Fri, 29 November 2013
If age and experience set pianist Fred Hersch and guitarist Julian Lage apart, superior musicianship and mutual respect bind them together. On their live duet recording, Free Flying, Hersch, a seasoned player and composer recognized as one of the most creative jazz personalities of his generation, finds common ground with Lage, a preternaturally gifted player whose astonishing command of his instrument belies his age. With a mood as spirited as it is lyrical, Free Flying -- recorded at the Kitano in February of 2013 - highlights the intuitive give-and-take that announces itself as an inspired musical meeting of two exceptional players who trust each other completely.
Although duets may be second nature to Hersch - he's recorded numerous one-on-one albums with many vocalists and instrumentalists, and has featured duo performances on his own recordings, including the acclaimed Fred Hersch & Friends: The Duo Album (which included an alliance with Jim Hall) - Hersch had only once before recorded a full album partnered with a guitarist: Songs We Know, his 1998 encounter with Bill Frisell. As it turns out, Lage had been assiduously absorbing that album since he was an eight-year-old guitar wunderkind. Conversant with Hersch's playing, Lage - who, by the time he met the pianist in 2010, had already achieved considerable attention for his work with Gary Burton and others - began playing occasional duo gigs with him at Hersch's invitation.
When I spoke with Fred over the summer he had any number of positive things to say about Lage as a listener, a player and an improviser. Now the tables are turned as Lage and I talk about what makes Fred Hersch such a natural partner for this project.
Podcast 393 is our conversation, touching on topics as varied as what kind of guitars Lage plays and why to the many projects with which he is currently involved. Musical selections include:
Fred Hersch & Julian Lage – “Beatrice”, “Stealthiness” and “Heartland” from Free Flying. The new CD has a wide variety of tunes, including this cover of a Sam Rivers standard, and two tunes by Hersch, including “Stealthiness”, dedicated to Jim Hall.
New Gary Burton Quartet – “The Lookout” from Guided Tour. A Jim Hall-esque tune written by Julian and played with his mentor and friend Burton, bassist Scott Coley and drummer Antonio Sanchez.
Julian Lage and Chris Eldidge - "Boca Grande" from Close to Picture. This EP wiht Punch Brothers member Eldridge has a definite American or even Bluegrass feel about the tunes, perhaps recalling Lage's fascination with the playing of Bill Frisell.
Fri, 29 November 2013
I just read a really wonderful, succinct version of the story of Hanukkah, the "Festival of Lights" celebrated by Jews around the world beginning this evening in the Huffington Post. I urge you to read it, and if you have friends and family who are unfamilar with the holiday, which is in no way to be called the "Jewish Christmas", forward the link along to them, please.
This year we celebrate musically with a jazz version of the Hanukkah song "Maoz Tsur", or "Rock of Ages" from Avi Wisnia. Originally a liturgical poem, "Maoz Tsur" has become a popular Hanukkah song, typically sung after the lighting of the menorah, whose words rejoice in the ability to claim victory over oppressors and overcome persecution. “This song is different from anything I have recorded so far,” explains Wisnia. “But having grown up surrounded by Jewish music my entire life, I wanted to celebrate the holiday by taking this traditional song from my childhood with this simple melody and doing something a little more complex with it.” Quite possibly the most modern take on this classic tune that also stays true to the original melody, here’s hoping that this rendition will found in houses full of families sharing the joy of the holiday.
Category:general -- posted at: 2:30am EDT
Thu, 28 November 2013
We all have much to be thankful for today, and so let us begin the day by sharing the sentiment of this song, written by Irving Berlin and sung by Erin Bode, the Official Straight No Chaser Song of Thanksgiving Day:
When I'm worried and I can't sleep
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00am EDT
Wed, 27 November 2013
Twenty-four hours to go before the big Thanksgiving feast! What would go better with some turkey than some "Giblet Gravy", courtesy of guitarist George Benson.
Those who only know Benson from his smooth jazz or Top 40 recordings don't realize that he was one of the funkiest and fastest guitar slingers in his early days. Here he plays with a team of top notch musicians in 1968 sessions, including Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Certer (bass), Pepper Adams (sax) and Billy Cobham (drums). It's worth noting that three of the four - and Benson as well - are all Miles Davis Alumni.
Click here for a tune well suited to those last minute preparations around the kitchen. Cue it up and let the gravy fly!
Category:general -- posted at: 2:30am EDT
Tue, 26 November 2013
Legendary drummer and NEA Jazz Master Foreststorn ‘Chico’ Hamilton died on Monday, November 25, 2013, in New York City at the age of 92.
Born September 20th, 1921 in Los Angeles, Hamilton had a fast track musical education in a band with his high school classmates and future jazz legends Charles Mingus, Illinois Jacquet, Ernie Royal, Dexter Gordon, Buddy Collette and Jack Kelso. Engagements with Lionel Hampton, Slim & Slam, T-Bone Walker, Lester Young, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Charlie Barnett, Billy Eckstine, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Billie Holiday, Gerry Mulligan and Lena Horne established Hamilton as a jazz drummer on the rise.
Hamilton began leading his own ensembles in 1955 and recorded 60+ albums as a leader. Hamilton’s impact upon jazz included the introduction of two unique and distinct sounds: first in 1955 with his “Original Quintet” which combined the sounds of his drums, the bass of Carson Smith, the guitar of Jim Hall, the cello of Fred Katz, and the flute of Buddy Collette; and the second in 1962 with his own drums, the bass of Albert Stinson, the guitar of Gabor Szabo, the trombone of George Bohanon, and the tenor sax of Charles Lloyd.
Hamilton appeared in the 1941 film “You'll Never Get Rich” staring Fred Astaire, and his ensemble was prominently featured in the 1957 film noir classic “Sweet Smell of Success” starring Tony Curtis & Burt Lancaster. Hamilton's mallet driven performance of "Blue Sands" was a featured moment in the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival documentary "Jazz on a Summer's Day", and Hamilton composed the soundtrack for Roman Polanski’s English-language debut, the 1965 psychological thriller “Repulsion” starring Catherine Deneuve. Hamilton moved to New York City in 1965 and formed a commercial and film music production company, scoring the television film "Portrait of Willie Mays", the popular children's series "Gerald McBoing-Boing", and working on Madison Avenue scoring hundreds of commercials for TV and radio.
In 1987 Hamilton helped to found the New School University Jazz & Contemporary Music Program in New York City, where his students included members of Blues Traveler and The Spin Doctors. Hamilton enjoyed a renaissance in his later years, beginning in 1989 when he established yet another unique and distinct sound in jazz debuting his Euphoria ensemble with which he toured extensively in the US, Canada, Europe and South America. Hamilton recorded frequently in recent years, including a string of 10 + recordings for the Joyous Shout! label with guest appearances from the likes of Love front-man Arthur Lee, vocalist and successful actor Bill Henderson, trombonist George Bohanon, bass trombonist Jimmy Cheatham, rhythm & blues vocalist Fontella Bass, guitarist Shuggie Otis, trumpeter Jon Faddis, percussionist Jaimoe of the Allman Brothers Band, and vocalist Jose James.
Hamilton’s ensembles were a breading ground for talent, with Paul Horn, Eric Dolphy, Ron Carter, Gabor Szabo, Charles Lloyd, Larry Coryell & Arthur Blythe and countless others having made their names with Hamilton, and a wide array of musicians credit Hamilton and his music as an influence, including Carlos Santana, Charlie Watts, Joe Claussell, Jose James, Mark de Clive-Lowe and Thievery Corporation.
Saluted by the Kennedy Center as a “Living Jazz Legend”, and appointed to the President’s Council on the Arts, this recipient of a NEA Jazz Master fellowship was considered one of the most important jazz artists and composers, creating vivid, positive, uplifting, engaging & relevant music until the end of his life. This past October Hamilton recorded newly composed material with his long-standing Euphoria ensemble, with Paul Ramsey on bass, Evan Schwam on flute, baritone, tenor, alto & soprano saxes, Jeremy Carlstedt on drums, Mayu Saeki on flute & Nick Demopolous on guitar, along with featured guest appearances from trombonist George Bohanon and fellow NEA Jazz Master trumpeter Jimmy Owens, for his “The Inquiring Mind” CD to be released on Joyous Shout! in early-2014.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Chico a few years back, and that podcast can be found here.
Category:general -- posted at: 11:31am EDT
Tue, 12 November 2013
One of the most riveting jazz performance experiences I have ever had came when watching singer René Marie a few years back. Her set was moving along quite well, but then she paused to tell about her musical upbringing, how she learned to appreciate a variety of styles listening to her parent’s record collection. What followed was an intense medley of Ravel’s “Bolero” and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” that brought the house to its feet. You can hear a version of it on her Live at the Jazz Standard CD.
That sort of medley has been one of her musical trademarks, particularly the brilliant pairing of “Dixie” and “Strange Fruit” on Vertigo. Sadly, she has earned far more press for an unfortunate incident five years ago in Denver, when she was invited to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner” at a civic event and substituted the song's lyrics with those from "Lift Every Voice and Sing”, causing a furor. Since then, she has recorded more of her own original material, some of it political in nature. Her excellent Black Lace Freudian Slip CD made my list of favorite things in 2011.
With I Wanna Be Evil, Ms. Marie returns to the music of one of her influences, singer and actress Eartha Kitt. While Ms. Kitt may today be known better for her role as Catwoman on the Batman TV series, or for her sex-kitten camp Christmas classic “Santa Baby”, she was a major song stylist and entertainer in the 1950’s. Not coincidentally, Ms. Kitt also had a major political flap in her day. In 1968, during the Johnson administration, she made anti-war statements during a White House luncheon. When asked by Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War, Ms. Kitt replied: "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot." Due to the outpouring of criticism (and support) that followed, her career never recovered for almost a decade.
I Wanna Be Evil allows Ms. Marie to honor Eartha’s spirit, introducing her material to a new generation of music fans. Podcast 392 is my conversation with René Marie, including musical selections from her albums, featuring:
Rene Marie - "I'd Rather Be Burned as a Witch", "Peel Me a Grape" and "Oh, John"from I Wanna Be Evil.
Rene Marie - "This for Joe" from Black Freudian Slip.
Rene Marie - "Life Ev'ry Voice and Sing (Star Spangled Banner Version) from Voice of My Beautiful Country.
Thu, 7 November 2013
These tracks come from a radio webcast featuring highlights from two concerts that were part of this year’s Luminato Festival. These concerts celebrated the career of Joni Mitchell and pre-empted her 70th birthday which will be in November. These shows are significant because they marked Joni’s first time on the stage since 2008. She had said initially that she would not appear at the festival (she doesn’t like these kind of things, you know?). Later it was announced that she would perform a reading of “This Rain, This Rain,” an adaptation of a poem by Emily Carr, with folks like Herbie Hancock, etc. backing her.
In addition to Joni, many other prominent musicians performed. These included Glen Hansard, Esperanza Spalding, Herbie Hancock and a host of others. Although these are just highlights and NOT a full concert, they provide an enjoyable listen. Plus, they are historically significant in Joni’s career. Could this be her last hurrah or maybe the start of something? Anyway, she has a new ballet coming in May 2014 so her name may appear some more…
Brad Wheeler wrote in The Globe And Mail:
Onstage at Massey, where she followed performances of her material by a cast of singers (Glen Hansard, Liam Titcomb, Rufus Wainwright, Lizz Wright, Kathleen Edwards and Cold Specks’s Al Spx), Mitchell’s range was revealed as greatly reduced. She blames the vocal decline on Morgellons syndrome, not age or chain-smoking. Whatever the cause, there was grace to the way she managed within her lower, limited register.
Direct download: Podcast_391_-_Celebrating_Joni_Mitchell_at_70_-_A_Portrait_in_Song_Concert.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:30am EDT
Wed, 6 November 2013
Listening to the music of Joni Mitchell in the late 1970’s was one of my gateways to enjoying jazz. The first Joni album I ever bought was Court and Spark, one of the first times she used a full band to flesh out her increasingly complex compositions. Included on that classic album was a cover of the song “Twisted”, which had been a hit for Lambert, Hendricks and Ross a decade before. I checked out the original, and continued to dig into jazz recordings from there. At 15, the road was opening up before me.
Her next album, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, found her dabbling in world music (“The Jungle Line”), and increasingly political and feminist themed recordings with “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow,” “Shades of Scarlet Conquering,” and the juxtaposing medley of her “Harry’s House” with the standard “Centerpiece,” written by Harry “Sweets” Edison and Jon Hendricks.. My dad hipped me to John Coltrane’s reading of “Centerpiece,” one of the first times I heard Coltrane’s lyricism. A few years later, I was exposed to the music of Charles Minugs in a new way when Joni collaborated with him on Mingus.
Tierney Sutton reminded me in our conversation last month that Joni was in many ways a great jazz singer, particularly on her overlooked Both Sides Now album, which features great orchestrations by Vince Mendoza. Therefore, as part of her 70th birthday celebration here at Straight No Chaser, I present Podcast 390, “Joni Sings Jazz”, with Joni singing jazz standards or tunes of hers that qualify as jazz recordings in my book, including:
Herbie Hancock – “Summertime” from Gershwin’s World.
Joni Mitchell – “You’re My Thrill” from Both Sides Now.
Joni Mitchell – “Harry’s House/Centerpiece” from The Hissing of Summer Lawns.
Joni Mitchell – “Twisted” from Court and Spark.
Herbie Hancock – “The Man I Love” from Gershwin’s World
Joni Mitchell – “Don’t Go to Strangers” from Both Sides Now
Herbie Hancock – “Tea Leaf Prophecy” from River: The Joni Letters.
Joni Mitchell – “Stormy Weather” from Both Sides Now.
Joni Mitchell – “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” from Mingus.
Tue, 5 November 2013
"Jazz is supposed to be open, on the road to discovery. That's what Joni is talking about." – Wayne Shorter
This week marks the 70th birthday of one of my musical heroes (heroines?), Joni Mitchell. From her folkie days in the late 1960’s, through her commercial success in the 1970’s and her decisions to turn away from the mainstream and delve into World Music and Jazz, Ms. Mitchell has always shown the highest musical and personal standards and integrity. It helps that she also writes and sings some of the finest music of the past seventy years.
Last month I interviewed Tierney Sutton about her latest CD, After Blue, an album of Joni Mitchell-penned or recorded songs. You can find Podcast 382 here, to learn more about why musicians find her so fascinating.
I have three new Podcasts to honor Ms. Mitchell this week. Podcast 389 is a sequel to a prior podcast, entitled “Jazzin’ On Joni at 70”. Podcast 390 put the musical shoe on the other foot, as I feature Joni singing material more closely associated with jazz musicians. Lastly, Podcast 391 is a treat via the fine website Big O. Earlier this summer they posted two concerts held in Toronto’s Massey Hall honoring Joni. I’ve edited and rearranged those two full evening performances to showcase just the jazz musicians who participated, including Brian Blade (who was musical director), Herbie Hancock and Lizz Wright.
Podcast 398 features:
Lisa Hilton - "Both Sides Now" (alt. take)
Tierney Sutton - "Blue"
Joshua Redman - "I Had a King"
Cetano Veloso - "Dreamland"
Jane Monheit - "A Case of You"
Herbie Hancock wth Luciana Souza - "Amerlia"
Cassandra Wilson - "For the Roses"
Fareed Haque - "Woodstock"
Enjoy, and happy birthday Joni!
Sat, 2 November 2013
Making a solo piano CD on ECM Records is asking for comparisons. That label features a catalogue of memorable solo piano recordings from the likes of Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Stefano Bollani, Paul Bley and more recently Craig Taborn. The good news is that Aaron Parks’ new solo piano CD, Arborescence, deserves favorable comparison with these praised recordings.
Parks, who hit the scene in a big way as a member of Terence Blanchard’s band right out of high school, has been steadily progressing as a composer, sideman and bandleader. His work with Kurt Rosenwinkel’s latest quartet made Star of Jupiter one of last year’s more memorable recordings, much as the James Farm collaboration with Joshua Redman was in 2011. His CD Invisible Cinema was a top release of 2008, and showed his strength as a composer.
However, Parks had never played solo in public or in a recording before deciding to take on this project. Eventually ending up with ECM, the album, recorded in Worcester, Massachusetts vibrant Mechanics Hall, is a wonderful collection of improvisations, expanded ideas and tone poems.
Parks is also a key part of another ECM release from this fall, his friend Yeawhon Shin’s collection of ballads and lullabies, Lua ya. Also recorded at Mechanics Hall, this collaboration allowed Parks to continue his spontaneous piano playing, a skill he said he was enjoying fleshing out.
I spoke with Aaron about these two CDs, the challenges of solo piano, and his current plans to tour on his own and with Rosenwinkel. Podcast 388 features that conversation along with musical selections from Arborescence and Lua ya.