key voice in the sophisticated arrangements that the band became known for.
Wess left the Basie band in 1964, establishing himself in New York music circles. He also became a favorite accompanist for Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, and Anita O'Day, and worked through the 1980s in the Toshiko Akayoshi big band, and the Tadd Dameron repertory band Dameronia. Wess was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2007.
He released a dozen recordings under his own name, but appeared on 604 total records throughout his career. His last CD, Magic 101, was released earlier this year on IPO Recordings, and featured him with Kenny Barron (piano), Kenny Davis (bass) and Winard Harper (drums).
Category:general -- posted at: 2:50pm EST
Thu, 31 October 2013
Ah Halloween with all its sugary excess is upon us once again. Here in Western Massachusetts we’ve had two years in a row of tough weather around October 31st, with a freak snow storm in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Tonight they are calling for rain, but I hope the little ghouls in the neighborhood brave the elements and come over to our house for treats. Either way Nancy and I will be sipping our traditional Pumpkin Martinis for the occasion.
In past years I’ve done a Halloween podcast featuring songs with scary titles – check out these beauties from 2012, 2011 and 2009 – but this year I’m changing course and all the songs have one thing in common – they mention the Prince of Darkness in the title of the song or album.
No. not Miles Davis. Not even Dick Cheney. I mean Ol’ Scratch, Beelzebub, the Fallen One. The Devil himself.
Check out Podcast 387, featuring songs new and old, instrumental and vocal. And may your tricks be few and your treats many.
Mal Waldron – Title Track from Up Popped the Devil.
Patricia Barber – “Devil’s Food” from Smash.
Gwilym Simcock, Tim Garland & Asaf Sirkis – “Devilled Properties” from Lighthouse.
Meschiya Lake and the Little B – Title Track from Lucky Devil.
Lester Young – “Pagin’ the Devil” from Kansas City Swing.
Esperanza Spalding & Kate McGarry – “Devil May Care” recorded at Sculler's Jazz Club, Boston 2006
Lee Morgan & Wayne Shorter – “Devil’s Island (Alternate Take)” from The Complete Vee Jay Sessions 1959-1961.
Loren Stillman Quartet – “Between the Devil and God” from How Sweet It Is.
John Abercrombie Trio – “Hell’s Gate” from Speak Of the Devil.
Mary Lou Williams – “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” from A Keyboard History.
Leni Stern – “Dancin’ With the Devil” from When Evening Falls.
Thu, 24 October 2013
To say that singer Cassandra Wilson is “versatile” is to require a redefinition of the word. She effortlessly moves from the Great American Songbook to dusky blues to reimagined 21st century pop tines with ease. She records with groups ranging from solo piano accompanists to string sections to a band playing acoustic instruments more usually found at a Mumford & Sons concert than in a jazz club. She covers Lerner & Loewe with the same ease as she does Robert Johnson or Bono.
Thankfully for her fans, she also is in great demand as a guest vocalist with other artists. Since her days as one of the driving forces of the M-Base Collective in the mid-80’s, she has shared her talents with the likes of Steve Bernstein, Robin Eubanks, Dave Holland, David Sanchez and many more. She was a key part of Wynton Marsalis’ Blood On the Fields, a Pulitzer-Prize winner in 1997. And she vocalizes with the hip-hop sounds of The Roots as well as she does as part of Terri Lyne Carrington’s The Mosaic Project.
Podcast 386 is my first attempt to collect “The Uncollected Cassandra”, pulling guest vocalist tracks together for a very cool mixtape. Since she has guested on over 40 CDs, it will take a while to make this complete, but I’ll keep posting Podcasts as I complete another hour or so of Cassandra songs. This podcast includes musical selections that show her great range, singing songs by the Duke and from Motown, folk by Joni Mitchell and Broadway by Stephen Sondheim:
Steve Turre – “In a Sentimental Mood” from Steve Turre.
Kurt Elling – “The Time of the Season” from The Messenger.
Regina Carter – “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” from Rhythms of the Heart.
Dave Holland Quartet – “Equality: from Dream of the Elders.
Bill Frisell and Elvis Costello – “Painted From Memory” from The Sweetest Punch.
Pat Martino – “Both Sides Now” from All Sides Now.
Cassandra Wilson – “For the Roses” from A Tribute to Joni Mitchell.
Don Byron – “The Ladies Who Lunch” from A Fine Line: Arias and Lieder.
Direct download: Podcast_386_-_The_Uncollected_Cassandra_Wilson.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 3:00am EST
Mon, 21 October 2013
Alexis Cuadrado is an artist in pursuit of lyricism, a lyricism that functions as a necessary contrast to the schizophrenic logic of a sick city and society; like the voice that prevails against chaos and injustice so as to make its message heard. - Melcion Mateu, author and literary critic
This blog has examined the phenomenon of jazz musicians drawn to poetry a number of times over the past few years. A few months back, guitarist Ken Hatfield talked about his interpretation of the poetry of Langston Hughes. Pianist Laurence Hobgood talked about his collaboration with award-winning poet Robert Pinsky.
Bassist/Composer Alexis Cuadadrao’s is the latest jazz musician to try his hand on melding poetry and jazz, this time with the works of Federico Garcia Lorca. The martyred Spanish poet’s work has been interpreted by artists as varied as Dmitri Shostakovich, Joan Baez and Leonard Cohen. Cuadrado has chosen to concentrate on several poems from Lorca’s 1929 book Poet in New York, works in which he found amazing historic parallels. Although Lorca’s poems are over 80 years old, his themes – Wall Street corruption, the haves versus the have-nots; alienation of workers – still ring true in the 21st century.
Cuadrado assembled a crack team of musicians, many of whom have familiarity with Latin sounds, to flesh out his percussive, flamenco-tinged modern jazz compositions. Cuadrado played bass, and chimed in on percussion and some background vocals, while Claudia Acuña gave voice to Lorca’s poetry. Miguel Zenón on alto saxophone, Dan Tepfer on piano, Mark Ferber on drums, and Gilmar Gomes on percussion round out the group.
Podcast 385 is my conversation with Alexis, as he talks about the roots of the compositions, how he worked with his musicians to create the album, and what his next projects will be. Featured musical selections from A Lorca Landscape are “New York (Oficina Y Denuncia)”, “Danza De La Muerte” and “Norma Y Paraiso.”
Direct download: Podcast_385_-_A_Conversation_with_Alexis_Cuadrado.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 3:00am EST
Thu, 10 October 2013
Jazz has increasingly shown itself to be a universal musical art form. Events like International Jazz Day showcase artists from around the globe, with the music as the glue the holds together their combos and presentations. One cannot help but be optimistic about the global future, when the bandstand can accommodate performers from more than three dozen countries from Africa the Middle East to Asia and beyond to literally make beautiful music together.
This credo seems to be following through in Southern California, with a band called Sasha’s Bloc. Formed in 2012 by bassist Alexander Gershman who hails from Moscow, Sasha’s Bloc is an eclectic mix of musicians focused on the revival of the jazz culture of the 1920’s and 30’s, combined with the adaptation of modern jazz original compositions. Melancholy, Sasha’s Bloc’s second CD release, features nine original songs written by Gershman and talented vocalist Carina Cooper, recorded in collaboration with renowned jazz musicians Brandon Fields on saxophone (Earth, Wind & Fire, Quincy Jones), Lenni Castro on percussion (Eric Clapton, Boz Scaggs), Sergey Chipenko on piano (David Sanborn, Mindi Abair), Herman Jackson on piano (Stevie Wonder, George Benson), Mark Cargill on violin, Nahum Zdybel on guitar (Bruce Forman, Larry Koonse), Bob McChesney on trombone, Will Wheaton on vocals (Celine Dion, Michael Jackson), Kevin Winard on drums (Debbie Gibson, Paul Anka), Peggi Blu on vocals (Luther Vandross, Bob Dylan) and Adam “Aejaye” Jackson on vocals (Toni Braxton, David Foster). Many of these musicians accompany Sasha’s Bloc for the live shows, resulting in an ever-changing but always delightful big-band sound that mixes gypsy soul with American swing and R&B.
Aside from Sasha’s Bloc, Alex Gershman is a world-renowned Urologic Surgeon who grew up in Moscow as a passionate lover of jazz. Singing before he could speak, Alex cultivated his love of music throughout his school years, playing in a variety of jazz bands well into his medical school career. Despite his intense work schedule, Alex kept playing music, absorbing different sounds and genres, and in 2012 he formed Sasha’s Bloc. Initially, seven of the musicians in the band hailed from Russia, and they jokingly referred to themselves as a “Soviet Bloc” – a name which quickly changed to Sasha’s Bloc with “Sasha” being Alex’s middle name. Their first CD featured a collection of jazz standards influenced by Gypsy Jazz and Flamenco, and a succession of 50 shows followed the release of the CD. The era of Jazz portrayed in the 1920’s and 30’s is of keen interest to Dr. Gershman and a major influence in the Sasha’s Bloc sound, and Dr. Gershman is also in the beginning stages of creating a stage musical based on the music and lifestyle of this time period.
I spoke with Dr. Gershman about the trials of juggling medicine and jazz, and his great good fortune in attracting so many working musicians to join him in his passion project. Podcast 384 is our conversation, featuring musical selections from the CD including:
Sasha’s Bloc – Title Track, “Universal Swing” and "Playful Blues" from Melancholy. Whether featuring vocalists like Carina Cooper or just bringing the swing, the band has produced a solid CD, which should be of real interest to those who love this kind of “throw back” sound, even as the band tries to push the boundaries of the sound to accommodate 21st century sensibilities.
Wed, 9 October 2013
Perhaps the hottest band on tour right now is an elite lineup of former members of one of jazz’s most influential bands, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. The Messenger Legacy features bassist Reggie Workman, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, trumpeter Brian Lynch, tenor saxophonist Billy Pierce, pianist Donald Brown, and drummer Ralph Peterson. Together they honor their former boss with an evening of Messenger music, some of the finest and most moving jazz of all-time.
Talking to these musicians, one quickly learns that they wish to preserve, protect, and honor the legacy of a man who was much more than a bandleader to all of them. One can only hope that hearing this collection of legends will launch renewed appreciation for one of the most important institutions of apprenticeship in American music history.
About forming the group, Peterson said, “Every time I play the drums it is in tribute to Art, but I wanted to do something that goes beyond me, beyond any individual. I wanted to pay tribute in a way that was authentic, genuine, and meaningful not just to a few, but to every person he touched through his music.” Peterson was hand-picked by Blakey to take on the drummer’s chair in the Jazz Messengers in 1983, and he continues to carry the torch set by his mentor. His most recent CD is ALIVE at Firehouse 12, featuring Peterson’s Unity Project, which includes Craig Handy on sax, Josh Evans on trumpet and Jake Sherman on Hammond Organ.
Workman, now 76years old, has held down the bass spot in bands led by John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, Archie Shepp and Pharaoah Sander,s to name just a few. He was part of the Jazz Messengers in the mid-Sixties, and recorded with perhaps the most talented group of players in that decade: Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Shorter on tenor sax, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Cedar Walton on piano, and Blakey on drums.
Podcast 383 is my free-wheeling conversation with Peterson and Workman, as they reminisce about Art Blakey, talk about their goals for this project, and generally have a great time. Musical selections for this podcast include:
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Title Track from Free for All. Peterson calls this Messenger’s album the greatest studio recording of all-time. Featuring “that band of Hubbard on trumpet, Shorter on tenor sax, Fuller on trombone, Walton on piano, and Blakey on drums.
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – “The Egyptian” from Indestructible. “That band” released a handful of recordings, including this lesser known track.
Ralph Peterson, Jr. “4 in 1” from The Duality Perspective. Peterson’s recording from last year brought a number of his former students back into the fold for a wonderful album. This track, featuring odd meters and great blowing, featuring Peterson: drums; Joseph Doubleday: vibraphone; Alexander L.J. Toth: bass; Felix Peiki: clarinet, bass clarinet; Luques Curtis: bass; Zaccai Curtis: piano; Sean Jones: trumpet; Walter Smith III: tenor saxophone; and Tia Fuller: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone.
Direct download: Podcast_384_-_Celebrating_the_Messnger_Legacy_with_Ralph_Peterson_and_Reggie_Workman.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 3:00am EST
Thu, 3 October 2013
As the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra begins its fall season, its opening program features two composers well-known to lovers of European Art Music, and one well-known to lovers of Modern Jazz. Their program will feature Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Eroica, but also pianist Brad Mehldau’s Variations for Piano and Orchestra on a Melancholy Theme for piano and chamber orchestra.
After establishing a reputation as one of America’s leading jazz pianists, Mehldau is now in demand for both his compositions and improvisational performances, and has toured and recorded extensively since the early 1990s as a collaborator, soloist, and as part of the Brad Mehldau Trio, which he formed in 1994. He has released several non-jazz recordings, including collaborations with singers Renée Fleming (Love Sublime) and Anne Sofie von Otter (Love Songs).
Perhaps Beethoven, Brahms, and Mehldau are not so different after all. All three made their names as hot-shot pianists before revealing their talents for composition, with Beethoven renowned for his improvisational skills. All three have reached into their musical environments for their composition, whether Brahms’ love of Hungarian dance music or Mehldau’s interpretations of the music of singer-songwriter Nick Drake. Mehldau, who draws inspiration from classical works in his jazz compositions and performances, says his Variations for Piano and Orchestra on a Melancholy Theme sounds “as if Brahms woke up one day and had the blues.”
I spoke about Mehldau and his collaboration with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra with Jonathan Spitz, a cellist in the collaborative. Spitz is, among other credentials, the solo cellist of the American Ballet Theatre Orchestra, principal cellist of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and the Bard Festival Orchestra, and a member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Podcast 382 is our conversation, featuring a musical selection from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra:
Göran Söllscher: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra – “Allegro Gentile” from “Concierto De Aranjuez” from Rodrigo: Concierto De Aranjuez. We talked about classical compositions that have attracted jazz musicians, and this selection was a natural starting point, as Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Jim Hall, among others, have all recorded their versions of the Spanish composition.
Tue, 1 October 2013
The music of Joni Mitchell has intrigued jazz artists for years, reaching a creative and critical peak in 2007 with the release of Herbie Hancock’s River – The Joni Letters. That CD earned a Grammy for Album of the Year, an extremely rare feat for a jazz release. Singer Tierney Sutton had been studying the Joni songbook well before the Hancock CD. The singer had recorded album-length tributes to Frank Sinatra (Dancing in the Dark) and Bill Evans (Blue in Green), rarely recording music beyond the Great American Songbook or mainstream jazz.
That changes with the release of After Blue, an album of reimagined songs written by Joni Mitchell. The first CD Ms. Sutton has recorded without her steady band, After Blue does what great interpretive jazz so often does – takes the familiar and revises, repackages and rearranges it in surprisingly creative and different ways to give us something wonderfully new. Ms. Sutton has bravely tackled Baby Boomer classics like “Woodstock” and “Both Sides Now”, and with the aid of collaborators like the Turtle Island String Quartet, Al Jarreau and especially Larry Goldings, given us a CD we’ll be listening to and marveling at for some time to come.
I spoke with Tierney the day before After Blue was set to drop, and Podcast 381 is our conversation, as she shares her thought process in digging into the Joni Mitchell catalogue, what songs she thought of doing but did not, and how she plans to take the record on the road with the Tierney Sutton Band. Musical selections from After Blue include:
Tierney Sutton – “Both Sides Now” from After Blue. Starting with Tierney’s wordless vocals, the folk-rock classic is given an ethereal treatment.
Tierney Sutton – “Dry Cleaner from Des Moines” from After Blue. Peter Erskine (drums), Goldings (piano) and Hubert Laws (flute) lay it down, allowing Tierney take one of Joni’s collaborations with Charles Mingus to another level.
Tierney Sutton – “Big Yellow Taxi” from After Blue. Stripped down to basically a duet with drummer Ralph Humphrey, this is interpretive jazz at its best.
Tierney Sutton – “Blue” from After Blue. A wonderful arrangement courtesy of David Balakrishnan of the Turtle Island String Quartet gives even greater depth to a heart-felt love song, the title track from Joni Mitchell’s most critically acclaimed album.
Direct download: Podcast_381_-_A_Conversation_with_Tierney_Sutton.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 3:00am EST